It all started with this tweet.
Anyone know of a ‘Duchamp’ font like this one, but better? This one is splotchy. twitter.com/soulellis/stat…
— Paul Soulellis (@soulellis) April 9, 2013
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.
— Nina Stössinger (@ninastoessinger) April 9, 2013
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.
“illustrated fortuitously by twelve photographs made at my request by Paul Barton of twelve weathered images on the Siegel Cooper Building, first balcony level (eight images on the Avenue of the Americas, two on 18th Street, two on 19th Street, New York City). I call them Weather-ed I-XII. I did nothing to make them the way they are. I merely noticed them. They are changing, as are the sounds of the traffic I also enjoy as each day I look out the window.”
The images appear to be degraded photocopies, or to have gone through some kind of process to take away any representational quality. They’re beautiful, and I wonder what kind of life, if any, they had outside of this book.
But most astonishing was my discovery of a passage on page 92, within the work “James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: An Alphabet,” describing a book project — a kind of dictionary based on photography. Cage has lifted Duchamp’s writing here, I think, from Á l’infinitif (The White Box), 1967:
“Dictionary — With films, taken close up, of parts of very large objects, obtain photographic records which no longer look like photographs of something. With these semi-microscopics constitute a dictionary of which each film would be the representation of a group of words in a sentence or separated so that this film would assume a new significance or rather after the concentration on this film of the sentences or words chosen would give a form of meaning to this film and that, once learned, this relation between film and meaning translated into words would be “striking” and would serve as a basis for a kind of writing which no longer has an alphabet or words but signs (films) already freed from the “baby talk” of all ordinary languages. — Find a means of filing all these films in such order that one could refer to them as in a dictionary.”
As though Duchamp is speaking to me, through Cage, and proposing a project for me to do — as I’m doing it.