As a way to open up the activities of FabLab Genk to other groups of people than the traditional makers, the ‘Fanlab’ project was set up as a collaboration between Fablab Genk (www.fablabgenk.be), screen-printing workplace KOPIJ (www.kopij.be) and the local football supporters group Drughi Genk. The project aimed at generating new ideas and creating tools that facilitate the actions of the football supporters as fans. As a reaction to a recent ban on banners in the football stadium of K.R.C. Genk, the participants created an open and activist toolkit for football supporters – and protesters alike – to intervene and communicate messages in public space.
At the start, it became clear that all participants (being five members of the supporters group, two members of KOPIJ and two members of Fablab Genk) had different backgrounds and expertise. Since most of the participants were not familiar with Fablab Genk, screen-printing techniques or making banners, this project started with exchanging knowledge about each others’ skills and expertise. Starting from their own skills and expertises provided people with some comfort in the uncertain activity they were going to engage in. The supporters group explained their working method for creating tifos (very large banners that often cover a whole tribune) and bandinieri (small banners or flags that can be raised by one person). For practical reasons, Fanlab concentrated on creating bandinieri. The method they used for creating these banners is very time-consuming since the design and text is painted by hand, leading up to 12 hours of work invested in one single bandinieri. Furthermore, creating multiple bandinieri is always challenging since there is no automated way of copying the design of a banner (thus reproducing one design onto multiple banners).
By combining the knowledge and expertise of the involved participants, different tools were created to simplify the rather manual creation process of the banners (and allow for their reproduction). The toolkit consisted of a batch of wooden alphabet stencils and a stencil of the supporters group’s logo, both created in Fablab Genk. The format of creating the tools was deliberately kept open and informal. This placed all actors on a ‘horizontal level’: the laymen (the supporters group) were considered as experts, equal to the design team. However, this also entailed a number of uncertainties: due to the open format of the intervention it was unclear for all participants what would be negotiated between them and what the outcome would be. Because of the engagement of participants in (preparing and participating in) the project and then using the toolkit for personal interventions in football stadia, the ownership over the tools grew. This feeling of ownership was also extended in time by sharing the toolkit publicly.
The actions that took place in the project grew organically from the working methods each of the partners used on a daily basis. Exchanging knowledge and skills quite radically changed the hierarchical order within the supporters group. It allowed for making the different takes on the uncertain issue at hand – the ability to creatively express oneself in public space – tangible. Prior to the project there were two members of the supporters group (with graphical skills) who were in charge of designing the banners. After the working methods merged into the toolkit, other members became more strongly involved as graphical skills were no longer needed. The role of the more graphically skilled participants did not become superfluous, since the toolkit consisted of a limited set of elements with a specific graphical style. To design and create additional typographic and visual elements for the banners, the members of the supporters with graphic skills returned several times to Fablab Genk.
Fascinating project, particularly being able to involve unlikely publics into the fablab. One question I have is the extent to which you are concerned about the politics of these signs. Would you also include football fan groups, which have logos, chants or policies that support far-right exclusionary politics as is not uncommon in certain European clubs? In other words, this type of inclusion is great to see however I wonder how selective you are with whom you work and therefore how you see yourself as a designer (disinterested or interested in the political ramifications of your work)?
That’s a very interesting question you point at, Michael. In fact, I understand the ‘ban’ on banners was led by a series of violent images and messages depicted in tifos and flags (this image is from Standard Liege’s stadium and fans, but it illustrates the issue: https://images.voetbalkrant.com/full/71/71301.jpg ).
I guess that should be another level of working within such a project. Meaning that they should not only design the tools, but also work on the content of the messages with the supporters. That would be a deeply pedagogical and challenging endeavor.
Hi Michael and Pablo
In fact the ban on banners in Genk was not – as in the Standard case – due to violent images but because the banners included very critical messages towards the board of the club.
But your question remains very valid, Michael. My personal opinion is that you always take a (political) stand in how you set up your project, in who you involve etc.