our commons are free

“Everything is free, do your own thing.”
Peter Berg, Trip without a ticket, agosto 1968, p. 3.

This is a show about publishing and printing. It is about trying to effect change through a modest means, through a system that is open to criticism and an alternative to capitalism.

The San Francisco Diggers were an underground movement that came out of street theater. They began in 1966, were mostly anonymous, and were both the message as well as the medium through which their message was sent. They initiated spontaneous events, challenged authority, took drugs, and formed tribes of like-minded people. They also developed their own form of print culture.

Digger printing was cheap and immediate. They took Beat poetry to the street and their announcements let other Diggers know where free things were available, from food to happenings to various goods. As a news service, the street sheets tied together a young community that was arriving to San Francisco and overwhelming the neighborhood known as Haight Ashbury. They were also looking for fun and searching for meaning outside of the culture of consumerism. The Diggers responded to this need by offering a culture of free: free food; free stores; free medical help; free shelter; free news; free events; and a free bank.

Their printed material is what survives to document these efforts towards a free society. Ranging from different types of mimeography to offset printing, the documents have a touch, a design, and a typography specific to their time. For me, it is interesting to see what these sheets of paper looked like, how they were made, how they were printed, and how they were shared and distributed. What do they say? What do they reveal that was specific to their time? Can these writings speak to us now and support a new discourse, one which again seeks to establish values different from those dominant in our society?

Because many of the extreme rarity and fragility of the Digger street sheets, all of the publications in this room are being exhibited in facsimile. They have been made from originals in the Diggers’ archive in San Francisco with the help of Eric Noble, himself a Digger and their archivist. The added benefit of showing facsimiles is that this will allow you, the visitor, to handle the documents as you read them. But there is another important element of making a show of facsimiles: it also allows Our commons are free to travel to smaller institutions, places which have a smaller budget yet maintain a more radical exhibition program that is closer to the Digger principles.

When the exhibition is completed, it will be given away. The facsimiles, posters, time line, and Kaliflower communication board will become part of the Cabinet de Lecture of Carico Massimo and be available for free to future researchers. In this way, as an exhibition and a public project, Our commons are free will be a moment of distribution as well as a continuation of the Digger free economy.

Ben Kinmont
Livorno, 21 September 2022