The Interior as an Experience of Aesthetic Tolerance

Arrival: Full life, improvised

"It all has to do with our improvisation concept. It is the way the brain functions. Magic happens upon discovering this way of functioning. The brain makes connections on its own – that's magic. But magic is also a technique. You have to be open in that you allow others to play you. This brings with it the risk of getting hurt. But if you talk about magic, you lose it." (Michael Karoli, CAN)

Even before you see the place, you hear it. It is the first evening of the Cologne furniture fair in January 2007. Folk music quietly fills the air. Was that a cock crowing? Smells enter as well: like fresh hay, like steaming dung, like living animals. It is only then that the material place comes into view – warm light flickers behind white plastic. Then you cross the membrane, enter, and there it is inside the protective tent wall: a little house, a kind of shack, the outer shell of which is made up of a patchwork of different materials. The Farm Project is an oasis in the urbane backyard, an incursion from the village to the city, a model project of new aesthetic experience and a test lab for contemporary design.

Then you enter. There is a sudden abounds. Crowding together on just a few square metres are inventory, animals, food and strolling families. Simply put: a whole lot of life. Minimalism is not at home in this model project about the kitchen. On the contrary, it houses a kind of maximalism, which affirms kitsch and cult, which celebrates the kitchen as a place of congregation, which praises openness as a principle and in return abandons the idea of perfect order. Curator Mike Meiré has interpreted the Farm as an archetype and designed it as a home for the nostalgic longing for social togetherness. An obscure memory surfaces: of the fact that good design has always originated from the precise observation of customs of utilisation and that the design of things and spaces should, above all, follow the individual design of habit.

And because Mike Meiré sees the kitchen as a place in which the bodily and the carnal are at home, The Farm Project also serves as a space of resonance for thousands of associations. It is by no means undesigned, but it is much more a space/object collage with a tendency towards improvisation than it is a cool design concept. Above all, it is a space in which the past coalesces with the present and in which new visual codes spring forth from an unusual composition of elements. "I wanted to arouse a new enthusiasm for variety" says Mike Meiré. "How can we escape our prejudices against that which is assumed to be kitsch or profane for example?"

In the tour through the space that depicts the primary stations of a classical kitchen, thus remaining true to its most important functions, the old, the new and the altered conjoin to form an unconventional aesthetic experience. A kind of reconditioning results from a new perspective on old things. Within the scope of the Dornbracht Edges projects, which is devoted to experimenting with new conceptual models and which views empirical fieldwork as innovations research, Mike Meiré has posed questions regarding the collective storage of codes, longings, experiences and recollections and has provided answers to these questions not as a doctrine but as a suggestion. "Everything can, nothing must…!"

Station No.1:

The cupboard and the armchair – The culture of transformation

"Indeed, Plato was right that ideas are interwoven with memory. Recollection, however, does not lead back to the real, to the being's forgotten sense, to its forms of being, to the idea, but memory constructs structures only for momentary use in preserving connectivity." (Niklas Luhmann, The Society of Society, 1998)

What you see ................ The cupboard made of wood and glass, so-called period furniture, gives a clear view of what is inside: a lot of porcelain with not a bit of shyness when it comes to ornamentation. Only the silver skull, which is placed in this down-home atmosphere like a foreign body, is out of context. A piece of jewellry from a younger grunge past. A bizarre table lamp is on the cupboard. Its base is made of parts of deer antlers and the shade is also decorated with deer themes. A typical American Midwest veranda armchair, as seen in numerous movies, is in front of the glass cupboard. Mike Meiré bought it for 10 euros from the junk dealer around the corner and varnished it a grey tone, in which mousy flows into anthracite.

Thoughts ............... The skull is a source of irritation in the glass cupboard. Or maybe not, as it confronts with one's own youthful past or at least with a familiar cultural code. Is it okay to laugh at it? Mike Meiré says, "I want to place the visitors in a kind of intermediate zone. At the end they may think, based on looking at the skull, that the glass cupboard and the dishes are somehow modern as well." This is what it's about: transformation and a culture of transformation. Through change, the old and outmoded is made up-to-date and anyway: Who defines what is old and outmoded?

