Blogs The Gradient

Hand-painted Cinematheque Tangier mural

Seen above is sign painter Dan Madsen hard at work on a mural for the exhibition Album: Cinematheque Tangier, A Project by Yto Barrada. Check out more photos and read an interview with him at Crosscuts, the Walker’s film/video blog.

Nous Vous: Drawing on the Same Page

The Walker has a history of hiring great illustrators—such as J. Otto and Sara Varon—to create entire worlds for our Education department’s family programs initiatives like Free First Saturdays and Arty Pants. This year we invited British design collective Nous Vous to work with us, and they produced the sprawling scene that you see above. […]

WHOLE IMAGE Amended

Illustration by Nous Vous for the Walker Art Center. Embedded in the drawing are references to Fischli and Weiss, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Joseph Beuys, Yves Klein, David Nash, Charles and Ray Eames, Constantin Brancusi, Katharina Fritsch, Christo, Robert Wyatt, Florentijn Hofman, and the Lely Venus.

The Walker has a history of hiring great illustrators—such as J. Otto and Sara Varon—to create entire worlds for our Education department’s family programs initiatives like Free First Saturdays and Arty Pants. This year we invited British design collective Nous Vous to work with us, and they produced the sprawling scene that you see above. Nous Vous is Jay Cover, William Edmonds, and Nicolas Burrows. We asked them for six illustrations—one for each issue of our bimonthly magazine for a year—that we could also repurpose for postcards and other marketing materials. They decided to create one massive illustration that breaks down into six sections, which we love. Read about how they made it below:

plant

Plant

Characters2

Skater

Can you describe the concept behind the piece? Emmet and Dante at the Walker picked out a few of our existing pieces that they liked, and also threw in a few ideas that they had about possibly creating characters or ‘monsters’ looking at/interacting with things. They also wanted it to be ‘weird and whimsical’ and for it not to appeal to too young an audience. The three of us have not ‘drawn’ on the same page for a long time and recently we have all been having fun drawing guys. It’s pretty fun to smash some people together. The piece was fun to make so hopefully it has a good vibe about it. It’s unlikely we would be able to create something like this individually so this kind of sums up the point of working together, to do something more complex and fun and also we may not have made something like this if the Walker hadn’t asked us. We wanted to depict an abstract suggestion of a really active workshop, gallery or art school and fill it full of people doing things relating to the process of making art (in any context—non-professional/professional), aspects of the family programme and the architecture of the places where art ‘happens’ or is presented, whether that’s the artist’s studio or a small gallery, an institution like the Walker, on the walls of a cafe or a sculpture garden etc. We were trying to make something that has a lot of dynamic aspects to it, that draws your eye around, to reflect the excitement that the Family Programme offers participants. The interaction between the guys is what makes it dynamic or interesting, and it’s an unexpected and awkward interaction due to the way the image was made.

Characters1

Pipe guy

How did you go about creating it? It was fairly free and loose to begin with. We all created guys and then we put them together with one of us going through and then tightening up all the illustrations. Most of the crossover happened quite serendipitously. It’s fun making characters that you know will have to interact with others but you are not sure how. There’s an element of wanting to make ourselves and each other laugh by making stupid guys and then it turns into a bit of a puzzle locking them altogether. We’ve tried and failed to make images in a similar way before. We made a list of six rough areas for which we thought about what characters could be doing, and what objects there might be there. So we have a workshop, an outdoor forest/garden, a cafe, a gallery, a sculpture garden and a theatre. Then one of us would compose the images in panels. We ended up making the first two panels as we went along, and then we made the other four all at once.

box

Box

table

Table

In your illustration, several tables, or at least flat surfaces (floors, pools, walls) appear, always covered with a variety of objects. It’s a motif that shows up elsewhere in your work—what significance does a cluttered surface have to you? We like things. We like to draw things, make things and live with things. So it’s very much a manifestation of our personal physical worlds, or perhaps our fantasy world. Surrounded by things we’ve made or would love to have made, hanging out with some fun guys and plants and pools. It’s just something we ended up drawing or representing because these surfaces with objects are our immediate environment for most of the time, so they end up getting put into the work. I suppose we started to notice the sculptural or rhythmic qualities of the detritus, the tools and materials present whilst making work. It’s also a way to symbolise certain things, or to suggest something about the characters or the world they’re in.

plantblob

Fern

Do any of the characters have interesting stories behind them? The characters really only come out of the way they are drawn. Really we’ve tried to represent a really odd bunch of people so that anyone could see themselves as part of it. There are certain guys that we all pick out and smile, because they have a silly face or are doing something weird. They don’t have specific stories. We all like to make drawings that have just enough in them for people to grab hold of but still have some work to do in terms of forming a specific character. It’s nice when people can bring their own imagination to this world. There are a few friends and references in there that are maybe a bit more personal but it’s more mysterious for them to stay that way…

Can you point out some of the artists that you reference in the piece? Maybe it’s more fun for people to find them. They’re not very obscure, but here’s a list.

tallplant

Cactus

❑ Fischli and Weiss
❑ Dali
❑ Picasso
❑ Joseph Beuys
❑ Yves Klein
❑ David Nash
❑ Eames
❑ Brancusi
❑ Katharina Fritsch
❑ Christo
❑ Robert Wyatt
❑ Florentijn Hofman
❑ The Lely Venus

We also threw in some cheeky references to our own work in the ‘gallery’ panel at bottom right. The framed work on the wall and the ceramics are all ours! Some others got a bit buried in the drawing process, but there are figurative references to Frances Alys pushing the block of ice and Jackson Pollock painting. They weren’t chosen necessarily because we’re hugely into these people, more that they had something interesting visually to contribute and anchored the illustration in the art world a bit more.

computerguy

Surfer

Are there illustrators out there that inspire you? Some yes, of course! Although we are more inspired by things that are not illustration, design or art. But lots of people: Laura Carlin, Sara Vanbelle, the mighty Marcus Oakley, Matthew Hodson. Too many to mention really. Most are friends which is an added inspiration. Most illustrators we like are people who do other things as well as illustrating. It doesn’t have to be a thing in it’s own right. It’s exciting when people make work and then sometimes illustrate or apply their work to different things. This always feels more interesting and is more about getting an idea or an energy across rather than a focus on pure illustrative style.

ballofyarn

Tangle

From the way you talk about this, this project served as a way to bring the three of you together, primarily through the act of making. What does “making” mean to Nous Vous? The reason we like to work together is to vibe off each other, so when we get a chance it’s nice to take it. Making, for all of us, is a an act that can be a bit transcendental, it’s when we make sense of things and let go. It’s social in the way we work, as we make together, it can be awkward making in a public way but you soon let go of your pretence and when you do it becomes quite freeing. Making is also communal in that we like to make things for people. Sure the main pleasure is for us, in the act, but we like to make with the knowledge that other people will find some enjoyment in it. We each have our own individual practices too that are personal and solitairy. It’s good to have both, otherwise we’d probably get bored of one approach or the other. We individually make ceramics, drawings and music as well as other stuff, but together we mostly work on design projects or curatorial stuff, and some illustration work like this brief. Some things work better approached individually and some things work better together, and it’s good to recognise that. Making and thinking is often the same. It’s hard to think without making but then I guess making can be most ‘zen’ when you are in the moment and not thinking specifically. But I guess you become a channel for all the stuff you have thought about and filled up on, and it kind of pours out subconsciously. So in that way it’s important to fill up, stock up on stuff so have some splurge to purge. The making process itself is the space in which you can think and work the thing out as you go along. So for example, we had a rough idea what this image would look like, but we didn’t plan the details, we just started to do it and then worked around problems that came up, ironed things out. You can’t do that without starting something and nothing ever turns out exactly the way you plan it. And why should it? That’s the fun of making things. Things happen along the way and you end up with something you never imagined you would. That’s especially true when you’re collaborating…

hikers

Hikers

 

mag_2

Nous Vous’ illustration in the Walker magazine

postcards

Raising Creative Kids postcards

 

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 3.23.57 PM

Free First Saturday website

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 3.23.53 PM

Free First Saturday website

 

9 Artists, 8 Books

From A to B and B to A: Bartholomew Ryan, curator of 9 Artists, and myself Andrea Hyde, designer of the catalog and exhibition identity, sat down a few years back to talk about the book, published in October 2013. B: Hi Andrea! A: Hi Bart, how are you doing? B: Good. Thank you. A: How was the […]

9Artists_cover

9 Artists cover

From A to B and B to A: Bartholomew Ryan, curator of 9 Artists, and myself Andrea Hyde, designer of the catalog and exhibition identity, sat down a few years back to talk about the book, published in October 2013.

B: Hi Andrea!

A: Hi Bart, how are you doing?

B: Good. Thank you.

A: How was the exhibition opening at MIT?

B: It was really nice, actually. It was the first time a show of mine has opened outside of Minneapolis. What was interesting about it was having people I didn’t expect to show up. Obviously the exhibition is very different there, it’s about half the size in terms of space…

A: So, apart from the exhibition, how do you think the catalog has been received so far?

B: Well, I know that it has met its sales targets, which is good. Group show exhibition catalogs famously don’t sell very well, and one of the things that I am anxious for, is to preserve the ability to do books like 9 Artists that don’t conform to your typical coffee-table style catalog. We talked early in the process about making a book that’s less an illustration of the exhibition than a platform, a way to give light to the distinct practices of these eight artists who are all amazing creators outside the gallery context, a book that might be more interesting as a result. I’m hoping that is how it’s bearing out. I know the first batch of books that went to Europe sold out fairly quickly. I don’t think there are any left there right now. But, I am getting email from people who really enjoy the catalog, and who find it quite strange. And, I have decided that maybe ten people in the world have read my essay, but I’m sort of fine with that! (laughs) It’s probably for the best. But yes, people are interested and engaged by it, which is great!

The Cover:
B: From my perspective, part of the book’s appeal is the cover, and the identity system that went into the exhibition. I know that was something you came up with at a certain stage in the process, and I thought it was perfect for a number of reasons. It was actually the first time I realized the show had only eight artists! Where did the cover concept come from?

