27th Brno Biennial Study Room
Curation, lecture, writing and editing for the legendary Czech series of exhibitions.
Kiyonori Muroga and I curated The Study Room at the 27th Brno Biennial. The Study Room is a collection of forty-plus publications organized spatially for Biennial-goers in a pair of dedicated galleries.
The Study Room is organized into nine different thematic ‘islands’, loose groupings that explode national boundaries and general Orientalizing tendencies – instead unifying collections of publications under intuitive rubrics of expression.
- Ordering the World
- Connecting Cultures
- Configuration of Space
- Symbolism & Culture-building
- Space & Texture
- Organizing Contemporary Culture
- Visualizing Language
Each island is populated by publications proposed by designers with some connection to Asia chosen by Muroga-san and I. The contributors to the Study Room include:
- Aaron Nieh, Taipei
- Åbäke, London
- Kyungsun Kymn, Seoul
- Yah-Leng Yu / Foreign Policy Design Group, Singapore
- Yukimasa Matsuda, Tokyo
- Javin Mo, Hong Kong
- Leonard Koren, San Francisco
- Philippe Egger, Villars-sur-Glâne
- Daijiro Ohara, Tokyo
- Caryn Aono, Los Angeles
- Shutaro Mukai, Tokyo
- Yoshihisa Shirai, Tokyo
- Guang Yu, Beijing
- Fumio Tachibana, Tokyo
- Kohei Sugiura, Tokyo
- Kenya Hara, Tokyo
- Helmut Schmid, Osaka
- Nobuhiro Yamaguchi, Tokyo
- HeiQuiti Harata, Tokyo
- Jens Müller, Düsseldorf
- Xiao Mage & Cheng Zi, Beijing
- Shin Akiyama, Niigata
- Wang Zhi-Hong, Taipei
- Tetsuya Goto, Osaka
- John Warwicker, Melbourne
- so+ba / Alex Sonderegger + Susanna Baer, Zurich & Tokyo
- Peter Biľak, The Hague
- Ryan Hageman, Chicago
- Hattori Kazunari, Tokyo
- Na Kim, Seoul
- Kirti Trivedi, Mumbai
- Lu Jingren, Beijing
- Santi Lawrachawee, Bangkok
- Chris Ro, Seoul
- Randy Nakamura, Los Angeles
- Sulki and Min Choi, Seoul
We also created a custom soundtrack for The Study Room which you can enjoy here.
We gave a lecture during the launch of the Biennial based on the theme of “Islands”, wherein we examined Orientalism and Asian graphic design history through the lenses of Svetlana Boym’s ‘off-modern’, Villem Flusser’s perceived split between Western rationalism and Eastern pragmatism and Nicolas Bourriaud’s altermodernism.
We also wrote a lengthy essay about The Study Room and our ideas about contemporary design and the slippage between local and global conceptions of design for the Biennial catalog. Here is an overview of our essay.
Tabula Rasa: Worlds Connecting or Design Mannerism
As a result of the victory of modernization, the word “design” is prevalent across the globe. You can talk about design, but only as long as one situates the conversation within the disciplines and established rubrics of modern design. However, the fundamental meaning of the word “design” and how it is interpreted is not so obvious and common. Interpretations, mindsets, and nuances vary from culture to culture and country to country.
While graphic design history in the 20th century has become rich and meaningful, the variations in perception of what “design” actually is have not been explored deeply. During the cold war period, publications and events like Brno Biennial worked as the gateway of potential cultural exchange, such as how design might be defined between cultures.
Due to rapid globalisation since the end of 20th century, graphic design has become both deeply rigorous, but at the same time, deeply homogenous. Modern graphic design (and its discourses) seems to be more and more distilled and filter out the culture and history outside of the established boundaries of design as cultural capital, cultural production, and centralised discourse.
It is ironic that the division between ‘locality’ and ‘globality’ has been so deep while technology and economy have increased the speed and ease of global communication.
However, there have been individuals and works whom have veered away from the established norms – the established track of Western modernist ideals, norms and forms. A global inability to procure localised bodies of knowledge – be they geographic or metaphysical – is of utmost interest to us in terms of curation of the Brno Study Room 2016 – to help expose publications either on the periphery or completely outside of Western ideas of graphic design discourse, dialectics, and comprehension.
We aim for the Brno Biennial Study Room 2016 to be a place of reconnecting what we perceive as ‘worlds’ – spheres of activity that are technocratic, cultural and ‘other’ in nature – reconciling the slippage between the ‘local’ and the ‘global’ in a heretofore unseen way that sidesteps Orientalization, imparts mystery, and promotes understanding. We are at a moment in time where what “design” is seems commonly accepted globally, yet in reality represents a multitude of attitudes and perspectives.
Reading room attendees are urged to think of the tabula rasa (the blank slate) in its most innate form – the wax slate which the Romans used for note-taking. Attempt to allow your mind to warm over your preconceptions of what design actually is prior to involving yourself in this exhibition. The Neoliberal era’s Big 5 (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft) have shorn citizens of the world of their autonomy in decision-making and ideology-forming, shifting individuals en masse from being users to being mere participants. Our hope is that individuals who encounter the Study Room do the opposite – that the findings within instead instill a sense of agency and re-evaluation, of mystery and greater meaning.
We also edited a large section of the catalog in which all of the invited Study Room participants are interviewed about their selection of publications.
It was an honor to be invited to contribute to the 27th Brno Biennial. Giant thanks to the curators, Moravian Gallery staff, fellow Biennial participants, and to all of the folks who came out.