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The 12 Paradoxes Of Graphic Design

By Dorothy Tan,

19 Mar 2013

Based on a lecture by graphic designer Adrian Shaughnessy, Stockholm-based designer Tobias Bergdahl has created minimalist visuals for the “12 Paradoxes of Graphic Design” that Shaughnessy spoke of.

Each paradox consists of an impossible shape—like the Möbius strip—accompanied by a simple statement about the practice of graphic design.

These illuminating and insightful messages are great advice for young graphic designers by urging them not to harbor misleading assumptions about important subjects like clients, money and ideas.

Scroll down to view all 12 paradoxes that may give you a new perspective of graphic design.

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[From: abduzeed.com]

New Aesthetics: Cyber-Aesthetics and Degrees of Autonomy

By Patrick Lichty – 01/03/2013

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Five Thousand Feet is the Best by Omer Fast.

In perusing Honor Harger’s recent missive on drone aesthetics and James Bridle’s ongoing posts of drone images at Dronestagram, taken in context with the Glitch un-conference in Chicago, some new questions have come to mind. These questions have to do with conceptions of New Aesthetics in its various forms in terms of interaction with the program/device and its level of autonomy from the user. In my mind, there seems to be a NA continuum from generative programs that operate under the strict criteria of the programmer to the often-autonomous actions of drones and planetary rovers. As you can see, I am still chewing on the idea that The New Aesthetic as it seems to be defined, as encompassing all semi-autonomous aspects of ‘computer vision’. This includes Glitch, Algorism, Drone imagery, satellite photography and face recognition, and it’s sometimes a tough nugget to swallow that resonates with me on a number of levels.

First, image-creating technological agents are far from new, as Darko Fritz recently stated in a talk that algorithms have been creating images, in my opinion, within criteria of NA since the 60’s, and pioneers like Frieder Nake, A. Michael Noll, and Roman Verostko have been exploring algorithmic agency for decades. If we take these computer art pioneers into account, one can argue that NA has existed since the 60’s if one lumps in genres like Verostko’s ‘style’ of Algorism or the use of algorithms as aesthetic choice. A notch along the continuum toward the ‘fire and forget’ imaging (e.g. drones) is the Glitch contingent, which is less deterministic about their methodologies of data corruption aesthetics by either running a program that corrupts the media or they perform digital vivisection and watch what little monster they’ve created. Glitchers exhibit less control over their processes, and are much more akin to John Cage, Dada or Fluxus artists in their allowance of whimsical or chance elements in their media.

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However, as we slide along the spectrum of control/autonomy from the lockstep control of code to the less deterministic aesthetics of face recognition, drone imaging, robotic cameras, Google Street View cams, Mars Rovers and satellite imaging, things get murkier. Autonomic aesthetics remind me of the ruby-hued Terminator T500 vision generated by intelligent agents running the ‘housekeeping’ on the machine platform. I consider this continuum from Algorism to Glitch to autonomous robotic agents under an NA continuum of aesthetics is important insofar as it defines a balance of agency between the operator and the ‘tool’. For me this is the difference between the high degree of control of the Algorist, the ‘twiddle and tweak’ sensibility of the Glitcher, and the gleaning from the database of pseudo-autonomous images created by Big Imaging created by drones and automatic imaging. Notice I use the term ‘pseudo’ in that there are operators flying the platforms or driving the car, while the on-board agents take care of issues like pattern/face recognition and target acquisition. We also see this in Facebook, as recent technological changes as of 2012 have introduced face recognition in the tagging of images. From this, a key issue for me in this discussion of what began as a nebulous set of terms (the criteria of NA as defined by the global conversation) is that of agency and autonomy, and how much control the New Aestheticist gets in the execution of their process. Another important point is that I am not calling the ‘New Aestheticist’ an artist or curator, but something in between, but I’ll get to that later as this is also an issue of control of intent.

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Terminator T500 vision

Back to this idea of autonomy between the subject, the ‘curator’ and the viewer, what interests me is the degree of control or not that the person creating, tweaking, or gleaning the image has over the creation or contextualization of that image. In the case of the Algorist, this is the Control end of the spectrum, where the artist takes nearly full control of the process of creation of the image, unless there is a randomization function involved in the process, and that it itself is a form of control – very Cybernetic in nature. Agency is at a maximum here, as the artist and machine are in partnership. Roman Verostko is a prime example of this, as he explores intricate recursive images created by ink pen plotters using paints in the pens. What he, and the AI-driven AARON, by Harold Cohen, for that matter, are machine painting.

The next step down the autonomy spectrum would involve the use of ‘glitch’ tools and processes that distort, disturb, and warp digital media. The process involves executing a given intervention upon the medium, such as saving it improperly, hex editing its code to corrupt it, or as Caleb Kelly writes, ‘crack’ the media. There are differing degrees of disturbance of the media to inject chance processes into it, from a more ‘algoristic’/programmatic application of programs upon the media to directly changing the internal data structure through manipulating the information through hex code and text editors. The resultant process is an iterative ‘tweak and test’ methodology that still involves the user in the process to varying degrees. Of course, the direct manipulation of the data with a hex editor is the most intimate of the processes, but there is still one factor to account for. The factor in question is that there is the set of causes and effects that are set in motion when the artist/operator opens the media and the codec (Compressor/DECompressor) mis/interprets the media, as is intended by the artist.

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If we are to look at the glitch process, we can say that there is a point of intervention/disturbance upon the media, which is entirely a function of control on the part of the user. Afterwards, it is set loose into the system to allow the corruptions within the media to trigger chance/autonomous operations in its interpretation in the browser, etc. This is where the glitcher straddles the line between control and autonomy, as they manually insert noise into their media (control), then the codecs struggle with the ‘cracked’ media (autonomy). The glitcher, then, has the option to try a new iteration, thereby making the process cybernetic in nature. In Glitch, there is a conversation between the operator, the media and the codec. With the aesthetics created by drones, algorithmic recognition software, and satellite reconstructions, the process is far more autonomous/disjoint, and the New Aestheticist has to deal with this in the construction of their practice.

In the genre that I will call ‘mobEYEle’ imaging, the robot, satellite, or parabolic street eye abstracts from the ‘artist’, aptly turning them into an ‘aestheticist’, as their level of control is defined as that of a gleaner/pattern recognizer from the image bank of Big Data. Rhetorically speaking, we could say that a connection between the aestheticist and the generator of the image would be less abstract if, say, a New Aestheticist were to be in the room with a drone pilot, conversing about points of interest. It is likely that a military remote pilot and a graphic designer would have sharply differing views as to what constitutes a ‘target of interest’. Like that’s going to happen…

Therefore, let us just say that the collaboration of a New Aestheticist and a drone pilot is nightly unlikely, and that the New Aestheticist is therefore abstracted from the decisions of command and control involved in acquiring the image that eventually gets in their hands. This, however, presents us with two levels of autonomous agency, one human and one algotrithmic. But before I expand on this, I would like to discuss my decision to call the practitioner an ‘aestheticist’ as opposed to an artist or curator.

This decision rests on what I feel is the function of the aestheticist, that is, to glean value from an image and ‘ascribe’ an aesthetic to it. This position puts them in a murky locus between artist and curator, as they have elements of neither and both. For example, does the drone-image NA practitioner create the image; are they the artist per se, of the image? No. Although they are more closely aligned to curatorial practice as they collect, filter (to paraphrase Anne-Marie Schleiner), and post on tumblrs and Pinterests? From my perspective, the role of a curator is the suggestion of taste through and informed subjectivity through ecologies of trust and legitimacy, but the social image aggregator, although they might want to perform the same function, has no guarantee of accomplishing this unless they develop a following. Therefore, under my definition, they are neither creators nor taste-makers in the traditional sense, so what makes sense is to call them ‘aggregators’ of aesthetic material and thus my term ‘Aestheticist’.

Returning to our conversation, the drone aestheticist, then, is subject to one of two degrees of completely abstracted autonomy of the creation of the image; that of the operator or that of the algorithms operating the drone. The abstraction surrounding the human operator is easiest to resolve, as the images of interest are either the preference of the drone operator or those created by the operator under the parameters of the mission, and not the results of a New Aestheticist’s joyride on a Global Hawk. It is merely someone else’s volition selecting the image, and a confluence of personal interest deciding as to whether the image deserves to be on the New Aestheticist’s social imaging organ. However, it is the drone’s algorithmic image acquisition system that creates a more alien perspective in regards to aesthetics and autonomy of the image.

Compared to the Algorist or the Glitcher, all loosely placed under the banner of New Aesthetics, the Drone/Big Data Aestheticist is most problematic, as they are a fetishizer of sheer command and control operations that are potentially utterly abstracted from the pilot/driver’s volition. This creates a double abstraction through first the pilot, and then the algorithmic recognition system. There is no cybernetic loop here at all, as the gleaning of the item of interest from the beach of Big Data is twice removed from any feedback potential. Secondly, as I have written before, the Drone Aestheticist is exactly that, a gleaner of interesting images for use on their social image site, which in itself is a bit of an abject exercise.

