Oliver Klimpel


BB You teach, design, participate in research and publishing projects. How would you describe your practice?
OK Yes, I work in a spectrum of formats, but the thing keeping it together is that it is always from the perspective of a practitioner that I’m operating from. I’m a designer. I work and collaborate on projects on a commission basis. Mostly, at least. Which could range from exhibitions, identities, publications, even to architectural projects. When I write academically I also see it as practice not theory, and the generating of alternative forms of text anyway. As for the teaching, I have recently preferred to think of it as the work in ‘educational situations’, as I’m also interested in this as part of a design practice, but in an institutional framework, including testing and experimenting with different modes of knowledge distribution and production, or a challenge of the stereotypical roles of teacher and students and the politics that come with that territory. My research had centred previously on toxic (historic) graphic languages, that have fallen out of favour with the graphic elites after previous innovative heydays and the transformation in the reception that has lead to this status. Currently, I’m particularly interested in questions of representation through and of graphic design as a practice itself. I have been looking into the hybrid photo-graphic imagery that has been produced by designers to illustrate or represent their book-designs: often we look here at new production and not at re-productions (of the books).
For that very reason I was also interested in the constellation of this year’s Biennial open call with all its practical limitations. I think the topic of various graphic realities (of practice) will be with us for a long time. I hope we can find ways not to play out the ‘real’ against the ‘fictional’ in graphic design; I don’t find this particularly productive. Instead, graphic design should obviously very actively reconnect with the imaginative and speculative core of its processes that knows very few boundaries. I have recently also worked on material that can be viewed as fictional graphics, but I’m not sure this category is still very helpful.

BB Next to being part of this edition’s selection jury you have accepted to be a moderator of the Biennial Talks. Is this role entirely new to you or do you see some parallels to your other activities?
OK In the educational context at the academy in Leipzig, I had frequently programmed events and developed formats. So the quasi curatorial side of public events has been of some interest to me for a while. But in these cases of presenting and hosting I had also been responsible for the selection of the content… So when you had asked me to do the moderator’s role, it’s true, there is a bit of a novelty to me. I also wanted to do it slightly differently, just as you had changed the open-call format. Since I had done some reading sessions previously, it seemed interesting to me to bring in another playful way of portraying graphics through a narrative text at the beginning of each day, like a short vignette, whilst maintaining the overall Q&A bit after the speakers.

BB You have been previously approached to advise institutions during the development of their visual identities, where the design process often took a form of discussion. What did you learn from this experience, especially in terms of the actual design process, result, approach?
OK Identities are an area where I think that, unlike some other fields of graphics, experience is actually really, really helpful – if not to say, invaluable. For taking the context and the people seriously, for forecasting a right tempo for the process, for identifying the right knobs to twist, for knowing where to keep it simple and where to be complex or adventurous. I have learned a lot from working under my own design guidelines… Some things I had initially seen as formally exciting got quickly tedious or highly impractical. But I find the process really interesting. Also to look for some ways that it does actually connect – to an extent – with the people that it relates to, or that are involved. I do think it requires a bit of sensitivity, and is not only about some graphic innovation, but occasionally, depending on the scale, also about social relations. An understanding and acceptance of an identity by the acteurs of the organisations is a big part of it. That doesn’t exclude the possibility of using a visual identity as a devil’s advocate device, of course!
In terms of describing the effectiveness of an identity, it seems interesting to me that there is no convention in our discipline which would take the time to describe what it actually does on the ground.
No terms in recording the sensitivity and successes of a local identity. Identities are mostly judged in visual terms and described anecdotically. Besides polls and numbers, the discipline has not found yet the right ways of discussing the functions of these projects, and by this admission its own capacities. And functions are, if you believe the textbooks, what design is all about… But these are complex functions.

BB The International Exhibition of this edition is focused on graphic design projects in a scope corresponding to small sets – editions, visual identities or long term collaborations. How do you see these types of projects in the larger context of contemporary graphic design?
OK Yes, I think these more complex, multi-facetted projects are most certainly very representative of our current practice. Not only though the expansion of technical applications, some of us are also viewing many one-off projects as a possibility for a small identity… As far as the long-term work on projects and life-long collaborations are concerned, here I think the situation is a bit different. Sure, strong personal and professional bonds are still a good guarantee for the lasting of a collaboration. But I’m not so certain if careers of the likes of Alan Fletcher are today still sustainable in those quantities, sadly, as they were for some lucky ones of that generation – based on such long collaborations. You could occasionally see in designs by one designer for one company over the decades the various phases or the maturing he or she was going through, just as you might see them in the retrospective of an actor’s or actress’ films.

BB You have been recently involved in a design research project related to identities of arts and cultural institutions. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
OK Yes, this is a project in which I’m trying to combine a few different methodologies, borrowing both from interventionist artistic practices and institutional critique, the representational side of institutional identities through alternative image and text production, and eventually some contextualisation. The basic premise is this: If it is true that the nature of arts and cultural institution is indeed so fundamentally different to a predominantly commercial company or mercantile organisation, why shouldn’t also the strategies in terms of how their visual identity is behaving be dramatically different? If these organisations or frameworks negotiate cultural narratives, artefact or paradigms, couldn’t also identities be used to narrate, modify, highlight, or amplify to configure internal and external relationships of that very process – besides a mere aesthetically innovative sensibility? I’ve been already working with and at the Taipei Contemporary Art Center in December and January on some material and very practical things and will continue this with other institutions of different scale, hopefully towards a publication.

Oliver Klimpel (DE)

Oliver Klimpel is a designer, currently based in Berlin after living and working in London for more than 15 years. He has worked on numerous publishing and identity projects in the UK and abroad, combining design projects and research on visual culture and art. He frequently writes, and lectures internationally. From 2008 to 2015 he had been professor at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst Leipzig (HGB) comprehensively re-positioning the System – Design class. Most recently, he was invited by the Taipei Contemporary Art Center to develop a design research project, which seeks to explore and define the idea of a more active and critical identity for arts and cultural institutions. In May he is to undertake a project on narrative structures in Tokyo.

Biennial News

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
1st edition
Published by the Moravian Gallery in Brno, 2016