Politics & Aesthetics in Kazakhstan

How design conveys power and ideology into a populace on a national level.

Noteh Krauss
Guest Lecturer
California College of the Arts

Politics & Aesthetics in Kazakhstan examines the way in which design conveys power and ideology into a populace on a national level. This paper is primarily interested in how this process takes place from both a material and philosophical level and explores the mechanics of how metaphysical concepts such as ideas of identity and kinship with fellow citizens become imbued into material form via aesthetics. This paper develops the concept of aesthetics as the meeting place of the material and immaterial and as a critical lens for understanding the role of design in anthropology, political science, and other disciplines.

This paper uses frameworks and approaches rooted in Critical Theory involving such thinkers as Foucault, Ranciere, and Marcuse. The framework developed is applied to a history of Astana (now called Nur Sultan), the capital of the modern Kazakh state. Through in-depth research on the architectural history of four of the most monumental buildings in the capital combined with Kazakh government statements of policy a thread between the immaterial ideas of power, statehood and citizenship are drawn into the aesthetic layer of the capital.

Once this thread is established, the paper, through Critical Theory and other methods, connects that same thread from the aesthetic layer down to the experience of the anonymous citizen inhabiting Kazakhstan both in the capital and beyond. By examining the aesthetic experience experienced on an individual level we come to see how ideas of state, power, and control become effectively imbued into the psyche of the populace.

The paper concludes that a feedback loop is created whereby the aesthetic environment becomes the invisible enforcer of cultural ideology in a given place, which in turn a populace will continue to recreate. This understanding of the cycle of culture is a powerful tool to breaking down the effects of design in our modern world.

Guns ARE Alive: How Design/Technology Literacy is Missing From the Gun Debate in America

Design illiteracy affects the gun debate by obscuring how firearms fit into our culture.

Glenn LaVertu
Professor
Parsons, The New School

Gun rights advocates often use arguments like “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” or “Cars kill people, too.” These arguments expose a serious design illiteracy issue: that we either ignore or misunderstand the process, evolution, and purpose of weapon design and industrial design in general. Design illiteracy affects the gun debate by obscuring how firearms fit into our culture as well as how they have shaped our history.

Philosophical issues in fields such as aesthetics, technology and ethics greatly affect the gun debate in America in three distinct but overlapping areas: first, as a historical recognition of the gun and its presence as an emblematic container of a legacy of violence, death and power; second, for guiding gun control legislation via a determination and consequent categorization of firearm technology as being appropriate or inappropriate for civilian use; and third, by creating a set of ethics that considers the gun an active and animate object, complicit in the phenomenon of human violence.

This presentation will feature research on six pivotal technological innovations in gun design and the historical contexts for which new firearms features were created, and how an understanding of these design intentions can reshape the political discourse. I will also examine arguments made within the gun debate and how a better understanding of design can change our perception of guns as more than mere objects to become physical extensions of ourselves, reshaping the ethics from which they are considered.

We rarely consider the role which design plays in our lives and in the things we use, let alone as part of the discussion about guns; and in those rare instances when we do, we prove that we don’t know much about design, or guns. The analysis here will show that design, while an important and foundational facet to the debate, is an area of knowledge we are sorely lacking.

Whatever your stance on the gun issue, better design knowledge can raise more nuanced questions and can steer the argument in more positive ways. Perhaps by broadening the debate to design we can find a new consensus or allow for compromise. It is crucial at this moment, with so much gun violence at the center of our lives, that we give it a try. Lives are at stake.

Geometries of the Sacred and Profane in Lewerentz’s St Peters

Nathan Matteson
Assistant Professor
DePaul University
College of Computing and Digital Media
School of Design

Nathan Matteson
Assistant Professor
DePaul University
College of Computing and Digital Media
School of Design

As the world of visual communication redefines itself around the design of experiences, and as those experiences are increasingly immaterial and mediated by technology (e.g. AR/VR, social media, etc.), there is much to learn from trans-disciplinary explorations of past interventions into human activity.

The architecture of Sigurd Lewerentz (1885–1975) comprises of relatively few buildings though his career spans several decades. His work, encompassing stylistic maneuvers from the neo-classical to the newly brutal, is lauded for its formal approaches to spatial organization and composition. Widely regarded as a peerless example of poetic materiality, St Peters in Klippan (built 1967) is held by many to be the culmination of this master architect’s lifelong exploration of form—a uniquely *authentic* visual and material expression.

Recent onsite documentation and archival research has further revealed connections across his output suggesting that, rather than making a turn away from classicism in the middle of his career, this thesis–antithesis was always present and ever evolving. This project proposes a new reading of St Peters’ seemingly intentional ‘differences’ or ‘frictions’: rotated plans, imperfect symmetries, ever-changing patterns within brickwork and floor tiles. These anomalies appeared throughout the entire span of the architect’s output, but never so vigorously as in this final church. Posited as visual proxies for authenticity, these frictions provide an antidote to contemporary template-driven culture and provide design strategies for creating visual and material experiences that are at once technological and humane.