It’s not you, it’s me! Lucienne Roberts exhibits her break-up letter to graphic design
“Graphic design is always political”: The activist-designer takes to Berlin to declare her love for her long-term partner, but also to voice her fears for its future.
- Dalia Al-Dujaili
- 24 September 2021
It’s not you, it’s me: the likelihood is, you’ve either said it yourself or been on the receiving end. Either way, the phrase usually involves two lovers. For Lucienne Roberts, it’s not being directed at another person, but instead her practice. Part critique, part provocation, and part celebration of graphic design and what it can do, Perhaps it’s not you, it’s me is her new show at A–Z space in Berlin.
Roberts’s show aims to take visitors on an intensely personal journey from early utopian zeal to dystopian dilemma, and back again. “I hope visitors laugh and then perhaps cry... or at least mull on a few troubling things with open hearts and minds,” explains the designer and co-founder of GraphicDesign&. “My love letter to Graphic Design,” she continues, “uses all the old cliches – ‘I still love you but...’ – because that’s how I feel. I don’t want to break up, but big change is clearly necessary and I don’t know what the implications of that might be.”
Roberts doesn’t just make any work: the designer is committed to making accessible work with a socially and environmentally aware agenda. She has, since the beginning of her practice, been an ally to accessible, engaging graphic design and she specialises in design for the voluntary, charity and arts sectors. “I’ve always been interested in the ethics around what we do and right now it feels all the more pressing to evaluate graphic design from this perspective,” she tells us. “My letter of course says what I absolutely know to be true, that the communication of messages, ideas, dreams is hugely important – making graphic design an important act.”
However, Roberts stresses that this practice comes with responsibility. She asks if it is actually possible to make enough money to live as a graphic designer without ‘selling out,’ for example. “If the only way to do ethically ‘good’ work is to subsidise it by doing ‘bad’, surely that doesn’t work. Then there’s our relationship with climate change... that the system that supports us is the problem.”
Roberts believes that graphic design is always political. She sees it as inextricable from the issues we face in the world today. Despite loving her practice, she realised that “much graphic design promotes and supports a system that is destroying the planet we call home,” she says. “So, how should we respond as makers, friends, families, citizens of the world? What should we do – and stop doing? And what does this mean for the (still young) profession that I love so very much.” What Roberts refers to is the economic system which sees much creativity and design used as a means for increasing profit.
To increase the feeling of intimacy present in any relationship, the gallery is set up like a bedroom. “On the bedside tables are various books – some are published by GraphicDesign& but most are not. They’re clues about what’s preoccupying me right now, what prompted the letter,” says Roberts. “Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics; Michael Rosen’s A Story of Life, Death and the NHS; Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman; Mackenzie Pringle’s America America; Supermundane’s Song for Today and Régis Marodon’s Financing Our Common Future in the Time of Covid-19. A mixed bag but essentially all about the same thing. What system change will make the world a better place – and what does that mean for the profession that I love so very much?” The duvet cover in the show carries what looks like a set of hieroglyphs but are actually the initials YALTD, standing for ‘You’re A Long Time Dead’: “This installation is my first You’re A Long Time Dead project.”
It was challenging for Roberts, she admits, that she didn’t know the answer to many of the question she poses, that she was trying to be honest, and that this project made her vulnerable. The exhibition is on at Berlin’s A–Z space and runs until 4 November, with the artist’s thanks to Bartmann Beds.
GalleryLucienne Roberts: Perhaps It’s Not You, It’s Me (Copyright © A–Z, 2021)
Lucienne Roberts: Perhaps It’s Not You, It’s Me (Copyright © A–Z, 2021)
About the Author
Dalia is a freelance writer, producer and editor based in London. She’s currently the digital editor of Azeema, and the editor-in-chief of The Road to Nowhere Magazine. Previously, she was news writer at It’s Nice That, after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh.