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 firstname.lastname@example.org. No phone calls please.
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 […]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 […]
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.
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. […]
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
❑ Fischli and Weiss
❑ Joseph Beuys
❑ Yves Klein
❑ David Nash
❑ Katharina Fritsch
❑ 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.
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.
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…
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 […]
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.
Autoconstrucción: a definitely unfinished inefficient unstable affective emotional delirious joyful affirmative sweaty fragmentary empiric weak happy contradictory solitary indecent sensual amorphous warm and committed index Autoconstrucción (loosely translated as self-build) refers to a particular method in home construction. Those who don’t have the economic means to complete an entire house (but have enough for parts […]
Autoconstrucción: a definitely unfinished inefficient unstable affective emotional delirious joyful affirmative sweaty fragmentary empiric weak happy contradictory solitary indecent sensual amorphous warm and committed index
Autoconstrucción (loosely translated as self-build) refers to a particular method in home construction. Those who don’t have the economic means to complete an entire house (but have enough for parts of one) build structures in stages using whatever resources are available at their disposal. And as situations change or families grow, additions and modifications are made to the home that may not use the same material used in the last stage of construction, depending on circumstances. Visually, these developments can be a mish-mash of styles; architecturally, its a responsive approach to building, constantly trying to meet the needs of the inhabitants inside and the neighborhood outside.
The Autoconstrucción Suites is the latest survey of artist Abraham Cruzvillegas’s decade-long investigation of this phenomenon and how it informs his work. Born and based in Mexico City and growing up in a self-build, that experience is the basis for many of his projects, which range from sculpture to song-writing, drawing to performance, film and writing. Curated by Clara Kim, the exhibition brings together all of these thoughts and moments into a singular gallery space, and creates a world where this line of research takes the form of decaying maguey leaves, a rough splat of concrete, painted cardboard boxes on a wall, a chrome sphere on the floor, or even a tricycle with an audio/visual system built in. A 240-page catalogue accompanies the exhibition, and is conceived as a primer into the language of self building and a container for his research and works.
Warm: a warm system means an organic organization of re-arrangable elements, in which subjectivity, affection, emotion, but mostly needs, rule. An exhibition or a book can be warm systems.
In our first meeting with him to talk about the catalogue, Abraham brought a couple of books from his own collection that he was formally and conceptually interested in. One was this great Filliou catalogue, where everything—from artworks to text entries and random references—was organized in an alphabetic index; on one hand, it’s a pretty academic structure, but weirdly enough, that framework also introduces an element of randomness, with illustrations and reproductions and texts thrown in next to each other at unexpected moments. Another was a Duchamp book that actually comprised of several printed editions housed in a book-like folder, and included reproductions of artworks, small publications and even a little paper sculpture you could assemble. The density of information and the variety of ways to experience the work was really appealing to us, but how much could we achieve with just a plate section and a couple of essays?
Abraham then casually mentioned including a text he had just prepared a few months prior, a list of autoconstrucción terms and his personal definitions he uses not only to describe his work, but everything: love, life, food, sex, etc. (Some of these terms are scattered throughout this blog post). They waver between serious and light, pithy statements or heavy assertions. We thought it compelling enough to establish a basic conceptual structure for the book, a way for readers to engage with the work on a philosophical level. Above, the English and Spanish versions of the table of contents are structured as quasi-indices, listing all the individual terms as well as the titles of his songs and is an idiosyncratic way to see the range of information contained.
Abraham’s resource room is a work in the show that was important to the development of the book. Pictured above, it’s made up of different elements: on a long table there are coil-bound photocopied books about things like architecture, poetry, and Mexican culture; upside down buckets and a converted wheelbarrow serve as seating; on a nearby wall, several large maps are displayed, showing growth and population densities in Mexico City over time; on a circular table a plant sits on top of a collage of photographs, images from his neighborhood that Abraham had taken with a point-and-shoot; and on another wall, a wall of Mexican and Latin American socio-political posters.
We thought about the project in this particular context and environment, and liked the idea that maybe the catalogue could potentially inhabit this specific space, or at the very least were related somehow. The room comes off as a little cosmos of ideas, as if an encyclopaedia had exploded onto the walls of a gallery. If this room was the big-bang, what if the book was the big-crunch version of the entire installation?
So from these initial thoughts, we started to determine some major moves. The book would be structured in two parts: the core would house works in the exhibition, a 64-page plate section; wrapped around that center is the autoconstrucción universe: the constellation of songs, photos, posters, books, and index terms that he pulls from, in addition to the contributed essays. Because we were literally looking to nest these sections, we decided to saddle stitch the entire book (surprisingly easy to do, despite it a 240 page book, if you find an industrial stitching machine in Stillwater that sews sailboat sails together). The book is softcover, and gave the overall catalogue a very floppy, flexible feel.
Abraham later joked that he could use it to swat flies.
Unstable: piling things atop of each other, not definitely fixed, makes stacks of transformable energy about to collapse. Here I’m talking of history, economy, society and culture. Physical and conceptual instability are something hard to sustain, but I like it.
I usually try to analogize my projects in unusual ways, to introduce a different way of looking at a particular problem. During our conversations, I kept referring to this metaphor of “the book as brick.” The comparison seemed appropriate for some reason: brick as a blunt object, brick as a singular unit, brick as a constructive force, brick as a destructive force, brick as a weight, brick as potential energy. The homely brick suddenly became loaded with things like personality and tone, conceptual ideas beyond its simple functional aspect. We thought it could be interesting to link the resource room to this strange analogy somehow, and view the elements of the installation as raw material from which he constructs the autoconstrucción world. Maybe these images—of his neighborhood, of the books, or the posters, or even the songs he wrote—were individual bricks.
So for this book, instead of laying images out on a pre-determined grid, or just simply centering everything with space in-between elements, what if we just stacked all the images on top of each other?
So we did. And we liked it.
This reminds me of Carl Sagan’s thought experiment of two-dimensional shapes, living on a flatland, having to deal with the realization that there may be other dimensions beyond their perception. It brings up an interesting idea as a book designer, about the way we work with flat surfaces, and where our own perspective lies as the designer: are we the flatlander, or the booming extra-dimensional voice from within? And from there, it was kind of strange to think about creating a sense of weight in a “space” like a page in a book. But after this stacking strategy came up, it introduced another dimension, maybe it was height, maybe it was volume?
This weirdly enough also sort of recalls those cup stacking championships, which was a funny way to think about Abraham’s work, on a couple of different levels: ideas about sculpture as a gesture, or series of built up gestures; and also about improvisation, as if the artist just stacked the images himself. And in the end, this new shape becomes much more interesting than a couple of squares and rectangles on a page. The content can now be activated because of its new shape, like the way that Abraham’s process creates new objects, but that object serves to highlight the individual components of the piece. Cups become pyramids, and debris become sculpture.
Once this was all figured out, the system kind of took over and designed itself. And I think I use the word “system” very loosely, in the sense that it’s not really what we would think of (in a design context) as a tightly gridded out document. The strategy was more like an overall attitude or an outlook, a little less concerned about the final product and more interested in the process. It was also kind of a game we devised for ourselves, whose only rule was to stack the images in weird and interesting ways. And as a graphic designer, its interesting when you introduce an element of play like that. For this project, that quality allowed us to be very responsive and flexible to our own immediate needs and whatever random issue the world threw at us, whether it was not being able to secure rights for an image, or something being too low resolution to print. Whenever something like that happened, we were able to quickly shift images here and there, create new piles, and then move on. It’s pretty liberating not having to stress over minutae when you don’t build it into the structure.
Joyful: inventing the rules of a game to be played everyday in different ways. Rules are dictated from specific needs, then it can be played capriciously, with ingenuity and pleasure. If the game can be played collectively it could go better, depending on the people you invite and on their will to share, learn and risk together. Rules can also be modified, according to peculiarities of context, timing and circumstances.
We applied the same strategy to the text pages, setting the type in columns and having the width of each paragraph vary, again, to give the impression of blocks stacked on top of each other. This happened to be pretty helpful, given the bi-lingual context of the catalogue, and is (hopefully) a helpful device that readers can use to determine where in the translation you are between different languages.
This move sort of shifted the piling metaphor into a different territory. After typesetting these, I started to see these columns of type as a kind of strata, or sediments that have settled on on top of another which compact over time and turn into a new and solid form. I haven’t tried this yet, but one could potentially take a couple of copies of the book and stack them on top of each other and represent each essay a one long geologic cross-section. The essay became something you excavate, sifting through layers of information rather than rock; and with some essays, sometimes there’s something to find, and sometimes there’s nothing but more dirt under there.
