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by Gabrielle Kennedy

The word Khaki comes from the Hindi word for dust-colored. It is a dull composite color - murky, green, beige, and brown. Design Academy Eindhoven graduates Guillemette Legrand and Eva Jäger have used this etymological origin as the foundation for developing ‘The Era of Khaki Ethics’ – a project that defines then labels the zeitgeist, and which then activates this contemporary space as a creative force.

‘The Era of Khaki Ethics’ is grounded in dirt and dust. It is military, rugged and earthy. It doesn’t stand out. It blends in and holds nothing as precious. Yet, commercially khaki has been repositioned as something more elevated.

“Culture and fashion is always re-appropriating from the military,” says Legrand. “The military has enormous funding and is often at the forefront of textiles and technology. It intrigues us – power always does – and of course we are surrounded by military imagery so there will always be an influence.”

Throughout this repositioning khaki has been used to green-wash corporate culture and to characterize a cool urban lifestyle – often dubbed norm-core. This paradox between khaki’s dusty roots and hip reality is manipulated and exaggerated by brands that entrap us with their communication and in so doing end up as the identity makers of a generation.

“Brands can change the essence of ethical systems,” says Legrand. “Even when we do not necessarily agree with their ethical practices, we all become emotionally connected to corporate brands. They become part of our identities."

Starting with this analysis of the color khaki, Legrand and Jäger have transformed it from something physical -a pair of pants or a swatch of paint - into a metaphor which describes the ethical confusion of the contemporary era in which we live. They call this time ‘The Era of Khaki Ethics’.

Today the difference between right and wrong, truth and lie, is harder to navigate. We are all usually somewhere in the middle. “We call this khakiness,” says Legrand. At the same time, politics, religion and commerce are becoming more extreme and absolutist, which may well be a nervous reaction against the ethical uncertainty of the people they govern.

“Usually the middle is a weak position,” says Legrand. “It gives in to uncertainty - but we know that extremism doesn’t work either so I think we all need to become less afraid of khakiness - we have to unpack it’s nuance in order to ward off the simplicity of extremes.”

As design strategists then Legrand and Jäger argue that design should reject extremism by addressing real complexity – design should be embracing the middle-ground as something more honest and realistic.

Here Legrand and Jäger see design and ‘The Era of Khaki Ethics’ as a vehicle that can be used to shift our expectations, to activate uncertainty and to embrace khakiness over ethical simplification.

‘The Era of Khaki Ethics’ subverts the usual format of trend forecasting with an emphasis on color, material and style. Rather, they move it on a step to include future models of ethics in design, politics and science. This cross-disciplinary reading of the times adds a new depth to the traditional design research format.

Khaki then is no longer just a color, but an active position. The ‘Khaki mentality’ can spread and Legrand and Jäger will continue to by infiltrate society through promotional films, publications and lecture-performances. The online platform, expands the scope of the project and spans diverse creative fields including sound design and policy making.

‘The Era of Khaki Ethics’ can be seen at both Design Academy Eindhoven Graduation Show from 17 to 25 October. And also at ‘Thing Nothing’ at the Van Abbemuseum from 17 October to 15 November.

See also:


Caption Text:
1. In the Era of Khaki Ethics, ethics are blurred toward a new mental state, where people can feel comfortable with contradiction and multiplicity rather than adopting simple extremes.

2. Eva Jäger and Guillemette Legrand are design strategists that have collaborated on The Era of Khaki Ethics. Born from a thesis that explores how shifting binaries of ethics create possibilities for a new design context, The Era of Khaki Ethics establishes a theoretical and visual framework to anticipate, interpret, and create in a world defined by the Extreme Present. Jäger and Legrand carried out a series of activations to produce creative content for a ‘khaki’ era.

3. This year ­long project has thus far resulted in lecture ­performances, design briefings, site specific installations and a creative platform, This online platform expands the scope and logic of the project with additional cross­disciplinary collaborations with a number of creative professionals, in fields ranging from sound design to policy making. Jäger and Legrand invite design practitioners, theorists, organizers, and companies, to use the platform in a similar way.


Published: 16-Oct-2015 21:59
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