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Download 15 issues of Design Quarterly

In case you missed it, as part of our 75th anniversary celebrations Andrew Blauvelt has put up a selection of Design Quarterly issues that are available in their entirety for download. Learn a bit about the history of Design Quarterly and dig into issues about Julia Child’s kitchen, the design process at Herman Miller, Muriel […]

DQ_coversIn case you missed it, as part of our 75th anniversary celebrations Andrew Blauvelt has put up a selection of Design Quarterly issues that are available in their entirety for download. Learn a bit about the history of Design Quarterly and dig into issues about Julia Child’s kitchen, the design process at Herman Miller, Muriel Cooper on computers and design, an issue by Richard Saul Wurman that is not about hats, and more.

9 Artists, 8 Books

From A to B and B to A: Bartholomew Ryan, curator of 9 Artists, and myself Andrea Hyde, designer of the catalog and exhibition identity, sat down a few years back to talk about the book, published in October 2013. B: Hi Andrea! A: Hi Bart, how are you doing? B: Good. Thank you. A: How was the […]

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9 Artists cover

From A to B and B to A: Bartholomew Ryan, curator of 9 Artists, and myself Andrea Hyde, designer of the catalog and exhibition identity, sat down a few years back to talk about the book, published in October 2013.

B: Hi Andrea!

A: Hi Bart, how are you doing?

B: Good. Thank you.

A: How was the exhibition opening at MIT?

B: It was really nice, actually. It was the first time a show of mine has opened outside of Minneapolis. What was interesting about it was having people I didn’t expect to show up. Obviously the exhibition is very different there, it’s about half the size in terms of space…

A: So, apart from the exhibition, how do you think the catalog has been received so far?

B: Well, I know that it has met its sales targets, which is good. Group show exhibition catalogs famously don’t sell very well, and one of the things that I am anxious for, is to preserve the ability to do books like 9 Artists that don’t conform to your typical coffee-table style catalog. We talked early in the process about making a book that’s less an illustration of the exhibition than a platform, a way to give light to the distinct practices of these eight artists who are all amazing creators outside the gallery context, a book that might be more interesting as a result. I’m hoping that is how it’s bearing out. I know the first batch of books that went to Europe sold out fairly quickly. I don’t think there are any left there right now. But, I am getting email from people who really enjoy the catalog, and who find it quite strange. And, I have decided that maybe ten people in the world have read my essay, but I’m sort of fine with that! (laughs) It’s probably for the best. But yes, people are interested and engaged by it, which is great!

The Cover:
B: From my perspective, part of the book’s appeal is the cover, and the identity system that went into the exhibition. I know that was something you came up with at a certain stage in the process, and I thought it was perfect for a number of reasons. It was actually the first time I realized the show had only eight artists! Where did the cover concept come from?

A: You’ll have to correct me if I am wrong, but I recall that the cover came out of the interior sketches. And the interior was largely informed by the artists. As you said, the book is less a documentation of the exhibition or the works within it, as it puts forth new work, new ideas, and new writing independent from the show. And because of that, because each of the artists have their own artist-book-like sections that were grouped into a singular catalog, their individual identities were really important. In this case, because of the nature of the artists’ work, because it was so personal, I thought that, unlike the name of the show—9 Artists, an iconic title that reads like a manifesto—I felt like the artists themselves were just as, if not more, important. Grouping them together on the cover in the way I did, as brands or as passport stamps, and using their first names allowed it to be casual, a bit irreverent. And I think that’s the nature of the exhibition and of the book itself.

A: Was that your reading of the process?

B: Yes. I remember we began by having conversations about what this book should be. We really wanted to step away from quasi-nostalgia, an artisanal sort of aesthetic that is so prevalent in the art world. At the same time, we didn’t set out to make a zany, kitchy experience. What we wanted was to capture a quality that would feel present, and also have its own flow.

A: Right, and very responsive to the content. Do you think that’s perceptible to the reader?

B: I think what happens when you look at the cover is that you see names that are locatable and reveal identity. 1. Liam [Gillick] is very clearly an Irish name. 2. Danh [Vo]…I don’t know what Danh looks like. Does it look Vietnamese? Or Danish? 3. Hito [Steyerl], it’s ridiculously Japanese. 4. Nástio [Mosquito], something cool… 5. Natascha [Sadr Haghighian], Russian most likely. 6. Bjarne [Melgaard], Scandinavian 7. Renzo [Martens] Italian, 8. Yael [Bartana] Israeli I guess. It’s a smorgasbord of [probably misleading] identity formations. First names conjures this idea of friendship, and potentially of a cohort. People in the art world love the narrative of a group of prominent artists who used to serve as security guards at Dia or what have you, yet these artists are distinctly not that, they are not a clique formed and perpetuated to accrue market and critical validation. The cover has a suggestion of that, but if you know the artists is pretty easy to see that that’s not how they exist in the world, at least not with each other.

A: But it’s also a response to the way in which you talked about the artists when we first started to think about the book. It was a very familiar conversation, and I think that friendly first-name basis tone was right for the book.

B: Yes, because it’s counter-intuitive to the work or to the grouping. Curators sometimes refer to artists by their first names as a sort of power play. I don’t think that’s how this happened. I think this was a very organic process. Another thing this cover does, of course, is it is Tetris-like. There may be a lot of tension—

A: and connections, networks…

B: and also breakups. Like, why is Danh, who is one of the more celebrated artists at this moment at the top left?

A: Why is Bjarne in two different foils? Whereas Hito is upside-down and rendered in ink?

B: Yeah so you’re put into this position where you’re—

A: You’re trying to make value judgments based on the composition.

B: Andrea, were you trying to tell us something when you put this together? And of course this formulation has taken on different iterations like in the exhibition graphics,  Nástio was upside-down… (laughs)

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The foldout inside cover
A: Let’s flip through the book and talk about different things we find interesting. There is a gatefold at the beginning, behind the cover and contents page. Do you want to talk about the foldout? I won’t mention some of our original ideas, but let’s just say one of them involved a centerfold of our dear curator who could be thought of as the ninth artist…

B: Yes, well there was a moment where we could have pushed that direction. Like, who is the ninth artist? Many people complain about the curator annexing artistic authorship and having too aggressive a role in the creation of the content in the exhibition. And, you know, I’m a curator in an institution, and I spend most of my days figuring out why someone didn’t get a loan form or something. So, it’s not like I perceive myself as an artist, but I do feel quite strongly—and that’s obvious in my essay, which has a first-person feel—that there is a huge level of subjective quality in the organization of these artists (or any artists) into a list. So we discussed having a semi-naked spread—because I am pretty fit (laughs)—and contacting a local photographer who does amazing body painting, really going for it, and make people laugh a little. But thankfully we went in a very different direction. As you know, the exhibition checklist for the show came very late in the process. There was a lot of conversation and time spent with the artists without really knowing what the hell we were going to do, but trusting the process. So when I saw Hito’s piece in the Venice Biennale, it seemed very obvious that it was perfect for the exhibition for a number of reasons. Partly because we acquired Red Alert a number of years ago and the two seemed so relatable and yet were from such different eras. I don’t think How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File could have been made in 2007. It’s absolutely relatable to our current context. So we ended up using a still from How Not to be Seen of an iPhone being held by a green-gloved hand.

A: Yes, we were looking for a an iconic image, but we didn’t want something that was instantly readable or understandable. We liked the idea that the still would be dated immediately after we published it, in the same way that the book is completely about its context. We liked that it was completely of its time. There’s also something charming and surprising about it.

B: Yes, I love that it’s very present, because it’s this fetishized iPhone: it’s a 4S or 5. But I also love that it has this futuristic, sci-fi feel. As you say, in three years’ time it’s going to utterly date this exhibition. I think notions of desire in relationship to how identity forms itself and how we actually shape ourselves as human beings often through the accretion of objects, the sort of lifestyle that is defined by something like an iPhone is a key to the exhibitoin. Obviously, if one has one it kind of give you a whole set of…

A: …tools and…

B: self-impressions, you know? There is something about that fetishization of commodity in relationship to the image that I think is a very interesting thing to hold on to in engaging with the book. But also the work itself is about a kind of liberation from that, breaking free of that process into a more anarchic space where desire and drives and so on are decoupled from these status things, in a sense summoned by then liberated from…

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9 Artists table of contents

The Contents Page
B: I also love the contents page with the list of artist contributions and the essay section titled. Cumulatively, the language is just incredible, it kind of tells you all you need to know about the exhibition.

