Blogs The Gradient

Avant Museology Symposium: Structure as Identity

Avant Museology is a two-day symposium co-presented by the Walker Art Center, e-flux, and the University of Minnesota Press. Using the newly published book, Avant-Garde Museology as a point-of-entry, the conference will explore artistic practices, sociopolitical contexts, and historical complexities associated with the contemporary museum.   We wanted to create an identity that would serve […]

Avant Museology is a two-day symposium co-presented by the Walker Art Center, e-flux, and the University of Minnesota Press. Using the newly published book, Avant-Garde Museology as a point-of-entry, the conference will explore artistic practices, sociopolitical contexts, and historical complexities associated with the contemporary museum.

 
Avant Museology

We wanted to create an identity that would serve as a container for the questions posed—a system designed in anticipation of the discourse that the symposium would yield. We were interested in creating a framework capable of representing a range of contributors in addition to the collaborative effort of the institutions involved. The identity intends to place an emphasis on this relationship, providing each with a prominent role within the visual solution, underscoring their role as facilitators but also making their presence tangible.

 

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The web-based variant of the identity consists of collected content, generated by the symposium and its contributors. Interpreting the notion of museum as a recording device; the cube becomes a model, rendering, or construct that provides links to publications, essays, artwork, and other supporting material. It is built using markup language (HMTL/CSS) in an effort to remain fluid; a device that is easily adjusted, updated, and interacted with. This was an important aspect in which the resulting form remains true to the medium in which it was created, operating as a dynamic solution as opposed to a representation of the form. Various images, speakers, and links were added as the conference was being finalized, in essence constructing the identity. The grid structure, a reference to the Soviet Avant-garde in its form and ideology, becomes a lattice-like structure that maintains content.

The interactive version of the cube is used on the Avant Museology micro site.

 

Drawing a parallel between the program established for the symposium and Rationalist architecture, we were interested in these structures for their experimental nature as well as for their cultural significance. Many of these buildings never materialized in a physical sense, and instead served as speculative constructs of progressivism. We were interested in the socio-political conditions that perpetuated the existence of such platforms: what did it mean for a concept to supersede its manifestation?

 

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A model of Vladimir Tatlin’s tower (c.1967), an unrealized cultural landmark. It has been referred to as being “made of steel, glass and revolution.”1

 

Horizontal Skyscraper El Lissitzky

El Lissitky’s speculative drawings of horizontal skyscrapers or Wolkenbügel (“Iron Clouds”) stood for technological progress, futurism, and an avant garde ideology that would reverberate in the proceding century. 2

 

In addition to the rotating cube, two typefaces were used: one that would reference the ideology in terms of the grid structure, and another referencing the Soviet underpinnings of the symposium—Literaturnaya (Poligraphmash, c.1940) and Monospace 821 (Max Miedinger, c.1957), respectively. Literaturnaya is a Soviet typeface used for many texts until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 (When it was replaced by Times New Roman). Monospace 821, a product of Modernist ideology (The monospace version of Helvetica), was used to reference the uniformity of the grid used throughout the identity.

 

Avant Museology - Frieze

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A few early lock-up studies that incorporated various sketches/movement and reference imagery.

 

Avant Museology will be taking place on November 20–21, in conjunction with the Walker’s upcoming exhibition, Question the Wall Itself. Speakers include Jonathas de Andrade, Claire Bishop, Adrienne Edwards, Boris Groys, Ane Hjort Guttu, Wayne Koestenbaum, Nisa Mackie, Fionn Meade, Sohrab Mohebbi, Timothy Morton, Elizabeth Povinelli, Walid Raad, Hito Steyerl, Anton Vidokle, Cary Wolfe, and Arseny Zhilyaev. Tickets can be purchased online at walkerart.org.

In addition to the symposium at the Walker Art Center, Avant Museology will also take place at the Brooklyn Museum on November 11–12. Speakers include Bruce Altshuler, Lynne Cooke, Boris Groys, Fionn Meade, Molly Nesbit, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Nikolay Punin, Irene V. Small, Anton Vidokle, Fred Wilson, Arseny Zhilayev, and more.


 

Notes

1 Ri︠a︡bushin, A. V., and N. I. Smolina. Landmarks of Soviet architecture, 1917-1991. New York: Rizzoli, 1992. Print.

2Vladimir Tatlin: Moderna Museet, Stockholm, juli-september, 1968 (Moderna museets katalog)

Modern Nostalgic Fantasies

The following text was originally published in Modern Nostalgic Fantasies, a collection of texts about politics, virtuality, and science-fiction and their relation to a graphic design practice. All texts were written by Raf Rennie during the completion of a two-year MFA in graphic design at Yale University. Rennie is a designer and writer from Toronto, now […]

The following text was originally published in Modern Nostalgic Fantasies, a collection of texts about politics, virtuality, and science-fiction and their relation to a graphic design practice. All texts were written by Raf Rennie during the completion of a two-year MFA in graphic design at Yale University.

Rennie is a designer and writer from Toronto, now based in New York. He currently serves as the designer/art director of Canadian art criticism magazine C Magazine and his previous work includes select projects for Scapegoat Journal, Serpentine Gallery, TBA21, and Metahaven.

A special thanks to Jan Horčík for his typeface Atlantic.


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His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

— Walter Benjamin, about Angelus Novus (1920) by Paul Klee

 

SOVIET SPACE MODERNITY

October 4th, 1957, Elementary Satellite 1, better known as Sputnik, broke through the barrier of our atmosphere to become the first object to originate from Earth and enter Space. The journey of Sputnik signified the end of one history of progress and the creation of a whole new one—Sputnik was a catalyst that introduced modernity to the world. I am speaking less of the means of modernity in this, than I am speaking of the space in which modernity is concerned—that, as an endlessly utopian project, is the future. Marked by its relentless order, modernity is the aim to draw rational responses to the zeitgeist and extrapolate them into a vision of the future, so we can, in present, begin to develop infrastructure to shape the future of civilization on this planet into a rational utopia. To think about the future is to be modern.

The Soviet Union was a massively modernist experiment that took over trying to structure a union of countries under a strictly rational system, that of communism. While the Soviet Union struggled to continue on, politically and economically, they managed to put together a space program and became the first nation to enter space. This was possible because the core of the Soviet project was an immense importance placed on the shaping of the future. From after, the Tsar was the image of the new Russia and with this the modern Soviet man. The Soviet Union believed that the joint project of technological advancement and exploration would become the economic and spiritual backbone that kept the union together and ahead of the rest of the world—especially ahead of the United States whom the Soviets where in a cold war with accelerating technological threats and shows of power. The future was the endgame for the new Russia.

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Left: Russian science-fiction film The Sky Calls (1959), Right: SpaceX lands rocket on drone ship (2016)

So, the Soviet Union put Sputnik into space, showing the world they were literally and figuratively on a technological and raw powerful level above the rest of the world—though Sputnik means “fellow traveler”, it was a body of a ballistic missile, a tool of war. It was the punctum, the apex, of the Soviet Union’s futurist, modernist ideal. By being the first to enter a new unexplored terrain, the Soviet said to the world the future belonged to them. It was off this fear of losing the future to Russia, that the United States founded their own space program, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), on July 29th, 1958, nearly 11 months after Sputnik had made it to space. With NASA, the United States revitalized their modernist project that once kickstarted the American economy before the World Wars with the Industrial Age and Fordist manufacturing and economics. Thusly, the Soviet Union spread modernity back into the United States, sparking what would be considered Late Modernity. Over the next few decades the Soviet Union and the United States raced their advancing space programs aiming to be the first to put man on the moon. This space race had many implications for the nations as world superpowers, enemies, and the eventual outcome of the Cold War. However, there was a side effect of this race, the massively accelerated invention of new technologies. This acceleration drove the American economy for those decades as subsequent technologies and advancements came from the research and work being done at NASA. NASA put together a sub-part of their association called the Technology Transfer Program to showcase and explore practical applications of the strides being made when aiming for the moon. New inventions were catalogued in an annual report called NASA Spinoffs and introduced; freeze-dried food, infrared thermometers, heart monitors, LED lights, artificial limbs, and much more. These technologies fed into the American dream of the future, from this rapid growth in technology artists, designers, manufactures, all started to imagine an American future. DisneyWorld built the “World of the Future” amusement park, designers like Ray and Charles Eames showcased America’s technological utopianism at the World’s Fair, manufacturers pushed ideas of the homes, the food, the car of the future. Dreaming about the future became the galvanizing force of the whole American economy—America became modern.

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The overlay of Modernity

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THE DARK POSTMODERN AGE

July 20th, 1969, just shy of 11 years after the founding of NASA, the space mission Apollo 11 brings the first men to the moon. America’s race with the Soviets was over, the new frontier was won by the United States. The modernism passed on by the Soviet Union found a better system for itself and flourished past the Soviet communist ideal. Forward-thinking became the mantra of the “American way”, which pushed their industries and economy into unprecedented production and wealth, spurred by an unbound hubris that America could achieve anything. Through new technological breakthroughs and abundance new products would fuel American commerce while industry used the latest manufacturing technologies, or took advantage of a new age of globalization, to maximize their returns. Here began that period of Late Modernism, the utopian future thinking, joined with American style capitalism to thrive in the existence of emerging mega-corporations that saw themselves as the tools to create a new future.

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“We are ready and willing to ignite just born too late.” — Peter de Potter

As America continued in a Cold War with the Soviet Union and a hot war in Vietnam, the political left found this new American hubris to be a dangerous flag to fly. The American economy, driven by technological advancement and superiority, had led to the boom of a major thriving industry, the military-industrial complex. Corporations that lauded themselves as the builders of a better future worked with the American government and military, and their quick growth and globalization posed a threat of the exporting of American idealism and capitalism. In such, the left took opposition to this mantra of the American-way and therefore took up opposition to the future project of Modernism. As philosopher Simon Critchley put it, “we have to resist the idea and ideology of the future, which is always the ultimate trump card of capitalist ideas of progress.” The future was modern, the future was therefore capitalist, and to build a world outside of capitalism the people had to stop thinking about the future and start dealing with the reality of the present day. This thinking ushered in a movement of post-modernism, an ideology that aimed to reject the utopian promises of late modernism and remove the glossy veneer it had coated prevalent thinking with. Across America spread the notion that, in the mists of wars and a plateauing economy, spending federal money on missions to the moon was a frivolous vanity project, that was no longer needed as the United States had already claimed the moon and beaten the Soviet Union in the space race. Under growing pressure and economic difficulties, NASA’s budget was cut drastically. The last manned mission to the moon took place in December 1972 and no person has gone to the moon since.

 

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EXOPLANETARY STRUCTURES

With the end of the manned missions, NASA’s missions switched from the near frontier of our own satellite to the exploration of deep space. The late 80s and 90s usher an age of probes, telescopes, and rovers, tools that no longer focused on the immediate but set out to explore the vastness of the universe. What led was the discovery of whole new worlds and planets outside of our solar system. From being taught in schools there are nine planets we have come to learn there are solely nine in our solar system, elsewhere, in hundreds of other solar systems exist thousands of other planets, some much like our Earth—these planets are given the name “exoplanets.” As the changing thought and politics of the time seemed to push NASA aside in favour of focusing on our world, our countries, and local, tangible issues, NASA pushed back the other way, instead of looking at the local and at hand, to the very distant and unreachable. In 2004, NASA constructed the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) to search deep space for new Earth-like planets—it has discovered 130 planets, a small part of the over two thousand known exoplanets in our universe. With the discovery of whole other possible worlds, solar systems, and possibly lives, Earth becomes decentralized in our understanding of the Universe.

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Construction of the James Webb Telescope, NASA’s new deep space telescope set to launch October 2018

Modernism, which looked to a singular whole, and post-modernism, which looked to act upon the present, both were eclipsed by the decentralizing of Earth within the universe. The Earth now was neither a totality, just a singularity in a vast cosmos, a planet that seems as a small pale blue dot in the night sky of another planet. Semantically, the human race no longer were the sole authors of the cosmological reality, but perhaps just a subjectivity in relation to 2,000 other planet’s realities. This model of thinking is shared, within the same vein, as the basis of an ideological, that is a predecessor to post-modernism, known as post-structuralism. Post-structuralism is an ideology that rejects singular narrative by rejecting the author as the sole authority or voice, it aims to seek out the peripheral to decentralize an idea from a singular subjectivity. The discovery of exoplanets does so on a, literally, universal scale—and such was the argument made by NASA. By exploring outwards, deep space, distant planets, dying stars, we could learn more about our own planet and existence than we could from an archeology of Earth.

