A Season in Hell
Arthur Rimbaud in New York
David Wojnarowicz was just twenty-four when he shot most of the photographs for Arthur Rimbaud in New York. The series—one of Wojnarowicz’s only forays into photography—featured friends of the artist wearing a life-size mask of the French poet shot in various locations around the city. The scenes are distinctly urban and speak to a specific moment, New York in the late 1970s, post-Stonewall Riots and just before the explosion of AIDS. In the photographs, a gritty and slightly dangerous city is laid bare, teetering on the edge of crisis—one that was both cultural, political, and above all, deeply personal.
Occupying both public and private places, the figures in the Rimbaud mask chronicle the artist’s life while simultaneously (and subconsciously) pointing a prophetic finger to the future.
For the series, Wojnarowicz drew parallels between himself and his fated libertine subject. Both were restless outcasts, rebellious and tormented youths, persecuted for their homosexuality, raw, resolute and in possession of immensely beautiful minds. In his series, the artist resurrects Rimbaud to live out memories from his own past, visiting the places he frequented with his mentor Peter Hujar and returning to the dark corners where he hustled as a teenage prostitute. Occupying both public and private places, the figures in the Rimbaud mask chronicle the artist’s life while simultaneously (and subconsciously) pointing a prophetic finger to the future. Rimbaud is almost doomed to re-live a similarly turbulent life a century after his death, while Wojnarowicz makes sense of his own by looking back. The two men, bound by their uncompromising brilliance—and perhaps cursed by it—both died well before their time at the age of thirty-seven.
Ah! I've been through too much:-But, sweet Satan, I beg of you, a less blazing eye! and while waiting for the new little cowardly gestures yet to come, since you like an absence of descriptive or didactic skills in a writer, let me rip out these few ghastly pages from my notebook of the damned.
Arthur Rimbaud, excerpt from A Season in Hell