Blogs The Gradient Dante Carlos

2014: The Year According to The Office of Culture and Design

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from designer Tiffany Malakooti and musician Grant Hart  to  artists Kalup Linzy and Alejandro Cesarco—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to       […]


To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from designer Tiffany Malakooti and musician Grant Hart  to  artists Kalup Linzy and Alejandro Cesarco—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 .

The Office of Culture and Design is an autonomous platform for artists, writers, designers and social practice projects in the developing world (primarily, the Philippines). In 2013, The OCD opened a design studio and publishing arm called Hardworking Goodlooking, through which they publish the results of their experiments (and those of others) in print and other formats.

Clara Lobregat Balaguer is a writer who sometimes makes art, has learned to do graphic design, used to host shows on national television in the Philippines, and has experience in advertising. In 2010, she founded The Office of Culture and Design, an organisation through which she executes social practice projects in culturally underserved communities in the Philippines. She has released one book as author, and nine as publisher at the helm of the editorial house, Hardworking Goodlooking. She has exhibited artwork at Singapore Art Museum, Casa Asia Madrid, Galeria H2O, Ayala Museum, New York University (NYU), Hangar and La Capella.  She has lectured at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Bennington College, Ateneo de Manila and University of the Philippines, Diliman. She has won prizes at the San Sebastian El Sol Festival and Premios LAUS and can say that one of her advertising productions is in the permanent collection of the Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. She was the youngest directorial board member for the international design NGO, Design for the World, from 2007 to 2009. She likes plants and karaoke.

Kristian Henson is a New York–based designer and publisher. After receiving his MFA from Yale School of Art in 2012, he continued his research and extended his design practice by actively collaborating with artists and institutions in The Philippines. He holds the position of art director for The Manila Review, a Filipino literary criticism and arts journal, and is the head of design for The Office of Culture and Design. In 2013, he co-founded Hardworking Goodlooking, a publishing imprint and studio that consolidates the experiments of The OCD. His publishing work has been exhibited at The New Museum, NY Art Book Fair, Printed Matter, Ooga Booga, PrintRoom Rotterdam, Yale University Art Gallery, Asia-Pacific Photobook Archive Melborne, OBSCURA Festival Malaysia, Ateneo University Press, and The Singapore Art Museum.




Typhoon Hagupit (known locally as “Ruby”)

Typhoon Ruby downgraded from super typhoon to typhoon classification just before it made landfall in the Philippines on December 6, causing much less damage than expected to areas already hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Lots of deaths were avoided by evacuating over 2.5 million people from coastal areas, and the Philippine government actually seemed to have their act a bit more together this year. Big, big relief for the country most affected by climate change in the entire world. It was no walk in the park and the country has sustained heavy damages, but it was nowhere near the tragedy it could have been.

Hagupit aftermath
Philippines Climate Risk Index




WSK 2014: Festival of the Recently Possible

We have always been fans of Manila’s sound bricolage festival, WSK, organized every year by a small team of irreductibles. Tengal, Merv Espina, Joee Mejias and Chesca Casauay did not disappoint in 2014, offering a week-long pirate radio show station packed with different programs, an applied workshop session for a curated selection of artists, field recording sessions, talks and concert-type events at three off-the-beaten-path locations. The roster included intermedia artists, conceptual musicians and research programmers from all over Asia and one dude from the United States.

2 Fete de la WSK poster for 2014  10006249_10152867860549184_8588182389939860816_n

Metro Manila’s art scene is dominated by a sale-centric, neo-liberal art market devotion, which can be disappointing in terms of curatorial vision. It also makes the existence of an underground festival such as WSK something akin to breeding unicorns. Their programming, every year, surprises and challenges its audience, something that doesn’t happen all the time at art events in our neck of the woods. It is no small feat for this crazy festival to have survived and transcended the underground (without selling out) over the past six years, getting better and more legit with each issue.


The festival originated as an act of rebellion against the mainstreamy music festival celebrated simultaneously all over the globe, Fête de la Musique, a promotional event of the French government. WSK used to be called Fête de la Wasaque, and it was scheduled at around the same time as Fête de la Musique, which is also held in Manila. It first emerged as an alternative arena for musicians frustrated with the non-challenging music championed by the global establishment. Over the years, the local festival has matured from mere humorous rebellion to serious experimental conviction. WSK is a contraction of the Tagalog word “wasak,” which means wasted, crazy or destroyed.

WSK2014 website


3 Joko Widodo, Indonesian president and heavy metal enthusiast


Majority Muslim Indonesia elects metalhead Joko Widodo as president

Aside from being into Slayer, Widodo is not related to the military in any way and comes from the humblest of backgrounds, a revelation in itself for a country plagued by elite level, military-government corruption. He has been making headlines since his election for his reformist policies and his collection of metal band T-shirts. We super wish we had the chance to elect someone like him to run the Philippines. So far, we’ve only had oligarchs, ex-movie star political puppets, gangsters and shadies to choose from, come election time, save for a few exceptions like Walden Bello. Side note: Indonesia has a fascinating black metal scene.




The Look of Silence by Joshua Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer’s follow up film to the critically-acclaimed and socially impactful documentary, The Act of Killing, won the Grand Jury prize at the Venice Film Festival and the highest award at CPH:DOX film festival in Copenhagen this year. Both films effectively liquify the borders between art/creation and social agency, without considering either of the two ends more important than the other.

Critics of Oppenheimer’s approach decry the cinematic immorality of testimonial-type documentaries, claiming that it is impossible to truly respect filmed subjects when you are exploiting their stories for their emotional properties, a result ultimately controlled by the filmmaker and not the subject. Oppenheimer, however, gave his protagonists a certain level of directorial responsibility and fomented an interaction between subject and filmmaker, a sharing of filmic control that was reflected in parts of the final edit. His approach may or may not have been enough to allow the subjects to represent themselves instead of ceding control to the “other,” but what is clear (to us) is that there was a real sensitivity, on the director’s part, to portray his characters with respect, and to immerse deeply in their situational and historical context. Whichever side of the argument you may be on, the fact remains that both of these hybrid documentaries have struck a deep chord for change, both within and outside the filmmaking practice.

Film site


How to Disappear Completely by Raya Martin

This is the young Filipino director’s most acclaimed film yet since his breakout period drama, Independencia, and possibly also his most controversial. It is a highly aestheticised story of superstition, fear and violent abuse in small town Philippines. How to Disappear Completely also features a great soundtrack by Filipino musician, Eyedress.

Film site


Manakamana by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez

Produced at the Sensory Ethnography Laboratory of Harvard University, this documentary recounts the journey of Nepalese villagers to worship at the temple of Manakamana. It features only 11 uncut shots, but took 18 months to edit. A carefully paced, strangely fictional-feeling piece of sensory ethnography that sees the world from a moving cable car.

Film site
SEL site


Storm Children, Book One, by Lav Diaz. 

Through this slow-cinema chronicle of the devastation left after Typhoon Haiyan, Lav Diaz shows that he “takes his responsibility as an artist [seriously, and that] he is concerned about his people, using film as a means to convey… to a wider public the fact that even though Tacloban and its people have disappeared from the news because they’re not deemed newsworthy anymore, they are still struggling and [they] need help.” That quote is from the film review hyperlinked below, BTW.

Film review




Dutch artist Renzo Martens moves to the Eastern Congo to continue a 5-year plan to gentrify the jungle through his Institute for Human Activities
Suspend your politically correct disbelief and moralistic Western anger. Watch Martens’ film, Episode III: Enjoy Poverty, the most significant piece of social practice art (if you can call it that) we have seen to date. Rethink applications of “gentrification,” in vocabulary and in real life (the world is not Brooklyn, Barcelona or Shanghai). Your anger is your own guilt and/or insecurities in disguise.
Martens’ experiment with engagement and social agency in artistic practice has yet to determine results. For now, we follow the IHA’s progress online and in the news, crossing our fingers for their success or, at the very least, for an in-depth analysis of their struggle at the end of the five-year period.




Discussion Lab

Really glad we got to know the people at Disclab, a Philippine collective for research and criticism that does some of the most groundbreaking (local) work, to date, in terms of sensory and critical commentary on art politics. They describe themselves as online squatters, because—as almost all of the independent art-related collectives in the Philippines—they are not just chronically underfunded but wholly ignored by our government. Despite claims made since 2012 by current legislators that the cultural class is of high priority (because we make significant contributions to things such as the nation’s GDP and soft power quotient), collectives like Disclab usually have to fend for themselves. It’s inspiring to see the level of quality, professionalism and productivity that groups like them are able to hustle with little to no institutional support.


6-Philippine-Infoshops-and-Autonomous-Spaces-Conference-camp-site_adj 6-Feral-Crust-is-a-one-room-shack-used-as-a-living-space-and-community-activity-center_adj

Anarchist Infoshops of the Philippines

2014 has marked a lot of collaboration with four particular anarchist collectives and infoshops in Manila: Flowergrave, Feral Crust, On Site and Etniko Bandido. Without them, many of this year’s OCD efforts would not have been possible. To cap off the deepening relationships with these collectives, we got to attend the Philippine Infoshops and Autonomous Spaces Conference, a nation-wide meetup held late this year. We camped out for two nights in a small backyard, somewhere on the provincial outskirts of Metro Manila. The program was super intense, with loads of presentations on what tiny, anti-system collectives are doing to help their communities all over the country. Was quite a lesson in sticking to your grassroots guns and making every little peso stretch as far as it can towards the common good. We also drank a lot of Tanduay rum.


An infoshop is a community activity space that begins with a library. The books contained in each infoshop’s library are usually titles that reflect anarchist, anti-system and alternative philosophies. They are open to read, borrow and photocopy. In order to disseminate the ideas contained in these libraries, as well as each infoshop’s particular activist agenda, direct action activities are organized. These may include food drives (Food Not Bombs), everything-for-free markets, workshops, skill enhancing sessions, conferences, exhibitions, concerts, rallies or any other form of radical protest.


7 All Hardworking Goodlooking Books available in 2014


Finishing 7 Hardworking Goodlooking books in 2014, just in time for the New York Art Book Fair

Seven books in one year on the tightest of budgets and the deadliest of deadlines is a personal best for us. We still can’t quite believe we did it. But we totally did. Here’s the GIF that proves it. (Back patting ensues.)


8 Kutis Mayaman means Rich People Skin


Kutis Mayaman campaign by skin-whitening brand, Glutamax

This questionable piece of marketing logic makes our top 10 because it’s heinous, and also because it’s lighting in us a longstanding fire to do something to counteract the culture of shadism (and its relation to classist elitism) that is rampant in the Philippines. For those who don’t speak Tagalog, the slogan “Kutis Mayaman” translates to “Rich People Skin.” Previous billboards from this same brand, all put up on highly trafficked thoroughfares, boasted equally ridiculous slogans and concepts.

The blog post we link to below, probably sponsored in some way by the skin whitening brand, speaks volumes of how this sort of marketing reflects the darkest side of Filipino self-image issues. Pun intended. The first line of the post is revealing: “Who wouldn’t want to have skin like it belongs to a rich person? I know I do!” 




In Tagalog-English slang, “peg na peg” means that you admire something or someone as a role model. It is an expression born of advertising jargon. At meetings, when clients ask you to send visual references for campaigns, they ask for your pegs. This refers both to the JPG file format in which references are usually sent, and the fact that you are pegging a campaign against these references.

Ghetto Biennale



Early this year, we discovered through our friend Robert Peterson’s Facebook wall that something amazing called the Ghetto Biennale exists and has been running since 2009 in Haiti. It is a gloriously complex, moving, contradictory and hardcore stand for the cause of social practice in the cultural (developing) world. Here’s a great quote from their website, which we relate to wholeheartedly:

“While the Ghetto Biennale was conceived to expose social, racial, class and geographical immobility, it seemed to have upheld these class inertias within its structural core. The Ghetto Biennale is looking for balance amongst the multifarious and often contradictory agendas underpinning the event. Are we institutional critique or a season ticket to the institution? Are we poverty tourism or an exit strategy from the ghetto? What was the effect of the earthquake and the ensuing NGO culture on cross-cultural relations in Haiti? The straplines for the previous Ghetto Biennales were ‘What happens when first world art rubs up against third world art? Does it bleed?’…Did the Ghetto Biennale bleed, and if so where?”


Field Experiments

Kristian Henson, our head of design, came across this company at The Site Unseen design fair in NYC. They describe themselves as a “nomadic design collective exploring traditional crafts,” traveling around the world to create products, printed matter, films, installations and other stuff, inspired by vernacular forms of artisanry. So up our alley, it’s not even funny. And they also have a neat website.

Disposable_Bottles_03_Field_Experiments_1024x1024 Rattan_Purse_Field_Experiments_1024x1024 Kites_004-_-Field-Experiments_1024x1024




Decent Designs of Railing and Stair Case by Experienced Architects

So, this one was tough. We find a lot of really crazy titles in Filipino bookstores, mostly on the forgotten bottom shelves. So many great additions to our collection this year: Being a Social Being, The Cyrupaedia of Body Building (written by a guy named Cyrus), Kosher Yoga, Herpestes: The Electrifying Filipino Martial Arts… but we finally decided upon a title so honest, so real that it could only have been written by someone extremely secure in their own self-worth, someone with experience. Also, the photograph on the cover of Decent Designs… is hyperconceptual. The turnstile in front of the path leading to a residential house, the cryptic picture of the hand holding an American football in the window… so many things post-postcolonially ponder.

Other titles in the series include Modern Designs…, Attractive Designs…, Simple Designs…, and Latest Designs… They are all printed in India at a press called Printer’s Cottage, and the cover was designed by a certain Graphic Boss. Yes, a thousand times yes to all cottage industry printed matter from the developing world.


Tumblr: theofficeofcultureanddesign
Facebook: theofficeocd
Twitter: theofficeocd

2014: The Year According to Eric Hu

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from designer Tiffany Malakooti and musician Grant Hart  to  artists Kalup Linzy and Alejandro Cesarco—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to       […]

portait_2To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from designer Tiffany Malakooti and musician Grant Hart  to  artists Kalup Linzy and Alejandro Cesarco—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 .

Eric Hu is a designer based in New York City and a partner at Nothing in Common, a design and technology studio in Brooklyn. He received his BFA from Art Center College of Design in 2011 and his MFA from the Yale School of Art in 2013. Previously Eric was the design director at digital agency OKFocus.


Day after violence in Ferguson

BlackLivesMatter / #ICantBreathe

The injustice surrounding the treatment and deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, the unfair sentencing of Marissa Alexander, and countless of other crimes against humanity caused a rupture in the racial discourse of this country. We can no longer deny that white supremacy and anti-blackness still exist at every level of society. It would be completely ignorant to go about our lives in the same way. The acts of cruelty that occurred this year are a wake-up call for this country and there’s no excuses to remain silent now.



Hashtag Activism

In the same conversation, we’ve seen the rise of social media activism as a true force for change and discussion in 2014. #BlackLivesMatter, #ICantBreathe, #BringBackOurGirls, #YesAllWomen, #NotYourAsianSidekick, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, #OccupyCentral and many other hashtags played a large role in facilitating organization and discussion. It’s important to note most these hashtags were initiated and spearheaded by women of color, who all too often have their contributions sidelined, re-appropriated or completely erased as their work reaches a wide audience. For example, #BlackLivesMatter was created by Alicia Garcia, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tomet after the death of Trayvon Martin.


I went with my friend Rob Matthews to see this at Tribeca Film Festival this year. It’s about a 19-year old in Britain, prematurely transferred to an adult prison—the same prison that houses his father. Both of us were stunned at Jack O’Connell’s performance and the bleak hopelessness the director painted.


