Subversion in the Street of Shame

Iain Sinclair explains the background to recently unearthed footage of London's literary underground in 1994.

Iain Sinclair

19 Sep 2014

Iain Sinclair explains the background to recently unearthed footage from Subversion In The Street Of Shame, a gathering of London's literary underground held over three days in 1994. The never-before-seen footage footage will be screened at the pre-launch event celebrating Iain Sinclair's new book Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked In 70 Films on Sunday 28 September, with live commentary by Sinclair and Chris Petit.

Subversion in the Street of Shame was the culmination of a lengthy (pub-based) dialogue with Paul Smith: a Janus-headed promoter/visionary who wanted to make it happen. Spoken-word performance, soundscape dialectics, naked-crawling madness in a theatre above a swimming pool, in a building just off Fleet Street, once occupied by printers. Paul looked both ways in time: back to Dada cabaret, Situationism, King Mob anarchy – and forward to pop-up, drop-in improvised holes in the surveillance city.

I liked the idea of collision: a curation that could link undeservedly reforgotten London writers (Emanuel Litvinoff, John Healy, Robin Cook) with sympathetic interrogators (Patrick Wright, Chris Petit). There would be performances that tested the space and touched on legitimate historic retrievals. Brian Catling launched his Cyclops series. Alan Moore made one of his earliest collaborative, site-specific readings. Kathy Acker, passing through, offered up a memorable set. Stewart Home detonated. Chris Cheek and Aaron Williamson delivered with practised intensity. Bruce Gilbert ghosted. The Robin Cook/Derek Raymond reading was his last.

‘These people are “underground” only in the sense that the flathead culture has been too lazy or too diverted by its own misery to notice them,’ said the introduction to the catalogue. Not much changes. A record was kept; it vanished into deep storage, and is now recovered. This edited film feels like the ideal accompaniment to the last rites of the 70x70 programme.

- Iain Sinclair

Subversion in the Street of Shame events took place between 14 – 16 July, 1994.■

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