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Modern Nostalgic Fantasies

The following text was originally published in Modern Nostalgic Fantasies, a collection of texts about politics, virtuality, and science-fiction and their relation to a graphic design practice. All texts were written by Raf Rennie during the completion of a two-year MFA in graphic design at Yale University. Rennie is a designer and writer from Toronto, now […]

The following text was originally published in Modern Nostalgic Fantasies, a collection of texts about politics, virtuality, and science-fiction and their relation to a graphic design practice. All texts were written by Raf Rennie during the completion of a two-year MFA in graphic design at Yale University.

Rennie is a designer and writer from Toronto, now based in New York. He currently serves as the designer/art director of Canadian art criticism magazine C Magazine and his previous work includes select projects for Scapegoat Journal, Serpentine Gallery, TBA21, and Metahaven.

A special thanks to Jan Horčík for his typeface Atlantic.

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His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

— Walter Benjamin, about Angelus Novus (1920) by Paul Klee



October 4th, 1957, Elementary Satellite 1, better known as Sputnik, broke through the barrier of our atmosphere to become the first object to originate from Earth and enter Space. The journey of Sputnik signified the end of one history of progress and the creation of a whole new one—Sputnik was a catalyst that introduced modernity to the world. I am speaking less of the means of modernity in this, than I am speaking of the space in which modernity is concerned—that, as an endlessly utopian project, is the future. Marked by its relentless order, modernity is the aim to draw rational responses to the zeitgeist and extrapolate them into a vision of the future, so we can, in present, begin to develop infrastructure to shape the future of civilization on this planet into a rational utopia. To think about the future is to be modern.

The Soviet Union was a massively modernist experiment that took over trying to structure a union of countries under a strictly rational system, that of communism. While the Soviet Union struggled to continue on, politically and economically, they managed to put together a space program and became the first nation to enter space. This was possible because the core of the Soviet project was an immense importance placed on the shaping of the future. From after, the Tsar was the image of the new Russia and with this the modern Soviet man. The Soviet Union believed that the joint project of technological advancement and exploration would become the economic and spiritual backbone that kept the union together and ahead of the rest of the world—especially ahead of the United States whom the Soviets where in a cold war with accelerating technological threats and shows of power. The future was the endgame for the new Russia.


Left: Russian science-fiction film The Sky Calls (1959), Right: SpaceX lands rocket on drone ship (2016)

So, the Soviet Union put Sputnik into space, showing the world they were literally and figuratively on a technological and raw powerful level above the rest of the world—though Sputnik means “fellow traveler”, it was a body of a ballistic missile, a tool of war. It was the punctum, the apex, of the Soviet Union’s futurist, modernist ideal. By being the first to enter a new unexplored terrain, the Soviet said to the world the future belonged to them. It was off this fear of losing the future to Russia, that the United States founded their own space program, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), on July 29th, 1958, nearly 11 months after Sputnik had made it to space. With NASA, the United States revitalized their modernist project that once kickstarted the American economy before the World Wars with the Industrial Age and Fordist manufacturing and economics. Thusly, the Soviet Union spread modernity back into the United States, sparking what would be considered Late Modernity. Over the next few decades the Soviet Union and the United States raced their advancing space programs aiming to be the first to put man on the moon. This space race had many implications for the nations as world superpowers, enemies, and the eventual outcome of the Cold War. However, there was a side effect of this race, the massively accelerated invention of new technologies. This acceleration drove the American economy for those decades as subsequent technologies and advancements came from the research and work being done at NASA. NASA put together a sub-part of their association called the Technology Transfer Program to showcase and explore practical applications of the strides being made when aiming for the moon. New inventions were catalogued in an annual report called NASA Spinoffs and introduced; freeze-dried food, infrared thermometers, heart monitors, LED lights, artificial limbs, and much more. These technologies fed into the American dream of the future, from this rapid growth in technology artists, designers, manufactures, all started to imagine an American future. DisneyWorld built the “World of the Future” amusement park, designers like Ray and Charles Eames showcased America’s technological utopianism at the World’s Fair, manufacturers pushed ideas of the homes, the food, the car of the future. Dreaming about the future became the galvanizing force of the whole American economy—America became modern.


The overlay of Modernity

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July 20th, 1969, just shy of 11 years after the founding of NASA, the space mission Apollo 11 brings the first men to the moon. America’s race with the Soviets was over, the new frontier was won by the United States. The modernism passed on by the Soviet Union found a better system for itself and flourished past the Soviet communist ideal. Forward-thinking became the mantra of the “American way”, which pushed their industries and economy into unprecedented production and wealth, spurred by an unbound hubris that America could achieve anything. Through new technological breakthroughs and abundance new products would fuel American commerce while industry used the latest manufacturing technologies, or took advantage of a new age of globalization, to maximize their returns. Here began that period of Late Modernism, the utopian future thinking, joined with American style capitalism to thrive in the existence of emerging mega-corporations that saw themselves as the tools to create a new future.


“We are ready and willing to ignite just born too late.” — Peter de Potter

As America continued in a Cold War with the Soviet Union and a hot war in Vietnam, the political left found this new American hubris to be a dangerous flag to fly. The American economy, driven by technological advancement and superiority, had led to the boom of a major thriving industry, the military-industrial complex. Corporations that lauded themselves as the builders of a better future worked with the American government and military, and their quick growth and globalization posed a threat of the exporting of American idealism and capitalism. In such, the left took opposition to this mantra of the American-way and therefore took up opposition to the future project of Modernism. As philosopher Simon Critchley put it, “we have to resist the idea and ideology of the future, which is always the ultimate trump card of capitalist ideas of progress.” The future was modern, the future was therefore capitalist, and to build a world outside of capitalism the people had to stop thinking about the future and start dealing with the reality of the present day. This thinking ushered in a movement of post-modernism, an ideology that aimed to reject the utopian promises of late modernism and remove the glossy veneer it had coated prevalent thinking with. Across America spread the notion that, in the mists of wars and a plateauing economy, spending federal money on missions to the moon was a frivolous vanity project, that was no longer needed as the United States had already claimed the moon and beaten the Soviet Union in the space race. Under growing pressure and economic difficulties, NASA’s budget was cut drastically. The last manned mission to the moon took place in December 1972 and no person has gone to the moon since.


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With the end of the manned missions, NASA’s missions switched from the near frontier of our own satellite to the exploration of deep space. The late 80s and 90s usher an age of probes, telescopes, and rovers, tools that no longer focused on the immediate but set out to explore the vastness of the universe. What led was the discovery of whole new worlds and planets outside of our solar system. From being taught in schools there are nine planets we have come to learn there are solely nine in our solar system, elsewhere, in hundreds of other solar systems exist thousands of other planets, some much like our Earth—these planets are given the name “exoplanets.” As the changing thought and politics of the time seemed to push NASA aside in favour of focusing on our world, our countries, and local, tangible issues, NASA pushed back the other way, instead of looking at the local and at hand, to the very distant and unreachable. In 2004, NASA constructed the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) to search deep space for new Earth-like planets—it has discovered 130 planets, a small part of the over two thousand known exoplanets in our universe. With the discovery of whole other possible worlds, solar systems, and possibly lives, Earth becomes decentralized in our understanding of the Universe.


Construction of the James Webb Telescope, NASA’s new deep space telescope set to launch October 2018

Modernism, which looked to a singular whole, and post-modernism, which looked to act upon the present, both were eclipsed by the decentralizing of Earth within the universe. The Earth now was neither a totality, just a singularity in a vast cosmos, a planet that seems as a small pale blue dot in the night sky of another planet. Semantically, the human race no longer were the sole authors of the cosmological reality, but perhaps just a subjectivity in relation to 2,000 other planet’s realities. This model of thinking is shared, within the same vein, as the basis of an ideological, that is a predecessor to post-modernism, known as post-structuralism. Post-structuralism is an ideology that rejects singular narrative by rejecting the author as the sole authority or voice, it aims to seek out the peripheral to decentralize an idea from a singular subjectivity. The discovery of exoplanets does so on a, literally, universal scale—and such was the argument made by NASA. By exploring outwards, deep space, distant planets, dying stars, we could learn more about our own planet and existence than we could from an archeology of Earth.

Post-structuralism ushered in a model of thinking where subjectivity is everything, denying the notions of “objectivity” and “rationality” presented by modernism on the grounds that they were de-fined under a euro-centric, masculine, paradigm. Post-structuralism stands on two tendons, the first being Foucaultian anthropologies of all the standing structures we see governing in the world. The second, being more confusion, not listening to singular narratives or the belief in non-bias media, but an openness to varying voices and the proliferation of the minority’s voice, in order to disrupt any attempt at the creation of hegemonic structures.

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In the time of Late Modernism progress—societal and economic—was created through the aims of a singular goal. For everyone to work towards this goal they must understand each other as part of a whole, Modernism was a structure that was used to encapsulate nations and move them towards this goal. However, with emergence of Post-Structuralist thinking, the ability to maintain a super-structure is becoming challenging. The structure of Late Modernism no longer fits the public as the minority has come to view themselves in the position of being parts within the structure but not of the struct-ure, therefore they reject the goals of the structure. If the notions of progress and capitalism that Late Modernism proliferated and replicated, for its own expansion, were to continue, the fundamental structuring of those notions would have to adapt—and adapt it has.

Nearing the end of Late Modernism, before the Post-Modern moment, a collective of academics and theorists formed an inclusive society where they set themselves the goal of directing the global thinking to what they saw as a sustainable structure. The new structure would be open enough to allow multiple narratives and voices to exist in constant exchange, in fact it would be encouraged, so it could subsume political discourse within itself—for this the idea was named Neoliberalism. The specialty of Neoliberalism was a combining of Late Modernist notions of progress with Post-Modernism’s desires for locality. In place, Neoliberalism would encourage minorities and local politics but would proliferate an ethos of collectivism through it. By acknowledging all this disparity we could celebrate diverse people coming together to achieve a singular goal.

NASA, in 1998, became part of such a project, that would bring numerous people and nations together. In fact, NASA would come to work with their competitor that caused their creation and spurred on a Cold War, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and Japan whom the United States had attacked with atomic weapons fifty three years earlier. The project of the International Space Station brought together the United States (NASA), Russia (Roscosmos), Europe (The European Space Agency), and Japan (JAXA)—later on The Canadian Space Agency would join in the project as well. This International Space Station was a proving to the world, that regardless of history and politics, all kinds of people and nations could come together and work towards a better future—a wonderful case-and-point proof for Neoliberalism.


Orbiting Neoliberal base

Diversity, the political calling card of Neoliberalism, also functions as its economic model, the freedom of choice. Late Modernism gave the world large mega-corporations that worked within a Fordist model of capitalism. Companies like IBM and Microsoft dominated the emerging technological market and ruthlessly tried to shut down competitive companies in order to maintain a monopoly. Neoliberalism instead encourages diversity, no large monopolies, but endless small companies that could be hyper-specialized to make them act at a local and global scale. This is the market of Silicon Valley and start-up culture, a womb for technology companies to build up and die out at unprecedented rates.

Within this market the investment into a singular entity is not financially sound. Why make one company to try to do everything when you can have numerous companies hyper-specialize in different areas and then bring the pieces together? It is also a way of hedging your bets, why invest everything in one pot? Diversify. Long standing entities have fallen to this new logic, even NASA. NASA is no longer seen as the one entity for the hopes of space exploration, but in the mists of smaller budgets has had to diversify and export some of its functions to smaller new companies. NASA now offers contracts to competing small companies to take over functions that NASA used to do exclusively, let delivering payloads to the International Space Station. Notably, a large portion of NASA’s contracts have gone to Silicon Valley company SpaceX, founded by the start-up veteran Elon Musk. NASA now functions as the overseer and manager of Space exploration, it is the neoliberal who brings together dispersed parts towards a singular goal.


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Through the dispersed model of space exploration, NASA acts as the determinant, it defines the goal and brings various individually autonomous parts together to form relationships that work to-wards that goal. What goal is that? As a product of and the engine of Late Modernism, NASA functions through ideas of exploration and frontierism. The aims of the International Space Station as a laboratory for scientific experimentation had failed to capture the imagination of the public who could not grasp the intangible new grounds that would be made. As a result, NASA struggled on with diminishing funding. However, the new model of the Neoliberal market and the new ability for NASA to start exporting larger tasks, allowed NASA to refocus and now pull in other entities to work together towards a new goal that would spur on the public to support progress. NASA was looking for a renaissance of the golden age of Space Exploration when they were racing to the moon. The best disciple trying to bring about this renaissance of NASA is Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who is known for his poetic and passionate speeches about why we need to economically support space exploration. Tyson appeals for support by evoking the technological and economic boom that accompanied the Apollo missions to the moon. To re-invigorate the space program he fantasizes manned missions to the next closest heavenly body, Mars. Mars is a tangible frontier, akin to the Moon, with new “firsts” to be made, something the public could understand and celebrate. Effectively Mars is to the current times, what the Moon was in the 1960s.


As the ISS brought together old Cold War enemies Ridley Scott envisions space as answer to American anxiety over relations with China in The Martian (2015)

Thinking and fantasizing Mars has been around in science-fiction since the birth of the genre, but now the push to get the general public joining in has become stronger than ever. On August 6th, 2012 the Curiosity Rover successfully landed on Mars, two days later it began to send back our first images of the foreign landscape. Not since the moon had we seen another world the way we see our own. Mars was no longer something we saw through a telescope, as a dot in the sky, we did not see it as a massive distant whole, but we viewed it as we experience our own world, limited, with perspective, and a gaze that lead to a horizon line. We were no longer looking at Mars but through photographic transmutation able to experience it—images from Curiosity have now been stitched together into 360 degrees images explorable through virtual reality to further push the feeling that we are in fact already on Mars. With the new images flooding in to NASA and being released to the public almost daily, Mars began to play a part in the cultural zeitgeist. Space exploration became not just resigned to the world of science-fiction, the obsessives, and the “nerds”, but entered into a total cultural space. Neil DeGrasse Tyson revised the classic show Cosmos (2014), first recorded by astrophysicist Carl Sagan in 1980, blockbuster film maker Christopher Nolan creates his space epic Interstellar (2014), and science fiction legend Ridley Scott directs the heroic survivalist film The Martian (2015). Based on the novel of the same title by Andy Weir in 2014, The Martian is a tale of an astronaut stranded on the planet Mars after his team mistook him for dead and his struggle to survive on the foreign planet to make it back home to Earth. The film plays out the mythos of American determination and ingenuity that became the marker of the “American spirit” through the industrial and technological age. The can-do and ability to overcome any obstacles in the name of progress is the same mythos that drove the Cold War space race. The Martian presupposes that NASA, and therefore the United States, have already made it to Mars and began temporary colonies for exploring how one could sustainably live. When stranded alone against unimaginable odds, the hero, Mark Watney, learns how to tame and control the new world, a recurring theme in American history and mythos. At one point in the film, after having gotten potatoes to grow in Martian soil, Watney even claims that he has now officially colonized the planet. While set in a near future the film looks back to a nostalgic fantasizing of the American spirit, when America was great, innovative, and able to make new grounds through their dominance and greatness. Even more, under the guile of Neoliberal togetherness, the film imagines all the world coming together in support of the American heroic figure. As the ISS brought together old enemies to work towards one project, The Martian  imagines a future were their current tentative relationship with China is overcome, in the Chinese space program willingly offering up their aid, resources, and secrets to the Americans. At the climax of the film, shots are shown of people around the world watching out on the streets, from New York to London to China, anxiously to see if the American hero has in fact been able to overcome all odds and survive.

The film in itself appears as propaganda for a new space age—an age that is relentlessly American. This space age is already subsumed by the same rhetoric and ideology of the first space age of the 1960s and the missions to the moon. Mars is already claimed and a part of the capitalist progressive framework of Late Modernism, now reborn through Neoliberalism. It is simply an updating of prior rhetoric which it is looking to re-institute, a modernization of past fantasies.


Government-backed nostalgia



What is there now for the left? For those who aim to step outside the ideological encapsulation of the capitalist progressive narrative? If Modernity means to be focused on the creation of the future, the future as laid out before us is already subsumed under its rhetoric. Neoliberalism, Modernism, and Capitalism have already exported themselves to become extra-planetary frameworks. What is the future if we keep playing out the same fantasies out of nostalgia? It is as Walter Benjamin describes the angel of time in Paul Klee’s painting Angelus Novus, instead of a chain of new events we keep piling the same wreckage upon wreckage—our time is not linear but a circular loop transpositioning rhetoric and ideologues into the present and future. Perhaps what there is now is the attempt to step outside our natural history, out of our time and space, to worlds without a past and without nostalgia. The legendary and progressive science fiction writer Ursula K. LeGuin once called for science-fiction writers to pick up where theorists have failed and to start imagining the end of capitalism. In her novels, such as The Left Hand of Darkness, LeGuin defines new worlds with their own genders and non-genders and its own concept and working of time. Perhaps, it is by these propositions we can begin to step outside of our world into new ones where we can think and posit outside the looping nature of our time. In these worlds we are free to define progress for ourselves, not left to the modernist-capitalist understanding which we keep falling back upon. Through these postulations we can begin to imagine new futures that differ and reject the ones we are presented with. Instead of Mars, which is a modern nostalgic fantasy, we should look to the exoplanets and embrace their multitude and the confusion and possibilities they bring. In these worlds, upon these distant heavenly bodies, we are the Ubik, outside of time, the creators of suns and worlds.•


CiUOtNWWEAACzojA space


Never Not Learning (Summer-specific)—Part 1: Intro and Identities

Still of Mark Harmon, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Fabiana Udenio, Dean Cameron, Kelly Jo Minter, Gary Riley, and Shawnee Smith in Summer School (1987).   –––––– Never Not Learning (Summer-specific) is a series of 4 blog posts (to be published here, on The Gradient) reflecting on the (not-so) recent wave of self-initiated graphic design workshops which have been […]


Still of Mark Harmon, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Fabiana Udenio, Dean Cameron, Kelly Jo Minter, Gary Riley, and Shawnee Smith in Summer School (1987).



Never Not Learning (Summer-specific) is a series of 4 blog posts (to be published here, on The Gradient) reflecting on the (not-so) recent wave of self-initiated graphic design workshops which have been self-characterized as Summer Schools. This and the blog posts to come feature extended conversations between the organizers of:

A Escola Livre (BR)
Asterisk Summer School (EE)
Escola Aberta (BR)
Maybe a School, Maybe a Park (CA)
Parallel School (which belongs to no one!)
Registration School (UK)
Van Eyck Summer Design Academy: Digital Campfire Series (NL)
The Ventriloquist Summerschool (NO)

(For those curious about the list and the selection of participants: it is, quite literally/limitedly, derived from a breadcrumb trail of friendships and encounters made over the past five years).

We raise topics such as deinstitutionalization, continuing education, student debt, the joy of being together, long-distance relationships, regional conditions and forum-making. These topics (among many others) were on the table for discussion, and often at the same time.

A Escola Livre (Brasil)



(Organized by Guilherme Falcão and Tereza Bettinardi)

A Escola Livre (Free School) is named that way because we wanted things to be clear from the start. Our proposal–working with cycles of a month, month and half, mixing subjects, not having a fixed venue, having interviews instead of classes or lectures–might be interpreted as too experimental and weird, almost more as a “project” than an actual school. So we wanted the name to express both things: it IS a school–because it is about learning, the exchange of knowledge and creating a community–and it is a place where anything can happen (or at least everything can be at least discussed and considered).


Asterisk Summer School (Estonia)

Photo by Andree Paat

Photo by Andree Paat

(Organized by Elisabeth Klement and Laura Pappa)

Asterisk Summer School takes its name from the Asterisk portable bookshop, which was a pop-up bookshop format we were previously running in Estonia. It’s hard for us to decipher now where exactly the name Asterisk originates from as we were young design students when deciding on our moniker and it seems to have stuck ever since. We don’t really read into its meaning so much because, for us, it’s more of a marker that shares a connection with the bookshop events.


Escola Aberta (Brasil)

Photo by Radim Peško

Photo by Radim Peško

(Organized by Nina Paim, Clara Meliande and Tania Grillo)

Escola Aberta is Portuguese for “Open School.” The title is always followed by a colon and a verb (“Escola Aberta is:____________”) as a direct and open question on “what makes a school?” as well as an attempt to spark a conversation and question the necessary conditions for learning to happen. We wanted to investigate these questions on different levels: what is the physical structure of the school?, who makes the school?, how are participants selected?, how can they interact?, what are the modes of learning?, what drives the the activities?, etc. The program was drafted by a group of 40 participants from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy, who individually responded to the question “what makes a school?” We started by listing the different environments where knowledge could be produced and exchanged. Each participant then became responsible for initiating one activity in the framework of these environments/set-ups. Some examples were: a pop-up library, a design court, a radio station, a bar, a therapeutic booth, a talk show, a cinema, a silent scriptorium and a typographic safari. Finally, a group of 60 participants from Brazil were selected based on an open application which consisted of answering three fundamental questions: Who are you? What do you want to learn? and What can you teach?


Maybe a School, Maybe a Park (Canada)

Photo by Richmond Lam

Photo by Richmond Lam

(Organized by Sean Yendrys)

Maybe a School, Maybe a Park grew out of initial uncertainty towards how we wanted to frame ourselves and the week-long experience. There were admittedly a number of different names (perhaps far too many) being thrown around in the process leading up to our launch, but none felt right. They either felt like they claimed to be too much or nothing at all. We did not like framing ourselves specifically as a school and the weight that might be attached with the expectations of it. After all, it’s summer time and in many ways this is less a school and more an excuse for many people to simply come together over common interests and have a good time, while also perhaps creating some school-like camaraderie in the process of making great/bad/weird/cool/fun things. In the end, embracing and acknowledging a kind of indecision and uncertainty that exists between the more academic settings of a school and the free-for-all attitude of a park felt quite nice. Also, the space we’re using is an old parking garage turned gallery and bookshop, so perhaps the word Park plays into this too.


Parallel School



(that, although not belonging to anyone, was represented here by Till Wittwer and Robert Preusse)

Parallel School formulates the idea of an imaginary structure, a place to engage and discuss in parallel to the existing universities and academies. It arises from a sense of dissatisfaction with some of the conventional institutions, their approaches towards teaching, and the personal need and interest in a mutual exchange with like-minded people. One of the forms in which this exchange takes on is the Parallel School Workshop, usually lasting 4–5 days. The self-organized education model can be performed by almost anyone—its only requirement is that all participants contribute in the form of a lecture, intervention, or workshop to the Parallel School.


Registration School (UK)



(Organized by Callum Copley)

The name of our School (Registration School) is in part derived from the idea of “Registration,” in relation to printing. However, within printing it refers to the alignment of layers of ink, but in our context it relates to the coming together of peoples and ideas in a single place and the sharing of knowledge and creativity that comes with this act. The word “Registration” also has a second reference to that of a “School Register” of the names of students taken at the start of a class.


Van Eyck Summer Academy: Digital Campfire Series (Netherlands)

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(Organized by the Design Displacement Group)

Our Summer School was named “Digital Campfire,” a reference to the way we communicate in our current day and age. In 2015, the internet is fast becoming the campfire of modern times, the place where we gather: our hectic lives are freeze-framed around it. There, we circle with friends, share and tell stories, exchange, and inform. This is where our new ideas arise, and where the old and the new meet—in a conditional game between the digital and the archaic.


The Ventriloquist Summerschool (Norway)

TVSS Public Programme 2015: Jan-Robert Henriksen presenting one of his characters.

TVSS Public Programme 2015: Jan-Robert Henriksen presenting one of his characters.

(Organized by João Doria and Kristina Ketola Bore)

The Ventriloquist Summerschool began to take shape after a continued discussion between the 2 of us about the role of voice in design practices. We established that ventriloquism would be an apt metaphor given that there’s an alternation between gaining, losing, and recovering a personal perspective in the creative process and while performing creativity as well. The choice for a summer school format was an experiment in jumping into what we recognized as an ongoing conversation and figuring out whether it would make sense to our local audience.


A genuine thanks to all the organizers mentioned above and, additionally, to Roosje Klap, Paul Bailey, and Gilles de Brock for all the prompt responses and shared material.

The next posts will address issues such as economy, regionalities and globalities, audiences, motivations, and more.


7 Genders, 7 Typographies: Hacking the Binary

In a recent panel at the New Museum, artist Jacob Ciocci defined technology as “anything that organizes or takes apart reality,” which prompted a realization: gender could be also be understood as a kind of technology unto itself. The 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial proposes that the ultimate aim of design is a redesign of the […]


In a recent panel at the New Museum, artist Jacob Ciocci defined technology as “anything that organizes or takes apart reality,” which prompted a realization: gender could be also be understood as a kind of technology unto itself.

The 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial proposes that the ultimate aim of design is a redesign of the species. Under this premise, in an era where hormone molecules are produced in laboratories and distinctions like “female” and “male” are eroding, the “gender hacker” can be seen as a radical innovator in the ongoing design of the human. Hormones, regardless of their origins, flow through our bloodstream distributing “chemical messages”—to borrow a term used by Paul Preciado in Testo Junkie (The Feminist Press, 2013) —just as letterforms distribute words throughout bodies of text.

Language bears the responsibility of communication, and like typography, gender must be understood as an expressive format that evolves with the needs of its user. As a species, we continue to move beyond the constraints of the body. So, too, must the constructs of gender and the vocabulary we use to describe them. One voice in the construction of this language is Esben Esther P. Benestad, a progressive sexologist and one of Norway’s most public trans figures. Hir work as a therapist has flipped the script on gender norms by actively documenting people’s response to the question, “What is your gender?” All responses are equally validated, the subject dictates their own status, and gender is self-determined rather than diagnosed. Through these conversations with real people Benestad has observed seven unique genders: Female, Male, Intersex, Trans, Non-Conforming, Personal, and Eunuch.

Linking Ciocci’s thinking with Benestad’s, Façadomy invited seven graphic designers (Mylinh Trieu Nguyen, Andrew Sloat, Riley Hooker, Ely Kim, Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Ksenya Samaskaya, and Lobregat Balaguer)—each having pushed the limits of the “d” word in their own practice—to reflect on the seven genders through typographic metaphor. Below, each gender definition—created by Façadomy with Benestad—is followed by each designer’s response.



Pronouns: She/Her

A Female is an individual who describes herself as Female and can be considered one of the gender majorities. Femaleness derives most of its conventions from the characteristics attached to individuals that are chromosomally XX: production of ova, milk-producing mammary glands (after childbirth), a higher ratio of fat to body weight than Males, fairer voice, motherhood and caregiving. When an XX individual with the conventional characteristics of Female also perceives herself as Female, this is understood as Cis-Female. Females may have another chromosomal constellation or may not possess any of the traditional characteristics at all.

By Mylinh Trieu Nguyen


Lisa had a face of her own, one that you’d recognize almost immediately, even years later. Her curveless figure, tapered edges, and bold stems did not reflect feminine conventions. What made her distinctly female however was the context in which she was born.


A product of the 1980s, she represented the rise of a minority workforce, another advancement in the technology of feminism. Through a complex union of intuition and pragmatism, she grew from an innate desire to communicate, to connect, and to be open. Her existence dislodged generalizations.


Her bare body, undressed from frivolity, focused on function and iteration; imagining the countless possibilities that her form could actualize. The complexity of her make-up is illuminated at varying distances. From afar, her features are softened, her contours implied.



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In intimacy, she reveals her true construction, from edge to edge. The strength of her face is in her ability to be simultaneously ubiquitous and individual. Her body, in all of its bitmap glory only lives on as a memory of a specific time and place. Edges replaced by semi circles, her image resolved to embracing all of her curvature. The terms of her femininity are not monolithic but always in flux.

Brand-New-02Like Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, she does not submit to the gender definitions of her time. Rather her fractured body and jagged lines come to symbolize a new model and archetype for femininity (constantly) moving forward in the modern world.


Chicago 12pt, 1984. First typeface designed for Apple Computers by Susan Kare.

Mylinh Trieu Nguyen is principal and creative director of STUDIO LHOOQ and codirector of LORD LUDD, a contemporary art gallery in Philadelphia.



Pronouns: He, Him

A Male is an individual who describes himself as Male and can be considered one of the gender majorities. Maleness derives most of its conventions from characteristics attached to individuals that are chromosomally XY: sperm production, Male sex organs, deepened voice after puberty, a higher ratio of muscle mass to body fat than Females. When an XY individual with the conventional characteristics of a Male also perceives himself as Male, this individual is understood as a Cis-Male. Males may have another chromosomal constellation or may not possess any of the traditional characteristics listed above.


By Andrew Sloat

Unimark, briefly the largest design firm in the world, proposed to tame the raucous diversity of 1960s NYC subway signage by choosing to consolidate it into Helvetica. This turned out to be impossible on the existing machines, so eventually they settled for the available typeface Standard (an American name for Akzidenz Grotesk), with its beefier stance, swingy S, and underbite e. But after the entire graphic system was installed, sign-making technology improved; reverting to the intended Helvetica became too hard to resist. The initially unwanted and slightly-off Akzidenz, which had done the job when no one else could, was slowly and quietly replaced with the more generic option, with its straighter lines and broader shoulders.

Arial was created so that typewriter companies wouldn’t have to pay for Helvetica. It’s mathematically built to replace Helvetica exactly, but with enough details stolen from other typefaces so that it isn’t really the same—and yet only experts can easily differentiate them. The story is convoluted, and ultimately Arial gets lumped in with the rest of the middle-ground sans serifs. To most readers Helvetica and Arial are effectively the same: normal and authoritative.

But some people like to make a big scene over how the subtle adjustments between Standard or Akzidenz or Helvetica or Arial or whatever actually make them totally different. We pay those people more.

Andrew Sloat is a graphic designer and filmmaker who lives in Brooklyn, teaches at RISD, and is currently the creative director at BAM.



An individual who describes themselves as Intersex.

Benestad includes Intersex as a gender category, although medically it is understood as a classification of sex, for those born with a variation between Male and Female anatomy and/or genetics. Variations are endlessly diverse. In 2016, nearly 25 percent of the world’s population has access to a legal Intersex identification at birth with India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh as major contributors. The remaining 75 percent of the world, including the United States, are only left with the options of Male or Female. Intersex individuals are often surgically and/or hormonally “corrected” (AKA mutilated) at birth or near puberty to fit within the dominant societal sex/gender categories of Male and Female. Because these measures are taken so early on, they often grow to identify with another gender later in life. In this respect, they become, for instance, Male-to-Intersex (MtI) or Female-to-Intersex (FtI).


Detail of the title sequence for Octavia St. Laurent: Queen of the Underground (1993), directed by Adam Soch

By Riley Hooker

Octavia Saint Laurent (1964–2009) was born out of New York City’s vogue scene in the 1980s and is perhaps best known for her iconic appearance in the 1990 film Paris is Burning. Her proto-queer existence was radical—anticipating an event horizon in the history of sexual difference. No, she is not a woman. No, she is not a man. Neither and both, she is Octavia by design.

Meanwhile in the virtual underbelly of online bulletin boards a symbolic language called “L337 sp34k” was born in resistance to a new regime of online filters. To many it was the death of grammar. To others it was the grammar of death. Death to the privatization of knowledge and power online. A superfluid cipher that could be applied to a multitude of languages. Traces of this rebellion are found in the title treatment to the 1993 documentary, Queen of the Underground, starring Ms. Saint Laurent.

This stylistic hack brings a new logic into the typographic vernacular, effectively bringing an endless variation of forms into a cohesive whole. Intersexness to the gender hacker performs the same feat, exploding the linearity of the Male/Female spectrum to achieve elite status in the third dimension.

Riley Hooker is a graphic designer based in New York and is the editor and designer of Façadomy.



Pronouns: He/Him, She/Her, Ze/Hir, et al

When an individual’s gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth, they may be inclined to transition to another point within the vast constellation of gender. A full transition in the subjective sense is to adjust the body as much as is necessary for that individual. Sometimes, the adjustments will go as far as is possible toward the other gender majority, but those whose Transtalents are particularly strong will still identify as Trans. In this sense, Trans-identifying individuals do not succumb to the societal pressure to be passable as either Female or Male. It is not necessary to pick a fixed point. For many, the transition is fluid and ongoing.


By Ely Kim

When I was a kid, I had an alphabet book that illustrated each letter as a person. They were dressed in clothes, wore shoes, and carried accessories. Most of them were dressed for a day at the office, and were dressed as either a Male or a Female. A completely arbitrary gender assigned to each letter of the alphabet by the illustrator. Seeing each letter existing as one end of a gender binary gave me a complex. It made me see gender in places that I had not before. Everything became arbitrarily gendered.

As an adult I have a lot of questions…

Why is most of the alphabet male?

Why was the “F” not a female?

Why was every one of the last six letters of the alphabet assigned as female?

Why do these distinctions matter?

It was a similarly puzzling exercise to choose a typeface with any meaningful representation of a trans experience. As arbitrary as an illustrator assigning each letter of the alphabet a gender. To be honest, every typeface I was experimenting with started feeling trans because it’s completely subjective. So I ended up just going with my very first try, Avenir Next Heavy.

Ely Kim is an art director/dancer/healer based in New York.



Pronouns: They/Them, Ze/Hir, Other

A gender Nonconformist is an individual who describes themselves as not gendered—maintaining the potential to subscribe but actively refusing to do so. Often these individuals hold strong political beliefs that gender does not exist or that it is a social construct that can be ignored. Many individuals in this category seek to adjust their appearance to reflect their non-gendered status by, for instance, removing their breasts or wearing gender-neutral clothing.


By Nontsikelelo Mutiti

My first type design project was based on the characters I found in 18th- and 19th-century missionary bibles. For my research I requested the Ngoni, Xhosa, and Zulu bibles, along with The Negro English Bible, a translation of the scriptures into a pidgin dialect used at that time between the British and number of tribes in the region of Southern Africa.

As I traced the letterforms, researching approximate typefaces, what I thought would be a lesson in conventions became an exploration of the contradictions in the forms of certain characters. It was these deviations that aided in asserting the identity of the typeface, and distinguished it from the others.

In my mother’s childhood Zulu hymnal printed in 1956 a Ъ represents a specific sound, that melting together of the softest b and w. This interests me less as a design technique or answer but as a question around the gaps between our languages and the capacity for the predetermined set of 26 characters to reconcile them.

As a “born free” Zimbabwean, my expression emerges from the collision between cultural frameworks. Often times I feel most articulate when speaking mispronounced broken vernacular. An exercise that began with a goal to faithfully redraw these colonial typefaces ended as a lesson in transgression, which is perhaps where identity becomes visible.

Nontsikelelo Mutiti is a Zimbabwean visual artist working across geographies and disciplines.



Pronouns: et al

When Benestad asked Oscar what Oscar’s gender was, Oscar simply responded, “I’m Oscar.” Though fully presenting as a lady (with a visible bulge), Oscar wants to be referred to as “he.” A Personal gendered individual is someone who identifies as Themselves. Oscar engenders himself with his own name (and pronoun of choice). It is not a political statement, but rather one that it requires an introduction because, in order to properly address Oscar, one must first know Oscar’s name. A Personal gendered individual relies only on their self to be validated as such.


Personal, Wyeth from Solonka Type Foundry

By Ksenya Samarskaya

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been actively discussing, questioning and considering gender. Wherein our recent generational past, it’s been weighted at the male/female poles… I’ve watched it shift, over the course of my heed, beautifully, prismatically towards the scatter-plotted center. Towards the personal. Towards the individual, self-defining, authentic re-mixing of all the codifiers.

As we (Samarskaya & Partners) refine and draw out the character of typeforms, the same divergent synaesthesia comes into play. With type, as well as with gender, I’m most compelled by a well-defined balance and a strong point of view. For example, there’s the graceful lines and unadorned details that form the mainstay for Wyeth. You sense its proper posture, its understated decorum, the worn-in button-up shirt. Or Diote, with its square shoulders and soft curves, an Eighties icon without the teased hair.

While type isn’t (hasn’t/shouldn’t be) inherently associated with gender, each well-developed typeface is full of personality… so if we’re gonna take to anthropomorphizing, I intend to continue drafting type that has the complexity and the versatility of the personal. Not an absence of gender, but an irrelevance that embraces the particular. Embraces function. Embraces idiosyncratic beauty.


I am what I it: Diote from Solonka Type Foundry

Ksenya Samaskaya is creative practitioner, type designer, and board member of the AIGANY.



Pronouns: Et al

Historical accounts of Eunuchs go back almost as far as recorded history. It was a practical solution to an age-old problem, preserving patriarchal bloodlines. And what better way than by castrating the Males charged with protecting royal Females? Today’s Eunuch is a Male that consciously decides to be castrated. With the aid of testosterone injections, they are able to boost their sex drives, receive erections, and even ejaculate. Post-castration, it is often reported that (due to the lack of testosterone) Eunuchs feel patient, clear-headed, and don’t get angry. They also tend to develop more fatty tissue. Some Eunuchs say it is an act of liberation from the societal pressures that masculinity has placed on to them.


By Lobregat Balaguer

In design, one type of eunuch could be social architecture. For castration to be achieved, the social architect should be truly immersed within a beneficiary community, committed to putting their input and needs as a priority. Control of the design libido is sacrificed, willingly or under coercive duress. This does not necessarily mean that whatever the amputee produces must be of inferior quality or value. It simply means that traditional standards of what is desirable, beautiful, functional, full of design libido, no longer apply.

If the castration is forced, this is generally a traumatic experience which can later be leveraged towards another identity of enlightenment or redemption—the warrior or priest eunuch. If the castration is sought after as a tool for spiritual gain, it is a liberation from classic, archaic, centralized tenets of what is and is not a design’s strength.


This doesn’t imply a disappearance of the architect’s stamp, a fear native to many designers. It is merely a commitment to putting a beneficiary community’s will on an equal level as the donor’s will, thus reversing the traditional sources of power, which generally flow from north to south; west to east, or Developed to Developing.

Some architects find this reversal of power (sacrifice of male organs) difficult to comprehend as a necessary component in social projects. They are used to practicing within another power struggle almost exclusively: designer vs. client. Some architects take a community’s need or a disaster’s devastation as a tabula rasa opportunity to impose their egos and utopias full force, whether or not the utopia has any congruency to the landscape, social mores and aesthetic traditions of the construction site (colonization of the uterus).These kinds of projects still belong to the realm of social architecture, but cannot be considered a manifestation of the design eunuch. They are but projections of the designer’s archetypal “libido” as a performative monument, thrust into an archaically feminine site or beneficiary.


Aerial Bold: Benedikt Groß & Joey Lee. A type family (and research project) built from aerial photos of buildings and other landscape forms. Aerial Bold is in intellectual essence a eunuch, as it views phallic objects not as singular monuments but as shapes that can be abstracted into further meanings. Still, it is eunuch in that it has socially influenced characteristics. It is a Kickstarted project, which means control of its existence was relinquished first to the support and approval of a social group. The typefaces included in the family—Aerial Bold Buildings, Aerial Bold Suburbia, and Aerial Bold Provence—are referred to as fonts, which indicates that social usage of the term “font” trumps its more precise academic definitions. In other ways, it is more of the same architectural ego born of traditional North-Western technocracy. It uses buildings from developed countries but purports to be a “world” view. In its process of creation, its authors rated the typography on designer-generated scales of beauty. That would be a point against its castration, as the designer retains the agency of creating something they think is beautiful. Rather than serve a social purpose on the outset, this technology was created for its own end, a social purpose to be found later or never. The impact of Aerial Bold on language processing, whether poetic or incidental, is secondary to its initial intent: simply to materialize a “beautiful” idea. Thus, though it resembles a eunuch in some ways, Aerial Bold is perhaps not a true one.