Post-structuralism ushered in a model of thinking where subjectivity is everything, denying the notions of “objectivity” and “rationality” presented by modernism on the grounds that they were de-fined under a euro-centric, masculine, paradigm. Post-structuralism stands on two tendons, the first being Foucaultian anthropologies of all the standing structures we see governing in the world. The second, being more confusion, not listening to singular narratives or the belief in non-bias media, but an openness to varying voices and the proliferation of the minority’s voice, in order to disrupt any attempt at the creation of hegemonic structures.

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THE COSMOLOGICAL NEOLIBERAL

In the time of Late Modernism progress—societal and economic—was created through the aims of a singular goal. For everyone to work towards this goal they must understand each other as part of a whole, Modernism was a structure that was used to encapsulate nations and move them towards this goal. However, with emergence of Post-Structuralist thinking, the ability to maintain a super-structure is becoming challenging. The structure of Late Modernism no longer fits the public as the minority has come to view themselves in the position of being parts within the structure but not of the struct-ure, therefore they reject the goals of the structure. If the notions of progress and capitalism that Late Modernism proliferated and replicated, for its own expansion, were to continue, the fundamental structuring of those notions would have to adapt—and adapt it has.

Nearing the end of Late Modernism, before the Post-Modern moment, a collective of academics and theorists formed an inclusive society where they set themselves the goal of directing the global thinking to what they saw as a sustainable structure. The new structure would be open enough to allow multiple narratives and voices to exist in constant exchange, in fact it would be encouraged, so it could subsume political discourse within itself—for this the idea was named Neoliberalism. The specialty of Neoliberalism was a combining of Late Modernist notions of progress with Post-Modernism’s desires for locality. In place, Neoliberalism would encourage minorities and local politics but would proliferate an ethos of collectivism through it. By acknowledging all this disparity we could celebrate diverse people coming together to achieve a singular goal.

NASA, in 1998, became part of such a project, that would bring numerous people and nations together. In fact, NASA would come to work with their competitor that caused their creation and spurred on a Cold War, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and Japan whom the United States had attacked with atomic weapons fifty three years earlier. The project of the International Space Station brought together the United States (NASA), Russia (Roscosmos), Europe (The European Space Agency), and Japan (JAXA)—later on The Canadian Space Agency would join in the project as well. This International Space Station was a proving to the world, that regardless of history and politics, all kinds of people and nations could come together and work towards a better future—a wonderful case-and-point proof for Neoliberalism.

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Orbiting Neoliberal base

Diversity, the political calling card of Neoliberalism, also functions as its economic model, the freedom of choice. Late Modernism gave the world large mega-corporations that worked within a Fordist model of capitalism. Companies like IBM and Microsoft dominated the emerging technological market and ruthlessly tried to shut down competitive companies in order to maintain a monopoly. Neoliberalism instead encourages diversity, no large monopolies, but endless small companies that could be hyper-specialized to make them act at a local and global scale. This is the market of Silicon Valley and start-up culture, a womb for technology companies to build up and die out at unprecedented rates.

Within this market the investment into a singular entity is not financially sound. Why make one company to try to do everything when you can have numerous companies hyper-specialize in different areas and then bring the pieces together? It is also a way of hedging your bets, why invest everything in one pot? Diversify. Long standing entities have fallen to this new logic, even NASA. NASA is no longer seen as the one entity for the hopes of space exploration, but in the mists of smaller budgets has had to diversify and export some of its functions to smaller new companies. NASA now offers contracts to competing small companies to take over functions that NASA used to do exclusively, let delivering payloads to the International Space Station. Notably, a large portion of NASA’s contracts have gone to Silicon Valley company SpaceX, founded by the start-up veteran Elon Musk. NASA now functions as the overseer and manager of Space exploration, it is the neoliberal who brings together dispersed parts towards a singular goal.

 

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AN OLD NEW HOPE

Through the dispersed model of space exploration, NASA acts as the determinant, it defines the goal and brings various individually autonomous parts together to form relationships that work to-wards that goal. What goal is that? As a product of and the engine of Late Modernism, NASA functions through ideas of exploration and frontierism. The aims of the International Space Station as a laboratory for scientific experimentation had failed to capture the imagination of the public who could not grasp the intangible new grounds that would be made. As a result, NASA struggled on with diminishing funding. However, the new model of the Neoliberal market and the new ability for NASA to start exporting larger tasks, allowed NASA to refocus and now pull in other entities to work together towards a new goal that would spur on the public to support progress. NASA was looking for a renaissance of the golden age of Space Exploration when they were racing to the moon. The best disciple trying to bring about this renaissance of NASA is Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who is known for his poetic and passionate speeches about why we need to economically support space exploration. Tyson appeals for support by evoking the technological and economic boom that accompanied the Apollo missions to the moon. To re-invigorate the space program he fantasizes manned missions to the next closest heavenly body, Mars. Mars is a tangible frontier, akin to the Moon, with new “firsts” to be made, something the public could understand and celebrate. Effectively Mars is to the current times, what the Moon was in the 1960s.

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As the ISS brought together old Cold War enemies Ridley Scott envisions space as answer to American anxiety over relations with China in The Martian (2015)

Thinking and fantasizing Mars has been around in science-fiction since the birth of the genre, but now the push to get the general public joining in has become stronger than ever. On August 6th, 2012 the Curiosity Rover successfully landed on Mars, two days later it began to send back our first images of the foreign landscape. Not since the moon had we seen another world the way we see our own. Mars was no longer something we saw through a telescope, as a dot in the sky, we did not see it as a massive distant whole, but we viewed it as we experience our own world, limited, with perspective, and a gaze that lead to a horizon line. We were no longer looking at Mars but through photographic transmutation able to experience it—images from Curiosity have now been stitched together into 360 degrees images explorable through virtual reality to further push the feeling that we are in fact already on Mars. With the new images flooding in to NASA and being released to the public almost daily, Mars began to play a part in the cultural zeitgeist. Space exploration became not just resigned to the world of science-fiction, the obsessives, and the “nerds”, but entered into a total cultural space. Neil DeGrasse Tyson revised the classic show Cosmos (2014), first recorded by astrophysicist Carl Sagan in 1980, blockbuster film maker Christopher Nolan creates his space epic Interstellar (2014), and science fiction legend Ridley Scott directs the heroic survivalist film The Martian (2015). Based on the novel of the same title by Andy Weir in 2014, The Martian is a tale of an astronaut stranded on the planet Mars after his team mistook him for dead and his struggle to survive on the foreign planet to make it back home to Earth. The film plays out the mythos of American determination and ingenuity that became the marker of the “American spirit” through the industrial and technological age. The can-do and ability to overcome any obstacles in the name of progress is the same mythos that drove the Cold War space race. The Martian presupposes that NASA, and therefore the United States, have already made it to Mars and began temporary colonies for exploring how one could sustainably live. When stranded alone against unimaginable odds, the hero, Mark Watney, learns how to tame and control the new world, a recurring theme in American history and mythos. At one point in the film, after having gotten potatoes to grow in Martian soil, Watney even claims that he has now officially colonized the planet. While set in a near future the film looks back to a nostalgic fantasizing of the American spirit, when America was great, innovative, and able to make new grounds through their dominance and greatness. Even more, under the guile of Neoliberal togetherness, the film imagines all the world coming together in support of the American heroic figure. As the ISS brought together old enemies to work towards one project, The Martian  imagines a future were their current tentative relationship with China is overcome, in the Chinese space program willingly offering up their aid, resources, and secrets to the Americans. At the climax of the film, shots are shown of people around the world watching out on the streets, from New York to London to China, anxiously to see if the American hero has in fact been able to overcome all odds and survive.

The film in itself appears as propaganda for a new space age—an age that is relentlessly American. This space age is already subsumed by the same rhetoric and ideology of the first space age of the 1960s and the missions to the moon. Mars is already claimed and a part of the capitalist progressive framework of Late Modernism, now reborn through Neoliberalism. It is simply an updating of prior rhetoric which it is looking to re-institute, a modernization of past fantasies.

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Government-backed nostalgia

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WHERE NO ONE HAS GONE BEFORE

What is there now for the left? For those who aim to step outside the ideological encapsulation of the capitalist progressive narrative? If Modernity means to be focused on the creation of the future, the future as laid out before us is already subsumed under its rhetoric. Neoliberalism, Modernism, and Capitalism have already exported themselves to become extra-planetary frameworks. What is the future if we keep playing out the same fantasies out of nostalgia? It is as Walter Benjamin describes the angel of time in Paul Klee’s painting Angelus Novus, instead of a chain of new events we keep piling the same wreckage upon wreckage—our time is not linear but a circular loop transpositioning rhetoric and ideologues into the present and future. Perhaps what there is now is the attempt to step outside our natural history, out of our time and space, to worlds without a past and without nostalgia. The legendary and progressive science fiction writer Ursula K. LeGuin once called for science-fiction writers to pick up where theorists have failed and to start imagining the end of capitalism. In her novels, such as The Left Hand of Darkness, LeGuin defines new worlds with their own genders and non-genders and its own concept and working of time. Perhaps, it is by these propositions we can begin to step outside of our world into new ones where we can think and posit outside the looping nature of our time. In these worlds we are free to define progress for ourselves, not left to the modernist-capitalist understanding which we keep falling back upon. Through these postulations we can begin to imagine new futures that differ and reject the ones we are presented with. Instead of Mars, which is a modern nostalgic fantasy, we should look to the exoplanets and embrace their multitude and the confusion and possibilities they bring. In these worlds, upon these distant heavenly bodies, we are the Ubik, outside of time, the creators of suns and worlds.•

 

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Type Designers Q&A: Milieu Grotesque

  Milieu Grotesque, established in 2010 by Timo Gaessner and Alexander Colby, is a Zurich-based independent publisher and distributor of typefaces and related products. Milieu Grotesque’s collection of typefaces combine the rigor and precision of a seasoned type foundry with a particular edge that keep their typefaces looking timely and contemporary. One is struck by a feeling of familiarity […]

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Milieu Grotesque, established in 2010 by Timo Gaessner and Alexander Colby, is a Zurich-based independent publisher and distributor of typefaces and related products.

Milieu Grotesque’s collection of typefaces combine the rigor and precision of a seasoned type foundry with a particular edge that keep their typefaces looking timely and contemporary. One is struck by a feeling of familiarity within their typefaces—typefaces which often nod to certain timeless greats. There are modern takes on IBM typewriter-inspired classics as well as slick reworkings of geometric grotesques of the previous century.

Below, Timo has responded to ten questions regarding his and Alexander’s practice as type designers. Timo, who made his start as a graphic designer, frames-out a healthy introspection (and even, at times, cautionary observation) of the discipline of graphic design and it’s interlaced relationship to type design.

 


 

Ryan Gerald Nelson (RGN): To start, a foundational question: How do graphic designers see typefaces differently than type designers?

Milieu Grotesque: Well, it’s always difficult making general statements on this regard, but maybe type designers tend to be more concerned about details like conceptual and historical references, formal aspects, execution, etc. While graphic designers tend to approach, select and judge a typeface by its looks and appearance.

RGN: Assuming that graphic designers define the majority of your customer base, you undoubtedly observe the field of graphic design. Are your observations more subconscious and undefined? Or do you take the time to survey the sub-genres of graphic design? How do your observations enter into the equation of how you conceive your typefaces?

Milieu Grotesque: As we are both graphic designers by trade, naturally, some of our experience gained over the last 15 years of practice is influential. It is part of our professional philosophy to approach a project based on research—so yes, we do observe and follow what’s happening (sometimes with concern).

But we’re not much interested in, nor do we survey any sub-genres. We are rather interested in, what we believe to be, substantial matters that contribute to a progressive development of how we conceive design and communication and that will pass the test of time. So we’ve strived to develop a library that is a modern, comprehensive selection of typefaces that contribute to these ideas and therefore hopefully remain somewhat relevant.

