Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hydrants on View at Strathmore

Off to the  Strathmore tomorrow with some hydrants from 2010 that I created as a part of my solo exhibition at the Arlington Arts Center in the spring of 2010. The hydrants were a response to the broken hydrants being tagged and replaced throughout DC.

In a couple of weeks the hydrants get a new life in an exhibition entitled "Unleashed!" running from April 28 - June 23. The focus of the exhibition is about dogs. Architects are designing one-of-a-kind dog houses for the exhibition, and a portion of sales go to benefit local animal organizations as well as the visual art dept. at Strathmore.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Presidential Branding

The Obama Sunrise logo

It's primary Tuesday in the District and Maryland. Despite all of the partisan squabble that perforates decency and punctuates the need for candidates to discuss how they would actually handle the issues with realistic and measurable solutions, in this election cycle one thing seems to have improved slightly over past years: the branding. For the past few decades the bumper stickers and buttons of hopeful public stewards have been predominantly limited to visual references of Old Glory - stars and bars - sometimes quite literally as evidenced by Sam Brownback's presidential bid in 2008. Others have manipulated elements of it, like Huckabee in '08, or like Pawlenty in '11, whose design was complicated by a hint of Lady Liberty.

The big iconic shift in presidential branding happened in 2008 with the Obama sunrise logo. The genius behind the log was how it repurposed the bar, bending a blue bar into the top half of an O, and the remaining bars into a bending road or the rows of a farm field. It also signaled the messaging of the campaign by depicting the hope brought with the sunrise of a new day. However this was not the first time a president had been reduced to a branded image. Some campaign paraphernalia for Obama's predecessor had reduced the Bush 43 to a single letter, a W.

All of this year's challenging contenders have learned something from the visual playbook of the incumbent, albeit conservatively. The stripe still dominates. Red and white stripes billow under the name Newt. They also got squeezed across the cross bar of Bachmann's H, and explode from a vanishing point over the crossbar of Paul's A. Stripes area also visible in the Romney R, like a billowing flag from the Netherlands.

Jon Huntsman took the page from the Bush branding and reduced his name to the fractured H, which looked more like cast off typography from the Avaya branding campaign. More dynamic have been the Cain torch and the Santorum eagle. The torch of Liberty has been the most intriguing of devices applied to campaign branding this season, but unfortunately it held no reference to the candidate the way a Stetson did for LBJ in '64, a hole in the shoe did for Adlai Stevenson in '52 and '56, or the way a sunflower did for Alf Landon in '36. It also failed to integrate within the name of the candidate the way Santorum's eagle freely glides past the O of stars.

Despite integrating with the name, Santorum's design possesses two conflicts.  First is the eagle. While symbolically the flying eagle suggests freedom, previous candidates (Wallace in '72 and '76, and Romney in '08) have only used the head of the eagle. It could be because an eagle body gets a little difficult to persuade into a design - and the soaring eagle in Santorum's design does a fair job of it. However, full-span eagles with rigid design can also be erroneously associated with the perched eagle of the National Socialist German Workers Party. Who would want that? (It would take away any credibility of comparing Obama to Hitler.) Of bigger curiosity is the significance of the seemingly arbitrary 22 stars. Santorum is from the 2nd state in the union, not Alabama, the 22nd. Does it represent the 22 states that pushed for legislation restricting voting rights by pushing photo I.D. requirements at polling places, or perhaps it is a reference to the 22nd Amendment? When the design is vague it is at best a visual accent, like an underline. But when the content possesses symbolism - like a torch or an eagle - and is repeated - like a star - it needs some added context to justify its placement, otherwise it is irrelevant cuteness, like a bow on a shoe.

The push in design hasn't trickled down well into local politics, at least not well in DC. Most candidates seem to revitalize their old color schemes and design, like Delano Hunter in Ward 5 who has recycled his green and yellow postage stamp poster from previous years. Eleanor Homes Norton has tacked the dome of the capital onto her yard signs. The only innovative branding approach has been Teri Galvez's pink elephant, which signifies one of two things, either she is a Republican that treads through cliched depictions of femininity, or I'm drinking too much. (Everywhere I go I see pink elephants!)

With any luck, in future years the branded identities of politicians will get better and better. And, if the issues of campaign reform have been any indication, maybe we'll see some cross over. Perhaps a politician will wear a jump suit covered in logos like a Nascar driver, and we'll be able to see the various sponsors that have contributed to the campaign. Or, better still, since corporations are people too, maybe well-branded corporations will run in future years.