Invercote: The Black Box Project

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Published:  May 16, 2011
Invercote: The Black Box Project

Studio: Landor Paris, London, New York, Sydney and a global network of designers – landor.com.

Ceci n’est pas un pixel. In the 1930s the Belgian surrealist René Magritte produced a painting of an apple. It was in the same realistic style as a previous work, perhaps his most memorable, a wonderfully graphic rendition of a pipe that looked as though it had come straight from the pages of a tobacco store catalogue. Below the image Magritte scrawled the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” which was Magritte’s surrealist way of pointing out that this was a painting and not a pipe.

In the spring of last year, the Paris office of Landor was approached by Swedish paper manufacturer Iggesund to come up with an idea to launch the company’s new Invercote paperboard. It was in some ways a dream project – a virtually open brief with only a couple of stipulations: that the outcome should, first, exploit the unique properties of the board and, second, fit into a black box measuring 21 by 21 by 21 centimetres. Landor’s senior design director Rob Evers makes the point that working on a project with few constraints isn’t, in fact, that easy and that they rapidly realised they would have to impose their own rules.

By November, Landor had its solution. It was bold and it was certainly big: four pieces of artwork, each measuring almost three metres square. The artworks were to be assembled from 20,000 individual cubes, where each cube was designed as two separate sleeves, giving a total of eight sides from which the final images were to be constructed. Creative director, Jason Little recalls their production manager being a bit “freaked out” by all of this. The four pieces included one that was an homage to Magritte’s apple.

Talking of the evolution of the final concept, Evers notes that today many people believe that pixels have overtaken paper and that this is not necessarily a good thing. This was, he says, one of the reasons why Landor chose to fabricate all of these little boxes – “to create an image made of pixels, not a pixelised image, and in this virtual world [to go] virtually real.”

It is at this point in the explanation that my mind drifts – I have already been worrying about the production process required to manufacture these 20,000 individual cardboard pixels. Were they fabricated in Asia over the six months following Iggesund’s approval of Landor’s initial idea? I am intrigued to learn that this was not the case and that, in fact, the thousands of small boxes were folded, assembled and glued in the space of a weekend by the Landor team with the apparently willing cooperation of students from the ECV (École de Communication Visuelle), one of Paris’ leading design institutions. From my limited exposure to French design students, I have nothing but admiration for Landor’s powers of organisation and persuasion in realising this significant and seemingly tedious task.

The pixels completed, they were then assembled into the four final artworks for display at Les Place d’Or Packaging Fair. At the end of the fair, nearly 5000 individuals around the world received an Iggesund black box containing a unique physical pixel accompanied by a brochure that explained the context and allowed the recipients to appreciate Invercote’s print potential. The four large artworks are travelling to London mid-year and it is intended that other international venues will follow.

Whether all of this Herculean effort is fully justified in the final outcome is debatable, but it’s certainly an impressive project – both physically and mathematically.

Whether all of this Herculean effort is fully justified in the final outcome is debatable, but it’s certainly an impressive project – both physically and mathematically. I’m told that the students actually learned a lot and that everyone enjoyed “stretching the boundaries and promoting paperboard in the face of the digital revolution.” Landor makes the point that “digital is not as rich as analogue” and that the tactile pleasures of paper will always have a special appeal and stimulate unique emotional responses. I think their huge enthusiasm for this project demonstrates this. I suspect that Magritte would have felt obliged to comment, “Ceci n’est pas un pixel” – it’s actually a clever little cube made from a piece of Invercote’s splendid new paperboard.

iggesund.com

From desktop magazine.

All images copyright Landor and Iggesund.

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