The basic ideas that drive our typefaces have many different sources, but so far it’s never been based on the calculation of an upcoming trend or genre. After all, we’ve never managed to develop and release a typeface in less than a time span of 3 years (sometimes even longer). That said, it’s quite unlikely to be able to foresee what’s supposed to be happening, especially in graphic design.

 

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An assortment of projects showing Milieu Grotesque typefaces in use.

 

RGN: Do you guys cater the stylistic elements of your typefaces to appeal to a particular type of graphic designer? Or is that irrelevant?

Milieu Grotesque: Maybe due to our background as graphic designers, when developing a typeface, we often aim to implement a somewhat different, additional stylistic variation to offer and maybe aspire for a certain application and, to our understanding, an interesting usage. Naturally, we want to reach as many designers as possible, offering modern, well-executed typefaces that are suitable for as many applications as possible. Then, after all, choosing a typeface is the easiest part of the job.

RGN: Could you elaborate on one or two examples of specific ideas or conceptual underpinnings that have been embedded within your typefaces and how they derived?

Milieu Grotesque: With our most recognized typeface Maison Neue, the design referenced certain sans-serifs dating back to the early 20th century. Many of these early grotesk typefaces were created in the spirit of the parallel-happening architectural movement called “Neue Sachlichkeit,” implementing a simple, reduced formality (ornament is crime!) based on constructed principles (grids). To us, this roughly executed principle, including all of its oddities, has a particular flavor that a “modern,” optically well-balanced grotesk is missing. However, the new version (Maison Neue) is based on the same principles yet executed in a less dogmatic way.

 

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Specimens of the upcoming Maison Neue family—enhancements include two lighter weights, two heaver weights, and also a corresponding extended family. Release is scheduled for Fall 2016.

 

Lacrima is based upon the famous IBM Golfball typewriter called Light Italic. We have added additional weights and two interpretations to the original design, Serif and Senza, to conceive a comprehensive family with a variety of styles.

 

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Lacrima family

 

Additionally, our typeface named Patron is based on the contradictory approaches and ideas of type designers Günther Gerhard Lange and Roger Excoffon. Günther Gerhard Lange, a war veteran and longtime art director of Berthold Type Foundry, was most famous for his historically-derived and strict approach. His work includes precise, consequent, and modern interpretations of today’s classics, such as: Akzidenz Grotesk, Garamond, and Bodoni (to name just a few). Roger Excoffon on the other hand, a former adman and French bon vivant, was known for his more expressive body of work. Most notably is his typeface Antique Olive which is defined by a number of unique formal ideas and attributes that are still considered outstanding today.

 

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Promotional image for Patron

 

RGN: It certainly seems as though a commonality amongst most type foundries operating today is that most have one or more inspired-grotesques in their offerings. Have you taken notice to this as well? Either way, do you believe that it’s obligatory or a part of some unspoken tradition for any serious type foundry to create and offer their own take on a classic grotesque? More specifically, given their appeal, do you think the creation of these sorts of typefaces (such as Brezel Grotesk in your case) are driven by a competitive spirit amongst new type foundries?

Milieu Grotesque: Yes, of course, we have noticed this. But, we believe the large amount of the clean, minimalistic grotesks that have been released lately have their roots in commercial interests. Comparable to the recent hype around SUV models for the car industry, there is an ongoing demand for neo-grotesks due to reasons one can only assume. Some early adaptations have been successful, and their success has been recognized and has encouraged others to try to achieve the same. So yes, there is a certainly a competitive spirit. And no, we don’t think it is obligatory to offer a grotesk as a modern foundry.

RGN: Past year’s within the field of type design have seemingly given rise to many typefaces which are imbued with a certain degree of, shall we say, willful awkwardness. One might see the bends, flourishes, and forms of these typefaces as strange and unnecessary. Or one might see these sorts of details as vital and responsive to the proclivities of graphic designers. Are these sorts of “willfully awkward” typefaces something that you recognize? Support? Practice? Oppose?

Milieu Grotesque: It’s surely positive that type design has become more popular amongst young designers lately and that there is the will to test its limits—after all, it’s a rather slow developing discipline. Most of those willfully-awkward-designed letterforms are not meant to work as a versatile typeface and may therefore be simply (expressively designed) letters (and not a typeface), per definition, which is much easier to achieve than the sorts of well-executed and versatile systems that we understand as typefaces. We pay little attention to this trending style as we believe it will pass and vanish, like many others have before them.

 

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Coperto specimen

 

RGN: There does seem to be an uptick in the number and popularity of, for the lack of a better term, “pop-up” type foundries. Maybe this can be attributed to the easy accessibility of font-making software? Or perhaps this can be attributed to the rise of entrepreneurial graphic designers who have not only a cursory knowledge of how to make a font, but also the desire to design every known aspect of a given project for the sake of achieving the idea of a “bespoke” creation?

Milieu Grotesque: Indeed, we are astonished and curious about the vast amount of foundries that have been popping up lately. It seems as if type design has taken over what, a few years back, self-publishing used to be. It became fashionable amongst graphic designers then and we can see the same happening for type design now.

Sure, one aspect is that font editors aren’t as complex and abstract as they used to be, which makes the tools more accessible. Also, type design has gained more interest amongst students, hence schools and universities are reacting and offering more on that subject.

Yet, apparently, there is a certain understanding and respect regarding copyrights that is missing. To our experience, developing a typeface from scratch takes at least 2000 hours—which is more than a year of straight working time. So it leaves us wondering, how is it possible for a small-scale foundry, founded by one or a maximum of two persons (presumably in there mid 20’s and having just finished their studies), to enter the market with several families?

RGN: Spinning off of the last question: do you see that the existence of this type of individual (this sort of entrepreneurial graphic designer) who is successfully and simultaneously able to act as both graphic designer and type designer within a single project is a becoming more of a rarity? Or a new, pervasive reality?

Milieu Grotesque: To our understanding, entrepreneurship is an important part of running a contemporary design studio. We believe that design, as the service-orientated practice that we have known since the rise of modernism, might vanish due the digital revolution (just as typesetting and lithography have gone before). Consequently, future (graphic) designers will have no other choice than to develop entrepreneurial skills and set up there own multi-disciplinary businesses, whether it will be a type foundry or something completely different.

 

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Recently released Chapeau family

 

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A letter written by Johnny Cash, addressed to former U.S. president Gerald Ford. The letter is typeset in IBM Doric, a typeface which was a reference point for Milieu Grotesque’s typeface, Chapeau.

 

RGN: In almost all creative disciplines, it seems as though almost everything is a derivative of something (or a multitude of things) from the past. Some disciplines embrace the inescapable reality of the influence of their predecessors by directly sampling their work (i.e., sampling beats or lyrics in hip-hop, or with filmmakers, like Quentin Tarantino, who have developed a style for themselves that relies on referencing and nodding to filmmakers of past eras). All that said, it seems difficult, especially within the discipline of typography, to not be referential of the history of type design. In your view, does reference material seem tied to the discipline of type design and it’s creations? If not, where do you believe innovative and new forms stem from within type design?

Milieu Grotesque: We consider the term “revolution” as the greatest myth of today’s (graphic design) postmodernism. What revolution has fundamentally changed graphic design since the early/mid-20th century and still holds up today? We believe in evolution rather than in revolution, and believe that slow and naturally-developing progression has a more sustainable impact. After all, even as a type designer, it’s simply impossible to reinvent the (latin) alphabet. So yes, we are very much tied to design history and the only innovation possible is in technical context. Due to digital evolution, we are now able to draw and develop typefaces that perform with more precision and complexity than ever before.

We think most of the innovation happening lately is due to the understanding of typefaces as being larger systems. Not in terms of weights, but more in terms of style and their variations as a means of creating a family/system that is suitable for any application there is. Those “Super Families” are based on a formal scheme/structure and embody large variations that include different contrasts, serifs, and sans-serifs, proportional and mono-spaced, engraved, shadow, stencil, etc.

 

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RGN: On the Milieu Grotesque website, in addition to the typefaces that are for sale, you offer an assortment of promotional products for sale. Some are expected (such as type specimens and posters) and some are not so expected (beanies, necklaces, etc). How did you arrive at the decision to offer this mix of products? And has it changed how you are perceived by your peers and customers?

Milieu Grotesque: Besides our professional practices, we have a large interest in DIY and what has lately come to be known as “Maker Culture.” Many of the “not so expected” products you have mentioned have there roots in this interest and turned out to be a fun addition to the (sometime too serious) business of distributing typefaces.

Though, we initially conceived the product section to be the print-publishing part and a space where we could distribute specimens plus various (external) writings as a theoretical extension to the rather practical aspects of graphic and type design.

But we soon let go of this rather restrictive concept and went on to understand this section as a more experimental part for related products and ideas. We have come to realize that this is a great opportunity to interact and start a dialog with other designers whom we might not have met and talked to otherwise.

 

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Patron specimen posters, designed by Sulki & Min

 

So we started to reach out to individuals and studios whose work we find interesting and we asked them to contribute to this section. It’s an approach that has turned out to be an enriching and influential part to our personal development and professional understanding. Since launching this section, we have gratefully collaborated with many interesting people, including Maiko Gubler (Berlin), Sulki & Min (Seoul), and Bunch (London) to mention a few, and we have a future project with photographer Tobias Faisst (Berlin) which we are very much looking forward to.

RGN: Many thanks for your time, Timo!

 

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—See more of Milieu Grotesque’s work on their website, Facebook, or Twitter. (Image credit: digital rendering at top of post made by visual artist Maiko Gubler)

Never Not Learning (Summer-specific)—Part 1: Intro and Identities

Still of Mark Harmon, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Fabiana Udenio, Dean Cameron, Kelly Jo Minter, Gary Riley, and Shawnee Smith in Summer School (1987).   –––––– Never Not Learning (Summer-specific) is a series of 4 blog posts (to be published here, on The Gradient) reflecting on the (not-so) recent wave of self-initiated graphic design workshops which have been […]

still-of-mark-harmon,-courtney-thorne-smith,-fabiana-udenio,-dean-cameron,-kelly-jo-minter,-gary-riley-and-shawnee-smith-in-summer-school-(1987)

Still of Mark Harmon, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Fabiana Udenio, Dean Cameron, Kelly Jo Minter, Gary Riley, and Shawnee Smith in Summer School (1987).

 

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Never Not Learning (Summer-specific) is a series of 4 blog posts (to be published here, on The Gradient) reflecting on the (not-so) recent wave of self-initiated graphic design workshops which have been self-characterized as Summer Schools. This and the blog posts to come feature extended conversations between the organizers of:

A Escola Livre (BR)
Asterisk Summer School (EE)
Escola Aberta (BR)
Maybe a School, Maybe a Park (CA)
Parallel School (which belongs to no one!)
Registration School (UK)
Van Eyck Summer Design Academy: Digital Campfire Series (NL)
The Ventriloquist Summerschool (NO)

(For those curious about the list and the selection of participants: it is, quite literally/limitedly, derived from a breadcrumb trail of friendships and encounters made over the past five years).

We raise topics such as deinstitutionalization, continuing education, student debt, the joy of being together, long-distance relationships, regional conditions and forum-making. These topics (among many others) were on the table for discussion, and often at the same time.


A Escola Livre (Brasil)

Screen-Shot-2016-07-23-at-10.17.38-PM

 

(Organized by Guilherme Falcão and Tereza Bettinardi)

A Escola Livre (Free School) is named that way because we wanted things to be clear from the start. Our proposal–working with cycles of a month, month and half, mixing subjects, not having a fixed venue, having interviews instead of classes or lectures–might be interpreted as too experimental and weird, almost more as a “project” than an actual school. So we wanted the name to express both things: it IS a school–because it is about learning, the exchange of knowledge and creating a community–and it is a place where anything can happen (or at least everything can be at least discussed and considered).

