Ornament and Pattern

Ornament and pattern are form-based languages — the visual articulation of ideas. When successful, it offers a good read. And when the stories it tells are compelling, ornament and pattern go further. They show us something new. We can see ornament’s narrative at work in Neils van Eijk and Miriam van der Lubbe’s souvenir windmills: New Dutch Blue. Arabic, African, and European patterns say that those identities are part of the Netherlands today.

The CAM Raleigh Deep Surfaces Exhibition, looking at the revival of ornament in the last fifteen years, has a fantastic accompanying essay by curators Susan Yelavich andDenise Gonzales Crisp.

The essay covers the issues of politics, class and gender that have surrounded ornament, and provide six ways for understanding contemporary ornament:

  1. Amplification
  2. Everyday
  3. Kit-of-Parts
  4. Inheritances
  5. Elaboration
  6. Fantasy

Of all of them, I was most interested in the idea of amplification

Here, contemporary designers use ornament and pattern to tease out the layers of meaning in a single object. The work serves as an interpreter, enriching our understanding of the places and things that populate the material landscape. Ornament that amplifies tells several stories at once.

That said, the whole essay brims with evocative language: tensions, the sensous,  luxurious excess, beautiful efficiency …. Where do I stop?
While I’d assumed ornament wasn’t really a part of my research (many critiques pin it as being primarily visual), this essay has made me reconsider its relevance.

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