I’m Mitch Goldstein, and I teach art and design at Rochester Institute of Technology. This is a small website about making and creative practice.

In the film “The Five Obstructions,” Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier challenges his mentor Jørgen Leth to remake a film five times. Before starting each remake, von Trier gives Leth a series of obstructions, or limitations, that Leth must adhere to. As an educator, I use the idea of working with limitations repeatedly with my students. This website is for anyone who wants to try this project for themselves. (You do not need to have seen the film, but I strongly suggest you try to sometime).

On the next page, you will pick a set of obstructions: a formal obstruction, a methodological obstruction, and a conceptual obstruction. You will also be given an optional quote to use as content for what you make (which I like to call an artifact). In the classroom, my students have to use these obstructions to make one artifact every day for the duration of the project — the value in this project is not in making once, it is in making many.

How you decide to “use” these obstructions are entirely up to you, but you must incorporate them in your work. Decisions about what each artifact is, how you make it, what it means (or does not mean), are up for interpretation. The content is optional (you might have something else you want to work with), but it can be looked at literally, metaphorically, symbolically, or even formally (the shape of the letters or words.) You may change directions, methods, media, etc. at will. You may also have each artifact lead directly to the next, or your work can vary wildly week to week or even day to day. You must decide what to do and how to do it. Your work does not have to be meaningful, clear, or highly conceptual — it can just be about making stuff.

    A few notes about ways to approach this project:
  • Start at the start, don’t worry about what the end result is.
  • If you get stuck, worried, or unsure about your idea, shut up and make something.
  • It can be helpful to try making the worst thing you possibly can.
  • All the “rules” of design you should never break? Those things they told you never to do at design school? Do them.
  • This is not about trying to find clever ways to get around the obstructions, it is about finding interesting ways to use the obstructions.

I strongly suggest you think of this as a daily practice, not a one-time-only exercise. The more you make, the more you iterate, the more you have to reconcile with the obstructions, the more you will get out of the process.

Ready? Pick your obstructions.