Interview with…
Alex Jordan
Nous Travaillons Ensemble

Alex Jordan
Nous Travaillons Ensemble

Alex Jordan happens to be called photographer, graphic designer, illustrator and professor. He comes from Germany where he studied at the Düsseldorf Akademie of Fine Arts as student of Joseph Beuys.
In 1976 he moved to Paris where he joined the Grapus collective. Less than ten years later, Jordan founded Le Bar Floréal, an unusual photo agency and in 1989 he founded the group Nous Travaillons Ensemble. He is currently in the communication and design department faculty board at the Kunsthochschule Berlin-Weisensee.

Alex Jordan’s life seems to be permeated by his participation to groups, and the name of his graphic agency Nous Travaillons Ensemble doesn’t leave any open question: they work together in a non hierarchical structure. You can feel this kind of feeling entering 28, rue Plachat: if you could, you would never leave such a familiar and homely atelier. Posters and drawing are all over the walls, and an old cat rubs up your legs.

Our first question to Mr Jordan is about the possibility of designing in collaboration with non professional. The term professional leaves him sceptical: he answers that he doesn’t have any academic background on graphic design; he feels school education like a possibility, one among the others. Everyone should educate himself with different experiences, as we said before he started studying art, and then shifted to photography and to design, but no one will call into question his professionalism. He speaks of his concern on what could be called “software education”: too many people after a six month course of photoshop feel as if they were professional graphic designers. This can be seen as a negative aspect of the DIY culture. A mix of different cultures assure a great variety of points of view and so more interesting outputs as he has seen in all the collectives he experienced. Designers can learn from the artist how to work on self initiated projects as the magazine Article11, designed by Atelier Formes Vives. The evidence is that a lot of young graphic designers instead of working on new free and self initiated projects prefer to emulate big client and produce false project for big known industries. All these energy could be canalised on useful propositions.

Speaking about the big change that the web has brought in the reality of today communication, Alex Jordan compares it with the fall of the Berlin wall: after that event nothing was working as before, people in Berlin had to coexist with a new reality. The same is for the web: we can’t look at it as the overall solution but we have to look at it has part of a new reality we have to learn how to manage.
This means that a lot of processes have to be rethought, first of all the diffusion of information. In this sense the web has been an instrument for the Arab world uprising of January 2011, but not the trigger cause.

As we know that Alex Jordan has been Joseph Beuys’s student, we are curious to know what he thinks about direct democracy. Beuys contests the delegation system that characterises politics and that does not leave decisional power to the collectivity, the national income administration in the hands of a few selected people and the concept of democracy used by some governments that lack so much in transparency that they do not deserve the use of it.1
Suddenly Mr Jordan remembers us that the problem of direct democracy has been unsolved for a long time, his maitre was an utopist. We describe the possibility of applying direct democracy on small groups as Yona Friedman proposes in his Utopies Réalisables2. As Pierre Bernard also Mr Jordan feels that today’s esprit is no more the same of the ’60 or ’70 when they believed everything was possible. Maybe today we are the one who have to say it.

  1. Cf. Joseph Beuys , La rivoluzione siamo noi, conference at Palazzo Taverna, Incontri Internazionali d’Arte, Roma, April 12th, 1972.
  2. Yona Friedmann, Utopies réalisables, Union générale d’éditions, Paris, 1975.