Sam Furness tells the story of how he and Toni Hollis created one of the highlights of this year’s Brixton Design Trail The streets of Brixton are laced with language.
One of the great joys of passing through its streets and market places is the passing conversations you may pick up along the way: rich in endless different vocabularies, dialects and points of view. It’s a vivid reminder of the tapestry-like quality Brixton has at its heart.
It was this experience of Brixton that inspired graphic designer Toni Hollis and I to create a piece for this year’s Brixton Design Trail – the highlight of Brixton’s creative calendar. Our piece is called Untranslation and it is inspired by the concept of “untranslatable words” – meaning, unique words which do not have a direct equivalent in other languages.
All languages have them and they serve as a fascinating window into a nation’s culture. The power in these untranslatable words lies in the fact that they describe specific emotions and situations we all feel but do not have a specific identity for – like the way we do for happiness, sadness, anger, pride, trust … etc. If you’ve ever been at a loss for words in describing the way you’ve felt in any way – it’s a really empowering experience to discover a word in a different language that perfectly sums up that feeling neatly in one word.
It makes you realise that no matter the places we were born, the languages we speak – we all share a common experience through simply being alive. In a time where it feels like the doors to other cultures and borders to neighbours are being forced shut – in some cases all too literally – it’s important to understand each other’s world views and learn from our differences more than ever.
We were lucky enough to secure Brixton Village and Market Row as our venue to bring this concept to life. The idea being that we would take over the iconic flag filled rafters of each space and replace the nation flags with new flags that displayed an untranslatable word and its meaning against a design that represented that word and the country it was born from. Each word was chosen from a language relevant to a certain trader or business in the markets.
Our process took us on a four-month journey of language and design discovery through Brixton Village and Market Row, getting to know the wonderful community of traders that together make these markets one of the most treasured places in our capital city. Each word we discovered and design we created for our flags is directly inspired by real conversations and stories we’ve shared with the market traders and the installation would not have turned out the way is has without their amazing support.
On completion of the design trail we were really proud to hear that the flags will become a permanent feature of the markets for people to continue enjoying. So next time you are walking through Brixton Village or Market Row – LOOK UP! There is a design dictionary of some of the most beautiful words you’ve never heard of waiting to be discovered. Our journey trying to translate the untranslatable lead us to a pretty solid conclusion – love is understanding and understanding is power. Big thanks to Brixton Brewery and multiple market traders for your belief in this project and for sponsoring us to bring it to life.