Thursday, December 31, 2015

All that we hold dear

All that we hold dear, 2015
Wood, plywood, acrylic, zinc, tissue,ceramic
147 x 39 x 12 cm
Photo credit: Paris Tavitian

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Designer's Dilemma

Elisha Otis did not invent the elevator.
Elisha Otis did create the safety catch that would prevent a vertically mobile enclosure from plummeting from great heights to great depths at very high speeds, injuring its passengers. This invention was demonstrated at the 1853 World’s Fair in New York, almost five thousand years after the elevator first came into usage.

Technically, Otis did not invent the elevator, although he is regularly credited with it. But it was his incremental improvement to an existing technology that launched what we now know as the elevator industry, the great facilitator of skyscraping cities, of vertical living, working, and buying.
Otis exemplifies what I call the designer’s dilemma – the tension that exists in the space between inventing and improving. If the designer’s role is to drive innovation on a large scale, how can we resolve ourselves to the incremental improvements that are necessitated by today's increasingly complex culture?
Now, this question is more relevant than ever: there is no single innovation that can counteract the innumerable injuries we have done to the global ecosystem. But if the key to tackling our environmental challenges lies within this world of iterative change and cumulative improvement – and I believe that it does – then what does this mean for design as a whole?

Cultural Pressures for Radical Change
An oversaturated consumer market and increasingly sophisticated end-user have made it difficult to differentiate products and services in today’s economy. Design has become the de facto solution for pursuing, and owning, the habits and routines of consumers. So strident is the competition for shelf-space and mindshare that incremental improvement is often thought akin to colossal failure. While designers excel at making the small changes that shape everyday experiences, in this competitive climate we are compelled to pursue the next big thing with great ferocity. We seek change in the Orwellian sense – paradigm-shifts, phoenix products, dot-something web landmarks. And success has a short memory; we are measured only by our most recent achievement: the last to-market, the newest award-winner, the latest recognition by the digerati.

It is a challenge, then, that in this time of fierce competition and creative pressure, we are pummeled by the tsunami of the green movement. It is virtually impossible to avoid the daily discussions of climate change, G8 debates, and company manifestos. This is the single most significant movement of our generation – a veritable perfect storm of social awareness, corporate interest, and technological advancement. All things “green” have entered the cultural vernacular, and our contemporary currency is a fluency with these issues. Just as the market pressures us to create more individual design contributions, it has become obvious that the key to meaningfully addressing environmental issues is through additive change – continual improvement, rather than discrete invention. There is no magic bullet, no single a-ha moment, no “iPod” of the green movement.
So in this time of transformation, when new thinking is so critical, why are designers at a standstill? Why has design not been at the forefront of this movement with new solutions and roadmaps for change? In many ways, the green movement is threatened by the prevailing mentality in design today – one that equates sustainability with stasis, and collaboration with mimicry.
Of course, there are the requisite resin-seeped art pieces, recycled coated paper packaging explorations, and sunflower-seed kitchen cabinets. But at this cultural inflection point, we need to do more than create niche products and art pieces. We need to do more than play corporate catch-up or throw our hats into the ever-enlarged PR ring of greenery. We need to stimulate mass change.
In the same way that we approach design challenges – not by purporting to have all of the answers, but instead by assuredly asking the right questions – we must recognize that we don’t have the solution yet because our formula has been wrong. Our addiction to sweeping change has hobbled us from seeing the most obvious opportunities for improvement. In order to create a radical position around sustainability, we need to change our concept of design. Our first green products must be ourselves.
Perhaps the most revolutionary characteristic of the environmental movement is its sheer scope. Activist Paul Hawken describes it as the largest and fastest growing movement in the world, comprising more than 2 million organizations worldwide. This vast reach provides a great opportunity for facilitating change - but it also poses a unique set of challenges regarding the management and self-identity of such a broad, loosely connected network.

