Visuality, Street Art & IR

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Among us students, the new Starbucks in the University Library (UB) has become a controversial, hotly-debated topic. For several reasons, we adopt a critical stance toward the issue and have therefore chosen this topic for our practical assignment. One of the reasons behind this choice is the issue of the increasing influence of multinational corporations on our everyday lives. In addition, we think that tax avoidance and aggressive marketing strategies are not only a local problem, but also a worldwide phenomenon.

Furthermore, there is a special visual dimension to this problem: the ubiquity of the Starbucks logo and its highly symbolic placement in the UB. The UB is a place that many students visit as a working place on an everyday basis, especially during exam periods. Now, students are made to see the green sign not only when entering the UB, but also whilst studying, since the coffee cups have made their way onto the study tables, pervading the whole space. Already, a visual association is made between Starbucks and the study place, if not even Starbucks and education as a whole. In addition, the students involuntarily become  a part of Starbucks’ advertisement campaign: the ´hip´ student community surrounding and occupying the library is contributing to an atmosphere that is branded with Starbucks, and the cups have become an advertisement space that is promoted and placed unconsciously.

For our practical assignment, we wanted to raise awareness of this particular issue, without directly polarising or wanting to be taken at face value. So, we have decided on the visual medium of street art, more precisely stickers, since it allows us to be critical and stimulate critical thoughts in our target group (that is, young people, in particular students) while at the same time displaying a sense of subtle irony that encourages an active engagement with the message. A sticker, although it needs to be designed in a simple and therefore provocative way, still has the ability to present certain circumstances in a different, perhaps even more complicated manner that challenges conventional representations of the issue at hand. Furthermore, the fact that stickers are usually anonymous has the potential effect of creating more sensitivity to the danger of not questioning authorship and intentions.

Our two different stickers aim at discussing the relationship between education and (transnational-/mulitnational-) corporations – for instance, they address these questions: how should education be funded? What influence should the economy have on education? How democratically should the university be governed?

Finally, we also understand our medium as a form of protest art. Starbucks visually defines our daily working space and makes us involuntary participants in its marketing strategy. We reclaim some of this power by reusing their logo in our sticker and contributing to the visual discourse in a critical way. Next to the Starbucks cups, soon students will also see our stickers on, for example, students’ laptops, which creates a sort of dialogue that requires positioning. Thus, with our stickers, we hope to regain agency, and contribute to the debate with an alternative narrative concerning the problematic tension between public and private, and education and multinational corporations.

By Katharina Hunfeld, Nele Vosgerau, Alina Holz, Rebecca Dahlström

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