Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Unsettled pattern

A bill not yet paid; to be liable or open to change, change or discussion. Unsettled.

Patterns. Signs shift into symbols, symbols melt into archetypes, archetypes decompose into drives and drives dissolve in who we are. And then we set signs all around, speed traps and seductions, something to say who I am, here I am... Sorry, what am I? Doing here?

Decoration, ornamentation, adornment; from meander to wander, from wander to wallpaper and from wallpaper to our short attention span.

The mute unaccountability of a patterned ceiling.

Stars on squares, ribbed frames to the squares.

All painted over now but imagine the stars gold and the squares blue. Why not imagine that blue is cosmic glue and that, as we sleep, the stars shower us in with fine parings of an infinite wealth? Or if that has been stewed in Peter Pan rather too richly then one will at least wonder: Why paint an imaginary night universe upon one's ceiling?

There is beauty, out there, yet it is big. There is, by common conjecture, order out there; an order of beauty but at a scale one cannot quite comprehend. Patterns pursuing conjecture, conjecture prising apart patterns. And if we cannot comprehend it and if, perhaps, we tremble in the night then at least a ceiling will not argue by means of such deep and chilling silences. One may be seated and comfortable and, from this very place, be able to demonstrate how one is blessed by beauteous cosmic splendour and a fine order is present. Indeed, one has imposed order, one has made sense. And now this has been painted over, several times. And some cornice fell down and it only got sort of replaced.

But where decor is damaged, and ornament becomes invisible, there is pattern still. Archaeological layers of intent, hope, and desire seamed into the building's adornment (be it home or hospital, office, school or barracks). A spiral has labyrinthine associations, from stately Greek progressions to psychedelic mazes; a curl possesses fecund possibilities, lilies of the field, root, tendril, jungle. Floral fantasy bleeds through the emulsion. Repeat patterns point towards the void into which they penetrate, multiplying relentlessly and, never satiated, the repeat is in turn penetrated by void. In these elements and their possible combinations there is a geometry; geometry which leads either into an infinite density, impossible singularities, or is dissipated in the heat death of an ever expanding universe. A spiral, a curve, waves, zigzags, squares, triangles, stripes... Already these abstractions, which exist both either side of and within any imagery, seem to act like a quantum code. They are tiny elements that dance and spin and rush us into our mythic inner sanctums and then out again. Out towards the only external object that comes close to matching the scale of our small, hidden, inside place; the universe.

Meantime our corporate body is fashioned towards other priorities. Most time in amongst our social existence, our business and our pursuit of happiness, all of this is ignored. All of this is pretended away. We create a subconscious, use analgesics, paint over things, and interior decoration, after being buffeted around various aesthetic ideologies, can eventually be understood only as a minor branch of the entertainment industry.

By the collapsing of household ornamentation into a bracketed realm called 'lifestyle' and by having this regurgitated as light entertainment the decorative realm with all its nick-knacks, ludic histories, shams, shamanism, shammy leather and shine, has escaped the ideological condemnation of - for example - Modernism.

This does not necessarily allow these things or, more accurately, our relationship to our things to be any freer. The rigours of taste are as exacting as ever, the ideology of aspiration as ferocious. If this realm of things really has escaped all other dogmas, and admittedly this has yet to be proved, then surely the quest for adornment becomes more confusing as the lived environment is plunged into a series of switches between meaning-full and meaning-less space, between deep and shallow, personal and the depersonalized, between ironic kitsch and non-ironic kitsch, between consumer choice and corporate fodder.

Decoration, ornamentation, adornment; these human tasks are not however the sole reserve of an affluent society's social gaming. (They are not even the sole reserve of the human.) And indeed, if such gaming corresponds to a relatively macro-scale set of codes, it still seems that this set rests upon the mirco-scale.

Of the hundreds of sepulchral urns of the Bronze Age that have been found in Great Britain, no two are exactly the same either in size, form, or decoration. The fertility of imagination exhibited in the production of so many beautiful patterns by combining diagonal straight lines in every conceivable way is really amazing. On examination it will be found that, complicated as the patterns appear to be, the chevron or zigzag is at the base of the whole of them. (Romilly Allen, quoted: Aidan Meehan; Celtic design, maze patterns. Thames & Hudson. 1993)

It is a code, or pattern of patterns, often called the merely decorative, which was presumed to vanish in direct proportion to our 'progress'.


It seems justified to affirm: The more cultivated a people becomes, the more decoration disappears. (Le Corbusier; Decorative art of today, quoted: Kenneth Frampton; Le Corbusier. Thames & Hudson. 2001.)

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