My thesis (Unrestrained Restriction), explores the recontextualization of various rule-based systems to graphic design. In this book, I establish a particular set of rules to connect text with relevant works. My thesis is divided into five overarching sections:(1)Limited elements and modes of expression, (2)Constraints in literature, (3)Rules of the game, (4)Tool restriction, (5)Invisibility in visibility
The word 'restriction' is generally considered to have negative connotations. It is no surprise that this word is derived from the Latin word restrictus, which means to draw back, tighten, or reserve. In a socio-political context, the stem of this word is often associated with the large-scale suppression of individual liberties and thus implies forms such as censorship and border controls. As can be observed from recent events such as the Arab Spring, the suppression of individual liberties by a ruling power is a fundamental cause of demonstrations, protests, and wars. Hence, it can be inferred that restriction is a concept that is diametrically opposed to free thinking and creative thought.
The relationship between individual liberties and state authority is a topic of discourse central to the works of thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and one that continues to be exhaustively philosophized to this day. History has demonstrated that the proper functioning of any society requires law and order despite the potential for abuse by the governing authority. Thus, in spite of such negative connotations, society has found the need for numerous rule-based systems and regulations, and this rule-making impulse extends beyond the political sphere to all walks of life. I believe that the need for rule-based systems originates from a fundamental human preference for balance and order.
Graphic design, in essence, is a form of communication. Similar to any language system, the grammar of a given language — its rule-based system, effectively orders the elements of communication so that they can reliably convey meaning. As a designer, I believe that it is of utmost importance to examine how constraints can be properly utilized and manifested in my work. My focus on restriction and rule-based systems originates from my experiences working at a corporate identity design studio. My primary responsibility at this studio was to develop rule-based systems to guide the implementation of graphics for a given project (eg. the manner in which a company logo is situated on a product or in an advertisement). I assisted clients in deciding upon and making the best use of graphics, and I also noted inconsistent or improper applications given the client's ultimate objective or vision.Since each project came with its own specific considerations, developing an appropriate system of constraints was an undertaking particular to each case.
Through this process, I learned that for my work to be authentic and for my consultations to be valuable, it was necessary for me to correctly identify and understand the needs of a client. Further, viewing a given project through a framework of constraints clarified my analysis and thus enabled me to better discern the fundamentals. Thus, I learned that selecting an appropriate rule-based system and deciding how such a framework can be meaningfully applied are of critical importance to my working process. I strongly believe that an appropriately chosen rule-based system has the power to guide the design process and not only shape but also enhance the final deliverable. Accordingly, my focus on constraints enables me to more effectively convey the meaning of my work to the viewer.
Further – and at first glance this may appear counterintuitive – in addition to establishing the structure necessary for effective communication, I have found that understanding the constraints that govern a given project permits me to achieve a level of creative productivity that would have been unrealizable in the absence of such analysis. Igor Stravinsky, the influential 20th century composer, once stated, "My freedom thus consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned myself for each of my undertakings. I shall go even farther: my freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraints diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self of the chains that shackle the spirit."
Music is a genre that demonstrates the expansive and creative nature of constraints. In fact, the beauty of music is effectively created by interval patterns and the musical spaces between the series of tones. Without rule-based systems, there would be nothing differentiating music from noise. The implication of this supposition is that musical composition is the act of creating a personal system of constraints. The foregoing quote has significant implications for my graphic design.
I also find much inspiration from the graphic designer Karl Gerstner. In his work Designing Programmes, Gerstner similarly suggests that too much freedom impedes the creative process and accordingly is detrimental to the communicative power of the design. Gerstner maintains that certain intellectual criteria, by which he means a set of consciously derived parameters, must be used to work through the problem and arrive at an effective solution. Gerstner organizes the set of criteria into a systematic set of rules he defines as the program.
Like Gerstner, I define my programme in terms of the aesthetic properties of graphic design. Such emphasis on constraints requires me to determine: (1) which visual components I will use and to what extent I will make use of them, (2) what modes of expression are available, and how and where the final work will be experienced, (3) what distinctive tools, elements, or structures to use in the design process, and (4) how to control the sensory experience (seeing, listening, touching) of the audience. It is important to note that such considerations are inextricable from the logic and structure of the design.
