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Martine Syms and Kevin Young: A Few Questions About the Grey Album

In preparation for her Insights design lecture on Tuesday, March 18, Martine Syms sent poet Kevin Young five questions, one for each lesson in his book, The Grey Album, published by Greywolf Press. From the description of his book: “… [The Grey Album] combines essay, cultural criticism, and lyrical chorus to illustrate the African American […]

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In preparation for her Insights design lecture on Tuesday, March 18, Martine Syms sent poet Kevin Young five questions, one for each lesson in his book, The Grey Album, published by Greywolf Press. From the description of his book: “… [The Grey Album] combines essay, cultural criticism, and lyrical chorus to illustrate the African American tradition of lying-storytelling, telling tales, fibbing, improvising, ‘jazzing.’” In her new talk “Black Vernacular: Lessons of the Tradition,” Syms will describe her connection with the black radical tradition, using Young’s influential ideas as a framework to understand her own design practice and strategies of code-switching. Please enjoy.

 

(Lesson 1)
What we claim, we are.

Martine Syms: Super curator Hans Ulrich Obrist always asks “what are your unrealized projects?” I prefer your formulation because it acknowledges the presence of absence. Tell me about your shadow books—the unwritten, the removed, and the lost.

Kevin Young: Regarding my unwritten books: given the seventeen books I’ve published, including the edited ones, there aren’t so many. Whenever I do do a selected poems, there will be some outtakes, but there’s more like unfinished projects or sequences (smaller than a book), willfully abandoned or adapted. There are always poems I pull from a book, and these may or may not live again one day–but to make the cutting easier, you tell yourself you could always resuurect them if you wanted.

That said, most of the actual unfinished projects are prose. These I still have hopes of picking up and finishing when time permits, so I don’t think of them as shadow books yet!

(Lesson 2)
Accepting even the stranded, strange, and seemingly illegitimate is the black elder’s aim.

Martine Syms: In The Grey Album you write, “Elsewhere is central to the African American tradition.” However, from Ralph Ellison’s 1948 essay Harlem is Nowhere to the “nowhere shit” of the Black Arts Movement to Afrofuturism’s dislocations, Nowhere also haunts the black imagination. What is the relationship between Elsewhere and Nowhere?

Kevin Young: Great question; I once had an idea of Nowhere in The Grey Album, based on Langston Hughes, but it fell out. It should probably stay out, for now.

(Lesson 3)
Struggle.

Martine Syms: June Jordan says that “Language is the naming of experience and, thereby, the possession of experience.” I’m interested in the way that the black vernacular creates ambiguity. Throwing your own question back at you, does the dialectic between dialect and standard language ever resolve itself?

Kevin Young: I hope it’s clear (especially from the Dunbar chapter) that in the end I don’t believe there’s an actual dialectic between the vernacular and the standard–just as I don’t believe that there’s such thing as a “standard language.” Besides, if they were to box, the vernacular would win.

(Lesson 4)
Not only does the tradition ennoble those who come after, but by following in it, one honors those who went before.

Martine Syms: The loop is a fundamental idea in modern thought. As my friend Andy Pressman once wrote, “See: cinema, Varese’s siren, okay and then jump ahead to animated gifs.” If the mash-up is the defining innovation of our generation, how does memory affect time?

Kevin Young: (See illustration at top of the post.)

(Lesson 5)
Tradition is what we take, but also what we make of it.

Martine Syms: Mass media allows for narratives—and subsequently, ideologies—to be industrialized. Postmodernity enables an incredible circulation of images and narratives about the past. Can you talk about where this intersects with blackness and “how each makes the other possible?”

Kevin Young: I understand the conception of “mass media,” but am far more interested in popular culture, that thing made by both individual and collective producers with an audience (as in jazz). I think it clear from the book that I think bebop, for instance, a fruitful postmodernity, which quotes and reconstitutes, but on its own terms (indeed, on terms meant to be exactly counter to the industrialization you mention). Whether it achieves that counternarrative or not remains to be seen, but I don’t think is settled.

To put it another way, whose postmodernity do you mean? In Charlie Parker’s, or Adrian Piper’s, or Public Enemy’s, I think there’s a self-consciousness that can be strange (and for some strained) but also quite freeing. I love such a pomo’s noise, and its aspiration toward what I call in the book, yearning. This, blackness makes possible. Though there is of course a way in which blackness for certain postmodernists becomes merely a symbol of such yearning (rather than black music being a vehicle to express it). John Berryman, whom I admire (and who’s from Minnesota), comes to mind in this way, but that’s another story–one which I tell in some of in my past work on him, but that I expect to return to soon.

All Possible Futures: Experimental Jetset on Speculative Graphic Design

This interview is fresh from my new book All Possible Futures, published by Bedford Press. The book accompanies the exhibition of the same name, which was on view at SOMArts Cultural Center from January 14 through Feb 13, 2014, and features texts by Rachel Berger, Max Bruinsma, Emmet Byrne and Metahaven, Catherine de Smet, and Emily […]

allpossiblefuturescover_5aWhiteBGThis interview is fresh from my new book All Possible Futures, published by Bedford Press. The book accompanies the exhibition of the same name, which was on view at SOMArts Cultural Center from January 14 through Feb 13, 2014, and features texts by Rachel Berger, Max Bruinsma, Emmet Byrne and Metahaven, Catherine de Smet, and Emily McVarish. In addition to these texts, I conducted interviews with a variety of practicing designers in an attempt to get a deeper understanding of “speculative” graphic design practices and the various positions and orientations designers are taking today. Below is my interview with Experimental Jetset.

 

Experimental Jetset   The Society of the Speculative   2014   button   Commissioned as part of All Possible Futures

Experimental Jetset, The Society of the Speculative button, 2014. Commissioned as part of All Possible Futures

Jon Sueda: What does the term “speculative” mean to you and your practice?

Experimental Jetset: We realize that some designers and artists are doing really interesting (and brilliant) stuff under the umbrella of “speculative design” (Metahaven comes to mind, obviously), and we do confess we always feel a slight tingle of excitement when concepts such as “design fiction” and “speculative realism” are brought up. But, other than that, we have to admit we’ve always very much disliked that word, “speculative.” It just has too many negative connotations to us: spec work, financial speculation, et cetera.

Politically, we have always been highly influenced by the Amsterdam squat scene of the 1970s and 1980s—and, within that particular idiom, the figure of the spekulant (in English, the “speculator” was the absolute devil. It represent­ed the real estate broker, the person who somehow made a profit from the vacancy of houses. Within the narrative of the squat scene, there was a strong dichotomy between the symbolic, speculative value of the building (as channeled by the real estate broker), and the actual, material use of the building (as practiced by the squatters). And although we have never been squatters ourselves, that scene certainly has been an inspiration to us, and we still strongly sympathize with it. So it’s no wonder that we feel a certain suspicion when we are confronted with the word “speculation.” To us, it represents something we have always opposed.

