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Mildred Friedman Design Fellowship

We are happy to announce that the Walker design fellowship position will now be named the Mildred Friedman Design Fellow. Known to many as Mickey, Mildred Friedman served as the editor of Design Quarterly and was the Walker Art Center design curator for much of the ’70s and ’80s. She organized a series of groundbreaking […]

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Mildred Friedman and Roberto Matta, 1966

We are happy to announce that the Walker design fellowship position will now be named the Mildred Friedman Design Fellow. Known to many as Mickey, Mildred Friedman served as the editor of Design Quarterly and was the Walker Art Center design curator for much of the ’70s and ’80s. She organized a series of groundbreaking exhibitions, sometimes in collaboration with Martin Friedman, such as Sottsass/Superstudio: Mindscapes (1973); New Learning Spaces and Places (1974); Nelson/Eames/Girard/Propst: The Design Process at Herman Miller (1975); De Stijl, 1917–1931: Visions of Utopia (1982); The Architecture of Frank Gehry (1986), the architect’s first major museum exhibition; Tokyo: Form and Spirit (1986), featuring the work of Japanese designers such as Arata Isozaki, Tadanori Yokoo, Toyo Ito, Tadao Ando, and Eiko Ishioka; Architecture Tomorrow (1988–1991), a series of installations undertaken by Frank Israel, Morphosis, Todd Williams/Billie Tsien, Stanley Saitowitz, Diller+Scofidio, and Steven Holl; and Graphic Design in America: A Visual Language History (1989), the first large-scale museum survey of the field in the United States.

 

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Above: issues of Design Quarterly edited by Mildred Friedman

The Walker’s Design Department began its internship program for graphic designers in 1980 under Mickey’s watch and ever since, it has uniquely provided recent graduates an opportunity to practice design as part of the Walker’s award-winning studio team. Unlike typical internships, fellows engage in all aspects of the design process, from initial client meetings through press checks. It is this holistic exposure that differentiates the Walker fellowship from more fragmented internships. Fellows work extensively with internal clients as well as external vendors, present and advocate for their solutions, participate in studio discourse—from critiques to blog writing—and, of course, shape the design of their work. Each fellow works independently as well as collaboratively with other studio members, whether the design director, senior designers, studio manager, pre-press specialist, or editors. Thus, fellows contribute wholly to the Walker’s design team as full-time graphic designers for an entire year. They come to the Walker from across the globe and have left the Walker to pursue a variety of opportunities, from working for companies such as Apple, Dwell, Nike, and Chronicle to founding their own design studios to inevitably working for a variety of museums and cultural institutions, and of course teaching design at universities around the world. (Apply.)

A selection of posters promoting the Design Fellowship throughout the years:

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Below is a conversation about design at the Walker between Mildred Friedman and curator Joan Rothfuss, New York City, August 6, 2004:

Joan Rothfuss: When you began working at the Walker in the early 1970s, how did you define your role?

Mildred S. Friedman: I began by designing all of the office furnishings for the new building, working very closely with Ed [architect Edward Larrabee Barnes]. In the 1960s, I had worked as a designer for the architect Robert Cerny, so the Walker interiors were a natural project for me.

When the design of the building interiors was finished, it 
was necessary to develop other areas that were the Design Department’s responsibility. The journal Design Quarterly already existed, so that was an essential part of my job. I did change it. We recruited a number of incredible writers from outside the immediate area, people like Richard Saul Wurman, Rem Koolhaas, and Bill Stumpf, who had written on ergonomics, urban planning, and various important topics. In the 1970s and 1980s, Design Quarterly became a catalogue for a number of Walker exhibitions such as New Learning Spaces and Places; The Design Process at Herman Miller; The River: Images of the Mississippi; and many others.

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Exhibition view of The River: Images of the Mississippi, 1976

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Exhibition view of New Learning Spaces and Places, 1974

JR: These were groundbreaking exhibitions in many ways, but your curatorial activities took a dramatic leap with the Frank Gehry show.

MSF: In the early 1980s, I wanted to undertake a large-scale architecture exhibition. I didn’t know Frank Gehry, but I had been reading about his work for a long time and I thought it was significant. His office is in Los Angeles, so one day I just called him and asked, “How would you like to do an exhibition at the Walker Art Center?” And he said, “Where?” We told him it was near Canada, because, you know, he was born in Toronto.

JR: I had no idea—I thought you must have been the best of buddies before you started working together.

MSF: No, but he and his great wife, Berta, did become our friends as the exhibition developed. When I went to Los Angeles, I stayed in their guest house, and spent time visiting his projects and talking with members of his then-small staff. I asked him to create five full-scale objects for the show in which we would then put drawings, models, and photographs of built works. He created a lead-coated wood fish, a cardboard enclosure for his cardboard furniture, a copper enclosure, a Finnish plywood snake house, and a series of wood trees.

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Mildred Friedman and Frank Gehry

It’s hard to believe now, but at that point Frank had a reputation mostly among architects, few others had heard of him. The exhibition traveled to New York, Toronto, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Houston. It was the first opportunity for a wide audience to see his work.

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Frank Gehry in his exhibition The Architecture of Frank Gehry, 1986

JR: Could you talk about the origins of the 1986 Tokyo: Form and Spirit exhibition?

MSF: Martin [Friedman] and I went to Tokyo because we were given a joint travel grant by the Japan Society. We went with Rand Castile, who was then head of the Japan House gallery, and Lily Auchincloss, who was his patroness. For almost a month, we traveled all over. Rand is an expert on Japan, as he had lived there for many years. We loved it. When we came back we said, “What are we going to do with all this information?” So we began thinking about an exhibition, but we didn’t know what it would be. We had met Arata Isozaki—one of Japan’s most prominent architects. He sat down with us and was incredibly helpful. To make a very long story a little shorter, he helped us arrive at the idea of talking about the Edo period and today’s Japan by comparing the two—in terms of the art that was produced, what it looked like, how it worked, and so forth. The concept was that we would look at major aspects of life, such as walking through the city, spirituality, working, playing—all the things that everybody does everyday. We would have objects to represent what each aspect looked like in the Edo period—for example, a tea house. Then we would ask a young architect (in that case Tadao Ando, of whom at that point almost no one in the United States was familiar) to design it. So throughout the show we would pair historical Edo objects with contemporary updates.

We borrowed most of the Edo-period material from American museums because it was difficult to get loans from Japan. Then we invited Fumihiko Maki, Tadao Ando, Shiro Kuramata, Eiko Ishioka, Hiroshi Hara, Toyo Ito, Tadanori Yokoo, and Shigeo Fukuda to participate. We were lucky—when we went there in 1982, they were all happy to participate because they wanted to make reputations in the United States. Isozaki helped by introducing us to the others. It wasn’t that difficult. We had great fun with it.

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Tokyo: Form and Spirit, 1986

JR: The exhibition had a sort of dry run in Tokyo, didn’t it?

MSF: Yes. We wanted to see the work before we brought it to the United States. There was really no other way to see it. A good deal of it looked pretty terrible. The materials were wrong in many instances—not what you would expect from Japan. Martin and I brought one of the Walker’s crew members over, and we did critiques. The projects needed some real materials and proper workmanship. It was a big success; parts of the show were shown in a Sapporo beer warehouse, an auditorium, the top floor of a fashion house, and so on. They sold tickets and had events at these various places. We finally got it all together and brought the whole thing back to the United States. We also had to bring over some Japanese craftsmen to work with us. Our crew was so magnificent because they took many incomplete installations and finished them. At the Walker, the show picked up a real edge.

Organizing Tokyo: Form and Spirit was a real adventure. One of the funniest stories concerns a video we were using to raise money for the project. Not speaking Japanese, we took the video around with us. During one visit with the Kyocera Company, which produces cell phones, we couldn’t make the video player work, so we asked for a technician to help. Two elderly gentlemen in snap-on bow ties came down. They looked like Maytag repairmen. We asked, “Could you please have this video played, so we could present it to the powers that be?” When they had it working, Martin said, “Now we are waiting for Mr. Nakamura and Mr. so-and-so…” And they said, “We are Mr. Nakamura and Mr.…” So, we sat there with red faces while this video played, and when it was all over Mr. Nakamura turned to Martin and said, “Now Friedman-san, would you be kind enough to tell me once again the name of your exhibition? Such interesting material you’re showing us. So persuasive, so beautifully documented.” So we told him, “We’re calling it Tokyo: Form and Spirit.” And he looked at his colleague and sort of smiled, and then he said, “But Friedman-san, this is Kyoto.” Martin said, “Oh, couldn’t we think of it as a working title?”

Needless to say, that story happened in many versions, but in the end we did get support from many generous people. •

Julian Bleecker: The Future Never Gets Old

“Interdisciplinary activity, valued today as an important aspect of research, cannot be accomplished by simple confrontations between various specialized branches of knowledge. Interdisciplinary work is not a peaceful operation: it begins effectively when the solidarity of the old disciplines breaks down—a process made more violent, perhaps, by the jolts of fashion—to the benefit of a new object and […]

Above: Three of a series of graphical representations of the future by Julian Bleecker

“Interdisciplinary activity, valued today as an important aspect of research, cannot be accomplished by simple confrontations between various specialized branches of knowledge. Interdisciplinary work is not a peaceful operation: it begins effectively when the solidarity of the old disciplines breaks down—a process made more violent, perhaps, by the jolts of fashion—to the benefit of a new object and a new language, neither of which is in the domain of those branches of knowledge that one calmly sought to confront.” —Roland Barthes

As part of the Walker’s Interdisciplinary Work Group (IWG)—a think tank exploring the “violent” process of clashing disciplines within our institution (maybe not violent enough, really)—I was asked to invite someone who inspired me and whose practice might embody a mixture of disciplines. It was the perfect excuse to bring out Julian Bleecker—a designer/technologist/futurist who creates “new objects” on a daily basis—though he might call them diagetic prototypes and suggest that their existence was not only plausible, but completely inevitable. When he’s not working in Nokia’s Design Strategic Projects studio, he is one of the founding partners of the Near Future Laboratory, a collective dedicated to “thinking, making, design, development, and research practice speculating on the near future possibilities for digital worlds.”

Over the past few years he has been developing the idea of Design Fiction—a practice exploring the symbiotic relationship between science fiction and science fact. As an attitude it has a lot in common with Critical Design as put forward by Dunne & Raby (in fact Wikipedia redirects a search for Design Fiction straight to the entry on Critical Design). Though where Critical Design offers tangible thought experiments critical of our personal relationships with products—often inhabiting the space of the gallery or academia—Design Fiction appears to be oriented toward the popular imaginary, more comfortable in the realm of Hollywood films, best-selling novels, Skymall catalogs, and Internet memes, more explicitly tackling the relationship between storytelling, media, and technological progress. And it might be more concerned with the fog of the feedback loop and the design process itself, in all its compromised and messy glory—the implications of business models, service design, copyright laws, product obsolescence, hacker spaces, Amazon Mechanical Turk and Alibaba.com, access to tools, etc.—instead of the clarity of the pure artifact on its pedestal (or kitchen counter). Julian even discusses the negative effects of design storytelling—Jurassic Park, for example, is held up as an example of incredible Design Fiction but potentially dubious science fact—a minority theory put forward into the public consciousness, bypassing the typical systems of scientific peer review, and dramatically altering the entire debate.

I’ve come to understand Design Fiction a bit like the inverse of Mundane Science Fiction (the Dogme 95 of sci-fi)—instead of science fiction authors dialing down the fantasy to tell stories of the near future, these are designers amping up the speculation to “tell worlds instead of stories.” Both theories feel a bit scrappy but highly prize a conceptual rigor: the refusal of Mundane Science Fiction to resort to impossible (and easy) ideas, and the dedication of Design Fiction to the process of making something real. “Less yammering and more hammering,” indeed. Both ideas also readily admit to having existed long before they were formally named, which seems appropriate.

I have personally been interested in the overlap of design and speculation for a while, but inviting Julian out in the context of the IWG posed a new set of questions: how can an organization like the Walker embed speculative practices into its workflow, how is interdisciplinary experimentation already inherently speculative, and when should our institution embrace a process that is not necessarily results-oriented—or at least, not in the typical sense? Speaking of mundane . . .

Julian Bleecker doing something techy

For our meeting, Julian spoke on his ideas of Design Fiction and led us through a series of workshop exercises designed to generate ideas for near future products. The IWG invited writer Susannah Schouweiler to sit in and write up her account of the proceedings. Here is her report on Julian’s presentation:

For the second in a series of eight planned discussions between now and December 2012, in early June members of the Walker’s Interdisciplinary Work Group (IWG) gathered for a conversation with Julian Bleecker, co-founder of the Near Future Laboratory and a researcher at the Design Strategic Projects studio at Nokia Design in Los Angeles.  Specifically, IWG member and design director Emmet Byrne invited Bleecker to talk with our assembled group of Walker curators, programmers, and educators about his ongoing, hybrid creative work in the field of Design Fiction.

Unlike the more informal, intimate question-and-answer session a month prior with dancer and choreographer Deborah Hay, Bleecker’s multimedia presentation to the IWG was practiced, narrowly targeted, and information-rich—like a sprawling, workshopped TED-talk on his work at the intersection of imaginative play, storytelling, technology, art, and near-future design. Or, as Bleecker puts it more succinctly, “finding new ways of thinking about what’s possible.”

To begin, Bleecker describes Design Fiction for us, as “the fertile muddle where fact and fiction reflect and influence each other.” He says both design and science fiction work to open new lines of conversation, allowing people who are not inclined to think out of the ordinary, to begin to do so. “You can introduce a conversation about something quite speculative; when you’re talking about science fiction, no one says, ‘that’s impossible.’ We all understand the normal rules don’t apply.”

Design Fiction, in particular, he says, “involves thinking of the impossible as not just possible, but imminent, even likely.” But the work of Design Fiction goes much further than thinking and talking about what might be, to building on the ideas that emerge from such speculations: expanding the conversation by making something real, thereby taking it from the gossamer realms of conjecture to the work-a-day spheres of tangible, concrete probability.

He explains: “This work involves a symbiotic relationship between design fact and design fiction—things can happen because these conversations are in the world, percolating.” For example, we can see amazing, fictional technology in Hollywood films [like Minority Report, 2001: A Space Odyssey, etc]—indeed, that imagined tech is itself a big draw for audiences.

