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“Point of No Return” symposium series

The debate on the current direction of the Stiftung Buchkunst (see the petition of September 2018) has brought to light the unease currently felt by many designers, which goes far beyond the justified criticism of the Stiftung to touch on the issue of the relevance and mission of graphic design in a medialised society, the responsibility and need for critical self-awareness that this implies, and how this should be communicated among experts and the wider public.

Graphic design influences our hypermedialised day-to-day lives more than almost any other aesthetic discipline. Graphic design has a key position in communication as practised by diversified and transnationally active societies. It is the space where acts of interpretation and translation both within and between societies are developed and implemented. It is also the space where cultural codings are developed that are themselves actions in the fields that they code. The resultant responsibility is incompatible with the logic of standardised working processes. Criteria such as readability, attention, trends, originality, and signature style are an insufficient basis for a critical discourse on the discipline that is fit for present times. What is needed is a higher level of engagement and thought that is transdisciplinary and can exercise criticism (of cultures).

For this reason, the symposium series “Point of no Return” aims to bring together influential and critical voices from design and the sciences in order to intensify and carry forward this form of engagement, and in order to stimulate greater public consciousness of this discourse.

This symposium series is organised by the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg, in collaboration with the Bauhaus Universität Weimar, and the Hochschule für Gestaltung und Buchkunst Leipzig. The first symposiumPoint of Departure (January 2019) will endeavour to define the challenges faced by critically-minded designers in medialised and intercultural societies.

The second symposiumBorn in the Echoes (May 2019) will focus on critical examination of graphic design through the lens of a number of disciplines of the (cultural) sciences.

The third symposium “Keep it Hit” (November 2019) will outline possibilities for those structures that will need to be activated or created in order to ensure a future for the discourse that we need in graphic design.

Finally, in March 2020, a book related to the symposium series will be presented in Leipzig in the context of the final symposium “Point of no Return”.

Concept for the symposium: Ingo Offermanns, supported by Markus Weisbeck and Markus Dressen

January 2019

Panel themes: “Point of Departure” (Hamburg)

William Blake says that “opposition is true friendship.” Thus, criticism is more than a distanced comparison of a static state of how things should be with a dynamic state of how things are. To exercise criticism is to put things in context, to measure, to weigh things up, to interpret – criticism is a dynamic and reciprocal dialogue of that which is and that which should be. In order to develop constructive opposition, the first symposium will thus pose the question of what graphic design is capable of and what it achieves in the present day, with reference to Friedrich von Borries’s publication “Politics of Design, Design of Politics”.

  • Opening event: Ingo Offermanns, Markus Weisbeck, Markus Dressen
  • Panel 1: Graphic design profiled, reproduced, fetishised
    • Students of the Klasse Grafik, HFBK Hamburg
    • Anna Lena von Helldorff, graphic designer, designer, collaborator, Leipzig
    • Christoph Knoth & Konrad Renner, professors, HFBK Hamburg
  • Panel 2: Graphic design empowered, mobilised, colonialised
    • David Bennewith, Colophon, Amsterdam
    • Corinne Gisel & Nina Paim, common interest, Zurich
      • Karo Akpokiere, graphic designer, artist, Lagos/Hamburg
  • Panel 3: Graphic design criticised, opened, designed
    • Isabel Seiffert, Offshore Studio, Zurich
    • Sandra Doeller, graphic designer, Frankfurt am Main
    • Matthias Görlich, professor, Burg Giebichenstein Kunsthochschule Halle

May 2019

Panel themes: “Born in the Echoes” (Hamburg)

After the start of the symposium series "Point of No Return" in January, the follow-up symposium will take place at the HFBK Hamburg on May 31, 2019. Under the title "Born in the Echoes", Ingo Offermanns (Professor of Graphic Art at the HFBK Hamburg) invited international speakers to look at graphic design in dialogue with and from the perspective of philosophy, ethnology, sociology, design theory, and cultural studies. This broadens the graphic design discourse beyond the narrow boundaries of the graphic discipline.

