Another world is possible: Aberdeen People’s Press and radical media in the 1970s
Fri, 16 July 2021 - Sat, 25 September 2021
12-5, Thursday to Saturday
the worm - 11 Castle Street Aberdeen AB11 5BQ
Aberdeen People’s Press operated between 1973 and 1984, publishing a fortnightly alternative local newspaper, pamphlets and books, as well as providing a printing service for a wide range of radical groups, community newspapers, trade unions and campaigning organisations.
In addition to its printing and publishing activities, Aberdeen People’s Press also acted as a hub, a meeting place for many of the city’s activist groups, a node in a wide network of people and communities across the city, Scotland and the UK.
Aberdeen People’s Press originated at a time of re-thinking culture and society which took place across the western world in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. Involving large numbers of predominantly young people, this re-thinking or “counterculture” had its roots in the Civil Rights movement and protests against nuclear weapons, and came to a head with the massive international protests against the Vietnam war and apartheid, and the emergence of a new wave of feminism. While these radical movements brought together people with different political allegiances there was a shared distrust of government and other established power structures and a rejection of conservative values. Poverty, environmental crises, militarism and the growing power of multinational corporations all provided proof of the need to break the grip of the post-war capitalist order.
Implicit in all of this was a call to action: squatting empty houses, forming claimants’ and tenants’ unions, demonstrating, setting up rights-based community groups, communal farm projects, publishing houses and alternative bookshops. It was also a call to explore new ways of living and working together, based on collective solidarity.
Radicalism also permeated the professions. Social workers championed children at risk of being taken into care, identifying poverty rather than parenting as the cause. Teachers attempted to create free schools. Scientists developed their own radical groups. Radicalism also transformed culture with the flourishing of new approaches to music, theatre, art and film and the end censorship.
It was no accident that Aberdeen People’s Press focussed on printing and publishing, for politics and the media have always been inextricably intertwined. The early 1970s were a very particular moment in the development of print media – the moment when printers’ monopoly over the multiplication of texts and images was beginning to crumble. A new generation of politically motivated do-it-yourself printers was appropriating techniques which had up until then been used principally in offices and administrations – typewriter composition, cheap darkroom cameras, small-format offset presses and, in due course, Xerox copying machines. Suddenly groups and individuals who for years had been ignored by the mainstream media were ‘getting into print’.
The more outrageous and graphically extravagant part of the alternative press – as exemplified by titles such as OZ, International Times and Ink – has passed into history. Another part, however, has remained largely hidden from history: the myriad magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, leaflets and posters produced by and for community and activist groups. Though less spectacular than the psychedelic productions of the late 60s and early 70s, the community press was instrumental in giving a voice to demands for a more just and equitable society.
Aberdeen People’s Press, Scotland’s principal radical print shop was unusual in being located in a city better known for its oil than for its activist political traditions. Nearly half a century on, it seemed important to re-appraise APP’s printing and publishing activities and its role in the city’s social and political history. Which is why Peacock Visual Arts and the University of Aberdeen Special Collections brought together and joined with a dozen former members of APP to collectively curate the present exhibition.
For Peacock Visual Arts, this exhibition is a way of expanding its focus on fine art printmaking to embrace other, more transient, forms of print. It is also a reminder of the common roots of PVA and APP in the politically exhilarating years of the early 1970s when ambitious projects were built with imagination rather than with money. PVA and APP emerged in Aberdeen’s scene within months of each other and shared the hands-on, collaborative ethos of the time which, today, is once again expressed in the exhibition: on one side the display about the life and times of Aberdeen People’s Press, and on the other the possibility for local citizens and activist groups to produce a poster at ‘Peacock Poster Workshop’.
As for the University of Aberdeen Special Collections, the exhibition highlights the importance of its extensive holdings relating to local activist groups and labour history. For though Aberdeen People’s Press no longer exists, its archive can be accessed at the University. One of many archives that bear witness to movements which have stood in direct opposition to established structures and beliefs of the day, whether political, military, social, economic or religious. Archives offering ‘alternative histories’ which need to be preserved and studied in order to remind current and future generations that there have always been different approaches to society and how we live in it, and which have often been in conflict with the history commonly purveyed by the State, the educational system and mainstream media. As such, the papers of protest groups are vitally important as they are often the only remaining tangible evidence of dissent.
The exhibition itself reminds us that many of the issues that were addressed by Aberdeen People’s Press and radical activists of the 1970s are still being disputed today. It also reminds us that many years before us, self-organised groups of people in Aberdeen believed that their collective actions could change lives and society. Hopefully, APP’s work will not be lost and will continue to be an inspiration to us and for generations to come.
The exhibition was collectively curated by:
Ian Stuart Baird, Mick Bloor, David Francis, Margaret Lochrie, Charlie Lynch, Alan Marshall, Norman Miller, Peacock Visual Arts – Nuno Sacramento, Denise Pierrot, Andrew Rigby, Dave Scott, Sandy Scott, Mike Vallance, University of Aberdeen Special Collections – Andrew MacGregor.
Posted by: Ane Smith