“Critical Dictionary” Interactive Posters Case Study

How a 1920s Surrealist-Art Magazine led me to make 2018 Interactive-Art Posters

Check out the final results of this project here, or read to below to see how I came to the final result.

You can never escape your shadow, and in the same way, that words can never escape their definition. But what if words tried to get away from their definition? What if definitions tried to escape their interpretations? This project is meant to show display tension between words and meanings.

For a class at CCA’s MFA Design program, I was tasked to create a document that showed our reflections on George Bataille’s Critical Dictionary. The Critical Dictionary is a section of the Surrealist-Art magazine “Documents,” published from 1929–1930. The critical dictionary is a section of the magazine with short essays on words such as Camel, Angel, and Eye that provide the words with new interpretations.

For inspiration, I looked a lot at the work of Niklaus Troxler for inspiration, as well the Poster Kraft Instagram account.

My brief read as “Can you create a system that is not based on logical patterns? Can the system be critical of itself? Can the system include everything?” I decide to critique typography as a system.
Early Poster focusing on the system of type
Early Poster focusing on the system of type (Typeface is TwoPlus from Muir McNeil)
Early Poster focusing on the system of type (Typeface is Neue Haas Grotesk from Monotype)

Typography (as a system) is quite regimented, so it’s not hard to “break the rules.” But I wanted to make sure I didn’t just create new systems on the computer, so I experimented with physical means of breaking. Here are some experiments with the scanner and cutting up various prints. This Paul Sahre design was a big inspiration for these below.

Scanning Experiment
Scanning Experiment
Scanning Experiment
Scanning Experiment

I began to put these images back on top of their original files. By doing this, I was putting the rule-breaking scan on top of the rule-adibing computer document, imaging the two opposites in conflict.

Scanning + Original File Experiment
Scanning + Original File Experiment
Scanning + Original File Experiment
Feedback from class 
 — Seems like you stopped before you pushed these ideas to their furthest.
 — Why you’d restrict yourself to just printed works?
 — You’re exploring relationships between masters (the words) and their slaves (the definitions), try to play with that hierarchy more.

I was satisfied with the general direction of graphics above, but I soon started to really question the idea of the poster itself. As mentioned before, since my requirements were so loose, why not take advantage of the freedom? What are the true possibilities of this project?

I knew that I could add motion to the project, animated posters are gaining popularity, but what about adding something more than just that? What if the posters showed time but without a beginning or end? How could I use motion not just as a gimmick, but as a conceptual element?

I settled on the idea of interactive posters. If the audience moves his/her mouse, a reaction is created, engagement is stirred, and it is implied that the story moves in some direction. But without linearity (like an animated poster would have), it’s never known whether the motion moves the story forward or in reverse, a synthesis or climax is never reached. The only option is to be forever stuck in the middle of the story, hopefully intriguing you to imagine where the story could lead
Early Test of Interactive Poster
Early Test of Interactive Poster (Typeface is Faune from Alice Savoie)
Feedback from class 
 — Trying to accomplish too many things
 — More ambiguity in the type, but more rigid in the visual structure
 — The audience should have more “maybe this means that” opportunities.

I took the feedback and decided to make the work both more concise and more ambiguous. This was done by further abstracting some elements (namely the type) and bringing other, less informative elements, more into a structured grid. I also looked at other posters that moved, namely ones from Studio Feixen, to help me get ideas.

Interactive Poster (Typeface is Swiss 721 from BitStream)
Interactive Poster (Typeface is TwoPlus from Muir McNeil)

The completed work has been well-received, and I hope much of my original concept of “words escaping their definition” still remains. I was also really happy that I got to explore this new medium (interactive posters) and looks forward to seeing what I could make of them in the future. Keep watching this space as I’m sure I’ll be making many more soon.

Have a look at the current versions here, and to see more of my work please head to my portfolio here.