The Writing On Your Wall
Rob Tufnell-curated group show chronicling the history of radical print
When Jeremy Deller put Rupert Murdoch’s walnut face on a sky-blue ‘Vote Conservative’ poster to raise funds for the Labour Party, it looked like satire. Given the ongoing phone-hacking saga, it now feels like prophecy. The ‘Murdoch Doesn’t Give A XXX’ poster opposite from 1986’s Fortress Wapping days may be dated in terms of its reference to a then novel Australian fizzy lager, but seen alongside Deller’s piece it’s an important pointer to how history repeat itself.
Curated by Rob Tufnell, this group show aims to reclaim the radical grassroots of print, when a pamphlet, a poster and a button badge were the ideologue’s weapons of choice. Such notions date all the way back to James Gillray’s early 19th-century cartoon, awash with pop-eyed society grotesques. Crucial archives from post-1968 Notting Hill provocateurs King Mob include a flyer for the famed department store Santa action, which Malcolm McLaren may or may not have been involved in. James Connolly’s magnificently named slim volume Socialism Made Easy and Christopher Logue’s post-Vietnam poem posters marry pop and protest in a way today’s largely aesthetic-free groupuscules could similarly learn much from.
Alasdair Gray’s portraits of very personal defiance, Ruth Ewan’s text-based provocations and Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan’s ‘An Indirect Exchange … Of Uncertain Value’ series are similarly striking. A new piece by Deller shows a newspaper photo of a glum-looking quartet outside their soon-to-be-closed community centre. Dominating the room are ten prints by some-time collaborators of Mayo Thompson’s avant-rock band The Red Krayola, Art & Language. Taken from the covers of A&L publications, quasi-mock heroic images take a stand in classic socialist-realist apparel. A new piece, a framed, text-heavy paper-chain, might well be the missing link between theory and action.
Such militant tendencies are probably best personified, however, by the presence of an old-school typewriter and the sort of hand-operated vintage printer that fuelled a thousand late-night strategy meetings by clandestine cells of agitators fine-tuning manifestos to turn the world upside down. This is the means of production seized in all its inky-fingered fervour.
Edinburgh Printmakers, until Sat 29 Oct.