If the Olympic Games aim to constantly challenge the limits of human physical ability, the goal of international poster competitions is to ultimately challenge the maximum of human intelligence, creation and imagination in the visual communications field,” says Fang Chen, honor laureate of the 15th Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition (CIIPE).
Every two years, Colorado State University in Fort Collins becomes host to the globe with its international poster exhibition. The only one of its kind in the United States, CIIPE provides a graphic glimpse of the world’s most pressing social, economic and cultural issues. “It’s a forum for checking the health of our industries,” says Chen, who traveled to Colorado, from China, in 1997 to attend the 10th CIIPE—his first biennial. “That visit deeply enhanced my understanding of design.”
Now, an associate professor in the Department of Integrative Arts at Pennsylvania State University, Chen received degrees from the Hubei Academy of Fine Arts and Hubei Institute of Technology in Wuhan, China. Though he has been the recipient of numerous awards, served on design juries, has work in the permanent collections of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, the Museum of Modern Art in Toyama and the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Mon and is author of several critical essays on design, Chen is not necessarily a commercial designer. “Poster design…is a philosophical endeavor,” he explains. “As a design educator, I feel obligated to practice it, since good teaching is based on professional knowledge and practice is essential for effective learning.” The poster is a teaching tool that allows Chen to share his ideas with his students and the world, through typography and imagery. “Poster design represents one of the most difficult challenges and requirements for creativity in graphic design,” he adds. “It is one of the best ways to help students in developing their creativity and generating ideas, exploring the most effective way to convey information.”
When choosing the three award-winning posters, Chen kept the following criteria in mind: “An idea is the soul of a poster and a good concept is the fruit of an analytical, as well as intuitive, process. An appropriate way of expressing the idea is also essential for a poster design.”
Of I represent the new symbol of peace by Mehdi Saeedi (Iran), Chen says, “In many countries and regions around the world, crows are not considered auspicious. People do not like to listen to their harsh cries. People are reluctant to see the bird with glossy black plumage as well; they think superstitiously that the black bird is an unlucky harbinger. Doves and crows have a similar appearance in outline. In this poster, a crow—instead of a dove—holds an olive branch symbolizing peace, which makes its significance totally different. Taking into account that the situation remains tense in the Middle East and Persian Gulf regions—especially with widespread concern over Iran’s nuclear program—this ‘ironic’ poster becomes more meaningful.
“I have always believed that a good designer should be able to express complicated and profound meanings in a simple way. Also, a good design should not only convey messages, but cause people to think,” explains Chen. “Holger Matthies’s (Germany) poster for the German AGI Graphic Design Exhibition at the DDD Gallery in Osaka, Japan, presents his concept in a different way. The pithy typographical elements of this poster rely on the Gestalt principle, forcing the audience to fill in the missing parts of the typographic images.
“Looking by Lanny Sommese (United States),” Chen continues, “not only embodies the visual paradox and illusion, but also juxtaposes humor with wisdom. The black-and-white pencil drawing of a surprised, angst-ridden face frantically watches the brightly colored letterforms menacingly dance about the image to form the words that announce Sommese’s lecture at the University of South Carolina. It’s apparent that he used the magnetic plastic letters not only because they added to the playfulness of the image, but to enhance the meaning as well. These letters are normally used to stick on refrigerator doors to remind family members of upcoming events, such as his lecture. All of this inadvertently reveals a unique charm, rich in poetic flavor and fantasies—and thought-provoking.”
The 15th CIIPE featured work by 87 artists from 31 countries. Curator Linda Frickman admits that while no one particular theme emerged, there was “continued concern with social/political issues that we have seen before—a critique of the war and a wish for peace, environmental sustainability, globalization and commercialization, human rights. Some of the most poignant of these social posters came from artists who had emigrated from countries with social unrest.”
Though the exhibition ended last October, it lives online at www.sota.colostate.edu/ciipe/2007.html. The directors and Frickman are already planning the 16th exhibition for 2009. “We begin planning for the next biennial exhibition almost immediately after one ends. We evaluate the exhibition, begin discussions on choice of the laureate, the invite list and grant-writing,” Frickman explains. In less than a year, invitations will go out to designers, and again we wait to see our world reflected in the poster. ca