Punk uncovered: an unofficial history of provincial opposition

British punk gave a sound, a voice and a visual currency to the disenfranchised and remote. Overlooked, uncelebrated and difficult – the output of the anonymous artworkers who packaged the vinyl spewed out by punk’s first waves captured the oppositional (and occasionally political) spirit of the time.

By Russell Bestley and Ian Noble

Most visual histories of punk rock have emphasised the work of now famous graphic designers, such as Malcolm Garrett, Peter Saville, Barney Bubbles, Russell Mills and Jamie Reid.(1) Yet the greater impact of punk on the hearts, minds and attitudes of the youth at that time was through a provincial second wave, or the beginnings of the ‘punk diaspora’(2) as Jon Savage has called it, more related to the suburbs and towns of Great Britain. Provoked by the received view of punk via the sensationalised reporting of the mainstream press, local scenes grew up across the nation, each with highly individual interpretations of the music and variations in attitude and approach.

Far from the metropolitan / London axis, this provincial interpretation of punk, as fashion, as music and as graphic output, adopted a range of individual approaches based on the part played by the music press – in particular the NME (New Musical Express) – the airplay given by Radio One DJ John Peel, the national press, and local cultural history and aspirations.

The mainstream press, almost entirely opposed to the movement, played a large part in the way punk was to be adopted and re-interpreted in regions geographically too distant from the major cities to have a direct connection or a word-of-mouth familiarity. More difficult to define, but no less significant, were those deep-seated feelings of frustration and rebellion reflected in the local culture – a regional fan base was established which took a distinctively parochial reading of the genre.(3) This is significant – for local history, provincial attitudes, and a distinctly popular culture played an equal part in the construction of this ‘second wave’ as did the suggested (‘serious’ or ‘art-house’) influences of the official history of the genre (Velvet Underground, Stooges etc.). Outside the larger metropolitan areas of the big cities, deep-seated conservative attitudes were rife – following the recession of the mid 1970s under a failed Labour administration, Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister to a far-right Conservative government in the Autumn of 1979. In smaller communities across Britain, this reflected a return to more hardline Victorian values. Though punk was becoming a fashion cliché in London, being a provincial punk was a political statement – a ‘leap of faith’(4).

For punk to have survived it needed to react to a particular social and political climate. Worsening unemployment, Northern Ireland, [Ronald] Reagan, Thatcher, the nuclear threat and the resurgence of CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament), the emergence of gay rights, the undermining of the trade unions and later the jingoism of the Falklands war, all contributed to the climate of engagement. Some bands became identified with single issues, such as TRB (the Tom Robinson Band), whose ‘Glad To Be Gay’ (EMI, 1978) became [an] anthem for gay liberation. The Au Pairs, comprising two men and two women, became associated with a newly defined approach to the concerns of women and the feminist movement, particularly with the release of the single ‘Diet / It’s Obvious’ (021 Records, 1980). Though the group achieved some success in the post-punk independent market, they were to be defined by this early approach in all their later work. The Slits and the Raincoats established a new position for women in the male-dominated rock music scene. The period also marked a new range of interpretations of punk’s employment of shock tactics, challenging middle-class norms and values. The earlier knowing dumbness of, for instance, the wearing of swastikas by Sid Vicious and Siouxsie Sioux had been balanced by the proactive movements within the scene: Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League. With the right wing appeased by a sympathetic government, the more political sections within the scene were forced to fragment their activities to address specific issues. A range of tactics were adopted by the new generation of oppositional groups, and the employment of visual codes became more critically targeted.

The geography of the UK meant that punk was able to spread quickly and found a sympathetic audience already inclined towards the feelings of rejection and alienation that characterised much of the music. More local aspirations and interpretations of the punk ethos were played out in smaller towns and cities across the country, deeply affecting many of the people involved – bands, fans, designers. This led to a resurgence of the cottage industry, the skills-building of independent businesses and many innovations in marketing and production. This significant but largely undocumented influence spawned a large number of smaller-league bands, labels and networks of activity. Bands from these towns were part of extended local networks and often toured together to other towns, pooling resources and equipment. In this way an alternative version of punk was propagated and local exchanges were built up.(5)

The look of much of this recorded work in the form of twelve-inch LP and seven-inch single and EP sleeves, and echoed in fanzines, advertisements and flyers, was often anonymous or uncredited, and a celebration of the low-tech production values of necessity. The output of many of the untrained or non-professional artworkers, band members or friends of the band (often at local art colleges) produced unusual collaborations. The Human League’s line-up involved at least one band member who did not have a musical role: Adrian Wright originally provided slide projections on stage, an integral part of the Human League’s early live appeal. This also reflected an attempt to create multidisciplinary live performances in the true punk spirit – filmmaker Mick Duffield provided projected backdrops for live performances by the band Crass. Many other groups (notably Wire) incorporated poetry and performance art into their live shows.

The grassroots approach centred on the relationship between the audience and the groups – often the fans were the bands and the bands were the fans. The spirit of ‘everyone can be in a band’ grew into ‘everyone can release their own record’ and ‘everyone can have their own label’ and this extended to the production of the sleeve artwork. The (initial) rejection of the large or major record labels as possible benefactors is exemplified in the impossibly uncommercial nature of the record sleeves.

This activity involved design strategies that, although based on limited budgets, were in many cases inventive, sophisticated and engaged in deliberate decisions concerning the ‘hard-edged’ employment of particular images, anti-typography and production processes. These attempts to capture, and communicate, the aggressive or discordant tone of the lyrics and music position much of the work as important examples of how a surface may indeed capture the experience or emotion of a musical form. Importantly, these could not have been produced by anyone other than those directly involved in the scene.

The subcultural codes contained within the sleeves and band ‘identities’ acted as factors in defining the sense of belonging and membership both in a local and national sense. These codes often took the stereotypical devices of punk – hand-rendered and stencilled typefaces, ransom-note typography and photocopied imagery, often borrowed from newspaper stories of the day and related to the topical nature of the lyrics. In other cases the look or feel was less deliberately DIY [do-it-yourself] and employed images of local significance and genuine low-tech production such as the use of typewritten text and crudely rendered images. This approach exemplified a persistent refusal to engage in sophisticated design values despite subsequent commercial success. These designers and artists went on to produce work that refined the style of earlier production, but maintained its raw disregard for more mainstream commercial aesthetic values.

Some independent labels became very successful, often making use of innovative marketing strategies and corporate styles. Early leaders in the independent sector, including Chiswick and Stiff, both born out of the pub-rock scene in London, were to figure less prominently as tastes changed rapidly in the late 1970s, and the search for a genuine ‘alternative’ scene exemplified by the likes of Rough Trade, Mute and Cherry Red records in London, or by Factory in Manchester, FAST Product in Edinburgh (ref to box??), Zoo in Liverpool and Crass in Essex (ref to box??) took hold.

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Taken from eyemagazine.com/

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Το Αθηναϊκό Underground

CAMP Contemporary Art Meeting Point

Ευπολίδος 4 & Απελλού 2, Πλ.Κοτζιά, 105 51 Αθήνα, +302103247679,http://campoint.gr/
Διάρκεια: 29 Ιουνίου – 14 Οκτωβρίου 2012

Ώρες λειτουργίας: Δευτέρα-Κυριακή 14:00-21:00

athens underground

Στα τέλη Ιουνίου παρουσιάζεται στο Camp το πρώτο μέρος της έκθεσης “Το Αθηναϊκό Underground” με τον υπότιτλο 1964-1983. Η έκθεση φιλοδοξεί να καταγράψει το εύρος αυτού του ιστορικού φαινομένου, τόσο χρονολογικά όσο και περιπτωσιολογικά. Από τις πρώτες νύξεις για το ύφος στις σελίδες του περιοδικού Πάλι έως στον μηδενισμό του punk και τη σταδιακή πολιτικοποίηση και ριζοσπαστικοποίηση του φαινομένου. Από τα δεκάδες έντυπα των 70s και 80s που διανέμονταν στην πλατεία Εξαρχείων έως ψυχεδελικές και underground τάσεις στις γκαλερί της εποχής. Από το παραισθητικό και παραβατικό σινεμά έως τη σχέση των εικαστικών με τη μουσική της εποχής.

Η έκθεση επιχειρεί να αναλύσει το κλίμα εκείνης της εποχής, πολιτισμικό και πολιτικό, το οποίο (ίσως) εμφανίζει παράδοξες ομοιότητες με τη σημερινή. Ακριβώς γι’ αυτό το λόγο η ιστορική ανασκόπηση αυτή θέλει ν’ ανοίξει διάλογο με μια ανήσυχη καλλιτεχνική σκηνή των ημερών μας που θα μπορούσε, υπό κάποιο πρίσμα, να θεωρηθεί το “νέο underground”.

