Design, art, and the gradient between, featuring the creative output of our in-house design studio.
Eric Hu and Harry Gassel, founders/editors/art directors of Talk Magazine, have described the origins of Talk Magazine and where it’s going: Published biannually, each issue brings together a different group of artists, writers, and collaborators to push each other into making something new. The publication emerged from a desire to observe culture through the lens […]
Published biannually, each issue brings together a different group of artists, writers, and collaborators to push each other into making something new. The publication emerged from a desire to observe culture through the lens of graphic design and to critique graphic design through the lens of style. …It’s the start of a conversation, a space for dialogue, an arena for debate; mostly it is here to make a record of what’s happening now.
This text comes from Talk Magazine’s press release for Issue 2. Despite the matter-of-fact nature of a press release, what this text describes feels honest, ambitious, and confident. Talk Magazine expresses an attitude and a way of seeing that is integral to how they seek out and assemble the content of the magazine. At the same time, the text seems primed to morph into a new kind of manifesto, not only for the magazine itself, but for graphic designers and those who are visually/stylistically-aware, and that, for me, is what makes Talk Magazine particularly exciting.
On the heels of their recent release of Issue 2 of Talk Magazine, Eric and Harry have graciously shared their excellent opening essay from Issue 2, titled “Some Politics on Style,” for the readers of The Gradient. This opening essay kicks-off a vibrant Issue 2, which “gathers a hodgepodge of writers, artists, designers, (and in this particular issue, comedians) to examine style and its effects on larger cultural forces” and which “continues [the] discussion about the politics of style.”
Editor’s Note: To experience Some Politics on Style as intended, push play on audio while reading
Some Politics on Style
We’ve been thinking a lot about this one image. It’s a vertical diptych of stills from The Simpsons episode where both Bart and Martin are running for class president. Martin hangs a campaign poster that reads A Vote for Bart is a Vote for Anarchy. Bart pastes his own poster over Martin’s. His reads A Vote for Bart is a Vote for Anarchy. The only visible difference between the posters is their lettering style—Martin’s is neatly laid out in a presidential serif typeface and his message is seen as a warning, while Bart’s is rendered in an anarchic scrawl and his message is seen as an invitation.
A shift in style leads to a change in meaning.
As designers, it’s our job to think that the way something looks is important. Coming into 2016 and issue two of this magazine, we’ve been reflecting on the the past year—both globally and in relation to our own activities. Three things come to mind. The rebrand of Google and their new parent company Alphabet, the foregrounding of a lot of long-overdue social and political movements along with the almost successful and unsuccessful attempts artists have made to add to the conversation. Our interest is in trying to understand the codes of style traded back and forth between politics and images, and how, if at all, that understanding can lead to an effective contribution to the social good. We’re confused. So as always, we start by looking.
There’s this other image that’s been on our minds. Last August, Google rebranded and published a picture of their design department critiquing each other’s typographic sketches. The new logotype abandoned its familiar serif typeface and replaced it with a sans-serif designed in-house. The letterforms are geometric and charmingly clumsy. To the design world, the logo was hip and quirky, but to the broader public, the logo pointed towards more.
Scattered throughout the press during the rebrand announcement were invocations of the words friendliness, empathy, and most importantly, human. This is a wild contrast to a company who’s enterprises now range from home surveillance to armed AI—all as they amass personal data. It’s also the opposite of the logos of evil companies in fiction—like Skynet in The Terminator—or real companies like Halliburton who often utilize bold, engineered typefaces, minimal color pairings and stark symbolism.
Their uniformity and ubiquity convey both omnipresence and mystery. However, the companies with the most power and influence over our daily lives and political landscape are decorated in logos self-described as playful. Say what you will about Skynet, but its looks don’t deceive. These brutal sci-fi aesthetics have curiously found a new home in millennial music and fashion.
Perhaps this hipster retreat to the overtly evil branding from fiction is because the thought of a Boston Dynamics cheetah dressed in Google’s friendly brand assets hunting down dissidents is much more horrific.
If Google’s new coded design language hides its status or intentions, how can we effectively use our skills to subvert power or protest injustice ? There are so many iconic images of protest in design history. Like the I AM A MAN protest sandwich board, or the raw silkscreen posters from the May 1968 student protests. Or the newspaper and ephemera designed for the Black Panther Party by Emory Douglas. Though certainly they had agency and intention, their now fetishized aesthetic was borne from the urgency and limitations of the moment. Also, these are cases where the often anonymous designers were directly inside the movement and their work was in service of its political messaging.
Situations where designers offer unsolicited proposals often lead to a result that is tone-deaf. For an Op-Ed in the New York Times, Seymour Chwast selected a few design studios to re-brand Occupy Wall Street. In all of these cases, the designers have engaged in the traditional client model, assuming the role of an outsider who came to either clean up or spice up. Despite good intentions, the blog post that usually follows these case studies isn’t so much about the issue as it is about the fact that a designer took interest in the issue, injecting self-promotional noise to the discourse rather than providing a signal-boost to the movement.
It’s a case of selfie over substance.
Protest art can just be kind of goofy. Joel Goby for Vice UK in “A Painfully In-Depth Analysis of the Worst Bit of Graffiti I’ve Ever Seen” savages post-Banksy soft-ball political stencil graffiti on their tendency to annihilate all notions of complexity for the sake of a banal slogan combined with facile imagery. It’s worth comparing this to the graffiti of the 70s and 80s which was less about how it looked—though it looked amazing—and more about what it meant as an action. It was kids with underrepresented voices, taking back space in their city. Graffiti works as a political statement until the statement becomes overtly political. Then it’s just dorky as fuck.
Maybe the cliché actions speak louder than words has been right all along, and that the simple act of writing on a wall to deface it is a louder statement than whatever is actually written. In thinking about all these things, we’ve also witnessed a group of artists who are keenly aware of the sociopolitical forces connected to their identities and at work in their communities. And who, by simply doing what they do, have responded in kind.
Which is all to say, Design Harder.
Talk Magazine Issue 2 features: Cole Escola, Kate Berlant, Matthew Tammaro, Marcus Cuffie, Seth Price, Emilie Friedlander, Geordie Wood, Devin Troy Strother & Yuri Ogita, Berton Hasebe, Christian Chico, Kristian Henson, Othelo Gervacio, Hassan Rahim, and Mike Devine.
Or Type is an Icelandic type foundry established in 2013 by Guðmundur Úlfarsson & Mads Freund Brunse. Postcard showcasing Landnáma, 2015 (Photography: Moos-Tang). This past summer, a number of us here in the Design Department first encountered Or Type’s website (developed by Owen Hoskins). In addition to the fresh selection of typefaces, we […]
Or Type is an Icelandic type foundry established in 2013 by Guðmundur Úlfarsson & Mads Freund Brunse.
This past summer, a number of us here in the Design Department first encountered Or Type’s website (developed by Owen Hoskins). In addition to the fresh selection of typefaces, we were impressed by the interactivity of Or Type’s live, editable font testing fields that cleverly retain the words and characters typed-in by previous (or current) visitors to the website. As a cheeky disclaimer on the website pronounces: “ON AIR—Everything you type is recorded and instantaneously sent out on the wire.”
Other type foundries certainly make use of this type of live/editable font testing feature in varying degrees, but certain subtle moments set the experience of interacting with Or Type’s website a part from others. For example: Try typing in your favorite 4-letter curse word in one of the font testing fields and hit your Enter/Return key, or hit the Rewind icon in the bottom-right corner of the page to witness a sort of sped-up recording which plays in reverse while displaying the characters and words that visitors have typed-in, or click the Or Type logo in the bottom-left corner on the page to reveal so-called poems of the strung-together words that have been typed-in by visitors. This collection of tested words was even used by Or Type to auto-generate several volumes of books (doubling as Or Type’s printed type specimens) that are available through Lulu.
Guðmundur and Mads have created a bold and diverse collection of typefaces that have been making some notable appearances in the past year: from being used on the cover of international photography magazine, Foam, to the cover of the London-based music magazine The Wire, to the typographic identity for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
Below, the Reykjavík and London-based designers have responded to twelve questions regarding their practice as type designers.
Ryan Gerald Nelson (RGN): Do you have an ultimate goal in terms of where you hope to see one of your typefaces in use someday? (Being used by a major car brand? By a sports team? In a film title? Other?)
