Introducing VISI’s Latest Issue 131

There is no such thing as a new idea.

It’s a phrase often attributed to Mark Twain and his famously bushy moustache back in the late 1800s. “We simply take a lot of old ideas,” he said, “and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn, and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same pieces of coloured glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

I sort of agree with him.

Mr Twain’s version is perhaps a little too determinist for my liking – I prefer to think we build on what’s gone before – but I agree that, fundamentally, nothing fresh or original suddenly winks into existence in the mind of its creator. Yes, we may often believe we’ve single-handedly created an entirely new art form, music style or design aesthetic – such is the human ego – but the reality is more one of smaller steps in new directions than great untethered leaps into the unprecedented.

What fascinates me is that nexus between old and new. I reckon the signifier of really great design is when its creator inherently understands the roots and lineage of where their work is coming from, and then contributes a little more to the conversation. From that source comes work that has both depth and freshness. We speak so frequently about “authenticity” these days, and I think it’s the combination of acknowledgement and addition that provides for it.

I also think there’s a lot of that in evidence on the pages of this issue of VISI. I love, for example, how architects Johan Wentzel and Grete van As with their Waterkloof Ridge house (p114), and Bettina Woodward with her Stellenbosch design (p100), have created homes that pay homage to Mid-century sensibilities, but that have been interpreted in a thoroughly modern way. It’s a tough ask to design something that acknowledges its roots yet still has a sense of place in a contemporary setting – but it is masterfully accomplished in these two homes.

It’s apparent, too, in much of the work we saw at the second annual Cape Town Furniture Week (p40) – from furniture to ceramics and lighting design – and it’s there in our Rising Star Thando Ntuli’s work, which adds its own spin to ’80s and ’90s South African fashion (p76). And if you’re looking for the most visually striking example of what I’m talking about, check out Kenyan photographer Thandiwe Muriu’s work on p64. Her vibrant images don’t just celebrate African culture and heritage – there’s a layer of hidden meanings, references and stories behind the objects, print designs and hairstyles in each of them.

And then there’s Cowboy Core (p92)… I’m not sure how much it advances the Great Design Conversation, but it’s a lot of fun. Yeeha!

– Steve Smith, Editor |

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