Orlan vs. Typefaces, 2000 LCC

Beauty, 2000 LCC

Orlan vs. Typefaces

Rule breaking means effectively replacing the old rules with new ones. In every discipline, rules are part of a system in service of that discipline and its meaning/purpose. It is the meaning/the truth which holds a system together and does not allow it to disperse. To break rules radically means that the meaning/the truth cannot hold the system together for there is a new meaning to create a whole new system. However, “breaking rules” in its much used term means to challenge the components of the system in desire/demand for a new meaning or no meaning at all. If we want to throw the meaning away then the whole system will drop, for it is the meaning which creates the system. If there is no meaning, there is no system consequently no rules either. On the other hand, If it is only a desire to change the rules due to the present conditions then those changes or alterations will either integrate into the system without altering its meaning/essence/truth or will dither away with time as a style.

Letterforms, a code system which have evolved over the centuries alongside a technology in service of a mass-communication system. Like all systems, it needs to have a structure to function. A structure is constructed of different elements; these elements are held together by rules to create the structure. Elements and rules in the structure refer to and connect with the system, which, while it holds the whole structure together, limits the movement within the system. That is why we have rules. To produce or to create, we need systems, without a system we have nothing to relate to and therefore no meaning. On the other hand, the conditions that create systems change, and when there are changes we need to reconsider the elements and the rules of the sructure to renew the whole system. The whole structure is then questioned. Partial changes or minor alterations caused by the application of new technology to the elements or the rules are only temporary and arbitrary, for they don’t connect to the whole system which bears the meaning. Minor changes then either become incorporated into the system or disappear.

My aim with this project was to bring into discussion the concept of “breaking rules”, which was discussed in Jeffery Keedy’s article “The rules of typography according to experts” (Eye magazine, no.11, 1993). I wanted to investigate and discuss his point on “breaking the rules” since this has been an issue for me too. However, I came to the conclusion that “breaking the rules” in fact does not refer to what we understand from this phrase. This is evident in Keedy’s own words:

The first thing one learns about typography and type design is that there are many rules and maxims. The second is that these rules are made to be broken. And the third is that “breaking the rules” has always been just another one of the rules. Although rules are meant to be broken, scrupulously followed, misunderstood, reassessed, retro-fitted and subverted, the best rule of thumb is that rules should never be ignored. The typefaces that accompany this article are recent examples of rule-breaking/making in progress. I have taken some old rules to task and added some new ones of my own that I hope will be
considered critically.

This paragraph explains quite clearly his strong attachment to traditional rules and at the same time his desire to break the rules and replace them with new ones. He also sees rule-breaking as the same as rule-making in progress, for the examples of typefaces that he shows us are not breaking the rules: they indicate that designers are in search of a new style using and playing with the new technology as a new and sometimes as a fun tool, targeting a visually literate audience. Now that technology has changed, the production of fonts has changed too with the audience used to a sophisticated level of coding and pace. Therefore, the criteria such as legibility or clarity do not apply to our time. These are obvious and accepted facts but the primary concern of both designer and audience is not to see how the rules are broken but what type does and how it does it.

Phrases such as “breaking rules” “making rules” or “being revolutionary” are frequently used in our society and in every discipline or system without us really being particularly aware of their action and meaning. The meaning is paradoxical. Rule breaking and rule making derive from the concept of oppositions (e.g. the new/ the old, where the former is usually preferred). The opposition usually ends up by creating new rules using the inherited rules/standards as reference points which in their turn will be questioned in time. This creates a continuous cycle and applies to every discipline and every system.

Therefore, rules in fact are not broken: they are challenged, changed, bent, etc. in order to question tradition and meaning. The reason for doing this generally does not lie in a desire to break rules for the sake of rule-breaking. Rules are ”broken” because they no longer satisfy the current needs, for example the quest for truth, or true meaning. Thus new rules are constantly created, for the meaning of the truth is in constant flux. Nevertheless they need to fluctuate within a system that holds them together.

Merleau-Ponty said “All culture prolongs the past”2, by which he meant that the new does not invalidate the old but challenges it. Merleau-Ponty notes that the intensity with which the new denies and challenges the past suggests its continued attachment to it, and this, according to Merleau-Ponty, accounted for the genius of Cézanne —”He (Cézanne) preferred to search for the true meaning of painting, which is continually to question tradition.”3

The challenge to the rules and tradition by its very nature often comes from subculture. The questioning of typographic rules started in the late 70’s when fashion and music were undergoing through the same kind of questioning. Subculture like punk had an impact, with their music and their attitude to life and technology, over printed materials. Since the 80s, with the visual and creative freedom that the Macintosh made possible, there has been a strong contemporary interest to use new technology to create the most energetic expression. In the 80s ID magazine used techniques such as enormously enlarged photocopies, distorted copies or under/over-exposed photographs and used the computer as a facility to add graphic effects. This was a punk attitude to turn the limitations of new technology into positive attributes. Typography became an important part of the texture of the printed page. However, these merely served as experiments, for no real language was established with the use of this style. The style had no system, and therefore it had no meaning. In order to give meaning to this style, it had to be replaced in a system.

Neville Brody, the art director of the “style culture” magazine The Face tamed these energetic punk attitudes and expressions into the graphic design discipline. Extended or condensed computer generated fonts were manipulated, re-organised on the computer without the limitations imposed by earlier printed methods. Since then designers are enthusiastic about pushing typographic boundaries, and now there is a general desire for a new vocabulary, freed from the rules of tradition. This is also derived from a broader cultural context — the post modern era that we live in. Challenging the past, the functionalism and legibility of modernism and along with post-modern fluidity with its ambiguity and multiplicity that brought experimental typography in to a contemporary context where its meaning and presence are gaining more importance than to serve a text.

However, these typographic experimentations derived from a stile or punk attitude did not really change typography in the true sense. For example, most of Emigré Fonts show a strong attachment to the traditional typefaces, and their designers reveal this attachment in their design description. Even more intriguing the latest fonts produced between 2000- 2001 are even more attached to traditional fonts then the earlier fonts.

Dalliance, 2000 designed by Frank Heine: The inspiration for Dalliance Script comes from an early 19th century hand lettering specimen. Solex, 2000, designed by Zuzano Licko:
Inspiration for Solex came from two principal sources: Alternate Gothic and Bauer Topic.
Eidetic 2000 designed by Rodrigo Cavazos in 2000: I drew Eidetic as a way of coming to terms with traditional typography (certain aspects of it, anyway) that I'd learned to hate as a production artist, burnishing tool in hand, in the 1980’s. I'd initially intended to meet classicism halfway...

The fonts Keedy displays in his article :

Even Fatter by Sue LaPorte, Heavy Truth by Barry Deck, Horncastle based on 19th century wood types by Phil Baines, Manson Sans by Barnbrook, a hyper classical typeface, Fancy single by Sue LaPorte, based on Bodoni and its status as a “fancy”typeface, Addmorph by Brian Schorn, a 1918 first edition letterpress book on the Trajan Alphabet provided the inspiration for the face.

These new fonts do not go any further than typeface hybridizations by which I mean playing with the basic parts of types such as serifs, curves, counters etc. The alphabet is inherited, letters are accepted forms of the alphabet, fontdesigners work with the conventional forms of the letters altering their look decoratively or expressively which means generating endless repetitions of types. Inspired by Orlan I would call them type-hybridazitions or type-renovations. Most of them are based on or inspired from the classical typefaces, just like Orlan’s self-hybradizations (portraits). On the other hand fonts produced for Fuse interactive magazine created by Brody and Wozencroft are more pictorial alphabets.

Fuse fonts are attempts of braking the boundaries of the accepted letterforms towards a more “post-linguistic alphabet systems”. Alongside with their posters they have a strong visual language which does not work within the linguistic system at the moment.

An analogy to Plato’s roomness might be to think about being in a room —-say, your bedroom. At first, you think about how to decorate the room: what colour to paint the walls, where the bed and wardrop go, etc. Then one day you might think about the room, not as your room, but as one room in the whole house, as part of a structure; then you might think about the "roomness" of your room, the qualities that (apart from your specific decorations) make it a room, like its door or window and then about how it relates to other rooms in the structure (my room is my room because it's not the room next door). When you start thinking about the roomness of the room or the fontness of the fonts is the moment when, as designers, we began to see typography as system, not as absolute truth, but as construct, as structure, then we may realise, it is not only the fonts or the style of the layouts we desire to change but the necessity in overviewing the whole system or structure.

Russell Bestley and Ian Noble points out the need to look at the language and especially of the graphic language, in their article titled “Words Fail Us”.

"The relationships between message, audience and graphic design are still handicapped by a limited lexicon.
Yet our need for an enriched language is greater than ever."

”The attempt to apply analytical and theoretical models from outside discipline has been a necessary development."

Ferdinand Saussure, the father of semiotics as a discipline, pointed out that language is a structure and that every system —whether language, or semiotics itself —has a structure. Graphic design is a structure, it is a discipline which creates the visual interface of thought, and it is a way to communicate thought. Poet Norman Fisher said “The real technology behind all our other technologies is language.” Language is the centre of typo/ graphics. When we start looking at type in relation to language and semiotics and art, city etc, we start seeing it as a part of the whole, not only as a part of typography or graphic design.

At this point, another analogy might be congruent to compare the standards of beauty of human face with the standards of beauty of typeface. This analogy is to emphasise that “breaking the rules” and opposing the rules are socially and culturally paradoxical in every discipline.

Orlan is a French artist who is undergoing a number of plastic surgery operations in order to change her looks, mainly her face. She decided to turn her skin into a canvas and work on it because she does not want to become a classical beauty. Her work is against the standards of beauty, against the dictates of the dominant ideology that impresses itself more and more on feminine as well as masculine flesh.

Her latest work, Self-Hybridations; is a passage from “the real” plastic surgery operations to “the virtual”. She creates her own image on the computer where she then transforms herself with different features, reflecting the standards of beauty of different civilisations at different epoques. These include prosthetic nose, deformation of the scalp, taking from Pre-Colombian civilisations such as Mayas and Aztecs. She explains self hybridations as a proposition for the mutant bodies new criteria of beauty outside of the actual norms.

With these new criteria, Orlan, by the very act of opposing and breaking the rules falls in the same trap of creating and proposing her own standards/rules which are also exertions subject to fashion. The other point about the opposition between new/old or the new/ traditional is that Orlan while opposing the old standards of beauty she goes even further back in history and studies Pre-Colombian standards of beauty to import them to this epoque. It is difficult to see something as being old and new at the same time. There is a paradox in which the oppositions annulate each other. The opposition of new/old does not exist anymore, only Self-Hybridizations or Type-Hybridizations exist as cross-breeds between the two. Designers of the new fonts are exactly going through the same process as Orlan; studying the old and taking bits and pieces from the old to recreate new, hence Type-Hybridizations is an appropriate way of describing them.

However, they have their validity, for they point out and draw attention into the inconsistency or invalidity of the systems which make everyone involved sit back and question the structure or the system. They can be read as anarchical or creative or decorative or as in Orlan’s case, as extremist or even as madness. In any case they open new ways and new alternatives which leads to experimentation, as in both field.

When there is an opposition, we have two choices: the first choice is that the old can be out thrown completely (as in the example of the Turkish linguistic revolution with the abandonment of the Arabic script in favour of the Latin script), The second choice is to keep the system but recognise its imperfection, and see it just as a structure which holds elements together.

In typography medernists beleived in the perfection of the system and they worked within that system to create perfect, immaculate designs in the service of pure functionality and problem solving within the design industry. In the 80s problem solving was interfered with style. Neville Brody and Jon Wozecroft laid out their confusion by claiming ‘if you approach design as problem solving all you can ever hope to communicate is the problem itself, but style is a virus’. Since then style has been a virus and manifests itself in different ways in design and art such as hybridizations, eclecticism, etc.

In the second choice, there is no need to understand and acknowledge the system of thought that produces the terms or ideas or tools. For example, as a designer, you don’t need to understand or know anything about semantics to use signs or you don’t need to know about the idea behind of a type face or a style and how they are originated, you can use them, as long as they are useful for you to design a particular piece of work to communicate a message.

In contrast to the second choice, some designers (modernists) think their job is to communicate ideas or messages or to interpret them in the most clear and legible way; they have to create functional solutions with minimum play if not any. Most of these designers would think what they created is the best for it reflects the ultimate typo/ graphic solutions within the structure. This is the central concept that everything refers to a concept, such as modernism; functionality, clarity, less is more. This is fixed as the essential cental points of modernism, play is not allowed outside the boundaries. Some people don’t like to play, experiment or question or approve the system whereas some like playing and experimenting, they enjoy state of flux, impermanence and multiplicity which is a post-modernist attitude.

Using the old rules as reference points only refers to create new styles. A style that exist outside of a system and therefore without meaning is subject to dither away. Importing styles without the recognition of the system will result in a style without meaning; a style cannot be used arbitrarily wiyhout being subject to a system. If we lost our trust in the system also means we lost the meaning in which case we have to question the true meaning otherwise there is no need to break the rules.