While some may praise Lush for its recent #SpyCops poster campaign, having your own shop window to deliver a political campaign message in is a luxury most do not have. Now, the non-shop owning agitpropper can turn to Brandalism, who have launched a Subvertising Manual that shows anyone how to reclaim visual spaces from advertisers by replacing 6-sheet adverts with their own artwork.
Taking aim at the backlit hoardings most frequently seen at bus stops, the manual tells you everything you need to know to hang your own work in these spaces. Subtitled What You Need And How To Do It, it discusses what tools are required to open the displays; artwork sizes for the majority of bus shelter hoardings, (advertising lingo calls these 6-sheets); what to wear and the best times of day to hang your work to avoid getting caught; and where you can find information online so your work stays up as long as possible.
For many, traipsing historic academic cobbles and staring at spires, let alone dreaming of them, would define any visit to Oxford. For me, on a family weekend there recently, it was an opportunity to study its graphic commons.
Looking for its vernacular, I mostly steered clear of high-street parades, and came away finding the city’s contradictions being easy bedfellows; high and low culture mix comfortably, on the streets at least. Testament to this are the highbrow events flyposted on chipboard, acting as a temporary hoardings for college concerts where no sacred wall can be damaged.
These sat just around the corner from the usual tattered pastings I more typically photograph. Technically the same in purpose and application, each arguably despoiling/enhancing the streets, depending on your point of view. The only difference being that those on chipboard could be moved out of sight quickly. While on display though, from a visual perspective, they are exactly the same.
Pockets of resistance were also visible. Some philanthropically recognised, others unofficially bubbling up from the underground.
I have had a fascination with the Festival of Britain since I came across one of its guidebooks several years ago and wrote an article about it for Eye magazine’s blog. In my day job I have also had the pleasure of hearing Abram Games’ daughter, Naomi Games, talk to students about her father’s work, (for the uninitiated, it was Abram Games that designed the FoB logo). Further to this, I have a keen interest in modernist design principles, and in particular the work of the Design Research Unit who played a key role in the planning and organisation of the 1951 Festival. It is therefore not surprising that when driving through the Lincolnshire village of Barnetby Le Wold while on holiday with my wife recently, that my eye caught sight of the familiar logo. However, the fact it was set into the concrete of a bench by a very busy roundabout was the last place I expected to see it.
I took a dérive to work the other day and came across road work annotations on the pavement. I’ve seen these many times before, and often photographed them, but yesterday’s discovery prompted me to pull the more interesting images together in one place. When cropping some of these square, the reference to Mark Boyle and the Boyle Family‘s work is obvious to see.
It is not artistic associations that fascinate me about them though, but the fact they are little architectural notes. They clearly have meaning to someone, even if their meaning isn’t always clear to me. When I come across them it is like I have discovered tribal marks during an exploration of unchartered lands. It also strikes me that if they were drawn unofficially on walls, they would be jet-washed off as graffiti.
After my last walk in Chelmsford, I’ve been noticing more and more temporary banners tied to railings. So today I took a short walk around my local area to capture those I had seen whilst in the car.
Unlike many that I saw in Essex, the ones I saw today were mostly ‘official’, in that what was being advertised/promoted related to the property owner of the railings they were attached to. For example, Ipswich NHS Trust banners outside the hospital and the local St Elizabeth’s Hospice railings were covered in banners for fundraising events.
Notes on current research As my graphic commons project grows and I’m formulating links between different urban studies and theories, I’m finding out how little research there appears to be into graphic design in shared environments, (within both current or historic thinking around the topic). This may obviously be because I just haven’t found it yet, and others may be able to fill the holes in my studies, (please post in comments or DM me via the contacts page if you do have any research pointers). A 2017 report by the Design Commission titled People & Places: Design of the Built Environment and Behaviour, makes reference to how urban environments can influence mental health, but fails to mention anything in regard to how everyday visual culture may impact on this. Such references tend to be more explicitly discussed in anti-advertising doctrines such as the excellent Advertising Shits In Your Head. However, in doing so, such texts tend to be polemic and agitational in nature and do not make a wider connection to urbanism as a theoretical study.
Others discuss the visualisation of environments in passing, but do so more abstractly by talking either about visual pollution or the commercialisation of space without reference to specific pictorial material, (see Fezer’s Design In & Against the Neoliberal City, obviously Lefebvre’s Critique of Everyday Life—in particular volume 2: Foundations Of Study For A Sociology of the Everyday—and visual pollution is discussed in the introduction to the recent republication of Nelson’s How To See). In relation to how my research on the ground is going, it fits more with some of the projects I am reading about in Campkin and Duijzings’ 2016 publication: Engaged Urbanism: Cities & Methodologies, although none of the featured work is studying graphic design in shared environments per se.
Distance: 4.2 miles
Steps taken: 9,687
Start time: 09:37
Ground covered: Small town centre, surrounding residential areas and seaside promenade
Any talk of Southwold and psychogeography is duty bound to include a mention of W.G. Sebald’s Rings Of Saturn. My drift around Southwold yesterday, as part of my continuing Graphic Commons project, did take me up Gunhill, and past both The Reading Room and The Crown, all of which Sebald discusses in his text. These though, are as much of a mention as Rings Of Saturn will get here.
After fog stopped two previous attempts at more walks for my Graphic Commons project, I finally managed to get out again today. Thankfully, despite weather reports of fog in this region, Ipswich seemed to be unaffected.
The project has moved on somewhat since I did the Easternmost onshore drift walk, as I have now categorised many of my photographs from my previous dérives. As Graphic Commons develops, it has turned into themed observations of different categories I have identified within graphic design, with each forming the focus for separate chapters in a bigger book I am planning; the overarching context being how graphic design inserts itself into our everyday shared environments.
Today’s walk was primarily in search of convenience stores on the peripheries of Ipswich town centre as I’ve become interested in vinyl graphics and the product shots that adorn these ‘little and often’ shops’ windows, and how these crude and often very similar graphics affect the ambience of a location. As with my previous posts about these drifts, I’m logging some of these photographs here as a record of the walk rather than as any finished outcome.
Walk duration: 4.6 miles
Steps taken: 10,639
Start time: 08:15
Ground covered: Town centre peripheries
The walk itself took place on the opposite side of Ipswich’s town centre to my previous peripheral visions walk, and as a result, threw up some interesting finds, particularly as it included a more culturally diverse area of the town.
I completed another Graphic Commons walk this week, and I chose a location I’m not overly familiar with: Lowestoft—the Easternmost point in Britain. Like other Graphic Commons posts here, this serves as an immediate document of my drift, and the photos, (only crudely edited at this stage), will feed into a write-up of the walk I plan to do soon. The writing that accompanies the photos will form a key part of any final outcome, but for now I won’t be posting what I write on Field Readings as that aspect is very much a work in progress.
Walk duration: 2.7 miles
Steps taken: 6,077
Start time: 09:17 (train from Ipswich)
Ground covered: Town centre and side streets onto a main road that divides the town from port. Then on to the Ness, the most Easterly point, and back into town via an industrial area and what is known locally as a ‘score’—a narrow alleyway.
Continuing my research into our Graphic Commons and how graphic design inserts itself into shared environments, this morning I set out on a traverse around Ipswich town centre, deliberately avoiding its main thoroughfares. I was very much keeping to its peripheries.
The photos I took will feed into later writings for this ongoing project, but for now, I’m posting a small selection here to capture the moment.
Walk duration: 4.8 miles
Steps taken: 11,055
Start time: 07:37
Espresso stop: 08:45
Ground covered: Streets surrounding Ipswich’s working port, then skirting its town centre on little-used back streets and cut-throughs. On to an edge of town eatery and entertainment complex/car park, before returning via main roads that feed into Ipswich town centre.