A kinder gentler image? Modernism, Tradition and the new Orange Order logo.

The Orange Order has a new logo. As announced in the Belfast Telegraph a Northern Irish graphic designer, Mark Thompson from County Down, has designed the symbol.

It is hardly an overstatement to suggest that the Orange Order is a highly contentious organisation. As a vehicle for cultural and political identity it has played a prominent role in both culture and politics in Northern Ireland. In general presentation the imagery it has used has rested on reiterations of a strongly traditional visual culture of banners and flags, supplemented by other cultural modes of expression such as marching bands and music itself.

The problems of designing a new symbol are manifest. How does one retain the significations of ‘tradition’ while utilising some aspect of modernity? Moreover if one attempts to find a single symbol uniting the Orange Order one will be disappointed. On the internet and elsewhere the Orange Order utilises a multiplicity of devices, emblems and signs. First and foremost is the colour orange, drawn from King William III (William of Orange) who vanquished King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. That the Orange Order was not established until after the centenary of that Battle, in 1795, is perhaps indicative of a lack of direct historical continuity between the organisation and that which it seems to commemorate – and in this regard the Order is a fine exemplar of what Eric Hobsbawm has termed the ‘invented tradition’.

The flag of the Orange Order contains the Cross of St. George and a five pointed purple or lilac star on an orange ground.

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Other symbols, and the webpage of the Grand Orange Lodge below is typical, include the Crown, representative of the authority of the British monarch, and images of Orange Banners at parade. Intriguingly the Banner below uses a rather neutral symbolism, that of a train (perhaps signifying a softened modernity) festooned with Union Flags. In some respects this spectrum of visual imagery speaks of the activism of the Order. It is very much an organic entity that manifests itself through ‘performance’ rather than static displays, and it is this which has led to a contentious and sometimes non-existent negotiation between the Order and the broader society within which it organises.

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In this instance the new logo is, as the Belfast Telegraph notes:

Created by Co Down graphic designer Mark Thompson, the logo of a stylised orange lily has been designed to bring together the principles of reformation.

It features Martin Luther’s rose, the orange lily and the purple star which is the traditional symbol of the Orange Order.

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There are plans afoot for the logo. As the Belfast Telegraph continues:

The Orange Order also plans to register the lily logo as a trademark for the organisation.

Drew Nelson, the grand secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, said: “We felt it was the right time to freshen up the Orange Order’s logo and we are absolutely thrilled at the design Mark Thompson has created, which we feel has a crisp and modern feel.”

Mr. Nelson is correct in his assessment of the design. It does have a ‘crisp and modern’ feel by presenting a clarity of implementation to convey both tradition and modernity. The typeface is an outline serif – perhaps in order to give a certain weight to the letterforms as the shade of the colour orange is fairly muted. The arrangement is logical, with the word Orange given greater prominence than Order. A broad visual symmetry is established by the differing sized capital O’s. A copperface gothic is used for ‘Since 1795′ and the logo itself is decorative but devoid of excessive ornamentation. Interestingly, a pre-existing element of the Orange Order’s visual imagery, the five pointed lilac star provides a certain geometrical precision at the heart of the motif that seems curiously modern. The purple or lilac star is the symbol that was used by the army of William of Orange, and is interesting if only because it hasn’t figured prominently in other symbolism I have seen used by the Order.

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The lily and the Luther rose (above), the latter having a direct religious connotation drawn from the Reformation, are largely opaque to those not acquainted with the history of the Orange Order. But the treatment is in a slightly abstracted linear illustrative style although the green – presumably lily – leaves are rendered in a more representational form. Remarkably the Luther Rose was actually created by Luther, who offered a detailed visual analysis of the very specific significations of the symbol in a letter:

“…As you desire to know whether my painted seal, which you sent to me, has hit the mark, I shall answer most amiably and tell you my original thoughts and reason about why my seal is a symbol of my theology. The first should be a black cross in a heart, which retains its natural color, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us. For one who believes from the heart will be justified” (Rom. 10:10). Although it is indeed a black cross, which mortifies and which should also cause pain, it leaves the heart in its natural color. It does not corrupt nature, that is, it does not kill but keeps alive. “The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17) but by faith in the crucified. Such a heart should stand in the middle of a white rose, to show that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace. In other words, it places the believer into a white, joyous rose, for this faith does not give peace and joy like the world gives (John 14:27). That is why the rose should be white and not red, for white is the color of the spirits and the angels (cf. Matthew 28:3; John 20:12). Such a rose should stand in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that such joy in spirit and faith is a beginning of the heavenly future joy, which begins already, but is grasped in hope, not yet revealed. And around this field is a golden ring, symbolizing that such blessedness in Heaven lasts forever and has no end. Such blessedness is exquisite, beyond all joy and goods, just as gold is the most valuable, most precious and best metal…” *

The overall symmetry of the composition is not unlike the neo-classical styles championed by Jan Tschichold in the 1940s as a direct riposte to the ‘New Typography’ of which he had himself been an initiator of, but which he came to regard as a precursor of totalitarian transformative political and cultural projects.

The ‘Since 1795′ is a curious addition, one wonders is it an almost humorous aside. Yet there is a bluntness to the usage that suggests that it is intended as a simple statement of fact.

On a broader level the design is clearly part of a spectrum of imagery found in the United Kingdom which uses armorial bearings as inspiration. Consider the flags used by Hampshire County Council which rest upon a similar visual traditionalism, albeit modified and given a modish sheen in the second example.

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The use of floral emblems is well-established in the visual discourse found in the United Kingdom. The Tudor Rose is one such example, and the simplicity of the flower as symbol loans itself to bother highly decorative or relatively modernist interpretations, as above. In the case of the Orange Order there is an interesting tension between the relative literalism of the green leaves and the abstracted – yet still decorative – form of the Luther Rose itself, and perhaps it is reading too much into the imagery to suggest that here the modernist/traditionalist interpretations are made manifest in this symbol.

And it is important to contextualise this within an imagery dependent on armorial bearings as part of the visual discourse of the Northern Irish government from partition. This relied on a semi-municipal signification, as in the poster below, which eschewed significations of modernity in favour of a rather busy visual classicism. This was particularly evident in the 1950s. Perhaps this municipal and county imagery which is largely neutral in tone resting on emblems which avoid hard-edged political or religious significations was emulated by the designer and adopted by the Orange Order in order to give a softened visual imagery (again, note the rather muted shade of orange) and a softened cultural signification.

Donald Horne, the Australian cultural commentator has argued in The Public Culture that the 19th century saw the rise of ‘pseudo-traditionalisms’ of essentially the same sort as Hobsbawms ‘invented traditions’. These ‘pseudo-traditions’ served a purpose as an aspect of the public discourse within developing nation states, particularly monarchical states moving towards some level of popular participation.

He has also noted that:

“…With the constitutional monarchies, however the neopseudo-traditional is a central part of the ‘legitimations’ of state. In Britain, the monarchic presence suffuses the public culture with its glow, in the palaces, in the bright uniforms of the guards regiments, the royal coaches, the ceremonies of state… [yet] in England, there are left scarcely any ceremonies of the old folk culture that can be a principal form of the pseudo-traditionalist ‘colour’…’.

Perhaps by casting his eyes towards the North he might have found just such ceremonies which consciously presented a complex tangle of ‘myths’ (and I use the term in the sense Barthes used it rather than any pejorative way) of democracy, monarchy and religion in a very public discourse.

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That the new logo is fundamentally more modernist in configuration is in part a result, one suspects, of contemporary digital design styles but when considered in total it has a clear signification which attempts to recontextualise the identity of the Order within an early 21st century visual discourse. Reworking visual imagery and identity is, as ever, the easy part. Reworking other aspects of the identity of an organisation, any organisation, can take somewhat longer.

Ciarán Swan

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