“Read, read, read. Read everything”

William Faulkner

“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”



John Balderssari


The 12 Paradoxes Of Graphic Design

By Dorothy Tan,

19 Mar 2013

Based on a lecture by graphic designer Adrian Shaughnessy, Stockholm-based designer Tobias Bergdahl has created minimalist visuals for the “12 Paradoxes of Graphic Design” that Shaughnessy spoke of.

Each paradox consists of an impossible shape—like the Möbius strip—accompanied by a simple statement about the practice of graphic design.

These illuminating and insightful messages are great advice for young graphic designers by urging them not to harbor misleading assumptions about important subjects like clients, money and ideas.

Scroll down to view all 12 paradoxes that may give you a new perspective of graphic design.
















Seven Tips From William Faulkner on How to Write Fiction

“The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory,” said the Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner in his 1958 Paris Review interview. “Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice.”


All the same, Faulkner offered plenty of advice to young writers in 1957 and 1958, when he was a writer-in-residence at the University of Virginia.

His various lectures and public talks during that time–some 28 hours of discussion–were tape recorded and can now be heard at the university’s Faulkner audio archive. We combed through the transcripts and selected seven quotations from Faulkner on the craft of writing fiction. In most cases, they were points Faulkner returned to again and again. Faulkner had a way of stammering when he composed his words out loud, so we have edited out the repetitions and false starts. We have provided links to each of the Virginia audio recordings, which are accompanied by word-for-word transcripts of each conversation.

1: Take what you need from other writers.

Faulkner had no qualms about borrowing from other writers when he saw a device or technique that seemed useful. In a February 25, 1957 writing class he says:

I think the writer, as I’ve said before, is completely amoral. He takes whatever he needs, wherever he needs, and he does that openly and honestly because he himself hopes that what he does will be good enough so that after him people will take from him, and they are welcome to take from him, as he feels that he would be welcome by the best of his predecessors to take what they had done.

2: Don’t worry about style.

A genuine writer–one “driven by demons,” to use Faulkner’s own phrase–is too busy writing to worry about style, he said. In an April 24, 1958 undergraduate writing class, Faulkner says:

I think the story compels its own style to a great extent, that the writer don’t need to bother too much about style. If he’s bothering about style, then he’s going to write precious emptiness–not necessarily nonsense…it’ll be quite beautiful and quite pleasing to the ear, but there won’t be much content in it.

3: Write from experience–but keep a very broad definition of “experience.”

Faulkner agreed with the old adage about writing from your own experience, but only because he thought it was impossible to do otherwise. He had a remarkably inclusive concept of “experience.” In a February 21, 1958 graduate class in American fiction, Faulkner says:

To me, experience is anything you have perceived. It can come from books, a book that–a story that–is true enough and alive enough to move you. That, in my opinion, is one of your experiences. You need not do the actions that the people in that book do, but if they strike you as being true, that they are things that people would do, that you can understand the feeling behind them that made them do that, then that’s an experience to me. And so, in my definition of experience, it’s impossible to write anything that is not an experience, because everything you have read, have heard, have sensed, have imagined is part of experience.

4: Know your characters well and the story will write itself.

When you have a clear conception of a character, said Faulkner, events in a story should flow naturally according to the character’s inner necessity. “With me,” he said, “the character does the work.” In the same February 21, 1958 American fiction class as above, a student asked Faulkner whether it was more difficult to get a character in his mind, or to get the character down on paper once he had him in his mind. Faulkner replies:

I would say to get the character in your mind. Once he is in your mind, and he is right, and he’s true, then he does the work himself. All you need to do then is to trot along behind him and put down what he does and what he says. It’s the ingestion and then the gestation. You’ve got to know the character. You’ve got to believe in him. You’ve got to feel that he is alive, and then, of course, you will have to do a certain amount of picking and choosing among the possibilities of his action, so that his actions fit the character which you believe in. After that, the business of putting him down on paper is mechanical.

5: Use dialect sparingly.

In a pair of local radio programs included in the University of Virginia audio archive, Faulkner has some interesting things to say about the nuances of the various dialects spoken by his characters from different ethnic and social groups in Mississippi. But in the May 6, 1958 broadcast of “What’s the Good Word?” Faulkner cautions that it’s important not to get carried away:

I think it best to use as little dialect as possible because it confuses people who are not familiar with it. That nobody should let the character speak completely in his own vernacular. It’s best indicated by a few simple, sparse but recognizable touches.

6: Don’t exhaust your imagination.

