Class & design

24th February 2022

In today’s lecture we discussed the fourth category of class.

Class is an issue that comes into the discussion when talking about the previous topics of gender, race and ecology.

For example, ‘In general — although there is significant variation across countries at all levels of development — plastic waste generation tends to increase as we get richer. Per capita plastic waste at low incomes tends to be notably smaller.’

We began by thinking about what class is.

My perception of class, before this lecture:

Class is something you are born into. It determines your quality of life and surroundings in your early years. But I have also seen that your class can change. For example, Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. A famous ‘rags to riches’ story where the main character is a working class Cockney woman, taken in by a phonetics professor and is trained to be a lady. Doolittle’s accent is shown as being a marker of her class. The professor tries with difficulty to ‘correct’ her accent. (Her prospects are likely to improve as a result.) Does this apply in today’s society?

A real-life example is Gaynor Scott, a working class woman originally, now living the life of the mega-rich in Dubai. Born in Stoke-on-Trent, she has a northern accent. This accent is seen as a mark of class even in England today. But this example shows us that accent might no longer apply to class, or that where someone is in the world changes people’s perception of them. Her Britishness may be enough for others to view her as another class?

We see her lifestyle in the current BBC iPlayer documentary Inside Dubai. Scott married into the rich life and as a result, rubs shoulders with celebs and millionaires and is seen as one of them. So class has something to do with the way you are seen and treated because of who you associate with, as much as it is about money.

Gaynor Scott, Inside Dubai

In the lecture, we spoke about there being 2 interpretations of class: sociological and political. (static or dynamic)

Class came into being with the industrial revolution.

Marx first defined class by these 2 categories, in the 19th century. He called them bourgeoisie (upper classes) and proletariat (working class).

Max Weber suggested that the issue was more complicated and that there are more than 2 categories. (A person’s market position- the amount of money a person has. And their status- how people are regarded and received in society- more sociological)

We looked at 3 paintings which represent class:

The Stonebreakers by Gustave Courbet (1849)

In this painting, (above) the stonebreakers are anonymous. The focus is on their actions, not on who they are, since we cannot see their faces. It feels like we are spying on the figures.

Whereas in the painting below, the figures are sitting, they are still instead. It is an aristocratic painting where the focus is on the portraits of the individuals. It is exaggerated, the luxurious exterior, showing off wealth. We can guess that the painting functions as a social purpose in the owner’s house. The painting has been commissioned to promote and celebrate the life of the aristocrat. The wealthy classes liked to leave a mark.

WAG17566 The Family of Eldred Lancelot-Lee, 1736 by Highmore, Joseph (1692-1780); 237.5×289. cm; Wolverhampton Art Gallery, West Midlands, UK; © Wolverhampton Art Gallery .

The painting below has been painted in 1901. It again, shows the working classes as in The Stonebreakers, but in this painting, the figures are moving towards us. They are confronting the viewer and moving as a group. As a collective group, they become a class. Instead of the stonebreakers painting, where there are only 2 men.

The marching action suggests they are standing up for their rights. E. P. Thompson was an English historian. He suggested that a class is a collective group of people who share the same social-economic conditions. But more than this, they also need to identify as a group. He said there was no such thing as a class in isolation, but that what made a class was the fact that other groups have interests that are different from another group. (There are friends and enemies.)

Where industrialisation took place, workers strikes and unions came about, unifying the people as a body who were conscious of the exploitation they suffered. They were asking for rights and higher salaries.

The Fourth Estate/ The Path of Workers by Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo (1901)
Miner’s strikes

The miner’s strikes in the north of the UK, occurred in the 1970’s-80s.

The main employment for people at the time, was the mines. Thousands were made redundant when Margaret Thatcher closed the mines. At this point, workers physically came together – protesting and marching. They became a political body and were recognised as a group. They were shown solidarity by other groups such as gay groups.

What is labour?

Labour is manual work done for someone else. It can be material/intellectual.

Who are key workers?

