Worship.The Vaux Identity
The idea of Vaux
as an 'unfinished project' emerged very early on in the development. Initially
a comment on the nature of our spiritual journey, it very soon became
applicable to the creative process. Deadlines and life-styles rendered
most output a sketch or work in progress. Time poverty heavily shaped
Vaux's appearance and is responsible for 'incompleteness' becoming so
much part of the Vaux DNA. The
Identity is no exception, it too, is an exercise in 'unfinishedness'.
In fact, Vaux doesn't really have a visual identity, not in the classic
sense. What exists are a few key structural elements and a robust theoretical
framework. More a blueprint for an identity, than a fully implemented
Before looking at individual elements of the Identity, it would be helpful
to explain part of the original Vaux vision. As Identity and founding
vision are inseparable, both are heavily informed by 'Gesamtkunstwerk'
(the 'Total work of Art')- a debunked concept originating from composer
Richard Wagner, disseminated through the Bauhaus and popularised in the
architecture of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, amongst others.
When interpreted through architecture, the 'Total work of Art' can extend
from spoons to cities, including every object in between. Taking 'over
a space and subjecting every detail, every surface to an over-arching
vision' (M.Wigley). In
the 1970's, designer, Massimo Vignelli actually applied this to a church,
St Peter's in Manhattan. Working under the dictum 'design is one', everything
from letterhead to organ was considered.
Throughout the 20th
century, the 'Total work of Art' permeated most design disciplines. Graphic
design very quickly absorbed the concept where it became the dominant
ideology, particularly in the creation of identities. Historically, It's
the 'Gesamtkunstwerk' identities that tend to define the decades. For
instance: Wim Crouwel's Stedelijk Museum in the Sixties, Otl Aicher's
Munich Olympics in the Seventies, Gert Dumbar's PTT in the Eighties and
North's RAC in the nineties- The latter, applied to everything, from membership
cards to Air-ships. It's a 'way of seeing' that has been extraordinarily
significant, yet equally, not without critics. The Wagner connection should
be enough to raise fascist alarm bells. The Nazi party understood the
power of totalizing visual identities only too well.
Vaux is an experiment
in 'Total Worship'. I winced when we used the term 'Worship Architects',
yet, I've not found a better description. What happens if you get a group
of artists and organise their talent towards creating sacred spaces. Spaces
that are conducive to experiencing 'Numinous'- What the architect Tado
Ando describes as places 'to reclaim yourself'. Or, what composer John
Tavener might describe as, a place to experience the 'Divine voice'. When
viewed like this, Gesamtkunstwerk becomes less totalitarian and more akin
to Shaker or Zen models of production. With the former, everything has
spiritual content, a kind of 'explosive design' that permeates your whole
lifestyle. The latter with the Tea Room, an 'implosive design' where every
object within the space undergoes a rigorous selection process and through
the ceremony boundaries between art and life are abolished. Vaux was intended
to work within similar traditions, creating immersive environments, where
every detail would be considered. Spaces built from surface, idea, sound,
word, image and woven together to create a seamless whole- A place where
a flyer is no different from a Liturgy, or 35mm Slide from a prayer. All
are important, all constitute the whole act of worship.
The Vaux logo was developed long before the first service and was really
a statement of intent. A 24 point height manifesto. We needed a strong
visual language, partly as we wanted to challenge the lame idea that worship
was just about songs. Yet also, we wanted something that could colonise
and occupy media spaces. We even Beta tested it in 'Dazed and Confused'.
As a form it's more emotional than rational, basically, a very abstract
'V', although, the light/dark heart has proved uncannily accurate. As
the 'Dirt' season began to develop, the love and doubt aspects of the
marque soon became very apparent. As Matthew Fox says: 'Listen to your
If we were building an identity now, a logo wouldn't be on the agenda.
Not because Naomi Klein says so but because logo's have become fatigued
and should really be consigned to the Twentieth century. There are far
more interesting ways to express your values than just reducing them down
to one solitary mark. It was 1998 and The Designer's Republic were endgaming
with Logo's everywhere- we just wanted to join the conversation.
Flyers are one of the few 'concrete' objects Vaux have made. Conceived
as visual manifestos, each one turned out to be different- snapshots of
where the aesthetic and theological thinking was at the time. The 'Black
Flyer' is probably the ideal, as it sits well alongside other elements
within the system. An exercise in reduction, It's economy of language
and form act as bench-marks for the proto-identity. Stripping any ornamentation,
reducing, yet not reducing the poetry. I think we got it right here.
Equally, I think
the A6 postcard is the perfect format for something like Vaux. A generic
paper size that carries very warm associations. In a our standardised
world, much identity building revolves around appropriation. Settle on
certain elements and use them more than anyone else, to the point where
you gain ownership of a font, a colour or a format. Owning something as
ubiquitous as as a A6 postcard becomes a bit of a holy grail.
