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Alphabets is a visual research project by Marcello Jacopo Biffi in the field of typography. As the title suggests, it consists of a group of related alphabets, which share the same DNA but look considerably different. They are all developed from an elementary pixel matrix—the lowest form of the alphabet—which undergoes many digital transformations leading to atypical results. Within the design process, the order of execution, the intensity of distortion, and the number of different steps are some of the variables that determine the result, which is never final: each alphabet is a frame taken from a variation sequence that is progressively moving further away from its point of origin. The objective is to generate a collection of allographs (different signs representing the same letter) so as to explore the relationship between glyph (representation of a letter) and grapheme (the minimum unit of a writing system). The result is a formal inquiry into the identity of letter shapes, and, if possible, an attempt to reject this very concept.
Marcello Jacopo Biffi teamed up with Marsèll to produce the exhibition A is A is A—a nod to Gertrude Stein’s famous quote “A rose is a rose is a rose” affirming Aristotle’s law of identity—and present his project at Marsèll Paradise in Milan. The exhibition comprises an installation designed by From outer Space, and a 16mm film entitled Détour directed by Nicola Pietromarchi & Filippo Castellano and produced by Olympìque. BRACE BRACE (the artist-run-space founded by Francesca Finotti, Cecilia Mentasti and Francesco Paleari) curated the project, supporting its development and writing the exhibition texts along with Michele Galluzzo (graphic designer and member of research duo Fantasia Type). Lastly, Gabriele Donini and Giga transposed the alphabets online, manipulating them further on with algorithms.
From outer Space (Anna Paola Buonanno and Piergiorgio Italiano with Anna Sedino) designed a series of displays using semi-finished wood panels to host a selection of eight alphabets printed by Marcello Jacopo Biffi in various sizes onto sheets of A4 paper . Following a WYSIWYG approach devoid of any unnecessary mystification, they built the displays without cutting or altering the panels. The plywood panels were left raw—true to their dimension (height, length, thickness) and nature—and the sheets of paper were stapled directly onto them to open dialogue about standards: the rigid ISO 216 system meets the loose manufacturing of plywood, while the polished surface of paper must confront the uneven material qualities of the displays. The sheets of paper evenly line the boards until they abruptly shift alignment or run short, revealing the texture hiding underneath. The languages of graphic design and exhibition design interact, free to speak for themselves.
Taking Marcello Jacopo Biffi's obsessive research into alphabets as a starting point, Détour leads the viewer on a journey through landscapes of letters. It is a dreamlike experience: the alphabets are blown out of proportion, each letter transforms into an abstract surface losing its conventional meaning. The eye follows the hands, which run through a maze of mysterious graphic signs: shapes blend one into the other, engendering a yin-yang like dualism. The sheets of paper interact with each other to generate three-dimensional architectural sculptures. The score, formed entirely of pre-verbal sounds, assists the deconstruction of the alphabet by building a new elemental language.