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2014: The Year According to The Office of Culture and Design

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from designer Tiffany Malakooti and musician Grant Hart  to  artists Kalup Linzy and Alejandro Cesarco—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to       […]

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To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from designer Tiffany Malakooti and musician Grant Hart  to  artists Kalup Linzy and Alejandro Cesarco—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 .

The Office of Culture and Design is an autonomous platform for artists, writers, designers and social practice projects in the developing world (primarily, the Philippines). In 2013, The OCD opened a design studio and publishing arm called Hardworking Goodlooking, through which they publish the results of their experiments (and those of others) in print and other formats.

Clara Lobregat Balaguer is a writer who sometimes makes art, has learned to do graphic design, used to host shows on national television in the Philippines, and has experience in advertising. In 2010, she founded The Office of Culture and Design, an organisation through which she executes social practice projects in culturally underserved communities in the Philippines. She has released one book as author, and nine as publisher at the helm of the editorial house, Hardworking Goodlooking. She has exhibited artwork at Singapore Art Museum, Casa Asia Madrid, Galeria H2O, Ayala Museum, New York University (NYU), Hangar and La Capella.  She has lectured at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Bennington College, Ateneo de Manila and University of the Philippines, Diliman. She has won prizes at the San Sebastian El Sol Festival and Premios LAUS and can say that one of her advertising productions is in the permanent collection of the Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. She was the youngest directorial board member for the international design NGO, Design for the World, from 2007 to 2009. She likes plants and karaoke.

Kristian Henson is a New York–based designer and publisher. After receiving his MFA from Yale School of Art in 2012, he continued his research and extended his design practice by actively collaborating with artists and institutions in The Philippines. He holds the position of art director for The Manila Review, a Filipino literary criticism and arts journal, and is the head of design for The Office of Culture and Design. In 2013, he co-founded Hardworking Goodlooking, a publishing imprint and studio that consolidates the experiments of The OCD. His publishing work has been exhibited at The New Museum, NY Art Book Fair, Printed Matter, Ooga Booga, PrintRoom Rotterdam, Yale University Art Gallery, Asia-Pacific Photobook Archive Melborne, OBSCURA Festival Malaysia, Ateneo University Press, and The Singapore Art Museum.

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BIGGEST MIRACLE

Typhoon Hagupit (known locally as “Ruby”)

Typhoon Ruby downgraded from super typhoon to typhoon classification just before it made landfall in the Philippines on December 6, causing much less damage than expected to areas already hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Lots of deaths were avoided by evacuating over 2.5 million people from coastal areas, and the Philippine government actually seemed to have their act a bit more together this year. Big, big relief for the country most affected by climate change in the entire world. It was no walk in the park and the country has sustained heavy damages, but it was nowhere near the tragedy it could have been.

Hagupit aftermath
Philippines Climate Risk Index

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BEST ART EVENT IN METRO MANILA

WSK 2014: Festival of the Recently Possible

We have always been fans of Manila’s sound bricolage festival, WSK, organized every year by a small team of irreductibles. Tengal, Merv Espina, Joee Mejias and Chesca Casauay did not disappoint in 2014, offering a week-long pirate radio show station packed with different programs, an applied workshop session for a curated selection of artists, field recording sessions, talks and concert-type events at three off-the-beaten-path locations. The roster included intermedia artists, conceptual musicians and research programmers from all over Asia and one dude from the United States.

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Metro Manila’s art scene is dominated by a sale-centric, neo-liberal art market devotion, which can be disappointing in terms of curatorial vision. It also makes the existence of an underground festival such as WSK something akin to breeding unicorns. Their programming, every year, surprises and challenges its audience, something that doesn’t happen all the time at art events in our neck of the woods. It is no small feat for this crazy festival to have survived and transcended the underground (without selling out) over the past six years, getting better and more legit with each issue.

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The festival originated as an act of rebellion against the mainstreamy music festival celebrated simultaneously all over the globe, Fête de la Musique, a promotional event of the French government. WSK used to be called Fête de la Wasaque, and it was scheduled at around the same time as Fête de la Musique, which is also held in Manila. It first emerged as an alternative arena for musicians frustrated with the non-challenging music championed by the global establishment. Over the years, the local festival has matured from mere humorous rebellion to serious experimental conviction. WSK is a contraction of the Tagalog word “wasak,” which means wasted, crazy or destroyed.

WSK2014 website

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3 Joko Widodo, Indonesian president and heavy metal enthusiast

BEST POLITICAL POP CULTURE HEADLINE

Majority Muslim Indonesia elects metalhead Joko Widodo as president

Aside from being into Slayer, Widodo is not related to the military in any way and comes from the humblest of backgrounds, a revelation in itself for a country plagued by elite level, military-government corruption. He has been making headlines since his election for his reformist policies and his collection of metal band T-shirts. We super wish we had the chance to elect someone like him to run the Philippines. So far, we’ve only had oligarchs, ex-movie star political puppets, gangsters and shadies to choose from, come election time, save for a few exceptions like Walden Bello. Side note: Indonesia has a fascinating black metal scene.

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MOST INTERESTING FILMS

The Look of Silence by Joshua Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer’s follow up film to the critically-acclaimed and socially impactful documentary, The Act of Killing, won the Grand Jury prize at the Venice Film Festival and the highest award at CPH:DOX film festival in Copenhagen this year. Both films effectively liquify the borders between art/creation and social agency, without considering either of the two ends more important than the other.

Critics of Oppenheimer’s approach decry the cinematic immorality of testimonial-type documentaries, claiming that it is impossible to truly respect filmed subjects when you are exploiting their stories for their emotional properties, a result ultimately controlled by the filmmaker and not the subject. Oppenheimer, however, gave his protagonists a certain level of directorial responsibility and fomented an interaction between subject and filmmaker, a sharing of filmic control that was reflected in parts of the final edit. His approach may or may not have been enough to allow the subjects to represent themselves instead of ceding control to the “other,” but what is clear (to us) is that there was a real sensitivity, on the director’s part, to portray his characters with respect, and to immerse deeply in their situational and historical context. Whichever side of the argument you may be on, the fact remains that both of these hybrid documentaries have struck a deep chord for change, both within and outside the filmmaking practice.

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Film site


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How to Disappear Completely by Raya Martin

This is the young Filipino director’s most acclaimed film yet since his breakout period drama, Independencia, and possibly also his most controversial. It is a highly aestheticised story of superstition, fear and violent abuse in small town Philippines. How to Disappear Completely also features a great soundtrack by Filipino musician, Eyedress.

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Film site
Eyedress


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Manakamana by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez

Produced at the Sensory Ethnography Laboratory of Harvard University, this documentary recounts the journey of Nepalese villagers to worship at the temple of Manakamana. It features only 11 uncut shots, but took 18 months to edit. A carefully paced, strangely fictional-feeling piece of sensory ethnography that sees the world from a moving cable car.

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Film site
SEL site


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Storm Children, Book One, by Lav Diaz. 

Through this slow-cinema chronicle of the devastation left after Typhoon Haiyan, Lav Diaz shows that he “takes his responsibility as an artist [seriously, and that] he is concerned about his people, using film as a means to convey… to a wider public the fact that even though Tacloban and its people have disappeared from the news because they’re not deemed newsworthy anymore, they are still struggling and [they] need help.” That quote is from the film review hyperlinked below, BTW.

Film review

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BEST ART WORLD HEADLINE

Dutch artist Renzo Martens moves to the Eastern Congo to continue a 5-year plan to gentrify the jungle through his Institute for Human Activities
Suspend your politically correct disbelief and moralistic Western anger. Watch Martens’ film, Episode III: Enjoy Poverty, the most significant piece of social practice art (if you can call it that) we have seen to date. Rethink applications of “gentrification,” in vocabulary and in real life (the world is not Brooklyn, Barcelona or Shanghai). Your anger is your own guilt and/or insecurities in disguise.
Martens’ experiment with engagement and social agency in artistic practice has yet to determine results. For now, we follow the IHA’s progress online and in the news, crossing our fingers for their success or, at the very least, for an in-depth analysis of their struggle at the end of the five-year period.

