In an undergrad typography course, a professor assigned my class the following quote to typeset literally hundreds of times.
A true revelation, it seems to me, will only emerge from stubborn concentration on a solitary problem. I am not in league with inventors or adventurers, nor with travelers to exotic destinations. The surest —also the quickest— way to awake the sense of wonder in ourselves is to look intently, undeterred, at a single object. Suddenly, miraculously, it will reveal itself as something we have never seen before.
— Cesare Pavese, 1947
This project is essentially a variation of that. It is a simple idea that I have been concentrating on for an extended period of time, trying to continually see it with fresh eyes. There have been several moments when it has felt as though there is nothing left to be revealed. It's then that I really have to force myself to keep looking "intently."
The inspiration for the underlying system came from reading Karl Gerstner's book, "Designing Programmes" and seeing his striking package designs for Teddymat laundry detergents. Gerstner's system was constructed of a grid of circles connected along tangent lines. Each box in the system is modular in such a way that they can be lined up to create a large continuous graphic. Rather than create a continuous line, I arranged my grid to create more self-contained shapes using a four by four grid of equally sized and spaced circles.
In February of 2019, I began posting early pieces in the series to Instagram. Some were diagrams to help me understand and explain the system. Others were more formal explorations that used the underlying system as a framework to play off of formally.
After the series was underway, someone shared an image with me from Armin Hofmann's 'Graphic Design Manual, Principles and Practice', which had an even more direct relationship to what I was doing than Gerstner's package design. Recently — to my delight — I learned that Gerstner and Hoffmann had been apprentices in Basel alongside each other for the artist Fritz Bühler. Both designers were taking similar principles and forms and pushing them in different and interesting directions. While the system was most explicitly articulated by Hofmann, the basic principles can be found throughout art history in Celtic knots, modular systems and elsewhere.
I've been attracted to systems for a long time. Stephen Wolfram's book, A New Kind of Science, which deals with cellular automata helped shape my thinking about systems and understanding of how simple rules can result in complex and varied outcomes. Christopher Alexander's (et. al.) books on architecture, namely A Pattern Language, is more poetic in its approach to systems. He examines how all the parts of architecture are interrelated. You can't think of them in isolation. Gerstner's Designing Programmes focuses on designing the "programme" over designing a particular outcome. A system can generate a huge range of outcomes. Generally, outcomes of the same system feel related even when they vary wildly.
In my own series, individual pieces sometimes veer off in directions that pull them somewhat outside of the underlying system. Some relate to and build off of other pieces. Others incorporate ideas I've been toying with for a while. My favorite moments are when the work seems to tell me where it wants to go. In those moments the pieces seem to be revealing themselves organically. That is the state of creation I find most rewarding and am always chasing after.
Once the glyph or glyphs for a particular piece are created, the process switches from rational and systematic to playful and intuitive. The resulting pieces are equal parts Apollonian and Dionysian. That creates a tension and balance in both the process and in the resulting piece that I find satisfying. While the majority of pieces are entirely digital, some incorporate snippets of photography or analogue processes. I try to stay open to incorporating whatever process or technique seems appropriate and find that the injection of new techniques helps me to see the underlying system afresh.
Elements in any system have value in relation to other elements within the same system. If they differ too much in appearance, internal logic, or construction, they will appear unrelated. If they are overly individuated, the elements lose value and risk appearing homogeneous. The glyphs in this series sometimes function like characters from an asemic alphabet. Each piece has meaning in relation to others. As the series expands, new possible meanings and relationships emerge. Some pieces suggest flags, warning signs, microscopic elements, or mechanisms. Others defy easy interpretation.