Creative Conversations: Daniel Peterson + Michael Rock
Today’s Creative Conversation revolves around the themes of limitations, relocations and decisions. Are we defined by our limitations, or by our desire to break through them? YGX Daniel Peterson is a graphic designer working for global design consultancy 2x4. He talks with 2x4 co-founder Michael Rock.
Daniel Peterson: I have been thinking recently about the role of fear in my practice, attempting to maintain a state of vulnerability, and stepping into the unknown.
Michael Rock: Any Freudian will tell you fear is always a good place to start…
Daniel: Moving from Melbourne to New York meant a lot of change, working here [at 2x4] has forced me to reexamine my process and subsequently, think more deeply about design in a global sense… I find it all extraordinarily exciting but also quite daunting.
Michael: Do you fear change or the lack of it? No matter how much you change your context, you are still always the person making your work.
Daniel: So really you are always your own context.
“Perhaps part of the reason we collaborate is that it allows us each to escape some of our own limitations.”
Michael: You can only do what you can do. Warhol said you keep making the same mistakes over and over and then slowly you realize that’s your work. Perhaps part of the reason we collaborate is that it allows us each to escape some of our own limitations.
Daniel: I think those shared experiences are the aspect of design from which I derive the most satisfaction. The relationships often mean more to me than the final outcome.
Michael: But that carries with it another kind of fear: the fear of losing yourself. It’s so rare that you can actually get to a point where you feel singular in your work. I don’t mean working alone but working without being derivative or referential, not tortured by reference…
Daniel: Is that a point where ego makes way for instinct or serendipity? I find it’s usually when you’re at your wit’s end – and it’s that one last thing. It might be just a small, overlooked gesture in a much larger process that you return to later and realize within it is contained a kernel of something…true.
Michael: There is a tension between ambition, focus and agency. There are all these different points of conflict between what’s personal and what’s communal, what’s shallow and what’s deep, what’s formal and what’s procedural.
Daniel: Is that something that you need to continually reassess so you don’t fall into the trap of just feeding the machine. Swim forward or sink?
Michael: You have to reassess all the time because the context changes so drastically. You are a citizen of the world at the moment – you could stay here, go back to Australia, or you could go somewhere else. You have flexibility – that’s what a Young Gun was after all wasn’t it, a free-floating agent that moved from town to town? Later you could become committed to a place so then things change again: In the Westerns that was always represented by the lonely widow holding down the ranch.
Daniel: And you’re saying it’s the same with design.
Michael: Rem (Koolhaas) has a quote in the beginning of the of the Charrette book: “Architecture is monstrous in the sense that it constantly pushes you to a series of either/or decisions.” In design, as soon as you make a decision, that plays out into the future, a whole series of possibilities are now no longer on the table and you are going to have to invest in different ones, and you cant go back on the decisions because the weight of the project prevents it.
Daniel: That’s life, right?
Michael: Yeah I would say that is exactly like life – I think that’s why I have always liked the beginning parts of the design process more than the end of it. I always loved the first month – everything’s open, you can talk about anything, and then all these limitations come cascading down.
Daniel: But there is never an absolute solution, the work simply iterates until its made public, in the end the outcome is as much defined by it’s constraints as it’s opportunities. Then you start on the next thing and it all starts over again.
“It’s hard to tell when you are in the thick of it whether it is a revolution or an evolution, whether you are going forward or not.”
Michael: True but there are different magnitudes. Some projects really change you – getting back to your simultaneous fear of change and creative stasis – others are just small steps forward (or back!). That happens in culture too. The first iPhone was radically disruptive, the fifth iteration simply a refinement. And it’s hard to tell when you are the thick of it whether it is a revolution or an evolution, whether you are going forward or not.
Daniel: I think this whole conversation can probably be boiled down to the definition of, and the resistance to, constraints. How do you recognize the edge of your self, your community, your expertise, your profession.
Michael: All of those things are choices, some you have more agency in, and some less, but they basically define how you see the world and how you see your practice. So you set out an agenda and then you fake it till you make it… and then all of a sudden you are that, and then you look back and think, as David Byrne would say: My God how did I get here?
Daniel: So in faking you are embracing vulnerability, and stepping into the unknown?
Michael: Yes, you invest a kind of hopeful belief in something and then it ether happens or it doesn’t happen.
Daniel: So we’ve come full circle. It’s just that some fear the unknown, others fear the familiar. Both are a form of self imposed constraint and how you interact with these defines you and your practice.
Michael: You take as a fait accompli that pushing out and trying to break through your constraints is inherently a good thing, a value shared by everyone. I think that is, in fact, very much you and that it is important to figure out what is driving that desire. (Back on the couch again!). What is driven from the exterior and what is driven from within. The desire to pull up roots in Melbourne and come to America and start something new is elemental to your world view. That starts to define you…its your brand.