1156 Chapel Street, POB 208339
New Haven, Connecticut, 06520-8339
SECOND SEMESTER DATES
- Jan 15-16, 19: Antenna workshop
- Jan 28-Feb 8: Julia Born
- Feb 8: Jessica Helfand workshop
- Feb 11-22: Irma Boom
- Feb 13: Michael Bierut crit
- Feb 10-22: Paul Elliman (mostly 1Ys)
- Feb 20-21, Mar 27, Apr 2-3: Matthew Carter
- Feb 25: Thesis book writing first draft due to Betsy/Bill and Dan
- Mar 2-7: Daniel van Der Velden
- Mar 8-23: Spring break
- Mar 24: Thesis book writing final draft due to Betsy/Bill and Dan
- Apr 1: Thesis book mockup due to Betsy/Bill and Dan
- Apr 28: Two copies of thesis book due to Dan
- May 2: Gallery access
- May 8: Final review
- May 10: Show opens
- May 14: Show comes down
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ASSIGNMENT FOR FEB 6
- Write one page or more that illustrates the tone and verbal qualities you want to have in your thesis writing.
- Find two or more samples of writing that you find inspirational for your own writing, with respect to style.
- Find one or more books that combine text, image, and book structure in an interesting way.
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TOM: THESIS PRESENTATION
Long before I knew graphic design existed, I was making comic books.
CLICK (early comic I made) At first I was aping the style of the Marvel comics I loved, and as I grew older I began to create comics with more complex assemblages of interest and influence.
CLICK (Runoff) My latest series, Runoff, is a surreal pastiche of elements: film noir, B-Horror, Bloom County, and my hometown of Enumclaw, Washington. Enumclaw translates to mean ‚the land of evil spirits‚?Ě and is aptly named. Growing up in that remote Cascade mountain town was like being a character in David Lynch‚s Twin Peaks.
CLICK (twin peaks playing) So it shouldn‚??t be a surprise that David Lynch was perhaps the biggest influence on Runoff, where things can slip from the humorous to the creepy very quickly. This Lynchian quality I find affinity with has a tradition in American art and culture, which I would describe as sharing a loose hybrid of odd references from horror fiction, fine art, and Americana; a kind of gothic American surrealism.
This tradition could trace itself back to the writings of Edgar Allen Poe, who also served as a major influence to the original European surrealists. From Poe I would go on to include artists and filmmakers such as Edward Hopper, Winsor McCay, Charles Sheeler, Will Eisner, Alfred Hitchcock, Dianne Arbus, Brian Wilson, Bruce Conner, Stanley Kubrick and Dan Clowes.
CLICK (Hopper) What is this tradition about? It‚s about unveiling the gothic in the every day. Emphasizing the grotesque and mysterious qualities of something we could find on our own block. With its high contrast and open composition, Hopper‚s painting invites me to imagine exactly why I wouldn‚??t want to knock on that door.
CLICK (Hitchcock) Alfred Hitchcock seemed intrigued to knock, and gave us Psycho. Hitchcock also found ways to infuse suspense and horror into everyday experiences‚?¶ showering for instance‚?¶through meticulously planned shots and edits.
CLICK (Link) It‚s about taking aspects of our culture, our world, and completely recharging its context. And not always with horror as its endpoint. O Winston Link‚s photographs of passing trains transmit to me an eerie awe, as if a supernatural experience is caught passing through middle America.
CLICK (Meatyard) It‚??s about finding the surreal in our own surroundings, and presenting it by changing very little. The photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard only needed his Kentucky town, some local kids, and some masks to create work that is thick with a foreboding surreal atmosphere. I appreciate the simplicity of Meatyards work, the economy of elements, hardly any different from the sparse dynamic of a comic book panel.
CLICK (McCarthy) It‚s also about knowing that the most powerful things are the most communal. Borrowing from the most familiar genres and icons to reveal the deeply engrained power of things that we might usually find comfort in. Paul McCarthy‚s warped appropriations conjure up deeply disturbing, often nauseating experiences.
CLICK (Kubrick) Gothic American surrealism is definitely about the use of narrative and archetypal characters. The lovers, the lonely guy, the scary kid, the mad scientist. Kubrick‚??s narrative flexibility is inspirational: creating a comedy out of a nuclear holocaust with Dr. Strangelove,
CLICK a transcendental experience out of a science fiction film with 2001,
CLICK (Kubrick 2) And just a damn fine horror movie with The Shining: which is perhaps the defining work for gothic American surrealism.
CLICK (Arbus/Kubrick) Like a creature without a fixed form, we can find examples of this tradition alive in a broad variety of mediums, so its validity as a formal graphic language for a designer like myself seems perfectly acceptable.
What else would you look toward if you were creating work for someone like Tim Burton? Or designing the collected works of Edgar Allen Poe or Patricia Highsmith, or even the latest book by Chuck Palahniuk?
So, what are some of the key aspects that could provide or translate into formal ideas?
One aspect would be the idea of the uncanny. Freud defines the uncanny as an instance where something is both familiar and foreign at the same time. We‚??ve seen that odd relationship employed many times to great affect in much of art and design.
