‘Punk’s dead, Michael’: Artifice, independence and authenticity in Leigh Bowery’s self-fashioned post-punk performative

Karantonis, Pamela. 2015. ‘Punk’s dead, Michael’: Artifice, independence and authenticity in Leigh Bowery’s self-fashioned post-punk performative. Punk & Post Punk, 4(2-3), pp. 205-222. ISSN 2044-1983 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The late London-based Australian nightclub sensation and fashion designer Leigh Bowery deployed a daily ritual of exhibitionist self-fashioning and applied design, which signified a tension between visual orders and performative cultures. In this article, Bowery’s practices are read as the dissident tactics of a punk-era dandy, by his grotesque self-fashioning parody of the artifice and dehumanizing influence of capitalist culture in the 1980s. From a post-punk perspective, this includes debates around authenticity and artifice that permeate much of our view of pop culture at that time, in which punk is often emblemized as an unstable signifier of authenticity. For Bowery and his fashionable coterie, punk music and fashion accompanied a ‘look’ – which he dismissed in a piece of archival film footage as being ‘dead’ to choreographer Michael Clark. However, Bowery’s live art and self-fashioning refused categorization, even in the archive, leading this study to conclude that Bowery enabled continuity between the experimental art movements of the early avant-garde and the infiltration of a punk aesthetic into high-fashion post-punk commercial codes. Having inspired subsequent generations of artists with a ferocity always compatible with the same ethos of punk independence, it is useful to consider whether, like the historical dandy, he animated only a fixed point in post-punk history or a process that is continually dialectical.

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authenticity, commercial fashion, dandy, performativity, punk aesthetic, self-fashioning, sexuality

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Theatre and Performance (TAP)


1 September 2015Published

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Date Deposited:

21 Nov 2018 15:12

Last Modified:

09 Mar 2021 11:28

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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