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Asterisk Summer School (Estonia)

Photo by Andree Paat

Photo by Andree Paat

(Organized by Elisabeth Klement and Laura Pappa)

Asterisk Summer School takes its name from the Asterisk portable bookshop, which was a pop-up bookshop format we were previously running in Estonia. It’s hard for us to decipher now where exactly the name Asterisk originates from as we were young design students when deciding on our moniker and it seems to have stuck ever since. We don’t really read into its meaning so much because, for us, it’s more of a marker that shares a connection with the bookshop events.

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Escola Aberta (Brasil)

Photo by Radim Peško

Photo by Radim Peško

(Organized by Nina Paim, Clara Meliande and Tania Grillo)

Escola Aberta is Portuguese for “Open School.” The title is always followed by a colon and a verb (“Escola Aberta is:____________”) as a direct and open question on “what makes a school?” as well as an attempt to spark a conversation and question the necessary conditions for learning to happen. We wanted to investigate these questions on different levels: what is the physical structure of the school?, who makes the school?, how are participants selected?, how can they interact?, what are the modes of learning?, what drives the the activities?, etc. The program was drafted by a group of 40 participants from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy, who individually responded to the question “what makes a school?” We started by listing the different environments where knowledge could be produced and exchanged. Each participant then became responsible for initiating one activity in the framework of these environments/set-ups. Some examples were: a pop-up library, a design court, a radio station, a bar, a therapeutic booth, a talk show, a cinema, a silent scriptorium and a typographic safari. Finally, a group of 60 participants from Brazil were selected based on an open application which consisted of answering three fundamental questions: Who are you? What do you want to learn? and What can you teach?

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Maybe a School, Maybe a Park (Canada)

Photo by Richmond Lam

Photo by Richmond Lam

(Organized by Sean Yendrys)

Maybe a School, Maybe a Park grew out of initial uncertainty towards how we wanted to frame ourselves and the week-long experience. There were admittedly a number of different names (perhaps far too many) being thrown around in the process leading up to our launch, but none felt right. They either felt like they claimed to be too much or nothing at all. We did not like framing ourselves specifically as a school and the weight that might be attached with the expectations of it. After all, it’s summer time and in many ways this is less a school and more an excuse for many people to simply come together over common interests and have a good time, while also perhaps creating some school-like camaraderie in the process of making great/bad/weird/cool/fun things. In the end, embracing and acknowledging a kind of indecision and uncertainty that exists between the more academic settings of a school and the free-for-all attitude of a park felt quite nice. Also, the space we’re using is an old parking garage turned gallery and bookshop, so perhaps the word Park plays into this too.

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Parallel School

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(that, although not belonging to anyone, was represented here by Till Wittwer and Robert Preusse)

Parallel School formulates the idea of an imaginary structure, a place to engage and discuss in parallel to the existing universities and academies. It arises from a sense of dissatisfaction with some of the conventional institutions, their approaches towards teaching, and the personal need and interest in a mutual exchange with like-minded people. One of the forms in which this exchange takes on is the Parallel School Workshop, usually lasting 4–5 days. The self-organized education model can be performed by almost anyone—its only requirement is that all participants contribute in the form of a lecture, intervention, or workshop to the Parallel School.

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Registration School (UK)

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(Organized by Callum Copley)

The name of our School (Registration School) is in part derived from the idea of “Registration,” in relation to printing. However, within printing it refers to the alignment of layers of ink, but in our context it relates to the coming together of peoples and ideas in a single place and the sharing of knowledge and creativity that comes with this act. The word “Registration” also has a second reference to that of a “School Register” of the names of students taken at the start of a class.

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Van Eyck Summer Academy: Digital Campfire Series (Netherlands)

design by Meeuwontwerpt.nl

 

(Organized by the Design Displacement Group)

Our Summer School was named “Digital Campfire,” a reference to the way we communicate in our current day and age. In 2015, the internet is fast becoming the campfire of modern times, the place where we gather: our hectic lives are freeze-framed around it. There, we circle with friends, share and tell stories, exchange, and inform. This is where our new ideas arise, and where the old and the new meet—in a conditional game between the digital and the archaic.

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The Ventriloquist Summerschool (Norway)

TVSS Public Programme 2015: Jan-Robert Henriksen presenting one of his characters.

TVSS Public Programme 2015: Jan-Robert Henriksen presenting one of his characters.

(Organized by João Doria and Kristina Ketola Bore)

The Ventriloquist Summerschool began to take shape after a continued discussion between the 2 of us about the role of voice in design practices. We established that ventriloquism would be an apt metaphor given that there’s an alternation between gaining, losing, and recovering a personal perspective in the creative process and while performing creativity as well. The choice for a summer school format was an experiment in jumping into what we recognized as an ongoing conversation and figuring out whether it would make sense to our local audience.


 

A genuine thanks to all the organizers mentioned above and, additionally, to Roosje Klap, Paul Bailey, and Gilles de Brock for all the prompt responses and shared material.

The next posts will address issues such as economy, regionalities and globalities, audiences, motivations, and more.

 

Lee Kit: Hold your breath, dance slowly—The making of a visual identity

  Exhibition view   On the exhibition Curated by Misa Jeffereis, the exhibition Lee Kit: Hold your breath, dance slowly marks visual artist Lee Kit’s first U.S. solo show. Kit invites you to wander into soft-lighted galleries, hold your breath in quiet anticipation, and slowly sway from nook to nook to the melody of Elvis Presley’s […]

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Exhibition view

 

On the exhibition

Curated by Misa Jeffereis, the exhibition Lee Kit: Hold your breath, dance slowly marks visual artist Lee Kit’s first U.S. solo show. Kit invites you to wander into soft-lighted galleries, hold your breath in quiet anticipation, and slowly sway from nook to nook to the melody of Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling in Love (1961) to experience the various emotions created by Kit’s work.

As Kit worked in the gallery space in the two weeks leading up to the exhibition opening, he arranged objects and projections, created new artworks, and found unity with the space itself. He formed an emotional installation, where visitors can feel traces of the body which previously inhabited the space. Contrary to more open gallery spaces, Lee offers us a domestic space with many walls and doorways which—together with tables, folding chairs, lamps, and other household furnishings—creates an intimate and deeply personal space.

 

Invitation for the xhibition opening

Invitation for the exhibition opening

 

Invitation for the xhibition opening

Invitation for the exhibition opening

 

Lobby monitors–museum signage.

Digital lobby signage

 

Title wall vinyl–museum signage.

Vinyl title wall signage

 

Exhibition view.

Exhibition view

 

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Exhibition view

 

On the visual identity

As an artist who makes site-specific installations, we had relatively little information (knowing only the title and the exhibition floor plan) to respond to before Lee’s arrival to the Walker. I took the title: “Lee Kit: Hold your breath, dance slowly,” and composed it in a way that the viewer could begin to feel the type of space and motion seen throughout the exhibition. In response to the various material sizes on which the title would be displayed, as well as the various routes one could enter and move through the gallery space, I decided that the title should be typographically rearranged in each of its iterations. This small intervention allows the viewer to both read each word separately and to connect them into the original title in various orders. As I realized later on, during the two weeks working with Kit, this approach/method was also his way of creating installations: finding objects, rearranging them, and making associative connections between each element until they created a substantial entity.

The gallery guide contains not only the traditional three-dimensional drawing of walls, but it also contains discrete representations of elements found within the exhibition, such as lamps and a TV-rack, as a way facilitating one’s navigation of the space and to underline the domesticity of the exhibition. The gallery guide also features images that showcase Lee Kit’s interest in light as a medium. Through the use of subtle duotone colors, the images become softer and evoke associations with the artist’s video projections and natural light. In further response to this quality of lightness (in terms of both visual lightness and perceptual feeling), the exhibition’s title is typeset in white (or, at times, in dark blue) on a light blue background in order to achieve a light, floating vibe. Furthermore, this quality of lightness within the typographic compositions is further emphasized through its relationship to the gallery itself and the way in which it functions similarly to the experience of navigating through the gallery space.

Light is one of the primary elements seen in Kit’s body of work. In the exhibition at the Walker, Kit used standing lamps and projectors as a source light. Fragile and ephemeral video works often capture the sunlight and projections fade into each other, merging with visitor’s shadows. Kit plays with stretching moments that attract his attention, extending them again and again in such a way that visitors to the gallery become detached from their familiarity to the common, domestic products seen throughout the exhibition. This feeling is amplified further by the nature of the installation which seems to have no beginning, middle, or end.

After researching Kit’s work, I came to understand that the work can be poetic, fragile, emotional, subtle, dynamic, and open, but that it can also be bitter and sometimes direct. Two paintings—Fuck you. (100g) and a piece called You, where Kit placed words produced by an inkjet transfer stating “You feed yourself everyday”—create moments of directness and harsh typographic messages which clash (visually and emotionally) with the tranquil mise-en-scène of the exhibition. Responding to this duality within Kit’s work informed my choice of Stanley as a typeface. Stanley is a font inspired by Times New Roman—perhaps the most classic typeface of the 20th century. The selected typeface is characterized by wide and sharp counter forms as well as short ascenders and descenders that generate neat typeset arrangements. The very graphic shape of the triangle-like serifs benefit from a maximum of contrast. This, in combination with the fully-justified texts that compose both the invitation and gallery guide, gives the typographic texture a strong and highly constructed appearance. As such, my use of Stanley became a means of highlighting the contrast between the very graphic forms of the typographic messages and the soft, lightness of the floods of blue projections.

Photos and design: Gabriela Baka

 

Gallery guide, with introduction text, map and installation views.

Gallery guide (which includes an introductory text, map, and installation views)

 

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Details exhibition floor plan.

Detail view of the exhibition floor plan

 

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7 Genders, 7 Typographies: Hacking the Binary

In a recent panel at the New Museum, artist Jacob Ciocci defined technology as “anything that organizes or takes apart reality,” which prompted a realization: gender could be also be understood as a kind of technology unto itself. The 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial proposes that the ultimate aim of design is a redesign of the […]

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In a recent panel at the New Museum, artist Jacob Ciocci defined technology as “anything that organizes or takes apart reality,” which prompted a realization: gender could be also be understood as a kind of technology unto itself.

The 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial proposes that the ultimate aim of design is a redesign of the species. Under this premise, in an era where hormone molecules are produced in laboratories and distinctions like “female” and “male” are eroding, the “gender hacker” can be seen as a radical innovator in the ongoing design of the human. Hormones, regardless of their origins, flow through our bloodstream distributing “chemical messages”—to borrow a term used by Paul Preciado in Testo Junkie (The Feminist Press, 2013) —just as letterforms distribute words throughout bodies of text.

Language bears the responsibility of communication, and like typography, gender must be understood as an expressive format that evolves with the needs of its user. As a species, we continue to move beyond the constraints of the body. So, too, must the constructs of gender and the vocabulary we use to describe them. One voice in the construction of this language is Esben Esther P. Benestad, a progressive sexologist and one of Norway’s most public trans figures. Hir work as a therapist has flipped the script on gender norms by actively documenting people’s response to the question, “What is your gender?” All responses are equally validated, the subject dictates their own status, and gender is self-determined rather than diagnosed. Through these conversations with real people Benestad has observed seven unique genders: Female, Male, Intersex, Trans, Non-Conforming, Personal, and Eunuch.

Linking Ciocci’s thinking with Benestad’s, Façadomy invited seven graphic designers (Mylinh Trieu Nguyen, Andrew Sloat, Riley Hooker, Ely Kim, Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Ksenya Samaskaya, and Lobregat Balaguer)—each having pushed the limits of the “d” word in their own practice—to reflect on the seven genders through typographic metaphor. Below, each gender definition—created by Façadomy with Benestad—is followed by each designer’s response.

 

FEMALE

Pronouns: She/Her

A Female is an individual who describes herself as Female and can be considered one of the gender majorities. Femaleness derives most of its conventions from the characteristics attached to individuals that are chromosomally XX: production of ova, milk-producing mammary glands (after childbirth), a higher ratio of fat to body weight than Males, fairer voice, motherhood and caregiving. When an XX individual with the conventional characteristics of Female also perceives herself as Female, this is understood as Cis-Female. Females may have another chromosomal constellation or may not possess any of the traditional characteristics at all.

