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Widening the Scope: On Intangibility, Embodiment, and Ephemerality

On March 17, the Walker’s design director Emmet Byrne and shop director Michele Tobin released Intangibles, an online collection of intangible products/artworks created by artists and designers. We asked Marvin Lin, editor-in-chief of  music blog Tiny Mix Tapes, to respond to the collection.  — Much of our lives revolve around intangibility, including our consumption of […]

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On March 17, the Walker’s design director Emmet Byrne and shop director Michele Tobin released Intangibles, an online collection of intangible products/artworks created by artists and designers. We asked Marvin Lin, editor-in-chief of  music blog Tiny Mix Tapes, to respond to the collection. 

Much of our lives revolve around intangibility, including our consumption of art. From live performances to museum visits, value is often placed on the experience of art, not on the physical and material components that make much of it possible. But how we value intangibility is tricky in certain contexts. During the Baltimore protests, the racism and injustice that led to the looting of material objects and the destruction of property were considered intangible concepts to those on the periphery, but tangible realities to those who experience them through material loss and economic disparity. Or consider the problematizing role that technology plays in making us increasingly more comfortable with intangible experiences yet complicating how we assign value to them: What leads us to favor a newly purchased vinyl album over a folder of MP3s, despite the latter getting more play? Or what about the difference in value between a conversation over coffee and that same conversation online?

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The Walker’s new online collection further destabilizes our valuations of intangibility by shifting the context. Instead of just peddling the usual wares — generally speaking, objects that can be held — the Walker’s online shop page is now also selling what it calls Intangibles, a multidisciplinary collection of art/products whose primary purpose is to call attention to their intangibility. So instead of retro drinking glasses and billfolds, we have a ZIP file and disappearing photographs; instead of stamp sets and watches, we have burning paper and a screening for a film that has yet to be made.

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The concept of intangibility unifies the collection, but what it means to be “intangible” is immediately put into question by the artists. In a time when digitizing is eroding both our bodies and our traditional sociopolitical contexts, several of the works from Intangibles aim to re-embody experiences whose tangible forms have been altered, de-emphasized, or made obsolescent. These works range from being incredibly involved (BodyCartography Project offers 25 “performance interventions” in which an artist will meet its buyer in a public space at an agreed-upon time and perform a dance) to incredibly simplified (K-HOLE is selling a champagne cocktail with an uncirculated mint penny dropped inside, topped with prosecco), but all speak to this reclamation of tangible, bodily experience as understood through spatial orientation, a compensation for a physicality that we’ve been slowly forfeiting to the data stream.

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Other Intangibles meet this displacement by challenging our very concept of material existence. So we have works like Suburban Seastead by Andreas Angelidakis, who is selling digital property on the online virtual world Second Life for 1 million Linden dollars ($3,986.12), and Anonymous Fantasy Online Identity by Metahaven, who, for $299 more, could create a visual online identity to use when you enter your new virtual home for the first time. While these artists are ostensibly designing virtual lives, there are material implications to avatar construction and digital renderings: being an image on screen is also being a node in a network, which involves hard-drive space and bandwidth limitations, data centers and power grids, racks and cooling fans, cables and wires burrowed in our soil. So, when artists offer PDFs (Claire Evans), voicemails (Martine Syms), apps (David Reinfurt), and JPGs (Boym Partners), they’re also inexplicably roping in a complex network of technologies that enable their very transmission and reception, acting much like containers for intellectual property (which is, incidentally, one of the most widely accepted forms of intangibility).

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But any serious examination into intangibility also implicates temporality, so it’s no surprise that many of the artists explore art’s relationship with time. And what better way than through music? Composer Nico Muhly, for instance, wrote 12 ringtones for 12 separate buyers, but his sold-out piece — titled Canonical Tones — wasn’t complete until each ringtone was installed and played by each consumer. Another music-based example comes from CFCF, whose Targeted includes selling micro-jingles and Instagram soundtrack music. But perhaps the most ephemeral experience goes to photographer Alec Soth’s Disappear With Me (also sold out), which involved sending 25 original photos to each buyer through Snapchat, a mobile messaging app that automatically deletes photos and videos after being viewed. The piece is most significant, however, not because of its intangibility, but because of its inherent fleeting nature, becoming Soth’s way of not only aestheticizing a communication tool, but also adding value to time itself. The ephemerality of Disappear With Me was really Soth’s way of enhancing the ephemerality of the buyer’s own experience, where it’s less about the rarity of the artwork and more about the transience of the transaction. In other words, tangibility, in this context, becomes a question not about whether you can touch the art, but for how long it can be consumed.

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This general uneasiness over ephemerality — an obvious consequence of a digital consciousness — manifests most clearly in anxieties about the future. While an antiquated stereotype of the artist portrays a tortured soul laboring over the creation of a great piece of art intended to “withstand the test of time,” the artists here are often resisting that egotistical desire to project themselves or their artwork into the future. In fact, some of these Intangibles are interesting not because they disengage from the future, but because they are about the future itself: Claire L. Evans’s FutureAbstract tailors PDF summaries of science fiction books to your “most relevant future” (determined through an online quiz), while Julian Bleecker and Near Future Laboratory’s Design Fiction Services allows buyers to customize their own future through an audacious variety of options (ranging from a Quick Start Guide to something that doesn’t yet exist to a “Wikipedia-esque History of a Fictional Company Related To Your Idea”).

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The absurdity with which these artists approach the future speaks in part to the idea that all art, regardless of definition, is ephemeral. From an audience’s perspective, art has never been a solely tangible experience anyway; we’re not meant to “touch” paintings in order to experience them, and any materials used to create so-called tangible art won’t last forever — thus, making all art inherently time-based.

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But there’s a reason why Intangibles is billed as a shop of products without physical form. By using the shopping platform to exaggerate the conceptual dissonance, Intangibles is able to depict the modern consumer experience in an artistic manner, to re-fetishize scarcity and entrepreneurship in an otherwise overbearing free market, to disrupt the internalized values that we assign to actual tangible products. But beyond complicating these tenuous market relationships, beyond expanding what it means to be an artist in a digital world, beyond asking challenging questions about our differing values of art and commerce, what we also end up with is a subversion of the very idea of intangibility: Through their emphasis on “making impressions” rather than “leaving imprints,” the works in Intangibles allow us to rethink our bias toward physical objects and re-envision our aesthetics on a grander timeline, offering lateral pathways that cut through the level of tangibility and place us on new timescales altogether.

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After all, if you widen the temporal scope, everything starts becoming ephemeral — widen it a little bit more, and everything becomes intangible.

Marvin Lin is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor-in-chief of music webzine Tiny Mix Tapes. He has served as an editor for Pitchfork and the University of Minnesota’s alternative magazine The Wake, and authored the 33 1/3 book Radiohead’s Kid A. You can reach him at marvinylin@gmail.com and find some of his writing at tinymixtapes.com as “Mr P.”

Superscript Successories

In a 2014 article about the trajectory and form of the design manifesto, Andrew Blauvelt and I wrote: The turn of the millennium also saw the rise of the lifestyle or motivational manifesto, which offers motivational aphorisms for daily life—bite-sized chunks of wisdom— a replicable formula for success. … [This] trend toward listicle arrangements of compact nuggets […]

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In a 2014 article about the trajectory and form of the design manifesto, Andrew Blauvelt and I wrote:

The turn of the millennium also saw the rise of the lifestyle or motivational manifesto, which offers motivational aphorisms for daily life—bite-sized chunks of wisdom— a replicable formula for success. … [This] trend toward listicle arrangements of compact nuggets of vaguely familiar phrases betrays an orientation toward today’s webcentric communication landscape, in which the number of buzz-worthy, hyperbolized statements seems calculated to increase the number of user clicks. We live in the age of the TED talk, subjected to the “relentless epiphanies” of speaker after speaker delivering their eighteen-minute takes on subjects that warrant much deeper conversation.

Our recent Superscript conference wasn’t a place where people came to firmly declare something. In fact, many of the speakers seemed more interested in a healthy deconstruction of the conference’s premise. But that didn’t mean that the speakers left without bestowing great, provocative wisdom upon us, which we happily consumed and regurgitated as context-less bits of Twitter fodder. The conference covered a broad range of topics relevant to online arts writing and publishing—complex topics, including the way information and opinions circulate online, how they become truncated, distorted, decontextualized, and misinterpreted through social media, and how they can ultimately create active dialogue through online communities. To help promote the live webcast of the conference we decided to take advantage of the typical conference behavior of tweeting sometimes pithy, sometimes inspirational quotes by the speakers—successories for the Pinterest generation—by creating visual quotes that circulated through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. They did what they were designed to do, increasing the visibility of the conference and its live webcast, though sometimes at the expense of the speaker’s original intent, sometimes to the displeasure of our online followers (I’m not sure if institutional trolling is a thing quite yet). Please do enjoy the full context of each quote above by clicking in to view a full video of each talk. Or browse all of the videos here.

 All visual quotes designed by Nani Albornoz.

The Uncollectibles: Andrew Blauvelt on Minnesota by Design

When Walker staff began planning the celebration of our 75th anniversary as a public art center, most discussions revolved around what could be done to feature the museum’s collections. This approach makes sense since the collection is what remains with an institution for the long term. What was interesting for me as a curator of […]

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Minnesota By Design, a virtual collection exploring the state’s rich design landscape

When Walker staff began planning the celebration of our 75th anniversary as a public art center, most discussions revolved around what could be done to feature the museum’s collections. This approach makes sense since the collection is what remains with an institution for the long term. What was interesting for me as a curator of architecture and design is that the Walker does not have a specific collection in this area. This will probably come as a surprise for many people since the Walker has been presenting architecture and design since 1940—it was a founding discipline within the art center. Of course, there are a few design artifacts and works by architects and designers in our permanent collection—Frank Gehry’s Standing Fish, most publicly, for instance, or objects acquired from various exhibitions about design that the Walker has organized over the decades. The reasons for such an omission are varied, but this void within the Walker’s Collections remained seemingly insurmountable at least in the present context of an impending collections-based celebration of the institution.

Faced with this challenge, I reflected back on a project that was initially presented as part of a design history conference I organized in the late 1990s for the now-defunct American Center for Design in Chicago. Dubbed “ReMaking History,” it featured new takes on how history could be undertaken and presented, and was notable because most of its participants were themselves practitioner-historians—enthusiasts, educators, and designers who were often engaged in issues of history, theory, and criticism and who often operated within academic arenas. I recalled a project by Michael Rock, Susan Sellers, and Georgia Stout (now 2 x 4) in New York who proposed turning the city itself into a kind of open-air design museum. Branded the Museum of the Ordinary (MO) it called for various artifacts of design to be presented in-situ—seen as a part of everyday life and not removed from this context and placed in a museum vitrine. Being practitioners, they brilliantly illustrated the possible ways in which such objects could be “called out” in the environment in which they were essentially invisible as things worthy of a second look or even a second thought, such as a mobile advertising van that would pull a billboard through the streets welcoming visitors to the “museum,” or using the ubiquitous mesh construction scaffolding wrap, which could be printed with object label information about a chosen building—cloaking its appearance and thus drawing renewed attention to it. Although smaller scale iterations were undertaken, their larger scale vision has yet to be implemented.

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2 x 4, Museum of the Ordinary, proposal, 1997

The brilliance of what they proposed as the Museum of the Ordinary allowed for artifacts to remain where they were and in the context of their “useful” lives, but it also allowed for the inclusion of what I call “the uncollectibles”— landscapes that change over time, too vast to be expropriated by a museum; immovable buildings, too big to move; objects that by their nature are fugitive, ephemeral, perishable, or no longer extant; and largely immaterial things like services or concepts that do not exist as physical artifacts, or digital objects that live a precarious existence in terms of the future conservation requirements that collections require.

Another important predecessor to this project was one created in the summer of 1975 called Immovable Objects. It was created by Studio Works, a practice composed of architects Robert Mangurian and Craig Hodgetts and graphic designer Keith Godard, for the new Cooper-Hewitt, a design museum of the Smithsonian Institution in New York City scheduled to open in 1976. An “outdoor exhibition about city design” Immovable Objects took as its site lower Manhattan from Battery Park to the Brooklyn Bridge. Essentially annexing both the iconic buildings and more banal bits of infrastructure found in the area, Immovable Objects offered its visitors a walking tour of the city, facilitated by the production of an exhibition catalogue—in this case a newspaper complete with routes, building information, and essays on related topics, such as the evolution of architectural styles in lower Manhattan, the nature of public space in the city’s new plazas, or how zoning codes have shaped the city. The inaugural festivities included a parade whereby architects and designers chose their own or a favorite building to reimagine as a costume to engage passersby.

Michael Rock and Susan Sellers, 2 x 4, Museum of the Ordinary, proposal, 1997

Studio Works, Immovable Objects exhibition guide, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, 1975

Design museums (as well as contemporary art museums who faced some similar issues years ago) are tackling some of these challenges, trying to collect the uncollectible. Leading the way is Paola Antonelli at the Museum of Modern Art in New York who has been trying to “acquire” a 747 airplane, which would still be in service but might have, for instance, its acquisition number on the side of the plane. Those that have been to MoMA know they already own a helicopter, and, of course, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum routinely contends with such massive objects. However, the “live” nature of the object still flying from port to port takes it to a different level. Antonelli’s acquisition of the @ symbol pushes the boundaries of whether an object needs to have a definite or fixed form. Letterforms and characters by their nature exist independently of any particular typographic representation, so what was collected in this case was not a particular font but rather a piece of language, a graphical concept.

The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York recently acquired its first digital application, Planetary. This raises immediate questions of conservation, especially as the technical support structures that host such apps (operating systems, web browsers, programming code, etc.) evolve and change in the future. Interestingly, they placed the code for this app online at GitHub, where people can study it, but also add to it and help conserve it for the future—tending it much like open-source software. Museums have also been collecting other buildings, such as the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s purchase of Eero Saarinen’s mid-century modern masterpiece, the Irwin Miller residence in Columbus, Indiana, or closer to home, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts acquisition of the stunning Purcell-Cutts house a few miles away on Lake of the Isles.

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Detail of Minnesota By Design’s interactive map

In response to this context and these kinds of questions, we launched Minnesota by Design, a new online initiative that takes the form of a website to document the rich landscape of design across the state. The project seeks to increase public awareness of the human-built environment in Minnesota—its landscapes, buildings, products, and graphics, both past and present—and the role that design thinking and practice plays in its realization. This virtual collection has been seeded with some 100 designs that reflect exemplary instances of practical ingenuity, creative thinking, beautiful form-giving, social and cultural impact, and innovative uses of technology. We’ve included descriptive texts about each selection, like the kind you might find on the gallery wall in a museum exhibition. Taking advantage of its online nature and the fact that we are limited to Minnesota, we locate each project to the extent that is possible on a searchable map. Perhaps not surprisingly, this viewing mode reveals that the selections dominate in the surrounding metropolitan area of the Twin Cities. To help correct this location bias, we’ve added a nominations feature whereby users can offer suggestions for future additions to the collection. Users can also help us correct mistakes and diversify the selections across various categories—taking advantage of crowdsourcing at its best by drawing upon collective knowledge or simply having more eyes on the page and out in the world.

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The Minnesota By Design entry for masking tape, invented in 1925 by 3M’s Richard Drew

The virtual nature of this collection is also by design. By eschewing the object-centered nature of most museum collecting and its attendant issues of conservation and connoisseurship, the Walker is free to explore design without the normal barriers of the physical realm. In creating this virtual collection, we especially wish to include those works that cannot be collected in any practical way—for instance, a park or building due to its size or uniqueness. To these “uncollectible” examples, we have added an eclectic mix of artifacts that purposefully stretch the definition of design into perhaps less familiar areas such as food design, service design, and game design. This expansion of design belies the fact that such “new” genres were and remain integral to the Minnesota economy of food processing, retailing, healthcare, and recreational activity.

Minnesota by Design can be extended from its virtual hub to the real world. I can imagine such extensions of Minnesota by Design take the form of billboards or bus shelter ads or other outdoor media around the state to bring awareness to selected designs in all their iconic yet humble glory. Some such ads, by fate of their particular location, could point to nearby designs: “Exit 237 to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Only Gas Station.” One could easily imagine a smartphone app that uses geo-location sensing and augmented reality to allow visitors to “see” buildings and other things from a bygone era in the places where they once stood proud.

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Proposed Minnesota By Design billboard, featuring Henry Dreyfuss’s iconic thermostat

Minnesota by Design, in any of its forms, celebrates a place often recognized nationally for making an outsized contribution to the American design scene. Part of this influence is due to the varied ecology of the state’s design scene—a space composed of boutique firms and in-house studios of Fortune 500 companies, a resurgence of artisanal practices and post-industrial technologies, a long history of public and private sector progressive civic cooperation, and with it, the fostering of what we now call a creative class economy that tends to spawn innovation and entrepreneurial activity. While the design diversity of the state makes it hard to pin down any singular aesthetic or any dominant type of practice, its design output, albeit occasionally elusive to capture, is collectible—if not physically then virtually.

Insights 2015 Design Lecture Series

 Insights 2015 Tuesdays in March Insights is right around the corner and we have an amazing line up of designers coming to share the thinking, processes, and methods behind their work. We’re kicking off this year with a special evening that features both a talk and an exhibition opening celebrating Minnesota design. From there, we’ve got design […]

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 Insights 2015
Tuesdays in March

Insights is right around the corner and we have an amazing line up of designers coming to share the thinking, processes, and methods behind their work. We’re kicking off this year with a special evening that features both a talk and an exhibition opening celebrating Minnesota design. From there, we’ve got design legend April Greiman (Los Angeles), artist collective/trend forecasters K-HOLE (New York), experimental designer Bart de Baets (Amsterdam), and Design Fiction proponent, James Langdon (Liverpool).

If you can’t make it in person, please tune in to our live webcast on the Walker Channel and participate through Twitter. (#Insights2015)  Here’s a kit for educators, AIGA chapters, and anyone else who might want to throw their own viewing party.

 


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Minnesota Design: A Celebration (featuring Andrew Blauvelt)
March 3, 7 pm (tickets)

Insights 2015 kicks off with a unique two-part event celebrating Minnesota and its long-standing design legacy. The evening begins with a presentation by Andrew Blauvelt, Walker Art Center senior curator of design, research, and publishing, who will explore the Walker’s new web-based Minnesota design collection highlighting Minnesota’s diverse heritage across the design fields. From the world’s quietest room to the Honeycrisp apple, from the humble sticky note to the Prince logo, Blauvelt offers a crash course on what makes our region such a hotbed for innovation. The talk will be followed by the opening of MGDA/AIGA Minnesota: A History Exhibit, marking the history of the AIGA Minnesota chapter on the occasion of the AIGA’s 100th anniversary, curated by designer/educator/author Kolean Pitner and design director Mike Haug. On view will be fascinating ephemera, posters, and correspondence presenting the chapter’s 37-year history of helping businesses and the public understand the meaning and value of graphic design. Check out the exhibition and join us in celebrating our vibrant design community. At the opening party, free snacks will be provided and a cash bar will be available.

 

Wet-magazineasdfApril Greiman (LA)
March 10, 7 pm (tickets)

Through her Los Angeles–based studio Made in Space, visionary graphic designer and artist April Greiman has been creating vital work in a variety of media for more than 30 years. She helped pioneer the integration of technology and art as one of the first practitioners to explore the desktop computer’s creative potential, and her unique fusion of a postmodernist mentality with digital technology became emblematic of the “New Wave” design approach in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Her art direction (with Jayme Odgers) of Wet Magazine is a touchstone of this era, inspiring countless designers since its creation. Today, Greiman is known as an artist creating numerous multimedia works for both solo and group shows as well as commissions for public spaces. Her work has been featured in museums and galleries around the world, and has been covered by everyone from the New York Times andTime Magazine to ESPN and PBS. She received her advanced design education at the Basel School of Design, studying with Wolfgang Weingart and Armin Hoffman, among others. Previously, she served as the head of the design department at the California Institute of the Arts. Greiman has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the AIGA gold medal for lifetime achievement and honorary doctorates from Kansas City Art Institute, Lesley University, Academy of Art University, and Art Center College of Design. She is currently serving as faculty at both Woodbury University School of Architecture and the Southern California Institute of Architecture. Greiman’s groundbreaking 1986 issue of Design Quarterly (“Does it make sense?”) is currently on display in the Walker exhibition Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections.

 kholeK-HOLE (NY)
March 17, 7 pm (tickets)

 K-HOLE exists in multiple states at once: it is both a publication and a collective; it is both an artistic practice and a consulting firm; it is both critical and unapologetically earnest. Its five members come from backgrounds as varied as brand strategy, fine art, Web development, and fashion, and together they have released a series of fascinating PDF publications modeled upon corporate trend forecasting reports. These documents appropriate the visuals of PowerPoint, stock photography, and advertising and exploit the inherent poetry in the purposefully vague aphorisms of corporate brand-speak. Ultimately, K-HOLE aspires to utilize the language of trend forecasting to discuss sociopolitical topics in depth, exploring the capitalist landscape of advertising and marketing in a critical but un-ironic way. In the process, the group frequently coins new terms to articulate their ideas, such as “Youth Mode”: a term used to describe the prevalent attitude of youth culture that has been emancipated from any particular generation; the “Brand Anxiety Matrix”: a tool designed to help readers understand their conflicted relationships with the numerous brands that clutter their mental space on a daily basis; and “Normcore”: a term originally used to describe the desire not to differentiate oneself, which has since been mispopularized (by New York magazine) to describe the more specific act of dressing neutrally to avoid standing out. (In 2014, “Normcore” was named a runner-up by Oxford University Press for “Neologism of the Year.”) Since publishing K-HOLE, the collective has taken on a number of unique projects that reflect the manifold nature of their practice, from a consulting gig with a private equity firm to a collaboration with a fashion label resulting in their own line of deodorant. K-HOLE has been covered by a wide range of publications, including the New York Times, Fast Company, WiredUK, and Mousse.

 

 

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Bart de Baets (Amsterdam)
March 24, 7 pm (tickets)

Amsterdam-based Bart de Baets is a fierce formalist, an unrelenting experimenter who has developed a unique typographic attitude that has influenced designers around the world. His work spans the entire cultural sector for clients in the fields of art, music, performance, and film. A few of his clients include the Amsterdam club Paradiso, cultural centers such as W139, De Appel, AFK, and the New Institute, and film programs such as the Weight of Colour and A New Divide? De Baets is also known for his self-initiated projects, including Dark and Stormy, an ambiguous fanzine he publishes with Rustan Söderling featuring contributions from an international array of artists, and Success and Uncertainty, a poster series and publication made with Sandra Kassenaar during an artist residency in Cairo amid the chaos of 2011’s Arab Spring. Confronted with the reality of state-imposed curfews, the resignation of President Mubarak, and the politically charged environment, de Baets and Kassenaar were forced to explore their status as outsiders, questioning the relevance of their intentions—and in the process, creating beautiful and vital work. De Baets teaches graphic design at both the Gerrit Rietveld Academy (Amsterdam) and the Royal Academy of Arts (the Hague) and conducts workshops throughout Europe.


