In the course of a general flattening and late modern cultural alienation – to quote Murakami’s concept of the “Superflat” – the once solidifying sociocultural ties were transformed into lightweight, ‘slippery-to-sew’ links, which now belong in the realm of totalitarian kitsch and banality – that is, to all the ‘fossil’ remains of a “fragmented social world” (Keupp). Humanity was then faced by an exceptionally intricate problem: namely, the formation of a new social identity that affirms both individual as well as collective interests and merges them into a single cluster, so to speak. The answer to this ‘self-imposed’ question – after all, we know that people nowadays don’t have any life-related problems other than questioning everything on a permanent basis, if possible – was found embedded in the extractive distillation or the pure self-cultivation of a so-called “patchwork identity” (Keupp): Cartoon characters, made of soft and deformable Play-Doh or sloppily glued together papier-mâché, which are bubble-bathed in a continued flow of self-narration and the foaming process of manufacturing identity. Here, all that is solid and firm is liquefied by a strong kinetic energy – the term “affluent society” (Galbraith), namely, a civilization in a superfluid phase, may be taken word for word, then. ‘Late’ modern identity was thus put into motion; an effect that ejects the particles of socio-cultural existence crudely patched together from a center of ‘sameness’ (Lat., identitas), and converts them into a swirling whirlpool around the “pole” (Heidegger).

But, and this is my second point, observing this fundamental shift/decentralization will visually pop out both the concept of identity and identity crisis into the foreground again – in the image of the so-called “clash of civilizations” (Huntington). Social conflicts and confrontations related to identity politics with topics and issues that should pose no problem in today’s society are now fought out in the global arena of cultural space (or, rather, in the animal cages of the urban jungle/zoo), including tirades of hysterical mania – and, of course, all discussions are held in strict compliance with the requirements of ‘politically correct’ talk. The demand for an unambiguous truth-value that categorizes ‘wrong’ or false knowledge, lies, and deception within a societal unit is not being replaced but rather revalued by a moralization of the latter. With that in mind, the term ‘political correctness’ is not used properly here, since it actually represents no longer a political but a completely moralized accuracy or correctness, which elevates its keeper (of the flame of wisdom, that is) on the level of a more ‘worthy’ human being – an ‘Übermensch’ (overman), so to speak. Therefore, it is clear that the so-called “clash [rather: crash] of civilizations” is, above all, a battle for the sovereign world-view, the predominant influence of opinion, but never for a central truth itself, as truth has neither to be obtained, nor be protected against. Contrary to Christoph Schwöbel’s approach of self-identity evolvement it only reinforces the self-preservation of ideology.

This ‘inner bewilderment of modern humanity’ that finds itself lost in an urban jungle labyrinth wherein a swarm of people, in the likeness of worker bees, live in jam-packed beehives (so-called ‘skyscrapers’), and where ‘truth’ hangs upon the same tree as the toxic fruits of porkies; where every day “a new sow is chased through the [global] village” (a literal translation of the German ‘much ado about nothing’) –this all illustrates how our society is incapable of making ultimate and mature decisions, my third point. The chased sow are we ourselves, by the way: the self-proclaimed pinnacle of all creation – the shining cherry on the richly decorated cake of our proud civilization has ‘evolved’ into big and dumb pigs whose refinement is comparable to the sound of morally correct grunting, and yes, those very elegant cocktail parties – or mudslingers, that is. And, especially those who are – with respect – also able to sh** in the own pigsty belong to the most refined sort of cherries! One need only remember these groundbreaking debates as to whether milk is an explicit symbol of “white supremacy,” after all; – or Pepsi’s ‘do-goody’ ad that tosses with this ‘tutti-frutti’ approach everything into the bag of Haribo sweets all at once what is considered ‘hot’ right now and has currently been put on sale in the candy shop. Including top model Kendall Jenner, a Good Samaritan, as we all know, ‘born in the U.S.A.,’ the homeland of the Good. And that, of course, we know. Yes, precisely there, where the rivers flow of said milk and Pepsi-honey…

One might as well, in this sense, use the terms ‘cultural narrative’ and/or ‘narrative technique’ (a mode perhaps rather than a genre per se), to relieve the message of its ‘sugar free,’ but artificially sweetened gum of identity politics that weaves throughout those clearly defined “cartoon characters” and cultural identity patterns of kitsch and cliché under the guise of self-invention. This marks the fourth aspect of the treatise. It might be the extreme overuse of ‘empty phrases’ or the feeling of being caught between satiation and distaste as to why we try – while awakening from this encircling magic spell – to (re)frame or re-imagine our once flowery, ‘ideal’ understanding of identity in the ‘real’ reality. Philosophical and cultural counter-movements start sprouting out of nowhere, while they get energized by life-renewing forces that liquefy the limited remaining embeddedness of our solid-state world of stone. And, indeed, future society will have to face the enigmatic alien labyrinth of a ‘frightfully’ rather than ‘fruitfully’ fluid identity. Our hedonistic, fast-paced “fun society” can only speed up even more until that one big ‘mass of people’ is swirled into this whirlpool’s transforming torrent; – changing from the solid to a liquefied state. Clearly, the two-phase flows of formalization and dematerialization illustrate a “spiral of violent, vigorous force” (Härle); symbolized through and represented by the current riots of the so-called ‘Black Bloc’ [or rather: ‘Black Sea’ – mind the wordplay] against the hooded police, dressed in black, as well.

