Today we are making live an ‘unfinished’ major project we have been working on for a number of years: Resolution: Northern Ireland.
Barnbrook has in the past been known for its political work tackling subjects such as George W. Bush (a little too easy) and the North Korean Dictatorship (still going strong even though we hope it would have collapsed a long time ago). However we felt for our next major project we needed to look at something that was unique to the UK where we are based. We also wanted to work with an ongoing situation where we could add something positive to rather than just criticise. As a result we chose Northern Ireland and the conflict that has taken place there over a number of centuries between those who want to remain part of the United Kingdom and those that want to be part of the Republic of Ireland. Also with a studio is made up of people of all different nationalities, where design is truly an international culture, we wanted to understand a little more about what it means to ally yourself to one country or region.
Northern Ireland is in a better shape than it has been for along time, but it is a situation that is complex and requires more analysis than simply a poster with a slogan. Therefore the project encompasses typefaces, photography, mural designs, artworks, flag design, info-graphics and hopefully user-submitted works. What is currently on show on the website is a very small percentage of the ongoing work. It will be updated periodically with new sections.
Of major interest to designers are a number of free (for non-commercial use) typefaces which are based on the lettering of the Murals from both sides of the conflict. In the interest of balance they contain accents for Gaelic, the traditional Irish language and English as well as all standard accents.
Northern Ireland has a rich history of mural painting which we feel is largely overlooked and undervalued by the UK. These appeared on the exterior walls of buildings and were sometimes put up without the wish of the owners. They put forward the political views of various factions in the conflict. A lot of these murals are now understandably being overpainted with less controversial designs, to help the healing process, but a few are being preserved as cultural works. For us the interest in them is the directness and lack of pretence in offering of an absolute viewpoint. The also use forms which are completely outside what is considered good taste in art and design schools.
For balance, letterforms are taken from both sides of the conflict and include two typefaces from what we believe is the most important piece of political typography in Northern Ireland, the ‘You are now entering Free Derry’ mural near to the location of the Bloody Sunday killings. It is going to be very interesting to see how these particular culturally sensitive fonts are used. This is also part of our reason for this project – from the start of this studio we have always been interested in the political and ideological meanings in fonts and typography – they are a result of the cultural and political landscape of the time they are produced in. How will people use these overtly political fonts? Both designers and people involved in the dispute (we hope with respect). We will also be putting up the best work submissions using the typefaces online, if you would like to submit an artwork please contact us through the website.
Additionally there are a number of new proposals for murals. There is no realistic expectation for them ever to be used, (although it would be great if they were at some point we are not too hopeful). More we wanted to move away from the over-sentimental images that are now prevalent. We believe there is a place for sharp incisive murals that make people think, not just seek to not offend.
Education is also a feature, Jonathan Barnbrook taught at Middlesex University for a year working with a number of students who completed their own projects on Northern Ireland. Additionally the university generously provided some funding for this project. Jonathan also completed a short project with students at Ulster University.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the project is unfinished. It will be updated in the near future with new parts of the project. Follow us on Twitter @barnbrook to stay up to date.
We don’t think any of this is an easy subject matter to deal with. We are acutely aware that we are dealing with recent history that involves bereavement and pain to relatives of those involved in the conflict. We have always tried to be mindful of this, but also clear that what we are doing first is to promote reconciliation in a way that is intelligent without resorting to over sentimentality or stock-photo-style images.