Grayson Perry: Middle Class Taste [2012]

Grayson Perry: An artist as an anthropologist in search of middle class taste. I want to share this video as an example of how artists can make things visible that are invisible. It is interesting to see how the people of middle class that Perry visits fear choices. The middle class will go for the ready-made ‘no choice left’ houses. “It is restful to buy a show flat, a new house is like a blank canvas and people don’t want to get it wrong”, the interviewed woman explains.

Perry nails it when he refers to this ready-made utopia created by brands as “the esthetic duvet”. The middle class is able to afford to buy the dream that brands offer. This phenomenon is aptly described by Perry as: “A potent symptom of modern capitalist hyper consumption and hard working middle classes and what they have to do to be happy.” The  rules about taste are shared and people know what not to do.

But within the middle class there are different tribes. When Perry visits an other middle class home, not far from the ‘esthetic duvet’ tribe, class is not about money but about cultural capital, “the sum of all the knowledge, education and culture these people worked so hard to accumulate”, according to Perry. However because historically the middle class are not the workers and not the landowners, they are therefore unsure of their place in society. Paradoxically people are very well aware of the tribe and the rules they belong to or want to belong to.

Perry visits tribes like the ‘esthetic duvet’ tribe, the vintage loving tribe, the classical academic tribe, ‘green bling’ tribe. Belonging to a tribe means that people validate their choices by TV chefs, glossy magazines, philosophical book shops or organic markets. And within the tribe everybody  is seeking for kudos (=respect and recognition) from their fellow tribe-members. Kudos is obtained by not trying to hard or otherwise you look desperate and you are out. There is also something that all tribes of middle class have in common, that is they are self made and highly consumerist.

Perry’s conclusion at the end of his anthropological quest about middle class taste is that each tribe has a different version of saying “I am a good person“: I am doing alright, I have dragged myself out of working class or look I have a shiny house and a shiny car and wife or I am a respectable citizen, I contribute to society and I know the rules or I am groovy I know the rules but I am going to send them off or I want to save the planet for my children.” Between the tribes and their moral reasoning stands a huge wall.

The six tapestries that Perry has set out to create on middle class taste will have to represent precisely these moral varieties mentioned above. When he writes “I think boundaries now [in relation to anything can be art, so what is art] are sociological, tribal, philosophical and maybe even financial.” (‘Playing to the gallery’ p. 42), this implies that for the tapestries to be art they have to fall within a philosophical framework that does justice to these moral varieties without condemning them. Condemning the rules of the tribes will overshadow the (incomplete) meaning behind existing moral varieties within middle classes. The meaning of the condition of the middle classes is that there are a lot of agonizing choices out there. “You become more and more aware of these choices and that is a blessing as well as a curse.”, says Perry at the end of video talking to the woman who bought the show-house.

Perry decided to call these tapestries on middle class taste ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ and combines them with biblical scenes. For example in the tapestry ‘Expulsion form number 8 Eden Close’ the character Tim Rakewell (computing student at university) and his middle class girlfriend are send away from  the tribe that sells into ready-made utopia, into the tribe of classical academia like Adam and Eve are being expelled from paradise.

Expulsion From Number 8 Eden Close, Grayson Perry, 2012

What is striking is that people who have been interviewed by Perry as part of different tribes feel both validated by his tapestries as well as uncertain about whether they are being belittled. Perry ensures them, being part of the middle class himself, that he loves there homes, that “he toke it on board”. So what is the meaning or the message of the tapestries? Perry’s answer: “The desperation to be an individual.”

If you want to know more about Grayson Perry and middle class taste, there is an article in The Telegraph written by Perry called:  ‘Taste is woven into our class system‘.

Pottery by Perry is now at display at the Bonnefantenmuseum until 5 June 2016. The exposition is called: ‘Hold your believes lightly’. I went and I thought it was beautiful. On the way back in the train I read Perry’s book ‘Playing to the gallery’. (I wish the book had been available when I graduated from art college, I should have stayed on the fucking bus.) In this book Perry gives a definition of art which I really like: “[Art is]…indeed an onanistic experience, to detain and suspend us in a state of frustration and ambivalence, and to make us pause and think rather than simply react.” (‘Playing to the gallery’ p. 70)

Karin van den Driesche


Fablab de Waag Society in Amsterdam

Fablabs (fabrication laboratory) are cooperative work spaces where inventors and artists work together using a collective infrastructure. You can find Fablabs all over the world.