A: Yes, the artist section titles, which serve as subtitles in your essay, are very interesting—Hito Steyerl’s Happy Pixels Hop Off Into Low-Resolution, Gif Loop! is my personal favorite. I hear you are releasing each section of your essay on the Walker blog.

B: Yes, I don’t think it’s ever something we’ve done before. I can’t think of another U.S. institution on the scale of the Walker that’s done it in this way. It’s actually a bit scary, because there’s a lot I say in the essay that will have a different existence online. Having said that, I was reading the Nástio section on my phone the other day and I thought, ‘God, this is so obvious! Nobody reads books.’ I mean, of course they do, and it all comes back to the book which I completely value, but why not make it available to people in other ways?

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Title page for Natascha Sadr Haghighian’s section in 9 Artists.

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Spread of Natascha Haghighian’s section in 9 Artists

The Artist Contributions
B: (flipping through pages) I love this!

A: The very first signature is a contribution by Natascha Sadr Haghighian. Here, I simply responded to her title to make the first page of her signature.

B: Which is what?

A: Which is Dear Artfukts, Look at My Curve, (laughs) and following is an antagonistic, yet funny correspondence between herself and ArtFacts.

B: Natascha is a wonderful and complex thinker, and in her essay she plays out a well-known aspect of her work: bioswop, which is for the free exchange of CVs and resumes. She created it in 2004, during a very different moment. This show tracks the fundamental change that’s happened to the artists in the show, in their response to a culture that is no longer new to the internet. You know, the internet is all encompassing, and it shapes everything all the time for the many, many people who have access to it. Natascha uses other peoples’ resumes and bios whenever she’s presenting her own work, and allows people to share these documents, which is an attack on the legitimacy of institutional affiliation, but also on the way one can be tokenized through one’s identity as, let’s say, a female artist from Africa. What I love is that she resists ArtFacts listing her work online, the data-bots collecting intel. She writes to them asking, ‘Please remove this information. This is my artistic project and you’re spoiling it.’ And they say, ‘No.’ So she takes action, and identifies with this graph that’s on the website that illustrates her career going up and down over the years, turning it into a subject, giving it agency by lifting it out of the capitalist metrics that it was meant to serve, leading it into into a more interesting space. It’s a simple thing that plays through various forms of identity and representation into things like social media campaigns around Troy Davis or Treyvon Martin. It’s a beautiful essay, and it’s very timely. And what I love about your cover design for it is—‘cause I think as a designer, you have this very interesting ability to be both very attuned and precise on a certain level, but there’s also such a freedom in the moment that I really enjoy. Like this curve, that’s not a graph, it’s its own animal.

A: Yes, it’s extracted from the Artfacts graph, but still illustrates the idea she’s trying to put forward.

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Last page of Natascha Sadr Haghighian and title page of Danh Vo’s section in 9 Artists

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Danh Vo’s section in 9 Artists

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The conclusion of Danh Vo’s Gustav’s Wing and the title page of Hito Steyerl’s contribution to 9 Artists: I Dreamed a Dream: Politics in the Age of Mass Art Production

A: And what about Danh Vo?

B: Well that’s one of the…you know, for me personally, when you’re a curator at an institution like the Walker you only get to do so many shows. I mean, it took for me three or four years to get 9 Artists on the books and get it done. In the meantime I was meeting people and spending a lot of time with artists. It’s a bit sad because I often have nothing specific in mind project-wise when I meet them, but I like spending time with artists to get to know their work. So Karl Holmqvist was someone I spent a number of hours with a few years ago in Berlin, and I had always wondered about his work, but knew how absolutely fascinating and important it was. So, one of the nice things about Danh’s section is that Karl had written a piece called Curriculum Vitae, which starts off with a dream where he wakes up and he’s being cuddled by Joe Dallesandro and Iggy Pop and then it moves onto a story about Danh filming something.

A: An advertisement.

B: An advertisement, yeah. And so Karl’s piece in this context becomes Danh’s Curriculum Vitae to an extent. So, it’s a very different relationship to Danh’s contribution than the one Natascha proposed. But it is equally about artists thinking of ways to subvert or deter official documents. What became nice was that it became a collaboration between a number of people. Phùng Vo, Danh’s father, who is often employed by Danh was commissioned to use his beautiful calligraphy in the project. Initially it was supposed to be in the font of, or in the script of, Martin Wong, the great painter whose work is also represented in the exhibition through I M U U R 2, 2013. But Phùng doesn’t play ball with Danh. Everybody who criticizes the relationship between Phùng and Danh act like it’s exploitation. But Phùng has incredibly agency in how he does these things—he kind of does more or less what he wants…—so he did his own script. There were a bunch of typos: like, instead of a “kind of human sandwich” it became, “king of human sandwich,” and “My Beauty Qeen,” where queen is misspelled. We decided to keep all of that. It was very simple.

A: I enjoyed this one because of its simplicity, in contrast to some of the other sections which were either more image or text heavy. Danh’s section was just about that the composition of the page and the beautiful calligraphy. And then, these intriguing images of Danh’s nephew and the process of making a cast.

B: Yes, there is a piece called Gustav’s Wing which I think—well was—a photo of Gustav. Obviously Danh works a lot with his family and tends to like to do things like this. So in a way it’s a very classical set of what really were just snapshots by Danh of the process of his nephew’s body being cast. And you know it’s a young boy. It has a classical quality, there is a sense of the gaze etc. It certainly has a resonance that’s interesting particularly when measured against subsequent work made from the cast, which is really about a kind of collapsing of beauty and a somewhat tortured representation of this source.

A: Well, it’s slightly odd, too, because both the calligraphy and the images are treated in a monotone, bright-blue color which removes the viewer from the content, and abstracts it a bit. I should mention that each artist book or signature is a complete formal departure. The composition, the color, the various paper, shifting grid, and system of page numbers. For example, Danh Vo’s case, the page numbers are all set in Roman Numerals without explanation. So as you’re traveling throughout the book, there is a sense of disorientation. Each section is a world onto itself.

 

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The first spread of Hito Steyerl’s section in 9 Artists. The paragraph reads: “The text that was here was withdrawn days before this publication went to print. The artist included the lyrics of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables as an essential illustration of some themes in the essay. After protracted good faith negotiations, the representative of the lyricist refused the Walker and the artist permission to print the song, or even a limited extract. While the Walker and the artist stand behind the fair use of the lyrics, the artist has decided to withdraw the text in full as a protest against the decision of Alain Boublil Overseas Limited.” The remaining spreads in this contribution include a selection of barricades, spanning hundreds of years and several geopolitical realities.

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Renzo Marten’s contribution was made to look like an HMO report. His Institute for Human Activities launched “a five-year Gentrification Program and set up an in-vitro testing ground of the material effects of art production.”

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The last page of Renzo Marten’s signature, and the title page of Yael Bartana’s contribution, which was a fictitious correspondence between herself and  the ghost of Otto Weininger.

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Yael Bartana’s section was treated simply, using Times New Roman and basic letter format to foreground her fictitious pen pal relationship with Otto Weininger, whose letterhead was intentionally made to look as if it was from the Austrian house in which he committed suicide, coincidentally also the death place of Beethoven. The text was written by Bartana’s friend and collaborator, the curator Galit Eilat.

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Yael Bartana’s section in 9 Artists. Her “letterhead” makes use of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP) emblem, found in Bartana’s Polish trilogy “and Europe will be stunned.”

B: And really it follows the whole approach of the show which was to put things in proximity and allow them to be digested. I think there are some really key thematic through-lines in this exhibition. They are obvious, but in order to encounter them, one has to spend time with the content, the structure, and the form. And so, there is a call to the reader, to the viewer, to the person who engages the exhibition to really engage with it. I think what I discussed with you and what I discussed with others is that I really want people to get there themselves, but try to give them the tools to do so, the basic level of information they need in order to engage with and access the artist[s]. Hence the book, the show, the events etc.

A: (At this point in our conversation, the recorder stops just as I was claiming that design is not an essential part of this book)

B: Okay, so you just said this book is not designed, right? What do you mean this book is not designed?

A: This book isn’t about the design. In the past, the typefaces I use, the color, the grid system, everything—because it’s homogenized— is based on a particular way I want to present a group show or a solo artist. It’s coming from a very distinct perspective. In this case it was more a collaboration, with the artists, writers, and even with outside designers: Bjarne, worked with Brendan [Dugan] at An Art Service, and Nástio worked with Vic Pereiró on their section [later the piece was used as the basis for a video by Vic and Nástio]. They both submitted completed signatures that we didn’t really alter at all apart from paginating them, putting them in the book and producing them. So, in a sense this book is not the creation of a designer, but of the artists. The form was completely subservient to the content.

