3 months ago
At the moment that I am writing this text, the massive social uprising in Slovenia continues and enters, with even fiercer political determination, into a new stage of political maturity. What began as an isolated sparkle in late November 2012 in Maribor, the second biggest city of Slovenia, spread to other cities and weeks later culminated in an all-Slovenian uprising composed of unprecedented masses across the country.
The images of riots, broken windows, tear gas and police repression spoke of unprecedented political violence on the streets. The social uprising also brought a fire burning the central myths of the Slovenian story of successful transition from the socialist past.
Behind the mirage of the brand new world, neoliberalism with a European face has finally shown its most real and brutal shape. The fairy tale of the free market society and of fair elections in the legal state supposed to guard young democracy, has been drowned in once tasty "Cabernet Slovignon."
In the weeks of December 2012 tens of thousands people hit the streets, occupying central squares and chanting now famous political slogans: "It is enough!" "It is over with them, they are done! [Gotov je, Gotovi so!]" "They are all crooks!" "We give the Parliament, but not the street!"
The political condemnation of the corrupt political class received material confirmation in the report of the public Committee Against Corruption, which found strong evidence implicating both major figures of the Slovenian political arena, Janez Janša (Prime Minister and president of right-wing Slovenian Democrats) and Zoran Janković (mayor of Ljubljana and president of major centre-Party Positive Slovenia) in major corruption scandals.
Instead of taking full responsibility and resigning, they and many others continue their illegitimate political mandates. The corruption report brought additional fuel to the fire, and even radicalized the demands of the social movement. The initial moral critique of the corrupt state officials shifted to a critique of the political class and the system as a whole. Protesters have recognized that something is rotten in the state of Slovenia, and the leading puppets are only the most visible symptoms of a deeper underlying and structural crisis of capitalism.
Off the Couch, into the Streets
The last three months of mass protest have brought together many different social groups and individuals of different political affiliations and generations, young and old, workers and students, queers and precarious, ecologists, anarchists and socialists. All are demanding a deeper social change. The "all-Slovenian uprising" gave birth to the new sense of solidarity. Instead of the usual complaining from the couch, people stepped into the realm of public protest.
It would be wrong to immediately relate the "people" that compose the movement to some previous ideal or truer Slovenian nation. On the contrary, the "people's" movement is complex and riven with splits and ambivalences. If the common cause is clear, namely, the overthrow of the political class, it has to be stated that the paths and goals of the new political project are less defined. This conflictual moment opens political space outside the pragmatic and established rules of the official political process. Thus, we are witness to diverse perspectives that range from moralism (the conservative liberal stance that "we need new good people and the real legal state"), to nationalism ("protest for a better Slovenia"), to an even stronger radical tendency in support of social transformation.
People are struggling under dismal social conditions in the new Slovenia, and many groups have been working to formulate socio-economic alternatives to the existing order. Aspirations that used to be unthinkable only few months ago, such as demands for direct democracy and democratic socialism, have come to the centre of mainstream public media.
The popular political agenda is no longer defined and molded by existing institutions or parties. It is now also being shaped by people on the streets, in numerous public performances, cultural events and political discussions of new popular councils, committees, and initiatives that take extremely seriously the search for the broadest possible democratic platform. These include the Committee for Direct Democracy, the Coordinating Committee for Cultural Slovenia, the General Assembly of all-Slovenian Uprising, and the Committee for Justice and Solidarity in Society. There are also other already existing cultural and political groups that have called for engagement in civil disobedience and protests against the current regime: university trade unions, the student organization Iskra, Workers-Punks University, the Federation of Anarchist Organizing, and many others.
Protests and discussions strengthen and expand the politics beyond representative democracy and its defunct policies. Many weeklies (the section Revolt in Sobotna Priloga, Dnevnik, Mladina, etc.) and also daily newspapers have started publishing more alternative contributions for the first time.
Worst Possible Austerity Measures
People in Slovenia have found the official political class guilty not only of misrepresentation, but also of attacking what remains of the welfare state , basically begging for foreign intervention. To be more precise, both the present right-wing government (Janez Janša) and the previous center-left government (current president Borut Pahor) have both participated in the imposition of the worst possible austerity programs.
These were recently even criticized by same International Monetary Fund that promotes austerity, and launched horrendous policies across the European periphery in the first place. They have included: privatization of banks (even manipulating a public referendum on setting up a "bad bank" to handle defaulted loans); imposition of special "holding"-"expert" institutions that would sell all domestic capital to the foreign investment firms ; massive layoffs and dissolution of collective bargaining agreements in all social sectors; and drastic cuts in the social budget (for example, the budget for research and universities fell from 10-20%; cuts in the field of culture are in some fields as high as 50%; endangered groups of pensioners receive merely 250 Euros or just over $300 CAD per month).