A: You’ll have to correct me if I am wrong, but I recall that the cover came out of the interior sketches. And the interior was largely informed by the artists. As you said, the book is less a documentation of the exhibition or the works within it, as it puts forth new work, new ideas, and new writing independent from the show. And because of that, because each of the artists have their own artist-book-like sections that were grouped into a singular catalog, their individual identities were really important. In this case, because of the nature of the artists’ work, because it was so personal, I thought that, unlike the name of the show—9 Artists, an iconic title that reads like a manifesto—I felt like the artists themselves were just as, if not more, important. Grouping them together on the cover in the way I did, as brands or as passport stamps, and using their first names allowed it to be casual, a bit irreverent. And I think that’s the nature of the exhibition and of the book itself.

A: Was that your reading of the process?

B: Yes. I remember we began by having conversations about what this book should be. We really wanted to step away from quasi-nostalgia, an artisanal sort of aesthetic that is so prevalent in the art world. At the same time, we didn’t set out to make a zany, kitchy experience. What we wanted was to capture a quality that would feel present, and also have its own flow.

A: Right, and very responsive to the content. Do you think that’s perceptible to the reader?

B: I think what happens when you look at the cover is that you see names that are locatable and reveal identity. 1. Liam [Gillick] is very clearly an Irish name. 2. Danh [Vo]…I don’t know what Danh looks like. Does it look Vietnamese? Or Danish? 3. Hito [Steyerl], it’s ridiculously Japanese. 4. Nástio [Mosquito], something cool… 5. Natascha [Sadr Haghighian], Russian most likely. 6. Bjarne [Melgaard], Scandinavian 7. Renzo [Martens] Italian, 8. Yael [Bartana] Israeli I guess. It’s a smorgasbord of [probably misleading] identity formations. First names conjures this idea of friendship, and potentially of a cohort. People in the art world love the narrative of a group of prominent artists who used to serve as security guards at Dia or what have you, yet these artists are distinctly not that, they are not a clique formed and perpetuated to accrue market and critical validation. The cover has a suggestion of that, but if you know the artists is pretty easy to see that that’s not how they exist in the world, at least not with each other.

A: But it’s also a response to the way in which you talked about the artists when we first started to think about the book. It was a very familiar conversation, and I think that friendly first-name basis tone was right for the book.

B: Yes, because it’s counter-intuitive to the work or to the grouping. Curators sometimes refer to artists by their first names as a sort of power play. I don’t think that’s how this happened. I think this was a very organic process. Another thing this cover does, of course, is it is Tetris-like. There may be a lot of tension—

A: and connections, networks…

B: and also breakups. Like, why is Danh, who is one of the more celebrated artists at this moment at the top left?

A: Why is Bjarne in two different foils? Whereas Hito is upside-down and rendered in ink?

B: Yeah so you’re put into this position where you’re—

A: You’re trying to make value judgments based on the composition.

B: Andrea, were you trying to tell us something when you put this together? And of course this formulation has taken on different iterations like in the exhibition graphics,  Nástio was upside-down… (laughs)

va2013_nineartists_cover_contents_final

The foldout inside cover
A: Let’s flip through the book and talk about different things we find interesting. There is a gatefold at the beginning, behind the cover and contents page. Do you want to talk about the foldout? I won’t mention some of our original ideas, but let’s just say one of them involved a centerfold of our dear curator who could be thought of as the ninth artist…

B: Yes, well there was a moment where we could have pushed that direction. Like, who is the ninth artist? Many people complain about the curator annexing artistic authorship and having too aggressive a role in the creation of the content in the exhibition. And, you know, I’m a curator in an institution, and I spend most of my days figuring out why someone didn’t get a loan form or something. So, it’s not like I perceive myself as an artist, but I do feel quite strongly—and that’s obvious in my essay, which has a first-person feel—that there is a huge level of subjective quality in the organization of these artists (or any artists) into a list. So we discussed having a semi-naked spread—because I am pretty fit (laughs)—and contacting a local photographer who does amazing body painting, really going for it, and make people laugh a little. But thankfully we went in a very different direction. As you know, the exhibition checklist for the show came very late in the process. There was a lot of conversation and time spent with the artists without really knowing what the hell we were going to do, but trusting the process. So when I saw Hito’s piece in the Venice Biennale, it seemed very obvious that it was perfect for the exhibition for a number of reasons. Partly because we acquired Red Alert a number of years ago and the two seemed so relatable and yet were from such different eras. I don’t think How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File could have been made in 2007. It’s absolutely relatable to our current context. So we ended up using a still from How Not to be Seen of an iPhone being held by a green-gloved hand.

A: Yes, we were looking for a an iconic image, but we didn’t want something that was instantly readable or understandable. We liked the idea that the still would be dated immediately after we published it, in the same way that the book is completely about its context. We liked that it was completely of its time. There’s also something charming and surprising about it.

B: Yes, I love that it’s very present, because it’s this fetishized iPhone: it’s a 4S or 5. But I also love that it has this futuristic, sci-fi feel. As you say, in three years’ time it’s going to utterly date this exhibition. I think notions of desire in relationship to how identity forms itself and how we actually shape ourselves as human beings often through the accretion of objects, the sort of lifestyle that is defined by something like an iPhone is a key to the exhibitoin. Obviously, if one has one it kind of give you a whole set of…

A: …tools and…

B: self-impressions, you know? There is something about that fetishization of commodity in relationship to the image that I think is a very interesting thing to hold on to in engaging with the book. But also the work itself is about a kind of liberation from that, breaking free of that process into a more anarchic space where desire and drives and so on are decoupled from these status things, in a sense summoned by then liberated from…

9Artists_spreads_001

9 Artists table of contents

The Contents Page
B: I also love the contents page with the list of artist contributions and the essay section titled. Cumulatively, the language is just incredible, it kind of tells you all you need to know about the exhibition.

A: Yes, the artist section titles, which serve as subtitles in your essay, are very interesting—Hito Steyerl’s Happy Pixels Hop Off Into Low-Resolution, Gif Loop! is my personal favorite. I hear you are releasing each section of your essay on the Walker blog.

B: Yes, I don’t think it’s ever something we’ve done before. I can’t think of another U.S. institution on the scale of the Walker that’s done it in this way. It’s actually a bit scary, because there’s a lot I say in the essay that will have a different existence online. Having said that, I was reading the Nástio section on my phone the other day and I thought, ‘God, this is so obvious! Nobody reads books.’ I mean, of course they do, and it all comes back to the book which I completely value, but why not make it available to people in other ways?

9Artists_spreads_002

Title page for Natascha Sadr Haghighian’s section in 9 Artists.

9Artists_spreads_003

Spread of Natascha Haghighian’s section in 9 Artists

The Artist Contributions
B: (flipping through pages) I love this!

A: The very first signature is a contribution by Natascha Sadr Haghighian. Here, I simply responded to her title to make the first page of her signature.

B: Which is what?

A: Which is Dear Artfukts, Look at My Curve, (laughs) and following is an antagonistic, yet funny correspondence between herself and ArtFacts.

B: Natascha is a wonderful and complex thinker, and in her essay she plays out a well-known aspect of her work: bioswop, which is for the free exchange of CVs and resumes. She created it in 2004, during a very different moment. This show tracks the fundamental change that’s happened to the artists in the show, in their response to a culture that is no longer new to the internet. You know, the internet is all encompassing, and it shapes everything all the time for the many, many people who have access to it. Natascha uses other peoples’ resumes and bios whenever she’s presenting her own work, and allows people to share these documents, which is an attack on the legitimacy of institutional affiliation, but also on the way one can be tokenized through one’s identity as, let’s say, a female artist from Africa. What I love is that she resists ArtFacts listing her work online, the data-bots collecting intel. She writes to them asking, ‘Please remove this information. This is my artistic project and you’re spoiling it.’ And they say, ‘No.’ So she takes action, and identifies with this graph that’s on the website that illustrates her career going up and down over the years, turning it into a subject, giving it agency by lifting it out of the capitalist metrics that it was meant to serve, leading it into into a more interesting space. It’s a simple thing that plays through various forms of identity and representation into things like social media campaigns around Troy Davis or Treyvon Martin. It’s a beautiful essay, and it’s very timely. And what I love about your cover design for it is—‘cause I think as a designer, you have this very interesting ability to be both very attuned and precise on a certain level, but there’s also such a freedom in the moment that I really enjoy. Like this curve, that’s not a graph, it’s its own animal.

A: Yes, it’s extracted from the Artfacts graph, but still illustrates the idea she’s trying to put forward.

9Artists_spreads_004

Last page of Natascha Sadr Haghighian and title page of Danh Vo’s section in 9 Artists

9Artists_spreads_005

Danh Vo’s section in 9 Artists

9Artists_spreads_006

The conclusion of Danh Vo’s Gustav’s Wing and the title page of Hito Steyerl’s contribution to 9 Artists: I Dreamed a Dream: Politics in the Age of Mass Art Production

A: And what about Danh Vo?

B: Well that’s one of the…you know, for me personally, when you’re a curator at an institution like the Walker you only get to do so many shows. I mean, it took for me three or four years to get 9 Artists on the books and get it done. In the meantime I was meeting people and spending a lot of time with artists. It’s a bit sad because I often have nothing specific in mind project-wise when I meet them, but I like spending time with artists to get to know their work. So Karl Holmqvist was someone I spent a number of hours with a few years ago in Berlin, and I had always wondered about his work, but knew how absolutely fascinating and important it was. So, one of the nice things about Danh’s section is that Karl had written a piece called Curriculum Vitae, which starts off with a dream where he wakes up and he’s being cuddled by Joe Dallesandro and Iggy Pop and then it moves onto a story about Danh filming something.

A: An advertisement.

B: An advertisement, yeah. And so Karl’s piece in this context becomes Danh’s Curriculum Vitae to an extent. So, it’s a very different relationship to Danh’s contribution than the one Natascha proposed. But it is equally about artists thinking of ways to subvert or deter official documents. What became nice was that it became a collaboration between a number of people. Phùng Vo, Danh’s father, who is often employed by Danh was commissioned to use his beautiful calligraphy in the project. Initially it was supposed to be in the font of, or in the script of, Martin Wong, the great painter whose work is also represented in the exhibition through I M U U R 2, 2013. But Phùng doesn’t play ball with Danh. Everybody who criticizes the relationship between Phùng and Danh act like it’s exploitation. But Phùng has incredibly agency in how he does these things—he kind of does more or less what he wants…—so he did his own script. There were a bunch of typos: like, instead of a “kind of human sandwich” it became, “king of human sandwich,” and “My Beauty Qeen,” where queen is misspelled. We decided to keep all of that. It was very simple.

