Dear Data Postcard Project

My new article for Cool Hunting

Dear Data,” an “analog data drawing project” founded and conducted by Giorgia Lupiand Stefanie Posavec, is essentially a personal data visualization correspondence exchange between the aforementioned artists, illustrated by hand on postcards. Lupi in Brooklyn and Posavec in London sent each other a postcard each week for a year. The 104 postcards are now a book in two editions—one for the US and one for the EU. Further, the entire set of postcards was recently acquired by NYC’s MoMA for its permanent collection.

It all started in 2013 with an encounter at the Eyeo Festival in Minneapolis. Lupi says, “I was familiar with Stefanie’s work very well before meeting her in person. It has always fascinated me how elegant, detailed, sublime and poetic her visualizations are. Her crafted and laborious way of working with data touches profound chords, I admired her process and body of work long before encountering her in real life.” Posavec explains, “We ended up talking to each other because we realized that we had a lot in common, but mainly because we both approached data visualization from a very handmade place. We didn’t code like many of our fellow data visualization colleagues but instead would use sketching and drawing as a way of coming up with new visual languages for representing data, and, for us, we saw this handmade process as vital to our creative/design process.” Of course the similarities weren’t simply professional, they hit it off personally too—both are only children and expats—and over a beer, they decided to collaborate.

“Ten days after we split and came back to our cities, I got an email from Stefanie, and everything started,” Lupi tells us. “From there on and for the following two months a copious number of emails flooded, where we over time refined the concept of our collaboration: daily or weekly datasets to work on, daily or weekly data-drawings, parallel types of data, finding a human and personal twist on the data. Ultimately we decided to work with our personal data, gathering information about ourselves to share with the other person, in an attempt to use data and drawings—the material we both work with—to get to know each other, over the course of the year.” The project—sending postcards to each other weekly—grew quite organically. Lupi says the idea of being ‘data pen pals’ “seemed incredibly compelling, and we decided to take in the risk that some of our postcards might get lost or damaged during their travel.”

While they were essentially gathering data, they also had to track it. “Initially, we had the crazy idea that we would collect our data manually; hand-writing all of our logs and details on a little Moleskine,” Lupi says. “But after the first week we agreed that it was just insane: to make our data collection sustainable over time and as less intrusive possible to our lives, we could use digital apps to jot down our data. Stefanie and I collected our data in different ways. I have been using different types of apps such as Evernote or the Reporter app, which is a very powerful tool for data recording if you know what types of ‘questions’ to set up. We also needed to get creative and find ways to quickly note things down on pieces of paper or even drawing a little reminder on our hands in all of these situations where it would be impolite to pull out our phones.”

It’s unsurprising that a project combining technology, design and personal stories would evolve into a book, but Lupi says it’s more than that. “The book obviously started with the project and it is based on our stories in form of data postcards for the year, but our collection of postcards is actually the starting point for an evolving conversation and another kind of back and forth between the two of us around our approach to data: around the importance of working with personal data with awareness and attention and expanding and elaborating on how we can use data as a material to connect with ourselves at a deeper level and to address even the trickiest matters in our minds.”

Since “Dear Data” was executed by Lupi and Posavec alone, collecting data in their own ways to create something together yet autonomous, the book evolved into something quite different. “The book was designed through lots of compromise and discussion as designers—which also helped us learn more about each other,” Lupi says. “It was also a great benefit in the end—as a designer, it can be very easy to think your way is always the right way, so through this continual discourse and debate we have been able to extend ourselves and see different solutions than what we might have normally taken.”

Their project is now part of the permanent collection at NYC’s MoMA. Lupi says, “Paola Antonelli (MoMA’s design curator) has been collecting data visualization for MoMA for a while now: Martin Wattenberg, Fernanda Viegas, Ben Fry, and Nicholas Felton are just a few prominent data visualization names who have also been acquired… We are so honored to have our work in the same collection as so many design and art masters, and we believe it also reinforces the value in experimenting and working on the edges of different disciplines (design / art / data visualization) in order to move all these disciplines forward.” Posavec explains the process took some time, as the team at MoMA decided whether or not to acquire the piece, “Stefanie and I spent months keeping all our fingers crossed, hoping the MoMA acquisition committee would agree with Paola that our work was worth being acquired. Needless to say, we couldn’t be happier and prouder and a multitude of other adjectives that our project has found the most incredibly permanent home.”

