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In my teens in the 1980s, as I was becoming politically aware and active, (going on CND demonstrations and reading radical publications), it is difficult for me not to be very familiar with the work of Peter Kennard. I think I must have held several of his images in my hands as placards and certainly stuck some of his photomontages on my bedroom wall torn from pages in lefty rags. When I heard he was having a retrospective at the Imperial War Museum, titled Unofficial War Artist, I debated whether I should go or not, thinking that I knew what I would get and worried about it being an exercise in personal nostalgia. It wasn’t until I read Art-e-facts’ review of her several visits to the show that I decided to go, and without a shadow of a doubt it blew me away, (no pun intended).

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From the outset it was refreshing to see an exhibition with both process and application on show, as you can see below in the anti-apartheid image for The Guardian.

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It was equally good to see some sketchbook work that wasn’t ever applied.

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The skilfulness of Kennard’s photomontage is without question. There is an assured confidence and directness in his visual metaphors that makes them work with little-to-no text. His use of imagery isn’t subtle, but then neither are the effects of war. In that respect Kennard’s work creates a powerful message that hits its target again and again. Regardless of this skilfulness of technique, it is amazing that one man can find so many ways to keep attacking power-mongers’ lust for weaponry. For all of Kennard’s sheer determination we should have seen the back of nuclear weapons years ago, and it seems unfathomable to me that Jeremy Corbyn is criticised in 2015 for coming out saying he would not press the nuclear button, but I digress.

Up until I saw the show, what I knew of Kennard’s output was largely confined to his ‘Thatcher’ period. Before attending I considered what it is to be so defined by an era, just as John Heartfield was to the 1930s and Jamie Ried was to the mid-late 1970s. As the 80s moved to the 90s it isn’t surprising that Kennard became somewhat dejected, stating: “a mixture of personal experience, disillusion with organised politics and the use of the media of innumerable digital photomontages,” caused him to, “question the effectiveness of photomontage as a critical, social probe”, (exhibition panel.) Imagine coming to the realisation that such dedication of energy doesn’t appear to have actually won any battles and that the ‘opposition’ then adopt your mechanisms of protest for their own ends. While you could call any faith in art being able to change the world naive, with Kennard you need to remember that he cut his political teeth on the student protests of the late 1960s, when a different world really did seem possible.

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Not knowing much of his work past the 1980s, (save for the infamous Blair Photo-op), it was what Kennard did following this period that really blew me away as he started making work that was even more powerful, direct, and particularly brutal.

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From the large eyes staring out at you from the Reading Room exhibit, and the hands clawing at newspaper columns, you sense humanity grasping and pleading for some sanity in a world full of marginalised desperate people. Then a corridor of paintings suduces you in with ghostly portraits that stop you in your tracks as their mouthless, thus voiceless, apparitions stare back at you. I was stunned into silence also by their power.

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And all this before you enter the room with his most recent work, The Boardroom, an ongoing project of Kennard’s that revisits photomontage but in a 3D space. This room is not for the faint-hearted—the imagery is particularly brutal while equations and statistics about war, hunger and poverty adorn the handrails you just might need to cling to in order to steady yourself against the visual onslaught.

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No photograph can do justice to this room—it is truly powerful stuff. If you do not feel emotionally affected by its overload of the injustices of war then you either do not have a soul, or you are a government minister.

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The statistics displayed are as equally an important element of the work as the visuals are. In the exhibition’s accompanying book, Kennard states: “I realise the seed for the idea…was actually planted a quarter of a century ago, … I made a speech at the UN to open my exhibition that began with a series of numbers I heard from Dr Hiroshi Nakajima, Director General of the World Health Organisation. I recounted in the speech how these numbers had been haunting me. For one billion dollars, he had said, or the cost of 20 modern military planes, the world could control illnesses that kill 11 million children every year in the developing world. At that moment, I saw that the connection between children needlessly dying from illness and bloated military spending was concealed in our society; the numbers that are the foundation of our modern world”. (2015, Kennard, IWM.) That phrase is worth repeating as you look at the image below: the numbers are the foundation of the modern world.