A: I enjoyed this one because of its simplicity, in contrast to some of the other sections which were either more image or text heavy. Danh’s section was just about that the composition of the page and the beautiful calligraphy. And then, these intriguing images of Danh’s nephew and the process of making a cast.

B: Yes, there is a piece called Gustav’s Wing which I think—well was—a photo of Gustav. Obviously Danh works a lot with his family and tends to like to do things like this. So in a way it’s a very classical set of what really were just snapshots by Danh of the process of his nephew’s body being cast. And you know it’s a young boy. It has a classical quality, there is a sense of the gaze etc. It certainly has a resonance that’s interesting particularly when measured against subsequent work made from the cast, which is really about a kind of collapsing of beauty and a somewhat tortured representation of this source.

A: Well, it’s slightly odd, too, because both the calligraphy and the images are treated in a monotone, bright-blue color which removes the viewer from the content, and abstracts it a bit. I should mention that each artist book or signature is a complete formal departure. The composition, the color, the various paper, shifting grid, and system of page numbers. For example, Danh Vo’s case, the page numbers are all set in Roman Numerals without explanation. So as you’re traveling throughout the book, there is a sense of disorientation. Each section is a world onto itself.

 

9Artists_spreads_007

The first spread of Hito Steyerl’s section in 9 Artists. The paragraph reads: “The text that was here was withdrawn days before this publication went to print. The artist included the lyrics of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables as an essential illustration of some themes in the essay. After protracted good faith negotiations, the representative of the lyricist refused the Walker and the artist permission to print the song, or even a limited extract. While the Walker and the artist stand behind the fair use of the lyrics, the artist has decided to withdraw the text in full as a protest against the decision of Alain Boublil Overseas Limited.” The remaining spreads in this contribution include a selection of barricades, spanning hundreds of years and several geopolitical realities.

9Artists_spreads_012

Renzo Marten’s contribution was made to look like an HMO report. His Institute for Human Activities launched “a five-year Gentrification Program and set up an in-vitro testing ground of the material effects of art production.”

9Artists_spreads_011

9Artists_spreads_013

The last page of Renzo Marten’s signature, and the title page of Yael Bartana’s contribution, which was a fictitious correspondence between herself and  the ghost of Otto Weininger.

9Artists_spreads_014

Yael Bartana’s section was treated simply, using Times New Roman and basic letter format to foreground her fictitious pen pal relationship with Otto Weininger, whose letterhead was intentionally made to look as if it was from the Austrian house in which he committed suicide, coincidentally also the death place of Beethoven. The text was written by Bartana’s friend and collaborator, the curator Galit Eilat.

9Artists_spreads_015

Yael Bartana’s section in 9 Artists. Her “letterhead” makes use of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP) emblem, found in Bartana’s Polish trilogy “and Europe will be stunned.”

B: And really it follows the whole approach of the show which was to put things in proximity and allow them to be digested. I think there are some really key thematic through-lines in this exhibition. They are obvious, but in order to encounter them, one has to spend time with the content, the structure, and the form. And so, there is a call to the reader, to the viewer, to the person who engages the exhibition to really engage with it. I think what I discussed with you and what I discussed with others is that I really want people to get there themselves, but try to give them the tools to do so, the basic level of information they need in order to engage with and access the artist[s]. Hence the book, the show, the events etc.

A: (At this point in our conversation, the recorder stops just as I was claiming that design is not an essential part of this book)

B: Okay, so you just said this book is not designed, right? What do you mean this book is not designed?

A: This book isn’t about the design. In the past, the typefaces I use, the color, the grid system, everything—because it’s homogenized— is based on a particular way I want to present a group show or a solo artist. It’s coming from a very distinct perspective. In this case it was more a collaboration, with the artists, writers, and even with outside designers: Bjarne, worked with Brendan [Dugan] at An Art Service, and Nástio worked with Vic Pereiró on their section [later the piece was used as the basis for a video by Vic and Nástio]. They both submitted completed signatures that we didn’t really alter at all apart from paginating them, putting them in the book and producing them. So, in a sense this book is not the creation of a designer, but of the artists. The form was completely subservient to the content.

B: I don’t agree with that at all.

A: Oh, you don’t? Interesting!

B: I think it’s a heavily designed book. For example, what I enjoyed about Bjarne and Nástio’s contributions is that I felt like you needed to come up with a system for the book that glued it together. That was very necessary. And the fact that you were thrown these complete curveballs problematized it a lot. So, it’s like it created this other context that just fucked with everything a bit.

A: Well, it did allowed me to disconnect. It allowed me to share because there was a bigger community to consider. It took a village to make this book!

9Artists_spreads_016

The title page to Nástio Mosquito’s contribution, designed in collaboration with Vic Pereiró

9Artists_spreads_017

The last page of Nástio Mosquito’s contribution, designed in collaboration with Vic Pereiró beside the title page of Liam Gillick’s signature which features a reprint of the artist’s Berlin Statement, and a new text by Federica Bueti.

B: Because I know, we talked about this before, but Vic and Nástio have a very particular aesthetic relationship that’s extremely free, DIY, bold, and absolutely anti-anything-that-might-come-out-of-the-Walker.

A: And it flies in face of a lot of the classic ideals of design that I learned, that I practiced, and that is hard for me to remove myself from. To be confronted with something that’s so outside of what I would or could create is a humbling moment. It is something I struggled with, but I think Nástio’s contribution added to the experience, which I think you might mean when you say that it’s heavily designed. In fact, if we were looking at one section, say Yael’s contribution: if I ran that theme throughout the book there would be less a sense of disconnect, there would be a rhythmic association with her work and the fictitious letters between her and [Otto] Weininger. Those can serve as visual cues that a reader can latch onto and understand in a way that allows the design to recede. But, because there are different formal and organizational styles butting against one another, it feels more “designed” than it actually is.

9Artists_spreads_008

Bjarne Melgaard’s title page to his contribution to 9 Artists, designed in collaboration with Brendan Dugan.

9Artists_spreads_0099Artists_spreads_010

B: Well I think that—regarding Nástio and Bjarne—you made two decisions there: Bjarne is on this glossy paper, which really suits the commercial, highly constructed feel for those images, even though they are actually candid images of Bjarne doing his thing; and then Nástio’s section is on newsprint paper, which captures that DIY, quick, but really interesting aspect of his design. I think those two would have been really lost within a less focused approach to the sections. For example, you have produced one color for most of the sections you designed, so that creates a sense of unity. In addition, the title pages for each section is very strong, whether it’s Liam and Federica [Bueti], or Renzo, Yael, and Natascha. And then you and I worked very closely with the sequencing of the signatures. It wasn’t based on a somewhat arbitrary alphabetical approach…or what have you…

9Artists_spreads_0199Artists_spreads_018

A: You’re right, the pagination of signatures was based on their visual impact. The end page of one signature coming up against the cover page of the next was really important to us.

B: Yes, that’s very much a design choice and very interesting on a lot of levels. And you’re right in that some of our decisions were made just to allow the logic of the book to follow. Like Liam and Frederica who share that signature but with two different texts, and at one point we were going to run their texts in tandem. Hers is somewhat allegorical, fable-style response to Liam’s text: it’s the tale of a man who walks through the skyways in Minnesota looking for a job and meets a cat. Cats are quite amusingly a key part of the Walker’s identity right now.

A: Actually, cats also appear later on in the compendium of works…

B: We originally thought it would be a good idea to run their texts in tandem, but it was obvious that it wasn’t working, as her text is very different to Liam’s.

A: The lengths are different.

B: It just didn’t feel right. So then we thought, “let’s just have these two texts in the sixteen page signature run into each other in the middle. In order to do that in a way—I can’t remember why—we turned Federica’s part upside-down. How did that work design wise?

A: I originally had the title page of Federica’s following the last page of Yael’s. And I think we just liked that feeling, and so decided to run it backwards. Her essay is running upside-down and meets Gillick’s essay in the middle of that section.

B: That’s one response I get a lot: “Why is that part upside-down?” The only thing to respond to that is, “Why not!” What it does is it really reinforces the objectness of the book. It’s not by any means a radical gesture, but it is kind of interesting because it is also one of the biggest contributions by someone who’s not actually in the show. There are so many collaborators on this book, it really manifests the broader communities that the artists engage. There is something quite special about Federica’s text, a kind of mood. I think it calls out that we don’t even know quite what to do with it (laughs).

A: I think that, if this section, if this signature, existed as its own small artist book, you would think nothing of it being upside down…and you see that very often. Our approach to each section was to design it as if there weren’t any other sections in the book. Apart from a few choices, like the color and paper, every other choice exists solely within its own signature. I think the shock comes from the fact that the upside down text exists within a bigger book with formally different sections, none of which are upside-down. Every small change we make seems larger within the context of this catalog. Each artists’ contribution is its own signature—or its own artist book—and we designed it as such. You could literally take the binding off the book and bind each section, and publish those on their own merit.

8 Artist Books, One 9 Artist Catalog

B: During the press release process, I would often shy away from using the term “artist book,” even though that was how we were thinking of of the catalog as these signature sections. But whenever I used the term, “artist book” it wouldn’t feel right to me. It felt like moving toward something a little too isolated. What I found interesting in that process was how—and this is where I would push back and say, “this is highly designed book.”—the artists’ decisions are very much a part of it, but a huge number of decisions about design were made by you largely.

A: Before we conclude, how do you think the book is being received? I wonder if it makes people feel uncomfortable? Does it challenge? Because, I know that it does for me as a designer, so I can only imagine what someone who was not involved in the process would think or feel.

