Lasn Kalle Design Anarchy

ISBN 13: 9780968074381

Design Anarchy

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9780968074381: Design Anarchy
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Adbusters' Design Anarchy is a visual call to arms to resist the commercialization of everything from motherhood to masochism, and has spawned a new genre of "Reactionary Advertising." Each of the hundreds of images in this volume, many paired with notes, commentary and poetry, provokes thought and feeling. It is this feeling, this emotional "conversation" with the page that fuels Adbusters' vision: to prevent the deadening of society, everyman, us, me. You.

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"Like angry children abandoned by parents who couldn't care less, these pages were testament of how rage in its rawest, unsuppressed form can be transformed to full effect as the most potent form of retaliation to society's lethal apathy. -- TAXI Design Network, March 14, 2007

Adbusters magazine was founded in the late 1980s calling itself "a journal of the mental environment." Since then, each issue has focused on confronting mass consumption and blind devotion to corporate identities. Design Anarchy, a new book by Adbusters founder and publisher Kalle Lasn, is not only a worthy compilation of some of the journal's great moments, but a jolt (which Kalle defines as a "technical event" that forces one's mind to take notice and search for meaning, even if there is none) for consumers oblivious to the political, cultural, and ethical issues behind their mindless consumption.

Like the earlier Culture Jam, also by Lasn, Design Anarchy, is personal statement, manifesto, and text book. "I wanted to be an artist, but I became a graphic designer," says Lasn at the beginning of Chapter 2. As a graphic designer, Lasn admits to pushing bits of information around until they accumulate "a kind of slickness," each branded and marketed for conspicuous consumption. As a text book, Design Anarchy is an introduction to culture jamming, of stopping the flow of bits of information long enough to interrupt the spectacle, to promote the jolt, to allow the process of awareness.

Comprised of images and words from thoughtful and thought provoking artists, designers, architects, and other creative thinkers, Design Anarchy is designed to light bonfires under the uncritical acceptance of propaganda from the news, fashion, automotive, beauty, tobacco, or food industries and others. Lasn cuts up, scrawls over, and reconfigures his own work and that of others to make the point that, as Marshall McLuhan pronounced so many years ago, media images and cultural information share nearly equal weight. Yet, says Lasn, one is not necessarily the same as the other, especially when ethos and ethics are lacking, or missing in the efforts of innocuous designers.

In the end, Design Anarchy is a provocative and incendiary coffee table design book. It is also just as well a first attempt by Lasn to develop and portray a new graphic/text language whose anarchist beauty strikes a formidable political stance. In a design world where, arguably, surface is all that counts, Design Anarchy is a first-draft blueprint for leveling the propaganda arena surrounding the conception of shopping as a patriotic act.

-John F. Barber - Digital Technology and Culture, Washington State University Vancouver -- Leonardo, Volume 41, Number 2, 2008

Design Anarchy is Kalle Lasn's barbaric yawp over the roofs of the design world. Part personal scrapbook of all things that have infuriated him over the years, part political, psychological and ecological polemic, the book is a manifesto on how the merger of design and commerce is eviscerating the spontaneous, individual, creative, healthy, happy, messy soul of our world and replacing it with nothing more than a consumption-driven pseudo-culture.

The diatribe starts out gently enough, with a recollection of a childhood spent playing in "the gaps between buildings, ruins of buildings, fallow land, abandoned industrial areas, gravel pits and sand mines." However, this "dirty, unused place" of youth is soon ruined by "the city gardeners ... the eliminators of mystery, the killers of the empty spaces." The rest of the book goes on to enumerate the multitude of ways designers have nullified our mental mysteries and killed the empty spaces of our imaginations by cooperating with corporations to fill our minds with messages of manufactured inadequacies and shallow promises about products that will cure our so-called problems.

The book's pages are, appropriate to an anarchist, unnumbered, but Lasn wastes no time in putting forth a solution. Spread eight reveals his demands, in type cut from a newspaper like some kind of B-movie ransom note: "What design needs is 10 years of total turmoil ... fuck-it-all anarchy ... after that maybe it will mean something again ... stand for something again ..."

--Laurel Saville -- Step Inside Design, November/December 2007

Dubbed, in its own P.R., a "400-page mind bomb," this hefty publication, like Bruce Mau's politicized 2000 design tome, Life Style, strikes a formidable, politically outspoken pose on the coffee table. The book is an expanded version of the astute media-crit magazine Adbusters, and its format, fitting as the iconoclast magazine, expresses ambivalence and rage regarding the problematic results of rampant capitalism. Lucky ("the magazine about shopping") it's not. "Commercial magazines are poisoned mindspace," reads a scrawled epithet on one of the book's unnumbered pages.

Compiled by Adbusters founder Kalle Lasn, Design Anarchy is a bracing, visually stimulating narrative collage that expresses the magazine's purposefully challenging ethos. With anarchistic zeal, the book offers a collection of earnest, incendiary images and words by artists, designers, architects, theorists and other creative thinkers. Their work is written over and cut up. Ripped fashion ads might face a page of stomach-turning images of war, animal abuse or fast food. The editor and authors know full well that media images - from iconic Abu Ghraib photos to Louis Vuitton spreads - have almost equal weight as cultural information.

Yet this is very much a book about design - or, more accurately, anti-design. It includes a capsule history of the magazine (acknowledging as a visual turning point a 2001 issue guest-designed by Jonathan Barnbrook) as well as a step-by-step guide to its design/editorial policies. Lasn admits to "a David-and-Goliath joy of taking on the big guys." He also quotes the late designer Tibor Kalman: "Don't work for companies that want you to lie for them." That motto works for designers as well as citizens, and it captures the spirit of this book.

