Blog post

"Reclaiming the anarcho-punk radical critique from Shoreditch" Savage Messiah reviewed

Leo Goretti15 December 2011

Laura Oldfield Ford's Savage Messiah is reviewed for domus by Owen Hatherley. Hatherley describes it as a "self-published montage of fragmentary memoir, revolutionary fantasy and startlingly raw architectural draughtsmanship." In Hatherley's eyes, Ford's artworks are

pervaded alternately with ghostly, overgrown renderings of the harsh, sublime social architecture of the 1960s, especially well represented in Oldfield Ford's native West Yorkshire and adoptive East London.

Hatherley stresses how Laura Oldfield Ford magisterially represents the interpolation of deprived areas and lavish suburbs that is typical of the UK urban landscape—the scenario in which the summer riots exploded:

Brutalist towers sit next to Victorian church next to terraced housing next to derelict factory next to call centre, with any attempt at zoning utterly futile.

One of the most impressive features of Savage Messiah is, for Hatherley, "its dialectical montage, its lost futures erupting into and over-running the seamless, optimistic spectacle of redevelopment and speculation."

Whereas Hatherley looks at the (lost) possible futures that are sketched in the book, Oliver Basciano, in a review for Building Design, focuses on the images from the urban past that populate Savage Messiah's pages. Basciano points out how in Ford's zine, "the assiduous line-drawn urban vistas ... present scenes from the underbelly of city life." According to Basciano, Ford's artworks are "filled with pathos for the human inhabitants just getting by within these confines", and convey "a politically charged anger." The reviewer highlights the autobiographical background of Savage Messiah: born in an economically depressed town in Yorkshire, in her youth Ford experienced the final years of punk, the emergence of the rave scene, and went into squatting. In this sense, the book is also "a eulogy for the party she and her friends had enjoyed." Her story is a story of resistance, rooted in some specific places—the "increasingly rare areas that counter the myth of an all-pervasive white-collar middle class." It is also a piece of British history, seen through her eyes:

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.

In Icon, Chris Hall compares Savage Messiah to "a shifting of grim black-and-white photographs and drawings of those people and areas more resistant to gentrification." The atmospheric images in the book are reminiscent of "the 1980s folded into and cut up with the 21st century." To say it with Hall, in Savage Messiah

There is poetry ... there is anger ... there are calls to arms ... and thankfully, there is humour—an hilarious account of a shift in a biscuit factory that could have come from Irvine Welsh.

The fight against the commodification of the city and resistant spaces is not over: Laura Oldfield Ford "wants to reclaim the anarcho-punk radical critique of the 70s and 80s from the Shoreditch club nights."

Owen Hatherley's review appeared in domus, print edition dated October 2011.

Oliver Basciano's review appeared in Building Design, print edition dated 25 November 2011.

Chris Hall's review appeared in Icon Magazine, print edition dated January 2012.

Filed under: reviews