B: I’ve  heard some informal, unsolicited feedback from people, such as: “Wow, this book is really interesting.” All of the artists received several copies of the book, and in a way that’s the most obvious way it’s being distributed, because they are showing it to friends or giving it to people. I got an emails saying that people are going gaga over the book. I don’t know what “gaga” means (laughs), and maybe that person was being polite. People have different responses. I’m not a designer, so for me moments like Nástio’s are really happy moments, because I think it helps the book feel heterogeneous. It shows those cards very visibly—people probably look at it very casually and go, “Oh, this is just tons of visual information trying to show us that it’s an exciting show or something.” But I think people who engage it more deeply are pretty interested in it. I feel like it has an iconic quality as a publication without actually having tried so hard . The more obvious approaches are all ones we shied away from. It almost happened by accident. I’m not trying to claim radicality or anything, but it is a really nice book.

 

9Artists_spreads_020

Compendium of Works in 9 Artists, a wholly visual approach to the “plates” section ordered and organized by the designer and curator.

9Artists_spreads_0219Artists_spreads_0229Artists_spreads_0239Artists_spreads_0259Artists_spreads_025

Art & Leisure and Art & Leisure

Li Po Cocktail Lounge was my place for a rough gin and tonic, a drink to distract from bad days at work. It sticks out among San Francisco dive bars, with its gilded cave entrance and giant lantern caked with (what I hope is) opium. The bar’s namesake was a Tang dynasty intellectual, an Immortal […]

artandleisure001_web
Li Po Cocktail Lounge was my place for a rough gin and tonic, a drink to distract from bad days at work. It sticks out among San Francisco dive bars, with its gilded cave entrance and giant lantern caked with (what I hope is) opium. The bar’s namesake was a Tang dynasty intellectual, an Immortal of the Wine Cup, who were celebrated wise men in Chinese history who loved to party. Li Po embodied the drunken scholar, who supported his thirst with poetry, and sometimes the other way around. In trying moments, I liked his style with ease.

P1012988 P1013003
Years later at another bar (a Minneapolis gay saloon called the 19), a series of conversations turned into a project called Art & Leisure and Art & Leisure. My friends Ira and Simon asked if I was interested in collaborating on a small show in their space at the London Centre for Book Arts, and soon came some weird proposals: a smoke machine, a dish called “bear fly pizza”, hammocks in the space, graphic sci-fi teleportation pads on the floors and walls and calling the whole thing Intergalactic Pizza Safari.

artandleisure003_web artandleisure009_web artandleisure008_web artandleisure007_web artandleisure006_web artandleisure005_web
We thankfully ended up with something more coherent and stranger. A&L&A&L was a spiral-bound catalogue that was also a calendar which only marked every weekend in the year; a calendar that was also an exhibition about my personal practice that exists outside of “work work”; and finally an exhibition that was also a spiral-bound catalogue of research notes and details of projects from the last few years. It was produced by the LCBA and sold as a small edition.

P1012911 P1012921
The title, which Ira thought up, refers to those ideas that ramble, words that slur, and the reason I mention Li Po. Why do ideas like labor and leisure imply something about the value of time? For our friend, it was sometimes hard to tell where work ended and fun began (wine is mentioned several times in his poems). But despite that, drunkenness was only a backdrop to his observational verses. The distinction between business hours and vacation time become foggy now.

artandleisure010_web artandleisure017_web artandleisure016_web artandleisure015_web artandleisure014_web artandleisure013_web artandleisure012_web artandleisure011_web
As this ended up being a hobby project outside of my day job, A&L&A&L also became an investigation about different forms of distractions. Examples (which even touched on those initial vodka pineapple-soaked ideas) like science fiction, myths and legends about laziness, stoner snapshots, link surfing, recreational mathematics, pro-wrestling moves that involved flying, and gaming surfaces like ball courts and fields. As activities outside of any utilitarian incentive, these were actually deep ideas motivated by the need to entertain ourselves.

P1013098 P1013088
A fortune cookie once said, “If you have a difficult task, give it to a lazy man: he will find an easier way to do it.” It poetically describes the shortcut as a concise solution, and the cheat as a knowledgeable solver, a shift from the usual negative connotation. Not that it’s a manifesto, but I think the cookie raises a good point! Imagine that leisure isn’t an idle state, but actually a strategy. For those that laze, a problem becomes an opportunity to amuse and stumble around helpfully, and afterwards, resume more pressing matters like finishing my beer.

artandleisure002_web

Art & Leisure and Art & Leisure was a book published by the London Centre for Book Arts and is available for purchase on their website.

This text originally appears in Thought Experiments in Graphic Design Education, a forthcoming book edited and art directed by Joshua Trees and Yvan Martinez (Martinez & Trees) and designed by Eurico Sa Fernandes and Mariana Lobao (Ponto). The book launches in December and features studio projects from students of Central St. Martins and London College of Communication alongside contributions from Bart de Baets, Stuart Bailey, Victor Boullet, Delphine Bedel, Lionel Bovier, James Corazzo, Benedetta Crippa, Department 21, Bianca Elzenbaumer, Fabio Franz, Ken Hollings, Kenneth Fitzgerald, Harrisson, John Hammersley, Brockett Horne, Scott King, Elizabeth Legate, Jono Lewarne, Alexander Lis, Armand Mevis, Rens Muis, Stuart Price, Jon Sueda, Ken Kirton, Darren Raven, Rebecca Stephany, Sebastian Pataki, Alexander Shoukas, and Walker design studio alums Daniel Eatock and Silas Munro.

 

Mildred Friedman Design Fellowship

We are happy to announce that the Walker design fellowship position will now be named the Mildred Friedman Design Fellow. Known to many as Mickey, Mildred Friedman served as the editor of Design Quarterly and was the Walker Art Center design curator for much of the ’70s and ’80s. She organized a series of groundbreaking […]

mickey-mattaweb

Mildred Friedman and Roberto Matta, 1966

We are happy to announce that the Walker design fellowship position will now be named the Mildred Friedman Design Fellow. Known to many as Mickey, Mildred Friedman served as the editor of Design Quarterly and was the Walker Art Center design curator for much of the ’70s and ’80s. She organized a series of groundbreaking exhibitions, sometimes in collaboration with Martin Friedman, such as Sottsass/Superstudio: Mindscapes (1973); New Learning Spaces and Places (1974); Nelson/Eames/Girard/Propst: The Design Process at Herman Miller (1975); De Stijl, 1917–1931: Visions of Utopia (1982); The Architecture of Frank Gehry (1986), the architect’s first major museum exhibition; Tokyo: Form and Spirit (1986), featuring the work of Japanese designers such as Arata Isozaki, Tadanori Yokoo, Toyo Ito, Tadao Ando, and Eiko Ishioka; Architecture Tomorrow (1988–1991), a series of installations undertaken by Frank Israel, Morphosis, Todd Williams/Billie Tsien, Stanley Saitowitz, Diller+Scofidio, and Steven Holl; and Graphic Design in America: A Visual Language History (1989), the first large-scale museum survey of the field in the United States.

 

DQ123_PaulRandDQ126ASeriousChairDQ127_LAOlympics1984

Above: issues of Design Quarterly edited by Mildred Friedman

The Walker’s Design Department began its internship program for graphic designers in 1980 under Mickey’s watch and ever since, it has uniquely provided recent graduates an opportunity to practice design as part of the Walker’s award-winning studio team. Unlike typical internships, fellows engage in all aspects of the design process, from initial client meetings through press checks. It is this holistic exposure that differentiates the Walker fellowship from more fragmented internships. Fellows work extensively with internal clients as well as external vendors, present and advocate for their solutions, participate in studio discourse—from critiques to blog writing—and, of course, shape the design of their work. Each fellow works independently as well as collaboratively with other studio members, whether the design director, senior designers, studio manager, pre-press specialist, or editors. Thus, fellows contribute wholly to the Walker’s design team as full-time graphic designers for an entire year. They come to the Walker from across the globe and have left the Walker to pursue a variety of opportunities, from working for companies such as Apple, Dwell, Nike, and Chronicle to founding their own design studios to inevitably working for a variety of museums and cultural institutions, and of course teaching design at universities around the world. (Apply.)

A selection of posters promoting the Design Fellowship throughout the years:

DesignInternPoster2002FellowPoster06_Finalfellowship_poster_07_complete

Below is a conversation about design at the Walker between Mildred Friedman and curator Joan Rothfuss, New York City, August 6, 2004:

Joan Rothfuss: When you began working at the Walker in the early 1970s, how did you define your role?

Mildred S. Friedman: I began by designing all of the office furnishings for the new building, working very closely with Ed [architect Edward Larrabee Barnes]. In the 1960s, I had worked as a designer for the architect Robert Cerny, so the Walker interiors were a natural project for me.

When the design of the building interiors was finished, it 
was necessary to develop other areas that were the Design Department’s responsibility. The journal Design Quarterly already existed, so that was an essential part of my job. I did change it. We recruited a number of incredible writers from outside the immediate area, people like Richard Saul Wurman, Rem Koolhaas, and Bill Stumpf, who had written on ergonomics, urban planning, and various important topics. In the 1970s and 1980s, Design Quarterly became a catalogue for a number of Walker exhibitions such as New Learning Spaces and Places; The Design Process at Herman Miller; The River: Images of the Mississippi; and many others.

The_River

Exhibition view of The River: Images of the Mississippi, 1976

learning_spaces_and_places

Exhibition view of New Learning Spaces and Places, 1974

JR: These were groundbreaking exhibitions in many ways, but your curatorial activities took a dramatic leap with the Frank Gehry show.

MSF: In the early 1980s, I wanted to undertake a large-scale architecture exhibition. I didn’t know Frank Gehry, but I had been reading about his work for a long time and I thought it was significant. His office is in Los Angeles, so one day I just called him and asked, “How would you like to do an exhibition at the Walker Art Center?” And he said, “Where?” We told him it was near Canada, because, you know, he was born in Toronto.

JR: I had no idea—I thought you must have been the best of buddies before you started working together.

MSF: No, but he and his great wife, Berta, did become our friends as the exhibition developed. When I went to Los Angeles, I stayed in their guest house, and spent time visiting his projects and talking with members of his then-small staff. I asked him to create five full-scale objects for the show in which we would then put drawings, models, and photographs of built works. He created a lead-coated wood fish, a cardboard enclosure for his cardboard furniture, a copper enclosure, a Finnish plywood snake house, and a series of wood trees.

