Archive for the ‘Artists’ Category

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RIP tDR

1 February, 2009

1986 – 2009

Traipsing between those fine lines of celebration and remorse, it’s difficult to know just how to begin when writing an obituary. Sentiments of grief are best kept at a minimum should you not wish to upset anyone, whilst vacuous praise may have a rather opposite effect. But how does one go about writing the necessary retrospective when the deceased is not a person at all but an enterprise, a conceptual entity shaping the era in which it was up and running? Short of having lived on another planet for the past six months, news of the global recession having taken its toll on major business leaders and small players alike is nothing new. However, one closing its doors in particular has brought on the sort of sentiment felt when a good friend moves away. In fact, this very piece has been sitting in my draft box for the past three years, left to ferment as a blank page at large reserved for the studio that inspired my career choice and passion for a field that — let’s face it — hasn’t always been as experimental as it is today. Admittedly I was so enamoured, so enthralled by what I saw to be (and indeed was) at the very pinnacle of graphic design enterprise at the time that I’ve been too wrapped up in navigating my way through the realm which it has created for itself and for the many clients whose successes were partly hinged on the humourous, constructivist visual impact it provided them across boundaries.

But never did I expect to be writing on such a sad occasion of finality. And it is thus after twenty-three long and successful years, The Designers Republic has bid its farewell. In founding the studio in Sheffield all those years ago in order to provide graphic support for the flourishing ‘SoYo‘ music scene and the band Person to Person, creative director Ian Anderson managed to create a dynamic home-grown alternative to the overrated London design scene. The byline to be ‘Made in the Designers Republic, North of Nowhere’ soon became a desired branding of its own, though ironically tDR’s roots were based on a vision less ‘branded’ and rather more frank about big-city commercial culture and the insatiable consumer demand that went along with it. But it is precisely this paradox that has dominated throughout its lines of work in recent years whilst setting itself apart from the rest, catering to big-name clients such as Nokia, Nike, Saatchi & Saatchi, Orange, and commerce’s favourite target of criticism: Coca Cola. Today, the quintessential tDR style noted to have been inspired by Moscow’s VKhUTEMAS school of the 1920s is perhaps one of the most recognizable of UK studios abound: bright colours, abstract shapes, in-your-face images and modern disjointed typeface in English, Japanese and binary code that screams out whether it be in print, screen, a national flag or a European Space Agency logo.

All of these elements played into the tongue-in-cheek aesthetic that shaped much of its famed output. But to be honest, it’s wasn’t the corporate shelf of Anderson & Co.’s portfolio that first caught my attention. Referring back to its initial connections to the Sheffield music scene, I actually discovered tDR through the work it had done for electronic labels such as Warp Records and the now defunct Em:t Recordings — and for groups such as Moloko and the similarly defunct Funkstörung (see video below). Who can forget Richard D. James leering in a bikini on the cover for the Windowlicker EP, or the vintage sci-fi number for Mat Jarvis’ Gas 0095? The Nine Inch Nails lithograph concert poster series fatigued and true to the band’s industrial heritage proved a further irresistible pairing between the studio and music, as well as the more recent steel-clad limited edition of Quaristice following a long line of covers for Autechre with the hypnotic accents of tDR’s ‘Customized Terror’. I had drawn a comparison some time ago between Anderson and both Warhol and Hirst, and it was vis-à-vis the inextricable links to music that their tremendous impacts paralleled on the cusp of visual representation viewed by an audience of listeners who enjoyed such imagery built on the sounds that lured them into collecting merchandised memorabilia via concert venues and niche online retailers.

And this impact has certainly not gone without ample recognition: In 2001, Q magazine chose the 1987 cover of Age of Chance‘s Don’t Get Mad… Get Even! as one of the ‘100 Best Record Covers of All Time’. Meanwhile, a sold-out 1994 Emigre issue revolving around the Republic was auctioned off for more than $750. Even more recently, tDR was featured amongst the roster of twenty-four artists in the Maxalot projections at the Hague for the TodaysArt Festival in 2006,  with a statement of simply ‘Wait Here. Help Is On The Way.’ spanning across the City Hall building in a fashion that went beyond correct kerning demonstration: it was another example of the ethos that brought about the wordplay visuals of ‘Thinking and Doing’, ‘Design or Die’ and ‘Work Buy Consume Die’ en route to the ‘This is the Emperor’s New Clothes’ theory. Incidentally, TodaysArt also brought the work of tDR alongside that of Universal Everything, another Sheffield-based studio whose director Matt Pyke served at tDR as a senior designer for eight years. Which brings me back to the point of the studio being in Sheffield: the playful anti-capitalist ethos so evident in Anderson’s work stems from his world-view (and love of good music) that led him there in the first place. ‘Sheffield doesn’t have places like Hoxton Square,’ he told the Creative Review in August 2001. ‘And I think, Good, that’s why we’re here. I’d rather slit my throat than have to work with people like that.’

‘The majority of clients haven’t the faintest idea what they’re getting into when they work with us, and a lot of them just haven’t got the balls to see it through. It’s really disappointing to realise that so many people involved in commissioning creativity haven’t got the faintest idea what creativity is.’ Amen. Finally somebody said it, and I couldn’t agree more. The fact that Anderson doesn’t ‘really give a shit about what anybody else does, or about being in anyone else’s band’ is why the legacy of The Designers Republic is worth more attention than much of the rest out there (though it does seem they buckled under commercial pressure throughout the last three years). But their ingenuity and individuality has always counted so positively in terms of a socio-anthropological relevance throughout a broad spectrum of visual communication. Now, not having had a chance to purchase any of the limited edition prints from the tDR online ‘disinformation’ merchandise flagship lovingly tagged as ‘The Peoples Bureau For Consumer Information‘ (the neon night-scene Tokyo print and catchy T-shirts were amongst some of my favourites), I’m glad to know that Anderson has indicated that eventually tDR ‘will rise again’. In the meantime, a copy of the LovebytesVolatile Media DVD, several albums, and various videos will serve just as well amongst the prized memorabilia to reminisce in anticipation for the second coming of the Republic.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

‘Grammy Winners’ directed and produced by The Designers Republic
Funkstörung, Appetite for Disctruction (!K7 Records, 2000)

See also: V&A Forever (pieces at random)

Ambient space (pieces at random)

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Flash fantastic

29 January, 2009

The lovely folks over at Boing Boing have often referred to Flash sites as stupid, monolithic blobs that render deep-linking (linking directly to a site’s internal pages) as virtually impossible. As a writer who feels it absolutely necessary to provide the most precise location of all cited sources, I couldn’t agree more. But as a designer, I find that one can achieve so much more when building with Adobe Flash than when depending on squarish CSS or just using (X)HTML. Bearing in mind that deep-linking is already in threat of being branded as a copyright violation in some parts of the world thanks to the ageing legion of out-of-touch judges, there is no doubt that the recent increase in the use of Flash will go on unabated until a more dynamic tool hits the mainstream media. And that’s not such a bad thing when considering the stunning combinations of graphics, video, animation, sound, and interactive navigation that are unparalleled when truly balanced in both aesthetic presentation and streamlined function. Designers who adhere to the principle of creating impressive designs that also serve as both usable and intriguing interfaces are the ones who should be looked towards for genuine inspiration in how one ought to make a site look. As opposed to Flash sites that are (excuse the pun) just flashy, that is.

Quite frankly, I would rather refer a reader or my client’s customers to a ‘monolithic blob’ if I knew they would be able to easily locate what they were looking for and all else that may be equally of interest along the way. Besides, there are several methods of creating linkable pages within Flash (primarily through the naming of frame anchors), and recently built examples live up to this current industry standard. Ultimately, simplicity and creativity are key when striving towards interactive motion graphics on-site. After an interning stint at the web design division of an ISP several years ago, I had seen some pretty awful styling methods that are surprisingly still quite common today (government-affiliated websites are all too frequently exemplars of shame in that regard). But rather than list those now (maybe later, though), it’s much better to celebrate the ones that have succeeded in visual mastery and cyberspace ergonomics. And listed below are ten of my recent favourites found whilst browsing, with brief descriptions for quick reference. There are many more out there, so I may soon update this list for inclusion in a regular album-style line-up with screenshots similar to the recent series of reviews here. Feel free to send in any interesting finds of your own if you’d like them included — especially if they’re your own original creations.

01 » Trevor Jackson :: site of the London-based all-round creative
02 » playMUJI :: instructional product promo micro-site for MUJI
03 » CREAKTIF! :: multimedia graphic design studio based in Paris
04 » AgencyNet :: marketing solutions agency in Fort Lauderdale
05 » Paregos :: graphics and advertising agency based in Stockholm
06 » SectionSeven Inc. :: design and development office in Seattle
07 » The United Network :: WPP global advertising micro-network
08 » hellokarl :: site of French designer and artist Charles Kalpakian
09 » AKQA :: global advertising, media and design agency network
10 » BIG :: site of the Danish architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Content awareness (pieces at random)

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Gallery — Parallels

22 January, 2009

(c) Sarah Badr. All Rights Reserved.

Parallels (EWR)
by Sarah Badr, 2009
125 x 175 cm giclée print

Sarah Badr © MMIX

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Sticky logistics

20 January, 2009

Many apologies for the recent random disruptions in operation. I had received e-mails last week about several on-site issues resulting from the host having difficulties with universal caching earlier. But luckily that issue has since been resolved, with the premier of WordPress.tv coming as more than adequate conciliation. Of course there has also been yesterday’s sudden disappearance of the UI — or change, rather — as maintenance finally went full-throttle. The feedback received since the previous update seemed to be just as split as I was on the decision. I figured the indecisiveness indicated that by now it was beyond overdue: the gradient grays were not at all helping to curb the claustrophobia. So here it is, lots of white space with sparse linear noise. The silhouettes will more or less be up for the time being. With deadlines approaching, there isn’t much time for well-calculated construction as yet. But consider this a trial-run to verify whether shifting content-focus makes lengthy reading and image-viewing more of a comfortable task to tackle outside the confines of the feed reader. Things may continue to alter throughout the upcoming few weeks until a single stylesheet settles the matter. So if loading appears faulty until then, this will most likely be the reason why.

Just thought I’d throw that in to clear up the confusion, as the title and image above suggest that this post wasn’t initially meant to be an update. The banter of the day narrows in on something that has kept these pages and indeed other areas of daily activity afloat. I like to think of it as the Band-Aid for modern living, fit for the organized though slightly frazzled multi-tasker whose work inevitably becomes steeped in mounds of paper despite all the paperless alternatives gadgetry offers today. The Post-it Note is certainly one of those inventions that is the quintessential brandname-namebrand: Hoover, Kleenex, Cola — any type of object referred to by the name on the tin rather than the term in the dictionary. To think that a small square of paper with non-abrasive adhesive could become such a fundamental part of what we instinctively expect to see in offices, classrooms, and on desktops worldwide is something of an incredible feat. One can only dream of designing an item that is so solidly welded to the culture or activity whose purpose it serves, that it essentially never goes out of demand. In the spirit of Objectified, I owe it to Dr. Spencer Silver to give him an honourable mention here, as without him, Arthur Fry would never have conceived the adhesive application on paper and the Post-it would never have been patented by 3M to launch in 1977.

Today, made available both under the original brand umbrella and in other extraneous generic forms, there’s no shortage of colours, sizes and applications for the household sticky-note. Brooklyn-based artist Rebecca Murtaugh is well-known for using them in installation art pieces, often requiring hundreds of dollars’ worth to cover walls and furniture for a neon mosaic effect isolating the contours of objects through two-dimensional texture. In the virtual world, Jack Cheng’s popular StickyScreen homepage alternative to 3M’s Post-it Digital Notes is a great project providing some space to jot down a brief itemized to-do list for constant reminder every time you open your browser. Even further on the multimedia front, award-winning illustrator Jeff Chiba Stearns animated his entire journey to become a filmmaker on 2,300 Post-its, set to a score by Genevieve Vincent (watch Yellow Sticky Notes below). And its use for sake of memory makes good sense: Harvard psychology department head Daniel Schacter, the author of The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers, discusses how the Post-it functions as a ‘prospective memory cue or an external memory aid’ that compensates for our inherent absent-mindedness due to the ceaseless sources of distraction in our lives.

And on that note, don’t forget to watch the inauguration streaming live from D.C. today at 11 am EST (4pm GMT) courtesy of MS Silverlight via the official inaugural site. Comprehensive updates will also be featured on Joost‘s ‘Everything Obama’ channel for US-based users and anyone using a proxy, and CNN.com Live is covering this historic event in tandem with Facebook.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: ‘Humble Masterpieces’ (MoMA 2004)

British hallmarks (pieces at random)

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V&A Forever

13 January, 2009

For any Londoner who yearned to see Advanced Beauty at Lovebytes 2008 but was put off by the two-hour ride to Sheffield, the brilliant work of the Universal Everything creatives is now being showcased much closer to home. The Forever exhibition, featuring at the Victoria & Albert Museum since the end of November last year, once again sees the collaboration of Universal Everything founder Matt Pyke and designer Karsten Schmidt alongside musical composition by sound-designer Simon Pyke. Taking its queue from the ‘sound sculpture’ thematic format of Advanced Beauty, the ‘bespoke’ design breathing life into the Forever display creates unique audio-visual films on a daily basis (or until, as the name suggests, forever) in this large video-wall installation hovering over the pond in the V&A’s John Madejski Garden. The iridescent animations infinitely span time in direct response to the soundtrack to which the visual generator is programmed. And as such, the project’s design team set out with defining parameters to enable the sculpture to continually grow upwards from the pond’s water beneath it, as though the movement of light itself stems from a time-aware primordial nerve which directly responds to the music’s  points of inflection. A commission for the V&A’s new digital programme, Pyke’s hundreds of different soundscapes were composed in a single key in order to make way for a sense of seamlessness in their mixing together, allowing them to visually translate as the work itself alters in appearance and intensity over its two-month lifespan.

