Halloween is descended from Samhain, an ancient Gaelic harvest festival. It was brought to the United States by Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine and English imperialism. Poor children would beg at the houses of the rich and vandalize those whose handouts were unsatisfactory. Tonight celebrate Halloween the ancient way: eat well and cause trouble.
Josh and I spent a short 4 days in Berlin. We went to this beautiful city primarily to look at the poster collection at the Papier Tiger Archiv. Papier Tiger is a political archive started in the early 80s, combining collections and papers from several squats and autonomous social movements. It settled in a building in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin. As we walked down the block to find Papier Tiger, there was one building completely covered in ivy and vines, this was obviously our spot. It was nice to visit an archive that originated out of the social/political movement and still kept strong symbiotic ties to it. It's in a few tall cozy rooms with floor to ceiling bookshelves with organizational folders categorized by large topics and sub-categorized down to the very specific (ie- feminism, 80s, Rote Zora group, documents). The staff was helpful and friendly (a nice change) and the place is open to browsing or research.
As I said Josh and I went to look at the posters and they are housed in a stack of flat files, also organized by movements (ie-squatting West Berlin, squatting east Berlin, feminism, int'l. solidarity S. America). A lot of posters and it was nice to be able to pull out a whole stack and dig through them. (Many of the posters have been cataloged in a recent book called: "vorwärts bis zum nieder mit: 30 Jahre Plakate unkontrollierter Bewegungen"). Papier Tiger is open to the public two days a week (Monday & Thursday from 2:30-6 PM, and they have a women's day on Friday. They are located at 25 Cuvrystrasse in Kreuzberg. for more info: http://archivtiger.de/).
On our way to the archive Josh and I wandered by a bookshop, Josh wanted to go in, I was a little hesitant as we both had our giant bags with us and that place looked crowded, thin rows between bookshelves but also giant piles of books all over the place. We did go in to Prometheus Antiquariat (Wrangelstraße 48, also in Kreuzberg), and it was a fortuitous piece of dumb luck, as it specializes in lefty books and also in art books, posters and prints. Generally the books in stacks off the floor weren't for sale and the books on the shelves were, and after an initial bit of skepticism the owner warmed up to us and gave us an amazing tour of collections in his shop. The prices were reasonable and we both walked out with a pile of books that was a fraction of the amount we would have gotten if we didn't have to lug around a bunch of shit in already over-burdened bags (and backs!).
Berlin (I think) is a beautiful city that we had a nice time walking around and exploring. As opposed to other cities we went to it seemed to spend very little on graffiti abatement so there was a ton of stencils and tags with a wide range in quality and interest (as expected). Also some pretty grand permission pieces, building sized murals that were pretty fucked up and psychedelic looking. I was particularly entranced by the sets of courtyards in buildings that had bike shops and children's theaters and playgrounds and gardens. Also the crows in Berlin were different then any other crows I've seen, larger and they had a little gray vest around their wings and heads. Quite handsome!
We went to the offices of image-shift and met founder Sandy Kaltenborn. Image-shift is a graphic design firm that has done work for social movements in Germany, work that is really striking and engaging. Applying in some ways the ideas of revolutionary creativity to graphic work, so the images are engaged are rigorous in ways that a lot of didactic work never is. We spent an afternoon discussing political graphics with Sandy and looking over a lot of the work he's done, and it was enlightening, critical and fun. Josh and I hope to translate some of his writing about political graphics into English and also to interview for a future book project.
