Analysis of Jan Van Toorn Calendar Design as a Tool of Gender Equality Movements Galvanization

Published: 2021-06-17 06:30:08
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Category: Architecture, Feminism

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The period between the 1950s and 1970s saw a resurgence in women’s rights and gender equality movements in the Netherlands. The Netherlands first saw a social and political shift for women representation during “first-wave feminism” in 1950. The second wave of women activism occurred in 1968 to the early 70s. This tide of activism, alongside other historical events, were documented by Jan Van Toorn in his 1972-1973 calendar design. In this essay, Jan Van Toorn’s 1972-1973 calendar will be used as an example to illustrate how design can be used as a medium to depolarize the dominance held by men in most realms, and galvanize gender equality movements in the political sphere. The essay further elaborates the methodology in Van Toorn’s calendar design, for example, the choice of proletariats, politicians and influential figures as his subjects, the placement of photographs, and layout of pages.
Born in 1932 in Tiel, Netherlands, Van Toorn started his career at Mulder & Zoon, where he specialized in photomontages and illustrations for page layouts. His first attempt at creating a visual essay in an issue of Sikkens Varia failed, but he went on with his pursuit to create an honest and liberal form of communication through design. He started producing calendars for the printer Mart. Spruijt, from 1970 to 1977, and his most complex work encompassing a Brechtian approach with a critical perspective, consummated in his 1972/73 calendar. His calendar arrived at a period where political views and social hierarchies were becoming more secular. While design was often used to impart visual form to the masses in a conventional style, Van Toorn focused on meaning, coercing the audience to process the intricacies in his design (history graphic design). His design pages were anti-aesthetic and disruptive in nature. The calendar, beginning in May and ending in April, is categorized in monthly pages. Each page contains pasted photo collages representing the media, daily life, politics, and military confrontations. The pages, decorated with pasted photo cut outs, alternates inconsequentially, coexisting with the Block Extra Condensed font he uses at the top or bottom of the pages.Jan Van Toorn propels his own ideologies through his creation. In this case of the disjointed calendar, he is concerned with gender representation in politics and the everyday. In page 13 of his calendar, he arranged nine photographs of politicians, with only one named portrait, Bernadette Devlin. The portrait of Devlin is notably, the only female cut out featured. Bernadette Devlin McAliskey was one of Ireland’s most influential political figures in the 1960s to 1970s. Born in 23 April 1947, she was known as the politician of the people. In April 1969, at the age of 21, she became the youngest woman elected into the British parliament as a MP in over 200 years. After her appointment, Devlin led civil rights movement, for example campaigning to release Pentonville Dockers and Battle of the Bogside. In this instance, the positioning of her photograph remains the focal point of the page, with it being peculiarly placed at the top right corner. This abnormality can be discerned as a design principle — contrast, a principle showing opposing elements in terms of scale, color or differing elements. Here, the contrast is used to provide clarity and visual hierarchy, and to render a focus in the page. This way, Jan Van Toorn purposefully intends for McAliskey’s photograph to hold the attention of the reader. This arrangement of elements in a layout can be dissected from other poster designs. In Nancy Skola’s book “Type Image Message: A Graphic Design Layout Workshop”, she details how Ed Fella, an American designer for the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award, created a visual connection by placing words at the top right position in his poster. Fella’s poster above, similar to Van Toorn’s calendar, showcases photo cut outs from various mediums, placed in congruity from one another. Skolas further elaborated that Fella’s positioning of words and images suggests that the finalists, Lorraine Wild, Ed Fella and John Maeda, have reached a defining position in their careers. Conversely, cabinets in the Netherlands always contained only one woman from the 50s to the 60s, with Anna De Waal in 1953 and Marga Klompe, the first woman minister of social services in 1956. There was still an apparent segregation between women and men (Ruiz 186). Under the pressure of revitalized women’s movements in the 1970s, there was a consensus for greater portrayal for women in politics, and the vocabulary for “complete emancipation” was countered with salvation for woman rights. One can assume that Van Toorn, at that time, was drawing the same narrative with his page design, using similar text positioning of “Bernadette Devlin” (both photograph and text) at the top right corner of the page. Van Toorn, being inspired by Devlin’s influence in the political realm, designed his calendar page in this manner to draw the viewer’s’ attention to her. Devlin being the youngest woman in parliament during that period, had reached a vested position in her field. Perhaps Van Toorn believed in equal rights as opposed to traditional gender roles where women ‘belonged’ to the domain of home, and men, of work.
Van Toorn assembles the photographs akin to a visual scrapbook, or a history book of sorts. He places some cut outs in a layout with minimal disruptions, while other pages have a more dispersed look (Design Observer). Notably, he creates multiple pages with photo collages of women in various settings. Since most of his pages constituted of different people and events, the audience is left to analyze and interpret the message behind the compositions. The viewer questions the relationships between the people in the photographs — who are they, and why are their photographs placed this way? Even though Van Toorn primarily used jarring cut outs of varying people in his calendar pages, he also dedicated full pages with only one person, both women. In page 24, October 1972, Angela Davis and in page 9, June 1972, Jeanne Moreau. Van Toorn illustrates the importance of such key figures by using photos of only them in both pages. This detail of key figures individually, perhaps, is to show the dominance of these individuals in their respective profession. Angela Davis, pictured above, is an American radical feminist, civil rights advocate and educator. She was featured with seven photographs in the page, ranging from her smiling, looking glum and even a FBI wanted poster. In 1970, Angela Davis appeared on a FBI Wanted poster and was subsequently arrested under murder and conspiracy charges. She was a revolutionary in the black and women rights movement in the 60s to 70s, and believed that for women to be truly free, affronts such as abortion rights, reproductive freedom need to be abolished. Oddly, the Dutch second wave of feminism was inspired by American feminism, and it started in the late 1960s with the advent of an article, Joke Kool-Smit’s Women’s Discomfort in De Gids. In the same period, the Dolle Minas, a radical group promoting feminism sprung into prominence. They demanded equal rights and debated topics such as abortion and equal pay. In Angela Davis’ page, Van Toorn uses seven photo cut outs of the American in an orderly and repetitive manner, with six portraits of her in a vertical orientation. However, the FBI Wanted poster was placed horizontally in a different way. When elements in a layout are aligned with one another, it creates cohesion, thus forming a stable layout that helps the audience read the design easier. Conversely, misalignment of elements can be used to create tension, or draw attention to other important elements. Van Toorn places the FBI poster this way to signify that Angela is breaking out of the norm, and the audience is forced to look at the poster from a skewed perspective. The audience is required to change the way they look at the page, either by turning the page or repositioning their eyes, more so when they are trying to read the text presented in the FBI poster. This single element that breaks the vertical alignment of the page, emphasizes the importance of the FBI poster cut out. Another example of a one page spread is on Page 9, June 1972. The page consisting of only photographs of Jeanne Moreau’s, however, follows a relatively methodic layout. Jeanne Moreau was an icon in French cinema, and a trailblazer of the French film movement in 1960s. As an actor who embodied the rise of feminism with the French film oeuvre, she finally achieved screen stardom in Lift to Scaffold, her 20th film. In 1961, cinémonde began an investigation titled “The Modern Women on Trial”. In the investigation, they interviewed eighteen actresses in the new wave. Jeanne Moreau was found, who best represented the modern woman au courant. Van Toorn pasted 11 photographs of her in a seemingly geometric grid. Yet, a photograph of young Jeanne Moreau is seen breaking out of the frame at the bottom, breaching the symmetry of the layout. Van Toorn, possibly may have related to Jeanne Moreau vehemently, as she rebelled against the order and was never confined herself as merely a femme fatale. Like Van Toorn, she embraced different forms and styles in her portrayals in cinema, and ultimately defined the roles she played instead of becoming another run-of-the-mill actor. Jan Van Toorn inquired that design should be unorthodox and different approaches and visual languages should be used in tandem. In contrast to black and white photographs placed in a gridded system, he expresses his pages through colors and the negative use of space. On Page 43, February 1973, Van Toorn places colored cut out of women in advertisements, with a trio waving a flag with the word “freedom” at the bottom left. The women cut outs consisted only of photographs, with no body text or headlines accompanying them. One woman occupied the center of the page, staring back at the viewer, while another woman at the top kisses her knee. It feels, like a valiant attempt to signify that women owned their own bodies, in an animated and glaring portrayal. Prominently, the attention of the page is fixated by the trio on the bottom right of the page, who are seen holding a flag with the word “freedom”, and them marching out of frame. The juxtaposition between the woman sitting in provocative poses, and the woman holding a freedom poster is striking. It feels like Van Toorn’s wants to show that women can reclaim their autonomy and independence through taking control of their portrayals in the media.
In conclusion, it can be said that Jan Van Toorn conceived his calendar to present how design can be used as a medium to galvanize gender equality movements in the political and social sphere. His design makes use of juxtaposed and/or contrasting images to highlight highly politicized issues such as gender inequality, forcing viewers to consider more than the aesthetics, but also the subtle complexities behind the calendar.

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