Friday, 23 August 2019

Extinction Rebellion Art and Design at the V&A

Extinction Rebellion posters. Photo credit: Chris J Ratcliffe Getty Images

Protest movements have always used art to carry and amplify their messages. The Climate and Ecological emergency is THE issue of our time, and the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement is skillfully using art and design to galvanise public concern for the planet with maximum impact. Their flags, banners and flyers in punchy colours with carefully worded slogans and woodblock prints are now immediately recognisable across the globe.

Extinction Rebellion, as many might already know, is a global activist group calling for urgent action on climate change through acts of non-violent civil disobedience and disruption. Since its first public action on 31 October 2018, urging the UK government to declare a climate and ecological emergency and commit to reduce emissions to net zero by 2025, XR has grown into an international movement with over 363 groups active in 59 countries around the world.

XR’s graphics balance joy and menace with a bold, tongue-in-cheek approach, and are characterised by four core design elements. These include the use of the Extinction Symbol, the XR logotype, a colour-palette of 12 playful tones including ‘Lemon’ yellow and ‘Angry’ pink influenced by pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi, and the fonts ‘FUCXED’ and ‘Crimson’. Often juxtaposing imagery of the natural world with more sinister images of skulls and bones, XR’s urgent visuals articulate hope, while outlining the grave consequences the group feels failure to act will bring. 

Recognizing the importance of the movement and the value of its unique designs, the London V&A has acquired a series of objects exploring the design identity of Extinction Rebellion.

The pieces produced by the Extinction Rebellion Arts Group, a coalition of graphic designers, artists and activists responsible for XR’s Design Programme, range from the open-source Extinction Symbol created by street artist ESP in 2011 and adopted by XR in 2018, to the Declaration that accompanied their first act of Rebellion, and flags carried during mass demonstrations. They are on display in the V&A’s Rapid Response Collecting Gallery (gallery 74a).

The objects have been acquired through the V&A’s Rapid Response Collecting, an innovative programme that enables the acquisition and immediate display of design objects that address questions of social, political, technological and economic change.

“Design has been key to Extinction Rebellion’s demands for urgent action on climate change. The strong graphic impact of the Extinction Symbol alongside a clear set of design principles have ensured that their acts of rebellion are immediately recognisable,” says Corinna Gardner, Senior Curator of Design and Digital at the V&A.

“Extinction Rebellion have galvanised public concern for the planet, and their design approach stands in relation to earlier protest movements such as the Suffragettes who encouraged the wearing of purple, green and white to visually communicate their cause.”