Pointless Prophet: An Interview With Joe McKee On The Occasion Of His New Video Premiere

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text by Summer Bowie

 

Joe McKee might have been everyone’s best friend in a past life. He’s full of charming witticisms, unexpected humor, moments of sober pontification, and there’s always a little light in his eyes that let’s you know he’s really listening. To hear him play music is a little bit like a secular religious experience. There’s no call to worship, but something about his sound is invariably transcendent. All of that thoughtful articulation in his discourse gets shrouded in a layered veil of sonic silk. It’s much like listening to a song in a language you don’t speak. You might be able to make out a word here and there, but you can never tell if your interpretation of the song is correct, or if you’ve just projected your own story onto it. McKee’s second solo album, An Australian Alien tells the true story of the artist’s journey through the loss of a best friend, the birth of a daughter, and the experience of processing a major life transition while being processed as an immigrant. Now five years an Angeleno, McKee is feeling much more at home geographically, but he’ll always be an alien of sorts: daringly vulnerable, abnormally modest (and not just for an Angeleno), and uniquely eloquent. I had the chance to ask Joe a few questions about the album and the pleasure of premiering his latest video  - and maybe, just maybe, I’ll find myself in someone’s living room some day, enjoying a private performance by the alien himself.  

SUMMER BOWIE: I want to start by talking about the title of your new album, An Australian Alien. You’ve been in LA for about 5 years now - do you still feel like an alien here in the States? Having been born in England, did you feel like an English alien in Australia? 

JOE MCKEE: I've always felt a little bit alien and I probably always will. I suppose that comes from being transplanted, as a ripe young chap, from the grey kingdom of Londonium to the outback of Australia. Everything was familiar but strangely different, like a bizarro world where Burger King is called Hungry Jacks and so on. I spoke the same language, but I was still the "other." I was probably quite self conscious of this growing up, but I learned to celebrate those subtle differences as I got older, I suppose. 

So, that 'alien' word was bandied about all over the application forms for my permanent residency to remain in the United States. An Australian Alien had a nice ring to it. It's musical, and it's playful. Prior to living in the US I was vagabonding around Europe, sleeping on peoples couches, outstaying my welcome wherever I was performing. Always a tourist, even at home. I feel like I've finally found a place to reside and plant some roots in Los Angeles. This is mainly due to becoming a surprise father here.  

BOWIE: So you’ve always felt a bit extraterrestrial? Do you still feel extra-Angeleno? 

MCKEE: Living here in LA? Somewhat, but I feel more at home here than I have for a long time. The album was written primarily during that transition period, when I was still in this state of flux. Living in-between. I'd alienated myself from my previous life by moving here, which was difficult and freeing at the same time. I could reinvent myself in a new place and shed all that old scabby skin that was weighing me down. So I think I just feel more at home in my fresh flesh-suit.

BOWIE: This album was recorded in a number of different locations, including a cargo ship sailing the Pacific, friends’ homes, and a marijuana plantation in Northern California. Have you always been very nomadic while recording, or was this choice made specifically for this album? 

MCKEE: I definitely come from nomadic stock. My family has moved countries every generation for as far back as we can trace. We're all running from something! Or seeking something perhaps. One of the lovely things about making music is that it's weightless. You can do it all inside your noggin' while you're galavanting around the globe. You can hum a melody into your phone, or you can write a lyric on a napkin. I don't have to lug a roll of canvas and my paintbrushes around to create something. 

Having said that, recording this album was a particularly scattered process. I really didn't have a community in LA when I first arrived, nor did I have a cent to my name, so I had snatch moments to write this record amongst all of the madness of becoming a father, moving to a new country, going through my Saturn's Return yada yada yada. I relied on the generosity and kindness of strangers really. People like Derek Brambles, Ethan DeLorenzo, Paz Lenchantin, Chris Nelson. Good humans, those.

BOWIE: If I’ve ever to known anyone to experience Saturn’s Return it would be you.  Do you subscribe to this theory, or have you gained any deeper perspective on the chaos of your late twenties? 

MCKEE: I think the Saturn's Return concept is a poetic way to understand any turmoil or life-shift. I think there’s probably some truth to it. I know what I went through was a mind-bending and ego-crushing experience. I was ruled by my ego in my twenties and I was increasingly dissatisfied with what was happening in my life to be honest. Things had fragmented and life seemed like a labyrinth. So the universe came along and obliterated my concept of reality. It dealt me a cataclysmic hand. My best friend passed away and I was becoming a father with a virtual stranger on the other side of the world. The only thing you can do when the universe, or God, or whomever or whatever deals you that kind of hand is to relinquish control. To let go. This was a drawn-out process, like untangling a chunky dread-lock, but eventually I freed myself from my warped concept of myself that I'd created. Like I'd birthed a brand new slippery, shiny version of myself. Being a father helps you reconnect with a clean slate, a tabula rasa! It helps you get back to this place that you were before all the conditioning and confusion. Before the ego takes hold! Then you can start anew, but with the knowledge that you've accrued along the winding way. Y'know? 

BOWIE: You delivered your best friend’s eulogy on the same day that you met your daughter, Juniper. Did you start composing the album very long after? 

MCKEE: I began writing the album prior to this actually. I wrote a song on the album that is sung from the perspective of an unborn child in his mother's womb, before knowing I was becoming a father. Some weird prophecy. I keep having these prophetic dreams that are absolutely useless to me. Pointless prophecies. I'm a pointless prophet. 

Anyway, Juniper's birth and Matt's death were interconnected. He was also becoming a father at the time of his death and he actually introduced me to the mother of my child. My psychic friend called me recently and told me that I was Matt's mother in a past life. I don't know what that means but I think I understand. 

So to answer your question, the album was written, before, during and after those events. So it tells the whole story in some warped and mangled way.

BOWIE: This is the second solo album you’ve released since parting ways with your former band, SNOWMAN. Would you say that your personal growth has been an analogue to your growth as a musician, or do you feel like music has acted as a sort of constant in life that helps you navigate the rest? 

MCKEE: That’s a good question. I suppose you might be onto something there. I suppose my music has become more like me in some sense. I’ve been following a thread for long enough that I'm in a place creatively that I don't know if anyone else is at. It's just a little nook somewhere that feels like home. Don't get me wrong, we're all just regurgitating our various influences, but at some point you get to a place where you've forgotten what they were and what you are making feels like it belongs to you and only you. I'm a less frightened and significantly happier person than I was in my SNOWMAN daze. I don't think it's a coincidence that my music has become less frightening and more colorful as time has passed.

BOWIE: Do you find the composition process to be very fluid and organic, or does it tend to be very labor-intensive?  

MCKEE: It's both really. There is fluidity in the conception of an idea, but the execution is laborious. The most enjoyable part of making music is when an initial spark becomes a flame, and hey presto! a song is born. The rest is quite a painful process and it doesn't come naturally to me at all. It's work. The song "I'll Be Your Host" is about the birth of a creative idea, and the eventual letting-go of that creation. It no longer belongs to me after the initial burst. I'm not terribly interested in touring these songs live and playing them ad nauseum to vaguely interested drunk people because that seems so far removed from that "first spark" moment that I'm talking about. Perhaps I'll just play private one-on-one performances for a person in my garden. Then it still feels sacred or something. Perhaps I'm rambling.

BOWIE: Your lyrics and song titles have a certain cryptic vulnerability to them. Is this intentional?  

MCKEE: hmmm... It's inherent, I'm not sure it's intentional. It sounds utterly trite but music really is a form of catharsis for me.... but I'm not particularly fond of that confessional style of song writing, so there's always a veil of some sort. I have to wrap metaphor in pataphor in metaphor to feel as though I'm saying anything in a way that feels unique or unburdensome. Is that a word? I don't want to burden people with my crap. I want to sort through it, turn it into something magical and share that, y'know. It's digestion! Songwriting (or creation in any form) is like a digestive process. The final release is the turd that I've presented to you! All the garbage that I need to release! Flushing it into the world. Magical crap. Perhaps childbirth is a nicer analogy. 

BOWIE: “A Yolk He’d Never Seen” is about people getting their comeuppance and feeling the karmic consequence of behaving like a jerk. Can you elaborate on that? 

MCKEE: Yeah that was the first song I wrote for this record. I was living a life of sin! I was genuinely trying to do things purely for myself even if they hurt other people. I made a conscious decision to do this. Madness! Of course the universe dealt me the hand that it did, and I learned my lesson. So that song is about cosmic/karmic repercussions. I won't go into too much detail, but I hurt someone, and in turn, I was hurt. Egg all over my face. 

BOWIE: Can you talk a bit about the first track you released, “I Want to Be Your Wife,” and its significance to the album? 

MCKEE: I sung it from the perspective of a woman in an unhappy marriage. I was a stay-at-home dad in a peculiar marital situation, but really it's based on every relationship I've been in and that crippling fear of losing oneself to another person. Terrifying stuff. It's a funny song, you should listen to the lyrics. You devote so much to these beings (songs/children) and at some point they have to leave the nest and you're all alone again! Then you die. 

BOWIE: Let’s talk about your use of reverb. How long have you been experimenting with the effect and do you remember what inspired you to develop this signature? 

MCKEE: Oh yeah, it's another veil, like the cryptic lyrics, it's a way for me to hide behind something. It's just like clothing for me; it feels natural to wear a suit made of reverb. I'd like to thread a sound suit together and wear it, but sound is still invisible, so it'd only ever be a representation of a sound. But imagine that! Joe McKee and his Technicolor Reverb Tracksuit. It'd be like the Emperor's new clothes. I'd be wandering around in my disgusting naked body. People would say "put some goddamn clothes on you pallid creep!" and I'd simply reply "oh you can't see the reverb? whats wrong with you? 

BOWIE: Can we expect any more music videos for the album? 

MCKEE: Yeah one more!

BOWIE: Performances? 

MCKEE: In some capacity. Not in bars though. It just doesn't really make sense for these songs to compete with the alcohol industry. I don't want to be at battle. Being on stage just feeds into this ego-worship thing that I don't think is very healthy for me. So If I play, I'll play on the floor, eye-to-eye and you can have a cup of tea. And you'll bloody well enjoy it.


Meryl Meisler's Disco Versailles: An Interview

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Text by Adam Lehrer

Photographs by Meryl Meisler courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery

What lifts the medium of photography into the realm of fine art is contrast. During the 1970s, Meryl Meisler was a teacher by day and a disco dancing queen by night. She photographed everyday life in Bushwick, and she documented the wild scenes of the discos. In her work you find sobering scenes from an impoverished and crime-ridden city, and yet its inhabitants can be found each night celebrating their fundamental rights. The right to don a more perfect look each night, the right to be a free sexual agent, and the right to dance. Her recent book, A Tale of Two Cities, depicts the stark contrast between the aching realities of life in Bushwick and the opulence of a nightclubbing scene that the artist describes as her Versailles. In these photographs, she channels humanity’s ability to rise above the chaos and revel in the miracle of life. I spoke with Meisler on a balmy day in New York to talk about the state of the city in the 1970s and the sanctuary that was the disco scene. 

ADAM LEHRER: I know your grandfather and your father were both photographers. Was that your initial exposure to the form?

MERYL MEISLER: They were a tremendous influence: their styles and purposes and just that they did it. My dad did mostly family portraits. I have his negatives and large prints. You can see pictures of his brothers, pictures of when he was in the Coast Guard, self-portraits of him writing letters, photos of when he was dating my mother. They were just really beautiful black and white portraits.

Were you already looking at photography as fine art while you were in art school?

I did not, but I saw purpose in it. My last year of undergraduate school I came home and went to see the Diane Arbus show at MoMA. That was the first time I ever saw photography as art. All the Arbus classics staring at me. I was moved. I took a class with one professor in college and he introduced us to documentary photographers and Henri Lartigue. My mindset became “this is art.”

I can see some of the influences in your work because it had some of the poetry of Arbus, but also Lartigue’s glamour. Did you think of the disco as your Paris or your ‘place of action?’

I thought, “This is my Versailles.” I knew disco was a scene that was wild and interesting. But those places were full of photographers so I never showed these photographs. When I did, I was pleased that people found a uniqueness within them. I always felt I had a special eye. I saw things differently. Even as a kid, I would look up at trees and say to friends, “aren’t they the funniest trees?” I capture a certain energy.

Absolutely.

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When I was in graduate school, I went to go see a psychic who could read spiritual things in photographs. Looking at a photo of my grandfather, she said something terrible happened with this person. My grandfather took his own life. I think that photographs have a spirituality.

What I really love about your photographs is how well the Bushwick and Disco photos juxtapose each other. New York at that point was in ruins, crack was at its worst, and Bushwick was crime-ridden, but you found joyous moments. Was that intentional? To paraphrase Keith Richards discussing ‘Exile on Main Street,’ were people partying in the face of tragedy?

I realize now I was taking pictures of things I found uplifting because I couldn’t afford to quit teaching. Bushwick was tough. But I also found it to be friendly and warm. Whereas the disco stuff, I wanted to go deeper. There were darker things on the disco scene. As dark as Meryl gets.

What did you prefer about disco, as opposed to punk rock?

I liked the big club, I liked the lights, I liked the fashion, the bathrooms certainly were a lot cleaner, you could dance. I went to CBGBs, but disco was my scene.

How did this reappraisal of your work at the Bushwick bar, Bizarre, come into fruition? 

During Bushwick Open Studios one year I went to get lunch and Bizarre bar owner Jean-Stephane Sauvaire says, “Hello, this is my place!” and he showed me what he was doing there. They didn’t even have a food license yet. And then he showed me the basement that he painted dark and he said, “I’d like to show photographers like you here.” I told him, “I’ve shown in museums and now I’m gonna show in the basement of a bar where they’re stealing stuff off the walls!” and he says, “don’t be such a snob.” 

That’s how you introduce it to a new viewership.

He said, “I want to publish a book.” I’m thinking this guy is out of his mind. I’m thinking okay,  “I want it to be about Bushwick and my disco work, these worlds connect.” He asked to see them  and I just started scanning them. My spouse Patricia Jean O’Brien designed the book and we put it together. Bizarre became my publisher, which is the most bizarre thing. 

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An Interview of Nobuyoshi Araki

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Interview by Dan Abbe

Portraits by Tom Fraud

 

NOBUYOSHI ARAKI: What kind of questions will you be asking? There’s nothing really to ask, is there? Because my photos are pretty chatty. I'm not joking! They're just the same as talking to me. If I was going to put it in a cool-sounding way, it’s like they translate my subjects as they really are. So, there's really nothing to talk about! 

DAN ABBE: [Do you] look at the internet much? 

ARAKI: No, I don’t have it. I don’t even own a mobile phone. Nothing like that. I don’t like being shot with a digital camera, especially a really good one. It's too good, you know? I feel like digital cameras miss what’s most important, emotion and wetness. These things get lost in digital photography. And before you know it, you get used to that. I’m not talking about shades or shadows being lost, or anything like that. But I almost feel as if digital photography takes away the shadow of the person taking the photo. That’s why I don’t use digital cameras. 

I’d like to ask you about your recent exhibit at the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, "Ojo Shashu: Photography for the Afterlife." How do you think it went, either in terms of the content, or the reaction from the audience? 

The museum tried to make it seem like I was dead. For me, putting something together always means pulling it apart. For this exhibit, it worked, though. I mean, the museum is designed well, as a place to show photographs. When I first started, I thought that photographs should be shown in books, not in museums. At that time, I thought that museums were like graveyards, at least for photography, you know. This exhibit was good. Presenting my works in an exhibit like that instead of through a photo book, I feel like I was able to express myself even better. It’s like climbing Mount Fuji—it’s usually better to see the sunrise from the 8th station, but for this exhibit we went straight to the top. 

Did you try out anything in particular with the presentation of your work? 

I try to switch things up to make it look as rough around the edges as possible. You know those people who pay really careful attention to the way their works are exhibited? Like, some photographers focus on the layout too much. That’s wrong. It should just be slapped together. I didn’t even put the photos up myself. I entrusted all that to people who understand me well—I just said, "do it however you want." It was a success. I’ve always acted on the principle of pulling everything apart and always presenting something new. 

The next exhibition I’m doing is called Ai No Tabi [Love Journey] in Niigata Prefecture. (pointing out a photo in the catalog) This one is of my balcony when I was living in Gotokuji. This is the western sky. Heaven, in other words. Around March 11, 2011, my apartment building was demolished, so I moved to Umegaoka, a neighborhood close by. I did up the rooftop and began shooting the eastern sky from there. That’s where the sun rises, you know, reborn. In this sense, I take photographs in the same way that I live my life. 

It’s not just a simple shot of the eastern sky; it’s loaded with my feeling that everything starts from there. Let me tell you something: as you can see, the sky in the east gets darker and darker. Now look closer, and it becomes a mirror, or a window of myself. Before March 11, 2011, I had to face my father’s death, my mother's death and my wife’s death. Then around March 11, my cat Chiro died. So recently, the Grim Reaper has been hovering around here. And over there is a goddess (gestures at the woman sitting next to him) so these days it's the three of us! (laughs) I got prostate cancer and did radiotherapy, which messed this up (points towards his pelvis) and made me piss blood. Then I lost sight in one of my eyes. The blood in my urine is from the radiotherapy. But I also had a circulatory problem, a blocked artery, so now I’m taking a blood-thinning agent, but it's thinning too much and making me piss blood. So here I am going through all this, and now you want to ask me these questions! (all laugh) 

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Your exhibit "Sagan No Koi [Love on the Left Eye]" was showing at Taka Ishii Gallery recently... 

Yeah, I took the title from van der Elsken's "Seine Sagan No Koi [Love on the Left Bank]." It could have been Love on the Sumida River for all I care. My wife loved "Love on the Left Bank" too. I was a fan of his work when I was around 20. I guess I’m paying homage, or really just playing around. What did you think of it? 

I thought it could be appreciated as painting, too. The show that's up there now [an exhibit by Kunié Sugiura] also combines photography and painting, so there’s a connection. Anyway, I was interested in the gaps where the light breaks through the paint a little bit. 

That’s what’s great about those works. That you can kind of see them, but you also can’t. After this, I thought about painting over the left half as well, and calling it "Light and Darkness Lost." Light and Darkness is Natsume Soseki’s posthumous novel. It seems like a waste, but I painted over photographs of nudes and so on in black. Still, if I went too far, it would seem like I was trying to do some sort of trendy art, so I’m holding back. It's tough though, my genius makes me do these things! (laughs)

I want to talk about your recent work. Every time you produce something new, you do it under the name Araki, which means that the bar is always set high. Yet I think you’ve been clearing it each time, and I wonder whether people don’t think: "well, it's Araki, so of course it’s going to be good." Do you think you’re taken for granted?

I mean, I’ve decided that I must do something different every time. If I don't keep transforming, I’ll just become a master. It's no good being a maestro. (laughs) I always want to work as if I’m a novice. I never want to reproduce or reshoot anything I've already done. I do always say that photography is about reproducing, for instance the reproduction of a person, or the reproduction of an era, reproduction this, reproduction that, but actually I think it's bad to keep reproducing your own work. 

I actually wanted to ask you about this word reproduction, or replication. The same subjects often appear in your work, and I wonder whether you would also consider that to be a kind of replication, too. Based on what you just said, though, I’m guessing no. 

That's right. So his style is a little different, but it’s like looking head-on at a Picasso painting. (looks at the woman next to him) From a different angle, she looks Chinese, different. From the front, the back, at an angle.... What you see and what you feel is up to you. My subjects are multifaceted, and that’s what I find appealing, that they’re appealing in different ways. When I photograph a woman, I see many different sides to her.

Is the sky similar as a subject in that it's different every time?

Yes. To me, that's why it's "heavenly." There are no two skies that look the same. Later, I will exhibit “Eastern Sky” at Shiseido Gallery. I’ve been shooting the sky every morning for nearly three years, since I moved to my new apartment after March 11. 

