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HAPPENINGText: Mark Buswell

I don’t know why, but it seems every time the California College of the Arts (formerly California College of Arts and Crafts) holds its end-of-semester thesis show, it rains. I guess it is only fitting: for the students this is judgment day. They either pass or fail; and failing means having to go back to school for yet another semester. This has been the case for about one-quarter of each class in recent semesters.

The Graphic Design thesis program is the culmination of students’ design education at CCA. It was created by Michael Vanderbyl (Head of the Graphic Design program) to challenge and ultimately broaden students’ understanding of what it means to be a designer. The class is largely self-directed and presents students with an opportunity to identify an area of interest and investigate it using design as the vehicle to present their findings.’ (Mark Fox, Thesis Survival Guide) Thesis projects have included books, posters, installations, short films, furniture, and paintings; basically any medium that communicates best one’s thesis statement.

Each semester a rotating group of the best design educators serve as instructors for the class. This semester instructors included Jennifer Sterling (Jennifer Sterling Design), David Karam (Post Tool), Melanie Doherty (Melanie Doherty Design) and of course, the one constant: Michael Vanderbyl.

The Thesis Program at CCA is difficult. Believe me, I completed it just one year ago and the sting of a bad crit and the joy of finally graduating are still fresh. I don’t think I have ever been pushed so hard since entering the “design profession.” Unfortunately, much of its reputation is propelled by rumors and half-truths. You hear about Thesis the first day of your design classes and by the time students are finally enrolled, the tension is unbearable.

It’s raining. I arrived at the school after a short jog from my car, pulling up my pant legs as I walked through the puddles that had formed in the parking lot. Light emanated through the large glass doors of the school. I showed my ID (past expiration, as I am an alumni) to the aloof security guard and ventured through a maze of halls to the auditorium where graduating and not-sure-if-they’re-graduating students had already gathered to watch a series of short films from this year’s batch of students. Damn! I’m late.

Inside the auditorium, hopeful families and friends gathered to support the work of their favorite CCA students. As I settled into a dark corner of the crowded theatre, Joshua Carey’s film, 1+1=1, was just beginning. Through a subtle build up of abstract images, Joshua Carey’s film contemplates the consequence of the proliferation of computers in his life. Through his blurred imagery he communicates a loss of identity and questions if technology is adapting to him, or if it is he that is adapting to it.

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