Keynote Lectures

Session 1: How do they get the sounds into the words? Contextualising Practice 101

Within this session we observed ways in which to approach a problem. You would ultimately begin with a phenomena, which we can begin to enquire through reading different texts and tracing back through time in order to see the evolution of other individual’s theories. You are then presented with different forms of evidence, as if looking through different lenses and it is when these are combined that a new theory may arise, or even new ideas.

This is ultimately the aim of Constellation, however the theory should be applied to practice in order to develop said new ideas.

Through completing this process there are things not to be forgotten about; there is no right or wrong, just successful or poor contextualisation – like a forensic analysis. Work through drafts! Start with a phenomena. Seek out theory to support. Revise phenomena once more. It is also essential to Havard reference throughout, but the references should be balanced in terms of the sources. Throughout, one should be open minded and flexible and to ask random questions – as that is what will bring out the best work ultimately. Do not be afraid.

I found the session to be a good introduction into Constellation and a good thinking process when faced with a phenomena to tackle. I understand the concept of Constellation and I do hope that it will help to develop my practice further. I think that through doing some extra reading into various subject matters, it will help to develop my knowledge.


Session 2: Dr Jon Clarkson; The Image World

As technology evolves, we are able to view the world through images from our own homes. It has become apparent that a single image can change the way we conceive an object.

‘Images thought to have an aura.’ Walter Benjamin. 

When we view the painting of the Mona Lisa as a photograph, it is an image of the painting  – but the image is not the painting. It is translated into photograph, but lacks some elements such as texture. Therefore we are not really seeing the true Mona Lisa. We can even see variations of the painting, through colour and size and therefore how do we know which image is of the real painting? Furthermore, the information has been changed, computer images are made up of code, the painting is made up of tones of colour and brush strokes.

Furthermore, when an image is copied, it loses some of the original information and therefore over time the image deteriorates until it becomes something very different in comparison to the first and so it is true to say that no copy is ever the same.


Session 3: Dr Ashley Morgan; When is a Nerd not a Nerd?.. When he’s a Geek?

Within this session we observed how masculinity is represented and how the connotations of that term may have changed over time.

When we originally think of masculine men we do think of men that are quite muscular, and wear suits. The connotation of the suit displays notions of power, confidence and higher class.

Typically masculine men are seen to wear the styles of clothing and have that certain body type, especially when depicted in TV and films, for example, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible and Bruce Willis in Die Hard. They are always the irresistible hero that saves the day. In a way there is an aura of danger attached to them that heightens their masculinity.

Geeks on the other hand are seen to be quite intelligent people, although are ‘uncool’. Appearance is not a priority to them and when looking at films they are always cast as the sidekick – the one who delivers the necessary information to the main character in order for him to save the day. Again if looking at Mission Impossible, this can be seen with Benji. We tend to see them as technologically smart (using computers, hacking, coding etc.)

Moving on again from that, we also have nerds and they are normally seen to have no ‘popular’ skill set. They are not normally creative or physically active, they are normally very intelligent. However the term ‘nerd’ does have negative connotations attached to it – it is ‘uncool’ to be defined as a nerd. We also associate nerds with being socially awkward and ‘bad’ with girls and dating. We can see this in the popular US TV show; The Big Bang Theory. This is one of the first shows to feature four nerds as the main characters and looks not only at their intelligence but also at the way they fail at the social aspect of their lives, taking a humourous approach and therefore making it a comedy show.

However, there has been a change, as technology advances, more people understand what is being said by ‘geeks’ in TV shows and films and therefore the geek is not seen as such an uncool title anymore. It is as if the connotations of masculinity is also changing.

To summarise, I have learnt what is perceived when we think of masculinity and the way it is slowly beginning to change as the shift in technology changes. I feel this is key to consider especially if designing a film poster, the character must be considered and the way in which he displayed, as the right message needs to be conveyed.


Session 4: Teenage Kicks; Meaning in Relation to Objects

In this session we observed how objects have meanings attached to them, we can examine their cultural biography meaning how they have been culturally constructed through recognised periods or ages in its life. The boots; Dr Martens were used as an example of this.

  • Who made it and for what purpose.
  • Functions and meanings change over time.
  • Identify its production process.

Furthermore, the publication of the object changes its connotations i.e. Dr Martens were designed for comfort, durable workfare boots – aimed at public service workers. They were anti-fashionable and because of this the sub-cultures; street based, were attracted to the anti-fashionable boots. They adopted and adapted the boot – therefore the connotations changed.

  • How each style wore the boot gives a meaning.

