13
Jan 13

Success

roadsworth_book

I’ve wanted to write something about this book since receiving it as a gift last year.

All photos nicked from www.roadsworth.com

I first learned about Roadsworth and his imaginative street art from the Wooster blog. I saw traces of his work on visits to Montreal. The NFB produced a documentary about him called Crossing the Line (2008). And during the 2009 Manifesto festival he was commissioned to a do a piece outside the 52 McCaul gallery.

His story is pretty interesting and the book devotes a good amount of space to letting him tell it in his own words.

We begin with a guy who feels alienated and frustrated making the decision to produce a flurry of uncommissioned street art. His work catches the attention of a wide audience and later the police, leading to his eventual arrest. By this time he has created over 300 illegal pieces and his supporters launch a public campaign in his defence. At the end of a lengthy legal process, Roadsworth is given a sentence to do some community service by producing a mural with a local school. Meanwhile he is beginning to accept commissions for legal work — from the city, shopping malls, fancy fundraisers and international art events.

01_boy-looking-at-pond-375x500

This story makes me think about success — success as an achievement and success as a modifier, a game-changer. What does winning look like? What happens when your light gets noticed, when you are being tracked, or when you receive offers of inclusion?

By definition, success can mean “accomplishment of an aim or purpose” as well as “attainment of popularity or profit”. Popularity or profit is socially coded as a default measure of success. When we look at accomplishment and attainment we tend to focus on the ends rather than the means. The other assumption, especially with art, is that success is “earned” by individuals, i.e. creative geniuses working in isolation.

Someone told me that Russell Brand once said “the world doesn’t need more successful people — we need more good people”. I couldn’t find that quote, but I did find this one:

“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”

– David Orr, Ecological Literacy

Let’s say we agree with Russell and David here: we need to re-define success, or to do away with the corrupted idea completely — if success is derived from succeed – “to come close after” — to do what is expected of you – that’s just encouraging mindless repetition and entitlement isn’t it?

In a VICE profile Japanese tattoo artist Horiyoshi III talks about the martial art concept of shuhari – a three-stage process that begins with learning a tradition from a master. In order to grow and evolve, you must break away as a step towards transcending your master. From there, you have to transcend yourself — Horiyoshi calls this the hardest stage and says that he still feels like he is in the midst of breaking away.

I’m not proposing that we appropriate this idea to found codified academies of creative resistance that will produce new masters of street art, I just wanted to offer an example where success is defined otherwise — not by attainment of popularity or profit — but by being rooted in a tradition (something bigger than yourself), ongoing learning, exchange, and self-reflexive growth.

Even though I really wanted to squeeze that example in, I’m wary of the idea of mastery. Mastery may offer a different spin on the meaning of personal success (what you do instead of what you have), but meritocracy doesn’t work as social policy — not when access to opportunities is still determined by systems set-up to reward privilege and punish difference.

The master narrative of great artists isn’t a threat to hierarchical social relations — it fits the scheme perfectly. The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house right? But that’s where this book brought me — the rarefied air of material resources and mainstream visibility tentatively offered to a few successful artists — so I began thinking about how artists deal with the contradictions of success.

Three kinds of responses came to mind: redistribution, collaboration, and refusal.

Sometimes Banksy capitalizes on his marketability by offering a limited run of prints to raise money and awareness for political causes. The offering is like an event in itself.

Through the Yes Lab, the Yes Men collaborate with movements to plan creative actions that attract media attention to issues like the Tar Sands. Their infamy as pranksters can make their hoaxes more newsworthy and attract more support for fundraising efforts.

In the 1970s Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge were successful artists. After moving to New York from Toronto, they were invited back by the Art Gallery of Ontario for a retrospective show on their minimalist sculptures. Conde and Beveridge were politicized during their time New York and decided to turn the show on its head, using it as a launching pad for a new collaborative practice of politically-engaged art. Their decision resulted in them essentially being blacklisted by the gallery, but they have sustained their practice for over three decades and continue to work with union members, migrant farm workers, and other groups organizing for social justice.

My thoughts on success are still incomplete and there are definitely loose ends here.

Success isn’t just a thing that some possess and others lack — a 0 or 1, on/off — it’s a powerful, seductive idea that we all have a relationship to.

