Just what is it you’re against?

The Anti Design Festival seems to delight in its own confusion. While this means it offers a pleasantly messy counterpoint to the London Design Festival, it also makes for a contradictory, frustrating and occasionally misdirected series of shows

Ian Wright’s piece at Londonewcastle’s space lets visitors to create their own messages

The Anti Design Festival seems to delight in its own confusion. While this means it offers a pleasantly messy counterpoint to the London Design Festival, it also makes for a contradictory, frustrating and occasionally misdirected series of shows…

Some of the work in the main room of the Londonewcastle Project Space

Opening in London this week the organisers of the ADF claim a main concern is “exploring spaces hitherto deemed out-of-bounds by commercial criteria”. Under the curatorial lead of Neville Brody, Stuart Semple and a host of other creative practitioners, the ADF sees itself as a reaction to “25 years of cultural deep freeze in the UK” and is a “direct response to the pretty commerciality of the London Design Festival” while very much a twisted spin-off from the umbrella event.

The epicentre of the ADF is the Londonewcastle Project Space (a free-to-use gallery owned by the property developers and purveyors of central London penthouses) that contains pieces submitted by a range of artists and designers, displayed anonymously – though Stefan Sagmeister, Jonathan Barnbrook and Yugo Nakamura apparently all have things on show.

ADF HQ at the Londonewcastle Project Space

The manifesto wall, part of Mistakes and Manifestos curated by the RCA’s Daniel Charny

Martino Gamper has created a great ‘manifesto wall’ called Open Spike where various tracts submitted to the ADF are displayed. Gamper’s design consists of a series of spike-laden wooden slats that pierce the papers and fix them in place. There’s a brilliant sense of violence inherent in the gesture – like a huge reverse pin-up – but some of the platitudes seem to weaken the effect rather than add to it. In the spirit of free intervention, some prankster had even doctored one of them with a series of Zs – not perhaps the best example of the spirit of revolution in action.

Visitor action, based on point G?

It’s interesting to note that as this kind of art leaves the street for the gallery system once again, it enters via spaces belonging to an international property developer, the UK’s largest arts and entertainment PR company (revealingly, as a random punter at the Idea Generation gallery I was handed a “press release” for the show as I walked in) and an upscale clothing boutique, Aubin & Wills. While the art itself gives the impression that established networks are what this work is committed to fighting; it is, in actuality, as much caught up in prevailing systems as it is a reaction against them.

At the Idea Generation Gallery’s Über Collision: Epic Fail show

The visual language of anarchy and subversion is all over the main Londonewcastle gallery space and Idea Generation’s Über Collision: Epic Fail show. There are guns, masks, cocks, plenty of ‘fucks’ and even an Emin-like ‘cunts’ emblazoned in a neon phrase on a wall in the main space. There are crossings-out, deletions, scratches and scrawls, cut-ups and collages and the sense that ‘zine and DIY culture pervades as an aesthetic.

Which, of course, it does. But more often than not it looks like a reference to the anti-authoritarian culture of another era – the late 1970s and early 80s perhaps – not a display of 2010’s equivalent. Inevitably, this can make some of the work seem old fashioned and more than a little blustery. There’s undoubtedly a lot of anger here: it’s just hard to make out who the targets are. And the fact that, according to the ADF, the last quarter century has been one of cultural paralysis blithely dismisses the role of the internet and social media as ways that have fundamentally changed how people organise themselves, disseminate information and subvert more established channels.

The Über Collision: Epic Fail show

The main exhibition show room at the Londonewcastle Project Space

At the Londonewcastle Project Space

Near the entrance/exit to the Londonewcastle Project Space

Just what capitalism needs. Note at bottom reads “Do you have to have people see it like this?”

That said, French collective Bazooka (who have work up at the Aubin Gallery) had a reason to subvert when they acted as the art directors of French left-wing daily newspaper Libération in the 1970s. In an online interview with Filler magazine, co-founder Loulou Picasso reveals that “Bazooka’s turning point idea was that of annexing territory, using the existing press as a field of experimentation, depicting the news from within this news media.” The idea of “annexing territory” is fascinating from a design point of view and, it could be argued, a true act of subversion from the inside.

Original artwork that became one of Bazooka’s Libération covers

Two original Bazooka pieces

But again there are complications in London. As an exhibition of Bazooka’s output, the Aubin show reveals a good selection of pieces from 1977-1980, plus some interesting new work including a series of carpets designed in collaboration with Brody. Being in a gallery that belongs to a fashionable clothes shop, however, the Bazooka ‘look’ is used to enhance the Aubin & Wills Almanac (catalogue) that you can pick up on site; four Bazooka posters appearing on the covers.

The Aubin & Wills Almanac featuring work by Bazooka

While a promotional/marketing angle is inevitable, their message and perhaps the message of the exhibition, is unavoidably changed. And any defense of subversion from within the chic setting of a Shoreditch boutique is flawed, too: east London is a pretty safe bet for showing this sort of work.

Percutant HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII … Bang! by Bazooka’s Kiki Picasso

One of the most arresting Bazooka artworks at the Aubin Gallery is a black and white panel strip featuring what appear to be car crash victims. It’s uncredited in the list of works but at the bottom a “C. Chapi” shows it as the work of Christian Chapiron, aka the collective’s Kiki Picasso – though “peint avec la bouche” is surely an in-joke referring to the severity of the injuries depicted. It’s a really disturbing piece, perhaps all the more so for its lack of text or explanation. It’s far from clear exactly what it is.

Similarly, what the ADF term “Obsessive Classification Disorder” on their site is apparently a modern condition of semiotic failure that the festival will rail against. “We accept these meanings or labels without question, they programme us to react to predetermined values, as opposed to the actual object or situation,” they write. “They label our expectation, stifle analysis, force us to conform.” This is all very well, but in displaying a lot of work caught up in a haze of black ink and violence, via the familiar signifiers of rebellion and polemic, conformity is pretty much what’s going on here.

Looking up at a display on one of the walls at the Über Collision show, I couldn’t help thinking that if you’re actually going to scrawl “DIRTY PROTEST” in big letters on a white poster, at the very least use actual shit. Otherwise it’s merely a simulation of an empty statement.

At the Über Collision: Epic Fail show


The Anti Design Festival has a whole range of satellite events, the majority of which are on until 26 September.

Tomorrow: Friday 23 September, 1-5pm (£30)
Londonewcastle Project Space, 28 Redchurch Street, Shoreditch, London E2
An afternoon of short presentations, ideas and debates with key guest speakers including Peter Kennard, Adrian Shaughnessy, Stuart Semple, Johathan Barnbrook, Neville Brody and others to be announced. Tickets will be available from the ADF space at 28 Redchurch Street from Wednesday onwards, or on the door – priced £30 per ticket / £25 for concessions (students with valid photo ID). A more detailed programme will be made available on the ADF blog as soon as possible.

Aubin Gallery, September 17 – October 3
First UK show of the Franch ‘radical’ illustration group with new work produced in collaboration with Brody.

Bare Bones
Maurice Einhardt Neu Gallery, September 18-26
Daily print and poster installation by Harry Malt and the Bare Bones collective planned to act as a record of th event as it unfolds.

Under Collision: Epic Fail
Idea Generation Gallery, September 18-26
‘New artists alongside political image making legends will show works that stretch across film, performance, installation, sculpture, drawing, painting and photography.’ We are promised ‘a collision that embraces failure as a viable way forward’.

Yuri Suzuki: Sound Interjection
KK Outlet, until September 30
Product designer and electronic musician Yuri Suzuki ‘takes an in-depth look at the at the machines and creations he has produced which explore how sound, design and people interact’.

4by4: Every collaboration is the result of a sin
Payne Shurvell, until September 26
Billed as ‘Four curators, four shows, four publications, four weeks. A series of multi-faceted, short, sharp shocks including video, sound, readymades, text, performance, interventions, ceramics, crafts, publications and newsprint’

Microplex – short film season
Londonewcastle Project Space, 28 Redchurch St E2, until September 26
A five-seat cinema showcasing a programme of experimental short films curated by onedotzero’s Shane Walter, Jon Wozencroft and others.

Londonewcastle Project Space, 28 Redchurch St E2, until September 26
The main daytime event space for the ADF which will feature a mix of talks, live events and ‘happenings’. On Friday September 24 it will host a day-long series of round-table talks curated by Brody and Adrian Shaughnessy while there will also be shows from students of the LCC and RCA. Things kick off with Mistakes and Manifestos, curated by Daniel Charny of the RCA, which is described as ‘an open programme of selected exhibits and some scheduled events’. Among these will be performance artist Giles Ripley’s self-help film I’m a Winner (Why Aren’t You!!!) and a manifesto wall, Open Spike, by designer Martino Gamper, which will ‘accumulatively display both commissioned and open submission manifestos’. Tomorrow (Saturday 18) sees a talk by ‘anti designer’ (whatever that is) Jerszy Seymour.

Brody’s Research Studios is running its own event on the final day, Anarchy / Apathy: ‘Are we anarchic? Are we apathetic? What do either of these states mean to us? Research Studios will be exploring the relevance of Anarchy and Apathy in everyday life, through real-time interactive information processing. The space will feature visual outputs, alongside other designers and image makers’ explorations of the subject’.

Londonewcastle Project Space, 28 Redchurch St E2, until September 26
The ‘Salon space’ will host free evening performances of ‘experimental music, sound, moving image, spoken word, performance and digital practice by some of the most exciting artists working in the UK and beyond’.

For more details and the full programme see here.

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