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On leaving the exhibition and reflecting on the necessary brutality of The Boardroom, I thought of the bravery of the Imperial War Museum to commission this exhibition. It continues until May 2016, and I hope that when it is taken down, the museum consider making this last room a permanent exhibition in their collection.

Peter Kennard: Unofficial War Artist is free: go see.

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I’m pleased to have had work added to the ‘Agit-Prop Army’ of images on Occupy Design’s Time To Act webpage. Submit your posters and memes for the Climate Movement to help their campaign on the streets of Paris in December and on social media throughout 2015.

As Occupy Design say:

Time is running out. Climate Change is happening and without a serious global plan to replace our profit driven, fossil fuelled economy our very existence as a species is threatened this century.

But the Climate Crisis is not just a threat but an opportunity to chart a different course, one that shifts the Economy away from Capitalism to one that is more just, democratic and resilient that we all can share.

2015 is a crucial year for the climate. In December, governments will come together in Paris at the COP21 UN Climate Summit to strike a new deal for the climate—we must make our voices heard, we know that they will not act unless we make them and we can no longer accept more of the same.

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Cover

It seems somewhat ironic that a journal called Signal should pass me by, again. I wrote about the first two issues here in 2012. I can’t remember what, but something pricked my memory of the journal a couple of weeks ago and I went searching for the publication again only to find that issue three was released nearly a year ago with the forth due out this coming May. I quickly ordered Signal:03 and it doesn’t disappoint.

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Once again, what I’m genuinely impressed about with this publication is its breadth. The level of research done by the contributors is impressive and there is a sense of importance given to documenting/archiving social design stories that otherwise would be lost in the midst of time. For example, the image above is from a comical anarchist publication from Brussels in the 1930s. Titled: Game of Massacre: 12 Figures Looking for a Ball, the article explains this Aunt Sally type parlour game, created by Fred Deltor, (aka Frederico Antonio Carasso, 1899–1969), that enables you to cut-out various puppet figures, such as The Military, Property, Fascism, Religion etc, in order that you can throw balls at them. Included in the game was a mock cut-out theatre to set the figures in, and a ball, along with descriptions of the puppets. The above were described thus: (3) “Philanthropy has a chest in the form of a bank vault full of cash and tosses a single coin toward a cadaverous figure (lacking an arm and a leg) in from of a hospital”; and (4) “Social democracy is a two-faced figure who wields the attributes of both royalty and communism”. In uncovering the original publication, Stephen Goddard says: “Stylistically Carasso’s figures betray a knowledge of many of the important international impulses associated with progressive art organisations, periodicals, and movements of the 1920s, such as DeStijl, Het Oversight, Constructivism, and…Agit-prop.”

Signal reprints the preface to the game with a translation which states: “This is the game of massacre. Come! … Here it is, the opulent collection of royal, imperial, and devine puppets, that control you as they wish, you poor crowd, and who, by tragic reversal of roles, pull, from one to the other, the strings of your poor destiny.” Who says that anarchists don’t have a sense of humour?

Like the previous two editions of Signal, issue three mixes historical and contemporary struggles and their associated graphics. So alongside an article on student led strikes in Québec in September 2012, you find the story of the incredible Barbara Dane, co-founder of Paredon Records. Between 1969 and 1985 Dane tried to document revolutionary music being made around the world and in an interview with Alec Dunn and Eric Yanke, she describes how she’d go from country to country recording different musicians and singers and return to the States to release them. In the space of 16 years, Paredon Records, with very little budget, released recordings from Vietnam, Salvador, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Northern Ireland, Ecuador, Italy, Britain, Angola, Chile, Greece, Thailand and a host of other countries. Of the sleeves, she says: “If you look at the records, they’re 12″ x 12″ on the front and then fold around about 5 inches on the back. It was done this way so they could print four at once, four-up on a single sheet of paper…At this printer, what dictated what you could do was economics… And so you figure out things like one color has read, the other blue, so then third cover can have purple. You figure out how to work with two colors, matte paper, that size.”