Or is it? For example, if one is to say that the Aestheticist gleaning the images does so without intent or politics, and is merely operating on fetish/interest value, then this is perhaps one of the least interesting practices in New Aesthetic practice. But on the other hand, if one looks at the work of practitioners like Jordan Crandall, Trevor Paglen, or Ricardo Dominguez, who examine the acquired image as instrument of aggression, control, and oppression, this puts a new lease on the life of the Drone Aesthetic. In a way, though inquiry, there is an indirect feedback loop established in questioning the gaze of the device, its presence, and its function in its theater of operations. The politics of the New Aesthetic emerges here, in asking what mechanisms of command and control guide the machine eye and determine its targets of interest. This is of utmost importance, as the abstracted eye is guided without subjectivity or ethics and is determined solely by the parameters of its algorithms and the stated goals of its functions.

Is the aesthetic of the machine image merely a function of examining its processes, fetishizing its errors, or something else? The criteria of the New Aesthetic attempts to talk about a spectrum of digital imaging that stretches back into time far longer than 2010, and has a problematically broad sense of definition. Once these problems are set aside as a given, one of the key criteria for the evaluation of NA practice and the function of its images depends upon the degree of control and autonomy inherent in the process within the creation of the image. This is formed in a continuum of control and abstraction from Algorism and Generative Art to autonomous eyes like drones and satellites. Algorism is one of the oldest NA practices, and exhibits the closest relationship between artist, machine and determinacy of digital process. A greater degree of indeterminacy is evident in the Glitch, but the iterative process of tweaking the media and then setting it forth into the process of interpretation by the codec, foregrounds the issue of digital autonomy.

The eye of the unmanned platform abstracts creation from the human organism at least once if a human does not operate it remotely, and twice if it is. There is the Terminator-like fear of the autonomous robot, but at this time, perhaps the more salient questions regarding what I have qualified as drone/autonomous aestheticism under NA of what the function of the image is, and is it really that interesting? Are the practices of NA blurring artistic and curatorial practice into a conceptual aestheticism, creating a cool detachment from the image despite its source or method of creation? Is the bottom line to the genres of NA the degree of control that the artist or aestheticist has over the image’s creation or its modality/intent? It seems that NA is an ongoing reflection upon the continuum of control over the generation of the image, our beliefs regarding its aesthetics, and what the intentions or politics are behind the creation of the New Aesthetic image. Or, as I have written before, are we just pinning images from Big Data and saying, “Isn’t that kinda cool?”

Maybe it’s somewhere in the middle of intention and cool.

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Formal Design Education Is Necessary for Practicing Designers. Yay or Nay?

Ellen Shapiro

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Scott Stowell

It was the third Designer’s Debate Club event. The Parsons Tishman Auditorium on West 12th Street was packed last Wednesday with people eager to hear what well-known designers and design educators would have to say about the necessity of formal design education.

Co-sponsored by AIGA/NY and organized by Designer’s Debate Club founders Jon Troutman, lead product designer at design/technology incubator General Assembly, and Keenan Cummings, co-founder of travel startup Wander, the event was moderated by Scott Stowell, proprietor of Open and an instructor at Yale and SVA.

Structured like a formal debate, two teams of three panelists each argued the motion, “Formal Design Education Is Necessary for Practicing Designers.” In the spirit of serious interchange as well as good fun, the goal was to find out through audience votes, before and after the debate, which panel was the most persuasive and swayed more people from their original positions to their side.

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Yea: Miller, Bologna, Twemlow

At the ‘For’ team table, saying ‘Yea’ to the motion, were Alice Twemlow, co-founder of SVA’s D-Crit MFA program; Matteo Bologna, creative director and president of Mucca Design; and Pentagram partner Abbott Miller.

The ‘Against’ team members, saying ‘Nay’ to the motion, were Kate Proulx, designer at HUGE and an instructor of digital design at Parsons; Able Parris, associate design director at the Big Spaceship digital agency; and Peter Vidani, design director at Tumblr.

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Nay: Proulx, Vidani, Parris (standing to make his point)

The initial show of hands revealed that approximately 60 percent of the attendees were in favor of the motion, 40 percent against.

I raised my hand for Nay. Why? I’m the product of a liberal arts education—I was a design major at UCLA. And I’m a big believer in formal design education, having taught at Pratt, Parsons, School of Visual Arts, and Purchase College, SUNY. But I can’t agree with the word “necessary.” There are too many exceptions, too many self-taught, original, and game-changing David Carsons and Matteo Bolognas (though seated on the ‘For’ side, Bologna opened his studio in Milan straight out of an Italian high school for art study and learned by scrutinizing the work of his design idols in Type Directors annuals). Am I being too finicky saying I would re-write the motion: “Formal Design Education Is Desirable for Practicing Designers”— desirable, advantageous, important, useful, valuable, helpful—just about any word but “necessary.” Well, if it’s a formal debate, the task at hand is to debate the motion exactly as presented.

