Atypical Type

(Lily Ye)

The third annual “Typeforce” opening at Bridgeport’s Co-Prosperity Sphere is bustling. More than 500 people are expected to attend tonight. The crowd is a mix of fashionably-dressed twenty-somethings and an older set dressed more suitably for the weather. They are all here to see one thing: letters.

A noticeable energy pervades the room, but no one’s debating Arial vs. Helvetica here. The art consists of a wide variety of pieces–from neon lights performing variations on the letter X to a collection of shrub-like letterforms growing in individual jars–united by their focus on typography. Music pulses through the gallery, and the artwork itself, installed throughout the space as well as on the walls, seems to mingle with the crowd.

In a small alcove, letterforms made of Sculpey clay by a group of first-graders sit on tables, while posters hanging nearby show photographs of these letters spelling out sentences like, “I like black because it goes with everything. Yellow is just for yellow. Red is for lava.” The posters were compiled by Rick Valicenti, an internationally renowned designer who started out in Chicago. Valicenti wanted to be a part of the “Typeforce” exhibit last year but was told that the exhibit was to showcase emerging artists. This year he came back with a piece featuring elementary school children just starting to learn about letterforms–the work of truly emergent typographers.

In the crowd, Co-Prosperity Sphere owner and co-curator of “Typeforce” Ed Marszewski wears black-rimmed glasses and a black blazer. He types on his iPhone with two thumbs, a beer bottle in the crook of his arm. He says of the exhibition’s theme, “These are the building blocks for communication. As a theme, [type] is more universal, and you can have more flexibility using these parameters. You can tell people are playful with it.” He points to a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. on the wall–“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” The letters, constructed purely of dead bees, send “a subliminal message about climate change,” he says.

Another collection by Jennie Li displays the text of various tweets rendered by hand in stylized fonts each enclosed in a small red painted wood picture frame. An example was the tweet, “Happy Valentine’s Day! hope You All get pregnant” drawn in a swooping ribbon-like script in the shape of heart. At first this collection appears too easy, too cute. However, after taking a moment more to admire the ink on paper, it stimulates a realization that within the interface of Twitter, every tweet must appear in the same trappings. Here, the red frames are akin to curtains opening on miniature performances of the text.

The second co-curator of the exhibit, Dawn Hancock, calls attention to a periodic table of elements that takes up the entire face of a freestanding wall. “It’s insane, purely insane,” she says. Each white card features an elemental symbol printed out in a bold black font, a circle representing the electron shells pressed into the card itself, and valence electrons in bright blue, red, and green screen-printed onto the ring. The piece is an impressive feat of coordination across three different forms of printing, highlighting the care with which they were laid out in an impossibly perfect grid.

An older man, nearly bald with glasses and a red-veined nose, approaches Hancock and asks if she is the artist. Hancock tells him that she is the co-curator and promises to connect him with the artist if she spots her. This welcoming and helpful attitude is not out of the ordinary at the Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Hancock says the exhibit provides an opportunity “to show off design and typography that doesn’t exist in this city.” She continues, “We thought if we started doing that people would stop feeling like they had to move and instead stay here and be part of this community.” “Typeforce” has not only created this community, but has grown its members: submissions have doubled from 50 last year to 100 this year. Marszewski–well acquainted with many guests–greets them enthusiastically by name as they enter. He says, “It’s a good way to get all these people who are normally locked away at their computers and in their studios in one place for an evening and see each other’s stuff.”

Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219 S. Morgan St. Through April 13. Hours by appointment. Free. (773)837-0145. coprosperity.org