Inhabiting the Negative Space

Inhabiting the Negative Space
Jenny Odell with foreword by Sarah M. Whiting

Hi, everyone. I’m speaking to you from my apartment in Oakland, though I’ve virtually placed myself in the rose garden nearby.

Artist and writer Jenny Odell hadn’t originally planned to deliver the Harvard University Graduate School of Design’s 2020 Class Day Address from her living room. But on May 28, 2020, bounded by the abnormal conditions of a global pandemic, she joined graduates and their guests in a fully virtual commencement ceremony. Framed by a Zoom background of a rose garden, she spoke to an audience she could not see about the role of design in a suspended moment marked by uncertainty. Odell’s message, itself a timely reflection on observation, embraces the standstill and its potential to deepen our individual and collective attention and our sensitivity to time, place, and presence—in turn, perhaps, enabling us all, amid our “new” virtual contexts, to better connect with our natural and cultural environments.

Inhabiting the Negative Space is the ninth title in The Incidents, a book series based on events at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Designed by ELLA.

Softcover, 80 pages, 11.5 x 17.9 cm
$18.00 / €14.00 / $24.00 CAN

ISBN 978-3-95679-581-7

Copublished by the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and Sternberg Press, Spring 2020.


JENNY ODELL is an Oakland-based multidisciplinary visual artist and writer whose work encourages close observation of the everyday. She has been an artist in residence at the San Francisco Planning Department, the Internet Archive, and Recology SF (aka “The Dump”), and has exhibited at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, the New York Public Library, the Marjorie Barrick Museum in Las Vegas, Les Rencontres d’Arles, Fotomuseum Antwerpen, Fotomuseum Winterthur, La Gaîté Lyrique in Paris, the Lishui Photography Festival in China, and East Wing in Dubai. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, New York Magazine, the Paris Review, Sierra Magazine, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. She has taught studio art at Stanford University since 2013.

Odell’s best-selling book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy was published by Melville House in 2019. The New York Times Book Review praised How to Do Nothing as “a complex, smart and ambitious book that at first reads like a self-help manual, then blossoms into a wide-ranging political manifesto.” The book was named a “best book of the year” for 2019 by a variety of critics and outlets, including Time Magazine, the New Yorker, NPR, GQ, Elle, and Fortune.