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'"I'm only a designer": the double life of Ernst Bettler', Dot Dot Dot 2, Winter 2000
'In late 1958 Ernst Bettler was commissioned by pharmaceuticals manufacturer Pfäfferli+Huber AG to design a running series of posters celebrating the company's fiftieth anniversary. He was already aware of reports concerning P+H's involvement in testing carried out on prisoners in concentration camps less than fifteen years before, and when the telephone call came, was about to tell this would-be client to 'go to hell. But fortunately the wheels in the brain were faster back then [...] In that split of a second I had the feeling that I could do some real damage.'

Bettler accepted the commission - a decision which cost him several left-wing friends. 'But I knew I could win them back later. The agony was biding my time. When I said yes to the job, I had no idea how subversion could work with a large client who would check everything over and over. The first set of posters gave P+H exactly what they wanted: a new style of design.' Scores at the end of the first wave of publicity were as follows: one big, happy client with a dubious but invisible past, and one talented, well-paid designer with a dwindling number of friends and a lot of sleepless nights.

Early the following year a second set of posters was presented, one by one over a series of meetings, for the client's approval. Only after they had been printed did Bettler's masterplan come to fruition: 'The beauty of it was that, taken alone, each poster was utterly inoffensive. But you must remember that everything has a Zusammenhang, a context. These posters would be seen together in horizontal rows. And I was very careful with my briefing of the bill stickers.' On hundreds of sites around Burgwald and neighbouring Sumisdorf, the posters appeared in fours. In the first a clowning child's body made an 'N'; in the second a woman's head was bowed inside the 'A'-shaped triangle of her forearms. An old man's contortions in the third poster ('that took forever to shoot') sketched a 'Z'. No prizes for guessing that the girl in the final plakat stood defiantly still, her almost silhouetted profile as stiff as, well, a letter 'I', for example.'

 

 

 

 

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