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A broad answer would be—everywhere. Ridiculous, but true: A ROLU Reader

So Matt Olson of ROLU (the Minneapolis-based landscape and furniture design studio) approached me a few weeks ago to talk about a potential project for their big display at this year’s Art Basel Miami/Design Miami. He came to me with the idea of coming up with a cheap zine that would talk about ROLU, include […]

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So Matt Olson of ROLU (the Minneapolis-based landscape and furniture design studio) approached me a few weeks ago to talk about a potential project for their big display at this year’s Art Basel Miami/Design Miami. He came to me with the idea of coming up with a cheap zine that would talk about ROLU, include a couple of interviews and a CV. Kind of like a press kit in a way, but less straight-forward. We decided to meet for breakfast to catch up and talk more about what it could be.

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Our conversation went all over the place: from talking about sailboats designed by Daniel Buren, Guy de Cointet’s sets for plays, a shared love of En Japanese Brasserie in New York, to our yet-to-be-realized trip to the anechoic chamber at Orfield Labratories (billed as the world’s quietest room right in town in Seward). It quickly became clear that however tangential or fleeting these interests and ideas and people were, they all have affected and informed their work in one way or another. The problem is if this is someone’s first introduction to their practice, would that glut of information presented be able to communicate—on the most basic level—what they do and where they work? We eventually agreed at some point that there was no use coming up with an elevator pitch to encapsulate it all, it’s just too intellectually sprawling. I was also afraid that you’d lose some of the soul and the quirkiness of the studio by trying to pare it down to its essence. I guess one way I tried to think about it is that the there is no essence, or it’s all essence, or as Matt put it, it’s “everywhere”.

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So instead of condensing, we decided to go the maximalist route and show as much as possible. In the way that their blog brings together this huge range of information, the publication collages all these different content types (images, texts, hyperlinks, quotes, interview fragments, etc.) onto a page, or a series of pages. We created a simple structure on the page where it was divided into four quadrants, and that different things would be housed into these compartments. Whenever possible, I like to use food analogies, and I kind of liken this to an appetizer sampler where all these distinct little treats allows for multiple ways for the reader to engage with their work and enter the piece. It’s not a full meal, but a series of light bites to pique interest!

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The final publication also collaged different materials and printing processes. The section I call “Matt’s Brain” was printed with a Riso (by our former fellow, Brian Walbergh) on this great flecked paper, while the nested essays and image sections were printed on the Walker design studio’s Ricoh laser printer on this slick glossy paper, which was honestly kind of a nightmare to use, but had an unexpected tactile effect when you printed big type. The CV was also laser printed, but on an uncoated, flourescent lime green paper. (I made Matt choose the paper, I just told him to think “Miami”). Key Lime Pie anyone?

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The reader was hand-assembled by Mike Brady and Sammie Warren of ROLU and myself. These guys were champs for spending their Sunday in the Art Lab, folding constantly and getting Riso ink all over their hands, and then buying me a patty melt and a stout at Eli’s (notice how I keep mentioning food?). In all, it took about 10 hours to produce 300 special color versions of the publication. A second black and white version was produced at our local FedEx Office in Uptown.

Two weeks after that initial meeting, all of them miraculously made it to sunny Miami, and just in time too. I think they were pretty happy with it.

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And a final note for those in the New York area, ROLU is currently part of the group exhibition Under $500 at Mondo Cane which runs from December 13th–January 3rd. The opening reception is literally right now (December 13th 6-9 pm). All works are under $500 and includes artists and designers such as Andy Beach, Eric Timothy Carlson, Matt Connors, Ditte Gantriis, Gemma Holt, Doug Johnson, Clemens Kois, Max Lamb, Mary Manning, Ian McDonald, Jonathan Nesci, Jim Oliveira, Study O Portable, and Omar Sosa & Nathalie du Pasquier.

Hang-Over: Art Basel Miami Banners are Cultural Bank Notes

Art Basel Header

Here in Miami, Art Basel and related fairs are now far-past, full-swing. Art has been shown. Parties have been thrown. Many flights have departed, and tents will now come down. For now and a little longer we are all hung-over on Art, Basel and our drugs of choice. Mine is graphic design.

A few weeks ago—largely overnight—a sea of printed banners popped up all over Miami. Their function was to announce the many, many art and design fairs that are now over. To my eye, they evoke giant bank notes pined-up as visual currency.

I offer readings of these cultural currencies from the perspective of a newly minted Miamian. Walker editors: shudder away. At at the very least I am a graphic designer who (newly) resides here. My humble critique focuses on the relative value of art and design as communicated by the formal character of the various banners. There are a number of graphic design materials that serve as kinds of cultural currency during basel, VIP Passes, brochures, pamphlets and books among others, but I’m most interested in the wider public consumption of the banners.

As an insider/outsider, I am particularly struck by the similarities and differences of graphic design approaches across fairs. Together they tell a story of art, design, and commerce. They tell a story of convention, taste and tradition.

I present a sampling of cases of a wider field of banners as bank notes. Enjoy as I take them and you up into the air of graphic-design-critique, tongue firmly-in-cheek:

Art | Basel Miami Beach Banner

Art Basel

The main fair banner that is most known. It’s a blend of “edgy” and “safe” design decisions. “Edgy” choices: right/top alignment of the headline, fluorescent salmon, are balanced with “safe” choices: a marine blue flood, minimal punctuation, and the largest sponsor logo of the banners in my survey.  It asserts value through name value and visual consistency.

It also asserts value through juxtaposition. Art | Basel, Miami Beach is North America’s largest art fair, but it is named after a city in Europe. There is a sense of displacement and globalness by seeing the name of a very tropical city nestled nect to to the name of a very temperate city. The blue and salmon express this well. Heinz Hoffman’s Block typeset by the brilliant Swiss team of Müller + Hess are in sync with this fair of dualities. It’s Swiss sans serif—all business—but with rough hewn edges—all party. Pretty on point. But it is UBS’ logo, a bank, that puts the commodity nature of our current art “market” front and center. No date or location information needed. Yes, they are ballers like that.

For those who want to go deeper see Rob Giampietro’s excellent essay on the Basel identity in the context of other Art identities inspired by the current masters of low-high-brow Dexter Sinister.

Basel Elevation: 260 m (853 ft), Miami Elevation: 6 ft (2 m). High marks for execution.

Design Miami Banner

Design Miami

Pardon my cruddy photo.

This is one of the few more high-profile fairs to use a photo in the design of the banner (Jewelery Fair, and Miami on the River do as well). Design Miami is the official design satellite of Art Basel and their marketing materials cross-reference each other. However, the currency of the banner has its own distinct visual language.

Design Miami asserts its value through the familiar language of (product) design material culture in one of its most recognizable forms: a silhouetted lounge chair of modernist lineage. The chair is presented on a stark white ground with artful drop shadows. A diagonal black slash echoes the form of the chair’s legs and arm supports also slices the composition and the right side of the word mark “Design Miami.”

The slash does a nice reference to the displacement effect of Basel and Miami Beach. It also is sympathetic to the forms of the chair. Juxtaposition of “safe” and “edgy” (see Basel and Pulse) return in a centered, humanist (see NADA) san-serif that is set upper and lower case.

What at first reads as Helvetica is actually a now familiar Laurence Brunner’s 21st-century redux called Akkurat. It’s the softer side of modernism and looks handsome with a slash.

Miami Projects Banner

Miami Projects

On the spectrum between graphic design signifiers of “safe” and “edgy” (I’m starting to question these terms themselves and where they come from.) Miami projects asserts it’s value by swinging towards “edgy” most strongly of the banners surveyed. Rather than “conventional” vertical or horizontal (the banners tall and skinny format actually lend to the convention of book spines where type is usually on its side) the fair name is wildly askew. Well as wildly as allowable for “safe” reading. The headline is also 1/2 positive and 1/2 knocked out or negative.