Each team had five minutes to make its case in an opening statement.

Twemlow eloquently compared formal design education to a full banquet, an experience rich in content, community and culture. Informal, do-it-yourself design education, she said, was like a cold buffet on flimsy paper plates, which “never satisfies.”

“Design education is broken,” countered Proulx, who made the case for learning via alternate means: online discourse, trial-and-error experimentation, on the job. She claimed, via her own experience, that design school faculty are unprepared to teach the technological skills needed today, and that design education mainly serves to get graduates into huge debt.

Then came the rebuttal/argument segment. To wit:

Bologna: “I didn’t go to design school but wish I had. Making a success of yourself is very tough without having someone to teach you how not to make mistakes.

Proulx: “I don’t look for degrees. I look for how well you express yourself, what’s in your portfolio.”

Miller: “I’m horrified at the debate itself. What you’re buying in design education is not an imprimatur to get a job. It is a face-to-face, collaborative experience in a real physical space.”

Parris: “It’s very rebellious not to go to school. You can create your own school on your own time: Twitter, TED talks, YouTube videos.”

Twemlow: “What you’re describing is lonely and sad.”

Vidani: “School costs way too much.”

Miller: “Not all schools and programs are expensive.

Parris: Buckminster Fuller didn’t go to architecture school, and look what he was able to create.

Proulx: “I teach today what I learned on my own as a teenager. Digital design teachers really don’t know what they’re doing and can’t teach for the real world.”

Bologna: “The real world is bullshit.”

Speaking against the motion from the floor

Two microphones were set up for audience members, who bravely lined up to make one-minute floor speeches as passionate as those of the panelists. For example:

“Even the renegades come from a design education tradition.”

“Design education is for an old system.”

“It’s five years behind, not up to current standards.”

“Design school is not about technology. It is about art and culture, form and structure.”

In the second vote, more hands went up for ‘For.’ “The Yays have it!”

Well, the auditorium was filled with students. It’s encouraging that they’re committed to what they’re doing. I stuck to my ‘Nay’ vote. The three panelists on the ‘Against’ side—their work, what they’ve accomplished professionally—are living proof that a formal design education is not necessary. But, again, that doesn’t mean it’s not advantageous, important, useful, valuable, desirable.

Maybe the question really being debated was, Can you be a successful designer without a formal design education? Yes. Some rare and talented people, including Parris and Vidani, have done it. There will always be renegade geniuses. But just because they and Buckminster Fuller and David Carson and Matteo Bologna were able to succeed brilliantly without a formal education, that doesn’t mean that design school doors should be closed to everybody else. It did sound like the ‘Against’ side might be eager to shut down the schools and departments, and perhaps deprive those who aren’t independent learners of the opportunity. And to be honest, if the need to go to work and earn money weren’t an issue, if tuition fees had been magically paid, how many self-taught designers would have jumped at the chance to spend time in classes with great teachers and immerse themselves in art and culture, form and structure?

Upon further consideration: Both sides won. I’ve been a member of the AIGA since 1987, and this was one of the best events I’ve ever attended: the best organized and most relevant. Bravo! To both sides, to attendees, and to organizers Troutman and Cummings.

Afterwards, Jon Troutman filled me in on the Designer’s Debate Club: “We wanted to start an event series that was different than the typical panel or ‘designer at podium with slideshow’ type of thing,” he explained. “And it’s actually quite fun to throw manners to the wind and flat-out argue. This format is meant to be open and honest and somewhat raw about which things are working, or not working, in our industry. Also, debates are a hell of a lot of fun.”

The topic of the first debate, held at General Assembly, was “All Web Designers Must Learn to Code.” Recalls Troutman, “The response was so overwhelming that tickets for the second session were claimed within 36 hours of announcing it; more than 100 people were on the wait-list.” Panelists at the second session, which took place at the Etsy Holiday Shop in SoHo, argued, “Lean Startup Methods Prevent Designers from Solving Big-Picture Design Problems.” I’m not sure I totally understand the statement, but I’ll maintain that most clients’ design budgets, startups or not, are too lean.

Designer’s Debate Club plans to hold monthly debates, and invites all designers to suggest topics by tweeting @DesignDebaters.