Austerity, in short, is financial discipline sanctioning unprecedented exploitation of labour. It is intended to ease the re-investment of capital in crisis. It comes as no surprise, then, that in the time of ever more severe economic crisis the heaviest burden is falls on ordinary people. Slovenia registers ever-higher unemployment (12-13% by Eurostat or higher) and has witnessed the most drastic rise of the youth unemployment in Europe, which went from 15% to 25% in last months of 2012.
For over two decades the political class of Slovenia has been congratulating itself for undertaking the most successful transition to a market economy. But the success story of the "Switzerland of the Balkans" has fallen apart like a paper-house. The mythical figures and actions of Slovenian independence have been stripped naked. Even people who"fought" for democratic transformations of the crippled Yugoslav state in late 1980s have finally seen the great robbery: the dispossession of social wealth both by local tycoons and foreign capital; gradual dismantling of the welfare state; social exclusion of underprivileged and vulnerable social groups.
Waking up from the Slovenian dream came late. However, it seems that even those living in the deep apathy of recent years have become political, organizing, discussing, meeting and creating. The movement has already had successes: the mayor of Maribor, Franc Kangler, resigned due to the pressure of public protest, and three coalition partners from the current government stepped down.
All this is happening not in a situation of abundance and free time, but on the contrary during the winter months when people struggle not only to pay their bills but also to find enough food to survive. At a time when the number of people demanding food stamps and charity is at an all-time high and evictions are common, the situation is ready to explode into clear alternatives: social disaster or social transformation, barbarism or socialism.
Strength in Conflict
Obviously, the path and the process of the future uprising cannot be anticipated. As mentioned above, there remain many conflicting strategies at play in the movement. Even if they all agree on the overthrow of political class, there are some that want a gradual reform of the system (60% of all interviewed from the established Slovenian Public Opinion) and others who see revolution as legitimate (30% of those interviewed). Some currents insist on strengthening direct democracy and popular institutions, taking lessons from Iceland. Others want to launch a project similar to Greece's Syriza, to establish a real left-wing party that would emerge from today's social movements and develop a long-term strategy. These diverse perspectives bring conflict into the core of the uprising, paradoxically making it stronger. Through constant debate and struggle the movement is experimenting with different political forms and gaining in political strength.
Also, importantly, in recent times the role of trade unions, especially in the public sector (SVIZ), has been radicalized. January 23 saw a massive general strike and 20 000 workers on the streets of 14 different cities across Slovenia. They have joined the struggles of the social uprising. What was fragmented and divided before has become more articulate and united today.
Weapons of Mass Creation
The insistent and powerful social movement that is connected with progressive political forms has become worst nightmare of the ruling class. This is why the government responded without arguments, but with repression. Out of the fear of its own decay and burial, it launched a series of repressive measures. The list is long: criminalizing the Committee Against Corruption, spreading fear among protesters by imposing fines for alleged organizers and participants of the protests, telling public servants not to join protests, criticizing media for their independent reports, manipulating the public in all the media, and massively recruiting for the security services.
The newest measure was implemented on February 8, the Day of Culture in Slovenia, when the third "all-Slovenian Uprising" took place in Ljubljana. What remained of the government, Catholic Church and their civil society organ "Assembly for Republic" decided to organize a street protest on the same day and time. The Party of Slovene Democrats headed by PM Janez Janša demanded that their members participate in a pro-government rally under threat of expulsion from the party.
However, the anti-government, anti-corruption and anti-crisis protests showed their political maturity by meeting hours later in the same day. The images from the two protests could not have been more different. The pro-government rally saw a few thousand aging "supporters" with a mass of Slovenian flags and ultra-nationalist slogans listening to Janez Janša speaking from the Brussels EU budget summit about the threat of "left fascism" in Slovenia. A few hours later, one of the most massive protests in Slovenian history took place: around 25 000 people marched through the streets with impressive cultural performances, raising the demand for "the spring to come, and Janša and the political class to leave" once and for all. Against their rulers' weapons of mass destruction and repression, the uprising responded with weapons of mass creation.
Let me conclude with the last strophes of the anthem of uprising written by Ksenija Jus, and sung by the self-managed women's choir Kombinat - "The Song of Resistance":
The battles of the brave-hearted people,/ are not forgotten stories of bygone days./ For them our poem should live on,/ For them we raise our fists to the sun.
Poem of resistance spread your voice,/ the dreams of millions are springing forth,/ Freedom is the thought as special as Karst,/ Freedom is the fire that warms our faces.
The Song of Resistance seems to have awakened another ghost of the past that was forgotten in 20th century. Shouldn't we again be allowed to dream and think of revolution? Even if still very young, the uprising seems to have survived more than one winter, and it is likely here to stay for much longer.
*For all hyperlinks see: http://www.newsocialist.org/index.php/679-a-ghost-is-haunting-slovenia-the-ghost-of-revolution
2 years ago
Case study: Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana. Humanites in a self-imposed crisis
End of October 2010 this document :
was sent to the mailing list of the Board for the defense of Higher education and scientific work by a professor of the Faculty of Arts. The board is a loose civil initiative consisting of academic staff, researchers, students and independent intellectuals.
