“Creativity acts as a rogue virus spontaneously combusting, splattering the brain matter of its host carriers across a finite terrain for a fleeting amount of time, forever staining the landscape.”-Lydia Lunch, No Wave Now
Silence is not typically the sound (or lack thereof) that comes to mind when thinking of no wave musician, Cinema of Transgression star, writer, spoken word performer and unwavering provocatress Lydia Lunch. From Teenage Jesus and the Jerks howling through the dystopian landscape of 1970s Lower Manhattan to the guttural sleaze of her Shotgun Wedding collaboration with Rowland S. Howard to her snarling spoken word performances, Lunch’s voice has always been a visceral and eviscerating presence–a wailing, big, sexy noise that dissects, digests and discloses the violent underbelly of society.
However, Lunch’s current art exhibition So Real It Hurts at the new East 1st gallery Howl! Happening is just that–silent. And yet–despite the absence of Lunch’s screeching aural assault, her continued interest in pleasure, pain and the endless combination of the two speaks loud and clear through the visual. So Real It Hurts proves Lunch can speak even when she’s silent.
Living up to its title, So Real It Hurts presents a painful look into aspects of society most of us would rather hide from than confront. Not Lunch however, who has made a conscious effort through her entire career to not hide from pain but meet it head on–bashing back.
Plastered on the door of Howl! Happening is a warning sign that the exhibition may not be suitable for children. A destabilizing and slightly terrifying viewing experience, Lunch’s exhibition is a full-on assault. Perhaps So Real It Hurts is not suitable for everyone but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be required viewing for all.
Presenting Lunch’s visual attack through several mediums, So Real It Hurts features a new series of photographs entitled The War Is Never Over, which layer images of war, guns and violence with photos of children, Lunch herself and surprisingly Michael Pitt. So Real It Hurts also contains an installation You Are Not Safe In Your Own Home, which just might be one of the scariest installations I’ve ever seen. And yes, that is a compliment.
Not only does the exhibition display Lunch’s new artwork, but it also contains ephemeral materials from Lunch’s illustriously misanthropic career from a VHS of Richard Kern’s The Right Side of My Brain to concert posters including A Double Bill of Sheer Hell with my favorite Junkyard Kings The Birthday Party. As an unabashed and unrepentant Nick Cave frenzied fanatic, Howl! Happening should be grateful that I didn’t just walk out with it.
Through the combination of new work and archival materials, Lunch’s career in defiance becomes startling apparent and inspiring. Since it is Mother’s Day, I’ll mention my mother always says that Lunch represents my id. Well, she’s half right–Lunch seems to speak to our collective ids, forcing audiences to confront the troubled links between violence and family, to tear down everything straight society holds dear and to recognize the potential power in pleasure. As Lunch states, “Pleasure is the ultimate rebellion.”
In March, I witnessed Lunch speak on a panel about the intersections of punk and feminism (even though Lunch is and was never a punk) at the Brooklyn Museum titled I Will Resist with Every Inch and Every Breath: Punk and the Art of Feminism. During the panel, Lunch detailed her early experiences with resistance, which in retrospect relate to the content of So Real It Hurts.
Dressed in her typical uniform of a little black dress, red lipstick and a sneer, Lunch stood at the very edge of the stage, detailing the evolution of her controversial career. As Lunch said, “I’ve always been fucking resisting.”
More of an intimidating spoken word performance than a panel presentation, Lunch began with her first encounter with resistance during the 1967 race riots in her hometown of Rochester, New York when she was eight-years old. With her family home as “the epicenter of the race riots,” Lunch combined the political upheaval outside with the domestic instability inside her home, admitting, “I was living with the enemy and the enemy was my father.” Through these youthful experiences, Lunch explained, “I got my first calling to protest.”
This duality of personal and political violence plays out repeatedly in So Real It Hurts. With her series The War Is Never Over, Lunch plays the anti-Yoko, revealing the different types of wars that happen on and off the battlefield. Superimposing self-portraits with violent images, Lunch personalizes war and violence, bringing war to the everyday.
For Lunch, war is frequently based in the home, which brings me to the installation You Are Not Safe In Your Own Home.
Drawing back a silken red curtain, the first glimpse of Lunch’s installation is a definite shocker. I mean, how did Lydia know what my bedroom looks like!
With a disheveled and dirty bed that you just know is cum-stained, the room is filled with detritus including piles of liquor bottles, syringes and corresponding blood stain, scattered poems and other writings strewn on the bed and taped to the walls. On the walls, jarring phrases such as “You Made Me Hate You” and “I Fucking Loved You So Much” are emblazoned on the wall with spray paint. Over the bed, a fuzzily projected porn film plays silently while a camera trained on the space records the viewer’s every movement, capturing the viewer with its gaze and implicating them in the scene.
A dementedly detailed installation, I noticed more specifics of the space as I warily spent more and more time investigating every angle including an image of a boy with the phrase “How many cocks do you have to suck to get your father out of you” scribbled on it.
Looking around You Are Not Safe In Your Own Home, I couldn’t help but think of the opening lines of Lunch’s spoken word video The Gun Is Loaded. Lunch snarls, “It’s all about getting fucked. That’s what its all about–getting fucked up, fucked over, fucked around with or just pain, good old-fashioned fucked.” And in You Are Not Safe In Your Own Home, that is certainly what it’s all about, illustrating Lunch’s fucked philosophy.
During the panel at the Brooklyn Museum, Lunch revealed that her goal has always been to “articulate aggression as a woman.” As Lunch explained, “I knew the minute I walked onstage my job was not to panic but to cause panic.” Unquestionably living up to her panic-wielding goals, Lunch shows through So Real It Hurts that she can cause panic through the visual as much as through speech.