Design, art, and the gradient between, featuring the creative output of our in-house design studio.
On the weeks preceding the application deadline for The Ventriloquist Summerschool (remember, it’s July 1st), we’re running a series of weekly interviews, 5 questions each with the 4 tutors involved. The dynamic is (hopefully) simple: João (Doria) interviews Kristian (Henson); Kristina (Ketola Bore) interviews Laura (Pappa); Kristina interviews João; João interviews Kristina. Kristian Henson already left a trace […]
On the weeks preceding the application deadline for The Ventriloquist Summerschool (remember, it’s July 1st), we’re running a series of weekly interviews, 5 questions each with the 4 tutors involved. The dynamic is (hopefully) simple: João (Doria) interviews Kristian (Henson); Kristina (Ketola Bore) interviews Laura (Pappa); Kristina interviews João; João interviews Kristina.
Kristian Henson already left a trace on The Gradient when invited by Dante Carlos in the “2014: The Year According to ————” post series. Together with his partner at The Office of Culture and Design and its editorial house Hardworking Goodlooking — Clara Lobregat Balaguer — they presented a rich list of noteworthy ideas, events and objects encountered in 2014.
Today’s questions, though, are mostly framed through pulling from personal impressions I got (and kept) when meeting him for the first time (again, through Dante). Shortly, Kristian hosted me for a few days when I traveled to New Haven in 2012 for my MFA interview and we kept in touch since then.
When putting together the ideas for The Ventriloquist Summerschool with Kristina, I thought of inviting Kristian as one of the tutors since I still see too little disconnect between who he is as a person and how he performs his own work and ideas, plus a critical interest on matters of cultural colonization (a combination I judge to be quite central to the discussions we’re aiming to raise and work on this coming summer in Oslo).
João Doria: Kris, let’s talk about center and periphery.
Kristian Henson: For me “center” describes a popular mainstream or a definition of a system with an ordered hierarchy and “periphery” is a subculture, an underground, or the overlooked margin of society. The two must exist together, with the periphery being the element that recalibrates the center forward, and the center being the element that is the ground on which the periphery can run around, disrupt or hack. Without the center there is no periphery, and vice-versa.
In my work I placed myself in the periphery willingly. In the periphery there is actual space to work, things to change and outcomes are unknown. The Office of Culture and Design and Hardworking Goodlooking addresses the margin through different channels, strategies and platforms. Sometimes this requires working with rural art spaces, planning indigenous food events, meeting with local anarchist activists, attending a round table of contemporary artists or maybe teach a workshop in Oslo. I’d like to think my work is in service to the periphery, to foster self-representation and give the marginal a voice.
KH: Voice and representation are very important to me. Often I believe that voice is something many people feel is reserved for the realm of art. However I feel that is a huge oversight and a limited mode of thinking.
Inside all notions of industry, technology, politics, economy, and culture is something humanistic in one form or another. As humans we are the catalyst that set things into action. Everything we make from the eccentric to the functional echoes its maker both knowing and unknowingly. The structure of a building, the wire frame of a website, the steps of a dance routine, the contours on a bottle of shampoo all have an author. Formal, sensual and psychological footprints which map our origins, intentions, motivations can be found even in the most banal of objects. It is clear that in order to live and work with intention we must start by looking at our footsteps and understanding our voice. Intention will only equate to better work and outcomes.
My work with The OCD on one end is a means to define my own voice and work with intention but on the other end a means to help study the voice of contemporary Filipino art and visual culture. Without going too deep into Post-Colonial, Neoliberalist or Globalization theory, for a long time The Philippines and other “developing” cultures with parallel histories allowed outside elements to dictate our voices for us. In our attempt to decolonize I find it critical to invest in projects of self-representation in order to write our own histories and leave behind a body of research for the future to build upon.
JD: Tell me a bit about the framework you set for yourself to keep things going. It wasn’t like that since day 1, was it?
KH: My “framework” came organically, charting a general direction or field but allowing the work itself to grow on its own terms. I think its important to deeply understand how you work but not necessarily control all outcomes. Lately, I’ve been trying to reference back to my earnest study and interest in Zen (Nothingness) and Wabi-Sabi (The beauty of the imperfect) when describing my design perspective. Allow me for a moment to have some fun and get a little hippie right now – it’ll make sense I promise.