Here’s a Russell Brand quote that I can actually source — it’s from his Booky Wook 2 – about how we see famous people:

… like all objects of fetish, all icons, they are a reflection of your perception. They are used like saints or gods; here to tell stories, to give us warnings of the perils of success or to be held aloft as examples of contemporary ideals. One figure can be used to represent either extreme, depending on the culture’s mood; David Beckham or Lady Diana can be an example of domestic excellence or individual indulgence depending on the tabloid, depending on the day.

I was first hooked by the visuals in Roadsworth. Then it was the inspiring come-up story about Roadsworth winning popular support for his illegal art. But what stuck with me was the other success story — the engagement with paid legal gigs and how I felt the meaning and strength of the work changed in this new context.

It’s cruel to adore an artist when they’re hungry and begrudge them when they are able to pay their bills, I know that. And yet the dissatisfaction I felt was real — not just jealousy or self-assurance masked in holier-than-thou criticism. The for-hire work inevitably gets viewed in relation to all your other art. But to be fair, it also represents a new period of experimentation with the limitations and possibilities (like going bigger, taking your time) presented by doing sanctioned work — and because that type of work isn’t as direct, as unmediated — it may need to have different aims and purposes. And we may need to lower our expectations.

But what fun (or good) is that? There’s a silly book about Banksy out right now called You Are An Acceptable Level of Threat And If You Were Not You Would Know About It. I actually quite like the title — it’s something to think about with Banksy’s work — or Roadsworth’s — and of course our own as well. What is laughable is the back cover’s assertion that Banksy is the closest thing we have to a modern Che Guevera — which on second thought, may be true for pseudo-radical merchandising efforts.

I’m reminded of this quote from an interview with author Junot Diaz on his writing process:

If you are not lost, then you’re at a place someone has already found. I mean, If you feel familiar and you feel comfortable, you’re in mapped territory. What’s the use of being in mapped territory? If you’re going to spend x number of years in a book, you might as well be doing something new, and that requires you being completely lost.

Let’s get lost together, over and over again.

 


15
Nov 12

OPIRG Poster Archive

OPIRG Poster Archive

What is it? What does it do? So what? 

I’ve been working on this project since June but I keep coming back to these questions.

When I was doing my first archiving project, an overview of graphics used by No One Is Illegal – Toronto from 2003-2009, I saw it as three things: a design resource, a historical archive, and a tool for analysis.

This collection has a different feel. There’s much more breadth – in terms of the timeline and themes – but also less depth. The collection has more gaps. I’m less familiar with the images. And they are not so atomized into logos and other remixable parts. As a result, analysis has been a slower and more elusive process.

I tried to sketch out some of my ideas here:

  • The OPIRG Poster Archive is a collection of 300+ social movement posters from the mid-1980s to present, primarily concerning Toronto, that have been digitally archived by community members using Omeka, an open source web platform
  • The archive is a snapshot of two campus-based organizations, OPIRG-York and OPIRG-Toronto, made from posters that trace their role as a hub for a dynamic range of social justice organizing, often intersecting and sometimes contradicting, but bound together by a shared history, including that someone decided they were “worth keeping”
  • The archive displays a web of relations, with items tagged by year and theme, offering a set of data to reflect on the nature of social movement organizing, as well as the position of posters in these movements, and what we can learn from documenting them
  • The archive is only partial, missing captions and stories that can animate still images, that might reveal emotions, processes, relations of production, formal and informal training, or how to gauge the question of efficacy
  • The archive is a political act, an effort to contribute to the recovery of hidden histories, drawing from the phantom archive of social movement culture, and maybe serving as a reference for future projects

Some notes on process:

  • Installing Omeka was a hassle at first. It didn’t seem to get along with my website hosting provider. I tried the Omeka-hosted alternative, but decided that I wanted to be able to fully customize the collection. Luckily, Omeka installed smoothly when I tried with OPIRG-York’s hosting provider. Despite my limited technical knowledge, I was able to stumble forward with visual and functional coding tweaks, mostly by googling problems and experimenting through trial-and-error.
  • I scanned half of the OPIRG-York posters at home and half at school. I found a sweet ~$2,000 scanner in the map library that scans just over 11×17. My home scanner (~$200) scans just under 11×17, and while not as good as the fancy scanner, the quality was still sufficient. I saved “master files” that were 300dpi in lossless TIFF format and then used Photoshop to mass automate the creation of smaller web-friendly files that I batch-uploaded to Omeka. Daniel repeated the same process with the OPIRG-Toronto posters, and fortunately for us, all of the posters had already been gathered into portfolio books by OPIRG staff.
  • For oversized files (larger than 11×17), I tried stitching multiple scans together with Photoshop. The results were mixed. I then followed Lincoln Cushing’s example by making a vacuum board (and acquiring a shopvac) to photograph posters flat, though I decided to opt for a simpler design based on this concept.
  • When it came to categorizing the posters, I got stuck. I decided early on that I wanted to go with the snapshot approach rather than a tightly curated collection, but I still wanted to help organize the content to make it more digestible. My sense of what was possible or desirable was heavily shaped by poster collections that I’ve seen in books. Due to the format, they tend to be hierarchical and linear. I was trying to reproduce this by crudely constructing categories and trying to fit images into them (along with devising the viewing order). After a conversation with Craig, I realized that I didn’t need to do this. The advantage of a web-based collection is that it doesn’t need to be hierarchical or linear. I decided to emphasize the tag cloud by making it the main page rather than the full stream of images.

Before signing-off, I want to share a short personal note:

  • OPIRG-Toronto was pretty fundamental to my politicization as an undergrad at UofT. It was as an OPIRG work-study student that I first became familiar with many of the social movements agitating on and off campus. The OPIRG office was a microcosm for these struggles; they were represented on the walls with posters, placards, flyers and calendars that seemed to cover every square inch.

It’s been a privilege to work on this project. I’m interested to see how it evolves (maybe with more PIRGs or public contributions being added), and I hope that people find it useful.

 


02
May 12

Burning the Flag

Graffiti stencils in London, Ontario via Toban Black

Playlist: Pledge of Allegiance  /  PJ Harvey “The Glorious Land” 

On my first day of school, I remember being introduced to my teacher, Ms. Witch, dressed in all black. When music started playing from the ceiling and everyone froze, I was mystified. What sorcery was this?

Some of my teachers expected us to sing this song, or to faintly mouth the words, but we always had to observe the anthem obediently, if only in silence.

Hearing the music confirmed that you were late, that your body was not where it should be. Watchful figures guarding hallways stopped us in our tracks, holding us with their stares, adding to our delays, to make sure we observed the anthem.

Why was it so important to them? What did it mean?

For one thing, respecting the anthem is part of upholding respect for “the rules” and rulers who govern schools. Otherwise, anarchy would break out.

And then there’s the national part of the anthem. There’s a reason why they make 4-year-olds rise at attention and profess “true patriot love” before we even know what that means.

Playing the national anthem in schools is part of nation-building, or upholding respect for “the rules” and rulers who govern Canada.

***

As activists and designers working with social movements, many of our struggles require us to challenge “the rules” and rulers who govern Canada.

Switching formats from audio to visual, I’d like to look at a different nationalist symbol – the Canadian flag – and the way it gets used in graphic design.

Flags: Rainbow, Marijuana, Black, Tar Sands

When I look at simple graphics that riff on the flag, I notice two kinds of dynamics: seeking inclusion by wrapping yourself or your subject in the flag; and raising critical ideas by showing the flag in a new light.

In the first pair of images (top left + right), the association with the flag is viewed as benign, while with the second pair (bottom left + right) the image of Canada is visibly tarnished.

However, all of these images share a common limitation. Not one grasps things at the root. How can we talk about nation-building without acknowledging the colonial history and present of Canada?

So-called “Native Canadian” flag, unknown origin; 2010 Canadian Olympic hockey jersey logo by Debra Sparrow (Musqueam) with Nike (not a flag, but may as well be one)

Even images that engage with (some might say co-opt) indigenous art and identity can fail to do this. Perhaps intended as an inclusive gesture, or as a powerful corrective, my concern is that this is actually a form of assimilation, of subsuming indigenous nations under Canada in order to extinguish land and treaty rights that are rooted in nation-to-nation relationships.

Ultimately, the Canadian flag is part of an ambitious re-branding exercise. The goal is to consolidate the emotional pull of nationalism to avoid the unsightly reality of Canada’s colonialism.

