Graphic commons: End of year dérive

Date: 29.12.2020
Distance: 5 miles
Steps: 10,812
Start: 13:34
Ground covered: Residential to industrial area to dockside, return via town centre side-streets and residential areas

As the end of the year looms I felt it was appropriate to head out into Tier 4 territory for one last dérive of 2020. Fearing a Tier 5 being implemented, given the dramatic increase in Covid-19 cases in Ipswich, this may also be my last chance for a while.

While I didn’t set out to end up at the quay again, my feet took me there anyway. And as familiar as this territory is after my last drift only 19 days ago, I took a wider berth there and back this time. Doing so has opened up to me an area of Ipswich I haven’t explored for many years and I have made a mental note to steer myself in that direction next time I head out, whenever that may be.

Side streets lead to a main road out of Ipswich with a parallel access-road for the semi-detacheds that run alongside it. Handsomely tree-lined, with a generous grass-verge, it exemplifies one of the things I love about Ipswich, its green spaces. This road gives access to a park I have only been through once before, on one of The Rough Band’s psychogeographical silent walks, Strand, performed as part of Spill Festival in 2016.

Graphic commons: an unexpected drift

Date: 10.12.2020
Distance: 2.4 miles
Steps: 5271
Start: 07:37
Ground covered: Residential area to dockside, return via university campus

What started as simple exercise, to try to stave off a bad back from sitting at a desk for far too many hours, turned into a drift; the first one proper since my Lockdown 1.0 Constitutionals side project back in April.

Although I have been out walking for exercise now and again in recent months, these occasions have been few and far between, and mostly involved a round-about trip to one of our many local Coops. And while I started on this occasion only intending to go around the houses, I instead ended up down by Ipswich docks staring across the water.

The territory is very familiar, but I have not walked it for a while. It took me close to my place of work, where I haven’t ventured since the last week of October. An accidental collage I had discovered in the summer was still on the side of an old phonebox, (see below), it was a little bit more decayed than when it first caught my eye, but still resolutely stuck in its vinyl resistance to the elements.

Constitutionals

Since I wrote Graphic commons: Government sanctioned dérives, I have started to upload photos taken on my daily #coronawalks to a dedicated Instagram feed called Constitutionals.

It features much more of a variety of observations than just the graphic or typographic, as written about here, and is more typical of my usual Instagram feed. Depending on the amount of photographs I take, and my post-walk editing decisions, each addition has so far ranged from one to 21 photos. However, as Instagram restrictions only allow you to add a maximum of 10 photos in any one post, several days have multiple entries.

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Graphic commons: Government sanctioned dérives

Making the most of the ‘sanctioned’ time I am allowed out to exercise during the UK government’s coronavirus pandemic ‘lockdown’, I have been drifting through my neighbourhood on a daily basis for the last week. Despite the awkwardness of swapping sides of the road every time I see someone coming in my direction, this has allowed me to visually re-engage with the Graphic Commons of this area of east Ipswich.

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I know these streets well from the many dog walks my wife and I have done around our locale. Or so I thought. However, with our dog a year gone, and in more recent years him being so lethargic with age we tended to take him for less lengthy walks, it appears I have either become unfamiliar with some aspects of my surroundings, or simply never spotted them in the first place. So now, under circumstances I would not choose, I have been conducting observational research on the visual culture of my immediacy.

As would be expected, the start of my walks tend to have some degree of planning; at least in respects to me deciding what direction I am going to head in before I close the front door behind me. From then though, I make my decisions on a whim—that whim is often influenced by whether there appears to be too many people for my liking walking in one particular direction—and I drift the streets based on instinct and the random thoughts that themselves drift through my mind.

A question of signs

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A couple of weeks ago I took the above picture at Felixstowe docks, finding it interesting to see a group of signs in what appeared to be a holding pen, waiting to be distributed as need-be around the busy port. After editing the image to post to Flickr at the weekend, I wondered what the collective noun was for a collection of signs, so I posted the simple question to Twitter. Below are some of the excellent replies I got.

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@gray was the first off the mark with a reference to the Signs director:
A Shyamalan of signs.

Several took the theme of the communication problems of a lot of signs in one place, including: A confusion… (@Skipratmedia); A concussion… (@Johnctarpey); A directionless… (@zimboguide); An obscuration… (@mayhematics); An assault… (@Lestaret); A cacophony… (@peter_p_light): A confusion… (@Unionbuilt); and one of my favourites along these lines; A squabble… (@ZCDunnett).

On a theoretical level, A semiotic… makes sense, (@semajrabnud). That is if it wasn’t more suited to a collection of signals.

A directory… (@SuchAndSuchDes); A tell… (@MrBoyce); and A trail… (@thepublicartco) all nicely chime with signage’s purpose.

Given their upright nature, A forest… fits visually, (@jrooneyresearch), and this was confirmed as a term used in Germany, or rather ‘Schilderwald’, which translates as ‘a forest made from signs’, (@StefanH145).

However, the one that I think is probably gets the prize, if there was a prize, is simply: A shitload… . Thanks to @JulianDGomezZ, a genuine laugh out loud from me for that response.

Thanks to all who have given some excellent suggestions so far, there are far too many to mention here, (especially if you go sideways and look at the replies to retweets). To follow the post, click here.

