The conference Taste After Bourdieu, held in May 2014, explored issues to do with taste in the museum, gallery, street and home. For a group of Chelsea MA and CCW PhD students, it also afforded them the opportunity to be a part of the discussion. Beginning with a reading group organised by Dave Beech, the students researched Owen Jones’ analysis in Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class alongside Jukka Gronow’s examination of taste and fashion through the lenses of Immanuel Kant and Georg Kimmel. Based on conversations and a collaborative process, they decided that their contribution to the conference would be an unadorned, MDF confessional booth. Through this visual, tactile and interactive booth, the group sought to provoke the subtle and sometimes obvious denials, ironies and conflicts of private versus public tastes. To what extent is the individual able to nurture and foster taste according to their unique palette, without conforming to socially approved standards of taste? Does human desire for acceptance and validation force the individual to play the role of fearful subject observing the emperor’s new clothes? When translated into the worlds of fine art and design, to what extent is the majority of current output inspired by commercially profitable taste versus what might be the artist’s or designer’s contrasting aesthetic and creative truth? When all was said and done, the students digested their experience of creating the booth and their overall contribution to the conference in their publication, Reflections on Taste. The student group consisted of Chrissa Amuah, Caroline Derveaux-Berte, Jaime Greenly, Jessica Hart, Katasi Kironde, Mohammad Namazi, Alex Roberts and Kioka Williams.
In the words of Roberts, ‘The fact that it was a reading group was the starting point. There was always a sense of wanting to do something interactive and document our collective experience. It was a way of recording something tangibly, because there were always open-ended questions coming up, and we realised that you can’t pin taste down. Questions about securities, insecurities and the need for acceptance were recurring themes in discussions. This was a chance for us to bring our individual perspectives together.
The group focused on ways in which we frame our personal tastes. Jaime had a model example by way of her “ugly swan cushion”. She knew that most people think that it’s naff, but she really likes it. We used this concept to encourage other people to interact with the confessional booth. The group members anonymously photographed personal objects which provoked the question, who would publicly admit to owning this? In this way the notion of what is presented privately versus publicly guided the group. We approached the publication using the same method. Each person contributed an individual essay accompanied by their image from the booth, thus admitting which one was theirs!
In addition, there was an interactive group essay at the end. One person began with a paragraph, and the next person reacted or built upon that. We all took turns adding to the text in this way, each student contributing no more than 200 words. The essay’s aim was for the text to be published anonymously. It reinforced the concepts we had begun with, looking at the public versus the private, while giving us a collective voice. We also asked Malcolm to contribute his own text and had the whole publication edited by a third-party (Robert Gadie).
At the moment, I’m really enjoying having my brain stretched as well as my perspectives. Collaboration gives you an opportunity to readdress how you think, but also how you make work individually and collectively.’