Disabuse yourself of the dogmatic notion that the Material World is somehow a lesser plane than our own, that it is diametrically opposed to the Cultural/Spiritual World in that it is sleek, artificial, superficial, designed—beware those for whom designed is a slur!—in comparison to what ought to be our higher pursuits. Understand that humans are colloidal creatures, suspended by catgut and fishing line and bloodlines and timelines; we are in various solutions cultural, economical, environmental, social and yes, material. Our objects surround us, infuse us, even transmogrify us. The pallid bicycle, the grandfather’s coal-mining helmet, the Teddy bear left on a street corner are all objects-cum-idols.
Spousal design collaborative Parsons & Charlesworth understand this, and “Spectacular Vernacular” is their proselytizing triptych. The first room, dubbed Observe, lays out the thing which breathes life into their designs. Photos of arcane Americana—a manatee mailbox, a sign with the immensely compelling appellation “Standard Artificial Limbs,” the “Hell Is Real” billboard—hang like religious icons on the wall, while a panoply of objects, from toys to suitcases to kitchen utensils to faux-book piggy banks to remote controls to something like a minuscule cricket bat—lay their inspirations out like a lepidopterist would, pinned and neat and pretty, surgically excised from life and arranged lovingly via implied entomological pins.
In the second room one finds the fruits of these captured sparks, from sandcastle-makers begotten by Parsons’ great grandfather, beautiful wooden blades with teeth like synthesizer waves and mantis raptorial forelegs, to a golden-ratio finder which teases out the god’s math in anything—a divination device!—to a wooden puzzle of dopamine, which causes the very chemical itself to release via its manipulation.
Speculative design takes center stage in the final room, from gorgeously rendered and appealing tidy survival kits—transportable solar panels, say, or a steroidal regime and book of primitive technology, atavism instructions for when nature once again rises, or a children’s box of playthings, the sandbox with which to best orient to a strange new world—to products with the potential to mitigate even the pain of death, beautiful complements to your longest-lasting presence on earth, the haunted diaspora of the things you’ve left behind. (B. David Zarley)
Through January 22, 2017 at the Chicago Cultural Center