We Are All Together Now
|Institution:||University of Washington|
|Category:||Graphic Design, Type Design, Typography, Visual Communication|
|Filed Under:||Collaboration, Distance Learning, Experimental, Form-making, Handmade, Iteration, Online Learning, Printed Matter, Process, Visualization|
An exquisite corpse is a method by which a group of words or images is collectively assembled. It dates back to the time of Surrealism when it was used for entertainment. Originally created using words, people completed sentences by following a format like adjective, noun, verb, noun etc (pre Mad Libs). Later people moved to drawings where a piece of paper was folded into three parts. The first artist would draw the head with a few lines extended onto the next part of the page — then pass it on to the next person. That person would draw the torso without seeing what the first part looked like. This would then get passed to the third person to complete the figure. The end result is an amalgamation of various points of view and various methods of working. This process involves unpredictability, chance, happy accidents and group collaboration.
To start the spring quarter of remote teaching I asked each student to create two compositions for different parts of a letter in the phrase “We Are All Together Now”. Each letter was centered in a single square which was divided in half vertically. (I created a simple Illustrator template for this.) The students could create their portion of the letterform any way they wanted using the materials they had on hand. They were not to coordinate with the person who was working on the other half of the letter. The point of an exquisite corpse was to appreciate the unintended relationships.
Coming back from spring break with a shelter in place order, I asked the students to consider what the phrase “We Are All Together Now” meant to them. Are you happy, claustrophobic, safe, anxious, angry or something else? Are you relieved to be back in school, even if it’s just virtually for now? Are you distracted? Can your compositions represent family, the world, friends or classmates? What signifies “TOGETHERNESS” to you? Students were encouraged to treat each composition like a time stamp so that when we come back next year there will be memories embedded in the letterforms.
Final guidance to students: Have fun, don’t overthink this. Work quickly and don’t get too attached with anything. Working fast doesn’t mean you should be haphazard and careless though — treat each rectangle as a thoughtful composition with an idea behind the execution. Keep in mind that when doing an exquisite corpse the compositions should change every time another person works with it. Like meatloaf, the ingredients will get mixed together!
- Work quickly and don't treat a single composition as a precious thing that can't be changed
- Work with what you have on hand (a shelter place order is in effect)
- Communicate ideas through a visual form
For three class meetings in a row students uploaded a folder containing their completed composition (native file and corresponding assets) and a jpg which I dropped into a layout of the entire phrase. These folders were all in a shared Google drive so the next student working could access the previous work. We went through three rounds with this Exquisite Corpse. For each version, students posted a brief description of their thought process on a shared spreadsheet. These are the captions for each image posted here.
A brief lecture on the background of Exquisite Corpse
This was the first project entering spring quarter teaching online. I wanted to have them start making quickly to help transition back to school. It was great to see them putting some thought into why they made the letters the way they did. I think we could have continued doing it all quarter. The first round included some really nice happy accidents—not just in terms of formal relationships but conceptual ones as well. For example, one half of the letter A was about anxiety, while the other side was about joy. Overall the students were far too tentative between rounds 1 and 2 though. Some of the compositions barely changed, as if the second designer didn't want to "mess up" what had been done before. This is likely because it was their first time participating in an Exquisite Corpse. The second to third round was much better as students started to add their own perspectives to more radically alter the previous designer's composition. The shared spread sheet was valuable for allowing the students to understand where the ideas came from.