In Zen there is a dialectic that I like between control and decontrol, an essential paradox. In this system of thinking it is most optimal to reach neither end of the spectrum in order to be both at the same time, creating a balance of nothingness (this is fairly obvious). However, since we live in societies built on control, more emphasis must be made on decontrol, letting things go, allowing for imperfection and embracing chaos. Chaos not like the fuzz of an electric punk guitar (actually maybe), but more like the way water falls from a fountain into a glass.
All of that is to say that my “framework” tries to be fluid and adaptive. In urban anthropology this can be termed as fluidity or hybridity, the state in which boundaries are dissolved, identities melt and maps warp—a term that was created to address our current globalized and migratory reality. I find the concept of fluidity beautiful, it echoes Zen / Wabi-Sabi but in social science terms. I try to emulate fluidity by putting my work in positions that allow it to stay active and continue to move into more positions but allowing other people and places to warp my own process. I consider each publishing project as a node or hub that branches into more projects which will flow into new people and more places. The “framework” then can be described not a strict grid but more like a web, something that is adaptive and dynamic to the situation, environment and climate. By considering my work as a constellation of links my hope is that they collectively will speak in dialogue with one another which will create a new understanding or at the very least a landscape of its own.
JD: Now tell me about your friends.
KH: I love my friends, without them my practice wouldn’t be possible! I enjoy graphic design so much because it is inherently collaborative, it requires social interactions and outcomes rely on the relationships between parties.
When partnering with Clara Balaguer, founder of OCD and co-founder of HWGL, our informal network of friends overlaid in this very powerful way and this specific patchwork of intersecting collaborators strikes as a major character of the project. I also think our skill sets and philosophies compliment each other, sometimes it feels symbiotic-both independent and interdependent. We are based exactly 12 hours apart (Clara in Manila and myself in New York) or half the world away yet we operate this global operation by the most common but powerful tools of this age: skype, gmail, dropbox, whatapp, paypal .etc. The nature of our operation, you could also say, reflects the new potential of the globalize nature of friendships, collaborative partnerships and companies which are being formed in the contemporary “post-internet” space.
Without my partnership with Clara and her view points on social engagement, her extensive patient ground work in the Philippines and her wild humorous aesthetic tastes, I highly doubt the connections and revelations about my own work could be realized and so our friendship has been crucial in my practice and in my life.
JD: Last question, still on the same line of thought: tell me about your family.
KH: Family is very important. Being a product of the Filipino diaspora, it must always come back to family in one way or another. Your family is this small raft in which learn about yourself. Growing up in suburban Los Angeles feeling alien, having an identity crisis, finding home in marginal subcultures, handling sibling trauma, witnessing my family repatriate back to The Philippines—all adds subtext that informs my work. I have had many very unique life experiences through my family, we were by no means a prototype, yet it falls part and parcel with a shared broader cultural experience.
My overall feeling is that by grasping onto our own personal peculiarities and narratives, deep rich resources such as our family, conversely open a lens to larger connected human issues if only we allow ourselves to be specific and true to ourselves.
APPLICATION DEADLINE: Jul 1, 2015 This summer from the 10-15th of August The Ventriloquist Summerschool will happen in Oslo. It is Norway’s first design summer school and welcomes students and professionals from both design and all other creative fields. The Ventriloquist Summerschool will look at how and why designers speak through their own creations. What […]
APPLICATION DEADLINE: Jul 1, 2015
This summer from the 10-15th of August The Ventriloquist Summerschool will happen in Oslo. It is Norway’s first design summer school and welcomes students and professionals from both design and all other creative fields.
The Ventriloquist Summerschool will look at how and why designers speak through their own creations. What can it mean to use one’s own voice, regardless of the arena of action? What is the difference between speaking personally and professionally? The participants will get space, time and infrastructure to develop their own projects so the discussion can happen through the work itself.
Organized by João Doria (NO/BRA), graphic designer, and Kristina Ketola Bore (NO), design writer – they are joined by Laura Pappa (EE/NL) and Kristian Henson (US) in teaching four workshops that will run parallel throughout the week. The participants will be asked to choose one, which is headed by one of four tutors. During the week three guest critics from diverse fields will also come in to talk about their practice and what role ventriloquism’s metaphor plays in their profession.
The Summerschool is open for anyone of any age, studying or working within design, the arts and all other creative fields. Applications are welcomed from all over the world – both from students and professionals.
The school is free of charge, but participants must apply for the 32 places available through the application form on the website.
The Ventriloquist Summerschool is made possible by a Grafill stipend.
