Next Friday, October 13th, I'll be performing visuals/typographics as part of Intérro, a collaborative work with Kaie Kellough, Tanya Evanson and Jason Sharp. Intérro addesses the violence of borders and language through an intensive sonic, visual, and vocal performance. Originally presented to open the 2016 edition of the Suoni per il Popolo festival, it has been reworked and extended for this special performance.
A few months back, I discovered the Margins website which features monthly interviews with amazing designers and visual artists, aiming to showcase the true "diversity" of the field. I'm honoured to be included amongst their September features alongside Shanee Benjamin, Aundre Larrow, and Cory Martin.
Check out the interview here, and give them a follow!
LOKI is featured on Mile-End.com, a website featuring businesses and individuals living and working in the Mile End neighbourhood in Montréal. Kevin addresses some of the core ideas behind the studio, the work we’re doing, and the notion of community in a rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood.
Hi there! My name is Lauren Holden and I had the pleasure of interning at LOKI for six weeks this past summer. I am a fourth year student finishing up my degree in the York University/Sheridan College joint program in design in Toronto.
I am a designer that couples my passion for typography and experimental visuals with a love for creative and critical writing. Currently, I am working on a project called “thingsithought.today”, an interactive visual poetry anthology designed, authored and coded by me. The anthology explores the intersection of visual and verbal rhetoric, and examines how interaction and sound might serve as types of rhetorical devices in poetry. View the anthology here.
While I learned plenty about visual communication in school, discussions of the politics of visual culture and representation were noticeably absent. I wanted to learn how designers could navigate and respond to these politics in their personal and client work. Luckily, in my third year, I took an elective course called “Community Arts for Social Change” that explored this missing political dimension. It begged questions such as: what goals are we as designers serving with our unique communication skillset? How might we build stronger communities, raise questions, interrupt the status quo, and facilitate meaningful cultural production?
I read and re-read the course materials, and began taking initiative to learn more about how artists, writers and designers have pursued social justice work in the past. This—combined with my existing interest in intersectional feminism and identity politics—revealed a strong direction for my work moving forward. I was so interested that I dedicated a semester to the content curation and design of a publication exploring the relationship between art and activism.
LOKI felt like a perfect match for my interests. I was thrilled to be able to work for a studio who is unwavering in their reflexivity, who is writing consistently about their role in the contemporary visual landscape, and who uses visual language to disrupt the status quo. I was also fascinated by the studio’s understanding of design as an intermediary between capital and the public. In this model, designers are entrusted with the responsibility of either subverting or reproducing existing capitalist power structures, which I believe reflects the true weight and responsibility of visual communication in our society.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to have interned at LOKI. Kevin and Marie-Noelle made me feel very welcome in a new city, and graciously answered my (many) questions. What’s more, our critiques enabled me to both hone my technical abilities, and ground the theory I had learned in school in real projects.
We're excited to announce that Kevin will be co-facilitating a course this summer at the inaugural Institute for Advanced Troublemaking anarchist summer camp in Worcester, MA.
"The I.A.T. aims to raise collective capacity to target our enemies at the systemic level with effective direct action and campaign work. As Trump’s presidency spurs a swell of anarchist organizing and renewed interest in anti-state anti capitalist perspectives, we want to escalate by building skills in direct action, creating movement infrastructure, and community organizing."
Our course, Art & Social Movements, co-facilitated with Zola, seeks to explore the role of art in social struggles and engage with the multiplicity of ways in which artistic practices support radical movement building. We will share examples of diverse approaches drawn from our own experience as artist-activists (in anti-racist and anti-colonial struggles, Palestinian solidarity work, student activism, and anti-capitalist cultural production), highlighting both successes and failures within specific campaigns and contexts. The course will include time and support for hands-on art making, design, and DIY production techniques.
We hope to challenge the separation between “art” and “activism,” revealing and deconstructing the ideological frameworks that structure all artistic practice. Furthermore, we will examine the affective bonds that are a central component of collective art making and the experiencing of art, demonstrating how they are essential to the building of solidarity within and between social movements.
The I.A.T. anarchist summer camp will be held August 11th – 18th, 2017 in Worcester, MA. More information is available here.
Who is this . . .
Hi I’m Bianca, an intern at LOKI! I’m a multidisciplinary designer with a primary focus in graphic design. My studies started in graphics and moved towards multimedia practices including digital art and installations.
As a young designer . . .
I’m looking for experiences that will hone my creative articulation of design while also helping me practice the conceptual thinking developed in an academic context and applying it to actual design work. And I found this experience at LOKI! It was a rare opportunity to think critically about design and discuss social issues within a professional environment, where the ethics and aesthetics of design are both greatly valued.
To me, LOKI . . .
I admire the social involvement of the studio, and how it came up in different conversations and projects. LOKI’s practice shows how design is about embracing diversity, within visual language as well as in the communities and cultures we work with. Design is human and should be created with that in mind, and not for a group of people called “consumers”.
I had a great time working with Kevin and Marie-Noelle, who are really knowledgeable and fun to work with (you will never see Brandon Grotesque the same way again). I learned more about design processes and enjoyed how organic their approach was. I’ve come to see how establishing a cheerful, genuine, communication and working environment means everything, and this challenged preconceived notions about work centred on serious issues of social change.
To me working in design is . . .
Working in design goes beyond owning design software or knowing about Helvetica and Comic Sans. It is about being able to design sensibly for communication with different people and communities. I see good design as requiring a mindful attitude in its practice. In the years to come, I hope to work in creative projects in public artistic spheres, creating media ranging from print, to digital, to installations.
Over the last few months we’ve been working to find ways to better frame the work that we do, and to express our aspirations for the studio and the discipline of graphic design itself. A key component of this process is Graphic Design as Symbolic Counterpower, a visual essay we've created pulling together citations, ideas, and images that have shaped LOKI's practice over the years.
We hope that each page of this document can act to provide triggers for thinking about the critical role design plays in both reinforcing oppressive power structures, and the ways in which it can be used to challenge them. We're incredibly proud of this project, and have started to present it at public lectures and community arts events, and are now actively looking for opportunities to share it elsewhere.
You can download the full visual essay here.
Please don't hesitate to contact us with any feedback, as it is a continuously evolving document, and if you're interested in having it presented as part of an educational event, let us know.
The 2017 edition of the Howl Arts Festival starts tonight and runs through the weekend at Casa del Popolo! As part of the packed musical and artistic programming (full details here), I'll be making a presentation entitled Graphic Design as Symbolic Counterpower on a panel with artists Sundus Abdul Hadi and Sheena Hoszko on Saturday evening. Event details here.
Hope to see you there!
I'm very honoured and excited to be invited as a guest artist for VCFA's upcoming event Protest Art and the Art of Protest: An Assembly in August. I'll be joining VCFA faculty alongside multi-disciplinary guest artist-activists (including poet Nate Marshall, graphic designer Emily Schofield, and filmmaker Maple Razsa) to facilitate workshops connecting artistic practice to political protest.
We're still very much in the planning phase of the assembly, but it's shaping up to be something very exciting, and urgently necessary, given our current political climate. I'm eager to share my knowledge and skills, and to learn from what promises to be a very diverse group of participants. Furthermore, the goal is not just a one off event, but hopefully the fostering of an ongoing collective network that will be able to coordinate, support, and amplify artistic actions within participants' own communities.
The event is open to the public and registrations are now open, with early-bird pricing until May 1st. Full details for the event including participant bios are available here, and the event is on facebook here . If you have any questions, please feel free to contact co-director Stephen Pite by email or by phone: 802-828-8529.
Hope to see you in beautiful Montpellier, ready to cause some trouble!
A few weeks back, LOKI designed a set of anti-racist graphics in response to mounting islamophobic and racist attacks in Québec, and specifically to be used in mobilizing counter protests against extreme right wing groups that had planned public demonstrations across Canada that weekend.
The graphics were widely liked and shared, and had good visibility in Montreal, but I was surprised and disheartened by responses from some people in my networks that took issue with the statement “Make Racists Afraid Again.” I generally don’t have a problem with explaining my political positioning to people, but in the context of rushing to design and print posters and stickers, and trying to get as many people as possible to attend the protest, the time and energy it took to address these criticisms was frustrating to say the least.
The slogan is a popular détournement of Trump’s “Make America Great Again”, and I like that it holds a bit of humour alongside its menace. It’s a timely slogan, one that calls for action, and also points toward the possibility of success (with the almost futuristic use of the word “again”). In short, I think it’s punchy (Richard Spencer pun intended) and effective, especially in how it’s been taken up and expressed in many different ways, by many different individuals and groups.
The people who commented negatively, whom I would generally consider allies, clearly don’t feel the same urgency (or fear) that racialised folk, immigrants, and especially Arab and Muslim people, are feeling. I suppose this makes some sense, if they are disconnected from these communities, yet just a few weeks earlier six people were gunned down by a white supremacist in a mosque in Quebec City, and an Islamic centre and mosque in “multicultural” Toronto was set on fire. Extreme right wing groups are ballooning in numbers and voicing their hate speech publicly online, in mainstream media, and in the streets, alongside exponentially rising rates of hate crimes being committed. Not to mention what is happening daily down South, nor the ongoing terrorizing of indigenous peoples. Within this context, to not recognize the seriousness of our current situation perhaps speaks to our overexposure to fragmentary news media. It's a bit of a weak argument, but one I feel I have to cling to in order to maintain a belief in our basic humanity. And it is precisely this clouded media saturation that a direct graphic statement like ours was meant to cut through.
Amongst the responses I received, the liberal rhetoric of education and free speech came up again and again. “Make Racists Educated Again?” I find this to be a simplistic and classist argument. Racists have been raised and educated in the same places as the rest of us, it’s a choice, they’re not victims. Breakdowns on who voted for Trump clearly show this. On a practical level, it’s naive, as education takes a really long time, and I’m afraid that given the circumstances we don’t have it. And on a personal level, this was doubly insulting as it discounts all the education work the studio does around racism every day. Education, broadly speaking, is related to what and who's stories are represented in the media and public sphere. We work very hard to make sure we can carve out some space for the concerns of marginalised peoples. And the ironic thing is, it is this very “education”, this space-taking, that racists seem to be reacting to so violently.
On the flip side of this is that our cultural context has also legitimized extremist, racist rhetoric. Only a few years back, racists may not have been afraid, but at least it seemed many felt too ashamed to voice their hate as loudly or as publicly as they do now. Certainly, they held these views, but they understood that it was generally looked down upon, not cool, and they held them in shadows. Due in large part to weak liberal logic, and a naive understanding of “free speech” (which has now become the rallying cry of the right), the cultural landscape has changed drastically. So the call to “Make Racists Afraid Again” is a call to action for everyone who is against racism to express their position clearly and proactively, in any way they can, so that our public sphere becomes a place where racism is not tolerated (again or anymore). Which yes, to the dismay of the critics, includes intimidating racists in direct ways.
And I suppose it’s this point that some people just can’t seem to come around to. The so-called “aggressiveness” of our approach. If I haven’t addressed it yet, I’d prefer to simply let the words of Assata Shakur sing it out:
“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.”
I’m sharing these thoughts publicly here as I see them as communications problems, design problems. But I have to ask the critics why they chose to take time out of their day to comment on, question, and derail our work? And if they’ve taken the time to engage in this same “education” work with these racists whom they are seemingly so concerned about? And that problem, is a fundamentally moral one.
“We propose a reversal of priorities in favour of more useful, lasting and democratic forms of communication—a mindshift away from product marketing and toward the exploration and production of a new kind of meaning. The scope of debate is shrinking; it must expand. Consumerism is running uncontested; it must be challenged by other perspectives expressed, in part, through the visual languages and resources of design.”
– First Things First 2000: A Design Manifesto
Over a decade and a half since the 2000 re-issuing of the First Things First manifesto, engulfed in the sound and fury epitomised by an American presidency mobilized through bigotry, racism, misogny, etc., not to mention deepening environmental crisis, endless war, racialised state violence, and exponentially increasing inequity, it seems like a good time to re-evaluate how the discipline of graphic design has responded to the manifesto. What has changed? What has stayed the same?
