Blogs The Gradient

Widening the Scope: On Intangibility, Embodiment, and Ephemerality

On March 17, the Walker’s design director Emmet Byrne and shop director Michele Tobin released Intangibles, an online collection of intangible products/artworks created by artists and designers. We asked Marvin Lin, editor-in-chief of  music blog Tiny Mix Tapes, to respond to the collection.  — Much of our lives revolve around intangibility, including our consumption of […]

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On March 17, the Walker’s design director Emmet Byrne and shop director Michele Tobin released Intangibles, an online collection of intangible products/artworks created by artists and designers. We asked Marvin Lin, editor-in-chief of  music blog Tiny Mix Tapes, to respond to the collection. 

Much of our lives revolve around intangibility, including our consumption of art. From live performances to museum visits, value is often placed on the experience of art, not on the physical and material components that make much of it possible. But how we value intangibility is tricky in certain contexts. During the Baltimore protests, the racism and injustice that led to the looting of material objects and the destruction of property were considered intangible concepts to those on the periphery, but tangible realities to those who experience them through material loss and economic disparity. Or consider the problematizing role that technology plays in making us increasingly more comfortable with intangible experiences yet complicating how we assign value to them: What leads us to favor a newly purchased vinyl album over a folder of MP3s, despite the latter getting more play? Or what about the difference in value between a conversation over coffee and that same conversation online?

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The Walker’s new online collection further destabilizes our valuations of intangibility by shifting the context. Instead of just peddling the usual wares — generally speaking, objects that can be held — the Walker’s online shop page is now also selling what it calls Intangibles, a multidisciplinary collection of art/products whose primary purpose is to call attention to their intangibility. So instead of retro drinking glasses and billfolds, we have a ZIP file and disappearing photographs; instead of stamp sets and watches, we have burning paper and a screening for a film that has yet to be made.

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The concept of intangibility unifies the collection, but what it means to be “intangible” is immediately put into question by the artists. In a time when digitizing is eroding both our bodies and our traditional sociopolitical contexts, several of the works from Intangibles aim to re-embody experiences whose tangible forms have been altered, de-emphasized, or made obsolescent. These works range from being incredibly involved (BodyCartography Project offers 25 “performance interventions” in which an artist will meet its buyer in a public space at an agreed-upon time and perform a dance) to incredibly simplified (K-HOLE is selling a champagne cocktail with an uncirculated mint penny dropped inside, topped with prosecco), but all speak to this reclamation of tangible, bodily experience as understood through spatial orientation, a compensation for a physicality that we’ve been slowly forfeiting to the data stream.

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Other Intangibles meet this displacement by challenging our very concept of material existence. So we have works like Suburban Seastead by Andreas Angelidakis, who is selling digital property on the online virtual world Second Life for 1 million Linden dollars ($3,986.12), and Anonymous Fantasy Online Identity by Metahaven, who, for $299 more, could create a visual online identity to use when you enter your new virtual home for the first time. While these artists are ostensibly designing virtual lives, there are material implications to avatar construction and digital renderings: being an image on screen is also being a node in a network, which involves hard-drive space and bandwidth limitations, data centers and power grids, racks and cooling fans, cables and wires burrowed in our soil. So, when artists offer PDFs (Claire Evans), voicemails (Martine Syms), apps (David Reinfurt), and JPGs (Boym Partners), they’re also inexplicably roping in a complex network of technologies that enable their very transmission and reception, acting much like containers for intellectual property (which is, incidentally, one of the most widely accepted forms of intangibility).

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But any serious examination into intangibility also implicates temporality, so it’s no surprise that many of the artists explore art’s relationship with time. And what better way than through music? Composer Nico Muhly, for instance, wrote 12 ringtones for 12 separate buyers, but his sold-out piece — titled Canonical Tones — wasn’t complete until each ringtone was installed and played by each consumer. Another music-based example comes from CFCF, whose Targeted includes selling micro-jingles and Instagram soundtrack music. But perhaps the most ephemeral experience goes to photographer Alec Soth’s Disappear With Me (also sold out), which involved sending 25 original photos to each buyer through Snapchat, a mobile messaging app that automatically deletes photos and videos after being viewed. The piece is most significant, however, not because of its intangibility, but because of its inherent fleeting nature, becoming Soth’s way of not only aestheticizing a communication tool, but also adding value to time itself. The ephemerality of Disappear With Me was really Soth’s way of enhancing the ephemerality of the buyer’s own experience, where it’s less about the rarity of the artwork and more about the transience of the transaction. In other words, tangibility, in this context, becomes a question not about whether you can touch the art, but for how long it can be consumed.

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This general uneasiness over ephemerality — an obvious consequence of a digital consciousness — manifests most clearly in anxieties about the future. While an antiquated stereotype of the artist portrays a tortured soul laboring over the creation of a great piece of art intended to “withstand the test of time,” the artists here are often resisting that egotistical desire to project themselves or their artwork into the future. In fact, some of these Intangibles are interesting not because they disengage from the future, but because they are about the future itself: Claire L. Evans’s FutureAbstract tailors PDF summaries of science fiction books to your “most relevant future” (determined through an online quiz), while Julian Bleecker and Near Future Laboratory’s Design Fiction Services allows buyers to customize their own future through an audacious variety of options (ranging from a Quick Start Guide to something that doesn’t yet exist to a “Wikipedia-esque History of a Fictional Company Related To Your Idea”).

