The Self Design Academy
“The first thing you need to know about yourself,” says Yuval Noah Harari in 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, “is that you are not a story”. If he means to say we shouldn’t be on social media all the time pretending everything is hunky-dory while reality is nowhere near as gorgeous as our pictures suggest, he is right. But what then is this self we invite you to explore with us in The Self Design Academy, online on the website and offline in MU Hybrid Art House from 18 September till 22 November? What are we, if not the stories we invent to make some sense of it all?
In The Self Design Academy, a joint initiative of MU and Image Society, 18 artists and designers together with the visitors investigate how we can define, understand and design ourselves. Inspired by Mieke Gerritzen’s book Help Your Self, presented at MU on 24 October, about the ever-increasing popularity of the self-help industry, we focus on the creative strategies and techniques we can develop ourselves, and how to share these with others. At the same time, the Academy is a place of critical reflection on the malleability of the self. Is it actually necessary to constantly improve or (re)design ourselves, and if so: on whose terms? To what extend are we being formed by forces around us, and how do we (re)gain control?
Across the world, the self is under a lot of strain. Personal freedom and diversity easily lead to complex relationships that not everyone reads equally well. Employers demand more than knowledge and skills, they look for 'special candidates'. Online too, authenticity is highly valued, but how to stay true to yourself if followers always expect more of the same? To succeed, you need to develop and sell yourself constantly. No wonder that people stay at home with a burn-out at an increasingly younger age or that the self-help industry has become a billion-dollar industry, and not only in the West. At the same time, there are counter-movements that break with existing patterns by stressing the fluidity of the self, or preferring other values in life over status, fame or wealth.
To highlight these phenomenons, The Self Design Academy actively connects people with the creative side of human malleability through a three-tiered presentation that strives to integrate real and digital life as closely as possible. So, don’t just browse around here at The Self Design Academy Site, but also visit The Self Design Academy Space in MU (as far as the RIVM corona measures allow it) and join one or more events of The Self Design Academy Share program (both in MU and online).
The concept of Self Design was introduced and put in historic context in November 2008 in a long essay by German philosopher and art critic Boris Groys. In The Obligation to Self Design he describes the radical paradigm shift from traditional applied arts to modern design.
"Genuine modern design is reductionist; it does not add, it subtracts", says Groys. "It is no longer about simply designing individual things to be offered to the gaze of viewers and consumers in order to seduce them. Rather, design seeks to shape the gaze of viewers in such a way that they become capable of discovering things themselves. A central feature of the paradigm shift from traditional applied arts to modern design was just this extension of the will to design from the world of things to that of human beings themselves—understood as one thing among many. The rise of modern design is profoundly linked to the project of redesigning the old man into the new man. [...] The design of things that present themselves to the gaze of the viewing subject is critical to an understanding of design. The ultimate form of design is, however, the design of the subject. The problems of design are only adequately addressed if the subject is asked how it wants to manifest itself, what form it wants to give itself, and how it wants to present itself to the gaze of the Other."
And that is exactly what we are aiming at with The Self Design Academy, experimenting, researching and creating, in ways that allow us to be both the other and ourselves.
Self design articles by Boris Groys on e-flux