TPT 2009 text: Zdeno Kolesár

Zdeno Kolesár
Curator of the Trnava Poster Triennial 2009 (A1, A2 Categories)

Source: Catalogue TPT 2009


TPT 2009

In 1991, when the Trnava Poster Triennial was engendered in Trnava, the world of graphic design was experiencing a digital revolution. Designers replaced their pencils, brushes, scissors, and glue with monitors and versatile points. In 1991, the world computer network came into existence and it became more and more evident that the Internet would take the lead role within the media of visual communication information, a role once played by the poster. The first year of the triennial was chamber-like. It contained only the works of local artists and emerged as the initiative of a small group of Slovak graphic design “classicists”, twenty years overdue as a result of a smothering totalitarian regime. Almost two decades have since passed, with graphic design technique having shifted to an entirely new level and the means of the structure of visual communication changing. The poster, however, despite pessimistic predictions, has not disappeared; similar to printing a book or hanging a picture.

A sincere effort to vindicate the “analogue” poster’s right to life in the digital age can be felt in the catalogue writings of curators and organizers, over the past six years of the Trnava triennial. Fortunately, the poster proved again to be resilient just as in the time of its birth. Although not experiencing a new golden age, it is still an exclusive discipline among graphic design. The time has likely arrived to relinquish the defensive position and recognize the poster as a medium, the purposes of which have indeed changed, but still necessary for the normal functioning of the graphic designer profession. Therefore, let us contemplate the current role of graphic design in society and the poster’s place as its oldest discipline.

What exactly is the sense of graphic design? To market a product or service, to craft it, make it digestible for the audience or perhaps something more? As far back as the 19th century, the concept of “design for profit” has had many critics. The number is growing nowadays, when a great mass of graphic designers obediently fulfils the demands of marketing pragmatics and clients, only a few of which can be considered enlightened. Attention is called to the fact that graphic design has become a powerful weapon, which when directed precisely, has the potential to actively access the basic civilizing processes. Designers are not required to be mere passive servants of commercialism, or even to narrow to an effective mediation of important information. They can become critical “conveyors” of instructions for positive alignment of human thinking towards a higher responsibility. They accomplish this, thanks to the spirit of their profession that consists of the ability to synthesize impulses from a wide variety of areas of human life. Graphic designers – intellectually emerge sideways from mainstream graphic design, who, rather than having closely defined roles within the client-designer relation, deal with serious issues of the present and the future.

For many producers today, design is a medium for showcasing personal confessions thus conceptualizing the originally strict use of the art’s discipline. The designer refrains from limiting himself to the transfer of information; his utterance is a matter thereof. Recent periods are characterized by a blurring of the border between free and utilitarian art styles. In “high art”, artists capitalize designer strategies in order to step out towards a standard audience, while designers strengthen the communication potential of their projects through means that were once reserved for free art disciplines. And it is the poster that is a legitimate representative of such tendency within graphic design. There is no need to demur to the fact that many posters exhibited at the Trnava triennial have never “seen the street” and are more a gallery production constructed of a minimal number of pieces.

The “academicism” of contemporary posters reflects the effort of their creators to reinforce their high professional status. Today’s world of graphic design is full of ambitious non-professionals. Many of them, however, lack both education and creative talent. Let’s imagine that in the mid-19th century that half the population of cities had the chance to create and display their posters in the street. “Designing” accessibility today has a positive impact on democratization and new graphic design vitality. On the other hand, it’s accompanied by a decline in professional standard. In this situation, the poster becomes a protector of graphic design quality. It enables top designers to demonstrate a masterful level of merging letters and pictures, to prove that whoever owns a computer with “pre-chewed” software solutions does not automatically become a graphic designer. The importance given to posters is proof of the fact that scarcely any school fails to involve posters within their teaching of graphic design although many graduates do not master this medium in practice. And students enjoy measuring their intellect and creative skills within the poster format, which is proven by the numerous posters received in the student poster category by this year’s triennial.

If we mentioned at the beginning that in spite of the sceptics’ predictions the poster survived, as did printing, books or picture hanging, let’s mention another reason for its continuing history. The digital world is dynamic, moving, alive and amusing, but it is also superficial, unstable and very transient. And man longs for a more profound idea, solid groundwork, tradition. Computer ‘zeros and ones’ are like smoke that disappears, but printing and the poster remain a testament to human history. The poster is perhaps like an old man – worn out, motionless, sometimes boring, but he knows a lot and is worth listening to.