CLICK (parking garage movie playing) The artist Mike Kelley describes the uncanny as ‚horror tinged with confusion.‚?Ě Thinking back to my site project video, this is exactly the experience I was aiming for. Working only with the real movements and sounds available to me in that space, I tried to make the parking garage come alive, as if possessed by a number of poltergeists. This work also fits into Ernst Jentsch‚s definition of the uncanny, so central to Freud‚s work on the subject, in which one ‚doubts whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or conversely, whether a lifeless object might be, in fact, animate.‚?Ě
CLICK (Eric White) Uncanny experiences aren‚t necessarily negative ones. The European surrealists argued that a genuine experience of beauty has to include an experience of shock or surprise. Doesn‚t that begin to accurately describe this image by the painter Eric White?
CLICK (Halloween poster by Rick Banks) Beauty, shock and surprise are important elements of graphic design, and I think Rick Banks had a grasp of the uncanny when he designed this glow in the dark poster for the John Carpenter film Halloween.
CLICK (Geoff) And where shock and surprise lie, I believe humor isn‚t far behind. Sometimes even the best and darkest kind, as with the simple visual graphic puns of Geoff McFetridge‚s often surreal work.
CLICK (Tom Sachs)
Another feature of the kind of work that I am interested in developing would involve the redirection of expectation and genre. I find this to be an extremely American accent, since much of our culture thrives on a sampling and appropriation of other cultures. This involves a sudden shift in context, redirecting us away from our initial expectation.
CLICK (Cindy Sherman) Cindy Sherman chooses to play with genres directly. By erasing her individuality, she becomes a blank canvas on which we place the assumptions genre creates. Here narrative is always inferred, never completed.
CLICK (Rockwell) Norman Rockwell spent a career creating an iconic genre of Americana, but was self aware enough to subvert it in his civil rights paintings. While it is so easy to have a redirection lead to the ironic, Rockwell shows how it can be earnest and emotional.
I think the idea of redirection is especially important to graphic design, where reference is needed to initiate engagement, and redirection is needed to make that engagement memorable. We are a lot like storytellers in that sense. And as a storyteller and designer, I enjoy acting as a sort of medium: one who receives signals, mutates them, and transmits them out again. In this coming year I hope to better tune myself into the frequency of this tradition and methodology, and channel it out through the tradition of graphic design.
CLICK (Huyghe) The power of the storyteller is at the center of Pierre Huyghe‚s The Third Memory, which shows how storytelling can splinter a single event into multiple realities. Huyghe takes John Wojtowicz‚s infamous 1972 bank robbery and contrasts three versions of it: the news footage of the actual robbery, the 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon which was based on the robbery, and footage of Wojtowicz recalling the robbery in 2000. Here we don‚t concentrate so much on what is real, instead, we concentrate on how the storyteller shifts the real. In the end the most surreal aspect of Huyghe‚s take on Americana is the fact that Wojtowicz is trapped in a gothic horror loop retelling of his own story both through himself‚a working class Brooklyn native‚ and through Hollywood where his doppleganger is the one and only Al Pacino.
CLICK (fade up the Shining) In some ways Wojtowicz reminds me of Jack Nicholson deep in the bowls of the Overlook hotel, tapping out the same hollow mantra opus on his typewriter: all work and no play‚?¶
I‚??m sure you remember the rest.
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NICK: THESIS PRESENTATION
>SLIDE 1: THINGS ARE QUEER
I feel that I have a unique and powerful responsibility to affect how, when, why and where people receive information. The challenge I face is to reveal this information in engaging, and interesting ways. For the next year and beyond I plan to create work that will stay true to a set of formal strategies while also engaging with current social and political issues. I believe that it is important to use design to bring issues, that I consider important, further into the public spotlight.
>SLIDE 2: TYPE THE SKY
For me, design itself is about discovering new ideas, opinions and information. For example artist Lisa Rienermann found this alphabet in the negative spaces between buildings. Using a combination of formal strategies I hope to encourage an audience to find or learn something within my work. These formal strategies have appeared in my work in recent years as well as most of the work that I am drawn to by others.
I believe Graphic design should be a rewarding experience for the viewer. Every project should involve some level of interaction and discovery, an element of surprise perhaps.
>SLIDE 3: ANDREAS GURSKY
Is it possible for projects to appear visually simple yet at the same time to reveal information through complexity? Photographs by Andreas Gursky to me appear as both simple and complex. The longer I view the work, the more detail I discover. In this process the viewer finds new information about the subject matter while interacting with the work. This level of interaction is what I would like people to find in my work.
>SLIDE 4: RACHEL WHITEREAD
I‚ve been inspired by this Rachel Whiteread sculpture. Here she created a series of resin casts of the space underneath chairs. It‚s the type of sculpture that commands interaction, without actually forcing it on the viewer. It also simultaneously asks the viewer to consider something that does not normally exist as a physical object.
