The credibility of color
In his book, Chromophobia, David Batchelor argues that western cultures have grown scared of color. Bright and vivid hues have lost credibility. Individuals are both attracted and repelled by the very concept of color and since the onslaught of modernism, shades that shine brighter than black, white or grey rank as irrelevant, or worse, cheap.
By Gabrielle Kennedy, October 21, 2010
Through his research, Batchelor has mined art, history, philosophy, and literature for a better understanding of how this situation came about. From Baudelaire to Baudrillard, colors’ credibility has ebbed and flowed. At once an arena of pure sensorial expression, a political tool and a merely decorative or decadent plaything, colors’ reputation moves with the times.
Line, not color, dominates modernist theory and unsurprisingly the standardization of industrial materials has created a sort of grey homogeneity, particularly in architecture, across cultures. Color in the urban environment is mostly taboo, seen as an emotional and unnecessary distraction from the purity of line and the honesty of materials.
Caroline Bos, theorist and co-founder of UNStudio, sees strong indications, however, suggesting that in ten to fifteen years more color will be introduced to the urban environment by way of art installations and temporary pavilions. She calls it an innovation in style and quotes Foucault who stated that all technology is social before it eventually becomes technique.
“Color can really penetrate the urban environment for strong effect,” Bos says. She shows images of renowned UNStudio work that proves this – the pavilion in Chicago to mark one hundred years of urban planning that shines hot pink at night, the use of foil behind transparent facades that allows local color to reflect off buildings, the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam that looks white but is in fact baby blue, and the orange Agora Theater Lelystad that utilizes color to create a town center when one didn’t really exist.
“In architecture we use color to suggest things,” Bos says. But for color to become properly relevant in modern urban cities, it needs to be reintroduced in education. “Color has to develop simultaneously with design,” she says. “It cannot be an afterthought.”
One of the final speakers in the day-long symposium was Dai Fujiwara, creative director at Issey Miyake whose A.P.O.C (A Piece of Cloth) brand has a strong color base.
Fujiwara is trained in textiles and traditional dying techniques that focus on the essence of color. His career has been devoted to the exploration of color and the best way to achieve a pure understanding and recreation of its properties.
Using film, photography, catwalk, mathematics, and science, Fujiwara takes his team to natural landscapes where they can view color in its natural abundance.
In 2008, for example, he went “color hunting” to the Andes to discover the meaning of green for the 2009 spring/summer Miyake collection. “We went in the rainy season because it makes the colors more fresh and beautiful,” Fujiwara says. Boating down the Amazon and trekking through the jungle, the group collected thousands of specimens and collated them into palettes to reveal the truest reflection of the natural environment.
“We spent a week thinking about what is green,” Fujiwara says, “and we discovered that there are hundreds of different greens.”
Spectacular images flash up above Fujiwara’s head of swatches of collected colors. Samples of every shade of green through to brown are strung up on string criss crossing trees and across edges of the Amazon river. “Usually when I ask someone in my team about a color, they consult magazines or the Internet,” Fujiwara says, “but that is just connecting, coordinating and copying. I don’t like that.”
“Color is the reality of the making of creation,” Fujiwara concludes. A cryptic but insightful summation of the day’s event.