Blogs The Gradient Paul Schmelzer

Nine-year editor of Walker magazine (1998-2007), Paul returned to the Walker as web editor in September 2011. A freelance writer and blogger, he writes on art, media, and activism for publications including Adbusters, Artforum.com, Ode, Utne, Cabinet, Raw Vision and at his personal site, Eyeteeth. Award-winning former editor of the Minnesota Independent, his interviews with architect Cameron Sinclair, artist Rirkrit Tiravanija and activist Winona La Duke appear in the book Land, Art: A Cultural Ecology Handbook (Royal Society of Arts). @iteeth

Listen: Muriel Cooper on “Art and Technology in the Information Age” (1987)

A designer and educator, Muriel Cooper (1925–1994) is best known for the modernist sensibility she brought to designs for MIT Press’ publications and, later, for her pioneering work at MIT’s Visible Language Workshop, where she expanded thinking on design and typography in the digital realm. The subject of the exhibition Messages and Means: Muriel Cooper […]

A designer and educator, Muriel Cooper (1925–1994) is best known for the modernist sensibility she brought to designs for MIT Press’ publications and, later, for her pioneering work at MIT’s Visible Language Workshop, where she expanded thinking on design and typography in the digital realm. The subject of the exhibition Messages and Means: Muriel Cooper at MIT, on view now at Columbia University, Cooper visited Minneapolis in 1987 to speak on “Art and Technology in the Information Age” during the Walker’s Insights Design Lecture Series. Click on the image below to listen to this previously unpublished audio, just digitized by the Walker Archives:

 

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For more, read Dante Carlos’ interview with Messages and Means co-curators David Reinfurt and Robert Wiesenberger.

2013: The Year According to Badlands Unlimited (Paul Chan, Ian Cheng, Micaela Durand)

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from “conceptual entrepreneur” Martine Syms and spoken word artist Dessa to design firm Experimental Jetset and musician Greg Tate — to share their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to   […]

Man reading Badlands latest enhanced ebook "Think like Clouds" by Hans Ulrich Obrist. (224 pg, 2013), photo by Rachel Rose.

Man reading Badlands’ latest enhanced ebook Think Like Clouds by Hans Ulrich Obrist (224 pg, 2013). Photo: Rachel Rose

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from “conceptual entrepreneur” Martine Syms and spoken word artist Dessa to design firm Experimental Jetset and musician Greg Tate — to share their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to                                 . 

Individually, Paul Chan, Ian Cheng, and Micaela Durand have got to be among today’s hardest-working artists: Chan, recently shortlisted for the 2014 Hugo Boss Prize, will show his work at a survey at Schaulager in Basel, starting in April 2014. Badlands will co-publish two books by Chan with Schaulager to for the occasion: New New Testament and Paul Chan: Selected Writings 2000-2014Between writing gigs — like his contribution to Frieze‘s “Future Fictions” series on new forms of narrative — Cheng exhibits internationally, including a just-closed show at Standard (Oslo) and an upcoming show at Triennale di Milano. Durand makes online art and commentary through the collective BFFA3AE (which includes Daniel Chew and Matthew Gaffney); the group will be featured in a forthcoming show at MoMA PS1.

Collectively, the trio is known as Badlands Unlimited, an experimental venture that’s equal parts print publishing house, ebook developer, gif factory, and digital curator. Recent projects have ranged from a bodice-ripper romance novel inspired by Rep. Michele Bachmann to the enhanced ebook Marcel Duchamp: The Afternoon Interviews  by Calvin Tomkins, a compendium of Saddam Hussein’s democracy speeches from the 1970s to a volume of jottings, notes, and mind maps created by curator Hans Ulrich Obrist.

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RIP: Chris Marker

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Chris Marker is dead. Long live Chris Marker!

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Rolling Jubilee

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Occupy debt buys debt to free ppl from billz.

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Space tweets

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Astronauts on Twitter, literally tweeting from space. Pick up where Gravity left off.

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RIP: Mike Kelley

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Mike Kelley is dead. Long live Mike Kelley.

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Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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The revolution lives on!

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Drunk cop in GTA V

Artificial intelligent existential crisis in Grand Theft Auto V.

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OR Books

Screen shot 2014-01-08 at 10.35.14 AMIn 2013, OR Books published some of the best books on paper and screen.

 

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Uline box resizer

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The best new Badlands office equipment of 2013.

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House of Versace 

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Lifetime’s series, starring Gina Gershon as Donatella. Genre: True story.

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The Highest Poverty 

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Giorgio Agamben’s latest. How to live in 2014.