One of the most innovative multimedia installations I’ve had the chance to see in recent years, it reminds me so much of the interactive light installation featured in the Volume exhibition by United Visual Artists and onepointsix back in winter 2006 (also held in the John Madejski Garden, that too had an audio-visual component, though the light in Volume responded directly to the sounds of human movement). Since its very inception in 2004, Universal Everything has been well situated at the helm of that dynamic crossover between art, design and music, whilst being known for the distinct ability to capture the attention of a wide variety of audiences through a vast array of media plus environment pairings (their visuals for Nokia were undoubtedly the highlight in my experience of the T5 fiasco early last spring). So naturally, a paradoxically organic yet technologically engineered sculpture inspired by micro-patterns similar to those favoured via Mozart’s generative chromaticism (the Rondo in A Minor is a prime example) follows suit in their portfolio of conceptually impressive, challenging yet comprehensible work to date. What makes this even more unique is that it essentially is that: you never see or hear the same thing twice as the sound intensifies and triggers the visual elements, subsequently feeding back into the music like an ephemeral electronic fingerprint. And this evolution is set to continue as the installation tours to other venues worldwide.

So if you happen to be in the South Kensington area before the closing of show on 1st February, do make sure to stop by (admission is free). An online installation generating a series of downloadable video podcasts will also coincide with the V&A exhibition on the Universal Everything website, along with the making-of film and a beautiful set of 20,000 unique postcards being made available as well.

Management and support by Philip Ward, Creativesheffield, Apple and Universal Eveything. Film directed by Jack Laurance & Rex McWhirter.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Making of ‘Forever’

Advanced beauty (pieces at random)

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Gallery — Night Study

12 January, 2009

(c) Sarah Badr. All Rights Reserved.

WV/NS-7
by Sarah Badr, 2009
160 x 100 cm giclée print

(c) Sarah Badr. All Rights Reserved.

WV/NS-8
by Sarah Badr, 2009
160 x 100 cm giclée print

Sarah Badr © MMIX

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Playing genetics

11 January, 2009

Move over Furby, there’s a new toy in town. Welcome to the next generation of childhood entertainment, where the line blurs between cutting edge genetics and hours of endless fun with ‘the only bioengineered buddies’ around. Genpets™, according to specifications listed in the catalogue, are ‘living, breathing mammals’ available with seven different personality types, a fully functional heart monitor with LED display, and even a handy sell-by date mechanism to guarantee freshness of the creature upon purchase. These organic, mass-produced pets are allergen-free, child-safe, low-maintenance, and ‘life-perfected’ through to their very core. According to Bio-Genica, the bio-research company responsible for manufacturing the Genpet line, the models you see were grown in assisted breeding lab farms and produced based on an original prototype created using a process called ‘Zygote Micro Injection’. They also resemble a mix of something out of The Gremlins and Alien: Resurrection, which is why by now you should probably realize that they’re actually not real. ‘Genpets’ is in fact an award-winning work of art by Canadian sculptor, programmer and designer Adam Brandejs. Launched in 2005, it has since been displayed in museums and galleries worldwide, along with its site having been a sensational hit with millions of visitors.

But shockingly enough, zygote micro-injection does indeed exist — a method of combining DNA by inserting certain proteins from different species into a fertilized cell. According to Brandejs’ statement about his performance project, ‘In 1985, the US Patents and Trademarks Office ruled that genetically engineered plants, seeds and animal tissue could all be patented’. Today, this has led to agricultural crops being modified (GM food) and human DNA being injected into animal eggs to create part-human, part-animal hybrid embryos. And it is this precise issue amongst others that Brandejs wants viewers of his Genpets to think about. Aside from being a brilliantly thought-out example of bio-hacking for the new millennium (or else may be seen as simply a hoax by some), it highlights the ethical implications of genetic engineering technologies so rapidly advancing today. Stories abound on the newswire already indicate the possibility of soon one day having superhumanly attractive and intelligent ‘test-tube babies‘ be only a doctor’s visit away. But what of the increasingly popular process of DNA screening that allows parents-to-be to selectively cull embryos in the hope that their child will have been spared inheriting genetic predisposition towards various forms of disease?

Posing several tough but very much needed questions regarding the fundamental alteration of the lives of animals and humans, the underlying message of Genpets and Bio-Genica is one more relevant — if not worryingly pressing — than ever.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Juan Enriquez on genomics and our future (TED Talks)