A current visual code empties faces of their solidity to merge them with the worlds they inhabit. The self becomes a sheer layer within the world, no longer a separate entity. A major meaning behind the code: everything affects and influences us; we are our environment.
True Detective title sequence
photographer Jasper James
You see it often in France and Spain – images of foods, or soon-to-be-foods, joyfully anticipating and collaborating in their own consumption. Pigs are popular, probably because they are symbolically both eaters and eaten in many cultures.
Animals and vegetables are also often seen sporting napkins, licking their lips and holding knives and forks, or stirring the pots which contain them.
You see this code in the UK and US too, but more often in an industrial context and with a competitive twist – for example, potatoes striving to be selected for the highest destiny of them all: the crisp packet.
Recently some friends in Barcelona sent me the startling image above of a frankfurter anointing itself with ketchup. There seems to be something so deep-rooted going on here about the place of food and nature in our world – and the celebration of the sacrifice which enables life to go on. Christ’s body was food, while a sage of one of the Upanishads sang: I am food! I am food! I am food! – fuel for the world and its transformations.
Perhaps the frankfurter anointing itself with ketchup, joyfully offering itself as food, represents a modern echo of these age-old themes.
Education is important in India, so it’s not surprising to see ads set in classrooms. But this setting often has an additional function: to help negotiate conflicts between India’s emerging, youthful modernity and its long-established respect for tradition and authority.
Two TV ads currently being aired give us a very similar storyline: a hint of rebellion and autonomy amongst the students, followed by the restoration of the teacher’s authority. In an ad for Indian watch brand Titan, the students get to their feet in a chorus of their own making – as if standing up to the teacher with a display of their own ability to self-organise. But the hint of rebellion is a red herring, as they’re actually getting to their feet to present him with a retirement gift. Authority is restored; student autonomy becomes a way not to challenge but to pay a creative tribute to the teacher.
Similarly, in this ad for on-line fashion retailer Myntra, a display of student autonomy is resolved and neutralised – here, when the teacher appears to restore order.
In both ads, the storyline revolves around the tussle between youthful autonomy and self-expression on the one hand, and traditional structures, on the other. A balance is struck: tradition wins, while allowing students to express themselves within certain boundaries.
But a recent ad for newspaper The Hindu gives us a more unsettling account of the relationship between traditional power structures and the next generation. A class is asked to debate a political issue while observing ‘proper parliamentary behaviour’. The students take the instruction literally and a fight breaks out – copying the disorder previously seen in the Indian parliament. So here, there is no safe, respected authority to take back the reins: disorder is present at the heart of power itself.
Models are a big theme emerging in advertising and popular culture at the moment.
Talk Talk’s UK 2012 ad shows figurines from a toy village coming to life after the visitors have gone home.
Honda’s Channel 4 idents feature models of the brand’s crowning glories past and present.
Ikea has brought out doll’s house furniture – not just for kids, designed to become adult collectibles too.
Beyond advertising and consumer culture, artists and designers such as Slinkachu and Christopher Boffoli (below) are also using models, miniatures and figurines.
In Brighton, digital agency Developing Dreams and artist Emilia Telese have created an installation enabling people to be ‘printed out’, by a 3D printer, as a mini figurine.
Semiotics can help spot emerging patterns like this one, identifying the bigger cultural meanings behind its diverse expressions. Here we can see a growing interest in the process of ‘making’ – the model implies the maker, and the miniature implies the power of craft, skill, technology and the human hand itself. Many brands are now looking to explore this space and semiotics can provide the wider cultural awareness and conceptual tools to help them do so.