Mass use of tear gas dates back to the Battle of Frontiers in France, 1914. The First World War had begun. German forces were in place behind barricades and within trenches along the eastern border(01). A chemical weapon built for an international conflict at the turn of the century, tear gas has since become a commonplace press headline.
Hungarian law enforcement officials recently fired canisters to deter refugees traversing EU borders(02). At the same time across the Atlantic, police agencies are the focus of a new Justice Department report heavily criticising inappropriate use of riot control agents in Ferguson(03).
We touched upon the topic previously when we designed a souvenir programme cover for the V&A’s Disobedient Objects Friday Late event(04). A year later we crossed paths with writer, researcher and educator Dr Anna Feigenbaum(05). Her current project asks how a dangerous chemical weapon came to be considered appropriate for use during civil unrest.
A shared interest in communication design and social justice led to our being invited to a tear gas ID workshop. The aim of the event would be to develop ideas for a new civic media guide.
Canister documentation is limited. When activists or journalists do photograph casings, important manufacturing dates and production codes are often missed. The challenge then was to conceptualise a piece of work that would inform and strengthen documentation in the field.
We’ve since worked with Anna, colleague John Horne(06) and the Omega Research Foundation(07) to create the publication RiotID. The project utilises pictograms and icons to illustrate tear gas safety information, manufacturer locations, weapon types and basic tips for would-be documentary photographers. The layout also incorporates a ruler that can be used to determine cartridge and canister size.
The two-sided A4 design is set in a single colour for the sake of accessibility, allowing it to be printed on a variety of materials whilst avoiding loss of legibility. We’ve also worked to minimise the amount of ink required to reproduce the graphics with a desktop printer, cutting down on cost and environmental impact.
Our hope is that RiotID will help people to record the use of riot control agents against civilians, assist the monitoring of human rights violations and encourage greater accountability. If you’d like to get involved with this cause please download:
Since the project’s launch, RiotID has been put to use during a Palestinian protest against a divisional wall built by Israeli forces in Beit Jala on the West Bank(08).
A Special Edition was distributed at Banksy’s Dismaland(09) as part of the Cruel Designs exhibition curated by Dr. Gavin Grindon(10). We’ve pasted a copy onto the wall in our studio in light of BBC coverage(11). It’s protected behind perspex.
01. Feigenbaum, A. (2014) 100 Years of Tear Gas. Available: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/08/100-years-of-tear-gas/378632 Last accessed 21/09/15
02. Nieuwenhuis, M. (2015) Tear Gas at the EU Border. Available: https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/marijn-nieuwenhuis/tear-gas-at-eu-border Last accessed 21/09/15
03. Frosch, B and Kesling, B. (2015) Justice Department Faults Police Response to Ferguson Unrest. Available: http://www.wsj.com/articles/justice-department-faults-police-response-to-ferguson-unrest-1441300481 Last accessed 21/09/15
04. @MinuteWorks. (2014) ‘Detail of our souvenir programme cover design for tonight’s #DisobedientObjects @V_and_A #FridayLate event’ Tweet. Available: https://twitter.com/MinuteWorks/status/505360688462979073 Last accessed 21/09/15
05. Feigenbaum, A. (n.d) Anna Feigenbaum: Communication for Social Change. Available: http://annafeigenbaum.com Last accessed 21/09/15
06. Academia. (2015) John Horne. Available: http://bham.academia.edu/JohnHorne Last accessed 21/09/15
07. Omega Research Foundation. (n.d) What we do. Available: http://www.omegaresearchfoundation.org Last accessed 21/09/15
08. Press TV. (2015) Palestinians protest Israeli separation wall in occupied West Bank. Available: http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2015/08/24/426081/Palestine-West-Bank-Israel-Beit-Jala-separation-wall Last accessed 21/09/15
09. Banksy. (2015) Dismaland. Available: http://dismaland.co.uk Last accessed 21/09/15
10. Gavin Grindon. (2015) Cruel Designs at Banksy’s Dismaland. Available: http://gavingrindon.net/?p=246 Last accessed 21/09/15
11. BBC. (2015) Banksy’s Dismaland provides weapons guide ahead of arms fair. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-34201524 Last accessed 21/09/15