Jerszy Seymour and a year of New Dirty Enterprises


17 December 2014

“My work is based around how we inhabit the planet and inhabit our minds at the same time,” states Jerszy Seymour.

It’s an expansive ethos, one that has seen the Berlin-born, German-Canadian designer build a multifaceted practice encompassing industrial and post-industrial object production, film, music, interventions and installations, even the setting up of an educational platform via Dirty Art Department, the Applied Art and Design Masters he initiated at Amsterdam’s Sandberg Institute/Reitveld Academy.

Friday 12 December saw the one-off performance of New Dirty Enterprises: The First Annual Report, Dialogue Is Not Possible at Garage Mu in Paris. Devised as a musical “opera non-opera”, the show was a response to ideas introduced via 2013’s New Dirty Enterprises, presented during the artfestival ABC in Berlin. That show comprised what Seymour referred to as an “initial stock offering” of a prospectively broader commercial model; a desk and table where, in a subtly egalitarian gesture, no-one was actually supposed to sit; 1km of collected steel tubing (the physical manifestation of the stock ‘currency’); and pizza boxes containing information on how to start a pizza delivery franchise. The idea, Seymour explains, was drawn from British designer William Morris’ 1890 utopian text News From Nowhere; Morris wrote that social uprising would be instigated by revolutionaries taking over bakeries. For Seymour, pizza was a logical contemporary alternative to bread.

Following New Dirty Enterprises, Seymour devoted a year to researching its themes, exploring a self-defined re-evolution of the human condition and the traverse of a subjective social reality, by way of projects such as The Council for the Progenesis of the Archaic Festival at the Milan Furniture fair in April and Extra National Assembly #1 at Kunsthaus Glarus in Switzerland. The former, a collaboration with Danish textile manufacturer Kvadrat, saw Seymour chainsawing rolls of the company’s Divina fabric to the sound of a pounding 808 beat, channelling the notions of the dual destructive and transcendental energies of French writer Georges Bataille explored in Theory of Religion to both create a social space – the roll stumps as seating – and merely revel in the devastating capabilities of the chainsaw.

Extra National Assembly #1, on the other hand, was a more inclusive and meditative enterprise, seeing Seymour create a luridly striped hut in the Swiss mountains and inviting a host of philosophers, sociologists, artists and designers to stage a conference discussing theoretical social, education, financial and law structures.

New Dirty Enterprises: The First Annual Report, Dialogue Is Not Possible is the formal presentation of the ideas and thinking gleaned from the year’s work: 15 musical passages performed by a Seymour-fronted band over the course of an hour, featuring titles such as: A short history of transgressing horizons; You wanna get high; Alternative realities generator; and Hot tub jazz allstars greatest hits = cheap op art sunset. The performance was part of Lafayette Anticipation, the pre-launch programme of the Foundation Galeries Lafayette.

Preceding the show, Disegno spoke to Seymour about its unconventional staging, the convergent strands of his practice and breaking with design dogma.

Why did you choose a concert as the vehicle to present your research?

I didn't want to do a literal presentation of the research, and a hour-long musical concert seemed like a really good way of doing it. I guess you could call it more of an opera, with the choreography and stuff, and with what we’d call a very cheap op art set! There’s 15 musical pieces. [My collaborators] are kind of an odd crew: one is a connection through the Lafayette Foundation, one is working for me now, and one is a student at the Dirty Art Department in Amsterdam. We're performing it in an experimental venue in Paris called Garage Mu.

It’s there to communicate, in the form of an opera non-opera, all of this research about the history of Dirty Art and its propositions. There’s a piece called Orgasm of Forces, which is about the first decision of coming into being, and a piece about the human condition called The beast possesses one or many souls and one language. Then there’s some funny ones, some heavy noise pieces, and one called Sisyphus on tour, which explores the idea that Sisyphus was the ultimate rock’n’roller. There’s a trippy acid cover of Public Enemy's “Fight The Power” with the lyrics changed.

Musically, I was referring to John Cage and Steve Reich, but also to Sun Ra and Mike Kelley’s Destroy All Monsters. Kelley used to say: ‘Rock all along was just the volume, your physical response to it. Everything else was just packaging – the marketing strategies necessary to sell pop product’. Whether it's listenable or not, that’s something else. We just have lighting, the musical instruments and a couple of cans of spray. I think it's a strong set up.

We're going to record it; we’ve got a proper set up, we'll master it and when we're ready we'll publish it. We might start a New Dirty Enterprises propaganda wing; the record from this concert could be the first thing we publish.

Despite the parallel conventional and avant-garde aspects of your practice, does your creative process always start in the same way?

In general yes, definitely. The Amateur projects – all the stuff I made with wax – and the Amateur society, which is now finished, eventually became Dirty Art Department, and now New Dirty Enterprises.

Another project that we're working on with Magis right now is, basically, just some stools and tables. But the idea behind it connects to the New Dirty Enterprises. They – the pieces of furniture – are called The Bureau for the Study of Vivid Blue Multicolour Inhabitations of the Planet, the Transformation of Reality and the Multitude of Happy Endings. The whole thesis behind that connects to the finality of the enterprise. But essentially it's chairs and tables made from aluminium, welded together and painted –they’re real chairs and real tables, a straight industrial design project.

The Workshop Chair [2009] is a great piece, but it's really just a representation of a general idea. At the end of it, it's not a very useful chair, even though it works. The piece that we're doing now is of a similar geometry but all made of aluminium, just welded together. It's not dealing with mass production techniques like injection molding; it's much more of a carpentry idea, but good quality and a good price, with a material that's recyclable and all that stuff. So there are moments where things come together, but when you’re working with bigger companies I think it's more difficult. That would be an eventual goal, to mix the things. 

Is New Dirty Enterprises an open-ended concept?

Where this is different to the Amateur project, is that the Amateur project could have easily fallen in to naive dogma. New Dirty Enterprises can avoid all of this. It doesn't have an ideal of anything like that; it's really just an exploration machine. But it's an exploration machine that is independent; it could even be independent to me, because I’m not the boss of it. There is no boss! People can take from it whatever they want. The idea is that everything is replicable; if people want to start their own pizza franchise or their own space cooperative then it's totally fine. 

Given its status as an egalitarian platform, was there any collaboration in its conception?

It's pretty much completely mine. Except, of course, that I just copy and paste from everything around me and just put together my ideas that way. Actually, through Extra National Assembly #1, it was nice to meet people, like the philosophers, who had a lot of influence, but the concept was already done. The collaboration within the project was essential though. There, my job was to create a platform and pick the right people to come. And I found that what they were talking about was adding to what I was talking about, which was mutual.

So yeah, it’s completely my conception. It's not participatory – except it is participatory. The idea that, I make my shit, but if there are some ideas you like from it you can take it and make your shit, rather than saying everything is done together in agreement. When I sample or take things from somewhere, I call that a collaboration. It’s the same when people take from me, rather than some idea of a democratic participation.

You know the history of the discussion of relational aesthetics? We just don't want to be like that. Too New Age, hippy participatory art. This is much more about saying: "We're motherfuckers and so can you be."