Germ Free Adolescents – Previewed

Amy Roberts on an exhibition of punk and post-punk ephemera, which recognises an icon of the era…

When Poly Styrene – the iconic front woman and founder of classic punk outfit X-Ray Spex  – died last April, the internet was awash with the usual sincere tributes, anecdotes and articles that detailed specific moments in time where her impression encouraged countless individuals to stand up, be proud, and be heard.

What was so distinctive about the tributes to Poly Styrene (and also to Slit’s front woman Ari Up, who died just months previously) in the music industry, was that they weren’t exclusively focused on her music. They were about a woman who rejected every convention possible – who was relentlessly strong. She eschewed the punk stylings of her contemporaries, opting instead for bright fluorescents and quirky, shapeless homemade dresses featuring oddball imagery like full English breakfasts sewn onto the front. She proudly wore a set of braces on stage, flashing them against stage lights with every lyric and grin. She shaved her head. She wore military helmets.

Today, in the cornucopia of imagery that is every day life, this doesn’t seem all that groundbreaking perhaps, but back then these were statements. This was Poly exercising her freedom.

Her music was political, but playful. She tackled racism, consumerism and alienation and encouraged her audiences and fans to question conformity, and the kind of systematic roles we’re told we must apply ourselves to in society, or else we’re monsters, failures, and  reckless deviants.

So to say we’re excited about the upcoming Germ Free Adolescent’s exhibition – celebrating the legacy of X-Ray Spex by showcasing an abundance of never before seen photographs and negatives, long lost promotional artworks and original promotional t-shirts and badges – is an understatement and a half.

Sourced from the Falcon Stuart Archive (Stuart managed the band, as well as Adam Ant when he struck it solo and lost The Ants) by Luca Bartozzi, the exhibition is the first of its kind to provide public access to pieces that have previously been locked away.

The show also features exclusive video footage of the band performing and rehearsing, as well as interviewing each other, giving audiences an opportunity to engage intimately with a group they may not have had the pleasure to experience live.

An exclusive set of prints of original photos from the Jon Savage England’s Dreaming archive accompany the rest of the exhibition, realised by photographers who managed to capture intimately topical and ephemeral moments from the punk and post-punk era. Focusing on the concept of ‘performativity’ – including its articulation in live performance and the sub-cultural trend of posing – these images explore instances where heteronormative notions of gender, sexuality and identity are disrupted and distorted.

The collection runs straight from the exciting beginnings of the burgeoning punk scene, to its bold, encompassing success run of shock and rebellion, right through to its quickly commodified death knell, and the cash-ins and bands that followed. Featuring scene staples Siouxsie Sioux, The Slits, Judy Nylon, Throbbing Gristle and The Damned, and not forgetting The Sex Pistols, as well as the scenesters’ and artists of The Bromley Contingent (think Sue Catwoman and Debbie Juvenile) and the post-punk, new-pop era stars such as Soft Cell, Annabella from Bow Wow Wow, and Human League.

In short, this exhibition is a dream for enthusiasts not just of punk, but of people in touch with their inner rebels. For those who bite the hand that feeds them, the same old junk about gender and sexual norms, of conformity, roles, status and safety. Or even just those amongst us who understand the power and influence of a strong statement – be it a song, a photo, an outfit or an action.

Now – in the midst of this shit-tip of an era, the Queen’s ghastly Jubilee on the horizon – is a good time to scrub up on that inner rebel*. So turn up, take note. And Up Yours, M’aam.

*And yes. We’ve made you a playlist to get you in the mood.

Amy Roberts

Germ Free Adolescents PV, tomorrow at LJMU Art & Design Academy 5pm

Posted on 23/05/2012 by thedoublenegative