Designers are just one of many groups clamoring to contribute within this space. NGOs, commercial businesses, technologists, academics, and governments are all forging ahead with their individual visions, sharing the public's attention. Together, the many voices of this movement form a harmony, deeper and more complex than any solo the designer alone can offer.
Yet this is a new and uncomfortable space for many designers to occupy, indoctrinated as we are with the importance of differentiation and exclusivity. To date, we have succeeded in our difference, not our similarities. We are accustomed, in many ways, to known boundaries. This is not to say that designers are not continuously pushing those boundaries and rewriting our own histories and futures, but rather that our design thinking tools and methods (narrative, motion, form, virtuality) have remained relatively constant. Even as our industry has evolved to integrate robust strategic and analytical perspectives, our jurisdiction has remained clear. Even as we engage in transformational thinking, build new business and brand models, and tackle human-interaction challenges in emerging economies, we are still designers. The horizon line moves with us.

Our clients expect our ability to translate research and ideation into concrete products and services. And they know we'll be able to differentiate them - at least for a while - from their competitors. But now we are not dealing with competitors, we are elbow-to-elbow with people who share our ethic, and to engage in the traditional competitive stance would be counterproductive. In a world where everything is connected and we all share common goals, how do we satisfy our deep instinct to create a unique position for ourselves?
We need a new strategy.
When in deep waters, become a diver
As we redefine the role of design in this new world order, we must look to each other for ideas and inspiration. Individually greening our companies is not sufficient. By pooling our knowledge, we can create a network in which every client is compelled to engage in a discussion of sustainability - no matter which firm it selects as a design partner. Together, we can advocate for the improvements - large and small - that will produce lasting change.
By creating independent "green design" practices that exist adjacent to traditional industrial design, engineering, and digital media design offerings, we only marginalize the issue. To effect real change, we need to apply a green lens to all of our activities, not just some of them. Environmental intelligence needs to be fully assimilated within the entire design process, across the entire field.
Of course, in order to engage in an informed conversation with our clients, we also need to commit to educating ourselves and our teams about eco-friendly behaviors and environmental strategies. This undertaking is significant, for as we ask more in-depth questions, the answers become more difficult to locate.
frog* has initiated a Kyoto Treaty of design - a call to arms for the creative community around environmental stewardship. Our initial thoughts and conversations have led to these basic tenets, but these are just a start. We ask each member of the the design community to commit to these principles and join with us in building upon them:
- Helping craft a larger social equity protocol for the design community
- Publicly ratifying that agreement, and committing to its compliance
- Contributing to the communal knowledge base for sustainable design
- Advancing the intellectual understanding of environmental issues from a design perspective
- Offering green analysis to clients, or partnering with others to conduct this analysis
- Providing material alternatives for sustainable product development
- Investigating manufacturing processes and rewarding green innovation
- Minimizing environmental impact from prototyping or model-making activity
- Publicly reporting the carbon footprint of our firms
- Becoming educated about the environmental impact of our work
Everything we know is inverted. Everything we rested our beliefs on is cast in a new light. Change happens fast, and we need to act quickly. We are revisiting our practices, our methods, and our philosophies. We are talking to each other. We are leaving our egos behind.
If you are ready for change, join us.

Text by Valerie Casey

*frog is a global design and strategy firm; the author was creative director of design research and design strategy at frog.
This article was the first written piece about The Designers Accord (which at the time was named the "Kyoto Treaty" of Design). It was featured in the frog Design Mind newsletter, summer 2007.

Language of the Birds: Occult and Art

Panos Tsagaris, Untitled2015, leaf, acrylic and silkscreen on canvas , 32.5"x21" (82x53cm)

Language of the Birds: Occult and Art considers over 60 modern and contemporary artists who have each expressed their own engagement with magical practice. Beginning with Aleister Crowley's tarot paintings and Austin Osman Spare's automatic drawings of the 1920s, the exhibition traces nearly a century of occult art, including Leonora Carrington and Kurt Seligmann's surrealist explorations, Kenneth Anger and Ira Cohen's ritualistic experiments in film and photography, and the mystical probings of contemporary visionaries such as Francesco Clemente, Kiki Smith, Paul Laffoley, BREYER P-ORRIDGE, and Carol Bove.

