Spring 2021: Summary
One is my everyday existence here in Boston — classes, assignments, projects, and my peers; and another is my life back home — my friends and family and girlfriend and my associated memories and sentiments of home. This duality I was experiencing found a manifestation in the form of my second studio project.
As a kid growing up coming to New York was the quintessential American dream, largely thanks to the abnormal amount of films my dad and I watched which were based in New York. A chance opportunity in 2017 allowed me to live out that dream, for just about two weeks albeit. My experience there left me feeling dual-minded in many ways -
My idea was to refurbish a collection of photographs I had captured on my trip, presenting them as tourist posters, with my experience being the narrative.
I decided to try and represent that duality throughout the design — the usage of black and white, the contrasting type sizes, serifs and san-serifs. Some posters are also accompanied by some personal copy that I wrote, narrating my experience of that particular sight of New York.
To add more authorship to my designs, I decided to craft a word mark to brand my posters — a combination of Latin alphabets and the Tamil script, representing again another duality in my sense of identity.
I was also increasingly become aware of this intermittent, intermediate space I kept slipping into, which was devoid of any external stimuli or experiences. A space where the only conversations I experienced were with the objects around me. I became increasingly aware of the mundane and the absurd, and my feeling of pointlessness was only amplified by my loneliness. Perhaps this is the existentialism phase that typically comes with being in an arts program. Regardless, the mundane and the absurdity of it became a comfortable yet inspiring subject of interest, and has continued to be till now.
Our studio project on Morphology allowed me to visualise and contextualise some of these grapplings. I found no better text to base my work on than the contemporary scif-fi classic, and one of my favourite films of all time The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. My ambition was to present the film in all its absurdity in a more editorial format, infused with my own personal grappling at the time. The film presents a fantastic juxtaposition of Douglas Adam’s heavily absurdist philosophies, as well some ridiculous absurdist imagery, allowing the viewer to not be too bogged down with some of the film’s heavier-handed themes.
This juxtaposition of the profound with the absurd, the meaningful with the meaningless, the sensible with the ridiculous, thus became the crux of my project. I decided to make posters representing my interpretation of the film and any tangential thoughts. The posters takes inspiration from absurdist philosophy, brutalist aesthetics, and imagery from the film itself.
I then printed these on on 50gsm vellum in order to obtain that transparency, representing the seemingly all-over-the-place-ness and layered feel of the film, as well as some of its themes.
Just for fun I also decided to contextualise my work in the confines of my bathroom. Using this piece of work in a place as mundane and absurd and meaningless as a bathroom felt like it really stamped the narrative I was trying to weave.
A common criticism I was seeming to get was a tendency to resort to using very modernist, editorial style aesthetics, with some elements which had become typical of my work — the sense of orderliness, the sense of structure and rigid systems I was sometimes using. This criticism while difficult to first accept, has opened my eyes in many ways to new avenues for my design. More importantly though, it brought my attention to the current postmodern school of thought in the various echelons of art and design academia. Increasingly evident was this criticism of modernism and the modernist aesthetic for its homogenising, and dogmatic standards. Weirdly enough, by extension I started to feel as though this was a criticism of myself and my design, and I started to feel guilty of perhaps unknowingly subscribing to some of those standards.
Our theory classes with Professor Yael provided the perfect platform for me to perform this conflict, and was a constant source of inspiration for further personal and social dialogue, and the many ways in which design can be a powerful tool of transformation. For our final theory project, I decided to represent some of these conflicts I was experiencing in the form of a dialogue between Modernism and Postmodernism, as two personified entities. Unfortunately, this proved to be logistically difficult and I ultimately resorted to unifying both voices back into my own. What is left is my overall understanding of of two schools of thought, and my internal dialogue about what constitutes good design.
This assignment is due on the 6th, and so is yet to be completed.
For our final studio project, it really felt like everything I had experienced in the past few months on a personal and academic level had come together — my conflict between home and here, my sense of duality, my interest in the mundane and absurdist philosophy, my curiosity for the intersections of modernism and postmodernism. The concept of Liminality was new for me, but weirdly felt perfect to describe how my entire experience this past semester had been. Its definitions felt weirdly similar to my thoughts about the mundane, and thus was conceived the idea.
To represent the mundane as an example of a liminal space. This project was the most challenging, as I wasn’t quite sure what I was making or where the project was going, an experience which is very different to my usual structural approach to design.
I simply began to shoot videos of my everyday existence, my conversations with friends, the sounds and sights I was seeing every day, with no clear idea of what was forming. The project itself had become a sort of liminal space. What I ended up with was a video representing the mundane as this in between space between my two lives — back home, and here in Boston, and its increasingly disorienting and absurd nature. The video also takes inspiration from absurdist philosophy, particularly Camus’ understanding of the universe and existence. In the video I don the role of Camus’ rebel, making my way through the mundane but simultaneously “rebelling” against that inevitable oblivion and suffering. My act of rebellion being the people I love, the art that inspires me, the flowers I adore.
I also created posters for my “film”. The choice to keep the video in portrait and make the posters accentuated vertically, was to convey the sense of narrowing of periphery one experience when in the mundane space — you simply focus on getting forward, with little regard or concern for anything outside of your path.
To have them feel more connected to the video itself, through the power of AR, I incorporated little windows of previews for the video in each poster, as well as a QR code that takes you to the video directly. The poster thus becomes not just a preview of the video but also acts as a call-to-action, establishing a more useful and interesting approach to mass marketing.
In summary, this semester has been all about learning and unlearning, and the struggle to adapt and cope with new challenges. On a personal level I have never felt more anxious and nervous about my future, on a design level I remain as obscure. I even question if design is ultimately what I want to do, and if perhaps design functions only to visualise and narrate my personal experiences. Does design become art then? Ive never seen the worth of my designs beyond myself, and this semester provided and opportunity for me to see them in that light. The whole experience has been nothing less than absolutely gratifying and eye-opening. I’d like to thank Professor James, Professor Yael, and Professor Toni, as well as all my peers for making this semester such a wonderful learning experience.
Going forward, I would like to explore and incorporate more analog processes to my design. My photo lab assignments have been encouraging that idea and desire all along the way. The cyanotypes and polaroids that you have seen sprinkled here and there in the presentation are results of experimenting under Professor Toni’s tutelage. There is a certain fun I miss in the process of making, which I haven’t felt in a long time. I am also very interested in exploring more about the intersections of modernism and postmodernism, I feel as though there is something in their conflict that resonates with my understanding of design.
For now though, I really just want to go home.