But you know, when it comes to showing these photos.... It’s not like I think the audience won’t understand, or that I would be making fun of them, but shooting photos and showing them are two different things. When you exhibit, you should have at least some entertainment. 

For example, I do this thing that I call "kurumado" [this is a portmanteau of the Japanese words for “car,” kuruma, and “window,” mado] where I shoot from the inside of a taxi. Everything looks great from the window now. I used to photograph all the time, but looking makes me more tired now, because I can only see with one eye. So now, I only shoot when my taxi stops at a red light. When I stop at a red light, the shot is framed perfectly by the side window, because the photography gods are on my side.

But anyway, when I show these photos of basically nothing to an audience, I feel like I should make it more entertaining by throwing in some nudes here and there, even though I call my work "Shi-shashin" [I-photography]. 

The content of these three shows in Aichi, Niigata and Tokyo are all very different. 

Yeah, it’s not a “traveling exhibition,” I don't do that.

Because that would be a repetition?

Yes, yes. Otherwise it’s like, “Oh, I saw the same thing in that city too.” 

Are you making three different catalogs too? 

No, just one. There are going to be some photos in the Niigata section of the book that didn’t even make it into the actual exhibit. Also, I’m only using one photo from the Eastern Sky exhibit I’ll be doing at Shiseido. I took it on New Year's Day, this year.

I bet something's going to happen within this year. Like a nuclear power plant or Mount Fuji is going to blow, something like that. It won't be a reborn eastern sky anymore. I feel like the entire sky—north, south, east, west—is beginning to resemble the western sky, in other words heaven. Still, I want to live to be over eighty. That’s how my photos make me feel. They encourage me. The sky that I’m looking at right now has become a mirror. 

What’s the difference between the eastern and western skies? 

Ah. It's very chatty, you know, the western sky. A real loudmouth. In the olden days, it was considered to be the Pure Land. It’s where the sun sets, and when it does, it’s quite dramatic. I think life’s the same way too. 

The sun rises in the east, so I thought that the eastern sky was flat, because of all this backlight. But these days, it's getting more complicated. Perhaps because of El Niño, what the hell do I know!

Here's the interesting thing, though. Because I’m shooting against the light, the bumpy tops of those buildings look like graves, or gravestones. You could almost say it’s like a graveyard sky. You look at the sky, you look at the heavens, you look at the world. And see, that’s where the road is. When I see roads, I feel like they’re life itself. At every moment. 

Mornings from 7 to 8 am, there’s always a girl running in high heels, click clack click. If only she’d leave the house a little earlier, then she wouldn’t have to rush, and the station is so close, too! Someone's walking their dog, and there are families and married couples. I’ve been shooting the same scenery for three years, so now there’s room to think thoughts like “I wish I saw new couples instead of the usual ones.” Or “I wish he’d get a different girlfriend.” That’s what I think about when I’m shooting. (laughs) You can see the essence of this whole year in these photos. (points to a section of the catalog)

So these are all photos you took from your rooftop?

That’s right. I’m making a photo book entirely of this series. It’ll be out in a month or so. But without anything else, I think it will be kind of boring for the poor saps looking at it! (laughs)

But you’re not bored of them yourself, are you.  

Oh, nowadays this is all I need! It’s a bad example, but they're better than Balthus’ road. ["Le Passage du Commerce-Saint-André"]

In Japan, words like “path” [michi] or “sky” can easily take on deeper meanings. That’s why I’m using the word “road” [doro]. If you say “path,” people might take this to be spiritual or symbolic, they might think of paths with no one in sight, or a painting by Kaii Higashiyama, and this is not what I’m going for. I want to say that everyday things can tell us a lot about everything. It’s the everyday that’s alive. That's why I shoot every single day.

So every day without fail, you shoot the sky and the road from your rooftop. Is there anything else that you do every day? 

People often decide this kind of thing, right? Like, "I'm going to shoot such and such a thing." If I had that kind of time, I’d rather just take photos of myself. That's why I take “I-photographs.” You have to keep on breathing, keep your heart pumping, and in my case clicking the shutter is the same thing. That's why I'm not going to go photograph a war, or something like that. 

It's weird to say I’m moved, but I guess I'm most affected by things like pissing blood. When things like that happen, the first thing I think is to grab my camera. That’s what I’ve been doing for about fifty years. (laughs)

I wanted to ask you about something I read in the remembrance you wrote for Shomei Tomatsu, in which you said that he'd influenced you in terms of your thoughts about history, or politics. 

Oh, I wouldn't write that. "politics" and such. I think it depends on when you were born. He was born 10 years before me, so he was hung up about the fact that we were occupied, that's why he went to Yokosuka and Okinawa. I’m personally more hung up about things like the atomic bomb. I shoot a lot in August: the 6th, the 9th, Nagasaki, and the 15th, the day the war ended. When I was working on Pseudo Diary, I messed with the camera's dating feature, so in some sense I have an obsession about this, or about the Showa Emperor. Again, this all depends on when you were born. On August 15, I would, without fail, go to the Imperial Palace and shoot. I was really into that. I have a thing for the date August 15. I would change the date of the camera to August 15, take regular photos of daily life, and some other meaning would appear. March 11 overlaps with the atomic bomb in my mind.

Right, I mean you've said that your photographs are all about yourself, but I think that March 11 has become a surprisingly big theme for you. 

It's influenced me, yes—but it's more like I’ve had no choice but to be influenced. It’s probably the influence closest to me personally, strange as that may sound. But it was its own expression. Photographers, you know, aren't people who express things. It's the world that does the expressing. Time, too.

One role of photographers is to respond to such expressions through shooting. I'm not like that, though. Even now I sometimes think maybe I should have gone, but I'm the kind of photographer that squeals out, "nice!" when I shoot. As a photographer, it would've been a fantastic landscape—a boat sitting on top of a love hotel—but I wouldn't have been able to keep my mouth shut. I get like that when I hold a camera. So that's why I couldn’t go, didn't go.

So many photographers have gone to Tohoku and taken photographs, but personally I'm not sure it's adding up to much. 

Well, I basically don’t look at other people’s photos. It’s not that I’m cynical, but I’m interested in other things, like the silly people trying to save this lone pine tree that miraculously survived. That’s the kind of thing that I’m interested in. It's kind of a goofy or foolish thing, but it's really interesting to me. 

Okay, let's talk about the sky again. You're now facing towards the east, but as far as I know Tokyo Skytree has never appeared in your work. Is that intentional? 

I’m loyal to Tokyo Tower, I grew up with it. I went up Skytree for a job, but it was cloudy that day so it didn't even matter!

I’m worried that Skytree will ruin the shitamachi [Tokyo's older district] by turning it into a regular place. Of course Tokyo is always changing, but I wonder how you feel about this.

Cities are always changing, and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Even if it does become all digitized, I don’t mind the idea of a digital shitamachi. 

I don’t like photos that don’t have a feeling of nostalgia. Nostalgia lasts forever. Even if you can’t see it, nostalgia remains. People look down on nostalgia and sentimentality, right? Like they're not virile. Tears are good. 

Everyone is losing touch with this kind of thing. Not just in photography, you know, but in the way they're relating to each other. I mean, what is this—Twitter and so on. Pick up a damn brush and write out the characters! (laughs) That’s why people get frustrated and stab one another, because their words aren’t getting through to others. That's something good about the shitamachi though. You can see siblings going to calligraphy classes together after school. Ah, I just love that, I can't contain myself. It’s so great. 

(Araki looks through the catalog)

A little while ago I said "Light and Darkness Lost," making a joke out of Soseki's Light and Darkness, but I’m not necessarily inspired by literature. It’s the photos I take subconsciously that teach me the most. I took a photo of a cat’s shadow, you see? (picks out an image in the catalog) That’s because I felt that there might be more truth in its shadow. Regardless of whether that’s the right thing or not. There are some men who prefer shadows to bodies, you know. (laughs) 

Something I like about your work is that it's extremely pure, but it’s not naïve. I mean, this is sort of a strange thing to say, but I have this idea that your mind is more Greek than Japanese. Before you mentioned how tears are good, right? A few years ago, when I saw your exhibit about Chiro, Sentimental Journey, Spring Journey at Rat Hole Gallery, I was so overcome with emotion that I nearly burst out into tears right there. It feels to me like you relate to things, whether animal or human, in an almost cosmic way.

With Chiro, if you look at those photographs you can see that her feelings towards me were much stronger than my feelings towards her. I did not respond enough to her love. Her love was deeper than mine. The photographs make this clear. Look at her final portrait, when she gazed at me. I just feel that my love was weak. That's why the photographs of Chiro are good. My photos have always been about my relationship with the partner in front of me. 

How about the people looking at your work—what sort of "partner" are they? 

I’m not so concerned about them. For me, it’s all about the subject in the photo and nothing else. That’s why, when I present my works, I feel like I need to add an element of entertainment for the audience, even if it's a lie. 

(showing images of Chiro) This is when she’s so thin that they can’t even find a place to put a drip in her arm. I asked her to stand one last time for a photo, and she did. But you know what? This face, with her eyes closed, when she was dead—that was the most beautiful shot. 

Here, she’s already got rigor mortis. It sets in immediately after death, you know. That’s why she’s the same shape. (shows Chiro after cremation) I told them [i.e. the crematorium staff] to keep her in this position. 

Here I’ve painted onto the sky. (points at an image) I made these works for the exhibition one year after Yoko's death. It's a pity to exhibit black and white photographs on white walls, so I created a sky dedicated to her. A sunrise or sunset, a sky for her. I can’t help it, I’m naturally gifted. These are great, aren't they? (laughs)

I’m curious to ask about Setsuko Hara, who has appeared in your work a few times— 

Yes indeed! That big-boned, Russian-looking woman. There's the word sonzaikan ["presence"], but I have a particular term that I use when I’m referring to a woman, nyozaikan [a portmanteau of the Japanese words for “woman,” nyo, and “presence”], and she had it. She isn’t cute or sexy at all, but I like women who are full of resentment, who have some poison in them, and I was attracted to those qualities in her. 

