Throughout their residency at CAC Brétigny, Charles Mazé & Coline Sunier are in charge of the art center’s visual identity, which is conceived as a long-term research. The ABCC of CACB is a collection of letters, signs, and symbols made in Brétigny-sur-Orge and the department of Essonne, or selected in relation to the art center, its program, and the artists invited to exhibit their work. This corpus is now embodied in a new typeface called LARA, activated one letter at a time on communication materials, which are all considered as spaces for publication and distribution of the collection. By associating multiple voices within the same typeface whose glyphs continue to grow in number, with writings that are alternately vernacular, institutional, personal, and public, The ABCC of CACB is an attempt to edit the geographic, political and artistic context in which CAC Brétigny is found.
LARA and BALI
Each caracter or sign is accompanied by a caption including: a) the Unicode number, b) the name, c) the transcription of the source from which the sign is extracted, d) the type of message, e) its author, f) its technical data, g) its location, and h) the date when the source was created.
Running parallel to LARA but in the opposite direction, BALI is a practical sans serif typeface with no contrast. Initially intended for the captions of LARA's letters and symbols, BALI is used on all of CAC Brétigny’s communication materials and by the team for day-to-day work. LARA and BALI can be seen as two extremes of the typographical transcription of a message. The former reproduces as faithfully as possible the visual aspect of the source while the latter stresses meaning thanks to the neutrality of its forms.
LARA and BALI are the names of the RER rapid transit trains linking Paris to Brétigny-sur-Orge, and Brétigny-sur-Orge to Paris.
LARA has been activated on each communication materials, which are considered publication and dissemination points for the collection. The entire LARA collection is visible online on CAC Brétigny's website.
To reflect CAC Brétigny's daily reality and its different activities around its exhibitions and residencies, LARA includes a set of signs which is regularly updated according to the art center’s needs. The initials C, T, m, and m for the business cards of the staff members, a basket of fruit 🍲 announcing the dinner for a show opening, a hand in the act of writing ✍ for the center’s compliments slips, a sun with a big bright beaming smile 🌞 for the center’s summer closing, a reader in a hat 📖 for the book launches…
CAC ❤ Brétigny 🚬
Besides the signs connected with the center’s projects and scattered on the various communication materials, popular forms of expression are also recorded in LARA. Such messages are little studied because they are deemed vulgar, even violent, yet they have been written out by the region’s inhabitants and are revealing in a lively, frank and sometimes cathartic way of a particular geographic and political context.
CAC Brétigny is located near an area that is important for schools (the Lycée Polyvalent Jean-Pierre Timbaud and the Collège Paul Eluard) and extracurricular activities (a music school, the Léo Lagrange pool, the Auguste Delaune stadium). Thus, the walls around the art center are covered with all kinds of writing and graffiti by the region’s young people (91, Athis-Mons, Brétigny, Étampes, Fleury-Mérogis, etc.). Such graffiti sometimes make their way inside the CAC precincts, for example on the outside of the Annexe by Atelier van Lieshout, or in the visitors’ book that was in use during previous administrations. Not far from the theater entrance, a cherished space for the high-schoolers which they’ve nicknamed “Bedoland” (Stoners Corner) displays hundreds of inscriptions—family and first names that are occasionally accompanied by qualifiers or insults, telephone numbers or area codes, names of countries or cities, hashtags, YouTube addresses, etc.—, drawings and doodles—smileys 😛 😛, skulls with crossbones ☠ ☠, phalluses, raised middle fingers 🖕 🖕 🖕 🖕, thumbs-up as in Facebook likes 👍 👍 👍, or the famous cool S S S Ƨ Ƨ.
One famous pedestrian underpass in Brétigny runs under the train station, linking the eastern and western parts of the city. Like any covered area that is accessible but unguarded, drawings, graffiti, political posters and stickers proliferate between each cleaning. Other RER stations in the region have the same type of underpasses, like Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois, where a “Warning” spelled out on a broad sign bolted to the wall is addressed “to those whose greatest pleasure is to regularly spray-paint graffiti on the station underpass…”
With the first three letters of the Latin alphabet ABC, it is already possible to write CACB, that is the start of CAC Brétigny. The first activation of the typeface LARA announced the reopening of CAC Brétigny, with a collection of capital letters AAAAAA, BBBBBB, and CCCCCC, which could be seen on the art center’s walls inside and out and along the path to the rapid transit train station. On this initial territory, one may run into a number of letters, including the A from a shop sign; a B on the signage of CAC Brétigny, designed in 2003 by Vier5—graphic designers in residency when Pierre Bal-Blanc was director—and a B from the art center’s first logotype, designed in 2000 by Antoine Groborne when Xavier Franceschi was director; and a trio of CCCs by the graffiti writer COSMOS, whose name appear on most of the walls around CAC Brétigny.
