PFS and Thug-ism

For Neo-Romanticism, as a collective, to cut through the blarney, all the blarneying levels of post-modernity as a construct, we chose a tack of extremity, extreme disobedience enlightened elitism/classicism, expressed with edges left in of doubt, foreboding, ghostly/apparitional presences, which accrued to all of us as we ploughed through the Aughts in Philadelphia. It's not just that, as has previously been stated, we skipped intermediate steps from post-modern comic auto-destruct modes to our own version of centuries-encompassed-from-America apotheosis— the lot of us, individually and together, were little thugs, and, in an ironic fashion, the "thug" image of Philadelphia in the American press does work for Philly Free School. Elitist/classicist/thug-ism— that's a new one for the American art scene to deal with, and one which (to my knowledge) has never been seen in America before.

Dovetailing with this, it needs to be said, for those who care despite the non-encumbrance of socio-sexual and socio-aesthetic freedom in Aughts Philly, the landscape we inhabited was not without violence. That's one constituent level of the PFS aesthetic which should make New York cringe, whether they then opt to turn away or not— the edge expressed around carnality, where sex and death manifest simultaneously, and the urgency around carnality and its contexts carries with it darkling undercurrents of physical violence, murder, mayhem, and the dissolution of boundaries which renders these things cognitively discrete. The razor's edge approach to drugs was one not unfamiliar to all of us, including Mary and Abby, too, from PAFA to the Highwire and back.

If I stand like a thug behind our collective thug-ism, it's because the elitism/classicism built into our creations' formality and formal renderings in general lends the entire PFS enterprise enough elegance and starkly imaginative gorgeousness that whoever in the United States elects to butt their heads against our brick walls will probably lose a substantial amount of blood. The whole broke-down contextualization of PFS might be a joke if we weren't also funnier than Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, Andres Serrano, Bruce Nauman, Judy Chicago, Miranda July, and the rest of the semi-serious New York joke anti-art/junk-art crew, who (their master narrative runs) make us laugh to ourselves in our despair, or make us laugh now to despair later, but may have to face a long-term socio-historical prognosis of cat-calls and thrown tomatoes, from a Campbell's soup can or not.

Another important level of awareness, for those interested in PFS, and the unique congeries of contexts around us, socially and sexually— PFS, and, in fact, all the major Philadelphia Renaissance sectors, were as completely and totally street as we could possibly be. We weren't watching Philly street-life from the sidelines and taking notes most of us spent most of the Aughts on the front-lines. By the time I wrote Apparition Poems, the vitality of Aughts Philly street-life was receding into entropy and atrophy— but the book, nonetheless, is a reaction to a decade spent living in the street, as it were— and doing so by maintaining at least some thug-level street-smart survival skills, against the dealers, impostors, and clowns who perpetually threatened me, and us.

In fact, given how tight certain restraints are on Philly street-life, it is amazing to me that we were granted a solid decade to play around in. I did feel, especially in the early Aughts, a sense of being personally charmed— that when I walked and rode the Philly streets, a beneficent cosmic force was covering me, encasing me in a kind of shield— nothing could hurt me or touch me unless I wanted it to. I was young, of course, and wrong— but standing at the corner of 13th and Ellsworth in South Philly at 2 am, or walking home at dawn from Nemon Buckery's Halloween party on 49th Street to 21st and Race, that sense of being guarded was acute. Abs, Mary, Jeremy, Jenny (maybe)(not to mention Mike Land, here pictured) all seemed to feel the same way— and we would hit the streets, go anywhere and do anything. Had we not been thugs, or at least partly carried ourselves as such, I'm sure someone would've killed us, and Philly Free School, before we began; and there's nothing soft about our body of work, either.