Hello! Since we last corresponded, the heat of summer has made way for a cool, crisp breeze. I traded in the cold brew for hot coffee and afternoon tea. I pulled out the sweaters. School started back up and it’s been…interesting? I’m usually excited to get back in the classroom, back to teaching, but this year has been tough. Teaching classes, even classes I’ve taught before, over Zoom has been more challenging than I expected. I never realized how much of my teaching practice relies on bodies being in the same room together, how much I feed off the energies in the physical classroom. But we’re figuring it out, all of us, together. Each week a little bit easier.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. You are getting this email because you signed up to receive emails from me, Jarrett Fuller, about my work, writing, and whatever else I’m interested in. I had grand plans of sending one of these out each month but that slipped to every other month and then suddenly its October and I hadn’t sent a newsletter since July. (But what is time anymore, anyway!). Nevertheless, I’m glad you are here. If this turns out not to be your thing, it’s easy to unsubscribe right at the bottom of this email. No hard feelings.
Aside from teaching, most of my energies is going to my work with AIGA Eye On Design, where I’m a contributing editor. In addition to editing, I’ve published three pieces of my own in the last three months. The first, which was actually written back at the beginning of the year, is a mega-essay on design criticism. This is a deeply researched, heavily reported piece on the state of design criticism today. It’s a piece that feels like a culmination of my research into the subject over the last five years and I’m really, really proud of it. It’s been nice to hear the responses to it and it’s helped me work through things I’ve been thinking about in my own work. I wrote a bit about the process and thinking behind the piece over on my blog.
I also wrote a review of the Walker Art Center’s new exhibition, Designs for Different Futures and design’s relationship to future-making. What the show subtly suggests, I argue, is that an exhibition about the future is always actually an exhibition of the present and therefore, every act of design, while responding to present circumstances, is enacting new futures.
Then earlier this week, I wrote about the idea of the ‘multidisciplinary designer.’ I always thought of this job title as something new — and it is a new title — but it’s actually suggesting a historical approach to design, when all designers were multidisciplinary. Capitalism, and the Fordist assembly line model, is a good lens through which to view the fracturing of the design field and I wonder how we can return to a practice that is more fluid, more diverse, more experimental, and more multidisciplinary.
I’m currently neck-deep in two larger essays, one historical and one examining a current trend, that I’m both excited about and have no idea how I’ll pull them off.
On my own blog, I published two other essays. One is an analysis of Kurt Andersen’s two recent books, 2017’s Fantasyland and this year’s Evil Geniuses. These are two books about American history but I wanted to argue they are both books about the power of design. In Fantasyland, we see how design turns fantasy into reality, conspiracy into truth and in Evil Geniuses we see how the United States political economy was designed and how visual culture helped reinforce right-wing beliefs. I’m not sure I make the argument as clear as I’d like but these are two of my favorite books of the last few years and felt directly tied to my recent thinking about design. (I had Kurt on Scratching the Surface about a year ago and we also talked about the role of design in these stories.)
I also wrote about the myth of the designer-genius and why we should change how we talk about design, spending less time on personalities and more time on ideas. It connects a few unrelated things I had read and hopefully points to a possible way forward.
On the podcast, I’ve had a wide range of conversations about design history, architecture, education, and cultural criticism.
In August, I had two great conversations around design history and printing. First I talked to Maryam Fanni and Sara Kaaman, two-thirds of the feminist design collective MMS, about their new book Natural Enemies of Books: The Messy History of Women and Printing. We talk about rethinking design history, printing labor, and expanding the definitions of design. Then I had a wonderful conversation with designer, teacher, and organizer Danielle Aubert about her book, The Detroit Printing Co-Op. We talk about looking outside the design canon, the relationship between politics and design, and the intellectual history of printing processes.
In September, I had two conversations about the 2020 Venice Architecture Biennale. In one episode I was joined by Paul Andersen and Paul Preissner to talk about the American Pavilion, wood framing, and the intersection of architecture and curating. Then I talked with Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, the curator of the Russian Pavilion to talk about the values of a multidisciplinary practice, what he learned from Rem Koolhaas, and architecture as a type of institutional critique.
Most recently, I had an incredibly inspiring conversation Annelys de Vet, the former director of the Sandberg Institute’s design program about thinking about design education as a structure for community and care. Annelys recently edited the book, Design Dedication, which collects the work and thinking of Sandberg students during her tenure and it’s easily one of the best design education books I’ve read in a while. Then I talked to my friend Kyle Chayka about his book on minimalism, design criticism versus cultural criticism, and how systems of power shape aesthetics.
I’m really proud of these recent run of episodes and have a few coming up that I can’t wait to share with you. I really think they are some of the best I’ve ever recorded. 2021 will mark the fifth year of the podcast and I’m cooking up some special projects around the anniversary. In fact, if you are a company, organization, brand, or institution, I’m currently trying to secure some sponsors for the next year’s shows to lead up to the fifth anniversary. If that seems like something you’d like to help with, send me a note! And if you just want to help with the show’s ongoing production, consider becoming a member!
