Microreview: Dialectic Diatribes on the New European Bauhaus

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"Shaping more beautiful, sustainable and inclusive forms of living together" / https://europa.eu/new-european-bauhaus/index_en
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Mariya Gabriel announces the #EuropeanHeritageAwards winners / https://twitter.com/gabrielmariya/status/1397140010105819140
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"Co-designing the New European Bauhaus" / https://europa.eu/new-european-bauhaus
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Source/copyright: European Commission
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"The New European Bauhaus is a creative and interdisciplinary movement in the making, and you can be part of it!" / https://europa.eu/new-european-bauhaus/
Bauhaus Review Partners
Project partners / https://europa.eu/new-european-bauhaus/about/official-partners_en
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Project partners / https://europa.eu/new-european-bauhaus/about/official-partners_en
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Project partners / https://europa.eu/new-european-bauhaus/about/official-partners_en
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Project partners / https://europa.eu/new-european-bauhaus/about/official-partners_en
2021 June
(Statler & Waldorf for) Anke Gruendel and Jamie Allen review the New European Bauhaus project in 3 parts
Author / Publisher
Anke Gruendel and Jamie Allen for NewsLibrary
Author Info

Anke Gruendel holds a PhD in Politics from the New School for Social Research and currently is a research associate at the Humboldt University in Berlin. Her current research investigates new forms of political rationality in public sector design that inform how theories of democracy and the political continue to be enacted and transformed in modern technical democracies.

Jamie Allen is occupied with the ways that technologies teach us about who we are as individuals, cultures and societies. His work has been exhibited internationally, from the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin to the American Museum of Natural History in New York to the Nam June Paik Art Center in Korea. He teaches, lectures and leads workshops widely, engaging with and working to create collaborative contexts that acknowledge how care, attachment and love are central to knowledge practices like art and research. http://jamieallen.com/



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Newsletter No. 35

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Reviewed Publication

New European Bauhaus


Launched on 14 October 2020, the New European Bauhaus (NEB) Initiative is a project initiated by the European Commission with the express purpose of using design for politics, politics for design, or both. Bound up in it are numerous histories, ambitions, and conceptions of what it means to make policy, practice art and design, or use media for political purposes in a fraught European landscape today

Ursula von der Leyen surprised many—artists and designers perhaps foremost—by announcing that the NEB would enlist designers on a continental scale, in response to the climate crisis facing Europe and the world

Two illustrious European commentators and cultural stewards, Statler (S) and Waldorf (W), over a Zoom call between their apartments in Paris and Vienna, respectively, engaged in a three part high-level roundtable on the resonances and implications of this momentous, ambitious, and somewhat cryptic creative, political project, shortly after its launch. This is what transpired:[1]

[1] Anke Gruendel and Jamie Allen’s review of the New European Bauhaus project is voiced through Statler and Waldorf, two elderly hecklers based on the homonymous Muppet characters. Through these characters, important critiques of the project are voiced in a way that takes up the New EU Bauhaus project as welcoming of “everyone’s” opinion, in the classical form of a Socratic dialogue. Their discussion is inspired by art critic Jan Verwoerts’ suggestion of The Muppet Show as an ideal for diverse communities that provoke a strange assembly of creatures finding a way to coexist that is impossible to explain (Butt, 2007, Artistic research in the future academy).

Part I: I Don’t Understand What ‘It’ Is?

W: Waldorf, have you heard about this New European Bauhaus?

S: Heard about it? Seen it, can’t avoid it. They’re all over Instagram (@neweuropeanbauhaus) and Twitter (#NewEuropeanBauhaus). And their website keeps inviting me to ‘Share my views’.

W: What happens when you click it?

S: They want me to co-designing the New European Bauhaus with them.

W: Does it also tell you what you are co-designing?

S: Maybe there is something in the fine print. Hang on a moment while I get my glasses… Ah, yes. Looks to me like the typical design trick for inspiring active participation from the hoi polloi. Allowing you to see yourself in the project, in an unthreatening way.

W: Can you see yourself in this: https://www.instagram.com/p/CPQ8iYClPce/?

S: No, can you?

W: No, but maybe they’re trying to “appeal to the youth.” So definitely not you! Looks like they want to create a new Europe, setting out a new deal, a “European Green Deal.” Cultures of sustainability for a green future and all that. I guess the climate crisis is their problem, not ours.

S: It’s art and design as politics, or art and politics as design. I can’t quite tell which or if they're doing either one very well.

W: I still don’t understand what ‘it’ is. Maybe that’s the point... It’s to be “co-designed”!

S: “Co” as in ‘corporate’, or “co” as in cost-effective?

W: [maniacal laughter] Waaaahahahahahah!

S: [maniacal laughter] AAhhhh Hahahah Ha!


Part 2: Imposing Normative Beauty?

W: The main website features a simplistic childish aesthetic. You would think for an initiative like this, they would’ve hired slick designers who can actually, you know, design.

S: So where is the aesthetic coming from, then?

W: It might make sense to think about what the old European Bauhaus was. What does Wikipedia say?

S: So apparently the original Bauhaus was a “German art school operational from 1919 to 1933 that combined crafts and the fine arts. The school became famous for its approach to design, which attempted to unify the principles of mass production with individual artistic vision and strove to combine aesthetics with everyday function.” So German aesthetic and technical expertise to the rescue... haven't they tried that before?

W: Maybe the New European Bauhaus folks should have read Wikipedia first…

S: I thought ze Germans were no longer in the business of trying to impose strict forms of industrial modernism and vague normative values like “beauty” on the rest of the world.

W: Maybe they should have imposed some of that normative beauty when they designed their website

W: (maniacal laughter) Waaaahahahahahah!

S: (maniacal laughter) AAhhhh Hahahah Ha!


Part 3: A ‘Grassroots’ European Union?

W: The New European Bauhaus is not just participatory. Looks like there are specific, invited partners, experts and people already involved.

S: That’s about as inclusive as the EU’s ever going to get. And anyway, don’t we still need experts for complicated problems like climate change? We can’t just rely on regular schmucks like you and me designing the New European Bauhaus, let alone the New Europe.

W: I definitely don’t want you designing Europe!

S: Perhaps a bit of context for the tradition of participatory design in Europe. Participatory design began in Scandinavian labor planning in the scope of what they called ‘workplace democracy.’[1] While there weren’t any significant social or cultural differences among the mostly white male workers, these designers and planners did have to deal with a complicated set of goals among labor unions that diverged sharply from the goals of business executives.[2] And keep in mind that casting ‘regular people’ as experts of their own lives also significantly transforms the idea of expertise.[3] This tradition is certainly in the background of the NEB’s idea of ‘grassroots’ design.

W: Are you lecturing me, professor? Why don’t you tell me how something as technocratic as the European Commission can do anything ‘grassroots’?

S: Patience, Waldorf. That’s what we’re all about to find out. Think outside the box!

W: We’re not in a box.

S: Certainly looks that way to me...

W: It is a Zoom call!

W: (maniacal laughter) Waaaahahahahahah!

S: (maniacal laughter) AAhhhh Hahahah Ha

[1] Gregory, J. (2003). Scandinavian approaches to participatory design. International Journal of Engineering Education, 19(1), 62-74.

[2] Sandberg, Å. Computer Dividing Man and Work. Malmö: Arbetslivscentrum, 1979.

[3] Sanders, E. B. N., & Stappers, P. J. (2008). Co-creation and the new landscapes of design. Co-design, 4(1), 5-18.