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TOP NEW FRIENDS MADE

Discussion Lab

Really glad we got to know the people at Disclab, a Philippine collective for research and criticism that does some of the most groundbreaking (local) work, to date, in terms of sensory and critical commentary on art politics. They describe themselves as online squatters, because—as almost all of the independent art-related collectives in the Philippines—they are not just chronically underfunded but wholly ignored by our government. Despite claims made since 2012 by current legislators that the cultural class is of high priority (because we make significant contributions to things such as the nation’s GDP and soft power quotient), collectives like Disclab usually have to fend for themselves. It’s inspiring to see the level of quality, professionalism and productivity that groups like them are able to hustle with little to no institutional support.

Website


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Anarchist Infoshops of the Philippines

2014 has marked a lot of collaboration with four particular anarchist collectives and infoshops in Manila: Flowergrave, Feral Crust, On Site and Etniko Bandido. Without them, many of this year’s OCD efforts would not have been possible. To cap off the deepening relationships with these collectives, we got to attend the Philippine Infoshops and Autonomous Spaces Conference, a nation-wide meetup held late this year. We camped out for two nights in a small backyard, somewhere on the provincial outskirts of Metro Manila. The program was super intense, with loads of presentations on what tiny, anti-system collectives are doing to help their communities all over the country. Was quite a lesson in sticking to your grassroots guns and making every little peso stretch as far as it can towards the common good. We also drank a lot of Tanduay rum.

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An infoshop is a community activity space that begins with a library. The books contained in each infoshop’s library are usually titles that reflect anarchist, anti-system and alternative philosophies. They are open to read, borrow and photocopy. In order to disseminate the ideas contained in these libraries, as well as each infoshop’s particular activist agenda, direct action activities are organized. These may include food drives (Food Not Bombs), everything-for-free markets, workshops, skill enhancing sessions, conferences, exhibitions, concerts, rallies or any other form of radical protest.

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7 All Hardworking Goodlooking Books available in 2014

BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT

Finishing 7 Hardworking Goodlooking books in 2014, just in time for the New York Art Book Fair

Seven books in one year on the tightest of budgets and the deadliest of deadlines is a personal best for us. We still can’t quite believe we did it. But we totally did. Here’s the GIF that proves it. (Back patting ensues.)

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8 Kutis Mayaman means Rich People Skin

MOST INFURIATING PIECE OF AUTO-RACIST ADVERTISING

Kutis Mayaman campaign by skin-whitening brand, Glutamax

This questionable piece of marketing logic makes our top 10 because it’s heinous, and also because it’s lighting in us a longstanding fire to do something to counteract the culture of shadism (and its relation to classist elitism) that is rampant in the Philippines. For those who don’t speak Tagalog, the slogan “Kutis Mayaman” translates to “Rich People Skin.” Previous billboards from this same brand, all put up on highly trafficked thoroughfares, boasted equally ridiculous slogans and concepts.

The blog post we link to below, probably sponsored in some way by the skin whitening brand, speaks volumes of how this sort of marketing reflects the darkest side of Filipino self-image issues. Pun intended. The first line of the post is revealing: “Who wouldn’t want to have skin like it belongs to a rich person? I know I do!” 

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MOST “PEG NA PEG” DISCOVERIES MADE ON THE INTERWEBS AND IRL

In Tagalog-English slang, “peg na peg” means that you admire something or someone as a role model. It is an expression born of advertising jargon. At meetings, when clients ask you to send visual references for campaigns, they ask for your pegs. This refers both to the JPG file format in which references are usually sent, and the fact that you are pegging a campaign against these references.

Ghetto Biennale

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Early this year, we discovered through our friend Robert Peterson’s Facebook wall that something amazing called the Ghetto Biennale exists and has been running since 2009 in Haiti. It is a gloriously complex, moving, contradictory and hardcore stand for the cause of social practice in the cultural (developing) world. Here’s a great quote from their website, which we relate to wholeheartedly:

“While the Ghetto Biennale was conceived to expose social, racial, class and geographical immobility, it seemed to have upheld these class inertias within its structural core. The Ghetto Biennale is looking for balance amongst the multifarious and often contradictory agendas underpinning the event. Are we institutional critique or a season ticket to the institution? Are we poverty tourism or an exit strategy from the ghetto? What was the effect of the earthquake and the ensuing NGO culture on cross-cultural relations in Haiti? The straplines for the previous Ghetto Biennales were ‘What happens when first world art rubs up against third world art? Does it bleed?’…Did the Ghetto Biennale bleed, and if so where?”


 

Field Experiments

Kristian Henson, our head of design, came across this company at The Site Unseen design fair in NYC. They describe themselves as a “nomadic design collective exploring traditional crafts,” traveling around the world to create products, printed matter, films, installations and other stuff, inspired by vernacular forms of artisanry. So up our alley, it’s not even funny. And they also have a neat website.

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9 DECENT DESIGNS 2

MOST PROVOCATIVE FOUND BOOK TITLE OF THE YEAR, FROM THE BOTTOM SHELF COLLECTION

Decent Designs of Railing and Stair Case by Experienced Architects

So, this one was tough. We find a lot of really crazy titles in Filipino bookstores, mostly on the forgotten bottom shelves. So many great additions to our collection this year: Being a Social Being, The Cyrupaedia of Body Building (written by a guy named Cyrus), Kosher Yoga, Herpestes: The Electrifying Filipino Martial Arts… but we finally decided upon a title so honest, so real that it could only have been written by someone extremely secure in their own self-worth, someone with experience. Also, the photograph on the cover of Decent Designs… is hyperconceptual. The turnstile in front of the path leading to a residential house, the cryptic picture of the hand holding an American football in the window… so many things post-postcolonially ponder.

Other titles in the series include Modern Designs…, Attractive Designs…, Simple Designs…, and Latest Designs… They are all printed in India at a press called Printer’s Cottage, and the cover was designed by a certain Graphic Boss. Yes, a thousand times yes to all cottage industry printed matter from the developing world.

 

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2014: The Year According to Eric Hu

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from designer Tiffany Malakooti and musician Grant Hart  to  artists Kalup Linzy and Alejandro Cesarco—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to       […]

portait_2To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from designer Tiffany Malakooti and musician Grant Hart  to  artists Kalup Linzy and Alejandro Cesarco—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 .

Eric Hu is a designer based in New York City and a partner at Nothing in Common, a design and technology studio in Brooklyn. He received his BFA from Art Center College of Design in 2011 and his MFA from the Yale School of Art in 2013. Previously Eric was the design director at digital agency OKFocus.


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Day after violence in Ferguson

BlackLivesMatter / #ICantBreathe

The injustice surrounding the treatment and deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, the unfair sentencing of Marissa Alexander, and countless of other crimes against humanity caused a rupture in the racial discourse of this country. We can no longer deny that white supremacy and anti-blackness still exist at every level of society. It would be completely ignorant to go about our lives in the same way. The acts of cruelty that occurred this year are a wake-up call for this country and there’s no excuses to remain silent now.

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Hashtag Activism

In the same conversation, we’ve seen the rise of social media activism as a true force for change and discussion in 2014. #BlackLivesMatter, #ICantBreathe, #BringBackOurGirls, #YesAllWomen, #NotYourAsianSidekick, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, #OccupyCentral and many other hashtags played a large role in facilitating organization and discussion. It’s important to note most these hashtags were initiated and spearheaded by women of color, who all too often have their contributions sidelined, re-appropriated or completely erased as their work reaches a wide audience. For example, #BlackLivesMatter was created by Alicia Garcia, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tomet after the death of Trayvon Martin.

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I went with my friend Rob Matthews to see this at Tribeca Film Festival this year. It’s about a 19-year old in Britain, prematurely transferred to an adult prison—the same prison that houses his father. Both of us were stunned at Jack O’Connell’s performance and the bleak hopelessness the director painted.

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It’s pretty safe to say that, in the rap world, every year in recent memory is Atlanta’s year. Still, the music we’ve heard so far from that city has felt completely different during these past twelve months. Without a question the artists of Awful Records such as Father, Ethereal, Archibald Slim (and some indirectly affiliated acts such as ILoveMakonnen, Key! and OG Maco) have introduced new life in the music scene with an undeniably different sound. As head of Awful Records, Father has kept a spirited DIY approach (the label started out as a graphic design project), producing instrumentals from himself as well as other artists on the roster along with a lot of the cover design and illustration.

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JACK댄스 NYC 2014

Simon Whybray’s London club night sensation jumped on a World tour and swung through New York City at China Chalet last October. Everything from the lineup, the visual branding, seeing nearly all my friends from the Internet in one place, the crowd control, and of course, Whybray’s infectious joy were on-point. I don’t remember what I saw or heard half the time, but I remember how I felt the whole time.

