Sebastian Schmieg and I recently launched a new artwork entitled A Slice of the Pie. Check it out here: https://a-slice-of-the-pie.live/
For three months, a 16 square meter LED wall installed at Kunsthalle Zurich will display a circular shape divided into six slices. A dedicated website will livestream the pie 24/7. Through the website, artists will be able to purchase one or more slices and fill them with their own artworks, thus becoming full participants in the DYOR exhibition. To fill the pie, they will have to collaborate or compete, hustle, or simply leave the final composition to chance.
Once per day, at a random time determined by an algorithm or through a paid option on the website, the pie will be minted as NFT and auctioned on Objkt.com. The profits from the sale will be shared among the artists and A Slice of the Pie.
A Slice of the Pie derives from the artists’ prolonged reflections on the gatekeeping of the art world and the monetization of the access to it. Focused on the crypto scene, the artwork provides an update of these themes, which were first explored by Lorusso and Schmieg in Projected Capital (2018). A Slice of the Pie allows both cooperation and competition, both consensual decision-making and winner-takes-it-all resolutions. The artwork is inspired by the dry language of financial charts and dashboards as well as the cutthroat design of “battle royale” games. Being launched in a time of backlash around crypto, A Slice of the Pie puts its promises of participation to the test.
It’s finally online the essay derived from the talk I gave at the Yale school of Art in April. In this essay I tried to weave together various themes that are particularly close to my heart and to my world, that is, the art and design school: professional “proprioception”, the role of the intellectual, self-design, the problem of access to problems, the persistence of the two cultures, the spectacle of self-aggrandizing ethics, and the ethos of compromise. Writing it meant running into a number of contradictions, and my attempt to overcome them was not easy because it meant placing myself outside a certain antagonistic comfort zone. The result is this river of text. Read it, if you have time, and let me know what you think about it, if you feel like.
The text appears on the New Design Congress, which I highly admire for their sharp and embedded work on design politics, ethics and technology. Publishing build bridges.
My essay “Learn to Code vs. Code to Learn” is online. Coding is an ideologically charged skill: “learn to code” is an actual injunction, and not just for designers. The propaganda around coding has not only to do with need to produce a new professional type – IBM speaks of ‘midcollars’ – but also with relocating obsolete workers and introduce emerging economies into a global production circuit. The outcomes are sometimes paradoxical. In 2019, Joe Biden addressed a crowd of puzzled miners this way: “Anyone who can throw coal into a furnace can learn to program, for God’s sake!” This is what I call learn to code.
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During the last couple of years, in various countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and the UK, art & design schools were demanded to take an explicit political stand. They were asked, for instance, to show solidarity with marginalized groups, to take a side in international conflicts, to oppose the dominant economic system, or to actively join environmental groups. We can think of this period as an accelerated reshuffling of political urgencies. We can go even further and say that politics, as understood within art & design academies, is a process of prioritization of such urgencies.
These days I’m reading Bourdieu and I believe that his work can be useful to understand some implications of the political art & design school. One of the questions that Bourdieu helps framing is an apparently obvious one: what is a school? The French sociologist urges us to think of the school not just as a context where knowledge is acquired and shared, nor as a merely repressive institution that disciplines future white collars, but also as a market where cultural capital is formed, exchanged, sanctioned and legitimized.
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Last week I signed Platform BK’s open letter entitled “Graduates of art academies deserve more agency over their future” without hesitation. Addressing the executive boards of Dutch Art academies, the letter argues that education should prepare students for “the unruly reality of the cultural sector’s job market”.
A four-point plan is laid out: 1) developing post-precarity courses; 2) support social engagement and self-organization; 3) provide insight into the wolrd after the academy; 4) involve students in institutional developments.
The letter argues that general response to the issue of labor is two-folded: cultural entrepreneurship on the one end of the spectrum, and art autonomy on the other. The first can be understood as a passive adoption of a market logic (neoliberal, if you will) within education; while the latter is a form of romanticized detachment from the material reality of artists and designer careers’.
A previous version of the letter advocated for an “economically responsible art education”. The big question is: how do we define economic responsibility? Here, I’d like to give a pointer towards a possible answer, linked to point 3 of the letter.
Economic responsibility is not just financial literacy. Sure, students need to know how to write invoices, but economic responsibility goes beyond that. One way in which art academies can be more economically responsible is by strengthening the research into the lives of their students after graduation. The data available is often fragmented, hard to find, superficial, too broad (on the scale of a country or even a continent) and frequently comes from the work of students themselves who use their thesis time for this kind of inquiry. Furthermore, exceptionalism is the norm: cherry-picked successful alumni are invited to give career tips to young students, reinforcing biased representations of professional fulfillment. Instead of externalizing surveys and cherry-picking success, art academies should be the ones that dedicate in-house resources to develop a rigorous, localized picture of economic life after graduation.
