January 16, 2011

IKEA Catalog for Deviants

After reading some haunting words on Minimalism (thanks to Sam Jacob and the New City Reader), I couldn't not pay IKEA a visit.
Minimalism is the undead form of Modernism, animated by Aesthetics. Like Ed Gein cavorting in suits made from the skin of his victims, Minimalism is a perverted and psychotic condition. It is there every time we look at something beautifully Modern. Its simplicity, its order, its calmness, its smoothness are displayed like the severed heads on Traitors’ Gate: a beautiful warning to architecture. The real perversion? Architects willingly and joyfully enact this macabre ritual. - "Minimalism, An Obituary" by Sam Jacob
With a commanding presence in a spectacular, ever-changing location, where the metropolis dissolves into the heartland countryside, IKEA resembles a giant museum full of Dwellist contemporary pop modern objects. Hybrid Sweedish-English labels add mystique to the event. Where modernism in America has ultimately fallen short in spreading moderism to the masses (motels), minimalism has wildly succeeded (IKEA/Dwell/HGTV).

Nevertheless, IKEA quietly boasts a subversive collection of furniture, rejecting the very minimalism which has led to it's success. These objects play a critical role within IKEA: IKEAn art (minimalism) demands a Neo-DADAian counter-art (maximalism?). Whereas DADA influenced pop art and postmodernism, anti-IKEAn objects sample from pop and pomo. One of DADA's missions was to reject the commodification of art, something IKEA strongly champions through innovative branding, packaging, and product delivery.

Much as the way we have come to discuss DADA-influenced art, the IKEA Catalog for Deviants can be collectively read as an attitude: as an attack on the co-opting of Swedish modernism for soulless, gut-wrenching capitalist minimalism. Alas, a collection of monstrous objects united in the spirit of refusing convention:

EKTORP: A strangely Venturian floral print sofa peeks out from behind a collection of solid colored furniture.
In a brilliantly symbolic gesture, EKTORP's bed is extended. A middle finger is raised to the surrounding IKEA establishment of polite modernism.
HEMNES: The profile of this mirror also evokes Venturi-Knoll-ism.
TROLLSTA: Vika Fintorps used to be all the rage, until sadly they were pulled from the shelves (of the IKEA I visit). Now, all that remains is this little guy: a 6.5 inch (17cm) tall side table (with legs reminiscent of the the voluptuous VIKA FINTORPS).
VIKA GLASHOLM: A flower-patterned glass table attached to minimal IKEAn stainless steel legs. When the light hits the just right, flower-patterned light disrupts the serenity and purism of the Dwell subscribers' minimal environment. Mmm.

SKRUVSTA: The elephant in the room...the "anti-desk chair" desk chair. Work should never be that fun.
MARKUS: The ... giraffe ... in the room!? Textile design is not the only way to subvert IKEA's grasp on the minimal.  Here, the form of the chair is extruded to the deviant desires of the designer, Henrik Preutz.
LEKPLATS:  A children's play mat (lek plat?) presents bits of New York, Antarctica, Egypt, Switzerland, Miami, etc. compressed into a singular globalized place: a collective identity for us all.

LUSY BLOM: Variations on an asterisk
LUSY: This haphazard collection of color and form evokes nothing and everything. The noise and clutter of today's world as we know it. A large "NEW" sign to one side, a large white rug hiding it on the other side, this object represents the underbelly of IKEAn fashion: a possible new direction for the future of the company? We can only hope so.

LUSY: incomprehensible nonsense. Stylized characters in Helvetica type face graphically construct an image which makes as little sense in the States as it does in Europe. I still contend this piece was informed by Japanese (game show) graphics, however my colleagues remain confused and unconvinced.

This LUCY unfolds to reveal two 2D kimono shirts adding to the spectacle and confusion of the piece.
The monsters of IKEA, manifested in wildly patterned textiles and/or curiously proportioned everyday objects, are at their most pressing and most extreme when their visual language becomes illegible to a global audience. Perhaps LUCY's illegibility occurs from a series of critical mis-translations across the production of the object - from Sweedish designer, to Chinese manufacturer, to American retailer. Or perhaps LUCY's illegibility is derived from a more intentional series of decisions: a rogue designer fed up with minimalism, provoked by the masses. We might never know for sure. When nobody, nowhere knows what to think, anti-IKEAn design will have succeeded.

Carl Wilson, in his book on "taste," questions the existence of a "risk gene" for artistic adventurousness in music. The conversation holds true for design as well:
"Balancing repetition and novelty is crucial: some songs feel too complicated to enjoy and others too clichéd to hold interest. There's little explanation, though, of why people gravitate toward different ratios of surprise to familiarity."
Wilson turns to journalist Jonah Lehrer for answers:
"There's a network of neurons in the brain stem specifically geared to sort unfamiliar sounds into patterns. When they succeed, the brain releases a dose of pleasure-giving dopamine; when they fail, when a sound is too new, excess dopamine squirts out, disorienting and upsetting us. Lehrer suggests this explains events such as the 1913 riots at the Paris premiere of Igor Stravinsky's dissonant 'The Rite of Spring.' [...] a year later, another Parisian audience cheered for 'The Rite of Spring.' [...] It seems implausable it was mainly the rioters returning to give him another chance. No, it would have been the hipsters of 1914, lured by the succéss de scandale and eager to be shocked, to take the dopamine overdose."
Anti-IKEAn objects are to be consumed by today's versions of the 1914 Parisian hipsters - whatever that may mean. Anti-minimalism is a drug. It is to be consumed by dopamine junkies "eager to be shocked."

This catalog could go on and on. To those who demand MORE IKEA DADA, continue on to the images below, and to here (STUVA) and here (KLIPPAN)...

MULA: A toy for the avant garde, discarded amongst heaps of wooden hangars (toys for common folk).


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dontknockitecture said...

that duvet cover still blows my mind

Anonymous said...

I went to IKEA today. Going back next week because I picked up a Spanish catalog by mistake, and I need more time to browse. Love that place!