Take a graphic design interest that you are familiar with and investigate how the idea can be improved, disrupted or retold through a shift of application.
This might be an opposing media or environment ( e.g from book to installation, packaging to performance) or an opposing time or fictional future (e.g. speculative design). You can tell the story of your idea in any medium, but ensure the shift you make with your project is apparent, courageous and driven by risk and a rationale.
Upload your work to the ideas wall and demonstrate further reflection on your personal critical, reflective learning journal; your blog
I have started this week by looking at the British sculptor, Richard Wilson – in particular, his art installation in the permanent collection in the Saatchi Gallery, London and in many other galleries worldwide. The installation is called 20:50 and is a room flooded with glossy recycled engine oil. Though you might only spend a moment looking across Wilson’s beautiful, mind bending installation it is an experience which you will not forget. I saw the installation a few years ago and it had a profound impact on me: the contrasting play on the senses, the repellent smell of old engine oil colliding with the beautiful holographic, high gloss sheen; the urge to dance across the space, coinciding with an awareness of the foul and enduring consequences of even a single step! The hyper reflective surface means it is near-impossible to distinguish between reflection and reality; reflected elements have been lined up and matched so perfectly that one becomes visually and psychologically confused, eyes and mind darting from corner to corner trying to find an orientating and revealing ‘fault’ in the work.
This installation reminds me of all the deceptive material that we are exposed to via branding and marketing campaigns from the moment we wake up to the moment we lie down and take a last glance on our mobile phones. It is never ending, which is not dissimilar to the 20:50 installation. The need for constant eye movement, in an attempt to and take in what you have in front of you – which is at once highly complex, and desperately simple – is true of both the installation and the constant exposure to advertising. In both cases, we are being asked to contemplate an image that has been constructed to both appeal to and deceive us.
What if we were to take statements or company profiles and break them down and put them into a different environment?
“An Apple a day keeps the doctor away” is a saying has been used for generations in England, meaning that if you eat fruit and vegetables and a healthy balanced diet, you will not become ill.
In the current day, the ‘Apple’ most talked about is the electronics company, which has devised a name and logo which are (among other things) suggestive of health. In fact, it is increasingly realized that an ‘Apple a day’ in this context is quite likely to result in number of consequences that are not conducive to health and well-being – with negative effects in relation to eyes, posture, psychology, weight, and general life and wealth balance. Taking an old expression and tying it in with its present-day associations would represent an interesting shift, which could be further explored via a shift from one medium to another – eg logo to installation
Perhaps I could make some form of exhibition with a 3D Apple logo at its centre, titled ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ but then embellished with key words / facts (mimicking the typography on old ads) indicating the potential damage caused by this contemporary equivalent.
Another possible idea
I had another idea which draws more directly on the oil concept. The Shell logo is a beautiful bold, red and yellow shell. The logo is iconic, but, if we stop to think, there is a disjunction between the shell as represented here and the natural product it is based on – a sea animal habitat which is beautiful, and highly varied and subtly detailed in shape, colour and form. This very generic shell logo makes me feel that Shell has no real connection to the oceans from where much of their produce is reaped and through which it is transported, involving manifold disturbance to and disruption of the marine environment. I have found images on Google of oil tankers on fire, large sections of the sea suffocating in oil due to leaks leaks and the most prominent picture, oil saturated shells.
All that can be seen are a few shells poking out, among multicolored patterns, disrupting the flawless, glass-like quality of the surface of the oil.
The holographic and reflective quality of this image in particularly interesting: its swirling rainbow coloration, combined with layering effect that both conceals and reveals. It would be interesting to create an installation in which the Shell logo is taken out of context, in such a way as to suggest both the damage caused to sea life, and the reflective, distorting and concealing qualities of both the oil and the branding
As I began to find out more about Shell, I noticed a recurring picture of a Nigerian man in internet searches. I thought Google had made a mistake but when I clicked on an article, I was not prepared for what I read. The man was Ken Saro-Wiwa, a writer, human rights activist and leader to many of the and indigenous tribes across Nigeria, in particular the Ogoni area. In the 70s and 80s Shell descended on this area, disrupting and destroying the life, habitats and environment of the Ogoni people in a relentless pursuit of oil.
