CRIT! CLIMATE CAMP
< and non-violent in the face of intense police intimidation.
Within the Climate Camp activism is evolving. The camp makes sophisticated use of the media and its networks through an extensive communications strategy. Activism is said to be the public face of social movements. In a media saturated world the public image of a movement must compete with well-funded industry advertising and public relations campaigns. Design has helped mediate the public image of Climate Camp and transform the movement into a friendly, understandable, but politically powerful voice of dissent.
Activism is rooted in a moral position. Ann Thorpe describes how activism serves to make an injustice or oppression unavoidably public, thus forcing those who witness it to decide if they can live with the moral deficit produced in themselves in the face o f an unavoidable demonstration of what is better. At Climate Camp, design serves to amplify the conflict and make this confrontation with the issues and ethics meaningful to as many people as possible. The debates the camp creates (at Kingsnorth 2008, Heathrow 2007 and Drax 2006) are at the cutting edge of change: will society continue to invest in technology that will change the climate of this planet?
Faud-Luke claims that design activism revolves around three key words: ‘participation’, ‘re-evaluation’ and ‘transformation’. By pushing the boundaries of the practice of design, design activism can further democratise ‘why, what, and how we design’. Designers at the camp are using their skills to transform voices of activists into legitimate high profile calls for change.
Design at the Climate Camp Each year the camp has worked with the Manchester-based studio Ultimate Holding Company (UHC) to create an integrated campaign (website, posters, flyers, stickers, etc.). The leading image for the 2008 camp was a Swiss army knife, out of which all the tools of activism extended: here is wrench, book, wind turbine, loud speaker, rubber boot, carrot, and flower. The camp also produced a newspaper, You Are Here, in an edition of 20,000. Subtle headlines, text and images draw you into the issues slowly. Climate change is not even mentioned or alluded to until several pages into the paper. John Jordan worked on the paper and is one of the key design activists at the camp. The intention, he claims, is “to make publicity materials which have the slickness of corporate media yet the punch of rebel flyers, the poetic writing of literature yet the political analysis of radical theory, the desirability of capitalist design, yet the subversiveness of anarchist thinking”.
The crisp design produced by the Climate Camp is removed from the typical anarchist/Marxist/revolutionary visual codes of earlier activists movements. The Climate Camp’s graphic identity aims to be attractive to everyday people; it is accessible and asks everyone to participate. Gone are the stencilled or dirty grunge fonts that are identified with youth countercultures. In an era when our rebellion has been sold back to us for so long that the aesthetics of rebellion are virtually meaningless, the Climate Camp has avoided positioning itself with any of the counter-culture based identity politics of earlier activists movements that could never escape the anarchist ghetto. So far, the camp has stayed clear of old ideology-based rhetoric and imagery, but it is a constant battle to maintain a fresh perspective and communications strategy.
How does the relationship between designer and client differ from a commercial situation? Here the client is the networking group of the camp. u h c describes the dynamic: “We begin from their starting point, that is to say - the brief is ‘to save the world now’ and the target audience is ‘everyone’. It can be hard pleasing everyone, with such a vociferously non-hierarchical, decentralised, voluntary and deeply committed group. Every year we nearly have to start building relationships from scratch, because the client is a shifting group. After three years we now have a good relationship with one or two people who have remained constant and are design savvy.”
Because the movement is diverse and decentralised, the Climate Camp creates plural identities. While UHC creates the main identity for the camp, neighbourhoods and affinity groups create their own unique identities, artwork, and communication material. Traditional activist material such as posters, banners, flags, artefacts, props, stickers and exhibitions exist along with newer strategies such as subvert ising, viral animations (see ev-eon.com), song books, and creative direct action (such as the The Great Rebel Raft Regatta: thegrrr.net).
Because the changes ahead are necessarily social as well as technical, the frontline of the debate is human psychology. John Jordan says: “It’s about taking people on a journey, about helping them to access their deeper desires and aspirations to adventure and a better world, not just telling them the facts and information ...
I think we need to have material which encourages desire and participation, which works on the level of fantasy and dream more than rational facts and figures. Much political design thinks you can change people with rational information: ‘If only people knew how bad climate change is they would act!’ is often the logic. But it’s clear that pure information does not change people or lead them to action; capitalism and consumerism has known this for a long time. They know how to manipulate desire and touch our fantasy beings. I think we manage to do this with a lot of the design for the Climate Camp.”
Nevertheless, the camp is a clearheaded confrontation with hard facts. Making space for debates, dialogue and learning is a key objective. Indymedia and two new d i y media outfits turned up at the camp this year;
ABOVE: The ‘shields’ came in handy in clashes with police during Climate Camp 2007. Photo: Kristian Buus; stickers fo r Climate Camp 2008. Photo: Kristian Buus: posters for this year’s event with penknife identity by the Ultimate Holding Company (u h c ) . Photo: Amelia Gregory
Vision TV and Camp Radio. All are powered onsite by cycle, solar or wind, broadcasting news from the field.
Indymedia is the main link between the action at camp and the outside world. An independent website for publishing activist news set up in 1999 to cover the June 19 Carnival of Capital in the UK and then the w t o in Seattle, it now has over too branches around the world and its importance in keeping the community informed on the news that never makes it into the establishment press is critical. The new TV and radio channels programmed material around topics of interest at the camp: alternative technology, climate science, social innovations such as Transition Towns [which work together to address climate change issues] and soon.
The future for Design Activism Academic research demonstrates that designers are important in the activist movement beyond the obvious need for styling and nice graphics. As part of her PHD research, Ann Thorpe is cataloguing 2000 cases of design activism. Of these, 43%were instigated by designers themselves. Interestingly 65% o f the instances of what she labelled as ‘visionary strategies’ were led by designers. This indicates, according to Thorpe, the “importance of designers undertaking activism themselves as opposed to being activists for hire. As proper activists, designers are more likely to help
60 I C R E A T IV E R E V IE W |OCTOBER 2008