During the pandemic, there has been a lot of talk about key workers. I never really understood what this meant. Key workers are workers considered to be essential. These are jobs that society needs, in order to function:

  • Factory workers come to mind when we think of labour. Their work is considered material labour, as it results in tangible goods.
  • Immaterial labour is knowledge and informational.
  • Chain work is usually used in factories. This is where each person performs a small task contributing to the production of goods.
  • Productive labour results in goods or services that have a monetary value.
  • A paid wage can be tangible or non-tangible. Sold in market, material and immaterial. Can be exchanged.
  • Reproductive labour is unpaid activity. In the sphere of domesticity. Cleaning, cooking and bearing children. Activities that need to be completed, to be able to go to work the next day. Domestic labour has traditionally been a woman’s role. In the 1970’s, this was brought into question by the second wave feminists.
1950’s housewife

The feminists pointed out the issue of domestic labour being overlooked and seen as unimportant.

Capitalism also depends on domestic labour.

Ellen Lupton

The designer as producer

The designer performs a high variety of tasks. Both intellectual and manual. Material and immaterial. Technology has changed the role of the designer.

Division of labour is neater in larger organisations. (In smaller companies, you need to do everything yourself.) For example, one team deals with colour in bigger studios these days.

Where do we work?

Since the pandemic, this has been a question asked by all workers and managements. Today the lines are more blurred between working and not working. Our virtual life happens through apps and engaging with social media is part of building a brand.

Consumers have become producers. (social media influencers, youtubers etc) We are now in the ‘Information society‘.

Design work become less well-paid because of the ‘bullshit jobs’ being created. A company will hire someone to do a job that could be done by the designer.

Performance art- Workshop

Today we were introduced to the concept of performance art. I knew a bit about performance art from the 1960’s, but was under the impression it was a movement that has passed. Kate Mahony showed us otherwise.


In the first half of the session, Kate spoke about what performance art is and showed us examples of the many ways it can be approached. In particular, she did focus on artists from the 1960’s and 1970’s, because this is the era she favours.

‘Why performance art?’ Kate’s answer was:

‘Performance art is always in flux. Something is constantly moving and changing. Making work in front of people means that the audience fills in the gaps with their own interpretations. Performance art is not easily bought or sold, it’s more of a tool used by artists.’

We watched ‘An introduction to performance art’ which was a video by the Tate.

I learned that it doesn’t have to involve an audience, because we can use photography and video to capture a performance instead, such as Mona Hatoum who produced a static image to document her performance of walking through the city, dragging the Doc Martins boots.

This works as a piece, because the object she has chosen has a lot of associations culturally.
Hannah Wilke, Gestures (1974)
Bruce McLean, Plinths (1971)
Erwin Wurm’s one minute sculptures


We then moved onto the workshop. The focus for the workshop was P.O.V. & site. It was about using our environment to create D.I.Y. performances. This idea was inspired by Pier, (1971) by Dan Graham, Harry Skunk and Janos Kender, in which the artists recorded the same instance but from multiple angles.

When filming with smartphones, it was suggested that we film horizontally, to avoid the black lines at the side of the video.

We were presented with a series of different objects and asked to use them to attach the phone to our bodies. Working in groups, we would be attaching the phone to a different body part, to record multiple perspectives.

Our group chose arm, foot and chest.

using tape and piece of wood.

The footage I recorded:

Placing our phones together after the workshop, allowed us to see the different perspectives, together. (above)

Using a mirror in the video, gives the impression of being in 2 places. You can see in the bottom phone above, my classmate placed a mirror in front of the camera to reflect elements of the world around her. Including the sky, ceiling, trees and architectural features.

I felt that my footage looked dreamlike due to the distortion of the clear plastic and the motion of walking. This fits with the position of the phone on my heart.

The movement in the videos are all organic, they come from the body.

What did I gain from this workshop?


When presenting information to an audience, I normally think of what I will say. But more information can be given the viewer using different modes of communication.

Video can be subtle or loud. Audio can create atmosphere and help to emphasise the subject. The technology available to us today makes this even easier. The artists on the 1960’s had heavy equipment to carry with them. We have little excuse.

I thought ‘performance’, meant being loud and exaggerated. This just isn’t the case.

