Sustainism to Debut at New York Public Library

Isms, isms, everywhere. It would seem that a movement is not validated until it gets an “ism.” This Wednesday “Sustainism” will be launched at the New York Public Library when authors Michiel Schwarz & Joost Elffers discuss their new book, Sustainism is the New Modernism (Distributed Art Publishers, $24.95).

Critic Alice Rawsthorn thoroughly parsed the authors’ explanation of the new term in Sunday’s New York Times.  According to Rawsthorn, the criteria for any new movement needs to be “ethically and environmentally responsible, socially and geographically inclusive, collaborative, networked, (and) sensitive to nature.”   The critic said that the authors accomplish this through what appears more like a “branding exercise” than a manifesto.

For the book, Schwarz acts as cultural theorist and Elffers provides the graphics. According to a press release, Sustainism is described through “a series of graphically dynamic aphorisms, quotes and symbols designed for worldwide use by businesses, individuals and institutions.”

“What we say is that what Modernism was in the 20th century Sustainism is in the 21st,” Elffers said by telephone. “The only way to solve today’s problems is for Sustainism to become the main culture. Modernism was very good at seeing things in compartments, but today we need to solve all the problems at once.”

Elffers said he and Schwarz began using the term two years ago, and while the duo don’t take credit for inventing the movement, they do feel that it deserved a name.

“It’s two things really: one is to declare it and the second part is to take action.”

No doubt, today’s designers and artists actually seek out isms in order to grab hold of shorter digital-age attention spans. But back in the day, critics slapped some of the most famous isms onto arts movements as a way to dismiss them, as was the case with Impressionism. Some movements sound like insults, but are not. Brutalism, for example, refers to the exposed concrete finish known as “béton brut.”

In his new book Greening Modernism, Carl Stein finds sustainable elements inherent in Modern design. As Sustainism plays well with his own title, Stein sees both the pros and cons in adopting the new label.

“On the one hand, it’s reassuring to see similar verbiage. It provides some validation,” he said. “On the other hand, I worry about any newly invented isms. So much effort seems to be placed on coining the next hot phrase.”

Related Stories