Support of black and red-orange wedges suggest a lineage to early 20th Century Russian Constructivist graphic design that has been reinterpreted through the graphic design style cycle far too many times as a set of signs that point to rebellion, upheaval and “up and coming” art and design. The date is present and next largest in the hierarchy  with the location, and the WWW url in place (see Pulse).

What at first seems edgy is actually quiet safe.

NADA, Miami Beach Banner

NADA

In an approach that I will call “there, but not there,” NADA asserts its value, by aspiring to be valueless. The banner is mostly white material, with black, outlined san-serif Type, and tiny “mouse type” below with only the month, name of location, and cross street information. See comments about 2×4‘s “Blank” Urban tree project on Speak Up a few years back.

The typeface from my speeding car seems to be Gill Sans, but set in regular or light weight says that value is not about typeface choice, or images, or even color. Its about being a humanist sans serif all in black, artfully  not there. Nada currency is a well positioned nothing.

To use a Fellaism: One hand, formally it’s a love. On the other hand, formally it “seems to mean”  like so much ironic typography trying to be without irony.

Pulse Miami Banner

Pulse

Visually one of the loudest banners. The very large condensed, sans serif cropped to the edges of the banners paired with with loud colors pushes to the “edgy” pole. It asserts value in the “impoliteness” of it’s typography. It says to me, that this is a fair of youthful energy. The words Pulse and Miami are turned on 180 degrees of each other to further impart dynamism to the composition.

The lack of letter-spacing in the all-caps type of the venue name, address, makes my inner fussy typographer squirm (see Scope below). The need to include a URL and a “WWW” that preceded it come across as a plea in internet-speak to project a youthful, connected fair. Those that are fluid in internet know that no url is needed in this context, especially with the almost anachronistic WWW attached. Just google it.

I often saw the Pulse banner hung as pairs like in the above photo. Perhaps an ad buy strategy to make it stand out more? Though louder than much of the other currency, I question the fidelity of the formal message.

Scope Pavilion Banner

Scope

Rather than a large typeset name, the fair is represented by a large and ambiguous typographic mark that evokes both a letter “S” turned on it’s side, and the mathematical symbol for infinity. In other applications it is also a neo-ligature of the lowercase “c” and “o” in scope. Really ingenuous. It uses mystery and intrigue to assert value.

The supporting typography is justified, with inconsistent word spacing in the middle line. The typographer in me cringes at the combination of carefulness and carelessness. To paraphrase my friend, Matt Monk: The banner creates”?” in my head, followed by “!” followed by a “?.” When maybe a better sequence might be to evoke a”?” followed only by “!”

It says they don’t care so much for the details of typographic tradition, or they don’t care that they don’t care.

What does that say about me? “S” for Silas anyone?

Untitled Art Banner

Untitled

A new fair on the scene. I was drawn in to its more nuanced use of typographic contrast and hierarchy. Less bold and flash than Basel, but more there to hold on visually than NADA. It’s still image free, which says “contemporary art,” but a deep color flood of an unusual color.

It  seemed to be a plain or ultra light cut Andrea Tinnes’ Switch, but after cross referencing the specimen, I realize it to be a formally more restrained copy-cat. I was saddened by this. But why?  Why was I trying to attribute certain moves to type designers in the way that I would certain visual langages or styles to artists? Why end with such a rant?

Perhaps because I know how much work it takes to come up with a distinct typographic concept, and then how hard it is to execute harmoniously. But then I got to thinking what crooked room am I sitting in that makes me feel that this unicase treatment is less worthy than Andrea? (Disclosure: I’ve interviewed Andrea and consider her a hero). Was there not a unicase drawn by Bayer in 1925 of the Bauhaus, redrawn by Matthew Carter in 1991, made popular by Abbot Miller, and Ellen Lupton, and Mike Mills? Tschichold had his unicase. Bradbury Thompson his.

Hang-Over

I say these things not to drop names. I am not a graphic design snob. I am a graphic design aficionado. I post this critique not to bash or rip, but to illuminate and to try to understand the rhizomatic connectedness of our current graphic design landscape. I am interested in celebrating our history, and our current moment in a very exciting time of exchange between commerce, art, and design.

I am interested in the discourse of taste, and tradition. But all this is lost without context. Meredith Davis clearly says it is the people, the places and systems along with the things themselves. To paraphrase another colleague, Nikki Juen isn’t design in general, and graphic design in particular about relationships?

What do these banner / bank notes say about the relationships we have to graphic design, art, commerce and other human beings? We can spend the next year contemplating and ruminating.

From Miami beach to Minneapolis we are back to our less fabulous, but (happily) more grounded selves.

 

Catalog and Archive: two Szeemann designs

For Craig Buckley’s fall workshop “Publication, Politics, and Print: Episodes from the Twentieth Century” each first and second-year student of the Yale Graphic Design MFA presented one or more publications from the special collections of either the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library or the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library. I picked the catalogue […]

For Craig Buckley’s fall workshop “Publication, Politics, and Print: Episodes from the Twentieth Century” each first and second-year student of the Yale Graphic Design MFA presented one or more publications from the special collections of either the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library or the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library.

I picked the catalogue of two exhibitions curated by the late Harald Szeemann, “Live In Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form” (1969) and “documenta 5: Questioning Reality – Image Worlds Today” (1972). A lot has been written about both exhibitions, and by more competent people[1] but when researching I found very little on the accompanying catalogues.

To quote from the introductory text of Hans Ulrich Obrist’s 1996 Artforum interview “Mind Over Matter”:

“…Harald Szeemann has defined himself as an Ausstellungsmacher, a maker of exhibitions. There is more at stake in adopting such a designation than semantics. Szeemann is more conjurer than curator—simultaneously archivist, conservator, art handler, press officer, accountant, and above all, accomplice of the artists.”

WABF (to keep it short), is often cited as the first show to bring together post-Minimalist and Conceptual artists from both the US and Western Europe in a European institution. In Szeemann’s words: “(…) The participating artists were in no way object-makers; (…) the forms of each work, the choices of materials and form were extensions of the artist’s gesture; (…) so the meaning of this art lies in the fact that an entire generation of artists has undertaken to give ‘form’ to the ‘nature of art and artists’ in terms of a natural process[2].

When browsing the WABF catalogue for the first time, I found in it not only a collection of traces of Szeemann’s working methods translated to rich design/editorial decisions but also a moment of great intensity and freedom, when artists could either produce a work or just imagine it, as Lawrence Weiner once said.

There are, so far, three versions of this catalogue. The first was meant for the Kunsthalle Bern show in 1969, where Harald Szeemann was the director, the second for the ICA showing (modified and supplemented by Charles Harrison) and the third was a facsimile edition in 2006 published on the occasion of the exhibition “Villa Jelmini – The Complex of Respect”. All the design comments below refer to the Kunsthalle Bern version, unless noted otherwise.

  

The book “Harald Szeemann: Individual Methodology”[3], a research project developed by the 16th Session of the International Curatorial Training Program of Le Magasin–Grenoble (published in 2007 by JRP|Ringier and elegantly designed by Corinne Zellweger) displays a number of pictures of Szeemann’s own archives/offices/workspaces over time. In each picture you see lots of bookshelves, binders, boxes, rolodexes and many other cataloging devices. Szeemann’s deep interest in the archive is the first key to reading both WABF and documenta 5’s catalogues.

  

WABF’s catalogue cover is one first and bold design gesture. When Szeemann, who designed and directed the catalogue himself, chooses to use his own handwriting to announce the title of the exhibition (presenting it in all the languages of the Swiss cantons as well as English), he determines the tone for the rest of the catalogue and, considering the funding situation [4], suggests that the show belongs to him rather than to Kunsthalle Bern’s programme.  The full exhibition title appears a second time on the cover page where it is set in Univers (of course).

