We begin our mornings
putting a bed cover,
wiping our faces,
changing into a new set of pajamas
and placing a cushion underneath the laptop to begin our work from home.
As we spend more time at home these days,mixing our worlds of work and leisure, the spaces around us have morphed into one another; leaving textile to demarcate rooms and differentiate between night and day.
Within the setting of a home, textiles range from extravagant display worthy carpets to run down floor mats that say ‘welcome’. At every space in the house, we encounter these negotiations between aesthetically pleasing cloth vis a vis functionally useful ones. But are the two on different spectrums?
Soetsu Yanagi argues that utilitarian objects are as beautiful as those seen as ‘aesthetic’. In his book The Beauty of Everyday Things, he says everyday objects known as ‘zakki’ in Japanese, are common items made in bulk and easily available. They are simple in their design, standardised and familiar because that’s how they work best. ‘ Utilitarian craftwares become more beautiful the more they are used, and the more beautiful they become, the more they are used. Users and the used have exchanged a vow: the more an object is used the more beautiful it will become, and the more the user uses an object, the more that object will be loved. These commonplace objects are indispensable to daily life.’ (Yanagi,2019)
Cloth, of varied shapes and sizes accompany us in every little activity in our daily rhythms. So enmeshed are they in our habitual rituals, that we do not take a pause to notice how they look and observe their quirks. In the 1970s, Georges Perec decided to take it upon himself to observe the most mundane daily happenings at a little cafe in Paris. Titled An Attempt At Exhausting A Place in Paris, he noted in a crisp yet detailed manner. He took down the sounds he heard, changes in the weather, the people he saw- what they wore and how they accessorised themselves.
The exhaustive note taking of everything not special was an exercise to create a rupture in our daily life. To observe it, for what it is- the extremely ordinary or ‘infraordinary’ as Perec would call it. Over time, the ordinary too, has disappeared. Perec’s book has become more valuable in times of the pandemic where it is a rarity to sit at a cafe and observe the world outside. Our lives have adapted to these changing times and along with that our everyday objects accommodated these transformations to adjust to the new normal.
Perec’s remnants of observing daily life lie in the objects we use unconsciously. They silently observe the new ‘ordinariness’ we live in today.
Perec, Georges. An Attempt At Exhausting A Place in Paris. Cambridge : Wakefield Press, 2010. Digital.
Yanagi, Soetsu. The Beauty of Everyday Things. Penguin, n.d. Digital.
Written by Rukmini Swaminathan.
Rukmini is a researcher at The Registry of Sarees. She is interested in textile, design and architecture history and hopes to explore her interests through these journal entries.