1986gehry-mickeyweb

Mildred Friedman and Frank Gehry

It’s hard to believe now, but at that point Frank had a reputation mostly among architects, few others had heard of him. The exhibition traveled to New York, Toronto, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Houston. It was the first opportunity for a wide audience to see his work.

1986-Frank-Gehry

Frank Gehry in his exhibition The Architecture of Frank Gehry, 1986

JR: Could you talk about the origins of the 1986 Tokyo: Form and Spirit exhibition?

MSF: Martin [Friedman] and I went to Tokyo because we were given a joint travel grant by the Japan Society. We went with Rand Castile, who was then head of the Japan House gallery, and Lily Auchincloss, who was his patroness. For almost a month, we traveled all over. Rand is an expert on Japan, as he had lived there for many years. We loved it. When we came back we said, “What are we going to do with all this information?” So we began thinking about an exhibition, but we didn’t know what it would be. We had met Arata Isozaki—one of Japan’s most prominent architects. He sat down with us and was incredibly helpful. To make a very long story a little shorter, he helped us arrive at the idea of talking about the Edo period and today’s Japan by comparing the two—in terms of the art that was produced, what it looked like, how it worked, and so forth. The concept was that we would look at major aspects of life, such as walking through the city, spirituality, working, playing—all the things that everybody does everyday. We would have objects to represent what each aspect looked like in the Edo period—for example, a tea house. Then we would ask a young architect (in that case Tadao Ando, of whom at that point almost no one in the United States was familiar) to design it. So throughout the show we would pair historical Edo objects with contemporary updates.

We borrowed most of the Edo-period material from American museums because it was difficult to get loans from Japan. Then we invited Fumihiko Maki, Tadao Ando, Shiro Kuramata, Eiko Ishioka, Hiroshi Hara, Toyo Ito, Tadanori Yokoo, and Shigeo Fukuda to participate. We were lucky—when we went there in 1982, they were all happy to participate because they wanted to make reputations in the United States. Isozaki helped by introducing us to the others. It wasn’t that difficult. We had great fun with it.

tokyo_form_and_spirit

Tokyo: Form and Spirit, 1986

JR: The exhibition had a sort of dry run in Tokyo, didn’t it?

MSF: Yes. We wanted to see the work before we brought it to the United States. There was really no other way to see it. A good deal of it looked pretty terrible. The materials were wrong in many instances—not what you would expect from Japan. Martin and I brought one of the Walker’s crew members over, and we did critiques. The projects needed some real materials and proper workmanship. It was a big success; parts of the show were shown in a Sapporo beer warehouse, an auditorium, the top floor of a fashion house, and so on. They sold tickets and had events at these various places. We finally got it all together and brought the whole thing back to the United States. We also had to bring over some Japanese craftsmen to work with us. Our crew was so magnificent because they took many incomplete installations and finished them. At the Walker, the show picked up a real edge.

Organizing Tokyo: Form and Spirit was a real adventure. One of the funniest stories concerns a video we were using to raise money for the project. Not speaking Japanese, we took the video around with us. During one visit with the Kyocera Company, which produces cell phones, we couldn’t make the video player work, so we asked for a technician to help. Two elderly gentlemen in snap-on bow ties came down. They looked like Maytag repairmen. We asked, “Could you please have this video played, so we could present it to the powers that be?” When they had it working, Martin said, “Now we are waiting for Mr. Nakamura and Mr. so-and-so…” And they said, “We are Mr. Nakamura and Mr.…” So, we sat there with red faces while this video played, and when it was all over Mr. Nakamura turned to Martin and said, “Now Friedman-san, would you be kind enough to tell me once again the name of your exhibition? Such interesting material you’re showing us. So persuasive, so beautifully documented.” So we told him, “We’re calling it Tokyo: Form and Spirit.” And he looked at his colleague and sort of smiled, and then he said, “But Friedman-san, this is Kyoto.” Martin said, “Oh, couldn’t we think of it as a working title?”

Needless to say, that story happened in many versions, but in the end we did get support from many generous people. •

The Center for Sensibility: Towards Critical Graphic Design Practice

(But first some background information.) THE WHY NOT IN THE LIFE OF AN ARTIST IS WHAT DECIDES EVERYTHING; IT IS DESTINY. IT IS THE SIGN THAT CONVEYS TO THE INEXPERIENCED ARTIST THAT THE ARCHETYPE OF A NEW STATE OF THINGS IS READY, THAT IS HAS RIPENED, THAT IT CAN BE BROUGHT FORTH INTO THE WORLD […]

(But first some background information.)

THE WHY NOT IN THE LIFE OF AN ARTIST IS WHAT DECIDES EVERYTHING; IT IS DESTINY. IT IS THE SIGN THAT CONVEYS TO THE INEXPERIENCED ARTIST THAT THE ARCHETYPE OF A NEW STATE OF THINGS IS READY, THAT IS HAS RIPENED, THAT IT CAN BE BROUGHT FORTH INTO THE WORLD
—YVES KLEIN

1 Yves Klein Fire

Yves Klein, 1928–1962

To understand this photo of Yves Klein—holding a levitating flame in, yes, pre-Photoshop days—is to understand him as both a playful provocateur and also a critical creator. Many know Klein as Le Monochrome, the man who patented a unique painting formula that resulted in his brilliant, and famous, IKB canvases. Yet, perhaps not as many know of his radical criticality: Yves Klein critically rejected preconceived notions of painting in ways that productively afforded new ideas for the medium. Through writing (which he did prolifically) and creating (in ways that expanded the painting medium), his creations antagonized what painting could be.

But, rather than annihilating the practice, Klein used his tools to re-imagine the very nature of his discipline, and it is his form of criticality that I am most interested in borrowing to draw potential parallels to a critical practice in graphic design discipline.

AThomas_1

Through Klein, I sought to borrow his archetype of antagonizing a creative discipline, in addition to some of his concepts. The Center for Sensibility, my thesis project, antagonized the practice of design and sought ways to productively work against prescribed notions of design practice. Inspired by Klein, I sought ways to immaterialize design, and to show that the doing nothing aspects of design—like research, writing, and organizing content—are viable parts of practice. I explored immateriality in two ways: 1) as a research-based process that enables me to bring new ideas to my practice and share them with others; 2) as immaterial design, forgoing a designed artifact for a designed experience, that permits a community to participate in my project. Inspired by relational design, I sought to eliminate disciplinary boundaries of my university (a school of art and design) to permit a cross-disciplinary dialog about graphic design. These ideas, I thought, could build towards interesting applications for critical practice. Before I jump into my project, though, I’d like to share the ideas and resources which laid the framework for my exploration.

DESIGN SHOULD BE CAPABLE OF GENERATING ITS OWN MEANING FROM ITS OWN RESOURCES
—ANDREW BLAUVELT

Critical practice is not the same as expressing opinion or criticizing a finished design; it is not about taking to the comments section of a blog to tear down a designer or a design. Although that form of criticality is productive in its own right, critical practice is more about expressing disciplinary issues or concerns in ways that help define and strengthen the graphic design discipline.

The motivation for critical practice is within problem finding: locating issues or concerns within a discipline and exposing them to discussion. Or, in the case of Yves Klein, creating in a way that exposes and investigates the concern.

For graphic design, motivations for critical practice are plentiful and many. These motivations re-imagine the way graphic design works; they are productively contrary to preconceived notions of practice. Concerns include designing self-initiated projects or self-propelled research questions rather than client-assigned projects (read the essay Research and Destroy: Graphic Design as Investigation by Metahaven’s Daniel Van der Velden),  or designing to inquire into distribution (like The Book Trust), or, in the case of Forms of Inquiry, exposing design to other creative domains (like architecture or painting) to influence ways of designing. These practices not only antagonize practices of design, but they are fruitful applications of contrary forms of thinking about the discipline. Critical discourse leading to thoughtful application.

IFS,LTD

The Book Trust, 2010

FOI

Forms of Inquiry Exhibition

Andrew Blauvelt exposes some ideas about disciplinary concerns in his 2013 D-Crit lecture “Graphic Design: Discipline, Medium, Practice, Tool, or Other?” (a lecture that is a timely reassessment of his 2003 essay “Towards Critical Autonomy, or Can Graphic Design Save Itself?”). The design discipline of the late 2000s—an amorphous blob akin to the Ghostbuster’s Marshmallow man—ballooned to a vast array of practices: motion graphics, font design, info graphics, web design, systems design..the list goes on. This fur ball of practice weakened the idea of a coherent discipline and, moreover, no forms of practice gave the discipline running room for critical discourse. Waging a war on too many fronts, design had no strict focus, and no foundation for critical discourse—no methods of designing that better defined or strengthened the discipline.

Ghostbusters2

The Marshmallow Man (AKA, the design discipline circa 2000 as an amorpheous blob)

04-AIGAStudentPoster

The Furball (AKA, Graphic Design Modes of Practice)

Ghostbusters1

From Blauvelt’s D-Crit lecture, “annihilating” the blob of graphic design practice by allotting the discipline running room for critical self-refleciton

In order to “save itself” and move towards critical discourse, Mr. Blauvelt states that design must use its own forms and methods of practice in self-reflexive ways, ways that allow design to generate meaning from its own resources. Design that self-initiates its own projects, self-propels its own research and content, and self-reflects inward (exploring design through designing, or writing about design). These self-reflexive practices build critical discourse, help strengthen the discipline: critical practice forms a core, foundational center that reflects upon the knowledge, skills, applications, and needs of the discipline. By forming this core center, we can make or write according to these principles. Again, critical discourse leading to thoughtful application.

 

(more…)

Maximage – Emotions & Technology

Berlin-based graphic designers Julien Tavelli and David Keshavjee are active within the group Maximage Société Suisse, a loose structure of designers, photographers, and artists working either on commissioned works or self-initiated projects. Their strong body of graphic works often explores the idea of errors and aberrations in the process of the making and how to […]

Berlin-based graphic designers Julien Tavelli and David Keshavjee are active within the group Maximage Société Suisse, a loose structure of designers, photographers, and artists working either on commissioned works or self-initiated projects.

Their strong body of graphic works often explores the idea of errors and aberrations in the process of the making and how to accept them and let them create their own new aesthetic.

 

Emotions and technology, how does this motto drive your practice? Where do we find the emotional part?

