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:
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.
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.
From 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:
∴ After going through this sketching process, here is how the final identity system turned out:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
Open Field, now in it’s third year, is a summer gathering place that brings together relaxation and imagination, recreation, and exploration. We invite the public to come up with their own programs or events and to host it at the Walker’s outdoor space, or to just come and hang out with us on the grove [...]
Open Field, now in it’s third year, is a summer gathering place that brings together relaxation and imagination, recreation, and exploration. We invite the public to come up with their own programs or events and to host it at the Walker’s outdoor space, or to just come and hang out with us on the grove with some beer and brats. From conversation clubs and geodesic dome building, to analog tweeting and international internet cat film festivals, summers on the field reflect the creative and eccentric personalities in our community.
This year’s Open Field identity celebrates the diversity of activities with a set of icons inspired by scout badges. Sometimes explicit, sometimes oblique, the these visual one-liners are an opportunity to communicate something quirky, funny, or beautiful about each event. As the summer progresses, we will continue to create more badges, building up a vocabulary to employ in promotional materials, and establishing a kind of record of all the eclectic happenings the summer.
Booksfromthefuture presents a ten-day summer course in London on conceptual book design and print production for students and graduates. Taught by designers and educators Yvan Martinez and Joshua Trees, with guest talks and seminars from artist Jaime Gili and art historian Gabriela Mendoza. There are 20 places available and open to international applicants. The course [...]
Booksfromthefuture presents a ten-day summer course in London on conceptual book design and print production for students and graduates. Taught by designers and educators Yvan Martinez and Joshua Trees, with guest talks and seminars from artist Jaime Gili and art historian Gabriela Mendoza. There are 20 places available and open to international applicants. The course runs from July 9–20.
Jamie Gili is a Venezuelan artist based in london. Participants will each design a book about his work, focusing on his lesser known practice of wall paintings installed in private spaces, whilst exploring the book as a contemporary project space. One book will be selected for publication and all books will be showcased in one of Gili’s future exhibitions.
Booksfromthefuture is both a publisher and a school. Conceived as a think-and-do tank, Booksfromthefuture unites scholarship and apprenticeship towards the production of books that investigate different tomorrows in publishing in collaboration with external clients. Booksfromthefuture champions conceptual design through practical production. Books that question and experiment with ‘bookness’, whether print, digital or spatial. 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.
For more information about Bookfromthefuture and the course, visit their website.
Minneapolis and Los Angeles transportation histories run parallel: both had extensive streetcar systems, now dismantled, and both are now working to rebuild that infrastructure. In a new interview, Metro LA creative director Michael Lejeune and Hennepin County planner Lisa Middag discuss transit, opportunity, and jettisoning, as Lejeune puts it, “that road rage that’s sucking up your soul.”
As seemingly dissimilar as two cities could be, Minneapolis and Los Angeles have parallel histories in terms of public transportation. Minneapolis once had 530 miles of streetcar service, while LA’s extensive streetcar network was the envy of the country. Both have since been dismantled, and both cities are now working to rebuild their transitway systems. Part and parcel of that process is the communication necessary to promote public transportation options in these car-centric locales. For a discussion on the topic, we invited Michael Lejeune, creative director of Metro LA (and speaker at next week’s Insights Design Lecture), to join Hennepin County planner Lisa Middag to talk about transit, opportunity, and jettisoning “that road rage that’s sucking up your soul.”
LA Metro Rail and Liner map
Hey Lisa and Michael, let’s start by telling us what do you do at Metro LA and Hennepin County.
Michael Lejeune: I lead a team of talented designers who collectively are responsible for all things visible at Metro, the nation’s third largest public transportation system. We create every element of Metro’s visual communication, including brand elements, advertising, wayfinding, and environmental graphics, timetables, maps, fare media, and customer information, bus and rail fleet design, web, and mobile presence, and merchandising. Day to day, I design, I review and approve design, I art direct, I set strategy, I do a lot of writing as the primary author of Metro’s voice. And I cajole, plead, and bargain to keep a couple thousand projects per year moving toward deadlines.
Minneapolis/St. Paul transitway map that includes the planned Southwest LRT and Bottineau lines
Lisa Middag: I’m a planner working on Southwest LRT and the Bottineau Transitway—two major transit projects in Hennepin County. We work collaboratively with the cities along these corridors and other partners (including the local transit authority) to develop land-use policies and plans that will leverage the best economic development outcomes from these large transit investments. So, we’re working to provide a full range of housing options, stimulate business and job growth, and enable transit-oriented development along these transit corridors.
What got you interested in working in public transportation?
Michael: I cannot tell a lie. I wasn’t seeking a job in the public sector, or at an in-house studio, or in transportation. The position of creative director had just been created and a colleague let me know about it. It was the right time in my life for a change, and I threw my hat in the candidate ring. Now, nine years later, this job has brought me to so many interesting new frontiers (like having the thrill of speaking at the Walker). And I have grown to love the wonky side of public transportation, and all the vital ideas and advances that this sector brings. It’s proved, for me, a job with the perfect combination of high-level strategic thinking and everyday making. I’m really lucky: I get to roll up my sleeves and think about LA’s future and how transportation can make that future really work. And every day I also hit the boards and actually design as well. Plus, working with a smart, dedicated, passionate team. It’s heaven, mostly.
Lisa: It’s one of the most critical issues to the long-term sustainability of our region. With our growing immigrant and senior communities, we are becoming a much more transit-dependent population, and we can’t build our way out of our traffic congestion problems (we cannot even maintain the roads we have). People are spending increasingly higher percentages of their income on housing and transportation, so it’s really about equity and sustainability for me… and with boomers and the younger generation competing for housing in smart growth communities, the low-income folks are going to be priced out of these markets. And that’s not even touching on the health and environmental benefits, which are equally compelling.
Traffic on LA's 405...
...on a Gold Line train
How about your own experience? Any great stories on your daily commute?
Michael: Being here at Metro at this point in my life feels like karmic payback for all the time I’ve spent in LA traffic over the years. When I joined Metro, I went from two-plus hours a day in the car to the dream commute: many days, I walk or ride my bike to my local Metro Rail station, hop on board for a 16-minute ride, and then walk out of Union Station and into my office building. Of course, I am like most LA commuters: public transit doesn’t work for me every day, and I do still drive when the situation demands, but more often than not, I’m using our system and doing some great people-watching at the same time.
A sample of Metro LA's personality
No one story of my rides comes to mind, but plenty of colorful memories are playing across my brain as I think of my time on Metro. The thing that I love—and that may at first seem unappealing to the single car driver—is that you really see your city and all its varied inhabitants when you use public transit. I’m remembering many groups of young children, riding Metro on their field trips, shouting with glee every time the train would stop and start; the stout middle-aged man I saw last week waiting for the bus near my house, dressed from head to toe in bright gold Lakers shorts and jersey, including purple socks and matching wristbands and headband; the faces of people I see weekly, my fellow Gold Line riders, who I nod and smile with, though we don’t know each other’s names or stories; the woman shouting loudly about Armageddon and how today is our last chance to be saved from the fires of hell. To me, these snippets are icing on the cake, and I see them as part and parcel to being out in my city and sharing the ride.
Lisa: I ride the train almost every day, but like Michael, it doesn’t work for everything, and there are definitely days where I have a meeting at the end of the day, and I’ll be in a nearby suburb, and I do the math. It’s just faster for me to get from certain point As to certain point Bs by car. But I really believe transit is something you practice, and you get better at it. I’m much more likely to take buses now that I ride the train than I use to be. And now I carry a system map in my purse—to fend off those notions of being stranded, because our bus system is pretty good, but our mobile app is really only helpful if you know the number you want to take.
One of my favorite stories is about a guy—I think his name was Clarence—and it was his 47th birthday. He was carrying his beer right with him on the bus celebrating. But he was drawing everyone around into a conversation in honor of his birthday, talking about his grandkids, and it gave all the other riders permission to participate (because in the Twin Cities, there is a cone of silence that people observe on public transit). And into this loosened atmosphere, a guy asked which bus he’d need to catch downtown in order to get to his sister’s place in South St. Paul. And I’m sitting there with this system map, and we all start discussing the best route. Many people offered suggestions about what to avoid, so a lot of folks know this system really well, because they depend on it. It’s a choice for me, but for a lot of folks it’s a necessity.