“Never write yourself to the end of a chapter or the end of a thought,” said Faulkner. The advice, given more than once during his Virginia talks, is virtually identical to something Ernest Hemingway often said. (See tip number two in “Seven Tips From Ernest Hemingway on How to Write Fiction.”) In the February 25, 1957 writing class, Faulkner says:

The only rule I have is to quit while it’s still hot. Never write yourself out. Always quit when it’s going good. Then it’s easier to take it up again. If you exhaust yourself, then you’ll get into a dead spell and you’ll have trouble with it.

7: Don’t make excuses.

In the same February 25, 1957 writing class, Faulkner has some blunt words for the frustrated writer who blames his circumstances:

I have no patience, I don’t hold with the mute inglorious Miltons. I think if he’s demon-driven with something to be said, then he’s going to write it. He can blame the fact that he’s not turning out work on lots of things. I’ve heard people say, “Well, if I were not married and had children, I would be a writer.” I’ve heard people say, “If I could just stop doing this, I would be a writer.” I don’t believe that. I think if you’re going to write you’re going to write, and nothing will stop you.


In popular culture


The carousel slide projector was highlighted in the popular TV-series Mad Men (Season One, Episode 13, titled “The Wheel”) as a product for advertiser Don Draper to pitch. There, it was named the “Carousel” instead of “The Wheel”, because it was nostalgic and let its viewers travel through their memories as a child would, “around and around and back home again”.



The magical power of the projected image is unique to the medium. A beam of light, thrown out from the slide or film projector, bears sequences of images that reconstitute and take form when the light meets an opaque surface. Projected images are at once solid and transparent…The beam of light is a powerful sign of memory and the visual imagination. It transmits ghost images, figures that live only through the power of the projective apparatus and die as the picture vanishes. Projected in darkness, the cone of light traces the genesis of the images from projector to screen. It is spellbinding and full of promise”

– Lynda Nead, The Haunted Gallery


A thoughtful article by ORIT GAT at

Projected Projects: Slides, PowerPoints, Nostalgia, and a Sense of Belonging

ORIT GAT | Mon Nov 28th, 2011 10:35 a.m.

The discipline of art history used to have a sound, the click and growl of the slide projector. It had a look, too, that was composed of darkened lecture halls and sometimes-blurry images of a unified size.

Kodak stopped manufacturing 35mm slide projectors in 2004, a decision in line with the company’s current focus on digital photography. The website dedicated to Kodak slide projectors has been archived as a frozen version, current as of November 2004. Soon enough, that website would seem as old fashioned as the famous poster celebrating the invention of the carousel slide projector.

ABC’s “Mad Men” credited Don Draper, the head copywriter at the ad firm the show focuses on, as the inventor of the term “the carousel,” for Kodak’s then-cutting edge technology. In the scene where he pitches the term to Kodak, he states, “The Greeks call it nostalgia. […] It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.”

The fact that slide projectors are now becoming a technology on the verge of death invokes a new feeling of nostalgia. Slide projectors were commonly used for varied purposes, from the family slideshow through the business meeting display, and up to illustrated lectures. These devices were commonplace and their aesthetic, sound, and use bring up familiarity and a certain tradition.

In 2005, shortly after Kodak’s announcement that it will no longer produce slide projectors, curator Darsie Alexander at the Baltimore Museum of Art organized the exhibition “Slideshow.” Featuring nineteen works made between the 1960s and the early 2000s by artists such as Robert Smithson, Dennis Oppenheim, Ceal Floyer, and Dan Graham, “Slideshow” celebrated the medium itself. It was presented in a series of darkened rooms where the only light came from the slide projectors and the sound of the changing slides echoed throughout.

Robert Smithson, Hotel Palenque, 1969, 35mm slide projection (detail).

35mm slides have a number of built-in characteristics that appeal to artists. First and foremost, they are a high resolution color image, which, in the 1960s, was a refreshing change from the dominance of black and white photography. Secondly, the slide projectors have an inherent sense of narrative built into them. Be it an 80-slide or 140-slide tray, and whatever number of seconds it is set to automatically change slides after, the projector presents a story in a certain time frame and a specific number of images.

What was appealing for artists in the 35mm slides was slowly disappearing in the projection technologies that followed it—first, the overhead projector, and more so, PowerPoint. The overhead projector using transparencies is still quite frequently used in contemporary art. PowerPoint, however, is different.

Since its introduction in the early 1980s, PowerPoint has become the tool of corporate culture. It drove the overhead projector out of the boardroom quite quickly, but it also became a trope of contemporary communications. According to Microsoft, thirty million PowerPoint presentations are given every day, almost all of them featuring the silhouette stick figure that stands beneath a question mark. PowerPoint was not the natural digitized version of the slide or the overhead projector. It was not the Mr. Coffee to the plastic funnel coffee filter holder. PowerPoint comes with a culture of organizing information—in bulletproof points, using a series of templates, and with AutoContent complete into the program.

