To my pleasant surprise this weekend, while going about my business I was stopped by several New Yorkers, from various walks of life, all advertising information about the Occupy Wall Street protests. Occupy Wall Street seem to be on the top of everyone’s mind these days or at least the tips of their tongues. Indeed, the spreading protests all over the country seem to harness a certain discontent present but aimless in the public unconsciousness. Love them or hate them, there is definitely a public zeitgeist surrounding the whole thing. Visiting the goings on downtown I was reminded of the power and necessity of cheaply produced posters, pamphlets and broadsides and their relationship to organized resistance. With thoughts of protest and grass roots organization I happened onto the newest show at Boo Hooray Gallery on Canal Street in Chinatown.
In All Our Decadence People Die is a fortuitously timed exhibition of zines, broadsides, flyers and other punk and political ephemera. The works were collected by the seminal English Anarcho Punk band Crass during their seven years as a band. The materials were preserved and archived by visual artist Gee Vaucher, longtime friend and collaborator of the band, who also happens to be responsible for the band’s artwork as well.
The emergence of Crass’s Anarchist political stance, and their promotion of ethical DIY punk culture was seminal, and they remain influential to this day. What’s fantastic about this exhibition though is that it isn’t a nostalgic music show, pandering to record collectors or aging punks. Rather it makes use of the band’s archive as a sort of history of DIY and grassroots politics from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Encapsulated by the exhibits title (a lyric from the band’s song “Shaved Women“) the spirit of Do It Yourself activism dominate the exhibition. The exhibit features a new sound installation from poet and Crass drummer/vocalist Penny Rimbaud in collaboration with members of the Brooklyn-based band Japanther. The exhibition also features original artwork from Gee Vaucher, who is the Crass artist, collaborator, longtime friend and co founder of the Dial House in London, a punk collective/community center active since the 1960s.
Vaucher’s art is gritty in your face and political. There is a mix of Vaucher’s original work from the late 1970s/early 1980s (including copies of the band’s three issue International Vanguard zine) but also a number of prints produced within the last several years. Though Gee was influential in her youth, it’s great to that she is still punk as fuck. What I often hate about the myriad of documentaries, books and other historicizing efforts that have addressed punk over the years is how dead they render things. It’s nice to see an account of things that carries the conversation into the present day.
It is amazing to see the explosion of enthusiasm which flooded the band’s Dial House during those oh so sweet golden years of early punk. The Punk and political magazines on display are from as far away as Latin America. The result is a startling tour de force of aggressive political imagery and discontent, still restless after all these years. The various publications from anarchist, activist and punk groups feel like a much needed shot of emotional and psychic nourishment. This exhibition, more ephemeral archive than proper art show, is a potent reminder of why everyone should speak up, whether through art, community involvement or politics. It is also an important testament to what is achievable when these forces are combined in equal measure.
In All Our Decadence People Die takes place at Boo Hooray Gallery (265 Canal Street, Chinatown, Manhattan) until October 20.