The Art Is Back campaign for the reopening of the Hamburger Kunsthalle art museum in 2016
A conceptual artist and designer, Peter Zizka is one-third of visual communication agency Heine/Lenz/Zizka based in Berlin and Frankfurt. Founded in 1989, H/L/Z has been creating crisp brand identities driven by the team’s sympathetic understanding of the global design landscape and their love for communication and non-conformism. Working across branding, publications, advertisement campaigns and architecture, they are known for their hawk-eyed attention to detail.
Their celebrated The Art Is Back campaign for the launch of the re-designed Hamburger Kunsthalle art museum showed a measured use of words and graphics, and underscored a focal belief that runs through their work - to design as little as possible. Works like building the identity for The Impossible Project - an endeavour that was able to stop the last Polaroid film factory from being dismantled - hints at H/L/Z’s fascination with the bygone, without losing their sight on the promise of the future.
Peter Zizka navigates through the world of art and design with sharp dexterity. Ahead of his talk at Design Fabric Festival, he shares his journey of growing up in a terrace house community in Germany and breaking conventions creatively.
What are you most looking forward to about your trip to India and being a part of Design Fabric Festival?
Even though I’ve been travelling a lot, I’ve never been to India before. I’m expecting nothing less than an overwhelming experience. I don’t mean just a flirtation with Indian culture, I am in fact curious about the Indian way of life. The variety of signs and pictorial worlds that follow a different strategy than we are used to here in our German cosmos driven by rationalism and efficiency makes it even more interesting. I am looking forward to broaden my horizon at the Design Fabric Festival while being able to share my creative thoughts and intentions.
What sparked your interest in graphic design and visual communication?
Creativity to me means that I can at least partially break out of the conventions set by society. In the case of graphic design and communication, it’s all about the ergonomics of understanding. The inherent mixture of aesthetics, ergonomics, technology and emotions is highly socially relevant and therefore political. These are essential elements of my everyday life, which led me early on to become a creative human being in a de facto and idealistic way.
Growing up in Germany, how did the culture and life around you filter into your work?
Looking back at my childhood, I grew up in a terrace house community and even though Germany might seem like paradise when it comes to functionality, there are also some side effects. Almost everything is regulated and rationalized, which also makes our society inevitably sceptical about pleasures and prudish at the same time. In some way, this is a part of my personality too. I admire Dieter Rams and his ‘less but better’ thesis; of course I own a beautiful old-timer and I appreciate classy cars, in the same way I like the creative idea of Ottl Aicher, who has established a scaled grid pattern-based typography. And speaking of that terrace house community, for me, my studies offer a welcome occasion to get out of my conventional surrounding – even through this field elicited incredulous head shaking.
Heine/Lenz/Zizka designed the communication media for The Happy Show by Stefan Sagmeister, curated by Peter Zizka
At Heine/Lenz/Zizka, your work across branding, architecture, publications and advertisement campaigns. Does having a cross-disciplinary outlook help in this line of work?
Of course, within the framework of my profession, it’s a gift to learn something new everyday and to get engaged with a particular issue. Facing challenges like: How do you deal with the construction of a door handle, bicycle pump, camera or a car? How do you handle waste disposal? How do you collect rainwater? Honestly, what kind of job combines all of these questions? Everyday, many people use all of these things unconsciously as if they’ve come from nowhere.
For me, it’s great that I can reconnect to a story but tell a story too. For almost 30 years, this ongoing design-related discourse with business partners, team members and clients is an additional benefit. In order to develop good ideas and concepts, I’ve learnt to handle this very unique sociotope with constant care.
You were initially trained as an art restorer. How does your practice as a conceptual artist and designer inform each other?
As strange as it might sound, when I was working as a restorer, I was standing on top of coffins surrounded by a crypt uncovering mural paintings from the 13th century. Given this situation, you subordinate yourself with tremendous respect to the work of another artist or designer and you begin a contemplative craftsmanship. If you ask me about the synergy between concept art and design, these are two disciplines with many points of contact. On one hand, it’s helpful to be aware of the different production and communication contexts to understand the so-called common concept of the world – that’s how you stay down-to-earth. That’s where designers like Dieter Rams, Massimo Vignelli or Paula Sher are positioned. On the other hand, when you zoom in on concept art, the creator’s degree of discretion and their autonomy towards normality expands, so that these things sometimes appear bizarre and crazy. These positions in particular open up a new perspective to your own value system. That’s the home of Lawrence Weiner, Barbara Kruger as well as Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons. At times, I get the feeling I’m oscillating in this no man’s land between these two positions and that gives me the possibility to discover something new every day.
The Virtual Minefield by Peter Zizka is a floor-based art installation that draws attention to the threat of land mines in many countries across the world
Could you deconstruct your creative process? How do you immerse into a new project?
My first approach to my projects starts with analysing problems on a formal, content-related and social perspective, during which I depend on interaction with others. Without this kind of essential preliminary work, I would be touched by doubts and insecurity. Hence, I sketch a kind of schema targeting on communicative circular flow, which encourages social processes that are also productive content wise. The formal design is the cherry on the cake.
What is the one piece of advice you have for young designers?
If you want to become someone with relevance in the world of design, you have to support others to make this dream come true. Be aware of the global design history with all its complex spectrum and social role. On these grounds, be a part of the community and don’t believe unconditionally in the illusion of a genius.
What are you currently working on? What does 2018 hold for you?
This year I’m working on a book – I call it a kind of ‘multigraph’ and it’s entitled EGOKOLLEKTIV. For this project, I invited a variety of designers, artists, some architects and scientists, whose work I admire. I’m happy that the book will be published in occasion of the book fair in Frankfurt/Main. This publication reveals a great collection of stories and combines funny and thoughtful moments at the same time. By the way, Anthony Burrill and Christoph Niemann are also contributing. Furthermore, we’re in the final phase of a new Stefan Sagmeister exhibition I’ve curated for the Museum of Applied Art coming up next year in Frankfurt/Main. Stefan also takes steps to foster such a debate for more beauty and less rationality in our lives.
Peter Zizka will be speaking at the Design Fabric Festival on 31st March.