Around The Body

Action to Surface
text on performative design

Rethinking the value of surface production in terms of performance

Imagine a graphic designer who shares selfies in front of a huge Heidelberg machine printing his poster. A stage full of minimalistic typographical props inhabited by improvising actors. A design student who runs a blog about his “designer’s life” instead of posting the results of his endeavour. They all have something in common – they are garnished by performance.

We might understand the performance as a capacity to transform the situation, to activate the audience. It’s an act with a unique and unpredictable result, something that couldn’t be easily mass‑produced. A chance bringing the unknown relations and outcomes is a key aspect –the sparkle– of performance. Anything can happen. Performances, as well as graphic design, are temporary and ephemeral, they exist and disappear in their eventness.*1

A great example is the oeuvre of Guy de Cointet. He was inspired by Duchamp and Warhol, fascinated by riddles, TV soap operas, cryptography and language. He delicately mixed these ingredients into staged performances. Semi-improvising actors discussed art surrounded by beautifully designed props, such as books, large single letters, posters and strange colourful objects. His work brings a special moment, where graphic design and performance meet and work equally alongside each other to affect the audience.

Performance among other specificities means also the capacity to execute an action, to do well. Paradoxically, performance can be understood in the capitalist view as a quality of a commodity, as well as an act of performing an artistic work. It is also a way of social construction of identity. Performance works with the tension between material, bodies and the ephemeral, between unexpectedness of creation and fragility of being. The process is brought to light as a new design material. Paradoxically, this process –act of performance– is capable of creating a work of art or a design object – a fetishized material memory. Despite that, performance practice is opposed to the production of an object*2.

What is interesting that on the contrary, the graphic design discipline has “flat object” in its centre, so it presents itself as a surface‑centric practice – the way of surface production. But analysing contemporary source the value of designers labour, it seems to be disconnected from the material result. So where does the value of design come from nowadays? To answer, we have to travel back where the design meets eventness.

Are you looking for an authentic experience? You won’t find it in your books and pdfs. And please, stop googling performance artists. A little exercise is something sensual you can experience yourself. Feel free to pick one of these examples:
Spend three nights by designing large tapestry. When it’s been installed, walk under it wearing a yellow raincoat with your laptop in your arms pretending you are still designing something. Write notes how do you feel at the moment;
Mark your action space – 2×2 meters square on the floor– and cover it with green keyable fabric. Invite friends to come and be your audience or co-performers (but don’t tell them what will happen). Wear an office suit and record yourself from above performing various business tasks. Later, key out the floor and change it for at least two of the listed designs: temple marble, light beige lino floor with burning candles, dark blue carpet with a labyrinth print or unknown brown fluid.

The hegemony of art-object was disrupted in 1960’s when the attention focused back to the ignored verbality and eventness. That was immediately discovered by graphic designers. For example, during these formative years, LA-based designer, activist and nun, Sister Corita Kent, dynamically appropriated the style of emerging consumerism and combined it with happenings to passionately spread the message of love and peace. The Performative Turn of 60’s indicated not only an art‑revolt, but also the birth of a new form of labour – general performance. That is, in other words, a “quasi‑theatrical self‑presentation”*3 where everybody does his/her job by performing it. It’s a continuous activity of trying to persuade others to believe in one’s character.

By adopting that form of post-Fordist immaterial labour, besides the known roles of graphic designers as producers of millions of surfaces*4, service providers, visual translators, researchers, autonomous creators and system engineers – they have appropriated the role of performers. That means although the typical result of graphic designer’s labour is surface, designers are increasingly involved in actions, happenings and events. Contemporary craft has to be presented together with a craftsman. The notion of a person performing craftsmanship is what makes the product valuable.

From another point of view, the viewer’s action is a key element in the re‑production of active surfaces*5. Surface evolution caused the design to be defined as the management and creation of virtual qualities bound to materials – multifunctional objects, gadgets which communicate and display information. Information which is no longer trapped in books, narratives and images, it rather circulates independently in networks.

