Blogs The Gradient

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 […]

Leekit_web_image_options4

 

ex2016lk_ins_050_baka

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

 

ex2016lk_ins_039_baka

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)

 

LeeKit_BAKA_07.1

 

Details exhibition floor plan.

Detail view of the exhibition floor plan

 

LeeKit_BAKA_17.1

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 […]

POSTER-2

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

01-chicago-view

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.

03-chicago-view-800

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.

02-chicago-special-700px

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.

Samarskaya_Wyeth-DUO

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.

 

13147690_600622113435070_3249472049382504412_o

Support Façadomy!
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.

 

_arts_in_society_combined

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.

 

_calarts_admissions_catalogs

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.

 

_calarts_school_of_design

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.

 

_calarts_exterior

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.

 

_everywoman_newspaper_reading

Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Everywoman newspaper centerfold, 1970

 

 

_everywoman_newspaper

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.

 

_womens_design_program

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.

 

_feminist_studio_workshop

Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Feminist Studio Workshop brochure, 1973

 

 

_womans_building

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.

 

_pink

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

 

_three_weeks_in_may

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.

 

_women_in_design

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.

 

_new_haven_register

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.

 

_Sheila_New_Haven

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

FELLOWSHIP IMAGE5
animation_fellwoship

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.

 

 fellowship imagesbritish-arrows-awords_web IMG_4075 winter-of-love_web_2 OPEN-HOUSE_web IMG_2452_grey 153_square_1024x1024 IMG_4675_greyinsight_lectures_poster_1_web IMG_4701 TEENS_BAKA_web IMG_1913 butner_3 IMG_0174  fellowship images2international_pop_mockup2_1024x1024insight_lectures_poster_web IMG_4090_grey FFS_web IMG_0175 IMG_0053 IMG_0464 butner_15 IMG_2285 winter-of-love_web_3 BAKA_OUTTHERE18.jpg IMG_4077_grey IMG_4717 WEBOrdinary-Pictures-Edit1_1024x1024 Lee_kit_identity_2   fellowship images4 OP_flyer_2_web.jpgspirit_award_hand_1.jpg MONK_postcard004_web.jpg BAKA_OP_17.jpg BAKA_OP_18.jpg winter-of-love_web_1 BAKA_FF_02.jpg  Hippie_animated_gif british-arrows-awords_web_1Hippie-Modernism-catalog_002a-1024x818 Antony_cube BAKA_mag_walker_02.jpg fellowship images3 BAKA_mag_walker_08.1.jpg IMG_2924_iamge.jpg chair_hippie BAKA_mag_walker_11-2800x1613  IMG_2588 IMG_4711 IMG_4791 IMG_4857 IMG_4845 fellowship images5

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.

Raw Material: An Interview with Google Design

The SPAN Reader, a book released by Google Design in conjunction with its SPAN conferences in New York and London, is an eclectic collection of design thinking that investigates a variety of contemporary issues, such as the ethics of interface design, the implications of smart homes regarding privacy, the nature of time in digital space, the WYSIWYG paradigm, handmade computing, the haptic joy […]

folded

Dust jacket for Google Design’s SPAN Reader (2015)

The SPAN Reader, a book released by Google Design in conjunction with its SPAN conferences in New York and London, is an eclectic collection of design thinking that investigates a variety of contemporary issues, such as the ethics of interface design, the implications of smart homes regarding privacy, the nature of time in digital space, the WYSIWYG paradigm, handmade computing, the haptic joy of contemporary stonecutting, and even the architectural implications of burglary. The book features original writing as well as several reprints, and many of the authors featured are unexpected (at least to me)—it is one thing to read Keller Easterling’s critique of intangible architecture and power structures in its original context of the theoretical contemporary art journal e-Flux, and quite another to read it within the pages of a Google publication.