After the presentation and curatorial statement texts in the beginning (set in Univers as well), there is a pink-paper spread with the front and back of one of Szeemann’s famous A4 (folded down to A7, probably to fit his pocket/wallet) phone lists[5] occupying one page each, right before the actual catalogue starts. This image gives us a huge clue on how personal the decisions involved in this catalogue were.

 

The first page of each artist set is placed always on the right-hand side to align with the index, here a phonebook-style set of dividers in alphabetical order distributed throughout the volume. With Szeemanns’ love of the archive in mind, it is not by coincidence that the WABF book is bound with single-sheets 2-hole punched, put together with metal paper fasteners. It almost seems like the curator himself manually put each WABF catalogue together.

      

The basic layout structure gives each artist a name, a face and biographical information, akin to a card in Szeemann’s personal files.  And because the show grew out of a number of workshops with the artists, the same gesture of giving room for each artist’s voice to modify Szeemann’s previously defined structure affects that basic layout allowing many transformations ranging between instructions on how a particular artist wants to be featured in the catalogue to instructions on how to build the exclusive work of art for the show.

documenta 5: Questioning Reality – Image Worlds Today” could be viewed as the most significant and most conceptually complex exhibition of the first years of Szeemann’s career. It was conceived as a vast collection of visual things from our visual world –“a concentrated version of life in the form of exhibition”. Szeemann adopted an encyclopedic approach, deciding to show objects that did not belong to the realm of art, creating a mixture of ordinary objects and fetish items that belonged to popular, political, or kitsch culture, as well as to religious art and outsider art.

My claim is that the documenta 5 catalogue editorial strategy is analogous to that of WABF, elevated to monumental scale. documenta’s catalogue design history so far was tied to the Bauhaus tradition through the practices of Arnold Bode (architect, designer and founder of documenta) and Prof. Karl-Oskar Blase, (who designed the identities for the 1968, 1977 and 1987 editions) but Szeemann seemed to believe that the universalist/geometric approach did not best represent his intentions, even considering the encyclopedic approach aforementioned.

 

Prof. Karl-Oskar Blase is found under the Grafik und Design section of the exhibition credit list, and it is understood that Prof. Blase is in charge of the complex system involved in an exhibition of documenta’s scale. Still, under the Katalog/Gestaltung section, Szeemann’s name is found one more time.

The personal inflection of WABF’s cover design finds its analog in the d5 catalogue. Departing from the geometric designs of the previous four editions, Szeemann used Ed Ruscha’s drawing of the number five made of small ants. This emblematic image was also used for the poster. Ruscha’s design thus defined the public image of documenta 5. Also, Szeemann’s decision of having Ruscha’s work instead of/as a “logo” suggests the almighty geometry-based approach had its limitations, while still being very helpful in the organizational realm.

  

The catalogue object is a red, industrial binder, and the print run is 20,000 copies. The pages are again two-hole punched but this time the dividers are not in alphabetical but numeric order, organizing the 25 nucleus of the exhibition in 757 pages.

 

The artist cards are still there, but now the categories to which they belong matters more than an in-context description of their attitudes, or the focus on the personal. The phenomenon represented at documenta 5 was a certain crisis of the art market.  The presence of non-art objects calls into question the relationship between image and imagery and, by extension, the various levels of reality within a work — a task highly dependant on the visitor’s knowledge or willingness to differentiate how the same work exists  in and out of the exhibition space.

The loop between an imagetic cover/public visual image and the rigid grid that organizes and frames a complex set of elements seems to actively participate in that discussion.  The final section of the catalogue, dedicated exclusively for the supporters’ (real) advertisements is now a rich set of images; time and history have shifted its function.

*thanks a lot to Paulina Pobocha and Linda Veiby for the kind notes.


[1] Rattemeyer, Christian (et al.). Exhibiting the New Art: ‘Op Losse Schroeven’ and ‘When Attitudes Become Form’ 1969. London: Afterall Books, 2010.

[2] Szeemann, Harald. “About the Exhibition.” When Attitudes Become Form. Bern: Kunsthalle Bern / Philip Morris Europe, 1969.

[3] Deriaux, Florence, ed. Harald Szeemann: Individual Methodology. Zürich: JRP|Ringier, 2007.

[4] Di Lecce, Claudia. “Avant-garde Marketing: ‘When Attitudes Become Form’ and Philip Morris’s Sponsorship.”Exhibiting the New Art: ‘Op Losse Schroeven’ and ‘When Attitudes Become Form’. London: Afterall Books, 2010.

[5] Very unfortunately omitted on the ICA edition of the same catalogue.

The Making of the Lifelike Catalog

Lifelike, a Walker-organized exhibition curated by Siri Engberg, and now on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art, is documented by its eponymous catalog. I sat down last March with João Doria to talk about the making (and thinking) of the book. Transcript of João Doria with Andrea Hyde on the Lifelike catalog J: […]

Lifelike, a Walker-organized exhibition curated by Siri Engberg, and now on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art, is documented by its eponymous catalog. I sat down last March with João Doria to talk about the making (and thinking) of the book.

Transcript of João Doria with Andrea Hyde on the Lifelike catalog

J: I have the catalog here. I was wondering if we could start with a little description of the context in which this catalog was made?

A: The context I think you’re referring to is the Lifelike exhibition, now on tour. Siri [Engberg] curated the show as you probably know. She was interested in presenting artists working with realism from the 60s through the present. She touches on various incarnations of realism, from abstraction to installation-based work like Maurizio Cattelan’s sculptures to [Gerhard] Richter’s hyperrealistic paintings. I needed to find a way to reflect these themes in the book.

My initial meeting with [the curators] was very interesting. I presented some pretty radical ideas.

J: Are they worth showing? I mean to me they are but in a blog post?

A: Potentially. I feel protective about them. Perhaps they will be useful in the future [giggles]. You know, as a designer we sometimes recycle our ideas. I’ve found that it sometimes happens, but unexpectedly. Perhaps I will come upon the perfect occasion to use an old idea in the future…

With that said, one of the initial ideas that made it into the book—though a in a subtle way—was the idea of the book being a collection of stolen materials. For example, instead of a half-title page, the very first page of the book is a page from a published Charles Ray book. There’s no explanation as to why it’s there, but for a very small caption on the inside front cover. The gesture is meant to throw the reader and to refer to the art in the show—there is a moment where most aren’t sure whether what they see is real or fake. I’m thinking specifically of the Fischli and Weiss’ installation that looks like building materials and debris. Is it part of the exhibition or the byproducts from the show’s installation? In fact, it is an artwork. Or the Vija Celmins installation—it looks like a mistake, a remnant. That’s what that first page is meant to do: present the reader with something that doesn’t quite fit. I wish there were more instances like that throughout the book, but because the pagination was tight, it became necessary to economize those moments.

J: Before we go too deep into the catalog, what did the curators ask you for? How did it all start?

A: During the first meeting we talked about the ideas behind the exhibition and where it was going. I knew that there would be some reprints and commissioned texts. Siri was going to write [giggles] a really large essay, and I started type layouts based on the reprints. The first reprint I received was a [Josiah] McElheny article that first appeared in Artforum, which was really useful in figuring out some of the themes of the show: Duchampian readymades and work that followed in the same vein.

J: You did other catalogs since you started at the Walker and I wonder if you have an opinion about a curators’ general expectation when it comes to catalogs. Moreover, what’s the role of the catalog here at the Walker in relation to exhibitions. Why do they usually want to do a catalog?

