12 Mar Featured: Tuscani Cardoso | Designing The Impossible
It’s not easy to define Tuscani Cardoso – is she a graphic designer or an artist – but does this actually matter? No. In fact, Tuscani enjoys and embraces the ambiguity that exists between these definitions and disciplines, and her work is firmly positioned in this grey area. With an academic and practical background, Tuscani’s approach to design (let’s call her work that) is informed by questions of knowledge representation and meaning-making, and the failure thereof. Through signs and texts, her work engages with and disrupts notions of ‘reading’ and ‘understanding’. We spoke with Tuscani to find out more about her work and thinking.
Please tell us about the different things that you have studied, and how each of these has added to where you find yourself and your work now.
From 2009 I did a BA degree in Creative Brand Communications, specialising in graphic design and art direction at Vega in Johannesburg. That’s when my passion for typography and editorial design really developed. Thereafter, in 2012, I moved to Cape Town to do a postgraduate year in Fine Art at Michaelis, UCT, where I specialised in New Media. I was still playing with basic and minimalistic elements of design but began to think about my work a lot more in terms of their physicality. That year is what led to me completing my Masters in Visual Art (which is Fine Art but is inclusive of Graphic Design practice and theory) in 2014 at Stellenbosch University. I wanted to continue to expand on what I had learnt in design and specifically to return to exploring the various aspects of editorial design that I loved so much, so my focus for the Masters was in the field of artist books.
When you were little, what did you imagine yourself growing up to be?
I actually wanted to be a veterinarian or a conservationist because I love animals so much. My dream then was to have my own wildlife documentary series, like a Jane Goodall or David Attenborough, but as I grew up I realised that I was decisively a city girl and that design could be a more suitable way for me to get involved in matters that are important to me, environmental or otherwise.
Please tell us about your interest in the space between design and art, and how your work fits into this space.
My goal, really, is to continuously experiment in that space between the two fields, to always attempt to integrate the two. I’ll explore typography but then think about how it could be integrated into the gallery space, I create artist books, which ties in with editorial, layout design and then the actual relationship between art and design is often the thematic subject of my work. So naturally, my art works are influenced by what is going on in the graphic design world, but it’s also a stance I deliberately took in my thesis. It is a big part of my thinking, because I see that it’s an important thing that they both influence each other.
In what ways do you think that these two fields relate to and influence each other, or could do so?
An obvious example could be that designers consistently need to be made aware of the critical, ethical implications that their work has in changing what our commercial landscape looks like. Whereas artists on the other hand (and in my opinion) may be well accustomed to conceptual reflection but could work on making art more accessible. They are undoubtedly very different fields if you consider each as a career path, but their history is so entwined, with many great artists previously working as designers and vice versa. This relationship of learning from each other is very important. There’re also a lot of problematic tropes out there about what each profession entails and the tension felt between practitioners of the two is very interesting to observe.
I will say that I think, especially in this country, graphic design is undervalued with too many designers having to apply their expertise, as Ken Garland wrote, to “selling dog biscuits” rather than to very important social and political projects that are in need of it. Whose fault this is I can’t say but this is something worth mentioning. It’s a profession with a rich cultural history and it deserves that respect.
What have been some of the main influences that have inspired you thus far and played a part in you shaping and developing your aesthetic?
Every day I absorb, looking at other artists and designers online or in books. I take inspiration from what other people are doing in the creative industry and that could include the fashion or film industry. Also, more and more, the internet is becoming a big source of inspiration to me or even just aspects of the digital aesthetic. The internet and social networks on it have become such an integrated part of our society today and art should never be removed from life. There is so much to draw from and to talk about. People have a shorter attention span, they can access thousands of websites bursting with information and images at any given time: they make mental connections very quickly.
Please tell us about your interest in text and signs and how they function in your visual language.
Well the terms themselves are very loaded. The terms ‘text’ and ‘sign’ and ‘language’ and ‘visual language’ and the different ways that we have come to talk about art and think about art was one of the key things I explored in my research. There are so many different arguments surrounding whether one should even talk about visual art in these terms. My interest is in artist books, which stemmed from my love for editorial design so my starting point was exploring everything in and around the idea of a book.
Conceptual questions I concerned myself with were to do with how we have or how do we present knowledge, and can we? What stories do we tell (narratives or non-narratives within an art work)? And very importantly, is finding meaning in an artwork important (i.e. being able to ‘read’ a work)? Do artworks necessarily have to mean or represent at all?
Your Master’s show engages with the Rhizome theory. Can you tell us more about this idea, and how you’ve explored it in your work?
This is what my argument was based on after asking the questions I just mentioned. It’s a theory by these French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari and it’s based on the idea of a root structure (called a Rhizome) that grows in all directions, is non-linear, a-centered, has off-shoots and makes connections at random points – similar to the way that one’s brain neurons work across synapses. As a metaphor, this idea is all about thinking things through their complexity. It’s an approach or a way of thinking where any situation, any object, including art-objects, should never be viewed in isolation but always in how they relate to other objects, social situations, stories, feelings of the viewer, experiences of the artist, whatever it is…
So art/design is always sort of suspended in this complex space and should always be approached as such. Again, that’s why the internet is a such big source of inspiration for me. It is essentially a Rhizome, full of different connections that can be made at any given point and time. This web-thinking is very relevant at the present moment and for how people are thinking. Making work that is sometimes abstract and other times very recognizable, works that interact with space as well as ones that don’t, work that connects to various signs, meanings, non-meanings etc. is also not just a free-for-all, nonsensical approach but it’s argued to actually be a more ethical one because it positions the artist or the designer as one that never claims to know what is right and wrong or what is the best story to tell. It’s about humility.
The minute you tell one story or decide you know something in your work, this is when it can become dangerous because you can perpetuate problematic social constructions or stereotypes that we already have. One must always push to make new connections, to move away from tradition or the stories we have been told and are told time and time again. For a graphic designer, these questions might be even more pertinent. This rhizomatic kind of thinking is really what drives how I make and approach work now and what my work is about in a nutshell. It gives me a lot of freedom, because I’ve learnt the importance of being able to really experiment, play with type, make books, sometimes paint, work off the archive and so forth.
You’ve mentioned that your work has a latent feminist sub-text; please tell us more about this.
Well, if rhizomatic thought observes things in their entirety, as complex, then what is counter to this is a very narrow, hierarchal kind of thought that orders things in terms of binaries i.e. man/woman, us/them. Feminism is about gender equality. As Emma Watson recently put it to the UN, “It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals”. In my own work I’ve attempted to express my own experiences as a woman. I have a book where I just quoted things that people have said to me which I felt came out of gender inequality. I have a series of prints and an accompanying book about beauty queens and changing social politics, which can be observed in their speeches. I think it’s just important that people are reminded to think about these things and talk about these things and if women can express things in terms of their own experience and can tell their stories, through design or art or in any way, then we are moving in a positive direction. This is the power of art and design.
What’s something someone might be surprised to find out about you?
I secretly love reggae (but maybe everybody does?), I dabble in orchid growing and I’m not Italian.
What are you currently working on/coming up in the near future?
I am exhibiting some of my work as part of a group show in March at the Kalk Bay Modern and am otherwise looking to find work this year in the art department of a magazine or publishing house, doing design or art direction. I want to return to graphic design but stay within the editorial world.