HILLSONG UNITED: THE ART OF VISUAL SEMANTICS

Posted by thechurchtools On Monday, February 14, 2011



Sometimes you have to laugh at yourself.. Hahaha.!!

Cause all this time I have assured myself that when it comes to cover-art, our creative story-telling genius is as clear as day for all the world to see; communicating the timeless message of Christ in such grandeur clarity and relevance that it’s impossible not to find redemption simply by looking at the front cover of our albums; graphical design so deep and complex that it speaks eternal truths to the soul through the iris’s of all who are privileged enough to set eyes upon such visual masterpieces. HA! Think about it; 2004; “MORE THAN LIFE” - a clip-art-extravaganza which involved hundreds of meticulous hours spent cutting out images of people in our youth ministry and zoo animals and other random objects that represented all that life entailed to us at the time.. And above it all we blasted the word “UNITED’ and had some random images of musicians worshipping our God, so as if to visually declare “ohhh I looove yoouu.. Moooooore than liiiiiife”.



I mean for real.. It was brilliant!! And yet, in response, all we got was a hundred angry emails about how in amongst the plethora of layered images there was a particular image of MGC (Michael Guy Chislett) making a symbol that apparently represented the devil!!!



Now while I can see how that conclusion has been derived, and it was probably a blight on our behalf to leave it in there knowing the vast chasm that exists in regard to what is culturally acceptable around the world, i was still taken aback, cause honestly; are we really that religious?? i mean, is the devil even worthy of that measure of credence?? I don’t know.. I reckon the devil is a tool, and not worth the effort it takes to make a 2 fingered salute.. (perhaps a single digit salute is more suffice.. Haha)! but still, some people were unhappy, and so we apologized to all whom we offended, and did our best to clarify that in the context of our culture the symbol in question simply refers to the idea of ‘rock and roll’ - and less the 80’s inspired back-masking-subliminal-evil-messages-snake-head-biting kinda rock and roll.. But more the hug-your-mate-shrug-off-the-shackles-of-scrupulous-religious-nitpicking kinda rock and roll.. i know i may have just offended more people, but pleaase.. hear my heart. bigger fish to fry I reckon...



Then there was 2005; "LOOK TO YOU’ - got to deadline day and realized the artwork was less than satisfactory. Came up with the bright idea to paint the artwork on a blank wall in the community youth service; time lapse it; tell a story within the booklet pointing toward what it means to ‘look to God’ in the midst of all the distractions of a world consumed with itself. At the time spray paint was all the rage. So in an 11th hour contingency effort we raided the local hardware store; printed live images on gridded A3 sheets; stocked up on red bulls and krispy kreme’s and painted the night away, and as the sun began to creep over the horizon we sat back and marveled at our ‘mona lisa’. It was beautiful. Less for the quality of artwork, and more for the experience. But did anyone really notice.? I just remember getting jibes about the fact that it was called ‘look to you’ yet everyone was looking down?? Eyes to the sky people. apparently that's where God is..?




The year 2006; UNITED WE STAND was a shift away from torn paper layers, spray paint and handwritten blah-blahs towards a clean, photo-based approach. But not the classic picture of the passionate worship leader appropriately poised mid praise-move (made famous in the 1990’s and unfortunately continued all too often 20 years later). No this was about capturing the heart of OUR PEOPLE. Not just the few involved in playing an instrument or singing the song way up on that wonderful platform we so crave called the stage. No, it was about positioning the minor-christian-pseudo-celebrities such as my tall-lanky-self where we belong; in and behind the real heroes; the crew who are doin it week in, week out, unseen, unsung. it was a response to struggling with the contradictory nature of being a 'church-based-worship-band' passionate about pointing people toward God and dealing a little too often with the awkward nature of photographs and autographs and fan-mail and realizing that some people are perhaps focusing a lil' too much on us. So reactively we positioned ourselves in and amongst and behind our crew at large. All of us together, united, making a stand. Even made it so the cover was black, making it hard for the conventional sharpie to make it’s mark. All was going to plan till we found ourselves at a christian book store in orange county doing a CD signing with, wait for it... silver sharpies!!! huh? Didn’t everyone get it? Did anyone get it? Did our management even get it? Did we get it?? Of course i'll smile awkwardly for a photo, or sign a CD or t-shirt or shoe if asked at the appropriate time - kinda rude not to, but still i wonder if anyone, anywhere got the symbolic message wrapped up within the artwork. I don't know if even we did. Brooke put it best while recently being bombarded mid-worship set with budding photographers.. "we're not golden calves people.." I had to laugh.. heavy.. but frighteningly appropriate none-the-less.




So given this was a perpetuating issue we continued the theme with ALL OF THE ABOVE; a simple little play on words, taking a leaf from feedback gleaned from 'look to you' assuming that God is only up above us (as opposed to the idea He is perhaps everywhere, being omnipresent and all?), and given that we're all about all that He is about, we thought it novel to capture once again our crew-at-large adorning t-shirts blasted with sharpie, and this time not signatures, but rather core-value-statement-words; FAITH, HOPE, LOVE, TRUTH, PEACE, OTHERS ETC.... so much as to say that these are the things that we're about. inside we had pics and statements of some of our crew, one of which caused particular controversy because he was revealing his ink; praying hands across his left pectoral. again there were letters questioning whether we were truly following Christ if we were endorsing such a thing..... hmm... don't get me started.. either way, seems the point was lost... or was it.?? i really don't know.. perhaps all along we're making a point.? But is anyone getting it...?



After 2008 spawned the first installment of the i-heart journey;"WITH HEARTS AS ONE", once again the letters flooded in. This time regarding our use of the 'Christ the redeemer' statue in rio de janeiro; a statue that for many (in brazil most notably) represents idolatry and even forms of paganism, which is intriguing given the magnificent statement the statue makes to a visitor such as myself. the "i-heart" made out of images wasn't supposed to represent our christian worldview of the world as much as it was simply supposed to portray the diversity of the world in full. But having read into it, i do have to agree that Jesus didn't come to earth and die a criminal's death upon a cross meant for us, and rise again so that we would view Him 2000 odd years later as a statue.. but like anything, you choose to make of things what you wanna make of things.. the point is; are we lost in our visual semantics, or is it possible there's a point to all of this??


Cause it's 2009 and finally i'm holding a finished, printed, real-life copy of our new project, dual title and all; a CROSS // the EARTH : TEAR DOWN THE WALLS. it has no cover.



And already we’re receiving the letters. "i didn't receive the booklet", "did the recession bite your production budget?", "how am i supposed to open it?" etc....


And i have to laugh.. cause in my mind i thought it was obvious.. i thought it was genius.. no cover... a wall adorned with bill posters representing the EARTH... four triangles (representing worship nights) revealing a CROSS.. all of which revealed without a cover; representing transparency; the walls removed; nothing to hide; just as we are; but by the grace of God etc.. and for added effect we'd wrap it in a paper sticker that you literally have to 'tear' to get into the album... But obviously not so obvious.. And apparently less than being anything close to genius.. cause here i am spelling it out for everyone... i definitely underestimated the significance of a booklet... and here is my promise, next album.. we're goin all out with the booklet.. (recycled paper of course).. It’ll be how people choose to define ‘booklet’ in years to come.. taking it back to the 'ENDS OF THE EARTH' days, where we literally cut our teeth with no idea of what we were doing, experimenting the limits of photoshop, and spending weeks on end trying to make the booklet work (we spent four day working out how to crop..), whatever it took to redeem UNITED and it's tagline "radical worship" from KING OF MAJESTY.. hahaha..



So our disclaimer (aka pride-mechanism) is that this was before we had any creative control.. In fact it was in dissatisfied response to this that we got involved in the art in the first place.. But have we done any better.?? Or are we kidding ourselves? I reckon it's arguable at best.. And only time will really tell.. one thing is for sure; everything dates, and what we think is cool or rad or dope or whatever is more than likely – not.. and at the end of the day, our art is simply a donkey.. Just like the one that carried Jesus.. just a donkey, who’s purpose was to carry the Savior.. The same goes for all our creative expression; our music; our photography; our design; our talents and gifts etc. whatever it is, our challenge above all else is to make sure it carries HIM. That it serves to carry the life giving message of Christ. We get that right, and it'll do the job..


if you got this far, thanks for reading.


Love.

Jth.


And if you have further complaints, please send them to: iprobablywontreadthem@betterthingstodo.com


(An old Hillsong United blog post)


The AFTERMATH of the AFTERMATH


Jay Argaet from Hillsong Creative writes:


"It has been one of the largest projects in terms of artwork to pull off. The initial brief was to capture young people ‘doing life’ with the aspect that Jesus lives inside of us, not just on Sunday but in the everyday --- So we set out to do photo-shoots of people having fun - just doing life. We shot in over 13 locations across Sydney, one of the locations was down in Sydney’s south coast in an ocean pool – the particular shot we were after consisted of some girls running and jumping into an ocean pool, but in reality – we were shooting at the end of a cold winter and the water was freezing! (Thankfully, we had some brave friends who were up for it.) That particular image was awesome and we ended up using it on the album cover. At the end of the project we ended up with just over 3000 photos, however we only used about 15 photos for the actual album artwork and the rest have been used in the artwork pieces on welcometotheaftermath.com"


When collaborating as a team – we wanted to fit together with Joel’s initial concept of the paradox of the aftermath, before the death of Christ / after the death of Christ and what that represents for us in terms of the hope and grace we have found through the cross. We considered this in several ways – the use of photos upside down trying to represent parallel worlds, a paradox with the use of 2 colours in the main artwork. In Australia, we printed the album cover with pantones only and no CYMK (sorry - print technical wording)— this was a first for us and our printers... and ‘pioneering’ this we didn’t quite get the colours right, when printing the red pantone over the yellow it ended up making the red a fluro orange – but it actually ended up looking amazing — and it’s only available in Australia!! Although this is an unplanned aspect, which we had to run with – it worked – and to me it looked better than the original plan for the red.


It’s funny how mistakes sometimes bring out the best --- I guess that is true with God --- He can take what was a mistake and turn it into something that is better than you could imagine.


I am so pumped with the finished album and if anyone is questioning why are the photos and lyrics upside down? Or say “I think there is a printing error with my album” send them a link to this blog :)


MUCH LOVE


J ---


via Hillsong Collected

1 Response to 'HILLSONG UNITED: THE ART OF VISUAL SEMANTICS'
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  1. Anonymous Said,
    http://thechurchtools.blogspot.com/2011/02/hillsong-united-art-of-visual-semantics.html?showComment=1309788287831#c6538107058623877308'> July 4, 2011 at 11:34 PM

    keep doing for God who always know UNITED do for Him but men!
    God bless abundantly
    Lek

     

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