The Russian (Pseudo)science passed the ISTD student award examination, 2017
A response to the brief, 'Dead Wood Archive'.
In the late 1800s to early 1900s, Russia had a widespread fascination with occult ideas and practices. Occultism in late imperial Russia comprised of disorganised, overlapping, rapidly evolving schools of thought exploring the concepts of life, death, immortality, reality, the human condition, superpowers and spirits, to name a few. These disparate schools of thought championed bizarre and at times, contradictory methods such as alchemy, séances, hypnosis, meditation, sex and dietary regimes with varying enthusiasm. The reach of occultism was furthered by the growing sphere of publishing at the time. Scientific journals requiring a high level of education and previous knowledge of the subject rocketed in numbers, as did cheap pamphlets and ‘how to’ guides for those looking to be involved in the more trivial aspects of occultism.
Many scientists of note investigated these concepts and methods in the ways in which they would traditional sciences: conducting experiments and research, and publishing in journals, giving the subject credibility and strengthening its following. The brackets in the name (Pseudo)science hint to the thin line that the occult treads between scientific accuracy and ridiculous theatre and mischief.
Much like the occult's effect on Russia, the reader unknowingly leaves a mark on the publication's thermochromic cover with their touch while they interact with it. The handprints then cool and fade leaving no evidence of their being there.
The publication addresses specific aspects of the occult and its context in history and culture but overall, communicates the disparity, disorganisation and lack of structure it thrived on. Scattered thick keylines, transparencies and variations in layout help to paint a picture of what the living, breathing, ever-morphing occult may have looked and felt like.
Various parallels are present throughout the publication’s content and design which are explored through paper stock, typeface, typographic applications and colour. The tone of the publication flits from dark and heavy using rich colours and papers to airy, bright, minimal sections. This is reflective of the varying aspect of occult practices- sometimes entertaining and accessible to the masses, sometimes reserved for the highly educated and wealthy, taking place in luxurious salons or quite literally, in the dark.
The peak of the occult following happened at a time where there was a huge gap between lives lead by peasants who made up 80% of the country’s population and the few unelected privileged who governed them. Clear sans is reflective of the former in its simplicity and diversity. Its efficient use of horizontal and vertical space makes it appealing in many weights and as body copy without feeling cramped or uncomfortable. Colonel is used sparingly at an imposing scale to juxtapose the simple and efficient. With its decorative and over-indulgent design, it’s reflective of Russia’s rulers and publishing trends of the period.
The Russian (Pseudo)science aims to celebrate Modern Occultism in Late Imperial Russia by bringing to life the furthest reaching ideals and darkest corners of the beliefs and studies that grew to become a threat to a great empire’s state and church.