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Blu’s Iconoclasm and the End of the Dada Century


On November 26, 2016, the fortieth anniversary of the release of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK,” Joe Corré will burn his £5 million collection of punk memorabilia. This gesture by the son of Malcom McLaren and Vivian Westwood—two icons of punk’s first wave—is a response to Punk London, a year-long slate of concerts, films, talks, and exhibitions organized by the British tourism board. As Corré explained to NME Magazine:

You talk to people about it these days and it’s almost like Antiques Roadshow. “I wish I kept those bondage trousers, they’d be worth a fortune now.” What’s that got to do with anything? That’s why I think it’s appropriate [to burn the collection], to say punk rock is extinct. Otherwise, it’s all going to end up in some tourist shop, in a glass case, like the Hard Rock Café or something, and they’ll be selling “God Save The Queen” mugs with a safety pin through her nose at Buckingham Palace … To see punk ideas appropriated by the establishment … punk rock was never that … The point is that we don’t pray on that altar, we don’t pray at the altar of money.

As inspiration for his own conflagration, Corré cites The KLF’s decision to burn a million pounds sterling in 1992, as documented in the film Watch The K Foundation Burn A Million Quid. The bonfire of punk-historical assets in November won’t only be a refusal of value, however; it will also be a destruction of artifacts, and for Corré, a certain erasure of self. Blu, a street artist, recently performed a similar gesture of consistent iconoclasm, nine hundred miles away, in Bologna—a city very different from London.

London is a huge metropolis; Bologna is a small city. London is frantically busy; Bologna is lazier. London is gargantuan and neuropathic; Bologna is more polluted but less monstrous. There was a moment, however, when Bologna and London played a similar role in the zeitgeist. This was 1977, when two similar yet contrasting insurrections took place in the two cities, paving the way for a new imagination of the future. The London punk insurrection was dressed predominantly in black, while the Bologna autonomous insurrection was full of color; but the insurgents were part of the same precarious life. The London punks shouted no future!, while the Bologna autonomists shouted the future is now!

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