Lobregat Balaguer is a writer, publisher, and graphic designer based in Manila. She runs the Office of Culture & Design, a platform for social practice projects and research, and co-founded the publishing and design “hauz” Hardworking Goodlooking.



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This post was conceived and created for The Gradient by Façadomy, a new publication that explores contemporary identity through the lenses of art and architecture. The funding campaign for the next edition of their inaugural issue, “Gender Talents,” is currently live on Kickstarter.

Clearing the Haze: Prologue to Postmodern Graphic Design Education through Sheila de Bretteville

Author’s preface: At the outset, this project was defined as an intensive effort to examine and reassess the work of Shelia Levrant de Bretteville. The initial motivation was driven by the connection of the rise of feminist voices in design, the Woman’s Building, postmodern design, and experimental pedagogy. We recognize that many female designers worked […]

Author’s preface: At the outset, this project was defined as an intensive effort to examine and reassess the work of Shelia Levrant de Bretteville. The initial motivation was driven by the connection of the rise of feminist voices in design, the Woman’s Building, postmodern design, and experimental pedagogy. We recognize that many female designers worked in the 1970s and 80s, however we saw that few had as large a contribution on contemporary graphic design today, as Sheila Levrant de Bretteville.



Sheila Levrant de Bretteville


In the process of researching the historical contribution of de Bretteville, it became clear that while several publications exist that address the history of graphic design and female designers, an in-depth exploration on the topic has not been documented. There is tendency within design history to glaze over important accomplishments and accolades by women. If anything, we can say there has been false nostalgia as to the honest history of what happened. The commentary of these times is scattered in hard to access publications and with this, our research questions the cultural and academic recognition written in history books in current circulation.

Acting as facilitators, instigators, and participators, this essay was conceived with a level of framing extended towards feminism, equality, women’s rights, challenging the status quo, and encouraging students to think proactively and experimentally. It was our feeling that if we are going to talk about graphic design in our contemporary landscape, it is imperative to go beyond presuppositions and intellectual establishment and clear the haze of historical contribution. The impacts of these examinations interject important conversations into the creative and academic fields. De Bretteville’s teaching and practice changed the face of contemporary graphic design, and should be adequately acknowledged in history for her monumental work.



Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Arts in Society: California Institute of the Arts: Prologue to a Community, 1970


Historical perspectives are important for the enrichment of the history of North American graphic design education. The history of graphic design in the contemporary construct is increasingly hard to unravel, let alone the history of the Design School at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Valencia, California. Nevertheless, let’s consider this a unique moment in the history of graphic design: an interesting moment as a result of the people who had been involved in shaping, inspiring, and educating graphic designers at a high-level; yet also interesting as a result of the dissemination of the methodologies and philosophies that CalArts developed within it’s graphic design program, specifically of those developed by Sheila Levrant de Bretteville. Clearing the Haze, is an attempt to contextualize the design education of the times rather than to explicate or theorize it. The context is of our own experience as graphic designers and former CalArts students, in a way linking our participation and passion to our own pedagogy.



Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, California Institute of the Arts: Admissions Bulletin, 1973–1974



In the fall of 1969, Sheila returned to New York after working in Italy in a design studio at Olivetti. She took a desk in an office shared by Robert Mangurian and Craig Hodgetts. Shortly after Craig was tapped to become Associate Dean of the School of Design at CalArts, Sheila was asked to come and work on preparing branding materials (letterhead, posters, etc.) to attract students for each school at the newly established CalArts. A special issue of a journal fell into her lap, making her editor as well as designer of the issue titled, Arts in Society: California Institute of the Arts: prologue to a community1 which came out in June 1970. The School of Design was seeking students for whom “ecology, technology, and human needs trumped taste and style”2 as the basis of meaningful work. At the request of Richard Farson, Dean of the School of Design at CalArts, Sheila joined the Design faculty as CalArts began its first academic year at an interim campus at Villa Cabrini in Burbank in 1970.

Having no previous teaching experience, Sheila drew from past assignments3 from her studies at Yale4 and from a former high school5 design faculty’s text,6 which included a chapter on design education, to create the curriculum. Additionally, Sheila reviewed the way in which she had been taught, in the light of her experience to the events occurring around her at while attending Yale—the civil right movements in the States, the protests of our war in Vietnam, the assassination of MLK and the Kennedys—in addition to her work collaborating with Emanuel Sandreuter on freedom of the press and TV posters for the Italian Communist Party. In Italy, Sheila read the teaching pedagogy of Paulo Freire and was convinced that teaching could be a horizontal exchange of information. She explored the best ways to open up assignments in such a way as to capitalize on the different experiences, knowledge, and skills which the CalArts students brought to the school.



Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Announcement poster for the CalArts School of Design, 1970


Mashing up these international influences—Bauhausian/Modernism from Yale; a progressive/radical awareness; a more traditional graphic arts education from her Brooklyn, New York, high school years—Sheila reworked assignments in a prescient Postmodern graphic design pedagogical mode. Her choices can be seen directed to “enable the sexploration of visual phenomena.”7 Sheila knew that an able designer required a set of visual and formal skills in order for that student/designer to better access their own unique voice in a well thought through and well made manner. In this new context, students were encouraged to express their own experiences and make choices that reinforced their ability to speak through form. The intent was for all students to move toward producing meaningful content of their own.

The spirit of the early 1970s was one of collaboration where each person’s contribution was honored and the work done was not strictly circumscribed by media specificity. For example, Sheila taught a class with Craig Hodgets where two-dimensions and three-dimensions of form were created by each student. Another was an interdisciplinary class taught with Jivan Tabibian, a political scientist and Ben Lifson, a photographer. This multi-disciplinary class included an aspect of what has become known as “the object project,”8 and the beginning of her faith in the meaning of every choice in physical and visual form making. “The object project” asked each participant to bring in an object. As students went around the room and each person described the physical aspects to the object chosen, Sheila was astonished to see how much information was inadvertently being revealed about the person as the student described their chosen object. New to teaching, Sheila was unsure how best to deal with what was embedded in the physical form of the objects, which was much more than she had ever anticipated. She knew that each of us is intimately connected to the things that we choose, but it took a fair amount of time for her to recognize that she could use this intuitive attraction to objects, events, and situations to develop the intimate connection to the physical qualities of the work that students produce.



CalArts exterior, 1970. Designed by architecture firm Ladd & Kelsey. Courtesy of the CalArts Archive.


In 1971, two years later, CalArts moved out of the temporary quarters at Villa Cabrini and into the current CalArts Thornton Ladd9 building in Valencia, California. Sheila had outfitted the printing lab to not only have lithography and engraving but also a Vandercook flat-bed printing press, a Rotaprint Offset Printer, and a Diatronic photographic typesetter. This made it possible for students to have their hands on the means of making multiple copies. The first years at CalArts were open to having “Institute Students” who could take courses at all or any of the CalArts Schools and students like Albert Innaurato and James Lapine who became dramatists, along with Bia Lowe and Bernard Cooper, who both became fine writers—all took classes taught by Sheila.



Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Everywoman newspaper centerfold, 1970




Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Everywoman newspaper centerfold, 1970


During the summer after Sheila’s first year of teaching at CalArts, she was asked to create a special issue of the Everywoman newspaper.10 Sheila designed the layout in the format of Consciousness-Raising (C-R), which creates an equality of voices. The newspaper gave a two-page spread to each writer, each having an equal amount of space, regardless of hierarchy in the newspaper. The dissolution of hierarchy was also a way to counter patriarchy. Empowered by the new publication’s focus on women and as the only female faculty member at the CalArts School of Design,11 Sheila approached Victor Papanek, then Dean of the School of Design, to start the Women’s Design Program,12 in which reading and discussion had an equal place alongside design work. After some prompting, he agreed. The work of the program was published in the sixth issue of the British journal Icographic13 along with an essay by Sheila on the rigid separation between men and women in design and the workplace. Sheila’s writing, titled “Some Aspects of Design from the Perspective of a Woman Designer” asks designers to help to revalidate what have been designated as ‘female’ values and devalued as such.14 The publication also included comments from each of the students and their visual work, which included type studies, photography, and documentary video. Sheila’s critique of both design and contribution to feminism worked to establish an equality based on reframing not by gender (male and/or female), but as equal individual people, individual designers.



The Women’s Design Program at CalArts, 1972. Unknown Artist, Courtesy of the CalArts Archive


The Women’s Design Program ran in tandem with Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro’s joint Feminist Art Program at CalArts. Paul Brach, Dean of the School of Art, had agreed to offer the Feminist Art Program, a separatist program, at the behest of his wife Miriam Shapiro and Judy Chicago considering that there were no permanent women faculty members to mentor young women. Both the Women’s Design Program and the Feminist Art Program were investigatory, meaning that the class structure was about a way of exploring things they didn’t know about. It wasn’t just the transfer of knowledge from teacher to student: it was about the teacher and students exploring something together from which both were learning. Ultimately, both Chicago and Sheila decided that they would do better without CalArts and in 1972 they sent out brochures inviting students to their separatist program for the following year. In 1973 Sheila, Chicago, and Arlene Raven named their newly established program the Feminist Studio Workshop (FSW): the first independent school for women artists, which later became the Woman’s Building in downtown Los Angeles.



Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Feminist Studio Workshop brochure, 1973




Courtyard of the Grandview Woman’s Building, 1973. Courtesy of Otis College of Art and Design Library


Woman’s Building: Women’s Graphic Center

The Woman’s Building rented the former Chouinard Art Institute building (which officially dissolved in 1972) from CalArts for $3,000 per year—a deal brokered by Sheila—and opened on November 28, 1973.15 Woman came from around the country to work and create in this new feminist, creative, separatist space, until the Building’s unexpected sale in 1974, at which time Sheila and Cheryl Swanack searched Los Angeles for a new Woman’s Building, eventually relocating to downtown L.A. during the summer of 1975.16 The Woman’s Building fostered a kind of utopian communalism which was a unique philosophy for the time. Being an artist meant “accepting the responsibility for being one (lone artist as individual producer).”17 Moreover, it was about something other than being an artist: it was about being a fully formed person, who was able to come to terms with the suffering and/or injustice she had previously experienced in her girlhood, through her family, and/or through her community of origin. During the renovation of both Woman’s Buildings (one at MacArthur Park, the other a public center in downtown L.A.), the help of men and children affiliated with the women there was enjoyed and welcomed.



Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Pink, 1974


The exhibitions and educational programs at the Woman’s Buildings were intended to form a participating community of like-minded women who were collectively seeking to remake themselves through the new formats offered at the Woman’s Buildings. The pedagogy that Sheila had fostered was one in which instructors and mentors respected and gave “unconditional love toward a student.” This encouraged students to freely change what they needed and wanted to develop.18 The program focused on Consciousness-Raising (C-R) (also called awareness raising), a technique that focuses the attention of a wider group of people on some cause or condition. “Using [C-R] techniques as the basis for developing an intensive, two-year curriculum that acknowledged the unique vulnerabilities and social pressures faced by young women.”19 C-R was an omnilateral, relatively leaderless, group-directed exploration in the verbalization of individual experience, which embodied a “person is political” motto, positioned within second-wave feminism. This radical pedagogy used self-expression as the paramount element in art-making, which, at the time, was atypical for an art school. It was as much about asking questions as finding answers.

Chicago left after the first year while Sheila and Raven stayed at the Woman’s Building. Housed within the Woman’s Building was the design program of the Women’s Graphic Center (WGC) which, under the guidance of Sheila, was considered one of most important features of the Woman’s Building. A number of the faculty were CalArts alums such as Helen Alm, who guided the printing in the WGC and Suzanne Lacy20 who taught performance.21 The WGC was built on the precepts of Sheila’s egalitarian pedagogical attitude—a sort of Marxist approach, which treated design as a public communication imbued with the efficacy of social change. In 1973, Sheila reprised her statement on the FSW brochure when she delivered a conference paper to the American Institute of Architects saying:

The process by which forms are made and the forms themselves embody values and standards or behavior that affect large numbers of people…. For me, it is this integral relationship between individual creativity and social responsibility that draws me to the design arts.22

Sheila wrote a number of compelling articles on woman’s rights and space often ending up in feminists publications published through the Woman’s Building such as Chrysalis, a magazine of women’s culture, a contribution to culture, media studies, and women’s studies before there were courses in women’s studies in colleges and universities.



Chrysalis: a magazine of women’s culture, Cover of Volume 1, 1977


Projects at the WGC focused on typography, printing, and criticality within the social sphere. The wooden typeface Kabel was discovered as a part of the building’s past and was used for the Woman’s Building entry signage. Traditional fine art printing (such as etching and lithography) were not included due to limited resources and space. Their focus was on self-publishing in the form of letterpress-printed, offset-printed and silkscreen-printed posters, postcards, broadsides, artist books,23 poetry chapbooks, stationary, and other kinds of small-press endeavors.24 Sheila again brought back “the object project” in a Feeling to Form class taught with social psychologist Jane Stewart, urging students to find suitable forms from which women could derive content as a way of upending Modernist precepts of form as content.25 Feeling to Form, then, was a literal reversal, extracting form from content, rather than content from form. This class arguably produced the most highly realized art at the Building, often in graphic form.

The art of the Woman’s Building sought action in addition to expression. Some of the best-known performance work was also the culmination of Sheila’s graphic design pedagogy. In particular, Leslie Labowitz’s and Lacy’s Three Weeks in May (1977), which updated a map with reports from the L.A.P.D., printing the word, “rape” on spots on a map of greater L.A., generated large-scale public awareness and media attention. The event combined a performance piece on the steps of L.A. City Hall with self-defense classes for women in an attempt to highlight sexual violence against women. As WGC student Emily King said, “printing gave work power and distance.”26



Three Weeks in May, Suzanne Lacy, 1977. Courtesy of Suzanne Lacy


Sheila’s format of direct address in public spaces, offered an original and persuasive lesson in feminist pedagogy, personal growth, and the search for authentic forms. In this vein, Sheila developed and taught the class, Public Announcements/Private Conversations (1975), which then became a series of site-specific art projects produced from 1977 to 1978 in which participants were asked to “write, design, print, post their posters, negotiate with the owners of the public places, and collect responses about and for places in the shared environment… Within this theme each woman gives graphic form to her concerns, placing this work—and thus placing herself—in public view.”27 The project could then be tailored to each students needs and support the individual to find her own personal material and forms to express in. Through this class and others, form became a transformative experience, resulting in the perception of personal wholeness and collective unity at the Woman’s Building.

Eventually the continuing short-fall of funds, and a level of dissatisfaction within the Woman’s Building ranks caused the WGC to unravel. The program’s final year was from 1979–1981. Despite being hired in 1980 to create a program of Communication Design and Illustration at the Otis Art Institute/Parsons School of Design, Sheila stayed on the board at the Woman’s Building until 1981 when the FSW was terminated in favor of salvaging the Building itself. In an interview with Jenni Sorkin in 2010, Sheila says, “it made sense for the next generation to take it over. And maybe they’d have fresher ideas or a way to relate to the community that they felt stronger about coming there. I know that I couldn’t do it anymore. The Women’s Graphic Center as a commercial entity just didn’t capture my imagination in the way that the Woman’s Building as an entity did. It just simply didn’t. And it’s not that I wanted to get a job at Otis/Parsons. It’s more that I wanted to go somewhere else, do something else. And I like beginnings, and it felt like endings to me.”28 The Woman’s Building remained open as a rented studio space until 1991. Times had changed and the seemingly utopian collectivity proved to be an ideal that was not sustainable.



Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Poster for Women in Design, conference, 1975


Otis & Yale

The educational model that was developed by Sheila at the Woman’s Building carried on at Otis Art Institute/Parsons School of Design (presently known as the Otis College of Art & Design) and helped to shape the Otis curriculum. Sheila initiated and chaired the Department of Communication at Otis from 1981–1990 which included an outreach design group called Brook7n where students created and completed community based projects. Working to bring in faculty from various backgrounds, Sheila hired Laurie Haycock and P. Scott Makela, Ave Pildas and Everett Peck, Jim Hieman, Leah Hoffmitz, Gary Panter and Georgianne Dean. Her work with Brook7n was collectively designed for non-profits, doing projects such as murals in Sam Good hospital and a billboard using a rebus (a puzzle in which words are represented by combinations of pictures and individual letters) to communicate to non-literate people about classes in reading.

The Communications Design and Illustration Department that Sheila had developed at Otis was a parallel department to the Communication Department at the Parsons School of Design. Both programs, headed by David Levy in New York, were designed to allow students to travel from New York to Los Angeles. This newly developed bi-coastal college for the arts was the first of its kind, but proved challenging. Sheila describes the difficulty of this time: “It took a while for me to figure out the flights [and] travel, because actually, a sustained program makes a lot more sense at that age level. But I didn’t know that at the time, and it was another activity.”29 Over the next nine years, Sheila worked through the logistical strains and developed a curriculum that contributed significantly to the field of design and visual communications pedagogy. In 1990, one year prior to the end of the Otis/Parsons partnership, and shortly before Levy’s departure in 1991, Sheila was appointed a full professorship at the Yale University of School of Art.



New Haven Register, 1990. Courtesy of Sheila Levrant de Bretteville


As Sheila replaced Alvin Eisenman30 as the new director of the graduate program in graphic design at Yale in 1990, she also became the Yale University School of Art’s first tenured woman. While most faculty and alumni affirmed her appointment, others were outraged. Paul Rand, who had been a member of the faculty since the late 1950s, resigned as an act of protest against Sheila’s appointment, and then convinced his long-time colleague Armin Hoffmann to do the same. Starting in the 1950s the Yale program, based in modernist theory, was instrumental in establishing the profession of Graphic Design in the United States. Acting as a conduit between Yale and the Kunstgewerbeschule in Basle, directed by Armin Hoffmann, the Yale program was unique for its time. The graphic design curriculum established at Yale became the model for most education institutions, changing its focus from advertising to graphic design during the 1960s.

Sheila’s design pedagogy at Yale was pluralistic and pushed design as a proactive practice (rather than focusing solely on corporate service). The program was person-centered (emphasizing the students’ desire to communicate, and focusing on what each student felt necessary to be made and said and to whom they wanted to say it). Students were assured that they would be able to see themselves within the large body of work that they produced in the two-year program.

As the director of Yale’s program, Sheila acknowledged her role as a leader but was quick to point out that although she called together faculty meetings, she wanted the faculty to talk about what they found interesting and to question issues of the moment. In an interview in 2008, Sheila spoke about her past experiences which continue to influence her design pedagogy today:

“Freedom to fail, sense of community, support, taking chances: these are lessons I bring from my initial teaching position at CalArts, 41 years ago. Our past experiences are really what we bring to the pedagogy of graphic design.”

The lessons and guidance that have been experienced by hundreds of Sheila’s students throughout the years has meant that her influence has been disseminated across multiple facets of our visual and cultural landscape. Her contributions to postmodern design pedagogy opened doors to female voices in a male-dominated society, encouraged students to be more experimental, and supported non-traditional art environments. Without a more concise and complex understanding of the past, we fail to stay open to the future. It is in this vein that we strive to clear the haze of historical contribution and reach beyond the theoretical and formal exercises that most of us learn in art school today.



Sheila Levrant de Bretteville photographed in 2014, at her home, in New Haven, CT   Photography: Thomas Giddings


In realizing this project, we are deeply grateful for the generosity of our contributors and supporters, in particular Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Peter de Bretteville, Naomi Honeth, Michael Ned-Holte, Jenni Sorkin, and Lorraine Wild.


