First Things First Manifesto
Ken Garland’s 1964 First Things First Manifesto takes a particularly blunt approach to the work of graphic designers who are pumping consumer driven advertisements out at an alarming rate. He finds the bombardment of adverts for items barely necessary for everyday life such as fizzy water and hair restorer to be an insulting waste if talented designers time and resources. Garland states ‘techniques and apparatus of advertising have persistently been presented to us as the most lucrative, effective and desirable means of using our talents.’ This means that even in 1964 a majority of emphasis towards designers was placed on the sale of insignificant items as opposed to working on valuable commodities such as educational aids and vital information leaflets. This gained 21 signatures from Garlands colleagues at the time, some of the most well known names in the industry. One of the most prominent sentences of the manifesto is the need for a ‘reversal of priorities’ working on things which will benefit our own culture, preserve our knowledge and expand the knowledge of future generations is far more important than the sales statistics of cat food.
An updated version of the manifesto was produced in 2000, there were a lot of changes made but the straight forward, hard lined undertone was ever prominent. The additions made to the new manifesto were vital, they created far more relevance for the designers of this era, students in particular. In the original statement those addressed were graphic designers, photographers and students this was edited to graphic designers, art directors and visual communicators, for visual communication students, this inclusion for their desired career is a monumental step in the right direction, for their futures in the design world. It didn’t state who exactly were the people force feeding this consumerist ideology but the 2000 version states the belief that it is coming directly from design teachers and mentors. If in fact there is any truth in what was written the reversal of priorities is direly important for the educators of young graphic designers, as designer after designer pass through their door, if the manifesto’s message is not offered to them, they may feel that the consumer driven careers which have been repeatedly presented to them as their only option are just that, without knowing the truly beneficial causes their talents could be channelled towards. If there is no cooperation from educators towards “useful and lasting forms of communication” (1964) important issues which could be completely transformed through the keen eye, skill and dedication of just one or a group of graphic designers who otherwise would have only been aware of the difference their talents could make to shampoo sales, could be completely ignored. The updated version states graphic designers should ‘be encouraged in this direction’ this adaptation reverses the sense of forced moral obligation the original seemed to portray and instead allows the designers to continue to fabricate a reality which many citizens financially and psychologically are finding crippling, or to consider serious cutting edge design work which could potentially reach the farthest corners of the globe and benefit the lives of many.
The 1964 manifesto itself did have some flaws, one of which continued into the second edition. When generations of designers have experienced nothing but the presentation of commercial design as their futures and moulded many of their own techniques to benefit the market, they often struggle to see the exact benefits of more issue directed work, the impacts of this kind of work are notoriously difficult to measure and this is one of the biggest issues visual communicators face. If a job in commercial advertising is what people feel is ‘paying the bills’ then do the emotional pro’s of work for worthwhile purposes outweigh the need for financial stability and constant statistical satisfaction? Unlikely, but this is why the manifesto specifically states ‘We do not advocate the abolition of high pressure consumer advertising: this is not feasible.’ It is the balance which must be addressed, the balance of designs involvement in consumerist culture as we stand today far outweighs the work being produced to conserve, the impact of which is that design is seen as largely commercial work as stated by the 2000 manifesto “commercial work has always paid the bills, but many graphics designers have now let it become, in large measure, what graphic designers do. This, in turn, is how the world perceives design.”
