Monday, May 28, 2012

Chapter 1: POP WILL REPEAT ITSELF: Museums, Reunions, Rockdocs, Reenactments


my anti-music-museum hang-up  


"But hang on a minute, Reynolds", I hear you protest, "you write histories, don't you? Big slabs of text about the rock past. Aren't you in the exact same business as the museums?" Maybe. I don't think so, though.  Fiction workshops always instruct wannabe writers to "show, not tell", to avoid clumsy exposition. But the strength of non-fiction, which includes history, is precisely that it doesn't just show, it tells,  through contextualization and interpretation.  Museums can only show.  The caption-length text appended to the exhibits can't  really convey the context and motivation that made these materials matter in their own time. Leaving them as just relics and traces. Mute objects, witnesses that can't testify to anything.

Julie Burchill and Rock's Rich Tapestry

the relevant portion of the NME singles review column where she unfurled the "rock's rich tapestry" concept (much commented upon at the time, an influence on Pete Wylie's coinage of "rockism")

also scanned in that Pantheon post is a different singles review column where she derides the postpunk mushrooming of DIY and indie-labels

see also Burchill column from The Face, December 1980, contrasting "Rock's Rich Tapestry" versus her own tunnel visionary fixation on Punk, her fidelity to the Event of 1977:

"The Sex Pistols were about destroying the rock monolith; the Clash were about rescuing it…. [Punk was] not just another fashion, Peter York, because a fashion does not turn everything sour with its passing, a fashion does not destroy the hope of a huge money-drenched monolith… A fashion is a tranquiliser; Rotten was the biggest stimulant--Do Something!--this country has seen since Winston Churchill. After the Knowledge the Sex Pistols offered you, how can you ever forgive all these bands for being around?"

an extreme, amphetamine-spiked version of Badiou's fidelity to the Event (see later in these footnotes)


the British Music Experience's liberal comprehensiveness

and of corurse, the Sex Pistols are in here, as they should be, and there's probably an icon on the wall for Public Image Ltd, and for Throbbing Gristle too. The commentaries on the plaques and exhibit labels have the calm, omniscient tone of Official Truth, like those old Year in Rock books that Virgin used to publish, merged with the tenor of a rock encyclopedia, neutral and even-handed. What's said in the explanatory captions is never exactly wrong... it's always well-intended (and somehow the worse for it).


fragments from the BME visit

I'm feeling glum now, so I pop into the Gibson Interactive Studio, which contains instruments you can mess around on--guitars, a drum kit, even a vocal booth--and screens that demonstrate guitar tabs.  Despite an ominous sign that chides "the use of guitar straps is mandatory in order to play the guitars" and threatens "any damage to guitars when used without a strap will imposed on the visitor," it's a hive of activity.  I've always fancied a go at being a producer and so gravitate towards the pretend mixing desk where you can deconstruct and reconstruct a famous track: in this case,  "Radio Ga Ga".  Proving the museum's insidious tendency to foster tolerance and impartiality, I gain a new respect for the complexity of this Queen composition, moving the faders up and down to isolate the surprisingly interesting bass part or inspect the intricacies of the vocoder line.

in the Eighties chamber, there's Madchester and Rave: a Table Talk of decrepit deejays: Mike Pickering looking like a Mancunian bus conductor with a comb-over, Danny Rampling  resembling a bald cab driver.  Rave is not far behind punk in terms of me anxiously wondering if it's truth can ever be reflected within the museum space. Its motor essence is  "be here now"; it's about  amnesiac bliss, oblivion, nights where time stopped. Tomorrow can never know.  Of course, my own book Energy Flash could be seen as an containment, a pre-doomed attempt to bottle and preserve the ephemeral ecstasy of rave, to take what's essentially transitory and chaotic and give it shape, a story-line. But I like to think that here and there I touch the hem of Truth rather than just presenting the dry facts. And the rave-era relics gathered here in the penultimate chamber of the British Music Experience-- The Sun's Spaced Out! front cover of a 1989 rave, Spiral Tribe flyers--are drier and deader than even the facts


Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony as the death of punk / The Sex Pistols piss off letter

c.f the Clash mumbling gratefully as they received the award,  Patti Smith performing at another ceremony and absurdly singing "outside of society, that's where I want to be" (from "Rock'n'Roll Nigger")  



Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum New York Annexe (RIP) -- further fragments

Right in the center of the ante-chamber where you wait before admittance to the museum proper there is some impossibly prim, bow-tied text that notes the emergence of the term rock and roll as "as code words for sexual intercourse in rhythm and blues on race records of the late 1940s and early 1950s."  Surveying the span of rock history, the text makes a gesture of inclusivity towards genres like electronic and rap: "The rock and roll hall of fame recognizes these different types of music and looks forward to seeing how rock and roll will continue to reinvent itself in the future."