Since design is often compared to writing, my parting thought is a quote from The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner, a college textbook:

“Though the literary dabbler may write a fine story now and then, the true writer is one for whom technique has become second nature. Ordinarily this means university education, with courses in the writing of fiction, and poetry as well. Some important writers have said the opposite—for instance, Ernest Hemingway … who recommended just writing, writing, writing. But, it may help to remember that he went away for free tutorials to two of the finest teachers then living …”

And the debate goes on. Long live Designer’s Debate Club. Especially since all proceeds from the $10 admission tickets are going to support Inspire/Make Workshops, free classes for high school students who want to learn how to design and develop for digital media.

Continue your design education with HOW Design University, an online education program for busy creative professionals.

Categories: Design School, Education, Ellen Shapiro, Events, Featured
Tags: AIGA/NY, Designer’s Debate Club, Parsons The new School of Design

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Graphic Design as Political Practice: A Conversation With Metahaven [Part 1]

Published on February 14th, 2013

From: http://hyperallergic.com/

Written by: Kyle Chayka

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Installation view of “Metahaven: Islands in the Cloud” at MoMA PS1 (Photo: Matthew Septimus)

Metahaven is an Amsterdam-based design studio made up of its two members and founders, Vinca Kruk and Daniel van der Velden. Yet to describe them simply as a design studio seems misleading. The pair uses graphic design, identity branding, and product development as weapons, harnessing the power of the image in the internet age to design concepts that both signal label and propel political and social change.

Following their fascination with strange political gambits, obscure corners of the internet, and the power of the cloud, Kruk and van der Velden have written essays for e-flux, rebranded the micronation of Sealand, and created salable products for Wikileaks as the organization was just hitting the global scene. On the occasion of their current exhibition at MoMA PS1, I sat down with Metahaven to discuss their history as a studio, the process of working with Julian Assange, and the aesthetics of the dot-com boom. The second part of the interview will be published tomorrow.

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Metahaven infographic from “Captives of the Cloud” (Image via e-flux.com)
Kyle Chayka: How did Metahaven first get started?

Vinca Kruk: We started to collaborate on the Sealand Identity Project, which was to conceive a national identity for the Principality of Sealand, which is a self-proclaimed nation on a former war platform near the coast of the UK. We didn’t stop working on that project, but wanted to keep going with it. That’s what our practice emerged out of. Quite naturally, it wasn’t a formal decision.

Daniel van der Velden: I agree.

KC: How did you first hear about Sealand or start thinking about it?

DV: Towards the end of the dot-com boom at the time I was co-designing a magazine called Archis, which is now called Volume, an architecture journal, and we had a special issue about islands. Sealand emerged in an editorial meeting as an example and then actually the idea came about to think about an identity for this kind of really weird place that no one can actually visit, that’s only accessible through the internet.

Sealand was trying to have its own dot-com business model at the time. So it was really a combination of this idea of sovereignty, self-proclaimed nationhood, in combination with this flawed entrepreneurial dream of starting an offshore business onboard Sealand. I think we were both interested in working on a lyrical aspect of visual identity, something that had to do a lot with heraldry, opulence — something not so minimal. Sealand was a really good launch platform for that. We also had an interest in theory, so it was also a great projection screen for all kinds of theoretical notions of identity and state.

VK: Explorations of theory, nationhood, and statehood, the combination of anarchy and monarchy, and all the contradictions that you find in Sealand as a kind of self-proclaimed state. There’s a strange, almost totalitarian thinking behind it, but it is so lo-fi. People hanging out with beer on a platform like “playing state” in their backyard.

DV: It’s interesting because Roy Bates, the founder of Sealand, recently passed away. The whole idea of Sealand was basically a gift to his wife. So it was his wife Joan, and he was obviously very much in love with her. He gave her this title “princess.” Which is a super-poetic and at the same time totally meaningless title. She doesn’t get any special perks from that other than some sort of fame. It’s interesting that it was done in a pre-internet age so obviously he wouldn’t have done it for, like, followers.

It was an inherently genuine act. That’s what’s great about Sealand.

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Installation view of “Metahaven: Islands in the Cloud” at MoMA PS1 (Photo: Matthew Septimus)

KC: Can you describe what kind of identity you made for Sealand? How did it evolve visually and what was the end product?

VK: What we found interesting about Sealand that it had all the very traditional objects of statehood, like stamps and passports, to prove that Sealand was very legitimate and real. There were also fake Sealand passports circulating. We were interested in creating coins of stamps that wouldn’t really materialize, but would exist virtually. An endless flow of heraldic images that keep going and keep adding to them.

DV: There are the old fixed icons like coins and stamps, but they are charged with stuff that’s actually really unstable, like everything that you find through Google Images. Everything you find about Sealand through Google would be legit to use in the identity for that reason.

