Design, art, and the gradient between, featuring the creative output of our in-house design studio.
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
Newly established Edition MK (a small-scale, independent publishing platform founded in Minneapolis as an extension of Making Known) announces the release of its debut title, DDDDoomed—Or, Collectors & Curators of the Image: A Brief Future History of the Image Aggregator, which forms Vol. I of VIII of a series titled Img Ctrl—texts regarding the contemporary […]
Newly established Edition MK (a small-scale, independent publishing platform founded in Minneapolis as an extension of Making Known) announces the release of its debut title, DDDDoomed—Or, Collectors & Curators of the Image: A Brief Future History of the Image Aggregator, which forms Vol. I of VIII of a series titled Img Ctrl—texts regarding the contemporary image world.
DDDDoomed, crafted as a speculative fiction that unfolds from the perspective of a future commentator reflecting back and theorizing about the factors that brought about the dysfunctional state of the contemporary image world, tells the story of how the image (specifically, the online image) devolved in the hands of image aggregators (IAs).
IAs, as DDDDoomed asserts, in having “single-handedly pave[d] the way for a young and Internet-reliant culture’s collective disinterest in even the most essential content of an image,” have turned the image into an aimless one that is made intentionally devoid of its meaning, knowledge, and even of its most basic identifying information. Furthermore, it is argued that “by devaluing [the] image’s potency … IAs were effectively exaggerating the worth of their role by convincing the viewers of their websites that their assembled collection … was, paradoxically, to be the sole object of spectacle.”
DDDDoomed offers a thorough look at the contemporary (online) image world through the lenses of comparatively important image and photography-based artworks, image archives, and artists who are engaged with the collection and use of disparate images.
Preview of DDDDoomed
The following excerpt has been adapted from the chapter titled “The Image’s Quest to Move Far & Fast”
… Within the world of IA [Image Aggregator] websites, even the seemingly simple act of recognizing an image’s author proved to be a task that was chronically prone to oversight. Unsettling as these oversights were, many of the “content-conscious,” having waved their proverbial white flags, put out the question of how, in an online world so heavily influenced by the IA, any digital, online-bound image could have ever existed as anything but an autonomous “thing.” Defeated, out-numbered, and barely able to imagine a world of online images that were untouched by the IA, they thought: “just how could the image have ever existed as one that was full of all of the information, content, and contextual substance that had ‘weighed it down’ before the IA set it ‘free’?”
According to the IA, all of this “weight” attached to the image was, for the most part, seen as textual in nature. Therefore, in taking into account certain basic principles of physics, it wasn’t entirely surprising to know that the image, in its quest to move far and fast between many IA websites, had to shed its extraneous “weight” in order to flourish in the sense that IAs defined flourishing.*
But despite the image’s aforementioned transformation into a streamline being, its surface and appearance changed, relatively speaking, very little. As such, an image always retained some form of subtextual meaning—albeit in vastly differing capacities and in ways that were not likely intended by the image’s creator—that could be implicitly understood by its viewer. Yet, especially for the IA who typically only had an eye for aesthetic matters, interpreting and properly representing online images in a manner that strengthened the meaning and history of those images was, from the outset of IA culture, to put it lightly, ill-fated.
And as if each viewer’s history and state of mind were not already enough to drastically scramble any possibility of an image being interpreted in a manner that was intended by its creator; the always-altering and heterogeneous environments of the Internet had made it even more exponentially possible for an image’s meaning to be (mis)translated in ways that were never imagined by the image’s creator. …
– – –
The IA’s notion of “flourishing” was more often than not based upon their own gauging of web analytics such as the number of page views or visitors their website received or, more commonly, was based upon, for example, the number of “likes” their image tallied on Tumblr or times their image was “saved” on FFFFound!. This pervasive data and analytics-driven online culture had undoubtedly placed unforeseen expectations of performance upon the IAs. The aftermath of this widespread occurrence was interpreted in an incredibly honest way by Daniel van der Velden, who, in a 2009 essay, described the culture and habits of a growing generation of Internet-reliant creatives who came to life in the early twenty-first century century by succinctly stating that: “[in a] network … so interdependent and self-congratulatory that it ultimately suppresses deviation from its unwritten rules … every formal gesture is kept in check by an imaginary audience of thousands of your best friends (van der Velden, “Shadow Practice,” in Churchward International Typefaces, ed. David Bennewith [Auckland, NZ: Clouds Publishing; Maastricht, NL: Jan van Eyck Academie, 2009], 104).
Published by Edition MK in November 2010, DDDDoomed is currently available for purchase at makingknown.org/editionmk.