You could also argue that it is exactly the practice of speculation that got us all into the current economic crisis. “Wild West capitalism,” financial gambling, stock brokerages, banking for profit, and so on. To us, the notion of speculation is intrinsically linked to the whole concept of neoliberalism.

We realize that your use of the term is completely differ­ent. But, still, we might just be a bit too materialist (in the Marxist sense of the word) to get excited about it. We like our environment to be clearly grounded in some sort of material base, and the moment things start to “float” is the moment we get suspicious. Our whole practice is based on this idea of going against the illusory power of the image by revealing the material proportions of the object. So it is only logical that this notion of the “speculative,” as something that only exists as an illusion, doesn’t fit well with our way of working and thinking.

Maybe we simply don’t believe in the speculative, in gen­eral. In our view, something is either real or it isn’t. A sketch, a proposal, a plan, a scale model—we see these things as real, not speculative at all. Between the sketch and the fin­ished drawing, we see no gradients of realness. A sketch is a real sketch in the same way that a finished drawing is a real finished drawing.

Which reminds us of proposition 5.61 of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s famous Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. Logic pervades the world: The limits of the world are also its limits. So, we cannot say, in logic, ‘The world has this in it, and this, but not that.’ For that would appear to presuppose that we were excluding certain possibilities, and this cannot be the case, since it would require that logic should go beyond the limits of the world; for only in that way could it view those limits from the other side as well. We cannot think what we cannot think; so what we cannot think we cannot say, either. 1

In other words, for Wittgenstein, something either exists in the world or it doesn’t exist at all, and in the latter case we can’t even speak about it. Or, at least, that’s how we interpret his quote: as an argument against the speculative. “We cannot think what we cannot think”—so there’s no such thing as “pure” speculation. Speculation will always result in something real: a real thought, a real sketch, a real model. It will always stay within the borders of reality, of language, of the world.

But, apart from these more philosophical considerations, when it comes down to it, we simply don’t believe that this notion of the speculative automatically has some sort of sub­versive or redeeming dimension. True, in some circles, “the speculative” is used almost synonymously with “the critical’ (which happens to be another word we’re quite wary of). But, in our view, the speculative exists on the same level as the spectacular: this whole floating sphere of illusions, false im­ages, inflated signs, projections. Which is exactly the sphere we’ve tried to oppose all throughout our practice.

Guy Debord’s critique of the spectacular was famously titled The Society of the Spectacle. Come to think of it, we now find ourselves in something very similar: the society of the speculative. Having said that, we know we shouldn’t be too judgmental about this whole notion of the speculative. Nowadays, it might indeed be speculative projects that can give designers some sort of breathing space in an economic and political environment that is becoming increasingly tight and hostile.

Issues of PHK (selection) / series of fanzines produced between 1994 and 1996. Designed by Experimental Jetset and Cindy Hoetmer.

Selected issues of PHK, a fanzine produced between 1994 and 1996 by Experimental Jetset and Cindy Hoetmer

Jon Sueda: One could say that the work in this exhibition represents a parallel universe, designers who practice on the margins of the profession, making work which might only exist because they were proactive about initiating it. Does this parallel universe exist?

Experimental Jetset: It’s interesting. Reading your question, we suddenly remembered our own situation after graduation. We actually come from a zine background. When we were studying at the Rietveld Academy, we were publishing our own fanzines, posters, T-shirts, et cetera. And even before we went to art school, we were involved in creating mini-comics, mix tapes, and mail art. So you could say that we are products of exactly the sort of parallel universe you talk about.

Right after graduation, something happened that changed our way of thinking about this whole notion of the parallel universe. We came across an interview in Emigre in which a graphic design group said something to the extent of, “It’s great that we produce our own little zines, so that we don’t have to bother our ‘real’ clients with our creativity.” (Now, we are paraphrasing this from memory, so we might have completely misquoted it. But, as we remember, this was more or less the way it was said.)

This sentence was quite an eye-opener. A shock. We sud­denly realized the danger of a certain kind of self-publishing—the kind that functions as some sort of external outlet for creativity, as a way to redirect creativity to where it can do the least “harm,” so to speak. And from the moment we came across that quote, we abruptly ceased our practice as self-publishers and decided to fully focus on assignments.

In other words, we tried to stay away from the model of the “schizophrenic” designer, the designer carrying two port­folios: a portfolio with “free” projects (“for fun”), and a portfolio with “corporate” projects (“for money”). To us, this model was, and still is, an absolute nightmare. We want to drive our crea­tivity exactly to the place where it can do the most harm, so to speak. In all our projects, we absolutely “bother our clients with our creativity,” as often and as relentlessly as possible.

During those years after graduation, we were often think­ing about a sort of Hitchcockian model. Hitchcock didn’t distinguish between films “for fun” and “for money.” Rather, he managed to inject his subversive creativity directly into the heart of the Hollywood movie industry, and exercise his au­thorship right there. This model has always been an example to us, especially at the beginning of our practice.

Sixteen years down the line, we have softened up a bit, and think about it in a less dogmatic way. We now realize that every designer has to find their own way to organize their practice, even if that means artificially compartmentalizing one’s practice into “self-initiated” and “client-driven” work. The current situation (economically, politically, et cetera) is so bad, we totally understand that some designers feel the need to create some sort of parallel universe, just to stay sane.

As for our own way to stay sane, we would describe our current position as follows:

It may sound absurd, but we really regard all our projects as self-initiated, whether they involve clients or not. The way we see it, the moment we consciously make a choice to involve ourselves in a project (for example, by saying yes to an assignment), we are, in fact, initiating it. That makes everything that we do self-initiated (or maybe “self-inflicted” is a better word).

We see none of our work as “free,” in the sense that we really don’t believe that there is such a thing as a project that’s completely free of restrictions, free of limitations, free of specifications. After all, there is always a given context to respond to, a series of parameters to work within, a set of circumstances to react to. This set of circumstances might include a client or not, but in the bigger picture, that’s not even important, in the sense that it doesn’t make the project less or more “free.”

So, while we see none of our projects as “free,” we do see our own role within these assignments as “free” in the sense that, even within the most limited circumstances, we always have a certain freedom of choice. We always have the free­dom to quit an assignment (which is one of the most reas­suring securities that one has as a designer). Sure, quitting an assignment automatically means a loss of income. But, ultimately, we do have that choice, however hard it might be.

In short: the assignment is never free, the designer is always free. (We know, it’s an almost existential position, to be condemned to freedom and all that jazz.)

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Jon Sueda: Design can be a way to solve a problem, to visualize complex information. A critical tool to provoke debate, and promote aesthetic and social values. These responsibili­ties seem to be ever expanding. In your opinion, what should the primary role of a designer be today? And in the future?

