Straining Letters into Noise

project cooperative speech stories

a writing and critical inquiry course for art and design students, developed at Virginia Commonwealth University’s department of Graphic Design.


Straining Letters into Noise, a course developed by Kimi Hanauer at VCU’s Department of Graphic Design, invites students into a collective space where writing, research, and study act as vehicles for process-driven critical inquiry, artistic experimentation, and self-understanding. Utilizing artistic approaches to academic research, we will work to surface and develop our innermost voices: those voices that have been obscured by the stories that we tell ourselves in order to live and bound up in languages and frames of thought that undo us from ourselves. We will form those voices into speech, unabashedly announcing the noise of our being.

Our weekly sessions will be anchored by a collection of feminist, queer, abolitionist, anti-capitalist, anarchist, and critical theory texts, expansively defined. We will explore these works alongside contemporary artists, designers, and writers whose practices have been shaped by these lineages. The collection of materials we will engage center personal life experiences as a ground through which our political frameworks may emerge. We will learn about people’s unique stories through their own words. Similarly, our class discussions, workshops, and assignments center your embodied and lived knowledges as critical insights into your thesis inquiries. Ultimately, this course will guide you in deepening your understanding of and articulating a discussion around your thesis body of work.

The purpose of our collective study is to free ourselves and one another from systems and structures of domination. This course offers us the opportunity to deepen our relationships as we deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. The materials gathered here are based on the understanding that critical theory and embodied forms of research can be essential tools for building more just, compassionate, liberated and equitable worlds. What is the purpose of our gathering together in this specific time and place? What are the specific conversations, insights, and knowledges that we can uniquely produce when we gather as a group?

In Fall 2021 and Fall 2022, while this course was taught at Virginia Commonwealth University's Department of Graphic Design, students collaboratively designed and developed two digital publications which housed projects created in response to our weekly readings and discussions.

Read and explore issue #1 created in Fall 2021 featuring works by Alice Steffler, Aliza Bucci, Allie Yang, Ana Zuniga, Brenae Flournoy, Elora Romo, Erin Christoph, Gabi Wood, Hannah Hartstein, Hiro Nishikawa, Jayce Nguyen, Lizzy Yoo, Luis Quintanilla, Nan He, Shannon Baker, Sophie Nguyen, and Sui Aoki.

Read and explore issue #2 created in Fall 2022 featuring works by Jenna Marbukh, Celia Ruley, Noel Foltz, Eliza Darnell, Julia Spewak, Lindsay O'Neill, Erin Crawford, Laila Errazzouki, Caroline Barry, Fiona McMichael, Madison Scharf, Kaya Windpainter, Alissa Barber, Jalen Burwell, Melissa Tran, Amanda Grate, and Jenn Bui.

Image descriptions are embedded.