LoR/E, the Library of Readings & Essays—A Comprehensive Index of Keywords & Defining Subject Matters
Had I been asked, I might’ve described LoR/E, a recently developed and continually in-progress project of mine, in its earliest stages as something like an online, text-based Cabinet of Curiosity for the designer. LoR/E began and still is, much like the Cabinet of Curiosity (also known as a Wunderkammer), largely an encyclopedic collection. Only LoR/E […]
Had I been asked, I might’ve described LoR/E, a recently developed and continually in-progress project of mine, in its earliest stages as something like an online, text-based Cabinet of Curiosity for the designer.
LoR/E began and still is, much like the Cabinet of Curiosity (also known as a Wunderkammer), largely an encyclopedic collection. Only LoR/E is an indexed collection of keywords, ideas, names, places, topics, and subject matters that can be searched and/or browsed with the end goal being to discover related readings and essays. As LoR/E has begun to grow more, new ideas for the long-term have emerged, but I’m also developing, for the short-term, more refined and concrete ideas of the direction that I hope to take LoR/E as its potential is realized.
One thing that has always been apparent is that LoR/E will continue to be driven by the idea of the free sharing of knowledge and information. After all, like the definition of the word that the LoR/E acronym references, a body of knowledge on a particular subject (in the case of LoR/E, subjects mostly pertaining to certain enclaves of design, contemporary art, media, and visual culture) is inherently apt to be shared and studied. Admittedly, these subjects and their information are intended for a very niche audience. But, the fact of the matter is that much of the information that is available (and that will soon be available) within LoR/E is, otherwise, not very easy to find online. So the question has become: will LoR/E be filling a gap? Or will it only be contributing to some form of information overload?
LoR/E is not simply concerned with acquiring masses of searchable information though. One of the larger aims is that, at its height, users (especially inquisitive students of art, design, media, et al.), in having access to such an extensive index, will discover useful readings that they never knew existed or that, because the reading came from an author or publication in a discipline area different from theirs, they did not expect to discover. Of course, LoR/E can barely compare to an art/design school’s well-stocked, physical library. But, I do hope to establish a very complete, wide-ranging, and rigorously assembled repository of knowledge and information—a unique and purposeful repository which helps to expose thoughts and ideas, where certain patterns reveal themselves, as well as where relationships between varying subjects become apparent.
LoR/E allows users to view all of its entries within drop-down-menu lists where (to name just a few) searches for keywords, defining subject matters, authors, and publishers can be refined and quickly filtered (the above example shows search results for each filed reading that speaks about “authorship”)
Looking forward, in an attempt to turn LoR/E into something more than just an encyclopedic collection, I hope to convert the project into a highly functional and easily-searchable database that can exist autonomously (outside of its current home with Google Docs) on its own website. With the intent for LoR/E to become a definitive site that designers, artists, media theorists, and others can utilize as a tool for their independent or professional research, I also hope to integrate spaces that will allow for discussions to occur about the readings, authors, specific topics, etc.
Since the inception of LoR/E, I’ve also become more aware and interested in movements such as the Free Cultural Works movement. As such, I suspect that LoR/E, in its focus on the free sharing of knowledge and information, could, in addition to its function as a database, also become a site that supports and acts as a springboard for authors and independent publishers (especially in such worlds as design, contemporary art, or media) who are supportive of the Free Cultural Works mindset and who, in licensing their work under similar movements like Creative Commons or Copyleft, would like to utilize LoR/E as a means of presenting their writing by offering free PDF downloads of select texts to an audience of interested LoR/E users.
It may sound too idealist, but I hope to see LoR/E become a site that is able to accomplish a number of things. Most notably, being a site that insightfully informs those seeking specific information that cannot be found with the help of other libraries or databases (or, even with a tool like Google), that poses relevant questions to users about design, art, media, visual culture, film, et al., and that encourages any user (be they a designer, artist, writer, student) to make critical thinking and research a part of their practice.
As blogs like FormFiftyFive and Manystuff make it apparent to us almost everyday, developing formal skills seemingly demands less and less experience. Anyone who wants it can access the tools and know-how to “make something pretty.” Yet, from what I can tell, there’s not nearly enough emphasis placed on the importance of reading and personal discovery. And not just reading to be able to say that you’ve read this or that, but reading as a sincere means of building a knowledge base for oneself which will then eventually lead to one being able to more confidently create a personal ideology or a set of informed principles to work by.
Six months in, LoR/E is nearing 5,000 filed entries of keywords and defining subject matters with plans to file, at this gradual rate, thousands more.
To read more about LoR/E, the project’s impetus and primary objectives, as well as for instructions on accessing and tips for viewing LoR/E in Google Docs, visit here.
