2K by Gingham 2003
August 2003
T-shirts for 2K/Gingham

2K by Gingham is a Japanese/American t-shirt label we've been collaborating with for quite a long time now. Its director, Yoshi Kawasaki, contacted us in 1999, and we have been designing t-shirt prints for him ever since. In short, every year we design a small collection of shirts, which is then released through 2K, and sold through various stores and websites.

In the beginning of 2000, we were very interested in the whole concept of 'self-referentiality': graphic design referring to itself, or to its own context. This interest shows in the early t-shirt prints we designed for 2K/Gingham: the John & Paul & Ringo & George shirt (2001) was referring to the idea of the band shirt, while the Anti shirt (2000) was referring to the idea of the slogan shirt.
However, in our more recent shirt designs, we try to take a lighter, more playful approach. We decided to focus more on the subject of language: short poems, found text, slogans, wordplay, quick thoughts, silly jokes.
We really like the definition that Augusto de Campos once gave of Concrete Poetry: "The tension of thing-words in space/time". What we try to explore with our shirt designs is very similar to that: the shirt as a 'word-thing' existing in 'time/space'.

The first shirt we designed in 2003 was 'Paperclip Amy' (Shown below). We stumbled upon a typeface consisting of paperclips ('Clipboard', released through Fontbank) and we couldn't resist using it. After all, a paperclip is such an iconic piece of design; to refer to that, is basically to refer to modern culture in general.
(One of the more interesting things about the paperclip is the suggestion, encapsulated in the object, that order is not a fixed concept. Whereas a staple suggest a fixed order, a paperclip holds a stack of paper as if the front page might as well be the last page. True, a paperclip does dictate a certain order, but at the same time reveals the relativity of that order. Another thing we find interesting about the paperclip is its spiralling aesthetic. Spirals often refer to eternity, as a spiralling movement can always be extended, either inwards or outwards. But maybe we're drifting off now).
For the shirt, we decided to combine the word 'Paperclip' with the word 'Army'; we liked the way these two words worked together. Pragmatic and militant at the same time. We are really interested in juxtapositions like this; phrases such as 'radical mediocrity', 'pragmatic subversion', etc.
The shirt was designed in 2003, and released in 2004, in two different versions: white on black, and white on blue. Shown here is the white on black version:


The 'Dark Side of Bauhaus' shirt (shown below) is basically an adaption of a project we did earlier that year, a project for Rocket Gallery (Tokyo). For a group exhibition, we were asked to design a work based on an already existing record sleeve (as a tribute, or homage). We decided to create a piece referring to Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon' sleeve (originally designed in 1973 by Hipgnosis). We added to this sleeve two other sleeves, creating a triangle-square-circle sequence, referring to the Bauhaus movement. Read the full story about this project here.
For the shirt, we put the triangle-square-circle sequence on the front, in a vertical row. On the back, we simply put the title of the project (set in ITC Bauhaus, obviously).
The shirt was designed in 2003, and released in 2004, in one version: white, red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple ink, on a black shirt. Shown here are the front and back of the shirt:


Some of our previous t-shirt designs dealt with 'abstracted' slogans: the 'John & Paul & Ringo & George' shirt (2001) was basically an abstracted band shirt, while the 'Anti' shirt (2000) was an abstracted protest shirt.
With the next two t-shirts, we tried something else; instead of an abstracted slogan, we were experimenting with the idea of an 'annotated' slogan. In other words, a slogan that wasn't negated through abstraction, but through an added comment.

'Employee of the Century' (shown below) seems at first an affirmative, positive slogan; the second reading reveals the antithetical comment underneath: 'Exploitation. Alienation. Boredom'.
Come to think of it, it's not really a good example of an annotated slogan. The moment we designed it, we already realized that the absurdity of being an 'Employee of the Century' (instead of the more realistic 'Employee of the Month', or 'Employee of the Week') was critical enough; it really didn't need the small comment underneath. But still, we decided to put it there; we felt the design needed some small type underneath, for formal reasons. That's how it goes sometimes.

Anyway. The shirt was designed in 2003, and released in 2004, in one version: black on white:


Shown below is another shirt in which we tried to explore the idea of the 'annotated slogan' (see the previous paragraph). The slogan "Business in the front / Party in the back" is an American saying, used to describe a certain hairstyle: the so-called 'mullet' (a haircut that's short on top, and long in the neck).
We thought this slogan perfectly symbolized the alienation caused by present-day society, a society where 'business' is separated from 'party', 'work' is separated from 'play', and 'labour' is separated from 'leisure'.
So we decided to 'annotate' the slogan, using two comments referring to the problematic nature of this separation. The small type on the front says "Polarization is Schizophrenia", while on the back, it says "Separation is Doom" (which is actually a quote from the liner-notes of the first MC5 album).
The shirt was designed in 2003, and released in 2004, in one version: blue on white. Shown here are the front and back of the shirt:
All these items used to be available through 2K/Gingham. However, when in 2008 Yoshi Kawasaki decided to leave the company (following a change in management), we decided to leave with him, and withdrew our shirts from 2K. In other words, these shirts are currently unavailable. However, if everything goes according to plan, a selection of these shirts will be reprinted and released through Yoshi Kawasaki's new label, Publik / Five Leaves Inc., in 2009. We'll keep you updated.

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