AgriProp: Ecological Propaganda

Article excerpt

Abstract

AgriProp is a collaborative project merging students from architecture and graphic design to bring environmental statements and a call-to-action into a public forum. Students worked in teams of four to build a mobile installation that combines structure, agricultural (living) material and typographic/iconic messages. The AgriProp serves as a device to call attention to environmental and ecological issues confronting the greater Houston area. The objective is to present urban environmental issues within a public arena using evocative architectural form and informational content.

Introduction

AgriProp, a term coined to name four works of ecological propaganda, was derived from the Russian Agitprop (Agitatsionno-propagandistskii otdel), the Agitation Propaganda component of the Communist Party used to influence and mobilize public opinion within the volatile period following the Soviet Revolution. Though Agitprop originally referred to agitation and propaganda on behalf of Communism, the current sense of the word is more generally propaganda, especially socially or politically motivated propaganda, and is not restricted to communist doctrine.

The works of Agitprop served as emblems of radical politics while employing progressive architectural form and materials. Often nomadic and demountable, these temporary stands or collapsible kiosks were placed in the streets during special events. Many of the Agitprops served specific agitational functions; the design of Gustav Klucis' "radio-orator" in 1922 provided a loudspeaker with dynamic slogans. Others performed simultaneous functions. Propaganda Stand, Screen and Loudspeaker combined a bookstand, loudspeaker, screen and an expandable structure possibly used to display posters. These constructions economized space and utilized materials that revealed the structure of each function. The formal aesthetic of these stands--which employed numerous linear supports, wood, canvas and cables painted in red, black and white--came to embody the Constructivist ideals. The principle of Construction, from the dialectical triad of Tectonics, Facture and Construction, informed the Agitprop through consideration of "not only literally creating material form by assembling its elements and parts efficiently to create a viable structure, but also organizing and giving intellectual form to the overall concept." [1] The Agitprop represented the move towards art that functions as part of daily life rather than merely as detached aesthectic form.

As with the Agitprops' role as portable propaganda, public placement of our AgriProps was critical. Strategic deployment in locations specific to the environmental message enhanced communication with an unsuspecting audience. The use of deployment methods recalls the role of activist art in promoting social and political change. AgriProps supplanted pure protest, propaganda and sloganeering with less aggressive tactics--art, architecture, and informative design strategies. The AgriProps prompt positive action--citizen engagement rather than confrontation. Placement within the public sphere serves as an incentive to stimulate or redirect ecology and environmentalism with the goal of turning the message into positive motivation and action.

While the Soviet avant-garde served as a model for mobile propaganda devices, more current interventionists also provided inspiration. Numerous activists in the disciplines of both architecture and graphic art work to advance social/political/environmental causes through print graphics, performance, temporary architecture and other artistic means. Reference to nomadic, demountable architecture in the service of public intervention is evident in the work of artist Krzysztof Wodiczko. His homeless shelters are functional objects with the aggressive visual presence needed to promote dialogue around the troubling homelessness issue. Michael Rakowitz's "paraSITE" similarly deals with the homeless, using clear plastic shelters that inflate and are heated when attached to building ventilation systems. …