Bricks + Mortar

Created by OK-RM as the catalogue for the show at British Pavilion at this year's Venice Biennale, Home Economics is a beautiful and engaging piece of print which is a fascinating book in its own right.

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Exhibition catalogues can often feel a bit redundant once the exhibition has closed, serving more as a reminder of what you saw (or in some cases, what you missed), often being consigned to the far reaches of the bookshelf and left to gather dust. Not so Home Ecomonics, the catalogue published by The Spaces and commissioned by The British Council to accompany the exhibition in the British Pavilion at this year's Venice Biennale.

The publication, like the pavilion, explores a range of new ideas and models for domestic life and alternative futures for the home, at the same time dealing with difficult issues surrounding the UK housing crisis. The content is both insightful and engaging and the book is beautifully designed by OK-RM (who also designed the visual identity for the exhibition). We caught up with the studio's founders Rory McGrath and Oliver Knight to find out more.

How did you first get involved with creating the visual identity and exhibition design for the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale?
We were already developing the visual identity and design for the REAL foundation when Jack Self, Shumi Bose and Finn Williams won the competition to curate the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. It came as a beautiful surprise for all involved in the process. From the conception of the project, OK-RM collaborated closely with the curators and architects Hesselbrand with the specific responsibility of conceptualising and articulating the visual identity across the multiple facets of the project and the rest is history…

Have you worked on any similar projects before?
OK-RM was founded as a collaborative practice engaged in ongoing partnerships with artists, curators, editors, architects, designers and institutions. We create identities and design books, websites and all kinds of communication systems. In that sense, we have worked on similar projects before.

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Can you describe the collaborative process involved with working with the three curators?
What made this project special, is that the curators and extended team of architects and graphic designers collaborated from the very start of the project, allowing for an optimal integration of ideas and the blurring of lines between disciplines that usually tend to stay within their own realm.

Over the course of the project, we worked very much in tune, which made it easy to translate each other’s ideas into different mediums. An example: Home Economics presents five new models for domestic life that are presented as full-scale 1:1 interiors in the British Pavilion, displaying architectural proposals as a direct spatial experience. An annotated floorplan of the pavilion acts as both logo and graphic primer for the show and the structure of its presentation.

What were the challenges involved with translating contents of the exhibition into book format? Were ;both designed at the same time?
The publication functions as a project in its own right. Jack Self describes his aim for the book as follows: “Home Economics aspires to be a clear statement of intent, a (rather modest) manifesto, and a book with a proposition that can function entirely independently of the exhibition it was commissioned to accompany.”

It is a book with its own agenda, bringing new and radical ideas to a mass readership through critical essays, specially commissioned architectural projects and photographic artworks that capture the spaces and provoke our assumptions about the home. The book is designed for a general audience, to be as engaging and as inclusive as the exhibition itself.

It still being a catalogue, the book had to be ready and available on the first day of the show. To do this and include exhibition photography, installation was pulled forward by two weeks and parts of the book were printed very last minute. This put the photographer whose photo-essay features in the catalogue, Thomas Adank, under immense pressure – he worked almost round the clock for several days to get the work completed.

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Would you class the book as an exhibition catalogue or is it designed to be more of a standalone publication?
As stated above, Home Economics the book can function entirely independently since it doesn’t just represent or record the exhibition.

On the other hand, the book is part of a layered experience. The exhibition contains almost no wall text, which is provided instead in a small pamphlet. Someone with no knowledge could enter and grasp certain aspects from their time in the spaces alone; another person might read the pamphlet and have a deeper understanding of the themes and the works; and a third, armed with the book, would be able to fully understand the research, complexity and ambitions of the exhibition.

Can you tell us a bit about the concept behind the series of artworks which were created with Matthieu Lavanchy?
The artworks also capture the everyday – they depict uncanny images of contemporary domestic life; images that seem normal at first, but which challenge expectations, disrupt normality, or startle. These have been combined with blunt, polemic statements, which produce a provocative friction. The German word for uncanny, “unheimlich”, means the unfamiliar within the home. It is the strange and alienating within the familiar. Pitched somewhere between observation and political slogan, the short text is usually somewhat dissonant with its paired image, allowing the viewer to make critical projections of their own.

Based on themes such as sharing space; money, debt and stress; forbidden and secret acts; and infrastructure and privacy, the artworks intended to prime viewers to the complex themes of the exhibition. They appear in the exhibition, catalogue and merchandise as well as in the press campaign.

What’s next for OK-RM?
We continue our work with institutions and artists, and are currently working on multiple projects including a project for The Design Museum, the identity for jewellery label Patcharavipa that launches this fall and books with artists Shezad Dawood and Fos. A thrilling outcome of the work process of Home Economics was the realisation that a partnership of REAL Foundation (Jack Self), Hesselbrand and OK-RM could offer an interesting proposition to clients. We continue to collaborate and have already realised another project together…

Home Economics, the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale, commissioned by the British Council. Catalogue published by The Spaces – buy your copy here.

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