A passage . . . written by Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, in a 1986 essay titled “The Posters of Lawrence Weiner,” provides the inspiration as well as an analogy (in regards to how Weiner utilizes the ellipsis) for how Re:,* a new series of posts, will unfold: — — — Above: Weiner’s use of the […]
A passage . . .
written by Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, in a 1986 essay titled “The Posters of Lawrence Weiner,” provides the inspiration as well as an analogy (in regards to how Weiner utilizes the ellipsis) for how Re:,* a new series of posts, will unfold:
Above: Weiner’s use of the ellipsis as “a fragmentation prohibiting closure and perfection . . . .”
Above Left: Poster for Galleria Sperone (Turin, Italy, 1973)
Above Right: Poster for Modern Art Agency (Naples, Italy, 1973)
Buchloh describes Weiner’s use of the ellipsis as a “rhetorical device” that is used as a “strategy of . . . removal . . . .” Elaborating further, he then defines the ways in which Weiner has implemented this idea (this “strategy”) in formal and “perceptual” ways:
Above Left: One of Weiner’s statements, from his seminal publication Statements (1968), demonstrating “the fracturing of the . . . word by unconventional and illegitimate word-and syllable breaks . . . .”
Above Right: Poster for Gewad (Gent, Belgium, 1982), demonstrating “the fragmentation . . . of the . . . rectangle by removal cuts . . . .”
Note: Unless specified otherwise, all of the scanned passages, images, and citations in this post are from Lawrence Weiner: Posters, November 1965–April 1986. Nova Scotia: The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design; Toronto: Art Metropole, 1986.
* Re: . . .
is a new series of posts, an evolving “conversation” between regular and guest contributors of the blog, where each subsequent post, crafted in response to the content of the preceding post, further adds to the depth and interconnectedness of the larger conversation.
. . .
Ryan G. Nelson: Our paths first crossed in relation to a Max Bill poster [fig. 1] — perhaps this is a good place for us to start. You’ve mentioned how that poster finds a nice balance between a machine-aesthetic and a hand-craft-method. The same could be said for this poster of Bill’s [fig. 2] (designed […]
Ryan G. Nelson: Our paths first crossed in relation to a Max Bill poster [fig. 1] — perhaps this is a good place for us to start. You’ve mentioned how that poster finds a nice balance between a machine-aesthetic and a hand-craft-method. The same could be said for this poster of Bill’s [fig. 2] (designed for another, earlier Konkrete Kunst exhibition) which was a linocut print and which also showcases a high degree of printed precision and formal consideration. With this Konkrete Kunst poster we see Bill’s first use of an experimental version of a typeface that was later named, and officially released in 1949, as Architype Bill [fig. 3]. This initial version of the typeface, apparently designed in 1944, seems to be testing the waters in terms of how far these letterforms can be distorted before affecting readability (i.e., the inverted ‘N’, the ‘u’ that looks like a ‘v’). This is all brings me to your Make Do Type. Can you talk about the experimental nature of the making of your typeface and of the “distortions” that evolved within some of the letterforms and characters you designed?
Peter Nencini: Make Do Type began as an attempt to make a typeface out of the natural limits of my drawing hand and its memory. By ‘memory’ I mean the awareness of type before one knows anything of typography. I love [Paul] Renner’s ‘Futura Book’; it’s the one I recall liking when very young (without knowing what it was) because it was so satisfyingly geometric and obviously mechanical. It also sat close to those first handwriting exercises (in a contrasting way to the archetypal French, cursive style). Alongside, via ubiquitous decimalisation fever in my early years, was the centimetre square. So Half-Seen-Futura plus Learning-To-Write plus Metric-Muscle-Memory equals a core form.
So Make Do Type starts with the most simple, stupid scale and proportions, on a 5mm grid with a 0.5mm line weight, monospace. Then a rule to work it through with as few tweaks as possible. If this is an incremental thing, then the lower case ‘o’ is at zero on the ‘x’ axis. I go right to make ‘p’, ‘d’ and so on; I go left to make an abstract concentric shape, then further to make a figurative eye. So this is, in fact, “Make Do Image Making.”
The nicest bit is when the glitch (or distortion as you call it) occurs. On the journey to the right, it becomes mildly apparent in ‘k’, then evidently in ‘i’ or ‘m’ and unquestionably in ‘s’. Because there is the urge to optically correct and to turn off ‘Snap to Grid’ — or to not do so — it is tucked between wrongness and rightness. The ‘s’ sticks out because it involves two more decisions than any other character. So, virally, it leads to growths (on a ‘y’ axis) of offset attributes elsewhere in the family.
On a secondary and more corrupted level, there is the will to graft attributes from a patchy set of types, culturally imprinted on the retina; a slab from Wolf’s ‘Memphis’, a stroke from Wolpe’s ‘Albertus’, a thick-and-thin from Brignall’s ‘Countdown’. This equates to tapered line weights, cross-hatching, stippling being co-opted into the pictorial attributes.
