In 1981 the Belgian-based art group Mass and Individual Moving debuted their newest project at the ICC Antwerp – a large, wooden, solar-powered printing press named Pioneer. Ten poets were invited to contribute poetic slogans, which were printed in high letters on large broadsides. The first slogan printed off of the press was the latin phrase “Nulla est verae creationi Patria”, which ORAS on the Mechano-Art website translates as “genuine creation is stateless.” My Latin is rusty and was never that good to begin with, but I believe that the phrase could also have an additional connotation suggesting that the political homeland cannot be created, or is impossible. The broadside bearing this statement was exhibited at later actions by Pioneer, and it draws attention to the truly radical nature of the project.
While the history of portable printing presses is a long and complex one, such as the use of printing presses on trains following the October Revolution, or the portable printing presses used by armies in the US Civil war, this technological advance usually was used for ideological or state-based means and connected the infrastructure of the state or army. (An exception is the artistic uses which the mimeograph machine was put to in the Mimeograph Revolution, when it was used to create work to respond to the rapid political changes of the 1960’s, such as the Motherfuckers printing broadside retorts to Bill Graham in New York at the very town hall meeting at which he was speaking). The solar power source of Pioneer is so radical in an ecological sense because it doesn’t rely on political infrastructures, making it a stateless work, an aspect reinforced by the peripatetic nature of the project in later years, as it traveled to France, Germany, and finally to Mechra-Ben-Abou, where it was used to print broadsides at the edge of the Sahara.
The impact of the work is reinforced by its size. Instead of subscribing to the trend of miniaturization that is so inextricably linked with portability in our technological age, Pioneer makes a different sort of impact due to the large size and weight (350 kg) of the press, and the oversized banners which it printed – an aspect of the work reinforced by the size of this poster documentation of the work.
Pioneer is still intact, and now rests at the Verbeke Foundation.
Mass and Individual Moving, and its antecedent group, Mass Moving, were one of the most radical art groups of the postwar period, but they are almost completely unknown in the US, and their works seem to be very poorly represented in US museums and libraries. Part of this may be due to the scarcity of printed works which are exant – Mass Moving is famous for having burnt much of their output upon the dissolution of the group.
Pioneer seems even more relevant today then in the decade in which it was created, and it would be amazing to see the monolothic printing press on the move again, or for a contemporary group to create a work that is as revolutionary as Pioneer was.