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Evidence of Things Unseen | A Talk with Jessica Helfand

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Observation lies at the core of everything we do—from art to design, science to journalism, politics to poetry to everything in between.

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About Jessica's talk

Observation lies at the core of everything we do—from art to design, science to journalism, politics to poetry to everything in between. We look, we pay attention, we think we see—but do we, really? After thirty years as a practicing designer, I stopped seeing, and needed to find another way to build my practice, to find meaning in my work which—while informed by the tenets of design education—is now squarely grounded in painting.

For me, painting is the act of bearing witness: adding dimension, shifting focus, and in the body of work I will share—a kind of photo-based, adaptive portraiture—reasserting a kind of implicit, if hidden dignity to the people I paint. An anonymous subject is not a lost subject, but a noble one, with the enduring humanity that we can’t help but recognize as our own. The tension between that which is universal and that which is unique might be said to underscore a fair amount of what constitutes graphic design: why can't the same be true of painting?

In this talk I will share what I have observed, and what I have learned through migration into a more expanded and hands-on studio practice. I'll talk about photography and painting, about pixels and pigment, and I'll discuss my new book—a re-framing of Ralph Waldo Emerson's canonical 1846 essay on self-reliance—which is being published this spring with twelve of my own essays on studio practice.

— Jessica Helfand

Attendees at the talk will have the opportunity to win an autographed copy of Jessica's upcoming book, Self-Reliance.

About the speaker

Jessica Helfand is an artist, designer, and writer. She grew up in Paris and New York City, and received her BA and MFA from Yale University where she taught for more than two decades. A founding editor of Design Observer, she is the author of ten books on visual and cultural criticism, including Design: The Invention of Desire (Yale University Press, 2016; Face: A Visual Odyssey (MITPress, 2019); and Self-Reliance (Thames&Hudson, 2021). The first-ever recipient, in 2010, of the Henry Wolf Residency at the American Academy in Rome, Jessica Helfand has been a Director’s Guest at Civitella Ranieri, a fellow at the Bogliasco Foundation, and the Artist in Residence at Caltech. She won the AIGA medal in 2013.

You can purchase Jessica's upcoming book, Self-Reliance here.

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