Station No.2:

The stable (I) – It is about survival

"The most interesting aspect of architecture is its departure into new worlds as opposed to getting stuck in old ones." (Rem Koolhaas, Der Plan, No. 2, July 2006)

What you see ............ Behind the fence there are real, very living and very likeable little pigs and sheep. Hay has been piled up and the living space has been designed to accommodate the farm animals appropriately or at least generously enough to allow space for running about. The fence itself is not made of wooden slats but of orange plastic mesh as used to demarcate construction sites and as obtained by the roll in the building supply store. In this respect the fence marks an architectural quote. Stuffed animals on the walls complement the stable's "image." A "country" feeling materialises, the smell of adventure, an archaic moment. It should smell. And it smells!

Thoughts .......... Of course this is not a matter of illustrating a nostalgic stable. It is about the idea of a stable. To clearly indicate where food comes from. It is not about a plea for living animals in the kitchen, but about the reference to what the kitchen has to do with survival scenarios. Food has to do with hunting, with the fight for survival, with killing. And the current omnipresent global fight for survival, in which media and Internet convey pictures of disaster areas, makes clear how quickly the issue of aesthetics becomes irrelevant: These situations demand using whatever is available. Plastic sheeting, plastic bags, barrier fences on spools; the simple and the noble exist side by side resulting in collages of copper, plastic and scrap metal.

Station No.2:

The stable (II) – The big dream

"The designer is a creator per se. For me it has to do with taking a stance. This includes posing such questions as: What is important in my life? or: Where do I notice that something is missing?" (Mike Meiré, Interview about E-R-S, 2003)

What you see ........ The second stable looks like a precast-slab office building, a high rise for rabbits and guinea fowl, an urban quote. Everything takes place close together above and below one another: the chicken above and the eggs below.

Thoughts ......... The fact that everything that takes place in the kitchen is a final process is sometimes forgotten. Of course it is about slaughtering animals, but plants don't have long lifecycles in a kitchen either: First they are raised with great effort or even great affection and then they are harvested, cooked or used as fodder in no time at all. The Farm Project provides a stage for the eternal cycle of eating and being eaten, for the process itself. But the space also brings the other side into focus: the longing for home, not for design. Both poles are represented in The Farm Project: The outer shell, the cover represents the first pole and the interior represents the second one. The inside of the Farm permits indulging in longing. The Farm embodies dreams, big dreams to be precise – because, according to Mike Meiré, little dreams can be had in allotment gardens.

Station No.3:

The mobile  s i n k  t r o l l e y – Cacophony of elements

The German newspaper DIE ZEIT: "Is there not too much design? And too many products?" Philippe Starck: "Too many products, yes, eighty percent of the consumer world is superfluous. (...) At no time was design as fashionable as in the last twenty years, yet at no time has so little design of quality been shown." (Interview in DIE ZEIT, 10/2003)

What you see ......... Mike Meiré made a piece of furniture on wheels for The Farm Project. It is a mobile functional sink station. The white frame for it was found at a junk dealer. A marble slab was placed on top of it and two plastic containers from Muji were first tied together with an orange belt and then fastened into the frame to create a kind of drawer element; not bolted, just improvised. A big wooden plate is on the left side of the marble slab. A work light is on top of this; nothing special, just a practical light. There is a ceramic bowl on the right and the water drains through a hole in the ground especially drilled for this purpose. It bubbles forth from a yellow varnished fitting which radiates building supply store aesthetics with its plastic handle. A simple garden hose supplies the water. Unexpectedly: it works!