Therefore with Dr Martens, the function remains the same but they can be re-styled and modified. Through this we can see that object can be a blank canvas – Dr Martens now encourage people to paint their own personality on to the shoe.

  • Customisation suggests individuality.
  • Performing a sense of identity.
  • Customising DMs illustrates a process of self-fashioning – a social performance.
  • Combining styles from different sub-cultures 60s/ 70s/ 80s creates a 21st century look through customisation -> suggests authenticity.
  • It is viewed as a platform rather than a finished product.

However, what was seen as an individual style through personal customisation has now become mainstream and is now something you can buy. This therefore argues the idea that the style helps to create identity.

When the sub-cultures began to wear Dr Martens, the original connotations surrounding the boot changed. They had rebellious connotations and by wearing them it suggested you had a problematic personality. They became banned within schools, as they did not want their student to have any association with the boots.

But today you can buy Dr Martens in children’s sizes and are allowed to be worn in schools, therefore, their connotations have again changed. Not only that but Dr Martens are using their traditional connotations of ‘non conformity’ in a positive nature – don’t discriminate… standforsomething.

  • Object synonymous as expressions of identity.

Meanings can also come through with use of different materials i.e. using ribbons as laces – laces can function as laces but also have links to femininity.

Dr Martens are now using their cultural biography as their selling point. They look at their past to inform the present and through this they have re-shaped their associations to make them socially acceptable.

To summarise, I have learnt how objects have social lives and narratives themselves and these change over time. And so when working with materials you can break the rules, but to break the rules you must must first understand them. The Dr Martens case study was an example of how the cultural biography of objects change over time, but this can be applied to anything. Taking time to reflect on an object’s past can help to inform the decisions we make as artists and designers today, just as Dr Martens have done, allowing their brand to thrive and continue to grow – they are now some of the most popular style of footwear to be had. It was also interesting to see how they advertise their product, through using their past connotations in a positive manner, allowing people to feel original and unique with their style – this is a big selling point and is a strategy that has clearly worked.


Session 5: Iconoclasm

Iconoclasm is when an image is destroyed. It is a thought through destruction, unlike vandalism.

  • Iconophobes – people who fear images.
  • Iconophiles – people who want images.

We are agents – we have the power to act. Images have an agency and are able to act in the world – they have power.

When viewing two different images of two separate sculptures being destroyed; one by ISIS and the other by an Anti-Russian. For some reason I became angry at the ISIS image, but was not as affected by the Anti-Russian image. The reasons vary, however it does show the power an image can have. Both are acts of iconophobes. ISIS are simply afraid of imagery like this and therefore wish to destroy them all, as it does not correspond with their beliefs. But the Anti-Russian may not feel as strongly, it may be that he was simply destroying the sculpture as an act of protest.

Moving on from that, viewing the triptych of Ai Weiwei dropping a 200 B.C. urn or vase again did not have much of an impact on me as I am aware that Ai Weiwei is a very well known artist and therefore I am unaware of the message he is trying to convey with this piece. Also I feel that there is a sense of calm as he drops the object and he continues to keep eye contact with the camera. He is an iconophile.

The paradox of iconoclasm:

  • Iconoclasm holds the image to be both powerful and powerless.
  • The target is symbolic but the violence is real.
  • Destruction of one image simply creates another.
  • A single act of destruction is not enough the act needs to be repeated, or the image of destruction needs to be circulated.

Iconoclasm supports 2 types:

  1. Bad idol which is falsely worshipped.
  2. Truthful record of a virtuous image.

It is also true with images that if you show children violent scenes, they will inevitably want to enact them.

Rejection of History – is that what Ai Weiwei was trying to do? Dropping the vase to wake up from history?

It could also be argued that Ai Weiwei’s work looks at Cynical Realism, which is the cultural clash between cultural tradition and global capitalisation. The past is preserved with the vases, but the contemporary element comes through with the brightly coloured paint.

Some key points:

  • Iconoclasm is a brutal reality.
  • Iconoclasm is an impossible dream – can you destroy an image?
  • Iconoclasm is not an individual act, it is very much social.
  • Historical value and artistic value are very separate things – although they are normally put together… perhaps this is the reason I was angry at the image of ISIS destroying the ancient sculpture?

To summarise I have learnt the power images can have and how they themselves are agents, that can influence people’s emotions or actions. It is a key element to consider when designing something visual involving images. It can also be said that images can never really be destroyed, as there will always be an image of the destruction and so forth. It is essentially a paradox. Although the destruction can hold great symbolic meanings, allowing people to feel an array of emotions, but as previously mentioned the violence in the act is real.


