Open Up and Bleed: for James Osterberg
In this token, for the inimitable Iggy Pop, I’ve used super-bright colors in accord with the flamboyance of its dedicatee. Also I’ve used silver metallic thread for two reasons: one, because one of his famous accessories was a silver lamé glove; two, because the rays of upward-shooting silver in the piece are meant as complements to the downward pouring red. The shiny red, of course, represents the blood that Iggy literally shed during performances (“open up and bleed”), and also the “blood, sweat and tears” of the legendary energy he gave to each performance, bringing to each gig a mythic sense of performance and ritual sacrifice and celebration. The red blood goes into the earth as an embodied, gravitational force; the silver, on the other hand, is a sort of ejaculate or spiritual energy evanescing skyward: heaven and earth in little space, the gyrating human body. Breath too, as silver is ephemeral and breath is the substance of song and the animal/angel voice. Iggy’s performances embody the yearning of a libidinized spirituality, id melded with superego, acting-out virtually indistinguishable from sublimation, masochism and narcissism from mysticism, the human body trying to go beyond itself.
The word that is spelled out by the distorted, elaborate lettering–some of which is also outlined in silver (hard to see in pixilated reproduction, but clear in the original)–is “OBSESS,” starting with the O in the center (O-mind, Stoogese for the trance-state induced by their music, simultaneously void and full; also, the blue “TV Eye,” the storm-center of spectacularized sexual desire) and swirling in a spiral around that center: BSESS, with the final S doubled like the double-O (“stOOge”) for extra hallucinatory effect. There is an acknowledgment that some degree of obsessiveness is necessary for artistic achievement, but that, like much of what is spectacular about Iggy’s career, is a double-edged broken bottleneck. That is why I’ve left the needle in the piece: to signify that at any moment, its artistic use can be chosen over its destructive use, and the piece is never fully finished. I was touched by Iggy’s explanation, on his Tom Snyder 1980s interview, of the difference between Apollonian and the Dionysian modalities of art-making: I had always understood that difference as order-v-chaos, or discipline-v-energy, or form-v-content, but he explained the two modes as embodying different relationships to temporality: his Dionysianism is an event, a performance characterized by plasticity, movement, orgiastic and ritual activity; its Apollonian analogue would be a sculpture, a rigid, finalized, signed end-product from which the artist could then walk away. Leaving the needle means that Iggy’s life is his performance, it’s a process, not a product. The piece is never finished, and simultaneously it’s always complete just the way it is. The title “open up and bleed,” ostensibly a salacious command to lose one’s virginity (whatever that may be), is more properly an exhortation to the self to continue to perform, to “give it up,” to pick up the art-making needle every day. Needles were among the earliest tools (26,000 BC), predating, for example, pottery etc.; the joining-together of animal skins needles made possible was crucial for the development of further civilization. Iggy is both primitive and prescient, idiot and genius. Moreover, writers like myself can’t help but be struck by the kinship of needles and pens (pins…), the tools of inscription, scarification, symbol-making.
Moreover, after the fact I discover the telegraphic “SOS” bisecting the piece on the diagonal; It echoes “Search and Destroy”’s plea that “somebody gotta save my soul,” but also answers it: artmaking is a spiritual and self-saving, soulful practice.
Here is a token to acknowledge what I feel I’ve been given–vitality, life force, fun, depth, intensity, presence–by Iggy Pop’s art.