State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 75 Autumn 2005


Olga Tsara
The Art of Revolution
Political Posters in the RedPlanet Archive

HOW IS the impact of any social or artistic enterprise to be judged? On the one hand, as an organization, RedPlanet no longer exists, having been unable to secure a viable income source at a critical point in the late 1990s. On the other hand, the amalgamated histories of the two poster workshops that combined in 1992 to form RedPlanet (Redletter Community Workshop Inc. and Another Planet Posters) contributed almost 25 years of influential, accomplished and often ground-breaking poster production. Its survival as a community-based, alternative poster press in Melbourne, particularly when most other Australian poster presses had long dissolved or become commercial enterprises, is a significant achievement. Out of this history, three defining characteristics of RedPlanet emerged. Firstly, it produced highly influential work. The merit of the political posters themselves saw the organization achieve world recognition in poster design. Secondly, the artistic and administrative staff of RedPlanet were aware of the demands of modern management trends placed on it by its various funding bodies, and evolved to suit the times. Far from being an anachronistic artists’ collective that struggled through the changing social and economic landscape of the 1980s and early 1990s, RedPlanet was able to accommodate these changes while remaining true to its central mission. And thirdly, the organization never lost sight of the make-up of its clientele — groups predominately from lower socio-economic and non-English speaking backgrounds from Melbourne's inner and northern suburbs — and their prevailing needs.
These three defining characteristics of RedPlanet (which were also key in the two organizations that combined to create it) will be explored further as the individual histories of Redletter Community Workshop and Another Planet Posters are examined. Before these histories are explored, some wider background might be useful.
The history of RedPlanet cannot be separated from the recent history of collectivism and community arts. The makeup and operations of Australia's poster workshops were heavily influenced by Sydney's Earthworks Poster Collective. It was the first poster collective in Australia, operating for eight years from 1972–1980. It flourished in the anti-elitist decade of the 1970s which saw an ‘anti-commodity’ push in the wider art world, where artists produced work such as happenings, performance, installations, video, and silk-screened posters, that were ephemeral by nature. Poster artists also quoted or appropriated other art works in their posters as a strategy to undermine the art world's worship of originality. The aim was to produce works which were more interesting for their ‘making’ or effect, than for their collectability.1
The early poster workshops were artist-run collectives, where individual artists did not sign their work and where all members were paid the same regardless of function or qualification. Not signing the posters was the artists’ attempt to undermine the prevailing concept of the ‘genius artist'. The artists believed that the purpose of art can be to heighten the
local community's sense of identity and self-esteem (two decades later, the term ‘social capital’ was coined to describe this), and that art can be produced collectively to make political statements and influence social action, rather than make statements about how the artist feels.
The group at Earthworks operated on a democratic basis and decisions were made collectively. The philosophy of the group, which was based on leftist politics and feminist principles, led to the formation of community arts programs and a policy of providing access to the means of image and message-making to the local population.2 These basic operating principles and philosophies were to influence and provide the model on which poster collectives that followed based themselves. Melbourne's poster collectives, like Redletter and Another Planet, usually had Committees of Management (of which all staff were members) and broad community membership (usually for a small annual fee).
The community arts movement had its origins in the social and political struggles of the 1960s and 1970s around issues like the Vietnam War, feminism and Aboriginal land rights. The driving philosophy behind it was the belief that, as a matter of principle, it was everybody's right to participate in the shaping of the world in which they lived. Its emergence saw the rise of three important artistic concepts: the idea of ‘artworker’ as opposed to ‘artist'; the move towards cultural democracy where the production of art was participatory (between artworker and the community); and the notion that the consumption of art was meant for a wider audience than ‘the gallery set'.
Community arts received official support with the election of the Whitlam government when the Community Arts Committee of the Australia Council was established in 1973. With the establishment of the Community Arts Board of the Australia Council (which later became the Community Cultural Development Unit - CCDU), community arts looked more towards the state for funding, rather than radical groups like trade unions or socialist groups. A number of theorists have commented on the inherent danger of linking community arts with state funding. Sandy Kirby warned of the danger that the movement would lose its direction and purpose which historically manifested itself in radical political and cultural initiatives.3 But did the pursuit of state funding, and therefore the striving to meet state imposed criteria for success, dilute the political punch of community arts in general and our poster workshops in particular? Does the funding source necessarily become a master which community arts must serve? These are critical questions to ponder, as we now examine the two histories of Redletter and Another Planet.