B: I don’t agree with that at all.

A: Oh, you don’t? Interesting!

B: I think it’s a heavily designed book. For example, what I enjoyed about Bjarne and Nástio’s contributions is that I felt like you needed to come up with a system for the book that glued it together. That was very necessary. And the fact that you were thrown these complete curveballs problematized it a lot. So, it’s like it created this other context that just fucked with everything a bit.

A: Well, it did allowed me to disconnect. It allowed me to share because there was a bigger community to consider. It took a village to make this book!

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The title page to Nástio Mosquito’s contribution, designed in collaboration with Vic Pereiró

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The last page of Nástio Mosquito’s contribution, designed in collaboration with Vic Pereiró beside the title page of Liam Gillick’s signature which features a reprint of the artist’s Berlin Statement, and a new text by Federica Bueti.

B: Because I know, we talked about this before, but Vic and Nástio have a very particular aesthetic relationship that’s extremely free, DIY, bold, and absolutely anti-anything-that-might-come-out-of-the-Walker.

A: And it flies in face of a lot of the classic ideals of design that I learned, that I practiced, and that is hard for me to remove myself from. To be confronted with something that’s so outside of what I would or could create is a humbling moment. It is something I struggled with, but I think Nástio’s contribution added to the experience, which I think you might mean when you say that it’s heavily designed. In fact, if we were looking at one section, say Yael’s contribution: if I ran that theme throughout the book there would be less a sense of disconnect, there would be a rhythmic association with her work and the fictitious letters between her and [Otto] Weininger. Those can serve as visual cues that a reader can latch onto and understand in a way that allows the design to recede. But, because there are different formal and organizational styles butting against one another, it feels more “designed” than it actually is.

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Bjarne Melgaard’s title page to his contribution to 9 Artists, designed in collaboration with Brendan Dugan.

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B: Well I think that—regarding Nástio and Bjarne—you made two decisions there: Bjarne is on this glossy paper, which really suits the commercial, highly constructed feel for those images, even though they are actually candid images of Bjarne doing his thing; and then Nástio’s section is on newsprint paper, which captures that DIY, quick, but really interesting aspect of his design. I think those two would have been really lost within a less focused approach to the sections. For example, you have produced one color for most of the sections you designed, so that creates a sense of unity. In addition, the title pages for each section is very strong, whether it’s Liam and Federica [Bueti], or Renzo, Yael, and Natascha. And then you and I worked very closely with the sequencing of the signatures. It wasn’t based on a somewhat arbitrary alphabetical approach…or what have you…

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A: You’re right, the pagination of signatures was based on their visual impact. The end page of one signature coming up against the cover page of the next was really important to us.

B: Yes, that’s very much a design choice and very interesting on a lot of levels. And you’re right in that some of our decisions were made just to allow the logic of the book to follow. Like Liam and Frederica who share that signature but with two different texts, and at one point we were going to run their texts in tandem. Hers is somewhat allegorical, fable-style response to Liam’s text: it’s the tale of a man who walks through the skyways in Minnesota looking for a job and meets a cat. Cats are quite amusingly a key part of the Walker’s identity right now.

A: Actually, cats also appear later on in the compendium of works…

B: We originally thought it would be a good idea to run their texts in tandem, but it was obvious that it wasn’t working, as her text is very different to Liam’s.

A: The lengths are different.

B: It just didn’t feel right. So then we thought, “let’s just have these two texts in the sixteen page signature run into each other in the middle. In order to do that in a way—I can’t remember why—we turned Federica’s part upside-down. How did that work design wise?

A: I originally had the title page of Federica’s following the last page of Yael’s. And I think we just liked that feeling, and so decided to run it backwards. Her essay is running upside-down and meets Gillick’s essay in the middle of that section.

B: That’s one response I get a lot: “Why is that part upside-down?” The only thing to respond to that is, “Why not!” What it does is it really reinforces the objectness of the book. It’s not by any means a radical gesture, but it is kind of interesting because it is also one of the biggest contributions by someone who’s not actually in the show. There are so many collaborators on this book, it really manifests the broader communities that the artists engage. There is something quite special about Federica’s text, a kind of mood. I think it calls out that we don’t even know quite what to do with it (laughs).

A: I think that, if this section, if this signature, existed as its own small artist book, you would think nothing of it being upside down…and you see that very often. Our approach to each section was to design it as if there weren’t any other sections in the book. Apart from a few choices, like the color and paper, every other choice exists solely within its own signature. I think the shock comes from the fact that the upside down text exists within a bigger book with formally different sections, none of which are upside-down. Every small change we make seems larger within the context of this catalog. Each artists’ contribution is its own signature—or its own artist book—and we designed it as such. You could literally take the binding off the book and bind each section, and publish those on their own merit.

8 Artist Books, One 9 Artist Catalog

B: During the press release process, I would often shy away from using the term “artist book,” even though that was how we were thinking of of the catalog as these signature sections. But whenever I used the term, “artist book” it wouldn’t feel right to me. It felt like moving toward something a little too isolated. What I found interesting in that process was how—and this is where I would push back and say, “this is highly designed book.”—the artists’ decisions are very much a part of it, but a huge number of decisions about design were made by you largely.

A: Before we conclude, how do you think the book is being received? I wonder if it makes people feel uncomfortable? Does it challenge? Because, I know that it does for me as a designer, so I can only imagine what someone who was not involved in the process would think or feel.

B: I’ve  heard some informal, unsolicited feedback from people, such as: “Wow, this book is really interesting.” All of the artists received several copies of the book, and in a way that’s the most obvious way it’s being distributed, because they are showing it to friends or giving it to people. I got an emails saying that people are going gaga over the book. I don’t know what “gaga” means (laughs), and maybe that person was being polite. People have different responses. I’m not a designer, so for me moments like Nástio’s are really happy moments, because I think it helps the book feel heterogeneous. It shows those cards very visibly—people probably look at it very casually and go, “Oh, this is just tons of visual information trying to show us that it’s an exciting show or something.” But I think people who engage it more deeply are pretty interested in it. I feel like it has an iconic quality as a publication without actually having tried so hard . The more obvious approaches are all ones we shied away from. It almost happened by accident. I’m not trying to claim radicality or anything, but it is a really nice book.

 

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Compendium of Works in 9 Artists, a wholly visual approach to the “plates” section ordered and organized by the designer and curator.

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Art & Leisure and Art & Leisure

Li Po Cocktail Lounge was my place for a rough gin and tonic, a drink to distract from bad days at work. It sticks out among San Francisco dive bars, with its gilded cave entrance and giant lantern caked with (what I hope is) opium. The bar’s namesake was a Tang dynasty intellectual, an Immortal […]

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Li Po Cocktail Lounge was my place for a rough gin and tonic, a drink to distract from bad days at work. It sticks out among San Francisco dive bars, with its gilded cave entrance and giant lantern caked with (what I hope is) opium. The bar’s namesake was a Tang dynasty intellectual, an Immortal of the Wine Cup, who were celebrated wise men in Chinese history who loved to party. Li Po embodied the drunken scholar, who supported his thirst with poetry, and sometimes the other way around. In trying moments, I liked his style with ease.

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Years later at another bar (a Minneapolis gay saloon called the 19), a series of conversations turned into a project called Art & Leisure and Art & Leisure. My friends Ira and Simon asked if I was interested in collaborating on a small show in their space at the London Centre for Book Arts, and soon came some weird proposals: a smoke machine, a dish called “bear fly pizza”, hammocks in the space, graphic sci-fi teleportation pads on the floors and walls and calling the whole thing Intergalactic Pizza Safari.

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We thankfully ended up with something more coherent and stranger. A&L&A&L was a spiral-bound catalogue that was also a calendar which only marked every weekend in the year; a calendar that was also an exhibition about my personal practice that exists outside of “work work”; and finally an exhibition that was also a spiral-bound catalogue of research notes and details of projects from the last few years. It was produced by the LCBA and sold as a small edition.

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The title, which Ira thought up, refers to those ideas that ramble, words that slur, and the reason I mention Li Po. Why do ideas like labor and leisure imply something about the value of time? For our friend, it was sometimes hard to tell where work ended and fun began (wine is mentioned several times in his poems). But despite that, drunkenness was only a backdrop to his observational verses. The distinction between business hours and vacation time become foggy now.

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As this ended up being a hobby project outside of my day job, A&L&A&L also became an investigation about different forms of distractions. Examples (which even touched on those initial vodka pineapple-soaked ideas) like science fiction, myths and legends about laziness, stoner snapshots, link surfing, recreational mathematics, pro-wrestling moves that involved flying, and gaming surfaces like ball courts and fields. As activities outside of any utilitarian incentive, these were actually deep ideas motivated by the need to entertain ourselves.

