— Modes of Criticism

Review originally published on the Eye Magazine blog.
Image: installation shot by Peter Cox.

Homage exhibitions are inherently celebratory. However, Staging the Message: The Open Work of Jan van Toorn (2014), at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, offers a critical challenge to that tradition. With a seemingly informal but bold approach, work by the Dutch designer is framed within a wider historical and contemporary graphic design practice, allowing ‘Staging the Message’ to become an exercise in self-reflexivity while proposing a succinct yet provocative case for design theory.

Read More

IMG_1242

Deutschland is it? Mahlke, for the Action Alliance United Left, 1990

After walking through the gift shop and the swanky jewellery galleries, the display of A World to Win – Posters of Protest and Revolution can be seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), in London. The overview of a century of protest posters from the museum’s collection is organised thematically in two rooms and allows to see less recurrent choices from the graphic design canon. However, it perhaps overlooks more recent work at a time when the death of the poster is almost proclaimed on a yearly basis. This is compensated by the presence of a screen which appropriately notes the increased importance of the digital poster.

Read More

D4EX-1
Visual identity of Designing for Exhibitions, a research colloquium exploring the roles of design in exhibitions and exhibition making, held at Central Saint Martins, London. The project included several large-format posters as well as a publication. It sought to expose the politics of the museum and confront the role of the exhibition designer in the context of not only an evolving discipline but also of contemporary political and cultural phenomena. More information and images will be published soon.

Read More

Critical-Graphic-Design

Article originally published on Design Observer.

Critical graphic design is a vague and subjective term. The meaning of the word “critical” in relation to graphic design remains unclear, resulting in an overuse and misuse in design magazines, books and websites. The term was popularized by the much-cited traveling exhibition Forms of Inquiry: The Architecture of Critical Graphic Design first shown in 2007, and by the Dutch design studio Metahaven, among others. Yet, the ambiguous criteria used by the Forms of Inquiry curators to support the term, and designers’ struggle to match the ambitions of their political, social and cultural research with its visual output, indicate a continuing need for critical discussion of critical graphic design.

Read More

occupied-times-24-1
Cover design of the issue 24 of the Occupied Times, which focuses on the politics of madness. The cover seeks to reveal connections between politics, economics and mental health by proposing multiple readings of the financial and political news provided by mainstream media. An essay about the design process of the cover will be published soon. The full PDF of the issue can be downloaded on the OT’s website.

Read More

Almanaque-02

Review of the exhibition Almanac – An History of Portuguese Graphic Design in Magazines, published in Pli 5, 2014.

Graphic design exhibitions are rare events in Portugal. If one takes into consideration its disastrous economic situation in the context of the global financial crisis and unimaginable austerity measures imposed by its government, their existence alone should be a case for celebration. Almanaque – An History of Portuguese Design in Magazines took place under these conditions between October and December 2013 in the northern city of Matosinhos.

Read More

Photo by Zak Kyes

The large-scale posters and booklet covers didn’t have any image and were purely typographic. They presented short aphorisms in Portuguese and English: “The City is Yours”, “Less No!”, “Tactics not Systems”, among others. Below it was possible to read the Lisbon Architecture Triennale’s slogan and title: “Close, Closer.” No event, date nor location was announced. There was nothing that informed the audience. The content of the triennale was not announced but only its identity. Only a territory (in this case, Lisbon) and duration were marked. Usually, not much more would be needed – a triennale is not exactly the kind of event that catches its public by surprise (it is the third edition since 2007, having repeated itself in 2010 and now in 2013). The promotion of this kind of event does not necessarily aim to announce it but to set a tone and establish an identity for each one of its iterations.

Read More

Connect the Dots

Connect the Dots was the title of an evening of two talks on graphic design, politics and criticism at the London College of Communication, on the 16 January 2014. The first explored the Conservative Party’s use of the billboard poster prior to the British General Election between 1979 and 2010. The second proposed a definition of the terms ‘critical design’ and ‘critical practice’ through a series of case studies.

Read More

JGDNiP

This is the third iteration of the essay Japanese Graphic Design: Not in Production. The first appeared in the German typography magazine Slanted in 2012. The second version appeared on the Japanese cultural criticism blog Neojaponisme, an endeavor of which I am a co-editor. Both of these iterations featured an accompanying selection of work by contemporary Japan-based graphic design practices and projects. This version is unaccompanied by said selection of work, and the text has been slightly modified to allow the essay to work as a standalone piece. What follows is a contextual analysis and introduction to the issues at hand when considering cross-cultural discussions of graphic design between Asia and the Western World at present.

