The Credibility of Colour
Last week's "Colour in Time" symposium explored the disparity between the integral role that colour plays in the real world versus its apparent lack of credibility in the theoretical discourse surrounding design and architecture.
In his book, Chromophobia, David Batchelor argues that western cultures have grown scared of colour. Bright and vivid hues have lost credibility. Individuals are both attracted and repelled by the very concept of colour and since the onslaught of modernism, shades that shine brighter than black, white or grey rank as irrelevant, or worse, cheap.
Through his research, Batchelor has mined art, history, philosophy and literature for a better understanding of how this situation came about. From Baudelaire to Baudrillard, colour’s credibility has ebbed and flowed. At once an arena of pure sensorial expression, a political tool and a merely decorative or decadent plaything, colour’s reputation moves with the times.
Line, not colour, dominates modernist theory and unsurprisingly the standardization of industrial materials has created a sort of grey homogeneity, particularly in architecture, across cultures. Colour in the urban environment is mostly taboo, seen as an emotional and unnecessary distraction from the purity of line and the honesty of materials.
Caroline Bos, theorist and co-founder of UNStudio, sees strong indications, however, suggesting that in ten to fifteen years more colour will be introduced to the urban environment via art installations and temporary pavilions. She calls it an innovation in style and quotes Foucault who stated that all technology is social before it eventually becomes technique.
“Colour can really penetrate the urban environment for strong effect,” Bos says. She shows images of renowned UNStudio work that proves this – the pavilion in Chicago to mark one hundred years of urban planning that shines hot pink at night, the use of foil behind transparent facades that allows local colour to reflect off buildings, the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam that looks white but is in fact baby blue, and the orange Agora Theater Lelystad that utilizes colour to create a town center when one didn't really exist.
“In architecture we use colour to suggest things,” Bos says. But for colour to become properly relevant in modern urban cities, it needs to be reintroduced in education. “Colour has to develop simultaneously with design,” she says. “It can not be an afterthought.”
One of the final speakers in the day-long symposium was Dai Fujiwara, creative director at Issey Miyake whose A.P.O.C (A Piece of Cloth) brand has a strong colour base.
Fujiwara is trained in textiles and traditional dying techniques that focus on the essence of colour. His career has been devoted to the exploration of colour and the best way to achieve a pure understanding and recreation of its properties.
Using film, photography, catwalk, mathematics and science, Fujiwara takes his team to natural landscapes where they can view colour in its natural abundance.
In 2008, for example, he went “colour hunting” to the Amazon to discover the meaning of green for the 2009 spring/summer Miyake collection. “We went in the rainy season because it makes the colours more fresh and beautiful,” Fujiwara says. Boating down the river and trekking through the jungle, the group collected thousands of specimens and collated them into palettes to reveal the truest reflection of the natural environment.
“We spent a week thinking about what is green,” Fujiwara says, “and we discovered that there are hundreds of different greens.”
Spectacular images flash up above Fujiwara’s head of swatches of collected colours. Samples of every shade of green through to brown are strung up on string criss crossing trees and across edges of the Amazon river. “Usually when I ask someone in my team about a colour, they consult magazines or the Internet,” Fujiwara says, “but that is just connecting, coordinating and copying. I don’t like that.”
“Colour is the reality of the making of creation,” Fujiwara concludes. A cryptic but insightful summation of the day’s event.
The Colour in Time symposium was organized by ArtEZ with the support of the Sikkens Foundation and AMFI.
Images: light box piece by David Batchelor, Agora Theatre and Erasmus Bridge by UNStudio, colour hunting in the Amazon and Dai Fujiwara.
Points of sale
( 6 Votes, average: 4 out of 5)
click to vote
- Amsterdam Fashion Week 2013
- Dutch Design Week 2012
- Milan 2012
- Amsterdam Fashion Week 2012
- Dutch Design Week 2011
- Amsterdam International Fashion Week 2010
- Amsterdam International Fashion Week 2011
- Dutch Design Week 2010
- Dutch Design Double 2010
- Milan 2010
- Design.nl 100th Issue Favourites
- Dutch Design Week 2009
- Dutch Design Double 2009
- Milan 2009
- Amsterdam International Fashion Week 2009
- Going Out - Restaurants, bars, cafes, clubs and hotels
- Graphic Design Festival 2008
- Dutch Design Week 2008
- Retail Therapy - Where to buy Dutch design
- FreeDesigndom 2008
- Milan 2008
- Amsterdam International Fashion Week 2008
- Design.nl Tokyo favourites