By Alec Dunn, Josh MacPhee
PM Press Copyright © 2014 PM Press
All rights reserved.
JEU DE MASSACRE GAME OF MASSACRE
An Anarcho-Communist Print Portfolio by Fred Deltor (Federico Antonio Carasso) ARTICLE BY STEPHEN GODDARD
Around 1930 a remarkable portfolio of anarchical prints, Jeu de Massacre. 12 Personnages à la Recherche d'une Boule (Game of Massacre: 12 Figures Looking for a Ball), was published in Brussels by Les Éditions Socialistes. The artist's name is given as Fred Deltor, a pseudonym for Federico Antonio Carasso (1899–1969), an Italian-born sculptor and furniture carver. The pseudonym "Deltor" is contrived from "Del Torino" (from Turin), the artist's native province in Italy. I will refer to the artist as Carasso throughout this essay.
Jeu de massacre is generally given in English as the game of Aunt Sally, which is fully described in the 1911 edition of The Encyclopaedia Britannica:
Aunt Sally, the English name for a game popular at fairs, race-courses and summer resorts. It consists in throwing hard balls, of wood or leather-covered yarn, at puppets dressed to represent different characters, originally a grotesque female figure called "Aunt Sally," with the object of smashing a clay pipe which is inserted either in the mouth or forehead of the puppet. In France the game is popular under the name jeu de massacre.
Carasso's portfolio comprises a printed clamshell cover (pg. 6); twelve sheets printed in the stencil technique known as "pochoir" (pgs. 14-25); a list of the plates in French, Dutch, German, English, Russian, Italian, and Esperanto (pg. 9); and a preface by the French communist and novelist, Henri Barbusse, written in the manner of a sideshow barker (pg. 13, see appendix for full text and translation). Barbusse is best known as the author of Le Feu (Under Fire) — the highly acclaimed anti-military novel based on Barbusse's experiences in World War I.
The twelve pochoir prints depict twelve puppet-like figures who are targets of anarcho-communism, and are all "looking for a ball" — they are ready to be set up on a stage, like that depicted on the cover of the portfolio, and to be struck down in a game of Jeu de Massacre. The twelve figures are described here in English:
Military is a bullet-headed, shark-toothed, uniformed figure brandishing a scimitar whose prosthetic (or skeletonized) left leg seems tangled in barbed wire.
Property wears a black suit and is embellished with gold coins and a landlord's key. He towers above an apartment building and a factory.
Philanthropy has a chest in the form of a bank vault full of cash and tosses a single coin toward a cadaverous figure (lacking an arm and a leg) in front of a hospital.
Social democracy is a two-faced figure who wields the attributes of both royalty and communism.
Justice is surmounted by a figure whose head is a gold coin and who tips her scales with his feet.
Colonization wears clothing whose patterns evoke slavery and brandishes a whip in one hand and a pistol in the other.
Fascism is garbed with a skull and bones motif as well as the colors of the Italian flag. He holds a club in one hand and an impaled head in the other. Fascism further presses one knee against the bars of a jail that holds Italy captive.
Police spy holds out a pair of handcuffs. His body is constructed in part by a monolithic building topped by a jail; and his head is outfitted with a huge ear and numerous eyes that glance up and down, right and left.
Parliament is lame and ridiculous, to judge by his harlequin's garb, crutch and single wheel.
Middle-spirit [petty-bourgeois] wears a suit that is part formal and part frivolous. He raises his eyebrows disinterestedly, enumerating time and numbers from his clock-face chest and his counting fingers.
Religion is supported by wealth and wears a devilish heart-shaped red mask, or, in Barbusse's words, a demagogical heart [see appendix].
Patriotism eats £100,000 and waves the French flag while defecating in a chamber pot decorated with the French colors.
Like Barbusse, Carasso's political stance began to take shape in the course of the First World War. Carasso was called up for military service in 1916 or 1917. After his initial training he was transferred to Rome, where he and a friend led an uprising in protest of the bad conditions in the barracks. This event led to both young men being exiled to Libya, where Carasso witnessed the brutality of war firsthand. After the conclusion of the war, the artist's early engagement with activism and radical thinking was enlarged by his involvement with the socialist weekly L'Ordine Nuovo (The New Order) and his engagement with the Communist Party. When Mussolini rose to power in 1922, Carasso realized it was time for him to leave Italy, moving first to Paris and then, in 1928, to Mechelen, Belgium. He found work in both cities as a furniture carver.
As Geraart Westerink has established, Carasso was quick to make contact with the artistic and literary avant-garde in Belgium, where he met the prominent artists Frits van den Berghe, Gustav van de Woestijne, and Victor Servranckx, as well as the writer Gustave van Hecke, editor of the socialist newspaper Vooruit and promoter of several progressive journals such as Variétés, Arts, and Le Centaure. It was at this time and in this milieu that Carasso fashioned the meticulously crafted Jeu de Massacre. By 1932 Carasso was sought by the police for his activism and communist connections, no doubt exacerbated by Barbusse's introduction to Jeu de Massacre, and he went into hiding in the coastal town of Blankenberge. Not long after, however, Carasso became increasingly apolitical, and he was able to make a clean break with his activist past upon moving to Amsterdam in 1933. Just prior to his departure Carasso's friends helped realize a successful exhibition of his work in Brussels, where, under the name of Fred Deltor, it was displayed along with the work of James Ensor.