Concrete Poetry/ Extended Project brief

Introduction (from the brief)
Concrete poetry – which can also be conceived and referred to
as ‘conceptual writing’ – is an art and design practice whereby
language is conceived and manipulated in its ‘concrete’ form,
that is as it is seen and presented to us as text, type, words and
letters. Ever since the French Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé’s
experiments with movable type in 1897 (see module presentation),
artists and designers have for progressively explored language’s
concrete existence through all manner of material innovations, all of
which focus on what language does, or can do, when what it ‘says’
(its ‘content’) and what it ‘is’ (its ‘form’, or how it exists) are merged
conceptually under the influence of the artist or designer.
In this workshop you are asked to produce one or more concrete
poems using the knowledge and practical skills that you have
learned so far, documenting your work in your process book.

22/2/22 lecture notes


  • Adam presented to us the Concrete Poetry brief, then introduced us to the extended project of the module. (The 2 are connected).
  • The first presentaion focused on the background of concrete poetry itself. What it is, how it came about and how it has been used by different designers and artists.
  • For this project, we can use methods we used before for the un-creative writing.
  • ‘Conceptual writing’ is a phrase used by Kenneth Goldsmith.
  • Looking at language as text, form, meaning. what language does rather than what it says. Breaking it down.
  • Painters and writers looking at each others work.

Stephane Mallarme

From the Poetry Foundation website:

Stéphane Mallarmé was recognized as one of France’s four major poets of the second half of the 19th century. Much of his poetry was acknowledged to be difficult to understand because of its tortuous syntax, ambiguous expressions, and obscure imagery. His poetry became highly influential in France and beyond, including in the United States, among poets looking for new and innovative ways to write, during the turbulent times of the early 1900s.

1897 A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance. First time someone thought about placing text differently.

‘Mallarmé’s autograph “maquette” for the the book showing the proportion, layout, and type sizes and typestyles he wanted the typesetter to follow.’

This passage explains the poem:

No one agrees on how it should be read. It spreads out in all directions on the page, inverts normal French word order, eschews ordinary punctuation, and presents a variety of fonts, typefaces, and letter sizes. It surprises its reader with oddly placed italics and eccentric full-word capitalizations. It offers, in short, a cornucopia of visual oddities that seem arbitrary yet torment the reader because they suggest the possibility of meaning. It induces a thoroughgoing bewilderment that borders on mystification.’   

I really like the way the poem is drifting across the page. It reminds me of how the current of a river pulls the water in one direction.

EE Cummings was an American poet. His poems written on a typewriter 1930s, show us an example of instant publication. Before this period, writers only had pen and paper to plan a poem, and they needed to trust the printmaker to produce the work from their instructions. EE Cummings, having use of a typewriter, was suddenly in charge of the poem’s lay out and see the publication instantly on the page.

Both poems by Cummings:

I find it interesting, how easy this poem is to read, given that the letters fall on completely different lines.

Convergence of design and poetry.

Book design innovation- typographic experimentation. Kamensky (below)

Tango with Cows: cubo-futurist art by Vasily Kamenski’

Conceptual artists also produce books of text. In these books, they are speaking for the sake of speaking. Literally uncreative writing.

Bruce Nauman uses analogical, handwritten techniques. He also produces neon installations, usually spelling out words.

Alan Fletcher

Eugen Gomringer

‘Eugene Gomringer (Cachuela Esperanza, Bolivia, 1925). Eugene Gomringer is often presented as one of the fathers of Concrete poetry. In the 1950s, his art studies led him to nonrepresentational paintings, from which he emulated his first poems. In 1960 he founded his own magazine “Konkrete Poesie”, and begin a decades long period of intensive writing that continues into present day.’
«Tree» and «wind» – the eight letters of these two words serve Eugen Gomringer as building blocks for the square word picture from 1961/2014, which can be viewed as an exemplary example of visual poetry. Inspired by the Zurich Konkreten - Gomringer was once Max Bill's secretary at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm - the language artist, who was born in Bolivia in 1925 and grew up in Switzerland, initiated the concept of concrete poetry in the German-speaking world. In the work baumwind, the eight black letters can be found in 13 different views in a square arrangement – ​​as if the “wind” had rushed into the “tree” and twirled its letters like leaves. The apparently accidental combinations of black characters on a white background allow for various reading variants and associations. – And the viewers can let their eyes wander through Gomringer’s forest of letters as one walks through blown leaves in autumn.

