Interview with Maria Guta and Larissa Kasper: Solarnet
What will humans look like in the near future? What will define their way of life? And, above all, what role will technology play in this context? People have always wondered and thought about tomorrow and the days ahead, devising images of their desires, ideas or even dystopias in novels, comics and films in the science fiction genre. In form 266 which is published on 16 June 2016, we will be taking a good look at the interfaces between man and machine, now part of our everyday normality, reflecting on prosthetic extensions for our bodies and tackling the topic of fiction that has established itself as a discipline of its own within design in recent years. Speculative design is also a means that the Romanian artist, Maria Guta, and the Swiss graphic designer, Larissa Kasper, have used in their “Solarnet” project. They have allowed us to use a motif from it as a preview image for our forthcoming issue “Man/Machine”. Here they explain the background to their publication which was finished in summer 2015 and which they are currently redesigning. Maria Guta has answered a few questions for us about this.
What is the key idea of “Solarnet”?
“Solarnet” is a map of the journey of the self. It explores the endless possibilities the human being holds today in order to simulate different identities, play different roles and inhabiting different worlds by drawing a line between cosplay and virtual identities. One can time travel, change skins, teleport from one space to another. Everything is possible in virtual space.
Our story is set somewhere between the year 2086 and yesterday. The world is a vast dystopia where all memories of the past have been erased and nostalgia is the highest crime. The only way to escape is through a virtual space called “Solarnet”. A private network, a successor of the darknet, that is used to share memories of the past world that got banned by the government. Going back to a lost medium we chose the book page as a tangible, portable exhibition space for questioning the phenomenon of self representation, while melting the roles of author and subject.
In which context did you start the project?
We met each other during the art direction masters at ECAL in Lausanne. At some point in the final year we had this pre-presentation of our diploma projects, basically explaining and showing a preview of what our projects would be. One night before this presentation, back at my place, we discovered this series of old magazines called Plexus in my flatmate’s bookshelves. A mix of science fiction, eroticism and humour made in the 1960s. The publication caught our attention and completely charmed us. We were already talking since a while how we would like to work on something together, and I think 15 minutes after this discovery we decided to abandon our initial, separate ideas for the diploma projects and work as a duo on a publication inspired by Plexus. The initial idea was to make a magazine as well, maybe even a revival of this one, but after several talks, brainstorming and research focused on science fiction, gender issues, transhumanism and eroticism, we came up with a sort of scenario, built up our own story and decided to make a book.
Can you tell us something about your educational background?
I was born in 1983 in Romania and studied graphic design at the National University of Arts Bucharest. Five years ago I moved to the western part of Switzerland and started my masters in art direction at ECAL in 2013, where I also met Larissa. We both graduated last summer. Larissa was born in 1986 in Switzerland and studied visual communication at the Zurich University of the Arts. She co-founded her studio Kasper-Florio in 2013 in St.Gallen, Switzerland.
Can you describe your working process and different areas of responsibility within the project?
It was an interesting process and collaboration. We are very close friends and we share common ideas and visions by default. But aesthetically, each one in her own practice, we are quite different. It was a challenge to see the outcome of these two styles combined, but we always agreed and it was a rather satisfying “compromise”. Although in theory one was the graphic designer and the other one the photographer, it was 100 per cent team work in almost every aspect of the process. We first wrote down the story, then imagined the different kind of images we would need in order to create it. I was “responsible” for constructing each character, style it up and, depending on the situation, build up the necessary mise-en-scene. But I would always talk it through with Larissa. As a continuation of some of my previous projects but also quite logical in our context, we decided I`ll play all the different characters we would illustrate in the pictures, so I did a bit of acting as well (which was, obviously, one of the funniest parts of the process). While being in front of the camera, I often needed assistance in the picture taking process. Apart from Eric Loizzo, Erwan Frotin and Laurence Kubski, most of the help came from Larissa. The graphic design part, although we would discuss the ideas together, was exclusively Larissa`s magic.
What’s the idea behind the book titles typeface?
The typeface we used throughout the book is called Monument Grotesk and has been designed by Larissa during her studies at ECAL. For the titling she reconstructed an old logo consisting of three dolphins that she discovered in an old book and used it as a special character. We liked the fact of going back to something once designed so carefully in the past but gone forgotten and unused since decades. The dolphin as a symbol of duality, being both fish and mammal, of the water and an air breather, also stands for being in two worlds at once. Ancient stories of the sea even refer to dolphins metamorphosing into beautiful mermaids. We found this a wonderful link.
Does the book only include „staged“ photography?
Let’s say the photography could be divided into two sections: A Number of selfs and “Parallel World Tourism”, which are landscapes. In the first category I would say 99 per cent of the pictures are staged but, except for the studio shots, there would always be a hazard factor as well. Sometimes I would dress up and then we would go around the city until something “clicked” and spontaneously decide on the location. In some cases there were very interesting or even funny interactions with people who would just happen to be there at the same time and react to my character. We were happy whenever this happened, it brought an extra layer to the stories we were building. The landscape shots in return were mostly unplanned. With a few exceptions where we already knew in advance exactly which spot we would like to photograph, we would be in a certain country, in a certain town, and just drive or walk around until something made us stop.
Why did you decide to do a re-edit of the book?
When we first showed the book it happened in a school context. On an execution level, we opted for a special kind of binding which would require a lot of time for every copy (it was made manually) as well for some fancy (and expensive) options printing wise, therefore we only put out a very limited number of copies. Post graduation, we were often asked about the book, people were curious to see it and get a copy. So we decided to work on a proper “release”. But not just by re-printing the exact same material. For us, “Solarnet” is also a very personal experience, it´s the result of a journey (or several journeys) we did together and separately. Literally and figuratively. Since last summer, when we concluded the first version of this book, we travelled some more. Unavoidably, new ideas and images were born and it feels just natural to add them to the already existing ones. So we call it a re-edit in this way. We will probably keep most of the basic structure, ideas and mood, but we will add some new “experiences”. “Solarnet” can also be seen as a permanent work in progress, it kind of follows our personal evolution on one side and that of the society we are living in on the other, so it never stops growing. We would find it really interesting to see how it might look, let´s say, ten years from now. Maybe one day “Solarnet” could really become this platform that allows one to time travel, change skins and teleport from one space to another.