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The Gridded Section

An interesting example of what can be found in the Palace’s Department of Poetics is The Gridded Section. Even stronger than ‘autonomous art’, the graphic design tradition pursues the ideal of a clearly defined method that supports and shapes the poetic effect. It’s an attempt to capture this effect in terms of craftsmanship, which can be used as a method of working in any situation. This can be achieved through the use of colour and materials as well as aspects of composition and interrelationships. Mathematics has traditionally served as a bedrock for all the arts, including graphic design. Here, it takes the shape of grids and networks of lines within which the design is realised. Indeed, understanding a design in terms of regular, modularly linked forms is already suggested by the technical procedure of printing itself. This effect is reinforced by the mechanisation of visual reproduction (the matrices used to reproduce photographs, for example). There is an idea that a geometric grid lies concealed beneath a complex of columns, images and headlines, which determines their efficacy. Over the course of the 20th century, this premise became more and more influential in tandem with Modernism. Its modular logic was pursued further and further – all the way down to the structure of individual letters and punctuation marks. The lure of Universal Principles and the Only Correct Method shouldn’t be underestimated.

Technical developments have tremendously expanded and refined this aspect of the graphic design profession. The software applications that designers work with nowadays include extensive menus that – as far as selecting and fine-tuning lines, grids, colours and textures are concerned – offer the user unprecedented control. All forms of composition are governed by some form of model or template. But they’re also a technical regimentation of this, in principle intangible, sensory dimension of the profession – and consequently of the imagination. The possibilities and impossibilities of the programmes delineate the paths along which imagination is expected to run its course.

At the same time, everyone can conclude that when it comes to various key qualities, the most exciting and innovative, the most attractive and surprising designs disregard these methodical rules, templates and technical limitations. Similar to how in music a dissonant or unconventional timbre can have an explosive effect, or how a syncopation or backbeat – in other words, a disruption of or deviation from the regular pulse of the music – can generate expression and excitement. Or how in poetry an inappropriate phrase or jarring rhythm grabs your attention and directs the imagination. The same phenomenon can be seen in graphic design. We are standing in The Gridded Section, one of the many rooms of the Department of Poetics, where you can see all sorts of examples of these models and templates. From the Golden Mean to Metafont. On that workbench over there, you can see projects by Fanette Mellier, who has drawn inspiration from a range of grids and modular systems, which she has arranged into floating constellations. Her works play with the conflict between our propensity for order and regularity and the need to cast them aside, disrupt them, turn them on their heads and vary on them. If it shows us one thing, it’s that there is no True Method, no Eternal Solution. And that time and time again, we can be amazed by the new opportunities for poetics presented by this discipline.

In this room