Blogs The Gradient Flat Files (Our Work)

Avant Museology Symposium: Structure as Identity

Avant Museology is a two-day symposium co-presented by the Walker Art Center, e-flux, and the University of Minnesota Press. Using the newly published book, Avant-Garde Museology as a point-of-entry, the conference will explore artistic practices, sociopolitical contexts, and historical complexities associated with the contemporary museum.   We wanted to create an identity that would serve […]

Avant Museology is a two-day symposium co-presented by the Walker Art Center, e-flux, and the University of Minnesota Press. Using the newly published book, Avant-Garde Museology as a point-of-entry, the conference will explore artistic practices, sociopolitical contexts, and historical complexities associated with the contemporary museum.

 
Avant Museology

We wanted to create an identity that would serve as a container for the questions posed—a system designed in anticipation of the discourse that the symposium would yield. We were interested in creating a framework capable of representing a range of contributors in addition to the collaborative effort of the institutions involved. The identity intends to place an emphasis on this relationship, providing each with a prominent role within the visual solution, underscoring their role as facilitators but also making their presence tangible.

 

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The web-based variant of the identity consists of collected content, generated by the symposium and its contributors. Interpreting the notion of museum as a recording device; the cube becomes a model, rendering, or construct that provides links to publications, essays, artwork, and other supporting material. It is built using markup language (HMTL/CSS) in an effort to remain fluid; a device that is easily adjusted, updated, and interacted with. This was an important aspect in which the resulting form remains true to the medium in which it was created, operating as a dynamic solution as opposed to a representation of the form. Various images, speakers, and links were added as the conference was being finalized, in essence constructing the identity. The grid structure, a reference to the Soviet Avant-garde in its form and ideology, becomes a lattice-like structure that maintains content.

The interactive version of the cube is used on the Avant Museology micro site.

 

Drawing a parallel between the program established for the symposium and Rationalist architecture, we were interested in these structures for their experimental nature as well as for their cultural significance. Many of these buildings never materialized in a physical sense, and instead served as speculative constructs of progressivism. We were interested in the socio-political conditions that perpetuated the existence of such platforms: what did it mean for a concept to supersede its manifestation?

 

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A model of Vladimir Tatlin’s tower (c.1967), an unrealized cultural landmark. It has been referred to as being “made of steel, glass and revolution.”1

 

Horizontal Skyscraper El Lissitzky

El Lissitky’s speculative drawings of horizontal skyscrapers or Wolkenbügel (“Iron Clouds”) stood for technological progress, futurism, and an avant garde ideology that would reverberate in the proceding century. 2

 

In addition to the rotating cube, two typefaces were used: one that would reference the ideology in terms of the grid structure, and another referencing the Soviet underpinnings of the symposium—Literaturnaya (Poligraphmash, c.1940) and Monospace 821 (Max Miedinger, c.1957), respectively. Literaturnaya is a Soviet typeface used for many texts until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 (When it was replaced by Times New Roman). Monospace 821, a product of Modernist ideology (The monospace version of Helvetica), was used to reference the uniformity of the grid used throughout the identity.

 

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A few early lock-up studies that incorporated various sketches/movement and reference imagery.

 

Avant Museology will be taking place on November 20–21, in conjunction with the Walker’s upcoming exhibition, Question the Wall Itself. Speakers include Jonathas de Andrade, Claire Bishop, Adrienne Edwards, Boris Groys, Ane Hjort Guttu, Wayne Koestenbaum, Nisa Mackie, Fionn Meade, Sohrab Mohebbi, Timothy Morton, Elizabeth Povinelli, Walid Raad, Hito Steyerl, Anton Vidokle, Cary Wolfe, and Arseny Zhilyaev. Tickets can be purchased online at walkerart.org.

In addition to the symposium at the Walker Art Center, Avant Museology will also take place at the Brooklyn Museum on November 11–12. Speakers include Bruce Altshuler, Lynne Cooke, Boris Groys, Fionn Meade, Molly Nesbit, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Nikolay Punin, Irene V. Small, Anton Vidokle, Fred Wilson, Arseny Zhilayev, and more.


 

Notes

1 Ri︠a︡bushin, A. V., and N. I. Smolina. Landmarks of Soviet architecture, 1917-1991. New York: Rizzoli, 1992. Print.

2Vladimir Tatlin: Moderna Museet, Stockholm, juli-september, 1968 (Moderna museets katalog)

Lee Kit: Hold your breath, dance slowly—The making of a visual identity

  Exhibition view   On the exhibition Curated by Misa Jeffereis, the exhibition Lee Kit: Hold your breath, dance slowly marks visual artist Lee Kit’s first U.S. solo show. Kit invites you to wander into soft-lighted galleries, hold your breath in quiet anticipation, and slowly sway from nook to nook to the melody of Elvis Presley’s […]

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Exhibition view

 

On the exhibition

Curated by Misa Jeffereis, the exhibition Lee Kit: Hold your breath, dance slowly marks visual artist Lee Kit’s first U.S. solo show. Kit invites you to wander into soft-lighted galleries, hold your breath in quiet anticipation, and slowly sway from nook to nook to the melody of Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling in Love (1961) to experience the various emotions created by Kit’s work.

As Kit worked in the gallery space in the two weeks leading up to the exhibition opening, he arranged objects and projections, created new artworks, and found unity with the space itself. He formed an emotional installation, where visitors can feel traces of the body which previously inhabited the space. Contrary to more open gallery spaces, Lee offers us a domestic space with many walls and doorways which—together with tables, folding chairs, lamps, and other household furnishings—creates an intimate and deeply personal space.

 

Invitation for the xhibition opening

Invitation for the exhibition opening

 

Invitation for the xhibition opening

Invitation for the exhibition opening

 

Lobby monitors–museum signage.

Digital lobby signage

 

Title wall vinyl–museum signage.

Vinyl title wall signage

 

Exhibition view.

Exhibition view

 

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Exhibition view

 

On the visual identity

As an artist who makes site-specific installations, we had relatively little information (knowing only the title and the exhibition floor plan) to respond to before Lee’s arrival to the Walker. I took the title: “Lee Kit: Hold your breath, dance slowly,” and composed it in a way that the viewer could begin to feel the type of space and motion seen throughout the exhibition. In response to the various material sizes on which the title would be displayed, as well as the various routes one could enter and move through the gallery space, I decided that the title should be typographically rearranged in each of its iterations. This small intervention allows the viewer to both read each word separately and to connect them into the original title in various orders. As I realized later on, during the two weeks working with Kit, this approach/method was also his way of creating installations: finding objects, rearranging them, and making associative connections between each element until they created a substantial entity.

The gallery guide contains not only the traditional three-dimensional drawing of walls, but it also contains discrete representations of elements found within the exhibition, such as lamps and a TV-rack, as a way facilitating one’s navigation of the space and to underline the domesticity of the exhibition. The gallery guide also features images that showcase Lee Kit’s interest in light as a medium. Through the use of subtle duotone colors, the images become softer and evoke associations with the artist’s video projections and natural light. In further response to this quality of lightness (in terms of both visual lightness and perceptual feeling), the exhibition’s title is typeset in white (or, at times, in dark blue) on a light blue background in order to achieve a light, floating vibe. Furthermore, this quality of lightness within the typographic compositions is further emphasized through its relationship to the gallery itself and the way in which it functions similarly to the experience of navigating through the gallery space.

Light is one of the primary elements seen in Kit’s body of work. In the exhibition at the Walker, Kit used standing lamps and projectors as a source light. Fragile and ephemeral video works often capture the sunlight and projections fade into each other, merging with visitor’s shadows. Kit plays with stretching moments that attract his attention, extending them again and again in such a way that visitors to the gallery become detached from their familiarity to the common, domestic products seen throughout the exhibition. This feeling is amplified further by the nature of the installation which seems to have no beginning, middle, or end.

After researching Kit’s work, I came to understand that the work can be poetic, fragile, emotional, subtle, dynamic, and open, but that it can also be bitter and sometimes direct. Two paintings—Fuck you. (100g) and a piece called You, where Kit placed words produced by an inkjet transfer stating “You feed yourself everyday”—create moments of directness and harsh typographic messages which clash (visually and emotionally) with the tranquil mise-en-scène of the exhibition. Responding to this duality within Kit’s work informed my choice of Stanley as a typeface. Stanley is a font inspired by Times New Roman—perhaps the most classic typeface of the 20th century. The selected typeface is characterized by wide and sharp counter forms as well as short ascenders and descenders that generate neat typeset arrangements. The very graphic shape of the triangle-like serifs benefit from a maximum of contrast. This, in combination with the fully-justified texts that compose both the invitation and gallery guide, gives the typographic texture a strong and highly constructed appearance. As such, my use of Stanley became a means of highlighting the contrast between the very graphic forms of the typographic messages and the soft, lightness of the floods of blue projections.