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The absurdity with which these artists approach the future speaks in part to the idea that all art, regardless of definition, is ephemeral. From an audience’s perspective, art has never been a solely tangible experience anyway; we’re not meant to “touch” paintings in order to experience them, and any materials used to create so-called tangible art won’t last forever — thus, making all art inherently time-based.

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But there’s a reason why Intangibles is billed as a shop of products without physical form. By using the shopping platform to exaggerate the conceptual dissonance, Intangibles is able to depict the modern consumer experience in an artistic manner, to re-fetishize scarcity and entrepreneurship in an otherwise overbearing free market, to disrupt the internalized values that we assign to actual tangible products. But beyond complicating these tenuous market relationships, beyond expanding what it means to be an artist in a digital world, beyond asking challenging questions about our differing values of art and commerce, what we also end up with is a subversion of the very idea of intangibility: Through their emphasis on “making impressions” rather than “leaving imprints,” the works in Intangibles allow us to rethink our bias toward physical objects and re-envision our aesthetics on a grander timeline, offering lateral pathways that cut through the level of tangibility and place us on new timescales altogether.

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After all, if you widen the temporal scope, everything starts becoming ephemeral — widen it a little bit more, and everything becomes intangible.

Marvin Lin is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor-in-chief of music webzine Tiny Mix Tapes. He has served as an editor for Pitchfork and the University of Minnesota’s alternative magazine The Wake, and authored the 33 1/3 book Radiohead’s Kid A. You can reach him at marvinylin@gmail.com and find some of his writing at tinymixtapes.com as “Mr P.”

 

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The Walker is Looking for a Senior Designer

We are looking for a passionate designer with excellent typographic skills interested in contemporary art, culture, publishing, and design to serve as one of two senior graphic designers in our studio. Is that you? If so, see the job description and application process here.

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We are looking for a passionate designer with excellent typographic skills interested in contemporary art, culture, publishing, and design to serve as one of two senior graphic designers in our studio. Is that you? If so, see the job description and application process here.

Superscript Successories

In a 2014 article about the trajectory and form of the design manifesto, Andrew Blauvelt and I wrote: The turn of the millennium also saw the rise of the lifestyle or motivational manifesto, which offers motivational aphorisms for daily life—bite-sized chunks of wisdom— a replicable formula for success. … [This] trend toward listicle arrangements of compact nuggets […]

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In a 2014 article about the trajectory and form of the design manifesto, Andrew Blauvelt and I wrote:

The turn of the millennium also saw the rise of the lifestyle or motivational manifesto, which offers motivational aphorisms for daily life—bite-sized chunks of wisdom— a replicable formula for success. … [This] trend toward listicle arrangements of compact nuggets of vaguely familiar phrases betrays an orientation toward today’s webcentric communication landscape, in which the number of buzz-worthy, hyperbolized statements seems calculated to increase the number of user clicks. We live in the age of the TED talk, subjected to the “relentless epiphanies” of speaker after speaker delivering their eighteen-minute takes on subjects that warrant much deeper conversation.

Our recent Superscript conference wasn’t a place where people came to firmly declare something. In fact, many of the speakers seemed more interested in a healthy deconstruction of the conference’s premise. But that didn’t mean that the speakers left without bestowing great, provocative wisdom upon us, which we happily consumed and regurgitated as context-less bits of Twitter fodder. The conference covered a broad range of topics relevant to online arts writing and publishing—complex topics, including the way information and opinions circulate online, how they become truncated, distorted, decontextualized, and misinterpreted through social media, and how they can ultimately create active dialogue through online communities. To help promote the live webcast of the conference we decided to take advantage of the typical conference behavior of tweeting sometimes pithy, sometimes inspirational quotes by the speakers—successories for the Pinterest generation—by creating visual quotes that circulated through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. They did what they were designed to do, increasing the visibility of the conference and its live webcast, though sometimes at the expense of the speaker’s original intent, sometimes to the displeasure of our online followers (I’m not sure if institutional trolling is a thing quite yet). Please do enjoy the full context of each quote above by clicking in to view a full video of each talk. Or browse all of the videos here.

 All visual quotes designed by Nani Albornoz.

Meet The Ventriloquist Summerschool tutors: Kristian Henson

On the weeks preceding the application deadline for The Ventriloquist Summerschool (remember, it’s July 1st), we’re running a series of weekly interviews, 5 questions each with the 4 tutors involved. The dynamic is (hopefully) simple: João (Doria) interviews Kristian (Henson); Kristina (Ketola Bore) interviews Laura (Pappa); Kristina interviews João; João interviews Kristina. Kristian Henson already left a trace […]

On the weeks preceding the application deadline for The Ventriloquist Summerschool (remember, it’s July 1st), we’re running a series of weekly interviews, 5 questions each with the 4 tutors involved. The dynamic is (hopefully) simple: João (Doria) interviews Kristian (Henson); Kristina (Ketola Bore) interviews Laura (Pappa); Kristina interviews João; João interviews Kristina.

The Office of Culture & Design / Hardworking Goodlooking

The Office of Culture & Design / Hardworking Goodlooking

Kristian Henson already left a trace on The Gradient when invited by Dante Carlos in the “2014: The Year According to ————” post series. Together with his partner at The Office of Culture and Design and its editorial house Hardworking Goodlooking — Clara Lobregat Balaguer — they presented a rich list of noteworthy ideas, events and objects encountered in 2014.

