Meeting Joe Miceli
interview Emanuele La Corte, photo Nicolò Pujia
Hey Joe, we know you’re a typographer and an American designer, but what are your origins? What was it that brought you to Turin?
They are not really American. I’m from New York so a kind of “hybrid animal” because in New York there is no dominant ethnic group. Given the different origins of my family, I was born in Italy but then we moved to America, where we lived for seventeen years. I later decided to leave New York in favor of Europe and Italy. After a short time in Syracuse, I decided to go and study graphic design, ending up in the Netherlands at the Rietveld Academy (of the four schools that were suggested to me, it was the first and only one I visited, because I fell in love with it). After graduation I went with my life and work partner Lina Ozerkina to Lithuania where we lived for four years, working closely with the contemporary art scene in those years, which was developing a lot. Through a Lithuanian tunnel we came to Turin for the first time in 2009 and it was love at first sight. Subsequently, and thanks to the friendships established in the art world, we won the tender for the creation of the communication for the Artissima17 art fair. Thanks to all these things we moved to Torino.
Ever since you’ve been in Turin you’ve collaborated and been a part of a lot of different projects, giving them a lot of different types of typography. What’s your approach for developing a new font?
Turin has been the starting point of a series of experiences that have really made and shaped me. First of all, in 2010 they invited me to participate in an exhibition at the Milan Triennale (Graphic Design Worlds), thanks to that opportunity I got to know other important figures in the world of Italian graphics. This knowledge, then becoming friends, has allowed me to work on several graphic projects. In all my projects I have tried to direct my attention and my interest in the art of printing, something that has been very dear to me since my time at Rietveld. Today I’m typically as a ‘printer’, although few really get the meaning, but I do not mind being confused with a printer. In parallel to the my studies of graphics, I’ve always created typefaces for personal projects, deciding in the end to open AlfaType, a digital foundry where the I publish original typefaces. After many years in the world of digital type design, I find myself working more and more with physical brushes and tools. Comparing it to the Sign Painting technique, a typically American vernacular signage tradition. With this technique I discovered what I call the “holy grail” of typography, ie, that the typographic forms originate in writing instruments and tract’s form they produce. The last two fonts I’m working on are executed precisely with this technique.
Talking about your publications, can you tell us a little about Friends Make Books?
Friends Make Books is a collaborative platform for print-on- demand publishing that operates occasionally as a graphic studio and independent publisher. It is a creative platform for those who want to produce books and learn by producing. FMB comes from the need to work alongside the authors and thus we can create a synergy by which we shape our projects together. FMB could be defined as a workshop where the authors can give life to their ideas by participating in all phases of production. I think this is the added value of FMB because those who come to work with us are always people who are interested in the subject and technique. With us you can experience for yourself and receive practical advice to improve the value of their products. With FMB we’ve made many publications, all very special, each one with anecdotes that distinguish them from each others. Parking Lot For example, a magazine made by a Dutch group that wanted to produce a magazine to be distributed only in Amsterdam. It was a pretty ambitious project so we even handled the whole graphic part as well. The project was produced and bound in our headquarters, combining the risograph printing in some sections offset by the addition of a flexi-disc vinyl included among the pages. It was fun experimenting with this ‘hybrid’ system to combine techniques.
You’re basically specialized in the use of the risograph technique, how have you seen the change in the use of this technique, from a rather common place to connected to design and style? How did you end up using it on a daily basis?
I like to talk in quasi-Marxists terms about this thing, because our intention was to own the means of production. The goal and desire was to go to work in a more material way, more direct about what is the main resource that we face: books and magazines. The Risograph is an evolution of the mimeograph machine that has a very strong history linked to automatic production, the fanzine and political propaganda. Automatic production has always been, from our point of view, an interesting element, which is why this technique has returned to be used daily.
In conclusion, when did you begin to get involved with IED?
I met Tommaso e Michele (Graphic Design course coordinators) about two years ago when, working on a project for the IED, they had to produce the prints. A mutual friend suggested that they contact us to make some prints with Risograph. Thanks to a great relationship that we’ve developed between us, it was a wonderful collaboration, intense and fun, something that really connected us. Later, I had the opportunity to hold a workshop for Visible, a visual arts and editorial design microfestival. In doing so I continually became closer and closer to the Institute until this year, when they asked me to follow the production of the magazine, with everything regarding fonts and to hold a course at the IED of Turin where I can pass the beauty hiding behind the typographic world on to the students.