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MASTER’S PROGRAMME DESIGN CURATING & WRITING


This Masters programme provides the critical skills necessary to reflect on and interpret the numerous roles design plays today, while challenging conventional perceptions of what design is. It draws on theory and direct observation, using research, reporting, and analysis to develop a personal point of view articulated in the form of writing and exhibition-making.

The course invites close study of things – that is, the physical products of a consumer society. How are objects imbued with meaning? What do they say about our culture and society? What economic and environmental systems determine them? Students will learn to “read” objects and be able to place them in a broader cultural context. It will soon become apparent, however, that objects are less and less divisible from the systems and networks on which they rely. So much design today is inherent in the workings of technological products – at the level of code. Screen-based interfaces and networked devices govern so many of our everyday experiences, and their underlying design has a logic and a politics that demands scrutiny. Similarly, social design engages in the workings of a community, in the complex network of relations. Design literacy today demands an awareness of such systems. Our analysis of non-things also extends to the understanding of spaces, from interiors to the public realm. How do we read a space, and how do people behave in particular places? How are our notions of public and private changing?

This course is geared towards a rapidly shifting media landscape in which publishing, museums, academia and design institutions are redefining themselves. Students are encouraged to develop a high level of critical thinking which they can continue to pursue in professional careers that incorporate aspects of journalism, research, criticism and curating. They are equipped with skills that address traditional forms of writing and exhibition-making alongside online platforms, broadcasting and more experimental media and display formats.

One of the advantages of being embedded in a design school is that aspiring writers and curators are in an environment where design is constantly being generated. This proximity to the thought processes and working methods of designers offers a deeper understanding of how design works. It is also an opportunity to develop collaborations and alliances with designers that may be formative to their future practices.

The course is a crossroads for international writers, curators, editors, and designers, who share their insights and experience. Students also benefit from affiliations with the Design Museum in London and the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven, with the potential to gain an insider’s view of live projects.

PROGRAMME STRUCTURE

Students meet in at least twice-weekly guided seminars for in-depth group discussions of foundational texts and exhibitions and to workshop their own writing and curatorial thinking. In addition to individual assignments, students have the opportunity to work on several collaborative projects, such as publications and conferences, with members of the course as well as with other DAE Masters students.

The course is taught in two locations: in a purpose-built seminar room in the Masters department of the Design Academy Eindhoven and at the Van Abbemuseum. The seminars taught at the Design Academy focus on critical thinking, writing, and exhibition-making, while the seminars taught at the Van Abbemuseum concentrate on curating in the context of museological practice, although there is considerable cross-fertilization between the two.


Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven

FIRST YEAR CURRICULUM

1. WRITING AND EXHIBITION CURATION

Over the course of the first year, students are led by DC&W tutors through a series of theme-based seminars that introduce some of the key ideas shaping the way design is made, used, and understood today, as well as core skills necessary in the expanded toolset of today’s writer/thinker/curator. This seminar series looks at different forms of writing, from articles and reviews to blogging and broadcasting, and at all types of exhibition-making. The aim is to understand the craft of each form and to develop a wide expressive range across different media outputs.

2. MUSEOLOGY AND CURATING

Led by members of the Van Abbe curatorial team, the course looks at both the historiography of curating and the practical business of making exhibitions happen in the real world. Students learn about seminal exhibitions and how they changed the curatorial landscape as well as understanding how galleries and museums operate today. Time will be spent understanding the nature of exhibition-making, loaning artefacts, building museum collections and the way that museums and galleries seek to create a dialogue with the public. Close and critical analysis of components of the museum including its archives, collection, programming and constituents, lead to a consideration of what’s at stake in curatorial and museum practice today and to questions about how we might best use the different curatorial tools at our disposal. 