We would like to extend our warm thanks to Patrick Le Jeanne and the Historical and Archeological Association of Brétigny-sur-Orge for having put together and given us access to all of CAC Brétigny's bulletin, and to Franck Waille, who alerted us to the existence of and gave us access to the original Delsarte drawings and designs.
For “Vocales,” these typographic signs and iconographic symbols signify orality, i.e., the speech, dialog, or conversation that was collected. This new collection includes elements of punctuation borrowed from the Latin alphabet—elements indicating reported speech such as quotation marks—as well as iconographic symbols that depict speech 🗨, thought 💭, or discussion 🗪 with speech bubbles. Emptied of their original textual content for the occasion, these speech bubbles in some cases retain indications of intonation, exclamation, or interrogation, and have been integrated into the typography as emoticons.
All of these signs come from local publications and local official bulletins like the monthly municipal bulletin for Brétigny-sur-Orge, which was originally called Brétigny Notre Ville (1977-1983) then Brétigny Aujourd’hui (1984-2002), and finally Parole (“The magazine that talks about Brétigny to the Brétignolais,” 2003-2014), a title that was given a plural in the end, Paroles (2015–). These publications—with names suggesting an ideal form of speech going from local elected officials to the inhabitants—abound in all kinds of speech bubbles and punctuation marks. In use since 2003, the current logo of the city of Brétigny , moreover, takes the form of a word in quotation marks and has been reappropriated by the city itself in 2006 with the logo “Brétigny 2010 Parlons-en.
Other signs, finally, come from the magazine Essonne, which has been published by the Departmental Council since 1999, including the talkative borrowed 🗨 from the titling on the magazine’s cover, and the logo 🗨 of the app VOX 91 (“I think therefore I say”) recently developed by the Department of Essonne.
In some of her works, the American artist Liz Magic Laser has used and modified drawings from the French singer and teacher François Delsarte (1811-1871). After losing his singing voice, Delsarte conceived an “expressive system,” a method for learning and gesturing for dancers, mainly published and posthumously transmitted by his students in the United States. Preserved in Louisiana, original and unpublished drawings by Delsarte were studied by the French researcher Franck Waille. A diagram entitled Écriture du Geste from 1839 presents a succession of variations of facial expressions 👿😈😦☹😏😊😲😞😕😧😯😨😳🙄😟😐😑😒🙂😬😠😡👹🙁😖. This set of 25 faces—produced by a systematic combination of eyebrows, pairs of eyes, nose and mouth—can be considered as an early version of emoticons used in today's electronic communications 👿😈😦☹😏😊😲😞😕😧😯😨😳🙄😟😐😑😒🙂😬😠😡👹🙁😖.
Each show at CAC Brétigny is a chance to add signs to LARA and complete its Unicode characters. Introduced in 1991, standard Unicode is the official worldwide system for coding typography, assigning to each character a name and an identifying number. Including initially two smileys [☺️ U+263A, ☹ U+2639] in 1993, the latest Unicode update in 2016 brings the number of different facial expressions to over 80.
For the last part of the 2016-2017's programme,“Le Final,” a collection of punctuation marks has been directly constituted within the places where the events are taking place.
In a text written for a movie's scenario which aimed to present her work, French sculptor and ceramist Valentine Schlegel draws a list of various actions, without any hierarchy: “I pound the clay / I pose the plaster / I dig into the wall / I dig into the earth/ I nail down leather / I cut wood / I row / I throw a clay pot / I make jams / I sculpt wood / I row / I put on my clodhoppers / I twist a rope barefoot . the beach / I plant something / I cut back the trees / I peel something / I pick up everything (on the beach) / I embroider.”
In conjunction with the exhibition “This Woman Could Sleep in Water,” LARA has grown to include elements from Valentine Schelgel’s varied output. The set of letters and signs describe, as Valentine Schlegel does in the excerpt quoted above, the different activities she might engage in over the course of a day, e.g. sleeping, with a self-portrait as a sleeping figure 😴, or a dozing cat 🐈; eating, with a series of cutlery and kitchen utensils 🍴🍴🍴🍴🏺🍽; collecting, with a series of knives 🔪🔪🔪🔪🔪🔪🔪, which she had an amazing number of; working, with some of the chimneys 🔥 and vases 🏺🏺🏺🏺🏺 she created; picking, with a slip-coated earthenware piece by Andrée Vilar depicting a hand holding a flower 💐; giving, with multiple objects like siren-shaped whistles 🧜, greeting cards 👩, and embroidered ships ⛵, which she produced for her friends and family.
CAC Brétigny ℳ M
For “Double Memory” a collection of heavy or stiff capital M’s in block letters and light and dynamic handwritten capital ℳ’s has been gathered, all found in documents dating back to World War I and brought together in the Galateau Collection by an inhabitant of Brétigny-sur-Orge. Printed history (newspapers, posters, leaflets, etc.) and history written by hand in the battlefield (correspondences, diaries, notebooks, etc.) intermingle here, conjuring up possible memories, where all the occurrences of one and the same letter have different meanings.
🏞 CAC 🧜 Brétigny 🌌
For “Desk Set,” the ABCC of CACB has grown to include the drawings of the bibliographer and “internet visionary” Paul Otlet (1868-1944). In Brussels in the 1920s Otlet created his Mundaneum, which aimed to integrate all of the world’s knowledge in a Répertoire bibliographique universel, or Universal Bibliographic Repertory, characterized today as a “paper Google.” He designed numerous plates exposing his theories, notably the Encyclopedia Universalis Mundaneum, from which we have borrowed 24 emojis [📽️👩🏞⌚🔮🏢🚪⌨️🌌④👩📕🗣️🚪☎️🗄️💀🧜📰🖼️📄🌐⌨️🧠] referring to certain keywords from the introductory text to the exhibition. This group forms a partial rebus that resonates with the themes tackled in the American film Desk Set (1957) and the practices of the four artists featured in the show, such as the transmission of knowledge and the connections between man and machine.
〰 CAC 〰 Brétigny 〰
For Florian Sumi’s “MEMBRAINS” exhibition, typographical characters were borrowed from machines found in the technical workshop of the Lycée Jean-Pierre Timbaud of Brétigny-sur-Orge (which neighbors the art center) and the site of Florian Sumi’s COMPUTERS” residency. The machine shop boasts both conventional and digitally operated machine tools that are manufactured in France as well as Germany, Spain, Portugal, and Italy. Besides the logos of the brands, the machines bear lots of indications about security, measures, scales, and technical graphic signs needed for their operation. Decontextualised and defunctionalised, the characters that have been chosen form abstract microseries of waves and frequencies (〰 〰 〰 〰 〰 〰 〰 〰 🌊 ◣), indicators and arrows (↕ 🔁 🔁 ⦳ ⦳ ⇄ ⌖ ⎆ ⎆ ⎆ ⎆ ⎆ ✋ ∢), embracing a new narrative in any of the written materials about the show.
CAC 🌺 Brétigny
In Brétigny-sur-Orge, like in many other cities in France, 135 streets and 24 city facilities bear a man's name; 11 streets and 5 facilities a woman's name. Thus, CAC Brétigny (formerly the Centre culturel Gérard Philipe) is located at rue Henri Douard, in the Espace Jules Verne, and next to a complex of schools and sport facilities called the Lycée Jean-Pierre Timbaud, the swimming pool Léo Lagrange, the music school Gérard Philipe, the Collège Paul Éluard, tennis courts René Audran, and the Auguste Delaune stadium.
Inside a public space still mostly planned, built and frequented by men, it is not surprising that the erotic or sexual graffiti we observed in Essonne depict almost exclusively phalluses, sometimes accompanied with text (insults, names, phone numbers...). Only 2 vulvas and 4 breasts—certainly drawn by men—were collected against 103 phalluses and 2 buttocks. These graffiti have been observed in the public space, on and around public and semi-public institutions, and religious buildings.
