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Spectacle

It has been an interesting week for me as after I published a post here, (Civic Pride), I was contacted by a local newspaper who wanted to run a feature on it. As a result I have seen unfold in-front of me reactions to my writing that have prompted some reflections on my part about the nature of writing, and how an audience responds to the written word.

The piece itself was a break from how I usually write, and a test for a personal project I am doing for my Masters degree. As I explained in an introduction to the piece I was starting to move away from this experiment, but was getting trapped into endless revisions which threatened my overall project. In posting the work I was attempting to make it more concrete in order that I could move away from it. 

The piece was written for a specific context, and in relation to specific experiences of psychogeographic wandering and wonderings I had undertaken. The departure in my writing style manifests itself mainly as a personal one, with my text being much more autobiographical with a strong critical undertow. Added to this were anecdotal experiences and historical pointers, and I wove in memories of many conversations I have had with people over the years that had filtered into my own reading/interpretation of events. I was aiming for a more reflective, reflexive narration, as I attempted to author from a similar starting point as some of my favourite writers who flirt with psychogeography: Bill Drummond; Will Self; Stewart Home, possibly Jonathan Meades, amongst others. I am in no way claiming that what I wrote is similar to them, or even as good, (it isn’t); just that they were an inspiration to me as I consciously changed my approach to writing.

What has been most interesting about this experience is how the readers of the local newspaper article have interpreted, often negatively, the intention of what I wrote. This has lead me to various observations about writing; the context it is read in; what the reader brings to the work; and therefore what they add to or take away from it. Here’s some of my thoughts:

Context is everything
Readers of the newspaper article were invited the comment on what the newspaper had reported that I had written. This removed the reader from the original context of the work. But for those that bothered to follow the link provided to the original blogpost, rather than just read what the newspaper said, had a context imposed on them before they actually read the piece. This clouded their mind and prevented them reading the piece as it was intended to be read.

The audience brings their own agenda to the work
It is interesting how some of the comments on the newspaper website seem to focus in on certain aspects of the piece I wrote, (whether they read the blog here or only related their comments to what was in the newspaper), and ignored other aspects. Some comments completely mis-read what was written and responded by applying their own belief in what they thought had been written. In one case, someone quoted what they thought I had written, but placed a word in a sentence that wasn’t actually there in my writing. This bought a new, and very loaded context to the table which completely skewed the meaning. 

You can’t choose your audience
When something is published it is there for anyone to read. This blog is subtitled: ‘Writings on art, design and music—mostly’; and much of the audience I expect to read what I post are either from an arts background or have a strong interest in what I may write about. People who don’t are quite rightly free to read what is published and so form their own opinion, but there is a higher chance of a mis-reading of the context as a result.

Interpretation of terminology is fluid
Some terms can have negative connotations for some, even if they were intended to be read positively.

The audience doesn’t necessarily assimilate the entire work
Some comments focussed on a point mid-way through the piece that meant they only considered that singular aspect. If that aspect was contextualised with what was said at a much later stage, it would have indicated a progression of thought within the piece and not a static mindset. As a writer, artist, designer etc, you know your own work intimately and therefore tend to see it in the ‘whole’. The reader will not have the same relationship with the work as you and therefore won’t see consider it in its totality.

Sarcasm doesn’t work in writing
Sarcasm doesn’t come across well in the written word and what might sound witty when read off the page by the author is unlikely to sound witty in the mind of the reader.

Audiences aren’t necessarily interested in past work
Previous writing by an author are potentially not known by the reader, and they may not be interested in hunting them out. Therefore the audience doesn’t necessarily ‘get’ the direction of the author’s thoughts over a period of time, despite the fact that what they are currently reading is an extension of what the author has created before.

The audience doesn’t know you
If an audience is reading something with no prior knowledge of you as a person, or have preconceived ideas about your intentions, they are going to layer their own personalities onto what you have written. Therefore any comments they make often say more about them than they do about you. 

An audience is equally the audience of others who have commented
If a reader reads others’ comments this automatically clouds the context of your work further.

