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Transgressive art

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Title: Transgressive art  
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Subject: Cult film, New French Extremity, Cynthia Dall, Vernon Chatman, New Gothic
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Transgressive art

Transgressive art is art that aims to transgress; i.e. to outrage or violate basic mores and sensibilities. The term transgressive was first used by American filmmaker Nick Zedd and his Cinema of Transgression in 1985. Zedd used it to describe his legacy with underground filmmakers like Paul Morrissey, John Waters, and Kenneth Anger, and the relationship they shared with Zedd and his New York peers in the early '80s.


Piss Christ, by Andres Serrano

From a collegiate perspective, many traces of transgression can be found in any art which by some is considered Jack Sargeant.

Neckface Begins, NYC (by Neckface)

Transgressional works share some themes with art that deals with psychological dislocation and mental illness. Examples of this relationship, between social transgression and the exploration of mental states relating to illness, include many of the activities and works of the Dadaists, Surrealists and Fluxus related artists, such as Carolee Schneemann – and, in literature, Albert Camus's L'Etranger or J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.

Changes in movement

Since the late 1990s a new group of transgressive artists have emerged, such as the Canadian artist Rick Gibson who made a pair of earrings out of human fetuses and ate a piece of human testicle. In China several artists became well known for producing transgressive art; including Zhu Yu, who achieved notoriety when he published images of himself eating what appeared to be a human fetus; and Yang Zhichao for extreme body art.


Perhaps the most famous transgressive artist of the early 1980s, Richard Kern began making films in New York with infamous underground actors Nick Zedd and Lung Leg. Some of them were videos for musical artists including those for the Butthole Surfers and Sonic Youth.

Subsequent transgressive artists of the 1990s overlapped the boundaries of literature, art, and music, most famously GG Allin, Lisa Crystal Carver, Shane Bugbee and Costes. With these artists came a greater emphasis on life itself (or death) as art, rather than just depicting a certain mindset in film or music. They were instrumental in creating a new type of visionary art and music, and influenced artists including Alec Empire, Cock E.S.P., Crash Worship, Usama Alshaibi, Natural Athlete, Liz Armstrong, Lennie Lee, Weasel Walter, Andy Ortmann, and the later work featured in Peter Bagge's Hate.

Newer transgressive artists of the 2010s such as Neckface, Nickk dropkick, Joan Cornellà, Aleksandra Waliszewska, and Molg H seem to have brought about a revival of transgressive art in recent years, with some small measure of popularity.

However, the term can also be applied to transgressive literature as well. Recent examples include Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, and J.G. Ballard's short story The Enormous Space. These works deal with issues that were considered to be outside the social norms. Their characters abuse drugs, engage in violent behaviour or could be considered sexual deviants. Trangressive writing can also be reflected in non-fiction, such as the writing style of Jim Goad.[1]

Among the most notorious works of transgressive art among the general public have been sculpture, collages, and installation art which self-consciously sought to offend Christian religious sensibilities. These include Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, featuring a crucifix in a beaker of urine, and Chris Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary, a multi-media painting which is partially made of elephant dung.

In music

Rock and roll music has inspired controversy for the entirety of its existence. As the music grew in popularity, some artists used controversy to make a statement or turn it to their advantage. For genres, such as shock rock, horrorcore, punk rock, and death metal, offending modern sensibilities was an integral part of their music. Musicians such as Alice Cooper, Kiss, Iggy Pop, Misfits, W.A.S.P., GWAR, GG Allin, The Plasmatics, Cannibal Corpse, Throbbing Gristle, Marilyn Manson, The Mentors, Anal Cunt, The Sex Pistols, and The Dead Kennedys used prejudiced, sexist, gory, racist, and/or dark lyrics that were generally considered to be evil. Some bands used the controversy to increase their popularity. The idea was that if people complained about their music enough and truly hated them, then the band's name and knowledge of their existence would reach the ears of people who would appreciate their music.

See also


  1. ^ Joseph Gallivan (30 Oct 2009). "Citizen Goad". Entertainment. Portland Life. Retrieved 3 October 2011. 
  • Transgressions : The Offences of Art (2003) – Anthony Julius ISBN 0-500-23799-9
  • Deathtripping: The Cinema of Transgression (1995) Jack Sargeant
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