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Okanagan Arts

Culture and Community

Spring 2007


Re:Imagine
An Ongoing Series of Lectures and Presentations that Celebrate the Creative Okanagan

Okanagan Institute
Thursday Express
4:30pm Thursdays
at the Bohemian Cafe


Click here for schedule
and information.

Arts Council of the Central Okanagan
Arts Council of the
Central Okanagan

8-1304 Ellis Street
Kelowna BC Canada V1Y 1Z8
Email: Click Here.
Elke Lange, Executive Director

Produced in association with
Okanagan Bookworks

 

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Okanagan Arts, Spring 2007Okanagan Arts, Spring 2007
Okanagan Arts: Spring 2007


Jarrod Thalheimer: The Art of Design


Does Design Matter?

Standing in the washroom at Moxie's Classic Grill was embarrassing.

Okanagan Arts Spring 2007Okanagan Arts, Spring 2007
Here I was, encased in luxury, yet overcome by an almost crippling sense of obscenity. A beautiful tile floor; warm, rich wood walls; television embedded to the left of the urinals and all lovingly illuminated by an ambient glow that - sufficient for the task, ahem, at hand - still remained warm and inviting. The taps gleamed silver, and required only the presence of my hands beneath them to dispense temperature-perfect water. A lavender scent completed the package. This washroom, this toilet, had been designed to please each and every one of my senses and amidst it all I felt unworthy. How is it right that I, or anyone, get to enjoy such design in everyday life? I paid 15 bucks for an entrée at Moxie's. How does that entitle me to enter Eden and urinate?

Look at our restaurants, our shopping malls, our cars, our movie houses, even our own homes. We trip our way through lives of luxury that at one time only the royals of history enjoyed. The excess implied by good design is everywhere. Look at the sweeping wood beams of the Rotary Centre or the magnificently resurrected history of the Laurel. Gaze at the toweringly monochrome Landmark Square or walk the studied perfection of the seawall at Waterfront Park. Each vividly displays our new reality. And in this shadow we cringe, bearing a shame that comes with knowing deep in our hearts that none of this largesse is truly required. What are we doing? Are we destroying ourselves? Are we losing sight of what matters? Does every home need a duvet, a throw, a comforter and a wooly? Maybe a blanket is more than enough for anyone.

Does all this design in our lives even matter? What if we drop our standards to the bare minimum? Construct fences that do no more than contain, or erect colourless and efficiently square buildings to house homogeneous markets of non-varying staples. We could easily live in homes that only protect us from the elements while hiding invisibly amongst the trees. Perhaps a mandate that our vehicles do no more than move us from A to B. Could this lead to purification? To perfection? Somewhere deep, most of us harbour the belief that nature is perfect. We correctly reason that nature existed long before we got here, and that it will likely remain long after we're gone.

Naturopathic stores flogging their remedies exploit this particular point of faith expertly, though Al Gore and Co. appear rather adept on this front as well. Repeatedly, it is hammered home that our very presence on earth serves mainly to screw up that which nature has perfected, be it the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, the land that we live on or - most ridiculously - the very bodies that we personally inhabit.

And because our heart of hearts tells us that "Only God can make a tree," we usually nod humbly, offering only silent acceptance of our inherent foibles and limitations. Yes, a tree is beautiful. Birds do indeed sing, and fruit and vegetables grow in many places with little to no effort on our part. Does this mean mankind has no need of cul-de-sacs, public fountains or waterslides? Should we commence the immediate shunning of Wayne Newton, Pottery Barn and Subway? Perhaps all creative human intervention, save the Birkenstock of course, cannot be trusted to advance our society.

I admit, the beaver dam is perfect. It does exactly what it is supposed to do. It provides a home for its constructor and fulfills an instinctual need to block a moving water source. But it will never vary. It will never surprise you. No one will ever see a beaver dam that was constructed with an "open and airy feel" or one done in a "steel and glass" theme. The beaver is unable to create something different. It can only do what it must. For us to mimic this would see our societies stunted by an unnatural, and decidedly lazy, uniformity. Nature is incapable of such laziness. We are not.

Okanagan Arts, Spring 2007Okanagan Arts Spring 2007
There is a children's book entitled Bert's Great Hall of Inventions. In it, Ernie, of Sesame Street fame, is walking through the countryside with a bunch of his animal pals when he comes across his old buddy Bert's museum. Bert's place is set up to show how great man's inventions are. Predictably, Bert offers up examples of human ingenuity, such as a bulldozer, while Ernie offers nature's original creation as contrast, in this case a goat charging at full speed. We go on to see a suit of armour versus the compact shell of a turtle, or a flyswatter versus a cow's tail. The lesson is painfully simple. Try as we might, we cannot create beyond what nature basically gives us, so why even try? I could not disagree more.

It is in the very existence of people that we see why design matters. We are obligated to participate in the movement of our world, and design is a huge part of our job. You see, we are expected to make a "tree." Nature does what it does, while we are the dreamers and designers and creators. Often we blow it. The supermodern design one day becomes the eyesore of five years from now. The new bridge with structural advancements and spectacular sight lines collapses into the sea before it is even crossed. Even late-night TV icons like the BeDazzler or Roncos challenge our position as credible assistants to Creation.

Yet all of them, failures and weird successes alike, stand as irrefutable proof that we continue in our quest to make this world more than we found it. To abandon efforts at design in our lives is to spit in the face of that which we have been given. The natural world around us was expertly designed. So much so that to cite a cosmic accident is to be unappreciative, and somewhat ignorant, of the genius displayed. To only live, that is to exist without trying to make better, is to stop growing. That runs counter to any system that sees birth, growth and death at the very core of its being.

The bare minimum cannot be what defines our time in history. Take those grapes and press them into wine. Cut down trees and craft homes of all sizes and shapes. Plant new fields and develop new methods of agriculture and more abundant forms of production. Improve automobile transportation and clean our air exponentially. Don't stop with the tempered glass of a window. Go further. Does making a bathroom strikingly beautiful really matter when our time here on earth is done? Of course it does. It screams effort and confirms appreciation of the transition from crude hole in the ground to climate-controlled, marble water closet. The only thing that should be embarrassing about the facilities at Moxie's Classic Grill is our personal failure to appreciate all that they represent.

Jarrod Thalheimer is a freelance writer living in Kelowna. Most recently, he was a chapter winner in the Province newspaper's Sunday Serial Thriller fiction competition. Currently, you can find his AdFool column each Tuesday at www.castanet.com and he can be reached through his website www.littlebluetruck.com

Wild Blue Yonder at Thursday Express