OASE 100: An Interview with Marius Schwarz on Karel Martens
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OASE 100: An Interview with Marius Schwarz on Karel Martens

Front and back cover of OASE 100

OASE Journal was founded in 1981 as a student-run publication in the Netherlands “addressing issues in architecture from a perspective closely related to education and research.” Over nearly four decades the periodical has deeply explored various and specific aspects of architectural practice maintaining the “self-reflective, self-educating, and self-empowering” spirit it began with. In 1990 (Issue 28), the design of the journal was taken over by Karel Martens, entering OASE into a deep and studied legacy of Dutch graphic design. Issues of OASE (especially the covers) have become a sort of “greatest hits” in Martens’s body of work, a showcase of typography, color, materiality, and layout—all done on a tight budget. What is perhaps most fascinating is the way Martens has evolved his relationship with OASE to coincide with his own practice. OASE has been an outlet for Martens’s personal work, a project for his students at the Werkplaats Typografie, and a vehicle for collaboration with his daughter, Aagje, and a new generation of designers. The 100th issue of OASE is dedicated to Martens’s work on the journal and provides a tremendous amount of insight from the editors, former students, and Martens himself. Below I chat with guest-editor Marius Schwarz about his experience researching, co-editing, and co-designing OASE 100.

Karel Martens preparing for his talk at the OASE 100 launch at 019 in Ghent. Photo: Bobby Dekker

 

Ben Schwartz (BS)

How was the decision made to dedicate the 100th issue to the work of Karel Martens?

 

Marius Schwarz (MS)

A number like 100, of course, asks for something out of the ordinary. Since OASE already compiled a classical jubilee issue with a selection of its best contributions for issue 75, they wanted to do something different for issue 100. Probably also to avoid having to pick one architecture related topic over the other. The collaboration of OASE and Karel is quite exceptional. He designed the magazine for more than 28 years now, so I think it was the right time to do something highlighting this relationship.

Spread from OASE 100 showing design sketches and tests for different issues of the journal

 

BS

Can you talk about your role with OASE 100? How did you get involved with the publication?

 

MS

Since I knew Karel only very briefly I was quite surprised when the mail of Veronique Patteeuw (editor in chief of OASE) popped up in my inbox. She approached me to work as a guest editor since she was looking for somebody who could bridge Karel as a graphic designer, and OASE as a journal specialized in architecture. Karel knew me as a designer/writer through a text I had published about his book Printed Matter. When we bumped into each other at the movies one day we exchanged contacts and two years later he suggested me for OASE.

Despite his age, Karel is very open. He likes to work with young and unestablished people and to be challenged by their ideas. I think that was also why I could approach my role as a guest editor quite openly. What started with editing slowly became interviewing, commissioning, archiving, contributing, and ended with co-designing.

Spread from OASE 100 showing the front and back covers for each issue

 

BS

What was your relationship to the journal prior to working on it? Did it have any effect on your own practice?

 

MS

As probably many designers, I knew OASE mainly from looking at it. I first saw the covers that were depicted in Printed Matter, and later I flipped through some issues in the library. Only when I was asked to work for OASE did I start to actively read it. That was really a revelation. With the varying topics, that are often only loosely related to questions of architecture, the editorial approaches also change. Whereas some issues are more straightforward and academic with a public call for papers, other issues get approached more associative and free. I really like this more personal way of working on content, and our issue also took this path.

For my own practice, it was great to experience the shift of roles. When I was previously working on publications as a “designer,” I could at times help improve or reshape content, but in the end the editors would have the last say. With OASE I was entitled to shape content more actively. It became clear to me that there does not have to be predetermined roles or division of responsibilities. In a good team, you are able to express a thought through design, editing, writing, or a combination of them all.

This also encouraged me to start my own publishing project, eeebooks, that was on my mind for a while. I had been curious about what a digital/mobile–first, publication would look like in terms of narrative, design, distribution, launch-events, etc. Working with somebody like Karel, who is almost 80 but at times more curious and less conventional than myself, was really challenging. It basically encouraged me to set the doubts aside and just do it.

Out of the Fire, published through eeebooks

 

BS

What was it like working with Karel? What sort of input did he have in the process—both design and in compiling the content?

 

MS

Once Karel decides to work with you, he is all in. Veronique, Bart Decroos (the second editor on the issue) and I were developing the editorial approach for the issue in a few meetings in Rotterdam parallel to interviewing Karel in his studio. We shared our thoughts with him; most he liked, some he would bring in his own ideas or challenge the ones we proposed. For me, it was very clear that if we are talking about the design of OASE, the most important thing is to show it. I suggested opening the issue with a long visual essay. He liked the idea, but my first proposal was too radical for him. My initial suggestion involved zooming in on characteristic details of the different issues in chronological order. For Karel, this felt too subjective, and I ended up making a more straightforward archive with a selection of spreads from issue 28 to 99. Afterward I am happy we came to this solution. The few moments of friction were always productive and as such an important part of the editorial process.

A spread from the opening image essay from OASE 100

 

BS

Could you talk about putting together the index for the cover? It’s an impressive amount of information that really shows the OASE network—the collaborators, the printers, the assets, etc. What did you learn about the publication through this information gathering process?

 

MS

The index started out as a tool merely for me. Being confronted with the rich and long history of OASE was very humbling, and the list was a way to get a hold of it and to map the area in which we were moving. When I took the printed list along with my notes to the interview one day, Karel saw it and immediately suggested to use it as the background for the cover. He wanted to add typography on top of it, just as he adds prints on top of old hospital cards in his free work. Like the visual archive that is introducing the issue, the list on the cover is a tool enabling the reader to make their own observations and judgments in OASE’s design history instead of us dictating what they have to think of it.

The full cover index from OASE 100

 

BS

How did you begin to organize the publication? How did you arrive at the three main sections: History, Reflection, and Practice?

 

MS

At first we wanted to combine the visual archive with the long interview and supply it with extensive footnotes to give additional context. But as the interview developed we realized that this was in danger of getting stuck on an anecdotal level. Karel is not exactly a person who enjoys talking too much about his own work let alone theorize about it, he is first and foremost a doer and likes the work to speak for itself. The History, Reflection, Practice divide was a way to not only concentrate on the person of Karel but also served to embed his work in a broader context. In History, Veronique and Carlo Menon are enrolling the history of design in architecture publishing since the late 19th century. While they look back, the Reflections are rather forward-looking. Several younger designers take certain aspects of OASE’s design and put it in a contemporary perspective. Such as the covers, the bilingualism, the grid etc. Finally in Practice Karel himself has the word, placing the OASE assignment within his own practice.

A spread from Harvest of Oasis: Merits and Dilemmas of the Grid by Linda van Deursen, featured in OASE 100
A spread from History of “Oh” by Marius Schwarz, featured in OASE 100
A spread from Medium OASE by Joris Kritis, featured in OASE 100

 

BS

Throughout OASE 100 there is an emphasis placed on the journal’s non-uniform identity. I love how Laura Pappa puts it: “It will always be the one that none of the others are.” Do you see a relationship between the legacy of OASE and this free-for-all system?

 

MS

OASE developed out of the student movement and is still a radically democratic endeavor. It is a peer-reviewed magazine by a board of editors who all do OASE voluntarily next to their academic positions. So there is an enormous amount of idealism and will for commercial independency. I guess it is only logical that this carries on in its form. To avoid a corporate identity and instead react to each issue and content individually. This form is an extension of the editorial practice where each issue is developed individually in conjunction with its subject matter.

OASE 100 presentation at 019 Ghent. Photo: Bobby Dekker

 

BS

When looking at the history of the journal, it’s impressive how much of it is tied to a specific history of design, i.e. the Werkplaats Typografie. It’s exciting to think of OASE as an assignment with students still in the process of building his or her own practice. What impact do you think that type of student energy had on OASE. How do you think the journal has changed since moving away from WT collaborations?

 

MS

I think the students were important to keep the design exciting over the course of 28 years. Naturally, they breathed fresh air into each issue with their own references and abilities. The assignments developed into a sort competition among the students. They stressed the possibilities of the 17×24 cm format towards limits of legibility, conceptualism, and things never done before in print. Karel was the red thread, holding the series together in guiding the students and overlooking their process (also because he still designed the covers).

Since he left the WT he works on OASE with his daughter, Aagje. This regular collaboration also made the design more serial. Not every issue is a complete reinvention of its predecessor. This might be less exciting in a sense, but it is also more concentrated and more articulated. This development also goes parallel with a lower budget by the publisher. Apparently, there is less commercial turnover, or will to put it into an ideological project. A motivated student won’t let a low budget stop him or her from reinventing the wheel. But if you work from a regular practice the design, unfortunately, has to be more efficient to be workable.

To me, there are three chapters in OASE’s design history with Karel. First Karel on his own, then Karel and the students of WT, and now Karel and Aagje. All three phases have a slightly different outcome, true to the conditions in which they were made. Since we wanted to represent all three phases with OASE 100 it felt natural that Karel, Aagje, and I would work on the design together, in a way representing all three conditions simultaneously.

Karel Martens and Lous Martens show pictures of the France vacation they just returned from. Photo: Bobby Dekker
A new clock of Karel Martens installed at 019 in Ghent. Photo: Bobby Dekker

 

BS

The journal is as well an outlet for so many facets of Karel’s practice. In OASE 100 you go in depth on the relationship between the publication and his teaching, personal work, printing process… even his learning curve of design via computer. What does the relationship look like today as Karel’s practice has evolved?

 

MS

Today Karel’s work turns more and more into a fine art practice. The past two years he had an installation with 500 painted beach cabins on the coast of Le Havre or his solo exhibitions in München, Ghent, and, coming in October, in Korea. He uses this occasions to collaborate with all sorts of designers on many levels. Publications are edited and designed, digital installations programmed, clocks built, a series of bags designed, and the exhibitions themselves curated and set up. Of course he does not have the time to do it all by himself, but also, as I mentioned earlier, he loves the exchange and input of others. He is a people person, not an artist who locks himself up in the studio. So I guess the latest facet mostly expresses itself in an ever-changing collaboration. Like me joining the OASE 100 team, Julie Peeters editing and designing several of his publications, 019 curating his Ghent solo show or Sulki&Min designing his Korea catalogue.

The sponsors for OASE 100

OASE 100, 2018, Published by nai010
Editors: Bart DeCroos, Veronique Patteeuw, Marius Schwarz
Contributors (in order of appearance): Carlo Menon, Veronique Patteeuw, Linda Van Deursen, Laura Pappa, Matthew Kneebone, Marius Schwarz, Louis Lüthi, Ayham Ghraowi, Anton Stuckardt, Joris Kritis, Karel Martens

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