The Clothed Home: Tuning In to the Seasonal Imagination, Adam Mickiewicz Institute, 2021
this pubblication accompanies The Clothed Home exhibition at London Design Biennale 2021, 1–27 June 2021
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Fragmet from Resonating with (Dis)comfortable Phenomena. Kacper Pobłocki in conversation with the exhibition creators.
KACPER POBŁOCKI: What is discomfort design?
ALEKSANDRA KĘDZIOREK: This is a reversal of the familiar status quo. In the 20th century, designers tended to focus on optimising the quality of life, sheltering people from harsh outdoor conditions by providing a constant temperature and protection from precipitation. We soon came to take living in such stable and predictable conditions for granted. As Witold Rybczynski argued in his book Home: A Short Story of an Idea, it was only in the 18th century that the notion of ‘comfort’ in the contemporary sense appeared; nevertheless, it soon became one of the main goals of spatial design. With our exhibition, we hope to demonstrate that allowing a degree of openness to some discomfort – no matter how small – can prove beneficial and revitalising. In his furniture design, Gerrit Rietveld did not shy away from the challenge; he maintained that it was only through sitting on an uncomfortable, hard chair that one could fully appreciate the act of sitting. And it is such tangible experience that fully grounds us in reality, enhancing the experience of our physicality and making us observe the responses of our environment.
MAŁGORZATA KUCIEWICZ: Discomfort makes room for mindfulness. When you are wearing unstable shoes, you are very aware of what you are walking on. If you are living in a house that resonates with phenomena that jolt you out of your comfort zone, you begin to take note of their nuances. The traditional Japanese kimono is as stiff as it is in order to codify certain gestures, while at the same time – in contrast – emphasising the softness of the body. Opting for a degree of discomfort opens us up to a much richer experiencing of the world. Conversely, immersion in comfort removes from our experience an entire gamut of phenomena, impoverishing our perception.
KP: But discomfort may also go hand in hand with a failure to meet even the most basic human needs. For instance, the lack of toilets is a serious problem in many cities around the world.
AK: But we are not talking about just any discomfort here. For example, On Discomfort: Moments in a Modern History of Architectural Culture, edited by David Ellison and Andrew Leach, looks at the social dimension of the issue, juxtaposing the comfort of the masters and mistresses of a Victorian house with the discomfort of their domestic servants. And we can also well imagine the discomfort that stems from being unable to fulfill purely physiological needs. Thus, the notion of discomfort is a concept that can be considered frommany different aspects. We are, however, interested in it to the extent that, while it presents no threat to how we function in our daily life, yet through opening us up to less stable conditions, it enables us to experience our surroundings all the more powerfully. In A Philosophy of Discomfort, Jacques Pezeu-Massabuau notes that discomfort is more than merely the flip side of comfort. These are sensations that complement each other. We can only appreciate and define what we find comfortable when we have first experienced discomfort.
KP: Is there, then, good and a bad comfort, and good and a bad discomfort? Conscious – and lacking awareness? What purpose would they be serving? MK: This is easiest to explain using food as an example. In the countries of the Global North, where scarcity of food does not tend to be a problem, there are products available all year round – such as strawberries, which we can eat with gusto in the winter, if the fancy takes us. Or, we could decide upon something that imposes certain restrictions on us – such as seasonal or local cuisine, or we choose to prepare the food ourselves. That represents deliberately opting for a degree of discomfort – acquiescing in the fact that we cannot always have everything we want, and we must make do with what’s available depending on the seasonal and regional limitations. Such self-restraint does, however, allow us to open up to other customs and values.
KP: What kind of comfort should we, then, divest ourselves of?
AK: For one, the kind provided by contemporary architecture, furnished with air-conditioning and central heating. Think skyscrapers in Dubai: in their functioning, they are independent of climate, whilst completely relying on advanced technology. They use a huge amount of energy in order to ensure that their users are totally cut off from the environment.
KP: And they commercialise comfort – by employing very expensive climatic solutions. So, is this a kind of self-tightening noose that we have ourselves put around our necks? AK: Indeed. And, paradoxically, as Sascha Roesler demonstrates in his research, it is the traditional methods of tackling the adversities of local climate that are more likely to prove more effective in the long run. They don’t depend on electricity supply, and are less likely to fail. They could soon turn out to be the new luxury. What matters to us in that respect is the constant monitoring of our environment and paying close attention to the changes that take place in it.
ALICJA BIELAWSKA: Because comfort absolves us from many things. It enables us to gain more time, but also lose quite a bit. If I live in a traditional house, I switch the heating off for the night and, when I get up in the morning, I feel cold, so I turn it on again and open the curtains. These things can be seen as a nuisance, or else viewed as small rituals that enable us to notice how light and temperature fluctuate throughout the day. We gain sensitivity to minute changes.
The Clothed Home: Tuning In to the Seasonal Imagination
Catalogue editorial co-ordinator: Aleksandra Kędziorek
Translation, copyediting: Anda MacBride
Cover images: Anna Kulachek
Graphic design and layout: Piotr Chuchla
Photographs: Michał Matejko
© Adam Mickiewicz Institute, 2021
© Copyright of the texts Alicja Bielawska, Simone De Iacobis, Aleksandra Kędziorek, Małgorzata Kuciewicz, Kacper Pobłocki, Sascha Roesler, Witold Rybczynski, 2021