Typography is everywhere. Like, for instance, on the screen you’re reading right now (this is Brown, by the way). But it exists elsewhere, too, and in wildly different forms. In “StereoType,” a recently opened exhibition at the BSA Space, we see how varied the world of type really is. The show features 14 artists, all of whom have totally different answers to the question: What is typography, anyway?
For illustrator and graphic design Jerome Corgier, it means creating something that’s—arguably—not letters at all. In his piece, “Is It Still Type?,” Corgier blends the curvaceous Arabic alphabet with the strictness of Latin letterforms to create an alien typeface that’s essentially unreadable. For artist Evan Roth, it means capturing graffiti to create a digital database of tagged letterforms. Masashi Kawamura, a Japanese artist, created garments that transform into various fonts (think Arial and Times New Roman) when draped onto cardboard cutouts, and Thomas G. Mason, a scientist at UCLA, is showcasing his microscopic, fluorescent letterforms that are used to tag human cells in the body.
“These are individual experiments, in a way,” says Judith Hoos Fox, a curator of the exhibition. And it’s true. You’d consider few of the works in the exhibition “typography.” Many of the pieces live outside the two-axis plane fonts are usually created on. Some are hand-crafted (like Corgier’s paper letters), while other are entirely dependent on technology, like Oded Ezer, who asked friends and family from around the world to draw a letter and hold it up to be screen-captured via Skype. “It’s baffling to a lot of people because traditional graphic designers will think, this is crazy, this isn’t graphic design, and artists will think this really isn’t art, it’s typography,” Fox says.
It’s both, actually. Like trying to distinguish between painting and sculpture, labels aren’t useful when talking about the visual field. Both art and design are a reflection of what’s happening in culture, and the work in “StereoType” certainly shows that. If anything, it’s a refreshing take on what can oftentimes be an exacting field of design. Sure, you won’t see any of these typefaces as a default on your computer, but that’s what makes it interesting, right?