Episode 25: Frances Whitehead
As you will soon learn, Frances Whitehead is a remarkably difficult person to put a label on. Artist, designer (designist?), planner, environmental thinker, dot-connector, collaborator… the list could go on. She is also a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she founded the Knowledge Lab. Our conversation spanned two recording sessions, totaling 7.5 hours and producing 5.5 hours of tape. I have edited this down to 36 minutes and, of course, sacrificed an immense amount of content and nuance. So view this as a fast and condensed introduction to Frances’ thought.
What themes await, you ask? Complexity is an idée fixe, tying together the prospect of an environmental crisis with the new role of art and artists. We also talk about how excess irony can cripple change, the difference between intentionality and morality, and the necessity of creating new knowledge on the borders of specialties.
We talked about a slew of other thinkers in the project: Wes Jackson, David Korten, and Robert Zubrin to name a few. You will hear their influence indirectly, but I chose to remove most of our discussion of them from the episode and focus on new issues that Frances brings to The Conversation. That said, this episode is especially worth listening to with Timothy Morton in mind.
You can find more information on Slow Cleanup, the brownfield remediation project we discussed, here. For links to some of Frances’ other work (including her amazing house/studio), you can visit here.
I really appreciated her worldview. While I believe art and meaning are two separate concepts which are not necessarily inclusive of the other, I was inspired by her intentionality in fusing them together.
the comparison with artists and their use in the community in previous times referring to cave paintings and Da Vinci was illuninating.
would people in those worlds have thought the question of meanings, if it occurred to them and made any sense at all, was covered by the notion of function?
it sounded as if she wanted to get out of an artist’s Garden of Eden where considerations of meaning might be perused at leisure for all eternity as long as you didn’t bite the apple of knowledge; but having done so you have to get out; and indeed you want to get out; which is why you bite the apple; because some snake in the grass has told you eating apples will open the gate. and this gate opening knowledge is the knowledge of good and evil.
the doors of perception will be cleansed if you will.