png_portrait_07© Stephen Dupont, from Papua New Guinea Portraits and Diaries

png_portrait_06© Stephen Dupont, from Papua New Guinea Portraits and Diaries

png_portrait_20© Stephen Dupont, from Papua New Guinea Portraits and Diaries

excerpts from Adolf Loos‘ manifesto Ornament and Crime (1908).

In the womb the human embryo passes through all the development stages of the animal kingdom. At the moment of birth, human sensations are equal to those of a newborn dog. His childhood passes through all the transformations which correspond to the history of mankind. At the age of two, he sees like a Papuan, at four, like a Teuton, at six like Socrates, at eight like Voltaire.

The child is amoral. To us the Papuan is also amoral. The Papuan slaughters his enemies and devours them. He is no criminal. If, however, the modern man slaughters and devours somebody, he is a criminal or a degenerate. The Papuan tattoos his skin, his boat, his oar, in short, everything that is within his reach. He is no criminal. The modern man who tattoos himself is a criminal or a degenerate. There are prisons where eighty percent of the inmates bear tattoos. Those who are tattooed but arc not imprisoned are latent criminals or degenerate aristocrats. If a tattooed person dies at liberty, it is only that he died a few years before he committed a murder.

The urge to ornament one’s face, and everything in one’s reach, is the origin of fine art. It is the babble of painting. All art is erotic.

I have made the following observation and have announced it to the world: The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from objects of daily use. I had thought to introduce a new joy into the world: but it has not thanked me for it. Instead the idea was greeted with sadness and despondency. What cast the gloom was the thought that ornament could no longer be produced. What! Are we alone, the people of the nineteenth century, are we no longer capable of  doing what any Negro can do, or what people have been able to do before us?

The rate of cultural development is held back by those that cannot cope with the present. I live in the year 1908, but my neighbour lives approximately in the year 1900, and one over there lives in the year 188o. It is a misfortune for any government, if the culture of its people is dominated by the past.

The change in ornament implies a premature devaluation of labour. The worker’s time, the utilised material is capital that has been wasted. I have made the statement: The form of the object should be bearable for as long as the object lasts physically. T would like to try to explain this: A suit will be changed more frequently than a valuable fur coat. A lady’s evening dress, intended for one night only, will be changed more rapidly than a writing desk. Woe betide the writing desk that has to be changed as frequently as an evening dress, just because the style has become unbearable. Then the money that was spent on the writing desk will have been wasted.

Ornamented objects appear truly unaesthetic if they have been executed in the best material, with the highest degree of meticulous detail, and if they have required a long production time. I cannot plead innocence for having been the first to call for quality labour, but not this kind of work.

The modern man who holds ornament sacred as the sign of artistic achievement of past epochs will immediately recognize the tortured, laboriously extracted and pathological nature of modern ornament. Ornament can no longer be borne by someone who exists at our level of culture.

It is different for people and nations who have not reached this level.

I preach to the aristocrats, I mean the individuals who stand at the pinnacle of humanity and nevertheless have the deepest understanding for the motivations and privations of those who stand further below. The Kafir who weaves fabric according to a specific order which only appears when one unravels it, the Persian who tics his carpers, the Slovak farmer’s wife who embroiders her lace, the old lady who makes beautiful things with glass, beads and silk; all these he understands very well. The aristocrat lets them have their own way; he knows that they are sacred hours in which they work. The revolutionary would come and say: “it is all nonsense.” As he would pull the old lady away from the roadside shrine and say to her: “There is no God.” But the atheist amongst the aristocrats lifts his hat as he walks past a church.


raskol_series_07© Stephen Dupont, from Raskols, PNG

raskol_series_22© Stephen Dupont, from Raskols, PNG

raskol_series_23© Stephen Dupont, from Raskols, PNG

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s