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British Underground Art, 1978 – 1988
Institute Of Contemporary Arts, London
23 March – 6 May 2007

Reviewed by Cardinal Cox


Write Dope on Pnuk part 38

In the time between punk and Damien Hirst, art in Britain appeared to either belong to the mainstream or be imported. However, this is not necessarily true, as we fell into Thatcher’s ideal of business (not always British business) over the people and everyone having the chance to buy their council house and then to have it repossessed, in back streets and blind alleys, some sought to create.

Amongst the first works in the exhibition are Peter Saville’s cover for Joy Division’s ‘Closer’ and the steel plates for ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Another was a series of collages (mixing porn with images from women’s magazines) by Linder. The Buzzcocks, for the cover of ‘Orgasm Addict’, had used an earlier piece of her work.

Away from this use of traditional artistic forms, the Neo-Naturists supplied both slides and videos of their performances. In their body paints, the still images reminded me of a 'National Geographic' mission to some lost tribe in clubland. The video that I watched (‘White Horse’) evoked memories of the Welsh legends of Rhiannon, or her earlier counterpart, Epona.

Richard Hamilton’s installation ‘Treatment Room’ was a recreation of a doctor’s theatre, with a monitor that was showing a video of Thatcher as the patient. Brain washing imminent.

The black and white photographs of the series, ‘Uninhabited London’, hint at some disaster (or television event) that has emptied the streets. Jon Savage, who is better known as a writer and commentator upon the punk era, took these. He had collaborated with Linder on a fanzine, ‘The Secret Public’, in 1978, that gave this exhibition its title.

Possibly my favourite piece was an installation by Stephen Willats, ‘Living Like A Goya’. This attempted to bridge the gap from the Mundenmark of living in a flat and working on clothes to the weekend Gothic Romantic party life of black feathers, lace, beads and mask.


© All work copyright of Cardinal Cox.

Toad illustration

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