CHICAGO 12PT
By Mylinh Trieu Nguyen

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Lisa had a face of her own, one that you’d recognize almost immediately, even years later. Her curveless figure, tapered edges, and bold stems did not reflect feminine conventions. What made her distinctly female however was the context in which she was born.

02-chicago-view

A product of the 1980s, she represented the rise of a minority workforce, another advancement in the technology of feminism. Through a complex union of intuition and pragmatism, she grew from an innate desire to communicate, to connect, and to be open. Her existence dislodged generalizations.

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Her bare body, undressed from frivolity, focused on function and iteration; imagining the countless possibilities that her form could actualize. The complexity of her make-up is illuminated at varying distances. From afar, her features are softened, her contours implied.

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02-chicago-special-200px

01-chicago-special copy

In intimacy, she reveals her true construction, from edge to edge. The strength of her face is in her ability to be simultaneously ubiquitous and individual. Her body, in all of its bitmap glory only lives on as a memory of a specific time and place. Edges replaced by semi circles, her image resolved to embracing all of her curvature. The terms of her femininity are not monolithic but always in flux.

Brand-New-02Like Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, she does not submit to the gender definitions of her time. Rather her fractured body and jagged lines come to symbolize a new model and archetype for femininity (constantly) moving forward in the modern world.

CHICAGO-PAINT-TRI

Chicago 12pt, 1984. First typeface designed for Apple Computers by Susan Kare.


Mylinh Trieu Nguyen is principal and creative director of STUDIO LHOOQ and codirector of LORD LUDD, a contemporary art gallery in Philadelphia.

 

MALE

Pronouns: He, Him

A Male is an individual who describes himself as Male and can be considered one of the gender majorities. Maleness derives most of its conventions from characteristics attached to individuals that are chromosomally XY: sperm production, Male sex organs, deepened voice after puberty, a higher ratio of muscle mass to body fat than Females. When an XY individual with the conventional characteristics of a Male also perceives himself as Male, this individual is understood as a Cis-Male. Males may have another chromosomal constellation or may not possess any of the traditional characteristics listed above.

Male-TRI

STANDARD, ARIAL, HELVETICA, OR WHATEVER
By Andrew Sloat

Unimark, briefly the largest design firm in the world, proposed to tame the raucous diversity of 1960s NYC subway signage by choosing to consolidate it into Helvetica. This turned out to be impossible on the existing machines, so eventually they settled for the available typeface Standard (an American name for Akzidenz Grotesk), with its beefier stance, swingy S, and underbite e. But after the entire graphic system was installed, sign-making technology improved; reverting to the intended Helvetica became too hard to resist. The initially unwanted and slightly-off Akzidenz, which had done the job when no one else could, was slowly and quietly replaced with the more generic option, with its straighter lines and broader shoulders.

Arial was created so that typewriter companies wouldn’t have to pay for Helvetica. It’s mathematically built to replace Helvetica exactly, but with enough details stolen from other typefaces so that it isn’t really the same—and yet only experts can easily differentiate them. The story is convoluted, and ultimately Arial gets lumped in with the rest of the middle-ground sans serifs. To most readers Helvetica and Arial are effectively the same: normal and authoritative.

But some people like to make a big scene over how the subtle adjustments between Standard or Akzidenz or Helvetica or Arial or whatever actually make them totally different. We pay those people more.

Andrew Sloat is a graphic designer and filmmaker who lives in Brooklyn, teaches at RISD, and is currently the creative director at BAM.

 

INTERSEX

An individual who describes themselves as Intersex.

Benestad includes Intersex as a gender category, although medically it is understood as a classification of sex, for those born with a variation between Male and Female anatomy and/or genetics. Variations are endlessly diverse. In 2016, nearly 25 percent of the world’s population has access to a legal Intersex identification at birth with India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh as major contributors. The remaining 75 percent of the world, including the United States, are only left with the options of Male or Female. Intersex individuals are often surgically and/or hormonally “corrected” (AKA mutilated) at birth or near puberty to fit within the dominant societal sex/gender categories of Male and Female. Because these measures are taken so early on, they often grow to identify with another gender later in life. In this respect, they become, for instance, Male-to-Intersex (MtI) or Female-to-Intersex (FtI).

OctaviaStLaurent-TRI-2

Detail of the title sequence for Octavia St. Laurent: Queen of the Underground (1993), directed by Adam Soch

“3L33T” SPEAK
By Riley Hooker

Octavia Saint Laurent (1964–2009) was born out of New York City’s vogue scene in the 1980s and is perhaps best known for her iconic appearance in the 1990 film Paris is Burning. Her proto-queer existence was radical—anticipating an event horizon in the history of sexual difference. No, she is not a woman. No, she is not a man. Neither and both, she is Octavia by design.

Meanwhile in the virtual underbelly of online bulletin boards a symbolic language called “L337 sp34k” was born in resistance to a new regime of online filters. To many it was the death of grammar. To others it was the grammar of death. Death to the privatization of knowledge and power online. A superfluid cipher that could be applied to a multitude of languages. Traces of this rebellion are found in the title treatment to the 1993 documentary, Queen of the Underground, starring Ms. Saint Laurent.

This stylistic hack brings a new logic into the typographic vernacular, effectively bringing an endless variation of forms into a cohesive whole. Intersexness to the gender hacker performs the same feat, exploding the linearity of the Male/Female spectrum to achieve elite status in the third dimension.

Riley Hooker is a graphic designer based in New York and is the editor and designer of Façadomy.

 

TRANS

Pronouns: He/Him, She/Her, Ze/Hir, et al

When an individual’s gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth, they may be inclined to transition to another point within the vast constellation of gender. A full transition in the subjective sense is to adjust the body as much as is necessary for that individual. Sometimes, the adjustments will go as far as is possible toward the other gender majority, but those whose Transtalents are particularly strong will still identify as Trans. In this sense, Trans-identifying individuals do not succumb to the societal pressure to be passable as either Female or Male. It is not necessary to pick a fixed point. For many, the transition is fluid and ongoing.

TRANS-TRI-02

AVENIR NEXT HEAVY
By Ely Kim

When I was a kid, I had an alphabet book that illustrated each letter as a person. They were dressed in clothes, wore shoes, and carried accessories. Most of them were dressed for a day at the office, and were dressed as either a Male or a Female. A completely arbitrary gender assigned to each letter of the alphabet by the illustrator. Seeing each letter existing as one end of a gender binary gave me a complex. It made me see gender in places that I had not before. Everything became arbitrarily gendered.

As an adult I have a lot of questions…

Why is most of the alphabet male?

Why was the “F” not a female?

Why was every one of the last six letters of the alphabet assigned as female?

Why do these distinctions matter?

It was a similarly puzzling exercise to choose a typeface with any meaningful representation of a trans experience. As arbitrary as an illustrator assigning each letter of the alphabet a gender. To be honest, every typeface I was experimenting with started feeling trans because it’s completely subjective. So I ended up just going with my very first try, Avenir Next Heavy.

Ely Kim is an art director/dancer/healer based in New York.

 

NON-CONFORMING

Pronouns: They/Them, Ze/Hir, Other

A gender Nonconformist is an individual who describes themselves as not gendered—maintaining the potential to subscribe but actively refusing to do so. Often these individuals hold strong political beliefs that gender does not exist or that it is a social construct that can be ignored. Many individuals in this category seek to adjust their appearance to reflect their non-gendered status by, for instance, removing their breasts or wearing gender-neutral clothing.

Zulu-hymnal-TRI

UNKNOWN BOOK TYPE
By Nontsikelelo Mutiti

My first type design project was based on the characters I found in 18th- and 19th-century missionary bibles. For my research I requested the Ngoni, Xhosa, and Zulu bibles, along with The Negro English Bible, a translation of the scriptures into a pidgin dialect used at that time between the British and number of tribes in the region of Southern Africa.

As I traced the letterforms, researching approximate typefaces, what I thought would be a lesson in conventions became an exploration of the contradictions in the forms of certain characters. It was these deviations that aided in asserting the identity of the typeface, and distinguished it from the others.

In my mother’s childhood Zulu hymnal printed in 1956 a Ъ represents a specific sound, that melting together of the softest b and w. This interests me less as a design technique or answer but as a question around the gaps between our languages and the capacity for the predetermined set of 26 characters to reconcile them.

As a “born free” Zimbabwean, my expression emerges from the collision between cultural frameworks. Often times I feel most articulate when speaking mispronounced broken vernacular. An exercise that began with a goal to faithfully redraw these colonial typefaces ended as a lesson in transgression, which is perhaps where identity becomes visible.

Nontsikelelo Mutiti is a Zimbabwean visual artist working across geographies and disciplines.

 

PERSONAL

Pronouns: et al

When Benestad asked Oscar what Oscar’s gender was, Oscar simply responded, “I’m Oscar.” Though fully presenting as a lady (with a visible bulge), Oscar wants to be referred to as “he.” A Personal gendered individual is someone who identifies as Themselves. Oscar engenders himself with his own name (and pronoun of choice). It is not a political statement, but rather one that it requires an introduction because, in order to properly address Oscar, one must first know Oscar’s name. A Personal gendered individual relies only on their self to be validated as such.

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Personal, Wyeth from Solonka Type Foundry

THE SOLONKA TYPE FAMILY
By Ksenya Samarskaya

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been actively discussing, questioning and considering gender. Wherein our recent generational past, it’s been weighted at the male/female poles… I’ve watched it shift, over the course of my heed, beautifully, prismatically towards the scatter-plotted center. Towards the personal. Towards the individual, self-defining, authentic re-mixing of all the codifiers.

As we (Samarskaya & Partners) refine and draw out the character of typeforms, the same divergent synaesthesia comes into play. With type, as well as with gender, I’m most compelled by a well-defined balance and a strong point of view. For example, there’s the graceful lines and unadorned details that form the mainstay for Wyeth. You sense its proper posture, its understated decorum, the worn-in button-up shirt. Or Diote, with its square shoulders and soft curves, an Eighties icon without the teased hair.

While type isn’t (hasn’t/shouldn’t be) inherently associated with gender, each well-developed typeface is full of personality… so if we’re gonna take to anthropomorphizing, I intend to continue drafting type that has the complexity and the versatility of the personal. Not an absence of gender, but an irrelevance that embraces the particular. Embraces function. Embraces idiosyncratic beauty.

Samarskaya_Diote-DUO

I am what I it: Diote from Solonka Type Foundry

Ksenya Samaskaya is creative practitioner, type designer, and board member of the AIGANY.

 

EUNUCH

Pronouns: Et al

Historical accounts of Eunuchs go back almost as far as recorded history. It was a practical solution to an age-old problem, preserving patriarchal bloodlines. And what better way than by castrating the Males charged with protecting royal Females? Today’s Eunuch is a Male that consciously decides to be castrated. With the aid of testosterone injections, they are able to boost their sex drives, receive erections, and even ejaculate. Post-castration, it is often reported that (due to the lack of testosterone) Eunuchs feel patient, clear-headed, and don’t get angry. They also tend to develop more fatty tissue. Some Eunuchs say it is an act of liberation from the societal pressures that masculinity has placed on to them.



EU-02

AERIAL BOLD
By Lobregat Balaguer

In design, one type of eunuch could be social architecture. For castration to be achieved, the social architect should be truly immersed within a beneficiary community, committed to putting their input and needs as a priority. Control of the design libido is sacrificed, willingly or under coercive duress. This does not necessarily mean that whatever the amputee produces must be of inferior quality or value. It simply means that traditional standards of what is desirable, beautiful, functional, full of design libido, no longer apply.

If the castration is forced, this is generally a traumatic experience which can later be leveraged towards another identity of enlightenment or redemption—the warrior or priest eunuch. If the castration is sought after as a tool for spiritual gain, it is a liberation from classic, archaic, centralized tenets of what is and is not a design’s strength.

NU-02

This doesn’t imply a disappearance of the architect’s stamp, a fear native to many designers. It is merely a commitment to putting a beneficiary community’s will on an equal level as the donor’s will, thus reversing the traditional sources of power, which generally flow from north to south; west to east, or Developed to Developing.

