“Through a confusion, a montage, of genres and styles, we approach that plenitude of presence which is the mark of utopia, a return of knowledge to its corporeal source. We discover that true knowledge is not rational order, but fascination.” (5)
To define “excess” (outside of a linguistic context) is to define a system of valuation. The act, process, or very idea of exceeding a set standard fluctuates widely between individuals, cultures, and [architectural] ideologies. The immediate availability of resources (scarcity) and our ability live within these constraints dictates the rhythm of our day to day lives. This has been the case historically and will continue to be so in the future. But has our contemporary human existence begun to understand scarcity and provide for the fulfillment of our human needs in a different way?
For a moment, imagine a hypothetical world where scarcity exists only in certain degrees. This place has no shortages of materials; there are no oil embargos; no energy audits; no space requirements or restrictions; and windmills serve only as aesthetic objects in idealized landscapes. Humans live completely free in whatever manner, place, or way they please. In a world free of scarcity and the constraints of material limitations, how would we live? What would the size of our homes be? Would we shun community structures currently used to overcome the effects of scarcity (cities, neighborhoods, families, etc), or retain them? Would we surround ourselves with [once cherished] commodities like gold and a variety of iPhone 5c color combinations? Though this thought experiment is not based in reality and has many questions which can not be answered empirically, it can provide us (as designers and visionaries of the possibilities of the built environment) insight into the evolving dichotomy of human desire and needs. Examined through a historical context, we can also discover how our contemporary ways of living continue to further define and shape a world built on the goal of fulfilling human pleasure, rather than solely serving the minimums of basic human survival.
While we will continue to deal with the limitations of scarcity, but many indicators would reinforce the suggestion that we (as a species) are increasingly reshaping the context by which our “needs” are evaluated in the first place. Lifespan continues to increase; global poverty rates are plummeting; infant mortality is at an all-time low; and arguments have even been made (despite conceptions easily taken from 24/7 news and opinion streams) that the current era is the most peaceful in all of human existence. (1, 2, 3, 4) These types of shifts demand a redefinition of what is “excessive” in the satisfaction of advanced human emotions (subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, and freedom), and so too will our values be redefined to more accurately and effectively coincide with these pursuits.
So what do humans want? Where are our fundamental values? These broad questions inform the only clear understanding of excess — that which must be evaluated in the context of personal priority and worth. The values that shape our definition of excess are derived from the questions we seek to answer and context of our own immediate narratives. We must seek to question everything and beg for a conscious evaluation of that which ultimately makes us happy and satisfies us as humans. We must not fear excess in design or the physical world, but rather seek to understand its origins and basis in our cultural evolution.
In discovering a contemporary understanding of excess, the craft of collage and montage serves as an ideal vehicle for exploration. At once, each singular image becomes isolated in a new and changing context, and by their composition a fantasy is realized. We search for patterns within them and reconcile assorted scales, motions, and rhythms into a singular frame (similarly to the way we perceive the world around us). The following four montages serve as a commentary on the increasing variety and context of “collisions” created today. (5) As landscapes, each scene exists in various times and places; suggesting that excess, too, is timeless and ambiguous.
“One,” 2014. Montage of pasted papers. 57.2cm x 38.7cm.
1. Man and machine now have a long complex history. It’s a love-hate kind of thing, but mostly love. The machine that has made mankind so efficient has now tied him down in a sort of economic shackle. Man’s ability to navigate, reap and harvest land, or intimately love has been made easy to the extent that embodied knowledge of ‘how’ is no longer needed. That priceless knowledge, which was once free, is no longer. Confidence to ask a girl on a date has been replaced with a fee in return for your email address and a password. Has our infatuation with the machine made the relationship ever more seamless or does the pace of technology move us further away?
“Two,” 2014. Montage of pasted papers. 57.2cm x 38.7cm.
2. As we further shape our culture through the virtual window, we are continue to be disengaged from the land that shapes our natural and built environments. Places and things with cultural value often come at higher cost, and in therefore, commodities placed a high cost can be misunderstood as valuable. In order to achieve value at a low cost, some form of imitation is often employed. For example, floors made of vinyl are engineered to look and function nearly the exact same as natural hard wood, but come at a much lower price. What then is more valuable, a hardwood floor, or the idea of one? Wood frame structures clad in ornate masonry may represent Georgian or Federalist histories, while adding additional cost to the building. The lifespan and value of the building, however, may be relatively insignificant. Excess is defined by the degree by which meaning is reduced and ultimately replaced by style.
“Three,” 2014. Montage of pasted papers. 57.2cm x 38.7cm.
3. We know much about the world by that which is broadcast to us. We no longer have an overarching need for a public marketplace or forum. The living room, whose hearth has transformed from fireplace to television, is now the location in which commodities are bought and sold. The living room is much smaller in scale to a public square, but by way of the television, has produced a far more diverse array of conflicts than the town square ever did. In this condition, crisis becomes norm, news becomes background noise, and experience is slightly, yet forever paused.
“Four,” 2014. Montage of pasted papers. 57.2cm x 38.7cm.
4. As human progress marches ever onward, we constantly (and usually unconsciously) redefine the threshold of “excessive”. Where the limit lies is dictated by our own personal narrative, but as our standards of living continue to increase it is easy to criminalize one side or the other. Are we drowning in our excess or is it keeping us afloat? Are we terrified to fill our lungs with human wants for fear of never returning to the surface, or will we happily go down with the ship?