Why the stuff that things are made of is important

“Material Effects, Experiments, Photographs, Designs – or why the stuff that things are made of is important.”

An exhibition of the VillaARTE e.V. in the Museum of Industry Chemitz with nominated and prize-winning contributions of the 6th International Marianne Brandt Competition

    2 OCTOBER 2016 – 8 JANUARY 2017 in the Museum of Industry Chemnitz

Matter and Material

Josef Albers was also aware that materials and matter are different things and in his preliminary course at the Bauhaus distinguished between exercises in matter and material. Matter for him was the practically infinite abundance of matter and substances that is first transformed into materials in the processes of usage, processing and formation. The origin of Bauhaus teaching – which he had developed as sequel to the basic concept of Johannes Itten (1923 – 1928 jointly with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy) – was based on experimentation with different materials and their properties in a way that aimed to be playful and open, attentive and vigilant. “Through undisturbed, uninfluenced, thus unprejudiced trial and error”, matter would be discovered as material, and designers would have the experience of being inventive producers. But to attain a state of trial and error that really is without purpose was difficult then and not easy today. Perhaps it is impossible.
However, the challenge of perceiving or imagining matter and materials existing as a world not yet touched by interests of human exploitation is still a hot topic. It is difficult to believe that the one-sided interest of the designer in aspiring towards an optimally effective processing and manufacture of new and state-of-the-art products opens up feasible perspectives in a world that is obviously consuming and using far more material than is dictated by ecological rationality. To counter this we might take an approach such as favoured by Josef Albers and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy in the Bauhaus preliminary course – i.e. to keep investigating material in an explorative, sensuous and associative way, to foster the quest for material effects that are oriented on more than just a short-term, usable material efficiency.

Art and Technology – A Playground and Scope for Experiment

When the 6th Marianne Brandt Competition 2016 asked designers and artists what “material effects” mean to them today, it implied a deliberate reference to the tackling of material-compliant design and material research within Classical Modernism and at the Bauhaus in the 1920s – which were not only oriented on growth in economic productivity. Marianne Brandt studied at the Bauhaus and developed both metal objects and lamps – iconic in the meantime – and also worked on free, artistic photo collages; and at all events, visions and approaches did exist at the Bauhaus that tended towards a strict, scientific and technical type of “industrial design”. Not all Bauhäusler – Bauhaus people – were enthusiastic about the potential of mass production. The aim in the workshops of developing houses and home devices and utensils as prototypes for industry could only be implemented in fits and starts. The focus of the debates characterising Bauhaus history in all the years of its existence from 1919-1933 was mostly the wrangling over artistic, sensuously palpable and poetic approaches that did not ignore the social and economic issues of the time. But at the same time, Bauhäusler never wanted to give up the criterion of designing and developing holistic visions. Art and technology or technology and art did not form a reconciled unity here, as proclaimed by Walter Gropius in 1923, but a productive, charged field of polarities and a special playground and scope for discovering and inventing potential material effects.

The exhibition of the International Marianne Brandt Competition: a contemporary designer forum on issues of Classical Modernism

The International Marianne Brandt Competition founded in 2001 also links up with this – i.e., the vision of socially committed applied arts open to new technical developments. Every three years, young designers, photographers and artists are invited worldwide to work on issues and ideas of Classical Modernism from today’s point of view. At the start the competition derived from the initiative of setting up an exhibition devoted to Marianne Brandt in Chemnitz, the city where she was born and lived. In the meantime, another concept has proved its worth: instead of showing historic works by Marianne Brandt, the idea took hold of displaying contemporary works that relate not only on the outside to her fields of work in design and the arts, but also reflect the hopes, wishes and visions associated with them. “The Poetry of the Functional”, heading and title of all previous competition exhibitions, recalls the Classical Modern criterion: every design, however practical and useful, should involve the generation of an aesthetic and utopian added value, with hopes and a bigger idea of creating a better and more beautiful life situation.
For the first time the 6th International Marianne Brandt Competition asked designers, photographers and experimenters from all design disciplines and artistic genres under one overall theme, named “Material Effects”, how they imagine a future-oriented handling of resources, matter and materials, how they seek ideas, how they see things and are able to realise their way of seeing things in photographs, also what concrete suggestions for design can be implemented in the form of products. What paths do they propose in a society that is now being guided far more by the question of the good life and not only of the next product? How can social transformation processes be conceived, communicated and created that are culturally and politically effective, and extended to comprehend product design? What do approaches aspiring to attain a future-oriented Modernism look like? Our economic and social model – in so many ways seeming to threaten disaster – has led not only to an unprecedented high level of affluence, but also to important standards of civilisation – liberty, democracy, constitutional state government, public education, health and social services provision. How can these standards be maintained, when the destruction of natural environments and consumption of resources and material have to be drastically restricted at the same time?