For Núria Güell's exhibition “Au nom du Père, de la Patrie et du Patriarcat”, a collection of 24 signs attests to this unequal distribution and illustrates a fact that is far from new, i.e., men like to mark their territory—to declare who and where they are. In classical antiquity, erotic graffiti were common and phalluses already predominate in the inventory made in Pompeii. Separated from the body, sometimes with wings or legs, the genitals seem to behave independently.
We should bear in mind that if they are now considered offensive and provocative, phallic representations did not always have this reputation and could had a protective or curative symbolic function. In Roman antiquity, for example, phallic amulets were worn as jewelry, and votive offerings were made in the form of a penis.
Some writing systems contain symbols to signify the external sex organs. Today, thanks to Unicode standard, Egyptologists have access to such signs for their scientific transcriptions, and it is surprising to find them absent among emoji. To fill this gap, the use of other emoji such as 🍆, 🍌, 🌺, 🍩, 🍑 or even 🍣 is now common practice, a strategy we adopted to integrate these new signs into our typeface LARA.
“Who hasn’t tried to take away from the O in a newspaper headline its value as a letter by sketching in eyes, a nose and a mouth, or make Y less stern by turning it into a champagne glass? …The most direct way of changing letters into something figurative is to transform the sign or the word into an expression that is rich in imagery. It produces a powerful interference between ‘visibility’ and ‘readability.’ This double effect is often the rule among modern graphic designers, for example, looking to engrave a brand in people’s memories, the observer being ‘intrigued’ by the play of the abstract (letter) and the concept (image).” (Adrian Frutiger, Des signes et des hommes, Denges [Lausanne], Éditions Delta & Spes, 1983, p.116)
To write the title of the show “Futomomo,” we put together a collection of anthropomorphic letters and object-letters, F, M, O, T, U. Springing from the logos of brands, companies, and businesses that are found in the yellow pages or on the signs seen in business parks and commercial zones of Essonne, these letters transpose “what unites flesh and things” in the space of “visual communication.”
The typeface for communications on the show “les cellules blanches, nues et le sommeil électrique” springs from the first sentence of a manuscript note taken down in shorthand by an anonymous stenographer and dating back to 1981. The document comes from Sébastien Rémy’s personal records.
Stenography is a system of signs that allow one to write more quickly than traditional longhand writing, ideally at the speed of spoken language. A practice largely entrusted to women and associated with the phenomenon of bureaucratization, stenography can be employed in a professional or personal context. Several methods of stenography continue to be used in France, for example. Besides the various rules they share, the methods depend on a certain amount of freedom and adaptability which lead to personalized writing systems that are difficult, even impossible, to decipher for a reader or even another stenographer.
To make these personal illegible signs part of the LARA typeface, we had to take advantage of a coding area that is specific to Unicode (the world standard of digital typeface coding) known as the Private Use Area (PUA), a unique space of formal and semantic freedom in coding written signs. Whereas standard Unicode permits a strict, unchangeable standardization of language on any terminal around the world, PUA enables a completely free use of 137468 entries whose interpretation is neither standardized nor pre-established, and hence must be privately agreed upon.
Coline Sunier & Charles Mazé
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 the teaching staff of Atelier National de Recherche Typographique (ANRT) in Nancy. They cofounded the publishing house <o> future <o> in 2009.
- JUMP — Coline Sunier & Charles Mazé, L’ABCC du CACB (gif)
- Vocales — Coline Sunier & Charles Mazé, L’ABCC du CACB (gif)
- Discours primal — Coline Sunier & Charles Mazé, L’ABCC du CACB (gif)
- Valentine Schlegel — Coline Sunier & Charles Mazé, L’ABCC du CACB (gif)
- Desk Set — Coline Sunier & Charles Mazé, L’ABCC du CACB (gif)
- MEMBRAINS — Coline Sunier & Charles Mazé, L’ABCC du CACB (gif)
- Au nom du Père, de la Patrie et du Patriarcat — Coline Sunier & Charles Mazé, L’ABCC du CACB (gif)
- Futomomo — Coline Sunier & Charles Mazé, L’ABCC du CACB (gif)