In our search for artists linked to Punk we found many affiliated with the artists group Collaborative Projects Inc., and especially the subset involved with the "Colab" sponsored publication X Magazine (originally known as X Motion Picture Magazine). Colab was a non-profit organization explicitly created by young downtown artists involved with film, video, photography and other media to take advantage of newly available government grants. The kinship between the artists of Colab and the rock musicians at CBGB reflected a tight-knit scene where many of the participants lived in the same downtown tenements and lofts. All shared similar aesthetic interests as well as a grassroots approach to promotion and distribution rooted in the perception that the established galleries and record labels largely ignored young artists and musicians.
X was published by the artists themselves who were free to do whatever they wanted on their assigned pages. Some contributors focused on the new music scene, while others favored the same kind of provocative content and populist politics found in the music. The connection between X and Punk Rock was most overt at the X Magazine Benefit when the Contortions, DNA, the Erasers and other rock groups with strong links to the visual arts contributed their talents to help raise money to print the magazine's second issue.
It was Alan Moore who first introduced us to X Magazine and helped us recruit some of the magazine's contributors for the Punk Art exhibition and catalogue. Moore's writing and editorial skills made him a central player in Colab, where he helped put together the government grant applications that funded X, the cable television program All Color News, and other projects. Moore shared with other members of Colab a commitment to social change and a belief in populist politics. Like other contributors to X, he viewed with fascination the intense media attention given to the politically motivated kidnappings, bank robberies and other acts of violence perpetrated by groups such as the RAF in Europe and the FALN in America. The second issue of X is full of images of terrorism, usually appropriated from mass media sources and presented with little or no comment. The reprocessing of these images of political violence seems threatening, but it reflects no more than the conspicuous place of terrorism in the broader media world and young artists’ desire to play with charged imagery.
Why are you interested in terrorism?
Why am I? Because everybody else is! We all agree that terrorism is wonderful. We all agree that terrorism is in good taste. Everybody loves it. I want terrorism to be popular. In fact, it isn't terrorism if it's popular... it's revolution.
What are your social goals?
Give me a list... an end to wage slavery... that's what I've been thinking about recently.
Terrorism is the way to end wage slavery?
I didn't say that.
How come you're an artist and not a terrorist?
I don't have the training and I don't have the money to be a good terrorist. Also, I don't like guns.
Is there anything else you want to say?
I am not, nor have I ever been, a communist. I am not, nor have I ever been, a socialist.
Before he became famous for his public sculptures, Tom Otterness was a member of Colab who worked in film and video on performances incorporating real-life aggression and violence. An amateur boxer, Tom filmed his own Golden Gloves fights and showed them in an art setting where they took on a new metaphorical meaning. We planned to feature Tom's controversial work "Shot Dog Film" in the Punk Art show and interviewed him about if for the catalogue, but after much debate we decided not to include it in the exhibition. In retrospect we saved the Washington Project for the Arts a lot of trouble.
A month before the exhibition, Bettie and I experienced first hand the intensely provocative nature of the film when Tom hired us to photograph people exiting the Times Square screening room where the film premiered. The looped film showed a hand holding a pistol and then shooting a small dog chained to a stake. It was only a matter of minutes before the first person angrily exited the theater and we had to fight him off as he grabbed for our camera.
When the film was shown on cable television in New York on Christmas Eve in 1978, it generated a huge controversy that still haunts Otterness. Recently he issued a public apology that is now part of his entry on Wikipedia: "Thirty years ago when I was 25 years old, I made a film in which I shot a dog. It was an indefensible act that I am deeply sorry for. Many of us have experienced profound emotional turmoil and despair. Few have made the mistake I made. I hope people can find it in their hearts to forgive me."
The Dog Shot film was made before the four fight films. It's about fucking someone... getting fucked by someone. That's what the fight films are about too. Running over someone; defeating someone; being defeated. They're the same thing those two films.
- Tom Otterness
You said earlier that when you showed Dog Shot Film at the screening room at 42nd Street that you wanted to hurt the viewers.
Yeah, I mean that whole night on 42nd Street, as best as I could do it, was the most aggressive way I could think of to show a film, the most damaging thing that I could do to the audience by showing a film. I hired a photographer with a camera so when people were leaving the theater, they were assaulted by a flash, attacked.
Why do you want to assault the audience?
You understand that. That's not a question you would ask me if the tape wasn't going. Its Soho, you know. People sleep a lot. They are not often awake.
You wanted to add something in the interview here...
Yeah, just a statement that the dog film was not allowed to be shown in the context of this Punk Art show.
Why do you want to say that?
Well, I think it will change the way people look at what was accepted into the catalogue. I think it changes it a lot. It changes the color of all the other photographs. It means that all the other photographs in the catalogue are acceptable and that the dog film wasn't.
Which probably means you are the most extreme...
Yeah, I think so. It must be... it must define it.
Mitch Corber has worked in a variety of media. Initially he was a performance artist who over time became more involved with video and cable television. An early member of Colab, Mitch contributed to All Color News and X Magazine. Nothing quite matches the boundary breaking audacity of his "Corber/Jolson Goes to Harlem" performance in the Punk Art catalogue. Riding the subway in blackface, Corber sang "My Mammy" crouched on one knee in true Al Jolson style. Today Corber videotapes poetry readings which he sells to colleges and universities.
