Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO
Takenobu Igarashi is one of the Japanese greats, his work ranging from graphic design, industrial to environmental and even sculpture. He’s been a member of AGI since 1981. His book, ‘Igarashi Alphabets: From Graphics to Sculptures’ showcases quite a few of his typographic projects and experiments in both 2D and 3D mediums. His interest in three-dimensional letters and typography has led to projects like ‘Aluminum Alphabet’ (1983), ”Ori (Folded) Alphabet’ (1985), his impressive ‘MoMA Calendar Series’ (1984-1993) for which he’s drawn over six thousand different numerals (isometric, done before computers), ‘Transformable Alphabet’ (1981), ‘Mirror Alphabet’ (1981), ‘Scultpure H’ (1981) and many others.
Igarashi’s philosophy is best summed up by his own words: ‘My approach to design and sculpture has always wavered between my wish to do something useful for society, and my desire to create something beautiful with my own hands. In my opinion there are three essential things in work: passion, challenge and discovery. Without that, work gets boring; with that, work is enjoyable. And artwork that is enjoyable also results in success.’
Isidro Ferrer is a Spanish graphic designer and illustrator, member of AGI since 2000. He graduated in drama and scenography, and worked as a stage actor before turning towards graphic design and illustration. His ‘plays’ with ordinary objects, different meanings, photography and typography have led to an awe-inspiring body of work that reminds of greats like Pierre Mendell, Armin Hofmann, Anthon Beeke or Polish poster designers. He’s been involved in a wide range of projects, from posters and identities for cultural institutions, illustration for adults and children, comics, TV cartoons, packaging, publishing to monumental and wayfinding. He has published more than 30 books, been involved in many exhibitions and won a lot of prestigious awards.
Few of the ‘normal’ people don’t feel their soul cringe when they see a disabled person. Whether out of pity, guilt, fear, anger towards fate or just because of the strange gut feeling, you can’t feel comfortable unless you take some time to get used to it. It’s actually quite a natural, biological reaction. We are ‘set’ to search for the genetically-best representative of the opposite sex, more or less. Anyone that looks different gives us a sense of discomfort, usually requiring quite some will power to overcome it. Unlike animals, who let their disabled to die or be eaten, humans do benefit from the “mind over body” thing — or at least try to.
Biological ‘settings’ are not the only ones to blame. Most human societies have outcasted handicapped people for most of our history (in spite of the recent 20th and 21st century ‘enlightenment’, everyday life is still far from easy and ‘normal’ for a disabled person). Also, thousands of years of art are more than enough proof of our cultural & social notions of beauty. Ancient greeks, the Renaissance (to name just a few) tried to portray the perfect human, homo universalis. Even if art from the last two centuries has taken more abstract forms, we still strive for the “greek standard”, more or less. Just take a look through most magazines: 100-m-athletes-like and 90-60-90 models everywhere — no wonder anorexia and bulimia are some of the most common problems these days. Even regular people feel disabled when comparing themselves to ‘society’s standards’.
So it’s no wonder that art (or sports) performed by disabled people seems so strange, almost out of this world, sometimes.
Meet David Toole, a professional dancer — don’t be fooled by the absence of his legs (of which he says the only good thing is that they come in pairs):
David Toole, CandoCo dancer.
And that’s just a hint, watch this promo for “The Cost of Living” film, made by the DV8 Physical Theatre (definitely wait for the second part):
No matter how awkward it first seems, you can’t deny the artistic value. It might look different, you might even find it hard to watch, but by the end, it surely does make you think that beauty might lie outside the comfort zone as well.
And how about Aimee Mullins? Yes, her TED talks are inspiring, to say the least. But you can’t help wondering, would she had come so far if she wasn’t such a hot babe beautiful woman? Of course her looks didn’t help her olympic career or learn walking at the age of two in spite of her handicap, but I doubt Alexander McQueen used her as a model because of her performances. Nevertheless, her story is fascinating and makes you think that it might not be long before the existence of Motoko-Kusanagi-like cyborgs (the Ghost in the Shell series is one of the few franchises that really explore the idea of a technologically-enhanced human society, with its social and psychological implications).
Aimee Mullins (athlete, actress and fashion model)
Come to think of it, would Venus de Milo be just as beautiful if she hadn’t lost her arms? Would she look more ordinary?
Venus / Aphrodite of Milos, (created somewhere between 130, 100 BC).
So what is beauty? How normal or human should it be?
Would we be able to acknowledge ‘alien’ beauty?
Let’s not forget that even for fellow humans, a Zulu for example, beauty might mean something completely different, almost like from another planet for the rest of us. Impressionists had to hold their ground for a some years before they were taken seriously; Pollock‘s paintings might look just like mindless splashes of paint; Christo‘s environmental works of art might seem just like the wrappings of a big child that somehow managed to get the funding for his play. Or even Warhol‘s works — are they actually beautiful? Or just strange enough to be considered art?
There is no final answer. No undeniable truth. Saying the old “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” is just politically-correct bullshit — trying to be nice to everybody. Beauty exists, just as ugliness. They just come in so many different shapes that it’s sometimes impossible to tell them apart.
And why should we need answers anyway?
It’s the questions that got us humans so far, haven’t they? We just have to keep our eyes (and minds, of course) wide open — you never know where beauty might come from, least its form.
Following the wonderful Les Triplettes des Belleville, director Sylvian Chomet comes this summer with L’Illusionniste, a feature-length animated film about an old struggling illusionist and a young girl travelling throughout Europe. The story is based on an unpublished script written by Jacques Tati in 1956 as a letter to his daughter. The main character is a modeled version of Tati himself, one of the finest French comedians (both an actor and a director). But enough with the details, have a look for yourself (please excuse the russian trailer, the normal one does not allow embedding):
You can find out more on the wikipedia entry or on the beautifully designed official site. If your french is brushed up, you can watch this interview with Sylvian Chomet (either way, you can drool over the beautiful scenes from the movie). You could also watch La Vieille Dame Et Les Pigeons (The old Lady and The Pigeons), another short animation by the same director (be careful not to miss the other two parts).
Last year I had the pleasure of visiting both Tate Modern in London and The Pompidou Centre in Paris. The overall feeling that I got was that most of the modern art is born out neglecting the classic art, by going against it, breaking ‘the others” rules. Only few of the modern artists have come up with new, different takes on art. The rest are tied to the context, many times their art being nothing more than unestethic junk unless you know the artist’s historic background.
Such an artist is Kumi Yamashita, from Earth’s sister planet, Japan. Her work impresses through the gentleness of the subjects and especially through the maddening techniques used. Playing with light and shadows, thread, paper and many other materials, her installations manage to surprise, to awe the viewers. Take a look yourself:
Light, Aluminum, Shadow Permanent display at the 2nd floor of Nanba Parks Tower, Osaka, Japan.
Light, Aluminum, Shadow Permanent display at the entrance hall of Takikawa Hall, Hokkaido, Japan.
Constellation (Boy), 2007
Brads and Thread on Board
(the child is a young Muhammad Ali, all made from one uncut thread!)
Light, Aluminum, Shadow
Permanent display at the 3rd floor of Stellar Place Sapporo JR Tower
aluminum sheet, light, cast shadow
You can see more works on her website. There is also a japanese show (hosted by Takeshi Kitano :P) that had her as a guest, you can see it here, on Youtube.
“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources”
“Bad artists copy. Great artists steal.”
“Instinct […] is memory in disguise—works quite well when trained, poorly otherwise.”
Last night I couldn’t go to sleep before making this poster (larger here)—it stood as a sketch in my Moleskine for two days. It is one of my works for the 15th Design Challenge (the theme being a bike-day-or-ride poster with the title “I want to ride my bicycle”). The concept is great: a giant, red-striking, italic B (Futura UltraBold, of course) suggesting the word “bicycle”, helped by the small bike icon (InfoPict Two) and being part of an already very well known song line, “I want to ride my bicycle” from Queen. Add that big red letter over a black&white photo (bikes in their urban environment) and you have a clear winner. Looks great (I actually have people that can testify, so please excuse the self-praise :P)
However, this poster—most likely—wouldn’t have been born without seeing another poster three days ago, browsing Flickr. This one was made by Gabriel & Svoboda, exibited at the A:Event—larger here.
Now, the obvious troubling question is: how much is my poster mine?
Sure, they only have the big italic B in common, and the black&white poster is obviously not the first or the last one to make use of a huge, dominating letter as the main focus of its composition. Just as I’m not the first to use red Futura UltraBold over black&white photography—Barbara Kruger did this way back, and she’s in most design books so almost every designer has seen her work at some point, even if only by visiting Centre Pompidou.
Usually we don’t really remember our influences, mostly because we always filter everything we see and learn through our own personality, through our own creative talent. I didn’t think of Barbara Kruger at all when I designed the poster, I only remembered her while writing this analisys. God knows how many other influences I had. But I did know about the other poster, I specifically wrote down in my sketchbook to use the big italic B to illustrate my own ideas.
In the end, I guess it comes down to how much the work is your own, to how well you’ve managed to bring it close to your soul, to how much you believe in it. To how much you’ve “stolen” it or made it your own, as Picasso says. Do I like the poster? Of course, I’m proud of it. Is it mine? I think so. But being an intelligent person, I’m never completely sure of anything (“Only fools are 100% sure, son” “You sure, dad?” “Of course, son”).
This having been said, in commercial work there’s a pretty different story. The last thing you want is to find out that your design resembles another—your whole effort for differentiating your client can be ruined just because somebody somewhere had a similar idea. This is why market research is important, just as keeping yourself informed on other fellow designers’ work is (but this also influences your work—feel the irony?)
Come to think of it, there is this recent case that touches the same problem: Wolff Olins’ Docomo vs Pentagram’s MAD. Many hurried to cry “copy-cat”, but that’s just plain thought-less reaction. All designers, consultants and advertisers (the serious ones, that is) know how many elements are involved during a project. And we all know that you can’t reinvent the wheel. The basic shapes will remain the same, nobody can “own” them, just like T-Mobile can’t own magenta—that’s just against common sense.
I can’t help but feel envy each time I see an asian artist that manages to express so well and so differently the light’s glow and its playfulness, nature’s vast array of colours, the shadows in their multitude of tints and shades, the feel of tranquility while looking around on a simple, normal day. All I know is her name, Jun, from the blog ii-ne-kore. Her website is in japanese, and sadly, in spite of the tons of anime that I’ve watched to this day, I still can’t read or speak the language :) But little does that matter, all you have to do is admire her work—no words are necessary.
Soul-stirring art by a free individual: S.K. Thoth‘s street performance (“prayformance”, as he likes to call it, and for good reasons) is out of this world (both literally and metaphorically). Weird and intriguing at first, resembling native american dances combined with countertenor-voice and an ambidextrous violin, it grips you shortly after, taking you to the magical lands of his imagination. The short documentary on his life and performance won an Academy Award in 2002. After watching it you easily understand the depths of his craft, the sincerity of his art. He definitely has a touch of genius (for more information check out his site, his MySpace or Wikipedia—you can buy the dvd on Amazon)
You can watch the full documentary on Youtube (42 min). Make sure you’re watching and listening in HD: