Adam  Lewis  Jacob    Collective  Gallery   2017    Photo Credit  Tom  Nolan 31 Sm
‘Emotional Need’, installation view, 2017, commissioned by Collective. Image courtesy Tom Nolan

During the Easter weekend of 1957, a lone pacifist walked 52 miles from London to the nuclear weapons factory in Aldermaston. This act acknowledges that people make, and can notionally stop making, nuclear weapons . The anarchist-inspired Direct Action Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (DAC), under banners designed by Gerald Holtom, organise a similar march the following year attracting over 2000 people. Its popularity prompted the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) to appropriate (steal) the DAC sign and restage the March in 1959, changing the direction from Aldermaston to London. This reversal signalled an ideological shift, from persuading workers to persuading politicians. [1]

A vastly overlong soft snake, segmented by different fabrics, patched with anarchist aligned symbols, moves from the central wall and across the ceiling, slinks around Donald Rooum’s framed cartoons, moves back and forth to the near side of the gallery, behind a TV on a stand, again winding up the wall, its blue head resting at the inner left hand side of the door. Two stools, stationed in front of the TV, similarly covered in symbols, this time made of vinyl—overall quite domestic, a bit teenager’s bedroom. The snake makes an aesthetic link to the character ‘Wildcat’, the soft toy version featured in the video on the telly, in all but one of Rooum’s drawings and in the books available from entrance corridor, including Wildcat Anarchist Comics . [2]

Adam Lewis Jacob, Stools customised by the artist with anarchist stickers, 2017, commissioned by Collective. Image courtesy Tom Nolan
Adam Lewis Jacob, Stools customised by the artist with anarchist stickers, 2017, commissioned by Collective. Image courtesy Tom Nolan

In that book, Donald Rooum outlines how and why he became an anarchist. How : a first visit to Speakers’ Corner, Hyde Park, London in September 1944, buying the weekly War Commentary for Anarchism to which he then subscribed, leading to registering as a conscientious objector but being conscripted anyway… But why?

‘I was once asked by a policeman, “Why are you an anarchist?” and I said, “Why is anybody anything? It satisfies some emotional need, I suppose,” Which is the only answer I can think of.’ [3]

This answer, ‘emotional need’ is echoed in the exhibition title and the video that, features the soft toy, draws from footage of interviews with Donald Rooum that includes his ‘15 minutes of fame’ as a result of the Challenor case where he successfully invokes Lochard’s Principle (see title) in defence of an accusation by the police that he was carrying a weapon (a brick) in his pocket, reanimates some of his cartoons, and contains readings by Sukaina Kubba from Rooum’s book What is Anarchism . Then there’s sound, the music, beginning with LAPS’ ‘Who me?’. Adam Lewis Jacob says, ‘like the snake, [the music] acts as a bridge between Donald, his politics and the past and me, my position and my adolescent development.’

Rooum drew other characters, but his most celebrated, Wildcat (appearing in Freedom 1980-2014), differentiates herself from others such as Korky or Fat Freddy’s Cat by questioning ‘Cartoon cats are mostly male. So what?’. [4] Someone else first drew this androgynous but recognisably female cat for the magazine Wildcat, but ‘had no idea of anarchism even though he thought he was an anarchist’ [5] so the editor asked Rooum to do it. Wildcat, ‘the revolting pussycat who is very bad tempered’ is contrasted with the other key protagonist, ‘the free range egghead who is an intellectual snob’. [6] The two represent simple models of anarchist approaches based in voluntary cooperation. But, for want of a less hierarchical aphorism, are they preaching to the converted? Conversely, the cartoons are fables, acting as reminders to an ardent anarchist of shared ideals and illustrating the pitfalls or misunderstandings they may confront.

Adam Lewis Jacob, still from Wildcat HD video 25 minutes, 2017, commissioned by Collective. Image courtesy Tom Nolan
Adam Lewis Jacob, still from ‘Wildcat’ HD video 25 minutes, 2017, commissioned by Collective. Image courtesy Tom Nolan

Anarchism is often characterised as being against ‘the state’. Rather, as Rooum’s output makes clear, it is opposition to all forms of government and the associated coercion by institutions (which could include individual people), of which the (nation-) state is an, perhaps the most, invasive form. Rather than existing through socialist strategies for utopia, anarchists attempt to enact their beliefs through the day-to-day practice of living: recognising the importance of the means, that is how things are done. The video shows the opening of envelopes to reveal anarchist merchandise, the infamous A sign on a lighter and patches. Perhaps indicating the triumph of ‘“anarchist” poseurs, like the sartorial stylists who paint A-in-a-circle symbols on their leather jackets without having the least interest in anarchism as an idea.’ [7]

Rooum contrasts voluntary cooperation with both these poseurs and ‘worldly self-styled ‘anarchists’ (‘anarcho-capitalists’) who want to abolish the state as a regulatory and welfare institution but do not oppose capitalist oppression.’ [8] Following the cartoons, nuances are blunted for clarity, underplaying the complications of what different approaches might offer and how they blur: surely, Wildcat is a brand, merch, a commodity?; historically, extreme libertarianism is credited as shocking instigators into recognising their own individuality, threatening but also questioning the foundations of the state and society. [9]