It’s pretty safe to say that, in the rap world, every year in recent memory is Atlanta’s year. Still, the music we’ve heard so far from that city has felt completely different during these past twelve months. Without a question the artists of Awful Records such as Father, Ethereal, Archibald Slim (and some indirectly affiliated acts such as ILoveMakonnen, Key! and OG Maco) have introduced new life in the music scene with an undeniably different sound. As head of Awful Records, Father has kept a spirited DIY approach (the label started out as a graphic design project), producing instrumentals from himself as well as other artists on the roster along with a lot of the cover design and illustration.



JACK댄스 NYC 2014

Simon Whybray’s London club night sensation jumped on a World tour and swung through New York City at China Chalet last October. Everything from the lineup, the visual branding, seeing nearly all my friends from the Internet in one place, the crowd control, and of course, Whybray’s infectious joy were on-point. I don’t remember what I saw or heard half the time, but I remember how I felt the whole time.



Mould Map 3

Mould Map is a comics/narrative art anthology series that’s one of the most well art-directed, immaculately printed publications in that genre. The third issue features 224 pages of gorgeously reproduced work from artists such as Daniel Swan, Jonny Negron, and Sam Alde rendered in more spot-colors than I care to count. I mean, I’m all about the nice and delicate art books that come out of Roma publications printed on Munken paper with the cerebral essays typeset on twelve columns and everything, but at the end of the day it feels so good to just come across a collection of pure formal rawness. Definitely a moving eulogy to all the haters.



Rae Sremmurd, “No Type

It was late September; I was getting a burger on South 2nd and Havemayer in Brooklyn. Extremely hungover and not in any sort of mood to hear loud noises, the first line of the chorus comes blaring out of this green Mitsubishi Eclipse a few feet away from me. The opening line was followed by this perfectly timed pause before the second line introduced itself just as vividly. I pretty much jerked my head as if I had been smacked across the face, instantly falling in love with the crescendo and decrescendo of Swae Lee’s voice. The light turned green and the car sped away before I could hear the rest of the track. I’ll defer to David Drake’s take on it: “The hook is obvious, immediate, perfectly calculated in all its brash vitality: just a scant impression of a melody, a quick one-two-three punch that’s as memorable [as] NBC chimes. ‘No Type’ revolves around a simple strand of an idea, perfectly framed and executed—the platonic ideal of a hit.”



O.G. Maco, “U Guessed It”

If you asked me at the beginning of the year if a rap track, relying on nothing but a juvenile melody consisting of three single piano notes in A# with single note in D# and a loud voice, would make entire crowds lose their minds like this song does, I would’ve said, “I guess that’s theoretically possible, but we’ll have to see.” If you ask me now I would say, “Not only is this indeed possible, there is a verifiable precedent for this exact scenario.” What a great year for music.



Tobias Frere-Jones / Jonathan Hoefler

One of the largest type foundries in the industry split up, went to court over millions of dollars and a loss of nearly one’s entire life’s work, and made headlines in all major news publications—definitely not on good terms. I can’t really think of a bigger event that occurred in the design world this year. The whole situation is really sad and I’m just glad it got resolved. (#IStandWithTobias though)


Yuri Kochiyama

Rest in Power.

2014: The Year According to Tiffany Malakooti

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designers Eric Hu and Omar Sosa to artist Korakrit Arunanondchai and Arab Image Foundation director Rima Mokaiesh—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to […]

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designers Eric Hu and Omar Sosa to artist Korakrit Arunanondchai and Arab Image Foundation director Rima Mokaiesh—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 . 

Tiffany Malakooti is an independent graphic designer working primarily with artists and related institutions. She is also head of special projects at Bidoun, where she has collaborated on archival projects and events with the Beirut Art Center, Cabinet Space, PS1, the Serpentine Gallery, UbuWeb, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.



Rouhani World Cup Self Portrait

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani brought great joy to my heart when he tweeted this image of himself watching the Nigeria vs. Iran game during this year’s World Cup. The prop styling is positively flawless; the rug rolling up where the TV stand has been moved, the virginal fruit plate and still-too-hot-to-drink tea, the cushion behind the back and the posture and the placement of hands— the sight of a head of state and high ranking cleric in track pants! Heaven!


#HashemElMadani #AkramZaatari one week left to see #HereAndElsewhere @newmuseum

A video posted by Bidoun (@bidounmagazine) on

Akram Zaatari: Endnote

Hashem El Madani, a prolific 20th-century Lebanese studio photographer, and Akram Zaatari, who through his research and archival efforts is largely responsible for the wide-reaching circulation of Madani’s images, sit in Madani’s Studio Shehrazade in Saïda and observe a laptop.



BiBi’s Combover

Here we have a strong somatic allegory for a political situation taking place atop the body of one of its principal actors—it’s really incredible!


K8 Hardy: Face 2 Face

“I’d rather be working with like two full time assistants and a manager and an agent and lots of temporary staff floating in and out of my studio, but it’s just me. Sometimes I have an intern for one or two days a week, but it’s never enough to get the momentum of feeling like I’m on top of the operation. Is this my own fault and my shortcomings said the woman voice inside my head. It’s harder to say there’s a glass ceiling in the art world then in like a more traditional industry. It’s all about luck and dick-sucking. Let me just be clear that when I say dick-sucking, I mean having some reverence for the patriarchy. You know, encouraging it or just living it without any or very little critical thought. I want to say that I encourage the actual act of sucking dick and hope everyone that wants a dick in their mouth can get one in their mouth. Yet, somehow there is a reality that if you do want a dick in your mouth, it’s the privileged member with whom you have a relationship. Know what I mean? I need to say these kind of provocative things to get people’s attention. It’s a lesbian thing.”



