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Despite the perception of abundance we often operate with under modern consumerism, it is well known that many of our resources are becoming less and less available. Resulting in a savage race for said resources – from construction materials, paper and cardboard to rare earth elements and tech metals – we see not only to a steep incline in market prices, but a stressed out, scarcity-driven production culture that harms the earth and puts profit before people.
For the Graphic Matters 2021 Type Craft Summer School, Dutch creative studio Autobahn developed a type workshop using the idea of scarcity as a springboard for creativity; encouraging students to gather materials from a recycling centre, the masterclass sought to redefine what we mean when we talk about ‘minimalism’ in design.
Moving beyond the aesthetic connotations of the word and committing to a deeper, more ambitious understanding of minimalism – that is, in the context of sustainability – Autobahn’s Scarcity Type workshop invited students to develop manifestos surrounding their interests and concerns about society today, and then create typographic designs based on words extracted from these manifestos.
“In collaborative sessions with us,” Rob Stolte of Autobahn tells us, “we wanted to challenge students and participants to look for the extremes in typography, in dialogue with these materials.”
Faced with a lack of materials (the owner of the recycling centre, Rob says, allowed students to collect only a few plastics OR wood materials, in order to avoid the combination of the two and thus the inability to recycle them after use), participants needed to be able to adapt and work “in dialogue” with what was available. This saw many participants altering their ideas once they had their hands on their materials which, Rob highlights, led to a ton of exciting and unexpected results.
“For instance,” Rob reflects, “one of the groups collected a lot of plastics, because in their manifesto they had this specific idea, but when they came to the recycling depot they realised their idea needed adjustments – either the materials weren’t there or they saw other things that inspired them. So, they collected a lot of things – I don’t know, maybe 100kg of materials – and when they got back to the workplace they decided to change their manifesto so it fitted the materials better. They ended up with a sort of plastic thread like you have for a fly curtain and a big mesh screen, and they started to weave these threads in the mesh. They ended up with a screen they hung up between the trees. They intentionally left the outsides of these threads very long, so from the outside it looked like a fly curtain, but when you got underneath, you could read the text.”
“That was really a really good example of what we aimed to achieve for the masterclass,” he continues. “You can think of a solution looking forward, but when you work with materials you need to adapt and create a new relationship between your idea and the materials…So I love the way that they accepted the materials and changed their initial idea, which made it stronger in the end.”
Another stand-out piece, Rob says, was created just in the nick of time right at the end of the workshop: “One participant took a really big stack of papers, but when she got back to the workspace, she didn’t know if this was the right material. She stared rummaging through the plastics that the other group had brought and she found a really big piece of transparent plastic, and she thought ‘ok I have this material I find it really interesting, but what am I going to do to apply my type design on this sheet?’ It took her quite a long time, almost a day, to figure out what she wanted to do, of course we talked, and in the end she came up with quite a simple solution: using tape to create a very rudimentary letter design, and then using sand paper to get rid of the top of the material by scratching the surface.”
“This really worked well with her manifesto and the idea behind her design,” Rob continues, “so I find it very interesting that people can find it very difficult at the start to work with new and unknown materials, but you just give it time the most beautiful things can develop. So this is an example of someone who really surprised me: the materials, the manifesto, how it all came together in the nick of time at the end of the masterclass. Those surprises are what I think will last with the participants, and hopefully they will try to use this in their practice.”
Thank you, Rob & Autobahn!