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A fortune cookie once said, “If you have a difficult task, give it to a lazy man: he will find an easier way to do it.” It poetically describes the shortcut as a concise solution, and the cheat as a knowledgeable solver, a shift from the usual negative connotation. Not that it’s a manifesto, but I think the cookie raises a good point! Imagine that leisure isn’t an idle state, but actually a strategy. For those that laze, a problem becomes an opportunity to amuse and stumble around helpfully, and afterwards, resume more pressing matters like finishing my beer.

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Art & Leisure and Art & Leisure was a book published by the London Centre for Book Arts and is available for purchase on their website.

This text originally appears in Thought Experiments in Graphic Design Education, a forthcoming book edited and art directed by Joshua Trees and Yvan Martinez (Martinez & Trees) and designed by Eurico Sa Fernandes and Mariana Lobao (Ponto). The book launches in December and features studio projects from students of Central St. Martins and London College of Communication alongside contributions from Bart de Baets, Stuart Bailey, Victor Boullet, Delphine Bedel, Lionel Bovier, James Corazzo, Benedetta Crippa, Department 21, Bianca Elzenbaumer, Fabio Franz, Ken Hollings, Kenneth Fitzgerald, Harrisson, John Hammersley, Brockett Horne, Scott King, Elizabeth Legate, Jono Lewarne, Alexander Lis, Armand Mevis, Rens Muis, Stuart Price, Jon Sueda, Ken Kirton, Darren Raven, Rebecca Stephany, Sebastian Pataki, Alexander Shoukas, and Walker design studio alums Daniel Eatock and Silas Munro.

 

A Warm System—The Autoconstrucción Suites

Autoconstrucción: a definitely unfinished inefficient unstable affective emotional delirious joyful affirmative sweaty fragmentary empiric weak happy contradictory solitary indecent sensual amorphous warm and committed index Autoconstrucción (loosely translated as self-build) refers to a particular method in home construction. Those who don’t have the economic means to complete an entire house (but have enough for parts […]

Autoconstrucción: a definitely unfinished inefficient unstable affective emotional delirious joyful affirmative sweaty fragmentary empiric weak happy contradictory solitary indecent sensual amorphous warm and committed index

cruzvillegas001-002_front_webAutoconstrucción (loosely translated as self-build) refers to a particular method in home construction. Those who don’t have the economic means to complete an entire house (but have enough for parts of one) build structures in stages using whatever resources are available at their disposal. And as situations change or families grow, additions and modifications are made to the home that may not use the same material used in the last stage of construction, depending on circumstances. Visually, these developments can be a mish-mash of styles; architecturally, its a responsive approach to building, constantly trying to meet the needs of the inhabitants inside and the neighborhood outside.

The Autoconstrucción Suites is the latest survey of artist Abraham Cruzvillegas’s decade-long investigation of this phenomenon and how it informs his work. Born and based in Mexico City and growing up in a self-build, that experience is the basis for many of his projects, which range from sculpture to song-writing, drawing to performance, film and writing. Curated by Clara Kim, the exhibition brings together all of these thoughts and moments into a singular gallery space, and creates a world where this line of research takes the form of decaying maguey leaves, a rough splat of concrete, painted cardboard boxes on a wall, a chrome sphere on the floor, or even a tricycle with an audio/visual system built in. A 240-page catalogue accompanies the exhibition, and is conceived as a primer into the language of self building and a container for his research and works.

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Warm: a warm system means an organic organization of re-arrangable elements, in which subjectivity, affection, emotion, but mostly needs, rule. An exhibition or a book can be warm systems.

In our first meeting with him to talk about the catalogue, Abraham brought a couple of books from his own collection that he was formally and conceptually interested in. One was this great Filliou catalogue, where everything—from artworks to text entries and random references—was organized in an alphabetic index; on one hand, it’s a pretty academic structure, but weirdly enough, that framework also introduces an element of randomness, with illustrations and reproductions and texts thrown in next to each other at unexpected moments. Another was a Duchamp book that actually comprised of several printed editions housed in a book-like folder, and included reproductions of artworks, small publications and even a little paper sculpture you could assemble. The density of information and the variety of ways to experience the work was really appealing to us, but how much could we achieve with just a plate section and a couple of essays?

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Abraham then casually mentioned including a text he had just prepared a few months prior, a list of autoconstrucción terms and his personal definitions he uses not only to describe his work, but everything: love, life, food, sex, etc. (Some of these terms are scattered throughout this blog post). They waver between serious and light, pithy statements or heavy assertions. We thought it compelling enough to establish a basic conceptual structure for the book, a way for readers to engage with the work on a philosophical level. Above, the English and Spanish versions of the table of contents are structured as quasi-indices, listing all the individual terms as well as the titles of his songs and is an idiosyncratic way to see the range of information contained.

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Abraham’s resource room is a work in the show that was important to the development of the book. Pictured above, it’s made up of different elements: on a long table there are coil-bound photocopied books about things like architecture, poetry, and Mexican culture; upside down buckets and a converted wheelbarrow serve as seating; on a nearby wall, several large maps are displayed, showing growth and population densities in Mexico City over time; on a circular table a plant sits on top of a collage of photographs, images from his neighborhood that Abraham had taken with a point-and-shoot; and on another wall, a wall of Mexican and Latin American socio-political posters.

We thought about the project in this particular context and environment, and liked the idea that maybe the catalogue could potentially inhabit this specific space, or at the very least were related somehow. The room comes off as a little cosmos of ideas, as if an encyclopaedia had exploded onto the walls of a gallery. If this room was the big-bang, what if the book was the big-crunch version of the entire installation?

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So from these initial thoughts, we started to determine some major moves. The book would be structured in two parts: the core would house works in the exhibition, a 64-page plate section; wrapped around that center is the autoconstrucción universe: the constellation of songs, photos, posters, books, and index terms that he pulls from, in addition to the contributed essays. Because we were literally looking to nest these sections, we decided to saddle stitch the entire book (surprisingly easy to do, despite it a 240 page book, if you find an industrial stitching machine in Stillwater that sews sailboat sails together). The book is softcover, and gave the overall catalogue a very floppy, flexible feel.

Abraham later joked that he could use it to swat flies.

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Unstable: piling things atop of each other, not definitely fixed, makes stacks of transformable energy about to collapse. Here I’m talking of history, economy, society and culture. Physical and conceptual instability are something hard to sustain, but I like it.

I usually try to analogize my projects in unusual ways, to introduce a different way of looking at a particular problem. During our conversations, I kept referring to this metaphor of “the book as brick.” The comparison seemed appropriate for some reason: brick as a blunt object, brick as a singular unit, brick as a constructive force, brick as a destructive force, brick as a weight, brick as potential energy. The homely brick suddenly became loaded with things like personality and tone, conceptual ideas beyond its simple functional aspect. We thought it could be interesting to link the resource room to this strange analogy somehow, and view the elements of the installation as raw material from which he constructs the autoconstrucción world. Maybe these images—of his neighborhood, of the books, or the posters, or even the songs he wrote—were individual bricks.

So for this book, instead of laying images out on a pre-determined grid, or just simply centering everything with space in-between elements, what if we just stacked all the images on top of each other?

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So we did. And we liked it.

This reminds me of Carl Sagan’s thought experiment of two-dimensional shapes, living on a flatland, having to deal with the realization that there may be other dimensions beyond their perception. It brings up an interesting idea as a book designer, about the way we work with flat surfaces, and where our own perspective lies as the designer: are we the flatlander, or the booming extra-dimensional voice from within? And from there, it was kind of strange to think about creating a sense of weight in a “space” like a page in a book. But after this stacking strategy came up, it  introduced another dimension, maybe it was height, maybe it was volume?

This weirdly enough also sort of recalls those cup stacking championships, which was a funny way to think about Abraham’s work, on a couple of different levels: ideas about sculpture as a gesture, or series of built up gestures; and also about improvisation, as if the artist just stacked the images himself. And in the end, this new shape becomes much more interesting than a couple of squares and rectangles on a page. The content can now be activated because of its new shape, like the way that Abraham’s process creates new objects, but that object serves to highlight the individual components of the piece. Cups become pyramids, and debris become sculpture.

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Once this was all figured out, the system kind of took over and designed itself. And I think I use the word “system” very loosely, in the sense that it’s not really what we would think of (in a design context) as a tightly gridded out document. The strategy was more like an overall attitude or an outlook, a little less concerned about the final product and more interested in the process. It was also kind of a game we devised for ourselves, whose only rule was to stack the images in weird and interesting ways. And as a graphic designer, its interesting when you introduce an element of play like that. For this project, that quality allowed us to be very responsive and flexible to our own immediate needs and whatever random issue the world threw at us, whether it was not being able to secure rights for an image, or something being too low resolution to print. Whenever something like that happened, we were able to quickly shift images here and there, create new piles, and then move on. It’s pretty liberating not having to stress over minutae when you don’t build it into the structure.

Joyful: inventing the rules of a game to be played everyday in different ways. Rules are dictated from specific needs, then it can be played capriciously, with ingenuity and pleasure. If the game can be played collectively it could go better, depending on the people you invite and on their will to share, learn and risk together. Rules can also be modified, according to peculiarities of context, timing and circumstances.

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We applied the same strategy to the text pages, setting the type in columns and having the width of each paragraph vary, again, to give the impression of blocks stacked on top of each other. This happened to be pretty helpful, given the bi-lingual context of the catalogue, and is (hopefully) a helpful device that readers can use to determine where in the translation you are between different languages.

This move sort of shifted the piling metaphor into a different territory. After typesetting these, I started to see these columns of type as a kind of strata, or sediments that have settled on on top of another which compact over time and turn into a new and solid form. I haven’t tried this yet, but one could potentially take a couple of copies of the book and stack them on top of each other and represent each essay a one long geologic cross-section. The essay became something you excavate, sifting through layers of information rather than rock; and with some essays, sometimes there’s something to find, and sometimes there’s nothing but more dirt under there.

And like strata, autoconstrucción becomes a way to understand the world of objects as things made up of a variety of moments and ideas, rather than something singular and isolated. Each layer, whether it’s a particular building material, or a line from a song lyric, or a photo in a stack of images, tells its own story about where it comes from, how it is used, what its particular function is, unintended or not. While the combinations of these layers might be novel and exciting, Abraham’s work recognizes that our own constructions don’t manifest themselves out of thin air, but are built upon (and are sourced from) the context of prior knowledge. The mix may be as homogenous as concrete or as chunky as a stack of crates, but looking closely, you might start to realize that maybe the sum of its parts can be greater than the whole.

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Fragmentary: contradictory elements making a whole, there’s no chance for mistake. Tales are short moments of experience or imagination. Married pieces from clashing contexts make beautiful conversations. A book of tales makes a universe.

Abraham Cruzvillegas: The Autoconstrucción Suites is currently on view in Target and Friedman Galleries until September 22, 2013. Afterwards, it will be travelling to Haus der Kunst in Berlin in 2014, and then Fundación/Colección Jumex and Museo Amparo in Mexico City in 2015.

The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal by Mirza and Butler

The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal is a fictional museum by London-based artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. The exhibition’s multilayered text, sound, film and performance addresses peculiar evolving questions around the public institutions and the collisions of art and the political praxis. In their new act, The New Deal, the duo transforms the […]

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Installation view of The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal

The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal is a fictional museum by London-based artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. The exhibition’s multilayered text, sound, film and performance addresses peculiar evolving questions around the public institutions and the collisions of art and the political praxis. In their new act, The New Deal, the duo transforms the gallery space into an open-ended platform to question the marginalization of the common, perpetuation of the bourgeois, urgency of the political resistance,  growing tension between the 99% and the 1%, among other social and political struggles we are confronting in this geopolitical entanglement. Mirza and Butler keeps the audience at the verge—purporting the importance and the urgency to choose a political position for social change. The artists also curated the Walker’s Art News From Elsewhere as another form of their participatory reaction. Their investigations in the dissonance of the public realm and the idea of turning around the public’s positions and perspectives intrigued the initial idea for the exhibition’s graphics.

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The word MUSEUM is horizontally flipped to create a subtle tension within the title—turning the museum into the city and vice versa. (It’s similar to glass doors that have push and pull signs on the same side to disorient you.) Reversed type also connotes the act of resistance and Urdu alphabet’s right-to-left writing system.

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Attendees perform Bertolt Brecht’s The Exception and the Rule on the opening night

Mirza and Butler, with the curators and local participants, performed Bertolt Brecht’s Exception and the Rule as an inquiry into the conditions of capitalism, free market and power play. Play scripts for the players were incorporated as a part of the opening night performance.

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The enlarged gallery guide (12 × 18 inches) evolved from the urgency of the situation. Non Participation: Acts of Definition and Redefinition is compiled with local and international contributors’ understandings of the art of opposition and resistance. It is on view in the gallery and for those of you who can’t make it, the texts will be available to read on the Visual Arts blog in the coming days.

The Making of the Lifelike Catalog

Lifelike, a Walker-organized exhibition curated by Siri Engberg, and now on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art, is documented by its eponymous catalog. I sat down last March with João Doria to talk about the making (and thinking) of the book. Transcript of João Doria with Andrea Hyde on the Lifelike catalog J: […]

Lifelike, a Walker-organized exhibition curated by Siri Engberg, and now on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art, is documented by its eponymous catalog. I sat down last March with João Doria to talk about the making (and thinking) of the book.

Transcript of João Doria with Andrea Hyde on the Lifelike catalog

J: I have the catalog here. I was wondering if we could start with a little description of the context in which this catalog was made?

A: The context I think you’re referring to is the Lifelike exhibition, now on tour. Siri [Engberg] curated the show as you probably know. She was interested in presenting artists working with realism from the 60s through the present. She touches on various incarnations of realism, from abstraction to installation-based work like Maurizio Cattelan’s sculptures to [Gerhard] Richter’s hyperrealistic paintings. I needed to find a way to reflect these themes in the book.

My initial meeting with [the curators] was very interesting. I presented some pretty radical ideas.

J: Are they worth showing? I mean to me they are but in a blog post?

A: Potentially. I feel protective about them. Perhaps they will be useful in the future [giggles]. You know, as a designer we sometimes recycle our ideas. I’ve found that it sometimes happens, but unexpectedly. Perhaps I will come upon the perfect occasion to use an old idea in the future…

With that said, one of the initial ideas that made it into the book—though a in a subtle way—was the idea of the book being a collection of stolen materials. For example, instead of a half-title page, the very first page of the book is a page from a published Charles Ray book. There’s no explanation as to why it’s there, but for a very small caption on the inside front cover. The gesture is meant to throw the reader and to refer to the art in the show—there is a moment where most aren’t sure whether what they see is real or fake. I’m thinking specifically of the Fischli and Weiss’ installation that looks like building materials and debris. Is it part of the exhibition or the byproducts from the show’s installation? In fact, it is an artwork. Or the Vija Celmins installation—it looks like a mistake, a remnant. That’s what that first page is meant to do: present the reader with something that doesn’t quite fit. I wish there were more instances like that throughout the book, but because the pagination was tight, it became necessary to economize those moments.

J: Before we go too deep into the catalog, what did the curators ask you for? How did it all start?

A: During the first meeting we talked about the ideas behind the exhibition and where it was going. I knew that there would be some reprints and commissioned texts. Siri was going to write [giggles] a really large essay, and I started type layouts based on the reprints. The first reprint I received was a [Josiah] McElheny article that first appeared in Artforum, which was really useful in figuring out some of the themes of the show: Duchampian readymades and work that followed in the same vein.

J: You did other catalogs since you started at the Walker and I wonder if you have an opinion about a curators’ general expectation when it comes to catalogs. Moreover, what’s the role of the catalog here at the Walker in relation to exhibitions. Why do they usually want to do a catalog?

A: Everyone wants a catalog. Sometimes they are more wanted than needed, but for this show a book made perfect sense: it’s a substantial exhibition, it’s touring, and the show’s grouping is unique.

Each curator has different goals for their catalogs. Eiko & Koma, which was the book I designed right before this one, is a good example. The curators, editor, and former publications director [Lisa Middag] wanted that book to stake out a position for performance art within the scholarly realm of art criticism usually associated with visual arts. It hadn’t been done often in the past. So that was the goal then.

But Lifelike is really true to its exhibition. It presents the ideas behind the show in chronological order. It’s similar to the way a curator would organize the exhibition’s physical space. Its a good accompaniment.

J: Now we can get more to the object. We talked about it before and also with Andrew [Blauvelt] and Emmet [Byrne]. I noticed that recent Walker catalogs have been more lightweight. They look (but in fact they’re not) less luxurious objects and this involves many questions I think.

I remember, for instance, the Frida Kahlo book or the books in that era of the Walker design department. They had hardcovers, cloth, etc., and it’s more apparent that they were meant to document the exhibition/made to last (which doesn’t mean they will) and that makes me think about the public. I would say that in a regular situation, in a context away from the collector or a designer interested in books, the Lifelike catalog would feel more appealing. To me, I would fear it less.