Like with the British Music Experience, there's an orientation film before you enter the exhibition area.  It's less explanatory, though, and more intended to incite a fever of excitement. The footage is all raw sexuality at first (The Doors and the Stones, Muddy Waters working his mojo and James Brown cranking his "Sex Machine") then shifts to the poetic power of words (Dylan, Springsteen, Neil Young) and the electric noise of the guitar.  The impartial gestures towards other kinds of music like disco and techno and rap have been already been forgotten: it's like the synthesizer, Europe, and black people after Prince never even existed.

Wearing headsets that provide audio commentary cued by electronic signals from the exhibits, the visitors then shuffle in an orderly, slow-moving queue down a passage flanked on either side by displays. These delineate chains of influence that stretch, improbably, from Billy Holliday to Christina Aguilera, or from Parliament-Funkadelic to 50 Cent.


page 14

John Lennon's toilet auctioned for over $15,000

from Aug 30 2010 article at Spinner:

"Unorthodox Beatles memorabilia has gone on the auction block for years. For instance, a wooden sculpture of a cupboard designed by John Lennon pulled down £28,200 (over $43,000 US) back in 2003. But the Fab Four memorabilia market really went to new extremes on Saturday when a fan flushed down a cool $15,500 for a toilet belonging to the late, great Lennon....   the commode had once been a part of Lennon's Tittenhurst Park estate in Berkshire, England, which he bought in 1969. In 1972, the unique toilet, which had blue flowers painted on it, was given to a contractor by the musician during a renovation. Lennon purportedly told the contractor to "put some flowers in it."... Although it only expected to bring in $1,600, a bidding frenzy elevated the price to 10 times that amount when it ultimately went to a private overseas buyer."

NY Artist Justin Lowe Recreates the Infamous CBGB Bathroom in Connecticut Museum

 article in Wall Street Journal



Experience Music Project, Seattle

I've spent time inside the museum on two separate occasions, as a participant in the EMP conference, an annual gathering of rock critics and pop culture academics.  I must admit I was so caught up in the intellectual sparks flying from all the panels and talks that I barely had time to check out the exhibits (which emphasise interactivity,  kiosks that allow you to try out Hendrix's effects pedals and so forth--experiential, you dig?). But the cartoony feel of the museum's interior, contrasting strikingly with the sterility of most academic environments, certainly contributed to EMP being by far the most fun seminar I'd ever attended. The fact that it's located on the edge of Seattle's amusement park, so that you could leave a keynote speech by Simon Frith and get candy-floss or ride on rollercoaster if you felt like it, also helped.

Surprisingly, given its founder Paul Allen's inordinate wealth, EMP doesn't have a big budget for acquisitions.  They rely on the generosity of artists and music biz moguls who donate artifacts to the permanent collection, or they persuade private collectors to loan them material for a specific exhibition.  Chief curator Jasen Emmons told me me about a German collector who specializes in absolutely anything related to Bob Dylan. As a result, he had hundreds of version of "Blowing in the Wind", including reggae covers and  Marlene Dietrich's interpretations. "He shipped them all over for our big Dylan exhibition. But what really amazed me was, he'd never listened to them. We reproduce all the covers for a large display and then with sixteen of them, you could hear the song if you pushed a button. When the German collector came to the exhibit, it was the first time he'd ever listened to them. "


Jeff Gold

on his background:

He started out in the record industry, working for Rhino Records in its early days (the label would eventually the world's leading label for back catalogue repackaging and box sets), then moving to an executive position high up at Warner Brothers. But all the while his spare energy was going towards developing his business as a dealer in rare records and rock memorabilia, which includes concert and tour programs,  unused tickets, press releases and press kits,  handwritten set lists , photographic proof sheets, rare un-issued recordings such as demo tapes, acetates and test pressings, and even legal documents such as recording contracts.  The side business became such a consuming (and well-paying) occupation he eventually chucked in the day job

on his Hendrix-owned records  

One of the more obscure records had a back story to it: a Norwegian psychedelic band The Dream's 1967 album Get Dreamy.  Jimi's copy bore a personal inscription from guitarist Terje Rypdal, later to become a renowned jazz-rock artist recording for labels like ECM label. "There's actually a song on Get Dreamy called "Hey Jimi",  what must be the earliest Hendrix tribute."  Gold explains that he found an interview with Rypdal talking about how Hendrix had been a great inspiration and he'd sent a copy of the album to Hendrix through a mutual girlfriend but never found out if it had been received. "So I tracked down the manager and sent through a scan of the sleeve with the inscription and told him to tell Terje that the record actually did make it into Hendrix's collection".   He adds, "But you know what, that album by the Dream, being rare, is actually worth more than what I paid for Hendrix's LPs."

on the difficulties involved in authenticating artifacts

Gold himself often goes to some lengths to authenticate the artifacts he sells. "Just last week I acquired and sold a cape worn by Roger Daltrey at the Monterey Pop Festival. When I learned of its existence, the immediate question was: 'how do you prove that?' The woman who was offering it had this whole story, about Daltrey passing through her town, taking a fancy to this poncho she had and doing a swap for his cape. And she said that a year later, the movie of Monterey Pop Festival came out and she recognized the cape:  a turn-of-century piano cover that had been turned into a cape and had this very complex pattern.  For once I was lucky, because the DVD of the Monterey pop festival contains thirty minutes of footage to inspect and I could compare what Daltrey was wearing with the garment. It was clearly the same thing."

