Domus - - CONTENTS - Kai­wan Me­hta

The sub­ject of de­sign his­to­ries is to­tally un­ac­knowl­edged in In­dia to­day. There have been very few in­stances where at­tempts have been made to try to un­der­stand broad dis­cus­sions in de­sign and pol­i­tics of liv­ing, aes­thet­ics and ma­te­rial re­al­i­ties in In­dia over a cen­tury or two. Sev­eral books and other claims to de­sign his­to­ries are fee­ble and pithy in their re­search, and lack con­cep­tual sug­ges­tion of any merit. De­sign and its pop­u­lar ver­sions as in ar­chi­tec­ture or fash­ion or prod­ucts of life­style ex­ist largely as prac­tice and con­sump­tion only. Of these, ar­chi­tec­ture is the only the­o­rised field of prac­tice and con­sump­tion. Even In­te­rior De­sign, a pro­lific prac­tice, has ab­so­lutely no the­ory of any worth pro­duced or pro­posed from In­dian or sub-con­ti­nen­tal po­si­tions and lo­ca­tions. Re­vival­ist (you can also read ‘fetishis­tic’) ten­den­cies or fash­ion­able de­bates such as sus­tain­abil­ity or lip-ser­vice to the en­vi­ron­ment of­ten cloud the dis­cus­sion on the prac­tice of de­sign or its the­o­ris­ing. The pages of this mag­a­zine, since the last seven years, have built the ground for dis­course on de­sign prac­tices, its pro­duc­tion, its po­ten­tial the­ory, and an at­tempt at out­lin­ing a field of ac­tion, thought, and pro­duc­tion vis-à-vis de­sign.

Cul­tures of vi­su­al­ity, tech­nol­ogy, fi­nance, and modes of skill and labour, pro­fes­sional struc­tur­ing to set up de­bates on ethics of prac­tice and val­ues in the field are all part of the field we need to de­fine. Of­ten the re­search and writ­ing, the lit­tle that is there of very good worth and value, is not read by de­sign­ers, who then, in their own wis­dom, keep re­dis­cov­er­ing the wheel with the least un­der­stand­ing of what shapes re­search in such sub­jects or what would be the pro­to­cols of dis­course. The re­search and writ­ing on de­sign is of­ten lost in brows­ing im­ages in cof­fee-ta­ble-book kind of read­ing habits, or sim­ply the lazi­ness to think and work be­yond vis­ual com­fort and con­sump­tion. Writ­ings on de­sign his­to­ries and the­o­ries have been cir­cu­lat­ing more in the fields of vis­ual cul­ture and cul­tural the­ory than de­sign schools and stu­dios of de­sign­ers. It is time that de­sign­ers in­vest in knowl­edge pro­duc­tion that is be­yond the prac­tice of mak­ing; and de­sign­ers will need skills of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and com­pre­hen­sion be­yond the draw­ing, be­yond think­ing only visu­ally, and not make state­ments of generic na­ture on ideas of de­sign and his­tory as if they are pointed the­ses in the field.

The is­sues one is dis­cussing here have deep im­pli­ca­tions in the de­sign of post-grad­u­ate ed­u­ca­tion in de­sign-re­lated fields. What is also im­por­tant is the pres­sure to put a dis­course such as Sus­tain­abil­ity or Con­ser­va­tion to de­bate. As means of pro­duc­tion, fi­nan­cial ex­changes and in­ter­ac­tions have dras­ti­cally changed in the last few decades, the prac­tice of de­sign and mak­ing is one that is very strongly af­fected. This ur­gency has hardly been taken up within academia or prac­tice, be­sides the mode of lament, loss and fee­ble calls for re­cov­ery. From within the field of de­sign we have not been able to grasp the in­ten­sity of change, and the wan­ing out of a core that sur­vived us un­til the 1980s. This loss of con­trol has con­verted the de­signer into a char­ac­ter who cel­e­brates the fence, and keeps em­bel­lish­ing it, happy to think of the core in forms of idyl­lic pasts or lament its loss, but will not spring into ac­tion with an at­tempt to take con­trol of things in a re­al­is­tic man­ner. At the same time, there are surely some de­sign­ers and prac­ti­tion­ers in the new gen­er­a­tion who are ex­tremely alive to the re­al­i­ties of their time, in­tu­itively re­spond to those, and ne­go­ti­ate them through their ap­proach and process in de­sign. They are yet not able to ar­tic­u­late this sit­u­a­tion, and that is surely no prob­lem, but their ex­pe­ri­ences, sharp­ness of per­cep­tion and re­sponse, and sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity pro­duce hope forthe field.

In this is­sue, across time and me­dia, we ad­dress the sense of mak­ing and re­flec­tion, col­lage and stereo­graphic fo­cus, and the per­cep­tion of ev­ery­day life these pro­duce for us, putting a dis­course to com­plex­i­ties and con­tra­dic­tions through me­dia and prac­tices, and the cul­tures of vis­ual pro­duc­tion, de­sign and art.

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