Visions, Modernity and Ink Bottles

I wished I had met him. Not because of his eagle eyes nor because of his fabulous prestige. But just because I lived what he didn’t. And if he had lived what I did, his eyes had turned blank and his prestige …. well, one never knows about his prestige.

He died in 1965. I was a six grader in 1984. He probably had read Orwell’s 1984. I have lived Orwell’s 1984 exactly in 1984.

He is Le Corbusier: the architect and urban planner whose vision about the humanity’s brilliant future has spread quickly from Europe to Asia. Here is the contemporary result of this vision:

Modernity at its height
This could be anywhere. It happens to be in Bucharest.


The Fragrance of Power

A vision circulates mostly through words and a couple of good chosen examples (in his case, a couple of buildings). As long as he controlled it, this vision proved to be bright. But the fate of a vision is to float far and wide. If it floats, others may hold the reins. His vision began to be hold by atrocious tyrants. It may be something sweet for tyrants in his vision: a dictatorial fragrance that satisfies the tyrants’ nostrils. And secretly he might have liked it.

Orwell’s 1984 starts in April 1984. At exactly that time I was waiting for Easter. There was nothing real to wait for: no Easter-break and no Easter eggs. (The eggs had already disappeared from March; they probably appeared back in May.) I was waiting and preparing for something imagined: the Easter celebration. In the same way in which Le Corbusier had been waiting and preparing for something imagined: the new world. These two are just visions, in the end. Who said that words are just words, and dreams never come true? False! They are more real than stones.

Love as an Antidote

In Orwell’s 1984, the love between Winston and Julia makes life bearable. In my 1984 I was too young to have that love. Moreover, the love between adults (which is supposed to feed spiritually the children) was contaminated, cracked, and mostly nonexistent. Instead of love I had some objects of art. Antiquities, as we call them today. The household appliances discarded by the 1920s avant-gardists because they were too ornate, kitschy, and old-fashioned.

eclectic ink pot
1920. Eclectic ink pot. Bronze, glass, and marble .

I remember an ink bottle: a small transparent square whose glass facets weren’t smooth as they should, but rippled by spiraling ridges. It stood on a lace-like bronze tray. The glass was cracked, therefore useless. The tray had a recess for something entirely futile like a luscious marble plate. That marble would prevent the papers’ whirling on the desk in case of draft. What a function! The whole ensemble seemed to defy my time’s logic, fashion, austerity, hunger, fear, in other word: my Zeitgeist.

And to defy means to resist. The bronze bottle ink subverted the logic of my time by showing off a reality (not a vision) that had existed. That gave hope. Seeing it every day on a desk crammed with banal objects, I grew up with a feeling of confidence that things will change somehow.

Ink Bottles

How outrageous would my ink bottle appear to Le Corbusier! Even more outrageous: the fact that I preferred it over its simpler and smoother equivalent. An over-eclectic decorated ink bottle whose functions are lagging behind its time was able to provide hope! Ridiculous!

Bauhaus ink pot 1924
Marianne Brandt’s design for an ink pot. Bauhaus. 1924








This modernist ink pot designed by Bauhaus student Marianne Brandt in 1924 radically confronts everything that my beloved ink bottle displayed:

Mine was all curved; hers was all rectangular.

Mine had no smoothness because of so much decorative layers; hers was smooth like a mirror.

Mine defied the uniformity of the oversimplified objects around me; hers praised the beauty of the ideal purity of form.

Mine rebelled against conformity to any style and rule; hers integrated into landscape of silent standardization and mild accents.

Mine stood for diversity, whereas hers stood for uniformity.

Yet, this is a never beginning story. Back in time, my ink bottle had stood for conformity to the bourgeois everyday life, whereas Brandt’s ink pot had stood for the audacious feeling of breaking free that conformity.

In their opposing ways, both are so beautiful. And so confronting that I suspect them of hiding a secret alliance. Their alliance in providing a beautiful sight from such different viewpoints whispers me a possible truth:

Visions and beauty interlock.

The higher-aiming the vision, the more beautiful its power fragrance.

Be aware of floating charming visions, they may turn into over-restraining devices.