Blogs The Gradient Dante Carlos

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 […]

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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 […]

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We hope to make the tools and to use them.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.).

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“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.

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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:

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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.”

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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.)

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

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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?

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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.

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It is not hard to imagine Moholy using a computer.

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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.

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… 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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Messages-and-Means

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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 […]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

 

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∴ 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):

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Landing page for Studio Sessions blog posts:

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Posters in the Garden Café and bus shelter:

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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):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Work

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

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


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


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


Brochure for Walker librarian Rosemary Furtak’s memorial

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

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

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

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

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

Over-Booked: Temporary housing + shelter

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


Live from the New York Art Book Fair!

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

 

Over-Booked: Eric Wrenn

It was probably sometime in 2003 when Eric Wrenn and I noticed that we were the only ones on LiveJournal that had “Josef Müller-Brockmann” as a shared interest. This is something that still is both a badge of honor, and perhaps, an embarrassing fact. But what was fascinating was the combination of our obsession with […]

It was probably sometime in 2003 when Eric Wrenn and I noticed that we were the only ones on LiveJournal that had “Josef Müller-Brockmann” as a shared interest. This is something that still is both a badge of honor, and perhaps, an embarrassing fact. But what was fascinating was the combination of our obsession with Swiss modernism in a medium for teenage bloggers. Fast forward, Eric still likes to mix the high and low as an established designer and art director in New York, and is most known for his work on the music publication ‘SUP. And now that we’re both finally professionals after all these years, I had a chance to catch up and see how the magazine is going, and what else he’s been working on lately.

Hey Eric. What have you been up to lately?

I’ve been working a lot with a new fashion label, Eckhaus Latta—logotype, invitations, website, hangtags, packaging for some upcoming collaborations, and actually a print that made it into their last collection. And lately I’ve been doing some freelance work at Wolff Olins in New York. I like what’s happening right now and I’m looking forward to the future.

Can you talk a bit about how you got involved with ‘SUP MAGAZINE and what’s involved in producing an issue?

I’ve worked with Brendan Dugan, the creative director, on a bunch of projects at his studio, An Art Service. I started working on ‘SUP maybe 5 or 6 years ago, now I’m working on it mostly at my studio, and we go back and forth. The magazine evolves with each new issue. There were 21 shoots and interviews. I just got back from the press check in Belgium.


How was Belgium? Why print over there?

A lot of really great magazines print at Die Keure for a reason. It was a really great experience—they’re passionate about what they do. Plus, why print somewhere conveniently located?

‘SUP looks quite different when I first encountered it randomly outside Ooga Booga in LA a few years back.

Marisa Brickman, the publisher, started it in 1998 when she was in college. The first issues were photocopied – its gone through a lot of visual iterations, but it stays true to its “DIY” spirit.

Do you have a say in the editorial process?

We all live in different places so we use a google document and work collaboratively to set things up. I’ve assigned interviews, chosen some questionable pull quotes.


Do you guys aim for anything thematic for each issue?

There’s never a theme, at least consciously. What ends up in each issue actually has a lot to do with artist availability.

Then… how do you know then that an issue is complete?

At a certain point it’s about actually sticking to a deadline. This time we had the book fair.


How do you think ‘SUP distinguishes itself from other music/culture magazines out there?

I think of ‘SUP as a mixture between Interview and Bop, two magazines I really like. ‘SUP has a lightness to it, but it’s dense. We’ll run seven full-bleed photos of Grimes alongside a six page interview with Genesis P-Orridge. Also, we don’t publish reviews or use pre-existing press photos, which is really unusual for a music magazine.

Do you have a view or opinion about music or music magazines, in general?

There’s less demand for music magazines than in the past—we have the internet now. Have you looked at Rolling Stone recently?

Honestly, I haven’t. Though, I still can’t think of Rolling Stone in terms of a website. I still associate it with a physical magazine. Maybe the demand is sort of the same way that some people (myself included) romanticize buying the album and the artwork/liner notes along with it, instead of just getting a jpg attached to an mp3?

Totally. When you flip through a really nice magazine—the weight of the paper, the way it sits in your hands, the consideration of the margins, the smell—there’s nothing really to say about a PDF.


Yeah, other than its filler for a frame like an iPad. But hey, what about a pdf version of ‘SUP?

No thanks.

Transitioning to another part of your practice: do you think you approach designing catalogues differently than a magazine?

Sure, I think different circumstances call for different solutions.

