Volume 8, Number 2 (July 2011)
Author: Dr. Gerry Coulter
Review of: Branko Lukić with Barry M. Katz (2011). Non-Object. Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press.
Only form can cancel out value (Baudrillard, 2005:73).
The book contains visual images of objects which have been created in the mind of Branko Ludić (strategic design consultant and professor at Stanford) articulated in text by Barry M. Katz (California College of the Arts). It is a collection of diverse conceptual works (nonobjects) aimed at showing the potential for exploring outside the realm of practical problem solving. In devising his thoroughly impractical nonobjects Ludić seeks to encourage us to think about how we typically think in an ends-means fashion concerning design. Some of the objects provoke humour, all reside in the space in-between idea and end use and all evoke uncertain feelings. Ludić delights in unpredictable and seductive forms.
Form is the illusion of the world and the possibility to invent another scene (Baudrillard, 2005:57).
Unlike in everyday solution-oriented design the authenticity of the non-object does not depend upon its ability to function. Here we forget the axiom “form follows function” as in the space of the non-object (its very non-object status is predicated on its lack of functionality), function exhausts itself and must give in to art. In our era of micro-technological design both outer form and inner function are radically destabilized. It seems that Ludić’s nonobject is what Baudrillard might term the absolute object: “The absolute object is one that is worthless, whose quality is a matter of indifference ( 1990:116).
Nonobject is a firm created by Ludić which makes both objects and nonobjects. The book Nonobject concerns only his most visionary designs which are not realizable beyond the computer screen. The nonobject exists only as a virtual object. Katz sums up Ludić’s nonobject design: “When he postulates a bicycle that cannot [yet] be ridden or a chair that cannot be manufactured, shipped, or sat upon, it is not because he is ignorant of ergonomics but because he understands that the measurement of the human body is no substitute for the investigation of the human condition” (xxv).
Katz tells us that Ludić’s work is characterized by three methodological indexes: 1) humour (which often marks the beginning of his design process); 2) disruption (reordering the familiar to cast it in a sharper light); and 3) extrapolation (which helps us to probe what exactly an idea is – whether it is any good or not comes after). Katz argues that in so doing Ludić demands of us that we think beyond the known constraints and conventions of design. Dull commoditization is sacrificed here to a post-intuitive realm where a 6th sense of experiment and wonder reside.
Where objects continually fail to satisfy a “need” for them (Baudrillard says they merely point to the anguish of our not knowing what we want [1972, 198:205), nonobjects aim at failure from the beginning. Where objects serve as mirrors of an image we seek to project, the non object holds a broken mirror up to the object to present it with the most frustrating illusion of itself. In this sense the nonobject, resting on the side of that which we cannot pass over to, is the result of a highly creative process. However, in the very name “nonobject” we find the power of the inescapable object – so powerful that its opposite must bear its name.
And so it is for Ludić’s nonobjects because we know they do have a practical purpose to aid the designer when he works on more mundane practical objects. Further, it is here reduced to a tidy little commodity known as the book. This is not to deny the creativity of Ludić’s nonobject efforts, but rather, to temper Katz’s text with the location of the book and the firm in commodity culture. As Baudrillard said the logic of the commodity is at the very heart of the sign ( 1981:146) and this logic governs the whole of our culture ( 1988:191). What Ludic accomplishes, and this is no mean feat for a professional in the highly demanding world of design, is to maintain a place for creative thought which is not immediately aimed at a passage into functionality. As Katz later says, more poetically, “nonobject is an approach to design that begins neither with the product nor with the person using it but in the charged space in between” (xxxii). This sounds like Rauschenberg who said that his work as an artist took place in the space between life and art. We cannot deny that as soon as Ludić steps back out of the space in between, and into the space of his studio, he is returning with all of his ideas to commodity culture. So, this book is a highly useful commodity, not only to Ludić or the MIT Press, but for readers who want to think past design as mere functionality while recognizing, as Katz seems to have difficulty doing by times, that not even the nonobject exists outside of culture.
Finally, the book, like the nonobjects it illustrates and describes, privileges the unfinished, the prototype, so much that it becomes one. As in the designing of nonobjects, where failure is an essential part of the program, this book’s failure is part of its making. In the end, like the nonobjects it records, the book tumbles into the screen: www.nonobject.com.
About the Author
Dr. Gerry Coulter is from Bishop’s University, Sherbrooke, Canada
Jean Baudrillard ( 1988). The Consumer Society. London: Sage.
Jean Baudrillard ( 1981). For A Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. St. Louis, Mo: Telos Press).
Jean Baudrillard ( 1990). Fatal Strategies: Revenge of the Crystal. New York: Semiotext(e)/ Pluto Press.
Jean Baudrillard (2005). The Conspiracy of Art. New York: Semiotext(e) / MIT. Edited by Sylvere Lotringer.