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School Watch
September 2021

Office Hours: Mindy Seu: Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University

Students collating a risographed publication that was conceptualized, designed, and coded during the workshop Local Area Network at A-B-Z-TXT, a computational summer school in Toronto. LAN was co-led by Mindy Seu, Jon Gacnik, and Jürg Lehni. Photo: Garry Ing.

Design faculty and guest critics gather in the final installation by Sophie Auger, a first-year MFA in Design student at Rutgers University. Photo: Perri Hofmann.

For a course about online publishing, Rutgers BFA students visit the New Jersey-based reading room Office Space 2, co-created by Sal Hamerman and Greyory Blake. Photo: Jael Bae.

A section of the installation of the final day of ANTI-ANTI-ALIASING, a workshop for RISD Graphic Design BFA students, co-led by Mindy Seu and Jon Gacnik. Photo: James Goggin.

1. Why did you decide to go into teaching?
Teaching feels like a form of research and development. Not only am I able to embed criticism into these studio classes, but during each semester, I learn so much from the students. This circular environment keeps me engaged, and I’m able to practice lifelong learning.

2. What drew you to your school and what is your teaching philosophy?
Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University has a rich history and encourages hybridity. The Rutgers MFA in visual arts at Mason Gross School of the Arts was established in 1960 as the first non-disciplinary-specific fine art graduate program in the United States. Our MFA in design program is a few years old, and we promote interdisciplinarity as students develop their own research-driven design practice. Because it is a public school, the student body is incredibly diverse from racial, cultural, political, and economic perspectives. My own pedagogical practice upholds interdisciplinarity and encourages overlap between art and design as we develop personal methods for art-making.

3. What theory and art history do you consider most essential for your students? What artist or artwork do you refer to most often?
Because I teach a variety of classes, I won’t name a specific artist or artwork, but I typically start each class with a segment called “what’s new on the net” as a way to discuss contemporary moments about the internet and technology. It opens up a space to discuss topics such as social media activism like #metoo and #blacklivesmatter, platform oligopolies and controversies like Facebook vs. Apple, impacts of internet policy like CESTA-FOSTA, and more. And as more students make work on the themes of identity, these current events, theories of decolonization, critical race, and intersectional feminism have become essential for engaging in this dialogue.

Mindy Seu introduces the workshop Local Area Network with the lecture “The Artist as Networker,” introducing mail art, peer-to-peer networks, and utopic online societies. Photo: Garry Ing.

4. How do you navigate generational or cultural differences between you and your students?
At the beginning of each semester, the students and I implement a group agreement for each course. Codes of conduct or ethics agreements are tricky because everyone has different measures of what they consider ethical or not. Because of this, the group agreement allows the students to determine how their peer-group dynamic will work. Some of the rules can be as general as not speaking before raising your hand or reducing phone time in the classroom. Others include “take space, make space,” which encourages shy students to speak up and more extroverted ones to listen, or “don’t make assumptions,” which reminds students to explain acronyms, references, et al. during discussions or critiques.

5. What changes would you like to see in art education?
I would like to see more studios or seminar classes that focus on interdisciplinarity and theme rather than media specificity.


6. What is your educational background? Did you arrive at art from another field?
I studied Design Media Art (D|MA) at University of California, Los Angeles, worked in design studios and consultancies for several years, and then pursued Design Research at Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD). Both of these degrees encouraged interdisciplinarity: at UCLA, I entwined book design and software, while at GSD, I focused on technocriticism, revisionist internet history, and art archival practice.

7. How have recent cultural movements and activism informed your curriculum?
It’s incredibly important to discuss these current events in a classroom setting. This plays into the social organization of the classroom to create a more equitable and safe environment; how might we create an environment where we are encouraged to participate in pursuit of mutual aid rather than policing? Part of being a designer or artist is understanding how your practice may or may not create a dialogue with these moments.

8. How much structure or independence do students have in your courses?
Students are encouraged to enter the program with their intended topic of research. Design faculty then introduce a range of research methods and possibilities for how the research might manifest as a work of art or design, such as an on- or offline publication, installation, campaign, or other form. I like to think of the term “projects” in its noun and verb forms: How might a project project forward to build a body of work?

9. How does the program connect students to the surrounding art scene? How do they learn outside the classroom?
Among other things, the MFA in Design program encourages interdisciplinary collaboration between the other departments at Rutgers University. We are very lucky to be part of a research institution where we can pair our skills with specialists’ in other fields, and students have collaborated with the landscape architecture, gender and women’s studies, and psychology departments, among others.

One of my favorite undergraduate courses is called Design Practicum. We invite three external organizations to provide a brief with public-facing output, and students receive studio visits, tours, lectures, and feedback from our visiting practitioners. We’ve worked with IDEO, Internet Archive, Rhizome, the Istanbul Biennial, and many others.

10. What advice do you give to your students as they leave school and enter the field?
Develop your own voice. Practice this in as many forms as possible—not only through the final project but in its process and documentation, even in the corresponding emails.

Mindy Seu is a designer and researcher. She holds an M.Des from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and a BA in Design Media Arts from the University of California, Los Angeles. As a fellow at the Harvard Law School’s Berkman Klein Center for the Internet & Society, she began the Cyberfeminism Index, which was later commissioned by Rhizome and presented at the New Museum. She has also been a fellow at the Internet Archive, co-organizing the Arts Track of the inaugural Decentralized Web Summit. Formerly she was a designer for 2×4’s Interactive Media team and the Museum of Modern Art’s in-house design studio. She has given lectures and workshops at the Barbican Center, California Institute of the Arts, Parsons School of Design at the New School, Pratt Institute, Rhode Island School of Design, and Berkeley Art Museum, among others. Seu is currently an Assistant Professor at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University and Critic at Yale School of Art.

The Rutgers MFA in Design is a two-year, full-time program focused on the innovative use of research and technology in the creation of publications, experiences, exhibitions, information, and interfaces. This studio program is suited for designers, artists, technologists, and others who seek a context to realize creative ideas, and to address real-world contexts outside of a strictly commercial realm. Graduates are prepared for a contemporary design studio practice that contributes to the future of arts, science, humanities, and culture.

Rutgers, a leading research university with a diverse student body, offers an intimate creative community and opportunities for designers to engage in meaningful collaborations with scientists, engineers, social scientists, and leaders in the arts and humanities. The program is situated within the Mason Gross School of the Arts’ Department of Art & Design, renowned for its experimental, interdisciplinary approach to art, design, performance, and technology, in close proximity to New York City and Philadelphia.

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