0.7 Interview (excerpt) with Vaughan Oliver


Vaughan Oliver is an award-winning, legendary graphic designer, artist and author of several books, including Exhibition/Exposition and This Rimy River.

James Grady: I had this revelation, and it was through my daughter, Joy, and all of these different things going on at once. Then reflecting back on the workshop* I had with you where I felt really liberated, and I wasn’t forcing a conceptual narrative or social policy on what design should do instead of designing and letting the design influence me. That was the shift in my thesis, and that’s where it is now. It’s really about the everyday—I’m equating the everyday with my surroundings and asking what is observed with these surroundings? I wanted to know where inspiration comes from in your work? Does it come from your surroundings, or does it come from another place?

Vaughan Oliver: Well it’s going to be a mixture of both. I get inspired by high art and high culture. Exhibitions inspire me. Documentaries on art, and documentaries on politics inspire me, that kind  of feedback of information. But I can be just as inspired by a walk across the park, and seeing somebody interact with somebody else, or interact with his dog. Being a graphic designer, I might get inspired by new posters that are put up in the park or old posters that have decayed. There are two maps in my park about the park and the local surroundings that have been totally washed out with time. They’re fairly modern maps—they might go back twenty years. They are on metal. All of the information that was on there and that withstood time in full color is being washed out and it’s almost like an old engraving—well, what’s left. I still haven’t used that in my work yet, but that touches me.

It’s that kind of thing. I think I was kind of inspired hugely by my tutor at college thirty years ago [Terry Dowling]. He used to work in the same space as us. I was very inspired, and I think I told you guys that you have a studio environment, and that is so rare in the U.K. now. You have your books in there, you have your bikes in there, you have things to inspire you, and that’s good. On top of that I used to have my tutor’s work on the wall, which I never understood. He would put on the wall pieces of packaging from Chinese noodle packets, which he got at the Chinese supermarket, which was very exotic thirty years ago in the north of England. And simple crisps packets. When he’d come to visit me, he’d be walking along the street and then just pick up discarded sweet wrappers among other things. Things, which would appear to be rubbish to anybody else, and he’s apologizing for it. So I said, Terry, you were teaching that to us thirty years ago. It’s all around you. In a sense, I think this is what somebody said. For inspiration you don’t have to look far, you just have to look closely. I think that is really a simple observation. If you look closely and hard enough, it’s right there.

JG: I totally believe in that as well, and sometimes it seems over simplistic to feel that way.

VO: You’ve got to be brave enough to go with it.

JG: I think those are things that I am learning through this process, to follow my instincts and not be afraid to not always have the answer or the theoretical backing, or the precedence of where certain things have come from.

VO: Or where they’re going to. You don’t have to have the final solution, and that shouldn’t stop you from accumulating inspiration or ways of seeing. It’s an accumulative effect really. You might see this, or you might see that. It’s a moment in time. It’s a change of light. It’s about just being observant.

Ways of seeing and appreciating what happens with the change of time, with the change of season, with the change of light. Which I suppose is training you to think in an artist’s way. I almost remember the penny dropping on one or two occasions realizing, this is a great view in front of me, and it’s down to light. It’s not going to be like this everyday. It’s down to this real moment in time that illuminates things for you. Does that make sense?

JG: Absolutely. That’s a good segue into another question. It’s about the observation, but it’s also about the transformation, which is something that I really admire in your work. This transformation, where does it come from? In my work I feel it comes from my surroundings, but then it’s transformed into something else. I’m in a class now called, “Betwixt & Between,” and it’s really about the in-between space. There’s a lot of talk about liminality, which is neither here nor there. It’s this threshold place.

VO: That’s great! You’ve just given me a title for my next exhibition—Neither here nor there.

JG: Nice! The work that you create has really inspired my work; sometimes it’s hard to describe your work. It’s not that it’s so abstract; it comes from someplace. It’s not so abstract that it doesn’t mean anything, but it really oscillates between reality and this other place. Just like the project we worked on, the thirteenth month, which was a fictitious month where anything could happen; it could represent anything, it really frees you. It puts you in this space that I think a lot of graphic designers are afraid of because they can’t quantify it.

