Blurring The Boundaries

At the moment it comes out of my mouth, I know I’ve said something that I neither whole heartedly believe in nor fully understand. “Blurring the boundaries between art and design”, I say. It sounds just so exciting. I’d love to go and blur some of those boundaries. In fact, I envision it as something like the dismantling of the Berlin wall, a sort of righteous attack on the artifice of the old guard that had been left standing by our own complacency. There are many un-thought through phrases that spin out of mine and, dare I say, many of your mouths yet blurring boundaries is one that can be heard all too often these days, particularly in galleries, showrooms and magazines just like the one you’re holding now.

The examples we are offered of blurring boundaries between art and design often don’t stand up to scrutiny. For instance, selling design in an art gallery format doesn’t make it art. Limiting the number of items you produce doesn’t make it art. Taking a standard design item from your range and painting it another colour also does not make it art. And, by the way, it doesn’t blur any boundaries. I’m not against all of the work that turns up this way, but let’s not suggest it is something that it’s not, nor that it’s doing something that it isn’t.

What seems more pertinent is the morphing topology of the market we’ve seen recently in both worlds, by the likes of dePury’s launching into the commissioning of work by designers themselves rather than waiting for a secondary market to wash the work upon the shore of their salerooms. Or Damian Hirst’s (he gets everywhere doesn’t he?) Royal warrant of approval being layed upon Christie’s to great media effect this month as he sells directly to the bidding audience a collation of his recent work. This sets a precedent and maybe, with it, offers a glimpse, an alternate future, of the art market.

I personally find an increasing strain in decoding cultural lexicons through the various obfuscating lenses the world is viewed through today that I need no further blurring, thank you very much. In fact, what I’d like is a huge light shone upon the boundaries so that I can more clearly see them. Call for an optometrist and some Halogen lights (CFL’s and the greening of design, we’ll come to that at another time). I don’t need to be seeing the world through the wrong end of a telescope.

We’ve seen boundaries being blurred, smudged and dismissed as non existent, in an attempt to suggest they’re no longer relevant. Segregation in the U.S.A. and Apartied in South Africa could only be assessed and brought down as the tyrannical regimes that they were by highlighting them. Emancipation from existing thinking doesn’t come from the blurring of boundaries, it comes from clearly understanding their nature and location.
And if mapping out and drawing of lines may seem far too colonial a pursuit, then be reassured the location of cultural boundaries are more mercurial than those drawn on political maps. They may be porous but they do exist and the location where ideas or bodies meet is almost always the most interesting and telling of moments.

PHILIP WOOD