Poster boy Hamlet

(c) SSCAC Pu Cunxin in Lin’s Hamuleite revivival

Somehow, I forgot to mention Jane Moody’s Academic Poster competition, which I managed to win, despite my rudimentary IT skills!

Last October, the University of York

opened its new Berwick Saul Building which houses the Humanities Research Centre and our post-graduate study space.   As part of the opening celebrations, current post-graduates were asked to enter a competition to produce a poster setting out their research in a visually stimulating and easily accessible way.  The posters would be displayed during the opening reception, and, more importantly perhaps, the winners would get a cash prize…

After chatting with some younger, more computer savvy students, I downloaded myself a copy of the Corel Poster making guide, and set to work.  Unfortunately, I could make neither head nor tail of this extremely long document, and as I only had one morning in which I could spare any time  for the visual side of this project, I decided to go back to basics and draft my ideas onto a Word document.  I knew that I wanted to make a link between Lin Zhaohua’s Hamuleite and the Tiananmen Incident – after all, how could any production based on Hamlet that was first put on at the end of 1989 not be making some link?  This led to me coming up with the title ‘Hamlet and the Chinese Democracy Wall.’   Once I had the title, everything else fell into place.  The Democracy Wall was the name given to a wall of posters at Beijing University, put up by students pushing for campus reform.  From this grew the crowds in Tiananmen Square, the Goddess of Democracy statue, the hunger strikes, and the eventual quashing of the demonstration by the government.  Even now, 20 years later, nobody is sure what really happened.  This image of the Democracy Wall would reflect the brief moment that Shakespeare appropriation in the PRC was overtly and domestically political, before it became a product with which to enter the global market (with films such as Feng’s The Banquet).  This is doubly appropriate, as it seems to me that Lin’s production was suggesting that everything in the New China comes second to pragmatism and economic development; many Chinese, including some of the student protestors themselves, would come to conclude that in the long run Deng Xiaoping’s utilitarianism had a more lasting and positive impact than their calls for democracy could have had.  But how was I to reproduce that wall of faded tissue paper ‘posters’ with their bold, hand-inked calligraphy and simple stark messages?  This is where my limited IT skills worked to my advantage.  I started with a long, thin text box down the righthand side of the document, which I blocked in red, then I added in Chinese characters, vertically, the saying I had learnt from my Chinese tutor, that inside one thousand people, there are one thousand different Hamlets.  It looked just like one of the New Year couplets that my Chinese neighbours would hang outside their doors at Spring Festival.  Then I began to add other text boxes: black print on white for my ideas, red text boxes for my quotations.  I added a banner like heading in a script that imitated brushstrokes across the top, and a single image from Lin’s production dominating the top half: Hamlet, in the off-white of his mourning, squatting alongside a Beijing ditch, giving his Yorick speech to a plastic skull.  The effect was almost what I had hoped for, but it seemed slightly too new, too hopeful.  I changed my bright crimson to a faded red, suggesting the passage of time, and suddenly there it was, my campus wall of ideas.  I now simply had to transfer and enlarge my text boxes to an A3 Publisher document (this, of course, took me about another hour…!)  I hadn’t used Corel, but I had solidified my ideas, and managed to convey visually my understanding of complex, contradictory Chinese politics. I attached it to an email to Jane Moody, on the off-chance that it might pick-up a runner-up comment and promptly forgot all about it.

Imagine my surprise just before the Christmas break when I got emails from Bill, my supervisor, and Jane telling me I had jointly won first prize, making me £75 richer…

And I have a very nice new digital camera now, too.

(c) Saffron Walkling

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