Andrew Slatter

Radical Modernist

Olafur Eliasson: Turner colour experiments at Tate Britain

My friend Katie admiring one of Eliasson's 'doughnuts'

My friend Katie admiring one of Eliasson’s ‘doughnut colour wheels’

Anyone who has ever tried to paint a colour wheel using designers gouache will know how difficult it is to lay the paint flat. I’ve never tried to paint in oils, and maybe I should have as Eliasson has managed to apply the paint to canvas with such technical mastery that the paint is without brushstrokes and the blending is seamless. This one-room exhibition at Tate Britain featuring seven wheels, represent the colour pigments and light that feature in seven of Turner’s paintings. They don’t have the awe factor of Eliasson’s 2003 The Weather Project at Tate Modern, however, these paintings are mesmerising and magical.

Filed under: Art

Marlow Moss at Tate Britain

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White, Yellow and Black 1953. Oil on canvas. The caption next to the work states ‘the purpose of the double line was to create dynamism in a composition’.

In August, Charles Darwent’s article titled: Marlow Moss: forgotten art maverick published in The Guardian filled me with anticipation and today I was thrilled to visit this modest one-room exhibition at Tate Britain. Darwent writes of the curator Michael Canney’s response to seeing Moss ‘She is an oddity rather than a person, not quite real. If she is memorable at all, it is as a footnote to the history of a man, Piet Mondrian.’ Darwent is quick to point out how wrong this is, I agree. This enigmatic English artist, who celebrated European Modernism so determinedly, fascinates me as much as her queerness and subversion of gender norms.

Filed under: Art

Pilots Channel launch

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Today, Pilots Channel was launched at the Victoria and Albert Museum as part of the London Design Festival. As one of the Pilots participants, an adaption of my paper ‘From people to pixels: is there a future for the studio in design education? has been included.

In April 2013 I took part in the first Pilots: Navigating Next Models of Design Education workshop at the Stanley Picker Gallery at Kingston University. At the time I was working on the final project for my PGCE. The workshop proved to be a valuable experience in the research process and was included in the paper.

The original version can found on my website.

Filed under: Design, Education

WD+RU celebrate 20 years with online projects archive

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In 1999 I collaborated with the Women’s Design Research Unit (WD+RU) to create a design for a St Valentine’s Day card for the London Cardguide. My design has been added to an online archive set up to mark 20 years since WD+RU was founded.

Filed under: Design, Visual Communication Design

Paul Elliman: Invisible in the Field (Say You Heard and Saw nothing, 2014)

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Filed under: Architecture, Design, Philosophy

Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture

One of Louis Kahn's office calendars

One of Louis Kahn’s office calendars

‘Believe in the Monumental’ is the title for the brief introduction by Design Museum Director Deyan Sudjic. Given Kahn’s limited portfolio of realised projects, it is an appropriate frame to surround the works in this exhibition. Never having seen Kahn’s buildings in situ, this exhibition does provide the viewer with a sense that the palette of materials Kahn used harked back to ancient Greece, Rome or Egypt. The triangle, circle and square are the dominant forms in Kahn’s repertoire and remain at the forefront of my mind when I exit and go upstairs to the Designs of the Year exhibition.

The exhibition has the aura of an archive. The architectural models are beautiful, intricate and varying in media from paper and wood to bronze. There are documents, such as the ‘delicious’ office calendar pictured above, letters written on a letterhead that could not be more austere. Sketches, pastel illustrations, paintings, and pencil and charcoal sketches are presented in narrative themed sections.

My favourite drawing was this sketch for the Roosevelt memorial in New York, where the lines have a ghostly quality.

Sketch for the Roosevelt memorial

Sketch for the Roosevelt memorial

It is the leap from his imagination, through drawings, missives and diagrams to projections and models where we get a sense of Kahn’s ambition. These preparatory artifacts do little to communicate a sense of scale, light, shade and relationship to the surrounding environment that belies Kahn’s signature style, for this one must visit the sites. This exhibition is successful in that it excites me in wanting to visit Yale, New York, Bangladesh, La Jolla and more besides.

