We’ve got a new website. We worked, designed, tweaked, coded, revised, until it was there. Why? Because we must have a website. And the previous one was kind of dated and didn’t run on tablets, phones, and all sorts of mobile devices that have enriched our lives over the last five years.
So we must have a website. Or should we rather say we want to have a website to show our portfolio? Are we not complacent enough to enjoy the quality of our work by ourselves, without needing approval – or “likes” – by others? What precisely is this oscillation between compulsion and voluntary decision to subject ourselves to undertake a huge effort, merely to show little images of our work on the internet?
From early education onwards our generation has been taught to conduct our lives in view of our economic future. Values of excellence, achievement, and ultimately personal enterprise1 have always been our guiding principle. And we – the ‘creative’ professions – have been at the forefront to do away with the old structures of lifelong employment, where creativity was seen merely as a craft that was carried out collectively in the design departments of medium sized companies. In a slightly romantic search of individual freedom and self-accomplishment we embraced a more precarious life, snubbing the secured pension schemes and health systems of the social democratic state. Of course, at the time we didn’t realise that our resistance against stuffy office culture and the arborescent hierarchies of bourgeois companies played straight into the hands of newly established neo-liberal governments, aiming at the generalised responsibilisation of the self in all aspects of life.
If the state’s traditional role has been to equally distribute its wealth amongst its citizens via universal welfare systems, the application of principles that originate in the realm of market economy to people’s lives enabled the state to withdraw from precisely these responsibilities. In what Foucault has termed the “entrepreneurial self” managerial forms, self-investment, risk assessment and above all competition against others increasingly came to determine our ethical conduct. And this entrepreneurial ethics is what ultimately lead to the social atomisation and inequality we are witnessing today.
Therefore, when we say “we want to have a website” we only seemingly act freely. There is no difference to saying “we must have a website”, except that the compelling power is not external, but originates within our self as self-government, following the entrepreneurial doctrine.
Foucault has long recognised that today’s government is no longer based on coercive power, but is rather played out in terms of discourse and knowledge. In other words, the task of government is no longer one of restrictive legislation, but of creatively establishing a normalising discourse that guides individuals when they act as judge of their own conduct. Foucault’s notion of governmentality designates precisely this “art of government” as the conduct of the conduct of others.
In the light of this, unfortunately, we – the practising ‘creatives’ of today – ought to begin to realise that what has formerly constituted our subversive ideas has long become the foundation of the liberal mainstream.2 We have unknowingly contributed to rendering the precarious life not only socially acceptable but even desirable.
The question to be asked, then, is not “Do we want to have a website?”, since – as long as we follow the entrepreneurial logic – we don’t have an alternative. Instead, perhaps the creative professions should direct their attention towards searching alternatives to the established discourse, and ask once again “Do we really want to be part of this system?”
To this question, a new website surely is not the answer.
objectif is a collaborative design practice based in London, founded by Axel Feldmann and Luisa Hay in 2004. We work at the conjunction of editorial design and its transposition into the architectural realm, specialising in the fields of exhibition design, visitor experience and narrative environments as well as classic book design. Our clients are from a variety of disciplines, with a focus on cultural players, education, architecture and fine art.
We develop graphic and environmental design concepts that are the result of a critical assessment of the content, with the aim of emancipating small-scale businesses, artistic practices and the wider public in the light of an increasingly instrumentalised and commodified cultural and public realm.
Axel has given numerous workshops both in the UK and in his native Germany.
objectif is part of the Greater London Authority’s Design Framework, and a member of its Specialist Advice Team in relation to graphic design within the public realm.
(BA Graphic Design, Germany;
MA Philosophy and Contemporary Critical Theory, London)
(MA Translation Studies, London)
(BA Visual Communication, Italy;
MA Design, Amsterdam)
The Design Museum
Science Museum London
United States / Middle East Project
British Council, Literature
London Borough of Barnet
Verlag Silke Schreiber
Bartlett School of Architecture
Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen IfA
London Borough of Bromley
London Borough of Lewisham
London Borough of Waltham Forest
Greater London Authority
London Borough of Havering
London Borough of Enfield
Hampton Court Palace
London Borough of Redbridge
Design for London
Technische Universität Berlin
British Council, Architecture Design Fashion
London Borough of Tower Hamlets
London Development Agency
Villa Romana, Florence
The Women’s Library
London Metropolitan University
Swale Borough Council
J & L Gibbons
Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg
London Borough of Hackney
Tower of London
West Ham and Plaistow NDC
Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst
The Architecture Foundation
Apollonia – échanges artistiques européens
AOC, Architecture, London
CarverHaggard, Architecture, London
muf architecture/art, London
Veronika De Haas, Büro Otto Sauhaus, Berlin
Oliver Klimpel, Büro International, London and Berlin
Wolfram Wiedner, London
We Made That, Architecture, London
Web development: Queo.pt
Typeface: Merkury, by Radim Peško