For this exercise I’ve been asked to consider the work we did in Part Three on visual communications, then consider; what function Straub’s textile is serving other than providing something hard-wearing to sit on?
I’ll start by explaining how I came to find a moquette fabric which Straub had designed in 1970 and then I’ll approach a semiotic analysis of it.
I found on the London Transport Museum’s shop page a moquette fabric entitled Straub, which was named after it’s designer Marianne Straub and was applied to all new buses and trains entering service between 1969-1978. A little bit further digging around and I found a link to a photograph from the London Transport Museum Collection, of the ‘Straub’ moquette in use during the 1970’s on a new Piccadilly car (see photo below).
In my process of digging around the internet I also came across an interview with Marianne Straub in The Christian Science Monitor; Creating Artwork to Sit Upon, By Christopher Andreae, August 7 1990.
Whilst the interview doesn’t shed any light on the choice for the design of ‘Straub’ moquette specifically it does highlight Marianne Straub’s love of hand weaving and for her the importance of a collaborative approach when designing textiles.
A more contemporary example of an approach to creating textiles for public transport can be seen in an interview for Mid-Century Magazine; A seat on the train: an interview with textile designers Wallace Sewell, By Hilary Light. Within the interview the inspiration behind creating a modern moquette fabric for Transport for London (TfL) is discussed. In the discussion use of colour and inspiration are mentioned; “incorporating various abstracted London landmarks in the design”. Later in the interview she speaks of creating “strong exciting designs, that are bold, perform, yet fit an exacting industrial brief. I feel that having a strong considered design around us can be a positive addition to one’s life – making one respond, even if in an unconscious way!”. The mention of design having a ‘positive addition’ or unconscious impact is interesting and what I want to try and decode by using semiotic analysis of the ‘Straub’ fabric.
On p.134 of; This Means This This Means That: A user’s guide to semiotics, second edition, by Sean Hall, an explanation of the distinction between connotation and denotation when applied to object is discussed. The example given is in clothing, that it’s not just ‘what we wear (denotation) but how we wear them (connotation)’ (p.134 Hall) that informs our understanding.
So here’s my consideration; it’s not just the appearance, colours, forms of the ‘Straub’ fabric (denotation) it’s the context or application of the fabric (connotation) which frames our understanding of its purpose.
For the purposes of this exercise I’m going to refer to ‘Straub’ as seen in use in the photograph of the Piccadilly Carriage below (and above):
Denotation: A repeated pattern of connected Light blue, dark blue and green coloured fabrics is woven together to form the fabric. The fabric is not smooth/has a tactile quality.
The fabric has been applied to/covering metal seats which run in an ordered line along the length of the train carriage. The fabric is attached to the cushions of/padding on the seats.
The carriage is mostly formed of metal, or plastic, other features include a wooden floor (perhaps), and some advertisements along the edges of the ceiling.
Connotation: The train is used to help people get to and from work, it is also used by people going about their day to day lives. The fabric provides a back drop for this activity. The fabric’s colour adds vibrancy and interest to an otherwise dull carriage. The use of colour here could be seen to be important (I’m not an expert on Colour theory), but simply put, blue is the colour of sky, water, it’s something we see everyday as is green the colour of earth, both colours could be seen to reinforce a sense of calm or grounding. They give the carriage a sense of order which seems important if people of different backgrounds will be using it. The shapes of the pattern are simple; even abstract, lines, rectangles, they could mirror the shapes or forms seen in the London skyline, buildings etc. To me this again becomes a visual reminder of why people travel/where people live (i.e. to work, they work in the city).
Tactile – the fabric used is not only practically hard wearing it was a tactile quality. This tactile quality might encourage touch of the fabric and even an association of pleasure or the creation of an more welcoming or comfortable environment. The use of fabric covering suggests a concern with the comfort of the traveller not just the mechanics of the train/operating it. It is not necessary for the seats to be covered in fabric or given padding for them to be usable (functional as seats), but fabric is applied to encourage comfort and I guess by extrapolation the use of the train (an incentive).
I’m not sure how much further I can extrapolate meanings or connotations from this example, so I’m going to finish my attempted analysis there.