"The success of new global social movements depend upon maintaining the focus on 'common interests'. The movements of the 60s and 70s lost sight of their common interests, resulting in a fragmentation of their identities that post modernists like to celebrate so much. This fragmentation invites defeat, for it prevents the type of unified struggle against dominant forms of oppression and exploitation needed to produce social change.
Fragmentation also invites co-optation. The capitalist system has proven its flexibility in absorbing certain demands of popular resistance in order to fend of systematic crisis. It is probably safe to say that struggles against racism and sexism in the US lost momentum as many activists managed to penetrate the system and achieve comfortable social status. Simularly, the middle and upper classes play a conservative role in the global south.
Global solidarity struggles must stress that genuine freedom, democracy and justice can not be achieved without significant improvements in the basic rights of all humanity. This is a common goal for which popular resistance should strive." - Ronald Bettig
The Responses to the 5th poster, printed on the sixth are as follows:
faire" - Tony Credland, Maastricht Holland
Here activists from Paris and Algeria met to discuss what they could do. With such a complicated political situation most people including the media had chosen to just ignore the events in Algeria, daily massacres were happening in the the most horrific of circumstances. With an issue involving religion, politics, race, gender, imperialism, corporate interference, and media ignorance, there weren't going to be any quick and easy answers, but at least here people could protest against the killings and more importantly discuss what else, in collaboration, could be done. As a witness to only two of the weekly events which went on for over three months, it was clear to see the positive use the visual work was put to, from the large posters hung on tape from trees in a 50m square surrounding the meetings to leaflets and stickers given away to the passing public. The visuals worked to unite the gathering crowd, and make those normaly afraid to attend such a demonstration because of rival groups, feel more safe and relaxed.
This whole action can be seen in terms of using the city space and reclaiming it actively for the community. Additionally to the demonstrations in the centre of town they also organise regular meetings locally in Ivry-sur-seine, to exchange ideas and get everyday experiences of important issues, and link the more global issues of critiques of capitalism to the local situation, trying to open up the active possibilities. What is often mentioned to me especially during the time of doing this project has been that street political graphics is no longer applicable in our de-politicised post-modern world, that people no longer want to be preached at and are switched off by propaganda etc, this relies on a certain amount of basic assumptions that i can understand but disagree with.
Modes of protest have moved on since the 60's often in very creative ways such as the 'reclaim the streets' protests against Urban pollution and the car lobby, and also the more media aware campaigns such as 'Act-up' and 'WAC' aiming at changing attitudes. All of which gain from the group dynamics of demonstrations as opposed to the individualist working at home. Although all of us are prone to bouts of cynicism and resignation, I presume most of the people reading this still believe in some way that this is no time to stand idly by, and that visual communication when used imaginatively has an ability to effect change.
Space - Teal Triggs (Women's Design Research Unit) London
We have seemed to enter a period where the coherency of the 1970s has fractured into a situation where disparate voices compete. Recently, in one British national newspaper we saw two highly respected women writers debating the future of feminism. The issues are out in the open. On one hand, novelist Fay Weldon supported the notion that there has been a gender switch in some sectors of industry while, on the other hand, columnist Polly Toynbee argued that women in some "high-earning" circles have achieved an equality. Unfortunately, she laments, this is still not the case for most women. Sadly, Toynbee's observations are applicable to the profession of graphic design and related areas. While many companies acknowledge problems of workplace inequality, fewer make attempts to rectify the situation.
Those who have, over the years, demonstrated a willingness to listen have frequently taken action in areas which need immediate attention. For example, I know of only one high profile design company in Europe which has discussed the implementation of a creche to help out with childcare arrangements for both their male and female employees. The design community sometimes has a tendency to see any "feminist" position as an overt radical crusade. "There goes those hysterical women again," male colleagues imply. Perhaps their confusion stems from an inherent insecurity, an ill informed perspective? It is the problem we all sometimes have, when you only listen to what you want to hear.
Education is the key to changing things. We should not be complacent. It won't get us anywhere to kid ourselves that everything is all right. Just the other day a female college student was telling to me about her experiences where she and a male colleague were on a work placement scheme. The duties assigned to them merely highlighted the inequality of experiences on offer. He was asked to work on a corporate design identity, she to do the washing up. What was perhaps more terrifying was that she did not realise that she had a right to be working on the design project as well. The space is still uncomfortable.
to the Wider Debate - Some Shots Across the Bows:
I can feel a familiarity with the points raised, and I can sympathise with both 'sides' of the argument; that's the dilemma facing all designers still in possession of some semblance of conscience isn't it? While we deal with such generalisms and try to encompass such diverse problems as those that face the graphic designer in the modern world, a grey shroud masks any application to specific cultural activity. Of course the academies should be raising the debate and producing culturally informed and aware students.
Of course those students should go out into the 'design world' and make a positive contribution to all our lives. Of course, design practice is an essential site for contestation and action - in direct contact with the 'real world'. But there are too many unknown variables to be able to draw conclusions from these areas without applying them to cultural specifics. Any oppositional tactics implied by the above cannot be specified and defined in more than general terms. Particular problems demand particular responses. Raymond Williams stated that "nearly all initiatives and contributions, even when they take on manifestly alternative or oppositional forms, are in practice tied to the hegemonic: that the dominant culture, so to say, at once produces and limits its own forms of counter-culture" (Marxism & Literature 1977).
This would seem to include both the rock-throwing (metaphorical or not) and the sound-bite, or even Robin Kinross' shadow-boxing. Tony Credland's evaluation of "traditional" forms of protest graphics demonstrates recuperation in action - where an act of protest becomes recognised as a 'traditional' form, can it still be radical? Or oppositional? Tradition as convention allows us to identify its form as a 'protest', but can it produce change? "This means that any attempt at political intervention through cultural politics cannot be made in ignorance of these conditions (of cultural production), but must be based on an analysis of the specific relations of culture, ideology and society.
That is why sweeping demands for cultural activism are both meaningless and pointless. Unless it is linked with an understanding of contemporary cultural production, cultural intervention may be impossible, inappropriate, or completely ineffective." (Janet Wolff) Where Ian Noble raised an argument for a "bigger project" in Issue 2 of Debate, I felt it was not a call to (Modernist) arms, nor a drive toward brainwashing students at our respective schools into cultural activism or political dissent. Rather, it was a response to a perceived widespread apathy in the 1990's, in the west in particular, and a feeling of pre-millennium inertia. In Britain, the capitulation and redefinition of the political Left, leading to a centre-right 'Labour' government with neither the teeth nor the political will/ aptitude for radical reform has produced a widespread disillusion with the 'political' realm altogether.
Producers in the cultural realm
should take note... the 'cultural artefacts' that we produce reaffirm,
redefine and shape the status quo, and we have a major role to play in
the definition of future societal developments. This argument goes beyond
the site of contestation as the academy or the street, and brings into
question the nature of the contest itself. Radicalism will not be enough
- and where we can learn from the past, we can affect the present and
change the future. The 'unpicking of current norms', to borrow a phrase
from Ian Warner, begins with the debate about graphic design's involvement
in the representation of reality. "Media, language, time - these are the
giant claws with which Power manipulates humanity and moulds it brutally
to its own perspective. These claws are not very adept, admittedly, but
their effectiveness is enormously increased by the fact that people are
not aware that they can resist them, and often do not know the extent
to which they are already spontaneously doing so."