***

So just because you use the Canadian flag in your design, does that mean you are supporting colonialism?

Aren’t there good reasons to use the Canadian flag? The flag is an instantly recognizable symbol. It provides political and geographic specificity. It helps us name power so people can understand what we’re talking about.

Let’s look at some examples.

By Afuwa Granger as part of NOII-Van’s People’s History of Kanada Poster Project

Occupy Toronto poster; Keep It Public image; Imperialist Canada cover; Shut Down Bill C-10 poster; Canadian Prisons: Apartheid in Action & They Shoot He Scores prints by Jesse Purcell

With the flag graphics, the flag was the statement. Here, the symbol of the flag is just one part of the picture, helping to provide context and convey particular values and ideas.

These communication strategies range from appealing to a sense of nationalism in the Occupy Toronto poster, which uses the maple leaf and red-on-white colour scheme to suggest that the values of Occupy reflect “Canadian values”, to critiquing the nationalist idea that Canada plays a benign (or subservient) role in the world with the cover of Imperialist Canada, which uses the maple leaf to map the oppressive actions of the Canadian state at home and abroad.
 
Illustration from Briarpatch March/April 2011; The Dominion Jan/Feb 2012 issue

While some images use the maple leaf instead of the whole flag, others use a distinctive land mass that clearly signifies Canada. This image may seem less politically charged because it is not an iconic nationalist symbol, but space is contested and geography is political.

We can see different political geographies in the work of indigenous artists like Erin Marie Konsmo and Gord Hill. Konsmo and Hill push back colonial borders by centering a different conceptualization of the land from Turtle Island to Abya Yala.

Instead of proposing a cut-and-dry answer or formula, my suggestion is to think carefully about the choices we make, and the delicate balance between naming oppression and re-enforcing it.

No Borders & Occupy: The Game of Colonialism by Erin Marie Konsmo, Métis/Cree Indigenous feminist and artist

500 Years of Indigenous Resistance, cover and pg. 61, by Gord Hill, member of the Kwakwaka’wakw nation on the Northwest Coast

Illustration by Emily Davidson for The Dominion


16
Mar 12

Fisticuffs

I wanted to share an array of images that I’ve gathered which use the fist & barbed wire as a symbol. For a change, I decided to try making an animated GIF. It was actually pretty easy, so look forward to more animations in the future.

  • #1 Julius Fuchik (book author), Notes From the Gallows (1948) via Justseeds
  • #2 Unknown Artist, Nikdy! (1961) via 4000 Communist Posters Torrent
  • #3 Kearny Street Workshop, Benefit Olga Talamante (~1975) via Kearny Street Workshop Archives
  • #4 One Year of Military Dictatorship (1977) by Malaquías Montoya in Just Another Poster? Chicano Graphic Arts in California (2001)
  • #5 The Struggle Continues via Howard Besser’s T-Shirt Database
  • #6 Unknown Artist (~1943) via 4000 Communist Posters Torrent
  • #7 Naji al-Ali’s Handala
  • #8 Solidarity Across Borders, Montreal
  • #9 No Borders South Wales website banner
  • #10 No Borders Camp
  • #11 www.noborders.cz sticker, in Prague
  • #12  www.nooneisillegal.org sticker, in Toronto
  • #13 No One Is Illegal flag at Zapatista encuentro 2007, via No One Is Illegal – Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories
  • #14 No One Is Illegal – Toronto banner
  • #15 No One Is Illegal – Toronto patch

From Olivier Razac’s Barbed Wire: A Political History (2002)

 


11
Feb 12

Amandla! Israeli Apartheid Week, 8 Years Strong

Israeli Apartheid Week is right around the corner so I decided to post this image of IAW-Toronto posters over the past 8 years. IAW has spread from a single university campus in 2005 to 97 cities in 2011, proving that nothing can stop an idea whose time has come. The nature of this growth is reflected in the posters from 2009 onwards, which offer a general image for collaborating cities to customize based on the timing of their own events and language needs.

IAW was started by students at the University of Toronto. I arrived in time for the second IAW, but I was more or less oblivious. I remember seeing IAW represented in the student press as a snowball fight between Palestine supporters and Zionists. The message was that they were both equally detestable, which was effectively a victory for supporters of the status quo.