A: Everyone wants a catalog. Sometimes they are more wanted than needed, but for this show a book made perfect sense: it’s a substantial exhibition, it’s touring, and the show’s grouping is unique.

Each curator has different goals for their catalogs. Eiko & Koma, which was the book I designed right before this one, is a good example. The curators, editor, and former publications director [Lisa Middag] wanted that book to stake out a position for performance art within the scholarly realm of art criticism usually associated with visual arts. It hadn’t been done often in the past. So that was the goal then.

But Lifelike is really true to its exhibition. It presents the ideas behind the show in chronological order. It’s similar to the way a curator would organize the exhibition’s physical space. Its a good accompaniment.

J: Now we can get more to the object. We talked about it before and also with Andrew [Blauvelt] and Emmet [Byrne]. I noticed that recent Walker catalogs have been more lightweight. They look (but in fact they’re not) less luxurious objects and this involves many questions I think.

I remember, for instance, the Frida Kahlo book or the books in that era of the Walker design department. They had hardcovers, cloth, etc., and it’s more apparent that they were meant to document the exhibition/made to last (which doesn’t mean they will) and that makes me think about the public. I would say that in a regular situation, in a context away from the collector or a designer interested in books, the Lifelike catalog would feel more appealing. To me, I would fear it less.

A: It’s less intimidating, I agree. I see the trend but I don’t know if this is intentional. I see it more as a byproduct of trying to pare down the cost of our publication program, at least temporarily. In the future there will be bigger moments. We will have more [Yves] Kleins, more [Frida] Kahlos. I know that will happen [for example, there is a Jim Hodges book on the horizon], but in this case, to a casual reader, this book feels a bit more like a reader because of its humble production. Because it’s less of an artifact, I feel more like reading it. Kahlo and The Quick and The Dead really feel like art books—you put them down on a table and they make a sound [laughs].

Before I came to the Walker I worked on books for Gagosian and the Guggenheim through a studio. Those institutions seemed to prefer expensive, exclusive books, more an artifact than a document. That’s also a challenge. I think both are extremes and challenges for the designer.

J: How do you articulate your own language/interests with the content and budget restrictions and the intellectual decisions taken by the curators with the practical design decisions you need to make?

A: It’s always a case of priorities. In this case, we prioritized a Swiss cover and  smyth-sewn binding so even though it’s a softcover it’s actually pretty sturdy.

Originally the idea was to use the second spine—as I’m calling the interior spine—and to stamp it with the same foil I used on the cover. We evolved away from this when we decided that to begin with the Charles Ray page. Initially, I was thinking of the whole book as a copy of something. I even sketched the title in the Life cereal logotype but in different crazy colors. It would have been a fun cover, less reverential to the artwork featured inside the book. Instead, we decided to put an artwork on the cover that corresponded to the Charles Ray page half-title and to add some materiality by using cast-coated paper, so that there is a textural  difference between outer and inner covers.

 

 


 

 

 

And when I talk to the artist/curator/whoever I’m dealing with when making a book, I generally talk about those different options all out and say ‘well, I think we should try to focus on those three things’ and then maybe the other nice things need to fall out as a consequence. It’s always a balance and even when you have a big budget you’re working to fit as much into the book as possible. It’s a balance between the production aspects, the physical aspects of the book and the idea behind the book and how it’s structured.

J: I remember talking to Emmet and he told me as well that one real interesting thing about the fake half-title page is that the artist himself he had lost the notion as it is said here on… wait a minute, is your book different?

A: Oh I forgot to say! [The book tape fabrics] are different. There are three different types. We went to the bindery and they had it on salvage, so we used their extras.

J: The name of the exhibition, how did you approached it through typography? As a foreigner, I would say Lifelike has a good sound, a sort of wordplay. When you separate the letters people tend to say ‘aw, this is going to get difficult to read!’ making, naturally making the designer a little furious because we tend to believe people are more intelligent than they think.

A: Lifelike is really nice as a title because first, there is no subtitle [giggles]. Second, it’s clear and represents the show perfectly, and third, typographically, it’s nice that the words ‘Life’ and ‘Like’ share every letter but one, which gave me the perfect excuse to play around with shapes. I’ve always liked the tree and flower of life symbols. Starting from there, I created circular, triangular, and diagonal divider spreads and headers to play with the title and refer to the symbol.

Above: The flower of life, an inspiration for the divider spreads and headers (located near the gutters of each spread).

 

J: Now for nerdy stuff. This format is a little bigger than Eiko & Koma, so why did you pick that particular format? It’s a stupid question but…

A: …no no, not at all. I think Eiko & Koma needed to be more intimate, more like something you could read in your bedroom—there are so many details about their life and work. I feel like [Lifelike] is more like a manual in the sense that it’s main goal is to be informational, and the proportions are a little awkward, too big for intimacy but too small to be “coffee table.”  An in-between format, awkward. In fact, many of my decisions were made in order to make the book feel more awkward, in part because that’s the feeling the exhibition inspires. It’s a bit wide, too. I knew that the softcover would help the book to really open and I wanted to have some good text-spreads. I also knew that I wanted to use the gutters for the page numbers and running headers so I felt like it would be nice to have a almost-square proportion, which we extended to the exhibition didactics.

…Something you said before was interesting, something about the reprints being re-purposed copy, the Charles Ray page reproduced. This duplication is also evident in the contents page. I simply took the layout from select pages and placed it there, another reference to the work in this exhibition, in that divider spreads, made smaller become literal representations of those sections of the book.

J: The grotesque typeface, is it F Grotesk from Radim Peško? The typewriter monospaced typeface, which one is it?

A: It’s called Prestige Elite.

J: When I look at the surface of your pages in this publication, I see two planes, and I feel like you use thick lines to relate to the density of F Grotesk and to everything which is heavier and thin lines to relate to Prestige Elite and to what’s lighter.

I wonder, then, when we get to the book I look for how you organized the book’s different moments and how what we said before is expressed in that.

In the contents page, the letters circling around the page makes me thing you’re trying to place some hidden message, a continuity in each divider page. In the foreword the text is set in the grotesque typeface so it feels like the more institutional texts are set this way whereas the content that relates exclusively to the work is set in the monospaced type. So this is something that may be nice to talk about—can you explain more about the structure of the text?

 

A: Siri’s essay is first and is divided by themes. In many catalogs, there are distinct and uninterrupted essay sections. In this case, the plates and divider pages serve as bookends to the essays. Plates correspond to sections like ‘Previous Lives’ or ‘Common Objects,’ and directly correspond with the exhibition—as I said before, the book is a perfect reflection of the exhibition space because, in a sense, its layout is the same. Entering the exhibition, you first encounter works that illustrate the ‘Common Objects’ theme, and then ‘Uncanny’ follows, etc.

Sprinkled throughout are ‘Object Lessons,’ case studies of specific works. I wanted these to be distinct, rendered in an institutional voice and differentiated from Siri’s essay.

J: The text set with Prestige seems more for reading, and what’s set in the other voice seems more like extended captions.

A: That’s exactly what they are. It’s interesting because I was thinking of the Object Lessons as extended captions. Normally, I wouldn’t choose to use a typewriter face as the body text for an entire book, but in this case it made perfect sense. Prestige in its digital form is a copy of its original typewriter-produced self. I mean, typewriter faces are anachronistic, we don’t use typewriters anymore, we’re mimicking it.

J: How did they react when you presented those ideas/justifications? To my experience, the good thing about working with curators and artists is that usually the talk gets to a level where everyday life decisions for you as a designer are understood on a conceptual level.

A: They got it right away. When I presented initial ideas—I called one of the ideas ‘The Impostor’—I mentioned using typefaces that mimic others: Arial for example, which mimics Helvetica. With Prestige I am mimicking an outmoded mode of production. It also refers to scripts, like you were saying—”this is something to be read.”