page 20

ArtCore exhibition

Producing one-off paintings off rave flyers, the curator Mary McCarthy has slyly reversed Walter Benjamin, taking the mechanically reproduced and turning it back into something that has aura.  But that's from an art world perspective. A historian, or a fan, might have a different response. Before I spoke to McCarthy, I wandered around the Selfridge basement (which is also showing a linked-but-separate Dreweatt's exhibition of urban art, including some Banksy pieces) and came to a halt in front of a wall of pieces evidently by the same artist. A rangy, gaunt character with the classic techno slaphead shaven-scalp look started quizzing me about the work, asking whether which I liked best, the earlier pieces on the far right (clearly based around rave flyers) or the more recent stuff, which appeared to be free-standing paintings. Not realizing what ought to have been immediately obvious, that this was the artist responsible, I say I prefer the earlier stuff. Then, seeing the look of disappointment on his face and realizing my blunder, I add "because it's rave era stuff, and that's my era." Only to immediately put my foot in it again, by adding, "to be honest though, I'd rather have the original flyer than the painting. Because the flyer was in actual circulation, you see, so it has that historicity thing". Now Pez--for it is he, legendary rave graphic artist--looks confused as well as offended.

The word "gentrification" does rather spring to mind with the  deluxe prints, priced at 300 to 500 pounds, of late Eighties flyers for warehouse raves thrown by Mutoid Waste Company, an anarchic semi-nomadic outfit I interviewed in 1988, when they were squatting an abandoned school in West London. 

One of the stranger items on display and up for sale at ArtCore were floorboards from The End nightclub.  At the British Music Experience, too,  Madchester was represented in part by a chunk of the Hacienda dancefloor.  In both cases, what's exhibited is a vestigial residue, stripped of the social energy that made the scene worth memorializing.  You have to supply the missing element of joy and release by imaginative effort.  Otherwise, it's just any old piece of flooring.  

 a recreation of the Hacienda at the Victoria and Albert Museum


page 21

Marinetti and the Futurist Manifesto versus musealisation

The admirable past" might serve as "solace for the ills of the moribund, the sickly," argued F.T. Marinetti,  but the truly virile, the man of action and modernity, wanted "no part of… the past".  

The past is equated with sleep (and related concepts: death, indolence, vegetative idiocy, detumescence, etc). The manifesto starts:

"We have been up all night, my friends and I, beneath mosque lamps whose brass cupolas are bright as our souls, because like them they were illuminated by the internal glow of electric hearts. And trampling underfoot our native sloth on opulent Persian carpets, we have been discussing right up to the limits of logic and scrawling the paper with demented writing"

indicating that it was written in the delirium induced by body's natural amphetamines as generated during any all-nighter

me on Mania-festos (including Marinetti) 


musealisation/the memory epidemic

Cutting against this obsessive-compulsive memorialisation, there's a weakening of memory and an erosion of a sense of history.   The two things are connected: our ability to internally hold onto memories is an inevitable casualty of our outsourcing of memory to a technological prosthesis (the memory bank of the media, the Net, our computers and smartphones).   Addressing this only superficially paradoxical combination of a "memory epidemic" with amnesia,  Andreas Huyssen asks: 

"Could it be that the surfeit of memory in this media-saturated culture creates such an overload that the memory system itself is in constant danger of imploding, thus triggering the fear of forgetting?"-- from "Present Pasts: Media, Politics, Amnesia"
Huyssen talks about a "mnemonic  fever" convulsing Western culture

He says that the neurotic subject (Freud, anxiety / repression, Woody Allen etc) was a creature of the first half of the 20th Century and beginning to fade out by the Seventies, with the emergence of a new subjectivity constituted around "informational and perceptual overload combined with a cultural acceleration neither our psyche nor our senses are that well equipped to handle" . The problem then is no longer repression/inhibition/sublimation but unrepression and desublimation. Our sensoriums are wired into an entertainment and media landscape that operates according to porno logic: a glut of  constantly stimulating our desires, appetites, etc

c.f. "coercion of the senses" in Gang of Four's "Natural's Not In It"

Huyssen also posits obsessive memorialisation and self-documentation in terms of  "the need for temporal anchoring when, in the wake of the information revolution and an ever-increasing time-space compression, the relationship between past, present, and future is being transformed beyond recognition"

c.f. Facebook's new timeline feature



Patrick Wright (of On Living In An Old Country renown) writing in the Guardian about how nobody can knock down old buildings because the heritage industry is too powerful 

The 2003 piece usefully contextualises the pro and con debate about heritage in Britain: is heritage innately conservative and Tory-aligned, or is it genuinely popular and populist? The article references many key participants (and people I read researching Retromania) such as socialist historian Raphael Samuel who in Theatres of Memory critiqued the critics of heritage such as Wright, Robert Hewison, etc.

