UBS Arts Forum explores how art, architecture and design are responding to today's fast-burn culture
The demands of our contemporary world, increasingly driven by the breakneck pace of technological change, have given rise to more disposable outlooks within culture and design. In this unstable, ever-changing landscape, does substance still carry weight or is superficiality everything? Do do the standard-bearers of 20th century aesthetics have relevance in the 21st?
The UBS Arts Forum addresses current trends across art, architecture and design, and its latest edition held in Thun, Switzerland, posed these and other questions. Speakers such as Jolanthe Kugler, curator at the Vitra Design Museum, explored sustainable design as an antidote to feeding short-lived consumer appetites. "Sustainable design is design that really fulfils real needs of people, not trends, not fashion," explains Kugler. "Even after 100 years they will be still in use because they fulfil basic human needs and they do not change so much – we still need a good chair."
Even so, striving for true timelessness may be futile: design exists in and of its moment. Kugler points to SANAA, a multi award-winning, Tokyo-based architectural firm and the subject of her forthcoming exhibition, whose strength lies in a resolutely contemporary attitude that rejects any form of nostalgia. "They just look at today's challenges without any pre-judgement, and try to find new spaces for this new digital and visual society." There may also be an interesting cultural dimension: Kugler believes that differences in eastern and western visions of time, space and architecture – all concepts for which no specific words existed in Japanese around the turn of the 20th century – have given rise to more fluid eastern approaches that may be better able to embrace the ephemeral.
Claudia Perren, Director of the Bauhaus Foundation, also cautions against a belief in unchanging ideals. Just as looking to the Bauhaus "will not solve the problems of today," she advises that contemporary architecture must respond to a reality of constant flux. "What you have to do is provide a building structure that can adapt over time and still has quality in it." To place and adapt the ideals of Bauhaus into the context of today's political and artistic environment is both an opportunity and a challenge.
Perhaps, as technology dictates our changing demands, so too will it prove the defining transformation in 21st-century artistic, architectural and design practice. Matylda Krzykowski, Designer and Artistic Director of Depot Basel, concludes that "the most fundamental implication is technology – the structures that we build, the devices we use, have transformed us as human beings, and design has always transformed the whole behaviour of a human being."
It is thus beyond doubt that our very fast-paced, networked and volatile world constantly changes demands with regard to fine arts. Nevertheless, merging the achievements of our cultural heritage solicitously into current artistic work seems to be key to fostering a versatile and vivid future art world.