And like strata, autoconstrucción becomes a way to understand the world of objects as things made up of a variety of moments and ideas, rather than something singular and isolated. Each layer, whether it’s a particular building material, or a line from a song lyric, or a photo in a stack of images, tells its own story about where it comes from, how it is used, what its particular function is, unintended or not. While the combinations of these layers might be novel and exciting, Abraham’s work recognizes that our own constructions don’t manifest themselves out of thin air, but are built upon (and are sourced from) the context of prior knowledge. The mix may be as homogenous as concrete or as chunky as a stack of crates, but looking closely, you might start to realize that maybe the sum of its parts can be greater than the whole.
Fragmentary: contradictory elements making a whole, there’s no chance for mistake. Tales are short moments of experience or imagination. Married pieces from clashing contexts make beautiful conversations. A book of tales makes a universe.
Abraham Cruzvillegas: The Autoconstrucción Suites is currently on view in Target and Friedman Galleries until September 22, 2013. Afterwards, it will be travelling to Haus der Kunst in Berlin in 2014, and then Fundación/Colección Jumex and Museo Amparo in Mexico City in 2015.
“We feel free because we lack the language to articulate our unfreedom.” —Slavoj Žižek For me, Žižek’s words are even more potent in light of recent news about domestic surveillance programs. As a former contractor with the US National Security Agency (NSA), these issues hit especially close to home. During my service in the Korean […]
ZXX Type Specimen Photograph
“We feel free because we lack the language to articulate our unfreedom.” —Slavoj Žižek
For me, Žižek’s words are even more potent in light of recent news about domestic surveillance programs. As a former contractor with the US National Security Agency (NSA), these issues hit especially close to home. During my service in the Korean military, I worked for two years as special intelligence personnel for the NSA, learning first-hand how to extract information from defense targets. Our ability to gather vital SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) information was absolutely easy. But, these skills were only applied outwards for national security and defense purposes — not for overseeing American citizens. It appears that this has changed. Now, as a designer, I am influenced by these experiences and I have become dedicated to researching ways to “articulate our unfreedom” and to continue the evolution of my own thinking about censorship, surveillance, and a free society.
“What does censorship reveal? It reveals fear.” —Julian Assange
ZXX Type Specimen Posters
Over the course of a year, I researched and created ZXX, a disruptive typeface which takes its name from the Library of Congress’ listing of three-letter codes denoting which language a book is written in. Code “ZXX” is used when there is: “No linguistic content; Not applicable.” The project started with a genuine question: How can we conceal our fundamental thoughts from artificial intelligences and those who deploy them? I decided to create a typeface that would be unreadable by text scanning software (whether used by a government agency or a lone hacker) — misdirecting information or sometimes not giving any at all. It can be applied to huge amounts of data, or to personal correspondence. I drew six different cuts (Sans, Bold, Camo, False, Noise and Xed) to generate endless permutations, each font designed to thwart machine intelligences in a different way. I offered the typeface as a free download in hopes that as many people as possible would use it.
This short video shows how the typeface confuses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) artificial intelligence.
ZXX Bold (readable by OCR software) & ZXX Combination (not-readable by OCR software)
Process sketches testing various OCR software’s readability
Screenshot image of PDF OCR X software’s conversion of ZXX
Design 360° Magazine Issue No.41
ZXX is a call to action, both practically and symbolically, to raise questions about privacy. But it represents a broader urgency: How can design be used politically and socially for the codification and de-codification of people’s thoughts? What is a graphic design that is inherently secretive? How can graphic design reinforce privacy? And, really, how can the process of design engender a proactive attitude towards the future — and our present for that matter? After releasing the project in May 2012, I was pleased by the fruitful responses I got and shared with the public. I’ve seen the typeface circulate in publications, web environments, and banners, and it was prophetically featured on the cover of Chinese Design 360° Magazine — amusingly censoring Sagmeister & Walsh’s self-expressive nudity.
“I don’t have to write about the future. For most people, the present is enough like the future to be pretty scary.” —William Gibson
Our lives in cyberspace are overloaded with impalpable and extensive personal information that is gathered, intercepted, deciphered, analyzed, and stored. With this information government and corporations can easily create an informational architecture that traps us in the structures of the World Wide Web and social media. Restricting and repressing our communication tools under the name of “homeland security” is only a small step into a totalitarian society. This non-physical-yet-ideological violence is what allows us to lapse into lethargic silence. But really, we shouldn’t be afraid to question the authorities’ continual intrusions.
