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 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.
The former, in the words of Creative Review, showcases graphic design used to “educate, inform, persuade and even save lives. Items include anti-smoking stamps, anatomical pop-up books, a 17th century plague notice and a mural that uses illustration to explain the symptoms of Ebola to people in Africa.” Where as the latter, in the words of Andrew Smith of Campaign Against the Arms Trade will: “bring many of the world’s most appalling regimes together with the biggest arms companies.”
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.
As I expected, the Design of the Year show is excellent, with some truly inspirational work on display. The exhibition benefits from the larger space with a better flow around the exhibits giving more time to linger and read each project’s background. Equally, it was good to see the collection on display under the title: Designer Maker User. I was particularly impressed with the 3 screen film that critically questioned design’s role in climate change while putting forward different views on what is to do about this dilemma. This, I felt, was the museum taking seriously criticisms that can be levelled against many sectors of design.
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.
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).
Last week The Cabinet of Curiosities caravan pulled up outside University Campus Suffolk to coincide with an exhibition of the same project in UCS’s Waterfront Gallery.
This visit and exhibition is the culmination of a year long project by UCS Fine Art Senior Lecturer Jane Watt. Jane and her bright blue caravan have visited various locations, and in particular many around Cambridge throughout the Autumn of 2014, providing an opportunity for people to come and document curiosities via cyanotypes. “At each location my assistant Amy Sage and I went through the same ritual: paper ready, aprons on, lights on,” says Jane. “The blue door is opened, the sign put outside inviting people to ‘Bring in your curious object’. Each venue brought many new visitors with unexpected objects and related unique tales.”
A large corner of my loft is stacked with vinyl records, mostly 12″ LPs, but there is a smaller pile of 7″ singles. They are going to stay there, save for the odd time I want to change the artwork in my three album-art frames that deck our landing. It is fair to say I haven’t jumped on the supposed vinyl revival—there’s already enough nostalgia in the world, I don’t need any more.