Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior is an artist who has worked in the fields of music, art and dance for the past 30+ years – from a punk-rock drummer, to an installation artist with past collaborations with both Psychic TV and film-maker Derek Jarman. Max has been a performance artist, a ballroom dance teacher, a street arts choreographer, and a site-specific theatre-maker. She still calls herself a Punk Girl so PunkGirlDiaries wanted to know more about her Punk Girl roots, via teenage girls bedrooms and how Punk attitudes still continue to inform her perspective.

PGDs – Hi Max, thanks for talking to us. First off, is it true that you were part of an early incarnation of both Adam and the Ants and The Monochrome Set?
When was this, where were you, and what was your role?

DMP: In 1976 I was going down into the basement to use the house pay-phone (!) and came across two shy young boys who were looking for my room-mate German Monika (it was a big old house in South Kensington, split into bed-sits). This was Bid and Andy Warren. Apparently, Monika was the singer in their band, alongside Bid. They needed a drummer, so asked me. I had never played drums before, but that didn’t bother anyone. After a few bedroom rehearsals, Monika was dropped and a friend of Andy’s called Stuart joined – but Bid and Stuart were polar opposites and it didn’t work out. Stuart changed his name to Adam and enticed Andy away to form The Ants. I stayed briefly with Bid in an early version of what became The Monochrome Set…

PGDs : After releasing solo material on Throbbing Gristle’s Industrial Records label and playing with Psychic TV in the mid 80s, more recently, you have turned your attention to both art and dance…

DMP: I’ll interrupt here if I may to say that this is not a recent thing – I’ve been a dancer all my life and throughout the 1970s/80s and indeed right through to today, I used my dance training to earn a living and support my art and music making – in the 1970s I worked as a go go dancer, stripper and cabaret dancer (doing what would probably be called burlesque these days), and in the 1980s, when I was working with Genesis P Orridge, Monte Cazzaza, Derek Jarman et al, I taught ballroom dance and continued the cabaret work, although now working with a male dance partner and performing masochistic tangos and twisted mambos. I’ve subsequently stepped back from music(although still make sound installation artwork) and have continued performing and working as a choreographer/director and dance teacher…

As for art – ditto, I have always operated within the art world – the whole Industrial Music / Psychic TV thing was one big art project. I’ve never had much to do with the music business per se, and see myself as an artist who sometimes uses music as the medium rather than as a musician. I first met Gen and Cosey when I was working at the ICA in London – the gallery that staged the notorious Prostitution exhibition, which generated newspaper headlines such as ‘These people are the wreckers of civilisation’. I always saw punk as a performance art manifestation more than a music movement – at least, that’s how it was at first. McLaren and Westwood were artists – Situationists – first and foremost. It changed, of course… punk eventually became just another chapter in the history of rock and roll – but to me, true punk is about art and about attitude – taking art into everyday life, challenging anything and everything that is lackadaisical, boring, trite, driven by commerce… a continuation of the spirit of Dada, Surrealism, Situationism.

PGDs: One of your installations “In My Room” took teenage girls bedrooms as its theme. Having seen the video of the work, we can see its scale and attention to detail, so…Why did you choose to dedicate a whole installation to teenage girls bedrooms, why do you think they are such an important place? And what can we learn from them?

DMP : In My Room (links to video) was an autobiographical work, reflecting on my own coming-of-age stories and experiences within punk, pop, porn, and performance art. (To be truthful, it changed direction a little in the making, and ended up being more about my life after leaving home, from 18 to 23, rather than the early teen years, although it started as more of a general reflection on teenage girls’ bedrooms.)

It’s an interactive installation for one person at a time, an art piece that uses real objects, clothes, books, music from my life, placed in a setting that was a slightly fictionalised amalgam of 3 or 4 different rooms I’d occupied – although the one it referenced most strongly was the room I shared with Andy Warren for 5 years whilst he was in The Ants and I was in Rema Rema / working with Genesis P Orridge / working on the fringes of the sex industry…

It was intended as a statement of feminine self-determination and liberation, and a fuck-you riposte to the exploiters and abusers of young women. The soundtrack (on 7inch vinyl) featured a deconstructed version of Gary Glitter’s Rock & Roll Part 2, with a prose poem about the rape and murder of little girls, in fairy-tale mode – and on the other side, a remixed version of a Rema Rema song with a spoken-word list of heroines (a kind of follow up to I Confess perhaps). Audience members went into the room one at a time, alone, for a ten minute slot doing whatever they wanted – looking at stuff, reading teen mags or Anais Nin or Bukowski books, listening to the specially recorded soundtrack or other vinyl, or just lying on the bed…

Although the final version of the installation was commissioned by SPILL Festival of Performance in 2015, I’d made an earlier version of it in 2012 as part of a site-specific show called Youth Club, by my theatre company Ragroof. Youth Club used an extensive research process on teenage memories and experiences to create the show, and that early version of In My Room was far more ‘general teenage girl bedroom’ themed than the later version, which developed into something far more specific and autobiographical.

I’ve always had a fascination with people’s personal spaces. I’m in Mexico at the moment and Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul (her home, where she lived and worked most of her life, now a museum) is a revelation and a delight…

As Virginia Woolf said, everyone needs A Room of One’s Own – teenagers and everyone else. I’m married, and a mother and grandmother, but still have my equivalent of a teenage girl’s bedroom – a boxroom that’s my own space, stuffed with books and dolls and costumes and old magazines and trashy souvenirs… I’ve always been an Old Curiosity Shoppe type person. I’ll never live in a perfectly Zen white room featuring nothing but one elegant object on a glass shelf.

I think we can really learn who someone is from the space they occupy – which is why control over bedroom space becomes such a thing in the teenage years – the room (or section of the room if shared) becomes an outer manifestation of the soul…

PGDs: Tell us about your own teenage bedroom.

