It seems almost cruel now to think that a mere decade ago the most ubiquitous word in international politics was “Hope”. The famous, much-copied, much-parodied poster of Barack Obama, rendered in clean blue and red lines, hinted at a different type of politics, and a different kind of political engagement. We certainly got that.
This busy little exhibition, appropriately located in the bowels of the Design Museum, charts the subsequent decade in graphic design, looking at how political messaging slipped through the fingers of the powerful into the hands of the many, and how that seemingly positive paradigm shift propelled us towards the mess we’re in today.
Appropriately for an exhibition that focuses to a large extent on online communities, it’s loud and dense and often perplexing. A giant rubber duck hangs in one room, there’s a section devoted to Pepe the frog, the innocent web comic co-opted by the racist alt-right, while vaguely coherent riffs on popular culture – a Star Wars Rogue One poster becomes “Rogue Won”, featuring Steve Bannon and Anne Coulter – are scattered like barely decipherable artefacts of an ancient civilisation.
It covers movements from Occupy to MAGA, Black Lives Matter to Anonymous, The Arab Spring to Vote.Leave, weaving in the ways that companies like Cambridge Analytica manipulated social media to spread information and disinformation to influence public opinion. Trump casts a long shadow – his election has, at least, been a boon for magazine cover illustrators – and the final room features an animatronic Donald-a-like fairground fortune-teller that issues unpleasant warnings for Muslims and women.
Hope to Nope tends towards spectacle rather than in-depth analysis, but this dizzying collection of objects, memes and slogans is nonetheless a fascinating, chilling snapshot of a decade gone terribly awry.