by Guillermo Rivero / Creative Writing Department
| Interview: Andy Stevens, Graphic Thought Facility
|6 October, 2005
an essay based on this interview was published in FAB06
October 6, 2005, Andy Stevens of Graphic Thought Facility (GTF) came to Fabrica to give a lecture. This is an interview about the work style at GTF, once described as Adhocist. Adhocism is a prompt, swift, maybe even bold, immediate solution to a unexpected problem or situation. It is applied in areas such as philosophy, architecture, biology and now even in design theory. For the past 15 years, Andy Stevens and the people of GTF have been experimenting with and readapting processes in new and innovative ways; inasmuch as the solutions provided have been innovative, they have also been very well designed. This solution finding process has brought a great deal of attention to GTF and their work.
Could the term Adhocism, as used by Emily King [written in 2001], still describe your work?
I think so. I am very glad that that document exists [Emily King’s essay is posted in the GTF website] because I find it very hard to write about ourselves; to talk about why and what we do. I think I can find it easy, to talk about things in detail; it is so easy for me to take a piece of work and say exactly why is this fold here or this technique is used. However, it is very hard for me to put the body of our work in any sort of context. To be honest I don’t necessarily ever take such an overview of our work. It is hard to take distance.
So before I would describe ourselves as adhocists… I though it felt right, and maybe it feels right because we were not aspiring to Adhocism. I don’t think we aspire to that, but I think that there are things in our makeup as designers that perhaps naturally puts us in that direction. We are all in the same thinking. We are about: “I want to make a mark that no one has ever made before”; we are quite interested in assembling familiar things in new ways. We are interested in the power of the familiar and how what might be a cliché could be refreshed in a new way. So I would sort of agree with the term even if it was written in the essay 4 years ago. I still like the homemade; I also love the perfect and the crafted, as well.
I think of things like, say … the new apple I-pod Nano. I like it because I think it is almost nostalgic. It is almost a parody of what modern is meant to be; it’s like when I was growing up seeing things like sci-fi films. The Nano is like this hi-fi object that is basically first imposed as, it almost makes you laugh, at the idea of modern. It’s like some of those objects like the I-pod, where the future is becoming real now. So it sort of makes me laugh. There is so much retro modern, like… what modern is meant to be. I don’t think we want something very raw all the time, that is not the case… I think it [Adhocism] means that we are happy to sample things from wherever.
Where does the “love of Stuff” comes from?
I like this term or idea because it highlights some aspects that could be seen as negative in our work, such as overindulgence or maybe nostalgic. I quite like the idea of questioning our work, because it could be better or that it is slightly anachronistic, things to work on and change. However, stuff is important to us and I think it is apparent that we are very interested in details of everything. The love of stuff seems a logical conclusion of us teaching, when I was asked why I like this or that. In the path of analyzing your work you can go on and on saying why is it exactly like it is: the paper, the process, why we cut the photographs like this. We are very interested in all those details; maybe that is the reason why a piece or work doesn’t take so long or isn’t over worked. We often import systems, things take their own direction because otherwise we could become just to engrossed in worrying about every mark and how it’s made. I think we have to find ways to find how to stop that and know what goes in.
How is the conceptualization of a project affected by a material you like and want to use?
It has happened where we see a process that we really like, and we think: “that could really work”. But we also know that it is really wrong to push it into a job that doesn’t want it. So sometimes it might be years before the right job comes along; then we say: “we know the answer to this job, its been waiting all this time to be used”. I think that maybe, increasingly, we might get frustrated of the waiting game. So I think that if you see some processes that you really, really like, maybe you find ways to proactively make something happen. We are also interested in reusing processes not necessarily for what they where intended, in a sense that they carry a baggage that people know about this process or it has an intrinsic value that it is right for something else, but it has never been used for that, I think it is very interesting to find those things. I would say above all that we are very rational; maybe that was… you know, that we are a sort of reaction to the graphics done before us which were more expressive. I think here we would like to try something slightly more rational maybe back to the period before, but at the same time we can see that there are practical limits to that aesthetic. When it is rational it always seems to rationalize itself into the same aesthetic answer, that is reductionism. We have often strived to harness a real underlined rationality, to somebody that is really sold, and they have a reason; but at the same time try to find the aesthetic that can be semi-order or rawer or more “actor special” or something but not universal modernism. At the same time we are actually not keen on just self-expressive works, for the sake of being self-expresive. We plan using materials and processes with a sort of double edge: thinking that they are the right answer for something but also that they will bring an aesthetic or the way they work will be slightly strange and hopefully exciting or whatever we want it to be rational, institutional. We always like functional, we really torture ourselves: if we think something really looks good but it really affects the way it is working; we are very hard with ourselves and we are not going there. Maybe sometimes even at the expense of the work, maybe something in the past could have looked a lot nicer, maybe it did but we did not see the right settings on it. I remember doing the lettering on holiday because we did just fun mark marking, colors and shapes; that was an odd way for us to work because it was not a response to a problem, it was more just making marks and that is not the way we are.
Is there self-restraint at GTF?
I think there is. Self-restraint is often seen as work that comes out quite neutral, i.e. it is restraint because you are not putting your self into it or you are keeping out parts of what is necessary. At the same time, to be functional something can be highly decorative and functional. The decoration can be a motive of what you want to communicate. Something can be very tactile and in its on right very unrestrained aesthetically, that doesn’t mean it is not functional. I often have the problem that decoration is dismissed as the minders that are getting in the way; whereas I think that decoration is very powerful, it connects to people.
Has there been any point in the life of GTF when you thought you where going in the right direction?
One was a restaurant called Oki Nami, where we got a lot of freedom and it was a commercial project. We got the job through college connection; the project included everything, the graphics. We got there a chance to show all the things we thought about identity or decoration. That felt like a turning point because it was the first time that we did a project and it came out almost as we imagined it would. Before that, as we left college, we were doing experimental work but without a lot of money, we were playing on aesthetics while working for local theaters and stuff like that. One day we got a big amount of money and we spent it all in one poster, we were starving to use the processes, the poster turned out to be very expensive and nobody wanted it; it even included a glow-in-the-dark silkscreen. It was really with Oki Nami when we were making things we wanted to make and somebody wanted them also. It is funny to look back at college work. Some of it is, obviously, not right. You look back at it and it doesn’t work, or it is too confused; we were trying to assimilated a lot of processes and influence; we really liked the clarity of communication but at the same time we were trying to find our own aesthetic. Also we had the luck to find good clients, the ones with the ability to make decisions and the ones that were on the same wavelength as us. We were like a big gas cloud of influences, it is a bit alive now. The Stealing Beauty show at the ICA was also a key point. Doing the graphic work for them allowed us to get in touch with people that came out of college at the same time as us and had some similar ideas.
Does Adhocism have an ending?
It seems almost natural that young students will come and that what we do becomes more mainstream but it is a way of working more than a style. A lot of advertisements are pretty raw and grungy and would not have happened in the 80’s. Fashions will change; if you see the work of the 80’s that seemed quite classic and reduced and quite cool. But you go back and look at it and it is a mess: badly crafted, it’s a real mess. At the time it was much cooler and slick compared to the mess of the 70’s. But once you get distance from it, you look at it and the production levels, everything, was surface and tiny, cheap and not very well done in terms of graphics. Maybe because computers were just coming out and to make things on the screen. As for Adhocism, I don’t think I am a champion of a movement. I think we have a way of working that, at first, seemed quite odd but now it seems more mainstream. I would not call myself an Adhocist, it is not my movement, we are just trying to solve problems with graphics and maybe that’s why we are being labeled like that. I don’t see it as a movement… I think it is the way we try to solve a situation. We have no huge agenda beyond that, but trying to find the right projects.