Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Helvetica, debt, n+1, and so on...

On the one hand, things are moving so fast-I can't respond to all the news I receive (well, no one asks me to do so in the first place). On the other hand, things don't appear to have changed so much-banks are doing their businesses as usual, austerity measures are implemented everywhere, and those in power in Japan haven't given up nuclear power plants. But, it might be fair to say that now many people are aware that things cannot go on eternally and that we can do something about it.

Last year I often wrote about music, photography, film, performing arts, and sounds and images in general. I still want to do this, but am kind of struggling to formulate a right question about art. For example, "what can art do today?" seems to me not right one.

Additionally, I'm not interested in talking about if a certain art work is good or bad. Neither am I interested in promoting a certain method of making art-be it collage, or use of environmental sounds or glitch.

At this moment it may be easier for me to talk about the images I see on a daily basis.

I've recently watched Gary Huswit's documentary film Helvetica. It's about a font face called Helvetica-it is so dominant, everywhere like the air. Of course it is a bit different in Asian countries, but this font is globally used-many of those Japanese companies doing their businesses globally, such as Toyota, Kawasaki, Muji, etc., actually use this font as their logos as well. The film explains its history-how it was invented, how it became so dominant, and how designers have dealt with it. The font appears to be simple, clean, and neutral, and that it came from nowhere. Some say it's democratic. Some say fascist. Some say they like it because it doesn't say anything. Some hate because of the same reason. It makes authoritative figures look democratic, dangerous things safe. How do you see this?

Some appreciate its "perfection." Some rail against its "conformity." A half of century's history of typography is about this pendulum. At a certain point it became a symbol of "the end of history," and thus of capitalism. But I don't think having a lot of choices is simply a way of getting away from this pendulum. In the film, someone says that Helvetica is rather a symbol of socialism, and by saying this he doesn't mean totalitarianism, but egalitarianism.

What's important for me is that how we see this font will change someday. Nothing goes eternally.

I've read David Graeber's DEBT: THE FIRST 5,000 YEARS. Graeber explains that before there was money, there was debt, and money started as virtual money. But this is just the beginning of the author's journey-I want to talk about this the other day. At this moment I just note that I don't see much difference between Graeber and Žižek (or Jodi Dean) because both argue that this capitalism system won't last eternally and that we should be prepared for a change-even though an "anarchism or communism?" kind of debate is going on.

By the way, if there is someone missing from Astra Taylor's Examined Life, it should be Graeber. Today I've been enjoying reading gazettes published by n+1 magazine that report about OWS, in which Taylor provides OWS diaries (they use many fonts) 1st Gazette; 2nd Gazette. I won't go about the details at this moment. You can download the PDF files from the links for free.

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