There exists a range of different applicable rule-based systems in other professional fields that can be used as analogues for my work: constrained writing or poetry in literature, formulas derived by proof in mathematics, encoding or decoding in cryptology, rules of games, and so on. In my studies and personal experiences, I often find that history does indeed repeat itself. The implication is that there are certain complications that are central to the human condition. Hence, existing forms have the potential to be applied in different contexts. Moreover, since these forms have been subject to the test of time, they have evolved into proven and recognizable rule-based systems.
My design practice attempts to recontextualize pre-existing systems, following in the footsteps of Recontextualization artists who reinterpreted ready-made objects by placing them in different environments. In addition to using already-established systems, I develop my own constrained forms to guide my work. In terms of developing new rule-based systems, it is the context or nature of each individual project that serves as the determining factor for the development of such systems.
Both pre-established and self-developed constrained forms are instructive methods for organizing my design process. While the former gives me the opportunity to learn about the structures of existing systems, developing my own constrained forms enables me to deeply reflect and ultimately represent my own personal experiences in my work.
Limited Elements and Modes of Expression
The selection and restriction of visual components and modes of expression are the most obvious, and yet, the most often overlooked subjects in graphic design.
Within every geometrical shape there is an inextricable underlying message or association created by social conventions or the occurrence of such shapes in the natural world. For instance, the circle is often associated with a number of different concepts including: the earth, eye, inclusion, wholeness, focus, unity, nurturing, cycles, initiation, everything, perfection, womb, revolution, infinity, mobility, completion, etc. Due to such symbolic associations with geometrical shapes, individuals and organizations use such shapes to represent their identity, mission, or vision.
In my work, I often utilize geometric shapes for their reductive qualities. However, such forms can also be combined to express an amalgamation of ideas expressing a unified vision. This practice of creating a singular philosophy has evolved throughout history and continues to permeate the activities of contemporary designers.
Due to advances in the media services industry, design identity is no longer restricted to visual images. The short sequence of sounds used in every Intel commercial are now associated with Intel's corporate visual logo. Furthermore, related news articles, sponsorships, employees and products are also associated with Intel's visual logo. In some sense, the visual image has been transformed to become more than an image but instead a representation of the sum of its associated parts. Thus, the process of selecting visual images has become a significantly more complicated matter as the designer is not only required to choose a shape consistent with the client's message but, perhaps more importantly, to also strip away certain characteristics associated with an image.
This aesthetic practice can be traced to the Bauhaus movement of the early 20th century. The Bauhaus movement grew in tandem with Marxism, which called for a political system that provided co-operative ownership of property. Strongly influenced by Marxist principles, the Bauhaus projected distaste towards ornamentation and aristocratic luxuries, and instead stressed the importance of stripping an object to its pure form. Further, the industrial revolution and the development of the assembly line permitted the actualization of such thinking into practice.
The Bauhaus supported the creation of both applied arts and fine arts emphasizing simplicity and functionality, and eschewing meaningless decoration. By stripping different art forms to their base,the distinctions between various forms of applied and fine arts ceased to exist. This idea is originally mentioned by John Ruskin, who states, "Art is all one, any distinction between fine and applied art is destructive and artificial." Although the Bauhaus' manifesto and program were forward thinking for their times, at essence their philosophy was directed towards the return to pure forms and fundamental structures.
In 1915, influenced by these ideas, Kazimir Malevich presented his exhibition '0-10: The Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting' in Petrograd, Russia. This exhibition included Malevich's, 'Black Square,' which reduced all visual components to abstraction. This work was intended to symbolize the end of painting as an art form, as the square has traditionally been representative of the canvas frame and the color black is the combination of all colors. Similarly, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, painters who heavily used geometric abstraction in their work, further helped establish geometrical forms as the universal language of painting.
In architecture, Walter Gropius pioneered the return to pure forms and radically simplified structures. Gropius' design of the new Bauhaus building in Dessau exemplifies this focus on functionality and purity. The movement even extended its influence to clothing. In 1926, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy designed the coverall, a one-piece work garment. The coverall was particularly relevant to the times, as it could be worn by factory workers to protect their clothing. Furthermore, Bauhaus graphic designers replaced the Serif typeface with the Grotesk typeface in Bauhaus publications, given the latter's geometrical consistency and simplicity of form.
Although the Bauhaus was dismantled in 1933 by the Nazi regime, its spirit and struggle for utopia has continued to influence artistic communities over time, albeit often remaining on the fringes. Their modernist values have influenced a legion of artistic trends including, International Style, Brutalism, Tube Architecture, Minimalism, Pop-art, Fluxus, etc. In the Bauhaus Manifesto, Walter Gropius writes "Let us then create a new guild of craftsmen without the class distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist." This statement epitomizes the high standards of integrity in work, and remains particularly relevant as a counterweight to the self-entitlement and narcissism that pervades societies today.
Constraints in Literature
A nexus exists between literature and the field of graphic design, and this section focuses on uncovering and analyzing these structural forms, and finding ways in which to apply them to my work.
Since the early 13th century, Jewish Cabalists have been fixated on uncovering certain alleged truths hidden in the Bible. They have viewed the original text as a medium in which God had encoded secret messages. Their methodology has focused on rearranging the original text and finding new religious meaning in their derived permutations or anagrams. Throughout the Middle Ages, anagrammatists were particularly focused on creating religious anagrams. An example of such is 'Quid est veritas?' which translates into 'What is truth?' This question was posed by Pontius Pilate, the fifth Prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, to Jesus, who was charged with sedition against the Roman Empire. Ironically, when the words are rearranged, the answer may lie within the very question, as one permutation of characters reads, 'Est vir qui adest!' or 'It is the man who is here!'
Besides the anagram, there are several other forms of constrained writing, including, palindromes, lipograms, ambigrams, etc. The various structures of these constrained writing forms provide the reader with unconventional and structural experiences. For example, the palindrome has the ability to instill directional significance. Since the text is identical regardless of whether it is read from left to right or if it is read from right to left. Palindromes have evolved into ambigrams, in which the meaning of a text retains consistency in meaning both horizontally and vertically.
The tradition of oral recitations has also been equipped with particularly interesting structural forms. Poetry is one such example of this tradition.To a certain extent, the appeal of poetry arises from its unique form and its ability to enhance and further enrich the content.
The form of sestina poetry has a distinctive spiral organization that consists of six different stanzas generated by the reconstitution of the line-ending words. The sestina form creates a sense of circulation and repetition in and of itself. The significance of the number six in the sestina serves as a starting point to the countless applications this constrained writing structure can have in graphic design. Given that most products that we consume are sold in hexahedral shaped packages, the sestina can be applied to product or package design. Moreover, the perpetual motion contained within this form shares a certain spiritual aesthetic also achieved by Jorge Luis Borges in his short story 'Library of Babel.' In this context, the sestina structure can influence various practices of design, such as modularity and content management systems.
The orgin of the word 'acrostic' is a compound of the Greek word 'akro' meaning 'foremost' and 'stichos' meaning 'phrase.' In western culture, people usually read from left to right, but the acrostic creates a new vertical dimension by focusing on the set of first characters. In graphic design, this form is a useful tool for delivering multiplicative messages. John Cage, a 21st century composer, writer, music theorist and Fluxus artist, developed an analogous constrained writing form called 'Mesostic'(meso(middle) + stichos). This form expanded the structure of the acrostic, in a way such that the entire character set is read vertically.
As demonstrated above, constrained writing functions to provide structure to content. Taking this one step further, the very building blocks of such literary works – the alphabetic characters of the given language, originated as structured forms per se. In R.L. Gregory's 'The Intelligent Eye: The Mathematics of Meaning,' he explains the evolution of language over time. Language began with pictures, progressed to pictographs and self-explained cartoons, to phonetic units, and then into alphabets. The image is a form in itself, in that it is a representation or translation of the variations in light that make up our visual reality. In ancient cultures, this connection between written language and meaning was far more explicit, as the use of hieroglyphs and ideograms were the basis for many early languages. However, in the world we live in today, this connection between meaning and written language relies more so on a constantly evolving social contract driven by cultural inflows and outflows. This is because most written forms we see today, including the English alphabet, are composed of letters that represent phonemes – or basic significant sounds of the spoken language. The implication is that it is far easier to obscure or hide intentions using modern written forms as opposed to older ones.
