Common Unity: Chris Clarke

Goodlifer: Common Unity: Chris Clarke

Growing up in Torquay, a small seaside town on the South Coast of England with an environment dictated by fluctuating tourism, Graphic Designer Chris Clarke has always been curious as to how people interact and communicate. After studying photography as a medium to document social narratives, Chris moved to Bristol to study Graphic Design and soon became similarly inspired by its very own cultural pockets and societal intimacy. Adopting the assertion “In order to change things, we must first attain a decent understanding of them,” Chris’ work aims to mediate the gap between design and the public, and explores design’s ability to both facilitate and benefit social change.

During his undergraduate studies, Chris Clarke began working on projects under the self-directed title Common Unity. “In essence this was a personal manifesto to mediate and work directly with communities to make a positive impact on my immediate surroundings — seeking to reflect the relationships between people and communal spaces.” With an array of social and community-engaged projects already under his designer belt, Chris recently showed me a number of his favourite works.

For the Public by the Public project.

For the Public by the Public “storefront.”

For the Public by the Public
In 2007, Chris plunged himself into the heart of Bristol, setting out to uncover a new communication catalyst that would enable a community of local shop owners to voice and share their cultural experiences. After asking them to write down messages about their local area, Chris sourced local sign writers to convert these messages into shop signs. The responses (signs) were then placed on discarded shops, and under the project title “For the Public by the Public”, collated into a book and exhibited at Bristol’s Conway and Young ‘Open’ gallery (a previously discarded shop). “The exhibition gave voice to a collection of memories offered by the community, sharing with the public a history of its otherwise invisible environment.” Explaining the reasoning for engaging so closely with local voices, Chris notes; “The UK is saturated with regeneration schemes. […] But, so often [they] ignore the strengths and ideas already present in the communities they are actually renovating.”

For the Public by the Public project.

For the Public by the Public sign.

Inside / Outside
Over a two-week period in 2007, Chris worked with the residents of Gathorne Road in Bristol. In the interest of his mantra ‘common unity’, Inside/Outside was a project that (again) aimed to enable a local community group to gain a collective experience through design. To mediate conversation between remote neighbours, a disposable camera was passed along the street and each participant asked to photograph a view of their local environment. “The resultant photographs captured a truthful remark on communal façade, displaying best the authentic rather then an imagined construct of stereotype and visual representation.” Chris comments. The photographs were then displayed in public locations along the street, for everyone to see a glimpse as to how their fellow residents viewed the shared environment. To capture to project and share the community insights, Chris collated the images into a postcard series and gave a set out to everyone who participated.

Inside Outside book.

Inside / Outside book.

Inside Outside postcards.

Inside / Outside postcards.

“The idea that ideal communities are built upon relationships that require being in the same place at the same time is denied by the complexities of contemporary urban life and the need to extend outside of small independent units. City life encounters diversity and conflict as well as commonality; where small social groupings do exist they tend not to relate beyond themselves and engage with dwellers whom they stay strangers. It therefore becomes increasingly difficult to mediate a decentralized equality where social relations can form and community’s can develop.”

Gravesend book.

Gravesend book.

Gravesend
Gravesend is a 98-page 
book Chris designed in 2007 to capture and communicate the “death of community” of the small town in Kent. Infused with a curiosity for community, type and architecture, Chris set out to capture and communicate how Gravesend “represents a prophecy of society’s potential to alienate itself from itself, and kill its collective identity.”

“The streets of Gravesend are eerie to peruse”, Chris expresses. “Constructed almost entirely from breezeblocks, the buildings cast grey shadows across grey roads onto grey pavements. Out of training hours it is a ghost town, deserted and devoid of life. Most haunting are the blank billboards and internally boarded up shops, named after people who no longer exist — always open but never in-stock.”

Gravesend book.

Gravesend book.

In November 2008, Chris was involved in ‘The Real Work Experience’, a socially engaged graduate scheme founded by award winning social innovation and public service designers thinkpublic. As part of the initiative, he conducted a three-hour ‘Design for Social Change’ workshop with 27 students at Bristol’s University of the West of England. The day encouraged the students to think of what the potential programme could do for them, what they needed to be able to use their skills for social benefit and aimed to openly discuss design’s social responsibility. In December, Bristol’s submitted idea was awarded first place against six other UK design institutions and will be used as a catalyst to see the initiative become a reality.

Piece commissioned for Artism (Art for Autism) book.

‘Routine,’ will be printed in Artism, due for release May 2009.

Chris recently finished a commission for Artism (Art for Autism), where his entry will feature in a book sold to help raise funds for The National Autistic Society.  He also donated his time to design a 16-page tabloid newspaper (printed on 100% recycled newsprint, from post consumer waste) for London’s Affluenza Exhibition, which raised money for the Samaritans charity.

We applaud Chris’ intent and motivation to work with and for local community groups, and we can’t wait to see his next project!

About author
A British born design writer and communications consultant, Kate briefly worked as an editorial designer before quickly recognizing a severe lack of ethically responsible and socially responsive creative practice. Strongly believing that communication design can effect social change, Kate dedicated the next eight months to research. Documenting her insights and discoveries on a number of design platforms Kate rekindled her life long passion for writing. She loves reading, dancing and is proud to admit her love for surrealism.
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