Hi all, I am Axel, a Mexican illustrator currently enrolled in London College of Communication, studying Illustration and Visual Media.
A common issue like this, a common threat even, can be a great equalizer from which to continue on as a unified system. We must harness this opportunity to bridge our differences moving forward by using design to enable a positive conversation about the future. Every time there is a global pandemic there is a form of renaissance directly after, in which old modes of thinking are shed and art is consumed like never before. Culture bounces back and innovation is accompanied by opportunity. A historically positive moment like this is our responsibility as designers to lay the groundwork for the socially and ethically proactive world we want to see. My work as an artist has been guided by the desire to see our mental health as the new dimension we walk and live in, one where we all feel the same; we must nurture this headspace as much as our bodies because the world post-pandemic will be marked by a more diverse peoples that cannot be seen through the lens of language or skin tone, but by the content of our intentions and our actions to see these through.
In my work as a designer, I inject a meaning to an otherwise black and white stenciled image through my use of playful shapes and colour. Doing so, I strip the physical world around us from its subjectivity and enter a mindset in which reactions are the way we see, a pure single colour rather than shades of many. This way of seeing the world may change our perceptions of both past and future, an emotional filter, and so my job as an artist has been to share this: We all have a common language, emotions, we all feel the same and so we must use this and the pandemic as a starting point for further collaboration. Based on our intentions for betterment, we all look the same. A great example of this equalizer in language is in the Bouba/kiki effect, first devised as an experiment in 1929, this design put two images with different edges, one with sharp spikes and another one smooth, and amongst people with different languages, all interpreted Bouba as the soft edged shape. Thus, with each scene I create is an effort to give a single emotion its own space and therefore its justification, catharsis. I aim to share spaces in which people can feel a certain way, think all a certain way, rather than mix us all together and demand a single victorious thought/emotion to rule, often what I feel is creating chaos in otherwise peaceful systems. A democratic space for emotions where we may all find that our very reasons to feel might be more alike than not.
Back in 2016, before the pandemic, in the publication of Scientific American Ian Golding and Chris Kutarna discussed how we are already culturally headed for a new renaissance, insinuating that the worldly turmoil that we are experiencing today is actually moving design forward. The Black Death had tapered off, Europe’s population was recovering, and public health, wealth and education were all rising. (Golding, Kutarna 2016) This is by no coincidence, written three years before global catastrophe, when politically the world had never been under such pressure. Young people now more than ever, are taking to the streets to demand better conditions and a promise of a future. This unification is possible due to our years of migration and technological advancements that have been exponentially increasing in the past hundred years. We have more in common than ever, and with literal advancements also come new ways of thinking. This new modus of cooperation promises a larger leap forward in terms of quality of life, all fueled by culture, itself fueled by art.
“COVID 19, like any disruption, essentially confronts each of us with a choice:
1) to freeze, turn away from others, only care for ourselves, or
2) to turn toward others to support and comfort those who need help.”
Otto Scharmer (2020)
Narrowing down my choices for design has been helped by concepts such as false news. Information operations and warfare otherwise known as influence operations (Waltzman 2017) has the awareness of perception reach a point where it is harnessed by few and weaponized to such extents that wars are fought in the name of brands (such as Coca Cola’s involvement in the assassinations of union leaders in Colombia, or Chiquita’s very own funding of paramilitary groups killing innocents). Many young people who have been born in this era of advertising have begun to understand the insidious nature of emotional harnessing through imagery and have in turn brought on a post-literal meme era where irony and a tone of compliance to the system is used to subvert this same system. Memes are now a universally understood response, a new hieroglyph we can all agree signifies a single agreed upon emotion. I propose that art in its current most popular form, advertising, is the most threatening form of design. It is a surreal denial of reality. If there is one thing that ads have inspired is a unified response to them, resentment and disgust. No wonder, if our main usage of art as a planet is fueled by this emotion, and text that is double-speak (such as in the book 1984), that the world is in the state that it is. Therefore we must respond by justifying the raw truth of our human experience. Not for the sake of beauty or to sell but rather for the sake of truth. I want to make it so the next movement, the majority of images are for a positive reaction to authentic life, rather than a fake idealised marketing strategy. If perception can be weaponized for polarisation, then symbols have an equal power to unify us for a common cause.
“Objectivity is a myth which is proposed and imposed on us."
Dimitry Kiselev, director general of Russia’s state-controlled Rossiya Segodnya media conglomerate (2014)
This contemporary effort is fueled not by my ink and colour but by the minds of the audiences and their own instincts to recall a personal experience from a single frame. However different these triggers might be, (and I can only imagine how different they might be) they all converge in this one painting and that is something we may all agree on. Fact is that an image won’t stop being simply because we disagree, no matter how different a global event like this might reach us, we can all ethically and responsibly approach and respond to it. Global warming, the pandemic, social injustice are all hindered by an inability to believe that we are all going through the same issue. Addressing complex issues like this must be done by deconstructing the different factors that make these systems, I believe a great number of these issues are tied to emotional blockades.
I compliment this effort by writing poetry that furthers the context of each scene, dialogue that has been plucked from my very own thoughts and experiences and worked until it has been stripped of anything that could be unique to me, my space or my time, to say something everyone might understand, vague but universal and singularly tied to emotion. I believe we all understand happiness and the desire for love, even if sometimes complexity and history make it difficult to accept this. Moments like this are all something we can agree on.
Molina, Maria D., et al. "“Fake news” is not simply false information: a concept explication and taxonomy of online content." American behavioral scientist 65.2 (2021): 180-212.
Elias Caro, Jorge Enrique, & Vidal Ortega, Antonino. (2012). The worker's massacre of 1928 in the Magdalena Zona Bananera - Colombia. An unfinished story. Memorias: Revista Digital de Historia y Arqueología desde el Caribe, (18), 22-54. Retrieved December 05, 2021, from http://www.scielo.org.co/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1794-88862012000300003&lng=en&tlng=en.