David Wojnarowicz: A Definitive History of Five or Six Years on the Lower East Side

It seems a bit obscene to indulge myself in a time traveler trip to the early 1980s Lower East Side but I couldn’t resist. A time when artists were swirling around each other in the streets, collaborating, riffing, nudging, encouraging each other on. A time when you could “get real blood for a buck fifty at this butcher on 13th Street” and so everyone was making gory films with pigs blood and staging exhibitions with blood splatter.

This book of interviews is an attempt to pin down the elusive David Wojnarowicz—artist, writer, painter, activist, wanderer—who was briefly at the heart of the scene until fame jumped in to ruin everything. In an interview with Carlo McCormick, he explains why David stopped making art for a long while: “His whole idea was that when the media flashbulb goes off and burns everything away, the only way to stay creative and be an artist was to exist in the margins, in the dark recesses of the underground. We all felt totally invaded: the East Village scene had become a horrible thing.”

Lots of interviews with artists and friends and comrades of the period. Tales about 3 Teens Kill 4 (David’s band), early punk days, road trips, the Ward Line Pier project where artists took over abandoned and decrepit warehouses near the piers to fill with art and installations in 1983-4.

Like all humans, David was full of contradictions, both generous and stingy to a fault, obsessive about his art yet wanting to linger for hours over diner coffee. Unlike most of us, he was wildly productive and fought for what he believed in— hugely active in Act Up. There were horrible stories about how people died from AIDS, painful lingering deaths or planned suicides in the case of Haoui Montaug. Despite the danger, I come away with a pang for what was a free-moving, open, creative scene that seems to be in the past.

Some of my favorite of his work is the Arthur Rimbaud in New York series of photos. He took photos of a friend who was wearing a homemade mask of Rimbaud in various locations around NYC.