Founded in 1997, Experimental Jetset is an independent graphic design studio by Marieke Stolk, Erwin Brinkers, and Danny van den Dungen. They focus on printed matter and site-specific installation, describing their methodology as “turning language into objects.” Projects for cultural clients include collaborations with the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, Centre Pompidou, and Whitney Museum of American Art. Since 2013, they have taught at Werkplaats Typografie.
Random snapshots from the studio of Experimental Jetset (selection).
Photographed by Johannes Schwartz, 2014.
Questions to Experimental Jetset
Experimental Jetset in Melbourne, 2018 Photo courtesy of Kotoko Koya From left to right: Erwin, Danny, Marieke
1: Please introduce yourself and what you do to Japanese audience.
We often describe ourselves simply as a 'graphic design collective' – but the truth of the matter is, we have a very broad understanding of ‘graphic design’.
Our personal definition of ‘graphic design’ revolves around the notion of “turning language into objects (and vice versa)” – so we see everything that we do as a manifestation of graphic design.
Whether we are designing a book, or creating a site-specific installation, or developing a graphic identity, or curating an exhibition, or drawing a typeface – whether we are writing, archiving, collecting, researching, publishing, or teaching … to us, all these activities fall under the umbrella of graphic design.
There was a time that we thought of our practice as being ‘multi-disciplinary’, or ‘trans-disciplinary’… However, lately we realized that our practice is actually quite ‘anti-disciplinary’ – as we simply don’t believe in disciplines, or in categorizations, or in genres.
We feel that graphic design can mean anything. To us, it’s a ‘blanket term’ – always ready to be loaded with new meanings, new definitions, new interpretations.
Having said that (and to make a long story short) – we are a graphic design collective, based in Amsterdam, consisting of Marieke Stolk, Erwin Brinkers, and Danny van den Dungen. We met at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie (in Amsterdam), where we graduated in 1997 – and we have been working together as Experimental Jetset ever since.
2: Tell us about the brief background of your career.
As teenagers growing up in the ’80s, we have always been very interested in post-punk subcultures (new wave, psychobilly, mod, ska, garage rock, hardcore punk, etc.) – and it was through the visual manifestations of these subcultures (record sleeves, fanzines, etc.) that we became aware of graphic design in the first place.
In the late ’80s (during our high school years), we were already involved in publishing fanzines, drawing comics, screen printing t-shirts, making mixtapes, etc. – all activities related to post-punk culture.
In the beginning of the ’90s, we somehow all ended up in art school (the aforementioned Gerrit Rietveld Academie), and we continued making fanzines. At the same time, we were also asked to design flyers and posters for Paradiso, an Amsterdam-based pop venue – our first real design project.
After we graduated in 1997, our projects became more and more international – in that regard, a very significant project for us was ‘Elysian Fields’, a catalogue we designed in 2000 for a group exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. This project still occupies an important space in our memory.
Art catalogue designed by Experimental Jetset
Centre Pompidou and Purple Institute (Paris), 2000
Around 2000, we also started teaching.
First at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie (Amsterdam), and currently at ARTEZ Werkplaats Typografie (Arnhem).
And then we entered the new millennium (2000) – and everything became a blur from then on.
3: Do you have any specific memory that made you interested in art books?
Well, before we start answering this question, maybe we should first say something about the term ‘art book' itself.
Our practice (our way of working and thinking) is very much shaped by modernist movements such as De Stijl, Bauhaus, Russian Constructivism, Futurism, Dada, the Situationist International, Fluxus, Pop, Provo, Punk, etc.
What these movements have in common is the fact that they all tried (each in their own way) to find a synthesis between art and the everyday. In other words – all these movements tried to turn life itself into a piece of art. Society should be seen as a collective work (as a ‘Gesamtkuntswerk’, so to speak), and everybody would be an artist, taking authorship of his/her own labour. (“Jeder Mench ein Künstler”, as Jospeh Beuys once said).
This idea, that a modernist art/design practice should somehow strive for a synthesis between art and the everyday, is something that still governs us.
This also means that we think that, in an ideal situation, each book should be regarded as an art book.
Each book should be seen as the artistic expression of the labourers that were involved in the book’s production – the writer, the editor, the designer, the printer, the binder, etc.
In that sense – in an ideal world, each book should be regarded as a piece of art.
In other words – we think that even a telephone book should be regarded as an art book.
In fact, there are examples of telephone books that really are artistic expressions of authorship. Think for instance of the telephone books designed by Wim Crouwel, and his team at Total Design – these telephone books can definitely be seen as pieces of conceptual/minimalist art.
(Of course, Wim Crouwel himself would hate this idea – he never saw himself as an artist. But we disagree with him – we do see him as a poet).
So our premise is this:
Just as Beuys said that every person should be seen as an artist, we say that every book should be regarded as an art book.
4: Please name one (or more) art book(s) you have been influenced.
As we already mentioned earlier – we have been really influenced and inspired by the fanzines that we read and collected, between the late ’80s to the mid-’90s. If we had to mention some random titles: Murder Can Be Fun, Drew, Skate Muties, Ben is Dead, Dishwasher, etc.:
fanzines between the late ’80s to the mid-’90s
Another model that really inspires us is the format of the standard paperback. We like the fact that the standard paperback can be seen as a vehicle to push subversive ideas into the mainstream.
