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click opera - An interview with Åbäke
February 2010
 
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Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 10:41 am
An interview with Åbäke

Åbäke is a graphic design collective based in London. The four members—Patrik Lacey, Benjamin Reichen, Kajsa Stahl and Maki Suzuki—have been together four years. They're from Wales, France and Sweden (Maki is of Japanese origin, but was raised in France). Åbäke is a Swedish word meaning "something in the way, something clumsy". Åbäke are part of a tendency for young designers to work as part of collectives and groups rather than struggle (and pay rent) individually. They did their Royal College of Art degree show together, graduating in 2000. They have their own magazine, Sexy Machinery (a collaboration with two architects and a textile designer), and their own record label, Kitsune. The label releases records like "Kitsune Midnight", twelve songs about midnight with a sleeve in which pinhole lettering is illuminated from behind by getting an entire audience at an IdN conference in Singapore to flash their cameras at the same time. Another ongoing Åbäke project is to make lettering with bits of human bodies stuck through card. They also like anagrams: on a T-shirt they rendered "Industrial Light and Magic" as "Diagram & Licit Sunlight" (an improvement, I think).

I did this short interview with Åbäke after meeting them at a gig in London earlier this year. The gig took place in a library, and Åbäke later used video of it to illustrate a lecture they gave at a library-less Swedish art school about the unusual things you can do in libraries. The next time I met them was in Berlin, during DesignMai. They were preparing food. It was conceptual food, food-as-design, but it also tasted great, very wholesome.



Would it be right to say that your work is like a jellyfish sitting uncomfortably (or comfortably) across several disciplinary boundaries: design, art, teaching, research...
Thank you, we like the jellyfish analogy. One of the reason we chose our name, beyond a democratic gesture of national representation (swedish name, british location, french e-mail address) is the 'jellyness' of it, in terms of sound ('o-beycker' say the swedes, abaqué for the french, a bake in english etc.) but also in terms of definition. This obsolete word means 'something in between', 'a hulky rusty car which still functions but is not pretty', 'something clumsy', 'very large thing', 'monstrosity', rather negative definitions but they somehow loosely describe what we do.

We have the feeling design, art, teaching or research are not so different. It is an interesting point to consider disciplines as building sites which can be developed in parallel. Although we feel quite optimistic about how 'disciplines' should collaborate, collide or open up, we are happy with being defined as graphic designers instead of any hybrid denominations. We are four and most of our activities involve other people. The 'trattoria' you came to in Berlin was in association with furniture designers and friends Martino Gamper and Rainer Spehl. The former with whom we work closely in London and the latter being the catalyst for the event to happen in a different town than the one we live in.

Is there a relationship between unemployment and experimentalism — in the sense that you’re finding your own problems rather than having them defined by commercial clients?
We hope there is no such thing as a clear dichotomy between employment, i.e. money and 'experimentalism'. Most of our work—probably all of it—is defined by commercial clients or commercial contexts. We produce postcards as a result of what we call pretourism, which is to visit embassies of countries before we eventually visit them physically. What it provides is a reason to visit places we wouldn't normally go to and even the journeys to get there have always proven to be of interest. In the end, when the postcards are printed (on off cuts of 'commercial jobs') they make us save money in postcards we would otherwise buy. The reasons why we associated ourselves with other people to start our own record label (www.kitsune.fr) or magazine (sexymachinery.com) is mainly to be involved in the content we 'design' but they are clearly commercial ventures.



None of you are from London, and London is an expensive, commercially-oriented city. Why base yourselves there?
This started as a decision by default. We were too scared to go where none of us had gone before and it felt too strange to go BACK to Wales, France or Sweden. Today, we combine working quite locally, with our local film rental shop, for example with enough traveling to feel welcomed home there. Although we think the proportions of interesting commissioners is higher than any place we know (or think we know). Correct us if we are wrong. This being said, nothing is set in stone.

Do you recognize a distinction between creativity in the service of a specific goal and creativity for its own sake? Is there any sense that becoming “experts in the creative process” is a consolation prize for some lost chance? (I ask this because it’s a question I ask myself: I seem to have become an “expert in the creative process” as a consolation prize for not being popular as a popular music artist... so all that’s left is the “artist” part!)
We have never succeeded in not working for a specific goal. Yesterday we met two curators organising a series of conference in the St Bride Library, a sacrosanct place for anything related to typography. We came up with a proposal to give a talk in order to access the archive and the other conferences for free. Would you consider Godard or Radiohead to have achieved 'critical AND commercial' acclaim?

What kind of work do you imagine Åbäke doing in ten years’ time?
Our ambitions do not include expansion in terms of members but in a way, we meet more and more people we start things with. Only, not everybody is sharing the open plan office. We do wonder whether graphic design is a job for life. Could it be that we are anticipating graphic design visual obsolescence by cooking, teaching, editing, owning (a record label) etc.?

All at åbäke

27CommentReplyShare


(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 09:46 am (UTC)

Does any of this really matter?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 09:50 am (UTC)

Cheer up, Eeyore!


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 12:52 pm (UTC)

Seconded.


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kaipfeiffer
kaipfeiffer
Kai Pfeiffer
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 09:49 am (UTC)

thanks for providing me my daily paper. sunday morning, tea is ready, starting the computer, click opera opens ...
and no angraelization in berlin yet ... might change after the election in september, when that bushfan merkel girl will take the cup ... but then there's also us, "the people". so we have to become uberanti-angry nowarlords - that would be a superhero? sorry, there's no other way. mutate, now!


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nina_blomquist
nina_blomquist
Nennen Sie mich Ninen
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 09:49 pm (UTC)

why does everyone always refer to her as a girl? the newspapers can't get enough of calling the first woman in the brd that has come to have some political power "maedchen," constantly. no matter what i think of her as a politician, i find that a bit disturbing.


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kaipfeiffer
kaipfeiffer
Kai Pfeiffer
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 11:10 pm (UTC)

oka, you are right. to gain some balance, here goes: currently we still have to watch that schroeder boys lame atempts at leading a country. hmm, to be honest, it doesn't feel right. schroeder is not a boy. to me, he seems more like a petrified reptile. but merkel has something of an elderly girl about her. which is an euphemistic view of her person. considering her politics, especially when she was the head of the department of the environment, i should rather call her an enemy to mankind and the planet our species lives on ...

thank you for making me reconsider (no irony intended!)


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butterflyrobert
RND
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 10:06 am (UTC)

As I've said here often, thanks for an inspiring post!


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 10:28 am (UTC)

You're all sycophants.


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butterflyrobert
RND
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 10:34 am (UTC)

Nonsense. Nick is one of the few people that I could sit down and have a chat-up with without dozing off from boredom. Besides, what could I hope to gain - from a less-than-wealthy artist, no less - from simple flattery?


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 02:59 pm (UTC)

What could you hope to gain from flattery? A bit of reflected glory? Some interest on his "cultural capital"?


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butterflyrobert
RND
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 09:01 pm (UTC)

I'm too haughty to have such aims. I've slept with rattlesnakes, been directly hit by a speeding dumptruck only to be saved (without a scratch, mind you) by "a bright white light" and have before been struck by what amounts to lightning (again, completely unharmed)! I have enough glory of my own stocked up to share. And I do share all kinds of nifty personal stories - in person. Besides, my records have also charted internationally - any cultural capital I cash in will be my own, thanks.

Is it really so hard to believe that I genuinely like and respect the man and tend to agree with the illuminating (and sometimes brilliant) points he makes in his blog?


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 10:26 pm (UTC)

Methinks thou dost protest too much


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 12:23 am (UTC)

Good grief, you were here all day making this point that there was no point being here. Life in Ross on Wye, Herefordshire must be very dull indeed!


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 09:12 am (UTC)

Shouldn't there be a comma after "Herefordshire"?


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cityramica
cityramica
cityramica
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 11:21 am (UTC)

what do you gain from insulting people anonymously?
you're here too.
i'd say more but i don't feel much like signing myself up for abuse. i'd post pictures on 4chan for that.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 12:32 pm (UTC)

Mono-yes-aware.


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scottbateman
scottbateman
Scott Bateman
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 12:05 pm (UTC)

The Abake and Kitsune links aren't a-workin' for me.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 12:10 pm (UTC)

Sorry, fixed.


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scottbateman
scottbateman
Scott Bateman
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 12:17 pm (UTC)

Wheeeeehaaaaa!


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 01:53 pm (UTC)

Other than Momus, why doesn't (hardly) anyone else ever post comments on Pat Kane's excellent blog?

Henry.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 02:05 pm (UTC)

http://theplayethic.typepad.com/play_journal/


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 02:14 pm (UTC)

I very much agree with what Pat says at the end of his book "The Play Ethic", lines he's sadly reprinted on his blog in the wake of the recent bombings:

"Play can only really flourish, whether at the level of the body or the body politic, if an appropriate level of security and sustainability can be guaranteed. A society where small ads now appear in newspapers for chemical-proof bunkers or anthrax-detection kits; where citizens walk the streets in surgical masks to protect themselves from the season’s lethal infection; where national leaders carefully orchestrate war fever against disobedient client states in order to tide them over to the next plebiscite... No, this is not a society that could readily support the vision of the play ethic: a vision that presumes mutual reciprocation, acceptance of difference and otherness, an open commons of resources and information...

"This is a consciousness question more than it is a technology question: the real lethality lies in the intent to cause mass destruction, more than the capability to do so. The quality of the global conversation has to improve urgently. Governments who believe that force, might and violence prepare the way for democracy, civility and peace need to be reminded, by the imaginative activism of their citizens, that their logic is deeply flawed. If the play ethic enabled in Westerners and northerners a greater self-consciousness about the multiple truths that might pertain in a truly globalized world; if it encouraged us to be aware of diversity not as an act of tolerance but as an imaginative empathy that puts you in the shoes of the other, respecting their games and the integrity of their rules – then it might be more than a shuffle of the chairs on the deck of the Titanic, however fascinating, innovative, even preferable these rearrangments might be in the short-term."

Hear, hear. For the hard of hearing, and Marxy, I will repeat that last bit:

"diversity not as an act of tolerance but as an imaginative empathy that puts you in the shoes of the other, respecting their games and the integrity of their rules"


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 05:20 pm (UTC)

I'll reserve judgement 'till after you've been caught up in a random explosion, fate willing you survive that is.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 05:37 pm (UTC)

You are a crass idiot.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jul. 24th, 2005 11:49 pm (UTC)

That's very big of you, you muppet


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peripherus_max
peripherus_max
peripherus_max
Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 12:04 am (UTC)
And now for something completely different...



Momus, Berlin, hyperlinking "The Play Ethic" to his readership and NO mention of John Bock? :) Oh, how I'd wish you'd craft a collaborative project to bookend Summerisle with this man. Ever met him? He's one of my all-time heroes of "play."


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jul. 25th, 2005 12:19 am (UTC)
Re: And now for something completely different...

I'm a big Bock fan, of course. I went to his last Berlin presentation and I mention him often here:

http://www.imomus.com/dailyphoto040901.html

http://www.livejournal.com/users/imomus/2005/05/30/


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