Parisian De-sign

[6 August 2007]

By tjmHolden

Paris, being the seat of fashion and style, a working hypothesis comes quickly to mind: turn the camera anywhere—liberally, licentiously, laconically—and locate design.  So I do. A challenge being that which I can’t resist. The thing I always rise to.

And, consistent with expections . . . design is what I find.

Design spews out of storefront windows:

Design slides down the slope of a handrail inside the Sorbonne:

There is design in the iron spires securing Sacre Coeure; design in the knockers that remind one of Terri Garr and an off-color malaprop from Young Frankenstein; design spins from the drain along a simple footpath; and design is in-laid amidst the archaic arches along the side of a church.



Design can be found in the exterior of the subway . . .


And in the inner recesses, as well . . . a briqued ceiling, a flowing track, a circuitous set of stairs . . .



Design exists in the golden gates of the Tuileries; against which people find (and define) relief . . .



And design inheres in any hundred of unique stairwells—some of which proffer scale for (if not definition to) human interactivity . . .


There is design in other louvered steps; those offering the fold-within-fold machinations that mimick the complexity of human conception and creation championed by aesthetes such as Escher . . .


Study enough of these designs and one would suspect that they belie the title of this entry. The hyphenation in the header suggests something different: the notion that signs are decoupled; that there is a loss of sign in design. Among Parisians, at least. But is this so? Can that claim hold up to scrutiny? What in the world might “de-sign” mean?

At midnight, as I etch these characters onto a palette that belongs to fluid, disaggregating cyberspace? Good luck to me and my sagging grey matter. Certainly, if you check with me in the morning I might provide a different answer . . . but, for now, “de-sign” likely implies the removal of the sign from its significatory context. And if this is too recondite—well, bien sur: this is France we are speaking of, after all. So, why would it be any other way?

Surely, the sign is not lost in the figure of the seats we considered before:


Nor is meaning removed from its stated intent in the array of repetitive images located along an apartment front:

No, those are the epitomes of design.


Likely, then, de-sign means things that are disconnected from themselves—from the meanings that they ostensibly project.

Like? -

Cars in casual juxtaposition . . . the designer brand fit alongside a compact work-a-day jalopy.


There is traces of de-sign in the accidental articulation of humans . . . 


. . . as well as de-sign in the intended dislocation of the human figure . . .


Hm, now there is an idea. Another possible thing to think about. Signs—organized, yet cleaved and disunified . . . intentionally stripped, through design, of their sign-like aspect. Perhaps like so much of our everyday existance. Whereas we normally cobble sense together from thoughts and acts and styles burbling beneath the surface—lurking in the subterrain—here sense appears as one thing, on one surface; only to be challenged by another surface.

Design may remove meaning from the sign. It may de-sign a thing. Or, by approaching design from another angle it may provide a different meaning to the sign entirely. Filling design with new sign.


Signs that are de-coupled require us to fit them together. They demand that we actively make them make sense. . . . or not . . . depending on whether they actually can fit together.

So, that is something else about Paris worth exploring: how we make meaning of things whose meaning is (or is not) already intact. Things that are (or are not)  easily discernible. If at all.

Something to chew on, the next time we wake and seek nourishment. In the city that is the site of de-sign.


Published at: