Sunday, January 29, 2012

Furniture of the mind: Eric Ku

Eric Ku, Chair/Chair, 2009, in the Walker Art Center’s Graphic Design: Now in Production. The exhibition documentation label adjacent to the piece states:
Eric Ku’s Chair is made from pieces that when taken apart, spell out the word “chair”.  Ku was inspired by a famous work by conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth. One and Three Chairs (1965). Kosuth placed a real chair in the gallery next to a photograph of the same chair (photographed in that gallery) and a definition from a dictionary. 
Regarding his conceptual artwork, Joseph Kosuth has said:
Fundamental to this idea of art is the understanding of the linguistic nature of all art propositions, be they past or present, and regardless of the elements used in their construction. 

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Michiel Schuurman’s posters—near-sighted legibility and far-sighted readability

The highly ambitious exhibition, “Graphic Design: Now in Production” recently completed its run (1.22.12) at Walker Art Center. Included in the show was an intriguing triptych set of posters by Dutch graphic designer, Michiel Schuurman. The pieces were designed over a two-year period from 2007–08 for “HorseMoveProjectSpace” in Amsterdam.

Schuurman’s poster designs cleverly synthesize and magnetize the graphics so that the viewer is able to read the information through accessibility of the text. As an analogy—Schuurman’s posters are characterized by near-sighted legibility and far-sighted readability. The poster series promote the “Horse Move Project”, which was an art collaborative project implemented in 2007-08.

The Mediamatic website states this about the project:
The “HorseMoveProjectSpace” is an initiative of three young artists who organized and developed collaborative art projects and exhibitions. They have utilized an abandoned space next to the Post CS building in a, site-sensitive, site-specific way. The project space is correlated with the Stedelijk Museum, W139, and Mediamatic.

For the next three months artists will be invited (the invited artist invites the next artist) in an ongoing exhibition named The Horse Move Project. The project outcome is an additive process, which creates an amalgamation from the exhibited artwork(s) left by the previous artists.
Schuurman’s website interestingly conveys a summary of his work:
[Michiel] is a Dutch graphic designer working in Amsterdam. Schuurman’s personal work specializes in typography and poster design, which often boasts a rather maximalistic approach. His practice of combining bright colors, warped glyphs, harsh perspectives, and acidic patterns creates some awfully intriguing eye-candy, which he often screen prints himself.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Interrelations between writing and typography

cover design—Gerrit Noordzij, The Stroke: Theory of Writing

The beauty of letters, whether handwritten or typographic, is that they constitute the black shape and white space of both letter-making forms. The counter form or inner parts of letters and the surrounding white or negative space are integral to the positive black shapes of the letter and word.

Dutch typographer, Gerrit Noordzij writes admirably about this interrelation of positive and negative letter forms in his book, The Stroke: Theory of Writing (2006) (translated by Peter Enneson):
Current studies of writing do not attend to the white of the word, but to the black of the letter. Consequently considerations of writing exhaust themselves in the exploration of superficial differences. The universal vantage point that renders handwriting and typographic letters comparable is not to be found in the black of the letter. The black of a typographic letter is so different from the black of a handwritten letter that as strict comparatives they appear incommensurate. Wherever typography concerns itself only with the black shapes of the prefabricated letters printable on paper, the academic study of writing is coerced into separating the consideration of handwriting from a history of type. (p.17)  
Both writing and typography utilize the relationship in two-dimensional design of the figure and ground design elements. This means that the contrast of negative forms is of equal value to the positive shapes. In letter and word construction the contrast of the black encircled by the white surface or visa versa are enriched with tension.

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Gerrit Noordzij: having a good time when you’re teaching

Above is a Vimeo frame still of Gerrit Noordzij as he’s sketching and explaining the design of letterforms during his talk at TypeMedia on 25 March 2010. Erik van Blokland posted the video.

Noordzij is the renowned graphic designer and teacher at the Dutch Royal Academy of Art, The Hague. A great little book titled, The Stroke: Theory of Writing (1985) was written by Gerrit Noordzij and translated fairly recently by Peter Enneson (thank you, Peter). The publisher, Hyphen Press, states, “The Stroke stands out as the most concise and complete summary of Noordzij’s theories on type.”

In an excerpt from an interview with Robin Kinross, Noordzij describes how he teaches his “binary system” to students — Noordzij prefaces:
… any writing of any civilization begins with the stroke, and the stroke is made with the tool [brush or pen], and if you have a stiff tool, then the shape of the tool dominates the character of your writing, and with a soft tool the impulse of your hand dominates the writing.
Noordzij continues to explain:
I always found it very nice to ask my students “is it this? or is it that?”… It’s a nice method. It’s the binary tree.… My system is good for finding your way in design.…
The journalist Margaret Richardson once asked me what my main objective was in teaching. I said, to have a good time. She thought that I was not serious. But I said I was serious. And why did I want to have a good time? As a teacher you can only have a good time when your students are sure that they have a good time. I tried to find things that the students found interesting. Thought-provoking things are always the best; they like that.
I wanted to ask my students to study the book Printing Types by [D.B.] Updike. Then after three weeks I would ask them about it. In my classes we didn’t have what is called a ‘discipline’. Imagine that you go to your students, show them these impressive thick volumes, and say that you will ask them about the book in three weeks’ time. What do they say? “Oh, that's too much! We have so many things to do!” I just took a paragraph from the book and read it aloud. They started laughing. I said: “how do you think that this man could be so famous and yet say such stupid things?” The next day they were crowding around me with quotations and arguments. Just ask a student to find the faults in Updike or in Morison or in me, and they will bring you arguments.
It is just as with a child playing a game. I think that many students have the feeling, often unconsciously, that playing this game could be important for everything else in their lives. It may not really go to the heart of the matter, nevertheless it’s a good problem for a school. It’s a problem that can be a metaphor for your real problems, and because it's just a metaphor you can play with it. Then the only thing that you have to do as a teacher is watch, and show that you are present. So that when people are doing dangerous things, they can afford the risk, because you are there. When you are at the back of the class, sometimes you see somebody look to see if you are still there. That keeps you alive, or at least it gives you a good time.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Oded Ezer: “Biotypography”—imaginative discovery rather than pragmatism

The pieces shown above (top) Tipografya poster, 2003 and Helvetica Live! poster, 2008 were designed by Oded Ezer of Tel Aviv. Currently, the posters are included in an exhibition titled, Graphic Design: Now in Production, which is on display until 22 January 2012 at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Here’s an observation of the Walker exhibition catalog by Rick Poynor.

The “Tipografya” poster showcases the Frankrhulia type design, which is motivated by the adaptation of the classic Berthold’s “Frank Ruehl” Hebrew font. Ezer’s poster features the logotype for the Hebrew word for typography. Oded’s letter designs carry on the very fine Hebraic typography tradition. Traditional Pentateuch Hebrew typography fully appreciates the design elements of the letter, the word, and the book. Perhaps the essence of Hebrew type design is artistry that concentrates, like the Psalmist, “the inner soul of the poet and musician.” [1]

Oded has coined the term Biotypography in reference to the organic nature and “bio”-diversity of his typographic work. Paola Antonelli writes about this synthesis of art and science:
Ezer thinks that since, very often, a type designer chooses a typeface for its ability to embody and render the feeling of a project, the step from object to creature is direct and typefaces should really become living, biological beings. As he explains it, “The term Biotypography refers to any application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof to create [to make] or modify typographical phenomena.” [2]
Ezer’s beautifully eccentric typographic designs are mainly about the impact of visual form and expression. The compelling detail in his work are the accentuated appendages that simulate moving legs and antennae. These posters also allude to the mutual feature of ubiquity suggested by the “Frank Ruehl” Hebrew text font style and the font Helvetica. Both are still widely used today. Although unintentional, it’s fascinating how one’s reflection faintly merges with the framed glass of the pieces that are in the Walker exhibition.
  1. Antonelli, Paola. “The Typographer’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Design Observer: Observatory. Ed. Michael Bierut, William Drenttel, Jessica Helfand, Julie Lasky, and Nancy Levinson. The Design Observer Group, 16 June 2008. Web. 11 Jan. 2012. Here’s the link.
  2. Ibid.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dordt’s Campus Center Art Gallery features Canadian-inspired landscapes—Chris Stoffel Overvoorde: “The Alberta Drawings”

