Autumn 2006

Glimmering weapons

Beautiful World

Typo-Film DVD by Mieke Gerritzen
Bis, www.bispublishers.nl, €15

Beautiful World is a video project by Mieke Gerritzen, a Dutch graphic designer who has crafted a new approach to visual authorship over the past decade. Books such as Mobile Minded (see Critique, eyemagazine.com/critique.php?cid=185) co-authored with Geert Lovink, or User (see Books received, Eye no. 60), with Peter Lunenfeld, are brightly coloured packages for media theory. Equipped with big type, small pages and few words, these are books designed for quick consumption. By composing with slogans, headlines, sound bites and logos instead of conventional running text, Gerritzen presents theory as if it were advertising.

The ideas laid out on the aggressively striped and gridded fields of Gerritzen’s projects are not dumbed down so much as sharpened and polished into glimmering thought weapons. Beautiful World is packed with fresh ideas.

Gerritzen shocks us with phrases such as ‘Every God is a criminal’ (in the US, you simply can’t say things like that), and she goes on to talk about forms of fundamentalism rooted in both capitalism and religion. A recurring refrain throughout the video is ‘one world’. Taking a sceptical view of Western world dominance, she argues that fear of globalisation is rooted in middle-class xenophobia in the midst of a crumbling post-World War II welfare state.

Gerritzen’s neo-International Style typography reflects an openness to old Modernist ideas about universalism and designing across cultures.

Much of the impact of Gerritzen’s books derives from their curious scale: large, blunt typography looming on small pages. Somehow, when the devices Gerritzen uses so cuttingly in print move to the video screen, they lose a bit of their potency. The books are visually louder, more bombastic, more of an assault, than the video, where the large type no longer feels especially large (just kind of bland), and the pace feels too slow rather than too fast. Television viewers are used to being blasted with rapid-fire verbal images, and Beautiful World ends up being surprisingly quiet.

Early in the video, Gerritzen implores: ‘Time to Stop Reading and Start Browsing.’ In the end, however, books may be a better medium for browsing than videos. In the commercial world, video needs to grab us, hold our attention, grip us in its relentless temporality, even on mute. Gerritzen does a more compelling job of that in print.

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