We also hung out with two of the folks from Pony Pedro in their beautiful workshop space. Pony Pedro works mostly in silk-screen posters, but figures out ways to make them engage in the city, community and in public space in interventions that are both clever and gentle (sorry for the run-on sentence). We looked through a pile of their work including a recent book/poster project where kids from the primarily immigrant neighborhood that they work in went out and took pictures and then Pony Pedro blew up the images and made giant beautiful half-tone posters and a very handsome bound book. This is just the tip of the iceberg with their projects, well worth checking out, so check it: www.pony-pedro.de
The Pony Pedro-ers sent us up to the 'world famous Fleirscherei' which was a store front shop and silk-screen workshop up by where we were staying. Home of the 'No style crew fuckers' this was total art fuck mess of space (in the best way), they had cool prints, t shirts and homemade books for sale (including an awesome black book of berlin street artists, all silk-screened, and the variety and style in it was really cool and diverse). They were nice and let us peek around their extensive and cavernous back rooms and printing areas. Fleischerei: Torstrasse 116 (in the Mitte, right by the Rosenthaler Platz U-bahn stop)
OK, I think that's all from Berlin, more communiques coming soon!
The main reason I had originally wanted to travel to Copenhagen was to visit Christiania, the squatted former military barracks which now make up a mini-town on the edge of the official city. Originally squatted in 1973, Christiania has had a long and interesting history, some of which you can read about here. On our final day in Copenhagen we got over there, and it was interesting if somewhat underwhelming, which isn't that surprising since we were being total tourists. I guess I'm not sure what I expected; being from the US where squatting is so marginalized, and at best is usually a single run-down building in a extremely poor part of town, the idea of an entirely squatted village in one of the most expensive cities in Europe was an exciting prospect. It was cool, they have a large amount of land along the water, adn have built all kinds of interesting and strange living structures. There are no cars allowed in most of the area, and they have built a really nice bike factory their called Christiania Bikes, that make these cool bikes with huge carrier carts attached to the front. They made Icky drool, and if it had been easy to get one back to States, he would of schemed a way to get one.
Their is a fair amount of large and permanent architecture there, most of it covered in graffiti, both by local crews and artists from all over Europe. Much of it incorporates the 3 yellow circles of a red background which is the logo and flag of Christiania. There is also a huge amount of impromptu tents and yerts, which gives a large chunk of the place the feeling of a squatter caravan or camp site. The center of the village is an area called pusher street, which had large scale signs warning people to not take photos and a bunch of younger kids trying to sell hash to everyone. Because of Christiania's long-running autonomy from the larger city it seems drugs are pseudo-legalized here, but it is unclear how the commercial drug economy fuses with the utopian vision the area was founded on.
We stumbled upon a small cafe which had a display of old Christiana graphics and posters, and was selling reproductions of a lot of the posters. The guy running the place was extremely friendly, and seemed surprised to here that we didn't like George Bush, and even more surprised that I had little hope that the next president would be any better. I suppose it makes sense that the rest of the world follows US politics since it will likely affect their lives, but it was strange having a conversation about the US democratic presidential candidates with a 50 year old squatter in Denmark.
While in Århus we were lucky enough to meet Abdul and Mia, both photographers from Capetown, South Africa. They were excited about the Justseeds project, and told us about what they are working on Capetown, a project called MOPP-Month of Peoples Photography, which sounds really great. Apparently the photography scene in South Africa is still fairly segregated, particularly along class and race lines, where both photographers and their subjects need to be very privileged in order to be exhibited within most of the gallery system. MOPP rebels against that and has been doing what they call street photography, which is working with lots of people to just document their lives around Capetown and then hold guerilla art shows in the street or creative places like parking garages. It sounds like their photo actions are some of the few non-commercial oriented street art activities in the city. We had a great conversation and it definitely made me want to visit Capetown at some point.
We took a day trip to Århus (the 2nd largest city in Denmark, but still fairly small) thanks to Barbara and the great folks of Rum46, an artist group and space there. Rum46 is a group of 9 artists that originally came out of a university context but are now independent. First we went on a wild goose chase looking for the Danish Poster Museum, which has a large web presence, but seems to not have a stable physical space. We eventually found the location of their current exhibit, which was buried in the far reaches of the Danish Old City, a bizarre tourist attraction and reconstruction of a 15th or 16th century Danish town! The exhibition was on the posters of Danish industry, so basically a history of advertising. Some of the older posters were extremely well designed and printed, like a beautiful one for an old wall paper factory which had giant sheets of wallpaper emitting from the factory smokestacks. Turns out that like most Western countries, the Danish have their own long tradition of racist and colonial advertising, with a pile of orientalist products and coffee and foodstuffs hiding behind smiling African faces. On the flip side there were some great posters for bicycle and windmill production that you would never see in the States.
After that excursion we went to the Rum46 space, which was reminiscent of YNKB in Copenhagen. A smallish, but clean and open, front room for discussions, presentations and exhibitions, then a second room with desks and workspace for the artists involved, and then a back room with a small kitchen, a table to eat or driink coffee at, etc. About 20 people showed up and I gave a short talk on the history and ideas behind the Celebrate People's History Poster Series, we had a short discussion and break, then people wanted to hear more, so I gave another short presentation, this one on the history of propaganda, state control of public space, and grassroots resistance to that control via different forms of street art actions. Rum46 have been working both collaboratively and individually in public space, so it led to a good conversation, and they shared with us some of the materials they've been producing, including a postcard set of a great series of billboards they recently produced and installed.
Århus was also not immune to the struggle around Ungdomshuset, and the streets were painted with a fair number of 69s. We also found the strangest Communist bookstore we've ever seen (even though it was closed and we could only peek through the window); it appeared to be largely a music shop, with a ton of folk and classical music, and then the walls were covered with framed abstract expressionist art. After the talk Barbara, Sixten, Icky and I all went out for a delicious meal and we got to learn more about the political and art scenes in Denmark.
Tomorrow (Saturday October 27th) is the 23rd annual London Anarchist Bookfair, and Justseeds will be tabling. The longest running and one of the largest anarchist bookfairs in the world, we are excited to be getting some Justseeds art and ideas out across the ocean. Over 100 other tablers will be there as well, plus there is a full day of speakers, presentations and films.
There's a full list of all the scheduled events, plus detailed directions to get there on the bookfair website. Come out and visit us!
For anyone in Los Angeles or planning to visit over the next couple months, it's well worth a trip to check out this political graphics exhibit:
THE GRAPHIC IMPERATIVE: International Posters for Peace, Social Justice & the Environment, 1965 to 2005
at the Luckman Gallery at Cal State L.A., October 27 – December 15, 2007
I got to see the show at Mass Art in Boston, and there is a lot of really great work that would otherwise be difficult to see, including posters by Tom Ungerer, Klaus Staeck, Ester Hernandez, the Guerilla Girls, Gran Fury, Felix Beltran and Lex Drewinski. I was excited to see all of the material together and think about half of the work is extremely strong. I was disappointed by the lack of context for the work, as much it comes from very specific political contexts but little of that is explained in the exhibition. By stripping the work from it's context, the exhibition sometimes feels simply like a shopping mall for designers to pick up the next hip, "authentic" style. It seems like some of that might be corrected with the discussion series they've planned to go along with the exhibit.
If you're in New York this week, definitely check out this benefit show for Groundswell Community Mural Project. Groundswell is one of the best public arts organization in New York and they've put together a really good show this year. Justseeds member Swoon and Kevin from Visual Resistance both have work in the show, and Visual Resistance recently collaborated with Groundswell on a mural project in Gowanus, Brooklyn, so this cause is close to our hearts. Here's the details:
Groundswell Community Mural Project
Annual Benefit and Silent Auction
Tuesday, October 23rd 2007, 7-10pm
Live + Silent Auction featuring artwork by: Nicole Cherubini, Eric Fischl, April Gornick,
Judith Linhares, Elbow Toe, Inbal Sivan, Swoon, Paul Villinski & Massimo Vitalli, and many more.
529 West 20th Street, Suite 8 West
(Between 10th and 11th Avenues)
New York City
Icky and I are traveling around Europe and have been meeting with some great people and learning about some amazing art and activist projects. Here's our first missive about a struggle going on in Copenhagen:
While in Copenhagen we learned about a huge struggle going on now around the Ungdomshuset, which was the "youth house," a squatted community center for mostly punk and anarchist kids. As far as we understand, the city sold the building to a religious group who evicted them, which led to days of rioting back in the spring. Since they have torn the whole building down and are now trying to sell the land.