Or Type: We’ve always wanted to make a typeface for football (guess it’s soccer for you) jerseys and last year that dream came true! We made it to the back of the Icelandic national team jerseys. They then went on to make into the finals of the Euro 2016. In actuality, that project was a bit of a mess though. In the end, they had mixed up weights and styles and it all looked kind of odd. So we’re hoping to be able to fix it before the next Euros, but we haven’t heard from them yet, which is worrying.
RGN: When it comes to creating a typeface, it seems that there are now more alternatives to the traditional font-making program of choice: FontLab. If you use FontLab, what convinces you to stay with FontLab? If not, what is your font-making program of choice?
Or Type: Our program of choice is Glyphs by Georg Seifert. To be honest, FontLab kind of ran out of time. It was getting really outdated and Glyphs just stepped in and convinced us to come on board. I think that even was the reason why Georg started making Glyphs: he just got sick of the old FontLab. Since then, FontLab has made a major update and is looking quite slick to be honest, but we’re really happy with working in Glyphs now.
RGN: Which character do you find the most difficult to draw/create? Give us an analogy to help us understand what drawing this character is like.
Or Type: It’s difficult not to answer “S/s” to this question. It can get extremely frustrating, but then again, of course really satisfying to finish the S/s.
RGN: Have you ever discovered one of your typefaces being used in a really unexpected place or project?
Or Type: We noticed that a cruise ship company recently bought one of our typefaces. Seeing our typeface on a cruise ship would certainly be unexpected.
RGN: Did you both formally study type design? Or are you guys self-taught?
Or Type: We had some courses when we were at school, but we haven’t gone to study type design specifically.
RGN: Your guys’ homepage is quite unique in that it displays a number of font testing areas that record the words and characters that are typed-in by previous visitors of the site. These words and characters are retained and displayed until a new visitor comes along and replaces what’s displayed. That said, what’s the most bizarre thing that you guys have seen typed-in and left behind by a visitor?
Or Type: We see a lot of things—all kinds of things really. We get love and hate letters through there, intern requests, and all kinds of stuff. The other day we noticed that someone wrote “Will you marry me?”, but we’ve yet to hear if that was a real proposal or not.
RGN: Of your offerings, which typeface is your most popular amongst your customers? And do you have any theory as to why this is your most popular typeface?
Or Type: Since we launched our new website last year, or best-sellers seem to be Landnáma and Separat. These are also the typefaces which seem to be around and which we stumble upon most frequently.
RGN: Of all the times you’ve seen your typeface in use, has there ever been an instance in which you’ve been appalled by how the designer used your typeface?
Or Type: I guess we have a very specific way of using our typefaces, so often when you see people working in a different way it can be strange to see your own typefaces in that context. Having said that, sometimes it feels as though we designed the projects that make use of our typefaces, probably because of the nuanced characteristics of our letters. So never really appalled, no, not yet.
RGN: In your opinion, are there too many typefaces in existence? Or not enough? Are those questions relevant to you as you begin creating a typeface?
Or Type: You could say that, but the same goes for everything: too many records, too many cars, etc. At least we’re not polluting the earth by making more. Having said that, it’s relevant for us to design a typeface that doesn’t already exist. This is an important part of our practise—to create something fresh and original.
RGN: When you describe your work/profession to family and friends who are not acquainted with typography and type design, what do you say?
Or Type: Simply, that we draw letters and sell them.
RGN: Matthew Carter rocks an iconic ponytail—what are your feelings on this subject? And do either of you aspire to sport an iconic look of your own?
Or Type: I think we both wanna rock the ponytail when we turn 78. Guðmundur already has long hair, so he could sport that look at anytime.
RGN: What’s more of a consideration for you when designing a typeface: screen or print? Or are these contexts irrelevant?
Or Type: It’s been mostly print up until recently, but making fonts ready for both web and screen is definitely a part of the next step of development for Or Type. Given the speed at which these technologies are developing, we’ve never consciously been too geeky about making our fonts for a certain resolution—it will soon all be HD screens anyway.
RGN: Many thanks for your time, Guðmundur and Mads!
Insights 2016 Tuesdays in March Join us in celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Insights Design Lecture Series, with four talks by some of today’s most exciting designers. Over their careers, these visual form-makers have created vast collections of symbolic imagery—logos, layouts, photographs, alphabets—intended to elucidate the present and destined to one day delight […]
Tuesdays in March
Join us in celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Insights Design Lecture Series, with four talks by some of today’s most exciting designers. Over their careers, these visual form-makers have created vast collections of symbolic imagery—logos, layouts, photographs, alphabets—intended to elucidate the present and destined to one day delight and confound historians of the future. This year’s series features lectures from South Korean conceptualists Sulki & Min, music-packaging designer Brian Roettinger, design curator Jon Sueda, and Susan Sellers, cofounder of 2×4 and current head of design at the Met.
If you can’t make it in person, please tune in to our live webcast on the Walker Channel and participate through Twitter (#Insights2016). For educators, AIGA chapters, and anyone else who might want to throw their own viewing party, have a look at our Viewing Party Kit.
Sulki & Min Choi (Seoul, KR)
March 01, 7 pm (tickets)
When asked what their studio motto might be, designers/artists Sulki Choi and Min Choi replied, “Clarifying is our business, obscuring is our pleasure.” Indeed, this tension between fact and fiction, concrete communication and abstraction, reveals itself throughout their practice as the designers create what they call “impurely conceptual” work. The married couple founded their design practice in Seoul in 2003, focusing primarily on the cultural sector with projects such as graphic identities for the BMW Guggenheim Lab, architecture firm Mass Studies, and the 2014 Gwangju Biennale; the guest art direction of Print Magazine’s 2012 “Trash” issue; and an extensive graphic system for the architecture exhibition Before/after.
Working in both Roman and Hangul alphabets, their intense approach to typography reveals a deep interest in language. Whether systematically inverting English oxymorons in a type specimen poster or dissecting the typographic relationship between Hangul vowels and Taoist yin-yang symbolism through a series of patterns, much of Sulki & Min’s work exerts an almost scientific approach to the use of words, reminding us that language is, in fact, the earliest and perhaps greatest “kit of parts” at a designer’s disposal.
In 2006, the duo founded Specter Press, a publishing imprint that presents monographs of Korean artists. Sulki & Min are also one half of the artist collective SMSM, which is an “applied-art collective devoted to health and happiness.” Their work has been exhibited internationally and Min also curated Typojanchi, which is a typographic biennial in Seoul. Sulki teaches design at the Kaywon School of Art & Design, and Min teaches at the University of Seoul.
Brian Roettinger (Los Angeles, US)
March 08, 7 pm (tickets)
The work of graphic designer/artist Brian Roettinger is an uncanny union of punk ideology with a conceptually driven mode of modernist design. He frequently employs architectural strategies such as repetition and structure (think die-cuts and folds) while subverting this sense of order by manipulating the production process in unexpected or “wrong” ways (think pulling the sheet out of the printer before it is done). Hailing from Los Angeles, Roettinger launched his own record label in 1998 called Hand Held Heart and began to release albums by bands such as the Liars, No Age, and the Chromatics, featuring artwork that he designed and produced himself. The moniker Hand Held Heart came to encompass all of Roettinger’s creative output—curating, publishing, editing, artwork—including his stints as the in-house designer for the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), art director for LA–based fashion magazine JUNK, a variety of projects for clients such as Yves Saint Laurent and MIT Press, and most obviously, his ongoing work in the music industry. As Rolling Stone’s 2009 Album Designer of the Year, Roettinger has created album artwork for Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk, Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet, and most recently, Florence + the Machine’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. In 2013, Roettinger was commissioned to design Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail album, which was nominated for a Grammy (his second nomination).
With friends, Roettinger was also responsible for celebrating the now-legendary Colby Printing Press in LA, for which he created an official archives, curated an exhibition, and designed and edited a beautiful catalogue.
Jon Sueda (San Francisco, US)
March 15, 7 pm (tickets)
Over his career, Jon Sueda has carved out a unique practice for himself as a designer, curator, and educator—a practice that has allowed him a curious perspective simultaneously creating design, generating dialogue about the field, and helping shape the designers of the future. Originally from Hawaii, Sueda has bounced around the globe, working in California, Holland, and North Carolina, and finally founding his design studio, Stripe, in 2004. Since then he has created work for a variety of cultural clients such as Chronicle Books, the New York Times Magazine, the Architecture Association (London), and REDCAT Gallery. For seven years, Sueda served as director of design for the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, creating all of their exhibition graphics, catalogues, and branding. He is also the art director of Exhibitionist magazine, a journal “by curators, for curators”; coeditor of Task Newsletter, a journal of design; and a co-organizer of AtRandom events, a “community-sponsored public gathering of designers, artists, writers, and researchers within the Los Angeles area.” Sueda is currently the chair of the MFA design program at the California College of the Arts.