Not sure this motto really drives our practice; it’s more a punch line, though. Graphic design involves different technologies and tools. We often try to reappropriate these tools by using them in a twisted way. The emotion comes from the result, when we reach an end that surprises us.
Despite the margin of the unexpected we allow when we work, we give much importance to the final result, the print, the color, the material. In Les impressions magiques, we tried to have a feeling that would emerge from the very first page.

Maximage-AcidTest-2 Maximage-AcidTest-1 Maximage-AcidTest-4
Acid Test, 2010, in collaboration with Tatiana Rihs and Körner Union

 

What made you start to work analogically, besides the computerized means you already used?

We have always been super interested in printing techniques. A few years ago, we were talking with a printer and he told us that he once cut himself and some blood dropped on the offset plate. He later noticed that a few printed pages were stained with his blood.

We loved this idea, imagined some crazy drawings mechanically reproduced. The first time we tried this was with Guy Meldem and Tatiana Rihs when we processed the plates ourselves, messed around with the chemical products, and did a first poster called Acid Test. We found it interesting and so, while on a residency in New York, we tried to push the technique further.

 

Please explain how you intervene on the printing process.

We spent a week at a printer, working on-site, directly on the plates with no computer but adhesive tape, razor blades, acids, or brushes. We had to understand how the colors would overlay, how the chemicals would react, and so on. Les impressions magiques is a “best of” all the tests we did there, presenting the large palette of tools, shapes, and gestures we created and experimented with.

Maximage-ImpressionsMagiques-2 Maximage-ImpressionsMagiques-3 Maximage-ImpressionsMagiques-4 Maximage-ImpressionsMagiques-5 Maximage-ImpressionsMagiques-6 Maximage-ImpressionsMagiques-7 Maximage-ImpressionsMagiques-8 Maximage-ImpressionsMagiques-9
Les impressions magiques, 2010. The interventions were made directly on the offset plate using several tools and chemical processes, based on ancient lithography techniques and advanced technology of offset printing. All the process was analogical and irreversible, from crop marks to overprinting. The design process became almost a part of the production.

Maximage-3Maximage-5 Maximage-4
Various Projects (2010-2012)

 

How do you gauge errors or unexpected happenings?

We try to always anticipate what will be the final result, yet knowing there will always be something we wouldn’t have expected. We like these accidents. They are strange; you need to get used to them, and sometimes you need a couple of days before you start appreciating them.

 

You leave a remarkable signature on your works. What’s your position on “a designer as an author”?

We try not to justify our position either as designers or artists: we make forms and create our own tools that we want to use whenever there is an appropriate project in order to achieve a good result. Most of the time we try to collaborate with artists. This specific condition allows us to engage a dialogue and an attitude that cancel the boundary between designer and client. Each one brings either his rules or knowledge and we work together. The result is a cosigned printed piece by the artist and Maximage.

Maximage-TooledSundays-5 Maximage-TooledSundays-1 Maximage-TooledSundays-2 Maximage-TooledSundays-4Maximage-TooledSundays-3
Tooled Sundays (2011) is a commissioned exhibition catalogue. They worked in close collaboration with the artist to define how they would interfere with Philippe Daerendiger’s work to create new images from the installation pictures, something between the artist book and the factual catalogue.

 

What does attract you in the offset printing process?

We like to work with the offset method because it’s the standard printing device in the industry. It’s kind of high-tech, and our interventions on it are rather primitive. We like this contrast and the balance that results.

 

What other tool or process do you like to play with?

We made a couple of works using screenprinting. We also did a book only using the publishing software of a cheap print-on-demand service, messing around with the filters and everything. Basically, we like to push the boundaries of a tool or corrupt its primary use to obtain a new result.

Maximage-EPFcatalogue-1 Maximage-EPFcatalogue-3 Maximage-EPFcatalogue-7 Maximage-EPFcatalogue-9Maximage-EPFcatalogue-5 Maximage-EPFcatalogue-10
Commercial catalogue for an art book publishing house, made in 2013 in collaboration with Marietta Eugster

 

How do you relate to the Swiss modernist design heritage? I’m referring to your use of simple grids, sans-serif typefaces, color schemes, and also the fact that you published several “guides,” which is to me a singular Swiss-modernist attitude. 

When we were studying, we were surrounded by great examples of modernist works, and we love some of them. That being said, our goal is not to perpetuate this style. What we love in modernism was the strong attitude of the designers in how they would approach a design problematic, and that’s what we kept from this heritage. Now we try to have our own contemporary attitude and push forward our own forms, not just a reenactment of old aesthetics.

Maximage-FormulaGuide-1 Maximage-FormulaGuide-2 Maximage-FormulaGuide-3
Maximage Formula Guide, 2011

Maximage-GridaLoca-1 Maximage-GridaLoca-2 Maximage-GridaLoca-3 Maximage-GridaLoca-4 Maximage-GridaLoca-5
La Grida Loca (2010) is short didactic booklet addressed to graphic design students. It presents common mistakes and solutions to them, as well as designer’s tips — in collaboration with Körner Union.

 

Your typeface Programme was just released on Optimo Type Foundry. How was it made? 

While studying at ECAL, we started to develop some scripts that would automatize the drawing process in FontLab. The first idea was to develop a contemporary-looking typeface with tools of our age. While working on it, we noted some errors due to scripting technology—they became marks of the process, like the traces left on the offset prints. We thought these “trademarks” were strong enough to be interesting so we pushed them further in order to get an identity out of them.
Primitiv is the rough cut, and we later made more calligraphic cuts. We tried to get the full use of OpenType to allow the user to switch between the different version and make his own combination of styles.

Slideshow_08 Slideshow_082 Slideshow_083
Programme in its final version, 2013.

Maximage-Diploma-1 Maximage-Diploma-2 Maximage-1
David Keshavjee and Julien Tavelli’s diploma (2009) consisted in a series of posters presenting the first version of Programme.

We were not good in school,” they explain. “In Switzerland there were a lot of exhibition openings with free alcohol and good food.”… .We developed our own tools. First we worked on a program that can automatically generate a whole font (we never use serif fonts). Then with a font developed in the program, we made woodcut letters. We were interested in the process, not just the finished product.” — as they present it on Wallpaper

Maximage-2
… it then became Book Medium, a later version of their typeface developed for the book Typeface as Program (JRP Ringier, 2009).

 

What are the next projects?

A couple of artist books, catalogues, some posters for techno festivals, record covers, and an exhibition in Zurich. Later we want to publish a type specimen for our typeface Programme.

Maximage-MariettaEugster-Acoco
Acoco (2013), by the artist and photographer Simon Haenni (also part of Maximage), is a book with almost no design traces but intensive editorial and sequencing work. It was edited by Andreas Koller and designed by Marietta Eugster and Maximage.

 

www.maximage.biz

Conversations on the Contemporary – Fall 2013

Hot off the press, here is the flyer presenting the new season of Conversations on the Contemporary—it basically lists all the great artists, designers, and thinkers we have coming to speak at the Walker. Based on the same graphic system as the previous one, the illustrations emphasize the lively exchange of ideas and references between […]

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 10.36.53 AMFallArtistTalks1FallArtistTalks2FallArtistTalks3

Hot off the press, here is the flyer presenting the new season of Conversations on the Contemporary—it basically lists all the great artists, designers, and thinkers we have coming to speak at the Walker. Based on the same graphic system as the previous one, the illustrations emphasize the lively exchange of ideas and references between both artists and the public during these lectures.

See all the great events coming up, including talks by Claes Oldenburg, Danh Vo and Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart, Bjarne Melgaard, Liam Gillick and Hito Steryl, and filmmaker Sam Green on Buckminster Fuller, here.

Vision, Interrupted

René Magritte, L’histoire centrale (The Central Story), 1928

chalk_mark_final_2

the_nature_of_clouds_1

Image credit: the cover’s collaged image is partially sourced from a photographic work created by Sydney Shen

Collected texts: on obstructed vision, blindness, perception, darkness, speculation, adaptation, and various other excerpted ruminations surrounding said subject matters; presented in parallel with a collection of images depicting certain avant-garde individuals whom, for reasons yet unknown (fashion statement? spiritual experience? an attempt to more intimately connect with their surroundings?), have obstructed their own vision.

Motives of pursuing ideals of trend and fashion aside, one might ask: to what end are the individuals presented throughout this publication blinding themselves?

Is it, as Denis Diderot asserts, an attempt to perceive their surroundings more abstractly and thus without deception?

Or, as with Oedipus Rex before them, have they willfully blinded themselves out of the shame brought forth by some terrible revelation that has exposed their own ignorance and inability to realize their true identity?

the nature of clouds presents a wide array of hypotheses of this nature, intended to examine the motives of and experiences behind obstructing one’s own vision.
—Preface (excerpt), the nature of clouds

 

 

the nature of clouds, a project I’ve recently published through Edition MK, is a 236-page book which is accompanied by a series of 3 offset-printed posters (each of which I apply a unique, ultramarine-blue-chalk mark to).

With a selection of 27 excerpted texts that I’ve presented alongside a collection of images that reveal a particular contemporary visual phenomenon that is widely-seen yet seldom given a name, I edited together the nature of clouds with the intent of presenting the otherwise-disparate collection of texts and images in a way that searches for new meaning and interpretation between the two.
the_nature_of_clouds_2b

the_nature_of_clouds_2

the_nature_of_clouds_4

the_nature_of_clouds_5the_nature_of_clouds_7the_nature_of_clouds_8

the_nature_of_clouds_9the_nature_of_clouds_11the_nature_of_clouds_13
content

The texts that I collected for the nature of clouds refer to a spectrum of subjects such as: self-inflicted blindness, blindness as punishment, the blind’s perception of their surroundings, adaptation, echolocation, the symbology of blindness, the explorations of blindness within art, blind prophets, et al. I sought out and chose these texts for the thought-provoking ways in which they enhanced the visual content of the book’s collected images. These texts include excerpted works from philosophers such as George Berkeley, Denis Diderot, and René Descartes, Greek tragedian Sophocles, physician-authors F. González-Crussi and Patrick Trevor-Roper, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, critic and novelist John Berger, theorist Guy Debord, as well as texts focusing on the works of artists, such as Giuseppe Penone and Lygia Clark, who specifically explored blindness and sensory deprivation in their work.