The concerns and influences of each of these artists are as eclectic as the styles in which they work. While several of the pieces deal with "high" or ceremonial magic, others draw from so-called "low magic" practices and have deeply chthonic roots. The approaches in technique are varying as well, with some doing years of research and preparation for the act of creation, and others working entirely intuitively. Regardless of method, Language of the Birds suggests that all are part of the same lineage: one that pulls on threads from the esoteric web of alchemy, Hermeticism, Spiritualism, Theosophy, divination and witchcraft. The exhibition takes its name from the historical and cross-cultural notion that there is a magic language via which only the initiated can communicate. Often referred to as the "language of the birds," it is a system rumored to operate in symbols, and to be a vehicle for revealing hidden truths and igniting metamorphic sparks. 

The artists in Language of the Birds can be considered magicians, then, when seen through this mythopoeic lens. A visual vocabulary is offered up by them, so that we all might be initiated into their imaginal mystery cults and dialog with the ineffable. They speak to us in secret tongues, cast spells, and employ pictures for the purpose of activating profound change in both themselves and in us. By going within, then drawing streams of imagery forth through their creations, each of these artists seeks to render the invisible visible, to materialize the immaterial, and to tell us that we, too, can enter numinous realms.

Curated by Pam Grossman

Artists:Kenneth Anger * Anohni (FKA Antony Hegarty) * Laura Battle * Jordan Belson * Alison Blickle * Carol Bove * Jesse Bransford * BREYER P-ORRIDGE * John Brill * Robert Buratti * Elijah Burgher * Cameron * Leonora Carrington * Francesco Clemente * Ira Cohen * Brian Cotnoir * Aleister Crowley * Enrico Donati * El Gato Chimney * Leonor Fini * JFC Fuller * Helen Rebekah Garber * Rik Garrett * Delia Gonzalez * Jonah Groeneboer * Juanita Guccione * Brion Gysin * Frank Haines * Barry William Hale * Valerie Hammond * Ken Henson * Bernard Hoffman * Nino Japaridze * Gerome Kamrowski * Leo Kenney * Paul Laffoley * Adela Leibowitz * Darcilio Lima * Angus MacLise * Ann McCoy * Rithika Merchant * William Mortensen * Rosaleen Norton * Micki Pellerano * Ryan M Pfeiffer & Rebecca Walz * Max Razdow * Ron Regé, Jr. * Kurt Seligmann * Harry Smith * Kiki Smith * Xul Solar * Austin Osman Spare * Charles Stein * Shannon Taggart * Gordon Terry * Scott Treleaven * Panos Tsagaris * Charmion von Wiegand * Robert Wang * Peter Lamborn Wilson

January 12 - February 13
80WSE Gallery, NY
New York University

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro: Some Reflections on the Notion of Species in History and Anthropology

The text that follows was written by the Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (Rio de Janeiro, 1951) in response to a questionnaire regarding the problem of species prepared and sent to him by Álvaro Fernández-Bravo, for e-misférica 10.1. The recent work of Viveiros de Castro is not too well known by American [English] readers. His most important English-language book came out twenty years ago, From the Enemy’s Point of View: Humanity and Divinity in an Amazonian Society (The University of Chicago Press, 1992). He recently published The Inconstancy of the Indian Soul: The Encounter of Catholics and Cannibals in 16-century Brazil (Prickly Paradigm Press, 2011), which is a translation of his previously published work. Among his most important recent works are A inconstância da alma selvagem e outros ensaios de antropologia (São Paulo: Cosac & Naify, 2000), Métaphysiques cannibals. Lignes d’anthropologies post-structurale (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2009), and the Spanish version of the same book, Metafísicas caníbales. Líneas de antropología postestructural (Buenos Aires: Katz, 2010). He has taught at the University of Chicago, Cambridge University, University of Manchester, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, Universidade de São Paulo, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil and is currently professor of Anthropology at the National Museum, Federal University of Río de Janeiro as well as researcher at CNRS, France.
The focus of the questions addressed to the author was organized around the topic of Multinaturalist Perspectivism, a concept developed in his work that emphasizes the point of view of Amazonian Indigenous peoples. Viveiros de Castro’s argument is to move out from the Amerindian world as an object of observation/study into an effort to look to the world (including its non-human components) from an Indigenous point of view. Not the return of the native, but the turn of the native, as he has stated. Amerindian perspectivism is a theory and vision of the world with a strong connection to “multinaturalism”, a category opposed to multiculturalism that assumes the coexistence of different “natures” as in Amazonian cosmology. These “natures” include non-human animal perception along with a human one, all of them sharing a common perspective or affinity. As the author put it, what matters is no longer to classify the species in which nature is divided, but to know how the species themselves take over this task (2010: 69), producing images of nature according to their perspective. In his books and articles, in active dialogue with Deleuzian philosophical positions, Viveiros de Castro refers in many opportunities to “species”, particularly in relation to the human-animal pair. Animals and humans share a common point of view, according to which different and moving “natures” are conceived.
The questions addressed to Eduardo Viveiros de Castro asked him to develop some of his concepts, particularly the relationship between Multinaturalist Perspectivism and species. Is the category of “species” still useful to understand the world? What is its value to produce knowledge? Is it possible to avoid the epistemic violence that has characterized taxonomies and racialist hierarchies in the History of Science in the West and continue thinking with “species”? Shall we preserve “species” as a conceptual tool or should it be abandoned at all? Is it possible to capture “species” and assign them an emancipatory function?
Text by Álvaro Fernández Bravo