Editor/publisher’s note: For more on Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, see Lorraine Wild and David Karwan’s essay titled “Agency and Urgency: The Medium and Its Message,” published on pages 44–57 of Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia (Walker Art Center, 2015). In Wild and Karwan’s essay, de Bretteville is heralded as an influential designer that “led projects and developed strategies that exemplified the new experimental and reformist attitudes about pedagogy, which continue to resonate today.” De Bretteville is also described as being “part of a [group of] influential designers and architects from the late 1960s and early ’70s who began to question the hierarchical, authoritarian aspects of design and the fading modern idea that there were singular formal principles that were universally appropriate.” (p. 54)




1 Arts in Society: California Institute of the Arts: prologue to a community, Volume 7, Issue 3, 1970.

2 Sheila de Bretteville, phone conversation with the authors, April 20, 2013.

3 Wayne Peterson, a Yale colleague kept all the assignments given at Yale and sent Sheila de Bretteville copies.

4 Sheila de Bretteville received her MFA from Yale University, 1962–1964.

5 Sheila de Bretteville attended Abraham Lincoln High School, a public school in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York, which includes many notable alumni, including Alex Steinweiss and Gene Federico who became influential graphic designers working in New York City after the war. Leon Friend was the chairman of the art department at Abraham Lincoln High School and “exposed students to working artists and visiting critics, including emigre designers such as Austria’s Joseph Binder and Germany’s Lucian Bernhard.” He also directed a student club called Art Squad, which “produced work in all media, including graphic design.” The work of Art Squad “was an awkward yet energetic interpretation of the modern style that reflected the influence of sources ranging from Bayer to streamlined product design.” (Wild, Lorraine, ‘Europeans in America,’ from Graphic Design in America: A Visual Language History, 1989, 153.)

6 Friend, Leon, Graphic Design: a Library of Old And New Masters In the Graphic Arts, New York and London: Whittlesey house, McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1936.

7 Sheila de Bretteville, email with authors, April 17, 2013.

8 “The object project” is an assignment Sheila de Bretteville has been giving to her students since the beginning of her teaching career, and has become a requirement for first year graduate students at Yale from 1990 to today.

9 Thornton Ladd was a Modernist architect who designed CalArts and the Pasadena Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum).

10 Everywoman, designed by Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, 1971. Everywoman was a collective newspaper designed for the Fresno Feminist Art Program by Sheila de Bretteville, who had encountered the program as an invited visitor.

11 “CalArts was a place of intensive masculine bravado; the premiere American art school of the 1970s, the place to make a Happening alongside Kaprow, the progenitor of the genre.” Sorkin, Jenni, Learning from Los Angeles: Pedagogical Predecessors at the Woman’s Building, 40–41.

12 The Women in Design program (1971–1973) came out of a question posed by Sheila de Bretteville, “what would happen if I only taught women?”

13 de Bretteville, Sheila, Icographic 6, Croydon, England, 1973.

14 de Bretteville, Sheila, Icographic 6, “Some Aspects of Design from the Perspective of a a Woman Designer,” Croydon, England, 1973.

15 Sorkin, Jenni, “Learning from Los Angeles: Pedagogical Predecessors at the Woman’s Building,” 47.

16 What followed was then a frenzied search for a new building that would offer the same public visibility, until the former headquarters of Standard Oil in downtown LA was secured as a location. Sorkin, Jenni, Learning from Los Angeles: Pedagogical Predecessors at the Woman’s Building, 48.

17 Sorkin, Jenni, Learning from Los Angeles: Pedagogical Predecessors at the Woman’s Building, 42.

18 Sheila de Bretteville, email interview with Ginger Wolfe-Suarex, interReview 08, 2007.

19 Sorkin, Jenni, Learning from Los Angeles: Pedagogical Predecessors at the Woman’s Building, 49.

20 Suzanne Lacy is another individual who came out of the CalArts design pedagogy and went on to hold several positions at academic institutions, including Dean of Fine Arts at California College of the Arts (CCA) from 1987–1997 and Chair of Fine Arts at Otis College of Art and Design from 2002–2006.

21 Starting in January 1975, twenty-two women began a 4-month intensive workshop learning offset lithography, screen printing, and letterpress.

22 de Bretteville, Sheila, conference paper delivered to the American Institute of Architects, July 1973.

23 Artist Books by the likes of Frances Butler, Poltroon, and Ed Ruscha (who began his student career as the editor of Chouinard’s student newspaper) made a distinct impression on students, including WGC student and artist, Emily King.

24 Self-publishing was crucial to progression of individual feminist communities in the 1970s, including the proliferation of lesbian press culture.

25 Such as the Bauhaus-style graphic models that permeated American Modernism via the emigres who brought them, like Laszlo Mohloy-Nagy at the Institute of Design in Chicago and Serge Chermayeff at Yale.

26 King, Emily, Artists’ Books by Women, 57.

27 Public Announcements/Private Conversations, course description, 1975. Woman’s Building files.

28 Jenni Sorkin interview with Sheila de Bretteville, an oral history with Sheila de Bretteville about the Woman’s Building, CCS AS-AP project, June 22, 2010.

29 Ibid.

30 Alvin Eisenman founded and headed Yale University’s graduate program in graphic design beginning in 1951—the first graduate program in graphic design in the United States. He remained the director of that program until he was replaced by Sheila in 1990.

31 !Women Art Revolution, video interview with Sheila de Bretteville, February 15, 2008, New York, NY, Stanford University Digital Collections.

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.

IMG_3502 IMG_3495 IMG_3450 IMG_2986 Images from Tatlo, a book launch and art event at Ooga Booga 2 / 356 Mission, Downtown Los Angeles
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


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.

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.


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).


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.

2014: The Year According to David Reinfurt

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from artists Shahryar Nashat and Korikrit Arunondachai to filmmaker Sam Green and architect/artist Andreas Angelidakis—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to       […]

Reinfurt_BW_webTo commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from artists Shahryar Nashat and Korikrit Arunondachai to filmmaker Sam Green and architect/artist Andreas Angelidakis—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 . 

David Reinfurt is an independent graphic designer and writer in New York City. He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1993 and received an MFA from Yale University in 1999. On the first business day of 2000, David formed O-R-G inc., a flexible graphic design practice composed of a constantly shifting network of collaborators. Together with graphic designer Stuart Bailey, David established Dexter Sinister in 2006 — a workshop in the basement at 38 Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side in New York City. The workshop is intended to model a Just-In-Time economy of print production, running counter to the contemporary assembly-line realities of large-scale publishing. This involves avoiding waste by working on-demand, utilizing local cheap machinery, considering  alternate distribution strategies, and collapsing distinctions of editing, design, production and distribution into one efficient activity. Dexter Sinister published the semi-annual arts magazine Dot Dot Dot from 2006–2011. David recently launched a new umbrella project called The Serving Library with Stuart Bailey and Angie Keefer. David was 2010 United States Artists Rockefeller Fellow in Architecture and Design and currently teaches at Princeton University.

My top 10 are listed in the order they happened. Things often make most sense like this.



Where Were We

This is a shop sign designed by Angie Keefer and Kara Hamilton and hung outside Kunstverein on Gerard Doustraat in Amsterdam to announce an exhibition by Kara Hamilton. The exhibition was staged something like a store and included jewelry, shoes, and other consumables. Angie also contributed a text that framed the show about a certain kind of painted pleat.



Dawn of Midi

In February, I saw Dawn of Midi play at Kaufman Music Center. The three-piece band includes only a prepared grand piano, an upright bass, and drums. With this limited kit, (impossibly) they played their album Dysnomia from beginning to end, note-for-note to match the highly repetitive, manipulated, and poly-rhythmic music on the record. The performance was spectacularly uncanny, I felt as though I had seen-heard it before and I guess I has as I was listening to Dysnomia on constant repeat for much of the last part of 2013. I ran into my friend Prem Krishnamurthy at the show, and now I see that he included this record on his Top 10 of last year. Uncanny.



Arvo Pärt

In May, I went to Carnegie Hall to hear works by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Equally spare, repititive, and mystical, the music has some affinity with Dawn of Midi. Anyway, the crowd at the show seemed to know this as well and mixed Eastern Orthodox clergy members in full regalia with tattoo-covered Manhattan School of Music graduates. It was an eccentrically, fantastically fashionable crowd. Arvo was there himself, as was Björk.




Where was I? I never read this book when I was the age to do so, but found it on a bookshelf this May. Soon, I was enveloped in its world where water is as precious as life and giant sandworms stand in cars. When I read the book, I didn’t know about Jodorowsky’s Dune, the documentary released this year that tracks the previously director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed attempts at turning Frank Herbert’s epic book into a film.


Model for 'Monument to the Astronauts' circa 1966-8 by Naum Gabo 1890-1977


Claude Parent (and Naum Gabo)

For A Needle Walks into a Haystack, curator Mai Abu ElDahab invited aging French architect Claude Parent to design an exhibition space on the ground floor of Tate Liverpool and rehang selections from its collection. The result felt something like an architectural model built at 1:1 scale. Installed in the ramped space alongside works from Gillian Wise, Gustaf Metzger, Anni Albers, and Francis Picabia, were two of artist Naum Gabo’s maquettes including model for “Monument to the Astronauts.” Perfect.



Yes, But Is It Edible?

Also perfect, this book compiled by Will Holder and Alex Waterman of the works of Robert Ashley was released in September. This is a book to be performed, a collection of scores produced by the authors to allow non-musicians to perform Ashley’s music. It follows that Will and Alex performed a couple of Ashley pieces in a sweltering classroom at PS1 during the New York Art Book Fair.



Christopher Williams

The Production Line of Happiness ran from July to November at the Museum of Modern Art last last year. I saw it, finally, in October. The show is a comprehensive testament to this work which mines the process of image production, and it was great. The best work, however, was in the gift shop where Williams offered his image of a rotated Renault Dauphine-Four auto sitting on its side as a postcard. The postcard’s orientation is ambiguous, but presented in the shop vertically the car seems to be suspended somewhere outside of gravity.



This Equals That

Also outside of gravity, this children’s book by Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin moves laterally from one photograph to the next. It was released in November. Photographs are supposed to be toxic in children’s literature, but Jason and Tamara’s light and warm touch makes the guided tour through the visible world a wonderful, strange trip.



