Illegibility, Ugliness and Counter-Hegemony
A contentious spread from 032c issue #13
In my current phase of design research, I’ve been enjoying a wealth of ecclectic readings. My friend and craft theorist extraordinaire Nicole Burisch pointed me in the direction of Judith (or rather, Jack) Halberstam‘s excellent introduction to The Queer Art of Failure. In referencing James C. Scott’s Seeing Like A State, he writes:
For Scott, to “see like a state” means to accept the order of things and to internalize them; it means that we begin to deploy and think with the logic of the superiority of orderliness and that we erase and indeed sacrifice other, more local practices of knowledge, practices that may be less efficient, may yield less marketable results, but may also, in the long term, be more sustaining. What is at stake in arguing for the trees and against the forest? Scott identifies “legibility” as the favored technique of high moderism for sorting, organizing and profiting from land and people and for abstracting systems of knowledge from local knowledge pratices. (…) “Legibility,” writes scott, “is a condition of manipulation”. He favors instead, borrowing from European anarchist thought, more practical forms of knowledge that he calls metis and that empahsize mutuality, collectivity, plasticity, diversity, and adaptability. Illegibility may in fact be one way of escaping the political manipulation to which all university fields and disciplines are subject.
Albeit largely due to the use of the term “legibility”, this section sparked some interesting ideas in relation to the material practice of graphic design and typography. Translating the argument literally (pun intended) to design practice, I can’t help but think of the so-called “legibility wars” of the 90s, and to a lesser extent the ideas of vernacular design put forth by the practice of Tibor Kalman. I’ve always felt the deconstructionist work being done by this generation of designers was abandoned too soon (or at least the theory was), as discourse shifted towards “new media” (with a brief moment of introspection on the political potential of design) and aesthetics shifted towards a nostalgic, serious, and safe, faux-modernist/classicist current (largely due, imho, to the events on 9/11 and Dave Eggers).
It begins in the book…
I’m so excited to come across James Stuart’s Master’s Thesis “It Begins in the Book: Writing the Material Poem” freely available online. An expansive thesis, it comprises an 80-odd page exegesis and 3 creative projects (The Material Poem, The Homeless Gods and Conversions). The overlap between his interests and my own is startling, given the niche nature of my concerns.
My reading of Stuart’s written thesis has sparked many ideas for my own research, specifically around his three-pronged model of materiality:
“what enables, and how does, a reader to respond to a literary work (material basis); what socio-cultural forces influence the relationship between writers, readers and the language-object (materialism); and finally, the actual material expression (or materiality) of a language-object.”
Coming from his background as a poet, Stuart’s examples and references are new and fascinating to me, and his analytic focus on poetry (specifically in its definition re: its material basis) has given me a lot to chew on.
2 quotes + an image
Tomato, mmm… skyscraper, I love you.
“…in the best instances, a double reflexivity is at work: a medium is (re)constituted in a recursive way that is nonetheless open to social content—in a way, moreover, that reminds us that “form” is often nothing but “content” that has become historically sedimented.”
– Hal Foster, This Funeral is for the Wrong Corpse
“Literature in the written sense represents the triumph of language over writing: the subversion of writing for purposes that have little or nothing to do with social and economic control.”
– Robert Bringhurst, The Solid Form of Language
Thinking through some things as I embark on the research and conception phase for the next issue of Four Minutes to Midnight, specifically around the materiality of texts. It’s all a little vague right now, but I feel I’m working towards something quite original and interesting. Here’s hoping. I’ll be documenting my process on here as I go…
For Expozine this year, John and I pulled together this small zine consisting of two hard-wrought poems. The poems were composed/written by us over the course of 4 days and nights, addressing our tried and true themes of love and loss, gentrification and war, isolation and community, solidarity and suicide.
Despite the short timeline (we were stapling and folding into the wee hours of Saturday morning), I’m really proud of these little poems and the elegantly restrained format and typography. The zine was published in a limited edition of 50 copies.
Download a PDF of 2 poems here.
Read 2 poems online on Issuu.
Cinema Politica Selections
Continuing my collaboration with Cinema Politica, “Selections” presents an extensive catalogue of CP’s Canadian films, artist and project profiles, photos of locals, etc. recapping the last year of the organisation’s activity. It celebrates and details the important work being done by CP, and acts as an engaging tool for outreach and promotion.
Despite the limited production budget, the booklet provided a good opportunity to push Cinema Politica’s visual identity (developed by us last year), through the use of powerful imagery and a cinematic format, a refined typographic palette and layout, and crisp one-colour (interior) printing on a nice, matte stock.
Additional design assistance by Kim Tsui, printing by Kata Soho.
I recently decided to gather a selection of the logos and wordmarks I’ve designed for a wide variety of clients over the years. I’ve always really enjoyed the challenge and reward of (re)defining the visual identity of a company or organisation, and the design of the logo is at the root of this process. For me, there is a clear emphasis on using strong, simple typography, complemented by a touch of graphic wit from which the rest of the identity can emerge.
Some of these date back almost ten years, but still look pretty fresh (imho)!
#GGI Poster Portfolio
In solidarity with the student strike in Québec, and inspired by the work of l’École de la montagne rouge, Kim and I have designed a small portfolio of street posters for the movement. We’re hoping that once we get them up in the city they’ll help to encourage the students to continue their just struggle. The posters also aim to extend the critique of the tuition hikes to challenge the austerity politics that they are an intrinsic component of, and to firmly denounce the draconian measures the Charest government is using to enact them.
My good friend Constantin Demner over at Studio Elastik, has just released a series of three hand-lettered typefaces for free download (LSTK Bembo, GaraPen Tiny, and Clarendon). Coco and I did our MA together at LCP way back in 2004, and these fonts were drawn during that time. It’s great to see them re-emerge online.
I’ve used his version of Clarendon extensively for the Howl poster series, and look forward to playing around with the other fonts soon.
Be sure to check out all his great work!
The end of February (2012)
The last time I did this, people seemed to really enjoy it. So, for your viewing and browsing pleasure, I present a carefully curated series of images and inspirations to mark the end of the shortest-longest month.
Images link to the original sources.