Workshop: Pandemic Product
Guideswork: A small-scaled creative studio based in Beijing, founded in 2018. They are dedicated to bringing original, fun and design-oriented contents and products to the market. During the pandemic, they created a booklet named ‘Safety! Safety!’.They collected over 400 ‘Special Period Passes’ from all over the country and assembled them into a booklet in the hope that the products of this special period would be preserved. The cover is made of the same non-woven fabric as the mask.
Safety! Safety! 《出入平安》
The recording of the book ‘Safety! Safety!’ launch:
Welcome to the launch of the new book Safety! Safety!, we are a small studio called Guideswork. For many audiences who often come to (Shanghai Artistic Book Fair) abC, we may be new faces, because it’s the first year of Guideswork to participate in the Artistic Book Fair Shanghai, because last year, we went to the Beijing fair. Coincidentally, this year is the 2nd birthday of our studio. At this time, we came to Shanghai to attend the abC book exhibition which is really a great pleasure and honour for us.
First, we will briefly introduce our studio, because basically we are still new faces to you. We usually take some design projects as well as running our own workshop. Due to the pandemic this year, our workshop did not operate properly but the previous year we had worked in this way several times and received positive responses.
The form of the workshop is about everyone working together in 48 hours or in a few days. Of course, the most significant point is that we will also do our own works that will be published independently. These are the two books we have produced. The first one is called The Board and the other Safety! Safety! Therefore, today we’re going to talk about the first work we will publish at the Shanghai abC—Safety! Safety!
先和大家简单介绍一下我们工作室，因为我们对大家来说还是比较新的面孔。我们平时会接一些设计项目，除此之外，我们还会办自己的工作坊。今年因为疫情的原因，所以没有办（工作坊），但去年办过几次，效果非常好，大家会在48小时之内，或者几天之内一起做作品。当然，最重要的是，（我们）还会做自己独立出版的作品。这是我们目前已经做的两本作品，一本叫做《社区切片》（The Board），一本就是《出入平安》(Safety! Safety!)。今天我们要和大家介绍的就是这本在上海abC首发的作品：《出入平安》。
In fact, the word “出入平安 (Chu Ru Ping An)” is quite common in our daily lives, and appears most as the print of door frame in China (the meaning of the Chinese word of 出入平安 means that “safely going in and out”. It is an idiom of China). As a result, when we see the word, we will feel that it is a positive expectation, “going in and out” is such a common thing that we always do during normal times.
But, you know, since the outbreak of the pandemic early this year, the “going in and out” thing started to become unusual, even special. Our studio began working on the sixth day of this Chinese New Year, which was the time that our communities had not yet locked down and before communities distributed passes to each resident. At first, the of checking passes was not that strict but with the fast spread of the virus, not just in our community but in many residential areas, the pass became of utmost importance. Then, we’d realised that we were witnessing a phenomenal event happening. It was incredibly weird that we came to rely on a pass in order to live.
In about February or March, we saw some public and self-made activities launched online, like “Exposing your passes “, “Collecting everyone’s pass” and so on. When I saw them, I felt that it’s meaningful to do something similar. From our point of view, the pass seems to be the mark of this period. That reminded me of a book Old Sparks (Collection of Objects No .1) of Shiwei CAI. We used to call the script on the side of the matchbox the “sparks”, CAI collected all the matchboxes in China then and made them into a book. According to this, our current passes are more like the “food coupon” which we had decades before. A lot of people have mapped out the collection of the food coupon in China, including in Guangxi Province. Normal University Press has just issued a book this year, called China in the Tickets. In this sense, the pass must be seen as a representation of our current time and act as a witness to our experience during the special year of 2020. What is more, we’ve just found out that the Chinese National Museum is also issuing an announcement to collect information about everyone during the pandemic, and the pass is playing a key role as a “special reference” artefact.
Last February, we decided that we must organise such an event because it is so significant. Therefore, we sent our posts in WeChat, Weibo and other platforms, calling for passes from all over China. We started this activity during the earlier period of the pandemic, and we tried our best to find various ways of collecting passes, even changed the name on our website to “Calling for Passes”. We stopped collecting last July, and even got some passes at the abC Book Fair in Beijing. Finally, we collected more than 400 passes, and because we began collecting at the beginning of February, which was months before then, when we started sorting the passes out and we found something interesting.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the passes produced in February which are very simple and printed in black and white, only allowed each family to go out every two days. The one-off pass was more common in those early days. We could perhaps look at them as all being temporary passes at first sight, because the communities might not have expected the pandemic to last so long. As the time went on, the pass we see now is much more advanced than what we saw in February. At the time, we might not have brough our ID cards but must have the pass with us— because the pass then has a name, phone number, ID number, address, and many people’s passes even had a copy of their ID card.
With our collection, little by little, the pass is gradually taking on new meaning. We can see a variety among them, such as “each household can only issue three passes a week “, this is a one-time pass, after once in and out it would be recycled. There are also passes that were distributed every day, with every date on them. There are also “vouchers” in the upper right corner of the passes—just like the movie tickets, being teared at the corner, so the passes can be kept. There is also a whole piece of paper with a pass, a pass like a brochure, and so on.
As the pandemic went on, the pass design became more advanced. The communities on the same street would have a uniform pass design. Like a pass from a neighbourhood we collected near Beijing Capital Airport, they’re in different colours, blue is for the ordinary resident living in the neighbourhood, red is for the aircrew, for the airport staff. We also find that, in some places, passes are divided into resident pass and non-resident pass.
