At the beginning of March, Kyiv art space D12 hosted an exhibition dedicated to Swiss Graphic Design. Visitors explored intricate works of Werner Jeker, an award-winning graphic designer, whose works are exhibited in the MoMA Museum of Modern Art in New York. Another part of the exhibition was dedicated to a design studio Balmer Hählen — renowned winners of “100 Beste Plakate” contest, which determines 100 best posters of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Destinations met with the artists to talk job specifics, future plans, and impressions of Ukraine.
What inspired you to start a career in design?
Werner: Firstly, I wanted to work with books, especially lettering and pictures - certainly not graphic design. At the time, I didn't even know what that was.
Hählen: For me, it was a mistake (laughs). I was just very good at drawing in school, so my father told me: "Hey, go look at what's available at the job center. Maybe there's something for you". I didn't know much about design then, so it just started like this.
Balmer: As for me, I just really love drawing. I'm also strong in Mathematics.
Wow, that's very cool for you!
Balmer: Yes (laughs). But I don't know if it's really that good. You know, I wanted to be a graphic designer, but many people said things like "No way, you're good at Math, you like drawing — go for architecture". So, I started studying Architecture, which is a good formation. But in a while, I realized it's not for me and went into graphic design — something more creative.
To talk about creativity, how would you describe your style in several words?
Image: Poster by Balmer Hählen
Werner: Everything I create just appears in my mind. When I work, I don't hear or see anything apart from my work, so I guess I can't describe my style.
Hählen: As for us, it's not about the style — we just do what we like. I simply do what I'm feeling at the moment.
Balmer: Yeah, we don't really think about it. It's other people who define the style — we just do our work. And then see what they say about us (laughs).
I see. What was the most challenging project you have ever worked on?
Hählen: To work together as a couple (laughs).
Your works are known in many European countries, as well as in Asia. Now that Kyiv also hosts an exhibition, what are your impressions of Ukraine?
Werner: When I came here, I first saw the same posters and advertisements as everywhere. But then I realized — wait, we arrived here like Martians, and see the work of fellow designers, which live in a completely different reality than we do. The feeling was quite strong.
Balmer: When we came to Kyiv, I saw a big banner "Our religion is freedom" on the Central [Maidan] Square. Putting this kind of message in the center of the city is a strong move. I'm really impressed.
Hählen: Yes! We understood that, okay, these guys really want to be free, and are ready to fight for liberty. You're also are very strong — because of the cold (laughs).
Are you familiar with contemporary Ukrainian art? What are your impressions?
Image: Werner Jeker on workshop in Kyiv
Werner: Shame on me, I can't name any. What we see in Switzerland is a picture on the TV; we're not really familiar with the reality. I can only imagine how many great artists and people live and create here. I'd love to see something beyond what we are shown on the TV: your culture, graphics. Yesterday I met a person from Institut français, who invited me to look at his art collection. That's what I'd like to explore: what kind of art is valued and collected in Ukraine.
Hählen: I don't really know the artists, but I know top-models (laughs).
What would you advise the curious to pay special attention to in your works?
Werner: Just open your eyes.
Hählen: Discover the aspects of what is possible in Switzerland — after all, we're your neighbors. Our exhibition in Kyiv shows two different languages, generations and visions.
Duly Noted! Finally, could you share your plans for the next projects or collaborations?
Werner: Collaboration? With them? (points at Hählen and Balmer) Never, they're too good! (Everyone laughs).
Right now I'm exploring works of one French artist, who died about 50 years ago. Actually, people find more and more information about his life and bring his pieces to me, so I'd love to open exhibitions dedicated to his works. He's an exceptionally good fashion designer; his works are relevant even now. I am also engaged in a program dedicated to supporting young artists, which I think is quite reasonable nowadays.
Balmer: You know, many people say that Switzerland is a country of graphic design. But in French-Swiss part, we don't have a festival of graphic design — that's why I want to organize one, to show the richness and many languages of the region's design.
Image: Yvo Hählen presenting Swiss Graphic Design exhibition in Kyiv
Hählen: Swiss design is really well known, but normally people refer to the German-Swiss works from Zürich to Basel. No one really knows what's happening in the French-Swiss part, so we want to show that there's much to see.
Much like Ukrainians, Swiss designers pave the way to show the beauty and talents of their motherland for the whole world, which we hope to witness soon.
Interviewed by Kate Pryliuk.
Photos provided by Embassy of Switzerland in Ukraine, Balmer Hählen Facebook page.