Xavier Dolan: Mommy

Xavier Dolan’s Mommy touches a previously undiscovered g-spot between the diagesis and mimesis of emotions, sentimentality, and relational dynamics. It doesn’t look terribly different than the standard formula, but actually its really a totally different formula; it seems so obvious that I’m not sure why I’ve never seen a film like this before.



Divide n Conquer


Gina Prince-Bythewood: Beyond the Lights

Despite being one of my all-time favorite movies, the ending of Love and Basketball has always rubbed me the wrong way. Beyond the Lights did not rub me the wrong way and I earnestly support this brand of applied feminism.


Diana Taurasi / Seimone Augustus

Technically this happened in 2013.



Daily Show / Onion / Etc.

Sanity / hope / catharsis



# # # #

This might just turn out to be an important year for USA.

Booksfromthefuture Summer School 2014

   Booksfromthefuture is a ten-day summer workshop in London on book design that focuses on self-initiated, practice-based inquiry. Participants of the programme will each design a section of the 1884 science fiction novel Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, to be published by Booksfromthefuture in collaboration with designer Dante Carlos. In this setting, thinking and making will be experienced simultaneously rather than as separate phases […]

flatland1  flatland2

Booksfromthefuture is a ten-day summer workshop in London on book design that focuses on self-initiated, practice-based inquiry. Participants of the programme will each design a section of the 1884 science fiction novel Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, to be published by Booksfromthefuture in collaboration with designer Dante Carlos. In this setting, thinking and making will be experienced simultaneously rather than as separate phases of the design process. As a re-imagining of story and format, participants will discover both individual and collaborative methods that blend research and practice into a single act.

Booksfromthefuture mentors designers and artists to become independent thinkers and practitioners with the experience and confidence to initiate and sustain their own projects, collaborations and futures.

15 places available
7–18 July 2014
Application deadline 20 May 2014

For more information on how to apply, visit booksfromthefuture.

Muriel Cooper: Turning Time into Space

We hope to make the tools and to use them. “She often wandered around barefoot… and climbed up on tables when she was excited about a project… Muriel was clearly in her element, making trouble,” recounted MIT Press editors Larry Cohen and Roger Conover. Muriel Cooper, who was best known for articulating the graphic language […]

We hope to make the tools and to use them.


“She often wandered around barefoot… and climbed up on tables when she was excited about a project… Muriel was clearly in her element, making trouble,” recounted MIT Press editors Larry Cohen and Roger Conover. Muriel Cooper, who was best known for articulating the graphic language of MIT for more than 40 years, also challenged the limitations of contemporary communication. As a troublemaker, she conceptually (and literally) transformed conventional principles of design into new strategies for visualizing information. And her enthusiasm for shaking things up was matched by her eagerness for working with emerging technologies, a precursor to our increasingly seamless relationship with information and tech. All while barefoot.


Installation view of Messages and Means: Muriel Cooper at MIT; Photo: James Ewing Photography

Captured through memories, ephemera, video clips, publications, and other works, Cooper is the focus of the exhibition Messages and Means: Muriel Cooper at MIT, currently on view at the Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery at Columbia in New York City. I recently had a chance to catch up with co-curators David Reinfurt and Robert Wiesenberger to talk about this project.

Hello David and Rob. Can you tell us a little about yourselves?

Robert Wiesenberger: Hi Dante. I’m a PhD candidate in art history at Columbia. Officially, I study 20th-century architecture, though I also tend to focus a lot on design, variously defined. This fall I began teaching a seminar on graphic design history in the MFA program at the Yale School of Art.

David Reinfurt: I am a graphic designer in a fairly expanded sense. I am often working on projects which aren’t strictly graphic design, or not in the way it is conventionally understood, and these can be set in art contexts as often as not. Much of my work is together with Stuart Bailey under the name Dexter Sinister. I also work with Stuart and Angie Keefer on The Serving Library, an online and printed publishing project. I also teach at Princeton University and this feeds my practice. Finally, I also do projects on my own or with other people, such as this one with Rob.

MRC photo : foot on table 1969

Muriel Cooper in conversation with unidentified males at MIT, 1970s

Who was Muriel Cooper?

RW: Muriel Cooper (1925–1994) was a graphic designer who spent the bulk of her career working at MIT. In the mid-50s, she started as a designer in the Office of Publications. By the mid-60s she was the first Design Director at the MIT Press, where she rationalized their production system and designed classic books like The Bauhaus (1969) and Learning from Las Vegas (1972), along with about 500 others. In the mid-70s she founded the Visible Language Workshop in MIT’s Department of Architecture, where she taught experimental printing and hands-on production. And by the mid-80s, she was a founding member of the MIT Media Lab, designing early computer interfaces.


Muriel Cooper, Poster to promote The Bauhaus, 1969

Why were you interested in collaborating on an exhibition about her work?

DR: I first bumped into Muriel’s work shortly after she delivered a talk at the fifth TED Conference in Monterey, California in 1994. She presented radical new work in computer interface design, showing a constellation of three-dimensional typographic interfaces developed with her students and colleagues at the Visible Language Workshop in the MIT Media Lab. I had just started a job in the brand-new area of “interaction design” at IDEO in San Francisco, working for a former student of Muriel’s. At this point, her work was everywhere — the cover of ID Magazine for example. And it was the model for what we were trying to do there. She passed away unexpectedly soon after the TED talk and I had often been surprised (dismayed) that the provocations she offered were not taken up more fully in the following years.