Last week I was given an introduction of the machines in our own HvA makerslab. It is great to see what the possibilities are of this work space; 3D printer, laser cutter, body scan, vinyl cutter and more. We used all the machines to find out what the opportunities are for our CMD students. Coincidentally I coach Anne Vlaanderen during her graduation at CMD and she is graduating in cooperation with the Fablab de Waag Society. Together with the two other graduate students I coach, Alexander Eerenberg and Joris Bijsterveld, we visited Anne at the Waag where she gave us a tour. The Waag is a 15th century castle on the Nieuwmarkt 4 in Amsterdam. The building has an amazing atmosphere and the Waag Fablab is located in one of the four towers.

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The Waag in Amsterdam

Anne is the expert when it comes to using the different machines and she has great creative ideas. She is also the initiator of Digituig, an organization that “focuses on the development and implementation of digital creativity in primary and secondary education“. We had an amazing time at the Waag! Who ever wants to work with the machines of a Fablab reserve a machine on their website during one of the open days. Working at a Fablab is free of charge, what you give back is information about your work at the Bablab.

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Fablab The Waag Society in Amsterdam (Anne Vlaanderen in the background)
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Form Research by Karin van den Driesche
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Joris Bijsterveld and the space rocket

Karin van den Driesche

Digital art: Scott Snibbe

In an earlier post called “Participatory Street-up Innovation” I wrote about how invisible material relations and interventions could be detected and made visible. And that this creative process from invisible to visible would be a role for artists.

A great example of visualizing an invisible or abstract process is the interactive artwork “Boundary Functions” (1998) by Scott Snibbe. The artwork shows people walking on a raised floor and projected lines between them which makes visible how personal space and relationships changes between these people. Snibbe: “Personal space, although we call it our own, is defined by others and changes without our control.” Interdependence and the social construction of reality, are the themes that can be found throughout all of Snibbe’s artwork.

Karin van den Driesche

The ‘Waiting for Vincent’ game

One of our CMD graduates of 2015, Marjolein Fennis, created an amazing game for the Van Gogh Museum. People can play the ‘Waiting for Vincent’ game while they are waiting in line in front of the museum. You can read about the game on the Lava Lab website, where Marjolein worked as an intern. Together with Lava Lab and the Van Gogh Museum Marjolein is now looking for ways to execute this project, within the framework of the new storytelling platform Flinck. Go and have a look at ‘Waiting for Vincent‘, the experience before the actual experience!


Source: Marjolein Fennis

Karin – Filterdesign & University of Applied Science Amsterdam

Play the City

Last week I was invited to participate in ‘Play the City‘. ‘Play the City’ is an Amsterdam and Istanbul based city design and research organization founded by Ekim Tan: “Play the City introduces games into city-making. Seeing city games as tools of the new democracy and open citymaking. Play the City has been designing city games for various urban questions internationally.” (source: ‘Play the city’ Facebook)
Together with my colleague Rob Prass I went to Pakhuis de Zwijger, where ‘Play the City’ is located, with no specific expectations. After a very friendly welcome we first had to pick an envelope which contains our budget and some rules, next we had to carefully plan and design our area in the Almere Oosterwold project. My cooperation with Rob worked out very well, at least we thought so :-), and after we had bought and carefully positioned our roads, bridges, buildings and energy resources we evaluated what happened during the game itself.


It was very interesting to see how people worked together, made deals, supported each other, designed creative concepts and so on. However, as in real life, there were also disappointments, distrust and (friendly) break ups. After a passionate review we could only conclude that we all had a great afternoon with unexpected insights and fun! Many thanks to the people of ‘Play the City’ for their guidance and support during the (fantastic designed!) city game and the opportunity to participate!

When you’re interesting in playing the city game don’t hesitate to contact the people of ‘Play the City’. In the video a talk by Ekim Tan on the reason why she founded the ‘Play the City’ game.

