Friday, July 17, 2015

Use of Graphic Signage in Protest.

Use of Graphic Signage in Protest.

In the late 1960s students and protest groups took control of the print­ing process itself in the most surprising challenge to technical advance and electronic media. They were responding to a series of events, pre­dominantly the war in Vietnam, but including the assassinations of Che Guevara and Martin Luther King in 1967 and 1968, followed in 1968 by the Paris 'events' in May and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August. The state had television to air its views in people's homes; the students had the streets to put their case. Demonstrations, often violent, showed the depth, breadth and passion of their support, but it was their posters that produced a dramatic and indelible impression, in the use of use of graphic signage in protest.


During the student revolt in Paris in May 1968, posters were pro­duced by the Atelier Populaire, students of the Fxole des Beaux-Arts. Their technique was mostly silkscrecn, a process whose economy was matched by an extreme graphic compression. Slogans often originated in the defiant war-cries of students confronting police on the streets. Chalked on a blackboard and refined by a committee, they were the basis for three hundred or more designs which were distributed by students and workers throughout the capital.

The messages were unequivocal, the printing was urgent, sometimes in a single colour, but essentially black on white. A repeated device, to reverse a slogan in white from a black image, originated directly in the silkscreen process where the screen stencil was prepared in negative. The students exploited the sim­plicity of the graphic means (the hand-drawn lettering and brushed sil­houettes) to question the complex apparatus of printed image-making in the consumer society whose values they opposed. Neither in the medi­um nor in the message was there room for modulation of tone into pho­tographic greys, or into the distraction of colour.

This direct type of printed graffiti was produced in poster workshops in many countries. It was a propaganda weapon, quick to respond, as in Czechoslovakia after the Soviet invasion in 1968. It was used to stimu­late protest in the face of authority by student groups, and it spoke for feminists and activists on social issues.

Posters too were important in calls for disarmament and peace, par­ticularly in Vietnam. Some were the work of professional designers. In New York, agency art directors combined to produce advertisements for the Committee to Help Unsell the War, applying the same arrangement of image, headline and text which they used every day to sell products and services.

The most powerful demonstration of the effectiveness of the still image and printed text was produced in 1970 by the Art Workers Coali­tion in the United States. It appropriates familiar techniques from tele­vision news reporting – documentary photography and interview dialogue. A colour photograph of massacred Vietnam villagers is over­printed with an enlargement of crudely printed text, from the question­ing of a witness about his orders, the laconic 'Q. And babies? A. And babies.' Not momentarily on the flickering screen but frozen on the printed sheet, the viewer absorbs the horror of the photograph to which the words give a yet more horrifying meaning.

In the domestic interior, the cultural and political poster became a decorative and reassuring sign of its owner's allegiance and status. Such posters extended the boundaries of graphic design, which was no longer associated only with commercial interests. Production did not depend on the printing industry nor on the professional designer. The individ­ual could now originate the message and control its means of production. Use of Graphic Signage in Protest.

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