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Graphagos and Deniz Cem Önduygu

I must say that in the 21 years that I have being teaching, for the most part, I have been unusually blessed in my students, both undergraduate and graduate – but especially graduate. I do not have a lot of them, since I have a bit of a reputation for being a hard-ass when it comes to thesis writing: Although I supervise design projects, I still expect every graduate student who works with me to write a righteous, well referenced thesis that explains and substantiates their thesis project. So, few tend to take the bait. But those who do so, usually turn out remarkable work.

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And none more remarkable than Deniz Cem, who developed an evolutionary graphic design system based upon Darwinian theory as his thesis project. Not only did he conceive of the idea and its interface, did a tremendous amount of research related to the theoretical premises of the work, but he also sat down and learned the programming language Processing and actually developed the code that makes the system run.

For several years Cem hesitated publishing Graphagos since he was worried about plagiarism. And justifiably so – the project is one that is innovative enough to whet the appetites of a lot of bad guys out there who may want to hijack it and profit from it. Although this concern is very real and still valid, he has now finally made it public and I am absolutely thrilled to share it. Read moreRead more


The strangely mirrored tale of Volund

Last Spring I did a collaborative project with Heidi Dahlsveen on her LEA granted simulator in Second Life. Heidi is a storyteller, and she wanted to investigate Joseph Campbell’s “Hero with a Thousand Faces,” visualized and re-told through a Nordic Hero, Volund, who goes through an adventure in twelve stages – a concept that hugely excited me as well. I am really happy to say that the project got very good attention in SL, lots of people came to visit and lots of photographs were taken by the visitors. And these photos inspired me to make my own series. Not a documentation of the project, but rather a personal interpretation of what I had previously built. Read moreRead more


From Azimuth to Cypher

This year while I was teaching my Theory of Artistic Practice class I tried to make a case for using research as a basis for making stuff, rather than theorizing upon finished output. From last year I already knew that the students would be quite adverse to the course’s contents – to the idea that, as artists and designers it is nowadays also expected of them they should be able to theorize upon their work and that was precisely what they were going to learn to do here. (The class is mandatory for first year graduate students, they all have to take it). Telling them that writing will help get them jobs in academia and stuff like that doesn’t really work either: They simply don’t believe you. So, I came up with this alternative that would turn research into part of the actual creative process. I think some of them caught onto this, and actually enjoyed taking the class in the end.

At some point in the semester, while I was teaching the class, I was asked to make something that I could submit to an exhibition of very small artifacts that will take place in England sometime next year, curated by my colleague Lanfranco. Which I did do. I made a tiny solar system, a virtual metaverse artifact that is so small that you cannot even properly see it since the camera starts to bounce when you zoom into it. So, far so good – it was in fact very small. I liked the way it looked also – no problems there either. What I did not like at all was that the idea of the solar system itself was very hackneyed. Read moreRead more


The Tower of Heteronyms

The words that you will read as you fly up and down this tower belong to four individuals – Bernardo Soares, Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, and Alvaro de Campos, who were the literary extensions of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (1888 – 1935). Not only did Pessoa write under over 50 different names (of which the above-mentioned are the most prominent ones) but he claimed that these were not mere pseudonyms since it was not just their names that were different to his: Rather, they were fully fledged ‘others,’ with uniquely developed individuated personalities and appearances of their own, whom their inventor called ‘heteronyms.’ Such was their disparity that Pessoa did not consider them to be ‘alternative selves,’ but rather thought of them as fully fledged others, indeed to the extent that he even created elaborate horoscopes through which he charted their individual futures independently of his own.

However playful Pessoa’s preoccupation with them may seem to have been, the heteronyms were not simply a game; they were a highly intellectualized construction that occupied Pessoa’s entire adult life. They were the co-travelers of a voyage of self-discovery, or self-invention which he worded as “to pretend is to know oneself,” an existential circumnavigation that would not end until Pessoa did. ‘Pretending’ was actuated through these discrete personalities lived by the author within himself and was given expression through the poetry and prose which they authored, to which Pessoa did not claim ownership of. Read moreRead more


Using Resources

I have been hammering this into my students’ heads to the point where they all look at each other and grin as soon as I get started on the subject. And now, I think I want to also write about it.

OK folks – as far as I am concerned, the age for painstakingly crafting stuff by hand is over. Finito! Done with! Passe! Fuddy-duddy! And to actually teach people to think of creative activity in terms of doing that? To laud the merits of “craft”? Of toil? Of “no pain no gain”? Not only is this mindset passe, but in terms of creativity I believe that it is also misplaced. “Finding stuff,” looking for “ready-mades,” at least in my experience, will actually enhance creativity, will give you new ideas. Get you to make new connections. Make you do things you weren’t thinking of doing before you stumbled across whatever it is that you stumbled across.

So, we should no longer be teaching our students how to “make stuff,” but instead one of the things that we desperately need to teach them is how to “find stuff.” Learning how to use resources. And not just with a particular objective in mind either. Total free fall, if anything. Get them to wander (ostensibly) aimlessly around stock photography and clip-art sites, check out samples in audio places, hang around download sites to install software that does all kinds of strange stuff. Not because their current project “needs” a specific image or a sound or whatever, but in the spirit of a flaneur wandering around a market. What they find will generate new ideas. New projects. I guarantee it!

But, the idea of “using resources” involves considerably more than wandering around and being a flaneur. It is actually about re-thinking design learning (and for that matter quite a bit of learning in general, I guess) not in terms of making things from scratch, but rather in terms of “modding” existent things. Or (and this one is very important, I think, for the whole future of the graphic design profession) – in terms of making things that others can “mod.”

I just started to make a website for this year’s student work with this wix HTML5 editor that they now have: I started out with one of their templates. And ended up with what is in the image above. The point remains however that I did not do this from a blank canvas. I built on someone else’s work. So, it seems to me that, at this stage, in a web design course (for example) we can realistically teach people only one of two things: We can either teach them how to make the actual templates. Or we can teach them how to use already existent templates. But, I honestly do not think that we can justify teaching people to make unique, one of a kind web sites any longer. That ship has sailed… Read moreRead more