Underculture  & History From Below


News Of Current Studio Practice, Areas Of Research, Exhibitions & Projects


Ink on Khadi Paper.

Ink on Khadi Paper.

8/1/22

Ink studies of Scottish radical reformer and lawyer, Thomas Muir. WIP.

Sentenced to 14 years at Botany Bay, Australia, for sedition. After 2 years he escaped via a vessel heading for America, and after reaching Vancouver Island he was arrested and put aboard a ship heading for Spain, during which time the ship encountered a British warship and was struck, with Muir being severely injured in the process (left eye and cheekbone damaged). Once arrived in Spain, the Spanish authorities let him go and he made his way to revolutionary France where he eventually died.

Fighting for universal suffrage and against conscription amongst other reformist ideas during a very politically radical period across Scotland, Thomas Muir was leader of both the Friends Of The People and the United Scotsmen during the 1790s. He was described by Lord Advocate Robert Dundas as 'the most determined rebel in Scotland'.


14/12/21.

Studio video of a selection of ink and collage works from a series portraying persecuted people from history.

Corporal and capital punishment, from public humiliation to execution, became more prevalent between the 14th and 17th centuries after various authoritarian poor laws and acts were relatively unsuccessful at controlling the freedom and prosperity of the lower class, which the Black Death and mass depopulation had potentially allowed them. 

This era saw vagrants and beggars publicly shamed with several days in the stocks, long durations in the pillory, or enduring the most widely used and cost effective form of punishment: whipping. There was also human branding: V for vagrant; R for rogue; and B for blaspheme. Begging passports were also a form of restricting movement of the lower class, but could easily be counterfeited (usually by lower clergy as the majority of peasants were illiterate). Public punishment gradually became private punishment with the rise of institutions such as the workhouse. All a form of surveillance with the purpose of restricting lower class mobility, and part of what Foucault identified as the 'Great Confinement'. 

 


01/12/21.

I have a piece of art in this group exhibition at SaltSpace Gallery, on High Street, Glasgow from 2nd - 10th December.


Quaker, James Nayler. Accused of blasphemy and punished by having his tongue bored through with a red-hot iron, and brand on the forehead with a B, in 1656. Ink and dirtied-water on rough A3 Khadi paper. 2021

26/11/21

Started depicting religious radicals who were suppressed, such as James Nayler, a leader of the Quakers during the Commonwealth of the 17th century.


Heretic with Capirote. Ink, gesso, dirtied newsprint, dirty water, day-old tea, studio floor dust & coloured paper on rough A3 Khadi paper.

Heretic with Capirote. Ink, gesso, dirtied newsprint, dirty water, day-old tea, studio floor dust & coloured paper on rough A3 Khadi paper.

10/11/21

Some more imagery on Khadi paper, depicting Inquisition heretics and their attire.


Punished Vagrants. Ink on Rough A3 Khadi Paper.

V for Vagrant and half an ear sliced off. Ink, dirtied-water & day-old tea on rough A3 Khadi paper. 2021.

06/11/21.

Started a series of ink drawings on Khadi paper, depicting punishment techniques such as branding on vagrants, between 14th & 18th centuries. 


A wall installation at 1517, Ayr, as part of a group exhibition, Autumn Is Another Spring . On until 18/10/21.

Detail.

Detail.

Detail.

06/10/21

Here before you is a wall installation of a selection of drawings in ink, acrylic, graphite, and Fine-liner on various types of paper, as part of a larger continuous body of work covering various intertwining themes, which explore the history of the under-documented and the persecuted - radical peasants, vagrants, anarchic fools, masterless men. The continuous research helps me understand and, in turn, visualize the effect pandemics, famines, as well as authoritarian acts, laws, and reigns of terror (culminating with the era of the 'Great Confinement') had on lower class people, their culture and communities; and how radical and heretical sects, sometimes together, displayed various and continuous acts of resistance in response to this oppression.

I refer to the 14th century as 'The Century Of Death' where, within a space of 30 years, two of the most devastating events in recorded history occurred - the Great Famine and the Black Death - causing not only a massive death toll, but a knock on effect of political, religious and social turmoil which continued throughout the following centuries, the remnants of which can still be felt to the present day. The historian, Silvia Federici, identifies the Black Death as a "watershed" moment in history, and understandably so, however, I'd personally apply that across the entire 14th century because, as well as massive depopulation due to the pestilence, there was political and religious upheaval on a national scale in contrast to a more familiar parochial level previously.

