This is Not an Exist: the Failures of New American Modernism and the Endgame of Late-Capitalism.
Christopher John Conry
If you live in New York City, particularly below 14th Street or in Brooklyn, you’ve seen it.
If you live in Portland, OR, Austin, TX or any number of Liberal Arts or Universities-With-a-Good-Art-Program college towns you’ve seen it.
Actually, if you live in Portland you’re responsible for it and you have some explaining to do.
I’m talking about what can loosely be umbrella’d under the term Organic Modernism - a loose correlative sensibility of fashion and design aesthetics and lifestyle choices with a predilection for plaid, big leather boots, twee accouterments like birds, taxidermy, hewn wood furniture, filament bulbs, urban farming and pickling things; which can only be rivaled by the spectrum of Instagram filters in its desperate longing for authenticity and the nostalgia for an ever elusive mythologized moment of ‘now’ in the era of endless cyclical return.
This infantile reversion to a mythologized American ideal is one of two main strains of contemporary semiological aesthetics, the other being the hyperreal graphics of the New Aesthetic which highlight the artificiality of our current era, rather than seek to retreat from it (think the 1950’s sleekness of Lana del Ray vs. the hypercolor of Nicki Minaj if you want a soundbyte spectrum of the visuals). If you live in New York City, where much of these types of things originate, or at least where they coalesce under the scrutiny of the media, the ease with which they mingle and remix with each other bespeaks to the fact that they are born of the same impetus, and in fact have much more in common with one another than initially meets the eye.
Whereas the New Aesthetic remixes the symbols of imagery, Organic Modernism remixes the imagery of symbols - both semiotic channels spawn from the pervasive intrusion of media in our daily lives, one seeking to embrace (or at least comment on this) the other outwardly seeming to present an alternative to it.
Organic Modernism, however much it would wish otherwise, is safely ensconced within the paradigm to which it outwardly presents an alternative. Woodsmen and taxidermy do not ‘grow in Brooklyn’ and filament bulbs, while appearing to harken back to a simpler age, are in fact more wasteful and expensive than regular light bulbs, a technologic extension of their time and therefore in actuality the true tenet of Modernist ethos - this ‘symbol’ of authenticity is a perfect microcosm of the fault at the center of this aesthetic matrix.
It is a management of the symbolism of the real, not a natural organic extension of reality (which can be argued to have disappeared completely, but more on those psychosocial dynamics shortly) but rather the management of the symbols of authenticity, no more truly authentic than the blatant symbol management of simulacra of the New Aesthetic. It is the ‘idea’ of authenticity and reality, the presentation of it in the hyper-specification of products required for innovation in our Post-Fordist economic landscape where we no longer make ‘things’ but rather we make the ‘idea’ of things - we are not going to re-invent the axe in terms of functionality, but we can make the prettiest most expensive god damn Platonic ‘axe’ you can buy.
I grew up in Vermont chopping wood for the wood-stove in our house in the dead of winter, and I’m sorry but I would not trust anyone who needed a Wes Andersonized $300 ‘American Felling Axe’ from Best Made Company to get me through a New England winter.
I would trust them to sit in their apartments looking at that axe and taking pictures of it on Instagram, and longing for an exit to the contemporary American collective existential crisis, however.
in which I dispel some contemporary myths.