Pastoe / Installation
September 2003
Now ⁄ 90 Years Pastoe
Nu ⁄ 90 Jaar Pastoe
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Pastoe is a Dutch furniture company based in Utrecht. To celebrate their 90th anniversary, the company held a large retrospective at the Centraal Museum (also based in Utrecht). The curators of the exhibition (Guus Beumer and Gert Staal) asked a selection of artists and designers to revisit/reinterpret the idea of modernism, in the form of a series of installations. The selected artists/designers included, among others, Will Holder (Goodwill), Alexander van Slobbe (of SO and Orson & Bodil), Johannes Schwartz, and us. The exhibition took place between 5 September and 12 October, 2003.

Shown above is the installation we created for this group show. In short, the installation consisted of two large wooden constructions, plastered with very basic posters.
The specific way in which these posters were plastered made these two constructions actually each others opposites: on the left, red posters were pasted on top of a layer of typographic posters, while on the right, typographic posters were pasted on top of a layer of red posters. So basically, the compositions of the two billboards were the same, but colour-wise, they were each others negatives.

The constructions were quite large: we designed them in such a way that they barely fitted in the room, giving the space a 'compressed' atmosphere. The tilted way in which the constructions were placed side by side underlined this.

The title of the installation was 'Praxis and Synthesis: Theory of Etymology', which is of course quite a pompous and impossible title, but we liked the fact the initial letters of this title together make up the word PASTOE.
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Since the goal of the group exhibition was to reconnect Pastoe with its modernist roots, we spent a lot of time thinking about the historical and political dimensions of modernism. Simplifying the notion of modernism to come to a usable definition, we specified modernism as the desire for 'applied ideology'; the attempt to synthesize practice (praxis) and theory. In that sense, one of the very first manifestations of modernism might be Marx' famous last line of 'Theses on Feuerbach' (1845): "Until now, philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point is to change it". In his own handwriting:

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Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretirt,
es kommt darauf an sie zu verändern.

The brand name 'Pastoe' comes from the French word 'passe-partout'. But read in a slightly different way, the phrase 'Pas Toe' actually means 'Apply'.
And since our understanding of modernism has a lot to do with the notion of 'applied ideology', we thought that one way to reconnect the company with its mod roots would be to transform the brand name 'Pastoe' into the almost political slogan 'Pas Toe!' (Apply!). In short, the whole installation revolved around this fictitious, constructed etymology. We tried to suggest a historical link between the brand name 'Pastoe' and the slogan 'Pas Toe'.

(By the way, although hugely inspirational, we don't necessarily agree with Marx' last thesis. In our view, to interpret the world IS to change it. Quantum physics show that what is observed is automatically influenced by the observer. But that's another story).
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Shown above (mounted on a bulletin board) a few images that we used as research material for our installation. On top, a product shoot taken from internet, showing a selection of Pastoe wall cabinets. Underneath that, a spread from 'Mai 68', by Bruno Barbey (Editions de la Difference / Galerie Beaubourg, 1998), showing a wall at l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts around 1968. In a way, in our installation, we tried to synthesize these two opposite faces of modernism: the affirmative functionalism of Pastoe, and the more critical idealism of Paris 68.

As a matter of fact, the sizes of the 'Pas Toe!' posters that we used in in our installation were exactly the same as the standard sizes of modular Pastoe cabinets. By suggesting a link between the political dimension of posters, and the functional dimension of cabinets, we tried again to synthesize these two different sides of modernism.

Apart from the installation, we also designed the signage for the exhibition (see Pastoe / Sign system). Long story short, the whole signage consisted of a system of blackboards and bulletin boards. For the installations, this meant that the boards could be used by the artists to provide some background information (title, subtitle, documentation, etc.) relating to their installations.

Shown below: the bulletin board that was mounted on the wall opposite to our installation. As you can see, on the boards we push-pinned some material related to our installation. Among some other items, we included the May 1968 poster wall picture we mentioned earlier. We also included a postcard-sized movie poster of Jean-Luc Godard's 'La Chinoise' (1967), a movie that had a considerable influence on us while designing both the installation and the signage of the exhibition.
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One more bit. Although the wooden constructions were designed by us, they were actually built by the carpenters of Pastoe.

Shown below are two photographs. First, a picture of a maquette (scale model) that we made ourselves; we used this model to explain to the carpenters exactly what we had in mind. Secondly, a picture of the actual construction, built by the carpenters.

We think it is uncanny how much these pictures are alike; at first sight, it's almost impossible to distinguish the model from the actual construction. We don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing (somehow, you always secretly hope for some kind of unexpected transformation). But it sure shows the workmanship of the carpenters.
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