A simulated earthquake at Universal Studios Hollywood takes place in a subway station
Can you describe the public perception of these transit options in Los Angeles and Minneapolis?
Michael: Matt Raymond, our chief communications officer, who joined Metro just before I did, has observed that LA had a ton of great service, both bus and rail, but that it seemed that very few Angelenos knew about it. This is mostly true, and it made the first leg of our design journey clear: make Metro cool, and get people to notice. But we had to do more than just say, “Here we are, give us a try.” We had to start chipping away at this idea, born and bred in LA, that the car is king, that it’s the only way to go. (Of course, having the nation’s worst traffic 26 years in a row helps us a lot in this regard.) What we have tried to do is present Metro—our bus and rail service, the idea of carpools and vanpools and biking to work and in general, sharing the ride—as an option that beats the car. At the same time, a potent portion of our messaging has been aimed at shoring up support for public transportation as a fundable idea. This means that we have, with demonstrated success, advanced recognition of the need to invest in our infrastructure. LA County has voted to tax itself not once, not twice, but three times in the last 25 years, specifically to build more rail lines, improve our highways, add bus service, and expand and improve our system. And our designed communications program has had quite a bit to do with persuading people to support this idea over the past nine years.
Lisa: Hmmm. There are a lot of transit riders in Minneapolis—there were around 80 million rides last year. But most of our ridership is by city bus with lots of stops and transfers, which means slower service. We definitely have strong commuter express service to park-and-rides in the suburbs, but this is still a region where people “drive to qualify,” so there are way more drivers than riders. Although I think (hope) these attitudes are starting to change. I love our train—I get on the Hiawatha line every day to go to work, but until the Central Corridor LRT opens in 2014, it’s still a single, high-frequency line, not a real network. (We have Northstar Commuter Rail too, which is a great addition, but it’s limited service.) And I’m one of those peculiar folks who will walk a little farther for the reliability and quality of train service (over bus).
Northstar Train in Minneapolis
The political and public piece is so important. The Twin Cities area also was successful in getting a regional transit tax passed in 2008. In fact, transit referenda have been remarkably successful across the country—I think something like more than 70 percent successful—and even in more recent years during the recession economy. So people really see a need for public investment in a working transit system. And it’s not just the general public, but our business community—the local and regional chambers of commerce—who are speaking out these days on behalf of expanding our system. They understand how it contributes to the competitiveness of an entire region and their ability to build their businesses and attract first-rate talent. Unfortunately, some of our legislators are a little behind on grasping this connection, and at the federal level it’s really a challenge.
Michael: We think of it this way: everyone who lives, works or plays in LA County is a Metro customer. We operate transit, but we also plan carpool lanes (and build them in partnership with CalTrans). We plan bikepaths and promote biking as a mode. We are the bank that parses out money for small and large local transportation projects, from local dial-a-ride service to improving pedestrian pathways around transit. We are implementing LA’s first ExpressLanes toll roads. We have the largest vanpool program in the country.
So through all these programs and many more, we touch the life of every resident and visitor every day. We want people to share the ride, but we know that the majority of Angelenos don’t or won’t try transit. For them, the important message is this: the more people who do take transit, the less cars on the road with them. With the right storytelling, that translates into a compelling case for supporting public transit through legislation and more important, tax measures that insure a steady, unraidable fund for LA County. We have voted to tax ourselves three times, and we’re looking at another ballot measure for November 2012.
Metro LA ad
So yes, Lisa is right. The public “gets it.” Sadly, Congress isn’t altogether there yet, and the dialogue of balanced budgets and reducing the national debt becomes a tool for starving transit. The big idea we are pushing now (and one that has always been true) is that transit means jobs, both to operate and build. It’s good for the economy, and it will prove good for LA County’s economy in the next 20 years. The hard part in our business is timelines: people are put off by the idea that it will take 20 years to build our subway all the way to the sea, and it will be really, really expensive. But if we don’t start now, if we don’t make steady, sometimes painful progress, we will be in serious trouble later.
So we keep the dialogue going with a steady but varied toolbox of ideas. For some: “Go Metro now; you save money, time and jettison that road rage that’s sucking up your soul.” (Wording TBD!)
But what do you think it is about cars that draws people away from these other commuting options?
