Tuesday 31 January 2012

It's not made by great men

"Doing art should not be a full time job for the validated few. Doing art should be something we all do as part of everyday life… None of us should be getting our highs and lows vicariously through what other people do, we should all do the fighting, kicking, loving, fucking, painting, throwing, jumping, killing, singing, shouting ourselves, and not have actors, sportsmen, musician or artists doing it for us.”

Bill Drummond on his new book, 100, on Quietus.

Sunday 29 January 2012


Ever since it started appearing everywhere about two-three years ago, I have had a problem with the poster 'Keep Calm and Carry On'! The basic premise of the piece is that you should accept your lot, never object to anything, and continue with the status quo as if nothing had changed. Adorned in shop windows and dressed up as an admirable trait of the British psyche, the concept that adversity is something to shrug off by being quietly subservient, actually makes me angry. The idea that ignoring our problems and not questioning the root causes will somehow 'fix' everything, in my mind, is tantamount to telling children not to do anything if they get bullied in the school playground. Should we also accept a bit of racism now and again as well? It is bad enough that this poster, (supposedly), became an ironic statement on how people felt about an economic system collapsing around them, but when the current edition of Creative Review puts the phrase at number 12 in a 'top 20 slogans of all time poll', I am incredulous. (And that is not just because my vote for Cresta's, “It's Frothy Man”, didn't get a look in.) The insidiousness of this poster is made even more apparent in the accompanying article. Apparently, commissioned by the Government's Ministry of Information in 1939, it was never released, despite the Government stockpiling 2.5 million copies, and was only intended to be pasted up around the country should Britain be invaded during the burgeoning war with Germany. Therefore, its intention was to tell people to accept their fate and to not challenge their new Nazi leaders—as if I didn't like it enough before I knew that, I now hate the poster even more. I'll be tempted to smash any mugs I see with it printed on as well from now on.

It is not just me who sees the insipid side of this graphic blinkering. Justin McGuirk argued in The Guardian, "Take that odd phenomenon, the "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster that has been ubiquitous since the credit crunch. In its appeal to the plucky stoicism of the blitz years, it seems designed to dampen down any unrest aimed at the political-financial establishment." These thoughts led me to think about other graphic conditioning statements, albeit in fiction. The KC&CO shares a resemblance, in intention at least, with George Orwell's 1984 doublethink sloganeering; War is Peace; Slavery is Freedom; Ignorance is Strength. Likewise, in the 1968 TV programme The Prisoner, hung throughout official buildings were the slogans; Questions are a Burden to others; Answers a prison for oneself.

Jon Gray's cover for George Orwell's 1984 (Penguin Books)

So why rant about this now, other than because Creative Review sparked a renewed hatred for the poster. Well, the article coincided with a piece on the Creative Review blog about the launch of Occupy Design, whose first conference was held this weekend. Jonathan Barnbrook, one of the conference organisers told CR: "There are … some ridiculous things going on at the moment which show that much of design and advertising is simply pretending it's business as usual. For instance: D&AD setting a brief for students to rebrand the City of London, to make it look cool when these people are responsible for the mess we are in and the huge cuts in education." Likewise, Jody Boehnert states on the Occupy Design website: "Communication design is used to sell products – but even when it is not explicitly engaged in manufacturing consumer desire, design can function to conceal the impacts of conspicuous consumption and the socio-political-economic system through a process known as symbolic violence. While communication design can be used to reveal consequences, illustrate systemic dynamics and facilitate public processes—capitalism needs designers to promote consumption not to critique consumption!" Both these views pretty much sum up my feelings on seeing a 'Keep Calm and Carry On' poster staring at me from behind the counter of a shop.

Occupy Design logo

Beware any tea drinkers with KC&CO mugs.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Style counsel

Apart from The Guardian not knowing their en dashes from their em dashes, I cannot recommend this book highly enough for anyone interested in the written English language.

"Guardian Style will help you distinguish between the so-called rules of grammar that are an aid to good writing and those that you can cheerfully ignore. It is also a mine of information about everything from spelling to punctuation, from commonly misused words to foreign terms and expressions. If you're not sure what the difference is between principle and principal, if you have ever been puzzled by the rules governing the use of that and which, or if you are unsure as to whether brackets and parentheses are the same thing, then this superbly straightforward and straight-talking reference guide is for you."

