Constantin Boym

I am intrigued by the ‘Design Art’ objects of Constantin and Laurene Leon Boym (Boym Studio) whose miniature buildings series include the work ‘Buildings of Disaster’. These souvenirs refer to monuments that enter the collective memory when tragic or terrible events take place.

Herbert Muschamp wrote an article for the New York Times (March 2000) where he cited the Boym Miniatures as notable examples of new design that deal explicitly with the tragic dimension. The real emotional need for these types of souvenirs was proved by the events of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that brought about a sudden transformation of Boyms work, from provocative design comment to patriotic effort. Their production of a Sept 11 Memorial Souvenir Set  inevitably generated controversy on the grounds of taste, accusations of capitalizing upon disaster. Boym questioned how could souvenirs be of help and continued to relate that ‘the answer is far from clear, people put their own meaning on to the miniatures, and they find their own personal ways to use them as material for memories and memorials’.Boym considers these as objects of design not art, he describes these products as working within a new mode of design – based on communication, emotion and desire.

Referencing Boym’s output directly, I considered the notion of a souvenir devoted to the Manchester Bombing tragedy.  The designed object depicts a pillarbox that remained intact after the blast despite being only yards from the centre of the explosion. At first it may appear shocking, at best a strange and eccentric artwork, but a souvenir such as the letterbox recognises the need for a mnemonic device, an object where people can put their feelings, and make their memories permanent. It was important to recognise the popularity of souvenirs which attests to the value that people attach to these objects and some basic need that they fulfil by personal association. I came to question how mementoes can be used to shape and preserve memories and gave consideration to designed objects as personalised devices to shape thinking, and found that such objects come to acquire a density of meaning by evoking the invisible, that of personal relationships and emotions.

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