“We like to work for clients who are changing the status quo, either in the contemporary or classic art scene,” says Demian Conrad, founder of Switzerland-based Automatico studio. He founded the graphic design agency in 2007 and was joined by Elena Panetti in 2014 and its projects explore how technology is shaping both our language and culture.
Automatico’s experiments with low and high-tech led it, in 2010, to develop a technique in which it was able to generate random patterns directly using an offset printer, without any intervention from a digital device. The studio labelled this technique Water Random Offset Printing and used it to create an identity for Lausanne’s underground film and music festival. The studio is currently undergoing a series of self-initiated projects called Composition for Offset Machine in which it stretches the exploration of the printing machine as a tool for drawing aiming to reactivate more traditional arts and crafts practices in our digital world.
Despite being invested in exploring analogue techniques, Automatico also works with algorithms and various digital practices. This includes its recent design for Artists & Robots, an exhibition initiated by Grand Palais de Paris RMN for the Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakistan. The exhibition was co-curated by artist Miguel Chevalier and curator Jérôme Neutres and explored the relationship between artists and robots. It showcased a series of pioneers in the field including Stelarc and Patrick Tresset.
As well as designing the entire exhibition, the posters, catalogue and signage system, Automatico was invited to create an installation at the entrance of the exhibition. This incorporated a custom font, derived from a process of parametric font generation which the studio later fine tuned using hand drawing. The shape of the parametric font was the result of a set of data which manipulated circular shapes into squares or rhombuses. “We thought that this type should be similar to Jean Tinguely’s méta-mécanique machines, a kind of digital-meccano font but without being so modular,” the studio explains.
The installation itself is comprised of an LED panel displaying the words Artists & Robots, connected to a PC and an Xbox Kinect 360. The PC hosts the parametric software, coded by Prototypo especially for the project. The installation works by manipulating the type on the screen in a manor that responds to human positioning. For example, the closer a viewer gets to the screen, the bolder the type becomes and the further away they are, the thinner; if you are stood in the centre and bend to the left, the font italicises; walk to the left and the type implodes or walk to the right and it explodes. “We tried to have fun pushing the readability aspect, finding abstract shapes that are constantly reacting to movement,” Demian says. The installation also implemented a few hidden special effects that you needed to know how to activate, for example, if you jump in the air, the type stretches.
This addition to the exhibition attempts to physically connect the typography to a human body creating an augmented, responsive typeface that allows viewers to “feel the weight and boldness of the giant type.” Automatico is now speculating about using the same idea but in a larger situation stating the Michigan Stadium in the USA or the Lansdec Piccadilly Lights in London as ideal locations.
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