by Rachel Pafe and Sakina Dhif
Rachel Pafe: Sakina and Rachel sit down on wooden chairs in their dilapidated London kitchen. They share freshly baked macha cake and lukewarm rose. what follows is an edited version of their discussion.
Ahhh. (sits in chair). Hehhenh
So, what a long time ago. Can’t even remember when it was.
Ya same, was it in March?
I think so…
Remember going there, getting really lost and wandering along the streets?
I’ve never really been in this part of London before.
It was called Why Publish? And it was organized by AND in collaboration with Anthony from MayDay Rooms. It was the second part of the project if I remember; there were already CSM fine art students involved in the project. There was also an event in Munich; the students from that event were now in London for the first time.
AND and MayDay Rooms invited different groups from within the art school to allow for more diversity in the responses. The other participants were fine arts students, artists, and theoreticians. How could we work together and find some sort of commonality in why we decided to publish?
Yeah, I remember getting there the first day and it was pretty cold, but everyone was sitting on the roof and smoking. Mostly girls? Yeah, it was mostly girls. What else to say? We first introduced ourselves to each other; so there were five fine art students, a collective from Munich called X Patch, an artist, Eva and Andrea from AND Publishing and Anthony from MayDay Rooms. And both of us.Yeah us.(1) And then we all went downstairs and we all had coffee or tea and Anthony explained what May Day Rooms is about and how it works. That the building is not only for the archive. They also host activities. They had a collective board that voted for all the decisions of the space. A lateral structure. They all had equal pay and had to agree to the decision. And they weren’t really a proper archive, more a space where they host the documents and people can come and use them. They were more a place to link the documents to the people.
They don’t hold onto everything forever, they rotate, and were critical about exhibiting original documents. So Anthony was saying that they were trying to make documents useful not in an academic sense, not for exhibitions or only for writing papers on the subject (2) but they were more interested in giving access to the documents. They are trying to connect these documents from past struggles with people who are participating in the same struggles today…kind of an activist network (3). They also host different unions, and protest groups. They also host a group that publishes this magazine Strike!. Oh! Yes! The building used to host the Birmingham Daily Post.
I forgot to say what kind of documents they host. Oh yeah. How would you describe the things they host? Heu..like- protest related. I guess they received or they collected the traces and documents of different groups that revendique– what is the word in English? You could say ferment protest? Yeah, just wait. Groups that organize themselves to have more rights. Yes but also the work of that photographer who had breast cancer and took photos of herself. It was also activism in a way. Yeah, she was in feminist struggle. And they had videos of all the different protests… we watched The Year of the Beaver. Yeah, before to talk about the movie let’s come back to what collections we looked at, because the Beaver was from the Poster Film Collective. The workshop asked the question: “Why publish?” In the archive they had collected a lot things that people had published. Yeah, the workshop was about asking… I think the first answer they had to Whypublish? was to find comrades.4 That came about on the first part of the project. Why publish? Points finger in the air. To find comrades. That’s why they took out those collections in particular. People who were using publishing to connect with other people and share their ideology. They were the East London Big Flame, the Poster Film Collective and the Jo Spence archives… Yeah, so it was East London Big Flame, mhhhm; So we all looked at these three archives.
If I remember the East Big Flame had a food co-op and they also had this book…What was the name again? Red Therapy. Ah yes. It was a kind of feminist therapy to…, how do you say again in English? To learn how to transform their anger… Like anger management? Yeah but a groovy 70s feminist protest exercise publication.5 Also they were organizing food coop and protesting against the increase of food’s price. We next looked at the Poster Film Collective documents; the silkscreened posters were strikingly beautiful and so well printed. And we also gathered to look at some photographs from Jo Spence’s Cancer Shock Therapy. And then we ate. (6) After lunch we all looked at The Year of the Beaver. And then we all left MayDay Rooms.
The next day we decided which archives we wanted to work on. We divided in three groups. In our group it was us, Rosalie, Eva and Karen, then there were separate groups with first year master fine arts and the Munich girls. Catarina was with us, but she was floating around the different groups. We chose Poster Film Collective, the CSM MA fine arts chose Jo Spence and X Patch chose East London Big Flame.
So first our group sat down. It was with Rosalie, Karen and Catarina, you and me…and we just tried to look at everything. We sat in those big beautiful windows, the room has huge windows. Yeah, we took out all the posters. We also looked at all… all the other documents? Yes, I mean, there were also letters and older applications in the boxes, for state funding. And also copies of newspapers. And we started throwing around ideas? I mean, not really, we were quiet for a while because there were so many documents. Yeah and I guess we were a bit confused about what to do in reaction to them because they had…I don’t know how it was for you but I remember we didn’t know what to do with the information. What were we going to print because it was a really short time to give an answer. And also we had the materials and questions, but we didn’t have an audience. We never really had an audience. Ya. Then we were joined by Eva and Andrea and decided to go sit on the roof with paper, with Rosalie and Karen, to discuss what we could produce as an answer to the posters downstairs. We were struck that the Poster Film Collective weren’t making posters to put on the street, but in the classrooms of teenagers. The posters were series and each them was looking at a period of history and tried to include unrepresented sides of history that was classically thought in school at the time. Even not today…as the roles of woman during the industrialisation era, or slavery and imperialism in the economy. They were trying to broaden kids and teenagers’ sense of history.
We started thinking about why make posters now and who uses posters now, and that you could just put it up in your living room. That nice aesthetics had been appropriated by a lot of groups that weren’t really protesting. Yes like all this discourse about the aesthetisation of revolt and politics. (7) Yeah and, don’t know if we need to write that, but we also talked about the aesthetic of the posters, ‘cus really often, like the thing is the Poster Collective they were really beautiful. But like the posters you see in the street to protest are not always really beautiful, they are really basic posters. Or it’s just another aesthetic. Yeah and like often when a poster is too well designed it just looks like a hipster poster that you could put in your room, not something with a protest purpose. And we started talking about issues that we would even want to protest about. When we were on the rooftop of Mayday Rooms, all around us were the banks that provoked the crisis, yeah the economic crisis, from 2008. And we thought they could be our audience. As their windows were all around us. Who is right in front of us if we put the poster in MayDay Rooms? We were talking about money, I think.
Was this when the student protests were going on? It was right before I think. There were different things going around about UAL, about the foundation cuts, about how much the chancellor was making. Also we were complaining about how much the university was expensive and how it has so many rules. That it was a lot different from art schools in the times of the Poster Film Collective. They were sharing a lot more, you could be external and still come inside the school and use the workshops or take part to the lectures. We tried to address our critics in slogans.
After we sat on the rooftop, we came in and started to write different things on big paper and try to draw little ways to bring them together…But also in the documents of the Poster Film Collective they was stencils to encourage and explain how to start your own printing workshop. It was this period of were a lot of alternative print shops were working in the UK. It was this idea that anyone can print posters. Not to keep that knowledge or technique for themselves but to share it!
On the next morning…the last day…we sat altogether and everyone explained what they were going to do…to print. So if i’m correct, X Patch already had their ideas, they wanted to print wishes. What about the fine art group? They were still looking at Jo Spence material. What happened next? Our group picked one of the slogans we made and just started printing. We didn’t have much time and we had some good slogans on UAL and art schools. We set up the frames and poured the ink. But wait, really first, because we used this DIY screenprinting method, so we first cut out the text in the paper and stuck it to the frame, so the paint would only go where we had cutouts. Yes it’s a really simple DIY method. It was pretty quick.
We first cut out your drawing. Of the cactus. Of the metaphor where the art school is the shining sun and the students are the wilting cactuses. But luckily the students have a lot of water in them so they can survive. Haha. How many did we print? Between five and ten? What was the slogan again? I will go find the slogans here. I am just looking for the email that you sent me. La la dee da dum. Hmmm. Got it. “Spend Your Money on Education, not UAL”. There was another one…the other one was wages… witches? I can’t remember. Ha have it! It was “Profits Are Unpaid Wages”. We rotated and printed those for a while…It was so windy that day on the rooftop where we were printing. It was quite surreal to be there printing surrounded by banks and churches.
We printed…it was difficult because it was windy and we were on the rooftop and paper was flying everywhere. And also because with this technique you have to wash the frame very often. Yes the ink dries and then it got clogged. I remember washing every everything in the bathtub and making more stencils in the kitchen. Yes then our group let the space for the Munich collective, the students from Fine Art. Yeah and at the end of that day we…and uh…so what? The three groups came together with everyone and we all showed what we printed.
And so we took that one and we kind of taped it to the window and it was really funny because the employees of Goldman and Sacs, I mean they were looking at it and laughing because it seemed that it was directed at them. Um…. Yes. I remember some of the, so X Patch printed their wishes, they didn’t want to like have claims or requests, but more wishes, I mean, they insisted on the fact that it was different. And ya some of their wishes I Wish to Pick Up My Friends to Play With…MayDay Rooms kept some of the prints we did, Eva took some for her own archive but also for the university archive and X Patch also took two of each print to bring back to Munich. You and I kept most (10) of the prints addressed to UAL and hung them inside UAL; in the toilets, above the stairs, in an elevator. They were gone the next day. Yeah. Ok. Timid attempt.
Three days later, Rachel and Sakina sit outside, in the wildly oscillating weather, at the British Library. For now, it is sunny, and they sit outside, stifling sporadic yawns.
So maybe we should rethink again what our goal of this workshop was? Well, we were looking at these posters for some sort of inspiration. Yeah. But what did we want to learn from them? Well, I guess a lot of it was looking back on this period with a sort of romanticization of how much they were sharing. During the workshop we all talked about that a lot. How back then you did not even have to be a student to come use the resources of the art school; that is unimaginable now, especially at UAL. Sharing knowledge too. Yes. What else? Why make a poster now? To protest? The Poster Collective was not protesting on the street. Yeah, it was more a protest of what kind of knowledge kids were exposed to in schools. It’s also impossible to imagine now. They had bureaucracy then. Yes, but it is so much worse now. Their posters were also so beautifully crafted; it was more subtle in a way, they hid this immense and powerful knowledge behind the beauty of the posters. Yes, and today it is hard to trust these sort of beautiful objects because they remind us of commodities, a kind of hipster aesthetic.
Well, what did you get out of it? I think we were trying to achieve the atmosphere of the time without the specific cause. Yes, common frustration at UAL but I’m not sure about the poster as a solution, rather the potential lay in the type of knowledge we were freely sharing during these days. We learned to screen print, shared ideas and it belongs to no one. We came together from different courses to do this. Publishing and printing becomes interesting when applied to part of this process-based, collective practice. This was complicated by the fact that the groups were separated for most of the time, but when we came together in the end when we were printing, it was clear that we had some similar goals. So, for me, the question had changed a bit, it transformed from thinking about printing to a dynamic discussion group the attempt to create a community founded on the sharing of ideas rather than any physical product.
(1) To achieve a concrete self-description is a tenuous task. We will provide a glimpse of our context. This is the course we were in, the staple of our introduction: http://www.arts.ac.uk/csm/courses/postgraduate/mres-art-exhibition-studies/
(2) Yeah, so it’s funny, they call it activate the document, so that’s what they think they’re doing.
Oh yeah, I remember now, they said it was not only important …. Collectivity, that the analysis of the archives happens in a group discussion. A lot of times we split up though. Yeah, even though if we have a group discussion it’s not the same as if it was just you standing in front of the document. Yeah… but… I can’t find the name of the woman, I need to check. We can add it later. Yeah.
(3) Such as in March and May 2014 when the Justice for Domestic Workers opened the Wages for Housework archive.
(4) This was first stated by Andre Breton and quoted in Jamming the Media: A Citizen’s Guide Reclaiming The Tools of Communication”. Vancouver: Chronicle Books, 1997
(5) And they were also like claims about the food, why the food was getting more expensive, and if I remember, yeah I remember now, they went to work in a factory… no maybe it was the poster collective girls. I think it was the poster people.
(6) We bought cheap things. They also made a delicious salad. That was the next day. Oh yeah.
So the second day, the soup and nice salad day, we chose which archive we wanted to work with. The first day we watched a movie after lunch. But we already mentioned that.
(7) ArtLeaks gives an interesting account of the evolution of this entanglement, globally but also in the specific local context of Belgrade, in Rena Radle and Vladan Jeremic’s “Artists between aestheticization of the struggle and Unionization”.
(8) Should we try this cake? Yeah. It doesn’t taste like the matcha powder. It tastes like a vanilla cake.
(9) Want more cake? I’m ok. But more wine.