Muriel Cooper with David Small, Suguru Ishizaki and Lisa Strauseld, still from Information Landscapes, 1994

RW: My first exposure to Muriel was on my bookshelf, looking at her designs for classics of art and architectural history in the ’60s and ’70s, and her seven-bar colophon that still appears on the spine of every MIT Press Book. The story only got better when I learned about her work with interfaces.

Muriel-install--Walls-2-3 Muriel-install--Book-flats Muriel-install--Bauhaus-2 Muriel-install--Asterisk

Could you walk us through the exhibition? What can we expect to see?

RW: This show brings together Muriel’s photos, sketches, prints, mechanicals, books, and videos. In many ways, preparing it was a media archaeology of the very recent past: We salvaged some incredible materials, from a variety of sources, and in an amazing range of formats (slides, digital and audio cassettes, laser discs, etc.).


“Graphics and New Technology.” Slide talk by Muriel Cooper at MIT’s Visible Language Workshop, 1981. Download this podcast via iTunes or iTunes for iPhone/iPad, or view in the iTunes store.

The GSAPP exhibitions team did a smart job creating a custom steel structure that suspends three long walls in the gallery, two of them angled. The works are sandwiched between sheets of clear plexi, and appear to float. We tried to mix media, as Muriel would, and treat all media in the same way. We also wanted to mix visual and verbal material, reveal process and show some of Cooper’s teaching materials. Work by students and colleagues runs through the show — traditional notions of authorship weren’t terribly important, and it was an extremely collaborative environment. In many cases, Muriel is the author of the process or system, or created the environment in which it was produced, whether or not she designed the graphic you’re looking at.


Muriel Cooper, Sketch for the MIT Press colophon, 1963–1964

RW: The three panels broadly — over-simplistically — reflect the three overlapping phases of her career: As a designer (for the Office of Publications and MIT Press), as a teacher (for the Visible Language Workshop), and as a researcher. The chronology is loose, but generally follows these three successive phases. Still, we don’t want to suggest a lockstep teleology toward new media, that all Muriel’s work culminated in the digital. We think her concerns with production and rapid feedback were quite consistent throughout, that the tools (many of which she made or modified) finally caught up with her.

DR: Central to our approach is Muriel’s idea of responsive graphic systems and design processes that embed an explicit feedback loop. Describing Messages and Means, the course she taught at MIT and which gives our exhibition its name, she said:

Messages and Means was design and communication for print that integrated the reproduction tools as part of the thinking process and reduced the gap between process and product.”


Muriel Cooper and Ron MacNeil, Messages and Means course poster, designed and printed at the Visible Language Workshop, MIT, c. 1974

RW: We included a handful of Muriel’s key books on art, design, and architecture in the show. She also produced beautiful books on chemistry and geophysics, but she was really involved with the debates on architecture, design, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, and so on; this environment at MIT and in Cambridge more broadly, full of Bauhäusler and remarkable researchers, both shaped her, and was shaped by her. These few, full books in the show (we show many other book covers) form a kind of spine for an intellectual history that runs through it. They’re overdetermined, in terms of both form and content.

Muriel Cooper for Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, A Significance for A&P Parking Lots, or Learning from Las Vegas (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1972).

Muriel Cooper for Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, A Significance for A&P Parking Lots, or Learning from Las Vegas (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1972).

For example, Nicholas Negroponte’s The Architecture Machine (1970) is interesting both as a design object and as an insight into the AI (artificial intelligence systems) being developed at MIT at the time — for him about architecture, for her about graphic design. Muriel worked with Negroponte and his Architecture Machine Group, which evolved into the MIT Media Lab, where Cooper taught. The idea with these books is that, given the premium on “visual communication,” you really can pick them up in the gallery and get a good sense of what they’re about. 

What was the exhibition process like?

DR: We spent a ton of time in archives, making some kind of order, and trying to understand various artefacts — what were they, who made them, how were they intended? Talking to Muriel’s many, still-active colleagues and students was crucial to figuring out what was what. The selection process was frankly quite tricky: Selecting a small group of outstanding objects was difficult as her interests remained consistent, but neither the media nor the situations stayed still. So it was challenging to pick what to show. Plus it was the first time a show like this has been organized since Muriel died in ’94. (Though there was a small exhibition convened in that year, at MIT, by Cooper’s friend, Tom Wong, who also consolidated her papers at MassArt.)


Muriel Cooper and MIT Press Design Department for Donis A. Dondis, A Primer of Visual Literacy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1973).

Colophon Artwork

Muriel Cooper, mechanical artwork for the MIT Press colophon, 1963–4

What was the MIT’s relationship to design at the time she began working there?


Gyorgy Kepes

RW: MIT was doing serviceable design work when Muriel began there. Gyorgy Kepes, a former colleague of Moholy-Nagy’s, and since 1947 a teacher at MIT, thought MIT’s design presence could be much stronger and suggested that they hire a dedicated designer for their Office of Publications. Both there and at the MIT Press Muriel created systems to standardize formats and production and give a consistent look to publications. And her earliest work at MIT — which we debated whether or not to include — is in fact quite “pretty” in a mid-century way that Paul Rand would be proud of (and indeed was proud of; Cooper met Rand during a brief stint at ad agencies in New York, and he later recommended her to work for the MIT Press). It’s not really representative of her later work, which is rougher, and more about process and dynamism, but does suggest her formation, and a point of departure.

