Forget the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, The Clash and Bikini Kill. We are about to enter a new era of punk and German graphic designer Michael Clasen is paving the way with his proleptic visualisations. “I asked myself who the cyberpunks of the 21st century would be. My answer: anyone who thinks about technology and its social impact in a different, offbeat way,” Michael tells It’s Nice That. His latest venture, K1M3R4, is an experimental print magazine that explores humanity’s changing role as the digital revolution continues to unfold. With the first issue revolving around ‘Empathy Dystopias,’ Michael asks important questions about how empathy between humans and machines will manifest in the future.
“When I started studying graphic design I didn’t even know what it really was – I just liked drawing Manga. My love for graphic design has really grown over the years and my focus has repeatedly changed. The never-ending search keeps pushing me forward,” Michael says. Despite his shifting focus, K1M3R4 is both meticulously executed and carefully thought-out. The magazine was born out of a graduation project and a university thesis for which Michael spent months researching theories and reaching out to technicians and artists. His dedication paid off. The designer ended up working with over 20 people across different disciplines, including R.U Sirius, the co-founder and original editor-in-chief of the 90s cyberpunk magazine Mondo 2000, and Keren Elazari, a cyber security expert, hacker and TED Talk speaker.
Essays, interviews, cultural reviews and art submissions are neatly laid out in this considered publication. “K1M3R4 was intended to be bold, loud, sharp and brave. I wanted it to have a contemporary cyberpunk-aesthetic without it being too trashy. It was important for me that it works as a magazine that transports information instead of just being a visual overload,” Michael says. The designer explains that he wanted to create the illusion of neon without using glow effects while, typographically, he contrasted organic shapes with futuristic lines to reflect the idea of the cyborg.
It was necessary for K1M3R4 to be a physical publication as Michael believes the printed medium fosters higher levels of empathy in the reader. “I wanted to convey a hybridisation of the digital and analog because I think this is what cyberpunk is about. I created a system where texts and pictures are marked with tags. Every tag has a mark that shows where this tag appears elsewhere. With this system I tried to break the linear structure of the printed medium,” he explains. The mock hyperlinks disrupt and unsettle the reading experience and in doing so, mimic the futurist anarchic movement Michael brings to life via the magazine.
“I think that empathy will play a major role in a future where technology takes over more and more of our lives. The digital mediums influence our ability to empathise in very ambiguous ways. Did the internet bring us closer together or has it made us more narcissistic and self-centred?” Michael asks. By deviating from established analytical frameworks, K1M3R4 is able to question what the future holds in visually engaging and insightful ways. It leaves the reader wondering whether future generations will have lower levels of empathy or whether empathy will be the salvation from a potentially dystopian future.