Constrained writing exemplifies this synthetic approach by merging images with text, such that the viewer or reader can accurately comprehend the visual and textual significance as well as the importance of the interplay. 'The Easter Wings,' designed by George Herbert in 1633, is an early example of such visual poetry. Thereafter, many artists applied this method of combining visual elements and text. In 1956, the 'International Exhibition of Concrete Poetry' was held in Sao Paolo to reconsider new possibilities of concrete poetry by the 'Noigandres,' an influential concrete poetry coterie. More recently, the exhibition 'Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language' at the Museum of Modern Art explored new developments in this field.
In modern literary spheres, Oulipo(Ouvroir de littérature potentielle), has achieved success through their varied constrained writing forms. The group has made use of the lipogram, a form of constrained writing in which a particular letter or group of letters is avoided – usually a common vowel. Georges Perec, a prominent member of Oulipo, wrote a 300 page novel, 'La Disparition(A Void),' omitting the letter 'E' throughout his entire work. In his subsequent novel 'La Vie mode d'emploi(Life a User's Manual),' Perec uses the fictional apartment complex, 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier, as a restrictive framework for the plot. The confines and various parameters of this fictional building function as the common denominator or constraint that connects the intersecting storylines of different tenants. Further, Perec's story shows how there are restrictions that exist in our everyday lives. Although literature is not directly associated with the use of visual images, it shares several narrative and compositional aspects with the visual arts. Consider the relationship between script and film, and the correlation becomes more understandable. Through his work, Georges Perec has shown that the set of criteria in a rule-based system can be expanded or in some sense recreated into a new system. The implication of this is that pre-established rule-based systems can be used as the groundwork or base material for the development of subsequent creative works.
As mentioned above, there are several ways in which we can visually represent structural forms. In the field of graphic design, typography is an important means to communicate with others because of the self-referentiality of the language. Consequently, forms in constrained writing can motivate or influence a given typography. Moreover, the inherent features of various forms can be harnessed within the various dimensions that constitute graphic design including, motion, images, and the space between. In motion graphics, the sequence of images is the key to delivering the narrative of what directors wish to communicate. The movie, 'Memento' directed by Christopher Nolan, elaborately mixes past and present events to create an irregular and nonlinear narrative structure. Despite the fact that the final scene is also the starting scene, the audience cannot recognize the significance of the first scene until the movie has ended. It is evident that this movie contains characteristics of constrained writing, particularly the anagram. Controlling and varying the narrative flow are essential to both literature and graphic design.
Rules of the Game
The pleasure of playing a game arises from adhering to the strict and specific rules associated with the game. For my purposes, I focus on understanding how the rules, and visual and spatial restrictions of various games can be applied to graphic design work.
Julius Caesar is famously quoted for saying, "Alea iacta set," or the die has been cast, before crossing the Rubicon during his pursuit of Pompey. Throughout history and across cultures, the die has functioned as a random device. Caesar’s reference to dice alludes to the random and yet deterministic character of events that would soon follow. To a certain extent, the decisions we make in our everyday lives, however small or large, trigger a certain sequence of events. Accordingly, the game of dice can function as a metaphor for the sequence of random and uncontrollable events that constitute the reality we live in.
This relationship between game and life is also discussed by the Dutch historian, Johan Huizinga, in his book 'Homo Ludens, Man the Player.' As we can presume from the title, the act of play is inherently a human action. Huizinga states that, "Play is older than culture, for culture, however inadequately defined, always presupposes human society, and animals have not waited for man to teach them their playing." The recognition of man as a player does not originate from the conscious intentions of society, but instead, from naturally predetermined psychological states. Accordingly, Huizinga demonstrates that play or game can be observed in every corner of human civilization. Huizinga provides examples of the existence of such games in a number of different fields including: law, war, art, literature, and philosophy. For instance, in his analysis of the overlapping characteristics between the act of play and litigation, Huizinga notes that legal proceedings require players to abide by certain linguistic and etymological rules and procedures.
