09.18.2013 / Gwen Allen and Geoff Kaplan


Wednesday, September 18, 2013
10am – 12pm
San Francisco Campus Boardroom

Gwen Allen is Assistant Professor at San Francisco State University, where she specializes in contemporary art, criticism and visual culture. She has written about art and design for publications including Artforum, Bookforum, Art Journal, East of Bourneo, and Art New England. She has contributed essays to numerous books, monographs, and exhibition catalogs, including: “Design as a Social Practice” in Power of the People: The Graphic Design of Radical Press and the Rise of the Counter-Culture, 1964-1974, ed. Geoff Kaplan (University of Chicago Press, 2013); From Distribution to Dispersion: Conceptual Writing in the Age of the Internet,” in Postscript: Writing After Conceptual Art, ed, Andrea Andersson (University of Chicago Press); and “The Politics of Indeterminacy: The Art of Gary Simmons” in Gary Simmons: Paradise (Metro Pictures and Damiani Editore, 2012). She is the author of Artists’ Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art (MIT Press, 2011).

Geoff Kaplan, whose design firm General Working Group has produced projects for a range of academic and cultural institutions, including MOCA, the Walker Art Center, and CalArts, teaches in Design at CCA. His book Power to the People: The Graphic Design of the Radical Press and the Rise of the Counter-Culture, 1964-1974, recently released by the Univerisity of Chicago Press, presents images and texts from a vast array alternative publications. Power to the People includes essays by Gwen Allen, Bob Ostertag, and Fred Turner, as well as a series of recollections edited by Pamela M. Lee, all of which comment on the critical impact of the alternative press in the social and popular movements of those turbulent years. Power to the People treats the design practices of that moment as a form of activism in its own right that offers a vehement challenge to the dominance of official media and a critical form of self-representation.



Student Review by Vanessa Kauffman

Together with graceful dialogue and images rich in visual information, art historian Gwen Allen and graphic designer Geoff Kaplan presented at the September 18th forum for Visual and Critical Studies, discussing their recent individual publications and the years of shared community that saw to their success (Allen’s, Arist Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art was published in 2011 by MIT Press, and Kaplan’s Power to the People: The Graphic Design of the Radical Press and the Rise of the Counter Culture, 1964-1974 in 2012 by University of Chicago Press).

Remarkably invested in the history of printed matter and its relationship to artistic and political activism, both Allen and Kaplan’s books exemplify the rich nuances of this medium. Their presentation illuminated the mode of critical resilience and contemporary urgency that is inherent to print publications in the processes of their physical production, and through the insistent readership of their public. The thoughtful discussion that Allen and Kaplan generated was illustrative of each of their projects’ fastidious attention to detail, considerably articulated through historical narratives. Remarking on the nearly impossible task of representing the format of the book within a book (which Kaplan likened to Jorge Luis Borges’ short story of a to-scale map of the universe that conceals that which it aims to chart), Kaplan and Allen agreed that they were grateful for the opportunity to reanimate these materials, and celebrated the inescapable lacunae within each of their projects.

Expressing much gratitude to the institutions whose archives they pilfered, Allen and Kaplan both spoke to the material immensity of their research, and the physical conditions that either assuaged or restricted the ease of their research. Kaplan said that during his extended trips to the University of Connecticut Research Library he left the archive donning a “paper dust costume” each evening, a physical cognizance of the fact that the materials he was racing to preserve were fighting an unstoppable rate of disintegration. In many instances, up against institutional or monetary restrictions and bureaucratic red-tape, Allen and Kaplan emulated the radical or unconventional practices of the artists and designers featured in their books—at times relinquishing photographic images in exchange for the use of an archive, reconfiguring the available resources to fit the needs of their projects, and often reaching out to one another and their community for support.

Allen and Kaplan both spoke optimistically in regard to the notorious “death of print” conversation that has been circulating in media and design studies since the 1990s. They noted that many of the materials examined within the parameters of their projects were once considered “new media.” Near the end of the discussion there were a few questions put to the group spoken with a tone of concern regarding the demands on young practitioners to flood the design world with more and more “things,” rather than educating designers to refresh feedback loops of information and ideas that do not rely on market capitalism. This, along with the topic of the millennial relationship to differing practices of digital archiving and mediation seemed to hit a live wire within many forum attendants, but was unfortunately disallowed full discussion due to time constraints. Throughout the forum the presenters’ publications— present in the boardroom—glowed with extant energy that could not be denied.