Over-Booked: Paul Chan on Badlands Unlimited

The quintessential polymath, Paul Chan is an internationally known artist, experimental publisher, GIF designer, and speaker (he’s keynoting the 2012 New York Art Book Fair on September 29). At the end of my recent conversation with him on the new book On Democracy by Saddam Hussein—a provocative look at the late dictator’s 1970s democracy speeches—I […]

The quintessential polymath, Paul Chan is an internationally known artist, experimental publisher, GIF designer, and speaker (he’s keynoting the 2012 New York Art Book Fair on September 29). At the end of my recent conversation with him on the new book On Democracy by Saddam Hussein—a provocative look at the late dictator’s 1970s democracy speeches—I asked him about his publishing company, Badlands Unlimited, the stone book he’s debuting at the art book fair, and his love of animated GIFs, among other topics.

Badlands Unlimited makes “books in an expanded field”—everything from print publications to eBooks, an exhibition curated for the iPad to a font that turns text into Marquis de Sade–style purple prose. It’s not a typical publisher, which begs the question: Do you feel that in your career the lines between publishing and art have blurred, or don’t those distinctions matter to you anymore?

The short answer is no. I started Badlands because I stopped making work. For me there’s definitely a boundary. Long story short, I essentially stopped making art work and stopped showing my own work in 2008. I didn’t just watch TV. I did other things. I turned down opportunities to show work, and I didn’t make new work. It wasn’t until 2010 where I realized I needed a day job, so I gave myself a day job of starting a press. I wanted to start a press for a long time. I didn’t have the money to spend $5,000, $10,000 on an edition of 3,000 books that no one was going to buy that’d end up sitting in a warehouse somewhere.

But with the advent of eBooks, I realized that maybe I can still have a press and not spend all that money printing paper books. But make eBooks and sell them on the distribution networks that were growing at the time and continue to grow, like Apple iBooks or Amazon for the Kindle. So that’s how Badlands started — because I wanted to start a press on the cheap. It didn’t turn out to be the case. We’re publishing paper books and eBooks now. I’m wasting time and losing more money as a result.

You’re making print books and eBooks; you curated the virtual art show How to Download a Boyfriend; you’re making fonts and videos and GIFs. How do you get all the work done? Do you have a Damien Hirst-style studio filled with assistants?

[laughs] We don’t have a Damien Hirst-style production. For Badlands I work with two other artists, Ian Cheng, who’s a young artist and my co-director of publishing, and Micaela Durand, who’s my media assistant. We three work on Badlands Mondays and Tuesdays. Those are the publishing days. That means everything from programming the eBooks to making animated GIFs for all the social media stuff, which is legion at this point, to talking to authors to writing contracts to getting permissions to reprint things. All those other things like book trailers or eBooks or group shows came organically as an expression of us coming together Mondays and Tuesdays and imagining what else we could do.

I have no background in publishing, so I don’t have any semblance of what I’m supposed to do. And because of that I feel like we can pretty much do anything. I think that’s why I feel I can publish the essays of Saddam Hussein. Or at the New York Art Book Fair we’ll be premiering a stone book, a short story that’s been carved in stone.

It’s an edition of one with an ISBN number on it. Our motto is “books in an expanded field,” and one day we were sitting around at lunch thinking, “What else would that be?” We’re already making experimental eBooks. We’re making paper books. What other forms can we publish on? We realized if we’re really going to be in an expanded field we should publish the way God published on the Ten Commandments or whoever wrote Gilgamesh on the tablet. We should publish on stone. So this fall we’re going to publish on stone. We’re also going to make it into an eBook, too.

But I don’t know how Amazon or Apple feels about a book with only two pages. We’ll see what we can do.

Will you engrave a download code on the back of a stone?

I might have to. I didn’t plan on it, but we can put a sticker on it with a promo code. There are only two pages. One page is on one side of the tablet and has the title, the author name, and the copyright page information, ISBN number, and Badlands Unlimited contact information. On the other side of the slab is the short story. If it works out, we’ll publish more on stone, too.

What’s the story?

It’s a story called “Holiday” that I adapted from another short story that I wrote years ago. That’s the nice thing about publishing my own stuff: I own the copyright, so I don’t have to deal with lawyers for anyone else or literary agents. In many ways the press started because I wanted to publish my stuff. But that was because I wanted to experiment with publishing forms and also because it’s easier to get the rights. Then after we realized that it could work, we started publishing other people like Yvonne Rainer, for instance, or the How to Download a Boyfriend book. Hopefully, we’ll just keep expanding.

Let’s talk animated GIFs. I love the Web 1.0 feeling the Badlands site and the National Philistine, your personal site, have. It reminds me of the early web art stuff that the Walker has in its Gallery 9 net.art collection. Tell me about that aesthetic.

That’s a good question. The aesthetic is basically what I’m able to do on Dreamweaver 2. I’m not a programmer of any kind. The whole reason I started making fonts is because I wanted to make interactive work in 2000, but I couldn’t program to save my own life to make interactive websites or things that would blink or travel across the web page. I made fonts because I couldn’t do what other new media artists were doing. In many ways the website is just another symptom of that. I don’t know programming at all. I just know HTML and animated GIFs and all the stuff that I learned in my past. I want to do it on my own. I like doing it. It works and it doesn’t. It’s good enough. The aesthetic is essentially what I’m able to do.

You’re actually the guy that’s sitting down at the computer and coding in HTML to make animated GIFs?

Well, coding seems like a very diplomatic term! I basically try to drag and drop whatever things I can put in the workspace of Dreamweaver and hope that it comes out OK. It’s not really even coding. I don’t even know what to call it, really. It’s just praying that whatever small bits and icons I throw in the HTML document will work. It’s depressing. I should learn much more. In fact, I just bought a book on Amazon about coding which I’ll never read, but maybe if I sleep on top of it I will absorb the information through osmosis.

[laughs] I’m sure that will work.

But one thing, we just didn’t want to do one of those Tumblr sites or a WordPress blog. Why is that? Because Ian, Micaela, and I talked about it. We felt like those are cool and those are great, but we felt like we wanted something else. Maybe here’s one way to play it: We wanted something that doesn’t work, but just for us. That’s how we put it. That feels right to me.

Last question. Since we’re doing a big series in anticipation of the New York Art Book Fair (and Over-Booked, our event with Printed Matter that precedes it), I’m wondering if you can give us a preview of your keynote there by answering one of the questions that is in the book fair’s description of your speech. It says:

“Is publishing a form of addiction? What is a book? How is reading a book different than looking at art? Does light change the nature of what appears on paper and screen? How come I was served with a warrant for outstanding taxes? Why does running Badlands waste so much time and lose so much money and what does this have to do with pleasure?”

Any one of those questions that you might want to answer as a teaser for your keynote speech?

Sure. I call being a publisher my Halloween costume. It really does feel like that. But what I’ve learned in my Halloween costume is that a book is many things. Publishing, strangely enough, connects to my moving image works like the light series where the projections are on the floor [one example, 6th Light (2007), was most recently on view in the Walker exhibition Event Horizon]. Because in those video projections, one of the things I’m trying to do is to create a space where one can have a particular kind of attention and focus at work. I think we live in a time when we feel perpetually distracted. I certainly feel that way.

Making work for me means, among other things, giving myself an excuse to make a space where I can pay a particular kind of focused attention that connects with a certain kind of pleasure. What I realize in publishing is that books function more or less the same way.

There are many forms of information published on many media. Web pages, Twitter, your smartphone, book, newspaper, magazine. But a book, historically, is that thing that we have to spend the most time with to get the most pleasure out of it. To me, a book is a space where a particular focus and attention can happen so that a certain pleasure can come about.

It was strange and surprising to realize that as I was making books, because even though we publish on eBooks, where it exists on an iPad or an Amazon Kindle, these are essentially devices that can do other things. Like the iPad, you can check your email. You can look at web pages, play games, and whatnot.

I like to think once you enter into a book, even an eBook, your mind and maybe even your body, if the book is done right, is attenuated so that you pay a particular kind of focus that one ought to have when one is reading a book, whether you read it or are experiencing it.

This particular, unique experience provides a certain pleasure unlike anything else, and I find that interesting and worth pursuing more. In a weird way, a book isn’t a book to me, but it’s that kind of space.

Introducing The Gradient and the New Walker Blogs

It’s been seven years since we launched the Walker Blogs and with the release of our new website back in December we thought it was finally time for a refresh. You’ll notice that the design has changed to align with our new website and we’ve used the redesign process as an opportunity to rebrand each […]

It’s been seven years since we launched the Walker Blogs and with the release of our new website back in December we thought it was finally time for a refresh. You’ll notice that the design has changed to align with our new website and we’ve used the redesign process as an opportunity to rebrand each of our core blogs. It was an interesting exercise and allowed us to assess the state of our collective blogging efforts—how each of our (now) nine blogs serves a different audience, how they all have different use characteristics by their audiences, and how they could all be focused into tighter streams of content. The blogs definitely represent the long tail side of our publishing efforts—lots of small bits of specialized content for micro-niche audiences—so maintaining a strong emphasis on the personalities behind the Walker and their specific interests was key. And the rebranding process illustrated for us that when you present people with tangible criteria to change, such as a new name, tighter description, graphic—an understandable format to inhabit—it helps them better speculate on what their blog can be.

