So, good afternoon my name’s Will Holder and I wanted to thank

no, I wanted to congratulate Ludovic, Samuel, Alex and Jean-Marie
for organizing these past two days. We’ve been talking about things
and related things for quite some time, and I think it’s really fantastic
that it’s happened and from what I’ve understood, I think it’s been
a success. No ? I think so. Congratulations ! Thanks very much
for having me.
When I first received the proposal for the program for these
past two days, I saw that there were quite a lot of talks, lectures planned
and my name wasn’t on the list, and I thought maybe that’s the thing
that I should be doing. So, I proposed to give a lecture and then I arrived
and got the program and saw that I was the only person speaking
today so… That’s something I have to deal with. So thank you
all for coming. If I turn round that’ll probably stop.
I’ve given you all this sheet of paper, which I’ve been using
recently as a script for myself, but also as a set of notes for you. So, I hope
that everything I say is summarized or contained on this piece of paper.
Can you still hear me ? Yeah, is that alright back there at the back ?
Ok, thanks. For a long time I’ve been talking about, or considering this,
for example, as a moment of publishing, and ways of representing
other people’s work through speech or how we talk about other people’s
work, pass on information to each other through speech. And I’ve also
talked quite a lot about conversation as a model for production. Though,
I think someone spoke of post-Fordism yesterday and, I think, my idea
of conversation as a model for production, let’s say an improvised
model for production, I suppose… Hey Alexis, no you’re not, sorry,
thought that was Alexis, sorry, it’s another beard. Conversation
as a model for improvised production or let’s say less-planned forms
of production, conditions that are constantly changing the conditions
of our production or our professions that are constantly changing.
And, how we can deal with this and still talk about a sense of craft for
perhaps… I think I also talk about the craft of information and the care
that’s taken when choosing words in a conversation. And also the care
that those words or let’s say the cybernetic steering mechanism that
each word you choose might have for the outcome of the conversation.
It’s a bit too loud I think. Can you turn it down, sorry. This isn’t
Will Holder. An Attempt to Evolve, XXIII: design history and biography
So it’s… There’s something. I think it’s ok, don’t worry.
If people at the back can’t hear me just say something. So, if we talk
about conversation or consider conversation as a model for production,
then, I think that implies that production is not… cannot really be
scripted. And, a lot of my work’s trying to consider this idea of scripting
productions and planning productions for… as conciously or as carefully
as you can, but knowing that any moment everything could change.
Everything is up for change. The conditions of your work or your
profession are entirely dependent on someone else’s conditions and
someone else’s conditions are dependent on someone else’s conditions
and they might just phone you in the middle of the day and say,
“Sorry, we changed our mind…” and you just have to completely
consider everything. So, this idea of steering within those productions
and a sense of craft within those kind of productions, is something
I’m interested in.
But what I’ve been doing for the last few years is trying
to talk about orality and publishing and speech as a model or as another
form of publishing, perhaps. But what I’ve been doing was writing
every single word that was going to come out of my mouth, so, literally
scripting a complete outcome of a moment of publishing or a moment
of production. And, after a while, I just started becoming… I think
mainly because I was doing that because I’m terrified about speaking
in public, and I’m terrified of losing track or going somewhere where
I’m not sure where I’m going. I mean, yesterday was an example.
I started talking and then towards the end I really have no idea where
I’m going but I talk and sometimes I just can’t stop and I’m not sure
where it’s ending or what I’m trying to say or… And those moments
can be quite embarrassing and they can be quite painful, and therefore,
I started writing, scripting every single word I was going to say
just to stay calm and stay confident that what you were saying was
a well-chosen, crafted piece of production or crafted work.
But I realized after a while that every time I spoke and read
these words in public I was completely contradicting what I was talking
about. And I became extremely self-conscious of this contradiction
and this paradox between my ideas and my practice, what I was saying
and what I was actually doing. There’s a huge paradox in there, and
I think some people appreciated that but I didn’t. It made me very
uncomfortable. And, so, recently, and this came to a head in Norway
last year when I gave a talk, and it was the most painful talk I’ve done
in a hell of a long time and I just could not stand hearing these words that
were coming out of my mouth. And, other people seemed to be enjoying
it in a very sadistic way, that they could see that I was in pain and that
I was having a problem and I couldn’t formulate my words or I was
uncomfortable with everything I was saying. And, they said they really
appreciated that, they appreciated this kind of failure or this breakdown
or this… It wasn’t a breakdown like oh my god, I… it wasn’t a breakdown,
but it was a breakdown of the production of language let’s say. And
from that moment on I just realized that I had to find a different form
to work with. And that basically that comes down to being able to speak
openly, without scripting myself. And after a while I realized that the
simplest thing to do is just to talk about things you are very acquainted
with, that you have… you can talk about, and you have a long history
with, and it started becoming clear that repetition and rehearsal
became a lot more important in this process.
And, so what I’ve been doing recently is taking this text, which
Jan Verwoert published last year, a year ago now, which he edited with
Stuart Bailey, or I think he wrote this with Stuart Bailey. It’s signed
Jan Verwoert but I know that this text is a product of a hell of a lot
of conversations that have been going on for four or five years between
Jan and Stuart. And, as you might know, I work quite closely with
Stuart Bailey so we have a hell of a lot in common. I don’t think I have
this much in common with Jan Verwoert as Stuart does, but, or his
ideas. But I thought this is a really important text. Reproducing this
text is simply an acknowledgement that I see myself within this text.
I recognize myself in this, and I’ve been using it, so, since Norway,
since this breakdown, been using this text, returning to this text
and returning to this text and returning to this text and picking out
certain phrases and words that I either don’t agree with or question
or simply words that trigger a thought or response in me.
So, I think this production is similar to reading a book, the…
you, I’m sure you have… I’m sure I’m not the only person in the world
that reads a sentence and then gets provoked or encouraged or excited
about something and your head just starts, you start thinking about
the sentence you’ve just read, and you start producing thoughts but
you’re also reading at the same time, so you continue reading and then
after a few sentences you’re like, “I didn’t, I didn’t read that because
I was thinking about something else.” So you have to go back and
retrace your steps and shut off these thoughts. But you can’t shut off
these thoughts because the text provokes that. So this… that’s kind
of an exercise in this. That every time I re-read this text it provokes
a different course of thoughts that I’ll start with, get on with in
a moment. So the… yeah I just thought I needed to explain that.
And that this idea of a repeated reading of, let’s say, a canonical text,
a text that could go down in history or, maybe, through my use
and re-use and re-use of it, it might even give a better chance
of going down in history, like the Titanic, maybe even.
So, what I’ve done is pulled out certain words, I should have…
The last four times I’ve done this now, I’ve used exactly the same
phrases and used that as a structure. So, basically what I’ve been doing
is maintaining this structure, rehearsing within that structure, which
also ties into my interest in music and music production and composers
like Christian Wolff who, after John Cage, decided that perhaps this
improvised state of affairs needed a bit of steering, a bit of guidance.
So, it was more about having a very clear script, or a very clear score
or piece of notation for playing a piece of music but that the conditions
of that script implied improvisation. So, it’s the combination of
instructions and improvisation or following instructions but those
instructions are instructing you to improvise. I’m not sure if that
makes sense but I’ll get on.
So, this talk today is about biography and… Why is it about
biography ? It’s about biography because it’s, I think, mainly it’s
concerned with the self or with the definition of oneself or how
one (acts?) professionally. What I (?) for a certain reason and I think
that has a lot more to do with our professions than it does with
ourselves but maybe that’s just nonsense and that’s one in the same
and we can’t help being professional people.
But, I think the reason that we’re here is… has to do, well,
it came up yesterday, it has to do with publishing. It has to do with,
I suppose more to do with books, even though Rosa B gave a fantastic
presentation, I thought, yesterday of this, their latest issue online.
But it has to do with publishing and education and the role of publishing
in education or the role of education in publishing. And I think I need
to make it clear that I do not make a distinction between the two. I think
publishing is education and education is publishing. It’s simply passing
on material, or reproducing material for, in everyone’s case, a very
different set of ideas. But in my case, I think the intentions behind what
I publish and the intentions behind my teaching are exactly the same
and I don’t make any distinction between the two.
So, that’s me. That’s starting to talk about myself and how
one defines oneself through publishing others or reproducing the work
of others. Quite a long time ago, what it says here, this is a text that
I wrote six years ago. And it says, “Will Holder once read that… Sorry,
there’s a mistake there. On the first line there’s already a mistake ! Fucking
hell ! Will Holder makes mistakes and corrects them. Will Holder once
read that storytelling would lead us out of the postmodern condition
and has since become preoccupied with publishing.” It’s one of these lines
that, in your professional life, you have to send people. They ask you
for a “bio”, they call it a “bio”, and you send them a line or you send them
a paragraph or something that gets reproduced and defines or prepares
people for your coming or your appearance or instructs people as to
what you think you are. It’s really nice to write this in the third person.
It’s a really great exercise to talk about yourself as though you’re someone
else. To say, “Hey this Will Holder over there…” it’s not like looking
in the mirror but it’s more like projecting this ideal image of yourself
that you’d like everyone to have of you, which we usually read
of in biographies, obviously, this ideal image, this interpreted ideal
image that people create of each other or of themselves.
So, I wrote that and it says, “Will Holder once read that
storytelling would lead us out of the postmodern condition.” I read
that in 1992 when I was still at school and greatly enjoying writing
my thesis. I think that was the most important part of my design
education because I was at a very small provincial school and the
teachers and me, we didn’t get on, we didn’t understand each other.
I don’t know why, but there was a great deal of friction between us.
I just think I had certain ideas that I just couldn’t express at the time
because I was twenty-three and not very verbal and I was just arrived
in a Dutch community and starting to speak Dutch and I couldn’t
really express myself so I was learning Dutch and design at the same
time and it was quite a complicated set of affairs and I was a bit confused,
I should think. So what I did was basically go up to the library and
sit there all day. And writing a thesis was a really good excuse to be able
to do that, to just avoid the teachers and like, “I’m here, I’m working
really hard on my degree, ok, just, it’s alright, I’m doing ok.” The rest
of my degree was really crap, I will admit. I still didn’t know what
the hell I was doing but I was reading a lot about what I thought
I should be doing.
And, again, so I don’t make this distinction between publishing
and education. I just think you can find education in books, you can teach
yourself from books, you can develop a personality or an idea or an ideal
position through books, through reading, as much as you can through
conversation, as much as you can through practice, I do want to add.
But, it also ties into the fact that now, in the last few years, there has been
quite a lot of discussion about arts education and design education and
where that’s coming from. Who’s educating who ? Do you, as students,
sit back and expect to be educated ? And, do we, as teachers, expect
to just be feeding you ? And aren’t we learning as much from you guys
as you are from us ? And where does the authority lie in education ?
Where does the authorship lie ? Maybe you get much more information
online then you do from your teachers. Maybe you have much more
of a discussion about graphic design with a set of friends that you
might have in Japan. You know… ? It’s becoming decentralized and
it’s becoming de-authorized, and… education that is.
And it was really nice that, sorry to constantly return
to the Rietveld Academie, but, I thought it was really nice yesterday
that Linda said these books are published and passed around to other
students. So, the students are starting to teach the other students.
Or, the older students are taking care or having a sense of continuity
or a future of design by passing on their ideas through publishing.
So, again, there’s me, in the library at the Royal Academy
of ’s-Hertogenbosch in Holland saying, thinking that already that
publishing is education.
So, what I haven’t done yet is start with Jan Verwoert’s text.
I’m sorry, I started speaking myself. Jan writes, “Modernism never
really failed.” So, at the time, in my thesis, I was trying to get my head
around this thing called “postmodernism”. I still haven’t got my head
around it but that quote about storytelling is the thing that really
stuck in my mind and stuck with me and made me think, “Ok, there
is a possible alternative to…” oh, I don’t know, alternative to what ?
I don’t know… “postmodernism?” But, the word “postmodernism”
implies in itself that modernism has failed, or that’s passed and
we can get on now and be postmodern. But Jan says, “Modernism
never really failed.” He says, “It just became hermetic.”
Further down, so I’ve already started doing this, start recycling
this piece in itself and further down, so footnote number two, refers
to a piece further down and it says, “It’s what all conformists do.
Competitive academics and market players alike avidly protect their
secrets, i.e. the rarefied knowledge of what is true and good, and what
is not. They supposedly already possess.” That wasn’t very well read,
because I missed a bracket. “It’s what all conformists do. Competitive
academics and market players alike avidly protect their secret (i.e.
the rarefied knowledge of what is true and good, and what is not.)
The secret that they supposedly already possess.”
So, further down in that text I think Jan continues on this idea
of hermetics, and what hermetic means, and how modernism became
hermetic. But, further back up again he says, “Modernism never really
failed, it just became hermetic. And to initiate oneself into the experience
that avant-garde works offer takes time and initiating oneself is a labor
of love.” I had… I keep returning to this, but I have this strange thing
about the initiating oneself. I don’t really think… I’m not really sure
if that’s possible, if you can initiate yourself into a discourse that’s already
going on. I have a feeling you have to be invited into, or to be asked to be
initiated. Obviously, if you recognize yourself in other people’s work
or in other people’s writing then maybe you feel like you’re being initiated.
But, this idea of initiation rights and closed communities and
hermetic communities and being initiated into that seems like something
that’s quite authorized and follows a certain set of rules. So I’m not sure
if you can actually initiate yourself. It seems like gate-crashing, what you
do at a party, you know, someone’s giving a party and you’re just like,
“I don’t know who they are, I know there’s a party and I’m just gonna
go to this party and drink someone else’s beer.” That’s a bit like… that’s
what gate-crashing is. “Inviting oneself seems like gate-crashing and
that one should wait to be invited to such initiation.” Again, further down
Jan says, “On the other hand, the experience of struggling to share what
remains difficult to share is…” he says, “… what underlies all good
avant-garde work.” But I talk about it in terms of… it says, “to initiate
oneself into the experience that avant-garde works offer takes time.”
This experience thing is a bit odd, but I think I understand that from
experience that it’s, this struggle to share what’s very difficult to share.
And, from that point, I’ll be a little clearer now about what I want
to talk about today and that, again, like I already said, that’s biography
and the fact that it seems quite difficult to share someone else’s personality,
someone else’s life or even someone else’s work. And, I wanted to talk
about this because one, I was extremely provoked a few months ago when
I was sitting at Castillo/Corrales on a Sunday, so, on a Sunday morning
on my own in the shop looking through some books and reading a couple
of books or a magazine and a book that I hadn’t read before but knew about
and… what was I going to say ? So, I was provoked by that and those two
articles concerned David Bennewith’s biography of Joseph Churchward.
Does everyone know about this book ? No ? Yes ? Ok, I’ll explain briefly.
David Bennewith is a designer from New Zealand who’s been
working in the Netherlands for a few years. And, I’m not sure how,
but he “discovered”, let’s say, this New Zealand type designer called
Joseph Churchward. And, David decided… he went to the Werkplaats
Typografie in Arnhem to attempt to work on or make time for this
“biography” he wanted to make a biography of Joseph Churchward
and Joseph Churchward’s crazy typefaces. And, I’ll come back to that
later. So, there’s David’s biography and there’s also the fact that I,
myself, am working on a biography, and I have been for the last
six years of an American composer called Robert Ashley. I talk a lot
about Robert Ashley, so, I’m not going to talk too much about him.
But I just wanted to play this. Can I have some sound, please,
for my computer ? Is it me ? Does it hurt ? Is it safe ? Come on.
“How about that ? That’s one of my thoughts. I have dozens
of them…” Can you turn it up please ? “If you take a bunch of short
ideas and arrange them so that they overlap, that’s one long idea.
That’s a thought. One time one short idea is slightly ahead of another
and another time it’s not… but they always overlap, that’s the rule…
So you get a larger number of different thoughts… because one time
one short idea is slightly ahead of another and another time it’s not.
The thoughts are really different but more or less the same in the sense
that they are all short, which is the important part… The important
part is to make it short… Because nobody likes to pay attention for very
long… —— Some rich man commissions a portrait of his wife… from
a famous painter… Fifty thousand dollars… The painter calls up and says
it’s finished… The man says hire somebody good to frame it and send it
over… The painting arrives and the man’s wife decides where to hang it…
probably thinking it doesn’t look very much like me… and the man comes
home from work… where he makes a lot of money… and he looks at it
for a few minutes, maybe three or four… and thinks I got my money’s
worth. Then he goes and gets a drink… and he and his wife talk about it
for a while… and then they go to bed and that’s that… If she put it
in a place where he can see it everyday… while he is, say, drinking coffee
in the morning… he might look at it for maybe five or ten seconds every
day for a few weeks. Maybe that’s too much… Then he’s seen it and
he stops looking. Total of ten minutes over three or four months…
That’s what I call short… Same with thoughts. Four or five seconds.
Done… —— I got a ticket to a museum with old paintings and,
tapestries and pots and things. I found the ticket on the street, and
I am interested in those things… I put on my best clothes, which
is not saying much, so they would let me in. Just some old crazy who
thinks about art… The guy taking the tickets doesn’t care… He doesn’t
care as long as you don’t trigger the profile rule… which is you can’t
let certain kinds of people in… which would get him in trouble.
The guards don’t care. Their feet hurt. So my clothes get by. Some
old crazy who thinks about art. First thing you notice is how much
work it took to make these things… Lot of people. Lot of time.
Very impressive… Like cathedrals and that kind of thing… Next
thing you notice is how nobody in the museum cares… I’m the only
person who is actually looking, trying to keep up my appearance,
not to get kicked out… and back to no place… Everybody else is just
walking around. Thirty seconds here, thirty seconds there. How nice…
I get the idea. The whole thing is traffic. It’s like a huge dance made
up by the guy who decided where to put things. The same dance
every day except Monday, when the museum is closed. It’s just a huge
dance… Some man is looking for his wife, which part of the dance…
Six foreigners in a bunch are looking for the toilets… A kid is looking
for his mother, who is right behind him. She let’s him look. Good
for him, she thinks… Everybody is just walking around. Thirty seconds
here, thirty seconds there… Finally, well, honey, it’s been a couple
of hours, I think, we actually got our money’s worth. You know where
the bus stop is ? Actually, getting there and getting home is more
interesting than the museum. That’s why they go. Got to keep moving…
I’m getting restless myself. Two hours is a lot of dancing. Even if
what’s outside for me is no place ——. Well, actually, it’s not no place.
It’s my place. I like it. I live in the park. Daytimes. Except summer,
when I don’t go back to the shelter at night. Then I stay all night. I sleep
on my bench… My mind is bad. Sometimes I hear voices. Sometimes
I see things. Everybody tells me the voices I hear are not there, the
pictures I see are not there. I don’t care. They’re there for me. That’s
what counts. Sometimes I think my heart will break… because of
the loneliness. It’s so lonely. Then sometimes it’s fun. I have friends,
like everybody ——.”
I just switched it off, to cut out the feedback because
Bob’s voice was being transferred through my microphone. Anyway,
that’s not really relevant, but, it could be in terms of feedback
and where people’s voices in their heads come from.
So, that’s the beginning of Dust, an opera that Ashley wrote
in 1999, or was first performed in 1999. He takes a very long time to write
them, so it’s difficult to say when he wrote them. And, his writing is
extremely informed by his friends and those friends are the people that
he works with and has been working with for the last thirty years.
So, if he’s talking about the voices in his head, it’s probably the voices
of people he knows extremely well and I would even go so far as to say
that Robert Ashley isn’t really the composer of his work. It’s a collective
production and this production is not scored, there’s no notation,
there’s no script, there’s no musical notation for these pieces of music.
They do everything orally. The whole piece, all the work is negotiated
orally through conversation and… Robert Ashley’s almost eighty.
And, we don’t want him to die, but we know that he will. Sometime,
all of us will.
So, me and Alex Waterman, my friend, went to Robert Ashley
and we proposed to him that we’d like to score his music for other people
to play. Now his music is basically around… about, or, his idea of music
is driven by the musicality of speech and the musicality of the American
voice and he calls it opera but it’s speech. It’s just speech as music and
what me and Alex are trying to do is to make a book that other people can
read together collectively. So, it’s quite a big book, big pages, they’re not
as big as this, but they’re quite big. You know, three or four of you can
sit around and read together and read aloud together. That’s the idea.
The thing is that here, it starts here, “I’m the president of mother-fuckers
against drunk driving.” This is the first friend that’s introduced into
Dust, this opera, and more and more and more friends are being introduced
into the opera as it goes along and it becomes this polyphonic collection
of voices all speaking at the same time and all saying the same thing.
It’s not as straight forward as this opening text, this opening introduction
to Dust, the opera, that I’ve just shown you. So, the more voices that
come in, the more interpretations come in of the story, the more narrators
come in, the more authors come in. And it’s a very difficult thing
to represent on paper, I’ll tell you.
We’ve been looking at his work from the last, well, from
the early, very early sixties from about ’61 to ’89, 1989, and trying
to distill a form of notation, a typographical language that we can apply
to his later work. Well, so we’ve analyzed his later work, we’ve written
it down, we’ve been listening to it, we’ve tried to notate it and we’re
applying different forms of graphical and conceptual notation to that
work in order to make this book. I’m rambling on, I don’t want
to talk too much about Ashley, I do all the time.
I wanted to talk about David Bennewith’s Joseph Churchward
book. But, the reason I did it, or started talking about this because Jan says,
“To initiate oneself in the experience that avant-garde works offer takes
time.” David was working on that book for at least six years. I think
I’ve been working on this Ashley book for about six years as well. “It takes
time and initiating oneself is a labor of love,” and I’d comfortably say
that that is the case, in my case, and I’m very sure it’s the case in David’s
case. Jan carries on and he writes, “Here’s the problem : Given that
the creation of a revolutionary artistic language…” The creation
of a revolutionary artistic language ! Wouldn’t we all like to keep doing
that ? Here’s one example of a revolutionary artistic language in the
twentieth century developed at the Bauhaus, as you know, mainly
by Wassily Kandinsky. And, the revolutionary idea of this language
was that people could start reading without having to read text, without
having to read words. That was the idea. Maybe we could just use
images, only images in the world, and abolish text, or, not abolish it
but make it easier for other people or a lot of people all over the world
to read. Let’s not make this distinction between French and English.
We’d just say “circle” or something. We just give each other…
I don’t know how it works, but, we do know how it works.
We’re in the twenty-first century and we see the products
of it all the time all around us and if you don’t, then have a good look.
It’s all out there. The more it gets used the more complex and complicated
it becomes. When you think your yellow circle meant something and then
you come somewhere else and the yellow circle means something else
then you have to start being a bit more clear about how that circle is defined
and why it’s yellow. And, usually what happens and what Kandinsky
already put into practice was that you have to start writing in order to
justify why your circle is yellow. And, Kandinsky wrote as many books
as he made… that’s not true. Kandinsky wrote a lot of books about
his work and about this kind of work and about the principles behind
this work. And he basically put that practice into practice, that you need
to write text in order to develop a visual language that replaces text…
Fuck… Because sometimes these things get a bit confused.
That’s three t-shirts that I made with Ryan Gander quite a few
years ago. These are the technicians of the Rijks Academie in Amsterdam.
These are the guys that make stuff. Those colors are wrong, if you
didn’t realize.
So, yeah, so, a lot of the time we’ve been destroying form,
and destroying language, and breaking it down, and breaking it down.
Like Dada as well, what seems to be a revolutionary nihilistic, destructive
attempt to break things down into small units and after a while, people
starting thinking, “But that’s quite handy if I take these little units and
everyone uses these units then everyone can do this.” The whole world
can do this. The whole world can make a picture that everyone understands
out of these little units of meaning. Three units of meaning put together
in a certain way creates another unit of meaning or slightly larger unit
of meaning which says, well, I don’t need to explain that.
And, this is quite well described in a text by Stephen Bann who
wrote about the English concrete poet and, later, let’s say visual artist,
linguistic language artist, Ian Hamilton Finlay. And he wrote… Sorry…
that’s good. If I do that then I get this… He said that, “Impersonal,
entirely accessible nature enabled them to be utilized in complex structures
without concealing the constructional process.” Anyone can look at that
and understand how you make that from a triangle, a circle and a square,
no ? It doesn’t conceal how it was put together. It’s easy for everybody
to understand and you can pick it up and you can use it too. It’s called
constructivism. Everyone can do it.
“Here’s the problem : Given that the creation of a revolutionary
artistic language designed to…” I’d like to just point out that that word
“designed” implies that it’s being taken, this revolutionary language
is being pushed somewhere, designed to become something else, designed
to go somewhere, designed to do something, it’s adjectival, it’s… Me and
Stuart talk about “design” and “design”. There’s one “design” which
is the noun and there’s another “design” that’s a verb and we prefer to talk
about “design” as a verb. It’s active, it’s constantly changing, it’s adapting
itself to its surroundings in the same way as in French you’d say with
the verb “être” you say “je suis” but the verb “être” becomes conjugated
if it’s put next to “il” and it becomes “il est”, right ? That’s a verb, that’s
something that constantly forms itself and reforms itself according to
its surroundings and its conditions and its contingency and its situation
and it’s that the situation of our work, the conditions of our work
is what I… I’m going a bit too fast, I think.
Repurposing labeling, yeah. So, the conditions of graphic
design, the conditions of our work are what I’m trying to talk about ;
the definition of graphic design and how it’s defined by other people
that, perhaps, work around design or next to design, how it’s conjugated
like a verb by other people and not just ourselves, not just this hermetic
group of designers all together who are interested in publishing and
let’s take publishing somewhere else. I thought it was fantastic yesterday
that the presentation of 2.0.1 was not just designers talking about
a magazine and publishing, thank God. It’s clear that other people
are involved in this profession that we have. And, what I’m…
what am I trying to say ?
Lyotard… So, the quote that I read at the beginning about
storytelling relieving us from the postmodern condition was from
Jean-François Lyotard and it was in a book called, I suppose, La condition
postmoderne expliquée aux enfants. I read it in English. It’s in there
somewhere. At least that was only… I read that book and another book
of his but I’m sure it was in there, but I can’t find it ! I can’t find this
quote. I know I read this and I know he wrote it but I just don’t know
where it is and I’ve asked a few people if they know, a few people that
know Lyotard because I don’t really know that much about him.
He just wrote this book called The Postmodern Explained to Children,
so I thought, that’s easy, that’ll be… you know, “Postmodernism
for Dummies”. So, ok. No, it’s not ok.
Then, during a workshop a few weeks ago in the Rietveld
in Amsterdam a French student, Victor, introduced, like in a conversation,
we were talking about something and he said, “Hey, I’ve read this text,
this guy wrote about graphic design and he’s not a graphic designer.”
And he was like, “Who is he ? Who is he ?” It was Jean-François Lyotard.
He wrote this text about the graphic designer and it’s called, Intriguer
ou le paradoxe du graphiste. And it’s an amazing text that Lyotard wrote
in 1990, I think. Yeah… somewhere… yeah. And, it turns out after
a while we realize that this text is actually a monologue. It’s presented
like an interview, so it’s presented as though it’s two people having
a conversation but after a while it becomes really clear that it’s just him
constructing these two characters. There’s me and there’s him and
we’re talking about graphic design and we’re having this conversation.
But it’s really fascinating because he’s a philosopher. He’s, you know…
you wouldn’t think that a philosopher’s that interested in graphic design,
but he is, and he has a hell of a lot to say and he’s very very precise
about what he says about graphic design. And, this is what
I’m trying to get at.
The definition of things doesn’t always come from the thing
itself. Or, our profession doesn’t need to be defined by us all the time.
And, Lyotard talks about design. He says… Oh, I think I did this…
yeah… “Take for instance…” So, I’m sorry about this all being in English,
I do know that you understand but sometimes it’s just easier to read
along with me like, you might not have understood Ashley if you hadn’t
had read it at the same time. “Take for instance, the title of a movie,
of an exhibition, of an institution, of a play. Let’s say that it is the literal
representation of these things.” The title of a movie, an exhibition,
or an institution, it’s the literal representation of these things. “It is what
makes the things stand out from the others in a table of contents, by
a simple opposition. Meanwhile…” Meanwhile… “Or, le graphiste doit
signifier ce qu’elle est ou ce qu’il pense qu’elle est alors même qu’il reporte
le titre de la chose sur l’objet.” He says, “Meanwhile, the graphic artist…”
If you read this text, if you find it, in English, he’s really unclear and
he says “graphic artist” and then he says “graphic designer”, don’t get
distracted by that because in the French version he just says “le graphiste”.
It’s the translator’s confusion that’s constantly… Or maybe, it’s his
two characters that one says it’s a “graphic artist” and the other says
he’s a “graphic designer” or maybe, I don’t know. But, don’t get distracted
by that, please. He says, “The graphic designer must signify what the
thing is, or what he thinks it is when he fixes the thing’s title on the object.”
That might sound a bit confusing, but if you read the text, you’ll start
getting a sense of what the difference between the thing is and the object.
The object is what the designer makes, the thing is what it represents.
But it’s a thing and it’s an object so, sometimes it gets a bit confusing which
is which. But, he definitely says the graphic designer, “fixes the thing’s
title on the object,” on the object. So, the object is the thing and its title,
I think. The design is the thing and its title, I’m not sure. I am sure, but…
What I find a lot more interesting is that, like I said about
Kandinsky, like having to develop a title and a thing and put them
together and it becomes an object, it becomes something that functions
as a design. I’m more interested in the title, and how the title works
and interplays with the object. So, what I think we do as designers
is to give things titles or to define things or give things keywords or put
something… the title underneath the thing that becomes the object,
and then that object has a significant place. This thing has a significant
place in the English-speaking world. Because “A” is for “Apple”. But,
for English people, that’s really confusing, no ? But not for you guys,
right ? So, the designer changes what’s attached to the object for a specific
context. I’ve changed the “A” into a “P” for your sake, because I’m
in France and I’m talking to French people. And it makes it quite easy
to me to take these conditions and talk about it in that way ; breaking
it down into things that are very simple that we all do, all the time.
Here’s another one… This is based on a discussion I’ve had
this week with somebody in particular. So, this is what the public
understands, this is what Lyotard understands that we do, right ?
He says you, “fix the thing’s title on the object”, you fix the thing’s title
on the thing and it becomes the object, it becomes the design. This
is what the public, the people we work with, the people we cooperate
with, the people we work for, this is what they understand us to do,
right ? It’s this simple, no ? This is what we do, us graphic designers,
us publishers. If you change something’s typeface, can you change
to something a bit more “pretty”, please. I don’t want it to be “modern”
I’d like it to be “pretty”, no ? That’s what we do, no ? That’s what the
public understands that we do. So, putting this label underneath things,
putting this label underneath things changes its nature and it locates
it somewhere else. It moves things around, says, “There’s modern !”,
“There’s pretty !”, “There’s new !”, “Put that over there ! You come over
there, and go there ! And you be modern ! And you…” You know,
it’s just like, all we’re doing is constantly moving things into different
boxes and into different areas and for different people. We’re taking
the same apple and we’re throwing it, distributing it… there you go,
that’s what I’ve been trying to say.
I think the most important thing that hasn’t really been
spoken about and the one person who does it professionally is not here.
Alexis, is that you ? It is, right ? Yeah, he is here. She said he wasn’t
coming, but he is here. The one person that’s… the one profession
that is so fucking important for our work, this person from the outside
who takes our work and brings it somewhere. This guy called the
“distributor” ! Make a beautiful object, if you don’t distribute it, what
the fuck ? Why ? Why would you make it ? We all underestimate and
we don’t talk about distribution enough. It’s really underestimated
in the field of graphic design and publishing. Not publishing, but graphic
design, definitely. We’re always talking about these pretty things that
we’re making. “Look, this is new, isn’t it beautiful ?” Make sure people
see it’s beautiful, no ? Make sure people start redefining their idea
of what’s beautiful. Distribute it ! No ? It’s really important.
So, we put labels on things, and we start taking this thing
and giving it a label, and it becomes designed for a certain purpose.
Sorry, I do think design has a purpose. And this is “new”, and this
is also “biographical”, apparently. So, this is a Joseph Churchward…
David Bennewith made this biography about Joseph Churchward,
the New Zealand type designer. And this is one of Joseph Churchward’s
types called “Marianna”. I imagine a lot of you might have read about
this. Excuse me, oh, it’s that thing again, hello ! That’s really good…
So, if you talk about how we label ourselves, you know. “Will Holder
once read that…” That’s him, that’s how I label myself. Someone else
ask me for a label, like a tag, a keyword, that says, “This is this guy.”
and it gets reproduced in print. I want to be in control of that. In the
same way that we should be in control of how we let go of our profession
if someone else picks it up and starts using it.
So… but then I was sitting at Castillo/Corrales on a Saturday
morning… Sunday morning — and it was really quiet, there was no one
around — reading this magazine called Back Cover and I read this,
“Will Holder was talking about the question of whether a typeface could
be biographical.” This is a conversation between Åbake and Richard Hollis.
And I read… And Richard Hollis is like “Meaning ?” Meaning what ?
Who the fuck is this person ? What does he mean ? I didn’t say that. But
I opened this bloody magazine and I read it and I’m like, “How ? What ?
Åbake ? I bet that’s a conversation I had with Maki. When did I have
a conversation about biographical typefaces with Maki ? And I’m drunk
quite often when I’m talking to Maki but I know what I say, I always have
this recollection the next morning of every single thing I said and I…
I’ve never talked to Maki about biographical typefaces. Let alone Kajsa
or Patrick or Benjamin. I thought, this isn’t me ! Who’s this guy,
Will Holder, talking about typefaces… what ? Richard Hollis says,
“meaning ?” Of course, what the fuck does that mean ? I don’t know !
And then, I don’t know why, but, well, I don’t have the Joseph
Churchward biography, but there’s a copy of it at Castillo/Corrales,
because it’s a wonderful book. And I picked it up. And I started reading
it. And, literally, from about fifteen minutes after this, I start reading…
No… it wasn’t this but… This is an article. This might be in the book,
I can’t quite remember, but I just started typing things down and later
I found it back in a pdf online. So, it’s been relocated again, it’s been
distributed and reproduced again. This is how I found it. David wrote,
“On the 9th of January 2008 the tag list on for
the typeface Churchward Marianna read : 3d, blimp, bulbous, cool,
decorative, funny, headline, heavy, informal, newzealand, obese, outline,
party, poster, retro, round, sansserif, shadow, signage, spunky [suggest].”
That’s what we do, no ? This is how we are talked to, no ? “Can you
make that a bit more funky ? Can you make it a bit more funny ? Can you
give it an outline ?” “A few weeks later, around the 14th of February,
a new word had been added to the list : biographical.” David Bennewith,
David Bennewith writes, “How did this come to appear there ? What
could its relation be to a typeface ?” Maki ! Tell us ! Come clean !
What the fuck ? So, here’s the two sources and… I can’t read it either,
but somewhere in there it says “biographical”. David writes a letter
to Marianna. So, Marianna is Joseph Churchward’s daughter. So, this
typeface, this “bulbous” typeface, this “funky” typeface is named
after his daughter. So, is it biographical ? I don’t know.
But, in any case, I started reading and it said, “I began
to reconsider a question that had been introduced to me in the
proceeding months by a fellow designer. It was a question that had
simultaneously annoyed and intrigued me : ‘Can a typeface be
biographical ?’” Fuck ! Can you talk to fifty people for hours about
typographical… ? That’s a “three”, that’s a footnote and Maki
is such a nerd that he read the footnotes, like, “Who said that ?”
No ? Was it you ?
Maki Suzuki
Do you want me to tell you ? Where it comes from ?
Will Holder
Wait, I know that Åbake is four people, but I don’t know
who said this. Who said this?
Maki Suzuki
I think first I have to say that this book, you know the
Joseph Churchward book, David has promised to give us one,
since it was out. We still don’t have one. So I haven’t read it,
none of us have. And the second time I met David Bennewith
we talked about, he went to the Jan van Eyck Academie, so…
Will Holder
So, I was teaching there when David was there as well,
for a short period…
Maki Suzuki
If you go to the Jan van Eyck Academie then you have
to propose a research project, and some people are assessing
them. And he told me that you were there. And he told me
that you asked him, “David, do you think a typeface can
be biographical ?”
Will Holder
Right. So, it’s not by way of print, it’s by way of conversation
that you… ?
Maki Suzuki
Will Holder
Ah, ok. Stupid me, thinking that Maki reads the footnotes
in David’s letter to Joseph Churchward’s daughter. That’s what
I assumed. Like, how the fuck would he know that was me ?
“I began to reconsider a question that had been introduced
to me in the proceeding months by a fellow designer. It was a question
that had simultaneously annoyed and intrigued me : ‘Can a typeface
be biographical ?’”
“Almost a month after this interview I was given an assignment
to design a poster for our end-of-year exhibition. Spurred on by a friend,
it seemed like a good opportunity to fish out Joseph’s quote. The idea
was similarly unequivocal : to try and keep the spirit of my initial
interpretation while setting the quote about Marianna in the eponymous
font. At the time, a digitised version of the typeface didn’t exist. I began
the activity of cutting and pasting the quote together, using a scan
from an old Churchward’s type catalogue. It felt like the closest (digital)
equivalent I might get that would hark back to the good-old-days
of composing headline lettering by hand, just like your Dad did (and
you, too, some time after). The process of constructing the quote
— spacing and composing the letters to make the design — unveiled…”
So the quote is, this, at the bottom, “I called it Marianna because
Marianna was fat in those days, and it was a fat design… You were plumpy…
That’s why I called it Marianna, because it was plumpy.” Plumpy !
“In hindsight…”, “The process of constructing the quote
— spacing and composing the letters to make the design — unveiled
the discovery that, in hindsight, could be best described as serendipitous.
Aside from the result being a bit humorous to read and look at, the form
and content were now mingling with one another. Marianna (the type)
not only became more animated all of a sudden…” Oh god ! “… but hinted
at something that went beyond the corporeality of the quote. It had
acquired an independent, yet discrete personality that seemed to populate
the letterforms. An oral, descriptive and formal conflation of Marianna
had resulted in a tangible response to my initial disenchantment.
I was surprised to notice that it was the work that was speaking.”
“Something else as well. During our conversation
in December you reminisced about the occasions when you would
sit in your Dad’s studio, swinging your legs…” Plumpy legs !
“… on the office chair. Not really talking much and trying to be
on your best behaviour because your Dad was concentrating
on his designs. I like to imagine that Joseph was designing Marianna
during these moments, writing as he was designing. This time
he happened to be busy writing about you. Each character — glyph,
letter, digit, mark — has something about you programmed into it.
Like the time you broke your leg. For the first few days you needed
help from your family to stand up and get around and your Dad
saw the opportunity to design the ligatures.” And there’s a footnote
there that says something like ligatures are also things like prosthetics
and crutches that, you know, when you break your leg you have
to use to walk around. “Of course — as is generally the case with
typefaces — this type of information is often divorced from its
expected function. But it could be argued that influences live
in a kind of palpable creation system that exists in the circumstances
of its genus. This is a place where Roland Barthes’ ‘natural state
of the letter’ might be compared with the natural innocence of the
child. This idea is perpetuated in the essay ‘The Storyteller’
by the philosopher, Walter Benjamin, where an equal relationship
between the storyteller and the craftsman is elucidated.”
The thing is… Ok I can… It’s all nice to be open about this,
and talk about this in public but, anyone who reads that thinks I said
that. So that’s the authorized definition of Will Holder’s ideas about
typefaces. I wrote this it’s… What is it ? “It’s categorical, it’s authorized,
it’s immutable when it’s in print.” You see it in print and you think,
“That’s the truth, that’s what was said.” When in reality, it’s conversational,
just an exchange and, in conversation, you know, sometimes you just get
the wrong end of the stick, or you don’t completely understand, or you
start making up the meaning between someone else’s words in your head
and that’s fine, that’s the way it goes. But, in all my work I’m trying
to make that clear to readers, people who hold books in their hands
that this thing is just mutable, it can become anything else.
Some of the books I have downstairs are editions and it’s nice
to work with that in an edition, that, for instance, if there’s twelve hundred
copies of a book, I wrote twelve hundred different titles and every single
copy of that book has a different title, even though it’s the same book and…
You know… Just these different things that make people stop and think,
“Oh, this one’s different to that one ! And so that’s not gospel, and that’s not
history, as well, either, is it ? Ah. Oh. Ok.” Doesn’t matter. Does it ? No,
it doesn’t matter. These things happen, and these things change, and these
things get read and re-read and reproduced and reproduced and it’s not
a problem, it’s a fact. And, it’s a fact that this happens but let’s maintain
control of that. Someone’s phone’s going ! There’s no ring tone… Sorry,
I’m being really silly today. I think I’m just relieved to be standing here,
I’m… I don’t know.
I like teaching, I do. And this, I suppose, is kind of a lecture
so it’s kind of teaching. I think it’s the thing I enjoy the most, more than
making books, more than anything, teaching, not giving lectures,
but teaching.
“Sometime then there will be every kind of a history of every one
who ever was, can, or is, or will be living. Sometime then there will be
a history of every one from their beginning to their ending. Sometime then
there will be a history of all of them, of every kind of them, of every one,
of every bit of living that they have in them, of them when there is never
more than a beginning to them, of every kind of them, of every one when
there is very little beginning and then there is an ending, there will then
sometime be a history of every one there will be a history of everything that
ever was or is or will be them, of everything that was or is or will be all
of any one or all of all of them. Sometime then there will be a history
of every one, of everything or anything that is all them or any part of them
and some time then there will be a history of how anything or everything
comes out from every one, comes out from every one or any one from
the beginning to the ending of the being in them. Sometime then there
must be a history of every one who ever was or is or will be living.
As one sees every one in their living, in their loving, sitting, eating,
drinking, sleeping, walking, working, thinking, laughing, as any one sees
all of them from their beginning to their ending, sees them when they
are little babies or children or young grown men and women or growing
older men and women or old men and women then one knows it in them
that sometimethere will be a history of all of them, that sometime all
of them will have the last touch of being, a history of them can give to them,
sometime then there will be a history of each one, of all the kinds of them,
of all the ways any one can know them, of all the ways each one is inside
her or inside him, of all the ways anything of them comes out from them.
Sometime then there will be a history of every one and so then every
one will have in them the last touch of being a history of any one
can give to them.”
“This is then a beginning of the way of knowing everything
in every one, of knowing the complete history of each one who ever was,
or is, or will be living. This is then a little description of the winning
of so much wisdom.”
I’m sure most of you have… Or not most of you, some of you
have heard me read that before. I think it’s the most important text I ever
read in my whole life, up until today. Just the idea of that history being
possible fascinates me, keeps me occupied, all the time. And I think most
of my work is trying to understand how that history could be possible,
and how that history is recorded. Someone just took a photograph of me,
as I was reading that and I stuttered… the recording the history of me
reading that being made, made the history of it slightly different than it
should have been. How is that history recorded ? Is it written down ? Is it
printed ? Is it photographic ? Is it recorded ? Is it audio ? Is it closed-circuit
television ? Is it tracking… ? Is it keywords ? Is it French ? Is it English ?
What is it ? How is that history going to be recorded ? That’s what occupies
me all the time. These discrepancies between how history is represented
there and how is it translated into another language or another form.
And, that thing in between, the people, all of us, in a constructivist way,
see that and see that and think, “Oh yeah, it’s a bit vague.” But that’s ok.
You know, the… If you make a book… Let’s just say from
1542 onwards, up until about, I don’t know, the late nineteenth century,
there was one book. There was one big book for most people. They’d
go to somewhere on Sundays and they’d see that book and they’d be like :
“Wow ! That’s the book, don’t touch the book ! Someone else has to read
the book to me…” And I think we still have that sense, we’re still, we’re
still, I don’t know, in awe of books and what books mean, and what books
mean in relation to authority. And again, like, we were talking about
yesterday, what publishing means in relation to education and authority.
And if the students are making the books that are teaching the next
students then what the fuck do you need a teacher for ? Or maybe
the teacher is also a student or… you know. There’s a lot of different
versions of those stories but…
It’s interesting to consider this, this representation of history,
and how people understand history, and how people understand books,
and how basically, at least I’m, in my practice, constantly trying
to short-circuit people, short-circuit people, taking books and reading
for granted, not realizing that they’re doing a hell of a lot of work,
they’re doing most of the work up here, as they’re reading, or not
realizing that they’re just taking that to be history or someone’s
biography, when it’s just a fucking interpretation, it’s one person’s
idea of something. It’s all relative. The twenty-first century
and it’s relative, thank you.
So, what I find most… When I talked about that camera just now,
it’s just the idea of this history being recorded. What does that do to you ?
If you have an idea of that everything you say, usually, is going to be recorded,
what does that do ? How are you going to speak, now, when I record your
voice ? It’s ok, you don’t have to… Someone recently, very recently… Sorry
about that, I’m sorry… Someone very recently talked to me about how self-
conscious a piece of writing was that I made. And I know it’s self-conscious,
and I’m trying to exaggerate that self-consciousness, because I’m trying
to exaggerate how people act, and how people speak, and how people write,
when they know they’re going to be recorded, or when they know what
they say is going to be printed. And it has something to do with this, it says,
“… that sometime all of them will have the last touch of being, a history
of them can give to them…” So it’s not just a history of my being, and that
the history is kind of following me and documenting what I was doing.
That document is actually instructing what I’m doing and this
is also my idea in… I think we’re about halfway on this sheet, at the moment,
and this was a script to me but know it’s a set of notes for you, it’s a kind
of instruction or score, an instruction and a document at the same time.
And this is my understanding of… what my understanding of graphic
design is that we either make documents, about things that have happened,
or we make instructions to things that are going to happen. We make posters,
saying, “Next week there’s a party there… Go and see that…” or “Go to
that concert” or we make a document saying, “Last week there was a concert
and this is what happened…” And, a lot of the time when I work with
institutions and work with people it just seems that a production happens
then, before, in advance, and then a production happens afterwards. And
it’s all… it seems to be really inefficient. People just start writing all over again,
because it wasn’t the way they planned it to be, or something, or it wasn’t
how they intended it to be, and it’s just like… Can we not reach some kind
of form that’s actually both at the same time ? That’s this idea and I think
this manifests that quite well. That you don’t have to write notes, it’s just…
it’s all there, and I think everything I say is probably summarized on this page,
even though I’m not really looking at it… Because that’s my script, no ?
I keep responding to that, what’s happening there, don’t I ? I’m not sure.
But it’s this thing about this history of us, giving us being, and
it seems a bit scary but I think it’s actually quite… it’s the state of affairs,
that’s what we… that’s… if I talk to Maki and the next day he talks to
Kajsa about our discussion, that we had that evening then, there’s a part
of my being is represented through him reproducing that, no ? It’s like…
that’s just the way things go, that’s the way people… that’s why we evolved
language. Because these groups of monkeys just got bigger and bigger
and bigger, that you couldn’t see them anymore so people had… the monkeys
had to tell each other what was going on. Because they didn’t have this
overview, they couldn’t see. So the troop was getting too big. So it was like,
“What’s happening over there ? Oh, ok. So I’m still the boss, right ? Yeah,
oh, ok. Who’s scratching him ? Does that make him the boss ? Hang on,
I’m going to sort that out…” That’s why monkeys started chattering and
do that. That’s how language developed. Because we needed a way of keeping
an overview of social structures. We needed a way of recording and telling
each other what was going on in the world, amongst ourselves,
human beings.
Olivier said this really nice quote to me, oh sorry, Samuel said
this really great quote to me, yesterday, that William Flusser wrote about
man being the center of his conditioning… circumstances. That’s it.
And it just seems like that’s… this idea we have the whole time that
everything revolves around us, and us talking to each other, and this world
exists for us and it just like “Oh oh oh…” Is that really… ? I don’t know…
I’m getting a little bit distracted. That’s not in the script, sorry.
The history of this thing being the history, no ? It’s being.
The label saying, “This is that, this is ‘A’ for ‘Apple’, this is ‘P’ for ‘Pomme’”
is now just represented by this one thing. So, does that speaks for itself ?
This is where it might get a bit confusing for me, or you but it just seems
so straightforward that I’m trying to make some big deal about it. But this
is what we do, no ? Is it the word that’s written, is it “modern”, or is it
the typeface that you choose that makes it modern? Is it the words you
choose or is it how you choose to record those words, or how you choose
to represent those words afterwards ? So, at some point, these things
are starting to get wrapped up in each other, and this visual language is…
its visuality is dependent on the language that’s being used. Something
like that… I’m going to carry on because I think it will become
a bit clearer.
Yeah, so if you’re relocating… It’s not only saying,
“This is an apple,” it depends where you put the apple, where you
distribute it to, on the page, or in the country, or to that person,
or that person. It also depends where you put your language. That’s
what we’ve learned from Mallarmé and concrete poetry, it’s not just
about the words you choose, it’s where you put it on the page.
So, more often than not that’s where “new” will come, that’s where
they say “modern” should be, and this is “pretty”. Apparently,
so I’ve heard. So this language is already being visualized, it’s already
visual. I’ve forgotten Jan, haven’t I ? That’s the problem. Bloody
hell, I’ve forgotten a lot. That makes sense.
“Here’s the problem : Given that the creation of a revolutionary
artistic language designed to appeal to, and change the minds of anyone,
anywhere was the stated objective of many an avant-gardist’s attempt
to radicalize the project of Enlightenment. The crude fact, that the world
didn’t listen, would seem to imply a total failure.” This seems to me
to be a crude fact. These also seem to be quite crude facts about the matter.
It’s pretty crude to just call something “modern” or label something
“modern” or “new” or… you know, we’ve been doing this for a long time.
What does it mean ? How… isn’t this really crude ? Is this really refined ?
Is this the refined circumstances of our profession ? This is what the public
understands that we do, that might be crude. But it does get reproduced.
These crude facts, like this one… that crude fact gets reproduced and
reproduced and reproduced and it could imply that that’s a failure on my
part for not being clear to David. It could imply that it’s a failure because
it’s being reproduced, it’s allowed itself to be reproduced. There’s a lot
of different considerations about why that should be a failure, in the way
that Jan talks about it, “The crude fact, that the world didn’t listen, would
seem to imply a total failure on the part of Modernism.” He says, “This
might be true, if we judge those avant-gardists by their intentions and
successes.” Today, we call it accountability. What we have to do is teach.
Most schools demand that we do that. Don’t know why I did that.
So my intention, what I intended to say to David, besides
the crude fact, “whether a typeface could be biographical,” what
I really meant was, “Is it biographical to set up a publishing structure,
to redistribute someone’s work for others to pick up and use within
their own set of conditions. Is their interpretation biographically
authorized ? As much as yours is ? Doesn’t the printed page, the type
specimen, encumber this use ?” So what I was trying to say to David
was that I wasn’t sure if making a book was the right idea. To do
Joseph Churchward a service or to… another form of biography would
simply be to distribute his typefaces and make sure everyone used
them, and interpreted them, and that… as he talks about his daughter
Marianna being embedded in this typeface, or her history, that being
a biography of her, the reproducing the form of this typeface, without
interpretation, — Or is reproduction interpretation ? I’m not sure
— seems to be, to me, to be also a form of biography. That it’s not what
David reads into his type designs, it’s not what David understands
from interviewing his daughter. No, it’s what’s already there.
It’s reproducing what’s already there. If he acknowledges, through
making that poster by copy/pasting it, the life and the work is speaking
for itself. Why don’t you just use it ? Why don’t you just reproduce it,
and not talk about how good it is, or how new it is, or how modern it is,
or how great it is, or how amazing this person is ? Is it not doing the same
thing if you just reproduce this work, as much as possible ? Get people
to use it and interpret it themselves as much as possible ?
This is… that’s kind of what I was trying to say to David and
it has a lot to do with my David, my F.R. David, and why I republish other
people’s work. It also has to do with my idea of biography in relation
to Robert Ashley’s work that I’m trying to create a score for other people
to use, and other people to reproduce his work. And the biography, Ashley’s
biography is in those operas, it’s all in there. And his conversations with
all the people he works with, and all the people he deals with on a daily
basis, they’re all in that work. And if that simply gets reproduced
by the way of someone else’s voice then to me that seems biographical.
I’m still not sure if that makes sense to you. Sorry.
But it’s about distribution, the distribution of someone’s self.
The distribution of someone’s biography is absolutely embedded within
everything they produce. It’s no doubt about that, I don’t think. If you think
someone’s work is that important then obviously their character is going
to be embedded in that work and you needn’t talk about them as a person,
you can represent their work, no ? “So if we talk about it in terms of their
intentions and success, is it not rather their ideas and work that concern us ?”
As I think I just stated, I think their ideas and their work are one and the
same. I think it’s… to me, that’s… if the idea is embedded in that work and
speaks through that work then there’s no point, there’s no need to talk
about that idea. I’m obviously contradicting myself, because I’ve been
standing here talking for a long time about my ideas and how they’re
embedded in my work, or so I understand it.
I just want to come back to… To finish this off, I want to come
back to this reductive form of language and what I said before this like…
if you need to write a hell of a lot of text in order to develop a language
that will replace text, then you’re contradicting yourself, like I already said
and I think I said it better the first time because you all laughed and
everyone’s getting tired now. So, if you want to say that that circle is “new”,
and that square is “pretty”, and that triangle is “modern”, you need to put
a word underneath it, no ? To tell us that. Because we’ve been using these
three colors and these three shapes for so long that they’ve had six hundred
different meanings and we don’t really know what they mean anymore,
so let’s add a line underneath and say, “ This is new.” Wow, I don’t
understand. It seems extremely inefficient to me when we are all so capable
and we already have a language that we’re really good at using, and we’ve
been using for hundreds and hundreds of years and this idea of captioning,
and tagging, and writing words underneath images is a really great thing
to do to locate all these images, but… I think we’re using a lot of language
to… in an inefficient way, and we’re not using our language… oh what
am I trying to say ? We’re not using it as we could be using it, because we’re
trying make up for all these images, we’re trying to look at all these recordings,
and all these histories that we’re making as images. We all know that all
these images are being made all the time and we have to still reference them,
we have to locate them, we have to catalogue them, we have to distribute
them. And we have to produce language in order to do that and it’s just
like, “Why ? Why don’t we just use language ?” Why ?
As Lyotard said, he just said, “Let’s say that is the literal
representation of these things.” I want to go back to that quote because
I think it’s important to find that. “Take for instance, the title of a movie,
of an exhibition, of an institution, of a play.” The title, the name,
the tag, the keyword of a movie, of an exhibition, of an institution,
of a play… “Let’s say that it is the literal representation of these things.
It is what makes the things stand out from the others…” Isn’t that
what we are always asked to do as graphic designers ? Make it stand out
amongst all the others. Isn’t that what we’re constantly being asked
to do ? Why don’t you just say, “Your word doesn’t stand out. I’m not
going to make it red to make it stand out. Why don’t you just choose
another word ?” I suppose that’s my idea of practice. It’s also saying
something like, “A book is no good if the manuscript’s no good.”
Or, “You can’t re-design a magazine, re-designing the magazine
won’t change that magazine.” Really ? Will it ? Really ? I don’t think
so. That’s my opinion. Because you can do this, no ? It’s not… no ?
It’s something we all do, something we can all do really easily. And this
is what drives me and this is what I think and that’s me and thank you
very much for listening. Thank you. Thanks. Obviously if I talk about
conversation as a model for production then, are there any questions ?
Can we have a conversation now ?
Thanks for your talk. I actually did take a lot of notes. I got
really stuck on one of the very first things that you said, which was that
this is a moment of publishing. Because this is actually a very public
moment as well, it’s free for anyone to come. And it triggered something
for me that I’ve been researching a little bit which is publication as public
space or publishing as a public space in the broadest sense of the word.
Which came up again when you talked about typeface being biographical,
which made me wonder… sometimes the easiest way to answer a question
that’s really impossible is to ask the opposite question. So, “Can a typeface
be anti-biographical ?” which made me think, “Can a typeface be public ?”
which is actually pretty… it seems fairly easy to make a typeface public
nowadays with some of the things that you were talking about, the scanning
of catalogues, digitizing, this stuff… So, I would really like it if you can
talk a little bit more about how this is a moment of publishing, given
that it’s actually a public forum…
Yeah, like I said, I’m really interested in these discrepancies
between forms and how the printed page, or printed matter plays a role
in, perhaps, being a translation between those, or, maybe, just being
one side of the translation, of a different form of history, or a different
form of writing, or narrative, or biography or whatever you want to call it…
Can I just ask you… so you said you’re interested in publishing as a public
space ? And do you mean that the public space is publishing or you’re
talking about that this thing here between me… this is the public space ?
Yeah, can I just elaborate a little bit. I’ll just quickly elaborate
because I’m in the process of thinking about a text by Claire Fontaine
where she elaborates on the difference between “public” and “publique”
which is spelled differently, it’s spelled in two ways in French. And,
you’ll have to correct me if I’m wrong, but, “public” with a “c” at the
end is the “audience” and “publique”, “-que”, is everything that
belongs to the people, is that right ?
So, “publique” is more like the adjective, no, no, I understand,
I understand, yeah. Ok, I think basically I’ve realized… sorry…
She said one is a noun and one is an adjective.
Yeah, that’s what I thought… I don’t think we should go into
that…I think what I’ve realized is, well, from making books and being
interested in certain forms of material and how… Actually, the line
that follows this first line, “Will Holder once read that storytelling would
lead us out of the postmodern condition and has since become preoccupied
with publishing.” After that it says something like, “the preoccupation,
but, the preoccupation doesn’t necessarily lie within the field of ink
on paper.” There’s a lot of work out there that just can’t be reproduced
on the page, it just shouldn’t be reproduced on the page. And that’s…
Obviously, that discrepancy between what can and can’t be reproduced
is something that’s great to struggle with and try and get it on the page
and force it on the page, but sometimes it just makes a lot more sense
to find a different form of broadcasting it, of making it public.
I think it’s the material itself, the content dictates the form that
you choose. I like working with printed matter and publishing or printed
matter. I like working with printed matter because it’s something I feel
that I have an innate understanding of because I’m a reader, you know,
that I just understand how books seem to work. But, you know, being
in schools or sitting in lectures you also develop an innate understanding
of someone’s rhetoric or someone’s delivery and, to me, I don’t make
any distinction between that and design, that rhetoric is design, obviously.
But, yeah, simply that some works… in order to make some works public
they simply… it would make life a lot easier if you just found the right
form. And, yeah, I organize events which look into this, to look into work
or show work or reproduce work or make work public that resists the
printed page for a certain reason, or chooses to resist the printed page.
Yeah, like I said, it just doesn’t make sense to reproduce it on paper.
But I think, I suppose that’s the main drive behind my idea
of how you choose certain forms for a certain content in order to reach
a public. I’m not very dogmatic about those forms. Yeah, they have…
you have to develop an acquaintance with the material before you can
decide what that form is. And having that acquaintance means that
you can also talk about it quite well, and if you’re talking about it you
make it public already, you know ? It’s just like… When it comes
to biography or when it comes to whether a typeface is biographical,
obviously I think every single typeface is biographical but you can just
look at the form of some typefaces and think, “Well, I can imagine
that that guy is not… doesn’t really care about type or he doesn’t really
understand what he’s doing or she is… or he…” You know ? You can
read a hell of a lot in form you can see that someone’s made the wrong
formal decisions or hasn’t become acquainted enough with type
design in order to make the right decisions or in order to make a form
which is going to become a lot more public.
And I suppose it’s just that idea of craft that I still have or try
and develop in relation to information that, you know, how what the craft
of passing something on, the craft of publishing, not necessarily the
craft of… the form itself but, well, you know… it just ties into each other.
It’s difficult to… But the craft, to me, involves building some kind
of acquaintance with that material and it needn’t necessarily be a long
term acquaintance but it could also be an immediate response that
just signifies some kind of acquaintance or recognition. Anyway, does
that answer your question ? Or, is it something we could talk about more…
I don’t… Yeah, I see every single page of every single book as a public
space, but I think it’s more about how the words are put on that page,
the words are chosen as much as anything else that make it public or make
it hermetic, I suppose. It’s just, again, it’s the choice, your choice
of language that you choose to use in order to justify why you think
that should be out in the world, or be reproduced or take a certain
form for a certain public or for anybody. We’re all becoming
too self-conscious…
I’m thinking a little bit of this term that A.A. Bronson uses
to describe both video and print as a way to connect Canada, which
is an enormous country that is really really different from one side
to the other. Just because you talked a lot about choosing a certain form…
Artists, in the 1960s and 1970s, in particular, were using video and
print because they wanted to be in touch with one another, it was sort
of this long distance love affair that was really hard to maintain and
mail art as well. And he calls those two things “connective tissue”.
And maybe that “connective tissue” is what I mean. Public space
is a really bad term that I use because there is no better term to describe
all of those things between two people or a group of people and one
person that is the messy sphere that sort of marks our contemporary
space, the written space and expressive space…
I used to do radio, I used to play music on the radio, and that
was… basically entailed getting into a glass box with two turntables and,
no, I didn’t even use a microphone I don’t think, did I ? No. I didn’t
do it that much but the moments that I’ve done radio were really really
important for me in my understanding of what the public is, that
you’re standing in this little glass box and you’re playing for nobody
or a hundred people. You have no idea, you don’t know who’s out there.
But it does… that knowledge does dictate to a certain editorial or a certain
form or a certain broadcast. And it’s really eerie, it’s uncanny that you
just… because you have no idea you just assume there’s someone out there,
you just assume that you’re corresponding with someone or that there’s
“connective tissue” between you and whoever it might be. It’s kind of
indirect, no, anonymous correspondence or something. It’s not assuming
a certain person that you’re trying to correspond to, it’s just a person.
And, yeah it’s difficult to say who that is but it might also make it easier
not to have to think about that, I don’t know. It is like playing your music
in your bedroom, I guess. But understanding that you’ve been asked
to play on the radio, and, therefore, it’s ok to bring your private space into
the public realm. And, why would you change it if that’s where it developed ?
And if that’s where it develops then why would you make it any different
because it’s becoming public ?
The whole thing about Ashley, Robert Ashley, is this discrepancy
between private and public. That he literally says, “I walk around
the streets of New York and so many people are talking to themselves,
everyone’s talking to themselves.” And, he says, “I talk to myself all
the time but…” No, he says… yeah… it’s a bit of a longer story. Ashley,
writes a lot of material by just shutting himself off and talking to himself
like he’s rehearsing, he’s just speaking out loud because that’s his music
it’s like playing a cello. His speaking out loud is him rehearsing, basically,
so he just sits there in his studio and talks to himself all the time. And
he says, “There’s all these people out there in New York, and they’re all
talking to themselves, and the only difference between their madness
and my madness is that my madness is music.” And it’s this discrepancy
between private and public, or this non-discrepancy or this… you know?
When does it start, when does it finish ? Why the fuck would you have
to constantly be thinking about that ? You know ?
I think that’s something I’m really interested in. You know,
I transport my whole library to a public space and it just becomes this
tiny little object in the corner that’s all lost and shriveled up when
it’s massive in my house, you know ? And what instructions and what
kind of writing do you have to go through in order to make that thing
actually public, make people actually borrow those books ? And,
you know, it’s just… there’s a hell of a lot of accountancy and a hell
of a lot of writing and databases and instructions and management
involved in making that thing public but… or keeping it… giving
it the same… giving someone the same access that I have to that book.
Basically, that they can pull it off the shelf as easily as I can and
they can go and sit and read it in their front room. You know, I just
wouldn’t want to make that discrepancy. But I also know how happy
I am when I’m at home, it’s a very private space. I don’t know…
don’t know. I can carry on talking for ages, can’t I ?