IUAV University of Venice
Design, Fabrication, Photos, and Video
Sara Poli, Silvia Cervellin, Matteo Ferraro, Margherita Rubini
Aleph was designed as the main project for the 2008 Type Design course taught by Leonardo Sonnoli in the Graduate Visual and Multimedia Design Program at IUAV, the University of Venice. The objective of the course was to design a site-specific typographic installation that conveyed the mood of a piece of literature.
The student team based its work on the short story The Aleph by Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges. In Borges' story, the Aleph is a point in space that contains all other points. Anyone who gazes into it can see everything in the universe from every angle simultaneously, without distortion, overlapping, or confusion.
The focus of the installation was a short sentence at the end of the story, when the main character discovers the Aleph and begins to describe it: “Vi a un tiempo cada letra de cada pàgina.” (English: “All at the same time I saw each letter on each page.”). It seemed the perfect fit for an installation about typography.
The week-long installation was set in the inner yard of Museo Fortuny, housed in a Venetian-Gothic Palace that is the former home, studio, and showroom of Spanish designer and artist Mariano Fortuny. Its unique, dream-like atmosphere is similar to those described in Borges’ work. In the story, the Aleph appears in a hidden space at the foot of a staircase, similar to a spot in the inner yard of the museum.
The students played with the laws of perspective to create an “Aleph situation.” Based on cone-of-vision studies of the courtyard space, they determined the exact point at which their typographic statement would become visible—and legible—to visitors. They cut individual letters out of white cardboard, gluing them to wooden sticks of varying heights and submerging them in plaster bases. They chose Centaur (Bruce Rogers) for its readability and calligraphic qualities, modifying its ascender and descender heights slightly to make it more compact. The letters were spaced in three lines at four different depths, each level with its own x-height so that the letters were perceived as all the same size.
As visitors entered the courtyard, they saw a profusion of white letters of different sizes, placed apparently randomly, on a dark background. This represented the chaos of the universe. As they approached a predetermined point in the space, the sentence could be read correctly. This is the Aleph, the point where everything can be seen in order.
Despite the project’s low budget (50 euros) and humble materials, the Aleph succeeded in creating a unique blending of space, time, and meaning.
“Remarkably simple in construction, but a remarkably rich result.”
“Inventive and simple. Old-fashioned ‘interaction’ where perception changes reality.”