Sélavy

greenbox

It all started with this tweet.

I was designing a visual identity and catalogue for Library of the Printed Web, a collection of artists’ books in a box that I’m presenting at the Venice Biennale next month. And I wanted to reference the dotted letterforms on the cover of Marcel Duchamp’s notorious 1934 Green Box, which have always intrigued me. The punch-cut letters feel both mechanical and handmade; somehow both analog and digital. They seem to float somewhere between the early 20th century and today. These are ambiguities that echo the core themes of Library of the Printed Web.

Just two-and-a-half hours later, Nina Stössinger posted this sketch.

I was startled. Nina’s response was generous, and what it implied (a new font for my project) seemed too good to be true. I had expected my question to yield a link or two, or a few ideas, but not a customized typeface. More back-and-forth followed on Twitter, and then we moved to email, as Nina continued working.

It’s difficult to believe that casual correspondence on Twitter might yield something as formal and designed as a font. But as we got further into it, and as I realized that Nina was game (and dedicating serious talent to the project), I thought: of course this is happening. This is the beauty of Twitter. The best of the web. I’m engaged with a stellar community of creative people online and I’ve met many of these talented folks in person, including Nina (last summer, in Weymouth). It’s a very real community, and at times, feels like the natural extension of a private studio practice into public space. And that’s exactly what happened when Nina posted the work-in-progress to Typophile for feedback—an intense, supportive discussion suddenly developed around the font, directly impacting (and improving) the work. Openness and generosity of spirit (and vulnerability) lead to serendipitous collaboration, which leads to beautiful new work.

But without Nina’s enthusiasm and remarkable talent, none of this would have happened.

Just two weeks later, Sélavy is complete. This fully-realized, exquisite display typeface (254 glyphs), composed entirely of identical dots, was designed by Nina and based on the original 13 punched-out caps of Duchamp’s 1934 Green Box («LA MARIEE MISE A NU PAR SES CELIBATAIRES MEME»). Today, in the same spirit of generosity that created this work, we are releasing the font publicly as a free download under an SIL Open Font License. Download and enjoy! Looking forward to seeing how it’s used.

Sélavy download page

selavy_670

9 Comments

  1. Not only is Nina’s work smart and delightful (as is she), the entire story is directly and magically related to your writings on Design Humility.

    I’m looking forward to learning even more about you and Marcel.

  2. Thank you, nice to see a different interpretation.

  3. Thank you, Paul, for this beautiful post, and for your trust and enthusiasm! What a ride it has been. Can’t wait to see what you and others do with the face (which really, was a lot of fun to make).

    Julien: thanks for that cross-connection! I had seen the lovely «gaité lyrique» project but forgotten about it again. Interesting how different 2 interpretations of a similar theme can be (I don’t actually think they’re very close at all, given how coarse this design space is).

  4. Stories such as this remind me how beautiful people can truly be. Thank you for sharing it and the typeface.

    Nina, now your comments from Facebook make total sense. 🙂

  5. Fantastic–Thanks for this, Paul!

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  7. what a beautiful font, maybe it sounds crazy but it is what I have always looked for in a font and I have never been able to explain

  8. This is absolutely fantastic. A beautiful story and a beautiful typeface.

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