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Mould Map 3

Mould Map is a comics/narrative art anthology series that’s one of the most well art-directed, immaculately printed publications in that genre. The third issue features 224 pages of gorgeously reproduced work from artists such as Daniel Swan, Jonny Negron, and Sam Alde rendered in more spot-colors than I care to count. I mean, I’m all about the nice and delicate art books that come out of Roma publications printed on Munken paper with the cerebral essays typeset on twelve columns and everything, but at the end of the day it feels so good to just come across a collection of pure formal rawness. Definitely a moving eulogy to all the haters.

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Rae Sremmurd, “No Type

It was late September; I was getting a burger on South 2nd and Havemayer in Brooklyn. Extremely hungover and not in any sort of mood to hear loud noises, the first line of the chorus comes blaring out of this green Mitsubishi Eclipse a few feet away from me. The opening line was followed by this perfectly timed pause before the second line introduced itself just as vividly. I pretty much jerked my head as if I had been smacked across the face, instantly falling in love with the crescendo and decrescendo of Swae Lee’s voice. The light turned green and the car sped away before I could hear the rest of the track. I’ll defer to David Drake’s take on it: “The hook is obvious, immediate, perfectly calculated in all its brash vitality: just a scant impression of a melody, a quick one-two-three punch that’s as memorable [as] NBC chimes. ‘No Type’ revolves around a simple strand of an idea, perfectly framed and executed—the platonic ideal of a hit.”

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O.G. Maco, “U Guessed It”

If you asked me at the beginning of the year if a rap track, relying on nothing but a juvenile melody consisting of three single piano notes in A# with single note in D# and a loud voice, would make entire crowds lose their minds like this song does, I would’ve said, “I guess that’s theoretically possible, but we’ll have to see.” If you ask me now I would say, “Not only is this indeed possible, there is a verifiable precedent for this exact scenario.” What a great year for music.

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Tobias Frere-Jones / Jonathan Hoefler

One of the largest type foundries in the industry split up, went to court over millions of dollars and a loss of nearly one’s entire life’s work, and made headlines in all major news publications—definitely not on good terms. I can’t really think of a bigger event that occurred in the design world this year. The whole situation is really sad and I’m just glad it got resolved. (#IStandWithTobias though)

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Yuri Kochiyama

Rest in Power.

2014: The Year According to Nicolas Nova

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from the Office of Culture and Design to the Arab Image Foundation’s Rima Mokaiesh and musician Grant Hart  to  filmmaker Sam Green—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: […]

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To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from the Office of Culture and Design to the Arab Image Foundation’s Rima Mokaiesh and musician Grant Hart  to  filmmaker Sam Green—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 .

Nicolas Nova (PhD) is a researcher, writer and co-founder of The Near Future Laboratory, a design and technology collective interested in exploring the near future’s normal everyday ordinary. He is also Professor at the Geneva School of Art and Design (HEAD – Genève) and curator for Lift Conference, a series of international events about digital culture and innovation. His interests lie at the intersections of ethnography, design, and digital technologies.


This list is not meant to be exhaustive at all. It’s just a set of documents, projects, and signals that I found intriguing in 2014. The mix is broad and the juxtaposition of an anthropologist’s book with video games and fungi-infected art pieces is intentional as it reflects the diversity of what the world around us produces. Each of these cases offer an insightful perspective on phenomena and attitude to understand the condition we live in, and eventually create things to explore it.

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La composition des mondes by Philippe Descola

An impressive interview with this anthropologist who describes how we humans make sense of the world around us through the relationship between nature and culture. Anglophone readers can read “Beyond Nature and Culture,” published in 2013, that address similar issues.

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Internet Machine by Timo Arnall

 “Cloud computing” is definitely a bad metaphor, this film by Timo Arnall shows the invisible infrastructures of the internet, its material underpinning in a contemplative way.

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Corrupted C#n#m#

Hacked digital media + bacteria/fungi/algae/insects-infected electronics + data forensic techniques to create experimental video pieces. Fascinating and puzzling.

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 SQM: The Quantified Home by Space Caviar (Joseph Grima, Andrea Bagnato, Tamar Shafrir)

An exploration of the intricate relationships between digital technologies and domesticity. Very important for people interested in the future of the home.

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Atari landfill excavation in New Mexico

Atari buried some 3.5 million copies of the video game cartridge E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in Alamogordo, New Mexico back in 1983. That’s a crazy story, but it’s even weirder to observe that they have recently been dug up. I see the whole thing as a metaphor of our society of consumption.

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Twitch plays pokemon

Wikipedia defined it as “a crowdsourced attempt to play Game Freak’s and Nintendo’s Pokémon video games by parsing commands sent by users through the channel’s chat room.” I watched part of it and became fascinated by this kind of cultural phenomenon: very erratic and incomprehensible but definitely fascinating as an example of networked collaboration.

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Eclats d’Amérique by Olivier Hodasava

A novel that is based on the author’s visit of all 50 US states using Google Street View. Only in French, sadly, but very intriguing, a good example of how digital technologies can stimulate new forms of documenting reality. It reminds me of this race across the US through Google Street View.

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The Future Does Not Exist by Alain Bublex and Elie During

 An insightful book about the idea of “The Future” with texts from a philosopher and an artist/designer who produced artifacts that express the conversation.

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Lawyers replaced by computers

Algorithms have become a prevalent topic in many different domains, but we’re reaching a new level when even white collar work can be replaced by machines.

 

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GTA V wildlife documentary

A sort of weird nature documentary of ocean life in Grand Theft Auto V. Definitely a boundary object that draws lots of question about gaming journalism, weird ethnographies, and the heterodoxy of digital culture.

2014: The Year According to Tiffany Malakooti

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designers Eric Hu and Omar Sosa to artist Korakrit Arunanondchai and Arab Image Foundation director Rima Mokaiesh—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to […]

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To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designers Eric Hu and Omar Sosa to artist Korakrit Arunanondchai and Arab Image Foundation director Rima Mokaiesh—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 . 

Tiffany Malakooti is an independent graphic designer working primarily with artists and related institutions. She is also head of special projects at Bidoun, where she has collaborated on archival projects and events with the Beirut Art Center, Cabinet Space, PS1, the Serpentine Gallery, UbuWeb, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.


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Rouhani World Cup Self Portrait

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani brought great joy to my heart when he tweeted this image of himself watching the Nigeria vs. Iran game during this year’s World Cup. The prop styling is positively flawless; the rug rolling up where the TV stand has been moved, the virginal fruit plate and still-too-hot-to-drink tea, the cushion behind the back and the posture and the placement of hands— the sight of a head of state and high ranking cleric in track pants! Heaven!

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#HashemElMadani #AkramZaatari one week left to see #HereAndElsewhere @newmuseum

A video posted by Bidoun (@bidounmagazine) on

Akram Zaatari: Endnote

Hashem El Madani, a prolific 20th-century Lebanese studio photographer, and Akram Zaatari, who through his research and archival efforts is largely responsible for the wide-reaching circulation of Madani’s images, sit in Madani’s Studio Shehrazade in Saïda and observe a laptop.

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BiBi’s Combover

Here we have a strong somatic allegory for a political situation taking place atop the body of one of its principal actors—it’s really incredible!

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K8 Hardy: Face 2 Face

“I’d rather be working with like two full time assistants and a manager and an agent and lots of temporary staff floating in and out of my studio, but it’s just me. Sometimes I have an intern for one or two days a week, but it’s never enough to get the momentum of feeling like I’m on top of the operation. Is this my own fault and my shortcomings said the woman voice inside my head. It’s harder to say there’s a glass ceiling in the art world then in like a more traditional industry. It’s all about luck and dick-sucking. Let me just be clear that when I say dick-sucking, I mean having some reverence for the patriarchy. You know, encouraging it or just living it without any or very little critical thought. I want to say that I encourage the actual act of sucking dick and hope everyone that wants a dick in their mouth can get one in their mouth. Yet, somehow there is a reality that if you do want a dick in your mouth, it’s the privileged member with whom you have a relationship. Know what I mean? I need to say these kind of provocative things to get people’s attention. It’s a lesbian thing.”

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Xavier Dolan: Mommy

Xavier Dolan’s Mommy touches a previously undiscovered g-spot between the diagesis and mimesis of emotions, sentimentality, and relational dynamics. It doesn’t look terribly different than the standard formula, but actually its really a totally different formula; it seems so obvious that I’m not sure why I’ve never seen a film like this before.

