How do you situate your work in the context of the current moment?
This spring, when everything about the pandemic was new and bewildering, it felt necessary to respond to the sudden shift. Using only materials I already had at home, I designed and constructed a series of hand-sewn parade banners featuring ubiquitous phrases to describe the pandemic, and featured them in a socially-distant, one-person ‘Pandemic Parade’—an homage to levity and persistence, even in trying times. In the flurry of sewing masks for donation, sanitizing everything that came into the house, and trying to retain some normalcy in suddenly teaching online, there was a sort of urgency in making these banners to capture the strange, specific feeling of early-quarantine.
Often, my typographic work addresses gesture, corporeality, and communication. I’m simultaneously interested in phrases which are intentionally vague and open to interpretation, as well as the ways in which we may more directly communicate, typographically. In an age of perpetually-exhausting breaking-news cycles and prolific misinformation, I think continuing to investigate visual inflection and the nuance of how we do—and can—communicate with each other is paramount.
What projects are you currently working on and how is social distancing affecting your art practice?
I spent the spring and summer making the aforementioned banners, researching & writing a chapter for a book proposal, and finishing a 278(!) character original typeface I had been working on for a year. Currently, I am (perhaps, unsurprisingly?) just starting another series of typographic flags which I’ve been pondering for a while. In addition, I recently presented a series of speculative typographic characters (designed in 2019) at IDSA’s International Design Conference.
Social-distancing has in some ways been helpful for my practice, and in other ways limiting. Traveling for site-specific installations, which I often do internationally, are now impossible. My fully-scheduled summer, like everyone else’s, was suddenly cancelled or rescheduled. But in this upheaval lies an opportunity: how often do we truly get to pause without rushing from one thing to the next?
What advice and tips can you give to other artists during this time?
Please be gentle with yourself. Do the best you can. We’re in a time of massive change—which is both harrowing and hopeful— and I think it’s important to recognize and remind yourself that you cannot be productive every moment of every day. It’s okay to rest and reflect and before you move onto what’s next.
How are you cultivating community for yourself and what can the community be doing to support artists?
I’m very fortunate to be a part of multiple art and design communities who support one another—from assorted design groups convening on Slack, to casual virtual studio visits or “coffee dates” via Zoom with friends and colleagues, and frequent Facetimes with family. In addition, I’m so grateful to the pivoting efforts of art and design organizations who offered online programming and conferences this summer: I attended The Hoffmitz Milken Center for Typography’s Design Educators Typography Intensive, the Typographics Design Festival, and AIGA’s Design Educators Community Virtual Design Summit—all without having to leave my home studio. Even though they were conducted online, these events started conversations and fostered community, connecting folks from all over through shared interest and experience.
The best we can do for each other as a creative community is to be present, patient, flexible, and empathetic. We need to listen to one another about our respective needs, and be accommodating and open to change how we’ve historically proceeded. Gratefully, I think artists and designers are particularly well suited for the moment we find ourselves in. We are well-versed at navigating uncertainty; we know how to revel in strangeness.
Captions and descriptions of works:
Pandemic Parade Banners, 2020
Hand-sewn gonfalons feature ubiquitous descriptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Constructed under safe-at-home orders using only available materials, they were featured in a socially-distant one-person Pandemic Parade—an homage to persistence & levity.
Mackinac 1895, 2020
Mackinac 1895 is a script typeface inspired by handwriting discovered in a ledger from 1895, the year the Mackinac Island State Park Commission was founded. The handwriting used to inform this typeface recorded the realities of daily life on this picturesque island; the hand of its original author was deliberate and careful, thoughtfully tracing back over inked letterforms to create elegant titles.
Insatiable Spaces, 2019
Engaging with the archetypal form of a house as a metaphor for the safe and familiar, these miniature sculptures explore the physical manifestations of yearning. As emotionally functional objects, they serve to address, alleviate, or activate our longing. Here, nostalgia and homesickness are similar as insatiable desires. These tiny spaces are sardonic faux-confections —simultaneously delightful and disappointing.
Bio: Mia Cinelli is an Assistant Professor of Art Studio and Digital Design at the University of Kentucky. Her design practice encompasses an eclectic span of poetic and pragmatic products, installations, and graphics that have been exhibited nationally and internationally. Recently, her typographic works have been acknowledged with Best in Festival for New Work at DesignTO (2020), a Graphis Silver award for typeface design (2018), a Society of Typographic Arts “STA 100” award (2019), and a Communication Arts Typography award (2020). With an inquiry-driven practice, she is passionate about—and continually excited by—the possibilities of visual communication and human-centered design.
Website is www.miacinelli.com
Instagram handle is @miacinelli