Michael: I don’t know if it’s the same in other cities, because I imagine every place has its own vibe and commuting “norm,” if there is such a thing. But in LA, when you are a regular car commuter, your vehicle becomes your extended home. I’ve seen women applying eyeliner, men using their electric shaver, kids changing clothes in the back. And there are the cell phone warriors, the folks eating any- and everything for breakfast while they drive, the smokers who toss their butts out the window (what, that car doesn’t have an ashtray?), the folks with their superduper titanium travel mugs of joe. My father used to commute just 12 miles to his downtown LA job, but he would read the paper in traffic, and that habit was the undoing of his beloved BMW Bavaria when he rear-ended someone while perusing the sports section. I think people cling to their cars because, spending so much time in them, they start to fill that time with the activity they don’t have time for because they are spending so much time in the car. Vicious circle, yes?
BMW Bavaria, circa 1974
But the irony is, you can do just about all these things while riding public transit. And it’s safer and more relaxing. And you can practically hear your piggy bank filling up with extra coin with each and every trip.
Lisa: Well, I know this is a generalization, and that it’s changing as we diversify, but I think, as Michael said, the car is an extension of personal space, and people around here like their privacy. If you engage as Clarence did, it’s considered aggressive, inappropriate, or just irritating. People don’t want to be bothered to deal with the public nature of transit space. It’s like the people on the airplane who have their earbuds in even when they can’t be listening to their players. They’re avoiding being part of a social space. But this is one of the things I love about public transit, that it is public in this sense of belonging to the community, and it’s an extension of the community’s space.
Pacific Electric Railway Map, 1920
This brings up something interesting. For the amount of time we spend in cars, and how heavily they’re advertised and promoted, both LA and the Twin Cities were actually known for their extensive streetcar systems before they were dismantled in the ’60s and ’70s. Los Angeles had the largest system in the world by 1925, and most Minneapolitans were within a few blocks from a station at any given location. Do you ever look to that past for insight on our relationship with public transportation today?
Michael: That’s a painful question. LA was truly the envy of the nation in the early 20th century. You could ride from the top of the San Gabriel Mountains to the water’s edge in Santa Monica, all on a Red Car. Today, we are at least moving toward that once-comprehensive system by building more rail, and the irony is that we are using some of the same rail right-of-ways that still linger from those glorious days. But LA, like so many cities, sprawled during the postwar boom, when housing was cheap and plentiful and everyone wanted a suburban lawn and a garage for their shiny new car. It was grand then, too, as you zoomed along mostly clear freeways and could crisscross Southern California with ease. Metro’s Transportation Library is one of the best in the nation, a treasure trove of maps, data, and photos from both those eras. The insight there is not a new one, but that doesn’t make it any less urgent: Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.
Twin Cities Rapid Transit Route Map, 1914
Lisa: Yes, so painful to lovers of transit. One of our transportation planners at Hennepin County had an old streetcar system map out the other day, and it was truly amazing—you could go all the way from Stillwater to Lake Minnetonka.
One takeaway for me from the streetcar history is the persistent connection between transit and business/development. Many streetcar lines came about as the result of collaborations between would-be transit operators and businessmen or developers who were interested in the opportunities along and at the end of the lines. And this is part of what made building and operating transit affordable back in the day—not just farebox revenues. (We struggle against perceptions that transit operations should be self-sustaining, when roads and bridges are anything but, and transit is such a public good.) At least the new federal guidelines for transit projects seem poised to make streetcars more fundable in the future, which is a really interesting change.
Then how do you go about engaging the public in promoting these spaces and options?
Michael: This idea of engagement is a very real, everyday thing for us. I look at what we do as this ongoing conversation with everyone in LA County, whether they use Metro service or not. And lucky for us, we have a pretty big canvas. We use our livery, the interiors and exteriors of thousands of buses and trains that traverse the landscape, as space to engage. We use the web in a much more robust way now, and with a million unique visits a month, there’s a lot of opportunity. We use public art and marketing messages in our stations to inform, engage, delight, and challenge riders. We tweet; we post; we make little films. And more and more, we are deputizing our customers to contribute to and expand the conversation, from sponsoring a video contest on “Why I Ride” to commission original works from artists who have never “published” before. Our English- and Spanish-language blogs are read avidly and we use these to make sure all sides of the transportation conversation are being heard.
