Stefan Szczelkun / Lecture


“Agit Disco – Cultural Politics”

The lecture started quite oddly as he didn’t seem to introduce himself or explain what his practice was about which made it quite difficult to fully understand what his work was about but on research I found out that his “working contexts” have been artists collectives, publication, photography, video and performance.

Szczelkun began the lecture by talking through various dates, a bit like a ‘time line’ of events that he found interesting and that had influenced/effected him in some way, most of this seemed to be about class.

  • 1850’s – more people globally lived in towns/cities than rural areas – creating a new urban culture form this date of “free ‘n’ easies”
  • “The Great Trick” – National identity for the masses – Cecil Sharp – people left the countryside to urban land, taking their song with them
  • Which lead to – People were silenced by Oppression (devaluation and hurting of a social class by another that sees itself as superior)

Szczelkun discussed his relationship with music from his youth to current day. He talked about his ‘Grandpa Sid’s’ violin, that stayed constantly hung on the wall and that he had never heard it being played then continued to say that as he grew up he had no knowledge of music till 1955-60 when they got a TV, stating that he felt like a family without culture.

Still very disconnected and confusing the lecture continued, he spoke about being brought up on classical music, his family being very traditional and royalist, listening to Beethoven’s 6th and only singing from the book, “BBC Schools singing together at school”(which he still has in his possession) which was also an experience of high class to him he had never had before. He then began to say how shocked he was when he heard popular music such as; the B side of the Kalin Twins, hearing ‘The Who’ say, “why don’t ya just FFF……ade away” compared to “my old mans a dustman” on the Royal Variety truly shocked him to hear such vulgarity, however he believes that this actually inspired him.

Szczelkun then began to talk about his project in 2008, ‘Agit Disco’, a project based on peoples relationship with music; this was introduced by showing  music videos which he felt made an impact to the world and himself:

  • Sonny Boy Williamson, Blues Music, made a big impact on the Rock’n’Roll dominated industry
  • The Sex Pistols-beginning of the Punk Era & rebellion, their rendition of God Save the Queen
  • Brixton Artists Collective – Women’s work, anti-racist – GLBT
  • Public Enemy – fight the power, using music to express race and class

He explained how the ‘Agit Disco’ project stated, how he asked people to make a playlist of songs that were either politically or globally important or that had effected them and then write about them which he then published on his website , and he also put the songs in playlists on ‘YouTube’, then after 23 of these he eventually made a book including all the artwork from these pieces. I really liked the idea of making a book on these music pieces as it restricts you from hearing them as there is no literal audio in books, but this then makes you think about your relationship with music and think of which songs impacted you – a really interesting way to present sound.

('Agit Disco 14 by Louise Carolin' - one of the covers from Szczelkun's 'Agit disco')
(‘Agit Disco 14 by Louise Carolin’ – one of the covers from Szczelkun’s ‘Agit disco’)

Below is some of the text that accompanies each ‘playlist’ on the ‘Agit Disco’ project:

“As a teenager in the 80s I lived through one of the golden ages of British chart pop, listening to music that was by turn, political, danceable, challenging and entertaining. I attended CND rallies, marched against South African apartheid, ran the feminist group at school and went to GLC-funded music festivals. I came out as a lesbian in 1986 and spent the next three years immersed in student politics, campaigning against Section 28 and helping to produce an alternative girls’ magazine called Shocking Pink. During late-night layout sessions we listened to endless mix-tapes: soul, reggae, lovers rock, country & western, African pop, jazz, 60s girl groups and alt folk. The tracks I’ve selected are all tunes I first heard some time between the ages of 13 and 23. Music was a huge inspiration to me, then as now, offering moments of political recognition or identification, as well as pure listening pleasure.

Patti Smith Gloria (1975)

This was still being played in lesbian discos when I came out in 1986 and its energy and intensity puts shivers down my spine even now. As an advert for lesbianism this cover of Van Morrison’s original is irresistible, especially combined with Mapplethorpe’s cover image of the compellingly androgynous Smith. Compare and contrast with Katy Perry’s contemporary pop-paean to same-sex experimentation: “I kissed a girl and I liked it”? No competition…”– this then carries onto to explain all the songs on the playlist, which can be fount on Szczelkun’s website.

Overall, I like the idea of his ‘Agit Disco’ project, a really personal project but involving the views of strangers and their relationship with music.  I also use music as an inspiration for my art work so it was interesting to see a completely different take on this subject.

However, on the whole, I came out of this lecture feeling quite confused as to what type or kind of artist Szczelkun really was and what type of art he produced which personally I feel is quite important as I feel I cannot truly appreciate him and his works.  With research, however, I find that he describes himself as a ‘Fine Artist’, which explains why he has no physical creative work and just collections but still a very inventive artist and an interesting lecture none the less.


//Images from:



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