Shell started to conspire with the Nigerian dictator and military, persuading them, with financial inducements, to help control the local people so that they could do whatever they wanted with their land. Ken Saro-Wiwa stood up for the people and organized a non-violent protest march to help draw Shell’s attention to their desperation. Unfortunately, this made the situation much worse as it resulted in Shell persuading the military to retaliate with violence, with many people injured or killed.
A young girl named Karalolo Korgbara, was shot when she walked onto her own land, now overrun by oil pipes, crushing her crops and livelihood. Shell shot her in the arm which had to be amputated, impacting further her ability to farm.
Many other similar incidents followed, culminating in the arrest, imprisonment and hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa, together with 8 others leaders of the human rights movement MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People) that Saro-Wiwa had created.
Saro-Wiwa was killed 10 years ago this May (26 May 2009) along with so many others yet I had previously had no awareness off this. I have been filling up my car at Shell garages, oblivious to what can only be described as their monstrous corporate history. While I had originally expected to find images of oceanic wildlife damaged as a result of their activities, I had not imagined I would also gain insight into their destruction of human individuals and communities – all in ruthless pursuit of commercial gain.
Just before I discovered the shocking history of Shell in Nigeria, I read about how the company attempted to ‘greenwash’ their image in 2018 as they become increasingly worried about secret documents being released confirming the relationship between fossil fuels and climate change. Instead of considering for an instant the ramifications of their own industry, they tried to cover them up with a change of marketing strategy.
The documents revealed that Shell knew about the danger of its activities in relation to climate change decades ago. According to Savannah law school associate Professor Judd Sneirson Shell are ‘misleading consumers about its environmental practices’.
The prototypes of the different adverts they were planning to release have a side by side, “don’t do this; do this” format. I find it incredible how huge companies can be so blatantly deceptive in their campaigns when their history consists of the disruption and destruction of communities, traditions and landscapes and their future involves threat to the future of the planet as a whole. Harbouring a great sense of injustice, I decided to take the adverts that they were going to release and tell the real story.
A useful resource I have found myself referring to is the book:
Cultures of Economic Migration: International Perspectives By Tope Omoniyi
Here are a few key statements from the book that really link in well with my project this week.
How am I answering this week’s brief by doing this?
I am taking an activist role in my work as a graphic designer: intervening in a company’s ad campaign to try and tell the real story; provoking a conversation about their deceit and corruption and the way in which they are trying to ‘greenwash’ their image in relation to the public. I am disrupting corporate narratives. Shell is an example, but this is not just about Shell: I am trying to raise awareness about how companies in general construct deceptive images of themselves and their brands for purely commercial gain.
Good examples of other graphic designers who have played an activist role through their work are:
Benettons Best Advertising Campaigns
Since the 1990s, Tascani has been devising hard hitting and shocking ad campaigns targeting the world’s most sensitive and controversial subjects such as AIDS and the death sentence. He was fired in 2000 for releasing a campaign calling ‘Looking Death in the Face’. After 17 years Tascani has been rehired by Benetton but I wanted to look back at some of the ways in which he took an activist role in art direction and how much of an impact this had.
1991 – Condoms
Benetton released a campaign with multicolored used condoms which was a nod to the AIDS crisis which was threatening young people’s lives throughout the 80’s and early 90’s. In November 1997, Benetton started selling a full coloured range of ‘reliable and up-to-the-minuet’ condoms. Toscani told the New York Times that “I have found out that advertising is the richest and most powerful medium existing today […] so I feel responsible to do more than to say, ‘our sweater is pretty’.”
1992 – Priest and Nun
another hard-hitting topic chosen by Benetton involved comment on the religious and sexual conflicts in human nature. The campaign, which showed a priest and a nun in their robes, kissing, caused outrage amongst the Christian church and community. This was not the first time they had been upset: in 1972, Toscani created a campaign called ‘Jesus Jeans’. The campaign revolved around a sexually charged image, but he told the Times newspaper, the message was intended to reach a younger core Benetton Customer.
1991 – Newborn Baby
They then released an image of a new born baby. “Giusy”, still attached to the umbilical cord. The image was raw and some might consider a little grusum but it was meant to symbolize the “anthem of life”. This is said to be the companies most censored image.
1991 – Blanket
This image is suggestive of this being a lesbian couple with their adoptive baby. This was usually not publicized at the time and even until today, lesbian images are often sexualized or fetishized.
1992 – AIDS
“In November 1990 LIFE Magazine published journalism student Therese Frare’s image of gay activist and AIDS victim David Kirby as he lay on his death bed. Two years later Benetton used the image, coloured by artist Ann Rhoney with oil paint, for its campaign. Despite a backlash by many AIDS activists who believed it spread fear of sufferers and commoditised suffering, and launched a global campaign to boycott the company, Kirby’s father Bill stated, “Benetton is not using us, we’re using Benetton…If that photograph helps someone…then it’s worth whatever pressure we have to go through.” It was, according to Benetton, the first public campaign to address AIDS. That year the disease had become the number one cause of death for US men aged 25 to 44. Benetton claimed it wanted to “go beyond purely preventative measures and touch upon subjects such as solidarity with AIDS patients”.”
1993 – HIV
This image made people very upset because people saw it as Benetton using peoples illness for their commercial gain and they were sued multiple times over this campaign.
1996 – Hearts
This image was made and taken by Toscani himself to target racism. People were livid and called the image racist however it was later revealed that these hearts were not human hearts but pigs hearts.
1992 – Murder
In 1982, the mafia killing of Benedetto Grado in Palermo, Italy was captured by Franco Zecchi. Ten years afterwards, the image was used in the spring/summer 1992 campaign. Many magazines refused to publish it and the dead mans daughter threatened to sue asking”How does my father’s death enter into publicity for sweaters?”
Toscani’s work was extremely controversial. Some people admiring of his bravery and ability to have the courage to raise crucial questions about our society and problems we all have to come together to change our attitude about. The images are still shocking today. He has taken an activist role in these campaigns using the platform to make a statement other than just the desire to buy a ‘pretty sweater’. Some of the images are hard to look at. He divided people, with some admiring his work and others disgusted by him. I think that sometimes it is important to use platforms to tell the real story.
The Yes Man
Another really important reference to look at is The Yes Man. They have put beautifully what they do on their website so here is their intraduction:
WHO ARE WE?
Ever since 1996, the Yes Men have used humor and trickery to highlight the corporate takeover of society, the neoliberal delusion that allows it, and (most recently) the Democrats’ responsibility for our current situation. We’ve also focused on what we need to get Democrats to do, and how regular people can make sure they do it.
The Yes Men also help other progressive activist orgs to accomplish their own goals, through the Yes Lab. On this website you can:
• learn techniques for causing trouble
• read about Yes Men and Yes Lab projects
• arrange to do a Yes Lab
• contact us or get on our list
Here are some examples of The Yes Man’s work and the way in which they corrupt and hijack the news in order to bring people important and cleverly put messages to ensure that our Fake News is factual.
The best campaign by The Yes Man was when they printed a paper and handed it around the whole of New York stating that the war with Iraq was over. This happened in November 2008. The spoof newspaper was so realistic it was not known for quite a while by the public that they were in fact reading ‘fake news’. Here is a great article on the incident.
AdBusters – Late Stage Capitalism
Ad Busters is a Media Foundation developed as another platform for activists to create spoof ads.
I particularly liked their mind journey called “Look away” where they trying to persuade people to look away from all of this publicity and advertisement we are bombarded with every day. This is the only way to give ourselves a chance to live free.
Advertising preys on you, fucks with your identity, distorts your sexuality, scrambles your beliefs and thwarts any chance you have of living a free, spontaneous life. Every time you peek at your phone, another faceless algorithm is planting a commercial virus in your head.
