Chris Colvin

Senior Show Thesis

Mere thing: an object that is totally and completely concealed. It only presents itself–the stone, the hunk of dirt, water, clay–it simply is. Equipment: the particular organization of mere things to create something useful, giving purpose to man’s place on Earth. Equipment, while tying itself closely to human life, remains completely concealed, only serving its purpose. A work: unconcealed–an artwork–it brings forth a world through its setting forth of earth. A world: the feelings, thoughts, contexts, and mental relationships that a work brings forth to a viewer. Earth: the sum of all mere things, which makes up the tangible world.

These five definitions serve to sum up one of the theories of German philosopher Martin Heidegger, in his essay The Origin of the Work of Art, as clearly and concisely as I believe can be done.

By looking at written language through the theory of Heidegger I believe that type becomes something so much more than shapes on a page. By using the things and ideas around us, we have created a way to communicate clearly and easily, simply using shape. Written language is one of the greatest works mankind has ever created. How many worlds have been brought forth through a page in a book or on a website? What better way to call attention to this wonderful thing called type than by bringing it forth as its own work, not only in regards to language, but also as a physical, tangible thing. I have attempted to give type this physical presence, bringing it off the flat page, and into our tangible world.

This is in stark contrast to the print and web design I’ve been doing for the last four years. What I have learned, however, is that effectively communicating to your target audience is a complicated task, and that accomplishing that task can take many different forms. In the movie, Helvetica, nearly 20 interviewees give their perspectives and ideas on what typography and design means, and what it is supposed to do. Helvetica, the font, is possibly the most popular font to ever exist, and yet its excessive use has become very controversial, even among the world’s top designers. Those like Massimo Vignelli, widely known for his work on the New York Subway system and the branding of American Airlines, and Wim Crouwel, whose work is heavily influenced by International, or Swiss, style, would still advocate the use of Helvetica for just about any project. Meanwhile, David Carson, known for his innovative and experimental typography, would caution that legibility in a typeface does not always equal effective communication. This, to me, is testament to the fact that good design communicates to its audience, not by following a set of rules, but by whatever solution is the most effective. And it is up to the designer to work with the client to address goals, target audiences, and other formalities, to effectively make decisions on how to create the best solutions.

We grow accustomed to type being something you read, enjoying a book or researching on the internet. We might take notice of its shape or its color from time to time, but usually no more than that. Almost all of the type we see is flat. My goal is to break that trend. In my current work I have explored not only the shape of type and how it communicates, but also type as a physical thing.

Others have done this in varying ways. There were several great examples at this year’s Typeforce, a major annual typographic show in Chicago. Kim Knoll used brass wire to bend her type into shape, while Kyle Letendre dominated the room with his Party Pooper Piñatas. Matthew Wizinsky even used the body’s electrical current to help finish the piece, Touch Me I’m Sick, allowing the viewer to essentially become part of the work. In fact there is an entire book dedicated to the materialization of type. 3D Typography, by Jeanette Abbink and Emily Anderson, compiles 135 projects from designers around the globe who are approaching type as a physical thing, using everything from paper to moss.

Dominique Falla is an artist doing similar work. Some of her work takes part in the conversation of the New Aesthetic. This art theory is a new discovery for me, and is, in fact, quite new itself. The New Aesthetic is a title coined by James Bridle, and was accepted as a concept by a panel at SXSW (South by South West) in 2012. The concept deals with the digital versus the physical world. While my current work doesn’t quite fit the definition of the concept, it does interest me, and some of my past work has touched on the New Aesthetic. For example, a video project I worked on last semester explored the tension between work done by hand and work done by computers, or machines.

It was during this project that I began to learn to let play and exploration enter into my work. This new sense of play came about largely due to a single, seemingly inapplicable, quote from Francis Alÿs in which he says, “Sometimes making something leads to nothing, sometimes making nothing leads to something.” Since then, my work has reached a level of exploration that I never would have achieved even a year ago. Much of my work to this point has been built around rules of composition, color, and using appropriate or assigned mediums. My newfound exploration has lead to big changes in much of my work, largely in my photography, but also my typography.

A few months before, I had started a blog, letters4days, where I was trying to regularly create single letters and post them online. When I started, I made essentially all of my letters using the computer. It seemed easier, faster, and I felt comfortable doing it that way. When I was introduced to Alÿs’ quote, however, I saw the freedom and potential of exploration in his words. Sometimes the rules we create for ourselves are just getting in the way of something better. I began drawing my letters by hand, rather than on the computer. Drawing my letters allowed me more freedom to explore and experiment. The blog became a place for me to play with letters. Through the weeks and months that followed, I found that my ideas of type changed, and I grew much fonder of the individual letters. I no longer saw design as only being a complete collection of elements–design can be a single letter, taking minutes, hours, or even days to create.

This has all culminated to my current work, in which I don't see letters solely as a means of communication, but as individual pieces. The process of creating each letter stands on its own. Each letter is its own work.