It started as a response to the overwhelming marketization of our system of higher education. It is a Europe-wide trend. In Slovenia, a country with a long tradition of public education, the pressure of the global capital, supported by the local political elite and managerial leaderships of academic institutions, is particularly acutely felt: an immense pressure is being put on all: educators, students, researchers. The policy that all knowledge that does not lead to immediate economic benefits should die is now having very visible effects. Doctoral tuition fees rise, making the study inaccessible for those who lack the means to pay for education. Academic working conditions are being driven down and an increasing number of educators and researchers have to work under extremely low wages and in extremely precarious conditions. This are just some examples.
A further effect of this commercial culture is the new urge for strong branding of the educational institutions. PR, advertising and design are now being employed to make the institutions look attractive to the market. Marketing communication is expected to solve the financial and other problems. As usual, this is done in a shortcut manner. Instead of putting all efforts into the academic processes developed through history, a new facade should show a positive image and conceal the inner crisis. Behind this commercial facade, critical knowledge is disappearing, and authentic theory is being pushed out of the University. Long-term original research is giving place to industrial production of short articles competing for publication in journals indexed by the US bibliographic corporation Thomson Scientific.
This particular case was chosen for our debate for an obvious reason. It is a sad case of marketing based (visual ) communication. We all know that such processes work to the external as well as to the internal public of such an institution. Communication creates identity and institutionalizes (self-)perception. Values, as in this case – commercial can be only enforced through time if there is a institution that is their reproducer.
It is important to understand that this web site is the main medium around which the new visual identity is being built. Printed materials such as brochures with exactly the same identity are already being produced and distributed.
The whole process was done without any real involvement of academic staff and student community; the new overall design was presented to the members of the Faculty Senate months after the contract with the design agency had been signed. As a project coordinated by the managers of the school, it is not only a mirror of those people's aesthetic values, but reflects their intention to impose a new, commercial, identity upon the biggest, oldest and most important academic institution for humanities in the country, and to transform it into a standardized factory. It should be added that the Faculty of Humanities, its students and academic staff have historically always stood on the forefront of dissent, civil engagement and protest, playing a crucial role in the political movements of the sixties and eighties; even now, the two main initiatives opposing the violent erosion of the public education system are rooted in the Faculty of Arts.
This particular document with the new identity and web site concept/design was met with outrage on the mailing list. Many employees of the Faculty disapprove of it, but it could not be prevented from being implemented. One of the reasons is the naturalisation of the marketing discourse. The debate within the Senate (the main executive body of the school) was eventually reduced to the issue of personal aesthetic views, giving the managerial pushers the right and opportunity to dismiss anyone who opposed such a profanation of the institution. Again one thing is clear- in the minds of the big majority (even within a academic institution that claims to nurture open and critical thinking) there is only one possible form of communication: marketing communication. Nothing else exists. The case of one particular institution can be taken as a symptom of wider processes involving both higher education and the professional field of communication/ design.
This discussion should highlight concrete problems of this web site communication/design concept in the light of its applicability within the framework of Faculty of Arts in the context of current socio-economic and political conditions.
What is wrong with this type of communication?
About Faculty of Arts:
Current web site:
More information about it in English:
Mission (taken from promotional Brochure- few years old)
The Faculty of Arts produces highly-educated individuals with an open, questioning and progressive approach to the humanities and social sciences. Particular emphasis is placed on the straightening of national academic areas that help to shape Slovene identity. The faculty cultivates research work, supports inter-disciplinary, opens up new academic areas, and creates new educational programs for its students. The uncovering of new scientific and academic knowledge is included in the process of study in such a way as to develop the level of quality required for Slovenia's self awareness and the faculty's creative presence in the international sphere. To that end it also organizes international consultations, congresses and conferences, as as inviting eminent domestic and foreign guests whose lectures contribute to general Slovene public awareness (the lecture series Culture of Tolerance has included or will include Noam Chomsky, Adam Michnik and Bronislaw Geremek).
Bellow you will find thoughts on this from workshop mentors: Sandy Kaltenborn, Tony Credland, Jason Grant, Shoaib Nabi, Alain Bieber and Oliver Vodeb
Workshop participants will be invited to comment/reflect on this as well. Afterwords a wider Memefest public will be invited.
well well well…. my first reaction when i got the input from oliver on this new institute website and the process within the institution, how it came to shape and what the process mirrors from his perspective was:
this comes at no surprise and sometimes i feel a bit tired in repeating my critique on such things, on how i feel about seeing universities more & more serving market requests and not democratic culture/s in society and so forth...
ok. - but somehow i singed up for this curatorial work at memefest 2011 and so i guess its my duty - and of course also my interest ; ) to write a few thoughts down, as the other curators also will in order we have a bases to discuss during the meetings in Holland end of may 2011.
