Alun Rowlands

Alun Rowlands (born Merthyr Tydfil, 1972 lives in London) researches failed utopian projects and minor revolutions, particularly those deemed too inconsequential to be remembered by mainstream history. Piecing together archival material, and filling in the gaps with his own speculations, Rowlands has developed an unusual form of writing that might be described as 'political fiction'. The artist's recent publication 3 Communiqués (2007) collects his observations on three case studies: a man who preached against eating too much protein; a radical artistic commune; and a self-declared nation state precariously perched on an abandoned naval defence platform.

For Nought to Sixty, Rowlands continues his investigations with a fourth communiqué, which delves into the history of the Angry Brigade – the London-based, anarchist-socialist group responsible for a bombing campaign in early 1970s, one whose targets included an MP's kitchen and London's BIBA boutique. More angry than deadly, they never seriously hurt anyone. As a compact series of black-and-white pamphlets that fold out neatly from their pocket-size cardboard cover, 3 Communiqués lovingly echoes the homespun literature of revolutionary groups, as well as the underground publications of the avant-garde. But if the term 'communiqué' reminds us of the urgency of the missives once issued by these radicals, it now carries a gently ironic, nostalgic tone to match the elegant design of the limited-edition artist's book. As Rowlands clearly appreciates, even the most inflammatory propaganda cannot escape commodification.

Nonetheless, the fourth communiqué, surreptitiously inserted inside the final Nought to Sixty magazine, mimics the genre's typically opportunistic means of distribution. Moreover, Rowlands' compulsion to add further communiqués recalls his first protagonist, Stanley Green, whose days were split between preaching on Oxford Street and revising his cryptically titled, self-printed pamphlet, Eight Passion Proteins With Care. Rowlands' case studies may vary in their duration and geographical reach, and may range in focus from eccentric loners to international campaigns, but a pattern gradually emerges. The experiments all coalesce around 1968 and relate, self-consciously or not, to the Situationist-inspired student revolts of that year. Furthermore, each cause models its ideology on that of earlier theorists, creating strange hybrids and mutations of Aristotle's ethics, William Morris' anti-urbanism, and Wilhelm Reich's and Charles Fourier's Freudian- Marxist blueprints for communal living. But it is the shared characteristics of their demise to which Rowlands draws special attention: the burden of their ideological demands; the tedium of an over-determined routine; the seduction of spectacle and consumer capitalism.

Unusually for documentary writing, the reader is continuously made aware of the idiosyncratic, physical nature of the source material itself, including microfiches, home videos and court documents. Far from the dry, neutral tone expected of the historian, Rowlands' atmospheric descriptions and snippets of conversation seem to take us straight to the heart of the action, while at other times the writing shifts tense and voice to reflect a tentative, hypothetical account of events. Rowlands denies the reader key facts and a clear linear narrative, focusing instead on the imaginative and generative possibilities of uncovering recent history. In doing so, he allows radical ideas from the past an ongoing potential.

Jennifer Thatcher

Download Alun Rowlands' Communiqué § 4 (pdf).