Ofri Cnaani, Moviemakers (detail), 2010, overhead projection, handmade transparencies.

Ceal Floyer, Overhead Projection, 2006.

The use and value of PowerPoint has been widely discussed. A doubt was cast upon its efficiency in Edward R. Tufte’s famous article “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint,” where he coined the (surprisingly commonplace) term “PowerPoint phluff” to describe inessential visuals in PowerPoint presentations (puzzled man silhouette included). The use of PowerPoint in the private and corporate realms was slighted in “Absolute PowerPoint” in The New Yorker in 2001, where the writer Ian Parker spells out how “PowerPoint is a software you impose on other people.”

Most art history classes are now taught using PowerPoint. We are getting more and more accustomed to viewing art digitally and online, insomuch that Google used its Street View technology to also make available virtual visits to museums across the world as part of Google Art Project. And the performative aspect of the PowerPoint is utilized in Pecha Kucha and Slideluck Potshow events. Maybe it is time that we throw thinking about the slideshow as a curatorial project into the mix. What worked for Baltimore Art Museum’s “Slideshow” will not work with PowerPoint, whose physical characteristics are quite different.

PowerPoint slides projected on the wall are heavy files in a low resolution, especially when compared to paper or 35mm slides. The capabilities of the human eye-brain system are much larger than what PowerPoint can offer, thereby making it harder to focus solely on the slides themselves. Notwithstanding projects like UC Berkeley Pacific Film Archive’s “PowerPoint to the People,” a competition of PowerPoint artworks (surveyed on Wired here) and Peter Norvig’s Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentationwhich has been linked to and mentioned countless times, a PowerPoint presentation still needs to be activated. It is a performative medium. Not surprisingly, many of the examples I could find of artists using PowerPoint are as part of performances. In his recent work, shown at Performa and SFMOMA, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Simon Fujiwara carries a remote control for a PowerPoint presentation that he uses as part of the performance almost throughout the work. Does this differ from giving a lecture while using PowerPoint? David Byrne gave a series of lectures titled “I [heart] PowerPoint” at museums and universities across the country. He also wrote a book about PowerPoint and displays PowerPoints in his exhibitions. As to the negative reactions to the software itself, Byrne says, “Rather than resist, I decided that I must surrender and learn to use this software myself, for, like everyone, I long to belong.”


The history of advertising in quite a few objects: 33 The Carousel, Thursday, 21 June 2012 08:00AM Be the first to comment

In the three decades that followed its debut in the early 60s, the carousel slide projector was a key player at every big agency presentation – and one of the most cantankerous.

First carousel slide projector: by Eastman Kodak iFirst carousel slide projector: by Eastman Kodak i

It seemed almost to have a mind of its own. And if it didn’t like the way it was being treated, it had a habit of throwing a tantrum and making you look a complete twerp in front of the client you were most eager to impress.

Now that laptops and pen-drives have so dramatically reduced the chances of technical cock-ups at pitches, it’s hard to imagine how such a prosaic piece of equipment could make agencies hostages to fortune.

“You needed a knack to handle a carousel,” John Wringe, the chairman of the brand consultancy Your Future and an adman for more than 30 years, recalls. “The slides had to be loaded the wrong way round and upside down, so there was always a high chance of making a mistake.”

What’s more, to use a carousel was always to risk evoking Murphy’s Law, which states that if anything can go wrong, it will.

And it did the time Bill Husselby, the Cogent chairman, was about to present to executives of Massey Ferguson, the agriculture equipment manufacturer and his agency’s biggest client, at their Canadian headquarters.

With the auditorium hushed and expectant, Husselby went backstage to check on the progress of the carousel slide presentation being put together by his managing director, Ray Lee.

Husselby opened the door, which hit Lee, sending him crashing into the projector and spilling the slides everywhere. Husselby then succeeded in turning a drama into a crisis by accidentally stepping on the slides, shattering many of them. “I’ll leave you to it, Ray,” a shamefaced Husselby said as he tiptoed away.

Curiously, the fact that the carousel was costly to use was also a benefit. “Each slide cost around £6.50 to produce, which made a lengthy slide presentation quite expensive,” Wringe says. It was a great incentive to keep the slides – and the verbosity – to a minimum.


– The first carousel slide projector, launched by Eastman Kodak in 1962, was invented by Louis Misuraca, who emigrated to the US from Naples. Instead of royalties, he took a one-off payment from Kodak and used the money to take his family on a trip to Italy.