Some architects find this reversal of power (sacrifice of male organs) difficult to comprehend as a necessary component in social projects. They are used to practicing within another power struggle almost exclusively: designer vs. client. Some architects take a community’s need or a disaster’s devastation as a tabula rasa opportunity to impose their egos and utopias full force, whether or not the utopia has any congruency to the landscape, social mores and aesthetic traditions of the construction site (colonization of the uterus).These kinds of projects still belong to the realm of social architecture, but cannot be considered a manifestation of the design eunuch. They are but projections of the designer’s archetypal “libido” as a performative monument, thrust into an archaically feminine site or beneficiary.

CH-02

Aerial Bold: Benedikt Groß & Joey Lee. A type family (and research project) built from aerial photos of buildings and other landscape forms. Aerial Bold is in intellectual essence a eunuch, as it views phallic objects not as singular monuments but as shapes that can be abstracted into further meanings. Still, it is eunuch in that it has socially influenced characteristics. It is a Kickstarted project, which means control of its existence was relinquished first to the support and approval of a social group. The typefaces included in the family—Aerial Bold Buildings, Aerial Bold Suburbia, and Aerial Bold Provence—are referred to as fonts, which indicates that social usage of the term “font” trumps its more precise academic definitions. In other ways, it is more of the same architectural ego born of traditional North-Western technocracy. It uses buildings from developed countries but purports to be a “world” view. In its process of creation, its authors rated the typography on designer-generated scales of beauty. That would be a point against its castration, as the designer retains the agency of creating something they think is beautiful. Rather than serve a social purpose on the outset, this technology was created for its own end, a social purpose to be found later or never. The impact of Aerial Bold on language processing, whether poetic or incidental, is secondary to its initial intent: simply to materialize a “beautiful” idea. Thus, though it resembles a eunuch in some ways, Aerial Bold is perhaps not a true one.

Lobregat Balaguer is a writer, publisher, and graphic designer based in Manila. She runs the Office of Culture & Design, a platform for social practice projects and research, and co-founded the publishing and design “hauz” Hardworking Goodlooking.

 

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This post was conceived and created for The Gradient by Façadomy, a new publication that explores contemporary identity through the lenses of art and architecture. The funding campaign for the next edition of their inaugural issue, “Gender Talents,” is currently live on Kickstarter.

Clearing the Haze: Prologue to Postmodern Graphic Design Education through Sheila de Bretteville

Author’s preface: At the outset, this project was defined as an intensive effort to examine and reassess the work of Shelia Levrant de Bretteville. The initial motivation was driven by the connection of the rise of feminist voices in design, the Woman’s Building, postmodern design, and experimental pedagogy. We recognize that many female designers worked […]

Author’s preface: At the outset, this project was defined as an intensive effort to examine and reassess the work of Shelia Levrant de Bretteville. The initial motivation was driven by the connection of the rise of feminist voices in design, the Woman’s Building, postmodern design, and experimental pedagogy. We recognize that many female designers worked in the 1970s and 80s, however we saw that few had as large a contribution on contemporary graphic design today, as Sheila Levrant de Bretteville.

 

_sheila_portrait

Sheila Levrant de Bretteville

 

In the process of researching the historical contribution of de Bretteville, it became clear that while several publications exist that address the history of graphic design and female designers, an in-depth exploration on the topic has not been documented. There is tendency within design history to glaze over important accomplishments and accolades by women. If anything, we can say there has been false nostalgia as to the honest history of what happened. The commentary of these times is scattered in hard to access publications and with this, our research questions the cultural and academic recognition written in history books in current circulation.

Acting as facilitators, instigators, and participators, this essay was conceived with a level of framing extended towards feminism, equality, women’s rights, challenging the status quo, and encouraging students to think proactively and experimentally. It was our feeling that if we are going to talk about graphic design in our contemporary landscape, it is imperative to go beyond presuppositions and intellectual establishment and clear the haze of historical contribution. The impacts of these examinations interject important conversations into the creative and academic fields. De Bretteville’s teaching and practice changed the face of contemporary graphic design, and should be adequately acknowledged in history for her monumental work.

 

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Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Arts in Society: California Institute of the Arts: Prologue to a Community, 1970

 

Historical perspectives are important for the enrichment of the history of North American graphic design education. The history of graphic design in the contemporary construct is increasingly hard to unravel, let alone the history of the Design School at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Valencia, California. Nevertheless, let’s consider this a unique moment in the history of graphic design: an interesting moment as a result of the people who had been involved in shaping, inspiring, and educating graphic designers at a high-level; yet also interesting as a result of the dissemination of the methodologies and philosophies that CalArts developed within it’s graphic design program, specifically of those developed by Sheila Levrant de Bretteville. Clearing the Haze, is an attempt to contextualize the design education of the times rather than to explicate or theorize it. The context is of our own experience as graphic designers and former CalArts students, in a way linking our participation and passion to our own pedagogy.

 

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Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, California Institute of the Arts: Admissions Bulletin, 1973–1974

 

CalArts

In the fall of 1969, Sheila returned to New York after working in Italy in a design studio at Olivetti. She took a desk in an office shared by Robert Mangurian and Craig Hodgetts. Shortly after Craig was tapped to become Associate Dean of the School of Design at CalArts, Sheila was asked to come and work on preparing branding materials (letterhead, posters, etc.) to attract students for each school at the newly established CalArts. A special issue of a journal fell into her lap, making her editor as well as designer of the issue titled, Arts in Society: California Institute of the Arts: prologue to a community1 which came out in June 1970. The School of Design was seeking students for whom “ecology, technology, and human needs trumped taste and style”2 as the basis of meaningful work. At the request of Richard Farson, Dean of the School of Design at CalArts, Sheila joined the Design faculty as CalArts began its first academic year at an interim campus at Villa Cabrini in Burbank in 1970.

Having no previous teaching experience, Sheila drew from past assignments3 from her studies at Yale4 and from a former high school5 design faculty’s text,6 which included a chapter on design education, to create the curriculum. Additionally, Sheila reviewed the way in which she had been taught, in the light of her experience to the events occurring around her at while attending Yale—the civil right movements in the States, the protests of our war in Vietnam, the assassination of MLK and the Kennedys—in addition to her work collaborating with Emanuel Sandreuter on freedom of the press and TV posters for the Italian Communist Party. In Italy, Sheila read the teaching pedagogy of Paulo Freire and was convinced that teaching could be a horizontal exchange of information. She explored the best ways to open up assignments in such a way as to capitalize on the different experiences, knowledge, and skills which the CalArts students brought to the school.

 

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Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Announcement poster for the CalArts School of Design, 1970

 

Mashing up these international influences—Bauhausian/Modernism from Yale; a progressive/radical awareness; a more traditional graphic arts education from her Brooklyn, New York, high school years—Sheila reworked assignments in a prescient Postmodern graphic design pedagogical mode. Her choices can be seen directed to “enable the sexploration of visual phenomena.”7 Sheila knew that an able designer required a set of visual and formal skills in order for that student/designer to better access their own unique voice in a well thought through and well made manner. In this new context, students were encouraged to express their own experiences and make choices that reinforced their ability to speak through form. The intent was for all students to move toward producing meaningful content of their own.

The spirit of the early 1970s was one of collaboration where each person’s contribution was honored and the work done was not strictly circumscribed by media specificity. For example, Sheila taught a class with Craig Hodgets where two-dimensions and three-dimensions of form were created by each student. Another was an interdisciplinary class taught with Jivan Tabibian, a political scientist and Ben Lifson, a photographer. This multi-disciplinary class included an aspect of what has become known as “the object project,”8 and the beginning of her faith in the meaning of every choice in physical and visual form making. “The object project” asked each participant to bring in an object. As students went around the room and each person described the physical aspects to the object chosen, Sheila was astonished to see how much information was inadvertently being revealed about the person as the student described their chosen object. New to teaching, Sheila was unsure how best to deal with what was embedded in the physical form of the objects, which was much more than she had ever anticipated. She knew that each of us is intimately connected to the things that we choose, but it took a fair amount of time for her to recognize that she could use this intuitive attraction to objects, events, and situations to develop the intimate connection to the physical qualities of the work that students produce.

 

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CalArts exterior, 1970. Designed by architecture firm Ladd & Kelsey. Courtesy of the CalArts Archive.

 

In 1971, two years later, CalArts moved out of the temporary quarters at Villa Cabrini and into the current CalArts Thornton Ladd9 building in Valencia, California. Sheila had outfitted the printing lab to not only have lithography and engraving but also a Vandercook flat-bed printing press, a Rotaprint Offset Printer, and a Diatronic photographic typesetter. This made it possible for students to have their hands on the means of making multiple copies. The first years at CalArts were open to having “Institute Students” who could take courses at all or any of the CalArts Schools and students like Albert Innaurato and James Lapine who became dramatists, along with Bia Lowe and Bernard Cooper, who both became fine writers—all took classes taught by Sheila.

 

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Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Everywoman newspaper centerfold, 1970

 

 

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Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Everywoman newspaper centerfold, 1970

 

During the summer after Sheila’s first year of teaching at CalArts, she was asked to create a special issue of the Everywoman newspaper.10 Sheila designed the layout in the format of Consciousness-Raising (C-R), which creates an equality of voices. The newspaper gave a two-page spread to each writer, each having an equal amount of space, regardless of hierarchy in the newspaper. The dissolution of hierarchy was also a way to counter patriarchy. Empowered by the new publication’s focus on women and as the only female faculty member at the CalArts School of Design,11 Sheila approached Victor Papanek, then Dean of the School of Design, to start the Women’s Design Program,12 in which reading and discussion had an equal place alongside design work. After some prompting, he agreed. The work of the program was published in the sixth issue of the British journal Icographic13 along with an essay by Sheila on the rigid separation between men and women in design and the workplace. Sheila’s writing, titled “Some Aspects of Design from the Perspective of a Woman Designer” asks designers to help to revalidate what have been designated as ‘female’ values and devalued as such.14 The publication also included comments from each of the students and their visual work, which included type studies, photography, and documentary video. Sheila’s critique of both design and contribution to feminism worked to establish an equality based on reframing not by gender (male and/or female), but as equal individual people, individual designers.

 

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The Women’s Design Program at CalArts, 1972. Unknown Artist, Courtesy of the CalArts Archive

 

The Women’s Design Program ran in tandem with Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro’s joint Feminist Art Program at CalArts. Paul Brach, Dean of the School of Art, had agreed to offer the Feminist Art Program, a separatist program, at the behest of his wife Miriam Shapiro and Judy Chicago considering that there were no permanent women faculty members to mentor young women. Both the Women’s Design Program and the Feminist Art Program were investigatory, meaning that the class structure was about a way of exploring things they didn’t know about. It wasn’t just the transfer of knowledge from teacher to student: it was about the teacher and students exploring something together from which both were learning. Ultimately, both Chicago and Sheila decided that they would do better without CalArts and in 1972 they sent out brochures inviting students to their separatist program for the following year. In 1973 Sheila, Chicago, and Arlene Raven named their newly established program the Feminist Studio Workshop (FSW): the first independent school for women artists, which later became the Woman’s Building in downtown Los Angeles.

 

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Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Feminist Studio Workshop brochure, 1973

 

 

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Courtyard of the Grandview Woman’s Building, 1973. Courtesy of Otis College of Art and Design Library

 

Woman’s Building: Women’s Graphic Center

The Woman’s Building rented the former Chouinard Art Institute building (which officially dissolved in 1972) from CalArts for $3,000 per year—a deal brokered by Sheila—and opened on November 28, 1973.15 Woman came from around the country to work and create in this new feminist, creative, separatist space, until the Building’s unexpected sale in 1974, at which time Sheila and Cheryl Swanack searched Los Angeles for a new Woman’s Building, eventually relocating to downtown L.A. during the summer of 1975.16 The Woman’s Building fostered a kind of utopian communalism which was a unique philosophy for the time. Being an artist meant “accepting the responsibility for being one (lone artist as individual producer).”17 Moreover, it was about something other than being an artist: it was about being a fully formed person, who was able to come to terms with the suffering and/or injustice she had previously experienced in her girlhood, through her family, and/or through her community of origin. During the renovation of both Woman’s Buildings (one at MacArthur Park, the other a public center in downtown L.A.), the help of men and children affiliated with the women there was enjoyed and welcomed.