Richard McGuire

In November, this issue of the New Yorker showed up in my mailbox. The cover is the work of illustrator Richard McGuire, who was also the subject of an exhibition at the Morgan Library organized by curator Joel Smith. More on this time-space bending cover is here.




Finally, in December I saw Interstellar. Luckily, I’d managed not to read much about the film in advance. I did, however, read a New York Times op ed by David Brooks which is well worth checking out. I was also impressed by an interview on NPR with director Christopher Nolan where he was asked about the film’s uneasy correspondences with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. He said, simply, something to the effect that you can’t make a space movie in 2014 that does not “know” about 2001 and that he chose to make that explicit, rather than hide it. Nice choice.

2014: The Year According to Andreas Angelidakis

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from designer David Reinfurt to animator Miwa Matreyek—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                   […]


To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from designer David Reinfurt to animator Miwa Matreyek—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 .

Trained as an architect, Andreas Angelidakis often switches roles between artist, curator, architect, and teacher. His multidisciplinary practice often takes the internet and the perceptive and behavioral changes it has brought on as its starting point. In the past year he worked on the space for the exhibition of instruction-based artworks DO IT at Garage in Moscow, he curated and designed a survey exhibition of the Dakis Joannou collection at DESTE foundation in Athens, he designed a show of contemporary magazines at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, and made the installation Crash Pad, which acted as the preliminary statement for the 8th Berlin Biennial. He currently has a retrospective presentation of his work at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Greece, and he is included in the Greek Pavilion at the 14th Architecture Biennale in Venice. Upcoming shows include Period Rooms at the Niuewe Institut in Rotterdam, and designing the exhibition architecture for a survey exhibition of film director Alejandro Jodorowsky at the CAPC in Bordeaux. Recent shows include The System of Objects: The Dakis Joannou Collection Reloaded by Andreas Angelidakis at the DESTE Foundation, Athens (curator and architect); PAOLA at Breeder Gallery (curator); Group Mountain at Breeder Gallery (curator and artist, solo and group show); Domesticated Mountain at GloriaMaria Gallery, Milan, April 2012 (solo, artist); The Angelo Foundation Headquarters collaboration with artist Angelo Plessas at Jeu de Paume museum espace virtuelle; and Blue Wave at the MU Foundation, Eindhoven, Netherlands (architect and artist, solo exhibition).



2014-12-03 14.51.13

Best Book

Extrastatecraft by Keller Easterling. Easterling is in my humble opinion the most interesting, unexpected and lucid thinker in urbanism. Her urbanism provides a deep understanding of how the contemporary world operates, and Extrastatecraft is just a must read.


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Best Experience

Attending the Eternal Internet Brotherhood, in the West Bank in Israel/Palestine. A truly surreal experience, both for the location, but also because it was a like being transported to an artists’ colony, no audience, no age or agenda, sleeping outdoors next to the Dead Sea, thinking about the internet as a desert.


Dahlem Berlin Biennial

Best Venue for a Biennial

My work for the 8th Berlin Biennial curated by Juan Gaitan was at Kunstwerke, but the Dahlem Ethnographic Museum has to be the best venue for a biennial in a long time. Visitors not only saw the Bienalle works but had a chance to get lost in the corridors of the museum, making for juxtapositions of pure genius.



Best Exhibition

Monditalia, at the Venice Biennial of Architecture. Koolhaas brought together the dance, film and architecture biennials at the Arsenale, which made for a space where passing an esoteric performance with a minotaur you happened upon a research on Italian nightclubs of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, then an elderly group of 50 chanting seniors, then another research on the Berlusconi suburbs and so forth. An exhibition as chaotic and as focused as the internet itself.


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Best Encounter

Meeting the legendary Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky at CAPC in Bordeaux, courtesy of its director Maria Ines Rodriguez. Its when you meet somebody who’s fan you’ve been forever, and they just surpass any expectation. Bonus Tarot reading included.


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Best Purchase

A used zCorp450 3D printer. I started using 3D prints back in 2002 when zCorp was a startup and was offering free 3D print samples to users who were curious. Having the printer, even though the running costs are literally studio killers, just takes it to another level. I was never into actually building buildings, but printing brings them closer to home.



Best News

Documenta 14 will be jointly held in Athens and Kassel in 2017.


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Best Research

Janell Watson’s Literature and Material Culture from Balzac to Proust: The Collection and Consumption of Curiosities. I got this while looking for literature on Bibelot, or tchotchkes. I’m always daydreaming of buildable bibelot bunkers and other places to escape.



Best Collaboration

Was with the Swiss Institute for their first annual design exhibition. Working with Simon Castets on Fin de Siècle was the best, because he went along with my idea to push the show as far as possible from a design exhibition, even when I was having doubts about going too far.


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Best Swim

Swimming at midnight on the island of Samos, on a dark beach lit only by the frontier patrol and the bioluminescent sea water.



Best App

123Dcatch 3D scanning for iPhone has to be my favorite app, even though it doesn’t always work perfectly. Learning to love the glitch.



Best Biography

I really enjoyed Ank Leeuw Markar’s Willem Sandberg: Portrait of an Artist, for its insights into how contemporary art museums came to be how they are today through the radical decisions of The Stedelijk’s famous director, Willem Sandberg. A must read for those into exhibition histories. The result of my hallucinatory interpretation comes at The Niuewe Instituut in Rotterdam this January, 1:1 Period Rooms.

2014: The Year According to Omar Sosa

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from artist Kalup to poet LaTasha Diggs, author Jeff Chang to futurist Nicolas Nova—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to             […]

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from artist Kalup to poet LaTasha Diggs, author Jeff Chang to futurist Nicolas Nova—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 . 


Omar Sosa is a Barcelona-based art director, graphic designer, and publisher. In 2008, after a period of working at Folch Studio in Barcelona as a Business Partner, Omar founded the magazine Apartamento together with his friend Nacho Alegre. Apartamento is now distributed in 45 countries. Two years later he went on to win the prestigious Yellow Pencil Award and Apartamento was awarded the Best Entire Magazine of 2010 by the D&AD association (Design & Art Direction Association, UK). Sosa has worked as the Art Director for a wide range of international clients: Flos, Louis Vuitton Group, Rizzoli International, Carolina Herrera NY, DDG Partners, Corriere Della Sera, Patricia Urquiola, Ricardo Bofill Architecture, among others. His work spans from designing books and magazines to creating brand identities, designing exhibitions and generating successful liaisons among creative professionals.





Neptolemos Michaelides house, Cyprus

Last January I went to Cyprus for the opening of an exhibition of the Cypriot light designer Michael Anastassiades and had the chance to visit the private house of the Cypriot architect Neoptolemos Michaelides and his wife. They both passed away few years ago and now the house belong to their foundation. We came together with the photographer Hélène Binet who took beautiful pictures that where then published in the last issue of Apartamento (pdf) and in a exhibition in Cyprus that opened last month. The house has an incredible architecture full of sensibility and respect for nature and light, and it’s still full of the furniture and amazing collection of fossils and stones that once belonged to Neoptolemos.



Marmoreal by Max Lamb, Milan

April is a great month, not just because the winter is over but also because it’s the Milan Design Week called Salone. This year I’ve been quite lazy, too many offerings usually make me end up remembering nothing. One of my favorite things was this nice project of my friend the British designer Max Lamb for Dzek. A whole room entire made for this special terrazzo.



La Fabrica of Ricardo Bofill

This is the house/studio of one of the biggest architects in Spain of all times, Ricardo Bofill. This is seen from its neighboring building, Walden 7, also by Bofill. It’s a huge recovered cement factory from the beginning of 1900.  The size of a cathedral, it’s an incredible work in progress for more than 40 years.



Alexander Girard: An Uncommon Vision, New York

May is design week in New York and Herman Miller made this amazing exhibition about the legacy of the designer and architect Alexander Girard. Together with them we launched the 13th issue of Apartamento featuring an extensive supplement about the legacy of Girard and his family in Santa Fe (New Mexico).



Donald Judd Foundation, New York

While in New York I had the opportunity to visit the recently restored Judd Foundation. The 5-story Soho iron building was purchased by the artist Donald Judd in the 1970s and served as his studio and house for his family. It has been fully restored this year and is finally open to the public.



111 Lincoln Road, Miami

While in Miami this June I was impressed by this amazing parking deck by the Swiss architecture studio Herzog & de Meuron. I was even more impressed when I heard that the owner of the parking deck lives on the top floor with a huge garden and a swimming pool.



City Flats Hotel, Michigan

Every time I travel to the small city of Holland (Michigan) I have the opportunity to explore new rooms at the City Flats Hotel. The hotel is well known because Holland is home to many of the biggest furniture companies in the US, which means that many, many designers have stayed in the City Flats Hotel. This hotel is peculiar in that every single room is different, with all the possible configurations of queen bed + king bed, double queen bed, queen + double single, etc., that you can imagine. It’s known that you don’t want to receive the kind of room I got the last time, which featured two queen beds facing opposite walls. It was definitely impossible to get a good rest there.



Walden 7, Barcelona

This is another beautiful project from the architect Ricardo Bofill—a subsidized housing complex built in the early 1970s. I always knew it existed but never went to visit it. I was impressed by the color, proportions, and shapes, its little streets inside and balconies make it resemble a small vertical city.



Four Seasons Restaurant by Philip Johnson, New York

I had the opportunity to have a drink at the bar and I was impressed by the space, the sculptural ceiling installations, window curtains, and materials on the toilets.



Kiss Room, Paris

I met the interior designer and artist Mathias Kiss in Paris and showed me one of his recent projects. This tiny 10sqm bedroom in the backside of a bar in Le Marais could be rented for one night, 1000 nights are for sale and it will be destroyed after. The whole space is skillfully covered in mirror tiles with a geometric architecture that enables the guests to feel like you are underwater. Despite being all covered in glass, the spaces feels incredibly cozy rather than a torture room, and the effect after you have a shower and the whole little space becomes visible because of the steam is something you have to live.

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