High & Low
Who is up? What is below? Where is the front?
High-tech materials and DIY homes, the Western Canon and Trash TV, luxury goods and basic needs – the distinction of high and low is one of the basic mechanisms of creating order. Not only spatially. And that's where things get complicated: Who decides what is high and what is low, and according to which criteria? In terms of culture, the idea of a hierarchical difference in value between high and low seems to be a dated concept at least since the advent of the artistic avant-gardes, and killed for good by mass-media-fueled pop culture. The time of great, sharp cultural divides is over, and values are always reversible. Nevertheless, the distinction between high and low persists, even if subconsciously, and their interplay opens up new perspectives beyond art and culture, be it in the field of high-tech and low-tech or in debates about democratization and participation in politics, urban planning and design.
Our aim is not to reactivate a normative distinction between high and low, nor to just celebrate its abolition. Rather, the idea is to make these two terms productive again for current developments in technology, design and culture. How does this separation of top and bottom engage with other binaries used in describing the social and political situation we are in? What is its relation to notions of rich and poor, Western universalism and local particularities, challenges of complexity and the longing for simplicity, elitism and populism?
From the outset, the Bauhaus aimed to transcend the opposition between high, pure art and supposedly low applied craft in the name of a new building of the future that would unite every discipline, architecture and sculpture and painting. At the same time, it combined the plea for a synthesis of art and technology and the move towards industrial mass production with the ambition to design architecture and objects for everyone. What has become of this aim? In 2018, its fifth year, the Digital Bauhaus Summit takes up the old distinction between high and low. Is it really as dead as often claimed? Or do we, on the contrary, experience its return in changed constellations? Which emerging dynamics and hybridizations between high and low can be observed? What would a "new unity of art and technology" look like in today's post-digital society? Should design nowadays increasingly focus on the Bauhaus slogan of “Volksbedarf statt Luxusbedarf”, the "needs of the people instead of luxury needs"? And what role do digital technologies play in this?
High and low are intended to be brought into play here as heuristic search terms – not to follow a given direction, but to cut interesting paths of inquiry through a wide variety of topics. Who is up? What is below? And above all, where is the front?