Posted: October 31, 2013 at 1:50 pm | By: Miriam Rasch |
Critics Night at The New Institute in Rotterdam
Thursday October 17, 2013
Archined and Design Platform Rotterdam have started a new series of public events, 'to evaluate the current state of design criticism'. To kick off the series they invited architect and writer Sam Jacob (UK) to build on his ‘articulate’ column How can culture exist in a stream of Photoshopped incontinence?. Jacob wrote the column for design blog Dezeen and as he revealed that evening, it was the first time ever that as he put it 'Dezeen expressed an opinion', rather than regurgitating endless streams of press releases and public announcements, accompanied by the inescapable ‘photoshopped incontinence’ that placates itself all too recognisably as ‘design’.
During the evening Jacob did not substantially add to his criticism, of what in his view was obviously a dismal state of affairs in online design criticism. This was not a weakness on his part, but much rather an expression of the poignancy of his column that addresses an obvious lack: a substantial platform for online design and architecture criticism, where professional discourse is established, maintained and developed, where the vital social and political context and role of design criticism is addressed in a serious and sustained manner.
While a grand tradition of architecture and design criticism exists in print, as was evidenced by the highly appropriate setting of the discussion in the library of the New Institute, where we literally surrounded by design and architecture criticism on paper, in the online domain this seems to be desperately missing. The problem here is not that there is no presence of design or architecture online. There is. Lots of it. An endless barrage of images, descriptions, online travel guides to architectural marvels, shopping guides, (life-)style guides and indeed regurgitated press releases and self-promotional websites (let’s not even begin to discuss the limitless expanse of the social media universe in this..). But does this amount to ‘criticism’?
That question remained emphatically unanswered in this first evening of the series, and it is a question that begs some kind of an answer. In my own contribution in response to Jacob’s column, I first decided to exacerbate the situation by referring back to a somewhat older text originally written for the close of the InfoWarRoom media criticism series at De Balie in Amsterdam, called The Society of the Unspectacular invoking the boundless flood of self-produced media expressions online that tend towards the ‘radical unparticular’, the exceedingly generic, and in that sense constitute the very opposite of criticism that attempts to establish difference.
The useful overviews of the daily online resources on design, architecture and theory presented in the second part of the program by Edwin Gardner (Monnik – writer, research and architect), Marit Overbeek (coordinator of online construction, blogger and tweeter) and Levien Nordeman (Willem de Kooning Academy – lecturer and researcher in the field of new media and culture) confirmed largely the picture painted earlier. A seemingly endless array of presentation sites, second hand content collections, visual displays, announcement channels and the occasional ebook rip-off site passed by, criticism in any identifiable form remained painfully absent. This is to say we cannot find as yet the sites where, outside of the established bastions of writing media, some form of vibrant and sustainable new practice of online design and architecture criticism has established itself.
One could lament this dismal state of affairs, but I would rather emphasise this as an opportunity. Especially at the threshold of the demise of print publication because of its unsustainable economics this apparent void opens up a huge opportunity. The potential of instant and low-cost and theoretically global distribution urgently needs to be tapped and utilised for a substantial and sustained critical design and architecture critique - and in a wider sense this applies to cultural criticism in general - that distinguishes itself clearly from the maelstrom of genericised ‘incontinence’ rightfully criticised by Jacob.
The new series started by Archined and Design Platform Rotterdam starts at a welcome moment in that sense. A first step in the right direction might very well be to first come up with a basic working definition of what in the frame of this series the word ‘criticism’ actually means as a sustained and systematic professional practice, which as yet seemed entirely absent from the online universe presented during the first Critics Night.
Amsterdam, October 2013.