Bindings is a multi-media exhibit shown as part of the ‘Aspect 2015’ exhibition in partial fulfillment of an MA in Creative Media. My area of interest is the tension or space between print and screen-based text, and aims to reframe the ‘print versus pixel’ debate.
This project originated in a fascination with the contribution made by Irish Medieval Scribes to the shape and form of the written word. It is my contention that Irish medieval scribes understood the symbiotic relationship between medium and message, harnessing its nuances to deliver their message. This sensitivity to form and function, along with a visual literacy and language, identifies them as graphic designers – they were visual communicators.
Throughout the course of my study, my research took a new direction exploring the transmission (communication) of encoded meaning through media. Whether that medium be the page, the pixel or the written word itself, each have an impact on the coding and decoding of meaning conveyed through that medium.
The Bindings exhibit comprises of a number of works that are both material and virtual in nature. The importance of issues of materiality and immateriality to the project are discussed further in the rationale.
As a literary nation, our pedigree may be the legacy of Irish scribes. It was Irish medieval scribes that developed the word-space1 and lower-case alphabet, making the written word visible, more comprehensible, giving rise to more efficient and silent reading.2 These scribes had a seismic impact on the written word and are pioneers of communications design.
Contemporary typographers face similar, profound shifts in the media landscape. The ‘end of print’, prophesised for decades, gives rise to a ‘print versus pixel’ debate that mostly relegates the argument to one of geography. Where does the text reside – on the page or on the screen?
Digitisation affects our interaction with text, the way in which we generate meaning from it,3 and yet it has heralded a democratising of information that could not have been achieved otherwise. But there is a cultural danger in having an ‘either/or’ debate when discussing print and screen-based media, one that is encapsulated in Harold Innis’ communication theories.
Innis, a historical economist, traced the rise and fall of civilisations through their commerce and communications, and was the first to apply the dimensions of time and space to categorising communication technologies.4
The fixed and durable, time-binding media Innis wrote of were stone, clay or vellum – while celluloid, radio and newspapers were examples of fluid and ethereal space-binding media. According to Chesher, “Innis saw a dramatic and destabilising imbalance in the dominant media of the midtwentieth century in their bias towards space, and their neglect of time.”6
In recalibrating Innis’ theories for a contemporary context, print could be described as a time-binding medium favouring fixity and legacy, while screen-based media give rise to dematerialised and fluid artifacts that facilitate space-binding. In this context, the tension between print and pixel is age-old, affecting many civilisations that struggled to find balance. At the fulcrum of that balance is the notion of legacy.
As the needle-workers of these time and space bindings, designers and typographers must consider legacy in all its connotations – as the bequest of societies’ knowledge and stories, and ‘legacy’ as it refers to obsolete devices and file formats.
Below is a short video of the ‘Bindings’ exhibit which was shown as part of the ‘Aspect 2015’ exhibition. Further below is an interactive illustration, where you can find summarised detail of each work within the exhibit.
2 P. Saenger, Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading, Stanford University Press, 1997, p. 83.
3 A. Mangen, B. R. Walgermo, B. Kolbjørn, “Reading Linear Texts on Paper versus Computer Screen: Effects on Reading Comprehension.” International Journal of Educational Research 58 (2013): 61–68. http://www.kau.se/sites/default/files/Dokument/event/2012/12/mangen_a_2013_reading_linear_texts_on_paper_ve_14552.pdf.
5 T. Striphas, The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control, Columbia University Press, 2010, p. XI.
6 C. Chesher, “Binding Time: Harold Innis and the Balance of New Media.” From Ontos Verlag: Publications of the Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein Society – New Series (Volumes 1-18) 7, no. 0 (October 24, 2013). http://wittgensteinrepository.org/agora-ontos/article/view/2081.