(Above: examples of Design Fiction in film)

And in a very concrete sense those technologies are real:

Someone designed a product, and designed it with an excruciating level of refinement, not just so it looks good on camera, but in such a way that the whole production team can understand how that tech fits in the story, why it’s there…. Using the lexicon established by the film to explain something real, some actual technology, it then becomes legible for a wide audience, because you have a conceptual anchor which introduces that technology (in the case of Minority Report, for example, gesture-based interfaces) into the popular imaginary.

He goes on: “The fact that the device you want to make doesn’t quite work yet doesn’t negate its reality—the conversation, the continuity of relationship between the idea rendered in the film and real technology is real…. A designer working on that film did enough to get things started to where an industrialist was ready to write a check to develop it for actual use. That’s real.”

Bleecker says such work involves “extrapolating from known to unknown… You can introduce a conversation about something quite speculative, but then expand that into an even more fulfilling conversation if you actually make the thing you’re talking about.” He goes on, “It’s usually a linear trajectory—from idea to prototype to materialization in some new future. You accrete more meaning in your explanation for what the future might look like as you build, get funding, and create something. You need to get it out of your head; once it’s made, you can describe it, show it and involve people in a discussion about its specifics.”

(Above: Apple’s iPad makes its first appearance as a diegetic prototype in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1969)

The Design Fiction process of actually creating something—going from conception to execution—facilitates a kind of thoroughness that distinguishes this work from mere speculation. In fact, Bleecker’s current interests are anything but remote: he tells us, right now he’s most interested in questions about the distribution of innovation. He offers a quote from novelist William Gibson by way of explanation: “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed … yet.”

Bleecker then offers this thought experiment. “I try to imagine what the end of the long tail for these innovations will look like; what does it look like at that point where future technology does become evenly distributed? Where it’s affordable, ubiquitous, mass-produced, almost junk? Like the PDA is now, or the record player, for example.”

He describes how thinking on such a question plays out in practice:

I think there’s something Design Fiction-y about that question. [How does our relationship to material stuff change with time and saturation, and what are the causes of those shifting desires?] To imagine these exciting new things, these innovations, as tomorrow’s crap—to put yourself in a time when you can pick up an iPad at the dollar store for $1.99, or two for $3. It’s a very powerful way of describing what these things might look like in the future, how they might work in the culture. Designing these things in reality, describing them in this way, does a sort of Jedi mind trick: This process makes people really believe, because in our daily lives we already understand how that exciting-to-banal process works—we see it all around us.”

He argues that you can disrupt conventional futures with Design Fiction: “If you really want to tweak habits or desires, you can start design conversations with these techniques, take them beyond ‘what are the new colors/price points going to be for 2013?’” Design Fiction, he says, plays in the fringes, outside the borders of the “conventional products’ sweet spot,” where the spheres of what’s “buildable, desirable, and profitable” overlap. Design Fiction adherents are drawn beyond safe “mods and tweaks” of existing products to the fast-shifting terrain where fantasies and speculations reside, to the quicksilver trajectories of the “magical, mythical, miraculous” in our many possible futures.

(Above: Death Star Over San Francisco by Mike Horn)

In Design Fiction, he says, stories matter more than features, specs, wireframes, and engineering… Special effects dinosaurs are more effective when used in an exciting film like Jurassic Park, than they are in a plain old documentary talking about the science of dinosaurs, because you’re enrolling viewers into a well-drawn world, and the design within that world is all the more compelling for it. … [What’s more] a persuasive big-budget film rendering of [even hotly contested] science can so capture the imagination that it changes the real-world conversation irrevocably — and can therefore change the science itself.

He says, “It comes down to the way in which we’re able to hold people’s attention, to engage them.” It’s about finding ways—through film, design, novels—to help us all look at the world a little differently. “We’re trying to find people who look at the world a little bit sideways, for that head-slap moment when you know you’ve hit on meaningful innovation—whether that’s a little tweak that makes a huge difference (e.g. wheels on luggage) or some big new idea put in practice.”

Design director Emmet Byrne follows up, asking Bleecker whether “there’s something inherently ethical about showing people how the future might be different than what we accept as the consensus future? That seems to be an element of critical design practice as well,” he says. “Is simply generating a meaningful conversation about what is and might be, in itself, a useful aspect of the work? Or is that not enough?”

Bleecker responds: “It’s fun to look at the world this way, to seek the head-slap moment and play with ideas; but I do think it’s also important to consider these things with a code of ethics. You’re never just doing it to do it, but to make the world a little bit better. Sometimes that’s been a very First-World thing I’ve made better because of a new design—like calling your mother gets a little easier, a little better, more enjoyable. But always embedded in the design work is the idea that we’re in the business of making things a little more playful, happier, and less unnerving for people.”

“And simply bringing an appreciation of the fact that the future isn’t determined,” he says, “that the future, on an individual scale, is still open to one person’s vision of what that can be”—that’s valuable in its own right, too.

 

A Pioneer of Human-Centered Design: Remembering Bill Moggridge

Bill Moggridge’s passing on September 8 at age 69 wasn’t totally unexpected–he had been battling cancer–but it was nevertheless a shock to the system. In the latest incarnation of his design life, Bill had taken the helm of the Cooper-Hewitt, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Design Museum housed in the former mansion of industrialist Andrew Carnegie […]

Photo courtesy Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution

Bill Moggridge’s passing on September 8 at age 69 wasn’t totally unexpected–he had been battling cancer–but it was nevertheless a shock to the system. In the latest incarnation of his design life, Bill had taken the helm of the Cooper-Hewitt, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Design Museum housed in the former mansion of industrialist Andrew Carnegie on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. This assignment came as a delightful surprise to many in the design and museum worlds. The choice of placing a designer at the head of this museum was not only a bold one but also surprising and yet reassuring. It would be as if an art museum would choose an artist as its leader—something of a rarity and quite implausible in this age of museum management courses and arts administration degrees, and despite the assumed logical connection it might present at first glance. Of course, Bill was not just any designer to assume such a role and brought with him a passion for the subject that he had in fact been embodying his entire life.

While much of the memories about his life will undoubtedly reference his inventive work on the first laptop computer, as he himself has stated, all that industrial design work of shaping the package “melted away” when he turned on the machine and was drawn into the experience of interacting with the device. This was not just a personal epiphany for Bill but a paradigm shift for his chosen field of practice. The notion of ergonomics, or how humans interact with the world and use its manufactured objects and systems, had been part of the discipline for decades—a path paved by the likes of iconic figures such as Henry Dreyfus and Niels Diffrient. What Bill discovered was not just the relationship of humans to objects, no matter how dematerialized the product became, but rather a much more holistic anthropocentric universe that would eventually unfold as a world of human-centered design. In fact, his greatest legacy will be his contributions to this now-dominant approach to design. As one of the cofounders of IDEO, Bill was instrumental in bringing this philosophy and its working methods and strategies to the field largely on the strength of numerous and successful new consumer products, services, and experiences.

