You are here

This is why Experimental Jetset is a living part of typographic history

S

ome upcoming events. First of all, we’re working on a ‘graphic intervention’ for an exhibition that will take place at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zürich – the opening will take place on April 16, 2015. Secondly, we designed five Provo-related posters as a contribution to Yes Yes Yes, a group show that will open on April 18, at Colli in Rome. And finally, around May 1, the Whitney Museum will re-open at its new location – featuring a graphic identity that we designed in 2012 (and that has been maintained by the Whitney’s in-house design team ever since). In fact, on the occasion of the opening, we’ve been asked to create some new work for the Whitney – more about that later.” This is just one of the many updates Experimental Jetset posted on their website regarding their agenda for the first half of 2015 and obviously productivity is not something this team of three lacks in.


Zang! Tumb Tumb

Consisting of Marieke Stolk, Erwin Brinkers and Danny van den Dungen this small, independent, Amsterdam-based graphic design studio was established back in 1997. The trio, who met and collaborated during their studies at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy formed Experimental Jetset and since the beginning of their adventures in the world of the letters, they decided to focus on printed matter and site-specific installations. Best known for their typographic solutions have completed projects as diverse as the new graphic identity for the Whitney Museum of American Art (2013), to the iconic ‘John & Paul & Ringo & George’ t-shirt print (2001).

“We want our work to become a part of reality, not an imitation of it”

Although they describe their work as “scavenging the ruins of Modernism”, Experimental Jetset’s graphic design output belongs to our times. Conscious “of its origins and place in design history” they see their work as an archive of influences. From the iconic poster by Dutch cartoon artist Bernard Willem Holtrop with a reversed lower case “A” that inspired the trio for its “sharp and clear design but contrarian element”, through the No Wave post-punk sub-culture that sprung up in New York City in the late 1970s and early 80s to the relationship between pop culture and the avant-garde – exemplified, for example, by the record sleeve of The Beatles’ White Album designed by pop artist Richard Hamilton in 1968, everything is an inspiration.


Whitney Graphic Identity

“For us, a fascination with graphic design started with stuff like record sleeves, music magazines, fanzines and band t-shirts”, says Van den Dungen. “That got us interested in graphic design in the first place and I think a lot of the work that we do is still related to that. There is always this sense that we referring to those groups or movements.” Provo was just one of them. The Dutch counterculture movement, which Stolk’s father was a founding member of was focused on provoking violent responses from authorities using non-violent action and it was a family issue for her. After all, “since mainstream printers did not want to print the subversive material of the movement, activism forced her father to become a printer.” 

Although they have become synonymous with the use of Helvetica, Stolk wants to set the record straight. “We actually hate Helvetica”, she says.

Owing a huge debt to Dutch graphic designers such as Wim Crouwel and other influential thinkers and visual disruptors alike (French Marxist theorist Guy Debord, Italian artist Lucio Fontana, French film director Jean-Luc Godard or Stanley Kubrick’s “relentless merciless aesthetic”), Experimental Jetset are not interested in reproducing reality. “We want our work to become a part of reality, not an imitation of it” they say. “We try to make the viewer aware of the reality of representation by revealing the methods of reproduction and of printing”.


The Printed Book

Obsessed with details, with an almost “neurotic desire to control even the smallest elements in our work for better or for worse” Experimental Jetset porftolio is influenced by their involvement as teenagers in the 1980s with the “post-punk sub-cultures such as New Wave, Psychobilly, 2 Tone and Mod”, notes Brinkers. And although they have become synonymous with the use of Helvetica typeface Stolk wants to set the record straight. “We actually hate Helvetica”, she says. “If anything we see it as more of a natural tone of voice as part of our everyday vocabulary. We are not the sort of actors who speak in a different voice or put on another mask every time we play another role”, she explains. “We basically signed our own death sentence – in Helvetica obviously!” she commented on their appearance in Gary Hustwit’s documentary about the over popular font. Maybe the fact that the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired back in 2007 a large selection of their work in 2007 for inclusion in the museum’s permanent collection will make you acknowledge that Experimental Jetset are a living part of today’s typographic history but that is merely an understatement.


NAiM Zoo Letter Z


Observatorium


NAiM Re-Action


NAiM Playboy Architecture


Stedelijk Museum Open, postage stamps


NAiM Panels


Still the Modern World


Flag Show


Maastricht New Year 2


Jérôme St-Loubert Bié


NAiM The Smithsons


International Architecture Biennial Rotterdam 2014


Statement & Counter


High Risk


104 / Le Cent Quatre 2


EP Sternberg Press


Paradiso Poster/Folder


NAiM Clip/Stamp/Fold


NAiM / Club Ceramique


BE Graphic Identity


Helvetica / Blu-ray


John Paul Ringo George


Sirens


Two or Three Things