Memes resist today’s norm-culture in the same way the performative turn of the 1960s disrupted Modernism. Like performance art of the ’60s, memes are hardwired with an unpredictability and a “hackable” interface or template that can be easily appropriated and overwritten—anyone can make a meme. Performance brought art into the street and public spaces, leveling the gap between artist and audience. Similarly, memes offer a highly accessible and interactive platform of production that is ripe for challenge and dissent, with disagreements and controversy only fueling the fire of a successful meme truly going viral. Other memes crash and burn. So what? The ephemeral, low-stakes economy of memes re-brands the form as a type of performance rather than a purely visual object.
Marrying graphic design and memes with this performative mentality is at the heart of Action to Surface, a new publication by The Rodina, an Amsterdam-based design collective. In it, the duo lays out the political urgency of surface-led visual culture, wherein, like performance art of the ’60s, memes resist today’s norm-culture. Tereza Ruller, The Rodina co-founder, described the concept of the “democratized surface,” in which design becomes an interactive, two-way mirror held up to society at large. Through humor, memes incite a collective reaction to everyday life as well as reveling in it, in a format no less playful than it is political, decoding the murky structural screw-ups, paradoxes, and hypocrisies of our current political climate.