Redletter 1977–1991

By the mid 1980s, Redletter Press had established itself as an important player in Melbourne's community art movement. What began in 1977 as a two-person, low-technology outfit, operated by the Brunswick Unemployment Group (BUG), was expanded by the artist Bob Clutterbuck to become the Brunswick Work Co-Operative in October 1979. The Brunswick City Council funded the purchase of an offset press and a platemaker, and it began operating
at ‘Shopfront 380’ in Sydney Road, Brunswick, in November 1979. Clutterbuck described the workshop in the catalogue for the exhibition Backstreet Visions:
It measured about 10’ x 10’. A crude table of undressed timber was large enough for a single 30” x 40” base board. Tins of ink and turps, mixing containers, paper and rags were all kept in the hall. With the drying lines and work bench there was no room for storage inside. What was charitably called a screen print workshop was little more than a cupboard. Mercifully it had a window, which was both an ad hoc light table (artwork was taped to the window and traced) and our only ‘ventilation'. I use the word advisedly, as to open [the] window to clear the room of print fumes was to let in the pollution and din from Sydney Road.4
As the Brunswick Work Co-operative Ltd., the organization was structured so it could function as an umbrella for a variety of projects and operations. It once ‘sprouted a Food Coop, a theatre group, an offset press, as well as graphics and screenprinting'5, and it planned to explore the feasibility of waste recycling and worm farming.6
On 29 August 1984 the organization incorporated and became Redletter Community Workshop Inc. With its incorporation came the formalization of its directions and philosophies, which were determined and articulated by a Co-ordinating Committee. At this point, the group's staff comprised an artist-in-residence, an artist-in-community, a printer and an administrator.
In the years leading up to incorporation, the collective that was to become Redletter Community Workshop changed its name and location a number of times. It had spent some time housed in Lynall Hall Community School after moving from Sydney Road,7 and had operated under the names of Breadline Posters, Red Trouser Press, and Redletter Co-operative. The legal demands of incorporation (such as the legal need of a constitution, articles of association, and a formal management committee structure) changed its status from a loosely constituted community group, to a collective with a more formalized and structured approach.
As an incorporated body, Redletter articulated three main functions for itself. First and foremost, Redletter existed to provide access to modes of creative and political expression that were unavailable to many sections of the community. Community groups and individuals were encouraged to do their own designing and printing, using the workshop's facilities. Training and technical assistance was provided to facilitate this access, at cost price, particularly to marginalized sections of the community.
Secondly, issues-based projects were also initiated and co-ordinated by the artworkers, in consultation with community groups. The artworkers were commissioned to design and print posters, pamphlets, postcards, t-shirts, banners and fabric. Lastly, there was the production and dissemination of ‘house posters’, which involved artists working ‘in-residence’ to develop their own styles and techniques on more aesthetically experimental work.
Our society's realization that literacy was a prerequisite to participation in any democratic political system, brought about free education and free public libraries. The

Marina Strocchi, artist. Greenhouse effect. 1989. Screenprint on white paper. H91.95/4. La Trobe Picture Collection. One of six posters on environmental themes for the Urban Environment Poster Project of CERES (Centre for Educational Research into Environmental Strategies), this poster was originally designed for children. It was so successful that it was included in education kits sent to all Australian schools.

Mark Denton, artist. Backstreet visions. 1986. Silkscreen print on white paper. H2003.90/653. La Trobe Picture Collection.


Chris Reidy, artist. Peace the only safe fallout shelter. 1982. Screenprint on white paper. H83.181/14. La Trobe Picture Collection. This poster, which had a print run of 2000 copies, one of the two or three largest poster runs in Australia outside commercial offset posters, was still selling five years after its production.

Carole Wilson, artist. Plastic's got us, hook, line and sinker — recycle now. Screenprint on white paper. H2000.185/277. La Trobe Picture Collection. Originally produced as a poster in 1988, this image was printed as a billboard and displayed on 100 sites around metropolitan Melbourne and country Victoria. This image won the prestigious Special Jury Prize at the 1992 3rd Chaumant Poster Festival in France and was reprinted as a poster by Carol Porter in November 1992.

