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“Point of No Return” symposium series

The debate on the current direction of the Stiftung Buchkunst (see the petition of September 2018) has brought to light the unease currently felt by many designers, which goes far beyond the justified criticism of the Stiftung to touch on the issue of the relevance and mission of graphic design in a medialised society, the responsibility and need for critical self-awareness that this implies, and how this should be communicated among experts and the wider public.

Graphic design influences our hypermedialised day-to-day lives more than almost any other aesthetic discipline. Graphic design has a key position in communication as practised by diversified and transnationally active societies. It is the space where acts of interpretation and translation both within and between societies are developed and implemented. It is also the space where cultural codings are developed that are themselves actions in the fields that they code. The resultant responsibility is incompatible with the logic of standardised working processes. Criteria such as readability, attention, trends, originality, and signature style are an insufficient basis for a critical discourse on the discipline that is fit for present times. What is needed is a higher level of engagement and thought that is transdisciplinary and can exercise criticism (of cultures).

For this reason, the symposium series “Point of no Return” aims to bring together influential and critical voices from design and the sciences in order to intensify and carry forward this form of engagement, and in order to stimulate greater public consciousness of this discourse.

This symposium series is organised by the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg, in collaboration with the Bauhaus Universität Weimar, and the Hochschule für Gestaltung und Buchkunst Leipzig. The first symposiumPoint of Departure (January 2019) will endeavour to define the challenges faced by critically-minded designers in medialised and intercultural societies.

The second symposiumBorn in the Echoes (May 2019) will focus on critical examination of graphic design through the lens of a number of disciplines of the (cultural) sciences.

The third symposium “Keep it Hit” (November 2019) will outline possibilities for those structures that will need to be activated or created in order to ensure a future for the discourse that we need in graphic design.

Finally, in March 2020, a book related to the symposium series will be presented in Leipzig in the context of the final symposium “Point of no Return”.

The contributions to the symposia will be published by the HFBK Hamburg’s Materialverlag publishing operation in early 2020. Additionally, talks are being conducted with the Korean magazine GRAPHIC to publish the texts in a special edition of the magazine in English and Korean.

Concept for the symposium: Ingo Offermanns, supported by Markus Weisbeck and Markus Dressen

January 2019

Panel themes: “Point of Departure” (Hamburg)

William Blake says that “opposition is true friendship.” Thus, criticism is more than a distanced comparison of a static state of how things should be with a dynamic state of how things are. To exercise criticism is to put things in context, to measure, to weigh things up, to interpret – criticism is a dynamic and reciprocal dialogue of that which is and that which should be. In order to develop constructive opposition, the first symposium will thus pose the question of what graphic design is capable of and what it achieves in the present day, with reference to Friedrich von Borries’s publication “Politics of Design, Design of Politics”.

  • Opening event: Ingo Offermanns, Markus Weisbeck, Markus Dressen
  • Panel 1: Graphic design profiled, reproduced, fetishised
    • Students of the Klasse Grafik, HFBK Hamburg
    • Anna Lena von Helldorff, graphic designer, designer, collaborator, Leipzig
    • Christoph Knoth & Konrad Renner, professors, HFBK Hamburg
  • Panel 2: Graphic design empowered, mobilised, colonialised
    • David Bennewith, Colophon, Amsterdam
    • Corinne Gisel & Nina Paim, common interest, Zurich
      • Karo Akpokiere, graphic designer, artist, Lagos/Hamburg
  • Panel 3: Graphic design criticised, opened, designed
    • Isabel Seiffert, Offshore Studio, Zurich
    • Sandra Doeller, graphic designer, Frankfurt am Main
    • Matthias Görlich, professor, Burg Giebichenstein Kunsthochschule Halle

May 2019

Panel themes: “Born in the Echoes” (Hamburg)

After the start of the symposium series "Point of No Return" in January, the follow-up symposium will take place at the HFBK Hamburg on May 31, 2019. Under the title "Born in the Echoes", Ingo Offermanns (Professor of Graphic Art at the HFBK Hamburg) invited international speakers to look at graphic design in dialogue with and from the perspective of philosophy, ethnology, sociology, design theory, and cultural studies. This broadens the graphic design discourse beyond the narrow boundaries of the graphic discipline.

The interdependence of visual communication and society makes graphic design a constituent element of the public sphere – a quantity that erodes to the extent that society decays into singularities. This requires a stronger, (culturally) critical and interdisciplinary commitment and reflection.

The second part of the symposium series is therefore devoted to the question of how dialogical and solidary participation in public communication can function, which is designed by graphic designers* but which is more than the lowest common denominator of strategic goals, particular interests and subjective sensitivities. The focus is on the common struggle for criteria for a critical discourse and the application of this critique to graphic artifacts itself.

With contributions by:

  • Christian Bauer – Assistent professor of Design History and Theory, Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Saar, Saarbrücken)
  • Clémentine Deliss – Interim Professor for Curatorial Theory & Dramaturgical Practice, Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung, Karlsruhe
  • Daniel Martin Feige – Professor of Philosophy and Aesthetics, Akademie der bildenden Künste Stuttgart
  • Eva Linhart – Curator of Book Art and Graphics, Museum Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt)
  • Sophia Prinz – Assistent professor of Theory of Design, Universität der Künste Berlin
  • Markus Rautzenberg – Professor of Philosophy, Folkwang Universität der Künste, Essen)
  • Alice Rawthorn – Design critic and author, London
  • Pierre Smolarski – Research Assistent of Design Rhetoric’s and Everyday Aesthetics, Bergische Universität Wuppertal
  • Friedrich von Borries – Professor of Design Theory, HFBK Hamburg

Moderation: Tulga Beyerle – Director, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

November 2019

Panel themes “Keep it hit” (Weimar)

The third symposium will interrogate the existing institutions associated with criticism, and will look at possibilities in the institutionalising of graphic design criticism. What structures might be activated and/or created in order to create new momentum for a critical graphic design discourse?

  • Opening event: Markus Weisbeck, Ingo Offermanns, Markus Dressen
  • Panel 1: Decision time for graphic design
  • Panel 2: Graphic design criticism as an energiser of discourse
  • Panel 3: The boundaries of criticism

March 2020

Book presentation: “Point of No Return” (Leipzig)

The symposium reader “Point of no Return” will be presented in parallel to the Leipzig Book Fair. It will present for discussion the final results of the symposium series.

  • Opening of event: Markus Dressen, Ingo Offermanns, Markus Weisbeck
  • Final speech: Demands, hopes, prospects,
  • Discussion with Dressen, Offermanns, Weisbeck, and guests