April 12th, 2005


Utopia Povera

4pm: Subject was observed in a Thai grocery store on the Alexanderplatz. Instead of shopping for okra, prawns, bok choi and tofu, Subject was photographing a 10 euro broom imported from Vietnam. Interviewed by Researcher, Subject confessed that the broom was the most beautiful thing he had seen all week.

4.12pm: Subject was spotted making a digital audio recording of Thai pop song being played over shop hifi. Asked why, Subject told Researcher he hadn't heard any Western pop music this beautiful in years. Interview was arranged at Subject's home to investigate these matters further.

6.15pm: Notes from Interview: Subject told Researcher that the last film he'd seen was in a little cinema behind a bar not far from his house. The film was called Carpatia, and it was "a documentary about the poor people of the Carpathian mountain range that runs through Slovakia, Southern Poland, Ukraine, Romania and Hungary". Subject waxed lyrical about the faces, the carts, the kitchens, the music, and the haystacks: "Carpathian haystacks are a more gorgeous example of organic design than anything by Ushida Findlay," he proclaimed, adding "If you take the logic of Ushida Finlay's organic architecture to its most refined point, that's what you get: a Carpathian haystack! This stuff is the future, and the future is Utopia Povera!"

Pressed on what he meant, Subject said that Utopia Povera was the belief that poor forms are more beautiful and more moral than rich ones, that nature is still a better designer than man, and that more expensive is not necessarily better. Subject said that most religions elevate poverty over wealth, and that our sense of beauty is tied up with our spiritual values. Poverty is usually associated with the past and with necessity, but in fact poverty may be our future, as the population grows and the Earth's resources become exhausted.

6.32pm: Subject spoke about the Japanese movement known as Slow Life as exemplary because it's a voluntary adoption of Utopia Povera values. The trouble, said Subject, is that many things which are virtuous and beautiful -- riding bicycles, living in high density urban environments -- are only embraced while people are poor. As soon as people earn enough money to buy a car and move out to low density suburbs, they tend to do it. That's why it'll be the shrinking economies from which movements like Slow Life and Utopia Povera emerge, not the expanding ones. The expanding economies, because they remain wedded to the idea that nature is not cost effective, will destroy it and finally themselves, which means that they will eventually have to embrace Povera values too, but in the form of Dystopia Povera rather than Utopia Povera.

6.45pm: Subject added that design had to evolve beyond its role as "flagship for consumer capitalism". Warming to his theme, Subject sat Researcher down and played him clips from The House of the Future, a recent BBC Radio 4 programme. Researcher's notes:

C.J. Lim's Clone House has only one window, a periscope, that brings the same view into all four rooms. The walls retain the shape of everyone who leans against them. Lim wanted to make a sociable house that didn't depend on the technology we have now. "We're absolutely bombarded by technology, by microwaves, by the most expensive plasma screen that you can get, but we can all exist within a store cupboard and order everything in. We don't even need a kitchen. We can actually sleep in a store cupboard and everything could be delivered, from eggs from Sainsbury's to virtual sex." Subject began talking about roomic cubes, the post-bit atom, and lunch wallahs. Researcher began to feel a bit hungry.

6.57pm: Subject played a tape of David Greene of Archigram describing the house of 2050. "I think it would contain a garden. I think I would make a house of the future now -- and in fact I have done a project like this, not built of course -- which virtually looks like a garden. But in fact the garden consists of lots of hi-tech sort of worked into the berries and fruits. The kitchen area is in amongst the bushes and some of the seating actually looks like vegetation but is comfortable if you sit on it. But it is actually like living in the garden. And some of it, of course, is garden garden. And it has glades and arbours and things. So that the actual tradition of the garden joins into the tradition of the house. It's always been my ideal to sort of live in the garden, as it were. It's about weaving technology and nature together, so that your veg-based things and your wire or wireless-based things become morphed together. You don't have a category that says "That's the garden, this is furniture, these are appliances, that's a gadget, that's a roof." But you try and bring them together. That would be my model aspiration for this week. Next week it might change, but I've been pretty pre-occupied with the idea of the vegetable house for some time."

7.02pm: Researcher glanced at Rolex, made excuses, and took taxi back to Hotel Intercontinental.