For both aspects of the programme, students will be expected to read widely and independently around the thematic topics, and to do close reading and make notes and short presentations on specific texts in preparation for group discussions. Students will also need to read one another’s work and participate in constructive peer critique and editing workshops. Most weeks, short writing and curating assignments are set, and at least once per trimester students will give formal presentations of their work to the tutors and invited critics. As well as inviting several guest lecturers per year to the DAE, the course comprises numerous visits to museums, design studios, and other design institutions. Students meet leading curators, designers, critics, and commentators and in each case students will need to conduct thorough research and be prepared to ask insightful questions, and, in some cases, to lead the discussion.

SECOND YEAR CURRICULUM

The second year is largely dedicated to a personal research project that will result in the Masters thesis. The DC&W thesis allows students to practice deep research and long-form writing, and to explore a specific research territory connected to design, architecture, urbanism, or visual culture, which will sustain further investigation even beyond the MA. Most importantly the thesis should argue a position and should represent an original and significant contribution to knowledge.
 
A thesis is an in-depth, original piece of research that will take the form of a thesis portfolio consisting of a 10,000-word written text, a fully developed exhibition proposal, an oral presentation, and an applied thesis product.

TYPICAL THEMES

Alongside the practical aspects of the course there will be regular critical reading seminars for reviewing key thinkers and texts. These provide a critical backdrop for our investigations.

THE OBJECT AND THE THING

This distinction, drawn by Martin Heidegger, is merely a useful device for thinking about objects – and the words we use to describe them – more critically. This theme will focus on the role of “stuff” in society, looking to established critics such as Roland Barthes and Reyner Banham. Students will be asked to identify objects in the contemporary world that they think define our moment in some important way and write about them.

RETURN OF THE CRAFTSMAN

The notion of craft is resurgent but often in seemingly problematic ways. What are the values of craftsmanship today and what is the status of homo faber? With the Maker movement flourishing, how are craft and digital technology becoming intertwined?

THE NETWORK AND THE PLATFORM

The network society is having a profound influence on how we think of design. Our day-to-day experience is increasingly mediated by screen-based interfaces and social media platforms. How are these experiences designed and what politics lies behind their proliferation? Similarly, we will explore how the culture of code has manifested itself in open-source design and distributed manufacturing.

HOME AND THE NEW DOMESTIC LANDSCAPE

How do we live in the early 21st century? What social, economic and technological forces shape our domestic lives? This theme explores notions of taste and space, looking at new living patterns. It will also explore the rise of “smart” technology to ask whether our conception of “home” is fundamentally changing.

THE PUBLIC AND THE PRIVATE

Traditional notions of the public and the private are being eroded. On the one hand, social media turns private life into “content” and an economy increasingly driven by data collection means our personal information is traded as a commodity. On the other, the traditional sense of the public is in retreat, under assault from privatisation. We will explore how public spaces work and whether they are truly public, while also looking at the design of digital tools and interfaces that encourage a belief that privacy is an outdated virtue.

THE CHANGING DESIGN MUSEUM

Design museums are undergoing profound changes in response to the changing conception of what design is and its shifting cultural and economic significance. This thematic strand examines the ways in which design museums are redefining themselves physically and online and considers their role in contemporary design discourse. 

CO-HEADS:

Justin McGuirk, writer, critic, and chief curator, Design Museum London
Alice Twemlow, author, educator, and curator

Team of tutors, visiting lecturers and critics


Nick Aikens, curator of exhibitions, Van Abbemuseum
Nick Axel, deputy editor, e-flux Architecture
Christiane Berndes, head of collection, Van Abbemuseum
Evelien Bracke, curator, Z33
Tom Dyckhoff, architecture critic and broadcaster
Charles Esche, director, Van Abbemuseum
Annie Fletcher, chief curator of exhibitions, Van Abbemuseum
Diane Franssen, curator and head of research, Van Abbemuseum
Agata Jaworska, freelance curator
Koen Kleijn, critic at De Groene Amsterdammer
Willem Jan Renders, curator, Russian art, Van Abbemuseum
Rick Poynor, design critic
Catherine Rossi, design historian
Tamar Shafrir, Research & Development, Het Nieuwe Instituut
Noam Toran, artist and curator
Richard Wentworth, artist
Will Wiles, novelist and architecture critic