A: It’s less intimidating, I agree. I see the trend but I don’t know if this is intentional. I see it more as a byproduct of trying to pare down the cost of our publication program, at least temporarily. In the future there will be bigger moments. We will have more [Yves] Kleins, more [Frida] Kahlos. I know that will happen [for example, there is a Jim Hodges book on the horizon], but in this case, to a casual reader, this book feels a bit more like a reader because of its humble production. Because it’s less of an artifact, I feel more like reading it. Kahlo and The Quick and The Dead really feel like art books—you put them down on a table and they make a sound [laughs].

Before I came to the Walker I worked on books for Gagosian and the Guggenheim through a studio. Those institutions seemed to prefer expensive, exclusive books, more an artifact than a document. That’s also a challenge. I think both are extremes and challenges for the designer.

J: How do you articulate your own language/interests with the content and budget restrictions and the intellectual decisions taken by the curators with the practical design decisions you need to make?

A: It’s always a case of priorities. In this case, we prioritized a Swiss cover and  smyth-sewn binding so even though it’s a softcover it’s actually pretty sturdy.

Originally the idea was to use the second spine—as I’m calling the interior spine—and to stamp it with the same foil I used on the cover. We evolved away from this when we decided that to begin with the Charles Ray page. Initially, I was thinking of the whole book as a copy of something. I even sketched the title in the Life cereal logotype but in different crazy colors. It would have been a fun cover, less reverential to the artwork featured inside the book. Instead, we decided to put an artwork on the cover that corresponded to the Charles Ray page half-title and to add some materiality by using cast-coated paper, so that there is a textural  difference between outer and inner covers.

 

 


 

 

 

And when I talk to the artist/curator/whoever I’m dealing with when making a book, I generally talk about those different options all out and say ‘well, I think we should try to focus on those three things’ and then maybe the other nice things need to fall out as a consequence. It’s always a balance and even when you have a big budget you’re working to fit as much into the book as possible. It’s a balance between the production aspects, the physical aspects of the book and the idea behind the book and how it’s structured.

J: I remember talking to Emmet and he told me as well that one real interesting thing about the fake half-title page is that the artist himself he had lost the notion as it is said here on… wait a minute, is your book different?

A: Oh I forgot to say! [The book tape fabrics] are different. There are three different types. We went to the bindery and they had it on salvage, so we used their extras.

J: The name of the exhibition, how did you approached it through typography? As a foreigner, I would say Lifelike has a good sound, a sort of wordplay. When you separate the letters people tend to say ‘aw, this is going to get difficult to read!’ making, naturally making the designer a little furious because we tend to believe people are more intelligent than they think.

A: Lifelike is really nice as a title because first, there is no subtitle [giggles]. Second, it’s clear and represents the show perfectly, and third, typographically, it’s nice that the words ‘Life’ and ‘Like’ share every letter but one, which gave me the perfect excuse to play around with shapes. I’ve always liked the tree and flower of life symbols. Starting from there, I created circular, triangular, and diagonal divider spreads and headers to play with the title and refer to the symbol.

Above: The flower of life, an inspiration for the divider spreads and headers (located near the gutters of each spread).

 

J: Now for nerdy stuff. This format is a little bigger than Eiko & Koma, so why did you pick that particular format? It’s a stupid question but…

A: …no no, not at all. I think Eiko & Koma needed to be more intimate, more like something you could read in your bedroom—there are so many details about their life and work. I feel like [Lifelike] is more like a manual in the sense that it’s main goal is to be informational, and the proportions are a little awkward, too big for intimacy but too small to be “coffee table.”  An in-between format, awkward. In fact, many of my decisions were made in order to make the book feel more awkward, in part because that’s the feeling the exhibition inspires. It’s a bit wide, too. I knew that the softcover would help the book to really open and I wanted to have some good text-spreads. I also knew that I wanted to use the gutters for the page numbers and running headers so I felt like it would be nice to have a almost-square proportion, which we extended to the exhibition didactics.

…Something you said before was interesting, something about the reprints being re-purposed copy, the Charles Ray page reproduced. This duplication is also evident in the contents page. I simply took the layout from select pages and placed it there, another reference to the work in this exhibition, in that divider spreads, made smaller become literal representations of those sections of the book.

J: The grotesque typeface, is it F Grotesk from Radim Peško? The typewriter monospaced typeface, which one is it?

A: It’s called Prestige Elite.

J: When I look at the surface of your pages in this publication, I see two planes, and I feel like you use thick lines to relate to the density of F Grotesk and to everything which is heavier and thin lines to relate to Prestige Elite and to what’s lighter.

I wonder, then, when we get to the book I look for how you organized the book’s different moments and how what we said before is expressed in that.

In the contents page, the letters circling around the page makes me thing you’re trying to place some hidden message, a continuity in each divider page. In the foreword the text is set in the grotesque typeface so it feels like the more institutional texts are set this way whereas the content that relates exclusively to the work is set in the monospaced type. So this is something that may be nice to talk about—can you explain more about the structure of the text?

 

A: Siri’s essay is first and is divided by themes. In many catalogs, there are distinct and uninterrupted essay sections. In this case, the plates and divider pages serve as bookends to the essays. Plates correspond to sections like ‘Previous Lives’ or ‘Common Objects,’ and directly correspond with the exhibition—as I said before, the book is a perfect reflection of the exhibition space because, in a sense, its layout is the same. Entering the exhibition, you first encounter works that illustrate the ‘Common Objects’ theme, and then ‘Uncanny’ follows, etc.

Sprinkled throughout are ‘Object Lessons,’ case studies of specific works. I wanted these to be distinct, rendered in an institutional voice and differentiated from Siri’s essay.

J: The text set with Prestige seems more for reading, and what’s set in the other voice seems more like extended captions.

A: That’s exactly what they are. It’s interesting because I was thinking of the Object Lessons as extended captions. Normally, I wouldn’t choose to use a typewriter face as the body text for an entire book, but in this case it made perfect sense. Prestige in its digital form is a copy of its original typewriter-produced self. I mean, typewriter faces are anachronistic, we don’t use typewriters anymore, we’re mimicking it.

J: How did they react when you presented those ideas/justifications? To my experience, the good thing about working with curators and artists is that usually the talk gets to a level where everyday life decisions for you as a designer are understood on a conceptual level.

A: They got it right away. When I presented initial ideas—I called one of the ideas ‘The Impostor’—I mentioned using typefaces that mimic others: Arial for example, which mimics Helvetica. With Prestige I am mimicking an outmoded mode of production. It also refers to scripts, like you were saying—”this is something to be read.”

J: What about grids and stuff. What’s underlying what we see?

A: I’ve always been a fan of how the Talmud is laid out. I like the big blocks of text brutally interrupted by notes, references, asides and diagrams. These interruptions don’t break the rectangular shape. It’s the inversion of what most designers consider “good design,” with white space, unforced kerning, etc. To me, the Talmud’s modular denseness is attractive.

One of my original ideas was to make a book that looks like a different book, an iconic text that most people would recognize. It would copy the look and structure but use our content. Does that make sense to you?

J: Yes.

A: Then it evolved. But to answer your question, I changed the grid depending on the type of content. The essay has a different grid type than the plates, which was a very different grid from the object lessons.

J: I was also wondering whether it was modular or not.

A: I would say there’s a master grid and variations on that, but the variations are so big it makes for very different layouts. Before we decided to intersperse the essay throughout the book I thought that sections of the book could look extremely different from one another, almost like different books stitched together. That idea evolved into type and grid variations.

J: About the images. In the show their scales vary a lot—how did you deal with it on this book? The chairs outside, the leaves in the corner, what goes through your mind when putting it together, giving it new relationships? It’s typical book design problem.

A: It was very interesting. Initially, we had all the dimensions right underneath the plates, but we moved them to the checklist. There are other moments we try to be true to proportion, usually when I’m pairing different works on the same spread.

J: Is it more a form problem? To put things with different sizes together and to see whether they fit or not, their shapes and colors?

A: Oh yes, we have lots of problems (giggles).

J: (laughs)

A: And remember, I couldn’t reorder the plates because they all had to exist within their themed sections. That was also challenging as well. It wasn’t strictly chronological

J: One last thing… the book has an insert!

A: (laughs)

J: (laughs)

Let’s talk about this insert.

A: It’s another obstruction, another confusing element, an intentionally awkward moment. The reader flips through the book and suddenly this thing is just there. It has a caption but it’s not bound or glued. It’s not tipped-on. It’s not something you would normally frame. It’s not a complete composition. It’s just a thing, a texture.