– An episode of Mad Men suggests the carousel was christened by Don Draper. Asked by Kodak to devise a campaign for their new but unexciting concept, Sterling Cooper’s creative chief, with his marriage on the rocks, talks emotionally of the projector as a “time machine” and uses it to screen images of his wife and children. “It takes us to a place where we ache to go again,” he tells them. “It’s called the carousel.”

– The arrival of the overhead projector and advances in digital photography marked the end of the carousel. Kodak ceased production in 2004.

This article was first published on


New Aesthetics: Cyber-Aesthetics and Degrees of Autonomy

By Patrick Lichty – 01/03/2013


Five Thousand Feet is the Best by Omer Fast.

In perusing Honor Harger’s recent missive on drone aesthetics and James Bridle’s ongoing posts of drone images at Dronestagram, taken in context with the Glitch un-conference in Chicago, some new questions have come to mind. These questions have to do with conceptions of New Aesthetics in its various forms in terms of interaction with the program/device and its level of autonomy from the user. In my mind, there seems to be a NA continuum from generative programs that operate under the strict criteria of the programmer to the often-autonomous actions of drones and planetary rovers. As you can see, I am still chewing on the idea that The New Aesthetic as it seems to be defined, as encompassing all semi-autonomous aspects of ‘computer vision’. This includes Glitch, Algorism, Drone imagery, satellite photography and face recognition, and it’s sometimes a tough nugget to swallow that resonates with me on a number of levels.

First, image-creating technological agents are far from new, as Darko Fritz recently stated in a talk that algorithms have been creating images, in my opinion, within criteria of NA since the 60’s, and pioneers like Frieder Nake, A. Michael Noll, and Roman Verostko have been exploring algorithmic agency for decades. If we take these computer art pioneers into account, one can argue that NA has existed since the 60’s if one lumps in genres like Verostko’s ‘style’ of Algorism or the use of algorithms as aesthetic choice. A notch along the continuum toward the ‘fire and forget’ imaging (e.g. drones) is the Glitch contingent, which is less deterministic about their methodologies of data corruption aesthetics by either running a program that corrupts the media or they perform digital vivisection and watch what little monster they’ve created. Glitchers exhibit less control over their processes, and are much more akin to John Cage, Dada or Fluxus artists in their allowance of whimsical or chance elements in their media.


However, as we slide along the spectrum of control/autonomy from the lockstep control of code to the less deterministic aesthetics of face recognition, drone imaging, robotic cameras, Google Street View cams, Mars Rovers and satellite imaging, things get murkier. Autonomic aesthetics remind me of the ruby-hued Terminator T500 vision generated by intelligent agents running the ‘housekeeping’ on the machine platform. I consider this continuum from Algorism to Glitch to autonomous robotic agents under an NA continuum of aesthetics is important insofar as it defines a balance of agency between the operator and the ‘tool’. For me this is the difference between the high degree of control of the Algorist, the ‘twiddle and tweak’ sensibility of the Glitcher, and the gleaning from the database of pseudo-autonomous images created by Big Imaging created by drones and automatic imaging. Notice I use the term ‘pseudo’ in that there are operators flying the platforms or driving the car, while the on-board agents take care of issues like pattern/face recognition and target acquisition. We also see this in Facebook, as recent technological changes as of 2012 have introduced face recognition in the tagging of images. From this, a key issue for me in this discussion of what began as a nebulous set of terms (the criteria of NA as defined by the global conversation) is that of agency and autonomy, and how much control the New Aestheticist gets in the execution of their process. Another important point is that I am not calling the ‘New Aestheticist’ an artist or curator, but something in between, but I’ll get to that later as this is also an issue of control of intent.


Terminator T500 vision

Back to this idea of autonomy between the subject, the ‘curator’ and the viewer, what interests me is the degree of control or not that the person creating, tweaking, or gleaning the image has over the creation or contextualization of that image. In the case of the Algorist, this is the Control end of the spectrum, where the artist takes nearly full control of the process of creation of the image, unless there is a randomization function involved in the process, and that it itself is a form of control – very Cybernetic in nature. Agency is at a maximum here, as the artist and machine are in partnership. Roman Verostko is a prime example of this, as he explores intricate recursive images created by ink pen plotters using paints in the pens. What he, and the AI-driven AARON, by Harold Cohen, for that matter, are machine painting.

