Czech Mates

The catalogue for the 27th Brno Biennal provides an excellent snapshot of the event, but also makes for an impressive publication in its own right. We talk to designers and curators Radim Peško, Tomáš Celizna and Adam Macháček to find out more..

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The Brno Biennal is now in its fifty-third year and has long been considered a key event to see an inspiring and often challenging selection of graphic design from around the world. 

Curators Radim Peško, Tomáš Celizna, Adam Macháček are also responsible for the biennal's striking identity and accompanying catalogue. Of course nothing beats actually being there, but if you can't make it to the biennale (which ends on 30 October 2016), then this impressive catalogue provides a great introduction to the event. We caught up with Radim, Tomáš and Adam to find out more about the challenges of capturing the spirit of the event and creating a publication which can live on when the biennal is just a distant memory.

For those who haven’t yet visited, what can people expect to see at the Brno Biennale? Has there always been a catalogue produced to accompany the event?
Radim Peško, Tomáš Celizna, Adam Macháček: It is quite a big event, therefore to learn more about all fifteen exhibitions which occupy the three buildings of the Moravian Gallery, we suggest visiting the Biennial website. It seems that even though there is so much written and shared about graphic design online and countless ‘design’ books are being published, the occasions to confront graphic design and interpret it for yourself in an exhibition setting are quite scarce. So, it is probably personal encounters with graphic design situated in a real space that could be expected, something that the Brno Biennial has been trying to provide for over 50 years.

Since its inception in 1963, there has always been an accompanying Biennial catalogue. Up until 2012 it had the same format as well as the editorial approach – it was just a collection of exhibited works with a list of designers that has been selected to the ‘international competition’, which used to be considered the ‘main’ exhibition of the Biennial. In short, a catalogue was done as printed telephone-book like portfolio that might have had served its purpose some time ago. When we became curators of the 2014 edition, which, for the first time, was thematic (graphic design, education and schools), we’ve tried to reflect the complexity of the Biennial in the catalogue as well. Instead of being representative, the catalogue aims to be rather an extension of the Biennial, something that works both as another layer of reading it as well as a stand-alone publication that you can approach without visiting Brno.

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How long have you been involved with the Biennal and how many identities and catalogues have you designed for it so far?
RP,TC,AM: This was our third edition. We were invited to be part of the organising board in the beginning in 2010. In 2012 we have decided to leave the board and became external curators of 2014 and this year's editions, which allowed us to explore the Biennial format further. In both last editions we were also involved as designers. It turned to be the most logical as well as practical solution.

What’s the inspiration behind the custom typeface you designed, and is there a new typeface designed for each Biennal?
RP,TC,AM: The 27th Brno Biennial attempts to examine the key phenomena of contemporary graphic design and visual communication. We see this as somewhat going back to basics and trying to figure out the terms (keywords) that can be used to describe our discipline now. This approach is then reflected in the identity (and the catalogue) of this year's Biennial.

So the typeface used in this edition is kind of primal. Even if you would just scribble it, it would still be what it is. It is more instructive than formally defined, allowing and withstanding the interpretations without losing its character. And for those in the know, it connects to the history of graphic design as well.

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One of the themes of the 2016 Biennal is ‘Keywords’ – how did this impact on how the catalogue’s content was organised?
RP,TC,AM: This edition's catalogue is conceived as kind of a lexicon. We have approached more than twenty contributors and asked them to propose and elaborate on a key term that, for them, somehow resonates with contemporary graphic design. The result can be seen as a report about (graphic) design now. Such a list is however by no means definitive; it is a tool or a principle of actively naming and describing things around and trying to understand them. The ultimate goal is to encourage you to visit the Biennial and develop your own stories.

The catalogue's content is organised simply in alphabetical order, with key terms blending with everything else – texts about the exhibitions, etc., so for example, the Introduction happens to appear in the middle of the book.

Is it important that the catalogue acts as a standalone publication which can be appreciated whether you’ve been to the Biennal or not? How do you go about ensuring that’s the case whilst still making it representative of the event itself?
RP,TC,AM: We would like to see catalogue as yet another venue for the Biennial. Our aim is not to represent what you can experience in the physical exhibition space itself, but see the publication as an opportunity to discuss the ideas behind the edition in ways that are inherent to the format of the book.

Brno Biennial provides an opportunity to focus on a certain (design-related) topics, and explore them in a multitude of ways and formats – from exhibitions to lectures, from the catalogue to the collection of interviews, both online and in physical space, and by collaborators spanning different disciplines related to design.

The catalogue itself features texts that not only accompany the exhibitions (A Body of Work, Which Mirror Do You Want to Lick?) but also invite others to contribute with texts specially commissioned for the catalogue itself (James Langdon, Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Linda van Deursen, Emily King, Dan Michaelson…) .

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What’s the most challenging aspect of presenting such a visually diverse range of graphic design within the pages of a publication such as this?
RP,TC,AM: We wanted to maintain a certain level of clarity, so given the structure (keywords) as well as timeframe and other practical restrictions, most of the design and editorial decisions had to be taken before the actual material arrived. In other words, we had to have a clear scenario first.

What was the thought process behind printing the bulk of the catalogue in black and white?
RP,TC,AM: One of the main design objectives was to keep focus and emphasis on the content and not fetishising the object too much. In this form it is reproduceable in other ways (once out of print it can be scaled down and printed on demand, re-published online, distributed as PDF, etc.) without losing much of the 'original' edition.

There are some interesting tip-ins within the catalogue, were these intended to add a playful element to what’s quite a serious publication in its intent?
RP,TC,AM: We wanted to give the readers some gifts, so the catalogue contains seven loose printed matters connected to the exhibitions. Anybody can take them and create her/his own display whenever desired or pass them along.

If someone picked up the catalogue in twenty years’ time, what conclusions do you think they might come to about the state of graphic design in 2016?
RP,TC,AM: Golden years?

Purchase a copy of the catalogue here and find out more about the Brno Biennal here.

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Catalogue concept and graphic design: Radim Peško, Tomáš Celizna, Adam Macháček

Texts: David Bennewith, Rachel Berger, Emilia Bergmark, Andrew Blauvelt, Sulki & Min Choi, Jean-Marie Courant, Linda Dostálková, Experimental Jetset, Kurt Finsten, Chris Fitzpatrick, Roland Früh, Paul Gangloff, Tetsuya Goto, Catherine Ince, Emily King, James Langdon, Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Hélène Meisel & officeabc, Dan Michaelson, Jon Sueda, Marta Sylvestrová, Frantisek Štorm, Linda van Deursen, curators and authors of the exhibitions

English/Czech, 344 pages, 233 × 332 mm

Printed by: Helbich, Brno

The Moravian Gallery in Brno, 2016

ISBN 978-80-7027-300-5

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