It never changes to stop

Ljubljana then, the reason to travel there being the Poster Festival Ljubljana ’09. The event itself consisted of an international poster competition on the theme of climate change with entries submitted in march, and a four-day workshop around the same subject, for students from the partner universities of the festival. For us in the finnish group the theme was familiar, since we had already made posters for the competition, as the part of a course in poster design under the tutelage of our professor Marjatta Itkonen.

All our works can be seen in the online gallery;  Team Finland did rather well when it comes to results, and even some official recognition was to be had.

Additionally there was an exhibition of posters on social issues by acclaimed designers, “masterpieces”, and a smaller exhibition of posters on “coexistence” by Polish designers.

Especially as the tourist season had not started yet, Ljubljana turned out a very pleasant town to visit, with pretty vistas and a relaxed atmosphere. It’s compact size also allowed for walking as the preferred mode of transport.

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A Blade Runner -like view in the center of Ljubljana. The tower is a bank head office.

The workshop took place at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design at the University of Ljubljana, some two kilometres from the center. We were divided into six groups, and as it turned out our group was especially lucky with regards to our tutor, australian Jason Grant of the design agency Inkahoots. Jason has worked on Eye magazine, amongst other things, and his engaged approach to social and enviromental issues was very suitable to the theme at hand. 090512_0944

Jason ponders. Instead of diving into our sketchbooks, Jason saw it more productive to start by discussing the subject, so that everyone in the group would be on the same chart. It turned out that the organizers of the event had geared the workshops into a competition as well. This was something which Jason strongly disliked, as it harms cooperation, after all something closely related to the theme of the entire workshop. He has previously written an article on the subject of the “awards madness” that makes working together in the context of design a challenge.

The deeper point of this is that competition seldom leads to ideal results, even though we might have been brought up to imagine otherwise. Competition is proffed as a goal in itself on many levels of society, although in most real-life interactions mutual benefit is the prevailing theme. This follows from the fact that situations where the involved parties have directly opposit or conflicting interests are rare indeed. For cooperation to arise we need not even assume altruism or mutual warm feelings, as co-operation can happen even between enemies. In light of this, it is absurd to think of, say, a design agency, as having interests diametrally opposed to those of another. So why arrange artificial battles of excellency where only one emerges victorious?

For an interesting and concise discussion on this very acute issue of co-operation, I can recommend the book “The Evolution of Cooperation” by Robert Axelrod. There is no reason to leave it unread.

Jasons sentiments were eventually shared by many in our group. When he brought up the suggestion to make the posters, but refrain from participating in the competition,  most of us sided with it. As could be expected, this was met with some surprise and protest by the arrangers.

Eventually we also started on the actual work, after discussing at length about climate change, social issues and design politics.

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I had cheated a bit and brought along a computer, which was forbidden. Eventually it was used more actively by a few fellow workshoppers than by me. Cockta is the slovenian local cola, with headstrong levels of coffeine and an agreeable flavour.

During my travel to Ljubljana I decided that I was going to make a poster that involves the trace of a process. I wanted to make the poster an index, rather than an image; putting the actual poster in the realization of what process lay behind it’s creation. This approach can also be seen as being informed by conceptual art, something which I’ve been following more closely than before during the last few months.

To achieve this I started out by counting carbon emissions. It turns out that the average emissions of a finn is as much as 1.5 kg of CO₂. I turned this knowledge into a sort of penitence for  emissions, attempting to put as much graphite as possible on the poster. Graphite, of course, is an allotrope of carbon.

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Some experiments on the technical aspects of the poster. I decided on using a letterpress that luckily happened to be available, to emboss the letters into the paper, which I then colored with the graphite.

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Thirty minutes of drawing: It turned out to be surprisingly hard to put enough graphite on the paper to come close to the carbon in the emissions over a significant time, so the finished poster wasn’t exactly accurate regarding the facts, thereby betraying the Tuftean approach of convincing with information. However, the visual impact of the carbon was rather pleasing. Of course one can not avoid creating an image also, but I feel that the tombstone-like appearance is rather appropriate. In the end, the image might well be stronger than the rather obscure message.

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Somewhat ironically, one from our group who didn’t want take part in the agreement not to compete with the workshop posters, eventually won the first price.

A big thanks to Jason Grant and the rest of you in the group. The change was from the discussions.

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