Midwest Modernism: A techno-vision of the future with a dash of the past.
We are living in an extraordinary time—a threshold cluttered with people, places and things. To some, it may seem like a room stuffed with too much past and not enough future. To others, it may recall the antiseptic waiting room in the film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” where the moment’s nakedness seems to yearn for the cover of nostalgia.
It’s unclear how far out into the future this threshold actually extends. At least for now, it seems like the design of objects is racing forward, taking with it a little of the past and a techno-vision of the future. Designers here in the Midwest, like their colleagues around the planet, are stuck in the present tense, poking and fussing, fiddling and fuddling. While trying to make sense of it all, they leave meaning in their wake.
Let me begin with this simple truth. Designed objects embody the presence of people responsible for their conception and are imprinted with the stories of the people who were at the table or in the room at the times of their birth. Avatars. Replicants.
The sheer number of designed objects clamoring for our attention may be obscene, but occasionally we find ourselves face-to-face with things that we might love—with which we might actually have intimate sensual relationships. This is the bright side of consumerism. It’s intensely personal to take something into our hands, bring it up to our eyes, press it against our lips, absorb it with our ears, and ultimately take it right into our minds’ heart. What was once business, is now a love/hate relationship with things—objects. The designed object in some peculiar way commemorates us even as it represents an invasion of our personal space.
This year’s selected objects and their stories highlight a midwestern sensibility—a Midwest Modernism insistence on appropriate materiality, meticulous craft, and motivated by a conceptual charm and wit. These objects unleash a version of now, yet hold the past in conscious regard. Oddly familiar objects reflect our lifestyle, our singular blip on the timeline, providing a wry and prolix commentary of who we are and who we might like to be; a chorus of personal voices immortalizing this conflicted moment.
It may sound cliché, but there’s real magic in the air. It is not just some echoing, high-frequency radio signal broadcast from a delivery room far far away, but rather the calling of things worthy of our discerning attention. The following pages are but snapshots from the nursery, captioned with comments by the local parents and caregivers of these recently designed objects.
Designers and their objects:
Crucial Detail / Martin Kastner
Lake + Wells / Mark Kinsley and Tamera Leigh Staten
Parsons & Charlesworth / Tim Parsons and Jessica Charlesworth
Sung Jang Laboratory / Sung Jang
Cover Photos by Ross Floyd / Collaborative Art Direction by RV / Text set in Alright v2 by Jackson Cavanaugh, Okay Type, Chicago / Design by RV and Anna Mort/Thirst
Author: Rick Valicenti
Rick Valicenti has led the Thirst design studio since its founding in 1989 and has established himself as one of the most visionary designers in the country, winning the 2011 National Design Award from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.