Here's Wright:

It is increasingly assumed that the phrase "the heritage industry" was coined by Robert Hewison, who used it as the title of a polemic in 1987. This was claimed by the presenter Nick Clarke in his introduction to the Straw Poll debate. It is also asserted as a matter of fact by the historian Richard Weight in his recent book about postwar Britain, Patriots.

In fact, the phrase "the heritage industry" was launched by the anarchist writer and campaigner Colin Ward. He used it in 1985, in a review of my book, On Living in an Old Country. By that time the word "heritage" was already widely used in connection with buildings and historical landscapes, but the "industry" with which Ward coupled it had first come into view in the early 1970s, a time when the destructive nature of much postwar urban planning had become plain to see.

Wright himself both doubles down on and modifies  his original critique of preservationism: 

"Heritage" can produce grossly oversimplified versions of British history, just as it can also lead to bad "camouflaged" architecture and, when it becomes a euphemism for pseudo-Victorian lampposts and bollards, diminish the historical atmospheres it proposes to enhance. Yet it is culpably absurd to suggest, as some commentators have done, that conservation is itself the problem.

The blanket argument that museums and art galleries are repositories of backwardness and "decline" should also be abandoned. It was never persuasive in economic terms, and it has become increasingly evident in recent years that the most imaginative of these agencies are actually engaged in questioning inherited assumptions about history and encouraging people to review the national past from the point of view of other traditions and perspectives.


page 24

Chav and Lumpen-Modernist Aesthetics versus Middle Class Middle England and Heritage Culture

Grime MC Lady Sovereign captured this clash of chav neophilia versus stuffy heritage in her song "My England",  boasting of her lack of interest in going to watch the Changing of the Guard. With lines like “we ain’t all posh like the Queen”  and "we don’t all have bowler hats and hire servants", she skewers touristic and American Anglophile illusions about the UK,  the kind of thing fueled by the British TV that goes shown on American screens  ( decades-old Britcoms,  Jane Austen and Charles Dickens-style costume dramas, Jane the Antiques Road Show).  Her England is a gritty, ultramodern place, where the  youth dress in blingy man-made fabrics,  speak with Jamaicanized accents and use hip hop slanguage, and dodge 24 hour surveillance cameras.  They wouldn't be seen dead at a castle or stately home.  

The lyrics to "My England"

It ain't about tea and biscuits
I'm one of those English misfits
I don't drink tea I drink spirits
And I talk a lot of slang in my lyrics

There goes a horse, courses for horses
Nah more like corpses on corners
And Staffordshire Bull Terriers
And late night crawlers

Police carry guns not truncheons
Make your own assumptions
London ain't all crumpets and trumpets
It's one big slum pit

We ain't all posh like the queen, we ain't all squeaky clean
Now do the Tony Blair, throw your hands in the air now everywhere
We ain't all squeaky clean, we ain't all posh like the queen
Now do the Tony Blair, throw your hands in the air now everywhere

This is the picture I painted my low down
This my London that I call my hometown
It's where I'm living and this is my low down
This is my England, I'm letting you know now

I don't watch the Antiques Roadshow
I'd rather listen to Run the Road
And smoke someone's fresh homegrown
And not get bloated on a plate of scones

Cricket, bowls, croquet, nah PS2 all the way
In an English council apartment
No, we don't all wear bowler hats and hire servants
More like 24 hour surveillance and **** on the pavements

We ain't all posh like the queen, we ain't all squeaky clean
Now do the Tony Blair, throw your hands in the air now everywhere
We ain't all squeaky clean, we ain't all posh like the queen
Now do the Tony Blair, throw your hands in the air now everywhere

This is the picture I painted my low down
This my London that I call my hometown
It's where I'm living and this is my low down
[ From: ]

This is my England, I'm letting you know now

Big up Oliver Twist
Showing us know the nitty gritty of what London really is
It ain't all pretty, deal with the realness
It's all gritty, deal with the realness

Ooh the changing of the Queen's guard
That's nothing for me to come out of the house for
Tra la la
I'd rather sit on my ****

Another glass of Chardonnay, nah
We ain't all Bridget Jones clones
Who say pardon me
More like what's gwanin' mate, you get me

Now I can select a few
[Incomprehensible] like to reject all my views
Well, I'm letting you know the news and
Well, this is the straight up truth

We ain't all posh like the queen, we ain't all squeaky clean
Now do the Tony Blair, throw your hands in the air now everywhere
We ain't all squeaky clean, we ain't all posh like the queen
Now do the Tony Blair, throw your hands in the air now everywhere

We ain't all posh like the queen, we ain't all squeaky clean
Now do the Tony Blair, throw your hands in the air now everywhere
We ain't all squeaky clean, we ain't all posh like the queen
Now do the Tony Blair, throw your hands in the air now everywhere

This is the picture I painted my low down
This my London that I call my hometown
It's where I'm living and this is my low down
This is my England, I'm letting you know now

This is the picture I painted my low down
This my London that I call my hometown
It's where I'm living and this is my low down
This is my England, I'm letting you know now


Archive Fever and the morbidity of the museal impulse
Derrida contrasts personal memory, which he characterizes as "spontaneous, alive and internal", with the archive, which is always ordered, exterior and inanimate. The archive is necessarily a systematized collection of lifeless remains: traces and relics that have been consigned to an official place kept separate from the everyday life. Hence the aptness of Marinetti's analogy between the museum and the cemetery.


