What follows is a work in progress, the product of one year at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies tracing the legacy of graphic designer Muriel Cooper. It’s organized as a guided tour of various sites on the campus of MIT, attempting to track 40 years of Cooper’s work across different departments within the university.
Muriel Cooper always sought more responsive systems of design and production, emphasizing quicker feedback loops between thinking and making, often blurring the distinction between the two. OK, let’s go ahead and get started.
1. An accidental archive at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies
We begin in a locked closet housing a collection of posters, documents, videotapes, and related printed matter which forms a de facto archive of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies. Embarking on a client-design relationship with the Center, I arrived in Cambridge to spend a few days going through the archive and examining its contents.
The Center for Advanced Visual studies was set up in 1967 by György Kepes as a fellowship program for artists. Initiated with considerable institutional and financial support, the Center produced artworks, exhibitions, and public programs that were often accompanied by a poster or publication. These posters provide an immediate, condensed, and visually legible accidental archive of its almost four-decade history.
While working my way through the contents of the closet, I was struck immediately by the surface qualities of this extraordinary set of posters. It was not simply the graphic design nor the typography that caught me—rather it was their mode of production. The design of the posters changed sporadically as new designers or administrators appeared, but what remains the same is the way each self-consciously incorporates its production method into the design.