For their approach to the 'Counterculture' theme of Wayward Arts Magazine, Blok's main objective was to identify an angle that would represent their view of the world and showcase content that would provoke deep thinking and conversation.
"Counterculture encompasses so much of what we’re passionate about," says Marta Cutler, Partner at Blok. "It's in our studio’s nature to consistently “counter” – to ask questions that challenge our preconceptions and ideas, and that expand how we see the world around us. We were thrilled and we couldn’t wait to dive in."
They began by reaching out to friend and colleague Dr. Bob Deutsch, noted cultural anthropologist and author living in New York and LA, with whom they conducted brainstorming sessions centred around the 'Counterculture' topic. "Through his work, Dr. Bob had observed that culture is the code by which people transform ‘the’ world into ‘their’ world, in order to give meaning to their surroundings," Marta explains. "When there’s mass agreement around this meaning, that’s when it becomes a movement. Within this construct, one can find opposition, duality, tension and contradiction."
Jumping off from the idea that 'everything is counterculture', Blok then moved into the research phase of the project. "This was a truly joyous process, and one that every single person in the studio participated in as we put images and texts up onto our studio wall to build a living tapestry of ideas."
Starting with a wide focus, the team looked into artistic movements throughout history, politics, music and architecture from Poland to Argentina to China, leaving no corner of the world untouched. The team read a book of 100 artistic manifestos and assembled iconic images from people's collective memory, those moments that represented shifts in society. All of this acted as catalysts that influenced the final content.
"Over the months, the wall took on a life of its own, and it was inspiring to see it in a constant state of becoming," Marta says. "At least once a day we would turn around to see someone standing in front of it lost in contemplation, gazing at the images and texts. We shifted them constantly, finding new connections and creating new dialogues."
"As a studio, we’ve always believed in the power and relationship between politics and art. We wanted to make a strong statement and avoid anything that would be overly familiar or clichéd."
The process of obtaining permission and rights to reprint the images with modified colours and overlapping tones was a challenge that needed to be overcome to achieve the desired effect. To solve this problem, Blok reached out to individuals, artists, estates, foundations, universities and museums around the world. "We see constraints as possibilities," Marta explains. "There were phone calls to Germany, emails to Russia, Spain and Poland. We tracked down one UK artist through a friend on Facebook. And in the process, we uncovered a beautiful spirit of generosity that surprised and touched us, from Merrill C. Berman, the biggest collector of avant-garde art in the world, who opened his extraordinary archives to us; to the widow of photographer Eustachy Kossakowski, who gave us permission to reprint his work; to Graciela Carnevale, member of the activist art collective Tucuman Arde who allowed us to reprint her speech on what it was like to be part of a formative counter culture movement."
To physically express the duality and opposition inherent in counterculture, Blok chose to expand the 32 page publication into 64, using French folds to provide two sides of the page on which images and text could be juxtaposed. "We have to thank both Flash and Unisource who embraced the idea and gave us their full support."
In terms of format, Marta describes this issue as 'a manifesto'. "The paper is a little bit raw, a little bit yellow. Although we had all of the colours and finishes at our disposal, such as engraving, we opted instead for the simplest of colour palettes and printing processes. We just didn’t feel we needed more. We also made the conscious decision to make it difficult to access the texts so that when you arrive, you’re rewarded for your effort by content that has depth and thought."
"We’ve always believed design is at its best when it serves society. Even our name, “Blok”, comes from a group of Polish artists in the 1920s that played a significant role in the radical avant-garde of the Polish interwar period, and we unearthed an old poster from that time which we incorporated into the issue. This magazine was a beautiful opportunity to live in this space, to celebrate what happens when art, politics and design come together to change history."
About Wayward Arts
Wayward Arts is a monthly publication printed by Flash Reproductions. A different design firm is invited to curate each issue, changing the design, layout, colours, mood and paper to reflect their interpretation of the year’s over-arching theme.