Chris Lee: Immutable—Mutant Notations

Left to right: (1) The first Dutch banknote, securitized using typography originally intended for setting music; (2) The first known paper money from China; (3) An example of American colonial currency. Image by Chris Lee.

Immutable—Mutant Notations is an exhibition about graphic design and power. It stems from a research project by graphic designer and educator Chris Lee on the history of currency and typography. For this exhibition, he transforms our gallery space into a kind of exploded book. “When you take pictures of these walls,” he suggests, “they become page layouts for a mutant publication about the history of graphic design.”

Using media ranging from clay tablets to 3D-printed objects to print, sound, and video, he assembles an extensive collection of artifacts and research notes into a multi-layered installation that presents an alternative history of graphic design. In this telling, it includes things like rulers, weights, banknotes, musical scores, and land maps, references that span over 5000 years of history.

What these things have in common is a relationship with power that imbues them with a special charge. They are designed to create historical certainty, to resist ambiguity, disagreement, and dispute—to become immutable, unchanging over time. And yet, we may learn to look at them in new ways.

The exhibition includes contributions by Carl Spartz, Colin Tucker, Leo Grant, Xuanao Zhang, and Mirabo Press (Mizin Shin, Rachel Shelton, Bob Fleming).

About the artist

Chris Lee is a graphic designer and educator based in Buffalo and Toronto. He is a graduate of OCADU (Toronto) and the Sandberg Instituut (Amsterdam), and has worked for The Walrus magazine, Metahaven, and Bruce Mau Design. He was also the designer and an editorial board member of the journal Scapegoat: Architecture/Landscape/Political Economy. His research explores graphic design’s entanglement with power, standards, and legitimacy. Chris is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Art at the University at Buffalo.

Special thanks: Maiko Tanaka, Jordan Geiger, Sophia Yung, Steven Chodoriwsky, Femke Herregraven, Ramiro Espinoza, Dominic Licata, Jeff Sherven, Chris Siano, Gareth Lichty, Eric Simpson.