H. Craig Hanna, a retrospective at the MNHA Luxembourg 

Briefly Noted

H. Craig Hanna at the MNHA Luxembourg

 

…And then you look at a Rembrandt, it’s just… You see where you have to go… Miles and miles of work ahead of you… There are other aspects of making a great painting than just the skill involved in trying to be an old master. If you see a technique before the painting, it is a problem. … How could my stuff look different? … I finally discovered plexiglass and I started to paint with ink. It changed everything for me. Underneath this chaotic ink painting that I do, there is a knowledge of a figure… Years of drawing… I have this visual sensitivity… Certain colors together will produce this incredible emotion.

H. Craig Hanna

Inside the Ink-the life and art of H. Craig Hanna, an audiovisual essay by Willy Crank 

Francis Picabia, a retrospective at Kunsthaus Zürich

Briefly Noted

On the occasion of Festspiele Zürich 2016

With Francis Picabia’s retrospective Kunsthaus Zurich celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Dada movement that was created in Zurich.

 

Our heads are round so our thoughts can change direction.

Francis Picabia

 

[Some drawing I made at the museum.]

 

Jasper Morrison, Thingness and The Good Life

19th century irons

I made these drawings while visiting Jasper Morrison’s Thingness at The Design Museum in Zurich. When I was looking at these funnels and 19th century irons, in the back of my mind I was wondering, why are we so keen on classifying and organizing everything?

Thingness is a treat to visit. The exhibit is more than a collection of objects designed by Mr Morrison, it also documents his influences, processes, and the stories behind the design. The show is divided into two sections. The first is a retrospective selection of projects starting from the eighties, along with some images from The Good Life, a project Morrison has been cultivating for a number of years and is the result of his obsessive need to document ordinary and yet, for some reason, fascinating objects and situations, “clever solutions to everyday problems solved with modest resources”.  The second part is titled My Collection and presents pieces chosen by Morrison from the vast collection of the Design Museum.

Thingness gives us the opportunity to peek into the mind of a designer whose esthetic is quiet, calm and refreshing. One of my favorite Morrison designs is “Thinking Man’s Chair”, which was originally to be called “The Drinking Man’s Chair”.

For a long time after I noticed an antique chair with its seat missing outside a shop I had the idea to do a chair consisting only of structural elements. Many sketches later I arrived at the approximation of the final shape, which included two small tables on the ends of the arms and an exotic assembly of curved metalwork. It was to be called “The Drinking Man’s Chair”.  On my way back from the tobacconist’s shop with a packet of pipe cleaners to make a model of the chair with, I noticed the slogan “The Thinking Man’s Smoke” on the packet, which I quickly adapted as a more sophisticated title.

 from the Visitor’s Guide

Thinking Man's Chair
Thinking Man’s Chair, Capellini, 1986

A couple of books accompany the show. Two that caught my eye were A book of Things and The Good Life, both beautifully crafted and published by Lars Müller Publications. In A Book of Things I found a hilarious story about an exhibition Morrison prepared for the Musée des Art Décoratifs Bordeaux, where he was allowed to place objects he had designed alongside seventeenth and eighteen century items.

It was a game which culminated in two days of infiltrating and blending the old with the new, adjusting the atmosphere of each room in as light a way as possible. It was an extremely pleasurable experience, recognizing as I worked on it that I was alongside my professional ancestors and how little the basic goal of making good atmosphere has changed. To my senses the new helped the old and vice versa. The Friends of the Museum were not so happy with the idea but following the tour of the exhibition some of them had not noticed the aliens in their midst! Later on it became popular with school groups to find the fakes.

Jasper Morrison, A book of Things

 

Wojciech Zamecznik, Photo-Graphics

Briefly Noted

Warsaw, Zachęta – Natonal Galery of Art

Wojciech Zamecznik, Photo-Graphics

Photography and film combine the features of the biological and the technological eye, and perhaps thanks to that they are able to merge two models of knowledge–the optical, which is deemed passive, with the participatory one.

It could be asserted that for Wojciech Zamecznik, photography and film were ways of being in the world and the tools for changing it. Therefore, that which supports the hegemony of seeing–photography, perceived as the “witness” or “trace”–becomes a tool for its deconstruction or gradual modification.

Karolina Ziębińska-Lewandowska, The Power of Seeing

/’

Activism by Design

In the new issue of Traces published by Casino Luxembourg – forum d’art contemporain there’s an article I wrote last year.activism_by_design_2

Design awakens desire. Design infatuates and seduces. And design has the beguiling power to stoke our appetite for contraptions and gizmos we don’t yet possess and hardly need. There’s no question about it, design is a business, and as such it feeds on us. This is the sophisticated and predatory ecosystem modern designers must fit into, although the reason they get into design in the first place might be a need to do something worthy, to solve problems, to change the world.

Dennis Elbers and Sven Ehmann, the curators of Resolute: Design Changes, are showing how the design community, empowered by technology, is experiencing a change in which independent creative individuals, with the help of crowd funding, open source platforms, and social media, can have impact on society. “Resolute is the outcome of an ongoing conversation between me and Denis Elbers, the force behind the Graphic Design Festival in Breda”, said Sven Ehmann when I asked him how the project came about. “We did a show about visual storytelling together before. When we were reviewing that earlier show and discussing a potential subject for a next exhibition at the festival, the idea for Resolute evolved. Behind all that is our curiosity about the latest changes and developments in creative culture. We were a bit fed up with nice looking or crazy looking or fancy looking designs and were impressed by the attitude and dedication of a next generation of designers and projects”.

Originally shown in 2014 at Design Festival Breda, Resolute showcased 21 socially involved projects. Organized into three categories—Revolt, Review, and Refresh—and presented through posters, campaigns, pop-up books and board and video games, Resolute addressed topics ranging from urban farming to drone surveillance and genetically modified leather. It traveled to Luxembourg on the occasion of Design Friends’ fifth anniversary and was accompanied by an additional selection of six socially engaged projects called Postscript: Luxembourg. Designers based in or with some link to Luxembourg tackled topics like the reintegration of inmates in a penitentiary, badly designed urban space, and happiness. The recurring element threading through the work was the designers’ concern for people as a community. As Elbers noted in an article for DEE magazine, “The avant-garde of the emerging generation deals with social values by placing their design practice in the middle of society, rather than trying to influence it from above”.

So what does it mean to design from within society? As Cheryl Heller writes, “In this new role the designer’s practice takes place not in a private studio but inside an organization or community”. Today a new breed of designers is on the altruistic mission of growing something good. To do so they are stepping into the world and getting involved with people and communities to understand the dynamics at the root of a problem. Research and the representation of its results has become not only a crucial part of design’s domain but also a powerful weapon against manipulation, corruption and fraud. Communication and collaboration are also an intrinsic part of the new equation, as only by working with other professionals can designers make an impact.

Ruben Pater’s Drone Survival Guide is an example of this. His typology of drones is one of the elements in Twenty-first Century Bird Watching, which itself is part of a larger series of works called Untold Stories. These are politically and socially engaged visual narratives in which Pater researches, analyzes, and presents stories that shed light onto, as he puts it, ‘the unspoken issues’. In this case the issue unspoken is drone warfare and when I asked Pater what inspired him he wrote, “In 2012 there was a lack of reporting on drones, particularly the use of military drones and its devastating effects in areas of conflict. The Drone Survival Guide was an attempt to familiarize the general public with this phenomenon in a visual way”.

Raising awareness may be a first step in change, but obviously it is only a beginning. As Predatory Policy shows, designers have to partner with other professionals to make a lasting impact. Making Policy Public by the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) is a series of campaigns in which designers, advocates, and CUP tackled public policy. As CUP’s website explains, Predatory Policy is about stopping “predatory equity takeover of affordable housing in New York City”. CUP’s team first did an impressive amount of research and then presented the data skillfully enough to speak to both tenants and decision makers. Looking at the result you can see how carefully the text and graphics have been balanced and how a specific set of solutions is presented to encourage people to take action. This foldable poster became a tool to empower individuals to fight predatory equity.

Socially engaged projects don’t always produce tangible outcomes or results that are easy to measure. Lynn Schammel and Giacomo Piovan are the founders of Socialmatter and the creators of the Jailbird Manual. While talking with Lynn about the Jailbird project she told me that the work they did for the penitentiary’s woodshop gave the inmates hope and self-esteem. Inspired by Enzo Mari’s Open Design Theory, Jailbird Manual is a guide containing a set of woodworking techniques that are tailored to the inmates’ needs. It is the outcome of a collaboration between inmates and designers, at once a manual to be referenced and a point of departure for the inmate’s creativity, autonomy and self-confidence.

There has been a lot of interest in design for social causes over the last decade. MFA Design for Social Innovation at SVA, AIGA’s Design for Good, the Finish INDEX: Award and the Changing the Change conference in Turin are just some of the design initiatives that have been launched, and this year’s Utrecht Manifest biennale was called, appropriately enough, Design For The Good Society. But this impulse to design for good is hardly new. Whether Charles Booth was a designer by accident or intuition, the design of his first poverty map in 1889 demystified the state of the poorest parts of London. Meticulously researched by a team of social scientists, economists, statisticians and philanthropists, the color-coded data produced such a public outcry that the government was forced to take action and handle the issue with care.

People like John Ruskin, William Morris, Richard Buckminster Fuller, Guy Debord, Ken Garland, Victor Papanek and other design activists have inspired subsequent generations to design responsibly and consciously. Yet their work has not always led to immediate change. Something—be it the nature of mass production and mass consumption, politics, the commercial character of the design industry—has always got in the way. Why might the new wave of design activism meet with more success?

Design activists are afraid of neither commitment nor hardship. They avidly research and do whatever it takes to fight injustice and corruption, to help the disadvantaged, to help communities, to understand complex systems and cast light upon the thorny issues of our time. But, maybe every new generation thinks they are the first to know how to make the world a better place. Is it not naive to think that the responsibility for growing something good rests solely on the shoulders of designers? Do we not all need to embrace activism, as chances are this is our best hope for meeting the challenges we grapple with? Each of us has to look for integrity in our work and lives, to be sustainable, to learn how to grow something good rather than just buy and throw away. After all, we are part of a community.

Between complexity and poetry, Civic design and global citizenship

Briefly Noted

Dans le cadre de Design City 2016 – LXBG Biennale

Yesterday / Gestern / Hier / Ieri

Ruedi Baur, Between complexity and poetry, Civic design and global citizenship lecture organized by Design Friends at Mudam.

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Benjamin Loyauté LE BRUIT DES BONBONS-THE ASTOUNDING EYES OF SYRIA

Briefly Noted

Dans le cadre de Design City 2016 – LXBG Biennale

…a little bite of unforgettable happiness…

at Casino Luxembourg Forum d’art contemporain

the_astounding_eyes_of_syria_1   the_astounding_eyes_of_syria_8

 

ABSTRACT OR NOT Philippe Apeloig in Luxembourg

Philippe Apeloig is an influential French graphic designer. His approach to a given assignment, whether it is a poster, logotype, or font, shows an impressive amount of both thoughtfulness and understanding of the subject matter at hand. His typographic solutions are skilfully crafted and demonstrate great attention to detail. He always aims to get the maximum effect with the minimum of means. Apeloig is a master of typographic interpretation. His work is idea-oriented and process driven. He can thoughtfully play with words and images in order to transmit concepts that are aesthetically appealing, perfectly balanced, and intelligent.

Most of the time I start from a text, from typography and I continue with images. I use the editing techniques from film editing. I carve my ideas into pieces and then reassemble them in a different order. I manipulate them until the composition is right and it is strong enough to fix itself in the visual memory of the public.

 When you read a text most of the time it’s very static—you don’t even look at the shape of the letters, you consider the meaning—but one of the goals of the designer is to make text appear spectacular, like a show that really catches your eye.

 The challenge is to be persuasive: like an actor who convinces the audience to suspend disbelieving. He has to interpret his role so vividly that he and his character become one.

Philippe Apeloig

Last Wednesday Philippe Apeloig came to Mudam, Luxembourg to talk about his work. It was one of the events organised by Design Friends. I was given the opportunity to coordinate this talk. On this occasion DF published a little catalogue featuring some of the projects Philippe Apeloig Studio worked on and an interview with the designer. The book will be available to buy on DF’s website soon.

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REVELATIONS

Do not go outside, return into yourself; it is in the interiority of the person where the truth dwells.

–Saint Augustine

Human beings are destined for contemplation.

–Éric Chenal

Revelations is the title of a humble and beautifully executed project and exhibition at the National Museum of History and Art (NMHA) in Luxembourg. In 2013 the museum commissioned Éric Chenal to take pictures during the renovation of the museum’s new wing. Chenal’s photographs depict entrances, windows, walls half covered with paint and markings, and other ordinary objects and parts of the buildings. The colors are muted with occasional bursts of light blue and green, vivid red and orange. Chenal describes his first encounter with the site as challenging. It didn’t have a lot of appeal and he admitted in a conversation we had that he was unable to stay long. He didn’t feel welcome. He would only photograph the buildings when nobody was around and it was quiet, because this was the only way he could enter into dialog with the empty space. But as it turned out, the project became a spiritual experience that not only started, but was also shared, and had its continuation within that space.