In that sense, what do you think about the girls of AKB48? 

They’re all the same... That’s what I'd call “digital.” It's okay for what it is. They’re all cute, and that's not bad, no? But there are girls from the same generation who exist in a different realm from AKB48, and I think they're amazing. The AKB girls are manufactured. I guess some people will find them interesting, though. 

But they're not your liking? 

Oh, some of them I like. (laughs) But they all look the same to me. I’ve shot some of them, too. In thinking about what I would want to shoot, my own mettle came out. So, you had Atsuko Maeda and Yuko Oshima. In the election, Oshima had won— 

You're surprisingly familiar with this!

So I thought I’d get some sort of reaction if I made them stand side by side, and in fact there's one shot where they're almost wrapped up together. You could just feel their rivalry. That's interesting to me, to shoot two people in that kind of situation.

Let’s talk a little bit about foreign countries. What has the response to your work been abroad? 

People overseas responded to my work immediately. When I showed Akt-Tokyo in Europe, the photos spoke for me, especially since I didn’t speak the language. It convinced me that photos are better than words. 

Do you think that Japanese photography culture has anything to teach overseas? 

Probably not, right? (laughs) Anyway, it’s not about teaching or being taught—as long as you’re ready to learn from your subjects, you’ll definitely be fine. And by the way, everything around you is fantastic.

Overseas, they try to force all this emotion into the frame, right? But it’s better to think of the frame as something from which emotions and such can escape easily. 

How would you look back on your experience as a judge for the Canon New Cosmos competition? In some sense, you helped shape an era. 

I've been bashing digital today, but these days, digital shots that people take of friends of friends seem to be valued pretty highly. Maybe that’s because I used to select those kinds of photos all the time at the competition, though I selected other things too. 

We had guest judges sometimes, like the director of a photography museum in Paris. He told me that he understood my photos, but that he didn’t understand the photos I'd selected as a judge. You know, people like HIROMIX. 

I mean, the stuff that guy selected was amazing! A reflection of the moon in a pond, that kind of thing. Come on! (all laugh) So I guess it's not surprising that, coming in as a guest judge, he couldn't understand photographs taken by young Japanese girls. Maybe that work could tell him something like, "Hey, dad, this is how photography is really done!" 

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Temporary Places: An Interview of Robert Montgomery and Greta Bellamacina

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Text by Mazzy-Mae Green

Photographs by Flo Kohl

There is something appeasing about the strong political messages that come through in the works of Robert Montgomery, a Scottish artist who deals in text-based pieces, and Greta Bellamacina, a filmmaker, poet, and actor from Hampstead. In a time of political turmoil, both Robert’s three-dimensional works and Greta’s way of interpreting her surroundings, have cemented their place in the contemporary fabric of London, as they lead a new wave of literature and poetry

Greta and Robert have been composing poetry together since the first day they met and, just over a year and a half ago, started New River Press, a poetry-publishing house in London that bears closer resemblance to an indie record label than it does to a traditional publisher. Although they run New River from their home in bustling Fitzrovia, they also keep a studio space in the more tranquil area of Bermondsey, which Greta describes as a welcome contrast when it comes to musing ideas as it creates equal variation within their work. 

We catch up with them in a café just down the road from the studio. As I walk inside, they’re sat around a small table in the corner as Lorca, their child and evident creative influence, totters from edge to edge, seeing if there is enough worth tempting down to his level. I’m told to keep a watchful eye on my coffee. 

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Mazzy-Mae Green: So, as a question for both of you, maybe Greta you could go first here. Where did your love of poetry come from? Were you around books growing up?

Greta BELLAMACINA: I found poetry quite randomly. I always wrote it before I read it. I started writing from a young age and then only later when I began to study and go to the library did I really start to read poetry. I never called it poetry at the beginning; it just kind of was what it was. But when I first edited a book, I got to read for 6 months to find the best poetry to put into it. It was such an amazing learning curve for me. 

Mazzy: How did you come to find it, Rob?

ROBERT MONTGOMERY: I went to a state school in Scotland, but really had a good English teacher. When I was 12 years old, he would bring his own books from home and give them to kids in the class who he thought liked poetry. He’d come up to our desks at the end of class and say, “Hey, Robert and Donna. I think you guys would like these.” So it started with Siegfried Sassoon and the First World War poets, and then he’d bring in Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes and give them to us. And so I read Sylvia Plath when I was 12 and it blew me away. 

Mazzy: That’s quite an early introduction to Plath…

Greta: I think I read Sylvia Plath when I was 12. I read the Bell Jar and didn’t understand it. Then I read it again when I was 16 and I was like, “This book is my life.”

Mazzy: There is obviously a lot of value in the written word and preserving the written word – was this sentiment something that you had in mind when you started New River Press?

Greta: Definitely. I think we both found the poetry industry frustrating. There didn’t seem to be any regeneration. There seems to be a lot of reprinting and a lot of safe books. As a young writer, I always found it hard to find a place to publish my work. I found it frustrating. And I think also seeing how many incredible poets we knew who had also faced the same thing. It did seem that we needed to find a way of preserving that language - a language that is so relevant now. 

Robert: I mean, I make my living as an artist obviously and I feel as though to get noticed these days you have to really get your own work out there in quite a self-sufficient way. And the poetry world in England is so stuffy. It feels as though the old publishing houses are still run by an almost patrician system. So we wanted to see if we could apply an indie label philosophy to a poetry press. So we looked much more, when we started New River Press, at music labels like Sub Pop than we necessarily did at traditional publishing houses to structure a kind of collective. All the poets get half the money from each book sale. 

Greta: Which is really rare. We went on BBC Radio 3, on this show called the Verb. And we were with this other poet and she was saying how she wrote her book for three years, how she was getting it published by one of the biggest poetry publishing houses, and how she was getting paid £400. And we were like, “Oh my god, how are you going to survive? How are we going to preserve the next generation of people coming in, who probably won’t choose to be poets if they can’t afford to be?”

Robert: And I don’t believe the myth that poets shouldn’t get paid. If you sustain this system where poets don’t get paid properly, you’ll end up with only posh wankers being poets and we want to be carving a new path for serious books and finding ways to fund that self-sufficiently. 

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Mazzy: To come back to this indie pop label approach to poetry publishing, do you think that it is working, or do people still need convincing?

Greta: I mean, I’ve been really surprised. I read a statistic the other day saying how poetry sales have risen for the first time in...god knows how many years. We are living in a time of political worry and there’s negative press everywhere. I think that people look to poetry as an almost democratic voice, a sort of easy, automatic voice of its time. With New River Press we’ve done no traditional press. It’s all been on Instagram or online. The amount of people that have engaged with it online and been like, “I want to find out more about it, where can I find out more about the readings and the writers”. I edited this collection of all-female poets called Smear, as a feminist collection, and we completely sold out within the first month. So it does show that there is this very real element of engagement. What do you think?

Robert: Yeah, I mean, I think poetry is an antidote to materialist language. I think that the language of capitalism and news media in the world is so incredibly harsh at the moment that poetry is the necessary retreat into a more spiritual place. 

Mazzy: It’s interesting that there is a growing poetry readership because, in the same way that painting is often associated with old museums and stuffy art, poetry houses are often associated with stodgy and traditional literature. Do you think, then, that there is a new wave of contemporary writing happening at the moment?

Greta: I do! I think we are living in this time where we have a free platform for anyone to write. I don’t think it matters whether that is good or bad. What matters is just that this freedom is given, this freedom to choose, for people to decide for themselves. So you don’t necessarily need to rely on a publisher. You can self-publish your work. It’s a really pioneering time for writers.

Robert: Also we felt that when we started New River, a year and a half ago, that traditional poetry houses were afraid of political writing. For example, Heathcote Williams, who we’re publishing, is really the grandee of British, political, anti-establishment, left wing poetry. He didn’t have a publisher, even though he’s one of the most important poets from the 70s and 80s. That speaks for itself. So we felt with New River that we were carving out a face for political poetry, too. We didn’t know at that point that things were going to go to shit as much as they have over the past two years, so that’s now even more necessary: poetry that’s politically engaged, that is part of the movement for positive social change. 

Greta: Like everything in the art world, it has to reflect the time you live in. It has to challenge the time you live in. I think that poetry is one of the most automatic ways to do that. When I edited Smear, I was really amazed by how honest the poets were in talking about abortion, body image, marriage and motherhood. I don’t think these things would necessarily be the first things people would expect to read when picking up a poetry book. 

Robert: I think there’s a dawning realization in the art world that there has been this lazy disengagement with politics over the last 20 years that has partly helped lead us to where we are and I think artists and poets now see, more than ever, a need to reengage with politics - and I think we are going to see this intensify over the next 4 years.

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Mazzy: Greta, how do you feel motherhood has affected your poetry and Robert your practice as an artist?

Robert: Lorca come back over here...

Greta: I feel incredibly refreshed by it. I wrote a lot of poetry about the internal feeling of being pregnant. I feel like no one ever really writes about the emotive side of being pregnant. There’s so much prescriptive writing; you must eat this, you must drink that, you must do this. I’m quite an emotional person anyway, but I didn’t realize I was capable of delving into even more emotion. You feel so connected to other women. I think that’s been really enlightening. 

Robert: We kind of share it. We share those mothering duties. 

Greta: We do. I wrote a poem at Shakespeare & Co.  You were there. It has this line in it that says ‘we are two mothers.’ 

Robert: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know if it’s changed my practice as an artist. It’s changed my life. It’s made me feel happier and part of a new family, like I’m in this bubble of love. I lost my own father a year and a half ago and I was really close with him. Being a dad is really good therapy on that front because I see little bits of my dad in Lorca. 

Greta: And also I think it makes you think about time a lot more. You see yourself on this strange string and you’re like, “I’m there at the moment, and he’s there.” So it does make you feel sort of semi-more connected to the world, but also sort of connected to death as well, which is quite amazing. 

