amanda williams on space and social systems for friedman benda’s “ design in dialogue ”

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on april 1, 2020, new york gallery friedman benda launched a series of online interviews aimed at connecting individuals from around the world with leading voices in the creative field. design in dialogue is a conversational program animated alternately by the curator and the historian glenn adamson and designer stephen burks that engages designers, creators, critics and curators as they reflect on their careers and creative processes. In the context of COVID-19 and global lockdowns, conversations are virtually zoomed in for 1 hour so everyone in the world can connect and include a participatory question-and-answer session with the audience in attendance. friedman benda has since presented over 90 episodes and will continue with a range of future guests, each offering unparalleled insight into the sensibilities, thoughts and memories of today’s creative protagonists. see our recent article by jacques herzog on architecture as a karmic discipline, and ronan bouroullec on context, communication and collaboration.

April 28, 2021 design in dialogue welcomed Amanda Williams, an artist whose work questions how context alters the perception of material culture of the built environment. Trained as an architect, Williams’ practice uses color as a means of drawing attention to the complexities of race, place and worth in cities. through an analysis of his projects currently in view at MoMA – colorful theory, embodied sensations, and reconstructions: architecture and darkness in America – stephen burks and amanda williams discussed the role of architecture in controlling, oppressing and valuing communities.

watch the full video interview at the top of the page and stay tuned as designboom continues to share design in dialogue features. see all past episodes – and RSVP for the next ones – here.

amanda williams
Amanda Williams images ” Design in Dialogue ” showcasing Chicago’s vibrant urban color palette

Williams began by discussing her upbringing in Chicago and her “coming of age,” artistically and creatively. rooted in academic understandings of town planning, architecture and space, williams was also deeply inspired by the poetic narratives woven by musical contemporaries, such as common. “ to me it was like, headphones in the studio, learning about (daniel) burnham, hearing this conversation on the corner – this intersection, ” williams tells where she was at the time. “Love has always been for space and to understand space. maybe in the last decade to really understand what it means to be able to be in space and have control over this kind of process. in order to truly reexamine ideas of power, racism, infrastructure, autonomy – all through this lens of the purest understanding of space. then being able to really expand and contract that, whether it’s conceptual space, physical space, social space, and let that kind of transformation.

amanda williams
Harold’s Chicken Hut (overall), part of the color theory (ed) series | image courtesy of Amanda Williams

Williams found herself drawn to the vibrant palette of colors that mark Chicago’s cityscape – those used for street signage, in advertising, for commercial purposes and in the wider cultural context. “ these colors, they’re trying to grab your attention and grab your attention, ” she says, ‘but they’re also an extension of some sort of style and flair. it is inherent in black creativity at all levels. it is the kind of landscape that I crossed growing up, that I still cross today.

amanda williams
Harold’s Chicken Hut (detail) | image courtesy of Amanda Williams

this dynamism led Williams to a deep concern for color as “ framing device for thinking about work ” – a theme that would continue to inform him color theory (ed) series. between 2014 and 2016, the williams repainted and photographed eight vacant homes to be demoted in chicago’s englewood neighborhood, drawing attention to the issue of underinvestment in african american communities. With the help of family, friends and other members of the community, the buildings were painted in a color palette that Williams believed represented black consumer culture. “ it took a few years, but eventually came an idea to define a palette that would be part of a line of conversations between different scholars, artists and designers developing these palettes over the centuries, to really think about – what would add I in this conversation? she says. “ It was me who was trying to really own this thing that I learned as a skill set, but what does it really mean to be able to apply it in a way that gives me joy? there was no premeditation that it was going to turn into this great public work. it was really a fixation trying to think of it as some palette – not knowing how I wanted to apply it.

amanda williams
rose oil moisturizer (fall; overall), part of the color theory (ed) series | image courtesy of Amanda Williams

Williams then discussed his participation in a group exhibition at MoMA – his first to explore the relationship between architecture and the spaces of African American and African diaspora communities. reconstructions: architecture and darkness in America showcased 11 newly commissioned works by architects, designers and artists who explored the ways in which stories can be made visible and fairness can be built. “When you see my project, you will see a series of emergency blankets, with tools and fragments that blacks could use to make their way to the liberation of black spaces”, Williams said about his presentation. “ There is a ship, which I called the spaceship-ship-capsule-ship, which is an imaginary device to help you get to this place of mental and physical freedom. you will see a series of inventions created by African American scientists, academics, everyday people who invented things as simple as watering nozzles, scaffolding, ice cream scoops. I looked at an idea about inventions and the importance of patenting in recognizing that everyone has the right to participate in making America the place they want it to be.

amanda williams on space and social systems for friedman benda's `` design in dialogue ''
rose oil moisturizer (detail) | image courtesy of Amanda Williams

also on display at MoMA, the participatory work of williams, embodied sensations. williams examines the questions, who has the freedom to move? who has never been free to move at all? and the transformation of public and virtual space during the pandemic. “ he grapples with ideas of social and physical mobility and stillness, and tries to think about this moment that we collectively find ourselves in, ” she says. “It also brings in people who, for the first time, have felt isolation or a lack of inclusion with all kinds of communities who have felt this forever.” within the brown atrium, furniture that had been removed from around the museum to facilitate social distancing is reinstalled in the center of the museum. visitors are invited to interact with the installation through in-person performances or digital participation. an online survey, asks for anonymous participation in the reflection around four key words – attention, knowledge, access and power. Responses from site visitors will in turn create instructions for physical movement at MoMA.

amanda williams
preparatory study for embodied sensations, 2021 at the museum of modern art

amanda williams on space and social systems for friedman benda's `` design in dialogue ''
preparatory study for embodied sensations, 2021 at the museum of modern art

amanda williams on space and social systems for friedman benda's `` design in dialogue ''
installation view of amanda williams: sensations embodied, 2021 at the museum of modern art
image by julieta cervantes © 2021 the museum of modern art

amanda williams
installation view of amanda williams: sensations embodied, 2021 at the museum of modern art
image by julieta cervantes © 2021 the museum of modern art

amanda williams on space and social systems for friedman benda's `` design in dialogue ''
spatial diagrams, 2020 | ink on paper | 26 x 12 inches (66.04 x 30.48 cm)
Image courtesy of Amanda Williams, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

amanda williams on space and social systems for friedman benda's `` design in dialogue ''
installation view of reconstructions: architecture and darkness in America at the museum of modern art, new york
February 27, 2021 – May 31, 2021 © 2021 le musée d’art moderne | image by robert gerhardt

amanda williams
installation of we are not there, we are here at the museum of modern art
image courtesy Mabel Wilson and Sean Anderson, 2021

amanda williams
Portrait of Amanda Williams, image by Tony Smith

design in dialogue is a series of online interviews presented by a New York gallery friedman benda which highlights the leading voices in the field – designers, creators, critics and curators – as they discuss their work and ideas. moderated alternately by curator and historian glenn adamson and designer stephen burks, the conversations take place in zoom mode for 1 hour and include a participatory question-and-answer session.

watch the full video interview with amanda williams at the top of the page and stay tuned as designboom continues to share design in dialogue features. see all past episodes – and RSVP for the next ones – here.

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