Over the years, Burnham-on-Sea, a seaside resort in Somerset has been regularly affected by tidal flooding. As a response, a high wall was erected along the coastline, returning waves back to the sea. The 1.6 kilometres long and 3.2 metres high sea wall regulates access to the sea by a series of raised steps and vehicle access points which can be closed during storms.
As part of her BA Design course at Goldsmiths, designer Hannah Fasching decided to make use of that gigantic wall and reacquaint the inhabitants of the town with the intertidal zone, the space between the high and low tide. She organized a screening along the sea wall, using footage shot in the 1930s, before the wall was built. The films shows how people used to ride bicycles and do sport on the beach and how in the past, the seafront functioned as a vibrant cultural hub.
The project, called the Intertidal Cinema, established a conversation with this architecture of control and neutralization. It also looked at how new relationships can be established between humans and the temporary spaces provided by nature.
Can we continue to exist within an infrastructure that seeks to not only resist, but nullify natural forces? How might we approach increasingly fragile sites in a way that challenges the inherited attitude of conquering nature as though it were an opponent? Can the temporary spaces that occur naturally in the environment provide us with a new way in which design can operate?
Hannah has recently exported the project to London. For three nights, she turned the tidal beach of Deptford creek into a social space. I caught up with Hannah to have her talk about the project in general and about the film she projected in Deptford.
Hi Hannah! Could you first tell me again the story of that beautiful vintage cinema sign we see emerging from the water in Burnham-on-Sea?
The first Intertidal Cinema took place in Burnham-on-Sea's intertidal zone, between high and low tide. We stood the sign in the mudflats on the beach at low tide. What we didn't realise at the time was that the speed of the tide coming in depends mainly on the bank of the beach and that the flats being 'flat' submerge within minutes. Thinking we had time to play the film and collect it afterwards, at sunset, just as the film began playing we turned around just in time to see a wave sweep away the bottom rung of letters. And a few minutes later the whole sign was submerged; an unexpected but appropriate demise.
What made you chose Deptford Creek for the second edition of the IC, rather than any other area by the river bank?
Deptford is at a pivotal point in its history, the waterfront that I remember less than a year ago is now unrecognisable. As a former royal dock, it has evolved from an area defined by its natural topography into an area characterised by rapid urbanisation and gentrification.
In Deptford, much like in Burnham, there is an abrupt contrast between the natural and artificial landscape though the artificial is much more dominant here. The tidal river, Ravensbourne runs from the Thames through Deptford and creates an intertidal zone fluctuating 7m in the heart of Deptford.
As a project that explores this relationship by creating social spaces in temporary environments, taking the project to Deptford meant it developing in a new way.
I've never been there but i had a look on google image. It seems to be a radically different from Burnham. How is the tidal creek of Deptford used now? Is there any social activity there?
Things do happen here, but many are not specifically tied to the river. There is a big community of artists along this part of the river, with studio spaces and galleries as well The Laban Dance Centre, which was built 11 years ago.
The creek creates a unique wildlife area which the local authorities are keen to preserve. The creekside centre, an educational facility, provide tidal walks once a month on the creek. The ahoy centre, a charity in Deptford based on the waterfront, encourage water activities and sports on the river. The Ha'Penny hatch bridge, which can open to allow boats to pass, is a public walkway with many commuters passing over every day. The creek runs underneath this bridge.
How did you make the space more comfortable and enjoyable for people?
Holding a cinema in an area where it doesn't normally function instantly transforms it. Using the bridge as a watching platform, we projected onto structures which faced out onto the creek. One of the projections leaned out over the bridge, projecting vertically onto the water. The cinema took place as the tide was going out, as the water emptied from the creek the projection became clearer, until it eventually hit the rocks below the surface. The tide became the factor which focused the image.
Could you talk to us about the Deep Ford film? It seems to be very different from the film you showed in Burnham.
The film in Burnham consisted of archive footage, a window into the history of the seafront before the wall.