J: And what did the artist say?

A: That’s exactly what we wanted. [Keith Edmier] didn’t really mind whether we bound it in, tipped it in, or how big it was. I think he just thought, ‘It would be interesting to give you some wallpaper’ [from Kitchen, an excerpt from Bremen Towne, 1971]. We could have done what we wanted with it. It could have been a lot of things: endpapers, a dust jacket… Instead we chose to do this awkward thing.

J: Another stupid question—being an object, something actual, did it ever come to the talks that this could be then an original?

A: No that’s a very good question. I intend to address this in my blog post about the catalog, that the insert is actually an artwork. There’s no material difference between the insert in the printed book and the wallpaper in the physical exhibition space. It was done at the same time, the same process and the same paper. It is something meant to exist in a specific space, but we took part of it and gave it to the printer to cut and insert into our book. It’s another Charles Ray page moment.

J: It wasn’t problematic then.

A: No. I think going forward though, when the show starts to tour and go other places it will be useful to talk about it…

A: Let’s conclude with the backcover. Originally, I wanted to do something like this on the back [pointing to contents page], put thumbnails from the interior on the back. Another contents-like page where I copy and resize pages of the book. But then I received an interesting email from Siri, detailing her visit with Paul Sietsema. The painting he had in his studio perfectly illustrated the idea of the exhibition.

The layout reminds me of a paperback with a blurb that screams: ‘Look what’s inside this book’—something a publisher’s marketing department would dream up—but the text below the photo is actually a really profound statement about the contents of the book, a summary of the exhibition.

J: In what way?

A: You have this trompe-l’œil effect of a nail seemingly sticking out from a still-life painting. Artists working during the time this painting was made would usually leave something like a nail out of their composition, because it was not considered art. It’s a mundane thing you don’t really paint, but here it’s rendered in such a realistic way that it looks like the painting could actually be punctured with a nail. The painting is similar to so many of the works featured in the book.

J: Now something not exactly related to this particular book but in Eiko & Koma you use the vertical text on the spine and here too, it’s so nice! Are you into that lately?

A: I actually wanted to do something strange on the spine, use the text in diagonal [sings, spelling L-i-f-e-l-i-k-e], is that what you mean?

J: Oh no, I just found a coincidence that both use vertical text—a good quirk of yours?

A: Oh yes I did do that in my last two books! I tried it the other way, but it didn’t feel right.

J: It is how it is!

A: Yes, I never turned the type elsewhere inside the book so… it’s always upright.

[Looks at phone]

J: Oh are we late?

A: Yes… We should go…

J: Miniburgers!

 

Eiko & Koma: This Is Your Life (and Work)

Time is Not Even, Space is Not Empty is Eiko & Koma’s one-and-only compendium catalog. As such, it needed to embody the life and work of their prolific partnership. Extensive research into the ephemera of the artists’ forty-year career—program notes, flyers, performative and editorial photography, video, reviews, and letters—yielded many of the images in the […]

Time is Not Even, Space is Not Empty is Eiko & Koma’s one-and-only compendium catalog. As such, it needed to embody the life and work of their prolific partnership. Extensive research into the ephemera of the artists’ forty-year career—program notes, flyers, performative and editorial photography, video, reviews, and letters—yielded many of the images in the book. The material also served as inspiration for everything from the stark image-only cover to the margins and typeface choices. Excerpts from a poem by Forrest Gander were used as section dividers to give the reader a verbal play-by-play of the artists dancing, a contrast to the abundant visual documentation of their dances. Printing and production choices were made to reflect Eiko & Koma’s humble but sparkling personalities: uncoated paper, natural stock for the front and back matter, simple black insert sheets for reviews and reprints, and silver edging that lends only a little sheen. The matte cover, as unassuming as it appears, was achieved by using four plates of black ink, and the spine’s text was set in dull white foil, all subtle details that, though modest in appearance, were fitting given the subject(s).

Below are a selection of spreads and source materials for Eiko & Koma: Time Is Not Even, Space Is Not Empty, edited by Joan Rothfuss and published on the occasion of Eiko & Koma’s Retrospective Project in 2011.

 

From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America catalogue

“ON A GREAT SLAB OF MESOZOIC ROCK”   ACROSS THE CRETACEOUS HOGBACK   Above: image research for the catalogue From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America (2010)   From Amazon.com: From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America is the first exhibition catalogue to feature the full spectrum of the work of Alec Soth, one of […]

“ON A GREAT SLAB OF MESOZOIC ROCK”

 

ACROSS THE CRETACEOUS HOGBACK

 

Above: image research for the catalogue From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America (2010)

 

From Amazon.com:

From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America is the first exhibition catalogue to feature the full spectrum of the work of Alec Soth, one of the most interesting voices in contemporary photography, whose compelling images of everyday America form powerful narrative vignettes. Featuring more than 100 of the artist’s photographs made over the past 15 years, the book includes new critical essays by exhibition curator Siri Engberg, curator and art historian Britt Salvesen and critic Barry Schwabsky, which offer context on the artist’s working process, the photo-historical tradition behind his practice and reflections on his latest series of works. Novelist Geoff Dyer’s “Riverrun”–a meditation on Soth’s series Sleeping by the Mississippi–and August Kleinzahler’s poem “Sleeping It Off in Rapid City” contribute to the thoughtful exploration of this body of work. Also included in the publication is a 48-page artist’s book by Soth titled The Loneliest Man in Missouri, a photographic essay with short, diaristic texts capturing the banality and ennui of middle America’s suburban fringes, with their corporate office parks, strip clubs and chain restaurants. This full-color publication includes a complete exhibition history, bibliography and interview with the artist by Bartholomew Ryan. Alec Soth was born in 1969 and raised in Minnesota, where he continues to live and work. He has received fellowships from the McKnight Foundation (1999, 2004) and Jerome Foundation (2001), was the recipient of the 2003 Santa Fe Prize for Photography and was short-listed for the highly prestigious Deutsche Borse Photography Prize. His first monograph, Sleeping by the Mississippi, was published in 2004 to critical acclaim. Since then Soth has published Niagara (2006), Fashion Magazine (2007), Dog Days, Bogota (2007) and The Last Days of W (2008). He is a member of Magnum Photos.

From DLK Collection’s review of the book:

What I like best about Soth’s catalog is it’s overt subversiveness; while it of course contains plenty of images from the past 15 years and a handful of texts, it’s overall feel is unlike any other exhibition catalog I have ever encountered. The cover is both unpretentious and quirky. The essays wander all over the place, following exploratory tangents. Choice blog posts are interleaved, like little vignettes or thought bubbles. The obligatory artist interview is actually insightful and revealing. In short, the book is personal, real, and intelligently authentic, rather than packaged up in the normal trappings of haughty art world cool; it is joyfully nerdy and unabashedly eccentric.

From Nerose’s Amazon review of the book:

. . . there’s some smart texts by interesting writers, marred only by persnickety little blog entries e.g. bitching about photo-books with “America/American” in the title, but then, my goodness—this book is sub-titled “Alec Soth’s America”—right there on the cover. Sweet irony.

From the AIGA Archives:

During our typographic research we came across a DIY, simple-living magazine called The Mother Earth News, which we referenced for the general layout of the cover.

From Conscientious’ review of the book:

Alec Soth certainly isn’t chasing after the kind of “cool” the “MAC” guy seems to possess. That conversation’s title is “Dismantling My Career,” and From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America does just that, except it does it in such a way that’s not all that obvious whether or not there is something being dismantled here. After all, the artist is a very good friend of the old herring who might or might not be red.

From The PostModern Common’s review of the book:

This exhibition catalogue is more than a book, it is a guide to life using the medium of photography.

From Photoeye’s review of the book:

Everything you already knew and ever wanted to know about Alec Soth is accessible within the design of this book—and if you feel you have a few more questions about Soth the book didn’t answer, the photographer was even kind enough to provide his phone number and email address—you can’t miss it, it’s right there on the cover.

From Twin Cities Daily Planet’s review of the book:

Fortunately, the book contains more than critics’ analyses. There are plates representing the exhibit’s images, pages republishing some of Soth’s blog entries in ironically tactile raised letters, and a kind of art-book Izzy scoop: a little paper volume chronicling the artist’s search for The Loneliest Man in Missouri tucked into a pocket in the back cover.