>SLIDE 5: KAREL MARTENS
Much of the work by Karel Martens uses this formal strategy of discovery by presenting viewers with something formally beautiful and allowing them to unpack an underlying meaning. Here the facade of the Philharmonic Building in Haarlem, the Netherlands, is a graphic translation of a piece of music composed specifically for this building. Karel brings the music to life visually as an abstract pattern or rythm for the viewer to experience.
>SLIDE 6: BANKSY VIDEO
Camouflaging something typically aims to conceal that object or information, but I intend to use camouflage to reveal. Can we engage the viewer in our work by communicating a message that uses the graphic language of an alternative source? The artist Banksy created a series of paintings which he then secretly placed in famous museums and appropriated the museum‚??s signage in order to communicate his message.
>SLIDE 7: ONION
The fictional newspaper The Onion and Adbusters use forms of camouflage as a way of revealing information. With The Onion the camouflage is the graphic language of a newspaper that puts forth social and political satire.
>SLIDE 8: ADBUSTERS
Adbusters often appropriates graphic languages of world consumer markets in order to reveal their own anti-consumerist agenda. I am drawn to the formal strategy of appropriating graphic language that the Onion and Adbusters both embrace.
>SLIDE 9: OPEN / GORILLA
Covers designed for The Nation magazine by OPEN and the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant by Gorilla present readers with graphic responses to current events. These designs often inform the reader with facts as well as communicating the opinion of the designer.
I’m not interested in making design that is solely based on form. I intend to have some sort of message in everything I create. Often times I suspect my messages will engage political and social issues but not always.
>SLIDE 11: BORDER FILM
What types of things should people know about but don’t? How can I affect people, change their direction or stream of thought through my work? The border film project attempts to show opposing points of view of the immigration battle on the Mexican border by distributing and collecting cameras from both migrant workers and minutemen.
>SLIDE 12: RIETVELD POSTER
Laurens Brunner created this poster for the Rietveld Academy graduation. His intent was to illustrate the hurdles created by the school‚s policies on language and the cultural diversity of the school‚s population.
>SLIDE 13: ROTTERDAM
I have a particular interest in iconography. My interest lies in the ability of a designer to create an icon from something that is not already viewed in this way. This is often true in identity systems. For example Mevis and Van Deursen created a flexible system as an identity for the city of Rotterdam. Even though they were implemented differently each time, this system of shape and color became instantly recognizable as the voice of Rotterdam. These methods work for the purpose of branding, but can they work for addressing a social or political message.
>SLIDE 14: ANDRE THE GIANT POSSE
Beginning with the ‚??Andre the Giant has a Posse‚?Ě stickers to the OBEY line of merchandise and graphics, this project by Shepard Fairey has become an industry based on invented iconography and one of the most recognizable street art campaigns ever.
>SLIDE 15: OBEY
What if I used the power of the icon not as ‚??an experiment in phenomenology‚?Ě as Shepard Fairey called the original Andre the Giant campaign but to convey information? Or to effect social or political change?
> SLIDE 16: OLYMPICS 1968
Can we consider the 1968 Olympics black power Salute an icon for social change?
> SLIDE 17: CAMPAIGN LOGOS
Or what about the graphic language of campaign logos? Is this iconography or propaganda or both?
> SLIDE 18: JOHN HEARTFIELD
John Heartfield created an incredible body of work informing people of his views of Hitler, communism, war and other issues facing the German public in the 1930‚s. I am particularly interested in work that expresses a specific opinion. When I consider this idea, I often think of propaganda. I am particularly interested in propaganda‚s intention to influence a person‚??s opinions or behavior actively, rather than simply stating the facts about a topic.
> SLIDE 19: JENNY HOLZER
Recent work by Jenny Holzer, where she projected declassified government documents onto the Library at George Washington University addresses the issue of balancing transparency and security within a democratic government. This type of work often communicates an opinion in a way that tells people why they should think the issue is important. We may or may not call this propaganda but in a sense it encourages interest much in the same way that propaganda does.
Combining these formal strategies will inevitably create tension with one another. They will at times support and contradict each other. What I hope to gain from this process are new ways to express my opinions, tell stories and relay ideas. Paul Rand once said: ‚??Design is the method of putting form and content together. Design, just as art, has multiple definitions; there is no single definition. Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated.‚?Ě
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[000 black] In our trade, we used to make everything by economy and reuse. There was no other way.
[001 metal type] When handsetting metal type, the same individual characters are used over and over again in different configurations. And of course, there are only so many of these individual characters ‚?? called sorts ‚?? in the first place. For a particular project, our first choice typeface may simply not contain enough lower case ‚??e‚?Ěs. And our second choice we might only have in twelve point, while what we really want is eight.
[002 typecases] Because there was room in a shop for only so many typefaces in so many sizes. Our work was often restricted to the reuse of what we already owned, the same type and rule and ornaments we‚??ve already employed in previous jobs. The limitations imposed by what was on hand forced us to create unusual solutions to given problems.
[003 wood type] Of course, the tools of our trade also lasted well beyond our lives. When the ear of, say, a particular metal lowercase ‚??g‚?Ě wore away, it was melted down and recast as new type. There was no waste. This hundred year old wood type could be printed from today, using a press that is itself anywhere between forty and two hundred years old.
[004 linotype font expolorer] Nowadays, we buy new tools — new computers, new monitors, new printers — every two to five years. We have access to hundreds of thousands of fonts. We can invent any type size we wish; we can design our own typeface and print from it the same day. It is ridiculously easy and amazingly quick to try out different combinations of size and leading and color. And undo any of those choices with a keystroke. Which is good, because too often too many choices do not good design ensure.
[005 apple computer evolution] Plus, technology changes so rapidly. The things we use now to make our work wear out quickly. They break. Or they simply become obsolete.
[006 monitors in dump] And they‚??re all thrown away.
[007 scanner lamp] That is, except for the few retained for twenty-first century DIY crafts. Here, courtesy of instructables.com, is a desk lamp made from an old scanner. While this is both amusing and resourceful, it is not great lighting design. There‚??s got to be a better model for making with modern tools in modern times. Because what is laudable about letterpress is the reciprocal process of making things from other things. The whole is larger than the sum of its parts: the challenge is to continuously make astoundingly new things from a finite collection of old stuff.
[008 save! 1. economy 2. creative reuse] SAVE! comprises two ideas. There‚s making something economically in the first place. And there‚s salvaging and repurposing things found already around us.
[009 Japanese/French cutting diagrams] An illustration of the first idea, Economy. Two garment cutting diagrams, made just five years apart. On the left: the Japanese method, 1764. Every portion of the silk is used. On the right, from 1769: the French.
[010 child‚s outfit out of suit] Now here‚s an illustration of Creative Re-Use. A helpful diagram courtesy of the US Department of Agriculture: how to extract a child‚??s outfit from a worn-out adult suit.
[011 save! 1. economy 2. creative reuse, again] SAVE! is about both these ideas. How can we make things economically — how can we make more with less? As we see here, repeating something we‚??ve already used is one way. And, in addition, how can we salvage existing things into elegant, surprising, and explicitly new forms? Because it is not enough to simply reuse: how can the newly made thing advance thing-making itself? Obviously, we need some strategies.
[012 save! 1. economy 2. creative re-use, again] First, a few methods for economy, presented in economy‚??s verbal form: the list.
[013 shaker worktable] Save! as economy of function. How one thing can serve multiple purposes: a Shaker worktable which is also a chest of drawers. Note also that the drawers open from every side for maximum utility and convenience.
[014 jewelry chest] Save! as economy of action. One move, a notch into a large block of wood, repeated a million times, makes a jewelry chest. Note that economy can still be decorative.
[015 shadow puppet] SAVE! as economy of materials. Here, a puppet is made with nothing but an absence of light.
[016 laura carton] Because economy is also removing; editing. Making less mean more. Artist Laura Carton downloads internet porn, photoshops out the actors, and meticulously reconstructs the tableaux. Save! as looking closer at something and liberating the content concealed by the most obvious.
[017 save! 1. economy 2. creative re-use] Those are a few strategies for economy. Now, some methods for creative re-use:
[018 Norwegian underwear] Save! as repurpose. An old v-neck sweater becomes winter underwear. Note that the new function of an object need not be radically different to still be surprising. And warm.
[019 junk sculpture dog] No. Not junk sculpture, which does not transcend its material composition, but rather
[020 louise nevelson] the sculpture of Louise Nevelson. Through rigorous arrangement, treatment of surface, and sheer scale, Nevelson saves ordinary materials from their ordinariness. Save! as accumulate, re-assess, and organize.
[021 mosaic] Another method of arranging small parts into a larger whole: the mosaic. Save! as assembling micro parts into a macro whole. You can‚t see the trees when you‚re dazzled by the forest.
[022 schwitters] Save! as rearranging what‚??s there: Kurt Schwitters, graphic designer and artist, is best known for his collages out of bits of discarded printed paper
[023 carmi] and Eugenio Carmi, art director of the Italsider Steel Group, took from his workplace scrapped plates and silkscreened on top of them. Note the economy of form — on the right, almost exclusively triangles, on the left, all circles: even the pile of yellow is the negative space surrounding a circle, cut into scraps. Of this work Graphis magazine wrote ‚??in a sense they restore meaning to the waste products of human labor.‚?Ě In a sense, both Schwitters and Carmi
[024 Hirschhorn] and Thomas Hirschhorn are taking responsibility for their output as graphic designers, for form-making in service of a consumer society. How to reuse our own waste, the refuse of our own activity, in meaningful ways?
[025 make the most out of what you get] And that is why it is not accidental nor entirely unfortunate that Save! has a ring of both missionary zeal and capitalist hawkishness. It has a sense of urgency because it is a call to action. We live in an age of over-indulgent excess. Save! offers a recourse of restraint, a consideration of the future, and a way to prepare for it:
[026 get the most out of what you make] by making the most of what we‚??ve already got.
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DAVE + THESIS = LOVE
December, 1965. Yonkers, New York.
-02-Parents, circa 1965
Two people from different sides of the world meet. One, an ambitious pharmacologist from South Korea; the other, an artistic redhead from the Bronx. My parents were married despite vast differences between each other and despite the expectations of society. Until the Supreme Court case of Loving vs. Virginia two years later, several states still held laws preventing interracial marriage. But this didn‚t matter to them‚in their minds, their relationship made sense, and the future was wide open to possibilities.
-03-Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel
Somehow we can read a history of Modernism into a similar juxtaposition of unlikely, unwanted, or even unlawful pairings. We all know Marcel Duchamp‚s odd combination of a bicycle wheel riding on a stool: an assemblage of two opposite forms, one representing mobility, the other the sedentary, producing a single object that seems to schizophrenically negate itself. And yet at the same time, it functions amazingly well in questioning the creative production of an artwork. In other words, it obviously manages to do something‚something unexpected and unlike anything else around it at the time.
-04-Cage, Prepared Piano
John Cage‚s prepared piano also negates the intended functions of the objects involved. Piano strings, meant to reverberate and resonate with each other, and nuts and bolts, meant to hold things in place. Each set of objects prevents the other from fulfilling their intended purposes, but out of their meeting arises something beyond the sum of its parts: questions about music‚s relationship to the nature of sound, just as Duchamp used his objects to challenge the nature of artistic creativity or production.
It‚s these kinds of radical pairings of objects, forms, cultural experiences and knowledge‚even people, places, and values‚that I think is an essential driving force of the world we live in, where each surprising combination of forms asks a whole new set of questions. I‚m interested in how these combinations, of things that don‚t make perfect sense together, can translate into a design methodology. What I‚m after is the potential for unexpected possibilities and results that a confluence of different worlds can yield.
-06-Saville, Power, Corruption, and Lies
It‚??s the difference between things that encourages an unpredictable outcome when they meet. When disparate things are brought together, their agencies must be negotiated, the conflict must somehow be resolved‚?¶
-07-Horse & Bird
The natural world provides some pretty good examples of how to qualify or classify relationships between things. In a symbiotic relationship, two different species can benefit by simultaneously giving something and taking something.
-08-Janfamily, Ceramic Horses
I like the exchange that occurs in symbiotic relationships. If both parties are in need, they can benefit by finding a different way to join together.
-09-Nam Jun Paik,TV & Magnet
We can also see the way parasitic relationships can lead to new territory. One member of the association benefits while the other is harmed.
-10-Baldesarri, Two Opponents
A parasite can distort information, but also create mystery. I‚??m not as interested in re-appropriation as I am in the abstraction and transformation of the underlying narrative in this image.
Dialogue is also critical to shaping relationships. John Stezaker forms a junction between two vastly different modes of image making, the portrait and the landscape. This juxtaposition forces a somewhat violent dialectic between the two modes.
-12-Damian Ortega, Bug
How do these ideas translate into a working process?
I can begin by taking things apart to understand how they function, what their structure is, and what they are made of. When something is broken into pieces, it becomes disabled and abstracted, but the potential for new assemblages is exposed. It can be put back together in a different way, or recombined with another element to create something other.
-13-Wire, On Returning
For example, by recognizing a connection between disparate elements, forming the relationship can be as simple as flattening objects onto one plane.
-14-Julia Born, Event Poster
As the distance between forms widens, it becomes increasingly important to help the viewer establish relationships. Color holds strikingly distinct images and typography together, while still allowing the viewer to decide how the forms relate.
-15-MacGuyver, Homemade Smart Bomb
Sometimes things come together out of necessity. Or a fictional necessity, as is the case for MacGuyver. Predicaments requiring quick decisions with limited materials can often lead to the most interesting solutions. For example, who knew a smart bomb could be made from a gameboy circuit board, toy airplane parts and a giant novelty pacifier?
-16-Baldesarri, Four balls to make a square
A relationship can also be considered in terms of agencies: What if one agency is limitation, while the other freedom, or, more specifically, lack of control? There‚??s opportunity for infinite variation in the range of this relationship. Things can never be controlled when given their own trajectory.
-17-70s Computer Art
Computer programs can replicate these agencies, where systems are rigidly defined and then infiltrated with a random variable.
-18-Reich, Clapping Music
Other programs are more intentional then random, but still lead to variable ends. This piece by Steve Reich sets up a dialogue between two performers where a simple shift of timing produces an endless amount of variation.
-19-George Maciunus, Fluxus
I can also work with systems that hold things together, allowing an open-ended set of possibilities or interpretations. One way of generating a quality of openness is by setting up structures that are participatory or collaborative,
-20-Linked by Air, Yale School of Art Website
where a structure is always explicit, but individual voices can emerge or even modify the structure. Participation, in this case, can adapt and propagate. Certain behavior encourages and inspires even more participation.
-21-Janfamily, Plans for Other Days
I‚??m also interested in how to negotiate multiple agencies within a tight-knit community. Individual voices in a community can agree upon a set of goals that do not necessarily dictate a closed outcome.
