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Scratching the Surface — 24. Sara Hendren
"Sara Hendren is a designer, artist, writer, and professor whose work centers around adaptive and assistive technologies, prosthetics, inclusive design, accessible architecture, and related ideas. She teaches inclusive design practices at Olin College in Massachusetts and writes and edits Abler, her site to collect and comment on art, adaptive technologies and prosthetics, and the future of human bodies in the built environment. In this episode, Sara and I talk about her own background and using design to manifest ideas in the world, the role of writing in her own design practice, and how teaches these ideas with her students."

[audio: https://soundcloud.com/scratchingthesurfacefm/24-sara-hendren ]
sarahendren  jarrettfuller  design  2017  interviews  johndewey  wendyjacob  nataliejeremijenko  remkoolhaas  timmaly  clairepentecost  alexandralange  alissawalker  michaelrock  alfredojaar  oliversacks  bldgblog  geoffmanaugh  nicolatwilley  amateurs  amateurism  dabbling  art  artists  generalists  creativegeneralists  disability  engineering  criticaltheory  integatededucation  integratedcurriculum  identity  self  teaching  learning  howweteach  howwelearn  assistivetechnology  technology  olincollege  humanities  liberalarts  disabilities  scratchingthesurface 
april 2017 by robertogreco
The Ever-Evolving Typographic Life of the Arabic Language - The New York Times
"This past summer the producers of the award-winning television series ‘‘Homeland’’ had a problem. Principal photography for the fifth season was planned for Berlin but critical scenes were set in a Syrian refugee camp. The set designers contracted three Arab street artists — Heba Amin, Caram Kapp and Don Karl (a.k.a. Stone) — to provide a touch of Middle Eastern authenticity to the Western European backgrounds by way of some generic Arabic graffiti. In the frenzied final days leading up to the filming, it seems no one bothered to check the work. Only after the fact did the artists reveal they had bombed what some call ‘‘the most bigoted show on television.’’ Their tags were indeed political, just not in the way their employers had intended: They provided critiques of the program itself, such as ‘‘ ‘Homeland’ is a joke, and it didn’t make us laugh,’’ and, more bluntly, ‘‘ ‘Homeland’ is racist.’’ The artists asserted that their subversion was possible because in the eyes of the Western crew, ‘‘Arabic script is merely a supplementary visual that completes the horror-fantasy of the Middle East.’’

Perhaps it’s not so surprising that in this moment of extreme anti-cosmopolitanism, where every form of other — from whatever perspective that other is rendered — is subject to suspicion, the mere presence of foreign writing is enough to evoke menace. Indecipherable texts are often metonymies for unknowable threats and unintelligible ideologies. Think of countless summer blockbusters where crates or tanks or missiles emblazoned with unreadable Cyrillic or Chinese characters portend certain doom. We tend to feel safe in our familiar alphabets. In turn, they link us to powerful traditions and communities. The origins of the little serifs on the corners of the letters you are reading here stretch back through the centuries, beyond revolutions, technological and intellectual, to the chiseled inscriptions on the monuments of ancient Greece and Rome. (Renaissance type designers, reviving Roman letterforms, prized the inscriptions on Trajan’s Column as the most perfect model.) Like all design objects, letters too are inherently ideological.

If the Roman letter recalls the chisel, Arabic is borne of the brush. Arabic calligraphy links back to ancient scripture and the origins of Islam. The Koran was revealed to Muhammad in Arabic, and the distinctively fluid form of writing is intertwined with the religion and culture of more than a billion people worldwide. That a writing system as lyrical and visually poetic as Arabic has come to signify something insidious — at least to Western eyes — is not just a little ironic. It speaks to the limitations of a technology-driven global community.

While the first printing presses arrived in the Middle East within decades of Gutenberg’s prototype — the quintessential disruptive technology — Ottoman bureaucrats allegedly outlawed any printing of Arabic text, by penalty of death. The mechanization of sacred writing bordered on blasphemy or at least cultural capitulation. By the time the draconian restrictions against printing were allayed in the 18th century — at least for secular texts such as mathematics and medicine — typographers faced a new challenge: the inherent complexity of Arabic. With 29 letters, each with two or four different contextual shapes, and thousands of possible unique letterform combinations, calligraphic Arabic simply wouldn’t fit the limited matrices of Western machinery that, in the intervening centuries, had developed to accommodate a limited system of Roman upper- and lowercase letters.

For centuries, traditional Arabic calligraphers had steadfastly refused to apply their skills to the creation of movable type, so the calligraphic never became fully typographic in the way, say, the handwriting of Medieval monks was transformed into standardized letters used on printing presses. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that several versions of a simplified Arabic alphabet were developed in collaboration with local calligraphers — underwritten by Western tech giants like IBM and Linotype angling to open up new markets — to work efficiently within the restrictions of Roman-based systems. Simplified Arabic was wildly successful, and is still used throughout the world, but in pruning and standardizing the alphabet, most of the elegant gestures of hand-brushed script were necessarily filtered out. Within the last decade, however, a cadre of highly skilled, mostly Middle Eastern designers, many of them autodidacts retrofitting Roman-based digital font authoring tools, are creating a fully typographic Arabic: one that merges the dizzying eclecticism of original writing systems with contemporary font production.