Today’s questions, though, are mostly framed through pulling from personal impressions I got (and kept) when meeting him for the first time (again, through Dante). Shortly, Kristian hosted me for a few days when I traveled to New Haven in 2012 for my MFA interview and we kept in touch since then.

When putting together the ideas for The Ventriloquist Summerschool with Kristina, I thought of inviting Kristian as one of the tutors since I still see too little disconnect between who he is as a person and how he performs his own work and ideas, plus a critical interest on matters of cultural colonization (a combination I judge to be quite central to the discussions we’re aiming to raise and work on this coming summer in Oslo).

——

In Darkness, Hardworking Goodlooking 2014

In Darkness, Hardworking Goodlooking 2014

Filipino Folk Foundry (FFF), Hardworking Goodlooking 2014

Filipino Folk Foundry (FFF), Hardworking Goodlooking 2014

João Doria: Kris, let’s talk about center and periphery.

Kristian Henson: For me “center” describes a popular mainstream or a definition of a system with an ordered hierarchy and “periphery” is a subculture, an underground, or the overlooked margin of society. The two must exist together, with the periphery being the element that recalibrates the center forward, and the center being the element that is the ground on which the periphery can run around, disrupt or hack. Without the center there is no periphery, and vice-versa.

In my work I placed myself in the periphery willingly. In the periphery there is actual space to work, things to change and outcomes are unknown. The Office of Culture and Design and Hardworking Goodlooking addresses the margin through different channels, strategies and platforms. Sometimes this requires working with rural art spaces, planning indigenous food events, meeting with local anarchist activists, attending a round table of contemporary artists or maybe teach a workshop in Oslo. I’d like to think my work is in service to the periphery, to foster self-representation and give the marginal a voice.

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JD: Let’s also talk about voice and representativity.

KH: Voice and representation are very important to me. Often I believe that voice is something many people feel is reserved for the realm of art. However I feel that is a huge oversight and a limited mode of thinking.

Inside all notions of industry, technology, politics, economy, and culture is something humanistic in one form or another. As humans we are the catalyst that set things into action. Everything we make from the eccentric to the functional echoes its maker both knowing and unknowingly. The structure of a building, the wire frame of a website, the steps of a dance routine, the contours on a bottle of shampoo all have an author. Formal, sensual and psychological footprints which map our origins, intentions, motivations can be found even in the most banal of objects. It is clear that in order to live and work with intention we must start by looking at our footsteps and understanding our voice. Intention will only equate to better work and outcomes.

My work with The OCD on one end is a means to define my own voice and work with intention but on the other end a means to help study the voice of contemporary Filipino art and visual culture. Without going too deep into Post-Colonial, Neoliberalist or Globalization theory, for a long time The Philippines and other “developing” cultures with parallel histories allowed outside elements to dictate our voices for us. In our attempt to decolonize I find it critical to invest in projects of self-representation in order to write our own histories and leave behind a body of research for the future to build upon.

Hunt & Gather, Terraria, Wawi Navaroza, Hardworking Goodlooking 2014

Hunt & Gather, Terraria, Wawi Navaroza, Hardworking Goodlooking 2014

Nowhere, Kristian Henson Unpublished Thesis Work at Yale School of Art, 2011

Nowhere, Kristian Henson Unpublished Thesis Work at Yale School of Art, 2011

Untitled (marbled paper), Kristian Henson

Untitled (marbled paper), Kristian Henson

JD: Tell me a bit about the framework you set for yourself to keep things going. It wasn’t like that since day 1, was it?

KH: My “framework” came organically, charting a general direction or field but allowing the work itself to grow on its own terms. I think its important to deeply understand how you work but not necessarily control all outcomes. Lately, I’ve been trying to reference back to my earnest study and interest in Zen (Nothingness) and Wabi-Sabi (The beauty of the imperfect) when describing my design perspective. Allow me for a moment to have some fun and get a little hippie right now – it’ll make sense I promise.

In Zen there is a dialectic that I like between control and decontrol, an essential paradox. In this system of thinking it is most optimal to reach neither end of the spectrum in order to be both at the same time, creating a balance of nothingness (this is fairly obvious). However, since we live in societies built on control, more emphasis must be made on decontrol, letting things go, allowing for imperfection and embracing chaos. Chaos not like the fuzz of an electric punk guitar (actually maybe), but more like the way water falls from a fountain into a glass.

All of that is to say that my “framework” tries to be fluid and adaptive. In urban anthropology this can be termed as fluidity or hybridity, the state in which boundaries are dissolved, identities melt and maps warp—a term that was created to address our current globalized and migratory reality. I find the concept of fluidity beautiful, it echoes Zen / Wabi-Sabi but in social science terms. I try to emulate fluidity by putting my work in positions that allow it to stay active and continue to move into more positions but allowing other people and places to warp my own process. I consider each publishing project as a node or hub that branches into more projects which will flow into new people and more places. The “framework” then can be described not a strict grid but more like a web, something that is adaptive and dynamic to the situation, environment and climate. By considering my work as a constellation of links my hope is that they collectively will speak in dialogue with one another which will create a new understanding or at the very least a landscape of its own.

