CREST = SHIELD = FLAG = JERSEY
It wants to give a brief view on particular events in the history of Europe and the relationships between Europe’s oldest and later cultures, companionships and rivalry between nations and its current multicultural identity (-crisis) resulted from wars, marriages, treaties and alliances in the past. To visualise these events the language of heraldry is used in a modern and accessible form. Alongside Europe’s history, Blood in Blood out wants to reveal the system and terminology of heraldry which was formed and maintained by the precursors of today’s graphic designers, the heralds.
During the European cup of 2004 I was watching the match between Holland and Germany with some friends when suddenly Balázs said he wanted to leave Holland and move to Italy to go and work in Milan. Balázs is not really into football but a discussion came up on what side he should support; either AC Milan or Inter and which shirt we should buy for him to wear. Then it hit me, why not give him a shirt with both sides combined into one?
One year before my father gave me a book that was circulating within my family. It was a manual on Heraldry, the visual language of genealogy. It was the book my grandfather used to produce coats of arms with for people of wealth that wanted to lift their family name up when it did not descend from any nobility. My father helped him out in designing and drawing these composed crests. It felt a bit like a scam.
I went to Malta for a holiday and took it with me to read and study it. This trip turned out to be the ideal combination of research and leisure. As you visit all the historical sightseeing buildings and areas, they are all filled with old publications and artwork of most of the European royal houses on detailed displayed heraldic scrolls as well as visual information on the Templars, the Crusaders and the Roman Catholic Church. Simply a cradle of heraldry. Together with the book I gradually started to understand what this visual language was about and more importantly how one is able to put it into practice.
As a graphic designer most of the time I am dealing with identity. Especially in my free work I try to create and combine identities, making new ones and I experiment with it. Translating cultures into visuals. Playing with simple and strong images like flags, company branding or even iconic imperial eagles as a metaphor for the powers that can be. Perhaps this urge to seek for my own identity derived from my background. I was brought up in the Bijlmer neighbourhood during the Eighties and Nineties, the black suburb of Amsterdam, as one of the few wiggers in the neighbourhood.
It is a pretty old book (Heraldiek, Jan H. Junius, Frederik Muller & Cie, 1894 Amsterdam) and it was quite hard to get through as it is written in an older version of Dutch, but for a graphic designer it has turned out to be a real treasure.
It is the art of devising & blazoning (describing) coats of arms exercised by Heralds and other officers of arms. It was developed in the Middle Ages. Heraldry comes from the Anglo-Norman herald, from the Germanic compound harja-waldaz, which means “army commander”. The word encompasses all matters relating to the duties and responsibilities of the officers of arms. To most, though, heraldry is the practice of designing, displaying, describing, and recording coats of arms and heraldic badges.Historically, it has often been described as “the shorthand of history” and “the floral border in the garden of history.” The origins of heraldry lie in the need to distinguish participants in combat or tournaments when their faces were hidden by iron and steel helmets. Eventually a formal system of rules developed into ever more complex forms of heraldry.
The Heralds were originally messengers sent by monarchs or noblemen to convey messages or proclamations – in this sense being the predecessors of the modern diplomats. Like other officers of arms, a herald would often wear a surcoat, called a tabard, decorated with the coat of arms of his master. It was possibly due to their role in managing the tournaments of the Late Middle Ages that heralds came to be associated with the regulation of the knights’ coats of arms. The primary job of a herald today is to be a creator and thus expert in coats of arms – in that sense being the predecessors of today’s graphic designers.
As a designer it means that you have a virtual Legobox with fixed shapes and forms, a fixed number of colours and certain handling rules, little elements as crosses or animals, mottos and ornamental stuff to create a visual identity for someone or something for that matter. It is like making a logo for someone with a certain amount of restrictions.
After the research I started to look for a way and a medium to try to create my own heraldic images and I experimented with different methods to reach a new way of expressing it. The aim was to create a modern version of heraldry by means of procedures I am used to like graffiti or bill-posting posters and lifesize portraits on the street. I really wanted to bring heraldry back as part of streetlife.
