Later published in 'Dutch Resource' (Artez, Arnhem, 2005); and in Dot Dot Dot 11


A couple of years ago I was invited to give a talk at some event in Barcelona, replacing Jamie Reid, who had pulled out at the last minute. I decided to use the opportunity to present a collection of friends’ work I admired. Upon realising this didn’t amount to very much, the idea stretched to encompass a general collection of work from the past century by a gang of both dead and living spirits who made work with some common link; a bond — like an umbilical cord — stretching through the twentieth century from some anonymous modernist mother. I might reluctantly describe this work as being cerebral, rigorous and worthy, if those words weren’t so cerebral, rigorous and worthy-sounding. So instead maybe: charged, luminous and illuminating, like a series of momentary cartoon light bulbs flashing on and off above my head. of all comfortable proportion, and partly because I always seem to end up describing the mistakes and failures in the work — what went wrong, why, and how it should and could have been. When talking about other people’s work, on the other hand, it’s a relief to skip over these incessant disclaimers to just focus on the good parts — the pub anecdotes rather than the dull mess of business meetings. At its most fundamental level, then, this talk is just a collection of work I’d like to have made myself. It represents what I’m trying to do better than anything I’ve managed to do. They are ideas, ways of looking at things, and as such, maybe even charged with philosophic potential. This collection doesn’t necessarily conform to what would conventionally be considered graphic design — there’s as much music, film, art and literature here — but the common denominator is always language, and how language is designed.

So I started by deciding to name the talk 'Never Mind the Bollocks', in direct homage to Jamie Reid, and to use the Pistols’ cover as a title page. I never even intended to say
anything about the way the cover looked, but it gradually dawned on me that it single-handedly embodied a lot of what I was trying to say elsewhere. Not unlike Jamie Reid’s second-hand Situationism, I was hijacking an iconic style for my own purposes; a Russian doll of tribute. In a recent conversation the writer Michael Bracewell described to me how he increasingly found himself observing the world from the vantage point of 1977. He didn’t mean this in a sentimental or retrospective way, more that this was a personal lens through which other aspects of culture could be viewed, like a homemade pinhole camera, or a magnifying glass to channel the sun and burn a few ants. He meant looking from the past forwards as well as the future backwards: he meant 1977 as an ongoing present tense. “On the occasion of presenting this second
'Dot Dot Dot exhibition' in Chaumont, I’m offering a direct literal translation of the title into French. Unlike many nationalities, the French stubbornly insist on translating the titles of foreign films, often resulting in the ridiculous or misleading (though not without charm; I prefer it to the arrogance of Dutch voice-overs or German overdubbing). It reminded me how graphic design is always translation — in its broadest sense, from a cerebral idea into a physical object — and something is always lost in that translation. The work here seems to me to come about as close as possible to forging a direct link between the intial idea and its eventual communication. Anthony Froshaug wrote: ‘design consists […] in translating all the problem, set of problems, into another language, another sign system, with love.’ The majority of what passes as graphic design doesn’t really stick to any reasonable notion of form following function. On the contrary, I would say form generally fucks function. And to proceed with such a dubious line of thought, I’ll turn it around again and say that, contrary to this, the examples here show form and content having great sex, mutual and inseperable, or at least French kissing.

No matter how much I try to keep it at bay, all this comes out of failure anyway: Jamie Reid pulled out, and in the end I pulled out too. But here, two years on, the idea has settled and enough work has gathered in the corners of my mind to be able to make a reasonable attempt. As I began to stick it together I came across a piece of writing which described an attractive paradox in the 'Bollocks' cover. While Reid’s signature amphetamine typography gobs an easy cartoon degeneracy, the sleeve was actually quite difficult to make. Fluorescent pink and yellow are difficult colours for a printer to hold flat and consistent over a large print run, so the apparent cheap simplicity of Reid’s design betrays an expensive luxury. As someone else somewhere else at some other point in time wrote: The simple things you see are all complicated, and there’s another key to unlock the work here: they are all products of care, commitment and attention to detail, with second and third-hand stories and anecdotes behind each surface which not only complement but complete the design. And before getting around to actually beginning, I’ll quickly just emphasize the obvious fact that these are merely poor illustrations of real-life objects, which should be sought, found and held. Their function here is merely to sit on the page and vibrate ...

Posted 31 March 2011 20:14:24


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