The rock doc explosion

 The decade kicked off with Julien Temple’s Sex Pistols film The Filth and the Fury, his attempt to make up for the lopsided Malcolm McLaren version of what happened in The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle (directed by Temple but very much under McLaren's sway) by presenting the story entirely from the band's perspective.  The documentary resurgence picked up speed with 2002-03 efforts like I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (about Wilco), Live Forever (Britpop), and Mayor of Sunset Strip (about perennial LA scenester Rodney Bingenheimer). By mid-decade the floodgates were wide open. DiG!  (Ondi Timoner’s remarkably absorbing doc about two remarkably minor bands, The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre) won a Sundance Grand Prize, while Metallica: Some Kind of Monster pulled in the supersize popcorn crowd at cineplexes across America. Other notable docs from 2004-09 include The Nomi Song (about little-known Manhattan clubland oddball Klaus Nomi), If I Should Fall from Grace With God: The Shane McGowan Story, Festival Express (based on footage from a 1970 tour of Canada by Grateful Dead, Janis Jopin and The Band), The Devil and Daniel Johnston, and We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen, The U.S. vs. John Lennon, 30th Century Man (on Scott Walker), and the hugely successful, award-winning Anvil! The Story of Anvil. The second instalment of Julien Temple's punk trilogy, the  Joe Strummer doc The Future is Unwritten, came out in 2007, followed in 2010 by Oil City Confidential, about Dr Feelgood and pub rock.  And that's on top of an endless stream of high-end music biopics and made-for-TV movies aired on VH1-Classic.


Julien Temple's punk rock documentary trilogy

For his punk triology, Julien Temple developed a signature style, adding a third element to the rock doc's usual mix of vintage footage and talking head material by weaving in snippets of cultural ephemera that sets the period or ironically frames the events. So in The Future Is Unwritten, when Strummer’s father Ronald, a diplomat, is stationed in Turkey, we see an ancient TV commercial for Fry’s Turkish Delight, while Joe's arrival at  boarding school cues  scenes from the Lindsay Anderson movie  If……


The Throbbing Gristle reunion

Of the Tate Modern Turbine Hall concert, where the group improvised a soundtrack to some short films by Derek Jarman, reunion matermind Paul Smith says TG were reluctant at first to go through the hoops involved in working with a major art institution. "They were sort of 'do we care?'. But I said, 'I don't know if you care but here's the reason why you should care: on a purely selfish level, every scrap of paper you've got in your archive will be worth three times more when you leave the stage than when you got on it, having played Tate Modern....  Genesis is doing quite high-level lecturing now, he's been pulled into that circuit. It's a lot to do with the curator boom, the fact that you can go and do a degree in curatorial studies."


Hard Rock Cafe / House of Blues

The Hard Rock Café chain has over 140 branches worldwide and represents a kind of Las Vegas version of the musealisation of rock. Co-founder Issac Tigrett (also responsible for the House of Blues chain, with input from Dan "Blues Brothers" Akroyd) actually married Ringo Starr's ex-wife Maureen and often introduced her as "my most authentic piece of rock and roll memorabilia".


New York Dolls at the ex-CBGBs



Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard's File Under Sacred Music reenactment of  the Cramps gig at Napa State Hospital, California, in summer 1978

extracts from Howie Klein's review of the show (with the Mutants as support act) in New York Rocker, July 1978

"the fuckin' greatest new wave show I've ever seen...  I've never seen a show where the audience and the bands and the music and everything were so totally tuned in on the same plane"

"this giant mental institution in the country, far from everything but vineyards and dairy farms. I got up there at around 7 PM and something like 250-300 patients, mostly over 30 and of all races, were milling around an enclosed courtyard...

"From the git-go, everyone started realizing that the lunatics were pretty hip. Like they definitely knew what was going on. One Mutant (of the band variety) yelled out, "Anybody got any pot?" And a patient yelled back, "We got thorazine," and everybody (in the audience) cracked up. Hep cats.
When the Mutants went on everybody started pogoing immediately. These people came ALIVE with the music, as if it was electricity turning on a machine. They were so uninhibited that it was infectious. After the first song the whole place was going NUTS (pardon the expression). Everybody got to do whatever they wanted and half the audience wound up on the stage, singing, dancing, milling around the singers, and doing their weird trips....

"There seemed to be patients of the Hebrew persuasion doing the Sabra dance and over-the-edge hippies doing their hippie dances, as well as folks doin' the Swim, the Bunny-hop, the Twist (of course – there were lots of twisters), a couple of waltzers, the Robot, the Funky Chicken, and lots of people doing their own little dances – especially the semi-catatonics. But the greatest thing was to see all these overweight, middle-aged women holding handbags and doing totally liberated pogos. What an audience!....

