Students Respond to MoMA’s Design and Violence Site

Design&ViolenceViolence and Virtue: Artemisia Gentileschi’s “Judith Slaying Holofernes” Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Inspired by the Museum of Modern Art’s experimental web exhibition Design and Violence, students in Susan Yelavich’s “Design Fictions” course spent the last weeks of the fall semester discussing and responding to the fictions and facts of violence.  Among other things, they debated whether design is by nature violent and the efficacy of addressing violence through critical design in the context of a museum’s blog. 

For the site, co-curators Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of Design and Jamer Hunt, director of Parsons’ MFA Transdisciplinary Design program, selected artifacts variously designed to “hack/infect, constrain, stun, penetrate, manipulate/control, intimidate, and explode.”  Among the pieces chosen are the infamous 3-D printed “Liberator” gun, a generic box-cutter, stiletto heels, and a fragrance designed from cage fighters’ sweat.  Experts the likes of Mabel Wilson, Camille Paglia, John Hockenberry, and Rob Walker offer their ruminations on one specific object. (Full disclosure, Yelavich herself is one of the commentators; see here.) Now those expert observations are stimulating a lively public conversation, which the following Parsons graduate students are part of:

Violence (Cage fighter scent)

Jessica Kisner, MS Design and Urban Ecologies
Megan Adamo, MA History of Decorative Arts and Design
Komal Sharma, MA Design Studies


Juan Pablo Pemberty, MA Design Studies
Miriam Feldman, MA Fashion Studies
Audrey Sutton, MA History of Decorative Arts and Design
Yoko Wang, MA Design Studies

Guardian Angel Bag

Miriam Feldman, MA Fashion Studies
Meghan Adamo, MA History of Decorative Arts and Design
Yoko Wang, MA Design Studies

Million Dollar Blocks

James Laslavic, MA Design Studies
Veronica Uribe, MA Design Studies

5 Classified Aircraft

Audrey Sutton, MA History of Decorative Arts and Design

Liberator Gun

James Laslavic, MA Design Studies
Veronica Uribe, MA Design Studies

Merrick Lamp

Komal Sharma, MA Design Studies

In addition, with the suggestions from the class, Synne Borgen, MA Liberal Studies, compiled an annotated bibliography on the subject of violence generally, as well as on design and violence, per se, included here, below.   The hope is that this very subjective and limited list of readings will be amplified over time and become a resource for students and scholars.

Susan Yelavich



Concepts of Violence

Arendt, Hannah (1970), On Violence, Orlando: Harcourt Brace Javanovich.
An analysis of the nature, causes, and significance of violence in the second half of the twentieth century. Arendt also reexamines the relationship between war, politics, violence, and power.

Psychology and Violence

Feldman, Stanley & Karen Stenner (1997), “Perceived Threat and Authoritarianism” in Political Psychology, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 741-770.
An individual-level analysis of the relationship between authoritarianism and societal threat.

Fashion & Violence

Steele, Valerie (2001), The Corset: A Cultural History, Yale University Press.
A history of the corset, exploring the complex gender politics surrounding the corset controversies of the past.

Summers, Leigh (2003), Bound to Please: A History of the Victorian Corset, Oxford: Berg Publishers.
The author examines the role of corsetry in the minds and lives of Victorian women, and argues that the garment was an important element in constructing middle-class women as psychologically submissive subjects.

Cities & Violence

Davis, Diane (2012), “Modernist Planning and the Foundations of Urban Violence,” lecture held at Open House at the Graduate School of Design (Harvard), (video:
A lecture on the relationship between urban planning and violence in South American cities, arguing that the built environment can enhance or mitigate violence, especially in cities where populations are divided on lines of ethnicity and race.

Vale, Lawrence J. (2013), Purging the Poorest: Public Housing and the Design Politics of Twice-Cleared Communities, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
A history about two of America’s most famous public housing projects: Chicago’s Cabrini-Green and Atlanta’s Techwood /Clark Howell Homes. Vale introduces the concept of design politics to show how architecture and urbanism are connected to policy.

Space & Violence

Blomley, Nicholas (1994), Law, Space, and the Geography of Violence, New York: The Guilford Press.
Blomley argues that space and law are relevant to the deployment of power and the structuring of social life.

Bailey, Kent G., John J. Hartnett & Frank W. Gibson Jr. (1972), “Implied Threat and the Territorial Factor in Personal Space” in Psychological Reports, no. 30, pp. 263-270.
A study on how individuals protect body territory and personal space when under perceived threat.