As a curator, Sueda creates shows that endeavor to contextualize aspects of the design field. His most recent exhibition, All Possible Futures (SOMArts Cultural Center, San Francisco), tackled the subject of speculative design, examining the conditions in which graphic designers are able to create work outside of the typical client-based relationship. Featuring an international range of practitioners, the show and its accompanying catalogue have been highly influential, mapping the connections between speculative fiction, academic investigation, think-tank innovation, and contemporary art.
Susan Sellers (New York, US)
March 22, 7 pm (tickets)
From her early career working with Dutch studios Total Design and UNA to cofounding a preeminent global design agency to teaching at the Yale University School of Art to her recent appointment at the world’s third most-attended museum, Susan Sellers has kept herself at the epicenter of some of the world’s most exciting design and cultural scenes. She has actively explored issues as varied as data visualization, screen-based technologies, critical design, material culture, brand development, and craft. In 1994, Sellers cofounded 2×4, an agency with offices in New York, Madrid, and Beijing. Its massive output includes anything from brand work for Vitra to in-shop displays for Prada, environments for Nike, identity work for the Brooklyn Museum, pattern work for Kate Spade, and the design of a 7-screen cinematic experience for Kanye West. On top of her work at 2×4, Sellers was recently appointed head of design at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she will oversee a team of designers, installers, and architects to execute the full range of the institution’s design needs, including print materials, gallery installations, and signage. In March 2016, the institution will unveil its newly designed brand—Sellers’s Insights lecture will be her first public presentation of what should be a fantastic new identity.
Sellers is also one of the core faculty members of the MFA graphic design program at the Yale University School of Art, where she helps shape one of the most prestigious design programs in the world. She has written about design for such publications as Eye, Design Issues, and Visible Language and her work has received countless awards.
Printing of the Insights 2016 poster courtesy the Avery Group at Shapco Printing, Minneapolis.
Given the relative lull of releases in the arena of journals/periodicals/readers focused on graphic design and typography in the past few years, we’ve been intrigued by the recent announcement of Bricks from the Kiln and ultimately curious to check out the iterations of editors Andrew Lister and Matthew Stuart’s approach to assembling varied content […]
Given the relative lull of releases in the arena of journals/periodicals/readers focused on graphic design and typography in the past few years, we’ve been intrigued by the recent announcement of Bricks from the Kiln and ultimately curious to check out the iterations of editors Andrew Lister and Matthew Stuart’s approach to assembling varied content (where, as the editors elaborate on below, a body of collected content is analogous to a collection of bricks—each “a piece of a larger structure,” each “a part of a sum”—that are fitted together in the process of editing and designing).
This debut issue of Bricks from the Kiln features contributions from Ron Hunt, Natalie Ferris, Ralph Rumney, James Langdon, Mark Owens, Jamie Sutcliffe, Iain Sinclair, Traven T. Croves, Parallel School, Catherine Guiral, and Max Harvey, He Pianpian, & Li You.
For those of you in London, Bricks from the Kiln is set to launch at Tenderbooks on Thursday, February 4th. There will also be an exhibition of material relating to, and stemming from Bricks from the Kiln #1 on display at Tenderbooks until Saturday, February 13th.
To help kick-off this debut issue and to shed some light on how Bricks from the Kiln came to be, Andrew and Matthew have shared with us their insightful Afterword.
ASIDES TO OUR TIME AND TO OUR CONTEMPORARIES
(An Afterword from the Editors)
Between 1917 and 1921 Ret Marut published thirteen issues of his anarchist, satirical magazine Der Ziegelbrenner (The Brick-Burner or The Brick-Maker). It was ‘the size, shape and colour of a brick’,1 and appeared at irregular intervals from Munich (and later Cologne) before Marut escaped to Holland, London and eventually Tampico in Mexico, where he would become the elusive author B.Traven. As former BBC Television Managing Director turned literary detective Will Wyatt notes, ‘the bricks were fired by Ret Marut to comment upon the corrupt society in which he lived and to begin the rebuilding of a new and better world.’2 Der Ziegelbrenner included ‘sporadic laconic news glosses’,3 which were listed on the cover of the second issue under the heading, ‘Ziegeln aus dem Brenn-Ofen: Randbemerkungen zu unserer Zeit und zu unseren Zeitgenossen’ (Bricks from the Kiln (or Combustion Furnace): Asides to our time and to our contemporaries).4
For us, ‘Bricks from the Kiln’ implies something in flux and liable to crack. A piece of a larger structure. A part of a sum. Fittingly, many of the bricks included here stem from larger bodies of work and ongoing research. Some are chapters lifted from forthcoming books, or investigations begun but forced aside. Others are unrecorded talks, or previously unpublished autonomous editions in their own right.
In preparing BFTK#1 we were keen not to arbitrarily hang the issue on an overarching theme before the fact, but rather to adopt a more responsive approach, allowing connections to develop organically through both the editorial and design processes. In particular, the conversation with Ron Hunt that opens the issue, has begun to shape much of our thinking, and here a number of threads and recurring characters begin to emerge.
Guy Debord and the Situationist International loom large. Explicitly in Ron Hunt’s lapsed anarchism (pp.1–20) and in Natalie Ferris’ essay on the ghostly presence of the artist Ralph Rumney (pp.21–34). And more tangentially in the rural psychogeography of Westering (pp.65–88), in vaporwave’s détourned ‘music optimized for abandoned malls’ (pp.45–55) and in ‘photographs of grand coupes and synthetic sweets’ captured on dérives around Beijing (insert #2).
Ron also identifies a preoccupation with the peripheral and the overlooked, touching on the difficulties of recuperation. Again, this sentiment seems to run throughout these pages, peripheral characters and locales a constant presence. Marut, Rumney, Breakwell, Viollet-le-duc and Faucheux. Langcliffe, Hastings, Newcastle, Changsha, Dorset, Uxmal and Brno. A ‘necessary otherness’, as Iain Sinclair puts it.
An interest in ‘the picking up, turning over, and putting with’5 is discussed in more physical terms in our own talk from the Brno Biennial (pp.89–136) and also extends to some of the structural considerations for the issue as a whole. An initial plan had, in fact, been to produce the issue a signature at a time, as and when money was available.***** A production model not dissimilar to that adopted in Phil Baber’s first Cannon Magazine or Dieter Roth’s Copley Book: ‘a kind of visual diary squirted out during three years of spasmodic labor’.6 But as the inevitable financial holdups, printer bankruptcies and editorial concerns played out, this model seemed less and less appropriate to our needs. In this first collection of bricks we have thus attempted to maintain some of the ‘oddities’7 and specifics of original contexts, whilst still working within a cohesive structure. From Westering by Iain Sinclair, produced to exist as a standalone edition for publishers Test Centre, and to be bound into the issue as signatures I, J and K. To the decision to allow the formatting of footnotes and references to alter from piece to piece, in keeping with their original settings.
Of course, there are precedents for this kind of exploration of the periodical format that have come before and greatly inform our approach. The likes of Typographica, Icteric, Dot Dot Dot, Dieter Roth’s Collected Works and Jacqueline De Jong’s Situationist Times being of particular note. Perhaps the strongest affinity for us, though, is with Theo Crosby’s Uppercase, which ran for five issues between 1958 and 1960.
Crosby was facilitator-in-chief for a specific brand of post-war British design and architecture, initiating the hugely influential exhibition This Is Tomorrow in 1956 and later co-founding the design studio Pentagram. He published Uppercase whilst working as Technical Editor for Architectural Design under Monica Pidgeon, and would subsequently take the editorial reins of Living Arts: a ‘documentary magazine’8 published out of the ICA in London. Despite its short lifespan and modest format (close to pocket size at 5.5″ x 7″), Uppercase intended to ‘deal with the whole field of visual communication’.9 Striking a balance between historical research and current work—and drawing connections between the two—it featured the work of Crosby’s own cast of recurring characters, including among others, Edward Wright, Richard Hamilton, William Turnbull, Eduardo Paolozzi, Kurt Schwitters, John McHale, Magda Cordell, Nigel Henderson and Alison & Peter Smithson. Each issue was, as Crosby put it, ‘an experiment in type within the same overall format’, an attempt at translating ‘a mass of material from an artist’10 into the specifics of print production.
