On space and design

The collective ennui and trauma grief during the pandemic has a lot of us thinking and overthinking. We wait and wonder about the past and a possible future. We want a future that isn’t inside. I’m cycling through opposing networked thoughts of making myself small, taking up a space, entering a space, creating space, et cetera, my obsession with space continues.

When I go for a run, there is an expanse of space I will absorb from point A to B. I have to look where I’m going and what’s around me. I have to check my watch for speed or what time I have to be home. I look up at the sky and curious sights in my path. The sunset or sunrise always catches my eye. This expanse of space surrounds me, envelopes me, and I become part of its design.

Design in all its forms haunts my brain. My apartment is 665 ft sq. It’s a tiny two bedroom in which both kids inhabit the rooms and I live in the living room/my bedroom/the kitchen. During the past few lockdowns I’ve redecorated my area of the apartment several times. I have a history of doing this. It’s part compulsion to constantly nest and part anxiousness. However, in this space, I finally feel more permanent and with the exception of an extra bookcase and a new stool, I haven’t spent much. I love refurbishing/repurposing what I already have and I paint a lot of my thrift store tchotchkes.

I find comfort in home design and being surrounded by my things. I have a taste for organized clutter, even though I aim for a sort of eccentric minimalism. When it comes to interiors, I’m part Amy Sedaris and part Marie Kondo

When I was a cleaning lady, I loved every home. The messy and disorganized ones to the elegantly spacious ones with that one great art piece on the wall, I admired all of them. I’ve cleaned houses that bordered on estates and mansions to tiny studio condos.  Sometimes I’d never meet the owners, but each of those homes had their own personality. I’d admire the carefully curated dishware (where I’d fall in love delicately washing and polishing a whole set of Le Creuset wares), and the artsy shabby chic couches I’d dust and vacuum while running my fingers on the detailing. People care about the spaces they rest in and nowadays, mostly work in.

I’d get so inspired by some of these homes and the ways that people live in them. Sometimes I save up to get a really nice bar of expensive lavender soap a client once gifted me. Another time I saw a Le Creuset pepper mill on sale and immediately purchased it. It’s one of my most prized possessions. One home had a giant white goose feathered lamp. I looked up the price of the lamp and there was no way I was going to own something so expensive. So I made my own out of a paper lantern with some cheap feather boas I collected from the dollar store.

sheltering and my feather boa “lamp”

The taste for design is incredibly subjective too. While I love decorating my place a certain way, I can see and love how others create their own aesthetic in their homes or buildings. I include buildings because while I don’t have a brain for the mathematics of architecture, I know what I love. I appreciate a good foundation, a functional design, and pleasing lines. I’ve been searching hard for a home I saw in an architectural tv series. It was carved into a business building of a city that was Brutalist in style, inside and out. The very rich couple in the show decided they wanted a space in the middle of everything to raise their children. Their designers made it happen, but also made sure to make it an oasis, or rather a place that seemed more like a getaway from the city. They kept the tall interiors and somehow it felt very homey. Smooth lines and natural light made everything in the home look and feel like abstract art. It was gorgeous. I still can’t kind of find the name of the show.

I’ve also read some architectural design theory and philosophy. Recently it was Konrad Waschmann’s Television by Mark Wigley. It made me think of the idea of buildings embodying the energy and flow of the people that inhabit them. Television created a new way to expose people to architecture, making the world a space that we can all take up at the same time. But architecture rarely ever notes a television in its discussion. How many times have you noticed a television in an architectural or interior design magazine? The book is heavy on Waschmann’s dreamy horizontal dreams of extremes and it makes me ponder what a post-pandemic world of design will be like. Will buildings and homes become more accessible? Nowadays imagine what design means in an online mass produced content world. While Waschmann created factory built buildings with pre-made joists, how you can build a home through a 3-D printer. If the computer can print the images in the home and in the magazine, where is the computer in the home magazine? Design is more interactive and accessible than ever.