Above image:  Looking North From Highway 3, Near Fort Mcleod, Alberta, 1993.
Twenty-five pieces from The Alberta Drawings collection are on loan from the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM). Image: © Chris Stoffel Overvoorde / GRAM

This is from a Dordt College News Release:
“I was called to be a Christian, and the best way I know how to be a Christian is to be an artist,” said Chris Stoffel Overvoorde of his work.  
Overvoorde is an artist and professor emeritus who has brought his artistic vision to the campus of Dordt College. On display in the Campus Center Art Gallery through January 27. The artwork on display is from his collection titled The Alberta Drawings. All of the pieces in this series were created in a square format on paper, which presented a unique challenge because of the natural horizontal format of the landscape itself. The contrast illustrates the unnatural ways that man has superimposed himself on nature. 
Inspired by the wide-open spaces of the Canadian prairie, Overvoorde made several trips to Alberta while creating his oil sketches, watercolors, and drawings. “When you stand in a field of grain, and you see nothing else for miles but a faint distant horizon, you get a new perspective on who you are in relation to nature and how you are related to God,” he said.  
Overvoorde studied at Kendall College of Art and Design and at the University of Michigan. He has studied printmaking and painting with such well-known artists as Harry Brorby, Frank Cassara, Emil Weddige, and Bill Lewis. He has received more than 40 awards and has had over 50 solo exhibits in the United States, Canada, and The Netherlands. In addition to his work as artist, Overvoorde has worked as an art professor at Calvin College and as artist-in-residence in collaboration with the University of Lethbridge in Alberta.  
Dordt College’s art faculty is especially pleased to welcome Overvoorde. “Both Jake Van Wyk and I had Chris Overvoorde as a teacher at Calvin College when we were undergraduates there,” said David Versluis, professor of art at Dordt College. “Chris was a very important mentor for both of us.” 
In addition to The Alberta Drawings, four pieces from the “Prophet, Priest, and King” series from the Dordt College Permanent Collection will be displayed just outside the gallery.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Maureen Mooren: “The Walker Art Center’s Graphic Design: Now in Production”

On exhibit at the Walker Art Center in Minneopolis is the Marres Identity System designed by Maureen Mooren. Marres is the name of the Centre for Contemporary Culture in Maastricht, the Netherlands. Also included in the Walker installation are Mooren’s 2008 poster designs for “Marres in Between: This is Not a Damien Hirst.”

It’s interesting how the dexterity of graphic identity systems has changed over the last 60 years to become more agile and flexible, particularly in the digital age. For many years graphic identity in the form of standard and consistent logo use followed the adage, “repetition makes reputation.” Obviously, the Marres identity is for a cultural organization; cultural institutions at times can be less stiff compared to “big brand” graphic identities.

In the Graphic Design: Now in Production exhibition, catalog co-curator Ellen Lupton writes: “Graphic designer Maureen Mooren designed an identity for Marres, … that consists of multiple renditions of the center’s name. Presented in black and white most of the logo variants employ drawn or constructed letterforms rather than existing typefaces. Mooren aimed to express the open curatorial program of Marres, countering the fixed institutional voice.” [1]

This is Not a Damien Hirst” promotional posters indicate the Marres identity in promotional pieces. The Marres’ posters advertise the event, which focused on the work “For the Love of God” by Damien Hirst that was presented simultaneously at both the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and Maastrict. The event highlighted the devotional objects and art from the collection of the St-Servaes Church in Maastricht.
  1. Blauvelt, Andrew, and Ellen Lupton, eds. Graphic Design: Now in Production. Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2011. 201. Print.

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