Gavillet & Rust
Jan-Tschichold Award 2006
Gavillet & Rust. Between the ecology of signs and re-housing Modernism
I met Gilles Gavillet and David Rust in 1995 while I was teaching at the ECAL, Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne. In 1998 Gavillet went to Cornel Windlin in Zurich. Rust became professor of new media in the Visual Communication department, where he had also been a student. The Optimo project was already in place at this stage: a brochure announced it as a “website for a virtual type foundry, constructed like an organization with a complex organigram, a sound and image bank and a clothesline” (ECAL, Collection Produits no. 2, Lausanne 1998). The Optimo typeface label was intended above all to design and publish new fonts, but was at the same time launching a debate about the last vestiges of Modernism “as manifested in the principal communication models, in the principle of separating the ‘private’ and the ‘public’, in housing or in the utopias that were to be found here and there like erratic rocks in the socio-cultural environment” (ibid.). This also means that from the outset Optimo was interested in notions of originality and origin, practice and project, and less concerned with moving graphics, music or fashion forward as such, though these are things that interest Optimo in the more or less institutionalized spheres of culture or art, where it can benefit from the protected space they produce to generate projects, models or discussions suitable for a return to reality.
These questions stem directly from re-negotiating the territory between art and design, culture and industry that limited and defined the second half of the 1990s. This Design in an expanded field, to use the title of a series of discussions I have been leading since this time, corresponds perfectly with the option selected by Gavillet & Rust: without sacrificing anything of the particular quality of their métier, as can be seen from the fact that they specialize in typography, they make a particular claim to an artistic approach in the various projects they have realised. Thus for example in the catalogue for The most beautiful Swiss books 2000 (BAK, Gavillet & Windlin) or in commissions for the EPFL, for which Gavillet & Rust themselves engaged photographers like Armin Linke or Isabel Truniger. The works Across/Art/Suisse/1975-2000 (Skira/Le Seuil, Milan & Geneva 2001) and 25th International Biennial of Graphic Arts Ljubljana (JRP Editions, Geneva 2003) also show all the signs of addressing questions of iconography or the organization of editorial elements etc., in short, of a strong graphic project inseparably linked with editorial intentions.
Today the Optimo typeface label also uses other designers, and the fonts they sell have appeared in numerous magazines from Vogue Hommes to GQ Deutschland or Outside Magazine (Condé Nast), in publications or on posters.
When I founded JRP | Ringier in 2004, it therefore seemed obvious to me to engage Gavillet & Rust not just to create the company’s visual identity and its website etc., but also to define its editorial typologies.
At the Typecon 2003 conference in Minneapolis, Gavillet & Rust explained: “The world is written; still, it is necessary to be able to read it... Our everyday visual environment is literally strewn with words; from newspaper to food packaging; from utilitarian objects to clothes; from vehicles to buildings; people pass through a continuous forest of signs. Make no mistake — its permeability is only the other side of your own. By travelling through the everyday environment, everybody is pierced by these ‘bundled rays’ of trademarks, visual identities, imprints, and images. Typography is therefore present at all times and at all everyday locations. Being one of the primary means by which words are made, typography participates in the definition of an ambience, and of an exchange. By playing here on coincidence, there on rupture, on the evident or on the slippage of transparency or opacity, typography make fissures in the way a word functions.” This attention to everyday signs, reflecting about their use and their influence, perhaps shows most clearly how ambitious Gavillet & Rust are. Their language is a mixture of neo-modernity (more interested in macro than micro solutions, transparency, efficiency, problem-solving etc.) and postmodernist confrontation with the way the everyday world and design interact, oscillating between reintegrating and deconstructing the rules. Of course the Swiss context must be significant here, close to designers like Cornel Windlin or Norm, but parallels with current artistic practice can also be discerned (Cady Noland, Liam Gillick, Kelley Walker etc.). It could also be said that we are dealing here with a form of the ecology of modernist signs. If modernistic forms of the kind put forward by artists and theorists of postmodernism represent the height of capitalism, then here we are confronted with a simple alternative: rejecting this heritage as a whole, or appropriating its forms again. It seems that Gavillet & Rust have set off in the second direction: a way of re-housing modernism.