Criticisms of the manifesto’s were not scarce, though some sceptics chose not to voice their opinions and instead ignore the existence of the manifesto and continue with their craft. Firstly, it was seen to be naïve, naïve in the expectation of people to suddenly have a miraculous epiphany on the amount of work they produce for the adverts and large companies, which puts a roof over their heads and a new shiny computer on which to produce such work, graphic designers were never going to read the 1964 manifesto and suddenly become designers for the next revolution, but is it so naïve to ask that they consider even a fraction of their valuable time and resources is taken to contribute towards something which may assist a person in understanding something vital in healthcare or a poster to show a struggling individual a helpline. The manifesto states ‘we do not advocate the abolition of high pressure consumer advertising: this is not feasible…But we are proposing a reversal of priorities’ (1964) the naivety would lie in the expectance of people to change everything about their working lives but this is not the case. Additionally Katherine McCoy, an American design educator said ‘we have a trained profession that feels political or social concerns are either extraneous to our work or inappropriate” (pg 9 First Things First A Brief History) it is likely that the same kind of people who agree with statements like this are those same people who turn over the channel when the news shows a hint of something negative so’s not to ruin their blissful sense of ignorance with ‘extraneous’ problems whilst they meticulously deliberate which colour they can use for the next cat food brand in order to gain the attention of the lone woman who only has the company of her feline army to while away her days. These individuals being the same whom poison our youth to believe their bodies, personalities and possessions are worthless without the same logos they sat and designed whilst children starve and men work themselves to death to care for a family they can’t cope with because they had no education on or access to proper contraception. The sheer power graphic design has in the advertising world is what makes the manifesto’s point so important for people to hear, and to quote the 2000 manifesto adaptation ‘it is changing the very way citizen-consumers speak, think, feel, respond, and interact’ this must be a real confidence boost to graphic designers, reiterated in Michael Bieruts 2007 Ten Footnotes to a Manifesto. Many would find the statement made by Katherine McCoy rather ignorant, to say that any social problems are not appropriate to any work done in the world is morally repugnant, people should be taking the things going on around themselves into every aspect of their lives, especially graphic designers, having the power to do good and not using it can be argued to be more evil than the thing happening itself.
The manifesto raises very important key points and questions to those who have the upper hand in the audiences their work is able to reach. Adbusters who poke fun at the commercial world did something which many people wouldn’t have even considered to be acceptable and yet their work has made a huge dent in the art world. It shed a whole new light on the consumer advertisement sector and caused people to look at this kind of work differently, the untouchable consumerist culture which is fast becoming the sole driving force behind our society suddenly became susceptive to ridicule, like the beginning of the downfall of a silent yet ever present dictator. It may be that many graphic designers prefer to remain ignorant so’s not to undo the generations of hard work that has gone into creating this fabricated reality the human race has become accustomed/conditioned to. As powerful as the manifestos message may be, when faced with a criticism of their livelihood along with a suggestion on how to do things ‘correctly’ naturally the target population, here the case being graphic designers, are going to begin to pick at each detail of the proposal, in some cases this is about the social class of the writer and the manifesto’s signatories ‘the usual suspects might be understood as the “upper class” or professional elite, perhaps speaking above the heads of, or merely down to the rank and file.’ (pg 11, First Things First: Now More Than Ever) It then goes on to say ‘the tens of thousands of anonymous designers whose efforts we implicitly choose to demarcate as uninspired or, worse, uninformed’, yet nowhere does it say anything about the tens of thousands of anonymous citizens who have come to rely on the ‘bombardment’of these tens of thousands of anonymous designers work to get them through each day, let alone the 8 million adults in Britain who don’t even reach the basics of reading levels. Using their abilities for individuals like these should be ‘appropriate’ and pertinent enough to drag someone away from the next celebrity perfume ad. The manifesto is a seed, an idea, and in the right mind could grow into a concept for a side project, for a new information book, etc. By all means there are graphic designers who are contributing towards education and the future, one example being the FDA nutritional guide which has appeared across the globe and is assisting in health knowledge, nobody could ever dispute that being a great achievement. Ken Garlands 1964 manifesto gave weight to an unspoken need that had been festering in an ever developing and crippling reality. Whether a revolution which is lead by art as Adbusters Kalle Lasn predicted or the next big idea for valuable commodities society culturally will benefit from, there needs to be some balance restored in the design world, without which only a spiral into an unrecognisable, completely unrealistic adaptation of where the world stands now.
Marc Quinn, Alison Lapper Pregnant, Olympic Opening Ceremony, 2012
Jeremy Deller, It is what it is, 2009
Following the Royal Wedding in 2011, the Queens Jubilee, the Olympics in 2012 the eyes of the world were on London for the Paralympics opening Ceremony which featured a giant replica of Marc Quins sculpture Alison Lapper Pregnant. Alison Lapper is a disabled artist born with a condition known as Phocomelia, who was 8 months pregnant when the original was made, she has no arms and shortened legs so she creates her artwork by holding a paintbrush in her mouth. The original sculpture was 12ft tall and displayed in Trafalgar square, whereas the version used within the Paralympics stood at 43ft and truly was a centre piece for the ceremony. The second image is of a bombed car from a market place in Iraq which was taken back to America by artist Jeremy Deller and taken on tour. The Iraq war has been hugely controversial with a large amount of people concerned about the reasons the US government used to begin the war. However conflict is easy to forget when it isn’t taking place in your home country and the realism is almost removed from the situation when watching events on television, its difficult to contemplate the true destruction of the conflict so when Deller brought the burnt out shell back to home soil the reality of what is going on in Iraq hit home for many people.
