Image As Virus: Better Badges In The Punk Era

December 14, 2016 - January 5, 2017 

Image As Virus: Better Badges In The Punk Era is an exhibition devoted to punk badges. It focuses on Better Badges, a small but culturally crucial company formed by Joly MacFie (b.1950) in West London, which created the very first punk badge in 1976 and went on to produce an estimated 40 million pins over the next six years. The show will include original badges designed by celebrated artists such as Jamie Reid, Peter Saville Peter Fischli, and Linder Sterling as well as rarely-seen original merchandise by key bands such as The Clash, The Ramones, Crass, Suicide, Joy Division, The Sex Pistols, The Modern Lovers, DAF, The Raincoats and Subway Sect.

Better Badges – the company’s founding principle ‘Image As Virus, Elitism For All’ -  was set up by MacFie, who was a former member of Hawkwind, a roadie for The Pink Fairies and Stars (the Syd Barrett/Twink supergroup), and a fellow traveller of England’s counterculture and free festival movement. Inspired by punk’s world-turned-upside-down ethos, and keen to make fans as important as performers, MacFie’s revolutionary company quickly succeeded in making badges a vital element of late 1970s DIY culture.

Fans of bands typically excluded from mainstream media could now turn themselves into cultural transmitters, broadcasting their latest obsessions to friends and passers-by alike. Badges were markers of personal identity, of rebellion, and of passion as fashion. They were striking, topical, and often witty. MacFie created many badges, while others were designed by the bands and even the fans. The punk bible publication New Musical Express published a chart of the week’s bestselling pins. Better Badges employees included a young Neneh Cherry.

The personal 10,000+ badge collection which populates this exhibition belongs to Kevin Pedersen, who is currently head of the Brooklyn-based record label What’s Your Rupture. The presentation has been developed by Pedersen and Sukhdev Sandhu (of Colloquium for Unpopular Culture) with the assistance of 80WSE.