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.