Czech Students Embark on Utilitarian Flights of Fancy
Looking at the work of students is a little like opening a gift bag from an eclectic party — you never know what you’re going to get inside, and it’s always full of surprises.
Student artwork in particular exists on a line of tension: Their creations have been done in the course of learning as proof of their learning, yet they’re also harbingers of what the future of art, design, architecture, film, drawing, painting, video and fashion might look like.
This peek into the future is on display at the Czech Embassy in Washington, where a contemporary jumble of genres marries utilitarian purpose with aesthetic flair. “Czech Fresh Design” is an exhibition by students from the Faculty of Multimedia Communications at Tomas Bata University, a top design school in the eastern part of the Czech Republic.
The school — named after Tomas Bata, a prominent and pioneering Czech shoe entrepreneur and business owner — clearly seems to be an arena where pragmatism meets art, where the practical can serve its function while still being provocative and beautiful, all while using the tools and concepts that erupt from a rapidly changing technological world.
It’s probably no accident that shoe design plays an especially prominent role in this student exhibition given that Bata’s shoe company is one of the world’s biggest multinational retailers, manufacturers and distributors of footwear and accessories.
Still, these shoes may not be what Bata envisioned when he first started making affordable shoes early in the last century. The creations in “Czech Fresh Design” are marriages of fashion and imagination that propel the idea of simple walking into a fantasyland akin to a jaunt through “The Wizard of Oz,” although Dorothy’s ruby red slippers had nothing on these shoes.
The exhibition is cleverly laid out to highlight the dramatic appeal and offbeat ingenuity of these student designs, which themselves reflect a dizzying array of modern-day media. Here we see sections and projects relating to graphic design, audiovisual media, animation, architectural design, three-dimensional design, glasswork, fashion, marketing communications, and futuristic product designs for things like automobiles and, of course, shoes.
It’s clear the students have incorporated their ever-evolving high-tech world into each of these fields. They seem averse to tradition, conformity and the deadening influence of design that emerges out of habit or pure function — although at the same time they shun non-utilitarian flights of fancy. Design must be smart — both in purpose and creativity.
The result is chairs and wheelchairs that look futuristic, simple, beautiful yet practical as well — or a computer mouse encased in a holder designed to resemble Swiss cheese.
The three-dimensional designs in particular are great examples of marriages between the pragmatic and the pretty in the form of eye-catching Web site designs or posters for the theater and opera.
Looking at the work of these students, you get an inkling of what’s going on elsewhere — visually, digitally and practically speaking — when the next generation of laptops or cell phones or cars make their way to the market. Where do these otherworldly designs come from? Young students who learn fast, and can teach the rest of us a thing or two.
About the Author
Gary Tischler is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.