"When the band broke into a song with lyrics that go "Get a shock treatment/I got mine," everybody laughed hysterically. Sally Mutant, dressed in a pink and black striped go-go dress with a matching bow in her hair (pinhead style), definitely attracted the most attention and clusters of patients jumped onstage and danced around her. Patients also drank all the Mutants' beer while the band was playing. (No fools, these nuts.)...

".... "Somebody told me you people are crazy, but I'm not so sure about that," yelled singer Lux Interior as the band geared up for a disorienting version of 'Mystery Plane'. The audience went berserk and it was pogo city all over again. I've never seen so much audience participation – not even in London. One patient went over to the superintendent and said, "These guys look like they came out of the T Unit." (The T Unit, he explained to me, is where they keep the "lifers.") During the Cramps' incisive 'What's Behind the Mask', one lively young lady jumped on Lux's back and held on for the whole song, screaming melodically into the mike over his shoulder. Later in the set the same little honey grabbed the mike and ran off with it with Lux in hot pursuit.

"... Both bands agreed it was the best show either had ever done. The excitement and energy level went sky high and a more appreciative, enthusiastic and open-minded audience will never be found..."

for their reeanctment, Forsyth and Pollard "talked to some very progressive and unusual organizations, the main one was Core Arts in Hackney, they have their own art studio and recording studio, and we also worked with Mad Pride.  It was very much like a negotiation, they were like, "okay, we don't consider what you're proposing to do to be exploitative, but at the same time, what do we get out of it?'.  In the end, the quid pro quo was that some of the Core Arts own bands would get to play at the ICA premiere screening of the video.


Forsyth and Pollard's shift to reworkings of performance art "classics"

e.g. Vito Acconci's creepy, stalker-like monologue Walk Over (Indirect Approaches) becomes Walking After Acconci , with British rapper Plan B coming up with his own text.  "Something about the relationship between the performer and the camera in Acconci's piece felt very much like the promo videos in all that late 90s urban music like hip hop and R&B," says Forsyth. "People talking at the camera, gesticulating at the audience, so you feel like you're down the barrel of the gun


Rod Dickinson 

1/ the Jonestown Re-Enactment

Slogan at the Jonestown website: "reliving the past... to survive the future"

The Promised Land reenactment was a reconstruction of one of Jim Jones' powerful political and religious sermons from the mid nineteen seventies. This included a reconstruction of a 'miracle healing' that was performed many times during the sermons.  Actor Graeme Edler portrayed Jim Jones. He was supported by a small number of other Jonestown Reenactment participants.

2/ The Waco Reenactment

Nocturn: The Waco Re-enactment, 2004, Rod Dickinson -- a partial (audio only) reenactment of the Waco siege.

"A live event made with the Institute Of Contemporary Art in London on 16th September 2004. It was commisioned by the then Director of Live Art, Vivienne Gaskin.160 audience members were taken by coach to a remote sports ground outside of London and subject to a recreation of the psychological warfare audio that FBI used during their siege of a religious community in 1993."

Rod Dickinson: "Re-enactment seems, as a form of representation, strangely well equipped to address moments of collective trauma and anxiety.... Almost as if, taking a Debordian turn, that the re-enactment operates as the uncanny of the spectacle. A live image, in real space and real time, but simultaneously displaced."


Marina Abramović's 2005 performance series Seven Easy Pieces

"In this series, hosted by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York over seven consecutive nights, Abramović reenacted five seminal performances from the 1960s and 1970s that she never witnessed, although they proved extremely influential to her artistic practice." 

Unlike Abramovic's own thoroughly recorded events, these legendary/seminal performances had not been properly documented and so had to be reconstructed  from scraps of second-hand memory or still images: "oral history, eyewitness accounts, and the ubiquitous grainy black-and-white images that have come to signify them in art history"

Abramovic in an interview explained the rationale:

"The big problem with performance is that it only makes sense live... Pictures in books are not the real thing. The problem is that, most of the times, this can cause some confusion since a performance is considered great because of a picture, taken from a good angle, but it could be shit. And there’s also terrible records of fantastic work, which weren´t well documented. 

"We don’t really know what happened in the 1970’s. My proposal was to gather material from living artists and see if I could “re-feel” certain performances, repeating them. Furthermore, performances always took place in alternative spaces and it was always something confusing, it´s not like photography, which started to be part of the market with the idea of original and copies. Nobody actually knows how to deal with performance if someone wants to buy it and today there is a lot of appropriation of performances and the artists are not even notified.