The next step down the autonomy spectrum would involve the use of ‘glitch’ tools and processes that distort, disturb, and warp digital media. The process involves executing a given intervention upon the medium, such as saving it improperly, hex editing its code to corrupt it, or as Caleb Kelly writes, ‘crack’ the media. There are differing degrees of disturbance of the media to inject chance processes into it, from a more ‘algoristic’/programmatic application of programs upon the media to directly changing the internal data structure through manipulating the information through hex code and text editors. The resultant process is an iterative ‘tweak and test’ methodology that still involves the user in the process to varying degrees. Of course, the direct manipulation of the data with a hex editor is the most intimate of the processes, but there is still one factor to account for. The factor in question is that there is the set of causes and effects that are set in motion when the artist/operator opens the media and the codec (Compressor/DECompressor) mis/interprets the media, as is intended by the artist.


If we are to look at the glitch process, we can say that there is a point of intervention/disturbance upon the media, which is entirely a function of control on the part of the user. Afterwards, it is set loose into the system to allow the corruptions within the media to trigger chance/autonomous operations in its interpretation in the browser, etc. This is where the glitcher straddles the line between control and autonomy, as they manually insert noise into their media (control), then the codecs struggle with the ‘cracked’ media (autonomy). The glitcher, then, has the option to try a new iteration, thereby making the process cybernetic in nature. In Glitch, there is a conversation between the operator, the media and the codec. With the aesthetics created by drones, algorithmic recognition software, and satellite reconstructions, the process is far more autonomous/disjoint, and the New Aestheticist has to deal with this in the construction of their practice.

In the genre that I will call ‘mobEYEle’ imaging, the robot, satellite, or parabolic street eye abstracts from the ‘artist’, aptly turning them into an ‘aestheticist’, as their level of control is defined as that of a gleaner/pattern recognizer from the image bank of Big Data. Rhetorically speaking, we could say that a connection between the aestheticist and the generator of the image would be less abstract if, say, a New Aestheticist were to be in the room with a drone pilot, conversing about points of interest. It is likely that a military remote pilot and a graphic designer would have sharply differing views as to what constitutes a ‘target of interest’. Like that’s going to happen…

Therefore, let us just say that the collaboration of a New Aestheticist and a drone pilot is nightly unlikely, and that the New Aestheticist is therefore abstracted from the decisions of command and control involved in acquiring the image that eventually gets in their hands. This, however, presents us with two levels of autonomous agency, one human and one algotrithmic. But before I expand on this, I would like to discuss my decision to call the practitioner an ‘aestheticist’ as opposed to an artist or curator.

This decision rests on what I feel is the function of the aestheticist, that is, to glean value from an image and ‘ascribe’ an aesthetic to it. This position puts them in a murky locus between artist and curator, as they have elements of neither and both. For example, does the drone-image NA practitioner create the image; are they the artist per se, of the image? No. Although they are more closely aligned to curatorial practice as they collect, filter (to paraphrase Anne-Marie Schleiner), and post on tumblrs and Pinterests? From my perspective, the role of a curator is the suggestion of taste through and informed subjectivity through ecologies of trust and legitimacy, but the social image aggregator, although they might want to perform the same function, has no guarantee of accomplishing this unless they develop a following. Therefore, under my definition, they are neither creators nor taste-makers in the traditional sense, so what makes sense is to call them ‘aggregators’ of aesthetic material and thus my term ‘Aestheticist’.

Returning to our conversation, the drone aestheticist, then, is subject to one of two degrees of completely abstracted autonomy of the creation of the image; that of the operator or that of the algorithms operating the drone. The abstraction surrounding the human operator is easiest to resolve, as the images of interest are either the preference of the drone operator or those created by the operator under the parameters of the mission, and not the results of a New Aestheticist’s joyride on a Global Hawk. It is merely someone else’s volition selecting the image, and a confluence of personal interest deciding as to whether the image deserves to be on the New Aestheticist’s social imaging organ. However, it is the drone’s algorithmic image acquisition system that creates a more alien perspective in regards to aesthetics and autonomy of the image.

Compared to the Algorist or the Glitcher, all loosely placed under the banner of New Aesthetics, the Drone/Big Data Aestheticist is most problematic, as they are a fetishizer of sheer command and control operations that are potentially utterly abstracted from the pilot/driver’s volition. This creates a double abstraction through first the pilot, and then the algorithmic recognition system. There is no cybernetic loop here at all, as the gleaning of the item of interest from the beach of Big Data is twice removed from any feedback potential. Secondly, as I have written before, the Drone Aestheticist is exactly that, a gleaner of interesting images for use on their social image site, which in itself is a bit of an abject exercise.