It is not as pedantic and dry as it may sound. That said, don't expect the grammar on this blog to be perfect as a result. Available here.

Sunday 15 January 2012

Sweet F AAA

The Saturday edition of The Guardian has been sitting on our kitchen table since I finished leafing through it yesterday morning. This image has been staring up at me every time I've gone into the kitchen in the last 32 hours, and only just a few minutes ago did I get the visual gag.

Saturday 14 January 2012

Street graphics

Most mornings, as I walk to work, I pass these road markings that look decidedly like monster's teeth.

I have often wondered just what they indicate. It seems odd that Ipswich Borough Council decided to paint them on one side of the road, clearly assuming that this residential road accommodates traffic going in either direction at the same time, which it doesn't. Whoever took this decision didn't consider that local people parked their cars outside their houses, which effectively turns this road into a single lane—most days the triangles on the pavement side are completely hidden from view.

I Googled 'road markings' and I couldn't find the meaning of these anywhere. I found examples of two triangles painted on traffic calming speed humps, pointing in the direction of the traffic flow, (rotated 90 degrees to these), but they are something different.

There are more of these 'teeth' on the same road just before, (or after, depending on which way you look at it), a one way bridge.

If anyone knows what these abstract graphic marks are meant to communicate, please let me know.

Sunday 8 January 2012

Design for all

Occasionally, site specific architecture—designed purely for public enjoyment and recreation—crops up online and makes me want to pack my bags immediately and go and experience them for myself. Recent examples include Why Not Associates and Gorden Young's typographic Comedy Carpet in Blackpool, and further afield, New York's The High Line. One that grabbed my attention today is this vertiginous forest walkway in Estonia.

Other than imagining the wonder of the spectacle in the flesh, what I love about such installations is the fact that they are there to be experienced with no entrance fee, no intellectual symbolism and no spiritual veneer. They exist just for the enjoyment of being in the here and now, and engaging with good design that heightens a sense of a specific environment.

Thanks to City Of Sound for bringing this example to my attention.

Monday 2 January 2012

Ipswich Arts Centre launch (tbc)

Ipswich has long been the poor relation to its neighbouring towns of Colchester, Norwich and Cambridge in terms of gig venues. The former two have thriving Arts Centres. Both attract touring bands as well as using these stages to showcase emerging local talent. The Cambridge Junction is another great venue with large and small stages. In the last 2 months I've been to see Magazine and The Fall at The Junction, and I have the choice of seeing King Creosote and Jon Hopkins in either The Junction, or in Norwich's Arts Centre this coming February. These venues are great for someone like me, who can afford to go to such events and is prepared to share the driving with friends, but it would be so much better if these sort of venues were available in my home town.

Ipswich has two large venues that rarely go below the £21 mark for a gig, and lots of small pubs with stages that (mostly) local bands use to play to each other. A new mid-sized venue has opened in the town, but seems to cater mostly for covers bands. There are a couple of rooms above pubs, (with no disabled access), that some promotors use to showcase some of the exciting things happening in the Ipswich music scene, but you have to hunt for them. There is no focal point, and anything that is happening is only doing so because of people doing it off of their own backs and who are prepared to do so in inadequate circumstances. With a cultural scene firmly establishing itself in Ipswich in the visual arts, dance, theatre, and film, it seems short sighted that there is no cohesive policy from the powers that be in the town to promote, encourage, and make accessible divergent music. Especially with a growing university.

Then recently a new Arts Centre for Ipswich was announced in the local papers as being on the cards. Planned to take the space of the former Ipswich Arts School and with a 3 year plan to get the venture up and running, there was much excitement. The excitement soon turned into bitter disappointment when it was discovered that this would not contain a space to be used as a music venue. How short sighted.

So disappointment has turned into action, of a sort, with a new website aimed at encouraging discussion to help promote the need for an Ipswich Arts Centre, and lots of local musicians are getting vocal. It appears it might be kick starting some useful debates, providing a focal point to rally around and looks set to prompt a few tentative meetings to look at what may be the next move to this project.

Check out the website here to read the full story, sign the petition, and to get involved if you have any interest in the Ipswich music scene.