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ATypI 2001 in copenhagen...
a thorough report on
a good conference indeed

Mermaids, tin soldiers, type and its lovers

Denmark, to start with the location... Copenhagen is lovely, with plenty personality, safe and peaceful. An interesting layout accompanies red brick abound, contrasted brightly by the light-green verdigris of copper roofs and spires, and generally generous greenery. Scouting for and examining interesting letterwork like we always do, old advertising painted huge on housewalls stood out most to me. The written language was easier to comprehend than the spoken words, both for myself as german and for befriended english speakers. The people were always very friendly, even without us asking whether it was ok to speak english. So, I wished but did not learn a single word of Dansk...

As European colleagues said, it seemed a bit expensive. Packing dollars, Europe felt very affordable overall, but here there was still a little difference, especially in accommodation. Food, yes, great throughout. Even the conference catering was much better than in several other years, offering buffets with vegetarian choice, plenty fruit, and other entertaining surprises (a different chocolate for each one!)... no comparison to Leipzig or Reading. -- As for those other senses, two long nights at Club Vega and Park Club were plenty entertaining as they were, just lookin'... but alas, we type designers are hermits and naturally shy.

For some, arrival started with a schedule glitch. Five of us missed the museum tour: It turned out to be much earlier than the other two seminars. During the early-bird booking rate, these events still had no starting times, and we assumed they'd be the same... and the drier E-books and OpenType events we were allowed to see instead didn't feel quite the same. Having no more printed schedules through the mail leaves more initiative on us.

Our conference locale was large and upscale, with good amenities and facilities. Colleagues were astonished at how focused the audience was on listening and taking notes [aside from cel phones, only few disturbing noises], unlike other conferences where attendees rustled leisurely through their (goodie-) bags and errands. But despite the ever-reappearing armada of coffee dispensers, was it just the conditioned air and overheating that caused complaints about tiredness? Or was it an emotional aftermath of the September 11 incidents?

Hard to tell, but last not least, I think there was an 'engaging' element missing -- events inviting participation, activity, discussion. Experimental, theoretical and practical initiative used to be a popular combination: We know that 'TypeLab' left ATypI some years ago, alas... But this time there weren't even any workshops, hands-on demos or other sideshows around. The locale may certainly be an issue. Places like Reading were great for that, but even San Francisco had hands-on shows at the hotel venue, and I remember special interest discussion groups at the Barcelona university... not to mention guided tours to places of interest. Admitted, I missed Lyon and Boston and cannot compare. Yet, as for getting physical, interactive, scouting around: Was Copenhagen a bit too contemplative maybe?

But as presentational as most of the lectures' nature had to be this time, there were very good ones that must have been considerable work. Several were quite large and thorough, like Thomas Milo on Arabic typesetting -- demandingly complex, but now I understand. Charming collections came from Jan Middendorp on unpublished alphabets from Benelux to Cuba, and Roxane Jubert on experimental type through the ages. Jay Rutherford proved how wacky the Bauhaus guys really looked and were -- and sometimes a show doesn't have to be long but only tight and upbeat, like Bruno Maag's fast-paced zip through BMW's new house type.

At our auction, the difficulties of current times became most unluckily obvious -- the slouching economy and September's incidents must have both descended on our bidding wallets: Perfectly nice items went simply too low for our cause. The humongous line-up of items was a great show of spirit by those who donated, but made the auction rather lengthy, which contributed to thinning the audience, and their willingness to bid -- all simply unfortunate. I suggest selecting beforehand for the best pieces, staying below one hundred items. But that is hard work too.

Very sad: Our daily newsletter was only on view at the reception desk; then posted on panels for the last attendees after the conference... It seemed that most friends would have preferred to own a copy, and read it at their leisure. As far as I could judge while scanning it quickly in unrelaxed standing position, its overall tone seemed matchingly stand-offish.

Not sure anymore whether it was only at the Members' Assembly, but it caught my attention that we had an unusually large quota of women in the audience. As for our board, we have two women on it currently, while no new female nominations happened this time. (Insider rumor has it though, that a new candidate may be in the trenches for next year?)

The Gala Dinner information evoked historical expectations remotely like Auerbachs Keller in Leipzig: At the notion of a 'cannon factory', I thought of 19th-century brick architecture spiffed into museum character, with some ancient Big Bertas on imposing display as if ready to go to WW1? But far from that: The venue seemed more of a NATO offspring, even more dryly functional than a warehouse in San Francisco's SoMa district, or around the new gallery hub of Manhattan near the water. Nonetheless, dinner, chat and dancing were sweet... and the richest lasagna of my life; yes they can cook.

All things considered, a good conference it seemed. And even though several key US friends needed to cancel, we got an outstanding attendance. That tells us to continue.

Lucky those who stayed on till the next day. The motley crew of us finally had some time off to browse from antique books into latest Lego, stroll through the Free Republic of Christiania with smoerrebroed and German hemp beer, and were finally happy to catch the last evening of Tivoli amusement park, embellished with expert band performances in pavilions, fortified by Viking-style animal parts grilled on swords and washed down with mead at 'Valhalla', and topped off with fireworks before the lovely park closed for the season. Bye bye Copenhagen, and hello to all again next year in Rome...

...and PS: Does anybody happen to remember the motto of the conference, if it had one? I can't seem to find it anywhere in the conference booklet... :)

Joachim Muller-Lance
November 2001