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This week saw the first exhibition in London by UCS Ipswich Graphic Design graduates. Titled We Are, the exhibition was held at The Coningsby Gallery, and was a deliberate attempt to try and buck the trend of the morale sapping rigmarole of New Blood, New Designers and Free Range graduate exhibitions, where by thousands of graphic design students compete for attention all at the same time of year and all under one roof. Notably at such events, those from the design industry tend to seek out the courses they already have contacts with, and rarely spend time looking for new talent from emerging courses. What successes come from this first UCS solo exhibition this week are as yet to be seen, but as this was the first of its kind for our students, it was a bit of a trial run and will hopefully develop over the coming years.

It appeared to inspired current first, second and third year students, who we took up to the gallery at various stages this week. And during a very busy period for current final year students as they are in the middle of writing their dissertation proposals and completing course work, they are also preparing for their International Design Auction which will help to finance any such ventures for them in 2014. The ‘We Are‘ graduates ran one last year, and raised nearly £2000 for their end of year show and London exhibition, and if the lots that are coming in so far this year are anything to go by, the 2013 auction is likely to raise a lot more money. There is signed work from Stefan Sagmeister, Tom Gauld, Jessica Hirsche, Milton Glaser, Armin Vit…I could go on, (and on, and on). While in London on Monday to catch the We Are show, current students even managed to find time to visit Margaret Calvert to pick up her 3 donations to the auction, (as well as accept her hospitality of tea and biscuits).

International Design Auction 2013 is being held at University Campus Suffolk’s Waterfront Building in Ipswich on 27 November at 17:30. Check out the lots on the  students’ website for the auction, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter for up to date information.

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To start the new academic year off with a shot of inspiration, we took all Graphic Design and Graphic Illustration students at UCS to GRAPHICS, the Romek Marber exhibition at The Minories in Colchester.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMarber’s influence on British Graphic Design can not be underestimated. His most famous work was for Penguin Books, particularly their crime series, producing many of the iconic green covers utilising photography, collage and drawn imagery to full effect to capture the title of each book he designed for. He also famously designed one of the grid systems that Penguin used for many years.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmong the covers on display was also his rationale behind the layout. As the exhibition literature states: “Romek Marber’s work often communicates in a clear and direct manner that is bought by combining a stripped down use of colour with well defined formal structures within which text and image are framed. A sense of pragmatism and design that grows out of necessity in terms of delivery of message results in an efficient visual imagery that wastes nothing but at the same time appears to leave nothing out.”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome of Marber’s typographic work balances a tightrope between experimentation and reductive modernist austerity, clearly influencing many designers working today. In fact, the covers he did for The Economist only look dated because of the mastheads—Marber’s type explorations themselves could grace many contemporary magazines and certainly wouldn’t look out of place on Bloomberg Business Week.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd this film title sequence could be mistaken for some of the experimental and fluid graphic illustration coming out of the UK at the turn of 21st century by the likes of Dávid Földvári et al:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGRAPHICS exhibition is highly recommended, and runs until 25 October: details here. Thanks to Cydney and Kaavous at The Minories.

While in Colchester, and with the Firstsite Gallery a stone’s throw from The Minories, we also took the opportunity to take a look at the Xerography exhibition that is on there. This celebrates the role of photocopying in art, from the 1960s through to the modern day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis show has an impressive list of 40 contributors, and naturally for graphic design students, the more graphic and book orientated work seemed to appeal the most.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Hockney’s were particularly good and of interest to illustrators:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd I was really taken with this mail-art piece by Eugenio Dittborn:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe show is mixed enough for something to appeal to everyone, although I doubt that there would be anyone who would like everything that was on show. But despite its breadth, the one obvious omission for me was the lack of graphic design. For an exhibition which is tied together by the process of using a photocopier to produce work, this seems like a massive black hole. For example, there are no punk era fanzines such as Mark P’s Sniffin’ Glue which helped to define the aesthetic of an era. This form of instant publishing also helped to introduce some to a career in graphics, such as Terry Jones. There were also no rough and ready record sleeves, whether by the likes of practicing designer Linder Sterling or by the many unknowns who embraced the Do It Yourself nature of punk in 1976/77.

Omissions aside, this is a worthwhile exhibition to go and see, especially if you can go when the Marber exhibition is still on at The Minories, as the juxtaposition between the two makes for refreshing contrast. Xerography runs until 10 November, details here.

Thanks to Sue Hogan for the student talk.

ThePartners

I’ve just finished reading Preserved Thoughts by The Partners’ Jim Prior. It is a neat little A5 (ish) book and download of essays, blog posts and talks he has written and delivered over the course of the last three years. It deals with many different aspects of branding, touching on topics as diverse as morality, creativity in big business, social purpose and human aspiration. Thought provoking and intelligent, it is highly recommended for anyone interested in branding.

Get the book here, or the download here.

RandB

I’ve just finished reading Wilson Neate’s excellent book about Wire called Read & Burn. Much like Wire’s proclamations in 1977 that for the band there were to be: “No solos; no decoration; when the words run out, it stops; we don’t chorus out; no rocking out; keep it to the point; no Americanisms,” Neate states of the book that: “This book was not read, vetted, or approved by Wire; this book is not a biography of Wire collectively or individually; this book is not about the band-members’ solo projects; this book does not forensically dissect each of Wire’s albums; this book does not mention every Wire song, record sleeve, tour or gig; this book does not provide a complete discography.”

