Ron Arad, one of the first contemporary designers to embrace digital technology and incorporate it, often playfully, in his work, has just created a piece literally embracing the old-fashioned typewriter. Made specifically for his new show, Restless, at the Barbican in London, it clearly stands out from his high-tech work. The planted typewriter is a personal item Arad has had in his collection for awhile, and here he placed it on a rusty garden chair, enclosing both items in a mirrored membrane. Different from yet related to his “Chair by its Cover” piece from 1989, in which he gave an old wooden chair a new identity with a polished steel carapace, this piece rather puts the typewriter and chair inside a protective yet reflective shield.
A very poetic statement, it seems to be an ode to another time, when typewriters were actually symbols of emotional intelligence: the mere presence of a typewriter on a stage set suggested wild feelings tumbling forth or books held inside a tortured soul and never written. This mossy piece is evocative of Tennessee Williams writing furiously in the deep, damp south, or a typewriter from Miyazaki’s The Castle in the Sky.
Today’s computer keyboards are full of intelligence, but they lack emotion; they are not expressive, and one could even say they are not lively. This typewriter is literally alive, with green worlds (and words to express them) pushing up beneath the keys. Arad named this installation “The quick brown fox” which alludes to the phrase most used in typing lessons from the last century.
Ron is in his late 50′s, but there is another designer in his early 20′s who is concerned with a similar problem: how to express analog emotion with digital tools? Interestingly, he also incorporated plants into his design process.
In October, Jelte van Abbema won the Rado prize for young designers at the Dutch Design Awards in Eindhoven. He created a digital font that would evolve, like a leaf disintegrating over time and the seasons.
A sort of typographic vanitas depicting the ephemeral aspects of our material world, it is all the more interesting as it invents and expresses the idea of natural transience in a digital era.
This is the way the font looks in black and white, on the computer screen, as it changes over time:
Van Abbema’s preoccupation with translating emotions from writer to reader is all the more appropriate as paper books make way for iPads and Kindles. Another project of van Abbema’s is called Virtureal, in which he has hooked up a Remington typewriter to a computer using motion sensors. A soft touch on the keys is translated onscreen into light, whispery typography, and a passionate pounding of the typewriter into a bold-faced, full-screen shout.
Neither Arad nor van Abbema is being nostalgic; they are expressing a need for nuance in our digital world, making sure that we remember to include gestures and tools from the past and emotions from the present as we fast-forward to the future.