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Divide n Conquer

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Gina Prince-Bythewood: Beyond the Lights

Despite being one of my all-time favorite movies, the ending of Love and Basketball has always rubbed me the wrong way. Beyond the Lights did not rub me the wrong way and I earnestly support this brand of applied feminism.

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Diana Taurasi / Seimone Augustus

Technically this happened in 2013.

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Unknown-5

Daily Show / Onion / Etc.

Sanity / hope / catharsis

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# # # #

This might just turn out to be an important year for USA.

Educational Tossing and Turning: 26th International Biennial of Graphic Design in Brno

This past summer the 26th International Biennial of Graphic Design in Brno appointed “education” to be its overarching topic. As any physical manifestation of education is merely a side effect or support structure, this decision poses an inevitable representational dilemma. We may, for instance, look at a school through its architecture or its visual output, […]

This past summer the 26th International Biennial of Graphic Design in Brno appointed “education” to be its overarching topic. As any physical manifestation of education is merely a side effect or support structure, this decision poses an inevitable representational dilemma. We may, for instance, look at a school through its architecture or its visual output, but we cannot ever accurately grasp the formative experience it engenders. Education, essentially, is an intangible process. As such we should maybe focus less on the form the Brno Biennial took and more on the issues it revealed.

 

SINCE ITS INCEPTION IN 1963, the Brno Biennial has always been an educational endeavor. Looking to bring contemporary examples of international graphic design to the Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia), the biennial both wanted to imbue the general public with an appreciation and awareness of “applied graphics” as well as inform practicing graphic artists about the current international state of their profession. Or as Karel Holešovský put it in the catalogue of the 1st Brno Biennial, they aimed to “contribute to a decisive and further improvement of the level of applied graphics to international standards.” Each year was accompanied by a symposium of lectures and a publication that reflected on current tendencies and important issues, which ranged from topics such as “Graphic Design in the Service of Industry and Trade” to “The Social Responsibility of the Graphic Designer.” Until now, the Biennial has basically been a polythematic potpourri of individually curated exhibitions. This year, however, was different. For the first time there was a curatorial team—Czech designers Radim Peško, Adam Macháček, and Tomáš Celizna—that devised one topic to run through all of the different structures and formats that make up the biennial. All of them being teachers in various international schools, they felt that “Graphic Design, Education & Schools” was the topic that had an urgency to be addressed.

By turning to education the Brno Biennal not only acknowledged and reflected on the training that goes into becoming a graphic designer, but it also drew attention to its own discursive and pedagogical potency and responsibility—to not simply show and tell, but to also reflect, discuss, and question.

 

Disruptions, disorders, and discussions in the OFF Program. (Photo: Brno Biennial)Biennial Talks: Armand Mevis and Linda van Deursen talk to curator Moritz Küng about their exhibition and their experiences as teachers. (Photo: Brno Biennial)
Left: Disruptions, disorders, and discussions in the OFF ProgramRight: Biennial Talks: Armand Mevis and Linda van Deursen talk to curator Moritz Küng about their exhibition and their experiences as teachers. (© Brno Biennial)

 

The exhibition “Personalities in Czech Graphic Design” showed a retrospective on Czech designer Rostislav VaněkFramed objects and blownup captions in Our Art: Mevis & Van Deursen. (© Kamil Till & Andrea Velnerová)
Left: The exhibition Personalities in Czech Graphic Design showed a retrospective on Czech designer Rostislav Vaněk, presenting works from his school years, to printed matter, his signage for the Prague metro and ČSA, and finally his typedesign. Right: Framed objects and blown-up captions in Our Art: Mevis & Van Deursen. (© Kamil Till & Andrea Velnerová)

 

Children’s drawing workshop in the space of “From A to B to C.” (© Kamil Till & Andrea Velnerová)Postcard of Saint Jerome to take home from The Study Room.
Left: Children’s drawing workshop in the space of From A to B to C. (© Kamil Till & Andrea Velnerová) Right: Postcard of Saint Jerome to bring home from The Study Room.

 

“WE WERE IN THE FIRST PLACE trying to explore the Biennial as a format: its possibilities, dynamics and of course limitations. Among the many objectives we set up for ourselves, we aimed to compose the Biennial as a sort of platform and prepare conditions where discussions could happen and thrive,” Peško, Macháček, and Celizna explain their approach. While usually an educational side-show to the main exhibitions, in the case of this year’s Brno Biennial the lecture program and its friend next door, the newly added OFF Program—a non-curated open space that invited people to contribute with and take part in side-exhibitions, workshops, interventions, lectures, presentations, and activities—felt like the center that everything else revolved around. Education was taken out of its supporting role and superimposed onto the whole event.

The only two exhibitions that lived outside of the curatorial topic of education showcased the works of awarded designers from previous editions of the Biennial. In 2010, Czech designer and typographer Rostislav Vaněk was recognized with the prize “Personalities in Czech Graphic Design” for his life’s work, and Dutch design duo Mevis & Van Deursen were singled out as the “Grand Prix” winners in 2012. The two awardees could not have approached a monographic exhibition more differently. While Vaněk smilingly shrugged off my question about whether he had found it difficult to make an exhibition of his own design work, Mevis & Van Deursen, together with Swiss curator Moritz Küng, made a statement towards the impossibility of exhibiting graphic design. Ironically, in both exhibitions, things ended up behind glass—untouchable and reduced to mere surface. With its self-critical approach Our Art: Mevis & Van Deursen followed in the footsteps of Peter Bil’ak’s Graphic Design in the White Cube, presented at the Brno Biennial in 2006. Both point to the problem of isolating works that were created serving a different function and context within the walls of an exhibition. Whereas a traditional graphic design exhibition such as Vaněk’s generously gives people a lot to look at, a conceptual one like Mevis & Van Deursen’s might give them more to think about.

Some rooms we walk through looking, others we inhabit reading or working. Ogled by Saint Jerome, the “poster boy of scholars” as Pieter Verbeke and Elisabeth Klement called him, the visitors of The Study Room were invited to sit in silent self-study and draw inspiration from a selection of books that an invited group of designers and theoreticians had shared from their private library. And Rudy Guedj allowed the blackboard walls and white chalk drawings of his From A to B to C to do more than outline the history of art education. Instead of simply cladding an empty room they also served as the backdrop for a set of workshops.

UP UNTIL TODAY, the International Exhibition—the Brno Biennial’s most longstanding exhibition format—presented an international selection of professional works of design. This year’s edition, however, marked a curatorial contrast: in the name of education, only works produced by students were admitted. That way, outspoken credit was given to works of graphic design that result from educational and not professional conditions, and new unknown names were highlighted instead of old well-known familiars.

Investigating the Brno Biennial itself, specifically in regard to education, Seoul-based designers Sulki & Min Choi analyzed developments within the International Exhibition over the last ten years. Their statistical study Off-White Paper—presented through a printed publication, a slide-show, and a lecture—unveiled, for instance, how the Swiss government spends the most money on higher education, how Japan’s graphic design programs have the largest number of students but apparently about the same amount of teachers as the significantly smaller Swiss schools, how the Dutch design schools have the highest percentage of foreign students, or how foreign students at the Royal College of Art in London pay the biggest fees. Thus, their innocent Isotype charts silently hint at political and monetary power structures that permeate graphic design education today. During their lecture, Sulki & Min Choi also revealed a different title they had at some point thought of for their project: “Did you go to school for that?”

In contrast to the International Exhibition that focused on materialized results, Nina Paim’s Taking a Line for a Walk examined the questions that prompt student work: assignments. Designed in collaboration with Emilia Bergmark, and with text by myself, Paim’s exhibition sought to reveal the hidden layer of language that is embedded in any designed outcome. Following Alice down the rabbit-hole: a selection of assignments collected through research and an international open call were exhibited as larger than life sheets of paper pinned all over the walls, objects used in teaching were presented as a board game, and painted murals, objects, videos, and audio works produced by students specifically for the exhibition enriched the seven rooms with delicious distractions. The result was a sort of “Cabinet of Wonders” for design instruction. Some assignments lay out clear rules or give precise instructions, others simply stimulate a process or throw out questions. In any case, assignments elicit thinking and ask for solutions, while they also indirectly define and formulate ideas about design.

