Graphic commons: analogue community

Lostwithiel, Cornwall, (affectionately known as Losty by the locals), was the nearest town on our recent summer holiday.

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As I have mentioned in a previous post I have an interest in noticeboards, and Lostwithiel has not one, but two that I could find. What struck me more than this though was that 2 noticeboards did not seem to be enough for its towns-folk. For on our first proper wander around Losty, every single telegraph-pole seemed to be adorned in posters of varying quality and displaying a cornucopia of events and information. These flyposters didn’t seem to be an alternative to what was on the ‘official’ noticeboards—in fact, it looked like there was a lot of repetition.

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Reclaim the sheets

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.

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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.

Graphic commons: Oxford streets

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.

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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.

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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.

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Pockets of resistance were also visible. Some philanthropically recognised, others unofficially bubbling up from the underground.

McJunk, accentuated

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Although my McJunk project has been on hiatus for a while, I do occasionally post the odd example to Instagram. Believing that one person’s litter in the gutter is another person’s advert glaring from a billboard—because regardless of context, any representation of the McDonald’s logo reinforces brand recognition—I never thought that the company would sanction a marketing campaign that made a focus of its own litter. But in this post-irony world how wrong I appear to have been, as a new campaign for the restaurant chain proves.

Alongside others commenting online, I can draw clear parallels between TWBA\Paris’s poster campaign for the fast food chain and the discarded litter I often see strewn about my neighbourhood. The adverts use a simple colour palette and beautifully shot photography of McDonald’s food packaging with no food visible, bar a few crumbs. These tiny morsels, in such a minimal setting, only accentuate the sense that the packaging has been discarded after the product has been consumed.

See the new campaign over on Creative Review’s blog.

To Hull and back

In October last year I wrote about the visual identity for Hull City of Culture 2017. I’d mostly only ever heard negative things about the city but vowed to go there this year after seeing this deliberately attention grabbing piece of branding. Claire and I duly booked our summer holiday in the beautiful Lincolnshire Wolds for last week so that we could take a day out in Yorkshire, and Hull did not disappoint.

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Crossing the Humber Bridge on the day its Grade 1 listing was announced, the Museum Quarter made for our first destination on reaching Hull, with the Streetlife Museum dramatically depicting the town’s everyday history. Time limited, we then veered towards the Fruitmarket ‘cultural quarter’ that friends had recommended, via some fine brutalist structures.

Graphic commons: roadcode

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.

Graphic commons: more banner frenzy and other temporalities

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.

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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.

Graphic commons: progress and an Essex drift

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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.

Graphic commons: north-east of Ipswich

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.

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Spectacle fodder

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McDonald’s/Cineworld, Ipswich

Yesterday I took my grandson to see the Lego Batman Movie at a cinema complex in town. It was great fun, even if much of the film was a little over the head of the 7 year old boy.

Such cinema complexes aren’t my usual choice of venue for movie going. Several people had warned me about the price of popcorn prior to the visit, and I expected to be marketed at from all angles, so I didn’t think I was going with any illusions. But as much as I enjoyed the film, the experience was sullied by coming away feeling that the boy and I had just been fodder for a slick and well organised advertising industry.

Obviously I knew there would be advertisments before the film, and clearly a Lego movie is just one big advert for its own product. But I didn’t expect the blatant iPhone product placement throughout the film itself. Product placement is nothing new, but what shocked me was that it wasn’t even trying to be discrete. I pity children and teenagers going through playground battles about who has the coolest mobile, just as sneaker wars have affected other generations. With a predictably young audience for such a film, this wasn’t just insidious behaviour on the part of Lego and Apple, but irresponsible when considering the price of such devices. During the film, in an act of self-acknowledgement postmodernism, Lego Batman visits an orphanage to shower the children inside with Batmerch. As funny and honest as this was, the joke rang hollow by the end of the movie.