This website is a loose collection of content/notes, output, research, process and activities by Anna Cairns.

She is interested in visual language, alphabets and their shapes–history–symbolic meaning, cultural artifacts, materials and techniques, ceramics in particular, process, tools and tooling, diy, production and printing processes, information/knowledge systems and their representations, systems in general, scaffolds and other support structures, repetition, code, generative methods, templating, also drawing, painting, glitches and fragments, photography, retouching, practice(s), movement and meditation.

Based in Berlin, Germany
@a____cairns
mail@annacairns.com
Graphic Designer at magma design studio
CV and portfolio available on request

Group Dynamics

Graphic design, type design

Graphic design for the exhibition and accompanying publications ”Group Dynamics – The Blue Rider“ (March 23, 2021–March 5, 2023) and ”Group Dynamics – Collectives of the Modernist Period“ (October 19, 2021–June 12, 2022) at Lenbachhaus Munich. Featuring Monotype Old Style alongside our custom typeface LBH Behrens.

Together with magma design studio and Marcel Strauss (Collectives of the Modernist Period)

Radio

Type design

Created in the context of the exhibition “Radio-Activity” at Lenbachhaus Munich (February 18–September 13, 2020). The typeface is inspired by Paul Renner’s first sketches of the typeface Futura, where he developed the idea of a variable formal language far ahead of its time. In reference to early modernism and other themes of the exhibition, such as communication, language and technology, the typeface translates strict geometrical shapes into a functional and variable type system from which many variations can be generated, making it suitable for a wide range of text types, such as display and body text.

With magma design studio

Temperatures

Graphic design, code, type design

Concept, design and code for a social media graphics generator using a dynamic and flexible visual identity for the online lecture series Temperatures by Bonner Kunstverein, Kunstverein Nürnberg and Kunstverein München. By using a custom web tool that I developed, the curators were able to interactively generate unique social media graphics in several formats for each of their channels.

Featuring my custom designed typeface Temp that solves the problem of colliding ascenders and descenders within the automated text layout.

PARADOKS

Graphic design, code

Graphic design, web design and code for PARADOKS, a video art festival at the edges of documentary based in Leipzig.

With magma design studio

para-doks.de

head body building Teaching

Two-week intro to coding block seminar called “head body building” for first semester design students at Hochschule für Künste Bremen, given during the winter semester 2022/23.

Each student programmed a website from scratch using HTML and CSS, centered around the idea of the body (as each website is composed of a head and body HTML element). They used their own image, video and text material that came together as associative and poetic visual and interactive experiences, built from simple coding blocks.

I found it important to not just make it a tutorial but to show an approach of how to design with code using self-generated material right from the start. After all, what I personally enjoy most about code is not the technical implementation, but being capable of realizing my creative ideas, experimentally achieve fascinating visual results that surprise even myself, and develop a way of thinking that is multi-dimensional, generative, interactive, in motion, flexible and allowing for randomness in a way that I don’t think I’d have without code as my tool. These are the aspects that I believe make programming so interesting to learn for designers and artists, and I very much hope to have helped spark inspiration to add code into their creative practice toolbox.

October 2023

I have been thinking about the idea of frameworks, or supports, or scaffolds. Other words: “stabilizers”, “guides”, “structures”, conceptual “vessels” of a certain form and function, something similar to but more changeable than “rules”.

I realized that I have always and am always creating supports for myself. I know I have found the right vessel to fill whenever things start to come easily and making work just flows. I try on structures for size and as soon as the flow gets stuck, the framework needs adapting or rebuilding.

Fun fact is that I have never shown my graduation project in any portfolio. It was of course a very important project, but not that important for me as a design piece, and that‘s exactly what it turned out (not) to look like. (I definitely rebelled against the idea of the graduation project.) The essence of it is: I read a lot on design theory, wrote about it, and poured my thoughts into a one-page publication and pair of posters. I repeated this process in roughly a monthly interval over at least half a year and pushed myself to publish everything in real time as I went along. I did “do design” (and of course made a typeface and website for it) but tried to just go with the flow and not to hold on too tightly onto the outcome – it was about something else – but I at that time had trouble explaining what exactly. Even looking back, I long puzzled over it; regardless, I remember it as one of the most fruitful and instructive long-term projects I’ve ever done.

The way I see it now, what was more important than any product or medium was that I had built myself a support structure within which I was able to do research and simply produce work (whether textual, visual, physical). Although there were quite a few constraints I had set myself, such as a certain order of doing things, time intervals (or “cycles”, “rounds”, “waves”, “loops”, something else I think about a lot), publishing formats, printing techniques… In the end everything combined in a way that worked for me at that time. It helped. The whole setup was a tool.