VO: That’s right. I find it difficult to go further than that. You know you’ve kind of intellectualized that very well for me. Again I struggle to quantify it. In a similar sort of way people have commented and said to me, You’re really brave highlighting that, going for that. You’re a free person. You seem free from the intellectual quantifying of things. It just is. Not sure where to go from that to be honest.

JG: When you look at your work after you’ve gone through the process and edited it down, when you’re looking at it, is it amazing you, or bewildering you when you look back at the work? How do you edit?

VO: I suppose that’s where intuition comes in. It might seem an airy-fairy concept, but it feels right. I don’t know why it’s right, but it feels right. The majority of my work is dealing with music and the nature of music. This feels right for that sound. It’s the old concept down at post design analysis is a better way of putting it. But I can explain it to myself later in time. That’s why I did it.

Hopefully the musician is on my wavelength. Hopefully I’ve connected with the music. That’s why it makes sense, but I’ve been working intuitively. I’ve never tried to define the music, just to suggest the parameters of it if you like. There’s a great quote, well for me it was a great quote of course, because it made me feel better, and it made me realize that people are thinking like that. It was a photographer. Robert Doisneau said, “To suggest is to create, to describe is to destroy.” Now I don’t know about the second half of the quote, but I believe in the first half. This idea of suggesting—and I think that’s a really powerful thing. It puts something on the table, for people, that’s not defining. They’re not totally describing, and it allows room for interpretation. I think that’s kind of a sensible philosophy in the kind of field that I’m specializing in.

* During the Spring of 2011, I had the pleasure to participate in a weekend design charrette with Vaughan Oliver. It was a liberating shift in my work and thinking. I look forward to future conversations with Vaughan about design and life.

1.9 Interview (excerpt) with Daniel Paluska


Dan Paluska is an artist, engineer and educator who works with kinetic, robotic, and cultural systems. He has a BS, MS and ABD from MIT in Mechanical Engineering.

Dan and I have a mutual obsession with the Day 6 Plotwatcher Time-lapse Video Camera. I was delighted to find someone with the same compulsion and greatly appreciate his insightful perspective.

James Grady: I started shooting time-lapse back in November. I was just shooting… I was fascinated with what was happening. I was asking myself questions like, what happens when I put all these days in chronological order? Where does the narrative go? Is there a narrative? Can it be like William Burroughs’ Cut-ups, creating narrative from randomness? Or is it just interesting to see my life in time-lapse? I don’t know what it’s doing. I’m just exploring and liking the form that I’m finding, but I’m trying to dig a little deeper into it.

I’m really more interested in what you’re doing. What drew you to time-lapse, why did you shoot time-lapse everyday (for eighteen months)? When did this start? Why?

Daniel Paluska: It’s a process of capture. Then sometimes I look at it, I’m like, “Why am I watching this?” At least theoretically speaking, the original thought was OMPD, one minute per day of review. I can afford… If I’m gonna sit eight hours at a computer to watch one minute of a video, which presents to me how I spent my eight hours at the computer. That was kind of the initial input as for that. It’s continued now; maybe I feel it’s almost like a theatrical thing, and it has some amount of thinking about privacy, and all these other issues. In terms of that my phone company, and my internet service provider, and G-mail, and all these other people know all this stuff about me. So I was like, well I’m gonna capture myself, and put it into the public domain as well, so it’s not some corporate thing.

Another thing that came to me from taking a lot of time-lapse movies is that of course we’re taking pictures all the time. We’re taking movies all the time. We accumulate a lot of inventory, right? Just massive amounts of inventory. Most of that zooms in on time, and time-lapse zooms out on time. So that seems to me to be an interesting feature of it that brings these different textures and tempos out that you’re not used to seeing because other devices don’t usually act this way. So it’s a sort of a slightly unique feature of time-lapse.