The interdependence of visual communication and society makes graphic design a constituent element of the public sphere – a quantity that erodes to the extent that society decays into singularities. This requires a stronger, (culturally) critical and interdisciplinary commitment and reflection.

The second part of the symposium series is therefore devoted to the question of how dialogical and solidary participation in public communication can function, which is designed by graphic designers* but which is more than the lowest common denominator of strategic goals, particular interests and subjective sensitivities. The focus is on the common struggle for criteria for a critical discourse and the application of this critique to graphic artifacts itself.

With contributions by:

  • Christian Bauer – Assistent professor of Design History and Theory, Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Saar, Saarbrücken)
  • Clémentine Deliss – Interim Professor for Curatorial Theory & Dramaturgical Practice, Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung, Karlsruhe
  • Daniel Martin Feige – Professor of Philosophy and Aesthetics, Akademie der bildenden Künste Stuttgart
  • Eva Linhart – Curator of Book Art and Graphics, Museum Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt)
  • Sophia Prinz – Assistent professor of Theory of Design, Universität der Künste Berlin
  • Markus Rautzenberg – Professor of Philosophy, Folkwang Universität der Künste, Essen)
  • Alice Rawthorn – Design critic and author, London
  • Pierre Smolarski – Research Assistent of Design Rhetoric’s and Everyday Aesthetics, Bergische Universität Wuppertal
  • Friedrich von Borries – Professor of Design Theory, HFBK Hamburg

Moderation: Tulga Beyerle – Director, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

Expected December 2020

Panel themes “Keep it hit” (Weimar)

The third symposium will interrogate the existing institutions associated with criticism, and will look at possibilities in the institutionalising of graphic design criticism. What structures might be activated and/or created in order to create new momentum for a critical graphic design discourse?

  • Opening event: Markus Weisbeck, Ingo Offermanns, Markus Dressen
  • Panel 1: Decision time for graphic design
  • Panel 2: Graphic design criticism as an energiser of discourse
  • Panel 3: The boundaries of criticism

Expected March 2021

Book presentation: “Visual language is not innocent” (Leipzig)

The symposium reader will be presented in parallel to the Leipzig Book Fair. It will present for discussion the final results of the symposium series.

  • Opening of event: Markus Dressen, Ingo Offermanns, Markus Weisbeck
  • Final speech: Demands, hopes, prospects,
  • Discussion with Dressen, Offermanns, Weisbeck, and guests

Annette Wehrmann, photography from the series Blumensprengungen, 1991-95; photo: Ort des Gegen e.V.

Conference: Counter-Monuments and Para-Monuments.

The international conference at HFBK Hamburg on December 2-4, 2021 – jointly conceived by Nora Sternfeld and Michaela Melián –, is dedicated to the history of artistic counter-monuments and forms of protest, discusses aesthetics of memory and historical manifestations in public space, and asks about para-monuments for the present.

23 Fragen des Institutional Questionaire, grafisch umgesetzt von Ran Altamirano auf den Türgläsern der HFBK Hamburg zur Jahresausstellung 2021; photo: Charlotte Spiegelfeld


Who speaks? Who paints which motif? Who is shown, who is not? Questions of identity politics play an important role in art and thus also at the HFBK Hamburg. In the current issue, the university's own Lerchenfeld magazine highlights university structures as well as student initiatives that deal with diversity and identity.

Grafik: Tim Ballaschke

Start of semester

After three semesters of hybrid teaching under pandemic conditions, we are finally about to start another semester of presence. We welcome all new students and teachers at the HFBK Hamburg and cordially invite you to the opening of the academic year 2020/21, which this year will be accompanied by a guest lecture by ruangrupa.

Graphic design: Sam Kim, picture in the background: Sofia Mascate, photo: Marie-Theres Böhmker

Graduate Show 2021: All Good Things Come to an End

From September 24 to 26, the more than 150 Bachelor's and Master's graduates of the class of 2020/21 will present their final projects as part of the Graduate Show at the HFBK Hamburg. We would like to thank all visitors and participants.

photo: Klaus Frahm

Summer Break

The HFBK Hamburg is in the lecture-free period, many students and teachers are on summer vacation, art institutions have summer break. This is a good opportunity to read and see a variety of things:

ASA Open Studio 2019, Karolinenstraße 2a, Haus 5; photo: Matthew Muir

Live und in Farbe: die ASA Open Studios im Juni 2021

Since 2010, the HFBK has organised the international exchange programme Art School Alliance. It enables HFBK students to spend a semester abroad at renowned partner universities and, vice versa, invites international art students to the HFBK. At the end of their stay in Hamburg, the students exhibit their work in the Open Studios in Karolinenstraße, which are now open again to the art-interested public.

Studiengruppe Prof. Dr. Anja Steidinger, Was animiert uns?, 2021, Mediathek der HFBK Hamburg, Filmstill

Unlearning: Wartenau Assemblies

The art education professors Nora Sternfeld and Anja Steidinger initiated the format "Wartenau Assemblies". It oscillates between art, education, research and activism. Complementing this open space for action, there is now a dedicated website that accompanies the discourses, conversations and events.

Ausstellungsansicht "Schule der Folgenlosigkeit. Übungen für ein anderes Leben" im Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg; photo: Maximilian Schwarzmann

School of No Consequences

Everyone is talking about consequences: The consequences of climate change, the Corona pandemic or digitalization. Friedrich von Borries (professor of design theory), on the other hand, is dedicated to consequence-free design. In “School of No Consequences. Exercises for a New Life” at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, he links collection objects with a "self-learning room" set up especially for the exhibition in such a way that a new perspective on "sustainability" emerges and supposedly universally valid ideas of a "proper life" are questioned.

Annual Exhibition 2021 at the HFBK

Annual exhibition a bit different: From February 12- 14, 2021 students at the Hamburg University of Fine Arts, together with their professors, had developed a variety of presentations on different communication channels. The formats ranged from streamed live performances to video programs, radio broadcasts, a telephone hotline, online conferences, and a web store for editions. In addition, isolated interventions could be discovered in the outdoor space of the HFBK and in the city.

Public Information Day 2021

How do I become an art student? How does the application process work? Can I also study to become a teacher at the HFBK? These and other questions about studying art were answered by professors, students and staff at the HFBK during the Public Information Day on February 13, 2021. In addition, there will be an appointment specifically for English-speaking prospective students on February 23 at 2 pm.

Katja Pilipenko

Semestereröffnung und Hiscox-Preisverleihung 2020

On the evening of November 4, the HFBK celebrated the opening of the academic year 2020/21 as well as the awarding of the Hiscox Art Prize in a livestream - offline with enough distance and yet together online.

Exhibition Transparencies with works by Elena Crijnen, Annika Faescke, Svenja Frank, Francis Kussatz, Anne Meerpohl, Elisa Nessler, Julia Nordholz, Florentine Pahl, Cristina Rüesch, Janka Schubert, Wiebke Schwarzhans, Rosa Thiemer, Lea van Hall. Organized by Prof. Verena Issel and Fabian Hesse; photo: Screenshot

Teaching Art Online at the HFBK

How the university brings together its artistic interdisciplinary study structure with digital formats and their possibilities.

Alltagsrealität oder Klischee?; photo: Tim Albrecht

HFBK Graduate Survey

Studying art - and what comes next? The clichéd images stand their ground: Those who have studied art either become taxi drivers, work in a bar or marry rich. But only very few people could really live from art – especially in times of global crises. The HFBK Hamburg wanted to know more about this and commissioned the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Hamburg to conduct a broad-based survey of its graduates from the last 15 years.

Ausstellung Social Design, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Teilansicht; photo: MKG Hamburg

How political is Social Design?

Social Design, as its own claim is often formulated, wants to address social grievances and ideally change them. Therefore, it sees itself as critical of society – and at the same time optimizes the existing. So what is the political dimension of Social Design – is it a motor for change or does it contribute to stabilizing and normalizing existing injustices?