alphabets @ sfera

In March 2012, thonik, the Dutch graphic design studio, will stage an exhibition in Kyoto, Japan. thonik is showing the installation ‘alphabets@sfera kyoto’. The motive of the 8 coverlets are based on alphabets thonik designed for various clients.


In 2008 thonik was invited to do a show in the Shanghai Art Museum. It made them rethink the possibilities and problems of showing graphic design in a museum. thonik decided to produce an installation of 16 woollen carpets with their designs. The carpets were handmade in China, thus thonik interacted with local craftsmanship. The carpets were monumental. They were warm to touch, they slowed down the visitors pace and they were strong in presence. At the same time the carpets are nomadic: you can role them up and the carpets in fact traveled the world to the Venice biennale, Spiral in Tokyo, Droog in New York and the Moti in Breda (Netherlands).

For the show in Sfera, Kyoto, thonik wanted to react to the fist impression Nikki and Thomas had when visiting the Sfera shop in Tokyo. Noriko Kawakami took them there. It made a great impression. The atmosphere is modern, but the quality of the craftsmanship is timeless in a classic way.

thonik alphabets@sfera Kyoto. Photo by Maurice Boyer.
thonik alphabets@sfera Kyoto. Photo by Maurice Boyer.

For the exhibition at Sfera Kyoto the carpets were too crude. thonik tried to find a way to transform the carpet concept to a more sophisticated materialisation. Nikki and Thomas connected to the textile lab in Tilburg (The Netherlands) to experiment with traditional and modern weaving techniques, trying to create end results that are graphic and strong, but also appealing to the Japanese sensitivity. As a motive thonik choose 8 alphabets they designed for various clients over the last ten years.

The alphabet is in the western tradition a symbol of ‘everything that can be said’. It is a symbol of potential: the potential to form words and meaning. The alphabet stands for all words and non-words, combinations of letters that do not mean anything in a language. In this way the installation at Sera connects to thonik’s ‘four letter word’ installation at the SFMoma in 2001, where all 5.000 English four letter words were combined with random 5.000 four letter nonsense ‘words’.


In 2010 the book ‘thonik en’ with an introduction by Noriko Kawakami was published at Bijutsu Shuppanin Japanese and English.

thonik is a design studio in Amsterdam. Started in 1993 by Nikki Gonnissen and Thomas Widdershoven. Now 15 people work at thonik, mainly for cultural clients, but also in the public domain in a broader sense: the city of Amsterdam got a new identity in 2001 and from 2006 onward thonik is responsible for the campaigns of the Dutch Socialist Party.