So, for example, the landlord of the murderer of Gianni Versace had a fake Sealand passport. So that’s a little chain of events, and because of that link we could use the Versace iconography in the brand. If you Google “Sealand” now, you also get results for “Seal and Heidi Klum,” because Google has changed its algorithms accordingly. So you get lots of images of Seal and Heidi Klum together. Had that had been around at the time, we would have certainly used that.

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“Jewelbox” of Sealand branding (Image via wired.com)
KC: What’s the current state of Sealand?

VK: There was a fire on Sealand a few years ago, so it’s in a bad shape.

DV: People also know that their idea of turning Sealand into a data haven is not working. The P2P file sharing platform,the Pirate Bay, tried to buy Sealand a couple of years back because it still is this kind of internet anarchy symbol. But it’s not working, and I think we predicted that in our essay ‘The Network Ruin.”

KC: Totally, the ruins of the failed utopia are a visual archetype. Through Metahaven, you’re taking on projects that are niche but remain very relevant. How did you develop and run the studio practice.

DV: We are interested in ideas and concepts that require not just visualization but also research. I think that when we decided to we wanted to collaborate further on these things we also were struggling with how to set up a studio. I gave up another practice that I had at the time, which had many clients, in order to completely focus on Metahaven, so we started form scratch — we had nothing. We also had to find clients to sustain this practice. You can’t run your practice on something like Sealand alone. So the first few years were spent on getting that model together, of having commissioned work, combined with longer and shorter term research projects.

VK: I think working on Sealand as a topic was very important because there were so many themes in there that we have continued working on since, in different projects. We started to write much more, we organized conferences. We started working issues like the use of totalitarian architecture in Europe, and how such buildings were re-appropriated as symbols in capitalism. Still architecture, and identity were things we were working on.

KC: It’s interesting that on one hand, there is the commercial need to survive and take on projects and clients, but you also have a split between client work and research projects. How do you guys feel about Metahaven as kind of a business entity?

VK: We don’t really separate it — it’s not like we work on a commission for a client and the next day we do a research project. It very much overlaps, and also the way we talk with clients about commissions is very much how we talk in the studio about how to continue a research project.

DV: I think the notion of proactivity is really important, the notion that you can initiate stuff yourself. It can actually be a project that involves a client. There is the old notion of “pro-bono” work, which is the supposedly ethical counterpart to commercial practice, but in our case you could say that we dedicate a certain amount of research and resources to a potential client or partner that we feel could benefit from that.

That’s how we approached WikiLeaks, for example. Just before their global notoriety, so they were actually still approachable at that time.

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Installation view of “Metahaven: Islands in the Cloud” at MoMA PS1 featuring Wikileaks scarves (Photo: Matthew Septimus)

KC: Wikileaks blew up pretty quickly in terms of global notoriety. Do you mean working on topics that have more real-world impact?

DV: Nobody could have foreseen what happened to WikiLeaks, and the events that unfolded. Of course, it’s impossible for an identity to keep track of all this, so that’s also why we had to change the central question of the project, moving into something that was much more about products, merchandising — because what they needed most was money. Then of course we solved that in a completely non-straightforward way. We did stuff that obviously was very different form what they had in mind originally.

KC: What kind of things did Wikileaks have in mind for themselves?

DV: The sort of stuff you see in their official merchandising store.

KC: Instead, you made some more upscale items for them, like a Chanel-style scarf. What’s the story behind that?

DV: The notion of the scarf talks about opacity and transparency, which is exactly what they are about.

VK: Something that’s kind of glamorous, and you could wear it both as a luxury item, but also use it to cover your face.

DV: There’s also the cheapness of glamour. There is something about WikiLeaks that echoes cheap, fake imports—like a revolt of the means of production over the brand image. That’s why we had that Louis Vuitton play with the “WL” logo in one of the earlier scarves. WikiLeaks is about a notion of democratic access to value. This is something that we wanted to bring out a little bit.

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A Wikileaks scarf by Metahaven, featuring their logo (Image courtesy Metahaven, photo Meinke Klein)

KC: How difficult was it to actually communicate with Wikileaks, given their secrecy? Did you have any contact with Julian Assange himself?

VK: It basically started with us sending them an email in mid-2010 saying, “Hey, we would like to work on your identity, would you be up for it?” We got a reply back two hours later. The email said, “Great, we have a shortage of such things.” The e-mail was signed with “JA.” So that was enough for us to get started because they opened up the possibility to do something.

