approved Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;”>If You Could Collaborate is the latest event in a series of high profile shindigs put on by designers Alex Bec and Will Hudson, wunderkids of the current graphic arts scene. I first met these ambitious young men when we were both invited to do something or other at LCP, I forget what. It was but a few years ago but they were already something of a phenomenon, having started their first venture whilst still at college. Perhaps now best known currently for their popular blog It’s Nice That, they are now creating a commotion as art directors. Which is probably why they were incredibly busy showing some Very Important People around their latest exhibition when I popped down on Thursday. I would have gone to the opening night, but unfortunately I am learning to sing Mozart at evening classes. As you do. (Quite fun actually, I’m learning pop singing in my other class. Yes I really am taking two singing classes a week.) The exhibition features a variety of artists and designers who have been encouraged to collaborate outside of their disciplines without the aid of a brief – in the hope that some unexpected outcomes might be reached. As might be expected this has led to a variety in quality…
Held in the wonderful space at Rochelle School near Arnold Circus, the first thing you encounter when you arrive at the exhibition is a tall skinny booth which you are encouraged to enter via a string curtain. Inside a laptop sits behind a large red button. Oooh push me push me it seems to say. So I did. What what? A number seemed to be encouraging me to do something but I knew there was a man sat outside and I felt shy, so I missed the first number and whispered the second one. I’m not normally a mouse. Outside I could see my face massed with others, all shouting and yelling their numbers, a montage of shouts. Why hadn’t I noticed this before I went in? Fun, there was no obvious point to this piece, but then I discovered that it was delivered by a “digital agency”. Does this encapsulate the kind of vapid interactivity that clever advertisers are so fond of, but which is essentially meaningless? I don’t know…
Turning the corner I was met by Alex and Will’s guided tour of important people, nodding sagely over a computer screen. Me? I was instantly attracted to the huge neon perspex sculpture. The pictures that is. The actual artpiece was a miniature model, a tiny bright town. Ooooohh, if I were a child I’d love to play with this piece. But it’s art, so must be ogled inside a protective case in a look but don’t touch kind of way. Above a neon sign flashes all the colours of the rainbow. Now do you really wonder why I wouldn’t be attracted to this piece? Underneath some more perspex cut outs showcased a new font, called Avec, (downloadable here for free type fans) which looks a bit like a letterset font. Made by Praline and the Model Shop, these pieces are designed to work together – the buildings a 3D reflection of the shapes made by the letters.
And then I turned a corner and artfully fell over one of the artworks.
Yup, I just stepped back and it went tumbling like a stack of dominoes. Like a shot Will was next to me (didn’t recognise me? not sure but he wasn’t giving any signs of recognition away) hastily rectifying the situation.
“What did you do?”
“Oh I dunno, it just fell over. That must have happened on opening night right? Surely? I mean, it’s not exactly stable!”
I have no idea what this piece was meant to be, but a quick hunt online tells me that it is a bench by furniture designer Max Lamb and girlfriend Gemma Holt (can’t tell you what she does I’m afraid, her website don’t say much.) Nice work if you can get it, but I wouldn’t recommend sitting on it.
In front of this was a far more interesting prospect to a type and colour junky like myself. Designers Sandy Suffield and Fiona Woodcock have crafted a series of beautifully stitched tabloid headlines, taking lead from the content. We like a lot. In fact I used to do a similar thing with the fonts we created for Amelia’s Magazine.
Fonts by Sandy Suffield and Fiona Woodcock.
Also in this room was a mirrored ironing table with lots of plasticky junk glued onto it and a weird golden helmet next to it that appeared to be constructed of the kind of junky tat you find in a Christmas cracker. I got really into taking pictures of these but I’m going to have to refer to the If You Could website to see if they represent some kind of meaningful commentary on junk. Nope! All I can decipher is that it’s by commercial designer Ian Wright (inspired by playfulness) and Riitta Ikonen (who is described as an “ex-student” – come on, everyone’s an ex-student of some description. Help, copy editor needed!) I still have no idea what it means, if indeed it means anything. My analysing tentacles are beginning to decipher a bit of a theme here – treading the fine line between design and art can be a tricky job. But then I like pretty things so s’pose I mustn’t grumble.
By Ian Wright and Riitta Ikonen.
In a cabinet a series of objects were presented as alternative currency by design consultancy BCMH and designers Smith&WIghtman – now this commentary on the meaning and intrinsic worth of money interests me. Inscribed on the counter surface are the words “The objects have accrued their value through the amount of time invested in them. Time embedded in the material (through harvesting/extracting and processing) and then time spent in fabrication.” It goes on to ask “Why do certain forms or materials look more expensive than others? What is the value of an object with no apparent function?” Above it a ticker tape flashed red.
Mint instantly stands out for making a statement, so it’s such a shame that this is not described or transcribed on the website, which I am now going to have to flag up for it’s utter blandness in describing the works of art in this exhibition. “Relevant in tone and execution, with a crisp sensibility that is very easy on the eye.” This is as good as it gets for this artwork. Utter guff.
Opposite there was a large painting by artist Sam Messenger and carpenter Bart Long which reminded me of many other artists – taking it’s cue from the abstract works of Bridget Riley et al. Very pretty.
Lazer wall cuts by typographer Craig Ward with Sean Freeman and Alison Carmichael.
What I did really like was the lazer cut panels further along the wall. I just love the way that the edge of the wood retains the burn marks from the machine used to cut it out. Scho sexy that. Termed “Calligraffiti” these beautiful wall pieces were dreamt up by hardcore typographer Craig Ward with cohorts Sean Freeman and Alison Carmichael. I have no idea what the phrases mean but who cares? See, always the typography. Always.
On the floor lay an obscenely long flag, described as “new world” by creators Karl Grandin and And Beyond. What does this new world mean? Maybe we’re all joined together now. That would be nice. In a big snuggle under the flag. Or maybe not.
Oliver Jeffers and Aaron Ruff have re-purposed a suitcase as part of a mad story about four dimensional control. I love illustrators – they always make things so playful. And it doesn’t have to mean anything, it can just be for fun. Beautiful.
Next to this was the Hvass&Hannibal wall hanging that I spoke of in my interview with them here. I have to say that I don’t think this is their strongest work – as we know over the past few weeks they were really super busy with putting together their solo exhibition and I suspect that they didn’t devote a huge amount of time to this. When I spoke to them they expressed an urge to branch out of their comfort zone when it comes to colour, but actually I don’t think that they should – their use of colour is a big part of what makes their work so special. And the meagreness of colour in this piece lets it down. Just a thought girls, if you’re reading.
Now, don’t get me started on Sara Fanelli, or I might be forced into a confession…. When I was fresh out of college, trying to be an illustrator (yeah, it didn’t work out, alright) I wanted to be just like her…. you can see her influence heavily in my work of this period – lots of mashed up type, weird animals created out of collage, etc. Anyway, she has teamed up with George Hardie and Leonardo Sonnoli to produce some delicate numerals (which they describe as the bargain version of the alphabet as there are only 10).
Oh, and there’s Jim Stoten, collaborating with Andy Rementer (I’m not sure which is which – they seem to have merged successfully). And he STILL hasn’t learned how to produce artwork for digital output (unless he has decided to embrace this particular ‘look’ intentionally). Yes, as the blurb on the website states, Jim can really draw – I absolutely love his work (he’s appeared in my magazine several times and did the cover for issue 6) but boy is he hard to work with – and I remember one of the biggest problems was that he could never produce work at a high enough resolution for decent print reproduction. He scans his drawings at one resolution and then blows them up to fill them in at another. It’s such a shame that once again, his lines look so fuzzy and just a bit, well, crappy. This image has also been printed on low quality gloss paper. It just could have all been so much more beautifully executed.
The low quality of this production was highlighted by the wonderful execution of the huge hanging by Jesse Auersalo and Jesse Pietila in the next room. Here a surreal juxtaposition of outsize everyday objects; top hat and band aid, were printed in fine monochrome detail on what looked like carpet tile. Just wonderful, and a perfect example of how an exhibition like this should be approached when attempting to merge the disciplines of art and illustration.
Next to this (not sure they were best suited to such proximity) was a brightly coloured piece by the lovely Fred Butler (championed in issue 10), jewellery designer extraordinaire. And now I am being visited by the green eyed monster because I’ve seen on the website that THERE WERE BADGES. But not when I got there. Hurumph. Together with No Days Off she has created a wall piece jokingly based around a campaign to get more days in the week. Offbeat and fun. Love it.
Then onto the darkened room, where an animation, Black Lake, by fabulous American illustrator Jon Klassen and video director David OReilly was showing in a loop. Ducks swim away from the viewer towards high rounded mountains and a lone house, then appear to swim back at you upside down and back to front. Coupled with a hypnotic soundtrack this was a really beautiful piece and you can view it here.
Another lovely video came courtesy of Michael Maloney and photographer John Hopper – taken by standing on a peak in the Lake District for 24 hours and rotating a camera 360 degrees to watch the sun rise then set over the hikers who come to stand and have their picture taken in front of the wonderful view. Mesmerising.
Rob Ryan gets everywhere these days – and for this exhibition he has created a decorated flat pack rocking chair with Michael Marriott which I paused to look at on my way out. Very cute but unfortunately the recipient of another dreadful bit of description on the website: “There are a thousand words we could use to describe Rob Ryan’s work, and all of them are superlatives.” Folks, next time hire a decent writer!
I left the Rochelle School with a lot to mull over in my mind, which can only be a good thing when viewing art. Alex and Will have pulled together a really interesting exhibition, even if at times it felt as if there was something missing – decent explanations of the artworks for example. But I am not really sure how successful an idea it is to shoehorn the work of such obviously commercial designers into an artistic space like this – it felt a little vapid in places. Some of the work obviously considered deeper content but much of it was just pretty for it’s own sake, with an obvious eye to a lucrative advertising contract not far down the line. Of course I really enjoy pattern and type and I absolutely believe there is a place to produce art for beauty’s sake, but I don’t think it works so well to try and be all things to all people. I suppose I also think that if you have the chance to create something more meaningful you should grab it with everything you’ve got (this exhibition had prominent Arts Council funding) instead of adding to the vast canon of superficiality that many contributors to the exhibition must surely work with on a daily basis. To be honest I would like to unremittingly champion Alex and Will but with their eye so clearly set on their own commercial future I felt their choice of collaborators too often produced work that felt a bit empty and soulless. I also think you’ve got to decide what audience you’re aiming for, and this wasn’t obvious.
Having said that there was much to enjoy in this exhibition and I do really admire the zeal with which Alex and Will are are able to pull together such a large project. I was just about to tell you the good news that If You Could Collaborate is on for another week, but I’ve checked the website and instead have discovered that it closed at the weekend, which is a real shame because if you have any kind of interest in the murky ground where art meets design this is a must see exhibition. What a shame it wasn’t given a longer run.
- Valentines Open Brief: Get Published and Exhibit Your Work
- An interview with Alex McGinn: Amelia’s Colourful Colouring Companion featured artist.
- Mother’s Day and Women’s History Month Open Brief for Artists
- Interview – Cathy Lomax
- Alex Czinczel presents Burro de Change at Prick Your Finger