Laura Oldfield Ford

Laura Oldfield Ford (born 1973) is a British artist, writer and psychogeographer. Her work, in ballpoint pen, acrylic paint and spray paint, is politically motivated and focuses on British urban areas. Oldfield Ford publishes a blog entitled Savage Messiah,[1] which was also the name of the zine she published from 2005 to 2009.[2]

Laura Oldfield Ford
Halifax, West Yorkshire
EducationSlade Art School, Royal College of Art
Known forPsychogeography,
Notable work
Savage Messiah

Early lifeEdit

Oldfield Ford was born in Yorkshire in 1973[3] and grew up in Halifax, West Yorkshire[4] in a community hit by the decline of the textile industry.[1] In Leeds and later in London, she became involved in the punk, rave and squatting scenes and produced zines and posters influenced by Raymond Pettibon, Linder Sterling and Jon Savage.[1] She took her Bachelor of Arts at the Slade School of Fine Art and her Master of Arts at the Royal College of Art (RCA).[5] At the RCA's graduation show in 2007 she exhibited a four-section painting depicting herself in each panel against a backdrop of urban chaos.[6]

Work and careerEdit

Savage MessiahEdit

Savage Messiah, which takes its name from H. S. Ede's biography of the French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, was self-published[4][7] from 2005 to 2009.[2] Each issue focuses on a different London postcode.[2] Savage Messiah uses the Situationist technique of the dérive: "urban drifts", or walks, during which Oldfield Ford collected images which were then placed alongside both original and found texts, with the purpose of describing places, people and events.[8] In 2008 Owen Hatherley named Savage Messiah 10: Abandoned London as one of his "books of the year", describing it as "an oneiric vision of a depopulated, post-catastrophe capital, pieced together from snatched conversations and reminiscences, set in a landscape of the labyrinthine ruins of 1960s architecture and today's negative-equity banlieue."[9]

The entirety of Savage Messiah was published in book form by Verso Books in September 2011.[10] Reviewing the book for The Guardian, Iain Sinclair commented: "Collided into a great block, the catalogue of urban rambles takes on a new identity as a fractured novel of the city" and praised Oldfield Ford's "authentic gifts as a recorder and mapper of terrain."[11] Summing up Savage Messiah, Sinclair wrote: "In the end, it's about walking as a way of writing, recomposing London by experiencing its secret signs and obstacles."[11] In his review for Eye, Rick Poynor praised her "acutely observant" writing and "assertively linear style of drawing"; concluding, he described the work as "graphic literature of great urgency."[12]

Hari Kunzru listed the Verso publication as a "book of the year" for 2011 and described it as "a wake-up call to anyone who can only see modern cities through the lens of gentrification."[13] In a 2013 review for the American Book Review, Sukhdev Sandhu described the Verso publication as an example of "invisible literature" and "avant-pulp psychogeography" able "to rekindle erased histories of popular dissent from the 1970s to the 1990s", and one relevant to "a new and possibly endless age of austerity".[2]

In 2018 Oldfield Ford described Savage Messiah as "a series of stories; broken narratives that articulated a certain moment, a certain relationship with the city. It was about transience and impermanence, but also about the bonds that form in those moments: kinship, comradeship and love."[3] She described her subsequent work as a continuation of the same project.[3]


From January until March 2009, a collection of her work entitled London 2013, Drifting Through the Ruins, including all ten issues of Savage Messiah, was featured in London's Hales Gallery.[14] Oldfield Ford was one of three artists whose work was exhibited as part of Slump City at SPACE in London in June 2009.[15] Another exhibition, Britannia 2013–1981 ran in Hatfield from November 2009 until January 2010.[5]

In February 2011, Oldfield Ford's work was on display in Bristol as a part of Poster Sites, a project commissioned by Arnolfini.[1] She created 11 posters based on dérives in the city; though Arnolfini produced a map and Oldfield Ford led a walk between them, they were primarily left to be casually witnessed by the public.[8] Also in 2011, her work was featured in Orbitecture, an exhibition at the Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool.[1]

In 2012 her work was exhibited as part of There Is a Place... at The New Art Gallery in Walsall.[16] Also in 2012, work by Oldfield Ford inspired by El Raval and protests in Barcelona were featured in Desire Lines at the Espai Cultural Caja Madrid in Barcelona.[17]