Ruud van Nistelrooij scored a tremendous goal making the final score 1 – 1 at full time against Germany. It meant qualification for the quarter finals and, as happy as we all were, it gave me the inspiration to start this new and rather silly hobby of mine. The next day I went to a market to buy a few football shirts. I went for the cheap ones, the fakes you can find at any market or tourist shop, printed with names and numbers. Just to check out what could be possible and to have some shirts that I could mess up without being bothered about. It became pretty clear that the most exciting combinations would be of main rivals. As a Dutchman I felt obliged to make a shirt with Holland and our classic opponent Germany. Another one was England with France. Although it is very slippery fabric to cut and sew with a regular sewing machine I liked the results. But it did not feel real. Not as real as wearing your favourite shirt to expose your roots and pride as I wear Ajax shirts. These first drafts were not something you would really wear and that was the next objective: could I produce shirts that are wearable and reach professional standards? Could they express either an unwearable combination like a political statement or a shirt that someone would really be proud to wear? And could these garments become more than just a football shirt, such as wearable flags or a coat of arms of the total identity of the bearer? Would people see them as accepted multi-cultural garments instead of showing a provocative clash? A lot of people I know have parents of different nationalities. They would not have to choose anymore, they could wear both in one shirt.
The next step was to invest in the real stuff. Luckily I already had a wide collection of shirts I bought in countries I had visited. The latest ‘authentic’ shirts you buy in a shop for about 70 euros (and they seem to be replicas too as the professional players wear ones with extra layers and tighter cuts. Sometimes they are on the market presented in a box as a limited edition and usually for double the price or more). In the regular football shop in Amsterdam I was allowed to go through their storage and look for older and thus cheaper editions which helped a lot. I asked relatives and friends abroad to send me shirts that were not available in Holland. I also found a tailor around the corner from my studio who was willing to help me out. I was ready to start. I made the first part of the collection consisting of ten or twelve shirts that were divided by the simple and classic divisions in heraldry. Parties per Pale, Parties per Bend and Parties per Bend Sinister. I redid the initial ones I had created using the fake shirts and added shirts like Russia versus Ukraine, Sweden versus Denmark, Turkey versus Greece or Ireland versus England. They were all national shirts and because these shirts do not have any sponsor logos on them (apart from Ireland at the time) the results looked like readymades to me. The next idea was to combine clubs to make city shirts. Even though my friend Balázs decided to go back to his hometown Budapest instead of Milan, the first one I had done was Inter versus AC Milan in a Quarterly. A Quarterly or Party per Cross is the most common division in heraldry, a follow up of the Party per Pale (vertical line dividing left and right) to avoid cutting through any images charged on a shield before marshalling them. For me it became the best way to express the colours of a city with two rival clubs as it shows one of the identities on either the top left and the bottom right part and vise versa. It makes the combination look like it is bounded and sort of equal, while the first attempts gave me the feeling of a borderline running through the shirts and by this it showed more of a clash of different cultures.
The project needed a title. As it was all about heraldry, genealogy, blood lines, culture mixing expressed by football apparel and taking all this back to the streets I decided to use the title of a film, a classic in my old neighbourhood, Blood in Blood Out (also known as Bound by Honor). It is a 1993 crime-drama epic directed by Taylor Hackford. It follows the lives of three Latino relatives, Miklo (“brown from the inside!”), Cruz and Paco in East Los Angeles from 1972 to the mid eighties. I hoped that people who would want to wear my shirts would relate to this title and accept the heraldic content as such. In our appreciation for the film we still shout “Vatos Locos forever!” now and then.
My friends Mathieu Vrijman and Malin Lindmark invited me to join them to do an exhibition during the European Cultural Capital 2005 in Cork, Ireland. It was the first time I could show my project and they offered me a venue in the Townhall. For a week we were hanging the shirts like banners with fishing threads on the high ceiling of the entrance hall. The installation showed a five versus five country clash with a mixed up referee shirt hanging in the middle. The exhibition was a success; the crowd’s reaction was just what I had hoped for. People were talking about unification instead of rivalry and the idea of new flags was interpreted as such. To my surprise, even the ‘forbidden’ shirt with Ireland versus England was well accepted. Although some people had serious problems with it as they had taken all of the other posters down around town with a picture of this shirt on it.
In 2006 I attended a show at the Leeds Metropolitan University in England where I was a first year teacher in the graphic design department. Thomas Castro from the design agency Lust was asked to organize a big exhibition to influence Leeds’ art students with work by international artists. The show was called LSX. I wanted to show my next few City shirts and I made a special edition for Leeds: Leeds United versus Manchester United, the Men United Clash. As I was preparing the installation the staff of Leeds Met enforced me to take that shirt down due to it provoking gestures towards hooliganism on school grounds. I decided to take everything off the walls and give the space to my students for their very first exhibition. While I was taking it down a guy asked me why and after I told him he commented that he did not see it as being a project on rivalry, but, as in Cork, more about brothers in arms. I gave my students the assignment to create their identity on a shirt by using a silkscreening technique, share it with a friend by cutting and sewing, and within a week, we had a new installation up called Identity 21 and a surprisingly good result of twenty one tailored shirts.
Back in Amsterdam I started to work on a collection that would represent a wide range of heraldic divisions. I used any shirt I could get a hold of and mixed it with a reasonable partner on an international and local level. The shirts were usually mixed to propose a historic event or a European relation, however, more football related content came into play as well. The strict heraldic methods were sometimes bypassed to create a better design or to say something else. Some of them became quite costumy but most of them were made according to the system of heraldry. As I added more and more shirts to the collection, altogether, they began to show a brief view of the history of Europe in stories of war, marriage and current relations between cities and countries over the past few centuries.
In the process I got some other ideas as well, such as, new away shirts for my football team made with heraldic charges. The shapes show the positions of the players within the team formation, expressing their individual expertise. I also started making a few player related shirts on the side. They became heraldic charts of the player’s professional career. I have only made a few of some players I admire and if I was able to get hold of a certain shirt or part of it. But it was not the main objective.
In 2008 I was offered to do a ‘fashion show’, a proper one with catwalk and all, during the Europe’s Night event in Amsterdam. Each year in May this event promotes the European Union and, according to the BKB Campaign Agency that organised the event, the collection represented this unity. They asked Wilfred Genee, a well known football reporter in Holland, to give heraldic commentaries during the show. It was very nerve racking to do, and we had no time to do a rehearsal, but we pulled it off. The visuals, the music, the lecture, and the models all fit into place. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that supports these events, and BKB were very pleased and asked if they could use the shirts at the next event as background visuals. One minor detail: one shirt was banned again. This time it was a shirt about the Dutch Royal house, which had nothing trivial at all, nor was it provocative in any manner. It was simply a representation of the current bloodline consisting of Germany, Holland and Argentina supported with the honour to the Spanish Kingdom. One of the Royals was a visiting guest at the event and therefore certain precautions were taken.
In the same year Nike Sportswear and Show Studio from London asked me to join a group exhibition during Art Basel called the Art of Football. It was a great opportunity to show the shirts as products of mixing identities. It was during the European Cup in Switzerland and the attendance was enormous. But it was also an eye opener for sports brands to see what could be done with their original apparel. Would they be willing to sacrifice their status and merge with their competitors on a shirt? Can there be a Nike versus Adidas shirt on the market? As the shirts are not about the brands themselves, they are indirectly mixed when you would make, say Holland with Germany. But as professional football is more about which brand will compete against the other, or which brand will deliver the latest football, rather than which teams are playing the cup final, the brands are still reluctant towards mixing their apparel or even collaborating on a production level at all. As long as it is art, a one off, the suggestion is well supported. The brands do like the aesthetics of heraldic divisions. Although you can see similar designs in the history of football shirts, it was seen to be original. After 2008 several designs of the major football brands popped up with similar ‘divisioning’ of different fabrics within one shirt. It is very complimenting to the project but the fabrics are not ‘loaded’ with any cultural value. They are just different pieces of fa-bric put together to create a stylish shirt.
After a few more exhibitions here and there the collection grew bigger and bigger up to a current status of over a hundred and thirty shirts. At these venues people continue to ask me if they can buy them somewhere. I do make personalised shirts on a small scale, but not on a mass production level. And if sports brands will not collaborate to produce these kind of mix-ups why not do it yourself? Last year the idea to make this publication arose in order to promote the project that will hopefully inspire people worldwide to express themselves by mixing cultural fabrics. This era is about multiculturalism anyway, the old nations will gradually fade away. In a few centuries we will all be as mixed as the Brazilians are. We will become one. So why not start now; If you feel like having a unique shirt I hope this book will trigger an urge to make your own wearable flag. All you need are your favourite sides or countries and to divide and connect the best parts in a way so that both or more shirts are recognisable, or simply so that it suits your idea and identity. Just take any compatible garments that are of personal value to you and combine them. Share them with your family, show your descendants in one jersey and wear your family tree on the streets. Take heraldry as an inspiration and then create your own flag, shield, crest, jersey; express yourself, show your colours and wear it with pride.
In 2011 the project Blood in Blood out was nominated for best graphic design of the Dutch Design Awards.