The Werkbundarchiv – Museum of Things and guest curator Ece Pazarbaşı invited its neighbours to select “unknown” objects in their vast collection and collectively assemble this exhibition of 65 enigmatic things. They serve as talking points to participants and visitors alike, with the aim to collectively generate a pool of knowledge that goes beyond the conventional museum wisdom. Come and share your knowledge as well until September 25, 2017. Continue reading “Cabinet of the Unknown”
With SINT LUKAS at Fotomuseum Antwerp
The Fotomuseum Antwerp is always aiming to further improve their visitors experience. For fresh input, they invited students from the Media and Information Design MA of Sint Lukas Brussels to explore new ways of engaging people with their collection. I had the pleasure of leading the two-day workshop on-site.
Co-Designing a Yearbook
The plan: to co-design a yearbook with a group of kids between 8 and 12 years old in a weekly workshop. Introduce them to basic principles of graphic design and give them the feeling of empowerment that comes with doing things yourself. Get the book to print.
Did it work? Yes it did! And we sure had great fun with it.
How we went about it: Over a period of four months I met up with a group of 6-12 kids in frantic 50 min workshop sessions every week. To make the layouting possible without having to teach kids a layout programm, I opted for an analogue approach: cutting and pasting with scissors and glue. We started by producing display type, backgrounds and clip-art in individual sessions and then the kids assembled the layouts on their own or in pairs. Once the layouts were finished (stuck together), they were photographed and imported as full page photos in a layout program. The kids left space for texts, working with dummy text which I took off before photographing and added in the final digital document.
Here are some impressions of our co-design process:
An easy way to create whacky letters: First, draw your letters simply in pencil as a guideline, then draw crazy lines in black marker around them.
Let the marker ink dry and then erase the pencil marks.
Tadaah! Each topic gets their individual type treatment.
Finally we copy all display type unto see-through acetate sheets, so that we can later place them in our layouts.
We also need some background images to make the pages more lively. So we are off to a photographic pattern hunt around school.
Once you start looking, there are patterns everywhere! Some seem to have come about by “accident”…
… others are found ready made!
Now about some clip art to flourish our pages. Before we start, I ask the DESiGN KiDS to range their desks into one continuous line, because they will be churning out clip-art in an assembly line today. I have assembled seven sets of stickers in different sizes and colours, so that every event has a different type of sticker.
Each student gets one sheet with a different theme. I explain to them that they will have one minute for every drawing, then the timer will go off and they have to pass the sheet over to their neighbour and work on the next theme. So each group of clip-art will be assembled by the whole group. Ready? Steady? Go!
They are all clip-art professionals – of course – that is what kids are doing all day at school: doodling in their exercise books.
Look at these amazing Halloween clip art stickers!
Now at last, we are ready to start lay outing! All the ingredients are ready: The photos ( taken by parents and teachers) are printed out on photo paper, our backgrounds laserprinted out on A3 sheets, the clip art on stickers and our type designs on acetates. Let´s go!
The DESiGN KiDS work in groups of two to threes on each topic. These two are busy at work on two spreads about Maths Week.
The DESiGN KiDS leave space for the final text by working with dummy text which I take off before photographing.
Once the layouts are finished, they are photographed and imported as full page photos in my layout program. The real text was then added by me in the final digital document.
This technique works really well, the printed book has retained a three-dimensional feeling to it.
The co-designing experiment was a success: the Berlin Bilingual School Yearbook 2012 / 2013 got printed in time and quickly sold out. Apart from it being a very authentic document of a busy school year in this extraordinary school, it looks just fabulous. Thank you everybody!
Editor: Berlin Bilingual School · Yearbook workshops, art direction and art working: Rose Epple · Design: Katy Parker, Ava Eusepi-Harris, Alice Lyall, Khela Brophy, Ruby Good, Anne Mooshammer, Kaya Weissert, Trinity Ernst, Alexander Stump, Maytagorry Linshöft, Clara Koebberling, Leonie Gagel, Zoë Kreissl, Dana Mae Westerhoff, Paula Seemann, Jody Lee Albert Arison, Clay Kryst and Griet Verweij · Photos: Nora Kryst, John MacDougall, Anne Meurer, Pictura Foto GmbH · Picture editors: Stefanie Albert, Nora Kryst · Production: Stefanie Albert, Nora Kryst, Lars Borchert · Text and editing: Lars Borchert, Cornelia Donner · Printing: Brandenburgische Universitätdruckerei und Verlagsgesellschaft Potsdam mbH
From Bauhaus to Betahaus
My recent lecture for Shapeshifters in Brussels, provided me with a good excuse to look at my work from the last decade and try to make sense of it all. Am I still the same designer as ten years ago? No, I have changed and so has the design world around me. Roughly, I would sum up this change as a move from form to process.
Since 2003, Johan van Looveren and Inge Gobert from Sint Lukas Hogeschule in Brussels, have invited graphic designers for their annual lectures to talk about their approach to information design. When they asked me, it was the first time I thought about my scenographic work and book projects as information design. Have I been designing information? If so, where did this information come from, what did I do to it and why? To answer these questions I had to go right back to the Bauhaus, because for me it all started with the Bauhaus.
One of the first exhibitions I ever worked on was Bauhaus Style at the famous building in Dessau. By the time this opportunity arose, I had already come a long way. Originally starting off as an illustrator, I was quickly frustrated by the limited scope of a typical commission: “Your drawing here, please.”. What about the rest of the page? What about the article, the magazine, the series, the brand? My constant urge to design an ever bigger context was finally matched by the design brief: create an environment. In an exhibition the things that are exhibited plus the exhibition design embedding them into a context, constitute together what you might call “the information”. It is transmitted over a range of different channels simultaneously. To design these parallel levels, you obviously need more than one design discipline. The idea that all design disciplines work together towards one vision, their “cathedral”, was first propagated and put into action at the bauhaus. One could say, that scenography or integrated design itself started with the bauhaus.
An exhibition is not a linear 3-D book that you read from A-Z in order to learn something. In the exhibition Andy Warhol. Other Voices, Other Rooms that originated in the Stedelijk Museum and travelled from there to Stockholm, London and Columbus/Ohio, that would have been an impossible undertaking anyway. In the spirit of “All is pretty” (Andy Warhol) the show combined 871 works in 33 media. In order to view all time based media alone, it would take a visitor close to 68 hours.
An exhibition is a world that you enter, and you experience information rather than reading it. A narrative space can convey meaning in a more direct and sensual way than a book. The defining difference seems to me the physical presence of the visitor and his movements around the space.
Information gets altered not only by what is exhibited and how, but also by the way the visitor moves around the space, the time she spends there and the way she feels while being there. Thus, the design of an exhibition is not comparable to designing a static object or a theatre stage, but is more akin to city planning or service design.
This is why information in exhibitions is context sensitive. Let´s take for example the filmscape in the same exhibition where 21 films run simultaneously in a sound absorbing camouflage landscape. The arrangement allows for a comparative filmic experience, very appropriate for Warhol´s highly experimental films, that range from short camp movies to nine hours footage of the Empire State building filmed in one night.
The physical sensation of walking and lying around in films is impressive enough, but an interested visitor might like to know what exactly he´s watching. This is usually solved by sticking a label somewhere, but here it is dark and you wouldn´t be able to read a normal label in the dark. That´s why we enlarged the information on each film and put it on those big panels on the walls. These panels show you title, actors and duration of each film. But one problem, that people usually have with time based media in exhibitions remains: how do you know at what point the film is right now? To solve this problem, we incorporated a timecode into each panel, showing you the exact position of the film.
A different situation in the TV scape, which displays all 42 TV Shows by Andy Warhol on individual screens. Here the star seats hold the information. The visitor is literally sitting on the information, as only one person can watch one show at one given moment. People have to move around the room to view a different episode, they are switching channels with their bodies. The way information is presented makes them do that. Seen from the outside, the visitor almost becomes an exhibit in himself, luring other visitors inside the American Flag thus completing the exhibition design.
To give a visitor information he needs at a specific moment is one strategy, another is to provide him with a tool that enables him to navigate independently around complex information environments. The exhibition Subjective aimed to portray a generation of documentary filmmakers from the Film and TV school in Munich in the neighbouring Pinakothek der Moderne, allowing for an interdisciplinary exchange on the nature of the documentary in art and filmmaking.
The advantage of doing this in an exhibition as opposed to a film festival or a DVD set, is the possibility to let visitors see everything at once. The overview took place in the main exhibition room, where 88 documentary films were simultaneously shown, each film on its own white museum style socle. Projected by a mini beamer, the size of a pack of cigarettes, unto small plexi screens, each film thus had its own tiny cinema situation to itself.
The visual floorplan shows the rigid grid on which the films were arranged. Vertically you have a number system, horizontally each row represents a curatorial group with titles like “conflict”, “border” e.t.c.. In the accompanying fold out map, the visitor can search for films by different categories, such as director, film title or subject matter. Just like on a city map, the visitor is given the coordinates of the particular film, he has thus chosen.
For younger people that were raised on the internet, the navigation of complex information and being offered alternative routes for personal explorations, seems natural. For the designer, the main feat is a usability challenge. How do you design an easy to grasp system that allows people to explore on their own? But this scenographic approach also has a wider impact, it subverts the hierarchical roles of curator and visitor, of expert and laymen to allow for a more democratic interaction between equals.
But there are different types of information. There is the type of information that spells “This way to the toilet” or “Max Ernst was born in 1891”. But what about how his works feel or what it means? In the comprehensive Max Ernst retrospective Max Ernst. Dream and Revolution at the Moderna Museet and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, the curators wanted to show that Max Ernst influence on contemporary aesthetics and thoughts, is much greater than commonly acknowledged. How can you make people get a glimpse of these curatorial ideas, beyond using textual means? How can somebody that only walks through an exhibition without reading a single label or text experience Max Ernst as a contemporary, not just as an exponent of the historic surrealist movement?
To give the exhibition a contemporary feel, without scaring off the rather conservative (when it comes to exhibition scenography) art crowd, we worked exclusively with museum means: white walls and lighting. The freestanding walls form different types of rooms, connecting and structuring the works loosely, while coloured lights aimed at the ceiling indicate the four sections of the exhibition. Each colour represents one of the four different places where Max Ernst lived and worked: the early Dada works in Germany are signalled by green light, his French works hang under a pink sky, the American ones in a yellow aura and his return to Europe in the fifties glows blue. The labels emanate the same coded colours, achieved by simply sticking coloured paper on the back of the labels and attaching them in a little distance to the wall.
Even the catalogue emits coloured light from the spine, subtly illuminating the different sections. Vague information needs artistic rather than rational means.
So far the information as subtle as it may have been, has had a reliable source. It was usually provided by curators, which are experts in their particular fields. But increasingly, the roles of information provider and information consumer in my projects have become more fluid.
Examples are the Wilhelm Meister exhibition, where new knowledge was generated by the scenographic form. The exhibition books make information visible, that has not been visible before, even to the experts. They show aspects of the Goethe Book, which go beyond the usual literary objects of study and provide new entry points to the book, even to people that are not familiar with the text.
Or take the book project Arbeitende Orte (transl. Working Places) with Angelika Fitz, where we first designed a process, in order to collect the information that would subsequently form the content of the book.
Another exemplary project might be the planned International Building Exhibition IBA Berlin 2020, for which we designed the first public interface in the ongoing process. To enable this process, we designed artefacts that were not ends in themselves, but means to an end, such as the flexible and modular IBA Workshop platform and simple tools such as pens, sticky notes and plastic bags (to carry information away with). In the temporary IBA Workshop in the airport Tempelhof, new information was jointly generated, information that is then being fed back into the process to spark off new ideas and so on and so on.
I would like to close this list of information frenzy, with the yearbook project where I am designing a book with school children. To enable them to do this I am designing a process to inform and end up learning as much as I am teaching. To find out more about this lively experience please refer to Co-designing a Yearbook.
Having come full circle and finding myself back in the present, I can claim that looking at my work from an information angle proved fruitful. The filter allowed me to see more clearly how parameters, objectives and outcomes have changed and shaped my design perspective over the years. Not only the way information is created, handled and offered has changed in my projects, but also my working conditions as a designer. My latest endeavors all share some characteristics: fuzzy timespans with no clear start and finish, a collaborative process that has to be constantly adapted to meet its objectives and an evolving definition of the desired end result, a result that often triggers more questions rather than give definite answers.
I am not alone. All around me I see designers moving from commissions to questions. I see people reinventing our profession, working in changing constellations on self professed beta versions. Which brings me to the other haus that starts with a small b and to the end of my musings.
The betahaus is a co-working space in Kreuzberg that rents out desk space to people like me – people that don´t like to work alone at home. Just like the Bauhaus almost a hundred years ago, it is a platform that encourages people from different disciplines to meet and work together on projects. It uses tools like weekly breakfasts, open office hours and maker weekends to facilitate exchange and create synergies. Like the famous school it is as well a place of learning.
But unlike the historic Bauhaus, you don´t have to master the “Grundkurs” first. The betahaus is open to everyone and the roles of teachers and students in the betahaus are interchangeable: one day somebody will show you how to create interactive textiles, the next day you can teach them screen printing or send your kids to a hackathon. The betahaus exports its concept to other cities and countries, creating an “international style” of co-working that is designed to be shaped and defined by its users. The “beta” in the name is programmatic, the betahaus sees itself as an institution in flux, a dynamic prototype where ideas are tested, refined or thrown out again.
The betahaus seems to me very much a child of its time – just like me.
Andy Warhol. Other Voices, Other Rooms, Subjektiv. Documentary Film in the 21st century, Max Ernst. Dream and Revolution, Wilhelm Meister exhibition, IBA Berlin 2020: scenography by chezweitz&roseapple · Wilhelm Meister Bücherkörper curated by Rose Epple
Talk for Shapeshifters on March 13, 2013 at Beursschouwburg, Brussels.
Discover the Void
Some people thought it was a mistake when they received the empty envelope. They called up the sender, the city of Halberstadt, to be told that this envelope was indeed their invitiation to the opening of “Discover the vo d”. The callers had interpreted the void as the absence of something and they wanted to fill that empty envelope, just as one automatically fills in the missing letters of the exhibition title. The invitation had triggered the mental process which the exhibition was exploring.
People in Halberstadt, a small town in the picturesque Harz region in Eastern Germany are experienced void fillers. A woman, who was only a baby on April 8, 1945, when allied bombers destroyed 82% percent of the medieval inner city, told me that she was raised on tales of this invisible city of the past. Wandering around the ruins, relatives would recount to her every lost building, street corner, flagstone. She grew up with a very clear picture of houses and streets that didn´t exist anymore and she shared this vision with the people around her. Even today, the dials of the big clock on the tower of Martini Church are permanently stuck at 11.28 a.m., the moment desaster struck 67 years ago.
To get Halberstadt unstuck from viewing emptiness in their city solely as a traumatic loss was the focus of the International Building Exhibition (IBA) Urban Redevolpment Saxony-Anhalt. An amibitous IBA team made up of members of the city council, town planners, architects, cultural scientists and a scenographer (my former business partner Detlef Weitz) set out to cultivate alternative attitudes towards empty spaces. In a long process involving many different local individuals and groups, they identified and analysed different forms of emptiness and explored mulitple uses of empty space in the town. They succeeded in not filling the empty spaces with buildings, but with new meaning.
When we were commissioned to present the results of this process in a final exhibition in the derelict municipal swimming baths, we not only wanted to show the visitor what had happened during the IBA years. Our aim was to show emptiness itself. Thus, we projected a walk-in videoinstallation unto the floor of the empty swimming pool, just like the people had projected their lost city unto the empty spaces of the destroyed city.
Giving something as abstract as empty space a form, is one way of communicating it, to invite people to experience emptiness for themselves is another. On postcards that could be collected in the exhibition, visitors were asked to visit “empty” places in Halberstadt and go through a series of simple exercises to help them feel emptiness for themselves. Please feel free to adapt these exercises to your personal surroundings and let us know how it felt.
Scenography by chezweitz & roseapple
Photos by Volker Kreidler
Inter Versus Multi
Scenography is per se an area where a multitude of disciplines come to work together. In order to create a compelling exhibition experience for the visitor you have to consider space, movement, objects, words, orientation, surface, light, sound, emotions, products and the translation of physical space into printed matter and digital space. Which means that you need architects, product designers, writers, programmers, light and sound specialists and of course graphic designers, those who are good at working in real space and those who understand the intricacies of book and web design. And this list is only on the design side of things.
Rereading ‘Change by Design’ by Tim Brown, an advocate of design thinking, I stumbled across an interesting definition of the nature of team work across disciplines. “In a multidisciplinary team each individual becomes an advocate for his or her own technical speciality and the project becomes a protracted negotiation among them, likely resulting in a gray compromise. In an interdisciplinary team there is collective ownership of ideas and everybody takes responsibility for them.”
From my experience a scenographic design team often starts out as an enthusiastic inter in the ideation phase, veers into an edgy multi in the execution phase only to come together again on the home stretch to celebrate an ecstatic inter success at the opening.
While we were working on an exhibition on documentary film, a collaboration between the University of Television and Film and the Pinakothek der Moderne, both in Munich, we (the graphic designers that is) had the idea of documenting our work on the show as a kind of meta documentary. As there was no documentary filmmaker about to do this for us, we thought of different ways of portraying the scenographic process without holding a camera. In the end, we decided that the common link between the collaborators is the computer screen. The task to collect a screenshot every day of the different team players fell to Edgar, our intern at that time, and he did a fantastic job collecting and posting them daily on a temporary Tumblr.
Here is a shortened version of what we did from October 21 to December 1 in 2010. Enjoy.
© chezweitz & roseapple · Tumblr Images and photos of opening: Edgar Khandzratyan
My favourite graphic designer in the Bauhaus is László Moholy-Nagy. Graphic design was just one of many areas he was working in, and his layouts often seem a trifle inelegant and akward. But when it comes to translating ideas into graphic compositions, he is the boldest and the most inventive and engaging. He is trying to tell you something and he wants you to UNDERSTAND that something. That is because he could be your great-great-grandfather. He was born in 1895.
People often write about how contemporary and relevant the Bauhaus still is and how it’s cultural legacy can be found everywhere around us, which is probably correct, at least in the case of Germany. But while working on the graphic interface of the 90th anniversary Bauhaus Exhibition, I was more interested in pin-pointing the difference between now and 90 years ago.
One important difference I found, lies in the changed relationship between designer, content and audience. Whereas László Moholy-Nagy is one with his content and comes up real close to deliver his message into your face, the contemporary designer keeps a distance. He doesn´t shout, he doesn´t arrange his words for maximum impact, but to strict grammatical rules. He wants you to understand the underlying sentence structure first, the words second. He designs systems in which content is arranged, and then lets you draw your own conclusions.
The contemporary designer not only keeps a distance to the content and the audience, but also to his own work and the idea of authorship. The thing that appeals to him in using systems is the element of chance. Graphic systems can be programmed to generate an aesthetic almost by themselves. They work like a bit like a Graphic-Meaning-Modulator, you feed some parameters into it and out comes a visual surprise. Here are our parameters for the 23 panels guiding the visitor from the inner Central Hall of the Martin-Gropius Bau into the outer exhibition ring.
- Every panel depicts a key object shown in the exhibition room the panel is guiding to, as a technical drawing.
- A chromatic circle runs over all 17 panels. The background colour of each panel is determined by its position in the great hall.
- All key objects occupy roughly the same size on the panel. The pixel ratio of the background is determined by the original size of the key object.
And now press start and see what happens:
Navigation System for the exhibition:
MODELL BAUHAUS | BAUHAUS. A CONCEPTUAL MODEL
Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, Klassik Stiftung Weimar
Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, 22.7. – 4.10.09
exhibition design and graphics by chezweitz & roseapple.
Photos of the exhibition by Volker Kreidler
More about the exhibition here: Modell Bauhaus