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ESSAYS
Every Force Evolves a Form

Much has been written on the Protestant ethics of capitalism, but what are the underpinning ethics of communism? Do they also originate in religious ideas? It is well known that Marx and Engels looked at the experiments of Quakers and the proto-socialism of Robert Owens in the early days of their formulation of an alternative model to capitalism. They also looked at the United States, where the contrast of communist experiments versus the most advanced liberal democracy was starker. In particular they examined the Shakers, a religious group best known for their practical and meticulously crafted furniture and minimal interiors. I’m interested in the links between this proto-communist experiment, its ethical dimension, and its resulting design ethos—but as viewed from a contemporary context in which we’re seeing an explosion of spiritual practices such as mindfulness (and their ambiguous purposing) that have arisen in response to the extreme demands of cognitive work and the commodification of affect and emotion. A new minimalistic material dimension is emerging that defines new habits and habitats, yet distinctly recalls much older kinds of minimalism. It is evident for example in California, a laboratory of sorts where technologies are pushing new forms of adaptation. How do these contemporary minimalisms measure up against older examples? And is it possible to make a different use of them?

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CONVERSATIONS
Shaping Grand Cultural Narratives: Guy Ben-Ner

"I usually start with reality, with what is at hand, and not with the fantasy that would demand to create a new reality for its realization. I begin with what I have, rather than with what I would want to have."

© Guy Ben-Ner. Courtesy: Sadie Coles HQ, London and Sommer Contemporary, Tel Aviv. Photo: Robert Glowacki