Opinion by Richard Baird Posted 13 November 2018
Speculations on Anonymous Materials (2013), nature after nature (2014) and Inhuman (2015) is a trilogy of exhibitions, curated by Susanne Pfeffer, that took place at Fridericianum, Europe’s oldest public museum, located in the German city of Kessel. The exhibitions, which mark the institution’s turn towards post-humanist thinking, intended to demonstrate how current artistic practices shift the theoretical boundaries separating the natural from the artificial. London-based design studio Zak Group was recently commissioned to catalogue the trilogy of exhibitions, which was then published by Koenig Books. The catalogue is set in German and English, has 220 pages and features three metallic spot colours.
Zak Group’s work for Fridericianum and Koenig Books displays a sensitivity to collective and individual enquiry, sequential thinking (the spatial and temporal nature of both exhibition and bound book), thought and the materialisation of thought as artwork, as well as the curation of these artworks to explore larger themes. They then deliver this concisely through a few neat ideas throughout the catalogue.
Cover acts as a legend, a tool to grasp the structure and infer the themes of the catalogue, but also creates a simple yet striking graphic impression that comfortable sits within the visual language of academic enquiry as part of a cultural institution and post-humanist thinking; a counter to an overemphasis on the subjective or intersubjective experience through objectivism. This can be seen in the less than invitational nature of type, the coldness of metallics, the structure of cover, the alphabetised non-hierarchical listing of all artists on the cover and an openness to indiscriminately cut through some of these.
The cover, and its implication of layers, functions as a metaphor for the layers of insight retrospectively mapped on to artwork by the catalogue’s contributors, and the conceptual thought that is the foundation of artistic response. Further, the cover also functions as a metaphor for the curation of exhibitions; the questions posed by individual artworks, the dialogues formed by their collectivisation, and in the material stature of bound pages.
There is the suggestion of book within book through the ratio of colour and proportions of their boundaries. This also creates both two-dimensional thresholds yet the suggestion of a three-dimensional shared space. This ties in neatly with the unifying themes, shared intention and spatial nature of each exhibition; the demonstration of how current artistic practice shifts the theoretical lines that separate the natural from the artificial. This is explored futher in the way each exhibition is represented and given space within the catalogue. Internal dividers, each featuring full-bleed images and text that mirrors the cover, act as intermediatory covers, noting a border and transition through to and between each of the exhibitions.
Inside, dialogues and a temporality form between the graphic (instant emotional provocation) and text (intellectual stimulation and residual impression). Commissioned photography for the catalogue of exhibited artworks move between natural material and constructed form, and natural form from manufactured material, shot in the style of product photography, and the visual language of commodity, in opposition to artistic practice and thus developing further dialogue. The form of the book, the use of metallic inks and coated papers develops this. In some ways mirroring the unified interface and polished surface of the screen but also emphasising the screen’s present inability to manifest the material through metallic pigment.
Where colour, arrangement and full bleed images punctuate book, creating internal dividers and thresholds, type style, the familiar front to back sequence of the page and the architecture of the bound book smooths transitions and collectivises artworks and associated texts, developing a visual proposition just as exhibitions do. Much of the ideas present within the book, given time and consideration, are intelligible. Some are implicit, others explicit. There are metaphorical and literal layers to the catalogue, that reach into, elucidate and bring a relevant form, weight and graphic language to the intangible, temporal and transitory nature of the ideas of the exhibitions. More work by Zak Group on BP&O.
Design: Zak Group. Opinion: Richard Baird.