Wearable Letterform: a Typographic Form for Ephemeral Messages

Say it loud: How to publicly display messages in a highly visible way, without doing anything illegal? Say it fast: Messages evolve in a perpetual flux. If you take the example of a poster or a title in a newspaper, their context is permanently shifting: who the audience is, where it is read from, what the weather is like, what the buzz of the precise moment is. A static printed message cannot adapt to a changing situation and is bound to obsoleteness. How can we display a physical message while keeping it flexible enough so that it can reflect on its context? Interested, read on!

Message as Flux

This work followed a series on ephemeral letterform: lettering that spelled words becoming less and less relevant as they faded.

The idea this time wasn’t anymore to devise ephemeral letterform, but letterform for the ephemeral. This question of embedding the notion of temporariness in the form of the message soon became an exploration of possible typographic forms for impermanent messages.

It had to be flexible enough to keep the message relevant and up to date as its context changed, while having the visual presence of a giant billboard. The idea was to find a way to publicly display messages in a highly visible way, a bit like graffiti that could be updated, while remaining within the frame of legality.

Research: Human as a Medium

This work started with fascinating research on cases of letterform created in the immediacy of a specific space and time, while having to be highly visible. This lead my exploration to the immediate form of message-making of demonstration graphics.

The origins of this project was my encounter with a photograph taken in Nanterre, a campus near Paris, during the May 68 protests. It shows Citroën workers and students wearing huge cardboard boxes over their bodies, displaying one huge capital letter each. As they’re holding hands they form the words Nanterre and Citroën, they become the message and have to stay together for it to exist.


Students in Nanterre, from Massin’s Book “Letter and Image”

Individual capital letters painted directly on bodies in order to spell out giant messages as people stand next to each other is also something that has been recently seen in football stadiums. The body is the letter and therefore a fraction of the message (usually the name of a football club) in this almost tribal identification ritual.


At the beginning of the 20th Century, Arthur Mole (1889–1983), already used humans as graphic elements of messages in his mass photographic spectacles, sometimes using thousands of military troops to form patriotic symbols visible from a bird’s eye perspective, such as the Statue of Liberty or a portrait of President Wilson, which he then photographed. Beyond the actual performance, the idea was to parry isolationist tendencies, in particular during World War One, as each human became a dot in a grand drawing glorifying the group.


Arthur Mole, “Living Portrait of President Woodrow Wilson,” 1918.

The dissolving of individuality into unity is also the metaphor behind North Korean arranges, mass games featuring 100,000 performers who together form giant Kim Jong Il portraits and patriotic typographic messages covering entire stadiums by holding pieces of colored cards above their heads like human pixels.


AFP Picture

In a sort of word-based arrangement, artist Shelley Jackson “publishes” her 2095-word story one word at a time: volunteers tattoo a word that she assigns to them on their body. While a permanent tattoo is usually a celebration of individuality, these ones only make sense when put next to each other.


Shelley Jackson, Skin Project

This reminded me of a photograph I had seen years before at Palais de Tokyo in Paris. Equally using tattoo as a denial of individuality, but also humanity, Spanish artist Santiago Sierra paid six unemployed young Cubans thirty dollars to take part in his installation titled “250 cm line tattooed on six paid people.” While this installation points out the imperialist power of money, it also uses the indelible mark of tattoo as a metaphor for social determinism in poor countries.

The use of people’s body as a display medium in exchange for money has been a fairly common vision in the streets of London for almost two hundred years. Using the human body as a message display facility is a way of evading a tax on advertising by making it mobile, but also by using the humanity of the subject and its “freedom of speech” as a legal argument.


Sketches by George Scharf. Article by u75 editor, Sept 2004 and Sandwich Man

The flexibility of this casual form of communication, combined with the performative potential of togetherness, provided the right components to start thinking of a malleable letterforms expressing the ephemeral message.


Jesus YMCA

Wearable Typography

This lead me to experiment with wearable typography. I first worked on a series of three day-glow and black tee shirts, each with a slightly different pattern that displays different highly visible letters when seen from a distance, providing that the wearer places his arms in a specific way.


