Coline Sunier & Charles Mazé

The Sign

  • U+0039-000

    Digit nine

  • Le Journal des Yerrois - décembre 2020 ⊏9⊐


  • w.n.

    Color printing, 0,3 × 0,4 cm

  • Le Journal des Yerrois, №261, p.9


Coline Sunier & Charles Mazé, The Sign, 2020.
Light box, 1280×1280mm. Production CAC Brétigny—under the direction of Céline Poulin.

Our daily life is punctuated by a multitude of signs. As such, whether arriving on foot, by bike or by car, we will have come across several on our way to CAC Brétigny. Among them, the green cross of a pharmacy, a red traffic light or the neon sign of a newsagent’s marking out our journey and shaping our reading of the city. They feed our imaginations at the same time as they inform us about the city, its activities and inhabitants, lighting it up both night and day. The signs write the places: they inscribe them spatially, while recounting a shared, collective existence in that they mean the same thing to everybody. Moreover, they are often immediately and effortlessly interpreted, which is indicative of the care taken to make the sign clear as well as a “learnt” and assimilated reading resulting from the sign’s repeated impression onto our retinas. Is this not a sign that these signs decisively indicate the meaning that we should attach to them, without engaging our subjectivity? We become aware of their intended meanings, sometimes even reinforcing them with the actions called for—like stopping at a red light.

For Philippe Artières, “there exists not only a graphic reason but a power of writing which impresses ways of thinking and acting upon our lives”[1]. By editing the city, its rhythm and its uses, the sign dictates the possible horizons — between dream, control and consumption. “The hallmark of everyday life is to hide as a sign that which offers itself as meaning,”[2], making the brain “forget” the work of interpretation that links it to reality—and which passes, in effect, via the sign. The sign seems to want to assign its interpretation. But what happens when the meaning of a sign is not immediately apparent and it resists the interpreter? What can we learn from misunderstandings and ambiguity?

Arriving at the CAC Brétigny, we may have hesitated about which door to go through before the white cubic silhouette of a sign suggested the way. Depending on the angle from which we approach the building, we will have seen either a C or an A, a direction that is at best minimal—if not impertinent—but unusual enough to set off alarm bells . Our enlightened arrival will have allowed us to make out a die whose faces throw out the letters C twice, and A and B once . On top of all that, you will be able to read, against all odds, CACB. So, in a way, that means we have arrived.

Be that as it may, the sign created by the graphic designers Charles Mazé & Coline Sunier signals more than just a destination. In its own way it reminds us of the journey we take when we see a sign. It’s here that the signalling begins. Both an “electrographic”[3] icon (a white cube) and Mallarméan game, The Sign outlines the possibility of the place and its uses. By offering a partial reading of itself, whichever angle we look at it from, it resists us, evoking the conditions in which interpretation emerges. A way of reinstating us as interpreters of signs and inviting us to take back a form of agency at the threshold of a place of which we, as users, are the core. And so, once past the door of the art centre, we will find signs that are ours to see, listen to, read, feel and exchange.

Elena Lespes Muñoz

[1] Philippe Artières quoting Jack Goody (La raison graphique, 1977) in the foreword to his book Les enseignes lumineuses. Les écritures urbaines au XXe siècle, coll. “Le rayon des curiosités” (Paris: Bayard, 2010), p.9-10.

[2] Bruce Bégout, in Lieu Commun (Paris: Éditions Allia, 2009), p.67.

[3] Ibid. p.65.

Coline Sunier & Charles Mazé are graphic and type designers. They lived in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy from 2008 to 2018, and are now based in Paris and Marseille. They were fellows at the French Academy in Rome—Villa Medici in 2014-2015, and are now graphic designers in residency at CAC Brétigny and CRAC Alsace. Coline Sunier (FR/CH) is part of the teaching staff of institut supérieur des arts de Toulouse  (isdaT), and Charles Mazé (FR) is part of Atelier National de Recherche Typographique (ANRT) in Nancy. They cofounded the publishing house <o> future <o> in 2009.