Economically downtrodden New York City in the mid-to-late 1970s was like the end of the world, but only if you chose to see it that way. For young artists running amok in the collapsing capital, the possibilities seemed endless. For Manuel DeLanda (born 1952), a Mexican transplant enrolled at the School of Visual Arts, overcrowded sidewalks and decrepit subway stations were blank canvases for inspired mayhem.
Widely recognized today as a philosopher, professor and author (of A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, Assemblage Theory and The Rise of Realism, among other titles), DeLanda initially came to prominence as one of the premiere experimental filmmakers of his generation. Fueled by the gonzo humor and graphic audacity of Frank Zappa and Zap Comix, DeLanda’s fevered productions were among the most deliriously innovative movies of the punk era. While films like Raw Nerves: A Lacanian Thriller and Incontinence: A Diarrhetic Flow of Mismatches are certified underground classics, DeLanda’s visually striking, virtually unknown graffiti work (signed with the tag Ism Ism) has long remained more urban legend than legendary.
ISM ISM presents a comprehensive overview of DeLanda’s ephemeral street collages through a colorful frame-by-frame breakdown of a Super-8 short film made in 1979 to document his sweetly subversive activities. Extensive still images, an expansive interview and copious contextual materials combine to illustrate the story of DeLanda’s aesthetic attack on 23rd St, including his friendly competition with fellow taggers Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.