by Pete Willis
December 10th, 2010
Much has been written about the need for alternative and underground cultures to take an active role in preserving their history, the amount that can be learned from it, the inherent solidarity in knowing you were never alone and instead operate as part of a long and rich history of struggle and that if we don’t no-one else will. Anarchists have been generally pretty good at this, regularly dipping back into the archives to re-print obscure texts and celebrate forgotten battles.
One aspect of anarchist history that has been over-looked in the past is the artwork it’s produced and that which has helped it function. The tides are changing, thanks in no small part to the work of Josh Macphee and others at the Just Seeds artist co-operative. There is a vital, fascinating and relevant history of politically antagonistic graphics, illustration and printmaking aside from the usual reference points of may 68 and dada, from Clifford Harper in the UK to the Mexican printmakers of Zapata’s day.
This journal is the first of a series edited by Macphee and illustrator Alec Icky Dunn put out by PM Press and works as a more contemporary and alive continuation of the recent AK Press volume Realizing the Impossible. With the recent waves of student occupations now finally spreading to the capitals art colleges the first issue of Signal couldn’t have arrived at a better time to reassure those of us using visual culture to enter a political discourse. It starts as it means to go on, covering both current artists and groups like graffiti writer Impeach and printmaking collective Taller Tupac Amaru with some lessons from a while back like the Mexico 68 movement and Rufus Segar the designer behind almost every cover of Colin Wards ‘Anarchy’ magazine. Each interview is long and highly illustrated as you would expect, and naturally is designed and printed to the highest quality. The few remaining empty pages are taken up with a piece about the dutch Red Rat comic and some thoughts on the origins and benefits of adventure playgrounds. This is a great indictment of what we can expect from future issues, relevant current thought, inspiration from former struggles and probing into how far anarchist creativity can and has affected wider social projects. Projects like this one are vital for a movement that can occasionally get bogged down in endless academic theory and serves as a great reminder that anarchism is above all creative, not destructive, and that that’s maybe our best weapon against those who’s curtailment of freedom starts at restricting expression.