Therefore in the age when most of the information no longer exist as a static media, but only as a process, connection, interaction or option. Designers –in Deleuzian terms– re‑territorialize*6 the representation through interactions. They talk more frequently about experience and event than the image or text. Graphic design is no longer limited as an object‑centric practice. The new value is hidden in the presence of its author and its eventness.



written by Tereza Ruller, The Rodina
for Progetto Grafico, Around the Body, issue 32 curated by Jonathan Pierini and Claude Marzotto,


1 O. Klimpel: The Visual Event, 2014
2 J.‑P. Cometti: Per/Form, 2014
3 S. Lutticken, E-Flux Journal # 31, 2012
4 A. Blauvelt in Graphic Design: Now in Production, 2011
5 Metahaven, White Night Before A Manifesto, 2010
6 G. Deleuze, F. Guattari, Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 1980

Participation (8), • Performance (13), • Research (12), • Text (6)

On Performative Design

Interviewed by Korean graphic designer Jungeun Lee, Tereza Ruller explains The Rodina’s performative approach within the graphic design.

Why do you include yourself in the designs? What does performative design offer your practice that more traditional design does not? How do you resolve the paradox between traditional design (static flatness) and performance? How important or what is the role of participation in your practice? What are the motivations that lead you to create graphic performance, both personally and politically?

Concept & Design
The Rodina

Tereza Ruller & Jungeun Lee

Chinonyeelu Amobi

Korean Translation
Jungeun Lee

Vit Ruller

for Performative Design Conference at Virginia Commonwealth University, USA


Art (18), • Performance (13), • Research (12), • Social (15), • Text (6)

The Mountain of Politics

This is the time of organised control, order and constant negotiation. Citizens are responsible for delivering their vote and feeding the hungry mechanism that gives legislators the power to hold public offices. Every now and then people gather in order to secretly express opinions. To transform disgust, complaining and comparing the act of voting to landing in a gooey clot of chewing gum we may ask: what if the ballot as a device casting votes becomes transparent?

Visitors of unseen are asked to juxtapose their votes. The participative event poses an urgent question: What could the process of making decisions be? Mountain of Politics becomes the display tracing participant’s decisions. Ephemeral statistics encourage a debate among people who have otherwise no reason to share or collaborate.

icw Jonathan Castro
commissioned by: UNSEEN & Self Publish Be Happy


Art (18), • Installation (8), • Participation (8), • Performance (13), • Research (12), • Social (15)

Abstract Portrait of the Crowd:
At the End I Became a Painter

Each of us might be seen as a walking cluster of data. Tereza grabbed textures of exhibition visitors’ faces and placed them it into a form. Different skin, eye and hair colours were mixed from more than 30 skin toned acrylics. The shape of each form was generated by 3d scan software that afterwards assembled new portrait –an abstract portrait of the crowd.

“Performing a painter as a designer gives me an opportunity to question the medium of painting.”

By being painted, each visitor became a participant of this performative act.

How does it feel to place colour into smudges, form a texture peppered with artistic vision? What is the character of the brush stroke? Is the last edge of the squirrel tail connected with the painter as a natural extension of his body? Can we see the object we are painting as a collection of data? Can painting as a medium become a tool for selective data-visualisation?

Painting is dead, let’s paint!

Ten Interventions Festival at Tique Art Space, Antwerp
curated by Welmer Keesmaat and Mr. Make-Do
typeface: Favorit by Dinamo


Art (18), • Data Visualization (8), • Exibition (9), • Participation (8), • Performance (13), • Portfolio (23), • Research (12), • Social (15)

Visitor is Present

Dear Visitor,

we are artists. We were used to painting big frescos and huge canvases for centuries. Not so long ago we discovered we are human beings with bodies. So we started to perform. Today we have large printers, we like selfies and we like you to be present in our artworks.

Tereza Ruller, Hieronymus Bosch
and Pieter Brueghel

In her work Tereza creates a surface to document her performances of H. Bosch’s and P. Bruegel’s complex paintings. Using her body, she renegotiates the relationship between historical canvases and contemporary self-performing culture. The audience is invited to create an environment for Tereza’s restaged figures. Historical allegories are transformed into a participative event. The overall image grows and changes over the time, as a sequence of visitor‘s interactions.