J: What about grids and stuff. What’s underlying what we see?

A: I’ve always been a fan of how the Talmud is laid out. I like the big blocks of text brutally interrupted by notes, references, asides and diagrams. These interruptions don’t break the rectangular shape. It’s the inversion of what most designers consider “good design,” with white space, unforced kerning, etc. To me, the Talmud’s modular denseness is attractive.

One of my original ideas was to make a book that looks like a different book, an iconic text that most people would recognize. It would copy the look and structure but use our content. Does that make sense to you?

J: Yes.

A: Then it evolved. But to answer your question, I changed the grid depending on the type of content. The essay has a different grid type than the plates, which was a very different grid from the object lessons.

J: I was also wondering whether it was modular or not.

A: I would say there’s a master grid and variations on that, but the variations are so big it makes for very different layouts. Before we decided to intersperse the essay throughout the book I thought that sections of the book could look extremely different from one another, almost like different books stitched together. That idea evolved into type and grid variations.

J: About the images. In the show their scales vary a lot—how did you deal with it on this book? The chairs outside, the leaves in the corner, what goes through your mind when putting it together, giving it new relationships? It’s typical book design problem.

A: It was very interesting. Initially, we had all the dimensions right underneath the plates, but we moved them to the checklist. There are other moments we try to be true to proportion, usually when I’m pairing different works on the same spread.

J: Is it more a form problem? To put things with different sizes together and to see whether they fit or not, their shapes and colors?

A: Oh yes, we have lots of problems (giggles).

J: (laughs)

A: And remember, I couldn’t reorder the plates because they all had to exist within their themed sections. That was also challenging as well. It wasn’t strictly chronological

J: One last thing… the book has an insert!

A: (laughs)

J: (laughs)

Let’s talk about this insert.

A: It’s another obstruction, another confusing element, an intentionally awkward moment. The reader flips through the book and suddenly this thing is just there. It has a caption but it’s not bound or glued. It’s not tipped-on. It’s not something you would normally frame. It’s not a complete composition. It’s just a thing, a texture.

J: And what did the artist say?

A: That’s exactly what we wanted. [Keith Edmier] didn’t really mind whether we bound it in, tipped it in, or how big it was. I think he just thought, ‘It would be interesting to give you some wallpaper’ [from Kitchen, an excerpt from Bremen Towne, 1971]. We could have done what we wanted with it. It could have been a lot of things: endpapers, a dust jacket… Instead we chose to do this awkward thing.

J: Another stupid question—being an object, something actual, did it ever come to the talks that this could be then an original?

A: No that’s a very good question. I intend to address this in my blog post about the catalog, that the insert is actually an artwork. There’s no material difference between the insert in the printed book and the wallpaper in the physical exhibition space. It was done at the same time, the same process and the same paper. It is something meant to exist in a specific space, but we took part of it and gave it to the printer to cut and insert into our book. It’s another Charles Ray page moment.

J: It wasn’t problematic then.

A: No. I think going forward though, when the show starts to tour and go other places it will be useful to talk about it…

A: Let’s conclude with the backcover. Originally, I wanted to do something like this on the back [pointing to contents page], put thumbnails from the interior on the back. Another contents-like page where I copy and resize pages of the book. But then I received an interesting email from Siri, detailing her visit with Paul Sietsema. The painting he had in his studio perfectly illustrated the idea of the exhibition.

The layout reminds me of a paperback with a blurb that screams: ‘Look what’s inside this book’—something a publisher’s marketing department would dream up—but the text below the photo is actually a really profound statement about the contents of the book, a summary of the exhibition.

J: In what way?

A: You have this trompe-l’œil effect of a nail seemingly sticking out from a still-life painting. Artists working during the time this painting was made would usually leave something like a nail out of their composition, because it was not considered art. It’s a mundane thing you don’t really paint, but here it’s rendered in such a realistic way that it looks like the painting could actually be punctured with a nail. The painting is similar to so many of the works featured in the book.

J: Now something not exactly related to this particular book but in Eiko & Koma you use the vertical text on the spine and here too, it’s so nice! Are you into that lately?

A: I actually wanted to do something strange on the spine, use the text in diagonal [sings, spelling L-i-f-e-l-i-k-e], is that what you mean?

J: Oh no, I just found a coincidence that both use vertical text—a good quirk of yours?

A: Oh yes I did do that in my last two books! I tried it the other way, but it didn’t feel right.

J: It is how it is!

A: Yes, I never turned the type elsewhere inside the book so… it’s always upright.

[Looks at phone]

J: Oh are we late?

A: Yes… We should go…

J: Miniburgers!

 

Creating Promotional Photos for BodyCartography’s Super Nature

The promotional photography shoot for BodyCartography’s Super Nature, which you can check out tonight here at the Walker,  was one of those times when all of the elements come together. I got to work with a collaborative group of dancers at a fascinating location on a beautiful day in May. We shot at the University of […]

The promotional photography shoot for BodyCartography’s Super Nature, which you can check out tonight here at the Walker,  was one of those times when all of the elements come together. I got to work with a collaborative group of dancers at a fascinating location on a beautiful day in May.

Olive Bieringa collecting hats prior to the shoot

We shot at the University of Minnesota’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve—2200 hectares of research land consisting of seven different habitats representing the different ecologies of Minnesota, allowing us to photograph in a variety of settings all within a short walk.


BodyCartography Project co-directors Olive Bieringa and Otto Ramstad and I discussed trying to represent the dichotomy of the animal and the social inherent in the “ecological melodrama” that is their piece. Slowly but surely, the shoot started to feel less like a dance shoot and more like a mashup of anthropological study and wildlife photography. I began to approach it as such to present the feeling of discovering animals in their natural environment, using longer lenses and shooting from behind grasses and shrubs.

Stretching and working out positions

The dancers brought a sense of play and discovery—dancing a full afternoon in the hot sun and rough terrain without complaint—even while wearing polyester. My favorite part of the day was shooting each dancer as they took turns interacting with a charred tree, creating moments that ranged from the sublime to the comical.

BodyCartography and baby scouting the final location

Below are the final images that we used for the cover of the Performing Arts brochure as well as the cover of our September/October 2012 issue of the Walker magazine. They were also used in a variety of ads around town.

Walker magazine cover

2012/2013 Walker Performing Arts Season brochure

BodyCartography Project page from season brochure

After witnessing and documenting a bit of Super Nature, I can’t wait to see what happens in the theater this week.

Julian Bleecker: The Future Never Gets Old

“Interdisciplinary activity, valued today as an important aspect of research, cannot be accomplished by simple confrontations between various specialized branches of knowledge. Interdisciplinary work is not a peaceful operation: it begins effectively when the solidarity of the old disciplines breaks down—a process made more violent, perhaps, by the jolts of fashion—to the benefit of a new object and […]

Above: Three of a series of graphical representations of the future by Julian Bleecker

“Interdisciplinary activity, valued today as an important aspect of research, cannot be accomplished by simple confrontations between various specialized branches of knowledge. Interdisciplinary work is not a peaceful operation: it begins effectively when the solidarity of the old disciplines breaks down—a process made more violent, perhaps, by the jolts of fashion—to the benefit of a new object and a new language, neither of which is in the domain of those branches of knowledge that one calmly sought to confront.” —Roland Barthes

As part of the Walker’s Interdisciplinary Work Group (IWG)—a think tank exploring the “violent” process of clashing disciplines within our institution (maybe not violent enough, really)—I was asked to invite someone who inspired me and whose practice might embody a mixture of disciplines. It was the perfect excuse to bring out Julian Bleecker—a designer/technologist/futurist who creates “new objects” on a daily basis—though he might call them diagetic prototypes and suggest that their existence was not only plausible, but completely inevitable. When he’s not working in Nokia’s Design Strategic Projects studio, he is one of the founding partners of the Near Future Laboratory, a collective dedicated to “thinking, making, design, development, and research practice speculating on the near future possibilities for digital worlds.”