In Deptford it's more of a contemporary take on gentrification and how the area has developed relating back to the history of the dock.
The Deep Ford is a reference to the ford on which Deptford developed. The film shows historical architectures and landmarks around Deptford, many of which played an important part in the shipping industry. Voices of people who were interviewed as part of the project are used to animate these architectures, each voice representing a different place, as though the places are talking to you. These people are people who live, grew up and work in Deptford, but also people involved with how it's changing such as redevelopers. The physical space starts to take on the voice of the social.
Why do you think that it is important that humans (re)connect with natural forces?
To use a quote from Wendell Berry, a poet, environmental activist and cultural critic:
"The cities have forgot the earth and will rot at heart till they remember it again."
Wendell Berry, 1969
In its broadest context the project is about climate change, though it addresses in a different way than a project that might involve weather robots and cloud seeding. I think what is required is an increased understanding of the natural environment, but it seems to me that the well documented expansion of cities is fundamentally incompatible with this. A city is essentially a hardscape.
Using an extreme example; Tokyo as a city sitting on a tectonic boundary, is in permanent conflict with it's natural surroundings. The strict building codes in Tokyo mean that the architecture responds the the natural surroundings. Building foundations are built to move with seismic activity. If our natural environment is to be increasingly volatile, a failure to understand and act in relation to it will only ever cause problems.
The Intertidal cinema that took place in Deptford works in direction relation to the tide, using this force to focus the image of the projection.
Your project explores ways for people to "experience the extremes of the environmental conditions'. Is that out of concern for the future of a country threatened by sea rising?
It can't not be. The project began by documenting an area of land artificially lower than sea level, and suffers from flooding as a result (Somerset).
If the sea is rising what will our relationship with it be?
I think this is already happening, this relationship is being configured through sea wall's and flood defences. Whether it's on the coast in Burnham or in the city of London. They both dissolve the relationship with the water and are also potentially apocalyptic because of the risk of them failing.
What's next for the Intertidal Cinema?
Following on from the last answer, I see the project developing towards larger scale responses to the temporary spaces in the natural environment.
Data Cuisine goes against everything i've learnt as a child: Don't play with food! Don't mix meals with political discussions! In these workshops, participants experiment with the representation of data using culinary means. I suspect they are even allowed to put their elbows on the table.
The workshop invites participants to translate local data into culinary creations, turning arid numbers into sensually 'experienceable' matter.
Participants chose their topics, investigate related data, shop for comestible ingredients and under the guidance of chefs, they learn how to create dishes that will not only be delicious but also act as entry points to discussions about local issues that range from emigration to criminality, suicide rate, unemployment, sexuality or science funding.
Hi Susanne and Moritz! Seen from the outside, the idea is somewhat simple: just take some data and assemble them on a plate instead of a graph, use culinary ingredients instead of lines and block of colours. Yet, i suspect the process must be more complex than that. What are the challenges participants encounter when trying to turn numbers into dishes?
SJ: It might sound simple, but cooking and data visualisation or representation are two very different disciplines. Food is sensual, tangible, ephemeral, emotional and social. Data is not like this at all. This dialectics is the starting point of the Data Cuisine workshop and for someone who has never done it, it is already a challenge to think both together and to play with the various qualities of food such as its cultural connotations, colour, taste, shape, nutrition and the range of techniques to prepare food such as melting, freezing, boiling, baking, foaming...Not to speak of the various ways one can present and consume food.
Actually there are so many possibilities to explore on both ends, the data and the food, that most participants end-up with something relatively simple, because they are overwhelmed by the complexity. A translation of data into a visual edible diagram is relatively easy, but that's not what we are striking for, but for creations that work and communicate on both levels, visually and as regards taste.
One of the questions the workshop asks is "Have you ever tried to imagine how a fish soup tastes whose recipe is based on publicly available local fishing data?"
So does data affect taste and how? For example, do you have to make concession and be a bit less respectful of data to ensure that a dish is delicious?