Ultimately, and perhaps selfishly, BFTK#1 presents a collection of texts and projects we simply wanted to read and see more of ourselves, and that we felt would benefit from wider circulation. The hope is that it finds an audience of likeminded readers and that this first iteration provides a platform upon which to build. Inevitably—in the same way that Crosby notes in his introduction to the inaugural issue of Uppercase—‘it will be tentative, incomplete and inconsistent.’11
AL & MS
1. Wyatt, W., ‘Introduction’, in Marut, R., To the Honorable Miss S… and other stories by Ret Marut a/k/a B. Traven, 1981, Cienfuegos Press, Orkney, p.viii.
3. Carr, G., ‘Lion’s heads—or just bricks and tiles? On satirical motifs and chance’, in Rasche, H. & Schönfeld, C. (eds.), Denkbilder: Festschrift für Eoin Bourke, 2004, Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg, p.188.
4. Marut, R., Der Ziegelbrenner, Heft 2, 1 December 1917, cover, in Marut, R. / Traven, B., Der Ziegelbrenner, facsimile, 1976, Verlag Klaus Guhl, Berlin, p.23.
5. Lichtenstein, C. & Schregenberger, T. (eds.), As Found: The Discovery of the Ordinary, 2001, Lars Müller Publishers, p.8.
***** The signature marks included at the bottom of the first page of each 8-page signature (eg. BFTK#1—A) are a remnant of this initial model.
6. Hamilton, R., ‘Introduction: Diter Rot’, in Roth, D., Copley Book, 1965, William and Norma Copley Foundation, Chicago.
7. This approach to typographic detailing and phrasing is particularly well exemplified in Richard Hamilton’s Collected Words, (Hamilton, R., Collected Words: 1953–1982, 1982, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London) of which there is a more in-depth discussion in our talk from the Brno Biennial (pp.100–102).
8. Crosby, T. & Bodley, J. (eds.), Living Arts no.1, 1963, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, p.1.
9. Crosby, T., ‘Introduction’, in Uppercase no.1, 1958, Whitefriars, London p.1.
10. Ibid., p.2.
Bricks from the Kiln #1 will be released in early February 2016 and is available now for pre-order on the Bricks from the Kiln website: b-f-t-k.info.
Bricks from the Kiln #1
Edited and designed by Andrew Lister and Matthew Stuart
170×224.764mm, 138pp. + 2 inserts
Edition of 700, ISSN 2397-0227
TTC-090, December 2015, London
Bricks from the Kiln #1 is supported by funding from Winchester School of Art
Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the ongoing series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from artist-archivist Josh MacPhee and artist Tomás Saraceno to Are.na and Experimental Jetset—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here, writer and curator Geoff […]
Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the ongoing series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from artist-archivist Josh MacPhee and artist Tomás Saraceno to Are.na and Experimental Jetset—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here, writer and curator Geoff Manaugh examines a provocative and participatory installation created by Haus-Rucker-Co in 1973.
The best speculative art projects have a peculiar ability to come true, years later. In 1973, Haus-Rucker-Co, a “Viennese architectural collective,” in the words of Esther Choi, installed Grüne Lunge (Green Lung) at the Kunsthalle Hamburg. In essence, Green Lung was an architectural breathing apparatus; it pumped artificially conditioned indoor air through a series of inflatable ducts to a grape-like cluster of transparent plastic helmets suspended to a pole in the square outside. Visitors—that is, any public passer-by who wanted to pop his or her head into a helmet—could thus breathe the rarefied atmosphere of an art museum, inhaling airs that only minutes earlier had been gently rolling over the painted surfaces of Romantic landscape scenes and delicate statuary.
While playing with questions of inside vs. outside, of public vs. private, of enclosure vs. space, the project also came with the larger conceptual implication that air itself could be treated as a kind of readymade object. Charged with both sensory and poetic significance, air is an index of the circumstances within which it is found. Air is perfumed with context.
In its time, a commentary on everything from curatorial practices to urban air pollution, Green Lung has been oddly, if uncomfortably, upstaged today by the business practices of everyday capitalism. A café in smog-choked Beijing has begun charging its customers for clean air, for example, and this is only the latest symptom of an emerging clean-air market in China and elsewhere. Fresh air packaged from the Chinese mountains has been canned and sold to enthusiastic urban customers, even as various airs taken from idyllic foreign landscapes—the Canadian Rockies among them—are being imported by firms such as “Vitality Air,” who have found a small fortune to be made in selling atmospheres. Their products—which the CEO’s admits began as a prank—include canisters of “Lake Louise Air” and “Banff Air” (“On Back Order!”).
A 2014 marketing stunt by a Chinese tourism firm played on this notion by setting up a temporary outdoor air bar for urban residents to give them a whiff of pristine countryside. Photos of the event look like a Haus-Rucker-Co installation, with futuristic blue air bags suspended on wires and poles, and people strapping medical facemasks onto themselves and loved ones. In other words, given a sufficiently dystopian atmospheric context, 1973’s Green Lung has smoothly transitioned from a curatorial provocation to a viable business model.
Geoff Manaugh is a freelance writer and curator, as well as the author of BLDGBLOG, a website launched in 2004 to explore “architectural conjecture, urban speculation, and landscape futures.” His latest book, A Burglar’s Guide to the City, about the relationship between burglary and architecture, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux in April 2016.
Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the ongoing series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from artist Dread Scott and artist-archivist Josh MacPhee to Adam Michaels and Experimental Jetset—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here, Charles Broskoski of […]
Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the ongoing series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from artist Dread Scott and artist-archivist Josh MacPhee to Adam Michaels and Experimental Jetset—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here, Charles Broskoski of Are.na discusses the reverberating influence of Ted Nelson’s Computer Lib / Dream Machines—an icon of counterculture which anticipated the interconnectedness of the World Wide Web—on the making and evolution of Are.na.
“‘Knowledge’ then—and indeed most of our civilization and what remains of those previous—is a vast cross-tangle of ideas and evidential materials, not a pyramid of truth. So that preserving its structure, and improving its accessibility, is important to us all.” —Ted Nelson, Dream Machines
In an alternate reality, I would have composed this piece of text using Xanadu, a dual hypertext library/document editor that could have taken the place of the World Wide Web. Any references I made would have been pulled from the Docuverse, my sources linked explicitly to their original documents, and vice versa, with the original documents linking back to my post. It’s easy (or maybe just funny) to imagine Xanadu as some kind of nightmarish version of Borges’ Library of Babel, a Windows 95–esque software iteration with every conceivable variation of every text ever, all linked to each other in a dense criss-crossed web of sources and citations. (more…)
Berlin, December 2015 To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, artist Adam Pendleton to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: […]
To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, artist Adam Pendleton to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year According to .
Michael Oswell is a British–born designer based in the Schengen Zone. He is interested in operating in unconventional contexts, regarding design as a kind of terraforming; mediating between fact, fiction and rumour. He has made songs about graphic designers. Teaching, exhibitions, accolades, etc. More words. Client list. Call today.
Firstly an apologetic preface: this is less a catalogue rarefied selections from a tastemaker at the top of their game so much as a collection of personal synaptic touch-points that marked 2015 as a difficult, disturbing, joyful year. The first months were spent freaking out over mysterious health problems that culminated in an emergency cholecystectomy. Two weeks later, a tentative move to Berlin—a thoroughly revitalising experience later dulled by the theft of my backpack containing items that consitute ‘home’ to a nomad. My laptop, my phone(s), my passport. A second psychological scare, resolved through a rich tapestry of friendship, colleagues, collaboration.
As such, a number of the following selections didn’t materialise this year; they just happened through circumstance to play a role in it. I didn’t read as much this year as I should have; I went to fewer art openings and film screenings; and my experience of new music came from frequenting (admittedly rather good) techno clubs. I have been a Bad Graphicdesigner: I have failed in my task to actively take in the world and infuse it into my life’s work. I’ve used culture this year as a comforting eiderdown, my filter bubble is in full effect. With apologies, here are my things of 2015.
In the Hall on the evening of January 1st, I heard the distinctive 110bpm clicking; the continually descending, guitar-like riff signalling that 2014 was in the process of being sucked down and remodelled. The clicking continued onto the train back, onto my bike through the streets in the rain, into waiting rooms of varying medical specificity.
Extrastatecraft, by Keller Easterling
Two confessions. Firstly, this book was published in late 2014, and secondly, I designed its jacket (art directed as always by Verso’s Andy Pressman). One of the dictates of book cover design is that you should always read the book before you design the cover – a dictate established by someone with no concept of contemporary publishing production timelines. I didn’t have a chance to read the book until this year, so in it goes.
