Words Reece Greenfield / Photos Mo Bukhari
On Friday 1 July, as part of Digbeth First Friday, I attended an exhibition celebrating radical left-wing print art which was set to kickstart the week leading up to Supersonic Festival. The exhibit included such legends as Gee Vaucher, along with both Brummie and out-of-town radical contributors such as La Linterna, Foka Wolf, Lucy McLauchlan, Black Lodge Press, and Dog Section Press.
As I walk into Centrala, I am met with a projector and experimental music emanating from the DJ deck and PA at the far side of the room, which provides a great introduction for what I’m about to see. The night is themed around a mixture of anger and radicality balanced with good cheer, great talent, and comradery.
Upon ascending the staircase, I am greeted by a stall selling prints and distributing free stickers as well as some friendly comrades who take great delight in talking me through the art they have on sale. As I turn around, I see prints of many of them all over Centrala. The walls of the room are covered, the repetition of poignant slogans framed by colour and deliberate imagery adding to their impact.
There’s the cooperatively owned Dog Section Press and La Linterna’s ‘Already Against The Next War’ as well as, ‘Strike! Steal! Trespass!’ and ‘The System Cannot Be Reformed!’ by Black Lodge Press.
Over on the right-hand side of the room stands Foka Wolf’s Foamex Boris Johnson, clad in full armed police get up complete with decorative party hat.
What a fitting façade of a façade.
I am struck immediately by the way the artists utilise the medium of print and advertising. They perfectly appropriate the rhetorical requirements of the medium of political print; powerful in their brevity and creative not despite but by virtue of their limitations. Each piece oozes with radical emancipatory notions regarding war, property, and disillusionment with our own brand of liberal democratic capitalism.
After a good nose at the displays, I grab a beer and have a chat with Black Lodge Press’ CJ. I ask about their influences and CJ replies: “Gee Vaucher (who is also part of the exhibition tonight) her stuff, particularly in the 80s with the band Crass, got me into anarchist politics and of course anarchist art.
“Art is provocation and [this] is firmly rooted in anarchist politics. I went to the G20 protests in London, and I had this banner and it was just a huge black banner with white duct tape with ‘We are fucking angry!’
“The total non-subtle approach doesn’t really say anything about policy, but it’s a statement. Using phrases like that it hits in a different way; you instantly have a reaction.”
And as for their use of colour?
“Well, I use a riso-press up in Leeds called Footprint and it’s so colour limited you can only do like three at most and it restricts you in a really good way. There is direct thought over what colour you use.”
I can’t help at this moment but to think of the censorship via the Haye’s code of early 20th century American television. Any direct profanity or licentious or suggestive nudity was banned. It is precisely through adapting to these restrictions that some of the most creative cinema was conceived.
It is in print media’s limits and its replicability that we see its political value. These artists do not profess to have the answers, rather they provoke the spectator into a search for them. The sense of universality, experimentation and a shared anger at socio and political injustice gets me in just the right mood for Supersonic Fest which is happening this weekend (8–10 July 2022).
For tickets and more information on the Supersonic Festival visit: www.supersonicfestival.com.
For more from Centrala go to their website: www.centrala-space.org.uk
For more from the contributors see the below:
Black Lodge Press – www.queercircle.org/activations/black-lodge-press
Dog Section Press – www.dogsection.org
Lucy McLauchlan – www.lucy.beat13.co.uk/shop
Foka Wolf – @fokawolf
La Linterna – @lalinternacali
For more information on Digbeth First Friday visit www.digbethfirstfriday.com (or @digbethfirstfri on Instagram)