Mohawk Blog

Makers + Mythologies

Patrick Sisson

Stories do more than allow us to share our past. They can be the building blocks needed to shape and construct our future.

Few aspects of our collective narrative drive have more power to influence our creative process than mythology. Whether its the myths we create around ourselves and our ideals,which fuel the drive for improvement, or the ones etched into our collective memory, these stories act as catalysts, speaking to universal desires and patterns in nature.

Illustration by Carl-Hampus Vallin
The Hero's Journey is a blueprint created by Joseph Campbell that defines the underlining mechanisms of Myth. The first stage is the Call to Adventure. The hero is pulled away from his or her every day life and starts their journey.

Consider how many of our great thinkers found the germs of great discoveries in fables, myths, and shared stories. Da Vincis exploration of human aviation drew inspiration from the wings of Icarus, the famous cautionary tale of flight from Greek mythology. Examine the thread that connects the Golem, an ancient Jewish folktale about an artificial being created to serve man, Mary Shelleys classic horror story Frankenstein, and contemporary discussions around the legalities and laws governing the development of robotics and AI. These stories, and the lessons they teach, continue to stimulate.

Countless modern products bear the names of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, speaking to the characteristics creators want to convey and imbue in their own work. The car brand Mercury, which has cycled through numerous design and logo changes over the last few decades, always maintains a visual identity that references the Roman god of speed.

“Design is about many things: users, problem-solving and information. But at its core, it’s storytelling. Myths can be instrumental in inspiring and even shaping, the design process.”

Illustration by Frederique Gravier
Supernatural Aid: An omnipresent entity that guides the hero.
Illustration by David Weber
Road of Trials: A series of tests that a hero must undergo.

Design is about many things: users, problem-solving, and information. But at its core, its storytelling. Myths can be instrumental in inspiring, and even shaping, the design process. Much like the way Star Warsbroad appeal comes from tapping into universal mythologies and archetypes that run across different cultures, so too can design drawn from common stories create more lasting, poignant work.

The myths and fables that we believe in, and create, can strengthen and guide our work. Facts and aesthetics can make a creation powerful, but a universally appealing story can make the same work transcendent, tapping into a drive for perfection that has always seemed otherworldly.

These larger-than-life myths, and the drive to a certain kind of aesthetic perfection, helped propel so many of the influential 20th century designers, especially those reimagining products. Consider Dieter Rams, another acolyte of minimalism whose rules for design might as well be the ubertext for todays techies. Now idolized by so many of todays creatives, Rams himself found useful principles in European and Modernist architecture, streamlined and sustainable environments ripe for living a new, modern life. He adopted the fable of modernist architecture as a selling point, creating industrial design perfectly engineered to fit inside these homes, and alongside their elevated ideals.

Theres a direct line from the work of architects such as Mies van der Rohe and his less is more view of the built environment to Ramss stripped-down gadgets, which made his company, Braun, famous. The homes of modernist greats, the utilitarian temples created by the likes of Corbusier and Mies, despised unnecessary ornamentation. They were festishized by followers for the way they communicated a sober, streamlined, and modern life. Clean lines befit a revolutionary, technologically advanced age. Its the story of less is more: art and architecture, and geometry and matter, reduced to its absolute simplest, purest principle.

Its no surprise the stereos and appliances Rams designed would fit right in with the somber, glass-and-steel creations that inspired him. Buying Braun items was akin to purchasing a lifestyle. He wanted to produce long-lasting, neutral products that eschewed temporary style for something that would last longer. Like the Bauhaus designers that came before him, he embraced technology with purpose and pragmatism, not hype. And like a modernist architect laying out a clean, modular white interior, Rams fashioned technological tools with the least amount of wasted materials and effort possible.

This idea of monumentalism through minimalism, creating a grand vision out of simple design, and telling a story through the shape of Braun products, continues to inspire designers across disciplines. Its a pillar of the pop culture creations of Family New York, an architectural duo consisting of Dong- Ping Wong and Oana Stanescu, who have collaborated on projects for clients as diverse as streetwear brands and famous rap stars.

Sketch by Family New York
Sketch of Kanye West's Yeezus Tour stage
Family New York
Photo of stage

The duos most influential creation may be their stage set for Kanye Wests famous Yeezus tour of 2013. A mountain peak perfect for the producer and rappers creative expression (and ego), its a literal high point in hip-hop stagecraft. Kanyes sermon on a mount performance channels past myths into a modern context; hes not merely preaching to the converted, hes performing for the smartphone-wielding masses atop a stage that speaks to emotion, simplicity, and ancient visions of a prophet. In a genre obsessed with braggadocio and creating your own narrative, why not anoint yourself in front of the crowd?

Is Mount Yeezus, a 50-foot-tall volcano backlit by a massive disc, a monument to megalomania? Perhaps, but its also using symbolism straight out of myth and religion to further the story of Wests work, and underline the tortured genius persona thats made him such a vital figure in music today.

Illustration by Olivia Ward
Master of Two Worlds: The achievement and fulfillment of balance, sometimes between material and spiritual.

This article was originally published in Issue 14 of the Mohawk Maker Quarterly. The Mohawk Maker Quarterly is a vehicle to support a community of like-minded makers. Content focuses on stories of small manufacturers, artisans, printers, designers, and artists who are making their way in the midst of the digital revolution. Learn more about the quarterly here.

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