usually the weekends are my lazy days - and now even more, as a cleaning robot has moved into my house an does all the vacuum cleaning all alone, i can sit on my balcony here in berlin kreuzberg, with my laptop (macbook 15"/2,4ghz and 4GB ram) and type this:
i will stick to the PDF and not so much relate on what oliver has written to the process. i hope thats ok . i will basically try to underline what oliver already has stated in his lines, by just referring to the PDF:
ok - so lets jump right into this (leaked) presentation PDF of the new website and some design work.
graphically its quite catchy and i have to admit there is something i like about its visual gesture and concept.
i guess a big part is this cutted typography - which from my reading reflects on different ways of reading - the gap between the message sender and the recipient in communication - the layers of content and understandings etc pp...
it gave me big laughter when is saw the illustration of the person (student?) holding the poster with this quote on civilisation and not even thinking of throwing a rock. the person, lets call him or her a student, is not even visible. so even if we know this kind of showing posters very well (from numerous designer websites or student portfolios), we should keep in mind that this specific pose can at least say 3 things:
a) i am just doing my job here holding the poster so you can see it better - or b) i am not important - the poster and its "message" is important - or c) look what i did! isn't this a cool design?
a cat just came by on the balcony (she hates the new vacuum cleaner robot!)
guess ill quickly go inside an tell mr robot to move back to the docking station.
sorry for the interruption.
ok - the cropped photo of the guy - is this someone i should know? is it maybe mr s. freud? … or is it just again a "typical postmodern" young male representation: smart & deep looking, and body most likely well shaped as his face - malish and cool by beard - but soft, caring and intelligent at the same time. just as we see it on photos in advertising all the time - and also in students portfolios more & more?
so lets be "civilized" and not throw a stone - and continue the quote: "civilisation began the first time an angry person cast a word instead of a rock - and ended when all humans became puppets of a marked formed public culture" (i agree its a bit superficial…but huh… reduce 2 the max?)
it even gets better when one sees the technical illustration of the citylight billboards: clean and 100% not accessible for ordinary people who cant afford buying the ad-spaces. this illustrations refers (positively) to privatized public space - rather than to ask what kind of communication we need. or at least ask what kind of discursive space an art institution should/could be in the wider context of a democratic society?
coming shortly back to the puppets: the funny thing is, that the puppets hold their own strings these days. govermentality… and the european understanding of civilisation? - well this is a whole story for it self, as the European civilization was build with the blood and exploitation of so called 3rd world countries as we know. and was it not Yugoslavia who shocked the Europeans of its uncivilized outbreak of violence?
dam- i am confused again - but i actually thought that the war in Yugoslavia thought us that there is no such thing as a civilised society when it comes to show?! only the ones who are happy about the power structures in democratic societies will differentiate between a stone and structural violence which is needed to keep things going as the go (…?!) it would be nice to have a talk with freud on the inaugiration day of this website i guess.
back to the illustrations: actually the image politics here are falling far far behind this self governance practice: as we can see on page 21 (big billbord simulation) the guy was just about to say something, but they preferred to shut him off by sticking the "" the foundations of knowldedge" right on his mouth. funny huh!? (i have the feeling i am throwing stones again)
so i am a bit surprised about this page 21 billboard image. is it a little to direct? simply because the design and the guys expression carrys in his face etc. is potentially open for anything, just as good products have the image to sell to everyone: empty and full at the same time.
this is marketing and market culture at its best: don't offend anyone (or critique) but be concerned about anything! be part of it - but dont ask to much. be concerned - but don't name the powers.
back to the PDF in general, which is actually quite direct and honest if you want so: first the merchandising products - then the website (as a product - and not a media for communication).
get your mug and t-shirt for free when register? how many ipads are sold in Slovenia? does this institution seek for ipad owners as students?
this is not about new media. this is just following some crude understanding of technical development without any social responsibility in design & communication at all.
so i believe this PDF presentation it is not seeking to discuss and research and question the needs of communication for an institution. it does not even talk about communication. it talks about a product and it will most likly work. just as 100.000 other websites and mugs like this work. just as the culture/s of markets work. nothing else. until someone spills the coffee.
ps. i am a bit disappointed by the mug. i like the idea to start my day with a civilised strong coffee in the morning. but i am disappointed that the designers did not manage to warp thy text/typo around the mug. or maybe this is concept? then i want one of these mugs!
ps. oliver - you are critizising that there was no participation in the process of shaping the new CD / website at all. well - i am not sure if participation is always good. its not always about participation. but about power. sometimes. but this is a whole other discussion.
It's noted that this process of commercialising higher education is Europe wide. But of course it is as far reaching as the market itself. Certainly in Australia the escalating competition between universities has fostered an environment where marketing messages have created institutions in their own image. One of our leading universities (Queensland University of Technology) calls itself 'The University for the Real World' - the implication is of course that the 'real world' is the global marketplace, and traditional academic concerns are at best quaint and at worse irrelevant wherever they diverge from market priorities.
So, as has been noted, these initially cynical advertisements become internalised as core mission statements. Public bragging about rates of graduate employment, for example, becomes the limited criteria for reputation.
It seems a critical problem is that the more an institution projects these values and therefore the more they are internalised, the less capacity they have to respond to vital issues of our time wherever they contradict these values. I'd guess then this is a reason for example we increasingly see universities urgently tackling the impacts and physical causes of climate change, while the underlying economic, social and political causes are not adequately addressed.
The University of Ljubljana's Faculty of Arts visual makeover is pretty typical. There is a predictable disconnection from the institution's culture and traditions. It's an admittedly potent quote by Freud, but a missed opportunity to relate directly to the faculty's history. Even seemingly marketable obvious achievements are forsaken in favour of a visual pose that could come from anywhere and stand for anything. Likewise, there is no real attempt to engage with the substance of the university's contemporary culture - no engagement with the cohort, or its social context. What a wasted resource.
Thus it came to pass, a unique institution is homogenised, trivialised and ultimately weakened.
A response to branding of academic institutes Shoaib Nabi Ahmad
I believe the essence of the document lies within this statement "Instead of putting all efforts in to the academic processes developed through history, a new facade should show a positive image and hide all the problems." I have had the advantage of being educated both in the British model and the American Model of education and through my personal experience I
have seen that emphasize on theory has been severely marginalized in the American model.
However this said recent Accreditation from the USA has made vital suggestions to our programs that we need to bring more theory to our programs. We have been conforming and implementing their suggestions. This is also a requirement for National Ministry Accreditation.
External funding in some regions is critically evaluated as it should be and a very high standard is applied to the acceptance of funds but I am well aware that although a non-profit, private organization education is still considered a state interest and responsibility lies directly on the founder of institutes and their mission and goals. So to hold any parallels might be unfair.
Recently an institute in the USA of which I am an alma mater Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) founded in 1877 had its own dissent with the current president John Maeda and how the governing of the institute under his leadership has been questioned. An extract from his response to the no-confidence vote: President John Maeda responded to the
faculty co-confidence vote last Wednesday via mass email today at 3:00 pm. Maeda claims that the changes he has implemented have benefited the school in the following ways:
• Increasing funding for scholarships and securing 6 and 7 figure gifts.
• Receiving significant grants from agencies such as the National Science Foundation.
• Garnering increased national attention from policy makers and potential employers.
• Realizing the lowest tuition increases in decades.
• Welcoming the most diverse class in RISD’s history in 2010.
• Creating a vibrant space for student activities in Carr Haus.
What Maeda does not address is why his administration seems to be pressing forward with the consolidation of departments despite being deeply unpopular. It’s easy to see why many at RISD might find the presidents email grating. He talks a lot about the conversations he has had, but not
once does he cite the voice of the students or faculty. The omission is glaring according to the reports published online. For more information you can visit the website http://147to32.com/
1. An ability to have transparency in the electoral process - which leads to respecting the process
and its integrity.
2. The more difficult to implement is to evoke a response to what Dr. Oliver Vodeb keeps on referring to "Response-Ability" - take the initiative and action.
Teaching ethics and social responsibility should be part of every curriculum and reinforced in practical terms not just in theory. How we educate today breaks down to a simple thing what we expect from the next generation. What we need to pass to them to be successful and how is this success measured. I would like to believe that success would be measured in terms of your knowledge of Humanity through Liberal Arts and Sciences, through Theory and Practice. Perhaps a notion that is so simple that we find it unattainable in this age when education has become a model replicated through globalization without an understanding of the process of its
dissemination to a particular culture and the results it may produce.
The standardization of the University of Ljubljana website and its supporting collateral material marks a growing trend to package and promote education, its faculty and curriculum as a commodity that can be to par of a well orchestral product launch of a high-end brand. Where previously we used to see ads for job openings we now also see a growing trend of ads for students invited to seek admissions. One can argue as competition grows in the field of education it is almost required for educational institutes to have a desired ‘sex appeal’ to attract and boost their numbers.
The problem does not lie with the desire to achieve greater enrollment but with the erosion and undermining of institutional memory and the lack of inclusiveness of the establishment as a whole in the process. Which means its faculty, staff and students not to mention alumni and established research partners.
Institutions, especially an academic going through rebranding may have its purpose and adaptability challenged due to rapid changes in technology, however it risk losing its identity which in the first place established its name. Another factor, which is clear in the case study that the brand is now generic, and I can easily place this institute in Toronto, London, San Francisco
or even in Dubai or Qatar. Universities, Colleges and Schools are not remembered by its advertisement campaigns or it’s new buildings unless they have over time become iconic as a place. It is the faculty, the embedded programs, well serving curriculums and the graduates who have promoted through their success the institution, which makes a far greater impact.
An example that I want to bring to attention is the New York Times it is a brand that has build itself on loyalty and integrity. At one point it decided to include color in its pages and the outcry was such that it forced the publisher to revert to the classical standards one has come to associate with the publication. More recently the GAP, rebranding was rejected by its loyal
customers and the company was forced to rethink their initiative for a cosmetic change.