Here are some passes we collected at the Beijing abC Book Fair. During July las year, the outbreak in Beijing was coming to an end. At that stage, the passes we collected have a lot of traces of daily usage. Personally, I really like these kinds of passes, they don’t look as smooth as we first collected, but these traces are the records of our common experience during that time. Then, the pass was used for so long that many of them have plastic coats, but still with obvious marks of usage. Like this pass, distributed in March, with a severe back tear and the user has taped it up, but the most interesting thing is that there is a small line of words under it: released on June 6, 2020. During the outbreak, the community was locked down and no one could get into the community without passes until June 6th, 2020. Therefore, look at that line, it says “reused on June 14,2020”, due to the second outbreak in Beijing—the pandemic was serious again at that time, so the passes were reused then.
We also found a lot of unexpected stories about passes during collection. For example, the pass that was torn in half, because there was more than one household living in that apartment, but the community only provided one pass to every flat, so they tore the pass in two halves and said that the pass had been damaged when they met the inspectors. This shows the wisdom of everyday people to get by. What’s more, there was also a very special pass, which could no longer be seen as a pass, as the pass was washed in the washing machine. Fortunately, this pass had a plastic package, so it had not been completely destroyed.
In addition, we carried out a lot of analysis after getting them, including the font printed on the pass. For the passes were mostly made by the communities themselves or designed by the small printing shop in cooperation with communities, so the fonts are very common, such as Bold, Song, Chinese line block letters, official script and other normal computer fonts. From the font of these passes, we can see how the so-called “folk design” is done. Originally, the passes were very simple, with only the words of “temporary pass” or “community pass” on it. Later, there were more and more slogans on them. The slogan was “Preventing the pandemic, everyone has the responsibility “. I think this may also be a very effective strategy in Chinese community control. Consequently, we put all the slogans on the passes together, like a board of “commentary subtitles”.
Initially, we were thinking about how to present these hundreds of passes, and then we felt that we did not need to do too much designing or special arrangements. What we have done is just put the passes together, since this represents everything, and we did not need to explain too much what they were because everyone has their own experience in relation to them. Now when we put these passes together, many different things came to mind: it is like evidence of history, the map of what we were going through during that time. Thus, we decided to name the book Safety! Safety!, and we wanted to make it look like the mask we wore during the pandemic. It was also the same size as the mask. Additionally, the cover of the book used the same material as the mask: non-woven fabric—as far as we know, this may be the first book to use mask material. We went with a soft hardcover form for this. Hardcover is usually formed by attaching a cloth to a piece of cardboard and then re-bound, but because there are many holes in the non-woven fabric, it could not be placed directly on the cardboard. To overcome this, we studied with the printing factory for a few months and bought all kinds of non-woven fabric. Finally, we found a kind of non-woven cloth that was attached to the paper itself, so we put it on the printed paper to make the cover of the book. At the same time, we also made white leather straps like masks on the cover.
In addition, we made a notebook in the same style and a brochure to make a set. The brochure was printed on press paper, and the content was the information we collected about passes and access during our collection of the passes. We collected about 100 stories and selected 30 to be included in the brochure. These stories also have various topics, as an example, hot topics in a society like: “A man without a pass was refused to access the community, then he said: my dad is from the Municipal Committee, you’ll have trouble tomorrow”, “Community security and household conflicted, the woman said,” I won’t show you a pass even if I tear it”. There are also some funny ones: “As a result of refusing to show the pass, the person was required to participate in community service “, “A criminal gang was caught because they did not hold their pass”. Then, of course, there are some sweet stories, “a pass helped a stray to find his home “, “Use your pass to find the owner of the wallet “. In more than 30 stories we collected, there was one I thought to be the most meaningful. When we were searching for passes, we knew that the pass was not first used in 2020 because of a piece of news we found about SARS on June 20 2003, which’s 17 years ago. At that time, the community had begun to implement the lockdown strategy by using passes. However, unfortunately, we could not see what a pass in 2003 looked like now. If someone had produced such a body of collective work, the information could have lasted longer. Whereas people at that time might not believe that after 17 years, a similar thing could happen again.
When we come to the abC book fair, ourselves, or the people who come to our booth, might feel that we don’t fit the whole atmosphere of the book fair which is mostly illustrations, comics or photography. Our work, it is not avant-garde or trendy photography, just a piece of an ordinary pass. However, I think there such work should be done; this is also the significance of the Guideswork.
Both of our current works are very practicable topics. Once an audience came to our booth and asked if we were only concerned about the community. I would like to borrow the Biao XIANG’s view of “nearby “— We want to start with people and things that happened nearby. We want to rediscover the surrounding life through such works and observe the space of our own lives. If you want to summarize what we do with a few keywords, that may be—find the topic that is “nearby” and stick to the topic for a while. Taking collecting more than 400 passes as an example, we could let the audiences go back to “nearby “, intervene in “nearby “, observe nearby life, and even create their own “nearby “.
Last year in Beijing, abC heard a lecture from the director of the abC Art Book Award, his ideas overlapped with the vision we want to achieve by doing this. We hope to tell you through the work that such a book is not just about what I want to do and what I could do, but also about how it could be done.
The above is our brief introduction about the work Safety!Safety! and our Guideswork studio. At last, I would like to thank everyone who provided us with their passes. We should remember that summer was accompanied with masks and passes and we hope that the work of the passes is no longer a reflection of our current situation but has become a historical material record. I hope we can go back to the world without passes. Thank you all.
Please feel free to share with us your ideas about special products during the pandemic!
Contact Person: Ifance FAN
Planner: Christy YANG
Text: Christy YANG
Translator: Jiaqi GAO
Proofreading: Calum BAIRD