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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Friday, November 25, 2005

Ants vs Crass : punk as dada or futurist.

I haven't found an image to show and tell on this theme. I've been visually downloading/ uploading [reading] any book I can find which can fill in the many gaps in my understanding of 20th century art/ anti -art movements. Maybe I have just missed it, but the more I look int it, the more punk and the counterculture generally make sense as developments and continuations and/or divergences and oppositions to art movements of the 20th century.

For example, where would punk have been with out the techniques of collage and cut-up? Without the idea of 'performance' as art? For sure, punk has to be located within / in opposition to the popular music as teenage consumer rebellion strand. But what of punk's visual impact? At the broadest level, as appearance, as a fashion/anti-fashion 'statement'.

But also the visual appearance of the physical products - the records and fanzines. Fair enough, a few were designed by people who had been to art school and/or were familiar with the multiple traditions of 20th century art. Yet there were thousands of punk [or post- punk, but I dispute this label] records and fanzines which required thousands of people with no direct knowledge of 'art and design' to fill up blank spaces - 7", 12" or A4/ A5- with images. Images which somehow had to express a particular version of 'punk'.

This was a unique situation. The whole Do It Yourself ethic of punk pushed the energy outwards. The message was create and participate rather than consume and spectate. This shifted punk beyond the boundaries of yet another metropolitan and exclusive cult/ art movement/ youth subculture.

There is an argument that 'punk' as a label has to be confined to the 200 or so people in London who 'got it' between late 1975 and summer 1976- so that everything afterwards is 'post-punk'. if accepted,this would locate punk firmly within the tradition of 20th century avant garde art movements and of a sixties counterculture which never extended beyond direct participation in the Merry Pranksters 'acid-tests' or London's UFO club.

The alternative point of view is to see such initial situations as the cultural equivalent of a nuclear chain-reaction. Here the initial impact breaks up an unstable particle into many particles which in turn initiate further reactions which in turn trigger more reactions in an explosive process which only dies away when all the unstable elements have been used up - or where an external force (carbon rods inserted into a nuclear reactor) intervenes to absorb and contain the energy of the chain-reaction.

Back to my theme.

As previously illustrated via Ripped and Torn and Kill Your Pet Puppy- which here mimic the cloud chambers of nuclear physicists- amongst the multiple trajectories of punk, one reveals a shift from the Sex Pistols to Adam and the Ants to Crass. Within this trajectory can be traced an engagement and dialogue with art movements of the 20th century. The construction/ creation of the Pistols involved a mix of Surrealist and Situationist motifs and inspirations. The Ants explicitly used Futurist motifs [their song Animals and Men on their 1979 album Dirk Wears Whits Soxs directly quotes from the Italian Futurists].

With Crass ( members of whom including main man Penny Rimbaud had been to art school) the Dadaist elements of punk take precedence. This in turn suggests any 'reading' of Crass should take place alongside similar readings of Adam and the Ants (in their pre-pop phase) and Cabaret Voltaire (who by their very name, explictly invoked Dada).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

for an exploration of this area, check stewart home's 'assault on culture' (more art) and 'cranked up really high' (more punk).

1:12 pm  

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