Then they started releasing the cables, and communication became very difficult. It took some time to get back touch with them, which eventually happened. We met with them and showed what we had done.

DV: Then, in that meeting, what we had been doing was sort of brushed aside, which was completely predictable. Some of the stuff we did which was brushed aside is in the show.

KC: Which parts?

DV: The identity part basically. Then we decided that pursuing tee shirts and mugs was really the way to go. We had a dialogue over the specific designs later on that was very productive.

VK: What we really understood during that meeting was that they have a problem surviving financially because of a blockade by MasterCard, VISA and PayPal. Selling merchandising is an important way for WikiLeaks to raise money, so basically that was the only thing they felt they needed designed.

DV: There’s a lot of criticism about this. They seem so focused on money sometimes that you feel it’s actually not benefiting the people who care for Wikileaks. These are not necessarily people who have lots of money. So if you force someone to support an organization by buying a mug you’re basically molding that person into a consumer role.

We found that the leaks are to WikiLeaks what tour dates are to a band, so basically our t-shirts present different important leaks, one per t-shirt.

Part two of Hyperallergic’s interview with Metahaven was published on Friday, February 15, 2013, “Graphic Design as Political Practice: A Conversation with Metahaven [Part 2].”

Metahaven: Islands in the Cloud runs at MoMA PS1 (22-25 Jackson Ave, Long Island City) through April 1.

///

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David Hammons performing ‘Bliz-aard Ball Sale’ (1983), Cooper Square, New York City
Courtesy Migros Museum, Zurich © David Hammons. Photo: Dawood Bey

From An Interview with David Hammons:

1. I CAN’T STAND ART ACTUALLY. I’VE NEVER, EVER LIKED ART, EVER. I NEVER TOOK IT IN SCHOOL.

2. WHEN I WAS IN CALIFORNIA, ARTISTS WOULD WORK FOR YEARS AND NEVER HAVE A SHOW. SO SHOWING HAS NEVER BEEN THAT IMPORTANT TO ME. WE USED TO CUSS PEOPLE OUT: PEOPLE WHO BOUGHT OUR WORK, DEALERS, ETC., BECAUSE THAT PART OF BEING AN ARTIST WAS ALWAYS A JOKE TO US.

WHEN I CAME TO NEW YORK, I DIDN’T SEE ANY OF THAT. EVERYBODY WAS JUST GROVELING AND TOMMING, ANYTHING TO BE IN THE ROOM WITH SOMEBODY WITH SOME MONEY. THERE WERE NO BAD GUYS HERE; SO I SAID, “LET ME BE A BAD GUY,” OR ATTEMPT TO BE A BAD GUY, OR PLAY WITH THE BAD AREAS AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS.

3. I WAS TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHY BLACK PEOPLE WERE CALLED SPADES, AS OPPOSED TO CLUBS. BECAUSE I REMEMBER BEING CALLED A SPADE ONCE, AND I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT IT MEANT; NIGGER I KNEW BUT SPADE I STILL DON’T. SO I TOOK THE SHAPE, AND STARTED PAINTING IT.

4. I JUST LOVE THE HOUSES IN THE SOUTH, THE WAY THEY BUILT THEM. THAT NEGRITUDE ARCHITECTURE. I REALLY LOVE TO WATCH THE WAY BLACK PEOPLE MAKE THINGS, HOUSES OR MAGAZINE STANDS IN HARLEM, FOR INSTANCE. JUST THE WAY WE USE CARPENTRY. NOTHING FITS, BUT EVERYTHING WORKS. THE DOOR CLOSES, IT KEEPS THINGS FROM COMING THROUGH. BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE THAT NEATNESS ABOUT IT, THE WAY WHITE PEOPLE PUT THINGS TOGETHER; EVERYTHING IS A THIRTY-SECOND OF AN INCH OFF.

5. THAT’S WHY I LIKE DOING STUFF BETTER ON THE STREET, BECAUSE THE ART BECOMES JUST ONE OF THE OBJECTS THAT’S IN THE PATH OF YOUR EVERYDAY EXISTENCE. IT’S WHAT YOU MOVE THROUGH, AND IT DOESN’T HAVE ANY SENIORITY OVER ANYTHING ELSE.

THOSE PIECES WERE ALL ABOUT MAKING SURE THAT THE BLACK VIEWER HAD A REFLECTION OF HIMSELF IN THE WORK. WHITE VIEWERS HAVE TO LOOK AT SOMEONE ELSE’S CULTURE IN THOSE PIECES AND SEE VERY LITTLE OF THEMSELVES IN IT.