As a glimpse into the thinking behind Google Design, the SPAN Reader seemed a good place to start when trying to understand the culture and philosophies at work in the office. This post begins with a short interview with Rob Giampietro and Amber Bravo, creative lead and editor of Google Design NY, respectively, discussing the editorial mission of Google Design, the ever-evolving metaphor of “material,” and the process of creating the book.  Finally, Rob and Amber respond to a number of excerpts from the book (a reading of the reader?), offering us a chance to understand why these issues are important, and how they fit into the larger framework of Google Design. Many of the individual texts are available to read in full online, so please do click through.

 

GOOGLE DESIGN

Emmet Byrne: What is Google Design?

Rob Giampietro/Amber Bravo: Google Design is a cooperative effort led by a group of designers, writers, and developers at Google. We work across teams to create tools, resources, events, and publications that support and further design and technology both inside and outside of Google.

EB: One theme that resonates in the SPAN Reader is the idea of integrating digital design thinking with traditional modes of physical design thinking. Is this something Google Design takes to heart?

RG/AB: Digital design has benefitted tremendously from what’s come before it—print design’s focus on highly controlled and comprehensively specified modular systems, environmental design’s capability to compress, augment, and orient space, product design’s focus on the user and the affordances of a material, motion design’s ability to make information come to life in time, and so on. That said, today’s technology is really challenging the parameters between the traditional disciplines of design. When the interface becomes three dimensional, as is the case with VR, you need to completely reframe your thinking. Material Design mixes media in its framing as well—it thinks about how to make interfaces more immediately graspable, by playing with the dimensionality of light and shadow and thinking about how objects and surfaces like paper behave in the physical world. So we’re certainly interested in all kinds of design and what we can learn from them in our work and the field of digital designer more broadly. We also do a lot of non-mediated things like conferences and events, and in those cases we’ve had to think about how Material Design translates to other contexts—how it works in print, or how it works in space. Lance Wyman spoke at SPAN in New York about the design of urban iconography. As a team tasked with streamlining and evolving the company’s graphic language, we find ourselves often collaborating with teams on all levels of design, down to the tiniest details, like helping to refine product icons. So we really look up to and stand on the shoulders of Lance and others’ work in this field. If we do our jobs well, it’s a symbiotic approach, design and technology co-evolving, and highly attuned to the nuances of a user’s context in all cases.

style_logos_product_intro_definition

Example of a Material Design product icon


EB: When did “Material” come to represent something virtual instead of physical?

RG/AB: Google originated the name “Material Design” for the design system and always intended for it to be a broad, open-source initiative for the design community. We continue to lead and push the system forward, both visually and conceptually, so that it’s best-in-class and up-to-date, and we also rely on the community to push it forward and adapt it for their own uses to really bring it to life. Last year, we even established our first-ever Material Design Award, to acknowledge all the great examples of material design being produced by third-party product teams.

Example of Google Material Design “thickness”

 

In terms of the “virtualization” of material that you ask about, Material Design is a system for thinking about our digital surfaces that uses the traditional tenets of graphic design to suit this new context most appropriately. So, for example, with mobile devices, once you remove the mouse or other pointing device, then you are actually interacting with a surface, and the affordances of that surface—its materiality—become critical. So while it is virtualized, it’s also being touched. It’s still mediated, but less so. And that closer proximity to the interface offers a new set of opportunities. The floating action button (FAB) in Material Design rises up subtlely to meet your finger when you tap it. The number of layers in Material Design cannot exceed the device’s actual depth and fade into illusory space. It’s probably important to note that almost all GUIs have been metaphorically-driven. The desktop metaphor was one of the first, but following that were spatial metaphors (GeoCities, Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator), and more heavy-handed physical metaphors like bookshelves, dashboards, etc. These metaphors often build a bridge to make a technology more familiar to new users, but, as these users become more accustomed to the technology, this metaphorical layer can be lightened and the technology can become a bit more true to itself. A last word on metaphors: it’s been interesting in the last few years to see the directionality of these metaphors reverse, so that instead of digital technology receiving metaphors from the analog world, it’s actually starting to provide them. In the last few months we’ve been interested to hear phrasing like “paintings as social networks,” “buildings as operating systems,” and so on. (more…)