Robert: Ah the fragile thread of mortality. (Comedic voice) We are just barely holding on to the fragile thread of mortality. 

Mazzy: And so you guys live in Fitzrovia, right? 

Greta: We do, in a matchbox flat right under the BT tower. 

Mazzy: And do you then see London as a fertile ground for creativity?

Greta: I do because I think it’s incredibly diverse. We have a lot of friends that live in very non-conventional ways. Having traveled around a lot, for me, London is that one place that really challenges you and it does still have that kind of fresh, young, underground scene. Having said that, just living here is incredibly expensive.  

Robert: If they don’t fix the housing crisis in London, then it’s going to be a fucking cultural desert in ten years because all the young artists, all the young musicians and writers will be outta here. 

Greta: Yeah, I think the housing crisis is petrifying. I think that it is definitely one of the things that fueled Brexit. Not to say that I agree with Brexit, but I think people’s living conditions were so bad that they wanted to shake things up a bit and be heard. 

Mazzy: So in both of your poems there is this recurring theme of the ethereal, of angels, of ghosts. Is this to say that you believe in angels?

GRETA: I love that question! I always love Dreamtime Theory. I feel like the city is a bigger thing. I feel like it’s more of a centralized mind, a centralized heart. So I think the idea of angels for me is the idea that an angel could be a tree, or it could be a person. I think it’s just about having a group voice, a group mind.  

Mazzy: So the angel for you is a collective consciousness?

Greta: Yeah, I think so. That’s my take on it. 

Robert: Yeah I think cities are ancient, sacred places. All of these shiny new buildings in the sky are built on the graves of our ancestors. So there’s this real sense that they are magically alive places. And I am fascinated by that idea of the collective unconscious. I was always fascinated by surrealist writing on the collective unconscious and André Breton’s idea of the collective unconscious and how it mixes with the romance of the city. I think I was a slightly haunted child. 

Greta: I said this to Rob the other day, but I feel like you could almost survive just off sunlight. I love the idea that the plants, the trees, the flowers, the land, that they’re always being renewed by sunlight. And in a way I kind of see that as a symbol of angels. It really is that renewal that makes me feel closely connected to the ethereal. 

Mazzy: Robert, when did you first decide to turn your poetry into three-dimensional sculptures? 

Robert:  I don’t know if I decided that at any point. I mean, I went to art school to study painting and I read poetry passionately in the library. I tried lots and lots of different ways to make painting and writing go together. From the time I was at art school until now I tried lots of ways that failed, and I just kept trying until I’d bashed out a couple of forms that worked. I started working with billboard space, and hacking advertising space in 1994, right back in art school, so I’ve been doing that for a long time. 

Mazzy: With the projects you were doing in off limits spaces, did you ever get in any serious trouble?

Robert: Hmm.... I once did an illegal billboard piece in Bethnal Green, actually it was in the lead up to Brexit and it said: 

“England is the first lie. England is a lie the invading kings told you to take your actual land from you. This land is your land from the flat Norfolk night to the blue Cornish morning. Just a wild Pagan land with no name and no flag. Just this cold beach that nourishes you/just the wind on this grassland that nourishes you/just the rain on your face in the morning in this blank springtime that nourishes you.”

And for some reason I was doing that billboard and a police van pulled up really fast and five cops got out and they dragged me into the back of the van and...

Greta: He says whilst picking up a baby bottle. 

Robert: ...And I was sure I was going to jail. But then one of the four cops in the van, I discovered I could speak to. He was a bit softer. We started talking and I said, “Look, what I’m doing is public poetry. This is really about how the land should belong to everyone, about how the land should belong to you as much as it should belong to the queen.” I always carried this little book of poems with me if I was doing any of these illegal things, and I took out the book and started showing him some of my other poems. We talked about it for about 20 minutes. He had the other police officers let me go. 

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Mazzy: What an incredibly fortunate time to run into a fan of poetry. 

Robert: I just hope as the years go by, more and more police officers will become fans of poetry. I mean, we should start sending them books.

Mazzy: I sense some future billboard plans. Greta, you recently released a film about the decline of British public libraries, and you spoke to a lot of people whilst you were making it. What was that process like?

Greta: It was very DIY. I’ve always been a massive advocate for public libraries. I see them as temples of learning. I know a lot of students who couldn’t afford wifi at home. They went to the library just to get through exams. At the beginning it was meant to be a short call-to-action film. It was almost like a visual essay. So we got Stephen Fry to come in and all these kind of talking heads. John Cooper Clark. Rob was in it. We went to the first ever public library built in Scotland by Scottish miners in 1754. And once we got into the history and started to really research what was going on, I realized quite quickly that it would need to be a feature length film. Just because it was so relevant to what is going on now. There were so many stories, so many campaigns, and so much history attached to every single building. And it felt like to give it justice, it needed to be a longer thing. So it took a year to make and was edited quite quickly and then it launched in cinemas last February. Since that time, the response has been amazing. It’s something that people feel passionately about.  

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Mazzy: What effect do you think Internet platforms such as Youtube and social media have had on the written word?

Greta: I think it’s helped enormously. I think it breaks the snobbery around the art form. I think it really lets people decide for themselves if they like something or not. I mean, there is that element of, unless you know what you’re searching for, then you might not find the material you want to find, as well as the whole role of subliminal advertising. But I think for artists it’s so refreshing to break away from the traditional output. 

Robert: Yeah, for contemporary art, it’s definitely a healthy, democratizing medium. It expands the audience beyond the gallery, which is a really healthy thing. I mean I was very optimistic about the Internet as a force for good until I saw how insidiously Facebook was used to manufacture consent for Trump. It’s really making me rethink how positive I think the Internet is as a whole. 

Mazzy: What are you guys working on at the moment? 

Robert: I just got short-listed for the National Holocaust Memorial, which is the permanent memorial to the holocaust that will be built on this side of the Houses of Parliament. So I’ve just finished that and submitted it. I’m also currently doing some paintings in the studio, which is something I haven’t done for a while - so I’m really enjoying that. I’m going to do an exhibition in May in Mexico of some anti-Trump declarations in Spanish.

Greta: I’m currently making my first fiction feature film, Hurt by Paradise, which is this kind of conversation about how society has these rules and ways and if you don’t fit within them then you are an outcast. 

Robert: I’m excited about your film!

Greta: I’m really excited. I’m just finishing the first draft of the script, so I’m hoping to film by this summer. I’m just busy roping in lots of people at the moment. And we’re getting married!

Mazzy: Oh wow, congratulations! 

Greta: We’re really excited. We’re doing it as more of a festival of art and love. We’re not doing any of the traditional stuff. We hate traditions. We’re making our own traditions. We’re not going to have a priest. We’re going to make up our own vows and just say them to each other. 

Mazzy: I just had one last question. It’s not something I’d planned to ask, but I’m suddenly interested in what you might say. Do you have a favorite poem? 

Greta: Oh, I do. My favorite poem is Love Song, by Ted Hughes. 

Robert: So many Lives, by John Ashbury. So many Lives, by John Ashbury. 

Greta: Love Song, by Ted Hughes.

(Laughter)

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A Transcendental Storehouse For Culture: An Interview Of Lauren Halsey

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text by Taliah Mancini

photographs by Oliver Kupper


Lauren Halsey’s dream-world is cosmic, funky, carpeted, and technicolored; an atemporal, fantastical, and hyperreal vision of black liberation which she conjures via site-specific installations that celebrate her childhood home.

Iconography and aesthetics (not to mention philosophy, lived experiences, and informal economies) of the diaspora serve as Halsey’s blueprint. Manipulating found objects and cultural artifacts from South Central, she deftly plays the past and present off one another to build a black utopia outside of time. Incorporating, for example, smashed-CD’s, aquarium plants, artificial crystals and rocks, hair extension packs, incense oils, aerosol spray cans, pan-African flags, tchotchkes, figurines, and black-business signage, she shapes a community-based, architecturally-rooted, afro-futurist cosmology.

Perhaps most explicitly, Halsey’s work is embedded in a spatial analysis of racial capitalism. Recognizing the power of oppressive built environments, she works to dismantle hegemony’s spatial ordering—a subversive move against cultural erasure and panoptical city planning. In response to the calculated displacement targeting South Central, she invests in her own architecture, preserving black-owned shops and community spaces by archiving her long-time home. She not only presents a cutting critique of the modern consumer economy but also an active re-constructing of heterotopia.

Creatively and politically, Halsey has carved out a space for herself in an art world that is often complicit in the very systems she re-imagines. With installations that are reminiscent of few conventional object-oriented art works, she is creating a new visual genre, pushing those who enter her fantasy to re-envision the perspective-altering potentials of the visual, aural, sensorial, and spatial. And, firmly rooted in love for her neighborhood, her work is defined in equal measure by healing from trauma and honoring history. Halsey’s dream-world is a moving through abuse to create new realities; an optimistic, grounded, and empowered archiving of the future.  

TALIAH MANCINI: To start, what does your neighborhood mean to you?

LAUREN HALSEY: Neighborhood Pride, Gorgeous color palettes and aesthetics, Black history as it relates to The Great Migration, Family History, My future.

MANCINI: When did you begin creating art?

HALSEY: Intentionally in the 12th grade. Oddly enough one of our first art projects was a carving project that I’m revisiting for my upcoming public project, The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project. I was already intrigued and deeply obsessed with collecting and creating records in my notebooks. The 12th grade carving project gave me the form.

MANCINI: I’ve seen pictures of your early maximalist collages. Did your documenting of South Central emerge with these Photoshopped images?

HALSEY: No, documenting and archiving signs, posters, mix CDs, parties, menus, incense n oils, party flyers, hairstyles, bus routes, businesses, knick knacks, t-shirts, greeting cards, local landmarks, city blocks, voices, etc. was already happening. I used the archive I was engaging to create the maximalist blueprints of my neighborhood a few years later when I took my first Photoshop class at El Camino Community College.

MANCINI: Your work is, most notably, a community-based practice. Where does that process start, both conceptually and physically?

