Oded Ezer discusses the future of typography and the importance of dreaming

Freya Hutchings
November 29th 2019

Oded Ezer is a typographer from Israel who never fails to push boundaries, or rather, discard them altogether. Ezer is a rebellious force that swings between commercial and experimental work, often blurring the two realms.

His meaningful yet functional commercial type is always accompanied by an unexpected twist, and his experimental work dives unapologetically into intimate and obscure areas of life, combining developments in scientific and medical fields with the universal medium of type in provocative ways.

In our view, Ezer has truly earned the title of “mad type scientist”, and his oeuvre exists as a “typographic wonderland” where literally anything goes.

Ezer invites us to dream about an alternative future for type - one where text is not confined to a two dimensional existence, viewed merely as an external record of human culture. Instead, he imagines type as an integrated part of ourselves and the living systems that surround us. His typographic transgressions cleverly fuse letters to animate, changeable and embodied systems in ways that give words a whole new communicative power.

Ezer’s latest project, Veining (2019), is a continuation of his never-ending quest to bring type to places it has never been before. He presents us with a future in which self expression meets biology; where words can be surgically implanted under our skin and connected to our veins. Giving the internal workings of the body a new visibility, Ezer further imagines that a fluorescent liquid can be injected into the text-vein hybrid, taking this speculative re-imagining of body modification to the next level.

Time for a chat.

Oded Ezer, Veining (2019)
Oded Ezer, Veining (2019)

Your work often incorporates or imagines developments in biotechnology. Why do you feel a responsibility to explore these future possibilities?

I think that I have a responsibility towards the past, I am only one part of a long chain. Yet I also have a responsibility to the future of typography as a changing field. I feel maybe I can contribute something to this change. Even if my ideas are not realistic sometimes, they add to the discourse that surrounds developments in typography and technology.

"Every step in cultural change started with someone dreaming."

These works add some kind of reason to start a conversation about the future - the future of the field, and the future of our culture. Because typography is just the tip of the iceberg that is culture.

In the same way everyone has a responsibility to their culture, type is so universal that every contribution to the development of the field is also a contribution to the development of our culture. Typography is so fundamental for communicating, and an important brick in our future as human beings. The danger of what I’m doing is that somebody might think it is too far fetched. Someone can say you’re just dreaming - and I’m ok with that. Because every step in cultural change started with someone dreaming.

Oded Ezer, Veining (2019)

Let’s focus on your new project, Veining. How did it begin?

It started as another attempt to try to find new ways of working with type. My basic approach is to understand that the role of type is changing. People are reading less and less. They feel better with videos and visuals more and more. It is similar to the times where humans heard stories, and didn’t read them.

I’m naturally thinking, ok, so how would typography evolve now? That was my starting point: to find new ways of expressing, using and living with type. I had to think, what is the next step that will unite visual and typographic representation? We are living in a time where there has been a dramatic change in the role of type and written words. 

Do you see this change in the role of type as positive?

Conservative people might dislike this change. For some it is a loss. But you look at it afresh, as a possibility of change and redefinition, then it’s like a playground. It’s a good opportunity to play, think, imagine and invent. To contribute your angle. I think the next generation will have absolutely no problem with these kinds of body modifications. It is just a matter of perception, and norms are changing rapidly.

"The next generation will have absolutely no problem with these kinds of body modifications"

Oded Ezer, Veining (2019)

How would integrating type into the body, as Veining proposes, make us view our bodies differently?

My suggestion is that we will relate to our bodies as a kind of screen, or interface. We can treat our bodies as a format to deliver messages, a tool. Instead of something that is just receiving data, we might use our bodies in ways that actually project data. We already have similar ideas, like using the skin as an interface. But what I'm suggesting is maybe the start of treating the whole three dimensional body as an interface.

"What I'm suggesting is maybe the start of treating the whole three dimensional body as an interface."

In the next phase we may go even deeper. We have so many possibilities and spaces to use under the skin - our muscles and inner organs. This may be a first step in going deeper into the body and treating it as a tool for communication data. It was so important for me that the type would be part of the body, not an additional element - a data communicating element that is part of the happenings of the body. 

For Typo-Plastic Surgeries (2006), Ezer imagined type as part of the human body - a seamless extension of his skin. This typographic fiction succeeds in re-imagining our connections with type, and experiments with the body as a communicator through a subversive hybridization of biology and text.
Oded Ezer, Typo-Plastic Surgeries (2006)

Did you incorporate medical and scientific knowledge into the design process of Veining? 

Usually I do, in the case of Veining I consulted medical surgeons. But I must confess, this is slightly less important to me right now. Because if you really think about veining in terms of practicality, you would learn that at the moment it would be very dangerous to do it. Whether it’s possible is not really the question. What is more important is the concept and the idea that something like this might work in the future. If I am caught up on thinking what is possible, it will stop me from thinking about typography. The idea is much more important than the practicality. 

"Whether it’s possible is not really the question"

In some cases people really want to know how it is possible. A number of people have asked me, why doesn’t the fluorescent liquid travel outside of the word after being injected into the blood? I imagine there would be some kind of gate or barrier within the vein, at the start and end of the word. This would allow the blood to travel through but stop the fluorescent liquid from seeping out. For instance, I know this kind of thing really is being developed by scientists. 

For Biotypography (2005-2006), Ezer morphed ants, rats and sperm cells into transgenic letter-organism hybrids through an imagined biotechnological intervention in their DNA. Here, type becomes a tangible shape-shifter between biology and culture, static and living, organic and technological.
Oded Ezer, Biotypography (2005-2006)

Would you like to be in closer communication with scientific and medical worlds?

I would love to do that. I just haven’t had the chance yet. I would love to have scientists contacting me with the start of an idea, asking to collaborate. I live in a country where there are groundbreaking scientists - Israel is famous for its innovative work. But somehow it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe my work is too artsy for scientists?

"It’s a good thing to consider because scientists often think like artists"

Given the opportunity, I would jump on it! It’s a good thing to consider because scientists often think like artists. I remember when Paolla Antonelli showed Typosperma at MoMA in 2008, she was so happy to find another project by a scientist that talked about some of the same things - but from a completely different angle. 

Oded Ezer, Typosperma (2006-2007)

Is your forward thinking approach something that is intuitive to you? 

I think intuition is a big part of it. Intuition is one of the most important things for going to the next level. But if you have no knowledge behind your intuition, your ideas will never go as deep as they can go. I think that my more academic and artistic knowledge is such a deep and great source for inspiration.

If you have it you can play with that in endless combinations. But if I want to move forward and create something about the future, I have to make the jump. The jump involves taking what I know and combining it with aspects that are new. And to not be afraid of going places where other people haven’t gone yet. I’ve never had this kind of fear - my only fear is to stop creating or to stop thinking. I’m not afraid to look ridiculous, I just want to go further.

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