FTF had strong popular appeal back then, and the debates it inspired filled the design press influencing many young designers’ practices and spawning a plethora of initiatives addressing and rethinking graphic design’s social role (It's hard to imagine AIGA’s current Design for Good Initiative without that groundwork being laid). Naomi Klein's No Logo sat on almost every graphic designer's bookshelves (whether they read it or not), alongside issues of Adbusters magazine and the latest copy of Emigre. More recently, the manifesto was once again renewed in 2014 with a clearer focus on the implications of digital technology. Initiated by Cole Peters, it collected over 1,600 signatories, but without design celebrity endorsement, and within a vastly different cultural climate, resulted in little discussion or visible action beyond good intentions.
Today is our last official day in the studio until 2017! We've got many thoughts on the tumultuous year that has been, and exciting plans for the year to come, but for now here's a quick overview of some of the great projects we had the opportunity to work on over the last year. Many, many thanks to all our clients and collaborators! 🎉 🏴 👍
In a month's time I’ll be travelling to Melbourne, Australia to participate in Memefest 2016, at Swinburne University. My relationship with Memefest goes back over 10 years, and I'm very excited to participate in this edition as a symposium presenter, workshop facilitator and mentor.
In the world of graphic design, discussion of its social role has been in vogue (again) for the last few years, with the rise of catchphrases such as design thinking, social good/social innovation design, human-centred design, etc. However, much of this discussion and work fails to critically engage with the problematic infrastructures of design practice itself, question its strategic approaches and processes, or position itself in relation/opposition to neoliberal capitalism (imho, the most important design challenge of our time) and other systems of oppression and exploitation. More often than not, this social design framework simply implies using the same commercial design approaches applied to a non-profit clientele, holding a focus group and calling it participatory design, or using recycled paper and claiming to be building a sustainable future. A deep distance exists between designers and those on the ground actually working for social change.
Memefest, as a network and event, has always acted in opposition to this framework, engaging in deep interdisciplinary communications theory, and intensive productive collaborations with local and global struggles. It does not take commercial or institutional design as an a priori definition of the discipline.
At the last Memefest (2014), we worked in partnership with Aboriginal decolonial groups in Australia, creating support campaigns and strategies against the forced removals of children, a wide variety of anti-racist graphics and poster interventions, documentary video, facilitated a teach-in and fundraiser, amongst many other projects (download a report of our activities here). This year, under the tantalizing theme of Pleasure, we will continue this engagement while also working with the growing refugee community in Melbourne.
Memefest is a rare opportunity for me to meet with an international group of communications activists, to discuss, strategize and work together. Before the event itself, I'll be curating work submitted to the website, and providing feedback on selected projects.
I will also be taking what promises to an inspirational trip to Hong Kong (it's kinda on the way!) before heading to Australia. I'm certain it will have a great impact on my thinking and design practice. I'm very much looking forward to these experiences, and hope to highlight my activities in both Hong Kong and Melbourne on here. Hope you'll follow along!
- Contemporary capital is understood here as a purely abstract value, an accretion of time and energy. It’s pretty much useless, it just sits there and stagnates. It weighs down heavy on us.
- This abstract value is only made useable through design, transforming it into an exchangeable commodity, that also carries symbolic value. This is an alchemical and concretizing process, turning (pretty much) nothing into something. This includes our stories, our songs and images, the reification of the structures of our social relations.
- The feedback loop, with these commodities processed through our labour and consumption, generates (extracts) more value for capital, made abstract and intangible again, and added to the pile.
- It’s important to realise that Design operates on both sides of the production and consumption cycle. We often hear about the problems of conspicuous consumption, and design’s mediating role therein (the evils of advertising), but we ignore design’s role in mediating how our labour is made abstract, made useless for us, but valuable for capital. Marx’s alienation is all the more relevant when we think of our current conditions of precarity, and how affective labour is now bought and sold.
