Reading Lampo

Reading Lampo is an exhibition of Lampo design, drawn from the organization’s 15-year archive of printed matter, on view at the Post Family, 1821 West Hubbard Street, November 16, 2013 through January 17, 2014.

This essay by artist Martine Syms was written on the occasion of the exhibition.

It’s hard to describe Lampo by any of the generally accepted terms used for artist-serving projects. It is not a space, or a venue, or a presenter. Lampo is an organization, or a series, or a curatorial venture, but only as much as anything else is as well. This ambiguity is best countered with plain words. Since 1997, Lampo has supported experimental musicians and intermedia artists through live performance, often solo acts. The project brings music back to its most minimal elements, prompting the listener to consider what constitutes the form. The audience arrives, sits down, the artist plays, people hang out.

Lampo’s graphic identity is equally direct. The name is typically set all caps in Helvetica—a “desert island” font inextricably tied to modernism—but there is no official logo. The identity system invokes the vernacular. While the quotidian is currently trending, soon it won’t be, and Lampo will keep looking to it. Its Helvetica is one of municipal signage and small business, practical and approachable. On the 2004 series postcards the type is straight ahead, a stack of names reading “Rafael Toral – Oct 9; John Bischoff – Oct 23; Jim Baker – Nov 20; Emi Maeda – Dec 4.” The mind imagines other names and dates in perpetual sequence.

The design provides a structure. It was never meant to illustrate. Too cute. Nor would abstract art be used to represent abstract sound. Too stupid. Much like the events, the graphic system is reductive. The experimentation happens within specific constraints. This is a common practice for sound artists from Cage to Schmickler. It is appropriate that Lampo adopted a similar process for its design.

In the beginning Lampo ephemera was dominated by a monochromatic palette of red. The color was chosen for its figurative relationship to reading. These pieces were literally red all over, though how widely read they were is a matter of debate. Those reds were first complemented by other warm hues, pink, orange, rust, persimmon, berry. Soon the Chicago cityscape infiltrated with brick, tawny, taupe, navy, sand, azure. Recently plaid was introduced as a textural element. Yes, Celtic plaids, but also those seen regularly on the street and in the closet. The work takes its formal qualities from the real world.

The print pieces are primarily promotional: postcards, posters, programs, etc. The original poster dimensions were derived by calculating how many could fit on a single press sheet with few cuts and minimal waste. Even waste was transformed into printed matter—the margins used to commemorate a sonic event.

Unlike some of the other ephemera, the Folio series does not function as an artifact. These large, unbound publications give the artists and curators an opportunity to contemplate the performance. As of now, the books are distributed exclusively at the concerts. Additionally, each performance is documented in many other ways including black and white photographs, video, and audio recording.

The impulse to publish stems from a desire either to make an idea public or to create a public around an idea. Publishing is most successful when it does both. Lampo uses print to capture performance. A singular event is contained by a medium defined by its reproducibility. The archive is the meta project. Over the past sixteen years Lampo has amassed a collection of rarities. This archive is a gift to the constellation of listeners connected by an appreciation for strange sounds. It grew from a sense of responsibility to the art Lampo presents.

In relation to the printed matter the archive is what poet Kevin Young calls the shadow book. It’s a “book we don’t have, but know of, a book that may haunt the very book we hold in our hands.” The proverbial stacks (on stacks) represent experience. Favorite moments. Like, “Kasper Toeplitz at the Odum, when his bass got so loud that ceiling tile dust snowed down on his Mohawk.” In this way the accumulation of materials is another formal element in the Lampo design system.

It is a system of interrelated objects that begins with the curatorial program. The design is transparent. It gets straight to the point without involving meaningless decoration. It commands attention, but only to suggest connections. It’s up to the audience to make meaning. Much like Lampo manifests the artists and patrons in the form of a social situation, its design makes the program visible. A play on enlightenment, Lampo means “lamp” in the utopian language Esperanto. Lampo is a beacon and without design we wouldn’t be able to see it.

Martine Syms is an artist and conceptual entrepreneur based in Los Angeles.