Crampton, Jeremy W. (2010), Mapping: A critical Introduction to Cartography and GIS. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.
The author discusses the critical role that Geographic Information Systems and cartography play in the study og geography and a wide range of disciplines by exploring topics such as race and identity, the politics of GIS, the mapping of cyberspace and surveillance.

Draper, Robert (2012), “The League of Dangerous Mapmaking” in The Atlantic, (
An article exploring how gerrymandering is making democracy less democratic and causing a more divisive political atmosphere.

Architecture & Violence

Boyd, Gary A. & Denis Linehan (eds). (2013), Ordnance: War + Architecture & Space, Farnham: Ashgate Publishing.
A collection of case studies that investigate how strategies of warfare occupy and alter built and other landscapes, ranging across the modern period from the eighteenth century to the present.

Lambert, Leopold (2013), Weaponized Architecture: The Impossibility of Innocence, Barcelona: DPR-Barcelona.
A project proposal that dramatizes, through its architecture, a Palestinian disobedience to the colonial legislation imposed on its legal territory.

Pachirat, Timothy (2011), Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight, New Haven, London: Yale University Press.
An ethnographic study of the kill floor in a slaughterhouse exploring society’s distancing mechanisms in relation to violence. The author argues that we as a society hide away what we don’t want to know, such as industrialized slaughter.

Wener, Richard (2012), The Environmental Psychology of Prisons and Jails: Creating Humane Spaces in Secure Settings, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
A discussion of how the designs of jails and prison environments can affect tension and violence, and more broadly of how environments affect behavior.

Media & Violence

Beever, Jonathan (2011), “Symbolic Violence as Subtle Virulence: The Philosophy of Terrorism” at the Purdie University conference Proceedings: Revisioning Terrorism, Purdue University Press ePub. (
The author explores Baudrillard’s conception of symbolic violence as the virulence of signs, and argues that semiotically virulent violence is endemic to terrorism.

Caldwell, John T. (1995), Televisuality: Style, Crisis and Authority in American Television, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
An examination of how technologies are tied to aesthetics and ideology in network television in the 1990s. One theme is how violent news coverage is stylistically packaged to fit into prime time news broadcasts.

COLORS Magazine (1991-1995), Issues 1- 12, editor-in-chief, Tibor Kalman (
COLORS Magazine describes itself as magazine about the rest of the world. Each issue explores a theme such as “AIDS” or “religion” through photography, graphic design and typography.

Cramsie, Patrick, (2010), “The Simple Art of War” in The Story of Graphic Design from the Invention of Writing to the Birth of Digital Design, New York: Abrams.
This chapter in a book that covers the history of graphic design deals with the sachplakat & First World War graphics.

McCarron, Carolyn (2003), “Expelling School Violence: Visual Communications as a Catalyst for Change” in Steven Heller & Veronique Vienne (eds.), Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility, New York: Constable & Robinson.
The author argues that the media expertise of designers and visual communication have the power to change perceptions among kids and bring an end to school violence. The very same vehicles of media that helped escalate violence in teens can be used to diminish it.

Penzel, Fred, “How I Treat OCD Killer Thoughts: Treating Violent Obsessions” on International OCD Foundation website ( ).
An article about how violent images affect people with OCD.  

Potter, W. J. & Tami K. Tomasello (2003), “Building Upon the Experimental Design in Media Violence Research: The Importance of Including Receiver Interpretations” in Journal of Communication, vol. 53, no. 2, pp. 315–329.
The authors argue that the inclusion of viewer interpretation in experimental design and analysis procedures can greatly increase the methodology’s ability to explain variance.

McKinney, Devin (1993), “Violence: The Strong and the Weak” in Film Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 4, pp. 16-22.
A defense of the use of violence in movies through an analysis of the emotional effect it has on the viewer. McKinney distinguishes between strong violence, a realist depiction of violence which makes the viewer question his or her moral positioning, and weak violence, which does not engage the viewer emotionally.

Van Shaack, Eric (2009), “The Division of Pictorial Publicity in World War I” in Hazel Clark & David E. Brody (eds.), Design Studies: A Reader, Bloomsbury Academic.
The author examines the use of visual arts as war propaganda by the US government during the First World War.

Products/Objects & Violence

Davies, Colin, “Design, Violence and Subjectivity” in Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 3 Issue 6, pp.83-88.
A paper seeking to establish a critical language outside of anti-consumerist discourse in which to talk about design as a dynamic actor in the mediation between itself and audience. It does this through investigating violence and its relationship with the materiality of the object.

Davies, Colin & Monika Parrinder (2006), “Design Under the Gun” in I-D International Design Magazine, May 2006, pp. 92-99.
An article exploring product desigm after September 11th, questioning whether a new aesthetic of violence had taken root.