Metro LA ad featuring local artists
We do all this because we know that adopting transit as your “ride” isn’t easy, certainly not at first. You have to change your routine. You have to open up a bit, learn how to use the system, and then move beyond the cocoon of your car and share the ride with others. So when we do convince folks to try it and then stick with it, we want them to have an experience that is safe, reliable, friendly, and feels as unique and of-the-place as LA does. LA is this sun-drenched, colorful polyglot. We want what we say and design to feel that way, too. Our first art director, Neil Sadler, used to say, “Let’s not make anything boring.” And for the most part, we’ve lived up to that as best we can.
Above the escalators to the Metro Rail subway, artist Bill Bell has installed 12 vertical light sticks producing varying patterns of light and color. Passersby may discover unexpected images that are hidden in the light patterns, and by speaking near a hidden microphone can activate a responsive sound system. Among the over 300 electronic images viewers may see and sounds they may hear are a passing freight train, taxis, Duke Ellington, Rin Tin Tin, and Marilyn Monroe. “Some will get it, some won’t,” Bell says. “Don’t worry, it’s supposed to be fun.”
Lisa: Well, they are public spaces—owned by the public, really—so you have to if you hope for their support. But you also need quality community engagement if you want the best possible outcomes. If you’re hoping to provide great access to jobs, affordable housing, businesses, services, natural amenities, etc., you need to talk with folks about how they hope to use the service, how it should be woven into the fabric of their existing communities, and what they want for their communities in the future.
I was really intrigued by your comments about creating a felt sense of the public transit “space” and a transit experience “that is safe, reliable, friendly and feels as unique and of-the-place as LA does. LA is this sun-drenched, colorful polyglot.” Because Metro LA’s work on their neighborhood ticket stations/kiosks and obviously their campaigns really embrace this idea. I think we are so utilitarian in terms of our view of transit as a public service here locally, but we really don’t embrace the platforms, the vehicles, as this great opportunity for creating public spaces. We have some interesting stations with public art that attempts to do this, but I don’t think we’ve been terribly successful. It’s kind of the old idea of poetry on the subway will change the nature of the ride, right?
Michael: We’re changing the face of LA County. We’re going to make a bit of a mess doing so, and it will take awhile, but it will be worth it, for the long-term growth and health of this amazing place we live. Stay with us while we build the future. And here’s another, so important for our core group of “transit dependent” riders who are with us day in and day out: we’re going to give you the best system of bus and rail transportation we can. We’re going to enliven your day with beautiful and thoughtful art, with poets reading on your bus, with engaging reminders of how you can save even more or where Metro can take you. We’re going to give you progressive digital tools that help you know when your bus or train will arrive, where your next stop is, and how you hop from this line to that. (Including a smartcard that you can load and reuse every day, that you can lose without worry about losing your balance, and that you can also use for other purchases.) And we’re going to do all we can to make your ride safe and pleasant, and get you there on time.
And finally, what’s your goal at the end of the day?
1. Create something, anything, that compels some part of our vast audience to try going Metro.
2. Meet deadlines.
3. Be kind and have fun.
Lisa: I like Michael’s pattern here: 1) what are we trying to do?, 2) accountability strategy, and 3) philosophy. So, what about:
1. Connect people to more opportunity via transit and transit-oriented development.
2. Listen better.
3. Do something that intrigues you and has the power to change the world (even if it’s just your slice of it).
Michael will speak on March 20 at the Walker Cinema. You can take the 4, 6, 12, or 25 Metro Transit buses here, or plan your own trip!
Update: Watch Michael Lejeune’s talk on the Walker Channel:
Check out our Insights 2012 trailer, which is an inside look at a printing press and how a poster is produced. Many thanks to (executive producers) Joe Avery and Laura Nelson and the fine people at Shapco for producing our poster and letting us film them in action. And, if you’re wondering, the track is courtesy [...]
Check out our Insights 2012 trailer, which is an inside look at a printing press and how a poster is produced. Many thanks to (executive producers) Joe Avery and Laura Nelson and the fine people at Shapco for producing our poster and letting us film them in action. And, if you’re wondering, the track is courtesy of our own design director, Emmet Byrne, a.k.a. The Franchise.