– go to Visitor is Present Mega Zoom website
– read MetropolisM article by Maaike Lauwaert

Curiosity Killed the Cat exhibition
at Het Nutshuis, Den Haag
curated by: Welmer Keesmaat




In this act, designer became a commander. Inspired by cavalry generals –during the loud sound of medieval battle– Tereza led the crowd to fill in a simple questionnaire.

ingredients: 25m2 participatory mood-form, motorbike, performing designer as a navigator, 4hrs long performance

`•.,,.•´¯` •.,,.•´¯

kindly supported by Wang Motorcycles
photo by Studio Johan Nieuwenhuize

Art (18), • Data Visualization (8), • Exibition (9), • Participation (8), • Performance (13), • Portfolio (23), • Research (12), • Social (15), • Web (8)

Yllis: Parade

Parade explores narcissism in today’s world. It questions the ecstasy of parading the self to the world—duplicating the self or achieving the image of the ideal self as a means of achieving a sense of value, ‌distinction or immortality.

How do we construct our identity in a post-representational digital reality? Parade is a fantasy rainy world, where hearts together with hundreds of other emojis orgasmically fly across the screen.

Our audio and visual collaboration takes you into Yllis’ deeply personal and ultimately expressive post-Internet universe. As in every romance, there need to be two –a couple– to sparkle the relationship and eventually love. Therefore we constructed a hybrid body from mapping parts of Yllis’ face on Tereza’s head. So Yllis can stay loving himself and an imaginary girl in one ultimately hybridised existence.

‌Yllis makes experimental electronic pop, melding a myriad of sonic influences to create a musical image of the future—a vision of globalised culture streaming through wireless internet pipelines, borderless and‌hyperconnected.

(c) 2016

Art (18), • Motion (14), • Portfolio (23), • Research (12), • Web (8)

Shadows in Paradise

Exposure to mass media arouses fear. Even if the frightening scenarios are fictional they blind us and make us unable to act. Fortunately, we can train to overcome this stream of dread.

Visitors of the exhibition were asked to come and break the spell of apprehension during an enchanting ritual.

The time is up, watch it here:

Anti-fear costume and flag icw Anna Mala.

at The Small Museum
January – February 2016

Art (18), • Exibition (9), • Installation (8), • Performance (13), • Portfolio (23), • Research (12)

photo by Arnold Mosselman

Re-scaling Turrell and Gaillard

Rotating installation displaying art works situated in public space that were initiated and donated by Stroom Den Haag.

We designed re-scaling tools to perform at the site of land-art. Designer became a performer operating those tools.

First we re-scaled Turrell’s Celestial Vault, 30 meters wide and 40 meters long ellipse. This volcano was built for audience to experience the sky. Because for Turrell light and space are the object of his interest.

Then we found and measured Gaillard’s Dunepark, temporarily excavated burried Atlantikwall bunker from World War II. For Gaillard, the physical process of excavating in the dark and wet soil was a form of negative sculpting.

Installation icw Office of Hard Work
Thanks to Arnold Mosselman

Art (18), • Curatorship (4), • Installation (8), • Motion (14), • Performance (13), • Photography (3), • Research (12)


– Installation as performative space
– Designer as a Playbourer
– Post-Fordist Baby
– Affordance of Props
– Multidisciplinary graduation project that shows Circulation of work.

Borders between play and labour are disappearing. Work time and leisure have become unified in one never-ending shift. This is especially articulated through our networked presence in multi-internet reality.

Every hour of our play, minute of entertainment and megabyte of shared data generates profit. This realm of the lost division between labour and play is called playbour. All of us have become players in this game. But who is the real winner?

Playbour is an activity of work that feels like a play and leisure – attractive and pleasurable production.

2015, KABK
Royal Academy of Art, The Hague

Art (18), • Exibition (9), • Installation (8), • Performance (13), • Research (12), • Social (15)

Playbour: The New Workaholism

Borders between play and labour are disappearing. Work time and leisure have become unified in one never-ending shift. This is especially articulated through our networked presence in multi-internet reality. Every hour of our play, minute of entertainment and megabyte of shared data generates profit. This realm of the lost division between labour and play is called playbour. All of us have become players in this game. But who is the real winner?

Playbour is an activity of work that feels like a play and leisure – attractive and pleasurable production. Examples of this phenomena are social networks as Facebook, Tumblr, fashion blogs, game modding etc., that function playfully but generate profit to others.

Part of the graduation project Playbour: The New Workaholism by Tereza Ruller @ The Royal Academy of Arts, The Hague. All rights reserved (c) 2015

Ventolin – music, lyrics, mix, production
Ondřej Ježek, studio Jámor – mastering
The Rodina – concept, art direction, video, design, lyrics
BumBum Satori -production

Data Visualization (8), • Installation (8), • Motion (14), • Portfolio (23), • Research (12), • Text (6)


Action to Surface

Rethinking surface production in terms of performance

The Rodina’s text on performative design.

read online thesis here!

We, designers, are used to presenting graphic design as a surface‑centric practice, the way of surface production. In addition to this, Tereza tries to step out of separated media constraints and tend to establish a new field of potential through identifying performative components in graphic design processes and results.

This research establishes links between action, body, designer and surface. It attempts to convince the reader, that surface production could be an action, happening, or chance‑driven act. Therefore the text introduces necessary theoretical, philosophical and historical backgrounds of performance art.

The narrative covers examples from Leonardo da Vinci through Modernists, Post‑War Expressionists and Andy Warhol to recent work by Hito Steyerl. It also presents graphic designers working with action in their design process. For example Sister Corita Kent’s activism, Stefan Sagmeister with his involvement of the body and nomadism, the conceptual approach of Czech designer Petr Babák, Maki Suzuki with his excitement “to do”, ephemeral surfaces and the unforgettable events of Cox and Grusenmeyer, Moniker with their Conditional Design happenings towards surface and Auto Italia’s identity of interactive assistant.

Finally, the text explains why the contemporary form of labour – Sven Lütticken’s concept of general performance – is so important. This thesis is a manifestation of the emerging designer, his/her milieu and effort to position himself/herself into the world of democratised surface production.

Book available at studio The Rodina, Amsterdam, The Royal Academy of Art Library, The Hague and in the library of Stroom Den Haag, The Netherlands, library of ESAC Cambrai.

Lecture and poster commissioned by ESAC Cambrai, FR.

Research, concept, text, design and code by The Rodina


Book (8), • Data Visualization (8), • Participation (8), • Performance (13), • Portfolio (23), • Research (12), • Text (6), • Web (8)


Dutch Education – Budget Cuts

1st Prize-winning mega-hit Budget Cuts by hyper-realistic band Dutch Education is not only a data visualization but performative design act. Designer becomes part of the design and stages the message and various infographics.

We received special access to the financial data for Dutch governmental spendings and income for 2014-2017. The task was to carry out extensive research and re-contextualize the information, statistics and figures from the Miljoenennota (Dutch budget plans) resulting in exhibition What’s inside the koffer?.

“In current times our world economy is ruled by capitalistic excess, unpredictable markets, and people-induced crisis. Dutch education, specifically in the arts, is facing sharp budget cuts affecting the cultural producers of tomorrow,” is written in the curatorial text by Foundland and Mind Design.

concept, lyric, choreography: Tereza Ruller
design, dop: The Rodina
music: Ventolin
sound mastering: Moimir Papalescu
sound recording: studio Ovoce

commissioned by: Dutch Ministry of Finance
consulted with: Found Land and Mind Design

awarded by Secretary General of the Ministry of Finance / exhibited at the Ministry of Finance, Den Haag, Netherlands / music video was done within the context of Graphic Design class at the Royal Academy of Art, Den Haag


Art (18), • Data Visualization (8), • Motion (14), • Performance (13), • Portfolio (23), • Research (12), • Social (15), • Web (8)