“As we write this, we are approaching the last few days of July. We are currently working on a couple of projects that will occupy all our time and attention—in order to fully concentrate on this, we decided to effectively close down our studio for the full month of August. During that time, we will be checking e-mail only sporadically—and we probably won’t be able to answer e-mails at all. We are very sorry about that. We will return to our usual studio routine in the beginning of September—we will try to answer your mails then. In the meantime, please find below a list with answers to the most common questions. We hope this will help you further.”
We are keen on establishing a link between the postwar culture of graphic standardization that produced the Swiss International Style and the post-2000 culture of social networking and communication standards that seems to have replaced mass communication at large, with memes as self-replicating visual genes. We regard your whole approach as a proper meme, as you seem to have created a viable compression of certain modernist tropes that propagate into contemporary visual culture, comment on it, and demarcate a clear position. Your most successful meme seems to be the “&&&” shirts, which have, by imitation, multiplied their presence beyond control. Ultimately, there is a generosity and a significance to this that goes beyond the narrowly defined “graphic design” practice. We are also aware that you regard your visual culture as one governed by material objects. Nevertheless, we would propose that the way you treat these objects, or the way that “visual culture” treats them in turn, is not so much about immaterializing them into virtual objects floating on websites and desktops as it is about taking their essence and then teleporting this to all kinds of other destinations and purposes, much as in Lawrence Weiner’s famous dictum that “You can experience my work by someone telling you about it”—which is, again, nothing else than his version of a meme.
However, since we grew up in an era in which we experienced a particular Dutch version of the International Style firsthand, we do believe that this very indirect version of the IS is now part of our cultural vocabulary, and as such it became part of our natural graphic language—in a genuinely authentic way, rather than in a contrived, studied manner. Having said that, we like to admit that we never have been particularly inspired by the International Style itself. We have never studied those coffee-table books or grid guides filled with Swiss masters. Our point of reference has always been the particular way in which the International Style has been filtered into Dutch culture. And that is ultimately what interests us most: the way in which a phenomenon such as the International Style has been applied within very different cultural contexts. There are Dutch versions, Brazilian versions, Italian versions, Japanese versions, “working-class” versions, “middle-class” versions, and so on. Just to give a simple example, we would argue that the way in which Crouwel employed the International Style is typical for a Dutch context, while the way in which Vignelli used that same language shows the sensibilities of an Italian working within a New York context. In other words, it’s all a matter of accents.
This is different on the internet, where websites and pages conform themselves instantly to cater to the personal tastes and preferences of the individual viewer. Google search results change from person to person, the advertisements that clutter online profiles are specifically targeted toward the viewer, etc., etc. This makes the online environment ultimately an individualistic, isolated experience, despite the promise of “being connected.” It also makes most online activity a somewhat unadventurous, undialectical affair, as you only will be confronted with stimuli that are algorithmically curated for you, based on what large corporations (such as Facebook and Google) expect you to want to see. Whereas, within the context of the street, you will be confronted with information that is not specifically intended for you—posters you might not immediately understand, slogans you might disagree with (or not), kiosks carrying newspapers that are not necessarily tailored toward your specific lifestyle, book stalls displaying secondhand books expressing conflicting opinions. In our view, it is this notion of print culture within the urban environment that offers the most dialectical, and therefore most modernist, experience. So it’s exactly that idea that we try to explore most in our work. And, as paradoxical as it may sound, it is this theme of modernist print culture that is also one of the main subjects of our online presence—whether it is our actual website or the Facebook group you mentioned.
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