Finally, the left (pictorial) and right (typographic) find other routes back toward one another, in forms characterized by both. A major influence here is Koloman Moser’s Wiener Werkstätte monogram set [fig. 4].
So it never ends as a set. I’m now tackling kerns and set-widths, which risks a kind of slickness and not Making Do. It’s Explicit Learning. Open Ended. Limited Language.
Above: Make Do Type specimen
RN: Bill’s typeface was surely influenced primarily by the principles of Concrete Art and, probably less so, by the medium (linocut) he was working with. To what degree is your Make Do Type influenced by your use of it within the medium of letterpress? Have other factors or concepts shaped the way in which you’ve designed this typeface?
PN: Sensibility to any material necessitates embrace of its natural limit. So letterpress is like clay; you have to go with it. The type is lasercut out of plywood (and other materials to create varied patina out of the same inked colour), so it has to be simple or large enough to cut; and robust enough to survive the press. And any other added functionality, such as letterspacing, has to work within this physical system. So some synonymity between the form and the tool exists, as in Cuneiform.
I’m interested too, in an emergent desktop publishing, onscreen material logic. Looking a lot at lost dog posters; smileys; that kind of thing. The free ‘amateur’ will to stretch or pimp a designed typeface. The tear-off telephone number poster is a great late C20th piece of design. Somehow, this will grow as a factor in Make Do Type.
Aside from the influences mentioned above, I have to cite Eva Hesse. Recently went to see the Studiowork show [fig. 5], featuring only her small sculptural test pieces. I read somewhere, Robert Morris [fig. 6] described ‘anti-form’ as a basis for making art works in terms of process and time rather than as static and enduring icons.
Also, the ambition to work with a stock line weight (as a pole for formal play) comes from Sol Lewitt [fig. 7], Donald Judd and Dick Bruna [fig. 8] (yes, Miffy).
Making something makes you want to make another.
Above: Various posters for a series of lectures at the Camberwell College of Arts, designed and printed by Peter Nencini, utilizing the Make Do Type
RN: In regards to your use of the letterpress, you seem to be embracing the technology and its component parts to create type and image in a way that I have rarely, if ever, seen (I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that letterpress printing using movable parts, more often than not, invokes visuals of antiquated wood and metal type). Instead of using a more convenient and modern form of letterpress printing that uses a photopolymer plate, you use custom-lasercut woodblocks (as you mention above) and forms/type from acrylic sheets. These movable printing parts are intricate and have a digital-like-precision; and in a post on your blog about your Handwerk print you refer to the object quality that the woodblocks take on after being inked [figs. 9–10]. Of course, the lot of red acrylic shapes and typographic parts also have this object, almost toy-like, quality (perhaps owing to the fact that the acrylic material is red and not simply black, gray, white, etc.). Does the permanence and object-like quality of these printing parts influence how you use or reuse them? Also, can you talk about how you began to work in this way (with letterpress and the custom-lasercutting of materials)? Did your work/methods demand this technology? Or did you, so to speak, stumble into the technology and adapt your work/methods as a result?
PN: It’s true that, in using letterpress, I want to escape a nostalgic aesthetic or pick-and-mix C19th display woodblock compositions. I’ve seen other people using lasercut to make solid-state plates; but an accumulation of moveable types garners the possibility of designing on the press, in the workshop. As a stage beyond digital. It’s enjoyable in printmaking, or making of any kind, to let one’s hands change one’s mind.
The object-quality is significant. For a long time I’ve looked at explicit process in buildings and furniture and art. Oozing and imprint on the shuttered concrete of Dennis Crompton’s Hayward Gallery (and other South Bank Brutalism) correlate with the variable slivers of white ground at the butting-up point between two block-printed shapes.
The woodblocks are the byway to a more object-based process in the future, I hope. I’m in the middle of making an edition of 50 boxed ‘Hand Werk’ kits [figs. 11–17]. Herein, the cut forms are grouped with printed fabric, ceramic and found-discarded things to constitute a kit for ‘muffled’ play. It’s based somewhat on Friedrich Froebel’s ‘Gifts and Occupations’ (1837) for the early Kindergartens. By ‘muffled’ I mean a silent decision-making, both for the grouping of forms and their manipulation. They are for other people but motivated by a need to assess my own object-literacy.
I first used the cutting technology commercially, for a series of television sets. In each, the image-vocabulary was developed to be cut and etched in brass, perspex, timber, etc. on a large scale. I think pictures of any kind in architecture have to bear relation to the fabric and proportion of the space, rather than an ephemeral tickling of the surface. So it was useful to work with image-as-structure.
RN: Speaking of kits (albeit, a kit of a less physical kind), how did your Gelb project, which you describe as “a growing image kit, a kind of ode to Berlin,” come into existence? And has the project grown or been applied in any way since you first posted about it on your website and blog?
