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robertogreco : rosequartz   1

The Propaganda of Pantone: Colour and Subcultural Sublimation — LOKI
"Questions of representation are central to the practice of graphic design. An understanding of who we are speaking for, and who we are speaking to, is the starting point of any design brief. It is through this role of mediation, expressed as aesthetic form, that design enacts its power and responsibility. However, this mediation often happens uncritically, guided by a designer’s intuition, stylistic trends, and the instrumental framework of marketing and PR concerns. A multiplicity of factors, conscious and unconscious, play into a designer’s aesthetic choices of imagery, typography, composition and colour. And as much as some might argue to the contrary, none of these choices are neutral.

In the case of colour, Pantone Inc. holds incredible influence with their increasingly marketed and mediatised Colour of the Year campaigns. Purportedly determined through a prescient reading of the cultural zeitgeist (by a select cabal of colour specialists), it is important to understand that the company, and the industry it serves, have their own specific interests and agendas that drive these selections. Pantone’s choice of “Rose Quartz” and “Serenity” as the 2016 Colour of the Year is the most insidious move by this colour-industrial-complex since “Blue Iris” in 2008. As with “Blue Iris”, Pantone has once again mined the subcultural landscape and used their monopoly within the creative industries to propagate their colour properties to the world.

From IK Blue to Blue Iris

Pantone was on point in 2008, presenting a slightly muted version of the IK Blue (International Klein)/RGB Blue trend that evolved out of the Dutch “default design” approach of the early 2000s. Default design advocated against the smooth surfaces of graphic professionalism, employing low-res imagery, system fonts, crude layouts, and the standard web link hex-colour #0000FF. It incorporated a self-referential criticism into its aesthetic, and the prominent use of RGB Blue became a clear signifier of this. The colour was carried forward with the emergence of a vaguely defined “critical graphic design” aesthetic, shifting between Default, IK, and Reflex Blue, and it was often used monochromatically, in large flat swathes that were both vivid and jarring.

Though IK Blue and RGB Default Blue are not the same, their intense visceral effect is similar, stemming from the colours’ physical/digital materiality; Klein’s blue was unique due to the synthetic resin binder which allowed the pigment to maintain its clarity, whereas Default Blue is as pure a blue as the RGB spectrum can achieve. Referenced in William Gibson’s 2010 novel Zero History, the character Hubertus Bigend has a suit made entirely of material in IK Blue. He states that he wears this because the intensity of the colour makes other people uncomfortable, and because he is amused by the difficulty of reproducing the colour on a computer monitor. Gibson, an astute cultural observer, used this reference to acknowledge its avant-garde popularity while pointing to the inherent subversive quality of the colour.

The mainstreaming of “Blue Iris” by Pantone softened the subversive punch of IK Blue (which by 2008 was already an identifiable commodity in contemporary art and fashion circles), further bolstering its popularity amongst designers and the consumer population at large.

Rose Quartz and Serenity

“Rose Quartz” and “Serenity” (hereafter abbreviated as RQ+S) present a far more nefarious situation. There’s no doubt that Pantone’s trend forecasters/cool hunters are once again on point (much more so than last year’s Marsala), yet anyone who has spent a little too much time on Tumblr over the last few years probably could have seen this coming. The tonal pink and blue palette has been growing exponentially in popularity online since the emergence (circa 2010-11), purported death (circa 2012), and expanding influence of the micro-cultures of Seapunk, and its successor, Vaporwave, as part of a more broadly defined subculture of internet-fuelled art employing what can be described as a Tumblr aesthetic.

The popular use of these colours, and specifically their combined usage, has emerged out of a tumultuously contested subcultural space. Pantone’s conceptual framing of RQ+S is disingenuous at best, and once one digs a little deeper, can be seen to represent a clearly reactionary political force."



"Vaporwave: The Jester in the King’s Court

Vaporwave has been hailed as Seapunk’s successor, though it actually emerged in parallel, with less dolphins, and a more mature theoretical grounding. The dolphins have been replaced by renderings of the assorted detritus of techno-capitalism; anachronistic corporate logos, dead media formats, GUI elements, and perspective grids. Musically, the genre samples and remixes the corporate soundscape; elevator and on-hold music, the piped-in pop of shopping malls and office lobbies, smooth jazz, easy listening and motivational new age harmonies. Vaporwave differentiates itself from Seapunk through its critical self-awareness, and it is far more intentional in how it employs its parodic kitsch aesthetics. It is darkly cynical and sickly sweet, exemplified by artist and label names such as The Pleasure Centre, New Dreams Ltd., Fortune 500, Business Casual or Condo Pets.

Analysis of the genre points to Vaporwave operating within what can be described as an accelerationist framework; expanding, repurposing and exaggerating the technosocial processes of capitalism in order to provoke radical social change. Its saccharine caricature of corporate culture engages whole-heartedly with the alienating nostalgia of the post-authentic, playing the role of the jester in the king’s court, or acting as a hall of mirrors in the funhouse enclosures of capital. Its tactics have abandoned confrontational resistance to instead lubricate the symbolic ground upon which capitalism stands, and offer it a series of gentle, yet insistent, nudges.

In 2015, in a desperate attempt to stay relevant, MTV (a Viacom International Inc. company) rebranded with a full-on Vaporwave aesthetic and the Orwellian tagline “I am my MTV”. Undoubtedly counselled by agency customer-engagement experts it was as transparent as it was blatant. Their VMA campaign promos featured Miley Cyrus gesticulating in front of a green screen, enticing the public to fill in the blank(ness) with their unpaid labour. The crowd-sourced results feel tepid at best, with a significant percentage of the content created by agencies and design studios, most-likely commissioned by MTV. And within all of the internet-y visual chaos, a smooth and uniform surface reappears. In spite of this co-option, or perhaps due to it, the Vaporwave aesthetic continues to evolve and expand, within the not so hidden corners of subreddits, and to mutate and accelerate, parading on the front lines of fashion.

It is not my intention to ascribe any sort of authorial/authoritative origin story to this recombinant aesthetic. Popular style emerges from a confluence of tendencies and cultural currents. The lineage of afro-futurist visual culture and contemporary afro-punk fashion have had a significant influence on the development of this aesthetic. Singular artists such as MIA, with her groundbreaking 2005 album Arular and the entirety of her oeuvre since, also provides a prescient cultural touchstone. Japanese kawaii purikura (photobooths), and their viral app counterparts, exemplify how software tools are often indivisible from the aesthetic culture they create and contribute to. And within graphic design, the trajectory of Metahaven's work (and that of their Werkplaats acolytes), with its disordered and distorted forms, photoshop filters and powerpoint layouts, alongside healthy doses of IK Blue and digital debris, can be read as a palimpsest of the overlapping layers that have come to define the look and feel of these times."



"#aesthetic

Tumblr has proven to be a nurturing (though certainly not safe) space for the circulation of subcultural and counter-cultural interests, and the ideas and imagery of these feminist currents run in parallel, overlap and intersect with the aforementioned micro-cultures on the platform. Of course, the diversity of content posted on Tumblr is inherently limitless, yet nonetheless cohesive aesthetic tendencies emerge, reflecting the interests and aspirations of its most avid users. The term "aesthetic" itself has come to represent a specific genre of imagery on Tumblr that can be easily identified as the subcultural inspiration for RQ+S.

We are presented with a visual landscape of soft pinks and blues, a post-ironic poetics articulated through memes, digital art, selfies, and threaded "ask me anything" conversations. Taken as a whole, there is an undeniable ebullient softness to it, but roiling just beneath the surface is a crystalline anger directed at the way things are, be it gender normativity, the surveillance state, or good old-fashioned capitalist alienation. The emergence of this Tumblr #aesthetic represents the reclamation of symbolic vocabulary from the realm of commodity production, placing it back into the hands of the young, the feminine, the marginal."
aesthetics  art  design  culture  pantone  2016  2015  2008  mtv  webrococo  mia  softness  kawaii  afropunk  metahaven  williamgobson  ikb  internationalkleinblue  blue  seapunk  tumblr  subcultures  gra[hicdesign  graphics  rosequartz  blueiris  vaporwave  rgbdefaultblue  zerohistory  web  online  internet  vma  yvesklein 
march 2016 by robertogreco

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