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Mad Dutch Disease… Michael Rock on Dutch Design

October 16, 2010

I have a serious issue with my titles; I can never decide if I want all caps or sentence-style. I know it’s silly, but my own inconstancy drives me nuts.

Anyways Michael Rock has an essay on Dutch design which Manuel referred me to, as I am so psychotic about Dutch design right now.

Here is the essay. I assume it is a htmled version of a presentation and/or talk he gave, presumably in the Netherlands.

What follows are some quotes and notes, mostly for my own thesis, and thus not that interesting for everyone else. But I urge everyone to read the essay–it’s quite interesting and readable with images and such.


Interesting points/notes:
“The convoluted, challenging, intelligent, difficult, self-reflexive, coy, clever, often staggeringly beautiful work that results from this exhaustion I call Dutch Design. I consider Dutch Design a kind of work, or an attitude about work, or even a brand of work, that could theoretically occur anywhere at anytime….But any work that demonstrates the peculiar combination of irony, self-deprecation and thinly-veiled egoism can earn the title of Dutch design.”

“So much Design in one place creates an aggregation of exacerbated difference…The Dutch City becomes a Vegas version of a Dutch City with its myriad contemporary “attractions.” It’s Holland as international design theme park.”

This is the interesting part… rethinking as very Dutch
Dutch design as imported from Germany/Switzerland post-war…
“It seemed like everything in the post-war Netherlands was being rethought and the process of identity design, with its emphasis on analysis, was one more type of rethinking….The proof was everywhere. The Dutch remade modernism in their own, more eclectic, more tolerant, version. Dutch design was Swiss-lite.”

Random point unrelated to thesis:
“In America we still feel its out duty to try to inject good design into the fabric of the culture that is generally resistant to it. In Holland that cultural fabric is saturated and it’s a small country. But are all big projects done? Is Holland a country where EVERYTHING is already designed?”

Look up: van Toorn
claims of elimintation of house style for van Abbemuseum (?!!!!!!) “(No style as house style)”

“1) Neutrality is a myth or at least neutrality is a brand message in itself. 2.) Hindrance and dissent as a method can also become a brand device.”

van Toorn vs Crouwel’s approach (again, must look up van Toorn to fully understand!)

“Both are working at the “makeable society”, one from the position of efficiency, modernization and objectification; the other from the position of agitation, dialectic and the enlightenment of the masses. So Jan and Wim end up not in opposition but as two sides of the same Dutch coin. Both assume a patriarchal belief in their role as guardians of culture.

Gramsci argued that the ideology of a dominant culture consumes all discourse contained within in it, including the discourse of resistance. So their difference now, in the age of what Max Kisman has dubbed the “style of styles,” seems to be primarily formal…..

…visual expressions of ideology have been absorbed into one master system that strips the meaning of all aesthetic gestures and reduces them to easily exchanged visual clichés. (See for instance, Experimental Jet Set’s ideology free regurgitation of Crouwel’s work.”

look up Dumbar

“For us, Dumbar seemed to impose a kind of irrational exuberance on the staid institutions of Dutch culture: the post office, the railway, the police, etc. Dunbar neatly synthesized the two competing strains of Dutchness: the systematic and the wonky. And he seemed to be able to sell his institutionalized wonkiness to even the most conservative commissioners. (As outsiders, we secretly couldn’t believe any self-respecting country would allow their government officials to wear such outlandish outfits.)”

“Working from a palette of tried and true elements — brightness, off-kilteredness, geometric abstraction, angularity — Dumbarism became a kind of brand in itself that could be applied to anything, anywhere. ”

“To associate with Studio Dunbar meant adopting certain value suggested by Dunbar’s own mythmaking apparatus, basically a systematic modernist approach to corporate identity peppered with a sprinkling of playful design elements. This approach allowed conservative, often privatizing clients to have it both ways: it promised efficiency and seeming individuality or freedom.”

Yikes. I think this is exactly my goal.

“The effect of Dunbarism and the frenzy of identity designing over the 80s and 90s seemed to be that Holland became one continuous sea of logos. Everything was done. Everything was styled.”

This is an old favorite trope of mine. Sigh. It makes me feel a little depressed to not be pursuing that, but I think it’s really topic for another thesis…

“So Dutchness, and Dutch Design, become tools for globalized, capitalist corporations to market to the Dutch audience. Dutch design as branding tool and constructed signifier of Dutch values, becomes as quaint and charming as windmills and tulips.”

This might be true, but I don’t think it’s true for me. I think working against form (in the broad way I mean it) is just a generally excellent creative stategy. People are conservative by nature. Working against form gives people what they want as well as a surprise and creativity. Working against form allows the designer to both communicate and be creative.

Wim Crouwel and Jolijn van de Wouw’s PTT telephone book of 1977 vs. Irma Boom jubilee book for SHV in 1999

“But despite claims to the contrary, the phonebook is an expression of a kind of ideology: A belief that it was good for the public to read a certain way, a typographic aestheticism disguised as altruism. Under the cover of neutrality, the designer asserts his subjectivity, for instance, Crouwel uses the limited character set of phototypesetting to justify an all lowercase alphabet: a long-time dream of modernist designers who saw different upper and lowercase letterforms as an untenable illogic.”

Irma Boom SHV book:
“Working in conjunction with an archivist for over five years, Boom shaped a narrative out of an undifferentiated lump of raw data. The meaning and narrative of the book is not a product of the words but almost exclusively the function of the sequence of the pages and the cropping of the images, the basic devices of design.”

“The book makes the signature of the designer part of its branding strategy. The book says: we are an enlightened company, we are rich, we are cultured, and we know the value someone like Irma Boom. ”

“Crouwel opined in an interview that a recent Boom book on Otto Treumann was “in fact a book about her, not Otto Treumann.”

SHV book: “Boom is a constant, ghostly presence….It’s an Irma Boom book. The designer, as author, supplies brand value or celebrity endorsement”

Back to NL at large:
“There’s the divided lust for expression on one side, and moral rectitude and modesty on the other, which seems to generate a range of singular behaviors.

…This bifurcated relationship – dividing the desire to express and the drive for reason

One Comment leave one →
  1. Betsy permalink*
    October 16, 2010 9:35 pm

    Starting from Lecture 8:

    “there is an emerging tendency in which the designer assumes a central role as character in their own work. This tests the way in which the treatment of given material – what JVT might call the critical perspective – amounts to a kind of authorship.”

    About Archis magazine and the sort of “I” of the magazine which is found all over: “It invites is own disfiguration.”

    Here is a point where I realize I definitely need a date for this essay. It is after 2001, but that is all I know. In any case, this Archis business feels a bit dated; or I am completely misunderstanding it. High art/design magazines have exploited a snarky “I” ever since I can remember–i.e. let’s say since about mid-college days. And since that’s when I only got interested into such things, I assume it had been going on before. (Though I totally agree with Rock’s characterization of this “spectral” I to ” an annoying friend reading over your shoulder making comments.” I hate all the interference, quite frankly.)

    Perforated things you can play with and flirt with mailing in–well those have definitely been going on for ever. What am I not getting here!

    Lecture 9. Dressing down.

    About the Dutch author: “His or her presence is almost always padded in irony and self-deprecation. There seems to be is a close connection between the rise of the author and of subjectivity and the un-designing of design.” Sigh. It’s a defeat to fight this. Clearly, in Michael Rock’s words I am Dutch by nature. May as well pursue it…

    Joop van den Ende (JVDE)

    “The work seems to reference the standard, accidental items of an in-between space, but always with some ironic twist. But actually it’s a romanticized banality.”

    “But the question is: does banality have an agenda? Is anything advanced except the blasé, detached bemusement of the designer? Has Holland become so comfortable, so completely designed that the only thing left is ironic commentary on the act of designing itself?”

    I like this essay, but I’m confused by the moralizing. What the hell is Rock’s agenda? I certainly can’t imagine he’d claim it is anything else but making good, smart, hot design…. Why somehow besmirch poor Dutchmen who are trying to do the same thing in their own way for not having an “agenda”?

    “Is design simply a free-floating reaction, all verb without direct object.”
    Ok, now the dude is simply just straight up talking about himself. All he talks about is how he is “process, process, process.” Design as verb not noun…

    EJS quote:
    “What we have…drawn from postmodernism is the realization that there are no objective, neutral or universal values. But that does not discourage us from pursuing those values; that is our modernist inheritance. In the end, we’ve actually arrived at something of a synthesis of modernism and postmodernism; working with a utopia in mind, while being fully aware that we will never achieve that utopia.”

    “But more strikingly, for a country once known for big, bold, broad public initiative Dutch design seems to have taken to tackling small issues. The designer cast his/her gaze on something so low; so insignificant it imbues the object with almost mythic power.”

    Daniel van der Velendan project to brand Sealand (single abandoned North Sea defense platform cum principality) “Whatever the merit of the design experiment — to create an identity for an entity without substance, a pure data space”

    Lecture 10. We are what we eat.

    “I wonder if we have all worked ourselves into a trap of our own making.”

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