Interview: Punk is Dada!

Unscene Berlin recently met with artist Penny Rafferty to talk about her new collective, Punk Is Dada.  What is Punk Is Dada, though?  Is it art, movement, festival or anti-fashion statement?  As it turns out, Rafferty’s not too sure herself.  That’s part of what makes it so exciting...
Still from Punk Is Dada's new video 'Just F*ck It'
Unscene Berlin first encountered Penny Rafferty, artist and co-founder of Berlin's Punk Is Dada collective, in December 2012.  She had organised an anti-consumerism Christmas spectacle at Mitte's ZMF club entitled Cult of the Personality.  
Every product that was on offer at the event - from the clothing to the zines to the music by the drag dance band that played at the end - was created to articulate a clear viewpoint on a social or political issue that its creators believed in.  And not one of the artists involved in the event resorted to the textbook tedium of politico-speak in order to make that statement.  Using colours, textures, sounds, rants, sexuality and comedy, they screamed their message instead of mumbling it in a vague, ‘It means what you want it to mean’ undertone.  Punk Is Dada was born.
At the end of 2013 Penny did a follow-up to the 2012 event entitled Welcome to Prosumerism at Das Gift in Neukolln.  Along with other artists in the Punk Is Dada collective, she took over the space and decorated it with minimalist banners bearing absurd slogans like 'Banned Australian Underwear Advert' while a homemade, happy-hardcore Miley Cyrus remix blared in the background.  
Last month, Unscene Berlin had an informal chat with Penny to find out where Punk is Dada comes from, where it's going and, um, what it actually is.  It turns out that Penny's not too sure of that last one herself... which is probably a large part of the reason it's so exciting. 

Doth not 'protest too much': two of Penny's banners at Prosumerism 
UNSCENE BERLIN: Are you aiming to keep Punk Is Dada something that people have to figure it out for themselves?
PENNY RAFFERTY: Yes, because I’m still figuring it out for myself. (Laughs)
UNSCENE BERLIN: How has Punk Is Dada changed since 2012?
PENNY RAFFERTY: I think that it has taken much more of a sadistic quality since 2012.  Like, we're mixing happy hardcore with these Hollywood sound bites.  And all the banners at the last show were painted with slogans that were taken from YouTube film titles.  If you plug any of the titles from the banners into YouTube, you’ll get a video.  I'd say it's also much more multimedia.
Punk Is Dada has no limits.  It is everything and actually, it's becoming more of a cause than it was in its early days, when it was more just a kind of satirical idea.  It really just came about as a kind of act of antagonism to this mass consumption that was going on over the Christmas and New Year period.  I guess all good ideas come from a comic idea, in the beginning.  So it was a joke and now it's serious… as serious as happy hardcore and Miley Cyrus can be!  What is amazing actually, is that basically, I’ve never in my life made any money off my art until I came up with this joke - Punk Is Dada.  But I do think you do have to use a level of absurdity [in art].  And I think that, in all honesty, a lot of people have no idea what Punk Is Dada is.  But I think they like it. And maybe one day they'll even understand it! But Punk is Dada - I would say it's more of a cause rather than an artist.
UNSCENE BERLIN: And what cause is it championing?
PENNY RAFFERTY:  The cause is the ideologies of confusion and chaos that are brought about by art, itself.  And the way in which art is now almost taking on [an aspect of] celebrity spectacle. 
I mean, you take people like Marina Abramović, who I think has created this huge celebrity spectacle in the art world.  And maybe you could also look back to people like Tracy Emin, Damien Hirst and see the pop cultural iconology that's invented through their works and why that type of work has moved into pop culture very easily.  You can see the shock factor that has evolved around it.  But you know, the hysteria surrounding their work wasn’t brought about by the way in which their art was changing the world, it was brought about by huge queues at the MOMA, and the famous celebrities going in there, and people taking photographs on their iPhones and uploading them…
Now art can, in itself, create its own circle [of fame].  This is what I see as the Celebrity Movement of art.  I think that before, there were a lot of advertising campaigns that would create a fashion or a scene.  Now, the advertising campaigns are being taking directly from the Internet [scenes]. I mean, look at Rihanna and seapunk, for example.  I mean, there's a huge uproar about Rihanna nicking images from this tiny little online community producing seapunk.  And now the seapunk community just feels that they've been exploited. 
UNSCENE BERLIN: Is it just because a person is not making money that they feel they’ve been exploited?
PENNY RAFFERTY: Well actually, I've been thinking about this a lot.  I mean, there have always been a lot of problems with the art world as far as economic strife [and its impact on] artists. Particularly young artists.  And I wonder whether we're creating even more problems now, with the internet and Facebook. Because there is so much constant transferal of imagery.  I’m not quite certain what the outcome will be, but I have been thinking about this a lot; whether we're actually selling ourselves even shorter than we were before.
I think the most poignant people in society are the teenagers – and I believe teenagers can be any age.  They're the people who have the energy.  If anybody looked back on the time when they were most active, most energetic, most believed in their ideals and, most likely, when they were the biggest assholes as well it was when they were a teenager (laughs).  The teenagers are the ones that can make the revolution happen.
UNSCENE BERLIN:  So it's really convenient how most teens seem to be working in double internships, saving for university.  They have no time left over for anything except worrying about how they’re going to make money… one day.  Maybe.
PENNY RAFFERTY: Yeah, exactly!  Especially in the western world.  I think fear is, like, our product.  We no longer have anything to sell that people need.  All we can sell them is fear.  We can't give them bread, we can't give them energy, we can't even give them a roof over their head but we can sell them fear.  And we can sell them things to mediate their fear. 
UNSCENE BERLIN: You create the problem, then you sell them the solution.  A win-win situation.
PENNY RAFFERTY: I think that is where Berlin is very different, and it's probably why I've stayed here so long.   In England, I find it's one hundred per cent more difficult to exist as an artist than it is here, the main factor being that it is just not socially-acceptable to be an artist in England. [People ask], 'Why are you special?  Why aren’t you producing?  Why aren't you working in some nine-to-five job?’  Actually, it's probably like, ‘Why aren’t you working in an eight-to-eight job?’  
Half the time, you're basically trying to stand up for your belief as to why you should make art and why it is important.  You take a huge amount of energy out of yourself every day by constantly trying to deliver an acceptable answer, whereas in Berlin I haven't noticed that happening.
UNSCENE BERLIN:  Maybe that’s because in Berlin, everybody has time and space to be an artist. So it’s more like, 'Why aren't you an artist?'
PENNY RAFFERTY: Ah, but they’re not artists because they have to go to the Berghain.  That’s an art form in itself, getting into the Berghain  One has to spend quite a few hours on that (laughs).
UNSCENE BERLIN: Have you been to Berghain?
UNSCENE BERLIN: What did you think of it?
PENNY RAFFERTY: I was drunk.  It was the only reason I agreed to go.  I think they saw the disdain of me not wanting to go there and they were like, ‘She does not wanna be here.  We might as well let her in.'  Maybe that is the answer: just look like you don't wanna be there (laughs).

UNSCENE BERLIN: Do you want to explain quickly what ‘prosumerism’ is to you?
PENNY RAFFERTY: ‘Prosumerism’ to me is the material of my artwork. I would say, like, if someone asked what material I work with… I would say ‘It’s prosumerism.’  They probably wouldn't have a fucking clue what I was talking about though (laughs).
UNSCENE BERLIN: Prosumerism is where the consumer makes the product?
PENNY RAFFERTY: Yeah and I think that it is going to blow up considerably.  I wonder if prosumerism will create many more DIY products, or actually go back on itself and hopefully, fuck up the commercial trading world.  We have the abilities and the media to change this [mainstream consumer cycle] using ‘prosumerism’ as a tool.  Why we're not all doing it, I don't know.
UNSCENE BERLIN: It seems like people have yet to make that extra stretch, realize that they shouldn't be paying a third party or an advertiser.  They should be paying each other.
PENNY RAFFERTY:  Mm, but I think it's because people just don't have the energy.  I think people are more tired than they've ever been before.
UNSCENE BERLIN: Aw.  Do you feel tired, Penny? 
PENNY RAFFERTY: No, but I live like a teenager! I’m still a teenager - that's why I have all this energy.  I'm not in the socially-acceptable position of a 28 year old.  I don't have a mortgage; I don't have a loan… but if I did, I’m sure I would not be doing Punk Is Dada right now. 

UNSCENE BERLIN: Are there other artists working with you on Punk Is Dada?
PENNY RAFFERTY: In theory.  They don't know that they are, but they are (laughs).  For instance, the last exhibition was heavily influenced by Miley Cyrus, so I could consider her as being an artist who was working with Punk Is Dada at that point.  Also Amanda Bynes.
UNSCENE BERLIN: (Laughs)  So um, who else is knowingly involved in Punk is Dada?
PENNY RAFFERTY: I have a very, very close companion, Mark Hunt, who works with Punk is Dada.  He’s a film director and film-maker based in Wedding.  
UNSCENE BERLIN: Do any actual punks come to your shows? 
PENNY RAFFERTY: No.  I never advertise [in those scenes].
But you know, we had the filming that we did at the Koepi.  Power violence bands were playing and people were pretty interested in the ideology, the concept. Why we were filming.  We they agreed to do it, why they were wearing the clothes.
In fact, if I were to put the ideology of Punk Is Dada if it could be in a genre instead of seeing it in the art world, maybe I would see it as trash core.  I think this is a wonderful format, in which punk culture is a form of happening, a form of dada.  I mean, you have these wonderful bands dressed in like, children's fairy costumes, making hardcore punk music.  Then people like young boys dressed in like Lycra turquoise leggings, pirouetting to hardcore.  I mean, this is all part of it.  It is there, but it's not something that you can hold onto. It’s very transient.  Punk Is Dada is very transient. Who knows where it's going to go… maybe we're gong to sacrifice it.
UNSCENE BERLIN: So what’s up next for Punk is Dada?
PENNY RAFFERTY: We’ve also been asked to create a radio show which will go out in Kreuzberg, hopefully, in the next month.   Also up-and-coming with Punk Is Dada is that we're going to create a big festival called 'Youthitude.'  We are actually planning to do some demonstrations too, in the summer.    
I think Punk is Dada will, in the new year, generally take a more of a public art route. So you'll probably see it on the streets if you look out for it (laughs mischievously).
UNSCENE BERLIN: Send me some pics if you do!  I doubt you’ll be hitting my neighbourhood after all.  It’s too far.
PENNY RAFFERTY:  It's not likely.  Punk Is Dada is lazy (laughs).

Like Punk Is Dada on Facebook to find out about upcoming events 


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