Life as Thesis—Thesis as Practice

At thirteen, I departed New Orleans for a weekend trip to pursue my professional hockey dreams. Unknowingly, after this weekend, August 28th, 2005, I would never return home. I was displaced. The storm changed my neighborhood, my relationships, my own trajectory but Katrina couldn’t alter something my hometown and I cherished: our affinity for people.

We love people. 

I was born and raised in New Orleans. It’s governed by the camaraderie of its people rather than by its laws, and it escapes all perceptions of a city. Anthony Bourdain1 expresses this unfamiliarity: “there’s no explaining it, no describing it. You can’t compare it to anything. So far and away, New Orleans.”

Being from a space defined by its community inspired my personal ethos. I believe and trust in people. I am inspired and interested in people. As an ice hockey player for the majority of my past life, I was part of many formations—being a man up, or a man down, in the middle of a breakout or a regroup. This language of a team gestures to a method, a practice of order.

In my undergrad at LDSoA,2 Moon Jang introduced me to the conditional design of Luna Maurer, Roel Wouters, and Jonathan Pukey of Studio Moniker.3 I had never been exposed to this type of generative collaboration. The elements of team and community neatly aligned with this newfound form of design. Here, I discovered a community in graphic design, a field that felt deeply singular and isolated otherwise. Once exposed to this approach, I never looked back.

Creating C-U-B-E, an experimental design lab, Moon Jung, Jake Green, and I hosted a variety of projects including Workshop 03: On The Boundaries,4 a 24hr conditional design workshop. After graduating, I continued this practice and in 2016 I started project_sense:5 a year-long nationwide conditional design exercise recorded in books and mailed between participants. This project culminated in New Orleans where an exhibition recreated a year’s worth of content. The conditional design methodology created a foundation for my practice, which places physical connection at its center.

In Providence, the radical climate in which the MFA Graphic Design program functions, prompted my conditional practice to adjust. A program tailored to conceptional thinking and influenced by the political left empowered me to quickly become a “Social Illichian.”6 As I came to terms with my privilege and self-identity, as a straight white male, I searched for a meaning to the things that I wanted to create in the next two-years. Influenced by my peers (my new community) as they produced work cultivating cultural, racial, gender, and sexual equality I decided to investigate how my newly established practice might contribute. I started creating work as platforms for those in and outside RISD. My past experience in conditional design merged into an inter-disciplinary methodology, one that involves collaboration from different disciplines.

This thesis contains the resulting inquiry. It’s about people and the affective connection among them. It’s about a societal characteristic we cannot lose.

This thesis is here to encourage.

1. Anthony Bourdain (1956–2018)
An American celebrity chef, author, and travel documentarian who starred in programs focusing on the exploration of international culture, cuisine, and the human condition

2.  Lamar Dodd School of Art, LDSoA
The art school at the University of Georgia (or UGA). UGA is located in Athens, GA.

3.  Studio Moniker
An Amsterdam–based interactive design studio started by Luna Maurer, Roel Wouters, and Jonathan Pukey. They work on commissioned design projects while also investing in projects of an autonomous and experimental nature. Monikerspecialises in interactive, print, video, physical installation and performance work.

4. C-U-B-E: Worshop 03: On The Boundaries Photograph of the gallery after the 24hr conditional design workshop was completed.

5.  project_sense
Photograph of the exhibition in Annunciation Hall, a cultural hall located in St. Roch neighborhood of New Orleans. The exhibition recreated a year’s worth of content.

6.  Social Illichian
It is a made up term. It’s comparable to Socal Marxism, yet it pertains to the lesser known theories of Ivan Illich. I resonate with Illich’s ideas of about tacit knowledge, the inhibitions of standardization and the need for convivial tools. I’m an Social Illichian.