The iconoclastic Israeli graphic designer, typographer and type designer Oded Ezer is in residence on the East Coast for two months, lecturing and teaching a class called “Type Follows Emotion, Personal Typographic Exploration” at Rhode Island School of Design.
Perhaps best known for what he calls his “typographic design fiction projects,” including “Typosperma,” which was part of MoMA’s 2008 “Design and the Elastic Mind” exhibition, and the design of The New American Haggadah, Ezer mostly earns his living by licensing his original typefaces through his HebrewTypography foundry. When he’s not designing marketable typefaces, he’s a kind of typographic mad scientist, giving letterforms wings and legs, amputating their parts or surgically attaching them to his own face and body.
His RISD students are now part of the grand experiment, working on an assignment called Typographic Therapy. “Can type cure?” Ezer asks rhetorically. “Or can it function as a psychological test to examine one’s personality characteristics and emotional well-being?”
Last Tuesday evening, while the RSID class members were busy brainstorming the curative potential of letter forms, Ezer took a quick trip down to New York City to speak to members of AIGA/NY at the apt venue of MAD, the Museum of Arts and Design on Columbus Circle. Here are some of the ideas he put forth and projects he showed:
Do we love type enough to worship it? God shaped Adam from a lump of clay, and Ezer shapes graven images for idol-worship from Hebrew and Latin letters.
Three-dimensional letterforms—lower-case ‘g’ and Hebrew letter ‘pei’—sprout translucent wings and grow legs. Above, Ezer mates letterforms and biological systems to create new typographical phenomena, Hebrew and Latin typo-ants.
‘Aleph,’ the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, is now an insect, above, created in wire and green plasticine. It reproduces itself and multiplies into a swarm.
Type begets more type. Undertaking a process that involved hiring a scientific consultant and commissioning three-dimensional wire-frame visualizations, Ezer creates half human sperm–half letters, with serifs. “The three imaginary creatures—‘a,’ ‘p,’ and ‘s’—in the poster above are cloned sperms,” he says. “Typographic information has been implanted into their DNA.”
Poor letterforms. They not only get anthromorphized and cloned, their stems and ascenders get amputated. But Ezer thinks enough of them to give them emergency medical treatment.
This homage to Herb Lubalin’s famous 1967 “Mother & Child” logo is a mutation of an ampersand, inspired by biotechnology.
Another ongoing personal project involves the transformation of Ezer’s body via the photo-surgical attachment of typographical forms to flesh.
One of Ezer’s most commercially successful typographic experiments began when his mother, a painter, asked him to design a logo for her. Using the popular Hebrew typeface Frank-Rühl as a starting point, he cut off the lower part of the letters. “The result, although minimal, was surprisingly readable,” he says. “I then thought about the possibility to replace the removed lower parts with what looks like antennas. The result was a poster featuring the Hebrew word for ‘typography,’ which I entered in a Chinese design competition. This piece, with its antenna elements, did not even pass the first judging session. But it became one of my most known pieces and also my studio’s logo. It took me a year to design the whole character set, and then almost another year to decide that the font was good enough for selling.” Ezer’s Frankruhlia typeface is shown above on an Urban Forest Project banner in Times Square and on a T-shirt.
Ezer was one of 20 graphic designers and illustrators commissioned to interpret a work of fiction by British-Indian novelist Hari Kunzru for the recent exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, “Sky Arts Ignition: Memory Palace.” The novella takes place after the world’s information infrastructure is wiped out by an immense magnetic storm. It is a dark age in which technology and knowledge are gone. Recording, writing, and art are outlawed. “No one remembers what words used to mean,” Ezer explains. “They have new definitions.” He illustrated each one of eight new definitions with a typographic video. The “Customer” is consuming the letters. “Feedback” is a continuous loop of photos of Ezer mouthing the definition.
And now we come full circle. Do we love type enough to worship it? This is the costume of the high priest, the “kohain gadol” of Ezer’s futuristic typographic religion.