We decided on a system of flag graphics to represent the various blogs, since each blog is really a representation of a different group of people at the Walker (in most cases the individual programming departments). It’s a tricky balance to strike between striving for traditional, recognizable flag forms and having a graphic that cleverly plays off the title, but we’re glad to have a consistent vocabulary to build on in the future, especially since the blogs now match our comparatively monochromatic main site. I’m particularly fond of the Green Room’s flag.

Beyond the simple graphic forms, this is the first truly responsively designed Walker site—resize your browser window to see things reflow to fit a variety of screen sizes. Content and interface elements of lesser importance become hidden behind links at certain screen sizes. The main content area, on the other hand, stretches to fill a large width when called for. It leads to some pretty long line lengths, but gives our older, image-heavy content the space it needs to fit. We’ll be soon applying this technique to the redesigned Walker Collections, which features a strong publishing component. With the easy adaptations to tablets and mobile devices, it’s a good fit for our eventual goal of efficient multi-channel communications.

Other, smaller items of note include the addition of a grid/list view toggle in the top left to make skimming easier, smarter ordering of categories and authors (by popularity and date of last post, respectively), and a little flag animation when you roll over the left-side blog names (in full-width view).

In the Design department, we’re excited to further explore the gradient between design and art and we’ve got a ton of new posts lined up. We’re looking forward to sharing more of the work we make, what it means to work in-house for an institution like the Walker, and innovations in the field at large that we look towards. Check the far left column for a list of all the great Walker blogs and feel free to drop by the Walker Design department page.

And just for kicks, here are some rejected flag sketches:

GD:NIP: Introducing the Walker Art Center’s black-metal logo

In the week since logo designer Christophe Szpajdel arrived for last Friday’s opening of the exhibition Graphic Design: Now In Production, the Belgium-born, UK-based artist has completed nearly 50 new logos. Among marks for bands like Jucifer, Human Remains and Powerlord was a hand-drawn black-metal logo for the Walker. Szpajdel, who presented the piece to […]

In the week since logo designer Christophe Szpajdel arrived for last Friday’s opening of the exhibition Graphic Design: Now In Production, the Belgium-born, UK-based artist has completed nearly 50 new logos. Among marks for bands like Jucifer, Human Remains and Powerlord was a hand-drawn black-metal logo for the Walker. Szpajdel, who presented the piece to the Walker as a gift, said he wanted a balanced, yet not entirely symmetrical, piece that references the water and plant life in the nearby Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and Loring Park. He intended a water-like “flow” with the letterforms, he said, and one inspiration — specifically, the spike of the W — directly references an aloe vera plant.

Check back in coming days for a video interview with Szpajdel about the development of and ideas behind the piece.

Aesthetic Apparatus’ ‘monotonous’ poster installation and ‘waterfall’

“There’s a romantic vision of DIY/self-authorship that evokes ideas of empowerment or self-sufficiency,” says Dan Ibarra of Aesthetic Apparatus’ series of “Monotonous” posters. “But with self-sufficiency it’s easy to forget the tedium of having to do all the work. We don’t get to see stapling five hundred zines at three o’clock in the morning, or the hours of printing a single image over and over again in a dank basement.”

DIY is great, but it has its dark side.

That’s the message behind an installation by Aesthetic Apparatus, self-described as “Minneapolis’ best totally unknown design super team,” in the window of the Walker Shop. Installed Oct. 12, the display includes 150 screenprinted posters hanging to dry — some completed by the design duo on site — and the tools of the printing process, the team’s silkscreen materials and an assortment of test prints scattered on the floor. The posters read “Monotonous,” with the subhead, “The Miracle of Self-Production.”

“There’s a romantic vision of DIY/self-authorship that evokes ideas of empowerment or self-sufficiency,” says AA’s Dan Ibarra (above, at left; at right is Michael Byzewski). “But with self-sufficiency it’s easy to forget the tedium of having to do all the work. We don’t get to see stapling five hundred zines at three o’clock in the morning, or the hours of printing a single image over and over again in a dank basement. We tried to physically represent that monotony.”

