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"A book for desperate times": Rick Poyner reviews Savage Messiah

Huw Lemmey 3 April 2012

In his stunning, controversial recent article for the New York Times, author China Mieville describes the London Docklands, the definitive Thatcherite regenerated playground of the rich as "a thuggish and hideous middle-finger-flipped glass-and-steel at the poor of the East End, every night a Moloch's urinal dripping sallow light on the Isle of Dogs". London is a city being overbuilt for the advantage of someone, but that someone doesn't appear to be the people who make London breathe. As Mieville writes, "Everyone knows there's a catastrophe unfolding, that few can afford to live in their own city."

In his recent review for Eye Magazine, it is within this population that Rick Poynor locates the author of Savage Messiah, Laura Oldfield Ford. "She tells East Enders sick of being ‘pogrommed’ out of their estates by yuppies that the solution lies in their own hands: ‘Wreck it! Loot it! Burn it!’" he writes: "Embedded at ground level, Ford exposes a dispossessed, deeply disaffected alternative London to which out-of-touch political masters should have paid more heed."

Poyner traces the development of Oldfield Ford's work through the book, a complete facsimile of the artist's cult zine of the same name, from the "graphically uninhibited... hyperactively fragmented and immersive first issue" through to the "expansive" final issues. She's "furious and tender" he writes, "her writing, images and layouts twist, buckle and surge with an energy that's both violent and ecstatic." The stark and punchy images hold an obvious punk genealogy, building on the work of artists like Gee Vaucher, but Savage Messiah

"doesn't feel nostalgic or retro (though it's certainly mournful) because of the way Ford zigzags through time - 1973, 1981, 1990, 1999, 2001, 2013 - capturing the experiences, energy and dreams of dissenters who refuse to play the yuppie game and knuckle down."

Perhaps today that's the only game in town. As Mieville highlights in his NYT piece, the victory of the regenerators, the speculators on the yuppiedromes and luxury hutches, has been secured with years of socially-regressive housing policy introduced by successive governments. With decades of divestment in social housing and now a cap on housing benefit hitting central London, the city's poor are, in Mieville's words "to be pushed centrifugally, faster and faster. The banlieuefication of London is under way." Savage Messiah presents a future city where this cultural entropy is contested rather than unchecked, the "imaginary abandoned ruins of a libidinal, post-Olympics London stripped of its billboards, newsagents and former hypocrisies" according to Poyner: "Fantasy, metaphor, or storm warning? Savage Messiah is graphic literature of great urgency."


Visit Eye Magazine to read the review in full.

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