But over time the rabid condemnation of IAW has clearly backfired, only bringing greater attention to the BDS campaign, and more scrutiny of those who continue to make uninformed arguments about IAW being a hate-fest.

A lot can change in a year. By 2007 — after taking some time to educate myself and developing personal relationships with people doing this work – I was putting up IAW posters and helping out with events.

In 2009 some friends and I put up the poster on the right as a response to the tearing and defacement of Carlos Latuff’s IAW poster. At Carleton University in Ottawa, the administration saved vigilantes the hassle of doing their own censorship by banning the poster outright, an act that can’t be understood outside of the wider context of malfeasance by partisan administrators.

This year’s wonderful poster was designed by Nidal El Khairy, one of my favourite artists, who also created the images for 2010 and 2011. In my piece on migrant justice political graphics, I mention how his work is a good representation of the connection between Palestine solidarity and immigrant rights organizing:

While in Montreal, illustrator Nidal El Khairy worked with the Coalition Against the Deportation of Palestinian Refugees, one of many groups under the umbrella of Solidarity Across Borders. El Khairy draws Palestinians and his work is often used by the Palestine solidarity movement …

The intersections in El Khairy’s activism between migrant justice and Palestine solidarity is itself an illustration of how these struggles are linked. Palestinian refugees are denied the ability to return to their homeland due to the backing Israel receives from members of the international community such as Canada, while Canada and other states deny Palestinians the ability to move in their pursuit of dignity and respect [by deporting them to refugee camps]. 

No One Is Illegal March on Ottawa, 2005 (illustration by Nidal El Khairy)


14
Jan 12

I <3 Palestine

Top: “Free Palestine” (~2001, San Francisco); Left: “Nakba 60″ (2008) by Jesus Barraza; Right: “A Woman’s Place Is In Her Students’ Union” (~2005) by the Canadian Federation of Students

One of my go-to tools for online image research is TinEye Reverse Image Search. When you upload an image or provide a link, TinEye scours the web for every instance of the image in use. To some degree, it is able to detect similar versions of an image that may have been modified. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much help tracking down the original source of the photograph at the top of this post. The image was all over the place but seemingly never referenced.

At this point I turned to Oakland-based artist-activist Jesus Barraza from Dignidad Rebelde for help. Jesus used the image in his poster to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Nakba in 2008. Although he didn’t know the answer, Jesus was also curious and generously offered to post my ask on his Facebook. Amazingly, when DR’s Melanie Cervantes shared the ask on her page, the women in the image were identified by a cousin less than 20 minutes later.

The story of this image, or rather the search for this image, is an interesting illustration of two faces of online culture: one, how ubiquity can deepen anonymity by reproducing an image out of context hundreds if not thousands of times; and two, how the much-hyped connectivity of social networks can help crowdsource research (and put anonymity on an endangered species list). Context is not static, it is actively given and taken away.

An important aspect of Jesus and Melanie’s art is how their work comes full circle by honouring the original context of their sources. In their own words, “we create work that translates people’s stories into art that can be put back into the hands of the communities who inspire it.” The outcome of this process is often quite powerful. As a testimonial to this effect, one commenter on the crowdsourcing note wrote:

I remember telling you & Jesus, how moved I was when I first saw the graphic image of this treasured picture. It means the world. I keep both images in my heart. Thank you.

For me and so many others who encounter their work, this is the type of design that offers a definitive answer to the question “Can design touch someone’s heart?”

The Woman’s Place poster (right image, based on “A Woman’s Place Is In Her Union” with Rosie the Riveter) also has a place in my heart. I think it is one of the first political posters that I was exposed to. I remember it hanging up in the office of the Toronto Youth Cabinet, a group I started organizing with while in high school. But after finding the original image, it’s taken on a new meaning.

Comparing the two images, you can see that all of the visual references to Palestine have been filtered out. Keffiyehs are made into plain (but still “ethnic”) scarves. Gone are the Palestinian flags and even the face-painted Arabic letters that spell out “Palestine”. The image, and by extension the organization producing it, is supposed to be anti-racist because it prominently features women of colour, yet it erases the anti-racist & anti-imperialist issue they were organizing around.