- Design’s role here can be thought of as “softening the edges of capitalism”. It’s the grease that keeps the motor running. The bevelled edges, the sheen on the surface, the stylish colour blocking, the chill room and casual Fridays, the critical distance that allows us to live, work, and consume under oppressive conditions.
- This can easily be seen as a critique, but it’s probably a very useful and necessary social role for design, albeit an ideologically compromised one.
- Removing the mediating role of design results in real violence. When design fails, communication breaks down, when the veil is lifted in moments of crisis, oppression resorts to its raw form in order to continue to extract value. This can perhaps be most clearly seen in the design of our democratic and civic systems, but is certainly not limited to them.
- The flipside to this is that design in and of itself is therefore a form of structural violence. Delineating impenetrable borders, ascribing hierarchies of value and worth, defining inclusion and exclusion.
- If we ignore capital for a second (or a minute), we can imagine another model for design based on the lived experience of the communities we exist within.
- Communities created through shared values/knowledge, based on lived experience, concretized through design into cultural objects (books, posters, websites, music, recipes), that then circulate back into an expanding community. This is what we are referring to when we include "Cultural Production" in our mandate.
- It’s important to qualify “created” here. We should avoid the fallacy of innovation. Struggles are happening all around, people are organizing and making art. How can we support them/us.
- It’s also important to qualify the generic use of the word community, we should be speaking of specific communities, about real people, real experiences.
- Side question: How do we maintain a level of orality, of fluidity and motion, of openness, when materialising these experiences.
- Design can thus act as a symbolic counterpower to the hegemony of capital. It can create alternative space(s) and circulation beyond capital, and it can actually push back against it (and not just “soften”). This is where I would like to situate LOKI’s practice.
I should clarify that I don’t see these skeletal diagrams as necessarily accurate representations of the world, they are oversimplifications, the terminology is vague, and design has been placed in a far more central position than it probably holds within our society. I do, however, see them as practical and helpful tools for thinking about these issues.
“Design requires positioning. You need to know where you stand, to know from where you are speaking.”
Since launching LOKI in 2014, we’ve been dedicated to working with organizations and individuals who share our values of collaboration and community building, with an anti-authoritarian, anti-oppressive bent, and an appreciation for thoughtful, and dare we say beautiful, design. Doing this in a sustainable way in a climate of austerity is a challenging task, yet it has led to many meaningful projects for us, with an expanding roster of inspiring clients and collaborators.
The spring has been a particularly busy one, with projects launched for WIOT Magazine, Metonymy Press, Friends of Public Service, Solidarity Across Borders, and Articule, with many others still to be unveiled. However, this has left us little time to address some questions we raised in the winter, to critically self-reflect on the studio’s own positioning, mandate and practice in a concerted way.
Sandy Kaltenborn, of the Berlin-based activist design studio Image-Shift, has been a long time inspiration for us, as a mentor (at the Declarations conference way back in 2001), a colleague (through Memefest), and as a friend. In the work that he does, and the way it is presented, we see an inspiring, yet practical model of a socially engaged design studio.
Image-Shift's non-manifesto sketches out 13 points that share his views on (graphic) design and visual communication practice. It clearly and concisely sets the parameters for his work (including and beyond "actual" design) and resonates deeply with how we'd like LOKI to operate and communicate.
9. it is a privilege to speak, to design in a society where most are not even asked about their opinion. this leads to "response-ability" not to abuse this specific power designers have. we believe that (visual) culture and its different forms are a matter of solidarity and critique. we honour this matter.
So we've decided to slow down our production schedule over the summer, to take back some time to do this kind of necessary thinking. With the help of our summer intern Julie King, we plan to be asking and thinking through plenty of questions. What do we mean by cultural production? How do we negotiate the line between our commercial work and our activism? What do we mean by activism? Do we even like the word activism??? What types of future collaborations are we seeking, and why? How do we define and present and extend our output? Why the emphasis on typography? Do we even like colour? What are frogs? etc.
As we slowly move towards our third year of existence, we hope to share many of these thoughts here, and we would like to invite you, as clients, collaborators, designers, activists, friends, etc. to participate in this thinking with us. We're excited that we've made it this far, and we feel this process is an important next step in order to better understand ourselves and the communities we serve.