The form of Alison Lapper pregnant is the sole purpose of the piece, often the bodies of those missing limbs can be deemed deformed and unappealing but when combined with something as beautiful as motherhood, audiences of all ages then begin to see that these disabled people are still human and can adapt themselves to being able to live incredible yet ordinary lives. It even has the ability to cause people to believe they are even stronger than a majority of people for being able to cope so well with their disabilities, which after the incredible achievements of the Paralympians they were even at times deemed ‘superhuman’. The piece takes the same form as the Venus De Milo which is one of the most memorable and beautiful statues in the eyes of many people. It’s a beautiful, human, smooth form whereas the burned out car Deller brought back was twisted, ruined and an awful reminder of what is happening overseas. The jagged edges and rusted colour a long with the fact its been flattened are utterly different to Lappers body sculpture. The bombed car is likely to weigh about a tonne as it is now just metal as opposed to all of the additional seats etc and though the exact weight of the sculpture isn’t known, it is likely to weigh around the same if not slightly more.
Each of the images purpose is to shock, whether that is because of the size or how they were created. Dellers car in particular is shocking to those who viewed it as people see cars as hugely valuable assets and not just because of the amount they alone cost but also because of the benefits they have on peoples lives each day. Having something like this viewed up close can begin to raise questions for the audience such as how the loss of such an important possession has impacted the owners and if the owners even survived the bomb attack, the shock factor lies in how personal the conflict then becomes.
The audiences for each piece would mainly be the older generations as opposed to children, but children should be able to see things like the pieces as it helps them to see whats really happening in the world around them and they may grow up with more open minds as a result. Especially where the Iraq war is concerned, its something which is happening in their lifetime and they are growing up with so educating them on it as early as possible may help their understanding which in turn will help the understanding of future generations. The Olympics and Paralympics were open to any social class but from news coverage many of the working class were disinterested in the various events at the time and were irritated at the relentless media coverage of the string of . There were even interviews used by comedy shows of the general publics reaction to interviewers.
Each image is striking in its own right, whether that is questioning your own views of what are the real capabilities of the human body or how disengaged with the things that are really going on in the world we live in. They do this in different ways, the use of man made destruction and negatives versus the natural and beautiful.
Due to the Winter Olympics and Paralympics held in Sochi this year the worlds media attention turned to Russia, in just a short amount of time the news blew up with masses of information, documentaries and stories about the harshening treatment of homosexuals and transgenders.
New legislation has been brought in over recent years limiting the freedoms of gays within Russia, despite huge progress made by the country such as in 1993 sexual activity between two consenting same sex adults became legal, shortly after in 1999 homosexuality was then declassified as a mental illness, approximately 30 years behind the United Kingdom. In 1997 transgender individuals were able to legally change their gender and from 2003 onwards the age of consent for homosexuals was the same as straight individuals. The recent pieces of legislation passed which limit gay rights includes the distribution of homosexual propaganda meaning there is no right to claim that same sex couples and gay couples are equal and to raise awareness of how homosexuals are being treated and why it is wrong, as this would involve distributing information along with claims that they are equal to other relationships. Another is the banning of group protests, and that there has to be a certain distance between any individuals who are, although it has been reported in various documentaries that when the police see people following these guidelines but doing the picketing for gay rights they are moved along/arrested regardless of how well they have followed the guidelines, whereas others who do the same but for other causes see a more lenient approach.
Despite the news stories beginning to change some peoples views on harsher laws within our own country, some people may find the pieces to almost ridicule homosexuals, as opposed to being a symbol of support, however due to the designs for the characters being taken from an event which gives homosexuals the opportunity to be seen exactly how they feel comfortable, I feel that it is working to show support from those individuals as opposed to working to mock them.