From Zippidy-Doo-Daa’s Amazon review of the book:

“THAT’S PRETTY MUCH IT…NOTHING ELSE TO SAY OTHER THAN GO OUT AND BUY IT…THANK YOU JAHI FOR BEING SUCH AN AMAZING FRIEND, AND PURCHASING THIS FANTASTIC BOOK FOR ME.” -EMILY KINNI

 

 

 

 

 

 

Graphic Design: Now In Production catalogue

Our catalogue for Graphic Design: Now in Production is now available. Above is the illustrated colophon for the book which gives a lot of detail about the production so click in at your leisure!   Book blurb: With more than 250 artists and some 1,400 images, this ambitious catalogue and exhibition survey the vibrant landscape […]

Our catalogue for Graphic Design: Now in Production is now available. Above is the illustrated colophon for the book which gives a lot of detail about the production so click in at your leisure!

 

Book blurb:

With more than 250 artists and some 1,400 images, this ambitious catalogue and exhibition survey the vibrant landscape of graphic designers who have seized the means of production and are rewriting the nature of contemporary design practice. Charting a rich vein of activity that cuts across wildly diverse fields, Graphic Design: Now in Production chronicles the postmillennial scene of all-access design tools and self-publishing systems, the open-source nature of creative production, and the entrepreneurial spirit of the designer turned producer. Part operating manual, part academic reader, and part sourcebook, the catalogue features writings by some of the field’s major thinkers, including Åbäke, Ian Albinson, Peter Bil’ak, Andrew Blauvelt, Rob Giampietro, James Goggin, Peter Hall, Steven Heller, Jeremy Leslie, Ellen Lupton, Ben Radatz, Michael Rock, Dmitri Siegel, Daniel van der Velden, Armin Vit and Bryony Gomez-Palacio, and Lorraine Wild. Freely mixing writing styles, from personal rants to the collective speak of Wikipedia, the book touches upon hundreds of topics. Picking up where the design authorship debates of the 1990s left off, this catalogue examines the evolution of graphic design in an expanded field of practice. It considers myriad issues, such as the changing nature of reading and writing, self-publishing and clientless design, the persistence of the poster and the book in a screen-based culture, the designer’s voice in the age of crowdsourcing, the visualization of journalism, the ubiquity of branding, and the democratization of design tools and software. Sprinkled throughout are numerous bits—factoids, explanations, and tangents—exploring everything from fake Apple Stores to Adobe DPS, Ghanaian coffins to cultural analytics, Scriptographer to heraldry.

Above: stack of proofs

The design of this book is the culmination of a text-image strategy first employed in a campaign created to promote an exhibition of the Walker Art Center’s painting collection (2009). Inspired by museum founder T. B. Walker’s own salon-style hangings in his nineteenth-century mansion and our painting storage facility, this display style allows for a dense presentation of material and unexpected juxtapositions. Although dominated by its strong visual approach, the design also integrates textual material throughout its composition. In 2010, this layout strategy was used in a poster to celebrate the Walker’s twenty-five-year collaboration with the AIGA on the Insights design lecture series. For this catalogue, the strategy was elaborated and extended. Previously utilized in the design of a single poster or billboard, the layout approach was used to create more than one hundred pages of this 224-page publication. Small texts that we call bits are incorporated throughout the catalogue and represent a combination of original writing, aggregated authorship, and excerpted quotations. In this way, the design weaves together the voices of curators, “crowds,” and artists with images of works found in the show and beyond, including the supplemental and the tangential. This premodern style of arrangement, which attempts to impose an order and sensibility on an often incoherent assemblage of objects, speaks to our contemporary condition of information overload in an increasingly fragmented search-based culture. The Whole Earth Catalog was also a key reference point, both in terms of layout as well as the general intention of the book to provide “access to tools.” As part of the content generation phase we created a wiki, editable by Walker Art Center and Cooper-Hewitt staff as well as the guest curators, to collect all these bits of knowledge. The layout of this book was a unique process for us, in that every page was inevitably designed 2 or 3 times. We would take a first pass at the general layout, then assess the specific content, add in new texts and images, assess again, and redesign the page again. To say the generation of the book was “organic” is an understatement. The book clocks in at about 118,000 words with 1366 images (collecting image rights for this book was an endeavor in and of itself).

The book also includes the 21st issue of Åbäke’s “parasite publication” I Am Still Alive. This ongoing project only exists within other magazines and books, relying on publishers donating pages for Åbäke to use. This particular issue of I Am Still Alive is a transcript of a lecture presented as a play that Åbäke gave (and continues to give in various forms) about the form of the lecture as an art form. That’s right.

The book ends with a great essay called “School Days” by Rob Giampietro on the production of designers themselves—an overview of the influence of graduate programs on the field. Read more about it on Rob’s blog.

The book is a paperback wrapped with a thin, coated, four color dustjacket. We were looking for a very floppy book, something that falls open quite easily and is very easy to read. In order to achieve that we asked our paper mill, French Paper (which I visited in Niles, Michigan), to cut the paper on the opposite grain direction than what they normally do, to make sure that the grain fell in line with the binding of the book. Åbäke’s parasite publication is the only signature in the book that is cut in the typical grain direction, which is quite noticeable when you flip through the book.

In tandem with the run of the exhibition, the design department is also teaching a class called “The Designer as Producer” consisting of students from the College of Visual Arts (St. Paul), the University of Minnesota, and the Minneapolis College of Art & Design. (Look for posts on that soon.) We took the class on the final press check for the catalogue at Shapco Printing, and photographed them on press, ran back to prepress, chose the photo, color-corrected the photo, wrote the caption, inserted the photo into the layout (its in the colophon . . . see top of this post), burned the plates, and printed the final form. And of course we even caught some unexpected typos at the last minute . . . “in production” doesn’t even begin to describe this book . . .

 

The Parade: Nathalie Djurberg with music by Hans Berg

Breast milk, cake frosting, melted wax, viscera, piss, blood, mud, and egg yolks: This is how exhibition co-curator Eric Crosby describes Swedish artist Nathalie Djurberg’s newest project, The Parade. With her musical collaborator Hans Berg, the Berlin-based couple has created an environment populated by more than eighty individual bird sculptures, each with wildly varying colors […]

Breast milk, cake frosting, melted wax, viscera, piss, blood, mud, and egg yolks: This is how exhibition co-curator Eric Crosby describes Swedish artist Nathalie Djurberg’s newest project, The Parade. With her musical collaborator Hans Berg, the Berlin-based couple has created an environment populated by more than eighty individual bird sculptures, each with wildly varying colors and mish-mash anatomies. The flock is also circled by five new stop-motion animated short films, and a multi-channel soundtrack by Berg, with each channel corresponding to a specific film that work simultaneously to create an overall ambient effect.

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Parade.
As a new body of work, there was a unique opportunity to document the birds and the films. It was an ambitious task, carried out expertly by the staff here at the Walker. From our registrars coordinating, receiving, and conditioning the birds as they arrived from Germany, to our staff photographers who opened up their studio to stage and capture them.



Some behind-the-scene shots of the bird conditioning and photography.

Research for the book and the exhibition design took us through a range of ideas including stories of avian behaviors, music theory and notation (‘the parade’ as musical canon), taxidermy and natural history museum dioramas.


Incredible video of a ‘transformer owl’ that can morph into three distinct body shapes, depending on the predator it encounters.


Some views of The Bell Museum of Natural History, University of Minnesota.

About that last point: Eric (pictured above) and I took a quick field trip to the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota, the best part of which was a very meta diorama of diorama production. The real exhibits were impressively rendered and posed, and gave us ideas on how to present each bird in the book. Given the context, we considered the idea of the field guide, which is another kind of catalogue, and more interestingly a different experience from encountering the birds en masse in the gallery. We’d later use the idea of a guide or audobon to shape the materiality and modest size of the book.

Spreads from the catalogue

The larger typographic moments remind me of another animation called Le Merle (The Blackbird), by Norman McLaren. Based on a French-Canadian children’s song, it’s a story of a bird that loses various body parts and appendages, only to grow three more in its place. The stop-motion animation is elemental: a very simple bird composed of lines and circles, which morphs into to more complex structures with each iteration, and in the end, transforms into something that is unrecognizable from the original.




Frames from the film Le Merle

The gradient backdrops in Le Merle were similar to the colorful grounds of Djurberg’s more recent work. In the catalogue, gradients and colors inspired by her sets became a way to identify the individual films, which also played out in other instances of the exhibition identity.

In spreading out his fan, this bird
Whose plumage drags on the earth, I fear,
Appears more lovely than before,
But makes his derrière appear.
—Guillame Apollnaire, “The Peacock”

The Parade: Nathalie Djurberg with music by Hans Berg is on view in Burnett Gallery and runs until December 31, 2011. Afterwards, it travels to New York and San Francisco.

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