Ellen Mueller

Interview with Aggie Toppins

by Ellen Mueller on August 20, 2023, no comments

five Critical Theory Cocktail zine covers

Critical Theory Cocktails – Zines by Aggie Toppins

As part of the run up to the hardcover release of my book, Walking as Artistic Practice (softcover comes out in April!), I’m going to be publishing some brief interviews with the various artists, authors, researchers, creatives, collectives, and platforms whose art practice, written material, or other works I cite and mention.

First up is the talented Aggie Toppins, whose work I’ve been admiring for years. Toppins is a designer, writer, and educator. She is an Associate Professor of Communication Design and Chair of Undergraduate Design at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. Aggie’s work has been exhibited across the United States and published internationally. She is currently working on her first book, Thinking Through Graphic Design History: Challenging the Canon which will be released in 2025.

EM: First, thank you for chatting with me about your zine series, Critical Theory Cocktails. I cite your description of Walter Benjamin’s understanding of the flaneur in chapter one of Walking as Artistic Practice, “History of Walking as Artistic Practice,” in the subsection on “Thinkers and Walkers,” and your definition of phenomenology in chapter three, “Observational Walking,” in the subsection on “The Personal Experience.” How would you describe Critical Theory Cocktails for people who might not be familiar with it?

AT: Critical Theory Cocktails was a zine series I made for about five years. It was a side project that helped me be accountable to a rigorous practice of reading by translating what I understood from complex philosophical texts into cocktails recipes. I like projects that allow me to be generative while learning. I also like cocktails.

EM: What are your thoughts on walking as artistic practice?

AT: Creatively, I’m quite invested in ideas like the Situationist notion of the ‘drift’ or dérive, feminist psychogeography, and other practices that return our attentions to the material world. A large part of my studio output is committed to a collage-based image-making practice in which I gather materials that pass through my life while traveling or otherwise moving through public space. Walking reminds me that I’m a body in a fascinating and beautiful world, not just a worker attached to a screen. I make things in response to long walks, train rides, experiences with real places, real things, and real people all the time.

EM: You are also an author and designer; can you tell us about any recent or upcoming projects you are excited about?

AT: Yes, and thank you for asking. I have two exciting projects happening now. First, I’m in the process of finishing my first book, Thinking Through Graphic Design History, which will reach market in 2025. In it, I discuss the overlapping space between historical research and interpretation and applied design work. My interest in history is another influence in my studio practice. I mentioned my collage work previously. The process for this begins in my sketchbook, using the detritus of consumption, communication, and transportation (all aspects of what Marc Augé describes as the ‘non-place’). As fragments of experience, these ‘found graphics’ are essentially sources. I use them to interpret my world, like a historian might interpret the past. While this has personal provenance, I hope to engage viewers in an open-ended space of meaning. The fragments of a collage are signals from prior times and places, much like a document in an archive or an object in a museum. Following Benjamin, each fragment is a window into a world, not pieces of a unified whole, like a broken vase. The priority I place on sourcing, arranging, and curating indexical signs is a point of convergence between my scholarship and my studio practice. In October of this year, I’ll have my first national solo show, Two Halves of an Orange, at Paul Mesaros Galleries at West Virginia University. It’ll be a busy fall!

Walking Zines Now Available

by Ellen Mueller on August 18, 2023, no comments

This summer/fall, I’m putting together a few promotional events/workshops/talks to let folks know about the hardcover release of Walking as Artistic Practice. (Softcover comes out in April.)

At these workshops, I’m handing out a few free zines that include the exercise we’ll be doing and/or the topic we’ll be discussing (plus lots of illustrated examples). For those who can’t make the event, I’ve also posted them on my website for purchase:

“Value Studies” at The Phipps Center for the Arts

by Ellen Mueller on July 1, 2023, no comments

Promotional Postcard for The Phipps - July 2023

If you’re in the region, I hope you’ll join me for the first ever display of all five of my Value Studies pieces on view together in the Riverview Gallery. There will be several other exhibitions opening the same evening, so come by and check it out!

On view July 14-Sept 10, 2023
Reception: Friday, July 14, 2023 at 6:30-8:30pm
The Phipps Center for the Arts
109 Locust Street, Hudson WI 54016

What Happens at the Intersection of Conceptual Art and Teaching?

by Ellen Mueller on May 26, 2023, no comments

book titled 'What happens at the intersection of conceptual art and teaching?'

Photo Credit: Jorge Lucero

Delighted to be in this book; it has been a long, long time coming. At the beginning of the pandemic 39 artist-scholar-teachers from all over the world took up the question, “What Happens at the Intersection of Conceptual Art and Teaching?” in a live 6 hour and 10 minute zoomposium. Catalina Hernández Cabal and Jorge Lucero then got to work on the publication of all the work presented that night, and had the honor to edit and steer this project. All 100 images in the book were reinterpreted as graphite drawings by artist Lydia Ahn. Meeusontwerpt (graphic designers Janna and Hilde Meeus) beautifully designed the bookwork and the Lectoraat Kunsteducatie AHK published it!! And now it’s here for you to own.

four photos of the same book in different positions

Photo Credit: Jorge Lucero

With contributions by Emiel Heijnen and Melissa Bremmer, Dan Barney, Agnieszka Grodzinska, Ellen Mueller, Sam Rocha, Eunji Lee, Miriam Dolnick and Casey Murtaugh, Brian Black and Ryan Bullis, Nathan Shackelford, Heath Schultz, Kira Hegeman, Christina Hanawalt, Clark Goldsberry, Paulina Camacho, Angela Baldus, Allison Rowe, Lillian Lewis, Cala Coats, Mindi Rhoades and Brooke Hofses, Guen Montgomery, Sue Uhlig, Kaleb Ostraff, Ross Schlemmer, Albert Stabler, Alice Costas, Dennis Helsel, Rachel L.S. Harper, Elissa Rashkin, Nicole Marroquín, Catalina Hernandez Cabal and Natalia Espinel, Ross Roadruck, Fredric Gunve, Anne Thulson, Sam Peck, and Stephanie Springgay. (see Instagram links for contributers below)

Order yours today!

@emielheijnen @danieltbarney @ellenmmueller @samrochadotcom @mimsdolni @brianblack_art_teacher @nshack @heathschultz1 @kirahegeman @christinahanawalt @clarkgoldsberry @paucamval @angelainezbaldus @allisonvrowe @lllewis_art @cala3 @mindi.rhoades @brookehofsess @guenstagram @sueuhlig @kostraff @kcurdaor_ssor @institutionalmodel @ms.alice.eleni.c @helseldennis @rachel_l_s_harper @nmarroq @catalinahc87 @nat_espinel @fredricgunve @annethulson @speckx @radicalcamping @bryrian @rabulis