Guest Editor: Jurgen Bey | icon 049 | July 2007

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Jurgen Bey in a box

There is too much emphasis on the finished product in design schools. A work in progress is much more interesting – when it’s finished it can’t grow anymore. In my opinion, education should make more of this potential. The beauty of studying is that you are allowed to research without pressure from the real world. It’s a time to investigate new fields and not hear “this is selling, this is not”. You get to spend two years going all the way, and it should be like Lars von Trier’s film The Idiots, where everyone is going completely far out. After the two years you can show what you’ve found and then the world can step on it or grab it and try it out. In the meantime, it’s important to create a country that has its own rules.

I would like our studio at the RCA to be like a library of trial and error. The only difference would be that libraries are really well organised. Ours looks like a bit of a mess, but in many ways it’s not. There is stuff all over everyone’s desks and a lot of it looks completely random or useless but it all has a purpose, even if the student is not sure what it is yet. It’s a language of making connections – the language of rubbish.

The nice thing about rubbish is there are no hierarchies – the smallest thing might be just as important as the biggest. So we should cultivate it and develop systems that don’t kill the rubbish world.

Things are easier for designers now – people understand what design is and
you can get companies to invest in it. But I think it needs to operate on a higher intellectual level, like art or architecture. Ideally, I would bring writers and editors and curators into the teaching process. Their role would be to set themes for investigation and, even more important, to reveal the cultural context that the students’ work might sit in. What we need to create is a discourse around the work.

You might be digging away at your design and then in 20 years look back and realise that you were part of something much bigger, and that the work was quite specific to what was happening in the world, even though you weren’t aware of it.

So while the students are behaving like moles, focusing on what’s right in front of them and throwing up the sand behind them, you need foxes to come and take all the pieces that they think are interesting, and make new categories and new stories. As a student you have you have all this energy and all this knowledge but you need others to create a certain perspective. Having context lifts you and makes you think more.

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