Strange Harvest
Architecture / Design / Art
StrangeHarvest is written and collated by Sam Jacob.


The Matt and Ron Show



cover
Hi. I've just read Matt and Rons book. Here's the plot, nicely documented in a photo story running through the book: top art critic Matt Collings goes to Chalk Farm, shakes 80s design superstar Ron Arads hand, sits down, chats, has a cup of coffee, stands up to look at something. Ron gets up and gesticulates. The sun shines. The tape rolls. Someone brings another drink. Matt leaves.

The book is a transcript of their conversations which chronologically cover Rons career. But its not just another book about Ron. Its also about Matt. He tries to get to the heart of art critic type issues.

Rons answers are terrible. But that's OK. Ron is just too excited about his own story to engage with anything else. Or even to get his own story straight. Everything was fantastically interesting and amazingly exciting. His mother thought he was a genius at drawing! Peter Cook, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhass thought he was a brilliant student! His final project at the AA was great! etc.

The only thing missing are shots to camera of Matt arching an eyebrow while Ron gets angry and shakes his fist. What makes the book unusual is the clash of cultures: Ron (the design guy) doesn't seem to have much time for ideas, which is exactly what (the art guy) Matt is looking for. In the same way, Israeli born Ron dismisses the French art critics who interpreted his concrete turntable as a reference to the rubble of Beirut or the Gaza Strip.

My guess is that Rons not telling the whole story. That the interesting bits have all been edited out. Which is a shame, because that's what we want from autobigraphing celebs. My Furniture Fair Hell! Blown Aluminium Saved My Marriage! Chair Design Shame - the full story! Maybe Rons been lucky. My own experience as a designer is littered with disappointment, angst, fear, loathing, failure, incompetence, bad luck, bitterness, jealousy and waste.

The book is beautifully designed by GTF. Clear, sharp, and clean. Which suits Matts honest-but-a-little-confused schtick. Ron looks as comfortable as a Pope in Francis Bacons headlights. For the front cover, GTF made a squirmy piece of type that morphs Matts signature into Rons. Maybe it symbolises the rope that Ron is given to hang himself with. Or maybe its the distance between the two men.

The book revolves around asking what design is, and how its different from art.
For Ron - and most other designers, art is something that ended in about 1964. If art is a sculpture, it's curvy and sculpted like a Hepworth or a Moore. If art is a painting, it's splattered in an Abstract Expressionist kind of way. He's not alone though. Most designers would agree. Terms like 'sculptural form' are used to describe design and architecture in a way that would puzzle the contemporary art world. Design darlings like Ghery, Hadid, and FOA make things that look like 1950s art with a streak of 1960s sci fi. Things that if made by an artist could only avoid ridicule by claiming the asylum of irony.

Ron thinks of art as something made by a kind of heroic Picasso/Pollack figure. A crazy self obsessed ego, whose genius spills from his hands in the marks he makes. Hence lots of 'Arty' sketches, (ie messy and freehand). Art is a affectation, like Tony Hancock in The Rebel . Being an artist means wearing a funny hat.

Design is strangely purposeless for something so interested in function. Maybe because the idea of use is justification enough for existing. Artists need to invent that reason. And that invention means that art isn't just decoratively visual, its an idea too. Because design doesn't need this, it don't need to articulate why its here. It just is. Like rocks or trees. That doesn't mean that it can't or shouldn't, its just that most designers choose not to. And it doesn't mean that it cant tell us about the world, it can. But maybe indirectly, in an anthropological way - like an artefact from a distant land.

Despite its mythologising of function, design is nothing to do with use. It has everything to do with feeling. Its like a special bit of the world that has been made different. At its best, its a kind of narcotic. It empties your mind and fills it up with a sensation.

The only guy who gets a rough ride is Phillipe Stark. Dubbed 'a stylist' which is about as redundant as describing Thierry Henry as a man who often wears shorts or David Bowie as a man who uses a microphone. Of course he's a stylist, but its styling that's been taken into something that style isn't supposed to do - something incredible, something beautiful, something profound. He's also great at talking about it too. His ridiculous French accent spouting non-sequeters, making funny sounds, showing off his fat belly and generally acting the fool. Artists make serious work but act like twats, designers make twatty work and talk about it in the most depressingly faux serious way.