MS: Generally, when it comes to tasting precise quantities and differences, of course, our taste organs are more limited than our visual system. It is simply much harder to determine what is "twice as sweet" as opposed to as twice as long line in a graphic. Then again, taste is a much more emotional and temporally complex experience that just looking at a dot on a screen. So, the mechanisms to encode information might be more fuzzy, but potentially much deeper.
Depending on the theme, there could also be a case to be made for dishes that don't taste all that well (like, e.g., the noise visualization through salt).
In the end, our goal is to create eating experiences that teach you something about the data, and taste is one dimension you can vary, but there is also temperature, texture, amounts, the plating, all the cultural connotations different dishes and ingredients have ... all this plays together in creating a successful dish. Here, precision of data readability is not of primary concern, but rather, the overall personal experience, and the dishes' concept.
Can any data be turned into something edible? Or did participants find themselves in front of data that when cooked together could only lead to unpleasant flavors?
SJ: We ask the participants to work with local data, ideally open data, and the experience from the two workshops shows that most people tend to pick data that reveal social and economic problems. This is not really surprising as we encourage people to pick a topic that they feel close to, that motivates them to work on, and to turn it into some kind of food experience. Creating a dish that tastes terrible is sometimes the best way to communicate a negative development or a problematic situation. Good examples for this are the 'Suicide Cocktail' that looks at the relation of alcohol consumption and suicide rates in Finland and 'Unemployed Pan con Tomate!' that visualises the drastic increase of unemployment among young people. We tell participants that they should decide early on, if they want to be that radical or if they want to try something that is more subtle and comparably more difficult to produce.
You work with chefs in each of these workshops. How do they intervene? What exactly is their role in each workshop?
SJ: The chefs are very important, when it comes to creating the dishes. In most cases, a 'data' dish is created by either remixing, altering or re-interpreting existing recipes. The group of participants is usually very heterogeneous and have different professional backgrounds. However, they all have an interest in cooking or at least in doing something with food, but some are knowledgeable than others. The chefs bring the real cooking expertise to the table. Usually our participants quickly develop ideas what they want to do and which dishes they want to create, and then it's the chef who -- with his or her experience and creativity -- pushes them to open up their mind, to try something new and unusual, such as trying out other techniques or ingredients. When we are in the kitchen, the chef is in high demand, not only for the preparation of dishes, but also for their final presentation on the plate.
So far you've organized 2 Data Cuisine workshops. One in Helsinki and one in Barcelona. These are two very different kind of countries in terms of cuisine. Do you feel that participants approached the idea of mixing data and food differently? Because i somehow feel that a lot of personal culture and subjectivity enters into account when dealing with food.
SJ: In Helsinki less of the dishes were local, maybe also due the fact that a lot of Helsinki workshop participants were either immigrants or just visiting. I remember that Moritz and I were wondering what constitutes Finnish cuisine before we had our first meeting with Antti Nurka, the Finnish chef. And it was particularly interesting to see how the shortage of vegetables that grow in Finland and the variety of local mushrooms, berries and fish influence the Finnish menu. But other than that I couldn't discover much differences in the general approach of the participants, maybe because the people who join the workshop are usually food-aficionados.
I think what i like about this workshop is that it breaks a taboo for me. I grew up being told that you don't mix politics and food, that you can't talk about sensitive or potentially divisive topics while having a meal. Yet, many of the projects were directly related to politics and social issues. Besides, one of the objectives of the workshops is precisely to merge food with data in order to "gain unexpected insights into both media and learn about their inner constructions and relations". So what have you learn so far about these constructions and relations?
MS: From a data visualization point of view, I found it really interesting to watch how deeply people meditate on very simple data points, when they think about turning them into food experiences. In a way, this is a very needed counterpoint to the current trend of consuming lots of data in a very quick and superficial way. As Jer Thorp said, "we are so used to flying at 10,000 feet that we forget what it is like to be on the ground" and both the preparation and consumption of the data dishes providesa very earthy, grounded way to connect with statistical information and the human stories behind the numbers.
From a food point of view, knowing how expressive food is as a medium, it is surprising to me by now, how little the intellectual side is stimulated in high-end cuisine. It is surely nice to just enjoy interesting tastes in good company, but it can also be quite enriching if there is a whole extra conceptual and intellectual dimension to the dining experience. I think this side has been quite neglected in the history of cuisine and we are hoping to provoke a few reactions in -- and hopefully some inspiration to -- the traditional cooking scene.
What's next for Data Cuisine?
MS: We aim for a few more editions of the workshop, in order to understand the local differences better and continue to explore the medium. We might also vary the format in the future - one format we were considering is a high-end "data dinner", which would put less emphasis on the collaborative workshop process, but more the final outcome and dining experience. And I would like to learn more about the science of cooking and the technological advances in the area - this field is buzzing right now!
Thanks Susanne and Moritz!
All images courtesy of Data Cuisine. More photos.
Last weekend was the Goldsmiths degree show at the Truman Brewery in London. There were quite a few interesting projects but the one that really stood out for its depth, coherence and reach is Tearlach Byford-Flockhart's The Social Mining Union (SUM.)
The BA Design project aims to reposition the role of the 'labour union' (and function of positive activism) within a globalized landscape of post-consumer society, examining the industrial mining industry and peripheral territories it is associated with.
Tearlach's adventures took him from scrapyard in south London to Glencore Xstrata's Annual General Meeting in Switzerland.
Metal scrapping, i learnt from my conversation with the designer is a a multi-million pound business. A documentary on Channel 4 revealed that the business of a yard owner in south London can turn over £7million a year while "scrappers", the men who scour the streets in the hope of turning trash into cash, can make up to £800 a day.
Trailer for documentary 'Getting Rich In The Recession - Scrappers'
Tearlach joined the scrappers and collected discarded objects from all over New Cross, a district in the London Borough of Lewisham. He also 'mined' websites like Gumtree and freecycle for discarded computers. He then sold his scrap in scrapyards and used the money to buy Glencore (a multinational commodity trading and mining company) shares. Being a shareholder, he somehow managed to infiltrate the annual general meeting of Glencore Xstrata last May when he took the opportunity of a Q&A session to suggest more positive economic, social and environmental impacts in the mining industry. His intervention might not have had much effect but imagine what would happen if whole communities of scrappers engaged in similar forms of activism!
The Social Mining Union project looks back at the Industrial Revolution when large-scale industries were centred around people and place. The paternalism of companies such as Cadbury's and Unilever ensured that communities flourished around places of work, sharing a common ground and an inherent sense of place. This affiliation between workers, industry and environment strengthened social and cultural values and cultivated prosperity at an individual level, and consequently this had a positive effect on the commercial output. The picture is obviously quite different in today's global context.
Extracts from my conversation with the designer:
Hi Tee! I'm very interested in your experience in scrapyards. Could you detail where you collected the scrap and how you turned it into money that you then used to buy some Glencore shares?
I collected old radiators, piping, cans which were often left in skips and on the side of the road. I then visited two different scrap yards - Sydenham scrap metals and Lewisham scrap metals ltd. When you arrive you weigh your van load for the cheaper scrap - iron and steel etc and then for the more valuable scrap such as copper you weigh it separately on smaller scales. Once the van has been weighed you then remove all the scrap and weigh it again working out how much scrap you had.
You then get payed by check, which I put strait into a bank account set up for the union - this then gets transferred into my Barclays stockbroker account where you can by any public companies shares, once bought you can request a proxy from to attend shareholders meetings and other events.
By the way, why did you chose Glencore rather than any other mining company? Any particular reason?
Glencore is the largest commodities and mining giant, from my research I was interested in the anonymity and secrecy they only recently become a public company so not many people know about their operations. I felt it was important to show some transparency and realised that whilst investigating them they were incredibly corrupt in a variety of ways.
One of the goals of your project is to question the role of the union and of activism nowadays. What is wrong with the way they function now?
Activism it seems still predominately relies on models such as protesting, embarrassment and sometimes aggression, these are important but outdated, as policing and government legislation has changed and evolved. The Battle of Orgreave is one of the signifiers to how policing was evolving to deal with large crowds with new techniques being used to control the people.
Unions have lost the strength they once held. Although in the past they did at times act like bullies, they have lost the sense of community connections and this is due to the combinations of small unions into larger ones. They are also stuck in a mentality that suits the past in terms of how they deal with gaining better paid employees based upon a time when striking had more of an impact.
During our conversation, you mentioned the industrial paternalism policy of Cadbury's and Unilever which 'facilitated social capital at a domestic level.' If i understood your project correctly, workers and unions would have to take matters into their own hands and recreate this social capital, instead of relying on corporate mining industries? Can you walk us through what you did once you owned some Glencore actions? And what you think could happen if other people did like you and the whole action was scaled up?
Once I bought the shares I was able to begin a dialogue with Glencore via emails, this enabled me to assess what was possible at the meeting I was planning to attend.
What I found from the meeting is that if we are to make a change within this centralised forum we need to one take matters into our own hands as management seem little concerned and two to speak through a collective voice, if we imagine The Social Mining Union with 1 million members each of these members holds a small amount of shares but collectively they hold a massive amount of shares then we collectively are a threat, as our voice is much louder than one. But I also think it is important to remember that this project is about access and navigation The Social Mining Union suggests a new way to engage with these global companies at a human level.
Thanks Tee Byford!
Synthetic Aesthetics. Investigating Synthetic Biology's Designs on Nature, by designer Alexandra Ginsberg Daisy, social scientists Jane Calvert and Pablo Schyfter, bioengineers Alistair Elfick and Drew Endy.
Publisher MIT Press writes: Synthetic biology manipulates the stuff of life. For synthetic biologists, living matter is programmable material. In search of carbon-neutral fuels, sustainable manufacturing techniques, and innovative drugs, these researchers aim to redesign existing organisms and even construct completely novel biological entities. Some synthetic biologists see themselves as designers, inventing new products and applications. But if biology is viewed as a malleable, engineerable, designable medium, what is the role of design and how will its values apply?
In this book, synthetic biologists, artists, designers, and social scientists investigate synthetic biology and design. After chapters that introduce the science and set the terms of the discussion, the book follows six boundary-crossing collaborations between artists and designers and synthetic biologists from around the world, helping us understand what it might mean to 'design nature.' These collaborations have resulted in biological computers that calculate form; speculative packaging that builds its own contents; algae that feeds on circuit boards; and a sampling of human cheeses. They raise intriguing questions about the scientific process, the delegation of creativity, our relationship to designed matter, and, the importance of critical engagement. Should these projects be considered art, design, synthetic biology, or something else altogether?
Synthetic biology is driven by its potential; some of these projects are fictions, beyond the current capabilities of the technology. Yet even as fictions, they help illuminate, question, and even shape the future of the field.
I don't think i've ever reviewed a book and recommended it to scientists. Synthetic Aesthetics, however, should appeal to the art/design crowd and to the science community alike. It should also interest anyone who is eager to look beyond overenthusiastic headlines that promise a world-saving 'green' technology and who would like to understand better the benefits, risks and uncertainties of a field that might sometimes appear foreign and abstract.
Synthetic Aesthetics brings together synthetic biologists, social scientists, designers and artists to talk about what it means for science, culture and society to not only redesign existing organisms but also to design new ones, constructing in the process completely novel biological entities. As you can expect from the avant-garde minds invited to take part in Synthetic Aesthetics, the essays discuss the possibilities, real and imagined, of a future in which 'synbio' is part of 'nature', design and everyday life but some of the authors also look at the historical and cultural precedents of human interference with nature, from The Island of Doctor Moreau to producing GMOs.
Synthetic Aesthetics doesn't offer any easy answer regarding the challenges and potentials of 'synbio'. What it does very well, however, is opening up a space to have a broad discussion about questions as critical as: Could reprogramming organisms answer the problem of the finite resources of the planet? How do you design what doesn't exist, not even in our imagination? When should we turn to synthetic biology rather than to political or technical solutions? What are the implication of applying an engineering mindset to life materials? etc.
Roughly one half of the book explores projects that resulted from a close collaboration between scientists and artists/designers. I'll just highlight one of them because it has a good balance of 'sci-fi' and everyday practicality.
Packaging that Creates its Content envisioned a probiotic drink that relies on bacteria to morph into a physical cup when exposed to a specific light wavelength. During shipping and storage, the cups remain dormant until water is poured inside, creating a healthy drink. After several uses, the cup's walls begin to degrade and it can be composted.
'Packaging That Creates Its Contents' helps people think about what the world would be like if packaging never created waste.
Get that book! I've searched high and low for a book that would explain synbio in a clear, engaging and intelligent way. I'm glad i've finally found it.
Views inside the book:
Image on the homepage: Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, The Synthetic Kingdom: Carbon Monoxide Detecting Lung Tumour, 2009. Photograph by Carole Suety.
The Graphic Design Festival Breda, that event which explores current developments in the field of graphic visual culture and turned me into a super fan of everything graphic overnight is over but one of the exhibitions part of the festival is up until the end of next month at MOTI - the Museum Of The Image in Breda. And it's a good thing because that little show is really good.
Resolute - Design Changes shows the work of graphic designers who aren't afraid to come to grip with burning social and political issues.
Their work goes beyond protest. The designers make us confront problems we'd rather not think about, they turn complex issues into clear and limpid visual communication, and some of them even craft tools that can be used for immediate action.
Resolute - design changes explores the current state of social responsibility taken up by designers. In vigorous projects these firm designers are determined to contribute to the process of change in society and their profession. Based on moderation, inspiration and engagement they encourage people to shape their opinions and stimulate them to take action.
The show was curated by Sven Ehmann and Dennis Elbers. I don't know which blogs and magazines these two eat for breakfast but i'd better find out and subscribe to them because it looks like i've been living under a stone over the past few years. All the games, posters, publications, projects and campaigns selected were strong and many of them were entirely new to me.
Quick overview some of the most striking ones:
Since 2011, Kenji Nakayama has been hand-painting signs for some of Boston's homeless population. The hastily written slogans that homeless people hold in the hope to get passersby attention go from beige brown bits of cardboard to colourful design pieces.
The Occupied Times of London is a political newspaper founded in October 2011 during the first week of the occupation of St Paul's.
Free, non-profit and devoid of any advertising, the publication is dedicated to highlighting perceived problems with current global socio-economic practices: "Neoliberalism is bleeding society dry, feeding upon the worst instincts of human nature and destroying the best - the qualities of solidarity, altruism, interrelationship with nature, meaningful work, and respectful coexistence within our families and communities."
Tzortzis Rallis told Dazed & Confused "We use a typeface called Bastard designed by Jonathan Barnbrook. It's reminiscent of the typefaces used by banks and companies during fascist times. He wanted to create a typeface that no one in the corporate sector would use to advertise."
Papers, Please is a video game focusing on the emotional toll of working as an immigration officer, deciding who to let in and who to exclude from entering the fictional dystopian socialist state of Arstotzka.
