A hopeful meditation on how periods of inactivity become reimagined as fertile spaces for design and how we might use this strange moment in history.
“Hi, everyone. I'm speaking to you from my apartment in Oakland, though I've virtually placed myself in the rose garden nearby.”
Artist and writer Jenny Odell hadn't originally planned to deliver the Harvard University Graduate School of Design's 2020 Class Day Address from her living room. But on May 25, 2020, there was Jenny, framed by a rose garden in her Zoom background, speaking to an audience she could not see about the role of design in a suspended moment marked by uncertainty in a global pandemic. Odell's message, itself a timely reflection on observation, embraces the standstill and its potential to deepen and expand our individual and collective attention and sensitivity to time, place, and presence—in turn, perhaps, enabling us all, amid our “new” virtual contexts, to better connect with our natural and cultural environments.
Odell unspools this hopeful meditation in Inhabiting the Negative Space, where periods of inactivity become reimagined not as wasted time but fertile spaces for a kind of design predicated less on relentless production and more on permitting a deeper, more careful look at what exactly is demanding or tapping our time and attention, and how we might use this strange moment in history to respond.
Jenny Odell is an Oakland-based, multidisciplinary visual artist and writer whose work encourages close observation of the everyday. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, New York, the Paris Review, Sierra, and McSweeney's. Her New York Times bestselling book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, was published in 2019. Odell has taught studio art at Stanford University since 2013.