NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 37

Design Today

An Essay On Anette Lenz

Vanina Pinter

"Color is the place where our brain and the universe meet.” — Paul Cezanne to Joachim Gasquet

In September of 2002 I first entered Anette Lenz’s studio.  Two young graphic artists had recommended her to me; they had followed her work intently since the end of the 1990s and considered her the embodiment of graphic design in France. One must hear feminine undertones in the silent vowel ‘e’ in ‘graphisme’, designating a female creator. The French scene, for all its libertarian engagements, is — and has remained — quite negligent and irresponsible with regards to its female graphic artists. I wanted to make an impact, so I wrote a heavy-handed article.1 Since then, I haven’t published anything on Anette Lenz’s work because her studio is where I often go to nourish myself with her reflections on graphic design. I devour the passion she puts into even the smallest project.  
I have written many texts and monograph articles, but few know to what extent phrases and ideas in palimpsest are owed to Anette, and to what point she taught me that graphic design is a discipline of the very first order.  

A critic constructs around herself a circle of creators who are her contemporaries, but what distance must she keep to allow herself to write about them with justice?  What regards do you authorize yourself to have about works that have allowed you to define your own profession?  Why can that which attaches you become the thing that hinders you?  
In 2002, in her studio (an industrial space, white and luminous, situated near the Bastille) a poster of Rwanda surged from the wall. This was a collaborative work with Vincent Perrottet for the theatre of Angoulême. For 12 years Vincent Perrottet and Anette Lenz created works for the theatre of Angoulême, and after that for the theatre of Mulhouse. Each season in Angoulême had a theme, but the general intention underlined an imperative: to make culture — from the vivacity of the living and visual arts — the cement binding its citizens.  The two graphic artists remind us that each work (a piece of theatre or an image), in different ways, is planted and woven in a human and cultural context.  The inhabitants of the small French city Angoulême, even those who are not necessarily spectators or season ticket holders, may become principle personages of the theatre just the same as the theatre personnel. The 2002 program, planned with the photographer Myr Muratet, plunges the reader directly into instants of urban contemplation, into places or people who are not privileged, who are not ‘spectacular’, where our regard has the habit of fleeing. Placing us in the frame of the middle of our lives (a ‘mise-en-abyme’) is as ferocious as it is touching: one doesn’t know whether to advance or to step back from this diving board to see the precariousness or the intensity of our lives. Later working with other photographers who can be attached to the ‘humanist school’, they designed programs that certified to the spectator that the theatre is a neurological center of creation, of political and human actions. This dueling duo through their theatrical repertoire revived the heritage of the design group Grapus, though without the gestural violence.2 Grapus, starting with their work for the theatre of the Salamandre, designed programs with the same engagement they had for posters.  The immediate visibility in the city of posters shouldn’t make one ignore the force of these free objects, given away throughout the public space and in the interior of theatres. 

Anette Lenz conceives them with maniacal attention, without compromise.  Why put so much attention into these common ephemeral objects?  At the heart of everyday life, filled with difficult or insignificant hours, these objects participate in giving us back sense, of returning us to our first attention, like little matches, to regard and to listen to the other (artist, spectator, the stranger). They participate in affirming the combat described by the philosopher Marie-José Mondain, “Culture is the condition of possibility –in alignment- with political life itself.”3 With modesty and determination, it is for the graphic artist to make targeted objects that are profoundly ordinary, and to make the work and its readers generous, shrewd, and watchful of these contemporary situations interwoven between oneself and others.  
For the 2000-2001 season at the theatre of Rungis, Anette Lenz created a program in two-tones: Bronze and Magenta.4 In these minimalist and radiating compositions, the transparent paper echoes through scenes of mischievous illustrations. The booklet imposes in a manner sensually, profoundly altruistic, the pictorial compositions connected with human emotion. A page can switch from the lightness, fascinating evanescence (Pelléas and Melisande), to the next that translates our society’s tacit violence (Rwanda) – to another expressing polyvocal sensations (Jacques Higelin). The ensemble coordinates the multiple decors of little contrasting scenes.  Against all this one must dance like Pina Bausch, the German woman of spectacles, merging repertoires.  
Over the years of economic crisis, the French cultural institutions have cut back funding, lowering budgets to the point where the participation of a graphic designer is often compromised.  In 2015, debuted a poster series designed by Anette Lenz for the Relax theatre, Chaumont-en-Champagne. In the city which headquarters the Center of International graphic arts, her work is reduced to the bare essence of an act of resistance: a questioning, a piece of paper, white and scrunched-up, and crossed-out words.  To be a graphic artist or not to be?  Must we accept the erasure?  As her poster says, “The finale is being played here and now”….
For each structure Anette Lenz defines a visual identity that she doesn’t systematically unroll.  Every page, each poster has its own respiration within the harmonious ensemble, always reconquering the individual’s perseverance in the community.  As for her last visual identity for the theatre and arts center, l’Onde (‘The Wave’) -the chromatic range embodies the cycle of the seasons.5 The color spectrum props-up the identity’s typographic verticality which stretches like the frequency in an electrocardiogram chart.  One could also mention her Radio France program (2001-2002), and highlight in it the musicality of her compositions: how can a train, a big advertising board be put in motion?  Animation, a fresh breath of life to others, to each person, is at the center of her reflection.  Evidently, one senses this in her animations, but efficiently in the movement she activates through the surfaces of paper.  Thus greeting card made with an accomplice, Jean-Yves Grandidier, for the printer ‘Lézard Graphique’.  Once again a simple form, a square and its framework, escapes the instable: other squares that don’t stay in place forming looping combinations.  The viewer’s eye never stands still, but searches for another combination, a good one, a better one, one more just… the work shows a methodical signature, the graphic hand of Anette Lenz, incessantly recommencing, replaying, reinventing… maybe one has to have seen her at work to grasp that nothing is good enough for the work-in-progress.  There will never be enough questionings, essays, wanderings (sometimes she finds ‘the’ path, only to forget it for weeks before returning again).  
Perhaps it is the commission for the choreographic center, ‘Le Phare’, (‘The Lighthouse’), in the port city of Le Havre, that Anette Lenz perfected one of the dimensions of her work and concretized what one could be called a ‘luminous instant’.  For her, the graphic design is situated on the side of light, it enlightens, it forges a psycho-sensorial time-space dimension that goes above the constant brouhaha of everyday life (visual, acoustic, interior), permitting us to concentrate on the fragile fireflies: the beauty of the ephemeral, sharpened consciousness, which returns us to life.6
Again, one would have to have access to the history of this creation, the research notebooks for La Phare, and in particular these multiply essays (of frames, of narrative effects, of lighting…). Creation is only a succession of attempts at understanding, of figures that sometimes freeze in the glimpses, of sparks.  “There is only signals, singularities, bits of passing flashes, even faintly lit.” 7 This could be the beginning of a reading of her poster, ‘Celebrate the Earth.’ (Paris, 2015)

1. étapes numéro 89, octobre 2002 
2. Born in Esslingen, Anette Lenz arrived in France in 1989, after receiving a degree from the school of applied arts in Munich. Attracted by the visual energy developed by ‘Grapus’, she joined their atelier for a few months before leaving with Alex Jordan for the start of ‘Nous travaillons ensemble.’ In 1993, she created her own design studio.  Since 1999, she has been a member of AGI. 
4. With the assistance of Maroussia Jannelle.
5. Joël Gunzburger lead the direction. Since Rungis, Angoulême, Mulhouse, their exchanges have provided the solid ground for the graphic commands over time and for its renewal. 
6. Cf. The political and poetical reflections of Pasolini on Fireflies, by Georges Didi-Huberman, Survivances des lucioles, Les Editions de Minuit, 2009.
7. Didi-Huberman, op.cit., p.36 

Vanina Pinter

teaches history and critical studies of graphic design at Le Havre School of Art and Design (ESADHaR). She takes part in Une Saison Graphique — annual festival of graphic design— as co-organizator and co-curator of the event. Vanina has co-signed various contemporary exhibitions of graphic design for Une Saison Graphique such as Lieux Commun/Jocelyn Cottencin (2010), Julian House (with Jean-Michel Géridan, 2013), Pangramme/Fanette Mellier (with Yann Owens, 2014), Occur Books/Frédéric Tacer (2015). And Impressions Françaises (Chaumont, 2007) and Graphisme et architecture (Lille, 2010) along with Etienne Hervy. Former co-editor in chief of Étapes : magazine, Vanina currently writes about contemporary graphic design, with texts such as Architecture en noir et blanc, Ludovic Balland and Double Face/Laurent Fétis for étapes :, Barnbrook for Galerie Anatome, Across the grid, Frédéric Teschner for Fransciscopolis Editions, Signalétiques for Graphisme en France,… and more recently, various texts for the french online review

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