Martin Patrick – 22 January, 2014
Beyond the collective's politically-orientated projects, the book also includes vivid promotional materials for film and music festivals, art exhibitions, and theatre productions, showcasing the prominence and scope of such events in Wellington. Of additional interest is a WMC timeline by Chris Lipscombe, and a short appreciation by Emory Douglas, formerly the “Minister of Culture” and graphic artist extraordinaire of the US Black Panther Party.
Wellington Media Collective
We Will Work With You: Wellington Media Collective 1978-1998
Edited by Mark Derby, Jenny Rouse and Ian Wedde
150 colour and 50 black and white illustrations
Paperback, 240 pp
Victoria University Press, 2013
While reading the richly detailed and illustrated retrospective compilation of the Wellington Media Collective‘s activist graphics, mainly consisting of screen-printed posters, handbills, and flyers, I recalled George Orwell’s statement that “all art is propaganda” along with the aphorism of Marshall McLuhan that “art is anything you can get away with.” Both of these came to mind as for two decades it seems that the Collective embodied the lively and irreverent spirit of both these rather tendentious but rousing claims.
We Will Work With You takes its title from the motto of the (originally nineteen member) group itself, who pointedly stated in 1979, “We operate on a co-operative basis which means we work with groups and not for them. We are keen to learn skills as well as sharing ours…” And certainly although the timeframe of the Collective’s creative activities is increasingly historically removed, writer Ian Wedde points out in his Preface that many recent manifestations of global discontent such as the Occupy movement, the “Arab Spring,” and anti-austerity protests in Greece, among others demonstrate the enduring relevance of the collective’s attitude and commitment to their projects.
One could argue that the current widespread emphasis on socially engaged projects in the art world also lays a firm contextual foundation for renewed interest in tracing the group’s activities, and for mounting the exhibition held at the Adam Art Gallery for which We Will Work With You serves as an accompanying lavish catalogue. The volume alternates between historical essays and colour plates of many examples of the WMC’s projects, addressing such topics as land rights, childcare, unemployment, rising costs, privatisation, equal opportunity-unfortunately not so far removed from today’s experience after all.
Mary Ellen O’Connor provides a detailed rendering of the Collective’s origins and development, and Polly Cantlon’s essay offers background information in terms of graphic design and activism historically. Beyond the collective’s politically-orientated projects, the book also includes vivid promotional materials for film and music festivals, art exhibitions, and theatre productions, showcasing the prominence and scope of such events in Wellington. Of additional interest is a WMC timeline by Chris Lipscombe, and a short appreciation by Emory Douglas, formerly the “Minister of Culture” and graphic artist extraordinaire of the US Black Panther Party. We Will Work With You is a fine example of local grass roots history, which moreover depicts the WMC’s keen interest in and responsiveness towards political and cultural shifts both nationally and internationally.
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