Or is it? For example, if one is to say that the Aestheticist gleaning the images does so without intent or politics, and is merely operating on fetish/interest value, then this is perhaps one of the least interesting practices in New Aesthetic practice. But on the other hand, if one looks at the work of practitioners like Jordan Crandall, Trevor Paglen, or Ricardo Dominguez, who examine the acquired image as instrument of aggression, control, and oppression, this puts a new lease on the life of the Drone Aesthetic. In a way, though inquiry, there is an indirect feedback loop established in questioning the gaze of the device, its presence, and its function in its theater of operations. The politics of the New Aesthetic emerges here, in asking what mechanisms of command and control guide the machine eye and determine its targets of interest. This is of utmost importance, as the abstracted eye is guided without subjectivity or ethics and is determined solely by the parameters of its algorithms and the stated goals of its functions.

Is the aesthetic of the machine image merely a function of examining its processes, fetishizing its errors, or something else? The criteria of the New Aesthetic attempts to talk about a spectrum of digital imaging that stretches back into time far longer than 2010, and has a problematically broad sense of definition. Once these problems are set aside as a given, one of the key criteria for the evaluation of NA practice and the function of its images depends upon the degree of control and autonomy inherent in the process within the creation of the image. This is formed in a continuum of control and abstraction from Algorism and Generative Art to autonomous eyes like drones and satellites. Algorism is one of the oldest NA practices, and exhibits the closest relationship between artist, machine and determinacy of digital process. A greater degree of indeterminacy is evident in the Glitch, but the iterative process of tweaking the media and then setting it forth into the process of interpretation by the codec, foregrounds the issue of digital autonomy.

The eye of the unmanned platform abstracts creation from the human organism at least once if a human does not operate it remotely, and twice if it is. There is the Terminator-like fear of the autonomous robot, but at this time, perhaps the more salient questions regarding what I have qualified as drone/autonomous aestheticism under NA of what the function of the image is, and is it really that interesting? Are the practices of NA blurring artistic and curatorial practice into a conceptual aestheticism, creating a cool detachment from the image despite its source or method of creation? Is the bottom line to the genres of NA the degree of control that the artist or aestheticist has over the image’s creation or its modality/intent? It seems that NA is an ongoing reflection upon the continuum of control over the generation of the image, our beliefs regarding its aesthetics, and what the intentions or politics are behind the creation of the New Aesthetic image. Or, as I have written before, are we just pinning images from Big Data and saying, “Isn’t that kinda cool?”

Maybe it’s somewhere in the middle of intention and cool.


Graphic Design as Political Practice:

A Conversation With Metahaven [Part 1]

Published on February 14th, 2013


Written by: Kyle Chayka


Installation view of “Metahaven: Islands in the Cloud” at MoMA PS1 (Photo: Matthew Septimus)

Metahaven is an Amsterdam-based design studio made up of its two members and founders, Vinca Kruk and Daniel van der Velden. Yet to describe them simply as a design studio seems misleading. The pair uses graphic design, identity branding, and product development as weapons, harnessing the power of the image in the internet age to design concepts that both signal label and propel political and social change.

Following their fascination with strange political gambits, obscure corners of the internet, and the power of the cloud, Kruk and van der Velden have written essays for e-flux, rebranded the micronation of Sealand, and created salable products for Wikileaks as the organization was just hitting the global scene. On the occasion of their current exhibition at MoMA PS1, I sat down with Metahaven to discuss their history as a studio, the process of working with Julian Assange, and the aesthetics of the dot-com boom. The second part of the interview will be published tomorrow.


Metahaven infographic from “Captives of the Cloud” (Image via
Kyle Chayka: How did Metahaven first get started?

Vinca Kruk: We started to collaborate on the Sealand Identity Project, which was to conceive a national identity for the Principality of Sealand, which is a self-proclaimed nation on a former war platform near the coast of the UK. We didn’t stop working on that project, but wanted to keep going with it. That’s what our practice emerged out of. Quite naturally, it wasn’t a formal decision.

Daniel van der Velden: I agree.

KC: How did you first hear about Sealand or start thinking about it?

DV: Towards the end of the dot-com boom at the time I was co-designing a magazine called Archis, which is now called Volume, an architecture journal, and we had a special issue about islands. Sealand emerged in an editorial meeting as an example and then actually the idea came about to think about an identity for this kind of really weird place that no one can actually visit, that’s only accessible through the internet.

Sealand was trying to have its own dot-com business model at the time. So it was really a combination of this idea of sovereignty, self-proclaimed nationhood, in combination with this flawed entrepreneurial dream of starting an offshore business onboard Sealand. I think we were both interested in working on a lyrical aspect of visual identity, something that had to do a lot with heraldry, opulence — something not so minimal. Sealand was a really good launch platform for that. We also had an interest in theory, so it was also a great projection screen for all kinds of theoretical notions of identity and state.