 

Filed under: Architecture

Screen Writes Symposium

Writing Workshop with Andrea Mason

Writing Workshop with Andrea Mason

The inaugural Screen Writes Symposium was sponsored by London College of Communication, Higher Education Academy and the Writing PAD network.

To kick start the symposium Andrea Mason and I conducted one of the writing workshops that we gave to LCC students in January.

I then delivered a presentation: Looking after the Selfie: Graphic Design and Writing:

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At the start of my presentation

Slide 1

Slide 1

The basis of graphic design is the relationship of text and image. Here is some text that fits in with the overall theme of this presentation, in that I regard writing as essential to the creative act. This presentation is written very much in the first person, from the perspective of a student, a practitioner, a writer and an educator within the discipline of design.

Slide 2

Slide 2

Here is an image, male toilet walls provide a creative canvas for both text and image, the images are often limited in their subject. Drawing and writing are both essential to the development of the visual and verbal inquiry of the design practitioner, both however, based on experience, can be regarded by some students as irrelevant.

Slide 3

Slide 3

Here I am with my degree show work. The Swiss modernist teachings at Ravensbourne from the mid 1960s to the mid 1990s focused student’s attention on both content and form where hierarchies, both written and visual, were learnt in a systematic way.

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Slide 4

In the early 1990s, most acutely by students at Ravensbourne and Central Saint Martins, there was a wave of experimental typography that captured the technological transformation of graphic design processes. Beatrice Warde’s 1930 speech to The British Typographers Guild ‘Printing should be invisible’ provided the subject for my undergraduate dissertation. Warde use the metaphor of a Crystal Goblet to champion content over form, and as a consequence elevating the status of the author, and relegating the role of typographer to a technician. This dissertation awakened me to the possibilities of closing the division between writing and design.

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Slide 5

At the time of writing my dissertation in the autumn of 1994, Dan Friedman’s Radical Modernism was published. His position of radical modernist resonated in a way I didn’t emotionally grasp at the time, although I shared Friedman’s view that he found the pronouncement of the end of modernism premature and reactionary, he states ‘I find myself questioning the divisive jargon and anarchy of those who suggest that modernism is something we must overcome. I have worked to redefine functionalism and at the same time supported attempts to shake things up radically, even if those experiments trifle with anti functionalism. I acknowledge cultural imperfections, tensions, and contradictions, yet I believe that modernism still evolves as a rich project of inquiry’ (Friedman, 1994:11). 14 years later when I revisited the book, I realised that my modernist approach to design, and my sexuality were a schism that I had to unite. Friedman’s call for more diverse cultures and fantasy led me to believe that his radical modernist position had allowed him to do something similar, sadly we can only speculate as he died prematurely in 1996.

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Slide 6

I was asked to take on the role of author by two fellow students, who wanted to produce a publication that raised awareness of the Historical and Theoretical Studies (HATS) component of our course. This was my first writing commission and I was not in control of the form those words would take on the page, I remember the feeling, on being handed the printed publication, and questioning in my mind, the typographic decisions and layout. Overall I felt proud my essay was included, although upon re-reading, clichés abound and there is an overall purple hue, something an editor would have remedied.

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Slide 7

The experience of writing for a publication, and having my words shaped by another, provided me with a grounding that proved valuable in approaching my next project. Our Course Leader at Ravensbourne, Teal Triggs, was asked by Anne Burdick if students would like to be involved in a special edition of Emigre magazine. Mouthpiece was a two-issue project initiated and guest-edited by Burdick. It began with a call for papers and/or projects that posed the question, “What happens when the worlds of writing and design coincide, overlap and collide?”

Teal asked fellow student Simon Letherland and myself if we would like to take up the challenge of designing a text written by Brian Schorn. We met with Teal and she presented us with a facsimile of Brian’s essay. I hadn’t read anything like it before. This experiment in Potential Literature was baffling at first, we spent days, turning into weeks dissecting the text, interpreting and making marks that sought to make sense of its complexities. The result was a design that after much development met with Brian’s approval. However it was our modernist design education that led us to the solution that made the most sense, and as a result the design was unlike anything else in both issues, something I considered a success.

