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Designing for Revolution Design’s capacity for subversion against centralized power within our visual culture.

Gavin MacPherson “Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Bachelor of Fine Art in Graphic Design Program at Art Institute of Seattle” SPRING 2015


Acknowledgements Tony Dattilo Scott Mansfield Aven Frey Lynette Shaw Joe Brewer Martin Kirk

Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


I. The Normalization Effect of Marginalization II. Effect of Subversive Design on Marginalization III. Facts vs. Truth IV. Critically Organic Catalyst V. Failures of Subversive Design VI. Making Subversion Attractive VII. Summary and Conclusion VIII. Bibliography

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Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


I.

The Normalization Effect

of Marginalization within

the Visual Culture.

Russell Ferguson, the Special Projects Editor and Librarian at The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, defines marginalization as the tacit standards from which specific others can then be declared to deviate, and while that myth is perpetuated by those whose interests it serves, it can also be internalized by those who are oppressed by it. In other words, people are defined only in relation to dominant culture by maintaining individuals in a certain powerless position within society. He continues and states, “this social isolation of a cultural center contributes to the security of political power which implicitly defines itself as representative of a stable center around which everyone else must be arranged.”(Out There, 9) This power structure is established as “natural” and thus, ubiquitous.

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Culture

Marginalization

Power

“This social isolation of a cultural center contributes to the security of political power which implicitly defines itself as representative of a stable center around which everyone else must be arranged.�

Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


While these power relationships have existed and tacit standards have been established, images and messages have always shaped both the center and the marginalized. For instance, Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright, in the book, an essay Practices of Looking, describe the 1979 Breck Shampoo Campaign that featured an “ideal” woman who uses Breck products. This advertisement not only defined tacit standards of beauty with an illustrated white woman, but it also rendered the workers of American Cyanamid, Breck’s parent company, invisible by the process of commoditizing fetishism at the expense of Cyanamid’s workers. The artist Hans Haacke made a subversive political statement regarding Cynamid’s labor practices. To do this he used the famous Breck girl persona from the shampoo campaign as a design element to deliver and expose how Cynamid treats women within their organization. Haacke’s “The Right to Life” remakes American Cyanamid’s mission by specifically targeting women workers of childbearing age who were at risk from being exposed to chemicals at their current the job within American Cyanamid. They were offered the “choice” of losing their job, transferring, or being sterilized. Struken and Cartwright explain that Haack’s “ad” is thus not only a subversive comment on Breck’s campaign, but also a subversive statement in regards to their treatment of women within their company. This directs the visual culture, which is an act defined by The Situationists Internationals as detournement, or rerouting of messages to create a new meaning (300)

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Breck Shampoo Campaign 1979

Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


Hans Haacke, The Right to Life, 1980

“They were offered the “choice” of losing their job, transferring, or being sterilized.”

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New York University’s Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff defines visual culture as visual events in which information, meaning or pleasure is sought by the consumer in an interface with visual technology, such as Breck’s shampoo campaign that placed white women on a pedestal of beauty by pairing an ideal image of a woman and expressing, “Breck Shampoo takes care of your hair the way beauty soap takes care of your skin. Breck doesn’t have a synthetic detergent base. So it helps leave in natural oils that keep hair soft and manageable.” Campaigns like this, when mass produced, create visual repetition within culture that nurtures the nature of normalization. This normalization is the foundation of power. Russell’s example of normalization is that if you were to see a show called The History of White People in America we would find this comedic since regarding America and white people history as separate is redundant. (Out There, 11) To offset normalization, society must question the ubiquitous.

Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


Unknown, 2004

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Latuff, 2003

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Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


Lyang, 2009

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Clockwise: Hans Haacke, The Youth International Party Emblem, Guy Debord.

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Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


II.

Effect of Subversive Design

on Marginalization.

The founding member of The Situationist International Debord argued that capitalism instilled artificial desires within the public and that global economy exerts its influence through representations. Visual culture is a combination of an “instrument of unification” (Struken, 240) that connects social relationships centering them on images and the consumption of those images within the zeitgeist. A continuation of the antiauthoritarian practice and offshoot of anti-war movements in the 1960s was the creation of Yippies, or The Youth International Party, a group of radical youth who focused on countercultural revolution during the 1960’s. This group was the first of the New Left to comment on the exploitation of the masses. According to Nato Thompson the Chief Curator at the New York–based public arts institution Creative Time, and the artist Gregory Sholette, contemporary framing of subversive design is now practiced within Interventionist Art. All three groups share the same motivations, common problems and failures in regards to implementation of detournement (Thompson).

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Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


Detournement: rerouting of messages to create a new meaning.

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“Designers can change culture by highlighting the characteristics of the powerful in satirical, ironic ways to force the public to question the current relationship of authority within society.�

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Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


III. Facts vs. Truth American author Toni Morrison states that facts exist without human intelligence, but truth cannot. (Fergusson, 303) It is the mission of subversive groups to bring to light the truth of a subject within the marketing campaign of an organization. By doing so, it demystifies the status and prominence of that brand in the public sphere, thus changing the perception of their message with their target audience and altering their effect. The late University of South Carolina Professor of Government Paul Blackstock defines subversion as an attempt to upset and transform the established power structure of a society. Design’s capacity for subversion against centralized power within our visual culture permits marginalized groups the ability to establish power by defining our society’s representational center. The development of the Internet is a way for marginalized people to access, share, and collaborate with one another to upset the established hegemony throughout the world. Princeton University Professor Cornell West states that subversion is seen within the “new cultural politics of difference to trash the monolithic and homogeneous in the name of diversity, multiplicity and heterogeneity; and to historicize, contextualize and pluralize by highlighting the contingent, provisional, variable, tentative, shifting, and changing.” (Out There, 19) In other words, designers can change culture by highlighting the characteristics of the powerful in satirical, ironic ways to force the public to question the current relationship of authority within society. It is critical to note that these social dynamics are profound in that they are not static and that each marginalized group has a center and marginalized of its own, such as black women in feminism.

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INTELLECTUAL history, culture, and society.

EXISTENTIAL cultural resources to survive.

POLITICAL demystify stereotypes

Organize the Masses

Critically Organic Catalyst 16

Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


IV.

Critically Organic Catalyst

According to Dr. West there are three challenges for a designer to establish a subversive demarginalizing practice. The first challenge is intellectually, which is how to think about representational practices of history, culture, and society. The second is existentially, which is establishing the resources needed to survive and the cultural capital to thrive as a designer without needing the acceptance of mainstream approval. The third is politically, in which the designer demystifies stereotypes and organizes the masses. West defines someone who successfully overcomes these three challenges as a critically organic catalyst. They are “attuned to the best of what mainstream has to offer- its paradigms, viewpoints and methods –yet, maintain a grounding in affirming and enabling subcultures of criticism.�(Out There, 13) One such critically organic catalyst is the musician Dana Lyons.

Dana Lyons & Dr. Jane Goodall

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Cows with Guns Poster

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Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


Dana Lyons is the singer/songwriter best known for his dynamic performances and outrageous hit songs “Cows With Guns,” “RV” and “Ride The Lawn.” A global radio and web hit, “Cows With Guns” was #1 for the year on Dr. Demento, #2 on the Australian Country charts, #1 in Seattle and spent six months on the Irish Top 40. (Lyons) From my personal interview with Dana Lyons I questioned him in using Cornell West’s framing of subversive intellectualism, existentialism, and politics. According to Dana Lyons when I asked him his thoughts on activism in relation to folk art he explained that it empowers people to unite and act. He felt that most of the forces in the industrialized society are trying to convince us that we don’t have power and we should stay that way, “that there are forces of disempowerment and the reason they spend so much effort suppressing us is because we actually do have a lot of power. This is part of my storytelling and music.”(Lyons) He continues to say it is extremely important, extremely powerful, especially if you can use it in a combination of humor and a unifying message.

“Storytelling and music is extremely important, extremely powerful, especially if you can use it in a combination of humor and a unifying message.”

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When asked about his personal impact on society and how creative resources and cultural capital tie into that impact he was very positive in his response. He explained it is a very powerful feeling to notice that you move people with your inspirational work. He explained that you play the role as a modern society elder; that this traditional role to share wisdom and guide people to do good things for their community within a contemporary industrialized culture is a defining role as an artist. He maintains that art inspires us to define what love is, what romance is, what justice is, etc. That storytelling makes artists cultural workers. We as designers who want to make things better for the community, for animals and plants, have a stronger democracy, and have a “fair shake for all people� (Lyons) need to figure out a way to help activate a group of people, even if it is a small group. He summarizes as an artist we may not impact at a global level and that is okay, but simply affecting even your local community or even your family is a real contribution.

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Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


Modern Society Elder John Stewart wtop.com

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22 Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution

aglasshalf-full.com

aglasshalf-full.com

douglas.qld.gov.au


When speaking to Dana Lyons about his eclectic audiences throughout the world I asked him his thoughts on a universal subject that united and resonated with any group of people. “It’s play to the little guy. Everybody feels oppressed; from left wing environmentalist… to right wing republicans. They all feel oppressed by the corporations. They all feel oppressed by big government.” This is how you organize the masses. You find the bigger issues that are affecting everyone and tell a story about it. For instance, the Lock the Gate Movement in South Wells, Australia was about the power of our people and how they rally against corporate control of society. Lyons was astonished to see two polarized communities of conservative farmers and liberal hippies joined together to fight a common enemy. These two groups blocked fracking rigs to prevent environmental damage, which is extremely amazing. They did this because it threatened their shared economy. Dana hopes to illustrate the demystification of the hippie and conservative stereotype that the Lock the Gate Movement experienced. By sharing that story with the rest of the world it will politically impact more than just Australia and hopefully inspire others to organize the masses. “Play to the little guy. Everybody feels oppressed; from left wing environmentalist… to right wing republicans. They all feel oppressed by the corporations. They all feel oppressed by big government.” This is how you organize the masses. You find the bigger issues that are affecting everyone and tell a story about it.”

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V.

Common and Historical

Failures of Subversive Design

The Serbian political activist and executive director of the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) Srdja Popovic explains that you do not need to be under an oppressive dictator to apply the principles of people power; that they are universal, and can be applied to any problem in any situation (255). Popovic summarizes that the common failures of movements is disorganization and ill-timed events. Throughout his teachings he narrates dozens of stories of subversive actions as examples to explain how small groups of people managed to organize the masses to counter and overthrow powerful organizations. Within the stories of Blueprint for Revolution I summarized the lessons of each of his stories into six stages of a movement. From these stages I developed a similar process based on marketing practices of Interventionist Art. The first stage is Obfuscation: a campaign of a private interest group who maintains power through misdirection, misinformation, and commoditizing fetishism. The second stage, Marginalized/ exploited, is when the consumer who believes that the product or service the private interest group offers has intrinsic value and is needed to maintain happiness within their own life. The third is Counter Identity Brand, which is a detournement brand identity established by the designer that is satirical and/or ironic, highlighting the negative actions of the

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Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


thelavinagency.com

private interest group. The fourth stage, Message Distribution, is the distribution of the new brand identity. This logo, or any other means of summation, is placed in locations that will be seen directly within the environment of the product or service being commented on. These messages should shock or surprise the audience by initially being accepted as a part of private interest group’s brand. The fifth stage, Solidarity, means that as word of the counter brand grows so does the awareness of people’s unity to the movement. This awareness of unity is critical and shows that everyone is not alone in feeling subject to marginalization and exploitation. The final and sixth stage is Resolution and is commonly used combined with boycotting of products and publicly shaming the private interest group into adhering to the public’s will.

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OBFUSCATION A private interest group campaign maintains power through misdirection, misinformation, and commoditizing fetishism.

MARGINALIZED / EXPLOITED Consumers believe that the product or service the private interest group offer intrinsic value and are needed to maintain happiness in life.

COUNTER IDENTITY BRAND A satirical and/or ironic detournement brand identity is established that highlights the negative actions of the private interest group.

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Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


MESSAGE DISTRIBUTION The distribution of the new brand identity juxtaposed against the target brand shocks or surprises the audience of private interest group.

SOLIDARITY The counter brand grows so does the awareness of people’s unity to the movement.

RESOLUTION Boycotting products and publically shaming the private interest group into adhering to the public’s will.

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A historical failure of subversive design would be the oppressive actions of US Government to suppress civil disobedience by labeling it as an act of terror, thus setting precedence for future subversive actions of artists. Paul Blackstock’s example of civil suppression is Steve Kurtz, the professor of art at the SUNY Buffalo and a founding member of the performance art group, Critical Art Ensemble, experiencing the federal label of “Terrorist”. Steve Kurtz is known for his work in BioArt, and Electronic Civil Disobedience, and was arrested by the FBI in May of 2004. The documentary Strange Culture shows that when Kurtz was developing an art installation on genetically modified agriculture his wife sadly and coincidently suffered a heart attack at their home. Paramedics arrived at his home where they found lab testing equipment and reported him to the Buffalo police. The police considered these materials suspicious and notified the FBI, who held Kurtz for twenty-two hours without charge on suspicion of “bioterrorism.” For four years Kurtz fought the US Government on the accusation of bioterrorism and finally succeeded. The grand jury declined to bring bioterrorism charges against Kurtz.

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Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


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Steve Kurtz

BioArt


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Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


Corporate Appropriation or co opting is the use by corporate entities of pre-existing techniques of guerilla marketing to seem more grassroots in origin and to circumvent the overwhelming visual messages within culture to their target audience. There is no resistance to co opting and guerrilla marketing is now a mere vehicle to deliver a message to an audience. The audience has become the product. Guerrilla marketing is a fact while subversion is a truth and that progressive designers use subversion to counter tactics of consumerist organizations. This act of detournement is successfully developed when acclimated to the most progressive aspect of what mainstream has to offer, while maintaining subversive criticism through rising subcultures.

“The audience has become the product.�

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Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


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VI.

Making Subversion Attractive.

By using laughtivism and increasing the shock value within your intervention and detournement tactics your messages can become more attractive, thus effective in society. Laughtivism, as described by Popovic, is the use of satire and humor to undermine authority. He claims that the use of humor builds credibility, breaks fear and apathy, and improves the reach of the message to the target audience. Paralleling laughtivism with increased shock value resonates within society’s widespread thought, or the mainstream. This is the goal: to improve the effectiveness of society’s subversive state by increasing, not only the potency of your tactics, but also by increasing the popularity of the act of subversion. Mark Granovetter, an American sociologist and professor at Stanford University, argues that collective behaviors have a threshold. “Assuming rational actors with individual preferences, Granovetter defines a person’s threshold for joining others’ behavior as ‘the proportion of the group he would have to see join before he would do so’.” Both Popovic and Granovetter theorize that there is a tipping point to a group of people acting as one. Popovic expands upon group behavior within revolution by asserting that for a positive social change to have the best chance of success it must be nonviolent.

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Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


Nonviolent campaigns have a 53% success rate and only about a 20% rate of complete failure. Things are reversed for violent campaigns, which were only successful 23% of the time, and complete failures about 60% of the time. Violent campaigns succeeded partially in about 10% of cases, again comparing unfavorably to nonviolent campaigns, which resulted in partial successes over 20% of the time. Nonviolent resistance presents fewer obstacles to moral and physical involvement

Success 53%

Partial Sucess Complete Failure 20% 20%

Nonviolent

and commitment, and that higher levels of participation contribute to enhanced resilience, greater opportunities for tactical innovation and civic disruption (and therefore less incentive for a regime to maintain its status quo), and shifts in loyalty among opponents’ erstwhile supporters, including members of the military establishment.

