No Discipline: The Post-Punk Polymath
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Lydia Lunch, David Wojnarowicz and Vaginal Davis are artists who each produced music, film, literature, performance, visual art and installation whilst participating in the subcultural communities of post-punk. This thesis frames them as post-punk polymaths, artists whose subcultural participation provides a link between their multiple artistic outputs. I position these artists in relation to the historical context of post-punk, and document its influence on both specific examples of their work and their artistic strategies more broadly. My original contribution is of a sustained process of attention to the work of these three artists that negotiates their personal antagonisms towards criticism and resistance to historicisation, the methodological challenge exemplified by their practice, and the critical potential of embracing this difficulty. Through an account of New York’s post-punk scene (the formative artistic environment of both Lunch and Wojnarowicz), I examine the way the material conditions of the subculture provoked an undifferentiated, multi-media practice. I explore Lunch’s work through this subcultural context, and the interrelations of her diverse outputs and intentional blurring of art and life in her public persona. Through the work of David Wojnarowicz, I explore the potential pitfalls of overdetermination, or confined articulations of his practice within popular criticism and academia. My third case study moves away from New York to focus on the work of Los Angeles post-punk artist Vaginal Davis, examining the responsibility subculturally invested artists may have in maintaining their own marginality, through a framing of Davis’s practice as self-sabotaging. My thesis therefore highlights the difficulty of rationalising these practices as objects of disciplinarily constituted analysis, the problematic nature of their omission or selective and incomplete engagement, and examines the potential of the term polymath to understand artists whose work fails to map on to the disciplinary remits of academic scholars, genre critics or popular historians.
AuthorsChurch, Lewis Alexander
- Theses