Thoughts ........... Obviously the crude mixture of individual elements, from which this product is made, is not the result of aesthetic considerations, but of functional ones. But this itself gives rise to new aesthetics, a cacophony of mini-styles and connotations with the omnipresent smells also playing their part. It automatically becomes clear: life is also like this. Everywhere one looks one receives the most varied, heterogeneous impressions, and every element has its own justification for being. So why not apply this to the unprejudiced joining of objects? Usually "users" as well as designers try to fit this complexity into structures. Here again natural disasters clearly show how senseless such attempts are. If all structures are destroyed and everything is turned upside down, it becomes clear in the chaos that everything has its justification.

Station No.4:

The big  w o r k s t a t i o n  (in the centre of the space) The beauty of chance or life should not be a source of irritation in the design concept

"If we say: there are many objects. Many seem to be sought: There are not as many ideas as there are objects. Provided, we agree that the motive to make an object is not an idea. This means there are more objects than ideas." (Bruno Munari, Far vedere l'aria, 1995)

What you see .............. This furniture was also formed especially for The Farm Project. The centre of the space is dominated by a workbench which is generous in its dimensions. Its surface is divided into two parts. The subject of "washing" takes place in the middle, and the "herb garden" is immediately adjacent to this. The herbs are in a stainless steel container, which Mike Meiré coaxed from a local grill, and the fact that they are located right beside the faucet is logical and practical. It's easy to water them. The right side houses the stove whereas the left side is a large open worktop. A kind of rail surrounds the entire workbench. Brown and white checked towels hang on the metal frame along with simple supermarket bags for trash. A grate is located under the workbench, on which bags of potatoes and carrots are stored. A customary wooden ladder is attached above the work station, floating as it were above the situation. This scene is familiar from butchers' shops. Whole sausages, ham, cheese, dead animals, cast-iron and copper pots dangle from hooks on the ladder. One is automatically reminded of still life scenes depicted by Flemish painters.

Thoughts ............ Mike Meiré says, "I want to achieve a feeling of "naturalness" again, for that which is easy, logical and self-evident." Furthermore it is also about finding, about heirlooms and about the improvised application of these. To have a pool of findings also signifies wealth. There is the traditional, almost kitschy cake stand on the worktop and the eggs are presented in a basket with straw. The thought of dropping an egg in the frying pan is just closer at hand. Mike Meiré is certain that such details serve to modify behaviour in relation to the things.

This kitchen is the opposite of that which is currently happening in culinary design, namely locking away as many objects as possible behind the largest possible surfaces. Upon conceiving The Farm Project, much more attention was paid to how people use their kitchens and the things in these kitchens. And thus this project has actually originated from the precise observation of the customs and habits of use. It is, so to speak, a mini-empirical project. But Mike Meiré has not translated these observations into standard products, but into a space, a context in which a "normal" life can unfold, in which archaic things, already existing things, can again find their place. Mike Meiré: "Minimalism in the kitchen pursues a strategy of ignoring life. What takes place in the kitchen, is in reality structured chaos, a celebration of life. In the kitchen minimalism remains an intellectual mind game. Indeed, when it comes down to it, the new designs look good in the showroom but not at home. In these kitchens, an espresso cup that is not in right place immediately becomes a source of disturbance."


Station No.5:

The  s t o r a g e  r a c k  – Recycling as an aesthetic concept

"There has always been design. One finds the idea for its renewal upon observing many objects." (Achille Castiglioni, Design Lexicon, Italy, 1999)

What you see .......... The storage unit consists of open, simple, extremely deep industrial shelving. In the middle there is an aquarium, which doesn't contain goldfish but carp that can be cooked. Mike Meiré has varnished the shelf a mint colour and put yellow sawhorses in front of it. They serve as a ladder to scale the considerable height of the storage units. The shelves contain wine crates with the charm of noble patina, plastic bags of mushrooms, chickpeas, salt and ginger all packaged as in a Chinese grocery store, which is more honest and authentic in a way. The lychees in cans remind of Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup accumulations. They look like pop art, but are also simply supplies. The storage also contains cups and pots. As evidence of the globalisation age, different style elements exist side by side here in the kitchen. Chinese porcelain meets rustic stoneware and they help provide each other with aesthetic justification. Plastic baskets in fluorescent colours are also integrated. The racks house the promise of urbane adventure in which there is structure nonetheless.

