Writing

Meg Miller

writer & editor, Berlin & New York

[email protected]

A few selections:

Algorithmic Apparitions The Broadcast essay 2021

For several years, Aarati Akkapeddi has been collecting hundreds of photos from family members, scanning them, and sorting them—a process combining both automation and manual labor—then training a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) on them to produce a composite of each person’s digital likeness. Inputting several decades’ worth of photos of their mother, for instance, results in a morphing portrait that bears a striking resemblance to the subject, while still seeming to search for her features. Fuzzy and unfixed, a spectre more familiar than accurate, the composite image looks uncannily close to how memory feels.

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Jennifer Kim’s alternative economy Mold magazine column 2021

After closing her Chicago restaurant Passerotto near the start of the pandemic, chef Jennifer Kim started thinking more about the informal economy running alongside and underneath the traditional hospitality industry. In a notoriously mercurial industry where wages are low and health care and other benefits are not usually offered, many restaurant workers have found other ways of supplementing their income. “The really wonderful thing about the service industry is that it is comprised not just of people who are really phenomenal at their jobs, but people who are also artists, writers, designers, printers, makers, organizers, and just overall creative geniuses,” says Kim. Furloughed, laid off, or not willing to risk their safety and the safety of others during the pandemic, many hospitality workers found themselves relying on their “side hustles” as a main source of income. Kim’s platform Alt Economy is a shape shifting community effort to sustain the businesses of former hospitality workers who are choosing not to return to the industry and work for themselves instead.

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Introduction to the Are.na Annual Too Are.na essay 2021

Before I left New York, one thing I already missed were the subway machines. Or not the machines exactly, but the way that, after the card ejects, no one waits around for the screen asking if you want a receipt. The next person in line presses “no” for you. In the sentimental state of proto-nostalgia that often accompanies moving, it felt like an act of tenderness. Here we all were, rejecting one anothers’ receipts, taking up a task neglected, assured that someone else would do the same for us, keeping the city commute apace. When I arrived in Berlin, I found something similar in the grocery store lines, where conveyor belt dividers are passed back like batons in a relay. These coordinated acts of kindness amass a kind of muscle memory on a municipal scale: the choreography of a city, a tending to place.

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Communicating over distance, grounded in place Mold magazine column 2021

In lieu of indoor dining, restaurants have been selling everything from food products and pantry items to tote bags, T-shirts, and naturally dyed masks. For the restaurants, products provide a much-needed additional source of revenue, and for customers, they allow for a show of support both monetary and symbolic. It’s been cool to see it applied in all these new and unexpected ways, used to signal solidarity and a sense of belonging to a community, but at the same time, the need to move to e-commerce and online experience has created further disparity within the restaurant industry, between those who have access to design resources and those who don’t.

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Interview with Soft Protest Digest Mold magazine interview 2021

For Mold’s Urban Ecologies series, I interviewed the Soft Protest Digest, a research collective founded by Nickie Sigurdsson, Robin Bantigny, and Jérémie Rentien Lando. For the past two years, they’ve been developing “environmentally and culturally resilient” dishes that take into account both the environmental footprint of the ingredients and the food’s cultural resonance. With each of their projects, The Soft Protest Digest shows how a sense of place and connection to the local is essential for forming new food traditions, and why forming new food traditions is so necessary in our current climate crisis.

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Karen Blixen’s Flowers Are.na essay 2021

Karen Blixen was a baroness and a Danish author best known for her books Seven Gothic Tales, Out of Africa, and Babette’s Feast. She wrote under the pen name Isak Dinesen, wore ornamental hats and giant fur coats, and was one of the 20th century’s most essential authors, per Margaret Atwood. She was also, apparently, a gardener, as well as a talented, intuitive, somewhat unhinged arranger of flowers.

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Comestible symbols of redlining Mold magazine column 2021

Interdisciplinary creative Krystal Mack created the publication PalatePALETTE as a love letter to Baltimore’s foodways, and an illustration of the interconnectedness of the city’s food sovereignty initiatives. The beautifully designed broadsheet makes the case that a more accessible and healthier food system lies in the fact that Baltimore’s efforts towards abolishing food apartheid are in dialogue with each other, a community necessary to take on a history of structural racism embedded in the built environment and the food web.

