The Future and Modernity's White

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When conjuring up a reason why white is the dominant shade of Modernity one might think of the soon to be retired space shuttle Atlantis or the seminal architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (also known as Le Corbusier). Depending on your preference of medium you can view it as an additive or subtractive color, but the question remains: why is the color white linked to "hi-tech" gadgets, architecture, and visions of the future?

John Powers, a Brooklyn-based sculptor recently ruminated on this question and discovered it has an intriguing and complicated history and relationship with technology. Powers maps the trends of the color against various historical events, revealing along the way that Jacob Riis' 1890 flash photographs of lower Manhattan's tenements and Platex bra construction played surprisingly important roles. According to Powers' research, Modern white's psychological associations and aesthetic perceptions are driven by a mix of technological advancements in electric lights, the garment industry, and space travel.

Original Edison light bulb; Weissenhofsiedlung (1927) via Star Wars Modern

Seamstress Jane Butchin, Delma Domegy, Inspector Mary Todd, and others at ILC Plant (1967); Astronauts Charles Conrad and Alen Bean (1969) via Star Wars Modern

John Powers' ten-part essay titled White Walls: