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PUBLISHING AS THE CRITICAL PR ACTICE OF GR APHIC DESIGN ... An Is Not Book


Publishing as the Critical Practice of Graphic Design an is not book


abstr act

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his book is a practitioner’s inquiry into the importance of historical and contemporary examples of what has come to be called “critical practice” within

the field of graphic design. Critical practice is similar to, but distinct from, both fine art and design—especially when design is defined narrowly, as limited to a service industry for organizational and business interests. Having inquired into the history of critical practice, and provided contemporary examples, this book procedes to describe our own attempt to develop a critical design practice in the form of Are Not Books & Publications, an instance of what has been called “micro-publishing.” The publishing taken up by such micro-publishing ventures is entirely controlled by the designer, along with a small group of collaborators. Design, production, and distribution roles are restricted so as to be minimally influenced by outside concerns. As a result, the form and content of the books and pamphlets published by Are Not Books can be critically and self-reflexively about the practice of design and publishing. The unique contribution made by Are Not Books—dis-

tinct from other historical and contemporary instances of publishing as critical graphic design—is a product of its focus on the nonmodern elements intrinsic to the practice of graphic design. “Graphic design” here being defined expansively, as having to do with the combined written and visual elements of knowledge production (not to be confused with, or limited to knowledge communication or documentation). Are Not Books & Publications is, in other words, a formal


inquiry constructed to operate as an instance of critical design investigating the nonmodern, graphic elements central to the process of contemporary knowledge production.


contents

pa rt i. The End of Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 The (Most Recent) End of Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Design is Not Neutral . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Political Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 A Future for Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Cycles, Seasons, Fashions, and Trends, Versus a Consistent Quality of Attention . . . . . . . . . . . 17 ch a p ter i. What Is an Artistic Practice? . . . . . . . . . . . . 25

Critical Practice in Art and Design, Generally . . . 25

Critical Practice in Design, Specifically . . . . . . . . . 27

Industrial Design: Historical Examples of Critical

Practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30

Architecture: Historical Examples of Critical Practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31

Graphic Design: Historical Examples of Critical

Practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34

Three Types of Criticism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36

ch a p ter 2. Graphic Design, An Expansive Definition 37

The Historical Source of the Term “Graphic Design” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37

The Received Meaning of Graphic Design . . . . . . 38

Graphic Design: An Expanded Definition . . . . . . . 40

Writing as Graphic Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41

The Graphic Designer as Cultural Generalist . . . . 42

“Relational Aesthetics” and Graphic Design . . . . . 44


ch a p ter 3. Publishing, An Expansive Definition . . . . . 47 part ii. Examples of Critical Practice in Graphic Design 51 ch a p ter 4. Examples of Self-Commissioned Publishing Programs as Critical Practice in Graphic Design 53

Examples of Self-Commissioned Publishing Pro grams as Critical Practice in Graphic Design . . 53

Dot Dot Dot and The Serving Library . . . . . . . . . . . 53

Bedford Press . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54

Precinct . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54

Oslo Editions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54

F.R. David . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57

The Happy Hypocrite . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57

Bookhorse and Rollo Press . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58

The Everyday Press . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58

Historical Examples of Artists’ and Alternative Publishing and Distribution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59

ch a p ter 5. Examples of “Cultural Design” as Critical

Practice in Graphic Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61

Rebecca Gimenez . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62

Linked By Air . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62

Danielle Aubert . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64

Will Holder . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65

James Goggin (Practise) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65

APFEL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66

Graphic Thought Facility . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67

Winterhouse Studio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68


ch a p ter 6. Examples of Graphic Design Operating as

Contemporary Art . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69

Graphic Design in the White Cube . . . . . . . . . . . . 69

Forms of Inquiry: The Architecture of Critical Graphic Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70

Zak Kyes Working With . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71

Dexter Sinister . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72

ch a p ter 7. Distribution and Collection: Libraries as

Performative Critical Practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75

Shelf Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75

The Anti-Library . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75

Millennium Magazine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76

part iii. Are Not Books & Publications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77 ch a p ter 8. A General Description of the Are Not Books & Publications Project . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79

Performative Publishing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79

Graphic Design in the White Cube . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81

Collaboration’s Discontents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81

ch a p ter 9. Are Not Books & Publications as a Function- ing Publisher of Print and Electronic Books . . . 85

The Are Not Books & Publications Catalog . . . . . . 85

The Are Not Books Editorial Method . . . . . . . . . . 85

The Are Not Books Production Method . . . . . . . . 86

The Are Not Books Marketing Strategy . . . . . . . . . 87

An Instance of Publishing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 88

ch a p ter 10. Are Not Books & Publications as an Aca demic Research Program . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89


Academic Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89

Research Methodology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90

Nonmodern Knowledge Production . . . . . . . . . . . . 91

acknow ledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97 bibliogr a ph y . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99


Part I the end of design


I

Introduction

t has been said that graphic designers of a slightly older generation thought of becoming a graphic designer as similar to receiving a membership card.1 This card

allowed them into a tradition of designers who partnered with corporations to create the great industrial culture of the twentieth century. Among the most representative, or canonical, members of this design “community” are Paul Rand, Massimo Vignelli, Marcello Nizzoli, and Peter Behrens.2 Increasingly, however, contemporary graphic designers imagine that beginning to practice is more like receiving a passport than a membership card.3 This passport allows designers to operate across disciplines, acting as cultured amateurs, synthesizing, simplifying, and re-contextualizing previously specialized, over-professionalized, and segregated fields of knowledge. While industrial-era production models continue to draw profits from increasingly narrow niches and markets, post-industrial methods, by way of contrast, attempt the re-integration of niche markets through synthesis, and the establishment of temporary, provisional, highly contingent contexts, models, artifacts, and “applied fictions.”4 1.

The image comes from Magnus Ericson, Iaspis Forum on Design and Critical Practice: The Reader. Berlin: Sternberg Press, and Stockholm: Iaspis, 2009, pp. 347–49.

2. See chapter 2, below, for further treatment of Rand, Vignelli, Nizzoli, and Behrens. 3. Ericson, pp. 347–49 4. Design by located subjects playing at not-knowing depends 11


publishing as the critical pr actice Today, many graphic designers understand their primary function as having been transformed from providing services and solutions for industrial-era commercial clients, to asking questions and making inquiries into the nature of post-industrial cultural needs and contexts. A shift has occurred from design based on “analytical observation” to graphic production as “performative inquiry.”5 Graphic design studios increasingly function as both a regular studio and a tool for questioning the very nature of a design studio.6 Some well-known studios (Daniel van der Velden and Vinca Kruk’s Metahaven, for example) provide almost no services to commissioning agents, preferring to initiate all their own projects.

the (most recent) end of design “The role of the designer is in peril,” writes Daniel van der Velden.7 In a post- industrial, information-based economy, knowledge is monetized more often than physical products and inventions. Design—defined as visual organization,

upon networks of mutually interacting, co-evolving parts. This process may be described as an “architecture of manufactured sympathies.” Such sympathetic design is distinct from less complex applications of empathetic design purporting to employ objective ethnographic research. Sympathetic design, or co-evolution, has more in common with what has been called “fabricated truths” or “applied fictions.” As Rabih Mroué describes the phenomenon, “truth and fiction intermingle” whenever an electronically networked, or “mediated ‘truth’ is broadcast to the public as an exceptional moment” (Rabih Mroué, “The Fabrication of 12


. . . of gr aphic design

Metahaven (Daniel van der Velden and Vinca Kruk), publication design, authoring, and editing. 13


publishing as the critical pr actice aesthetic refinement, or problem-solving—risks becoming the factory work of the prevailing economic system. Highly efficient, algorithmic feedback loops allow users to directly participate in the production of informationbased services and products. These “social” products are quickly and easily created by filling in online forms, while the aesthetic refinement of industrial objects and graphics, previously the job of a designer, has become redundant— replaced by widespread individualization, customization, and participation. When a corporate client is in need of large-scale development and design, most strategic and conceptual work, problem-setting, and ideation is carried out by marketing professionals, public relations experts, and business managers employing “design thinking” to direct the design process. Freelance and in-house design practitioners are called in only at the end of the process, and then only to do the manual labor of executing a pre-set strategy.

Truth,” Afterall 25, p. 89; reproduced in Groys, Boris, Medium Religion. Cologne, Germany: König, 2010, p. 78). 5. This particular formulation is Sam Thorne’s, from “Focus: Will Holder,” Frieze 118, October 2008. 6. Compare to Ericson, The Iaspis Reader, p. 267. 7. van der Velden, Daniel. “Research & Destroy: Graphic Design as Investigation,” Metropolis M, April/May 2006. Reprinted in Blauvelt, Andrew, Ellen Lupton, and Rob Giampietro. Graphic Design: Now in Production. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2011, pp. 16—18.

14


. . . of gr aphic design design is not neutr al As John Thackara put it almost thirty years ago,8 the word “design” has come to mean many things; it has almost become too diffuse. “Design” retains the connotation of high-modern progress, while at the same time being treated as a simple tool to be used for functional, technically precise communication and systems improvements. In fact, Thackara writes, design is never a neutral tool; it is a “planning activity whose aims and procedures are dictated by commercial and political interests.”9

political design Like Thackara, many observers have seen in the changing role of the designer, a larger, simultaneous change in the operation of the democratic process. Neville Brody, a graphic designer and head of the Visual Communications department at London’s Royal College of Art, also describes the role of the designer as in peril. But for Brody, it is entirely a matter of politics. “This is clearly a major period of transition,” he says, I think all the old categories of graphic design, or illustrator, or interactive designer . . . these are all breaking down. In the 1980s, memory was erased of anything that happened before. Concern was replaced by commodity, political belief was replaced by consumerism, and the police were employed to 8. Thackara, John. Design After Modernism: Beyond the Object. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1988. 9. Thackara, Design After Modernism, p. 12. 15


publishing as the critical pr actice enforce that new state of mind. Our challenge and our course of action has to be to reveal this grid of control that’s going on by revealing its opposite. I think we have to become kind of anti-PR, antimarketing, anti-advertising design, and become individuals sparking with a kind of dangerous creativity.10

a future for design Even if we do not see the graphic designer’s role as imperiled, it is hard to deny that the designer’s role is changing. As van der Velden puts it, today’s “important graphic design” is no longer carried out by the likes of Rand and Vignelli, designers whose clients considered them equal, collaborating partners.11 Important design today is, instead, the product of an individual designer, or group of designers, operating independently, on the margins of visual culture.12 While sympathetic clients do exist, they are increasingly rare, most often found among cultural and non-profit institutions with commissioning agents possessed of a highly specialized visual education and critical acumen. The design work of the future may not be limited to anti-advertising, or anti-PR, as Brody 10. Neville Brody, RCA promotional video, accessed at: youtube. com/ watch?v=RKwd6eFxnIU 11. van der Velden, Daniel, “Research & Destroy: Graphic Design as Investigation,” Metropolis M, April/May 2006. Reprinted in Blauvelt, Andrew, Ellen Lupton, and Rob Giampietro. Graphic Design: Now in Production. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2011, pp. 16–18. 12. van der Velden, Daniel, “Research & Destroy,” p. 17. 16


. . . of gr aphic design seems to suggest. But it will have to include a critical “anti-” element, if it is to continue to differentiate itself from, or compete with, business practices, management, design-asbusiness, or design as creating, branding, and marketing a product strictly for the sake of sales, “above and beyond the product itself” or its use-value.13 As a result, an increasing number of designers, faced with this situation, are pursuing something like an artistic practice—a design practice determined by the production of independent and critical, while marginal, unimpressive, provisional, highly contingent, and often partial objects. Partial, contingent, provisional objects that are authored, interpreted, written, edited, published, distributed, revised, and controlled by the designer.14

cycles, seasons, fashions, and trends, versus a consistent qualit y of ‘obstinate’ at tention Capitalism eats itself. As Karl Marx put it, “everything solid melts into air.”15 Seemingly good things come and go, governed by laws of fashion. The designer, called a craftsman for 13. This follows closely the argument made about advertising design and branding in Veronique Vienne’s “Creating Desires,” collected in Vienne, Veronique. Something to Be Desired. New York: Graphis, 2001, p. 62. 14. The idea of a partial object is meant to resonate with Bruno Latour’s notion of a “quasi-object,” and related ideas discussed under the category “thing theory.” See Part III, below, “Nonmodern Knowledge Production,” for a brief restatement of the idea. It is, unfortunately, beyond the scope of this paper to develop the connection much further. 17


publishing as the critical pr actice thousands of years, became in the last part of the twentieth century, a somewhat pitiable, even clownish figure governed by the vagaries of bourgeois tastes and trends, superficial patterns of commodification, and material consumption. More recently, “hypermodern,”16 digitally networked, post-fordist, and geopolitical realities have accelerated the transformation of intellectual and creative capital, politics, and ideas into consumable immaterial goods. Graphic designers, artists, and other creative professionals have been co-opted by a still-nascent, neoliberal, and “immaterial labor” system.17 15. Marx, Karl, Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto: A Modern Edition. London: Verso, 1998, p. 38: “Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. . . . All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.” 16. Compare to Albert Borgman, “Hypermodernism” in Crossing the Postmodern Divide. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, pp. 78—109. 17. “Neoliberal” is being used here to refer to political, cultural, educational, and even ecclesiological applications of freemarket economic principles and managerial strategies, so that, for example, “when people talk about grants they no longer talk in terms of ‘nurturing’ the arts and our cultural heritage, but in terms of ‘government interventions,’ as if they were referring to an unavoidable market correction.” As a result, the “exotic aura around the artist’s [or designer’s] calling has dissolved. Today creativity, innovation, authenticity and even idiosyncracy are embraced by the business world and governments alike” (Gielen, Pascal. The Murmuring of the Artistic Multitude: Global Art, Memory and Post-Fordism. 18


. . . of gr aphic design But despite the fluctuating, constantly changing status of artists, designers, critics, and other productive intellectuals (we won’t say “creative professionals”) throughout the early-modern, industrial, and post-industrial eras, a fine thread of seemingly delicate, but unbreakable quality runs through the work of all the best, most critically reflective postmodernists, high modernists, industrialists, Renaissance craftsmen, and traditional “primitives.” This consistently discernable, ahistorical quality has been called “attention” by some, and “memory,” or just “knowledge” by others. Despite its diversity of forms, it can be distinguished by an almost universal interest in the idea of harmony, or balance, and an understanding of nature as a model for human design. Le Corbusier described this quality of attention using terminology borrowed from Pythagoreanism, Orphism, and Blaise Pascal.19 Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, both of whom taught at the Bauhaus, were influenced by theosophy, Eastern religions, and a Romantic strain of animistic nature-religion. William Morris drew deeply on medieval and

Amsterdam: Valiz, 2009, pp. 2, 81, 203. For more of our own analysis of neoliberalism and creative, immaterial labor, see also Rust City Renovation. Wheaton, IL: Are Not Books, 2013. 18. Compare to the “animistic turn” in art, design, and the humanities; as in Isabelle Stengers, “Reclaiming Animism,” in Animism: Modernity through the Looking Glass, edited by Anselm Franke and Sabine Folie, Berlin, Germany: Walther Konig/Vienna, 2011. 19. See Samuel, Flora. Le Corbusier in Detail. Amsterdam: Elsevier/Architectural Press, 2007, p. 3. 19


publishing as the critical pr actice ancient Norse mythology. Eric Gill was influenced by Eastern religion and philosophy learned through a correspondence with A. K. Coomaraswamy, the Anglo-Indian art historian who later proved a defining influence on the thinking of John Cage.20 “Focal realism”21 is philosopher Albert Borgman’s term for a similar quality of attention, made necessary by contemporary post-industrial and geopolitical, “hypermodern” complexity. Jonathan Crary’s study of attention in the modern era

20. See “Unstruck Sound: John Cage and Ananda Coomaraswamy’s Perennialism,” in Elkholy, Sharin N. The Philosophy of the Beats. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012, p. 204, and David W. Patterson, “The Picture That Is Not in the Colors: Cage, Coomaraswamy, and the Impact of India,” in John Cage: Music, Philosophy, and Intention, 1933–1950. New York: Routledge, 2002. According to Koskinen, Zimmerman, Binder, Redstrom, and Vensveen, Barbara Radice discusses at length, the influence of the Beat poets on the career of the (critical) industrial designer Ettore Sottsass (in Radice, Ettore Sottsass, A Critical Biography. London: Thames, 1993; cited in Koskinen, p. 103, n. 8). Sottsass figures below as a key early “critical” practitioner. It is our contention that despite their tendency toward what Kenneth Framton has called the neo-conservative, or anti-modern (Thackara, pp. 62–66), these esoteric elements are intrinsically critical, and culturally perennial. As a result, the esoteric is best described as nonmodern. Compare to Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 21. Borgmann, Albert. Crossing the Postmodern Divide. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, p. 123. We’d like to thank Professor Dennis Doordan for making us aware of this book. 20


. . . of gr aphic design suggests that “late nineteenth century concepts of a purified aesthetic perception [are] inseparable from the processes of modernization that made the problem of attention a central issue in new institutional constructions of a productive and manageable subjectivity.” Modern, technologically-determined experiences of isolation, over-stimulation, and distraction are “intertwined within the resplendent possibilities, ambivalent limits, and failures of an attentive individual.”22 In short, the social and cultural role of the graphic designer is always changing. Creativity, innovation, disruption, and “experience design” have, for example, become terms of art for business administrators. But what does not change is the need for artists and designers capable of a close, critical examination of themselves, their work, and the world around them. This quality of critical reflection is the positive, productive side of an often oppositional (and obstinant, or durational) attitude, focus, and attention. The resplendent commercial “failures” produced by an obstinantly focused variety of critical design might be further described as graphic parrhesia—parrhesia being Michel Foucault’s word for difficult, disruptive speech acts. The disruptive nature of truth-telling, or criticality, according to Foucault, is always rhetorical, aesthetic (or poetic), and political.23

22. Crary, Jonathan. Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1999, pp. 1–2. 23. See Michel Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the College de France, 1981–82. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, especially pp. 381–409. 21


publishing as the critical pr actice are not books: an argument, or thesis The first two parts of the following publication move beyond the historical models listed above (namely, Behrens, Vignelli, Nizzoli, Rand, and Brody), to draw extensively on the most contemporary examples of critical practice in graphic design. Our explicit intention is to provide a theoretical framework for an individual practice, while shedding light on some of the most important and influential, if obscure, elements of graphic design as it is currently being practiced. While graphic design remains in constant flux (all things solid melting into air), a critical attitude and a careful, rarefied, even esoteric, hermetic, or initiatic variety of attention24 may still provide access to a formal quality capable of transcending the prevailing deterministic and instrumentalized understandings of design as limited to the manipulation of stylistic details, organizational problem-solving, managerial efficiency, and careerist aspirations to “stardom” and financial success.

are not books: the project Having made a historical argument, and provided contemporary examples, this publicaton (in Part III, below) procedes

24. Compare to the contemporary design practices described below, and: Gregory Bateson, “Form, Substance, and Difference,” in Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000, pp. 454 and following; and David Levi Strauss, “Green Hermeticism,” Brooklyn Rail, December 14, 2007, accessed at: brooklynrail.org/2007/12/art/green-hermeticism. 22


. . . of gr aphic design to describe our 25 own attempt to develop a critical design practice in the form of Are Not Books & Publications—an academic research program, and a functioning publisher of print and electronic books. This project begins with an understanding of graphic design as an opportunity “to infiltrate and use the system of other disciplines (art, architecture, literature) by stealth.”26 The intention of the Are Not Books & Publications project, as Part III, below, makes clear, is to utilize this strategy of “infiltration by stealth,” while applying it to the field of academic and scholarly publishing, encroaching strategically on the field’s disciplinary territory. This strategy, or methodology, understands the designer’s infiltration into, and use of these fields as comparable to a non-fiction writer’s professional, but non-academic use of scholarship; a music, art, or literature critic’s professional, non-academic use of the history of music, art, or literature;27 or a minister’s professional, but non-academic use of theology. 25. Throughout this publication we have intentionally used the awkward first-person, plural pronoun, the “royal we” in order to indicate a preference for recognizing the fact that “all culture is collectively produced.” In this preference we are following such precedents as Roland Barthes’s “the death of the author is the birth of the reader,” and Umberto Eco’s “The Open Work” and “Form as a Social Commitment.” 26. The phrase is from James Goggin, in Ericson, Magnus. Iaspis Forum on Design and Critical Practice: The Reader. Stockholm: Iaspis, 2009, p. 33. 27. A few examples of this sort of appropriation—including occasional strategic mis-appropriation—might include the work of Nick Tosches, James Wood, Peter Schjeldahl, or Dave Hickey. 23


publishing as the critical pr actice The Are Not Books & Publications project includes twelve published titles (fifteen printed volumes), all of which are available to read online at arenotbooks.com, or to purchase as print-on-demand paperbacks at the cost of printing (without a publisher’s markup). In the spring of 2014, Are Not Books participated as an exhibitor at the College Art Association (CAA) Annual Conference, in Chicago. We also exhibited as part of the 2014 Master of Fine Arts exhibition at the Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame. The intention in both settings is to exhibit performatively; presenting books, artifacts, and physical objects as if they are being promoted for sale, while reflecting on the state, condition, changes, and ongoing problematics within the field of academic and scholarly publishing.28

28. Some of these “problematics” include the commercialization of previously nonprofit academic publishing models, especially the most predatory, for-profit practices; ongoing concerns about the effectiveness of the peer review process; and the potential for an over-acceleration of the editorial, vetting, and publishing process as a result of digital production and electronic distribution. See part three below, and: Triple Canopy, Inc. Invalid Format. New York: Canopy Canopy Canopy, Inc, 2011; Williamson, A. “What Happenes to Peer Review?” April 12, 2002 (accessed at alpsp.org/wil120402); Karen Coyle, “Predatory Publishing / Peer to Peer Review,” Library Journal April, 2013; accessed at lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/04/opinion/peer-topeer-review-publishers-peer-to-peer-review/; and Lindsay Waters, The Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing, and the Eclipse of Scholarship, Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2004. 24


Chapter I What Is an Artistic Practice?

A

critical pr actice in art and design, gener ally rt students taught according to the academic system most prevalent prior to World War I, were encouraged to develop their talent through technique in a

specific discipline. Later, at the Bauhaus, artists and designers were trained to apply creativity and inventiveness to a particular medium. Academic talent and modernist creativity, however, have both undergone crises of faith. By the 1960s, most artists no longer believed in either the academic model embodied by Sir Joshua Reynolds, or the Bauhaus model represented by Walter Gropius. Located somewhere between (or against) both tradition and modernism, today’s most familiar model for art and design is the development of an artistic practice. The terminology used here is derived from Julia Kristeva’s description of a “signifying practice, where practice is taken as meaning the acceptance of a symbolic law together with the transgression of that law for the purpose of renovating it.”29 An artistic practice is generally understood as the ability

to produce works of art and design that both embody and express a knowledge of history and the current structure of the field. As author and educator Howard Singerman puts 29. Kristeva, Julia, “The System and the Speaking Subject,” in Kristeva, Julia, and Toril Moi. The Kristeva Reader. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986, p. 29. 25


publishing as the critical pr actice it: “consciousness of the field is what is now taught as art.” 30 Today the acquisition of a critical attitude is often more highly valued than the possession of talent or creativity. As Thierry de Duve helpfully puts the matter, the triad of “attitude–practice–deconstruction” has replaced the modernist “creativity–medium–invention.”31 Often cited as emblematic of this paradigmatic shift from creativity to attitude within the field of art is Harald Szeeman’s 1969 exhibition “When Attitude Becomes Form,” at the Kunsthalle Bern. A specific example of this approach to contemporary cultural production can be found in the course description for “Critical Practice Seminar,” a first-year, introductory-level class at the Yale University School of Art. The following is drawn directly from a 2010 catalog listing: “Whereas a common conceptual and visual culture used to be imposed by teaching the canon, now it must be created from scratch by those who elect to make culture in full recognition that this will be an awkward and inconclusive process and that results can only be measured by the collectively arrived at sophistication of the information and understandings

30. Singerman, Howard. Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American University. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999, p. 212. 31. de Duve, Thierry. “When Form Has Become Attitude—And Beyond,” in Stephen Foster and Nicholas deVille, eds. The Artist and the Academy: Issues in Fine Art Education and the Wider Cultural Context. Southampton, England: John Hansard Gallery, 1994. Reproduced in Stark, Frances. Primer Compiled on the Occasion of The Claude & Alfred Mann Symposium “On the Future of Art School”: Saturday January 27, 2007, at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. New York, NY: Dexter Sinister, 2007. 26


. . . of gr aphic design exchanged.” 32 Another way to describe an artistic practice—as distinct from a discipline, métier, or medium—is as an example of praxis: balancing both theory and object-making, or production, equally. This often means de-professionalizing, or de-specializing the production side of the equation in order to make room for intellectual work and theory. The graphic designers Erwin Brinkers, Marieke Stolk, and Danny van Dungen, who work collectively under the name Experimental Jetset, choose to define graphic design, specifically, as praxis: “in the true practice of graphic design,” they write, “the artificial borders between manual labor and intellectual labor are torn down. Thinking becomes a form of making, and making becomes a form of thinking.”33

critical pr actice in design, specifically Many innovations within the fields of design and architectural history can be seen as critical responses to the prevailing norms of the time. As Ilpo Koskinen, John Zimmerman, Thomas Binder, Johan Redström, and Stephan Wensveen put it, “design has had more than a few critical phases that have gained quite a following.” Among the key figures Koskinen, Zimmerman, Binder, Redström, and Wensveen identify, are “Victor Papanek’s writings about ecology in the 1960s,” and “anti-commercial comments voiced in the commercial heart32. Course description, Critical Practice Seminar, Yale University, 2010. 33. Ericson, Magnus. Iaspis Forum on Design and Critical Practice: The Reader. Stockholm: Iaspis, 2009, p. 75. 27


publishing as the critical pr actice land of design by people like Georg Nelson, who lamented Henry Dreyfuss for his commercialism after the 1950s.”34 More unique to the last several decades, however, has been an emerging tendency toward self-reflexive design practices that resemble critical developments in other disciplines, including visual art. “Critical design” as this tendency has come to be called, emphasizes questions and intellectual interrogation over the production of industrial objects, commercial graphics, or editorial communication. Critical design projects can be either self-commissioned or acquired through traditional means, but are uniformly completed as both regular design projects and opportunities to examine, critique, and think through the nature of design itself. Design “problems” are solved, in other words, but not without recognizing—and emphasizing, even privileging—the new problems created in the process. The industrial designers Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby are often credited as having coined the term “critical design.”35 In their 2001 book Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objects, Dunne and Raby describe critical design this way: “Critical design, or design that asks carefully crafted questions and makes us think, is just as important as design that solves problems or finds answers.”36 Other 34. Koskinen, Ilpo, John Zimmerman, Thomas Binder, Johan Redström, and Stephan Wensveen. Design Research Through Practice: From the Lab, Field, and Showroom. Amsterdam: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2011, p. 103. 35. See, for example, Poynor, Rick. “Observer: Critical Omissions,” Print Magazine, October 2008; accessed at: printmag. com/Article/Observer_Critical_Omissions. 36. Dunne, Anthony, and Fiona Raby. Design Noir: The Secret Life 28


. . . of gr aphic design product designers working in a similarly critical, practicebased manner include Jurgen Bey and Martí Guixé, both of whom joined Dunne and Raby as participants in the 2007 exhibition organized by the Belgian gallery Z33, titled Designing Critical Design. Guixé, in particular, is well-known for describing himself as an “ex-designer,” because for him “design” has come to mean a de-facto relinquishing of all intellectual agency to market-based, professional forces and conventional thinking.37 The industrial designers who participated in Designing Critical Design were joined by graphic designers and visual artists for another 2007 exhibition titled Wouldn’t It Be Nice . . . Wishful Thinking in Art and Design, organized by the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève and Somerset House, London.38 Similarly, critical interdisciplinary concerns shared by graphic design and architecture were examined in the exhibition Forms of Inquiry: The Architecture of Critical Graphic Design,39 organized by London’s Architectural Association,

of Electronic Objects. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2001, p. 58; see also the “Critical Design FAQ” page at dunneandraby.co.uk. 37. See, for example, Borka, Max, Françoise Foulon. Martí Guixé, Open-End. Oostkamp, Belgium: Stichting Kunstboek, 2008. The exhibition Designing Critical Design was followed at Z33 by 2010’s Design By Performance. 38. See King, Emily, Katya García-Antón, and Christian Brändle. Wouldn’t It Be Nice . . . Wishful Thinking in Art and Design (exhibition catalog). Geneva: Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, 2007. 39. Kyes, Zak, and Mark Owens. Forms of Inquiry: The Architecture of Critical Graphic Design. London: Architectural Association, 2007. 29


publishing as the critical pr actice and later revisited and expanded in the Iaspis Forum on Design and Critical Practice, a seminar, exhibition, and publication curated by the Swedish Arts Grants Committee in Stockholm.40 We will be examining many of the currentlypracticing, contemporary graphic designers included in this group in greater detail in the following chapters.

industrial design: historical ex amples of critical pr actice Historical precedents for the movement toward critical practice within the field of industrial design can be found in the work of Norman Potter, Bruno Munari, and Ettore Sottsass. Norman Potter’s book What Is a Designer begins and ends with the argument that “design is a field of concern, response, and inquiry as often as decision and consequence.”41 The emphasis on inquiry over decision is rooted in his critical view of industry, the bulk of which, Potter writes, is “carried on for the purpose of private pecuniary gain . . . [including] the exploitation by unscrupulous moneymakers of the deep longing for culture on the part of the less privileged and undereducated groups in our society.”42 Bruno Munari’s mobile-like “useless machines,” from the 1930s and 40s were early experiments in crossing the boundaries between art and design. He used industrial methods, materials, and techniques, but insisted on the objects being

40. See Ericson, Magnus. Iaspis Forum on Design and Critical Practice: The Reader. Stockholm: Iaspis, 2009. 41. See Ericson, Magnus. Iaspis Forum on Design and Critical Practice: The Reader. Stockholm: Iaspis, 2009, p.9. 42. Potter, What Is a Designer, p. 8. 30


. . . of gr aphic design “useless” because, as he wrote, “unlike other machines, they don’t produce consumer goods, they don’t make workforces obsolete, and don’t contribute to the growth of wealth or capital.”43

architecture: historical ex amples of critical pr actice In 1961, the experimental architectual collaborative Archigram wrote “We have chosen to bypass the decaying Bauhaus image.”44 Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s Learning From Las Vegas was also famously critical of modernism.45 The practice of “paper architecture,” as taken up by Hermann Finsterlin (1887–1973), Bruno Taut (1880–1938), Archigram, and Superstudio, is another example of critical, speculative, and theoretical work. While paper architecture rarely results in actual built structures, the influence of these projects has often been immeasurable. El Lissitzky’s Proun paintings (1923), for example, functioned in a speculative, theoretical fashion. The abstract, nearly archetypal paintings surprisingly succeed in realizing what Lissitzky himself called an “interchange station between between painting and architecture”46 Graphic design historian Philip Meggs identi-

43. Potter, What Is a Designer, p. 8. 44. Quoted in Antonello, Pierpaolo, “Beyond Futurism: Bruno Munari’s Useless Machines,” in Berghaus, Günter. Futurism and the Technological Imagination. Amsterdam and New York: Editions Rodopi, 2009, p. 332. 45. From the Archigram “Manifesto,” in Mallgrave, Harry Francis. Architectural Theory. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005, p. 356. 46. Yves-Alain Bois, “El Lissitzky: Radical Reversibility,” Art in 31


publishing as the critical pr actice fies an evocative resonance between Lissitzky’s diagrammatic paintings, from the 1920s, and the “new-wave, postmodern” typography of April Greiman, in the 1980s.47 The book-based architecture of Le Corbusier and Rem Koolhaas functions like paper architecture extended to a book-length form. For Koolhaas, the book form works as a paradoxically important/unimportant filing cabinet. Any research not used to build something is thrown into a book. As the journalist Justin McGuirk puts it, “Nothing is ever wasted, and in that sense there is no such thing as failure. If the research doesn’t turn into a building, there’s always the book.”48 The 2010 exhibition OMA Book Machine: The Books of OMA gave Koolhaas’s ambivalent attitude toward research a visible, physical form. A 40,000-page loosely-bound document entitled the OMA Compendium, assembled especially for the exhibition, brought together the contents of every book, pamphlet, and publication ever produced by the studio. The resulting monster-book neutralizes the remarkably extro-

America 76, no. 4 (April 1988), pp. 161-81. Quoted in Jackson, Matthew Jesse. The Experimental Group: Ilya Kabakov, Moscow Conceptualism, Soviet Avant-Gardes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010, p. 60. 47. Meggs, Philip and Alston W. Purvis. Meggs’ History of Graphic Design. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012, p. 468. See also “Graphic design: historical examples of critical practice,” below. 48. McGuirk, Justin, “Tomes Sweet Tomes: How Rem Koolhaas Re-Engineered the Architecture Book,” guardian.co.uk, May 17, 2010. Accessed at: guardian.co.uk/artanddesign /2010/may/17/ rem-koolhaas-architecture-book 32


. . . of gr aphic design verted, visually dynamic, and highly engaging style of OMA’s conventionally published books. As exemplified not only by the OMA Book Machine project, but also by the widely-distributed S, M, L, XL (1344 pages),49 and Mutations (720 pages),50 Koolhaas’s studio communicates, perhaps, to an excessive degree. Messages and ideas are reduced to data, and the graphic quality is supersaturated. As John Kelsey has written, the bibliographic production of the Koolhaas studio is—like the Bruce Maudesigned series Zone Books—open to the criticism that it has merely repackaged the otherwise critical, conceptual content of Deleuzian deconstruction into slick, business savvy promotional items. “In the immaterial, discursive situation,” Kelsey writes, “concept is everything, and so is look.”51 By contrast, Le Corbusier’s production of books is no less quantitatively impressive, but the results are not so discursively chatty. Preferring an introspective, even hermetic, approach to theory and communication, Corbusier’s books Vers une architecture (1923), and The Modular (1950), for example, employ the book form to organize and synthesize ideas, not just collect, archive, and advertise them.52 49. Koolhaas, Rem, Bruce Mau, Jennifer Sigler, and Hans Werlemann. S, M, L, XL. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 1995. 50. Koolhaas, Rem, Stefano Boeri, Sanford Kwinter, Nadia Tazi, and Hans-Ulrich Obrist. Mutations: Rem Koolhaas, Harvard Project on the City. Barcelona: ACTAR, 2000. 51. Kelsey, John. “Escape from Discussion Island,” in Gillick, Liam, Monika Szewczyk, and Stefan Kalmár. Meaning Liam Gillick. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009, p. 64. 52. See Smet, Catherine de. Le Corbusier, Architect of Books. Baden, Switzerland: Lars Müller Publishers, 2005. 33


publishing as the critical pr actice gr aphic design: historical ex amples of critical pr actice Within graphic design, Karel Martens, and especially Jan Van Toorn are early exemplars of critical practice. Rick Poyner describes Van Toorn’s career as representative of an increasingly common reaction to design as “merely providing a promotional endorsement for our current version of reality.”53 “In the 1920s,” Poyner writes, “the Modernists believed that design had a fundamental task to perform as an agent of social and political transformation. In the decades after the Second World War, as graphic design took shape as an organized business activity and as a would-be profession throughout the industrialized world, design’s visual motivations and social purposes did not require much soul-searching.”54 It was into this setting—one that rejected the earlier belief in the designer’s need to act as an agent of change—that Van Toorn came to reassert the need for a critical voice. From 1992 through 1998, in his role as director of the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht, Van Toorn played a crucial role in educating many students who went on to currently influential critical practices. Among his former students are Peter Bi’lak and Daniel van der Velden. Karel Martens has served a similar function to Van Toorn’s in his role as co-founder of the Werkplaats Typografie, in Arnhem, the Netherlands. Martens’ former students who have become critical practioners include Stuart Bailey and Alex DeArmond. Equally influential has been Mar53. Poynor, Rick. Jan Van Toorn: Critical Practice. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2007, p. 79. 54. Poynor, Rick. Jan Van Toorn, p. 79. 34


. . . of gr aphic design

Karel Martens, cover design and art direction for Sunschrift (top), and OASE (bottom). 35


publishing as the critical pr actice tens’ book design for the socialist publisher Sunschrift, his art direction and design for the architectural journal OASE, and his widely-read monograph Printed Matter/Drukwerk.55 Other historical examples of critical practice within graphic design include Wolfgang Weingart, Dan Friedman, and April Greiman, who are widely acknowledged to have introduced a critical approach to International style typographical dogma.56 And Peter Saville’s practice is another important example of applied art appropriating the methods of fine art, while clearly retaining its function as graphic design.

three t ypes of criticism Ramia Mazé has helpfully described three key types of criticism applied to design practices.57 The first type opens an individual practice to collaboration, influence, or direct criticism from outside. Mazé calls this a “reflective or critical practice.” The second builds a higher-level discourse examining the field of design as a whole. This is the foundational level of discipline-building. Graphic design is a new enough field (unlike architecture, for example) that it is still open to definition as a discipline. The third form of criticism possible within design is the use of design to critique, comment on, or present an argument of pressing political or other issues outside design, in the world at large. 55. Martens, Karel, Robin Kinross, and Jaap van Triest. Printed Matter \ Drukwerk. London: Hyphen Press, 2010. 56. See Meggs, History of Graphic Design, pp. 466–68. 57. For Mazé’s three types of criticism, see Ericson, Iaspis Forum Reader, pp. 391 and following. 36


Chapter 2 Graphic Design: An Expansive Definition

T

the historical source of the term “gr aphic design”

he term graphic design was coined by W. A. Dwiggins in 1922.58 An important book designer, Dwiggins also worked as an advertising designer, typographer,

and illustrator. Such a range of skills would have been relatively rare in the nineteenth century. Prior to the industrial revolution, printers, typographers, compositors, and artistprintmakers (including illustrators), generally apprenticed and trained in separate, independent workshop-based crafts. When Dwiggins’s article “A New Kind of Printing Calls for New Design,” was published in the August 29, 1922 issue of the Boston Evening Transcript, his own practice involved the conception and execution of designs without involvement in production, presswork, or other matters of craft. This new kind of work, undertaken by a newly specialized kind of worker, Dwiggins termed “graphic design.” What most distinguished graphic design—a “new kind of work”—from the traditional, craft-based printer, typographer, or compositor is that he or she worked closely with business interests in the equally novel fields of advertising and publishing. By the early twentieth century, printing was no longer the independent, gentlemanly pursuit it was in 1728, for example, when Benjamin Franklin, having apprenticed

58. see Thomson, Ellen M. The Origins of Graphic Design in America: 1870–1920. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997, p. 1. 37


publishing as the critical pr actice with his older brother, set up his own shop in Philadelphia. As Beatrice Hanssen explains,59 the distinction between a printer and a “graphic designer” is the difference between an independently-employed observer, practitioner, or agent, in the case of the printer, and a salaried worker, in the case of the designer. By 1922, the graphic designer, properly socalled, emerged as “a new form of salaried employee who produces news/literature/ advertisements for the purpose of information/entertainment/persuasion (the forms of both product and purpose are not clearly distinguished). These products fill the ‘empty’ hours which time off from work has become in the modern city.” 60

the received meaning of gr aphic design As we have seen, the word “design” today has become diffuse, and difficult to define, but “graphic design” is still often defined with something like Pentagram co-founder Bob Gill’s favorite formula. “Design is a way of organizing,” Gill writes, “What has to be organized, I call the problem. Design is the solution.” 61 Contemporary circumstances have created a situation, however, in which much of the problem-solving previously considered a matter of graphic design (to be performed by

59. Hanssen, Beatrice. Walter Benjamin and ‘The Arcades Project’. London: Continuum, 2006. 60. Hanssen, Walter Benjamin, p. 44. 61. Gill, Bob. Graphic Design As a Second Language. Mulgrave, Victoria, AU: Images, 2003, p. 7. 38


. . . of gr aphic design designers like Bob Gill) is currently undertaken by managers working in the fields of marketing or public relations. When design decisions are made at the level of business and organizational management, it is often referred to as “design thinking” 62 or “product research.” As a result, the received meaning of design as problem solving, today, is most often limited to the restricted fields of production tasks and software operation.63 One result of design decisions being taken up by organizational and bureaucratic “design thinkers” and researchers, has been a wide-scale reevaluation, and transgression, of conventional disciplinary boundaries by designers not wishing to limit their practice to the execution of simple production tasks, or business management, marketing, and public relations.

62. ACM Interactions magazine uses “innovation” and “design thinking” synonymously­—contrasting both to “design,” in “Design Versus Innovation: The Cranbrook/IIT Debate,” January + February 2009, p. 52. And IDEO’s Tim Brown: “I believe that design thinking has much to offer a business world in which most management ideas and best practices are freely available to be copied and exploited. Leaders now look to innovation as a principal source of differentiation and competitive advantage; they would do well to incorporate design thinking into all phases of the process” (source: Harvard Business Review, June 2008; accessed at: hbr.org/2008/06/design-thinking/ar/1). 63. Compare to “graphic design,” in Erlhoff, Michael. Design Dictionary: Perspectives on Design Terminology. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2008, pp. 198–99. 39


publishing as the critical pr actice gr aphic design: an expanded definition If we begin with the given, received meaning of graphic design as advertising, public relations, communications, and identity design, but then extend our definition to ask what else “graphic design” might mean, or has meant, in both historical and contemporary practice, we are able to come up with an expanded definition of the field. An expanded definition of graphic design (beyond organizational problem-solving) begins with an understanding of design as concerned with carefully crafted, productive questions. Indeed, a historical shift has been observed, away from design resulting from analytical observation toward design functioning as performative inquiry.64 Marieke Stolk, Danny van den Dungen and Erwin Brinkers (the design collaborative Experimental Jetset), for example, embrace Bob Gill’s problem/solution model of graphic design, while interpreting it as inherently, tragically flawed. Graphic design as “problem/solution,” Stolk, van den Dungen, and Brinkers write, is essentially modern. It is “outdated, rigid, one-dimensional, didactic, and archaic.” It is beautiful, but “has its tragic side, as every solution only brings forth more problems (and besides, we know that there is no such thing as one perfect solution). But it is exactly this inherent tragic side which makes this model so beautiful and useful to us.”65

64. See, for example, the description of designer Will Holder’s Bachelor Party (2005), in Frieze, January 2008. 65. Coles, Alex. Design and Art. London: Whitechapel, 2007, p. 100. 40


. . . of gr aphic design A critical design practice includes both traditionally commissioned assignments and self-commissioned, speculative, experimental, and inquiry-based assignments. Some design practices operating according to an expanded definition of design may even exclude external, for-profit, commercial commissions altogether. Finally, an expanded definition of graphic design might see current economic and political conditions as requiring a thoroughgoing understanding of “self-design,” as central to a viable practice. Self-design is design that includes seemingly peripheral “everyday” objects, circumstances, and conditions as material elements in the design process. It traces its roots back through Joseph Beuys and Marcel Duchamp’s inclusion of everyone and everything under the rubric of “art.” Self-design erases the boundary between the aesthetic and the everyday.66

writing as gr aphic design The word “graphic,” as Ellen Lupton has observed,67 is made up of both written and visual elements; words and images. An expanded definition of graphic design may, then, also allow for the inclusion of writing as central to design practice.

66. See treatment of “self-design” in Chapter 10: “Nonmodern Knowledge Production,” below. 67. Lupton, Ellen, and J. Abbott Miller. The ABC’s of Triangle, Square, Circle: The Bauhaus and Design Theory. New York: Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, 1991, p. 22. 41


publishing as the critical pr actice the gr aphic designer as cultur al gener alist W. A. Dwiggins is an example of the graphic designer who worked almost exclusively in print, and in association with publishers and advertising agencies. Another type of graphic designer emerged at the turn of the twentieth century, namely, the generalist. The dominant mode of cultural production and design today is often described as postindustrial, or post-fordist. According to Gianfranco Zaccai,68 one of the most salient features of postindustrial design is the role of the marketing professional as the generalist in charge of determining what products will be produced and to what end. The marketer is primarily concerned with leveraging consumer desire in order to maximize short-term profit margins and general financial performance. Longer-term environmental and social benefits are commonly overlooked. By way of contrast, under the earlier, twentieth-century industrial mode of cultural production, the designer—often trained as an artist or an architect—operated as the cultural generalist. According to this model, the designer was expected to apply consistent, humanistic qualities to otherwise impersonal processes of mass-production. The historical model of the designer as cultural generalist is exemplified by Olivetti’s Marcello Nizzoli (1887–1969), and AEG’s Peter Behrens (1868–1940). 68. Gianfranco Zaccai, “Art and Technology: Aesthetics Redefined,” in Buchanan, Richard, and Victor Margolin. Discovering Design: Explorations in Design Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995, 3–12. 42


. . . of gr aphic design Behrens worked for AEG from 1907–1914, designing buildings, products, and graphics. Unfortunatle, however, “Behren’s dream of a unity of technical, artistic, and social productivity ultimately disintegrated under the growing weight of coercive economic demands.” According to Buddensieg Tilmann and Henning Rogge, “The dream vanished and was replaced by the renewed isolation of the artist and a growing schism between artistic work and industrial production.”69 Another example of the seemingly perennial, regularly renewed schism between artistic work and industrial production can be found in a 1909 Willys-Overland newspaper advertisement. The ad features photos of founder John North Willys with six of his key management people, “among whom is one W. H. Cameron, Designer.” This ad, according to author William Porter, demonstrates how common it was among industrialists of the time to emphasize product quality, innovative (rather than merely efficient) engineering, and a strong orientation toward design. “During the first half of the twentieth century,” Porter writes, “design tended to be more integrated with all aspects of company activity.” It was not until the 1970s, “when business school graduates began to enter the ranks of top management,” that the designer went from being a cultural generalist to a corporate specialist. “Design and engineering have become the province of specialized departments which in turn report to management. Today it is noteworthy when a top manager exhibits 69. Buddensieg, Tilmann, and Henning Rogge. Industriekultur: Peter Behrens and the AEG, 1907–1914. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1984, p. 88. 43


publishing as the critical pr actice a strong level of product involvement or connoisseurship.”70 More recently, as we will see below, critical design practitioners have begun to reassert the designer into the role of cultural generalist.

“relational aesthetics” and gr aphic design Similarities between fine art and design are often detected around a set of ideas known as “relational aesthetics.” Based largely on the writing of Nicolas Bourriaud, relational aesthetics reached its peak of influence in the late 1990s. More recently, several design writers have addressed what, if anything, it may mean for design practice. In 2006, Monika Parrinder and Colin Davies wrote “Part of the Process” for the magazine Eye.71 Unlike later treatments, Parrinder and Davies are positively disposed toward “relational theory.” Their approach centers around an attempt to examine specific graphic design projects as illustrations of Bourriaud’s theory. Andrew Blauvelt, Director of Design and Curator at the Walker Art Center, has been more critical, and less sanguine, about the usefulness of applying categories intended for

70. Porter, William, “Toledo Wheels: The Design Story of WillysOverland, the Jeep, and the Rise of the SUV,” in Doordan, Dennis P. The Alliance of Art and Industry: Toledo Designs for a Modern America. Toledo, OH: Toledo Museum of Art, 2002, p. 125, n. 6. 71. Parrinder, Monika, and Colin Davies, “Part of the Process,” Eye n0. 59, Spring 2006, pp. 18–25. Summarized by James Goggin, in Ericson, pp. 35–41. 44


. . . of gr aphic design fine art to graphic design. Blauvelt suggests that a loose interpretation of “relational” as something more like “contextual” might be helpful if we take it to mean little more than the description of a third phase in the history of graphic design. Early graphic design, Blauvelt asserts, centered on a production of form, or syntax, followed by a phase more interested in manipulating the content, or semantics, of a graphic message. A third, contemporary phase in the development of graphic design is most interested in setting the “problem,” context, or pragmatics of a visual and textual message.72 Blauvelt, in other words, freely reinterprets what “relational” may mean in a design setting. He intentionally avoids the temptation to adapt Bourriaud’s contemporary art-related principles whole cloth, the way Parrinder and Davies appear to. It is worth noting, however, that Blauvelt chooses to continue using the term “relational design” to describe something that he has argued is very different from what Bourriaud means by “relational.” To summarize, the problem is when graphic design is forced into a discourse meant for art. Graphic design’s history and the contemporary situation both involve “interaction” and “participation” by commissioning agents, collaborators, and audiences that vary greatly from the kind of participation and interaction required by artists, dealers, collectors, and the public. While conflating design and 72. Blauvelt, Andrew, IDEA magazine no. 324, September 2007; We have closely followed James Goggin’s summary of Blauvelt’s position, in Ericson, pp. 35–41. See also Blauvelt on this subject, at: blogs.walkerart.org/design/2008/11/10/towards-relationaldesign/, and designobserver.com/archives/entry.htlm?id=38845 45


publishing as the critical pr actice contemporary art can yield great experimental results (see chapter 6, “Examples of Graphic Design Functioning as Contemporary Art,” below), discussing design as if it is coterminous, synonymous, or identical to art is not always helpful. Designer James Goggin makes a helpful distinction: “I’m quite happy,” he writes, “with graphic design as something so ubiquitous that it is invisible” while art is “something above that in the cultural hierarchy. Ubiquity, the fact that it’s not in a gallery or institution but in ‘the street’ enables graphic design to talk without boundaries to a wider audience, and invisibility makes it easier for graphic design to infiltrate and use the system of other disciplines (art, architecture, literature) by stealth.” 73 These qualities and contemporary dynamics make clear the difficulty encountered when we attempt to apply art-critical categories, like Bourriard’s “relational aesthetics” to situations that call for a carefully articulated, design-specific criticism.