-22-Arthur Russell, Calling Out of Context
In the coming year, I intend to search for more ways of thinking about pairings and combinations in terms of their relationships, where unlikely groupings can point to new directions for my work. As is true of any relationship, certain qualities can‚t always be neatly categorized or defined. I‚ll leave you with a selection of music by Arthur Russell, an artist who merged distinct genres of music in a way that both accentuates and minimizes their differences.
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ROX ROXSo, I was walking down the street last week, on my way to check out a camera from the DMCA and then get some coffee when this woman comes up to me and goes ‚??are you an actress! You have to audition immediately for the Yale rep theater!‚?Ě the auditions were closing in a half hour, and you needed to be on this list, but she was the director so she managed to get me in. I filled out the form. I needed a headshot, so I quickly printed out a photo. Do you have a monologue ready? What, no! Wait yes, I did! I had my notes and a skeletal outline of this presentation with me. So I filled out the form, grabbed my little camera and just went for it.
[show a few seconds of the clip]
I was dying inside and I highly doubt I got the part. But that moment put me and my thesis in some ways to the test.
So, it obviously isn‚??t that easy to stand up in front of a room full of people and assert yourself and declare what you believe in. Some artists and designers are sensitive and apt enough to take this attitude and use it as an approach to their work by tapping into their own emotional and physical reservoirs.
I am attracted to sensational work that uses shock value to hijack the viewer’s senses and brings tension into the artist and viewer’s relationship.
Impact can come from very different sources. The work can be mundane, spontaneous, a little soft and mumbly, or it can be really loud and really sexy.
[SLIDE: Andrea Fraser, Sex with the Patron, Stripping while Lecturing, Little Frank] Andrea Fraser creates and sells herself as an event: she has sex with her patron and exclusively sells him the video. The expected relationship between the artist and the patron is shattered and completely overturned. Or she slowly strips while giving a serious lecture. The she rubs up against the walls of the Guggenheim Bilbao while listening to the suggestively descriptive audio tour of the museum’s architecture. Her work is in severe reaction to established institutions.
[SLIDE: Sex Pistols collage and interview] In response to a political and social climate, musicians are also at the fore-front of the scene and able to start fires. The attitude is aggressive and the effect is immediate. From the use of collage to a subversive interview on the news. These guys knew exactly what they were doing. Challenging authority with such attitude and rather intelligently.
[SLIDE: Fluxus events] When the Fluxus movement took hold, the audience became the subject of the performance or happening. Highly art-directed chaos ensued: ten tickets were sold for the same seat, or the concert consisted of the ringing in your ears after your eardrums popped.
[SLIDE: Carol Christian Poell fashion show] Christian Poell rethinks context and situation in the presentation of his 2004 ready-to-wear collection in Milan. Along the banks throughout the city, spectators watched his collection float by. Forget front row VIP seating. A public space is invaded. And there’s a complete clash: the show is in the right place, it’s in Milan, but it’s in the wrong place, it’s in a river.
[SLIDE: Vanessa Beecroft] The performances that Vanessa Beecroft stages are uneasy encounters between models and audience. Each performance is made for a specific location.
The sensational often stems from the act of trespassing: whether it’s into a space, or a culture or simply into an artists life.
Autobiographical work has always seemed like a natural way for me to approach projects. Although sometimes I find it to be rather narcissistic or selfish, the ideas behind work in this vein have been able to remain fresh and exciting.
The relationship between the audience and the artist is more palpable and much more intimate.
[SLIDE: Sophie Calle] Sophie Calle’s work toys with aspects of her identity and her body with a more honest approach.
She’s not afraid to show the world her behaviors and habits.
The point of this kind of work, and the inherent problem, is that it becomes so hard to disassociate the artist from the work. But I actually find that quality in a body of work rather appealing.
[SLIDE: Bas Jan Ader] In Bas Jan Ader’s piece “I’m too Sad to Tell You,” the artist reveals an emotionally taxing film of him crying. There’s something so vulnerable about putting yourself through this state of mind. And it creates an uneasy rapport between us. Who is this person and why he he giving me access to something so personal?
[SLIDE: Cindy Sherman] Cindy Sherman embodies her work by dressing herself up and art-directing herself as both model and photographer. She creates hybrids of herself, identity mash-ups, or what I like to call, Monsters.
[SLIDES: Wajnarowicz] Masks also offer the potential to create freaky situations heavy with psychological implications and displacement.
[SLIDE: John Stezaker] Playing the same game, collage is a visual device that strikes a nerve and creates situations where vernaculars clash to create something new and bizarre.
John Stezaker’s fantastical creatures are beautiful, powerful and uneasy… yet they’re done with such economy, it’s crazy.
One move is all it takes.
[SLIDES: Kruger, M/M Paris] When combining type and image, the result can be equally as compelling. I have such a penchant towards creating and directing images that sometimes typography takes a back seat.
Does the sensational even exist in typography? I think it does: in the method and in the message.
Artists and designers such as Barbara Kruger (blatant typography with intense image), M/M Paris (an alphabet made up of supermodels) remind me that typography is just as strong and can have just as much presence and resonance as the image itself. And it can be beautiful.