Thoughts ......... Is it not much more thrilling to take up the things that exist in the world anyway and reuse them? And is this not the slightly more earnest approach to recycling? Are not the products of our past kinds of heirlooms that are worth living with? A lot is produced to satisfy the global markets. But a lot of things already exist. And the moment of chance is intentional here. A "building supply store" aesthetic - you go to the building supply store to buy wood, but you never know exactly what it will look like once it's bought – is not only accepted but expressly affirmed. And this storage area seems to be expressing something else as well: "stop putting things away and out of sight!" "Say yes to a full life!"

Station No.6:

The  s i n k  a r e a – The aesthetics of the ugly

"Those who seek beauty are well-advised not to confuse it with the perfect, that which excludes all well-being. Granted the imperfect alone does not provide access to beauty, which is most frequently confused with harmony." (Thomas Wagner, FAZ Feuilleton, 1/4/2007)

What you see ............. The faucet has been varnished in an umber tone. It has deliberately been designed with this artificial, strange colour. The special colour serves to bring the manufactured product of chrome back to this country world of brown-beige, which takes precedence in The Farm Project and is permeated throughout by glaring accents. Cheap yellow sponges and pastel-coloured colanders in tired yellow and blue also lie on the sink counter. The sink station is opposite the big workbench; prewashing and rinsing are performed here before loading the dishes into the built-in dishwasher. To the right of this washing station, two additional sinks are mounted one above the other. They are from a snack bar. Very dirty or greasy dishes can be prewashed and soaked here before putting them in the dishwasher. There is a side door beside the sink station. It is open but partitioned by a plastic curtain as seen in camping trailers. Mike Meiré once again went to the building supply store and produced this curtain himself together with his wife. The idea? "From Max Bill to Max Bahr (German building supply store)", says Mike Meiré.

Thoughts ............ A note on the colours: The revival of folk music, the success of films like Brokeback Mountain, the longing for a country-house style all have to do with a longing for a sort of simplicity. And this is what is collectively associated with that which Mike Meiré calls a "certain country colouring". With this he means the said spectrum of brown-beige colours. In The Farm Project, this spectrum is provided to a certain extent by the integration of numerous "old" objects, but also combined with strange, cheap seeming fluorescent or pastel compound colours which are not really hip. Or are they yet again? Mike Meiré calls the mixture "contemporary". Another aspect of this concept is that money plays only a small role in it. The incitation is: Go to your attic! Go to your basement, look to see what's inside and get everything out! Google yourself a new combination! Go to second hand stores! And finally: Start curating your surroundings!

Departure: From  t h e  o u t s i d e  or between Anton Corbijn and Circus Roncalli

"Be patient, calm, compassionate, knowing that existence is fleeting." (Ettore Sottsass, Designboom archive, 2000-2007)

What you see ........ The Farm is built on planks, virtually floating, and is therefore a kind of stage. Depending on the angle, one discovers 1000 little paintings and receives an endless odyssey of impressions.

Thoughts ....................... From the art of Felix Gonzales Torres, Joseph Beuys, Charles Eames, the video world of Anton Corbijn for Depeche Mode through to Circus Roncalli. The Farm is all of this as it provides space for far-reaching associations. Mike Meiré: "The Farm is reminiscent of Noah's ark. People are satisfied in their longing for nostalgia and they feel a touch of temporary home, but there is also a sense that history is being told into the future. Transformation is the important thing here!" The Farm Project has created a space in which aesthetics are the by-products of processes. And who says that disarrangement is not much nicer than order? All objects and artifacts, which are to be found in a kitchen, also belong here. In this respect the kitchen is a workshop for the senses, a place of aesthetic tolerance. It is no wonder that every party ends in the kitchen!

Claudia Neumann