Based in her hometown of Montreal, Frédérique Gagnon has been running her own graphic design practice, Opération Béton, since 2014. With an impressive list of collaborators and clients from across the globe, Frédérique also pursues a line of research in her work, challenging the unstable nature of language, telling It’s Nice That how “my interest lies especially in the tension that exists between language and its graphic container.”
Contempoary Ergonomics is a perfect example of the way Frédérique’s practice actively questions language and its significations. The publication was produced from a series of animated gifs that the designer created in 2017. It cross-examines various essays about phonetics, along with other components of spoken language with the science of ergonomics. In order to compile the information, Frédérique “extracted a sample of texts, images, diagrams and formulas from different printed and online sources,” she explains. The result is a booklet that allows “ready-made” stories to be retold after being pulled from their original sources. “While moving the content away from its possible didactic origin, the page became the performative space for the physicality of language,” Frédérique explains.
When it comes to the actual process of designing, Frédérique’s approach is no less theoretical, relating greatly to the notion of “erring in thinking about design”. Erring is a process that relies on chance, intuition, circumstance or a combination of the three. “I try to operate in a state of openness and allow the ‘random’ to affect my work; I get most excited by the dysfunctional qualities of my process,” she explains, and “more often than not, the accident is better than the intent.”
Frédérique’s resolute attitude to both research and process is perhaps a product of her varied education. “I took a few detours before studying graphic design,” she explains. “I was originally interested in pure and applied sciences and architecture. I then studied – and completed – a degree in marketing before retiring again to university to study industrial design.” Although thoroughly enjoying creating objects, she realised she was more interested in producing graphic visual content and so transferred to the communication design program. “I am still very much concerned with materiality so creating books and printed matter is a great way to combine both interests,” remarks the designer.
It was Frédérique’s printed matter (and the powerhouse of women she’s worked with) which initially caught our attention. After working with Anteism Publishing for a couple of years, she was commission by musician Solange Knowles to develop both the concept and design for A Seat at the Table. The limited edition book was released ahead of Solange’s namesake album, its layout later implemented by design agency, Querida. “The concept proposed certain characteristics of early concrete poetry while following a more rigid grid to reference minimalism and the reductive aspects of modernism,” she explains. These elements pulled from the visual keys the singer had previously shared: Donald Judd’s painting and Matisse’s collages among many others. “It was interesting to see how this personal collection of visual inspiration she had collected during the making of her album could translate into the design concept of a book,” recalls the Canadian designer.
In a more recent project, Portrait of an Artist, Frédérique took a more formal editorial approach, yet nonetheless conceptually sound. The publication showcases a series of conversations between Marina Abramovic’s assistant, Huge Huerta Marin and seven female artists: Kiki Smith, Tracy Emin, Tanya Brugera, Shirin Neshta, Marina Abramovic, Yoko Ono and Orlan. With its gold lettering on a black, hardback cover and overly large outer and bottom margins, Portrait of an Artist references timeless volumes. “It’s a contemporary publication flirting with more traditional book aesthetics,” Frédérique describes. With the captivating imagery of high profile artists, the book’s design is unobtrusive and inviting “to draw readers in and include them in the dialogues.”
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