In 2014 Oldfield Ford's work was featured in Soft Estate at The Bluecoat in Liverpool.[18] The same year, her work was included in Ruin Lust at the Tate Britain.[19] Later that year a solo exhibition of paintings and collaged drawings entitled Seroxat, Smirnoff, THC ran at the Stanley Picker Gallery in Surbiton.[20]

In 2017 Oldfield Ford's solo exhibition Alpha/Isis/Eden ran at The Showroom in London. The exhibition focused on the effects of urban regeneration in the neighbourhood surrounding the gallery near Edgware Road in central London, and included audio recordings of the area.[3]

Themes and practiceEdit

Skye Sherwin of The Guardian writes that Oldfield Ford's work "focuses on areas haunted by an urban dispossessed, which regeneration seeks to concrete over: city wastelands where fortress-like old tower-blocks rise, with their Escher-like walkways and bleak 'recreational' open spaces."[1] These include the East End of London and the new towns of Harlow, Hatfield and Stevenage.[5] Her work on the East End is critical of the 2012 Summer Olympics, held in London, and the associated development program,[14] in particular the regeneration process surrounding the Olympic Park.[15]

Her work also engages with architecture. In a 2009 interview Oldfield Ford reiterated the centrality of a critique of urban regeneration, and expressed an interest in brutalist architecture (referring specifically to Broadwater Farm in Tottenham and Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar.[21] Oldfield Ford has argued that brutalism is significant due to "the collective ideals inherent in it: the rethinking and radical reshaping of public space, the idea of cities being conducive to an endless 'derive', the postwar idea that everyone is entitled to a publicly owned house."[3] She also critiqued "an obsession with friendly looking architecture, curved lines, outgrowths of green roof tops, panels and balconies in Scandinavian wood or brightly coloured aluminium", describing these trends as "playschool architecture".[21] In 2018, Oldfield Ford noted that her recent work was concerned less with inner cities and more with suburbs and urban peripheries: "That's mostly where you have to go now if you want to encounter the former intensity of zones 1 and 2 ... It used to be the inner cities that were sacrificed, ruled by slum landlords, starved of investment and surrounded by circles of unreachable affluence. But in the past decade or so there has been an accelerated reversal of this process."[3]

In the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Andrew Harris wrote that London 2013, Drifting Through the Ruins (2009) "attempts to reactivate more conflictual architectural, political and aesthetic strategies that have been largely erased by the widespread gentrification of London since the 1970s" and is an example of an intervention which offers "an important and neglected resource for complicating, disrupting and re-visioning understandings of urban change".[22] Paul Gravett describes Oldfield Ford's work as being fuelled by a longing for a past incarnation of the punk subculture and a "recovery of punk's provocation and politicisation".[4]

Contemporary archaeologist James R. Dixon set Oldfield Ford's February 2011 Arnolfini exhibition against the April 2011 Bristol riot. Dixon saw in her work "the material conditions that can be identified as a contributing factors" in the riot, and noted that rather than being immediately apparent, those conditions are identified by Oldfield Ford through the dérive technique and her use of found images. Dixon argues that, like the riot itself,

Oldfield Ford's work exposes what is hidden by the veneer of respectability ... [it shows] just how thin that veneer is, how beneath the fake harmony of consumerism and happy lives there is a "truth" of hardship, decay, and violence that will, on occasion, reveal itself. It is ... observed not easily, but by durational engagement with places, both in the form of the drifts and "off-site" in the forming of the juxtapositions of images and text that most accurately represent the potential of a place to experience civil unrest.[8]

She describes her practise as centring on walks through London and the creation of "emotional maps".[5] Oldfield Ford has said "I regard my work as diaristic; the city can be read as a palimpsest, of layers of erasure and overwriting. The need to document the transient and ephemeral nature of the city is becoming increasingly urgent as the process of enclosure and privatisation continues apace."[14] Discussing Alpha/Isis/Eden in 2018, she said "I walk around London to gauge what's happening, to tune into the affective shifts. This is how I think about walking and memory, as a process of piecing fragments together to resurrect something, to stop them being erased, and to will something into being."[3] She also said, in the same interview:

Streets are indelibly marked by moments of socio-political intensity – uprisings, occupations and raves, trauma, anxiety and militancy – as well as the tremors and faultlines of your own past. The purpose of my walks is to identify something lingering, fizzing in the present. I'm not thinking about memory as a sanitised image, but as a texture in the moment, the sense that a place is crackling with agency. For me, this spectrality allows for a revisiting and reactivating of emancipatory currents.[3]

Other workEdit

A short story by Oldfield Ford entitled "Liebe and Romanze" was published in Punk Fiction: An Anthology of Short Stories Inspired by Punk, edited by Janine Bullman.[23] Her work was also featured in Urban Constellations, a 2011 collection edited by Matthew Gandy.[24]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Sherwin, Skye (18 February 2011). "Artist of the week 126: Laura Oldfield Ford". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d Sandhu, Sukhdev (January–February 2013). "Avant-Pulp Psychogeography". American Book Review. 34 (2).
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h McLaughlin, Rosanna (9 February 2017). "Laura Oldfield Ford: 'I map ruptures, such as the London riots'". Studio International. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Gravett, Paul (4 October 2009). "Laura Oldfield Ford: Savage Messiah". Retrieved 13 July 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d Dakin, Melanie (25 November 2009). "Artist Laura Oldfield Ford examines the legacy of new towns in Hatfield". Watford Observer. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  6. ^ Reynolds, Nigel (15 June 2007). "Conceptualism 'runs out of puff'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 13 July 2013.
  7. ^ "Fanzines – The scene that smells of zine spirit". The Independent. 25 September 2009. Retrieved 13 July 2013.
  8. ^ a b c Dixon, James R. (26 April 2013). "Two Riots: The Importance of Civil Unrest in Contemporary Archaeology (draft)".
  9. ^ Adams, Tim; Ahmed, Fatema; Alton, Roger; Anam, Tahmima; Aspden, Rachel; Bayley, Stephen; Bhutto, Fatima; Bright, Martin; et al. (13 November 2008). "Books of the year 2008". New Statesman. Retrieved 13 July 2013.
  10. ^ "Savage Messiah". Verso Books. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  11. ^ a b Sinclair, Iain (22 December 2011). "Savage Messiah by Laura Oldfield Ford – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  12. ^ Poynor, Rick (Winter 2012). "Regeneration X". Eye. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  13. ^ Kunzru, Hari (17 November 2011). "Books of the year 2011: Hari Kunzru". New Statesman. Retrieved 13 July 2013.
  14. ^ a b c Fisher, Mark (17 February 2009). "Laura Oldfield Ford". Frieze. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
  15. ^ a b Davies, Anna (6 June 2009). "The Effluent Society". Hackney Citizen. Retrieved 13 July 2013.
  16. ^ "There is a Place – Exhibition @newartgallery until 14.4.12". Area Culture Guide. 7 February 2012. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  17. ^ "Desire Lines". This Is Tomorrow. 9 December 2012. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  18. ^ Wright, Georgina (18 February 2014). "Review: Soft Estate – Edward Chell, The Bluecoat, Liverpool". Corridor8. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  19. ^ Pilger, Zoe (9 March 2014). "Ruin Lust at Tate Britain, art review". The Independent. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  20. ^ Gregory, Hannah (21 November 2014). "Seroxat, Smirnoff, THC: Laura Oldfield Ford". Icon. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  21. ^ a b Slater, Josephine Berry; Iles, Anthony (25 November 2009). "Interview with Laura Oldfield Ford". Mute. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  22. ^ Harris, Andrew (April 2012). "Art and gentrification: pursuing the urban pastoral in Hoxton, London" (PDF). Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 37 (2): 226–241. doi:10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00465.x.
  23. ^ Bullman, Janine, ed. (2009). Punk Fiction: An Anthology of Short Stories Inspired by Punk. London: Portico Books. ISBN 9781906032661.
  24. ^ Cummins, Emma (2013). "Perspectives and contingencies". City: Analysis of Urban Trends, Culture, Theory, Policy, Action. 17 (3): 414–418. doi:10.1080/13604813.2013.798885.

External linksEdit