Andrea Büttner—The making of a visual identity

One of the latest exhibitions at Walker Art Center is the first U.S. solo exhibition of the work of German artist Andrea Büttner. Curated by Artistic Director Fionn Meade, the exhibition continues the Walker’s ongoing presentation of solo shows by emerging artists who have not yet had significant museum exposure in the United States. Büttner’s […]

One of the latest exhibitions at Walker Art Center is the first U.S. solo exhibition of the work of German artist Andrea Büttner. Curated by Artistic Director Fionn Meade, the exhibition continues the Walker’s ongoing presentation of solo shows by emerging artists who have not yet had significant museum exposure in the United States.

Büttner’s practice intertwines art-historical concepts with social and political issues, often exploring unexpected connections between art and religion, deviance and ethics, or shame and visual expression.

The newly commissioned installation features a range of new works, including a living moss sculpture, large-scale woodcuts, and etchings that capture and transpose the smear and blur of fingerprints left on cell phone screens. Through deploying a wide range of pre-modernist media, Büttner restores outmoded methods in order to provoke and challenge conventions of high and low. She constructs a profound space between ornate and humble, dissociation and humility, and the urge to judge or to remain objective.

 
Buttner_Baka_25.jpg
 
BAKA GABRIELA ANDREA BUTTNER IDENTITY
 

Personally, I was particularly captivated by the complex details in Büttner’s prints and woodcuts (many of which can be seen here). My initial design sketches for the visual identity explored the combination of typography and woodcut patterns and an attempt to use fragments of Büttner’s works and her carved forms/line-work. What I found interesting was the complex markings that were left-behind by the sharp edge of Büttner’s carving tools and which range from hairline markings to triangular, gouge-like markings.

 
butner_2
 
butner_17
 
butner_12
 

An important step in designing the visual identity was finding an appropriate typeface—ideally a classical, but not boring, serif typeface. The chosen typeface, Noe Display, responds to the pronounced and crafted feeling of Büttner’s work. Designed by the type foundry Schick Toikka, the typeface is a Transitional-style, high-contrast headline typeface. Noe Display’s sharp triangular serifs and terminals give it strong and distinctive characteristics, echoing the similar shapes which occur within Büttner’s etchings and woodcuts.

To emphasize a connection to Büttner’s sharp woodcuts within the typographic treatment, I slightly altered the height and appearance of the umlaut. Rather than keeping the two dots that typically appear within the umlaut, I instead swapped-in two triangle shapes that derived from the top, triangular part of the letter “t” in Noe Display. These triangles also replaced the dot above the letter “i”.

Intrigued by the small details in Büttner’s work, I then decided to respond by creating my own level of typographic detail through a series of customized punctuation marks that would subsequently be embedded within the texts associated with the exhibition. As a base for the punctuation, I used the same Noe Display-derived triangle shape to then create a comma, colon, period, and apostrophe. The resulting punctuation marks, which appear throughout the typeset materials connected to the exhibition, make a small intervention on the space, yet are elements that may go easily unnoticed upon first glance. This subtle intervention was made in order to focus more attention on the detailed and contemplative nature of Andrea Büttner’s work.

The developed visual identity was applied to various exhibition materials—from the invitation for the exhibition opening, to the gallery guide, to exhibition labels, title walls, and related texts.

Design and photos: Gabriela Baka

 
butner_14
 
butner_22
 
butner_3
 
butner_1
 
ex2015ab_ins_039_web

Type Designers Q&A: Or Type

Or Type is an Icelandic type foundry established in 2013 by Guðmundur Úlfarsson & Mads Freund Brunse.   Postcard showcasing Landnáma, 2015 (Photography: Moos-Tang).   This past summer, a number of us here in the Design Department first encountered Or Type’s website (developed by Owen Hoskins). In addition to the fresh selection of typefaces, we […]

Or Type is an Icelandic type foundry established in 2013 by Guðmundur Úlfarsson & Mads Freund Brunse.

