Spring 2003

Dealing with the spirit of the post-9/11 world

Spiritus Mundi: 78 ‘not-quite’ Tarot cards from around the world

Sliding scale price details from Baba studio

Spiritus Mundi (Spirit of the World) is a phrase taken from W.B. Yeats’s poem The Second Coming which Karen Mahony of Baba studio, Prague, used for the theme of a deck of 78 tarot cards. Why? ‘The poem made its way around after September 11, and I felt that the apocalyptic tone was a way for people to say to each other “no point in doing anything”, when in fact, there is every point in doing something.’

The project was initiated at a time when the spirit of the world seemed shaken and many felt that life would never be the same again. Through grief, horror, anger and fear, a nationalistic frenzy swept over the US. This hysteria and desire for revenge was nurtured by G. W. Bush with such simple-minded and divisive comments as ‘you’re either with us or against us’, which provided the theme: ‘With Us / Against Us.’

Baba studio wanted to provide an opportunity to respond to a global situation in which they perceived ‘an increasing tendency to use force rather than compromise and cooperation. Spiritus is intended to be a tool to help us stop and think about our own attitudes and opinions before taking up any entrenched positions.’

The complete deck of cards displays a melange of design styles and artistic expressions, opinions and viewpoints

in the wake of September 11. ‘This is what we expected,’ says Mahony, ‘It wasn’t a design competition. We wanted a variety of responses to express how people were feeling after this turbulent year. We accepted work from professional and amateur alike.’

Ranging from sophisticated to naive in rendering and concept, the images also vary in technique and style. What Mahony didn’t expect, but received, was hate mail accusing her of being anti-US. ‘This surprised me,’ she says, ‘since I didn’t give specific instructions, but left it open to individuals’ reflections. I suppose it was simply that I offered the opportunity to present a viewpoint other than the prevailing one.’

Participants were provided with a list of words to choose from to create their personal translations (i.e. empathy, hope, anger, prisoner, hate, disguise, powerlessness, etc.). Orange Juice Design, a hip design studio in South Africa, provided sophisticated concepts of the words belief, variety, profit, and revenge, using what they call the ‘culture of the street’ for inspiration. Paul Brasington, a ‘commercial / non- commercial writer’ from the UK created ‘rules’ as a response to Bush’s war on terrorism. He states, ‘Whether the protagonists talk of realpolitik or righteousness, the hypocrisy on all sides of our current hostilities is breathtaking enough to be sickening.’ Others talked of different issues, such as world poverty and family abuse, or created memorials to those who died in the attacks. Participants include not only graphic designers, but also illustrators, photographers, architects, computer scientists, and even several students, so that the diversity in imagery and expression is inevitable.

Baba studio is the expatriate team of Karen Mahony (Irish) and Alexander Ukolov (Ukrainian). After working in multimedia and Web design, first at Wolff Olins and then in her own firm, Xymbio, Mahony left London for Prague in 1999. In Prague she teamed up with Alexander Utolov, who graduated from the Kharkov Fine Art University in Ukraine, and taught at the Crimean Fine Art College before joining Karen to establish Baba studio. Their next project will have the theme: ‘101 pretexts for the use of violence.’

‘We’re going to hear a lot of dubious justifications for the inevitable war this year,’ says Karen, ‘but we’ll also look at other acts of violence.’ This project will be turned into stickers – a quick and easy way to disseminate messages. Whether or not one agrees with all the messages, or questions the effective-ness of such projects, the mere fact that those who participated were passionate enough to give the time, energy, and creative thought to address these difficult issues, gives some hope in an otherwise seemingly apathetic world. Those who use this tarot card deck, not to predict, but to think and care about our future, may even become motivated to do something about it.

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