Kristian Henson (1981) is a New York based designer and publisher. After receiving his MFA from Yale School of Art in 2012, he continued his research and extended his design practice by actively collaborating with artists and institutions in The Philippines through The Office for Culture and Design and its editorial branch, Hardworking Goodlooking.
Laura Pappa (1988) is a freelance graphic designer based in Amsterdam. She has graduated from the Estonian Academy of Arts in Tallinn, Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam and Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem. Since 2014 she has been the coordinator of the Critical Studies masters programme at the Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam.
Kristina Ketola Bore (1986) holds an MA in Design Writing Criticism from London College of Communication. She works as a design writer and critic, editor and is a partner in the publishing house Particular Facts. Some of the places she has lectured include Bergen Academy of the Arts, Oslo National Academy of the Arts, NTNU and the Estonian Academy of the Arts.
João Doria (1982) holds an MFA in Graphic Design from Yale University School of Art. He’s a Brazilian graphic designer based in Oslo, Norway and has taught, exhibited and received awards in countries such as Brasil, France, Germany, Norway and the USA. In 2015 he has, so far, exhibited at It’s a Book (HGB-Leipzig, DE) and at the 26th International Poster Competition (Chaumont, FRA).
For Craig Buckley’s fall workshop “Publication, Politics, and Print: Episodes from the Twentieth Century” each first and second-year student of the Yale Graphic Design MFA presented one or more publications from the special collections of either the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library or the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library. I picked the catalogue […]
For Craig Buckley’s fall workshop “Publication, Politics, and Print: Episodes from the Twentieth Century” each first and second-year student of the Yale Graphic Design MFA presented one or more publications from the special collections of either the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library or the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library.
I picked the catalogue of two exhibitions curated by the late Harald Szeemann, “Live In Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form” (1969) and “documenta 5: Questioning Reality – Image Worlds Today” (1972). A lot has been written about both exhibitions, and by more competent people but when researching I found very little on the accompanying catalogues.
To quote from the introductory text of Hans Ulrich Obrist’s 1996 Artforum interview “Mind Over Matter”:
“…Harald Szeemann has defined himself as an Ausstellungsmacher, a maker of exhibitions. There is more at stake in adopting such a designation than semantics. Szeemann is more conjurer than curator—simultaneously archivist, conservator, art handler, press officer, accountant, and above all, accomplice of the artists.”
WABF (to keep it short), is often cited as the first show to bring together post-Minimalist and Conceptual artists from both the US and Western Europe in a European institution. In Szeemann’s words: “(…) The participating artists were in no way object-makers; (…) the forms of each work, the choices of materials and form were extensions of the artist’s gesture; (…) so the meaning of this art lies in the fact that an entire generation of artists has undertaken to give ‘form’ to the ‘nature of art and artists’ in terms of a natural process.
When browsing the WABF catalogue for the first time, I found in it not only a collection of traces of Szeemann’s working methods translated to rich design/editorial decisions but also a moment of great intensity and freedom, when artists could either produce a work or just imagine it, as Lawrence Weiner once said.
There are, so far, three versions of this catalogue. The first was meant for the Kunsthalle Bern show in 1969, where Harald Szeemann was the director, the second for the ICA showing (modified and supplemented by Charles Harrison) and the third was a facsimile edition in 2006 published on the occasion of the exhibition “Villa Jelmini – The Complex of Respect”. All the design comments below refer to the Kunsthalle Bern version, unless noted otherwise.
The book “Harald Szeemann: Individual Methodology”, a research project developed by the 16th Session of the International Curatorial Training Program of Le Magasin–Grenoble (published in 2007 by JRP|Ringier and elegantly designed by Corinne Zellweger) displays a number of pictures of Szeemann’s own archives/offices/workspaces over time. In each picture you see lots of bookshelves, binders, boxes, rolodexes and many other cataloging devices. Szeemann’s deep interest in the archive is the first key to reading both WABF and documenta 5’s catalogues.
WABF’s catalogue cover is one first and bold design gesture. When Szeemann, who designed and directed the catalogue himself, chooses to use his own handwriting to announce the title of the exhibition (presenting it in all the languages of the Swiss cantons as well as English), he determines the tone for the rest of the catalogue and, considering the funding situation , suggests that the show belongs to him rather than to Kunsthalle Bern’s programme. The full exhibition title appears a second time on the cover page where it is set in Univers (of course).
