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We’ve just returned from our annual family holiday and 2014 saw us spending a week on the Kent / East Sussex boarder. This is an area we’ve come to grow fond of over the last few years, spending time in both counties for extended weekends and trips out, but never a whole week. Seven days gave us plenty of time to explore the area further, and aside from the usual holiday type stuff, it struck me just how much cultural activity there is to be had in this region with Hasting’s Jerwood Gallery, Brighton’s excellent Museum and Art Gallery, and further around the coast, Margate’s Turner Contemporary. Despite not visiting any of these this time, (we did make it to the Jerwood, but it was closed for a rehang), we did end the holiday on a graphic design high by visiting Ditchling Art+Craft Museum, (more of this in part two of Holiday exhibitioning, to follow shortly), and the opening day of the Ivan Chermayeff: Cut & Paste exhibition at Bexhill-On-Sea’s De La Warr Pavilion.

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The Chermayeff exhibition was truly inspirational. I knew some of his work previously from seeing it in design history books, but I didn’t realise how prolific he was/is. The walls of the large gallery were packed with work, and as the title suggests, the focus was on assemblage. There were some posters for specific corporate and cultural clients, but the vast majority was of work he has done in his own time. Throughout, regardless of whether for a client or personal work, whether tackling something frivolous in nature or weighty in tone, there was a real sense of play and wit throughout the exhibition. So much so that I came away feeling like I had just seen one of the best graphic design exhibitions I had seen since Alan Fletcher’s retrospective at the Design Museum in 2007. Ideas, puns and visual play runs through all Chermayeff’s output.

ChermayeffCircus

ChermayeffDoorman

Chermayeff once worked alongside Fletcher, so it is no surprise that there should be some commonalities. There are also obvious comparisons to the art world’s Matisse, Picasso, Ernst and Schwitters in his collages and paper-cut montages. I’d come away from the Matisse show at Tate Modern recently not feeling overly impressed and that somehow the work on display was largely vacuous (1). Chermayeff’s creative approach was refreshingly opposite to this as it either had communication at its core, or it challenged the viewer to think differently about found objects and how one connects different visual elements to create a new narrative. In Cut & Paste’s catalogue, Milton Glaser writes in the introduction, “In a catalogue of Ivan’s collages 1987–2011, Louis Newman states, ‘Chermayeff is among the few who can transpose design into high art,’ referring to his big, red unforgettable sculpture ‘9’ on 57th Street. I always find the phrase ‘high art’ to be problematical, more like the relationship between haute cuisine and ‘home cooking’, where the differences are contextual, rather than the nature of the ingredients. I prefer to think of design and art as separate characteristics like sex and love—each can be significant and pleasurable by itself and every once in a while you get both at the same time—solving a problem is one thing, changing consciousness is another.”

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Ultimately, as the quote above and an excellent 12 minute film in the show suggests, Chermayeff places a heavy importance on the art of seeing and finding connections, and this shone through in the collection displayed at the De La Warr Pavillion. As Alan Powers says later in the catalogue: “We see them [Chermayeff’s collages] and think, ‘I could have done that,’ and so go out with our eyes sharpened to see the second reality behind the first. This sharing of pleasure is hardly a didactic form of art, but it relates to Ivan’s mission as a designer, which, along with serving his clients to his best ability, includes a wider desire to teach the world how to see by exercising what John Milton in Paradise Lost called ‘the visual nerve’.”

Ivan Chermayeff: Cut and Paste is on at the De La Warr Pavilion until 14 September 2014. Entry is free.

Chermayeff: Cut and Paste Guardian review

 

(1) I know Matisse was important in terms of breaking concepts of painting, and his use of colour and form are visually amazing, but much of it looked like pointless non-applied surface pattern to my eyes. I felt his output worked much better when applied to a context, such as a book jacket, magazine cover or stain glass window. Hanging on a wall, it did nothing for me.

