An anarchist spirit is important to my work of pop art sculpture—filling the space around it with a coy and rebellious energy. I like to blend Pop art pacification with Punk attitude. Where Pop art is subtle in its intention to deceive, Punk is bombastic with its shock and awe inclinations. Humor is pivotal with both. They are both ironic and parodic, but Punk audaciously mocks when Pop art playfully nudges with a “wink wink, you know what I mean?”
Dada truly set the standard for creating a revolution aimed to critique and disrupt cultural negligence. Dada paved the way for Punk and Pop art. The trajectory between Dada to Pop to Punk, in some way, mirrors my trajectory in process. As an extension and repudiation of Dada, Pop art explored similar content but replaced Dada’s destructiveand satirical impulses with detached affirmation of the artifacts of mass culture. Similarly, my working style cycles in the loop of rebellion, cancellation, sarcasm, affirmation, and mockery—which serves to create empathetic and evocative sculptures.
Artist Sarah Lucas also approaches art with Dada/Punk rebellion in her critique of culture’s casual sexism. With Punk impishness, Lucas addresses sexism and misogyny, unapologetically. She challenges convention with Bitch (1995) while underscoring the absurdity of conformity. Twenty years later, that content is no less relevant. In 2015, I attended the Venice Biennale and had the pleasure of viewing Lucas’s latest installation. The work confronted the viewer with culture’s everyday misogyny with sniper precision. Laughing at objectification is the social status quo. No less than punk, Lucas pits that status quo against the viewer.
Upon entering Giardini’s Great Britain pavilion, I was first greeted by an enormous, phallic creature. Inside the pavilion, several pairs of legs, chopped off at the waist, presented themselves unabashedly in various incarnations. Forming a brilliant synecdoche of sexual commerce, these works delivered classic Lucas panache through mockery and detachment. She dismantled masculine constructions through appropriation of the quotidian. Lucas’s work cleverly exposes the derision of sexual objectification. Confronting her audience with crude metaphors for the male gaze, Lucas weaves into her work the idea that women’s sexual liberation has amplified their inadvertent submissiveness, therefore undermining their quest for equality.
Dada and Punk describe and endorse active forces at the edge of change. Punk sub-culture embraced many of the same reactionary tactics used by Dadaists. Such anarchist tactics included unusual fashions, the blurring of boundaries between art and everyday life, and juxtapositions of seemingly disparate objects. In addition to their shared anarchistic spirit, members of both Punk and Dada were anti-bourgeois and anti-capitalist.
Though both Dada and Punk were motivated to rebel against convention, they differ between their intention around art and activism. This difference between the interdisciplinary approach of avant-gardist Dada and
that of Punk is that Dadaists were typically interested in transcending the boundaries around arts from the very inception of the movement.
The avant-garde is most self- consciously artistic, while punk is most self-consciously proletariat. Originating as an affront to the general public, punk was characterized by aggressive antisocial behavior and an artistic sensibility emphasizing dissonance. ~Tricia H Young, Break All Rules!
Much like the art of dadaists, punks deliberately structured their dress, music, and behavior to oppose and confront conventional norms of mainstream politics and taste. The intent of wearing bondage gear and clothing in a public display of perversity was not to titillate, but to provoke. Early punks were rejected by society prior to their own rejection of society. In direct response to this, they used inversion to create style, a powerful technique for any century or decade, depending on material and context. Punks glorified anything that suggested low status, sexual perversion, banality, or degeneracy. They wore items from dog collars, bondage clothes, fake leopard fur, to rubber clothes. These spirited anarchists subverted culturally valued objects linked with tradition and conformity.
The early subculture was characterized by fluidity and ambiguity—the use of juxtaposition and paradox in the construction of revolutionary aesthetics. Early punks were political radicals, drawing on imagery and themes of anarchism. The attitude behind punk is the salient essence.
Dada and Punk made significant ripples in the moral compass of society. Finding expression through either art, literature, film, music, fashion, or performance, Dada artists and Punk activists audaciously mocked conventions of art and society by foregrounding the illogical, shocking, and absurd. Incited by atrocities of the collective in response to wars, members of Dada and Punk turned to anarchy and nihilism, finding subversive and derisive means to offend their prudish audiences.
Writer Kathryn Rosenfeld describes the punk anarchist’s conundrum: “The great tragic paradox of punk was its collision of nihilism and idealism, the bizarre bind of laboring to save a world you want to destroy.” My frustration toward sexism and childlike joy for the arts position me within a similar nihilist-idealist paradox. I like to Dada-mock the social codes of cultural woman value and exaggerate the absurdity of conformity.