Digital. Material. Structural. Ornament TodayOn 31 May and 1 June 2010 the international conference Digital. Material. Structural: Ornament Today will take place at the Faculty of Design and Art of Free University of Bolzano-Bozen. The conference is being organised by Professor Dr.-Ing. habil. Jörg H. Gleiter.
The conference invites international designers, architects and artists as well as theoreticians, cultural scientists and philosophers to Bozen/Bolzano in order to pose the question of ornament in the digital age from the perspective of practice, theory, aesthetics and media psychology.
Contributors will be from the USA, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy. The conference will be held in German and Italian. All contributions will be simultaneously interpreted into the other language.
The debates on ornament have reignited. As the digital age dawns, ornament – the very thing that modernity attempted to abolish at the beginning of the machine age – is making a comeback in design, architecture and art. The return of ornament is an indication of a fundamental change. Opinions diverge when it comes to ornament, but less in the sense of taste than that the central formative questions crystallise on it. Ornament is the battleground of theory and practice.
“Forwards to tradition! Ornament is dead! Long live ornament!” It was not just anybody who proclaimed this in the 1930s: these are the words, half ironic and half serious, of Walter Gropius, founder and long-time director of the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau. The attitude of modernism to ornament is ambivalent: it reveals the internal tension and dynamics of modernism. Forwards to tradition! This simply means that, in its contradictory nature, ornament is the driving force, indeed the dynamic principle of modernism.
In fact, ornament has today returned – in an almost scandalously fresh and nonchalant form. It is visible not just in the superficial appearance of advertising, fashion or product design, but also in ornaments of spaces and computer-generated architectural design processes and the virtual object world of screens and media facades. Cue a collective sigh of relief among designers, for whom the abolition of ornament represented a founding myth of modernism: that same modernism that has until today formed the very basis of our culture. So the return of the repressed is felt in many places as a liberation, as some kind of emancipation – as if finally literally every design medium was once again available, without any taboos whatsoever.
But did ornament ever completely disappear? It was repressed, yes, but could it ever be abolished or liquidated? We may dismiss the postmodern ornaments of the 1980s as a relapse into historicism, but have we completely forgotten the large-scale geometrical, orange and ochre-coloured patterns of 1970s design or the structural ornaments of the architecture of the 1960s, pop art, the ornamental patterns of op art and concrete art, not to mention the generative aesthetics of the early computer age? Another image arises from the ornament–structure–pattern perspective: modernism has in no way vanquished ornament, but instead brings to the fore that which was, until the 19th century, taken for granted, yet through which the status of culture repeatedly appears in new form: ornament.
Bozen, 15. November 2009
Jörg H. Gleiter