Over the past few years he has been developing the idea of Design Fiction—a practice exploring the symbiotic relationship between science fiction and science fact. As an attitude it has a lot in common with Critical Design as put forward by Dunne & Raby (in fact Wikipedia redirects a search for Design Fiction straight to the entry on Critical Design). Though where Critical Design offers tangible thought experiments critical of our personal relationships with products—often inhabiting the space of the gallery or academia—Design Fiction appears to be oriented toward the popular imaginary, more comfortable in the realm of Hollywood films, best-selling novels, Skymall catalogs, and Internet memes, more explicitly tackling the relationship between storytelling, media, and technological progress. And it might be more concerned with the fog of the feedback loop and the design process itself, in all its compromised and messy glory—the implications of business models, service design, copyright laws, product obsolescence, hacker spaces, Amazon Mechanical Turk and Alibaba.com, access to tools, etc.—instead of the clarity of the pure artifact on its pedestal (or kitchen counter). Julian even discusses the negative effects of design storytelling—Jurassic Park, for example, is held up as an example of incredible Design Fiction but potentially dubious science fact—a minority theory put forward into the public consciousness, bypassing the typical systems of scientific peer review, and dramatically altering the entire debate.

I’ve come to understand Design Fiction a bit like the inverse of Mundane Science Fiction (the Dogme 95 of sci-fi)—instead of science fiction authors dialing down the fantasy to tell stories of the near future, these are designers amping up the speculation to “tell worlds instead of stories.” Both theories feel a bit scrappy but highly prize a conceptual rigor: the refusal of Mundane Science Fiction to resort to impossible (and easy) ideas, and the dedication of Design Fiction to the process of making something real. “Less yammering and more hammering,” indeed. Both ideas also readily admit to having existed long before they were formally named, which seems appropriate.

I have personally been interested in the overlap of design and speculation for a while, but inviting Julian out in the context of the IWG posed a new set of questions: how can an organization like the Walker embed speculative practices into its workflow, how is interdisciplinary experimentation already inherently speculative, and when should our institution embrace a process that is not necessarily results-oriented—or at least, not in the typical sense? Speaking of mundane . . .

Julian Bleecker doing something techy

For our meeting, Julian spoke on his ideas of Design Fiction and led us through a series of workshop exercises designed to generate ideas for near future products. The IWG invited writer Susannah Schouweiler to sit in and write up her account of the proceedings. Here is her report on Julian’s presentation:

For the second in a series of eight planned discussions between now and December 2012, in early June members of the Walker’s Interdisciplinary Work Group (IWG) gathered for a conversation with Julian Bleecker, co-founder of the Near Future Laboratory and a researcher at the Design Strategic Projects studio at Nokia Design in Los Angeles.  Specifically, IWG member and design director Emmet Byrne invited Bleecker to talk with our assembled group of Walker curators, programmers, and educators about his ongoing, hybrid creative work in the field of Design Fiction.

Unlike the more informal, intimate question-and-answer session a month prior with dancer and choreographer Deborah Hay, Bleecker’s multimedia presentation to the IWG was practiced, narrowly targeted, and information-rich—like a sprawling, workshopped TED-talk on his work at the intersection of imaginative play, storytelling, technology, art, and near-future design. Or, as Bleecker puts it more succinctly, “finding new ways of thinking about what’s possible.”

To begin, Bleecker describes Design Fiction for us, as “the fertile muddle where fact and fiction reflect and influence each other.” He says both design and science fiction work to open new lines of conversation, allowing people who are not inclined to think out of the ordinary, to begin to do so. “You can introduce a conversation about something quite speculative; when you’re talking about science fiction, no one says, ‘that’s impossible.’ We all understand the normal rules don’t apply.”

Design Fiction, in particular, he says, “involves thinking of the impossible as not just possible, but imminent, even likely.” But the work of Design Fiction goes much further than thinking and talking about what might be, to building on the ideas that emerge from such speculations: expanding the conversation by making something real, thereby taking it from the gossamer realms of conjecture to the work-a-day spheres of tangible, concrete probability.

He explains: “This work involves a symbiotic relationship between design fact and design fiction—things can happen because these conversations are in the world, percolating.” For example, we can see amazing, fictional technology in Hollywood films [like Minority Report, 2001: A Space Odyssey, etc]—indeed, that imagined tech is itself a big draw for audiences.

(Above: examples of Design Fiction in film)

And in a very concrete sense those technologies are real:

Someone designed a product, and designed it with an excruciating level of refinement, not just so it looks good on camera, but in such a way that the whole production team can understand how that tech fits in the story, why it’s there…. Using the lexicon established by the film to explain something real, some actual technology, it then becomes legible for a wide audience, because you have a conceptual anchor which introduces that technology (in the case of Minority Report, for example, gesture-based interfaces) into the popular imaginary.

He goes on: “The fact that the device you want to make doesn’t quite work yet doesn’t negate its reality—the conversation, the continuity of relationship between the idea rendered in the film and real technology is real…. A designer working on that film did enough to get things started to where an industrialist was ready to write a check to develop it for actual use. That’s real.”

Bleecker says such work involves “extrapolating from known to unknown… You can introduce a conversation about something quite speculative, but then expand that into an even more fulfilling conversation if you actually make the thing you’re talking about.” He goes on, “It’s usually a linear trajectory—from idea to prototype to materialization in some new future. You accrete more meaning in your explanation for what the future might look like as you build, get funding, and create something. You need to get it out of your head; once it’s made, you can describe it, show it and involve people in a discussion about its specifics.”

(Above: Apple’s iPad makes its first appearance as a diegetic prototype in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1969)

The Design Fiction process of actually creating something—going from conception to execution—facilitates a kind of thoroughness that distinguishes this work from mere speculation. In fact, Bleecker’s current interests are anything but remote: he tells us, right now he’s most interested in questions about the distribution of innovation. He offers a quote from novelist William Gibson by way of explanation: “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed … yet.”

Bleecker then offers this thought experiment. “I try to imagine what the end of the long tail for these innovations will look like; what does it look like at that point where future technology does become evenly distributed? Where it’s affordable, ubiquitous, mass-produced, almost junk? Like the PDA is now, or the record player, for example.”

He describes how thinking on such a question plays out in practice:

I think there’s something Design Fiction-y about that question. [How does our relationship to material stuff change with time and saturation, and what are the causes of those shifting desires?] To imagine these exciting new things, these innovations, as tomorrow’s crap—to put yourself in a time when you can pick up an iPad at the dollar store for $1.99, or two for $3. It’s a very powerful way of describing what these things might look like in the future, how they might work in the culture. Designing these things in reality, describing them in this way, does a sort of Jedi mind trick: This process makes people really believe, because in our daily lives we already understand how that exciting-to-banal process works—we see it all around us.”

He argues that you can disrupt conventional futures with Design Fiction: “If you really want to tweak habits or desires, you can start design conversations with these techniques, take them beyond ‘what are the new colors/price points going to be for 2013?’” Design Fiction, he says, plays in the fringes, outside the borders of the “conventional products’ sweet spot,” where the spheres of what’s “buildable, desirable, and profitable” overlap. Design Fiction adherents are drawn beyond safe “mods and tweaks” of existing products to the fast-shifting terrain where fantasies and speculations reside, to the quicksilver trajectories of the “magical, mythical, miraculous” in our many possible futures.

(Above: Death Star Over San Francisco by Mike Horn)

In Design Fiction, he says, stories matter more than features, specs, wireframes, and engineering… Special effects dinosaurs are more effective when used in an exciting film like Jurassic Park, than they are in a plain old documentary talking about the science of dinosaurs, because you’re enrolling viewers into a well-drawn world, and the design within that world is all the more compelling for it. … [What’s more] a persuasive big-budget film rendering of [even hotly contested] science can so capture the imagination that it changes the real-world conversation irrevocably — and can therefore change the science itself.

He says, “It comes down to the way in which we’re able to hold people’s attention, to engage them.” It’s about finding ways—through film, design, novels—to help us all look at the world a little differently. “We’re trying to find people who look at the world a little bit sideways, for that head-slap moment when you know you’ve hit on meaningful innovation—whether that’s a little tweak that makes a huge difference (e.g. wheels on luggage) or some big new idea put in practice.”

Design director Emmet Byrne follows up, asking Bleecker whether “there’s something inherently ethical about showing people how the future might be different than what we accept as the consensus future? That seems to be an element of critical design practice as well,” he says. “Is simply generating a meaningful conversation about what is and might be, in itself, a useful aspect of the work? Or is that not enough?”

Bleecker responds: “It’s fun to look at the world this way, to seek the head-slap moment and play with ideas; but I do think it’s also important to consider these things with a code of ethics. You’re never just doing it to do it, but to make the world a little bit better. Sometimes that’s been a very First-World thing I’ve made better because of a new design—like calling your mother gets a little easier, a little better, more enjoyable. But always embedded in the design work is the idea that we’re in the business of making things a little more playful, happier, and less unnerving for people.”

“And simply bringing an appreciation of the fact that the future isn’t determined,” he says, “that the future, on an individual scale, is still open to one person’s vision of what that can be”—that’s valuable in its own right, too.

 

Recent Work

As an in-house design studio for a cultural institution, we’re always churning out something for our internal clients, whether it’s a shop coupon, a gallery guide, and everything in between. Here’s a selection of some of the printed matter we’ve been producing in the studio over the last couple of months: Artist-Designed Pint Glasses, brochure […]

As an in-house design studio for a cultural institution, we’re always churning out something for our internal clients, whether it’s a shop coupon, a gallery guide, and everything in between. Here’s a selection of some of the printed matter we’ve been producing in the studio over the last couple of months:


Artist-Designed Pint Glasses, brochure with artist information and discount for free beer (!!!)


Invitations to a contributing members’ event for the exhibition This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s.


Brochure for Walker librarian Rosemary Furtak’s memorial

Gallery guide for the exhibition The Renegades: American Avant-Garde Film, 1960–1972. Includes information about the artist and films in the show, as well as weaves in a timeline of related and relevant film-related milestones and achievements.

Flyer for our long-running performing arts series, Out There.

Flyer for a jazz series at the Walker, New Jazz: The Future Is.

On-site postcard for the Walker Shop/Printed Matter collaboration, Over-Booked.

Flyer for the Merce Cunningham series of exhibitions, Dance Works, as part of our acquisition of the dance companies costumes, set pieces, and various other works from artists such as Rei Kawakubo, Robert Rauschenberg, and Ernesto Neto.

Over-Booked: Drucksache

Drucksache is a publishing house based in Stockholm, founded in 2010 by Jacob Grønbech Jensen, Rikard Heberling and Emi-Simone Zawall. So far they have published five works, focusing mainly on poetry, linguistics and artists’ books, all by contemporary Swedish writers, except for the most recent publication: the first Swedish translation of Martin Heidegger’s On the […]

Drucksache is a publishing house based in Stockholm, founded in 2010 by Jacob Grønbech Jensen, Rikard Heberling and Emi-Simone Zawall. So far they have published five works, focusing mainly on poetry, linguistics and artists’ books, all by contemporary Swedish writers, except for the most recent publication: the first Swedish translation of Martin Heidegger’s On the Way to Language. Drucksache releases not only printed editions but also deals with transforming these into various live activities such as performances, readings, lectures, seminars, screenings, opera, etc. At this year’s New York Art Book Fair Drucksache is a part of the joint exhibition/table Publishing as (part-time) Practice.

1. 2. 3.

4. 5.

Above: 1) På Väg Mot Språket (On The Way To Language) by Martin Heidegger, Drucksache, 2012 2) Darger Reviderad by Leif Holmstrand & Jonas Örtemark, Drucksache, 2011 3) Fjärrskrift by Lotta Lotass, Drucksache, 2011 4) Detail from Röda Rummet (alfabetisk) by Pär Thörn, Drucksache, 2010 5) Public reading of Röda Rummet (alfabetisk) at Skånes Konstförening, 2010. Photo by Jonatan Jacobson.

What is the last book you read?

We’re still working on the classics… If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino, Revolutionary Letters by Diane di Prima, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction by J.D. Salinger, L’immoraliste by André Gide are some of them.

        

What is the first book you can remember?

        

Mio, min Mio by Astrid Lindgren, Sagan om det röda äpplet by Jan Lööf, the Bible.

Can you recommend some recent publications to the reader?

1. 2. 3. 4.

1) ‘K by Karl Holmqvist (JRP Ringier) 2) Secrets of al-Jahizby Daniel Heller-Roazen (part of the 100 Notes, 100 Thoughts: Documenta 13 Series, Hatje Cantz) 3) Work, Work, Work – A Reader on Art and Labour(Iaspis/Sternberg) 4) Ulysses by James Joyce (retranslated into Swedish by Erik Andersson, Bonniers)

The books you’ve published are often with some form of appendix such as public performances, readings, films and even opera. What do you see out of the gesture of including these events or even using them as an essential part of the publication?

The social and communal aspect of publishing is really important to us. We put a lot of effort in transforming the printed material into something outside of the book object, to question the traditional role of the book as a media for isolated, quiet, linear reading. Often this results in some kind of performative remix of the text, where the book plays a specific, but secondary role. Essentially we don’t see our books as end products in themselves.

For example, our first publication, Röda Rummet (alfabetisk) by Swedish writer and artist Pär Thörn, is a remake of August Strindberg’s classic The Red Room. In Thörn’s version the word order is re-arranged alphabetically, but still within the structure of the original chapters. The book was presented in “mass-readings,” organized in three different cities during the time of the release, in which twenty-nine persons simultaneously read a chapter each, creating a beautifully chaotic sound piece. So in this case we treated the book partly as a music score intended to be read aloud in groups.

We also work closely with critics and theorists as means to integrate the book with its reception and critique. In Handlingarna (“The Acts“), a one-poem-book written by Ulf Karl Olov Nilsson, we invited author and critic Mara Lee to write a commentary that turned out to be almost more relevant to the publication than the actual poem itself – designed as a kind of intro-&-outro-duction, literally wrapping around the main text.

 

Can you tell a cautionary tale related to the design or production process of a particular book?

All our poor books have been more or less victims of production errors, going through the violent process of offset printing, not to mention shipping. On one hand there’s not much to say about this since it’s just how things are, errors and mistakes are part of all human activity, and as long as it’s only books that are harmed it’s not the end of the world. But on the other hand it’s interesting to see the connections between production faults and the ever-changing economic cirumstances of the industry. Most printers seem to be making money off pizza menus so that’s where priority goes, at least in Sweden. Errors and the general amount of poor quality will be constant in an industry with this high demand on fast delivery, cheap raw material and labour. So we don’t have a tale in particular but the whole biz of making books is inseparable from risk-taking and the consequential regrets and rewards.

Pick five books that would be friends.

1. 2. 3.

4. 5.

1) Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu 2) Lars Norén, En dramatikers dagbok 3) Anders Jacobsson och Sören Olsson, Berts dagbok 4) Susan Sontag, Reborn: Early Diaries 1947-1963 5) Dieter Roth, notebook

Do you have a plan of publishing books in English in the future alongside the Swedish ones?

We don’t really have a plan of publishing in any particular language. If the material is relevant for us then we don’t care if it’s Swedish or English or anything else, as long as we’re capable of understanding what we’re editing. But since we’re quite drawn towards language-specific writing, when meaning is embedded in a certain framework, it’s just been interesting for us to work in a local context. That doesn’t mean we’re not open to other languages, quite the opposite, but so far our interests have been elsewhere.

Do you have any book-related rituals?

Sometimes we make pilgrimages across the world to attend book fairs.

You went to this year’s NY Art Book Fair as part of the participating publishers in the Publishing as (Part-time) Practice project, which selects some of the Swedish publishing houses run by graphic designers. Can you tell us something about this project?

“Publishing as (part-time) Practice” was a one-day seminar held in Stockholm in May earlier this year, initiated by graphic designers/publishers Matilda Plöjel (Sailor Press), and Mattias Jakobsson and Peter Ström (Konst & Teknik/Andperseand) and Iaspis (the Swedish Arts Grants Committee). The seminar brought together artist-run initiatives, both Swedish and international, in the fields of literature, photography and visual art as well as design, to share and discuss various approaches to publishing from a designer/artist’s point of view.

The project continues at the NYABF as an exhibition featuring twelve Swedish publishers who are, either partially or wholly, run by graphic designers: A5 Press, Andperseand, B-B-B-Books, GUN, Museum Paper, Nilleditions, Orosdi-Back, Oyster Press, Pionier Press, Sailor Press, Tree Fruit Press and ourselves.

Do you have any projects that you’d like to feature on our site?

Fjärrskrift is an artist’s book published in 2011 by Lotta Lotass. The work is a one-sentence poem without punctuation marks, printed on a 50 meter long telegraphy strip, or “ticker-tape” – paper surviving from the 1960s – using Telex machines from early 20th century. It was mass-produced in 100 copies, and packaged as a rolled-up scroll in a box.

               

Fjärrskrift was also presented as a one hour “movie” version, in which the complete poem was filmed as it was printed, and screened in cinemas around Sweden as a silent, collective reading – creating a rare situation in which a public reads the same poem together in silence, for about 60 minutes.


Now the filmed book is available online as a free, unlimited version of the limited scroll.

Describe an impossible book that you’d like to make (if you could do the impossible).

We’re currently trying to figure out how to make a book out of a tennis court.

 

Over-Booked: Sandra Kassenaar

Sandra Kassenaar (1982, South Africa), lives and works in Amsterdam where she runs a small graphic design studio. She graduated with a BA from ArtEZ in Arnhem in 2003 and an MA from the Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem (NL) in 2007. Besides running her own studio she regularly teaches at the graphic design department of the Willem De Kooning […]

Sandra Kassenaar (1982, South Africa), lives and works in Amsterdam where she runs a small graphic design studio. She graduated with a BA from ArtEZ in Arnhem in 2003 and an MA from the Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem (NL) in 2007. Besides running her own studio she regularly teaches at the graphic design department of the Willem De Kooning academy in Rotterdam.

Sample of Sandra’s independent & collaborative works.

Pick five books that would/could/should be buddies. 

‘The Island of the Colorblind’ by Oliver Sacks

‘Through the Language Glass – How words Colour Your World’ by Guy Deutscher

‘Interaction of Color’ by Josef Albers

‘The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt – An Illustrated Dictionary’ by Manfred Lurker

I only get to four… All four great books talk about the use, meaning and value of colour in a completely different way.

What is the first book you can remember?
Together with my sister, looking at the baby albums/diaries that my mother made for us. I must have been three or four years old. Thinking back, it’s quite strange how fascinated we were with our own first steps.

What is the last book you read?
‘Through the Language Glass – How words Colour Your World’ by Guy Deutscher. A very interesting book about how language influences the way we think and see or seeing think or thinking see.

Do you agree that a book is the best medium to disperse and accumulate information?
No, not necessarily. In the past fifteen minutes I have cycled past the stock exchange display at the Beurs van Berlage, looked up ‘Happiness Machines’ on Wikipedia and used a public transport time schedule website. I’m glad that I didn’t read this information printed in a book.

In what form would “books” be in the year 2112?
There will be many hybrid mediums, but the printed book – as we know it now – will remain to exist.

Do you have a great idea for a book that didn’t happen?
No, I need a more specific context to reply to, before I can start coming up with ideas at all.

Do you have any current publication projects that you’d like to feature on our site?
Success and Uncertainty / Back Up
is a publication that Bart de Beats and I made to contextualise our poster project. The publication features all 21 English and Arabic posters that form the series Success and Uncertainty. This poster series was the result of a collaborative project during a four-month-residency in Cairo from March until July 2011. The title of this work is an existing headline taken from the 12th of February 2011 front page of The Evansville Courier & Press, a local Indiana newspaper reporting Mubarak’s resignation as the president of Egypt. It was a very challenging but great project. We’re very proud to present this publication with reproductions of those twenty-one twinned posters and gives more detail on how they came together. Success and Uncertainty / Back Up is a magazine of our hard drives, containing four months in Cairo just after the fall of Mubarak’s regime.

 

 

Over-Booked: Temporary housing + shelter

Live from the New York Art Book Fair! Literally fresh from the Toyko Art Book Fair just a week ago, Temporary housing + shelter is a collaboratively edited project between New Zealand-based split/fountain (organized by former Walker design fellow Layla Tweedie-Cullen) and Whatever Press. Thinking about the effects of the natural disasters in Japan and New Zealand […]


Live from the New York Art Book Fair!

Literally fresh from the Toyko Art Book Fair just a week ago, Temporary housing + shelter is a collaboratively edited project between New Zealand-based split/fountain (organized by former Walker design fellow Layla Tweedie-Cullen) and Whatever Press.

Thinking about the effects of the natural disasters in Japan and New Zealand in 2011—and more importantly, the ongoing reconstruction—the publication focuses on the condition of the temporary and resourceful:

Beginning with the materiality and immediacy of emergency temporary shelters and structures, the construction of a temporary cathedral from common everyday materials such as cardboard challenges the way we conceive of ways to approach shelter and habitation in response to local conditions. As unlikely a material paper/cardboard may seem as a construction material for a cathedral, it offers a perspective on the nature of shelters as ephemeral.


Editor Bopha Chhay continues, explaining their approach the design of the book:

Temporary housing + shelter within seeks to explore the limits of printed matter as a ‘support structure.’ … With their combined interest in experimenting with different modes of publishing methodologies, the project seeks to reconsider the way we approach space through the idea of temporary shelter, not just within the binds of printed matter, but the relationship of printed matter to the spatial practices and methodologies of design, contemporary art and architecture. 


Composed of pages of various sizes nested together without any kind of binding technique, Temporary housing + shelter is the result of a series of projects undertaken throughout the course of the Tokyo fair. They range from “A Typology of Simple Things Which Support the Human Bottom” (a series of sketches of proposed seating configurations made from a variety of materials) to “Umwelt of crows”, a particularly lovely example of how nature, like man, also adapts to immediate surroundings and conditions, in this case, crows collecting unused (or possibly stolen) clothes hangers to integrate into their nests. As one washerwoman complains, “This is their work. I’m convinced the crows are responsible…” It is an exploration of architectural potential, social space, and sites of production and its relation to sustainability and civic responsibility.

After this weekend, Layla and split/fountain make their way to the Vancouver Art/Book Fair in October, and will feature their own publications, along with ArtspaceDDMMYYIndex PressMichael Lett, The Dumb Waiter, The National GridThe Silver Bulletin,Vapour Momenta Books, and selected artist editions.

[It is currently not available on either split/fountain or Whatever Press's site, but we'll update you when and where you can get a copy!]

 

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