Category: Activism

The Society of the Spectacle

This past weekend my partner Heath wrapped up the Situationist Film Fest as a part of his MFA thesis show. On Friday night, to a packed (!) room at Public Space One here in Iowa City, he debuted his remake of Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle from 1973 (a film Debord based on his own book from 1967).

Because he’s great (and perhaps despite my bias), you should head over and read what he has to say about this project. Here’s an excerpt:

In SoS Debord writes of détournement that it is the “flexible language of anti-ideology,” meaning that détournement is necessary and meant to be used to transform meaning with time. It is the only way in which one can resist falling into the trenches of dogmatism. It is a mode of “communication which includes a critique of itself.” Thus in re-stating SoS in 2013, it must be revised and simultaneously plagiarized, and it is in this vain in which I re-introduce this project. As Debord himself says (détourning Lautréamont) “Ideas improve. The meaning of words plays a role in that improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress depends on it. It sticks close to an author’s phrasing, exploits his expressions, deletes a false idea, replaces it with the right one.”

Détournement need not only be a mode of subversion, but can also be a self-critical and open-ended way of thinking and making — one that might also be used by others. I like to think of my project as a piece of research by way of re-making or re-stating; a research project which makes use of Debord’s work not as a quotation but as an appropriation of a collective inheritance in the cultural commons. This is how Debord worked, both with his own work as well as his use of the work from others. For Debord, and I’m inclined to agree, it is the “first step toward a literary communism.”

If you’ve got the time, watch this 2013 version in just under 75 min. I promise it’s way more watchable than the original—and a lot more relevant to contemporary society. Proud, proud, proud.

Title design by yours truly.


Around Crab Orchard

I recently designed the packaging along with a poster for Sarah Kanouse’s new film, Around Crab Orchard.

And Sarah’s trailer:


Crab Orchard calls itself “a unique place to experience nature.” As the only wildlife refuge in the United States whose mission includes industry and agriculture alongside conservation and recreation, Crab Orchard claims a harmonious balance between past and present, nature and culture. Assembled from documents, found footage, and conversations with activists, writers, and local residents, “Around Crab Orchard” questions the ideal of natural harmony while meditating on the persistence of history, the creation of knowledge, the limits of representation, and the commonplace of environmental hazard. “Around Crab Orchard” ultimately argues for forms of storytelling, image-making, and action that respond to the full complexity of the social and ecological landscape.


Signal is an idea in formation. It is a response to the myopia of contemporary political culture in the United States, our blindness to most things beyond our national boundaries, and our lack of historical memory. There is no question that art, design, graphics, and culture all play an influential role in the maintenance of the way things are. They have also been important tools for every social movement that has attempted to challenge the status quo. The production of art and culture does not happen in a vacuum, it is not a neutral process. We don’t ask the question of whether culture should be instrumentalized towards political goals, the economic and social conditions we exist under marshall all material culture towards the maintenance of the way things are. The question we need to ask is whether our cultural production is used to uphold the massive levels of inequality that exist across the globe, or to challenge capitalism, statecraft, patriarchy, and all the systems used to produce and reproduce that disparity.

Dangers of Fracking

I’ve never seen a site or an infographic quite like this one before. Dangers of Fracking was designed and coded by Linda Dong on behalf of raising awareness for the FRAC Act (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act)–requiring the energy industry to disclose all chemicals used in fracturing fluid as well as repeal fracking’s exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Linda created a one-page scrolling website–an interactive infographic which details, rather simply, the process of Hydraulic Fracturing. Some of her research photos from her personal site are below, but you really need to check out the website itself to get the whole picture.

Fair Trade you say?

What’s in a label?

“We’ve all seen Fair Trade products as we browse the grocery store shelves, but do you know what the label means? It’s a symbol that the product has been certified by a Fair Trade organization as having been produced under a set of principles that include fair labor practices and environmental regulations. Most of the raw materials we consume are grown and harvested by farmers who live in abject poverty. Fair Trade products try to correct some of that imbalance by guaranteeing fair prices, investing in communities to improve quality of life, and insuring fair treatment for the people producing raw goods.”

click image to view at full size.