Like many others, I’ve been following @neuroticarsehol for years now. Mostly popular within graphic design circles, NA is a shitposting account active on both Twitter and Instagram that makes fun of the grandiose statements of the design discourse, its unrealistic claims, its careerism, and its distance to everyday life.
Not everyone likes them. Some more or less prominent practitioners find their points reductive and obvious: ethical or political gestures unavoidably contribute to a designer’s career. This doesn’t mean that these gestures are insincere and that such designer is a hypocrite. Not so long ago, I stumbled upon a starter pack meme made by the students of a German design school. Here, NA appeared behind a red cross. The meme also showed legitimate “equipment”, such as the Glossary of Undisciplined Design, and a We Should All Be Feminists shirt.
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[This post is now published in Who Can Afford to Be Critical? by Afonso de Matos (ed.), Eindhoven: Set Margins’, 2022.]
1. According to Donald Schön, a professional is someone who “claims extraordinary knowledge in matters of human importance, getting in return extraordinary rights and privileges.” This definition proves that a profession is necessarily exclusive. Claiming inclusivity by calling for a complete deprofessionalization of design is mere populism.
2. The current calls for design deprofessionalization legitimately denounce how the design profession has disproportionately excluded marginalized groups. However, they ignore the mechanisms of deprofessionalization that affect the design field in the first place. This is a problem, because higher education–which is where these calls generally come from–is bound to generate resentment and anger if it cannot guarantee to its student body, which invests time and money in its institutions, the social and economical benefits of the profession.
3. In the context of design, extraordinary knowledge is expert knowledge. We need to ask: how much of this expert knowledge does the designer actually hold in the public perception? If the designers’ knowledge is not considered, at least partly, a form of expertise, they won’t be granted the status of professionals in the social arena.
4. In the eyes of the general public, certain design sub-fields such as graphic design do not possess any “esoteric” knowledge. The perception is that thanks to the common availability of digital tools and devices, everyone can design a logo or a book. For several people the fact that there are MAs in graphic design is a source of astonishment.
5. Whether this perception is right or wrong is irrelevant, as it does and will nonetheless shape the economic relationships between clients and designers, and therefore the social status of the latter. The effects are already apparent in the salary gap between specialists in UX design, which is still considered an esoteric practice, and those in graphic design, which is fully demystified.
6. Some designers recognize that there is no fundamental difference between their supposedly expert knowledge and that of a profane. Instead of trying to convince the public of something they don’t even believe in themselves, they attempt to regain the benefits of a professional position (prestige, credibility, higher income) by placing their expertise within the domain of cultural production, i.e. by presenting themselves as intellectuals. Thus, cultural production is not just the casual ambition of some aspiring intellectuals, but the result of their field’s failure to generate or maintain the impression of expert knowledge. Ironically, the very calls for deprofessionalization belong to this process.
A few months ago, I was blessed to join the amazing team of the Center for Other Worlds, a research center for design and art based at Lusófona University. Now, we’re finally launching Other Worlds, COW’s shapeshifting journal for design research, criticism and transformation. Other Worlds (OW) aims at making the social, political, cultural and technical complexities surrounding design practices legible and, thus, mutable.
What other worlds, exactly? Those that have been traditionally ignored, neglected or silenced in the past, as well as those that are overlooked today: non-Western communities negotiating their own set of values through practice; alternative rationalities emerged in the West but overshadowed by the instrumental reason; technosocial environments blossoming at the periphery of platform empires, semi-visible modes of organization that oppose or sustain official institutions.
OW hosts articles, interviews, short essays and all the cultural production that doesn’t fit neither the fast-paced, volatile design media promotional machine nor the necessarily slow and lengthy process of scholarly publishing. In this way, we hope to address urgent issues, without sacrificing rigor and depth.
We are starting small, OW’s initial form is that of a newsletter. Follow this link to find more information and to subscribe.
Do you feel like you have OW same energy? Then, don’t hesitate to get in touch!
Yesterday, a students’ banner in solidarity with Palestine was removed from the walls of the Piet Zwart Institute of Rotterdam. The Willem de Kooning Academy, whose the PZI belongs to, took out it out because “the University of Applied Sciences does not get involved in geopolitical situations” and “does not take political stands whether on national or international issues”.
This might come as a big surprise for who has witnessed first-hand the often self-congratulatory ostentation of Dutch art & design’s criticality, politicality, activist attitude, and decolonial agenda. On Instagram, two posts before the official statement, one reads: “Hello all! Tomorrow our Instagram will be taken over by WdKA’s climate collective SPIN. 🕷️🌿”
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