So, this would be the early 1970s: dansette record player for vinyl ( T Rex, Gary Glitter, Sweet, Bowie, Moody Blues, Monkees) plus a Grundig reel to reel tape recorder which I used to make my own ‘radio programmes’. Transistor radio under the bed clothes, listening to Radio Luxembourg late night (although that would have been earlier – pre teens, in the late 1960s).

Lots of lumbering old-fashioned mahogany furniture that used to belong to my granny. A big heap of spooky-eyed china dolls on top of the chest-of-drawers. Heavy red curtains at the windows and a red satin eiderdown on the bed.

I’d redecorated my room myself – persuaded my parents to let me get rid of the wallpaper and paint the walls sky-blue – revolutionary! Although a bit of a clash with the Victorian furniture and fittings…

spock bardot

Pages torn out from Jackie magazine on the walls, along with photos of Mr Spock from Star Trek (big crush) and Bridget Bardot (another big crush). Plus, photos of dancers – Fred & Ginger, Cyd Charisse – and film star Veronica Lake (who was my inspiration for growing out my tomboy haircut to long flowing blonde locks, which a bit later got dyed red).

There would be a big heap of DC and Marvel comics lying around – especially DC: Wonder Woman, Batman/Catwoman, etc).

Books: I loved sci fi and fantasy – teenage favourites included Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, HG Wells’ The Time Machine, Anthony Burgess’ Clockwork Orange. Plus, books that made me want to run away to ‘Europe’: Colette’s Gigi and Claudine novels, Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin novels – and I liked thrillers and detective novels and spy stories, anything from Agatha Christie to Raymond Chandler to Alistair Mc Clean to Len Deighton…

Clothes: Mostly in a dirty heap on the floor. I had a Saturday job at M&S in Croydon and spent all my money on clothes and records, naturally. Blue satin trouser suit. Lace button-front shirts. Purple hot pants. Cerise crushed velvet catsuit. Black leather mini-skirt. Wet-look coat (from C&A). Platform shoes and clogs, or knee-high boots. When in my late teens, I also stole my mum’s 1950s dresses and customised them, and switched from platforms to stilettos.

Make-up on my granny’s old dressing table: from Woolworths in the early teen years, then from Biba’s in Kensington once I got old enough to afford it, and to get there (from age 15). I loved Biba’s Geisha Girl almost-white foundation pot and their dark plum lipstick…

PGDs: What would you say were the 5 most important items/ingredients for a teenage girls bedroom?

DMP: 1. Your own wall space, that you can do what you like with, even if it’s just the bottom bit of a bunk bed – for all those precious photos, postcards, or pages torn from magazines…

2. Shrines and altars: we all build them, consciously or unconsciously – the shrine/altar might be on a dressing table, or a bedside locker – somewhere for all those precious, iconic objects that celebrate the person. Everyone’s shrine will be different – could include jewellery, ashtray, Glastonbury pass, tiny dolls, crystals, sea shells – whatever.

3. Music: the means of playing it may have changed, but whether it’s a Dansette record player, a transistor radio, a cassette machine, a Walkman, and iPod or downloads on a phone – we all need the soundtrack to our life readily available day and night.

4. A mirror. To dance in front of, naturally.

5. Books. Books and books and more books. Or DVDs / film downloads. Or video games. Portals into other worlds, that take us away from family and school and into magical alternate realities.

PGDs: What makes them so different to teenage boys bedrooms?

I try not to make sexist assumptions about boys and girls and their similarities and differences. That said, I have three sons and learnt the hard way that boys will be boys (mostly).

I tried to bring them up in as gender-neutral way as possible but it backfired a bit with the eldest one, who spent his teenage years decked out in Adidas, playing football (actual football or Fantasy Football Manager or whatever it’s called) and having boozy boyish get-togethers in his incredibly messy room, which had every bit of wall space grafittied with spray-can paint…

Second son painted his room purple and pink and hung it with dismembered Barbie dolls and puppets. He was/is a circus boy and festival go-er, but also into World of Warcraft, Magic Cards and Warhammer (don’t know any girls who like Magic Cards or Warhammer, it seemed to be an exclusively male thing!)

Third son decorated his loft room with Banksy prints, and his own drawings and tattoo designs, plus a big heap of Lego he refused to give up on. He became a serious video gamer – still is – and a Marvel comic/film fan. But he has lots of female friends into the same stuff.

This is all I know, first hand, about teenage boys’ bedrooms.

PGDs: With plenty of column space about about Man Caves and sheds everywhere we look, why do you think girls spaces, by comparison, are ignored?

Oh, the usual reason. Patriarchy. Men’s needs and interests being seen as more important. Men taking up more space. We need to be positive – reclaim our space, indoors and out. Make ourselves visible. This was happening in the 1970s and 80s. Punk was a wonderful assertion of female power and creativity – women were taking the lead all over the place, in music, fashion, art, and working side-by-side with men. The boys were truly supportive of the girls forming or joining bands. Then came the 90sand a horrible cultural backsliding…

PGDs: How do you think Punk has influenced you, both in the short term during the late 70s, and on your longer term perspective on life? Are you still a Punk Girl?

Yes, yes, yes – see above. The just do it punk attitude informs everything I do. Don’t ask permission. Be reasonable, demand the impossible. Nowadays, people seem to think they need a degree in arts management to put on an event, or to go to music school to form a band, or to study design to ‘get into the fashion industry’ or whatever. Internships, five-year study programmes with extortionate fees… Just do it!

PGDs: Max thanks so much for talking to us, we’re delighted that you’re still a Punk Girl, is there anything else you’d like to add?
DMP: I think that’ll do!

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