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Savage Messiah

The acclaimed art fanzine’s psychogeographic drifts through a ruined city.
“One of the most striking fanzines of recent years is Laura Oldfield Ford’s Savage Messiah, focussing on the politics, psychology and pop- cultural past of a different London postcode. Ford’s prose is scabrous and melancholic, incorporating theoretical shards from Guy Debord and Marc Augé, and mapping the transformations to the capital that the property boom and neoliberalist economics have wrought. Each zine is a drift, a wander through landscape that echoes certain strands of contemporary psychogeography. Ford—or a version of her, at least—is an occasional character, offering up narcotic memories of a forgotten metropolis. The images, hand-drawn, photographed and messily laid out, suggest both outtakes from a Sophie Calle project and the dust jacket of an early 1980s anarcho-punk compilation record: that is, both poetry and protest.”—Sukhdev Sandhu, New Statesman

Savage Messiah collects the entire set of Laura Oldfield Ford’s fanzine to date. Part graphic novel, part artwork, the book is both an angry polemic against the marginalization of the city’s working class and an exploration of the cracks that open up in urban space.

Reviews

  • “The consumer-friendly face of neoliberal Britain gets an anarchic makeover in Laura Oldfield Ford's politically biting work. … No false promises of a brighter, better, more sanitised tomorrow here. Instead, she focuses on areas haunted by an urban dispossessed, which regeneration seeks to concrete over: city wastelands where fortress-like old tower-blocks rise, with their Escher-like walkways and bleak "recreational" open spaces.”
  • “Oldfield Ford displays authentic gifts as a recorder and mapper of terrain. She is a necessary kind of writer, smart enough to bring document and poetry together in a scissors-and-paste, post-authorial form.”
  • “This black-and-white, cut ‘n’ paste-style zine by the artist Laura Oldfield Ford, in which she traces her psychogeographical drifts around London’s grimey underbelly, has achieved cult status in art circles since its first issue in 2005. Be warned: this is a city you won’t find in any guidebook.”
  • “There is poetry ... there is anger ... there are calls to arms ... and thankfully, there is humour.”
  • Savage Messiah’s fractured narratives, clipped sloganeering and topographical poetics have been, for the last decade or so, a kind of solace for anyone who loathed the coked-up arrogance, the intellectual and political vacuity and compulsory amnesia of the boom. It was a constant reminder that bad times were just around the corner.”
  • “No exercise in style nostalgia, this is her recovery of punk’s provocation and politicization.”
  • “Looking at Oldfield Ford's work, one sees the last three decades of urban flux laid out as singular snapshots—from the infinite, utopic possibilities of abandoned land that rave culture picked up, to the increasing civic and corporate control of space.”
  • “What made Savage Messiah so interesting was ... its dialectical montage, its lost futures erupting into and over-running the seamless, optimistic spectacle of redevelopment and speculation—because it imagined other futures than the one being sold so extortionately to Londoners. It held out the promise of another modernism, of things no longer going on as they are.”

Blog

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    In the dead of night, in spite of the electric lights and the remnants of nightlife, London is an alien city, especially if you are strolling through its lanes and thoroughfares alone.


    In the more sequestered streets, once the pubs are closed, and at a distance from the twenty-four-hour convenience stores, the sodium gleam of the street lamps, or the flickering strip-light from a soporific minicab stand, offers little consolation. There are alleys and street corners and shop entrances where the darkness appears to collect in a solid, faintly palpitating mass. There are secluded squares where, to appropriate a haunting line from a poem by Shelley, night makes ‘a weird sound of its own stillness’. There are buildings, monuments and statues that, at a distance, and in the absence of people, pulsate mysteriously in the sepulchral light. There are foxes that slope and trot across the road, in a single motion, as you interrupt their half-shameful, half-defiant attempts to pillage scraps from upended bins. And, from time to time, there are the faintly sinister silhouettes of other solitary, perhaps homeless, individuals – as threatened by your presence, no doubt, as you are by theirs. ‘However efficiently artificial light annihilates the difference between night and day’, Al Alvarez has commented, ‘it never wholly eliminates the primitive suspicion that night people are up to no good.’


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    Comic art has been in my life since at least age 5, when I can recall my (older) sisters reading them aloud, a decisive part of my learning to read. If nonfiction comics happened to be my destiny, then Classics Illustrated, especially the William Tell comic with its heroic attack on the authorities, must have been predictive. Jump down to 1959 and Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book, a classic satirical assault upon modern American business culture-- wholly written and drawn by Harvey Kurtzman, the very first comic to appear as a paperback original—was my first of five. Too bad, for the massively influential creator of Mad Comics, that it was a commercial failure.

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