Experimental Jetset: We find it hard to define what the role of the designer should be. We have always disliked this tradition of designers dictating to other designers how to work and how to think. In all our interviews, we have always tried to emphasize that our views are strictly personal. We never want to force our beliefs onto other designers. So we only can talk about what we see as our own role, today as well as in the future.

The role we try to fulfill—or, better said, the obligation we feel—is to design in such a way that the reader (or viewer, or spectator) is constantly aware of the fact that he or she is looking at something human-made: an object that is made by humans, and thus can also be changed by humans. We want to contribute to the constructed, material environment around us, but not without also creating some sort of awareness that this environment is just that: material and constructed.

At a very concrete level, in our day-to-day practice (if there is such a thing), this basically means that we want to break the spell of the image and continuously reveal the fact that a printed object is “just” ink on paper—nothing more, but certainly nothing less. The graphic identity we recently designed for the Whitney Museum of American Art is a good example of that. It basically consists of a zigzag line occupying the available space within any given format. The zigzag is effectively emphasizing the material proportions of the designed object. The zigzag breaks the spell of the im­age, emphasizing the thing-ness of the design. Or, at least, that was our intention.

In our view, this role, this obligation, will become more and more relevant in the coming years. As we enter a future that seems more and more detached from the notion of a mate­rial base (a good example of this detachment would be the phenomenon of the Cloud), we think it’s good that at least a couple of people will try to keep things grounded. Just a hand­ful of village idiots (we are talking about ourselves here) who, instead of pointing to the sky, are pointing at the ground.

Jon Sueda: In many cases, speculative projects are self-initiated efforts (sometimes with little visibility), proposals within academic contexts, provocations, or sometimes unrealized enquiries. How do you define the “realization” of a design idea or concept?

Experimental Jetset: As we already argued in our answer to your first ques­tion: theoretically speaking, ideas, and concepts are already real, in and of themselves. A sketch is a real sketch, in the same way that a finished drawing is a real drawing. In theory, they both possess the same degree of realness.

On a more practical level, however, and in our day-to-day practice (whatever that may be), we would say that some­thing is realized the moment it is multiplied—when it is printed, or published online, or made public in some way. In a short text we recently wrote (“Socialism as a Graphic Language,” which appeared in volume 1 of EP, published last year by Sternberg Press), we described the act of multiplica­tion as “the movement from one to many, from solitude to multitude, and from the individual to the collective.” So, that sounds pretty real to us. Or, at least, real enough.

1. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. C K Ogden (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1922).

About the author:
Originally from Hawaii, Jon Sueda has practiced design everywhere from Honolulu to Holland. After earning his MFA in Graphic Design from CalArts in 2002, he was invited to North Carolina State University to serve as a designer in residence, followed by an internship in the Netherlands with Studio Dumbar. In 2004, Sueda co-founded the design studio Stripe, which specializes in printed material for art and culture. He is also the co-editor of Task Newsletter, and the co-organizer of AtRandom events. Sueda has lectured, taught workshops and has been visiting critic many universities. In 2007, Sueda relocated to the San Francisco area, where he is an Assistant Professor in the Graphic Design Program at California College of the Arts (CCA).

“Fragmented”: Mexico ’68 Designer Lance Wyman on Sochi and Olympic Branding Today

“At first I had a hard time identifying what the official logo of Sochi is,” says designer Lance Wyman of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics identity, which consists only of the Olympic rings and the website of the games, sochi.ru. Wyman is well positioned to comment on graphic design around the Sochi Games as well […]

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“At first I had a hard time identifying what the official logo of Sochi is,” says designer Lance Wyman of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics identity, which consists only of the Olympic rings and the website of the games, sochi.ru. Wyman is well positioned to comment on graphic design around the Sochi Games as well as changes in the field: he’s the creator of one of the most celebrated design systems in history, the identity for the 1968 Mexico Olympics. “It still isn’t clear in my mind, so I guess the branding is going to rely on it along with other images.” In anticipation of his appearance at the 2014 Insights Design Lecture series, Wyman shares his thoughts on Sochi and the challenges that Olympics branding faces today:

At first I had a hard time identifying what the official logo of Sochi is. It still isn’t clear in my mind, so I guess the branding is going to rely on it along with other images. I have been impressed by the use of quilt-like textures made from indigenous Russian patterns that have been applied to uniforms and souvenir objects, though the sports icons, which are heavily stylized, don’t give me a sense of relating to Sochi.

I think the Olympic identities of the last few years express a need for new branding strategies. There are so many interests vying for attention and so much exposure that a more integrated approach is required. The identity of the Olympics themselves has to compete with the commercial exposure needs: the overblown opening and closing ceremonies, security requirements, restrictions to prevent knock-offs, etc. The resulting Olympic branding image is fragmented.

I think it is very difficult to have a strong identity that works for all. The five-ring Olympic logo has been kept intact since the inception of the modern Olympics. That’s been a boon, a consistent branding image that has done its job well. The problem starts with the attempt to identify the host country in a way that is compatible with the rings. The common attitude in corporate branding is to stay away from the basic logo, don’t get too near it with other elements, other colors, etc. There are elaborate corporate manuals spelling out all of these rules. The result in the case of the Olympics is often two logos that vie for attention. Even at its best, this is a difficult strategy when it comes to applying a branding image to the Games. Using a strong style for event symbols that suggests the culture of the host nation has been successfully used as a method of creating a sense of place without interfering or fighting with the image of the five-ring Olympic logo.

I think the purpose of the ancient games was to get together in peace, to put down the arms and have a friendly sports competition. Whether that was ever really accomplished I don’t know, but I still like the thought. As technology enables the Olympics to really become the focus of a global audience maybe that’s a good thought to make real.

Read my conversation with Wyman on the aesthetic and cultural back-story of his designs for the 1968 games.

Insights 2014 Design Lecture Series

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

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Insights 2014
Tuesdays in March

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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Martine Syms
March 18, 7 pm (tickets)

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

 

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

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

 

 

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Insights poster design by Dante Carlos

Printing courtesy the Avery Group at Shapco Printing, Minneapolis

Portrait of Artist/Director Steve McQueen

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

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

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

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

2013: The Year According to Prem Krishnamurthy

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from multimedia artist Ralph Lemon and spoken word artist Dessa to designer Martine Syms and photographer JoAnn Verburg — to share their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to     […]

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To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from multimedia artist Ralph Lemon and spoken word artist Dessa to designer Martine Syms and photographer JoAnn Verburg — to share their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to                                 .

