Monday, September 10, 2012

Lascaux-Sottsass-Vishwakarma Puja (10-16 September)

On this date in design…

Lascaux Caves, Southwest France, anniversary of discovery 12 September 1940
Ettore Sottsass, Italian architect & designer, birthday 14 September 1917
Vishwakarma Puja, Hindu god of architecture, holiday (India), 16 September (alternatively 17 September)

When four French teenagers chased their dog Robot deep into a remote cave little did they know they were on the verge of one of the most significant discoveries of prehistoric art.  Since there have been several other sites discovered but this was an eye-opener to the world community as to the complexity and detail which the Paleolithic mind was able to communicate in visual form nearly 15,000 years ago.  Today it is still hotly debated as to the intention of the artists; from ritualistic to historical recording.  However, one cannot help but be amazed at the diversity of subjects, the depiction of seasonal changes and the overwhelmingly apparent symbolic meaning behind the images still unknown to us.  There are records of now extinct species and herds of animals that read like an encyclopedia of the hunt. 
There are even examples that appear to regress in perspective; a technique that would be rediscovered during the Renaissance.  This monumental discovery forced modern man to rethink the nature of what the prehistoric man was able to comprehend and thus paint the way for further understanding of from where we, as a species, came.

If Ettore Sottsass would have a say in what would happen to the caves paintings at Lasceaux he no doubt would say to destroy them.  This seems harsh but for Sottsass, his idea was that the future only begins when the past is completely dismantled, and its logic reduced to dust so only nostalgia remains.  He saw that the past was a jumping off point and for humanity to continue to progress. 
And to this credit, it can be believed that we as a species have considerably evolved from those Paleolithic individuals for millennia without the benefit of access to those wonderful images to guide us.  In Sottsass’s case, he went further to figuratively dismantle the design greats of the past such as Wright and create new forms.  He believed that functionalism is not enough; design should also be exciting and sensual. 
This theory lead to the formation of the Memphis group in the early 1980s (and as you may already know my personal least favorite movement).  However, in challenging the avant garde to push forward there was a creative freedom that eliminated heavy-handed design for design’s sake.  Designers who followed his mold such as Gehry & Graves were light-hearted and expressive.  To document the deterioration of the past, Sottsass always carried a camera which was confiscated on more than one occasion; once while photographing a rotting window on a police station.  The police might not have understood his fascination with the ruin but were more concerned that he was casing the joint.

Continuing on a venture into the mythical past, according to the Mahabharata legend, Vishwakarma Puja is the divine draftsman of the entire universe and the official builder of all the palaces of the gods in addition to their flying chariots & weapons.  He is depicted as wearing lots of gold topped off with a gold crown.  In his four hands he holds a pot of water, a book, a noose & craftsman’s tools.  Unlike in the west, Indian culture commemorate the day by using it as an excuse to increase productivity and be inspired to create innovative products.  Most of the festivities happen on factory floors.  However, Hindus also make the connection with the heavens by flying kites; most likely encouraged by Vishwakarma Puja to create new and exciting designs for the sky.


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