Keehnan Konyha of 2THEWALLS, guest post on YHBHS

"But beneath the brash exteriors, Memphis is a philosophy of the senses—one that eschews an overly academic approach to design fixated on utility in favor of engaging the senses directly."

Keehnan Konyha writes:

Rather than single out a specific favorite collection or piece here, I wanted instead to shine a light on Sottsass' unique worldview. The images attached are from The Curious Mr. Sottsass, and were taken by Ettore himself. The texts are by Sottsass and by Barbara Radice, taken from Memphis: Research, Experiences, Result, Failures and Successes of New Design, Rizzoli's 1984 survey of the group's efforts.

Thirty years on, it's easy to read Memphis as dated, shallow and reactionary; a loud, goofy exercise in upending what was then the status quo through the use of plastic laminates and a (still) shocking color palate. But beneath the brash exteriors, Memphis is a philosophy of the senses—one that eschews an overly academic approach to design fixated on utility in favor of engaging the senses directly. One that understands beauty and function not as fixed points, but as fluid concepts that shift and redefine themselves according to their times. "

(From Memphis (Radice, 1984), pg 142)

Generally speaking the Memphis idea descends from Sottsass. Those who know him may discover many of Memphis's cultural roots simply by tracing Sottsass's career. While still quite young Sottsass learned that the "beauty," "formal correctness," "coherence," "function," even the "utility" of an object were not absolute, metaphysical values, but that they responded to a culture or a system, and varied in accordance with historical and cultural conditions.

So he began to look at architecture and design as sign systems, and to catalogue styles, colors, decorations, and formal tendencies statistically, in an attempt to understand what impact they could have or might have had in the context which they arose, and why.

Sottsass's idea was not to arrive at the point of inventing a new style or a new formal program, but to discover how to use and apply this catalogue of signs in different circumstances and situations. Sottsass's uniqueness lies in the fact that his work never refers to an intellectual scheme, but to a sort of Morse code of sensory seductions transmitted to the body through physical messages (light, shadow, color, warmth, roundness, weight, thickness, fragility, etc.), rather than to the brain through cultural patterns.

Those who follow Sottsass pursue neither a style, nor an ideology. They adhere to a very simple principle; a principle which is really very ancient in the West as in the East: the world is perceived through the senses. Moving away from functionalism means taking one's distance from Cubism, the Bauhaus, Suprematism, Futurism, De Stijl—all movements that accepted the idea of an objective reality or "truth," and embraced a heroic and reformatory moral system in the pursuit of alibis and solutions of a spiritual, mental, logical, and ideological kind.

"I AM AN IDIOT" says Sottsass," and I've always said the problem is to eat, drink, sex, sleep, and stay down low, low, low. The world is an area of sensory recovery. I'm not talking about an image but about an attitude." And Sottsass goes on: "World culture today is concerned with the American vision of comfort. Today and for many hundreds of years to come humanity will pursue earthly comfort. Comfort means to possess warmth, coolness, softness, light, shade, air-travel, Polynesian spaces or Alaska. To have money means to possess sensory possibilities, not power. Sensoriality destroys ideology, it is anarchical, private; it takes account of consumerism and consumption, it is not moralistic, it opens up new avenues."

M E M P H I S originated from these intuitions and visions. Not from an aggressive, controversial outlook or a desire to invent new supports, monuments, truths or programs, but from a generic, biological, EXISTENTIAL HAPPINESS; from the consciousness of life as an indifferent cosmic-historic event and from the desire to taste it, consume it, communicate it physically, almost chemically or molecularly, as a vibrant, neutral, enticing, seductive presence.

(text quoted from Memphis (Radice, 1984), pg 142)

Do you read 2thewalls? you should! thank you keehnan......

2THEWALLS is an ongoing experiment in the documentation and representation of interior experience. 2THEWALLS attempts to examine decoration outside the constructs of style, taste, and era. 2THEWALLS welcomes collaboration of all kinds; please contact

2THEWALLS is Keehnan Konyha. Brooklyn, New York.