Inter-Play — *Misprint*
*Misprint* — Bag of Mixed Designs, 1-Star Ping Pong Balls
INTERPLAY: the ways in which two or more things, groups, etc., affect each other when they happen or exist together.
Jan van Toorn
“I am constantly looking for a structure to control and order chaos, but I will immediately reverse any order I find and turn it into chaos. Our experience of reality becomes an impoverished one if all would be neatly ordered and verifiable. Chaos is crucial given that it constantly reminds us of an irrational and emotional experience of reality, one that is hard to indicate through verbal means alone. I consider it my task to open such tensions and make them visible.”
Jan van Toorn was born in 1932 in Tiel. After failing his final year at secondary school in 1949, he decided not to return, and found employment in the offset printing firm Mulder & Zoon. While there he did hand-lettering and made illustrations for books, packaging and ceramic transfers. At the same time he took evening classes at the Institute of Arts and Crafts.
Van Toorn went freelance in 1957, designing at first mostly packaging and calendars. From the mid 60s onwards, he began to focus on editorial design, designing the periodical Range for the Philips corporation, the annual report for the city of Amsterdam, as well as other image-heavy pieces of corporate literature. This gave him a sound grounding in constructing visual narratives with extensive image editing: given the often, at-first-glance dry subject matter of the publications, it was up to him to “winkle out visual clues from the text” “contrast the irrational with the rational, the symbolic with the analytical” and animate the images into a narrative sequence that was more meaningful than just informative.
Van Toorn’s aim to subvert and disrupt was inspired and informed by his reading of philosophers of the Frankfurt School, Bertolt Brecht, Jean-Luc Godard and the German poet and theoretician Hans Magnus Enzensberger. In addition, he felt that for design merely to take “the world as it is and in all the different ways it appears” was an inadequate, liberal position, one which betrayed the true potential of design:
I began to see that the sender-receiver model of communication was too limited and that dogmatic views were not going to lead us anywhere. I also realized that dealing with facts influences your view and that dialectics is essential for communication.
On 9 November 1972, in “a smoky, noisy, and packed” auditorium of the Museum Fodor, Wim Crouwel and van Toorn engaged in a heated conversation concerning their differing approaches to graphic design, the discipline’s social role, and the role of the designer. The debate did not stop there, but went on until the early 1980s, with both written and designed responses and provocations. November 9th 1972 was, nonetheless, the time both were in the same room, in front of an audience of several hundred peers and contemporaries, ready and willing to engage.
At the time both Crouwel and van Toorn were well-established and respected: both had designed considerable public projects, particularly for museums and cultural clients, and were well- received by critics. However, their approaches and attitudes to graphic design were worlds apart. Where Crouwel was the “engineer”, van Toorn was the “artist”; where Crouwel aimed at “transparency”, van Toorn aimed for “noise”; and where Crouwel approaches briefs “objectively”, van Toorn did so with “sensitive subjectivity”. The dichotomy between the two has been said to represent the “classic antagonism between the graphic designer as a service provider versus the designer who is more intent on personal expression.”
WHEN ATTITUDE BECOMES FORM
As both foundational event and conceptual model, "When Attitudes Become Form" holds a special place in the curatorial imagination. It was the exhibition that brought international acclaim to the most important curator of the post-war period, Harald Szeemann.
Szeemann was an advocate for the new art that emerged in the 1960s, work grounded in an "inner attitude" elevating artistic process over final product. Across the diversity of Conceptualism, land art, American Post-Minimalism, and Italian Arte Povera, he also experienced a desire to be free of a system supplying aesthetic objects for the wealthy. He displayed this attitude and this aspiration by turning the Kunsthalle Bern into a giant artist's studio, accommodating the practical demands of process-based art through Piero Gilardi's idea of the exhibition as workshop and locus of discussion.
The title was interesting in itself, as it implied the bringing together of ideas and thoughts, and their ability to inspire the formation of a material presence. Though in some instances they did the opposite, staying in the realms of language, or existing as works that—to quote the front of the catalogue—“Live in Your Head,” which was the original title of Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman (1949) and a contribution from Keith Sonnier for the exhibition. The catalogue alluded to Szeemann Process as well as to that of the artists, containing the address list he used in New York and letters responding to his invitations to exhibit.
The exhibition was conceived and curated not as a means of defining or fixing the art of its time, but the absolute opposite: to open up the concept of art and to change human perception of contemporary art as it was then understood. To quote Szeemann in his introduction to the catalogue, “In order to entertain certain ideas we may be obliged to abandon others upon which we have come to depend.” This exhibition was and still is a prime example of a curator responding to the work of contemporary artists, letting the artists provide the initiative rather than the curator imposing their personal theories or worldview, as often happens today. The subtitle to the exhibition, “Works-Concepts-Processes-Situations-Information,” in many ways describes its contents. These works asked spectators to join the artist in stepping outside their comfort zone—to allow their consciousness to be realigned with a new order of things.
Puzzlement was understandable. The work, by almost 70 artists, jammed into two floors and a nearby annex, wasn’t quite sculpture and certainly wasn’t painting. Its mediums included ice, fire, broken glass, lead, leather, felt, fluorescent tubing, peas, charcoal and margarine. Ropes snaked through rooms; electric wires wound down a staircase. Nothing was framed or on pedestals or behind stanchions, and visitors trampled on work, though it was hard to tell where the art ended and the damage began.