 
_Or_Type_8

Postcard showcasing Landnáma, 2015 (Photography: Moos-Tang).

 

This past summer, a number of us here in the Design Department first encountered Or Type’s website (developed by Owen Hoskins). In addition to the fresh selection of typefaces, we were impressed by the interactivity of Or Type’s live, editable font testing fields that cleverly retain the words and characters typed-in by previous (or current) visitors to the website. As a cheeky disclaimer on the website pronounces: “ON AIR—Everything you type is recorded and instantaneously sent out on the wire.”

Other type foundries certainly make use of this type of live/editable font testing feature in varying degrees, but certain subtle moments set the experience of interacting with Or Type’s website a part from others. For example: Try typing in your favorite 4-letter curse word in one of the font testing fields and hit your Enter/Return key, or hit the Rewind icon in the bottom-right corner of the page to witness a sort of sped-up recording which plays in reverse while displaying the characters and words that visitors have typed-in, or click the Or Type logo in the bottom-left corner on the page to reveal so-called poems of the strung-together words that have been typed-in by visitors. This collection of tested words was even used by Or Type to auto-generate several volumes of books (doubling as Or Type’s printed type specimens) that are available through Lulu.

Guðmundur and Mads have created a bold and diverse collection of typefaces that have been making some notable appearances in the past year: from being used on the cover of international photography magazine, Foam, to the cover of the London-based music magazine The Wire, to the typographic identity for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

Below, the Reykjavík and London-based designers have responded to twelve questions regarding their practice as type designers.

 
_Or_Type_7

Postcard showcasing Separat, 2015

 

Ryan Gerald Nelson (RGN): Do you have an ultimate goal in terms of where you hope to see one of your typefaces in use someday? (Being used by a major car brand? By a sports team? In a film title? Other?)

Or Type: We’ve always wanted to make a typeface for football (guess it’s soccer for you) jerseys and last year that dream came true! We made it to the back of the Icelandic national team jerseys. They then went on to make into the finals of the Euro 2016. In actuality, that project was a bit of a mess though. In the end, they had mixed up weights and styles and it all looked kind of odd. So we’re hoping to be able to fix it before the next Euros, but we haven’t heard from them yet, which is worrying.

 
_Or_Type_9

An overview photo of the Or Type launch exhibition of in Gallery Þoka, Reykjavík, 2013.

 

RGN: When it comes to creating a typeface, it seems that there are now more alternatives to the traditional font-making program of choice: FontLab. If you use FontLab, what convinces you to stay with FontLab? If not, what is your font-making program of choice?

Or Type: Our program of choice is Glyphs by Georg Seifert. To be honest, FontLab kind of ran out of time. It was getting really outdated and Glyphs just stepped in and convinced us to come on board. I think that even was the reason why Georg started making Glyphs: he just got sick of the old FontLab. Since then, FontLab has made a major update and is looking quite slick to be honest, but we’re really happy with working in Glyphs now.

RGN: Which character do you find the most difficult to draw/create? Give us an analogy to help us understand what drawing this character is like.

Or Type: It’s difficult not to answer “S/s” to this question. It can get extremely frustrating, but then again, of course really satisfying to finish the S/s.

 
_Or_Type_3

The current selection of Or Type S/s’s.

 

RGN: Have you ever discovered one of your typefaces being used in a really unexpected place or project?

Or Type: We noticed that a cruise ship company recently bought one of our typefaces. Seeing our typeface on a cruise ship would certainly be unexpected.

RGN: Did you both formally study type design? Or are you guys self-taught?

Or Type: We had some courses when we were at school, but we haven’t gone to study type design specifically.

RGN: Your guys’ homepage is quite unique in that it displays a number of font testing areas that record the words and characters that are typed-in by previous visitors of the site. These words and characters are retained and displayed until a new visitor comes along and replaces what’s displayed. That said, what’s the most bizarre thing that you guys have seen typed-in and left behind by a visitor?