It is not hard to imagine Moholy using a computer.


Muriel Cooper, self-portrait with Polaroid SX-70, video imaged and printed at the Visible Language Workshop, MIT, c. 1982

Cooper claims that the Office of Publications — renamed “Design Services” under her tenure — was the first dedicated design program at an American university. We couldn’t confirm that, but it certainly was one of the first. Likewise, no academic publisher had the kind of dedicated design department that she established at the MIT Press, and nobody else’s typography was as modern. Clearly Cambridge was an exciting place for design. When Cooper started at MIT, Gyorgy Kepes was teaching there, and Walter Gropius was the head of the Harvard GSD.

… make more intelligible the highly complex language of science… and articulate in symbolic, graphic form the order and beauty inherent in the scientist’s abstract vision.


Letter from Muriel Cooper to Jeffery Cruikshank on the Visible Language Workshop letterhead. Excerpt from the exhibition booklet, with extended captions keyed by panel number. Download the PDF here.

Were there other designers at the time who were exploring themes Cooper was also interested in?


Jaqueline Casey

RW: Definitely. Muriel hired her college classmate Jacqueline Casey to work at Design Services. She would soon head the office until her retirement in 1989. Casey, Ralph Coburn and Dietmar Winkler were the core of that office, and they also had guest designers, one of whom, from Basel, pretty much got them on their Helvetica kick.

3054 Jacqueline-Casey_poster1 3117_0 3111

They recall that people like Gerstner and Müller-Brockmann also came through the office. So Muriel imbibed a lot of this “International Style” typography from her colleagues, and no doubt from what she was reading. It’s not something she, or anyone else at the time, would’ve gotten from an American design program. It’s a visual language she used, but also reworked significantly.

Experiment and play as a part of professional discipline is difficult at best. This is not only true of an offset press but of all activities where machines are between the concept and the product.

 murielcooper003_web murielcooper004_web murielcooper005_web murielcooper006_web murielcooper007_web murielcooper008_web murielcooper009_web murielcooper010_web murielcooper011_web murielcooper013_web murielcooper014_web

Design Quarterly 142, Walker Art Center Archives

Design Quarterly 142, Walker Art Center Archives

What do you think was her interest in transitioning between spaces, from print to digital, or from flat to dimensional?

DR: Muriel was frustrated with the limitations of the printed page, and always interested in quicker feedback, non-linear experiences and the layering of information. She used an offset printing press, as she said, as “an interactive medium.” So when she first encountered computers, it was clear that these would present even greater possibilities.

RW: Integrating word and image on screen (“Typographics”), in a way that filtered and communicated information based on the reader/user’s interest, was her goal. The computer screen offered more depth, and information environments — real or simulated — offered more possibilities for orientation within this space. It was crucial to her that information be usable. She saw the designer’s job as creating dynamic environments through which information would stream, rather than designing unique and static objects.

Do you think she was aware of how deep our contemporary relationship would be with technology and interfaces?

RW: Muriel seems to have always had the newest gizmo, whether it was a special digital watch or the highest-resolution computer displays available outside NASA —  and whether or not she always knew exactly how to use them (she was a bit of a klutz). It also seems that she predicted so much of our connection to interfaces and the need for them to be intuitive and anticipatory. Yet even she may have been surprised at the extent of it. And very likely frustrated. Not so much at their usability — so many products are pretty and intuitive — but at their inflexibility, their resistance to being hacked, or to using them to make new things. I think she would also be deeply troubled by their intrusiveness, and current questions of privacy and mass surveillance. As she noted in an essay for the Walker’s Design Quarterly in 1989 (one of the few that she would publish), artificial intelligence in computers presents important ethical questions for the designer of these systems. Coupled with her awareness of the corporate and defense sponsorship model for the MIT Media Lab, which was indispensable for her research, the question of the ends to which her research might be put was not far from her mind. In addition to being a technologist, she was, I think, always also a humanist.

Some people believe that the computer will eventually think for itself. If so, it is crucial that designers and others with humane intentions involved in the way it develops.

Does the exhibition addresses any contemporary issues in design around communication and information?

DR: We don’t make the connections explicit, but we think they’re absolutely present at every turn. Muriel’s words, in some of the documents we show, are incredibly prophetic, and her process is no less relevant today than it was then.

As curators of the exhibition, has this project influenced your own thoughts about your relationship with design?

DR: We had an idea that this exhibition would document her work, her persistent concerns, and her generous spirit while also serving as a charge or challenge to those thinking about these things today to pick up these ideas and develop them.

RW: There’s so much work to do in studying and presenting graphic design to a broader public. We hope this show generates  interest in Cooper, and in the field — but as the kind of inter- or anti-disciplinary one she envisioned. At one point, in our earlier descriptions, we called the exhibition both an archival project and a manifesto for future production.


This stands as a sketch for the future. Best wishes, Muriel

Messages and Means: Muriel Cooper at MIT runs from February 25 to April 17, with galleries open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 12 to 6 pm at the Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery in Columbia University. Afterwards, the exhibition tours to the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And as a bonus, here is Muriel presenting an Insights lecture at the Walker in 1987, pulled from our archives and unpublished until now.

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 […]

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.


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.


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.




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?


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.

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



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.



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.


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.