Karin van den Driesche

Jannis Kounellis: Gray is the Color of Our Time

In this beautiful video the artist Jannis Kounellis talks about his work, art, humanism, cultures, current time, participation, globalization and more. I love to hear how he talks about the reason why he became an artists instead of a sailor like the rest of his Greek family: “Why does someone become a painter at that moment? I don’t quite remember if it was morning or afternoon. If the sun was shining when an image hits you.”

It is interesting to hear how he views globalization as repeating the same everywhere as opposed to dealing with diversity. Kounellis: “We [artists and designers] should listen and participate without interrupting the relation established by the people with the land.” In this light he prefers Picasso when he compares him with Mondriaan because it is Picasso who let’s himself be influenced by war in his work [literally by painting Guernica] and Mondriaan doesn’t use the bombing of London in his work. Even though I agree with Kouneliss idea of respecting diversity I wonder whether the work of an artist who follows his personal path of investigation, whose work is separated from events in society, participates less in society than an artist who does?

Living in his studio that looked like one of his paintings, Mondriaan wants to reveal what has always been there, what he sees and what others don’t see, a world of perfect balance. As a consequence of this idea a balanced world wouldn’t need art because we would be living in art. In this sense it is not surprising that realism for Mondrian was out of the question because realism for Mondriaan is to fall back on the existing visible world which is in unbalance. However Mondriaan isn’t a pessimist, although he considers art in his time as being in isolation, art will eventually reunite with life.

I can imagine that the work of an artist who responds to events, globally or locally, has an obvious link with society. But the work of Mondriaan, as an investigation on understanding the world, represents his idea that (abstract) art equals living. Finding and visualizing this perfect balance through art would show the structure beneath our world to the world. And although Mondriaan refers to the world as a linear system in his work and not so much to the systems of societies, I think Mondriaans work of perfect balance can be used to show unbalanced processes that are still invisible in society. Mondriaans work is a canvass of life striving for balance which therefore can operate as a reflection on the events occurring in our society and personal lives.

As Picasso painted the result of war in all its immensities, Mondriaan tried to construe the system or rhythm of a balanced world that would overcome an unbalanced life that leads to catastrophic events. The latter takes time to understand, as Mondriaan was well aware of.

Karin – Filterdesign & University of Applied Science Amsterdam

(source: Close up: In het atelier van Mondriaan.)

Participatory Street-up Innovation: Issues

Re-reading my hypothesis on the transformative potential of ‘participatory street-up innovation’ I think a few important anchors in my thought process are missing. First I have to define the term ‘innovative’, if only because  in recent years this term has become a huge hype for several branches, especially in the world of design. My idea of innovative stands for ‘ahead of the times’. In other words people can re-use products in an unobvious and contemplative way.

Second, I talk about issues without addressing how issues come into being. I think that issues mostly stem from the disruption of daily life by events out of our reach (from bad weather to war). Moreover it is in the way how people respond to the disruptive event that will create and define personal and public issues. The latter arises when large groups of people start participating on the issue. This is just a first thought on the question how public issues come into being and not an answer to the question by far.

Third, by focusing on the re-use of products I limit the findings about unobvious and contemplative ways of dealing with material circumstances too much. This is because a product might only function as a tool during the process of creativity when people create things. The re-use of products might be confined to the product itself and will show nothing about the disruptive event, issues and material circumstances I am interested about. That’s why I want to broaden the focus on the re-use of products and towards things that people create that materialise relations and interventions. Unfortunately material relations and interventions constitute a long-term process that in the beginning might be invisible. I hope to find out how to detect the invisible material relations and interventions and subsequently making them visible. I think this would be a role for artists (more about this later). In this creative process from invisibility to visibility their might be the trans-formative potential in street-up innovation which I wrote about earlier.

So reconsidering the hypothesis on Participatory Street-up Innovation (PSuI) the question I want to investigate is how to detect (and visualise) material relations or interventions and the issues they bring about. This is necessary to discover the ideas stemming from material participation in daily life before, during and after disruptive events. In this way I hope to gain insights on how people deal with the complexity of the world and its issues.

Karin – Filterdesign & University of Applied Science Amsterdam