HALSEY: With all of the odds already stacked against working class black and brown folks in low income neighborhoods in LA (food, education, police, housing, etc), I can’t imagine not having a community-based practice. My interest is to not only affirm folks through my practice/the artwork but most importantly to do so with tangible results: paid jobs, transcendent programming, free resources and workshops. My upcoming public project, The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project will address this conceptually and physically. Here’s a blurb on it:

The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project (C.D.H.P.) is a hybrid public art installation and community market created in collaboration with the Crenshaw District that will build and reinforce local economies of South Central LA that can sustain the pressures of rapid gentrification. The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project will exist on an empty lot where over the course of a 3-6 month public installation, four autonomous 16 ft. hieroglyphic towers with open circulation will be constructed. Each tower will include a series of rooms covered in hieroglyphic-style engravings on the interiors and exteriors. Upon entering the structure, the public will be invited to make their own "hieroglyphs" by carving into a series of blank panels serving as a medium to express narratives, share news, honor community leaders, celebrate events, and leave obituaries or memorials. This visual archive of and for the neighborhood will allow community members the freedom to commemorate and monumentalize themselves and one another in a city (and nation) where the place-making strategies of black and brown subjects are increasingly deleted from the landscape.

Through programming that generates paid jobs and provides tangible resources through free workshops on entrepreneurship, The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project provides and examines how alternate modes of community building can take place, while providing community members productive inroads to be engaging with, participating in, and benefiting from the top-down pace of development encouraged by Los Angeles' economic imperatives. Importantly, the public project’s investment in community artmaking will document and inscribe into the four towers the plural experience of communities who rarely benefit from, for example, gentrifying landscapes that privilege the lives and experiences of upwardly mobile middle classes. The towers provide space for the city's most overlooked citizens to describe their iconographies, aesthetic styles, informal economies, leisure activities, celebrations, oppression, local histories, and potential futures in the form of a tangible community monument. It is my hope that the publics' engravings and the informal economies The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project creates will inspire productive dialogues about liberation for South Central LA from within, beginning with our dollars.

MANCINI: Your exploration of architecture is brilliant. When did you become interested in re-imagining the built environment?

HALSEY: I’ve always been deeply, deeply, deeply into PFunk. They empowered my imagination at a young age. Early on I was very intrigued by the space making that was happening with PFunk seamlessly on the scale of worlds (outerspace, place, blackness, queerness, me). They beamed me up and into their radical worlds without me ever having to leave my bedroom. They left me totally transformed, always. Who I was/am will always be enough to participate. That relationship to space making carries over to my work where I remix and propose new spaces with what we already have and who we already are, to conjure new reflections on self-determination, affirmation, community wealth building, love, Funk, etc.

My interest in architecture is also biographical as it relates to growing up and living in a LA with so much oppressive architecture and always having questions around who’s building our architecture for us.In architecture school, I became really into the dialog of 60’s/70’s fantasy architecture.

MANCINI: Can you talk about your play with architecture in reference to the resistance of gentrification in South Central?

HALSEY: I can’t omit architecture and our built environment outside of the convo of gentrification. There should be, and are many, responses. I’m interested in responding through interventions with “for us by us architecture.” An architecture that representationally and structurally comes from us to empower us. An architecture that doesn’t signify erasure to disempower us. A Funky architecture. An architecture that comes from our hands.

MANCINI: How do you describe the way funk (Parliament/Funkadelic, Gospel Funk, Jheri Curl Funk, etc.) informs your cosmic black utopia?

HALSEY: Density. Layers. Immersion. Maximalism. Control. Black Style. Black Aesthetics. Deep Time.



MANCINI: What about outer space?

HALSEY: Outer space is limitless. White supremacy, racism classism, sexism, nepotism, consumerism, etc. aren’t the order there. There’s great freedom in contextualizing my projections for the neighborhood in an infinity space without Earth’s baggage.

MANCINI: And nature?

HALSEY: Funkifying nature has a lot to do with my interest in fantasy nature. Seeing nature through Funk sounds. The effect of a Funk nature that’s an assemblage of multiple geographies while remixing and also, sampling place, texture, form via my own renditions of the landscape.

MANCINI: You grew up in South Central, spent time in New Haven for graduate school at Yale, and then moved back to your childhood home. What are your impressions of the LA art communities?

HALSEY: There are so many because of the enormous geographical spread in LA. I spend my downtime in Atlanta. I haven’t been consistently in LA long enough to truly belong to a community, but I think I’m forging one and beginning to join existing ones.

MANCINI: Where (and what) in Los Angeles inspires you?

HALSEY: Black LA, the beaches, the sunsets, bonfires, candy cars, ice cream trucks, the pan man, the elote man, the tamale man, signs, hair, sunsets, taco trucks, freeways at night, hot days, rooftop pools, walking, riding the bus, growing up in church, ceviche, paletas, soul food, my family, chasing lowriders, the roosters, the hills, everything.

MANCINI: How did “we still here, there” at MOCA come about?

HALSEY: I was researching Chinese grotto heavens and became interested in the Mogao Caves. I was intrigued by the cave as a super structure rock form but also, as its function as a transcendental storehouse for culture: research archives of lost cultures, specific histories, discourse and ideas. I proposed to MOCA that I would build a cave-grotto with a series of connected chambers and corridors marking the plurality of black daily cultural experiences in downtown South Central LA. Some chambers include local ephemera and iconographies (i.e. South Central superhero, Okeneus’s original collages, selections of incense n oils, black figurines, mix cds, local newspaper clippings, portraitures, etc.). Other moments will be more speculative, including imaginary of future South Central landscapes, memorials, miniature shrines and statues, poems, rock carvings and soundscapes. Conceptually, I wish to create an aesthetic-sociopolitical record and overview of contemporary South Central in order to mark the evolution and narrative shifts of neighborhoods as they are being increasingly deleted from the LA landscape. Community identities are being lost and some histories aren’t being preserved (i.e. displacement via market-rate condominiums, new stadiums, developments, etc). The long-term goal is to create a permanent public cave-grotto in my neighborhoods that centuries from now will be excavated and inhabited by the future.

MANCINI: It seems like an important component of the installation is you regularly changing the space. What is your role as “pharaoh, high-voltage Funkateer and master architect”?

HALSEY: I can’t give all of my recipes away but in a nutshell, Keep building, Keep visioning, Keep Funking so that the work isn’t a set or an eulogy of itself. It’s a living environment that will accumulate energy, poetics and an archive through the run of the exhibition.

MANCINI: In what ways is the installation connected to your on-going artistic project?

HALSEY: Preservation. Past/Future. Monument. Community. Archive.

MANCINI: What is next for you? Kindgom Splurge? Any new projects on the horizon?

HALSEY:The last iteration of Kingdom Splurge happened a couple years ago. It’s put to rest for now. The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project is next. I’m building a prototype architecture of it for the Hammer Museum’s Made in LA Show that opens in June.


we still here, there was curated by Lanka Tattersall. The exhibition is on view at MOCA Grand Avenue through September 3, 2018. Lauren Halsey will be in gallery every other week on alternating Fridays and Saturdays, beginning Saturday, March 10. For more details visit MOCA. Follow Lauren Halsey on Instagram @summeverythang. Follow AUTRE @autremagazine.


The Art Of Short Cinema: An Interview of Christian Coppola

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text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

photographs Pierre Auroux

Christian Coppola is an LA-based filmmaker and photographer with a few short films already under his belt. Informed by an early fascination with The Wizard of Oz, Coppola’s personal style incorporates dreamy colors and the ever-present dichotomy between home and away. His short film debut, Heartbreak Hotel and his upcoming short, Daddy, explore the complicated nature of hotels, and the opportunities offered by the short film genre. Fixated on the process of creating his personal style, Coppola’s own viewing process is predicated on the question, “could anyone else have made this?” We had a chance to catch up with the burgeoning filmmaker and discuss his upcoming film, development as an artist, and his desire to create a universe through film.

OLIVER MAXWELL KUPPER: How are you?

CHRISTIAN COPPOLA: Good, I'm sitting in my backyard looking at some palm trees, and it's a really beautiful day.

KUPPER: I assume you're in LA.

COPPOLA: Yeah, I'm here. I'm actually—I just shot this new film in New York. And I shot it January 16th through the 19th. Pretty quick shoot.

KUPPER: So this was a pretty fresh, new project.

COPPOLA: In the grand scheme of things, we just shot it. But now I'm—you know I've been here for a month just meeting with editors and people who are going to be involved in the post production process. And also hanging out with my friends, because I really love LA and all the things it offers. And New York is really cold right now, kind of a wasteland.

KUPPER: I keep hearing that about New York, and everyone's moving to LA. And it's not just for weather, it's also like the creative energy.

COPPOLA: Well it's nice—I went out for Valentine's Day and I went to this party in Chinatown and before, we kind of congregated in this space downtown at my friend's apartment. And I walked in and it was so big. It always blows my mind. I just sort of realized that we can actually congregate in a space that isn't someone's shoebox bedroom where we're all piled onto a bed talking about how we're all going to fit into an uber to go to this stupid fashion event that nobody even really wants to go to in the first place. It's a bit insane how you meet people who are able to not only sustain a life here, but sustain their creative work.

KUPPER: You're still quite young, but what are some films that you grew up watching that inspired you to make movies?

COPPOLA: Well, whenever I'm asked that question I always go back to The Wizard of Oz. Just in terms of the scope, and the imagery alone. In the sense that, when I watched it, I would act it out as it was playing on the screen. I was so enamored with all of the elements that went into making this movie, whether it was the music, the costumes, the lighting, the set design, the props, the story. That was a movie I watched where I kind of just had this aha moment of, "Holy crap, I need to be a part of this world."

KUPPER: So you want to make movies to sort of capture that feeling.

COPPOLA: I definitely want to make, not just movies, but anything that I create, I really strive to get the core of why we react or why we feel what we feel when we're watching something. It's really kind of powerful to be able to make something like The Wizard of Oz that is the most unrelateable story. It's about a girl that gets swept up in a tornado and ends up in this weird world where she's trying to run away from witches. But there's something about that that really strikes people deep down. And a lot of that's about going back home and going back to a place where you came from. And I think also this element of escapism and fantasy is a really big thing that I aim for as well.

