Postmodern Furniture


From my early years this life didn’t resonate with me . . . 

I walked a complex path between conformity, rebellion and withdrawal.  I didn’t jell with the messages  from my environment. I didn’t want to use them or be associated with them.  I was pleasing but not becoming.  

It wasn’t enough to just know what it was. I needed to dig it up, make connections, unravel it.

Eventually, I developed a methodology for creating a visual language founded on the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure, the teachings at the Bauhaus and the essential essence of the subject.  This is the core though it extends beyond what’s mentioned here to any signifier including sound, smell, taste, gesture, texture.

Written and spoken language is a system of signs/ signifiers from which meaning can emerge, this denotes a visual language of signs/ signifiers from which meaning also can emerge.  By rearranging the order of the signs/ signifiers in a sequence, a sentence, story or image we can change it’s meaning.  Culture is a system of signs that from our birth, through language, programs our minds and habits to conform to the existing regimes dogma.  This is reinforced through the built environment and the language of objects that fill our lives and order our minds, beliefs and behaviour.  We are creatures of signs, of symbolism.

Familiarity with Ferdinand de Saussure’s . . .

structure of language is first; then decide on a subject and through research ascertain it’s essential essence; refer to the teachings at the Bauhaus on colour, line and form.  Synthesise a symbolic image biased on these findings.  The second step is to employ the elements from the symbolic image as structural components in design.  The methodology is detailed in my book, “The Symbolic Significance of Colour, Line & Form”, ISBN: 978-0993002700.

The outcome from the methodology is exemplified in Sils Maria and Laissez-faire.  Sils Maria is a construction of symbolic signs/ signifiers who’s narrative concerns Friedrich Nietzsche.  Laissez-faire demonstrates the three linguistic signs; symbol, icon and index in a narrative about capitalism.

Lacan’s Real . . . 

Beyond our man made, programmed mind and it’s limited imagination lies our essential essence, Lacan’s “Real”.  Include what you have learned in the unravelling of your life yoga, meditation and Shambhavi Mahamudra,  superconsciousness.  We are born in to dogma. Reprogram your mind, create yourself.

Gary’s Real . . .

What you think you become. What you hold in mind is your reality. How we are living is our response to external stimuli, facts. Often we respond to these facts with an unconscious prototype that we acquired in our early years. What we experience is our interpretation of our thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Changing our thoughts and how we choose to respond to facts changes our experience and our world. In this way we can fashion our own reality.

Memphis Milano


Comment on the involvement literary criticism, structural anthropology and the Bauhaus had on Memphis Milano and on Design.

Memphis Milano undoubtedly drew inspiration from Art Deco, Pop Art and 50’s Kitsch. But there was so much more to the Memphis Group than this. They demonstrated an awareness of the predominance of male-ness that dominates design, film and popular culture and of a femininity that was a fluffy pink sideline. The black box design referred to in Wikipedia was a symptom of this and a sign of how detached we had become form our primal naturalness and of a gender division.

Attention was brought to this through both overt and non-erect symbols of masculinity (Ettore Sottsass, “Treetops” 1981, right) and ‘dangerous’ feminine iconography (Sottsass, “Sol” fruit dish, Memphis 1982, left).

Ettore Sottsass
Ettore Sottsass

Other facets of Memphis Milano and fundamental to design is about people, human beings and involves two basics of design. One is concerned with the primal, trans-cultural activity of mark making. The other is how the mark and its message is communicated to those people who are the intended recipients of the marks. Sottass’s concern for our essential human essence in design and his recognition of our detachment from it is evident in the article, ‘When I Was a Very Small Boy’ here.

Developments in literary criticism brought about by Ferdinand de Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics and published posthumously in 1916 by his former students. His theories had a monumental impact on the social sciences of the 20th-century. Saussure is widely credited as being the father of modern linguistics, semiotics and more pointedly Structuralism. 

During this epoch ground breaking work by the structural anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss was published throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s and whose master project extended in to the second half of the 1960s was also well known. It is not too presumptuous to assume that as a writer and intellectual Barbara Radice would know of these developments in literary criticism, her field of professionalism.

Another presumption of small magnitude I suggest is that as an artist and designer concerned with mark-making Ettore Sottsass would be knowledgeable of the teachings at the Bauhaus 1919-1933. In particular the publications by prominent teachers there who sought to codify colour, line and form. The influence of the Bauhaus on 20th century art, design and architecture can not be underestimated.

From art and design a lexicon of marks . . .

From structural linguistics a methodology with which to encode the marks and from structural anthropology a theory of our common human and primal essence. It was a synthesis of these great 20th century advances in thought that enabled the precipitation of a new visual language.

The tenet is that objects can be encoded with signs integrated in to the design of an artefact that use language as a model producing culturally significant objects. Similar to (“Malabar” 1982, Ettore Sottsass, below left) and anthropological (“Carlton”, 1981 Ettore Sottsass, below right).

Ettore Sottsass Malabar
Ettore Sottsass Carlton

As with all languages to articulate meaning structure and context is all important, syntagmatic solidarities. To pluck a unit of meaning from its context and to locate it elsewhere out of context and without meaning may have a sensational originality but was often used by the masses with meaningless ignorance. Without history or depth it can only bask in the shallows of consciousness where its evaporation is assured. This was the sufferance that was to follow Memphis.

Unknown Student Work.
Without doubt a language orientated Postmodern Design.

Structural Linguistics was cutting edge thinking in the 80’s and 90’s and required study. It produces linguistically literate and culturally significant articles (sofa above) that are very easy to confuse with ‘Postmodernism in design’ but, are fundamentally different. A few early Memphis pieces hinted towards this though were more embracing of a zeitgeist. Ettore Sottsass understood that design is cultural and demonstrated this by his use of materials, forms, construction for their symbolic value in his designs.

Postmodern design workshops

In essence the projects I ran at the colleges and universities in the UK were postmodern design workshops. Projects were in two parts. Students researched the symbolic significance of colour, line and form in the first part. The second part saw the realisation of a design for a serviceable object.

Above is a seat that was the result at the end of one such workshop. The students name I forget annoyingly. His solution is a stunning example of postmodern design – there were many.