Diggers, Mimes, Angels and Heads

Jack Hanley’s NYC expo looks closer at the San Franciscan political protest movement from the 1960s

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In the shadow of the Occupy Wall Street movement it’s hard not to draw parallels with the spirit of the Diggers. An amateur mime and street performance group formed in San Francisco in 1966, their vision of a counter-culture fuelled on Free love, banks, art, and medical care purged all previous political connotations. They offered free food twice a day, cooked from surplus produce otherwise thrown out by local restaurants and ate communally in Golden Gate Park, free medical care in a practice that to this day still operates, and free film screenings and poetry readings; a peaceful and simple set of nurturing acts free from political stigmas of the past that provoked others to consider their own actions and views.

Jack Hanley’s exhibit in New York, 'Diggers, Mimes, Angels and Heads', is a retrospective of the Diggers and other counter groups of the time native to San Francisco, brought together by the movement, and occasionally LSD. Unearthing a personal archive of images, video, interviews and printed materials from the time, Dazed talked to Hanley about the exhibit and what it was like to be a part of the original 1%.

Dazed Digital: How did the exhibit come about?
Jack Hanley:
I have been collecting ephemera, rock posters, photographs etc from 1966 on. I had hitch-hiked out to San Francisco from New York in 1968 and stayed at a commune in the Haight Ashbury neighbourhood.  Lots of people were part of the Diggers actions and this fascinated me- their free store, the free food in the park each day at 4pm, the free medical clinic and lots of free music.  I started to collect things then and went back to New York and started college and booking rock shows at the college, played in a band etc.  Each year I would hitch back to San Francisco and stay. Anyway, the masses from all over were going there by this point but still it was interesting and different than the rest of the country. New York was certainly affected by the changes happening but nowhere was like the Haight.

DD: What pieces will be on display and where have these pieces originated from?
Jack Hanley:
So I am showing my collection of rock posters from the 1966-68 period. These were given out free at the Fillmore shows and almost free at the Avalon Ballroom, and some I picked up in the next years.  I'm also showing lots of b/w photographs by Gene Anthony- he photographed the whole scene including the Diggers, Hell's Angels, Street demonstrations, and the events like the Human Be-In with Alan Ginsberg, Tim Leary, Michael McClure and The Grateful Dead etc. 

I also have blown up some of the pictures and copied the flyers that were handed out continuously during the Digger parties, and the Digger papers. I mounted a lot on the walls and have loads of copies to give out. Then there are related posters and handbills for parties, events, San Francisco Mime Troupe shows and the like and Zane Kesey's (Ken's son) Acid Test movie document and other films of interviews with Peter Berg, Peter Coyote and the original Diggers.

DD: Why is this an important time for a retrospective on The Diggers?
Jack Hanley:
I actually thought about the show for a year or so. Most of the Summer of Love type shows at the Whitney Museum and so forth were disappointing because they were really not psychedelic nor did they convey the effect that LSD had on bridging aspects of society in San Francisco at the time. This was legal at the start of all this and was what helped bring the Diggers together with Hells Angels and was a time when  bands saw themselves as just part of the party, not celebrities to stare at. So it seems that the communal, absurdist, theatre based action of the Diggers were crucial in bringing the concept of free, anti-capitalist notions to a broad spectrum of people and yet they were never discussed in art shows about the period. 

The bell bottoms, crazy colours and long hair, and so forth are always prominently displayed but the interesting things are often left out. I thought perhaps I would give my personal take on what interests me about the time and place. It started as a small group of like minded people in a small neighbourhood of San Francisco which itself was not big in the early 60s. Even though I came to it in ‘68 after outsiders were joining in, it still had a tremendous positive force on me. I went on to work with a few bands from the area and really came to the gallery by way of music, so it makes sense in a way.

'Diggers, Mimes, Angels and Heads'; Jack Hanley Gallery 136 Watts Street, New York 10013, 6 January – 4 February 2012

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