Friday, January 6, 2012

Slurp TV

My wife and I found something really special late last night...
SlurpTV, a Barcelona-based “motionagrapher, video-jockey and wastingtimer” makes (among other things) promo videos for a club-night in Barcelona called Nasty Mondays.
My wife and I are both products of the 80s, and so a lot of the content in these videos is nostalgic. But the video-compositions by SlurpTV are also a reminder of just how bizarre, decadent, and visually shocking 80s culture was. Take a few minutes to watch. They are mind-blowing.
Period typography and design is difficult to achieve successfully. And the more recent the period, the harder it is to do, because the references are fresher in our consciousness.
But SlurpTV is nailing the 80s, yet in a way we haven’t seen before. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Visual Void

More than a year ago, I had a chance encounter with a guy named Kurt Thometz. There’s more on that here.
While we talked about reading, typography, printing, and other associated topics, we got on to the subject of orality. More specifically, the ideas surrounding orality and literacy. Orality is difficult to define, but loosely, it represents the human concept of a pre-literate time — a time before we had a written language. There are still cultures, usually labeled primitive, that do not write, or read. But they communicate. They transmit thought to one another.


In our modern time, it is of paramount importance to be familiar with the way that computers work, or at least, how to work with them. As a not-so-distant parallel to that, we must be literate. We must know how to read; and how to write. These are standards in order to be considered an educated person. So, it's strange to consider this dichotomy of orality and literacy, because we see literacy as an obvious advantage. And of course it is. As a designer and typographer, and a largely visual thinker, it is difficult to imagine the world without written forms of communication.

But were our minds better when we didn’t have the chance to rely on something being written down somewhere? The only reason to consider this is to get closer to understanding how we think. And how our human thinking has changed over the millennia. It is highly unlikely that we will ever return to a time where we can only communicate non-visually. Or to put a sharper point on it, without letters and words. Ray Bradbury captures this well in Fahrenheit 451° where he suggests the idea of texts being memorized by different individuals, and those individuals serving as vessels to bring fragments of human thought forward in a new oral tradition. For example, I would memorize the short story The Dead by James Joyce, and that would be mine to protect. I would know every word, and make sure to pass it along to someone younger, someone committed, who would then, in turn, carry it into the future...

Kurt suggested several books to me — one of which I am finally reading now. It is called The Muse Learns to Write by Eric A. Havelock. Another is by Havelock’s predecessor Walter J. Ong called Orality and Literacy. And of course, there is the seminal Gutenberg Galaxy by Marshall McLuhan. There are many books on these interrelated subjects of thinking/writing/reading, memory, information retention, the development of communication technologies and their effects on the trajectory of human thought.

Essentially, we began to speak to one another. Then we learned to write things down. Then we needed a better way of dispersing the written things. Scribes could only accomplish so much and so, the printing press was invented. Printing presses, their relative speed, and quantity-of-output has increased over time. And now we have the internet as our publication tool. But, as these technologies have rushed forward, what has happened to our brains?

It is worth taking the time to think about this. It is worth imagining a time where we interacted, our bodies and ears and eyes moved from place to place, we spoke to each other and listened. We listened to stories, and we retained information — because we had to, because our memories were all that we had.

(The images above are from Jean Clottes’ book Return to Chauvet Cave. 35,000 year-old cave paintings were discovered in Chauvet Cave in 1994, making them the world’s oldest. The story of their discovery is well-documented in a beautiful film by Werner Herzog called The Cave of Forgotten Dreams.) The drawings are mind-bendingly beautiful — shaded, overlapped, and illustrating movement in some cases — a distant precursor to Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Of the 3 classes I teach at the School of Visual Arts, some of the more profound awakenings are in my second year typography class. With little background in design, students start to encounter the vast realm of expression offered through the lowly letterform. It's a strict course—intended to be meditative, and designed to create many quiet moments where students ponder the nuances of what make typographic expression so powerful and important.
The below represent some of the more successful executions for a unique project where students are randomly assigned both a well-known musical act, and a famous designer from 20th century history, then must synthesize their characteristics into a 12" record cover.

Jenny Wu designed this Neil Young 12" via Jan Tschichold

Heesang Lee's design for an Otis Redding 12" inspired by Bruno Monguzzi

Christopher Eustaquio's rendering of Led Zeppelin's untitled 12" in the style of Wolfgang Weingart