 

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Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Pink, 1974

 

The exhibitions and educational programs at the Woman’s Buildings were intended to form a participating community of like-minded women who were collectively seeking to remake themselves through the new formats offered at the Woman’s Buildings. The pedagogy that Sheila had fostered was one in which instructors and mentors respected and gave “unconditional love toward a student.” This encouraged students to freely change what they needed and wanted to develop.18 The program focused on Consciousness-Raising (C-R) (also called awareness raising), a technique that focuses the attention of a wider group of people on some cause or condition. “Using [C-R] techniques as the basis for developing an intensive, two-year curriculum that acknowledged the unique vulnerabilities and social pressures faced by young women.”19 C-R was an omnilateral, relatively leaderless, group-directed exploration in the verbalization of individual experience, which embodied a “person is political” motto, positioned within second-wave feminism. This radical pedagogy used self-expression as the paramount element in art-making, which, at the time, was atypical for an art school. It was as much about asking questions as finding answers.

Chicago left after the first year while Sheila and Raven stayed at the Woman’s Building. Housed within the Woman’s Building was the design program of the Women’s Graphic Center (WGC) which, under the guidance of Sheila, was considered one of most important features of the Woman’s Building. A number of the faculty were CalArts alums such as Helen Alm, who guided the printing in the WGC and Suzanne Lacy20 who taught performance.21 The WGC was built on the precepts of Sheila’s egalitarian pedagogical attitude—a sort of Marxist approach, which treated design as a public communication imbued with the efficacy of social change. In 1973, Sheila reprised her statement on the FSW brochure when she delivered a conference paper to the American Institute of Architects saying:

The process by which forms are made and the forms themselves embody values and standards or behavior that affect large numbers of people…. For me, it is this integral relationship between individual creativity and social responsibility that draws me to the design arts.22

Sheila wrote a number of compelling articles on woman’s rights and space often ending up in feminists publications published through the Woman’s Building such as Chrysalis, a magazine of women’s culture, a contribution to culture, media studies, and women’s studies before there were courses in women’s studies in colleges and universities.

 

chrysalis

Chrysalis: a magazine of women’s culture, Cover of Volume 1, 1977

 

Projects at the WGC focused on typography, printing, and criticality within the social sphere. The wooden typeface Kabel was discovered as a part of the building’s past and was used for the Woman’s Building entry signage. Traditional fine art printing (such as etching and lithography) were not included due to limited resources and space. Their focus was on self-publishing in the form of letterpress-printed, offset-printed and silkscreen-printed posters, postcards, broadsides, artist books,23 poetry chapbooks, stationary, and other kinds of small-press endeavors.24 Sheila again brought back “the object project” in a Feeling to Form class taught with social psychologist Jane Stewart, urging students to find suitable forms from which women could derive content as a way of upending Modernist precepts of form as content.25 Feeling to Form, then, was a literal reversal, extracting form from content, rather than content from form. This class arguably produced the most highly realized art at the Building, often in graphic form.

The art of the Woman’s Building sought action in addition to expression. Some of the best-known performance work was also the culmination of Sheila’s graphic design pedagogy. In particular, Leslie Labowitz’s and Lacy’s Three Weeks in May (1977), which updated a map with reports from the L.A.P.D., printing the word, “rape” on spots on a map of greater L.A., generated large-scale public awareness and media attention. The event combined a performance piece on the steps of L.A. City Hall with self-defense classes for women in an attempt to highlight sexual violence against women. As WGC student Emily King said, “printing gave work power and distance.”26

 

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Three Weeks in May, Suzanne Lacy, 1977. Courtesy of Suzanne Lacy

 

Sheila’s format of direct address in public spaces, offered an original and persuasive lesson in feminist pedagogy, personal growth, and the search for authentic forms. In this vein, Sheila developed and taught the class, Public Announcements/Private Conversations (1975), which then became a series of site-specific art projects produced from 1977 to 1978 in which participants were asked to “write, design, print, post their posters, negotiate with the owners of the public places, and collect responses about and for places in the shared environment… Within this theme each woman gives graphic form to her concerns, placing this work—and thus placing herself—in public view.”27 The project could then be tailored to each students needs and support the individual to find her own personal material and forms to express in. Through this class and others, form became a transformative experience, resulting in the perception of personal wholeness and collective unity at the Woman’s Building.

Eventually the continuing short-fall of funds, and a level of dissatisfaction within the Woman’s Building ranks caused the WGC to unravel. The program’s final year was from 1979–1981. Despite being hired in 1980 to create a program of Communication Design and Illustration at the Otis Art Institute/Parsons School of Design, Sheila stayed on the board at the Woman’s Building until 1981 when the FSW was terminated in favor of salvaging the Building itself. In an interview with Jenni Sorkin in 2010, Sheila says, “it made sense for the next generation to take it over. And maybe they’d have fresher ideas or a way to relate to the community that they felt stronger about coming there. I know that I couldn’t do it anymore. The Women’s Graphic Center as a commercial entity just didn’t capture my imagination in the way that the Woman’s Building as an entity did. It just simply didn’t. And it’s not that I wanted to get a job at Otis/Parsons. It’s more that I wanted to go somewhere else, do something else. And I like beginnings, and it felt like endings to me.”28 The Woman’s Building remained open as a rented studio space until 1991. Times had changed and the seemingly utopian collectivity proved to be an ideal that was not sustainable.

 

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Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Poster for Women in Design, conference, 1975

 

Otis & Yale

The educational model that was developed by Sheila at the Woman’s Building carried on at Otis Art Institute/Parsons School of Design (presently known as the Otis College of Art & Design) and helped to shape the Otis curriculum. Sheila initiated and chaired the Department of Communication at Otis from 1981–1990 which included an outreach design group called Brook7n where students created and completed community based projects. Working to bring in faculty from various backgrounds, Sheila hired Laurie Haycock and P. Scott Makela, Ave Pildas and Everett Peck, Jim Hieman, Leah Hoffmitz, Gary Panter and Georgianne Dean. Her work with Brook7n was collectively designed for non-profits, doing projects such as murals in Sam Good hospital and a billboard using a rebus (a puzzle in which words are represented by combinations of pictures and individual letters) to communicate to non-literate people about classes in reading.

The Communications Design and Illustration Department that Sheila had developed at Otis was a parallel department to the Communication Department at the Parsons School of Design. Both programs, headed by David Levy in New York, were designed to allow students to travel from New York to Los Angeles. This newly developed bi-coastal college for the arts was the first of its kind, but proved challenging. Sheila describes the difficulty of this time: “It took a while for me to figure out the flights [and] travel, because actually, a sustained program makes a lot more sense at that age level. But I didn’t know that at the time, and it was another activity.”29 Over the next nine years, Sheila worked through the logistical strains and developed a curriculum that contributed significantly to the field of design and visual communications pedagogy. In 1990, one year prior to the end of the Otis/Parsons partnership, and shortly before Levy’s departure in 1991, Sheila was appointed a full professorship at the Yale University of School of Art.

 

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New Haven Register, 1990. Courtesy of Sheila Levrant de Bretteville

 

As Sheila replaced Alvin Eisenman30 as the new director of the graduate program in graphic design at Yale in 1990, she also became the Yale University School of Art’s first tenured woman. While most faculty and alumni affirmed her appointment, others were outraged. Paul Rand, who had been a member of the faculty since the late 1950s, resigned as an act of protest against Sheila’s appointment, and then convinced his long-time colleague Armin Hoffmann to do the same. Starting in the 1950s the Yale program, based in modernist theory, was instrumental in establishing the profession of Graphic Design in the United States. Acting as a conduit between Yale and the Kunstgewerbeschule in Basle, directed by Armin Hoffmann, the Yale program was unique for its time. The graphic design curriculum established at Yale became the model for most education institutions, changing its focus from advertising to graphic design during the 1960s.

Sheila’s design pedagogy at Yale was pluralistic and pushed design as a proactive practice (rather than focusing solely on corporate service). The program was person-centered (emphasizing the students’ desire to communicate, and focusing on what each student felt necessary to be made and said and to whom they wanted to say it). Students were assured that they would be able to see themselves within the large body of work that they produced in the two-year program.

As the director of Yale’s program, Sheila acknowledged her role as a leader but was quick to point out that although she called together faculty meetings, she wanted the faculty to talk about what they found interesting and to question issues of the moment. In an interview in 2008, Sheila spoke about her past experiences which continue to influence her design pedagogy today:

“Freedom to fail, sense of community, support, taking chances: these are lessons I bring from my initial teaching position at CalArts, 41 years ago. Our past experiences are really what we bring to the pedagogy of graphic design.”

The lessons and guidance that have been experienced by hundreds of Sheila’s students throughout the years has meant that her influence has been disseminated across multiple facets of our visual and cultural landscape. Her contributions to postmodern design pedagogy opened doors to female voices in a male-dominated society, encouraged students to be more experimental, and supported non-traditional art environments. Without a more concise and complex understanding of the past, we fail to stay open to the future. It is in this vein that we strive to clear the haze of historical contribution and reach beyond the theoretical and formal exercises that most of us learn in art school today.

 

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Sheila Levrant de Bretteville photographed in 2014, at her home, in New Haven, CT   Photography: Thomas Giddings

 

In realizing this project, we are deeply grateful for the generosity of our contributors and supporters, in particular Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Peter de Bretteville, Naomi Honeth, Michael Ned-Holte, Jenni Sorkin, and Lorraine Wild.

 

Editor/publisher’s note: For more on Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, see Lorraine Wild and David Karwan’s essay titled “Agency and Urgency: The Medium and Its Message,” published on pages 44–57 of Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia (Walker Art Center, 2015). In Wild and Karwan’s essay, de Bretteville is heralded as an influential designer that “led projects and developed strategies that exemplified the new experimental and reformist attitudes about pedagogy, which continue to resonate today.” De Bretteville is also described as being “part of a [group of] influential designers and architects from the late 1960s and early ’70s who began to question the hierarchical, authoritarian aspects of design and the fading modern idea that there were singular formal principles that were universally appropriate.” (p. 54)

 


 

Notes

1 Arts in Society: California Institute of the Arts: prologue to a community, Volume 7, Issue 3, 1970.

2 Sheila de Bretteville, phone conversation with the authors, April 20, 2013.

3 Wayne Peterson, a Yale colleague kept all the assignments given at Yale and sent Sheila de Bretteville copies.

4 Sheila de Bretteville received her MFA from Yale University, 1962–1964.

5 Sheila de Bretteville attended Abraham Lincoln High School, a public school in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York, which includes many notable alumni, including Alex Steinweiss and Gene Federico who became influential graphic designers working in New York City after the war. Leon Friend was the chairman of the art department at Abraham Lincoln High School and “exposed students to working artists and visiting critics, including emigre designers such as Austria’s Joseph Binder and Germany’s Lucian Bernhard.” He also directed a student club called Art Squad, which “produced work in all media, including graphic design.” The work of Art Squad “was an awkward yet energetic interpretation of the modern style that reflected the influence of sources ranging from Bayer to streamlined product design.” (Wild, Lorraine, ‘Europeans in America,’ from Graphic Design in America: A Visual Language History, 1989, 153.)

6 Friend, Leon, Graphic Design: a Library of Old And New Masters In the Graphic Arts, New York and London: Whittlesey house, McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1936.

7 Sheila de Bretteville, email with authors, April 17, 2013.

8 “The object project” is an assignment Sheila de Bretteville has been giving to her students since the beginning of her teaching career, and has become a requirement for first year graduate students at Yale from 1990 to today.

9 Thornton Ladd was a Modernist architect who designed CalArts and the Pasadena Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum).

10 Everywoman, designed by Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, 1971. Everywoman was a collective newspaper designed for the Fresno Feminist Art Program by Sheila de Bretteville, who had encountered the program as an invited visitor.

11 “CalArts was a place of intensive masculine bravado; the premiere American art school of the 1970s, the place to make a Happening alongside Kaprow, the progenitor of the genre.” Sorkin, Jenni, Learning from Los Angeles: Pedagogical Predecessors at the Woman’s Building, 40–41.

12 The Women in Design program (1971–1973) came out of a question posed by Sheila de Bretteville, “what would happen if I only taught women?”

