Graphic Design in the White Cube

Graphic Design in the White Cube

Poster for the exhibition Graphic Design in the White Cube, 22nd International Biennial of Graphic Design Brno, Moravian Gallery, 2006. Offset print, 1,000 x 1,414 mm. Exhibition curated by Peter Biľak.

We thought that the premise of the exhibition [commissioning the invited designers’ posters to advertise the exhibition itself, and actually putting them out in the streets as well as showing them in a gallery] ­offered an interesting way to deal with the problematic situation of showing graphic design in a gallery. And we wanted with our contribution to push the deliberate conflation of the outside and inside, the real context of design work and the isolated place of presentation, a little further. We decided to make a poster for an expanded — “real” — audience: not only the pedestrians in Brno, but also some others that we can more directly reach — people in Seoul, Korea. We’d make printouts of a poster for the Brno exhibition, and put them in places in Seoul for a certain period. Our contribution to the exhibition itself would simply be a photograph of one of the posters on site: a kind of poster with a frame narrative.

But where could we find the potential audience? It shouldn’t be just anyone in Seoul — it would have been absurd to show the poster to those who couldn’t afford an overseas trip, for example — but those who were actually planning or intending to visit the Czech Republic during summer. Recently, the Czech Republic has become a popular holiday destination for Koreans. Last year, there was a popular soap opera called ­Lovers in Prague, set partly in the Czech city — but not showing any real Czech life, the city providing just another “exotic” backdrop. There are some travel agencies specialized in Prague “package tour” programs, flourishing partly thanks to the success of the TV show. The offices of the agencies would be perfect for our posters. We started contacting them.

At the same time, we began to consider the design of the poster. Although the poster’s appearance itself wasn’t a primary concern, it had to be designed anyway in order to be produced. For this job, we set up some additional constraints for ourselves. First, the poster should include the Korean translation of the given text. Secondly, it should have all of the information, not part of it, so the content of the poster would be identical to other posters for the same exhibition, and everything (except, perhaps, the logos) would be present in a single photograph in our final contribution. Finally, it would have to be “photogenic”: all the information needed to be legible in the photograph as well as in the print (so the people in Brno would be able to read the text in our final poster). To achieve the legibility, the poster should probably be purely typographic, with the smallest type in the largest size possible. With these self-imposed constraints, we quickly made a sketch. We adopted neutral and objective typographic language, partly for functional reasons, but also to create some contrast with other seductive posters in travel agency offices.

Then the first crisis came, as we hadn’t received any positive answers from the travel agencies we had contacted until the last week before the deadline. Probably there was something wrong with our letters, or it was simply too strange a request to take seriously. We had to find alternative sites, and the Incheon International Airport came to our mind. We decided to go out to the airport a few hours before the departure of a Korean Airlines flight to Prague, and promote the exhibition by showing around our poster.

The second crisis was economical. We originally planned to digital-print the poster in a large size, but the cost turned out too high for our budget. An alternative was to use our own black-and-white laser printer, which could produce only up to A3-size documents. We had to adjust our design so that the whole poster could be neatly divided into eight A3 tiles without disrupting the text. We actually liked the idea of structuring elements by small production units — it seemed to provide a more solid rationale for the design.

So we made the print-outs, put them together with pretty, colorful masking tape, and arrived at the airport three hours before the departure of the KE935 flight to Prague. During the three hours, one of us was holding up the poster, and the other taking photographs. We came back to our studio with a load of photographs, and a few of them seemed acceptable in terms of sharpness and legibility.

Two ideas of organization competed until the last minute. One was to use multiple photographs to document various moments of the “performance”; the other was simply to show one exemplary picture in a very poster-like, almost monumental, way. We decided on the second because we liked the idea of a conventional-looking, but slightly odd, poster. The result resembles a typical exhibition poster: a single large picture of work and a white space reserved for the title and other important information. Except that the division in our poster isn’t quite working that way. To us, it appears to disturb the relation between the work to be shown in a gallery and the work to promote it — in a way, a literal translation of the irony of the exhibition, Graphic Design in the White Cube.