 

Last week I was lucky to catch the Museum of Water exhibition at Somerset House before it closes at the end of this month.

tunnel

The Museum of Water is a project by Amy Sharrocks who has been collecting donated water and associated stories for the last 2 years. As the museum’s website pronounces: “In a time of relative plenty in Britain, we are gathering a collection of water for future generations to consider. Clean water is more and more difficult to access across the world: will people look back at our current profligacy with horror and amazement…will the notions of fountains, swimming pools and baths become as archaic as the Broad St Pump now seems? We need to hold on to it, consider what is precious about it and how we are using it now in order to explore how we might save it for the future.”

The museum doesn’t have a permanent site, and tours the country showing its collection in different locations. But for the month of June it is being hosted in the basement of Somerset House.

shelving

madagascar

antartica

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The basement of Somerset House is a suitably dark and damp venue, with the added feature of a leaky roof complimenting the exhibition. Volunteers are on hand to talk you through the exhibits and show you the filing systems used to log all the donations.

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In this location, a sense of a victorian curiosity show is overpowering. The shelves are laden with vast amounts of bottles and the dark wood and sensitive lighting help to focus the attention of the viewer on the different shapes of bottles and the explainers contained next to each.

The stories of people donating water veers from the poignant and academic to the pointless and banal. There is a unifying sense regardless and the whole feels very human and touching, let alone thought provoking. It struck me as I view the different donations that water is a single source, as all of it is contained within this world of ours. What I drink out of a tap today, and then pass into the British sewage system could end up half-way around the world. So despite some of the donations being from Madagascar or Delhi, it is fitting for it to sit next to water from Suffolk. And at the same time, because of the discolouration of some of the samples, (and yes, there are some of those sort of ‘samples’ as well), it becomes blindingly obvious that safe drinking water is easier to come across in Ipswich than in Delhi.

delhi

suffolk

There are interactive ‘puzzles’ in some of the alcoves in the basement as well which are fun. For example, one alcove contains a bowl of water with pots surrounding it; if you pour water from one pot into the bowl, you form a connection and a recording of someone talking about their relationship to water starts playing. And it immediately stops if you break the flow.

pourastory

It is a shame that the exhibition is only on at Somerset House for the month of June. So depending on when you are reading this, you either haven’t got long left to see it, or you’ve missed your chance. However, this is an ongoing project, so some aspects of it will be viewable in other locations in the future: follow the Museum on Facebook or Twitter to keep abreast of its development, or view its Flickr page to see photographs of more donations and different locations to Museum has visited.

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Museum of Water website

Museum of Water on Facebook

Museum of Water on Twitter

Museum of Water at Flickr

I have always been fascinated by maps. On returning from family camping holidays in France as a boy, my dad, a photographer by trade, would create a big photo album of our adventures, and in pride of place at the front of these albums he would stick a photostat map of France that detailed our journey. My father had itchy feet on holiday and we would rarely stay in one location more than 2 days before he bundled the five of us back in our rusty old Fiat van to trundle off to another site of interest. I think between the age of 8–14 I must have experienced most of France over 2 week periods every summer. Now days Claire and I mostly holiday in the UK, and as we near the date of departure we always buy an Ordinance Survey map of where we are heading and study it intently. It has become a bit of a ritual which I think harks back to the family holidays of my youth.

This information is given as background to the fact that I have recently come across several personal coincidences featuring maps. Two weeks ago it was my mother’s eightieth birthday, and struggling to think of what to get her I struck upon the idea to take her to Norfolk on a trip down memory lane, (my family had relocated there from London in the 1960s, and as a result it is my county of birth). The obvious way to physically give this as a present to my mum—with the date for the intended trip yet to be arranged—was via a map. So I bought an Ordinance Survey map of The Broads, some stickers, and wrapped them up with an instruction card informing her to choose the locations she wanted to revisit.

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The coincidence of maps on that weekend happened when early on the Saturday morning, prior to making my mum’s card and wrapping her present, I had to go to the Post Office to pick up my order of Where You Are by Visual Editions, a book / box of maps by “writers, artists and thinkers … each one exploring the idea of what a map can be”. The coincidence was cemented in my mind when sitting down to look through the Visual Edition maps, still prior to creating my mum’s card, and realising another book on my studio table waiting to be read had a map on its front cover. This book about typography and printing was published in 1947 by the long gone Cowell’s printers in Ipswich, which I had been prompted to buy the week before after reading Ruth Artmonsky’s excellent Do You Want It Good Or Do You Want It Tuesday: The Halcyon Days of W.S. Cowell Ltd. Printers.