The teachings in my home were not that clear. There were a lot of contradictions there. On the one hand, they wanted me to get a Jewish education... on the other hand, my parents were not at all Jewish. There was a good reason not to go along with the whims of the family. But I felt alone... neglected. I felt like the black sheep of the family. I actually felt like a nigger, and I never felt that understanding I sort of wanted from them, and I thought the only recourse was to get it from my friends in New York.
I think basically, the idea was to compete with my father... he would sing Jolson around the house... pick up snatches of tunes and sometimes get into impersonations. It was a kind of anger against his impotence as a creative person... I could outdo my father... I could go public where he was private.
- Mitch Corber
Jimmy DeSana was a familiar downtown presence both at CBGB and at art world openings and events. A skilled and hardworking photographer, DeSana contributed to X Magazine and many other alternative publications. He took many of the portraits of rock groups found in the "Punk Til You Puke" issue of File Magazine (Summer 1977) that he co-edited with his friends Diego Cortez and Anya Phillips. In addition to mainstream portraiture, DeSana also created a large body of photographs exploring sexual fantasies and fetishes published in his book Submission (1979). One of the most extreme photographs in the series, variously titled "Noose" or "Self-Portrait," was reproduced in the Punk Art catalogue. In a note thanking us for the catalogue, the prominent art historian Robert Rosenblum, known for both his sympathy to new art and for his sharp humor, quipped, "It was good seeing Jim de Sana, since he's an old friend of my wife's and hasn't called in quite a while. Now we know why." Sadly, Jimmy died of AIDS in 1990.
Tina L'Hotsky's talents took many forms before she made her mark as a creative force at the newly opened Mudd Club started by Steve Mass in 1978. With its emphasis on art and theme nights, the Mudd Club was an instant success and set the tone for later clubs in the 1980s. Arguably Tina's "Crazy Spanish Girls" party was the first of the theme shows and she was soon known as "the Queen of the Mudd Club." In the early 1980s, L'Hotsky moved to Los Angeles where she acted in the film “Loveless” (1982) and other independent films.
I did a film where I cast myself as a Barbie Doll... I was nude and I wore a blonde wig... it was all done in slow motion. The plot is... Barbie comes home from shopping. She takes her groceries out of the bag and unwraps a little Barbie doll. She fries up the Barbie doll and eats it. The end. It's self-exploitative... it's sexist. But when I made it, I didn't have critical reverence in the back of my mind. It was kind of instinctual... it's just like a joke.
- Tina L'Hotsky
Beth B & Scott B were the downtown filmmakers with the strongest connection to Colab. They were active in the group's meetings, contributed to X and to the All Color News cable television show. Like other downtown artists, the B's shared the period fascination with terrorism. Much of their work in early 1978 focused on the FALN, a Puerto Rican independence group connected with a long string of bombings in New York in the mid-1970s. The "Bs" 8mm films were rife with downtown obsessions: terror politics, torture, sexual domination and submission, and Punk music. Casting musicians and other popular downtown personalities, the prolific "Bs" cleverly harnessed the scene's social energy with weekly film shoots that were quickly edited and then screened as film serial episodes at the music club, Max's Kansas City.
The film that I've been collaborating on with Scott B is about submission and dominance in occupational and private lives. It's going to be a 90-minute feature length film. We've done the first two scenes in which there is a dominance session between a man who is a terrorist investigator and a dominatrix. There is one portion where she has a whip and is standing over him. A woman named Sylvia plays the dominatrix... Bill Rice plays the 46-year-old man. We're now working on the third scene, which has Punk rock and terrorists. The Kommunists are the Punk rock group... they also play the terrorist in the film.
- Beth B
Amos Poe was part of the group of young independent filmmakers associated with the "No Wave" Cinema movement that centered around the New Cinema, a short-lived screening room on St. Mark’s Place in the late 1970s. Poe's film "The Blank Generation" (1975) was shot at CBGB, and chronicling performances by Richard Hell, Patti Smith, Blondie and others, claims the mantle of "first punk film." "The Foreigner" finds its inspiration in B movie genres and the French New Wave, and features downtown stars Eric Mitchell, Patti Astor and Debbie Harry. The prolific Poe's resume also includes Glenn O'Brien's "TV Party" (1978-82), "Alphabet City" (1984) and dozens of other productions.
We shot "Blank Generation," but we didn't have any money to do sync sound. People used to say, "oh wait, do this film with sync sound, we'll get you the equipment, we'll get you the money." But you can't wait. You really can't. If you got it, you do it. If you don't, you do it the best you can, and you do it with what you've learned about the media and with whatever art and taste it takes to produce what you see and what you feel... When "Blank Generation" was reviewed in Sounds, they said "That it. That's a real punk film. It's not just showing it, its doing it." They had this thing about the sound and the images not being together as having this violent, rough quality.
The Foreigner is about an alienated person coming to the United States. For every person who makes it in America, there are ten who don't. It's like this killing thing. It's this killing force. The film is about the disintegration of a personality.
- Amos Poe