PN: Gelb [fig. 18] is becoming a series of bookworks for a few reasons. It makes sense for it to be spatial and sequential and portable, because the language came about on foot and on the U-Bahn and S-Bahn in Berlin. I loved the sensation of neither stepping up nor down to enter a subway train (unusual for a Londoner) and the fact that they ran for 24 hours. So there was total fluency in transit and therefore the feeling of constant movement through the space. This was stabilised in the memory by colour and form, especially hues around oxide-to-mustard yellow and duck-egg-verdigris. So I’m sourcing and collecting found coloured papers to create some lived-in, dissonant colour palette as a page-ground. The ingredients’ line character is something to do with corruptions of the DIN standardized typeface throughout the cityscape and modernist U-Bahn clocks with over-ornamental replacement hands. This character has then been applied to anonymised forms peppered from memory of food, building, temperature, surface and so on.
RN: Coming back your ambition to work with a stock line weight. I’m wondering how the notions of standardization and constraint — as they would be inherent with the use of a stock line weight — find their way into any one of your works and if you see them as underlying themes that guide your aesthetic decisions? Or rather, do you see them as set of principles to work by? I ask because, in regards to your work, you often mention modularity and the adherence to a grid (which can also bring to mind standardization and constraint). We’ve seen how modularity is used in your Make Do Type as well as in your Handwerk and To Haiti With Love prints. Aside from those works, in which their modularity also plays a functional role in their making, how has this idea translated into your recent foray in working with knitting and stitching?
PN: I draw on screen and I draw by hand. I draw by hand much more, as a daily habit. The habit tells me to be surprised by the way things look. Familiar things become unfamiliar (or non-standard) through observation. It doses memory. The option then, of observed and remembered drawn things, takes me to screen. The screen drawings use the limit of grid, lineweight and radius to adopt a non-standard form into the family. So there is a familial way of imaging non-familiar things.
Grids are still something of a revelation to me. I have no formal typographic training (studied Illustration), so somehow the unsolicited finding and reading of [Emil] Ruder, [Armin] Hoffman, [Wim] Crouwel, and [Anthony] Froshaug undirected, gives the sense of patchy understanding and mystery. I respond well to dogma. Or to books that behave as parallel manuals — Umberto Eco is very good for narrative imagemaking — which offer indirect working principles. The nice thing about grids is that you can break them.
For knit and stitch [figs. 19–21], the behaviour of the material and inherently the grid of woven coarse linen for example, determines a limited scaling and mark. You have to go with the material in the same way you do a graphite stick and let the matter breathe. Each embroidering by Sally (my partner and collaborator) leads to a conversation about, and digestion of, what works; and I can feel the stitch much more in recent drawing-designs. In terms of a ‘manual’, Elsie Svennas’ Handbook of Lettering for Stitchers carries as much weight as Ruder for typography. At the last stage before Sally embroiders, I often hand-draw the design onto the fabric because it better matches the inflection and natural arc of hand-stitch.
RN: Perhaps we can move on to talking about your blogging presence for a moment. One of the aspects that I enjoy the most from what you present and write about on any of the blogs that you contribute to is that many of the ideas, movements and conceptual approaches, that you go on to explain in very relevant and concise ways, are not aimed at a specific audience of creatives. They would seemingly have wide appeal to artists, designers, illustrators, photographers or anyone who is presented with the challenges of producing form and representing content. With these posts I sense that you are presenting topics that are genuinely a part of the research and process of discovery that defines your own practice at that given moment (i.e., your posts on Anti-Form, Wabi-Sabi, Play, Make-Do-Modernism, Counterform, Author-Designer & Reader-User, etc.). Have you utilized blogging (specifically, the act of shaping together a blog post) as a means of helping, or even forcing, yourself to more fully realize how those ideas, movements and conceptual approaches are influencing and shaping your work and philosophy? Or has your blogging been more about the act of publishing and disseminating those topics for the sake of such audiences as your colleagues and students?
PN: It’s really important for me to define a practice around idea and method, rather than Specialism. Specialism, in the sense of an intimacy with and experience of process, is valuable but in another sense it can be inhibiting, hierarchical and ultimately set an obstacle to natural correspondence between like minds. Posting allows ideas to self-aggregate, in rhythm with studio work. This is much more satisfactory that attempting a definitive ‘artist’s statement’ or somesuch platform. Doubt is such an essential in day-to-day work, so terms of expression need to match.
In terms of audience, it’s all of the above. I’m lucky in that my students often feel like colleagues; their quality and intelligence has it so. The conversations we have lap in and out of those held with correspondents through the blogs, maker-friends and in my own head. The posts create a precedent before meeting another practitioner for the first time, so we have had a head-start and can get to the detail.
I have met-but-not-met people who form a community of thought, reference, inspiration, galvanization at a day-to-day rate. For me, the catalyst (and my homepage) has been Andy Beach’s Reference Library.
Regarding art and design school. Something is happening. There is a discourse there between people who are in some way, shape or form becoming custodians, even at a relatively young age, of these cultural enclaves in a time where the exploratory nature of this environment is at risk, as the activity becomes more accountable to commerce.
The ideas themselves are often ill-disciplined in terms of synthesis and format. But they are published, which is better ventilation for the head; a better place for something to incubate.
[Editor’s Note: Peter’s blog posts are published on his own personal blog [fig. 22] as well as on Camberwell Illustrator [fig. 23] and Key Ideas [fig. 24]; two blogs from the Camberwell College of Arts.]
RN: Lastly, in what way do you expect your work and/or projects to evolve this year? Are there any particular projects, activities, events, life happenings, travels, etc. that you anticipate having some significant measure of influence upon what direction your work is headed toward next?
PN: The Hand Werk boxed edition is now in Poundshop, a shop-experiment curated by Household. This project is leading me towards made as opposed to found furniture, with information embedded in the framework as well as (and sometimes instead of) the upholstery. I’m looking for a book on the perfect, blank, default wooden chair as a pole-start. Shaker, [Marcel] Breuer, [Enzo] Mari and some 1959 anthropometric seating data diagrams are the nearest I’ve got.
Sally and I are making for children’s chairs for an upcoming event, Kids.Modern, and for commission. Some have a tailored, functional aspect which is exciting because it provides 50% or more of the aesthetic and most of the narrative life. I’m also making activity/bookworks for children, using a Risograph copier-duplicator. I will self-publish and distribute more through the year using the same technology, with Gelb in this category.
I know that in time, the vocabulary itself has to come to the fore, without application or direct function. I will be putting it into space, in response to space, at a larger scale, extrusion and weight. This is perhaps most important for me to show.
On travel, the Down coast of Northern Ireland and the Souss-Massa-Draâ coast of Morocco have been and will be a regular inspiration. I intend to return this year to NYC and further into USA/Canada; so much good correspondence and parallel thinking has come from across the Atlantic, over the last year.
RN: Thank you very much for your time and for sharing your work with us, Peter!
— See more of Peter’s work at peternencini.co.uk
With its tattered and sad looking manila envelope marked only by a hastily written exhibition description, this exhibition catalogue has a very unassuming appearance in the context of an entire shelf of fine, hardbound art catalogues. Expecting to open the envelope to find a fits-in-your-palm-sized catalogue, I was instead delighted to find the unexpected: 138 […]
With its tattered and sad looking manila envelope marked only by a hastily written exhibition description, this exhibition catalogue has a very unassuming appearance in the context of an entire shelf of fine, hardbound art catalogues.
Expecting to open the envelope to find a fits-in-your-palm-sized catalogue, I was instead delighted to find the unexpected: 138 unbound index cards representing one of the most important avant garde art exhibitions of its time, titled 955,000. Taking place at the Vancouver Art Gallery from January 13 to February 8, 1970, this exhibition—containing conceptual art, process art and land art—was organized by Lucy R. Lippard.
Prior to the 955,000 exhibition (the number 955,000 was derived from the approximate population of Vancouver in 1970), Lippard curated and organized 557,087 (the approximate population of Seattle in 1969) for the Contemporary Art Council of the Seattle Art Museum at the Seattle Art Museum Pavilion from September 5 to October 5, 1969. This catalogue originated with the 557,087 exhibition in Seattle, consisting of 95 10cm x 15cm index cards, and in light of its continuation into the 955,000 exhibition in Vancouver, 42 new index cards were added to the collection.
Despite its unbound, randomly ordered and aesthetically uniform (hand and typewritten text printed in black on index cards) characteristics, this catalogue is peculiar because each artist in the exhibition was not only asked to contribute their artwork but they were also encouraged to make/design their own index card(s) for the catalogue. In theory this publication still functions, despite these abnormalities, as an exhibition catalogue because it represents the artists and their ideas. And while it’s not a rarity for an artist to make and submit his or her own text, image or artwork for a catalogue, it does seem rare that their contributions would not be collected and placed into the context of a book page.
Although this catalogue is far from revolutionary in terms of materials and format, I was simply drawn to the concept it presents because it completely surpasses the need for a designer and the processes so inherently paired with designing art-related catalogues (such as developing typographic systems and grids, sequencing, pacing, templating and even the process of preparing images and illustrations for high-end reproduction).
In essence, it could be argued that this catalogue (and the model it represents) comes closer to communicating the ideas of each artist and their raw proposals and is more authentic than traditional art catalogues that tend to remove or filter out certain nuances by way of such restrictions as page sizes and counts, the process of editing available content and even designer preference. And regardless of the fact that this catalogue is void of the parts and systems that many of us enjoy and expect from more traditional approaches, it reveals itself in an equally as intriguing way as catalogues that are defined by comprehensive and thoughtful orderliness.
According to The Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art (www.ccca.ca):
“ The catalog consists of… index cards in random order including  cards compiled by the artists themselves,  text cards by [Lucy R. Lippard],  title page cards, 1 acknowledgements card, 2 lists of the council members and officers, 1 forward by the council president,  list of artists,  selective bibliographies, 1 list of films shown, [and] 1 addenda to [the] artists.”
There were 71 artists from North America and Europe participating in 955,000:
Vito Acconci, Carl Andre, Keith Arnatt, Richard Artschwager, Terry Atkinson, John Baldessari, Michael Baldwin, Robert Barry, Rick Barthelme, Gene Beery, Mel Bochner, Bill Bollinger, Jon Borofsky, Daniel Buren, Donald Burgy, Rosemarie Castoro, Greg Curnoe, Hanne Darboven, Walter de Maria, Jan Dibbets, Christos Dikeakos, Rafael Ferrer, Dan Graham, Hans Haacke, Alex Hay, Michael Heizer, Eva Hesse, Douglas Huebler, Robert Huot, Stephen Kaltenbach, On Kawara, Edward Kienholz, Robert Kinmont, Joseph Kosuth, Christine Kozlov, John Latham, Barry Le Va, Sol LeWitt, Roelof Louw, Duane Lundon, Bruce McLean, Robert Morris, N. Y. Graphic Workshop, N.E. Thing Co., Bruce Nauman, George Nikoliadis, Dennis Oppenheim, John Perreault, Adrian Piper, Robert Rohm, Alan Ruppersberg, Ed Ruscha, Robert Ryman, Fred Sandback, George Sawchuk, Richard Serra, Randy Sims, Richard Sladden, Robert Smithson, Keith Sonnier, Jeff Wall, Lawrence Weiner and Ian Wilson
— The 1999 Design Insights Lecture Series poster for the Walker Art Center (co-presented by AIGA Minnesota) is simply the most thorough and exhaustively produced poster I have seen in my day. Thus the poster is a deserving addition to our Flat Files collection. With the informational side of the poster designed by Daniel Eatock […]
The 1999 Design Insights Lecture Series poster for the Walker Art Center (co-presented by AIGA Minnesota) is simply the most thorough and exhaustively produced poster I have seen in my day. Thus the poster is a deserving addition to our Flat Files collection.
With the informational side of the poster designed by Daniel Eatock and Andrew Blauvelt and its opposite side including an intensive drawing by Conny Purtill, this poster appears to have required the full attention and the contributions of the entire Walker design and editorial staffs. With such a well-crafted and carefully considered poster as proof, their efforts are hard not to appreciate.
Intended to act as a regional and informational “guide” for the out-of-town lecturers, the shear information overload (which could be considered a theme of Eatock’s work) of the poster references the overwhelming nature of traveling to a large city and being presented with a disproportionate number of resources about the city. Conny Purtill’s mosaic pencil drawing of an airplane in flight (best viewed from a distance) also compliments the informational side of the poster in regards to the reference of traveling as well as in its obsessive nature, its relation to “making” and in the attention to detail.
The amount of content showcased on this poster is more on par—in terms of the research, structural and editorial work required—with a small book. To give you an idea of the extent and depth to which this poster extends to, here is a sampling of what is included:
— Full lecturer biographies (with footnotes)
— A detailed description of the selection process and the meetings that were held to discuss the lecturers
— A short history of the AIGA
— A 21 paragraph description of AIGA’s Standards of Professional Practice
— Information about AIGA memberships, conferences, competitions, initiatives and much more
— The Walker Art Center’s Mission Statement
— A history of the Walker Art Center
— A list a practical information about the Walker (such as information on admission, gallery hours and how to contact the Walker)
— A complete column detailing the types of Walker memberships available
— An comprehensive collection of regional information including travel information, parking, airport, taxi and bus information, information about weather conditions and safe winter driving, as well as a listing of hotel accommodations, restaurants and clubs
— A description of the Walker Auditorium, its rules and an inventory of each lecturers audio-visual technical needs
— A column of 27 informative footnotes
— A glossary containing 15 entries from sources including the Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary and Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
— A large listing event and design credits as well as a printer credit which specifies the press used, the paper size, the inks used, the folded size, the folding machine used and the number of posters printed.
In light of the Typewriter Typefaces post back in March, a co-worker of ours was kind enough to bring in a Royal typewriter to the Walker studio. Everyone had fun punching away at the keys and writing some very profound statements. Inevitably, the fun and experimentation led me to what you see below: typewriter-made spin-offs […]
In light of the Typewriter Typefaces post back in March, a co-worker of ours was kind enough to bring in a Royal typewriter to the Walker studio. Everyone had fun punching away at the keys and writing some very profound statements.
