Super Open 001

From the newsletter Eating Complexity by Jack Hagley


I sign up for many more newsletters than I actually read. This means occasionally I get one from an author who I don't remember. I'm sure that this is one of those occasions for you.

For the sake of clarity, and because it has been so long since I sent anything out, I will re-introduce myself to you.

The “Soft Open” editions of this newsletter were about software development in the open - particularly React. Hence the name Soft Open. supermerger is a name I use to make art and music. So “Super Open” it is.

I work in graphic design. When I meet people that ask me what I do I say I am a "graphic designer" and leave it at that. It's certainly the thing which I get hired for more than anything else.

Graphic designer as a role could be described as a container. In The Emissary's Guide To Worlding Ian Cheng introduces the specific use of this term container. Cheng uses it in the sense of media such as a pdf, a film, a theme park, comedy show or other thing that can be easily explained and easily shared with others. The container has sharp edges and things can easily be seen to be inside it or outside it. They are a binary state. Containers are finite.

Containers are definable outcomes and they have recognisable shapes and forms. It's these shapes and forms that supply restrictions and mean they can be shared and described to others. The shape of containers can be mutated.

A book is a container. A spy story is a container. The book container supplies restrictions such as transmitting information with words. A spy story supplies the restriction of narrative as well as thematic ideas such as intrigue and mystery. The spy story does not have to be inside a book container, it could be inside a film. Easy to describe. Easy to share.

My practice has never been just one thing or another even within design and it's because of this that I've found it hard to describe to others what I do.

It’s not that I believe my work is exceptional, it’s that my ability to describe it to others is lacking. If I could explain my work or why I do it then I wouldn’t need to make it. I don't think this is an uncommon thing for artists to feel. I have heard both Akira Kurosawa and David Lynch say similar things.

I don’t think that I’m special in any sense. It’s just easier to get on in the capitalist hegemony with a neat definition of self. When you have a definition you can become a product. Products can be easily compared. I have spent a great deal of time thinking about this product definition and it's led to bouts of realisations and long periods of decision brownout.

Decision brownout as defined by Venkatesh Rao, is a reaction to chronic stress. Acute stress induces a fight or flight reaction. Chronic stress induces a freeze reaction. Inaction compounds inaction and chronic directionless stress multiplies. This means paralysis and inertia.

If it was easy to define what I do then I would know what to do and when. But it isn't so I can't and I don't.

The way out of this is to increase your tempo. Tempo - another term from Rao - can be understood by "if you want something done, give it to someone busy". It seems simple on the face of it: reduce inertia by action.

The direction is less important than the action. Worry about the direction later. Increase the energy in the system by recognisably positive actions. Can’t define what it is? Don’t know where it’s going? Doesn’t matter. Do it anyway.

When everything feels like a bad choice, understand that inaction is a choice in itself, and one of the worst that can be made. Having a definition is secondary to increasing energy. Do whatever it takes to increase your energy and output. Take the least bad thing. The problem is not defining who you are, the problem is choosing the container that works best for the idea that you have.

Art is a kind of cultural battery that stores energy and transmits it across time and space. The energy that is stored inside art is never lost as long as the work survives. The quality of energy and transmission is variable. I’m using art here as a catch all. I’m not up for getting into definitions of what it is and isn’t, as It’s both semantic and subjective.

The energy has to leave the system at some point in order to be useful. This means both putting things into the right containers and then getting them out into the world for others to react to. The method of transmission varies and is specific to the container. The Wizard of Oz continues to transmit energy throughout the years, as does Homer, and Velázquez.

I’ve always been more interested in the process of making rather than the outcome. My default behaviour would be to noodle around on something, eventually making something (or not). Then I would close the file and forget all about it forever. This is good for feeling as though nothing has been achieved and bad for transmitting the energy I put into making it.

A change in workflow is needed, and specific knowledge needs to be acquired to achieve this. It means actively recording the activity of creation in a way that does not interrupt the activity itself. It means thinking about the process as the container. The work is less about the outcome and more about the documentation. Less about the destination and more about the journey.