Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Exhibition: The Seattle-Havana Poster Show (2007)

The Seattle-Havana Poster Show is an exhibition of contemporary screen printed posters from, uh, Seattle and Havana that debuted at the Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle in 2007. The show was organized by myself and Seattle-based graphic designer (and Creative Manager at Starbucks) Daniel Smith, along with two curators based in Havana: Pedro Contreras Suárez of El Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales and Pepe Menéndez, Design Director of Casa de las Américas. The show is currently gearing up to travel to Havana, Cuba, where it will be on display at El Centro de Dessarollo de las Artes Visuales from April 17 - May 17, 2008. More information on the show itself (besides this post) can be found at the exhibition website.

The show concept was initiated by Dan Smith, who had travelled a few times to Cuba for pleasure and as part of a graphic design conference. During his time there, he met with several graphic designers and the seed idea for the show was germinated.

Dan contacted me because I had curated several shows on music posters (Paper Scissors ROCK: 25 Years of NW Punk Poster Design (2003) and the Art of Modern Rock (2005/6)) and I just happen to co-own a screenprinting shop. In any case, I was to be the Seattle guy and Dan was to be the Cuban guy, and Pedro and Pepe were to be our Cuban experts (and future lead curators when this travels to Havana in 2008).

There was no particular reason to feature these two cities except for the fact that both of them have vibrant screen printed poster scenes, although seemingly for very different reasons. In Seattle, screen printing is not an inexpensive process (xeroxed flyers are much more economical) and the posters are often created not really to advertise an event (almost always a music concert) but more as commodities that are sold to fans of the bands that have played at the show. This is obvious, at least to me, in the way that typography is often dealt with in Seattle posters -- since they aren't usually used to advertise, there is no need for all of the relevant text (bands/dates/venue/price) to be prominent and large, as they would be with posters with a primary purpose to advertise. Seattle posters, for the most part, serve as fairly free-form creative canvases for the designer.

In Havana, screen printing is one of the most affordable methods of printing. Strangely enough, the Cuban government largely doesn't allow the posters to be posted in the city, so most of the screen prints in Havana are seen only at the event they would have advertised. Many of these posters are created for cultural events -- not music as much as film series, exhibitions, etc.

Dan and I decided that our approach would be to meld the two cities visually. We found visual similarities between individual Seattle and Havana posters, and displayed them together, always in a Seattle poster/Havana poster pair. We also had four focus areas, where we featured individual artists in either city, that we thought deserved a closer look.

One aspect that we planned from the beginning was large-scale maps of each city, indicating prominent artists' studios with associated artist bios, venues, and other serigraphic hotspots. These maps would be projected onto a wall with an overhead projector (and standard McMurray exhibition trick), traced, and painted. Any text or precision elements would be added in vinyl.

At first we envisioned literal maps, but we soon realized that they would most likely be unrecognizeable to most people (not to mention really difficult to execute with the time and people available), so we decided on thematic maps. So, the United States became a cow, and Cuba a swordfish. Below is a horrible photo of me (white shirt) in front of a half-finished U.S. map with artist Devon Varmega in the foreground.

We also wanted to have a projected slideshow where we could feature Dan's copious photos of Havana and photos of artists and studios in Seattle.

Below is the United States map, indicating Seattle at the rump. Devon Varmega's posters on the right.

The Cuban map (apparently inspiring amorous feelings in the audience):

One wall of the gallery featuring the poster pairs

In order to show how screen printing works, we featured two sets of progressive proofs, which show the poster as each color layer is printed. This shows how designers use color order, trapping, and ovelapping colors to create their designs. The poster featured below is the exhibition poster, created by a design collective in Havana called Grupo Camaleon.

An artist focus section (below) featuring famed Pacific NW designer Art Chantry. The King of Hawaii pumpkin poster is actually printed onto a copper foil sheet!

Designer Andrio Abero standing in front of his Death Cab for Cutie poster.

The exhibition was only ran for less than a week -- the length of the Bumbershoot Festival. Portions of the exhibition were then shown at three branches of the Cafe Verite coffeeshops in Seattle (Verite is one of the exhibition sponsors). As I said above, the exhibition is going to travel to Cuba in March of 2008. Dan and I are planning to create a catalog featuring all of the designers' work to further the cultural exchange.

The framing devices I made out of plexiglas and a compressed plastic sheeting called sintra. I created them for a previous exhibition (The Art of Modern Rock) and reused them for this show. The plex and sintra were cut to size on a table saw, paired together and drilled with spaced holes. Once the posters were installed in the frames (the were held in position along the bottom edge of the posters by transparent photo corners) the frames were screwed directly into the walls. There were spacers behind the frames so that they stood out from the wall just so. The screws meant that install took a while, but it also was instant security. You'd have to tear down the walls to steal a poster.

Maybe I'll see you in Havana in April!