The Fall-out of the Glitterati
Amsterdam, June 2011
It was less than an hour after the earthquake, when the first waves hit the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. The 14 meter high waves overwhelmed the 10 meter seawall, and flooded the generators causing the cooling systems to fail. It was the first act of the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1989. Less than three months later, a group of graphic designers organized an exhibition inside a former nuclear shelter in Amsterdam.
Weeks earlier, I had found an old publication from the cold war era in abandoned apartments nearby. De wenken (Warnings) was a small booklet designed by Jurriaan Schrofer in 1961 for the Dutch government to prepare citizens for a nuclear attack. The publication gave ridiculous instructions like hiding under desks during a nuclear attack. Writer Harry Mulisch immediately wrote a parody, further ridiculing the already unpopular Bescherming Bevolking (population protection) institute responsible for national preparation in case of an attack.
Fast forward to 2011, at a former nuclear shelter in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam. The Vondelbunker was part of a nationwide construction program of fall-out shelters. Contrary to common belief, fall-out shelters do not protect people from a nuclear attack, but are designed to keep people alive during the nuclear fall-out afterwards. At this fall-out shelter the exhibition would be held.
When I was invited to design promotional materials for the event, I immediately thought about the recent discussion about nuclear power after the Fukushima incident. The show was titled ‘The Future is So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades’, after a popular song from 1986 by Timbuk3. The chosen song speaks about a nuclear scientist hoping to make big money through his studies. Set in a former nuclear shelter, titled after a 1980s nuclear protest song, it was clear nuclear energy had to be part of the exhibition’s promotional design.
The first image that comes to mind about nuclear energy is the ‘smiling sun’ icon from the 1970s protests. Used in many countries, the logo was first designed in Denmark for the Organisationen til Oplysning om Atomkraft by designer Anne Lund. A red image of smiling sun was accompanied with the text Atoomenergie? nee bedankt (Atomic energy? no thanks). It has become one of those graphic icons that are very powerful and still used today for protests against nuclear energy. I adopted this famous smiling sun, but I gave it a new look for this exhibition.
Clouds of Glitter
Despite all the references to end of the world scenarios and nuclear distaster, the designers are a talented and joyful bunch, and a graduation show is always exciting. So I decided to interpret the event as a glitter fallout. Besides its obvious use in celebrations, glitter has become a LGBT protest meme with the ‘glitter bomb’, where glitter is thrown at politicians that speak out against gay rights. Using glitter as a weapon for protest is a brilliant tactic, and it relates to the work of the designers in the exhibition whose projects are politically related.
The poster design featured particle typography hidden in dark clouds, with a layer of gold glitter on each silkscreened poster. The main image re-establishes the idea of nuclear fall-out, as a glamorous apocalyptic explosion of festivities, using glitter as material. The sensation of hazardous stardust of graduating talents unleashed on the world.
Commissioned by the Sandberg institute. Printing by drukkerij SSP and Kees Maas at the Rietveld Academy.
VPRO, NPO Geschiedenis (Dutch only)