Do you find any overlap of some sort between the two ways of working?

I guess in both situations I strive for editorial involvement.

Tell us a bit about your process with The Book that Makes Itself. How did the artist want you to approach the design and organization?

Robin Cameron approached me during her first year of graduate school at Columbia. Before school she was working as a graphic designer, but she wanted to erase that part of her practice and be an artist—a big underlying theme of the book. We ended up working together deeper than either of us had anticipated on the structure of her writing. In the end what we came up with (a three-act play) defined what the book would look like.


Why the idea of a play?

It just seemed like the right thing to do based on the way Robin’s writing was going.

The Book that Makes Itself feels pretty quiet compared to your other work. Do you think that catalogues for artists or galleries should be more subtle, or do you think an bolder moves like what you do with ‘SUP have a place in these publications?

It’s funny that you say the design of that book is quiet, I think it’s pretty wild. The book has three “curtains” that open and close each act. There’s a spotlight. The stage is a metaphor for graduate school. The Book That Makes Itself has no cover—the clear dust jacket shows the skeleton of the book, making itself. I think bold moves can be subtle and meaningful. On the other hand, sometimes with ‘SUP the boldest thing is the dumbest thing.


But just because something is dumb, does that mean it’s not valid?

Not at all. I’m into dumb stuff.

As am I. Maybe its a populist thing?

Well, it’s not a cynical thing.


Speaking of galleries, could you talk about the catalogue you made for Real Fine Arts, Available Work?

Real Fine Arts had an idea about the aesthetic they were looking for – they wanted a glossy white cover, so we started there. The catalogue was made for their booth at the NADA art fair in Miami. They wanted to sell some art and show their history, so the book showcases “Work” that was “Available”, and press releases from all the exhibitions they’d had up to that point. The two sections, “Available Work” and “Press Releases”, are separated by a full-bleed page of cell phone party photos from their openings. All the type is set in green.


The elevator pitch sounds so straightforward, but I feel like there’s a sophisticated wink-wink in there somewhere. Do you think that there’s a level of self-awareness like that involved in the design, or at least the decisions you’re making?

Haha. Yeah, I mean, there are a lot of things I could be doing with “design”, but sometimes I think it’s more interesting to not design. In some circumstances it’s just not appropriate.

You’re about to have an installation up at the bookstore OMMU in Athens pretty soon. Tell us about that.

I’ll be showing a collection of self-initiated printed objects. There will be postcards of Milan Zrnic’s photos that appear on my website in a spinning tourist shop postcard rack, a piece of stationery based on a flattened walkman, a zine of BlackBerry photos I took on a European vacation, a deconstructed Comme des Garçons advertisement poster, some stickers. Everything will be small and super affordable.


Yeah, I have a couple floating around my desk, including this sweet Bad Boy Club Members Card you gave me. What’s the motivation behind creating these self-initiated printed objects?

It just feels good to make stuff. And I think it’s nice to get something in the mail.

Have you done anything like an exhibition before? What’s your experience so far?

I think designing for a space is like designing anything – arranging your apartment, choosing your outfit, designing a book. You deal with ideas, pacing, composition, space, color.

And it all comes together. Thanks Eric. A couple of beers after this?

Yes, please.

Over-Booked: Joshua Trees and Yvan Martinez on Booksfromthefuture

A book has four dimensions. Or, in the words of Ulises Carrión, “a book is a sequence of spaces”, involving both temporal and spatial aspects. Without books, Art, Design & Theory would be nothing. Books are as vital to the visibility, validation and appreciation of thought and practice as museums, galleries and schools, yet tend […]

A book has four dimensions. Or, in the words of Ulises Carrión, “a book is a sequence of spaces”, involving both temporal and spatial aspects. Without books, Art, Design & Theory would be nothing. Books are as vital to the visibility, validation and appreciation of thought and practice as museums, galleries and schools, yet tend to be utilized more as a means of documentation and dissemination than as sites of enquiry, exhibition and discovery.


Booksfromthefuture is a summer school in London run by artists/designers/writers Joshua Trees and Yvan Martinez. For two weeks, twenty international participants were each asked to produce a catalog for artist Jaime Gili, one of which would be chosen as the final publication, while the other proposals would be displayed at a future exhibition of his.

