Artist and writer Jenny Odell speaks about the role of design and observation in a fully virtual commencement ceremony for Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
Hi, everyone. I'm speaking to you from my apartment in Oakland, though I've virtually placed myself in the rose garden nearby.
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 28, 2020, bounded by the abnormal conditions of a global pandemic, she joined graduates and their guests in a fully virtual commencement ceremony. Framed by a Zoom background of a rose garden, she spoke to an audience she could not see about the role of design in a suspended moment marked by uncertainty. Odell's message, itself a timely reflection on observation, embraces the standstill and its potential to deepen our individual and collective attention and our 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.
Jenny Odell is a multi-disciplinary artist and writer based in Oakland, California.
“My work generally involves acts of close observation, whether it's birdwatching, collecting screen shots, or trying to parse bizarre forms of e-commerce. In one of my favorite projects, I created The Bureau of Suspended Objects, a searchable online archive of 200 objects salvaged from the San Francisco dump, each with photographs and painstaking research into its material, corporate, and manufacturing histories. I am compelled by the ways in which attention (or lack thereof) leads to consequential shifts in perception at the level of the everyday.”—Jenny Odell