SMCS / Stairwell
June 2004

Stairwell installation

Stedelijk Museum CS

Note: this entry is part of a larger group of texts about the SMCS assignment. To read the full story about this project, start at SMCS / Introduction, and click through all the successive pages from there.
On another note – we wrote the texts below quite a while ago. We just reread them, and noticed some of them seem a bit outdated, and might need to be rewritten. Some of the used images need some reworking as well. We'll do this in the near future.
Not an actual part of the SMCS sign system, but very much a part of the overall graphic identity, these were wall graphics that we designed for the stairwell of the Stedelijk Museum CS.

The stairwell is the space that you have to pass before entering the actual museum, so when we were asked to come up with a concept for this part of the building, we were immediately thinking about something that would heighten the suspense a little bit.
We came up with a couple of sentences that seem mysterious at first, but are based on a very simple principle: the first letters of the words used in these sentences always spell out SMCS.
(To make clear that these sentences had nothing to do with the sign system, but were indeed a different layer, we used the typography in a slightly different way. First of all, we didn't use the A4 document holders. Secondly, on these walls we used the typography 'centered', and not 'flushed left' as in the sign system).
As always, this stairwell piece really was a last moment thing. We had to come up with it a few days before the opening, while we were working on a million other things.

The technical term for a text in which the first letters together form another word is actually 'acrostichon', and it's a format we're quite interested in.
We played with this form before in pieces such as the Socialist Party poster we designed for De Volkskrant (2002), the two spreads we designed for US magazine TextField (2002/2003), and more recently, the installation Love Aktion Machine.

In Herbert Marcuse's 'One Dimensional Man' (Beacon Press Boston 1964) there is a short, critical paragraph on the use of acronyms and abbreviations. Marcuse argues that the use of abbreviations can easily be misused to conceal the true intentions of institutions. For example, the acronym NATO seems to neutralize the true, military agenda of the organization.
We do agree with this critique, but we also hope our use of acronyms and acrostichons is not so much a way to conceal true intentions, but more a strategy to break the acronym open, and to show it as a format that can be used to contain several meanings.
Seen in this light, the stairwell piece is an attempt to draw a parallel between the concept of the acronym as a container of meaning, and the concept of the museum as a container of meaning.

Vinyl letters cut by Blomsma, Zoetermeer.


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