As straightforward as that sounds, the two were not interested in producing something conventional. They tasked students to approach the book design conceptually, creating something that explores the aesthetic and physical aspects of ‘bookness’, and open to critical investigations of context and function. The following is a recent interview I had with Joshua and Yvan about when a book is more than just a book, and what they learned this summer.


Hey guys. Tell us a little about yourselves.

We live in the London Borough of Hackney; De Beauvoir Town, to be precise.

For the past fifteen years we’ve been collaborators. Alongside Booksfromthefuture, we both teach at Central Saint Martins and the London College of Communication.

What compelled you two to start Booksfromthefuture?

Ever since we started teaching we’ve talked about opening a space that functions as a counterpoint to both education and industry; where the hierarchy between student and tutor and between designer and client is flattened into a collaboration of equals; and where the criteria for the success or failure of a project is determined together.

That’s an interesting way to think about it, where that top-down model is probably efficient in teaching very specific and controlled information, but not necessarily conducive towards the unexpected.

In the United Kingdom, many tutors prefer to play the role of ‘facilitator’ rather than ‘art director’, which is cool but it’s a false flatness because at the end of the day the tutor is the one giving the grade in relation to often inflexible criteria.

So what does a more ideal flatness achieve?

For us, striving to flatten the hierarchy is ultimately about the negotiation of outcomes, allowing for experimentation with the relationship between user, content and system. We would like to think that if there is a genuine exchange of ideas going on between all participants, it will be reflected in the final outcome.

 
Can you give us a sense of what a typical day at school is like?

The morning usually kicks off with either an editorial meeting or discussion of a reading, followed by a freestyle working session with both tutors and students working and taking turns orbiting around to answer questions or troubleshoot technical issues. It’s a bit like Pee-wee’s Playhouse with visiting practitioners popping in at various points to give a presentation or to offer feedback.  In the afternoon we rotate between a variety of crit styles to push the work to its fullest potential. Some days are more theoretical than others, but we try to maintain a balance between thinking and doing.


Why were you two interested in using Gili’s work as a point of departure for your brief?

We see Jaime Gili as a ‘comprehensivist’, a term that Buckminster Fuller coined to describe cross-cultural and transdisciplinary thinkers and doers. Gili’s painting knows no boundaries and thrives on any surface at any scale — poster, motorcycle helmet, boat, barrio, train station, private residence, squat, skyscraper, industrial storage tank, you name it. This, coupled with his open-mindedness about us bringing a conceptualist approach to the formalist genre of the artist monograph, made him an ideal candidate for investigating the book as yet another site for expanding and experiencing both his work and ours.

   
When you were discussing the project, did you make a distinction between an artist book and a catalogue for an artist?

We analyzed both genres — artists’ books and art catalogues — in order to avoid them. For this particular workshop, we weren’t interested in the book as a means of documentation or historicization. We consider books to be spaces in their own right that can offer a unique, more direct or intimate interaction between artwork, text and reader than museums or galleries which tend to be very hands-off-the-merchandise environments, even today.

Our thinking is aligned with Ulises Carrión, who conceived the category of ‘bookworks’ for ‘books in which the book form, a coherent sequence of pages, determines conditions of reading that are intrinsic to the work.’ By intrinsic, Carrión meant coherence between the work’s messages (content), appearance (form) and reading process (rhythm). Bookworks may at first glance look like ordinary books, but upon closer inspection, embrace and exploit the sequential and physical aspects of books as spaces and modes of interaction, as opposed to neutral containers of content.

With that in mind, how do you think print-on-demand technology affects what you’re trying to investigate here?

Digital technologies continue to transform how books are accessed, produced and experienced, but this presents the perfect opportunity to rethink and perhaps free printed books from their former functions, towards a different kind of reading experience.

We’re all for the revolution of publishing and reading, and in fact, the books that were produced during our workshop are being printed using both fringe and popular methods. The final book is being printed with a risograph stencil duplicator, and the rest are being printed digitally via print-on-demand for Jaime Gili to showcase in one of his future exhibitions. Would that be an exhibition within an exhibition?

Or an exhibition within a book, within an exhibition! Kind of meta? That sort of brings up another point: do you then feel like your role is maybe analogous to a curator?

In this particular scenario, yes. Exploring the book as a space involved two interconnected curatorial frameworks: macro and micro. The macro was about defining and structuring the opportunity. For the micro, Jaime’s entire digital archive (over a decade’s worth of material) was handed over to the participants with the request to curate and display the collection in relation to the macro, including a title for the book.