Μετά το τέλος του πρώτου μέρους θα ξεκινήσει το δεύτερο μέρος με τίτλο “To Αθηναϊκό Underground-1984-2012”, όπου παρουσιάζονται περιπτώσεις καλλιτεχνών που δραστηριοποιιούνται σε κάτι (;) που μοιάζει επικίνδυνα με “underground”. Κατά τη διάρκεια της τρίμηνης διάρκειά της, η έκθεση θα πλαισιωθεί με προβολές, εκδηλώσεις και συζητήσεις όπου οι πρωταγωνιστές εκείνης της εποχής θα καταθέσουν, προσωπικά την εμπειρία τους. Η έκθεση θα συμπληρωθεί με την έκδοση ενός πλούσια εικονογραφημένοου βιβλίου με αναλυτικές προσεγγίσεις στο φαινόμενο από ερευνητές και μελετητές.

Καλλιτέχνες της έκθεσης Underground: 1964-1983: 
Αλέξης Ακριθάκης, Μίνως Αργυράκης, Νάνος Βαλαωρίτης, Στήβ Γιαννάκος, Στέργιος Δελιαλής, Νίκος Ζερβός, Λάζαρος Ζήκος, Πάνος Κουτρουμπούσης, Nick Lyber [Νίκος Λυμπερόπουλος], Ηλίας Πολίτης, Θανάσης Ρεντζής, Αλέξης Ταμπουράς, Κωστής Τριανταφύλλου, Λεωνίδας Χρηστάκης, Γιάννης Αρκούδης Χριστοδούλου, Χρήστος Ζυγομαλάς.

Συντονισμός-επιμέλεια: Θανάσης Μουτσόπουλος. Επιμελητής έντυπου αρχείου: Νεκτάριος Παπαδημητρίου. Επιμελητής εικαστικού αρχείου: Παντελής Αραπίνης. Επιιμελητής κινηματογραφικού αρχείου: Γιάννης Χαριτίδης. Επιμελητής εικονογραφικού αρχείου: Θανάσης Μουτσόπουλος.

Πρόγραμμα Β’ κύκλου παράλληλων εκδηλώσεων

Παρασκευή 5/10, 19.00 Προβολή του ντοκιμαντέρ του Αντώνη Μποσκοϊτη για την Κατερίνα Γώγου, “Για την Αποκατάσταση του Μαύρου” (2012). Ακολουθεί συζήτηση με τον σκηνοθέτη.

Σάββατο 6/10, 19.00 “Κενό Δίκτυο: Ο ρόλος της καλλιτεχνικής συνειδητότητας στην αντικαθεστωτικη κουλτούρα”. Παρουσίαση και συζήτηση του εναλλακτικού δρόμου της ομάδας.

Κυριακή 7/10, 19.00 “Η αφομοίωση του underground από το mainstream στην Ελλάδα, και άλλες μεταμοντέρνες ιστορίες”. Ανακοίνωση του Θανάση Μουτσόπουλου.

Δευτέρα 8/10, 19.00 “Ανισόπεδες Υπερβάσεις”. Προβολή του ντοκιμαντέρ του Γιάννη Μισιουρίδη για τους Lost Bodies (2011). Στη συνέχεια ο Θάνος Κόης (Lost Bodies) συζητάει με τον μουσικοκριτικό Αργύρη Ζήλο και το κοινό.

Τρίτη 9/10, 19.00 Προβολή ελληνικών underground ταινιών μικρού μήκους. Συζήτηση “Underground και Πειραματικός Κινηματογράφος ΙΙ”. Γιώργος Μαυροειδής, Μάνος Κατσούλης, Γιάννης Χαριτίδης. Συντονίζει η Λίνα Φονταρά.

Τετάρτη 10/10, 19.00 Ανακοίνωση του σκηνοθέτη Θανάση Ρεντζή σε σχέση με την κοινωνική διάσταση του underground.

Πέμπτη 11/10, 19.00 “Έρωτας και Επανάσταση”. Προβολή της ταινίας του Νίκου Αλευρά, “Οι Σφαίρες πέφτουν σαν το Χαλάζι και ο τραυματισμένος καλλιτέχνης αναστενάζει” (1977).

Παρασκευή 12/10, 19.00 Συζήτηση “Εκδόσεις και underground”: Γιώργος Γαρμπής, Μιχάλης Πρωτοψάλτης και Σαράντης Κορωνάκος. Συντονίζει ο Νεκτάριος Παπαδημητρίου.

Σάββατο 13/10, 19.00 “Κτίριο Καλλιτεχνών: η εμπειρία της Καταληψης της Γ’ Σεπτεμβριου 43 (1987-1997). Προβολή του ντοκιμαντέρ του Μπάμπη Πλαϊτάκη, “Το Κτίριο των Καλλιτεχνών” (1990). Ακολουθεί συζήτηση με τους Μιχάλη Λαγκουβάρδο, Γιάννης Κουτρούλη και Γιάννη Σκαλτσά. Συντονίζει ο Τζίμης Ευθυμίου.

Κυριακή 14/10, 19.00 “Οtherground: οι μεταμορφώσεις του underground μετά το ’80”. Συζητούν οι: Τζίμης Ευθυμίου (Αέρα Πατέρα, Ορίζοντας γεγονότων, Κατεχάκη 54), Γιάννης Ραουζαίος (Κενό Δίκτυο), Θανάσης Μουτσόπουλος.

Taken from elculture.gr/

Punk: An Aesthetic

Punk_an_aesthetic

 

Authors Jon Savage, William Gibson, and Linder Sterling, Edited by Johan Kugelberg

From posters for punk-rock bands and indie filmmakers to fanzines and other independent publications, the art of the punk movement revolutionized design in ways whose influence is still felt today, and reflected the consciousness of a counterculture with a clarity seldom seen since.

Drawing on private and public archives of rare material from around the world, this heavily illustrated book presents an unrivaled collection of punk art and ephemera that incorporates every aspect of the movement, from the earliest occurrences of punk symbolism in posters and flyers for underground bands to the explosion of fanzines and Xerox culture, and from rare photographs of musicians such as the Sex Pistols and the Screamers to the artwork of Crass, Jamie Reid, John Holmstrom, and the contemporary street artist Banksy.

With more than three hundred images and accompanying essays by Johan Kugelberg, Jon Savage, and William Gibson, this definitive visual narrative illustrates how the DIY ethic of the punk era inspired a movement in graphic arts and design whose influence is still felt among the most significant figures in the fields today.

About the Author

Johan Kugelberg is the author of Vintage Rock T-Shirts, Born in the Bronx, andThe Velvet Underground: New York Art, all published by Rizzoli. He contributes regularly to several magazines, including Another Magazine. He is also a curator with a gallery in New York. Jon Savage is a journalist and the author of England’s Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock and Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture, among many other books. William Gibson is a cyberpunk science-fiction novelist and the author of numerous books, including Neuromancer, All Tomorrow’s Parties, and Zero History.

Taken from rizzoliusa.com/

Το αθηναϊκό underground / Athenian underground, 1964-1983

Παρουσιάζεται για πρώτη φορά στο Contemporary Art Meeting Point: Εικαστικά, λογοτεχνία, μουσική, κινηματογράφος.

CAMP-Contemporary Art Meeting Point (Ευπόλιδος 4 και Απελλού 2, Πλατεία Κοτζιά)

29 Ιουνίου – 30 Αυγούστου, Δευτέρα – Κυριακή 2.00 μ.μ.-9.00 μ.μ.

Κολάζ του Νάνου Βαλαωρίτη, στο περιοδικό Πάλι, που εκδιδόταν από τον ίδιο, τον Δημήτρη Πουλικάκο, τον Λεωνίδα Χρηστάκη και άλλους.

Βρισκόμαστε στα μέσα της δεκαετίας του ’60. Δίπλα στις ταινίες της Φίνος Φιλμς, στα κοσμικά κέντρα, στον Μανώλη Χιώτη και τη Μαίρη Λίντα, παράλληλα με την ανοικοδόμηση της μεταπολεμικής Αθήνας και την άνοδο της μικρο- και μεσοαστικής τάξης, ένας άλλος κόσμος υπάρχει, ενεργεί και δημιουργεί, υπόγεια, κάτω από το έδαφος της κυρίαρχης κουλτούρας. Ο κόσμος του Λεωνίδα Χρηστάκη και του Λάζαρου Ζήκου, τουΣτέργιου Δεληαλή, του Κωστή Τριανταφύλλουτου Σίμου του Υπαρξιστή, του Νάνου Βαλαωρίτη και του Γιώργου Μακρή, του Πάνου Κουτρουμπούση, του Νικόλα Άσιμου, του Παύλου Σιδηρόπουλου.