Some damage was art. A piece by the American “earth artist” Michael Heizer consisted of craters punched with a wrecking ball into the pavement outside the museum. While popular reaction over all ranged from grumpiness to hilarity, officialdom took a more serious view. Certain Kunsthalle staff members were so outraged that they effectively forced Szeemann’s resignation.
The Double E
A lifelong student of utopias, Percival Goodman (1904-89) wrote ''Communitas,'' a blueprint for ideal communities, with his brother, the philosopher Paul Goodman, in 1947. It influenced a generation of architects and planners and became an important catalyst of ideas in the 1960s and early 1970s about participatory architecture, cooperative living, environmental design, and the design professional as an advocate for improved social conditions. He later wrote "The Double E," a treatise on the crucial relationship between Economy (the management of expenses) and Ecology (the mutual relationship between organism and environment).
In the Double E, first printed in 1977, he expounds on the merits of modest and graceful living and the respect of the environment in contrast to conspicuous consumption, waste, and greed.
The ideal city of The Double E (Goodman does not give it a name) is a 'bounded community," that is, a settlement whose success is defined not by how quickly it grows but by how effectively it stays within its optimum limits. He envisioned a city of about Two Hundred thousand people with a density of fifty per acre, sufficiently concentrated so that all its parts are within walking or bicycling distance. and everyone has easy access to the greenbelt that surrounds it. The basic planning and indeed spiritual principle of the city is 'mixed use.’ The close Interconnection of work. residence, and public space define the city's basic values. Goodman specifies neighborhoods of three or four—storied row houses on narrow streets: each building would generally contain both home and workshops. and the streets would lead naturally into plazas that are the public spaces of the cities. As he puts it, 'the ‘grain’ of the street (as urban designers used to call it) is close to Paris before rather than after Haussmann.’
Before further specifying Goodman's ideal of craftsmanship and its relation to his economic and ecological concerns, I must first describe the seeming anomaly In his ideal city, the massive industrial ‘Basic Economy Production Centers’ that occupy parts of the greenbelt outside the town. Like other thinkers in the Ruskin/Morris tradition. Goodman had to confront the machine and the relation of craftsmanship to mass production. His response is particularly complex, and derives from work that he and Paul Goodman had done in the late 1930s. The Goodmans had calculated that only a tenth or perhaps a fifteenth of the productive capacity of the nation was needed to provide all its citizens with ample 'basic' goods if those goods were produced with maximum efficiency. In The Double E Percival Goodman now imagines a mass—production sector of the economy using the most advanced techniques to produce the basic food and clothing. And shelter that constitutes a minimal standard of living. Because products are simple and standardized, the costs and environmental impact are limited. Young men and women would be 'drafted’ to work at these production centers for a limited time, perhaps as little as two years. After this service, all citizens would have the right to draw on the basic sector to the extent of their needs for the rest of their lives.
To be sure, Goodman expected that only a small percentage of the population would be content with these basic goods and would seek further employment in the parts of the economy that produce “convenience, comfort. and luxury goods.” Nevertheless, the basic sector would provide a cushion of security for everyone and an earned substitute for unemployment or welfare. With a basic livelihood guaranteed, people would be free to choose jobs that they found truly satisfying. The rest of the economy would be as free as possible, but Goodman clearly hoped that its characteristic unit would be the small workshop whose emphasis would be quality rather than quantity. These would be integrated into the home.
Goodman found in the Ruskin/Morris tradition of craftsmanship the ultimate solution to the crisis of the double E: An economy that emphasized quality over quantity.
The Medium is the Massage
“Why is the title of the book The Medium is the Massage and not The Medium is the Message? The title is a mistake. After the book came back from the typesetter’s, it had on the cover ‘Massage’. The title was supposed to read The Medium is the Message, but the typesetter made an error. After McLuhan saw the typo, he exclaimed, ‘Leave it alone! It’s great, and right on target!’ Thus, there are four readings for the last word of the title, all of them accurate: Message and Mess Age, Massage and Mass Age.”
(As the Oblique Strategies tell us: “Honor thy error as a hidden intention.”)
The Medium Is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects is a book co-created by media analyst Marshall McLuhan and graphic designer Quentin Fiore. By the time it appeared in 1967, McLuhan recognized his saying was a cliché, and welcomed the opportunity to throw it back on the compost heap of language to recycle and revitalize it. But the new title is more than McLuhan indulging his insatiable taste for puns, more than a clever fusion of self-mockery and self-rescue — the subtitle is 'An Inventory of Effects,' underscoring the lesson compressed into the original saying.
"The medium is the message" is a phrase coined by the Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan and the name of the first chapter in his Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, published in 1964. McLuhan proposes that a communication medium itself, not the messages it carries, should be the primary focus of study. He showed that artifacts as media affect any society by their characteristics, or content.
All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences, they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered.
By playing on words and using the term "massage," McLuhan suggests that modern audiences enjoy mainstream media as soothing, enjoyable, and relaxing. However, the pleasure we find in this media is deceiving, as the changes between society and technology are incongruent, perpetuating an 'Age of Anxiety.'
Concerning the title, McLuhan wrote:
The title "The Medium Is the Massage" is a teaser—a way of getting attention. There's a wonderful sign hanging in a Toronto junkyard which reads, 'Help Beautify Junkyards. Throw Something Lovely Away Today.' This is a very effective way of getting people to notice a lot of things. And so the title is intended to draw attention to the fact that a medium is not something neutral—it does something to people. It takes hold of them. It rubs them off, it massages them and bumps them around, chiropractically, as it were, and the general roughing up that any new society gets from a medium, especially a new medium, is what is intended in that title.”