Photos and design: Gabriela Baka

 

Gallery guide, with introduction text, map and installation views.

Gallery guide (which includes an introductory text, map, and installation views)

 

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Details exhibition floor plan.

Detail view of the exhibition floor plan

 

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Ordinary Pictures teaser trailer

Here is the teaser trailer for our exhibition Ordinary Pictures, cut by our videographer Andy Underwood-Bultmann. The show, curated by Eric Crosby, surveys a range of conceptual picture-based practices since the 1960s through the lens of the stock photograph and other forms of industrial image production. You can take a walkthrough of the exhibition here. […]

Here is the teaser trailer for our exhibition Ordinary Pictures, cut by our videographer Andy Underwood-Bultmann. The show, curated by Eric Crosby, surveys a range of conceptual picture-based practices since the 1960s through the lens of the stock photograph and other forms of industrial image production. You can take a walkthrough of the exhibition here. We’ll be publishing a post about the accompanying catalogue soon.

Andrea Büttner—The making of a visual identity

One of the latest exhibitions at Walker Art Center is the first U.S. solo exhibition of the work of German artist Andrea Büttner. Curated by Artistic Director Fionn Meade, the exhibition continues the Walker’s ongoing presentation of solo shows by emerging artists who have not yet had significant museum exposure in the United States. Büttner’s […]

One of the latest exhibitions at Walker Art Center is the first U.S. solo exhibition of the work of German artist Andrea Büttner. Curated by Artistic Director Fionn Meade, the exhibition continues the Walker’s ongoing presentation of solo shows by emerging artists who have not yet had significant museum exposure in the United States.

Büttner’s practice intertwines art-historical concepts with social and political issues, often exploring unexpected connections between art and religion, deviance and ethics, or shame and visual expression.

The newly commissioned installation features a range of new works, including a living moss sculpture, large-scale woodcuts, and etchings that capture and transpose the smear and blur of fingerprints left on cell phone screens. Through deploying a wide range of pre-modernist media, Büttner restores outmoded methods in order to provoke and challenge conventions of high and low. She constructs a profound space between ornate and humble, dissociation and humility, and the urge to judge or to remain objective.

 
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BAKA GABRIELA ANDREA BUTTNER IDENTITY
 

Personally, I was particularly captivated by the complex details in Büttner’s prints and woodcuts (many of which can be seen here). My initial design sketches for the visual identity explored the combination of typography and woodcut patterns and an attempt to use fragments of Büttner’s works and her carved forms/line-work. What I found interesting was the complex markings that were left-behind by the sharp edge of Büttner’s carving tools and which range from hairline markings to triangular, gouge-like markings.

 
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An important step in designing the visual identity was finding an appropriate typeface—ideally a classical, but not boring, serif typeface. The chosen typeface, Noe Display, responds to the pronounced and crafted feeling of Büttner’s work. Designed by the type foundry Schick Toikka, the typeface is a Transitional-style, high-contrast headline typeface. Noe Display’s sharp triangular serifs and terminals give it strong and distinctive characteristics, echoing the similar shapes which occur within Büttner’s etchings and woodcuts.

To emphasize a connection to Büttner’s sharp woodcuts within the typographic treatment, I slightly altered the height and appearance of the umlaut. Rather than keeping the two dots that typically appear within the umlaut, I instead swapped-in two triangle shapes that derived from the top, triangular part of the letter “t” in Noe Display. These triangles also replaced the dot above the letter “i”.

Intrigued by the small details in Büttner’s work, I then decided to respond by creating my own level of typographic detail through a series of customized punctuation marks that would subsequently be embedded within the texts associated with the exhibition. As a base for the punctuation, I used the same Noe Display-derived triangle shape to then create a comma, colon, period, and apostrophe. The resulting punctuation marks, which appear throughout the typeset materials connected to the exhibition, make a small intervention on the space, yet are elements that may go easily unnoticed upon first glance. This subtle intervention was made in order to focus more attention on the detailed and contemplative nature of Andrea Büttner’s work.

The developed visual identity was applied to various exhibition materials—from the invitation for the exhibition opening, to the gallery guide, to exhibition labels, title walls, and related texts.