Prem Krishnamurthy is busy. As a founding principal of Project Projects, he creates some of the most respected design work today, focusing on print, identity, exhibition, and interactive work with clients in art and architecture. The studio continues to grow, and as it does, all three leaders of the group expand their fields of practice with self-initiated projects. In Prem’s case, this meant founding P!, a multidisciplinary exhibition space located in New York’s Chinatown: “P! proposes an experimental space of display in which the radical possibilities of disparate disciplines, historical periods, and modes of production rub elbows. A free-wheeling combination of project space, commercial gallery, and Mom-and-Pop-Kunsthalle, P! engages with presentation strategies and models to emphasize rupture over tranquility, interference over mere coexistence, transparency over obfuscation, and passion over cool remove.” Below is Prem’s top-10 list of 2013.

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Looking back, the latter half of 2013 steadily accumulated highlight after highlight — including shows like Massimiliano Gioni’s The Encyclopedic Palace in Venice, the newest edition of the Carnegie International, Bartholomew Ryan’s 9 Artists exhibition at the Walker, and Jay Sanders’ Rituals of Rented Island at the Whitney — each of which re-articulates and perhaps even redefines a particular mode of exhibition-making. With so many good things to choose from, I’ll focus on a handful of the year’s Grenzgänger (border crossers), who moved between contexts and conversations with such ease that it seemed like the boundaries were all in our heads anyways.

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Triple Canopy’s Benefit to Honor Brian O’Doherty

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One of the most moving events of the year was art journal Triple Canopy’s annual benefit in New York’s Chinatown. The multifaceted legacy of 85-year-old Brian O’Doherty — polymath artist, writer, editor, and more — was celebrated by a young generation of boundary-crossers. Having worn many hats well before it was fashionable, O’Doherty is best known for his seminal 1976 essay, “Inside the White Cube,” which exploded the ideological construct of the “neutral” gallery space in a single gesture; simultaneously, as the pseudonymous artist Patrick Ireland, he has reimagined the exhibition form through his spatial drawings, language-based sculptures, and conceptual works. This year, he will publish The Crossdresser’s Secret, a novel based on the 18th-century Chevalier d’Eon, who lived as both a man and a woman — suggesting O’Doherty’s inimitable straddling of all sorts of borders. The strangest and most memorable moment of the evening involved PS1 founder Alanna Heiss mounting the stage in an animal outfit and calling down to O’Doherty to join her, each donning a full-sized horse mask — easy to put on, but comically difficult to remove later. Unexpected, surreal, yet casually intimate, this performative gesture crowned an evening that toasted the ties binding all of us weird, creative folk to this difficult city and the irreplaceable friendships formed here.

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The Sackner Archive of Visual and Concrete Poetry

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Miami caught its first glimpse of this astounding collection in the exhibition, A Human Document, curated by Rene Morales at the new Perez Art Museum Miami. Comprised of more than 75,000 objects (and apparently containing at least three times more artworks than that), the Sackner Archive is like manna for the typographically minded. Over the past decades, Ruth and Marvin Sackner amassed this collection of diverse works ranging from early modernist books, typewriter art, micrography, and more, bounded only by a shared focus on the experimental word-image. The gem-like PAMM exhibition served as a teaser, hinting at the wealth of objects contained in the archive. I hope this show is only the beginning for the Sackner Archive’s public presence. On the other side of the Biscayne Bay is Miami Beach’s Wolfsonian Museum, boasting a world-class collection and research library of early 20th-century works of graphic communication and visual propaganda. With these two perfectly complementary collections in town, Miami might be poised to become a new mecca for graphic designers and all lovers of visual language.

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Provenance by Amie Siegel

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Artist Amie Siegel’s newest project, premiered at Simon Preston Gallery in the fall, tracks the shifting value of the modernist furniture removed from Le Corbusier’s Indian city of Chandigarh. Beautifully haunting, the central film’s traveling eye registers the persistence of objects across continents and cultures. Provenance explores the manifest ways in which patrimony and origin are fetishized, twisted by the market into salable currency. Design typically inhabits the world of everyday utility, yet the current blurring of boundaries brings it closer to high art. We who work in the elite worlds of art and design inhabit a land of double-standards, invented luxury goods, and manufactured scarcity. With her conceptual denouement — the auctioning of an edition of the film at Christie’s in London — Siegel’s project achieved a new level of self-implication, biting the hand that feeds it while acknowledging that we must work from within the system to reform it.

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Dysnomia by Dawn of Midi

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Dysnomia was by far my most-listened-to album of the year. The trio that makes up the band — Aakaash Israni, Amino Belyamani, and Qasim Naqvi— have created a new form of music that is genre-defying. Its sonic precedents include the tightly-woven polyrhythms of electronic dance music, yet it’s rendered by acoustic drums, upright bass, and prepared piano. Is it contemporary jazz? Is it minimal music? Analog techno? Post-rock? The resulting album demonstrates that such distinctions don’t matter when the music is this riveting.

 

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The Joycean Society by Dora Garcia

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Among many surprising presentations at this year’s Venice Biennial, one standout was this geeky show, far from the Giardini’s buzz on the island of Giudecca. Following a group of crotchety older men (plus a woman or two) who gather weekly to discuss James Joyce’s notoriously difficult Finnegans Wake, Garcia’s video managed to do something rare: it captured the exuberance of amateur discourse. Gallery-spaces-as-reading-rooms and art-world-seminars have been in vogue for a while now — we even organized a series of reading groups at P! last year, led by curator Ruba Katrib, Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith, editorial collective Superscript, and others — yet Garcia’s film showed why book clubs endure. When conducted with passion, curiosity, and nerdy aplomb, the seminar form, freed from an institutional context, possesses quietly radical potential. In an atomized world, where discourse often equals hitting the “like” button, group dialogue and argument around texts can change minds. What a contrast to the art world we read about in magazines and the news — which apparently consists primarily of art fair parties, astonishing secondary-market sales, live performances with celebrities, and the like — rather than the real work of making and thinking.

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A contemporary bestiary at the Natural History Museum, Venice

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I was lucky to catch this exhibition, tucked away at Venice’s Natural History Museum. Close to the Prada Foundation’s recreation of Harald Szeeman’s Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Forms — with its claims to radical architectural and historical juxtaposition — A contemporary bestiary actually lived up to such lofty claims and went beyond. The exhibition inserted contemporary artworks by Lara Favaretto, Rosa Barba, Paola Pivi, and others into the museum’s permanent displays. The artworks were well-chosen and compelling, but the unexpected standout was the exhibition design itself. The act of intervention demonstrated an interesting proposition: exhibition display, which has the challenging task of taking non-museal objects and imparting to them an auratic power, itself may possess a powerful presence. Wandering through the rooms of the museum, each with their own bespoke character — from “underwater” areas with different fish species in hanging bubbles to immersive naturalistic tableaux — I remembered my own childhood memories of the artificial constructions in natural history museums. In these cases, the staging of such fantastical scenes has the potential to outpace the studied ways of contemporary art objects.