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A Handbook of Printing Types by John Lewis, published by W.S Cowell Ltd, 1947

The former of these two books, Where You Are, really stretches the traditional concept of what a map actually is and how maps can be interpreted. I was particularly taken with Valeria Luiselli’s beautiful and mysterious Polariods in her map: Swings of Harlem contained within Where You Are, in which she photographed her daughter on every set of swings in every play-park in Harlem. In her text accompanying these images she passes detached thoughts on the location, the procedure of getting to the park, and her own mood as she watches her daughter play and eavesdrops on other people’s parent–child conversations.

I got to thinking about the concept of psychogeography as I read Luiselli’s piece over the following week. In particular I was considering how we can approach the world around us in a detached manner, forming our own maps of our circumstances and psychologies, and how these can differ greatly from maps produced with the purpose of trying to give order to the world around us. Feeding into this thought process was a post I read in February on Al Jazeera America questioning why the north ended up on top of the map. This led me to dig out The Situationist City by Simon Sadler, a book that had been sitting on my shelf unread since I bought it last year.

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The cover of Sadler’s book features Guy Debord’s 1959 psychogeographical map, of which the author says: “…made as part of Debord’s correspondence with his situationist colleague Constant, the piece was a tiny gem of situationist pot-latch (art created as a gift) and détournement (art composed from ‘diverted’ aesthetic elements).” This image in turn reminded me of a catalogue cover I had produced 12 years previously for a graffiti art-trail of Ipswich I curated. The project’s intention was to question what could be constituted as an art gallery and the cover image I designed openly and appropriately rips off Debord’s visual concept—appropriate because situationism was never afraid of plagiarism as a concept and actively courted it as an artistic device, as highlighted by Sadler above when discussing détournement.

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The catalogue, circa 2002, also contained a map I designed, (below), for exhibition goers to follow. A few years after designing this I realised it was similar to a map of London that NB Studio created, (see link). I don’t know when NB Studio made their work, but if it was prior to my map, I was completely ignorant of it at the time—this is a statement which I realise calls into question my honesty considering my previous comment about Debord’s map, but I swear it is true. Regardless of this, anyone looking at NB Studio’s map will soon agree that my mediocre design effort pales into insignificance in comparison.

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To wrap up all this map talk I suppose that I’ve come to realise that all my recent thinking around the subject has actually been a journey in itself, and therefore, this blog post is a map of my thought processes over the last few weeks. I will be the first to admit that these thoughts and coincidences are somewhat ill formed and disjointed at the moment, but I’m currently ruminating on many different thoughts with the hope of formulating some of the more interesting ones into a future project. So without wanting to force a pun, I haven’t come to the end of my journey in this matter, and I fully expect to return to it again here in the near future.

However, it is probably worth pointing out an irony from the starting point of this post. On the way to a celebratory meal in a pub for my mother’s eightieth birthday on the evening of the aforementioned Saturday, at which my childhood fellow French adverturer brother and sister were going to be present, Claire and I got completely lost on the drive there, too reliant were we on Apple’s iPhone Maps app!

 

To start the new academic year off with a shot of inspiration, we took all Graphic Design and Graphic Illustration students at UCS to GRAPHICS, the Romek Marber exhibition at The Minories in Colchester.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMarber’s influence on British Graphic Design can not be underestimated. His most famous work was for Penguin Books, particularly their crime series, producing many of the iconic green covers utilising photography, collage and drawn imagery to full effect to capture the title of each book he designed for. He also famously designed one of the grid systems that Penguin used for many years.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmong the covers on display was also his rationale behind the layout. As the exhibition literature states: “Romek Marber’s work often communicates in a clear and direct manner that is bought by combining a stripped down use of colour with well defined formal structures within which text and image are framed. A sense of pragmatism and design that grows out of necessity in terms of delivery of message results in an efficient visual imagery that wastes nothing but at the same time appears to leave nothing out.”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome of Marber’s typographic work balances a tightrope between experimentation and reductive modernist austerity, clearly influencing many designers working today. In fact, the covers he did for The Economist only look dated because of the mastheads—Marber’s type explorations themselves could grace many contemporary magazines and certainly wouldn’t look out of place on Bloomberg Business Week.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd this film title sequence could be mistaken for some of the experimental and fluid graphic illustration coming out of the UK at the turn of 21st century by the likes of Dávid Földvári et al:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGRAPHICS exhibition is highly recommended, and runs until 25 October: details here. Thanks to Cydney and Kaavous at The Minories.

