CalArts is the focus of Idea Magazine’s feature “Suburban Lawns—A Look at CalArts Past and Present,” published in August.
The Japan-based design magazine’s editor-in-chief, Kiyonori Muroga, along with CalArts alumnus Ian Lynam (Art MFA 04), held workshops on campus with students in the Graphic Design Program last Spring, and produced a 96-page documentation of CalArts—and the work of its students, faculty and staff. The project was made possible by an Intercultural Arts Project Committee (ICAP) Grant.
In Lynam’s introduction to the piece, he notes that CalArts’ location in the suburbs and its inter-metiér space makes it a great place to learn design:
Culturally, the town is a bit of a dead zone—the rows and rows of cookie-cutter houses have appeared in short films by Mike Mills and the opening sequence for the American television program Weeds for their stultifying sameness… To be frank, it’s a boring place. This is true of most locations for graduate graphic design programs in America. The lack of action makes for a perfect place of study—the CalArts campus is pastoral, surrounded by green hilly lawns.
Host to departments in music, theater, writing, animation, experimental animation, dance, photography, film and fine art, it is not unusual to see evidence of each program daily as a design student. The lilting sound of a full gamelan drifts by the MFA graphic design studios near-daily, full concerts are held in a new theater building behind the BFA4 studios, dancers plié alongside you as you sip coffee in the school cafe, and the occasional Hollywood actor or director stands in line behind you at the school cafeteria.
The feature is composed of a large number of student and alumni-written articles with Japanese translations by Yui Okuda and Mariko Otabe. Interspersed through the text are selected pieces from the Graphic Design Program’s the large body of work including catalogs, books, posters, installations and exhibit designs. The result is an almost microscopic consideration of CalArts’ Graphic Design Program, which is fitting, given that one of the goals of the feature is to present the program as a model for graphic design education in Japan.
Course descriptions and class output are given space in the piece. Visiting faculty Mark Owens’ Hauntology course syllabus is presented, followed by Benjamin Woodlock’s (Art MFA 13) Utopique, his final project for the course. Also included are theses samples, with Jens Gehlhaar’s (Art MFA 97) The Compendium Project lauded as “one of the most comprehensive and thorough theses that CalArts has produced to date.”
Profiles of current and former CalArts graphic design faculty, including Graphic Design Program co-directors Michael Worthington and Scott Zukowski, Brian Roettinger (Art BFA 04), Stuart Smith (Art MFA 02), Jeffery Keedy and Lorraine Wild, are in the spread as well as works by Caryn Aono, Louise Sandhaus (Art MFA 94) and Gail Swanlund (Art MFA 92).
A special spread is dedicated to posters for Ed Fella’s last lecture at CalArts prior to his retirement into “exit-level” teaching, along with a heartfelt personal essay by one of his former students, Silas Munro (Art MFA 08):
His presence in the studio—his limbic presence—the bodily expression of working alongside him will be with me and with all his CalArtians long after he leaves the studio….
Ed’s studio will remain forever closed and open—’clopen.’ Even after it’s gone. His energy will live on in his work, and the work of his students. It will take form in the hearts of all he has touched, touches now, and will continue to touch.
CalArts’ poster culture is also thoroughly discussed, with a special mention of Mary Kim Harmon’s (Art MFA 12) Beyond the Medium, a graphic design project that took the poster beyond the walls and into the realm of architectural intervention. Other aspects of the CalArts graphic design (and institute) culture are extrapolated upon, such as the zine RRR, the CalArts T-Shirt Show and CalArts Collage Association.