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1978, design Ronald Clyne

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1975, design by Ronald Clyne

Asking Dane about working with the designer Ronald Clyne, she says: ” If you caught him at the right time of day, before he drank too much wine, he was very very clever about what he did. You can see that he could take any kind of photo, work with it, and make it meaningful and not destroy the meaning of it. And always, his forte was selection of type and layout and all that. I’d bring him basic tools, the basic elements, photos and also drawings from artists I’d met.”

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1975, design by Ronald Clyne

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1974, cover art by Jane Norling

If Barbara Dane wasn’t inspirational enough, Signal:03 publishes an article by Ropbert Burghardt and Gal Kirn on the former Yugoslavia monuments to anti-fascism and revolution. These impressive and often modernist brutal memorials, built between 1945 and 1990, litter what is now split into seven different nations. The authors state: “These monuments are not only modernist, but contain as unique typology: monumental, symbolic (fists, stars, hands, wings, flowers, rocks), bold (and often structurally daring), otherworldly and fantastic. … Instead of formally addressing suffering, these memorial sites incite universal gestures of reconciliation, resistance, and progress…for those that encounter them, they remain highly imaginative objects: they could be ambassadors from far-away stars, witnesses of an unrealised future, historical spectres that haunt the present.”

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Some have been landscaped and provide opportunities for family days out with cafes and play areas. Some are more formal monuments that you can enter, such as the one above in Kozara, while others you happen upon in the middle of nowhere. Started as a way of remembering the second world war, they were initially built spontaneously by local artisans. And if the guidebook to them printed in Signal is anything to go by, there is a vast amount of these monuments dotted around the region, with a map stating over 200 locations, (although many have been destroyed or decayed).

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Once again I am truly impressed by Signal. Its historical importance stretches across many areas including art, design, architecture, music, politics, protest and social history. And although this could be seen as a research journal, it is easily accessible for those who are just generally interested in the topics it covers, students, scholars and armchair revolutionaries alike. I’m already looking forward to the forth edition due in May.

Signal:03 is available to buy from PM Press for $14.95

SA

PearShaped

When Occupy Design UK put out a call last week for Crisis Graphics in protest against climate change I immediately knew what I was going to submit—a reworked version of my 2002 piece Pear Shaped.

Originally created for a People Tree design competition, for which it won an award, I was never really happy with the typography. Occupy Design’s call gave me the opportunity to rework it, channelling a typographic treatment I liked in a piece of work by Ivan Chermayeff that I first saw at his Cut and Paste retrospective last year, (see Holiday exhibitioning pt 1). I’m not usually one for returning to my past creations but Pear Shaped suited the cause and recycling an old idea seemed appropriate. It is, however, an inditement of the lack of progress on climate change that an image created 13 years ago is still relevant today.

Occupy Design UK’s aim is to create an ‘Agit-Prop Army’ of images for the Time to Act on Climate Change protest in London on 7 March 2015. Time to Act’s intention is to put pressure on political parties to consider the environment in the run-up to the general election in the UK in May, with a further aim to build towards the COP21 UN Climate Summit being held in Paris in December.

Occupy Design UK’s call for Crisis Graphics.

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Occupy Design UK is calling for posters and memes to support a day of action on climate change on 7 March.

They say on their website: “The demonstration on March 7th aims to put pressure on political parties before the general election, and raise the profile of climate change. It is also intended to energise and strengthen the climate movement – not an end-point but a stepping stone, it will be followed by local action immediately before the general election, the Climate Coalition lobby of Parliament in June and planning throughout 2015 towards the crucial Paris.”

On the call for images, they say: “We want your Posters and Memes for the Movement to use as an Agit-Prop Army of images to bolster the campaign on the streets and on the Net throughout the year.”

For more details, check out Occupy Design UK’s website here.

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