[SLIDES: Nauman] When stripped to its bare essentials, things become very simple, allowing the message and the word play to be bold and direct.
[SLIDES: Sagmeister] Then someone like Mr. Sagmeister comes along and performs his graphic design. It creates this totally strange portrait of who he is, or who he thinks he is. So what happens when you put some form of performance and design together: do you become a self-promotional machine, a celebrity designer?
[SLIDE: Scratch and Sniff, Giovanni Anselmo] Sometimes it can feel like any of these devices air on the side of tricks and gimmicks. Yet to me, the power of form, the visceral and the simplest of gestures are undeniably magnetic.
So to wrap it all up:
To something as simple as a scratch n’ sniff sticker sheet to an artist confronting the world in complete surrender, art that wants to be sensational will get attention one way or another.
Yet I can’t help but wonder if shock still exists? Was any of this shocking? And whether or not performance and design can inhabit the same space. Design always seems to be about the object, the product. So what happens when it becomes about people or when it becomes an actions, an attitude? What happens when it moves us?
I love the push and pull of the work that I presented to you and I crave that tension and presence my work.
I can’t help but make work that is very personal and that challenges me. Maybe it’s a French thing?
It’s natural and vital and it can’t wait. It’s right here, and right now.
No guts, no glory.
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Hey guys, here is a really quick reaction that generalizes across all of your letters. I think they are all good starts and in some cases very good. More about your individual letters in a bit.
I would like to issue you a challenge, something to think about between now and the start of the semester. You have all chosen to reduce your thesises, at least in one formulation, basically to single words (seeing, save!, redirection, reveal, recombine, the in-between).
You can keep those single-word monikers in reserve, but I don’t know if they are so useful as devices on their own (possible past wisdom notwithstanding), because they privilege the metaphorical and tend to use language in a slippery, unintentionally superficial way (note that these are all great names for bands). For example, do you intend all possible meanings of “reveal”, or only some of them, or do you also intend meanings for which the word “reveal” is really only a metaphor. This is only a question of clear speaking, not (for the moment) a critique of the actual ideas and plans which are fleshed out in the bodies of your letters.
So the challenge is, can you describe your thesis () in a way which is usefully succinct (an “elevator pitch”?), yet more communicative and meaningful than a word. To use Nick’s example again, I like a lot at the end when he states his plan to “reveal camouflaged iconographic informative propaganda.” That’s a pretty clear and qualitative evocation of a possible year’s practice, and if at the moment it’s a little rough, self-contradictory and/or crazy, that seems ok on August 10.
Comments welcome, feel free to use this page (or link to your own pages or other pages you create) for notes or images, or use our list.
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AUGUST 18: SUMMER LETTER REPLIES
Ok it’s settled Tschichold, no mules, only zeedonks! And yes you can do your thesis by “using several pinecones to act as ad hoc grenades / land mines.” I wonder if jazz would describe your project as well as or better than the word “recombine.” Maybe not, but it might get at the qualities of experimentation, play, surprise, or undermining/tweaking dominant systems, that are evident – along with recombinant algorithms per se – in most of your references so far; even in Jane Jacobs and even in Sol Lewitt maybe. At Duchamp’s 120th birthday party a few weeks ago (he is definitely a good person for you to look into.. and not only for the obviously relevant readymades, but for his other art as well.. and not only for his art, but for his involvement with chess), Will Holder showed a movie that was a collaboration between the jazz musician Roland Kirk and John Cage. The triangle between those three figures (Duchamp, Cage, Kirk) could be a good one for you to draw as well. Where does the idea of “pop” (pop music, pop culture) fit in to your project? Coltrane or Roland Kirk would be in good positions to answer that. Finally, the idea of grafting a new, possibly oppositional skin onto a separately-built or pre-existing superstructure is a powerful one that has obvious practicality for the production by you of design in print or online; and if it’s a potentially New Wave and well-trodden approach, it also has a lot of relevance to contemporary software frameworks. For what it’s worth in this informal context, your writing throughout is very good and clear. As a challenge, I’d like to see your writing get even more specific as you go along this year, replacing what are now crisp but still essentially declarative adjectives, with anecdotes or critical stories.. using language in a way that privileges showing over telling.
I think this is an ok start & fine place to be for now. I love that several of the images really seem to come from you, or to have a kind of specificity and depth to them that can repay repeated scrutiny by you or others. I think this is happening when the image’s use to you is in its qualities rather than only in what it stands for. And I think it would be good for you to go a little deeper into what are the various qualities you’re attracted to in these images. Yes the Richard Koenig picture is about deception, but isn’t it the ghostliness that’s great. Yes the Gao Brothers image is about freedom, but isn’t it the use of absurdity, the surreal, or uncomfortable juxtaposition that enables this assertion. In that way you build a collection of tactics which can start to comprise a specific and evocative plan for your own practice this year. Meanwhile, let’s continue to talk about what your goals are for that practice. I like the idea of a dialectic between content and method; eventually that might come to seem overly broad, or at least would need more intensity applied to it so that it’s very clear what ways of design you are rejecting as well as what ones you’re undertaking.
