Indie-Vision (Metal Billboard), curated by Metal Peterborough, June-September 2014. Inspired by the quote from Anton Chekhov in 1888, that "the role of the artist is to ask questions", the project commissioned ten 48-sheet billboard posters to be sited across Peterborough throughout September.

Each billboard incorporated a question provided by a leading cultural commentator (including The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon, Kate Garner, The Pop Group's Mark Stewart and Paul Morley). These were responded to by ten artists who firstly took part in a laboratory* at which Malcolm Garrett and Catherine Flood spoke on communication and billboards.

Alan Dunn's collaboration with Mark Stewart centres around the latter's question "For how much longer do we tolerate mass murder?', the title of The Pop Group's 1980 album. The front cover of the album used André Kertész's Gypsy Children Kissing, Esztergom, Hungary (1917) while the back cover used an image from the genocide in East Timor in the mid-1970s.

Ramos-Horta at the United Nations in 1972, showing the famine photo. Full feature here.

From laboratory sketchbook/notes, torn paper mock up on evening 2 and detail from Peterborough Cathedral. Conflict in East Timor. Genocide. Mass Murder. Famine. How to deal with such issues in public, in the centre of Peterborough, so near the football ground?

Left to right - original photograph, back cover of The Pop Group LP, final billboard design. I wanted to stay true to the original image and the original context in which the question was asked. To me, in regard to the question, it mattered who, why and when. I sat in the square, listening to the album, looking at the cover and watching the army recruit new soldiers. Some vulnerable people started picking on a woman, throwing her chips away, and only one other woman stepped forward to help.

I realised that there was one more crop that could be made to that original image, a crop that focused on one child, and possibly the words WE TOLERATE MASS MURDER, depending on the posting and the visibility of the question mark (the panel is high up on the opposite side of the pavement on the busy Oundle Road).

I ordered a copy of the LP and photographed the back sleeve. In the final design, the background is stained, not white. The 'W' of the word 'WE' is faked to remove the confusing newspaper section behind it. The '8' of the font (Kingthings Printingkit) looked confusingly like a 3 and was mirrored to make '1980' clearer. We contacted Mark Stewart via his agent Shirin Koohyar (Future Noise Music Ltd) and he replied that he thought the concept/design was great and to proceed. The tiny script at the bottom explains the choice of images and is backed up by a city-wide postcard distribution and project marketing. It, and the design as a whole, refers viewers back to the original LP and the original context, as we watch news images from Ukraine, Iraq and Gaza.




* The laboratory is an interesting format that Metal have been developing. Ten artists were brought together in a five-day residential situation; the city was big enough to explore but not so big as to stray too far from the intent. The first day and a half were crammed with talks and seminars (in this instance on public relations, a history of the poster, typography, large-scale imaging techniques and guerilla flyposting) before 'The Question' was revealed on Day 2. To a degree, the questions were hand-picked to match and/or challenge each artist and this was followed by site visits and time to go away to research and reflect. Designs were already ready by the Friday feedback session and the final works have stayed pretty true to those intensive and instinctive decisions.


The Pop Group For how much longer do we tolerate mass murder? (LP on Youtube), original poster distributed with LP, project press release, location map for all billboards and feature in Peterborough Telegraph.


Wall display in Metal, interactive postcard wall