02 July 2011
Celebrating the paperback release of Steven Heller’s Branding the 20th Century Totalitarian State, Paul D. Miller and Shepard Fairey joined the author to discuss propaganda from different scopes. Heller explored the graphics and art of infamous figures in history: Mussolini, Mao, Lenin and Stahlin--what he referred to as “the pioneers of the branding experience.” The leaders wanted to be perceived as household names and Heller explains that branding is the fostering of cults: the cult of the leader, cult of the children, cult of signs, and the cult of hate. Heller also addressed the importance of hearing the voices of these leaders as well as seeing the images: they took on brand slogans and brand names; in doing so, the graphics address the cadence of sound.
Shepard Fairey spoke after Heller and introduced his part of the lecture with the explanation of his famous branding, Andre the Giant: it was made as joke in 1989 and it was meant to provoke people and act as “visual noise.” Fairey wanted to disseminate something that stood out from the advertising that surrounds us all. He cites Orwell as an inspiration saying Andre was a counterculture to Big Brother--Andre’s face was a springboard for what would come later: OBEY. Fairey wanted people to recognize obedience and confront them directly with it, this project from the get go was inspired by Russian propaganda and Constructivist design.
Fairey plays with cliches, yes, and he expands on this: “propaganda design is to get people to question thinking for themselves. It is constantly restating the obvious.” His famous HOPE campaign for Obama was preceded by a design he did about Bush, but one thing he learned from this design was that negativity does not change the predispositions of people. For the Obama HOPE campaign, which started as a grassroots project and was later picked up by the administration, he wanted to further understand how people respond to images--this was the route he took to support Obama.
Paul D. Miller, who also goes by the moniker of DJ Spooky, spoke about propaganda from the perspective of music, visuals and digital space. Miller began his bit of the lecture by stating: “Realism in the 21st century is an ambiguous space.” Miller focused on graphic design and what images can tell the viewer about sound, prior to listening to the music. For example, you have a record sleeve and on this sleeve one is first confronted with the image: can you guess the sound based on the image? Like images, sampling plays with memory--auditory logos can do this, too. Miller explained how visual sampling in the public forum of digital space effects the psychological landscape---it is a matter of migrating the material from physical to the digital. His newest project The Book of Ice also comes out this summer; he describes his new work as a layering between composition and landscape--a documentation of visuals and sound while spending an extended period of time in Antarctica.