[iDC] IPF09 Conference thoughts

Kevin Hamilton 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  
as information.

- 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  
European modernism.)

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.


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