When Form has no Function

updated 25 Apr 2011

There is art in my apartment — paintings and photographs. They are almost short videos; moments captured between the opening and closing of the aperture of a camera, some further abstractly translated into a painting. Art does not render a visible service to us. The function of objects of art are not always easy to define though their effects on us can be felt. Good art carries gravity by evoking emotions and providing an insight into our own selves. I prefer simple objects that have form and function in harmony. The paintings I own are devoid of an ornamental frame. The photography is encased in grey matting and black frames that have two functions: to hold the photograph and to get out of the way of viewing the photograph.

Things inevitably surround us as a part of life in this society. These things perform a service and occupy our visual and mental attention. The gravity of these things are of particular importance. I have never been a fan of decoration. Form inharmonious to its function is a sign of imbalanced quality. The seemingly decorative things in my possession frequently come under the chopping block to be analyzed for their relevance.

The hub covers of my car’s wheels got axed. There were three covers and only two matched. One wheel stood shamelessly naked. The only function they served was aesthetic. I took them off and cleaned the ten year old brake dust and muck from the matt finished black steel wheels with a bug and tar remover. Then, I used good old Pledge all surface spray cleaner to get a nice shine on them ‘rims’. Heck, they are shiny enough to paste some rimblems on the fenders, proudly declaring 14″ wheels, but they would be purely aesthetic too. I also shined the sidewalls of the tires with a tire-shine product.

The next one is a prolonged duel with purists of a paper book or zine. I cannot correlate the act of holding pulped and processed trees in one’s own hands to the importance of content they carry. A physical book is nothing but an interface designed with convenience of printing and distribution in mind. A good interface should get out of the way of the user who wants to acquire content. Today’s widespread access to internet in our computers, tablet devices and cell phones are quickly making distribution instantaneous and therefore, the logistics of printing obsolete. A comparable example lies in the music industry where digital formats of songs in .mp3 are released along with CDs and vinyl. We have not completely arrived with e-reading technology; it is just not as affordable and traditionally ubiquitous as a paper book. We are, however, getting close at an exponential pace. Even though I own an e-book reader, I have recently bought a half dozen paper books (not available in e-book format) and recently subscribed to paper magazines: Stack America.

The longest one under scrutiny is the collar of a shirt. We need clothes to protect vital heat, protect our bodies from the sun and keep dust and dirt off of us. When I ask the relevance of a collar, the first answer is usually, “it is to hold a tie”. To this, I respond, “but the tie has no function, so the collar’s function is to hold something of no function, thereby rendering the collar function-less”. Most people don’t pay close attention to the function of form. Most people don’t spend time editing and curating things they use either. It is often times easier to give in to tradition than fight it. Yvonne Chouinard, founder of Patagonia spent a lot of time hiking, surfing and mountaineering, shaping him into an editor and curator of things he used. He promoted rugby shirts for climbing. The tough fabric of rugby shirts could take the abuse of a hard climb while the collar kept the ropes and straps from rubbing against a bare neck. In this regard, the only use I have found for a shirt’s collar is to keep the annoying but useful seatbelt from rubbing against my neck while driving a car.

I have to wear a collared shirt to work. It is one of the company dress policies. Only men have to adhere to it; the dress-policy for women is not as stringent. Neither the collar nor the policy makes anyone work any harder or better. It surely does not make me smarter or productive. A collared shirt is merely a sign of tradition that people feel comfortable around — hardly enough reason to wear it. It may be a personal choice to wear it but a mandate generates a sore point.

My response to the policy is to wear as many polo shirts I can find. It has the comfort of a v-necked t-shirt with an extra piece of cloth around the neck resting on the shoulder. During a Florida summer, I can be found sporting the quintessential frat-boy look, albeit the popped collar.

Posted by on April 18, 2011 in things


  • shreya pakrasi says:

    nice….. waiting for more….

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