swaybetween

hybrid scholars and boundary objects: exploring dialogue between science and art.

2 years ago

Read theory, buy things, style yourself, be subversive. Or just get up and dance.

Postmodernism came after modernism. A fickle movement, swaying between many things, it apparently defies easy definition.

Modernism was characterised by “utopian visions based on clarity and simplicity”. In contrast, the postmodernist movement was “an unstable mix of the theatrical and theoretical .. colourful and ruinous, ludicrous and luxurious.”

All quotes here come from the recent Postmodernism exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Unfortunately it has now finished, but I have to post anyway just how delightfully crass and confrontingly vibrant it was. Covering themes from architecture to fashion to music and art it has made me want to rewatch Bladerunner and own oddly shaped teapots.

A word that caught my eye several times in the exhibit descriptions was elegiac. I had to look it up:

So basically, mournful, melancholy, lamenting. Which gives the period a somewhat sombre tone. But perhaps this is true. The exhibition did show some level of hopelessness, perhaps in an ironic manner, that would naturally come after modernism..? A melancholic state of fed-up-ness with conformity? Definitely there was a consistent recognition of dramatic extremes, such as wonderfully acknowledging “the splendours and miseries of the metropolitan condition.”

I enjoyed reading about Denise Scott Brown. She’s an architect who, along with her partner Robert Venturi, contributed influentially to the early development and documentation around the built form as modernism evolved into this “something else..” This was notably recorded in their book (along with Steven Izenour) Learning From Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form. They continue to be prolific in their design and planning works today, but I particularly liked this quote from Scott Brown that she recalled after their early time in Vegas:

"Dazed by the desert sun and dazzled by the signs, both loving and hating what we saw, we were both jolted clear out of our aesthetic skins."

Apparently postmodernism is notoriously difficult to categorise (almost by definition), and hence it is not often addressed as a full exhibition theme. The V&A somehow quite successfully concludes the show in an ambiguous way, claiming that we are all in fact still influenced and even inside of postmodernism. The exhibition wall text at the end says “We are still feeling postmodernism’s effects. In that sense, like it or not, we are all postmodern now.”

This text was alongside looped screenings of the video for New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle (1986) with highlighted lyrics, “Why can’t we be ourselves like we were yesterday?”

Indeed. And possibly my favourite contradictory and evocative words on display, those used as the title above.