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Exhibition: Designed to promote protest

A new exhibition in Glasgow shows how graphic art is taking a distinctly radical turn in response to political events, says its curator NEIL MCGUIRE

It's Not Very Nice That: Graphic Design And Politics is a slice through contemporary, politically engaged graphic design which highlights the way designers are currently exploring, documenting and responding to recent political events.

While it would be easy to connect much of what they're producing with recent political upheavals from Occupy Wall Street to Tahrir Square, a main focus of the exhibition is to look at the different ways in which graphic design engages with these situations and it does so through the social, economic, cultural and technological contexts within which designers themselves are working.

The exhibition came about in response to the graphic designers of the internet-based Deterritorial Support Group, named in "homage" to the London Metropolitan riot police unit the Territorial Support Group.

Radicalised by the 2010 student protests, they describe themselves as ultra-leftist and anti-authoritarian communists.

In an interview in Print Magazine, they complained that for designers dissatisfied with the present conditions, "the discourse around design is stagnant" and - rightly - criticised the tendency for graphic design to look to the 1960s for its ethical and political cues. They questioned too whether this is really good enough, given the current political climate we operate in.

Stimulated by this insightful provocation and featuring work from more than 20 practices, designers and illustrators, the exhibition attempts to look at a broad cross-section of communication design that could be considered political in intention, context or content.

Reflecting the ways of "being political" currently employed by designers, the work on show varies in tone and approach.

There are examples of designers using data to enable the audience to understand and engage with vast and complex issues. One such is Atlas Of The Conflict, a book by Malkit Shoshan and designed by Joost Grootens, which attempts to deal in forensic detail with the conflict in Palestine/Israel. Lizzie Malcolm's interactive map charts women's political rights across the world and there are examples of direct protest, advocacy and "brandalism," including Occupied Times and work by The Yes Men.

The projects range from socially engaged practice to visual journalism and from experiments with tools and production to critical, speculative projects asking the viewer to imagine other possible futures.

While many fulfil more than one function or role all suggest that there exists a substantial and insightful community of politically engaged practitioners using design to challenge a pervasive realpolitik.

But exhibiting the work in a gallery raises some important questions of its own. Does this reduce the power of the work in any way? Does the exhibition offer us any new strategies or insights that can go back out in to the world?

These questions are of course open to debate and we hope that through the concurrent programme of talks and events, we can air some of these issues.


It's Not Very Nice That runs at the the Lighthouse gallery in Glasgow until April 27, details:


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