Column: With humor

Design Stories columnist Hanna-Katariina Mononen takes humor seriously: “Aesthetic humor is anarchism, gently challenging ingrained habits and acquired attitudes.”

Objects on a glass shelf
In design, humor and fun can be expressed by challenging conventions. Playing with proportions or materials is a good way to start if you want to give your home a more playful look.

NOTHING RESTORES my faith in the goodness of humanity as effectively as humor and play. I guess there’s some childlike innocence and lightness in that seemingly unnecessary merriment, with which we all should consider our surroundings and the boundaries built within. Absoluteness and clinging to unimaginatively created structures are the way to go if you want to lead to a joyless life, whereas fun and humor make people lower their guards and relax.

This has to do with the Relief Theory of Humor, also touched upon by one Sigmund Freud. According to the theory, humor releases excess energy, creating a sense of relief. That’s why humorous experiences lead to laughter and give a pleasant and relaxed feeling. In other words, having fun is not just fun, but also something that improves the quality of life.

Aesthetic humor is anarchism, gently challenging ingrained habits and acquired attitudes. It probably has a lot in common with postmodernism. The second wave of postmodernism provided the aesthetics of the late 20th century with completely new perspectives. The ideology reacted to externally determined narratives, given truths and even reason and logic. Postmodern art, architecture and design looked just like that: a free exploration of the boundaries of beauty and function. Oh, and of course: quite fun.

Humor does not necessarily equal frivolous disposability nor indifference toward quality or purpose.

I wonder how many internet servers are full of only images posted in the wake of the popular Faces in Places photoblog started in 2007, featuring pictures of expressive “faces” found in unexpected places. In my opinion, aesthetic humor is best defined by Danish Søren Kierkegaard, who described it as an incongruity between expectations and reality. Humor is a broad concept that is prone to oversimplification. Many of us may intuitively consider it to be something extra or added – and perhaps even unnecessary. But then again, isn’t benevolent silliness an integral part of being human and lightness necessary to balance out everything that is not light? Humor does not necessarily equal frivolous disposability nor indifference toward quality or purpose. And, if something’s fun, it can still be well designed or sustainable. That way, even fun has to be taken seriously.

It’s easy to just think that decorating your home humorously means using bright colors, cheerful patterns or round shapes, for example. Humor can, however, also be expressed by playing with conventions or proportions, combining seemingly incompatible materials or rethinking conventional ways of living. An example of this kind of fun anarchism could be that in our home, storage space just made way to a spot for lounging – something that we have in every room of our home. It may be somewhat senseless, but it’s definitely fun and, as I see it, highly necessary.

Difficult times call for particularly gentle measures. In this day and age, it makes me really happy when people do something that can be seen as more or less fun. Benevolence and empathy shall prevail.

Documentary All That Breathes
The award-winning documentary All That Breathes is available to watch on HBO. Image: HBO

My recommendation: Oscar movies to watch

THE ANNUAL Oscar nominations were announced in January, and the awards will be given on 13 March. This means that there’s still time to read about the candidates and prepare for the night of the Oscars. I warmly recommend watching at least the documentary All That Breathes, Ruben Östlund’s pitch-black comedy Triangle of Sadness and the drama Tár, starring Cate Blanchett and directed by Todd Field.

Hanna-Katariina Mononen

The author, Hanna-Katariina Mononen, reflects on the issues of a beautiful and sustainable life in her monthly column for Design Stories. She thinks that just like in life, in the home, the most beautiful parts are unplanned – and often relatively ordinary as well.

Text and image: Hanna-Katariina Mononen

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