With the Black Death severely reducing the labour supply and, in turn, increasing the need for the remaining labour force, which came with a higher wage demand, landed eiltes could not meet these demands so farmers and labourers would flea the estates in search of work elsewhere. Marxist historian Christopher Hill touches on this in his book, 'Liberty Against The Law': "the catastrophe of the Black Death was followed by a century of declining population. There was a shortage of labour, land was unoccupied, and so a splendid opportunity was offered to serfs to liberate themselves by running away and settling elsewhere on uncultivated land."

So, vagabondage was a route out of serfdom, and although it had existed in various ways and for various reasons prior to the Black Death, it became a continuous and a more concerning problem, with authorities implimenting vagrancy and labour laws in an attempt to tackle it - the 1349 and 1351 labouring statutes, along with an enforced wage cap. These laws and their future variants, however, were never all that successful at controlling the mobility of labourers and masterless men. These authoritarian acts, laws, and reigns of oppression were the focus of a rebellious turning point - vagrancy, radical peasantry, anti-tax and anti-enclosure solidarity - during the crisis of the late middle ages, which brought the otherwise fragmented idea of class consciousness from below into a more solid concept.

A. L. Beier's 'Masterless Men: The Vagrancy Problem In England, 1560 - 1640' provides a great insight into this vagrancy concern and the era of state punishment which followed to counter it. From the mid 14th and 17th century there was a significant growth of corporal punishment in statute law. Stocks, used in medieval gaols, were ordered to be built in every town by the Statute of Labourers for the detention of runaway servants and labourers. In a statute of 1495 vagabonds and beggars were to be set in stocks for three days and nights with a diet of bread and water. The pillory was employed against fraudulent dicers and beggars, and in some cases signs were placed above their heads stating their offences. Another form of punishment was whipping, which was implimented widely due to it being cost effective and an efficient way to deal with vagabonds. To hold vagrants for trial, or send them to a house of correction, was expensive and troublesome, whereas a thrashing and a passport saw them off to be someone else's concern. However, rather than alleviate the vagrancy problem, it kept vagrants on the move.

Carnival, the history of which precedes the Medieval period, was a staple of popular/folk culture. Considered, in some way, as a safety valve from above to prevent revolt from below by providing a space for 'letting off steam', it was also believed to be a cover for revolt by dissenters taking advantage of the relaxed laws during that time, or a starting point for revolt with the intention of eventually spilling out into everyday life. In any case, a subversive phenomenon in whatever capacity - upturning social norms, if only mockingly and symbolically (such as role-reversal), where social status is dissolved, and spectators don't exist as everyone involved is part of a social body; reduced to their basic bodily functions of eating, drinking, fornicating and shitting.

Other examples of this 'vulgar' culture include: the public humiliation of Charivari and rough music (banging pots and pans) - a community parading a wrong-doer backward on a horse, for example; singing and dancing, at times frowned upon or criminalised; whistling, which went hand in hand with peasants and their work, but declined at the advent of industrialisation due to stricter working conditions, and to machinery noise drowning out and ending its communal spirit; drumming, considered by polite society as a symbol of low social status and, in some instances, banned by authorities; laughing, a symbol of carnival and festival, and contrasting the seriousness of authority and upper class life; and cant (or slang), a coded language of variant styles used by the underclass - thieves, vagrants, hawkers etc., which in some way deceived authority.

 


Hand Washing Inked linocut.

Hand Washing test pressing.

Hand Washing test pressing.

13/08/21.

Still some way to go in getting to a satisfactory level with lino printing. I had only dabbled in it previously, so it's a relatively new medium for me, and there's a lot more to consider than I had initially contemplated - amount of ink, amount of pressure, type of paper, and using more than one colour etc.. 

With anything of course, it's a learning curve with trial and error. 


Hand Washing Linocut. A3.

12/08/21

During the Black Death, Jews were blamed for the spread of the plague (such as the false claims that they were poisoning the wells, and the blame exacerbated by the anti-semetic Flagellants, who somewhat ironically, by not washing for months on end during their ritualistic whipping pilgrimages across Europe, easily helped spread the disease further) due to fewer deaths being apparent within their communities. There may well be some truth to the fewer numbers, purely by the fact that cleanliness was a ritual procedure within the Jewish communities and possibly played a part in preventing spread of the pestilence.

It seems like something mundane and irrelevant, but cleanliness was an almost ritualistic thing with heavy industry workers, like my Dad, coming in from work and thoroughly washing their hands before tea, after a hard day's graft, especially working in the steelworks as my Dad had done.


Dornoch Street printing press.

Reduced To The Basic Function Of Their Hands. Test pressing.

Bubonic Plague Victim. Test Pressing.

03/08/21.

Continuing the themes of the below perspective, and dark side, of history and culture through the printing press.


31/05/21.

Virtual Exhibition created, and work selected, by Adam McLean.