JG: That’s nice to think about as opposed to seeing a small vignette of time. We’re really able to look at a whole span over the day even though it’s at a phrenetic pace. It gives a wider angle.

DP: I made six-month compilations of time-lapse videos—these in terms of the pace of life, like the trees versus the building. This is something that I really started to notice a lot more of. That the trees and the natural things are always moving, and so much of our life is. A lot of times, indoor spaces are really boring, and outdoor spaces shot in time-lapse are never boring. There are always clouds, there are always trees, there’s always something happening, and that to me I found to be quite an interesting piece of the feedback. All that said it still is whatever it does, the time-lapse camera does its one thing, and I spent a certain amount of time with this one particular thing. That thing will reinforce itself to me. I certainly enjoyed carrying it around.

JG: Did it give you a sense of—I don’t want to say purpose—but some sort of connection to your surroundings that was different than if you didn’t have it?

DP: I did quite often have this feeling that if I was standing in line, it’s like, oh I’m standing in line—this is it. Going back to the capturing, and publishing my information that this is my life, and with this camera it’s not like I stop and I select this moment. It’s like if I really want this moment to be captured, then I have to sit here. I can’t quickly take the picture, and run off. I’ve gotta sit there, and if I want it to be a significant portion by movie, then it’s a significant portion of my time. So in that sense it made me appreciate time and attention as these real functional characters of my experiential existence. I always have two ways of viewing my life at any given point in time, there’s the experiencing self, perfectly in the present flowing through, and there’s the remembering self who has the pictures, the narrative, the stories. I went on a vacation for two weeks—the last day was really good. And that’s how I remember it. What about the rest of the two weeks? How was I flowing through the rest of the two weeks? With time-lapse of course it gives me a record of the entire thing. It is still a narrow record of the experience. It’s only visual you know. It’s choppy, whatever, it is a variable. But it tells a different story of time.

JG: Totally agree. I think when people are on vacation or they’re taken out of their routine, they’re in this space of awareness or openness, but I think that space can be captured all the time if we are more aware, if we’re paying attention. There doesn’t need to be differences between your “regular” time and your “vacation” time.

DP: Twenty-four hour tourist.

JG: That’s a good name.

DP: I think that’s very powerful. A very powerful mindset. To be in the observational. To be in the present.

JG: I think that’s what this whole process is about, discovering more and being in the present. Then you find these moments, and they inspire you and lead to more and more.

DP: Exactly.

JG: How does the point of view of the time-lapse camera play a role in your work? It has no viewfinder, so you can’t see what you’re shooting. You have a general idea but you never know until you download the files. Do you have thoughts on this position?

DP: People have said to me that… it’s really nice that the viewpoint can be in the third person. It’s really nice that I can set it on the far corner of the room, and I can see myself from a distance, and sometimes it is in more of a first person perspective. But it’s cool that it can be a third person perspective.

JG: When you show your work what are some of the other questions you get, beyond “why do you shoot time-lapse?”

DP: I guess a lot of people say what do you learn? I’d say I learned lots of things in the eighteen months. You notice the trees more. The things in this room don’t move, well they do move, but they are in very  slow decay. Everything that we build that’s nice and shiny, and has very round corners is in very slow decay. The plants are always bubbling. The sky is always bubbling. And then me, myself, I am having some pattern of breath, some pattern of heartbeat, some patterns: I’m stressed, I’m not stressed, I’m hungry, I’m not hungry, I’m sleepy, I’m not sleepy. In the time-lapse is this focus on a particular rhythm. Be that the ten-second rhythm, or the thirty-second rhythm, and so on. I think it really made me think a lot more about the pace of life, and how I interact with the machinery around me. The ticking of the clock, the nine to five bells, these are all these external timers that we have. This is this timer that’s like taking a picture every thirty seconds right? How that relates to my internal state and my experience in the world. I think that’s something that really seems was tied to this process of observation.

JG: I think that’s great, and I haven’t thought of it, but I think that’s sort of what I’m searching for, a process of awareness.