The Office of Culture & Design, established 2010

The Office of Culture & Design, established 2010

Clara Lobregat Balaguer, shot by Geric Cruz 2014

Clara Lobregat Balaguer, shot by Geric Cruz 2014

JD: Now tell me about your friends.

KH: I love my friends, without them my practice wouldn’t be possible! I enjoy graphic design so much because it is inherently collaborative, it requires social interactions and outcomes rely on the relationships between parties.

When partnering with Clara Balaguer, founder of OCD and co-founder of HWGL, our informal network of friends overlaid in this very powerful way and this specific patchwork of intersecting collaborators strikes as a major character of the project. I also think our skill sets and philosophies compliment each other, sometimes it feels symbiotic-both independent and interdependent. We are based exactly 12 hours apart (Clara in Manila and myself in New York) or half the world away yet we operate this global operation by the most common but powerful tools of this age: skype, gmail, dropbox, whatapp, paypal .etc. The nature of our operation, you could also say, reflects the new potential of the globalize nature of friendships, collaborative partnerships and companies which are being formed in the contemporary “post-internet” space.

Without my partnership with Clara and her view points on social engagement, her extensive patient ground work in the Philippines and her wild humorous aesthetic tastes, I highly doubt the connections and revelations about my own work could be realized and so our friendship has been crucial in my practice and in my life.

Jim, Kara & Cynthia Henson in The San Fernando Valley circa 1976

Jim, Kara & Cynthia Henson in The San Fernando Valley circa 1976

Kevin Henson, detail of In Darkness, Hardworking Goodlooking 2014

Kevin Henson, detail of In Darkness, Hardworking Goodlooking 2014

In Darkness, Hardworking Goodlooking 2014

In Darkness, Hardworking Goodlooking 2014

JD: Last question, still on the same line of thought: tell me about your family.

KH: Family is very important. Being a product of the Filipino diaspora, it must always come back to family in one way or another. Your family is this small raft in which learn about yourself. Growing up in suburban Los Angeles feeling alien, having an identity crisis, finding home in marginal subcultures, handling sibling trauma, witnessing my family repatriate back to The Philippines—all adds subtext that informs my work. I have had many very unique life experiences through my family, we were by no means a prototype, yet it falls part and parcel with a shared broader cultural experience.

My overall feeling is that by grasping onto our own personal peculiarities and narratives, deep rich resources such as our family, conversely open a lens to larger connected human issues if only we allow ourselves to be specific and true to ourselves.

Call for Applicants: The Ventriloquist Summerschool

APPLICATION DEADLINE: Jul 1, 2015 This summer from the 10-15th of August The Ventriloquist Summerschool will happen in Oslo. It is Norway’s first design summer school and welcomes students and professionals from both design and all other creative fields. The Ventriloquist Summerschool will look at how and why designers speak through their own creations. What […]

Maypole Dance at Central Park, New York

APPLICATION DEADLINE: Jul 1, 2015

This summer from the 10-15th of August The Ventriloquist Summerschool will happen in Oslo. It is Norway’s first design summer school and welcomes students and professionals from both design and all other creative fields.

The Ventriloquist Summerschool will look at how and why designers speak through their own creations. What can it mean to use one’s own voice, regardless of the arena of action? What is the difference between speaking personally and professionally? The participants will get space, time and infrastructure to develop their own projects so the discussion can happen through the work itself.

Organized by João Doria (NO/BRA), graphic designer, and Kristina Ketola Bore (NO), design writer – they are joined by Laura Pappa (EE/NL) and Kristian Henson (US) in teaching four workshops that will run parallel throughout the week. The participants will be asked to choose one, which is headed by one of four tutors. During the week three guest critics from diverse fields will also come in to talk about their practice and what role ventriloquism’s metaphor plays in their profession.

The Summerschool is open for anyone of any age, studying or working within design, the arts and all other creative fields. Applications are welcomed from all over the world – both from students and professionals.

The school is free of charge, but participants must apply for the 32 places available through the application form on the website.

http://the.ventriloqui.st/summerschool/

The Ventriloquist Summerschool is made possible by a Grafill stipend.

Kevin Lynch: Overlay drawn for “Composite Photo Identification Map: JJ.” Documentation created as part of the Perceptual Form of the City, a research project investigating the individual’s perception of the urban landscape.

TUTORS

Kristian Henson (1981) is a New York based designer and publisher. After receiving his MFA from Yale School of Art in 2012, he continued his research and extended his design practice by actively collaborating with artists and institutions in The Philippines through The Office for Culture and Design and its editorial branch, Hardworking Goodlooking.

Laura Pappa (1988) is a freelance graphic designer based in Amsterdam. She has graduated from the Estonian Academy of Arts in Tallinn, Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam and Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem. Since 2014 she has been the coordinator of the Critical Studies masters programme at the Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam.

Kristina Ketola Bore (1986) holds an MA in Design Writing Criticism from London College of Communication. She works as a design writer and critic, editor and is a partner in the publishing house Particular Facts. Some of the places she has lectured include Bergen Academy of the Arts, Oslo National Academy of the Arts, NTNU and the Estonian Academy of the Arts.

João Doria (1982) holds an MFA in Graphic Design from Yale University School of Art. He’s a Brazilian graphic designer based in Oslo, Norway and has taught, exhibited and received awards in countries such as Brasil, France, Germany, Norway and the USA. In 2015 he has, so far, exhibited at It’s a Book (HGB-Leipzig, DE) and at the 26th International Poster Competition (Chaumont, FRA).

Call for Applicants: The Walker Art Center Mildred Friedman Design Fellowship 2015–2016

Design Fellowship 2015–2016 DEADLINE EXTENDED TO JUNE 4 If you have experienced problems e-mailing your portfolio to us, please send a note to emmet.byrne@walkerart.org. The Walker is pleased to announce that its 2015–16 Mildred Friedman Design Fellowship is now open for application. Since 1980, the Walker’s Design department has maintained a graphic design fellowship program that […]

Design

Fellowship

2015–2016

DEADLINE EXTENDED TO JUNE 4

If you have experienced problems e-mailing your portfolio to us, please send a note to emmet.byrne@walkerart.org.

The Walker is pleased to announce that its 2015–16 Mildred Friedman Design Fellowship is now open for application.

Since 1980, the Walker’s Design department has maintained a graphic design fellowship program that provides recent graduates the opportunity to work in a professional design studio environment. Selected from a highly competitive pool of applicants, fellows come from graphic design programs throughout the United States and abroad representing a diverse range of design programs, such as Art Center College of Design, California Institute of the Arts, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Eastern Michigan University, Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, NC State University, Rhode Island School of Design, Royal College of Art, Werkplaats Typografie, and Yale University, among many others.

What we are looking for:

Ideal candidates will be firmly grounded in visual design principles and the print design process with some experience in interaction design. In addition to print-based projects such as exhibition identities, wayfinding, and collateral materials, this year’s fellow will also work on select online publishing initiatives. The fellow will join an accomplished team of professionals known for creating industry-leading work. Immersed in the Design department, which includes Editorial, Photography, and Videography, fellows gain a deeper understanding of design, work on projects with rich, interesting content, and are expected to produce work to the highest standards of design excellence. See samples of previous fellow’s work here and in this video highlighting 75 years of Walker design. The fellows will also be key contributors to the Design department’s blog, The Gradient—so an interest in the discourse of graphic design and contemporary culture is highly desirable. Fellows are salaried, full-time employees and are involved in all aspects of the design process, including client meetings and presentations through production and development. DURATION OF FELLOWSHIP: August 1, 2015 – July 31, 2016

How to apply:

For consideration, submit the following materials by PDF attachments only: 1. a letter of interest; 2. a resume, including names and contact information of 3 references; 3. a PDF portfolio containing 8–10 examples of graphic design work (total file size can be no larger than 19 MB, otherwise your file will be rejected). Email application packets to jobs@walkerart.org. If you do not receive an automatic confirmation of your application, please send another note to the same email address, without any attachments.

No phone calls please. For more information, visit our fellowship page.  Also check out the Walker’s job listing.

Some of our recent projects:

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👋 We’re looking forward to meeting you! 😗

The Uncollectibles: Andrew Blauvelt on Minnesota by Design

When Walker staff began planning the celebration of our 75th anniversary as a public art center, most discussions revolved around what could be done to feature the museum’s collections. This approach makes sense since the collection is what remains with an institution for the long term. What was interesting for me as a curator of […]

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Minnesota By Design, a virtual collection exploring the state’s rich design landscape

When Walker staff began planning the celebration of our 75th anniversary as a public art center, most discussions revolved around what could be done to feature the museum’s collections. This approach makes sense since the collection is what remains with an institution for the long term. What was interesting for me as a curator of architecture and design is that the Walker does not have a specific collection in this area. This will probably come as a surprise for many people since the Walker has been presenting architecture and design since 1940—it was a founding discipline within the art center. Of course, there are a few design artifacts and works by architects and designers in our permanent collection—Frank Gehry’s Standing Fish, most publicly, for instance, or objects acquired from various exhibitions about design that the Walker has organized over the decades. The reasons for such an omission are varied, but this void within the Walker’s Collections remained seemingly insurmountable at least in the present context of an impending collections-based celebration of the institution.

Faced with this challenge, I reflected back on a project that was initially presented as part of a design history conference I organized in the late 1990s for the now-defunct American Center for Design in Chicago. Dubbed “ReMaking History,” it featured new takes on how history could be undertaken and presented, and was notable because most of its participants were themselves practitioner-historians—enthusiasts, educators, and designers who were often engaged in issues of history, theory, and criticism and who often operated within academic arenas. I recalled a project by Michael Rock, Susan Sellers, and Georgia Stout (now 2 x 4) in New York who proposed turning the city itself into a kind of open-air design museum. Branded the Museum of the Ordinary (MO) it called for various artifacts of design to be presented in-situ—seen as a part of everyday life and not removed from this context and placed in a museum vitrine. Being practitioners, they brilliantly illustrated the possible ways in which such objects could be “called out” in the environment in which they were essentially invisible as things worthy of a second look or even a second thought, such as a mobile advertising van that would pull a billboard through the streets welcoming visitors to the “museum,” or using the ubiquitous mesh construction scaffolding wrap, which could be printed with object label information about a chosen building—cloaking its appearance and thus drawing renewed attention to it. Although smaller scale iterations were undertaken, their larger scale vision has yet to be implemented.