In Holland, Carasso became a member of the Nederlandse Kring van Beeldhouwers (Dutch Society of Sculptors). In 1947 he was commissioned to make a sculpture for the Amsterdam Olympic stadium in memory of athletes who had died in World War II, and in 1956 he was appointed professor of sculpture at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht, a position he held until his death in 1969.
Stylistically Carasso's figures betray a knowledge of many of the important international impulses associated with progressive art organizations, periodicals, and movements of the 1920s, such as De Stijl (Holland), Het Overzicht (Belgium), Constructivism (Russia), and, as Westerink has properly observed, Agit-prop (Russia). Schematically Jeu de Massacre seems to have at least a loose connection with another series of stage figures: Lazar El Lissitzky's provocative lithographic suite of 1923, Figurinen, die plastische Gestaltung der elektro-mechanischen Schau "Sieg über die Sonne" (Figurines: The Three-Dimensional Design of the Electro-Mechanical Show "Victory over the Sun"), a pioneering work in the Russian Constructivist idiom that Carasso may well have known.
The technique of pochoir involves making precise, hand-cut stencils, one for each color, and then brushing pigment across the stencil onto the paper below, much like a screenprint but without the screen. While this technique demands very careful cutting to make the stencils and very careful registration when printing multiple colors from multiple stencils, pochoir may have appealed to Carasso because it can be printed away from the public eye, in the studio or at home without a press. The two pages of text (titles and essay by Barbusse), as well as the black texts on the portfolio clamshell, were realized with a photomechanical process, presumably lineblock, a method of producing a relief printing-block from a photographic negative. While lineblock can be printed by hand, in all likelihood the very evenly printed black for the covers and texts was realized with a mechanical press. The edition size is unknown, but, in addition to the copy at the Spencer Museum of Art, illustrated here, a handful of other copies are known to exist.
Carasso's Jeu de Massacre stands as a brilliant melding of communist polemics, folklore, and avant-garde idioms realized during the critical and transitional years between the two World Wars.
Translations by the author and Olivier Matthon.
This is the game of massacre. Come!
Everyone come closer, comrades and friends, and you as well, if you'd like, ladies and gentlemen.
Shrewd people have often spoken to you of jokes and puppets to explain the great domestic and foreign policy of our lovely time (which we are so proud of). They also told you about puppets and acrobats to give you an accurate idea of the tyrants who, right here, conduct their business at the same time as yours — and better than yours. Come closer, here they are! All at once, we will administer contemporary history square to your eyes.
Here it is, the opulent collection of royal, imperial, and divine puppets, that control you as they wish, you poor crowd, and who, by a tragic reversal of roles, pull, from one end to the other, the strings of your poor destiny.
The comrade that has assembled them all before you, is a famous fitter-mechanic. He decked out each of these formidable gnomes, each of these essential characters, and this with a few well-chosen spots of color. He has made them schematic, geometric, neat — like machines to subdue and crush the world, baroque and monstrous like caricatures. That comrade, who knows how to juggle with synthesis, has made a super- reality.
There is something that draws the eye in nearly all these vaguely human mechanics, parasites of modern society. They are golden circles with numbers above. It is on these wheels of gold that everyone rolls, and that you are being duped, all of you!
In addition, you will see that these gearwheels guiding our government, with their biped shapes, are made of fragments and pieces fitted together: there are elements of strongboxes, swords and artillery shells, basement windows, tipped balances, pistol-shaped hands, and skeletons, and even demagogic hearts and crocodile tears.
To the worker-builder who brought about this symbolic gallery of our time for your amazement and edification and who is a noble executioner and a superb surgeon, I shout: Bravo!
Here is the game of massacre, the supreme game of massacre that perhaps, someday, will massacre all of you!
Making Revolutionary Music
Paredon Records cofounder Barbara Dane interviewed by Alec Dunn & Erin Yanke
Paredon Records was a left-wing, New York-based record company that released over fifty LPs of international music between 1969 and 1985. The first record's music was from Cuba and the final record was from El Salvador. Between these two bookends, from revolutionary Cuba in the 1960s to the Central American struggles of the 1980s, Paredon chronicled the turbulent period of Third World liberation movements and the New Left musically.
Paredon was started after Barbara Dane and her husband Irwin Silber visited Cuba in 1967. Dane had been a noted singer of folk, blues, and jazz with several records under her belt. Silber founded the long-running music periodical Sing Out and was a formative figure in New York's folk scene.
Paredon featured several spoken word records (from Huey, Che, Ho, and Fidel, naturally), but the strength of the label is in its dizzying variety of music: miners' songs from Chile, sub-rosa recordings by Filipino activists, modern compositions by Mikis Theodorakis, guerilla songs by the Viet Cong, folk-psych records from Cuba, among many, many more. Worth noting as well is the consistently striking cover art and booklet design, the majority of which was designed by Dane and Ronald Clyne (whose work for Folkways and Paredon Records stands out as some of the best American graphic design of the mid-twentieth century).
We interviewed Barbara Dane over the phone on Christmas Eve, 2012. It was a three-hour interview in which she simultaneously answered questions and orchestrated dinner preparations for a family reunion. A loquacious woman with a beautiful voice, it was easy to see how Dane made lasting contacts with people all over the world: she was funny, forward, and able to stay focused in the midst of chaos.
I wanted to ask you a little bit about your life and career in music and political movements before Paredon ...
Because otherwise people will wonder who is this old lady bullshitting ...
You started out as a singer?
I grew up in Detroit just after the depression. I went to a public school but it was in the next neighborhood over, where there was money, and in my neighborhood there was no money. My classmates had little starched dresses and Shirley Temple curls that their maids probably combed out for them every morning, whereas we were sent to school in simple woolen things that didn't have to be ironed and short Dutch bobs that didn't have to fussed with, because my mom was always working. So I was aware of class differences from the get-go, and I had always wanted to express something for the people around me who didn't have a whole lot of outlets for expressing themselves. I realized that my strongest tool was that I could sing. I found a really great teacher who was a bel canto teacher, which teaches you that singing comes from the whole body, not from your throat but from the balls of your feet. You have to stand the proper way and use your muscles the right way. So I learned all that stuff but I knew I was not going to end up singing little sopranos, Ave Marias, things like that.
Then I got involved with a bunch of people, some communists, and we got together to challenge the local Detroit racist behavior. Detroit at the time was as much (if not more) segregated then any southern town. You couldn't go have a cup of coffee with a friend if the friend was the "wrong" color, or you were the "wrong" color. There was a Michigan Equal Accommodations Act, but no one was pursuing it, so we decided to challenge it by going in a group and seeing if they'd serve us at the Barlam Hotel, which was a big old hotel on Cadillac Square with a coffee shop.
My friend was one of the leaders of the pack, a black woman, gorgeous, a little bit older then us. She worked right across the street at the National Maritime Union office. The NMU was one of the more radical unions at the time but she couldn't eat lunch anywhere around there. We thought we'd do this and afterward she'd be able to eat lunch there. Well, to make a long story short, this guy kicked us out of there, screamed and yelled, and we then pulled together a demonstration. We had church groups and unions and PTAs, whatever, a big picket line, every Saturday. And there I was called upon to lead singing, because I could throw my voice out over the crowd, and I'd sing "We're Gonna Roll the Union On" — those kinda songs.
How long did you stay in Detroit?
I stayed in Detroit until I was twenty. I figured I could make a nickel here and there singing pop songs. Then some promoter calls me and asks if I want to go on the road with some well- known big band, so I went in for the interview. The guy says right away, "Take off your coat and turn around," and right away I say, "Heh, what's that got to do with singing?" He says, "Oh, I've heard you, you're a pretty good singer." I said, "Wait a minute, I think I'm in the wrong place." So I fled, and right then I understood that basically a young woman was selling her looks and not her gifts or skills. So I didn't want to be part of that stuff. Which set a tone for ... like forever!
During that time I became pregnant and was forced to look at my life a little bit. I'd hooked up with a man named Ralph Cohn, who was the first man who talked about Marxism to me in concrete terms. We left for California, went to LA, and spent a few months there in dire circumstances. No money, no job, no nothing. And then my mom married someone who lived in San Francisco and invited us up here. I stayed in the Bay Area up until '64 and during that time was always in a whole mix of trying to make a living with singing and trying to change the world with singing. That's a pretty tight rope to walk.
When you started in the '40s it was viable for you to be a singing star and a pop singer and also a radical. And then we go into the Red Scare and the blacklist and that period of reaction. ... Did you feel that? With trying to perform and get work?
The answer is so big, it's hard to condense anything. At first I was trying to make connections in the commercial world where I could make a living singing. I was working at a department store, supporting my child, supporting my husband too (who was not much of a breadwinner). So, back then they had amateur shows on the radio. TV was just starting and there were contest on there too. One of the contests was called Miss U.S. Television! Here I was, having to walk across the stage in a bathing suit and high heels with a banner across the front of me, and singing my folk songs for my talent, like a Miss America pageant, which was totally anathema to me, but I won, and the prize was a 13week series on TV. So I had a TV show. Looking back — that was the first time folk music was on TV that I'm aware of, even including New York or anywhere. So I went and did my little show: Miss U.S. Television. But TV at the time was still a little industry. By this time I had switched husbands, and I was pregnant with my second child. So I had to drop out just as I was beginning to be pretty well known. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Signal: 03 by Alec Dunn, Josh MacPhee. Copyright © 2014 PM Press. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
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