In a possible future, will the living room be transformed? The historical foundation of the walls, streets, and buildings we exist in were built with a patriarchal society in mind. Will that change at some point? Can I too live inside a business complex? Can we learn to rezone for citizens and their desire lines? Does architecture and design stagnate by keeping the traditional definitions of the rooms in our homes and workspaces? Can we recreate them or rebuild with new dimensions that allow for more user flexibility? I don’t know. I just know that stuff like this fascinates me to the point of obsession.

I think these things run concurrent with how I feel about fashion. This week I watched Luca Guadagnino’s The Staggering Girl, a short film about memory and grief featuring the designs of the fashion house of Valentino. As an art film, it stands in its open interpretation wherein nothing is outrightly defined. You watch art shorts, or experience them, and if it’s a good film, it keeps you unraveling it in your head long after the credits. The Staggering Girl is very fragmented (oh ha! Staggering!), the design of it, the designs in it, and the spaces in the film weaves a welcoming atmosphere to a place that in reality is incredibly inaccessible to most of its viewers. Julianne Moore’s writer character goes from New York City to Italy in thousands of dollars of elegant clothes. Her NYC apartment is stylishly spacious. Marthe Keller plays her mother, a painter who is going blind, who wears beautiful frocks in her Italian villa. The villa is full of many rooms, full art, expensive decor, the dust only there to denote the passage of time and a sense of old money. Mia Goth and Kyle McLachlan are all beautifully attired as peripheral and memory-based characters to the main narrative around Moore and Keller. Kiki Layne is a gorgeous art or memory spirit that floats in and out of frame as the film’s page turner. In my watch, the film is trying to find beauty in hope even when memories or ideas don’t arrive or connect. In the end, you live a life that continually looks for joy in creation and expression that ends in a rave of Valentino dresses.

When I say inaccessible, I mean that the lifestyle and the art that surrounds that richness can be/is an elitist thing most of us can only admire from afar. I mean, some of us can’t save up for that lush embroidered cape that features prominently in The Staggering Girl. The film, while panned by some because of its disjointedness, fired up my space-obsessive head. 


There’s a freedom in learning how to sew or put together or refurbish objects and clothes. There is also a sort of mathematical artistry involved in fashion. The drapery of Zac Posen is a sight to behold, Anna Sui’s attention to detail is fiercely considered, and Alexander McQueen’s angelic work is beyond haute couture even in its casual embodiments. Don’t get me started on Iris van Herpen. Goddess.

However, when the fashion world looks at trends, it looks to the citizens of the world. The fashion houses are inspired by people and the spaces they live in. Movements, music, and political discourse feed into the fashion machine sometimes without even the fashion machine being aware of it. And there are times where the inspiration itself becomes inspired. Citizens of the world will take the kernel of an idea from a fashion trend, say a bow in the hair, and make it not just a bow, but different coloured bows in the hair with frills and glitter. Fashion. Turn to the left.

I’ve been watching Matty Bovan’s designs and loving the absurdity of them. They’re structurally perfect, look highly wearable, and even look like stuff I can put together. I have a habit of getting stuff from thrift stores and combining them with other things from other eras or aesthetics and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. But if I feel good in the structure I created, it translates to a good mood. It feels good to make nice things for myself and create a enjoyable space for my family. Just because I’m a low income earner on a budget doesn’t mean we can’t have nice things.

Matty Bovan, autumn-winter 2020, womenswear, London, UK

(I’m sure some conceptual artist somewhere must have said give away fashion for free and let the people repurpose and redesign from the original! Maybe? But I will never deny that there is a boundary there between art and appropriation and due credit that everyone should value.

As long as we live in a capitalist society not everyone can afford to give away their value when it comes to creativity. This society forces us to monetize our whole minds and bodies. Don’t give them away as content. Outside of the confines of society you are valuable and powerful. Collectively empathy and equity empowers everyone

You can not free yourself from it from within until we exist without it. You can’t get power by giving who you are away.)