A collaboration between Good Magazine and Bradley R. Hughes. More info on Fair Trade products can be found at Fair Trade USA + The Fairtrade Foundation.

Operation Exposure with Just Seeds & IVAW


As a part of November’s Chicago in War series that I mentioned a few weeks ago, Just Seeds and Iraq Veterans Against the War have collaborated on an effort entitled Operation Exposure: War is Trauma. Some really great work by these folks. Here’s an excerpt from their blog post (written by Nicolas Lampert):

“Operation Exposure: War is Trauma” hit the streets of Chicago on Monday November 15th. This collaboration between the Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative and veterans and supporters from Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) is a direct response to the suicide epidemic and violation of GI’s right to heal within the GI and veteran community. Veterans, artists, and supporters met in Rogers Park in Chicago and split into teams. They divided up posters that Justseeds had designed for IVAW and then wheatpasted the city. Teams hit advertising spaces and boarded up buildings with messages of GI resistance and “Operation Recovery” – a new IVAW campaign aimed to stop the redeployment of traumatized troops and focus public attention towards Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), military sexual trauma (MST), and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

“We recognize that we must stop the deployment of all soldiers in order to end these occupations,” writes IVAW. “We see the deployment of soldiers with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, and military sexual trauma as particularly cruel, dangerous, and inhumane. Military commanders across all branches are pushing service members far past human limits for the sake of combat readiness. We cannot allow those commanders to ignore the welfare of their troops. From multiple deployments despite PTSD, TBI, and other injuries, to rampant sexual assault within the military, soldiers are consistently being denied their right to heal. This basic right is being denied and we must organize to get it back.”

You can find images on their flickr page, but here a few for those pressed for time:




Visual AIDS

Visual AIDS enables public dialogue and scholarship around AIDS and contemporary art with exhibitions, public events, and publications. Each year we produce and distribute thousands of free, AIDS awareness, artist editions through our Broadsides project. Visual AIDS has successfully produced a variety of open call exhibitions, catalogs, and printed matter. Year-round we collaborate with teachers and students to facilitate research and special projects.

They currently have an exhibition entitled Treat my Words, with curator John Chaich, featuring work where text is integral to the meaning of the piece—from letterforms as objects to ad appropriation. Take a look at their slideshow.

Benjamin Incerti; Untitled, 1991

William Donovan; Eyechart (Dark), 2003

Robert Blanchon; Protection (Detail), 1992

Stephen Andrews; Album (to the Memory), 1995

Frank H. Jump; Dr. Tucker’s 59 For All Pain 1 Brooklyn’s Broadway Elevated Line, 1998

You can read more about the mission and values of Visual AIDS here.

thanks to Social Design Notes for the link.

Anti Design Festival

As a response to 25 years of cultural deep freeze in the UK, the Anti Design Festival will attempt to unlock creative fires and ideas, exploring spaces hitherto deemed out-of-bounds by a purely commercial criteria. Created initially as a direct response to the pretty commerciality of the London Design Festival, the festival will shift the focus from bums-on-seats to brain food, and from taste and style to experiment and risk. The festival will provide a rare space for unhindered exploration and creative opportunity, where ideas may fail as equally as succeed.

Photo from ANARCHY/apathy workshop with Research Studios

The first Anti Design Festival wrapped up in London this past Sunday, September 26th. The fest consisted of ten days and ten venues of various events/exhibitions/performances/workshops/etc. surrounding art + design. While a select group (spearheaded by Neville Brody) served as curators of the festival, their policy was “to invite like-minded people to control key areas and aspects of the festival. These ‘agents’ will contribute, commission and curate work and events during the festival.” Here’s their manifesto (which you can also download as a pdf on their site):

We are living in an age where millions of colours became 256. Difference is the enemy. Generic culture hypnotises us all into generic patterns, where control is visibly invisible. Danger is replaced by fear. New means upgrade. Risk is obsolete. Art made money stupid, and money made us fools. We welcome no_use, no_function and no_fear. Anarchy, crash and burn, the new awaits.

From Learning to Earning, and now to Yearning, we have forgotten why we are here. We have lost touch with what made us tick, the fire of creative possibility that once consumed us from within. Revolutionary thought is but a distant memory. I grew up as part of a generation that thought it could help improve society; that our sole function was to be conscious and to spread that consciousness through creative awareness, exploration, observation and questioning. This generation was replaced by the Thatcher/Reagan paradigm of Culture=Money. Thinkers became earners, Creatives became entertainers, and a whole dumbed-down generation now feels entitled to success and profit without having to work or think too much.

We are now left with a spiritual hollowness. The belief systems of consumption and commodity have been exposed as empty. Revolution is a distant echo lost in the white noise, and religion has been largely subsumed by globalisation. Virtual experiences have replaced human touch. Analogue culture is now the exotic. We have managed to create for our children, perhaps for the first time in history, a future which is less hopeful than the one we live in today.

Deep Freeze
The house of credit cards has now collapsed. For 25 years we have been in a state of Deep Freeze. We have somehow denied ourselves permission to remember what it was like before the Big Bang of banking deregulation. Schools became businesses and hospitals became profit centres. Art for art’s sake was sacrificed for entertainment and bums on seats. Ideas became cliches and anything different was viewed with suspicion and disdain.

We have traded Freedom for Peace. What we need is Liberation.

Free Me From Freedom
As the Lehman Brothers collapsed, so a new era is signalled and the baton is passed on again. Mankind has the opportunity now to reclaim the cultural high-ground and risk something new, a creative breach in the barrier of exclusion that can allow some real growth and evolution, like a bright light shining through the cracks of a crumbling wall.

The line of Dangerous Ideas had been interrupted and the path can be found again.


I like that there’s an effort to foster an alternative (to commercial work, to AIGA, etc.) design world and wish it was a bit more practical for me to attend and check out. Do you think this push for anti-materialist design thinking from this group is just the new form of elite or do you think they’re sincere?

Something to keep on the radar.

Everyone’s Music Politics Art and Community Throwdown

If anyone’s in Chicago next week, head over to this EMPACT event to benefit the Civilian-Soldier Alliance. From their facebook page:

The EMPACT Series (Everyone’s, Music, Politics, Art, and Community Throwdown!) once again brings you our monthly benefit series. This month’s event will be for the Civilian Soldier Alliance (CSA). The CSA is a group that works in supporting antiwar Veterans and GI’s throughout the country.

Thursday June 17th, 2010
@ The Wicker Well
1637 W North Ave.
$5 Donations (no one turned away)

featuring live jazz by the Bryan Doherty Band

and as always the people’s dj’s collective will be rocking the house on the 1’s and 2’s

MC Luis Tubens

This event will also feature artwork from the Veterans and GI Antiwar Movement (Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnem). This will be an EMPACT Series not to be missed!

E.M.P.A.C.T.- Everyone’s Music Politics Art and Community Throwdown, is a monthly series that showcases live bands and DJs while fundraising for deserving community groups & not-for-profits. Check our fb group here.

The goal of E.M.P.A.C.T. is to spread culture, diversity, and knowledge of community issues while providing a common ground for activists, educators, artists, and community organizers to celebrate the commonality of our struggles. Bring some friends & your beautiful self!

Share the road

Today is the second anniversary of losing a good friend to a bicycle accident. Clint was the fifth cyclist in 2008 to be killed in a car collision, and his accident was during the week of promoting bike-to-work week in Chicago.

We worked as a design team in school and formed the best partnership I’ve had yet. Lots of designing and giggling and serious-ing and dreaming about opening our own studio one day, and calling it The Ninth Room. Happy to have had that and sad that I miss it now.

A friendly reminder to all to be mindful on the road, whether you’re in a heavy cycling city like Chicago, here in Iowa City, or anywhere else at all.

poster from Hipster Nascar