Compass computer for GRiD Systems. Designed by Bill Moggridge. Palo Alto, CA, 1982. Photo: Don Fogg, courtesy Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution

In many ways Bill was the perfect spokesperson for such an approach: an affable demeanor, truly engaged and curious about the world around him and the people in it, an avuncular figure capable of providing true insights through years of experience. This was a unique set of traits totally in keeping with a philosophy that claims to be as much about the humane and humanity as it is about human factors. Indeed, too many proponents of this approach come off more as human engineers than humane designers: a place where users are always right in the same way that customers are always right (despite the fact that anybody who has worked retail long enough has experienced otherwise).

This very human package is what gave me hope when I first met Bill at our annual low-key and lo-fi gatherings with other designers in the high altitudes of Colorado’s “Collegiate Peaks.” I felt hopelessly unfit and sedentary as I drove past Bill as he bicycled up the mountain each morning to our gathering. His physical stamina contrasted his rather matter-of-fact analysis and the inevitability of his logic, all delivered in that delightful English accent that is so convincing to American ears.

Bill’s Design Talks: Walter Hood. Photo: Shamus Adams, courtesy Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution

I had developed a rather skeptical disposition to the notion of so-called human factors design, fearing that it was less about design and that many of its proponents had succumbed to the allure of whatever new business strategy was in vogue and could be sold—belief without lasting conviction. It was also rather disconcerting to see so many Post-It notes stuck to the wall and so few drawings or sketches being produced. However, it was Bill’s very humanity that was in the end the best case that could be made for adopting a more human-centered approach to design. It was also the fact that Bill was a designer at heart that gave credence to the argument to rethink design itself beyond just objects. This was an expansive kind of thinking, one that quickly took hold at IDEO as it moved from developing new consumer products, both hardware and software, to retail experiences and customer services.

I believe that Bill also helped shape the future direction of the Cooper-Hewitt in both message and as messenger. After all, it’s a small step to rethink things such as the design museum and education when the business you helped found is trying to solve challenging  or “wicked” problems, including reinventing government or re-imagining healthcare. At the Cooper-Hewitt museum he was once again surrounded by objects and artifacts, but also by people, ideas, and the desire to explain the power and potential of design to the audience that probably matters the most, the public.

Cooper Hewitt National Design Awards Gala at Cipriani’s in NYC on October 13, 2010. Photo: Richard Patterson, courtesy Richard Patterson

Booksfromthefuture Summer School 2012

Booksfromthefuture presents a ten-day summer course in London on conceptual book design and print production for students and graduates. Taught by designers and educators Yvan Martinez and Joshua Trees, with guest talks and seminars from artist Jaime Gili and art historian Gabriela Mendoza. There are 20 places available and open to international applicants. The course […]

Booksfromthefuture presents a ten-day summer course in London on conceptual book design and print production for students and graduates. Taught by designers and educators Yvan Martinez and Joshua Trees, with guest talks and seminars from artist Jaime Gili and art historian Gabriela Mendoza. There are 20 places available and open to international applicants. The course runs from July 9–20.

Jamie Gili is a Venezuelan artist based in london. Participants will each design a book about his work, focusing on his lesser known practice of wall paintings installed in private spaces, whilst exploring the book as a contemporary project space. One book will be selected for publication and all books will be showcased in one of Gili’s future exhibitions.

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Booksfromthefuture is both a publisher and a school. Conceived as a think-and-do tank, Booksfromthefuture unites scholarship and apprenticeship towards the production of books that investigate different tomorrows in publishing in collaboration with external clients. Booksfromthefuture champions conceptual design through practical production. Books that question and experiment with ‘bookness’, whether print, digital or spatial. Booksfromthefuture mentors designers and artists to become independent thinkers and practitioners with the experience and confidence to initiate and sustain their own projects, collaborations and futures.

For more information about Bookfromthefuture and the course, visit their website.

 

You Are Here: Design Studio Preserves Signature Wall

A wall on the old Walker Design Studio captures the heights of many graphic designers, artists and editors who passed through, but when it came down during the space’s renovation in 2004, we preserved it.

Photo by Cameron Wittig. Click to enlarge.

Photo: Cameron Wittig.

For several decades, the Walker’s Design Studio made its home on the top level of the Edward Larrabee Barnes–designed building in a space that hosted an array of graphic designers, editors, curators and guests. Sometime in the late 1980s, one section of wall was conscripted to tally the presence — and heights — of the many people who passed through the studio’s doors. That tradition continued until 2004 when the wall came down as part of renovations to the space. Design is now housed in the new Herzog & de Meuron building, but an homage to the old office remains: A chunk of wall is preserved behind glass in the new studio, and with it the names of the many — including former design director Laurie Haycock Makela and the late Scott Makela, designers Andy Beach and Alex DeArmond, writer Jeff Kastner, illustrator J.Otto Seibold and, tallest of all, “The Japanese Emperor #2″ — who stepped up to be measured.

We’ve posted the photo on Facebook as well, so Walker alumni, please go tag yourself and help us get a comprehensive visual archive of all who’ve been part of this unusual yardstick.

 

 

Compositing Goshka Macuga’s Lost Forty tapestry (A Guide For Photoshop Geeks)

Last fall I was enlisted to make a Photoshop file with the artist Goshka Macuga which would be made into a woven tapestry and hung in one of the Walker’s galleries. Needless to say, I was very excited to be involved in the production of such an unusual piece. To clarify, this wouldn’t be made […]

Last fall I was enlisted to make a Photoshop file with the artist Goshka Macuga which would be made into a woven tapestry and hung in one of the Walker’s galleries. Needless to say, I was very excited to be involved in the production of such an unusual piece. To clarify, this wouldn’t be made by having ink from an inkjet printer sprayed on blank white fabric. The image in this case would actually be the threads. And it would be a large piece. At 48 x 14 feet, it is larger than the front of my house. Making it an even more involved project, it would have many elements from many sources which would need to be composited into a forest scene. In my position as Senior Imaging Specialist at the Walker, I do very detailed retouching and color-correcting on high-resolution images for publications. This would be a fun change. The finished tapestry, part of Goshka Macuga: It Broke from Within, is now on view in Burnet Gallery at the Walker.

My involvement with the project would be to assemble and produce the final file, in dialog with the artist, which would be given to the weaver. This would take place over a three-week period in January. During this time, there would be morning Skype sessions from Walker curator Bartholomew Ryan’s office with Macuga, who lives in London. The evening prior, I would save a compressed jpeg file of the work I had done that day and send it to the artist. Some of the issues that we were concerned with were relative placement and sizes of the figures and to accomplish a true sense of space and life-likeness for the viewers once it was hung in the gallery. In the end there were 22 elements that needed to be placed into the forest background.

The forest image was made from seven vertical images stitched together to form a panoramic. These images were made by Walker photographer, Cameron Wittig, using a 33mp (6726X5040 pixels) Leaf Aptus II 7 digital back on an Hasselblad camera and a 60mm wide-angle lens. Wittig traveled with Ryan and Macuga to the Lost Forty area of the Chippewa National Forest in northern Minnesota. Wittig’s account of his experience will be posted soon. Below is Ryan and the camera set-up in the Lost Forty. The orange hats were needed to protect them from hunters.

We provided Macuga with low-resolution versions of several forest panoramics. Using low-resolution scans she gathered during her many trips to the Walker for research and images she made at various events, she started “sketching” in Photoshop.

Above is an early draft by Macuga using an image from a woods in Europe. This was made before she had access the panoramics following her trip to the Lost Forty.

The above three are some of the many versions that Macuga “sketched” in Photoshop.

Once the decisions had been made for who and what was going to appear in the forest, new scans were made at the highest sample rate for a given scanner. Image resolution for most of Walker printed materials is 300-400 ppi. I was relieved to hear that the resolution of this file would only need to be 30 ppi. But because of its large size (17423 x 5040 pixels), I still found myself zooming in and out, even though I have a 26-inch display. The tonal quality of all elements need to be similar. This was done through Photoshop Levels and Curves. Contrast levels and lighting needed to match closely. Of course there was considerable cloning of dust and scratches from these old photographic prints. I didn’t want to effect film grain sharpness so I stayed away from filters. The most consuming part was isolating the figures to be copied into separate layers of the master file. There were 45 paths and 14 alpha masks.

At left is Walker Art Center founder, TB Walker in 1927. At right is artist Macuga during the trip to photograph the Lost Forty in 2010.

Above is Walker’s first director, Daniel Defenbacher in 1951. This was one of the many places where brush had to appear in front of a person.

Once it was finalized which elements were to be used, full-size strips were printed on our plotter and hung in the gallery. Ryan made the photos of me on a lift placed at 30 inches—the height that the raised floor would eventually be. This can be seen in the installation image at top.

Another consideration was predicting were where the seams would fall on the tapestry. The maximum width the loom could do is just under 10 feet. We divided the file evenly into five segments, and marked them with guides so we could see in advance (below). The goal was to be sure a seam didn’t cut directly through a person.

The final file is 762 MB and has 83 layers. Luckily this was one channel only (grayscale). To have done it in RGB or CMYK may have required it to be sectioned with multiple files. The final flattened file is 88 MB.

Late in the process, sections were cropped and sent to the weaver in Europe for testing. We needed to see the overall tonal range, resolution, and how the seams worked. This would be the closest thing to a proof. A month or so later, Macuga saw them. She approved. In late January, the final flattened file was ftp’d to the weaver. By late March, the five rolls arrived at the Walker. Below is Walker Registrar, Joe King, moments after unrolling one of the sections in art receiving. My first reaction was amazement at the resolution and tonal smoothness, followed closely by relief that it had actually worked so well.

Below is a close-up of the tapestry and a seam.

Below are images made during the installation.

Quoting co-curators Peter Eleey and Bartholomew Ryan in their introduction to the exhibition’s publication, “Goshka Macuga uses institutional histories as the staging ground for complex proposals. For her first solo museum exhibition in the United States, the London-based Polish artist delves into the Walker’s past, foregrounding the institution’s early link to the lumber business in which its founder flourished while considering the forest as a metaphor for American democracy and freedom. Within an exhibition architecture of her own design—inspired by a rendering of a “town square” lounge proposed for the Walker’s 2005 expansion—Macuga sets elements from the institution’s collections and archives against a monumental new tapestry depicting the Lost Forty, an old-growth forest in northern Minnesota that survived logging due to a surveying error in 1882. Amid the gargantuan white pines, the artist has collaged individuals related to her research.”

More about the tapestry can be found here.

Below is a spread from the gallery guide that Walker Senior Designer Dante Carlos made. His post about it is here.

Antanas Mockus’s Despair / Brave New Worlds

“While I was the mayor of Bogotá, I received occasional death threats. Therefore, I had to use a bullet-proof vest. I made a hole right where my heart is. The hole was in the shape of a heart. I believe this kind of gesture, gave me indeed more protection.” —Antanas Mockus Antanas Mockus, the extraordinary […]

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“While I was the mayor of Bogotá, I received occasional death threats. Therefore, I had to use a bullet-proof vest. I made a hole right where my heart is. The hole was in the shape of a heart. I believe this kind of gesture, gave me indeed more protection.” —Antanas Mockus

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Antanas Mockus, the extraordinary mathematician/philosopher/educator and former mayor of Bogotá, is back in the spotlight as a candidate in Colombia’s presidential elections, taking place today. So it seemed like it would be a good moment to finally put up a post about the book we designed for a group show called Brave New Worlds that took place at the Walker back in 2007. Mockus was something of a patron saint for this exhibition, curated by Yasmil Raymond and Doryun Chong, which considered “the present state of political consciousness, expressed through the questions of how to live, experience, and dream.” The show featured 24 artists from around the world who explored these questions with a mixture of hope and criticality. The exhibition catalogue also featured international curators and art critics writing as “correspondents” from their various locations, combining an art-centric perspective with a journalistic approach on topics as wide ranging as Norway’s economy, loss and melancholia in Chile, and European toilets.

But back to Mockus—he is a fascinating figure, especially to people who are interested in alternative communication strategies, symbolic actions, and social design. For our catalogue, José Roca contributed an essay about the artistic implications of Mockus’ particular mix of education, governing, and performance. As the mayor of Bogotá, Mockus turned the city into one huge social experiment, utilizing symbolic and often humorous interventions in the city’s daily life to affect social change. Before becoming mayor, he had already gained notoriety as head dean of the National University of Colombia for mooning a crowded auditorium when they wouldn’t come to order. (He subsequently resigned.) Mockus considered this provocative act simply another of “the resources which an artist can use.”  He used his new found celebrity and a simplistic campaign gimmick to quickly get elected as mayor of Bogotá. The gimmick: handing out free toy tops called pirinolas commonly used in a game of chance, on which the words “everyone gives” and “everyone takes” were etched. This formed the basis for his “Culture of Citizenship” program—if everyone does their part as a citizen, everyone will reap the rewards of citizenship.

Here are a few examples of his symbolic interventions as mayor:*

✕  To fight the appalling number of pedestrian deaths in Bogotá, he hired street mimes to mimic people who continued to break traffic and jaywalking rules, asserting that Colombians were more afraid of being humiliated than fined. The mimes followed the unlucky offenders, taunting them and flashing signs that said “INCORRECTO” (see above) when they broke the rules. During Mockus’ terms, traffic deaths dropped by more than 50% due to this and other interventions. Later Mockus said, “It was a pacifist counterweight. With neither words nor weapons, the mimes were doubly unarmed. My goal was to show the importance of cultural regulations.”

✕  The city painted yellow outlined stars on the exact locations where 1500 pedestrians were killed by cars. Some busy intersections were covered with the stars, forming constellations on the asphalt.

✕  He cut a heart shaped hole in his bullet proof vest, despite multiple death threats. (See above.)

✕  He created a character called Supercitizen, and walked through the city wearing a spandex costume. (See above.)

✕  He organized a day for people to trade in their guns for food stamps. Citizens could submit the weapons in the safety of a confessional booth, with the priests’ cooperation. The collected weapons were then melted down and used to make spoons for babies. (Less than 1% of the total arms in Bogotá were confiscated, but homicides fell by 26% during his terms.)

✕  When women complained that they didn’t feel safe after dark, he organized several women-only nights. Men were encouraged to stay home and take care of the children while the women could attend free concerts around town.

✕  He asked the citizens of Bogotá to voluntarily pay 10% more taxes. 63,000 people actually did.

*These details were culled from here, here, here, here, and Roca’s essay, which I will excerpt here:

“The actions of Mockus might not be essentially different in the formal definition from works in public spaces done by artists (although it could be argued that the latter usually have a more developed visual sophistication), but it’s the instrumentalism of the artistic gesture that seems to set them apart. While all of the works created by artists clearly express their intention of establishing a field for an open discussion, art-as-policy knows that it fulfills a precise role within a plan to govern the city: it is clearly a political tool. The way this strategy works, though, is not clear—at least in classical political terms. And this, paradoxically, might posit Mockus’ actions back in the realm of artistic practice proper. Mockus has said that one of the effects of art is to defamiliarize the normative practices and refresh perception in a way that allows people to revisit their own ideas. In this sense, he is aware of the potential of art to destabilize rational discourse.

One of the quintessential graffiti slogans during the revolution of May 1968 was “Imagination au pouvoir!” (All power to imagination!). But many political leaders formed on the tenets of the Left, once they got into power, discarded the transformational possibilities of creative thought. In a critical assessment of Mockus’ theoretical framework, it has been remarked [by Javier Castro] that ‘the paradoxical thing about May 1968 is that the agents of the upheavals did not think that someday, when they grew up, they would need a theory of imagination from power. Mockus is one of the few young people from ’68 who, upon achieving power, has maintained coherence between his world view and his actions. Because his role as a governor is not simply to question status quo but to generate one; it is not to put an end to institutions, but to reinforce them. And it is precisely there that Mockus is left without a theory. Sociologists do not have an answer for what he does. . . . [As] to the question of how Habermas/Mockus integrates art into his scheme of communicative action, Habermockus has no answer. What is curious about this . . . is that Mockus himself (not Mockus the Theoretician, but the practical Antanas Mockus, former major of Bogota) uses art in his governing practice. His practice surpasses theory. His theory of the public sphere [does not explain] how his “magic” (precisely) works. Because it is not simply a discursive and communicative action, nor totally rational; it is artistic, performative.’”

Mockus has recently revealed that he is suffering from Parkinson’s disease and has publicly stated that this would not affect his mental health for at least 12 more years, or his viability as potential president of Colombia. He has many fierce critics of course, and his terms as mayor, while successful in many ways, still fell short when dealing with issues like widespread poverty and unemployment—and its not hard to imagine how his antics might not inspire confidence in a presidential election. But his model of governing has been studied in academia and policy centers around the world, and offers a glimpse of how government can not only provide for their people, but inspire them to be better citizens. It also poses interesting questions of effectiveness for artists, especially those who rely on obscurity and ambiguity to create a “field for open discussion,” and “destabilize rational discourse.” And his work also gives hope to message-makers everywhere . . . that metaphors and symbolism are still powerful tools.

From a recent interview:

Q: You’ve used symbols throughout your career to get your message across and change behavior. Why?

A: It’s perhaps a pedagogical drive. When I use symbols, it’s because of despair in communicating ideas, in the despair [of trying] to change behavior.

Q: Your most famous antic, which was symbolic, was mooning a roomful of rowdy students. Why did you do that, and what did you feel?

A: A very strong emotion, a very complex emotion generated a drive — what I did, what is called in English, mooning. When I was mooning the students I felt two extreme feelings, one that I was giving myself to them. I was allowing them to pressure me, but on the other side it was the extreme refusal.

(Check out this mesmerizing video of the incident. Everything about it feels crucial.)

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BRAVE NEW WORLDS EXHIBITION CATALOGUE

Roca’s essay about Mockus is just one of many stories the curators brought together in this book. Reprints of texts by Arundhati Roy, Kwame Anthony Appiah, and Janine di Giovanni (amazing lecture) provide perspective on issues like empire, globalization, and journalism ethics. Mihnea Mircan writes an essay from the future, where monuments have taken over the city of Bucharest. Both curators ruminate on their personal connections with art and politics. And of course each of the 24 artists have intriguing stories to tell. Curator Yasmil Raymond says, “As its title suggests Brave New Worlds is not a swift stroll through one world but a journey through a constellation of worlds, viewpoints, and moving images that range from the open sea to a public park, from a narrow corridor to a deserted road, and from a floating satellite to mesmerizing skies.”

We tried to design a publication that reflected the attitudes of these international artists; specifically the fact that many of them consider globalization, capitalism, and the mass media as starting points, instead of forces to immediately oppose. Their work emphasizes the larger context that it exists within, so we chose to use the most context-laden format possible: a magazine, the disposable messenger of the mass media. This format allowed for a frenetic union of different content and styles, and sharp, jarring juxtapositions. To emphasize the context the artists operate within, the commissioned texts and reprints were given equal priority with the artwork plates. This is especially apparent in the 18-page TOC which introduces each artist and each text as unique characters, giving the reader a sense of the multiplicity of viewpoints/realities they can expect to find.

The cover is a collision of magazine aesthetics—academic journal meets pop culture tabloid. (See the Foreign Affairs/Details mashup at top.) We chose the Cao Fei image for the cover because of its utopian leaning as well as its artificial quality which, in my mind, helps to deflate the intimidating momentousness of the title of the book. The cover flap became the dominant visual motif and was carried out in the half-page interior layouts. The text, set in Optima and Tom’s Roman, was rewritten to evoke an editorial feel. The book ends with a 30 page insert by Lia Perjovschi in which she presents her own Subjective Art History.

Whew. Anywho . . . seeing Mockus again in the news brought back the joy of working on this particular publication, and the general feeling that had cast a shadow over the entire project: optimism. Sounds familiar . . .

✕  proposed buttons for the exhibition

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✕  the bumper sticker that you love to hate—but really you love it, just admit it—as seen on bumpers everywhere and mentioned in the Brave New Worlds artist panel discussion

✕  alternate title page for Roca’s essay

✕  brochure for exhibition related events

—Emmet Byrne

Alpine Butterfly, Beer, Cat’s Paw, Dogshank, Englishman, Falconer, Half Blood, Italian, Jack Ketch, Klemheist, Lark, Noose, Oysterman’s Stopper, Pratt, Rigger, Sheepshank, Thief, Uni, Versatackle, Wagoners, Yosemite, Zepplin Bend

One of our most basic forms of manipulation, we encounter knots in many situations, from shoelaces to tangled wires. But beyond their useful qualities, also have historical, cultural and scientific dimensions that make them a fascinating subject of investigation. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enRL_1Ldh8Y[/youtube] video: a demonstration of knot throwing, or tying a knot using only a single-handed maneuver […]

One of our most basic forms of manipulation, we encounter knots in many situations, from shoelaces to tangled wires. But beyond their useful qualities, also have historical, cultural and scientific dimensions that make them a fascinating subject of investigation.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enRL_1Ldh8Y[/youtube]
video: a demonstration of knot throwing, or tying a knot using only a single-handed maneuver

Culturally, knots have been used as tools of representation in a variety of ways. Incas used knots in complex recording devices called quipus (‘knot’ in Quecha), capable of operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. In Taoist alchemy, knots appear in magic diagrams as a regular part of its supernatural vocabulary as talismans against evil or misfortune. European traditions range from celtic manuscripts to heraldic symbolism.

