This past March, Andrew Lister and Matthew Stuart released issue #2 of their multifarious journal, Bricks from the Kiln (BFTK). As a journal which publishes content and writings revolving around the residual elements and formulation of graphic design, BFTK enables a certain contemplation and envisioning of the many forms that graphic design can engender. BFTK presents graphic design as a discipline activated by and through other disciplines, fields, and entities such as language, archives, music, collage, typography, and publishing, among many others.
Reflecting on this release as well as the relation between issues #1 and #2 of BFTK, Paul Bailey (an Irish graphic designer, educator, and researcher based in London—see full bio below) initiated a conversation with Andrew and Matthew (published below) to discuss the underlying approach and framings that have surfaced within BFTK and that are actively shaping an editorial direction and publishing practice for them.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I’d like to add that I am a contributor to issue #2 of BFTK. My contribution highlights my ongoing, image-based project, Peripheries. I was honored to have been invited and see Peripheries featured on the issue’s covers in addition to my writing contribution titled, “The Language of Peripheries.” My contribution to this latest issue was followed by contributions from (in order of appearance) James Bulley, Daphne Oram, Céline Condorelli, James Langdon, Scandinavian Institute for Computation Vandalism, Mark Simmonds, David Whelan / Flights and Fissures, Ron Hunt, and Rose Gridneff. Issue #2 includes pieces on, among other topics, the sound-film work of Daphne Oram and Geoffrey Jones; monuments to Kazimir Malevich, Rosa Luxemburg and Walter Benjamin; the relocation of a defunct bookshop from Amsterdam to Epsom; a conversation on the politics of display and “Agatha Christie smoking Asger Jorn’s cigar.”
Without further ado, Andrew Lister & Matthew Stuart in conversation with Paul Bailey.
How about we begin by picking up the conversation where we left off at LCC? You recently joined the MA Graphic Media Design participants as part of the Guest Practitioner Series, which intends to discuss the role of criticality in/through/across contemporary design practices. Matthew outlined Bricks from the Kiln as a collection of critical writing on or around graphic design. Perhaps you could talk a bit about your intentions in editing, designing and publishing this type of “critical” content today?
Andrew Lister & Matthew Stuart (AL/MS)
When we started working on Bricks from the Kiln, it wasn’t an overt intention of ours to commission “critical” content per se, but rather that the writings and projects we had begun to collect already had an inherent level of criticality, investigation and rigour embedded within them. The materials and contributions in the two issues published to date, haven’t come from a traditional call for content. More often that not, they have been offshoots from ongoing bodies of research or things we have stumbled upon along the way: a transcript of a lecture, an abandoned chapter from a PhD thesis, a companion piece to a sound-film work, a recently unearthed unpublished edition. We’ve always been interested in the backstories and marginalia that surround and inform work, so it became more a case of providing a platform or container for this type of content. Increasingly, we’ve been thinking of what we’re doing with BFTK as a kind of “retroactive continuity,” to borrow a term more commonly associated with film franchises, comic books and soap operas. In the sense of filling in missing background details (or plot holes) and that “the continuity of events is actually visible only in retrospect.”1 This also alludes to the way in which we see issues as being contiguous to one another. As serialized successive installments, but also as autonomous publications without a fixed house style, free to shift and respond to the specific circumstances that naturally arise during the course of production. As editors, we are keen to allow ourselves the space to intuitively feel our way through these things as we go, and for it not to be overly predetermined. “Something in flux and liable to crack,” as we describe it in the afterword to the first issue.
The notion of this content being “on or around graphic design” relates to the fact that BFTK ultimately collects the kinds of writing that interests and excites us first and foremost as readers, and secondly as designers and typographers. The majority of the writing isn’t necessarily about graphic design or design criticism, but, given that both of our backgrounds are in graphic design, it can be seen through this lens. It’s certainly open-ended though, and deliberately so. Graphic design can sometimes be seen negatively as a kind of parasitic activity, in the way that it attaches itself to other disciplines. However that’s not the case for us. The way in which it can operate as a conduit that both shapes and carries material, and the proximity to other disciplines that it affords, is probably what drew us both to it as as field in the first place. Perhaps “on or around graphic design” isn’t exactly right, but it oddly seems at once more specific and more vague than terms like “visual culture” or “visual communication,” or even “cultural studies,” which are in the right ballpark but don’t sit quite right with us.
I’m always curious and impressed to encounter graphic designers that are putting themselves and their expanded skill set to task. I note expanded, as in many cases and contexts, the notion of a graphic designer who writes (in addition to editing, designing and publishing in your case) is a bewildering and unfamiliar one. Could you talk to us about the role writing occupies or assumes in your collaborative practice?
Alison and Peter Smithson have a great line on this in their 1973 book Without Rhetoric, which we have found ourselves returning to a number of times: “We write to make ourselves see what we have got in the inescapable present… to give another interpretation of the same ruins.”2 In fact, Andrew discussed this same quote in an interview with Mark Owens for Graphic magazine a few years ago. Mark added very succinctly that writing, for him, was simultaneously a “way of reckoning with the present, even when the material being discussed is nominally historical… offering up new narratives that open up design as a practice and reframe it as part of the larger sphere of material culture.” And “also a way of spelling out for myself what I think I might be up to in my own work.”3 A sentiment we totally agree with, and see very direct parallels to in our approach to BFTK.
In terms of an “expanded” practice or skill set, these additional roles don’t really feel that alien to us. As typographers we are primarily concerned with the structuring of language and information. To varying degrees in other projects, we often find ourselves involved in aspects of the editorial process and consider this a very productive space to operate in. This is perhaps amplified by the scale and budget of most of the projects we’ve been working on though, in which, for better or worse, the designer is commonly expected to also operate as copy editor, proofreader and press checker. Also, over the past few years we’ve worked closely with other publishers, artists and authors, and have gleaned a great deal from their respective approaches across what may have initially been more unfamiliar territory.
With BFTK we’re trying to take advantage of occupying these duel roles of designer(s) and editor(s), and the back and forth between the two that this allows. We are simultaneously considering how something should read and how it should be typeset; how each issue should flow on a formal level and also on textual one. It has also proved to be a useful position in relation to the economy of production. Conversations about things like what needs to fit into a signature and what necessitates the expense of extra printed colours tend to happen much earlier in the process and generally feel less like compromises, or arbitrary restrictions, and more responsive to specific situations.
When we move between issues one and two of BFTK, we can observe processes of reenactment and excavation at play. What does it mean for you to bring this selection of visual and textual material to rest/pause/rub up alongside one another?
There is certainly a sense of revisiting latent ideas running through what we do, both in the exhumation of historical material and also of contemporary investigations begun but forced aside. This is something we wrote about, by way of the English doctor and philosopher Sir Thomas Browne, in the afterword to the latest issue. It’s perhaps easiest to quote directly from this here:
Browne famously wrote: “But who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried? Who hath the oracles of his ashes, or whither they are to be scattered?”4 And oddly enough, after his death, his grave was inadvertently disturbed and his skull stolen, “shuffled between museums, collectors, and anatomists”5 before being eventually retrieved and reburied at the St. Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich, in 1922.
But what of the fate of Browne’s bones—or more specifically his skull—and BFTK #2? In various ways all of the pieces in this issue are concerned with the reactivation and relocation of historical material. Through institutional archives, amputated visual elements, distant sounds from the Lesser Antilles and defunct bookshops, the common thread is exhumation.6
We have a longstanding interest in the way in which material remnants are pulled together, and the textual and visual traces that are left behind by such a process. And the majority of pieces included in BFTK gesture to lives elsewhere. James Bulley describes his essay “Progress Music,” in this latest issue, for example, as being based on traces of material “reordered, recontextualized and reclassified, freed from the archive and fragmented on these pages.”7 In each case we have been keen to maintain a sensitivity to the original intentions, formatting and contexts of each piece, while also having some kind of “inner logic”8 running across the issue. We’re after the kind of “oddities of typesetting” that relate “back to their original publication or non-publication”9 that Richard Hamilton describes in his brilliant Collected Words. These gestures might be formal or linguistic, and may well not be immediately apparent to the casual reader, but it’s something we’ve discussed a lot between the two of us. Whether it’s a subtle typographic shift, keeping the original formatting of footnotes and references, or deferring to English or American grammatical conventions depending on the origin of the text, we try to pay particularly close attention to the paratext and “the bibliographical paraphernalia and textual chaff.”10
We’re also curious to hear how you have been working with similar themes yourself? We’re thinking specifically of your interest in the essay form, of Marshall McLuhan’s “moment when information rubs up against information,”11 or even of the Hans-Peter Feldmann PDF you sent us before this conversation.
I’ve been preoccupied by the materiality of McLuhan’s “moment” for quite a while now. It raises many questions—What moment? What (is) information? Rub, how? Against what? Where? and When? These broad questions are very satisfying for me to contemplate and have provoked a small series of works in recent years in the form of print contributions to publications and exhibitions (Open Books Volume A–E by Sophie Demay and Charlotte Cheetham, Magical Riso at Jan van Eyck Academie), an open interactive essay (Probe) and an installation (Die Ausstellung). By moving and reforming the statement through the various iterations for specific contexts, there’s an opportunity to explore and expose the contingency of established frameworks we refer to, or observe in and through language. My on-going interest in the destabilized nature of reading/watching, subject/object (intersubjectivity), place/space and more, lead me toward situations where these dynamics, definitions and structures are being tested or re-wrote. The Hans-Peter Feldmann Interview series is a clear example of this, as he contests the convention of the text-led interview format, by responding to a written question with a found image. Whilst it may seem a very simple and direct response from Feldmann, I enjoy the rupture this action provides—and specifically the requirement for the reader to step in and craft their own read of dynamics between the question (text) and response (image). Harun Farocki explains the construction of this type of engagement with the reader/audience in film-making through the “the soft montage.”12 Rather than saying A or B, it is about saying A and B simultaneously.
I suppose, quite simply, it’s about opening the structure up, and through doing that alerting the actors in the narrative (reader, writer, editor, designer, publisher) of the frameworks we adhere to and are part of—and also that these frameworks are open, available and ripe for (re)design. Perhaps, in part, this is what you’re doing also in your editorial approach within BFTK through the placement/alignment/configuration of existing “exhumed” material alongside newly crafted works in a given time and place? The publishing of this material offers an exciting opportunity for your reader to consider the rich and ripe networked relationships between them—an intertextual read across time, place, subject and object.
The “intertextual read across time” that you mention makes us think of John Latham’s cameo in Iain Sinclair and Chris Petit’s TV film The Cardinal and the Corpse, which we both saw for the first time at one of the 70 × 70 screenings in 2013. Appearing very briefly, and looking almost spectral, Latham talks about a book containing three different kinds of time; “the time it’s being written,” “the non-time, which is the book” and “the idea in the mind of the person who is reading it.”13
One of the ways we’ve justified BFTK as a printed object/book is the way that it seems to freeze it in time and place. The collection of various pieces, and the way in which they “rub” against one another, held together in material consistency.
Issue two opens with “The Language of Peripheries” by Ryan Gerald Nelson, which brings me towards ideas and questions of place and public. Are you imagining a particular public for BFTK? and what does it mean for you to find and speak to your public through publication?
It’s certainly not a response to a perceived “gap in the market” that we’re trying to fill. With BFTK we were always keen to allow it to figure itself out “in the world,” as it were, and to find its audience through circulation. In the sense that Michael Warner describes a public as coming into being “through an address to indefinite strangers,”14 we are thinking a lot about the “indefinite” reader as we’re going. We want it to be oblique but accessible, substantial but readable. For example, each issue has an afterword that serves as a “summation of all the excess energies still residual after the main body has been explicated, but necessary to explain it fully.”15 And this is accompanied by an index of brief overviews on each piece, as a way to break things down for the reader and to give a sense of the wider context in each instance. Recently at the US launch for BFTK #2 at the Graham Foundation in Chicago, someone in the audience asked how we know if/when an issue is finished. Decisions such as this are absolutely made with the reader in mind, trying to balance it in a way that it could be read as a connected whole or dipped in to, with pieces read in isolation. There also seems to be a space for design related writing that emphasizes inquiry over formal dogma, or the kind of vague surface level description that seems so prevalent in a lot of what poses as “design journalism” at the moment. And through the sales and general reception we’ve received of the first two issues, it seems there is an audience for this kind of thing.
The recurrence of peripheries, or peripheral figures, that the title of Ryan’s piece hints at, seems to come back to our conversation with Ron Hunt that opens the first issue. In it, he describes his tangential readings of art historical movements (often necessitated by the fact he didn’t speak the language or that writing on the subject just wasn’t available at the time), as sparking the realization that ‘it was the peripheries that were really interesting’16 to him. And throughout the pages of BFTK we can find a number of others historically working obstinately on the edges of things, or at a remove, both geographically and metaphorically. Here, Pierre Faucheux, Ralph Rumney, Daphne Oram and Ian Breakwell spring to mind. This again comes back to the revisiting of overlooked or latent material and this idea of “retroactive continuity”; filling in some of the gaps between accepted historical canons. Ron in particular has also been very supportive of BFTK and we’re now working with him to publish a collected writings of sorts, which may well end up as a future issue, or as a standalone project in its own right.
1 Tupper, E. F., The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg, 1974, SCM Press, London, p.100
2 Smithson, A. & Smithson, P., Without Rhetoric—An Architectural Aesthetic 1955–1972, 1973, Latimer New Dimensions, p.1
3 Owens, M., Graphic #22: Yale, 2012, Propaganda, Seoul
4 Browne, T., Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial, or, a Discourse of the Sepulchral Urns lately found in Norfolk & The Garden of Cyrus, 1896 (first edition 1658), Macmillan & Co., London, p.iii
5 Dickey, C., ‘”The Fate of His Bones,” Cabinet Issue 28, 2007/8, New York, p.70
6 “Afterword,” BFTK #2, insert
7 Bulley, J., “Progress Music,” BFTK #2, p.21
8 As described in Crouwel, W. & Experimental Jetset, “Crouwelism,” Graphic April 2003
9 Hamilton, R., Collected Words 1953–1982, 1982, Thames and Hudson, London, p.7
10 Bringhurst, R., as quoted in Simmonds, M., “More or Less,” BFTK #2, p.51
11 Mcluhan, M., Aspen No.4, 1967, Roaring Fork Press, New York
12 Farocki, H., “Cross Influence/Soft Montage,” Harun Farocki: Against What? Against Whom?, ed. Ehmann, A. & Kodwo, E., 2010, Koenig Books, London, p.70
13 Petit, C. & Sinclair, I. (dir.), The Cardinal and the Corpse (or a Funny Night Out), 1992, Channel 4
14 Warner, M., “Publics and Counterpublics,” Public Culture Vol.14, No.1, Winter 2002, Duke University Press, Durham, p.86
15 Meltzer, R., The Aesthetics of Rock, 1970, Something Else Press, New York, p.259
16 Hunt, R., “Fragments of a Conversation with Ron Hunt,” BFTK #1, p.7
Bricks from the Kiln #2
Edited and designed by Andrew Lister and Matthew Stuart
170 × 224.764mm, 84pp. + pvc dust jacket + insert
Edition of 700 (675 bound / 25 unbound)
TTC‐106, November 2016, London
Paul Bailey is an Irish graphic designer, educator and researcher based in London, UK.
Paul’s practice, originating in the expanded field of visual communication, incorporates commissioned and self-initiated work and is driven by an open, collaborative and divergent working method. Paul’s practice meanders through disparate subjects, characters and processes cultivating a state of fluidity; a state Paul identifies as one of the most sustaining and productive to occupy. The outputs of Paul’s activities take on many forms, such as exhibitions, publications, performances, workshops and writings.
Paul is currently course leader for MA Graphic Media Design at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, advisor at the Jan van Eyck Academie, founding member of the Design Displacement Group, committee member of the Graphic Design Educators’ Network and a fellow of the Higher Education Academy in the United Kingdom.
In recent years, Paul has been invited to present and conduct research at universities, conferences and international institutions including Jan Van Eyck Academie in the Netherlands, the Frans Masereel Centre in Belgium, the National Institute for Design in India and the Iceland Academy of the Arts.