Except for the first statement above about Wire not approving the book, the remainder of Neate’s manifesto is somewhat inaccurate. It is a biography, it does forensically dissect Wire albums, and it has a pretty comprehensive discography at the back. Even the first statement is at odds with the fact that Wire sell the publication as part of a package with their latest album: Change Becomes Us.

Despite this, Read & Burn tells the fascinating story of the band from their pre-Wire days at art school up to the rationale behind 2013’s Change Becomes Us. On the surface of it this book will seem to have little to interest non-Wire fans. The trawl through album tracks and how they came about will be excruciating for those who don’t know the work. At times, and I count myself as a Wire fan, I had to go back and listen to tracks to brief myself on what was being discussed. But this aside, what I would recommend it for, to the non-Wire fan, particularly those who work in creative fields, is the insight into creative tensions and artistic endevour. Throughout the book it highlights different takes by individuals about the same events, and how collaborative working is a difficult beast when egos and pretensions clash. The fact that each band member, (and band associates), were interviewed separately allows individuals to recount their side of the story, deconstructing their methodologies, likes and dislikes about what they’ve done, all the while being acutely aware that each member of the band will probably read the book at some stage. Each band member are all highly critical of Wire as a project, of each other, and of their output. But they intelligently examine what they’ve achieved collectively, from the prospective of creating sound experiments and art pieces that form a body of work by Wire, (there is often a sense of detachment when they use the band name, as if it is a living entity in itself). And as pretentious as that sounds, Read & Burn can be read more as a study of the psychology of artists working together than anything else, which makes it all the more interesting than your average rock biography.

The fact that Wire are still going after all these years, through almost wilful self-destruction, (and not in a standard drink and drugs narrative), is remarkable. As a catalogue of advice of how not to create a successful band, the following should probably be taught at rock schools everywhere: they refused to play old music at their gigs up until recently, (they once hired a Wire tribute band to support them live so they didn’t have to play old material): they wilfully alienated fans by staging experimental performance art pieces at shows; they would showcase new and developing work live; they immediately rejected the punk scene that spawned them on the release of their first ‘punk’ album; they  created sound experiments based on their own invented ‘dugga‘ rhythms and played the piece that came from this, Drill, live on American TV rather than their latest single, much to the annoyance of their record label; guitarist Bruce Gilbert refused to play on tracks that were too pop orientated for his liking—all these things, and much more, show the band as being wilfully perverse in their approach to earning a living from what they did. Much of this is down to the creative tensions in the band, of four people who clearly don’t particularly like each other, but who realise that as a creative unit they make something special, something that has a degree of uniqueness and as a result is a refreshing antidote  to your average band fixated on stardom who will compromise any integrity they might have in the quest for success.

Wire have always been concerned with being contemporary and not playing the punk cabaret circuit of their 1977 peers, this drive has kept them pushing forward throughout their lifespan. For the non-Wire fan out their, you’ll need to skip through the muso moments in this story. But if you work collaboratively with others, this book will reveal itself to you as a brave and honest depiction of the realities of ego clashes and mixed agendas, poor communication and assumptions, deliberate obstinance and artistic integrity. And with this, they individually demonstrate a collective sense of what constitutes their aesthetic collective identity, and use this as a measure for what they do and do not allow Wire to do artistically.

Listen to Wire’s latest release, Change Becomes Us, on Soundcloud.

I received David Byrne’s new book, How Music Works, through the post yesterday. It is a beautifully produced object. The cover is subtly padded, (as if the book itself was actually sound proofed), while the layout is sensitively understated.

Book cover for David Byrne's How Music Works

Spread from How Music Works

Byrne pulls on his vast experience as a musician to explore how technological changes in the production of music has affected music itself, looking at what it means to go on stage, and many other associated topics. Therefore, it is both part autobiographical, and, as he puts it himself, a series of ‘think pieces’.

Byrne avoids being highly technical, as well as steering clear of stories about rock star excess and redemption, it is therefore the perfect antidote to the ego massaging rockumentaries being spewed out by the BBC of late. This is not a trawl through the history of his many musical projects, although they are used as a contextual sounding board to discuss the business of music, (as opposed the the music business). As an introduction to some of the contexts discussed, and the self-effacing nature of the man himself, it is well worth watching the Ted.com talk Byrne gave in 2010, where he talks about how architecture has helped to shape the evolution of music.

 

Still from the fil Ride Rise Roar

Spread from How Music Works‚ (a still from the film Ride Rise Roar)

Intelligent and accessible, interesting and engaging, this book comes highly recommended.

I’m currently putting together a lecture titled ‘What is a book?’ for a sixth form higher education taster day I’m involved in at UCS next week. In the process of my research, I came across this excellent video of Irma Boom talking about her work, which I had never seen before. Unfortunately it is a little too long to include in my lecture, so I thought I would share it here. It is worth 6 minutes of your time.

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