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Semiotics

The meaning of
things
CCS Hand In
Monday 7 April
5.00pm

Shelves outside GP20


CCS Office. Lower Floor
Grays Portakabin
Reading wk comm 18 Jan
Barthes, R. The new Citroen.
In: Barthes, R. Mythologies. Hill and
Wang: New York; 1972, pp 88-90.

Find on Web:
http://www.dsworldltd.com/new_citroen.html
Bibliography - Barthes
Hall, S. Representation. London: Sage
Publications Ltd; 1999, pp36-41
Howells, R. Semiotics. In: Howells, R. Visual
culture. Blackwell Publishers Ltd: Oxford;
2003, pp94-114.
Julier, G. The culture of design. Sage
Publications Ltd. Oxford: Sage Publications
Ltd; 2002, pp87-95
Raizman, D. A history of modern design.
Graphics and products since the industrial
revolution. London: Laurence King Publishing
Ltd; 2004
Web Resources
Dr Daniel Chandler. Introduction to semiotics for
beginners.
See specifically: Introduction and Section 7 titled
Denotation, Connotation and Myth.
http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/semiotic.
html
Presentation by Professor John A Dowell, Michigan
Stage University. Background and overview of Barthes
life and work.
http://www.msu.edu/~jdowell/AL210/BarthesPresentati
on.pdf
Plastic. Another essay from Mythologies analysing the
contemporary and cultural value of plastic as an
emerging material in the 1950s
http://web.mac.com/kimowan/iWeb/portfolio/Studioblo
g/E21717E3-8CC6-489A-A677-3AE148B77A2D.html
Aim
To discuss meaning in design and culture
To introduce semiotics
To indicate that semiotics was more than a
new method of cultural analysis but also
signalled cultural change
Art and design culture

The 50s and 60s


Jackson Pollock. One: Number 31. 1950.
MOMA New York. Oil and enamel on canvas.
Morris Louis. Number 99. 1959. Cleveland
Museum of Art. Acrylic on canvas.251 x
360cm
This is
Tomorrow.
Whitechapel
Gallery
London
Independent
Group
1956

Richard Hamilton. Just what is it that makes todays homes so


different, so appealing. 1956. Collage on paper. 26x24.8cm
WARHOL, Andy
Brillo Box
1964
Silkscreen ink on
painted wood
17 1/8 x 17 1/8 x 14 in
Marcello Nizzoli
The Lettera 22. Olivetti. 1950
The Mirella Sewing Machine. 1956
Dieter Rams.
The Transistor. Braun. 1956
Dieter Rams & Hans Gugelot
SK4. Snow Whites Coffin. Braun. 1956
Modernism as an imposed solution
All believed that advances in science and
technology were evidence of social progress and
provided paradigms for design thinking. They
thought that communication could be objective
and that optimum solutions to design problems
could be found. Many felt that design, if rationally
conceived,. could help solve social problems and
did not itself create such problems. And most
assumed that goods should be mass produced by
industry. Victor Margolin. Design Discourse. 1998
1950S Good Design
Edgar Kauffman Jnr. Dept of Industrial
Design, MOMA

Kauffman did little more. than reiterate the


same Arts and Crafts values that had been voiced by
so many Modern Movement spokesmen before him,
emphasizing once again the well known tenets of
truth to materials, the unification of form and
function, aesthetic simplicity, and expression of the
modern age..

Jonathan Woodham
60s Pop: fun, disposability,
colour pattern, vitality, kitsch.
Clockwise from top left:
Murdoch, Peter. Spotty
childs chair. 1963
Archigram Magazine cover.
1967.
De Pas, DUrbino and
Lomazzi. The Blow chair.
1967
Pesce, Gaetano. Up 2
armchairs. 1969
Italian Radical Design
Archizoom Associati, Naufragio di Rose dream bed.
1967
From high art and good design
to
things that communicate
Semiotics: something that stands for
something else
Symbols: things that represent or stand for
something else (the swastika, the double
mask of theatre)
Signs?
Western culture has consistently privileged the
spoken word as the highest form of intellectual
practice and seen visual representations as
second-rate illustrations of ideas

It is now being asserted that the way in which we


understand society, and the place where we
convey and create meaning, and establish
attitudes, is essentially visual and not textual

N. Mirzoeff. 1999
Making meaning

Semiotics as one
perspective
The significance of Semiotics

treats objects, images and practices as


texts to be read.

The question is not - What am I seeing ?,


but - What does it mean ?
It therefore, can cover; pictures,
fashion, clothing, photographs,
advertisements, furniture, household
items, toys, films, cartoons, virtual
imagery.... and treat them as texts
to be read and decoded.
Italo Calvino (1923-85)
Invisible Cities. Cities and Signs 1
Rarely does the eye light on a thing, and then only when it
has recognised that thing as the sign of another thing: a
print in the sand indicates a tigers passage; a marsh
announces a vein of water; the hibiscus flower, the end of
winter.

The city of Tamara.the eye does not see things but


images of things that mean other things: pincers point out
the tooth drawers house; a tankard, the tavern.If a
building has no signboard or figure, its very form and the
position it occupies in the citys order suffice to indicate
its function: the palace, the prison
The embroidered headband stands
for elegance; the gilded palanquin,
power; the volumes of Averroes,
learning; the ankle bracelet,
voluptuousness. Your gaze scans the
streets as if they were written pages;
the city says everything you must
think

Calvino
THEORY
From Linguistics to Semiotics
Ferdinand de Saussure. 1857 - 1913

Language is a shared system. It is only


because we know and agree about the rules
and codes, that we can communicate

The production of meaning is dependent on


the sign.
The Sign
The signifier + the signified = the sign.
The form + the idea in your head
= the meaning

But the relationship between the signifier and the


signified is ARBITRARY, and dependent upon a
shared code.
It is this arbitrary relationship
which permitted a linguistic
theory to be applied to a wider
cultural field

C-A-T =
The idea of the sign can be extended
from the written or spoken word to
images, objects, even activities and
events in the everyday world.
Mythologies 1957
Roland Barthes.
(1915-80)
Barthes extended Saussures
concept of the sign to cultural
objects, images and practices
generally, treating these as
components in a language
which communicated and
established meaning
within society.
Every object in the world can
pass from a closed, silent
existence to an oral state, open to
appropriation by society.

Roland Barthes. From the essay Myth


Today in Mythologies. 1957
R. Barthes.
Two levels of meaning
SIGN first level
Signifier CAT, English the word made up
of letters. It could as well be chat or
gatto

Signified image in your mind of a cat, any


cat

Sign a cat
Barbie
Toys always mean something
..literally prefigure the world of
adult functions, prepare the child to
accept them allbefore he can even
think about itthe alibi of a nature
which has at all times created
soldiers, postmen

Barthes. 1957
First level
Denotation
Signifier: Barbie (word, toy, picture etc)

Signified:
On the basis of the agreed cultural code,
in the Western world, the word, toy or
picture is understood to be, the Mattel doll
Barbie.
2nd level
Connotation
Barbie as connotative sign

The perfect woman will be perfectly thin with elegant limbs


and flawless skin. She will possess; beautiful clothing,
jewellery, cars, racehorses, jacuzzi and jet ski in pink... She
will never have enough stuff. .recently seen at Paris
fashion weekperfect contemporary womanhood

(See: Mary F Rogers. Barbie Culture. 2000)


Myth and naturalisation
Toys here reveal the list
of all the things the adult
does not find so unusual,
war, bureaucracy

Deluxe Aggression Series


Action Figure Star wars
exclusive battlefront
collection Spartan soldier..
At the level of connotation, the
sign can tell the truth or lie, but it
is connected to the wider social
and cultural framework; to our
values, our beliefs and our social
systems
Haim Steinbach

Supremely
black

1985

Wood formica
Ceramic pitchers
Cardboard
detergent boxes

29 x 66 x 33 in
All objects are "packaged" to deliver certain meanings. And desire
packages everything. When we dress, we package ourselves, our
bodies. Every thing and object has a skin through which it speaks.
..

We have feelings about these objects we project into them, and


communicate through them. ..In primitive societies, objects may
be found on the ground, literally, strewn about the place as in a
"natural" state. But in our advanced industrial Western society,
objects are found on consoles, on tables, on countertops. These
counters and tables are vehicles of presentation; they are objects,
they have functions, but they also have skins, histories . . .

Something happens when you put an object on one of those


support structures.

Haim Steinbach. Interview. Journal of Contemporary Art.


http://www.jca-online.com/steinbach.html
The new Citroen. In: Mythologies

http://www.dsworldltd.com/new_citroen.
html