Throughout our lives, we wrestle with the concept of authenticity - of self, of culture, and of our constructed environment. Even in our present ironic and cynical age, the desire to be authentic remains a symbolic construct that continues to have cultural value in how we understand ourselves and our pasts.
The objects that make up our material culture represent this plight; progressive attempts to be ‘authentically’ original and innovative are matched equally by a desire to reconnect with the ‘authentic’ past through the revitalisation or production of tradition. Oftentimes, the same objects that were at one stage innovative reemerge at a later date as traditional symbols that oppose change and innovation. What becomes clear is that authenticity itself is not.
Essence of Change explores relationships between innovation and traditions in Western Product Design through the framework of chairs, a taxonomy of artifacts that have been historically used to illustrate and evoke design styles and movements. An ongoing research project, Essence of Change interrogates the lifecycle of objects in our constructed environment, from their innovative beginnings to their subsequently traditioned and abstracted iterations.
Critically examining the phenomena of tradition, this project studies how the products of our material culture are revitalised and updated over time, disrupting and reorienting our perceptions of history, and thus impacting how we see ourselves. New objects that present themselves as traditional may attach additional or new meanings than the themes and movements they symbolically reference. The lack of clarity around these distinctions remains an urgent issue today as authenticity continues to play a leading active role in how we orient our lives.
By examining and producing a range of chair typologies and histories that illustrate and respond to the nature of lifecycles in design, Essence of Change questions the inevitability of design cycles and change as it relates to the complex concept of authentic. From a survey of gothic chairs across time, to the ever-ubiquitous white plastic monobloc chair, to proposed digital chairs that integrate algorithms and ‘gravities of intersections’ to combat the subjective nature of historically-oriented design, different methodologies that tackle the goal of authenticity in design are presented.
Designers and consumers alike are invited to critically challenge the dilution of meaning and reorientation of histories that arise when objects are falsely framed as traditional and authentic restorations of our past. Through the examination of chairs and various adjacent artifacts, audiences are urged to take a more critical perspective towards ‘traditional’ objects.