Inevitably, the fun and experimentation led me to what you see below: typewriter-made spin-offs of the Walker Expanded identity “strips”. They’re a little rough around the edges, but completely acceptable as the newest addition to the Walker Expanded identity system (jk!). —
Environmental and elemental art — large-scale and sky art — kinetic and technological art — random happenings and programmed events — multimedia and light shows: ZERO 1, 2, 3 documents the birth, more than ten years ago, of these new tendencies in international art. It collects in one volume the three publications created by the […]
Environmental and elemental art — large-scale and sky art — kinetic and technological art — random happenings and programmed events — multimedia and light shows: ZERO 1, 2, 3 documents the birth, more than ten years ago, of these new tendencies in international art. It collects in one volume the three publications created by the artists’ collaborative, Group Zero, between 1958 and 1961.
Group Zero originated in Dsseldorf, Germany, but quickly became a pan-European force, with mutual exchanges and interacting influences linking an array of artists in Dsseldorf, Paris, Milan, Amsterdam, and elsewhere. This is best indicated by listing some of the artists whose words are displayed and works are illustrated in the book: besides Piene and Mack, they include Fontana, Yves Klein, Mavignier, Jean Tinguely, Arman, Pol Bury, Spoerri, Manzoni, Dorazio, Sota, Manfred Kage, and many others.
— Opening cover blurb from ZERO 1, 2, 3 (published by MIT Press in 1973)
This book initially caught my attention because of its stark cover (fig. 1). The severity of its simplicity and conciseness reminds me of a typographic course exercise in which hierarchy and proximity are closely considered. The inner contents of the book are less precise structurally, but more on point with the diverse selection of artists involved with ZERO 1, 2, 3 and the “dynamic filmlike sequences” their artwork creates upon the pages of the book.
While I’m no expert on group art catalogues as such, ZERO 1, 2, 3 seems to evade the monotonous structure and sequencing I see so often in other catalogues, annuals, biennials, etc. from this time period.
Some of the most mysterious anomalies of this book lie within a section featuring the work of Yves Klein in which the torn and burnt pages (fig. 4–5) are hard to miss. The strange thing about these pages is that it’s evident that the destruction was not an accident. While, to some extent, the writing on these altered pages (and adjacent pages) offer clues as to why the pages are presented as they are. For example, on the page preceding the burnt page, a sentence reads: “Fire is there too, and I must have its mark!” or “…one must be like untamed fire.” Similarly, on the page following the torn page, the opening sentence reads “…Leave my mark on the world, I have done it!” [*]
Lastly, and perhaps with some relation to the burnt page mentioned above, is a surprising set of instructions outlined on the last page of the book—“directions for use: pyromaniac instructions”—in which the reader is encouraged, through a six-step process, to burn the publication with the supplied book of matches. Unfortunately, the book of matches were only included with the original edition of the ZERO 3 publication.
* Further explanation of Klein’s torn and burnt pages is offered by Lawrence Alloway in an opening essay: “Zero 3 was a major publication, both visually and typographically resourceful. Klein submitted a dummy for it, and although it was not used, one detail concerning his own selection was retained. He wanted the last pages of an article of his to be burned in each copy; that way, he wrote “my text will not have any end…it will stop suddenly.” This distinction between formal completion and an existential act of just stoppping is a topic that the Abstract Expressionists discussed in New York, but Klein is alone, I think, in applying the idea to a verbal text.”
fig. 1: Book cover
fig. 2–3: Opening spreads of the ZERO 2 section
fig. 4–5: Spreads from the Yves Klein section in ZERO 3
fig. 6–7: Spreads from the Dieter Rot section in ZERO 3
fig. 8: Spread showing map of artist works
fig. 9–10: Closing spreads of ZERO 1, 2, 3
These two posters, recently found deep within one of our flat file drawers, demonstrate an unusual application of the Walker commissioned typeface designed by Matthew Carter. These intriguing posters were somewhat of a mystery until recently when we discovered (with some investigative help from a former member of the Walker studio) that each poster was […]
These two posters, recently found deep within one of our flat file drawers, demonstrate an unusual application of the Walker commissioned typeface designed by Matthew Carter.
These intriguing posters were somewhat of a mystery until recently when we discovered (with some investigative help from a former member of the Walker studio) that each poster was designed by a Japanese designer in collaboration with Carter for use in an exhibition of Carter’s work. Titled, Matthew Carter’s Type Game: A New Identity of the Walker Art Center, this exhibition took place in 1997 at the Morisawa Typography Space in Tokyo, Japan.
Design: Yutaka Satoh
Design: Kouga Hirano