73. Ericson, Magnus, The Iaspis Reader, pp. 31–33. 46


Chapter 3

I

Publishing: An Expansive Definition

f graphic design can be seen as having graduated from a service industry to an increasingly sophisticated form of emblematic rhetoric, then the new, expanded form

might be seen as involving both writing and drawing; words and images. As several cultural analysts have observed, we are living in an era predominated by a screen-based mode of presentation. The transition from text to image-based eras74 has left graphic design in the position of creating for

combinations of both images and texts. When a text-based culture predominated, designers were understood as specialists in visual communication; the reverse is often true today. Graphic designers today are required to use theory and linguistic communication in order to situate, set, or contextualize visual communication as often as we produce images and visual compositions. In the current, image-dominated era, everyone generates their own images. Online networks and social media, for example, are at least as visual as they are language-based. The visual information worker of today, as a result, must be as uniquely capable of articulating a contextual and critical framework for the use of images as she is qualified to generate the images themselves. The critic Dieter Roelstraete has identified precisely this tendency on the part of artists and designers to extricate 74. This transition is sometimes referred to as a shift from “graphosphere” to “videosphere.” Compare also to Roland Barthes’s rhetorical eras, Andrew Blauvelt’s design eras, and George Steiner’s cultural eras. 47


publishing as the critical pr actice themselves from the predominant cultural mode of “instant image inundation.” Central to the move away from images, toward language on the part of visual artists and graphic designers, has been a notable growth in independent artists’ publishing. A glut of images, Roelstraete points out, causes history and discourse to “dissolve into its own visual record.” The telling, retelling, outlining, and mapping of the archive (the recent history of the immediate past) as the site of culture has migrated into the domain of visual communications. A “specialty” in visual production has lately come to mean a refined visual awareness and discrimination, as well as a highly developed ability to use language in order to set contexts, and analyze visual settings. Visual communication in a time of image saturation also means that the design of a text (including typesetting and page layout), is understood, almost universally, as the production of more than a copy, or an edition of a pre-existing text. Text design today increasingly means the production of a unique, independently authored “text” in itself. At the very least, design has come to be understood as a critical comment on a text. Graphic design, in other words, contra Beatrice Warde, is never a neutral setting. It contains its own (visual) meaning. “As design marks a position regarding

75. Roelstraete, Dieter, “Word Play,” Frieze, May 2011, p. 99. 76. Roelstraete, “Word Play,” p. 99. 77. “The virtues of the perfect wine-glass,” Warde famously wrote, “have a parallel in typography. No cloud must come between your eyes and the fiery hearth of the liquid.” Warde, Beatrice. The Crystal Goblet: Sixteen Essays on Typography. Cleveland, OH: World Publishing Co., 1961. 48


. . . of gr aphic design content,” Markus Dressen writes, “the designer’s frame of action could be compared to that of a critic.” 78 This is precisely the point the great digitial design innovator Muriel Cooper made in a 1980 letter to PLAN magazine. All participants, collaborators, and makers are authors, she suggested, “contrary to the [old] specialization mode which makes the author of the content the author, the author of the form the designer, and the author of the craft the typographer/printer.” 79

78. Dressen, Markus. Liner Notes: Conversations About Making Books, i.e. Leipzig. Leipzig, DE: Spector Books, 2010, cover iv. See also the essays collected in Loizeaux, Elizabeth Bergmann, and Neil Fraistat. Reimagining Textuality: Textual Studies in the Late Age of Print. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002. 79. from a letter written by Muriel Cooper to the editor of PLAN, the journal of the MIT School of Architecture, July 15, 1980. Reproduced in Bailey, Stuart, and Mai Abu ElDahab. Dot Dot Dot 15: Asleep in the Afternoon. The Hague, Netherlands: Dot Dot Dot, 2007, p. 33. 49


Part II ex amples of critical pr actice in gr aphic design and publishing


publishing as the critical pr actice

Bulletins of The Serving Library #1 (2011), and Dot Dot Dot 12 (2006) 52


Chapter 4 Publishing as Critical Practice

ex amples of self-commissioned publishing progr ams as the critical pr actice of gr aphic design

C

ontemporary graphic designers working on selfcommissioned publishing programs (books and journals) are described below. These programs and

projects can be distinguished from fan zines and artists’ books by the way in which they are the natural developments of critical design practices. Each is an exercise in writing, editing, and content-production as much as it is an instance of visual art, design, and other formal concerns. Anthologies and exhibitions of designer- and artist-initiated publications of this variety in the last ten years have included Put About (Book Works, 2004), the Forms of Inquiry Reading Room (Architectural Association, 2008), and Millenium Magazines (MoMA Library, 2012).

dot dot dot and the serving libr ary Founding editor Stuart Bailey describes the journal Dot Dot Dot as “some kind of attempt to tip the balance away from the more obvious, perhaps conservative or at least expected thinking towards graphic design, in Eye or Print, or whatever, towards something weirder and more complex.”80 Each issue

80. Stuart Bailey, interview with Graphic magazine (Korea), reproduced at: dot-dot-dot.us/index.html?id=66. 53


publishing as the critical pr actice simply grew out of conversations the editors happened to be having between issues.81 The Serving Library, an organization intended as a successor to Dot Dot Dot is, according to its editors, “a cooperatively-built archive that assembles itself by publishing. It consists of 1. An ambitious public website; 2. A small physical library space; 3. A publishing program which runs through #1 and #2.”82

bedford press Zak Kyes is art director of the print studio at London’s Architectural Association. He organized the 2007 exhibition Forms of Inquiry: The Architecture of Critical Graphic Design, and co-edited an accompanying catalog/publication. In 2008, Kyes founded Bedford Press with graphic designer Wayne Daly. The Press exists, according to Kyes and Daly, in order to develop and experiment with “contemporary models of publication practice.”83

precinct Precinct is a micro-publishing house founded by Architectural Association graphic designer Wayne Daly.

oslo editions Mark Owens curated the traveling design exhibition The Free

81. Mai Abu ElDahab quotes Bailey as describing the editorial process this way in Abu ElDahab, Mai. From Berkeley to Berkeley: Objectif Exhibitions 2008-2010. Berlin: Sternberg, 2011, p. 5. 82. Source accessed at: servinglibrary.org/words.html?id=96 83. Source: bedfordpress.org/about/ 54


. . . of gr aphic design

F.R.DAVID, “A is for ‘orses,” Issue 3, Autumn 2008 #9 (top), and F.R.DAVID, “This is Not New, of Course,” Spring 2012. 55


publishing as the critical pr actice

The Happy Hypocrite 5, 2010, “What Am I?” (top), and The Happy Hypocrite 1, 2008, “Linguistic Hardcore.” 56


. . . of gr aphic design Library (2004), and co-edited the exhibition catalogue Forms of Inquiry: The Architecture of Critical Graphic Design (2007). In 2010 Owens co-founded the independent publishing imprint Oslo Editions with the artist Alex Klein. The idea behind the imprint’s initial publication Contra Mundum comes from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Owens and Klein draw a comparison between their participation in a lecture series at an artist-run bar in Los Angeles and the closed-ended form of a book. As they describe it to Artforum magazine, a closed space, “against the world” or contra mundum, “away from institutional, familial, and societal frameworks” allows Waugh’s characters the opportunity to experience a kind of aesthetic awakening. “We wanted to use the talks and the book as a kind of proposal: What would it mean to inhabit such a state as a subject position?”84

f.r. david Graphic designer and artist Will Holder describes his selfcommissioned journal F.R.DAVID as interested in “writing as ‘the core material’ of a number of contemporary artists, but equally as a mode that exists parallel to or in service of the visual.” 85

the happy hypocrite While not a graphic designer, per se, Maria Fusco comes from a background executing self-reflexive, critical market-

84. O’Neill-Butler, Lauren. “500 Words: Oslo Editions,” Artforum. com, November 4, 2010, accessed at: artforum.com/words/ id=26761 85. Source: deappel.nl/publications/p/128/ 57


publishing as the critical pr actice ing plans for the London-based publisher Bookworks. Her self-commissioned journal The Happy Hypocrite addresses artists’ writing, and the linguistic, typographical nature of much contemporary and post-conceptual visual art. Editorial design for The Happy Hypocrite is by A Practice for Everyday Life.

bookhorse and rollo press As the Zurich, Switzerland-based graphic design collective Lehni-Trüb, Urs Lehni and Lex Trüb have executed design commissions for the Centre National de L’Estampe et de L’Art Imprimé; the Migros Museum for Contemporary Art, Zurich; Linus Bill; and the alternative/art publisher Nieves. Separately, Trüb runs the independent book publishing venture Bookhorse, and Lehni runs Rollo Press. Rollo Press has published childrens’ books, artists’ books, and editions of books like Baldessari Sings LeWitt: A Song Book by Toom Tragel (2009), and the re-issued, bootlegged How To Build Your Own Living Structures, by Ken Isaacs (2009, originally published in 1974).

the everyday press Published by artist Arnaud Desjardin, with graphic design by the Fraser Muggeridge studio, Everyday Press recently published an edition of Yves Klein’s 1954 book The Foundations of Judo, translated and typeset by Ian Whittlesea; and an exhibition-performance publication titled The Book on Books on Artist Books, for which Desjardin presented a live publishing “performance” at London’s Bloomberg SPACE. The September 2011 exhibition provided a platform for the production and limited distribution an offset edition of The

58


. . . of gr aphic design Book in real time.86 According to Desjardin’s strategy, the books themselves become simultaneously devices for communication and documents of an artistic activity.

historical ex amples of artists’ and alternative publishing and distribution Contemporary graphic designers working on self-commissioned publishing programs are not likely to find much historical precedent for their practice in the traditions of deluxe artists books, fine press books, or sculptural book works. Graphic design-initiated publishing ventures do, however, have something in common with self-commissioned “democratic multiple” book works by artists like Richard Hamilton, Dieter Roth, Martin Kippenberger, and Ed Ruscha. Comparisons might also be made between graphic designers’ books and the experimental use made of book design by the architects Le Corbusier and Rem Koolhaas. While today’s designers often use the internet to distribute their books, artists working with democratic multiples continue to rely on alternative bookshops and distribution, including such historically important institutions as Printed Matter, in New York; Toronto’s Art Metropole; and the more recently founded Book Works, in London. It is also worth mentioning the importance of limitededition, small-scale, independent, underground, and alternative publishing ventures in launching the careers of many

86. A full description and review of the exhibition, by Clive Phillpot, accessed at: bloombergspace.com/archive/comma38_essay. html. 59


publishing as the critical pr actice of the giants of twentieth-century literature, including T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Anaïs Nin, James Joyce, and Vladmir Nabokov.87 In the current century, the novelist Tom McCarthy has often recounted the way his first book Remainder was rejected by several traditional publishers before being published by a small firm dealing in artists’ books.88

87. See Dennison, Sally. Alternative Literary Publishing: Five Modern Histories. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1984. 88. The first edition of McCarthy’s Remainder was published by Metronome Press, Paris, France, in 2005. 60


Chapter 5 Examples of “Cultural Design” as the Critical Practice of Graphic Design

M

any contemporary graphic designers who have managed to work according to critical strategies find it difficult to obtain worthwhile external

commissions. Those that do, tend to work on self-commissioned projects while also designing in collaboration with artists, cultural institutions, publishers, galleries, museums, and non-profit organizations.89 In such co-operative projects, the designer’s and the institution’s interests overlap, making the results richer and more valuable than if one of the two parties were to push through a set of predetermined expectations and results.90 Design studios and practices working in this way can be described as “critical” because they operate simultaneously in the fields of artistic practice and commercial design (for, paradoxically, largely non-profit clients). Such practices are examples of design-driven programs, exceptional in that they rarely take a market-based, or sales-and-membership centered approach to publishing and distribution. The visual communications produced by these designers is often as

89. For a definition of “cultural design,” see Shaughnessy, Adrian. Graphic Design: A User’s Manual. London, UK: Laurence King, 2009, p. 83. 90. See Dexter Sinister’s description of their collaboration with the Cenre d’art Contemporain Geneve, and at the 2008 Whitney Biennial, in the Iaspis Forum on Design and Critical Practice Reader, p. 289. 61


publishing as the critical pr actice artistically challenging, experimental, and noteworthy as the art collected and exibited by the collaborating institutions.