I’ve been working late for the first time since college. There was a time in my life when I did my best work, was most in the zone, beginning around 10:00pm and going until two or three in the morning. After I graduated and started working, my schedule shifted to one that was a bit more ‘normal’ and then having a family made sleep all the more important and I started to become a bit more of a morning person. But now, in the pandemic, with everyone at home, it’s those midnight hours that I’m finding myself treasuring once again.
I made a little playlist to go along with these late night work sessions. It’s called Night Driving because as I’m working, I imagine driving down the interstate with the windows opened, watching the lights pass by. These are songs for that are for both the expansiveness and for the light of your computer screen. Wherever you find yourself each night, these songs are for that. You can stream it on Spotify here (and see my other playlists here.)
OK, that’s enough work, let’s talk about some fun stuff.
A few weeks ago I found myself craving a big, thick burger, the kind you’d get at a place like Spotted Pig, and a glass of red wine. This was strange for a variety of reason, the least of which being I’d mostly cut out all red meat from diet. Yet here I was, unable to get this thought out of my mind. During one of weekly farmer’s market runs, I picked up some beef, whipped together a chili pepper relish to top it, and pulled a bottle of wine from our collection. It was exactly what I needed.
The bottle I chose was a German natural wine, Blau Frankish Burgenland Moric, and the perfect wine to pair with a burger. It dry and peppery but with a nice fruit flavor. Maybe plum? My partner and I both loved it and I’ve already added it to my list to buy again.
I flew through Ben Lerner’s 10:04. I had already read Leaving the Atocha Station and The Topeka School (and his nonfiction The Hatred of Poetry) but had for some reason skipped over 10:04. I’m glad I finally read it because I enjoyed it a lot. It didn’t make me think as much as Topeka but felt more…humorous? I’m not sure but it was a fun read. I’m always on the lookout for books like this: quick reads, less plot and more ideas. If you have suggestions, send them my way.
I’m currently finishing up Oval by Elvia Wick (which came by recommendation from Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli when he was on the podcast!) and it hits so many of my interests: experimental architecture, cultural criticism, climate change, capitalism. I also recently finished Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends which, while I didn’t love as much as Normal People, found incredibly intoxicating. Rooney knows how to capture what it’s like to be a youngish person in the twenty-first century in a way I find really compelling.
Next up is Carlos Fonseca’s Natural History which I don’t know much about but the blurb sounded like one of those books written just for me:
Just before the dawn of the new millennium, a curator at a New Jersey museum of natural history receives an unusual invitation from a celebrated fashion designer. She shares the curator’s fascination with the hidden forms of the animal kingdom―with camouflage and subterfuge―and she proposes that they collaborate on an exhibition, the form of which itself remains largely obscure, even as they enter into a strange relationship marked by evasion and elision.
I mean, come on.
Two albums I’ve been enjoying lately are Jonsi’s Shiver and Matt Berninger’s Serpintine Prison. Both are solo albums from artists who’s bands have meant a lot to me over the the last decade or so. Jonsi, of the band Icelandic band Sigur Ros, released his first solo album ten years ago and Shiver, his follow up, is a wild, genre-bending ride through ambient, ethereal tracks and more poppy, industrial songs. Swill, one of the first singles, might be one of my favorite songs of the year. Berninger, the lead singer of The National, has been experimenting with side projects over the last few years but this is his first solo album. I wasn’t sure how different it’d feel from a National album but this one feel quieter, less grandiose, and has been a nice accompaniment to long walks around the neighborhood.
My first film education came in high school. My grandmother, ever the early adopter, was one of the first people she knew who had a VCR. She started copying movies — from the television, from rentals, from friends — and built up a massive VHS library she kept in the basement. She had all of Hitchcock, early Speilberg, a few Kubrick’s. We’d stay at her house for a week every summer and I’d spend a lot of that time in the basement watching these movies. Some I’d pull out at random, others she or my grandfather would recommend. Soon, everyone in the house was telling me what to watch next. In college, I worked at a video store and would always leave my shift with a handful of DVDs to watch. It was then that I worked my way through Fellini and Woody Allen. I’ve always loved film and hold many of these close to me still.
I’m an HBO Max subscriber and am continually impressed by the amount Criterion Collection films they have available for streaming. In many ways, I feel like I’m going through a new education, rewatching some I haven’t seen since college and others catching for the first time. I rewatched The Maltese Falcon which was…not as good as I remembered? The Bicycle Thieves, on the other hand, was better than I remembered. I finally caught Picnic on Hanging Rock which I loved (and reminded me of The Beguiled in many ways — both I’d recommend). I’ve been rewatching all of Terrance Malick’s lately — I use to prefer his more experimental but this time around I’m completely captivated by his cinematography, especially in Days of Heaven. I’m due for a rewatch of Tarkovsky — I rewatched Stalker at the beginning of the quarantine — and might move through those next. Russian cinema, generally, I’d love to catch up on.
Speaking of HBO — have you watched David Byrne’s American Utopia yet? You must. I didn’t realize how much I needed it in my life right now.
That’s it for now. Hopefully I can get back into the groove of sending these out more frequently again so it’s less work updates and more fun stuff to share. Either way, thank you for following along. I always love hearing from you — just hit reply and let me know who you are. I’d love to chat.
I hope you all are safe and healthy and hanging in there. And don’t forget to vote.
Until next time,