Gráphō Volume I
Cape Town, 2016
This exhibition, titled Gráphō (‘I write’ in Greek), presents a series of photographs of often overlooked, inconspicuous hand-forged names found above entrances to buildings throughout South Africa. In the series, designer Carlos Marzia operates in the mode of the Benjaminian collector and translator who makes the past momentarily reappear in the present, exposing these unnoticed fragments of history, which he infuses with his gaze and visual intervention that consists of editing and printing the names/typeface on reflective silver metallic film. These flowing curvilinear letterforms, in conjunction with other modernist block type, can be seen as ‘runes’ of homes and buildings; heirs to memories of the past and the untold, romantic imaginings of meeting points, rendezvous between lovers and places of dwelling. They also tell, albeit indirectly, of the tradition of doting the colonial house with a distinguished name. This in turn speaks of colonial longing and, in certain instances, the desire to hold onto English domesticity, together with its concomitant erasure of traditional place names and designations.
The period of these typographical renderings on facades roughly corresponds to the time when Walter Benjamin would be writing the Arcades Project (1927-1940), which speaks of the ‘Haussmannisation’ of Paris, that is, the moment of large-scale renovation of the city and the modernization of its infrastructure, which he saw as the obliteration of Parisian history. In terms of design history, it corresponds to the debate between traditionalism and modernism with regards to letterform. It too marks the rise of new typography, located within the sphere of art and movements such as Dada and Futurism, protagonised by exponents such as El Lissitzky. On another continent, in another hemisphere, this stage corresponds to modernism’s under belly: the colonial moment, the moment of Africa as réservoir colonial, which set to obliterate local history by way of the modernist guises of ‘progress’ and ‘civilization’.