Ian Hamilton Finlay

Other interesting designers:

My concrete poetry experimentations

What is your strategy?
Knowing your strategy is an important learning outcome for this
module. Even if you don’t feel able define or conceive a strategy – that
is to say, identifying what you’re seeking to do to/with the material at
hand, or how you might practically archive a specific goal – before
you begin working (which is not at all unusual), it will be important
for you to record your reflection on what may be at stake in the work
retrospectively, as you work and after you complete the poem.
What media could you use?
The most innovative use of media can produce the most effective
concrete poetry. Take some time to consider what exactly could be
used; a media’s not conventionally being associated with typographic
design (such as photography) might lead to interesting innovations.
What are the deeper questions at stake?
As well as thinking about how you can conduct visual research –
working with different media a techniques to produce innovations – you
may want to stop to consider some of the philosophical implications
of conceptual writing and concrete poetry: What is writing?, Where
do/might we find it? What does writing do? What could writing do?

Extended Project brief: Rethinking the magazine

Lecture notes-

  • Experimenting with magazine design because of redundancy of magazine (because of digital age.)
  • Create a mini monograph magazine
  • anthology of concrete poetry
  • Experiment with this as much as possible
  • Can use given poetry, or make your own. must also include 2000 word essay by Goldsmith. ‘Why conceptual writing- why now’- goldsmith. it is introductionary.
  • playing with type
  • Could produce your own with bookbinding techniques or go with the newspaper club and order from them and they make it for you. (more industry based option) Tabloid, digital, broad
  • Need to work within a grid, will need to be ordered early because of production and delivery time.
  • Choosing bookbinding, you have more time. Own binding- you can print on newspaper paper.
  • Could be helpful to do the newspaper route because you don’t need to think about binding/ format etc. Allow for production time, more than 1 week.
  • Before you start: Make a project plan. (Consider when and how you will proceed.)
  • Research magazine design.
  • early formal experiments- can combine with process book because playing with type. Think early on about production.
  • Due 26th April
  • Magazine/ newspaper/ zine
  • Can open PDF file of text in illustrator
  • Could use just one font. Could include the introductionary paragraphs to each poem.
  • Neat or radical.

My first thoughts are to use rubber letter stamps, label machine, embossed words, staple words, stitched words. To maybe use a different method for each poem or each few poems.

Rubber stamp experiment:

Concrete poem experiments (using labels)

When writing the concrete poem, I used text from a book for my un-creative writing process. In this case, the novel A Man Called Ove.

I approached the exercise like picking lottery numbers: Randomly and from my head.

I counted the number of lines on a page and number of words in a line roughly. I made a note of the number of total pages. I then chose numbers at random for each category, to select 6 words:

I re-arranged these words to form sentences.

I got old my embossing label maker:

I stuck the words in a neat order, which naturally cannot be 100% precise. I chose red for the word ‘change’ to give it emphasis and create a visual pattern.

Scan of the experiment:

The page held against the window on a sunny day:

I was inspired by the adhesive element of the labels. I wondered how I could use a different surface to lay out the words.

The fashion design poster designed by Letman (earlier in this blog post) , shows the idea of using the surface of the body to display text.

I made more labels with the embossing tool, this time using the green tape. I stuck these onto my hand and took photos in different hand positions. (below)

I then opened the images in photoshop, to remove the background from the text.

I used the direct selection tool to select the labels. I copied and pasted them onto a new layer, then deleted the background.

I layered the words from the photos into one image:

I removed the backgrounds of the photos and kept the hands in. I adjusted the photos to greyscale and adjusted the levels:

I used the posterise tool in this image. I like the way the words lead off into the distance, getting smaller gradually.

After taking the photos with the labels on my hand, I stuck the labels onto paper.

I photocopied the labels in colour onto another page. I then turned the paper and photocopied the same labels in black and white onto the page. This meant the words were upside down.

I then used rubber stamps to add the same selection of words onto the photocopy:

I stuck white labels on top of the embossed labels.

I placed this into the printer and photocopied my earlier experiment on top in black and white. (below)

I removed the labels and stuck them to the side of the page: