Andrew Slatter

Radical Modernist

Mira Schendel at Tate Modern


This was one exhibition where I knew I would purchase the catalogue before I had reached the final room of the show. I am saddened and frankly embarrassed that I had not heard of Mira Shendel until the Tate’s retrospective, those feelings are short-lived as she has inspired, surprised and uplifted me.

Schendel has something for everyone, lovers of Klee will see his influence, lovers of Letraset will be thrilled by the playful ‘anti-texts’ and lovers of sculpture (and those who aren’t) will be seduced by the delicate stalactite-like strands of nylon threads, in one room monolithic and pure, in another room, supporting translucent rice paper palimpsests.

Spray art pieces pre-dating Banksy and intricate watercolour Mandela’s, some with gold leaf, are off-set against large-scale canvases of flattened picture planes, experiments in tone and shadow, morbid colour pallets at times dour and oppressive do little to sully the feelings of awe and intrigue at passing from room to room.

Descriptions of works are pointless here, I urge everyone reading this blog to visit Tate Modern and be enlightened by the work of a female artist who I would, without hesitation, label a genius.

Filed under: Art

AGI Open London


Camp finalé for the two-day conference

The programme for the AGI Open looked promising, however, at the end of the morning on day one I was uninspired by the speakers and their contributions, the stern demeanor of MC Adrian Shaughnessy unsettled me. Illustrator Marion Deuchars stood out with her sincere and matter-of-fact approach to her practice. Kenya Hara‘s House Vision married with the theme of ‘No Client’, however, the relevance to visual communication design was baffling. After the first reference to Margaret Thatcher from Hamish Muir ‘I don’t mean to come over all Margaret Thatcher’, Roger Law – one half of Luck and Flaw – responsible for the Spitting Image satire, brought on stage a life-size model of Thatcher. I decided to opt out and visit the foyer and browse the books for sale.

Lunch consisted of a sandwich, small muffin and bottle of water provided in a brown bag. The bins were overflowing at the start of the afternoon session.

Vaughan Oliver was absent from the Cavaliers versus Roundheads debate, the Cavalier camp remarked that this absence was characteristic of a Cavalier’s sense of individuality. Sean Perkins led the Roundheads making a case for reduction and simplicity. Remove the lighthearted moments, and you were left with a debate dealing with the positive aspects of modernism’s paucity and post-modernism’s opulence, a debate that is passé and provided little in the way of new perspectives on the subject.

There were some notable soundbites from the last phase of day two. Pierre Bernard suggested ‘to communicate you have to respect your audience’ and ‘if you want to build something you have to know what kind of architect you have to be’. In discussing her much overrated hand-drawn maps, Pentagram’s Paula Scher exclaimed ‘if you throw it on and keep adding to it, it becomes ridiculous and you don’t know how bad it’s drawn’. Scher’s maps are endlessly repetitive and in her view poor technique can be masked by saturating the canvas. Rick Poynor‘s interview-cum-interrogation of post-modernism’s l’enfant terrible Peter Saville injected some much needed critical discourse. Provocatively suggesting that ‘some of us don’t just observe and critique – some of us have to do something’ raised an audible gasp from the audience, Poynor smiled, shrugging off Saville’s attempt to disarm the critic. Frustratingly Poynor pursued the tired hierarchical ‘design versus art’ debate, but Saville managed to curtail this with a lowbrow ‘archetypal labels seem to matter a lot more these days’ quip.

On day two the perennial issue of women in design laced the proceedings. WD+RU‘s Twitter feed provided a feminist commentary throughout the conference. The Mr and Mr parody of the TV game show Mr and Mrs (question master – Patrick Burgoyne, contestants – Jan Wilker and, via Skype, Hjalti Karlsson) reinforced the white, straight male design profession with a subtle homoerotic sub-text.

The show stopper of the morning was Margaret Calvert, whose reluctance to be on stage was tangible. The audience was in reverence of her career in design and this was beautifully showcased in a short film cut together with snippets of her appearance on the BBC’s Top Gear. Christophe Niemann demonstrated his flair with drawing, animation, wit and ability to take a lateral view of the subject. In a touching tribute to American illustrator Maurice Sendak, Niemann demonstrates his ability to communicate in a truly powerful way.

A historically interesting panel discussion on design publishing between Deyan Sudjic, John L Walters and Simon Esterson traced the collaboration between Sudjic and Esterson – launching Blueprint magazine thirty years ago to their time working on Domus through to Esterson’s co-ownership with Walters of Eye magazine. Sudjic explained that Domus had a fixed four-year tenure for its editor. This should be adopted at Eye magazine where the editorial, unlike the design, has become staid.

The morning concluded with Shaughnessy’s interview with Ben Bos on the history of the AGI, sadly this appeared to be a turn-off for some of the younger generation, who made for the exits around where I was seated in the balcony. Historical context in our subject is vital, and not wishing to dwell on the past, Berger sums up its relevance ‘the past is not for living in; it is a well of conclusions from which we draw in order to act’.

Lunch time, the collective noun for brown bags escapes me, but there are hundreds of them, the muffin replaced by a brownie.

A Question of Design – a panel discussion moderated again by Pentagram’s Michael Bierut was, according to Nick Bell, the first time in the conference where design issues could be debated. Bell lamented the lack of audience participation, acknowledging that this would have proved cumbersome given the 2000 head count. Mike Dempsey, former owner of CDT Design (where I worked in the mid 1990s) caused a rumbling in the audience with his use of the word ‘assistants’ to describe the female designers who had been employed at CDT, Dempsey’s penchant for divorcing the female gender from design, is reminiscent of  Le Corbusier and Perriand, or Charles and Ray Eames, the females rôle was to assist, never to collaborate or much less take the lead.

Matias Corea of Adobe talked on multiple obsessions, his passion for music was illustrated by his collection of albums, some of which are shown here:




Chip Kidd‘s talent for design and captivating an audience resonated throughout the Barbican’s vast auditorium. Kidd’s passion was tangible, his narration of a Japansese Batman comic strip was camp, kitsch and utterly entertaining. Andy Stevens presentation on Letraset was low-key compared to Kidd but not without interest, fascinating was the hetereronormative projection by Letraset of their human characters used by designers to add scale to interiors. Tony Brook‘s collecting demonstrated his passion for graphic ephemera since an early age. Jeremy Leslie‘s authoritative take on magazine design provided a gentle preamble to Stefan Sagmeister’s closing showcase.

Sagmeister is a polarizing figure, a clever, canny and persuasive figure who commands an audience and through his investigation into happiness, revealed a vulnerability in his own psyche that struck a chord with me and those I spoke to.

The handover to Brazil for the 2014 conference was symbolically performed by a group of dancers, this finale was colourful and uplifting, but incongruous.

My zest for design hasn’t been diminished by this conference, but it could have done more to stray into new territories.

Filed under: Design, Education, Visual Communication Design

The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns


Today my UEL Discourse module students and I visited the Barbican for this intriguing exhibition. Discussions between us focused on the architecture of the Barbican, the sign systems by Cartlidge Levene, the idea of Ready mades and the curation of the works and what ‘conversations’ they had with each other. The no photography rule inside the gallery allows me to post this shot outside the Silk Street entrance. We then headed over to the Design Museum for Designs of the year 2013, where the students concluded that it was a less challenging exhibition but they enjoyed it for the focus it placed on design.

Filed under: Architecture, Art, Design, Education

Joy Boyd single launch: Little Hymn


This is the talented Joe Boyd performing at the wonderful Bishopsgate Institute at the launch of his new single Little Hymn. A fantastic performance, a bright future lies ahead for this brilliant musician and songwriter. Proceeds of sales are helping support YoungMinds.

Filed under: Music

Pilots: Navigating Next Models of Design Education


Today I took part in a workshop at the Stanley Picker Gallery, one of a series that are taking place over one month, and curated by El Ultimo Grito and David Falkner. The landscape of design education delivery is being questioned and challenged, Pilots asks ‘Group-based learning, making through physical interaction and practical collaboration play fundamental roles within design development, but such activity is threatened within a formal education sector affected by social, technological, geographic, economic and cultural changes impacting its future. Pilots seeks to identify the questions that are to be addressed in order to adapt and respond to this radically changing environment and to provide the next models of design education’.

