Archive for the ‘CRN 5432’ Category

Douglas Crimp discusses postmodernism as an “anything goes” attitude that extends beyond the production to include the process of viewing art as well. Similarly, the Museum of Jurassic Technology challenges the traditional idea of a museum. If you visit, it is likely you will be the only one in there– giving you the experience of private tour of the museum. The MJT almost has a complete disregard for the traditional methods of museum authority- meticulous presentation, exhaustive captions, hushed lighting, and state-of-the-art technology (heating, lighting, security). David Wilson (founder and director) explained to Lawrence Weschler on his first visit that: “We’re definitely interested in presenting phenomena that other natural-history museums seem unwilling to present.”



Connections can be made to the work of Dunne and Raby in critical design, which asks people to view things in a new or unexpected way. Museums such as the Met or the Natural History Museum can be compared to affirmative design. That is, they conform to the general publics idea of what a museum should be, there is a natural order and a familiarity to the experience of visiting those museums. Even the Museum of Natural History that presents the so-called wonders of history- but it does so in a very linear fashion that mimics the textbooks we read in elementary school- dinosaurs, whales, monkeys… even the oddest of exhibitions are “normalized” by the familiar experience of entering an established institution.

But like critical design, the MJT acknowledges the other possible histories. Raby suggested that critical design aimed to push the limits of the lived experience—I would say that is exactly what the MJT is doing. At the very least, it is certainly a conversation starter. Raby further suggests that “We don’t have to actually use the proposed products ourselves, it is by imagining them being used that they have an effect on us… a slight strangeness is key.” They are designed to provide mental pleasure and stimulate the mind—as are the exhibitions at the MJT.


“Beyond Nostalgia” and “For the Love of Things” – Hella Jongerius

“On Beauty and Being Just” – Ellen Scarry

Jongerius channels Appadurai’s concept of ersatz-nostalgia when she claims that all sorts of artists, musicians and designers are using ‘traditional’ techniques in comtemporary settings. However, contrary toAppadurai, Jongerius suggests that we find beauty in tradition, not just as a marketing ploy, although she does state that “Trends are consigned to the grave almost before they are properly born.” Jongerius acknowledges that we use modern technology to re-create the past, as well as re-create traditional techniques in order to best produce things that look and feel traditional. We do so out of a desire for the past that is accessible to us NOW, and we are doing it in a way that is accessible to all.

coconutbasketss8                      artisinal-vases2

Jongerius and Scarry agree tha we as human beings assign meaning and value to things based on our own personal experiences, our place in the world or global community, and our perception of these things qualifies as a summation of said experiences. For Scarry, we experience a ‘radical decentering’ when we see something beautiful; in other words, we become self-less and realize on an individual basis, that ‘I’ is not relative, but instead a small element within a grand design, so to speak. Jongerius says, “My perception of the world, whether physical or virtual, is largely dependent on my physical “being in the world.””


Jongerius goes on to suggest that while we currently do find beauty in things, and we attempt to re-create that beauty using modern techniques, these things we create are inherently short-living objects. Their ephemerality, however, is based out of our perception of their qualitative value, not their physical characteristics. She uses cell phones as an example. Although a cell phone, once produced, will work for years, newer and more advanced models come out almost as quickly as they are thrown away. Humans indulge in the newer models, throwing away the ‘old’ ones, making the value of the first cell phone obsolete, and replaceable. Again, she channels Appadurai and his concept of fashion marketing using “retro” styles, promoting the idea that we should buy now before our stlyes become obsolete.


Redesigning design is the only solution Tony Fry deems possible to save our unsustainable world. In order for humanity to live on and prosper, we must change our cultural behavior. Currently, our model of production and consumption is detrimental to all human and non-human life. Instead, Fry argues the model should go from one based on production, to one based on making and destroying.


Sustainable architect, William McDonough also agrees with this close-loop design method. McDonough’s Mirra chair, which is sold at Herman Miller Inc., is a definitive example of this design system based on extracting as much material value as possible without hurting the ecosystems involved.


Fry’s Redirective Practice is based on acknowledging our current system’s inability to sustain the future. Democracy and capitailsm do not harbor close-loop design, therefore, Fry believes we must reconsider our political and economic systems to encompass and be sensitive towards all living things, including animals. He admits there will be difficulty in accepting this change, but also acknowledges the fact that designing for the common good will prepare us for what is to come.

Janine Benyus offers solutions for designing for the future. Biomimicry is based on the natural systems of the world. She poses questions including “how does life make the most of things? and how do these things disappear into systems?” in order to translate nature’s solutions into sustainable design solutions.


The one thing in common that all of these designers possess is the understanding that the state of the world is irreprable. Instead of being depressed about this outlook, they have come together and challenged and lectured against the status quo. Their motivation, intelligent discourse, and concern for our world is what humanity needs in order to remain alive.

In elucidating Culture as Praxis, Leeds sociologist Zygmunt Bauman explores the trajectory of culture: first as concept, second as structure, and finally, as praxis (or, practice). Within the concept of culture, Bauman emphasizes three moments: the hierarchical, the differential and the generic. While all three slants retain overlapping significance in cultural studies today, their meanings can be mapped onto more or less specific periods in the history of globalization.

The hierarchical notion of culture, while perhaps the oldest, remains the most salient. Hence, culture is an acquired, value-saturated mark of prestige – accorded, for example, through class, education, or profession. Most closely aligned with the fine arts, literature and music in their classical senses, the hierarchical conception of culture allows us to speak of someone being cultured, or uncultured.