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Slide 8

Throughout the 1990s graphic design discourse began to focus on authorship, and critically examined in a 1996 essay in Eye magazine. Michael Rock (1996:44-53) states ‘Authorship has become a popular term in graphic design circles, especially in those at the edges of the profession: the design academies and the murky territory between design and art. The word has an important ring to it, with seductive connotations of origination and agency. But the question of how designers become authors is a difficult one. and exactly who qualifies and what authored design might look like depends on how you define the term and determine admission into the pantheon.’

Rock asks if the designers role as ‘faceless facilitator’ (those who subscribe to modernist design principles) can be overthrown, exploring theories of authorship posited by Barthes (1968), Foucault (1969), de Man (1973), Truffaut (1954) and Sarris (1962). Rock suggests ‘the artist’s book offers a form of design authorship from which function has been fully exorcised. The artist’s book, in general, is concrete, self-referential and allows for a range of visual experiments without the burden of fulfilling mundane commercial tasks.’ However its reliance on poetics as opposed to practicality has been a turn off for designers. Likewise he sees activist design problematic in terms of who is speaking, the individual or the organisation?

Rock cites the now defunct Emigre magazine as a model where ‘content is deeply embedded in the form – that is, the formal exploration is as much the content of the magazine as the writing. VanderLans expresses his message through the selection of the material (as an editor), the content of the writing (as a writer) and the form of the pages and typography (as a form-giver).’

In his conclusion Rock questions whether the clamour for authorship by designers is limiting, appropriating Foucault’s question, what does it matter who is speaking, he says  ‘If we really want to go beyond the designer-as-hero model, we may have to imagine a time when we can ask, ‘what difference does it make who designed it?’

In his essay Fuck Content, Rock (2009) says his ideas in calling for designers to become authors was misinterpreted, he was not calling for designers to generate content. He cites Beatrice Wardes Crystal Goblet metaphor as a nauseous false dichotomy, ‘it’s all about the wine’. Rock rejects the author-led stance and returns to auteur theory as a more likely explanation of how design is content in itself, stating ‘we speak through our assignment, literally between the lines’ and concluding with Roger Eberts maxim “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.”

In her essay ‘The Designer as Producer, Ellen Lupton drew upon Walter Benjamin’s 1934 essay “The Author as Producer,”. Lupton (1998) says ‘the text attacked the conventional view of authorship as a purely literary enterprise. He exclaimed that new forms of communication–film, radio, advertising, newspapers, the illustrated press–were melting down traditional artistic genres and corroding the borders between writing and reading, authoring and editing.’

Based on Benjamin’s Marxist leanings, Lupton suggests that the desktop technologies that democratised design in the mid 1980s brought the previously separate roles of design production back into the design process, thus ‘the proletarianization of design offers designers a new crack at materialism, a chance to re-engage the physical aspects of our work. Whereas the term “author,” like “designer,” suggests the cerebral workings of the mind, production privileges the activity of the body. Production is rooted in the material world. It values things over ideas, making over imagining, practice over theory.’

Lupton calls for design educators ‘to help designers become the masters, not the slaves, of technology. There exist opportunities to seize control– intellectually and economically–of the means of production, and to share that control with the reading public, empowering them to become producers as well as consumers of meaning.’

Slide 9

Slide 9

In the period 1995 to 2008 I worked in the design industry, as typified by the service-led model, three years employed with little client contact, and heavily directed designers in senior roles. I became self-employed in 1999 which meant that I could work directly with clients, and share the roles and responsibilities of design production with my partner. However there was little room for self-authored work, the most significant project in that period came in 2000 when I contributed to Zed issue 7 Public and Private, guest edited by Teal Triggs and Siân Cook of the Women’s Design Research Unit (WD+RU). This project allowed me to write content and to shape it, on this occasion editing was rigorous and in terms of approving the subject, direction and written content.

Slide 10

Slide 10

In 2008 I enrolled part-time on the MA Design Writing Criticism course at London College of Communication, the first of its kind in Europe, and this provided me with a platform to explore and interrogate the role of author and designer, and in the spirit of the Emigre publication, see how the two collide. It was a small group, only eight of us, we were joined the following year by seven full-time students.

