Sans titre, Erik Kessels.
Untitled, Erik Kessels.
Flaws, asymmetry and slipups are the new watchwords. Clear skies and unbroken horizons have had their day. There is beauty to be found in the whimsy of nature and the irregularities of the absurd.
New ways of thinking flip us upside down, turn us inside out and merrily wreak havoc before leaving, whistling as they go. Not long ago there was a time when we sought a certain idea of perfection and, in the process, of excellence. A polished, smooth, airbrushed world that was almost frozen in its symmetry, its deep pristine respiration verging on silence. Interior design magazines would have us adopt these immaculate worlds, these slices of paradise descended from the heavens. Moreover, when you found yourself in one of those perfect hotels, you’d almost be ashamed of your suitcase. Of yourself. You didn’t match the cream bedspread, the designer chair, the ambery scent. There is now a more welcoming world. Suddenly, we feel embraced.
Poetry in the raw
It turns out that imperfection is, in fact, a quality, very nearly a quest. Even cosmetics have jumped on the bandwagon. After hunting down blemishes and smoothing out pores, they’ve taken a fresh look at the issue. The obsession with wrinkles is over. Instead, let’s find out how and where people can live the longest. These places are known as Blue Zones (Okinawa, Costa Rica, Sardinia, Crete, etc.). Hence Chanel’s latest range: Blue Serum. A way of maturing gently, without succumbing to the lexical hostility of ageism.
Everywhere, as in the “bistronomy” culture, people are demanding rough decors, raw concrete walls that are almost naked. Stripped. Exfoliated. Closer to Jacques Derrida than to any interior decor TV guru; closer to the “romanticism of the unsightly,” as Le Corbusier described it. What is inspiring what: designer stubble or exposed walls?
Pot luck Japan, one imagines, has always embraced this outlook. During the tea ceremony, for example, yosemuku is about using different plates and bowls rather than having a uniform set for everyone. This creates the famous wabi, the beauty of imperfection. It’s a kind of beauty that functions like a pebble skipping across water. The deliberate accident (pottery that is intentionally smashed then repaired, known as kintsugi), manufacturing defects, fragments of fabric, and scraps combined in a textile tableaux all create an authentic poetry. One that is reassuring, imitating the gentle imperfections of nature, as in the irregular rim of a cup.
The Merci store in Paris has even been looking into the subject: recently it displayed Duralex canteen glasses that had been redesigned (recast) by designers Loris&Livia. And Dutch designer Bernard Heesen blew deliberately twisted jugs and glasses. Trip, and they’ll thank you for it.
Unsettling humanity Above and beyond this refreshing change of approach, one should see in this homage to imperfection a notion of time or movement that disrupts the order of things, or that of a bunch of flowers arranged too neatlyasymmetry (as in the art of ikebana) gives it space. Air circulates and is no longer static. We have appropriated it. Life is present, and so are we: the reassuring stain on a cook’s apron, the cheerful freckles on a face; a beauty spot, rampant ivy, a slant, a crack, a breakeven in the bad luck of an athlete who gets injured while attempting something exceptional. He was not perfect, he didn’t set any new records. And yet. This is the story of a weakness that can make an athlete stronger, and his comeback all the more impressive (the same motive and same punishment that applies to heartache, right?).
“Have no fear of perfection,” said Dalí, “because you will never achieve it.” This should put us at ease, by offering a more benevolent view of human nature and things. Aside from ceramics and such literary musings, imperfection teaches us to look at life differently. It recoils from disturbingly perfect people, while unearthing in others what we lack in ourselves, where we are “deficient.” With such smooth, exemplary beings, there’s often nothing our hearts can latch onto.
The fertile flaw Or: Failed it! How to turn mistakes into ideas and other advice for successfully screwing up. This book, from which the photos for this article are taken, is a celebration of our mistakes and their role in the creative process. Just look at the tarte Tatin, or upside-down cake; or the pacemaker, which was invented by accident. Erik Kessels offers a kind of therapy, showing us how mistakes can sometimes lead to success. As William Gass pointed out, calamity can spawn beauty.