The player earns money based on how many people have been processed and bribes collected. Money is taken out of the inspector's salary if they let terrorists, wanted criminals, or smugglers enter the country. Any money earned has to be invested in paying for rent, food, heat, and other necessities in low-class housing for themselves and their family. As relations between Arstotzka and nearby countries deteriorate, sometimes due to terrorist attacks, new sets of rules are gradually added, such as denying citizens of specific countries or demanding current documentation from citizens. The player may be challenged with moral dilemmas as the game progresses; such as allowing the supposed spouse of an immigrant through despite lacking complete papers, at the risk of accepting a terrorist into the country. (via)
Ruben Pater's Drone Survival Guide is a birdwatching-style poster designed to help you spot and identify drones. Silhouettes of the most commonly used drones are presented along with information about their country of origin and purpose: to spy or to kill. On the back of the poster, the guide details survival tips for spotting, hiding from, and interfering with the sensors of drones.
The poster was printed on a mirrored surface and could, in theory, confuse a drone's camera and be brandished as an anti-drone protection.
The Center for Urban Pedagogy collaborates with teachers and students, policy experts and community advocates, and artists and designers to turn complex urban-planning processes and policy-making decisions into engaging and visually appealing brochures. CUP's aim is to provide practical advice to groups who lack access to such information: immigrants, public-housing residents, and at-risk youth, to name a few.
November 2012, The Israelian - Palestinian conflict erupts in an outburst of violence. This time not only in real life, but also on Social Media, where both parties use propaganda to conquer the hearts and minds.
The Social Media War is boardgame designed to give a visual, analog presence to a conflict fought in virtual space. Players can use propaganda to conquer and defend territories and thus win the digital war over the Gaza Strip.
I didn't get a chance to attend the whole festival but hey, hurray, the organizers uploaded on flickr fantastic sets of images that document the event:
More photos on GDFB flickr page.
A book about the visual identity of some of the world's main terrorist organizations wasn't going to remain unnoticed. When it was published by MERRELL last year, every single design blog and magazine wrote about it. Yet, i only discovered the existence of Branding Terror last month, when i had a ridiculously great time at the Graphic Design Festival in Breda (NL.)
In a similar way to what happens with consumer goods, the name, slogans, and visual codes of a terrorist group are not only key manifestations of its identity, they also contribute to the reach and influence of the organization. An anecdote that appears in Artur Beifuss' introduction to the book illustrates the importance and impact of this visual communication. A few years ago, an Italian amateur league football club adopted for its players' shirts the logo of the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, changing its name to 'Zassbollah' (a combination of 'Hezbollah' and the name of the team's captain, Luigi Zasso) in the process.
The book is authored by graphic designer and creative director Francesco Trivini Bellini and by writer and (ex)counter-terrorism analyst Artur Beifuss. Which means that the publication is obviously carefully designed but also that the information about the history, imagery, attacks, ideologies and capabilities of each of the 65 organizations has been meticulously researched.
The authors of the book are conscious that they are dealing with a delicate topic. They approached it in an almost clinical way while acknowledging the suffering of the victims of terrorism.
In his foreword to the book, Steven Heller, a design writer and former Art Director at the New York Times, wrote: The extreme violence committed in the name of these logos makes writing about them in terms of aesthetics or production values seem silly and irrelevant. Yet these terrorist groups are all brands, and are given a certain viability through branding methods. Branding is a tool that has no conscience or morality - it can be used for good or bad, and sometimes for both in tandem.
I contacted Artur Beifuss as soon as i came back from Breda and he was kind enough to answer my questions:
Hi Artur! Are there logos that stand out from the others? Which ones do you think are the most imaginative, the most efficient (strictly from a design point of view of course)? and why?
Yes, there are some good ones, the Hezbollah logo for example. It perfectly reflects the organizations history and ideology. It is interesting to compare the Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards logo. Allegedly the Iranian's founded and trained the group that later became to be Hezbollah. Both logos use the same elements to convey its ideological message. I think the Hezbollah logo is very powerful because it is memorable and easily recognizable.
But more important than the logo is what people will do with this logo. In the digital age, logos can go viral modified and used for all kinds of contexts. It is not uncommon to see fashionably dressed women and men wearing t-shirt with Hezbollah logos. Just google 'hezbollah' and 'girls' to understand what I am talking about. Seeing the logo in such a context tells the recipient that Hezbollah's ideology is indeed applicable in contemporary society. At least more than watching bearded men talking to a camera somewhere in the mountains of Waziristan.
