Shape My Language – An Exhibition By Bruno Maag In Vienna

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Fonts in Use, News | Yves Peters | March 5, 2010

Last night a remarkable typographic exhibition opened in the Walking-Chair Design Gallery in Vienna, Austria. The gallery of the Walking-Chair Design Team presents “one of the most outstanding professionals in type design and programming” – Bruno Maag from the Dalton Maag Studio, UK. As the press text for Shape My Language explains:

There are dozens of different script systems in use in the world today, giving shape to thousands of spoken languages. A typeface designer’s task is not only to visualise the emotion with which a message is spoken, but also to ensure that the reader can absorb the message with a minimum of distraction.

The set-up of the exhibition is surprising to say the least. Long streams of clear plastic cards hang from the ceiling, engulfing the gallery visitors in a typographic mist. Each card features one single glyph from one of thirteen different Dalton Maag typefaces, with the font name above it and the Unicode number below. The familiar Latin characters hang side to side with Cyrillic, Arabic, and Indian glyphs. Instead of merely looking at the work from a distance, the viewer is immersed in it. It makes for an unusual tactile experience, a physical confrontation with thousands of individual letters revealing their intimate details. You can literally feel how the soft and rounded Plume brushes against your cheek, literally bump into the self-assured of Interface, barely notice how Dedica timidly touches your fingers …


Gallery visitors wandering though the “letter mist”. Photo from Dalton Maag

What was the idea behind this exhibition?

B R U N O  M A A G | Fidel Peugeot at Walking Chair asked me to contribute to their gallery with an exhibition about the world of type. He was particularly interested in visualising the skill and craftsmanship that goes into designing a typeface and turning it into a working font. From the outset we both agreed that the exhibition was not to be a commercial vehicle for Dalton Maag, but that it should become a personal art piece hinting at my passion for letter forms. This decision did not make it any easier to come up with a good idea, on the contrary. I learned quickly that art is a very tough thing to do.


Gallery Visitors In The Mist. Photo from Dalton Maag

People are used to see type in the context of words and sentences. What was your aim with this fascinating set-up?

B R U N O  M A A G | I worked for about seven months just trying to get the concept right. Initially, I was working on a graphic design-based idea to create banners focusing on shapes and ornaments etc. After two or three banner designs I found that this was a total conceptual dead-end. Fortunately my friend Sanne Flyvbjerg – an art curator working in Copenhagen – helped me escape my one-dimensional thinking. I managed to move the idea into a three dimensional space that makes letter forms an experience. After many more attempts at creating an interesting and engaging exhibition concept using letter forms I arrived at the installation as it is. I wanted to illustrate the sheer number of characters that are in a font, the work that goes into creating an every day product that people simply expect to function. By providing different type designs and different script systems the viewer experiences the wealth of shapes that a letter can take, and that other people have a different idea of the forms that represent the spoken word. I wanted for the viewer to have childlike fun when standing in the middle of the approximately 5,500 suspended letter forms.


Detail of the linking system. Photo from Dalton Maag

How was this amazing “letter mist” produced?

B R U N O  M A A G | The letters are printed on 1mm clear plastic using an ink jet system. A laser cuts the individual cards from a large sheet and drills the hole that allows the linking of the cards. The cards are linked together with a small plastic piece, the same that can be seen used in holding tags on clothes and the like.

The cards were printed by Context, and Fidel and his team at Walking-Chair did the setting up. It took three days to link the cards and hang it.


Gallery visitors examining the “letter mist”. Photo from Dalton Maag
The opening was well attended by about 70 people from in and around Vienna – on an evening when there were a number of private views in the town. Reactions were positive, with many people walking through the mist wide-eyed like children in a candy store. Before the opening Fidel organised an “expert round table” discussion where Bruno Maag talked about type and fonts to people of various experience. Issues such as how Dalton Maag goes about designing type, the proportion of design and technology, and of course the business angle of type were discussed. Bruno also called for more unity within the font industry with a call to standardise EULAs, establish minimum character sets for OpenType, etc., to make it an easier user experience. As part of his being in Vienna he also gave a lecture at the FH Joanneum in Graz about Dalton Maag’s work.


Bruno Maag (left). Photo from Dalton Maag
Founded in 1991 by Liz Dalton and Bruno Maag, Dalton Maag’s team has worked with some of the world’s most recognised brands: BMW, TUI, McDonald’s, Toyota, British Telecom, UBS, Winterthur Insurance, Coop Switzerland, and many others. The unique combination of technical and creative competence allows Dalton Maag to create fonts for a global audience without compromising the client’s corporate identity.

The Walking-Chair Design Studio, located in the heart of Vienna, is a multidisciplinary think tank founded in 2002 by Karl Emilio Pircher & Fidel Peugeot. Three years after founding the studio and four years after their first exhibition in London, they started the Walking-Chair Design Gallery. Three to four times a year the gallery presents new aspects of design by inviting international designers and people that work in design. The Shape My Language exhibition runs until June 12, 2010.

New Design University of St. Pölten graduate and independent designer Oliver Schöndorfer posted a report (in German) on his Zeichenschatz blog, and a photographic report on Flickr. Dalton Maag also has a set up on Flickr.


A very sharp ß. Photo by Oliver Schöndorfer

Opening of the typo-installation in Vienna. Photo by Oliver Schöndorfer

Kickin’ ft-ligature from PP Tondo Signage. Photo by Oliver Schöndorfer

Bruno Maag in letter mist. Photo by Oliver Schöndorfer

S circumflex from Aller Display. Photo by Oliver Schöndorfer

Pound Sterling sign from Tomac. Photo by Oliver Schöndorfer

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6 Comments:

  1. So sweet!

    Posted by Dimi on Mar. 8, 2010
  2. Now, that is my TYPE of museum exhibit.

    Posted by racy_rick on Mar. 8, 2010
  3. very very cool. congrats bruno!

    Posted by Simon Robertson on Mar. 16, 2010
  4. Wow -awesome exhibition! Thanks for covering and sharing this. Now, How can I get one of those cards – preferably and H, M or a K! I’m sure I’m not the only type freak that would buy one if the money went to a worthy cause.

    peace,

    HMK

    Posted by H. Michael Karshis on Mar. 17, 2010
  5. Beautiful exhibition, congratulations Bruno. I am so chuffed to see Urban Splash light in there as well!

    Posted by Orla on Apr. 20, 2010
  6. Shape My Language will be on display at the Design Museum in London, from 28 January till 28 February 2011.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jan. 24, 2011

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