Or Type: We see a lot of things—all kinds of things really. We get love and hate letters through there, intern requests, and all kinds of stuff. The other day we noticed that someone wrote “Will you marry me?”, but we’ve yet to hear if that was a real proposal or not.

 
_Or_Type_1

A screenshot from ortype.is of the possible marriage proposal.

 

 

A screenshot from ortype.is showing someone commenting on Or Type’s kerning.

 

RGN: Of your offerings, which typeface is your most popular amongst your customers? And do you have any theory as to why this is your most popular typeface?

Or Type: Since we launched our new website last year, or best-sellers seem to be Landnáma and Separat. These are also the typefaces which seem to be around and which we stumble upon most frequently.

 
_Or_Type_13

Landnáma used by GUNMAD for the book Competing Temporalities by Lloyd Corporation, London, 2013.

 

RGN: Of all the times you’ve seen your typeface in use, has there ever been an instance in which you’ve been appalled by how the designer used your typeface?

Or Type: I guess we have a very specific way of using our typefaces, so often when you see people working in a different way it can be strange to see your own typefaces in that context. Having said that, sometimes it feels as though we designed the projects that make use of our typefaces, probably because of the nuanced characteristics of our letters. So never really appalled, no, not yet.

 
_Or_Type_12

Unreleased typeface, Las Vegas, used by Elana Schelnker for the “Time Travel” issue of Conveyor Magazine, New York, 2015.

 

RGN: In your opinion, are there too many typefaces in existence? Or not enough? Are those questions relevant to you as you begin creating a typeface?

Or Type: You could say that, but the same goes for everything: too many records, too many cars, etc. At least we’re not polluting the earth by making more. Having said that, it’s relevant for us to design a typeface that doesn’t already exist. This is an important part of our practise—to create something fresh and original.

 
_Or_Type_11

Unreleased typeface, Lemmen Antiqua, used with Rather in the latest “Talent” issue of FOAM magazine. Designed by Vandejong, Amsterdam.

 

RGN: When you describe your work/profession to family and friends who are not acquainted with typography and type design, what do you say?

Or Type: Simply, that we draw letters and sell them.

 
_Or_Type_5

Or Type exhibition at Geysir during DesignMarch 2015, Reykjavík.

 

RGN: Matthew Carter rocks an iconic ponytail—what are your feelings on this subject? And do either of you aspire to sport an iconic look of your own?

Or Type: I think we both wanna rock the ponytail when we turn 78. Guðmundur already has long hair, so he could sport that look at anytime.

 
_Or_Type_4

Or Type portrait from DesignMarch 2015, Reykjavík.

 
_Or_Type_10

Rather used by GUNMAD for a book by Merete Vyff Slyngborg, Copenhagen, 2013.

 

RGN: What’s more of a consideration for you when designing a typeface: screen or print? Or are these contexts irrelevant?

Or Type: It’s been mostly print up until recently, but making fonts ready for both web and screen is definitely a part of the next step of development for Or Type. Given the speed at which these technologies are developing, we’ve never consciously been too geeky about making our fonts for a certain resolution—it will soon all be HD screens anyway.

RGN: Many thanks for your time, Guðmundur and Mads!

 
_Or_Type_6

Or Type exhibition at Unit Gallery, London, in conjunction with the re-release of the Or Type website, 2015.

 

—See more of Or Type’s work on their website, Facebook, or Tumblr.

Counter Currents: Luke Fischbeck (of Lucky Dragons) on Videofreex

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from writer Geoff Manaugh and artist Tomás Saraceno to Experimental Jetset and Josh MacPhee—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here Luke Fischbeck of Lucky Dragons—which performs […]

Counter Currents_Videofreex

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from writer Geoff Manaugh and artist Tomás Saraceno to Experimental Jetset and Josh MacPhee—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here Luke Fischbeck of Lucky Dragons—which performs at the Walker May 13 as part of Devendra Banhart’s two night mini-festival—considers the influence of the collective Videofreex. Hippie Modernism opens at the Cranbrook Museum of Art on June 18.