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2 x 4, Museum of the Ordinary, proposal, 1997

The brilliance of what they proposed as the Museum of the Ordinary allowed for artifacts to remain where they were and in the context of their “useful” lives, but it also allowed for the inclusion of what I call “the uncollectibles”— landscapes that change over time, too vast to be expropriated by a museum; immovable buildings, too big to move; objects that by their nature are fugitive, ephemeral, perishable, or no longer extant; and largely immaterial things like services or concepts that do not exist as physical artifacts, or digital objects that live a precarious existence in terms of the future conservation requirements that collections require.

Another important predecessor to this project was one created in the summer of 1975 called Immovable Objects. It was created by Studio Works, a practice composed of architects Robert Mangurian and Craig Hodgetts and graphic designer Keith Godard, for the new Cooper-Hewitt, a design museum of the Smithsonian Institution in New York City scheduled to open in 1976. An “outdoor exhibition about city design” Immovable Objects took as its site lower Manhattan from Battery Park to the Brooklyn Bridge. Essentially annexing both the iconic buildings and more banal bits of infrastructure found in the area, Immovable Objects offered its visitors a walking tour of the city, facilitated by the production of an exhibition catalogue—in this case a newspaper complete with routes, building information, and essays on related topics, such as the evolution of architectural styles in lower Manhattan, the nature of public space in the city’s new plazas, or how zoning codes have shaped the city. The inaugural festivities included a parade whereby architects and designers chose their own or a favorite building to reimagine as a costume to engage passersby.

Michael Rock and Susan Sellers, 2 x 4, Museum of the Ordinary, proposal, 1997

Studio Works, Immovable Objects exhibition guide, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, 1975

Design museums (as well as contemporary art museums who faced some similar issues years ago) are tackling some of these challenges, trying to collect the uncollectible. Leading the way is Paola Antonelli at the Museum of Modern Art in New York who has been trying to “acquire” a 747 airplane, which would still be in service but might have, for instance, its acquisition number on the side of the plane. Those that have been to MoMA know they already own a helicopter, and, of course, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum routinely contends with such massive objects. However, the “live” nature of the object still flying from port to port takes it to a different level. Antonelli’s acquisition of the @ symbol pushes the boundaries of whether an object needs to have a definite or fixed form. Letterforms and characters by their nature exist independently of any particular typographic representation, so what was collected in this case was not a particular font but rather a piece of language, a graphical concept.

The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York recently acquired its first digital application, Planetary. This raises immediate questions of conservation, especially as the technical support structures that host such apps (operating systems, web browsers, programming code, etc.) evolve and change in the future. Interestingly, they placed the code for this app online at GitHub, where people can study it, but also add to it and help conserve it for the future—tending it much like open-source software. Museums have also been collecting other buildings, such as the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s purchase of Eero Saarinen’s mid-century modern masterpiece, the Irwin Miller residence in Columbus, Indiana, or closer to home, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts acquisition of the stunning Purcell-Cutts house a few miles away on Lake of the Isles.

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Detail of Minnesota By Design’s interactive map

In response to this context and these kinds of questions, we launched Minnesota by Design, a new online initiative that takes the form of a website to document the rich landscape of design across the state. The project seeks to increase public awareness of the human-built environment in Minnesota—its landscapes, buildings, products, and graphics, both past and present—and the role that design thinking and practice plays in its realization. This virtual collection has been seeded with some 100 designs that reflect exemplary instances of practical ingenuity, creative thinking, beautiful form-giving, social and cultural impact, and innovative uses of technology. We’ve included descriptive texts about each selection, like the kind you might find on the gallery wall in a museum exhibition. Taking advantage of its online nature and the fact that we are limited to Minnesota, we locate each project to the extent that is possible on a searchable map. Perhaps not surprisingly, this viewing mode reveals that the selections dominate in the surrounding metropolitan area of the Twin Cities. To help correct this location bias, we’ve added a nominations feature whereby users can offer suggestions for future additions to the collection. Users can also help us correct mistakes and diversify the selections across various categories—taking advantage of crowdsourcing at its best by drawing upon collective knowledge or simply having more eyes on the page and out in the world.

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The Minnesota By Design entry for masking tape, invented in 1925 by 3M’s Richard Drew

The virtual nature of this collection is also by design. By eschewing the object-centered nature of most museum collecting and its attendant issues of conservation and connoisseurship, the Walker is free to explore design without the normal barriers of the physical realm. In creating this virtual collection, we especially wish to include those works that cannot be collected in any practical way—for instance, a park or building due to its size or uniqueness. To these “uncollectible” examples, we have added an eclectic mix of artifacts that purposefully stretch the definition of design into perhaps less familiar areas such as food design, service design, and game design. This expansion of design belies the fact that such “new” genres were and remain integral to the Minnesota economy of food processing, retailing, healthcare, and recreational activity.

Minnesota by Design can be extended from its virtual hub to the real world. I can imagine such extensions of Minnesota by Design take the form of billboards or bus shelter ads or other outdoor media around the state to bring awareness to selected designs in all their iconic yet humble glory. Some such ads, by fate of their particular location, could point to nearby designs: “Exit 237 to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Only Gas Station.” One could easily imagine a smartphone app that uses geo-location sensing and augmented reality to allow visitors to “see” buildings and other things from a bygone era in the places where they once stood proud.