VK: Explorations of theory, nationhood, and statehood, the combination of anarchy and monarchy, and all the contradictions that you find in Sealand as a kind of self-proclaimed state. There’s a strange, almost totalitarian thinking behind it, but it is so lo-fi. People hanging out with beer on a platform like “playing state” in their backyard.

DV: It’s interesting because Roy Bates, the founder of Sealand, recently passed away. The whole idea of Sealand was basically a gift to his wife. So it was his wife Joan, and he was obviously very much in love with her. He gave her this title “princess.” Which is a super-poetic and at the same time totally meaningless title. She doesn’t get any special perks from that other than some sort of fame. It’s interesting that it was done in a pre-internet age so obviously he wouldn’t have done it for, like, followers.

It was an inherently genuine act. That’s what’s great about Sealand.



Installation view of “Metahaven: Islands in the Cloud” at MoMA PS1 (Photo: Matthew Septimus)

KC: Can you describe what kind of identity you made for Sealand? How did it evolve visually and what was the end product?

VK: What we found interesting about Sealand that it had all the very traditional objects of statehood, like stamps and passports, to prove that Sealand was very legitimate and real. There were also fake Sealand passports circulating. We were interested in creating coins of stamps that wouldn’t really materialize, but would exist virtually. An endless flow of heraldic images that keep going and keep adding to them.

DV: There are the old fixed icons like coins and stamps, but they are charged with stuff that’s actually really unstable, like everything that you find through Google Images. Everything you find about Sealand through Google would be legit to use in the identity for that reason.

So, for example, the landlord of the murderer of Gianni Versace had a fake Sealand passport. So that’s a little chain of events, and because of that link we could use the Versace iconography in the brand. If you Google “Sealand” now, you also get results for “Seal and Heidi Klum,” because Google has changed its algorithms accordingly. So you get lots of images of Seal and Heidi Klum together. Had that had been around at the time, we would have certainly used that.


“Jewelbox” of Sealand branding (Image via
KC: What’s the current state of Sealand?

VK: There was a fire on Sealand a few years ago, so it’s in a bad shape.

DV: People also know that their idea of turning Sealand into a data haven is not working. The P2P file sharing platform,the Pirate Bay, tried to buy Sealand a couple of years back because it still is this kind of internet anarchy symbol. But it’s not working, and I think we predicted that in our essay ‘The Network Ruin.”

KC: Totally, the ruins of the failed utopia are a visual archetype. Through Metahaven, you’re taking on projects that are niche but remain very relevant. How did you develop and run the studio practice.

DV: We are interested in ideas and concepts that require not just visualization but also research. I think that when we decided to we wanted to collaborate further on these things we also were struggling with how to set up a studio. I gave up another practice that I had at the time, which had many clients, in order to completely focus on Metahaven, so we started form scratch — we had nothing. We also had to find clients to sustain this practice. You can’t run your practice on something like Sealand alone. So the first few years were spent on getting that model together, of having commissioned work, combined with longer and shorter term research projects.

VK: I think working on Sealand as a topic was very important because there were so many themes in there that we have continued working on since, in different projects. We started to write much more, we organized conferences. We started working issues like the use of totalitarian architecture in Europe, and how such buildings were re-appropriated as symbols in capitalism. Still architecture, and identity were things we were working on.

KC: It’s interesting that on one hand, there is the commercial need to survive and take on projects and clients, but you also have a split between client work and research projects. How do you guys feel about Metahaven as kind of a business entity?

VK: We don’t really separate it — it’s not like we work on a commission for a client and the next day we do a research project. It very much overlaps, and also the way we talk with clients about commissions is very much how we talk in the studio about how to continue a research project.

DV: I think the notion of proactivity is really important, the notion that you can initiate stuff yourself. It can actually be a project that involves a client. There is the old notion of “pro-bono” work, which is the supposedly ethical counterpart to commercial practice, but in our case you could say that we dedicate a certain amount of research and resources to a potential client or partner that we feel could benefit from that.

That’s how we approached WikiLeaks, for example. Just before their global notoriety, so they were actually still approachable at that time.


Installation view of “Metahaven: Islands in the Cloud” at MoMA PS1 featuring Wikileaks scarves (Photo: Matthew Septimus)

KC: Wikileaks blew up pretty quickly in terms of global notoriety. Do you mean working on topics that have more real-world impact?