Which is what it is at the end of the day ‘cosmetic change’ bringing an alienation of its customer base. Change is often necessary and its impact should be measurable and quantified, it requires focus groups to be established from within in most cases and when use of positive synergy is at its best it often leads to acceptance of change through establishments across the board. I stand by my statement, which is also the focus of my inspiration day talk stated here:
Knowledge can be disseminated in no particular way. In my opinion it should not conform to a system but foster through set of challenges that crosses boundaries. An open exchange of ideas or set of opinions on a particular issue should be encouraging, constructive, and come with sincere dialogue building.
It looks like the commercial designers/agency did not really understood (or researched) the values of the university, nor the philosophy or the history. They propose a visual identity, starting with a typography and colour code and a picture format - without first thinking about for whom they really work. It´s more important to propose a merchandising collection (coffee mugs) and show an iPhone/Pad-Application then to really analyze the special needs, the unique requirements of the faculty, the values of the university or even the usability. As most designers the agency don´t think about how a good design makes a website more useful/usable or how the users really want to use this website. Conclusion: style rules - and ruins everything. The result is not creative nor innovative - the design looks like a 08/15-edit plate; there is no strong branding, no strong visual identity, the visuals/layout looks exchangeable and at the end the web design could have been for a assurance company, a hairdresser or a soft drink. Certainly a better result would have been achieved if the university would have worked together with their students and professors on this new identity/website - because they are inside, they know for whom they work (and imagine: what a great practical student project for a design faculty to do their own website), it would strengthen their own "allegiance" to their school - and it would have been a democratic, authentic and open way to communicate - and perhaps even a PR-scoop (see FUBU-Marketing: "For Us By Us").
I am afraid it is all too familiar here - but 20 years ago - we are now in a crisis phase of total privatisation of the university sector with very little opportunity of it not happening.
Our University saw a 80% cut in financial support this year - forcing the colleges to follow the money in which ever way they can - or close. In fact many will close over the next few years. This cut is in Humanities - the cut to Science is only 20% which illustrates where government thinks the money will come from - Science will be supported by business and will work for business through practical partnerships. They Humanities are no longer relevant to this business model and are being forced to find any funding through partnerships or student fees. As we are a humanities only University we will be effected badly - other universities can support their humanities with their science funding - for a while. (One Uni London Metropolitan is cutting its courses by 70%! and the student occupation was evicted yesterday.)
The student fees which were started by Thatcher in the 1990's continued and increased under Labour (left of centre?) government and now stand at £3000 / year are to raise to £9000 next year to fill this funding gap. The students (or should i say clients) do not pay this money lightly - they are increasingly less interested in academic ideas - and are now forced to aim only for high paid jobs to pay back their fees... So this is forced from all directions. From Government / management and students. The tutors have little option - we have had 20 years of gradual 'efficiencies' that have brought us to this point - none of the strikes / occupations/ riots have had any effect. Once you have a market in students - which we have now - teaching is a balance between fees / student numbers / quality - not a good position.
Next year when we have a market in courses - internally and externally - it is hard to not see many closures. We are now 'unofficially' in competition with our colleagues within our University of the Arts which includes Central St Martins and Chelsea. You can see where marketing and branding is going to take this - the language of business is already deeply embedded in our structure, for research and for teaching.
I can see why you are concerned about what is coming to your situation. We warned of these changes 20 years ago - but nothing changed - maybe we managed to slow things down, over the years but we are now quite close to the American model. The Bologna agreement of European Universities set years back - probably includes the start of this process in Europe - first aligning the standards - then the market.
In many ways the marketing of the college in this situation is the icing on the cake, so it is interesting that your institution is starting down this road. Hopefully we can intervene at some level and challenge the progress, but as the anti-capitalist movement always said - this is a system that we are working in - that system can contain revolt for a while, the question is how wide the challenge to it is in society. And on that level i guess there is still some hope in Slovenia.
The problem with the pdf of the University marketing strategy/style guide is that it does not relate to anything. It is a stylised design that references some current trends in European design (Dot Dot Dot magazine / http://www.manystuff.org/ etc) without saying anything about the subject. But that is what i would expect from a marketing department - and in many ways i am glad they get it so wrong.
There is a clear dependence in showing the 'hardware' that the university might like to offer the students; the ipad and iphone - the inbuilt desire to merchandise is set out clearly with the mugs and caps! This all makes this less like a brand identity than product around which desires need to be created.
An understandable desire to show the old and the new, through type, (which is also mirrored in existing texts) but it does seem like a design that has not attempted to understand its purpose. This leads us to the point of; Does a university need publicity? At what point does marketing and identity cross over, and where does the concept of a brand come in that students and staff might relate to.
From reading the existing site i see a strong desire to have a brand in terms of knowledge and history but then in this situation the brand is only for a small audience. This campaign seems to be required for a general public audience on the streets of Slovenia, speaking the everyday language of consumer culture.
I am presuming the existing logo of the flying 'f' books is the only item that remains the same - and of course this does not fit well with the new style. Having said that i cant imagine any modern design University in the UK that does not have a bad identity - as the design departments are rarely invited into the process.
