It’s four in the afternoon and I’m standing in the middle of downtown Richmond. I lock up my bike and start walking around a bit, looking for a good spot. This is probably the hardest moment in my project. Doubt creeps in and part of me wants to come up with a good reason not to do any of this. I take my out my tripod and put on the camera and microphone. I start trying to set a good frame and with some white chalk put a mark on the sidewalk in order to let people know where they should stand. I take out my sign. It reads “Do you have anything worth saying?” in orange Futura Bold. It’s a very open question, meant to be interpreted in many ways, but it is (at least for me) a very meaningful question.
I start approaching people with my sign, asking them if they have ‘anything worth saying’. Most people ignore me. I’m used to it. A lot of them tell me they’re late for something. It’s incredible how unpunctual people are these days. When they do answer, their answers are sometimes unsurprising and fall into a couple of categories: pseudo self-help, basic human values and humor. I’m not at all disappointed in these answers. I try to respect each individual’s own narrative. Sometimes, someone is able to surprise me. They are able to show their human depth and their authenticity through their sincerity to the camera. Those are the ones that seem to satisfy me the most.
In these projects, my intentions are many, I want to start talking to people. I want them to surprise me. I want to question them and challenge them. I want to have a conversation with my surroundings, a conversation that can lead me to find the unexpected. I have no pre-conceived purpose. I have some ideas about how this might all end up, but they are not important. I wish for my project to reveal themselves to me.
Strangely enough, I feel i’m somehow well-suited to do all this. Not everyone is willing to stand in the middle of the street to be constantly rejected by people. I’ve been told the only reason I can pull it off is because I’m so unthreatening. My background in Psychology has led me to believe in the intricacies and complexities of the individual, while understanding its inherent complexities. At the same time, I’m a programmer interested in the language of computation. This interest has led me to appreciate the richness of my surroundings and its inherent narratives, specially in contrast with the computational realm. I think my projects show this appreciation.
I believe that making can be a process of encountering the unexpected. In the search for the unexpected, I am able to create work that is outside the limits of my own imagination. By setting processes in motion, by which I surrender control over a final outcome, I can expand the possibilities of my own work. At the same time, I can challenge my own role as the initiator of the work which becomes a lens that enables a conversation with the world.
My work encompasses a variety of processes that lead me to this conversation. Most start with a set of instructions that I carry out. “Walk down to Pony Pastures Park and take 1 picture every minute of your walk”. Sometimes they are based on people giving me instructions. “Act like a gorilla for two minutes”. Yet for others, I write instructions to be executed by other individuals or by a machine. “Do you have anything Worth Saying?”. These instructional catalysts are based on my own desire to question rather than to answer and are not intended to provide a final work. Rather, they aim to provide a journey, a wandering by which I arrive at somewhere I wasn’t expecting. In this way, I am able to take more holistic approach to making.
Of particular importance is encouraging narratives to arise by themselves as a direct result of my process. Many times, these take the form of a set of instructions or a question. The results are often unscripted and unforeseen, an integral part of my search for the unexpected. ( A more extensive definition of narrative is needed here)
These ideas are increasingly relevant to graphic design. Design, as a discipline, focuses on answering, rather than questioning. Through my work, I propose a certain distance between the designer’s work and the designer. I attempt to renounce control over a final outcome and renounce control over a narrative. While seeing the expectation of my own instructions, I attempt to exert control over the instructions, not the final result. Through this way of working, I position myself as an initiator. This might be contrasted to the idea of the ‘maker’, who continually exerts control throughout the process and is the main channel by which a design process is executed. As an initiator, I see my role as a catalyst for the process that is channeled through other entities.
Initially, my work was very influenced by generative design, design in which the output is determined by an algorithm. I felt that the idea of creating systems to produce design seemed very powerful. Initially, I attempted to create such systems, but I grew increasingly disillusioned with these ideas. I started trying to go back to the physical world. After some time, I started to question the role of chance in my work and started researching the work of John Cage who turned out to be the most influential precedent in the latter part of my thesis. In his own work, Cage was not very interested in what he created, but what he got from the process of making. A way to explain these ideas is what he called “purposeful purposelessness”. The purpose of his pieces was precisely the lack of purpose, which lead him to his artistic wanderings. His prepared piano, for example, made him relinquish control over his instrument in order to make sound that was both unexpected, but a result of his own process. His most famous piece, 4’33”, was a way to let his surroundings dictate his music, rather than the other way around.