KUPPER: When you called, your number came up as Grand Prairie, Texas. Are you—

COPPOLA: [Laughs] Yes, I always explain this whenever I call people. So I grew up in Dallas, Texas, which is in Highland Park. I have a lot of family that is in LA, in the California area. But, my parents really didn't have an interest in raising a family here. And even though a lot of my dad's side is here, that was something that my parents never really wanted to do. So that explains my Texas area code.

KUPPER: It also explains why you're so enamored with The Wizard of Oz.

COPPOLA: Really?

KUPPER: I mean yeah, if you think about it, growing up in a rural community and wanting to be somewhere over the rainbow where you can make movies and images and everything's in color. That's sort of LA, right?

COPPOLA: Yeah I think that's a really interesting reading, but also it's funny that every time I mention that I grew up in Texas they have a very preconceived idea of what that means. But where I'm from, it's called Highland Park. I do describe it as the southern version of Beverly Hills. Except it's a little more heightened, if that's possible. Because everything's bigger in Texas I suppose.

KUPPER: But anytime you sort of feel like you're outside of LA or New York or these cultural capitals, you sort of feel like you're in the middle of nowhere.

COPPOLA: Totally, I understand, I think I was fortunate enough to travel a lot when I was younger. And my parents really stressed taking lots of trips and seeing different corners of the world. But it was always really interesting to do that and then come back to a place like Dallas. Where people are really content there, and don't necessarily want to leave. There's something really to be said about that. Just like there's something to be said about the fact that people have a really hard time leaving LA.

KUPPER: So the traveling thing, that sort of ties in with the whole idea of your love of hotels. Was that your first short that you shot at the Bowery?

COPPOLA: So that was actually, that wasn't my first short. I made that in film school at NYU Tisch. I made that my junior year, and that was our intermediate thesis. I just shot it sort of as a school project. It was my take on a fashion film, but I also kind of—in that time period, I was really drawn to this format of the fashion film. But I wanted to put my own take on it, so I wanted to add these ideas of nostalgia and real people, but also this idea of acting that wasn't necessarily acting and giving these characters—casting it in a way where these really beautiful people that I knew almost embodied the real people that they were playing. I cast my friend Dylan, he's from Malibu, grew up in Malibu and he kind of has this really distinct James Dean flair to him. The imagery was really beautiful, shooting in a hotel sort of offers this timeless essence. Yeah, of course, and I think that's what draws me to hotels. I love the idea in shooting in spaces that are so intimate and private, but also accessible in a way. Where every time you go into that space, or every time I go into a hotel room, I sort of imagine what happened there before me. Who was in there before I was. Just this idea of: if a hotel room could speak, what would it say? There's just something really magical, there's a really magical quality about having a story play out in a hotel room. Because it's not someone's home. There's a different set of rules that come with being in someone's home. But when you're in a hotel room where—you're not gonna be there forever. There's a time limit. It's almost like the Cinderella complex. Everything's gonna turn back into a pumpkin at some point.

KUPPER: What came first, photography or filmmaking? Because you're a great photographer, you've shot a lot of really great people, where did your interest in photography come from?

COPPOLA: I suppose what's always been at the forefront is filmmaking. Because I remember always making videos on my family's video camera. Just sort of obsessively running around with it, and never really editing the footage together. And it wasn't really until I got access to my own computer and the internet and iMovie that I really started to piece things together and realize that this idea of putting clips back to back and creating your own universe was kind of at your fingertips when you had this editing software. For me, the two were interchangeable. Filmmaking and photography are interchangeable to my creative process because whenever I go somewhere I always carry my point-and-shoot 35 mm with me. It's a personal way of documenting.

KUPPER: So your current project, which you just finished filming, can you talk about it?

COPPOLA: So the title of this film is Daddy. It stars Dylan Sprouse and Ron Rifkin. Obviously two really great actors. Essentially it takes place at the plaza hotel. It's about an 80 year old man, played by Ron Rifkin, whose wife has just passed away. And to celebrate their first anniversary apart, he hires a male escort to take her place for the evening. And they have this really beautiful, sad, interesting night together. Ultimately, I think it's going to be really special. And what's really really exciting is that I think a lot of people are going to be blown away by how these two actors—or what these two actors bring to the table.

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KUPPER: What is that process like, casting and choosing actors?

COPPOLA: We knew that we wanted Dylan, and we also knew that we wanted Ron. But Ron is such a seasoned actor. Not to say that either were an easy get, but Dylan had been aware of the script since the summer. It was really just about figuring out scheduling with him. He wanted to do it, he was on board. We were basically in the final stages of getting him on board, and as we were casting the older man, we knew that we wanted Ron. It was just a question of if he's available, and if he's even interested. Luckily we were able to reach out to him through our casting associate. And he read the script and he just had such a fantastic response in connection to the story and wanted to have a meeting. And I met with him and from there he was on board.

KUPPER: When did you initially start writing this story idea?

COPPOLA: I knew that I wanted to do it since around last year this time. And I had this other project that I was fielding, which is now kind of more of a feature that I am kind of still in the process of developing. But I knew that this was just the most sensible next step for me to take in terms of a project. A lot of people asked me, "Is it a feature?" For me I think, there's something really special about a short form piece. Because it's a little tiny silhouette that's just so—it's probably going to be around 15-20 minutes, but there's something to be said about a contained piece that is thoughtful and really just gets to the point and is succinct

KUPPER: So how fast do you generally want to get back to the drawing board after you make a film?

COPPOLA: My last film that I made, I made in film school. And that was my thesis project. And I screened it this past summer. That was Him. And that was a really great experience. I was doing a lot of traveling in the post-production process. And I sort of put it on the back burner and let the editing process go on for quite a while. This time I realized that it took me a couple of years to get to the point where I shot Daddy, and there was such a span of time spent where I didn't have a different narrative project. I definitely want to keep my momentum up. And I've spoken a lot with my producer about this and kind of everyone working around me. Ultimately my biggest drive at the end of the day is to just keep creating as much as I can and putting out thoughtful content. In a good span of time. It feels good to be in this place, because I know what direction I want to head.

KUPPER: Yeah, evolving and cementing yourself your vision as a filmmaker. It seems like each one of those films you're gonna start to see a style.

COPPOLA: And I think that's—creating a style is one of, if not the most important thing that you should be doing as a director. You have to create a universe that people not only are interested in, but that you're interested in. And that you feel passionate about. With Daddy, that was sort of the first project that I felt was incredibly specific to the world that I wanted to explore. Ultimately that's something that, whenever I'm watching a film or looking at a director's work, one of the main things that I look for and one of the main questions that I ask is: could anyone else have made this?

KUPPER: So when do you expect it to be ready, when do you expect it to come out?

COPPOLA: We're probably going to be starting the editing process within the next month. I'm thinking hopefully we'll have it done by the beginning of summer. That's our aim, our trajectory. But it's been funny because, when we were shooting this film, and leading up to shooting this film, I kept everything so secret.

KUPPER: So are you gonna premiere it in—do you think you'll premiere it in New York first and then LA?

COPPOLA: So, the goal is to take it to festivals and just travel around with it. It's interesting because we shot this film before—Dylan is moving to China, and he's doing a project there. But we kind of had to rush because we really wanted him. It's funny because we wanted Dylan and we really made it work to get it shot in time before he left. But that's our goal.

KUPPER: Well congratulations on that.

COPPOLA: Oh thank you very much. We're really excited about it and I think people are going to be very delighted and intrigued. Because there's a lot of nice little surprises that are lace throughout the project. Everyone is really fantastic in it, but I think specifically Dylan and Ron, just they created something incredibly special between the two of them. And I'm very eager to share it.


Coppola's upcoming film, Daddy, will be available in 2019. Text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper, photographs by Pierre Auroux. Follow AUTRE on Instagram:


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Bad Woman: An Interview of Katya Grokhovsky

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text by Abbey Meaker

portrait by Katya Grokhovsky

 

Katya Grokhovsky is an interdisciplinary artist, a curator, and an educator whose process-centric art practice combines installation, performance, video, photo, and collage. Through different expressions of each media, Grokhovsky creates immersive environments and captivating characters that assertively bring to fore issues related to gender, labor, alienation, and displacement, often using her own body to create a relationship between the personal and the political. 

Recently, I came across Grokhovsky’s video work titled “Bad Woman” in which an eccentric character wearing an animal-like mask, fur coat, and high-heels struggles with a stuffed parrot affixed to her shoulder, to situate herself comfortably on a wooden chair placed in a rural environment. Watching this, I felt I were witnessing something new, something authentic- an uncanny character whose discomfort was amplified, satirized. Yet I was able to relate to and recognize in her a sense of resolve, a comfort in her own skin, a resilience. According to Grokhovsky, “Bad Woman” is exhausted; she is many of us; she is what we whisper under our breaths, daily. She gladly fails; she is not here to please anybody; she is eccentric, wild, unruly, unmade, remade, deconstructed.

On a snowy Vermont day I connected with Grokhovsky to discuss this work, her curatorial efforts, and her solo exhibition, System Failure at Martin Art Gallery at Muhlenberg College. 

ABBEY MEAKER: At what point in your life did you begin making things? Was there an inherent interest in art, or did life organically pull you in that direction? 

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: Ever since I can remember I was making something with my hands, drawing on all types of surfaces, designing costumes, writing and staging plays, deconstructing and reassembling objects. I have continuously made art in some way and have been interested in many creative disciplines ever since I was very young, including fashion, interior design, literature, theater, dance and all types of decorative and visual arts. My parents encouraged me and took me to drawing classes since I was 5 years old in the former USSR, in Ukraine, where I went on to art school for children from 10 to 14 years of age, and then onto art school in Australia, Europe and USA, and here I am, a fully-fledged adult artist. I guess I have never really stopped or truthfully grown up. Art making is the way I interpret and experience life and I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

ABBEY MEAKER: Of the mediums you employ – installation, performance, video, photography – would you say there is one that more holistically translates your ideas and/or an experience you aim to create for a viewer? How do they work together? 

