Extinction Rebellion’s Creative Resistance: Graphic Identity

We now move onto one of the most successfully creative political movements of contemporary protest: Extinction Rebellion(XR). As I did with the Occupy Movement, I’ll begin with a short description of the movement.

XR is, as defined by themselves, ‘an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to halt mass extinction and minimise the risk of social collapse'(1). Hitting international headlines, on 31st October 2019, they assembled in London to announce a Declaration of Rebellion against the UK government(2). Since, they have done this in capital cities all around the world including New York, Berlin, Sydney and Madrid. Unlike the Occupy Movement, they have a clear set of aims, principles, values and demands which all ‘rebels’ agree with(3). The movement has been at receiving end of a lot of criticism. In 2019 the South East Counter Terrorism Unit(UK) police authority listed XR, alongside neo-Nazi and Islamist terrorist groups, as a threat in a guide titled ‘Safeguarding young people and adults from ideological extremism’, but recalled and disavowed this guide after media inquiries(4). However, XR have said that their radical actions are necessary to provoke change just as social disruption has been used by past grassroots groups such as such as Occupy, the suffragettes and the civil rights movement. Like all of these past examples, XR also utilise the power of art within their work but how effective is their visual identity and can it really help provoke change whilst existing under a government which is ignoring the climate emergency?

Figure 1: NICHOLLS, HENRY, 2018. Protestor. [photo] From: BULLEN, JAMIE, 2019. Extinction Rebellion: Shell HQ windows smashed as climate protest blocks London roads 1. The Telegraph.[online] [viewed: 03/03/2020] Available from:
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/04/15/extinction-rebellion-activists-threaten-bring-london-standstill/

“We create work to keep spirits up and to sound the alarm. To de-escalate and to break denial.”

Kat Brendel(Extinction Rebellion’s London Arts Coordinator

GRAPHIC IDENTITY, ART BLOCKERS AND SUSTAINABLE SOURCES

Figure 2: XR, 2018. Extinction Rebellion Symbol. [design] From: EXTINCTION REBELLION, 2019. Extinction Rebellion: Home. Extinction Rebellion.[online] [viewed: 03/03/2020] Available from: https://rebellion.earth/

Like Occupy’s sinister mask and the 1960’s counter-cultural peace symbol, XR has a very cohesive symbol unifying its ‘rebels’ – the hourglass(Figure 2). This is a reminder to all who see it of the finite time we have to undo the damage we’ve done to our planet and the inevitable disaster that will result if we fail to. There is an urgency conveyed within the symbol, not only through the time-related motif but also in the bright green – a colour which is historically associated with the environment. The circle neatly encompassing the symbol pays homage to the ‘peace’ sign of the anti-nuclear movement while making it badge friendly(5).

The incredibly contemporary graphic quality embodied in the logo rejects the ‘hippy’ aesthetic of previous eco-warrior movements. Clive Russell, a member of Extinction Rebellion’s art group, told Dezeen magazine last year that ‘We needed to create a movement that looks radically different to all eco-movements previously, because they failed,’(6). The visual identity of these movements was eventually hijacked and co-opted by others, mutating it into a general code for flower power, morphing into haute couture fashion items(7). For the XR symbol designer, known only as the ‘Symbol Man'(8), there is still a fear that the logo will be capitalised on but it has been evidenced so far that the movement is protecting the symbol from appropriation(5).

As seen in the previous case of the Vendetta mask used by Occupy, sourcing is an incredibly important part of a movement’s integrity. XR seems to do this incredibly well. On their website there’s a plethora of visual print-outs; this includes, flyers, art blockers, posters, banners, stencils and placards(Figures 6)(9). This is at the core of their creative endeavor and is part of what they call the XR Art Blockers. There is a clear anti-consumerist agenda made clear through making XR a universally accessible visual identity. An obvious example of guerilla marketing, banners and posters are put up illegally, often using wheat paste as glue(for sustainability reasons)(Figure 4) or logos graffitied onto buildings using stencils provided found on the website. Blocker Bridget Turgoose says: We work tirelessly on the frontline of activism bringing colourful joy by printing rebellious garments whilst outreaching to the general public. Talking not only about the climate crisis science and solutions, but with our own personal journeys into Extinction Rebellion.’.(10)

All of the material can be embellished, thus providing a certain inclusivity as people from a wide variety of cultures or even just aesthetic tastes can engage with the cause. This can be seen in Hong Kong where they added an image of a pangolin, endangered scaly mammals which are killed in Africa and Asia for their meat and scales – a species threatened with extinction. During the London demonstrations of October 2018, XR rebels vandalised the Shell headquarters in London with banners, spray paint and posters, meaning there was so mistaken agenda – this was Extinction Rebellion and they wanted attention(Figure 3)(11). Connecting with the tranjent movement, XR Fashion Action(12), they proved that XR was their name and sustainability was their game by setting up ‘art stations’ at the protests where people could print the logo onto their own items, rather than buying new products. (Figure 5). This surely confirms as the ‘Symbol Man’s’ claim that, ‘No extinction-symbol merchandise exists, and it never will do.'(5)

I hope you enjoyed engaging with my creative shenanigans! If you so happened to find this topic interesting or have any questions/suggestions, I love a good chin-wag so please do get in touch. Thank you for reading!

REFERENCES

(1) EXTINCTION REBELLION, 2019. Extinction
Rebellion: About Us. Extinction Rebellion.[online] [viewed: 03/03/2020]
Available from:

https://rebellion.earth/the-truth/about-us/

(2)TAYLOR,
MATTHEW AND GAYLE, DAMIEN, GAYLE, 2019. Thousands
block roads in Extinction Rebellion protests across London.
.[online] [viewed: 03/03/2020] Available
from:

 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/15/thousands-expected-in-london-for-extinction-rebellion-protest

(3) EXTINCTION REBELLION, 2019. Extinction
Rebellion: The Truth-Demands. Extinction Rebellion.[online] [viewed:
03/03/2020] Available from:

 https://rebellion.earth/the-truth/demands/

(4)POLICY EXCHANGE, 2019. Extremism
Rebellion

: Extinction
Rebellion has mainstreamed the politics of a radical fringe

.Policy Exchange.
.[online] [viewed: 03/03/2020]
Available from:

 https://policyexchange.org.uk/publication/extremism-rebellion/

 

(5) ROSE, STEVE,
2019. How the symbol for extinction became this
generation’s peace sign. The Guardian.
[online] [viewed: 03/03/2020] Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/shortcuts/2019/apr/16/how-the-symbol-for-extinction-became-this-generations-peace-sign

 

(6) BLOCK, INDIA, 2019. Extinction Rebellion uses bold graphics
in protest against climate change
Dezeen.[online] [viewed: 03/03/2020] Available from: https://www.dezeen.com/2019/04/15/extinction-rebellion-protest-climate-change-graphic-design/

 

(7) AMAZON UK, 2020.
Flower Power fancy dress hippy, 60s 70s. Amazon UK. .[online] [viewed: 03/03/2020] Available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/FLOWER-POWER-fancy-dress-HIPPY/dp/B002QQPTZ2

 

(8) ESP, 2011.
The Extinction Symbol. XR. .[online]
[viewed: 03/03/2020] Available from:
http://www.extinctionsymbol.info/

 

(9) EXTINCTION REBELLION, 2019. Extinction
Rebellion: Art Group-Resources. Extinction Rebellion.[online] [viewed:
03/03/2020] Available from:
https://rebellion.earth/act-now/resources/art-group/

 

(10) JULIA, 2019. Creative Rebellion: Arts and
Culture Highlights from International Rebellion London. Extinction Rebellion.
[online] [viewed: 03/03/2020] Available from:
https://rebellion.earth/2019/10/21/creative-rebellion-arts-and-culture-highlights-from-international-rebellion-london/

 

(11) From: BULLEN, JAMIE, 2019. Extinction
Rebellion: Shell HQ windows smashed as climate protest blocks London roads 1.
The Telegraph.[online] [viewed: 03/03/2020] Available from:


https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/04/15/extinction-rebellion-activists-threaten-bring-london-standstill/

 

(12) XR FASHION ACTION,
2020. XR Fashion Action: Home. XR Fashion Action. .[online] [viewed: 03/03/2020] Available from:
https://www.xrfashionaction.com/

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