Alphabets is a visual research project by Marcello Jacopo Biffi in the field of typography. As the title suggests, it consists of a group of related alphabets, which share the same DNA but look considerably different. Indeed, they all come from an elementary pixel matrix—the lowest form of the alphabet—which goes through many digital transformations leading to atypical results. The order of execution, the intensity of the distortion, the number of steps are some of the variables in the design process that determine the result, which is never final: each alphabet is a frame taken from a variation sequence progressively moving away from its point of origin. The goal is to generate a collection of allographs (different signs representing the same letter) to explore the relationship between glyph (representation of a letter) and grapheme (the minimum unit of a writing system). The result is a formal inquiry into the identity of letter shapes, if possible, an attempt to reject this very concept.
Marcello Jacopo Biffi teamed with Marsèll to produce the exhibition A is A is A—a nod to Gertrude Stein famous quote “A rose is a rose is a rose” affirming Aristotle’s law of identity—to present his project at Marsèll Paradise in Milan. The exhibition comprises an installation designed by From outer Space, and a 16mm film titled Détour directed by Nicola Pietromarchi & Filippo Castellano and produced by Olympìque. BRACE BRACE (the artist-run-space of Francesca Finotti, Cecilia Mentasti and Francesco Paleari) curated the project supporting its development and writing along with Michele Galluzzo (graphic designer and member of the research duo Fantasia Type) the curatorial texts. Lastly, Gabriele Donini and Giga transposed the alphabets online, manipulating them further on with algorithms.
From outer Space (Anna Paola Buonanno and Piergiorgio Italiano with Anna Sedino) designed a series of displays using semi-finished wood panels to host a selection of eight alphabets printed by Marcello Jacopo Biffi on A4 paper sheets in various sizes. Following a WYSIWYG approach devoid of any unnecessary mystification, they built up the displays without cutting or altering the panels. The plywoods were left raw—true to their dimension (height, length, thickness) and nature—and the paper sheets stapled directly onto them to open up a dialogue on standards: the rigid ISO 216 system meets the loose manufacturing of plywoods, while the polished surface of paper faces the uneven material qualities of the displays. The paper sheets succeed rhythmically on the boards till they abruptly shift alignment or run short revealing the texture hiding underneath. The languages of graphic design and exhibition design interact free to speak for themselves.
Détour takes Marcello Jacopo Biffi’s obsessive research into alphabets as a starting point to lead the viewer on a journey through landscapes of letters. It's a dreamy experience: the alphabets are blown out of proportion, each letter transforms into an abstract surface losing its conventional meaning. The eye follows the hands, which run through a maze of mysterious graphic signs: shapes blend one into the other, engendering a yin-yang like dualism. The paper sheets interact with each other generating three-dimensional architectural sculptures. The score, entirely made of pre-verbal sounds, assists the deconstruction of the alphabet building a new elemental language.