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Slide 11

For the final major project I created a publication that would allow me to unite the schism between my modernist design beliefs and my sexuality, I acted very much in the spirit of designer as producer, directing content. This is a reflexive stance, and has parallels with the ‘auteur’, one which Rock (1996) rejected in favour of the designer-author model where ‘the amplification of the personal voice legitimises design as equal to more traditionally privileged forms of authorship’. As Foucault (1988) suggests the course facilitated the opportunity for the first time in my professional career to ‘care for myself’, the purely service-based model has never satisfied me, and never will.

Slide 12

Slide 12

In his book Graphic Design and Postmodernism, Rick Poynor (2003) suggests that ‘Friedman’s idea of Radical Modernism was perhaps too personal, too much bound up in his own practice as designer and artist, to catch on with other designers, his visual strategies were often seen at this time in the work of those who sought to contest, in Frederick Jameson’s phrase, “the cultural logic of late capitalism”’. My alignment with Radical Modernism is personal, the ‘personal is political’ its precisely because its personal that it is radical.

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Slide 13

My website makes clear this position and whether or not audiences chose to enquire about this stance, it irrelevant, it is the catalyst, the uniting of author and designer in an ideology that marries the subjective with the objective, it is this agency that enables me to write.

Slide 14

Slide 14

Teacher training provided an opportunity to undertake some action research into the relationship between writing and design via a Contextual and Theoretical Studies programme.

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Slide 15

I often feel a sense of anxiety in anticipation of starting to write, having spent five years supervising and marking student essays and speaking to students in tutorials, it seems design students share this trait.

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Slide 16

While Francis’s (2009) panic to production model helpfully visualises the academic writing critical path, this anecdotal diagram suggests creatives tread a more precarious path. When presenting this diagram to the students in the workshops here at LCC about two weeks before the essay hand-in, there was laughter followed by collective resignation that most of them were entering the green phase.

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Slide 17

I have heard many times in Contextual and Theoretical Studies sessions that students regard themselves as ‘visual’ learners. Through writing workshops such as the one I undertook with second year degree students, they challenged this self perception, and began to think of writing as a creative activity.

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Slide 18

I found responses from colleagues enlightening, fine artists see writing as part of their creative practice, design students less so.

Slide 19

Slide 19

The first exercise we were asked to complete before the first class on the MA Design Writing Criticism course was to write 250 words on the subject of Why I Write. We were then given three ‘Why I Write’ texts by Auster, Didion and Orwell then re-write our 250 words for the following week.

Slide 20

Slide 20

I asked my PGCE writing workshop research group to do the same, here are two examples one pre- and one post-workshop.

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References

Barthes, R. (1968) ‘The Death of the Author’ in S. Heath (trans) Image, Music, Text, pp. 142–148. Hill and Wang: New York.

de Man, P. (1973) ‘Semiology and Rhetoric’ in Textual Strategies, op. cit, p121 in Harari, J. (Ed) (1979) Textual Strategies , Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Foucault, M. (1969) ‘What Is an Author?’, in C. Harrison and P. Wood (eds) Art in Theory, 1900–2000: An anthology of changing ideas, pp. 949–943. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing.

Foucault, M. (1988) ‘Technologies Of The Self’, in L. Martin, H. Gutman and P. Hutton (eds) Technologies Of The Self, pp. 16–49. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press.

Francis, P. (2009) Inspiring Writing in Art and Design: Taking a line for a write. Bristol: Intellect Books.

Friedman, D. (1994) Radical Modernism, 
New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Lupton, E. (1998) ‘The Designer as Producer’, in s. Heller (ed.) The Education of a Graphic Designer, pp. 159–162. New York: Allworth Press.

Poynor, R. (2003) No More Rules: Graphic Design and Postmodernism. London: Laurence King.

Rock, M. (2009) Fuck Content. http://2×4.org/ideas/2/fuck-content/

Rock, M. (1996) ‘The designer as Author’, 
Eye no.20: London.

Sarris, A. (1962) ‘Notes on the Auteur Theory’ in Adams Sitney, P. (Ed) (1970) Film Culture reader. New York: Praeger Publishers.