Chenal divides his time between Lorrain and Luxembourg. His career as a photographer started some twelve years ago and his main focus is commercial photography. In 2009 he began one of his first personal projects called Out of Breath followed by Esprit du Lieu (Nature of Space), and White Inside, which many think was inspired by Brian O’Doherty’s Inside the White Cube. He photographs spaces in moments of transition: old churches being restored, contemporary art centers between exhibitions, houses in renovation. The key elements that thread through his work are the presence of light and a sense of being in the moment. He doesn’t stage anything; he uses natural light, and stays open, unassuming, and respectful. His aim is to let the place reveal itself. It is an organic and intuitive process. While working on Revelations he wasn’t interested in the museum’s past or future, he aimed to capture the here and now. The immediate relationship with the place, the dialog he maintained with the site revealed sublime aspects of the project. The camera became Chenal’s tool in uncovering something beyond measurement or calculation, something that can be perceived within oneself.

In this photographic and spiritual search Chenal has found inspiration and guidance in Jean-Louis Chrétien’s latest philosophical work, L’Espace Intérieur (The Interior Space), a book which combines elements of practical philosophy and Christian theology. Chrétien analyzes texts of Saint Augustine, Saint Teresa of Ávila, Origen, Dante, Baudelaire, and Freud among others. Chenal was particularly interested in the idea of representing what Saint Augustine calls the interiority of a person, in other words, the human soul as a space, cell, temple, castle, or room, where it can stand face-to-face with God.

To discuss the concept of Chenal’s project I met with him at the Casino Luxembourg – Forum d’art contemporain. It’s 10:30 in the morning, the museum is still closed but I can get in to meet Éric. He wears a grey linen suit and welcomes me with a warm smile. There’s something modest and direct about him. The museum is between exhibitions so it’s noisy and full of people. Chenal seems to know everybody; he greets and shakes hands with the museum’s staff. We retreat to the Casino’s kitchen and sit by a small table. We talk about his commercial work and personal projects. Then I show him a selection of images from Revelations that resonate with me. It turns out they are also significant to Éric. “Tell me something about the entrance blocked by a big piece of play wood?” (Figure 1), I ask. “It’s a veil, the light is behind, you see, you’re in contact with it. You see how to get out”, replies Éric. When we look at the image of a pillar covered with a piece of semi transparent plastic (Figure 2) the first thing that comes to my mind is an offering pillar. When Éric sees this photograph he talks about generosity and sharing. Next we look at the image of a vivid red stain on a wall surrounded by patches of white paint (Figure 3). There is a moment of silence before we say anything. “It’s about how to accept the given moment”, observes Éric.

The exhibition space is intimate and transmits a sense of ascetic emptiness (Figures 4, 5). The design of the installation is simple and conveys the meditative nature of the project. The first room is an homage to Jean Louis Chrétien’s The Interior Space. The six wooden pillars scattered around the room have six quotes printed on top. The quotes come from Heraclitus, Pascal, St Augustine, St Ignatius de Loyola, Hugh of Saint Victor, and St Teresa of Ávila. These quotes, as well as a short text on the wall and the leaflet with a map, frame the exhibition. The pieces of text are meant to be a guide when you are exploring the rooms; they also introduce a contemplative mood and can help the viewer to understand the artwork. The exhibition’s layout is circular; you begin and end in the first room.

Can silence and simplicity give a profound experience of beauty? Can a state of being in the moment equate to being happy? To appreciate silence you need to disconnect from the usual rhythm of life. The message has to play itself rather than be played. Behind the words and images in Revelations there’s something that cannot be seen until it reveals itself. You just have to stay open and give yourself time. The exhibition doesn’t impose on you; it has the quality of a discovery. In an interview after the exhibition White Inside Éric said something that is also relevant to Revelations, “Photography taught me that everything is a gift. It is all offered to us. I’m just here to look at the light, to try not to search for it…”

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Éric Chenal (Figure 1)
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Éric Chenal (Figure 2)
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Éric Chenal (Figure 3)
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Éric Chenal (Figure 4)
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Éric Chenal (Figure 5)