Alec "Icky" Dunn's Blog

Signal 07: Round-up

By Alec “Icky” Dunn

Way back in the summer of 2019 Josh MacPhee and I started putting together the new issue
of Signal: A Journal of International Political Graphics & Culture, our seventh in the series. We had
solidified the content for the issue and began to notify contributors about upcoming deadlines for the
writing. Our deadline for a Spring 2020 release was December 2019, and we’d hoped to use
September through November of 2019 to start and finish the layout. By December we had most of
our content edited but unfortunately only some of the layout completed, so we pushed it back.
Historically we have probably missed more deadlines than we’ve made, but usually things work out-
we might get pushed into the next publishing cycle but would still usually get copies back early
enough that it didn’t feel too tardy. 2020 was different of course. At first covid stunned the publishing
world and no one quite knew how to proceed. Then there were massive backlogs at printing houses.
Then our cherished publisher switched distributors. All of this kept pushing our print date back and
back and back and back. It was with some excitement and relief when a week back I received a box
of Signal:07s, almost two years old but fresh from the printer and still smelly with ink. It’s been a
fucked-up couple of years for everything else, so why not for Signal too?
Anyway- I’m here to talk about the new issue, so let’s start the show!

Our first feature for the issue was an interview with Maryam Pugh who is one of the co-founders
of Philadelphia Printworks, a radical Black t-shirt company, design firm, and political project. Like a
lot of projects these days (including but not limited to Justseeds and Signal) Philadelphia Printworks
resists traditional boundaries: Is it a business? A community organization? A media project? ‘Yes’ is
the simple and complex answer. I’d been seeing PPW’s shirts on social media and loved their
playfulness with images of Black radicalism (the BPP electric company for one, the image of Octavia

Butler in an astronaut’s helmet for another). I admired their sharp design and their visual humor.
They draw from the aesthetics of radical and DIY cultures and have a keen sense of the elusive
elements that makes a great t-shirt. We were lucky to be put in touch with John Morrison, a
podcaster, producer, journalist and DJ from Philadelphia who took up the challenge and interviewed
Maryam for this issue. Maryam talks about her history and path to political art making, about how
Philadelphia Printworks runs, and about the complexities of carrying on a project like this.

Our second article came from anarchist historian Erik Buelinckx who contributed a biography of the
largely forgotten 20th century Belgian artist Albert Daenens. The images in the article mostly come
from the journal Haro! which Daenens designed, illustrated, and edited. His work is quite stunning,
especially so when exploring the horrors of war and capitalism. Daenens was part of a wave of post
WW1 Northern European political printmakers, roughly grouped as expressionists, who championed
an evocative (and at times raw) approach to capturing the post-war European landscape via low-
cost printmaking. Daenens had some aesthetic similarities to fellow Belgian printmaker Frans
Masereel, but Daenens’ work ran darker, with the alienation dialed down and the outrage dialed up.
For Signal Erik Buelinckx’s dived deep into Daenens’ history, using extremely scant sources, and
created a biography that reveals a complex thinker and activist who was involved in writing,
journalism, publishing, criticism, art-making, theatre, and set-design. A bit of a dilettante who died
largely forgotten and has remained so. This article puts forward a case for Daenens’ continued

Natalia Revale is an artist/activist from Argentina who came to New York City a few years back.
During that visit she presented a slideshow of work that she had been involved in that piqued Josh’s
interest. It went a little something like this: In 2002, just outside of Buenos Aires, in the city of
Avellaneda, the police killed two activists. The two young men, Maxi Kosteki and Darío Santillan
were shot to death in the city’s commuter rail station during a anti-austerity mobilization. In response,
the Avellaneda Train Station became a site of protest, action, and creative resistance. Friends and
family, fellow activists in the unemployed movement, as well as artists, graffiti writers, and musicians
came together weekly/monthly/yearly to demand justice for their two comrades. Murals were painted
by direct action, protest were held there every month, and the stations signs were changed from
Avellanada to Darío Y Maxi over and over and over again for years! Festivals, theatre performances,
and art shows were held at the station in honor of the two young men’s memory. The activists and
the friends and families of Darío and Maxi kept the pressure up for two decades and slowly
transformed the station into a site of struggle against state violence and impunity and also a place
that joyfully (and often illegally) memorialized these two young men. I found this article to be a really
inspiring example of how to wage a long and hard struggle, a struggle with lots of direct
confrontation that also kept room for joy, music, celebration, community-building, and art.
There was such a wealth of material about the struggle and transformation of Estacion Darío y
Maxi that I wish we could have done an entire issue about it– we first cut an article that I wrote to
make more room this, then we kept having to cut images from the article itself in order to leave room
for other articles in the issue. Evens still, this is the longest piece (by page and image count) that
we’ve had in Signal with 67 photo credits over 38 pages. The layout was inspired by commuter rail
and metro maps from the Buenos Aires area.

My co-editor Josh MacPhee has been nurturing an obsession with political records and music and
especially with political record labels (see his other projects like An Encyclopedia of Political Record
Labels as well as the exhibition if a song could be freedom… that he helped organize at Interference
Archive). In this issue he writes about the recorded output of Victor Jara, the socialist nuevo
cancion musician and singer who may be the most published political musician world-wide with, as
Josh notes, records released by over 75 labels from at least 25 countries. As the 1973 right-wing
coup in Chile and Jara’s subsequent assassination by soldiers fades from recent memory, Jara’s
unique take on both Chilean and modern folk idioms, his lilting voice, complex guitar arrangements,
and commitment to the struggle still resonates almost fifty years later. Josh presents a brief
biography and documents the international designs of Victor Jara’s records here.

There’s a handful of US based poster makers that are on Signal’s bucket list to have features on,
and Malaquías Montoya was probably at the top of that list. If you’ve been looking at political posters
as long as we have, Montoya’s images are super-normalized in their brilliance. I’ve seen images of
these posters for so long, and they are so well-done, that it’s actually hard to think of them not just
appearing as a force of nature but actually being made by a single person. Bay Area journalist Bill
Berkowitz interviewed Malaquías Montoya a couple years back and the interview is mostly personal
in nature, recounting his childhood and his early forays into political poster making. It’s a very
personable interview and Montoya’s generous spirit really comes through. He also offers keen
insights into how things have changed in his long life of political printmaking. He discusses the role
of the artist in the community, and the role of art in political movements. In Signal we used about 30
or so images of his but there are hundreds that we didn’t use (look at his website for a more
complete overview of Montoya’s work). I encourage taking some time with these images and
remembering that he thought of how to represent an action or struggle, and then followed it through
and drew the images, drew the lettering, balanced the composition and color choices, and then
separated the colors for printing and finally printed the things. He really is a master designer, poster-
maker, political thinker, artist, and technician. We are honored to have him and his work on the earth
with us.

Mehdi el Hajoui is a collector of books and book arts with a specific focus on the output of the
Situationist International (SI). For this issue of Signal he adapted a presentation he gave on the art
books of the SI, especially the publications created by Guy Debord and Asger Jorn. The Situationist
International was stridently political, but had a complicated relationship with the political world, the
art-world, and with collectors. The situationists were violently anti-art industry, but also produced
documents that were aggressively fetishizable and inscrutable. They were not peoples’ artists, but
provocateurs who challenged the art world and the status quo. Mehdi leans into these complexities,
noting the care and intention behind the SI’s printed output, their international reach, and
humorously positions the beginning and end of the essay around the multi-million dollar blue-plate
bidding war over Guy Debord’s personal archives.

Way back in Signal:01 Melanie Cervantes said this about designing political posters, “Politically, I
ask am I developing my ideas in a vacuum, or are they shaped by larger ideas? My ideas are never
only shaped by me.” There’s a push/pull with graphics and political movements, sometimes cultural
work can move the conversation forward and other times it follows trends happening on the ground-
we can see that push/pull, that conversation between designers and movements, happening in Jordi
Padró’s broad overview of Left Catalan graphics. From the rough illegalist posters of the 60s and
70s that celebrated militant and militarized fighters, to the influence of punk and squatter cultures on
designs in the late 80s and 90s, to the opening up (at the turn of the 21st century) with brighter
colors that explored a more exuberant, intersectional, resistance. This is the only article that may
have truly suffered from our printing delay. Jordi Padró wrote this piece shortly after Catalonia voted
to secede from Spain in 2017 and during the severe repression of the leaders of that movement that
occurred in 2018 and 2019. Two years out from that, with all of the madness of the world between
now and 2019, the struggle for Catalan Independence has been pushed out of the spotlight (at least
stateside). Regardless, he presents a compelling history of how cultural workers in a movement can
help shift a movement’s culture.
Otherwise, with this issue’s more history oriented pieces, the delayed timing of our publishing was
an inconvenience but didn’t really effect the relevance of the subject matter. Josh’s feature on Victor
Jara, Mehdi’s piece on the politics and economics of the art books of the SI, Erik Buelickxk’s
historical biography of Albert Daenens, and Bill Berkowitz’s interview with Malaquias Montoya are all
as relevant today as they were in 2019 (I am not assigning Montoya’s work to history as he still
continues to make compelling images, but the interview is largely historical in nature).

The other articles about current issues have aged surprisingly well- John Morrison’s interview with
Philadelphia Printworks’ co-founder Maryam Pugh touches on a multitude of topics including the
legacy of Black radical design, activism and fashion, and the politics of running a business ethically.
In the last two years PPW have new designs out and plenty of new projects and collaborations but
the spirit of the project remains the same. Natalia Revale documented the decades long struggle to
turn a commuter rail station just outside of Buenos Aires into a site of activism and memory by
sustained grassroots pressure and activism. In light of the many struggles responding to police
violence and white supremacy in this country, this article offers deep inspiration on fighting a long
battle and keeping the pressure up once the spotlight moves away.

Is there an overall theme for this issue? As with previous issues, by intention there is not, by
accident there is. In this issue we highlight many cultural projects and artists that weren’t contained
by simple borders, Albert Daenens worked in multiple disciplines but held true to his beliefs,
aesthetics, and values across them; Philadelphia Printworks has created something new and
interesting in its structure, principles, and outlook; Estacion Darío y Maxi is a functioning stop on a
metro line and also a site of resistance and creativity; Victor Jara’s music was deeply rooted in
Chilean idioms but took root worldwide as his music was suppressed in his home
country. Signal itself is neither a serial nor book, our publishing schedule is erratic. We are scholarly
but not academic. Activist but not didactic. We endeavor to keep open to new ways of making
political art. Things don’t fit easily into boxes. Let’s celebrate that a little.

When we started Signal we’d hoped to publish yearly. It’s now been 12 years and only 7 issues, so
we’re a little behind! In the beginning we wanted to share the incredible range of political graphics
happening worldwide. In 12 years lots has changed, access to international work has increased, but
thoughtful writing and research remains moribund. Our original inspiration was kind of like, “Holy
shit! Everyone needs to see this incredible work!” while now we’re still inspired by the work that goes
in here, but maybe with less vigor. Times have changed and maybe we’re just getting older? We’ve
talked about changing the format, working on theme issues, expanding the editorial board, a number
of ideas to mix things up. Nothing has really stuck yet, the structure and future of Signal remains a
work in progress.
We question the relevance of what we are doing. As Signal sporadically chews up lots of our time,
we both wonder if it is the best place to be putting so much energy? In the past we have leaned on
the momentum of the project, one issue gets done and we start working on the next. This publishing
delay screwed up our already skewed publishing schedule. All that to say, if you like Signal we’d
love to hear from you. If you have an idea for an article–pitch it to us. If you work in a school or a
university, see if you can get the library to carry it.
And finally, some appreciations. PM Press has been our constant companion during this project, so
a huge thanks to them for their patience and perseverance, especially over the tumultuous 2020
publishing season. And I would like to offer an especially big and overdue thanks to our deepest
reader and most astute fact checker, PM’s copy editor, Gregory Nipper. His extensive knowledge
and long relationship with us have consistently elevated this project.