Clockwork from top right: Matt Shaw, Tiffany Lambert, Brigette Brown, Cecilia Fagel, Bryn Smith
Each year the SVA MFA Design Criticism department hosts a conference, where the students present their research, as well as choosing the theme and format. This year's theme is "counter/point" and each student will present their work in counterpoint with that of a speaker whose views may differ from their own. We asked the D-Crit Class of 2013 to explain how they selected their speakers and what discussions they think will ensue at the conference.
Can you explain why you invited your speaker and why their areas of research or design practice relate to your thesis topic? What can the audience expect from your pair of presentations and the discussion to follow?
Matt Shaw: I think that Mark Foster Gage provides a good counter/point for my topic because at first glance we appear to have very different agendas. In my thesis, I advocate for the communicative possibility of what is called "roadside vernacular," or buildings shaped like giant objects. His advanced digital aesthetic is very different, communicating more viscerally and less directly, which he writes about in his book Aesthetic Theory. However, we both place an emphasis on the visual, and we agree that this could be the key to making architecture which re-engages broader publics. I think we agree about what needs to happen, but disagree about how to best accomplish it. These similarities and differences are nuanced and should make for a stimulating discussion in many ways.
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Tiffany Lambert: You can anticipate a glimpse into a future universe—one with mountain-shaped trains and cars grown from organic materials—and hear about how design mediates broader cultural and social experiences that go well beyond aesthetics alone. My research project interrogates the way design citizens (or end users) have become more engaged in processes of design. This participatory culture manifests itself in a variety of ways, shifts the roles of both citizens and expert designers, and raises important questions for the field and its surrounding discourse.
While my work aims to expose the implications of participation in order to establish a critical framework, Fiona Raby's most recent experiment with Anthony Dunne—now on view at the Design Museum in London—explores cultural and ethical impacts through speculative (and spectacular!) design solutions. Their project uses the design proposal as a participatory tool, involving the larger public and designers alike.
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Brigette Brown: I chose Toni L. Griffin because she is the epitome of the kind of planner/thinker whom I'm arguing for in my work as a design critic. In her role as the director of the J. Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City (at City College of New York), she works to address issues of equity through urban planning and design and asks her students to do the same. Our presentations are juxtaposed to show areas where design contributes to exclusion and segregation at two different scales: Toni is approaching the topic at city-scale while I'm looking at segregation in the neighborhood of Red Hook, at a much smaller scale. Looking at this topic from different scales allows for a wide range of possibilities in terms of solving the problem but it also fortifies the discussion with questions of responsibility, inclusiveness, burden and collaboration.
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Cecilia Fagel: I still remember the night when I heard Michael Sorkin speak in a panel on public space in New York City late last year. I saw how his expertise in the field of green design and urbanism as well as his heart for social justice could be, in a sense, a steady overarching beat to my punctuations and philosophical points on nature in the city. Sorkin will talk about the future: a city green and autonomous, of urban farms and resiliency. Meanwhile, I take to the street, pausing to reflect on the points of nature in the city (which I describe as the "spectacle"). The result could be an interesting mix of the critical present and the hopeful future of a city.
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Bryn Smith: First of all, as a practicing designer, writer, and curator myself, Andrew Blauvelt's work has always held a particular resonance for me. When I interviewed Andrew last December, I was struck by his decision to include in the Graphic Design: Now in Production exhibition catalog, polemical essays from the time period—expressly to expose the critical dimensions around the work included in the show. As a student of criticism, this choice was extremely exciting, and refreshing. Our counter/point pairing seeks to spark a similarly critical conversation around exhibiting practice in graphic design. I'll be speaking about graphic design's changing relationship to the gallery and the particular "problems" of its presentation, and Andrew will be revisiting his 2003 essay "Towards Critical Autonomy or Can Graphic Design Save Itself" in the context of his most recent exhibition.
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SVA D-Crit presents
Visual Arts Theatre
333 W 23rd St (between 8th & 9th Ave)
New York, NY 10011
Saturday, May 11, 2013