Matts tries to ask about meaning. But of course he should have realised that there is no room for meaning in contemporary design. Matt the art critic asks about the meaning of all those curves. Ron: 'I don't really think about curved lines much. Its just that you're forcing me to analyse them now'.

Matt remarks that all Rons curves look like they'd like to go back to being 'a flamboyant thick pencil-mark line-curve'. Maybe they'd really like to go back to be a movement of Rons hand. Perhaps furniture is just a way to multiply his gesture - to make it solid and real outside of his body. Chairs are way of reproducing himself or at least a little bit of himself. The bit of Ron that his mum loved and cooed over when he was small. Maybe each chair is really a plea from his inner child: 'Mum, I love you! Do you still love me?'

Poor Ron has hardly spent any time thinking about why he does what he does. He's spent a long time figuring out what you can do with various materials, how to work the industry - from limited edition studio pieces to mass produced factory products - all of which shouldn't be underated.

'I don't have to refer to anything. I don't have to place myself in history, or to carefully align myself with anything' is a typically vapid baby boomer statement. The book starts with Matt claiming to know nothing about design. But actually, its Ron that knows nothing: he's just a guy that makes funny shaped chairs. And there is nothing wrong with that.

First published in Modern Painters



Posted by anothersam at July 15, 2004 1:20 AM.

2 Comments

I will look at this book when i get a chance. As a hybrid identity (artist-designer-artist) i have overcome the urge to
define the respective professions.
I love your mostly cynical texts. Whenever I need a good smile or wicked grin I come to your site - Thanks for posting them.
Keep it up!
C

sam said:

Thanks for your kind words. Though I think of it all as more of a crie de couer. What's a guy to do when he opens his heart and all that crawls out is a weary wisecracker?

Leave a comment





Contents:

More Scenes In Cartoon Deserta

Eiffel X-Rays

Beyond: Values and Symptoms

Sub Plan

Shenzhen: Window of the World

White Power

Generic Powerpoint Template: Delivering Bad News

Duplicate Array

The Best New Building In London

Book Review: The Infrastructural City

A Balloon in the Pantheon

Letters From The Pantheon

Henry Moore in Motion

On My Steel Horse I Ride

The Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition

Now Showing: John Baldessari Sings Sol LeWitt

Obscure Design Typologies: Life Guard Chairs

Osama bin Laden Cigarette Lighter: Novelty Products as Congealed Culture

Absurd Car Crashes: A Eulogy for J.G. Ballard

Candy Pistol

Now Showing: Dan Grahams 'Rock My Religion'

This Concrete 'O': On Serotonin, the M25, and the Motorik Picturesque

Church of the Literal Narrative

Philadelphias Floating Architecture

Now Viewing: Married To The Eiffel Tower

Le Corbusiers Image Hoard: Poeme Electronique

Giant American Signs: Original Learning from Las Vegas Footage

Giant Soviet Signs Cut Into Forests

Bricks Melted Into Icicles: Napalm Decorative

C-Labs 'Unfriendly Skies' & 'Bootleg' Volume

2 The Lighthouse: Self Storage & Architectural Hallucinations

Ceci N'Est Pas Une Pipe: Infrastructure as Architectural Subconcious.

Viva Sectional Cinematography!

Now Showing: The Installation of an Irreversible Axis on a Dynamic Timeline

Plug: Junk Jet

Sim Seasons Greetings! The Rise of Neo-Winter

Geography in Bad, Festive Drag.

The Ruins of the Future

High Tech As Steampunk ...

On The Retro Infrastructural

Simulations of Industry: High Tech Architecture and Thatcherism

David Greene: The Big Nothing

From The Factory to the Allotment: Tony Wilson, Urbanist

Koolhaas HouseLife / Gan Eden: The Revenge of Architectural Media

Ruburb-ric: The Ecologies of the Farnsworth House

The Architecture of Divorce

Flagrant Delit: The Movie

Landscape as Clothing

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham Redux

Acts of Un-Building: Timelapse Demolitions

Yard Filth: Next Years Hot Look

Stonehenge: A Black Hole At The Heart Of British Architecture

The Popemobile: Mechanised Robes & Motorised Architecture

Tarmac Adam, Tarmac Eden

The Secret Language of Surface

Some Housekeeping

Information Fields: Agriculture as Media

My Bloody Valentine: Sound as Substance

A Cubist Copse: Gehrys Serpentine Pavilion

Olympic Model Protest

Spouting Off: Some Thoughts On The Fountainhead

Form Follows Dysfunction: Bad Construction & The Morality of Detail

Floating Homes

Vintage Tradeshow Surrealism: International Grune Woche

Moving Houses: Buildings In Motion

Desktop Study: The Strange World of Sports Studio Design

Married to the Eiffel Tower: More Objectum Sexuals

60 Years of The Crazy Horse Memorial

Married to the Berlin Wall: "The Best and Sexiest Wall Ever Existed!"

Inflatable Icebergs: Sublimated Guilt Has Never Been So Fun

The Cinderella Effect: Phantom Architectures of Illumination

Two Deaths and a Retirement: The Strange Shape of British Architecture

If London Were Like New York: Antique Schizo-Manhattanism

If London Were Like Venice: Antique Geo-Poetic Speculations and Hydro-Fantasy

41 Hours in an Elevator: The Movie

NASA: Mapping the Moon with Sport

Lemon Squeezy: Design Tendencies after the Juicy Salif

Stadium Seat Mosaics

The Nihilistic Beauty of Weapons Arranged in Patterns

Light Vessel Automata

Dogs: Britains Greatest Design Obsession

Madison Avenue Modern

Detroit Sucks: The Motor Shows Last Gasp

Mies' Grave: Cut Out Model

All You Can Eat

Valentine Machine

The Tools of Re-Geography

Floating in a New Town Sky

Authentic Replicas: Football and the Franchising of Place

Folk Football: Landscape, Space and Abstraction

Haystack House

A Wishing Well with a Fat Up Pipe

The Camoufluers and the Day-Glo Battleship

Pseudoccino: Instant Coffee Foam

Yesterdays Technology, Today

Blown Up: More Inflatable Military Stuff

On Christmas Trees, Folk Forests and Staples Office Supplies

Hampton Courts Shrouded Sculptures

Named Fabric: 20 Sponsored Pieces of Architecture at the New Museum

Form Follows Felony: The Secret Home of the Un-Dead Canoeist.

Architectural Magazines: Paranoid Beliefs, Public Autotheraphy - More on Clip/Stamp/Fold

Little Magazines Seen Today

James Bond Lives Next Door: Suburban Imagery as Industry

The Ghost of Christmas Futurism

Petrified War Machine

Military Deceptions

Chapters for an Imaginary Book About Architecture

Shrouded Plinth - Urban Striptease

In the Night Garden - Surreal Landscape of Nostalgia

Kim Jong II, The Great Architect

Pill Box Picturesque

Un Clear Monument

Place Faking: Instant Heritage for the Thames Gateway

The Marc Bolan Memorial Crash Barrier.

Warped Domesticity

The Nuclear Heritage Coast

Enjoy The Silence: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

The Story of O (2)

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham

X100: A Design Exercise

How to Plan A New Town

Carpet Bomber

In Search of Britains Vehicular History

Scenes in Cartoon Deserta

Scary Suburbanism: Why Horror is at Home in the Suburbs

Re-Make Re-Model

I Like Your Manifesto, Lets Put it to the Test-o

How to Become a Famous Architect

Northampton - Sci-fi Pop Planning Promotion

Advertising Central Milton Keynes

Baltic Exchanged

Festival of Nostalgia

The Clapham Trainwash

Airports as Music

Test Card Dummies

The Velvet Underground at the Glass House

Duplikate: Kate Moss on the Production Line of Individuality

The Museum that Ate Itself

Hollow Inside: Starbucks Foam and the Rise of Ambiguous Materials

Revisions to the Architecture of Hell

Crufts: Dogs, Design and Aesthetic Genetics

Eos Airlines: Executive Bubbles over the Atlantic

London's Ugliest Buildings

1.51 Miles Of String

Google Earths Vertiginous Mapping

Church of the Ascension and Descension

Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles

Replica Bombs

The Invisible Bungalow

House / Boat

Reading Lines: Skateboarding and Public Space

Mountain Sculpting

Sint Lucas in BD

Bat House Competition

Old Walton Bridge

Kiruna: The Town That Moved

Spray On Magnetic Defense

Chris Cornish: Prototyping History

The Jubilee Gestalt Vase

The Most Visited Location in the UK

Anything to Feel Weightless Again: The Cargo Lifter and the Tropical Island Resort

