Notes on Blocks
On Tables
This is the first in a new series of pieces that take a look at a channel and its broader threads, themes, and ideas through a few of its blocks. We’re starting with Clemens Jahn and his channel "Tables," which he explores more fully in an essay in our forthcoming Are.na Annual (December 2020).
My Are.na channel “Tables” dates back to 2013, when I began collecting images of tables in preparation for a workshop I was organizing at the neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst Berlin (The New Berlin Art Society). The workshop, titled “Building Tables,” was part of a larger exhibition and event program, a critical retro- and introspective into the art society’s direct democratic organizational structures. 
In the workshop, the participants were given the task of collaboratively creating a table that could represent a direct democratic form of assembly and organization. The group came up with a one-legged circular table, which required at least two or three people standing around it to prevent it from toppling. The more evenly distributed the people were standing, the more stable and firmly the table would become.
But even the more common and everyday tables can shed light on how we organize and structure interpersonal relations. The types, shapes, and sizes of our tables, their functions and features, their materials, heights and weights, as well as their conditions of production and usage are both signifiers of and infrastructure for our social relations. 
While the majority of tables are most likely conceived in complete unawareness of their social effects, there are some specimens designed with the firm belief that they could change society. In 1974, Italian designer Enzo Mari published a collection of manuals on how to self-build furniture with the most common and affordable materials available at the time. The designer’s intention was to de-commercialize and democratize design furniture.
In strong contrast to Enzo Mari‘s inclusive and flexible DIY aspirations are the heavy marble and bronze tables found in ancient Roman ruins. The tables’ positions, usage, and seating arrangements were literally set in stone by the architects. Built to last, they are still formally quoted by designers today.
An ideology of permanence and general validity also permeates seemingly progressive modern and contemporary designs. With functionalism and universalism as paradigms, a subsequent lack of liberty and openness becomes inevitable, ultimately revealing authoritarian and often patriarchal tendencies.
Frustrated by modernism having hit intellectual stasis by the late 1960s, the design and architecture collective Superstudio set out to change the world with radical alternative concepts. Their megalomaniac architectural visions were never realized; their furniture, however, is still being built.
For his 1987 documenta installation “German Living Room”, Andreas Brandolini created a sausage-shaped couch table with polished steel legs and a granite top. The self-proclaimed anti-functionalist designer didn’t believe in the necessity of a design avant-garde, in his opinion a phenomenon closely related to “the establishment of ‘revolutionary’ ideologies after long years and their hardening.” Instead, he considered it his mission to prevent ideologies through his work. (Quoted from: Volker Albus / Christian Borngräber, Design Bilanz, Cologne 1992, p. 109)
Antonia Astoria, co-founder and longstanding designer-in-chief at Italian furniture company Driade advocated a slightly less ironic but equally undogmatic and anti-authoritarian, post-modernist position. She conceived her design projects “as ‘open works’ to the final definition of which the end user may contribute.” (Quoted from: http://www.antoniaastori.it/eng/home_eng.html)
Clemens Jahn is a Berlin-based art director, design strategist, and creative consultant.
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