- 27th International Biennial of Graphic Design Brno 2016
BB The International Exhibition, traditional part of the Brno Biennial since its inception in 1964, is exceptional in its approach this time. Until now, the authors were sending their work physically to the Moravian Gallery in Brno and the juries were selecting from the ‘real’ exhibits. In this edition of the Biennial, the authors were asked to submit documentation of their projects digitally in the form of 5-page PDF. The Selection Jury, which you have been members of, was selecting the exhibits only on the basis of printed documentation.
This is somewhat controversial as physical aspect of any design object is of course its integral and, some say, inseparable part. How did you perceive this condition? Could you point out how it might have influenced your work as a jury?
Serge Rompza This year the selection jury consisted of five members: Oliver Klimpel, Tereza Rullerová, Willi Schmid, Ľubica Segečová and myself. We spent two intense, extraordinary days selecting 50 projects out of 900 entries. Due to the large number of entries we had to organize a structured daily schedule to be able to look at every single project carefully. The works were originally submitted in PDF format and were printed out for the selection process. To get an idea of each individual approach, we evaluated the highly diverse description texts and photo documentation. The fact that a project was represented – and not available as an original – clearly affected the jury’s decisions. Physical aspects, like typographic details and materiality, were hard to judge. Considering this, it’s clear that the form of the presentation becomes an essential part of the project. An effective descriptive text can push an idea, and a considered photographic approach can guide your attention to details that matter. On the other hand, we strove to avoid being negatively influenced by a bad presentation if we thought a work had value.
Tereza Rullerová An electronic application process made our work much easier. Within 2 days we had to go through, discuss, assess and filter around 900 projects and book series! I cannot imagine going through thousands of various items of printed matter. At the same time, as you mention, the physical form is an inseparable part of graphic design. In many cases where we were already considering whether to release a project to the final selection, we missed the physical presence of the object.
In the mass of received applications I was also fascinated by their design. Some approached the pdf itself as additional space for the expansion of their design, some as a new project while others as a classic ‘studio house-style A4 template’.
Ľubica Segečová At the first moment this method seemed to be restrictive as it was impossible to assess, for example, how material and the visuals fit together (in the case of books, etc.). But during the two days that we spent carefully reading and inspecting the works from the applications I realized that it was the other way round. This way of making the applications more ‘democratic’ finally showed itself to be much more objective. The unified and to a considerable extent limited method of presentation of the projects, suddenly places greater demands on their presentation. The works were left to depend on the way in which their author succeeds in communicating, through a short text and a few pictures, their essence, quality and point. It was essentially the classic dilemma of a graphic designer that he tackles during the presentation of his work (portfolio, web, brief, etc.) of how to present his graphic design through graphic design.
BB Typically there is between 300–600 works selected for the International Exhibition. In this edition of the Biennial, with respect to the focus of the International Exhibition on ‘small sets, editions, visual identities and long-term collaborations’, the limit of the number of exhibits has been set to 50 projects (out of almost 900 submitted entries). Was it difficult for you to make, at least when compared to previous editions, such a narrow selection?
Willi Schmid The problem was not limiting our selection to a certain number. The opposite was the case: We had difficulty finding fifty works that met all of our selection criteria.
Oliver Klimpel I feel it was less an issue to end up with a certain number of works – but rather finding some interesting relationships or positive frictions between them. This seemed particularly sensible considering the final presentation in the exhibition display-box, which we couldn’t view yet. We looked for a good squad, a team of differences, that would allow another perspective of what graphics is today. I suppose, a smaller number turn the selection into a more programmatic project, inevitably.
I see it rather less as a ‘best of show’, a display of comparable performances, an Olympics of graphics that aims to display the current best crop, or what in the 90s was called ‘cutting edge’.
Since our discipline is eventually (!) diversifying in its models of work, it also requires a stronger role of the curatorial, of which there are many ways, in taking a particular look at and discussing the work undertaken worldwide in this regard.
BB We are aware this is a difficult question, yet we keep asking it – have you been able to identify or even agree on a set of criteria for projects that you have decided to select for the exhibition?
ĽS The specification of the criteria, or they were more like wishes, what we wanted to have in the final selection, ran in a very natural way and agreement was reached by consensus. In the selection we wanted to have a range of approaches, formal and conceptual, and a spectrum of clients, but all the time with high demands on conscious and intelligent solutions.
I was surprised by the complete absence of ‘new approaches’ to the notion of ‘identity’. At present, when communication channels change very quickly and in particular more and more move away from physical media, graphic designers succumb to some strange sentiments. It was also evident in the sample of 900 authors who applied. And this is in spite of the fact that the Biennial has a clear target group – designers who work in the cultural sphere or on their own projects where a high degree of autonomy of the graphic designer is expected.
SR Overall, we saw our task as striking an interesting balance between established and emerging designers, concept-based works and projects with an emphasis on craft or experimentation. We opted to give a stage to positions that hadn’t been exposed to the public as much, and allow some alternatives and works from the margins to be seen, instead of just already well-publicised design and designers. We also found it important to include submissions highlighting particular issues of current design practice we wished to bring to the fore, i.e. the often anonymous work of in-house design teams, or fringe design that operates outside agreed formal codes.
As required, our choices were strongly linked to this year’s decision by the organisers for a rather different exhibition concept and display, with all the resultant new opportunities and occasional limitations. We faced the exciting process of selection – with the development of the final exhibits in the consistent displays still ahead. The Biennial visitors in mind, we were drawn in our selection to projects that could excel in such a display environment. Now we are very curious and are looking forward to the final presentation.
We have tried to produce, through our selection, an insightful portrait of practice, to celebrate its exploration and to instigate discussion. In that, and with this short explanation of our process, we hope both to inspire and demystify graphic design and its evaluation.
BB How do you see this type of submission-based exhibitions? Where lies their value? Does it even still make sense to hold open call exhibitions of graphic design? Should graphic design be exhibited in a gallery context?
OK In principle, I like, from a political perspective, the idea of maintaining a certain level of permeability, allowing works from very different contexts, including fringe and less-networked peoples’ work from different nations and communities to be seen. With different formats one could exploit the dramatically widened appeal of graphic design, to explore its extreme manifestations next to one another. Including outsider-graphics, or inhouse-graphics-culture, or the potentials of very commercial but strategic graphic languages. There is a place for the open-call. And it is currently the only way of recruiting larger quantities of work, since the very few collections of design work that exist clearly do not represent the range of practices we have around…
However, as I pointed out before when I mentioned the role of the curatorial, I see it increasingly important how design is framed, presented and narrated. In other words, I find it important how things are shown when it is shown. And in which language we are using to talk about graphic work. In galleries, museums, trade fairs, private collections, Kunsthallen. In classrooms, clubs or magazines. There is no sacrilegious way of showing graphic design. But also in exhibitions it becomes more and more a task to deal adequately with the hybridic (and sometimes very complex) nature of graphic design and its implications – and if a particular work is to be positioned predominantly as a work of art, as a cultural (historical) artefact, or as a product to be purchased.
WS One consequence of open call competitions is usually a large number of submissions – and there tend to be major differences in the quality of the work. That means more work during the selection process, but you are rewarded again and again by surprising works that you otherwise might not have discovered. I consider that a benefit.
Showing the works in an exhibition could definitely make sense. With respect to the Brno Biennial, I see the exhibition as a framework that sets up a space – a space in which one encounters new people and ideas and encourages a dialogue. And this space is, in turn, part of a larger construct that is made up of additional components: the other exhibition projects, the Biennial Talks, the coffee breaks and the lunch breaks in between…
SR I don’t see why graphic design should not be exhibited in a gallery or museum context. A natural question to ask usually is which story is being told and how the design work should be displayed. Imitating context, like rebuilding a street situation within a museum in order to display a poster for example usually goes wrong, in my eyes. Many designers nowadays produce self-initiated work or work referring to the field of graphic design and visual culture, along with work bound to the designer-client relationship. The scope of exhibition opportunities is changing, with many institutions like the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts or the Walker Art Center creating remarkable platforms for the field of graphic design as part of their program. Open-call exhibitions, especially ones examining a subject and not bound to a high contribution fee, give an opportunity to lesser known designers to display their work to a broader audience; shaping the reception of a constantly changing discipline.
TR It does make sense as it anticipates activity by its openness. And in the case of the Brno Biennial the number of contributions received indicates that graphic design is still alive.
I think it is above all themes that belong in a contemporary gallery – and if we manage to disregard its apparent mediality, graphic design is a theme. Personally I am pleased that an originally superficial and service activity developed into a ‘high’ gallery form. Design waived one of its essences – utilitarianism and serviceability – but on the other hand, it adopted one of the privileges of free art – autonomy. Histories of design are drawn up, curators ask how to exhibit graphic design, coders become designers and vice versa, designers and artists compete as to who will discover the mythical boundary between design and art… and new generations of the youngest motivated students who believe that to be a graphic designer is as cool as in the nineties enter the scene. The continual transformation and paradoxes make graphic design incredibly interesting material for reflection.
