Performance, sex and punk feminism: Lydia Lunch to speak, perform in Bloomington

UPDATE: Lydia Lunch’s lecture at the IU Cinema has been moved to 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, due to the weather.

Spoken-word performer Lydia Lunch will be in Bloomington this week to help celebrate “The Burroughs Century,” a five-day festival organized in honor of the centennial birthday of famed Beat writer William S. Burroughs.

But organizers didn’t have to beg her to attend — in fact, she said, she was so keen to see Burroughs recognized that she reached out herself to push for the gig.

“I thought it was a good bridge between what exists and what’s still relevant and happening now, especially thematically,” Lunch told Art at IU last week from her home in Barcelona. “What I respected most about Burroughs was his lifestyle. I mean, he looked like a CIA agent but he was completely rebellious in every aspect of his life. His admissions of homosexuality and drug use were things that very few people were talking about at the time, and he was doing it with no apologies. He opened a door in American literature that’s pretty important. Plus, he was a performer himself, which is spectacular because he was so incredibly unique.”

Lydia Lunch

Lydia Lunch

She’ll speak on “Performance, Sex and Punk Feminism: From the 1970s to the Present” at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 5, at IU Cinema, and is also performing at “In the Beginning Was the Word: Lydia Lunch Reads William S. Burroughs” at The Bishop Bar at 9:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7. The IU Cinema event is free and open to the public, and no tickets are required. Tickets for her performance at the Bishop are $12, and can be purchased online.

There, she’ll present a spoken-word performance mixing her own work with Burroughs’ work.

“I’ll be cutting passages from ‘Naked Lunch’ and ‘Wild Boys’ and one or two other books with passages from my book, ‘Will Work for Drugs,’ which is an anthology of short stories, essays and interviews with other writers,” Lunch said. “We both talk a lot about need — Burroughs with his addiction to whatever substance he could get his hands on, and me, I’ve spoken for decades about a different kind of need with adrenal escalation, which itself becomes a kind of drug. So that’s a pretty interesting parallel I’ll be sharing at my reading.”

While Lunch is known for her varied type of artistry — think poetry, acting and musical vocals, among others — she said her heart remains close to spoken-word performance.

“When I first arrived in New York City in 1977 as a teenage terrorist, even though my work with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks was half instrumental, I found the words very important. Because literature is my inspiration, it became my priority,” she said. “Whatever vehicle suits the point that I need to make at the time — whether that’s a description of my own histories or hysteria, depending on if we’re talking interpersonally or politically — I will formulate it into whatever creative vehicle seems to suit the mood at the moment. Truly, though, spoken word is the one with the most power, the most intimacy.”

Lunch’s visit is just one of several highlights that are part of “The Burroughs Century.” There’s an exhibit of Burroughs’ paintings at the Grunwald Gallery; other exhibits at the Lilly Library and the Kinsey Institute; an avant-garde opera production at the Buskirk-Chumley; and a film series at IU Cinema; as well as an academic symposium.

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