Seeing design as a language in itself, Swiss-born designer Jonas Berthod makes great work that balances humour and depth, with a vast frame of reference. Jonas finds “playgrounds in both the high and low, the constructed and the natural,” noting the “bricks” of language and sound in Dada poetry as well as camo-print Foxtons Mini Coopers and the social construct of “realness,” which rose out of Jenny Livingston’s 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning.
As well as his freelance work and teaching the Critical History of Graphic Design at ECAL, Jonas is a good two-thirds of the way through the RCA Visual Communication course. His primary dictat is learning the rules in order to break them – thinking laterally and finding new ways to apply your skill-set, be that graphic design or otherwise.
Having just shown in the work in progress exhibition, Jonas talked me through The Brick, a project about social and housing issues in London. He took bricks as a signifier of the potential impact of ongoing vandalism directed at new developments that price out long-standing communities. Jonas developed a series of posters that considered forms of protest and political language, based on Tyvek banners. Tyvek is a protective material used to prevent the impact of humidity when building houses. “They use words like slogans, obviously not advertising a product but rather the tension rising in our system,” he explains.
The first banner, Real Estate Realness is a play on terms: the obvious real estate/estate crossover in relation to the housing crisis, and “realness” taken from “executive realness,” and the act of playing a role that society denies you access to. The reference is from Paris Is Burning, a film chronicling the drag ball culture of 1980s New York and the African-American, Latino, gay and transgender communities involved in it. Jonas has also borrowed the estate agent Foxtons’ “camo”, a company that “tries to be all nice and cool with the horrible lounges from year 2000…they have these cars everyone hates and branded with a camo pattern, it’s like reverse realness.”
Hot Potato utilises a fantastic image of Boris Johnson faux-lobbing a brick amongst imagery of the 1980s Brixton riots. The term hot potato plays on the close-to national sport of politicians throwing around issues like housing and the related social riots, as well as the act of lobbing bricks.
Make or Break references the dreamlands sold through the websites and advertising of developers, set against the 2011 Tottenham riots. It utilises the drama in both, and sets up a tension you’d expect from a trailer for a Hollywood blockbuster thriller.
Keep Your Blinds Down is the conclusion to the project, and a comment on George Osborne’s popular quote that it “is unfair that people… going out to work see the neighbour next door with the blinds down because they are on benefits.” Keeping your blinds down can of course denote a number of circumstances, be that energy saving, shift working or disability. Here, Jonas is suggesting a unity in refusing the stereotype of such basic, everyday habits.
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