This was especially true in the 1960s and 1970s, when quite radical paperbacks were distributed widely – through supermarkets, kiosks, libraries, etc. A paper infrastructure, really influencing popular culture.
So the format of the paperback really inspires us – and if we had to mention specific examples, we are thinking especially of the books designed by the amazing Quentin Fiore (McLuhan’s 'The Medium is the Massage’, Jerry Rubin’s ‘Do It’, Abbie Hoffman’s ‘Revolution for the Hell of It’, R. Buckminster Fuller’s ‘I Seem to be a Verb’, etc.).
We actually talk a bit about our love for paperbacks in this lecture from 2015:
An example of a paperback that we really love is Kriwet’s ‘Apollo Amerika’ (Edition Suhrkamp / SV, 1969).
In fact, the format of this particular book was a big inspiration for us when we were working on ‘Full Scale False Scale’, the book we released last year through Roma Publications.
Full Scale False Scale
Roma Publications, 2019
William Klein is known foremost as a photographer and filmmaker – but he also was a great graphic designer. His book ‘Mister Freedom’ (1970) certainly had an influence on our graphic language.
(In fact, we first became aware of William Klein in the mid-’90s, when we saw his work being used by Pizzicato Five, the great Japanese band).
We have curated a couple of exhibitions on the subject of Provo, an Amsterdam-based anarchist movement that existed between 1965–1967. As a result, we have a large archive of Provo-related printed matter – magazines, pamphlets, journals, booklets, posters, etc.
The graphic output of Provo has been very influential to us – we show some picks from our archive here:
Provo Magazines (issues 1–15)
the Provo collective (of which Rob Stolk was one of the main founders), 1965–1967
Most of this material was printed by Rob Stolk (Marieke’s father), who was actually one of the main founders of the Provo movement.
Come to think of it, we should also mention ‘Environments’, an art catalogue that was designed in 1968 by Swip Stolk (which is actually Marieke’s uncle). It’s an amazing publication – basically a repurposed electronic boardgame:
There are so many other books we could mention – for example, the books designed by Wolf Vostell (especially his iconic ‘Kunst der Sechziger Jahre’, from 1969).
We love the Whole Earth Catalogue (but who doesn’t?)
The books published by Something Else Press (‘An Anthology of Concrete Poetry’, ‘Found Poems’, ‘An Anecdoted Topography of Chance’, etc.).
The Sister Corita box with screenprints (1968).
‘Le Poème Électronique’ (1958) by Le Corbusier.
‘Geisha This’ by Destroy All Monsters (1995).
The famous Bauhaus book, designed by Muriel Cooper (1969).
‘Spiritual America’ (1991) and ‘Adult Comedy Action Drama’ (1995), both by Richard Prince.
And let’s not forget Fluxus, George Maciunas, Dieter Roth, Hansjörg Mayer...
Etc. etc. etc.
Etc. etc. etc.
Etc. etc. etc.
We could go on and on.
But let’s stop here!
5: In this situation where human’s behavior and norms have to be drastically changed by Covid-19, the premise of the society we all shared has completely change. In this big change, I imagine there are so many things graphic design will play rolls in society. As an artist, what are you thinking about the situation? What a kind of change will come for graphic design and creative industry as a whole? Can you share them with the Japanese audience?
Well, we’d like to take this opportunity to say something about the role of printed matter, especially in times of crises.
In our opinion, the medium of printed matter is more relevant than ever. Printed matter is solid, sustainable, stable.
It is still the most urgent, direct, reliable, democratic way to distribute information.
Online platforms and digital media are very vulnerable, and extremely fragile – especially in times of crises. Electricity will fall out, servers will be flooded, mobile networks will break down, websites will be hacked.
Electricity will become more and more scarce in the future – it is a very outdated idea that we can continue to rely on servers, on electronic devices, on computer networks.
The future really is analogue.
What’s also important is that paper can be archived, stored, saved – while digital information will just dissolve. Electronic files just rot.
For example, it is nowadays basically impossible to open a CD-ROM from 15 years ago. It is sometimes even impossible to access a website that is made 5 years ago.
While we can still study books that are printed 500 years ago.
Digital documents just become inaccessible – they are dependent on devices that are always on the brink of becoming obsolete (different types of disk drives, data storage devices, etc.), while a book never needs an additional device.
You don’t need a device or a browser to read a book. A book is completely self-sufficient – all you need is a pair of eyes.
What’s also important (especially in these times of ‘fake media’, meme wars, online bubbles, etc.) is the fact that print is still a more public, more transparent, more democratic medium.
If a poster is hanging in the street, it is seen by every passer-by in more or less the same way. Sure, the interpretation of the poster will differ from person to person – but generally speaking, the poster itself will appear in roughly the same way to every viewer, regardless of his/her class, race, gender, age, personal preferences, etc.
This is different within the context of internet, where websites and webpages conform themselves instantly to cater to the personal tastes and preferences of the individual viewer. Google search results change from person to person, the advertisements that clutter online profiles are specifically targeted towards the viewer, headlines change on each occasion, etc. etc. This makes the online environment ultimately an individualistic, isolated experience. Algorithms create bubbles of loneliness.
So we feel printed matter is more relevant than ever – and especially so in times of crises, wars, and disease.
In our view, the act of printing always signifies a movement from the individual to the collective, from solitude to multitude, from one to many.
It is the most social-democratic gesture.
And graphic designers play a central role in this process.
Statement and Counter-Statement: Notes on Experimental Jetset
ROMA Publications, 2015