My participation in this workshop forms part of my research for the final module in my PGCE, I shall write a review of this at the close of the project in early June. There’s much more research and writing to be done, so the blog may go quite again for the rest of May.

Filed under: Design, Education

Pick Me Up and Designs of the year 2013


Today my students at Colchester School of Art and I visited Pick Me Up at Somerset House, this was one of my favourite illustrations.


We then headed over to the Design Museum where I was seduced by a whole host of objects especially the Candles in the Wind lighting installation.


These ‘simple’ circuit board panels with LEDs imitate the flickering candle light and are extremely realistic. Designed by Moritz Waldemeyer, UK for Ingo Maurer, Germany.

Filed under: Art, Design

Lichtenstein: A Retrospective


Roy Lichtenstein, Landscape in fog, 1996

The pressures of teaching and studying for the PGCE explains the lack of activity in my blog over recent months. However, I did manage to catch up with my dear friend Katie today and we visited Tate Modern to view Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective. I loved the works in the final room in the show, the Chinese landscapes are elegant, graphic, sensitive and moving.

Filed under: Art

Nighthawks, a film by Ron Peck and Paul Hallam


Tonight Birkbeck Research in Aesthetics of Kinship screened Ron Peck’s and Paul Hallam’s seminal 1978 film Nighthawks, the two directors and one of the film’s main protagonists (Judy) were in attendance for a post-screening unpacking of the film.

I attended with friend Kevin Maxwell and we were both struck at the aesthetics of the film (the uncomfortably long zoom into the eyes of Jim) who’s disposition for cruising the gay bars in 1970s London allowed Kevin and I to reflect on the similarities and differences of the gay scene past and present. We concurred there is little difference in the emotional drivers of gay relationships, however as Ron Peck commented, digital technology has irrevocably changed the geography and physicality of how sexual encounters are orchestrated.

I was struck by the simple dialogue and the visual narrative which was punctuated by moments of abstraction. This is at its most vivid where Jim and Judy are driving along the M1 with only their voices heard against the backdrop of street lamps and the darting white and red of speeding vehicles against the night sky.

Paul Hallam mentioned that he sensed melancholia while watching the film, as I did, but this was combined with an unerring sense of tension and intrigue, provided not only through the aesthetics, but also in the brief encounters and work-based relationships that Jim was ‘enduring’.

Peck says it was deliberate that Jim’s fate is left in doubt at the films conclusion, much to the wrath of the films financial investors who would have preferred a ‘walking into the sunset’ finality, but the doubt cast by the final scenes was the most satisfying conclusion in that it mirrored Jim’s habitas –intimacy at odds with independence.

Writing about the film in 2009 Matt Lucas asks modern-day viewers to see it ‘not as a gay film but as a social document of life in late-70s London’. I agree, Nighthawks is a window into the complexities of the human condition set in time and context. We should thank Ron Peck and Paul Hallam for overcoming the prejudice and financial obstacles they faced at the time to make a film that provides younger generations of gay men and women with an important window into their past.

Filed under: Queer

Conscientious Communicators

Today I attended the Conscientious Communicators symposium at London College of Communication. After a rousing introduction from the Dean of Design Lawrence Zeegen, Richard Hawkins, Director of the Public Interest Research Centre, spoke aspirationally about ‘the extraordinary exponential times’ we are experiencing. ‘We potter along for hundreds of years and we suddenly discover the trampoline’ he says and tries not to labour the trampoline metaphor.
Richard told us that fossil fuels are a gift from the past and the gap between rich and poor is growing ever faster. The talk was fast and punctuated with statistics and scenarios, combined with prophetic quotes whose irony can only serve to make us ponder, ‘the best minds of my generation are working out how to get people to click ads’ says Jeff Hammerbacher, an early employee of Facebook and Harvard compatriot of Mark Zuckerberg. Richard ended his talk, adeptly reciting This is Water by David Foster Wallace, which raised even more questions that it answered.

The second speaker, Ed Gillespie of Futerra was provocative and rousing, energetic and emphatic. His message was clear, it’s not a case of ‘selling the sausage’ it’s selling the sizzle’ is his way of ‘subverting the dominant paradigm’. We are told that Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow is fantastic and according to value modes 35% of us are settlers, 40% prospectors and 25% are pioneers. Seth Godin’s Purple Cow will help us, says Gillespie, make sustainability remarkable.

