Fieldwork Facility has designed a new “dream” publication with experimental typography to accompany the audiovisual work of American artist Sondra Perry Lineage for a Phantom Zone.
Created for the inauguration of the Muse Rolls-Royce Dream Commission, Perry’s artwork imagines a dream the artist would have liked to have. Combining personal and online archival footage, Perry explores both her personal history and the erasing of black history in the American South, seeing the dream as a space to access an otherwise inaccessible heritage.
The publication, available free of charge in the exhibition, invites visitors to deepen the thinking behind the work. A Vibe Called Tech, a black-owned creative consultancy firm, was tasked with overseeing the editorial, bringing Fieldwork Facility as a designer alongside prominent black writers and artists including Isaac Julien CBE, Kareem Reid, NK Jemisin, and the psychotherapist. Bola Shonubi.
“The first conversation we had about the exhibition e [Perry’s] the dreams for the book felt like a conversation between old friends, “explains Lewis Dalton Gilbert, creative director of A Vibe Called Tech.” Those we invited to contribute were also people we felt had deep connections to his practice. “
Robin Howie, founder and creative director of Fieldwork Facility and designer of the project, explains how, as an artist’s book, the publication could be “open”, not making sense of everything, but trying to “weave a path” through the its diverse range of content.
In the exhibit, Perry’s grandmother is “present” through a pervasive smell of oranges, referencing a familiar myth that when she passes by, Perry will recognize by the scent of oranges in the air. Fieldwork Facility wished Perry’s grandmother had a similar presence in the publication.
“We thought very carefully about how to sensitively translate this onto the page without imitating or diverting attention from the essays and contributors to the publication,” says Howie.
The decision was made to “add a layer inspired by the dream, mainly through [the publication’s] composed, ”says Howie. Conceived as a dream sequence, a series of typographical interventions on seven texts articulate the word “oranges”, influencing each of its letters in a different way, inspired by dream phenomena.
Some of these are directly related to the artwork, such as the letter “r”, which used upside down mirrors the inverted Cyprus trees that appear in key parts of Perry’s film.
The letter ‘a’, meanwhile, is replaced with ‘≈’; In a conversation with psychotherapist Bola Shonubi, Perry discusses a recurring dream in which a flood occurs and Perry sees someone who is her grandmother but does not look like her. Both elements are combined in the “almost equal to” symbol, which is representative of her near-grandmother but is also like the cartographic symbol of water, explains Howie.
Other interventions play with common dream phenomena. The letter ‘g’ is stretched horizontally to represent “how physics can come out of the window in a dream”, while the sensation of falling is translated into a text by the letter ‘e’ which appears to fall below its correct place.
While he recognized the fun of developing these interventions, Howie says, it was important not to be “graphic designers for the sake of being graphic”. Instead, “you might go past the first essays and think there were misprints, but when you get to the third essay you see something unusual, a little out of place”.
This helps keep the reader on their toes, he suggests. “You start sitting a little longer and pay more attention to what you are about to experience.”
While the typographical interventions are customized, two existing typefaces are used: Druk for the cover and title pages of the chapters and Bradford for the body of the text. The choice of the latter, published by the Swiss type foundry Lineto and designed by Swiss designer Laurenz Brunner, reflected the debut of the exhibition and publication at the Fondation Beyeler in Switzerland.
The heart of the project are his typographical interventions, but other elements are also linked to the themes of the exhibition. The cover uses a close-up photograph of an orange, but this is shifted to purple to “set the tone for something.” [being] not quite what it seems, ”explains Howie.
The form of the publication, printed by Die Keure in Bruges, was also important. Howie wanted to create a novel-like environment for book ideas by designing it to resemble a paperback pulp. Then, he explains, “as you turn the pages, it becomes subverted”, eventually becoming surreal, “as a great dream can do”.
All images by Ed Park.