Letter & Spirit
This is an extension of Meta-The-Difference-Between-The-Two-Font, Dexter Sinister’s update of Donald Knuth’s Metafont. A year or so after the initial project, we added a new parameter to Knuth’s original set—namely, *time.* The catalyst was Trailer for an Exhibition Catalog (2012), an animated text made for the group exhibition Ecstatic Alphabets / Heaps of Language at MoMA. This “trailer” advertised the exhibition’s physical catalog (= Bulletins of The Serving Library 3) available downstairs in the bookstore, via extremely compressed summaries of each of the publication‘s 13 essays, set in the new, animated “4D” version of the font, MTDBT2F4D, which constantly moves between the font’s usual values.
The last of these essays is a sequel to A Note on the Type called Letter & Spirit, which is more broadly concerned with the historical rationalization of typefaces, ending with an account of MTDBT2F4D as its most recent instance. As the essential quality of the new font is that it is permanently *in movement,* the logical conclusion of this chain-link project was to animate the essay, too. The video incarnation of “Letter & Spirit” shows itself while telling of itself—“a program that runs a script” best viewed on a cinema screen where the letters float before the audience as ghostly spirits, as has occurred at least once in a screening at Tramway, Glasgow, in 2012.
MTDBT2F4D has also been applied in a few contexts. It was adopted by the art foundation Kadist as a logotype that morphs very slowly as it randomly moves through different values, its use over ten years guaranteed by a contract based on a third essay, A Note on the Time. This animated logo—too slow for human eyeballs to perceive in realtime—is used on www.kadist.org, while any physical material uses a static version of the logo at any given moment. The software was also used to generate a speaking glyph—“an asterisk with a Scottish accent” via the synthesized voice of Mason Leaver-Yap—which has been variously used to introduce (1) the website of Radio Athénes (2015), (2) an erA, part of At 1:1 Scale, our contribution to a programme of events at KUB Arena, Kunsthaus Bregenz (2015), and (3) the group exhibition The Natural Order of Things at Museo Jumex, Mexico City (2016).
All three essays are collected in Notes on the Type, Time, Letters & Spirits (Berlin: Sternberg, 2014), part of The Contemporary Condition, a book series we also designed using MTDBT2F.