Overall, the symposium was a thought-provoking and consciousness-raising endeavor, but it was Foster-Wallace’s This is Water that resonated most profoundly and remarkably for its cognitive behavioral unpacking of the everyday trials and tribulations that ultimately challenge us to change our thoughts and behaviour, perhaps this is the key to making the sustainability agenda remarkable, the requirement for us to challenge ourselves, before we can challenge others?

Filed under: Sustainability, Visual Communication Design

Graphicdesign& Everything

On Saturday 21 July 2012, as part of the Design Museum ‘takeover’ series GraphicDesign& invited everyone – not just artists and designers – to contribute to their ambitious GraphicDesign& Everything interactive archive, either in person or via Twitter. It was to be the start of a quest to prove how interconnected graphic design is with all other subjects, the caveat: they needed the help to everyone to create it. Is this the ebay equivalent of curation I wonder?

On hearing about this event I was intrigued. Isn’t graphic design ephemeral? What are the consequences for trying to create an archive of everything? I feel anxious at the thought of those items that are not, or will never be, included. The founders and main protagonists of Graphicdesign&, Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright, have deliberately named this one-day experiment a ‘laboratory’ as the outcomes are not fixed or predictable, only as the process evolves can the results be analysed and conclusions drawn.

Museums are the habitat of the curator, and today there is a tension between the formality of the Design Museum and the broad-based performance of the Graphicdesign& Everything project, where material can be physically and virtually submitted from anyone and anywhere. Roberts and Wright have provided a structure for how material is to be categorised in the archive (and all Graphicdesign& activities) by implementing the quirky Bliss Bibliographic Classification system conceived by the American librarian Henry Evelyn Bliss in the first half of the twentieth century. Roberts and Wright say ‘we’re interested in everyday occurrences of graphic design in context – professional and vernacular, familiar and unfamiliar, old and new, weird and wonderful – and the subject/s to which they connect’. This may be a loose curatorial position, but the arbitrariness of the exercise is – at this stage – where the real value resides.

David Shaw, the web developer for the project, briefed a cohort of students from Kingston University who volunteered themselves to undertake the laborious process of photographing and uploading images of the graphic design ephemera. Technical issues relating to image size were resolved to facilitate a more rapid and fluid uploading process. This was a precarious moment, if there were to be a large volume of people attending the event at once, could the system cope? Only time would tell.

The students are given a list of the Bliss Bibliographic Classification system’s 23 ‘top-level’ categories, which they will then have to allocate to the objects being recorded in the archive. For each item a card needs to be completed by the person submitting the entry.

The day got off to a productive start, the website was projected onto the wall behind the team, visitors could watch the archive build in real-time. Everyone is uplifted to see the first submissions via Twitter. At this point, it is difficult to make connections between objects, the random nature of the exercise is being visualised by the objects themselves.

The music playing in the café and forming a backdrop to the event is a welcome addition, and maintains a consistent energy for those on the production line. I particularly liked the inclusion of Nina Simone’s My Baby Just Cares For Me, this feels like an appropriate track to play at the creation of an archive.

In the afternoon, everything was running smoothly, no major technical issues, to the relief of all concerned, and a steady flow of material was being captured by the team. It was time for the round table discussion with three graphic design enthusiasts Liz Farrelly, Caroline Roberts and Lawrence Zeegen. I sat down with Liz and Lawrence, before the discussion where the editor, writer and educator Liz Farrelly was busy completing her graphicdesignand indexing card, where she struggled to find fashion in the Bliss category for her Jaeger label comprising a woven logo and washing instructions – in multiple languages. Only when the material and cultural significance of the object was unpacked could Farrelly begin to assign the appropriate Bliss categories: Arts, Music, Literature; Botany; Economics; Generalia, Phenomena, Knowledge; Human Sciences, Medicine; Physical Anthropology; Psychology; Technology and Zoology! For Farrelly this object represented ‘good value’ as it facilitated many ticks in the Bliss category boxes.