I think in the best case scenario, a website is also exactly that: a vessel-support-tool well adapted to the individual. I feel sometimes like I need a good framework to even conceive of the work that I want to see in that space, a symptom maybe of growing up on the web, having a creativity shaped early on by the conditions of medialisation. But as the scaffolds I’m building change, so are the interests I’m building them around, a shifting ground. I find it a great pleasure and privilege to know the rules of the construction to allow for these kinds of spontaneous transformations. So inevitably, I think and hope, this website will be a slightly messy slow-motion hand-coded-hands-on in-progress U-turning seldom-mobile-ready site of construction forever.

c0da Graphic design, code, type design, text production

Website for the artistic research and publishing project c0da by Katrin Mayer, conceived during a grant by the Berliner Förderprogramm für Künstlerische Forschung. The website shows artistic contributions by different artists and writers that reflect on feminist modes of coding and writing, and it serves as a platform for activities related to its ongoing research and artistic production.

Katrin has invited a group of artists, writers and art historians to develop artistic contributions and correspondences loosely based around figures such as zeros, circles, holes and voids, which tie into concepts of feminist theory and philosophy and also reference the 0’s and 1’s that constitute the binary language of code and computation.

In addition to designing and coding the publication formats I developed a typeface that draws a conceptual and typographic connection between the notions of typing, coding and writing. It connects the complex feminist histories of typewriters and software engineering with the roles and visualities of monospaced and proportionally spaced typefaces that are characteristic for the writing processes associated with typing, coding and writing.

c0da.org

Website for Setareh Shahbazi

Graphic design, code

Portfolio website for artist Setareh Shahbazi. The idea was to create an image layout on the landing page that would resemble her exhibition hangings. I developed a script that randomly regenerates the image arrangement with each visit, resulting in ever new combinations and visual relations. The website thus also functions as a combinatorial tool for the artist. The simple typographic concept and monochrome design are in deliberate contrast to the visual density and vividness of Shahbazi’s works. The intersection of image and text creates difference superimpositions in reference to her visual language.

setarehshahbazi.com

Website for Stadelmann Wössner Architekten

Graphic design, code

Portfolio website for Stadelmann Wössner Architekten, Berlin. The landing page features an image index that can be sorted either randomly or chronologically. By clicking a project, all other projects are faded out, resulting in ever new layout compositions. On the project pages, a script extracts a key color from the current slideshow image and applies it to the description overlay. The resulting combination is always surprising but visually harmonious.

stadelmannwoessner.com

Radio-Activity

Graphic design

Visual identity and poster design for “Radio-Activity” at Lenbachhaus Munich (February 18–September 13, 2020).

With magma design studio

Coda

Type design

Phinery

Graphic design

Album covers for the Phinery releases Angelo Harmsworth "Blush" and G. S. Sultan "Redundancy Suite". The new Phinery logo uses Radio as its typeface.

phinery.bandcamp.com

June 2023

Launch of new website. An intentional and mindful deviation from the performative portfolio, widening my perimeter towards a more open-ended collection of things that occupy me creatively.

Some background:

I started making my own websites at the age of 12 with the help of Microsoft FrontPages. I learned how to use Photoshop while designing images and graphics into which I then embedded HTML pages as iframes. With this method, I redesigned my website every few months, going along with the development of my taste and personality. The references changed, the site structure changed, the vibe changed; with each new layout I was trying out a new kind of identity. It was fun and unwittingly became an early creative practice that accompanied me for many years. The website mainly housed my diary and photography. I had a little clique of online friends who would do the same thing, making "personal sites" as we called them ("blog" was a new and very strange sounding word), and it was the way we reflected and communicated our interests and inner development during our teenage years. My website to me was always a mirror and a playground, a self-created platform on which I shared my creative output freely. It felt safe and sheltered because I only shared the URL with my online friends and had merely a vague awareness of how public the internet actually was; I can still clearly remember how very shocked and exposed I felt the first time an "offline" friend found my website.

In the years since it has become more difficult to cultivate an intimate space online. The landscape of the web, our online behaviours and search algorithms all have changed. Also, I started being self-employed, meaning I have become a little more known to a few more people that will look online for what I do. It only made sense to turn my website into a portfolio that represents me professionally. I became very conscious of how my name would show up online. However, with this awareness of exposure and some form of marketing/positioning sense-making coming in, the inspiration, personal identification and freedom I usually felt by expressing myself through the medium of my website slowly came to a halt.

Fast forward to now. I have started to work with dear long-time collaborators magma design studio and no longer feel the need to maintain a polished portfolio website. This space now feels a little more open. I of course still want to show my work and what I do, but more of it, different things that maybe somehow don't (yet) fit neatly into a curated slideshow. Little reflections like this, maybe things I read, pictures I take, pieces I make... It can be difficult to hold all the disparate elements of oneself together and my website has always been a tool for me to collect and reflect those pieces back at myself, maybe seeing more in the whole than in each part individually, maybe even seeing a direction rather than just the status quo.

Created using most minimal hand-written code. It will grow and develop experimentally from here.