Meanwhile, the connective thread shared between the images that I’ve presented throughout this project, as it quickly becomes obvious, is the fact that all of the subjects appearing in these images are shown either with their faces and eyes completely covered (often with a large, flowing piece of cloth or drapery) or, simply, with their vision obstructed in some way. The subjects in these images can, as I like to think of it, be imagined to be in a state of blindness (or, at least in a state of heavily impaired vision).

I prefer to describe what is appearing in this collection of images as a type of “visual phenomenon”—one that, based on the shear amount of iterations produced, appears to be alive and well within the contexts of contemporary photography, art direction, fashion, visual art, et al.
the_nature_of_clouds_14
setting the stage

The intended sentiment behind the book is one in which the viewer wouldn’t necessarily be able to determine whether the book advocates for the visual phenomenon mentioned or if it’s tearing it down. I felt that taking one position or the other, especially in this scenario, became much less interesting because the chosen position leaves you at a conclusive point where the conversation terminates. Instead, I attempted to leave the message and editorial direction of the book more open to interpretation and the reader’s own imagination.

I also believe it was necessary to go beyond the point of producing a book that simply said: “hey, look at all these similar images of people with their faces and eyes covered, isn’t this crazy?!” Pointing a light on this visual phenomenon is, of course, a substantial part of the book, but the book couldn’t just be about the visual phenomenon alone. That’s what a Tumblr cataloging the visual phenomenon would be for, because that’s all a Tumblr is expected to be. As such, I had no doubt that the collected texts were essential for inclusion in this book. An examination of this visual phenomenon (regardless of your position on it) becomes so much more compelling when an image is simultaneously presented alongside a text that provides the basis for viewing the image through an alternative lens or which tells a story in such a way that the reader is encouraged to imaginatively interpret the image beyond it’s surface intentions.

This project began as a recognition of a pattern that wasn’t difficult to see. But the more this pattern seemed to perpetuate itself, the more I felt compelled (like some modern visual anthropologist) to explore it further and to create a context or site that could enable the pattern to be seen from new and unexpected perspectives.
the_nature_of_clouds_16

Poetry derives from inspiration, from an inner vision connected to dreams. Closed, blind eyes connect one with the world of the dead, with those who can no longer see. They are the mask which hides the expression of the face from the onlooker and allows a vision of the world which in not present but past or future. To be there but not to see, to appear there but not to be present, like the Pythia or Sibyl who used to pronounce prophecies with their faces covered. …

The condition of dreaming is blindness. One can imagine better with one’s eyes closed. Light invades the mind. With eyes open, one absorbs light. With the eyes closed, images from one’s mind are projected onto the vault of the cranium, on the wrapping which surrounds us, on the inside of our skin which becomes a border, a division, a definition of the body and a container of our thought. The wrapping is important as it is the definition of the individual.

—Giuseppe Penone, in Giuseppe Penone: Sculture di linfa (Milan: Mondadori Electa S.p.A., 2007), 226.

 

 

 

the_nature_of_clouds_17the_nature_of_clouds_18the_nature_of_clouds_20
approach

I do think there’s some relevance to bringing visual trends, patterns, phenomenon, recurring motifs (or whatever you want to call them) into the arena of collective examination and reflection. That said, I also feel very aware of the relative absurdity of bringing attention to a visual occurrence taking place within a niche world of creative output. With that thought at the fore of my mind throughout the project, I attempted to interject elements of humor (albeit a very deadpan type of humor) into the book as a means of throwing the seemingly serious tone of the book off balance.

Examples include:

—The book’s overall tone of feigned naivety that suggests that the subjects depicted in the images throughout the book are actually coping with and adapting to the affects of blindness.

—The use of satirical and amusing pairings of text and image content, as with the section of the book that pairs an excerpt from Patrick Trevor-Roper’s essay, “Total Blindness”—in which he recounts the story of a saint who, after looking at a man lustfully, tears out both of her eyes, only to then be given two replacements by God that, unfortunately, are so large that they had to be carried around like handbags—with an image of a woman (her head completely draped with vision obstructing fabric no doubt) who is lugging around two pineapples.

—The implication that the subjects in the images have, as with Oedipus Rex, willingly inflicted injury on their own eyes to the point of blindness.

—The inclusion of a statement of dedication, addressed to René Magritte, which acknowledges the influence of his demonstrations (referring to his 1928 paintings, titled Les Amants and L’histoire centrale) of how one should go about “swathing the heads of pretty young things with excessive yet stylish amounts of cloth and drapery… .”

 

 

René Magritte, Les Amants (The Lovers), 1928

René Magritte, Les Amants (The Lovers), 1928

René Magritte, Les Amants (The Lovers), 1928

René Magritte, Les Amants (The Lovers), 1928

René Magritte, L’histoire centrale (The Central Story), 1928

René Magritte, L’histoire centrale (The Central Story), 1928

 

 

on the title: the nature of clouds

I had happened across a John Berger book that I had never heard of, titled The Sense of Sight. Many of the texts were a nice surprise to me because they were written in such a different way than the structured and academic tone of writing found in the Berger text that many of us know so well, Ways of Seeing.

Many of the texts in The Sense of Sight are poetic, obscure, and at times difficult to read and decipher. But one of these texts in particular, titled “On Visibility,” had an influential affect on my search for a book title that was at once mysterious and referential.

In many ways, I feel that the below passages from “On Visibility” serve as very apt metaphors for the modern condition of image production, creativity, and trends.

At the beginning of the text, Berger points to what has become increasingly more obvious in the worlds of visual production as time moves on:

All appearances are continually changing one another: visually everything is interdependent.

 

He then speaks to the concept of visibility in a very remarkable way: 

Visibility is a form of growth. Aim: to see the appearance of a thing (even an inanimate thing) as a stage in its growth—or as a stage in a growth of which it is part. To see its visibility as a kind of flowering.

 

Finally, he concludes the text with a really great allegory. The passage could be interpreted in many different ways, but through the lens that I had created for this project, I found the word “clouds” in this passage to be interchangeable with the notion of the life and existence of a visual phenomenon (which, of course, is what the nature of clouds indirectly addresses):

Clouds gather visibility, and then disperse into invisibility.
All appearances are of the nature of clouds.

—John Berger, “On Visibility,” in The Sense of Sight (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985), 219.

 

 

the_nature_of_clouds_21
on the marks of ultramarine-blue chalk

These marks/gestures, simply said, are an attempt to visually represent and reinforce the arguments that Berger proposed in the above passages from “On Visibility,” namely: the idea that a visible thing is a form of growth and that it gathers visibility (represented by the actual making of the mark of ultramarine-blue chalk) and that this visible thing then disperses or disappears into invisibility (represented by the fact that the mark of ultramarine-blue chalk is highly mutable by touch and able to be effectively erased).
chalk_mark_final_3
the_nature_of_clouds_misc_1
on thamyris, phineus, and tiresias

The publication is accompanied by 3 limited edition, offset-printed, ultramarine-blue-chalk-marked posters, respectively titled thamyris, phineus, and tiresias, each the name of a blind prophet.

Rarely in history was a humane thought given to the armies of blind beggars that languished in every kingdom. … [The] Byzantine Emperor Basil … sent back his 15,000 prisoners, every man blinded, to their king (who died of the shock). And in England blinding was introduced in AD 600 as an alternative to the death penalty. Thus the blind remained through history as ineducable mendicants, who only came to the fore when their sightless eyes were replaced by an inner vision. The famous soothsayers of history and fable have, in the main, had their prophetic eyes liberated by their blindness.

As Milton put it:
Blind Thamyris and blind Meonides and Tiresias and Phineus, prophets old.

To these may be added Blind Bartimeus, who recognized Jesus as Messiah, ‘Capys, the sightless seer,’ who inspired Romulus, and Appius Claudius, who warned the Roman Senate of disaster if they came to terms with Pyrrhus. Democritus, the laughing philosopher of Abdera, even eviscerated his eyes so that he might think more clearly, and this was the practice of some muezzins, who, after learning the Koran by heart, thus ensured that they could not be distracted by beauty. Indeed a similar pseudo-castration was suggested by certain Fathers of the Church, on the ground that a vision of the next world was preferable to vision in this.

— Patrick Trevor-Roper, “Total Blindness,” in The World Through Blunted Sight: An inquiry into the influence of defective vision on art and character (New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1988), 159–160.

 

 

thamyris

thamyris, edition of 100, 312 x 484mm (12.25 x 19in.) — Image credits: this poster’s collaged image is sourced from photographic works created by Audrey Corregan and Tania Shcheglova and Roman Noven of Synchrodogs

phineus

phineus, edition of 100, 312 x 484mm (12.25 x 19in.) — Image credits: this poster’s collaged image is sourced from photographic works created by Manon Kündig and unknown

tiresias

tiresias, edition of 100, 312 x 484mm (12.25 x 19in.) — Image credits: this poster’s collaged image is sourced from photographic works created by Alberto Moreu and Federico Ferrari

 

 

the_nature_of_clouds_misc_2     the_nature_of_clouds_misc_3
the_nature_of_clouds_misc_4     the_nature_of_clouds_misc_5
the_nature_of_clouds_misc_6     the_nature_of_clouds_misc_7
availability

the nature of clouds, thamyris, phineus, and tiresias are all currently available for purchase at editionmk.org.

Each will also be on sale at the upcoming Medium Cool art book fair in Chicago on August 11.
related

I’ve also created thenatureofclouds.tumblr.com (NSFW at times) as an ongoing visual postlude to the nature of clouds

A Warm System—The Autoconstrucción Suites

Autoconstrucción: a definitely unfinished inefficient unstable affective emotional delirious joyful affirmative sweaty fragmentary empiric weak happy contradictory solitary indecent sensual amorphous warm and committed index Autoconstrucción (loosely translated as self-build) refers to a particular method in home construction. Those who don’t have the economic means to complete an entire house (but have enough for parts […]

Autoconstrucción: a definitely unfinished inefficient unstable affective emotional delirious joyful affirmative sweaty fragmentary empiric weak happy contradictory solitary indecent sensual amorphous warm and committed index

cruzvillegas001-002_front_webAutoconstrucción (loosely translated as self-build) refers to a particular method in home construction. Those who don’t have the economic means to complete an entire house (but have enough for parts of one) build structures in stages using whatever resources are available at their disposal. And as situations change or families grow, additions and modifications are made to the home that may not use the same material used in the last stage of construction, depending on circumstances. Visually, these developments can be a mish-mash of styles; architecturally, its a responsive approach to building, constantly trying to meet the needs of the inhabitants inside and the neighborhood outside.

