Mouselephant is a project by Vincenzo Fagnani, Berlin based graphic designer. More than a design studio, Mouselephant is a way of interpreting visual communication, which aspires to bring graphic design to the streets to fuel discussions on our society. It is the idea of using graphic design as a tool for an independent, spontaneous and active communication. Vincenzo’s work have been selected for several poster festivals including Mut zur Wut, 100 Beste Plakate des Jahres, Good 50x70, Muip Poster Biennial, Socio-Political Poster Biennale, Islamic Poster Biennial and Chaumont Poster Festival.
For those that don’t know Vincenzo and the Mouselephant project, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
I was born and raised in Caserta, Italy. After studying visual communication for three years in Milan, I moved to Munich in 2007 to start working as a graphic designer. I’m been living in Berlin since 2010, working as a freelancer and focusing on the development of visual identities, posters and record covers. At the same time, I was constantly working on self-commissioned projects, as well as participating in exhibitions, design festivals and poster competitions. I founded Mouselephant, with the intention of interpreting visual communication more than a traditional design studio. It is the idea of using graphic design as a tool for an active communication, spreading messages through different media. Mostly posters but also illustrations, self published books or by using web platforms.
Describe your path to becoming a designer? Were you surrounded by art and design when you were younger? Was it something you picked up from your family, or did it just mature naturally?
My parents have always been politically active since they were young. Even though I didn’t grow up around artists, I always felt attracted by art at different layers, and I started imitating political cartoons from newspapers at the age of 7. In my birthplace design culture was completely absent, so first time I faced design intended in its fullness was at the age of 19 when I moved to Milan. And with it came my first exposure to computer and the digital world.
“To me, creation means participation. I see our society as an infinite source of ideas and every project as an unique chance to shape them.”
What do you feel are your label’s main principles and ideals? And in what way has that translated into your work, the way you operate?
People usually say that my work is provocative, but I really don’t think it is. For me, to be provocative means to make something in order to irritate someone else. Sometimes it even means that you’re forcing a message to cause a strong effect. Provocation leads to sensationalism; something which I don’t do. Rather, my work is simply based on the analysis of historical facts. I would like to think that in many ways I’m extremely rational.
Why do you feel the desire / need to create?
To me, creation means participation. I see our society as an infinite source of ideas and every project as an unique chance to shape them. And I would love to, through my work, capture the attention of the broader public, especially those who are not involved in arts. That is often the basis of my inspiration.
What for you really defines your label and why do you feel your customer opts to buy the products you make?
Usually, my creations begin their form when I’m self-critical. It’s a constant, evolving process, where the cut-off with the past generates new scenarios and possibilities. This reflection is often depicted through visual oxymorons, and this contrast normally causes a perplexed hilarity in people looking at my work. Based on this, I think that people are attracted by what I do because there is accuracy in the realization, and a deeper reflection behind.
Oxymoron represents the graphic summary of the contrast between luxury and austerity. It is inspired to the EU economical strategy: face crisis forcing the governments to adopt an austere internal politic.
What does your creations say about you? How does it represent / reflect your personality and thoughts as a creator?
Curiosity, interest for historical facts, and a willingness and desire to communicate. I believe that these features are my fundamental qualities, and it is what I try to bring out in my work.
“Propaganda and advertising mostly appeal to our primordial needs and moral codes, and I think it’s more constructive to put those rules up for discussion by generating visual paradoxes.”
You have produced an exclusive collaboration with Loppist. Tell us about it and what you were trying to achieve with this collaboration? What was it about this theme that inspired or specifically appealed to you?
The title of the posters series I have designed for Loppist is “TOY”. The series has born in order to create at least 3 posters able to resume, through very recognizable subjects, how our life’s perception is altered by the existing economical and productive model. The goal of this collaboration is to create, at the same time, a product which is exclusive and far-reaching.”
Black and white, good and bad, rich and poor. Blue-red, spying eyes and bricks are all the elements used to emphasise an historical period made of blocks. "Who was the enemy?"
What message, if any, do you try to put into your work?
What matters to me most is to stress the importance of graphics through a spontaneous, critical and constructive communication. Thousands of years ago, humans started documenting their experiences by using graphic language, and I like the idea of being part of this process as a participating designer. There are a few words which are particularly important for me, and one of those is "polemic". The term is derived from Greek polemikos, meaning "warlike". Although we usually assign a bad meaning to this word, I see polemic also as the fulcrum point of productive dialogues. And what we call human development comes exactly from their resolution. Here’s why it’s so important for me to fuel new discussions through symbols: design is a constructive process, it’s not a self-referential discipline.
Take us through the journey you undergo to create your work.
I’m generally impulsive, which means that I don’t really have a modus operandi. I’m obsessed about details which means that the creation of a single piece of work can take several weeks, or longer. I invest a lot of time researching, choosing subjects, getting ideas by observing the environment around me, and through talking to people. My inspiration stems from simple daily experiences, and I always write my ideas down before I start sketching. By the time I’m in front of the screen, I already have a clear line of thought and the direction in which to take the idea. When designing, I try to isolate the subject as much as possible from its context. Aesthetics is extremely important but I try to not let it interfere with the message. In my creations you hardly ever have more than two formal layers, and those layers are both contrasting and enforcing each other at once.
Do you look to innovate or experiment with new forming and finishing techniques with each new collection, or is there a traditional process you adhere to?
The idea of bringing myself closer to other materials fascinates me, and for some of the projects I have in the pipeline am going to approach animation as well. But at the moment it’s crucial being focused on graphic’s traditional pillars, poster above all. I believe that poster has still a lot to say and convinced that if it were used in a different way would meet new generations interest as much as other expressive forms, e.g. graffiti.
Can you share with us a little known detail about the design process that you have discovered?
The first detail concerns my sources of inspiration: although I follow the evolution of contemporary graphic design, derived from my points of reference in this world. From these references I take more conceptual than aesthetic cues. I try to develop my personal language through reading, cinema, and by contemplating my surrounding environment at large. The second detail is about a stylistic choice, that is my nearly total renunciation of typography. In my opinion, words often corrupt messages. While symbols stimulate the unconscious and let people more free in the interpretation. In addition, an alternative use of symbols reveal us the dangers hidden in stereotyped communication. The last detail concerns my responsibilities: since morality and language are complex systems of symbols, as a designer I contribute to their development. A lot of cultural conflicts simply come from linguistic misunderstandings, therefore I feel responsible for an open-minded use of symbology.
Why did you decide to work with The Loppist?
I liked the concreteness of the project and your attention to content and details. Mostly, what convinced me was the genuine and thoughtful planning: the idea of following the artist from the inception phase to project production, through a combination of words and a really good photo sequence.
“A lot of cultural conflicts simply come from linguistic misunderstandings, therefore I feel responsible for an open-minded use of symbology.”
Finally, what’s next for Mouselephant?
Mouselephant is growing up, extending its skills to other forms of expression like animation, mural and product design. To broaden the horizons my goal is to collaborate with more and more contributors, bringing them together around a common vision. I’m constantly striking for unconventional communication. For all those interested, my open call is never closed!