In August AGDA is celebrating The Poster with its 2011 AGDA Poster Annual. Curated by Mark Gowing, arguably Australia’s most awarded poster designer, invited international judges will provide assessment of each of the 50 submissions selected for exhibition.
Why the poster? What makes a good poster? Is it “…originality, clarity, directness…” as described by M.F. LeCoultre in A Century of Posters?
Since its invention, the poster has been a playground for artists and designers; it is an arena where personal expression and vision can be realised, while communicating directly with societies who live within or watch from afar. Due to its unique function, a poster enables artists and designers to practise and refine their communication abilities. In the past 15 years the poster has again risen to prominence, regaining its place within visual communication through international design exhibitions and competitions. A new global language is being rapidly homogenised through these exhibitions and our constant exposure to an ever present, escalating information flow.
Posters originated as mass produced, relief printed notices, which were displayed in public places throughout Europe in the 15th century – comprising images and messages that were either hand carved or printed using tedious and slow processes comparative to wood carving. By the end of the 18th century, printing technology had advanced and the poster was generally created using intaglio prints incorporating a metal engraved plate. In 1776, Alois Senefelder invented lithography, which was regarded as the birth of the modern poster printing industry. Artists began to gravitate towards graphic design as, for the first time in human history, mass communication could be produced cheaply, rapidly, in large formats and huge quantities.
It was not until the late 19th century that the poster flourished as a creative medium, triggered largely by the work of French artist, Jules Chéret, with his energetic and sensuous posters depicting forms of Parisian nightlife.
Until this time, posters could only be produced in large quantities with one colour; however, Chéret developed a three-colour system of lithography that was soon embraced by designers and artists. His posters had such an impact within Paris that they became collectors’ items, stripped from the walls shortly after being posted. Posters began to be pasted anywhere there was a wall space – so extreme became the visual pollution that a poster law was quickly passed in 1881 requiring a permit and fee to put up a poster in a designated public space. Chéret’s impact as an artist was publicly acknowledged in 1884, when he was granted the first ever poster exhibition, elevating poster design to an art form within Europe, a cultural status that remains to this day.
Over the next 120 years, poster design was embraced by art and design movements in every European country and spread across the world. Of course it was, and still is, used extensively for propaganda in wars and has been utilized to influence and drive social and political revolutions in Russia, China, central and eastern Europe, the US and countries in South America and Africa. The poster is now commonly recognised and respected as a tool that can instigate change. In 1966, the first International Poster Biennale was held in Warsaw, Poland – an event that has grown to be the most prestigious exhibition of its kind.
It is the format of a simple rectangle that enables designers to focus solely on a poster’s internal structure, the content, the essence of visual communication practice. But is this the only thing that incites design passion for the poster? What should be considered is the ease and effectiveness with which posters may now be produced and distributed – enabling messages that can communicate with vast numbers of people using a format that is accessible to all tiers of society. The poster is now, more than ever, an equitable platform for communication, an undisputed form of expression and a way to speak out about issues that affect us all, even in the face of oppression from our governments, states and local councils.
An inherent trend within international poster exhibitions is social activism. Designers are asked to develop communication that addresses a social issue, either local or global, to develop a message or visual reflection that can then be recorded into history or passed directly into communities in the hope of affecting change. Many submissions for these categories originate from countries where various social and ethical issues are highly contentious and difficult to discuss due to local restrictions or policies. Growing numbers of designers, as described by Woody Pirtle when discussing the Good50x70 Social Communication Project, are “embracing subjects that are fundamental to the future of our very existence as civilised human beings”. The Good50x70 Social Communication Project (Italy) is now in its fifth year and, along with other similar exhibitions – Poster 4 Tomorrow (France), Positive Posters (Australia) and Segunda Llamada (Mexico) – organisers incorporate a direct action or social intervention through the use of posters and design related activities. These activities vary depending on the priorities of each organisation; some examples are design education workshops, communication campaigns to support the initiatives of charity organisations or simply sustained street postings and exhibitions within cities around the world.
Poster exhibitions are now a recognised and established cultural activity throughout Europe and other Western countries. Regions such as Asia and South America have also utilised these exhibitions to showcase local design, build knowledge of regional and global culture, and draw attention to profound issues that affect us all, such as climate change. The exhibitions follow the model of the Warsaw International Poster Biennale, with some held annually – Good50x70, The Social Communication Project, biennially – International Poster Biennial of Mexico and triennially – the Hong Kong Poster Triennial hosted by the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. What all of these exhibitions have in common is a cultural alliance and support of the host government, the distinguished reputation and experience of each judge on the selection panel, endorsements from international design organisations such as Icograda, free entry and the absence of monetary prizes. Recognition from international peers and inclusion in the exhibition are the only rewards. These affirm a level of design achievement and enable professional networking and collaboration. Participants, numbering in their thousands, compete for a place in these exhibitions and originate from an ever-expanding list of countries.
Closer to home, since 2009, AGDA has utilised the AGDA Poster Annual, originating from the Australian Poster Annual (2005 to 2007), to promote the economic value of design and influence the ongoing development of culture within Australia. It is a highly visible forum that provides the opportunity for democratic participation, innovative thinking, and robust and impactful discourse with and about Australian society. There is talk of it becoming an international program in the future. And so it should.
Poster competitions and exhibitions are now global events that transcend the spoken word and are shaping the visual language of the 21st century.
Head here for a listing of poster exhibitions/competitions from across the globe.
From desktop magazine.
Thumbnail image: Circus. Festival international des arts graphiques, Chaumont. An exhibition in public space by Fanette Mellier. 2008.