National Security Agency’s headquarter in Fort Meade, Maryland
Leaked Prism presentation slide
Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee and whistleblower of NSA’s Project Prism, wasn’t the first man to reveal the vulgarity of the world’s biggest intelligence agency. William Binney, an ex-NSA employee, already disclosed the secrecy of the agency’s perpetual inspections last year. The increasing activities of whistleblowers are a significant cue to the urgency of our diminishing privacy. When surveillance becomes a quotidian exercise, our lives in the network will be completely destroyed. This growing invasion of privacy and militarization of cyberspace dehumanizes us. Government and corporations’ physical, mental, and technological intrusions must stop in order to halt the surveillance state.
“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” —Benjamin Franklin
ZXX ver.02 currently in development
Project ZXX is my humane contribution and homage to the activists, artists, and designers who have been actively fighting for our civil liberties. One such activist is Jacob Appelbaum, an independent computer security researcher and hacker, who co-developed Tor Project to keep our online activities anonymous. Tor Project’s system is structured to bounce around the distributed network of relays, which makes the accumulated metadata dysfunctional. Adam Harvey is an active New York–based artist who has a vast amount of peculiar counter-surveillance projects. Harvey’s works are vital in the way he incorporates privacy matters into provocative fashion aesthetics, such as anti-drone hoodies. Metahaven, an Amsterdam-based design and research studio, might be at the vanguard of critical and social design movements today — mapping the nexus of corporate branding, social media, and government with challenging contemporary graphic design strategies. Hito Steyerl’s How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Education. MOV File, a piece in the Venice Biennale, humorously depicts the dark side of our visual culture with silly DIY educational videos. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) launched a website to provide Netizens alternative ways to opt out of PRISM. People with creative conscience will be the ones to provoke these discussions.
What Snowden disclosed is nothing new. The stakes for our democracy have always been high. But now there needs to be robust action and discussion about the current state of affairs. Many suggest that we’ve already lost our privacy and are indifferent of the status quo. But I believe that stripping humanity of its freedoms can never be justified as a natural evolution. It’s our duty to call out crimes against democracy.
Update: I’ve been reading the comments here and elsewhere, and it seems many people are concerned about my understanding of how digital text works — ASCII, binary codes, etc. As mentioned above, I spent two years as intelligence personnel with the NSA and a year researching, so I am fully aware of all that. This project/post is focused on raising awareness, which I should’ve articulated better. That said, it would be great if further conversations ruminated over the growing surveillance state and how we should act. I sincerely appreciate everyone reading, criticizing, and sharing these matters.
Here’s a project from the archives that we never got around to posting, but seeing as how we are in the process of redesigning our magazine, it seemed like a good time to exhume this. The July/August 2012 issue of Walker featured a fashion editorial shot on the occasion of the exhibition, This Will Have […]
Here’s a project from the archives that we never got around to posting, but seeing as how we are in the process of redesigning our magazine, it seemed like a good time to exhume this. The July/August 2012 issue of Walker featured a fashion editorial shot on the occasion of the exhibition, This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, known colloquially as “The 80s Show.” We took the typical content of our magazine (shop spread, Target Free Thursday Night event listings, restaurant blurb) and framed it with a custom style.
The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal is a fictional museum by London-based artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. The exhibition’s multilayered text, sound, film and performance addresses peculiar evolving questions around the public institutions and the collisions of art and the political praxis. In their new act, The New Deal, the duo transforms the […]
Installation view of The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal
The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal is a fictional museum by London-based artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. The exhibition’s multilayered text, sound, film and performance addresses peculiar evolving questions around the public institutions and the collisions of art and the political praxis. In their new act, The New Deal, the duo transforms the gallery space into an open-ended platform to question the marginalization of the common, perpetuation of the bourgeois, urgency of the political resistance, growing tension between the 99% and the 1%, among other social and political struggles we are confronting in this geopolitical entanglement. Mirza and Butler keeps the audience at the verge—purporting the importance and the urgency to choose a political position for social change. The artists also curated the Walker’s Art News From Elsewhere as another form of their participatory reaction. Their investigations in the dissonance of the public realm and the idea of turning around the public’s positions and perspectives intrigued the initial idea for the exhibition’s graphics.
