Kieran Yates reflects on a world, and a year, in flux
As we near the end of our look back at 2018, we’ve enlisted journalist, broadcaster and editor Kieran Yates to look back over the key moments which shaped the creative (and wider) world over the past 12 months. From logo-heavy football shirts to Love Island, these are some of the stories that got us talking.
The year began with a moment that had us all pining for a simpler time, a time not too long ago but still impossibly out of reach. Artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald unveiled their portraits of former US President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama, both pictures underlining the couple’s grace and integrity. This at a time when the world was bracing itself for another tumultuous year with Donald Trump in the White House. Since then, and perhaps unsurprisingly, power and protest have dominated the art and design world in 2018. From renewed discussions about difference to radical commentary on our political moments, everyone from brands to individual artists waded into discussions about power – with varying degrees of success.
In the UK we saw the centenary of the women’s vote, a bittersweet 70th anniversary of the Windrush generation, and the ceaseless unfurling of what noted contemporary philosopher Danny Dyer described as the “mad riddle” of Brexit. With great turbulence comes great creative responsibility, and activism presented itself in typography, design, illustration, photography and film across the board.
Big brands, too, spoke out across a number of issues by both piping up, and piping down. In May, WeTransfer suspended advertising for 48 hours to protest against gun violence, while Dazed Digital briefly quieted its site on World Mental Health Day to promote some calm.
That being said, not every corporate brainstorm made quite such an impact outside of the boardroom. Diet Coke got a “gender neutral and diverse” new look, and the less said about Brewdog’s attempt to cash in on International Women’s Day with a pink IPA (“for girls”) the better. Then there was the slightly odd ASMR-influenced, mindfulness-orientated platform launched by KFC. Oh, and Banksy did something criticising art or capitalism or commerce with a shredder or something.
2018 was a year of big anniversaries and we saw how to observe the past using the design tools of the present. Carl Godfrey celebrated 70 years of the mighty NHS by designing pin badges for the masses, while the scandal of the treatment of the Windrush generation dominated the political calendar this year, prompting new discussions about how to revere and chart the histories of communities of colour. Artists took up gallery space and institutions to make the point, Gaika creating a mammoth 30-foot sculpture recognising Jamaican sound systems at Somerset House. Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records took us on a journey of musical history and 100 MPs called on the government to act over a “serious funding crisis” facing Brixton’s Black Cultural Archives in October to secure its future. As Britain celebrated 100 years of the suffragette movement in Britain, an October campaign called LDN WMN invited non-binary artists and artists of colour, including Jasmin Sehra, Joey Yu and Jacob V Joyce to literally reclaim space, making work to honour historical figures through history and placing it around the city.
Then, of course, there was the summer. Remember summer? Remember when it was 30 degrees every day for about three months and it felt like happiness wasn’t an illusion sold to us via adverts for chocolate bars? You do? You’ll remember, then, Love Island (which we looked at through the lens of typography); Harry and Meghan’s wedding day (which Tracy Ma jazzed up for The New York Times; and the World Cup. The Three Lions were everywhere, you couldn’t move for replica Nigeria shirts, Wieden+Kennedy released a logo-heavy, Velcro-assisted strip, and for a dizzying day or two, it really did look like it was going to come home. Ah well, we’ll always have the ad campaigns.
Print publications defended their position in a digital world this year by leaning into what they do best – giving us moments of nostalgic thrill on covers that took readers on a sensory journey of the scent of printer ink and glossy paper. While the industry is in varying stages of decline and evolution, magazines and papers celebrated their USPs.
We saw Ru Paul embodying “Make Yourself Up” in March on the New York Times cover and transgender artist and model Sophie on the cover of Paper; David Shrigley illustrating exclusive wraparounds for The Evening Standard’s Love issue, The Gay Times debuting a historic snapshot of “Gaysian” Britain and the New York Times (them again) opened up commissions for a year-long art exhibition. Print was making the point that it wasn’t going any time soon. Perhaps none more so than The Guardian, who enjoyed a rebrand, launched a snazzy new-look weekly edition, or the strange fate of the Andy Warhol-founded Interview magazine which announced its closure in May but appeared on newsstands in September.
It wasn’t just print moving with modernity. This year captured the spirit of visible change with logo redesigns from Buzzfeed, Uber, Netflix, the BBC and Channel 4, all shaking up your aesthetic environments and saying it without having to actually say it: the old and new world order can find a way to share space.
Music, too, got wind that old world marketing might have run its course and Aphex Twin stepped out of his house in the middle of Elephant and Castle roundabout (my favourite urban myth) to get weird on the cover of Crack magazine with an augmented reality app, Massive Attack put their songs into a spray can (don’t ask), FKA Twigs released a motion graphic novel, Petra Collins directed a video for Cardi B, Bjork donned a stamen mask and blew our minds with Biophilia live, Beyoncé melted minds on the Coachella live stream and, well, there’s too many to mention but just take it from me that artists and musicians upped their game.
Active solutions to underrepresentation took on new energy this year sometimes by small actions making mighty statements. Bex Day and Nina Manandhar added transgender communities and people of colour to stock photography and activist Charlie Craggs “hijacked” the lobster emoji as a way into advocating for trans visibility, and OK, not quite small, but 14-foot-high billboards from Justice for Grenfell popped up in February demanding, well, justice. Beyoncé and Jay-Z led the way for decolonising the Louvre in their Apeshit video, Tyler Mitchell was the first black photographer to shoot a Vogue cover, and in March, Apple proposed 13 new emoji additions, as a starting point to make disability more visible.
So there we go – people spoke to a world in flux, stories untold made themselves heard, and power, politics and protest dominated the public discourse. Roll on 2019!
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