Just over a year ago to the day, Erik Brandt bought a piece of wood and stuck it to the side of his garage in Minneapolis, inviting graphic designers from all over the world to make type-based posters for him to exhibit in this secluded outdoor gallery. The response to his project was immense, growing from a select few, invite-only contributors to a sprawling mass of over 500 submitted pieces that he’s shown in the last 365 days.
Everyone from big names in the art and design world to talented young students have submitted their creations for Erik to exhibit, contributing to a body of work that’s constantly evolving. To celebrate this mammoth achievement we spoke to Erik about his motivations for the project and his plans for the coming year.
For those who don’t know, give us a brief introduction to Ficciones Typografika.
Ficciones Typografika is a project dedicated to typographic exploration in a public space. The first so-called typographic fictions went up on 16 June, 2013 and over 500 posters have been hung since then. The exhibition surface is a cedar board I built and attached to the outside of my garage. The surface faces the street and an alley in our neighbourhood of Powderhorn, on the south side of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It all started on an invitation-only basis, but I opened it up to submissions shortly after and have been overwhelmed with entries from all over the world. I make my own wheatpaste to hang the posters and even managed to survive the brutal winter here. The coldest hang was at -25ºF (-32ºC). I figured out a way to add a splash of windshield wiper fluid to the hot paste which gave the mixture an extra few seconds before freezing.
What made you want to do this in the first place?
It’s an extension of several influences. I used to assign a similar problem to students in advanced seminars and I too engaged in this kind of public activity in my graduate days. The term “Ficciones Typografika” itself derives from typographic experiments I have been making for some time and also incorporated this approach into many type classes I have taught. The first posters were large-scale versions of some of these. Another key spark was an invitation by Jon Bland to take part in his No Fly Posters project in Manchester, UK, as well as work I had done for Götz Gramlich’s Mut zur Wut project in Heidelberg, Germany.
Ironically, I was due to take a one year sabbatical when I started the project and really hoped it would also be an extension of my studio activities. That changed when I was suddenly asked to take over as Chair of Design at my college, but it occurred to me that it would be inspiring to seek out fellow collaborators and hopefully create a focal point of typographic experimentation that was very much real and very much public. It has been an overwhelmingly joyful process.
You’ve worked with some really impressive names on the project, how do you convince them to make work for your garage wall?
I have simply reached out to a wide variety of designers and artists alike, and I have been immensely grateful for the response. The invitations were never limited to high-profile people though, a larger focus was on finding like-minded participants regardless of age or “status”. What has impressed me most is that even after opening it up to submissions, the quality has remained extremely high. I think people have responded to the excitement of actually seeing their work moulded by the wheatpaste, adding wrinkles and life to what are essentially digital fictions.
The large number of submissions has also allowed me to hang more frequently and this has opened up another joyful part of the project which is interacting with passers-by of all ages. The conversations have been inspiring and the project has been really well received here. Critics may point out that this is design for designers, or just another speculative route — true enough. The people who stop to talk about the project see it as art, plain and simple. I have said elsewhere that this is an intentional part of the project, a place where participants can explore and realise their own visions, unencumbered by the pressures of our world. I really do hope it might play a small role in helping people see graphic design as an art form with value unto itself, freed from it’s perceived role in commerce alone.
Is there a mission statement or brief you send out to all contributors?
The brief is really simple and the key limitation, which I think is also part of the success of the project, is that I can only print with black. Participants are asked to somehow address this idea of typographic fiction and this has been interpreted very broadly. The interaction with the contributors is also something I truly enjoy, it has been wonderful to help reveal or feature their various idiosyncratic visions.
The triptych format has become quite popular, but I am actually trying to find a way to encourage single-poster submissions again. It was fantastic trying to find appropriate pairings, so I hope to see that diversity again in the near future. Regardless, there is simply nothing bad about this project for me. It is pure joy!
You’ve had over 500 submissions in a single year, does that mean you just spend all your time pasting posters on your garage?
I’ve actually become quite efficient with the process. I can make the wheatpaste, hang and document the posters in less than forty-five minutes. Getting the images web-ready and out into the world is also easy enough. I really enjoy sending the participants a snapshot of the posters drying and hearing their excitement that tomorrow is their day.
Another activity I enjoy is occasionally stripping the posters down and creating these reverse-collages I’ve been calling “remnants”. It’s a similar process that painters sometimes employ to discover new possibilities. I’ve managed to refine that process and feel these are becoming a really important part of the project as well.
How do you see the project evolving into the second year?
I hope it will attract an even larger and more diverse number of participants and gather an even larger audience, and I’m fortunate to see this happening already. I’m also hoping to create a publication around the project and thinking of producing a quarterly newspaper format at scale. I’m also hoping for interest in a proper book at some point.
What else are you working on?
I have a few other projects in my studio right now but it’s fair to say that most of my time is now dedicated to teaching and helping my colleagues and students as much as I can as part of my day job. Still, I feel that this project is a natural extension of that orientation – an experimental open classroom of sorts that seems to be thriving without direction, pretension, or dogma. It is very simply a living, breathing space for ideas.