What the Hell is Your Problem?

By OSNS Press

This article covers the topics of Social Practice, the boundaries between art and design and also the value of personal projects when I walk you through my own recent personal research project.


Pictured below is the latest personal project of Old School founder Veronica Grow (that's me), and it will be exhibited as part of the Exhibition called "Echoes of Others, Gaps Amidst Translation" for the 2012 Human Rights Art & Film Festival on 15 - 27 May at the No Vacancy Gallery Melbourne. It looks like a great exhibition and you should think about going and taking a look. 

Titled "What the Hell is Your Problem? A Kit for Uptight White People", the project questions notions of privilege and social exclusion in our society. It can be classified as social design, or design for good, because its aim is to help create social change by raising awareness of the social issue of "white privilege". 

Project Background

This project started its life as a site report for my Masters project in Cross Disciplinary Design at UNSW COFA, and centred around the home of some of my Italian friends. The site report discusses the social significance of the sustainable and happy way of living they enjoy that is high in social capital and how this is a valuable social model for us all to follow.

Why? How? 

This research led process of design led me to make comparisons with my own Anglo Saxon cultural norms that are quite different to those of my italian friends. And so the kit was born. The kit does not treat people of my culture well as the statements it makes about us are quite provocative. It is important to note that each statement is based on the direct observations of a migrant from a different culture. It has been interesting to hear the questions and thoughts that it has led many observers to ask about their own previously unquestioned social norms. If the project was commercial, and involved a client, obviously this contentiousness would be difficult to navigate. Interestingly, this is where we see boundary disciplines start to blur. Is this art, or is this design? My personal opinion is that working as an artist has afforded me greater experimental scope, individuality and freedom when I was not dictated to by the fickle visual trends of the graphic design "scene". 

To arrive at this final point pictured below (a set of 9 postcards), the project itself has gone through numerous iterations or tellings. Its first iteration worked the front and back of each card, and took the form of postcards which were redesigned with a hand generated alphabet and titles. Then at the suggestion of some booksellers who thought that postcards would be too tricky to sell, it took the form of a book (see very bottom). 

Final Outcome

This final iteration below has been stripped of most of its information, it provides no solutions to the problems associated with our culture and uses a DIY aesthetic to confront us with its story. Like all good art (whether film or story), it leaves us asking questions, demonstrating how art can be a potent form of design (note the crossing of boundaries).

Art or Design?

For a creative work to sustain itself over time (meaning it does not fall from fashion), it needs to work beyond the shallow surface of style by "touching us", or really causing us to feel something. This is not easy to achieve. Stephen Sagmeister discusses this fully in his essay titled "Can Design Touch Your Heart?". It's a really good article that makes you think about your own practice. 

About The First Iteration

An earlier iteration took the form of a book in which each Anglo Saxon issue had a solution to help us to be less uptight. I question (now) whether this was a necessary inclusion? I would love to know your thoughts on this if you feel up to posting. You can view the book here, and purchase it from Readings here 

What Do I Get From the Project? 

More important than the outcome has been the journey that this personal project has taken me. Away from the trappings and boundaries of clients and personal tastes of agencies, I have had the opportunity to explore and think deeply with others about issues that are close to my heart. 

Personal projects are really no more than research. Research does not need to take place within the boundaries of a University. In fact research can be more relevant when it takes place outside the confines of the stifled atmosphere of the large institutions known as Universities. While this project did start its life within a University,it was not a must. 

The project has continued its life after the Masters was completed, becoming a published book, and now part of a significant art exhibition. 


Most importantly, it has enabled me to grow personally, and meet new people, building new networks based around conjoining core beliefs seen in my work. I am swimming with like minded people with whom collaborations would never have otherwise been possible. I cannot tell you great it feels to be working authentically in a space where I truly belong. 

Thanks for reading.