shoot the publics mind and strike back.
The city...is something more than a congeries of individual men and social conveniences - streets, buildings, electric lights, tramways, and telephones, etc; something more, also than a mere constellation of institutions and administrative devices - courts, hospitals, schools, police, and civil functionaries of various sorts. The city is, rather, a state of mind, a body of customs and are transmitted with this tradition. The city is not, in other words, merely a physical mechanism and an artificial construction. It is a product of nature, and particularly of human nature.1
The urban environment has been the center of economical-political-social action for hundreds of years, but it was only after the industrial revolution that the social forces, which until then, use to "feed" the cities (land-workers) moved to the city as industrial-workers (proletariat), and made it the ultimate product of human nature. The main productive forces of society are now in the urban landscape re-forming it, destroying it, expanding it. Under the dominance of the state authority and the great penury of the masses, all the more groups of people started to live on the fringe of society. From this certain point of the lumpen proletariat and the vagabonds to the hippies and the squatters there is a great distance and many issues concerning subcultures that anthropologists and sociologists are constantly investigating. What is sure though, is that subcultures are children of the city and only in relation to their urban nature could be understood. It is somewhere there, in the urban landscape and all these subcultures where one may encounter the underground. To find it, you have to start wondering around the city, sometimes you need to know to recognize it, sometimes its just too obvious.
Is this Underground?
Thrash metal, hardcore, punk, squads and small bookstores. Drugs, music festivals, experimental theaters, students, riots and graffiti. Radical ideas, small bars, printing shops and riot police. In other words Exarchia, this is where I went high school and spent my nights and days. Every time that I go back there I have this feeling that I can't explain. Is it the smell, the people, the violent colors of spry cants on the grey walls, or the destroyed parking that anarchists made a park? When I used to hang around there, I had no idea on what is underground, I just experienced it, I even used the term, mainly for bands that were even more underground than those who common people used to call underground and for me were probably mainstream. But what is exactly underground, and how one can research the "Underground" without knowing exactly what it is. I spoke to many people for this issue, friends, colleges, teachers and I realized that everyone, especially those who were somehow involved with it, have a different idea about it. They can recognize it, they can smell it from a distance, but they are unable to give me a term, a line which determine the Underground. Is it the extreme, the experimental, the vandalism, the independent, the radical, the resistance, the loose, the outcome of subcultures, something that exists out of the scope of the mainstream2, or all together along with many more elements?
To understand and explain it is not an attempt to deaden it, to put this alive and kicking organism into an aseptic laboratory environment and study it, and definitely not to put it in the museum for tourists to admire it, like they admire the revolutions of the past and dreadabominate those of today. My intention is to add to the theoretical knowledge in such a way as to contribute to its history, but even more, to contribute to its awareness and effectiveness concerning the way it is implied upon society (Practice without theory is blind. Theory without practice is sterile.3).
Fanzines, tagging, street art, video graffiti, subvertising, pichacao, interactive projects, wall newspapers, etc. Dadaists, situationists, anarchists, activists, musicians, artists, hip-hop, gangsta rap, vagabonds, collectives, homosexuals, squatters, students and the list goes on. To deal with the Underground as a whole would be a fatal mistake for this essay, there are many scientific fields to cover and I'm not a scientist. As a designer my main focus is the artistic and the design aspect of it, the ground upon which, groups are formed, the ideologiescauses which motivates them, and the mechanisms which result in specific design choices ("Like termites, they come to a place that is rotten. They saw that this place stinks; This place is dead, ti's a dead corpse. We are now the flies around this dead corpse. People hate to see that their city is full of dead corpses." 4).
Going underground is not always a choice, extreme lefts in Greece (kontra, errgatiki eksousia) although they believe in mass propaganda, by lack of means, human resources and the extreme of their ideas, they are forced to make underground propaganda. On the other hand is interesting the example of Banksy who even nowadays, that he is internationally recognizable and many bourgeois would pay a lot of money for his artwork, is "undoubtedly" making underground art.
These two observations are made to highlight two important issues:
1.The conditions (the means, the context, the content, the fringe...) are the factors which determine a design as underground, or design choices (on the use of images, the means, the context and the content) intentionally made by designers. Is it maybe both or something else?
2. Where is this thin line were the underground finally becomes mainstream? Is it possible to provide artdesign to the masses (not for the masses) and being at the same time underground?
In 1967 an association with the name Underground Press Syndicate was set up by various American underground publications. A year earlier Allan Katzman (East Village Other) wrote about the benefits of setting up an underground press association, to enhance their impact... The war in Vietnam and the antiwar movement, uprising of the freaks, the New Left, the Black panthers, under this circumstances the underground press became increasingly powerful and after some months could count around hundred publications and several million readers...In 1973 the UPS was drawing to a close..."abortions were legalized, US troops finally left Vietnam, The American Psychiatric Association "de-deseased homosexuality, and draconian sentences for growing plants were reduced"...5
The UPS is a quite interesting example of underground teams trying to organize themselves and along with political movements to play a significant role in the social life. It seems that they managed not to lose their underground essence (of course this is a matter of debate) and at the same time escape the fridge and invade the masses. As interesting as this observation is for my essay, the same is the ending of the UPS. When progress in human rights came, along with the realization of many of the antiwar movements demands, the UPS lost its strength. Of course that was the same problem with the movements of this period (May 1968) and there are many ideological analyses about this issue. 6 It is quite important though to have an understanding on this, even if I am talking from the design perspective, because the design of the UPS (which was pretty much editorial design) was probably suffering of the same opportunistic mistakes as the movements of this period. In the end, the design process was an implementation of the ideas and only in a dialectic relation can be seen.
Although my research goes deep to the past (as far as it is possible), my intension is to provide knowledge and design about the contemporary underground. My visual project related more with the last two important issues of the (Going Underground chapter), I will try to provide design solutions to these two crucial issues (at least for my perception).
1. Ken Gelder, "The Chicago school and urban ethnography", The Subcultures reader second edition, Robert E. Park, "Suggestions for the investigation of human behavior in the urban environment (1925)", The city, pp.25.
2. Wikipedia, Underground culture, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underground_culture.
"An underground culture is a subculture that exists outside the scope of mainstream mass media and popular culture.".
3. Karl Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law, Vol. 3, pp.182.
4. Cedar Lewsohn, "Brazil Style", Street art, Mariana Ribeiro about pichacao, pp.55.
5. Jean-Francois Bizot, "Underground and Alternative Publications 1965-1975", Free Press, pp.226-227.
6. Mark Rudd, "My life with SDS and the Weathermen", Underground.