Feminist Typography: Typefaces of Feminists
When I was in NYC for my externship, at the public library I saw a talk on this book: Typography Sketchbooks. It contains (amazing) sketches, discarded works, and preliminary ideas by typography artists, who design typeface.
After going over "Lifting Belly" in class (February 16th), I was thinking about language, feminism, font, words... I was thinking (which I tried to convey in class with the help of French feminists) that there's something about the form which makes some things feminist; content is indeed important, but I do not know if I often see anti-feminist (which I recognize as different than non-feminist) sentiments expressed in the same forms I see feminist sentiments expressed in. Maybe there is something more effective about communicating in these forms rather than trying to speak the language of the patriarchy, or using phallocentric language...rigid formats and rules. I think that feminist thoughts and ideas are most effectively communicated and received when they are in certain forms.
In order to ground my thoughts about feminism and form, I decided to create typefaces for feminists, or at least the beginning sketches of such. I designed five typefaces, each with the letters of a feminist's name. In doing so, I tried to invoke ideas about what they consider feminism to be, or what I thought their main thoughts and ideas were.
Luce Irigaray is one of the French feminists that we talked about briefly in class. In "This Sex Which is Not One," she talks about the language of women being very different from the language of men. The language of women was the language of the labia, with the two "lips" rubbing together. The letters are in circles to avoid looking phallic, and to show the constrictedness of this version of feminism. While being a very sensual interpretation, it focuses too much on the biological, and excludes feminists who do not have genitals like this. I tried to show a bit of variation, from the more cartoon-like to the more realistic, but I don't think that came across as strongly.
EDIT: here's a link to the full size (for detail/legibility) http://i44.tinypic.com/20zur6w.png
In contrast to Irigaray, I do not think transwomen feminists would put as much worth in the physical and biological when it comes to being a feminist or being a woman. Kate Bornstein is transwoman feminist, performance artist, and activist. Kate Bornstein's view of feminism is more focused on fluidity and possibility. Despite the fluidity, and the sometimes radicalness of her ideas (see: thoughts on sex and suicide) everything seems to fit togerher, even if it might seem a little skewed at first.
For Gertrude Stein I created a typeface that was similar in format to a concrete poem. I used various phrases from the poem "Lifting Belly" without actually using the phrase "lifting belly." These lines are rearranged, mixed among each other, chosen for size and words as much as for meaning. Some make more logical sense than others. As someone said in class, it wasn't so much about the arrangement of the words, but the thoughts that they provoked and the connotations attached to them. These thoughts are what ended up "defining" the phrase "lifting belly." From the outside, visually, Gertrude Stein's poetry appears to make logical sense--it has a form, it has formatting. The confusion comes when looking at the content and its possible meanings.
EDIT: here's a link to the full size image http://oi41.tinypic.com/2ewi00j.jpg
For Marjane Satrapi, I tried to create a typeface that reflected my thoughts on the graphic novel Persepolis. Through growing up, there seemed to be a rising up or ascending from a flat, one-dimensional world. With the S, A, T, and R, I tried to make it look as if the letters were supporting each other, so that through support from others and from one's past experiences, they could gain strength.
I tried to write my name in a way that would convey my thoughts and experiences with feminism. I started out wanting to create a typeface that filled in the (phyiscal) gaps of the letters, just as feminism and gen/sex studies has seemed to fill in the gaps of my learning. What was interesting about this was that to fill in the gaps, the shapes decided to be based on what was already there. While it was easy to design some letters, such as the I and the M, it was harder to design others like the G, Z, and N. In order to complete these, I actually had to start by drawing the letter and working around it. As you can see, the gaps are not totally filled in--there are holes in some places, and blank spaces in others. I realize that gen/sex studies is not necessarily going to be the answers to all of these gaps. However, over the years I have found that it is an access point for other studies, such as disability studies, politics, and thoughts about education and schooling.
Questions for readers: Are these typefaces legible? If they are, are they accessible?
Reflecting on the project, I thought it was interesting in the way in which the typeface only has meaning through mirroring the concepts which these people promoted/wrote about, or the ideas that I associate with them. Were these connections clear enough? It seemed to really strike me with the Gertrude Stein typeface--this is not really a typeface about Gertrude Stein but a typeface on my thoughts on Gertrude Stein.