“Yes, we’re controlling our own tools or medium,” he adds. “But there’s a reason not everyone does it for themselves. There’s a lot of parts of the process that are not the rock star part.”

The window installation will be up throughout the exhibition, Graphic Design: Now in Production, which runs Oct. 22 through Jan. 22, and versions of “Monotonous,” including some of the test prints — the new image overprinted on old posters for Surly beer and Rock the Garden, among others — will be on sale in the Shop.

Aesthetic Apparatus’ work will also be on view inside the Graphic Design galleries. Ibarra and Byzewski returned on Thursday to install a “waterfall” of posters, a cascading wall of overlapping prints, extending from floor to ceiling. Like the Shop window project, the wall includes test prints — 150 or so, including posters for concerts, products and festivals — covering 12 years of the pair’s collaboration.


All photos by Gene Pittman.

Video: Walker Expanded Explained

Walker Expanded, the Walker’s graphic identity, functions like a typeface, but “instead of individual letterforms, each character equals a word or a pattern. Walker Expanded is a tool that generates strips of words and patterns. Like a roll of tape, it can be can be applied to virtually any surface, from printed matter on screens to merchandise or even architecture.”


Walker Expanded, the Walker’s graphic identity, functions like a typeface, but “instead of individual letterforms, each character equals a word or a pattern. Walker Expanded is a tool that generates strips of words and patterns. Like a roll of tape, it can be can be applied to virtually any surface, from printed matter and screens to merchandise or even architecture.”

The identity will be featured in the exhibition, Graphic Design: Now in Production, which opens at the Walker on Oct. 22.; it travels to the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum of the Smithsonian Institution next summer. The video is included in the CAM Raleigh exhibition, Deep Surface, which is on view through Jan. 2.


Video:
Shot and edited by Andy Underwood-Bultmann
Produced by Andrew Blauvelt and Emmet Byrne
Music: “Amateur Outlaws” by Falcon Arrow

The art of letterhead

01 Magazine highlights Letterheady, an all-letterhead-all-the-time Tumblr blog. A few samples from the arts and culture submissions.

Gary Hustwit to discuss Urbanized at Walker screening

With Helvetica, director Gary Hustwit zeroed in on an iconic typeface, and with Objectified he panned out to look at the realm of industrial and product design. In a kind of Powers of Ten move of his own, his latest documentary goes macro: Urbanizedscreening Tuesday, Oct. 4, at the Walker – completes his design trilogy with a look at city design.

With Helvetica, director Gary Hustwit zeroed in on an iconic typeface, and with Objectified he panned out to look at the realm of industrial and product design. In a kind of Powers of Ten move of his own, his latest documentary goes macro: Urbanizedscreening Tuesday, Oct. 4, at the Walker – completes his design trilogy with a look at city design.

A global investigation into how we plan and use shared space, the film includes interviews with three dozen design thinkers, policy makers and city planners, including Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, New York City planning director Amanda Burden, New Orleans–based artist Candy Chang, 103-year old Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and activist Sheela Patel, who advocates for “pavement dwellers” in Mumbai, among others. Considering the context of a planet that by 2050 will have 75 percent of its residents living in cities, the film looks at mounting concerns worldwide about mobility, housing, economic development and environmental policy.

Screenings:
October 4, 6:30 pm, followed by a Q & A with Hustwit
October 4, 9:00 pm

You Are Here: Design Studio Preserves Signature Wall

A wall on the old Walker Design Studio captures the heights of many graphic designers, artists and editors who passed through, but when it came down during the space’s renovation in 2004, we preserved it.

Photo by Cameron Wittig. Click to enlarge.

Photo: Cameron Wittig.

For several decades, the Walker’s Design Studio made its home on the top level of the Edward Larrabee Barnes–designed building in a space that hosted an array of graphic designers, editors, curators and guests. Sometime in the late 1980s, one section of wall was conscripted to tally the presence — and heights — of the many people who passed through the studio’s doors. That tradition continued until 2004 when the wall came down as part of renovations to the space. Design is now housed in the new Herzog & de Meuron building, but an homage to the old office remains: A chunk of wall is preserved behind glass in the new studio, and with it the names of the many — including former design director Laurie Haycock Makela and the late Scott Makela, designers Andy Beach and Alex DeArmond, writer Jeff Kastner, illustrator J.Otto Seibold and, tallest of all, “The Japanese Emperor #2″ — who stepped up to be measured.

We’ve posted the photo on Facebook as well, so Walker alumni, please go tag yourself and help us get a comprehensive visual archive of all who’ve been part of this unusual yardstick.