studio catherine griffiths



Quite a Blast

Catherine Griffiths reports back from BLAST, a Wellington-based symposium with the lofty aim of dissolving design disciplines.


BLAST was a one-day graphic design event nestled into the annual BLOW festival “to explore collaboration and the dissolving of design disciplines” by appealing to designers and commentators looking for “fresh perspectives on cross-disciplinary collaboration”. The event was organised by Massey University’s subject director of graphic design Nick Kapica, with lecturer Gerbrand van Melle and a set of smart students.

Spearheaded by UK guest, John L Walters, editor and co-owner of Eye magazine, with visiting professor Andrea Rauschenburg and five local “unusual suspects”, BLAST kicked off with a sampling of each speaker’s work and processes – 20 slides in 20 seconds – followed by a discussion led by Walters.

On the day, Walters weighed in with “Sound, Code, Image, Reason and Rhyme” the title from two articles he wrote for Eye. On a content-rich journey through 20 years of the magazine, and with music and design metaphors and quotes abounding, Walters challenged designers to find a role in music design beyond the album cover, which can express and interpret the textural, emotional and intellectual experience of music.

“Designers with a passion for music will continue to find ways to put image and sound together because, to borrow John Cage’s metaphor: ‘We need fresh bread’.” He went on to discuss Eye’s legacy, its covers and designers, its writers, its future with new technology.

Tone set, Alt Group’s Clem Devine spoke of daily lunches and “constant conversation” as the fodder for multiple design interests where “design is not a solo journey”, an iteration made throughout the day. Sparrow J F Phillips and Ross Liew of Cut Collective “collaborate as a way to make better shit”, and as with Alt Group, “try to leave the ego at the door”.

Pep Zuijderwijk of Salted Herring had us pay attention with his stark image of Van Gogh’s self-portrait and the words “Artist? No” versus the young woman whispering into the ear of her companion “Designer, Yes”, followed by a more pragmatic stance where specialist skills together make a stronger whole; Andrea Rauschenburg, who facilitated a long-term German-Egyptian collaboration between designers and artists, views design as a life force giving plenty to contemplate (“Can you hear the sound of the colour white?”). National Park’s Steffen Kreft, an obsessive paper cutter with a ferocious imagination, shared his intricate and beautiful animations which somehow never seem to lose their integ-rity, even in the commercial world of TV advertising.

The extremists of collaboration, nocturnal group Oh.No.Sumo (named after a James Bond movie where Bond exclaims “Oh no” in front of a sumo wrestler): Patrick Loo, Sarosh Mulla, Katherine O'Shaughnessy and James Pearce, each who have a day job, go far to involve the willing into their process... their recent folding of 20,000 squares of paper left us pondering the classifieds: “Oh.No.Sumo chal-lenge WeLoveInc to steamy adult battle. Obstructions to Love. 1. Pathologial science. 2. How do you measure smiles?”

The aftermatch panel discussion centred on the blur-ring of disciplines and issues of authorship. How many authors can you have?; how do you negotiate the landscape of collaboration and egos? The emotive question, “Can graphic design move you?” was also discussed, as was the ever-wavering line between art and design, to which Devine concluded, “there is no differ-entiation, just a state of mind”.

Day adjourned, for a feed of bier and bratwurst at the old petrol station site in Aro Street where Kapica’s exhibition of typographic posters, designed for the Berlin contemporary arts venue Sophiensæle were layered over a wall of graffiti art (the police had become involved earlier in the day, but that’s another story).

Attended by Massey staff, students and grads, shamefully few from the profession down-town (where were you fans of Eye from a decade or two ago?), and bolstered by a small hard-core group of Wellington design practitioners, and one type designer, BLAST was indeed a blast.

Catherine Griffiths / for ProDesign Magazine, NZ


A poster from the exhibition Poster Wall Exhibition: Works by Nick Kapica for the Berlin contemporary arts venue Sophiensæle. The works were exhibited in an urban context in Wellington, that is, a disused Te Aro petrol station / photograph: Bruce Connew


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