Nick Zedd’s Cinema of Transgression at KW

KW’s ‘You Killed Me First’ exhibition, which opened over a fortnight ago and runs until 9th April, was ushered in with a talk from Nick Zedd, filmmaker and founder of the Cinema of Transgression.

“Any film that doesn’t shock isn’t worth looking at” Nick Zedd, Cinema of Trangression Manifesto.

Zedd’s film-making began at the age of 12 with a Sci-Fi animation. He arrived in New York in 1976, exactly the time punk was taking off and the city was simultaneously experiencing an especially high crime rate and surge in creative output. His first feature in New York, They Eat Scum (1979), was badly received by some critics, supposedly for its anti-academic approach and outmoded preference for using Super 8. Ambitious and keen to attract more media attention, Zedd decided to start a movement of his own the same year, and having searched the dictionary for a suitable term he named it the Cinema of Transgression. The aim was to make films that “threatened the status quo, challenged consensus reality” by “cross[ing] every line there was”.

During the discussion Zedd showed two films, Ecstasy In Entropy (1999) and War is Menstrual Envy (1992). Both are shot on old film and display explicit sexual scenes with violent undertones and highly contrasted soundtracks, ranging from choral and classical, hiphop and punk, to 60s swing and R’n'B. The familiarity and extreme contradictions make for an unsettling ride: the garish grainy film quality and fantasia tones of War is Menstrual Envy hark back to children’s Technicolor Disney, juxtaposed with horror-like close ups of the protagonist’s extreme full-body skin burns. This paradoxical viewing experience is described by Zedd as “Zenomorphism”; the meeting of two diametrically opposed elements, resulting in a kind of mind-expansion for the viewer. “[A] Universe explodes in your mind and you become someone new. It can be a threatening experience or an amusing one but the moment one starts to laugh I think is a communication that this has a right effect”.

War is Menstrual Envy (1992)

The following film Ecstasy In Entropy was shot in a now closed-down illegal bar in the Lower East Side where Zedd was a resident DJ and film screenings coordinator. The film features performance artist Annie Sprinkle and as many women as Zedd could find who would “take their clothes off for free”. Later in the talk one audience member raised the issue of feminism with reference to the clip, to which Zedd admitted that some of his past works had received extreme reactions from feminists.

 Ecstasy In Entropy (1999)

Featuring scenes of rape and violence and confronting issues of law, gender, sex and capitalism, Zedd’s provocative works verge on aggressive and antagonising. As he puts it, they challenge the viewer to make decisions of perception, to “emancipate” themselves from a corrupt western world. And surprisingly, up to 20 years later, they still have an extreme effect; at the opening of the show there was a notable feeling of discomfort and many attendees left early or complained of feeling sick or violated post-viewing.

If you haven’t yet seen the show yourself it is well worth a visit. The low-fi kitsch elements of the show have been embraced by KW, who have installed an invasive strobe light in the stairwell, doused the walls with garish paint splashes and separated the normally white cube-like rooms with heavy black curtains, indicative of the smaller spaces – such as punk clubs and bars – that these films were originally shown in.

The following instalment in the ‘You Killed Me First’ exhibition will be a screening of ‘Llik Your Idols’, a documentary about the Cinema of Transgression by Angélique Bosio, this Saturday at KW.