Design and photos: Gabriela Baka

 
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Another Look Inside Hippie Modernism

We cut a longer trailer for the exhibition Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia, curated by Andrew Blauvelt, featuring more footage from inside the exhibition. The show closes February 28th here in Minneapolis, after which it travels to the Cranbrook Art Museum and then the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. The trailer was edited […]

Insights 2016 Design Lecture Series

   Insights 2016 Tuesdays in March Join us in celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Insights Design Lecture Series, with four talks by some of today’s most exciting designers. Over their careers, these visual form-makers have created vast collections of symbolic imagery—logos, layouts, photographs, alphabets—intended to elucidate the present and destined to one day delight […]

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 Insights 2016
Tuesdays in March

Join us in celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Insights Design Lecture Series, with four talks by some of today’s most exciting designers. Over their careers, these visual form-makers have created vast collections of symbolic imagery—logos, layouts, photographs, alphabets—intended to elucidate the present and destined to one day delight and confound historians of the future. This year’s series features lectures from South Korean conceptualists Sulki & Min, music-packaging designer Brian Roettinger, design curator Jon Sueda, and Susan Sellers, cofounder of 2×4 and current head of design at the Met.

If you can’t make it in person, please tune in to our live webcast on the Walker Channel and participate through Twitter (#Insights2016). For educators, AIGA chapters, and anyone else who might want to throw their own viewing party, have a look at our Viewing Party Kit.

 

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Sulki & Min Choi (Seoul, KR)
March 01, 7 pm (tickets)

When asked what their studio motto might be, designers/artists Sulki Choi and Min Choi replied, “Clarifying is our business, obscuring is our pleasure.” Indeed, this tension between fact and fiction, concrete communication and abstraction, reveals itself throughout their practice as the designers create what they call “impurely conceptual” work. The married couple founded their design practice in Seoul in 2003, focusing primarily on the cultural sector with projects such as graphic identities for the BMW Guggenheim Lab, architecture firm Mass Studies, and the 2014 Gwangju Biennale; the guest art direction of Print Magazine’s 2012 “Trash” issue; and an extensive graphic system for the architecture exhibition Before/after.

Working in both Roman and Hangul alphabets, their intense approach to typography reveals a deep interest in language. Whether systematically inverting English oxymorons in a type specimen poster or dissecting the typographic relationship between Hangul vowels and Taoist yin-yang symbolism through a series of patterns, much of Sulki & Min’s work exerts an almost scientific approach to the use of words, reminding us that language is, in fact, the earliest and perhaps greatest “kit of parts” at a designer’s disposal.

In 2006, the duo founded Specter Press, a publishing imprint that presents monographs of Korean artists. Sulki & Min are also one half of the artist collective SMSM, which is an “applied-art collective devoted to health and happiness.” Their work has been exhibited internationally and Min also curated Typojanchi, which is a typographic biennial in Seoul. Sulki teaches design at the Kaywon School of Art & Design, and Min teaches at the University of Seoul.

 

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Brian Roettinger (Los Angeles, US)
March 08, 7 pm (tickets)

The work of graphic designer/artist Brian Roettinger is an uncanny union of punk ideology with a conceptually driven mode of modernist design. He frequently employs architectural strategies such as repetition and structure (think die-cuts and folds) while subverting this sense of order by manipulating the production process in unexpected or “wrong” ways (think pulling the sheet out of the printer before it is done). Hailing from Los Angeles, Roettinger launched his own record label in 1998 called Hand Held Heart and began to release albums by bands such as the Liars, No Age, and the Chromatics, featuring artwork that he designed and produced himself. The moniker Hand Held Heart came to encompass all of Roettinger’s creative output—curating, publishing, editing, artwork—including his stints as the in-house designer for the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), art director for LA–based fashion magazine JUNK, a variety of projects for clients such as Yves Saint Laurent and MIT Press, and most obviously, his ongoing work in the music industry. As Rolling Stone’s 2009 Album Designer of the Year, Roettinger has created album artwork for Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk, Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet, and most recently, Florence + the Machine’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. In 2013, Roettinger was commissioned to design Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail album, which was nominated for a Grammy (his second nomination).

With friends, Roettinger was also responsible for celebrating the now-legendary Colby Printing Press in LA, for which he created an official archives, curated an exhibition, and designed and edited a beautiful catalogue.