Turning an image with a such a specific context into a sanitized generic representation is a dramatic departure from the spirit of their participation and the feminist anti-racist message the poster intends to convey.

But I also want to locate myself in this critique. I remember a time when I was designing a migrant justice demo poster and used a photo of some people I knew marching in a contingent. I was looking at photos from the previous year’s demo and picked this particular image because I liked it the best. I’d like to say that I didn’t alter their messaging, but I did crop the image, and make it black-and-white to fit within the scheme of the poster (which was certainly more about the general messaging of the demo rather than their specific contingent’s messaging within it).

Knowing the people in the image, I should have asked for their permission. It’s one thing to participate in a public demonstration and another thing to have your faces featured on thousands of copies of a poster across the city. And politically, it’s one thing to organize a contingent where you put forward and control your own chants and messaging and another thing to have someone else re-interpret your participation – your essence – for a new purpose, even if closely related.

Getting consent is obviously difficult if you don’t take a photo yourself or know the people within it. And I’m an advocate for remixing culture, for creatively re-using and re-interpreting the material from our visual environment, but that doesn’t mean that ethical considerations are thrown out the window. Remixing an image is a political act, not necessarily a progressive one. If anything, this post is a helpful reminder for me about the need to be more attentive to these issues.

In & Out: “Students Against Racism”, Canadian Federation of Students; “QuAIA Deputation” (2011), Queers Against Israeli Apartheid


27
Dec 11

Graphic Influences IV

The Art of Rini Templeton (1989); Prepárate! (2011) by Favianna Rodriguez

Reproduce & Revolt (2008), edited by Favianna Rodriguez and Josh MacPhee

For 20 years, Rini Templeton travelled across the US, Mexico and Central America producing drawings for people in struggle. Her easily reproducible “xerox art” has inspired a new generation of artists to continue working in this tradition. Josh MacPhee and Favianna Rodriguez published Reproduce & Revolt in 2008, an open source collection of over 500 political graphics.

Fittingly, R&R features one of Rini’s graphics on its cover and emulates the wide format and bilingual content of The Art of Rini Templeton. Moreover, the always amazing Favianna was instrumental in creating RiniArt.org, an online archive of Rini’s work.

Now, we just need to get the R&R collection online, and how about a second edition? Both books are great hands-on resources for stimulating creativity in workshops and in your own design work. Rini’s book is getting a little harder to find, but if you’re willing to go used, you can get a copy of R&R for ridiculously cheap prices.

Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? (1989) Guerilla Girls; Take Back the Dyke (2010)

Silence=Death (1987), Silence=Death Project; sTOnewall (2011)

Pride is a Pyramid Scheme (2010) quilt by Allyson Mitchell et al @ sTOnewall 2011, photo via Xtra

Speaking of reproducing & revolting, check out these graphics from radical queer organizing in Toronto. The posters for Take Back the Dyke and sTOnewall draw on the aesthetic of classic images produced by the Guerilla Girls and Silence=Death Project.

They are also are connected politically because both events were organized with the intention of reigniting the political spirit of the Pride Parade by reconnecting Pride with its historical roots. A great resource on this is Gary Kinsman’s work on the social organization of forgetting and the resistance of remembering.

And these posters were put up everywhere. You know folks have done a good job when you see traces or even complete wheatpasted posters over a year later.

Pyramid of Capitalist System (1911) issued by Nedeljkovich, Brashick and Kuharich, Cleveland; Capitalism is a Pyramid Scheme (2011) Crimethinc with Packard Jennings

“Overthrow Capitalism” in HAVOQ’s Limp Fists, Raised Fists Calendar (2011)

If pride is pyramid scheme, capitalism is the original pyramid scheme. The classic image published in the Industrial Worker, newspaper of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), was recently updated by Crimethinc with the help of Packard Jennings to coincide with the launch of their new book Work (2011).

HAVOQ, the Horizontal Alliance of Very (or Voraciously or Vaguely) Organized Queers, also played on this image in their awesomely intersectional fundraising calendar for their Undoing Borders tour, which stopped in Toronto in September.

