Jan-Tschichold Award

'Setareh Shahbazi: Oh no, no... - The Crystal Series'
Aude Lehmann
© Cortis & Sonderegger, Zürich

Aude Lehmann

Jan-Tschichold Award 2008

A first glance at Aude Lehmann’s design work encourages the impression of an almost neutral, signature-free visual language. The designer seems to retreat as author behind the task of providing a service, as befits modernist or neo-modernist ideas. This is a deliberate decision. And it is not made in a spirit of giving something up. On the contrary, it is based on an interest in taking a more integrated view of design that resists visual language as a pure logo. This view does not reduce design to the surface, to the level of appearance. So formal decisions can be taken that tend towards the general and non-individual. This could be called Aude Lehmann’s non-mannerist approach. What shifts into the foreground instead is a committed examination of how the project com municates as a whole: this extends to the integrity of the individual components and can also include conceptual and editorial aspects.

It is therefore not surprising that as well as various commissioned works - many of which are in the field of art and culture - Aude Lehmann has also taken on and realized a publication project of her own (working with the literary historian Tan Wälchli): in 2004, Wälchli and Lehmann launched a three-part publication called Whyart. The first two volumes, Aura and Glamour, have already appeared; the Mode (Fashion) volume will be published soon. The two co-authors are responsible for form and content. One symptomatic detail: Lehmann has conceived a fashion feature and designed a fashion line for it that corresponds with her own ideas in this area. This is another modernist impulse, but the claim to be absolute is relativised to the extent that the fashion feature was created primarily to make a fiction possible or - put in a different way - to initiate a game that asks questions about the place of design. This topological interest identifies Lehmann as a designer who has internalised postmodern construction principles such as sampling, quotation, mise en abîme etc. The interesting tension this creates lies somewhere between the historical project of com municating Modernism authentically and a design epistemology of more recent date, directed at fiction.

What is the place of design? How does design locate itself? This question can be taken literally, and of course seen in a transferred sense as well. Taken literally, design is always just surface. When working with books, Lehmann’s primary medium, this means the individual page, its form at and its internal structure consisting of text, image, area, material quality, but also the narrative structure, the sequence of parts, chronology and ’parataxis’ for the flow of reading and perceiving. In the transferred sense it means aspects of publication formats, their history and their coded nature. This is how the ‘intellectual’ aspect of Lehmann's work is expressed.

One instructive example of this is Album - On And Around Urs Fischer, Yves Netzhammer, Ugo Rondinone und Christine Streuli, Participating at the 52nd Venice Biennial, 2007 (a project for which I served as editor-at-large). The process started by analysing the context - an international art exhibition - before discussing possible publication formats. And of course this included the question of how publications are deployed and used in such contexts: are they essentially a more or less stylish promotion device, or do they actually have a discursive function to fulfil? Whatever the answer was, it was clear that we were not just asking about the best choice here, but working towards examining the symbolism of functions that probably affect everyone in a communication society and are familiar to most of us, that is to say a statement on the level of codes.

The question that insisted on an answer in the case of an integral design concept was: how should we address the standards and customs relating to publications? The process came down to choosing a format that would legitim ize the heterogeneous nature of the content, or make it obvious, even on the level of form, in this case a kind of 'reader'. As a reader, the publication also represented a form al quotation of a publication form that favours discourse, in other words: art examined through argument. As well as this, the inherent heterogeneity allowed some additions in terms of subject matter that went beyond the four central individual artistic positions to address the exhibition context and some of the present day’s obsessions of the art world on the plane of cultural analysis.

It is precisely in this sense that the idea of design acquires a conceptual dimension for Lehmann. Design means the obvious solution to a set problem, including historical reflection and potentials for different formal and visual codes. This reflection relates strictly to the present, to present conventions, routines and standards, to trends, to the Zeitgeist, to fashions. Here Aude Lehmann’s position, as far as I can say, is not to fulfil or imitate these standards, but to offer an intelligent, highly individual and - however paradoxical this may sound - compliant form of resistance. Perhaps this has something to do with her understanding of communication, which cannot function as a subjective act, but more as a reinvestment of conventions, including the reactivation of historical codes (history as an impulse, as a potential). Precisely this reactivation of historical code implies that there is room here for some things that are unforeseen, intellectual and strategic potentials, relevant for a more profound view of design. Aude Lehmann realizes all this - permeated by the integral approach of modernistic and neo-modernistic design, which strives to achieve a compelling interplay between the material qualities of paper, print, typography, colour, finish etc. - as language communicating materially, i.e. as language realized physically, through contact with eye and hand.

Daniel Kurjakovic
Art historian, free-lance curator, Zurich