“Art is the free imagination. It’s what we must not let be colonised” – Vivienne Dick
In 1978, The Undertones debut single Teenage Kicks seemed like one of the few positive proclamations to come out of Northern Ireland since the news of Dana’s victory in the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest. The depressing statistic of 82 murders (and counting) had been attributed to the conflict in the North while across the Atlantic, 1,820 murders were committed in New York City in one year alone.
By the late 70s in New York the ‘pre-Disneyfication’ of Times Square was a byword for sleaze and vice while the local economy was in full tailspin. In a city that claimed to never sleep, jobless men napped on the steps of dilapidated brownstones over on 30th Street in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighbourhood.
It’s true that poverty and hardship can cultivate an unconscious assimilation of ideas and produce the strongest art. Take the crumbling, dystopia that was Detroit in the mid to late 1980s and how it helped nourish a powerful club scene near the Six Mile and Palmer Park areas with collectives such as Underground Resistance and the birth of techno as we know it today.
The short-lived no wave scene of the late 1970s in New York was led by a small collective of avant-garde musicians, filmmakers and artists including Nan Goldin, Lydia Lunch, Arto Lindsay, James Chance and Irish artist Vivienne Dick.
Born in Donegal in 1950, Vivienne Dick began making Super 8 films after moving to New York in the late seventies and, together with Nan Goldin, documented a highly creative period in the downtown area. Primarily centred around the performers and audiences of the infamous CBGBs music venue in Manhattan’s East Village, many of the subjects of Goldin’s photographs appear in Dick’s films, and they clearly were an influence on one another.
Watch our interview with Vivienne Dick above.
“It’s difficult to know why but I just thought I’d have a go at it”, says a reflective Dick on why she decided to leave London for New York in the late 1970s. Today, the artist is sitting in the living room of her house in Dublin’s Inchicore suburb.
Over 40 years ago, Vivienne Dick and Nan Goldin were at the epicentre of a movement that was so ahead of the curve it espoused a ‘post punk’ attitude, ironically, in the year the Sex Pistols embarked on their infamous US tour.
As part of two major solo exhibitions showing at IMMA, the other being Weekend Plans by Goldin, 93% STARDUST is a survey exhibition of Vivienne Dick’s work comprising selected films from the no wave period including Guérillère Talks (1978), Beauty Becomes The Beast(1979) and Liberty’s Booty (1980). Recent film works include The Irreducible Difference of the Other (2013) and Red Moon Rising (2015). Dick also premieres her new film work Augenblick made while on IMMA’s Residency Programme in 2017.
Both Dick and Goldin explored aspects of post-modern sexual identity and were the first to successfully document their own lives and the lives of their friends with film footage of apartment interiors during heady, early morning parties or casual day excursions. Scenes are filmed with a hand-held Super 8, shot in cinéma vérité style, roughly cut and overlaid with lovestruck Motown tracks to turbo-charge the emotion.
Walking through both shows one can’t help but notice the fun and energy that resonates from the work in those unfettered years that preceded the AIDS epidemic. The simulation of a Lower East Side pop-up club manifests itself through darkly-lit, uncomplicated but ornate installations giving the sense that you were in a musty basement on Ludlow Street in 1978.
It’s hard to gauge the influence of the no wave movement of 1978-80 and the scene at clubs like CBGBs or the New York Vaudeville shows. The Village Voice’s Steve Anderson claimed that the scene represented “New York’s last stylistically cohesive avant-rock movement”. But, by the early 1980s, no wave transitioned from its abrasive origins into a more dance-oriented realm that helped shape the early Detroit DIY club scene and even Steve Strange’s Blitz club in London. The influence of Goldin’s deeply personal and candid portraiture is undeniable and quite evident in the work of photographers such as Corinne Day (Diary, 2000).
Repeated visits are highly recommended for both shows if you wish to get the full impact of an intoxicatingly brief moment in New York’s underground culture.
In 1978, on hearing of Vivienne Dick’s forthcoming trip to New York, a male gallery owner friend said to her in passing: “That’s a great city for women”. Sitting in the living room of her Inchicore house, the artist’s face broadens with a wide smile: “It turned out to be completely true”.
93% STARDUST by Vivienne Dick and Weekend Plans by Nan Goldin is currently running at IMMA until 15 October, 2017.
With special thanks to Vivienne Dick, Catherine Legras, IMMA and David Godlis in New York.
Main header pic: Portrait of Vivenne Dick by Nan Goldin on the wall of her home in Inchicore, Dublin. Pic. Bryan Meade
To see more of the work of David Godlis got to www.godlis.com