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Talking Through Symbols by Farinaz Valamanesh A Project Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts in the Department of Graphic Design, School of Visual Arts, College of Fine Arts Boston University May 2020


Contents 05

Introduction

Concept Developement

Interactive Design

Visual Exploration

08

My Iranian Identity

28

Interactivity in Design

40

Color

14

Raising Awareness

34

Augmented Reality

42

Layering

16

Making Changes

44

Symbolism

20

Final Concept

48

Abstraction

50

All in One

Visual Inspirations

Talking Through Symbols

56

Soft Identity Maker

64

Thesis Abstract

58

Book from the Ground

66

Symbol System

60

Volvox

68

First Layer

70

Second Layer

72

Third Layer

74

Fourth Layer

78

Letter F

80

The Alphabet

90

Symbols in Use

94

Thesis Show

Acknowledgments


Introduction The process of developing my thesis project had a lot of ups and downs. There were a lot of influences, inspirations, and the projects I worked on that helped me discover my design voice throughout the two years of my experience in the Boston University MFA program. Each project helped me go a little outside of my comfort zone, learn a new thing, explore new ways of expressing my thoughts and concerns, and work on the concepts that I find valuable in this world. In this book, I show the path of the development of my final thesis concept and examine how interactivity plays a special role in my design and, specifically, my thesis project. I eventually show how different visual elements came together to build the symbol system that I designed to raise awareness about the long-lasting issue of freedom of speech in my country, Iran. Freedom of speech is taken for granted in developed countries. However, I witnessed and experienced first hand the persecution bestowed on my Iranian community for merely expressing beliefs, perceived as non-conforming to the norms dictated by the regime. For centuries, Iranian people often have hidden their true messages in layers of symbolism and metaphors to overcome the deep-rooted lack of freedom of speech. Metaphoric languages are wide-spread in literature, art, and everyday speaking as a way to communicate messages while avoiding the consequences. That is the reason that I developed a coded visual system for my thesis project, based on the abstract forms and traditional Persian motifs. Through these metaphors, I spotlight this important, enduring, and mostly ignored issue—one that many people in the world, including people of my country, are experiencing. Now let me start from the beginning.

Introduction

05


Concept Developement The pillar of most of the projects I work on is the concept. When I first started, I was still hesitant to bring my identity or personal matters into my work. It took me a while to be able to get past the uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability, go outside of my comfort zone, and work on concepts that were important to me personally. The further I got in the program, my concepts became more personal, critical, and thought through. The topics and experiences of some of these projects strongly influenced my thesis project, and in this chapter, I show the process and significance of them.

Work's Name

07


My Iranian Identity In graduate school, I started to examine my Iranian identity and incorporate that side of my personality into my work for the first time. The start of it was the end of the first semester when we worked on a

The objects used in these posters are

project based on Aristotle’s account of motion—“it requires a force to

my sandals from when I was one year

make an object move in an unnatural manner.” The way I interpreted the article was that particular objects are triggers of nostalgia and create movements of thoughts and memories in one’s head.

old, my college journal, and Senjed, my stuffed toy that has had my company for most of my life (After I moved to the US I found out that everyone else in the world calls him Elmo.)

After creating multiple responses to the concept of motion in different print and digital media, such as p5.js, and motion graphics, I designed a poster that later led to a poster series of three. The compositions were made based on the idea of the cloudiness of memories and how

Memory Number 2, 2018. Poster. 23.4 × 33.1 in.

Concept Development

Memory Number 3, 2018. Poster. 23.4 × 33.1 in.

08


they change and turn into different ones in a nonlinear timeline. I used objects and notes from different times in my life and created ambiguous, busy compositions resembling my thoughts and memories. In this work, I delved into the private part of my life to convey the concept I had in mind. I even used my handwriting in Farsi that I had never used in my design work. The result of this project was so satisfying and connected to me on personal levels that it made me continue to revisit that side of myself later on in my projects.

Memory Number 1, 2018. Poster. 23.4 Ă— 33.1 in.

My Iranian Identity

09


Iranian Women, Freedom, and Social Media was another turning point in my growth as a designer. This time I chose to dedicate my identity booklet assignment to the Women’s rights movement in Iran. This topic has always been something that I cared for deeply, but it was the first time that I made myself do a project about it. This project is the beginning of me trying to use my design abilities and voice to talk about these sorts of forbidden subjects. I researched the different campaigns in social media that worked on

In this project for the second time,

this issue, such as White Wednesday and Stealthy Freedom.

I used Farsi in my work.

I included an interview with Masih Alinejad as well since she is one of

The poster that accompanied this

the most influential leaders of the Women’s rights movements in Iran and the founder of a lot of active campaigns.

book was the first time I talked about the issue of freedom of speech. The Farsi and English Type create a juxtaposition on the poster. The Farsi reads, “I pay for my different opinion.” Due to the lack of freedom of speech, this project could never have

Iranian Women, Freedom, and Social Media, 2019. Publication. 5.5 × 8.5 in. 16 pages.

happened in my own country.

Identity Poster, 2019. Poster. 23.4 × 33.1 in.

Concept Development

10


Iranian Women, Freedom, and Social Media, 2019. Publication. 5.5 Ă— 8.5 in. 16 pages.

11

My Iranian Identity


Dual Presence, 2019. Publication. 8.5 × 9.5 in. 2 × 50 pages.

Concept Development

12


In Dual Presence I gathered all my influences and inspirations within three different themes of tradition vs. modernity, transition and change, and art as narrative. I experimented with the form of the book in this project as I split it in half from the middle. One side is in English, and the other side is in Farsi. The reader has the option of rotating the book to access each of these sides­—Farsi side is read right to left while the English side is left to right. I designed this book in a way that there is a specific connection between the Farsi and the English side of each spread, while each side can function independently as well. The book split was a metaphor for the dualities that I have within myself. For instance, I am living in the US, talking in English while my mother tongue is Farsi, or I’m living in the American culture but grew up with Iranian culture. This duality and binary existence is another theme that has roots in my identity and frequently appears in my work, including my final thesis project. Dual Presence, 2019. Publication. 8.5 × 9.5 in. 2 × 50 pages.

For the art as a narrative theme of the book, I used my favorite works of Iranian and western artists that had critical concepts.

My Iranian Identity

13


Raising Awareness In November of 2019, following a series of demonstrations in Iran, the government shut down the internet for 163 hours. They were attempting to stop people from communicating with each other and the outside world. Approximately one thousand five hundred people

This book also works as a flip-book

were shot to death on the streets in those dark seven days without

showing very violent footages of gov-

any news covering what was happening in Iran.

ernment attacking the civilians, frame by frame, from videos that were taken by people during the shutdown.

In response to the situation, I recorded my use of the internet for 163 hours and printed it on a 332 page, hand-bound book. I learned that even though I cannot make changes, I have the power to raise awareness through my work.

163 Hours, 2019. Publication. 4 Ă— 5 in. 332 pages.

Concept Development

14


163 Hours, 2019. Publication. 4 Ă— 5 in. 332 pages.

15

Raising Awareness


Making Changes Sometimes it goes beyond just making awareness, and design can make real changes. At the beginning of our Fall 2019 semester, we finally got gender-neu-

This self-made spontaneous installation

tral bathrooms on our floor. However, they did not last for so long.

reminded me of why I came to the

During the on-campus constructions, the GNB signs “accidentally” changed back to the women/men’s bathroom signs.

graphic design field and how influential art can be. Someone took down our first installation, but we put up a different one right

Through a very spontaneous decision, two of my friends and I created

away. The second one was made of

a whole installation of GNB signs on those bathroom doors. In a few

vinyl cut into tiny pieces that couldn’t

hours, we came up with a solution and executed our design idea with the help of our fellow studio mates. It was amazing to see the whole

be removed easily. The second signs are still on the doors to this day.

design community coming together to help and make a design for good happen. A few days and another attempt later, they changed the signs back to gender-neutral bathroom signs, and our design made real changes.

Concept Development

16


Process of Creating the GNB Signs, 2019. Installation. Photographs by Julian Parikh.

Making Changes

17


Concept Development

18


Work's Name

19


Final Concept During the 50 Questions project, we came up with 50 questions that mattered to us the most and could inform our thesis project. Here are some of the questions that I asked myself and were the most relevant to my thesis: What determines an identity? Does having a label impact what you make? I used a coded visual language to

How important is empathy in design? What does it mean to be from a place?

showcase my questions because I found them personal and did not want them to be easily read. There was an added layer in the poster that could be revealed by interaction and contained

What comes with being an Iranian? How can I describe home at the moment?

a more easily readable format of all the questions. I later used this form in my final thesis project on a more complex level.

What are the similarity and differences between my Iranian heritage and American experience? What can I find in my heritage and background that could positively impact my design? What are the commonalities between English and Persian/Farsi languages and alphabet? How to decrease the gap between western and eastern influences on design? How can I tell stories through images? What are the effects of censorship on society, education and future of a nation? What’s the role of symbolism in overcoming the lack of freedom of speech caused by censorship? Concept Development

20


50 Questions, 2019. Interactive Poster. 17 Ă— 35 in.

Final Concept

50 Questions (Detail), 2019. Interactive Poster. 17 Ă— 35 in.

21


After 50 Questions and digging more into the topics that were important to me, I drew Talk for a silkscreen project. I once again used my handwriting in my design. The Farsi type that goes around the figure is from a song called Talk by Ali Azimi.

Learning how to do silkscreen printing was very joyful for me. The medium and the concept of my most successful print Talk ended up being what I incorporated in my final thesis project as well. My first silkscreen print ever:

Green Fairy, 2019. Silkscreen. 11.5 Ă— 14.5 in.

Talk, 2019. Silkscreen. 21 Ă— 15 in.

Concept Development

22


Work's Name

23


The Wind Will Carry Us Series, 2019. Post card. 4 Ă— 6 in.

The Wind Will Carry Us was the basis of my thesis project’s concept. The prompt of the assignment was to create something with an extreme scale. I chose to make it about the extreme use of symbolism in Iranian culture as a survival tactic against the lack of freedom of speech and to avoid severe consequences of expressing different opinions. I created a set of eight postcards since the postcard is a tool for communicating messages. They were meant to be used to send messages while hiding other messages on the other side, a take on the use of metaphor for hiding the actual meanings. I explored and researched Concept Development

24


different ways of coding and hiding a message—Morse code, binary

The Wind Will Carry Us is title of a film

code, embedded type in images, Hex code translation, image dis-

made by Abbas Kiarostami a famous

tortion, scratch paper, and so many others. All the cards have the message of “the wind will carry us” hidden in them.

Iranian film maker. The film title is also in reference to a poem with the same name written by the modern Iranian poet Forough Farokhzad.

The Wind Will Carry Us Series, 2019. Post card. 4 × 6 in.

Final Concept

25


Interactive Design Something that I always find amusing in design is interactivity. I think when the audience gets a chance to be part of the work and experience it through interaction, the message goes across much easier, and work becomes more impactful and memorable. One of the things that I went outside of my comfort zone and learned in my two year MFA experience was to explore different mediums and tools to execute my concepts. I learned and tried a lot of different mediums, AR, VR, UX/UI, motion graphics, etc. Most of which opened new possibilities for interactivity.

Work's Name

27


Interactivity in Design Water Waste was a collaborative project with Wei Yun Chen (Winnie). We created this project to raise awareness of the amount of water that each person wastes in daily life. We recorded the sound of seven top categories of water waste and used Arduino to add sound to our

Working with Arduino was one of the

water installation in an interactive way.

hardest and most satisfying challenges to overcome.

Water in each container played the sound of one of the seven categories of the toilet, faucet, shower, washing machine, dishwasher, and bath, as soon as there was a connection between the human body and the water. Therefore, the audience could play around with the installation and create different sequences of sounds. The intensity of the blue color of the water also was an indication of how high the consumption of water in each category is. The darker the blue, the higher the consumption.

Water Waste, in collaboration with Wei Yun Chen, 2019. Interactive instalation. 36 Ă— 6 Ă— 9 in.

Interactive Design

28


Water Waste, in collaboration with Wei Yun Chen, 2019. Interactive instalation. 36 × 6 × 9 in.

Water Waste, in collaboration with Wei Yun Chen, 2019. Interactive instalation. 36 × 6 × 9 in.

Interactivity in Design

29


NYC Evidence, in collaboration with Wei Yun Chen , 2019. Interactive installation. 8.5 Ă— 11 in. Set of 3.

NYC Evidence, in collaboration with Wei Yun Chen , 2019. Interactive installation. 8.5 Ă— 11 in. Set of 3.

Interactive Design

30


In another collaboration with Wei Yun Chen (Winnie), we created an interactive installation called NYC Evidence. Each of the three pieces had a recorded sound component in them. The sounds were from the

Winnie and I were randomly assigned

real catcalling happening in New York City.

to each other to work in a team on this project. We each had our topics,

Upon the pulling of each tag, the sound of catcalling would go off. With this interaction, the audience could firsthand experience the issue that many women have to face every day, and hopefully, be able

Winnie’s was NYC, and mine was true crime podcasts. The prompt of the project was to combine our two topics and create a project out of it.

to put themselves in their shoes.

NYC Evidence, in collaboration with Wei Yun Chen , 2019. Interactive installation. 8.5 Ă— 11 in. Set of 3.

Interactivity in Design

31


Purple Paradox, 2019. Interactive installation. 12 Ă— 20 in.

Purple Paradox (Detail), 2019. Interactive installation. 12 Ă— 20 in.

Links to VR photos. to be downloaded and seen in the Cardboard Camera app.

Purple Paradox was a project I worked on about the color purple that had two components. Purple has many paradoxes within it. It is a color made of blue and red, two colors that are always opposing each other. It is the color of royalty while being the cheapest color to create. It can be warm and cold at the same time. Here I associated paradox of purple to the paradox of the role of technology in bringing people together while making them more isolated and alone at the same time. The first component was an interactive installation. Through a series of interactions, the audience could like different provided things with pulling strings attached to the literal buttons—a tangible liking action in a none virtual world.

Interactive Design

32


The accompanying digital component was a VR experience. In three different environments, the audience would find themselves in situations that their experience was interrupted by different daily intrusions that everyone faces these days, Social media, mobile games, and music apps. The purpose of this project was to remind us of the value of real-world interactions with people in a time that technology advancements are pushing us to communicate virtually more and more every day. Prof. Christopher Field looking into Purple Paradox with Google Cardboard.

Purple Paradox, 2019. VR.

Interactivity in Design

33


Augmented Reality The Animal Book idea started when I found one of my old drawings of a cat in an old sketchbook. I expanded the cat drawing into a whole collection of different animals and explored how AR can add a more engaging level to my beloved animals. By scanning the drawings with

The Animal Book was the first time I

the Artivive app, the animated animals appear on the page in full

used my drawings in my work.

color. I find the element of surprise that comes with AR very engaging. It is what later came to my help in the time of desperation for my final thesis project.

The Animal Book, 2019. AR and publication. 6 Ă— 6 in.

Interactive Design

34


All the animals on this spread come to life after being scanned by Artivive app. Augmented Reality

35


With Einstein’s Dream project, I once again examined the possibilities of AR. The book Einstein’s Dream influenced this project, a fictional collage of stories dreamed by Albert Einstein in 1905, about time, relativity, and physics. "As the defiant but sensitive

Lightman, Alan P. Einstein’s Dreams.

young genius is creating his theory of relativity, a new conception of

New York: Pantheon Books, 1993.

time, he imagines many possible worlds. In one, time is circular, so that people are fated to repeat triumphs and failures over and over. In another, there is a place where time stands still, visited by lovers and parents clinging to their children. In another, time is a nightingale, sometimes trapped by a bell jar." In the story that I made my poster based on, time is split into micro fractions, and there are tiny gaps in between them that make the time stop for a short period. I divided the poster into fractions to convey the same concept through abstraction. After the scanning of the poster, in the AR layer, each section has its unique movement. At some point, all their movements sync with each other, and fore a quick moment, the whole composition comes into a stop.

The AR layer of this poster will be revealed upon the scan by Artivive app. Interactive Design

36


Einstein's Dream, 2019. Interactive poster. 23.4 Ă— 33.1 in.

Augmented Reality

37


Visual Exploration In the process of trying to find my unique design voice, I noticed that there are certain visual languages that I am more drawn to. I do like to hide different layers of meanings in my work, and in doing so, I keep going back to abstraction, symbolism, vibrant colors, or a combination of all of them at the same time.

Work's Name

39


Color Color has always been a significant part of my design. I use the power of color to convey different meanings with the help of the associations that come with each one of them. The abstract shapes are based on

The first project that I did in the MFA program was the biography project. A data visualization that I designed based on the biography of one of my classmates after I interviewed him.

Islamic patterns found in MiddleEastern arts and crafts, which was part of my interviewee’s identity.

All the abstract shapes layer on top of each other and create an overall composition made of five different sections. Each section represents a different aspect of my interviewee’s life. Inner layers are subcategories of the outer layers, and the system goes inwards to the smallest components.

Ibrahim's Biography (Detail), 2018. Wood, nails, and yarn. 22 × 28 in.

Visual Exploration

Ibrahim's Biography, 2018. Wood, nails, and yarn. 22 × 28 in.

40


Color

41

Ibrahim's Biography (Detail), 2018. Wood, nails, and yarn. 22 Ă— 28 in.

Ibrahim's Biography, 2018. Wood, nails, and yarn. 22 Ă— 28 in.


Layering Layering is another form that keeps appearing in my work. Besides the visual aspects of layering, I like to layer the concepts as well. It may have roots in my Iranian background since, in our culture, we tend to hide everything in layers of metaphors and symbolism.

Layering is another feature that ended up in my final project. One thing that

In My Uber Rides project, I collected all the paths of my Uber rides during the prior three years and created an infographic based on the timeline and abstract shapes of the paths I had taken.

I experimented with early on in the MFA program. Here the concept of accumulation is showed by the layering of the Uber paths.

There was a motion graphic accompanying the data visualization that showed my overall experience with Uber in a layered composition.

My Uber Paths, 2018. Video still.

Visual Exploration

42


Layering

43

My Uber Paths, 2018. Poster. 18 × 36 in.


Symbolism Silkscreen gave me an opportunity to create more personal projects, and of course, I brought in symbolism in all of the projects. The layering characteristic of silkscreen also added to my urge of wanting to communicate my topics in layers of symbolism.

Symbolism has roots in my culture and keeps appearing in my works.

In different projects, I used different elements associated with different meanings. My self-portrait is based on the dualities within me,

This form of visual language was later implemented in my thesis project as well, conceptually, and formally.

and Home brings in different abstract elements associated with my home or literally portray Tehran's iconic monument.

Selfportrait, 2019. Silkscreen. 18 Ă— 12 in.

Visual Exploration

44


Home, 2019. Silkscreen. 20 × 14 in.

Symbolism

45


Mirรณ Alphabet, 2018. Typeface.

Mirรณ Alphabet was a set of the alphabet based on the symbolism, the famous surrealist artist, Juan Mirรณ uses in his paintings and sculptures. The abstract forms in his work are a depiction of stars and

The kind of symbolism used in this

constellations, which was translated into my alphabet forms as well.

project is close to what I did in my thesis with the motifs of traditional rug patterns.

Visual Exploration

46


Mirรณ Alphabet, 2018. Typeface.

Symbolism

47


Abstraction During a very objective form making project, I created fifty variations of a poster by using a set of simple abstract forms. The abstract shapes were made based on a baseball poster for Chicago Clubs, designed by Otis Shepard in the 1950s. It was a challenging task to created 50 distinct abstract compositions

Creating fifty compositions with

based on the same forms. However, it taught me the resilience

limited elements pushes the limits of

I needed to develop my abstract alphabet system for my thesis project.

creativity. The same form of abstraction and form making lead me to the YFC alphabets that I designed

I later used the 50 designed composition to create a set of a baseball card in the same theme of the original poster that inspired the project in the first place.

by simple abstract geometric forms. YFC was an expansion of a branding I did for Youth For Creativity. I applied the same concept later to my final alphabet system that was completely abstract, to a level that it lost its readability.

50 Posters, 2019. Baseball card. 2.5 Ă— 7 in.

Visual Exploration

48


Abstraction

49


All in One For the 2020 MFA Thesis Show, the branding team (me, Wei Yun Chen, Krystyn Wypasek, and Julian Parikh) created a holistic and participatory system that was meant to fully represent all graduating Masters students from the programs housed in the School of Visual

This project brings together all the

Arts. The team built a custom 20x20 square grid with three layers of

visual elements I previously mentioned.

concentric circles layered on top that visually indicates the 40 students graduating from the three distinct programs. This grid became the basis of every part of the system, including the three custom typefaces created for the show. Each student was given the grid to make a unique identifier to be used across print and digital media.

It was an interactive conditional design since everyone in the program designed their unique shapes based on the specific instructions. Everything was based on a grid that was created with three layers, so the layering feature was consistent throughout the

The resulting shapes come together with the typefaces to create a

branding. It had distinct bright colors

unified visual system for the 2020 MFA Thesis Show.

that were picked carefully to represent the joyfulness of the program. Moreover, abstraction and symbolism were implemented in the shapes as well as the system itself.

Visual Exploration

50


MFA Thesis Branding

51


Visual Exploration

52


MFA Thesis Branding

53


Visual Inspirations Considering my previous works and what I had in mind for my final thesis concept, I came across a few projects that were the most influential and inspiring for my purpose. I wanted to share here the projects that informed my thesis in form and structure.

Work's Name

55


Soft Identity Makers What does your national identity look like to you? That’s the question that Muuaaa, a multidisciplinary design and branding studio based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, grappled with in designing their show for 2018 London Design Biennale. That year’s theme was “Emotional States.”

This project was inspirational for me since they created a symbol system to

Muuaaa’s interactive installation, Soft Identity Makers, lets visitors create a unique national identifier like a flag, passport, or coat-of-arms that can be turned into T-shirts, bandanas, and cards. Visitors could

show a complex concept like identity in an abstract form. Content adapted from the article called “Soft Identity Makers” By Muuaaa At

choose up to five “identity markers” that best represented them from a

The 2018 London Biennale Explores

wall of 45 images the firm designed. The selections were then gener-

What Identity Really Looks Like Today

ated into a graphically designed result by a Muuaaa team member.

written by Sanam Yar on bustle.com.

The festival first approached the studio with the idea of what helps people create their “contemporary identities.” Discussion of topics like Brexit, DACA, and the immigration experience led the studio to think about “what happens with those people when they immigrate and assume that their new country [doesn’t] represent them nationally,” Celina Nogueras Cuevas, the studio’s co-founder and chief creative strategist, tells Bustle. “That's when we came up with the idea of giving hope to people that are in this particular situation: [...] creating what we call self-identities.” It’s a particularly salient notion, considering how Muuaaa drew inspiration from Puerto Rico, where the island's status as a U.S. territory provokes plenty of political and socio-cultural commentary on identity, especially in the wake of Hurricane Maria. “National identity doesn't have to be based on what nation you're in, or what physical state you're in. It becomes more how you have lived life,” says Muuaaa co-founder and chief design officer Miguel Miranda

Inspirations

56


Montes. “You start to understand that feeling and a national identity is more about the layers behind what defines you." Those layers are "pure emotions," Miranda Montes says. The firm tried to capture these emotions and turn them into the symbols they call “identity markers.” The concept of turning these identity markers into T-shirts was inspired by another historical tie to Puerto Rico: the fact that T-shirts rose in popularity as early as 1898, as a standard-issue garment for U.S. Navy to wear in tropical heat during the Spanish-American war.

Soft Identity Makers Instructions, 2018. Interactive Installation.

Soft Identity Makers Instructions, 2018. Interactive Installation.

Soft Identity Makers

57


Book from the Ground From Point to Point, part of Xu Bing’s wider project Book from the Ground, is a 112-page novel depicting 24 hours in the life of an ordinary office worker, Mr Black, from seven one morning to seven the next, as he wakes, eats breakfast, goes to work, meets friends, looks for love online and goes out on a date. The book has punctuation marks, but no text; in place of words there are pictograms, logos, illustrative signs and emoticons, all taken from real symbols in use

This project showed me how symbols

around the world. The artist has collated these over a period of seven

can push the boundries of language

years and used them to devise a universal ideographic language, in theory understandable by anyone engaged with modern life.

and tell stories without using the traditional alphabets. Content adapted from Spring/Summer 2014 issue of ArtReview Asia by

On one level Xu achieves his goal: it doesn’t take too much effort for

Helen Sumpter.

the reader – ‘interpreter’ might be more appropriate – to decipher the central character’s day. Mr Black decides what shoes to wear (Lacoste, Adidas, Nike logos) and what to have for lunch (McDonald’s arches, illustration of a steaming steak/bowl of noodles/ sushi). He becomes increasingly stressed (series of anxious-face emoticons, each shedding an increasing number of drops of sweat) preparing for a work presentation. There’s humour, too, some of it slightly odd and scatological, as when Mr Black is straining on the toilet (coiled turd with a red line through it, more sweat-shedding emoticon faces). But perhaps this merely reflects the universality of toilet-related symbols. The accompanying explanatory book, The Book About Xu Bing’s Book from the Ground, includes documentation of the wider project when it has been presented in the context of an exhibition, and includes its development as a software program that translates Chinese and English text into pictograms and symbols. Essays and an interview with the artist put the novel in context, both in terms of Xu’s previous work and in terms of historical and more recently devised pictographic languages – not forgetting that the Chinese also retains pictographic roots. In relation to Xu’s previous work, Book from the Ground is a companion piece to one of his best-known works, Book from the Sky (1987– 91), the four-year project in which he created 4,000 ‘fake’ Chinese characters, which he hand-cut into wooden blocks and printed within Inspirations

58


Xu Bing, Book from the Ground: From Point to Point, 2014. Publication. 5.8 x 8.6 in.

books and on scrolls. Instead of attempting a language understandable to everyone, here he created a language that was understandable by no one. When considering the implications of a global language for an increasingly global world, Xu’s project is a highly relevant one. But when considered within the context of language and literature, the arguments become more problematic, particularly when, in his introductory essay, Mathieu Borysevicz discusses From Point to Point alongside James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). As an overarching narrative, both books may be the story of a day in the life of one man, told over 24 hours, but pushing the literary possibilities of an existing language, as Joyce was doing, is not the same as attempting to tell a story through simplified signs and symbols. The artist himself is the first to acknowledge the limitations of his project by stating, in his interview in The Book About…, that the desire to ‘pursue a dream that all humans can communicate freely without difficulty is a dream too big to realise’.

Book from the Ground

59


Volvox Volvox is a system of 5 fonts (volvox 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) that create a variety of ornamental composites by superimposing. Each Volvox font contains a set of 26 illustrations that are all characterized by radial symmetry.

Volvox, like what I had in mind for my thesis project, was an abstract repre-

Since all the shapes are concentrically composed – which means they all share the same width as well as the same center – they all align perfectly centered.

sentation of alphabets. What I liked and was inspired by the most about the Volvox typeface was the layering of separate symbols and creating an endless number of

Volvox is the latin term for any of various freshwater green algae that

new characters.

form spherical multicellular colonies.

Content adapted from typecuts.com.

Concerning volvox as a system of fonts this means that even though each Volvox character is able to function by itself, it is ultimately designed to be an integral part of a more complex structure (that is created by superimposing various shapes). Volvox is inspired by the natural aesthetics of scientific drawings especially by the beautiful illustrations of Ernst Haeckel in Art forms in nature as well as D’Arcy Thompson in On growth and form. It is furthermore a contemporary interpretation of the visual language of art nouveaux as well as the aesthetics of psychedelic op art. The design of all volvox characters is based on a certain hierarchy: Volvox 1 = background_shapes Volvox 2 = leading_shapes Volvox 3 = centerpiece_shapes Volvox 4 = bits&pieces_shapes Volvox 5 = line_shapes With the Volvox engine (www.typecuts.com/volvox) the user is able to create an endless variety of Volvox composites (the hierarchical order above is not obligatory while using the Volvox engine). Inspirations

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Andrea Tinnes, Volvox, 1999-2001. Typeface.

Volvox

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Talking Through Symbols There were a lot of ups and downs in the process of developing my thesis project. It was when all the concept development, visual explorations, medium testing, and all the detailed plans were supposed to come together to create my final system. However, a lot of unexpected incidents and a turn of events created a necessity for changes and improvisation.

Work's Name

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Thesis Abstract A big part of my identity comes from my Iranian nationality. I grew up in a society that was infused with indifference since anything said and done outside of the rules was faced with severe consequences. I used to find it hard to go against the odds and express my thoughts and feelings, especially when they were critical of something. Graphic design was a great help in bringing me back to the caring world and helping me express myself. I believe in the power of design to make changes in the world and raise awareness towards underrepresented communities and their issues. My thesis presents a design for social awareness, a type of design that has the potential to bring positive changes in society or for a community through forms of design. Speaking on social design as the designer, William Drenttel, describes “ implies at once an attitude and an approach to life: as such, it can help us frame how we want to live in the future. It is, therefore, inherently pragmatic and results-oriented. Simultaneously humble and ambitious, and fundamentally optimistic and forward-looking.” Big institutions like AIGA move forward for social change and create programs like Citizen Designer Now to provide a grant for year-long community design initiative projects. However, in my opinion, individual designers can make equally important micro-changes as well. For instance, Oliver Mundy is a designer that creates illustrations for the New York Times and The Atlantic through decontextualization. He often uses familiar and already existing images but frames them in a way that resonates with the audience immediately and makes them look at the object differently. Describing his work, he says, “I like to bring dissonant things together, explore tensions, find overlaps. I want my images to work multivalently.” Although he creates images that usually have strong political weight, he doesn’t call himself an

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activist. He believes that “image-making can prefigure activism and build awareness, and “that’s an important step to provoke and incite.” With that being said, I’m hoping that my thesis project works as an indirect micro-activism and creates awareness. Distortion and manipulation of messages by media and propaganda, affects the perception of my country, my people, and what they’re going through in the eyes of the rest of the world. Coming from the same misrepresented community, I eventually found a way to communicate my thoughts and messages through design. Now I’d like to metaphorically create a platform for the misrepresented people of my country, give shape to their unheard voices, and raise awareness about the importance of freedom of speech. Iran has an old history that has generated ancient mythology and symbolism through time. These ancient elements have deep roots in Iranian culture and are still alive and used in Iranians’ everyday lives. They also appear a lot in the works of contemporary Iranian artists such as Shiring Neshat, visual artist, or Monir Farmanfarmayan, an artist famous for her contemporary abstract art based on traditional Persian mosaic work. These artists manipulate and change the original intended meaning of the symbolism in traditional culture and appropriate them to contemporary time and issues. Moreover, symbolism is one of the defense mechanisms that Iranian people have been using for centuries against the lack of freedom of speech. It can heavily be seen in Iranian literature, poetry, traditional art, crafts, and even in everyday conversations. Everything Iranian is always buried in layers of metaphors, and symbolism has become a significant part of Iranian culture. I’m translating that rich collection of metaphoric language and art into an abstract symbolic design system that I use throughout my form making and storytelling. I developed this symbol system as a tool for coding the language and crossing the filters of censorship. It is a formal narrative that can be decoded by the audience with an appropriate key. From a different perspective, this system can be an alternative to the media and a direct method of communicating non-manipulated messages and avoiding misrepresentations. I believe that adding an interactive aspect to my work will increase its impact since interactivity helps the audience put themselves in a position of the represented community and experience the issue second-handedly, which makes the work more memorable and impactful.

Thesis Abstract

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Color plays a special role in this project as one of the most abstract visual elements that add an emotional layer to the symbolic system. As Wassily Kandinsky says, “Color is a power which directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard; the eyes are the hammers; the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.” The action of decoding by the audience is a symbolic way of helping the unheard voices to be heard. The audience takes part in the matter by making that happen. The interaction creates an opportunity for a person to person direct communication avoiding the manipulation of the media. Moreover, my interactive installation creates a sense of empathy in others through storytelling raises awareness about the hardship that the people of my country, among others, are going through. It creates an experience, using graphic design, to promote conversation and thinking about a topic that we’ve become numb to, due to repetition. This project is not an attempt to solve the issue but a way to share the voices of the unheard.

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Thesis Abstract

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Symbol System In order to code the language, I developed a system to generate an abstract visual language. At the end of the coding process, an abstract shape, which is created by the overlapping of up to four layers of symbols, represents each letter.

The system is fluid, and the values of X, O, and null are assigned to different characteristics. Therefore, the final look of the symbols could be changed very easily while the whole structure remains the same. For instance, I could assign the 1st layer to dotted and zigzag patterns instead of warm and cold colors.

To decide which letter is made of what symbols, I assigned a code, inspired by morse code, to each letter. Based on this code system, each letter has 4 digits that can have a value of O, X, or null. The table below shows how different values of 4 layers are assigned to different visual characteristics. Later in the chapter, I’ll explain how these values are translated into symbols.

1st Layer

* Talking Through Symbols

2nd Layer

My current visual representation is only one form of endless possibilities of this system

3rd Layer

4th Layer

Warm Color

Straight Line

Geometric

Geometric

Cold Color

Traditional

Traditional

Traditional

Empty

Empty

Empty

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Based on the table above, each of the 26 letter are assigned to a unique 1-4 digit code that can be translated to a 1-4 layer symbol combination:

Symbol System

A

N

B

O

C

P

D

Q

E

R

F

S

G

T

H

U

I

V

J

W

K

X

L

Y

M

Z

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First Layer The first or background layer is the only layer that appears in every letter. It is one of the two groups of cold or warm colors. Or in the monochrome systems white and a color/black. All the symbols are going to have a perfect square shape. The graph below shows how

Talking Through Symbols

Fourth Layer

Third Layer

Second Layer

First Layer

each layer and its borders are positioned on top of each other.

