NYU celebrates punk's 40th birthday with new video installation, panel conversation with punk pioneers
West Village In 1980, a nightclub called Danceteria hired two video artists-and former public access television employees-to build a video installation at the music and dance mega-club on 37th Street.
The artists, Emily Armstrong and Pat Ivers, converted the third floor of the tri-level space into a version of a 1960s family living room, complete with couches, coffee tables and table lamps from Salvation Army. They called it the Video Lounge.
"We designed a viewing environment that people were familiar with," Armstrong said in a recent interview. "People watched TV in their living rooms with their families. But the video content was challenging them."
On small television sets, they showed live concert footage they shot at downtown punk clubs starting in the late 1970s, including CBGB, the Mudd Club and Max's Kansas City, using an Ikegami video camera. Between videos of the Dead Boys and the Lounge Lizards, Armstrong and Ivers interspersed Kung Fu and horror movie clips and experimental videos that local artists gave them.
Punk on Display
On March 20, New York University's Fales Library and Special Collections debuts the "GoNightclubbing Video Lounge," a recreation of the original Danceteria installation using 200 hours of performance footage, which has been digitally archived for the library's collection. The multimedia exhibit includes Armstrong's and Ivers' original footage of pioneering punk bands playing downtown Manhattan's famous music clubs, including Richard Hell and the Voidoids at CBGB, the Cramps at Irving Plaza and the Heartbreakers at Max's Kansas City.
"This is an attempt, we preserved 200 hours of their video, to put the video on display as they showed it back then," said Marvin J. Taylor, director of the Fales Library and Special Collections. "So to try and recreate the feel of experiencing it in its environment."
The exhibit on the third floor of NYU's Elmer Holmes Bobst Library is furnished with a white floral sofa yellowed with age, a faded pink love seat and scuffed wooden coffee tables for visitors to rest their feet. Armstrong and Ivers once again sourced secondhand furniture for around $300.
Each seating area comes with its own television set, and all screens will play the same video loops simultaneously.
"Things are different now," Armstrong said. "People don't watch television with their family and friends and stuff. We're doing the video lounge in the same type of environment, so instead of challenging them with programming, we're actually challenging the way they watch video now. Force this intimacy that used to be so normal. Most people absorb their content on their individual screens now."
The installation, which is open to the public through May, coincides with the Punk Turns 40! celebration on March 22, hosted by NYU and the American Comparative Literature Association. The event features panel discussions with music writers and punk musicians, including Richard Hell, and marks the fortieth anniversary of punk band Television's first show at CBGB, which Taylor considers the birth date of punk.
Mining Punk History
Following the Television performance, CBGB started booking other "scrappy bands" from New York City, Taylor said. The iconic Bowery club went on to host the Ramones, the Talking Heads and Patti Smith, among many others.
"That was where the art scene was," Taylor said about downtown Manhattan, where musicians and artists could rent large loft spaces on the cheap. "There's something about this area. It's like our Paris, our left bank. There's this space where experimentation and creativity has been allowed."
Reviving a Scene
After NYU acquired and archived the footage, Armstrong and Ivers found videos they forgot they had filmed, including a clip of Iggy Pop from 1979 performing Frank Sinatra's "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)," sweaty and shirtless at 3 a.m. at Hurrah's.
"They built up this great anthology of the times," said music writer and post-punk musician Vivien Goldman, who teaches a course on punk at NYU. "We're very lucky they did. It wasn't that common then, video, you know. It was before MTV."
MTV is now known more for "Teen Mom" and "Jersey Shore" than music videos. Danceteria, CBGB and other clubs Armstrong and Ivers filmed in are gone.
But Armstrong and Ivers retain certain pieces of their club days. Still downtown loyalists, and best friends, the two are neighbors on Orchard Street. And of course, they have hundreds of hours of newly-archived club footage.
And, until the end of May, they have a video lounge.