 

The statistical study Off-White Paper sheds light on developments within the International Exhibition over the last 10 years, collating data on the participants and their education. (© Brno Biennial)The International Exhibition: Student Work presented 391 selected works by 229 participants from 24 different countries. (© Brno Biennial)
Left: The statistical study Off-White Paper sheds light on developments within the International Exhibition over the last 10 years, collating data on the participants and their education. (© Brno Biennial) Right: The International Exhibition: Student Work presented 391 selected works by 229 participants from 24 different countries. (© Brno Biennial)

 

Blown-up assignment sheets pinned to the walls of Taking a Line for a Walk. (© Brno Biennial)An ‘object lesson’-riddle in the exhibition Taking a Line for a Walk.
Left: Blown-up assignment sheets pinned to the walls of  Taking a Line for a Walk. (© Brno Biennial) Right: An ‘object lesson’-riddle in the same exhibition.

 

THERE WAS A TIME when professionals would look to schools for inspiration, but today the roles seem to be reversed. Students now look at work produced in the market economy to see how things should be done, instead of thinking for themselves about how things could be done. Assignments also often aim to bring professional reality into school. They generally do so by emulating real-life conditions or bringing in actual commissioned work, hoping to prepare students for what working out there will be all about. But, it is debatable whether it is healthy that design education has moved from speculation and discourse to imitation and marketability. If we train the designers of tomorrow to simply follow the norms of today, how can graphic design move forward? Economists and politicians have meanwhile figured out the potential of “design thinking” to find innovative solutions to intricate problems, but designers themselves seem to have somewhat forgotten about the fact that their real asset lies in their own ability to think critically. Instead, there is a tendency to simply copy the trends that the market dictates.

It is natural to be influenced by the work of other contemporaries and by current aesthetics and working methods. But while such information used to come through biennials such as the one in Brno, and a few exhibitions, journals, magazines, and books here and there—things that usually went through a careful process of selection and reflection—today’s graphic designers seem to primarily draw their inspiration from globally accessible pseudo-journalistic blogs. Generally quick to read and image-heavy, those websites are riddled with superficially researched, non-critical laudations on design work, overusing expressions such as “cool”, “stuff”, or “check this out.”

This formalistic and trend-driven approach to design among the younger generation was also quite apparent in the student work displayed in the Biennial’s International Exhibition. Despite their individual quality and visual fervor, the works displayed on non-black blackboards and other school furniture revamps ended up looking like a colorful sea of sameness. Peško, Macháček, and Celizna point out how this “tedious similarity of the student work […] does not so much concern the decisions of the selection jury, but rather reflects the state of graphic design today.” With the majority of submitted works having been books, posters, and other printed matter one could also get the impression that graphic design schools are still stuck in the Gutenberg era, not putting any emphasis on digital, online, or new media.

The selection jury further attested to how “there is not such a big difference to the professional competition of two years ago” and that “there were many professionally produced catalogues” and “not so much ‘student’ student work.” Usually, the jury-members select one designer represented in the International Exhibition for the “Grand Prix” award, but despite the asserted professionalism of the student work they decided that—as it usually awards a distinguished body of work—there was no winner to be named this year. When it comes to recognition there apparently still is a difference between student work and professional work—even if there is none to be seen.

THE RISING PROFESSIONALISM in student work stands in stark contrast to the worldwide exploitive ploy of hiring graduates as underpaid interns, which graphic design has also been buying into in recent years. Few ever really talk about this openly, but it is a reality for many graduates today—and not only for graphic designers. A recent article in The Economist calls it the “Generation i.” It further informs us that in the United States “a checklist devised by the Department of Labour stipulates that in order to be unpaid, an internship must be ‘similar to training which would be given in an educational environment’, must not displace employees and must not give the employer any immediate advantage from the intern’s labours.” When I moved back home to Switzerland in the beginning of this year, I was offered many internships, but not many jobs. “We only work with interns” or “I see this more as an internship—at least what concerns the salary” or “we usually hire people that already did an internship with us” were only a few of the answers I received. And that was after I had already invested one year gaining valuable experience through an underpaid internship. This phenomenon is certainly also symptomatic of the precarious state the graphic design profession itself is in. For instance, many smaller studios working mostly for cultural clients seem to carry much of their workload on the back of highly able and motivated interns. With too many graduates eager to work for those small “big” names, the level of skills that the hired interns present would certainly not warrant the low salary they are being paid. If higher professionalism in school is equaled with lower employability after school there must be something going horribly wrong.

While their graduates are struggling to find jobs, design schools seem to be flourishing. With the marketization and international standardization of higher education, and the proliferation of graphic design as an academic discipline, fees are rising, bureaucratic structures are tightening, and schools are evolving from intimate small-scale places to academic machineries with buildings akin to corporate headquarters. And there is no shortage of interested students. The romanticized ideal of the creative profession looms strongly, global individualism is further growing, and the number of students who want to step outside of their homelands and their comfort zones to advance their design training is still rising—as can be measured by the equally ascending number of foreign students at internationally acclaimed design school programs (often paying the much more expensive international fees) or the fast multiplying supply of graphic design summer schools (most of which don’t come for free either).

 

A poster-diptych designed by Rostislav Vaněk for the Brno Biennial of 1980 announcing that year’s focus on “Illustration and Editorial Art.”Since the beginning the Brno Biennial has also always had an accompanying publication. This year’s was designed by recent graduates Fabian Harb and Johannes Breyer. (© Brno Biennial)
Left: A poster-diptych designed by Rostislav Vaněk for the Brno Biennial of 1980 announcing that year’s focus on “Illustration and Editorial Art.” Right: Since the beginning the Brno Biennial has also always had an accompanying publication. This year’s was designed by recent graduates Fabian Harb and Johannes Breyer. (© Brno Biennial)

 

OUTSIDE IN BRNO, with a water fountain calmly rustling in the background, I sat in conversation with a friend. A graphic designer and teacher himself, he mentioned something about “education” being a “hot” topic these days, and how he has started to grow tired of these discussions that don’t yield any actual changes. To this current art-school-cool (or by extension design-school-cool) curator Dieter Roelstraete also attests in a recent article “whereas in 2007 former Städelschule director Daniel Birnbaum could still observe that ‘words such as school and academy rarely spark enthusiasm in progressive circles,’ much of that sought-after enthusiasm is now likely to be guaranteed by the mere mention, no matter how perfunctory, of the words ‘academy’, ‘education’ or ‘school’ […].” Just as art and design education has grown into a market, so has talking about it.

We only have to count the amount of books on art and design education being published to realize that the educational turn has long become a trend. However, our usual understanding of the word “trend” is rather derogatory and negative. We may also look at it in another way, namely, that the turn, which started out as something ideological and inquisitive, has found some actual footing. That the seeds planted by art have matured into a forest that now even stretches out into the related field of graphic design. And with the rapid technological, economical, political, and social developments affecting our profession as much as they are, it was high time for education to become and remain a “hot” topic within the circle of graphic design. Reflection and action should always inform one another. And as long as we do not blindly step into the alluring trap of self-involved or profit-oriented educational mannerism—and create one curated library or one alternative school after the other without thinking about it twice—there is absolutely nothing wrong with continuously addressing the current problematic and future potential of design education.

 —

Corinne Gisel is a Swiss graphic designer and writer, currently working and residing in Zurich (CH). Since graduating from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie (NL) in 2012, she has mostly been working in the fields of arts and culture as an independent graphic designer, working by herself or assisting and collaborating with other designers. In June 2013 her collaboration with Nina Paim (BR) was nominated for the Swiss Design Award. Her approach to design is characterized by a high sensibility for research, editing, and language, which also manifests itself in actual writing about design. She was invited by Krabbesholm Højskole (DK) to be a designer and writer in residence during spring/summer 2015.
www.corinnegisel.com

Download 15 issues of Design Quarterly

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

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

Abbott Miller, Ellen Lupton, Andrew Blauvelt, and Others on Mickey Friedman

So much of what makes the Walker a great place for design is because of Mickey Friedman and her tenure as design director, design curator, and editor of Design Quarterly. Since Mickey passed away earlier this week, a number of design voices have been offering personal reflections on Mickey’s influence on them, as well as fascinating […]

1977_mickey_friedman_proof_006_r

So much of what makes the Walker a great place for design is because of Mickey Friedman and her tenure as design director, design curator, and editor of Design Quarterly. Since Mickey passed away earlier this week, a number of design voices have been offering personal reflections on Mickey’s influence on them, as well as fascinating glimpses into the Walker’s design culture during her time here. I highly recommend you read Andrew Blauvelt‘s personal and compelling article covering a wide range of Mickey’s contributions to the design field, from groundbreaking exhibitions such as De Stijl, 1917–1931: Visions of Utopia, Tokyo: Form and Spirit, and Graphic Design in America: A Visual Language History, to her generous and forward-thinking editorial approach with Design Quarterly, and her creation of Walker mainstays such as the Insights Design Lecture Series and the design department’s fellowship program. The Walker is also collecting short contributions from a variety of Mickey’s peers—the entirety of which you can read here—and I wanted to pull out a few below.