Painter Painter: Exhibition Identity

Painter Painter, co-curated by Eric Crosby and Bartholomew Ryan, is the Walker’s latest contemporary painting show. Comprised entirely of new works, it serves as a open conversation on the medium of painting today, and how these fifteen artists deal with the role of the “painter”. Instead of being weighed down by the history of abstraction […]

Painter Painter, co-curated by Eric Crosby and Bartholomew Ryan, is the Walker’s latest contemporary painting show. Comprised entirely of new works, it serves as a open conversation on the medium of painting today, and how these fifteen artists deal with the role of the “painter”. Instead of being weighed down by the history of abstraction in the 20th century, the artists in the show use the process to clarify their own visual vocabulary, and find complex potential in a medium bound by the four simple corners of a rectangle. Well, that is, when they are rectangles:

ex2013pp_art_zuckerman_004 ex2013pp_art_vance_002ex2013pp_art_mayton_001 ex2013pp_art_heikes_003

Our initial sketches for the identity started out as purely typographic solutions, shying away from anything that was too mannered or too painterly, I suppose. Because the nature of the show was more akin to a dialogue between painters with different studio practices rather than a definitive survey of contemporary painting, we were looking for a typeface that had a kind of voice that was open, casual, and engaging. We quickly landed on Cooper (a family of weights developed by Bitstream, but based on Oswald Cooper’s original typeface Cooper Black in 1920s) and were drawn to its calligraphic qualities, and its versatility as both a display and a book face.


As we were going through this process, we kept going back to language as the base of the identity, trying to surface a sort of overall voice that could speak for all the artists in the exhibition. (It was also a way to avoid using particular pieces to represent the exhibition as a whole, as that didn’t make too much sense, conceptually.) At this point, nothing was really that interesting to us, other than the visual look of the words. But then, for some reason, we noticed the way punctuation marks were drawn and modeled in the typeface, and wondered if there was an idea in there we could use.

painterpainter-9 painterpainter-8 painterpainter-24

Punctuation marks help to define the rhythm of a sentence, the tone of language, the character of voice, depth of information; heavy tasks for things that are basically dots, dashes, and loops in the written word. But they’re also just marks. Paintings in a way could be traditionally understood as a series of marks built up on a surface, this time on canvas (mostly), rather than on paper or screen, but by no means do these type of marks lack the same conceptual weight as punctuation.


Alex Olson, one of the painters in the exhibition, describes the marks she makes as signifiers, visual gestures that suggest many things, references both within the unbearable history of painting, but also in daily life. Some marks look like a product of reproduction, some marks explicitly exaggerate the notion of the brushstroke as a unique moment, and sometimes, if you’re really fancy, it does both. Even the absence of the mark in painting is kind of a mark in itself, the attempt  trying to conceal the act of painting itself.

marksFrom this new conceptual standpoint, we finally created these “ditto” marks as a way to graphically represent the title of the exhibition. In the way that these quite literally refer to the repetition of the word “painter” in the name, they forefront the mark as the basis for many of the paintings in the show. Even the repetitive nature of the marks themselves suggest production and reproduction, constantly painting as a way to refine and clarify their own strategies as they tackle each work, which are then endlessly re-blogged in a contemporary context that shares images of these works online and in print. I think this provided a unique visual entry point into the ideas of the exhibition, and was a natural complement to Cooper. It could stand alone as a graphic gesture, or it could impose itself on other things, or hide itself as a discrete signifier. Here are some of our initial sketches exploring these ideas:


va2012painter_preview_invite_3 va2012painter_preview_invite_4 va2012painter_preview_invite_p1  va2012painter_preview_invite_6 va2013painter_bus_poster_samp4 va2013painter_bus_poster_samp va2013painter_bus_poster_samp3 va2013painter_bus_poster_samp9 va2013painter_bus_poster_samp7 va2013painter_bus_poster_samp8 va2013painter_bus_poster_samp11 painter_painter_gallery_guide_1 painter_painter_gallery_guide_12 painter_painter_gallery_guide_15  painter_painter_gallery_guide_10 painter_painter_gallery_guide_4 painter_painter_gallery_guide_3painter_painter_gallery_guide_11painter_painter_gallery_guide_14    painter_painter_gallery_guide_6 painter_painter_gallery_guide_7painter_painter_gallery_guide_8

∴ After going through this sketching process, here is how the final identity system turned out:

Admission passes & event flyer (gate fold with translucent metallic spot):


Landing page for Studio Sessions blog posts:


Posters in the Garden Café and bus shelter:


Title graphics (translucent cut vinyl marks layered on phototex printed vinyl—the marks get switched out in new colors on both title graphics over time):


Gallery guide: Notes for an exhibition (Marks gloss coated on the cover. *Notice where the staples align.):



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

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

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



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


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


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






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

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

IMG_3075 IMG_3050
And a final note for those in the New York area, ROLU is currently part of the group exhibition Under $500 at Mondo Cane which runs from December 13th–January 3rd. The opening reception is literally right now (December 13th 6-9 pm). All works are under $500 and includes artists and designers such as Andy Beach, Eric Timothy Carlson, Matt Connors, Ditte Gantriis, Gemma Holt, Doug Johnson, Clemens Kois, Max Lamb, Mary Manning, Ian McDonald, Jonathan Nesci, Jim Oliveira, Study O Portable, and Omar Sosa & Nathalie du Pasquier.

Recent Work

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

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

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

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

Brochure for Walker librarian Rosemary Furtak’s memorial

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

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

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

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

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