So while I found the Valentino designs and the homes in The Staggering Girl a longing fantasy, I remembered the idea of television as a space the world can inhabit together at the same time. The common folk that don’t live in wealthy European villas can inhabit them by creating and building them, and even by watching them. I can turn my thin apartment walls and make them grandiose with paint and art. People of the world inspire the personalities within the homes of film and fashion and they provoke us to ask for more around us of the same. Designers take so much out of the world around them and the world should not feel uncomfortable wanting to be in or actually inhabiting the spaces that art offers. 

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In ‘Mad Men,’ we watch a group of people who live in a prosperous society that offers happiness and order like never before in history and yet are full of anxiety and unease. They feel there is something more, something beyond. And they feel stuck. – Adam Curtis
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Martin Scorsese wrote a wonderful Harper’s piece that takes Federico Fellini’s 81/2 and puts a 2021 lens on it. You can find it here: https://harpers.org/archive/2021/03/il-maestro-federico-fellini-martin-scorsese/

“Everything has changed—the cinema and the importance it holds in our culture. Of course, it’s hardly surprising that artists such as Godard, Bergman, Kubrick, and Fellini, who once reigned over our great art form like gods, would eventually recede into the shadows with the passing of time. But at this point, we can’t take anything for granted. We can’t depend on the movie business, such as it is, to take care of cinema. In the movie business, which is now the mass visual entertainment business, the emphasis is always on the word “business,” and value is always determined by the amount of money to be made from any given property—in that sense, everything from Sunrise to La Strada to 2001 is now pretty much wrung dry and ready for the “Art Film” swim lane on a streaming platform. Those of us who know the cinema and its history have to share our love and our knowledge with as many people as possible. And we have to make it crystal clear to the current legal owners of these films that they amount to much, much more than mere property to be exploited and then locked away. They are among the greatest treasures of our culture, and they must be treated accordingly.”

He takes aim at streaming services as ones that present to you what they think you want based on computer algorithms. Scorsese makes an argument that art needs to get back into the hands of the people. Just do the thing and dismiss the idea if it’s brandable. Do your paid thing, but also write, paint, and film your passion.

I interpret all that as, “Hey, let’s get ourselves unstuck.” When the pandemic is over, people should reclaim spaces, especially those they have been made to believe they don’t belong in. Certainly you have the right to access the same creative resources that anyone with any amount money does. There’s nothing really stopping you other than an imaginary boundary.

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“One of the guiding beliefs of our consuming age is that we are all free and independent individuals. That we can choose to do pretty much what we want, and if we can’t, then it’s bad. But at the same time, co-existing alongside this, there is a completely different, parallel universe where we all seem meekly to do what those in power tell us to do. – Adam Curtis

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For me, all I know is that it took a lot of courage for me to enter an art gallery or go to a fashion show. A lot of these events are free or cheap to go to, but most are not. But there are opportunities for anyone who is interested to go and partake of art and design. I think it’s because the spaces where these things take place feel inaccessible for what we have been taught about art, fashion, and design, as if it were a separate thing from everyday life. The fact is we live art, fashion, and design every day. It’s an essential service. From the person that designed the graphics you see every day to the designer that made your clothes and the chair you are sitting in, they’re all essential. Thus, the space you use all these things in, that is your fresh palette.

In a time where some of us have the privilege of taking shelter in our own spaces, I think it’s imperative that everyone finds comfort where they can. Get creative because creativity does not come with money. It comes with design and a passion for the space around us. You are the art within the space of art. Inhabit it fully. You belong here.

This is the head space, the actual space I’ve been currently writing and creating from. It one of starting from scratch and from transition. It is space I create for and from myself.

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Leigh Barbier “Discourse” (2018)

https://www.leighbarbier.com/batteries



* Adam Curtis’ new documentary “Can’t Get You Outta My Head” trailer:



Stephen Broomer’s latest:

Heavenly Pavilions: Ira Cohen’s The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda from Art & Trash on Vimeo.

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