That’s rare than you get to work with such a comprehensive range of content. But do you guys think it’s possible to represent everything in book format? Does it matter?

Now that such accurate and immediate forms of documentation exist, maybe artists and curators should use the book format as a portable extension of an exhibition rather than a means of reproduction, enabling people to appreciate the work from different perspectives or even offering content unavailable within the exhibition.

So I am wondering at this point, how do you two define conceptual book design?

‘Conceptual book design’ can be used to describe a diverse range of historical and contemporary publishing activities from artists’ books and fanzines to performative lectures and information environments. All have helped redefine how information and ideas can be experienced.

Is there a history or tradition of conceptually-designed books that you guys have been looking at?

For our workshop, we focused on books that explore ‘bookness’ — the aesthetic, structural and material properties of reading, whether print, digital or spatial. Based on this definition, it is difficult to trace a specific history or tradition aside from the legacies of advertising, conceptual art or Dutch design, all of which have been blending conceptual thinking, reading and culture for decades, often through graphic design.

Some of our favorite books that have explored bookness include: A-C-R-C-I-T by Guy de Cointet, an unpronounceable newspaper with articles appearing in braille, Morse code and other forms of encryption, which he distributed through local news outlets to provoke thought about the legitimacy of information; For Fans and Scholars Alike by Ulises Carrión, a book that Johanna Drucker has neatly summarized as the “genre of self-conscious codex”; Essential Word and Phrases for Tourists and Travellers by Diesel, a clothing catalogue that poses as a foreign language phrasebook; The 2010 Gerrit Rietveld Academie prospectus by Hanne Lippard, for which she carefully stacked and arranged scraps of wood from the school woodshop as abstract ‘sculptures’ to represent each academic department (instead of showcasing student work) while the page information rotates in response to each configuration; and Une etrangére lit L’Étranger (An outsider reading The Outsider) by Makoto Yamada, a new edition of the novel based on the words highlighted by a previous reader.



As self-referential as you’ve described conceptual book design, how does your own particular place and context figure into your approach to the project?

Place and context were definitely important factors. In London the growing popularity of the risograph stencil duplicator has inspired a graphic design scene that is renewing the appreciation for printed matter, especially books. There are at least five official risograph print houses operating within the city, and many more below the radar. We decided to use risograph for our book to support this local culture but also to achieve an imperfect print quality that is no longer achievable through offset printing after the invention of film-less direct-to-plate technology. We felt this was in tune with Jaime Gili’s work since he references Modernist utopias that are still alive today.

So tell us about the book chosen for Gili’s exhibition.

The final book, Jaime Gili: Repetition, designed by Hyunho Choi, departs from tendencies that can be observed in Jaime’s work: repetition, scale and simultaneity. Hyunho’s design was chosen for having the most consistent and coherent integration of concept and form, for encompassing all four dimensions of the book, and for exploiting the risograph printing process (misregistration, halftone screens, etc.) Readers can experience Jaime’s work from different vantage points through a sequence of recurring (after)images that echo and bleed across consecutive pages while changing at varying paces through color, cropping and composition.


What were the other books like?

No two books were alike. One participant transformed an interview between Jaime Gili and Pablo León de la Barra (recorded during a train ride) into a travelogue interspersed with glimpses of the work being discussed while requiring readers to zigzag across the recto/verso page divide. Another participant manipulated Jaime’s work to the point of becoming something else, which was fascinating to watch so many thresholds being tested at once — fidelity, accessibility, legibility, etc.

Accessibility and legibility suggests you have a typical reader (or viewer) in mind?

We’re of the mindset that if we cater to existing audiences we’re likely to produce more of the same, but if we investigate the things that matter to us most, hopefully that will resonate with people with similar interests, or better yet, create new readerships.

Will there be another Booksfromthefuture next year?

In Spring 2013 we will be running a ten-week (rather than ten-day) version of the workshop in collaboration with Darren Raven and the Design for Graphic Communication course at the London College of Communication. This time we will design and publish a book on design education. We’re currently looking for contributors and a call for entries can be found on our website soon.

And finally, what did you two learn this summer?

We acquired a deeper understanding of ‘conceptual design’, by which we mean: design in which form-follows-concept, design that questions itself or its surroundings, or design in which the investigation or experience of a concept is its function. To some extent, all design is conceptual but not all design is concerned with the utility of concepts, or the strategic use of aesthetics and materials as a means of experiencing and appreciating concepts.

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