Post o-f-f-i-c-e: Annemarie van den Berg and Sun Jung Hwang about digital versus analogue communication
Sun Jung Hwang and Annemarie van den Berg finished their project post o-f-f-i-c-e, which focused on digital versus analogue communication. In this project people were invited to send emails. The artists then created personalized analogue post on paper in reply, such as letters, postcards or packages. The whole collection of the personalized replies was shown at the final viewing in Berlin.“The paper is the medium on which the message travels. No paper, no message.”
What was the goal of the post o-f-f-i-c-e project?
Annemarie: To give a push to the old and nostalgic post, that one used to receive. We were asked to send in a proposal based on the digital and analogue worlds, and how they change. It is obvious that e-mail took over (mostly) analogue mail, which is getting almost extinct. We miss the real post. We think other people might miss it too.
Sun: The goal of our project was to start an analogue communication with people. We both love to write and to receive post. It is very personal and also very special. People do not write anymore these days. Digital communication such as e-mail and social networks replaced the good old mail, the true communication.
How did you “translate” emails from screen to paper?
Annemarie: In order to send mail one needs a person to send it to. As our project was based in Berlin, and we both live and work in Rotterdam, we thought it would be nice to advertise our need for e-mails (to reply). We did not translate emails, we replied to emails through the old-fashioned post services. Sometimes the message send to us was minimal, and we had to take some time to reply to an unknown person who did not reveal much. Other times, the emails were longer and more personal; those were easier to reply to.
Sun: I don’t know if the word “translate” is a right word. We did not try to change something from screen to paper. Surely we put way more effort into writing and making things for everyone instead of just typing some words and hitting the reply button. We tried to write (or make) replies based on the contents of the e-mails. Some people asked questions, some people just wrote small stories, and some just did not know what to write. We tried to answer them all. Of course, it is very personal and subjective. But when you write to someone, it is always very personal.
How did people react when seeing their emails on paper?
Annemarie: The supreme moment lies in receiving mail via post. The doorbell rings, and the package reaches its end destination. The smaller mail slides in the mailbox where it waits for the receiver to see it. We had a final viewing, where visitors could see all of our replies out in the open (before they were send). This is a bit tricky, since mail is more a thing to be shared only by its sender and its receiver, rather than by a public. It seemed that some people who were present at the final viewing compared their reply with others and were somehow disappointed. But I think that if they had received their reply through the real mailbox, they would have felt differently. I must say that I felt excited myself, knowing that our replies were in the air, on the way to their destination. My excited feeling would be perhaps the same as the receiver opening their reply?
Sun: Some were pleased, some were less pleased. Normally you would be the only one looking at your mail, but in this case, the mail was exposed to everyone where you could also see the replies of others. Some people wanted to know why their reply was different from someone else’s. But in general, I think people did not expect to see such a wide variety of replies.
How do you think the message changes depending on the medium it is transmitted through (analogue or digital)?
Sun: The core of the message will not change. The content will always be same. But analogue communication also includes emotional and personal values. It is the paper, the handwriting, the stamp, the envelope, and so on. The tangible side to analogue communication certainly adds more personal and emotional values of true communication. It is real, and it is tangible.
Could you give a few examples of a specific paper and what kind of message it was used for and why?
Annemarie: Our main source of paper was Munken, and they chose to provide us the Munken Pure Paper in 120, 150 and 200 grams.
Sun: In three different gm. One of my favorite reply is the origami shadow. It was the answer to the question regarding the colors of the future. Our answer was ‘Shadow is the new color’. I think it is very poetic and constructive. It creates a shadow when the light hits the surface.
What is the role of paper in conveying a message?
Annemarie: A message on paper is conceived with more focus and concentration. Writing the message is less shared with other activities. A paper message might look small, but takes up more (virtual) space than you would think.
Sun: In my opinion, paper carries messages with sentimental values. It adds emotional values to the message. There are so many choices of paper and they all have very different texture, smell, color, and weights and so on. They give different feeling when you touch them. Together with message, I think it definitely add more emotion to it.
How do you see the future of paper for graphic designers, artists, and the mainstream public?
Annemarie: Paper will always be paper; made from wood, and available to write or draw on, fold or bind or built with. Graphic designers, artists and mainstream public are more subject to change than paper is. Times change, societies adapt to new media. It is up to the user to decide what to do with the paper. If it will be less needed, less trees would need to be cut, would the forest grow?
Sun: It is a very much discussed topic nowadays since many communication media shift to digital media. Less and less printed medium being produced. I find it very positive. An overwhelming part of printed communication is not necessary. Things which waste paper, such as unnecessary direct advertising mail will disappear. It is a good thing that less junk communication will be produced, and it’s also good for environment. Still, I think nothing will replace paper. People still buy books. Reading books on your i-pad is a completely different experience from reading a paper book. What is important for graphic designers is to know when to use what medium for what messages. and to use the resources smarter. My prediction is that the future of paper is very bright. There are still so many possibilities of what you could do with paper. And I really hope I am right.