Richard Wilde: Introduction to Paula Scher’s Goobledy-Gook
Leading up to the new millennium and now being well seated in it, the idea of artistic expression that continually redefines explains and dictates culture is alive and well in Belgrade, where the spirit of the new has been taken on, and where the dynamics of industry and art converge in a most unique and unexpected way, resulting in an annual cultural extravaganza.
The Serbian Publikum Calendar project helps define a nation as it establishes a new identity while prioritizing graphic design to its proper place of distinction. At this juncture, I must point out that I am astonished at the notion of cultural inspiration and support derived from, not the likes of the noble Medici family, but from a commercial industrial printing plant, Publikum, who is the publisher and main foundation for the project.
Djordje Milekic, the Creative Director, and Nada Ray, the Editor, created the concept of the Publikum Calendar in 1993, and over the years they took this profound every-day object and made it into a cultural artifact. It is not the publication that gives dates; it is the best of graphic design, the best of illustration, and the best of fine arts, synthesized into a calendar that uniquely defines the country.
Design, art, video, printed matter, exhibition display, typography, photography, and advertising coupled with national media coverage – all orchestrated as a media event that somehow leaves room for unexpected moments of spontaneity – all contribute to this national “holiday” of discovering the new.
Today, fourteen years later, Publikum Calendars serve as an iconic cultural identity that is treasured by all. Given the turbulent political, social, and economic climate in Belgrade, what is remarkable is that this cultural nonprofit enterprise survives year after year and has managed to publish over 20 great worldwide artists and more than 100 best Serbian creatives. It is a testament to the Serbian spirit of being part of something larger than oneself, a national communal activity of conflicting ideas, attitudes, and entities that emerge as the cutting edge of the cultural landscape.
It is the vision and determination of Milekic and Ray to move this project across the borders of media and countries and cultures. And to think, it all begins with the creation of a utilitarian calendar. Enter Paula Scher, who, owing to her vast knowledge and extraordinary abilities in graphic design, typography, painting, and writing and who is a beacon of contemporary culture, is the Guest Artist for the 2007 edition of the Publikum Calendar. Paula’s calendar is a visual and verbal journey that juxtaposes Cyrillic and Roman alphabets, whose convergence creates a world of absurdities, anomalies, and eccentricities, as well as similarities that result in a heightened consciousness of both the Serbian and English speaking worlds. Paula has created a world of unexpected surprises as one carefully navigates through each design, but there is something more profound than shocking for the sake of amusement. The work as an entity is a multilayered, visual, typographic expose revealing what happens when the languages of two diverse cultures play off one another, giving rise to contradictions and miscommunications that are a microcosm of real life. One is urged to make sense of certain graphic conundrums where meaning magically appears.
The twelve calendar designs continually throw one back into question, for Paula Scher has inadvertently created an Alice In Wonderland-like adventure. The interaction of Cyrillic and Roman alphabets ultimately becomes a typographic wonderland on one hand, and a Tower of Babel on the other. By stepping backward, the vista changes and new possibilities present themselves. It is Paula who brings us to this point where clarity reigns.
Chair of the Graphic Design Program at the School of Visual Arts, New York