It's a nerd-out for people who love typography." That's how entrepreneur and Lumpen publisher Ed Marszewski describes Typeforce, the annual typographic-art show he cocurates with Dawn Hancock, the founder and managing director of local design studio Firebelly. This is Typeforce's seventh year, and the event continues to grow in stature: Marszewski and Hancock received around 200 entries from all around Chicago, the country, and the world. Unfortunately, they can only showcase around 20 artists.
Typeforce may appeal to typography enthusiasts, but it's not exactly devoted to typography. Instead the show is a celebration of text-based artwork, created in a number of mediums: ceramics, sculptures, embroidery, and an annual 40-foot-wide, site-specific window display. "There tend to be a lot of [type] designers in the show, because obviously designers are geeks about typography," Hancock told me. "But it's really more about the expression of letters and using them in artwork." In fact, she said, "I would say you get people who are actually designers of typefaces get kind of angry at us because we call it typeface artwork. They're like, 'This isn't type! This is letters!' "
Whether type or letters, the range of work is impressive. Andy Gregg's installation Lives & Times is made up of ten televisions with a video-game-like animation on each one devoted to a letter of the title phrase. The first one, for the letter l shows a garish, orange-green spaceship shooting a laser at a reflective-armored space critter while clouds clunkily stream past. Jenna Blazevich's The Angel in the House consists of six framed embroidered feminist declarations, including "I am still writing my way towards the place that I fit," from Roxane Gay's essay collection, Bad Feminist, and "I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being," from Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. A traditionally feminized and domestic art form is transformed into, or revealed to be, a kind of political resistance.
Carlos Segura's Streets of Sadness project is even more explicitly activist: he collects hand-lettered signs created by homeless people in an effort to raise awareness and donations for homeless shelters. The signs are purchased from their creators in the U.S. and Europe, an act that further encourages direct contributions to those in need and a prompt to value their words.
Turning type into art underlines (or rather, italicizes) how both language and art are forms of communication. Artists use images as a kind of speech, or, with the work in this exhibit, vice versa. All art talks to you, though in Typeforce the message may be a little easier to read. v