Mid-covid-19, we’ve all come crashing into a devastating existential moment; a vulnerability is rendering our favourite tools-for-communicating like irony, for example, somehow wrong. But what does it take to overcome the cultural pull, What does it take to say what you mean, and even more poignantly mean what you say? What does it take to get real?

In the Let’s Get Real issue of DAMNº 78 we look to designers, artists, architects, film-makers and curators who not only say it as it is, but who seem to be prioritizing what is immediate and actual; who seem to shun the irony virus in favour of work that’s informed by more subtlety than narcissism.

And even though so many of us have been confined to varying degrees of lockdown over this past year, developments in #blacklivesmatter, environmental-intersectionalism, and #metoo have successfully paved some real cultural shifts – new ways of thinking that move beyond woke hashtags and into institutional power structures. Reality is changing and it was earnestness, not irony that got us here.

DYSNEY, TA REAL FAIRY STORY, words by Saskia van Stein

From its animations to theme parks and cruise holidays, Disney is an immersive experience. You are in the world of Disney, a world of wholesome wonder. The forthcoming exhibition at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, Disney – The Architecture of Staged Realities, applies critical thinking to a fully designed identity that not everyone gets an invite to experience. It also asks whether now is the time to imagine alternative futures, can we learn from Walt Disney’s “belief that imagination is the model for reality?”

As a skilled wizard, Walt Elias Disney (1901–1966) manufactured environments to trick us into believing in his temporary getaways. Through the production of enchanting characters he told fantastical stories, all animated in the sheltered space of the cinema. Later his feel-good universe leapt into reality via his constructed architectural environments and gated communities, all staged realities that blended symbolism and nostalgia while speaking of alternative futures...

Photo Saskia van Stein

THIERRY GEOFFROY—A Mental Workout, words by Harriet Thrope

"Knowing what I know makes me a monster." Think about it. This is one of the slogans that arose from artist Thierry Geoffroy's, aka Colonel, Apathy Lab. Using a series of what he calls art formats, they are open and reactive tools to debate and critique. The news, curation and themes of biennales... Everything gets a mental workout.

In the midst of the global pandemic, museums have closed and biennales have been postponed. But have they done enough to support their communities through this time? And, pandemic aside, are art world institutions responding fast enough to our rapidly changing world?

Holding them accountable is Thierry Geoffroy, aka Colonel. The French-Danish, Copenhagen-based conceptual artist prides himself on being annoying, and pandemic or no pandemic, he is not letting curators, institutions and galleries off the hook. As a professional protagonist and art world rogue, his work encourages public expression and outrage...

Emergency Room, "State Of Real", courtesy of the artist

DAVID CHIPPERFIELD—The Loose-Fitting Suit of Architecture, words by Will Wiles

What was your March like? Less sluggish than February? It’s not a characteristic you could apply to David Chipperfield Architects. Last month the planned handovers of Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie and the new extension building of Kunsthaus Zürich were announced, other museums are near completion… Oh, and Chipperfield has been gonged by Queen Elizabeth II and is now her official “companion”. Here he talks about those lengthy and delicate projects, and why the words and sentences of a novel can be seen in the same light as architecture.

“Maybe a generation before I might not have been so enthusiastic,” David Chipperfield says, reflecting on the stroke of fortune that transformed his architectural career. “In fact a lot of my contemporaries might not have been salivating at the opportunity.” ...

James-Simon-Galerie, Museum Island Berlin, Germany View from terrace towards Neues Museum © Simon Menges

GUS VAN SANT—A Hustle on the Catwalk, words by Charles Bramesco

Since the late 80s Gus Van Sant has been directing movies that have resulted in cult classics and box-office pullers. A film is a film for him regardless of the budget and he doesn’t wear a storytelling straightjacket. Van Sant has now collaborated with Gucci on a seven-part film titled Ouverture of Something That Never Ended, but before you cry “sell out”, for him it’s more just another experiment. DAMN° spoke to Van Sant about this latest project, his directorial career, and his fanhood for 24-hour rolling news channels.

Making a movie with a basis in reality is a losing game, but that hasn’t stopped scads of film-makers from trying. Adhere faithfully to the record, and the work starts to take on a book report’s matter-of-factness, calling the necessity of the artistic representation into question. Exercise some creative licence, and nitpicking detractors will come out of the woodwork to levy accusations of distorting the truth...

Gus Vant Sant for Gucci. Photo: Paige Powell, courtesy of Gucci

JING HE—Does Real Always Triuumph? words by Gabrielle Kennedy

In her research and work on creativity in copying, Jing He finds a way to express its impact on Chinese design culture and identity from her European vantage point.  Exploring a culture of imitation and the quandary of “realness” in design, she finds that in China today, “Nobody connects to the present, it is like the present is not real life and real life will only come in the future.”

I first met Jing He back in 2015 when she was a student in Eindhoven, already busy working on her detail-rich, collage-like sculptural pieces. The work was phenomenal, but what I remember most about that initial encounter was a simple story she told me about her dad. It struck hard, one of those deceptively modest anecdotes that someone shares, and you never really forget...

Jing He in her studio

THE R—Research and Realities. By Benjamin McMillian

DAMN° RESEARCH helps us to think critically through design. It allows us to both reimagine the material world to make it more functional, and to restructure systems to make them more transparent and fair. Design research happens across the spectrum from product design through to understanding how societies are organised or will be organised given the inevitable changes humans are facing.

DAMN° REALITIES provides brands with a way to fuse advertising with unique editorial coverage. It is a partnership that is personal, targeted and has international reach.

Benjamin McMillan is a recent graduate of the graphic design department at ArtEZ Arnhem, the Netherlands. His current work investigates the intersection between machine-minds and design. His Project Full Auto Foundry has become the identity of this DAMN issues Research and Realities section. His work asks, How would it be to design in a way where you don't have to plan far in advance? Could you design like you text, for example?..

R's Designed by Benjamin McMillian

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