Sils Maria is a small village in the Swiss alps that is clean, and the air is fresh. Friedrich Nietzsche went there to get away from the dirt and smog of the city, it was somewhere he could rest and be himself.
Nietzsche, a brilliant philosopher, had suffered from severe migraines since childhood. The clean environment and air at Sils Maria helped to reduce the blinding pain he had in his head.
At Sils Maria, Nietzsche transformed in to Zarathustra, his alter ego, and he wrote many of his philosophical masterpieces there, including Thus Spake Zarathustra. His writings have had a profound influence on culture, religion, philosophy and science throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
Nietzsche rejected the past and the accepted dogmas of the time and broke away from them. Through his critical thinking and writings, he presented mankind with a new, forward looking, vision for the future, a new beginning for humanity. His intellectual concepts have had material outcomes that are wide ranging in their reach and influence on society.
My challenge was to express Nietzsche’s ideas in a functioning object. Using language itself as a model to compose the object and using colours and forms for their symbolic significance.
SILS MARIA, the complete design project, is in the National Museum of Scotland’s, Contemporary Design Collection and is a part of the National Archive of Scotland.
Museum Accession no.: K.2019.16
Look at Sils Maria, both the painting and the article;
- Sils Maria, the object above, see a man standing facing forward with his right arm raised, hand up and pushing back.
- Here, symbolically, he is rejecting the past. It’s behind him, represented by his right side looking at him (our left).
- He is breaking away, from the past, symbolised by the brown, broken bookshelf, a broken man-made square – the wisdom of the past.
- The design’s central configuration is the feet, head and body.
- On his feet Nietzsche is wearing his black boots, signifying that he is grounded in the real world. Black here is an iconic sign.
- His head and his mind are symbolically transforming into Zarathustra, the positive and negative squares, the colours are opposites.
- The colours and configuration symbolise his Apollonian, Dionysian and other philosophical concepts.
- His left arm is raised and in his left hand he holds a yellow triangle, a symbolic sign that signifies intellect and intelligence.
- Having turned his back on the past, he faces the future and presents his thoughts to the future. His gift to humanity.
Postmodern design that’s “Language Orientated”.
Acrylic paint on linen, height 90 cm x 150 cm.
- In the painting he is stepping in to the future.
- His thoughts are translated in to material reality, the dynamic, red squares that reach out to the edges of the canvas, to the edges of culture.
- In the painting, he is breaking from the past by stepping on dogma, pushing back and rejecting the old ideas. With his new proposals, in his hand, for a better way forward for mankind, one that’s free from the dogma and fears of the past and of his time.
Language Orientated Design;
Ferdinand de Saussure,
the father of modern linguistics.
Symbol; culturally presupposed.
Icon; resembles what it is.
Index; a part for the whole.
Sils Maria structure of signs fills a three dimensional space, as opposed to signs on a page. The way our eye falls upon it to read this physical structure of signs is non-linear. It takes time for the meaning to unfold – we may have to move around it to see the other side and check for signs there.
Written and spoken sequences of signs, the English language for example, the structure is sequential, is linear and in two dimensions. Meaning emerges as we read or listen, the story unfolds over time.
This is similar to the principles of the structure of language, Structural Linguistics, Structuralism, as laid out by Ferdinand de Saussure, the father of modern Linguistics.
In design, Postmodernism follows culture. In the same way that written and spoken language is a sequence of signs, so to is design visual language, a sequence of signs. Both are made up of signs that comprise of a signifier and a signified, in a context that has meaning. And both are culturally significant.
The approach to the project is in two parts. The first part is to decide unambiguously on a subject. Followed by research and development on paper aiming for a clear final outcome that summarises the subject concisely. This research and development is best done when there is no final product in mind so as not to bias the outcome. Without clarity here, the second part cannot begin.
The second part is to use the elements from the first part as structural components in the design of an object, now to be decided. Consider choosing an object that contributes to the overall significance of the subject. The significance of the configuration and function of elements should be kept in mind and contribute to the overall significance of the finished article.
The whole process is to ensure that everything signifies what you intend it to signify and not a pop-up prototype from the designer’s unconscious.
My work has been categorised as postmodernism or postmodern design and this general term is not a comfortable home for it. Perhaps at the very extreme of postmodernism there’s a gate and path to where it truly belongs. It’s a “Language Orientated Postmodern Design”.