Muriel Cooper (1925-1994) was my advisor when I was a graduate student at her Visible Language Workshop at the MIT Media Lab. It was an experience that profoundly influenced the way I work and approach the the world. It’s not easy to describe, so instead these these quotes of hers may start to give a sense of her spirit and approach:
“The shift from a mechanical to an information society demands new communication processes, new visual and verbal languages, and new relationships of education, practice and production.”
“If you look at the computer as an environment in which you do multiple tasks, and which is ubiquitous in your life, then it’s even more important that this personalization and configurability take place.”
“We hope to make the tools and to use them.”
“This stands as a sketch for the future.”
“There is still no magic way — but we propose to keep working at it.”
And so I was super-excited to see her work celebrated in the recent exhibit at Columbia University, Messages and Means: Muriel Cooper at MIT. The exhibit ran February 25 – March 28, 2014 in the Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery and was curated by David Reinfurt and Robert Wiesenberger. (UPDATE: The show has been extended to April 17!)
Muriel has long been considered a pioneer and revolutionary as design moved into the digital era. But her work hasn’t been shown very much. She wasn’t especially interested in publicity, and, over time her digital work became harder to restore and present. So it’s great to see a renewed interest in her work. (There is the promise of a book from MIT Press in 2016!) And it’s really interesting to see the range of work she did over her entire career.
I figured this would be a good time to share a handful of images and links — some old, some new — about Muriel and her work. They’re a testament to her legacy and unique spirit. And a call for more of the exploration and experimentation that she championed.
- This Stands As A Sketch For The Future: Muriel Cooper’s Messages and Means – Art in America interviews the exhibits curators. There are some really interesting insights about how her “isolation” from professional practice allowed her to really invent a new type of design.
- Graphics and New Technology. Audio of a slide talk by Muriel from 1981. She starts by talking about her career path and then explains some of the work then being done at the VLW. (free iTunes link)
- messagesandmeans.com is the exhibit’s Tumblr site, with lots of great images.
- MIT Design Services — take a look at this Google image search to see Muriel’s legacy at MIT. (source)
- Conversation with Ellen Lupton, May 7, 1994. Transcript of an interview just before Muriel passed away.
- Before curating this show, David Reinfurt researched Muriel and wrote This stands as a sketch for the future as part of a one-year Research Affiliate position at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual studies. There’s also a great video of him presenting his work, and sharing images and anecdotes of his research.
- An animated GIF – promoting the exhibition, in the style of the VLW’s later work.
- I’ve posted about Muriel before. Muriel Cooper: Information Landscapes includes a video of the groundbreaking work that Muriel presented at TED5. And Happy Birthday Media Lab features images from the Media Lab’s 5th anniversary book, created by Muriel Cooper and David Small (and was included in the Messages and Means exhibit).
(Know of other stuff to include on this list? Let me know and I’ll add it.)