Radical upsurge – Underground publishing in the Sixties
Exhibition at LCC as part of the London Design Festival
Alternative do-it-yourself (DIY) publishing in the UK is often assumed to have started with photocopiers and punks. However, counterculture and grassroots movements from the mid-1960s onwards generated an explosion of alternative ‘not for profit’ print and publications, frequently produced by amateurs using basic technologies. Much of this was consciously infused with notions of autonomy and anti-specialism.
The mid-60s were a contradictory period of political, creative and social turbulence, a moment when radical ideas were in ferment and hopes for change were high. The experimental and creative energies generated by the counterculture stimulated a proliferation of DIY or self-sufficient activity that spread across the expanding field of the alternative left: from ‘happenings’ to free schools and communes. Within the pages of the underground/alternative press there is clear evidence of how DIY or ‘self-help’ activities provided a significant component of countercultural sensibilities and practice.
‘How To’ articles, sharing and ‘demystifying’ uncommon knowledge, were a regular feature, and all manner of self-help handbooks could be obtained by mail order or found in alternative bookshops; how to build things, grow things, fix things, take or make drugs, meditate, print and squat. There were also articles and handbooks about how to navigate the unavoidable parts of ‘the system’, notably the law and the welfare state. It was not just that people could do it for themselves, where possible outside of ‘the system’ of experts and institutions, but that others could also do it to build ‘the alternative society’. At the same time we find in the pages of the underground press biting satire and critique of capitalism, militarism and consumerism.
The four publications shown here offer a glimpse into this new upsurge of left voices and causes of protest, specifically the feminist movement, the anti-war and nuclear disarmament movement, as well as radical art and alternative living.
This mini-exhibition will be followed by a larger exhibition in 2018, which marks the 50th anniversary of 1968, the year that was the highpoint of 60s era youthful revolt in many parts of the world.
Shrew – August / September issue, Volume 5 No.3 1973
Shrew was the magazine of the Women’s Liberation Workshop, a collectivist federation made up of smaller autonomous local women’s liberation groups. Many were ‘consciousness-raising’ groups, with their own character, agendas and affiliations. Shrew ran regularly between 1969 and 1974, had a circulation of about 5,000 and sold very cheaply either by mail order or in women’s centres and sympathetic bookshops. Each issue of the magazine was produced by a different local or special interest group that had total freedom in all aspects; content, layout, images and overall design. There was a Shrew collective of representatives committed to helping with the production. As the production of each issue was rotated, the contents and aesthetics of the magazine were incredibly diverse. Shrew represented the sense of empowerment associated by feminists in ‘doing it for themselves’.
From the collection of The Feminist Library (www.feministlibrary.co.uk).
Hapt – Issues 26 & 27, 1970
Started by a small collective connected to the English Diggers Hapt was a DIY hand-printed counter-culture magazine. Produced between December 1967 and May 1971, running for 27 issues, Hapt was legal-sized, stencil duplicated, with silk-screened covers and centrespread, printed on rough paper in editions of up to 400. It was distributed for free by post, at alternative bookshops and in radical spaces. The UK edition was written and co-ordinated by a small team of seven, initially based in London before later moving to set up communes in Bournemouth and Stroud. There were sister Hapt communes in Holland, Argentina, Belgium and Switzerland. Hapt promoted a DIY culture synonymous with their commune lifestyle, encouraging writing from their readership and sharing knowledge about their means of production through a comprehensive description of the screen print making process.
Resistance – Committee of 100 bulletin – Vol 3 No.4 Apr & 9 Dec 1966 & Vol 4. No 2 June 1967
In 1960, in response to the increasing sense of frustration over the limitations of tactics used by such groups as the Campaign Against Nuclear Disarmament, anti-war activists led by Bertrand Russell launched the Committee of 100. This more militant organisation sought to step up resistance to the UK government policy on weapons of mass destruction by calling for and engaging in mass non-violent resistance and civil disobedience, such as large sit-down demonstrations. In 1962 the group re-launched itself on a decentralised basis, made up by 13 regional Committees organising actions in London and at military bases across the country. Resistance was a bulletin published by the Resistance Working Group in Birmingham and London. It provided information and updates about the movement to the Committee’s membership and other related anti-war groups.
King Mob Echo – Issue 1, April 1968.
King Mob emerged out of a coming together of members of the English section of the Situationist International and a network of London based cultural radicals in 1968. It went on to become a short-lived but influential radical group that engaged in subversive actions often involving carnivalesque, Dada-esque costumes and humour, such as infiltrating Selfridges at Christmas time dressed up as Santa, handing out the store’s toys as ‘presents’ to children, which resulted in the spectacle of store employees and police desperately snatching toys out of crying children’s hands. The group announced their actions through hand-distributed leaflets and word of mouth and between 1968 and 1970 published 5 issues (issue 4 was never published) of King Mob, a glued-together magazine. The first issue, King Mob Echo, included a translation of part of Raoul Vaneigem’s ‘The Revolution of Daily Life’.