Recently support symbols have began to appear in Leeds for the people suffering under these laws, for example a shop window mural in the ‘Gay Quarter.’ Which shows that there are people within the community who want to show support for those people and this is why I intend to create a piece which takes an icon of Russias, and change it completely, just as in the shop window and in other things where Putin and even the winter Olympics have been adapted. The sculptures will be displayed in Millenium Square before and during the Gay Pride parade, but will be confined within a traditional doll until the day, where they will be revealed ceremoniously. Millenium Square has been the meeting point for the Gay Pride parades within Leeds since they began in 2006 and due to this I feel it is the most suitable place for the sculptures.
After watching shows like the Last Leg on Channel 4 turn Vladamir Putin into a gay icon using various methods, I am interested in turning a Russian icon into a gay icon, without losing the identifiable features of the thing itself. Additionally due to a family member being a Last Leg Presenter (Alex Brooker) the issue has really interested me and even sparked debate with those around me, particularly after the trio were warned by British Security Officers to calm their antics down. I chose to adapt Russian dolls (otherwise known as Matryoshka dolls) as they are such a hugely recognisable symbol.
When taking an icon and changing it, its important to keep in mind that the most important elements are those which are the most recognised, for these dolls, it is their shape and the fact that you are able to pull them apart to find another one inside. I’ve decided these dolls will be giant, between 10-11 feet at their largest and and about 6 feet wide, the size of these pieces is one of the most important aspects because it needs to really grab peoples attention. My own interests in doing things which can be perceived as controversial and gaining notice for issues is the real driving force behind the vast size of these pieces, the issue they represent is something I feel shouldnt be overlooked, just as they can’t be.
The development of the dolls themselves is one of the most challenging parts, they need to be bold, interesting and obvious as to what they are, whilst also representing the gay community in a respectful way even if it is targeting stereotypes. In order to do this, I have been looking at the clothing worn by individuals during the annual gay pride parades because this is where and why the pieces are going to be exhibited. Gay pride parades are well known for wearing and doing things that every day would be frowned upon, but they are done to show gay peoples freedom within the community. Taking outfit ideas from what has already been worn at these events is beneficial because this is how gay individuals have already chosen to represent themselves and therefore it is acceptable to represent their support to others in the same way. This also means it is important to represent as many different types of people taking part in gay pride parades as possible, and this is why I intend to create between 6-8 differently dressed/gender dolls because the kind of diversity in the parade wouldn’t be shown by only creating four. Another aspect is the removal of each of the dolls from one another in a ceremony, this is going to symbolise that there is more to homosexuals and transgenders than just their sexuality because people often forget that, hopefully this piece will begin to trigger more empathy within people who would otherwise have been against the current changes in our own laws to give homosexuals more rights.
The final idea is that for weeks, a giant, lone Russian Dolls stand within Millennium Square until the beginning of August when the Gay Pride Parade comes to the square.
On the day the opening ceremony will include the unveiling of all of the dolls situated within the original traditional doll, where there will be music and dancers and even an introduction to the pieces from one of the event hosts and an explanation to the audience as to why they are here. The audience will also be given the option to write various support messages to the LGBT people of Russia and they can add them to the bottom of the taken apart large doll, these will later be made into a video which will be uploaded online and people from Russia will be able to access it to see whats happened here and to see that they are being thought of in those hard times.
This is the point where all 6 dolls will be presented to the crowd, whom will then move on throughout Leeds with the parade and these dolls will remain standing for a further fortnight so other members of the community are able to see them.
I began looking at other examples of russian dolls being used with other non-traditional artwork and found a student artist on Etsy called Ponychops who creates these amazing, detailed sets custom made to customers specifications. It was important for me to see if various designs aside from the typically traditional Russian Doll Style could work on this shape, or if it would lose the appeal of the traditional pieces.
I then looked at outfits which are worn at the gay pride parades within Leeds, as this would mean that it isn’t me creating outfits that I personally deem fitting to show homosexuality and wasn’t stereotyping anybody. Using outfits worn during gay pride parades means that how the gay community, involved in those parades, wants to be perceived publicly on important occasions is also being shown in a piece of public art work. This means the pieces should come across more respectful towards the gay community.
I took this mock up into a development session and was given some important tips on how to improve it.
-add more of the dolls
-add female dolls
-add dolls in more british weather appropriate clothing
-add a drag queen.