“Nothing to do, nowhere to go, I wanna be sedated,” were the lyrics that greeted me as I walked into the LookOut! Art Gallery’s “Ripped & Torn: Punk at the Intersection.” When many of us hear the word “punk,” this is often the first visual that comes to mind: an apathetic portrait of Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny, and Tommy Ramone, dressed in all black, with ripped jeans, mumble-singing underproduced rock songs lasting one minute long. What a lot of people might not realize is that the history of punk runs much deeper than just the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, and more the faces of a quite diverse group of people in its full history.
This exhibit was curated by Tessa Paneth-Pollak, director of the LookOut! Art Gallery, and Dr. Kate Birdsall, assistant professor in the department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at MSU, with the assistance of Andrew Krivine, punk graphics collector, and Martin Sorrondeguy, noted punk photographer, musician and filmmaker. Featured in the LookOut! Art Gallery are a variety of artifacts including posters, photo prints, buttons, ticket stubs, zines, and newspapers advertising punk cartoons and news from the earliest of punk beginnings to today. There is even an iPad set up with a punk playlist on Spotify for people to peruse a diverse punk catalog and maybe stumble upon a new sound or artist.
The aim of this exhibit was to display an all-inclusive history of punk, which deliberately defies the “four white guys in a band” narrative that the movement and music genre tends to be associated with. In actuality, the punk movement, at its very core, attracts and consists of a very diverse demographic. The punk movement functions in subversion to a mainstream society, which means that any person or group that’s ever felt outside of the norm: the outliers, the outcasts, the underrepresented and minority populations, could find a home within this movement.
This exhibit doesn’t attempt to polish over the problematic aspects of punk history, involving the exclusion of certain demographics including women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community. But while “Ripped & Torn” does acknowledge some of punk’s shameful history, at the same time, this exhibit functions to display that these underrepresented groups have been a part of this movement all along and very much continue to help redefine the movement’s reputation in society today.
Although much of the punk counterculture was about creating music specifically, as Mikhail Bakunin was quoted in one of the display cases at the exhibit saying: “destruction is creation.” For the movement, this destruction also referred to that of societal norms and expectations, and the mindless adherence to government rules. The dismantling of stereotypes and labels, as well as the overall destruction of the power of authority. The deepest root of punk begins with a DIY mentality. For many, this movement started with making, producing and creating our own music. It continued with making our own clothes and defining our own style. Eventually, it led to the realization that we could bring about change in society ourselves. We could make the rules, we could have a voice and we could control how much power we allowed to be held over us by society. We could, and still can, DIY a better world.
Many of the walls of the exhibit are donned with notable quotations from people that help to characterize the punk ideology. One of which is from Martin Sorrondeguy, who is responsible for “Ripped & Torn’s” graphics and photographs for many of the displays: “for us, singing punk doesn’t mean letting go… of these ties that we have to our parents, to our families, or to where we’re from or to our language. It [doesn’t] mean breaking away from that. It means working with them to try to get somewhere, to get to a new level.” If you’re interested in learning about how some of the most famous members, as well as some of the unsung heroes of the punk movement, attempted to take things to the next level, go check out “Ripped & Torn: Punk at the Intersection,” which will be available for viewing at the LookOut! Art Gallery in Snyder-Phillips Hall on MSU Campus, now until April 17th.
Stephanie Tkaczyk is a senior majoring in Kinesiology who enjoys stressing herself out by taking unnecessary writing classes in order to satisfy her creative side. She loves finding new music more than anything, in addition to traveling to every place on the planet and spending time with other people who watch too many movies. You can follow her on Instagram @hotsteph24.