While in Colchester, and with the Firstsite Gallery a stone’s throw from The Minories, we also took the opportunity to take a look at the Xerography exhibition that is on there. This celebrates the role of photocopying in art, from the 1960s through to the modern day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis show has an impressive list of 40 contributors, and naturally for graphic design students, the more graphic and book orientated work seemed to appeal the most.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Hockney’s were particularly good and of interest to illustrators:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd I was really taken with this mail-art piece by Eugenio Dittborn:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe show is mixed enough for something to appeal to everyone, although I doubt that there would be anyone who would like everything that was on show. But despite its breadth, the one obvious omission for me was the lack of graphic design. For an exhibition which is tied together by the process of using a photocopier to produce work, this seems like a massive black hole. For example, there are no punk era fanzines such as Mark P’s Sniffin’ Glue which helped to define the aesthetic of an era. This form of instant publishing also helped to introduce some to a career in graphics, such as Terry Jones. There were also no rough and ready record sleeves, whether by the likes of practicing designer Linder Sterling or by the many unknowns who embraced the Do It Yourself nature of punk in 1976/77.

Omissions aside, this is a worthwhile exhibition to go and see, especially if you can go when the Marber exhibition is still on at The Minories, as the juxtaposition between the two makes for refreshing contrast. Xerography runs until 10 November, details here.

Thanks to Sue Hogan for the student talk.

FaceAcheLeft: Tate Etc. Issue 29, Autumn 2013. Design & Art Direction—Mark El-khatib and Sara De Bondt
Right: Face Dances by The Who. 1981. Sleeve—Peter Blake

Well, I’ve been back at the day job for a week now and my summer holiday seems like a distant memory. So before it stretches back any further, I thought I should post some of the cultural highlights from our two weeks away.

First up, we stumbled across the Bubble Car Museum when in Lincolnshire, and what a find. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and all I really hoped was that they had a Bond Bug, because I had a Dinky toy version as a little boy. But it has to be said, this was a gem of a little museum.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the outside the museum looked like a small shed, and I half expected to just see a few rusting, half refurbished cars. But no, the place was rammed with these amazing vehicles. There was something optimistic about these 700cc or less cars and bikes—futuristic and weirdly beautiful. And the museum curators had done an excellent job of displaying them all, trying to put them into context with mock-ups of 1950s shop fronts, front rooms and kitchens around the two exhibition rooms.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis museum is highly recommended and it has a great little no nonsense cafe with adjoining campsite. I think we might be bringing the tent next time we visit Lincolnshire.

On the drive home, as mentioned here, we went via the north Norfolk coast. Having holidayed there for several summers we stopped off in Cley-Next-the-Sea hoping to catch their summer art exhibition, Cley 13, usually held in the village church. This year in a field next to the graveyard, as we approached the church, we were greeted by these wonderful bird sculptures.

Created by artist Jessica Perry and the children of Stalham High School, they certainly grabbed your attention. And while there was interesting work on display in the church, it is very much like a very well crafted and presented college foundation course end of year show. Good, but not exactly challenging.  However, these birds were just fun and unpretentious and as a result blew everything else away.

