Art Nouveau

“What’s with the sudden interest in Art Nouveau?” my wife asked when she saw me balancing on my knee the huge tome I’d liberated from the oversize stacks at the Capilano Library. Art Nouveau was a dominant style in the arts from 1890-1910 and so it is part of the context for my 1905 rendition of Pembroke. “Ah, so it’s a train book,” she nodded confidently, and quickly lost interest.

I had always understood Art Nouveau to be the adornment of objects with organic-inspired decoration. However, this book opened my eyes to a different interpretation. According to Sembach, Art Nouveau arose as a response to technological progress, which even by 1900 had become an inexorably autonomous and somewhat frightening phenomenon, but which offered little aesthetic value.

To put it another way: whereas historicism attempted to defend its territory against the unfathomable phenomenon of technology by conjuring up the past, Art Nouveau risked a salky into enemy territory in a bid to regain lost ground. p19

As such, Art Nouveau incorporates the technological or engineering elements of an object into the artistic design, rather than merely embellishing them.

I need to do more research before I can affirm that Art Nouveau is valid context for the layout. While “Canada’s Next City” was undeniably optimistic and thought itself modern, it was also at the edge of the great Boreal forest, thousands of miles from Brussels, Vienna or even Chicago.  Having said that, when I think of Pembroke the model as an expression of the sentiment of Canada’s Century, then perhaps strict adherence to history could slip – at least in the presentation of the layout if not in the layout itself.

Despite what the family thinks, the whole exploration started with thinking about throw cushions for the couch.  There are some with patterns by Klimt (a contemporary, though apparently not strictly-speaking Art Nouveau) or Mackintosh that might be nice, and if I incorporated some other nods to the style, maybe the room could come together with the layout.

Aside from cushions, another idea that comes to mind is the layout fascia.  At the moment, this is a black strip with a few controls, and screw heads protruding like rivets as was trendy a few years ago.   My plan had been to paint all the controls black, and make any labels dark to help the layout present a finished appearance to the room.  Maybe it would be better to come up with a design that incorporates these technical elements, rather than trying to hide them – to think of the fascia as a piece of art in its own right, rather than the frame for the layout. 

Moreover, an echo of design elements elsewhere in the room could tie the layout into the room.  This is, after all, a shared space, and it’s pleasing when it looks nice.

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