- 27th International Biennial of Graphic Design Brno 2016
BB Can you tell us a bit about the background of your film Seeing What Is Seen, As What Sees Can Not Be Saw? How did you come up with the idea?
SJ In terms of a premise for the project its fundament is an engagement of what we consider to be slow and fast. The sheer pace of life is exemplified by no better example than transportation. Even when we walk, minutia moves past the locust of our attention without the possibility of being fully recorded, but humankind is able to take and make sense from what it literally sees, however personal, or incomprehensible and abstract it may seem to someone else. Additionally, with technological and information dispersal and renewal reaching almost inane parallels (as an infliction of capitalism’s grasp on human behaviour and psychology), how we engage with each other as a species, not only on a person to person ratio, but also in terms of what we say and exchange with one another (and through remote means), has almost become as obsolete as the physical things we’re putting into the world too. Or at least, it might feel like that. Although, when looking closer, we will find lovely things, we don’t have to look so far either, because something, anything, is never very far away.
For a long time I’ve been focusing on human traces of incidental phenomena in the built environment while walking, and this particular project concerns how the original function of a ‘thing’, an ‘object’, a stimulus lets say, can change, or can re-capitulate its semiotic meaning when depicted in a photograph.
When collating these segregated images I’ve had in mind, and in advance, a technical facility aspect – denoted through the images being shown at a frame rate of 4 frames a second, and also by being labelled as an ‘abstract stop-motion documentary’. All these individual images operate within the realm of a purist act of recording phenomena which otherwise gets undermined and forgotten, or very simply, gets passed by. Such a method of presentation is not dissimilar to the way that general populous read and ghost through information, and look at images all the time, but only allow certain elements to hold sufficient resonance to be suffixed from memory, or to be given a kind of alighted presence. By looking at the images at such a speed replicates our general movement within life, but likewise reveals our deep and pensive observation and contemplation of the process of living as well.
BB You graduated from the graphic design program at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie. How would you describe your current practice?
SJ My current practice is informed through a background in printed based formats in their most expanded sense. This includes correlating and jus-ta-posing both image and typography within a space, and conversely refers to a relationship with materials and objects. In this way, the processes I am concerned by, or interested in, might not necessarily have a normatively associated foundation in how graphic design is understood – though this is a collective conscience already existing within various graphic design programs, and is partly owed to a collective negation against what wider society determines ‘graphic design’ as, and that’s a cost. Many of my commissioned and self-commissioned based projects in recent years bifurcate various roles, and are mostly not determined by my own choice in what I function as, but do contain my own interests, while being more or less enveloped in their conception through a mixture of conversation and co-incidence, as well as isolation. I have worked with and have utilised various subsidiary disciplines within, or as part of graphic design: type-design, publishing, writing, editing, printmaking, photography, assemblage/collage, book, and what I might also call ‘compound design’, i.e. information that exists within a format (words and/or images and/or objects) but which don’t serve a purpose, or an intended function except from their own existence. And what exists doesn’t announce something, or even give something else in the world a context or framework, but by the nature of existing (whether that be on a wall or floor in a gallery, or as pages in a catalogue, or bound sheaf of papers, or as sounds being emitted alongside other clickable visual and readable elements on a screen, or as something that just watches you and you watch it) alludes to a certain sense of freedom and autonomy, which the graphic designer isn’t usually granted. Though nor is anyone for that matter, since we all live in a world beset by pre-determined formulas and traditions. To develop a model, or at least an accepted one, isn’t even your own decision. I’ve given up on the idea of planning in my mind what something should be. Time is very slender. I’m doing whichever the situation requires, or allows and that kind of attitude also gives porosity and a certain ambivalent view to what anything is supposed to be.
BB How does the project you have prepared for the Off Programme fit into the larger context of your practice? Are you working on something related?
