At the end of 2014, Dr Catherine Dixon – Senior Lecturer in Graphic Communication Design – was invited by the British Council to take part in south-east Asia‘s only typographic and type design conference.
As a visiting professor in Brazil and through research networks at Central Saint Martins, Catherine has been engaging with typography as a form of social activism. The fifth edition of the Bangkok International Typographic Symposium enabled Catherine to share some of her work with a new audience.
She explains: “I’ve been working recently on the revival of interest in very hands-on forms of typography, such as the hand-setting of type for letterpress printing. Beyond the letterpress revivalism much favoured in the UK, I have found practices that challenge the nostalgia-driven emphasis and limited aesthetic fashions here – instead engaging with a more community-oriented perspective.
Beautiful but challenging
“In Brazil, at the São Paulo base of the non-for-profit educational organisation Projeto Acaia, they run a typography workshop for teenagers from a local favela using a reconditioned old press. Through the hand-printing of posters for the local community and limited edition books, they encourage basic literacy skills and afford young people from the very poorest of circumstances the opportunity to prove to themselves – and everyone around them – that they have something worthwhile to say.
“In Argentina, the designer Federico Cimatti works in Buenos Aires under the imprint Prensa La Libertad, finding in his press the means for circulating beautiful but challenging political posters and flyers throughout his local community.
“Similarly, in Barcelona, the contemporary design collective L’automática have reconnected the idea of having a printing press with a voice. Taking on a failing letterpress business – and very smartly continuing to employ the owner/printer – they have learned from him how to use the press both as an economic design tool and as a means of producing protest graphics in support of their community.”
While in Bangkok, Catherine took the opportunity to put on a series of highly successful workshops. Not only did she run sessions with professional designers and creatives as part of the symposium, but also with staff and students from the prestigious Chulalongkorn University.