What does it mean to exhibit works by an anarchist in spaces partly funded by Creative Scotland and The City of Edinburgh Council? Anarchists always live in, and recognise, contradiction. Diligent anarchists may reject ‘justice’, ‘human rights’ and ‘equality’ because of their conceptual reliance on a contractarian and ultimately coercive state and legal system. However, anarchist activities have contributed to more ‘just’ or equal treatment, such as backing the formation of a national health service, stopping physical punishment in schools and abolition of the death penalty. [10] Groups espousing anarchist sentiments are also fundamental to supporting people that the state leaves ‘destitute’ [11] and taking ongoing action over nuclear disarmament.

After the 1959 March from Aldermaston to London, CND affiliates banners proclaimed ‘Labour in power minus the bomb’. This, and ongoing promotion of that party, was in return for Labour’s commitment to scrapping the UK’s nuclear arsenal. After their 1964 general election win, Labour’s Harold Wilson chose to keep the bomb. [12] This example resonates: the present Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a committed anti-nuclear campaigner, recognised his inability (even if elected) to get rid of Trident in advance of the last general election. [13] Rooums’ cartoons clearly outline the economic incentives—if not necessity—for many states to be engaged in perpetual war, including ‘The British arms trade provid[ing] British jobs’. [14] However, beyond visible bomb making, institutions —Local Authorities, Universities and some charities (Comic Relief)—have supported weapons manufacture through relatively invisible investments . [15] Just by using money, capital, aren’t we all implicated, however unconsciously, in contact that leaves traces?

Donald Rooum’s own ‘emotional need’ emerged in a very different set of circumstances to what I, Adam and many other people resident in the UK now encounter. As forced conscription suggests, war, and thus the military state, were powerfully present. Although WE (The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) are still at war, it would be possible—through blankets of Love Island —to have limited knowledge of OUR continuing military involvement in Iraq and Syria. [16] However, the nation-state is constantly, if banally [17], reinstated in other ways, as endless spins offs from the Great British Bake Off attest. [18] Anarchism encourages awareness of this present, recognising that how things are done, through day-to-day practice, produces what happens next.

Anna McLauchlan is a teacher and learner who currently lectures in critical human geography at the University of Leeds

Satellites is Collective in Edinburgh’s development programme for emergent artists and producers based in Scotland.

Emotional Need, Collective Edinburgh, 27 May-02 July 2017

A massive thank you to: Barry Burns and Luke Collins who accompanied me to the exhibition, afterwards discussing the work and commenting on an earlier draft of this text; Adam Lewis Jacobs for reading and commenting on the text.

[1] This narrative is derived from Donald Rooum, 2016, Wildcat Anarchist Comics . Oakland CA, PM Press. One of the main sites of the Atomic Weapons Establishment is still at Aldermaston. AWE, 2017, ‘About us: Our locations
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid, p.7.
[4] Donald Rooum, 2016, What is Anarchism: An Introduction, 2nd Edition . Oakland CA, PM Press. p.9. There is also a gender indeterminate cartoon cat, Krazy Kat, that is variously referred to as ‘he’ and ‘she’.
[5] Donald Rooum in Adam Lewis Jacob’s, 2017, ‘Wildcat’ HD video 25 minutes, commissioned by Collective
[6] Ibid
[7] Rooum, 2016, What is Anarchism, p.17.
[8] Ibid
[9] Simone de Beauvoir, 1990 [1955], ‘Must We Burn Sade?’ in Marquis de Sade, The 120 Days of Sodom and other writings . Compiled and translated by Austryn Wainhouse and Richard Seaver. London, Arrow Books.
[10] Rooum, 2016, Wildcat
[11] The Unity Centre, 2017, ‘About The Unity Centre
[12] Rooum, 2016, Wildcat, p.15.
[13] Rowena Mason, 2017, ‘Corbyn refuses to back Trident but says he will respect Labour position’, The Guardian, 26 May
[14] Rooum, 2016, Wildcat, p.81.
[15] Kaye Stearman, 2013, ‘Investing in the arms trade – is it ethical?’, Policy Review, December; Declan Lawn, 2013, ‘Comic relief money invested in arms and tobacco shares’, BBC News, 10 December.
[16] Robert Verkaik, 2016, ‘Is Britain fighting another illegal war in the Middle East?’, The Guardian, 21 September. Although Camilla Thurlow, of Love Island’ s runner up couple, is an Explosive Ordnance Disposal worker, exactly what she does and where she does it remains vague.
[17] Michael Billig, 1995, Banal Nationalism . Sage Publications Limited, London, Thousand Oakes, Singapore.
[18] This is the latest: Olivia Waring, 2017, ‘LOOK HUS BAKE When is Nadiya’s British Food Adventure on BBC Two tonight, who’s The Great British Bake Off winner and what is the show about?’, The Sun, 22 July