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Proposed Minnesota By Design billboard, featuring Henry Dreyfuss’s iconic thermostat

Minnesota by Design, in any of its forms, celebrates a place often recognized nationally for making an outsized contribution to the American design scene. Part of this influence is due to the varied ecology of the state’s design scene—a space composed of boutique firms and in-house studios of Fortune 500 companies, a resurgence of artisanal practices and post-industrial technologies, a long history of public and private sector progressive civic cooperation, and with it, the fostering of what we now call a creative class economy that tends to spawn innovation and entrepreneurial activity. While the design diversity of the state makes it hard to pin down any singular aesthetic or any dominant type of practice, its design output, albeit occasionally elusive to capture, is collectible—if not physically then virtually.

Insights 2015 Design Lecture Series

 Insights 2015 Tuesdays in March Insights is right around the corner and we have an amazing line up of designers coming to share the thinking, processes, and methods behind their work. We’re kicking off this year with a special evening that features both a talk and an exhibition opening celebrating Minnesota design. From there, we’ve got design […]

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 Insights 2015
Tuesdays in March

Insights is right around the corner and we have an amazing line up of designers coming to share the thinking, processes, and methods behind their work. We’re kicking off this year with a special evening that features both a talk and an exhibition opening celebrating Minnesota design. From there, we’ve got design legend April Greiman (Los Angeles), artist collective/trend forecasters K-HOLE (New York), experimental designer Bart de Baets (Amsterdam), and Design Fiction proponent, James Langdon (Liverpool).

If you can’t make it in person, please tune in to our live webcast on the Walker Channel and participate through Twitter. (#Insights2015)  Here’s a kit for educators, AIGA chapters, and anyone else who might want to throw their own viewing party.

 


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Minnesota Design: A Celebration (featuring Andrew Blauvelt)
March 3, 7 pm (tickets)

Insights 2015 kicks off with a unique two-part event celebrating Minnesota and its long-standing design legacy. The evening begins with a presentation by Andrew Blauvelt, Walker Art Center senior curator of design, research, and publishing, who will explore the Walker’s new web-based Minnesota design collection highlighting Minnesota’s diverse heritage across the design fields. From the world’s quietest room to the Honeycrisp apple, from the humble sticky note to the Prince logo, Blauvelt offers a crash course on what makes our region such a hotbed for innovation. The talk will be followed by the opening of MGDA/AIGA Minnesota: A History Exhibit, marking the history of the AIGA Minnesota chapter on the occasion of the AIGA’s 100th anniversary, curated by designer/educator/author Kolean Pitner and design director Mike Haug. On view will be fascinating ephemera, posters, and correspondence presenting the chapter’s 37-year history of helping businesses and the public understand the meaning and value of graphic design. Check out the exhibition and join us in celebrating our vibrant design community. At the opening party, free snacks will be provided and a cash bar will be available.

 

Wet-magazineasdfApril Greiman (LA)
March 10, 7 pm (tickets)

Through her Los Angeles–based studio Made in Space, visionary graphic designer and artist April Greiman has been creating vital work in a variety of media for more than 30 years. She helped pioneer the integration of technology and art as one of the first practitioners to explore the desktop computer’s creative potential, and her unique fusion of a postmodernist mentality with digital technology became emblematic of the “New Wave” design approach in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Her art direction (with Jayme Odgers) of Wet Magazine is a touchstone of this era, inspiring countless designers since its creation. Today, Greiman is known as an artist creating numerous multimedia works for both solo and group shows as well as commissions for public spaces. Her work has been featured in museums and galleries around the world, and has been covered by everyone from the New York Times andTime Magazine to ESPN and PBS. She received her advanced design education at the Basel School of Design, studying with Wolfgang Weingart and Armin Hoffman, among others. Previously, she served as the head of the design department at the California Institute of the Arts. Greiman has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the AIGA gold medal for lifetime achievement and honorary doctorates from Kansas City Art Institute, Lesley University, Academy of Art University, and Art Center College of Design. She is currently serving as faculty at both Woodbury University School of Architecture and the Southern California Institute of Architecture. Greiman’s groundbreaking 1986 issue of Design Quarterly (“Does it make sense?”) is currently on display in the Walker exhibition Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections.

 kholeK-HOLE (NY)
March 17, 7 pm (tickets)

 K-HOLE exists in multiple states at once: it is both a publication and a collective; it is both an artistic practice and a consulting firm; it is both critical and unapologetically earnest. Its five members come from backgrounds as varied as brand strategy, fine art, Web development, and fashion, and together they have released a series of fascinating PDF publications modeled upon corporate trend forecasting reports. These documents appropriate the visuals of PowerPoint, stock photography, and advertising and exploit the inherent poetry in the purposefully vague aphorisms of corporate brand-speak. Ultimately, K-HOLE aspires to utilize the language of trend forecasting to discuss sociopolitical topics in depth, exploring the capitalist landscape of advertising and marketing in a critical but un-ironic way. In the process, the group frequently coins new terms to articulate their ideas, such as “Youth Mode”: a term used to describe the prevalent attitude of youth culture that has been emancipated from any particular generation; the “Brand Anxiety Matrix”: a tool designed to help readers understand their conflicted relationships with the numerous brands that clutter their mental space on a daily basis; and “Normcore”: a term originally used to describe the desire not to differentiate oneself, which has since been mispopularized (by New York magazine) to describe the more specific act of dressing neutrally to avoid standing out. (In 2014, “Normcore” was named a runner-up by Oxford University Press for “Neologism of the Year.”) Since publishing K-HOLE, the collective has taken on a number of unique projects that reflect the manifold nature of their practice, from a consulting gig with a private equity firm to a collaboration with a fashion label resulting in their own line of deodorant. K-HOLE has been covered by a wide range of publications, including the New York Times, Fast Company, WiredUK, and Mousse.

