We have been lucky enough to write about anything that interests us for the dissertation of my BA course, as long as it was somehow visual. As part of Visual Culture Studies, ‘Design, Culture and Context’ gave everyone the opportunity to research the subject their felt passionate about. Or curious. At the time the Occupy Movement had just peaked and protest was spreading everywhere – or at least discussed in all the media. I wrote about the design of protest signs and the use of humour and irony that started to emerge in plenty of signs. More than just making a spectacle of protest, these signs questioned the whole nature of protest – and in my opinion started a much deeper discussion about the nature of protest than many others marching before. In this time I started to work with the slogan ‘This is not a protest’ that I have since stamped on stickers, knitted into sweaters and will soon embroider onto a kitsch image.
When both articles about my protest research and my design work had been accepted to conferences, I wondered for a while where to turn to. In both areas I had open questions, threads that I want to follow up and that I both considered timely and useful. In the end I turned to design again – because I want to make things. But I think for me it is not only about making things, it is more about the question what I can do with things. If things can change the world.
And this to me is where I have come full circle again. Because in my understanding both activists and designers want to change the world. With different tools, aims and methods, but with an understanding nonetheless that things need to change and that things can be changed. Both share that they are active, outlooking and confident occupations.
I had to be a designer to become an activist. I had to get this understanding that I can change the world before I started not only to complain about things I felt went wrong, but tried to change them instead. And it is something that I have started to see in others around me. Those that write software, craft or design objects, privately or for a job, have more active political interests and try to use this impact to change what they feel is wrong. People who are less limited in their expression are more hesitant. They say ‘Well, its not the way it could be, but what can you do?’
Which is not to say that picking up a creative hobby makes someone change the world. But it makes it more likely to learn how to stand for what one believes in. Once one has made the one piece that is EXACTLY how one wants it to be, it is hard to go back. Accept what is available. Compromise.
This is something I strongly believe in. Something that my design work focuses on. Something my activism focuses on. How can we make it possible for everyone to express themselves? To learn what one has to say? How can we start to learn to understand what everyone is saying? How can we give everyone the power to change the world?
Some fighters I admire for trying to achieve similar goals:
Arts Emergency: Their strong believe that arts education is not a luxury is strongly shared by me. I wasted nearly 10 years of my life because I did not dare to study design and felt it was a ‘risky’ choice. So glad I have done it and I will not go looking back. Support their work with a monthly donation or even by becoming a mentor. I know I will when I go back to the UK.
Craftivist Collective: Believe me, I have tried for this article, but there is no way to make ‘Design’ and ‘Activism’ sound anywhere nearly as sexy as this. As the name suggests, their encourage people to express their protest through craft. Which always asks the question: “What do you have to say?” we get asked that too seldom in or lifes!
Jen Gale: Looking at the everyday choices that can make a difference, Jen actively ecourages change. Not by street protest, but by make-do, mending and making.
Amanda Palmer: For openly encouraging others to make art and to make her struggle public. It is good to know that you are not the first one to go through the doubts, the not-being-taken-seriously, and did I mention the doubts?
Scott Santens: Yup, a bit the odd one out, but Scott strongly advocates for Basic Income, a topic very close to my heart. I personally think that a safety net like this would bring out the creativity in a lot of us. If you could get creative to gain what you want, rather than having to secure what you need.
There are more, there must be. I will add to this list whenever I think I of someone who shouts out until they are hoarse to get people making. Hopefully one day I will join their ranks. I have started shouting. What do you have to say?