Design as Change of Direction

The 60 national and international applications out of a total of 423 submissions (from 27 countries) presented in the exhibition “Material Effects” as experimental set-ups, photographic material studies and product designs are not ideal solutions or even immediately implementable recipes for a resource-friendly global concept on a large scale. But, in harmony with one another, the exhibits can combine to show a complex, multifaceted approach to a quest that is as functional as it is poetic, in which the designers and artists – in many ways like the designers and artists at the Bauhaus in the 1920s – do not so much seek new products but above all new possibilities in process management, in ways of invention, inspirations, and new ways of thought and action. The range covers artistic photography examining the transience or preservation of individuality (Sophie Aigner) and body-aware material experiments (e.g. Jeanette Gosslau, Ilka Raupach), examples of innovative material recycling (e.g. Tim Mackerodt), models of an ephemeral pre-cycling process (Studio Umschichten), which works only with borrowed materials, all the way to high-tech experiments in cooperation with research enterprises in industry. It includes the rediscovery of old handicraft techniques (Anastasiya Koshcheeva) and a whole number of approaches experimenting not only with processing materials on the outside, but structurally programming them anew – and in doing so also investigating the now seemingly self-evident differentiation between material and immaterial design (e,g. Anna Baranowski, Adrianus Kundert, Demeter Fogarasi, Paula van Brummelen, Marvin Boiko).
Perhaps we can describe the works shown in the exhibition with the term coined by Harald Welzer of “transformation design” as starting points towards a new change of direction. According to Welzer, this “not only confronts design with very new tasks, but puts design per se to question as we know it – as language of forms of the consumer economy, as styling of products. Namely, it is not a question of labelling products which are basically wrong as good or even green design. What matters is the re-design of the relationship between raw material and product.” Perhaps “design would then no longer have the task of incessantly creating one thing after another, but of discarding those we don’t need.” Perhaps designers also have the task far more of reinventing themselves as experts for transforming matter into material and material into beauty. How far can they pass on to other people their form awareness, their joy in shaping things and the development of competency in summoning up sensuous qualities, experiences and bodily sensations and perceptions associated with material? The exhibition “Material Effects” is also an experiment, or rather an experimental set-up, related to this.

Marianne Brandt

(née. Liebe) (1 October 1893 in Chemnitz – 18 June 1983 in Kirchberg) artist and metal designer at the Bauhaus Dessau, 1926-1929

Marianne Brandt, who came from a wealthy Chemnitz family of lawyers, started her studies in 1924 at the State Bauhaus in Weimar, but from 1911 to 1919 had already studied painting at the University of Visual Arts in the same city. One of her fellow students was the Norwegian painter Erik Brandt, whom she married in 1919. At the Bauhaus László Moholy-Nagy was head of the preliminary course and also the metal workshop; he came to be one of her foremost mentors and confidantes. His support was sure to have helped Marianne Brandt to be the sole woman after the preliminary course to be able to continue her training as a metal designer. Moholy-Nagy also called Marianne Brandt his “best and most brilliant pupil”. Shortly after her start in the workshop she wasted no time in designing ashtrays, coffee and tea services, spherical and flat teapots made of silver and ebony, which are today regarded as classics of Bauhaus design. After Brandt completed her studies at the Bauhaus in 1926 with a journeyman’s diploma as a silversmith, she became Moholy-Nagy’s deputy, and when he left the Bauhaus in 1928 she took over the overall direction of the metal workshop. For the newly erected Bauhaus building in Dessau she designed the major part of the lighting appointments, using the then innovatory materials of opal glass, polished aluminium, and nickel-plated brass.
While her product designs were frequently inspired by geometric constructions and the basic forms of circle, sphere, square and triangle, parallel to these Marianne Brandt produced artistically free, open and dynamic compositions in her photographs and more than fifty collages.

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