NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 33


Hands up… A Review of Erik Brandt’s Typographic Works

Majid Abbasi

Ten years ago, at Virginia 
Commonwealth University ( VCU ) of Doha, I met a tall, pleasant, and highly sociable young man who had recently begun working there as an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design. In no time, Erik Brandt, current chair of Minneapolis College of Art and Design ( MCAD ), was recognized by the international design society as a typographic designer. In 2012, he became a member of Alliance Graphique Internationale ( AGI ), and in 2015 he held a chair in the design department. 
Erik spent his childhood and adolescence with his family in different parts of the world, such as Cameroon, Malawi, New Hampshire, and three cities in Germany. In Germany, he studied philosophy and worked as a teacher ( I actually studied philosophy in the US, then returned to Germany on a teaching practicum for one year ). Afterwards, he travelled to Japan, where he taught English in addition to designing comic strips and writing for Radar magazine. This is why he carries various cultures and his family members have spoken six different languages at home. He has studied philosophy, literature and history, and although he has never been an undergraduate student of graphic design, he has learned it through professional work. Posing questions during the design process has always been of critical importance for him. His purpose of creating a work is not just exposing it, but challenging the viewers. Erik set up his studio Typografika, in 2000, and simultaneously began two projects that have significantly influenced the development of experimental typography throughout the world.

The name Typografika was inspired by ‘a term to describe Czech typographic unions some time ago’ Erik says. He believes that his designs owe a great deal to his graduate studies at VCU and his relationships with his professors. His artistic capabilities, which were gained through studying in various fields including philosophy, art, history, and literature, have made his works of typography unpredictable and unique. 
He approaches each work from a distinctive angle, perceives all works as different from one other, and hence he creates spaces where viewers might find theselves in relation to the work on their own terms. “I isolate, focus, estrange, and extend simple things… Everything begins with words,” Erik describes. This is the reason why simple, colorful geometric shapes consistently exist in his works, along with transparent, neat typefaces like Futura, Univers, and Akzidenz Grotesk. 
He assumes that empty space is important, yet plays with the full and empty, combining layers of photography and typographic forms in a transparent, random, but natural manner.
Minneapolis: The City I Live In (2013) demonstrates colorful, geometrical, self - made types in the form of typography. These shapes are consistently reproduc-ed as themes in his works.
Erik’s collaboration with his poet wife, Elisabeth Workman, is also published in various booklets. Opolis, a collection of his wife’s poems and his photos, is one of them. This poetry book, which is written in prose, is the product of their two - year stay in Qatar and is about the city, intimacy, and language. These poems, which are printed with green ink on yellow, blue, white, and pink (his favorite sensational color) semi-transparent matte finish, are an example of his approach towards type and design.
As a committed designer, he uses design to challenge society’s anomalies. In Gnus Not Guns! he criticizes the expansion of armed violence in American society; through this anagram his wife created.
Erik designed a series of three typographic posters named Free Anton Stogov (  2014  ) at the invitation of the Ukraine Designers’ Asso-ciation, as a campaign to free the Ukrainian designer Anton Stogov, who was arrested during the 2013 protests.
The poster and flyer for the Chilean poetry reading session in New York, called Poesia 100%: A Different September 11 (  2005  ), is the reminder of two important historical events. The first is General Pinochet’s coup d’état against the Allende government in Chile supported by CIA ( 1973 ), and the second is the collapse of the World Trade Centre in New York due to Al - Qaeda’s terrorist attack ( 2001 ).
In his Remote Control poster, he criticizes the warmongering policy. He considers the US war with unmanned aerial vehicles leading to death and destruction dangerous, and curses it.

Ficciones Typografika
Hands up, don’t shoot! This sentence became popular right after a white police officer shot Michael Brown, an eighteen year - old black young man, in August 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Afterwards, the sentence became the name of a movement that spread throughout the United States and led to coordinated protests against racism and the police’s violent behavior. Erik Brandt designed the same sentence with Akzidenz Grotesk black type on white paper, printed it as a typographic poster, and demonstrated it in the Ficciones Typgrafika project. Ficciones Typgrafika, or the fictions of typography, is a combination of the title of a book by Jorge Luis Borges and the name of Brandt’s studio. In addition to his own works, he has invited more than 750 works by over 250 designers from all over the world to cooperate in this project. The project was inspired by a similar work in Manchester in which he had participated several years ago. “The online life of the project both documents and extends the project’s reach, and it is especially satisfying to share images of wrinkled posters,” Erik outlines.These posters are hung in a horizontal poster board ( three posters, each approximately 60 by 90 cm ) on the external wall of his garage in Minneapolis and are frequently published on social media platforms. Its major visitors are neither the people who live in that neighborhood, nor the drivers who pass by, but members of different social media networks. Every few days, a series of three works created by artists, poets, writers, and designers from all over the world are hung in this poster board. These works are not the common graffiti in the streets, nor are they announcements adver-tising an event; rather, they are both experimental works and abstract posters that might reflect different political and social messages. They do not follow a certain rule and no money is charged for hanging them. “The subjects of the works are related to the designers, they only tell their typographic tale. That’s it,” explains Erik. The pictures of the posters hung on the garage walls have turned Erik into not just a designer, but a world famous gallery owner in his neighborhood.

At the same time, he set up Geotypografika, a blog connected to different social media networks, which is a completely open environment for the exchange of ideas, sharing, and talking about visual communication with students. This project was active until 2013. The content was related to various subjects about globalization and its complexities and effects on the universal system of visual communication and different sciences.

Majid Abbasi

is design director of Studio Abbasi active in the international community, based in Tehran and Toronto. He leads a variety of design projects for start-ups, non-profits and educational organizations worldwide. Majid actively contributes to the international design scene as an instructor, jury member, curator and writer. He has been editor-in-chief of Neshan, the leading Iranian graphic design magazine since 2010. Majid has been members of Iranian Graphic Designers Society (IGDS) since 1998 and Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) since 2009.

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