Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Naming of Things

This Thursday I went to the Castro Theatre to see Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt’s The Animation Show, which consists of a number of animated shorts from the past year or so. It’s traveling around the country, so if it makes it to your town, I’d recommend it.

The first short was a piece called “Rabbit”, which is actually posted on Atom Films. It brings to life a bunch of 2D images form a children’s vocabulary book, with all of the objects in world of the film being labeled. "Rabbit" brings to life a bunch of 2D images form a children’s vocabulary book, with all of the objects in world of the film being labeled. You can get an idea of what I’m talking about from this image:

It’s a darkly funny piece, and it got me thinking about how when you have a bunch of nouns presented to you the verbs that they engage in can be quite unexpected. There’s a lot of creative potential in not being too limiting in your expectations of how an object will act or, if it’s inanimate, how it will be used. Lars Lerup describes this in his book Building the Unfinished: Architecture and Human Action. In it, Lerup uses the example of a staircase that a child plays on and imagines as a mountain to climb or a cascading waterfall when sliding down the stair in a box. An elderly woman may put flowerpots on the stairs and think of it as a plant stand. Lerup describes the stair as a “lump” that has “inherent patterns common with many things.” By naming it and only thinking of the object or noun in one way, as a staircase, we limit the object. Lerup states: “the singular designation by the culture reduces the object to a one-dimensional concept, when in fact the object is a lump of material… in order to know an object we must embrace and study all its sides… we must also act if we want to see.”

This concept connects to another idea I remember from a landscape architect on a review jury of mine who said that you shouldn’t start with defining what objects a client wants, instead you should start with what verbs they want to engage in. For example, if they say, “I want a bench”. Then you should counter with, “so, you want a place to sit?” This strategy leads to a lot more constructive questioning of desires and activity in a space. It also allows for more flexibility of use, and that can be very important in the design of public spaces where you have various groups of people with different desires and wants.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Hi I work at AtomFilms and wanted to drop you a note thanking you for the shoutout. Glad you like Rabbit, it's one of our favorites here, just amazing animation. Happy viewing!