And on the opposite hand, which one do you think is the worst conveyor of ideology?
All of the logos analyzed in Branding Terror make some kind of ideological reference. None of them really misses the point. However, there are some logos that are completely overloaded with references and elements, the logo of the Islamic Organization of Uzbekistan is a good example. It has so much Arabic text in it that one does not know where to look first. Also, this particular logo would be lost on all recipients that can't understand Arabic.
Does branding a terrorist organization has to respond to the same rules and requirements than branding any commercial product? Or do you find that other 'laws' are playing?
In a way it has to respond to the same rules, yes. People have to know what you stand for, and the logo should be easily recognizable. However, terrorism means violence and death in most of the times. Even terrorist groups find it difficult to advertise for that. In the letters from Abbottabad for example Al-Qaeda media advisors recommended Bin Laden to keep a distance to the Al-Qaeda branch in Iraq because they started beheading people. This is not something that Al-Qaeda central - if you want to call it like this - wants to be associated with. They were losing followers over that.
You used to be a counter-terrorism analyst? Now that sounds really interesting. What did the work involve? And how did you use that background while working on the book? when did it come helpful?
My position involved searching and analyzing information about terrorism in five languages. Through this job I acquired a good understanding of transnational terrorism. This did help me to make the content of the book multilayered. Also, I knew how to find information that gets as close to the primarily source as possible and how to correctly assess them.
I read that you used the official lists of "designated foreign terrorist organisations" of five governments: Australia, India, Russia, United States and the European Union. First of all do the list overlap? Or do they have different definition of what a terrorist organization is?
The definitions slightly differ. And the lists overlap to some degree. But governments tend to put groups on their list that are of relevance to their own geopolitical position. For example many separatist groups from India you will not find on the list of the United States. Globally active groups like Al-Qaeda are listed as a terrorist organization on most of the lists.
After the book was finished, did you get emails from people sending you other logos? And do you now find yourself in front of a long list of logos you wish you could have included? Could you imagine publishing a second edition of the book for example or do you think that what had to be told has already been communicated in the book?
Yes, some people approached us with their own projects and ideas. And we are always happy to get in touch and exchange ideas. Branding Terror was exhaustive as it is at the time of publishing. All organizations that are on the designated foreign terrorist list of which it was possible to track down the logo are included in the book. Branding Terror was set out as an encyclopedia, a branding manual and a collectible item. We like to see it as a work in progress. There are always new groups emerging and designated as a terrorist organization. It would be nice to have the logos of these groups all in one place, preferably in a nicely designed book series.
Terrorism is a bit of a tricky subject. It is associated with subversion and violence and that often get people's attention. And it must be difficult not to pass any judgment, political or moral when dealing with the topic of terrorism. How did you approach the topic? Did you struggle to stay neutral? How did you manage that?
Branding Terror is based on information found in Open Sources. It is a technical analysis of the visual communication of terrorist and insurgent groups. The logo is the unit of analysis. Of course many so-called facts can be considered biased since they were collected and collated by people with a certain political and moral agenda in mind. These people can be ELN members in Colombia or Analysts in a Washington think tank. I used analytical techniques I learned in my profession to approach the topic. But of course it is not easy to read over hundreds of dead bodies every day. But I was not there to judge, just to simply collect, collate and analyze the information.
Have you ever received any feedback from any of the organizations you mention in the book?
No, I have not received such feedback.
What are you both working on now? Any new projects you could share with us?
Francesco is taking a creative break at the moment. In the meantime I speak on conferences, in design schools and advice marketing companies about what can be learned from Branding Terror. And yes, coming back to your questions earlier, I do systematically collect logos on the side. The next project is trend research, especially analyzing countercultures of the future.
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