Mark My Words

Courtesy of Co-Prosperity Sphere

Type is all around us. We see it on billboards, in magazines, and across our computer screens. It’s so ubiquitous that associating its design with any particular city seems a bit odd. But Dawn Hancock, co-curator of Typeforce 2, the Second Annual Showing of Emerging Typographic Allstars, points out that many artists interested in pursuing typography feel obligated to move to New York, which has long been a center for the craft. Typeforce 2, which opened last Friday at Bridgeport’s Co-Prosperity Sphere, makes a strong case for Chicago’s place as the second city of typographic design.

The official poster for the event (designed by Sonnenzimmer, a graphic art and screen printing studio) features the famous Swiss typographer Jan Tschichold. According to Hancock, Tschichold “wanted to do typography that was different for his time.” The work displayed at the Co-Prosperity Sphere largely follows his example. The exhibit emphasizes creative and innovative presentation while taking for granted readability and legibility, two fundamental concepts in typographic design. “Crackle Crack” by Frances MacLeod and Caroline MacLeod displays onomatopoeia in textual form, expressing the sound of words like “ribbit”, “splat”, and “plop” through font work and graphic design. Another piece, “Typefreaks” by Quite Strong, a checkerboard of circus posters, likens typographic oddities such as the semicolon, index/fist, and interrobang to a bearded lady and two-headed marvel.

The theme of elevating type from the everyday to the heights of fine art recurs throughout the exhibit, but one artist, Bill Talsma, takes this idea to a new level. His pieces, “What’s On Your Mind,” “Change,” and “Recent Activity” feature text from Facebook, displayed with authenticity in Lucida Grande as if they were pasted from a screenshot. But this text is not just posted on a wall. Instead, it is displayed conspicuously on a series of lacquered plaques accompanied by a silver-plated trophy, an award given in exchange for a status update. Talsma says he hopes to establish an unconscious connection with the viewer through the familiar display of lettering, mirroring the automatic interrelation between any piece of text and its reader.

One difference that distinguishes this year’s show from Typeforce 1 is the method by which the artists were chosen. In 2010, the curators hand-selected designers based on work they displayed on the streets of Chicago. Once the artists were approved, they were given free reign to create whatever they wanted for the show. “This year,” Hancock states, “we put out an open call for submissions,” and the pieces on display are the best of that pool. But while this year’s artists were not necessarily selected because of their work displayed in Chicago, it’s clear that the emerging Typographic Allstars of 2011 draw their inspiration from the city. One screen print by Sonnenzimmer, for example, takes text from a poster advertising an event at the North Side music venue the Empty Bottle. Designer Matthew Hoffman takes notes on his phone while walking around the city and works these thoughts into his type later. His window display, the most geometrically interesting piece on display at Typeforce, abstractly resembles a city skyline, featuring high-rises made of bass wood with carved-out letters.

The artists’ hometown pride extends beyond inspiration for the exhibit. Nick Adam, whose work at Typeforce spans the length of the back wall, started the Mayor Daley Forever campaign, designing campaign posters and T-shirts as if Daley were running for this year’s election (and every election thereafter). According to a statement on Adam’s website, this campaign commemorates Daley’s “political brilliance [and] acknowledges his personal sacrifice to the people and city of Chicago.” Hancock explains that because she and most of the people who helped put together the exhibit hail from Chicago, it is especially important to her to find a place for the city at the forefront of typographic design. By bringing these artists together, Hancock and the Co-Prosperity Sphere are proving that, in the world of type, Chicago is a force to be reckoned with.

Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219 S Morgan St. Through March 7. Hours by appointment. Free. (773)837-0145.

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