After the presentation and curatorial statement texts in the beginning (set in Univers as well), there is a pink-paper spread with the front and back of one of Szeemann’s famous A4 (folded down to A7, probably to fit his pocket/wallet) phone lists occupying one page each, right before the actual catalogue starts. This image gives us a huge clue on how personal the decisions involved in this catalogue were.
The first page of each artist set is placed always on the right-hand side to align with the index, here a phonebook-style set of dividers in alphabetical order distributed throughout the volume. With Szeemanns’ love of the archive in mind, it is not by coincidence that the WABF book is bound with single-sheets 2-hole punched, put together with metal paper fasteners. It almost seems like the curator himself manually put each WABF catalogue together.
The basic layout structure gives each artist a name, a face and biographical information, akin to a card in Szeemann’s personal files. And because the show grew out of a number of workshops with the artists, the same gesture of giving room for each artist’s voice to modify Szeemann’s previously defined structure affects that basic layout allowing many transformations ranging between instructions on how a particular artist wants to be featured in the catalogue to instructions on how to build the exclusive work of art for the show.
documenta 5: Questioning Reality – Image Worlds Today” could be viewed as the most significant and most conceptually complex exhibition of the first years of Szeemann’s career. It was conceived as a vast collection of visual things from our visual world –“a concentrated version of life in the form of exhibition”. Szeemann adopted an encyclopedic approach, deciding to show objects that did not belong to the realm of art, creating a mixture of ordinary objects and fetish items that belonged to popular, political, or kitsch culture, as well as to religious art and outsider art.
My claim is that the documenta 5 catalogue editorial strategy is analogous to that of WABF, elevated to monumental scale. documenta’s catalogue design history so far was tied to the Bauhaus tradition through the practices of Arnold Bode (architect, designer and founder of documenta) and Prof. Karl-Oskar Blase, (who designed the identities for the 1968, 1977 and 1987 editions) but Szeemann seemed to believe that the universalist/geometric approach did not best represent his intentions, even considering the encyclopedic approach aforementioned.
Prof. Karl-Oskar Blase is found under the Grafik und Design section of the exhibition credit list, and it is understood that Prof. Blase is in charge of the complex system involved in an exhibition of documenta’s scale. Still, under the Katalog/Gestaltung section, Szeemann’s name is found one more time.
The personal inflection of WABF’s cover design finds its analog in the d5 catalogue. Departing from the geometric designs of the previous four editions, Szeemann used Ed Ruscha’s drawing of the number five made of small ants. This emblematic image was also used for the poster. Ruscha’s design thus defined the public image of documenta 5. Also, Szeemann’s decision of having Ruscha’s work instead of/as a “logo” suggests the almighty geometry-based approach had its limitations, while still being very helpful in the organizational realm.
The catalogue object is a red, industrial binder, and the print run is 20,000 copies. The pages are again two-hole punched but this time the dividers are not in alphabetical but numeric order, organizing the 25 nucleus of the exhibition in 757 pages.
The artist cards are still there, but now the categories to which they belong matters more than an in-context description of their attitudes, or the focus on the personal. The phenomenon represented at documenta 5 was a certain crisis of the art market. The presence of non-art objects calls into question the relationship between image and imagery and, by extension, the various levels of reality within a work — a task highly dependant on the visitor’s knowledge or willingness to differentiate how the same work exists in and out of the exhibition space.
The loop between an imagetic cover/public visual image and the rigid grid that organizes and frames a complex set of elements seems to actively participate in that discussion. The final section of the catalogue, dedicated exclusively for the supporters’ (real) advertisements is now a rich set of images; time and history have shifted its function.
*thanks a lot to Paulina Pobocha and Linda Veiby for the kind notes.
 Rattemeyer, Christian (et al.). Exhibiting the New Art: ‘Op Losse Schroeven’ and ‘When Attitudes Become Form’ 1969. London: Afterall Books, 2010.
 Szeemann, Harald. “About the Exhibition.” When Attitudes Become Form. Bern: Kunsthalle Bern / Philip Morris Europe, 1969.
 Deriaux, Florence, ed. Harald Szeemann: Individual Methodology. Zürich: JRP|Ringier, 2007.
 Di Lecce, Claudia. “Avant-garde Marketing: ‘When Attitudes Become Form’ and Philip Morris’s Sponsorship.”Exhibiting the New Art: ‘Op Losse Schroeven’ and ‘When Attitudes Become Form’. London: Afterall Books, 2010.
 Very unfortunately omitted on the ICA edition of the same catalogue.