Prototype for Typographic Primer, 2021 by Christopher Williams
Prototype for Typographic Primer, 2021
Stationery Les Trois Rois, Schöllerhammer 4G, 80g Office Basik Multifunktionpapier, 80g Schöllerhammer Glama Microdraft Hochtransparent, staple
5 ¾" × 4 ⅛"
Edition of ten with four artist’s proofs
Inscribed recto; signed and dated verso
Published on the occasion of Triple Canopy’s 2020 benefit
Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner Gallery
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Prototype for Typographic Primer extends the artist Christopher Williams’s career-long investigation into the structures and ideologies embedded in everyday images and objects. The work for Triple Canopy is, as the title suggests, a primer on typographic theory and history as well as a collage, concrete poem, and critique of political and economic systems.
While best known for photographs that precisely map the formal conventions and hypercapitalist imperatives of commercial photography, Williams has also been creating collages since the 1980s. In Prototype for Typographic Primer, simple, commonplace elements—hotel stationery and a typeface sample—are stapled together. The stationery, from a luxury hotel in Switzerland called Les Trois Roix (The Three Kings), evokes a premodern system of governance predicated on the transcendental and absolute authority of the monarch. The typeface sample reads “KLEINBAUER/MITTELBAUER/GROSSBAUER” (“small farmer/middle farmer/big farmer”) in larger and larger letters.
Whereas the hotel stationery suggests a hierarchical system of power—and the reinscription of monarchy in contemporary luxury tourism—the type sample refers to the labor practices that provide the material basis for all political life (as well as the collectivist movements that have emerged from the organizing efforts of farmers, among other laborers). By grafting a set of socialist terms onto an emblem of monarchy, Williams poetically conjures the history of class conflict while pointing to the presence of what he calls “redundant forms”: the age-old hierarchical systems that seem to be obsolete but persist in quotidian objects like typefaces, logos, and stationery.
Prototype for Typographic Primer was created on the occasion of Triple Canopy’s 2020 benefit, which honored the artist, activist, writer, and educator Gregg Bordowitz. “I was inspired by Bordowitz’s work as an educator and poet to create a concrete poem that also has an educational function,” Williams notes. “While I imagined the edition as a primer for children to learn about the ideas, biases, and politics behind certain systems of cultural and commercial production—such as typefaces—the work is also meant to prompt a more general reflection on the dominant political and cultural discourses that continue undisturbed with the sheen of progressive politics.”