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Aarati Akkapeddi’s memory work The New York Times feature 2021

A piece for the "Surfacing" column at the Times on artist Aarati Akkapeddi’s work "I know if I walked in your footsteps, it would become a ritual," a series of machine-generated images of their mom, Sudha Akkapeddi. The images are deeply saturated and slid softly out of focus, more painterly than photographic, with a haziness that hints at the elusiveness of memory. I love this memory work that Aarati is doing with GANs, which they relate to the process of remembering—in each case, it's an approximation.

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On graphic design and local food ecologies Mold magazine column 2021

The first installment of a column for Mold magazine on the ways graphic design can help support local restaurants, establish deeper roots for food sovereignty, and nourish local food ecologies. This one is mainly just an overview of the main idea for the column and what's to come:

As a design and visual culture writer, I’ve been following with interest the ways restaurant workers (in many cases, still the ‘who’) and designers are using aesthetics and graphic design to sustain restaurants during such a massive upheaval. I’ve also been interested in how our relationships to food more broadly is changing, and I think strengthening, while we’re more or less stuck in place in our homes and kitchens and in our local communities. We’ve seen neighborhood-led initiatives fighting food insecurity, fundraising efforts for local restaurants, an increased interest in growing our own food, community gardens and land trusts. To me, this signals that alternative systems for living together are emerging out of the wreckage of a global pandemic, built on nourishment, sustainability, and care. These are new models and concepts for many people, at the very least they’ve been made new by circumstance, and visuality helps aid our understanding of them. Design allows us to communicate with each other as we build and expand these concepts, even while kept apart.

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When language is built, not written Eye on Design feature 2021

In 1967, Robert Smithson wrote in a press release for an exhibition of language-based art (which he famously described as consisting of “Language to be Looked at and/or Things to be Read”) at the Dwan Gallery in New York, “Here language is built up, not written.” Art that dismantles language, isolates it from its meaning, and treats it as object has proliferated ever since. In a non-comprehensive survey of artists who work with typography, I explore how with these works we can defamiliarize ourselves with how language is made and used, and lose ourselves in the letters and the expressive possibilities of language and the many ways it can live in the world.

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Interview with Benedetta Crippa Eye on Design interview 2020

Intrigued by the title of the course she teaches at Konstfack University, “Quantum Thinking: Sustainability in and Through Visuality,” I reached out to Benedetta Crippa to talk about a session I was planning around ecology and design for the AIGA Design Conference. I wanted to ask her about a term I’d seen her use for her course: visual sustainability. She explained that it was her way of thinking about how graphic design can be sustainable, not just through its messaging or materiality, but through its form. She started the course because she’d witnessed fellow designers struggling to reconcile a commitment to sustainability with the demands of their chosen profession. But for Crippa, visual design is crucial to sustainable co-existence, not a claim I’d heard many designers make—so I sat down with her for a conversation at the conference. This is a transcription of our talk.

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Interview with Christoph Knoth and Konrad Renner Lerchenfeld interview 2020

For HFBK Hamburg’s Lerchenfeld magazine, an interview with designers Christoph Knoth and Konrad Renner of Knoth & Renner about digital publishing, the handmade web, the unlikely endurance of the PDF, and websites that replicate, then disappear.

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Introduction to the Are.na Annual Are.na essay 2020

The introduction to the Are.na Annual, a book about the past, present, and future of the Internet, with republished pieces from the Are.na blog and five original essays. Published in January 2020.

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On social networks as small communities Eye on Design feature 2020

On the possibility of individual-run, small-scale social networks, off of Darius Kazemi’s excellent guide “Run Your Own Social.” At a time when large swaths of the internet are owned by corporations, a community of artists and designers are encouraging people to create their own social networks for their friends, run on their own server, free of advertising and data mining. As Danielle Robinson, director of Code for Science & Society, puts it in the piece, “I think there are often projects that assume that everyone is okay with having their data live on an Amazon data center somewhere, and that’s increasingly not the case.”

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On The New Women’s Survival Catalog The New York Times feature 2020

In 1973, Kirsten Grimstad and Susan Rennie quit their jobs, rented a green Plymouth Duster, and drove 12,000 miles across the country to document a nationwide network of feminist alternative culture and resources. They visited feminist bookstores, printers, divorce co-ops, credit unions, dropped in on Rita Mae Brown and Judy Chicago, and in one case, tracked down an agriculture collective in California by asking around for the “women goat farmers with an octagonal barn.” The result is The New Woman’s Survival Catalog, the “feminist Whole Earth Catalog,” which was a bestseller in 1973 that all but disappeared before getting a recent reissue.

