“Margaret van Eyck began during the first weeks of my time as an artist-in-residence at post-academic institution Jan van Eyck Acamedie, in Maastricht, the Netherlands,” Berlin-based graphic designer Hagen Verleger tell It’s Nice That. “Upon arriving there, I realised that the academy and all its labs and workshops were named after historic figures – all of them male.” As a result, out of “wonderment and annoyance,” Hagen set out to create alternative names, eventually leading to the actual renaming of the institution.
Instead of erasing the male names, Hagen added female ones in an attempt to raise awareness and create a discussion. This discussion “soon developed into an ongoing, collaborative research project at the intersection of feminist intervention, institutional critique, and the politics of (re-)naming,” he recalls. As a direct result, Hagen recently released the first of what will be two volumes titled Margaret van Eyck – Renaming an Institution, a Case Study (Volume One: Research, Interventions and Effects).
The first, and arguably most impactful, of said interventions, was having the new names installed on the outside wall of the academy, as well as throughout the building and on its website. Hagen also staged, however, an official opening event of Margaret van Eyck Academie, which included a procession through the building, with a series of “readings, rituals and performances.” A major part of these performances was the rearranging of the academy’s library, which Hagen lead alongside a group of fellow artists-in-residence. “Over the course of a week,” he explains, “we flipped around almost all the male-authored or male-edited books in the library (close to 34,000 in total), creating a ‘spatial infographic’ of gender inequality in scientific publishing and literature.”
Volume one of the publication is primarily visual, including documentation of these events as well as research material and project related ephemera. Presented as a visual essay, its image-led design appropriates the aesthetics of experimental paperbacks from the 1960s and 70s, such as The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan or Ways of Seeing by John Berger. It includes research about the women who were chosen to give their names to the academy and its labs: “these are all actual historical figures, chosen by the same principles their male counterparts were chosen,” Hagen adds. To accompany this, volume one features five poems by Dutch writer and curator, Bernke Klein Zandvoort who took Hagen’s research on these women’s biographies and “turned it into very poetic glimpses into their lives and work.”
Volume two, which he is currently working on will “function as a commentary on what is documented in the first one,” Hagen explains. Functioning as a sort of “sourcebook”, it will include a series of essays, conversations and interviews. Through its design, format and content Margaret van Eyck is an ambitious project in every sense of the word. Through the simple act of physically renaming an institution, it demonstrates both graphic design’s and language’s ability to totally influence a space and how we perceive it.
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