Section 3 - X Magazine, Colab, Downtown Filmmakers
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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.
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."
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 Newsand 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.
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.
Beth B & Scott B
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.
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.
Punk Art Exhibition Catalogue
Copyright © April 23, 1978, Miller & Ringma and Washington Project for the Arts.