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Richard Hollis at Artists Space

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Thanks to curators Emily King and Stuart Bailey, New York had a chance to experience the rigor and resolve of one of Britain’s most influential visual thinkers. For over a half century, Hollis has approached graphic design with a clear sense of the political struggle implicit in disseminating and communicating ideas. The printed word has rarely seemed so alive, responsive, and generous as in Hollis’s hands — words and images following arguments instead of formats. In his seminal layout for John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, Hollis established that graphic design’s most significant task is to create the necessary conditions for critical thinking. The show’s structure and sequence mirrored an edited video of the designer’s recent talk at the ICA London, projected in the space and providing an ongoing soundtrack for the printed pieces, posters, and sketches on display. Through this curatorial gesture, the exhibition itself became a script for Hollis’s remarkable reasoning, which aspires to change the world quietly.

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The Radicality of Reading

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In the face of proliferating image feeds and accumulating 140-character posts, 2013 felt like a great year to revive and reimagine the experimentation with reading that characterized the early avant-garde. My partners at Project Projects, Adam Michaels and Rob Giampietro, each collaborated with thinkers on projects that I’m envious of: Adam’s layout for The Pragmatism in the History of Art, by art historian Molly Nesbitt, rethinks how the visual language of an academic book might be activated through the multidisciplinary work of the designer-editor. The book’s shifts in typographic voice and careful consideration of text/image relationships become an essential part of the final work. Rob’s collaboration with writer and philosopher Susan Buck-Morss on susanbuckmorss.net, her new website and publishing platform, effortlessly allows the reader to move between essays, images, and ideas through associative and non-linear channels. Reinvigorating early experiments in hypertextuality, the website allows Buck-Morss to publish outside of the typical academic and institutional channels. Both cases demonstrate that brilliant writing can be made more accessible through design that responds to it with sensitivity and generosity.

 

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George Maciunas at Cooper Union and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

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As someone interested in the fertile overlap of the everyday and the speculative, I’m fascinated by George Maciunas, the Lithuanian-born founder and central figure of Fluxus. Maciunas radically commingled art and design through his many entrepreneurial ventures; two exhibitions, half a world apart in New York and Madrid, illuminated different aspects of his life’s work and the long shadow that it still casts. On view at Maciunas’ alma mater Cooper Union, Anything Can Substitute Art: Maciunas in Soho documented his attempts in the 1970s to establish artists co-ops in Soho (alongside his comically serious legal tangles with New York City authorities). In light of the city’s current real estate market and the difficulties that young artists have making a life here, the exhibition made Maciunas seem positively prescient. At Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, the wide-ranging exhibition +-1961 deftly recast the pre-history of Minimalism and Conceptual Art. As part of the show, printed ephemera including flyers and posters from Maciunas’ short-lived AG Gallery, hinted at his penchant for risk and experimentation. Open for less than a single year, the gallery and its forward-thinking programming suggested how a modest space can play a crucial role as a meeting point and laboratory for ideas.

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Lucy Skaer at the 9th Mercosul Biennial

Lucy-Skaer-Tradução-da-Resina-2013_022Artist Lucy Skaer provided the high point of this impressive and ambitious biennial in Porto Alegre. Her piece, neither object nor action, existed somewhere in between. Working closely with the resin manufacturer and packager Irani, Skaer accomplished a striking intervention in their workflow: out of the thousands of sacks of raw resin produced for distribution in a given day, five sacks instead contained a flawless, faceted block of resin. These crystalline objects, with their manifest aesthetic qualities, are nevertheless merely a functional piece of raw material, to be melted down and reformed by whomever purchases them. This gesture reframes questions of utility and beauty: the gallery and factory become contiguous, at the same time that the contextuality of visual pleasure is foregrounded. Skaer’s elegant insertion offers us a glimmer of other potentialities for art’s place in the contemporary world — rather than consisting of rarefied objects, art might occur in the ephemeral ruptures of everyday life, in forms surprising, slippery, and stunning.

 

2013: The Year According to Experimental Jetset

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from multimedia artist Ralph Lemon and spoken word artist Dessa to designer Martine Syms and musician Greg Tate — to share their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to     […]

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To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from multimedia artist Ralph Lemon and spoken word artist Dessa to designer Martine Syms and musician Greg Tate — to share their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to                                 .

 

Based in Amsterdam and founded in 1997 by Marieke Stolk, Erwin Brinkers, and Danny van den Dungen, Experimental Jetset has been consistently reinterpreting the implications of modernism, often from a countercultural perspective. The studio is perhaps best known to US audiences from their appearance in the documentary Helvetica (2007) and their dogmatic use of that typeface has become a defining aspect of their work and has influenced new generations of graphic designers. Experimental Jetset’s iconic print work explores ways in which we are both shaped by and help shape our material environment. Projects for cultural clients include most recently the new identity for the Whitney Museum of American Art, and collaborations with the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, Purple Institute, Centre Pompidou, Colette, Dutch Post Group, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Le Cent Quatre, De Theatercompagnie, and 2K/Gingham, which released their iconic John&Paul&Ringo&George T-shirt design. The studio’s work has been exhibited in galleries across the world — including the Walker’s 2011 exhibition Graphic Design: Now in Production — and in 2007 New York’s Museum of Modern Art acquired a large selection of their projects for inclusion in its permanent collection. Since 2000, members of Experimental Jetset have been teaching at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam.

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The Deposition of Richard Prince

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True, this paperback was published in 2012, but we only got around to reading it in 2013. Edited by Greg Allen, and designed by Lex Trueb, The Deposition of Richard Prince is basically a transcript of an oral testimony Prince was forced to give as part of a copyright infringement lawsuit against him, back in 2009. Part legal thriller, part artist monograph, The Deposition lays bare Prince’s education, artistic history, influences and methodology. We were already huge admirers of Prince, but after reading this book, we respect him even more. Even in the face of the harshest criticism (in this case, juridical criticism), Prince remains true to himself, and punk as fuck. (Illustration: The Deposition of Richard Prince (published by Bookhorse), as shown on the website of Motto Distribution.)

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Guy Debord: Un Art de la Guerre

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Taking place from March 27 to July 13, 2013, at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Guy Debord: Un Art de la Guerre was basically an exhibition built around the personal archive of Debord, as acquired in 2011 from his widow, Alice Becker-Ho. It showcased a wealth of material: from Lettrist and Situationist pamphlets to Constant’s New Babylonic scale models, from Asger Jorn’s Cobra-period paintings to the protest posters of May ’68. There was also a large selection of photographs by the Dutch photographer Ed van der Elsken (from his Love on the Left Bank series), drawings by Jacqueline de Jong, and even some Provo-related material. Needless to say, it was quite a powerful experience to come across such a large collection of artifacts related to the individuals and movements who have influenced our ways of working and thinking so profoundly. (The exhibition also came with a really good catalogue, published by Gallimard). (Illustration: front of the catalogue, designed by Martin Corbasson.)

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Mulatu Astatke, live at the Bimhuis

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Malatu Astatke (whose work some readers might know through compilations such as Ethiopiques 4, or else through the soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers) is probably most famous for his cool, vibraphonic Ethiopian jazz. However, when performing live, Astake and his band are not afraid to turn these iconic compositions inside-out, and transform them into complete free-jazz/improv freak-outs. The show we attended (November 28, 2013, at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam) also featured a post-gig DJ-set by Terry Ex (of The Ex), so yeah – it was pretty much a perfect night. (Illustration: sleeve art of Mulatu Astatke: New York, Addis, London, designed by Matt Thame.)

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Lawrence Weiner lecture, Stedelijk Museum

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The talk by Lawrence Weiner, that took place on September 21, 2013, at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, turned out to be quite an inspiring event. Introduced by curator Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen, it featured Lawrence Weiner being interviewed by Ann Goldstein (of the Stedelijk) and Soledad Gutierrez (of MACBA), discussing a wide variety of subjects: marks and notations, drawing as a form of navigation, the relationship between people, objects and language, the surplus value of art in society, the egalitarian potential of the pixel, the gestural benefits of folded paper, just to mention a few. We walked away from that lecture truly electrified. (Photo: Written on the Wind, Lawrence Weiner at the Stedelijk Museum.)

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Glasgow in general

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Invited by LongLunch (a group of Scottish designers organizing lectures in Glasgow and Edinburgh), we did a talk at the Lighthouse in Glasgow, which took place on June 20, 2013. Although the lecture itself went okay-ish (we’re not really strong speakers), we really loved the city. So many good record stores, art spaces, bars, venues, and vegan restaurants (Mono, Stereo, The 78, Saramago, etc.). We bought zines at Good Press, rode the Clockwork Orange, did a tour through the GSA, visited the Glasgow Press, and attended a very interesting symposium at the CCA (featuring speakers like Simon Reynolds, Paul Morley, Olia Lialina, and James Bridle). The only thing we didn’t manage to do was paying a visit to Little Sparta, the garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay (situated just outside of Glasgow) – but we’ll do that next time. (Illustration: the poster we designed for our lecture in Glasgow, as photographed by LongLunch.)

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Teaching

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We used to teach at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, between 2000 and 2010 – and then we decided to quit, for several reasons. In 2013, we were asked to teach again, at both the Rietveld Academie (Amsterdam) and the Werkplaats Typografie (Arnhem) – and, much to our own surprise, we said yes. We are glad we accepted these invitations to teach – it’s simultaneously rewarding and refreshing to be involved in the dynamics of teaching again. (Illustration: detail of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie building, as shown on the website of the academy.)

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Whitney Halloween

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Although the graphic identity we developed for the Whitney Museum was launched in 2013, we actually designed it in 2012 (in fact, we started even earlier, in 2011). So in that sense, we personally associate the Whitney more with the year 2012 than with 2013. However, 2013 is the year we first saw the graphic identity being applied by others, namely the Whitney in-house graphic design team (headed by the brilliant Hilary Greenbaum). And we have to admit, it was only then that we felt the whole thing really came alive. The Whitney designers excelled themselves – they really managed to make the graphic identity their own, coming up with results we never even dreamed of. A good example (of the way they seized the graphic identity) is the material that they produced on the occasion of Halloween 2013, including carved pumpkins, goodie bags and window stickers. (Illustration: bats and ghosts on the glass of the Whitney’s lower gallery, as photographed by Matthew Carasella.)

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Vegan Paris

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We’ve always loved Paris, but after we visited it in 2013, and noticed the recent increase of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, we love it even more. There seem to be dozens of (relatively) new places around – from vegetarian French cuisine (Gentle Gourmet Café, Soya, etc.) to herbivore fast food (e.g., East Side Burgers, M.O.B.). Certainly adds an interesting new dimension to Paris, at least in our view. (Illustration: photo of the “facade” of East Side Burgers, as shown on their website.)

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Einstein on the Beach

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Seeing the 2012 production of Einstein on the Beach, as performed in January 2013 at Het Muziektheater in Amsterdam, was certainly a personal highlight. Directed by Robert Wilson, composed by Philip Glass and choreographed by Lucinda Childs, this reworked version of the classic 1976 opera managed to take our breath away, for five solid hours. We know, that’s physically impossible – but you get the idea. (Illustration: promotional photo for Einstein on the Beach, 2012.)

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Punk 45: Kill the Hippies! Kill Yourself!

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The full title being Punk 45: Kill the Hippies! Kill Yourself! The American Nation Destroys its Young – Underground Punk in the United States of America, Vol. 1, 1973–1980, this double album offers an unbeatable selection of US punk, post-punk and proto-punk singles – solidly compiled (and packaged) by Soul Jazz Records, as they always do. In fact, we are listening to the album right now, as we’re compiling this Top Ten list. (Soul Jazz Records have also released an accompanying 400-page book, ‘Punk 45: The Singles Cover Art of Punk, 1976-1980′, featuring full-size reproductions of sleeve designs, and an essay by Jon Savage – but we haven’t had the chance to take a look at it yet). (Illustration: cover of Punk 45: Kill the Hippies! Kill Yourself!, designed by Adrian Self.)

 

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Moving our studio

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Last summer, we relocated our studio – which turned out to be quite an intense undertaking. After a four-year-period (1997–2001) at the Domselaerstraat (where we actually worked from Marieke’s living room), and twelve years at the Jan Hanzenstraat (2001–2013), we are currently located at the Vinkenstraat. So yeah, zip-code-wise, we traveled from 1093 to 1053 to 1013 (all safely within the borders of Amsterdam). The move took a lot of time and energy (and in fact, there are still stacks of boxes we have to unpack), but it sure was worth it. A new space, a new neighbourhood (“De Jordaan”), a new walking/biking route: guaranteed to keep things fresh and interesting. Or at least chaotic. (Illustration: Photo of our old studio [in the Jan Hanzenstraat], showing units ready to be moved.)

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Karina Bisch’s Kiosk

Unknown-10On June 29, 2013, we were in Lyon for the unveiling of Kiosk, a large public artwork created by the French artist Karina Bisch. Basically a huge open pavilion, the sculpture consists of reproduced fragments of iconic modernist architecture, pieced together in an almost Frankenstein-like way. As a disclaimer, we have to admit that we were somewhat involved in this project (for Kiosk, we designed a series of posters, a publication, and some lettering on the pavilion). But even if we wouldn’t have been involved, we would still count Kiosk as one of the highlights of 2013. Honestly. (Photo of Karina Bisch, standing inside her sculpture.)