rebecca gimenez Rebecca Gimenez is a 2007 graduate of the Yale University MFA Graphic Design program. At the time of this writing, she is Head of Graphic Design at the Whitney Museum of American Art. “We’re an artist-lead institution,” she says of her work with the museum, “constantly having to keep up with what’s going on in contemporary art.”91 The focus on keeping up primarily with contemporary art, rather than with current marketing techniques and business practices is especially noticeable in the provocatively redesigned website Gimenez worked on with the design collaborative Linked by Air.

linked by air Linked by Air is the design partnership of Tamara Maletic and Dan Michaelson. They work in print, online, and with “installations in the environment.”92 Rather than describe their work as business–, graphic–, or visual communication, Maletic and Michaelson prefer to describe their work as the “creation of public space.” The firm’s 2009 redesign of the Whitney Museum’s website, for example, was visually challenging, inventive, and critical. More than merely functional, the website succeeds in distinguishing itself with artistic

91. Rebecca Gimenez, AIGA New York, “In the House,” Tishman Auditorium, September 9, 2010. Quoted at aigany.org/index. php/blog/article/event_recap_in_the_house. 92. Source: linkedbyair.net/about. 62


. . . of gr aphic design

Linked By Air, web design for the Whitney Museum of Art (2009), and the Yale University Department of Art (2007). 63


publishing as the critical pr actice merit. It was widely criticized by professional web designers for (intentionally) failing to communicate according to professional standards of efficiency and ease-of-use.

danielle aubert Danielle Aubert (born 1975) teaches graphic design at Wayne State University in Detroit. Her book 16 Months Worth of Drawing Exercises in Microsoft Excel (2006, Various Projects), uses the familiar software to execute a free-form, “relentlessly undirected”93 series of experiments in color patterning. Accomplished through intentional misuse of the Excel software, the project is an example of a graphic designer’s self-commissioned project, inverting as it does, the clientdriven manual labor, or “software jockey” role typical of many contemporary design commissions. Aubert’s design for the journal Criticism (Wayne State University Press) was selected for the 2011 AAUP Book, Jacket, and Journal show. The Criticism design was described by juror Rebecca Gimenez as her favorite among the entries “that said to hell with it, turned their back on the sales conference wars, and set off to do something new. Aubert’s Criticism is not only the freshest-looking thing on the table but is also modest, matter-of-fact, and efficient with resources.”94 In 2008, Aubert collaborated with Lana Cavar on the design for the book ReFusing Fashion: Rei Kawakubo, for the 93. See David Reinfurt’s description of this project in “Making Do and Getting By: Software and Design.” San Jose, CA: Adobe Systems Incorporated, 2005. 94. 2011 AAUP Book, Jacket, and Journal Show Catalog. New York: The Association of American University Presses, 2011, p. viii. 64


. . . of gr aphic design Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit; it was included in AIGA’s selection of fifty best book designs of 2008. More recently, she collaborated with Dutch designers Mevis and van Deursen on Mary Ellen Carroll (Steidl Press, 2009), included in the AIGA’s 50 Books of 2009.

will holder Graphic designer and artist Will Holder collaborated closely with writer/curator Anthony Huberman on a noteworthy catalog for the exhibition For the Blind Man in the Dark Room Looking for the Black Cat that Isn’t There, organized by Huberman for the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis in 2010. Rather than simply display, describe, and document the artworks included in the exhibition, Holder and Huberman created a highly visual, extended book-length essay on the topic of the exhibition’s organizing concept (non-knowing and productive ignorance). The result is a hybrid book and exhibition catalog that functions as an independent, critical contribution to the exhibition. It succeeds in producing an addition to, rather than a mere documentation of, the 2010 museum show.

james goggin (pr actise) From the time he graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1999, until he was named Director of Design, Print, and Digital Media at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, in 2010, James Goggin ran Practise, a one-man studio that boasted flexible, critically-minded cultural clients including the Tate Modern, Kate MacGarry and Veenman Publishers, Wire magazine, David Kohn Architects, and the Architectural Association, London. 65


publishing as the critical pr actice Typical of his work as Practise are a self-commissioned paper mobile (2004), and the signage for a new gallery space at the Tate Modern. Untitled, the gallery signage is made up of a single, small magnetic dot matrix sign like the kind most often seen on the front of public buses. For each exhibition, the sign is programmed with a limited number of characters and a non-linguistic, non-numeric dot matrix pattern instead of the expected show titles and useful information. This critical approach to identity, information design, wayfinding, and signage is in clear contradiction to more familiar strategies of problem-solving, clarity of communication, efficiency, effectiveness, and ease-of-use. Goggin has written and lectured extensively, and made important contributions to the exhibitions Graphic Design in the White Cube; Forms of Inquiry: The Architecture of Critical Graphic Design; and Graphic Design: Now in Production.95

apfel A Practice for Everyday Life was established in 2004, by Royal College of Art graduates Kirsty Carter and Emma Thomas. According to Carter and Thomas, the firm produces visual work and editorial design that simultaneously communicates while experimenting with the idea of communication. APFEL has worked with client-collaborators including the institutions Modern Art Oxford, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Performa, The Hepworth Wakefield, and the publishers JRP Ringier, Visual Editions, Koenig Books, Daunt Books, Book 95. For a more complete profile, see Brook, Tony, and Adrian Shaughnessy. Studio Culture: The Secret Life of the Graphic Design Studio. London: Unit Editions, 2009, pp. 170–77. 66


. . . of gr aphic design Works, and Maria Fusco’s journal The Happy Hypocrite.

gr aphic thought facilit y Graphic Thought Facility has done important work for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Frieze Art Fair, Habitat, and the Design Museum, London. GTF is an early example of a graphic design practice known for an expanded, critical, rigorously contemporary approach to the production of visual culture. For a practice like GTF’s, in other words, graphic design is not limited to providing a service centered on solving problems of clarity, communication, and corporate identity, but it is expanded to contribute to broader intellectual and cultural production. As design curator Zoë Ryan describes their work, “GTF understands graphic design as a means by which intellectual, cultural, and social questions are framed and explored.”96 The results—such as the exhibition graphics and publication design for Stealing Beauty: British Design Now, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1999), and the publication design for the 1998 prospectus of the Royal College of Art— are devoid of prescriptive, problem-solving approaches to graphic design. Instead, Graphic Thought Facility provide corporate and institutional clients with “solutions” that often appear explicitly experimental, ad-hoc, low-tech, and thoroughly provisional.

96. Ryan, Zoë. Graphic Thought Facility. Chicago and New Haven: Art Institute of Chicago and Yale University Press, 2008, pp. 9, 16, and 95. 67


publishing as the critical pr actice winterhouse studio In 2003, Yale University School of Art design professors Jessica Helfand and William Drenttel, the well-established husband and wife team that make up Winterhouse Studio, asked themselves “Could we sustain a practice if we stopped doing brand-driven work and only did projects with some kind of real intellectual content?”97 While admitting that brand-based projects do have some “value and intellectual challenges,” Helfand and Drenttel echo many recent graphic designers by describing a personal desire “to create a different body of work, engaging with different kinds of ideas.” The focus here, as with many other “cultural designers” is on using graphic design to ask, detect, set, and frame worthwhile questions, rather than providing practical, utilitarian solutions.

97. Helfand, Jessica and William Drenttel, “Culture is Not Always Popular,” presented at the AIGA National Design Conference, October 25, 2003. Text accessed at winterhouse.com/vancouver. 68


Chapter 6 Examples of Graphic Design Operating as Contemporary Art

A

s Daniel van der Velden has pointed out, Beatrice Warde’s classic text The Crystal Goblet “impressed on designers the fact that their work is not art,”

despite the fact that “today it is exhibited in almost every museum.”98 Exhibitions of critical graphic design function-

ing as art in contemporary cultural institutions include the following.

gr aphic design in the white cube This exhibition was curated by Peter Bi’lak for the Moravian Gallery in Brně, Czech Republic, in 2006. Bi’lak describes his exhibition like this: Nineteen designers and collectives were commissioned to design a poster. But instead of bringing work from the outside into the gallery, the work was made for the gallery functioning as a client. The resulting posters work on two levels: first, they constitute the exhibition, and second, they advertise the exhibition.99 Graphic Design In the White Cube participating designers included Dexter Sinister, Julia Born, Peter Buchannan Smith, Paul Elliman, Experimental Jetset, and James Goggin. 98. van der Velden, Daniel. “Research & Destroy: Graphic Design as Investigation,” Metropolis M, April/May 2006. Reprinted in Blauvelt, Andrew, Ellen Lupton, and Rob Giampietro. Graphic Design: Now in Production. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2011, pp. 16–18. 99. Description from Bi’lak, Peter. Graphic Design in the White Cube. Brně, Czech Republic: Moravská Galerie, 2006. Also accessed at: peterbilak.com/graphic_design_in_ the_white_cube. 69


publishing as the critical pr actice forms of inquiry: the architecture of critical gr aphic design This exhibition and accompanying publication were organized in 2007 for the Architectural Association, London. The organizing curators were Zak Kyes, who also serves as the AA’s art director, and the graphic designer Mark Owens. Forms of Inquiry began when Kyes was asked to curate a more conventional exhibition intended to examine historical instances of graphic design in architectural settings. Instead, Kyes decided to use the exhibition to examine the potential for graphic designers to work critically—both within their own discipline, and, more importantly, when looking at another, related, discipline. The result was, in the words of the curators, “a shared impulse to reframe the circumstances surrounding contemporary graphic practice by using intuitive modes of investigation to explore the mutual exchange and shared lineage between graphic design and architecture.”100 Participating designers included Paul Elliman, Karel Martens, Alex DeArmond, Åbäke, Dexter Sinister, Project Projects, Will Holder, Metahaven, Julia Born, Experimental Jetset, John Morgan, James Goggin, and Mark Owens. Since its organization in 2007, Forms of Inquiry has become a travelling exhibition, and more recently expanded into a seminar and two influential book-length publications.101 100. Kyes, Zak, and Mark Owens. Forms of Inquiry: The Architecture of Critical Graphic Design. London: Architectural Association, 2007, p. 11. 101. Kyes and Owens. Forms of Inquiry, and Ericson. Iaspis Forum on Design and Critical Practice: The Reader. Stockholm: Iaspis, 2009. 70


. . . of gr aphic design zak kyes working with . . . . . . Can Altay, Charles Arsène-Henry, Shumon Basar, Richard Birkett, Andrew Blauvelt,Edward Bottoms, Wayne Daly, Jesko Fezer, Joseph Grigely, Nikolaus Hirsch, Maria Lind, Markus Miessen, Michel Müller, Radim Peško, and Barbara Steiner. This exhibition, presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art Leipzig and the Graham Foundation, Chicago, began when the 2010 INFORM Award was given to Zak Kyes. According to its organizers, the INFORM award is presented annually to a graphic designer who has developed “a practice within the context of applied and contemporary art.”102 Rather than present a chronological display of work by Kyes, the exhibition brought together work done by Kyes with a number of collaborating architects, artists, writers, curators, editors, and graphic designers.103 As the organizers point out, this method of display allows contemporary graphic design to be understood “as a practice that mediates, and is mediated by, its allied disciplines. Kyes has developed a graphic design practice that includes publishing, editing, and site-specific projects for and in collaboration with cultural institutions.”104

102. Award description accessed at: gfzk-leipzig.de/?p=1610. 103. Exhibition description via Museum of Contemporary Art, Leipzig: gfzk-leipzig.de/?p=1610, and Kyes, Zak, and Barbara Steiner, eds. Zak Kyes Working With. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012. 104. Source: gfzk-leipzig.de/?p=1610. 71


publishing as the critical pr actice dexter sinister Dexter Sinister, the collaborative group made up of the graphic designers David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey have been involved in several design/art crossover projects over the years. Invited to participate in the 2008 edition of the Whitney Biennial, Dexter Sinister set up a false, double, or mirror, press office for the entire Biennial. Titled “True Mirror,” the project had two main components. First, Reinfurt and Bailey issued “press releases” available at all the main information desks throughout the duration of the exhibition. These press releases included critics’ reflections on the Biennial; falsified and other fictional information about the show; and a reprinted issue of Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 Blind Man, a publication for which Duchamp invited any writer to print whatever he or she wanted. For the second part of Reinfurt and Bailey’s contribution to the 2008 Biennial, the duo replaced every mirror in the museum with an invisible device that reflected back to the viewer not the usual reversed image of oneself, but an actual view of “how others see us.” This hardly-noticeable, nearly invisible artwork combined with the “press releases” to reflect on the ways in which we fail to notice the editing, public relations, marketing, and other forms of interpretation and “spin” influencing the way we perceive, consume, and otherwise critique art and culture, not to mention politics and other forms of social interaction. For the 2012 MoMA exhibition Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language, Dexter Sinister’s contribution consisted of another artwork in the form of a “mediation” of the artwork on 72


. . . of gr aphic design display. Instead of contributing a design artifact or object to the exhibited program, Reinfurt and Bailey designed a provisionally constituted catalog for the show. The “catalog” was made available as an inexpensive, low-tech print edition in the museum shop, and as a free PDF publication of Dexter Sinister’s ongoing Bulletins of the Serving Library. The result is a critical reflection on the often over-specialized process of documenting, distributing, historicizing, and capitalizing on temporal displays and commercial/ cultural exhibitions.