Images courtesy of Cassell & Co

Annunci

Studio Job + Alessi’s Comtoise Clock

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My latest article for Cool Hunting.

Best known for their unique creative approach that merges art and design, Studio Job‘s creations are oftentimes easily recognized. The two Flemish designers leading the studio (Job Smets and Nynke Tynagel) have a knack for using plenty of symbols—from the esoteric to the digital, and the classic to the obscure. During Milan Design Week we spoke with Smets about the industry as a whole, and the studio’s latest creation: the Comtoise Clock, designed for iconic Italian design house Alessi.

Studio Job (which is now made up of 20 people) is in the process of creating several products for Alessi, and the collaboration has been a long time coming. “I met Alberto Alessi for the first time, I think, in 2003 and then we didn’t have any contact for at least 10-15 years,” Smet tells us. “I thought [a collaboration] would never happen.” In the end, the timing has proven to be perfect, because a decade ago, the studio was leaning toward art more than design. But now, Smets says, there’s a balance that has aligned them with Alessi’s desires.

After gaining a little more understanding about Alessi’s production methods and catalogue, thanks to a visit at their plant and a brainstorming session with the team, Smets says Studio Job asked themselves, “‘What has never been done within Alessi?’ And tin—like tin that can be used for soup cans—never really had been adopted there.”

The result is the Comtoise, which is smothered in classic and modern-day symbolism—from hands forming a peace sign to arrows, diamonds, pills and bananas. The clock has an overall nostalgic visual language. “[We wanted] embossing and color, to make it become like an old cookie tin. Everyone has an old cookie tin, everyone still knows what it is,” Smets says. “For us, it was perfect because we’ve got the perfect combination between what Nynke does and what I do. The shape of the clock refers to the 18th century, something which my parents had hanging on the wall when I was young. That makes the design personal and that’s what we need these days,” Smets tells us.

Like so many industries, design has evolved a lot over the past decade. Smets is positive about all the changes, however, and predicts a kind of design renaissance. “We are living again in this sort of post-modern era, and also the identity of a designer becomes more and more important in the way that they develop personal products instead of modernist products… The fields are overlapping a little bit and this is really great. If you look at our office, we work in art, we work in design, we work in fashion and music and architecture, graphic design, 3D design, product development and corporate identities.” In many ways, the Comtoise Clock represents an intersection between art and design, and again, the past and present of both.

Signs of Italy

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My latest article for Cool Hunting.

The true understanding of Italian life only happens in the squares where people love to meet and share, eat and drink—all while observing what happens around them. It’s not a stereotype, but Italy and its many contradictions, its grand beauty and its occasional ugliness, meet and reveal themselves best when outside. With that said, designer and calligrapher James Clough—an Englishman in Milan—has undergone a years-long research project on the typography used in the streets of many Italian cities. Therein, he has witnessed the evolution of signs in the last two centuries, shedding insight on much more. This unique collection of images is now a book, “Signs of Italy” (“L’Italia Insegna” in the Italian version), published by Lazy Dog Press.

“I started photographing Italian shop signs about twenty years ago,” he tells CH, “because the most interesting ones were so different from what I had been used to seeing in Britain. I started showing slides to my design students in Milan and after a while other teachers invited me to make presentations in their classes. In 2007, I was asked by Graphicus, an Italian printing magazine, to write a series of short articles on Italian signs and after the experience of writing a piece every month for a year, the idea of a book cropped up quite naturally.”

As for what makes Italian signage unique, he shares “I love traveling and anywhere you go in Italy—even if it’s a village or a metropolis—you will find something in the streets that is fascinating either because it is unique or amazingly beautiful or because it is outrageously wrong—like a street name sign in three different typefaces and three baselines.” It isn’t always easy, he continues: “you have to hunt for the good stuff, much of it done by the old sign painters, because mediocrity in the shape of dejà vu and boring fonts has been taking over street name signs, shop signs and even gravestones for many years.”

Clough studied at the London College of Printing and teaches typography and the history of typography in Italy and Switzerland, as well as being a lecturer in the US and UK. This global background allows for a comparative analysis. “Sign painting has been a declining trade in Britain for several decades but during its heyday, which covered virtually the whole century, the professionals in this field also adhered to traditional letterforms; unlike their Italian colleagues who were ever so much more inventive and may not have had prescribed models to follow because no sign painters’ manuals were published in Italy.”

While the past plays the central role in his book, Clough is quick to support contemporary Italian graphic design, as well. “Yes, the past is a mine of inspiration but it is good to see that some very creative graphic designers occasionally have the opportunity to design shop signs, usually for specialized food retailers or restaurants. Architects are sometimes involved in signs today too but unlike their predecessors of the 1930s, they often have very little understanding of lettering and I show two or three quite outrageous examples in the book.”

Regarding what comes next, Clough concludes “The book deals with signs and inscriptions dating back to 1815, a time span of exactly 200 years, and therefore including the nineteenth century and Art Nouveau. But several millennia of Phoenician, Etruscan, Roman, medieval and Renaissance inscriptions are absent. And at some point in the future I would like to extend my research in that direction.”

You can purchase “Signs of Italy” online for €50.

Inside Italy’s Growing Sneaker Expo, Ginnika

My new article for COOL HUNTING.

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Works by Phil Toys

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Works by Phil Toys

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Works by Phil Toys

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Works by Phil Toys

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Installation by Phil Toys

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Nike Air Mag

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Nike Air Mag

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Andrea Sibaldi

Phil Toys

Phil Toys

Sneaker culture is varied and constantly evolving. It’s a world in which art, music, sports, fashion and of course shoes, all play a part. It generates passions and manias, as well as interesting connections between different places and people that may not otherwise mingle.

This is also the story behind Ginnika, a rapidly expanding event born in Rome in 2014. From now through 25 January, Ginnika is presenting a new edition in the northern city of Verona, while Perugia and other Italian cities are to be announced soon. We had the chance to visit the venue, look at some of the 600 sneakers on display, listen to some of the 48 hours of DJ sets and, most importantly, speak with founder Andrea Sibaldi. Together with Simone Strano, Vito Castellano and Michela Picchi, Sibaldi has turned his lifelong passion into Ginnika Posse, an ever-growing group of people from different backgrounds, united by the love for all that sneaker culture encompasses.

“We knew what it was all about,” Sibaldi tells CH, “but it was not our intention to limit everything to a range of shoes on display.” And that’s clear when we experience the latest edition, between Arena Studio d’Arte art gallery and Move Shop, an authentic cult store in town. “We (Ginnika Posse) are all guys with jobs away from the world of shoes or clothing, but we see this project as our safe heaven where we give in to our passions,” Sibaldi says. “You know, when you grow up it is not easy to be able to play, but with Ginnika, we can still enjoy ourselves very much.”

Playful and artistic are the perfect words to describe the site-specific installations by Phil Toys, a street artist obsessed with paper and boxes. Robots inspired by the colors of famous sneakers are the companions of tiny lo-fi squared shoes. Toys also made a series of custom prints—a literal representation of his love for shoes—inspired by classic styles and true gems like the Nike Air Mag, which against many odds is in fact on display.

Though as sneaker culture continues to evolve and move online, some may ask if this kind of event is still needed. Sibaldi’s ideas about this are pretty clear: “If we consider other international events, Ginnika may seem like just another happening of which people did not feel the need [to attend]. But when we speak of Italy, all is to be observed under a different lens. Indeed Ginnika is the first national project dedicated to sneaker culture at 360 degrees, with shoes, sports, music, art, food, beverage, culture and lots of interaction. This gives relevance to a phenomenon that has spread around the world in such a hectic way, hovering between fetishism and the most trivial forms of consumerism. We really want to act as spokespersons, telling our perspective in relation to existing events. So Ginnika was truly needed—or at least, we felt a great need for it to happen.”

In the land where craftsmen and companies create some of the best shoes in the world, the goal of such activities is to create relationships between various forms of creativity, among people with different stories. If nothing else, Ginnika has changed Sibaldi’s life (and his group of collaborators), as he candidly admits: “Before Ginnika my life was only about my work and some nights out made of stories told among friends. But now we are a movement that has succeeded in creating new horizons and connections. This is for us to achieve an important goal, we have become “concept revolutionaries” in our country, and for that we perfectly embody the spirit of a posse.”

MSGM in 3D

Subito dopo la sfilata della collezione uomo PE2015 di MSGM, mi sono chiesto come sarei riuscito a trasferire in fotografia i pensieri e le sensazioni che il lavoro di Massimo Giorgetti mi aveva provocato. Il colore prima di tutto, quel colore mai prevedibile, sempre calibrato di fino, pieno di riferimenti colti e/o pop. Poi le stampe, così dirette e chiare, nitide nell’idea e nell’esecuzione, capaci di parlare ogni lingua, con ogni mercato del pianeta.

Come esaltare colore e stampe? Come valorizzare la forte bidimensionalità della collezione? Cancellando proprio stampe e colore, passando dal 2D al 3D, all’esaltazione della forma dell’abito, ai suoi confini piuttosto che farsi distrarre da quello che si trova al centro. Ed ecco che sono letteralmente esplose le caratteristiche costruttive di MSGM, spesso nascoste dall’overdose creativa organizzata della stampa. E si notano meglio lo studio su dove debba cascare la spalla, l’ampiezza del collo, la lunghezza di giacche e pantaloni, lo spessore delle suole, l’ampiezza della calzata.

Non solo felpe, stampe, colore: Giorgetti e il suo team sanno fare ben di più. Come ha scritto Style.com, “MSGM may be the best shot Milan has to a next big thing.” Perché hanno il coraggio di fare quello che a noi italiani viene meglio, ovvero prendere un po’ di quello che ci circonda, trasformarlo e renderlo qualcosa di mai visto prima.

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Interview: Beppe Giacobbe

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My new article for COOL HUNTING

Visionary Dictionary: Beppe Giacobbe from A to Z” is the first monograph dedicated to the art of illustration master Beppe Giacobbe. Born in Milan in 1953 and having studied at the Accademia di Brera in Milan and the School of Visual Arts in New York, Giacobbe is renowned and appreciated because of his works for The New York Times, The New Yorker, Corriere della Sera, Courrier International and more. His surreal approach makes him one of the most respected artists for editorials.

In celebration of the launch of his first retrospective publication, CH had the chance to interview Giacobbe, to better understand the relationship between images and words.

Your work is often a balance between vision and psyche; what is—for you—the relationship between an idea and its visual representation?

The text introduces a topic and the idea should come from there. The idea of how to develop an image comes from my opinion on the subject and then with my work I have take a standpoint on it. I always look for a “visual trap” that connects to the theme to be treated, able to communicate directly with the neuro-visual system of the reader. I use visual paradoxes in order to capture the reader’s attention, but first of all I have to understand what are the boundaries of the banality of that topic. The illustration should never be a simple caption to the text, but an original interpretation of it.

If you just do a superficial search on the internet, you can get an idea of what is the standard of banality in the representation of a topic. To make a very basic example, if I do a search on the word “death,” I have a number of answers, images and texts. After a quick glance, here is the standard of banality on the subject: gravestones, a broken line, a cross, etc. I need this to figure out how to dissociate myself from the banality and not to fall into it. The challenge is this: to get away from the norm but represent a concept, an idea, an opinion, however, using a language that is as universal as possible because the image comes before the text in visual perception.

In your work there are also many “high” artistic references. What are the artists or artistic movements you take into consideration?

I love the color of 14th century art with the golden plates by Simone Martini, but I also appreciate the surrealist photography of Man Ray and others, or dreamlike collages by Jiří Kolář. Paul Klee because he sensed that the drawing is an organism that has its own life. “The Brutality of Fact” by Francis Bacon is a founding text to which I sometimes return, as well as the aphorisms by Elias Canetti where I find oxygen when in search for paradoxes. Anonymous popular African art is a world that fascinates me: I look at it for the greatness of its simplicity and synthesis.