6. ANYONE WHO DECIDES TO BE AN ARTIST SHOULD REALIZE THAT IT’S A POVERTY TRIP. TO GO INTO THIS PROFESSION IS LIKE GOING INTO THE MONASTERY OR SOMETHING; IT’S A VOW OF POVERTY I ALWAYS THOUGHT. TO BE AN ARTIST AND NOT EVEN TO DEAL WITH THAT POVERTY THING, THAT’S A WASTE OF TIME; OR TO BE AROUND PEOPLE COMPLAINING ABOUT THAT.

MY KEY IS TO TAKE AS MUCH MONEY HOME AS POSSIBLE. ABANDON ANY ART FORM THAT COSTS TOO MUCH. INSIST THAT IT’S AS CHEAP AS POSSIBLE IS NUMBER ONE AND ALSO THAT IT’S AESTHETICALLY CORRECT. AFTER THAT ANYTHING GOES. AND THAT KEEPS EVERYTHING INTERESTING FOR ME.

7. I DON’T KNOW WHAT MY WORK IS. I HAVE TO WAIT TO HEAR THAT FROM SOMEONE.

I WOULD LIKE TO BURN THE PIECE. I THINK THAT WOULD BE NICE VISUALLY. VIDEOTAPE THE BURNING OF IT. AND SHOOT SOME SLIDES. THE SLIDES WOULD THEN BE A PIECE IN ITSELF. I’M GETTING INTO THAT NOW: THE SLIDES ARE THE ART PIECES AND THE ART PIECES DON’T EXIST.

8. IF YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE THEN IT’S EASY TO MAKE ART. MOST PEOPLE ARE REALLY CONCERNED ABOUT THEIR IMAGE. ARTISTS HAVE ALLOWED THEMSELVES TO BE BOXED IN BY SAYING “YES” ALL THE TIME BECAUSE THEY WANT TO BE SEEN, AND THEY SHOULD BE SAYING “NO.” I DO MY STREET ART MAINLY TO KEEP ROOTED IN THAT “WHO I AM.” BECAUSE THE ONLY THING THAT’S REALLY GOING ON IS IN THE STREET; THAT’S WHERE SOMETHING IS REALLY HAPPENING. IT ISN’T HAPPENING IN THESE GALLERIES.

9. DOING THINGS IN THE STREET IS MORE POWERFUL THAN ART I THINK. BECAUSE ART HAS GOTTEN SO….I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK ART IS ABOUT NOW. IT DOESN’T DO ANYTHING. LIKE MALCOLM X SAID, IT’S LIKE NOVOCAINE. IT USED TO WAKE YOU UP BUT NOW IT PUTS YOU TO SLEEP. I THINK THAT ART NOW IS PUTTING PEOPLE TO SLEEP. THERE’S SO MUCH OF IT AROUND IN THIS TOWN THAT IT DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING. THAT’S WHY THE ARTIST HAS TO BE VERY CAREFUL WHAT HE SHOWS AND WHEN HE SHOWS NOW. BECAUSE THE PEOPLE AREN’T REALLY LOOKING AT ART, THEY’RE LOOKING AT EACH OTHER AND EACH OTHER’S CLOTHES AND EACH OTHER’S HAIRCUTS.

10. THE ART AUDIENCE IS THE WORST AUDIENCE IN THE WORLD. IT’S OVERLY EDUCATED, IT’S CONSERVATIVE, IT’S OUT TO CRITICIZE NOT TO UNDERSTAND, AND IT NEVER HAS ANY FUN. WHY SHOULD I SPEND MY TIME PLAYING TO THAT AUDIENCE?

DAVID HAMMONS 1986

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Before your lecture this Wednesday, please add this RSS feed to your blog:

http://www.gamswen2012.wordpress.com/feed/  So you can follow all updates instantly… >>>>

You do this by going to Appearence and then adding the Widget RSS (Entries from any RSS or Atom feed) to one of your widget areas…

If you do not know what an RSS feed is or do not know how to set one up I can show you before this week’s lecure… which is:

Vaughan Oliver

Vaughan Oliver (born 1957) is a British graphic designer based in Epsom, South of London. Oliver is most noted for his work with graphic design studios 23 Envelope and v23.[Both studios maintained a close relationship with record label 4AD between 1982 and 1998 and were to give distinct visual identities for the 4AD releases by many bands, including Cocteau TwinsDead Can DanceThe BreedersThis Mortal CoilPale SaintsPixies, and Throwing Muses.

http://vaughanoliver.co.uk/

WEDNESDAYS

9.30am – 10.45am 11.01.2012 – 28.03.2012

Place: Lecture Theatre DT 001 David Fussey – Southwood Site.

All the best

Mark

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