Annual Theme 2017

The steel chair, the Triolin floor, the building made of steel, glass and concrete, the stage work composed of movement, light and shadow. All of these things were produced at the Bauhaus in material, hand-crafted and industrial processes that were united with immaterial, optical processes that produce images.

“First we seek contact with material…” stated Josef Albers, looking back at his pedagogical work at the Bauhaus. In his preliminary course, students worked freely with all kinds of materials in order to develop a new approach to conceptualisation and design. The young students were encouraged to understand the world in a sensory, haptic way, and to thus rethink it.

But what counts as material? Of course, paper and wood, glass and textile, steel, metal and concrete are materials. But at the Bauhaus the masters and their students also experimented with sounds in order to visualise the substance of tone, with light and shadow in order to forge the substance of a space and with movement in order to shape the substance of a mechanised figure.

The stage workshop joined the successive ranks of the metal, wood and textile workshops and together they made up the curriculum of the Hochschule für Gestaltung (School of Design), as the Bauhaus called itself in the Dessau years. Here, learning was an experimental process with the multiplicity of material and non-material substances.

The interest in materials was however not only pedagogically motivated. The Bauhaus’s engagement with a new object culture was also an attempt to make the by then already globally organised manufacture of industrial goods a tangible reality. Today, our object culture is shaped by digital processes and smart materials. And now, just as it was for the Bauhaus in the past, the debate about substance, about the material versus the non-material, is highly topical among designers and architects. Intelligent materials adapt to new environmental conditions, are energy-self-sufficient, or have a shape memory. Together with digital applications they are collectively changing our perceptions of things, of their substance, and make new forms and uses possible.

With its annual theme Substance, the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation focuses on the dialogue between substance and design: on the substance of ideas, on substance as topic and material, on substantial forms, on the preservation of substance and on the substance of the Bauhaus as an institution. Beginning with the historic Bauhaus’s understanding of materials and substance it looks ahead into the twenty-first century and the contemporary role of artists, designers and architects as mediators of our material culture.