For me, the strength of the original image is in making power relations visible and immediately recognizable: We Rule You, We Fool You, We Shoot At You, We Eat For You, We Feed All / We Work For All. With their poster, Crimethinc adds new layers of complexity and offers their book Work as a “376-page decoder ring” to modern capitalist society. Reproducing the original alongside staged photos, HAVOQ captures the spirit of the 1911 pyramid while offering their own sense of radical queer haymaking.

Visit Palestine (1936) by Franz Kraus; Visit Palestine (2010) by Meera Sethi

Add it up, now break it down. From an article on the original Visit Palestine poster by by Dan Walsh of the Palestine Poster Project:

“With this one poster pulled out of the Zionist attic, three core myths are debunked. The first myth is that Palestine had ever been a land without people. Obviously someone lived in these houses and someone tended these gardens. The second myth is that Palestine was a vast desert awaiting cultivation. The resplendent tree in the foreground suggests that the land surrounding Jerusalem was much more than barren desert. The third myth is that there never was a Palestine. Of course there was a Palestine, and here it is, called by name in a Zionist-published poster.”

War Is Over! (1969) via Toronto Telegram Archives; Peace Is Here (~1970) by Toronto Rochdale Peace Centre via Rochdale College Facebook group; We Want It! (~1970) by Rochdale Free Clinic via Rochdale College 341 Bloor St W Facebook group

The final stop on this meandering journey is Rochdale College. I recently stumbled upon a treasure chest of photos shared by former residents on Facebook groups created for alumni.

One thing that struck me about these images, aside from clearly being influenced by John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s War Is Over!, is how they represent innovative social institutions that operated within Rochdale. The Rochdale Free Clinic started what became the Hassle Free Clinic, which still operates today.

Via Rochdale College on Wikipedia: “Rochdale participants were involved with various cultural institutions in Toronto such as Coach House PressTheatre Passe MurailleThe Toronto Free Dance Theatre, This Magazine is About Schools (now This Magazine), the Spaced-out Library (now the Merril Collection of the Toronto Public Library) and House of Anansi Press.”

I think this is an important dimension of the history of Rochdale that often gets overlooked. Fortunately we now have these posters to help make that history visible again.


16
Nov 11

Graphic Influences III

Left image ¡Romero presente! (1991) by Juan Fuentes in Russ Davidson’s Latin American Posters (2006); center and right National Domestic Workers Congress (2009) and EZLN Women’s Revolutionary Laws (2007) by Melanie Cervantes and Jesus Barraza

The Long Retreat Is Over (2001) by OCAP & We Also Know How to Cut (2011) by Unknown (taken by Craig while in Quebec City)

Silence=Death (1987) by Silence=Death Project  & Harper=Death (2010) by Aids Action Now!

Aids Action Now! Poster/virus project on the streets; General Idea’s IMAGEVIRUS (1989)

 The Creator is Watching You Harper! (2011) by Kent Monkman, AAN! Poster/virus project

I love doing this series on graphic influences. Without taking anything away from the artists, who are all amazing and huge inspirations to me personally, one of the reasons that I like doing this research is that it helps demystify design.

Great designs aren’t just produced by bursts of creative genius. They come out of a social context. They are historically rooted. Great designers are influenced by great designs & social struggles.

Right now I’m helping my friend Natalia organize an 8 part workshop series called Radical Design School. We are working from the premise that “we are all designers”. Given support, anyone can be a designer for social movements. Sure, there are technical ideas about design but we all also all hold a huge wealth of implicit knowledge.

It’s going to be a lot of fun, especially because Nat is formally trained as a designer and I’m self-taught. One of the things I’m interested in exploring is applying the “Everything is a Remix” concept to design – looking at how our designs are products of copying, combining and transforming existing material from our visual environment.

For example, some folks in Quebec borrowed OCAP’s guillotine (who can blame them?). And maybe they were borrowing more than that, maybe they were also using the visual archive to link their struggle with OCAP’s history or aura of militancy. But in their “remix”, substituting Premier Charest for Harris, the comrades in Quebec also added a great slogan that I’m tempted to borrow in this age of austerity and cutbacks: “We Also Know How to Cut”.

In their exciting Poster/virus project, Aids Action Now! writes that they are “intentionally evoking the history of creative responses to HIV … to provoke discussion, controversy and dialogue in a way traditional activism cannot.” Awesome! Be sure to check out the posters and, if you can make it, the launch event on November 30.