Read More

Review of the identity for the Whitney Museum of American Art, designed by Experimental Jetset. Originally published on Design Observer.

Immediately after the release of the new visual identity for the Whitney Museum of American Art, social media rapidly reacted. “Great,” “bold,” “sweet,” “I’m really excited,” “I’m jealous” or simply “Love it!” were some of the initial glowing endorsements of the work designed by the Dutch design studio Experimental Jetset (EJ). However, what has been largely overlooked is EJ’s description and rationale for the project, which is a masterclass of ambiguity and ambivalence, one that builds upon gratuitous justifications, inconsequential buzzwords and the studio’s recurrently sought refuges.

Read More

Soon after the financial services firm Lehman Brothers epically collapsed in 2008, economics occupied a central position in the media. For decades, the financial sector had been commanding a process of de-politicisation of society, but the exposing domino effect caused by the auto-destructive nature of capitalism, allowed it to continue subduing an already fragile public discourse. New terminology such as ‘subprimes’, ‘derivatives’ and ‘collateralised debt obligations’, headlined public statements and TV reports, as 3D infographics attempted to explain what had really happened. Confining the blame to the ‘markets’ – a conveniently phantasmagorical identity – buildings and brands, not people, were and still are to a great extent, the entities used to attach responsibility to such a faceless crisis. Zoomed-out photos and aerial views of stock exchanges and financial districts throughout the world were used to visually represent 1, and therefore camouflage a series of financial activities.

Read More

This essay was published in a Spanish booklet about the work of Experimental Jetset, in 2010. It was written in response to the awkwardly-posed question “What to you is Experimental Jetset?”. I’ve been listening to shittier music lately.

My friend Marius Libman makes music under the name Copy. He’s vaguely successful, at least critically – if you’re not familiar with Copy’s music, imagine Giorgio Moroder italo-disco jams made using slightly older software so that it sounds somewhat grainy and 8-bit. Occasionally, Marius will illicitly remix the work of a famous recording artist and the indie label he’s on will release a mixtape on compact disc of these songs.

Read More

That New Design Smell is a critical design magazine, published in 2011 by Michèle Champagne. This interview aims to question the visual and editorial strategies used in the magazine, as well as discuss the context and decisions taken by its editor.

Francisco Laranjo (FL): What was the relation between the generation of content, the editorial process and the design of the magazine That New Design Smell? In other words, how did the (inseparable?) process of critical thinking and designing affect each other?

Michèle Champagne (MC): The relationship between wrangling content and editorial design is like that of a very old couple. They love each other very much. They finish each other’s sentences and scratch each other’s backs. But do they always get along? Sometimes they get on each others’ nerves and spend some time apart. In a practical sense, they share the same house, bedroom and studio but separate desks are a must. They share the same pot of coffee, but there always needs to be a place where they can chew their toast in peace.

Read More

Margarida Correia is a Portuguese artist whose photographic work recurrently focuses on objects of affection, issues of belonging and the exploration of the relationship between the people who originally owned the objects and those who inherited them. Although with significant differences, the project New World Parkville was no exception.

In 2009, Correia was commissioned by Real Art Ways, an arts institution from Hartford, Connecticut (US) to develop a project with the local community. Her work consisted of a laborious investigation and documentation of the traditions and legacy of Hartford’s Portuguese emigrant community. From retired Fado singers to radio presenters, Correia’s work aimed to gather information about their (now mystic) ideas of the country they left many decades ago. The project — now at an extended stage — was going to be exhibited at the Museum of Electricity, Lisbon (Portugal), presenting those found objects and lost stories in the Hartford area, in order to reveal and recover symbols, rituals and history.

Read More

Article originally published on the London Design Festival website, in 2010.

Any time the word anti is used in a title of an event, it is bound to prompt ferocious criticism. The word is instantaneously wrapped as anarchistic, counter-culture and looked with suspicion as disorderly by mainstream media. However, anti is presently a rare word as much as it’s a trendy cliché: an indication that tactics that once worked in the past seem to be effortlessly digested and ignored today. In here lies perhaps the most evident mistake of the first iteration of the Anti-Design Festival (ADF), which took place in London between 18-26 September 2010.

Read More