Videofreex
Videofreex (l. to r.) David Cort, Bart Friedman, and Parry Teasdale (holding Sarah Teasdale) introduce Lanesville, NY resident Scottie Benjamin to Sony Portapak technology at Maple Tree Farm, 1973

Videofreex (1969–1978) was a close-knit, intensely collaborative group of artists united by the common goal of displaying a perspective they saw as missing from available media. They carried portable video equipment while participating in protest marches and acts of civil disobedience. They recorded the inside of a Washington, DC jail. At Woodstock, they turned their cameras away from the stage to show the health workers and the clean-up crew. They were the ideal audience: every museum or gallery show related to video as an art form was dutifully and meticulously recorded. They interviewed members of the Hell’s Angels, the Weathermen, and the Black Panther Party, crawling on the floor with a handheld camera to get multiple angles of Fred Hampton speaking to a small group weeks before he was murdered. They captured intimate moments of play and experimentation—birthday parties, lovemaking, and leisure time, laughing at an image of their composited faces, aiming a laser at the camera lens just to see what would happen.

Videofreex_Lanesville_1

Videofreex Still from Lanesville TV Show (Re-re-edit 2013) 1974–1975/2013

Presented at weekly screenings in their communal SoHo loft, and later by means of a pirate television station in the rural community of Lanesville, New York, the tapes (some 1,500 of them) were viewed by the participants in the context of their making. What was this remarkable archive made to do? To redirect viewers to a new way of looking? To evaluate and refine a way of being in the world, as players reviewing practice tapes before a performance? Does every archive hope to contain some recipe for re-creating the reality that it was drawn from?1

Firmly in the context of “democratized” or “participatory” media movements of the time, Videofreex placed a premium on access to tools and techniques in their do-it-yourself publication Spaghetti City Video Manual (1973) and in their contribution to the compendium Guerrilla Television (1971). Unlike other projects that explicitly aimed to make production technology available to a wide and disparate public,2 Videofreex’s inward-focused archival impetus is what survives most intensely—the conviction that what they were seeing, and the way they were seeing it, should be preserved. The flatness of history, broken into freaky perspective, by “investing computer time and human energy in storing data about video people and video tapes in an information bank… aaah, spaceship earth, what’s in store for you!”3

Videofreex_Lanesville_2

Videofreex Still from Lanesville TV Show (Re-re-edit 2013) 1974–1975/2013

In my own work as part of the collaborative broadcast project KCHUNG (2011– ), I have felt just how productive this balance can be: an affective impulse to open up the means of production, an active impulse to crystallize a collective point of view. The result, an archive of every single KCHUNG broadcast—more than 9,000 recordings that continue to accumulate—can be browsed, sorted, or searched, but can’t be comprehensively interpreted. It just sprawls, and in this sprawl, we come closest to representing the way we see.

KCHUNG TV (2014). Live weekly television broadcasts produced by members of KCHUNG’s contributing community in the lobby of the Hammer Museum. Image Courtesy of the Hammer Museum.

KCHUNG TV (2014). Live weekly television broadcasts produced by members of KCHUNG’s contributing community in the lobby
of the Hammer Museum. Image Courtesy of the Hammer Museum.

Notes

1 As with Erkki Kurenniemi’s project to continuously and obsessively document what he sees as an unstructured archive, does this collection of recordings contain some anticipation of an imminent age in which the viewer’s perspective can be reconstituted (as artificial intelligence)?

2 Compare with projects that sought out structured collaborations with under-served or excluded communities, such
as Experiments in Art and Technology’s Anand Project (1969), which promoted locally-produced educational programming for Indian television.

2 Feedback: Videofreex in “Radical Software,” Volume I, Number 5, Realistic Hope Foundation (Spring 1972)

Luke Fischbeck is a Los Angeles–based artist, composer, and organizer who designs and tests structures for collaboration. He is a founding member of the group Lucky Dragons (with Sarah Rara, 2000– ) and the collectively-organized broadcast project KCHUNG Radio (2011– ).

Next