Experimental Jetset: The Universal Language of Design

December 07, 2015

An encounter with an Experimental Jetset design is immediate and impactful. This is what happens with good design: it feels singularly perfect and often seems transparent. Yet Experimental Jetset works against this phenomenon to make visible their process and materials, even in the digital realm. Their recently published Statement and Counterstatement: Notes on Experimental Jetset, recounts their collected reflections, along with images of their projects nestled among guest essays.

Rachel Cassandra: How have your cited influences of anarchism, Provo, post-punk and fanzines informed your designs?
Experimental Jetset: Maybe we're so attracted to subcultures because they are environments in which it's relatively easy to leave a mark, but not without the subculture having left a mark on you. Subcultures also impact the culture as a whole, almost functioning as an interface between the individual and the public domain. An added element of social mobility is present; as working class kids, it was through subcultures such as punk and new wave that we learned about movements such as Surrealism, Futurism and Dada.

What do you hope to achieve by using your self-described methodology of “turning language into objects?”
Our motivation stems from our interpretations of the work of the Situationists and the Lettrists, and their critique of the “society of the spectacle.” In order to break the spell of the image, we have to keep the reader constantly aware that he or she is looking at a material object: ink printed on paper. We developed a whole graphic language built around these almost Brechtian gestures: folding, tearing, perforating, overprinting, etc. The function of our graphic language is to continuously remind the reader that he or she is looking at a human-made object: a material object that is constructed by humans, and, thus, can also be changed by humans.

You chose to use black space Instead of white around your images in the book.
For the book, we decided to scan our work in actual size, a 1:1 scale, and show these scanned images as spreads. This is a more direct, tactile and visceral way of showing material. It is also much closer to the way we experience our own work. One of the by-products of scanning the work was that all the backgrounds were black. A white background seems so empty that it becomes full, while a black background seems so full that it becomes empty, or maybe it's the other way around. Either way, one is a cacophonous silence, while the other is a tranquil noise.

Whitney EXJ chart

Describe your process of using nesting software to arrange letters on your book cover and in the zine included with your book, Automatically Arranged Alphabets.
We used a series of typographic compositions made by playing with trial versions of nesting software. Nesting software is industrial software mostly being used in factories, for example, to fit several irregularly-shaped parts on a metal sheet in the most efficient way. We used it as a tool to create these typographic compositions, which were automatically arranged by the nesting software.

A lot of people might think that such a project is quite typical for us—for some reason, there exists this image of us as quite systematic, rational, default-type designers. But nothing can be further from the truth. We may use the language of systematic design, but we use this language often in a very subjective, personal, and hopefully poetic way. We truly believe in the aesthetic intuition and individual expression of the designer.

In terms of your own freedom, what is the difference in the approach for client-directed design and installation work?
We don't really distinguish between autonomous work, and client-directed work. In a sense, we regard all our projects as self-initiated. The moment we say yes to a project, we initiate that project, whether the project involves a client or not.

We have a bit of an existentialist streak when it comes to assignments—we see our position always as being completely free, even when being confronted with the most terrible restrictions and compromises. It is exactly while dealing with these limitations and restrictions that we exercise this freedom to the fullest.

In contrast, we see the projects themselves as completely unfree. After all, no project is free from restrictions, limitations or circumstances. Even a project that involves no client at all is still not free—there is always a context to respond to, material limitations to deal with, historical circumstances, or underlying structures.

To us, these are two phenomena that manifest themselves at the same time within each project, and there's not some sort of middle ground. We know, it all sounds terribly complicated, but, to us, it makes a lot of sense!

The above text is an excerpt from the January, 2016 issue of Juxtapoz, available here.