Should Sex Pistols graffiti be a punk-rock heritage site?

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Archaeologists debate value of cartoons drawn by Johnny Rotten

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A trove of cartoon drawings found behind some cupboards in a London office building have been traced back to the Sex Pistols, and archaeologists are debating whether the apartment — now used as an office building — should be designated as a heritage site.

The drawings date back to the 1970s when the seminal punk-rock band rented the apartment.  A pair of researchers who wrote about the discovery in the journal Antiquity  suggest that grafitti may be of greater significance than the discovery of early Beatles recordings. They said the drawings are “a direct and powerful representation of a radical and dramatic movement of rebellion.”

Dr. John Schofield, of the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, and independent researcher Dr Paul Graves-Brown analyzed the graffiti’s content and its cultural significance, conceding that, while it might be considered rude, offensive and uncomfortable, its presence confirms the Denmark Street flat as an important historical and archaeological site in a street known as London’s ‘Tin Pan Alley.’

The bulk of the graffiti is by John Lydon (aka Rotten) and consists of eight cartoons depicting himself and other members of the band, as well as their manager, Malcolm McLaren, and other Pistols’ associates.

“The tabloid press once claimed that early Beatles recordings discovered at the BBC were the most important archaeological find since Tutankhamun’s tomb. The Sex Pistols’ graffiti in Denmark Street surely ranks alongside this and — to our minds — usurps it,” said Schofield.

The researchers refer to the site as ‘anti-heritage, because it contradicts what agencies and heritage practitioners typically value or wish to keep, and even what is generally regarded as landscape and place. And they agonize over whether or not the Denmark Street property should become a conventional heritage site with a blue plaque to mark its historical significance.

From the article:

“We feel justified in sticking our tongues out at the heritage establishment and suggesting that punk’s iconoclasm provides the context for conservation decision-making. Our call is for something that directly follows punk’s attitude to the mainstream, to authority; contradicting norms and challenging convention.

“This is an important site, historically and archaeologically, for the material and evidence it contains. But should we retain it for the benefit of this and future generations? In our view, with anti-heritage, different rules apply. The building is undoubtedly important, and could meet criteria for listing or for a blue plaque, if not now then in time.”

But that might not be in the spirit of the punk movement, they said, concluding that a “do-it-yourself approach to heritage management is all that the site needs.”

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6 Responses

  1. Interesting. I wonder how they would preserve the pics? Frame them, cut them out of the wall, make photos? Hummm. Oh, why didn’t they show them?

  2. I say keep it. It’ll probably boil down to commercial viability.

  3. Even we Americans wouldn’t be so stupid.

  4. Is there someone out there rushing around the nation (or nations) conserving pre-school drawings? I am sure that there are children involved with doodling that will one day be the movers and shakers of this world. When reading for an advanced degree in anthropology I was informed that we (myself and the other students) were a product of a society that had more discretionary cash than they had common sense, because we produced a product that had no redeeming worth. No lives would be saved, no mouths would be fed because of our research. I guess this begs to reinforce the triviality and futility of our labour.

  5. A Heritage Plaque. I think Messrs. Vicious and Rotten would find that quite amusing.

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