Punk: An Aesthetic

Curated by Jon Savage and Johan Kugelberg

Punk always meant much more than just music.

An attitude, a style, a way of walking down the street - to those who had it, punk was a precious, indefinable quality. Deciding to trace the evolution of punk art - or, at, least, what they view as being punk art - Jon Savage and Johan Kugelberg recently pieced together the beautiful new tome 'Punk: An Aesthetic'.

Out now, the book's copious illustrations and photographs are interspersed with a series of essays which put forward an argument for the evolution of punk art. Launching an exhibition of punk art and design in the Hayward Gallery's project space, ClashMusic decided to grab a short extract alongside a selection of images from the book.

Here's an introduction from Johan Kugelberg...

Asger Jorn said that every avant-garde grows old and dies without seeing its successors, because succession doesn’t follow in a straight line but through contradiction. Punk in its own eyes was a disposable culture. These fanzines, flyers, and posters were manufactured cheaply and on the sly: the xerox machine was king, the paper stocks used were cheap and unstable. The artwork and pasteups that constituted the basis for the xeroxes were more often than not lost, and the ephemeral nature of these artifacts heightened still by the transient lifestyles of the key players, whether fans, musicians, writers, or artists. Cultural negation isn’t self-documenting. The hippies imagined themselves building a new world even as they were busy consuming poses and ideas, so it was not far-fetched to document the narrative as it unfolded. this is self-important.

Punks, no less self-important, were, as William Gibson so splendidly pointed out, “a millennial cult,”—and if the world is about to end, the need to archive a complete run of Sniffin’ glue isn’t a priority. Punk, like hip hop, in an odd way was about performance—about Saturday night, getting loaded, elegant swagger, and the unfiltered nihilism of romanticism. globally, like hip hop, punk was for quite some time a culture dominated by live music perfor- mance, with the potential commercial venture of generating recorded music-related product playing catch-up.

The breakneck pace of popular culture’s expansion during the latter half of the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s can make us a bit carsick, collectively and as collectors. The records and books and anthologies and fanzines, the unwritten histories, the unheard music—all these narratives feel incomplete, where our daydreams of yore haven’t gelled and, whether we experienced them or not, aren’t set in the minds of the people with first- or secondhand experience. The notion that the quantum leap of popular culture that took place between 1966 and 1976 only spanned ten earth years is something to ponder as we differentiate between the popular culture of 2001 and 2011.

Objective reality will fade as newspapers fade and as the internet becomes the primary everyday information source. The internet has the spectacular ability to provide the biased reader with the ability to filter his input data even as he acquires it. This in turn is going to lead to a rapid increase in cults of opinion: what you find and purchase and what becomes your punk-rock history hoard curates itself through your choices.

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'Punk: An Aesthetic' is out now.

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