Harwood, John (2008), “The Wound Man: George Nelson on the “End of Architecture” in Grey Room 32, pp. 90-115 (
An essay on the designer George Nelson and the ways in which he explored themes of violence and warfare in his design.

Stones, John (2009), “Incendiary Devices” in Hazel Clark & David E. Brody (eds.), Design Studies: A Reader, Bloomsbury Academic.
The author cautions designers against making explicit political comments as exploiting victims or paraphernalia of war and poverty could have dramatic consequences.

Wintemute, Garen J. (1996), “The Relationship Between Firearm Design and Firearm Violence: Handguns in the 1990s” in Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 257, no. 22, pp. 1749-1753.
An article arguing that, just as motor vehicle deaths have been reduced because of a greater emphasis on safety in the design and marketing of cars, injuries from firearms could be reduced through the same object-oriented focus.

Art & Violence

Nelson, Maggie (2011), The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning, London, New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
A book-length essay exploring the use of violence in art. Nelson asks whether, after the avant-garde, and in a media and news landscape saturated with violence, torture and war, there is still a regenerative or revolutionary power to be found in spectacles of violence.

Sheehan, Paul (2013), Modernism and the Aesthetics of Violence, New York: Cambridge University Press.
A history of the modernist fascination with violence. Sheehan argues that a nineteenth century interest in aesthetics and transgression transforms into an admiration for destruction, a transformation in which the First World War played a major role.

Silverman, Debora L. (2011) “Art Nouveau, Art of Darkness: African Lineages of Belgian Modernism” in West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture, Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 139-181
An article arguing that Belgian Art Nouveau is an expression of “imperial modernism” in which stylistic forms of modernism communicates a displaced encounter with a distant but intruding imperial violence.

Body & Violence

CIA (1983) Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual. (can be found on:
CIA’s manual for how to get information from unwilling informants through psychological and physical torture.

Clarke, Julie (2000), “The Sacrificial Body of Orlan” in Mike Featherstone (ed.), Body Modifications, London, Thousand Oaks, New Dehli: SAGE Publications.
An article about how performance artist Orlan explored Western standards of beauty through body modification.

Itzin, Catherine (ed). (1992), Pornography: women, violence, and civil liberties, New York: Oxford University Press.
A collection of essays examining the possible causal links between pornography and sexual violence.

Scarry, Elaine (1987), The Body in Pain, New York: Oxford University Press.
Scarry shows the interconnectedness between an indifferent, often violent natural world, design/ designers as someone who mediates between that indifferent nature and a fragile/”hurtable” human being.


Druka, Lizete (2012), Violence and Design, (
A topography of anger exploring how negative emotions can be used in design.

Glithero, Burn Burn Burn, (
A video of a flame dancing over the surface of a kitchen, exploring how the destructive action is the reaction.

Mindich, Jessica, Caliber Collection, (
Jewelry designer Mindich uses guns from Newark’s gun buyback program and makes dainty bracelets with them. 

Reyes, Pedro (2008), Palas por Pistolas (
Artist Reyes’s social artwork in which he asks people to donate their guns in order to be melted into steel and used to make shovels for tree planting. 

Additional texts:

Caroline Evans and Minna Thornton, “Fashion, Representation, Femininity,” Feminist Review, No. 38 (Summer, 1991), pp. 48-66

Axe, David. “Army Eyes Invisibility Cloak.” Wired Magazine. (accessed November 19, 2013).

“Case Study of Tavor Rifle.” Versia Military Design. (accessed November 19, 2013).

Hopper, Tristin. “‘Antirape’ underwear stirs up storm of controversy online.” National Post. (accessed November 19, 2013).

Shachtman, Noah (2007), “Shoot Through, Invisible, Self Healing Shields: Darpa Goal” in Wired Magazine (

An article on Pentagon’s development of an armor made of metamaterials.

“Sustainable Military Earthworks.” National Parks Service. (accessed November 19, 2013).

1. Make food not war! Vegetable Weapon by Tsuyoshi Ozawa.

Photographer’s website (project link)

2. “Soft Guerilla” Recreates Weapons with Harmless, Humorous Materials.

3. Explosive! Spectacular Pictures of the Moment a Bullet Shatters Food.

4. Bananas: the next deadly weapon?


6. The Real Weapon of Mass Destruction – Acidic Food and Drink!

7. “Playing with food was never been so RIGHT!”

8. GeekLife: Help Smosh!

9. Airborne Acorn & Golden Bantam Bomb.




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