We took a couple days out in London in the second week of our holiday. We were lucky enough to have been bought membership of the Royal Academy as a present so decided to check out the Summer Show for the first time. As I’d only ever seen it on TV before, it was interesting to see it in the flesh, but ultimately, it is a difficult thing to review, what with so much on show. However, it was quite a good way to assess your tastes, as we ended up just looking at what immediately grabbed our attention. With most exhibitions we go to being themed or of a single artist/designer, just letting your instincts and knee-jerk judgements kick in was refreshing, and almost the only way to react to such an overwhelming display of work. I found several pieces that I really liked, but equally was surprised by many of the entries being allow in. An ultimate favourite for me though had to be the Greyson Perry tapestries, most of which were created in response to his TV programme on taste. Seeing them in their full glory, and being able to concentrate of their detail and the narrative they told, only went to confirm my opinion that the man is an illustrator rather than a fine artist, especially with his work deviating from pottery.

While at the RA, we also took the opportunity to see the Mexico: A Revolution in Art 1910–1940, which I loved. It hadn’t had great reviews, but the fact it was a mix of painting and photography, I thought made it a strong documentary on the the changes and difficulties that Mexico faced during this time period.

While in London, we also took in the Ibrahim El-Salahi exhibition, some of who’s drawings blew me away. This was shown alongside Meschac Gaba’s Museum of Contemporary African Art, which was sort of a museum within a gallery.

TateGaba’s show was really refreshing, not least because you were allowed to take photographs. Gaba wants to challenge the notion of what a museum/gallery should be, and over the years adds new ‘rooms’ to this travelling show, encourages audience participation, (in the first room there was a large Jenga type game for people to interact with), and showcases his life and work as part of the show, (he even had large scale photographs of his wedding and wedding gifts on display as an exhibit!). I wasn’t overly impressed with his individual pieces of work, with its over reliance on symbolism and a sense of having seen similar approaches done much better, but then the Museum has become an artwork in its own right. As a whole, it is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. And what he is trying to achieve with challenging the notion of an exhibition was a joy to behold and completely refreshing.

Gaba's wedding photographs and gifts

Gaba’s wedding photographs and gifts

Just the fact that I’m able to publish photographs here that I took in the exhibition, and couldn’t photograph anything and publish it here form the, arguable much stronger, El-Salahi show, is testament to breath of fresh air this approach filled me with. Why can’t you take (non-flash) photographs in exhibitions? I’ve always thought it was fucking rediculous.

Lastly, while in London, we met up with Claire’s daughter and they both went off to watch a show at The Globe, which was a present from Callie to her mother for her birthday. So I took myself off the Design Museum. It was a shame because the whole place felt like it was winding down, readying itself for its move across London to its new building in 2014/15. But despite there being an air of the place being unloved, the Future Is Here exhibition was genuinely interesting, once I got my head around what it was about. It basically gathers together examples of new ways of working and designing/producing goods, including crowdsourcing ideas, 3D printing, producing construction materials on a building site, and small scale robot construction. These themes and exhibits, when taken collectively, demonstrated how manufacturing processes are changing around us and how new methods of industry were being formed in the now. The Design Museum was half proposing we are in times of a new industrial revolution, and while I’m not completely convinced, it was a thought provoking experience.

As if to reinforce the feeling that the museum is ‘winding down’, it had on display items from its collection themed into six categories rather than the usual second commissioned exhibition. While it is good to see this work coming out of the closet, and promises much for the new bigger space the museum will have in Kensington, (with some of their collection being on permanent display), it did give the impression that energies and finances were being diverted elsewhere. That said, I naturally made a beeline for the graphic design section, and it was good to see Calvert and Kinneir‘s road signage templates:

Maidenheadand the Design Research Unit‘s branding guidelines for British Rail:

BR

Dear Mr Ball

Thank you for your letter to Sir Nicholas Serota raising your concerns about zero hours contracts at Tate. Sir Nicholas is currently away from the Gallery on Annual Leave but I will be sure to show him your letter when he returns at the end of August. In the meantime I would very much like to reassure you that Tate takes these concerns very seriously.We are aware that the use of zero hours contracts has been criticised in the media in recent weeks. We understand that you have questions about how Tate specifically uses them.

