I was honoured to be asked to write something for the Mainly Museums website recently, and decided very quickly that it would be good to champion Manchester’s Peoples History Museum, (PHM), on the site. My choice was influenced by the fact PHM tells its story through the graphic accoutrements of political activity; from trade union banners to posters, from badges to membership cards, from propaganda leaflets to magazine covers. This visual telling brings the story alive of the fight for social justice, not just in the North of England, but across the UK and internationally. I would urge anyone to visit should they be in the area.
The article itself is an expanded rewrite of a Field Readings’ post I wrote about the People’s History Museum after I visited many years ago. The new version was first published on Mainly Museums website in July 2019.
The bracketing of the Hope To Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008–2018 exhibition at London’s Design Museum is interesting for many reasons. Starting with Shepard Fairey’s Hope campaign for Obama’s 2008 election, and (almost) finishing with Trump’s Make America Great Again baseball cap, these two items showcase how effective vacuous phraseology can be in winning over people’s emotions when asking them to vote on big decisions. Both speak to the human condition of wanting ‘better’, without actually defining what that ‘better’ might be. They leave it for the reader to appropriate the slogans and adapt them to their own set of desires.
It has to be said the application of such sloganeering adds weight to the message—the words alone didn’t win their respective elections for each candidate. Fairey’s message appealed to the youth vote as much because they were street posters and were run counter (and unendorsed) to the official Democrat campaign; while baseball caps are everyday headgear worn by the everyman and everywoman of America. Each message is targetted precisely, whether strategically intentioned or not. What both tell us though is that logos do not win elections, neither for Obama in 2008 nor Clinton in 2016. As graphic communication devices, logos tend to be overly associated with corporate structures, despite both Obama’s and Clinton’s being applauded by design critics for their aesthetics, symbolism and ‘cleverness’. In thinking that these could help win around floating voters, it strikes me that the audience was ultimately forgotten, unlike with the street posters and baseball caps.
These are just a few of the thoughts I came away with after visiting Hope to Nope with a group of graphic design students the week it opened in April.
There is an irony to the fact that four days after the Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? exhibition opened at the Wellcome Collection, the biennial Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair kicked off at the ExCeL centre in London’s Docklands.
Banksy’s submission to Art the Arms Fair
Today I visited the Design Museum in its new Kensington home. Primarily going to see the Design of the Year 2016 show with students, being a big fan of the museum, I was also keen to see how the relocation from Shad Thames had been managed.
There is much in the move to the former Commonwealth Institute building that is impressive. It is an incredible site and there is real drama as you enter the huge atrium and look up at the stunning roof. This drama only expands as you move on up through the floors.
I’ve just written a review of the excellent Gee Vaucher exhibition, Introspective, at Colchester’s Firstsite gallery for Eye Magazine’s blog. Read it here.
Turn right down Bishopsgate, cross the road and go down Bevis Marks until you reach St Mary’s Axe. So started many walks with graphic design students from Liverpool Street Station to the Design Museum, always accompanied by a lecture on architecture . I initially learnt the route from a colleague of mine, (thanks Lindsey), which I then honed over the years. And it is a great shame that I won’t be taking this journey with students again, for last week, the Design Museum shut its Shad Thames doors as it relocates to Kensington.
PhotoEast, Suffolk’s first festival of photography was launched this week in Ipswich and can claim to be a major success, even within its first few days of existence. The half-mile walk along Ipswich’s waterfront from DanceEast to Cult Cafe brings dramatic images from around the world to this small Suffolk town. Local history and Ipswich life are presented alongside contemporary photography as part of the fabric of the waterside architecture. There is even a projection room inside a shipping container at the far end of the marina.