 

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Jon Sueda (San Francisco, US)
March 15, 7 pm (tickets)

Over his career, Jon Sueda has carved out a unique practice for himself as a designer, curator, and educator—a practice that has allowed him a curious perspective simultaneously creating design, generating dialogue about the field, and helping shape the designers of the future. Originally from Hawaii, Sueda has bounced around the globe, working in California, Holland, and North Carolina, and finally founding his design studio, Stripe, in 2004. Since then he has created work for a variety of cultural clients such as Chronicle Books, the New York Times Magazine, the Architecture Association (London), and REDCAT Gallery. For seven years, Sueda served as director of design for the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, creating all of their exhibition graphics, catalogues, and branding. He is also the art director of Exhibitionist magazine, a journal “by curators, for curators”; coeditor of Task Newsletter, a journal of design; and a co-organizer of AtRandom events, a “community-sponsored public gathering of designers, artists, writers, and researchers within the Los Angeles area.” Sueda is currently the chair of the MFA design program at the California College of the Arts.

As a curator, Sueda creates shows that endeavor to contextualize aspects of the design field. His most recent exhibition, All Possible Futures (SOMArts Cultural Center, San Francisco), tackled the subject of speculative design, examining the conditions in which graphic designers are able to create work outside of the typical client-based relationship. Featuring an international range of practitioners, the show and its accompanying catalogue have been highly influential, mapping the connections between speculative fiction, academic investigation, think-tank innovation, and contemporary art.

 

Susan Sellers (New York, US)
March 22, 7 pm (tickets)

From her early career working with Dutch studios Total Design and UNA to cofounding a preeminent global design agency to teaching at the Yale University School of Art to her recent appointment at the world’s third most-attended museum, Susan Sellers has kept herself at the epicenter of some of the world’s most exciting design and cultural scenes. She has actively explored issues as varied as data visualization, screen-based technologies, critical design, material culture, brand development, and craft. In 1994, Sellers cofounded 2×4, an agency with offices in New York, Madrid, and Beijing. Its massive output includes anything from brand work for Vitra to in-shop displays for Prada, environments for Nike, identity work for the Brooklyn Museum, pattern work for Kate Spade, and the design of a 7-screen cinematic experience for Kanye West. On top of her work at 2×4, Sellers was recently appointed head of design at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she will oversee a team of designers, installers, and architects to execute the full range of the institution’s design needs, including print materials, gallery installations, and signage. In March 2016, the institution will unveil its newly designed brand—Sellers’s Insights lecture will be her first public presentation of what should be a fantastic new identity.

Sellers is also one of the core faculty members of the MFA graphic design program at the Yale University School of Art, where she helps shape one of the most prestigious design programs in the world. She has written about design for such publications as Eye, Design Issues, and Visible Language and her work has received countless awards.

 

 

Printing of the Insights 2016 poster courtesy the Avery Group at Shapco Printing, Minneapolis.

Designing the Hippie Modernism Exhibition Catalogue

The catalogue for Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia is edited by curator Andrew Blauvelt and contains new scholarship that examines the art, architecture, and design of the counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s. The catalogue surveys the radical experiments that challenged societal norms while proposing new kinds of technological, ecological and political utopia. It […]

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The catalogue for Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia is edited by curator Andrew Blauvelt and contains new scholarship that examines the art, architecture, and design of the counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s. The catalogue surveys the radical experiments that challenged societal norms while proposing new kinds of technological, ecological and political utopia. It includes the counter-design proposals of Victor Papanek and the anti-design polemics of Global Tools; the radical architectural visions of Archigram, Superstudio, Haus-Rucker-Co, and ONYX; the installations of Ken Isaacs, Joan Hills, Mark Boyle, Hélio Oiticica, and Neville D’Almeida; the experimental films of Jordan Belson, Bruce Conner, and John Whitney; posters and prints by Emory Douglas, Corita Kent, and Victor Moscoso; documentation of performances by the Diggers and the Cockettes; publications such as Oz and The Whole Earth Catalog; books by Marshall McLuhan and Buckminster Fuller; and much more.

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While the turbulent social history of the 1960s is well known, its cultural production remains comparatively under-examined. In this substantial volume, scholars explore a range of practices such as radical architectural and anti-design movements emerging in Europe and North America; the print revolution in the graphic design of books, posters and magazines; and new forms of cultural practice that merged street theater and radical politics. Through a profusion of illustrations, interviews with figures including: Gerd Stern of USCO; Ken Isaacs; Gunther Zamp Kelp of Haus-Rucker-Co; Ron Williams and Woody Rainey of ONYX; Franco Raggi of Global Tools; Tony Martin; Drop City; as well as new scholarly writings, this book explores the conjunction of the countercultural ethos and the modernist desire to fuse art and life.

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While designing the publication, one of the tensions we were interested in exploring was the relationship of the hippie as popularized by the media and its authentic counterpart, if such a thing existed. As Andrew describes in his preface to the catalogue, “The hippie was and remains a highly mediated figure, one used rhetorically within this project as the same kind of empty signifier to which accreted many different agendas. Or, as the Diggers once said, the hippie was just another convenient “bag” for the “identity-hungry to climb in.” If the publication could illustrate both the hippie as utopic countercultural agent and the hippie as “devoted son of Mass Media,” we might begin to emulate a Hippie Modernism.

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117Typographically, we responded to lo-fi publications such as the Whole Earth Catalog, How to Build Your Own Living Structures, Be Here Now, and the Foundation Journal on one hand, and the iconic, corporate advertising language of the ’60s and ’70s on the other. Bridging these two registers came quite naturally to many of the artists and designers of this era, who understood that envisioning a utopia meant performing it, broadcasting it, projecting it, publishing it, and advertising it. Creating the future meant co-opting the strategies of mass communication.

 

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One obvious example of this was “Advertisements for the Counter Culture,” an insert in the July 1970 issue of Progressive Architecture magazine, in which representatives of the counterculture were invited to create advertisements for their various projects and efforts. In the preface, editor Forest Wilson wrote, “The following pages reflect deep discontent with things as they are. We should be concerned when such options cease to be advertised, for it is when those who seek change despair of its realization that violence becomes inevitable. The public notices that follow are put forth to offer alternatives to our way of life, not to destroy it.”

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In addition to reprinting the insert in our catalogue, we created a 16-page reimagining of it through the lens of Hippie Modernism, interspersed throughout the essay section. Some of these pages feature real ads, publication covers, and layouts from the period, while others are fictional recreations (the McLuhan ad, for example, required restaging a photoshoot in order to translate an ad that was originally black-and-white into full color). The pages are printed on Constellation Jade Riccio, a dreamy, pearlescent paper embossed with a wavy pattern that brings to mind the organic psychedelia of certain hippie projects such as Elias Romero’s oil and ink light show experiments, while also reinforcing notions of mass production and surface, by way of it’s highly artificial nature. (I first saw this paper used beautifully by Laurent Fétis and Sarah Martinon in the design of the catalogue for the 23rd International Poster and Graphic Design Festival of Chaumont 2012.)


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The book also includes an extensive plate section, featuring images and descriptions of the projects featured in the exhibition.

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Finally, the image on the cover of the book depicts the US Pavilion for Expo 67 (Montreal), designed by Buckminster Fuller and Shoji Sadao, as it caught fire on May 20, 1976. As a signifer, the photo by Doug Lehman seems to perfectly encapsulate the friction implied by the term “hippie modernism” and, more explicitly, the counterculture’s utopian agenda being subsumed—and deemed a failure—by the conservative era that was to follow. With each passing year, though, this reactionary characterization of the counterculture moment rings more and more hollow, as contemporary practitioners revisit the revolutionary strategies these artists, designers, and activists deployed.

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Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia (Upcoming Events)

Acid heads turning on to LSD. Activists tuning in to issues of social injustice. Hippies dropping out of mainstream life. These and many other agents occupied the tumultuous landscape of the 1960s counterculture. Its antiauthoritarian and antiestablishment positions transformed not only society and politics but also art and culture. Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia, which opens to the public […]

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Acid heads turning on to LSD. Activists tuning in to issues of social injustice. Hippies dropping out of mainstream life. These and many other agents occupied the tumultuous landscape of the 1960s counterculture. Its antiauthoritarian and antiestablishment positions transformed not only society and politics but also art and culture. Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia, which opens to the public on October 24, surveys the radical art, architecture, and design of the 1960s and 1970s, examining the work of those seeking alternatives to the strictures of mainstream society.

Curated by Andrew Blauvelt, the exhibition will launch with a broad range of programs, including lectures by visiting artists such as Haus-Rucker-Co and Emory Douglas; screenings of films by Jordan Belson, the Cockettes, and Drop City; and even an evening exploring the counterculture scene in 1960s Minneapolis. See below for our full slate of programs (scanned from our related events flyer) and click through for more information. And check back soon as we’ll be posting content from the exhibition catalogue, new interviews, and images of the exhibition.

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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.”

 

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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.

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