[iDC] IPF09 Conference thoughts
kham at uiuc.edu
Mon Dec 7 07:04:03 UTC 2009
Thanks for thinking this through some with us Brian (and John). I only
discovered Orit's work through scanning the conference listings from
afar, and yes the book looks super exciting. (I read the chapter too
with enthusiasm, and confess to sending a gushing email in response -
sorry Orit - the work just looks very necessary.)
I won't so much take up Brian's points here as say that yes, this
discussion needs to happen. I just want to make sure I'm clear on what
we're addressing, and I'll also sketch out a few points we ought to hit.
I'd also suggest throwing into the mix here a Beatriz Colomina article
on the Eames-designed pavilion in Moscow in 1959 (article cited by
Orit, check the index for the chapter) - and a video just posted on
Chile's Cybersyn system (http://vimeo.com/8000921). These both have
some valuable examples to offer our lines of thought.
To review, I believe we're talking about a sort of change, one that
takes place at least along particular lines of emigration in some
histories of modern art and design.
The change that takes place is one of understanding and of action. We
see a change from an understanding of perception as revealing certain
universal principles to an understanding of perception as readily
manipulated using such principles.
The latter approach, as exemplified in the "modified Bauhaus"
education described earlier, drops the desire for a shared,
predictable world and accepts instead a constructivist, subjectively
constructed world. This newer approach folds perfectly (perhaps by
design) into consumerist habits of being and seeing.
Though we could talk about this change in multiple places and times,
at the moment we're discussing it in relation to the development of
Post-War college art and design education in America, and education's
relationship to industry.
I would contrast these two moments thusly:
- Looking at a thing as an essence or archetype VS. looking at a thing
- Viewing subject as synthesizing subject VS. viewing subject as an
overloaded navigator, dependent on others to synthesize.
To illustrate this change, we might compare, to borrow from Orit and
Colomina, Vertov's "Man with a Movie Camera" with the Eames' "Glimpses
of the USA", a multiple-screen projection prepared for display in
Moscow in '58.
We might look to various characteristics of art/design education and
practice as indexes of this change. - Appeals to the
"interdisciplinary" take place in both states, but look very different
on closer inspection. Design vocabulary, the words designers use,
might sound the same, but mean very different things. Contemporary art
and design are full of homonyms that remind us of high modernism and
we shouldn't mistake them.
In order to tell this story - and to complicate the dualism here -
we'd need to ask of each occasion:
What is lost or gained in the viewing of things as essences or as
How does the work of synthesis take place? Who does the work?
Where is sensory overload employed, and to what ends?
Some other important things to note here, more to complicate the
We should include in our stories the very different visual education
models in place in the States before the War, and their role in the
deployment of art as part of WPA projects and publc murals. (I loved
learning recently of the painter Charles Burchfield's disdain for
We should also look at how visual education is economically stratified
today. We could probably describe the strata of university art
education thusly (borrowing here from du Duve and others):
$: Education in mimicking techniques
$$: Application of modernist design principles toward highly
instrumental, affective ends
$$$: Overt eschewing of techniques or modernist design principles in
favor of practiced fluency in the production of aesthetic posture and
Radical constructivism, "unmoored" visual intelligence - some people
now experience these things as consumers, others as producers. Of
course the dream of many a student/consumer is to become an expert
producer - but even then, not all will have access to the codes of
constructing consciousness. Some will simply get to mimic and
reproduce that produced by others - it depends how much debt the
student wishes to incur in the process. More college debt = greater
access to the rudder of cybernetic consciousness control.
More information about the iDC