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Symbol soup /

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Is this a multivolume book, a stack of magazines, a collection of stickers; is it anything coherent? Aptly titled, Symbol Soup is the product of a team of cultural critics, including a sociologist and a communications specialist and a lineup of cutting-edge designers. It is a collection of and commentary on the plethora of images that are part and parcel of contemporary culture. This is a virtual primordial soup of images, including but not limited to tattoos, logos, advertisements, aliens, TV stills, and digital animation. The pages are wildly overdesigned, but overdesign is the point here. The curators of this collection test the limits of what they call "the visual generation's" affinity for comprehending signs and symbols. The first slim paperback in the set provides a theoretical overview of the project; each subsequent volume attacks a different area of visual stimulation. One is filled with huge, bright text; another borrows its look from zine culture; while another includes mix-and-match logos in which readers can find their own meaning. Each includes some very sharp commentary, which will undoubtedly get readers thinking about their own complicated relationship to the signs of the times. Nine paperback volumes in a slipcase--500 full-color images in all--comprise the set. --J.P. Cohen

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