Theorizing Design, Humanizing Objects


I really enjoyed both the Baudrillard text and the lecture by Siki Im. So I decided to put them in conversation with each other in this post – perhaps inspired by the work of Siki himself.

In the Non-Functional System, or Subjective Discourse, Baudrillard discusses the binary of practicality and abstraction inherent to all objects. “Every object thus has two functions – to be put to use (practical totalization) and to be possessed (abstract totalization).”[1] In Siki Im’s work, practicality is being articulated first and foremost in the pure materiality of clothing. We are clothed bodies that necessarily navigate the world through dress. Also important to note is the acknowledgement of the “money line”, the collection of shirtings, slim pants, and more “wearable” (thus sellable) clothes. At the other extreme, Siki’s work is simultaneously abstract and cerebral. The designer articulates sociological, philosophical and psychological discourses into the design, creating abstract versions through his point of view, but at the same time materializing these concepts.

This abstraction function of objects, “to be possessed”, leads to what Baudrillard refers to as the level of ‘personification’ that is transferred into the objects. He claims: “Its absolute singularity arises from the fact of being possessed by me – and this allows me, in turn, to recognize myself in the object as an absolutely singular being.”[2] This idea becomes even clearer when he compares the death of the object with the death of our own selves: “the presence of the final object of the collection would basically signify the death of the subject”[3], as well as our own existence in a cyclical mode through the objects. The idea of “humanizing” the design can be identified in Siki Im’s SS15 collection, whether through revealing its ‘human’ imperfections, exposed seams, tie-dye, or ‘no styling’. Siki seems to be inserting a certain degree of emotion into the clothes, des-objectifying them through personification.

These are just some of the parallels that can be drawn between them. However, perhaps we don’t need to theorize Siki’s design, for he has done it himself.

[1] Jean Baudrillard, “The Non-Functional System, or Subjective Discourse,” The System of Objects (Verso, London, 1996): 1.

[2] Ibid., 5.

[3] Ibid., 6.

3 responses to “Theorizing Design, Humanizing Objects

  1. “Siki seems to be inserting a certain degree of emotion into the clothes, des-objectifying them through personification.”I found your statement true. His design, at the crossroad between fashion and architecture, are not simple “objects”. He creates a certain dynamic around his clothes. Always in motion, and not constraint by space, the clothes navigate the world like particles in the universe. They experience life through the wearer, communicate energy (emotions), and sometimes collapse and burst into new forms (ref to his SS15 collection, creative cuts, lots of layering…). Design is not fixed. It is not situated. Bringing it back to the readings, Deleuze observes in The Fold, “the curvature of the universe extends in accordance with three other fundamental notions: the fluidity of matter, the elasticity of bodies, the spring as mechanism.” (p230). Finally, Siki Im, eloquently ended the lecture by saying “fashion is not a product of data control”. I think this sums it up pretty well.

  2. Patricia – I very much appreciated that you drew your ideas from the Baudrillard text and in particular his distinction between “practical totalization” and “abstract totalization” of objects. Baudrillard further suggests that “an object no longer specified by its function is defined by the subject, but in the passionate abstractness of possession all objects are equivalent.” This made me wonder, is it impossible for clothes to fulfill both a practical purpose as well as a passionate one? Can a “beautiful object” really loose all functionality? It appears to me that properly constructed garments such as Siki Im’s deconstructed blazer can be both worn and collected as “object of passion”. When we start having emotional attachment with our clothes, it doesn’t seem to me that we will forever stop wearing them. On the other hand, we may instead decide to wear a garment imbued with emotions just because it will make us feel comfortable/confident…Reading Baudrillard’s text, I further contemplated on the difference he drew between “collecting” and “accumulating”. For the author, a collection is a project with a purpose. This made me wonder: do we ever really “collect” clothes?

  3. This last sentence has a significant impact on the way we approach our guest speakers: “However, perhaps we don’t need to theorize Siki’s design, for he has done it himself.” What is the importance of authorial intent when we are considering a designers work? As academics, how much importance should we give it? Great work, Patricia!

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