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James Langdon (Liverpool)
March 31, 7 pm (tickets)

The UK’s James Langdon has carved out a unique practice that fully integrates his design, editorial, and curatorial pursuits. As one of six directors of Eastside Projects—an artist-run exhibition space dedicated to promoting cultural growth in its home town of Birmingham, England—Langdon designs and edits many of the organization’s publications and is responsible for creating a series of experimental manuals that explore its mission through ideas as varied as urban renewal, adhocism, and public engagement. In 2013, Langdon founded the itinerant School for Design Fiction, working with students to investigate the storytelling inherent in the design process, the emotions embedded within an artifact, and the benefits of living in speculative worlds. As a curator, Langdon organized Arefin & Arefin: The Graphic Design of Tony Arefin, an exhibition celebrating the overlooked but highly influential British graphic designer; Book Show, exploring the form of the book; and a restaging of Norman Potter’s In:quest of Icarus at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. Langdon has been guest lecturer at schools around the world, including Werkplaats Typografie (Arnhem), Jan van Eyck Academie (Maastricht), and Konstfack (Stockholm). He is the recipient of the 2012 Inform International Award for Conceptual Design, presented by Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst, Germany.

 

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Insights 2015 identity designed by Nani Albornoz. Laser cutting provided by David W. Johanson and Park Grove Laser. Printing courtesy the Avery Group at Shapco Printing, Minneapolis.

Designing for Christian Marclay’s The Clock

Despite being called a “tour de force,” “monumental,” and even “Wagnerian,” the premise of Christian Marclay’s The Clock is very basic. The movie is 24 hours long and features thousands of clips from other movies, each clip featuring a clock or a watch or a timepiece. Each clip is ordered as to play at exactly […]

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Installation view of The Clock, 2010. White Cube Masonʼs Yard, London (October 15 – November 13, 2010) © Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York and White Cube, London. Photo: Todd-White Photography

Despite being called a “tour de force,” “monumental,” and even “Wagnerian,” the premise of Christian Marclay’s The Clock is very basic. The movie is 24 hours long and features thousands of clips from other movies, each clip featuring a clock or a watch or a timepiece. Each clip is ordered as to play at exactly the same time of day as featured in the particular film, therefore operating as something of a giant clock itself, running all day and all night, always in sync. It’s a fascinating experiment with time.

As a designer working on the exhibition’s marketing materials, I was used to being presented with a batch of images to work with. But as hugely popular as The Clock has been, there have only been a few images ever released. An obvious reason is that any particular moment in the film would simply look like the particular film it was excerpting, leading one to the conclusion that The Clock might be impossible to capture an image of. Another reason might be the thousands of film rights that were never collected in the making of this cinematic collage, complicated even further when used for marketing purposes. Marclay’s response to this: “If you make something good and interesting and not ridiculing someone or being offensive, the creators of the original material will like it.”

Going for a typographic solution seemed necessary, not only because of the limited amount of imagery available, but also because it would seem very arbitrary and reductive to use five film stills from a movie made of more than 2,073,600 consecutive frames, with no consistent narrative nor leading characters in it.

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Final designs

It’s interesting to think of The Clock as an anti-movie, not only because of its extensive format but also for its “anti-entertaining” qualities. Typically, a film spectator goes to the theatre to escape time or reality, but when watching The Clock, you instead focus quite specifically on the passage of time, in real time. A sort of memento mori. The Clock is no Hollywood production to be watched at the Egyptian Theater, but a challenging and meditative artist film screened in museums where people catch some parts of it sitting on very rudimentary Ikea couches.

Some early sketches proposed the idea of an “anti-trailer,” in a very dry sense of communication, even “spoiling” the whole movie on the inside of the postcard with a count of every minute in a single day, basically the full script of The Clock.

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The “anti-trailer” sketches.

 

This idea was later dismissed in favor of a different concept in the design, where textual description is abandoned over a system that would allow the design to have its independence. This graphic system was meant to be deployed on invitations and informations cards, posters, a title wall, and a few other collateral applications such as badges.

 

Neuzeit

After examining a wide selection of typefaces to use, mostly looking for geometric typefaces, the choice was set on Neuzeit Grotesk, designed by Wilhelm C. Pischner in 1932. It’s modest appearance seemed to fit the idea of emphasizing a system over one strong appearance.

The postcard is totally oversized compared to what usual postcards are. It measures 12 × 12 inches when unfolded, referring to Christian Marclay’s early records cut-and-paste works or LP covers collages and other works using vinyls as primary material.

 

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Intermediary sketches.

 

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Emma and Dave (of Discover Signs) installing the title wall at the entrance of the gallery.

 

As Marclay, I grew up in Switzerland. One of the only 24/7 grocery store chain’s logo was in some corner of my mind as a good example of how to represent a continuous activity through the day

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You can mostly find these shops in train stations where you can see the iconic clock designed by Hans Hilfiker in the 1940s. The Swiss Railway clock would stop for two seconds, for technical reasons first, but also “to give you a break and anticipate the forthcoming minute”, and then start again with its two bold hands ticking the new minute.

Then, using the “L”, the central letter of the words “the” and ”clock” put together, became an obvious solution. The two words merge into one single “image”, embedding the dynamic system in itself, as would be the title of Marclay’s artwork being at the same time the modest name and the “container” of the concept for this 24-hour movie.

TheClock

Christian Marclay’s The Clock is on view in the Burnet Gallery at the Walker Art Center until August 25. Some extended screenings are scheduled, check here for more informations.