"My Idea was to establish certain moral rules. If someone wants to remake a performance, they must ask the artist for the rights and pay for it, just like it´s done with music or literature. For me, this is the honest way to do it, even if you want to make your own version."

and in fact Chris Burden refused to let his 1974 performance Trans-fixed to be re-enacted

the five performances she remade:

November 9, 5 PM to 12 AM
Bruce Nauman, Body Pressure (1974). Nauman constructed a false wall nearly identical in size to an existing wall behind it. A pink poster with black typeface invited visitors to perform their own action by pressing against the wall.
November 10, 5 PM to 12 AM
Vito Acconci
, Seedbed (1972). Acconci occupied the space under a false floor, masturbating and speaking through a microphone to visitors walking above in an attempt to establish an “intimate” connection with them.
November 11, 5 PM to 12 AM
, Action Pants: Genital Panic (1969). Wearing pants with the crotch removed, EXPORT walked through an art cinema, offering the spectators visual contact with a real female body. Walking up and down the aisles, she challenged the audience to look at reality instead of passively enjoying images of women on the screen.
November 12, 5 PM to 12 AM
Gina Pane
, The Conditioning, first action of Self-Portrait(s) (1973). Pane lay on a metal bed above lit candles for approximately thirty minutes. Her sufferiing was apparent to the audience, who witnessed her wringing her hands in pain.
November 13, 5 PM to 12 AM
Joseph Beuys
, How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965). With his head covered in honey and gold leaf, Beuys cradled a dead hare, showing it pictures on the wall and whispering to it. He wore an iron sole on his right foot and a felt sole on his left.

she also re-enacted one of her own performance pieces and presented a new performance:

November 14, 5 PM to 12 AM
Marina Abramović,
Lips of Thomas (1975, Galerie Krinzinger, Innsbruck). Abramović ate a kilogram of honey and drank a liter of red wine out of a glass. She broke the glass with her hand, incised a star in her stomach with a razor blade, and then whipped herself until she “no longer felt pain.” She lay down on an ice cross while a space heater suspended above caused her to bleed more profusely.

November 15, 5 PM to 12 AM
Marina Abramović, Entering the Other Side (2005). Abramović premieres a new performance created specifically for this project.

"This goes some way toward explaining why the "reenactments," particularly in retrospect, cemented themselves in my mind as sophisticated holograms, both present and past, fact and fiction"-- Johanna Burton in her detailed review of Seven Easy Pieces at Artforum

this of course makes me now think of the Tupac hologram and future revenant-isations of deceased stars using digital necromancy
the reenactment boom: other exponents

on August 18th 2007 occurred an ICA commissioned event by S. Mark Gubb - the Death of Peter Fechter , an 18 year old East German who attempted to escape to West Berlin in August 1962 but was shot and bled to death in no-man's land over the course of an hour, with no attempt to provide medical assistance. the reenactment involved the use of  genuine AK-47  machine guns firing and actors planted in the audience to "blur the lines" between performance and audience

Another Gubb project is the A Real Rock Archive, a fans archive of heavy metal birth in the West Midlands -- "stories, memorabilia and photos from the people that were there at the time" -- a deliberately unofficial and ancedoctally-exaggerated document of Sabbath, Zep, Priest, et al


conferences and seminars and symposiums about reenactment art

A Little Bit of History Repeated at Kunst-Werke Berlin (2001)

A Short History of Performance at the Whitechapel (2002, ongoing),

Experience, Memory, Reenactment at the Piet Zwart Institute (2004)

Life, Once More at Witte de With (2005)

Once More.... With Feeling at Reg Vardy Gallery (2006)

Ahistoric Occasion: Artists Making History at Mass MOCA (2006)

Now Again the Past: Rewind, Replay, Resound at Carnegie Art Center (2006)

Playback_Simulated Realities at Edith Russ House (2006).

and doubtless numerous others before and after 2006


Jo Mitchell and Concerto for Voice & Machinery II

Mitchell's route to reenactments was not dissimilar to Forsyth and Pollard's: she started out doing work that combined pop culture and elements of appropriation art. The photo-based piece Girl On A Motorcyle, for instance,  was inspired by the publicity poster for a 1968 exploitation poster and features Mitchell herself, Cindy Sherman style.

She says that one punter actually complained to the ICA that the performance had only been 20 minutes long, seemingly unaware that that's what the original show had been and that the twenty minutes of after-fracas was actually part of the performance too.


Reading criticism and theory about reenactment art and coming out none the wiser

Buffeted by citations (Nietzche's "eternal return", Benjamin's "art in the age of mechanical reproduction", Debord's "Spectacle" and  Baudrillard's "simulation"--not forgetting the inevitable Orwellian maxim "those who control the present control the past and those who control the past control the future")  I emerged the other side with just a vague impression that it was all sorta kinda timely and resonant.  One critic would talk about "emancipatory potential", another might tentatively suggest that reenactments open up "a space for as yet unimaginable performances to come."


Pierre Huyghe's 1995 Fenetre sur cour, a recreation of the dialogue and action of Hitchcock's Rear Window, but set in a Parisian housing estate
 He also did remakes of a Pasolini movie and Sidney Lumet's 1975 Dog Day Afternoon using the real-life character the story was based on to play the role done in movie by Al Pacino
from Olivier Zamm's Artforum piece on Huyghe:
"One by one fifteen actors speak their lines, taking their cues from the marks on a clear piece of film stock. An identical silver of film runs beneath Dubbing, 1996, a video projection of this event. It's the only indication (besides the title) that the enigmatic scene we're watching is the dubbing of a film; the images themselves remain as invisible as the narrative does partial. In film-based projects, real-time "remakes," and site-specific billboards, Pierre Huyghe adopts both the procedures of commercial filmmaking (casting calls, voice-overs) and avant-garde strategies (the use of nonprofessional actors, the incorporation of process into the narrative) to create artworks that unfold in real time and space. In Soundtrack Movie, 1996, English subtitles for Huyghe's original script appear on a screen, accompanied by a soundtrack with no dialogue, while a microphone pointed toward the audience offers everyone a chance to give the characters voice.

