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Speculative applications

Sending 24 letters to the jury of an art exhibition

Graphic design ‧ Self-initiated ‧ 2016

Each year for Christmas, French museum Le Magasin holds a collective exhibition. Drawing inspiration from the tradition of Christmas advent calendars, I sent the jury one application letter every day, during a twenty-four day time period. On each letter, I wrote my contact details and the sentence: "I’d really like to take part in the Christmas exhibition". Each day, the quality of the letter’s design improved. The final outcome consists of the 24 letters all lined up, accompanied by their respective envelopes.

CONTEXT AND CHALLENGE

Each December, Grenoble’s contemporary art museum Le Magasin has a call for entries for their Christmas exhibition. About 8% of the applications are selected. In 2011, I wanted to participate but had no proper artistic portfolio. I had to find a way to circumvent this barrier.

PROCESS

I first wondered what was the less entertaining part of the selection process, from the curators' point of view. I assumed it was to check the correctness of the official application form  so I decided to try to make this part more entertaining.

I then thought that repetition could help me to address the emotional brain of the curators. In the 90s, French companies increased brand awareness with ads repeating their slogan up to 6 times in 20 seconds, or running the same ad twice in 20 seconds. It stood out and everyone remembers it. I decided to send the curators multiple letters with the same message, i.e. my initial goal: "I’d really like to take part in the Christmas exhibition".

However, the adverts mentioned below did not foster brand attachment: they were considered as annoying. In my case, targeting the curators’ emotional brain would backfire if I didn’t address their rational brain with a reason to believe. In other words, I needed to demonstrate an actual artistic practice, by adding a graphic design layer to the letters. I also wanted to offset the dullness of the repetition by instilling a sense of progression. For these reasons, I used various graphic techniques, like I saw in Marian Bantjes’ book I Wonder, where she goes from vernacular handwriting to intricate vector-based work.

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I designed a system where the attributes of my design improved incrementally.

Eventually, I wondered how many letters to send. I looked at the deadline: October 24th. Since the exhibition was dubbed “Christmas exhibition”, it was clear that I had to send 24 letters, thus referring to the Christmas tradition of advent calendars.

RESULTS

I sent 24 letters in 24 days and got selected, despite my lack of portfolio. I displayed the letters all lined up in the museum. One visitor liked it so much that he stole one letter. In retrospect, I would improve the quality of my designs, and also go for a graphic system easier to understand.

A few local newspapers published articles about the exhibition. On average, they talked about 6 artists (out of 30 in the whole exhibition). The piece was mentioned in every article.