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Anna Della Subin on the Importance of Being Idle The Creative Independent interview 2019

A talk with writer Anna Della Subin on the virtues of idleness, procrastination as its own form of productivity, and the mythological power of sleep.

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Prem Krishnamurthy on Design as a “Generous Discipline” Eye on Design interview 2019

“On the one hand, we often approach art in terms of authorship. But graphic design is inherently a facilitating medium, in how it works relationally and socially. It is collaborative. Almost any piece of graphic design requires multiple agents involved in it. So rather than approaching graphic design in terms of “problem solving” or “functionality,” which are by now pretty outdated frameworks, how might graphic design work as a kind of positive excess?”

I talk to designer, artist, and curator Prem Krishnamurthy about design as a thing that unfolds over time, his admiration for those who "contribute to the ecosystem," and his predilection for word play.

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Restaurant Websites Are Good and We’re All Going to Miss Them Are.na interview 2019

An interview with Toph Tucker and Jasmine Lee on restaurant websites as the last bastions of personality on the web, the tyranny and possibility of Squarespace, and the unseen labor of restaurant webmasters. Conducted with Laurel Schwulst as the part of a series of interviews hosted in our kitchen. H/t to Leo Shaw for the descriptors.

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On Flying, Talismanic Tarmacs, and Soul Delay Are.na essay 2019

And the tarmac is temple of accidental deity, travel as a soulless state.

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Interview with April Greiman Eye on Design interview 2018

A longform interview with April Greiman, the designer who defined California New Wave, advocated for digital design early on, and created the poster/ publication “Does It Make Sense?,” a personal favorite.

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Interview with Claire Evans Are.na interview 2018

An interview with journalist and musician Claire Evans on her book Broad Band, how “female mental labor was the original information technology,” why women are often early adopters, and hypertext as narrative form.

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Sheila Levrant de Bretteville Riposte feature 2018

“I’m much more a connector than a resistor. But when push comes to shove, I’m definitely a resistor.” A visit to the circular home of Sheila Levrant de Bretteville to talk about the Woman's Building in L.A., the shortcomings of the second wave, and design pedagogy seeped in activism. For Riposte magazine in London.

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Spelling Spelling The Serving Library essay 2018

An essay for The Serving Library’s Translation issue on the 19th century attempt to create a universal language by Alexander Melville Bell and the resulting alphabet of cryptic, otherworldly symbols codifying the articulation of speech sounds. Also includes: the Blue Ridge Mountains, Fran Ross’ Oreo, the placelessness of written speech, and the commendable effort to translate all the various "shades of sound."

From the Google books scan of *Visible Speech: The Science of Universal Alphabetics* by Alexander Melville Bell...

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On grids, graphs, and reigning in the chaos Quartz essay 2017

An essay for Quartz about the origins of graph paper—which sounds kind of boring until you think about how much of the world we order into tiny squares, from pixels to prison cells to the longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates.

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Interview with Rachel Rosenfelt Are.na interview 2017

"When people think the stakes are high, they’re like ‘How could you have the conceit to start a magazine and act like it’s real?’ and I’m like ‘No, but no magazines are real!’"

An interview for the Are.na blog with Rachel Rosenfelt, founder of The New Inquiry, on what it means to run an Internet magazine versus a magazine 'that you put on the Internet.'

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Maintenance as Art Are.na essay 2017

For the Are.na blog, an essay on Merle Laderman Ukeles, who was an artist-and-resident at New York City’s Department of Sanitation for three decades, on how her work drew a parallel between private domestic work and low-paying public maintenance work. Her Work Ballets, in which excavators, dump trucks, and street sweepers become graceful beings, bowing to commune with the ground, regarding each other curiously, or weaving in-between each other in a choreographed street dance, are some of my favorite pieces of art ever.

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On Seeing and Being Seen Eye on Design Essay 2017

For Eye on Design issue one, themed Invisible, an essay on Alvin Lustig, who designed blind in his last years of life, and Elaine Lustig Cohen, who served as his eyes and hands before becoming a well-known designer in her own right. “I always say that either I would have remained this shy, unproductive person, or I would have grown up and divorced [Alvin] if he hadn’t died. I don’t know, because the person that I became would have never put up with what I was doing. But we’ll never know.”

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The Best Female Characters Come From Books The Atlantic feature 2016

For The Atlantic, an article that explores how the representation of women in books and films is effected by the gender makeup of the industries that produce them.

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