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Election season is upon us – and the usual suspects are popping up on our poster sites across the UK

Politics, paste and posters go back a long way. Dickens interviewed the ‘King of the Bill-Stickers’ in a horse-drawn advertising carriage crawling through chock-full London streets and he attested flyposting going back to the late 1700s (anti-slave trade posters appeared in 1788). Early in the last century women’s suffrage campaigned using the slogan ‘Our Weapon is Public Opinion’ and street posters were how the public was reached. German artist John Heartfield’s anti-Nazi photomontages were flyposted by fellow anti-fascists in Berlin throughout the 1930s. In ‘68 and the French workers and students protests against capitalism, consumerism, American imperialism, and hidebound French institutions under the conservative presidency of Charles de Gaulle are now synonymous with the screen-printed street posters produced by the Atelier Populaire. Shepherd Fairey’s ‘Hope’ poster helped Barack Obama secure Democratic the nomination in 2008. With crucial polls across the world during 2024 and here in the UK on the 4th of July a review of BUILDHOLLYWOOD’s election related paper and paste displays seems fitting.


Words by Adrian Burnham

Glasgow born and bred, multi-disciplinary, LGBTQI+ artist Trackie McLeod doesn’t mince his words, “3.1 million people using food banks. 7.6 million people on the NHS waiting list. 2.7 trillion national debt. 30% increase in racially motivated hate crimes. 55% increase in homophobia. 80% increase in transphobia. Highest taxes in 70 years. Brexit. Culture wars. Partygate. Warmongering. Scaremongering. Corruption. Divisive rhetoric. Austerity… And the rest. Who’s to blame? ‘The Usual Suspects’ of course.” By which McLeod means Sunak, Patel, Cameron, Braverman and Hancock. These top tier toe-rag Tories appear on McLeod’s new 48 sheet billboard in Glasgow, the five of them standing lined up against a criminal suspects height chart – as in the film poster for director Bryan Singer’s 1995 crime thriller The Usual Suspects – as well as sites throughout the city. It’s not subtle, though neither was the damage done to this country during the last fourteen years of Tory misrule.

Vexed by voter apathy, designer and veteran campaigner Katherine Hamnett has made crystal clear her desire that everyone be politically engaged. In a nationwide BUILDHOLLYWOOD street poster campaign, a bold black and white design bears a commanding message for passersby, ‘DON’T LET THEM STOP YOU VOTING’. Despite Hamnett’s avowedly left-wing politics – forty years ago she famously met Margaret Thatcher wearing an anti-nuclear slogan tee and, more recently, she binned her CBE on account of British involvement in Gaza – when quizzed as to why she doesn’t specifically endorse one party over another Hamnett explained, “It’s quite good to be political without telling people which party to vote for so they use their common sense. We’re trying to get young people out to vote and women out to vote and if you get young people out to vote, they normally vote left. Women are sensible. You’ve got to carry the can for everything, and they tend to vote left as well. So, we’re desperate to get them out to vote.”

It’s not just Hamnett’s own multiple poster creations hitting the streets. The original fashion eco-warrior has nominated a profusion of photographers, artists, illustrators and multi-disciplinary practitioners whose imagery is appearing all over the UK in the run up to the July 4th 2024 election. The list includes Chris Ofili (Turner Prize winner and Young British Artist), Ken Nwadiogbu (RCA Masters graduate whose work blends hyperrealism and contemporary concerns), Violetta Sofia (award winning photographer, artist and activist), Annie Frost Nicholson (seeking to smash taboos related to the human condition), Michael Craig Martin (conceptual artist and painter, known for fostering the YBAs) and Axel Sheffler (illustrator and animator best known for his work on Julia Donaldson’s Gruffalo books)… And that’s to name but a few!

Of course, there’s client campaigns too. Uncommon Creative’s 48 sheet billboard poster features a silhouette of a tiny besuited Rishi Sunak scuttling off ‘stage left’. In similarly stark black text, referring to the PM’s unseemly bunking off the D-Day memorial early, the headline reads, ‘HE LEFT THEM ON THE BEACHES’. Another current campaign again urges us, whatever which way, to use our vote. Unheard’s bold graphic posters implore us to dodge, ‘The political party you shouldn’t join.’ Namely that’s the third of registered voters, 15.5 million people across Britain, who choose not to use their vote. Obviously while there’s no ‘None of the Above’ option on ballot papers people can’t register their profound disillusion with a political system that consistently fails to deliver. But as it stands, not voting at all, doing nothing, registers nothing. And as utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill remarked more than one hundred and fifty years ago, “Bad men need nothing to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”

Another brace of punchy, poignant (and allusively pungent in one instance) election related posters and billboards on the street come courtesy of the conceptual, video and installation artist Jeremy Deller. His ’14 Years of Hurt’ and ‘We Have Been Swimming In Shit’ are typically both unvarnished truths which, as he often says of his work, speak for themselves. They continue a rich vein of Deller’s urban poster art interventions that, yes, are in-your-face frank but are also suggestive. ’14 Years of Hurt’, of course, conjures a tinge of woeful nostalgia regarding the England men’s team footballing achievements. Or lack thereof. And the scatological second message, for so, so many reasons, makes your skin crawl.

Finally, a new work by Cat Phillipps – an artist already feted along with Peter Kennard as one half of the art/activist duo kennardphillipps – has just received The Platform treatment. BUILDHOLLYWOOD’s new space in Shoreditch currently presents Phillipps’ fierce critique of both the UK’s major political parties. ‘TRAPPED’ (2024) first appeared on the streets of major towns and cities on the very day Sunak made his damp and doom-mongering dispatch outside 10 Downing Street. With The Platform’s fresh iteration we see details of Phillipps’ two huge, imposing painterly works showing Tory and Labour leaders baying in front of their respective members of parliament. Black ink bleeds across blanched, pallid faces. Sited between these ‘men in suits’ is a similarly distressed (and distressing) image of a macerated House of Commons. MPs are a melting stew of hidebound mediocrity. Here defacement is a mode of visual protest. We’ve recently seen an escalation of toppled statues, vandalised ‘masterpieces’, graffitied monuments: all last-resort bids to be heard, to rail at and counter a politics that ignores, patronises or, worse still, blatantly misleads the voting public. According to Phillipps, “We’re caught between two shitshows of self-serving power, no guiding principles, just the toxic leak of greed, and people left to survive a national landscape devastated by politics sleeping with corporate influences.” Things can only get better? You’d like to think so.

Although any hint of optimism is frowned upon in some quarters. Pattern Up’s new install at BUILDHOLLYWOOD’s The Platform space in Shoreditch makes this plain. They’ve invited the public to contribute to the democratic process via a Portaloo!

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