The 1998 ATypI conference, held October 23–25 in Lyon, France, focused on the French typographic scene and made the most of Lyon’s medieval and Roman heritage as a center of commerce and intellectual life.
ATypI (the Association Typographique Internationale) is the international organization that brings together type designers, graphic designers, font software developers, calligraphers, type foundries, and others with an interest in the past, present, and future of type and typography. The annual conference provides an unusual opportunity for schmoozing, dealmaking, knowledge-sharing, self-promotion, mentoring, intelligent discourse, and occasional tirades to take place all at once in an atmosphere of heightened awareness and good food.
Even before the opening ceremonies, typophiles gathered at the Musée de la Civilisation Gallo-Romaine, a handsome museum that overlooks the city from a site on the Fourvière hill, adjacent to a magnificent Roman amphitheater. The French type designer and writer Ladislas Mandel — interpreted in English by designer Matthew Carter — gave a brilliantly extrapolative lecture on the origin of symbolic letterforms in the Semitic alphabets, their evolution in Greek into more abstract shapes, and their subsequent development in Roman inscriptions into the forms that have influenced type design since its origin in the fifteenth century. M. Mandel then led attendees through the museum, using its impressive collection of Roman inscriptions as points of departure for additional observations on the history of letters and type. Afterward, he brought forth a number of important books from his own collection for the group to examine, including works published by Didot and Perrin, and extended the discussion into French type design of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Friday morning, ATypI president Mark Batty gave a brief welcome at the Palais des Congrès, then sent participants off to the Musée de l’Imprimerie, where Gabrielle Perrier and Alan Marshall led tours of the museum’s extensive collection of incunabula and important later books, printing presses, plates, type, and related equipment. Afterward, in the renaissance courtyard of the Musée, which once served as Lyon’s Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), an elegant champagne buffet was laid out in honor of the 70th birthday of Swiss type designer Adrian Frutiger. Industry movers and shakers, aspiring designers, and hungry students ate, talked, and drank with great enthusiasm, then returned to the Palais des Congrès for the first few hours of programming.The three-day program, directed by the accomplished French type designer Jean-François Porchez, featured two tracks of programs in English and French. Simultaneous translation was available for one of the tracks, though the English interpreters, at least, seemed to have trouble keeping up with the swift flow of typographic terminology. Among the many excellent presentations were a number of talks on the rich history of French type design, by James Mosley, René Ponot, Anne-Marie Christin, Matthew Carter, and Gerard Unger, and discussions of its present, by Franck Jalleau, Phillippe Millot, Massin, Étienne Robial, Pierre Bernard, and others. Garth Walker, of Orange Juice Design in Durban, gave a lively slideshow of hand-painted vernacular signage from the streets of South Africa.
In addition to the formal presentations, there was CaféTypo, a track of group discussions, the liveliest of which centered on the problems of piracy, copyright, and patent control; a charity auction from which some contributors emerged with new hats; the celebrated type quiz, which this year was a team quiz, won at the eleventh hour by the team that drew the best Palatino “g”; displays of contemporary French calligraphy; a stone-cutting demonstration/workshop by Roger Gorrindo; the traveling exhibit, “Blackletter and National Identity, ” by Paul Shaw and Peter Bain; exhibits of calligraphy from the Scriptorium de Toulouse and the Atelier de création typographique d‘Estienne; and the Type Directors Club’s combined TDC44 and TDC(2) shows.
The high point of the programming was the appearance of the pre-eminent designer Adrian Frutiger, interviewed by journalist Yvonne Schwemer-Scheddin. Although the pace of the interview could have been brisker, Herr Frutiger’s calmly humorous responses to complex questions amused and sometimes enlightened the audience.
At the end of programming on Sunday, James Mosley presented a tribute, written by John Dreyfus, to the late Gérard Blanchard, the graphic designer, type historian, and semiotician, originally scheduled to be the conference’s keynote speaker. M. Blanchard died in August.
The conference finished with a gala dinner at La Commanderie des Antonins, an art galley in a restored factory on the banks of the Saône River. Created on a medieval theme by Les Rencontres Archéo Culinaires, the banquet included basil wine, duckling, and savory tarts, served to the sound of bagpipe and hurdy-gurdy. In a brief presentation, the Charles Peignot award, given periodically to the most outstanding typographic practitioner under the age of 35, was awarded to Jean-François Porchez. If you weren’t there, you missed a jolly evening and a remarkable range of facial expressions, especially in response to the basil wine.