Είναι ο κόσμος του αθηναϊκού underground, ξεχασμένος από τους παλιούς, άγνωστος στους νέους, ο οποίος παρουσιάζεται σε πλήρη ανάπτυξη στην έκθεση που πραγματοποιείται στους χώρους του Contemporary Art Meeting Point (CAMP), στην Πλατεία Κοτζιά στην Αθήνα. H έκθεση άνοιξε στις 29 Ιουνίου και θα διαρκέσει ως τις 30 Αυγούστου.
Το εικαστικό underground παρουσιάζεται στον πρώτο όροφο του CAMP με έργα 15 καλλιτεχνών: Αλέξης Ακριθάκης, Μίνως Αργυράκης, Στηβ Γιαννάκος, Στέργιος Δεληαλής, Νίκος Ζέρβος, Λάζαρος Ζήκος, Πάνος Κουτρουμπούσης, Nicholas Liber [Νίκος Λυμπερόπουλος], Ηλίας Πολίτης, Θανάσης Ρεντζής, Αλέξης Ταμπουράς, Κωστής Τριανταφύλλου, Λεωνίδας Χρηστάκης, Γιώργος Αρκούδης Χριστοδούλου, Χρήστος Ζυγομαλάς. Στον τρίτο όροφο του CAMP, σε ανατολικοβερολινέζικη ατμόσφαιρα, οι επισκέπτες παρακολουθούν σε οθόνες ταινίες του αθηναϊκού underground και προβολή ντοκιμαντέρ.

Το αθηναϊκό underground 1964-1983 είναι η «υπόγεια» έκφραση, που συνδέεται με τις ψυχεδελικές ουσίες, τη σεξουαλική απελευθέρωση, την αμφισβήτηση και τον σαρκασμό του συστήματος, τη βέβηλη, αιχμηρή ματιά, την ελευθεριακή γλώσσα, τον αντικομφορμισμό, το παραισθητικό και παραβατικό σινεμά, την περίεργα περιθωριακή αναρχικότητα, την ανομοιογένεια. «Είναι μια ολόκληρη κοινωνία αποκομμένη ηθελημένα από όλους τους υπόλοιπους που δημιουργεί τον δικό της κόσμο», εξήγησε μιλώντας στο «Βήμα» ο Γιώργος Γεωργακόπουλος, διευθυντής του CAMP, «μια κοινωνία πολιτικοποιημένη αλλά όχι με την έννοια της κομματικής πολιτικοποίησης της εποχής».

Το underground είναι τα κολάζ του Πουλικάκου και τα σκίτσα του πρώτου Ακριθάκη, είναι τα «μελάνια» και τα «λάδια» του εικαστικού και εκδότη Λεωνίδα Χρηστάκη, τα εξώφυλλα δίσκων του Στέργιου Δεληαλή, οι «μαρκαδόροι» και τα κόμικ του Πάνου Κουτρουμπούση, τα σκίτσα σε έντυπα του Λάζαρου Ζήκου, τα πρωτοποριακά ή αιρετικά περιοδικά Πάλι, Τρύπα, Μορμώ, Ιδεοδρόμιο (στη φωτογραφία αριστερά), Panderma, Κρεβατίνα, Λωτός, Ονειροδρόμιο, Το Άλλο στην Τέχνη, Χαρακίρι, η παράγκα και τα πάρτι του Σίμου του Υπαρξιστή, τα στέκια, τα φλιπεράκια και τα μπιλιάρδα, τα περί την Ομόνοια σινεμά, τα ταξίδια και η διαμονή στο εξωτερικό, τα μουσικά συγκροτήματα.

Σκίτσα, εξώφυλλα δίσκων αλλά και πίνακες, τεύχη περιοδικών, φωτογραφίες και χειρόγραφαπαρουσιάζονται στην έκθεση, η οποία, όπως είπε στο «Βήμα» ο Γιώργος Γεωργακόπουλος,«είναι η πρώτη προσπάθεια να τεκμηριωθεί το αθηναϊκό underground ». Η έκθεση έχει και έναν μουσειακό χαρακτήρα και σκοπός των διοργανωτών ήταν να καταγραφεί και να παρουσιαστεί στο κοινό η τέχνη του αθηναϊκού underground, «όσο έχουμε ακόμη κοντά μας τις παρουσίες εκείνων που πρωταγωνίστησαν σε αυτό καθώς και το αρχειακό υλικό που βρίσκεται στα χέρια τους». Η έκθεση βασίζεται σε υλικό από το προσωπικό αρχείο των ίδιων των καλλιτεχνών, οι οποίοι είναι συνήθως κάτοχοι και των αρχείων παλιών φίλων τους.

Η τέχνη του αθηναϊκού underground, πάντοτε στη σκιά από τη φύση της, δεν μπήκε σε γκαλερί και σε μουσεία, κυκλοφορούσε στην underground κοινωνία και πολλά από τα εκθέματα βρέθηκαν να μουχλιάζουν σε σοφίτες ή σώθηκαν, την τελευταία στιγμή, κυριολεκτικά από τα σκουπίδια. Η έκθεση είναι αφιερωμένη στη μνήμη του Λεωνίδα Χρηστάκη και του Λάζαρου Ζήκου, δύο κεντρικών μορφών του αθηναϊκού underground.

Να καταγράψει το εύρος αυτού του ιστορικού φαινομένου, τόσο χρονολογικά όσο και περιπτωσιολογικά, φιλοδοξεί η έκθεση. Από τις πρώτες νύξεις για το ύφος στις σελίδες του περιοδικού Πάλι ως τον μηδενισμό του πανκ και τη σταδιακή πολιτικοποίηση και ριζοσπαστικοποίηση του φαινομένου, το αθηναϊκό underground ενσωματώνει στοιχεία του σουρεαλισμού, της μπιτ κουλτούρας, της ψυχεδέλειας και του πανκ και μετακομίζει από το Κολωνάκι του δισκοπωλείου «Ποπ Ιλέβεν» στα μεταπολιτευτικά Εξάρχεια του βιβλιοπωλείου «Οκτόπους» του Τέο Ρόμβου.

Το underground εμφανίζεται με κολάζ, κόμικ και σκίτσα με μελάνια και μαρκαδόρους, σε ευτελή υλικά, «από καλλιτέχνες που πολλοί δεν έχουν ίσως ιδιαίτερη δεξιοτεχνία και δεν έχουν φοιτήσει σε σχολές Καλών Τεχνών, που κάνουν πιο πολύ την τρέλα τους, με επιρροές από το λονδρέζικο και το νεοϋορκέζικο underground, τη βυζαντινή ή τη λαϊκή τέχνη και με πρότυπα τον Μποστ και τον Μίνω Αργυράκη» αναλύει στο «Βήμα» ο Θανάσης Μουτσόπουλος, συντονιστής-επιμελητής της έκθεσης.

Το εικαστικό underground είναι άγνωστο, ακόμη και στον καλλιτεχνικό κόσμο, και γι’ αυτό έχει σημασία η τεκμηρίωσή του μέσα από μια τέτοια έκθεση. «Με τους μουσικούς του, τον Πουλικάκο, τον Άσιμο, τον Σιδηρόπουλο, τα πράγματα είναι διαφορετικά, το κοινό είναι εξοικειωμένο μαζί τους, τους γνωρίζει, ήταν πιο δημοφιλείς από τους εικαστικούς».

Γιατί αθηναϊκό και όχι ελληνικό; «Διεθνώς το underground αποτελεί μητροπολιτικό φαινόμενο» μας εξηγεί ο Θανάσης Μουτσόπουλος. «Σε κάθε πόλη όπου εμφανίζεται, στο Βερολίνο, στη Νέα Υόρκη, στο Σαν Φρανσίσκο, έχει διαφορετική αισθητική. Δεν μπορούμε να μιλάμε για φαινόμενο εθνικής εμβέλειας. Αν υπήρξε αλλού στην Ελλάδα; Μόνο στη Θεσσαλονίκη παρουσιάζεται κάτι ολοκληρωμένο, αλλά μικρότερης έκτασης από ό,τι στην Αθήνα».

Το αθηναϊκό underground λήγει το 1984; «Υπάρχει κάποια συνέχεια, από το ’85 ως σήμερα, η οποία θα παρουσιαστεί σε μια επόμενη έκθεση τον Οκτώβριο, αλλά διαφορετικού τύπου. Παραδόξως, δεν υπάρχουν επιδράσεις του underground στους καλλιτέχνες που ακολούθησαν. Το αθηναϊκό underground έληξε με την περίοδο του περιοδικού “Βαβέλ”, του αντιπεριοδικού του ’80», εκτιμά ο Γιώργος Γεωργακόπουλος. Οι λόγοι; «Μετά το ’85-’86, οι καλλιτέχνες ίσως είχαν κουραστεί, κυρίως όμως από εκείνη την εποχή και μετά η πληροφορία κυκλοφορεί πιο γρήγορα και τα underground φαινόμενα χάνουν τον καθαρά τοπικό χαρακτήρα τους και αποκτούν διεθνή χαρακτήρα».

Μπορεί να υπάρξει underground σήμερα; «Όχι», είναι η προσωπική εκτίμηση του Θανάση Μουτσόπουλου, γιατί «ένα γκραφίτι που ζωγραφίζεται στον τοίχο απόψε το βράδυ γίνεται αύριο εξώφυλλο σε ευρείας κυκλοφορίας έντυπο. Έτσι, τα πράγματα χάνουν το νόημά τους. Το underground ζούσε σε ένα παράλληλο σύμπαν που δεν είχε επαφή με εκείνο της δεσπόζουσας κουλτούρας και αισθητικής». Ενδεχομένως όμως, η περιρρέουσα ατμόσφαιρα σήμερα να έχει σχέση με τις συνθήκες που γέννησαν το underground:«Κατέρρευσαν πολλά από τα δεδομένα του κυρίαρχου συστήματος, άρα είναι πολύ πιο λογικό να δούμε την πραγματικότητα με μια ματιά εκτός συστήματος. Η Αθήνα είναι σήμερα γεμάτη από εικόνες street art, σε ποσότητες μεγαλύτερες από κάθε άλλη μητρόπολη, από το Παρίσι, τη Νέα Υόρκη και το Τόκιο, το επισημαίνουν όλοι οι ξένοι ανταποκριτές. Σημαίνει αυτό ότι ένα νέο underground γεννιέται; Δύσκολο να απαντήσουμε τώρα».

Η έκθεση περιγράφει την κοινωνία, την ανθρωπογεωγραφία και την τοπογραφία μιας υπόγειας Αθήνας των δεκαετιών από το ’60 ως το ’80 και θα επιχειρήσει να αναλύσει το πολιτισμικό και πολιτικό κλίμα της εποχής, το οποίο εμφανίζει, ίσως, παράδοξες ομοιότητες με τη σημερινή. Σκοπός είναι «αυτή η ιστορική ανασκόπηση να ανοίξει διάλογο με μια ανήσυχη καλλιτεχνική σκηνή των ημερών μας για να διερευνηθεί αν μπορεί, υπό κάποιο πρίσμα, να θεωρηθεί ότι αναδύεται ένα νέο underground».

Στη διάρκεια της έκθεσης θα πραγματοποιηθούν προβολές, εκδηλώσεις και συζητήσεις, όπου οι πρωταγωνιστές εκείνης της εποχής θα καταθέσουν την εμπειρία τους. Το φαινόμενο του αθηναϊκού underground παρουσιάζουν αναλυτικά μελετητές αλλά και πρωταγωνιστές του σε πλούσια εικονογραφημένο τόμο που κυκλοφορεί από το CAMP με την αφορμή της έκθεσης.

Την επιμέλεια του έντυπου αρχείου της έκθεσης έχει ο Νεκτάριος Παπαδημητρίου, του εικαστικού αρχείου ο Παντελής Αραπίνης και του κινηματογραφικού αρχείου ο Γιάννης Χαριτίδης. Επιμελητής του εικονογραφικού αρχείου και γενικός συντονιστής-επιμελητής της έκθεσης είναι ο Θανάσης Μουτσόπουλος.

 

Taken from tovima.gr/culture/

GOD SAVE THE QUEEN – Punk in the Netherlands 1977-1984

3 March 2012 until 10 June 2012

Centraal museum – Utrecht

Nikki & Ilva van de meisjepunkband The Nixe, fotoBuffel

God Save the Queen will be on display in the Centraal Museum from 3 March 2012 to 10 June 2012. This exhibition covers the period from 1977 – 1984 when Dutch youth decided to break free from a dire situation of crisis, high unemployment, housing shortage and nuclear bomb threat. Having lost all faith in the government, it was time for them to take charge. They occupied empty buildings in the cities, and in these squats started small new businesses. Their motto being ‘Do-it-yourself’. This young generation also gave music and art a boost of new life: punk got rid of the artificial symphonic rock of the seventies, and artists once again dirtied their canvas and clothes with paint. Over the past years, the eighties have received great interest worldwide. The revival is clearly noticeable in music and fashion and, internationally, there have been various exhibitions high-lighting this decade. Until now, such an exhibition had not yet taken place in the Netherlands.

International scale
The exhibition mainly focuses on the Netherlands, but what was happening here cannot be seen outside the international context. This, due to the hungry curiosity typical of this time for what was happening in neighbouring countries and the US. Inspiration came from the wild painting style of Germany, but also graffiti from across the Atlantic in New York. The exhibition shows works by Walter Dhan, Georg Dokoupil and Americans Keith Haring, Rammellzee and Jean-Michel Basquiat. An attempt by Dutch artists to respond to the American graffiti were Spray Armee, with René Daniëls, Hewald Jongenelis, Rob Scholte and Roland Sips.

Do-it-yourself
The start of the 80s was accompanied by the mantra ‘do-it-yourself’. Visitors can therefore get their own hands dirty by making button badges, analogue chatting and with an interactive set of drums.

Title

The exhibition is named after the youth’s punk anthem at that time, the songGod Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols. This song was intended as an indictment against the powers that be.

centraalmuseum.nl/

The rise of punkademia – How do you study a movement that doesn’t want to be studied?

By Leon Neyfakh

When I was a freshman in college, I heard a thrilling rumor one day about a graduate student in the government department. The rumor was he had a shocking past, and the next time I saw him, I sized him up, searching for signs of it. I found none. Samuel Goldman looked perfectly normal — clean-cut, well groomed, with dignified glasses. No way, I thought. No way this guy was a secret punk rocker.

But it was true. Though you couldn’t tell by looking at him, Goldman had been a fixture in the 1990s New York punk scene, as the drummer in a band called the Hysterics. To think he was now working as a section leader at Harvard, wearing blazers and writing a dissertation on critiques of religion in German philosophy! I told my friend Colby about it, and it blew his mind, too. Though we never tried to talk to Goldman, we looked at him whenever he walked by.

What was so captivating to us about a graduate student with a punk rock past? Part of it was just curiosity: We wanted to know where Goldman had hung out before he quit the life, how he’d worn his hair, why he’d given it up. But at the heart of our fixation was the following fact: Being an academic is not punk. Being a graduate student is not punk, and neither is being a professor. In fact, most people would probably say that academia in general is about the least punk thing a person could ever be a part of. Submitting papers to journals, clamoring for the approval of esteemed colleagues — it’s hard to imagine a lifestyle more at odds with the snarling embrace of chaos and the violent rejection of authority that have been associated with punk rock ever since it body-slammed itself into existence in the 1970s.

And yet, the academy is full of former punks just like Samuel Goldman. And while many of them have long since abandoned their youthful passions — “I have the ordinary concerns of graduate students,” as Goldman told the Harvard Crimson in 2006 — others have stayed invested in punk culture, not only by continuing to identify with it, but by taking it up as an object of academic study. Together, these punks-turned-professors have built for themselves a small but growing niche — one that’s dedicated to better understanding what punk was, what it has become, and why anyone should care.

The field of punk studies is currently enjoying an especially fertile moment. In the past two years, punk studies has generated books like “Visual Vitriol: The Street Art and Subcultures of the Punk and Hardcore Generation” and “White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race,” and papers with titles like “The Jersey Punk Basement Scene: Exploring the Information Underground” and “Let the Shillelagh Fly: Dropkick Murphys and Irish Hybridity in Punk Rock.” The Harvard Film Archive recently screened a series of 10 films about American punk, including a punk rock zombie movie. Next month will see the publication of the first issue of Punk & Post-Punk, a new peer-reviewed journal devoted entirely to the subject of punk culture. Two other academic journals are putting together special issues on the role of gender and race in punk. And soon, a group of punk enthusiasts at New York University, including the curator of the premier punk archive in the United States, will put out a call for papers in anticipation of a planned academic conference marking punk’s 40th birthday.

“There seems to be a real kind of buzz about the subject at the moment,” said Philip Kiszely, a lecturer at the University of Leeds and the cofounder of the new punk journal. “Ever since we put out a call for papers, we’ve been deluged with materials.”

In one sense, punk is just another pop culture phenomenon being placed under the academic microscope. (See the conference on “Jersey Shore Studies” held last month at the University of Chicago.) But it also presents special challenges to those who attempt to study it — in part because it has been associated with a bewildering array of ideologies, traditions, and values over the years, and also because at its core, punk is essentially hostile to what academia represents. Scholars who take on punk find themselves working amid bedeviling contradictions, as they try to methodically define a culture that refuses definition, rejects method, and denies the very idea of expertise.

Punk rock arrived in the 1970s like a punch in the jaw, shocking parents and seducing teenagers who were viscerally excited by the fresh, unpredictable energy of bands like the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and the Clash. Punk bands took pride in not being professional musicians — in writing songs that consisted of three chords and vocals that could be sung out of tune. They offered young people the promise of raw authenticity, an antidote to both the morally bankrupt mainstream culture and the tedious earnestness of the ’60s. The best bands enthralled their audiences with careening charm; the worst served as an inspiring reminder of punk’s radically democratic, “do it yourself” ethos.

It didn’t take long for academics to realize punk was interesting — that there might be real ideas lurking under the crashing and banging. Before the ’70s were even over, a young cultural theorist from England named Dick Hebdige had published a book called “Subculture: The Meaning of Style,” in which he analyzed punk among working-class youth in Britain, and traced its intellectual roots to avant-garde movements like Situationism and Dada. A handful of other writers took their shots at defining what seemed like an exciting, if brief, cultural moment.

Then, instead of burning out, the punk tribe splintered in spectacular fashion during the ’80s and ’90s, spawning innumerable local scenes around the world and mutating at a steady clip. Some proclaimed that “real” punk was dead, while others saw its influence only spreading. New forms of punk music appeared — American hardcore, Oi!, riot grrrl, third wave ska. Today, one can detect the influence of punk at every level of culture: The music can be heard on Broadway as well as basement shows in Allston; the fashion appears on runways and on the kids in the Harvard Square pit. Some Occupy protesters claim a punk lineage. So do some nihilistic skinheads.

It didn’t take long for the discord over the true meaning of punk to start leaking into the academic literature. Hebdige’s book on punk, as well as other early analyses by Dave Laing and Greil Marcus, came under fire as overly simplistic and too focused on a handful of major bands in New York and London. In 1999, a British cultural critic named Roger Sabin published an anthology of academic papers called “Punk Rock: So What?” which was billed as a radical revision of punk’s history: According to Sabin, punk needed to be seen as an enduring, amorphous force in the broader culture, a patchwork of attitudes and competing ideas that permeated not just music but art, literature, and film.

Punk studies as it exists today took shape over the next 10 years, as scholars raised ever more specific questions. In addition to broader efforts like Nicholas Rombes’s book, “A Cultural Dictionary of Punk, 1974-1982,” the field has also produced a shelf of more esoteric studies: a scholarly paper on punk cuisine, another exploring the intersection of punk and religion. Marvin Taylor, the curator at the Fales Library at NYU, has investigated the origins of punk’s signature black leather jacket, and traced it back to a couple of Russian-Jewish immigrants who invented it on the Lower East Side in the late 1920s.

Taken together, this work has amounted to an interrogation of punk’s essence — an attempt to figure out why this explosive and self-destructive-seeming movement has proven so persistent, and what it has meant to all the different people who have embraced it. According to Anne Cecil of Drexel University, who oversees punk programming at the annual meeting of the Pop Culture Association, the reason for the apparent surge of interest in punk among academics comes down to simple demographics. What’s happening, she said, is that people who participated in the scene as kids during the late ’70s and ’80s have reached a point in their careers where they can spend time studying what they’re really passionate about.

Issue one of Punk & Post-Punk will be a milestone for the field. Founded by a pair of British cultural historians, Kiszely and Alex Ogg, the journal is being billed as both a repository and a catalyst for new, creative thinking about punk. According to Kiszely, the goal of the journal is to get behind the myths that have built up around punk over the past 40 years, and to figure out how its various permutations have influenced the broader culture.

Describing punk in an academically rigorous way can be challenging, in part because punks have always made such an effort to be inscrutable to outsiders. The punk movement, insofar as it is one, does not yield easily to scholarly interpretation. Some punks were tolerant leftists, while others wore swastikas on their leather jackets; some were art school dilettantes, while others came from the working class. Even punk’s supposed privileging of authenticity is challenged by the fact that the most famous punk band of all time, the Sex Pistols, was assembled, boy-band style, by a Svengali figure named Malcolm McLaren.

It’s never been clear to what extent the punk tradition is informed by a coherent set of ideas at all — whether there are meaningful things to say about its grounding in radical politics, ethics, or economic thought. According to David Ensminger, a folklorist and a practicing punk who teaches at Lee College in Texas and who wrote the book “Visual Vitriol,” this is not because punks are anti-intellectual: It’s more that they have always been promiscuous when it comes to ideas, adopting bits of Karl Marx, Fredric Jameson, Guy Debord, and Noam Chomsky as it suits them. Ensminger said in an e-mail that he deliberately avoided trying to “pin punk down” when he was writing his own book — an approach that struck some of his more scholarly colleagues as insufficiently academic.

Ensminger wasn’t surprised, he said: He knew he had taken a deliberately punk rock approach in his scholarship, and he knew that in certain ways, that was going to fly in the face of academic values. After all, he said, “The language and rhetoric of the academy, its narcissism, self-importance, territorialism, and sheltered pomposity, was exactly what punks detested.”

Kiszely and Ogg, who already have the second issue of Punk & Post-Punk in the bag and are working on the third, don’t see this as a reason to turn away from punk studies. On the contrary, Kiszely said: “There needs to be an analytical approach to punk, because it’s so culturally important . . . .It’s resonated so deeply that we need to make sense of it, and we need to understand why something that happened so quickly, and which was ostensibly such a negative thing, has had such a lasting impact.”

As for the mysterious Goldman, I looked him up last week. He’s now a post-doctoral fellow in the religion department at Princeton. I told him in an e-mail about how my friends and I had been fascinated by him in college. He said, in his response, that he was “amused but pleased” to hear it. Later, when I noticed he still includes his contributions to the punk zine Maximumrocknroll in his official biography, I felt the same way.

Taken from bostonglobe.com/

The Alternative Education of a Chinese Punk

Translation of an autobiographical essay by Tang Shui’en, mainland left-libertarian musician and activist, recounting his path from childhood in 1980s rural Hubei to participation in Wuhan’s pioneering punk scene since the late 1990s, interaction with overseas radicals, and experimentation with independent media and an “autonomous youth center.” Written in early 2009 for a forum on social space among the generation born in the 1980s, organized by the Shao Foundation. Also see “A Liberated Space in Wuhan” in Black Rim #1 (English), this report on the campaign to protect East Lake (English), Myspace page for the author’s band (featuring the song “Peasant Uprising”), and the Douban pages for the social center in Wuhan.

Among the common masses, how many of us are aware of the oppressive forces that push us to society’s margins? Apart from a small minority, most people – even if at every moment they feel discomfort – are unable to determine the source of this pain. The word “marginal” itself is so abstract that it can only serve as a code of recondite academia and mass media. As the radical Brazilian educator Paulo Freire has shown, the masses are the “object” of development. We do not exist within the active process of naming things, but only within the theories of education and behavior created by our oppressors, which have fostered a “culture of silence” among the people. In addition to silence, this process has cultivated us to be a “mass” with minds focused on the mainstream while our bodies are marginalized, and it has created a market to profit from this situation. Clearly, the vitality of today’s consumerism is related to “materialism” – a word the Party has helped redefine from its philosophical sense [唯物主义] to mean commercial materialism [物质主义]. Meanwhile, social movement activists and mobilizers are attempting to rouse the masses’ sense of social participation. The obstacles we face stem not only from the combination of a “culture of consumption” with a “culture of silence,” but also from the violent and totalitarian shadow left behind by history, the Left, and “utopianism.” That shadow is even more threatening to that elite consumerism which tries to play the role of world-savior, promising to help individuals realize their material desires. This is probably why the tradition of patriarchal education has only served to reinforce the warning, “Do not discuss politics!” [莫谈国事].1 This point may be helpful in analyzing the current impasse of activism. Some “postmodern activists” have calmed down since the ferment of Seattle and Genoa. They’ve begun to reread Freire’sPedagogy of the Oppressed and are trying to set in motion a more fundamental movement – that of radical education. But what does the self-education of the oppressed entail? This article doesn’t attempt to sort out the various theories of radical education. Instead, I would like to briefly introduce my own story. As a “punk,” I experienced a kind of alternative education that could never develop within a classroom. And it is this enlightening (and irrational) education that became an average person’s impetus to action. Although this story is perhaps unique, it may provide a reference for those who have undergone similar transformations. What I should first say is that, only after attending college did I venture into the city – which had never aroused any feelings in me before. Only in college did I come across punk music, the internet, and the library (although, in the Chinese world, these channels still tend to shut out alternative perspectives). Before this I had spent my life in a village in the hills, intoxicated with nature. I had a “peasant’s mentality” of self-deprecation. Once I witnessed bell-bottoms being fiercely cut by red-arm-banded zealots. I would listen to Cui Jian’s “Nothing to My Name” [一无所有] and be filled with a profound longing for a better future.

For activists, our greatest dilemma at present is akin to what the leftist scholar Hannah Arendt meant when she said that acting is more difficult than thinking [知易行难]. She came to this conclusion once authoritarianism [专制主义] had already spread throughout every inch of the power structure. As a rational intellectual, Arendt advocated “civil resistance,” but also worried that utopian resistance would degenerate into an abyss of violence and lead to another form of totalitarianism. Is there a third path through which to change the world? John Holloway, professor of sociology at the Autonomous University of Puebla in Mexico, argues, in his 2002 book Change the World without Taking Power, that we must rethink and resist the idea of revolution as a seizure of political power rather than an opposition to power itself. Experience with traditional methods of reform and revolution have shown that a reliance on power and government leads only to new programs of idolatry, and to the recasting of social relations into new rigid forms. New movements of social resistance should not walk down old paths. Instead, we should focus on trying to establish open, responsible communities and social relations.

Holloway lives in Mexico. He has been on close terms with the Zapatista movement in the jungles of southeastern Mexico. In order to resist the “terroristic” encroachment of neoliberalism, the indigenous Maya of Chiapas, with their “spokesperson” Subcomandante Marcos, embarked on a poetic “postmodern revolution”; a “guerilla war of symbolism” and “of cyberspace” (The Masked Knight [蒙面骑士], edited by Dai Jinhua and Lau Kin Chi), whose supporters can be found throughout the world. The Zapatistas’ new form of revolution has inspired a whole generation of social resistance movements, including the recent mobilization against the G8. As for the dangers of ossification and idolatry, I think a reminder is in order, not only to Marcos, but even more so to his numerous followers and supporters. I couldn’t help laughing when I learned that Marcos has already been called “Che Guevara the Second”!

Although I had heard of the Zapatistas before, my first encounter with their supporters was in 2004, when my band and I toured Europe. 40 days, 35 locations – nearly all of which were abandoned buildings and fields squatted by anarchist punks. Books and pamphlets about the Zapatistas, along with “anti-G8,” “no borders,” “feminist” and “anti-racist” movements, were neatly displayed in the various infoshops for people to read or purchase. In addition, through concert fundraisers and by adhering to the principles of “fair trade,” these infoshops were purchasing coffee beans directly from the indigenous peoples of Chiapas, thereby making sure the money went to the farmers instead of middlemen. It seemed to us that these Zapatista-supporters in the squat scene were not just playing around.

From Birmingham to Barcelona and from Copenhagen to Prague, squats seemed to be beacons of social warning [社会预警] and calls to action for anarchist punks. They were nestled throughout the large cities and small villages of the European continent, becoming important centers of social resistance. Squatting is an old tradition in Europe, especially England (it’s said that 54% of English residents are the progeny of squatters, who believed the commoditization of land to be a crime against the laws of nature.) People occupying unused buildings owned by the rich is in itself a kind of resistance intimately connected to land rights. Today squatting is different, however. It is no longer condoned by flexible laws that leave room for dispute. Now the law uses all its strength to protect private property, to the point that even previously public property has been privatized. So, because of their squatting activities, anarchists naturally become a thorn in the side of the police and property owners. Often facing the threat of eviction, all sorts of protests and confrontations occur regularly. Xinhua news agency once published a series of illustrated reports about such a confrontation in Germany. The words chosen for the title were simple, and rather humorous: “Police Suppress Rioting Youth.” Another darkly humorous incident occurred in Vienna, when a group of anarchists stormed a building that was being put up for sale by the Austrian Communist Party. The anarchists took in and protected “illegal” immigrants who had been displaced or were considered unwelcome by the government. I personally witnessed how anarchists went about building fortifications to hide and protect these foreigners, safe-guarding them from police raids.

To me, this whole scene was truly novel and exciting: confident that such action is just [理直气壮], to squat wasted real estate and turn it into strongholds for planning and participating in social movements, supporting other disadvantaged people [弱势] (punks themselves being a marginalized group), combining discussion, reflection and action, and creating open and egalitarian interpersonal relationships. Ever since the British pacifist-anarchist band Crass, with its DIY ethos, got involved in serious issues of music and society (like the anti-war, anti-nuclear, and anti-authoritarian movements), there opened up a new scene quite different from the romp [嬉闹] of the Sex Pistols’ “culture shock.” This new autonomous scene blossomed throughout Europe and, later, Southeast Asia. Despite constant debates over issues such as the use of violent or non-violent tactics and ideological disputes between sects, generally speaking, pacifist activism has been vigorously pushing forward a deep bond between musical resistance and social resistance.

For someone like me, coming from an environment where DIY culture has been stripped of its original aesthetic/social meaning and turned into a marketing ploy by the likes of IKEA, this new punk-DIY culture opened a real window of understanding. I know now that punk is not merely noise, that it is interwoven with a profound alternative sociology and philosophy. The moment this window opened, all sorts of ideas relating to activism and social resistance came rushing forth, such as anti-authoritarianism, direct democracy, direct action, anti-consumerism, anti-neoliberal economic globalization, anti-eviction struggles, and “participatory media” [人人皆媒体]. The regions of Europe, South America, and Southeast Asia conjoin culturally in Hong Kong and Taiwan – separated from China only by a strip of water. I began to understand the history of social movements in these places. More importantly, I began to regain the individuality [个人能量] I had nearly lost to the clutches of patriarchy and social hierarchy. My friends and I started to believe that, by changing (or “revolutionizing”) our everyday lives, we could change the world, or at least change ourselves through study, going from modern slaves to social actors with a sense of dignity.

We began by letting our imaginations run wild in the pages of DIY zines. Like the boundless affection I felt for punk music when I first encountered it, I developed a similar enthusiasm for all kinds of activism related to social resistance. I sought out and began to translate whatever materials I could get my hands on, about “new ideas” such as “direct democracy” and “autonomy,” and through comparison, I began to clarify my own positions. Eventually, the social propositions of pacifist-anarchists, and the concept of “I” promoted by certain media activists, left the biggest impression on me. Inspired, I decided to explore the possibilities of peaceful acts of resistance. In China, the present system does everything in its power to prevent us from exploring even those fads that have already grown way out of proportion, and from effectively expressing ourselves in those public places that uniformed powers tightly control – like avenues and parks. We must find a place within our own lives, a space to serve as meeting ground and intermediary, to circulate information, to discuss the “symbols” of action we have encountered, to share the connectedness of our plights, to interpret it, and to attempt to act to the best of our ability. Certainly such a place could not be a state-run “youth palace” [青少年宫] – those are places that put on a show of peace and prosperity [歌舞升平], teaching the young to passively accept the status quo. Nor could it be a bar or a coffee shop either, whose consumerist atmosphere makes us uneasy. A squat would be even less realistic: the moment buildings are occupied in China, both the money-grubbing landlords (materialism having already destroyed social trust, and landlords having no sense of security regarding their property) and the autocratic police (there’s no way to ensure you won’t become another victim of a “hide-and-seek” game [i.e. police brutality]) get angry, and the consequences could be serious. But where there’s a will there’s a way [万般禁锢总有一疏], a loophole in which the authorities would show no interest. We decided to rent a house. If you want complete control over a place, the only choice is to rent. Fortunately, we were able to find a secluded house outside the city that had been basically abandoned. The rent was next to nothing.

Although the house was a bit old, the surrounding scenery had a natural beauty we found invigorating. After cleaning out the dust and pulling the weeds, we decided on the various functions the house would serve. First, the house was to be an infoshop – a place to supply all the various alternative writings and information on social movements we could gather. Second, a conference center – from that day forth all workshops, debates, and film screenings would be held at the house. Third, a stage, set up in the courtyard – to provide a space for rock, experimental, and wandering street musicians to perform. Fourth, a guest house – to provide free accommodation for those in need, and an outdoor fire pit, for friends to relax by. Finally, on a pillar of the outer wall, we mounted a red and black five-pointed star, and gave the house a name: “‘Our Home’ Autonomous Youth Center” [“我们家”青年自治中心].

So long as you put forth the effort, physical space will arrive rather easily, and transformation will proceed smoothly. What we didn’t expect was that the moment we hung up the sign with the word “autonomous,” everyday social relations would have to be redefined. From that moment onward, the destructive and constructive sides of change began to collide with each other. New relations have no blueprint. We already had no choice but to change our disorderly pace of action and become more serious. We discussed the question of relative freedom vs. absolute freedom, whether it was necessary, in this mixed house of activists and hippies, to have written rules, whether to rely completely on individual initiative when working together or to assign specific tasks, whether or not to have “restrictions,” whether or not and how to adopt consensus decision-making, and so on. But the peculiar name “autonomous” caused controversy within a matter of seconds – to the point that it was almost abandoned from the start. Since names associated with “collectivism” have plagued our history with bad memories, it is easy to cause misunderstandings, which can be quite destructive. It was then that I realized that those undercurrents of internal contradictions, which I had regarded as a mere curiosity in European squats and social movements, were now appearing in our own backyard, and they were even more severe in our case. We have our own history, you see. In particular, that one catastrophic utopian rhapsody [畅想曲]. In any event, the moment we entered into an autonomous “procedure” [程序], the meaning of our actions, our collective form, and various other social relations contained in our newly unfettered imaginations, all had to go through serious introspection and redesign. Otherwise we would continue to be stuck in the memories of past enslavement, with no way forward.

First, the word “autonomy” has political implications. The German journalist and professor of literature Victor Klemperer, as early as the Third Reich, understood the political implications of language. He wrote diary entries which analyzed how language had been manipulated and dehumanized by the National Socialist Party, who had turned language into “an authoritarian code in the subconscious communication of victims, criminals, and spectators.” But whether it is the Third Reich or a modern empire in the name of “democracy” or “republic,” this kind of political technique has always proven useful. Our parent’s generation endured such hardship. The “violent storm” that was the Cultural Revolution tragically redefined everything related to power and politics (this, of course, including terms associated with critical thinking as well). As for our generation, manufactured consent and thought-control have not only continued unabated; they have become even more severe through the use of material incentives and public-relations techniques. Regardless of whether communication is being carried out within our collective or with outsiders, we have no choice but to work on redefining terms we will inevitably have to use – such as the word “politics.” Politics is not state administration by parties or special interest groups, it is our participation as subjects in the construction of social relations. The most unfamiliar term in need of redefinition is “autonomy.” Autonomy does not mean “secession” from the whole, but an escape from external authoritarian control. At both the individual and collective levels, autonomy is the realization and upholding of self-governance. Perhaps the most common term in need of redefinition is “DIY.” DIY is not only about economic mutual aid and cooperation, and resistance to the inhuman aesthetics of industry; it is also a mode of organization for grassroots social action. Other terms in need of redefinition include “anarchy,” “utopia,” “freedom,” “democracy,” “public,” “society,” “citizen,” “consensus decision-making,” “hierarchy,” “revolution,” “mutual aid,” “education” and “consumption.” At almost every level there are terms that must be redefined toward the restoration of our dignity as subjects. This task is not just the duty of intellectuals, but also an obligation for everyone to carry out in our daily lives.

Of course this is an enormous and lengthy project that could not succeed right away. Even if the meaning of such terms – while possessing a degree of loose, common understanding – was repeatedly explained and communicated, still the political terrors of the past have successfully prevented people from attempting to live as anarchists. The subjective “call” to activism is usually ignored, and those who take interest in such things are equated with the coercive “mobilization” of the past. And in a little autonomous room, the most vocal are suspected by the silent of harboring plans to force some kind of ideology upon them.

An “observer” (most people prefer to be observers and not participants – at least in the beginning) once noted that nihilistic hippies and militant activists make for a bad partnership. At first glance such a statement seems reasonable. There is an ancient proverb that says, “those with different principles cannot make common cause” [道不同不相为谋]. After more reflection, however, are we not all seeking a purer kind of freedom? If those whose goals are so similar cannot find common ground, then how will those with more diverse goals ever cooperate? If even a small collective cannot tolerate dissent, how can we hope that a society of 1.5 billion can truly respect cultural diversity? Another observer once noted that, while the goals of activism may be positive, one’s style of writing should not be too austere. This too has truth to it, but the models this observer held up as examples were merely the most popular foul-mouthed bloggers at the time. It‘s not that I despise crude language, I just think it’s a pity that “serious” expression makes people so uncomfortable. Why do we take self-conscious reflection to be a burden? Extending this further, perhaps this is not simply a question of language, but something that should be traced back to the idea of “utopia.” Recently I’ve been looking through the thick pile of yellow-tingedRed Flag newspaper clippings that our landlord left behind. Inside are words such as “friendship, camaraderie, solidarity, struggle,” and other utopian phrases – the sense of design and drama is superb. As soon as the idea of communist utopia was discovered in China, it became a disguise for totalitarianism. Who would not completely detest it? To throw the baby out with the bath water could not be a more normal human reaction. So it appears this may require some time, using action itself to explain.

But political opinions and the meaning of language are not the only obstructions to the third path. Other hidden dimensions of society – closely woven and tautly stretched – may thrust up a sword of greater or lesser brightness in order to injure those anarchists who are accused of wanting to “play God.” One such example is our mechanisms of social reproduction. Wanting to get rid of corrupt power relations by adhering to a logic that has already been institutionalized is like “the royalists” [保皇派] (dramas glorifying emperors and heroes being fashionable these days) trying their hardest to resist change, incessantly scheming to re-throne the emperor, messing up, and sending themselves to a guillotine of their own creation. Take for example the ideas – whether apparent or not – of male chauvinism, patriarchy [长权主义], and hierarchy. These ideas creep up on us, causing those who strive for innovation to fall under false charges the moment they drop their guard – even though such innovators are more sensitive to authoritarian control and try to eliminate it. These mechanisms are like an assembly line for making bombs. It produces and accumulates a constant stream of bombs, until one goes off, then everything’s covered in a thick cloud of smoke. No matter whether you’re inside or outside of the cloud, you’ll be thrown into an awkward situation where you can’t see anything. This isn’t one of those demolition scenes from the movies where the smoke dissipates. No, this will congeal into a permanent trauma. But for those who “want to play God,” such a situation isn’t inevitable. It can be avoided, not by seeking out a non-existent god to re-create the system, but by learning how to learn through listening, and how to change through learning.

Once during a workshop on “sexual freedom,” a “queer” comrade threw us supposedly “free” anarchists for a bit of a loop. Several of us felt that many lesbians in China were treating homosexuality as a subcultural fad, and they were being flamboyant about it. We assumed this to be a consequence of the muddled state of personal values in China. Hearing this, the workshop’s moderator immediately retorted, “Who are you to doubt and criticize the sexual orientation of others? Even if they are pretending, it is within their freedom do so. First of all, they have not interfered with your life in any way. And second, they most certainly have their own reasons for behaving in such a way. Maybe they are undecided about their identity.” The moderator continued, “Flamboyant? Imagine if we didn’t display our inclinations, how could we find a partner?” Surprised and ashamed, I felt as if I were being mocked by myself. While claiming to be disciples of “active freedom,” we could not even accept the passive freedom of others. What was the difference between ourselves and those guys in bars who slander people for being gay? But if we look to the positive side of this face-to-face confrontation, such an experience is actually one of the most typical forms of “radical education.” As Paulo Freire wrote, “the more radical one is, the more he will engage reality, the more he will understand reality, and the better equipped he will be to change it. He will no longer be afraid to face, listen to, and observe the world around him.” At the very least, we now have a better understanding of our shortcomings and have been given the opportunity to improve.

What is of interest is that those who participated in the discussion on sexual freedom were all male, while the participants in the discussion on Serpica Naro and the Milan Fashion Week—with the exception of one guy who came with his friend—were all female. Perhaps this is merely a coincidence. Or perhaps there is no need to intentionally use gender in drawing distinctions. Either way, we were left with a feeling that we need to create more appealing activities and encourage women to use their own ways of participating in “hard political” activism. But this is getting a bit off subject. We can return to this later.

In regard to workshops, people are either afraid they will result in political disaster or criticize them for being too disorderly (words left by a reader at the bottom of a flyer for one of our activities). Others pessimistically suspect workshops dealing with indymedia, social media, globalization, feminism, migrant workers and other such topics may cause a bit of commotion, but will never bring about any real change. For those who would like to quickly plan a blueprint for the future, discussion forums (originally we were holding “lectures,” then after a brief debate we changed to a form that seemed more egalitarian – “discussion”) appear as merely a chessboard for games of language. Such people ignore the forces of activism that can be evoked through human cognition. Whenever we touch upon the meaning of so-called radicalism, certain problems arise. These problems are no longer relegated to history, but instead become a reference for our current reality. From the perspective of an activist, such problems go one step further in drawing forth the forces of action. But from the perspective of those less resolute, at the very least these people can receive a kind of understanding they could not anywhere else. The sad part is that many people my age have been duped by a mass media which pretends to be omniscient. They think they know everything. One of the effects of the mainstream media’s rather scary reportage is that people feel satisfied at the level of “knowledge.” This is also one of the reasons why “mobilization” efforts are often ineffective. While we complain about public indifference toward political participation, Paulo Freire’s attempts at radical education in South America (it is the opinion of some that China should learn from the experiences of South America) remind us that “education”—the most basic social bond—has largely been ignored by activists. This not only causes us to get caught up in the traps of isolation, but also guarantees that the results of action will sink into a state of passivity. So there is a pressing need to focus our attention and efforts on education—whether that be an education of self-reflection, or one of dialogue with others. It follows that workshops are extremely helpful in the redefinition of terms, as well as in engaging in self-introspection. Workshops are themselves a process of reconstructing meaning through self-reflection.

For instance, it’s hard for people to avoid associating the word “radical” with “violence.” Even if you clearly profess pacifist principles, if you pose new concepts and call on the people to change their own state of affairs, the word “radical” is easily equated with “coercion” and “oppression.” Even if it is mere discussion, the word “radical” seems to evoke the language and thoughts of violence. Those involved in indymedia are often seen as “radicals.” People’s understanding of independent media has never been able to escape the horrific shadow of the historically violent Left. Its whole ethos of fraternity [博爱] (perhaps trust in one another has already completely vanished, so not only do people not believe in each other, but the “tragedy” that is love is simply laughed at) is hard for most to relate to. How can we get indymedia to attract more people and have it be accepted? Experience suggests that radical independent media attracts people’s attention only during big events (such as the anti-G8 summits in Seattle and Genoa). But such events that attract the world’s attention don’t occur every day. Is it possible to create our own events, and, with the help of indymedia, to make them a part of people’s everyday agenda?

At our second gathering, a media activist from Genoa named Simone chaired a workshop called “Don’t Hate the Media, Become the Media.” He left us with some inspiring things to reflect upon, and an experience from which to draw lessons. What’s worth mentioning is that this workshop was divided into two parts and held in separate places. The first part was held in a university, the second in “Our Home.” At a time when the corporate media is fighting “vulgarity,” getting such a “natural enemy of the state” as “indymedia” into a university lecture hall is quite difficult, but not impossible. Although the professor seemed a little worried, we were able to use the label of “left-wing media” as a disguise, bringing the ideas of independent media before students who knew nothing about the subject. It would seem that students, through their own efforts, carry out a degree of autonomous education in the university, so to guide them toward a more cognitive direction is not impossible. As for the workshop itself, Simone’s experience with indymedia in Italy was not successful. This may have been due to the combined influences of Italy’s history of violent anarchism and the death of Carlo Giuliani in Genoa. Italian indymedia was not only suppressed by the government, it was feared by ordinary citizens and gradually became reduced to a small circle of self-referential radicals. This left them with no choice but to change their strategy. They began using mass symbols to which people were more accustomed, in order to give indymedia a new orientation, and to endow it with (or perhaps we should say, to wrestle back from the mainstream media) a new image and meaning. In a country with such a deep-seated religious atmosphere as Italy, they first had to invent a character by the name of St. Precario to serve as the guardian of precarious workers. Then they substituted the 12 signs of the zodiac with the subsistence problems and forms of resistance of precarious workers. They made statues and cards and handed them out in supermarkets. This successfully attracted a number people who had previously remained unpoliticized. It enabled such people to be exposed to a realistic analysis of labor conditions in Italy. Later, they invented another character—the half-British, half-Japanese fashion designer “Serpica Naro” (a rearrangement of the letters of “San Precario”), who uses symbols of resistance as elements of design, and who managed to become a participant in the 2005 “Milan Fashion Week.” At the same time, they launched a protest against Naro as a way of criticizing the exploitation of underprivileged groups by fashion designers. Without a doubt, this type of incident is the stuff mainstream media adores. The mainstream media from Italy and other European countries, as well as Canada and Japan, all began to report on this “theatrical event.” In the process, the problems of precarious worker groups that the mainstream media had ignored were spread out on the table for more people to see. This ground-breaking cultural activism (or, as the Italian media activists dubbed it, this “strategy of popularizing the precarious worker as a brand name”), the ingenious use of mainstream media publicity aside, can avert the animosity and barriers that exist between the politicized and the unpoliticized. It can also highlight social problems through everyday forms of struggle.

We, too, are trying to carry out this kind of action. Although the problems we face are not the same, we are nevertheless trying to use cultural activism to communicate ideas and overcome stereotyped opinions. For example, getting rid of the tacky electronic character of our stage and setting it up in the yard, under the shade, near the vegetable garden. Aside from becoming closer to the earth, such an act proves that not all art requires the investment of commercial capital; that we can organize our own activities as a community. Before a concert, we try to organize a discussion. Usually, independent musicians and the audience talk about music and its social significance. We also plan to invite bus musicians to come and perform. These musicians are usually from the countryside. They come to the cities, where they squeeze onto crowded buses and play pop music, earning a small income from the donations of passengers. Because there is a degree of coercion to it, such performances—which are viewed as a form of begging—are usually despised and seen as contributing to the destruction of the urban social order. We have invited a woman to perform and talk with the audience about her life in the countryside and the city. This way the audience, we hope, will understand the social origins of this kind of performance and no longer view it as an act of greed by lazy people.

The village where “Our Home” is located had been plagued by a garbage problem for four years, and no on had done anything about it. So we decided to organize a “garbage concert.” This helped us raise money to build a garbage pit and clean up the trash. This was not the chivalrous behavior of a Zoro, but an attempt to bring people’s attention to the worsening garbage problem, the increasing paralysis of local government under the rule of the Party, and our own social responsibility as citizens. At the same time, this helped us merge with “the village as a community” (previously the villagers having viewed us warily as strange and dangerous outsiders – students, bohemian types, even thieves stealing their firewood).

This redefinition of terms, or this transformation of strategy, was the first step in our attempt at activism, an unavoidable step. Whether it is for ourselves or for those who are interested but uncertain, this redefinition is a foundation for developing a common understanding. The promotion of a common understanding cannot rely on direct action alone to “mobilize” the masses. Of equal importance is the transformation of old terms, old habits, and old meanings. This seems to have already become a consensus in the global justice movement. Thus, Freire’s “radical education,” such as the subversion of corporate logos such as Nike and the creation of new meanings, has been understood as a new strategy. We, too, must move from the innocent experience of memorizing books to that of reality. We must get in touch with the natural language of the earth, and understand the forces and pitfalls of power behind our activism. Only in this way might direct democracy and consensus decision-making become pertinent. Only in this way might the ideas of Asian media activists on issues such as the internet, anti-globalization, anarchism, activism, and land rights become meaningful. Only in this way might alternative cooperative projects (such as cooperative publishing and community participation) come to fruition.

In a recent workshop, a young man who had spent his life listening to rock music and had never asked questions about world affairs came by. He was just like I was originally—things felt wrong, but he wasn’t sure why. We played the documentary Good Luck, Comrades! (洞爷外传之祝君安好) and then began our discussion. The guy seemed a little embarrassed, and a little upset—just like I was in the beginning. Suddenly he asked, “but why should we be opposed to globalization?” …Why?

  1. This phrase was popularized by Lao She’s play Teahouse.

Taken from chinastudygroup.net/