NB: The studio will be closed between June 27 – July 10, as we head to the West Coast for some much needed time off. We'll be back on July 11th!
The Milan studio/gallery t-space is currently showing Exhibition of the Year 2016, a group exhibition acting as a creative response to Pantone's Color of the Year campaign. LOKI is honoured that the exhibition was developed based on our article "The Propaganda of Pantone: Colour and Subcultural Sublimation", published by Kevin in February. It's inspiring to see how far our words have travelled, and the resonance they are having.
The exhibition features artists Lorenzo Kamerlengo, Luca Loreti and Alessandro Moroni, and is curated by Alberta Romano. T-space aims to promote discourse surrounding design practice, photography, cultural trends, and the research potential of the artist's studio.
A fanzine published by the group in conjunction with the show features a short interview with Kevin, that explores the need for critical thought in design and everyday life, the role of the critical artist living and operating within a neoliberal society, and the perpetual marketization of subcultural aesthetics.
A subculture such as Vaporwave, that uses an engaging and insistent aesthetic to reach its goal, I’m thinking about your definition of a “Jester in the King’s Court”, don’t you think that Vaporwave could find in Pantone’s appropriation, not a brutal sublimation of its content, but its major moment of glorification?
In Pantone’s case, the subculture is not being showcased or promoted (and even if it were, this would most likely lead to dilution and death), it is simply propagating a very specific aesthetic tool (colour) that is part of that subculture, in order to colonize more symbolic territory. This is what makes the tactic different from, and perhaps more insidious than, more traditional forms of corporate co-optation. Furthermore, the goal of reaching the most people, despite a distorted or ineffectual message, is intrinsic to furthering the capitalist notion of infinite growth, and doesn't seem like a very relevant goal, much less a moment of glory. Exposure = Death.
Find t-space on facebook here.
We're very excited to announce the upcoming Howl Arts Festival 2016 in Montréal. The annual festival brings together artists and activists for over a week of events, concerts, exhibitions and discussion, drawing the links between social justice activism and artistic practice. A celebration of art + revolution!
RSVP and details here.
LOKI has moved down the street into a bigger and brighter office space! Our new address is:
5333 Avenue Casgrain, #903
We're happy to be sharing the offices with our collaborators, multimedia producers KNG FU, and to be just a couple floors down from our longtime clients and friends at Cinema Politica. We're slowly getting settled into our new space, so please feel free to come on by to check it out and make us feel at home.
Aesthetics can be understood as the system of a priori forms determining what presents itself to sense experience. It is a delimitation of spaces and times, of the visible and the invisible, of speech and noise, that simultaneously determines the place and the stakes of politics as a form of experience. Politics revolves around what is seen and what can be said about it, around who has the ability to see and the talent to speak, around the properties of spaces and the possibilities of time.
— Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics
Questions of representation are central to the practice of graphic design. An understanding of who we are speaking for, and who we are speaking to, is the starting point of any design brief. It is through this role of mediation, expressed as aesthetic form, that design enacts its power and responsibility. However, this mediation often happens uncritically, guided by a designer’s intuition, stylistic trends, and the instrumental framework of marketing and PR concerns. A multiplicity of factors, conscious and unconscious, play into a designer’s aesthetic choices of imagery, typography, composition and colour. And as much as some might argue to the contrary, none of these choices are neutral.
In the case of colour, Pantone Inc. holds incredible influence with their increasingly marketed and mediatised Colour of the Year campaigns. Purportedly determined through a prescient reading of the cultural zeitgeist (by a select cabal of colour specialists), it is important to understand that the company, and the industry it serves, have their own specific interests and agendas that drive these selections. Pantone’s choice of “Rose Quartz” and “Serenity” as the 2016 Colour of the Year is the most insidious move by this colour-industrial-complex since “Blue Iris” in 2008. As with “Blue Iris”, Pantone has once again mined the subcultural landscape and used their monopoly within the creative industries to propagate their colour properties to the world.