The Hayward Gallery's latest exhibition provides a comprehensive overview of punk graphic design, surveying imagery produced before, during and after the punk years. Richard Downes goes in search of links with Disability Arts
1971 is before the punk heyday as we know it. It's good to see Punk influences and to realise that Punk did not arrive fully formed, to accept it was birthed in the USA through independent record production, home made 'zines and posters and came with values of rejection as much as progress.
Returning to an energetic buzz of rock, rock n roll stories like the British Invasion and prog rock were neutralised if not exterminated. Even the Beatles and Stones were mistrusted. With the change came ideas about doing it yourself, not working for 'the man' and understanding who 'the man' was. The 'man' was as likely to be your mom as your dad as your boss, as government - anyone involved in the oppression of humanity.
When I look to musical heroes within the movement it seems worthwhile to reflect on influences. Johnny Crescendo's still tarred with a Dylan brush. Dylan looked like John Cooper-Clarke who history relates gave Crescendo his name. It appears from this little example that Disability Arts and Punk were intrinsically linked. But what were the links. Punk:
1) started as grass roots activities.
2) developed communities.
3) promoted your right to be creative, to contribute based on what you do.
4) promoted political ideals.
5) involved disabled people.
Some of this may cause surprise. The Pistols were courted by EMI and Virgin, made deals with 'the man', gave voice to sell out, but the music came first. It didn't need Simon Cowell. It attracted a community, viz the Bromley Contingent. People with no pretence to artistry picked up the guitar. Clothes were sold by McClaren and Westwood. Did they design what had already hit the streets?
Political ideals might be harder to assuage. A general view is that punk was apolitical, came from recession, unemployment and notions of 'no future' yet, apathy was seen as an enemy and anarchy, politics without leadership, ruled. Punk gave impetus within animal rights, class war, support for the marginalised (punk met reggae, rocked against racism). Gay Men and Transexuals were visible.
Was Disability Arts less rainbow-coloured in terms of ideology. Perhaps our view was more centralist, focussed on discrimination and rights but I find myself wondering how hard it was to be a part of a small community, doing it for themselves and others like them. I think this is interesting given the investment made recently in the Unlimited portfolio.
We share an interest in the prominence of the slogan; from Rights Not Charity and Access Now to ATOS Kills. We have stencilled our words and sprayed them on posters that oppress. Crass beat us to this with statements such as Wealth is A Ghetto.
"I mean it man", resonates with appeals to be heard. Going unheard leaves you marginalised, destitute, without hope. Image and language ruled. Image was cheap to re-produce thanks to xerox and stencils. Language is always there. Retaining potency to campaign against or to oppress with. If punk was the music of the oppressed it is no surprise that the bands would call themselves; Depression, Vital Disorders, The Epileptics. Seeing impairment as a low point but thrusting the idioms into your face. Other names like the Wimps, Urinals or Four Plugs would show a lack of ambition. But is it an accident Mat Fraser played drums in a punk band (not Coldplay) or that a fanzine, 'Cool Notes' appears in the exhibition with the following legend:
"Produced by a paranoid schizophrenic with help from a self-confessed Ipswich Town Supporter (same thing really)"
An aim of the exhibition is to preserve the ephemera. Johan Kugelberg co-curator with Jon Savage, author of punk bible, 'England's Dreaming', told us about an open access resource library being set up at a university where punk is resuscitated as an academic exercise. Could it be that this is what we need, a point at which we can celebrate our own history. I think it is.
Until it happens I'm going to look for a song. It's by the Oscillators and is called Leonard Cheshire. Wonder what was going on there.
‘SOMEDAY ALL THE ADULTS WILL DIE’ Punk Graphics 1971- 1984
Hayward Gallery, Project Space
14 September – 4 November 2012
Click on this link to the Southbank Centre website for more details.