Prominent among them is Huda Abi Fares. Born in Beirut, she studied graphic design at RISD and Yale in the 1980s at the height of the Swiss modern influence. In 2004, she started the nonprofit Khatt Foundation in Amsterdam as a way of addressing the problem of cross-cultural type design and building a community of like-minded Arabic typographers. Today, the Khatt website showcases the work of more than 1,700 designers around the world. She has also started a project, ‘‘Typographic Matchmaking,’’ which pairs Dutch and Arabic designers together. Two alumni, the Slovakian Peter Bilak from the Netherlands, a world-renowned designer of Roman alphabets, and a Lebanese designer, Kristyan Sarkis, have since established TPTQ Arabic, a new type foundry focusing on the development of high-quality unified Arabic/Roman font families designed for global digital distribution. Think of bilingual contexts, such as the concourse of an international airport or signs on a highway, where an aesthetic coherence between writing systems is essential.

These nascent efforts point to a global modernization that doesn’t come at the cost of cultural specificity or aesthetic homogenization, but synthesizes calligraphic traditions to create new forms. Type designers spend their lives deep in the minutiae of reading and the hidden visual codes that permeate the fabric of our language. There is no form of design that is less noticed or more prevalent: Type touches everyone. Perhaps, just perhaps, these young designers can find a way to cross whatever chasm is dividing us. The task is increasingly urgent. We literally cannot read each other."
arabic  2016  fonts  typography  letterforms  language  michaelrock  politics  hudaabifares  khattfoundation  peterbilak  kristyansarkis  tptqarabic  moveabletype  cyrillic  chinese 
march 2016 by robertogreco
2 × 4
"Founded in 1994 by Michael Rock, Susan Sellers and Georgianna Stout, 2x4 is a global design consultancy headquartered in New York City with satellite studios in Beijing and Madrid. The focus of our work is brand strategy for cultural and commercial clients who value the power of design. We identify and clarify core institutional values and create innovative, experiential, participatory and visually-dynamic ways to engage key audiences worldwide. Our intellectual and creative conviction is that thoughtful design can make an essential contribution to every level of cultural discourse."

[via: http://jarrettfuller.tumblr.com/tagged/michael-rock ]
michaelrock  design  graphicdesign  susansellers  georgiannastout  2x4 
march 2016 by robertogreco
2 × 4: Essay: Ways of Seeing
"Everyone is talking about the way in which digital media is destabilizing print. I thought it was interesting to choose the reverse scenario: something that started digital but found its real audience in print. Ways of Seeing started as a four-part television series on the BBC in England conceived of and written by art critic John Berger. Berger was reacting specifically to the traditional connoisseurship of Kenneth Clark in the Civilisation series, another famous television program, which inscribed the canonical march of Western culture in heroic terms. As a critique of Clark, Berger created a popular reading of the icons of western art not as aesthetic objects, but deeply cultural artifacts that reveal, upon close “reading”, the limitation, prejudice, bias, and obsession of the culture from which they sprang.

This form of cultural criticism was established in the Universities, especially Marxist leaning polytechnics, but had never before had such a popular airing. The idea that classic paintings could be decoded to reveal social facts — and in fact Berger compared them to modern advertising — was heretical and his work was met with incredulity and anger in the hallowed halls of University Art History departments around the country, But Berger’s position, especially his proto-feminist critique of female nudes, would grow to become the dominant form of art criticism in the years ahead.

The television program had moderate success but shortly after it aired Berger joined with producer Mike Dibb and graphic designer Richard Hollis to produce a printed version of the televised series. Clark had also produced a book to accompany Civilisation: a huge, lavish, full-color coffee table monster that must have weighted 10 kilos. In contrast Berger, Dibb and Hollis produced a slim paperback, 127 x 203mm, of only 166 pages. Even more radical, the book was produced in black + white, reducing the famous art to mere notations on standard, uncoated paper of a trade book. It was published by the BBC Books under the Pelican Books imprint, a division of the venerable Penguin Press organized to publish books to educate rather than entertain the reading public.

Even more striking was the book’s design. Hollis starts the text of the first essay on the cover: “Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.” This simple typographic trick gives the book both a certain modesty (saves on pages) and an urgency (no time to waste). Starting on the outside also suggests a digital quality, the content is broadcast to the reader even as they pass the shelf.

The interior is equally unusual. Hollis set the entire book in a bold sans serif font, a very unlikely choice and aggressively un-civilized. There is no nod to classicism, the book is an entirely modern form. The text is broken down into short bursts, usually no more than a paragraph coupled with a visual example. Again reflecting its origin as a televisual experience the text and images work simultaneously, one form leveraging the other. There are five such text-and-image essays on everything from renaissance nudes to modern advertising. But Berger also adds for entirely visual essays. He assembles a series of examples that by the power of his selection and through their aggressive juxtaposition, he makes his thesis without any words at all. In so doing he presages the development of the curated playlist as a predominant contemporary form and creates the first pre-digital book."
johnberger  michaelrock  waysofseeing  books  2011  bookdesign  richardhollis  fiveparagraphessays 
march 2016 by robertogreco

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