8/26/13

In Which I discover the Meaning of Punk

The summer has been busy with many weekend adventures.

One of the highlights for me was Rodney Frost's work at the Stephen Leacock historic house in Orillia. I happened upon it quite by accident. While visiting my parents, we decided to stop in and see the property because it was Doors Open Orillia and we were looking for an adventure.



I didn't know there was an art exhibition happening at the museum so it was a happy discovery. There's just something so exciting about artwork you can touch and that moves. According to the exhibition description, the artist is considered 'emerging' though he has been making this humourous kinetic sculptures for thirty years. I was completely enamoured. The work is a little bit of the outsider variety, in view it's not the sort of thing you'd see in a lot of larger art institutions.


To me that is a bit of a shame. While some galleries (Art Gallery of Nova Scotia comes to mind) put special attention on the folk arts, the contemporary edge of Frost's work left me feeling like it didn't quite fit the description of "Folk".

I have a hard time identifying why, but these sculptures seemed more contemporary to me than folk. Aspects of them certainly reminded me of the work of Jessica Field, an artist who explores robotics, but at times has also worked with these automata sculptures.

I had never visited the Stephen Leacock house before, although Orillia is something of a second home for me. I took this photo in the billiards room, located in the cool basement of the house.

I also took this photo of a letter on a desk. The house is set up as if Leacock is still living in it and I was really amused by the use of the word punk from this letter dated Thursday August 9, 1937. Leacock is a humourist and certainly enjoys playing with words, but I wanted to look into the history of the slang a bit.

I should probably read more literature, because my amusement is probably misplaced. It turns out, "punk" originally meant a prostitute or whore (that was way back in the 1500's)  and it first appeared in print in 1596. Shakespeare himself used the word four times, twice in the play Measure for Measure.

On the other side of the ocean however, the word took on a new meaning related to rotten wood (perhaps from the Algonquian word ponk) and eventually the word took on the meaning of something worthless, inexperienced, or a young hoodlum. 

The word punk was used to describe music for the first time in 1970 by a music journalist writing for the magazine Creem. In an interview, the author Dave Marsh said: "Our [Creem's] point of view was vulgar, belligerent, often less respectful to rock's major institutions...with the result that all of us--and especially me--were frequently assaulted with the epithet: 'You are such a punk'. I decided this insult would be better construed as a compliment...in order to emphasize our delight in rock's essential barbarism."

It is interesting how one stop in to a historic museum offered so much interesting learning for me. About the word punk, the history of its use, and the discovery of an artist who I will follow to try to learn more about. Not bad for a summer Saturday. 

In related news, I watched Freaks and Geeks for the first time recently. If you don't know, it was a quite unsuccessful television series that was cancelled after less than one season. Of course, it is excellent. This song is featured in one of the episodes.


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