The location of the former squat is a sad blank spot in the landscape now, with both the building and the garden that were in the back completely destroyed and removed. The address of the building was 69 Jagtvej in the Nørrebro neighborhood, and now the entire city (and I mean the ENTIRE city) is covered with graffiti that says "69." The memory of Ungdomshuset is everywhere you look.
The kids came up with a plan to squat another building, and publicly advertised the date, time and place they would do it for months, having huge build up events almost every week, demonstrations of 5000 kids taking over different streets. One of the big things we noticed was that each event was advertised with tons of large scale posters, most full color and amazingly designed.
Finally last week came the announced day and something like 15,000 kids came from all over the country and occupied the building, and just sat down and refused to leave. It took the police hours to drag them out and after they finally did, the chief of police said the police would no longer fight the kids or deal with the kids, and it was a problem for the politicians, and they needed to solve it...so the movement forced a split between the cops and government, which seems pretty interesting...
Here is the Ungdomshushet website in English.
October 18 – November 17
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
Opening remarks by exhibiting artist Colin Matthes and reception: October 18th from 5-7 pm
Here's what the gallery has to say about the show:
This exhibit has been organized by Josh MacPhee and will showcase print art that uses themes of social justice and global equity to engage community members in political conversation. The exhibit has been displayed in other venues across the country, but will be augmented by regional artists for the exhibit here. Because of its accessibility and reproducibility, activists have long used print art as a communication tool in struggles for freedom and social equality. The bold graphic qualities made possible by printmaking techniques are used to communicate with and educate broad audiences all over the world.
The hand-printed works in the show speak of matters that are vital to understanding the world today. Some of the subjects include opposition to war, solidarity with struggles around the world, destruction of the environment, corporate control, police brutality, homelessness, and gender inequalities.
Icky and Josh from Justseeds are heading to Europe, and have some events planned...If you happen to be in Copenhagen:
presentation in YNKB
LØRDAG 13 OKTOBER KL. 15/Saturday October 13, 2007, 3 pm:
PRINTING AGAINST THE GRAIN
Activist printmaking from 1960s to now
In 1960’s, just as Andy Warhol was reinventing silkscreening as a fine art tool, printmaking was also being reinvented elsewhere for very different purposes. Activists, organizers, revolutionaries and political artists were using silkscreening, stencils, and block prints to create cheap, eye catching and easy to distribute political posters.
From French students and workers in 1968 to Chicano community workshops in the late 60’s to Italian and German Autonomists in the 70’s to Act Up in the 80’s, printmaking has taken a sweeping democratic turn in the last 40 years. This presentation shows over a hundred images and follows the political, social and aesthetic development of this activist printmaking.
A new installation exhibition by Justseeds artist Colin Matthes and fellow-traveler Brandon Bauer:
Brandon Bauer & Colin Matthes
Brooks Barrow Gallery, Milwaukee, WI
October 1 through October 27th, 2007
Artist Reception: Saturday, October 13, 2007
This exhibition brings together the work of Colin Matthes and Brandon Bauer, two artists engaged in work dealing with topical subjects for over a decade. The work on display comes from Matthes’ ongoing series Everyday Transactions, and Bauer’s Soldier series. The exhibition also features a series of collaborative paintings and drawings.
This came in the other day from The Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, who were instrumental in the fight to get the US to stop bombing the small Puerto Rican island of Vieques a few years back:
The Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques (CPRDV) is in the process of applying for a Full Power Non Commercial Educational Radio license from the Federal Communications Commission.
This is part of a long-term project to establish an educational community radio station based in Vieques which will broadcast to the Eastern Region of Puerto Rico, under the name of RADIO COMUNITARIA VIEQUES-FM (RCV-FM).