 

Ellen Lupton, curator of contemporary design, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

Abbott Miller and I had the amazing pleasure of working with Mickey in the late 1980s on her groundbreaking exhibition Graphic Design in America. She was the first real curator I had ever met, and she had so much to teach a young aspirant like myself. Her grace, intelligence, and kindness—and her patience with two green young writers—will always stay with me. Mickey Friedman thought with her eyes. She had a way to spinning stories, ideas, and insight out of objects and rooms. She had both extraordinary taste and the desire to illuminate the whole world with better design.

 

Exhibition view of Graphic Design in America: A Visual Language History, 1989

Exhibition view of Graphic Design in America: A Visual Language History, 1989

 

Abbott Miller, designer, writer, and partner at Pentagram

Mickey had an amazing sense of adventure, independence, and generosity in her thoughts and actions. That combination led her to champion, explicate, and consider design from truly diverse vantage points. From the “spoon to the city” meant that Julia Child, Tokyo, and Frank Gehry were all expressions of design. There was a modernist current to her interests, but not as a stylistic vocabulary. She was interested in the public life of design, the formal experimentation of contemporary designers, but also the “commercial vernacular” that was evident in her Graphic Design in America exhibition.

I co-authored an extended timeline-essay for her Graphic Design in America catalogue: I remember that Mickey came to New York to discuss the show with Ellen Lupton, who was curating great exhibitions on graphic design at Cooper Union. We saw her outline for the catalogue she was planning, and after she left we wrote her a letter nominating ourselves as the authors. Her response was along the lines of “I was thinking the exact same thing.” It was a leap of faith that she had probably made many times in her career, trusting her instincts and having confidence in her choices.

I’ve been fortunate to have had multiple occasions and experiences touched by Mickey, Martin, and their daughter, Lise Friedman, who was the editor of the first magazine I designed. I know multiple projects can be traced back to Mickey, directly or indirectly, and that I am one of many designers whose lives have been deeply influenced by her intelligence, charm, and vision.

 

Phil Freshman, former editor, Walker Art Center

Mickey Friedman hired me to be the Walker Art Center’s first-ever staff editor in the spring of 1988, and I moved here from Los Angeles with my wife and five-month-old daughter that June. I soon settled into the routine 70-hour-per-week Walker norm and made common cause with the cast of dedicated maniacs who made up the then 60-person staff. One reason I’d been hired was to edit Mickey’s magnum opus, the book accompanying her long-planned exhibition, Graphic Design in America: A Visual Language History. She rightly wanted to keep close tabs on the writing (by a large and far-flung set of contributors) and the editing. But before that engine even got started, there was Adam Weinberg’s Vanishing Presence photography catalogue to edit, plus a Frank Stella book for Liz Armstrong. And because I was the only editor in the joint, I was handed just about every printed piece the Walker cranked out, from the members’ calendar to booklets, brochures, program flyers, and broadsides for the film/video, performing arts, and education departments, annual reports, and assorted whatnot. There was also the little business, in the summer of 1988, of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which opened that September—requiring its own thick set of “ephemera.” After five or six such breakneck months, I asked Martin and Mickey if I could hire a part-time assistant. They shook their heads and shut their eyes. “Edit faster,” Martin intoned.

Editing faster, and editing for precision and clarity, was something at which Mickey excelled. She hated fluff, flatulence, posturing, and imprecision in writing as much as I did. But the wonder of it, to me, was that she could drain waste out of a piece and rewrite lead and concluding paragraphs at warp speed and with seemingly little exertion. I would hand her my first pass at a tortured essay from the graphic design book at, say, 10 am, and within a couple of hours it would be back on my desk, its major problems fixed and the path forward made clear. I learned much about achieving clarity by looking at her edits, and I learned how to struggle less doing my own editing. Although Mickey and I got crosswise many a time, she never told me how to edit nor failed to support me if I was at an impasse with a writer. Although she thought, like Martin, that there was no limit to the amount of time and energy I (and the rest of the staff) should devote to the Walker—that was the way the two of them lived, after all—I saw that in everything she did the aim was excellence and quality. It was remarkable, indeed admirable, how often and squarely she hit those targets.

I was at the Walker until the Friedmans left, at the end of 1990, and stayed the first four years of Kathy Halbreich’s tenure. As tough a customer as Mickey could be, there were definitely days during that post-Friedman time when I missed her no-nonsense and her sharp eye.

 

Exhibition shot of Tokyo: Form and Spirit

Exhibition shot of Tokyo: Form and Spirit

Glenn Suokko, independent graphic designer, former senior graphic designer (1998–1990), Walker Art Center

Working with Mickey Friedman remains one of the most stimulating and important experiences of my career in design. We worked together on the major exhibition, Graphic Design in America: A Visual Language History, and it was while working on his particular—enormous—project, that as a graphic designer fresh out of graduate school, I learned from Mickey about the integration of design, art, culture, history, and experience—and so much more. She was unrelenting in making everything exceptional and had amazing taste. I thought she was the most insightful, brilliant person I had ever met. We often had lunch together in Gallery 8 and while enjoying a salad and the special of the day, carried on our work in planning and creating the exhibition, book, and programming. We always worked on Saturdays, because this was the day when we could really dig in and get a lot done without distraction. Every so often on a Saturday, Mickey or Martin would suggest we take a break and have lunch at their house. Mickey always made the most delicious lunches with simplicity and ease. She was so gracious and these are treasured moments in my memory. After lunch we’d head back to the office and work more, and often wind up having dinner and seeing a performance in the theater that night. With Mickey—as with Martin—work and friendship, experience and wisdom, good food and wonderful projects, all seemed to just continually flow into one another in the nicest way.

 

Peter Seitz, former design curator (1964–1968), Walker Art Center

I worked in the mid-Sixties for nearly five years at the Walker Art Center as design curator, editor of Design Quarterly, and graphic designer, writing, lecturing, publishing, and producing all visual communications and curating design exhibitions, even designing graphics for the early Guthrie Theater. I practiced an inclusive approach to design, something Mickey not only carried on but excelled in it. Her focus on urban design, her involvement in getting good national and international designers and architects in designing in and for Minneapolis, resulted in this area to become known as a center for good design.

After leaving the Walker I was not dismayed when I learned that Mickey took over the design curator position and right away hired two more designers to assist her. We all miss her; the design community lost a great professional and a friend.

 

ex1989gda_-Mickey-Friedman

Mickey Friedman with Walker designers at the opening of Graphic Design in America, 1989. Left to right: Jeff Cohen, graphic designer; Glenn Suokko, senior graphic designer; Robert Jensen, design director; Mickey Friedman; James Johnson, chief graphic designer; Lorraine Ferguson, chief graphic designer; Peter Seitz, design curator; and John Calvelli, graphic designer. Photo: ©Walker Art Center

ICA’s Excursus: Interview with Alex Klein and Mark Owens

Emmet Byrne: What is Excursus and how did it come about? Alex Klein and Mark Owens: Excursus was a two-year, four-part initiative at the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia positioned at the intersection of art and design, programs and exhibitions, and the archive and the museum. It took the form of a […]

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Emmet Byrne: What is Excursus and how did it come about?

Alex Klein and Mark Owens: Excursus was a two-year, four-part initiative at the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia positioned at the intersection of art and design, programs and exhibitions, and the archive and the museum. It took the form of a rotating installation on the ICA mezzanine, a curated series of intimate events, and an online residency on the Excursus website, which also acted as a form of real-time documentation. Each of the four invited participants— Reference Library, East of Borneo, Ooga Booga, and Primary Information—work in a space between artistic domains that don’t always have a comfortable place within a traditional gallery setting, such as publication, distribution, archival research, and programming.

Alex was hired in 2011 as ICA’s newly-created program curator, and Excursus was a way to explore and activate the “discursive space” of the museum as it approached it’s 50th anniversary and to challenge the notion of how a program could function and how we might gauge its success. ICA is a non-collecting institution with a long history of ground-breaking exhibitions—Andy Warhol, Paul Thek, and Martin Kippenberger each had their first U.S. solo museum shows at ICA, for example—and thus ICA’s extensive archive is in a very real sense its collection. Each of the participants was thus invited to delve into the ICA archive and to make connections both with their own concerns and the exhibitions currently on view in the main galleries.

An “excursus” is a literary term describing a digression or supplement to a primary text, and the project was conceived very much in that spirit, with every element, from the installation to the programming, emerging from these conceptual and material connections. The aim was to provide a platform that could be responsive and flexible–both in terms of form and authorship–and that could could bridge the gap between extra-institutional and institutional activities while still maintaining a strong framework and a grounding in the physical space of the ICA.

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EB: The project has a very strong design sensibility, from the participants selected, to the design of the space, to the design of the ephemera, and of course the catalogue. Was there a philosophy at work behind the design of the whole program?

AK & MO: Certain binaries seemed to anchor each season of the project: East Coast vs. West Coast, black-and-white vs. color, social vs. contemplative, etc. Although each iteration of the project revolved around a kind of kit of parts–a flexible space for discussion, a display system for the event broadsides, a set of flat file drawers to display archival material, an auratic object of some kind, and a projection in the lobby–each of the invited participants contributed a strong visual aesthetic that was linked to the thematic of each of their installations. Thus, the form of each installation, from the materials used to the seating and furniture, reflected a distinct sensibility that changed radically from project to project and sat apart from the rest of the museum identity and the exhibitions in the main galleries. For example, Reference Library’s Andy Beach used custom-designed furniture in unpainted wood in combination with Martino Gamper’s bright plastic Arnold Circus stools in shades of blue and a Wharton Esherick Hammer Handle Chair on loan from the Hedgerow Theater in nearby Rose Valley. This then gave way to East of Borneo‘s exploration of California arts pedagogy circa 1970 with seminar tables, vintage David Rowland 40/4 chairs in period colors, and an actual Metamorphokit table, designed by Peter de Bretteville and Toby Cowan, shipped directly from the CalArts library. For her installation Ooga Booga’s Wendy Yao recreated the unmistakable look and feel of her two Los Angeles stores, complete with a hammock, bookshelves, and a custom table and benches designed by Manuel Raeder, which are now installed at her Mission Road space. Finally, Primary Information drew inspiration from ICA’s seminal 1975 Video Art exhibition with a more spare, conceptualist, black-and-white aesthetic, punctuated by Sarah Crowner’s dramatic Vidas Perfectas curtain (2011), originally produced for a Robert Ashley performance, which created a literal backdrop for the activities that ensued. In this way, the design of the projects themselves marked out a distinct physical space that was at once rich with material and metaphor, but also flexible and open.

Below: Various images of the four installations/residencies.

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EB: How did the graphic identity for the project come together?

AK & MO: To serve as a frame for the four installations the Excursus identity took the form of a diagrammatic mark that served to describe a set of relationships — between Art, Design, Archive, and Conversation — that summed up the matrix of concerns that shaped the project rather than a wholly separate visual language. The mark itself appeared at a range of scales, including on gallery notes, print materials, and the ICA’s sidewalk sandwich board, as well as on tote bags, a flag hanging in the Ooga Booga space, and a large window graphic in Reference Library’s installation.

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AK & MO: In addition to the mark, an identity within the overall identity system was created for each of the individual iterations of the project. In each instance this was employed through a series of Riso-printed broadsides produced at PennDesign’s Common Press that announced upcoming events and through the color palette of the website. Each of the four modules were designed in consultation with the invited participants to reflect the aesthetic and ethos of each resident while also maintaining a consistency that sat next to but largely apart from the museum identity and website. In addition, the Risograph posters designed by Mark Owens and the WordPress website designed by Other Means meant that updates and announcements could be made relatively quickly and inexpensively and allowed for a kind of responsive design process that is rare within institutional settings. ICA has the distinct advantage of being located at the University of Pennsylvania, which gives the museum an immediate audience among students, faculty, and staff, as well as a proximity to the nearby neighborhood of West Philadelphia and close connections with the city’s broader artistic and academic communities. The responsive design process allowed for events to be conceived, organized, and advertised in a matter of weeks or even days, rather than the longer timeframes required for most museum programming. By the same token, the website functioned as an online residency, which allowed each of the participants to participate throughout the duration of their Excursus, long after their installation was complete. In this way, Excursus gained a following both among ICA’s local audience here in Philadelphia, and a much more dispersed audience who followed the project online. Of course, there is no substitute for the actual experience of visiting a museum, but taken together the printed material, website, and catalogue now serve as a both a record and an archive of the project.

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Above: Posters for Excursus I: Reference Library residency

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Above: Posters for Excursus II: East of Borneo residency

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Above: Posters for Excursus III: Ooga Booga residency

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Above: Posters for Excursus IV: Primary Information residency

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Above: Excursus website design by Other Means

EB: What were some of the most unexpected moments, and were they documented?

AK & MO: One of the aims of Excursus was to explore questions of audience and exhibitionality in ways that could put some critical pressure on the terminology of “engagement” as it is currently being discussed in the broader cultural field. As a result, some of the most surprising moments occurred in the context of a “program” involving only two people, or in the unplanned interaction between participants. One instance that particularly stands out was the Madchester event organized by artists Anthony Campuzano and Dan Murphy in conjunction with Oooga Booga’s installation and the concurrent Jeremy Deller exhibition, Joy in People, which was then on view in the museum. Campuzano and Murphy led an afternoon discussion on fandom and their own teenage fascination with 1990s Britpop and the Manchester music scene centered around the famous Hacienda nightclub. Purely by chance, legendary Hacienda DJ Dave Haslam happened to be in town and had come by ICA to see the Deller show. Campuzano recognized him walking around the galleries, and was thrilled to have him participate in the conversation and offer his own first-hand accounts. The entire afternoon was documented and archived on the website, as were all of the events. Although the documentation is no substitute for the in-person experience we were very conscious of photographing the project along the way so that people could follow it from afar. Because there were so many events, participants, and archival materials, the website and publication have played a crucial role in making the connections between the projects more legible and ultimately as a new archival document.

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 Above: Excursus I-IV catalogue

EB: What was your guiding principle behind the presentation style of the catalogue? Why did you decide to go with the image-heavy, bit-like approach instead of a denser, text-heavy book?

AK & MO: Excursus was a project with many moving parts, including four installations, archival material in flat files and vitrines, over 50 events, and more than one hundred participants. In order to make all of these components legible in a modest 128-page catalogue it made sense to atomize the elements and to separate them out. So, the documentation of each Excursus opens with a full-spread image of the space and is then divided into installation, archive, and event sections followed by a complete checklist. What results is a Whole Earth Catalogue-meets-Sky Mall page structure that both reflects the density of the material but also isolates each element and allows the reader to appreciate both the material quality and rich variety that resulted from each participants’ response to the Excursus prompt.

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Above: Selected spreads from the Excursus catalogue

EB: Between the catalogue, the internet residencies, and any other archive of the project, what is your hope for the project in the future?

AK & MO: Very much in keeping with the mission of ICA, Excursus was meant as a radical proposition and a provocation to probe the boundaries of the museum and to test what might be possible. As such, it required an enormous amount of effort and attention and by necessity demanded that it have a finite timeline. That said, Excursus‘s commitment to intimacy and flexibility, to questions posed by distribution and publication, and the successful occupation of an interstitial space in the museum, has infused some the current thinking at ICA and has led to other exhibitions and programmatic activities that might not have been possible otherwise. Going forward it is our hope that the website and the catalogue will remain as a record of the project and that it will spur continuing dialogue and encourage others to take up similar questions in new and exciting ways.

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Designing for Christian Marclay’s The Clock

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

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

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

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

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

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Final designs

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

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

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The “anti-trailer” sketches.

 

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

 

Neuzeit

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

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

 

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Intermediary sketches.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Postal Works by Clive Phillpot, from Please Come to the Show

    Sara De Bondt, who recently spoke at the Walker as part of our Insights lecture series, is co-founder of Occasional Papers, a non-profit publisher dedicated to producing affordable books on art, design, architecture, film and literature. Their most recent publication, Please Come to the Show, which launched June 10th, is edited by David […]

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Sara De Bondt, who recently spoke at the Walker as part of our Insights lecture series, is co-founder of Occasional Papers, a non-profit publisher dedicated to producing affordable books on art, design, architecture, film and literature. Their most recent publication, Please Come to the Show, which launched June 10th, is edited by David Senior, bibliographer at the Museum of Modern Art Library in New York. The book was published on the occasion of Senior’s MoMA Library exhibition recently traveling to the Exhibition Research Centre in Liverpool and the catalog “consists of a wide range of MoMA Library’s exhibition-related ephemera—invitations, flyers and posters from the 1960s to the present—presenting them as an historically overlooked but integral aspect of exhibitions. Often the first point of contact between the audience and artist, such items form part of an essential lexicon for graphic designers, curators, art historians and anyone interested in the event-based nature of showing art. Filled with full-colour reproductions of numerous examples from the MoMA Library collection, the book includes new essays by Gustavo Grandal Montero, Will Holder, Antony Hudek, Angie Keefer, Clive Phillpot, David Senior and Suzanne Stanton.”

Below we present Clive Phillpot’s essay “Postal Works” from the catalogue. Clive is a writer, curator and former art librarian.

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Postal Works
by Clive Phillpot

I have moved house and consequently weeded my belongings maybe ten times since 1976, but through all that time I held on to a postcard announcing what is probably a performance (that I never witnessed) by Kevin Atherton at 8pm on 14 October 1976. The card informs the reader that ‘A Work Opened Up’ will be performed at the Battersea Arts Centre. Why have I kept this particular piece of paper, measuring six by three and a half inches, for so long?

The card has an internal border of a black line that breaks briefly on the top at the point where a paperclip has been attached, then, above the centred textual information, is another paperclip opened up and straightened out into a bendy line and fixed to the card with adhesive tape. This art announcement is unusual in its incursion into the third dimension, but its fascination lies in both its minimal sculptural quality, and its enigmatic content. How does a straightened paperclip connect with what happened after 8pm at the Battersea Art Centre? The lack of a ready answer contributes to the suggestiveness of the mailed work and to its ongoing curiosity.

As well as these qualities the card has usefulness, even after the event, as a record of an artist’s work and a record of one of the events at a particular venue at a certain time, just like most items in files of art documentation. The fact that I have filed and preserved Atherton’s announcement for such a long time counters its intrinsic datedness. Like nearly all the items in this exhibition it was conceived as something short-lived, that is, ephemeral. Printed ephemera are so-called because, they resemble the Ephemeroptera, the biological order of the mayflies that emerge (in the month of May) from their larval form in streams, take flight and last but a day before their lives are done. In turn printed ephemera would initially appear to have no further function once the event that they announce has occurred.

This exhibition, too, contests the status of the pieces of paper that it brings together, since years after their appearance they have been preserved and are now displayed and their content, their design, their artistry, fêted. It will also be apparent that these humble announcements and invitations actually communicate very specific items of information that have enduring value as particles in the art historical food chain.

The world of art museums and galleries has had a need for invitation cards for many decades, but with the radical changes in art in the 1960s, when artists began to take charge of the ways that their work was publicised and written about, the exhibition announcement became another arena in which the artist could work. This was a time when artists’ magazines burgeoned, as did book art, mail art and artists’ postcards.

While art announcements take many forms, the simple postcard, usually sent in the mail as is, without an envelope, is very common, and provides a small harmonious forum for verbal and visual statements. To illustrate the potential of the form one might highlight a microcosm of artists from England, who have similar interests and who have utilised the postcard form to make artworks that also announce exhibitions. They are Richard Long, Hamish Fulton and David Tremlett, each of whom has worked in remote regions of the world, and with the land itself. Richard Long has stated that ‘everything that I show in a gallery or put out in other ways, is art in its own right’. And indeed, in his recent 2009 exhibition at Tate Britain, he not only showed over eighty sculptures and wall works, but also perhaps three times as many printed works, including artist books and postcard announcements. His card for his exhibition at Sperone Westwater Fischer in New York in 1978 epitomises the announcement as artwork. It depicts his circle of driftwood on a shore in the arctic, placed in the foreground of a vertical photograph which also shows waves in the Bering Strait and a forbidding sky. The whole image, a study in greys, has a white border and two lines of lettering in white. This is a rewarding and compelling image; a small artwork. (Strangely the same photograph, bled off and without lettering, was issued in a postcard edition by Gebr. König in Cologne, but this has none of the iconicity of the New York announcement.

The idea of the artist’s postcard —a sibling of the announcement as artwork —was also made more visible in the 1960s as the mail art network expanded. For instance, a bit later, in 1977, Image Bank, the alternative space in Vancouver, published their Image Bank Post Card Show. This exhibition in a box contained works by such mail art stalwarts as Guglielmo Achille Cavellini, Dadaland, General Idea, Ray Johnson and Mr Peanut, as well as other sympathetic artists such as Gordon Matta-Clark and Sol LeWitt. Others who encouraged artists to make postcards included Klaus Staeck who had himself made postcards and stunning posters; his Edition Staeck published cards by Joseph Beuys, Yoko Ono, Dieter Roth, Claes Oldenburg and several more artists. Yet another extended phenomenon was Eleanor Antin’s 100 Boots. This series of 51 black and white postcards surprisingly depicted the odyssey of 100 boots as they made their way across America. Each card showed the boots en route, in a field, in a farmyard and so on, until they arrived at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Such postcards intermingled in the postal system with announcement cards and so ended up in ephemera collections as well. Getting back to announcement cards, however, there were artists who not only devised work for such cards, but also embarked upon serial card works. One of the most notorious is that by Robert Barry in 1969 in which he composed cards for exhibitions of his work in the USA and across Europe, which announced: ‘for the exhibition the gallery will be closed’. Thus after exhibiting elusive phenomena such as radio waves and inert gases he began to exhibit nothing, drawing attention to this fact by utilising these mailed announcements. Another series of interrelated cards were Joel Fisher’s announcement cards for a string of exhibitions in the mid-1970s, also across Europe, in which he paired a photo of one of his eyes with an eye of the gallerist presenting his work.

 

 

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Five cards from the 8 Man Show series, by Ray Johnson. New York: 1962-68
From the MoMA Library Collection

Other artists played more complicated games with announcements. For example Ray Johnson made a set of ‘five cards in diminishing print size’ for a series of ‘invisible shows’ each referred to as the ‘8 Man Show’, apparently at three different galleries. The exhibitions were, however, inventions, as were some of the artists who appeared to have exhibited: thus ‘Ray Johnson’ metamorphosed into ‘Ray Charles’, ‘Kay Johnson’ and ‘Ray Johnsong’, while ‘George Brecht’ reappeared as ‘Mrs. Brecht’. And the galleries, also fictitious, started as the ‘Robin Gallery’—probably a play on the Reuben Gallery —and then its successors the ‘Woodpecker Gallery’ and the ‘Willenpecker Gallery’ (which alluded to the artist John Willenbecher).

Other art world phenomena that contributed to the flood of printed and mailed ephemera included the publishing of artists’ magazines. Thus there are cards announcing parties or benefits to celebrate the appearance of magazine issues: the Image Bank issue of Art-Rite for example, or the various cards for Just Another Asshole. Then there is a card to announce the press conference at Grand Central Station for the release of Les Levine’s compelling subway poster ‘We Are Not Afraid’. There is another for the ‘Eat-Art Show’ at the Art Caféon Second Avenue. Yet another is for the exhibition of work by Frank Kozik at CBGBs on the Bowery. The venues —and the occasions —are multifarious.

Today we may be witnessing the end of the growth in postal announcement cards after only a few decades, for most exhibition venues are cutting back on the production of cards and other items to publicise their exhibitions or events. Email announcements have more or less taken over. Some of the more corporate galleries still issue dinosaurial card announcements but these are generally larger, thicker and more ostentatious than before.

An array of art world printed ephemera tells us a lot about the times in which they were produced. If one thinks, perhaps, of printed ephemera from the nineteenth century, the look and means of these earlier specimens is vastly different from, say, the printed ephemera of the late twentieth century, for the older ornamental typeset sheets with their inventive layouts gave way to the immediacy of offset, duplicated and xeroxed material often literally revealing the hand of the maker. So along with the art in ephemera and the information in ephemera, we can discover the look and feel and facts of the times that they document.•

Please Come to the Show
Edited by David Senior
Published by Occasional Papers
With the support of the MoMA Library and the Exhibition Research Centre, Liverpool John Moores University
ISBN: 978-0-9569623-7-9

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