newspaper 41: March 2004
The Gallery Show. Part Four
Maureen & Daniel
BRUSSELS, 22 FEB. - As the fourth part of The Gallery Show, Jan Mot and Daniel van der Velden had a conversation by e-mail regarding the gallery’s newspaper which is designed by Daniel and his colleague Maureen Mooren.
Jan Mot: We met each other through the publications you did, first with Dora Garcia, and later with Manon de Boer; I was tempted by your conceptual approach, in which your intervention was more than just a matter of design, but which also took the form of textual contribution or editing. When we started talking about the gallery's newsletter, you came very quickly with the proposal to change the concept of the newsletter into a newspaper; it was a question of style (I said to you I liked the low key publications like De Witte Raaf, for instance) but also the financial aspect, the printing costs of the newspaper are relatively low; but there was more than that; what were your ideas at the beginning and how do you look back at it after three years of making it?
Daniel van der Velden: For us, 'Oscillations', a collaboration with Manon de Boer, represented an almost ideal assignment in terms of an intellectual – both textual and visual - partnership. In comparison to what we did with Manon, your request was really down to earth, and it pinned down, at least at first sight, the designer in a relatively conventional role: A5 size, information, text, no jokes. That kind of stuff. No highbrow editorial concepts; no initial signs of innnovation. At that moment, we just were starting to deal with our newly developed 'layered and ugly' approach for Archis magazine, something we wanted to achieve and strive for but were at the same time unsure about. Your request seemed, at first sight, like a setback, also because you reacted to some of our work in an extremely critical way, calling it 'a waste of money'; perhaps you were not referring to the design itself but to its printing costs. More and more we saw that our proposal needed to be something which would fit you like a glove, at the same time transcending the banality of the folded A5 newsletter into a valuable or vulnerable object. This is where the newspaper idea came in. The idea of a downsized newspaper contains two essential notions; one is the recognition of the object itself, because of its typographical organization and newsprint quality, undoubtedly: a newspaper. Step two is the downsizing, which is transformation - an essential part of the process.
There is recognition, but also change, and as a result, hopefully surprise, sudden intimacy... The end product looks low budget, but not cheap; it looks modest, but not like an act of spontaneous self-punishment. It is understated, but at the same time child-like.
To us it is a pleasure to make this newspaper, and the reactions are often quite positive. Recently I spoke to a girl who was kind of punk and alternative. Showing her the newspaper resulted in a kind of love song. To the newspaper of course. The same happened with a renowned director of a renowned art institution.
JM: My critical reaction to some of your designs, when we first met, was indeed most of all a question of printing costs. I remember an A3-sized invitation you made with an enormous hole cut out. That was like the opposite of what I wanted. In the newspaper, there are a lot of voids too, but to me they are functionnal. It gives you a bigger freedom in designing the newspaper. The only thing we now seem not to agree upon all the time are the titles of the texts. You want them to be more newspaper like, but sometimes it might become to much like a tabloid. At those moments one feels how incredibely serious the art world is. I remember the title for Dora Garcia's show with 'The Locked Room' which was: 'Passers-by think
gallery already closed down'.
DvdV: Oh yes, that invitation for Marres (an art space in Maastricht, ed.) we once made. That had an enormous hole... But is there a problem with that? You got your opposite... Of course we from time to time insist that the writing of headlines for articles is in tune with the idea of a downsized newspaper, so that the headlines present a certain manipulation, a certain 'news value' which is in a forced way journalistic. It is interesting that you point to the 'voids'. We noticed of course that a newspaper never has any empty space left. It is always completely stuffed with material. We found out that creating empty space in a newspaper by blocking out text with white rectangles leaves intact this idea of a full newspaper, at the same time creating a sense of spatiality and emptyness in the pages. These zones were named 'voids'; but it would be interesting to change the void to another strategy, an 'anti-void', don't you think? That would be a leftover space filled with material just to fill the newspaper, like a kind of 'spam'. How would one develop an editorial approach for that? Do you think we can agree about such an approach in the future?
One more thing in defence of the hole is that the invitation in question became in a certain way 'wearable', like a piece of clothing. I think that's one of the more interesting goals for graphic design to pursue, wearability instead of readability - defining the relationship with the
user in terms of an immediate closeness instead of the usual distance. A lot of our work tries to deal with that. I think, the newspaper as well.
One thing that worries me is that the newspaper as a format was already so heavily used by the dadaists and surrealists. Is it risking to become too much a format of the past, flirting with its 'Belgian', Broodthaers-related aesthetic - of course linked to our imagination of a more politically inspired art life, with wine-and coffee-drenched political discussions in cafés. Nowadays more and more newspapers are shrinking to tabloid format... of course (y)our newspaper presents a more advanced stage of this shrinkage. And there is what is called 'electronic paper'; the supposed next stage of the newspaper. A wafer-thin lcd-screen capable of displaying everyday new content. What if we pretend the gallery newspaper is in fact a pilot study for these lcd screens; it would allow us a new and radical experiment with the lay-out... what do you think, Jan?
JM: What I think? That if we continue like this there won't be any void at all! And when you talk about a 'more politically inspired art life' I guess you're being ironic again. Anyway, I am in for new ideas and forms, I like the idea of the pilot study. Let's talk about it tomorrow when we meet in Amsterdam. OK?
The Gallery Show*
is organised in collaboration with Joe Scanlan. In this show, a series of elements pertaining to the operation of the gallery are highlighted. Ordinarily these elements are subordinate to the main function of the gallery, which is of course showing art. The idea of this program, however, is to focus on the physical aspects of the gallery itself; to investigate the practical decisions that cause a particular space to come to be defined as an art gallery; and to research how these decisions effect the art the gallery shows, the visitors it receives, and the traces they leave.
* Title by Tino Sehgal