Call for Applicants: Walker Art Center Mildred Friedman Design Fellowship 2014–2015

Above: 75 years of design at the Walker Art Center APPLICATION DEADLINE: May 14, 2014 The Walker is pleased to announce that its 2014–15 Mildred Friedman Design Fellowship is now open for application. Since 1980, the Walker’s Design department has maintained a graphic design fellowship program that provides recent graduates the opportunity to work in a professional […]

Above: 75 years of design at the Walker Art Center

APPLICATION DEADLINE: May 14, 2014

The Walker is pleased to announce that its 2014–15 Mildred Friedman Design Fellowship is now open for application.

Since 1980, the Walker’s Design department has maintained a graphic design fellowship program that provides recent graduates the opportunity to work in a professional design studio environment. Selected from a highly competitive pool of applicants, fellows come from graphic design programs throughout the United States and abroad representing a diverse range of design programs, such as Art Center College of Design, California Institute of the Arts, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Eastern Michigan University, Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, NC State University, Rhode Island School of Design, Royal College of Art, Werkplaats Typografie, and Yale University, among many others.

Ideal candidates will be firmly grounded in visual design principles and the print design process with some experience in interaction design. In addition to print-based projects such as exhibition identities, wayfinding, and collateral materials, this year’s fellow will also work on select online publishing initiatives. The fellow will join an accomplished team of professionals known for creating industry-leading work. Immersed in the Design, Editorial, and New Media departments, fellows gain a deeper understanding of design, work on projects with rich, interesting content, and are expected to produce work to the highest standards of design excellence. See here and the above video for examples of the studio’s design output. The fellows will also be key contributors to the Design department’s blog, The Gradient—so an interest in the discourse of graphic design and contemporary culture is highly desirable. Fellows are salaried, full-time employees and are involved in all aspects of the design process, including client meetings and presentations through production and development. DURATION OF FELLOWSHIP: August 1, 2014 – July 31, 2015

How to apply
For consideration, submit the following materials by PDF attachments only: a letter of interest, a resume, names and contact information of 3 references, and a PDF portfolio containing 8–10 examples of graphic design work (no larger than 19 MB, otherwise your file will be rejected). Email application packets to design.fellowship@walkerart.org. No phone calls please.

For more information, visit our fellowship page.  Also check out the Walker’s job listing.

We look forward to meeting you!

 

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Insights 2014 Design Lecture Series

  Insights 2014 Tuesdays in March Insights is right around the corner and we have an amazing line up of designers coming to share the thinking, processes, and methods behind their work. We’ve got design legend Lance Wyman (New York), cultural designer Sara De Bondt (London), “conceptual entrepreneur” Martine Syms (Los Angeles), and Sweden’s premier […]

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Insights 2014
Tuesdays in March

Insights is right around the corner and we have an amazing line up of designers coming to share the thinking, processes, and methods behind their work. We’ve got design legend Lance Wyman (New York), cultural designer Sara De Bondt (London), “conceptual entrepreneur” Martine Syms (Los Angeles), and Sweden’s premier graphic designer, Henrik Nygren (Stockholm). After each lecture feel free to stick around and chat with the speaker and fellow designers, have a drink, and browse our new ARTBOOK@Walker design book shop. Insights is a partnership between the Walker Art Center and AIGA Minnesota.

If you can’t make it in person, please tune in to our live webcast on the Walker Channel and participate through Twitter. (#Insights2014)  Here’s a kit for educators, AIGA chapters, and anyone else who might want to throw their own viewing party.

 

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Lance Wyman (NY)
March 4, 7 pm (tickets)

When combined, the art of branding and the science of wayfinding design can profoundly transform a space. Lance Wyman is the humble master of this, designing massive graphic systems for cities, airports, expos, transit systems, zoos, and museums over his more than 40-plus-year career. In the process, Wyman helped to define the field of environmental graphics. His iconic identity for the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics—“’60s op-art kinetic typography,” as Wyman calls it—exists as a pinnacle of environmental and branding design and was credited with reintroducing Mexican visual culture back into the nation’s design vocabulary. Other projects include the identity for the 1970 FIFA World Cup, the Washington DC Metro map, the 1980 Minnesota Zoo identity (which was selected as one of the 10 best designs of the year by Time magazine), and projects for the Library of Congress, Jeddah International Airport, Chrysler World’s Fair, and the Aspen Design Conference. His work has been exhibited in museums around the world and is also in the collection of MoMA (New York). Wyman has taught corporate and wayfinding design at Parsons since 1973. Don’t miss your chance to hear from this legendary designer.

 

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Sara De Bondt (London)
March 11, 7 pm (tickets)

Sara De Bondt is the epitome of a cultural designer, combining a love of contemporary typography with a deep investigation into the history of graphic design. Through her design practice, which consists of client-based work, designing and editing books, and curating conferences, she is consistently contributing to the critical discourse. Her playful aesthetic is idea-based, typographically driven, and always fresh. Her clients include the Nottingham Contemporary and Wiels Centre for Contemporary Art in Brussels as well as projects for the V&A, the Barbican, London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, Camden Arts Center, and MIT Press. Most recently, she took over the art direction of Tate Etc. magazine. In 2008, De Bondt cofounded Occasional Papers, a nonprofit publishing house investigating the histories of architecture, art, design, film, and literature. In 2009, she curated the conference The Form of the Book, which explored the past, present, and future of book design. She received her MFA from Sint-Lukas, Brussels, and completed postgraduate research at the Jan van Eyck Academie. Prior to opening her own studio in 2004, De Bondt worked for Daniel Eatock’s Foundation 33 in London. She has taught design at the Royal College of Art, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, and KASK School of Art.

