Reading the Modern / Postmodern Kitchen Object

Through Theory and Display by Helen Butler

This article is part of  the publication ‘Sooner, or Later’. [1]

Design by Helen Butler

My research paper questioned the historiographical shift from Modernism to Postmodernism, specifically in relation to objects designed for the kitchen. I looked at the ways in which histories and designer-written theories focus on a disavowal of ‘form follows function’, signalling a overwhelming design change, but obscure a more complicated and accurate timeline by only looking at the most well-known objects, such as Philippe Starck’s Juicy Salif lemon juicer.

These pieces reflect the cut-and-paste nature of the postmodern objects that first drew me to my essay topic. The collages represent the superficiality of materials, with materials seeming to be what they are not (an anthesis to some definitions of modernism). The images selected come from an endless proliferation and over-abundance of   other images, making my own choices in what to assemble the key part of the work. This is some ways echoes the practice of postmodern designers, who emphasised craft, individuality and emotional connections to objects. In the free and referential language of these collages, the viewer is perhaps provoked to imagine that theoretical ‘hyperreral’, with domestic things playing a part. In addition, the bodily connections in these pieces reference the anthropomorphism of postmodern kitchenwares, notably those by Alessi, and the ways in which designers inspired the public to covet their everyday objects.

Design by Helen Butler

Sooner, or later is a collection of visual essays by History of Design MA students at the Victoria & Albert Museum and Royal College of Art. The submissions reflect and refract the research undertaken for an historiographical essay in spring 2016. This project was developed in order to push the boundaries of the essay format through collaboration with other schools at the RCA. The essay brief invited students to write a critical historio­graphy of design change in a category of objects or a design process. The brief tested the ability to: identify patterns of historical change; evaluate different explanations for change; and analyse the social, cultural, gendered, ideological and technological reasons for design change. Sooner, or later is an unbound, risograph-printed publication in burgundy and fluorescent pink. Contributors were given 0.25 square metres, or two sides of A3, with which to cultivate and interrogate their historio­graphical research. Most of the visual essays are the result of collabo­rations with other students at the Royal College of Art.

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