 

 

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Bart de Baets (Amsterdam)
March 24, 7 pm (tickets)

Amsterdam-based Bart de Baets is a fierce formalist, an unrelenting experimenter who has developed a unique typographic attitude that has influenced designers around the world. His work spans the entire cultural sector for clients in the fields of art, music, performance, and film. A few of his clients include the Amsterdam club Paradiso, cultural centers such as W139, De Appel, AFK, and the New Institute, and film programs such as the Weight of Colour and A New Divide? De Baets is also known for his self-initiated projects, including Dark and Stormy, an ambiguous fanzine he publishes with Rustan Söderling featuring contributions from an international array of artists, and Success and Uncertainty, a poster series and publication made with Sandra Kassenaar during an artist residency in Cairo amid the chaos of 2011’s Arab Spring. Confronted with the reality of state-imposed curfews, the resignation of President Mubarak, and the politically charged environment, de Baets and Kassenaar were forced to explore their status as outsiders, questioning the relevance of their intentions—and in the process, creating beautiful and vital work. De Baets teaches graphic design at both the Gerrit Rietveld Academy (Amsterdam) and the Royal Academy of Arts (the Hague) and conducts workshops throughout Europe.


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James Langdon (Liverpool)
March 31, 7 pm (tickets)

The UK’s James Langdon has carved out a unique practice that fully integrates his design, editorial, and curatorial pursuits. As one of six directors of Eastside Projects—an artist-run exhibition space dedicated to promoting cultural growth in its home town of Birmingham, England—Langdon designs and edits many of the organization’s publications and is responsible for creating a series of experimental manuals that explore its mission through ideas as varied as urban renewal, adhocism, and public engagement. In 2013, Langdon founded the itinerant School for Design Fiction, working with students to investigate the storytelling inherent in the design process, the emotions embedded within an artifact, and the benefits of living in speculative worlds. As a curator, Langdon organized Arefin & Arefin: The Graphic Design of Tony Arefin, an exhibition celebrating the overlooked but highly influential British graphic designer; Book Show, exploring the form of the book; and a restaging of Norman Potter’s In:quest of Icarus at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. Langdon has been guest lecturer at schools around the world, including Werkplaats Typografie (Arnhem), Jan van Eyck Academie (Maastricht), and Konstfack (Stockholm). He is the recipient of the 2012 Inform International Award for Conceptual Design, presented by Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst, Germany.

 

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Insights 2015 identity designed by Nani Albornoz. Laser cutting provided by David W. Johanson and Park Grove Laser. Printing courtesy the Avery Group at Shapco Printing, Minneapolis.

Superscript: Arts Journalism and Criticism in a Digital Age

Tickets for the Walker/Mn Artists–organized conference Superscript, a look at “online art publishing’s present and possible futures,” go on sale in five days and we’re expecting them to sell out quickly. The conference features an amazing lineup of critics, artists, authors, and thinkers talking about a variety of artistic disciplines. Some talks I’m really looking forward […]

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Tickets for the Walker/Mn Artists–organized conference Superscript, a look at “online art publishing’s present and possible futures,” go on sale in five days and we’re expecting them to sell out quickly. The conference features an amazing lineup of critics, artists, authors, and thinkers talking about a variety of artistic disciplines. Some talks I’m really looking forward to: Claire Evans (of YACHT) discussing her position as “futures editor” at Vice‘s Terraform; artist James Bridle always brings an interesting take on the future of publishing (see the recent Artist Op-Ed he wrote for us); and Eugenia Bell diving into what has made Design Observer so successful over the years. Besides that we get to hear from people representing e-flux, Hyperallergic, Triple Canopy, Pitchfork, Rhizome, Buzzfeed, frieze, Creative Time Reports, LA Times, Temporary Art Review, and The New Inquiry. !!!

And because we’re doing it the Walker way, there will be some fun crossovers with our programming: two new film premieres commissioned by the Walker (by Moyra Davey and James Richards), a crowd-sourced criticism component to our International Pop exhibition, and some healthy supplemental online content including a series on this blog about design and content strategy.

Superscript identity by Dante Carlos. Website by Anthony Tran.

From Line to Point – ASSIGNMENTS IN DESIGN EDUCATION

Departing from the exhibition Taking a Line for a Walk (see pdf for further information), which was presented at last year’s 26th International Biennial of Graphic Design in Brno (CZ), we are developing a publication that focuses on the peripheral layer of language that runs neglected through the history of design education. A collection of contemporary […]

Departing from the exhibition Taking a Line for a Walk (see pdf for further information), which was presented at last year’s 26th International Biennial of Graphic Design in Brno (CZ), we are developing a publication that focuses on the peripheral layer of language that runs neglected through the history of design education. A collection of contemporary assignments will make up a key part of the book, and as such we hope it will become as comprehensive, varied, and international as possible. To insure just that, we would like to invite design educators from all corners of the world to share their assignments. We would be delighted to receive your contributions!

For more details and guidelines on the project and how to contribute download this pdf or get in touch with us via email.

Information on the exhibition Taking a Line for a Walk here.

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