Typography was always going to be important to Vaux particularly in terms
of 'Gesamtkunstwerk'. It's just one of those things you've got to get
right. Yet choice of font is as important as how you use it. Mark Holt
from 8vo, always insists their font choices were determined by circumstance
and not aesthetics. They only owned AG Buch or Unica at the time, so that's
what they used. This may be true, yet it tends to deny the effect of medium
on the message. Whether you like it or not, fonts carry huge historical
baggage. For instance, choosing san-serif places you within a very particular
design discourse. Vaux's choice of range-left Helvetica was a very conscious
decision to align with the Swiss movement. From Weingart to Maholy-Nagy,
you're 'In tradition', an unbroken line of secular Saints way back to
There was also
the very practical consideration of how to bring together Vaux's extraordinary
disparate output. The problem of packaging: dance, design, music, liturgy,
performance etc... There needed to be a clear consistent visual voice
that could encompass the phenomenal ecleticism. Helvetica's neutrality
(now days debatable) lent itself perfectly to the job- the font should
not overshadow the work. It's the classic argument behind 'Objective typography',
aesthetic is subordinate to information. 'An unadorned typographical form
serving purely the needs of communication'. (J.Müller-Brockmann)
Tone of Voice.
This is something stolen from marketing, for which I am ashamed, as marketing
is the natural predator of design. Never-the-less, Tone of Voice exists
as an important element of any identity. It is the new logo- A powerful
vehicle for expressing any organisms essence, as it tends to encompass
both language and medium. Not just what vernacular do you assume (a kind
of 'VauxSpeakTM') but also, how does the 'voice' of the media either enhance
or destroy your message. I think it gets close to one of Vaux's core critiques
of the Church. It's not just what you say, it's how you say it.
Everything about the 'Total work of Art' centres on detail. 'God is in
the detail'. Christianity's not broken, it's articulation is. Vaux is,
first and foremost, a collective attempt to re-articulate Christianity
back to ourselves. We play in Babel's ground zero. A highly codified world
where surface and style have become languages in there own right. Redefining
Tone of Voice in such a way leads to some interesting possibilities, particularly
in regards to physical spaces. For want of a better word, these spaces
can be branded. Yet not by plastering a logo on every surface. It's the
idea that you could enter the 'New Forms' worship venue at Greenbelt or
St Peter's Church in Vauxhall and still know you were in Vaux territory.
Just by the way the space is organised, the type of music playing or particular
use of language in liturgy.
Your identity is no longer represented by a solitary marque, but by a
key set of signifiers. Signifiers that exist across a diverse range of
media. It's picking up on Vignelli's interpretation of a faith-space and
expanding it to include other building-blocks, such as Music, prayer,
Darkness or ideas. Non-space.
Some would argue that Christianity already exists as a powerful Brand.
A 2000 year old Transnational with a reputation as notorious as Nike or
Nestlé and a marque as instantly recognisable as the swastika or Mickey
mouse's ears. For years the Church has been struggling with the problems
of brand fatigue and inertia. In some respects, its way ahead of the likes
of Nike, who for the first time, is having to undergo a process of 'inculturation'
by implementing the 'Energy Series' projects- Black-op's briefs, designed
to re-engage with a culture that it has essentially lost touch with. Equally,
the term "Swooshification" moved into it's internal lexicon. As a result
of the acknowledgement that their beloved 'tick' had become over used,
an order went out to restrict it's use. With Christianity, it's a moot
point as to wether the cross as identity is fatigued or not. Vaux took
the position that it was. Although in terms of image-wars, the ever-shifting
cultural sands may render the cross meaningful once again.
There was a
time when Vaux toyed with the idea of 'Church as brand', a repugnant and
attractive concept, all at the same time. It's one of those 'difficult'
ideas in the same way Toscani's Benetton 'death row' images are 'difficult'.
Where the power of the piece comes through the moral ambiguity of placing
documentary photography in an Advertising context. 'Church as brand' lives
in the same territory. It sets up a tension that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Yet ultimately, it's an unsatisfying critique. Like most post-modern posturing,
it's an idea that can only go so far. A one trick pony that leads to a
In conclusion, design is an amazingly powerful language. Predominantly
Vaux uses it in two ways: as cultural critique and metaphysical language.
It's about encouraging the view of graphic design as a trojan horse. A
function of it's unique position within culture, as it is the very language
that transmits culture. It is also about starting to explore design's
potential to convey the spiritual. We create because we were created and
what we make can 'resonate with the prototype.'
There are powerful
arguments either way as to whether churches should engage in identity
building and branding. My hunch is that they shouldn't. Not if you view
it as a technique or tool. Alpha is a brilliant example of identity as
blunt instrument. Pete Ward said it all with his "McDonaldization" quote.
The real problem with Alpha is not their scary aesthetic, it's their MO.
The identity is deployed in the service of a rabid marketing agenda. Yet
People are tired of being sold stuff. We live in a complex web of lies
and half-truths. And as a result, we all have evolved highly sensitive
detectors to 'second-agendas' and spin. This is why Vaux dropped the idea
of the Great commission. Identity and branding are seen as a language
in their own right. A vernacular of resistance where design becomes a
creative expression and a cultural critique.
Afterall, this space
is not for sale.
by Anonymous Workers.
Anonymous Workers are a group of cultural practitioners exploring the
relationship between design and spirituality.
exists to share stories, thoughts, ideas and other tasty things
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