‘The things that have lasted and the things that will last are never subject to a quick fashion.’
I write in order to remember. Simple journaling on design, architecture and art helps me to recall experiences and learn more. I want to write in English, because I think in English, I read in English and I find this language extremely adaptable to the needs of any immigrant. So forgive me for this amateurish manner of writing and enjoy the facts and the picks.
I like simplicity, and that is what I am going to write here about.
Humble, plain and natural materials. Subdued colours. Right proportions, clear structure, understandable ideas. Order and moderation in everything.
I am often inspired by readings, exhibitions and places I go. When I design I think about opening up the space, about breathing and quietness. No hustle, no clutter, only what is necessary.
I had read Anni Albers’ ‘Selected Writings on Design’ before I saw the exhibition in Tate Modern in London. I was enchanted by the clear rhythm of her writing and carefully thought through sentences. I was inspired myself to try to write in English, as she did when she moved from Germany to the USA in 1933, when Nazi forced the Bauhaus school to close.
She was the artist who found inspiration in clarity and plainness. She believed that: ‘we must find our way back to simplicity of conception in order to find ourselves. For only by simplicity can we experience meaning, and only by experiencing meaning can we become qualify for independent comprehension.
Through her life she was endlessly inspired by Andean pre-Columbian weavers, something I am myself familiar with through my many trips to South America.
In her writings ‘she revered ancient craft people and especially the early Andean weavers for the indigenous ways they produced objects of great beauty from extremely limited resources.’
This frugality in design is very appealing to me in a sense of minimalism. Her textiles have a notion to be read in that way – simple, with limited colours, meditative and very sophisticated.
Before reading her writings I had never thought about textiles as structures based on orthogonal grid. I thought they are soft, feminine, unrestrained and random. I did not spend much time considering them essential when designing interiors. I was wrong.
Anni Albers exhibition in Tate Modern opened my eyes for the entire new world of possibilities which are the result of endless combinations between the rigid grid of vertical warps and horizontal wefts and the soft substance of yarns.
And I adore grid. Grid was among the first things I learned as an architectural student; how to divide space and turn ideas into reality by using grid. Grid creates proportions and alignment, helps us to understand the volume, to justify it. Grid minimises the visual noise. Grid is meditative. Grid is full of possibilities. Grid is simple.
The list of adjectives glorifying versatility of grid is endless. Grid doesn’t belong to anybody but is present in everybody’s life, and has been exploited not only by architects but also by the number of artists over the centuries. We all know Agnes Martin, Piet Mondrian, Ruth Asawa or a representative of the younger generation of artists, Sopheap Pich.
Anni Albers herself explains the importance of grid in textiles production: ‘the weaving workshop developed its own distinctive language, making use of the grid structure of weaving emphasising haptic and tactile qualities’.
In her writings, the artist also constantly refers to architecture. She refers to both crafts; textiles and architecture as ancient ‘older even than pottery and metalwork. In early stages they had in common the purpose of providing shelter, one for a settled life, the other for a life of wandering, a nomadic life’. She also emphasises, that ‘the essentially structural principles that relate the work of building and weaving could form the basis of a new understanding between the architect and the inventive weaver.’ During her life Albers worked on many architectural commissions. She designed several room dividers, decorative drapery fabrics, and textiles for every day use in interiors, such as bed throws or curtains. She thought about textiles as integral architectural elements, with intention to use them in architectural forms, like sound-absorbing panels, or equivalent of solid walls.
Her work was created for purpose, without abundance of decoration and unnecessary ornamentation. I like what she wrote about knick-knacks we produce nowadays:
‘We continue to decorate, searching for aesthetic pleasure, though the conditions of work have changed. Without adding new form values, we obscure the function of things by decorating them. Our decorating today is frequently only camouflage; we make bookends representing animals, vases for flowers themselves resembling flowers. Through decorating we have also learned the trick of hiding a poor material under a rich pattern.’
Her art, or craft if we prefer to call it, is filled with standards we hardly think about today. High quality materials, balanced design, function, elegance and simplicity.
Wholeness wasn’t an Utopian dream for Anni Albers. As an excellent designer she understood ‘the need for the functioning of a thing and the need for appearance that responds to our sense of form.’ And ‘this complete form is not a mixture of functional form with decoration, ornament, or an extravagant shape; it is an coalition of form answering practical need and form answering aesthetic needs.’
This words sound like a design manifesto but they should be considered every time we embark on a new design journey. Function, quality, simplicity.
Luckily, for us designers we can not only boast to our sophisticated clients about the inspiration we derive from the old masters but also we can implement their timeless ideas into our contemporary designs. As Anni Albers wrote: ‘It is easy to invent the extravagant, the pretentious, and the exciting; but these are passing, leaving in us only neurotic aimlessness. The things that have lasted and the things that will last are never subject to a quick fashion.’ Hence, many contemporary artist and craftsmen create collections based on this classic examples of ageless ideas.
Christopher Farr has a collection of rugs by Anni Albers design: https://christopherfarr.com/designer/anni-albers/
Beatrice Larkin has created a collection for the Anni Albers exhibition in Tate Modern: http://www.beatricelarkin.com/
Marta Dabrowska & Jenia Tevelev
Anni Albers’ ‘Selected Writings on Design’, Wesleyan University Press, Published by University Press New England, Hanover & London, 2000.
Anni Albers, Tate Modern, 11 October 2018 – 27 January 2019.