Success 23%

Partial Sucess 10%

Violent

Complete Failure 60%


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Subversive design is a voice for the marginalized to influence centralized power within our visual culture and fight oppression

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Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


VII.

Summary and Conclusion

Identifying the threat of suppressive organizations, disorganization within a campaign and understanding how improper timing can end counter campaigns even before it starts is critical for a designer to understand. How a designer can make a difference is striving to overcome the intellectual, existential, and political challenges of becoming a critical organic catalyst. In doing so, the mission of the subversive to bring effective transparency to subject matter within an obfuscated campaign is the capacity of subversive design; a voice for the marginalized to influence centralized power within our visual culture and fight oppression.

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VIII. Bibliography I.

Rushkoff, Douglas. Media Virus!: Hidden Agendas in Popular Culture. New York: Ballantine, 1994. Print. II. Duncombe, Stephen. Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy. New York: New, 2007. Print. III. Watterson, Bill. The Complete Calvin and Hobbes. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Pub., 2012. Print. IV. Kallaugher, Kevin. Daggers Drawn: 35 Years of Kal Cartoons in The Economist. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print. V. Banksy, Gary Shove, and Patrick Potter. Banksy: You Are an Acceptable Level of Threat and If You Were Not You Would Know about It. Darlington: Carpet Bombing Culture, 2012. Print. VI. Wall and Peace, Banksy VII. McFarlane, Nick. Spinfluence: The Hardcore Propaganda Manual for Controlling the Masses to the Young Cub. Darlington: Carpet Bombing Culture, 2013. Print. VIII. Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization Experience. IX. “Social Movement Web Use in Theory and Practice: A Content Analysis of US Movement Websites.” New Media and Society 11(s): 749771 Stein, Laura (2009) X. Tactical Technology Collective, www. tacticaltech.org XI. Canvas (Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies), www.canvasopedia.org XII. Ferguson, Russell. Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures. New York, NY: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1990. Print. XIII. Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky XIV. Rushkoff, Douglas. Coercion: Why We Listen to What “they” Say. New York: Riverhead, 1999. Print. 38

Gavin MacPherson | Designing for Revolution


XV. Rushkoff, Douglas. Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print. XVI. Shirky, Clay. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. New York: Penguin, 2008. Print. XVII. Mirzoeff, Nicholas. An Introduction to Visual Culture. London: Routledge, 2009. Print. XVIII. Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. 2nd Edition. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. Print. XIX. “What Is Guerrilla Marketing?” Creative Guerrilla Marketing. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2015. XX. Popovic, Srdja, and Matthew Miller. Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Non-violent Techniques to Galvanise Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World. Brunswick: Scribe Publications, n.d. Print. XXI. Thompson, Nato, and Arjen Noordeman. Interventionists: Users’ Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life. North Adams, MA: MASS MoCA, 2004. Print. XXII. “Personal Interview with Dana Lyons.” Personal interview. 8 May 2015. XXIII. Lyons, Dana. “Cows With Guns.” Cows With Guns. Dana Lyons, n.d. Web. 16 May 2015. XXIV. Blackstock, Paul W. The Strategy of Subversion; Manipulating the Politics of Other Nations. Chicago: Quadrangle, 1964. Print. XXV. Strange Culture. Dir. Lynn HershmanLeeson. Perf. Thomas Jay Ryan, Tilda Swinton, Peter Coyote. L5 Productions, 2007. DVD. XXVI. Granovetter, M. (1978). “Threshold Models of Collective Behavior”. American Journal of Sociology

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Profile for Gavin MacPherson

Designing for Revolution  

Gavin MacPherson's Design Thesis: Design’s capacity for subversion against centralized power within our visual culture.

Designing for Revolution  

Gavin MacPherson's Design Thesis: Design’s capacity for subversion against centralized power within our visual culture.

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