Collecting New Media

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05 February

The Crass Symbol: Commercial Misappropriation and Curated Exhibition

In the wake of our discussion last week regarding canon and fan-made art, I became engrossed in a post on Boing Boing titled “Free the Crass Symbol!!! By the

Left: the Crass logo as it appear on the cover of the band's album You're Already Dead. Right: Hardware's appropriation/defacement of the logo.

Designer of the Crass Symbol, Dave King.” The article is King’s response to the recent appropriation/defacement of the Crass symbol by the London Fashion House Hardware, which has copyrighted a new brand logo based on the symbol (wrapping it in a chain and adding its name) to use on their clothing. King responds not only as an artist who sees another’s use of his work as a violation of his intention, but also as someone who identifies with the punk movement of the 1970s and 1980s.

The bulk of the article is devoted to the history of the Crass symbol. In 1977 King lived in an English farmhouse–a commune of sorts–with the members of the punk-rock band Crass, among others. As the resident designer, he created a logo to adorn the first page of the manifesto/zine Christ’s Reality Asylum,

The Crass logo before it was the Crass logo: imprint in Christ's Reality Asylum manifesto/zine.

penned by another member of the commune. King notes that “from the beginning, the logo was designed to be easily stenciled,” so that it could be retraced in subsequent copies of the manifesto/zine. He also admits that his “original” logo borrows features from other designs: “its basic elements were a cross and a diagonal, negating serpent, formed into a circle, like a Japanese family crest.”

In the context of the punk movement, and the communal farmhouse, it would have been strange if King had objected to the band’s appropriation of the logo, or, subsequently, to the many iterations of the logo inked, sewn, and stenciled by Crass’s fans. To the contrary, he proudly notes that, through a wave of “unauthorized,” fan-made copies, the band’s logo was transformed into the “Crass Symbol, a signifier of both the band and a demanding, counter-cultural questioning of authority of all kinds.” That said, KIng does not consider all instantiations of the Crass symbol to be equal, noting that of the “many ‘homages’ made over the years,” there are some that he regards as “the enjoyable work of genuine fans,” and others that appear to him as “just blatant, barely altered rip-offs.”

Photograph of Crass Symbol exhibit, currently on display at a San Francisco gallery.

The Hardware version clearly falls into Column B. But instead of leaving his readers to imagine what he means by “the enjoyable work of genuine fans,” King encourages them to “See the unchained symbol!”–i.e. view the Crass symbol artwork currently on display at Gotebl├╝d, a San Francisco zine store and gallery, images of which appear at the end of the article. In issuing this imperative, King inadvertently calls into question the relation among artist, fan, and curator in creating, collecting, and representing “cultural” objects.


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