In writing this post I have attempted to avoid discussing the actual contexts of what I originally wrote about and focussed on the nature of how people perceive work made by a writer, (or photographer or artist or designer or dancer or…). This is not an attempt to counter some of the comments made on the newspaper website, (however personal and negative some of them may have been), nor to correct being mis-quoted by the journalist. Ultimately what I wanted to explore here is the concept of the death of the author, as raised by Barthes, in a very modern context. This modern context considers social media within the mix of what Barthes and others have previously theorised over. The ability to comment online has added to their theories an additional consideration, and raises the notion of ‘the commenter being the author’. In this questioning of the nature of an audience which also reads other’s comments on a text, and has the ability to comment themselves, it has to be accepted that the reader not only brings their context and meaning to any work, but also what others have written and the origin of the piece is even further distanced from the original context and intentions of the person who first wrote the work.  

Lampost-lottery

The blogging on here is truly taking a back seat as I thought it would *, but my Graphic Interruptions project continues. I got validation this week about its direction in the form of results for the first piece of assessed work on my Masters course, and I’m stumbling across more examples every time I step out onto a pavement.

The above example is one of my recent favourites. The reason I like it is because the graphics aren’t decayed by weather and its form isn’t physically broken. This is the case with a lot of examples I find which could lead to an accusation the project is solely concerned with ‘ruin-porn’, which it isn’t. This piece of graphic design is interrupted because of human interaction as someone has decided, (without too much thought), that health & safety concerns trump communication. This ultimately renders the intention of this item useless when approached from this direction. The question then needs to be asked about the suitability of such a communication device, in the form of pavement signage, if it is liable to have people tripping over it? I also like the irony this implies: the item becomes a lottery—will you or won’t you trip over it?—and I wonder whether there is more chance of financial gain if you were to trip over this and put in a ‘no win no fee’ claim than actually buying a lottery ticket.

Until now I’ve been using Tumblr as an image dump for my finds. However, I’m not convinced I was getting the traffic I wanted and I find Tumblr a little clunky. Now that Instagram have made switching between multiple accounts easy, I’ve created one for this project: you can find it at @graphic_interruptions

Lastly, for now—the undergraduate graphic design course I lecture on at UCS is taking students to New York at the end of this month. Exciting as it is to visit New York, I’m doubly excited to have the opportunity to make this project international.

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* It is typical that when I am extremely busy, (as seems to constantly be the case now), an idea for a blog post will throw itself at me that can’t be ignored, as happened recently with the article I wrote for Eye. See previous post. 

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Graphic Interruption: Perfect Image image

I am embarking on a new venture as of this week; that of starting a Masters. As a result it is unlikely that I will have the time to blog here as much as I have in the past. Dubdog blog is not closing, merely shifting emphasis and directing its attention elsewhere for the time being.

I anticipate I will still add to this blog over the next 2 years that I’m doing the MA course part time, but what with my day job and other commitments, I will have to prioritise rigorously and blogging here will be a much lower priority.

I am hugely looking forward to doing my MA. It is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time but have had to put it on the back burner over the last 5 years due to work commitments. The irony is that as an academic I am expected to be conducting scholarly activity and researching but the lecturing and administration side of being an academic is the thing that has held me back from doing this in anything but a piecemeal fashion. In the last five years I’ve maintained a regular (ish) activity here; peer-reviewed and written reviews for books for art and design publishers; attended conferences; contributed to other blogs, including that of Eye magazine; and I’ve been actively researching historic typographic and print related publications. I’ve even managed to create the odd piece of graphic design, self-published a book and followed my growing passion for photography with a number of personal projects. However, none of this has had a continued focus or the structure that is needed to truly give any of it real academic merit. The framework of an MA will give me that structure and allow that focus.

Do keep checking back from time to time, there will be the odd new post every once in a while. Thanks for reading thus far.

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I left Facebook a while ago, but my abiding memory of it meant this advert in today’s Guardian was ripe for a swift détournement.


What Facebook would like you to think it is:

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What Facebook actually is:

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I was tempted to write about this a few weeks ago when it first hit the news that Virgin were going to adorn their credit cards with Sex Pistols’ artwork. On top of my initial revulsion I then saw this advert and considering it so wrong on so many levels, I didn’t quite know where to start.

However, the original Sex Pistols’ designer, Jamie Reid, probably says it best in this letter which is a response to an article in The Guardian about the cards by Johnny Sharp.

