Social Object

In March 04 Neil the Big Issue Vendor for the Vic Market spoke to the 2 nd year class of design studies. He talked of how he saw Melbourne as an outsider living within the city. The students in their turn confessed they were apprehensive about meeting people like Neil on the street. Neil is small and wiry, a former jockey and very mild. This was an encounter, one in a series, to raise with the students the role of the consumption driven designer profession in society and to give them a sense that they were the ostracizers without due cause – see he is harmless. We have no answers but I do this because the classroom is a political space too and the location of the discourse of the people side to our world. I use these encounters as a shock treatment for the students – and a significant number of students have claimed over the years to have the scales fall from their eyes/ eyes opened. And this for me is the reason I teach – this is my idea of what education ought to do. This is my practice.

Also I have fashioned my approach and professional orientation as a pathway – The Social Object. In 1994 I got a small grant to do a photo study of life on the streets of New Delhi. This became a project – ‘design in the public domain’ – and formed the basis of my aesthetic discourse. I taught courses in aesthetics and form development from 1994 till 2003. I did my story telling course in Bezalel from this archive of images. It formulated my people focus in opposition to the producer focus. In 2003 I submitted my PhD thesis and this was a on a case study of people’s material culture. I now had a theory of the social object. In my teaching I critique the producer side (manufacturer) thinking and the consumption side (seller) preoccupations in design. In the dominant discourse both use and value have been marginalised. But there is yet another marginal discourse that describes the location of my practice and that is about people, their gestures and the unselfconscious side to their everyday life. A student project for 04 illustrates this quite well(see the image in the poster above). Annika started the semester wanting to design a towel rail and through conversations I brought her to an investigation of peoples practices and her topic became the “Wet Towel”. For her research she spent endless hours quizzing people about how they discarded their towel after a bath. She found a forest of practices: some dropped it, some shrugged it off, some peeled it off, and some even flung it. She then used the gesture, flinging the towel, as the central fact of her project to come up with her interpretation of the object that would hold the towel.

The simplest way to characterize my approach is that I am political about objects. I wish to rescue the marginal (objects of the lower classes/poor) such as kitsch. I use this to critique the dominant ethic of consumption. Though this was the radical ethic a decade ago – I seem now to sit within the larger discourse of sustainable consumption. But as I have said on many an occasion – that is not it at all. My position is aesthetic. I actually stand for the ugly and the not so beautiful – privileging the bitter gourd over the lolly – and the development of capability to value this.

All about material culture and sustainability forms a big part of this work …

Key Words: Sustainable Consumption Material Culture Community Commodity Food Renunciation RMIT/ FU/ NID Hitachi Cultural Amplification

Archive resources: Aus DEsign in China Story Telling Anxious Objects Food project Spending Habits Mythical Objects LC of the object All my PD work Furniture

By Soumitri Varadarajan

Soumitri lives in Melbourne, Australia - #probonodesign #codesign #sustainability #patientexperience #quantifiedself #mdg

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