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Gerard Hadders: Ornament en Retoriek



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A central purpose of graphic design is ‘making the world legible’. This purpose can be realized in many ways. For instance by the design of schoolbook typography or routing systems. When creating their design the makers assume an almost undivided attention for the designed product. This might be more evident with reading a schoolbook then with the perception of a routing system in public space where any sign system is potentially lost in the visual environment. The problem of ‘system recognition’ in a visual environment that is filled with many recognizable ‘systems’ and other miscellaneous visual stimuli is generally acknowledged and has been termed: ‘static’ (as in flawed’ TV reception). The term ‘static’ covers a wide range of problems concerning the concept ‘perception’. These problems can roughly be divided in a ‘physiological’ and a ‘cultural’ one. The ‘physiological problem’ belongs to the domain of faculties for neurobiology. The cultural one on faculties like sociology, psychology and philosophy, but in my view can partly be addressed from the perspective of the lectureship section Ornament and Rhetoric. Users of urban space can be divided in significantly different groups that differ from each other through age, education and cultural background. A forest of designed signs and symbols dominate contemporary urban space. And because of economic dynamics new signs are added or old ones replaced. Furthermore the built city itself is being renovated and expanded. These two factors: an inconsistent user group and an unstable urban spa orm the research area of the lectureship section Ornament and Rhetoric.

The following assumption is leading: ; As the composition of both user group and urban space is an unstable one; almost al signs in urban space fall under the definition ‘excess of construction’ and are thus ornament (def: H. Boekraad). To be able to navigate from one place to the other but also to navigate from one meaning to another specific users assemble ornaments. These assemblages of ornament will differ significantly and a defined by culture and age.”

In philosophy exists the controversial term ‘qualia’. This term is used in experimental neurobiology to build a concept of consciousness next to a concept of perception. In short; the whole of experience (herein are contained both immanent perception and memory, assembles in a ‘raw consciousness where a subjective notion of reality reveals itself to the individual. For a layman this seems to go wit ut saying, but not so among philosophers. It is not my intention to bring this highly academic discussion into this lectureship. There is however an aspect where the ‘qualia problem’ touches on my intended (research) project. The study of perception necessarily limits itself to comparative research where the difference is being measured between the registration capabilities of test subjects towards reproducible test in order to assess objectivity. This allows for little bandwidth when it comes to the visual material that is used for testing. In my view there is a parallel with classical functionalistic graphic design that tries to develop a universal language, based on simple stylized form that could mean one and the same thing to all individuals. That reality is more unruly that that is common knowledge to experienced graphic designers. ‘Qualia’ are only measurable on a neurological level with a CTI-scanner, and this has only been tried on makaak monkeys. Standard issue with a qualia discussion is the experience of color. Or: the irrational aspects that make ‘color experience’ out of mere ‘color perception’. I find it an attractive idea that if color experience’ is already a subjective one, what about ‘space experience’ and ‘sign experience’? And then we are just dealing with the level of perception. Ornament, more than other graphic design products, are between that what is perceived and that what is remembered. Often the visual structure is complex to such extend that it cannot be ‘read’ in ‘la single glance like a typeface or some pictograms, but maybe merely recognized. Furthermore does an ornament often refer to out of context issues like for instance nature or culture. H. Boekraad uses as a definition for ornament ‘excess of construction’. If I assume this means al those aspects that are obsolete to the ‘communicative axis’ (> CopyProof) of a given message, this could mean that when it comes to graphic signs land their structures we are surrounded by little more than ornament.
gh sept 2004

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