“Vienna is like a big art historical museum.”

Vienna soaked in sun. On the stairs of “Volkstheater” in museum district, I met Erwin also known as Dan Bartensen. He works as a graphic designer and as if somebody had arranged it, right around the corner took place the yearly design market.

Erwin recently worked on the corporate design of one of the cafés offering goodies for the visitors.
Life is good, cake, coffee, sunshine, young and creative people, having eyes for good design, making the world look better. I wondered what separates so called designers from so called artist. Is design only meant for practical life, to shape the world’s appearance? What does it give back to people, maybe in a very subconscious way?

Erwin_Impressionen4_2“Vienna is like a big art historical museum.” somebody of the group nearby said. Old design, if you wanna call it like that, that influences the mood and the atmosphere of the whole city.
On the metro to Erwins apartment I asked him about the design of the Viennese underground maps. “They used Helvetica for it..I think.” and then he quoted Erik Spiekerman “Helvetica like toast. Tastes like nothing, but you can put anything on it.”

“How far can you abstract something and still preserve what it is?”

Typography is what Erwin likes to dedicate to the most. His sketchbook is full of drawings of letters. One letter per page, a dozen versions. “How far can you abstract something and still preserve what it is?” Erwins variations of “m” remind me of Picassos bull. All gathered on one page, obviously belonging together and can be recognized as what they are, but if you remove them from their context..?
With delight I noticed that his sketchbook actually is a calendar. “What could possibly be a better sketchbook than a calendar? You don’t have to be scared of a blank page.”
The sketches and drawings mash up with calendar notes, they tell stories of trips to other cities or respond to things that inspired Erwin.

Erwin_Impressionen2For example a quote from Julia Engelmanns poetry slam performance in 2013. “The sense of life is living.” (For the sake of completeness: Actually it’s a quote from German Indie-Rapper “Casper” and god knows where he got it from…)

As simple and complex as it is in its continuum of meanings, the word “life” became the subject of the day.

Back in Berlin some days ago, I sat down with Alice Evermore who created nine delicate objects. Tiny bottles, labeled with phrases from her text “white matter”. Fragments of memories and thoughts, isolated from their original context, now attached to vessels with mysterious strips of a painting inside.
I showed them to Erwin and asked him what would come to his mind. By doing graphic design he feels more like providing a service than being an artist. So he wasn’t sure how to deal with this very poetic material at first. But very soon Erwin got inspired by the object itself and he decided to design some kind of label for a bottle.

Erwin_Prozess4So if you ever come across a Viennese lemonade called “Lebenselexir”, I was in the room when it was invented. Creating drinks, as I figured, is a waltz for Erwin anyway.
He decided to use black and white, his favorite colors, typographic elements only and the format of a postcard, so I could easily take it with me.
Although he is used to work a lot with the computer, he felt like doing the work completely analogue, for a change.

He prepared the paper for the paint by drawing reference lines on it and outlined the typo.
Carefully he covered half of the paper with black ink and drew the letters on top with a white paint stick.

Erwin told me that he liked using ink and that he got very pleased by technical drawings, such as the architecture-drafts by Alexander Brodsky.
The name “Lebenselexir” was inspired by a book Erwin was about to look for before we met. “Zweite Welten. Und andere Lebenselixiere” (two worlds. and other elixirs.) by Robert Pfaller.
The book analyzes the connection between real life and the world of our dreams, wishes and illusions.

“I’d rather go outside and experience those things myself.”

Erwin_Lebenselixir_2That seemed to be the thing on Erwins mind that day, maybe in general. he told me he had stopped watching things like movies and TV-series some time ago, because he suddenly realized the waste of time that could be used for other things (also known as life!). “I’d rather go outside and experience those things myself.”

Here we’re tripping in-between very complex topics that I could also find in Alice’ work about an android that is trying to define realness.
If memories and illusions are only an elixir, to motivate us to keep going and aim for something…
filled in lemonade-bottles, labeled with Erwins design…
I’d buy it.