I wont pretend to understand much of the proposed visual language - like the pattern/waves/maze/blinds, the colour blue in there or the desire for an unshaven model. They could relate to any product or advert. The quote is clearly pointing towards the idea that educated people don't fight so much the uneducated (they just find other forms of aggression).
The core ideas they seem to be pushing - Visibility / Software upgrade / Brand / Aesthetics - are quite odd to quote in a document like this and indicates the other type of work they are probably used to do. (i am a bit confused why this is stated so clearly, who are these pages aimed at - the managers of the University or just a reminder to the designer of what s/he needs to put in).
Overall it is hard to really decode beyond the point that is a marketing campaign that misses the mark - but then maybe i am not the intended audience and and missing some of the semiotics.
The role of the University and an institution as the Faculty of Arts, with all its history and official vision statements is (or should be) an active, or rather responsive one. The institution is not isolated in a hermetic academic sphere, but through its research and education actively shapes society. Humanities and social sciences- both being taught at this institution, are key for emancipation in our times of predatory capitalism. In this light the web site as a primary medium of the institution should reflect this emancipatory position of Faculty.
The proposed document is rooted in commercial culture. This is obvious in the slick advertising like designs which are in my opinion everything else than inspirational. They lack any artistic aura and are conceived to support an easy marketable brand. Symbolically the visual identity does not connect with the content, history or vision. It is in this perspective pretty decontextualized. Same as advertising. The fact that the whole process was made without a wider involvement of students and Faculty stuff is another typical feature of marketing culture. It is exclusive, not inclusive. Real participation is not part of marketing culture. Media that is shown as examples in the presentation speak the commercial language too. No tactical, no DIY, no publicly accessible media.
The brand is a typical standardized commercial signifier. What a shame, this institution has such a diversity, such a big range of colourful cultures. The quotations used work pretty much in the realm of what we know as »cool«. Critique as part of commercial culture used for the purpose of achieving distinction. A classic approach embedded in the heart of commercial culture. Such critical gestures are of course nothing else as empty phrases.
The communication does not take any position, any risk and it does not show any willingness for adventure. It is boring, because it is the same thing as all other commercial communication. Distinction through cheep anesthetization does not help. It is being different in the same way.
Another problem is the automatic use of Facebook. One of the dimensions of socially responsive communication is that it builds communities of collaboration. FB makes communities of instant communication rooted on commercial selfpresentation. Commercial, because social relations are created as part of market relations. Everyone is on sale and social relations are the best medium to get projects for making a living within precarious conditions. In my opinion a progressive educational institution needs to deal with the educational cultures of competition that we face this days. How can we create educational and academic cultures of collaboration? Not through commercial media, that's for sure.
It's funny to see the model used to pose in this visual disaster. Self confident look in his eyes. Very cool hair cut. The same stuff we see everyday on TV and in magazines. Isn't the role of such an institution ot question reality? To communicate outside of stereotypes?
I remember a nice remark of one mailing list member. He said something like this: »dont you see, they are using this quote, so they can dismiss anyone who will critique the institutions managers responsible for this disaster, as uncivilized«? It really is fascinating how this things work. In my experience a web site is a perfect medium to reflect of a institutions internal culture during the process of making. I am not sure how consciously intentional or reflected all this marketing manipulation dimensions were in this process. I would say not too much, but Its quite ironic that Freud was used. They were not reflected, because there is nothing to reflect upon. For reflection you need a (potential) alternative. You need imagination. What if there is only marketing communication that exists in the heads of the makers of this web/identity? I bet this is true. It is normal to make a commodity out of the faculty it is normal to create marketing based social relations. It is normal to create a commercial brand out of a educational institution. But this "normality" is inherently manipulative.
In order to achieve a state of potential for social responsiveness certain conditions have to be met. Socially responsive communication meets the following characteristics, where a communication concept and practice shall have beside characteristic 4, 5, 6 and 7 also the characteristics of at least one of the first three.
1. It shows hidden relationships of power in society
2. It establishes communities of cooperation
3. It opens a new communication channel
4. It participates actively in social-cultural processes
5. It pays attention to its own effects of communication on society and culture with the purpose to communicate in a socially responsible manner
6. It self deconstructs in the communication processes with the purpose to establish a critical distance of the public to the communicator
7. It establishes dialogue and/or conditions for the dialogue
There is still the question of process, of course. Analyzing a web site or brand or design as a end state, end product, end artifact is limited. But what we can read from this document shows that not even one criteria is met and one can be sceptical that things will change in the process.
The initiative to defend higher education and scientific work has started in this Faculty. Right now a new web platform for the initiative is being build. Let's see what will happen.
More about Sandy Kaltenborn:
More about Jason Grant:
More about Shoaib Nabi:
More about Alain Bieber:
More about Tony Credland.
More about Oliver Vodeb:
2 years, 4 months ago
Few more days are left for you to finish your works and submit to our Friendly competition. As first works are coming in- we can say so far some fantastic works included- we want to give you a few hints.
