Musings, Music, Mindfulness in May
A space for reflecting on recent events and gathering together useful things to hear, read, and watch
Dear friends & loved ones,
What a month. Amidst the grave headlines emerging from Palestine and elsewhere, there were some personal positives (receiving a “first jab” and starting to see humans again). The main consolation, though, has been the privilege of time to reflect more deeply on topics of long-standing concern.
Early in May, I delivered the keynote for the annual Type Directors Club conference; my talk focused on the aesthetic strategy of “bumpiness” as a mode of generative friction, resistance, and transformation. Along the way, I touched on typographic work by André Fuchs, Cem Eskinazi, Charlotte Rohde, Dinamo, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, On Kawara, Studio Hyte, The Rodina, Tony Cokes, and others. The keynote, now available online, ends by speculating on potential connections between EMDR therapy and reading. What if reading itself works as a form of healing? If you watch the event recording and have thoughts on this subject, I’d love to hear from you!
The past month also saw the launch of Commune /kəˈmjuːn/ Talks: Practicing Entanglement, focused on mutual support, interdependence, and collaboration. I’m so proud of the team of students at the University of Applied Arts Düsseldorf who’ve organized and designed the events! Our kickoff with artist Cassie Thornton was a deep dive into The Hologram, her radical vision for collective, peer-to-peer healthcare—particularly critical in the context of the pandemic. If you missed the talk, it’s archived online here. The second event featured designer and researcher Alice Grandoit-Šutka of Deem Journal on design as social practice; she powerfully articulated how design must engage with different communities in a practice of listening. Our event with Alice is available here. You can follow the team’s Instagram account, @commune_talks, for updates and dialogue.
Now, we’re getting super excited for the third talk of the series on Wednesday, 9 June 2021 at 19:00 CEST with artist, designer, and developer Ritu Ghiya, “Make New Memes: state(s) of publishing and play”. I first encountered Ritu’s work through the richly interactive website she created for Printed Matter’s Virtual Art Book Fair—we can’t wait to hear her take on emergent technologies for rapid DIY publishing. Please pre-register at bit.ly/CommuneTalk9June. But be forewarned: there will definitely be some DIY design and dancing!
One thing helping me get through the daily news cycle is that most essential form of human healing: music. Over the past years, the mp3 playlists that artist Martin Beck sends to friends and colleagues have been a real lifeline. His newest one, problems and assets, consists mostly of songs released in 2020; the sequence builds slowly, resonating with the uncertainties of the present moment. But, by the time you reach the stunning remix of Gratien Midonet’s “Osana”, I’m pretty sure you’ll be ready to move! In fact, I just turned up the volume and am taking a break to dance. In the meantime, you can download the mp3 and accompanying notes at bit.ly/problemsandassets.
Even problems like distance can offer advantages. In my role as artistic director of FRONT International 2022, we collaborated with Cleveland’s ThirdSpace Action Lab on our first hybrid physical/virtual program, RESONATE: Making Contact to Transcend Time and Space. This experiment in connecting people through music featured performances by Cleveland-based multi-talent Kyle Kidd and London-based jazztronica duo Blue Lab Beats, followed by a discussion led by Mordecai Cargill and Brittany Benton of ThirdSpace. I felt privileged to experience the juxtaposition of such distinct musical sensibilities—an intersection that would have been more difficult to imagine in the pre-pandemic period. If you’re searching for something new for your ears and soul, check out the full event recording here.
Along with listening, the post-lockdown reading junket continues. My bedside shelf balances titles like Ruha Benjamin’s powerful and timely Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, the current subject of the ReReReReReReading group, with new discoveries such as the recent reprint of john chris jones’ designing designing (1984/1991), a brilliantly iconoclastic critique of the discipline and its methods. Other books in the parallel stacks include Nobel-prize winners Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo’s Good Economics for Hard Times, which I revisited after a reference in Keller Easterling’s Medium Design: Knowing How to Work on the World, a reframing of design’s role in activist and socially-engaged contexts.
Yet the most timely book for me right now is one I started just a couple of nights ago: the revised edition of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s classic Full Catastrophe Living, first published in 1990. It describes his approach to mindfulness-based stress reduction, as practiced at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center since the late 1970s. Although refreshingly grounded in its approach to mindfulness and health, the book doesn’t shy away from larger questions. It’s been reminding me of ways to develop my current meditation practice. On Friday I tried the first of his guided mindfulness recordings, a simple 45-minute body scan, which evoked an extraordinary response. Ping me and I’m happy to share more.
I could keep going on and on, but it’s probably time to start wrapping up. One thing to mention: my favorite thing about sending these monthly missives is the range of responses I receive. After last month’s rant against a documentary about a dude and his odd octopus obsession, Rich Bartlett shared this hilarious two-minute parody. If there’s only one thing that you check out from this email to help get through a tough day, this might be it!
I’ll sign off with some lines from the 1984 preface to john chris jones’ designing designing that really resonate with me right now:
Designing, if it is to survive as an activity through which we transform our lives, on earth, and beyond, has itself to be redesigned, continuously. As do the other false stabilities, ideas of order, which we inherit or construct, as stepping-stones, no more, useful as they may be in the moment. The turning of creative activity upon itself, attempting to change its nature, our own, is to me the most promising, of the changes to be noticed now, not only in design but as a general tendency.
As always, please stay in touch—I’d love to hear how you’re doing.
Big hugs from here to you and back again,