Further to this discussion, and especially since art is at essence a representation of human behavior, consider the implications of this perspective with respect to the art world. Marcel Duchamp's most renowned works, 'Nude descending a Staircase, No.2' and 'The Fountain' were at first poorly received by critics and peers. In response to this rejection, Duchamp placed his career on hiatus, and devoted his entire life to the game of chess. Upon his return to the art scene, Duchamp famously stated, "I have come to the conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists." I believe that in this statement, Duchamp is hinting that the role of the artist is to react and to accurately reflect the essence of the times, remaining independent to the patrons and investors of art. Duchamp further went on to say, "[Chess] has all the beauty of art – and much more. It cannot be commercialized. Chess is much purer than art in its social position." Duchamp suggests that whereas chess requires that each player make independently calculated contributions to the overall discussion or contest, the artists of his generation remained cemented complacent modes of thinking. Since Duchamp, several artists have been drawn to the game of chess. In a recent exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, prominent artists contributed works as homage to the game. For example, Paul McCarthy assembles everyday objects that are found in the kitchen on a chessboard. The backdrop of the chessboard reminds the viewer that there is a certain pattern of human movement amongst everyday objects. Certain modern cities, which are also designed on a grid system, similarly affect the movement of people as they walk from one point to another. In this context of chess, the grid system of a city can be understood as both a model of human movement as well as a model of human behaviou r and relations – particularly so given the militaristic overtones of the game.
Games like chess, which have existed for centuries, have evolved into a culture embodying a distinctive philosophy and attitude, such that players and non-players alike recognize the feel or pure form of the game. Consequently, when certain elements of this game are recontextualized and incorporated into design work, the associated pure forms can enhance certain aesthetical choices as well as the actual content and purpose of the work. Within the context of graphic design, the incorporation of certain elements of a game has the power to level the artist's interaction with the work, as well as the audience's interaction with the work. Thus, the rules of the game limit both parties either in understanding or in creation.
Over the past few decades, due to advances in technology and the subsequent development of movie editing software, the motion-picture industry has been able to transcend the limitations of space and time. Movie editors defy the laws of physics by recombining images, so that they can provide movie watchers with a seamless and realistic portrayal of an absurd and imagined world. Movie goers are all too familiar with images of Superman flying through the sky or of aliens invading the earth. However, those same movie watchers are caught off guard when they see the entirety of a movie set within a movie. For example, consider the movie 'Dogville,' directed by Lars von Trier. By replacing cropped images of the movie set with a visual of the set in its entirety, Trier redefines the boundaries of the screen image movie watchers are familiar with. This extreme minimalistic setting effectively amplifies the mood and other such dramatic elements of the movie. While it is a strange and ironic phenomenon that the movie set in its entirety disorients the movie viewer, this effect is a natural human response to seeing familiar visuals in an unconventional setting. Trier's aesthetic choice can be traced to the Dadaist attitude of reinterpreting a common space or object by removing the object from its traditional context and repositioning it in a new setting. This aesthetic originates from the concept of 'objet trouvé' or found object. This dictum was created by Pablo Picasso in reference to his painting, 'Still Life with Chair Caning.' In this work, Picasso affixed an actual chair caning within the frame of the painting. Another example is the aforementioned work 'The Fountain' by Marcel Duchamp. In this work, Duchamp placed a common urinal in an art gallery as though it were a piece of art. These works show how the deliberate manipulation of context can transform everyday objects into works of art. Examples in the field of graphic design include, Found Fount by Paul Elliman and Found Machine Part by Karel Martens.
I have considered the implications of this concept within the sphere of my own life. Modern people, including myself, spend hours in front of a computer screen. To a certain extent, the computer screen can be understood as a portal through which we engage in a multitude of different activities along with the associated spaces in which these activities take place: research in the library, watching television at home, listening to music in a cafe, etc. Due to technological innovations(ie. wireless networks, 3G cards), we inevitably spend increasing amounts of time in front of our computer and consequently begin to associate the computer screen with more and more different spaces. Thus, the visual image of the operating system(in my case the OS X) has become the new everyday space of the current generation.
