TPT 2006 text: Vladimír Beskid

Paradoxical world of the “eyewitness”

Dr. Vladimír Beskid
director of Jan Koniarek Gallery in Trnava
Source: catalogue TPT 2006

The story of the international Trnava Poster Triennial (thereinafter referred to as TPT) begun 15 years ago – in 1991. It was a time when the ideologically imposed political poster lost its dominant status and simultaneously a time when the torrent of commercials, billboards, mega-boards, mass-media and digital technologies hit our world.

I still perceive the poster as an “eyewitness” to that period – the period is a part of its history. The poster can mirror the time of its origin directly, report its main ideas and desires and transcribe them into symbols, in a condensed and understandable manner. Moreover, it often becomes a catalyst of the creative sphere – it helps to retroactively define the visual thinking in a particular period and its key features, codes and self-delusions. Nowadays it can be perceived as a static medium, because more and more often moving pictures, “images on the screen” play a dominating role. The accumulation of still bigger, glaringly coloured and faster changing commercials, dazzles us with images, which results in insensitivity, non-creativity, more stereotypes and clichés. We are becoming accustomed to living in this visually crammed but ideas lacking world. Out of the insistent appeal or street message remains only wallpaper, hum or the noisy clash of information (the shift from wall-message to wallpaper, from info-wall to “info-war”).

Today’s poster also has the quality of “an eyewitness” to our times. It reflects our societal and political problems, crisis territories and topical messages. It has its heroes and anti-heroes, its features and symbols. The past years of the triennial introduced a “fresh dialogue” between two stuck-out tongues, with careless writing in the background (Stefan Sagmeister: Fresh Dialogue, TPT 2000), a fork with a raised “middle-finger” (Michal Gabriž: Fast Food, TPT 2003), a clenched fist of a worker and its shadow in the shape of an irreverent gesture meaning “up yours” (Erik Beltran: Mexico _98, TPT 2000) a moderate-looking and smiling housewife with an armful of products, their packaging read: success, power, sex, money (Marion Schneider, TPT 2003), a green fighter plane in the shape of a Christmas tree, with its warheads of burning candles with the inscription “Merry Christmas!” underneath (Lex Drewinski: Merry Christmas! (Chechnya), TPT 2003) and the laconic inscription Computer, where the letters “o” and “m” form a pair of police handcuffs (Jacek Mrowczyk: Computer, TPT 2000) etc.

These examples show that metaphors and paradoxes are often found in posters, even though I think that there is a paradox in it:
– the poster originated in cities as a street language, therefore it is and forever will be a “streetstyler“, but there again, when brought into the neutral space of a “white cube“ museum space, willingly or not, at that instant it turns into a museum exhibit, which, of course, is in sharp contrast to its nature and function
– the term non-commercial poster is often and commonly used, even though the poster is a typical example of art on order, be it an advertising, political, or underground poster, or a poster that offers a new product, belief, religion or opinion of a minority subculture
– the poster is supposed to be clear, understandable, communicative, and addressed, it should appeal to a wide spectrum of audiences, to the mass market, but then again it is supposed to come up with new and unusual designs, authentic symbols, new forms and language

The history of the poster, which begun in the 19th century with colour lithography and developed into contemporary full-colour digital prints with high resolution and wide usage (in the past the techniques of serigraphy and offset were employed), prove that the poster is still a strong rival despite all traps and media power plays. The poster became a powerful visual phenomenon of the 20th century (similarly to film) and though its origins can be traced back to the industrial urban environment, it also quickly gains ground in electronic environs. Slovakia‘s biggest exhibition of contemporary poster, the Trnava Poster Triennial belongs to significant like-oriented events in the world.
It is a presentation of new trends and changes in the scene of contemporary poster world-wide. Organisers of the triennial face the question: how to shape the future of this event to preserve its tradition and continuity, but at the same time to make it open and reflecting the diverse approaches and strategies in the field of visual communication.
At the end, let me express my sincere thanks to all co-organisers, media partners, foreign cultural institutes, members of the preparation committee, members of the International Jury and to all others without which the event could not have taken place.
I wish you a lovely and edificatory excursion to the world of the contemporary poster…