And thanks to Justin Hopper for pointing me in the direction of this:

Aesthetics of convenience

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In the first of a series of publications that investigate different aspects of the graphic commons, Aesthetics of Convenience explores the vinyl window displays of convenience stores. Through a photographic and textual discussion of how these ‘little and often’ shop window displays affect human behaviour and environmental ambiences, the paper seeks to encourage a discussion about the visual culture of public spaces, as imposed on those that live in, or pass through them.

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Published as a 20 page numbered limited edition tabloid newspaper, Aesthetics of Convenience brings together my own explorative photographs taken on numerous dérives, and a 1250 word essay which pieces together my thoughts when out traversing the graphic commons.

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Aesthetics of Convenience is published as a limited edition of 100, and costs £3, (plus £2 postage in the UK, and £5 postage everywhere else). To buy a copy, follow the Paypal link, leaving your name and postal and email addresses in the notes section when paying: PayPal.me/paynigelball

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Graphic commons: Tunnel and peripheral vision

Distance: 3.7 miles
Steps: 8113
Start: 06:25
Ground covered: Feeder roads into and out of Ipswich town centre; pedestrianised shopping precincts; town centre.

Compilation

It has been a while since I last did a dedicated graphic commons walk; 2017 in fact. More recent graphic commons posts have mainly been about walks taken as part of other activities. This reengagement is due to the resurrection of a graphic commons project that was put on-hold a few years ago—that of a series of publications dedicated to specific categories of the commons as I see them. The other commitments that took precedent over that project have now been completed, and it seems like a good time to jump back in. I will post more news here soon as it develops, but for now, here is a more generalised document of yesterday’s dérive.

Mecca

The walk’s territory is very familiar to me, and picks up from two I conducted in 2016, peripheral visions and dérive of convenience. Although the walk was specifically to record more convenience store window displays, of which I got plenty, other categories presented themselves to me, with abundance: vinyl banners, telephone booth adverts, fly posters, etc. Ipswich, it appears, is the graphic commons gift that keeps on giving. While the delivery mechanisms themselves hadn’t changed much, some of the graphics had.

One person’s ordinary…

My father, a commercial photographer, subscribed to the British Journal of Photography and from a very young age I used to love flicking through its pages. While over the last ten years I have maintained a sporadic subscription to the magazine, it has never been as satisfying to my adult eyes as it was in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, photo-books have become my photography drug of choice and I find immersing myself in the vision of one particular photographer at a time gives me a much deeper connection with the work shown. One particular photographer whose output I have become fascinated by in recent years is Iain Sarjeant. Since 2016 I have been collecting his Out Of The Ordinary volume of books, the series now in its third and final iteration. These titles document the spontaneous shots he has taken as he journey’s through everyday Scotland as part of a long-term project.

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What first attracted me to his work was that I could see something in his photos that mirrored my own interests in the overlooked. But this soon became more than just an interest in the subject matter and as much about his approach to it—he has an eye that looks to make order out of what other’s would pass by.

Proposing the Graphic Commons

This text was first published as a pamphlet of the same name in August 2017. It is republished here for the first time online. Copies of the original pamphlet, as a numbered limited edition of 300, are still available on request. Please get in contact if you would like a copy.

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This essay introduces the term Graphic Commons as an identifier with which to discuss graphic design within shared public environments. It sets out why a new linguistic term in contemporary graphic design discourse is required, and situates this as part of wider discussions surrounding urbanism and social responsibility.

Much has changed since Henri Lefebvre’s 1974 declaration that: “…there is no architectural or urbanistic criticism on a par with the criticism of art, literature, music and theatre.” (1991, p92) Some 43 years later urbanism is studied in renowned academic centres such as University College London’s UrbanLab. However, graphic design as a discipline is often overlooked as part of ongoing critical urban dialogues. While anti-advertising rhetoric is in rude health within academic, design and political circles, advertising remains its focus. Although a critique of advertising is an important aspect of the Graphic Commons, and therefore appropriate to discuss under the term’s usage, this proposal considers a much wider remit of study. As Lefebvre stated: “There would certainly seem to be a need for such a criticism… We are talking, after all, of the setting in which we live.” (1991, p92)

Graphic commons: Bucharest, a bohemian rhapsody

Recently I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to travel to Bucharest, Romania, for work. The trip was so that I could attend an art and design education fair and to talk at a couple of high schools about our courses. This was my first such recruitment trip abroad, and I’m told you often only get to see a city from a car window and in the evening before flying back the next day. Thankfully though, because of the timings of our itinerary, I managed to get a little time to myself to wander the city and soak up Bucharest’s visual culture.

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This was my first visit to Eastern Europe, and one, given the timing of the trip, that was over-shadowed by Brexit. Our host, locals and delegates from other countries all had an opinion, with none of them positive. The majority of Romanians I spoke to about it, (and Romania isn’t a country afraid of change, it could be argued), all thought Britain was putting itself in a ridiculous position.

One of the things that struck me about Bucharest from the outset, was that it is a country that is happy to wear its history on its sleeve—it is there in plain sight for everyone to see. Our hotel was very close to Revolution Square, the site of the uprising that saw Nicolae Ceaușescu toppled from power nearly 30 years ago.

Monuments to these tumultuous times have seen better days, and the local anarchists appear to show little respect for those that lost their lives fighting against the dictator. Some locals said the current government is the most corrupt in 100 years, so it appears a struggle continues. Given we were a week away from national celebrations of 100 years of independence for Romania, this is some claim given their more recent history.