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Fighting for a classless society

Onomatopee's graphic design projects are about pointing out the political in the printed word. "... by changing the written language you really can change the world,” says Freek Lomme.

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 25-10-2008

The poltics of language and letters.

The thing about culture is that over time, it seeps into our consciousness so thoroughly that its existence becomes implicit. You could say then that the job, or at least one of the jobs of artists and designers is to jolt us out of that lethargy by making the implicit in culture explicit again. “That's what we do,” says Freek Lomme, one half of the publishing graphic design duo, Onomatopee. “We challenge the inhabitants of a culture to focus more on what is around them.”

Freek is the writer and curator while his partner, Remco van Bladel, is the graphic designer. Together they are focussed on creating bound and published material that pushes cultural boundaries and thus our way of thinking. “I like books because of their content and the way they communicate,” says Lomme. “The same goes for Remco except he has an added interest in their graphic style and binding …by matching up those interests we are able to create something very elegant.”

For their latest project for Dutch Design Week, Lomme and Van Bladel started with the premise that language is bourgeois in so far as its guidelines are something handed down from the upper and educated classes. “We told designers that we think the way they use language is very strange,” Lomme says. “They apply standardized spelling and grammar and use typical fonts.”

To remove that boundary and break open the highly politicized languages we use and accept, Onomatopee sent an open call out to graphic designers and typesetters, inviting them to create a classless character, a symbol that represents their language and what it communicates. “It was important that the designers didn't feel alienated from the end result,” says Lomme. “Even Marx said that labourers too often end up forgetting the end product of what their efforts are contributing to.”

The result of this open call is a book titled “Kapital K”. Unlike most books, which wrap up meaning, Kapital K is more about unwrapping meaning and lending it access. “Language is changing,” says Lomme. “Chat board jargon, street slang, immigrant slang … there is a new syntax, new words and even new symbols that are broadly understood and which can effectively communicate ideas and even feelings.”

“Kapital K” means different things to different people – Marxist overtones to some, an abbreviation of OK to others. “Imagine if a truly classless character existed,” says Lomme. “One that revised the formal appearance of language to the level of mankind.”

That ideological motivation as opposed to a commercial one, taps right into the Onomatopee approach. It is about cultural innovation. “Ideology is identity,” Lomme says. “Ideology is what we are selling.”

The contributions included in Kapital K range from the ironic to the revolutionary. Clemente Padin called linguistic tradition “stubborn” and Jamie Winder broke human communication down to twelve base elements that he feels represent the essence rather than the narrative of interaction. Peter Bil’ak challenged the political by using his experience of trying to register his child’s surname - Bil’ak. The center apostrophe, however, lead him into an administrative and systematic whirlpool. “This illustrates exactly our point,” Lomme says. “This project was quite theoretical, but Bil’ak’s experience shows how very real this issue has become.”

Building bridges between abstract ideas and the real world is the very point of Onomatopee’s projects. “What we do seems abstract at first," says Lomme, “but what I’m trying to show is that by changing the written language you really can change the world.”

Images: main - Eric de Haas. Small from top - Eric de Haas, Hugo Nabe (printed at Daglicht), Sigrid Calon (printed at Daglicht), Almost Modern (printed at Daglicht), Chris Lee.

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