In 1977 the idea that the respectable mainstream might go to great efforts to mark the anniversary of punk would have been considered at best nonsensical, at worst a wound to a subculture so grossly preoccupied with being anti-establishment, but an endorsement from the Queen and a sizeable grant from the Heritage London Fund later, this is how things look in 2016.
Away from your British Library’s, your Museum of London’s and your extortionate panel show tickets, the punk attitude remains intact in other corners of the city, as a new show from Strut London attests.
Curated by long term collaborator Jeffrey Horsley, Nice & Sleazy: Punk & Post-Punk T-shirts delves into the movement’s arena of provocation, showcasing a bold selection of tees from Strut founder Hoana Poland’s personal archive, installed in the bottom of an east London boozer that once housed a strip club.
Intrigued to learn more, Clash caught up with the exhibition-maker to discuss exotic websites and punk aesthetics.
How would you describe your own relationship with punk?
When I was at school, I took in a pair of jeans by hand until they were skin-tight and planned to wear them to a school disco with a bin liner. I chickened out and wore a checked cheese-cloth shirt and high waisted, flared Brutus jeans with a plaited denim belt. I'm happy to say I can't remember what I wore on my feet. That pretty much sums up my relationship with punk – fear and envy. I saw it on Top Of The Pops and in tabloid headlines but I was a little too young and way too removed geographically from those urban centres that fostered the movement. Really, I was also far more into Bowie and Kate Bush...
So how did the initial collaboration with Hoana come about?
I directed a project for Barbican a couple of years ago and invited Hoana to participate in that. She suggested I look at the Strut Archives collection and I've been making exhibitions drawing on the collection since then – this is the fourth. It's not so much a collaboration with Hoana, rather she invited me in as an exhibition-maker and, very generously, gave me free reign with the collection.
Can you tell us about the show’s title, it’s a Stranglers reference right?
Hoana's partner, Tom, who was into punk originally, came up with a shortlist of titles and once we knew the direction of the exhibition we chose from the list. It is from a Stranglers song, and just seemed to sum up the show and the venue. And, like punk, it says straight out what it is!
Indeed. What made you decide to put the exhibition on in a former strip club? Was it a conscious choice to echo the show’s theme in its surroundings?
If you'd like to know a little bit more about the space have a look on worldsbeststripclubs.com! No, I didn't know the site existed either. Sadly, IMAGES VIP only got half a star out of five for 'value for money'. I had mixed responses to the site and was nervous taking over a space that, to me, didn't have a fantastically positive atmosphere considering what it had been used for previously. I've invented a performative element for the show that might balance out any negative psycho-geographic energy. Seriously.
And the T-shirts, was it easy to curate the line-up?
This time the venue came first and the T-shirts have been selected to work with the venue, although I was already aware that there were a lot of T-shirts with bondage and S&M imagery. It seems in tune with the punk feeling and aesthetic. Westwood and McLaren's bondage details on trousers, shirts and T-shirts are iconic and, out of all the punk bands, I did love Poly Styrene's X-Ray Spex: so 'Oh Bondage, Up Yours.'
Finally, do you have a favourite tee?
There's one that has the slogan 'CLASS WAR' on the front. I'm hoping that it will be the one the live model wears each night. It's not directly related to the sexualised imagery theme but it seems too relevant to miss out considering recent political events.
Nice & Sleazy: Punk & Post-Punk T-shirts is open now through to 24th November at The Queen Adelaide, Hackney; full info here.