Posted in architecture, art, culture by johnsnavely on January 10, 2011

A friend of mine asked me to come and guest lecture at a class he’s teaching at UW. It’s a graduate seminar in design– a theory course. There’s a fairly dense reading list already in the syllabus for each week, but for my guest lecture/discussion, I get to choose the readings.

There is a little irony in this task, since I’m pretty skeptical of theory and criticisms role in the design process. I often think of theory and criticism, especially as it is presented in the pedagogy, as working against the creation of good designers, as it diverts attention from the art making things to the art of talking about them.

As the syllabus has a decidedly modernist bent to it, I’ve decided to inject some pomo into the precedings. Here’s my draft list of readings (and a few comments):

Fredric Jameson
“Postmodernism, or The Logic of Late Capitalism”, New Left Review I/146, July-August 1984

Jameson is the bomb. He pretty much identifies most of the major problem areas within post modernism’s uneasy co-dependence on (Late Capitalist) culture. I’ve chosen the article instead of his book, because the article is a much easier read, the philosophical thought is much less dense, but the banter and critique situate his writing better historically.

Jameson comes down pretty hard on pomo stuff– his description of pastiche being the zenith of the attitude. Jameson is the foundation of the lecture; the rest of the articles are a slush of ideas that put his writing into tighter focus.

Yves Behar
Review of TechnoCraft Exhibition at Yerba Beuna Center for the Arts

They haven’t finished the catalog for this show, so we’ll have to read a review of it first. I’m not Behar’s biggest fan, but this show was quite good and very well curated. It presented a nice summary of a certain set of design trends that have taken root as a response to the same cultural forces of capitalism with which Jameson wrestles. (There’s also an uncomfortable naivete to the show and its design principles that is difficult to stomach.)

Andy Warhol
Final Interview

Jameson holds Warhol up to the fire a bit and it’s only fair to let Warhol defend himself. Warhol’s last living interview does so, in Warhol’s traditional laconic style. The artist’s remarks on The Last Supper and the price of Jasper John’s paintings are to be noted.

Ryan Trecartin
Shades of Notware
Ryan’s Web 1.0

While not entirely criticism, Trecartin’s work hints at much different processes and mental states for designers and artists to inhabit, with new tools and new ways of thinking. Web 1.0’s behind the scenes unveils what a designer’s thought process could look like, if they were as amazing as Mr. Trecartin. The idea that what Jameson calls design/art making might have little in common with the practice we give that name should be in question.

Keehnan Konyha, 2TheWalls
In Praise of Expedit
Dark-est Nostalgia
Lady Fag
Vader Barton
Michael Graves

Keehnan Konyha is an architectural and cultural critic who focuses mainly on interior design. Posts on his blog, 2TheWalls, consist of tightly curated mashups of text and image. Most entries tend to show their postmodern roots and yet, there are often carefully injected contemporary moments that bring the result outside of mere historicism and into current discourse. 2TheWalls might be what Jameson’s work might have looked like if he had been working 30 years later.

Who didn’t make the cut?

Tao Lin
Tao Lin is this decade’s Andy Warhol. A chapter of Richard Yates would have been enough to show some subtleties that Jameson did not see in Warhol. But there’s something to be said for the man himself. Interviews with Warhol read like Tao Lin novels. And so, Warhol stayed and Tao Lin left.

Sylvia Lavin
Sylvia Lavin says some beautiful things:

“[T]o be contemporary- to be on time, to move with time and the times, subject to its losses, entropies, provisionalities, obsolescences, currencies, intensities, fads, and flourishes is a possibility that architecture assiduously avoids.”

– From Lavin’s book Crib Sheets

But ultimately, her focus is much too architectural and her call to action, although compelling, lacks some substance. (Read my friends Stephanie Teurk’s review of Crib Sheets for more.) 2thewalls does more, better and can speak to an audience that Lavin cannot.

Wes Jones
Wes Jones’ article PostCool is pretty great. They should probably read it. Unfortunately, Jones is already in the syllabus and I didn’t want to repeat.

Quentin Tarantino
He’s too good for this lecture.

So that’s what I’m having people read. I’m not sure if I have to give a presentation or what. Are there any texts that you would include? I also don’t have a title for the set of readings…. suggestions?


3 Responses

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  1. KEEHN4N said, on January 10, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Thank you, for the absurdly flattering words. The hilarity of being included in a syllabus for a class taught at a school I was rejected from [twice] isn’t lost on me. I’m actually working on a post with Ryan/DIS/Rhizome for later in the week.

    A few pieces kicking around by brain lately that could be of use:
    – Gert Selle’s “There is No Kitsch, There is Only Design!” [may already be included in the course]

    – Bruce Sterling’s “Atemporality for the Creative Artist”

    – Joel Sanders’ “Curtain Wars”

  2. johnsnavely said, on January 10, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    I once was a guest critic at a school that had rejected me and I realized that I was much better off as a guest critic than as a student.

    Sometimes rejection is the sincerest form of flattery.

    Thanks for the additions! I’m eager to read them and excited for your new DIS-production.

  3. mskascha said, on January 13, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Yes! And you’re against Hegel. Modernisms as well as post-modernism that imply a singular “progress” for design still pursue a Hegelian model of history. DIS-persion not Geist.

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