In 2020, the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava [AFAD] received a rebrand. Designed by Andrej & Andrej, it has proven controversial. While some praise the elegant modern look, variable typeface and simplicity, others see the redesign as highly disputable. This is mainly due to the choice of a deer symbol and its questionable historical origin. Where are the borders when playing with time and space in the visual identity of an institution?
This “conceptual hoax” was first applied by the duo in the design of AFAD’s archive reports, and from there it proceeded to grow into a coherent visual identity based on an intentional mystification of the school’s history. Because the designers were unable to trace the evolution of the school’s logo, they decided to build a new identity derived from a fictional history. Inspired by speculative design practise and the method of parafiction, a whole backstory was created. This included the forging of historical footage to conjure its legitimacy. Unlike most speculative projects, though, this one is not a gallery piece but a commissioned design project.
The new logo builds on the coat of arms of Count Pálffy — patron of the arts and former owner of the academy building. Throughout history, the deer motif has changed form in the hands of designers, reflecting political situations and artistic styles. In legitimising the forgery of this image as the academy’s everlasting symbol in the current era of hoaxes and misinformation, the designers wished for the deer to come alive as an active figure in future social events.
This ambition was unfortunately predicated on the unrealistic expectation that people would actively participate in a game of make-believe. It’s a good start for a social experiment, but would it be understood as such by the public? A question that needs addressing in all counterfactual design speculation projects. Things can quickly get out of hand, and however positive the idea, it often misses the target. Breaking the rules fulfills the school’s desire to always go against the mainstream, but playing with history can be a double-edged sword, especially considering today’s post-truth crisis. Can an art academy in a post-communist country afford to mess with historical facts so lightheartedly?
Perhaps we have already overcome the truth, in which case, clinging to the notion of documenting a precise evolution of events is actually the least sane thing to do. Slovakia, like other East European countries, is facing the pressure of hybrid information spreading spoofs and polarising society. When it starts to be impossible to agree on objective facts and mutual history, we can as well be dancing on the grave of an absent history, partying with a fairy deer (or its detached AR antlers), and surrounding ourselves with stunning simulacra.
It is worth noting that the last time avant-garde art intentionally dismissed history, things didn’t end well.