Get to know: Joy Devotion
Follow Jennifer Otter as she traverses the world of homages and fandoms
Jennifer Otter has spent the last year studying the graves and memorials of the likes of Ian Curtis, Sid Vicious, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain. Her new book, Joy Devotion: A Year of Trash, Trinkets and Tributes at the Ian Curtis Memorial Stone, covers the trinkets, memorials and meaning behind a life after death.
The first time I remember going to a graveyard was in 1986. I was a freshman in high school taking a photography course. The assignment was to capture a set of emotions in our work. I was given the task of encapsulating “confusion” on black and white film.
The music of Joy Division captures these elements like no other; to listen to the band’s first album Unknown Pleasures, inside to outside, as the vinyl editions two sides are named, simultaneously describes through a aural landscape the moment by moment grasping and gasping at life, battling isolation while finding community in the minimalistic lushness of staccato drum beats, bone thumping bass and the poetic lyrics of Ian Curtis. This music, his words, provided the soundtrack to my life- for it illustrated both the confusion inherent in the human condition while supplying the artillery to concur even the most bleak moments.
From my first trip to England, it was a priority to go pay homage to Joy Division and Curtis, a thank you for granting me this amazing gift; for their records, those words, had incomparable power to console, enshroud and create a feeling of solace, more than any organized religion with untouchable idols. The city of Manchester, the town of Macclesfield, the streets where they once walked- these were my church, the canon of songs my hymnbook.
Joy Devotion came from this fandom- the feelings, the need- to go on such sonic pilgrimages, to see tribute bands playing Joy Division songs, to attend club nights devoted to the post-punk and Madchester scenes- a time and place that I, as an American, only experienced through magazines, late night video shows broadcast sporadically on pirate cable stations, and imported CDs.
Joy Devotion: A Year of Trash, Trinkets and Tributes at the Ian Curtis Memorial Stone illustrates these ever evolving ideas of Curtis, myth and our own quest to find meaning in a world which is ever more secular, filled with a constant bombardment of media and messages. The fauna left at the Curtis grave- the flowers, bracelets, letters- erode, are taken by other fans, replenished at key days (such as his birthday and the anniversary of his death) providing a parallel narrative to the construction of myth, the changing over time to fit the needs of society. Yet as the items come and go, seasons rotate- the grave itself, like physical death- is a constant, never moving, always the same.
Watching the ink of tightly scrawled, emotive notes blur with the coming rains, the paper crackle, returning to dirt as summer rolled into fall into winter – it illustrated how even these items, though perhaps in a different form, are always with us. Perhaps we are but collaboration, our own identities, of the ideas and memories left by others who came before us. We, like the pages of letters, crumpling and indistinguishable from the soil around Ian’s grave, are made up of these little parts and bits. We are all of the same stuff, just perhaps in different forms as time moves forward. That is why we are driven to believe, to say thank you- we are always looking backward, while looking for ourselves.
My boyfriend once asked me, “How many pictures can you have of the same thing?,” of my countless collection of pictures of the grave. Yet that is part of the point: death is a certainty, an endpoint to one story- and perhaps the beginning to another. For as Greil Marcus once said of Elvis Presley, “when he died, many people found themselves caught up in the adventure of remaking his history, which is to say their own.”
Joy Devotion: A Year of Trash, Trinkets and Tributes at the Ian Curtis Memorial Stone will be on display at XOYO in Shoredtich on July 19. The book of the same name is also now available from www.joydevotion.com/