Hardly a Foot: Erik Brandt’s Typografika / Detailien: Process and Installation

Written By: Thomas O. Haakenson Constellation 14 6.1.11

By Thomas O. Haakenson

The storefront of Robert’s Shoes at the intersection of Chicago Avenue and Lake Street would seem an unusual place for art displays, let alone for design work. Yet the Shoebox Gallery’s current show, Erik Brandt’s Typografika / Detailien: Process and Installation, on view through June 30th, rewrites the pedestrian scene of this heavily trafficked urban enclave. Bikers and passers-by are encouraged to reflect on fractions of graphic and typographic works that seek collectively to render visible the process of artistic production, process that Brandt’s display suggests is as important—if not more so—that the finished, larger works themselves.

At the Shoebox, Typografika / Detailien becomes process as installation, and viewers are given the opportunity to examine the bits and pieces, the thoughtful gems, from the larger, more unified works. The choice of display seems appropriate given the location. Discrete, 4”x6” excerpted segments, each covered with glass behind the storefront gallery’s own display windows, speak to a larger project both in terms of their origins as well as part of the Tyopgrafika / Detailien exhibit. The 101 small-scale works—some obviously from the same larger project, others from noticeably different ones, some over a decade old—are staggered in the display space at the Chicago-Lake intersection’s northeast corner, creating what Brandt describes as a “conglomerate assembly” [1].  He and curator Sean Smuda hoped the approach would “create new paths both to and from the original pieces” [2].  A small didactic is presented on the side of the display window, with information both about Brandt’s project and his former and current institutional affiliations. A quick response code (i.e., QR code) encourages tech-savvy pedestrians to click and view the Shoebox Gallery’s MNArtists.org site [3]. Another QR-like code nearby is actually an experimental identity Brandt created for what he describes as the “enticingly tiny Minneapolis gallery” [4].

There is much to be celebrated in bringing design work “to the people,” and Brandt (and Smuda) deserve credit for their efforts. The intimacy of scale in the display, however, does not do full credit to the creative process evident in the work, nor to the pedagogical dimensions of the project. Brandt notes in his article in Geotypografika / Visual Communication und Wissenschaft that the size of the Shoebox Gallery “was a key factor in deciding what to show”[5].  Indeed, in as much as the exhibit allows passers-by to engage in the process of creating graphic / typographic work, Brandt notes that preparation for the exhibition was a learning experience for himself as well: “It was truly emotional revisiting work from as long as fourteen years ago. One finds many mistakes, new discoveries, and clues to a personal evolution that can be easily forgotten” [6].  Given Brandt’s—and the Shoebox Gallery’s—play with the display store window space, the Schaufensterhypnose (literally, “display window hypnosis”) of so much critical theory in which the consumer is both fascinated with and potentially rendered uncritical by the merchandise in the window, what “next steps” are possible for bringing graphic work like Brandt’s “to the people”—and critically so? Why not show the larger, completed works as well as the smaller excerpts, segments that speak to Brandt’s sense of the failures, the missed opportunities, the mistakes that time has allowed him to see?

While the assembly-style display in Typografika / Detailien in which bits and pieces of various projects achieves a kind of “career collage,” the opening up of himself and his work that Brandt seeks in the display are still held at a distance from the viewer by the Schaufenster-like inevitability of the Shoebox Gallery’s display space. How might Typografika / Detailien be opened up even further, given over to the passers-by on the street, the flâneur and flâneuse encountering with unexpected delight the explosion of graphic and typographic work at the intersections of Chicago and Lake? Removing the glass, giving over the excess fragments, the cut-and-paste remnants of this walk through the city, through the work, through the career of a significant, emerging graphic talent might require removing the glass, the barrier, that prevents viewers from having a “hands on” moment with the work. Might Brandt’s desire to reveal process be even better served by a Potsdamer Platz-type arcade: a storefront that literally opens itself up for pedestrians to walk in and through?

Despite any hesitations the viewer may encounter in this effort to encourage an intimate, street experience with the process of graphic work, passers-by will find a significant departure in Typografika / Detailien from other, local street-art projects. Indeed, Brandt’s Shoebox exhibit contrasts starkly to other manifestations of the Twin Cities’ increasingly sophisticated street-art scene, in which art literally moves into the city.

In contrast to Wing Young Huie’s University Avenue Project, for example, Brandt provides us with a more abstractly reflective vision, one focused on bringing the community into the less-immediately-self-representative world of graphic and typographic design. By showing design itself as a process, Brandt encourages the community to do more than reflect (in narcissistic fashion) only on itself. His street project is less about a kind of local egoism masquerading as critical reflection than about a kind of urban education. Artists like Brandt and Huie are rewriting the city’s landscape from inside, albeit in starkly different ways.

Bringing the pedestrian into the process makes Typografika / Detailien a classroom of the street, even when Brandt, the would-be instructor, is not literally present. Instead, viewers, given bits and pieces of a fragmented whole, are forced to imagine who he is, what else he might have been, and how they might join him. And, in the process, viewers develop further their own critical understanding of representation itself, rather than see themselves as representations.

[1] Erik Brandt, “Typografika / Detailien: Process and Installation,” Geotypografika / Visual Communication und Wissenschaft, 22 May 2011, web, 30 May 2011. See

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Erik Brandt: Typografika / Detailien,” MNArtists.org, 2011, web, 30 May 2011. See <http://www.mnartists.org/event.do?rid=291216>.

[4] Erik Brandt, “Typografika / Shoebox Gallery,” Geotypografika / Visual Communication und Wissenschaft, 22 May 2011, web, 31 May 2011. See <http://geotypografika.com/2011/03/08/typografika-shoebox-gallery/>.

[5] Erik Brandt, “Typografika / Detailien.”

[6] Ibid.

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  1. [...] UPDATE: Reviewed by Patricia Briggs in Scene / Unseen: Viewing Notes, and Thomas O. Haakenson in Quodlibetica. [...]

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