ĽS The problem is that viewers have a tendency to approach these shows as ‘the best that has been created over the recent period’. If the input is based only on one way – and applications are sent by authors of the works themselves, the volume will always be a selection in some aspect. A selection of authors who for some reason find it important to apply for this or that show. Each show of this type has its fans and vice versa. To think about objectivity in these cases is totally wrong. Exhibiting graphic design seems to me more problematic than constructive as far as its reception on the part of the public is concerned. It is always a selection, chosen by a ‘jury’. Naturally, even if it’s a group of people, they have their preferences, their view of quality and their expectations. For this reason it is better when the jury is compatible and more opinionated, rather than appointed with the aim of variety, which as a final result may end up as ‘brown plasticine’ and its selection may be in the end more average than controversial but with an attitude. A result achieved by consensus is always more valuable than one reached by voting.
I have always perceived the Brno Biennial to be rather a forum than a show. I therefore tend to concentrate more on lectures and the curatorial sections.
BB This edition of the Brno Biennial responds to the metamorphoses and the state of contemporary graphic design; its multitude, variety, vagueness and apparent superficiality. Can you identify some of the basic parameters, current themes or motivations of contemporary graphic design?
TR Thanks to rapid technological and social changes the designers are forced to continually redefine their role, search for value in their work, define their relationship with non-designers and defend their competences. In a simplified manner I can define three contemporary trends – strategies. The first is the revival of craftsmanship – whether in the form where the designer is simultaneously the printer, or in an endeavour of the starting designers to claim their professional territory by reducing the means of expression to the fundamental and necessary – in that I am thinking of typography.
The second trend is a turn to action – from its theatrical form via participative happenings to interactivity – i.e. working with the activity of the viewer in general. And the last trend is attempting to win attention by intentionally breaking the canon, by producing apparent ugliness, pretending an absence of training.
ĽS There is quite a difference between what graphic design is trying to address and what it is going through in my immediate surroundings and abroad. On the home scene we are still in a situation where we need to explain to those around that intellectual work has value and that graphic design co-creates the cultural environment. It may be due to this (a feeling that we are on the same ship in opposition to the lay public) that the atmosphere on the scene seems to be like a safe haven out of the wind. I perceive this as a monochrome environment devoid of sufficient stimuli and ambitions. An environment which is more friendly than professional.
I even think that one can speak of a crisis in graphic design, which is manifested both by the fact that no ground-breaking things are being created and by the ‘barrier-free approach’ which is preferred to opinion and ambition. And I think this can be applied in general.
OK It has become very tasteful. The work is generally of pretty good standard. And it has indeed become a standard. In other words, we see a certain cultured way of homogeneity. Most material of the submissions for this Biennial were design works for the cultural sector. This is not surprising. This genre is setting the tone of contemporary graphics and dominates it stylistically. Unlike most recent tribal cultural communities that have historically shaped graphic languages and were claiming to be anything but mainstream, the current community is not a community of a fringe culture but a community of knowledge and network that often displays neoliberal patterns, perhaps again not surprisingly for a community of largely self-employed designers and small studio entrepreneurs…
That also applies to self- and indie-publishing, which seemed not so long ago a contemporary way of empowerment, and to a minor extent it obviously always will be. A too strong dependency on the arts and particularly art markets, which we can see clearly in today’s book-design, can also be problematic. And this dependency doesn’t show the criticality and resistance that independent graphic design could also occasionally embody. Since the economical discourse is always part of design, may it be the facilitator of the large corporation or the small entrepreneurial units in culture, we should also reflect these mechanisms in areas which are close to our heart and our tastes.
Today, unlike 10 years ago, I can also see myself some great potential in overlaps of some design positions with artistic practices. That is, because the overall scene of visual culture has also become, not least through the powerful image-shredding & glueing impact of the internet, discursively intertwined. Design should also, in its different ways, allow for some small glimpses of freedom and alternative, which art always promises and occasionally also delivers.
WS Among the submissions there were many works from the cultural sphere, related to museums, galleries, festivals, or to cultural institutions in general, but also a number of works that were produced in an educational setting. That makes it difficult in this context to generalize about developments in contemporary graphic design. But, even within the scope of this year’s submissions, I can’t really make out any clearly visible, significant trends.
SR Teaching at different art and design academies in Europe offers me the opportunity to look at the discipline from the perspective of students with different cultural and educational backgrounds. In most cases students are tackling the professional reality only after leaving the academy – they often have a blurred view on the field and are surprised by the lack of prospects. I feel that challenging the discipline and taking extreme positions are often neglected and should be encouraged by the academies at quite an early stage. The future designers have to find ways to clearly define their position and needs to be critical about the discipline in order to be heard.