'Its beauty will know no season'

2000 Years of Non Stop Nostalgia. Or How Half Timbering Made Me Whole Again.

Inside-out Aldwych

Backpeddling into the Future: The Historical-Futurism of British Architecture

Miss Selfridges' Feeling for Fake Snow. The Oxford St. Lights and Why We Need Artificial Winter

Nelsons Cavern

Foam Gargoyle

New Tory Logo: A Hazy Shade of Politics

Jeff Koons, Rem Koolhaas, Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine

Souvenir Empire

Celebrity Scents: The Bittersweet Smell of Success

Imperfect Pitch - Football, Space and Landscape

Product Placement: Making the Impossible Possible

Suburban Growth: Matthew Moores Field of Dreams

Perfect Sound Forever: The Secret Function of High End Stereos

Picture of the Week 1

A Little Light Product Placement

Some Advice To A Young Designer

London and on and on

In the Gallery of Ice Creams

Useless Proclamations for a Beautiful City

Mini Mies Chair

Topsy Turvy VSBA: Inverted Heros of an Upside Down Avant Guard

Harvest III: Buried Things

The Harvest II

The Harvest I

Estuary Urbanism

The Royal Families Trees

Everything Flows: ideological cartography

How Geostationary Was My Valley?

The Psychotic Utopia of the Suburbs and the Suburbanisation of War.

LegoLand London Cluster

In a Lonely Place - Under Construction

Design Will Eat Itself

Mach 3 Nitro Gel - Design that's foaming at the mouth.

Marchitecture. Architectural things to do in London this March

Metallic Jet Powered Cloud

"When we got married I had no idea he would do something like this, he just said he was going to do some decorating."

The Electric Cenotaph

Russian Rok

Commitment ...

Dinner in the Iguanadon

Trace

What happens when you cross a pen with a car?

Leg Table Leg

Florentine Building Sites

Good Morning Britain

Football Pitch: Best of British

The Sad Photographer

The First Cut is the Cheapest - Blenheim Palace: pop architecture that goes for the jugular

Book Now For Christmas

Requiem for a Toilet Seat

Architecture that Destroys

TomTom Mobile 5 / GO 700

Winning Design

Another Croydon

Holiday Snap II : Giant Glowing French Balls

Holiday Snap: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy, France

Pecha Kucha London

Anatomy of an Architectural News Story

Big Bens

First Cut - Case Closed

The Texas Tower

Its All About the Big Benjamins

G8 Security Tower

White Cubed Blues

Poundbury, unexpectedly, in the rain

The Exploding Concrete Inevitable. Lou Reed and the Casa da Musica

Swingball

Untitled (Plastic Sack and Timber)

Berlin 1945 - The Obscene Picturesque

Pizza Planet

Goal Sculptures

Interview: Jeremy Deller & Alan Kane

Previewing Cedric Price

The Mardas Touch

Building a Lionel Richie Head

Ornament is Grime 2

An Incredible Smell of Roasting Coffee

Flatpack Frenzy at New IKEA

Langlands & Bell - The House of Osama Bin Laden

Labour is kind of working

Happy Death Men

Build to Let

Architectural Criticism gets Sharp

Niagara Falls

Ornament is Grime

FA(ke) Cup

Q&A: Wouter Vanstiphout

X-treme urinals

Unigate Cowscape

Spray-on Snow

From the Baffler ...

One in a Taxi

The Queen Machine

The Knork

Venturi, Scott Brown and my love that dare not speak its name.

Polictical Placards

The Ketchup Conumdrum

Douglas Coupland: Design and Fiction

It's a Small World

Images de Parfums

Soft Carcass

Christopher Dresser at the V&A

Blow up Pub

Municipal Mummification

The Matt and Ron Show

Semi - detached

Half Timbered Van

Feltham Future

Favorite Things

Fugitives and Refugees' - Chuck Palahniuk

The Pop Vernacular

Design by Chefs

Just What is it That Makes Yesterdays Homes So Different, So Appealing?

Archigrams Pastoral Futurism

Sorry Mies

The Flaming Lips - Live.

Everything Counts - The Sound of Geography Collapsing.

Carlton Terrace Extension

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