Tuesday, 12:00pm
26 November 2019

Typographic hints for the next generation

The New Art School Rules!

Bury Museum & Sculpture Centre, Moss Street, Bury BL9 0DR, UK. Sat Oct 12, 2019—Sat Jan 25, 2020. Open Tues—Fri 10:00—17:00 Sat 10:00—16:30.

‘The New Art School Rules’ is showing in Bury as part of Design Manchester 19. Review by Alex Cameron

‘The New Art School Rules!’ – part of Design Manchester 19 Festival – is an exhibition of 121 type-based images designed by current practitioners, writes Alex Cameron.

The brief to each contributor was to express an enduring maxim from the designer’s experience that might inspire and inform others: it is a ‘collective manifesto’ for the next generation.

The collection – curated by John Rooney, Malcolm Garrett, Kat Au and John Owens – provides something of a barometer of concerns for contemporary practitioners. It also serves as a platform for discussion and debate for designers about design, without infantilising ideological parameters such as ‘difference’, ‘sustainability’, ‘identity’ and ‘tolerance’, which speak of an audience that is in need of social re-education.

Chris Clarke, ‘Absorb’.
Top. Jenni Bennett, ‘Ask’.

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We live in changing, challenging and exciting times. While designers must engage with political and social issues, they cannot afford to be slaves to them. Therefore, a better and clearer understanding of the role of design and the designer is urgent. The exhibition asks us to consider commonality and convergence. It does not require us to wade through ideological impositions mentioned above, as so many ‘design’ events do today, before we get to actual design issues. The politicisation of design permeates discourse, writing and events. It is a problem our elite institutions have so much to answer for.

In ‘The New Art School Rules!’ we can, unsurprisingly, identify familiar and important themes that emerge from many of the contributions, including: ‘play’, ‘rule-breaking’, ‘critical practice’, ‘intellectual approach’, ‘craft’ and ‘collaboration’. But there are others that don’t fit and require unpacking. It is the sheer range of intelligent insights and diverse formal approaches that make this collection dynamic and vital. Many of the ‘Rules’ deserve studious engagement and need time to percolate – longer than the show itself can allow.

The Planning Unit, ‘DIP’ (Do It Properly).

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We see pieces that are ‘hand-crafted’ but are far from typographic or painterly abstractions. ‘Ask’, by Jenni Bennett is direct, unambiguous and honest in the extreme. Marion Deuchars’s, ‘Learn Something’ is a painterly typographic piece that petitions us to engage with other creative pursuits to improve our own – her lettering is beautifully drawn and perfectly balanced. Patrick Murphy’s ‘Dsegin int’s waht yuo see’ is a witty typographic conundrum; ‘Absorb’ by Chris Clarke is unforgettable – a cryptic, slow-burning presentation of an important design attribute. There is a wealth of approaches to form: pictorial, diagrammatic, abstraction, minimalist and conceptual pieces. One such conceptual work – ‘Give yourself space to think’ by Josef Minta – absolutely nails the brief and goes beyond it to capture the essence of the exhibition.

 Installation photo of ‘The New Art School Rules!’ by Stephen Walton. 
Josef Minta, ‘Give yourself space to think’.

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Eye Minta_JosefMinta’s is an important rule. The message is direct while the form adds depth to its meaning. A perfect synthesis of text and image. The Planning Unit’s ‘DIP’ (Do It Properly) reminds us that graphic design is a craft. Some of the contributions are not without fault, but as a collection, this series of typographic images is challenging, considered and a necessary intervention in the design landscape. For some, the exhibition’s design-centrism will prove challenging – but it is precisely what we need. A universal and essentialist approach to the practice of graphic design – concepts sadly missing in much design discourse – are prerequisites for engagement with a mass audience, if we believe the masses to be active participants rather than empty vessels.

Patrick Murphy, ‘Dsegin int’s waht yuo see’.

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The exhibition is timely, the concept urgent. It is a must-see and deserves a wide audience. It also needs a life beyond Design Manchester 19 Festival and hopefully, it gets one – we need debate, dissent and new rules of engagement about design; more than ever.

The New Art School Rules!’ continues at Bury Art Museum & Sculpture Centre until 25 January 2020. 

Alex Cameron, editorial designer, lecturer and design writer, Madrid

Installation photo of ‘The New Art School Rules!’ by Stephen Walton.

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