Amandine Alessandra, sketch

The three patterns were instigated by the three categories of shapes I found in the Latin alphabet (at least when using both capital and non capital letters): letters that could be drawn by shoulders and arms (A, B, C, D, E, G, I, J, K, O, R, S, Z), the ones that needed more lines than the limbs could provide (F, H, M, T), and finally the ones that only needed the shape of the arms (K, N, U, V, W, X, Y).


Amandine Alessandra, sketch


Amandine Alessandra, photo

The idea was that when wearing these t-shirts, a group of people could form and display a word or a statement. But what was really special about this mode of communication was that because a single person could mimic a whole set of letters, the message could change, from one movement to another. Off course at this stage this flexibility was slightly jeopardized by the fact that one single t-shirt couldn’t be used to make every letter.


Amandine Alessandra: “Wearable Letterform Alphabet”


Amandine Alessandra, “Type should move”

I finally managed to make to gain in flexibility by replacing the t-shirt with a bolero: a pair of day-glow sleeves attached together by a strip of fabric that could be worn across the front or the back of the wearer.

This new pattern allowed the wearer to become any letter or number in a small move, and to comment on situations as they happened. As such, a group of individuals standing in a public place would be able to spell out a series of comments by becoming different letters, one word at the time, a bit like an analogic form of tweet (as in Twitter) that would involve a group of people rather than an expression of individuality.

As the motive for this research was to find ways of displaying highly visible messages in public places, the malleability of this letterform encouraged me to use it as a tool for typographic performances.

Writing the Ephemeral


Amandine Alessandra, photo

This experiment took place in a busy train station in London during rush hour, in order to reflect the flow characteristic of the place. It involved eight people mimicking a digital clock in real time with their arms and shoulders. Standing in line side by side in the middle of the station, two of them acted as the hours units, two for the minutes, and another two for the seconds. The two other performers were acting as the colons separating each unit of time. A digital re-creation of this project is visible on this address: letterform for the ephemeral.

The wearable letterform, with its specific flexibility, allowed the message (in this case time) to change from one second to the other, following more or less accurately the ticking of the station’s clock.

The numbers each of the performers enacted were enhanced by the day-glow long-sleeved boleros, which besides making them visible, also echoed the yellow of the train schedule boards above them.

Used in this specific context and by using people as a medium, this temporary letterform confronts the economic value of time (as in time is money) with the individual perception of it.

The final outcome of this experiment is its recording, in the form of a set of photographs fixing the message in the time, space and audience (commuters in a rush) it was addressed to. The letterform was contextual at the actual moment it was mimicked. What is left is a trace of it, as the message displayed (the time the photograph was taken) will not be accurate anymore when looking at the photograph. What was achieved with this latest experiment of wearable type was a letterform to express the here and now. Although I’ve produced a series of alphabets by having people performing in front of the camera, resulting in quite strong images, I do believe that the wearable letterform finds its raison d’être when used in real time.


Despite not using the most legible letterform, the experiment at Liverpool Street Station did interrupt the crowd flow and raised curiosity, as people tried to understand what we were trying to sell or protest against.

Although this letterform was devised as a rather conceptual research, an attempt to write the unwritable, time flow, I soon became aware that this approach of typography as a malleable and adaptive mean could easily be used as a commercial or critical medium, or, in other words, in advertising and protests, as guerilla interventions.

Besides its eye-catching form, this kind of message display requires an effort to be deciphered. The relative freedom of interpretation left to the audience reinforces the impact of the message: it establishes a dynamic relationship with its receivers by psychologically engaging them, instead of limiting it to one single passive understanding.

