Beaziyt Worcu’s flags project is the continuation of research initiated in 2016, initially conceived as an archive in the form of a printed book. This publication examines the significance of the flag as a symbolic form of resistance in various political movements. Bez was commissioned by Testing Grounds to produce a series of flags for display around the site extending from this publication; the end result creatively re-presents through striking typography the symbols, gestures, and politics surrounding key moments of the past century.
Outline of the project
It’s difficult to imagine the events that characterise human history without the presence of symbols and flags. These instruments of political resistance, national pride, of occupation, act as mirrors, preserving and reflecting the beliefs and aspirations of its people.
‘forms of resistance’ is concerned with political gestures. These gestures are performed in the relationship between the flag an the actions of the flag bearer. By exploring this relationship the aim is to illuminate an alternative way of mapping the trajectory of the political activity of human society.
In 2017, Testing Grounds commissioned Bez to produce four typographic banners in response to the research publication specifically for the Testing Grounds site. The flags were screen printed in collaboration with Melbourne based designer, Andrew Clapham. The project was also supported by the RMIT Print Imaging Practice, and by Richard Harding.
A condensed version of the publication is available to download here.
Communications and Operations Manager Trent Griffiths sat down with the artist to talk through the evolution of the project idea, the histories it references, and the design process…
Interview, 22 June 2017
Testing Grounds: Did you have in mind a life for the project beyond the research stage?
Beaziyt Worcu: I didn’t really have the idea that I would show it anywhere, but I did always think it would continue to grow and develop. Essentially we only had six weeks to do the project, which is really not enough time to complete anything, let alone this sort of archive. And I’m still finding images that I think can fit in the publication.
At the beginning I knew it wasn’t going to be this conclusive project. It wasn’t going to answer all my questions, and I was comfortable with that. For me it was a very subjective idea, just in the fact that I was using terms like ‘political gesture’ and even ‘forms of resistance’ can be a really subjective thing. So although it’s an archive, it’s an intensely personal one, and a lot of the narratives in there are things that I personally connect to.
TG: So how did your research evolve? Did you follow your nose or was there a more systematic approach?
BW: I started off looking at the Whitney Smith book Flags Through the Ages and Across the World, and then I wrote down historical movements that I knew of, and I followed those, and after I looked at five or six of the movements I knew of a rabbit hole opened up, and I just went digging everywhere. It wasn’t really methodical in any clear sense.
TG: How did you decide when you were down the rabbit hole which examples to come out with?
BW: The chapters of the [Smith] book were a guide or a constraint for what I allowed in the publication, so if an example fit in one of the chapters I included it. The chapters were ‘desecrate’, ‘appropriate’, ‘generate’, and ‘provoke’; that was the guiding framework from about halfway through my research. Initially I was just collecting all of the images; there was no filtering, I was just collecting any images that had to do with a flag. But then through that research – about halfway through – I began to see a pattern and went back to the book.
TG: How did the making of the flags themselves – the production process – change how you felt about the research?
BW: Well first off, the process was screen printing, which is a process that Millie [Cattlin] suggested at the beginning of our discussions as a way to speak to the nature of a lot of the movements and the protests I talk about.
Joe [Norster] said at one stage, when everything was going wrong during the printing process, he was joking that this is why the revolution never happened – because it was so fucking hard to just print some flags! It was really unanticipated the amount of setbacks Andrew [Clapham] and I had: how hard it was ordering the ink; realising our screens were too small; or the exposure unit was too small for the screen printing frame; or Andy having to literally shave down the silk screen frame so it would fit into the unit – all these little things that ended up pushing out the project.
I’m not sure it did change how I felt about the other part of the project. I feel like the research process and the making process were so different, there’s a separation there.
TG: How did you choose the four flags that you ended up printing?
BW: Purely in visual sense, it had to fit the format of the flag, so it couldn’t have been one word, because it just wouldn’t work typographically – the type would have been stretched so tall that it wouldn’t read. The second criterion was that it had to have a direct correlation to a moment encapsulated in one of the images in the archive. So the flag “The Sovereign States You Represent Divide Us And Lead Us To The Abyss of Total War” is referencing an interview with Garry Davis, the leader of the World Citizen Party, who was advocating for a borderless world. And the Party had this flag showing an abstract person stretched out walking within a yellow circle. There’s an image in the Whitney Smith book of Davis holding the flag up, and somewhere in the back of the photo really really small you can see the American flag on a building. So my flag is a response to that interview and that image.
And I tried to pick cases that were the most interesting to me – the stories that I would talk about with my friends.
TG: It’s also interesting that you went for a purely text-based response to the designs…
BW: I didn’t want to impose too much on the work. Initially I didn’t know if I should do this project – the archive is the archive, and it was a project that had this one life in the book. And so I was questioning whether I should bring something else into existence, especially when the politics they reference are such sensitive topics…
To me typography is a way of communicating without imposing – it says what it says, and it is up to the person looking at it to make up their own mind what the implications are.
But with the examples referenced in this project: there’s a moment that occurs, which is the protest, and there’s a visual symbol, and that visual symbol is the flag, and maybe there’s a verbal element or chant – like “This we swear, this we swear, we will no longer be slaves” was chanted during protests while people were cutting circles out of the Hungarian flag. So there’s a verbal symbolism and a visual symbolism, and my response to these symbols is typography because it kind of brings both things together. It’s a translation of those different kinds of communication.
Each of the moments I’m starting from are a marrying of different kinds of symbolism, and [typography] for me was a way to explore those moments but not be in it – I didn’t want to be a part of it or try to create another form of resistance. It gives a separation.
TG: There are some interesting links design-wise between your publication and the flags, especially how the cover of the publication uses typography – how the content starts on the cover. Graphically it is very beautiful – it announces its subject matter as a design-related – while also starting to communicate information straight away, which parallels with how the flags work in terms of graphics and content. Is that in mind when you were designing the flags?
BW: I didn’t really think about the cover [of the book] in that way. I didn’t care so much if it was visually interesting – I just wanted it to start on the cover.
BW: Because I didn’t want to design a cover! I don’t think most books need a cover – they should say what they have to say. Most covers are trying to do too much. But that’s just my own design thing…
In terms of the relationship between the book and the flags, I think what was guiding the visual design of the flag was that I knew I wanted it to be purely typographic, because the design of the book was also mainly typographic. And then it was a matter of what typeface I could use on this format that was going to work. And really, there were like three fonts are going to work for this, because it’s such an awkward format, and if you used anything other than an ultra condensed font it wasn’t going to work.
And so I used this font, which is super squashed, but even then it was too wide to fit all of the type on it, so I had to condense it even more myself manually. Which you’re never really supposed to do – it’s kind of shunned – but that was really the only way that I could make it work, to stretch and condense the type.
So the main link between the book and the flags is the format, and the background brown colour [on one of the flags], which is the same colour as the cover of the book.
I probably don’t see the link so much because I don’t think about it – that’s just how I want things to be communicated. It’s just the way that I work.
TG: What would you do differently if you could do the whole project again.
BW: I’d spend more time on it. I would spend a year doing research instead of six weeks. And I would definitely have a more rigorous timeline, because a lot of it was me just jumping into each stage – I jumped into the research and in six weeks it was done, then I jumped into the flag making which was a really quick process, even though it dragged out in the end! I probably would have planned more, because I didn’t really understand what the scope of the project was. And when it came time to ordering materials and printing the flags, there were so many surprises that I had no awareness of…
I would have planned more.
But in terms of the visuals – how it looks – I wouldn’t change anything.
TG: Materials wise, this is the first time you’d work with screen printing?
BW: To this scale, yes. Andy [Clapham] helped a lot with the materials, with the paint – just logistically how are we going to get a screen to the welders, who is going to weld it, how big is the screen going to be, what mesh count is the mesh going to be, where are we actually going to print it. Andy studies at RMIT so luckily we could use the screen printing studio there.
In terms of the flag material, I knew that I wanted it to be just an artist canvas. Because: 1) it had to be somewhat weatherproof, 2) it had to be able to be screen printed onto easily, and 3) to me I just associate canvas with those movements, because – not all the time, but some of the time – it was just a fabric like canvas or a bedsheet that these protest flags were printed onto. And a bedsheets probably wouldn’t have worked for this! And it’s also that canvas is – I’m not a painter, but I know canvas, it’s familiar.
It was a big learning experience, but it was absolutely worth it.