Book List of the Week

Beyond the Normal Limits: Jasper Morrison’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter May 22, 2012
Jasper Morrison
Jasper Morrison

Product designer Jasper Morrison: Jasper Morrison Ltd. (London)

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For British product designer Jasper Morrison design is a tool that should be used to improve the quality of “atmosphere.” He ruminates on this idea of atmosphere in his book Super Normal: Sensations of the Ordinary (co-authored with Naoto Fukasawa)—“a manifesto calling for an appreciation of the well-designed objects we use every day that often go overlooked or get taken for granted,” according to Designers & Books commentator and design curator Zöe Ryan.

Super Normal: Sensations of the Ordinary, 2007 (Lars Müller Publishers)

Morrison writes in Super Normal,

A while ago I found some heavy old hand-blown wine glasses in a junk shop. At first it was just their shape which attracted my attention, but slowly, using them every day, they have become something more than just nice shapes, and I notice their presence in other ways. If I use a different type of glass, for example, I feel something missing in the atmosphere of the table. When I use them the atmosphere returns, and each sip of wine is a pleasure even if the wine is not. If I even catch a look at them on the shelf they radiate something good.

This quota of atmospheric spirit is the most mysterious and elusive quality in objects. How can it be that so many designs fail to have any real beneficial effect on the atmosphere, and yet these glasses, made without much design thought or any attempt to achieve anything other than a good ordinary wine glass, happen to be successful? It’s been puzzling me for years and influencing my attitude toward what constitutes a good design.*

Everything but the Walls, 2002, 2006 (Lars Müller Publishers)

For Morrison “the wine glasses and other objects from the past reveal the existence of super normal . . .” This quality, he says, is “the result of a long tradition of evolutionary advancement in the shape of everyday things, not attempting to break with the history of form but rather trying to summarize it.” The wine glasses carry special significance as they “are a signpost to somewhere beyond normal, because they transcend normality.”

The book list that Morrison submitted to Designers & Books encompasses works by master travel writers (Bruce Chatwin, Norman Lewis, and others), memoirs, a book on the roots of modern design, and fiction. Almost all, in one way or another, connect to ideas of transcendence and going beyond.

Morrison’s fiction choices include Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual, which Morrison recommends as “essential reading for those in the object business.” He says of Raymond Roussel’s experimental 1910 novel, Impressions of Africa—which was to have a significant influence on the Surrealists during the 1920s—that it goes “beyond the normal limits of human imagination.”

Jasper Morrison au musée, 2012 (Bernard Chauveau Éditeur)
Jasper Morrison au musée, 2012 (Bernard Chauveau Éditeur)

In addition to his explorations of design in Super Normal (2007, Lars Müller Publishers), Morrison is the author of Everything but the Walls (2002, 2006, Lars Müller Publishers), as well as a collection of photographs of objects and forms, A World Without Words (1998, 2001, Lars Müller Publishers), and A Book of Spoons (1997, Imshoot Uitgervers). His book Jasper Morrison au musée (2012, Bernard Chauveau Editeur) features some of Morrison’s well-known product designs (including the Basel chair for Vitra and the Glo-Ball lamp for Flos) in “dialogue” with 17th- and 18th-century objects in the collection of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Bordeaux, France. His latest book, The Good Life: Perceptions of the Ordinary, will be released by Lars Müller Publishers in summer 2014.


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