"...  Huyghe's art inhabits this vertiginous place between what is and what might be, continually emphasizing the impossibility of separating lived experience from our representations of it. Similarly, in redoing old movies, Huyghe works to reactivate a given script so that different temporalities and narratives overlap. In Les Incivils (The uncivilized, 1995), a partial remake of Pier Paolo Pasolini's Uccellacci e Uccellini (The hawks and the sparrows, 1966), Huyghe reshot key scenes from Toto and Ninetto's journey down a highway under construction just outside Rome. The new location: a nearby road also under repair at the time of Huyghe's shooting. By interspersing these refilmed sequences (in which the two characters encounter figures from various walks of life) with footage documenting curious onlookers asked to comment on the scenes reenacted during his filming, Huyghe achieves an odd intersection of art and life. Effecting a seamless passage from one to the other, he turns what Pasolini dubbed "cinema with a certain realism" on its head: reality no longer seeps into film, rather the filmic image has become a generative element of reality."


What is it about the present that makes it conceivable and desirable, but even inevitable? 

Because in lots of ways, it would have been surprising if somebody within the art world hadn't thought of doing reenactment work, given what's going on in the popular culture with retro,  revivalism, reissuing, and everything else that impelled me to write Retromania. But in the Seventies, the era of Nauman and Acconci, I don't think it would ever have occurred to an artist to do reenactments. The bold new frontiers of that era involved performance and space (the intimate, sometimes interior spaces of body art, the exterior space of land art). Reenactment art is about time and memory, and as such it does seem to say something about the times we live in.  But that something remains elusive and opaque.


Johan Kugelberg on contemporary punk rock gigs as re-enactments

"History has ended, and where what was once directly lived, has now receded into a representation. Be it the nightly civil war reenactment of 30-year-old gigs at the Mask, the Mabuhay, CBGB, or the 100 Club that take place in most major cities as we speak, or the Myspace pages of 50-something punk legends who hung out at the Mask, Mabuhay, CBGB or the 100 Club back then and won't let us forget it. They'll never die, as they are punk rockers, and as punk will apparently never die, neither will they."

part 1 is also at Perfect Sound Forever 

 and can be found Kugelberg's book for Zer0 - Brad Pitt's Dog: Essays on Fame, Death, Punk

Kugelberg has an unusual degree of self-reflexive awareness about the morbid aspects of collector psychology. In a piece for the retro-zine Ugly Things, he wrote wryly about post-eBay auction tristresse: that empty feeling after you've been banging furiously on the "refresh" button.


Alain Badiou and the Event

 some quotes from Brian Dillon's  "Event Horizon", Frieze issue 71 (November-December 2002)

"Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is. Not yet, not now, not here: in the midst of things, before the smoke has cleared, dust settled, witnesses been grilled, accounts tallied. None the less, something occurs, something beyond the frontiers of what was previously thought possible (or even imaginable), something unprecedented: an event. Will it make sense? Later, maybe: given a lull, an interval, the sober effort of reflection, thought and sedulous fidelity to the shock of the new..... 

"Badiou’s philosophy suggests a rigorous taxonomy of such instants: those moments when the plates of certainty shift, the map crumples and the landscape is reborn. The event is the uncertain point at which everything changes. Its territory is mapped according to the compass points of what he calls the ‘conditions of philosophy’: art, politics, love and science. The artistic, political, amorous or scientific event is something wholly unpredicted, a breach in calm chronology, a kind of temporal seizure. Only when the revolutionary spasm has subsided may we begin to understand what it was that grasped us. The role of the artist, political militant, lover and scientist is to bear witness to the cataclysm of the event, to pledge a certain fidelity to whatever it was that just happened. The proper name for this process, says Badiou, is truth. The job of the philosopher is to judge of this fidelity, to pay attention to the variety of truths emerging from each discrete but related sector....

"Where much philosophical and critical thought of the last 30 years has taken on a melancholic tone, a language of mourning dedicated to raking over the ashes of Reason, Progress and History (those big words that frighten us, as James Joyce put it), Badiou refuses to join in the wake.
Philosophy, he believes, is only just getting started. Hence his faith in the category of the event: the unguessable arrival of something else. In the realm of art this means holding true to the rigours of experiment, the total dedication to the uninvited that drove the 20th-century avant-gardes. We could speak of a Duchamp event, a Joyce event: constellations of works, texts, innovations whose meaning would only later become clear. In the realm of love the proper fidelity is to the astonishing event of the amorous encounter... 

"Western ‘democracy’ announces that politics is the art of the possible; Badiou counters that any emancipatory politics worth its name ‘always consists in making seem possible precisely that which, from within the situation, is declared to be impossible’. " 

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