Barnbrook in London has produced a modular identity for the 17th Biennale of Sydney which is running in the Australian city until August 1. The contemporary art festival, titled The Beauty of Distance: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age, will showcase (across seven venues) over 440 works of art by 166 artists.
The Biennale’s theme was inspired by American experimental filmmaker, anthropologist and musicologist Harry Everett Smith (1923–1991) who, in 1952, released a boxed set of historic recordings entitled American Folk Music. Smith, in turn, inspired the identity, which is based around a modular system of blocks. It is designed to be flexible enough to work across multiple applications – from the cover of the festival’s catalogue (cover and spreads shown above), to the festival’s website, bags, T-shirts, posters and signage.
The modular blocks are uniform in shape to allow easy tessellation and each block can comprise of two layers. A primary layer block contains textual information or illustrations drawn from old scientific reference books, stills from Smith’s films, astrological manuscripts, and mathematical text books. The secondary layer blocks form abstract shapes and patterns based on geometry and halftone print patterns. All designs can be applied in monotone (black), duotone (red and black) or tritone (black, red and white).
“The typography is deliberately awkward,” Barnbrook says. “Forced justification, bad kerning and strange combinations of typefaces are inspired by letterpress, early/mid-20th century print, and specifically reference Smith’s American Folk Music sleeve notes. The challenge was to create a system that doesn’t appear formulaic and predic-table but that has a unified voice – a celebration of diversity and unity.”
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