Gutenberg’s invention of mechanical movable type in 1450 made printing possible, but the term has an entirely different meaning in the exhibition “Type in Motion” at the Lieu du Design in Paris. This is movable type for the digital age, not the kind of type that bites letters into paper but the kind that dances across screens in ways limited only by the imagination of the designer.
One of the earliest examples in the show, however, long predates the digital era: the famous scene from D.A. Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary Don’t Look Back in which Bob Dylan performs “Subterranean Homesick Blues” not by singing it (the recorded version plays on the soundtrack), but by flipping over cards on which selected words from the song’s lyrics have been handwritten. This iconic scene inspired three other videos shown in the exhibition, including “Wall Street Rap,” by Bob and Tim Robbins, from the film Bob Roberts.
In other early music videos, like Prince’s 1988 “Alphabet Street,” letters pave the road on which he drives his Thunderbird and float randomly across the background. In the clever “zZz Is Playing: Grip,” the video of the performance that opened the exhibition “Nederclips” at the Stedelijk Museum ’s-Hertogenbosch in 2007, a live trampoline performance imitated a video clip, complete with error messages and a playback bar being hand-painted in real time by a performer at the bottom of the “screen.”
Aside from music videos, the show covers advertising (“IHI Logo World,” in which a world is built of the Japanese manufacturer’s logo), public spaces (Electric Shadow’s “media façade” on the Turbulences FRAC Centre building in Orléans, France, designed by Jakob + MacFarlane), animation (Issey Miyake’s designs come to life in letters in the stylish 2007 video “A-POC Inside”), short films (the
amusing “Logorama,” by H5, in which the city of Los Angeles is built entirely of animated corporate logos [used without permission, a real feat in a lawsuit-crazed world]), title sequences (the text receding into space at the beginning of Star Wars) and design (an interactive piece by Peter Bilak Tänzerin in which onscreen dancers obey visitors’ typed command to form a letter; pictured at the top of this page). Altogether, the exhibition presents 120 onscreen exhibits.
Many of the works in this interesting show can be found online, but it is worth going to the Lieu du Design to see its setting in a complex of converted factories next to the Canal de Saint Denis in northeastern Paris’s redevelopment area and also for the handsome scenography of diagonal black-and-white slats designed for the exhibition by Vincent Blouin and Julien Legras of the agency Elément Commun.