It is significant that the common image of the country is now an image of the past, and the common image of the city an image of the future. That leaves, if we isolate them, an undefined present.

— Raymond Williams, The Country and The City

Thank you so much Brian for a really fantastic week of events. ‘The Chalkley Grand Tour’ has been so valuable for me in many ways. In particular The William Morris Museum. I have grown up surrounded by his work. The female members of my family were and are all makers, favouring natural handmade objects over manufactured ‘foreign’ goods. I vividly remember the first time I saw a bright yellow plastic bird bath, shaped into a sunflower in my grandparents house. This garish kitsch object was heralding the dawn of a new age! It was 1999. This was when Victoriana was beginning to wear thin in our gaff! Anyway…..

William Morris was and still is a giant in terms of design and socialism. It was a delight to go into the house and see his designs, paintings, philosophies and hear his poetry first-hand. I came away from the experience determined to carry on making domestic furniture/objects and bringing it into the realms of contemporary art.

I have plans to work with a fellow student who has similar ambitions. We aim to show the work in December. I hope you can attend.

Can an art object be functional? If not why not? Does it become design then? What if the object is made with a very specific critique on contemporary society as William Morris’s company produced?

I think maybe following the greats of modernist design, Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi, and Frank Gehry etc… we have become accustomed to dwelling in conceptual landscapes that are combining form and function as a matter of course. No more Capability Brown, no trees, just concrete and industrial minimalist design. Brutalist architecture flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, descending from the modernist architectural movement of the early 20th century. The term originates from the French word for “raw”, as Le Corbusier described his choice of material béton brut, raw concrete. British architectural critic Reyner Banham adapted the term into “brutalism” to identify the emerging style.

In brutalism we have a concept born out of a need to produce optimistic, relatively easy to erect buildings following the second world war. The Barbican pays homage to this. The building and interiors are all designed to exemplify contemporary urban living. Furniture followed suit and we have design icons such as Jasper Conran and more recently IKEA mass producing home furnishings to cater for a minimal, constantly changing domestic environment. DIY bought a whole new approach which allowed manufacturers to produce more product more cheaply than ever before. William Morris is probably turning in his grave. Gone in every sense is his ideal of art and life working together seamlessly supporting contented communities, producing objects that would stand the test of time, being cherished and handed down through families.
Is it time to reassess where we are and how we approach our lives? The question is urban living in its current form good for us? We have seen terrible tragedy recently with the Grenfel Tower fire. Many other social housing projects are also under scrutiny following similar issues with cladding being deemed unsafe. Surely living on the Barbican on the top floor in a custom built apartment over looking London whilst you earn 100K+ a year is fine and dandy but what about a young family living on the bottom floor of a tower block whose walls are constantly damp and they have to contend with petty drug related crime continually. Community life in a Tower Block is not easy.
There is no respite or comfort for them at street level and certainly no natural distraction or space from the urban pressures. The gentrification of London has improved the look of the place for sure and there seem to be fewer and fewer ‘moody’ areas that I can see in my lifetime but what is happening to the people who are being moved out. Are we just not developing a thick crust around the glistening glass towers of the capital that is going to extend further and further out into the landscape destroying any hope for a natural human existence?
Our Folkestone trip made me very angry. I saw for the first time exactly what gentrification meant and how Art is used to kick start it. I used to live in Commercial Road in London in 1995 just around the time the East End started to boom. It was a curious place. Definitely edgy and extremely cheap to live.
Maybe we have sanitised our existence too much now. There are no animals to eat us. We don’t need to get our hands dirty to grow our own food. In fact some of us have absolutely no idea what we are really eating and where it came from. Most of us can eat most of the time. Our middle classes are luxuriating. Our island hasn’t been invaded successfully for centuries. We are growing fat and complacent in a concrete wasteland festooned with DIY shops! What a fucking hole!
Could it be possible to limit the amount of concrete in our surroundings? Create buildings that have to involve a natural environment as well. Will people want to have fewer objects in their homes again but made by local artists and artisans? Will these objects convey a direct message to change how we think and live? Can they help us to attain a deeper connection with our fellow human beings and our natural environment? Can consumers bear the additional costs of these goods? Could it work as an exchange? Can communities develop again around industry? Will it be sustainable? Will this happen in post Brexit Britain?
I am looking forward very much to developing this line of thought. Early days………………
Kate Mieczkowska