1. Visual communications practice category:
make sure you respond the the festival outline LOVE:CONFLICT:IMAGINATION
We need to be able to see the connection with the theme and your work. Also, take time when providing the written description of your work and explain the connections with the theme.
2. We would also like to stress that participation is open to everyone. There is no age limitation or any restriction. :)
3. Check out our radical and inspirational Awards here:
4. Submit your work via our submit application here:
We wish you good luck and are very much looking forward to see and read all your works. And...if you have any dilemmas or questions, don't hesitate to ask us. :)
2 years, 4 months ago
This might come as a surprise, but most of so called »socially engaged« communication is either not effective or even counterproductive. Why? The main reason is that such communication is conceived in the same way as marketing communication for a product or service. The difference is content, but the perspective from which such communication starts and the dynamics it produces in the public sphere are pretty much the same.
When it comes to visual communication, the ideological trap lies in the nature of the image as a cognitive product of our spectacle based culture. Communication is perceived on the level of the image surface. Extracted formal surface.
Social problems are treated as products and communications solution to this problems are treated as products as well. Most of this communication would officially fall under the umbrella term of »social marketing«. This means a specific perspective through the lens of the market is employed for solving social issues. But can we use the exclusive perspective of the market to solve social problems with communication?
Lets take this example. It tells us that French fries (or fast food) is bad for us. But people know that already very well. So…if they know it- why do they keep eating it? This is a simple but representative example of whats wrong with this picture. The problem is deeper. But the communication »solutions« suggests to stay on the surface.
There is hundreds of communication examples, designed on the same principles as our example here, which are awarded, praised and taught about and shown on conferences, festivals and at universities. Such communication work does not change anything, but it makes the impression that things are getting changed. It creates a surface image of change instead of real change through (visual) communication.
If communication should influence dominant memes, we should first think about reasons for certain behavioral and cognitive patterns. The reasons are complex and different. To some extent they are mainly ideological- and here we come to the next step of the problem. How can we as communicators together reflect on the dominant (market driven) ideology of communication if this is the DNA within most of the University communication and design programs, within the professional institutions such as advertising agencies and design studios? How can we practice communication that goes beyond the commercial perspective for social issues?
Memefest is researching this issues thoroughly for the past eight years. One of the most fascinating observations to me is that within the professional design and broader professional communications community this aspect of communication is almost completely ignored. A total blind spot. I can observe this among students, among designers- also (or especially) among design super stars and while co-directing my own communications studio i can see this type of perception regularly among clients.
So here is the idea:
AS PART OF THIS YEARS MEMEFEST AWARD, TWENTY CHOSEN AUTHORS OF BEST FESTIVAL SUBMISSIONS WILL BE INVITED TO PARTICIPATE IN A SPECIAL MEMEFEST-SOCIALLY RESPONSIVE COMMUNICATION WORKSHOP IN NIJMEGEN, NETHERLANDS IN JUNE 2011, IN COLLABORATION WITH ODDSTREAM FESTIVAL. ALL COSTS COVERED.
What we will try to do is to produce visual maps which will show the differences (and reasons for them) between Socially Responsive Communication and »social marketing«.
Workshop will be mentored by some of the best radical communicators in the world. We will also try to experiment with the workshop format and dynamics in order to make this the most productive, creative and satisfying experience possible.
How does this sound to you?
Let's see what will happen. Have a good new year, you take care!
Read more about Memefest awards:
Participate in Friendly competition and get a chance to be invited to the workshop:
Read more about this subject in our new book:
Image taken from Design for Dissent (Glaser Milton & Ilić Mirko editors)
2 years, 5 months ago
It's getting serious folks. Time's running and deadline is fast approaching.
If you are already working hard on your submission work or are just about to start, it might be worth to have a look at this document. It's a good ethical framework to think about when conceptualizing your LOVE:CONFLICT:IMAGINATION creation.
People's Communication Charter is here: http://www.pccharter.net/charteren.html
outlines for critical writing are here:
outlines for visual communication practice are here:
2 years, 8 months ago
Bourriaud defined the approach of relational art or relational aesthetics simply as: "a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space."
There is many interesting points in his book and i recommend it. It's a good and relevant book. However, i am skeptical about the subversive effects Burriaud claims this art has in relation to everyday social practice.
The interesting part to me is relational art's correlation to socially responsive communication. Both act on the level of social relations. The main difference however is the context of production and representation.
This excellent documentary shows the many different effects today's art scene generates. In certain moments it gets pretty absurd. Like when artists claim they are not part of something they are being associated with by prominent art critics and curators...
There is definitely a weight of relevance to the whole thing about relational art. But what exactly is it?
2 years, 8 months ago
0100101110101101.ORG did this on-line performance titled No Fun, using Chat roulette http://chatroulette.com/.
One of the better projects i have seen in a long time, this is hard core.
Have a look at it and think about the chatters responses to this shocking image that waited for them.