DV: Nobody could have foreseen what happened to WikiLeaks, and the events that unfolded. Of course, it’s impossible for an identity to keep track of all this, so that’s also why we had to change the central question of the project, moving into something that was much more about products, merchandising — because what they needed most was money. Then of course we solved that in a completely non-straightforward way. We did stuff that obviously was very different form what they had in mind originally.

KC: What kind of things did Wikileaks have in mind for themselves?

DV: The sort of stuff you see in their official merchandising store.

KC: Instead, you made some more upscale items for them, like a Chanel-style scarf. What’s the story behind that?

DV: The notion of the scarf talks about opacity and transparency, which is exactly what they are about.

VK: Something that’s kind of glamorous, and you could wear it both as a luxury item, but also use it to cover your face.

DV: There’s also the cheapness of glamour. There is something about WikiLeaks that echoes cheap, fake imports—like a revolt of the means of production over the brand image. That’s why we had that Louis Vuitton play with the “WL” logo in one of the earlier scarves. WikiLeaks is about a notion of democratic access to value. This is something that we wanted to bring out a little bit.



A Wikileaks scarf by Metahaven, featuring their logo (Image courtesy Metahaven, photo Meinke Klein)

KC: How difficult was it to actually communicate with Wikileaks, given their secrecy? Did you have any contact with Julian Assange himself?

VK: It basically started with us sending them an email in mid-2010 saying, “Hey, we would like to work on your identity, would you be up for it?” We got a reply back two hours later. The email said, “Great, we have a shortage of such things.” The e-mail was signed with “JA.” So that was enough for us to get started because they opened up the possibility to do something.

Then they started releasing the cables, and communication became very difficult. It took some time to get back touch with them, which eventually happened. We met with them and showed what we had done.

DV: Then, in that meeting, what we had been doing was sort of brushed aside, which was completely predictable. Some of the stuff we did which was brushed aside is in the show.

KC: Which parts?

DV: The identity part basically. Then we decided that pursuing tee shirts and mugs was really the way to go. We had a dialogue over the specific designs later on that was very productive.

VK: What we really understood during that meeting was that they have a problem surviving financially because of a blockade by MasterCard, VISA and PayPal. Selling merchandising is an important way for WikiLeaks to raise money, so basically that was the only thing they felt they needed designed.

DV: There’s a lot of criticism about this. They seem so focused on money sometimes that you feel it’s actually not benefiting the people who care for Wikileaks. These are not necessarily people who have lots of money. So if you force someone to support an organization by buying a mug you’re basically molding that person into a consumer role.

We found that the leaks are to WikiLeaks what tour dates are to a band, so basically our t-shirts present different important leaks, one per t-shirt.

Part two of Hyperallergic’s interview with Metahaven was published on Friday, February 15, 2013, “Graphic Design as Political Practice: A Conversation with Metahaven [Part 2].”

Metahaven: Islands in the Cloud runs at MoMA PS1 (22-25 Jackson Ave, Long Island City) through April 1.


Good design can improve leadership by making big data accessible.

By Stacey Higginbotham

Nov. 5, 2012, 12:56pm PT

As the computer revolution has morphed into today’s web, design has a more important seat at the table. Not only is the web visual, but the data generated and the loss of hierarchy enabled by the web has created leadership challenges that good design can solve.


After a lesson in typography and an explanation of his lifelong passion in bringing technology and design together, John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design, laid out his view of the future challenge facing leaders now that social media and technology have overturned the traditional company hierarchy.



Video at:


Fortunately, the solution to that challenge appears to be a applying good design to a lot of data.
The crux of the leadership problem as Maeda sees it is that the hierarchical format with CEOs at the top and layers of management below them has been upended. “That hierarchy has been hurt indefinitely because anyone can talk to anyone else,” he said at the GigaOM RoadMap conference Monday in San Francisco. “You can’t control the flow of information between people anymore. There is a heterarchy and the CEO has been pulled into the middle of that.”

He implied that this opens up opportunities for creative people to become leaders, but he directly stated that creative people could help make any leader in this new heterarchical structure more effective. The secret to effectiveness in this brave new management world is making all of the data a leader has at their fingertips easily understandable, and to use design to connect concepts and relationships amid a mess of information.

So for Maeda, the question is both how do you lead in this new age of the heterarchy as well as how you can use design to support the leader. But in the 15 minutes before he got to that point, he led a fun intro into the importance of typography as an example of how design puts form to content, classified the difference between startup culture and larger company culture (he calls those “end ups” as opposed to startups,) and offered a book recommendation. As as one would expect, his slides were awesome. So check out the video for an entertaining talk and for startups out there thinking about data visualizations, check out his last few minutes to understand visually how design and data can aid leaders. Any company who can build those links will make a mint.


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