4×3 poster project

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4×3 is an exhibition, a memory-bank, and a game. Conceived and organised by Xavier Meade and John Mandelberg, this project draws on the personal archives of four artist/designers who have been active in creating and collecting politically inspired posters during the past four decades: Chris McBride (Auckland), John Mandelberg (Hamilton), John Phillips (London) and Xavier Meade (Raglan). Our personal archives became both the subject, and content, of the game and the exhibition.

To start things off, Xavier invited each participant to propose a set of three posters from their private collection. We were subsequently ask to respond to each of these initial works by proposing another poster that in some way commented upon, or reflected the choices made by others. The exhibition 4X3, is the outcome of this enjoyable, intercontinental, time-travelling escapade, which, at times felt as close to a game of poker, as it did an act of collaborative curation.

All the participants, my-self included, were slow to reveal their hand. As designers, we each know all too well the trap of resolving ideas too speedily. It takes time, including hours rustling through plan chests and cardboard storage tubes, in search of that illusive image, half-remembered from decades past. Did I keep it, lend it, did it even exist in the first place? It would be a perfect match. It must be here somewhere. Oh, but then there’s this long-forgotten one. And it’s with the one I’m searching for! So, which to choose? I’d better sleep on it for a week. And meanwhile watch the others’ moves.

With each new addition, a collectively moulded jig-saw puzzle took shape. Are there deficits or omissions?  Yes. Does it matter? No.  Each poster is the gateway to a multitude of tales and myths. Sometimes, because of overlaps with our individual experience, these narratives are immediately obvious. These works reinforce our sense of who we are, and who and what we might, or might not, support. Once seen, they inhabit our private memories, and inform our points of view.  Other posters, addressing less familiar themes, present a dilemma. Is this something that I might care about? Do I even want to know? Say yes, and you will be drawn into another world. Say no, and even if you thought you didn’t want to, you will have been forced to take a stand.

While posters might represent different and possibly opposing interests, they are united in many ways. They are loud, gregarious and social. They are opinionated, vulnerable, ephemeral and bold, and always at their very best when saying NO. William Blake expressed this perfectly when he described ‘printing in the infernal method by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid.’ The majority of posters in this exhibition were not printed by Blake’s technique, which physically, and metaphorically, corrodes a surface in order to reveal an inner ‘truth’. They were however printed with his intention of burning through superficiality with the proposition that another world is possible.

When the 48th and final poster took its place in this collection, one particular game concluded, but others now begin. These are your games exploring possible connections, not just between the posters presented here, but between these and other images, and most importantly between the visual cacophony that daily drowns our thoughts, and the delicate lives we live. And as you explore the show, do bear in mind our moto: the hand that feeds you, always tastes the best!

John Phillips, londonprintstudio, June 2014