 

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Martine Syms
March 18, 7 pm (tickets)

LA-based Martine Syms is many things—a graphic designer, a “conceptual entrepreneur,” a net artist—but most importantly, a thinker who examines the assumptions of contemporary America and ways that identity and memory are transformed by the shifting boundaries of business and culture. Her work explores themes as varied as Afrofuturism, queer theory, the power of language, and the spiritual nature of the color purple. The topic of her recent SXSW presentation, “Black Vernacular: Reading New Media Art,” asked the questions: “What does it mean for a black woman to make minimal,  masculine net art? What about this piece is ‘not black’? Can my identity be expressed as an aesthetic quality?” From 2007 to 2011, Syms was codirector of the influential Golden Age project space in Chicago, where she organized dozens of cultural projects and initiated a publishing program of young, emerging artists. She has collaborated with artists Paul Chan and Theaster Gates, and created web design for fashion retailer Nasty Gal, among many other projects. Her work has been exhibited at venues such as the New Museum (New York), MCA Chicago, Capricious Space (Brooklyn), and the Soap Factory (Minneapolis). In her new Insights talk “Black Vernacular: Lessons of the Tradition,” Syms will describe her connection with the black radical tradition, using poet Kevin Young’s ideas as a framework to understand her own design practice and strategies of code-switching.

 

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Henrik Nygren (Stockholm)
March 25, 7 PM (tickets)

There is an effortless simplicity to Henrik Nygren’s work, a Scandinavian modernism that stands in counterpoint to the excess of most visual communication today. His art direction of Stockholm New magazine in the 1990s presaged a global return to restrained typographic palettes and bold photo editorial direction in publications. As Sweden’s premier graphic designer, Nygren has helmed his own studio for more than 20 years, working in the fields of book design, exhibition design, identity and branding, packaging, and communications. His practice caters to cultural organizations such as the Baltic Center for Contemporary Art, Moderna Museet Malmö, the Hasselblad Center, and Phaidon books. Among many other awards, he was the recipient of the 2007 Platinum Egg and  Berling Awards, and his work has been exhibited in Tokyo and Sweden. As an educator, he has had a profound impact on the Swedish design scene, teaching at Beckmans College of Design (Stockholm), Berghs School of 
Communication (Stockholm), the Swedish School of Arts, Crafts and Design (Gothenburg) and Forsbergs School of Design (Stockholm) since 1992. An 896-page monograph surveying the past 25 years of his award-winning work will be published in 2014 by Orosdi-Back. This lecture is copresented with the American Swedish Institute.

 

 

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Insights poster design by Dante Carlos

Printing courtesy the Avery Group at Shapco Printing, Minneapolis

Portrait of Artist/Director Steve McQueen

I love this portrait that Walker photographer, Gene Pittman, shot of artist/director Steve McQueen while he was here for his dialogue with Stuart Comer (watch the conversation here). The blue glow suggests some off camera television or computer screen—a nice allusion to McQueen’s profession and also his piece Illuminer, in which a body in a hotel […]

Portrait of Steve McQueen, ©2013 Walker Art Center,  Photo by Gene Pittman

Portrait of Steve McQueen, ©2013 Walker Art Center, Photo by Gene Pittman

I love this portrait that Walker photographer, Gene Pittman, shot of artist/director Steve McQueen while he was here for his dialogue with Stuart Comer (watch the conversation here). The blue glow suggests some off camera television or computer screen—a nice allusion to McQueen’s profession and also his piece Illuminer, in which a body in a hotel room is visible solely by the glow of a television news report. And the flat gray background feels oppressive, helping accentuate the limbo-like environment between light sources and that sense of artificiality that makes me want to frame it like an Elad Lassry photo. McQueen loved it and told Gene it was mad.

Nous Vous: Drawing on the Same Page

The Walker has a history of hiring great illustrators—such as J. Otto and Sara Varon—to create entire worlds for our Education department’s family programs initiatives like Free First Saturdays and Arty Pants. This year we invited British design collective Nous Vous to work with us, and they produced the sprawling scene that you see above. […]

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Illustration by Nous Vous for the Walker Art Center. Embedded in the drawing are references to Fischli and Weiss, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Joseph Beuys, Yves Klein, David Nash, Charles and Ray Eames, Constantin Brancusi, Katharina Fritsch, Christo, Robert Wyatt, Florentijn Hofman, and the Lely Venus.

The Walker has a history of hiring great illustrators—such as J. Otto and Sara Varon—to create entire worlds for our Education department’s family programs initiatives like Free First Saturdays and Arty Pants. This year we invited British design collective Nous Vous to work with us, and they produced the sprawling scene that you see above. Nous Vous is Jay Cover, William Edmonds, and Nicolas Burrows. We asked them for six illustrations—one for each issue of our bimonthly magazine for a year—that we could also repurpose for postcards and other marketing materials. They decided to create one massive illustration that breaks down into six sections, which we love. Read about how they made it below:

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Plant

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Skater

Can you describe the concept behind the piece? Emmet and Dante at the Walker picked out a few of our existing pieces that they liked, and also threw in a few ideas that they had about possibly creating characters or ‘monsters’ looking at/interacting with things. They also wanted it to be ‘weird and whimsical’ and for it not to appeal to too young an audience. The three of us have not ‘drawn’ on the same page for a long time and recently we have all been having fun drawing guys. It’s pretty fun to smash some people together. The piece was fun to make so hopefully it has a good vibe about it. It’s unlikely we would be able to create something like this individually so this kind of sums up the point of working together, to do something more complex and fun and also we may not have made something like this if the Walker hadn’t asked us. We wanted to depict an abstract suggestion of a really active workshop, gallery or art school and fill it full of people doing things relating to the process of making art (in any context—non-professional/professional), aspects of the family programme and the architecture of the places where art ‘happens’ or is presented, whether that’s the artist’s studio or a small gallery, an institution like the Walker, on the walls of a cafe or a sculpture garden etc. We were trying to make something that has a lot of dynamic aspects to it, that draws your eye around, to reflect the excitement that the Family Programme offers participants. The interaction between the guys is what makes it dynamic or interesting, and it’s an unexpected and awkward interaction due to the way the image was made.

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Pipe guy

How did you go about creating it? It was fairly free and loose to begin with. We all created guys and then we put them together with one of us going through and then tightening up all the illustrations. Most of the crossover happened quite serendipitously. It’s fun making characters that you know will have to interact with others but you are not sure how. There’s an element of wanting to make ourselves and each other laugh by making stupid guys and then it turns into a bit of a puzzle locking them altogether. We’ve tried and failed to make images in a similar way before. We made a list of six rough areas for which we thought about what characters could be doing, and what objects there might be there. So we have a workshop, an outdoor forest/garden, a cafe, a gallery, a sculpture garden and a theatre. Then one of us would compose the images in panels. We ended up making the first two panels as we went along, and then we made the other four all at once.

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Box

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Table

In your illustration, several tables, or at least flat surfaces (floors, pools, walls) appear, always covered with a variety of objects. It’s a motif that shows up elsewhere in your work—what significance does a cluttered surface have to you? We like things. We like to draw things, make things and live with things. So it’s very much a manifestation of our personal physical worlds, or perhaps our fantasy world. Surrounded by things we’ve made or would love to have made, hanging out with some fun guys and plants and pools. It’s just something we ended up drawing or representing because these surfaces with objects are our immediate environment for most of the time, so they end up getting put into the work. I suppose we started to notice the sculptural or rhythmic qualities of the detritus, the tools and materials present whilst making work. It’s also a way to symbolise certain things, or to suggest something about the characters or the world they’re in.

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Fern

Do any of the characters have interesting stories behind them? The characters really only come out of the way they are drawn. Really we’ve tried to represent a really odd bunch of people so that anyone could see themselves as part of it. There are certain guys that we all pick out and smile, because they have a silly face or are doing something weird. They don’t have specific stories. We all like to make drawings that have just enough in them for people to grab hold of but still have some work to do in terms of forming a specific character. It’s nice when people can bring their own imagination to this world. There are a few friends and references in there that are maybe a bit more personal but it’s more mysterious for them to stay that way…

Can you point out some of the artists that you reference in the piece? Maybe it’s more fun for people to find them. They’re not very obscure, but here’s a list.

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Cactus

❑ Fischli and Weiss
❑ Dali
❑ Picasso
❑ Joseph Beuys
❑ Yves Klein
❑ David Nash
❑ Eames
❑ Brancusi
❑ Katharina Fritsch
❑ Christo
❑ Robert Wyatt
❑ Florentijn Hofman
❑ The Lely Venus

We also threw in some cheeky references to our own work in the ‘gallery’ panel at bottom right. The framed work on the wall and the ceramics are all ours! Some others got a bit buried in the drawing process, but there are figurative references to Frances Alys pushing the block of ice and Jackson Pollock painting. They weren’t chosen necessarily because we’re hugely into these people, more that they had something interesting visually to contribute and anchored the illustration in the art world a bit more.

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Surfer

Are there illustrators out there that inspire you? Some yes, of course! Although we are more inspired by things that are not illustration, design or art. But lots of people: Laura Carlin, Sara Vanbelle, the mighty Marcus Oakley, Matthew Hodson. Too many to mention really. Most are friends which is an added inspiration. Most illustrators we like are people who do other things as well as illustrating. It doesn’t have to be a thing in it’s own right. It’s exciting when people make work and then sometimes illustrate or apply their work to different things. This always feels more interesting and is more about getting an idea or an energy across rather than a focus on pure illustrative style.

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Tangle

From the way you talk about this, this project served as a way to bring the three of you together, primarily through the act of making. What does “making” mean to Nous Vous? The reason we like to work together is to vibe off each other, so when we get a chance it’s nice to take it. Making, for all of us, is a an act that can be a bit transcendental, it’s when we make sense of things and let go. It’s social in the way we work, as we make together, it can be awkward making in a public way but you soon let go of your pretence and when you do it becomes quite freeing. Making is also communal in that we like to make things for people. Sure the main pleasure is for us, in the act, but we like to make with the knowledge that other people will find some enjoyment in it. We each have our own individual practices too that are personal and solitairy. It’s good to have both, otherwise we’d probably get bored of one approach or the other. We individually make ceramics, drawings and music as well as other stuff, but together we mostly work on design projects or curatorial stuff, and some illustration work like this brief. Some things work better approached individually and some things work better together, and it’s good to recognise that. Making and thinking is often the same. It’s hard to think without making but then I guess making can be most ‘zen’ when you are in the moment and not thinking specifically. But I guess you become a channel for all the stuff you have thought about and filled up on, and it kind of pours out subconsciously. So in that way it’s important to fill up, stock up on stuff so have some splurge to purge. The making process itself is the space in which you can think and work the thing out as you go along. So for example, we had a rough idea what this image would look like, but we didn’t plan the details, we just started to do it and then worked around problems that came up, ironed things out. You can’t do that without starting something and nothing ever turns out exactly the way you plan it. And why should it? That’s the fun of making things. Things happen along the way and you end up with something you never imagined you would. That’s especially true when you’re collaborating…

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Hikers

 

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Nous Vous’ illustration in the Walker magazine

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Raising Creative Kids postcards

 

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Free First Saturday website

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Free First Saturday website

 

Conversations on the Contemporary – Fall 2013

Hot off the press, here is the flyer presenting the new season of Conversations on the Contemporary—it basically lists all the great artists, designers, and thinkers we have coming to speak at the Walker. Based on the same graphic system as the previous one, the illustrations emphasize the lively exchange of ideas and references between […]

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Hot off the press, here is the flyer presenting the new season of Conversations on the Contemporary—it basically lists all the great artists, designers, and thinkers we have coming to speak at the Walker. Based on the same graphic system as the previous one, the illustrations emphasize the lively exchange of ideas and references between both artists and the public during these lectures.

See all the great events coming up, including talks by Claes Oldenburg, Danh Vo and Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart, Bjarne Melgaard, Liam Gillick and Hito Steryl, and filmmaker Sam Green on Buckminster Fuller, here.
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