This improved for me a bit compared to our previous discussions. I think it’s useful that you are now making more clear that reveal is specifically a transitive verb, an action that you take on something, which is chosen in comparison to other possible actions. That transitive/transformative quality of the action implies a tension that you’re invested in: a tension with the previously hidden (and maybe soon to be hidden again). I think a dialectic like that can work, and you’ve begun to flesh it out in an intelligent way. As with Roxane, a next step should be to begin translating this overall goal ( e.g. revealing camouflaged iconographic informative propaganda, not that that should necessarily be your final formulation) into a series of possible visual stratagems: to turn this statement of interest or investment into a plan for the year.
I think there are a lot of places this can go and I’m quite excited about the possibilities. I think you’re right to emphasize the importance of bringing scavenged material and techniques into the present, since that’s where you live. I love that you’ve spoken so qualitatively about your project: it should be so! hot!, it could sound like DJ Shadow, feel like TV Carnage, Mad Max, or Boing Boing. Those things really made me hear and feel what you’re about, which is a great tactic of yours (and not coincidentally, an economical one).
A challenge you’ve identified will be to bring this project into the present. That is something that DJ Shadow has done maybe better than Boing Boing in my opinion (DJ Shadow: channeling a connection with his antecedents so he can build something radically new; Boing Boing: occasionally a bit too in love with indexical marks of the past?); or where the Norwegian underwear maker has one up on Mark Dion (underwear: useful; cabinet: curious). For a practitioner, I think there is a hierarchy of values which ought to privilege moving forward and reaching out. The thesis you’re describing is absolutely about that, but I think it could be enlightening to specify your project to the point where it is oriented toward building the explicitly new out of the salvaged, reorganized and opportunistically reconsidered materials and techniques of the past and present – rather than possibly oriented toward redemption. Thinking a bit about the cultural history of the American South now- Faulkner would be an interesting person to read, on the subject of the fine line between those two positions.
I was skeptical of leaning so heavily on the word “Save” as a battle cry in the third and fourth paragraphs – the wordplay made me lose track of the meanings. There is a bit from some writing of Saskia Sassen that I always liked, where she talks about the need for global capital to “come to ground” at various points. For example, no matter how mobile or virtual CitiBank might like their assets to be, they still need to build massive complexes in various locales in order to do the data processing. That inevitably leads to physical waste, so that even the most modern commercial strategies lead to opportunities for bottom feeders like yourself. Paul Elliman told me once, I don’t know if it’s true, that he picks up most of his “Bits” letters riding near highway on-ramps on his bicycle; they fall off of cars during the vibration at moments of transition.
Moving forward, I’m pretty sure the single word “redirection” is too vague as language to be useful for your purpose. A productive exercise can be to work on unpacking and rephrasing that title. In any case, I think your underlying idea is going to work, maybe with a little specification/clarification during the semester.
The tactics you do hit upon in the letter itself strike me as possibly too narrow… Although maybe it is actually the right beginning. For me your sharper writing is in the bibliography notes, which is where I think you delimit your project the most clearly and fruitfully.
The tactical repurposing of genre or situation is definitely an interesting, clear, useful, and somewhat modern way to look at this group of work and many others. And there is some really good stuff here and in the images, that can repay a lot of study (Cerebus, Norman Rockwell, Bosch..).
Here is a challenge to consider between now and the slide presentation. Most practitioners working in the way you describe, and many of the examples you site, limit themselves to just one or two genres. It’s their deep involvement in their respective genres – and even their very license in the world as the preeminent practitioner of their genre, as you hint at with Norman Rockwell – that enables them to act subversively. Gerhard Richter might be an interesting exception to look into (someone who seems to skate across a great many genres). How do you turn what you’ve written into a practical and open-ended approach for yourself, one person who presumably can’t encompass the range of maneuvers in the work you admire unless you sacrifice depth. And how do you develop that approach in a way which is fruitful and inspirational to you, while still allowing openness and fluidity in your work as a graphic designer.
This is a good start. For me the best moments are when you talk in some unique ways about qualities in the work you’ve selected, such as the irritating aspect of the paper that won’t fall over, resignation or predictability in Jas Ban Ader’s performances, hilarity in self-inflicted exposure to dangerous conditions, arrogance in a simplistic beauty. “The in-between” is I think an unnecessarily metaphorical formulation since you’re looking for a productive strategy, not a place. But I think there’s a lot of sense in the proposition that transitive, aleatory/unstable, or partly unmoored tactics in production can lead to newly realized truths. So I think the best aspects of your writing are when you start to get at how that process of realization can work.
Right now I’m not sure it’s useful for me to suggest people to look at- there are obviously a lot and the important thing is for you to identify qualities and travelers that are specifically useful or allied to you. A parallel next step may be for you to start work on a list of stratagems that you may want to pursue this year: methods of hacking that may lead to the kinds of things you want to achieve as a trickster practitioner (if that’s a valid way to put it).
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