SJ As hinted above there’s a tinge and edge to the work I’ve done in more recent years – I want to design printed things for and with people, without doubt, and I am relatively classically trained in terms of typography and composition, but it just doesn’t happen. About four years ago I started making autonomous images: drawings in the form of writing, and also various experiments with my hand and a scanner – something which summed up my frustrations in a more abstract and maligned way. Previously, however, in earlier studies at the London College of Communication I had in fact completed a substantial amount of print-making with letterpress and serigraph, but somehow this all got abandoned when I studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie. These newer images I mentioned ended up in an exhibition curated by Lisette Smits, at Marres, Centre for Contemporary Culture, Maastricht, NL, entitled Deep Cuts, which I primarily wrote an exhibition essay, as well as edited and designed a reader for. Soon after this I begrudgingly left Amsterdam and moved to London, and very luckily landed a teaching post three days a week at University of the Creative Arts. Then, after showing some smaller unicum pieces at project spaces, including at a magazine launch organised by graphic designers ‘Our Polite Society’ at the Goethe Institute in Amsterdam, I was invited to produce a solo exhibition at P/////AKT, a platform and gallery for contemporary art, also based in Amsterdam. This exhibition incorporated many of the inter-related elements discussed in my work: walking and observing behaviour in cities is predominant to this. One central element is finding items and objects (metals and plastics) which have broken off, or which have ‘popped off’ (to insight their wholeness) from other constitute parts, and to then use them to formulate a composite assemblage or construction, or collage, which is also rendered photographically into a perpendicular version of the physical composition. The objects act as a key for the images and vice versa, and I have shown them together but also apart. As things they are also representative of a more physical account of page composition at large. This whole process is completely exhausting and I don’t really start out searching for a specific set of motifs when working with a set of items, I just work intuitively by placing the pieces together, hope with my heart and mind, and then certain things come out: a map, an owl, a figure, an insect, a flower. It’s all connected to a wider investigation into the psychological phenomena of ‘pareidolia’, which occurs when an individual sees something in a stimulus that is otherwise vague or not even present – most common examples include seeing faces in the clouds, or hearing a hidden message on a record when it's played in reverse. I’ve also been working on an explicit alphabetical form of ‘pareidolia’, which is comprised of edited black and white photographs of letters I see in the gaps of tectonic architectural elements, as well as in shadows and in cracks in paving slabs. There’s also the fundamental aspect of writing in my work, which doesn’t necessarily have an ongoing context in terms of its more idiosyncratic exploration, but I’ve also been fortuitous to continue with regular teaching. Firstly in London at a private college in Notting Hill, where I met highly interesting people from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Singapore and Kazakhstan for example, as well as at the University of East London, which contains a wonderfully wide, London based multi-ethnic cohort, and is close in reflection to my social upbringing. This year, I’ve been back to the Netherlands more regularly as a guest tutor within the graphic design department at ArtEZ Institute of the Arts, Arnhem, a building which was the first academy constructed by Gerrit Rietveld in the Netherlands, and is a place where I simply adore the students, and also genuinely feel the overarching discourse. In all, I’m interested in finding ways to reveal the solidification and dilution, rupturing and coalescing of image and language and the messages they say and don’t, in whichever form and medium lends itself to become accessible to me.
BB This edition of the Brno Biennial responds to the metamorphoses and the status 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?
SJ For me, graphic design is an autonomous visual, inter-textual, philosophical and poetic entity. Yet, in comparison to other humanities orientated fields it doesn’t hold equal tender. In the eyes of many it's not even held as being a possible individualistic field. If graphic design does transmute, becoming classified within the realm of applied, or fine arts, it's also then given (if any) scant reconciliation and respect. I mean, if artists can fill and flood galleries and museums, why can’t graphic designers and their work? Why do you have to be an artist to undertake a residency? There should be as many places and spaces for graphic design as there are for other disciplines. Imagine getting into an equal rights argument of any kind. We know there should be, and it’s the same with society in general, we know there’s something massively wrong with it, but it’s very hard to change it for some absurd reason. These might seem like obvious and naive questions and examples and are purposely so. The issue with all this is connected to history, tradition and societal impediment. The greatest graphic designer who never was, at least according to the lost books of time, is William Blake. His biography would read well of any current graphic designer. Hardly known in his life-time, classified and abutted as a ‘worker’ while alive, but a devout master of detail in his application of both reproduction of images, as well as in his engagement in typography, and in the inscription of the words and pictures chosen, alongside their overall celestial and spiritual foundation.
I’m not really sure if I have answered the question directly here, but I hope I have at least contained its fundamental modus operandi into a palatable and approachable response, which suggests that graphic design is beginning to outgrow its perception within wider society, and should soon be able to stand up for itself, discharging its own standpoint as one of equal, and complimentary value to other (almost patented) areas of subjection.
Scott Joseph (1983) is a designer currently based in London and is a graduate of the graphic design department of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam, NL. His work as a graphic designer is held in the MoMA Library, New York and in the Stedelijk Museum archive, Amsterdam. Recent projects include: Seeing What Is Seen, As What Sees Can Not Be Saw, 27th International Biennale Graphic Design, Moravian Gallery, Brno, CZ (2016); Found When Out, Pump House Gallery, Battersea Park, London, UK (2015); The Tone Is Theirs, Offprint Artist Book Fair, Tate Modern, London, UK (2015); Under The Sign, P/////AKT, Platform for Contemporary Arts, Amsterdam, NL (2014); Titles, The Session Magazine, Goethe Institute, Amsterdam, NL (2014); The Torch In My Ear, Mute Written Orchestration, Deep Cuts, Marres, Centre for Contemporary Culture, Maastricht, (2013); Rong–Wrong (printed anthology), self-published; Various Contexts (2012). Scott Joseph has also taught within various institutions including University of Creative Arts, UK, University of East London, UK and during 2016 has been a guest tutor within the graphic design department at ArtEZ Institute of Arts, Arnhem, NL.
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