In search of… Revival Design in Perspective — 28 February 2019 — Curation and words by Jaime Del Corro Gomez and Naomi Strinati THE WORK OF OK-RM STUDIO…
In search of… Revival
Design in Perspective
28 February 2019
Curation and words by Jaime Del Corro Gomez and Naomi Strinati
THE WORK OF OK-RM STUDIO
Fig: Rory McGrath, co-founder of OK-RM receives us in his studio in Dalston.
By embarking In search of…Revival for a day, we aim to open conversations on the historically-rooted design principles of several current and past practitioners that draw heavily on the modern era, discovering how and why they design/designed and finally open questions on how we should act towards the discussed parts of this heritage. Thus, the first stop of our journey takes place at OK-RM studio, by asking them to have a conversation with us, we aim to discover a criticality behind the persistent revival of many principles of modernism throughout their practice.
We start by asking them, as a prime example of this inquiry, about their very personal design of the magazine Real Review (RR), published by REAL foundation. The main premise itself behind RR is that ‘to know how to move forward you have to review the past’. Their approach, by reviewing modernism, is essentially aiming towards a totally functional and economic magazine, produced with cheap, thin paper and a layout system that concentrates as much content as it can in the minimum amount of space. This design acts as a response to the robust, glossy, overpriced weekly magazines (i.e. Time, Vogue) that are being mass produced and sold in the market today.
Economy, Rory McGrath claims, is a cornerstone of their practice. Their insistence in choosing classic typefaces over more recent inventions is part of their response, in their words, ‘to a market often oversaturated with unnecessary tools that create a visual culture lacking historical depth’. This statement is left for us to agree or disagree with in our future work paths, but above all to question: why and for what should we create more tools? Will these new tools contribute with more form, or more content? How can an economy of means be a conceptual drive towards a more enriching visual culture?
Fig: Rory McGrath flicks through a copy of Ex Nihilo, an experimental collaboration on alternative narratives, sustainability and how things are made from nothing.
FORENSIC DESIGN CLUB
Fig: Left to right. Cannon magazine, Past Forward and An Ambiguous Case.
Our second stop was to bring and analyze several objects that could expand the concept of the session. For this we created a Forensic Design Club where we gathered together around a collection of selected books designed/authored/published by contemporary designers. A very interesting example was the revival of the original sketches of Futura from 1924 for the exhibition catalogue of ‘Past Forward’, curated by Vincent Honoré and designed by Åbäke, a typeface as historically irreverent at the time as the pieces curated for the exhibition.
Other books we examined were:
— Cannon Magazine I (2009), designed by Phil Baber. A magazine that uses ‘The Shape of Time’ by George Kubler – a book highly influential to conceptual artists since the 60s. i.e. ‘Painting for Kubler’ by J. Baldessari – as a structure for a a collation of writing and design created through a period of six months.
— Fit To Be A Styled Typographer (1978), by James Moran. A compilation of the most relevant British typefaces that came out of the British Society of Typographers since its origins until 1978.
— An Ambiguous Case — Casco Issues XI (2009), designed by Laurenz Brunner and Julia Born. An experimental publication joining texts by theorists and artists discussing openness and what ‘being open’ actually means.
STEPHEN WILLATS ARCHIVE
Following our search for revival we travelled to the Chelsea College of Arts, to explore the rare collection of Stephen Willats archived works. Willats describes his practice as consciously examining the function and meaning of art in society. His magazine Control contributed to his practice but also to the art world in London and beyond. Informed by marketing theories, Control was part of the artist’s activities in the early to mid-sixties as a conceptual designer. The radical magazine was the reason for our visit. High above the library we climbed and entered into the Special Collections room, our specialist librarian Gustavo pulled out an amazing amount of material including the early issues of Control magazine. From the start design was a concern for Willats, for the first issue he teamed up with graphic designer Dean Bradley, the distinctive logo they developed was used for the first five issues. This created an unmistakable ‘systems aesthetic’ look. These magazines revealed a functional design revived from the modernist era. The type used, Monotype univers Extra Bold supports his desire to create an unified design. The many intricate diagrams showed his passion for cybernetics. We found these magazines weren’t just about his work but also of other contemporary and experimental practitioners, including artists, architects, fashion designers and graphic designers, including with the radical architect collective Archigram. A common topic we found in the magazines confronted how artists collaborate with larger structures and organisations, we felt through his publications he gave a voice to London based practitioners who at the time could be seen as on the periphery of the art world and society. Willats’ overall plan throughout was to recreate the function of the individual in society. Transforming the reader from a passive consumer of messages into an acutely aware and responsive part of larger complex systems upon they could then apply control. Control remains relevant due to its endurance, it has remained free from advertising and even certain issues could be considered an artwork itself.
Revival was proposed for this day openly as a method to explore how research into past practices can provide methodologies to be carried on in today’s context. OK-RM’s practice is characteristic of this method, and as an example they talked to us about a figure who they consider a predecessor to their practice: Pontus Hultén, curator and bookmaker during the 1960s that designed books that, Rory said, “didn’t feel designed”. This very simple statement still informs their practice today, which they embrace as a legacy. Next, as a response to this, we put ourselves in the position of the researcher to investigate Willats’ CONTROL magazines that still raise questions today on the representative responsibility of current magazines. His practice urges us to embrace the role of designers as spokesmen. By standing in the shoulders of giants of our past, we can learn about big issues of today and inform our practice in a relevant way. This day was an invitation for all to take this same exercise to their respective practices.