Ashkan Sepahvand is a writer who amongst other things runs the Technosexual reading circle here in Berlin; in its extended and informal incarnations it’s resulted in some stimulating conversations of varying degrees of coherence about contemporary selfhood, collectivity, sex, technology and the future of the species. Everything I Know About Technocapitalism…, a performative lecture, falls under the umbrella of Mountgrove – the sprawling, delirious science-fictional imaginary of a well-known techno club, home to the intermorphs and other demiurgic concepts. It was first performed at the ICA in May; I managed to see a later performance at Spektrum in Berlin. Delirious, super ambivalent, and ultimately accurate. Our happiness is a horizon, and a platform.
Sans Soleil, by Chris Marker
Commanding attention in exchange for network kudos doesn’t feel like a sustainable form of life. The mainline kick of getting retweeted has dulled. Public discourse got soured by layer upon layer of second-guessing and assumption of bad faith. This year, the backchannels were more rich, more vital. But I don’t want to Quit Social Media To Focus On Real Life. I want to lurk—as Jaakko says, deleting twitter is just the “having a buzzworthy twitter.”
Untitled (Buffalo), by David Wojnarowicz
At some point in the summer, I made Untitled (Buffalo) the wallpaper for both my computer and my phone. It must surely have something to say about 2015. The image came back to me after seeing it used on YouTube as the background for a Delia Derbyshire radio composition, in which different voices recall dreams of falling. The combination did a certain something to the image, which is so rooted in a certain epoch of AIDS activism. All these different ways for buffalo to fall.
A single notch-filtered FM chord, breathing, in, out, in, out; a jittering high-pass-filtered stab of noise for a hihat; a round, enveloping kick – this track, which came out in 1996, unfurled itself at approximately 3:30am on October 12, in the process becoming a new affective cipher I’ve yet to fully dekode.
Probably not a Dyson swarm. But not definitively not-A-Dyson-Swarm until definitively proven not to not be not-a-Dyson-swarm.
The bare possessions of a non-person living in a non-place.
A night with friends.
An on-and-off relationship.
A temporary job.
A trove of secrets.
We have a non-plan.
All we do is show that we still exist.
A delicious neapolitan ice-cream of a book.
David Cameron Fucked A Dead Pig
The British media’s reaction to Jeremy Corbyn showed what a deeply fucked up establishment it really is, but its treatment of this delicious pink faberge egg of a story really sealed the deal. I had the great pleasure of reading defences of Cameron that amounted to the underclasses are simply jealous that they don’t get to FUCK DEAD PIGS and who *hasn’t* fucked a dead pig in their youth?. Hilarious but irrelevant. None of us will ever look at Dave the same way ever again. He will forever be David Cameron, Who Fucked A Dead Pig. This whole affair was an oasis of pure and unblemished joy, a real highlight.
11. IMF: It Gets Better (Pinkwashing Version)
12. Saying “No” to Nomadism (#NeauxMoNomadisme)
13. The Continued Evolution of ASMR Videos (#Rule34b)
14. Hay guise its meh (#NeverGiveUpOnYourDreams___________LikeEvenIfYouReallyWantToJustDzohnt)
15. Goodbye, by Bottoms
16. Enya Revival (#LetTheOrinicoFlow)
17. Progress Bar (#WhatWouldOstgutDo)
18. Pierre Bernard
19. ISIS Dildo Flag (#SexToysAsLanguage)
20. London’s continued decline and war on nightlife
21. Bono’s on-stage tribute to Paris (#NousSommesTousParis)
23. 9/11 Building 7, by Martin Noakes (#OpenFireCantMeltSteelItsNotHotEnough)
24. Unedited Footage of a Bear
25. The concept of Yanis Varoufakis
26. Trance (#ItWillAlwaysBeWithYou)
Heavyweight, a Prague-based type foundry, was established by Filip Matejicek and Jan Horcik in 2014. Filip and Jan were kind enough to set aside some of their time to respond to ten questions regarding their practice as type designers. They elaborate on their entry points into type design, observing their typefaces in use out in the world, their […]
Heavyweight, a Prague-based type foundry, was established by Filip Matejicek and Jan Horcik in 2014.
Filip and Jan were kind enough to set aside some of their time to respond to ten questions regarding their practice as type designers. They elaborate on their entry points into type design, observing their typefaces in use out in the world, their aspirations as a type foundry, reacting to and evolving alongside the field of graphic design, and more.
Ryan Gerald Nelson (RGN): In looking back at your younger days, are you aware of the moment or period of time at which you first became interested in letterforms and how they were made?
Heavyweight (Jan): I came across typography and typefaces as such for the first time while painting graffiti in the first year of high school. Back then, I was highly interested in hip-hop culture, a part of which is graffiti, yet this culture intertwines with several fields which are often associated with authentic visual expression. It was only during my studies of Typography at a college in Prague when I experienced the need for basing my graphic design works on a distinctive typeface, considering that I was quite unimpressed by the generally available typefaces at that time.
Heavyweight (Filip): I remember the moment when one of my friends shared with me a catalogue of graphic design creations (unfortunately, I do not recall the title of the book). It happened during my first year of high school. While flipping through the book, we reached a chapter solely about typography. There was this pure use of typography and beautiful layout, of beautiful books, large details of shapes, etc. This chapter, for me, was completely different from any other graphic design which the book offered. I fell in love with those forms. Right at that moment, I naively desired to develop a coherent set of characters and use them in my own works. Yet it was impossible, since I was unable to create it at that time. That is, in my opinion, the moment when I became interested in typography in a rather complex way.
RGN: Which character do you find the most difficult to draw/create? Give us an analogy to help us understand what drawing this character is like.
Heavyweight: This is quite a challenging question, considering the amount of letters and characters that an entire typeface demands. However, if we look at it from a general perspective and ignore the coherent characteristics and feelings of the letters in relation to the entire alphabet, then the most difficult letters are those which stand-out on viewing the entire alphabet as a whole. We presume that you will not be surprised when we mention the characters of “s”, “g”, and similar characters. However, in order not to sound so superficial, also such relatively overlooked characters of “,” or “~” cause a lot of trouble while being created. All of these examples are not that difficult to draw by themselves without any connection to other letters. Yet, when it comes to gracefully fitting these characters into the nature of the alphabet and even support it, then they become very important and difficult.
RGN: What’s your process for naming your typefaces?
Heavyweight: When choosing names for typefaces, we attach importance to the reason of their creation. In our case, a lot of typefaces were created for a specific occasion, even though they were not drawn to be strictly customized. When inventing names for typefaces, we also consider the practicalities of promoting the typefaces and their inclusion into specimens and similar promotional materials. For us, the name should simply support the feeling that the typeface awakens.
RGN: Do you have an ultimate goal in terms of where you hope to see one of your typefaces in use someday? (Being used by a major car brand? By a sports team? In a film title? Other?)
Heavyweight: This is an interesting question which we honestly haven’t entirely considered yet. Perhaps because none of our typefaces have made it to that level yet. A better idea of what is and what isn’t possible will be realized when we launch our website (which should happen soon). However, we would be lying if we said that we don’t envision our typefaces being generously used, for example, within the cultural sphere, or in certain international art galleries, or as part of a graphic identity for a city’s transportation system, or a large sign on a huge cargo ship, and more. We also like to imagine, for example, a typeface of ours being applied to a space shuttle which heads for the universe as part of a space agency’s visual identity.
RGN: Have you ever discovered one of your typefaces being used in a really unexpected place or project?
Heavyweight: In some cases, it is quite difficult to trace all applications of our typefaces. Yet it is true that the power of the internet is obvious and there is a lot of information coming our way through the graphic design community.
As the time goes by and while growing up with and observing the field of graphic design, we’ve become more naturally inclined to create typefaces which are less characteristic and more universal, yet still with the Heavyweight authenticity. The only exception that we can recall is the Topol typeface which was our first jointly-produced typeface, and while celebrating its creation we offered it for free download for one week. As a result of this benevolent move, we received paradoxically strange, often even surprisingly negative responses from people who didn’t belong to the graphic design community at all. This was an unintended, yet very interesting and valuable insight into the perspective of other people and their reaction to “different” typefaces.
RGN: Of your offerings, which typeface is your most popular amongst your customers? And do you have any theory as to why this is your most popular typeface?
Heavyweight: At the moment, we offer four typefaces and the most popular of them all is Danzza. We always find it interesting to ask ourselves the question of why it is that this typeface is so popular as well as questioning how to make other typefaces that can be equally as popular. When Danzza was being created, our thought was that this typeface should be drawn as a grotesque that was more geometric, all the while capturing the current tone of graphic design. But we also followed our own taste while creating Danzza.
The truth is that all of our typefaces have been based on the model and approach we used to create Danzza. Thus, if Danzza had less stylistic character, it would probably not be so popular. In the end, we feel that an ideal typeface should contain only as much (or as little) stylistic character as to not feel stale, but to also be created in such a way as to reflect the leanings of contemporary graphic design.
RGN: Of all the times you’ve seen your typeface in use, has there ever been an instance in which you’ve been appalled by how the designer used your typeface?
Heavyweight: We haven’t really been dismayed by anything we’ve seen yet. However, we were surprised regarding certain uses of our typeface, Topol, which reached a lot of people over the internet and who used the typeface in many different ways.
Honestly, we would like to see our typefaces used in a manner which we are not used to. This is related to your earlier question, since seeing a typeface in use, from a different perspective, also helps to uncover the typeface’s hidden potential. On the other hand, it’s also interesting to see the slightly erroneous or odd uses of the typeface that emerge when the typeface is used by a “lay person”. We have, of course, seen typefaces being used by lay people, yet not in an odd situation that’s worth mentioning.
RGN: What’s the impetus behind the making of your typefaces? Being commissioned by client? Attempting to fill a void in the world of available typefaces? A custom creation for a project that you’re a graphic designer for? A combination of? None of the above?
Heavyweight: In fact, all of the above is true. Sometimes, we create a logotype which then evolves into an entire typeface. Sometimes it is an entire project which is so important that it’s worth it to create a special typeface. And sometimes we are also approached directly for the creation of a specific typeface. However, should we talk about the future, we’re most inclined to create typefaces that further complement our selection of current typefaces. We would really not like to find ourselves simply offering standard grotesques or headline typefaces, nor oldstyle serif typefaces, for example.
RGN: What’s more of a consideration for you when designing a typeface: screen or print? Or are these contexts irrelevant?
Heavyweight: Prior to any drawing of a typeface itself, we do not think about the way that the typeface is going to work in print or on the screen. More importantly, we consider a range of things: the manner of the typeface’s functioning within a text in general, the feelings that the typeface awakens, how modern the typeface should be or how much of a link to history the typeface should include, as well as similar topics.
Considerations of screen or print applications are mostly of secondary importance, yet the client may, at times, give us an assignment which will limit the typeface only for use on a website, for example. In that moment, we clearly approach the task differently. We do not consider the influence of technology and the quality of display, but rather the form of the media as such. After all, these two different manners of application can be combined successfully.
RGN: When you describe your work/profession to family and friends who are not acquainted with typography and type design, what do you say?
Heavyweight: This is a very good issue which is discussed in our circles of friends who do this for living, or who are fans of this field. When a person becomes engaged in a specific field in any way, that person then sees the given field as more significant than other relative fields and practitioners, and this also applies to typography.
Although typography is an important field, it clearly does not save mankind, and therefore we try to keep its significance only amongst the circles of those who are interested. On many occasions, we’ve found ourselves interested in a distant field of practice/profession, and then, naturally, we’ve asked ourselves whether our field is interesting to other people after all.
Yet, there is still the prevailing question of how it is possible to make a living from doing this considering that typography was discovered a long time ago and, relatively speaking, cannot be moved much further anymore. When we talk about typefaces which maintain a contemporary appeal and which are still both usable and readable, then yes, it is possible.
In the end, we are honored to be involved in the expansive field of graphic design, yet, when asked by someone outside of this field about what it is we do, we often simply reply that we engage in graphic design with a focus on letters for a living.
RGN: Many thanks for your time, Heavyweight!
Boooook: The Life and Work of Bob Cobbing is the latest release from London-based publisher, Occasional Papers. This is the first comprehensive overview of the life and work of the pioneering British concrete and sound poet Bob Cobbing (1920–2002). Boooook addresses all aspects of Cobbing’s rich career, with new essays detailing his key roles in London […]
Boooook: The Life and Work of Bob Cobbing is the latest release from London-based publisher, Occasional Papers.
This is the first comprehensive overview of the life and work of the pioneering British concrete and sound poet Bob Cobbing (1920–2002). Boooook addresses all aspects of Cobbing’s rich career, with new essays detailing his key roles in London Film-makers’ Co-op, Better Books, abAna, as well as his involvement in the Destruction in Art Symposium, Fylkingen, and his publishing imprint Writers Forum.
Occasional Papers, with editors William Cobbing and Rosie Cooper, have paid homage to an avant-garde publisher, poet, and verbal artist in a very thorough and attractive way. And we can’t help but admire that book spine as well!
To celebrate this latest release from Occasional Papers, we’re very pleased to share the following chapter from Boooook.
Conversation about Writers Forum
Adrian Clarke and Arnaud Desjardin
Arnaud Desjardin: So when did your involvement with Writers Forum start?
Adrian Clarke: Not ‘til the mid-1980s. I did encounter Bob a few times at the Poetry Society in the 1970s, but I didn’t rediscover him until I was reintroduced via Gilbert Adair, who pointed me in the direction of Bob’s events at the London Musicians Collective. Bob published me in 1988—I had been going to his Writers Forum workshops for a couple of years by then. The first time I read something at the workshop, he said ‘Hmf, have you got a publisher for that? Otherwise I’ll do it.’
I was involved in another magazine—Angel Exhaust1 with Andrew Duncan, who wrote that Bob’s sound poetry was ‘the ugliest noise in the world’. Bob decided I should be keeping better company and said, ‘Why don’t you come in on AND with me?’2 And so I came over and started issuing AND with him, which had been dormant for 21 years.
Desjardin: Do you think Bob was looking at any models for what Writers Forum might be?
Clarke: He was receiving a whole range of publications from quite early on in the 1960s. He had a whole run of Chopin’s OU, and a wide range of other magazines and journals. Whether that influenced him I don’t know. But, I can think of one or two American publications from the 1950s that had similar designs.
Bob was one of the first to publish Allen Ginsberg’s The Change, which he distributed through Better Books. The American influence was strong and it seems in turn that Bob took quite a lead from what was being published there.
Desjardin: Conversely, there would have been things that would have crossed the Atlantic from the UK into America and Canada. Better Books was just one of the subterranean networks where you could get access to the counter-culture. My interest is in more than publishing texts—it’s in artists’ publications, and the circulations around them—famous examples being Printed Matter in New York or Art Metropole in Toronto in the 1970s. But there were other networks that were there in the 1960s.
The centrality of Writers Forum to the UK poetry scene seems to have been very much about Bob himself. He was somebody who was continually creating networks. Was that the way you understood Writers Forum when you came into it at that moment?
Clarke: Oh yes. I think that’s as crucial as the press—Bob’s sound poetry, his visual poetry, his verbal stuff. He was an organiser and inspirer. He did it in an extraordinarily laid-back way and somehow things happened around him. He was central to the scene. Bob and his workshop as well as his publications were so clearly associated. Everyone knew the Writers Forum workshops as Bob’s workshops, although he didn’t impose himself in any way—in fact, quite the opposite. He would come up with his pint of beer and sit down and look around the room, and if no one showed an inclination to read he’d say, ‘Well, who’s going to start then?’ Then that was it, and he probably wouldn’t say anything more until the end when he’d launch the latest Writers Forum publication.
Bob rarely came to a workshop without something new—if only a small pamphlet, or even a card. Sometimes there was more. It was slightly irregular, but I guess it averaged out at about every three weeks—so many of the around 1,100 Writers Forum titles in the end got launched there. It sped up when he got a photocopier.
My experience of these workshops goes back to the 1970s and the Poetry Society. Before Bob came along, these workshops were very dull. Things were passed round and commented on and there were long arguments about botanical details—what sort of flower was it and so on. Bob changed things: what he insisted on was that if you stood up and read a poem in front of your peers you’d know for yourself whether it was any good or not. Otherwise you were a hopeless case. There was a lot of emphasis on performance, but you were welcome to just read. If you wanted to discuss the work, you would do that in the bar downstairs afterwards.
Desjardin: So at the Poetry Society Bob initiated a shift from a more staid way of working to a more informal one.
Clarke: Bob not only opened the bar there but also the print shop. He initially made his Gestetner available to everybody. And then he acquired an offset litho machine and that was the extent of it. I don’t think he got his photocopier until 1984, when he moved to Petherton Road.
