Sunday, 27 February 2011

Jan Lenica's Adam 2

More from Graphis; this time it's the Polish designer and animator Jan Lenica. All but the last of these are stills from his 1970 feature-length animation Adam 2, which I've so far been unable to track down.

From the accompanying text by Alf Brustellin:

[Lenica's] art is, no doubt, literary, and has its literary ancestors. The film artist Lenica can hardly be conceived without Kafka and Ionesco, and far less understood. However, it is certainly not 'literary' in the sense implied by the French producer who had Ionesco write a commentary to Lenica's short film Monsieur Tête in order to make the story more 'comprehensible'. This episode was a grotesque example of a common misunderstanding: Lenica's films have nothing to do with spoken communication, and if anything they tend to defame it. Speech appears in Lenica's work either in the form of evil interpretative signals or as a distorted, meaningless background noise. It proves to be no more than an instrument of power and oppression.


Adam 2, Lenica's first feature film, which took him nearly three years to complete, is the summing-up and culmination of all inventive effort on the theme of the individual and society (or rather the outsider and society), with the addition of another, Faustian dimension, thought this admittedly does not lead to salvation. Adam 2, a Gulliver of the twentieth century who rushes through worlds and ages in search of the trees of knowledge, produces pure satire only sporadically. The rest is weltanschauung, very personal and very dubious, were it not that the pictures increasingly outgrow their own meaning. The second Adam's plunge into a carnivorous jungle symbolizing womanhood is very nearly indigestible as a metaphor. Yet the orgy of colour, the sultry ceremoniousness of the movements and the scornful yet loving reckoning-up with art nouveau (which Lenica, as one of its victims, is fully entitled to perform) give this intimate report a certain objectivity, making it so much of an optical adventure that the psychological adventure that lies behind it can be forgotten. For that is what does, in fact, lie behind it. Adam 2 undertakes an odyssey that leads from the outer world deeper and deeper into the spiritual hinterland (where the collage technique is no longer apposite) and finally to psychological symbolism. At the neurotic end of his Adam story Lenica cites a scene from Hitchcock's psycho-analytical film Spellbound: doors open without end, an infinity of doors that lead nowhere. Lenica's black spectral beings that demonstrate malice or fatuity in front of gaudy wall-paper patterns are no longer manifestations of social criticism. They are the dark embodiments of an all-involving anxiety. Adam 2, a hopeless Faust with the soul of a child, has not a shadow of a chance. He experiences hell as a place of universal self-torment. In the end, after laborious confrontations, he withdraws from society as an individualist: if he must meet his fate, then at least by his own hand.

I need to see this film.

Previous posts on Lenica here and here.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Ikko Tanaka

Posters by the Japanese designer Ikko Tanaka (1930-2002), some of which I found in one of the old Graphis magazines I recently discovered were stashed away in a cupboard at college. More here.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Conceptual Death

Timely article by Rick Poynor on the visualisations of J.G. Ballard's fiction.

My motivation for exploring the visual representation of Ballard’s writing stems, as I have said, from a feeling of dissatisfaction with the way so many of his books were presented. Why didn’t he do more to ensure that his book covers expressed his aims better? His enthusiasm for art would seem not only to have qualified him for the task, but to have made it a personal necessity. In his early days as a writer, Ballard did make efforts in this direction, though he was usually thwarted. In correspondence with me, he was particularly dismissive of Cape, saying that he was “very poorly published” by the company. He also noted that, “Jacket design is a vast and contentious subject, and authors can be a nightmare for jacket designers.” Yet his subsequent UK hardback fiction publishers, Gollancz and HarperCollins, and his paperback publishers, didn’t serve him much better. It is common today for writers, especially successful writers, to have a say in their covers. Could it be that Ballard overlooked design and in particular graphic design as an area of ever-increasing significance, despite his immense sensitivity to so many aspects of visual culture?


We can only hope that one day, as his books are reissued, this exceptionally visual writer will routinely receive cover designs as intelligent, challenging and original as his one-of-a-kind vision deserves.

I say timely because that's precisely what I'm attempting to do at the moment.

This may involve producing a cover for Empire of the Sun which doesn't feature the Japanese flag.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Shigeo Fukuda

Posters by the Japanese artist and graphic designer Shigeo Fukuda (1932-2009). Influenced by the minimalism of Swiss design, his work makes frequent use of optical illusions (he also created Escher-inspired sculptures). More here, and the last two images above are from Sandi Vincent's amazing Flickr stream.

From an obituary at the New York Times:

Mr. Fukuda was indeed a prankster throughout his life. To reach the front door of his house, on the outskirts of Tokyo, Mr. Chwast recalled, a visitor had to walk down a path to a door that appeared to be far away. In fact, appearances were deceiving because the front door was only four feet high. Inside, Mr. Fukuda would emerge from a concealed white door exactly the same color as the wall to offer the visitor a pair of red house slippers.