Whereas the primary function of the OS X is to facilitate the interactions between the user and the computer, as demonstrated above, the OS X also functions as a space customized to any given user's preferences. Thus, it follows that the very function of the OS X can be recontextualized as a medium for creating art. The animation of opening a new document file or the sound of emptying a recycling bin, are two examples of the multitude of existing sounds and animations comprised in the suite of OS X functionalities. Graphic designers often use programs or software customized for the creation of visual images(ie. Adobe Creative Suite, Final Cut Pro, FontLab Studio, etc.); however, given that the OS X is now associated with a variety of activities and spaces, it can also function as a new palette for creation. The idea that not only content(ie. objects, visual elements, themes, etc.), but also the very machine used to create this content can be transposed from outside contexts – along with its associated paradigms and structures, offers a wealth of new opportunities and modes of thinking to the designer.
Invisibility in Visibility
Code systems originated from the field of mathematics, particularly abstract algebra and number theory. George Boole, a 19th century English mathematician, created an algebraic system that was later applied in the development of information technology systems and electrical circuits. Whereas elementary algebra is a system based on real and complex numbers, Boolean Algebra is constructed on the logical values, 'true' and 'false,' denoted as '1' and '0' respectively.
Binary codes were used in the development of the first digital computing systems. These computing systems were originally designed as tools to aid military intelligence. In the military world, in order to develop a successful offensive and defensive strategy, it is very important to obtain exact data on the counterparty's position, supply chain, strategy, etc. The objectives of such code systems were to hide messages from the enemy and to effectively communicate with allies. Hence, a code is essentially an alternative language developed for the purpose of restrictive accessibility.
However, the prevalence of computers in today's world has created a new direction to the practice and study of code. Programming languages, which are coding systems designed to communicate instructions to a machine, are learned by people so that they can make better use of the internet. In light of the open source movement(Mozilla Firefox, Google Chromium, Android, Apache etc.), coding has now become a language that allows people to build and create with the intention of greater connectivity. Taking this idea of building to an extreme, consider the movie 'Matrix,' directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski, which takes place in a dystopian universe where human beings live in a simulated reality created by artificial intelligence.
However, code is still employed as a means of hiding content in contemporary society. In China, internet users or netizens use code words to communicate with fellow netizens. Internet slang such as 'River Crab' has been created by Chinese netizens in reference to internet censorship in China. In Chinese Mandarin, the word 'River Crab' sounds similar to 'Harmonious' in the Chinese phrase 'Harmonious Society.' Since the Chinese government announced the goal of creating a 'Harmonious Society,' usually cited by the government as a reason for censorship, internet users began to use the word 'Harmonious' as a euphemism for censorship (the word 'censorship' had previously been censored). Finally, when the word 'Harmonious' was censored, Chinese netizens began to use the phrase 'River Crab.' Thus, such code systems are relevant to other fields, and as demonstrated in the above example, continue to be used by people in contemporary society. Further, recent news articles report on cases of Russian spies using coded images on public websites to communicate with other spies. This is an example of steganography, or the scientific practice of writing hidden messages in plain view.
As described above, codes are employed for two very different purposes: to conceal and to reveal. And, these two aspects of code are the essence of visual art: the selection or choice of what will be shown and what will be hidden.
The fateful relationship, or social contract between individuals and the state is the foundation upon which society is built. However, and perhaps more importantly, this relation also exists at a personal level. The aggrandizement of individual freedom has reached new levels, fuelled by the advent of new technologies.
Internet users perpetually post every urge on websites like Twitter, and upload hosts of unsourced images on Instagram. Certain social networks such as Linkedin and Facebook cause people to further develop hollow identities without sincere introspection. In this web-based society, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish what is valuable from what is not.
My pursuit of the pure forms that exist in selected fields of study is a search for utopia, nirvana, infinity, God. Artists and scientists will continue to create, destroy and recreate systems and structures, and my journey thus far pales in comparison. However, I believe that this exploration is a deeply personal responsibility. I hope that my work provides encouragement to all those who aspire to discover the perpetual value found in the forms, systems, and rules that exist in our lives.
May 2013 Jang Hyun Han
Classification: Book 185 x 250mm - 320p Advisor: Dan Michaelson Editor: William Storandt and Kevin Hahm