Strange Attractors

Catelijne van Middelkoop & Ryan Pescatore Frisk

Studio spread (Dutch Design Yearbook, 2004-2005)

If you would still need proof that good old modernism is on its way out, then Strange Attractors provide ample support. Quoting Tschichold’s damnation of ornament — in any style — as coming “from an attitude of childish naiveté”, they seem to set out doing exactly that. But beware, Catelijne van Middelkoop and Ryan Pescatore Frisk may be young (30-ish), they are no kids, and certainly not naive. You don’t get a Red Dot Award for high quality design for being childish. Masters from Cranbrook (both) and The Hague’s Type]media (Ryan), they know their trade and its history — they just happen to disagree with some of its bedrock doctrines.

typeface specimen for 'Brunn' (2004, Winner TDC2 2004, Judges Choice)

Take legibility. Strange Attractors do not intend to make you forget about reading and start looking. But their position is to look with new eyes to what modernism rebelled against: the traditions of craft, of calligraphy, of ornamentation as cultural expression. In their hands, the digital becomes material again. Both Van Middelkoop and Pescatore showed that in their Cranbrook graduation projects by translating hand drawn lettering to the computer and back to 3D material again — glass and resin respectively.

Cinderella (from: To The Loss of Our Princesses, Cranbrook 2002)

Whether typography, type designs, posters, catalogues, digital animations, CD-covers or 3D installations, Strange Attractors’ work polemicizes against the unifying and de-personalizing tendencies of modernist based typography and design. Van Middelkoop and Pescatore are often decried for being overtly decorative — i.e. ‘superficial’ —, but that criticism misses the point. In today’s visual cultures, the surface very often is the message. Strange Attractors, therefore, are not simply embellishers — they are ‘decorationalists’ (I borrow the term from Denise Gonzales Crisp), who want to rediscover the joy and cultural potential of expressive ornamentation in the digital age. Their rationale is to use the computer, not just as the McLuhanesque extension of the ordering brain, but as a true instrument of the expressive hand.

Specimen poster for 'Punkt' typeface (2005)

published in I.D. Forty 'Unsung Heroes' Issue, January 2006

max bruinsma