As Susan Yelavich remarks in her lecture, this notion of culture derives from colonialist assumptions of dominance. Seen here in artist Mark Dion’s ironic 1994 Scala Naturae, the enlightened male subject is depicted as the penultimate destination of biological evolution itself. This emerges, as Yelavich observes, from Greek notions of civility, wherein an individual is responsible for the cultivation of their own person, morally implicated to always endeavor towards the dominant ideal.

In contrast, the differential conception rejects notions of the ideal or singular in favor of comparative studies of culture. While all groups organize themselves through culture, the differential appreciates a diversity of means towards that end. Thanks, in part, to the emergence of modern social sciences, cultureS can be analyzed according to distinctive formulations, typically of all those facets beyond necessity: kinship patterns, decoration, cuisine, costume, art, music, etc. The spread of culture comes through diffusion, so that the edges of disparate configurations of the same, result in difference.

Finally, the generic conception of culture is understood through the culture/nature binary. Culture, and cultural construction are appreciated as human essence, related, Bauman states, through structural organization: “In this wide sense we can say, that culture as a generic quality, as a universal attribute of mankind as distinct from all other animal species, is the capacity to impose new structures on the world” (41). Depicted here is a very rudimentary example of a conceptual map.

As Bauman writes, culture as structure “means simply ‘being systematic’ … an antonym to ‘disorder'” (40-41). In this sense, the generic, culture as structure, is an understanding which brings us to yet another approach to culture: culture as praxis.

“Only then can the logic of human life continuously reinforce the plausibility of the supremacy of the Being over the Ought. Culture, as the critical rejection of reality, would then be reasonably seen not as an autonomous, well-founded and reliable brand of knowledge, but as – at the most – one of many objects of positive study” (138). As exemplified by this project by British Designers Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby depicted in the center image above,  critical designers today interrogate our material lives to stimulate debate regards how designers take on this responsabilty to shape culture.

Again, as Yelavich notes the specificities of our current period of globalisation: increased access to communications, travel — and an overall increase in the rate of change — through praxis, and as cultural producers, we come to understand our means as ends. Rather than manufacturing concrete objects, we appreciate the lives of our creations as they survive beyond us, shaping our interface with the very day.

posted by: Sarah Butler

course administrator


These meetings follow lectures given in Global Issues in Design and Visuality in the 21st Century: Culture, given by Associate Professor Susan Yelavich at Parsons, The New School for Design. As Yelavich provides, “design and art mirror the state of contemporary culture and the ways in which they critique and change  culture”.
This blog traces our conversations regarding globalization theories, their voice in design practice, and vice versa. Contributors include students from a range of Parsons schools, including a section from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum masters program in the Decorative Arts and Design History.

Our cross-disciplinary engagement with globalization and culture incorporates the perspectives of designers, artists, architects, social scientists and philosophers. How is the concept of culture important to the design professions? How do our creations influence social norms – class, gender, and ethnicity? In turn, how do cultural ascriptions reveal themselves in the things we make? Particularly, how do the streets of New York reveal aspects of cosmopolianism today?

In The Idea of Culture we encounter what literary theorist Terry Eagleton describes as a crisis in culture. Due, he says, to the increased fragmentation and multiplication of subcultures, we have lost our ability to relate to each other except through capital. In distinguishing between “c”ulture (smaller groups affiliated through shared, voluntary interests, ie. vegetarian cultures, punk cultures, or professional cultures) and “C”ulture (larger, top-down social constructions, often associated with national, religious, or ethnic — in-born characteristics).

In his introduction Eagleton explores the idea of culture by asking “is it still possible to see culture as at once an ideal criticism and a real social force” (2000, p8)?

What is the ideal expressed in this design by Dutch fashion designers Victor & Rolf, now on view at the Barbican Gallery? How does design have psychological and real effects in how we go about living our everyday? For example, in objects as well as processes we’re seeing a redefinition of humanity’s relationship with nature. Many agree that sustainability, both ecological and humanitarian, can no longer linger in the periphery of any discourse. See William McDonough’s Cradle to Cradle, and the architectural experiments cultivated annually in the Nevada desert Burning Man festival.

Throughout the course we’ll inquire into a range of theories. As a culture, are we becoming as fragmented as Terry Eagleton suggests? Or, (perhaps thanks to this fragmentation,) are we coming to realize that despite all the differences, we’re all human. Psycho Buildings, an exhibition at London’s Hayward Gallery interrogates our very human experience/perception of space, seen here are projects of, Atelier Bow Wow and Paul Discoe —

Finally, and from a reading we’ll get to later in the term:

“That which is impossible to force, is impossible to hinder.

It is even more of a miracle that the act of forcing the impossible is, in the history of political revolution, often catalyzed by something as flimsy as a poster plastered on a wall – the perfect poster of the perfect wall at the perfect moment. What’s miraculous is not that great graphic design, employing shock, wit, and clarity borne of urgency, can move people to action, to acts of courage and sacrifice, overcoming habit and fear. Art can do that; art is always having those sorts of effects. Art can’t change anything except people, and people can make everything change.”

Kushner, Tony, The Design of Dissent. Gloucester, Massachusetts: Rockport Publishers Inc., 2005.

Course Objectives
  • To understand culture as a variable set of social dynamics.
  • To see design and art as both expressions of culture and instruments for changing culture.
  • To gain an understanding of the larger social, economic, political, ethical and extra-disciplinary contexts within which design and visual culture function in the current state of globalization.
  • To be aware of the consequences of design and art.
  • To gain exposure to a variety of modes of thought, disciplinary approaches to solving and setting problems.
  • To think critically about design and visual culture.
  • To encourage students to view their future professional paths, not in terms of discrete disciplines, but rather as a series of intersections with knowledge and practices parallel to their own.
posted by: Sarah Butler
course administrator