Session 6: Invisible Cities

This was a session exploring the book; Invisible Cities written by Italo Calvino (1923-1985), an Italian journalist and writer of short stories and novels.

It is a small book with only 55 chapters and each chapter exploring a new city, but these cities are not places that exist in the world, but are simply works of fiction. Many argue that there is no storyline, but with this we are forced to question; with no storyline, how can it be fiction?

Each city in the book introduces a new concept or storyline and the more you read the text you draw out a new perspective, a new element within the city. And upon further exploration the names of the cities also appear to be fiction, but when researched, the names are in fact based on someone or something else, thus again giving a new perspective or storyline. For example Hypatia, a city of beautiful lagoons is in fact based on Hypatia of Alexandria, a philosopher and mathematician.

Within each of the cities, he uses fantasy to address reality and through this forces the reader to question what the text is conveying, each person will draw their own narrative from each chapter or city, just as one would do with a piece of art. He is an artist of words. Nonetheless, once you begin reading you become part of the text, yet Calvino himself is trapped within the text.

To summarise, this was a rather short keynote, but one that tried to influence us to read the book; Invisible Cities with the aim that through conceptualising our work, we can achieve similar results to Calvino. Through allowing people to depict their own narratives within the work, they can be become lost within it and so are more likely to remember the piece, creating the possibility of impacting an individual’s life. This is always something to aim for within graphic communication and is definitely something to consider within future projects.


Session 7: Critical Design

Critical Design is a term not often heard within the design industry. It first appeared in 1999 in a book called Hertzian Tales written by Anthony Dunne.

What is Critical Design?

‘Critical Design uses speculative design proposals to challenge narrow assumptions, preconceptions and givens about the role products play in everyday life.’ Dunno & Raby

This is the opposite to affirmative design. For example, when going to look for a pair of socks for his daughter in Asda, our lecturer found only two different styles; blue socks or pink socks. There was no choice or freedom of expression; pink was for girls and blue for boys. This is an example of affirmative design, opposing that is critical design where gender is not simply subjected into two categories.

An example of critical thinking would be from James King who explores synthetic meat titled ‘What Will Tomorrow’s Meat Look Like?’ and questions what if we were able to grow our own meat in laboratories preventing the harm of animals and what would it look like. When first observed it seems very radical and quite frightening, but in reality is something that could very well happen.

Another example is from a short video created by Ai Hasegawa which looks at a woman giving birth to a dolphin. When I first watched the video I was rather disturbed and questioned the makers motives but when explained I understood the concept. The women giving birth represented women wanting a child, however for many they build a career for themselves first and around the age of 40 they may decide to have children, and although biologically there is no problem with this, society does not normally accept this. The dolphin however is an endangered species of dolphin on the brink of extinction. Although this is design fiction, it does force the viewer to question whether something like this will ever be possible.

What’s it for?
‘Mainly to make us think. But also raising awareness, exposing assumptions, provoking action, sparking debate, even entertaining in an intellectual sort of way, like literature or film.’ Dunne & Raby

That is one of the key areas of critical design; it is very future based and is known as design fiction. Why? Because essentially it is like science-fiction… ‘Why work at NASA?..’ ‘Because I loved Star Trek as a kid.’ The ideas may seem radical at the time but in the future may become possible realities.

Adversarial Design:

Kind of cultural production that straddles the boundaries of art and design.

Tactical Media:

Disrupts what’s happening now.

An example our lecturer gave us was of a surveillance project he took part in called LOCA. In summary they were able track peoples movements. The individuals tracked were made aware and within 7 days they received 500,000 replies. However, when they presented themselves as artists, people assumed it was a political statement or rebellion, but when presented as designers, people assumed they were trying to sell the software to a large company such as Sainsbury’s etc. and therefore it’s clear that it is important to think of how you convey/ present yourself to people.

One thing that was said that stuck with me… ‘Art and design movements are chronologically remembered as radical changes. Why follow affirmative design? No one remembers that.’ This spoke to me on quite a high level, as he is essentially right. As a designer I want my work to be remembered and perhaps altering my way of thinking is something to consider.

I really enjoyed this keynote as I had never heard of the term critical design before and this is something that has definitely opened my eyes to the approach I take to design. Sometimes radical is good, too weird though and it will be dismissed as art and too normal it’s boring, it’s about finding a balance and not following the what is seen as the ‘norm’. I can completely see the connection between this keynote and my practice and it is something I will try and accomplish within my own work.



Author: marislathamgraphics

I am a student at Cardiff Metropolitan University studying BA Hons Graphic Communication.

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