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BTB is an occasional and ongoing series of interviews and conversations between artists and designers whose work offers reasons to make work, despite and because of the complex world we live in. It aims to highlight anomalous practices and individuals, and somewhat optimistically, is envisioned as a tool to forge new ways of relating to the material and social world we inhabit. Irrespective of discipline or aesthetic, their categorization is instead found in the way their work does or enacts an idea or set of principles. These conversations are to serve as a reminder that there are other ways of doing things, even if the systems that we make them in are inescapable at best and punishing at worst.

This imperative to do is, somewhat circuitously, where “But the Bauhaus” derives its name. In 1919 Walter Gropius called for the erasure of the distinction between art and design in the founding manifesto of the Bauhaus. Through unity and craft he wrote, a new future could be built, one “without the class distinctions which raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist.” The founding aim of reunifying art and craft was a response to paradigmatic shifts to the production of objects, buildings, art and textiles, resulting from industrialization, at the time still (relatively) recent. While it may have been looking to the past as a guide to rectifying the divisions (and horrors) created by industrialization, it was not demanding a regression. Instead, the Bauhaus was fundamentally oriented towards the future.

For me, politics and aesthetics are inseparable and it is this aspect of the Bauhaus which I find most interesting. The Bauhaus was founded as a school and the work produced there was a response to, and clearly shaped by, the conditions under which it was created, a world war and newly expanded global interconnectivity, to name just two. Frequently however, its famous pupils, instructors and the school itself are reduced to a kind of shorthand, often one dimensional and aesthetic alone. Crucially though, this omits the politics, the social complexities and the rapidly changing world at the root of its founding. So outsized is this cliche today that any drive towards a different way of doing things or engaging in a different manner of teaching design is met with the question: But the Bauhaus? What about the Bauhaus!? to which my reply is, What about it?? ¯_(ツ)_/¯  

I don’t mean this to say that the Bauhaus is worthless, only that I find the more pressing questions are not about the Bauhaus and its particular histories, but instead the overarching ideas that gave birth to it in the first place. I want to know what this tells us about the world we face now - if anything at all. What are the conditions that we are responding to today? How can we use them to thrive and to generate work that is as complex as the world we inhabit?

Now it is the Bauhaus that is our history, and in evoking the past I am interested in thinking about what it might tell us about our future. To do this, I find it is helpful to draw a distinction not between aesthetics or disciplines, but to think about how knowledge functions, what it is versus what it does, or alternatively, knowing about and mastering something versus an open ended engagement that requires exchange or even risk.

This idea of disaggregating kinds of knowledge crystallized for me some years ago when a dear friend shared with me Eve Sedgwick’s essay “You’re so Paranoid You Probably Think This Essay is About You.” It is a frame that I have used to help me understand my own work, and one that has not infrequently found its way into conversations with those in my personal life as much as professional.

The essay opens with a question about conspiracy theories, and the debatable importance of verifying whether they are true or false. Even if the theories were true Sedgewick asks, “what does this tell us that we don’t already know?”  The question suggests that sometimes it is not the facts, what knowledge is, that can lead to change, but that there is a different kind of knowledge that engenders action and outcome, what knowledge does. It is what knowledge does that I am interested in here and, specifically, how we can use it to shape our future.

To say that you are setting out to complete a task, however, is necessarily to invite evaluation. The natural twin of imperative, is efficacy. This is perhaps the why of the project. BTB is a response to a line of criticism I frequently see leveled at those whose practices refuse to comply with dominant modes of production or whose work makes material demands.

One of the ways that ideology functions efficiently is through the presentation of systems as historical and immutable. To curtail change and forestall alternatives while actively reinforcing and preserving these ideologies, a very pernicious evaluative metric is applied. Discourse and criticism is fundamental to growing and strengthening ideas, but often this criticism is reduced to a single design - that solutions to complex problems are not worth exploring unless they are scalable. To suggest that scale is the only measure of success, however, is to succumb to the same coercive logic of capitalism itself. It is a frame that denies nuance, and extracts efficiencies, but ideas are not machines. Scalability itself is a capitalist construct.

It is in response to this reduction that BTB proposes a frame of multiplicity, one of optimistic uncertainty, and a position firmly in the camp of scale-resistant-pro-complexity. It is my hope that, taken individually or as a whole, these conversations will serve to inspire and offer new paths or directions for how to live and work, no matter how large or small the steps are.

All of the work of these artists and designers, whether it tells jokes, engages in skill or time in idiosyncratic ways or is dematerialized altogether, is made with a drive towards developing more sustainable ways of making, living and surviving the world. It is my hope that BTB can serve as a repository for different ways of living, thriving, and doing - a space of sharing and possibility both large and small. Welcome.

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But the Bauhaus es una series ocasionales y continuas de conversaciones entre artistas y diseñadores que están trabajando para usar paradigmas pasados para crear el futuro.

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