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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 indeed 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 be, 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


Kikas, Marmaduke and Arthur Koestler…

It is already a few years ago now when one day Bettina Tizzy came rushing over, raving about a couple who she said were creating some very cool content in Second Life. Me – I am usually dubious. Obnoxiously picky picky in what I like, to say the very least. However, once I saw them in action I was hooked as well: Kikas Babenco and Marmaduke Arado.

And then last winter Kikas and Marmaduke came to me with an irresistible offer: To create a benefit art performance for alpha.tribe that would help publicize the store and the sim. As I have written previously; these days, like a lot of other metaverse businesses, the alpha.tribe store is in trouble financially. Meaning that by extension the alpha.tribe sim is so as well, since the earnings of the store pay for the land tier. While a lot of people tell me how much they like alpha.tribe stuff, very few of them actually show their appreciation by making a purchase. Currently the sim is funded through past earnings, which were very good for a very long time, and I have left most of the money from those days in-world. So, I have a nest egg. How much longer – not very…

So, Kikas and Marmaduke’s extremely generous offer came as a God-send indeed.

alpha.tribe 3rd Life party: Kikas plays the harp. Where? On a hippopotamus of course! I mean, where else does one normally play harps?

Right around that time I had made a group gift avatar called “Bowie,” which I knew that Kikas liked a lot – I saw her wearing it in a lot of photos that she was taking. So, I suggested making a “bowie garden” for them in which they could perform. They liked the idea, and the garden was made in such a way that they would actually perform in it. I then left them to it, although I did of course peek from time to time and saw that the garden was actually growing, if not indeed metamorphosing, in their hands.

Last night, after many postponements due to very busy lives on both ends, we did finally have the performance – attended by about 60 avatars, who spread themselves over two simulators. It was a great event, with lots of very nice guests who appeared to be in a gregariously festive mood throughout and so the party went on for quite a few hours. Read moreRead more


The Lorem Ipsum Travel Agency

This year I have the sort of class that makes me want to go the extra mile for these kids. They are great! Not that there hasn’t always been a sprinkling of really lovely students in every class, of course, but what makes this year’s 3rd year extraordinary is that they are great as a group. And here they are!

The third year graphic design project studio class (the way I teach it) is actually one long project that stretches itself over both semesters and what the kids do is learn how to develop a visual system, in other words a visual identity, that is then applied to many products of an imaginary company – everything from a full stationary set, to commercial packages and promotional items, even a multi-page magazine at the end of the year. And amongst all this stuff are also large scale 3D objects: They “paint” the visual identity on a company car or truck, and they also apply the system to a building. In past years what we did for this last one was usually a store-front design and usually we did this by applying the visual system onto a creative commons blueprint of some store or other.

And here are all the other screenshots that I took of my little kiosk.

This year, I am now trying to do something which I have always wanted to do – to get them to actually build something in 3D – think of graphic systems directly in 3D. And not just a store-front but something more ambitious – a real walk-through commercial space, such as a fair stand, or a promotional kiosk. I figured if ever there was a class that I could pull this off with, this would be the one, since one of the coolest attributes of the group is that they are very enthusiastic. (Hmm – there are a couple of scaredy-puss types, but even they are of the kind that can be talked into going out on a limb with a tiny push and a shove ;-). Read moreRead more