Buzzwords like “belonging” and “ideal” surround viewers as they enter UTC’s Cress Gallery, all in today’s best shades of gray, orange, tan, yellow and pink, using vinyl panels separated by metal zippers. Professional graphic designers Keetra Dean Dixon and JK Keller blur the line between design and fine art in their collaborative exhibit we keep having this conversation. The exhibit focuses on the professional perfectionism within contemporary graphic design and asks the question, “AND YET”, consequently the name of the shows flagship piece completed in 2011. Using multilayered colorful wax, the work took hours of time and labor-intensive materials. The end result plays with the word relationship between the letters carved and the ranging meaning they signify. The bright object does this in child-like coloration, while the question it poses wears on viewers as they experience the effects of “good” design.
The semiotic play of the exhibit clearly presented the most interesting juxtaposition. Semiotics is the study of how signs and symbols come to mean something. For example, when I write the word “smile” or : ) , compared with actually smiling to you. How : ) comes to mean actual smile is a major concern of semiotic study, and the semiotic game gained popularity in art during the early 1900s with artists like Pablo Picasso and René Magritte.
What the words on the wall represent varies from viewer to viewer and eventually breaks down in a struggle to find meaning in the de-contextualized, aesthetic billboard within the gallery. The works are unconnected in the sense that they present overlapping and conflicting signals, while they are clearly related to one another in color, font, and size. While these things that matter deeply to attention grabbing design they get us little in the form of an actual conversation, as their meanings eventually become muddled in their repetitive nature and clean lines. The question we are left with takes on cynical tone, as we wonder where ideal design has gotten us in a world of material gain, organic loss, and a lot of credit card debt.
The effect is complete and visitors to the gallery are left with more questions and demands on contemporary design than they may have ever deemed possible. Dixon and Keller’s works will be on view through October 21st. You can find out more about the Cress Gallery at cressgallery.org.