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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

  • Always Yearning for the Time That Just Eluded Us

    Mark Fisher's Introduction to Savage Messiah by Laura Oldfield Ford captured a vision of London paved over by neoliberalism, but where glimmers of a different world were visible through its cracks. We share the text in memory of his life and work – his brilliant, expansive writing. ‘Savage Messiah is written for those who could not be regenerated, even if they wanted to be. They are the unregenerated, a lost generation, ‘always yearning for the time that just eluded us’... So many dreams of collectivity have died in neoliberal London.’ 



    ‘I regard my work as diaristic; the city can be read as a palimpsest, of layers of erasure and overwriting,’ Laura Oldfield Ford has said. ‘The need to document the transient and ephemeral nature of the city is becoming increasingly urgent as the process of enclosure and privatisation continues apace.’ The city in question is of course London, and Savage Messiah offers a samizdat counter-history of the capital during the period of neoliberal domination. If Savage Messiah is ‘diaristic’, it is also much more than a memoir. The stories of Ford’s own life necessarily bleed into the stories of others, and it is impossible to see the joins. ‘This decaying fabric, this unknowable terrain has become my biography, the euphoria then the anguish, layers of memories colliding, splintering and reconfiguring.’ The perspective Ford adopts, the voices she speaks in – and which speak through her – are those of the officially defeated: the punks, squatters, ravers, football hooligans and militants left behind by a history which has ruthlessly Photoshopped them out of its finance-friendly SimCity. Savage Messiah uncovers another city, a city in the process of being buried, and takes us on a tour of its landmarks: The Isle of Dogs... The Elephant... Westway... Lea Bridge ... North Acton... Canary Wharf ... Dalston... King’s Cross... Hackney Wick...

    In one of many echoes of punk culture, Ford calls Savage Messiah a ‘zine’. She began producing it in 2005, eight years into a New Labour government that had consolidated rather than overturned Thatcherism. The context is bleak. London is a conquered city; it belongs to the enemy. ‘The translucent edifices of Starbucks and Costa Coffee line these shimmering promenades, “young professionals” sit outside gently conversing in sympathetic tones.’ The dominant mood is one of restoration and reaction, but it calls itself modernisation, and it calls its divisive and exclusionary work – making London safe for the super-rich – regeneration. The struggle over space is also a struggle over time and who controls it. Resist neoliberal modernisation and (so we are told) you consign yourself to the past.

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  • Verso's Art and Aesthetics Bookshelf


    Portraits: John Berger on Artists
     
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  • Jules Boykoff - The Anti-Olympics

    With news breaking today that the offices of the building contractor responsible for construction of one of the main competition venues for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games have been raided by police, amidst charges that it has skimmed-off millions of dollars of public funds, we revisit Jules Boykoff's essay from NLR 67 on anti-Olympic resistance.

    Jules Boykoff's new book, Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics, a timely, no-holds barred, critical political history of the modern Olympic Games, is out now.



    With the Rio Games mired in a series of corruption scandals, and with the looming threat of the Zika Virus, the question of who the Olympic spectacle actually benefits has been raised once again. In Rio the favelas, typically sites for state repression, have been subject to eviction and displacement and protests against the Games have been subject to militarised policing and massive human rights abuses in order to clear the city for the arrival of athletes and tourists with their entourage of corporate sponsors and media executives. What power do ordinary people have to stop the great sporting spectacles from destroying communities and wasting billions in public funds? And, could the Olympics ever be democratised?

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