Materials, Manuals and Masculinity: Charlotte Rohde on Hot Mess 2021 and her thoughtful practice
Exploring graphic letterforms as an extension of the body, and investigating the notion of hyper-femininity, the type designer and artist Charlotte Rohde challenges the gender bias of type design.
- Harry Bennett
- 5 October 2021
“Last time we spoke I had just started my master’s at Sandberg and was a bit lost in my research,” the Amsterdam-based creative tells us, “my ideas have sharpened and manifested in methods by now,” she explains, having pursued her interests of experimenting with the materialisation of language. “My idea of what language can be broadened, and my idea of what writing can do, sharpened,” Charlotte summarises, fascinated by the idea of type as their own external bodies, as well as an extension of Charlotte’s own, compelled by the conceptual and physical connection type can create. “Just like a voice,” she adds, “I use typefaces to perform for me what I am too shy to perform with my main body,” blurring the lines between the two, and coining “ShyPerformanceArtist™” in the process.
The idea of self continues throughout Charlotte’s practice, also working within the realm of self-fetishisation – an interest peaked through her interest behind our ever-more-meme-centric culture. “It deals with a re-appropriation of the criteria of the male gaze,” Charlotte notes, playing with the contrast between submission and dominance, as well as the use of the former as a form of the latter. “I like to play with masculine materiality such as metal and wood, while expressing flirty vulnerability in words,” she adds, a curiosity physically manifested in one of her latest projects – Hot Mess 2021.
As part of Berlin-based feminist collective Soft Power’s exhibition A Guide to Softer Ware, Charlotte’s installation Hot Mess 2021, in collaboration with Dutch designer and creative-coder Vera van de Seyp, sought to explore the language of instruction within the context of the term “womanhood”. In the showcase, Hot Mess 2021 highlights the binary associations and designations of gender as the social construct that they are, exposing “the idea of the manual as a (self-)imposed directive,” confined between the idea of one’s own narrative, and the unconditional affirmation of one imposed upon you. On top of this, the installation considers the impact of new technologies on women’s 20th and 21st Century social roles. “We were motivated to use this opportunity as a stepping stone to discuss larger thematics that we have encountered in the type design world,” Charlotte tells us.
This was achieved through a fundamentally visceral expression of Vera and Charlotte’s own typographic forms – embodied in ceramics, aluminium, rhinestones, wood and acrylic glass – that depicted the language used in 1960s technical manuals for “women-targeted” domestic appliances, such as sewing and knitting machines. The result is an incredibly striking and thoughtful machine-produced and hand-treated commentary on femininity today, calling on niche internet culture to ground the piece, and unashamedly cement it in the contemporary. Calling on accounts of Naomi Osaka and Britney Spears, Hot Mess 2021 reclaims an emotionality and its own physicality through this lens of self-fetishisation.
Charlotte’s relationship with Soft Power began when she was commissioned to develop a custom typeface for the, at the time, newly founded, artist-run, exhibition space that Hot Mess 2021 ended up exhibiting in. “The concept of the space is to let the exhibiting artist adapt their visual identity,” Charlotte recalls, “which means that the logo and typeface change with every exhibition,” a concept matched in Charlotte’s construction of a variable font as the solution. “Since variable typefaces can best live up to their full potential on websites I invited Vera van de Seyp to make the website,” she adds, noting their pair’s first collaboration, “so that the typeface can exist in all its variations.”
Charlotte’s future looks to further advance this academic line of enquiry. “I recently got a stipend to start a new research cycle, so I can lay off client work for a while,” she tells us, looking to pursue the relationship between the human form and the letter form and the body politics that govern them – achieved through “the motifs of female professional athleticism and female pop stars,” as well as their relationship to their bodies as methods of self-control, self-release, and self-surveillance. “The body is the tool and also the creation of both athletes and pop stars,” Charlotte adds, “they are shaping their body with their bodies, and I will investigate how this can be transferred onto typefaces.”
On top of this, Charlotte also is due to start “a little Tour d’Europe,” travelling to Luzern, Nürnberg, Berlin, Tallinn, and Halle to run workshops. “I’m hoping to look more into the physical manifestation of typefaces and broaden my experience with installation-making,” she adds, continuing to root her work in type design and book-making. Both forward-thinking and referential, Charlotte’s academia and practicality culminate in an incredibly exciting and chiefly mindful practice, truly pushing the expectations, and challenging the foundations of, type design.
“Also, I kind of really want to go on a holiday,” Charlotte concludes, “because I haven’t for a really long time.”
Hot Mess 2021 (Copyright © Charlotte Rohde, 2021)
About the Author
After graduating from Winchester School of Art, studying graphic arts, Harry worked as a graphic designer before joining It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020. He nows works as a freelance writer and designer, and is one half of Studio Ground Floor.