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Chapter 7 Distribution and Collection: Libraries as

R

“Performative” Critical Practice

ecent instances of “reading rooms” as part of exhibition programs and strategies are briefly surveyed below. Graphic design in these contexts is both

functional, in the case of the publications on display, and “relational,” or performative, in the case of the somewhat unusual placement of an interactive space within the gal-

lery setting. Educational literature is familiar in a museum context, but reading rooms presented as the primary element on display in a gallery setting is a little more unusual.

shelf life For Shelf Life #1, in 2011, artist Alex Klein and graphic designer Mark Owens, the founders of the micro-publishing venture Oslo Editions, curated an exhibition using the books in the library of Philadelphia’s Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. Klein and Owens’s exhibition demonstrated alternate uses for the library’s contents. As the organizers point out, while books are meant to be read, they are also more than repositories of information.

the anti-libr ary Space Studio’s London gallery hosted a 2011 exhibition organized around the idea that an “anti-library” might encourage “ideas of anti-knowledge and un-learning.” The Anti-Library displayed unread books submitted by 150 invited contribu-

75


publishing as the critical pr actice tors, including Åbäke, Arnaud Desjardin, and Maria Fusco.105

millenium magazines In 2012, Rachael Morrison and David Senior of the MoMA Library organized this survey of designer-produced periodicals, journals, and experimental art and design magazines published since 2000. According to Morrison and Noble, the exhibition was primarily concerned with exploring the “ways in which contemporary artists and designers utilize the magazine format as an experimental space for the presentation of artworks and text.”106

105. Source: spacestudios.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/the-anti-library. 106. Source: moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2012/millenniummagazines. 76


Part III are not books & publications


publishing as the critical pr actice

Are Not Books & Publications. A Useless Guide, Publishing as Critical Practice, The Is Not Baseball Book, and Rust City Renovation. 78


Chapter 8 A General Description of Are Not Books & Publications

O

ur own attempt to develop a critical design practice takes the form of Are Not Books & Publications. This project is both a functioning publisher of

print and electronic books, and an academic research program. Are Not Books & Publications has to date published twelve titles (fifteen printed volumes), all of which were written or edited, designed, and typeset by the Are Not Studio. All twelve titles are available to read online, or to be purchased as print-on-demand paperbacks at the cost of printing (without a publisher’s markup). This project begins with an understanding of design as an opportunity “to infiltrate and use the system of other disciplines by stealth.”107 The intention of the Are Not Books & Publications project is to utilize a strategy of “infiltration by stealth,” while applying it to the field of academic and scholarly publishing; encroaching strategically on this field’s disciplinary territory, for the purpose of critical reflection.

performative publishing In the spring of 2014, Are Not Books participated as an exhibitor at the College Art Association (CAA) Annual Conference. We also exhibited as part of the 2014 Master of

107. The phrase is from James Goggin, in Ericson, Magnus. Iaspis Forum on Design and Critical Practice: The Reader. Stockholm: Iaspis, 2009, p. 33. 79


publishing as the critical pr actice Fine Arts exhibition at the Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame. In both cases, the intention was to exhibit performatively. We presented books, artifacts, and physical objects as if they are being promoted for sale. While exhibiting at CAA, our book table and display methods was virtually indistinguishable from the commercial and non-profit participants in the Book and Trade Fair. As a result, we distributed our publications, while simultaneously (if subtly and almost imperceptably) reflecting on the current state, recent changes, and ongoing conditions within the field of academic and scholarly publishing.108

108. Some of the “ongoing issues” within scholarly publishing include predatory for-profit publishing practices; concerns about the effectiveness of the peer review process; and an over-acceleration of the editorial, vetting, and publishing process resulting from pressures on junior academics to produce quickly and regularly. For a summary of these issues see The Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing, and the Eclipse of Scholarship, by Lindsay Waters, Executive Editor for the Humanities at Harvard University Press (Waters, Lindsay. The Enemies of Promise. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2004). Over-accelerated production cycles have also resulted from increased efficiency made possible by digital production and electronic distribution. See Triple Canopy, Inc. Invalid Format: An Anthology of Triple Canopy. New York: Canopy Canopy Canopy, Inc, 2011; Williamson, A. “What Happenes to Peer Review?” Paper presented at an International Learned Journals Seminar, London, April 12, 2002 (accessed at alpsp.org/wil120402); and Karen Coyle, “Predatory Publishing/Peer to Peer Review,” Library Journal April, 2013; accessed at lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/04/ opinion/peer-to-peer-review-publishers-peer-to-peer-review. 80


. . . of gr aphic design In the Snite Museum of Art, the sales table is in an entirely different set and setting. The performative quality of the display in this case, is focused on the museum’s institutional context, generally, and on the problematic role of graphic design in the “white cube,” more specifically.

gr aphic design in the white cube Graphic design does not always fit well in a museum or gallery setting. As Rachel Berger explains, most graphic design is small and flat. Small and flat, of course, lends itself well to mass reproduction and wide distribution, but it does not command a room. Once the product of a design practice does begin to command a room, people no longer think of it as graphic design. The gallery and the museum are the natural habitat of a precious singularity. The dollar store, in Berger’s example—the trade show, or academic conference, in the case of the Are Not Books project—is the “temple of the multiple.”109

collabor ation’s discontents As already addressed (see chapter two, above), it is our opinion that graphic design is not easily compared to the “relational aesthetics” movement as defined by Nicolas Bourriaud. Instead, design engaged in what is often called “social practice” or “participation art,” must go beyond the merely dialectical, or relational, to include an aesthetic or conceptual element capable of surprising, confusing, frustrating, 109. Rachel Berger, in Sueda, Jon, The Way Beyond Art: The Wide White Space. San Francisco, CA: CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, 2012, p. 74. 81


publishing as the critical pr actice or enlightening. The goal in the case of critical design is to introduce an awkward distance, slowing-down, slippage, or critical space into the pre-existing relational situation always already present in the work of graphic design. At the risk of stating the obvious, the difference between art and design is that design has the relational element “built-in.” Graphic design engages with a client, user, reader, or customer without the additional mediation of a gallery or museum. In this way, the Are Not Books project, functioning as critical design, remains “on the street,” engaged with “everyday life” outside the gallery, studio, or showroom. Unlike conventional, merely instrumental, design, critical graphic design simultaneously performs a reflection on, or examination of, the “everyday” situation with which it is in dialogue. Art historian Claire Bishop describes as “collaboration’s discontents” those who would require relational art to be more than merely socially engaged, or discursive.110 Art works capable of blurring the line between art and life—between objects of contemplation and artifacts of quotidian utility—must provide an aesthetic jolt in the tradition of the historical avant-garde.111 Museums and gallery spaces make the art object autonomous. Socially engaged art imposes an instrumentality, or utility on the work of art.

110. Bishop, Claire. “The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents.” Artforum, February 2006, p. 183. 111. Bishop traces this defining characteristic of the historic avantgarde back to its origin in the Dada Season, or Grand Saison Dada, of 1921 (Bishop, Claire. Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. London: Verso, 2012, p. 66). As Grant H. Kester puts it, “the avant-garde work of art should 82


. . . of gr aphic design The goal is not just “discourse,” in other words. The discursive is mundane and minimally productive or beneficial. Instead, the goal of critical design projects like Are Not Books is to introduce something of the odd, absurd, eccentric, awkward, poetic, or pleasurable into the routine, everyday activities of communication, documentation, production, and distribution.

radically challenge [the viewer’s] faith in the very possiblity of rational discourse. This tendency is based on the assumption that the shared discursive systems (linguistic, visual, etc.) on which we rely for our knowledge of the world are dangerously abstract and violently objectifying. Art’s role is to shock us out of this perceptual complacency, to force us to see the world anew. This shock has borne many names over the years: the sublime, alienation effect, l’amour fou, and so on. In each case the result is a kind of epiphany that lifts viewers outside the familiar boundaries of a common language, existing modes of representation, and even their own sense of self” (Kester, Grant H. Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004, p. 12; cited in Koskinen, Design Research Through Practice, p. 106). 83


publishing as the critical pr actice

Are Not Books & Publications, Johann Arndt, Books 1–4.

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Chapter 9 Are Not Books & Publications as a Functioning Publisher of Print and Electronic Books

A

s a functioning publisher of print and electronic books, Are Not Books operates as an examination, and an example, of what has been called

“micro-publishing.� The publishing taken up by such critical, small-scale publishing ventures is entirely controlled by the designer, along with a small group of collaborators. Writing, editing, design, production, and distribution roles are restricted so as to be minimally influenced by outside concerns. As a result, the form and content of the publications can be critically and reflexively about the practice of design and publishing.

the are not books & publications catalog To date, Are Not Books has published twelve books (fifteen volumes). Titles include The Tree of the World; Saints and Guides; A Distant Ecclesiology; Protestant Erotics; Wisdom, Like Style, Is; Rust City Renovation; The Is Not Baseball Book; Johann Arndt (Four Volumes); W. B. Yeats: Selections; Publishing as the Critical Practice of Graphic Design; A Useless Guide to Book Design; and Notes On Design Education.

the are not books editorial method The Are Not Books & Publications editorial strategy can be described as wandering, flaneur-like; addressing any idea that 85


publishing as the critical pr actice might be interesting at the time. Our method is something like a recuperation of the Situationist technique of dérive, “operating within the archive, allowing the discovery of hidden ambiences.”112 Each book and edition simply grows out of conversations the author, friends, and associates happen to be having at the time.113

the are not books produciton method The Are Not Books & Publications project’s printed books are produced like websites. Print-on-demand technology allows each copy to be an independent edition. Editorial changes can, and often are, made between each printing. Technological developments are embraced while being utilized in a slowed-down fashion.114 The resulting hybrid printand-digital artifact look final, complete, and total, while remaining partial, contingent, provisional, and mutable. Graphic designer and artist Will Holder’s practice has been described in a similar way: 112. McKenzie Wark, 50 Years of Recuperation of the Situationist International. New York: Buell Center/FORuM Project, Columbia University, and Princeton Architectural Press, 2008, pp. 15–20. 113. Mai Abu ElDahab quotes Stuart Bailey as describing the editorial process of Dot Dot Dot this way in Abu El Dahab, Mai. From Berkeley to Berkeley: Objectif Exhibitions 2008-2010. Berlin: Sternberg, 2011, p. 5. 114. Compare to Triple Canopy’s stated intention to “slow down the internet,” in Triple Canopy, Inc. Invalid Format: An Anthology of Triple Canopy. New York: Canopy Canopy Canopy, Inc, 2011; and Triple Canopy, “The Binder and the Server.” Art Journal Volume 70, Number 4 (Winter 2011), pp. 40–57. 86


. . . of gr aphic design Will Holder is a British typographer who edits and publishes. The work, always grasped by enjoyment, genuinely being worked out, and yet, the proper form seems never (humorously, nicely) totally arrived at. Increasingly, each publication by Holder seems to be edited with the knowledge of some future edition (like how one edits previous pages after completing the final pages, then edits the final pages again, then the previous pages again, etc.), as if Holder’s work were a single thing that is being released in burps.115

the are not books marketing str ategy Our method for taking each publication “to market” follows very closely a strategy described by curator and critic Anthony Huberman: “trust in the self-selecting process whereby those who are interested in what [you] do will find their way to [you] and get in touch.”116 We only care, in other words, about those who care. The goal is cultural transactions that are not based on competition, or the accumulation of capital. We are interested, instead, in a gift economy made up sympathies; of “friends who care.”117 This will necessarily

115. source: yucontemporary.org/holder. 116. Huberman, Anthony. “How to Behave Better.” Bulletins of the Serving Library, New York: The Serving Library, 2009, p. 7. 117. Compare to Mauss, Marcel. The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies. London: Norton, 1990 (1967); and Hyde, Lewis. The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. New York: Vintage Books, 2009. 87


publishing as the critical pr actice involve smaller groups of people, as Huberman puts it, and “if that sounds apolitical or timid, it isn’t.” Huberman quotes critic and curator Jan Vorwoert on this topic: “a culture governed by the economic imperative makes good manners the closest you might get to civil disobedience.”118

an instance of publishing The original books, pamphlets, posters, and other publications on display have all been written, edited, and designed by Are Not Books and Publications. Exhibiting these publications can be understood to constitute an instance of “publishing”—making public the formal, linguistic, and other artistic content of the printed material and installation. The term publication refers in this case to both the individual copies of the printed material on display, and the overall exhibition. The experience and interaction of the viewer with the installation opens up the meaning of publication to include a participatory, performative element not always found, or explicitly intended in more commercial instantiations of “publishing” activities.

118. Huberman, “Behave Better,” p. 7. 88


Chapter 10 Are Not Books & Publications as an Academic Research Program

A

s a research program, Are Not Books is a practicebased inquiry into publishing as critical graphic design. It is constructed to operate as an instance

of critical design investigating the nonmodern, symbolic, and emblematic elements intrinsic to the practice of graphic design. In this context, “graphic design” is being defined expan-

sively, as having to do with the combined written and visual elements of contemporary knowledge production.119 It is important to note that the task of knowledge production is not to be confused with, or limited to, the the more narrow tasks of knowledge communication or documentation.

academic research We have chosen to describe this work as “academic” because its primary function is to produce textual and graphical scholarship and design research (for more on why we choose to describe this work as “research,” see the “research meth119. On contemporary knowledge production and (nonmodern) visual metalinguistics, see especially Grigely, Joseph. Textualterity: Art, Theory and Textual Criticism. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998; Grigely, Joseph, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, and Zak Kyes. Joseph Grigely: Exhibition Prosthetics. London: Bedford Press, 2010; and “The Emblem: Words & Pictures, Visual Metalinguistics in the Renaissance,” in A Useless Guide to Book Design. Wheaton, IL: Are Not Books, 2013. 89


publishing as the critical pr actice odology” section, immediately below). The work of Are Not Books & Publications might also be described as “academic” because its field of activity is the academic conference and the MFA exhibition. If for no other reason, this project is “academic” because it has been given form in an educational environment. It was developed in school, under the auspices of an educational program.

research methodology Our research method follows what Stuart Walker has described as “practice-based design research.”120 Such a process, Walker writes, “might be better described as ‘design scholarship’ or ‘scholarly research,’ both of which imply academic learning and attainment but without such strong connotations of systematic method and primary data acquisition.”121 Similarly, critical design researchers Ramia Mazé and Johan Redström have suggested that research within the field of critical design, specifically, also always begins with practice. “In critical practice,” they write, “the designed object might be understood as a sort of materialized form

120. Walker, Stuart. “Imagination’s Promise: Practice-Based Design Research for Sustainability,” in in Walker, Stuart, and Jacques Giard, eds. The Handbook of Design for Sustainability. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013, pp. 453 and following. Thanks to Professor Dennis Doordan for making us aware of this text. 121. “For the discipline of design,” Walker writes, “practice is a primary mode of discovery and a significant facet of the learning process, but its contingent nature tends to defy systematization” (Walker, Stuart. “Imagination’s Promise,” p. 447). 90


. . . of gr aphic design of discourse.” The “‘object as discourse’ and ‘design as research’ provides an essential basis for thinking about how to combine intellectual and operational modalities for contesting and further developing design from within.” The Are Not Books research method procedes according to the following protocol. We engage in the practice of writing, editing, designing, producing, and distributing books and publications. The process of design and production is then followed by the performance of the books’ display in conference, trade show, museum, and online settings. Finally, the “performative” display of each publication, in conference and museum settings, is presented as the outcome, result, or deliverable, of the research process. The performance, it should be noted, will be documented, but the resulting published documentation should not be construed as the outcome of the research. The publication of all performance documentation will instead take its place alongside the previously produced books and publications, to be included in the next performance, or display. The documentation of our research results and findings, is, in other words, to be taken only as a continuation of our design practice, and not as an additional outcome, or result.

nonmodern knowledge production As already stated, the Are Not Books project is intended to operate as an instance of critical design investigating the nonmodern, symbolic, and emblematic elements required for 122. Mazé, Ramia and Johan Redström, “Difficult Forms: Critical Practices of Design and Research,” Research Design Journal January 2009, p. 33. 91


publishing as the critical pr actice the process of contemporary knowledge production. What, one might ask, is that supposed to mean? First, it should be pointed out that we are using the word “knowledge” (as in “knowledge production”), here, very loosely. It is intended to mean something more like a subtle emotional response, sympathy, or experience; an interaction, participation, or communication with an object of knowledge. As it relates to the command or mastery of information, data, or expertise, “nonmodern knowledge” indicates something more like inquiry, exploration, or notknowing. An ancient example of what we are here calling “nonmodern knowledge” is the famous Socratic dictum: “I know that I know nothing.” It is not intended to indicate a positive, rational knowledge, but rather a quality of interpretation, participation, or collectively arrived-at knowing. It is no coincidence that both the Socratic method, and recent critical methods of design are described as “discursive.” “Nonmodern” can simply be taken to mean “contemporary.” To the extent that the modern indicates a discrete historical period,123 the contemporary, or “nonmodern,” is meant to be taken as distinct from the modern.

123. “Modernity” as a historically discrete period is, of course, not uncontroversial. Marshall Berman contrasts an over-simplified modern era from: a generalized mode of experience, “modernity;” a set of world-historical, social processes, “modernization;” and “modernism,” an ideology intended to make men and women both the subjects and objects of modernization (in Berman, Marshall. All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of the Modernity. New York: Penguin Books, 1988, pp. 15–16). 92


. . . of gr aphic design Less simply, and more closely pertaining to graphic design and design research, “nonmodern” is a necessary indicator of what the philosopher and art theorist Boris Groys has described as the contemporary “obligation to self-design.”124 The work of the contemporary designer has become radically de-professionalized when compared to the work of the (high-)modern designer. As a result, “nonmodern” design work is no longer subject to aesthetic, visual categories. Instead, like conceptual art, it is best evaluated according to the formal logic of discourse, linguistics, poetics, and rhetoric. As Groys puts it, conceptual art marks the point at which “the relations between objects are the basis of the artwork.”125 In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the discourse around art and design was dominated by the aesthetic point of view. Today, however, a shift has occurred from aesthetics, to poetics and rhetoric. The modern era approached art and design, in other words, from the point of view of the spectator. Now we approach art and design from the point of view of the producer. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Groys explains, professional artists and designers were in the minority, while spectators made up the majority of the general population. As a result, a professional academic discourse developed from the perspective of the highly trained, expert spectator. Today, however, in what we are 124. Groys, Boris. “The Obligation to Self-Design,” in Going Public. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2010. 125. “Introduction—Global Conceptualism Revisited,” e-flux Journal, November 2011, p. 1. 93


publishing as the critical pr actice describing as the “nonmodern” era, designers far outnumber non-designers. Anyone who has created a public persona on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, for example, has designed a brand, and promoted a rhetorically-determined identity. Cultural producers have become the norm, while cultural participants operating exclusively from the perspective of spectators are increasingly rare. We are all obliged to (self-) design.126 Another set of “nonmodern knowledge” categories include the ongoing interest in “object oriented ontologies” and “actor-network theory.”127 Ideas like these can be understood as reactions against (1) a sense of dematerialization resulting from the widespread production of digital artifacts, and (2) the effect post-fordist (non-factory), and immaterial labor conditions have on our perception of the body. Knowledge production in this context might begin with what Bruno Latour suggests as a shift from an increasingly cheapened notion of “object” (as in a monographic, unified, smoothly articulated, discrete entity, or fact), toward the original meaning of the word “thing.” As readers of Heidegger know, Latour writes, “the old word ‘thing’ or ‘ding’

126. Groys, Boris. “Introduction—Global Conseptualism Revisited,” pp. 1–11. 127. These phrases are, of course, closely associated with the work of Bruno Latour, from whom we have also taken our use of the term “nonmodern.” See especially Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), chapter 5.4: “The Nonmodern Constitution.” 94


. . . of gr aphic design designated originally a certain type of archaic assembly.”128 Elsewhere, according to critic and curator Dieter Roelstraete, Heidegger described books as “voluminous letters written to friends.” Anyone who has ever “made” a book, Roelstrate continues, “will immediately grasp the depth of feeling communicated in this admittedly romantic view of the book publishing business. No matter how strained the relationship between writer, editor, translator, designer, publisher, printer, and book-seller can become, there is no denying the intimacy that is engendered by poring over the book as a labor of love that has required the ‘befriending’, however formal and economically dictated, of so many different parties.”129 Solitary individuals, producing traditional, socially progressive, modern works of creativity, novelty, innovation, and authenticity have been completely co-opted by business interests. As John Thackara put it in 1988, “the commodity production of knowledge has become central to corporate profit-making, and the urge to increase efficiency in this process has led to the growing fragmentation of tasks.”130

128. Latour, Bruno, and Peter Weibel, eds. Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2005, pp. 22–23. See also Martin Heidegger, What Is a Thing?, translated by W.B. Barton, Jr., and Vera Deutsch, Chicago: Regnery, 1968. 129. Roelstraete, Dieter, “Art Books Now: 7 Theses (From An Accomplice’s Point of View).” Dot Dot Dot 12, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006, p. 64. 130. Thackara, John. Design After Modernism: Beyond the Object. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1988, p. 28. 95


publishing as the critical pr actice The work of Are Not Books & Publications is, by way of contrast, intended to be synthetic and de-specialized. Each book is produced by a highly contingent, provisional set of ideas loosely held together. Groups of ideas and quotations are allowed to inform one other. Each book functions as a partial inquiry; it looks finished, but does not presume to be authoritative or final. Because each role is taken on by the same person, or small group of people working together, the tasks of the editor, author, and designer are transgressed and de-specialized. Our explicit intent is to produce a different kind of “knowledge,” by reversing the modernist tendency toward instrumental efficiency through the division of tasks. Theoretical sources and precedents for this type of work can be found in Walter Benjamin’s “Author as Producer;”131 the “Death of the Author,” by Roland Barthes;132 and Umberto Eco’s “Form as Social Commitment.”133

131. Benjamin, Walter. “The Author as Producer” (1934), collected in Selected Writings Volume 2, Part 2. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005, pp. 768–782. 132. “Death of the Author,” in Barthes, Roland, and Stephen Heath. Image, Music, Text. New York: Noonday Press, 1977, pp. 142–148. 133. Eco, Umberto. The Open Work. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989, pp. 123–157. 96


W

Acknowledgments

e would like to acknowledge and sincerely thank the Nonnus Studio, especially Jonathan Boggs and Janelle Rebel for working together so closely

on the Nonnus books and editions. Jon and Janelle both read early drafts of this paper, and contributed excellent sugges-

tions and criticisms. Thank you. Thanks, also, to the early, sometime, and occasional contributors to the Nonnus studio Jeff Reimer and Joe Stamm. We consider it a great honor to have had Richard Hendel read this paper in an early form. (At that time it included a brief history of scholarly and university press book design). It was both a privilege and a tremendous encouragement to have such a great designer and author take the time to read and discuss this work. Thanks also to our committee members and advisors, especially Professors Robert Sedlack, Jean Dibble, and Dennis Doordan, for contributing so many ideas to this project. Thanks especially to Professor Dibble for the idea to include editorial interventions—on half title, title, half bastard, and afterword pages—in the Johann Arndt series; and for the idea that the Are Not Books & Publications project should exhibit at the College Art Association Annual Conference Book Fair and Trade Show. Thanks to Professor Sedlack for proofreading the text, noting the grammar and punctuation problems. Thanks very much to Professor Doordan for carefully reading the earliest drafts of this paper, and for suggesting—and taking the time to discuss—so many of the key sources that contributed to the research for this project.

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publishing as the critical pr actice Thanks also to Professor Doordan for suggesting the text “The sales representative will be right back,” prominently displayed whenever the Are Not Books project is presented, or “performed.”

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1st print-on-demand edition, March 2014. 2nd print-on-demand edition, March 2014. Are Not Books & Publications Wheaton, Illinois 60187 arenotbooks.com Are Not Notes are artists’ books published by the Are Not studio—a group of artists who work in close collaboration. As artists and designers, not authorities, we are intellectually curious and thoroughly critical, but with no aspiration or pretense to anything like expertise or authority. Indeed, our goal is to remain anonymous, and to acquire no reputation. This print-on-demand edition was not copyedited or proofread. Every reasonable attempt has been made to identify owners of copyright. Errors or omissions will be corrected in subsequent editions.


PUBLISHING AS THE CRITICAL PR ACTICE OF GR APHIC DESIGN ... An Is Not Book

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