> 60 articles needed. 400 words. $0.5 per article. Ongoing! by cseba

hello, I need 60 articles written about persuasion. I’ll provide you with the keywords to work with. The articles need to be at least 400 words long. The format I need is “how to articles” and “The 5 myths about persuasion… (Budget: $30-250, Jobs: Article Rewriting, Copywriting, Ghostwriting, Proofreading, Research)

Warship rescues crew in cyclone

MV Dubai Moon listing heavily in stormy seas

The crew of a Devon-based warship have saved the lives of 23 seamen whose cargo ship was caught in a tropical cyclone off Somalia.

HMS Chatham, which is conducting Nato anti-piracy operations off east Africa, responded to a mayday call from MV Dubai Moon which was listing heavily.

The frigate raced to the stricken ship, MV Dubai Moon, launched its Lynx helicopter and winched the crew off.

The cargo ship’s master said the crew owed their lives to the Royal Navy.

Grounding fears

The drama unfolded early on Thursday when crew on the bridge of HMS Chatham, which is based in Devonport, Plymouth, received a distress call from the master of MV Dubai Moon, Capt Hassan Madar.

He reported that his vessel was caught in a tropical storm – which later evolved into a cyclone – and was struggling to make headway in extremely rough seas and high winds.

The ship, which was transporting vehicles, was drifting towards an island and there were fears that it could run aground.

As concerns mounted Capt Madar and HMS Chatham’s commanding officer, Commander Simon Huntington, maintained contact throughout the night to try to work out the best way to save the merchant ship.

Weather conditions improved on Friday and the crew of HMS Chatham were able to winch the crew off the cargo vessel in an operation which took three hours. The ship later sank.

‘Challenging’ conditions

Capt Hassan Madar said: "Normally we operate close to the coast but we had to go far out to sea to avoid pirates.

"That meant we could not find shelter from the storm.

HMS Chatham

"If we had not been rescued by the Royal Navy and Nato we would have died with my ship.

"They were the only people to respond to our distress call; we owe them our lives."

Commander Huntington added: "This rescue was conducted in the most challenging sea conditions imaginable… the tropical cyclone tested the ship and everyone on board."

HMS Chatham has been involved in a number of rescue operations while carrying out operations in the Gulf.

In February crew airlifted a Filipino sailor with suspected appendicitis to hospital after he fell in on an oil tanker in the Middle East.

A week before it had dispatched Royal Marines to help 21 Yemeni fishermen spotted adrift in the middle of a shipping zone after their vessel had run out of fuel.

This article is from the BBC News website. © British Broadcasting Corporation, The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

Labour candidates critical of Iraq war

Ed Balls (left) and Ed Miliband

Two of the candidates attempting to become the next Labour leader have criticised the decision to invade Iraq.

Ed Balls, the former children’s secretary, told the Daily Telegraph the war was "wrong" and "a mistake".

And in an interview with the Guardian former energy secretary Ed Miliband said the way the decision to go to war was taken "led to a catastrophic loss of trust in Labour".

The result of Labour’s leadership contest will be known on 25 September.

The other candidates for leadership are Diane Abbott, Andy Burnham, John McDonnell and Ed Miliband’s brother, David, who was an MP at the time of the invasion of Iraq and voted for it.

Mr Balls said that, based on the information made available, "we shouldn’t have prosecuted the war".

He added: "We shouldn’t have changed our argument from international law to regime change in a non-transparent way. It was an error for which we as a country paid a heavy price, and for which many people paid with their lives.

"Saddam Hussein was a horrible man, and I am pleased he is no longer running Iraq. But the war was wrong."

Ed Milliband, the former energy and climate change secretary, said the basis for going to war was Saddam Hussein’s potential possession of weapons of mass destruction.

"Therefore that is why I felt the weapons inspectors should have been given more time to find out whether he had those weapons, and Hans Blix – the head of the UN weapons inspectorate – was saying that he wanted to be given more time," Mr Miliband said.

"The combination of not giving the weapons inspectors more time, and then the weapons not being found, I think for a lot of people it led to a catastrophic loss of trust for us, and we do need to draw a line under it."

Mr Miliband, who was not an MP at the time of the invasion of Iraq, said because the basis for the war "turned out not to be correct", the decision to prosecute it was "a big loss of trust for us".

He added: "What I am not saying is that the war was undertaken for the wrong motives but what I am very clear about is what my position was at the time and the way I look at it in retrospect."

The BBC’s Mike Sergeant said the race to ditch the baggage of the Blair/Brown years was moving on apace for Labour’s leadership contenders.

"For Labour members, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 remains one of the least popular decisions," our correspondent said.

Speaking in March at the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, David Miliband said: "I voted for the war because I think that the defiance by Saddam of the UN was itself a danger to international peace and security and the authority of the UN had to be upheld."

This article is from the BBC News website. © British Broadcasting Corporation, The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

Gymnast Tweddle honoured with MBE

Beth Tweddle with her MBE

Britain’s most successful gymnast has been presented with an MBE after her career at the top of the sport.

Beth Tweddle, 25, of Cheshire, has her sights set on 2012 Olympic glory after winning a number of gold medals in recent years.

The Prince of Wales presented the award to her in an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace on Friday.

He wished her well for the London Olympics during an event described as "surreal" by the gymnast.

Tweddle, who lives in Bunbury but trains in Liverpool, successfully defended her European titles in the uneven bars and floor events at the European Artistic Gymnastics Championships earlier in May.

She is also the 2009 Floor World Champion after coming top in the event at the 02 Arena in London in 2009.

Speaking after the ceremony, Tweddle said she was delighted to receive an award outside gymnastics – but was nervous about the ceremony.

"It’s been totally surreal to get an MBE," she said.

"I didn’t really believe it at first, I waited for the letter telling me I was coming to the palace before I did.

"I was surprisingly quite nervous before the ceremony – I was worried about tripping up when I walked in. Everyone kept saying to me ‘you are not going to cartwheel in’.

"I train to win gymnastic medals but away from gymnastics the MBE is a massive honour."

Tweddle’s career began when her father took her to a local gymnastics club to burn off excess energy when she was a hyperactive seven-year-old.

Her career has progressed steadily over the years and her first major honour was an uneven bars title at the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

She made her Olympic debut in 2004 and achieved a European gold at her favoured event in 2006, the year she also became World Champion.

This article is from the BBC News website. © British Broadcasting Corporation, The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

Wembley walk soldier wins payout

Private Dave Tatlock

An injured Paratrooper who battled the odds to walk out at Wembley with the Carling Cup said he had won a compensation battle with insurers.

Private Dave Tatlock, of Manchester, was told he might never walk again after being hit by shrapnel in Afghanistan in July 2008.

But after he walked unaided onto the pitch in February he found out his insurance claim was under review.

Pte Tatlock, 20, of Gorton, said he was "thankful" it had now been settled.

"I’m just glad that is has been paid out now," he told the BBC.

"I’d have to say the hierarchy of the insurance company didn’t actually know it was going on.

"I understand they’ve got thousands who are injured coming back from Afghanistan, so they can’t be aware of all the cases."

Friendly fire

Pte Tatlock, who cannot go into details of the sum involved, said one member of staff at the company took up his case and battled on his behalf.

"I was confident it would get sorted… when he gave me the cheque I couldn’t thank him enough."

Pte Tatlock carries out Carling Cup trophy

The Para was hit by a 30mm round form an Apache helicopter during a friendly fire incident.

It left him with severe nerve damage and he now has no use of his calves or left foot, wears a splint to walk and can only move his right foot slightly.

Pte Tatlock spent weeks practising walking without his crutches after being invited to carry the cup ahead of the final between his beloved Manchester United and Aston Villa in February.

But it was after the televised match that he said he received a message informing him a £25,000 claim with Abacus Insurance was being reviewed.

He took out the £56 a month cover before being deployed to Afghanistan.

Abacus confirmed that it had contacted the soldier’s social worker after his pitch side appearance, but said that his claim was already under review pending medical information.

No-one from the company could be reached for comment on Saturday.

This article is from the BBC News website. © British Broadcasting Corporation, The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.