Paola Antonelli on Design as the Interface Between Progress and Humanity

Paola Antonelli — Senior Curator of Architecture and Design at the MoMA, longtime proponent of humanized technology, self-described “curious octopus” — has arguably done more for the mainstream infiltration of design literacy than any other individual in contemporary culture. In her recent opening keynote at the unequivocally titled media and ideas conference The Conference in Malmö, Sweden, Antonelli pulls the curtain on her curatorial process and, with her signature on-stage charisma, takes a revealing look at how her shows go about the incredible balancing act of being both beacons of the bleeding edge of design and an approachable education platform for instilling in the general public a basic understanding of the fundamental importance of design — something she describes as “push[ing] design down from the realm of art and up from the realm of decoration and prettification into real life.”

“What designers do is they take revolutions that happen maybe in science or technology or politics, and they transform them into objects that you and I can use, that you and I can feel some familiarity or at least some curiosity about, so we can be drawn in and we can start a new life and a new behavioral pattern. And this idea of designers as the interface of progress, between progress and humanity, is what I try to stay with.” ~ Paola Antonelli

Antonelli’s excellent new show, Talk to Me: Design and the Communication Between People and Objects, is on display at the MoMA through November 7.

Maria Popova is the founder and editor in chief of Brain Pickings, a curated inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness. She writes for Wired UK, The Atlantic and DesignObserver, and spends a great deal of time on Twitter.

Vladimir Nabokov Marvels Over Different “Lolita” Book Covers

In this short excerpt from a TV program called “USA: The Novel,” Vladimir Nabokov comments on different foreign editions of his novel Lolita. The individual covers he discusses are listed here; the full program is available here, and it contains some memorable quotes by the author (from chapter 1: “Mr Nabokov, would you tell us why it is that you detest Dr. Freud?” – “I think he’s crude, I think he’s medieval, and I don’t want an elderly gentleman from Vienna with an umbrella inflicting his dreams upon me. I don’t have the dreams that he discusses in his books, I don’t see umbrellas in my dreams or balloons.”).

Finding a publisher for Lolita proved to be rather difficult for Nabokov. A December 1953 review of the manuscript said: “It is overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian. To the public, it will be revolting. It will not sell, and will do immeasurable harm to a growing reputation. […] I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.” (Get more information at Stanford’s “The Book Haven“) Lolita was first published in 1955 (original cover here) and has since been translated into many languages with a wide variety of cover designs (find a good collection at this site).

Shortly after Lolita‘s publication, Nabokov discussed his novel on the CBC program “Close Up”: see part one and part two.

Bonus: Little known detail – Nabokov held the post of curator of lepidoptera at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. He collected many butterflies and developed a theory of butterfly migration which disputed all previous theories and wasn’t taken seriously by biologists then. Only recently did genetic studies vindicate his once bold theory. Some of Nabokov’s beautiful drawings of the butterflies he studied can be enjoyed courtesy of Flavorwire.

You can find this video housed in our collection of 235 Cultural Icons.

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

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