To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, filmmakers, designers, and performers to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2019.
Sereina Rothenberger and David Schatz have been running the Zurich-based design practice Hammer since 2008. For the last six years, Sereina has been teaching at the University of Arts and Design in Karlsruhe, Germany, where she was the head of the graphic design department. Since 2016, David and Sereina are faculty members of the MFA Program in Graphic Design at Vermont College of Fine Arts. They are convinced that there is rarely an archetypal design solution and try to create a specific aura for each project. The aspect that unites all of their activities is a research-oriented approach, an emphasis on a participatory design methods and a strong belief in the power of aesthetics.
It’s a humid June day in Abidjan. Tango is blasting in the olive green jeep as Pathé’o, a man in his 60s in a trippy shirt, is steering the wheel. We’re on our way to his studio in the district of Treicheville, a place where he started out as an apprentice back when the African elite would still dress in European fashion. You may not know Pathé’o, but in Ivory Coast everybody does. One could say this Ivorian fashion designer from Burkina Faso is the Yves Saint Laurent of West Africa. Recently having collaborated with Dior, he is among the first generation of African designers who transformed the traditional country-side attire into high-fashion. Pathé’o has an ongoing commitment to promote African fashion and traditional textile production. We are stoked to collaborate with him and Sereina’s sister, Flurina, who is a photographer, on a book that will be published next year by Edition Patrick Frey. Spending a couple of days in his buzzing studio in Abidjan was an amazing experience for us!
Working on the Pathé’o book, we also visited Yamoussoukro, the birthplace of president Félix Houphouët-Boigny. After the country has gained independence, Yamoussoukro, a former agricultural village, was made the capital and underwent immense reconstruction according to his megalomanic vision. During this period, he commissioned the building of Notre-Dame de la Paix, the world’s largest basilica, in which he immortalized himself in a stained-glass window as one of the apostles next to Jesus.
Pathé’o helped us gain permits to visit the carefully guarded Félix Houphouët-Boigny Foundation, which partners with UNESCO to promote peace research and also seems to memorialize the legacy of “Papa Houphouët.” Roaming its lavish halls, we found the building only half full, with bureaucrats during siesta in their leather chairs. It was certainly one of the highlights of 2019 to witness this architectural phantasmagoria of marble, gold and ghosts.
This year too, the flood of new sans serif fonts has not subsided and it is now officially impossible to distinguish them one from another. Our dear friend Philipp Herrmann’s typeface ToY was a refreshingly anticyclical release that pushed the concept of ligatures to the limit. Even though the historical origin lies in 1920’s Italy, the letters mesh so nicely with each other that for us ToY is the graffiti font of the year!
Living in Zurich often feels like living on a concrete chessboard. That is why during our travels we always feel attracted to bold and humorous postmodernist architecture that does not shy away from the literal translation of ideas. This year we discovered “Les Espaces d’Abraxas” in the outskirts of Paris, designed by Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill and built between 1978 and 1983. His intention was to build a “Versailles for the people.” The building was a new attempt to the otherwise very practical but also monotonous social housing projects. It consists of three monumental prefab pink-hued concrete blocks that mimic a palace, a triumph arc, and an amphitheater. No wonder it served as a backdrop for several science-fiction movies (Brazil in 1985 or The Tribute of Panem in 2014). Today the place looks pretty rundown. It is quite striking that urban planning projects that started with an exceptional utopian vision and enthusiasm rarely grow into a welcoming environment but rather stay representative objects.
2019 has been a pretty underwhelming year in hip hop. Luckily the godfather of mumble and trap’s Ludwig van Beethoven have graced us with an album that is one thing above all else: weird enough. Earlier this year Zaytoven also played an instrumental Tiny Desk concert due to the fact that Future didn’t show up. With Elena Pinderhughes on flute, the session was strongly reminiscent of a late night staple in our office: Quik’s grooves.
One of our regular clients and one the most forward-thinking venues for contemporary art in Switzerland is the Kunsthalle Basel, curated by Elena Filipovic. The program is so good that it is almost impossible to name just one single favorite exhibition of 2019. We really enjoyed Mammalian Fantasies by Daniel Dewar and Grégory Gicquel. At first glance, all objects looked like traditional folk art: heavy wooden drawers, rustic benches—a rural beer hall kind of vibe. But when you were closer, everything became very surreal: dislocated human arms and fingers, rabbits, snails, booty. You were allowed to touch everything. It’s a strangely compelling experience to touch a rock hard, perfectly carved man’s ass mounted to the wall.
In September our friend Simon Grab and the Togolese rapper Yao Bobby released their debut EP Diamonds on LAVALAVA Records. For the design of the album cover we collaborated with the young Ivorian artist Cédric Kouamé, who among other things curates an archive called “the gifted mold.” It’s a collection of found photographs from private archives. The photos look totally magical and psychedelic because they have grown mouldy in the tropical humidity. As a graphic designer you don’t always work with content that knocks you off your feet, but here it all made sense to us: The music sounds incredibly current! Dystopian, cacophonic… It’s the perfect soundtrack for looting a supermarket.
This year Sereina’s professorship at the University of Arts and Design in Karlsruhe came to an end. The university is one of the few art academies that limits the duration of professorships to six years. This guarantees a.) an up-to-date curriculum and b.) teachers that actually have a practice—a model we find very future-oriented. It was still difficult for Sereina to say goodbye. But hey, students and colleagues threw her a legendary party, which included a limousine service, an in-house nail studio that only had neon orange polish, a skywalker, and, weirdly enough, space-cookies with her face on it… you name it. All of which made it only a little bit easier to part.
LE PALAIS IDÉAL
On April 19, 1879, the postman Ferdinand Cheval stumbled upon a stone that seemed so unique, he used it for the foundation of the palace of his dreams, a place he continued to build for the following 33 years. Each day during his walks, he collected stones and processed them into bizarre figures using mortar. He named it “le palais idéal”—the ideal palace. The palace is just as much a cathedral, mosque, and Hindu temple as a Swiss chalet, labyrinth, or ghost train. Cheval’s goal was to mix “all styles of all countries and all times.” Oddly enough, he never left France and instead drew inspiration from travel reports and postcards from foreign locations. Visiting the place, you encounter a corroded Disneyland-like collage of exotic clichés plastered together by a man that never had the opportunity to travel. You feel like you are wandering through his imagination. At the time, Cheval was considered a freak and an outsider, but in 1931 André Breton, one of the founders of Surrealism, discovered the palace and fought for its conservation.
We discovered the “le palais idéal” thanks to french graphic designers Alex Balgiu and Olivier Lebrun, with whom Sereina organized a workshop on site earlier this year. We’ve always been attracted by the work of maniac amateurs, and surely this palace blew our mind. It’s a historical legacy of the power of imagination.
This year also marked the 30th anniversary of New Deal, the first skateboard company founded and managed directly by skaters. New Deal played a pivotal role in modern street skating. With artists such as Andy Howell, Ed Templeton, Gorm Boberg, Chris Miller, Jose Gomez, and many others, the effortlessly scrawled, graffiti-inspired deck graphics really set the visual tone for the ’90s. We both spent our youth skateboarding and retrospectively, these graphics were our first encounter with graphic design. New Deal also set a precedent for streetwear with the release of the first baggy jeans for skateboarding.