The Autoconstrucción Suites is the latest survey of artist Abraham Cruzvillegas’s decade-long investigation of this phenomenon and how it informs his work. Born and based in Mexico City and growing up in a self-build, that experience is the basis for many of his projects, which range from sculpture to song-writing, drawing to performance, film and writing. Curated by Clara Kim, the exhibition brings together all of these thoughts and moments into a singular gallery space, and creates a world where this line of research takes the form of decaying maguey leaves, a rough splat of concrete, painted cardboard boxes on a wall, a chrome sphere on the floor, or even a tricycle with an audio/visual system built in. A 240-page catalogue accompanies the exhibition, and is conceived as a primer into the language of self building and a container for his research and works.

ex2013ac_ins_063

ex2013ac_ins_013

ex2013ac_art_001

Warm: a warm system means an organic organization of re-arrangable elements, in which subjectivity, affection, emotion, but mostly needs, rule. An exhibition or a book can be warm systems.

In our first meeting with him to talk about the catalogue, Abraham brought a couple of books from his own collection that he was formally and conceptually interested in. One was this great Filliou catalogue, where everything—from artworks to text entries and random references—was organized in an alphabetic index; on one hand, it’s a pretty academic structure, but weirdly enough, that framework also introduces an element of randomness, with illustrations and reproductions and texts thrown in next to each other at unexpected moments. Another was a Duchamp book that actually comprised of several printed editions housed in a book-like folder, and included reproductions of artworks, small publications and even a little paper sculpture you could assemble. The density of information and the variety of ways to experience the work was really appealing to us, but how much could we achieve with just a plate section and a couple of essays?

cruzvillegas012-13_web

cruzvillegas014-15_web
Abraham then casually mentioned including a text he had just prepared a few months prior, a list of autoconstrucción terms and his personal definitions he uses not only to describe his work, but everything: love, life, food, sex, etc. (Some of these terms are scattered throughout this blog post). They waver between serious and light, pithy statements or heavy assertions. We thought it compelling enough to establish a basic conceptual structure for the book, a way for readers to engage with the work on a philosophical level. Above, the English and Spanish versions of the table of contents are structured as quasi-indices, listing all the individual terms as well as the titles of his songs and is an idiosyncratic way to see the range of information contained.

ex2013ac_ins_083
Abraham’s resource room is a work in the show that was important to the development of the book. Pictured above, it’s made up of different elements: on a long table there are coil-bound photocopied books about things like architecture, poetry, and Mexican culture; upside down buckets and a converted wheelbarrow serve as seating; on a nearby wall, several large maps are displayed, showing growth and population densities in Mexico City over time; on a circular table a plant sits on top of a collage of photographs, images from his neighborhood that Abraham had taken with a point-and-shoot; and on another wall, a wall of Mexican and Latin American socio-political posters.

We thought about the project in this particular context and environment, and liked the idea that maybe the catalogue could potentially inhabit this specific space, or at the very least were related somehow. The room comes off as a little cosmos of ideas, as if an encyclopaedia had exploded onto the walls of a gallery. If this room was the big-bang, what if the book was the big-crunch version of the entire installation?

cruzvillegas004-5_web cruzvillegas006-7_web cruzvillegas008-9_web cruzvillegas038-39_web cruzvillegas040-41_web cruzvillegas042-43_web

So from these initial thoughts, we started to determine some major moves. The book would be structured in two parts: the core would house works in the exhibition, a 64-page plate section; wrapped around that center is the autoconstrucción universe: the constellation of songs, photos, posters, books, and index terms that he pulls from, in addition to the contributed essays. Because we were literally looking to nest these sections, we decided to saddle stitch the entire book (surprisingly easy to do, despite it a 240 page book, if you find an industrial stitching machine in Stillwater that sews sailboat sails together). The book is softcover, and gave the overall catalogue a very floppy, flexible feel.

Abraham later joked that he could use it to swat flies.

cruzvillegas_book_bending_02_PP cruzvillegas_book_bending_01_PP cruzvillegas_book_bending_06_PP cruzvillegas_book_bending_05_PP

Unstable: piling things atop of each other, not definitely fixed, makes stacks of transformable energy about to collapse. Here I’m talking of history, economy, society and culture. Physical and conceptual instability are something hard to sustain, but I like it.

I usually try to analogize my projects in unusual ways, to introduce a different way of looking at a particular problem. During our conversations, I kept referring to this metaphor of “the book as brick.” The comparison seemed appropriate for some reason: brick as a blunt object, brick as a singular unit, brick as a constructive force, brick as a destructive force, brick as a weight, brick as potential energy. The homely brick suddenly became loaded with things like personality and tone, conceptual ideas beyond its simple functional aspect. We thought it could be interesting to link the resource room to this strange analogy somehow, and view the elements of the installation as raw material from which he constructs the autoconstrucción world. Maybe these images—of his neighborhood, of the books, or the posters, or even the songs he wrote—were individual bricks.

So for this book, instead of laying images out on a pre-determined grid, or just simply centering everything with space in-between elements, what if we just stacked all the images on top of each other?

cruzvillegas_conceptlayout_01 cruzvillegas_conceptlayout_02 cruzvillegas_conceptlayout_03
So we did. And we liked it.

This reminds me of Carl Sagan’s thought experiment of two-dimensional shapes, living on a flatland, having to deal with the realization that there may be other dimensions beyond their perception. It brings up an interesting idea as a book designer, about the way we work with flat surfaces, and where our own perspective lies as the designer: are we the flatlander, or the booming extra-dimensional voice from within? And from there, it was kind of strange to think about creating a sense of weight in a “space” like a page in a book. But after this stacking strategy came up, it  introduced another dimension, maybe it was height, maybe it was volume?

This weirdly enough also sort of recalls those cup stacking championships, which was a funny way to think about Abraham’s work, on a couple of different levels: ideas about sculpture as a gesture, or series of built up gestures; and also about improvisation, as if the artist just stacked the images himself. And in the end, this new shape becomes much more interesting than a couple of squares and rectangles on a page. The content can now be activated because of its new shape, like the way that Abraham’s process creates new objects, but that object serves to highlight the individual components of the piece. Cups become pyramids, and debris become sculpture.

ex2013ac_art_037 ex2013ac_art_035

cruzvillegas010-11_web

cruzvillegas044-45_web

cruzvillegas022-23_web cruzvillegas024-25_web cruzvillegas026-27_web cruzvillegas032-33_web cruzvillegas034-35_web cruzvillegas036-37_web cruzvillegas046-47_web cruzvillegas048-49_web cruzvillegas060-61_web
Once this was all figured out, the system kind of took over and designed itself. And I think I use the word “system” very loosely, in the sense that it’s not really what we would think of (in a design context) as a tightly gridded out document. The strategy was more like an overall attitude or an outlook, a little less concerned about the final product and more interested in the process. It was also kind of a game we devised for ourselves, whose only rule was to stack the images in weird and interesting ways. And as a graphic designer, its interesting when you introduce an element of play like that. For this project, that quality allowed us to be very responsive and flexible to our own immediate needs and whatever random issue the world threw at us, whether it was not being able to secure rights for an image, or something being too low resolution to print. Whenever something like that happened, we were able to quickly shift images here and there, create new piles, and then move on. It’s pretty liberating not having to stress over minutae when you don’t build it into the structure.

Joyful: inventing the rules of a game to be played everyday in different ways. Rules are dictated from specific needs, then it can be played capriciously, with ingenuity and pleasure. If the game can be played collectively it could go better, depending on the people you invite and on their will to share, learn and risk together. Rules can also be modified, according to peculiarities of context, timing and circumstances.

cruzvillegas062-63-web

cruzvillegas064-65_web

cruzvillegas028-29_web cruzvillegas030-31_web cruzvillegas050-51_web cruzvillegas052-53_web cruzvillegas054_55_web cruzvillegas056-57_web
We applied the same strategy to the text pages, setting the type in columns and having the width of each paragraph vary, again, to give the impression of blocks stacked on top of each other. This happened to be pretty helpful, given the bi-lingual context of the catalogue, and is (hopefully) a helpful device that readers can use to determine where in the translation you are between different languages.

This move sort of shifted the piling metaphor into a different territory. After typesetting these, I started to see these columns of type as a kind of strata, or sediments that have settled on on top of another which compact over time and turn into a new and solid form. I haven’t tried this yet, but one could potentially take a couple of copies of the book and stack them on top of each other and represent each essay a one long geologic cross-section. The essay became something you excavate, sifting through layers of information rather than rock; and with some essays, sometimes there’s something to find, and sometimes there’s nothing but more dirt under there.

And like strata, autoconstrucción becomes a way to understand the world of objects as things made up of a variety of moments and ideas, rather than something singular and isolated. Each layer, whether it’s a particular building material, or a line from a song lyric, or a photo in a stack of images, tells its own story about where it comes from, how it is used, what its particular function is, unintended or not. While the combinations of these layers might be novel and exciting, Abraham’s work recognizes that our own constructions don’t manifest themselves out of thin air, but are built upon (and are sourced from) the context of prior knowledge. The mix may be as homogenous as concrete or as chunky as a stack of crates, but looking closely, you might start to realize that maybe the sum of its parts can be greater than the whole.

cruzvillegas001-002_back_web

Fragmentary: contradictory elements making a whole, there’s no chance for mistake. Tales are short moments of experience or imagination. Married pieces from clashing contexts make beautiful conversations. A book of tales makes a universe.

Abraham Cruzvillegas: The Autoconstrucción Suites is currently on view in Target and Friedman Galleries until September 22, 2013. Afterwards, it will be travelling to Haus der Kunst in Berlin in 2014, and then Fundación/Colección Jumex and Museo Amparo in Mexico City in 2015.

No posts

Next