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Birth of Coexistence

The Hellenic American Union and Hellenic American College (HAEC) in cooperation with Hellenic American University (Manchester, NH, USA) present a visual arts exhibition curated by Hara Piperidou.

In regards to the art, the semantic, political and aesthetic load that the prefix "co" bears, is located predominantly within the project itself. Structured in a dialectical moment, it is the element that manages to give birth to new contours and meanings. The "birth of coexistence" implies that artistic creation does not simply produce an object: it created identities, relationships and reflections, strings that derive from a chore to connect the objects that surround it with new forms of attraction or repulsion, reconciliation or violence.

Participating artists: Ameladiotis Dimitris, Charalambidis Nikos, Dimitropoulou Martha, Douka Anastasia, Kanarelis Nikos, Kafouros Elias, Papailiakis Ilias, Piperidou Hara, Sachini Nana, Tserionis Giorgos, Velonis Kostis, Tsitsopoulos Filippos, Performance: ntilit Exhibition text: Theophilos Tramboulis

Γιατί γράφω ποίηση

Χάρης Βλαβιανός, 2015

Monday, December 7, 2015

Black Sheep

The black sheep of the family!
10 Oct-6 Jan. 2016 “Super Superstudio” PAC-Padiglione Arte Contemporanea, cur. by Andreas Angelidakis, Vittorio Pizzigoni, Valter Scelsi

100 Years of Suprematism

View of The Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting 0.10 (Zero-Ten). Petrograd, 1915

The Malevich Society would like to invite you to attend “100 Years of Suprematism,” a conference organized in celebration of the centenary of Kazimir Malevich’s invention of Suprematism and the first public display of his Suprematist paintings in December 1915. The two-day conference, organized in association with the Harriman Institute, the Lazar Khidekel Society, and SHERA, will be held on Friday and Saturday, December 11–12, at the Davis Auditorium, Schapiro Center, Columbia University. The conference promises to be an historic event, featuring presentations by an international and renowned group of scholars. Among them are leading researchers in the field from the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom. The event will also include a presentation of Kazimir Malevich: Letters and Documents, Memoirs and Criticism (London: Tate, 2015).

About the Malevich Society 
The Malevich Society is a private American not-for-profit organization, established by members of the family of the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, and dedicated to advancing knowledge about Kazimir Malevich and his work. In the belief that Malevich was a pioneer of modern art and should be better recognized for his key contributions to the history of Modernism, the Malevich Society awards grants to encourage research, writing, and other activities relating to the history and memory of Kazimir Malevich. The Society welcomes applications from scholars of any nationality. Proposed projects should increase the understanding of Malevich and his work, or augment historical, biographical, or artistic information about Malevich and/or his artistic legacy. The Society also supports translations and the publication of relevant texts.

December 11–12, 2015
Davis Auditorium
Schapiro Center
Columbia University
New York City