From the paste-up artist to the designer as researcher, author and producer, or the designer as investigator, curator, editor, collaborator, programmer and writer, the field is harder to grasp nowadays than ever before. After waves of mourning about the end of print, the investigation of archives, publishing yourself and friends and rediscovering old printing methods, the design world is facing new fields to be explored. The computer has become the tool to create more tools, technology is the key to new ways of thinking. Design theory and writing about design have finally become attractive. A collaboration between disciplines is happening at university level; designers working with biologists, engineers, architects and artists have become a reality at the MIT in Boston for example. I am excited to witness how the current encounters will transform the field even further.
After graduating from Gerrit Rietveld Academie Amsterdam, Serge Rompza has co-founded the Berlinand Oslo-based design studio NODE in 2003, together with Anders Hofgaard. The two offices collaboratively focus on identity, print, exhibition and interactive work. Clients include MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT), Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), ZKM Karlsruhe, National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design Oslo and the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA). Since 2004 he has been teaching regularly at art and design academies across Europe and the US.
Ľubica Segečová was born in Slovakia. She lives and works in Bratislava as a freelance graphic designer. She studied at the Academy of Fine Arts (VŠVU); she got her BA degree at the Department of Visual Communication (2009) and her MA at the Department of Design (2011). She has founded SELF, an independent festival of graphic design (2012), and the artist’s studio trivjednom (2012). She also worked as a teacher at the Graphic Design Department of Ostrava University, studio Text Form Function.
After studying at the Federal Training and Research Institute for Graphic Art and Media in Vienna, the Academy of Arts, Architecture & Design in Prague, and Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem he established his own studio in Vienna. His graphic design work concentrates on book design. From 2008 to 2015 he taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna; he currently teaches at the Federal Training and Research Institute for Graphic Art and Media in Vienna. His teaching practice is focused on the medium of drawing in its broadest sense.
Oliver Klimpel is a designer, currently based in Berlin after living and working in London for more than 15 years. He has worked on numerous publishing and identity projects in the UK and abroad, combining design projects and research on visual culture and art. He frequently writes, and lectures internationally. From 2008 to 2015 he had been professor at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst Leipzig (HGB) comprehensively re-positioning the System – Design class. Most recently, he was invited by the Taipei Contemporary Art Center to develop a design research project, which seeks to explore and define the idea of a more active and critical identity for arts and cultural institutions. In May he is to undertake a project on narrative structures in Tokyo.
Short interviews with collaborators of the 27th Brno Biennial, authors of its exhibitions, jury members and Biennial Talks speakers.
Interviews and graphic design: Radim Peško Radim Peško (1976) is a graphic designer based in London. He works in the field of type design, editorial and exhibition projects. In 2010 he has established his RP Digital Type Foundry that specializes on typefaces that are both formally and conceptually distinctive. His work includes identity for Secession Vienna, typefaces for identities of Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Aspen Art Museum, Fridericianum, Berlin Biennale 8, various work for the Moravian Gallery in Brno, Bedford Press London or a long-term collaboration with artist Kateřina Šedá. He has lectured at many schools including Gerrit Rietveld Academie Amsterdam, ÉCAL Lausanne, HFK Bremen, KISD Cologne, École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts de Lyon, Sint-Lucas Ghent, University of Seoul. Since 2011 he is part of the curatorial board of the International Biennial of Graphic Design Brno., Tomáš Celizna Tomáš Celizna (1977) is interested in graphic design in connection with new technologies. He is a founding partner of design studio dgú in Prague (2001 to 2005), recipient of J. W. Fulbright Scholarship (2006), and holds MFA in graphic design from Yale University School of Art (2008). He currently lives and works independently in Amsterdam. Collaborations include, among others, OASE Journal for Architecture, Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, Sandberg Instituut, Amsterdam and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Since 2011 he is a lecturer in graphic design at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, and a member of the curatorial team of the International Biennial of Graphic Design Brno., Adam Macháček Adam Macháček (1980) is a graphic designer. Following studies at the AAAD in Prague, Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam and ÉCAL in Lausanne, he co-founded in 2004 studio Welcometo.as in Lausanne and is a member of 201∞ Designers collective. His work includes publications, exhibition catalogues, illustrations and identities. Collaborations include, among others, the Moravian Gallery in Brno, Théâtre de Vevey (seasons 2003–2012), Galerie Rudolfinum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Chronicle Books, Editions Pyramyd, Museum of Czech Literature, Brno House of Arts, California College of the Arts, Airbnb. For Brno Biennial he initiated and organized exhibitions Work from Switzerland (2004) and From Mars (2006, together with Radim Peško). Since 2011 he is a member of the curatorial team of the International Biennial of Graphic Design in Brno. He lives and works in Berkeley.
Translation and copy editing: Alena Benešová, Kateřina Tlachová
Production: Miroslava Pluháčková
Printed by: Tiskárna Helbich s. r. o.
Print run: 2000
Published by the Moravian Gallery in Brno, 2016