Filming the East Village (1980–1989)
Collaborative Projects, Inc.
Listen to This (Tom Rubnitz, 1992) will be screened on Sunday, July 14
Inside the framework of the exhibition David Wojnarowicz. History Keeps Me Awake at Night (running until 30 September 2019), this series presents the post-punk and trash experiences that resulted from the film collaborations of artist David Wojnarowicz (New Jersey, USA, 1954 – New York, USA, 1992) with New York’s East Village art community in the 1980s. The programme, comprising two double sessions, features the work of Richard Kern, Tommy Turner, Kirsten Bates, Allen Frame, Ben Neill and Phil Zwickler, artists for whom life on the edge was a way to express their keen sense of rage and discontent with the sexual moralism and complaisance that pervaded the USA across that decade.
The title of the series, ‘deathtripping’, is in reference to a term writer Jack Sargeant used to characterise the underground film experiences in New York in the 1980s, in the book Deathtripping. The Cinema of Transgression (1995). Moreover, this expression condenses the ambivalence gathered in the series, for instance the sexual vitalism of the gay community in opposition to the thanatological paranoia AIDS produced, or moral freedom on the margins of consent in opposition to the rage against a society which only tolerated such freedom while it remained precarious and out of sight.
Across two highly divergent sessions, the series surveys these dilemmas between violence and autonomy, destruction and love. In the first, searing and parodic works are displayed, acerbically distilling a profound non-conformity with the American way of life and united in fiction through the most violent protests against the system, from serial killers to massacres meted out randomly among the population — as Wojnarowicz wrote, behind the sheen of the American dream is the “killing machine called America”. The second session, meanwhile, leaves these iconoclastic and transgressive gestures to one side, reflecting instead on loss and mourning with Fear of Disclosure and ITSOFOMO, two works lying between performance, multimedia installation and expanded cinema. In both, David Wojnarowicz’s writing, live music and fragmentary and elusive images compose a mood which masterfully encapsulates a time of anger and melancholia.
Kirsten Bates and Allen Frame. Turmoil in the Garden
USA, 1983, colour, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, video, 38’
Script: an adaptation of Sounds in the Distance, by David Wojnarowicz
Cast: Allen Frame, Tara Kelly, Nan Goldin, Kirsten Bates, Elisabeth Walker, Bill Rice, Brian Burchill, Suzanne Fletcher, Frank Franca.
Richard Kern. Manhattan Love Suicides: Stray Dogs
USA, 1985, b/w, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, Super8 transferred to digital, 12’
Cast: Montanna Houston, Robin Renzi, Bill Rice and David Wojnarowicz
Music: J.G. Thirlwell
Richard Kern. You Killed Me First
USA, 1985, colour, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, Super8 transferred to digital, 12’
Cast: David Wojnarowicz, Nick Cooper, Jessica Craig-Martin, Karen Finley, Montana Houston, Lung Leg
Music: J.G. Thirlwell
David Wojnarowicz and Tommy Turner. Where Evil Dwells
USA, 1985, b/w, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, video, 31’
Cast: Joe Coleman, Devil Doodie, Richard Klemann, Lung Leg, Jack Nantz, Rockets Redglare, Tommy Turner, Charlotte Webb, Scott Werner, David Wojnarowicz
Music: AC/DC, J.G. Thirlwell and Wiseblood.
Tom Rubnitz. Listen to This
USA, 1992, colour, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, video, 16’
Cast: David Wojnarowicz
This first session is presented by artist, researcher and writer Alan W. Moore. A key component of New York’s punk scene and an activist in the 1970s and 1980s, he is a member of groups and platforms such as ABC No Rio, Colab and MWF Video Club, and the author of books that include Art Gangs: Protest and Counterculture in New York City (2011) and Occupation Culture: Art and Squatting in the City from Below (2015).
Turmoil in the Garden is a theatrical production with monologues adapted from David Wojnarowicz’s first book, Sounds in the Distance (1982). The texts are an example of artistic ethnography and describe a life of survival on the streets of New York, listening to and recording marginal figures Wojnarowicz dealt with in his experiences as a male prostitute. The work, with echoes of Jean Genet and Tennessee Williams, is performed by friends of the artist, for instance Nan Goldin, Frank Franca, Allen Frame and Elizabeth Walker. In Manhattan Love Suicides, Wojnarowicz plays a stalker compulsively in love with a man he meets randomly on the street, and who turns out to be an artist, played by Bill Rice. You Killed Me First is the story of a dysfunctional, repressive family and its children, one of which is played by Sonic Youth and Cinema of Transgression muse, Lung Leg, who has reached breaking point. Wojnarowiz plays an abusive and authoritarian father, drawing on his own autobiographical experience. Where Evil Dwells explores a traumatic crime from that period: the murder of a teenager by his teenage friend, Ricky Kasso, who was under the influence of drugs and the alleged satanic occultism alluded to in heavy metal, music which marks the pulse and rhythm of the film. For Wojnarowicz, Ricky Kasso was the leader of a dark and repressed America, “a kind of Ronald Reagan”, as he would write in his memoir. Finally, in Listen to This Wojnorawicz plays an executive who, from his office, delivers a tirade against the situation of the homosexual artist in American society, interspersing images of contemporary culture – a short film demonstrating the power of Wojnarowicz as a symbol and social model, his fiery response against venomous backlash and the US Government’s failure to act during the AIDS crisis.
David Wojnarowicz and Phil Zwickler. Fear of Disclosure
USA, 1989, colour, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, video, 5’
David Wojnarowicz and Ben Neill. ITSOFOMO (In the Shadow of Forward Motion)
USA, 1991, colour, original version in English with Spanish subtitles, video, 49’. Originally presented at The Kitchen, New York, in 1989.
In his essay Melancholia and Moralism, Douglas Crimp acknowledges the importance of mourning and lamentation over loss, producing an artistic and theoretical manifestation which responds to the devastating effects of AIDS. To that end, the session sets out from this elegiac and poetic response, in which two experimental, queer works speak of the future of medicated lives, the fear of infection and the disappearance of the body with a semi-wakeful tone encapsulating the disease that ravaged a whole generation and would ultimately end David Wojnarowicz’s life aged just 37. Fear of Disclosure was first screened at the New York Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film Festival in 1989; in this short video, partying and club culture becomes an epigram on sexual encounters after infection. In the words of the film-makers, it constitutes “an exploration of the act of disclosing to a potential lover that you’re HIV positive, the virus believed to cause AIDS. Two go-go dancers at New York’s Pyramid Club jump and rub against each other while they recognise their own mortality”. ITSOFOMO, the second work, is a disturbing and visceral multimedia piece, conceived as a live performance and adapted here in a screening which combines Wojnarowicz’s writing, the sound improvisation of composer Ben Neill and the images the former repeatedly used as symbols and allegories. ITSOFOMO refers to the consequences of “acceleration”, a term the artists discovered reading the work of French theorist Paul Virilio and his criticism, in natural time, of contemporary capitalism. Both would apply the term to the immediacy with which AIDS was wiping out bodies and erasing a story of resistance and the fight for equality.