I have noticed they are looking for volunteers at the moment and this is what they say to invites people into helping them:
Join us; come together and commit to the sole goal of fucking up every system that keeps you from living your dreams..
Here are some examples of their work
I really like how there is a movement against the artificial rubbish that we faced with every day. Swiping through our phones like zombies looking to buy things, comparing prices, people, pet dogs and pedicures. I am so tired of all of these ads getting totally absorbed into our lives and ruining the real relationships that we have. It is hard to communicate with peoples physically in front of you in all kinds of situations when they are crouching over their phones like gremlins, playing games, messaging, looking for love, hook-ups, friends, trying to improve their image for strangers on the internet and buying endless rubbish to try and fill the void that is really right in front of them. Fresh air, real connection and good times that we physically experience are the things that will fill this void. Its so beautifully simple. we are human beings. I don’t believe this is who we are meant to be.
Using the greenwashed campaign that was produced by Shell, I have come up with my own responses to these adverts showing the reality of how Shells global company operates. I have used the same format as they have and the same text but have manipulated images from the media to shine some light on the situation and start the conversation of how large scale corporations use manipulation and power in order to greenwash their image and lead us to believe fictitious company principles and statements.
None of business? I have tried to use two sides of one image that portray contrasting messages. For example, for this section of the spread I have shown a section of the beautiful undamaged Nigerian countryside because this countryside is none of Shell’s business.
The heart of our business – I have shown a section of an image that shows a Nigerian woman walking past a dangerous gas explosion. She looks sad but also seems used to the fact that there are large open flames exploding behind her, apparently now part of her daily life.
Exploit – Shell have done nothing to stop the exploitation of Nigerian tribes. This image shows sky to indicates an emptiness in any attempt to mitigate or improve the living conditions of the towns they are descending on and destroying in pursuit of oil.
Explore – There are many incidences of this kind associated with Shell’s oil production and transportation activities worldwide.
Protect endangered species – These birds are a symbol of how Shell has completely overlooked and ignored every type of species. All they appear to be doing is paying the military to kill whatever or whoever gets in their way.
Or become one? – this threatening message reminds me of how many leaders of tribes that they have wiped out due to their sheer greed. In 2009 Shell were forced to pay a settlement of $15.5m for collaborating in the execution of Ken Soro-Wiwa and 8 other leaders of the Ogoni tribe of southern Nigeria. They destroyed thousands of people’s homes in order to dig for oil. They ran pipelines through people’s farmland and paid the military to shoot anyone who got in their way. This sadly included Karalolo Kogbara, a woman who came out to see what was happening to her farmland and was shot in the arm, left unable to farm or work and without any land to her name. This image is symbol of all the pain and suffering Shell caused and will likely continue to cause locally and globally, into the future.
Cover Up – Here is what appears to be a Nigerian man walking through his village. In this image it looks a bit muddy with a few puddles, perhaps after a heavy rainfall, but the reality is covered up
Clean up – In this section it is revealed that the left-hand side of the image is destroyed and the ground saturated in oil. You start to see a different expression appear on the man’s face as you look at the image more carefully. He is living surrounded by distraction and devastation due to the digging for oil. everything is saturated and he walks in just sandals through it all, carefully watching the ground so that he doesn’t step anywhere potentially dangerous. This is the reality for all men women and children growing up in this area.
Commodity – I put nothing in the space of commodity because I feel that Shell do not see the people in the native tribes of Nigeria as commodities, they just see them as ‘in the way’ with no respect given to them or their lives. The only commodity they are pursuing is the oil
Community – This man, Ken Soro-Wiwa brought he community together and led peaceful marches asking Shell to please respect lives and ways of living in southern Nigeria. In reaction to this completely reasonable request this man was slaughtered along with so many others. He stands as a symbol for Shell’s destructive practices in Nigeria and so in turn for the sheer dishonesty of their publicity and their corporate strategies.