Cased 2015 winner: “Saberdesconocer,” 43 Salón (inter) Nacional de Artistas
The Salón Nacional de Artistas is one of the most important art exhibitions in Colombia, organized by its Ministry of Culture every two years. In the last decade, this exhibition program has paid special attention to the visual identities that they offer to audiences, as they become an important tool to attract and interact with the public—which has been growing significantly throughout the years.
The curatorial theme used for the 43rd edition of the Salón Nacional was “Saberdesconocer”—an oxymoron meaning: to know not to know. This concept deals with the limits and possibilities of our understanding of the world we live in, as well as the unlimited interpretations and representations that we can construct of it.
Tangrama developed a visual identity including a logo that focuses on the process and limits of our legibility, as well as a series of images that depict shadow puppets in order to give a mysterious yet alluring approach to the contents found within the Salón.
Over the past decade, The Salón Nacional de Artistas (SNA) has begun to pay more attention to the graphic identities they present to the community, recognizing that they are important tools to engage with the country’s fast-growing art viewership. The SNA has commissioned different graphic design studios to develop a logo (and a defined visual identity) for each of its biennial editions.
The task that Mariángela Méndez, curator and artistic director of the SNA, and the Ministry of Culture assigned to Tangrama, was to design a logo for the name “Saberdesconocer.” This logo would be used in all graphic pieces produced by the Salón. But as we were defining the project from an early stage, we felt we needed an additional visual component that would increase the impact of the visual identity of the Salón, and that would complement the logo in our proposal.
To that end, Tangrama decided to develop a set of black-and-white photographs that recall the game of shadow puppets. This game is not intended to illustrate the spirit of the Salón, but to act as a visual trigger inviting viewers to explore the familiar and unfamiliar, the expected and unexpected realities set by the Salón’s curatorial approach. The images reinforce the sensation of knowing and not knowing something: as viewers we know what a hand is and what it looks like, but the figures the shadows depict are negotiated through collective agreement.
Established in 1940, the Salón Nacional de Artistas has been the patron and organizer of one of the most important showcases for the visual arts in Colombia. With a fairly uninterrupted agenda, the Salón Nacional has provided the opportunity for artists from diverse regions of Colombia to show their work to a wide audience in the main cities of the country. For the majority of its history, the Salón was a non-curated art exhibition, rather the artwork was selected by a board of advisors without a predefined curatorial impetus. But over time, the disconnected selection of artwork became highly debated by art critics and artists alike. In 2004, the Ministry of Culture began inviting different curatorial teams to define conceptual themes to assist in the selection of works and to achieve a more cohesive and articulated art exhibition in which both artists and audience are able to follow the lines of thought.
For the 43rd edition of the Salón, hosted in the city of Medellín in 2013, Colombian curator Mariángela Méndez coined the term “Saberdesconocer” to name the exhibit and dictate its theme. Four graphic design studios in Colombia were invited to present a proposal for the Salón logo and a set of graphic applications in which the logo would be applied.
Tangrama was chosen to design the logo and the editorial project, which was composed of three volumes (the exhibition guide, the theoretical reader of the Salón, and the exhibition catalog). Tangrama was able to focus on the design process of all the printed matter and exhibition graphics for the Salón, strengthening the visual identity that we created.
Development budget: $10,000–$50,000
This project is: Neither a retainer nor an in-house, ongoing monitoring relationship
Production/execution budget: $10,000–$30,000
Source of funding: Client
Tangrama approached the logo for the 43rd SNA by working on the two concepts involved in the project title—saber (which means “to know”) and desconocer (which means “not to know”). These words are an invitation to understand all that is unfamiliar and uncertain, as well as to think of knowledge as something unstable and diverse.
Tangrama did not have a complete description of the project when invited to design the logo for the SNA, but the information was sufficient to develop something that could be sensitive to the curatorial approach. While the full logotype gives the impression of being truncated horizontally, each word is truncated differently in order to give a different perception. The upper segment of the word saber is what is visible, the word desconocer reveals its lower segment.
Knowledge then becomes a sort of horizontal threshold in which something that arises (to manifest its tangibility) can be understood as “the known,” while the unfamiliar and the unknown are still under this imaginary line of comprehension.
After developing the final logo, we focused on the production of a set of black-and-white images that would be used in magazines and newspapers to advertise the SNA. For this initial stage, the timeframe was rather short; we developed the logo and photographic images during the course of a month. All printed materials needed to be ready in time for the exhibition’s opening on September 6, 2013. After this date, we began working on the exhibition catalog, which was published after the exhibition. A final box with three volumes was presented in January 2014.
Before starting to work on the “Saberdesconocer” logo, we researched the visual strategies developed in previous editions of the Salón. We discovered that the graphic approach was always typographic. So we came up with the idea of developing a suite of images that could interact with the logotype without representing any specific artistic concept, serving instead as a visual component—a metaphor—for the concepts behind the curatorial proposal.
From our perspective, the visual identity we proposed was both revolutionary and radical. When we started working on this project, we felt that we needed something beyond an exclusively typographic response. By combining images with a logotype, we were able to create a symbolic element that, while not directly illustrating any of the works in the exhibition, provided a more familiar/warmer impact on an audience not necessarily acquainted with recent art trends.
One of our main challenges was to satisfy both the artists and the wider public with a graphic identity that involved a set of photographic images. We wanted to create a fresh approach to the SNA, but without getting too playful—we didn’t want a juvenile response to the topics in the Salón. We understand that artistic disciplines are multifaceted and diverse, and that anything involving a photographic approach could affect—negatively or positively—the expectations of the Salón’s contents. Our approach had a somewhat performative look, as well as a conspicuous take on the way representation works—the shadows represent something intangible but are clear enough to decipher what is rendered by them. Therefore the photographic images functioned as a visual metaphor of “Saberdesconocer.”
The Ministry of Culture provided us with public attendance numbers for the 41st and 43rd editions of the Salón. Unfortunately, for the 42nd Salón, the results were not measured in the same way, therefore they could not be compared.
For the 41st Salón Nacional in 2008, there was a total of 82,800 visitors. For the 43rd Salón Nacional in 2013, the number of visitors was 621,944. This dramatic increase in numbers was the result of work on the part of the organizers, public relation department, and education department, as well as due to the quality of the work exhibited and the graphic identity we proposed.
Award of Excellence, Identity Program, 2014 Communication Arts
Comments from the Jury
“The identity of this system is beautifully designed, clever, and simple. The stark contrast of black, white, and cardboard has just enough attention to detail to achieve the delicate balance of drastic minimalism with a thoughtful conceptual core. Though I love the idea of the shadows relative to the core concept, I felt the quality of photography detracted from the sophistication of the overall system.”—Sara Frisk
“I was immediately drawn to the typographic play and the imagery that creates images. Once I realized the country of origin and the context in which it works I was even more pleased with the project.”—Bryony Gomez-Palacio