The Dark Glamour of Transparency

Dutch research studio Metahaven designs a collection of scarves and T-shirts in support of WikiLeaks

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Whether you support them or not, Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks played a massive political role in 2011. With their whistle blowing action, they put the spotlight on many uncomfortable truths, shed light on dodgy agreements and, generally speaking, kicked up a fuss. Critics of the website says WikiLeaks put lives at risk by divulging information about diplomatic secrets, military operations and army staff. Of course, Wikileaks claims those governments and politicians have themselves to blame for their inclusion in the cables. As everyone is aware of Assange has also landed himself in a spot of legal trouble by being of accused of rape in Sweden.

He is about to be extradited to Sweden, but last week week won the right to appeal against the decision. Nevertheless, WikiLeaks divide opinion worldwide: some see the organisation as one with the courage to stand up against America, a country which featured heavily in the WikiLeaks cables, while others view Assange as a fame-crazed attention seeker. Dutch design and research studio Metahaven, though, seems to belong to the first category. Apparently worried by the sate of WikiLeaks financial situation, the duo has produced a range WikiLeaks scarves and T-shirt and are currently auctioning them on eBay. We spoke to them to find out how it all began...

Dazed Digital: Tell us about the project...
Metahaven:
These are scarves and t-shirts which are currently being auctioned by WikiLeaks. They were first developed as a contribution to the Gwangju Design Biennale 2011, held in in Gwangju, Korea. In addition to being auctioned, they are on display at the MOTI Museum of the Image in The Netherlands.

DD: So all proceeds go to WikiLeaks?
Metahaven: Yes, all of the proceeds go to WikiLeaks. The auction is from the eBay account from which they previously sold tickets for a luncheon with Julian Assange and the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, as well as autographed cables, discarded computers and other memorabilia.

DD: How did you get involved?
Metahaven: We first got interested in designing their identity. At the time (June 2010) they still were almost a faceless organization, but one doing very important work. That combination really fascinated us. Later, we got to know that what they thought they needed most was merchandising. WikiLeaks are under a financial embargo and seek alternative ways for people to donate. They asked us to work on t-shirts and mugs.

DD: Why does WikiLeaks matter?
Metahaven: Governments and financial elites routinely carry out illegal acts, and prefer the public not to know about it. They have built themselves a private Liechtenstein of secrecy. The rest of us don't live in this Liechtenstein, but in a reality of war, financial and economic chaos and environmental threats. We need something more than our parliaments and our mainstream press to hold power to account. Clearly, WikiLeaks is one among a range of new organizations and movements that support people in expressing they’ve had enough of it, and make better-informed decisions together. It began as an Internet-based conduit between whistleblowers and the media, but also has become itself a media organization. Yet as a brand, they can be quite conservative. Maybe, they have to be.

DD: Tell me about the design inspiration?
Metahaven: As we let the thought of mugs and t-shirts sink in, we found it quite depressing at first. Then we realized it also had a quality. Things very political, like WikiLeaks, eventually boil down to a global visual culture that filters it in the form of products. In the bazaar, with street sellers, amidst fake Louis Vuitton bags and Che Guevara t-shirts, you might at some point expect to find back WikiLeaks. And eventually, purchasing products from them is one model of support.

DD: Why T-shirts and scarves?
Metahaven: The T-shirt is a by-default merchandise item. We designed a series of them; they commemorate the dates of specific leaks that now have acquired historical significance. The idea for the scarves emerged intuitively. Like WikiLeaks, they combine transparency and opacity.

DD: What is the relationship between transparency and opacity?
Metahaven: This relationship is a tricky one. WikiLeaks is an organization that is not very transparent about itself. The scarves speak to this. A scarf is a garment which can be used in various ways. It can be used as a mask, or as a veil. It speaks to anonymity as much as to transparency. Some of the scarves feature camouflage patterns.

DD: Politics and fashion - do they belong together?
Metahaven: They do. Obviously not in the way that you have a “political message,” you print it on a piece of textile and then the money goes to the same system that the message was directed against—like Jay-Z’s “Occupy All Streets” shirt. In so far the spirit of our time is increasingly a political spirit, fashion, like design, is an expression of that.

Join the eBay auction HERE

Concept and design: Metahaven
Photography: Meinke Klein @ UNIT c.m.a.
Styling: Sonny Groo
Hair/make-up: Chiao Li Hsu for Clinique @ House of Orange
Model: Iris van Berne @ CODE Management
Photography assistent: Lathifa Lesteluhu

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