Caroline arrived and Rebecca Wright welcomed and thanked everyone for attending. Roberts, independent design writer, editor and commentator began  the discussion with a 1978 copy of the Argos catalogue, Farrelly reminded us of the complexities of constructing a catalogue in the analogue age of phototypesetting and paste-up. The brown and yellow hues redolent of the 1970s provide a uniform backdrop to the products. The utilitarian aesthetics of Argos instigated a lively debate by Zeegan about social class where he positioned Argos in relation to Habitat, where a more middle-class aspirational approach to selling products was reflected in the colours, photography and ultimately the products themselves. The discussion made a foray into museology and how products once considered everyday, or simply disposable would now be considered collectable and desirable, this was contextualised in relation to the focus of the days events by Wright who asked if we need to ‘work our way through older objects first’, reflecting the days trend to deposit mostly historical items into the online archive. Other items brought in by Roberts, that were not discussed were: The Observer’s Book of Cacti & Other Succulents by S. H. Scott; Bird (book) drawings by Kat Macleod and designed by 3 Deep Design; BOAC Junior Jet Club Kit; A Coast to Coast Walk by A. Wainwright and Cut a promotional flick book for GF Smith.

Farrelly was unsure what to bring, Wright suggested ‘bring things that you come across on the way’. Farrelly made the most of her day trip from Brighton visiting the Barbican’s current exhibition Bauhaus: Art as Life, and used the opportunity to purchase a roll of Lazy Oaf tape printed with Wassily Kandinsky’s test of form and colour relationships, (students at the Bauhaus were asked to match a circle, triangle and square with the primary colours yellow, blue and red).

Farrelly is seduced by the workings of the Oyster card secluded in an IKEA branded wallet whose promise of ‘travel is a means to an end – home!’ slogan is printed on the inside. Roberts reminded us of the paradoxical nature of the IKEA/Oyster association, most of their stores are accessible only by car. Global brands like IKEA seize every available opportunity to advertise their brand, however on an optimistic note, Farrelly points out the advantage of the Swedish national colours – yellow and blue – ‘it is easily found in a handbag’ she says.

Zeegen, who is Dean of the Design faculty at London College of Communication, told us that he is more interested in the graphic designs of non-graphic designers, who have had no real training, this position connects most of the objects he brought with him to place in the archive. An African hand-carved and painted Coca Cola bottle was a modest expression of the hand-made one-off verses the mass-market brand. A robust, military-style tin can containing ‘Emergency Drinking Water, property of U.S Gov’t’ was a chilling reminded of Cold War concerns, the colours, I decided, were more reminiscent of Farrow and Ball’s Elephant’s breath and Pitch Black.

The Russian sign appropriated from a disused engineering works in Moscow is red and white, and authoritarian in its visual language, some guesswork is needed as to what it says, the cyrillic alphabet keeping its message secret. For Zeegen, the velcro dots on the reverse were disappointing as they lacked an industrial feel ‘why can’t they look more Soviet’ he questioned. The fret-cut perspex lettering on a sign spelling out ‘Hot Salt Beef Sandwiches To Take Away’ prompted a conversational dérive into Zeegen’s Jewish immigrant roots, London’s Brick Lane, Bagels and the notion of what happens when signs no longer become functional, and are removed from their original context? Zeegen picked up the dog xing sign (I was pleased to say I was not the only one having problems translating ‘xing’ into ‘crossing’), from Cliff’s Variety Store on Castro Street in San Francisco, I imagine this to be the American equivalent of the Clas Ohlson store here in the UK. For typographers the unorthodox ‘counters’ synonymous with the greengrocers hand-lettering style (a rarity these days with the demise of independent retailers) must be something of an oddity, for Zeegan it represents the essence of vernacular, one day he hopes a willing fruiterer will construct an alphabet for him.

Wright thanks everyone for their contributions and the task of photographing the objects for the online archive resumed. The afternoon progressed and by five o’clock the archive had amassed nearly 300 items, an achievement considering the amount of data that was was captured for each item. We pack up the pop-up lab, and to a rousing chorus of goodbye, the museum staff appear sad to see us leave. In the words of Foucault, its time to take ‘care of the self’ so we all head off for a drink, creating an archive is thirsty work indeed.

Filed under: Visual Communication Design







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