De Monsterkamer

Neat dirty posters by Roland Tiangco

One of the most intriguing things about modern day graphic design is that it’s so clean. Just think about it: most designers spend the overwhelming majority of their time behind a computer (where the dirtiest thing is probably the keyboard). The products they make are usually pristine: books, posters, all printed matter really; not to mention completely digital projects. All spotless.

This in itself is not so strange; there are more professions in the world which keep your hands clean. What’s interesting is that this happens (in the case of printed matter) by means of a process which is often less-than-tidy. Somehow sticky, messy ink needs to get on paper, and it needs to stick exactly where it should be. All printing systems have the goal in common to make quickly lots of identical copies of something. But touch the wrong spot on the press, or the print when it is still wet, and you have yourself a misprint. On top of this, newly printed matter is usually displayed in as white-space-like an environment as can be found; and immediately starts to disintegrate with use. Paper takes dirty fingerprints like no other material, and you can’t wipe it down with a soapy wet cloth.

This discrepancy between the immaculacy of graphic design, and the messiness of what happens in between and after, is highlighted in projects such as Roland Tiangco’s The future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands dirty. Basically, this is a poster which comes in an envelope, on one side it is coated in a pigment powder, the other side has text printed in a spot varnish. The folded poster is placed in the envelope pigment-side-out so that when the recipient (or unsuspecting victim – whichever way you look at it) removes it, their hands become coated in the black powder. Their dirty hands can then be used to ‘print’ the type on the varnish side, revealing the text: “The future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands dirty”. A funny, self-reflexive saying that will hopefully somewhat soften the annoyance of having black pigment everywhere.

What’s interesting here is not just that Tiangco has tricked people into getting their hands dirty and feeling good about it, it is also that the recipient of the poster becomes involved in the process of making it. Every poster will be slightly different, and they will have been partly printed by whomever opened the envelope. Lastly, the poster is still so contagiously dirty after use, that it could presumably only be discarded; nicely mirroring the use and simultaneous destruction of all printed matter. The future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands dirty is a cheeky reminder of what takes place in print design, with some unexpected layers of meaning.

Roland Tiangco is a New York City-based art director and graphic designer. He is currently a senior art director at Friends & Family.

The poster was printed at Haven Press studio in Brooklyn, NY.