Threshold Concept – Transmission through Design

          Martin Creed. No. 1092 (2011)

“An Olympic marathon: the glow of a letter (…) passing from runner to runner, the heart of the message laying precisely in its transmission”. The glow of a letter, the transmission as the heart of the message… “ Regis Debray – Socialism a Life Cycle

British Design was borne out of a socialist context, a pursuit bought about by the drive of a craft based network of makers, to provide the people of modern day society a voice. Design of the 1900s presented itself as a vehicle of ‘mass’ communication for the common good, a voice for the people and alongside this, a reliable distribution of the ‘truth’, predominantly by messenger ( see Clarions – Fellowship is Life)

In his essay ‘Socialism a Life Cycle‘ Debray describes the versatile subculture of printers, typographers, librarians and publishers that turned out to be the cradle of socialism. and it is not hard to see that the not-named-yet heart of this “craft-based network” (as Debray himself describes it) as what later became widely known as ‘Graphic Design’.

‘Socialism a life cycle’ wins hands down the title of ‘best article’ about Graphic Design that I have read in a very long time, taking into consideration that Debray nowhere actually mentions the word ‘graphic design’. Throughout the article Debray demonstrates the many ways in which socialism grew from a particular ecosystem, an ecosystem consisting of printing and typography. Debray calls this system the ‘graphosphere’, and situates this sphere in the period running from 1448 to 1968. In Debray’s ‘graphosphere’, ideology is a product of Design, rather than Design being a product of ideology, which is an exhilarating revelation and definitely a defining ‘Threshold Concept’ Moment.

Debray’s enthusiasm throughout this essay is contaminating, revealing socialism as the political manifestation of Graphic Design, and modernism as the social manifestation of Graphic Design.

Design as presented in Darbys ‘graphosphere’, is not a tool to spread ideology; it is the other way around. To put this simply, Design doesn’t follow what people think, but what people think follows Design, and this is a very liberating proposition and clearly demonstrates the communicative potential and power of Design.

What this essay reveals is that all designers are ideology creators. every designer is ideological, whether he/she is aware of it or not.

140 years has passed since the rise of this left field movement and modern day Graphics Design now reigns superior, underpinning the visual identity that has come to be known as the world of commerce, economics & politics.

To enter into the design industry having grasped this key threshold concept, enables Designers to engage with this medium as a tool for social good, and with a thirst for continual enquiry. For those that have formed an understanding of design through an acknowledgement of its heritage, the world of advertising is a industry within which they can assist in the redesigning of ideologies and redistribution of ideas and wealth, akin to those key principles which first informed the growth of the discipline.

So for Graphics Design, I would propose that its key threshold concept would be to look to the past for the answers of today, and through so doing, come to a self realization of the relevance of, and power of design and the printed, distributed word. Words are a designers medium and that is a very powerful force to wield, and one which asserts more influence than to be used for those aesthetic considerations made on the side of a tetra pak or jiffy bag.

“The greatest modernizers inaugurate their career with a backward leap, and a renaissance proceeds through a return to the past, a recycling, and hence a revolution. Behind the ‘re’ of reformation, republic or revolution, there is a hand flicking through the pages of a book, from the end back to the beginning. Whereas the finger that pushes a button, fast-forwarding a tape or disc, will never pose a danger to the establishment”.        – Experimental Jetset


Education in Context

Since 2007 I have been committed to delivering self initiated project briefs and training modules in art colleges and universities across Scotland and now more permanently as full time lecturer at Norwich University college of the Arts. Throughout my academic practice I focus on creating a methodology that incorporates ‘The practice of everyday life’, as I believe a key element of showing strong design practice is to ground a personal approach within discovery and understanding through everyday social interaction.

This is a methodology that I first became aware of through the works of Michel De Certeau and Iain Borden’s book “Skateboarding, Space and the City: Architecture and the Body”

Toby Paterson, Cluster Relief I, acrylic on aluminium, 2009 (detail). Courtesy The Modern Institute, Glasgow

As a lecturer my aim is to encourage students to describe and rethink the penetration of their designs within the urban landscape and to offer a more interdisciplinary approach to the studying of art & design practice and its relationship to social encounters & emerging technologies.

Professionally I work in the field of realtime graphical processes, performance & digital media and I have academic experience covering the study and practice of this alongside undergraduate and postgraduate students of media art, fine art, graphics design and architecture.

Immaterials: light painting wifi by timo arnall + jorn knutsen + einar sneve martinussen

From a design practice point of view, I believe digital media opens up incredible opportunities for students to create and share in new forms of communication and to connect with others in so many different ways. One of the key motives I follow as a lecturer is to ensure my academy recognizes the impact emerging technologies has on contemporary art & design practice and to ensure my students are familiar with this and agile in designing forms of social engagement via the tools it has to offer.

SO what do I expect from attending this course ?

I am here to build on existing expertise and best practice. I am keen to learn more about the UK professional standards framework and how it can help my own practice. I have taken time to identify the common learning framework that NUCA uses and I am interested to hear about current research, developments and innovations in art, design and media –  teaching and learning.

AND where does this type of collaborative practice lead us?

To the notion of an integrated 21st century school of art which encourages students to see themselves as impassioned artists and designers no longer working in isolation mode but within vibrant institutes alongside staff very much involved with the needs of the individual, and aware of the social changes that need to be made to help Shift boundaries between academic learning environments and the creative industries students will enter into.

Education by Infection

Life understood as a permanent source of infection that endangers the health of students’ nervous systems was articulated early in the twentieth century by Kazimir Malevich in “An Introduction to the Theory of the Additional Element in Painting,” which concerned itself with the problems of art education. Malevich describes a range of art styles—“Cézannism,” Cubism, and Suprematism, among them—as effects of different aesthetic infections metabolized in the artist by bacilli of one aesthetic kind or another. That is to say, they were triggered by new visual forms and impressions produced by modern life. So Malevich compares the straight lines of Suprematism (which he introduced into painting, according to his own view) to the bacillus of tuberculosis, whose organic form is also rectilinear. Just as a bacillus modifies the body, so too are the sensibility and nervous system of the artist modified by novel visual elements introduced into the world by new technical and social developments. The artist “catches” them with the same sense of risk and danger.
Artists need to modify the immune system of their art in order to incorporate new aesthetic bacilli, to survive them and find a new inner balance, a new definition of health.

From Flaubert, Baudelaire, and Dostoyevsky, by way of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, to Bataille, Foucault, and Deleuze, modern artistic thought has acknowledged as a manifestation of the human much of what was previously considered evil, cruel, and inhuman. Just as in the case of art, these authors and many others have not only accepted as human what reveals itself as human but also what reveals itself as inhuman. The point for them was not to incorporate, integrate or assimilate the alien into their own world but, conversely, to enter into the alien and become alien to their own tradition. They manifest an inner solidarity with the Other, with the alien, even with the threatening and cruel, and this takes us much further than a simple concept of tolerance. Over the course of modern art, all of the criteria that could clearly distinguish the work of art from other things were called into question. Sometimes a thing was conceived from the outset as a work of art; sometimes it was considered art only by its introduction into the gallery or museum. It is the case of contemporary art and its teaching that the concept of art per se cannot be reduced and cannot be taught within former limitations, as it has been so pervasively influenced by the will to Otherness.