Truffaut, F. (1954) ‘A Certain Tendency for the French Cinema’ in Cahiers du cinéma, no. 31, January 1954

Filed under: Education, Visual Communication Design, Writing

Matisse Cut-Outs at Tate Modern

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Henri Matisse, Small Dancer on Red Background, 1937-8. Image from The Guardian.

Today my friend Katie and I visited Tate Modern for the colourful and vibrant Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition.

This fantastic exhibition is – according to co-curator Nicholas Serota – a ‘once in a lifetime show‘ given the quality and quantity of work on show.

Small Dancer on Red Background connected with me immediately, the only figurative work that can be read as masculine. Other works such as the Blue Nudes, Zulma, The Parakeet and the Mermaid, Acanthuses and the Sheaf feature exclusively female subjects.

Adrian Searle’s review captures perfectly the spirit of the exhibition: “Colour dances, and our eyes dance with it, following contours and edges, sliding from shape to shape, wallowing in a whiteness that becomes electric, jumping from positive to negative and back again. There is no stasis, no arrest, but a constant discovery of newness at every turn: a swallow swerves in flight, a shark swims the wall. Pinned to his chest, Icarus’s heart explodes. Foliage proliferates and bees swarm. A mermaid appears, where a thoughtful blue nude once sat, watched by a parakeet”.

Filed under: Art

Dark Walk for Literary Kitchen Festival

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The final night of the week long Literary Kitchen Festival at The Peckham Pelican

It was a great finalé for the inaugural Literary Kitchen Festival at The Peckham Pelican tonight.

As part of the programme Dr Harriet Edwards and I led a psychogeographic Dark Walk from The Peckham Pelican along Peckham Road, turning into Rye Lane into Peckham Rye station , along the secluded shrub-shrewn Holly Grove, into Bellenden Road past the Harris Academy, and back onto the High Street, completing the circuit arriving back at the Pelican in around 45 minutes. As guides, Harriet and I highlighted with torches, words and phrases as we passed them.

We asked our walkers to write down two words that they could remember from the walk, they were then placed on the hoardings of The Old Sausage Factory. We then arranged the words to form a statement:

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The literary conclusion to our Dark Walk

We then posed for a photo:

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Filed under: Writing

Beyond the Sheets: Sexualities in the Age of Digital Reproduction

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Keynote speaker: Michéle Roberts

Today I attended Beyond the Sheets: Sexualities in the Age of Digital Reproduction an inaugural conference held at Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre at Goldsmiths University of London.

I sat in on the first panel titled: Potency & Impotence chaired by Laura Blomvall with papers by Eleanor Parry ‘Mutilated Existence:Poetry as a Means of interrogating Notions of Femininity and Female Sexuality in Mass Culture'; Johanna Linsley ‘Impotence: An Exercise in Endurance’ and Dr R Justin Hunt ‘Writing Sex: Archival Negotiations and the Erotics of Research’.

The second panel titled: This is How We Do It: Writing about Sex chaired by Jerry Barnett comprised readings from: Andrea Mason ‘Purient Abject Voyerism: Does She Squirt?'; Sonia Overall ‘Sex in Eden: Writing, Reading and Inhabiting Fictional Worlds’ and Richard Scott ‘Sex in Poetry’.

The third panel ‘Writing the Erotic’ chaired by Sarah Harman-Taylor began with Dr Josie Pearse ‘Being Angel Strand: The Experience of Being a Black Lace Author'; followed by Richard English ‘Writing Romance: Love and Sex’ with Dr Eirini Kartsaki ‘Not Knowing What to Do with Myself: Promiscuity, Excess and the insatiable Desire’ completing the panel.

Michéle Roberts gave the Keynote and a closing discussion rounded off the conference. It was the finalé performance of The Butch Monologues featuring The Drakes that captivated the audience. ‘The Butch Monologues uses interviews with butch-identified women living in the UK, Europe, USA, Australia and the Caribbean, and re-positions the negative, socially threatening concept of female masculinity into a place of pride’.

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The Drakes performing The Butch Monologues. Image: Women Of the World Festival, Southbank Centre.

Filed under: Writing

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