Then there are the “great” illustrators like Brad Holland, the first conceptual illustrator who has not lost the characteristics of a great painter. Milton Glaser, multifaceted character of various talents, has innovated communication using tradition, but along new roads. Saul Steinberg for the biting irony, and also for its benevolent tenderness.

Are your illustrations more analog or digital? What is the balance between classical techniques and digital graphics?

This is a complex issue. I started working in watercolor and this defined me in my approach to making projects. Different from the computer, with watercolor there is no opportunity to take a step back; you can’t undo or delete. You have to be concise and be able to de-structure interventions in the construction of the whole, through a reasoned path. But it is also the technique that most of all makes you think of chance and luck, and it’s up to you to seize it. It’s just the opposite of digital techniques, but without that lesson I might not have been able to grasp certain aspects of computer use.

The medium is closely linked to the chain of production and therefore today it is an obliged choice. In the world of newspapers, with ever shorter timings for implementation and delivery, it would be unthinkable not using the same tools. This is a challenge that the computer only, as a painting medium, allows you to understand and deal with.

“Visionary Dictionary” is your first monograph. What was the criterion for the selection of works?

I didn’t choose them, I just sent a wide selection of my recent years of work. I trust my staff and I’m always curious about the external sight of the people around me. As Klee said, “Every image, once it is completed, lives its own life and is part of the world.” So it is not important for me to choose them; indeed, it may be more interesting when others do. Of course, I worked in synergy with the editorial group [at Lazy Dog] and with the authors of texts, but always tried to listen to their visions and never imposing my own. The result satisfies me a lot, as I liked to see the development that the book has taken in time, to the final result.

What job have you never been commissioned for, but would like to do?

The special correspondent in Long Island whose pen portrays people walking by the sea.

The book will be presented on 11 December at Books Import in Milan. On this occasion, the windows of the bookstore will be decorated with the work of Giacobbe’s heirs, the new wave of Italian illustrators, such as Luca Barcellona, Alice Beniero, Chiara Dattola, Emiliano Ponzi and Olimpia Zagnoli.

“Visionary Dictionary: Beppe Giacobbe from A to Z” is published by Lazy Dog and will be released 2 December 2013 for €55. Pre-order a copy to receive the discounted price of €45. The text is in both English and Italian.

 

Portland, ovvero della grazia hipster

IMG_6301Portland è il parco giochi degli hipster. Da queste parti edifici di mattoni, camicie a quadri, barbe e scarponi da montanaro, negozi di felpe couture, librerie che mescolano libri vintage a blockbuster, qui sono la norma. E appaiono con una spontaneità disarmante.

Se è vero – come diceva Baldassarre Castiglione – che la grazia è sforzo senza affettazione, Portland è il regno della grazia hipster. Sembra Williamsburg in formato città, ma senza la mascheratura di fasullo che spesso traspare da chi si atteggia a “io non sono mainstream”. Qui è l’amore per la vita all’aperto che spinge a possedere scarponcini da hiking, è la passione per le notti in tenda che abitua ad indossare tessuti scozzesi, sono le gite a Mount Rainer che fanno scegliere zainetti tecnici, sono le insegne anni ’50 di Fish Grotto e Georgia’s Grocery che fanno nascere la grafica retro-tipografica, sono i pomeriggi passati da Powell’s City of Books (il negozio di libri più grande del mondo!) a farti passeggiare con libri stropicciati sottobraccio.

Poi c’è la moda, of course: ci sono l’Ace Hotel e Stumptown Coffee, ma qui è pari pari come essere a New York. Però basta passare sull’altro lato della strada per trovare un’unicum: si sta finendo di realizzare Union Way, una piccola galleria commerciale in cui regna un meraviglioso equilibrio tra costruzioni in legno e iPad, sushi e caramelle artigianali, moda commerciale e rarità, hype e heritage: insomma, il paradiso hipster.

Passeggiando per Portland si ha davvero l’impressione che la definizione di hipster vada rivista e approfondita, che non sia solo un trend passeggero ma più radicale, che non sia un fenomeno di facciata ma uno stile destinato a rimanere ancora a lungo.

E probabilmente le sue radici non sono da cercare sulla East Coast, ma in Oregon.