Design Anarchy may not be pretty, but it achieves the goal of making is position perfectly clear and daring the reader to do the same.

--Glen Helfand -- CMYK, issue no. 35, Fall 2006

No one would accuse me, the child of Russian refugees, of being a Leftist. My grandfather used to say that in a revolution both sides wipe out the Socialists first, because all that power-to-the-people stuff is so damned annoying to those who would be king. My background, however, does not keep me from admiring a particular wild-eyed radical--an "eco-maniacal" radical--Kalle Lasn. Lasn is the long-time publisher of that Molotov-throwing anti-corporate rag, Adbusters magazine, and he has a new book, Design Anarchy, that is worth your time.

When you meet Lasn, it's his enthusiasm that charms you, yet his book is not cheery. A personal collage/journal with a true narrative line--"my tome," as he calls it--the book is dark. And it is important. Not because it is such a tour de force of graphic design itself (much of it, taken on a strictly formal basis, looks a bit like grad school comps), but because of the depth of its compiler's understanding about where we are as a culture, and about where we seem to be headed. It takes guts to put yourself out there; it takes guts to take a stand. Design books are generally pompous, self-serving, of-the-moment and gutless, that on the guts element alone, Lasn's book is significant.

Lasn's essential delight in life makes the horror of the current images on Adbusters.org more shocking. His exuberance belies the dark urgency of Design Anarchy. He is urgent, but not desperate. He has hope. Perhaps because he witnessed the end of Nazism and the end of the Soviets; he saw the ends of powers that proclaimed themselves eternal, using the trumpet of their own propaganda.

Americans do not respond well to shock treatment. They do better with positive paradigms of the future. The images of pain in Lasn's book will probably not inspire the head of Chevron to start harnessing sunlight. But students get it. After seventeen years of calling for action, and with immediate changes in our perspective so needed, it is easy to see why Kalle Lasn might just be stepping up the pace.

--Natalia Ilyin -- Communication Arts, November Design Annual 2006

Since Adbusters was founded in the late 1980s--back when it was dubbed a "journal of the mental environment"--it has been charting how the world continues to lose its way, detailing nations that have become corporate beasts beholden to the likes of Nike, G.E., and Microsoft. Fortunately, Kalle Lasn, publisher of Adbusters magazine, is here once again to give us a kick in the pants. Like its predecessor Culture Jam, Design Anarchy is a wake-up call for everyone mindlessly living out their days in a consumer cycle that is not only killing the planet, but dulling one's sense of self and place in the world. Lasn ponders the dangers of such corporate indoctrination and loss of identity, offering a blueprint for artists in the form of this striking textbook.

As a manifesto of uncooling and demarketing, Design Anarchy is high-octane ammo, an attempt to recapture a little of what was going on in Paris in the late '60s and what the Situationists had been hoping for: an end to the solemn existence of modern man, and more joyful displays of spontaneity. It is Adbusters' way of twisting the branding of everything--from the cars we drive and the food we eat, to what we wear, and what we watch--that uncovers consumers digging themselves deeper and deeper into a cultural abyss they may never be able to crawl back out of. By not realizing the true costs of actions and desires, consumers are failing, and this book seeks to level the playing field in the arena of propaganda.

In his book, Lasn presents not only arguments, but the beginnings of a user's manual, a simple introduction to culture jamming, which he has said "is, at root, a metaphor for stopping the flow of spectacle long enough to adjust your set." From creating uncommercials and spoof ads, to arguing with professors and interrupting lectures, just about any action shows the beginning awareness, and this scrapbook helps record those efforts.

Lasn defines design as "the most ubiquitous of all the arts. It responds to needs at once personal and public, embraces concerns both economic and ergonomic, and is informed by many disciplines including art and architecture, philosophy and ethics, literature and language, science and politics, and performance. Graphic design is everywhere touching everything we do everything we see, everything we buy..." Design Anarchy sticks firmly to this characterization, re-imagining physical structures, personal images, and communal thinking in a large-form book with ideas as striking as its design.

Not so much political as polemic, Lasn's tact yearns for simplicity, an end to wholesale mass consumption and the blind devotion sometimes a little to eagerly given to corporate identities. In Culture Jam, Lasn wrote: "For an enormous number of people, the idea that they should set limits on themselves is unthinkable." It's an interesting argument, especially here in the United States where the president touts shopping as a patriotic act and choice has become the ultimate civil right.

Design Anarchy attempts to cover all bases: the news industry, television, fashion, food, automotive, the beauty industry, tobacco, and others, giving examples and tactics for dealing with the conspicuous consumption of an increasingly service-based society. It's all fair game for Lasn and his Adbusters team, who continually declare war on the mass media and its progeny by inventing calculated responses to the company's own advertising campaigns, whether repurposing a slaughterhouse photo to attack the fast food industry or sticking the kid-friendly tobacco spokesman Joe Camel in a hospital bed. The book reprints many of the magazine's ads and a number of other activist images and texts, which all combined, make a functional design tool and memoir that vibrantly reproduces a number of influential images and concepts that can serve any artist looking to tackle a confluence of current events and cultural noise. While Adbusters has always struck some as an uneven and sometimes overwrought attempt at revolution, the magazine remains an important rallying cry for change, and its a mission Design Anarchy fits into well, structured as a coffee table art book whose refined anarchistic beauty is more than just cover deep.

--Shandy Casteel -- PLAYBACK:stl, September 2006

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