Desjardin: Did you think those particular methods of printing were important to Bob?
Clarke: Absolutely. Changing Forms in English Visual Poetry3 lists all of his methods. From the typewriter—both dirty and clean—to calligraphy, handwriting, hand-drawn letters, pressed-on lettering, and other means like mimeo and its misuse, which relates particularly to Destruction in Art.
Desjardin: That sounds like an important document, like a genealogy of printing. I like the idea that Writers Forum could be one continuous way of outputting things from the late 1950s. Having seen Writers Forum evolve over half a century, what’s your perception of that whole body of work: where it came from, where it’s gone, and what the legacy is?
Clarke: Well, Bob is the constant element and he was just so open that it’s very hard to characterise the press—which was intentional. It was a matter of openness, of encouragement, and having fun himself.
Organisation was not a word that was often on Bob’s lips. He was very spontaneous, so our editorial meetings were a little chaotic. There was that big table there in the kitchen, and very often he would clear the table, and we’d just shuffle stuff around to decide the magazine’s order. Sometimes, if there wasn’t space, we’d move onto the floor, which was very much what he would do with his visual work with Jennifer. He would run off a number of variations and then he’d lay them out on the floor and get her to choose the best.
Bob’s workroom was initially quite spacious: by the end there was just a narrow passage from the door round to the photocopier. Piles and piles of publications, submissions—which were always read—and loose sheets. He worked in what was, at the end, a tiny space.
Desjardin: There seemed to be a political project around transmission, communication and being with people, rather than Bob making a name for himself, for example. For me, it is part of a moment in history when political positions were a very determining factor in one’s activity. But those positions are ultimately very difficult to read through Writers Forum publications alone. It’s not officially or visually Marxist stuff, but it’s quite radical all the same. As a project, Writers Forum is interested in change and pushing an agenda.
In every respect, Bob loved to collaborate, and the collaboration was always genuine. If the edges were undefined in terms of whose copyright it was, Bob was not concerned. His ethos went back at least to the 1960s. In their joint publications in the 1970s, he and Bill Griffiths were very much in accord. Bill’s pirate press carried an anti-copyright statement. Did they ever get into trouble about copyright?
Clarke: Oh yes, particularly over Bob’s pirated ‘Gobble Poem’, where I think he had a visit from the police. Not the only visit he had…
The poem—really doggerel—is by W.H. Auden, recounting an occasion where he picked up a student in New York and took him back to his place for a bit of oral sex. Bob somehow got hold of it and published it, and I think he was hoping that he’d surreptitiously shift quite a few copies. But the police got wind of it, and after the visit he just assigned them to a cupboard.4
Desjardin: Would the police have been involved over copyright, or obscenity?
Clarke: I imagine it was probably obscenity because I don’t think Auden would have known about it—but Bob had a bit of a reputation as a pirate. He later pirated Kerouac’s Old Angel Midnight, which was not available other than in the Evergreen Review. With Writers Forum and its propensity to re-print and re-issue, it’s quite difficult to know what is a first edition, particularly if Bob started reprinting things on the same equipment.
Desjardin: The idea of a first edition for these kind of things is fetishising a form of publication that was totally invested in ideas of immediacy and directness. You do it because it’s now, it’s now, it’s now… It’s not really interested in its legacy, or in its historicisation.
It’s only when it’s over, which is where we’re at now, that there is that possibility to reappraise the production, to corral the publications into a body of work that can then be declared the identity of the press. It’s hard to go about defining that with Writers Forum. Maybe one way of mapping out something could be to think about ‘means to immediacy’—the Gestetners, and then the photocopying machine, and so on.
Clarke: That’s fair, but I wouldn’t want to put a full-stop on it. I think that Writers Forum functioned for so long and in so many different contexts, with the inputs from so many different people, that I still see its identity as provisional.
Desjardin: If you start to formalise something too much then you start to lose that form of immediacy, which is a form of direct transmission. For instance, discussions of language, typesetting and composition of the text as a visual object reached quite extreme levels, by Henri Chopin through OU, and Hansjörg Mayer through his publication Futura. They really upped the game in terms of quality of production and visuals. But now we’re talking about 1965, and by then those international networks were already quite formalised.
Bob’s production at this time is resistant to this formalisation, to this idea of making something that is going to be a bit more polished, more finished. It’s about directness and openness and this has always undermined the notion of a press’ identity.
Clarke: One thing I was going to mention, going back to immediacy, are publications I have that Bob and Clive Fencott did when they were touring the States, including CLYDE DUNKOB IN VANCOUVER.5 What they would do was create what they were going to perform in the evening in the course of the day, and take it to a print shop somewhere and produce it. I think that there are four of these that they brought back with them and they’re quite extraordinary.
Desjardin: Almost like a travelogue. This seems to reflect the whole ethos of Writers Forum—that it was somewhat on the hoof.
Clarke: Immediacy, yes. The whole thing relates to the political in the widest sense. Bob was very much concerned that the activities he was involved with should be accessible to everyone—that his publications should be affordable by just about anyone. There was a memorable occasion which kind of shows his position. Every year he used to take a table at the Artists’ Book Fair when it was at the Barbican, where much of the work had high production values, and some of it was quite ambitiously priced. time goes as bought by Lawrence Upton and Bob Cobbing was produced for the 1999 Artists’ Book Fair—it takes a page from an obscure novel, and does some startling things with it. He sold it at the Fair for a pound. And every hour, on the hour, he, and very often Lawrence, would stomp up and down between the tables performing what they had for sale—to the chagrin, bemusement or resignation of other participants!
Desjardin: But they carried on anyway.
1. ‘Angel Exhaust’ was the name of a automotive spares company on the Holloway Road in North London, not far from Bob’s home.
2. AND magazine was started by Bob Cobbing in Hendon, in 1954.
3. London: Writers Forum, 31 December 1988.
4. There are a considerable number of these publications in the Cobbing family archive, in a large box marked ‘Gobble Poem and Fuck Books’.
5. Writers Forum / El Uel Uel U, 21/22 March 1982.
This conversation, between Adrian Clarke and Arnaud Desjardin, took place at the Cobbing family collection in March 2015. First published in Boooook: The Life and Work of Bob Cobbing, edited by William Cobbing and Rosie Cooper, published by Occasional Papers, 2015, ISBN 978-0-9929039-5-4.
Boooook is available for purchase at occasionalpapers.org.
Occasional Papers—founded by Sara De Bondt and Antony Hudek—is a non-profit publisher of affordable books devoted to the histories of architecture, art, design, film and literature.
Boooook is the culmination of Bob Jubilé, a three-year long programme of exhibitions and events around the Bob Cobbing family collection, organised by William Cobbing and Rosie Cooper (bobjubile.org). Supported by Arts Council England, The Henry Moore Foundation, The Estate of Barry Flanagan and The Estate of Bob Cobbing.
Collected texts: on obstructed vision, blindness, perception, darkness, speculation, adaptation, and various other excerpted ruminations surrounding said subject matters; presented in parallel with a collection of images depicting certain avant-garde individuals whom, for reasons yet unknown (fashion statement? spiritual experience? an attempt to more intimately connect with their surroundings?), have obstructed their own vision.
Motives of pursuing ideals of trend and fashion aside, one might ask: to what end are the individuals presented throughout this publication blinding themselves?
Is it, as Denis Diderot asserts, an attempt to perceive their surroundings more abstractly and thus without deception?
Or, as with Oedipus Rex before them, have they willfully blinded themselves out of the shame brought forth by some terrible revelation that has exposed their own ignorance and inability to realize their true identity?
the nature of clouds presents a wide array of hypotheses of this nature, intended to examine the motives of and experiences behind obstructing one’s own vision.
—Preface (excerpt), the nature of clouds
the nature of clouds, a project I’ve recently published through Edition MK, is a 236-page book which is accompanied by a series of 3 offset-printed posters (each of which I apply a unique, ultramarine-blue-chalk mark to).
With a selection of 27 excerpted texts that I’ve presented alongside a collection of images that reveal a particular contemporary visual phenomenon that is widely-seen yet seldom given a name, I edited together the nature of clouds with the intent of presenting the otherwise-disparate collection of texts and images in a way that searches for new meaning and interpretation between the two.
