The Silent Ornamental Revolution.
(The Romantic. The expression of the Unknown, the sublime, the mysterious, the matters of the soul.)
Dear audience, I'd like to reintroduce you to the Romantic and take you back to the days of the sublime. You probably have lost track of the concept, considering it to be old hat, cliché and an anachronism in these post-modern times. In order to recall the Romantic to the stage, I brushed off the dust from another old member of the cast long since forgotten, a minor player, historically supporting the protagonist with humble aid from the coulisses. May I present to you, the ornament.
Let us first change the scene to the mountains. Wandering through small traditional villages, I have always been fascinated by the apparent cosiness and decorativeness of the buildings. This image has been thoroughly exploited by elements like Heidi and The Sound of Music. These quaint little huts set against the backdrop of one of the most hostile environments existing: the high alpine mountain ranges. Seen today it is difficult to understand the culture which emerged there. Mountains set a scene for heavy romanticism, adventurous undertakings submitted to the extremities of nature. These granite colossuses exhibit an extreme monumentality and grandeur, which make the human feel small and humble. Placing geraniums on brightly coloured windowsills hardly seems appropriate.
But Romanticism in the mountains was a 19th century invention. Previous to that, people thought the mountains to be a non-human territory, dangerous, hostile, and even demonic. A place to avoid if it could not be cultivated. So to ward off the inhumane, the bad spirits, you needed to disperse symbols of humanity around you. Small friendly tokens like embroidery, curly woodcarvings, geraniums and bright colours. Ornaments to bring the Romantic into human conditions, to control it, to frame it, to be able to place it in daily life.
But today we control the mountains, we ski on their slopes, build telephone antennas on their summits and have well-mapped grids of walking paths all over them. We enjoy mountains now. And so the geraniums have lost the function of incantation and have become bad taste.
(The ornament. The object that comforts, adds warmth, tames the emotion.)
Modernism came and introduced a second generation of Romanticism. It was one that departed from not just being the romance of the heart and stomach, of fear, desire and mystery. It became an "urban" Romanticism. One that was being intellectual, formal, even political. Human forms and creations as functional architecture, intellectual concepts, mathematics and abstraction were the new focal points of the Romantic. And because of this, it didn't leave any place for the traditional ornaments. The artwork now claimed full responsibility for being Romantic and claimed the frame, the stage and virtually everything to be included. And people were ready for it. So again, the curly gold frame lost its function and became bad taste.
Today, the Romantic has been overexposed on the centre stage. The irony of this is that through time, the thing that was most frightening and fascinating at the same time had become so domesticated and overanalysed that it had lost all its magic. The well established ornaments had carried this "Beast of the Heart" into everyday experience, being body guards shouldering it, protecting it from our fearful minds, and in turn protecting us from its imaginative power. But now it had ceased to have a place to live anymore. The stage had been taken over by Post-Modernism. A Grand Gesture was not possible anymore on centre stage, it had to be seen as irony or viewed in context. But the plain Romantic had lost its position and had become bad taste.
The Romantic has left the stage, ladies and gentlemen, but what about the ornaments? They're still there standing unused in the coulisses. People throw their coats over them, urinate over them, laugh or smile at them. They're lost and without a job except for the few who reach the profession of cheap entertainment.
This is exactly the ideal situation for a subculture to emerge. The world has forgotten them, leaving them in the shadows. And suddenly there is space for the ornament to redefine itself. So what if you could inject some of the old Romanticism into the ornament? Let us switch the roles round. Let the curly frame be the protagonist and the Romantic the backstage crew. Let the people look at the ornament and start wondering, grow silent and even feel fear. Building facades, table legs, garden pots, banisters, etc, etc. And through a subtle revolution of the ornamental underdogs, the Romantic re-stages and firmly nests its presence in the dark corners of our eyes.
Jan Robert Leegte, 2006