community's access to these institutions is now taken for granted as a basic right. Stemming from this is the belief that people have a right to create and communicate their own messages, and define and present their own images. For the Redletter collective, it stood to reason that access to the means of communication should be government-funded, just as libraries and schools were. This central belief saw Redletter make a key strategic decision in 1983 when the Victorian Ministry of Employment and Training withdrew its funding, placing it under the threat of imminent closure. Rather than minimize their community work in order to become a financially self-sufficient commercial enterprise - as was expected of them and as a number of other similar organizations had done — it successfully gained funding in 1984 from the Australia Council, and was able to re-position itself as a community arts provider rather than a fledgling printing operation in need of a helping hand from the government until it could fend for itself.
The retrospective exhibition, Backstreet Visions, held in 1986, was a celebration of Redletter's work over seven years. By that time, thousands of posters had been produced. The workshop had forged strong relationships with community groups and individuals, especially in Melbourne's northern suburbs. It had also come a long way in promoting the rise of the political poster as an art form as well as a vehicle for social comment.
Despite such success, however, by 1988 Redletter's future was on the line. It (and Another Planet) drew on two sources of funding from the Australia Council: the Visual Arts and Crafts Board (VACB) and the Community Cultural Development Unit (CCDU). As well as having its grant application for $22,800 to VACB rejected, Redletter now underwent an Australia Council CCDU review. The organization resolved to take steps to market itself more successfully, particularly to the Australia Council. To this end, it developed new economic strategies, re-organized its staff into defined job roles, expanded its range of services, vested greater responsibilities in its Co-ordinating Committee, and sought wider publicity.8
Management also proposed testing new strategies and opportunities for Redletter, in line with their marketing plan which identified a viable market for screen-printed textile products. For its funding, this move towards merchandising (some of which extended to the production of tea towels, scarves and wrapping paper) achieved its desired effect. The Australia Council review found that it should follow through with its Marketing Plan (drawn up by Making it Happen, a management consultancy firm), and that it should work with consultants to assess its aims and objectives. According to the Annual Report of 1990–1991, Redletter emerged from this review with flying colours.

Another Planet 1984–1991

Another Planet Posters began life as the Community Access Screenprinting Project in 1983, and became incorporated in 1984. The Screenprinting Project was funded by the Commonwealth Employment Project scheme. It was based on a proposal developed by Julia Church and Kath Walters (members of Bloody Good Graffix, a Melbourne University-based
access and print service) to establish a community access screenprinting workshop in St Kilda. The project was so successful (producing about 20,000 posters) that it attracted further funding in 1984 from the Australia Council, with accommodation assistance from the Victorian Ministry for the Arts. The incorporated entity known as Another Planet was officially launched in April 1985.
Another Planet's artists were ideologically committed to working collaboratively with the community. Like Redletter, their services included commercial services and open access for the community. In 1986, facing a reduction in funding, Another Planet decided to seek cheaper accommodation and moved from 1–3 Inkerman Grove, St Kilda, to The Stables at 19 Duke Street, Richmond. For a peppercorn rental of $20 per annum to Richmond City Council, and with an Australia Council grant to install ventilation and prepare the ground floor, the 100- year-old National Trust-listed building was converted into a printing workshop. It was to be the location of the production of some of Australia's most accomplished and recognizable political posters.
1986 was also the year of the Australian Way of Life Project. This project was, according to Julia Church, ‘for all those groups that are left out of all the publicity of what the Australian identity is.9 Julia Church and Kath Walters worked with Aboriginal groups, the Young Women's Photographic Collective, the Trade Union Migrants Workers Centre, the Prostitute Workers Collective, the Women's Council for Homelessness and Addiction, and the Tenants Union to produce 13 posters and two billboards. The project was ambitious in scope and aspiration. Over 15 years later the posters serve as documents to remind us of the diverse make-up of our society, and the efforts made by this group of artists to provide various community groups with a voice and a means by which they can define and present themselves.
The billboard component of the Australian Way of Life Project evolved from a desire to expose larger and more diverse audiences to community arts. A key challenge faced by Another Planet was how to find the wide audience that it sought for its alternative voice. The high fines for illegal poster billing combined with the corporate sector's monopoly of expensive public space, meant that poster co-operatives had to think of new ways to get their messages out in the streets. Political posters had high circulation, but it tended to be in cafes, bookshops or on people's fridges at home. Essentially, these posters were preaching to the converted. The biggest cost of the project was hiring the billboard sites. Venturing into new funding territory, Another Planet sought funds from the private sector. Levingston Posters were able to subsidize the cost of the sites. They also formed Community Billboard Promotions, a joint venture between Another Planet Posters, the Operative Painters’ and Decorators’ Union, the Building Workers’ Industrial Union and Moomba Festivals Ltd., which established semi-permanent billboards for community access on construction sites in the city.
The first billboard was The Australian Dream? Australia Needs Public Housing.10 Relatively small, it was to be hung on community billboards. The artists themselves posed for the photographs which were used as the artwork. The second billboard, And the American
Warship Sailed into the Sunset & Never Returned — Australia Nuclear Free and Non-Aligned
, measured 3 × 6 metres and was produced for the Anti-Bases Campaign, Melbourne, a community organization affiliated to the Australian Anti-Bases Coalition. The Coalition had 150 affiliates, including church, trade union, environmental, student and Aboriginal organizations.
Another Planet produced other billboards in 1989 and 1991. Plastic's got us, hook, line and sinker, by Carole Wilson, Peter Curtis and the Friends of the Earth, (originally produced as a poster in 1988) was displayed on 100 sites around metropolitan Melbourne and country Victoria. The sites were donated by Australian Posters, a major billboard company, after negotiations with the Outdoor Advertising Association of Australia (OAAA). This image won the prestigious Special Jury Prize at the 1992 3rd Chaumant Poster Festival in France. It was offered for sale to galleries and museums, and reprinted as a poster by Carol Porter in November of 1992.11
The workshop also produced ‘house posters'. These works usually had lasting artistic merit, and served as a means to gain fame and enhance the reputation of the workshops for poster design excellence around Australia and the world. Another Planet's artist-in-residence program began in 1987 allowing artworkers to produce work that extended their style and gave them the freedom to move away from the standard range of designs produced under time constraints with clients or community groups. It was decided that the posters for 1987 would address aboriginal issues, given that 1988 was approaching with its Bicentennial Celebrations.
The artist-in-residence posters from 1987 and 1988 stand, arguably, as the workshop's best work. The artists understood that the audiences of the day had a sophisticated visual vocabulary and any designs they created, either in the form of house posters or commissioned work, had to be engaging and powerful.

Collectivism: the tyrannies of structure and structurelessness

How odd it seems to compare these poster workshops at their beginning and then ten years on. They began as democratic collectives where staff participated in all activities, high and low. Artworkers were printers, designers, camera operators, as well as managers and administrators. They were driven by shared principles and a common vision, mostly originating from their leftist leanings, which motivated them to devote much unpaid time to their work. Ten years on, they had, by necessity, developed business plans and marketing plans, defining their visions, missions and performance indicators, and measuring their success in terms of ‘outputs'. But collectivism does not necessarily sit in opposition to modern management processes, even though at first glance they seem to be worlds apart. The workshops were principle-driven, they had a flat structure, they worked collectively and collaboratively; they were non-hierarchical. These are valuable organizational characteristics according to some modern management theorists.

Colin Russell, artist. White Australia has a black history. 1987. Screenprint on white paper. H90.95/30. La Trobe Picture Collection. Produced as part of an Artist-in-Residence programme, this poster was included in the exhibition Right Here Right Now — Australia 1988, held during the Fifteenth Biennial Adelaide Festival of Arts.

Collectivism did have its disadvantages, though. As Bob Clutterbuck put it: ‘We all became conversant with the tyrannies of structure and structurelessness'.12 Undefined job roles and the need to participate in all areas of fund-raising and fund applications, left the artworkers exhausted and with less and less time to create art and work on community projects. Artist burnout was a common phenomenon in the community arts, and the poster workshops were no exception. Redletter and Another Planet knew they had to develop management structures and forward planning mechanisms, not only for their organization's survival (the Australia Council was staring to demand this of them), but also for the survival of their staff.


In May 1990 Another Planet had to cease its on-site printing due to health hazards. This, combined with the resignation of four staff members, precipitated its amalgamation with Redletter. Discussions for amalgamation had begun some time before, and the staff had already begun to work cooperatively and co-dependently. Each had representatives from the other on their management committees, and staff had collaborated on projects. The idea of amalgamation was inspired by a ‘grand vision’ of a new organization which would keep the Redletter and Another Planet sites and take on the Textile Workshop at the Meat Market Craft Centre in North Melbourne. The plan was to develop an umbrella organization working in various arts media, in a range of locations around Melbourne. For this vision to work, the organization would need to employ more administrative staff, but the two core funding agencies of the Australia Council were not willing to fund this.13
Two factors led to the decision to hasten the amalgamation. Firstly, both Redletter and Another Planet occupied premises conducive to unsafe or hazardous working conditions. Writing in 1986, Bob Clutterbuck gives this moving description:
We printed, in those days [late 1970s and early 1980s] in blissful ignorance of the considerable health hazards endemic to the process, spurred on by political idealism and the pure passion we had for the medium itself — the magic of printing colour so flatly, so intensely and so cleanly!14
Many artists left Another Planet and Redletter due to respiratory problems caused by the fumes of the solvents used in printing, or skin reactions to the chemicals. Julia Church pioneered work in the field, and in 1990 she produced a kit highlighting hazards in ceramics, painting, photography, sculpture and printmaking. Another Planet led the way for other poster workshops and changed to water-based inks in November of 1989 (eliminating the need for solvents) and Redletter followed in 1991.
The second factor contributing to amalgamation was the loss of funding. Both organizations had had their grant applications rejected by the VACB; and the CCDU, deciding that they did not fit the major criteria for future funding, had made a decision to phase out funding over a three year period.

Rally against Thatcher. 1988. Silkscreen print on white paper. H98.220/2. La Trobe Picture Collection. Visiting British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is depicted as the fascist rat, a motif popularised in political posters by the Atelier Populaire.

The workshops appealed to have this decision reversed on the basis of the amalgamation. With the financial assistance of the Victorian Ministry for the Arts and the CCDU, a consultant was employed to review operations. The ‘grand vision’ was discarded, and the result was the merging of the two operations onto one site, alleviating the need for more administrative staff. The organization also resolved to concentrate their work in three broad areas of social justice: women's issues, the environment, and the needs of groups from non-English speaking backgrounds. At a special general meeting on 17 December 1991 the membership voted to adopt the name RedPlanet Inc. The CCDU and Arts Victoria removed the ‘on notice’ status that had been with them in 1990 and 1991, confirming that RedPlanet was developing in a direction to their liking. The new organization was officially launched on 1 January 1992. Armed with a new focus, and a new vote of confidence from the Australia Council, RedPlanet launched itself into the future, audacious and irreverent.

RedPlanet Inc.

The CCDB was increasingly concerned with the question of aesthetics and standards of excellence. Awards like the Chaumont Special Jury Prize for Plastic's got us were enormously influential in raising RedPlanet's credibility with the Australia Council. The newly formed organization was determined to face the future with a positive approach, striving for excellence and more self-sufficiency. As well as providing its access programs, commercial services and community work, it re-introduced a rigorous artist-in-residence program, and marketed its posters more aggressively. Combined with the move to the spacious ‘Broom Factory’ at 144 George Street, Fitzroy in February of 1993, the strategy paid off. In 1992 and 1993 the artists produced 24 house posters, and were invited to participate in a number of exhibitions, including at the National Gallery of Victoria, the Melbourne Arts Centre, the Lahti X Poster Biennale (Finland) — here Carol Porter's Beautifully Slim was short listed for a prize from 2582 posters from 50 countries — the Prohe Kunstandwer Museum in Frankfurt, and at the National
Gallery of Australia. The statistics and odds speak for themselves: from a field of 917 Australian posters submitted for inclusion in the International Chaumant Graphic Exhibition in Paris, 12 were chosen, and of these, six came from the RedPlanet folio.
The aesthetic lineage of Australia's political posters can be traced back along two branches. Firstly, to the radical work of the European Dadaists and Surrealists of the early twentieth century, whose irreverence for the art world displayed itself in their use of non-traditional media and anti-elitist attitudes. And secondly, to the posters of the Atelier Populaire produced in Paris by students of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts during the 1968 general strike. These posters were of single colour, produced quickly and pasted up on the streets overnight. They functioned as counter-propaganda, contesting hostile reports designed to discredit the students and the trade unions, in the government-run media. Symbols and designs popularized during this time, like the raised fist, the fascist rat, and the dominating slogan, have been used over and again by political poster workshops around the world.
As well as drawing from Dada and the Atelier Populaire, the aesthetics of the political posters of the 1980s and 1990s can be analyzed in terms of their ‘popist’ references, elements and origins. The use of fluoro colour, the combination of photo and hand-cut stencils, the use of mock film or news scenes as visual quotation, the dominating text panel or thought bubble, (as in comics) all have their origins in the traditions of Pop Art which saw a revival in the 1980s. The flatness of colour achieved by silk screen printing gave an impersonal style and left no evidence of the artist's hand. This suited the poster makers, who often chose anonymity, making the message rather than self-expression their main goal.
Pop Art owed a great deal to the Dadaists as did Punk, the other major aesthetic influence on Australian political poster design in the 1980s. The ‘trash aesthetic’ of punk, also reminiscent of Warhol's pop art, used photocopies, cut-outs, and sampling, appropriation and artistic quotation, to create an instant art based on a do-it-yourself mentality.16 But while the New Wave music, graphics and fashion (mostly a rough, street version of 1960s revival) gave a critique of culture, it often had nihilistic tendencies, not really offering a vision of an alternative future. The political posters of RedPlanet and its predecessors were never nihilistic and only borrowed the graphic style of Punk, not the sentiment of alienation.

The end of RedPlanet, Melbourne's last political poster workshop

By 1997 RedPlanet was receiving 42% of its funding from government sources. Arts Victoria provided 19% (or $34,000 per annum) and the Australia Council 24% (or $43,000). The total income was around $180,000. When the Australia Council made its decision to stop funding as of 1998, RedPlanet found itself in a position where it had to make the difficult decision to take out a loan of $50,000 secured against the trading stock of posters, other merchandise produced by the workshop and its precious poster archive.
Efforts to increase their income by selling off parts of the collection, such as the Street
Poster Art
auction in 1998, proved fruitful, but not enough to service the loan and maintain solvency. On the 23 December 1999 RedPlanet ended the employment of its remaining two staff and suspended trading. The posters would be offered for sale to large collecting institutions like the State Library of Victoria and the National Gallery of Australia — both institutions had expressed interest in the collection — as a last resort to raise money to service the loan and resume operations. But before this could eventuate receivers were appointed by the creditors, and the archive, including business records, trading stock and equipment, was formally sold to the State Library of Victoria in January of 2001.

Conclusion: The art of revolution

The catch phrase of the counter-culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s was ‘Think globally act locally'. Groups like the Nuclear Free Zones Secretariat saw solutions beginning at home and broadening on a global scale. But the late 1980s and 1990s saw the insidious devolution of global thinking. The struggle for equality for women had seen Western women fight for and gain rights at home, then turn their attentions to developing countries which had oppressive class and religious structures, only to have to refocus on local issues again with the increase in problems related to body image and corporate ‘glass ceilings'. The fight for equal access to health services focused on the starving populations of the Third World, and then ‘came home’ to deal with the AIDS crisis and indigenous Australian's health problems. Solidarity movements reached far and wide, with Australians visiting and sending aid to newly liberated countries like Nicaragua.17 However, with what was seen as the eroding of civil liberties by various State governments, energies were re-directed to local fronts.
By the mid-1990s social idealism seemed a luxury, to be indulged in by university students and ageing hippies. Government funding bodies were stressing the need for arts organizations to be accountable financially rather than culturally. The challenge for RedPlanet was to serve the community while maintaining a profile which happily co-existed with Government agendas. Many artists have commented on the impact the onerous task of making grant applications to government bodies had. Grant applications were detailed, complicated and labour intensive, and the artists had to stay abreast of all Government policy.
The British community artist and writer, Owen Kelly, argues that to link community arts with the never-ending and onerous demands of grants is to take it away from the dangerous fields that it was heading — revolution — and to keep it under the control of the State.18 The question therefore arises: Did the pursuit of state funding compromise the radical activism of these artist groups? At this point it is important to distinguish between two separate yet related concepts. On the one hand there is the concept of the poster as an art form, and on the other, the wider concept of community art. In a political context, the power of the poster lies in its use as a tool of revolution, to express the views of the counter-culture and avant-garde. Some historians have commented that the political revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe of 1989–1991 marked the swan song of the poster. The poster served the underground

Carol Porter, artist. Brrm Brrm. 1995. Silkscreen print on white paper. H96.27/8. La Trobe Picture Collection. Carol Porter produced a series of posters about the development of Melbourne as a casino-funded city and the hosting of the Grand Prix. Here former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett is depicted as the young aristocrat from Goya's Don Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zúniga (1786).

movement, then was put back into retirement by democracy.19 But this is to assume that there is no scope in a democracy for revolutionary activity. Does a poster have to be the voice of the underground to be revolutionary? And does the poster have a role in revolutionary activity?
In Victoria RedPlanet proved that the production of hard-hitting, satirical and intelligent political posters went a long way toward expressing the voice of radicalism and the counter-culture. In 1999 RedPlanet invited the Guerrilla Girls to Melbourne to run a series of screenprinting workshops and lectures. The Guerrilla Girls is a New York women's collaborative established in 1985. Its members have remained anonymous by wearing gorilla masks and assuming the names of dead women artists. They have developed a strong voice — always with a sense of humour — on all aspects of inequality that affect women around the world. The Melbourne Guerrilla Girls Workshops resulted in a series 13 hard-hitting and witty posters by various artists on themes like body image, the art world and Kennett's Victoria, and proved to be a morale booster for RedPlanet, which was nearing its end.
Perhaps the most revolutionary achievement of RedPlanet is its achievements in the community arts. As a community arts provider, it helped create social capital. Social capital is the term used to denote the bonding and trust that develops amongst disparate members of a community when they co-operate and collaborate on projects for mutual benefit.20 While working together on a project, people experience what it is to be ‘divinely human’, striving for a common goal, and not burdened by individualistic concerns.21 To create social capital is to lead rather than to simply reflect social development, and in this sense it can be regarded as avant-garde, and to some degree revolutionary.
While RedPlanet, the last of Melbourne's alternative poster workshops, has gone, its legacy remains. Today, home-spun handbills, produced on personal computers, reveal their design heritage which can be traced back to the ground-breaking designs of the mid 1980s, and silkscreened posters are still the medium of choice for political campaigns run by cash-strapped student union bodies.


Dawn Ades, Posters: The 20th-Century Poster. Design of the Avant-Garde, New York, Abbeville Press, 1984.
Art as activist: revolutionary posters from Central and Eastern Europe, Universe Books, New York and Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, Washington, D.C., 1992.
Atelier Populaire, Posters from the revolution, Paris, May, 1968, London, Dobson, 1969.
Australia Council, Not a Puppet: stories from the frontier of Community Cultural Development, Redfern, (N.S.W.), Australia Council, 1997
Australian Way of Life, from Another Planet: an exhibition of posters & billboards from Another Planet Posters, [catalogue], 1986
Ball, Philip, Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour, London, Penguin, 2001.
Butler, Roger, ‘From Walls to Webs: Contemporary Poster Art in Australia’, Art and Australia, vol 37, no. 1, 1999, p.102–107.
Butler, Roger, Poster art in Australia: The Streets as Art Galleries — Walls Sometimes Speak, National Gallery of Australia, 1993.
Burke, Janine, ‘Collaboration: Artists working collectively’, in Paul Taylor, (ed.) Anything Goes: Art in Australia 1970–1980, Melbourne, Art & Text, 1984.
Caper, No. 27, 1988
Church, Julia, Pressing Issues: Contemporary Posters from Local Co-operative Presses, Melbourne, State Library of Victoria, 1990.
Clutterbuck, Bob, ‘Out of the Cupboard, into the Streets’, in Backstreet Visions: Redletter Press 1980–1986, exhibition held at Gryphon Gallery, Melbourne College of Advanced Education, 1986.
Crowley, David, ‘The Propaganda Poster’, in Timmers, Margaret, ed., The Power of the Poster, V&A Publications, 1998, pp. 100–145.
Diggs, Peggy, ‘Causing Conversations, taking positions’, Heon, Laura Steward, Billboard art on the road: a retrospective exhibition of artists’ billboards of the last 30 years, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1999, p.32–34.
Evans, Megan, ‘Opportunities and Challenges for Artists’, Visions of Reality: Art in the Community and the Future, City of Melbourne, 1998.
Ewington, Julie, ‘Advertising for Difference’, in Backstreet Visions: Redletter Press 1980–1986, exhibition held at Gryphon Gallery, Melbourne College of Advanced Education, 1986.
Ewington, Julie, ‘Political Postering in Australia’, Imprint, No. 1, 1978.
Fenelon, Jeannette, ‘Working the Community Circuit’, Lip, vol 8, 1984, pp.84–93.
Gott, Ted, ‘Where the Streets Have New Aims: The poster in the Age of AIDS’, in Don't leave Me This Way, Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, 1994, pp. 186–211.
Gowans, Alan, ‘Persuasive Arts in Society’, in Images of an Era: the American Poster 1945–75, Washington D.C., Smithsonian Institution, 1975, pp.18–20.
Graham, Dan, ‘Punk as Propaganda’, in Graham, Dan, Rock My Religion, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1993, pp. 96–113.
Green, Charles, ‘From Leantime to Dreamtime: the Eighties’, Tension, Issue 19, Jan 1990, pp.4–90.
Greenberg, Clement, ‘Avant-garde and Kitsch’, 1939, in Clement Greenberg, Art and Culture: critical essays, Boston, Beacon Press, 1961
Hearts and Minds: Australian Political Posters of the 1970s and 1980s, State Library of New South Wales, 1993.
Heon, Laura Steward, Billboard art on the road: a retrospective exhibition of artists’ billboards of the last 30 years, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1999.
Kelly, Owen, Community, art and the state: storming the citadels, London, Comedia Publishing Group in association with Marion Boyars, 1984
Kenyon, Therese, Under a hot tin roof: art, passion, and politics at the Tin Sheds Art Workshop, Sydney, State Library of New South Wales Press, 1995.
Kirby, Sandy, ‘An Historical Perspective on the Community Arts Movement’, Vivienne Binns, (Ed.) Community and the Arts: History, theory, practice, Leichhardt (N.S.W.), Pluto Press, 1991
Leahy, Cathy, ‘'If you don't fight you lose’: the political poster as alternative practice in the 1970s’, in Fieldwork: Australian Art 1968–2002, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2002, pp.46–51
Lippard, Lucy R., The Pink Glass Swan: Selected Essays on Feminist Art, New Press, New York, 1995.
McAuliffe, Chris, Art and Suburbia, Craftsman House, Roseville East, N.S.W., 1996
McAuliffe, Chris, ‘Let's talk About Art: Art and Punk in Melbourne’, Art and Australia, vol 34, no. 4, 1997, pp.502–512.
McClumpha, Sally, ‘RedPlanet: Visual Dissent’, Imprint, vol. 31, no. 2, 1996, p.8.
McQuiston, Liz, Graphic Agitation: Social and political graphics since the Sixties, London, Phaidon, 1993
Marcus, Greil, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1989.
Marsden, Sally and Martin Thiele, (Eds) The Risking art: art for survival, Richmond (Vic.), Jesuit Social Services, 2000.
Mews, Peter, ‘Lipstick Traces’ [review], Tension, Oct., 1989, pp. 14–15.
Out of Line: 25 Years of Women's Posters, State Library of New South Wales, 1995.
Political posters of the 70's: work from the Tin Sheds, a partial survey: Earthworks Poster Collective, Bedford Park (S.A.), Flinders University Art Museum, 1991
Power to the People: Truth Rules OK? Revisited, Bedford Park (S.A.), Flinders University Art Museum, 1993.
Taylor, Paul, Popism, National Gallery of Victoria, 1982.
Taylor, Paul, (ed.) Post-Pop Art, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1989.
Thomas, Daniel, ‘The Margins Strike Back: Australian Art since the Sixties’, Art and Australia, vol. 26, no. 1, Spring 1988, pp. 60–71
Timmers, Margaret, (Ed.) The Power of the Poster, V&A Publications, 1998.
Turcotte, Bryan Ray, and Christopher T. Miller, Fucked up + photocopied: instant art of the punk rock movement, Corte Madera, CA, Gingko Press Inc., 1999.
Williams, Deidre, ‘Building Community and Social Capital Through the Arts’, Visions of Reality: Art in the Community and the Future, City of Melbourne, 1998.
Working art: a survey of art in the Australian labour movement in the 1980s, Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1985.


The irony — which few art historians have failed to note — is that the posters from this era, meant to be ephemeral and free, are now valuable collectors’ items in the art market.


Therese Kenyon, Under a hot tin roof: art, passion, and politics at the Tin Sheds Art Workshop, Sydney, State Library of New South Wales Press, c1995.


Sandy Kirby,’ An Historical Perspective on the Community Arts Movement’, Vivienne Binns, ed. Community and the Arts: History, theory, practice, Leichhardt (N.S.W.), Pluto Press, 1991.


Bob Clutterbuck, ‘Out of the Cupboard, into the Streets’, Backstreet Visions: Redletter Press 1980–1986, exhibition held at Gryphon Gallery, Melbourne College of Advanced Education, 1986.




Redletter, Report, 3 December 1982, RedPlanet Archive, Australian Manuscripts Collection, SLV.


In 1989 it relocated again to 178 Victoria Street, Brunswick, where it remained until it amalgamated with Another Planet Posters.


Redletter, Annual Report July 1987-Dec 1988, 1988.


‘From ponies to posters at the Richmond Stables’, Richmond Times, 29 July 1986.


Held as a postcard only by the SLV.


Staff Minutes, 11 November 1992, RedPlanet Archive.


Staff Minutes, 11 November 1992, RedPlanet Archive.


Annual Report, RedPlanet 1991–1992.




The concept of ‘popism’ is explored by Paul Taylor, ed. Post-Pop Art, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1989.


Charles Green, ‘From Leantime to Dreamtime: the Eighties’, Tension, Issue 19, Jan 1990, p. 13.


A founding member of Another Planet, Colin Russell, travelled to Nicaragua in 1988, to work on murals and as a volunteer for six months. He had organized to send money to establish printing workshops in various locations in post-revolution Nicaragua.


Owen Kelly, Community, art and the state: storming the citadels, Comedia Publishing Group in association with Marion Boyars, London, 1984.


David Crowley, ‘The Propaganda Poster’, in Margaret Timmers, ed. The Power of the Poster, V&A Publications, 1998, p. 144.


Deidre Williams, ‘Building Community and Social Capital Through the Arts’, Visions of Reality: Art in the Community and the Future, City of Melbourne, 1998, pp.11–12.


Megan Evans, ‘Opportunities and Challenges for Artists’, Visions of Reality: Art in the Community and the Future, City of Melbourne, 1998, p.37.

Please note: Some endnote links are inactive as they were missing from the text in the original printed edition.