In our daily lives we are surrounded by multiple forms of visual communication. Everywhere we go we encounter the work of graphic designers; from corn flakes boxes, tax forms, newspapers and road signs to books, advertisements, company logos and web designs. All this graphic design work involves a search for visual forms through which to express messages, information and ideas. The result of that search will fashion the appearance of things but in doing so the work of the designer penetrates much deeper than the surface. Every choice of image, every selection of words, every graphic combination, every visual solution, becomes a way of saying something, a visual narrative that becomes part of our social dialogue, making the nature of what is expressed in public communication a concern for us all.

It is this visual narrative, its ingredients and the graphic environment it constructs that Idioms sets out to explore in closer detail by examining both what is communicated and the way it is communicated; how visual forms and languages are created and used. In addition, whilst encouraging critical reflection, Idioms is also concerned to celebrate the richness of this visual world, and by placing that which is familiar to us in a different context, aims to refresh the vision of the visitor to the exhibition and to renew their perceptions.


Cathedrals of consumption
The location for the exhibitions is unusual – the Silo-Espaço Cultural is a gallery space in a large shopping centre. This in itself creates a particular challenge – that of interrupting and diverting, if only momentarily, the normal routines of shopping, eating and going to the cinema. Added to this is that despite the thriving and growing design community in Porto, indeed in Portugal, there are virtually no designated design venues in the country, and exhibitions that focus on graphic design are few and far between. With this mixed context in mind the Idioms series attempts to accommodate two different types of audience: on the one hand some of the thousands of visitors that the centre attracts every day, many of whom are unlikely to visit museums and galleries of art with any frequency, if at all, and on the other, a specialised audience of designers and students whose interest and enthusiasm is already active.

Whilst the primary function and purpose of the centre is shopping, it is not exclusively so. Such centres have become places for people to gather, to be where others are, to window-shop and generally pass the time of day. The environment in which this is done is a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling mosaic of visual information and decoration. In the modern shopping centre there is no place or space which is not filled with colour and texture and signage. We experience a veritable cathedral of graphic intervention.

It is precisely the nature of this context that guided the nature of the series. And although the themes of the exhibitions are not directed at what we find solely in shopping centres, the omnipresence of graphic design in such places provides the perfect setting to explore some of the many aspects of the manufactured visual culture that frames our day-to-day lives, and enables us to take a ‘behind the scenes’ view of the designer’s skills, tools and methods.
Andrew Howard (curator/designer of the Idioms series)
 
The Silo-Espaço Cultural is the first space dedicated to cultural activities to be integrated in a commercial shopping centre in Portugal. The space itself, located within NorteShopping – a Commercial centre of 73,000 square metres containing 286 shops – was designed by the internationally reknown Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto Moura. The Silo programme of exhibitions is directed, through a protocol established by the centre, by two of Porto’s most prestigious cultural institutions, the Serralves Foundation and the Portuguese Centre for Photography.
 
The Serralves Foundation is a European cultural institution serving the national community, whose mission is to raise the general public’s awareness concerning contemporary art and the environment. The Foundation pursues its mission via the Museum of Contemporary Art as a multi-disciplinary centre, the Park as a natural heritage site ideally suited for environmental education and entertainment activities and the Auditorium as a centre for reflection and debate on issues facing contemporary society.
 
 
 
© STUDIO ANDREW HOWARD, 2008    DEVELOMENT WEBPRODZ