Performative autobiography as design attitude : the Merz-World of Kurt Schwitters
Author(s)Vardouli, Rodanthi; Schwitters, Kurt, 1887-1948
Merz-World of Kurt Schwitters
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Architecture.
Mark Goulthorpe and Kristel Smentek.
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At the end of the First World War, middle class bourgeois Kurt Schwitters retreated into his studio in Hanover to literally nail together the ruins of a world that had fallen to pieces. In doing so, he produced one of the most controversial works of the early 20th century artistic avant-garde, the Merzbau. In my thesis, I argue that in the construction of the Merzbau, Schwitters put forth a novel design attitude, which I coin "performative autobiography," and whose workings, I aspire to activate, by revisiting his activity from a present-centric perspective and with a designer's onlook. I examine Merz as a design attitude of world-creation, according to which the designer transforms personal disposition into the order of the work, which I believe presents affinities with image and affect based modes of operation within what cultural theorist Gregory Ulmer coins "electracy" to describe the technological, ideological and institutional apparatus of the contemporary epoch. I argue that Merz prefigured currently emerging modes of being, thinking, and creating, and presents potential for thinking about and engaging in design praxis in a world saturated with recording and communication technologies. Also, I suggest the artistic technique of assemblage as launched by Dada and recast by Schwitters, as a productive descriptive framework for discussing being and making sense of the world of digital recording and communication technologies. The implications of these two associations that I make refer broadly to the questions of who designs and what. I argue that assemblage as practiced by Schwitters expanded these questions to include potentially everyone as a designer and reality as a design project. Merz transcended the atemporal and impersonal aesthetics of combination and suggested a procedural attitude of creating by including the onlooker as an active agent in the signification of the whole. We can all be designers, Schwitters implicitly suggested, assembling fragments of a world that is constantly being recorded and turned into bits, not as fixed elementary units but as products of a subjective segmentation, into new material or immaterial realities. In this spirit, I set out to retell the story of the Merzbau in terms of Schwitters' account for the whole world with the vision to provide an intellectual scaffolding that will enable contemporary designers to invent new worlds, by directing, augmenting and putting to work their own "performative autobiographies."
Thesis: S.M., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Architecture, 2014.Cataloged from PDF version of thesis. "June 2014."Includes bibliographical references (pages 133-134).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Architecture.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology