Opening Freiburg
From May 6 to September 12, 2021 the exhibition can be seen at the Museum für Neue Kunst, Freiburg.

Designers and Artists
Otl Aicher, Moritz Appich / Jonas Grünwald / Bruno Jacoby, Gerd Arntz, Johannes Bergerhausen / Ilka Helmig, Karsten de Riese, Antje Ehmann / Harun Farocki, Juli Gudehus, Pati Hill, Timothée Ingen-Housz, Shigetaka Kurita, Warja Lavater, Marie Neurath, Otto Neurath, Yukio Ota, Hinrich Sachs, Wolfgang Schmidt, Lilian Stolk, Edgar Walthert

Maxim Weirich, Michaela Stoffels, Anja Dorn, Isabel Herda

Pictograms, Signs of Life, Emojis: The Society of Signs

Every day, billions of emojis are messaged via mobile phones, tablets and sundry digital devices. After their introduction in the late 1990s, emojis became a global mass communication phenomenon from 2010 onwards. They have permanently changed our everyday interaction with pictograms, i.e. information conveyed via a system of images. Today, well over 3,000 standardised emojis are ever-present in private conversations and on social media platforms. They reflect the longing for emotional expression in a highly functional, globalised world. From today’s perspective, popular emojis and their history raise exciting questions, which this exhibition explores.

The exhibition is structured into three parts, which we will briefly introduce here. Clicking on the pictures will take you to the more detailed chapters.

  • Sektion eine virtuelle Weltsprache
  • Ausstellungseröffnung
  • Part of the exhibition with focus on the Social and Economic Museum of Vienna, at the times of “Red Vienna”.

A visual world language

In 1925 during the reign of „Red Vienna“, the national economist Otto Neurath founded the Vienna Museum for Social and Economic Affairs. The intention was to communicate scientific data and facts about the populace in a way that would also not exclude the illiterate. Otto Neurath, Marie Neurath, the artist Gerd Arntz and their team developed a so called “picture education” for this purpose – the Vienna Method of Pictorial Statistics. Their designs reflect the dynamic range inherent in the project ranging from the goal of scientific objectivity on the one hand to free, artistic expression on the other.

This dual approach becomes particularly apparent when compared to Otl Aicher’s work. His graphic system for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich was based on maximum functionality. Artists such as Warja Lavater, Pati Hill and Wolfgang Schmidt reacted in turn to Otl Aicher’s work with their eminently personal counter-designs. Informing each of these approaches is a certain idea of what a progressive society should look like.

In the chapter A visual world language you will find more information about this.

  • A selection of pictograms by Otl Aicher for the Olympic games in Muich.
  • Proposal for a Universal Language of Symbols by Pati Hill, Yellow A4 paper with typewriter and hand drawn symbols.
  • Installation views focussing on Wolfgang Schmidt.
  • Installation views at Leopold-Hoesch-Museum Düren

Realignment of Signs

With contributions from:
Otl Aicher, Antje Ehmann / Harun Farocki, Pati Hill, Warja Lavater, Yukio Ota, Wolfgang Schmidt

The second part of the exhibition explores the development and reorientation of signs, starting with an artistic work of Harun Farocki and the infamous pictograms by Otl Aicher for the Summer Olympics Munich in 1972. These infographics and pictograms communicate without written language, a more radical attempt is to fully replace written language with an image language. The LoCoS language by Yukio Ota is easy to learn and has the goal to bridge global communication, while the artistic work of Pati Hill, Proposal for a Universal Language of Symbols, is inspired by pictographs invented by her bilingual daughter who, as a child, struggled with the grammar of English and French. Warja Lavater transformed fairy tales into symbolic landscapes and Wolfgang Schmidt’s Signs of Life anchor the exhibition with a gigantic figure looking over the scene.

Read more about the Realignment of Signs in this chapter.

  • Installation views with DOCOMO Emoji designe by DOCOMO, Shigetaka Kurita, a.o. 1999
  • Folder with preliminary studies to Genesis by Juli Gudehus.
  • Installation view from the Open Emoji Research, foreground table with works by Ilka Helmig and Johannes Bergerhausen, background DOCOMO Emoji by Shigetaka Kurita.
  • Installation view with table with works by Ilka Helmig and Johannes Bergerhausen.
  • Installation view from the Open Emoji Research.

The Open Emoji Research

With contributions from:
Moritz Appich, Johannes Bergerhausen, Jonas Grünwald, Juli Gudehus, Ilka Helmig, Bruno Jacoby, Lilian Stolk, Edgar Walthert

A third section of the exhibition contains different research and artistic positions including the Genesis of Juli Gudehus and Timothée Ingen-Housz’ Elephant’s Memory. This Open Emoji Research is separated from the rest of the exhibition by DOCOMO’s basic set of Emoji designed by Shigetaka Kurita and others in 1999 and is reflected with a voting booth for Lilian Stolk’s Emoji Voter. Ilka Helmig and Johannes Bergerhausen present a rich table of their own works and some highlights of their collection. Edgar Walthert compiled a “memory” of symbol fonts, pictograms and icon systems, that invites visitors to play and build sentences with. Next to this are two folders which include his comparative symbol research. In an extra room, the visitor is invited to take a seat inside the palm of a gigantic yellow hand and play around with the Signs of Life by Wolfgang Schmidt. This multimedia installation is created by the artists collective Gruppo Due, consisting of Mortiz Appich, Jonas Grünwald, and Bruno Jacoby.

More in detail at the Open Emoji Research.

Exhibition poster with eye from Wolfgang Schmidt’s Signs of Life, poster designed by Eva-Maria Offermann.

Press releases and images

Here you can find the official press release for the exhibition. For high resolution images and more information, please contact Helen Wobbe from the Leopold-Hoesch-Museum or Tabea Krauss from the Museum für Neue Kunst, Freiburg.

All images published on this website may not be copied or published without an agreement with the museum or the respective authors.

Photographs of the exhibition and its visitors were taken by Peter Hinschläger.

Installation shots of the show in Freiburg are made by Bernhard Strauss.

Exhibition poster with heart taken from Yukio Ota’s LoCoS, poster designed by Eva-Maria Offermann.

Graphic design und Typography

The posters, exhibition panels and catalogue were designed by Eva-Maria Offermann. The poster motifs use pictographic characters by Wolfgang Schmidt, Yukio Ota, Gerd Arntz and Lilian Stolk. The font used on the posters and in the exhibition is the PX Grotesk from the Swiss foundry Optimo.

The font IBM Plex, designed by Mike Abbink and Bold Monday for IBM, was used for the website. It was developed as a new corporate typeface and has been made available free of charge by the company.

Poster zur Ausstellung mit Sprechblase von Lilian Stolk’s Emoji Voter, gestaltet druch Eva-Maria Offermann.

Online exhibition and website

This website was made possible through the voluntary work of Maxim Weirich and Edgar Walthert under permission of the Leopold-Hoesch-Museum Düren and the support of the Museum für Neue Kunst, Freiburg.

More information about the website and the Society of Signs can be found in the Impressum.