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REDO Conference, Prishtina

Unknown-11REDO was an international graphic design confererence that took place in Prishtina (or Pristina – apparently, both spellings are correct), between November 22 and 24, 2013. The event had a bit of a pro-situ/dérive/flaneur-like theme, the line-up included two of our favourite studios (Our Polite Society and Mevis & Van Deursen), and some of the lectures took place in a really interesting building – the National Library of Kosovo. The thing is: we weren’t there. We were actually invited to speak, but we were simply too busy to accept this invitation. So we just couldn’t make it to Prishtina, much to our own regret. But we are certain that if we could have made it, it would have been one of our highlights of 2013. (Photo: Matthias and Jens (of Our Polite Society) and Linda (of Mevis & Van Deursen), standing in front of the National Library. We should have been standing there as well. But, alas.)

2013: The Year According to Shannon Michael Cane

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from painter Matt Connors and spoken word artist Dessa to design firm Experimental Jetset and musician Greg Tate — to share their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to     […]

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To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from painter Matt Connors and spoken word artist Dessa to design firm Experimental Jetset and musician Greg Tate — to share their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to                                 . 

 

As the director of the Printed Matter NY and LA Art Book Fairs and curator of editions, Shannon Michael Cane exists at the epicenter of the book making world, acting as a liaison between independent book publishers, artists, institutions, and the public. Printed Matter is the world’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of publications made by artists. Cane has also worked as an editor and publisher, founding the queer art zine They Shoot Homos Don’t They? in 2005, and writing for magazines such as BUTT, Little Joe, and Straight to Hell. Here are Shannon Michael Cane’s top 10 artist books of 2013:

 

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Malicious Damage by Ilsa Colsell

An amazing collection of collages by Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell involving hundreds of Islington Library’s book stock. Once caught, the pair were sentenced to jail for ‘larceny, malicious damage and wilful damage’. Published by Donlon Books, London.

 

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Sender by Peter Sutherland

Throughout this body of work, Sutherland reimagines visual culture as a psychedelic network of photographic overlays known as “dypsets.” Published by Printed Matter Inc., NYC.

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I Just Know That Something Good Is Going To Happen, Just Saying It Could Even Make It Happen by Marc Hundley

A collection of eight loose-leaf color posters referencing Marc’s text-based work, the prints are bold and beautiful and focuses on positive song lyrics. Self Published, NYC.

 

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Male Dancers Wanted by Gilles Bonnecarrère

A beautiful collection of previously unpublished b/w photographs taken in a strip club in New York in 1976, a time when the city had a grittier side to it. Published by Editions Lutanie and Préféré, Paris.

 

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Frozen Chicken Train Wreck by Laurence Hamburger

A collection of 100% genuine newspaper billboard adverts from Johannesburg, collected over the last decade and printed on a risograph - outrageous and humorous. Published by Ditto Press, Chopped Liver Press, London.

 

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Woman/Object by Linder

A fanzine-style publication looking at the celebrated career of a protagonist of British punk; Linder Sterling. Published by Walther König, Köln.

 

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Blanks by Michael Max McLeod

A zine from the creator of Casual Encounters–a collection of photographs of empty road ride signs, some printed as a negative transparency on black paper. Self published, Arizona.

 

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Fundbüro by Marjolijn de Wit, Henriette Grahnert

A beautifully printed collection of photocopies and multi-coloured original screen prints on paper and transparent foil. Published by Lubok - Verlag, Germany.

 

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Book of Images by Brice Marden

A facsimile printing of a Brice Marden journal from 1970, with a random collection reference photos creating an insightful image bank. Published by Karma, NY.

 

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Studio / Space / Print / Time by Sam Falls

A collaboration between designer Duncan Hamilton and Sam Falls in which hand made rubbings of surfaces of the artists studio were re imaged via an offset printer. Published by Printed Matter Inc., NYC.

2013: The Year According to Badlands Unlimited (Paul Chan, Ian Cheng, Micaela Durand)

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from “conceptual entrepreneur” Martine Syms and spoken word artist Dessa to design firm Experimental Jetset and musician Greg Tate — to share their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to   […]

Man reading Badlands latest enhanced ebook "Think like Clouds" by Hans Ulrich Obrist. (224 pg, 2013), photo by Rachel Rose.

Man reading Badlands’ latest enhanced ebook Think Like Clouds by Hans Ulrich Obrist (224 pg, 2013). Photo: Rachel Rose

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from “conceptual entrepreneur” Martine Syms and spoken word artist Dessa to design firm Experimental Jetset and musician Greg Tate — to share their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to                                 . 

Individually, Paul Chan, Ian Cheng, and Micaela Durand have got to be among today’s hardest-working artists: Chan, recently shortlisted for the 2014 Hugo Boss Prize, will show his work at a survey at Schaulager in Basel, starting in April 2014. Badlands will co-publish two books by Chan with Schaulager to for the occasion: New New Testament and Paul Chan: Selected Writings 2000-2014Between writing gigs — like his contribution to Frieze‘s “Future Fictions” series on new forms of narrative — Cheng exhibits internationally, including a just-closed show at Standard (Oslo) and an upcoming show at Triennale di Milano. Durand makes online art and commentary through the collective BFFA3AE (which includes Daniel Chew and Matthew Gaffney); the group will be featured in a forthcoming show at MoMA PS1.

Collectively, the trio is known as Badlands Unlimited, an experimental venture that’s equal parts print publishing house, ebook developer, gif factory, and digital curator. Recent projects have ranged from a bodice-ripper romance novel inspired by Rep. Michele Bachmann to the enhanced ebook Marcel Duchamp: The Afternoon Interviews  by Calvin Tomkins, a compendium of Saddam Hussein’s democracy speeches from the 1970s to a volume of jottings, notes, and mind maps created by curator Hans Ulrich Obrist.

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RIP: Chris Marker

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Chris Marker is dead. Long live Chris Marker!

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Rolling Jubilee

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Occupy debt buys debt to free ppl from billz.

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Space tweets

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Astronauts on Twitter, literally tweeting from space. Pick up where Gravity left off.

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RIP: Mike Kelley

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Mike Kelley is dead. Long live Mike Kelley.

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Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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The revolution lives on!

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Drunk cop in GTA V

Artificial intelligent existential crisis in Grand Theft Auto V.

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OR Books

Screen shot 2014-01-08 at 10.35.14 AMIn 2013, OR Books published some of the best books on paper and screen.

 

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Uline box resizer

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The best new Badlands office equipment of 2013.

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House of Versace 

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Lifetime’s series, starring Gina Gershon as Donatella. Genre: True story.

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The Highest Poverty 

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Giorgio Agamben’s latest. How to live in 2014.

2013: The Year According to Martine Syms

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from painter Matt Connors and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and musician Greg Tate — to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According […]

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To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from painter Matt Connors and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and musician Greg Tate — to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to                                 . 

“I’m a web designer, mostly,” said Martine Syms as she began her talk at SXSW Interactive last March. Based in Los Angeles, she’s also a graphic designer, “conceptual entrepreneur,” net artist, and thinker on themes from contemporary art practice to Afrofuturism, queer theory to race — the topic of her SXSW presentation, “Black Vernacular: Reading New Media Art.”  She asked audiences in Austin: “What does it mean for a black woman to make minimal, masculine net art? What about this piece is ‘not black?’ Can my identity be expressed as an aesthetic quality?”

Syms will speak as part of the Walker’s Insights Design Lecture Series on March 18, 2014. Update: Here’s the full video of her talk.

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Frozen Chicken Train Wreck by Laurence Hamburger

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“All Blacks Are Brilliant.”

I bought this book on a whim. It was an instant favorite. Frozen Chicken Train Wreck gathers facsimiles of front pages from South African tabloids into a gorgeous book object. The absurd headlines conjure surrealist writing and the OuLiPo movement, but also remind me of Teju Cole’s “Small Fates” project. Sourced from the author’s personal archive, the book celebrates a vernacular art form.

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 Further Considerations on Afrofuturism by Kodwo Eshun

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“Black existence and science fiction are one and the same.”

I’ve always been a fan of sci-fi films and spacey sounds, but never concerned myself with the literary form. This year I was invited to consider what it feels like to live in the future by the Faustus Group, write about our shifting values for OMNI Reboot, and talk about being black in the 21st Century for the “Black Radical Imagination” film series at REDCAT. A friend recently sent me a link to Further Considerations on Afrofuturism [pdf], the 2003 essay by Kodwo Eshun, and now it all makes sense to me. Once you start to speculate, you can never stop.

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 Can Jokes Bring Down Governments? by Metahaven

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“We consider a designer here to be any form-maker, regardless of material; design is merely a few decisions on a form and its boundary — in jokes, this consists of what is said, and importantly, what is not said.”

I’m obsessed with this treatise on comedic resistance. I wish I’d written it. Monty Python imagined a joke that could kill, Jimmy Fallon envisions one that will blow your ass off, and in this short text Metahaven give new meaning to the phrase “laugh riot.” I’ve added this e-book to my “uses of comedy” bookshelf alongside Paul Beatty’s anthology Hokum and David Robbins’ Concrete Comedy. I daydream about ditching graphic design to write jokes, but maybe I should take it more seriously.

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Mass Effect by Lauren Cornell and Ed Halter

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 12.42.58 AM“Now, artists working with media or appropriation regularly disappear into a fractured, if public, media system and re-emerge in art… In this context, attitudes between an artistic or private ‘me’ and a corporate or public ‘them’ have broken down.”

Couldn’t you argue that this line of work — seeing culture as the new nature — not only acknowledges the logic of the market, but basically endorses it, refuses to offer any idea beyond it? … They’re all winking at consumerism while celebrating its emotional effects and the pleasure of its surfaces, and they all give their own kind of shout-outs to the art world.”

I used to think capitalism could offer freedom, but I’ve changed my mind. In this conversation, curators Lauren Cornell and Ed Halter discuss the implications of art’s mass appeal. Is it still possible to sell out? If being an artist is suddenly of value to the so-called creative industry, should I take the money and run? Can anything I make within that context ever be art? If I’m able to share my ideas with millions of people, does it even matter? I haven’t found the answers, but this conversation asks all the right questions.

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A Rising Tide Lifts All Yachts by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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“I am not just a romantic, I am a committed one. That is to say, I believe in the importance, not just in feeling things, but in following those feelings through. Should that following lead you to disaster, it can never make you wrong. It can only make you a traveler.”

I’ve been a reader of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ popular blog for a while. I’m not a commenter, but I like to think I’m in dialogue with him. Sometimes I write in response to his posts. I love his writing because he remains levelheaded, while allowing himself to express emotion. His work always reminds me that it’s okay to feel some type of way. Though Coates’ entire blog is worth reading from beginning to end, this year I was particularly excited by “The TNC Futility” series in which he outlines (with data) how racist policy was designed to destroy black wealth. To quote Michael Jackson, “You can’t win, Child / You can’t break even / And you can’t get out of the game.”

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“Further Materials Toward a Theory of the Man-Child” by Moira Weigel and Mal Ahern

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“The Man-Child wants you to know that you should not take him too seriously, except when you should. At any given moment, he wants to you to take him only as seriously as he wants to be taken. When he offends you, he was kidding. When he means it, he means it. What he says goes.”

This is a bro’s world, but it wouldn’t be nothing — nothing — without The Grown Woman. Moira Weigal and Mal Ahern’s indictment of the beloved Man-Child had me tweeting from the rooftop. Their thoughtful analysis details how affective labor has stripped both sexes of humanity. Having it all is a death sentence without more imagination and more courage from everyone.

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Greatest Hits by Matthias “Wolfboy” Connor

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“I didn’t always do nothing; I used to be someone who did something.”

Matthias “Wolfboy” Connor’s Greatest Hits is depressingly hilarious. It’s a collection of first-person fiction that follows a motley crew of neurotic narrators. Connor tells stories about the constant malaise that accompanies contemporary existence. I couldn’t stop thinking about “Cool Shoes,” which details the rise and fall of a notable sneakerhead. It hit me hard. I remember wanting to be a shop girl.

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Interview between Gordon Hall and Colin Self

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 12.27.02 AMI am so interested in these moments of refusal to identify oneself, or silence or blankness or vagueness as possible modes of resisitance to an identity-based assimilationist political structure. There has to be room to not answer a question, or change the subject, or make a gesture instead of speaking and so on.

I am in love with this interview between artists Gordon Hall and Colin Self from Randy Magazine, a self-described “celebration and critique of the queer arts.” In this dialogue, Hall and Self begin with their initial encounter on the dance floor and wind through radical politics, minimalism, ritual, and performance.

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Little Joe magazine

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“Mike, I hope it will be lewd and nude.”

My friends know me as a bibliophile, and anytime I’m asked about magazines I have two words: Little Joe. It’s the best. The writing is excellent, the design is phenomenal, it’s critical, but fun, and I learn something from each issue. Speaking of which, if you have issue one — call me. Will pay top dollar.

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Stray Light by David Hartt

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“I’m not interested in the decisive moment, I’m interested in this perpetual moment that we can never experience.”

David Hartt’s images are “slow-moving and awkward.” They take time to make and require an equally durational consumption. Hartt was given unlimited access to the historic Johnson Publishing Building on Michigan Avenue, a monument to black imagination. Continuing his ongoing investigation of vernacular utopias, Stray Light catalogs the meditative photo and film work, alongside a conversation with scholar Darby English.

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