from left to right: Inca Quipu, a Taoist magical diagram, a Celtic knot, and a heraldic knot (Granny knot)

Various expressions like “tie the knot” (marriage) or “to the bitter end,” (originally a nautical expression which refers to the end of a rope tied to a bitt, or a metal posting on the deck of a boat) represent knots within language. A “Gordian knot” is often a metaphor for dealing with a difficult problem in a forceful manner. Knot names themselves reveal a rich folk-history, whether or not the accounts are true. Thief knots were a way of securing one’s belongings but also as detection device; a difficult knot to tie accidentally, an untrained thief would almost certainly re-tie the knot into the similar reef knot, revealing the tampering. Another example is Matthew Walker’s knot, which could possibly refer to a particularly interesting maritime legend about a commuted death sentence (which most certainly would have involved another knot, the Hangman):

The FULL or DOUBLE MATTHEW WALKER KNOT. Lever in 1808 speaks of “MATTHEW WALKER’S KNOT” and describes the knot which Alston in 1860 calls the “DOUBLE MATTHEW WALKER KNOT.” A refinement of the original knot had in the meantime taken over the original name , which is now generally modified to “a MATTHEW WALKER.. Lever’s familiar expression, “MATTHEW WALKER’S KNOT,” suggests that he may have known the inventor, who was possibly a master rigger in one of the British naval dockyards. Many myths have grown up around Matthew Walker, “the only man ever to have a knot named for him.” Dr. Frederic Lucas, of the American Museum of Natural History, once told me the following story of the Origin of the knot, which he had heard off the Chincha Islands while loading guano in 1869. A sailor, having been sentenced to death by a judge who in earlier life had been a sailor himself, was reprieved by the judge because of their common fellowship of the sea. The judge offered the sailor a full pardon if he could show him a knot that he, the judge, could neither tie nor untie. The sailor called for ten fathoms of rope and, having retired to the privacy of his cell, unlaid the rope halfway, put in a MATTHEW WALKER KNOT, and then laid up the rope again to the end. So Matthew Walker secured his pardon, and the world gained an excellent knot. (Image from A. Hyatt Merill’s Knots, Splices and Rope Work, 1917)


from left to right: an excerpt from P. G. Tait’s treatise “On Knots (pdf)”, 1885; an electron micrograph of RecA protein-coated DNA trefoil knot, simulated rendering of a hologram manipulating light from a laser into a closed loop

Beyond practical uses for sailors, mountaineers or fishermen, knot theory was once a 19th century esoteric corner of topology, but recently has become an important field in mathematics, most notably with relevant applications in biochemistry (understanding the structural properties of proteins and potential “bad knots” and how these errors relate to disease). And in physics, scientists recently have found a way to bend and manipulate light into closed loops through specialized holograms, with a range of applications that includes a potential approach to fusion power. (The Walker recently addressed some of these issues in a lecture by The Institute for Figuring as part of the lecture series surrounding the exhibition, The Quick and the Dead.)

above: Knot Generator poster by Everything Studio

A particularly interesting recent example of knots showed up in 2008 in the form of an unusual catalogue, as part of a exhibition in Beijing. Designed by Everything Studio, the Knot Generator came out of an investigation into Celtic forms of knots, redrawn and represented as mathematical diagrams. The generator reduced the potential complexity of knot structures into 20 unique units, each representing different string relationships. They talk briefly about possible origins of knot-based works as ways of representing the divine while avoiding the taboo of idolatry. While that might be up for debate, the greater point may be that like many other basic mathematical constructs like the circle or natural logarithms, knots appear to be strongly integrated with human culture, as well as reveal much about ourselves and the observable universe.

Crowdsourcing the Open Field: setting the stage for summer in the Walker’s backyard

In early January the Walker hosted more than 30 local architects, landscape architects, product and graphic designers, artists, and other cultural thinkers to help us think about the four-acre green space that was created as part of the museum’s 2005 expansion. This convening took place as the first public step in an upcoming summer-long program […]

In early January the Walker hosted more than 30 local architects, landscape architects, product and graphic designers, artists, and other cultural thinkers to help us think about the four-acre green space that was created as part of the museum’s 2005 expansion.

This convening took place as the first public step in an upcoming summer-long program called Open Field—an experiment in new educational and presentational platforms that can engage the public in a dialogue about what makes the “cultural commons”—that great reserve of collective knowledge and creativity that is publicly held. Open Field begins on June 3 and lasts through Labor Day. During that time there will be lectures, workshops, classes, and artist residency projects taking place around the Walker campus.

While our first impulse was to create an open competition, the decision to explore a more collaborative model proved a better fit given our themes of participation and collective culture. Free to convene in any size team and to work in any fashion that suited them, participants tackled the unique challenges posed not only by the site but also pondered the philosophical and logistical dilemmas of how best to engage with artists and the public. After eight hours of requisite site visits, intensive drawing, conceptual speculation, and shared presentations and critiques, five distinct groups emerged.

Highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the site and project, the teams provocatively challenged many of our underlying assumptions, and most importantly, offered keen insights and creative solutions to our problems. Many designers are accustomed to some version of a charrette, or collective brainstorming session, during their education or perhaps later in their professional lives, such as consultations with community constituents. What was particularly unique about this charrette was the willingness of frequent competitors to work together.

We crafted an inventory of current site problems and opportunities that was distilled from each team’s work and presentations. Many teams noted the Walker’s Vineland Place entry, located directly across the street from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, as an important threshold for the museum. But it’s one lacking shade, and is a jumbled and confusing patchwork of materials, pathways filled with obstacles, a necessary but unfortunately located fire lane, and a giant retaining wall—the collective effect contributing to the plaza’s homely face and unwelcoming presence.

Busting free from the box we originally placed them in (our prescribed zone of Vineland Plaza), the teams conceptualized the entire space as zones of different activities—with unique circulation issues and hidden vistas. A do-it-yourself ethos emerged frequently in solutions that called for visitors to participate directly by bringing their interests to the field, or in such schemes as a collective “tool box” that could house a variety of items—whether picnic blankets and umbrellas to use on the lawn, or even a machine like the kind used on ball fields to paint lines for a game that you create.

Big Tree Concept Sketch

Noting the Walker’s landscape as rather one-dimensional, with a penchant for sod and occasional prairie grasses, a couple of teams proposed planting some trees—or in the case of one enterprising team, planting a “big ass” tree. A beautiful metaphor of the cultural commons, the tree captivated many people. Evoking the social sculpture of Joseph Beuys’ 7,000 Oaks, or the spectacle of Maurizio Cattelan’s unearthed olive tree, this idea became pivotal to our thinking of how to re-invent the space.

Other teams urged us to unify our hardscape of mixed materials: continuous grass, crushed gravel like the Sculpture Garden paths, or even Astroturf were all suggested. Many tackled the nearly 100-foot-long white retaining wall that terminates the plaza, with solutions that included creating a living or “green” wall of plants, covering the entire surface in blackboard paint, or using it as a giant video screen. One team tried to overcome the wall as a barrier by building over it and around it—suggesting the importance of connecting the space above and below and reminding us of the axial alignment between the Spoonbridge and Cherry in the Sculpture Garden and the area atop the wall—a place currently inaccessible to the public.

"Raft and Plinth" concept sketch

Out of all of these ideas and insights, we are currently studying the feasibility of many of them: not one tree, but a grove of trees to provide shade on the plaza and also act as a gathering place; a communal “tool box” with a variety of items one might use on a summer day (umbrellas, radios, lawn chairs, etc.); a series of ramps and stairs to a platform or deck at the top of the retaining wall for classes and performances; a new beer garden and outdoor barbeque on the plaza; and better integration of the plaza hardscape.

"Umbrellas" concept sketch

"Green Wall" Concept Sketch

We will post blog updates on our progress as we continue to design and install our new outdoor lounge, and as our programs and projects evolve. Drop by on June 3 for a special Target Free Thursday Night launch party as we invite you to spend the summer in our new backyard.

Godard’s Intertitles

E: Hey, where’s that blog post you were going to finish two weeks ago? A: I, uh, have been working on it. E: Really? It looked to me like you were watching movies. A: I was refreshing my memory. E: Uh huh. What’s this post about then? A: It’s about Jean-Luc Godard. And it’s done. […]

E: Hey, where’s that blog post you were going to finish two weeks ago?
A: I, uh, have been working on it.
E: Really? It looked to me like you were watching movies.
A: I was refreshing my memory.
E: Uh huh. What’s this post about then?
A: It’s about Jean-Luc Godard. And it’s done.

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Stills selected from Pierrot le fou, 1965 ↑

Jean-Luc Godard, arguably the most radical of the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers, is an artist whose imaginative typographic title sequences, intertitles, still and animated imagery inspires me as a designer. Posted here, are stills selected from four of his films from the mid- to late 1960s.

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Godard inserts text and image into a variety of contexts, including, but not limited to: handwritten letters, neon signs, shop signage, book and magazine covers, collages, grafitti, posters, cinema marquees, corporate logos, the pages of comic books, advertisements, newspapers, children’s books and political pamphlets. Pierrot le fou (above) is rich with contextualized text. Its narrative is reinforced by the images of handwritten letters between protagonists, signs from the places they travel, and a book called, “La bande des pied nickelés,” a cartoon about a group of ne’re-do-wells who make their living scamming the bourgeois. Cropped and blinking neon signs highlight specific words, or segments thereof (e.g. “Riviera” becomes “vie), a mercurial device well-suited to Pierrot le fou. Overall, the embedded texts add meaning and beauty to the film, with patterns of live action and still text reminiscent of a graphic novel. There are few purely typographic titles in this film, but all have dotted upper case “I”s and capital letters centered on black backgrounds—the default Godardian style—set in Antique Olive, a face newly developed in the early 60s by Fonderie Olive.

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Stills selected from Masculin féminin: 15 faits précis, 1966  ↑

In Masculin féminin, Godard begins to use purely typographic intertitles, a break from earlier films’ embedded texts (e.g. the book cover argument between lovers in Une femme est une femme, 1961), or alternating texts and titles (e.g. Les Carabiniers, 1963 and Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution, 1965). Devoid of imagery, these intertitles look like “title cards” from the silent film era. Unlike silent film titles—which provide dialog and narration—the content both reflects the thoughts of the protagonists and comments on the culture-at-large, addressing film, politics, and commercialism. Like previous films, Godard continues to play with language. Letters drop in and out to reveal new words, as in the the closing title, when “Féminin” becomes “Fin.” Formally, the titles are consistent: dotted upper case “I”s and centered justified text on black backgrounds, likely set in a custom version of Futura with a shortened “M” centre vertex. The film, shot in flat black and white, manages beautifully with white text.

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Stills selected from La Chinoise, 1967  ↑

Though stylistically more similar to Pierrot le fou than to Masculin féminin, the intertitles in La Chinoisecontinue Godard’s move toward the politicized texts he continues to use into the ’70s and ’80s. His presentation of images and titles reads like a manifesto, eerily predicting the political unrest of May 1968. The inclusion of embedded texts (e.g. color swatches, pages from comic books and political publications) reduces the contrast between mise en scène and intertitle. The contrast is also blurred as texts are altered, presumably by narrator or protagonist: 1) colored markers decorate a Karl Marx caricature, 2) suction cup arrows attack a collage of French thinkers and revolutionaries, and 3) “défendre” is crossed-out in favor of trahir. Large, cropped portions of books and newspapers highlight specific words, and function both as embedded text and typographic intertitle.

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Stills selected from Le Weekend, 1967 ↑

In Le Weekend, Godard returns to the purely typographic titles last seen in Masculin féminin. He inserts line breaks, shifts color, repeats titles and uses graphic elements (e.g. the crossed-out “Front de Libération de Seine at Oise”) to play with words, numbers, and their meanings. “Analyse,” broken into two lines, serves as the chapter title for an explicit pseudo-psychoanalytic scene in the beginning of the film. “Photographie” is cleverly renamed “Fauxtographie,” and is made more striking by strictly justifying the text letter-for-letter, achievable with an H/I hybrid letterform. There is even a speedometer, tracking the protagonists’ km/h throughout the film. Blue, white and red text is a common Godardian palette, usually referring to American cultural hegemony and aggression, in addition to rising tide of nationalism in France. In this film, the color scheme may also refer to the titles’ gradual shift from Gregorian calendar dates to French Revolution events. Formally, the colors highlight specific characters or words, and contrast nicely with the black backgrounds and the warm, sunny style of the live-action sequences. The mostly-justified, all-cap titles are again set in Antique Olive.

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Godard’s style developed from various influences in his life and career: 1) He came from a well-to-do Franco-Swiss family where poetry and philosophical texts were regularly recited. The reading and recitation of text is a common thread in his films, often represented typographically. 2) Godard has a reverence for, and an encyclopedic knowledge of film, including the works of F.W. Murnau, Jean Cocteau, and Alfred Hitchcock, all known for the style of their embedded text and imagery. Murnau, as a silent film director, used intertitles as they were first intended—to deliver dialog and narration—though he experimented with contextualization, using pages from old books and letters between characters. Cocteau, inserted his own untranslated handwriting into The Blood of a Poet. The film is not silent, and the writing is not necessary, though it adds texture and meaning to his work. Godard uses intertitles the same way, as vehicles for content and style not always immediately relevant to his narrative. Hitchcock, began his film career as a writer of intertitles. As a director he embedded texts into everyday cultural displays such as street signs, posters, bilboards and newspapers, a practice Godard repeats in films like Le Mépris, 1963, and Une femme mariée, 1964. 3) Godard was a film critic and a contributor to Cahiers du cinéma. Via intertitles and embedded texts, he continues to write, peppering his films with homages, critiques and references.

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Stills from F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (updated), 1992, and Sunrise, 1927 ↑

Picture 3

Still from Jean Cocteau’s The Blood of a Poet, 1930 ↑

hithcock_the farmers wife

Still from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Farmers Wife, 1928 ↑

_______________

A: See? Ive been reviewing some of Godard’s films to write this post. I’m thinking of a followup entry to add and discuss more stills from other films.
<silence>
A: Are you still there? Is this thing on?
<crickets chirp>

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