The Handmaid’s Tale

Honor Award 2018

Hulu launched its new series adaption of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the dystopian classic by Margaret Atwood. Pentagram designed a new interactive public art installation to celebrates the series by distributing 4,000 free copies of the book. The project was displayed in a high-profile location at the High Line in New York.

The novel is set in Gilead, a future theocracy where women have been stripped of their rights and subjugated into roles as “handmaids” used expressly for procreation.

Pentagram collaborated with Civic Entertainment Group on the installation. The 40-foot-long by 12-foot-high wall is arranged in an accordion fold of panels that feature the faceless silhouette of Offred, the story’s lead character played by Elisabeth Moss in the series. The display houses paperback copies of the book that passersby can take down to reveal powerful messages of resistance from the novel.

These include “Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum” (Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down), a battle cry of survival that the designers also used as a title for the installation. The images are backlit, giving them a luminous glow, and the typography of the slogans brightly shines through recesses in the wall. The display is also illuminated by lighting fixtures in the distinctive shape of the bonnets worn by the handmaids.

The High Line is an urban promenade constructed on an abandoned elevated train track and now one of the most visited sites in New York City. Pentagram was invited by Civic, which does brand activation projects, to come up with an outdoor public installation to generate interest in a way that did not feel overtly commercial.

Pentagram's client was satisfied that the piece felt authentic to the spirit of the novel and had created an effective piece of public messaging that felt closer to art than advertising. That interpretation was supported by the fact that the producers distributed 6,000 copies of the novel for free, which earned them a lot of credibility in honoring the novel and extending its reach.

The whole project represents an interesting fusion of public art, political commentary and corporate promotion. The piece generated a lot of press, and was successful in being seen as an installation with a point of view, not just a promotional piece. The press results were impressive.

Jury Comments: 

"Striking, powerful, emotional."

"It's so great to see a marketing experiences that is subtle, elegant and without the overuse of technology. Beautifully designed and thought out and a very unexpected solution for a marketing gag."

"The towering scale and bold quotes make this installation incredibly powerful. The distribution of books, and therefore knowledge, pairs perfectly with the theme."

Design Firms: 

Pentagram

Client: 

Civic Entertainment Group

Project Area: 

400 sq ft

Open Date: 

April 2017

Project Budget: 

$200,000

Design Team: 

Paula Scher, Abbott Miller (partners in charge); Rory Simms (associate partner); Natasha Amladi (architectural designer); Kirsty Gundry, Claudine Eriksson (graphic designers); Christina Milan, Sarah McKeen (project managers)

Fabricators: 

Duggal

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