All that’s left in the end is to fight against oneself: it simply lies in the nature of a progressive-regressive culture to nestle in the cradle of being and then swallow the ‘sleepy hollow’ bit by bit. At first painless, it eats away at the THING. But over time it eats away at you, the SELF. That it continues to progress in this manner – is perhaps the actual catastrophe. However, what ‘progressivistic evolution’ will the very concept of identity, which defines itself through a problematic double role of the egoist and the ‘socio-infantile’ minor/minion, undertake in the late modern ‘fluid phase’ of a ‘wishy-washy world.’ Well, one can say for sure that contemporary identity will cut its ‘space-bound’ connection to the so-called “core self” (Damasio) and, instead, replace it with an outwardly directed identification with the “empty seed-vessel (pericarp)” – the ritualized form. In other words: We appear to have regressed into childishness, into an ordinary bird of prey (not paradise), while this seriously endangered beast of “pseudo-identity” is the very prey (think of our copy/paste-culture). So, where do we go from here? After all, it can always only go on, anyway. As far as I’m concerned, the next generation will be solely preoccupied with ‘filling the gap’ (between core self and seed-vessel) they have been dealt by modernity. Regardless, it remains important to use an infill rich in sustenance, as a means of keeping body and soul together – that is, a highly concentrated (condensed, evaporated) skim milk. Nothing too watery. Certainly not Pepsi…


1 + 1 = 8: Basal and Synergistic Umají

In Japan, there is a centuries-old tradition of a particularly mysterious, but nonetheless distinguishable flavor, which is usually associated with sustenance perceived as exceptionally delicious. At the start of the 20th century, this very taste has been named “umami” (Ikeda, 1909) – a Japanese neologism based on the two concepts of UMAI (うまい), which means ‘nice,’ ‘delicious,’ or ‘yummy,’ and MI (味), which means ‘taste’ or ‘flavor.’ But, depending on the context, the term is also used more widely to designate all that is perfect (Mouritsen, Styrbæk). In the discourse that follows, I would like to present to you the new design concept of “Umají” – a Mavorswenera® original, which refers to the two ideas of UMAI (as mentioned above) and JÍ (地), the Japanese word for ‘texture’ or ‘fabric.’ Umají can be said to be a new ‘material experiment’ of how to evoke a synesthetic experience of tastes (when visually – or otherwise sensually – perceiving a composition of different metamorphic textures, fabrics, and structures), while taking advantage of the ‘multiplier effect’ produced by putting together basal materials (bio-based raw and, to a certain extent, foundational/traditional textiles), and supplementary or synergistic materials, which promote evolving/agile/adaptive approaches. The taste is maximized by conceptually combining dissimilar basal and synergistic materials in certain ways, which also calls for an open-ended format to interlink these distinct conceptual frameworks – that is, “a matrix of terms, a mesh of codes” (Gausa?).

Mouthtouch: Tasting Texture

The purely optical perception of any given material (its surface structure, the ‘layout,’ and its color and texture, as well as many other aspects) usually comes first. The role of the other main aspect of texture, which is based on the sensory experience of fragrance/flavor materials, here described as mouthtouch, has often been left unnoticed. Mouthtouch characteristics are not merely visual, but first and foremost tactile, or can be perceived indirectly via other “sensory modalities” (Helmholtz) – how materials ‘taste’ when touched, their ‘aroma,’ or their acoustic and thermal properties. Meanwhile, the physical texture related to the materials can be classified on an ongoing continuum ranging from completely natural to totally synthetic. These constitute an aggregate of clustered, synesthetic associations, which ultimately calls for changes in their physical appearances – this, too, involves transitions from one state to another (e.g., from crystalline to glass, solid to liquid, and liquid to gas). Other, not (yet) tried or tested, textural transformations might even lead to the formation of semisolid substances, liquid-like materials, foams, etc., where different phases are simultaneously present, and where the resulting synergistic substrates can be further modified with the help of so-called “additives” – such as plasticizers, emulsifiers, gelling, gums, or coatings, all of which have a specific relationship to water. Otherwise, an outward change can simply occur by regulating the moisture content through external heating/cooling, and other additions.

Metamorphism: Material Changes

Despite the lack of a uniform definition of the term ‘life,’ science has put all its energy behind the effort to recreate this phenomenon indoors, even though, so far, life could not be created artificially in a lab. Altogether, a set of multi-criteria – the signs of life – define the main characteristics of living organisms, which are as follows: “order, homoeostasis, growth, sensing and reacting, adaptation and evolutionary development, propagation, metabolic activity and the transformation of energy” (loosely quoted from Imhof/Gruber). As such, living materials are all justifiably referred to as material systems – even though the differentiation between material and system is rather blurry. It was not until the 19th century when the term ‘metabolism’ (as mentioned before) moved beyond its scientific origin to put down new roots in many areas of culture. The German architect Gottfried Semper established the theory of metabolism (material transformation) as key element of his “practical aesthetics.” While the memory of the original structure remains clearly inscribed into the form or the skin of the object, the latter “must be the exact opposite of everything that one teaches,” Lodoli stated; “it should be in keeping with the characteristic texture, suppleness (or stiffness) of the material, with its varying resisting force, in a word, with its very essence and nature. … Nothing is more vulgar than striving to ensure that a material appears not to be itself but something different. This is a constant masquerade, a permanent deception” (Moravánszky).

Materiology and Mashup Culture

Today’s “mashup cultures” (Sonvilla-Weiss) make it possible to combine material/immaterial elements by objectively manifesting them in design goods or transforming them into open digital content on the Web. Modern people, especially young ones, actually live a Second Life (SL) in ‘highly interactive’ digital storyworlds or ‘media ecologies,’ which were often referred to as big part of our “convergence culture” (Jenkins, 2006). The resulting convergence of various media forms, as well as personalization, remixing of content, and “hypersociality” describe how ‘media mix,’ especially in Japan, brings forth a synergistic relationship between films, video games, comic books, anime, trading cards or character merchandise. Particularly collectible toys are shape-shifting out of a reality-based environment into the virtual world, such as magical, fantasy-filled lands or cities embedded in the supernatural (Cross, 1997). Among those notions, character merchandise creates what Anne Allison has called ‘pocket fantasies,’ “digitized icons … that children carry with them wherever they go,” and characters “that straddle the border between phantasm and everyday life.” Collection as well as mashup are at the core of interaction, while the first respectively makes use (not merely mention) of the formula that was employed by Pokémon, which is of an ever-multiplying set of “symbol characters” that generate esoteric knowledge, and highly activist material cultures of fandom (see: Asian popular music) expanding on the Internet (or cultural code).

Designing E → Motion (≠ Translation)

Surfaces, structures, and materials all manifest an in-depth capacity to evoke emotional reactions from humans, while bioactive ‘cosmotextiles’ convey primary attributes such as ‘softness’ and luxuriousness (which is a kind of softness). Seen through the eyes of modern science, biological material, too, can be defined as ‘soft’ condensed matter, since it shows signs of flexible plasticity and openness to alteration. In this regard, one of the most remarkable advancement in material culture is the shift from solid-state (static) material properties to fluid-state (dynamic) material behaviors: Here, capturing the ephemeral (e.g., emotion) might stand in stark contrast to materials, but fleeting transitory phenomena, too, exist only in the materialistic world. In a loose sense, we could consider materiality as inseparable from that ‘ephemeral/etheric’ nature – of, for example, clouds, sky colors, or even rainbows. Immersed in a surge of hyper-materialist ‘bling-bling’ styles and ‘affective’ hypersociality, contemporary textile design often falls into the sphere of “our fascinations with irreverent material mutations, outrageous morphologies, and sensorial maximalism of luxury and effect” (Schröpfer). But feelings/emotions stimulate (motivate) more senses than just sight, if at all, which indicates that materiality needs to be more than the external structure of its surface. Materials should not merely represent “states of matter.” Thus, there are three levels of meaning: external (materiology), internal (emotionality), and associative symbolic character.

Digital Synesthesia

Emotions, since ultimately based upon the perceptions of external stimuli and bodily reactions, involve phenomena with an essentially multisensory nature. But while sight and, to a certain extent, the sense of touch stand in the foreground of textile design, the smell of materials, however, is given less priority, as is true for other sensory modalities such as sound, scent or taste, with the latter playing a far greater role in other industries (like cosmetics, etc.). In the future, materials must take the correlation between each sensory channel thus into more consideration: In addition to seeing and touching, material design must be elaborated to include the senses of, for example, smell and taste – with direct reference to its auditory appearance, function, handling, and even temperature. Therefore, the central question to the project is: How an experience of ‘synesthesia,’ that is to say, the blurring of the senses, can be activated via digital art and design? As a consequence, this article has roughly dealt with the specific relationship among borderline synesthesia-like experiences, cross-modal analogies, and (to some degree) digitized iconic coupling (i.e., concrete associations). I remember, some years ago, a New York Times feature on “The Future of Touch” declared that “to interact with the world in any meaningful way, we have to use the sense of touch” and that haptic technologies would signify the breakthrough in letting “people feel things that are not actually there” (Fergusson & Naudziunas, 2015). Is this the future we envisioned!?