THE PUZZLEMENT OF DESIGN

On looking over the snaps for last Tuesday’s seminar at the Design Exchange, I find this one unintentionally stands out, as capturing the Beauty and Beast dialogue that occurred.“C’mon, Get Happy,” was the catchphrase, looking back—one last time—to graphic designer and guerrilla logician, Stefan Sagmeister’s “Happy Show.”
The sense of pressure (in that title) to bring about a sunny life as a rejoinder to a space of darkness is remarkable, inasmuch as it flirts with aiming at contentment. In contrast, Sagmeister’s Fun House of an exhibition tosses about lots of facile memos about the scoop on happy lives, along with a well-designed thread of allusion to the tough and largely uncontrollable venture about what could have been more accurately put as “joy” than as “happiness” (the very term, happy, being a little irony our slogan specialist would find apt).
Accordingly, the designer team pictured here, after ticking off the Americans and their “pursuit of happiness” mantra, looks to Canadian cliches—their three young children, for instance—as anchoring a sensible, domestic/professional balance leading to getting the job of lifelong contentment done.
Indicative of the volatile Beast profiles onstage for us that night, one of those partners hearkened back to a seven-year stint in Mexico, and being inspired by design initiatives that go against the grain of modernist composition. Did that contrarian work impact to a point of not slipping into North Toronto, Victorian probity?
Here the architect/speaker (based in the suburb of Don Mills) was certainly about going against the grain—he regarded (somewhat puzzlingly) this structure as raising his middle finger to modernist instincts. But the rampaging egotism of that insistence made us wonder about the hostility and lucrative repute of his self-satisfaction.
This designer of retail boutiques gave us a performance that—alone amongst the large roster—approached the blithe strangeness so compelling about Sagmeister. She showed a clip of her windsurfing—being articulately gleeful about its taking her out of her mundane, self-absorbed self.
Then she showed her graphics in the wake of that shake-up, and we said to ourselves, “That’s more like it!” But she apparently had to add that, not only did she derive much very personal gratification from satisfying customers, but that she owned nine houses across the globe. Would she have needed to say that if she had never left Milwaukee for faux-Brit Uptown Toronto?
This designer’s mother told him, when he was very young, that it’s important to embrace silliness. Being silly was for him the essence of being happy. That might fly, though I doubt it would provide the toughness that all of the commentator’s fail to discern in Sagmeister’s provocation.
Here an arts impresario consults his 101 year old great-grandmother as possibly rising to the dynamic rigors of the issue. Lots of luck.
To close on a happy note, a Montreal designer (of Toronto’s much beloved Sugar Beach) has covered a grotty street with miles of pink leis! I love this work’s alertness to the arresting embrace of a public flow. Trust a Montrealer to be about the moment and not the monument!

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