Over the past ten years, Manuel Raeder and his studio have developed numerous typefaces, usually for specific publications or projects. Although wildly different in appearance, they share strong conceptual determination, curiosity in accidental discoveries and playful irreverence toward traditional restrictions of type design.
Some of the typefaces were inspired by or drawn from specific sources. For example, Pastiche (2008) designed for the book Estas Ruinas Que Ves by the artist Mariana Castillo Deball, is based on what Raeder discovered in documents from the end of the nineteenth century Mexico. Inspired by the hybrid styles developed by the Mexican publishers, Raeder combined elements from printing types, handwriting and typewriter letters. The monoline typeface for the exhibition Langages: entre le dire et le faire (2013) was developed from the logo of an old Spanish publishing house, Ediciones de Bolsillo, which played an important role in Latin America and Spain. Paolozzi, designed for the book Uncomfortable Objects (2012) also by Mariana Castillo Deball, took its starting point from typewritten characters found in a letter from the artist Eduardo Paolozzi. Ciudad, used on the cover of Haegue Yang’s Grid Block A3 (2013), is based on photographs of a three-dimensional sign taken from different angles. And El maestro (2010) is an interpretation of a lettering Raeder found at an archaeological site in Mexico City.
Sometimes, Raeder takes existing forms and approaches, then carves out room for his own narratives or unexpected functions. Innervoice (2005) for the artist Asta Gröting was directly derived from a classic theater poster typeface, but the manipulated counters are meant to suggest that the characters have been “swallowed by one of the puppets and got stuck inside its throat.” The typeface for Mariana Castillo Deball’s exhibition and publication Kaleidoscopic Eye (2009) took characters from Plantin, then deconstructed and recombined them as if seen through a kaleidoscope. At a glance, Maaru (2011) and the typeface for Eran Schaerf’s FM-Scenario (2012) might appear as belonging to the generic category of constructed letterforms. Maaru was developed in relation to the summer school and exhibition Group Affinity at the Kunstverein Munich, which was focused on self-organized practice and the notion of affinity in cultural production. It is a modular typeface, based on quarter circles and straight lines. Unlike most geometric typefaces, however, it does not exhibit rigid rules by which the elements are combined. Instead, the relatively loose assemblies seem to reflect the theme of the event, self-organization. FM-Scenario typeface is constructed with lines of modulated thickness. The resulting gradation effect makes the characters work as test patterns—the screens by which their own printing quality may be tested.
A typeface occupies a precarious “ontological status.” On one hand, it is a mere tool for communication: it remains a voice without a body, until it finds a text it can exert its existence on. On the other hand, a “font” can be seen and felt as a thing in its own right, however intangible it may be. The strange thing-ness of a typeface is made particularly vivid and, at times, uncanny, when its characters remind of actual things in the world. Studio Manuel Raeder’s Sponge typeface (2013) for the artist Nora Schultz was derived from a sponge used for her self-built printing machine. The primordial sense of Schultz’s prints is well conveyed in the almost spontaneous forms of the characters. The typeface for A for Alibi (2007), a publication by the Uqbar Foundation (Mariana Castillo Deball and Irene Kopelman), was constructed using a tube. A tube can be a metaphor for an interlinking space, appropriate for the interdisciplinary ambition of the Uqbar Foundation. At the same time, the two-dimensional, shadow-like characters seem to suggest a certain speculative nature of the project. Or are they wormholes to elsewhere, another place, perhaps an imaginary one—such as Borges’s fictional place, Uqbar?