The texts that I collected for the nature of clouds refer to a spectrum of subjects such as: self-inflicted blindness, blindness as punishment, the blind’s perception of their surroundings, adaptation, echolocation, the symbology of blindness, the explorations of blindness within art, blind prophets, et al. I sought out and chose these texts for the thought-provoking ways in which they enhanced the visual content of the book’s collected images. These texts include excerpted works from philosophers such as George Berkeley, Denis Diderot, and René Descartes, Greek tragedian Sophocles, physician-authors F. González-Crussi and Patrick Trevor-Roper, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, critic and novelist John Berger, theorist Guy Debord, as well as texts focusing on the works of artists, such as Giuseppe Penone and Lygia Clark, who specifically explored blindness and sensory deprivation in their work.
Meanwhile, the connective thread shared between the images that I’ve presented throughout this project, as it quickly becomes obvious, is the fact that all of the subjects appearing in these images are shown either with their faces and eyes completely covered (often with a large, flowing piece of cloth or drapery) or, simply, with their vision obstructed in some way. The subjects in these images can, as I like to think of it, be imagined to be in a state of blindness (or, at least in a state of heavily impaired vision).
I prefer to describe what is appearing in this collection of images as a type of “visual phenomenon”—one that, based on the shear amount of iterations produced, appears to be alive and well within the contexts of contemporary photography, art direction, fashion, visual art, et al.
setting the stage
The intended sentiment behind the book is one in which the viewer wouldn’t necessarily be able to determine whether the book advocates for the visual phenomenon mentioned or if it’s tearing it down. I felt that taking one position or the other, especially in this scenario, became much less interesting because the chosen position leaves you at a conclusive point where the conversation terminates. Instead, I attempted to leave the message and editorial direction of the book more open to interpretation and the reader’s own imagination.
I also believe it was necessary to go beyond the point of producing a book that simply said: “hey, look at all these similar images of people with their faces and eyes covered, isn’t this crazy?!” Pointing a light on this visual phenomenon is, of course, a substantial part of the book, but the book couldn’t just be about the visual phenomenon alone. That’s what a Tumblr cataloging the visual phenomenon would be for, because that’s all a Tumblr is expected to be. As such, I had no doubt that the collected texts were essential for inclusion in this book. An examination of this visual phenomenon (regardless of your position on it) becomes so much more compelling when an image is simultaneously presented alongside a text that provides the basis for viewing the image through an alternative lens or which tells a story in such a way that the reader is encouraged to imaginatively interpret the image beyond it’s surface intentions.
This project began as a recognition of a pattern that wasn’t difficult to see. But the more this pattern seemed to perpetuate itself, the more I felt compelled (like some modern visual anthropologist) to explore it further and to create a context or site that could enable the pattern to be seen from new and unexpected perspectives.
Poetry derives from inspiration, from an inner vision connected to dreams. Closed, blind eyes connect one with the world of the dead, with those who can no longer see. They are the mask which hides the expression of the face from the onlooker and allows a vision of the world which in not present but past or future. To be there but not to see, to appear there but not to be present, like the Pythia or Sibyl who used to pronounce prophecies with their faces covered. …
The condition of dreaming is blindness. One can imagine better with one’s eyes closed. Light invades the mind. With eyes open, one absorbs light. With the eyes closed, images from one’s mind are projected onto the vault of the cranium, on the wrapping which surrounds us, on the inside of our skin which becomes a border, a division, a definition of the body and a container of our thought. The wrapping is important as it is the definition of the individual.
—Giuseppe Penone, in Giuseppe Penone: Sculture di linfa (Milan: Mondadori Electa S.p.A., 2007), 226.
I do think there’s some relevance to bringing visual trends, patterns, phenomenon, recurring motifs (or whatever you want to call them) into the arena of collective examination and reflection. That said, I also feel very aware of the relative absurdity of bringing attention to a visual occurrence taking place within a niche world of creative output. With that thought at the fore of my mind throughout the project, I attempted to interject elements of humor (albeit a very deadpan type of humor) into the book as a means of throwing the seemingly serious tone of the book off balance.
—The book’s overall tone of feigned naivety that suggests that the subjects depicted in the images throughout the book are actually coping with and adapting to the affects of blindness.
—The use of satirical and amusing pairings of text and image content, as with the section of the book that pairs an excerpt from Patrick Trevor-Roper’s essay, “Total Blindness”—in which he recounts the story of a saint who, after looking at a man lustfully, tears out both of her eyes, only to then be given two replacements by God that, unfortunately, are so large that they had to be carried around like handbags—with an image of a woman (her head completely draped with vision obstructing fabric no doubt) who is lugging around two pineapples.
—The implication that the subjects in the images have, as with Oedipus Rex, willingly inflicted injury on their own eyes to the point of blindness.
—The inclusion of a statement of dedication, addressed to René Magritte, which acknowledges the influence of his demonstrations (referring to his 1928 paintings, titled Les Amants and L’histoire centrale) of how one should go about “swathing the heads of pretty young things with excessive yet stylish amounts of cloth and drapery… .”
on the title: the nature of clouds
I had happened across a John Berger book that I had never heard of, titled The Sense of Sight. Many of the texts were a nice surprise to me because they were written in such a different way than the structured and academic tone of writing found in the Berger text that many of us know so well, Ways of Seeing.
Many of the texts in The Sense of Sight are poetic, obscure, and at times difficult to read and decipher. But one of these texts in particular, titled “On Visibility,” had an influential affect on my search for a book title that was at once mysterious and referential.
In many ways, I feel that the below passages from “On Visibility” serve as very apt metaphors for the modern condition of image production, creativity, and trends.
At the beginning of the text, Berger points to what has become increasingly more obvious in the worlds of visual production as time moves on:
All appearances are continually changing one another: visually everything is interdependent.
He then speaks to the concept of visibility in a very remarkable way:
Visibility is a form of growth. Aim: to see the appearance of a thing (even an inanimate thing) as a stage in its growth—or as a stage in a growth of which it is part. To see its visibility as a kind of flowering.
Finally, he concludes the text with a really great allegory. The passage could be interpreted in many different ways, but through the lens that I had created for this project, I found the word “clouds” in this passage to be interchangeable with the notion of the life and existence of a visual phenomenon (which, of course, is what the nature of clouds indirectly addresses):
Clouds gather visibility, and then disperse into invisibility.
All appearances are of the nature of clouds.
—John Berger, “On Visibility,” in The Sense of Sight (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985), 219.
These marks/gestures, simply said, are an attempt to visually represent and reinforce the arguments that Berger proposed in the above passages from “On Visibility,” namely: the idea that a visible thing is a form of growth and that it gathers visibility (represented by the actual making of the mark of ultramarine-blue chalk) and that this visible thing then disperses or disappears into invisibility (represented by the fact that the mark of ultramarine-blue chalk is highly mutable by touch and able to be effectively erased).
on thamyris, phineus, and tiresias
The publication is accompanied by 3 limited edition, offset-printed, ultramarine-blue-chalk-marked posters, respectively titled thamyris, phineus, and tiresias, each the name of a blind prophet.
Rarely in history was a humane thought given to the armies of blind beggars that languished in every kingdom. … [The] Byzantine Emperor Basil … sent back his 15,000 prisoners, every man blinded, to their king (who died of the shock). And in England blinding was introduced in AD 600 as an alternative to the death penalty. Thus the blind remained through history as ineducable mendicants, who only came to the fore when their sightless eyes were replaced by an inner vision. The famous soothsayers of history and fable have, in the main, had their prophetic eyes liberated by their blindness.
As Milton put it:
Blind Thamyris and blind Meonides and Tiresias and Phineus, prophets old.
To these may be added Blind Bartimeus, who recognized Jesus as Messiah, ‘Capys, the sightless seer,’ who inspired Romulus, and Appius Claudius, who warned the Roman Senate of disaster if they came to terms with Pyrrhus. Democritus, the laughing philosopher of Abdera, even eviscerated his eyes so that he might think more clearly, and this was the practice of some muezzins, who, after learning the Koran by heart, thus ensured that they could not be distracted by beauty. Indeed a similar pseudo-castration was suggested by certain Fathers of the Church, on the ground that a vision of the next world was preferable to vision in this.
— Patrick Trevor-Roper, “Total Blindness,” in The World Through Blunted Sight: An inquiry into the influence of defective vision on art and character (New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1988), 159–160.
the nature of clouds, thamyris, phineus, and tiresias are all currently available for purchase at editionmk.org.
Each will also be on sale at the upcoming Medium Cool art book fair in Chicago on August 11.
I’ve also created thenatureofclouds.tumblr.com (NSFW at times) as an ongoing visual postlude to the nature of clouds