Tate Gallery, and its subsidiary Tate Enterprises Ltd, are committed to engaging members of staff with contracts and working arrangements that are fair. Tate Gallery does not employ any staff on zero hours contracts while Tate Enterprises Ltd employs 40 per cent of its staff on zero hours contracts. Staff engaged on zero hours contracts by Tate Enterprises Ltd work hours based on the employee’s agreed availability and the operational needs of the business. They also accrue holiday pay and are entitled to company sick pay.

Tate Gallery and Tate Enterprises Ltd engages people on a range of contracts appropriate to the type of work. Zero hours contracts, used by Tate Enterprises Ltd, are an effective way to manage the changes in staffing levels that are inherent in retail and catering operations. Zero hours contracts also mean that Tate can offer opportunities to those who require flexibility in their working hours and who choose not to commit to fixed hours.

Thank you again for contacting us with your concerns.

With kind regards,

Lucy Dow
Director’s Assistant
Director’s Office
TATE

Zero

Dear Nicholas

I have been a Tate member since 2005 and am writing to you regarding the recent disclosure in the media that the Tate employs people on what has been termed ‘zero-hours contracts’. As a Tate member, I feel that I am being complicit in an employment practice that I feel is unacceptable in 2013, and one that I am surprised that the Tate is actively involved in.

Not giving your employees guaranteed hours of employment, I believe, is a practice that should have been outlawed many years ago. I am sure you are aware of the many arguments against such contracts, but to state my opposition to them, I believe they give people on low incomes no security and forces them to live a hand-to-mouth existence. There is little chance of people employed on these contracts being able to find accommodation due to the lack of proof of a guaranteed income. Further to this, should they have legitimate reasons for turning down work, there are reports of people on such contracts fearing they will be marked down as being inflexible and risk losing future employment opportunities. As an organisation that I previously regarded as progressive, I am shocked to find that the Tate thinks this is an acceptable way to ‘reward’ its hard working staff and believe that it could potentially be regarded as an exploitative act, knowing how desperate some people are to work in the arts and how few job opportunities there are in this field.

As a graphic designer and arts based educator, just like you and your staff, I am employed in the creative industries. The UK based creative industries are globally respected and generate a vast wealth that feeds into the UK economy. Further to this, as a university lecturer, I discuss employment ethics with my students on a regular basis and have a strong personal interest in corporate social responsibility. As a result of this, I believe that employers in the creative sector have a responsibility to uphold this respect for all involved in the sector and to treat its workers fairly.

Because of my strong feelings about this issue, I find that my continued financial support of the Tate to be in conflict with my views. I have recently renewed my membership—I even increased it from a ‘Member + Guest’ to a ‘Member + Guest + Extra Card’—but had I been aware of the Tate’s use of ‘zero-hours contracts’ at the time, I would not have renewed it.

There is little I can do about my current membership. However, unless I learn that the Tate has stopped using these ethically questionable contracts before my current membership has run out, I will not be renewing it again. In the meantime, I will boycott cafes and bookshops at any of the Tate galleries that I visit over the coming year so as to not give further financial support to the Tate.

Yours sincerely

Nigel Ball

 

 

I love the idea of the Art Everywhere project. For the uninitiated, Art Everywhere proposes to fill billboards across the UK with prints of famous art. I like the concept of this because:

Firstly, while not a new idea, it is getting art out of galleries and onto the streets, making it more accessable. *

Secondly, it is democratic, (to a degree). The public can vote on what they want to see displayed on billboards across the nation. * *

Thirdly, it is putting billboards out of commission to advertisers for a period of time—the ultimate culture jam, you could argue. * * *

For more details about the project, head on over to the Art Everywhere website and donate £3 to help make this happen:  arteverywhere.org.uk

 

* It could be argued that the concept behind this has been borrowed from a recent campaign The Partners did for The National Gallery

* * I would like to know more about the long listing process, and how the decisions were made about what the public can vote on. For example, I was very disappointed to find no Gilbert & George on the list, but then maybe there is already enough shit and piss on our high streets!

* * * When there was an advert ban in São Paulo in 2007 it created an interesting visual and commercial void in the city scape with billboards stripped of their posters—but I always thought that was a waste of space, however intriguing it looked.

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