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“Dear Johnny,
In response to your G2 piece FILTY LUCRE, I can only express my complete disgust at the use of my art work for the VIRGIN credit cards. It seems typical of the times we live in. Especially with the Tory (bankers) victory in the last election. It seems so removed from the original 1977 spirit of the Pistols but to be sure these times of questioning and change and alternatives will come again.
As the original artists I have no rights over its usage. Virgin have the rights to use it as they like.
If it was up to me I would never agree to such usage.
Yours Jamie Reid”

Reid has also responded with some new artwork on his website titled The Death of Money: Anarchy and Revolution 1977—Abhorrence and Revulsion 2015 

I couldn’t put it better myself. That said, it did amuse me to see that Reid doesn’t seem to have the same ‘disgust’ for collaborating with Fred Perry and adorning their shirts with some of his work. Fred Perry say of the collaboration: “Some 40 years on his work continues to inspire individuality and free-thinking…Jamie Reid’s three designs speak of both his wit and sense of rebellion”. ‘Sense of rebellion’ rather than actual rebellion would be about right, but then I suppose as Fred Perry aren’t bankers, turning rebellion into money, to quote Strummer, isn’t such a problem for Reid.

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I too look forward to seeing ‘times of questioning and change and alternatives’ come again Jamie.

It’s not everyday your local Tory MP big’s you up in the local newspaper. But to my surprise, I found my McJunk project featured in MP Ben Gummer’s weekly Ipswich Star article yesterday.

While I’m not sure Ben has completely seen he point of McJunk, (see McJunk website here), and I’m certainly not sure that the free advertising McDonald’s are getting from this is appropriate, I can’t be too harsh on the man as I expect that Ben’s love of beef burgers is a family thing that he is unable to distance himself from.

McGummer

Ipswich Star, Friday 25 July 2014

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

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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.

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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.

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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

After reading the latest copy of Varoom the other day, I’ve really taken to Joe Caslin’s Our Nation’s Sons project which has just won a New Talent award from the Association of Illustrators.

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The project is aimed at repositioning the views of young men about themselves in a world of negative stereotypes. As Caslin puts it on his website: “As a nation we have pushed a significant number of our young men to the very edges of society and created within them feelings of neglect and apathy. It is now time to empower these young lads and give them a sense of belonging. I cannot fix the complex problems of apathy and disillusionment by simply sticking a drawing to a wall. However, I can create something more meaningful than any bureaucratic promise and generate a more positive social impact than many published articles, political broadcasts or speeches.”

At the centre of the project is the subject, in more ways than one—as Casiln explains when discussing the process of creating the work: “Find them, draw them, get them to stick them up”, and the positive power of this action on the participant/collaborators can clearly be heard in their voices in this video:

 

In watching the video it is refreshing to hear the observation of one of the lads involved: “When you’re walking around town you see these huge billboards with pictures of celebrities and models for big brands, it’ll be good just to see a giant image of a normal teenager”. This brings into question stereotypes beyond those of anti-social behaviour and challenges the perception that all teenagers are brand obsessed and incapable of decoding when they are being manipulated by advertising.

This project is a positive one on so many different levels, and it probably takes Caslin to sum it up best: “A drawing has the power to go further than words. But a 40ft drawing has the potential to resonate and disrupt the visual landscape of a city. It has the power to pull a passer-by from the mundane, the power to trend and the power to gain real social momentum. It will re-establish respect for and showcase the capabilities of our nation’s sons.”

The project has just recently moved from the streets of Edinburgh to Caslin’s native Ireland and the dramatic Achill-henge. Read here what the local news made of the project.

 

Follow Our Nation’s Sons on Facebook

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.

On a visit to see my mother yesterday, she convinced us that we should go to a Christmas Tree exhibition in Brightlingsea Church. Not sure what to expect, and not really being a Christmassy sort of person, I was bowled over by two of the entries.

WoolWoolybully by Zoe Aldridge got my vote for adult entry.

RocketUnfortunately I didn’t record a credit for this tree, but it got my vote for the children’s entry, (although I suspect they might have had a little help).

Most other trees were more traditional in nature, and decorated with an array of usual and unusual objects. There were Lib Dem and Tory trees, sitting at opposite ends of the church, and it is a shame that no one was brave enough to turn the adult category into an Adult category, which would have been amusing.

But despite my disagreement about most things to do with Christmas, I’d be proud to have either of the above in my front room for the last week in December.

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