March 6th, 2006


That's not a joke, that's design

I went to the doctor. "Doctor," I said, "I have this paranoid delusion that everyone can hear what I'm thinking."

"That's not a delusion," said the doctor. "That's a bullhorn."

Did you know that, apart from being paid to tell silly jokes like this through a bullhorn in an art museum, I'm also a bit of a star-making power-broker in the design world? Proof comes with the January/February issue of American design magazine ID, which poses the question "Who deserves more attention?" ID has forty answers, one of them supplied by me. My choice is Berlin design conceptualist Rafael Horzon of REDESIGNDEUTSCHLAND. Horzon's a bigger joker I am. Here's my piece about him.

"Located on the Torstrasse, in the art gallery-dotted Mitte district of Berlin, REDESIGNDEUTSCHLAND's office is the kind of place that makes passersby pause, shield their eyes against the light, and peer in. Is the ground floor space an art gallery with some kind of desk installation at the center, a super-minimalist shop, or an architect's studio? In fact it's a design practice run by Rafael Horzon and his partners, although Horzon's definition of design is as ambiguous as his office. If you peer closely enough you might catch sight of the ten-point manifesto he's drafted. Point 3 reads: "REDESIGNDEUTSCHLAND know: Simplest solution be goodst solution." It's not a spelling mistake; the manifesto is written in "REDE-ENGLISH", a radically streamlined, re-designed version of the English language reminiscent of George Orwell's Newspeak.

"Simplification, rationalization and reduction are central themes for Horzon, known in Berlin for his humorous design columns for De:Bug, the city's "digital lifestyles magazine". Satire, and particularly satire on totalitarian tendencies, is of course an old Berlin theme; think of Brecht and Weill. But it's a rare quality in designers. Perhaps that's why Horzon's contribution to the 2005 Berlin Designmai event struck me as the most interesting thing in the show: a proposal for a tiny, cramped living cube called the HAUSBAU (the play on BAUHAUS is entirely deliberate) which "reduces the dream of owning your own home to an absolute minimum". Inside the cube visitors could watch a video presentation in which Goethe's "Faust" was presented in radically simplified "REDEDEUTSCH", and a proposal (with hilarious examples) for a new standard portrait photography format. Formats are another Horzon interest: he advocates the adoption of decimal time (100 hours per day, 100 minutes per hour, 1000 days per year) and has developed RIN, a universal testing, calibration and certification standard to replace the DIN system. If the attack on universalistic pretensions is ironic, what makes it doubly so is that when he's not working on conceptual jokes like these Horzon is doing design work for clients like Universal Music.

"Horzon's latest project is an absurdly modular furniture system called Wandekor, commercialized by his company Modocom. White cubic furniture is accompanied by blank black and white quadrants designed to be hung on the wall in a combination of sequences which Horzon spells out in the catalogue with a humorous humorlessness reminiscent of Samuel Beckett. Each quadrant measures 50cm x 50cm and costs 50 euros. It's the perfect meeting of the two Bauhauses, the design school at Dessau and Germany's ubiquitous home decoration store. Walter Gropius would be appalled... and delighted."

I must say, here in the middle of positive, polite, noisy, naive, aggressive and ambitious America I'm rather missing that twisted Berlin sense of humour. Roddy Schrock's blog from Berlin (and other European cities; he's on tour) has also sharpened my nostalgia for my "home town" recently. I tend to agree with Roddy's geo-cultural perspectives completely. (He also makes very interesting music.)