The word MUSEUM is horizontally flipped to create a subtle tension within the title—turning the museum into the city and vice versa. (It’s similar to glass doors that have push and pull signs on the same side to disorient you.) Reversed type also connotes the act of resistance and Urdu alphabet’s right-to-left writing system.
Attendees perform Bertolt Brecht’s The Exception and the Rule on the opening night
Mirza and Butler, with the curators and local participants, performed Bertolt Brecht’s Exception and the Rule asan inquiry into the conditions of capitalism, free market and power play. Play scripts for the players were incorporated as a part of the opening night performance.
The enlarged gallery guide (12 × 18 inches) evolved from the urgency of the situation. Non Participation: Acts of Definition and Redefinition is compiled with local and international contributors’ understandings of the art of opposition and resistance. It is on view in the gallery and for those of you who can’t make it, the texts will be available to read on the Visual Arts blog in the coming days.
Painter Painter, co-curated by Eric Crosby and Bartholomew Ryan, is the Walker’s latest contemporary painting show. Comprised entirely of new works, it serves as a open conversation on the medium of painting today, and how these fifteen artists deal with the role of the “painter”. Instead of being weighed down by the history of abstraction […]
Painter Painter, co-curated by Eric Crosby and Bartholomew Ryan, is the Walker’s latest contemporary painting show. Comprised entirely of new works, it serves as a open conversation on the medium of painting today, and how these fifteen artists deal with the role of the “painter”. Instead of being weighed down by the history of abstraction in the 20th century, the artists in the show use the process to clarify their own visual vocabulary, and find complex potential in a medium bound by the four simple corners of a rectangle. Well, that is, when they are rectangles:
Our initial sketches for the identity started out as purely typographic solutions, shying away from anything that was too mannered or too painterly, I suppose. Because the nature of the show was more akin to a dialogue between painters with different studio practices rather than a definitive survey of contemporary painting, we were looking for a typeface that had a kind of voice that was open, casual, and engaging. We quickly landed on Cooper (a family of weights developed by Bitstream, but based on Oswald Cooper’s original typeface Cooper Black in 1920s) and were drawn to its calligraphic qualities, and its versatility as both a display and a book face.
As we were going through this process, we kept going back to language as the base of the identity, trying to surface a sort of overall voice that could speak for all the artists in the exhibition. (It was also a way to avoid using particular pieces to represent the exhibition as a whole, as that didn’t make too much sense, conceptually.) At this point, nothing was really that interesting to us, other than the visual look of the words. But then, for some reason, we noticed the way punctuation marks were drawn and modeled in the typeface, and wondered if there was an idea in there we could use.
Punctuation marks help to define the rhythm of a sentence, the tone of language, the character of voice, depth of information; heavy tasks for things that are basically dots, dashes, and loops in the written word. But they’re also just marks. Paintings in a way could be traditionally understood as a series of marks built up on a surface, this time on canvas (mostly), rather than on paper or screen, but by no means do these type of marks lack the same conceptual weight as punctuation.
Alex Olson, one of the painters in the exhibition, describes the marks she makes as signifiers, visual gestures that suggest many things, references both within the unbearable history of painting, but also in daily life. Some marks look like a product of reproduction, some marks explicitly exaggerate the notion of the brushstroke as a unique moment, and sometimes, if you’re really fancy, it does both. Even the absence of the mark in painting is kind of a mark in itself, the attempt trying to conceal the act of painting itself.
From this new conceptual standpoint, we finally created these “ditto” marks as a way to graphically represent the title of the exhibition. In the way that these quite literally refer to the repetition of the word “painter” in the name, they forefront the mark as the basis for many of the paintings in the show. Even the repetitive nature of the marks themselves suggest production and reproduction, constantly painting as a way to refine and clarify their own strategies as they tackle each work, which are then endlessly re-blogged in a contemporary context that shares images of these works online and in print. I think this provided a unique visual entry point into the ideas of the exhibition, and was a natural complement to Cooper. It could stand alone as a graphic gesture, or it could impose itself on other things, or hide itself as a discrete signifier. Here are some of our initial sketches exploring these ideas:
∴ After going through this sketching process, here is how the final identity system turned out: