- 27th International Biennial of Graphic Design Brno 2016
BB It seems exhibitions are somehow central to your practice. Not only you design exhibitions and catalogues for other artists, you also conceive them as curator. Not to mention The Exhibitionist, a journal on exhibition making you worked on, or teaching a class on exhibition design at the CCA. What does ‘exhibition’ mean to you and how do you see it evolving as a format?
JS The Exhibition has changed for me over the years… the activity of exhibition-making in collaboration with curators as the ‘graphic designer’ and ‘curating’ my own shows are totally different activities with completely different scopes. I love the projects in collaboration with curators I've worked with, and appreciate the wonderful content they’ve developed and level of authorship they've given me. In these projects I work very traditionally as a designer who enters a project once a lot of content and conceptual decisions about the exhibition have already been made, and it’s my job to give visual form to these ideas. In contrast, when I curate my own shows I am responsible for all the content development and my responsibilities expand exponentially to include everything from initial concept, proposal, checklist of works shown, studio visits with participants, grant applications, programming events, essay writing and commissions, installation plan/design, and even things like loan forms, insurance, and fund-raising… this is all done before any of the graphic design responsibilities kick in. So to me, in some cases independently curating shows is a huge expansion of authorial and administrative responsibilities, which is super exciting, but also exhausting. On the other hand I have no training with many of these things, so I definitely approach it through the lens of a graphic designer.
After producing three large exhibitions in the past five years, my current goal is to produce a counterpoint to that body of work, very small and compact shows that don’t have to fit into a museum or gallery context. With my current position as Chair of MFA Design at CCA, I now have a small office (10 x 10 feet) that I want to use as a venue for exhibitions… I even like the idea of creating programming, like I do for the larger shows, like lectures, tours, commissions, etc… but at an extremely small scale. There is also an interesting history of people who have used their offices as exhibitions spaces that I would like to tap into.
I see exhibitions today as an evolving format that designers are definitely leveraging more as ‘exhibition makers’ rather than in the traditional graphic design role. This approach has different motivations and outcomes, but I continue to see a lot of interesting work being created outside of the ‘official’ world of museums and galleries, and observe many more schools offering exhibitions as an area of investigation and continue to develop quite experimental and elaborate shows every year.
BB For the 2012 Brno Biennial, you curated Work from California, an exhibition that offered a portrait of America’s 31st state through the lens of graphic design. Four years later, is there anything you would add to it? How did West Coast graphic design change since then?
JS No, I don't think I would change anything about that exhibition in Brno. If I were to add anything, it would have been doing the show again in California. One of the things that the context of Brno afforded me was that I could explore clichés, generalizations, and mythologies about California very freely since most of the audience was from Europe and some had never even been to California. Doing this show in California, would be a different challenge… It is interesting to think about how I might modify the show to address a ‘Californian’ audience.
BB In 2014, you curated All Possible Futures, an exhibition investigating speculative graphic design practices. Could you tell us a bit about it?
JS To give some context, before All Possible Futures was an exhibition, it was actually a title to an article I wrote seven years earlier, in 2007 for a publication called Task Newsletter. The original piece was a set of interviews with five graphic design studios, and also the renowned critical design team Anthony Dunne & Fiona Raby, investigating what I called then ‘speculative design’ projects. Today this term is a lot more prevalent in the landscape of design, but at that time, the criteria was clearly inspired by ‘visionary’ or ‘paper’ architecture… each project had to somehow distanced itself from ‘real world’ parameters, perhaps representing potential imaginings of the future. The final selection ended up being a set of project proposals that were either rejected by their client or critical provocations only produced to create discussion.
The exhibition All Possible Futures, was an expansion of these early ideas in the article and explored speculative work created by a group of contemporary graphic designers, and encompassed everything from self-generated provocations to experimental work created ‘in parallel’ with client-based projects to unique practices where commissions were addressed with a high level of autonomy and critical investigation. The work in the show exposes different levels of visibility and public-ness within the graphic design practice. Although there were some traditionally commissioned projects in the show that had been publicly displayed, many more projects fell into the categories of failed proposals, experiments, sketches, and incomplete thoughts. The exhibition was a platform for a body of work that might fall under the radar and not enter the discourse of graphic design otherwise.
BB You are currently the Chair of the MFA Design program at California College of the Arts. Can you introduce the programme? How is it structured? How do you approach teaching graphic design at the Masters level?
JS The CCA MFA Design program was originally conceived in 2000 as a purely Graphic Design Masters program. However, a big shift came in 2007 with Lawrence Rinder (the Dean of CCA at that time) and Brenda Laurel’s (the program’s first Chair) conception of the Design MFA as a ‘transdisciplinary’ program, accepting students from three disciplines (industrial, interaction, and graphic design) and placing them into a unified yet diverse curriculum for two years in the hope that they might question/cross/blur/hybridize disciplinary lines. I’ve been teaching in the program since 2007 and was hired as chair in 2014 to carry on this unique approach to graduate design education and develop it further.
From a graphic design perspective, what is interesting about this program is that students are literally sitting next to people from other disciplines and are working with faculty from graphic, industrial and interaction design. In everyday course work and discussions in the studio, they are exposed to a broader set of design questions, dialogues, and methodologies. By proximity, osmosis, or collaboration, students consistently expand what graphic design can be and rethink traditional methods and form. The most interesting work from the program begins to hybridize disciplines and ways or working, hopefully creating new work and even new practices of design.
BB This edition of the Brno Biennial responds to the metamorphoses and the state of contemporary graphic design; its multitude, variety, vagueness and apparent superficiality. Can you identify some of the basic parameters, current themes or motivations of contemporary graphic design?
JS As your question articulates, there seems to be a vast number of topics to discuss about contemporary graphic design, it’s difficult to pinpoint a single phenomenon or movement. The discipline seems so fragmented, specialized and in some cases watered down… At the same time there is so much interesting work being made, but it seems our attentions span for it is so limited, it’s off to the next thing before any deep dialogue occurs. I find myself revisiting age-old design topics lately. One of these is form, one of the basic foundational aspects of design. From my perspective as a practicing designer and educator, I feel like form is becoming undervalued or at least losing value in design today. Idiosyncratic, new, inventive form is what first attracted me to design when I started in the late 1990s. In most cases, this form was not created to be in service to a user group, target demographic, or was limited to standard idioms that were tested and proven to work with a particular audience. In fact, this work was designed to interrupt, or at least create a productive gap between the audience and content. This gap was meant to be bridged by a willing audience member who was captivated enough to interpret or learn a new language in an active engagement with the work over time. I know we are in a different world now, but I often wonder where our discipline is going with the emergence of new criteria and almost scientific metrics for evaluating design’s effectiveness and value. Call me old fashioned, but I will always be in favor of form that disrupts people’s expectations, over cold logic and problem solving.
Originally from Hawaii, Jon Sueda has practiced design everywhere from Honolulu to Holland. After earning his MFA in Graphic Design from CalArts in 2002, he was invited to North Carolina State University to serve as a designer in residence, followed by an internship in the Netherlands with Studio Dumbar. In 2004, Sueda founded the design studio Stripe, which specializes in print and exhibition design for art and culture. He is also the co-editor of Task Newsletter, and the co-organizer of AtRandom events. In 2007, Sueda relocated to the San Francisco area where he served as director of design at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts for seven years, and is currently the chair of the MFA Design program at California College of the Arts. Most recently, he curated the exhibitions Work from California at the 25th International Graphic Design Biennial in Brno, Czech Republic, and All Possible Futures at SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco.
Short interviews with collaborators of the 27th Brno Biennial, authors of its exhibitions, jury members and Biennial Talks speakers.
Interviews and graphic design: Radim Peško Radim Peško (1976) is a graphic designer based in London. He works in the field of type design, editorial and exhibition projects. In 2010 he has established his RP Digital Type Foundry that specializes on typefaces that are both formally and conceptually distinctive. His work includes identity for Secession Vienna, typefaces for identities of Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Aspen Art Museum, Fridericianum, Berlin Biennale 8, various work for the Moravian Gallery in Brno, Bedford Press London or a long-term collaboration with artist Kateřina Šedá. He has lectured at many schools including Gerrit Rietveld Academie Amsterdam, ÉCAL Lausanne, HFK Bremen, KISD Cologne, École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts de Lyon, Sint-Lucas Ghent, University of Seoul. Since 2011 he is part of the curatorial board of the International Biennial of Graphic Design Brno., Tomáš Celizna Tomáš Celizna (1977) is interested in graphic design in connection with new technologies. He is a founding partner of design studio dgú in Prague (2001 to 2005), recipient of J. W. Fulbright Scholarship (2006), and holds MFA in graphic design from Yale University School of Art (2008). He currently lives and works independently in Amsterdam. Collaborations include, among others, OASE Journal for Architecture, Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, Sandberg Instituut, Amsterdam and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Since 2011 he is a lecturer in graphic design at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, and a member of the curatorial team of the International Biennial of Graphic Design Brno., Adam Macháček Adam Macháček (1980) is a graphic designer. Following studies at the AAAD in Prague, Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam and ÉCAL in Lausanne, he co-founded in 2004 studio Welcometo.as in Lausanne and is a member of 201∞ Designers collective. His work includes publications, exhibition catalogues, illustrations and identities. Collaborations include, among others, the Moravian Gallery in Brno, Théâtre de Vevey (seasons 2003–2012), Galerie Rudolfinum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Chronicle Books, Editions Pyramyd, Museum of Czech Literature, Brno House of Arts, California College of the Arts, Airbnb. For Brno Biennial he initiated and organized exhibitions Work from Switzerland (2004) and From Mars (2006, together with Radim Peško). Since 2011 he is a member of the curatorial team of the International Biennial of Graphic Design in Brno. He lives and works in Berkeley.
Translation and copy editing: Alena Benešová, Kateřina Tlachová
Production: Miroslava Pluháčková
Printed by: Tiskárna Helbich s. r. o.
Print run: 2000
Published by the Moravian Gallery in Brno, 2016