Rammstein in Contemporary Book-Design
Daniel van der Velden, the man, the genius, the mystery… in terms of designing a series of publications collecting highly
eloquent essays on uprising tendencies and phenomena in contemporary culture, what can you expect from a man giving you this look:
as he plays the song “Du Hast” by the German band Rammstein on his iPhone 6 to introduce himself prior to a lecture on his work – A whole lot in my opinion.
My research is dealing with a book that was designed by this very man – the mastermind behind Metahaven, an Amsterdam based design and research studio whose work in a way couldn’t be more contemporary. A typical Metahaven design usually even exceeds the expectations of contemporary in its extroverted way of layering and heavy usage of political and economical iconography. The result often is a somewhat futuristic, hardly readable, almost autonomous graphic. A work of art in which a mysterious overflow of visual content makes the purpose of providing information seem of secondary interest. There is a feeling of playfulness to a lot of Daniel’s graphic designs that on first sight does not leave the impression of being the product of a structured research and design process.
You will agree when looking at a few examples…
My personal analysis: the literal overflow of visual information is to be understood as a representation or comment on the way we perceive information through new mediums in the digital age. In our globalized day and age one is confronted with an overwhelming amount of text and images simultaneously, overwhelming to such an extent that the core of the singular information often gets lost before being processed and saved by its recipient. In that way it makes sense to think of Metahaven’s design as a ‘political instrument’, a term used by the studio itself, emphasizing the important role spreading information digitally has played in recent political uprisings and hinting at the potential the field of design has as a means of communication.
A Reason for the Black Label
The design of the publication I chose to do my research on doesn’t make use of this ‘visual overflow’-technique at all and is therefore hardly recognizable to be designed by Metahaven – this makes the preceding introduction more or less unnecessary. Instead of multi-layering of various typefaces there is “only” one layer of text in a font that at first sight seems to be Times New Roman – just one layer of black text in a traditional lay out giving only the basic information of the title of the book and its author on a relatively neutral background. One would normally not call this blurry smudge of pink and orange ‘relatively neutral’ but we are talking about Metahaven here and in this context, metaphorically speaking, the design feels a bit like going to church
There it was – the definitive reason for my choice. At last a sign, a seemingly random element – The black label. A bar-like shape on the bottom right corner framing the front page of the publication adding a sense of mystery to the picture. When finally opening the book I felt confirmed of my selfishly made up theory that every Metahaven design was constructed, following an illogical master plan based on a very personal philosophy that is escaping a conventional approach of communicating by introducing the ungraspable – communication through exclusion. As a matter of fact the black label can be found on every single page of the book except for the back cover.
Imagine going to a concert of one of your musical icons. After having lost a bit of distance and respect due to the mediocrity of the concert experience you feel brave enough to approach the artist himself and ask him about the essence of his work. In the following case this mediocrity was actually more a product of bad preparation and incredibly flat interviewing rather than a bad performance of the man himself – but you should always make best use of your more self-confident moments.
When approaching Daniel after a lecture on Metahaven’s new publication ‘Black Transparency’ I wasn’t too sure about what kind of answers I could expect from this larger than life character and if he was even in the mood of explaining the artistic decisions he made in the process of designing ‘institutional Attitudes’. (By the way the book is part of a series of publications, which is why I consciously decided not to speak about the content in this essay.) After a while of awkwardly standing next to him while he was signing all the publications people had bought I found the moment to ask him my three definite questions:
Times New Roman? Really?
Why the psychedelic smudge of color?
What is the reason for this?
There is something relieving but tragic about the moment you find out your romanticized idols are actually rational people who have solid reasons for what they do and how they do it.
The font used for the Antennae Series is a rare variation of the Times used to set a fitting stage for the serious approach the series has to the subject of recognizing contemporary tendencies in art, culture and politics.
The Aesthetics of the background images are the result of researching images from thermo-graphic cameras, which are directly related to the subject of the Antennae. In this case Antennas are understood as objects that search and recognize information in their environment.
The Black Label is nothing but a library label, a combining element of the series to make the single publications more recognizable. :(
Rietveld library catalog no : 700.4 gie 2