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Warm Colors

Cold Colors

Symbol System

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Second Layer The second layer is the border. Borders are either geometric, which are

Talking Through Symbols

Fourth Layer

There were many books that helped me with the design of the traditional motifs. One of the most well designed references I had was Kilim Designs in Needlepoint by Dorothy Wood.

Third Layer

Second Layer

First Layer

different forms of a straight line, or are based on traditional motifs.

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Straight Line

Traditional Motif

Symbol System

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Third Layer All the symbols I designed are one of the two groups of traditional or geometric, which represents one of the many dualities I’m facing: tradition vs. modernity. There is no overlap between the second and

Talking Through Symbols

Fourth Layer

Third Layer

Second Layer

First Layer

the third layer, so they are easily distinguishable from each other.

The traditional symbols are designed based on the traditional motifs used in Persian rugs and kelims. Rugs were originally made based on the narrative of their makers through symbols. For instance, all the following symbols are Fetter, A cuff-shaped motif symbolizing the continuity of the family union, the devotion of lovers, and the hope that they should always stay together.

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Geometric Shape

Traditional Motif

Symbol System

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Fourth Layer The fourth layer is the one that appears the least in the symbols since most of the letters have null as their fourth layer. It is the small-

Talking Through Symbols

Fourth Layer

Third Layer

Second Layer

First Layer

est component as well and sits right on top of all the other layers.

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Geometric Shape

Traditional Motif

Symbol System

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Letter F There are up to 1,715,000 different ways to create a letter with this system, depending on how many active layers it has. Here are a few different ways that letter F, as in Farinaz, can be assembled.

1st Layer:

Warm color

2nd Layer:

Straight lines

3rd Layer:

Traditional Motif

4th Layer:

Geometric Shape

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Symbol System

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A

B

C

1

2

3

4

all Talking Through Symbols

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D

The Alphabet

E

F

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G

H

I

1

2

3

4

all Talking Through Symbols

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J

The Alphabet

K

L

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M

N

O

1

2

3

4

all Talking Through Symbols

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P

Q

R

Q The Alphabet

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S

T

U

1

2

3

4

all Talking Through Symbols

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V

The Alphabet

W

X

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Y

Z

1

2

3

4

all Talking Through Symbols

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! COVID-19 The 2020 pandemic happened exactly in the middle of the process of the thesis project and changed everything. Since the show was canceled and any possibility for interactivity in person was down the drain, I had to revisit my project and make new decisions. The in-person interactive part of the project was changed to AR, and the final execution had to become purely digital.

COVID-19

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This spread contains an AR component.

Talking Through Symbols

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Symbols in Use

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Talking Through Symbols

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Symbols in Use

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Thesis Show My initial plan for the thesis show was to have a large scale installation of one set of the symbol alphabet. I wanted to have four rows with seven letters in each row. Each letter would have four layers of acrylic hung with space from each other, and each acrylic sheet would have one symbol silkscreen printed on it.

I made the models on this spread and next by Adobe Dimension.

The transparency of the acrylic sheet would let the viewer see layers separately and also at a certain perspective, see all the layers on top of each other. I was planning to have extra acrylic sheet layers available for the audience to interact with and create their letters and words with the key provided. While in self-isolation, with no access to the facilities and no possibilities for making the old plans work, I decided to teach myself 3D modeling to be able to still bring to life what I’d been picturing in my head for the final show.

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Symbols Installation, 2020. 3D modeling.

Thesis Show

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Concept Development

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Work's Name

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Acknowledgements

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Acknowledgments This project wouldn't be possible without the help and support of: My family: Mom, Dad, and Ali My second family: Sam and the CotĂŠs My amazing friends: Wei Yun Chen (Winnie, Fishy, Tuna) Krystyn Wypasek Julian Parikh and the BU Gang My professors: Kristen Coogan Yael Ort-Dinoor James Grady Nick Rock Mary Yang Sergei Tsvetkov And the guest critics: Kathleen and Chris Sleboda James Goggin Melissa Weiss David Yun

Thank You

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Talking Through Symbols Š 2020 Farinaz Valamanesh Design and text by Farinaz Valamanesh Typeset in Dia designed by Lauri Toikka & Florian Schick Atlas Grotesk by Kai Bernau, Susana Carvalho and Christian Schwartz Printed by Kirkwood

Colophon

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Profile for farinazv

Talking Through Symbols  

A project submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from Boston Universit...

Talking Through Symbols  

A project submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from Boston Universit...

Profile for farinazv
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