13 de Bretteville, Sheila, Icographic 6, Croydon, England, 1973.

14 de Bretteville, Sheila, Icographic 6, “Some Aspects of Design from the Perspective of a a Woman Designer,” Croydon, England, 1973.

15 Sorkin, Jenni, “Learning from Los Angeles: Pedagogical Predecessors at the Woman’s Building,” 47.

16 What followed was then a frenzied search for a new building that would offer the same public visibility, until the former headquarters of Standard Oil in downtown LA was secured as a location. Sorkin, Jenni, Learning from Los Angeles: Pedagogical Predecessors at the Woman’s Building, 48.

17 Sorkin, Jenni, Learning from Los Angeles: Pedagogical Predecessors at the Woman’s Building, 42.

18 Sheila de Bretteville, email interview with Ginger Wolfe-Suarex, interReview 08, 2007.

19 Sorkin, Jenni, Learning from Los Angeles: Pedagogical Predecessors at the Woman’s Building, 49.

20 Suzanne Lacy is another individual who came out of the CalArts design pedagogy and went on to hold several positions at academic institutions, including Dean of Fine Arts at California College of the Arts (CCA) from 1987–1997 and Chair of Fine Arts at Otis College of Art and Design from 2002–2006.

21 Starting in January 1975, twenty-two women began a 4-month intensive workshop learning offset lithography, screen printing, and letterpress.

22 de Bretteville, Sheila, conference paper delivered to the American Institute of Architects, July 1973.

23 Artist Books by the likes of Frances Butler, Poltroon, and Ed Ruscha (who began his student career as the editor of Chouinard’s student newspaper) made a distinct impression on students, including WGC student and artist, Emily King.

24 Self-publishing was crucial to progression of individual feminist communities in the 1970s, including the proliferation of lesbian press culture.

25 Such as the Bauhaus-style graphic models that permeated American Modernism via the emigres who brought them, like Laszlo Mohloy-Nagy at the Institute of Design in Chicago and Serge Chermayeff at Yale.

26 King, Emily, Artists’ Books by Women, 57.

27 Public Announcements/Private Conversations, course description, 1975. Woman’s Building files.

28 Jenni Sorkin interview with Sheila de Bretteville, an oral history with Sheila de Bretteville about the Woman’s Building, CCS AS-AP project, June 22, 2010.

29 Ibid.

30 Alvin Eisenman founded and headed Yale University’s graduate program in graphic design beginning in 1951—the first graduate program in graphic design in the United States. He remained the director of that program until he was replaced by Sheila in 1990.

31 !Women Art Revolution, video interview with Sheila de Bretteville, February 15, 2008, New York, NY, Stanford University Digital Collections.

Call for Applicants: Walker Art Center Mildred Friedman Design Fellowship 2016–2017

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The Walker is pleased to announce that its 2016-2017 Mildred Friedman Design Fellowship is now open for applications. APPLICATIONS ARE DUE: MAY 23rd

Since 1980, the Walker’s Design department has maintained a graphic design fellowship program that provides recent graduates the opportunity to work in a professional design studio environment. Selected from a highly competitive pool of applicants, fellows come from graphic design programs throughout the United States and abroad representing a diverse range of design programs, such as Art Center College of Design, California Institute of the Arts, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Eastern Michigan University, Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, NC State University, Rhode Island School of Design, Royal College of Art, Werkplaats Typografie, and Yale University, among many others.

 

WHAT WE ARE LOOKING FOR:

Ideal candidates will be firmly grounded in visual design principles and the print design process with some experience in interaction design. In addition to print-based projects such as exhibition identities, wayfinding, and collateral materials, this year’s fellow will also work on select online publishing initiatives. The fellow will join an accomplished team of professionals known for creating industry-leading work. Immersed in the Design department, which includes Editorial, Photography, and Videography, fellows gain a deeper understanding of design, work on projects with rich, interesting content, and are expected to produce work to the highest standards of design excellence.

 

See samples of previous fellow’s work here and in this video highlighting 75 years of Walker design. The fellows will also be key contributors to the Design department’s blog, The Gradient—so an interest in the discourse of graphic design and contemporary culture is highly desirable. Fellows are salaried, full-time employees and are involved in all aspects of the design process, including client meetings and presentations through production and development. Duration of fellowship: September 1, 2016 – August 31, 2017

 

HOW TO APPLY:

For consideration, submit the following materials by PDF attachments only: 1. a letter of interest; 2. a resume, including names and contact information of 3 references; 3. a PDF portfolio containing 8–10 examples of graphic design work (total file size can be no larger than 19 MB, otherwise your file will be rejected).

 

Email application packets to jobs@walkerart.org. If you do not receive an automatic confirmation of your application, please send another note to the same email address, without any attachments. No phone calls please. For more information, visit our fellowship page. Also check out the Walker’s job listing.

 

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Ordinary Pictures teaser trailer

Here is the teaser trailer for our exhibition Ordinary Pictures, cut by our videographer Andy Underwood-Bultmann. The show, curated by Eric Crosby, surveys a range of conceptual picture-based practices since the 1960s through the lens of the stock photograph and other forms of industrial image production. You can take a walkthrough of the exhibition here. […]

Here is the teaser trailer for our exhibition Ordinary Pictures, cut by our videographer Andy Underwood-Bultmann. The show, curated by Eric Crosby, surveys a range of conceptual picture-based practices since the 1960s through the lens of the stock photograph and other forms of industrial image production. You can take a walkthrough of the exhibition here. We’ll be publishing a post about the accompanying catalogue soon.

Talk Magazine Discusses the Politics of Style

Eric Hu and Harry Gassel, founders/editors/art directors of Talk Magazine, have described the origins of Talk Magazine and where it’s going: Published biannually, each issue brings together a different group of artists, writers, and collaborators to push each other into making something new. The publication emerged from a desire to observe culture through the lens […]

Eric Hu and Harry Gassel, founders/editors/art directors of Talk Magazine, have described the origins of Talk Magazine and where it’s going:

Published biannually, each issue brings together a different group of artists, writers, and collaborators to push each other into making something new. The publication emerged from a desire to observe culture through the lens of graphic design and to critique graphic design through the lens of style. …It’s the start of a conversation, a space for dialogue, an arena for debate; mostly it is here to make a record of what’s happening now.

This text comes from Talk Magazine’s press release for Issue 2. Despite the matter-of-fact nature of a press release, what this text describes feels honest, ambitious, and confident. Talk Magazine expresses an attitude and a way of seeing that is integral to how they seek out and assemble the content of the magazine. At the same time, the text seems primed to morph into a new kind of manifesto, not only for the magazine itself, but for graphic designers and those who are visually/stylistically-aware, and that, for me, is what makes Talk Magazine particularly exciting.

On the heels of their recent release of Issue 2 of Talk Magazine, Eric and Harry have graciously shared their excellent opening essay from Issue 2, titled “Some Politics on Style,” for the readers of The Gradient. This opening essay kicks-off a vibrant Issue 2, which “gathers a hodgepodge of writers, artists, designers, (and in this particular issue, comedians) to examine style and its effects on larger cultural forces” and which “continues [the] discussion about the politics of style.”

 

 


 

Editor’s Note: To experience Some Politics on Style as intended, push play on audio while reading

 

Some Politics on Style

We’ve been thinking a lot about this one image. It’s a vertical diptych of stills from The Simpsons episode where both Bart and Martin are running for class president. Martin hangs a campaign poster that reads A Vote for Bart is a Vote for Anarchy. Bart pastes his own poster over Martin’s. His reads A Vote for Bart is a Vote for Anarchy. The only visible difference between the posters is their lettering style—Martin’s is neatly laid out in a presidential serif typeface and his message is seen as a warning, while Bart’s is rendered in an anarchic scrawl and his message is seen as an invitation.

A shift in style leads to a change in meaning.

 

 

As designers, it’s our job to think that the way something looks is important. Coming into 2016 and issue two of this magazine, we’ve been reflecting on the the past year—both globally and in relation to our own activities. Three things come to mind. The rebrand of Google and their new parent company Alphabet, the foregrounding of a lot of long-overdue social and political movements along with the almost successful and unsuccessful attempts artists have made to add to the conversation. Our interest is in trying to understand the codes of style traded back and forth between politics and images, and how, if at all, that understanding can lead to an effective contribution to the social good. We’re confused. So as always, we start by looking.

There’s this other image that’s been on our minds. Last August, Google rebranded and published a picture of their design department critiquing each other’s typographic sketches. The new logotype abandoned its familiar serif typeface and replaced it with a sans-serif designed in-house. The letterforms are geometric and charmingly clumsy. To the design world, the logo was hip and quirky, but to the broader public, the logo pointed towards more.

 

 

 

Scattered throughout the press during the rebrand announcement were invocations of the words friendliness, empathy, and most importantly, human. This is a wild contrast to a company who’s enterprises now range from home surveillance to armed AI—all as they amass personal data. It’s also the opposite of the logos of evil companies in fiction—like Skynet in The Terminator—or real companies like Halliburton who often utilize bold, engineered typefaces, minimal color pairings and stark symbolism.

 

 

Their uniformity and ubiquity convey both omnipresence and mystery. However, the companies with the most power and influence over our daily lives and political landscape are decorated in logos self-described as playful. Say what you will about Skynet, but its looks don’t deceive. These brutal sci-fi aesthetics have curiously found a new home in millennial music and fashion.

 

 

Perhaps this hipster retreat to the overtly evil branding from fiction is because the thought of a Boston Dynamics cheetah dressed in Google’s friendly brand assets hunting down dissidents is much more horrific.

 

 

 

If Google’s new coded design language hides its status or intentions, how can we effectively use our skills to subvert power or protest injustice ? There are so many iconic images of protest in design history. Like the I AM A MAN protest sandwich board, or the raw silkscreen posters from the May 1968 student protests. Or the newspaper and ephemera designed for the Black Panther Party by Emory Douglas. Though certainly they had agency and intention, their now fetishized aesthetic was borne from the urgency and limitations of the moment. Also, these are cases where the often anonymous designers were directly inside the movement and their work was in service of its political messaging.

 

 

 

 

Situations where designers offer unsolicited proposals often lead to a result that is tone-deaf. For an Op-Ed in the New York Times, Seymour Chwast selected a few design studios to re-brand Occupy Wall Street. In all of these cases, the designers have engaged in the traditional client model, assuming the role of an outsider who came to either clean up or spice up. Despite good intentions, the blog post that usually follows these case studies isn’t so much about the issue as it is about the fact that a designer took interest in the issue, injecting self-promotional noise to the discourse rather than providing a signal-boost to the movement.

It’s a case of selfie over substance.

 

 

Protest art can just be kind of goofy. Joel Goby for Vice UK in “A Painfully In-Depth Analysis of the Worst Bit of Graffiti I’ve Ever Seen” savages post-Banksy soft-ball political stencil graffiti on their tendency to annihilate all notions of complexity for the sake of a banal slogan combined with facile imagery. It’s worth comparing this to the graffiti of the 70s and 80s which was less about how it looked—though it looked amazing—and more about what it meant as an action. It was kids with underrepresented voices, taking back space in their city. Graffiti works as a political statement until the statement becomes overtly political. Then it’s just dorky as fuck.

Maybe the cliché actions speak louder than words has been right all along, and that the simple act of writing on a wall to deface it is a louder statement than whatever is actually written. In thinking about all these things, we’ve also witnessed a group of artists who are keenly aware of the sociopolitical forces connected to their identities and at work in their communities. And who, by simply doing what they do, have responded in kind.

Which is all to say, Design Harder.

 


 

Talk Magazine Issue 2 features: Cole Escola, Kate Berlant, Matthew Tammaro, Marcus Cuffie, Seth Price, Emilie Friedlander, Geordie Wood, Devin Troy Strother & Yuri Ogita, Berton Hasebe, Christian Chico, Kristian Henson, Othelo Gervacio, Hassan Rahim, and Mike Devine.

Design contributors: Eric Hu, Harry Gassel, Maxime Harvey, Gabrielle Lamontagne, and Raf Rennie with his typeface, Anno.

Get familiar with Talk Magazine on their website or order Issue 2 (or Issue 1!) on their online shop.

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