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: I would say installation is the medium that brings it all together for me and creates the desired effect of a totally immersive environment. Video is another vehicle, which can incorporate all of my interests into one format and contain it within itself. I would love to make feature-length films one day, with a cast and a crew. In my installation work, I am able to position, compose and collage many of my works simultaneously and play with the site, size and space. I frequently include performance and video, sound, sculpture and painting, through various experimental propositions of complex situations and worlds within worlds, allowing the viewer to explore and experience a new ground, new system of being, fresh and absurd territories.

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ABBEY MEAKER: Your work has been called feminist - do you identify with this label?

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: I truly detest labels of any kind, however it is a label I do accept. In a perfect world, an artist would be an artist, not female artist or woman artist or a feminist artist, simply because she expresses strong opinions about her life experience on this planet. I am an artist, a woman and a feminist. I work with feminist themes and look at the world through this lens, so my work gets positioned as such. It is the way I live my life, the way I view the humankind and how I keep on. My views and the stances I take do affect my work and the leitmotifs I am interested in. That makes it feminist. Labels make it easier to digest, to create boundaries, to identify, to exclude and commercialize and segregate, I understand that. Being feminist lines me up historically with some of my favorite artists, writers and mentors, and that is an honor. I do wish we lived in a post-label world, where artists were simply expressing their views in different ways.

ABBEY MEAKER: What do you think 'feminist' actually means within the present context of contemporary art?  

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: I think feminist in the context of contemporary art means inclusive, equal, politically charged, questioning, rebellious, critical and non-compliant. It means not taking it lying down, it is a way of life, so it should translate into art that way as well. I am interested in challenging all notions of societal prejudice, standards, systems, hierarchies, specifically patriarchy and capitalism. Being a feminist and an artist has literally saved my life and continues to help me navigate this man’s world as a woman and a maker, so I firmly believe in both as vehicles of analysis, refusal, rage, protest, as well as acts of radical joy, acceptance and pleasure.

ABBEY MEAKER: Can you talk a little bit about the characters in your performances? I am particularly interested in Bad Woman and Bunny Bad.

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: Bad Woman is a character I initially developed for my last solo exhibition in 2017, as a post-election entity, a persona, who truly cannot handle this world anymore, and is gradually unraveling and de-conditioning herself. She is a bad woman, an angry, enraged woman. She is tired, exhausted, she is many of us. Internally, she is what we whisper under our breath daily. She is simply trying too hard, gladly fails, she is not here to please anybody. She is eccentric, wild, unruly, unmade, remade, deconstructed. Through her character, I began a lifelong project of deconditioning, feminine de-stabling, and decentralizing. Bunny Bad followed up, as the next, less gendered character, through which I am able to become a kid again, to play without any results, to explore, to be funny, grotesque, comic, stupid, uncoordinated, ugly. These characters help my own psyche and bring out the hidden creatures that live in me, and all of us, the ones we push away, or oppress, or pretend do not exist.

ABBEY MEAKER: Your installations feature prominently found objects- is the process by which you find these pieces an important part of the work? What are they meant to symbolize? 

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: I am naturally both a collector and a destroyer of objects. These traits come from a childhood in the Soviet Union, where materialism did not yet fully exist - as well as immigration, during which belongings were forever discarded and left behind. I am interested in consumerism, in greed and capitalism, where a surplus of objects of desire is not only the sign of our time, but is killing the planet, as well as personal attachment, longing and memory. Most of the objects that appear in my work come from the street; flea markets, thrift stores and online shopping. I employ both intuition and attraction and pull to a particular object as well as rigorous research, especially on the Internet. Each work requires a different approach and is catered specifically to every site and place, depending on the theme and subject matter, be it a brand-new, extremely large beach ball from Amazon Prime, symbolizing an exceptionally futile, wasteful, yet desirable and alluring object of fun, which is meant to last less than an hour, to giant, 8-foot plush teddy bears, to a discarded, old and broken musical instrument found on the streets of NYC, indicating loneliness, nostalgia and reminiscence.

ABBEY MEAKER: Do you consider your curatorial efforts a part of your art practice?

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: Yes, I consider my curatorial work to be an extension and expansion of my own art making studio practice, through which I am able to step out of my own pursuits and explore the community and art being made around me. I really enjoy going out to other artists’ studios, feeling the pulse of my city, envisioning an idea, putting works together, and designing projects. It is all a part of my existing in the world, my attempt at reaching out, at connecting the dots, facilitating for those, whose voices have often been unheard. 

ABBEY MEAKER: What are you hoping to achieve as an organizer supporting other artists?  

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: I hope to create a space for the less recognized and commercially viable works, for artists, who have traditionally been excluded and discarded by the art canon. I curate difficult to exhibit works, made by voices that are marginalized in some way. As an immigrant and a woman, I have often been excluded from the discourse myself and I simply try to correct the imbalance, one DIY project at a time. I am not very interested in the accepted, mainstream narrative, which has been fed to me all my life, that of the heterosexual white male artist. There are plenty of platforms for that, globally. I try to create an alternative that must not be alternative. 

ABBEY MEAKER: Are there certain ideas you can engage with as a curator more easily or more successfully than through your art practice?

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: Yes, I respond best to works which deal with process and are materially experimental and explore the body, as well as history, place and site. I often have a visceral response to art, including my own, so I need to be engaged not only intellectually, but bodily, somehow. I let my body speak before my head, when I am curating, but also when I make my own work. I trust my gut completely and rely heavily on my art intuition, which has never failed me yet. I am also interested in artists dealing and expressing their life experience autobiographically or through observation and research, as I do in my work. I don't respond well to extremely minimalist, or highly conceptual work without an engaging process involved in the making of it.

ABBEY MEAKER: You have a solo show titled System Failure at Martin Art Gallery at Muhlenberg College that just opened on February 14 (congrats!) What are you showing? 

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: I have been working on-site at the Martin Art Gallery as a visiting artist in residence at the college for the past four weeks and have created a new site-specific installation, comprised of found, collected and bought objects and sculpted assemblages, as well as several recent video performance works. The exhibition deals with the failure of the patriarchal system and society, through exploration of extreme overconsumption, desire and imposed stereotypes. I am interested in investigating gendered standards and structures, as well as particularly capitalist ideas of childhood, through color assignment (pink, blue), teddy bears, beach balls, inflatable unicorns and donuts, as well as plastic shop mannequins manipulated and sculpted with plaster and house paint. It is a complicated exhibition, which has evolved over a year and over the past month on site, through rigorous experimentation with materials, as well as my relationship to the place. I will perform live twice as part of the exhibition, in collaboration with students at Muhlenberg College, cast through the college-wide open all. I am interested in what the atmosphere of an academic institution brings to my work and vice versa, and am grateful to have been very generously supported by the college and the gallery with space, time and materials. 

ABBEY MEAKER: Any curatorial projects coming up you'd like to discuss? 

KATYA GROKHOVSKY: I have been appointed as lead curator of the Art in Odd Places festival and exhibition in 2018, taking place in October, the theme of which will be BODY and will be open for the first time to women, female identifying and non binary artists only. The festival is 14 years old this year and traditionally takes place along 14th street in Manhattan over four days, with performances, installations, sculptures and sound works in the public domain. This year I have also included a group exhibition at Westbeth gallery in the West Village as an extension of the festival and dialogue. I am very excited about this, as I was an artist who participated in the festival three times prior and not only do I know it well, but it is the first time an artist will curate this festival. The theme BODY stems from my own practice and curatorial pursuits and I am especially interested in the body of “other” taking up much needed space in the pubic imagination.


Katya Grokhovsky's SYSTEM FAILURE is on view through April 10th at Martin Art Gallery, Muhlenberg College 2400 Chew Street Allentown, PA 18104. The artist will be performing live in the gallery on March 14th at 5pm and at the closing ceremony on April 10th. She will also be conducting a lecture in the space on March 21st. Follow Katya on Instagram @KATYAGROKHOVSKY. Follow Autre on Instagram @AUTREMAGAZINE.


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Baby, Will You Fix Me Again: An Interview Of William Eggleston In Memphis

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text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

portrait by Bil Brown

 

When legendary photographer, William Eggleston, whiskey on the rocks clutched in hand, is telling you a story about Dennis Hopper saving him from falling off a 1000-foot ledge at the Continental Divide, and then asks you to stay for Chinese food, it's hard to say no. What else are you going to do on a Tuesday night in Memphis? 

In Memphis, you learn about romantic and tragic things: The last song Elvis ever played before dying was "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain" on his upright piano in the over air-conditioned racquetball courts at Graceland. In Memphis, the cicadas grind like jammed gears in flooded engines. On a dime, the sky can turn from sunlight to shade, like a sheet pulled over a half-living corpse, slowed to a dull kind of subsistence by the tepid humidity. This is the ecosystem, the hallowed Southern environment where William Eggleston's most well known work was born and gave the world a glimpse of its hard edges, saturated colors and sad geometries. If you look closer at his work, you are looking at a microcosm within a microcosm, the moments where the mind drifts and imagines mortal uncertainties - the fragmented glow or nuclei of sunlight reflected through a glass of Coke on an airplane, a girl laying on the grass zonked out on Quaaludes, or the tailfin of a Cadillac and some kind of unaware Americana on the horizon. But, if you look closer still, you will see hidden things, secret things, lost perspectives, living shadows, forlorn personage, but always on the periphery or just under the surface. Indeed, his photographs are very plainly obvious, but there is a certain kind of gossamer stillness that is poetic and serene, and reminds you that life's simple details, the ones that are oft overlooked, are the most important ones. 

I’ve wanted to sit down with Eggleston for a few years now, and sit we did, in his Memphis apartment – crowded with a looming Bösendorfer grand piano in one room and gizmos and gadgets in another. Eggleston has always been obsessed with mechanics and the way things work – lately, his new obsession is quantum physics. Over cigarettes and the intermittent break to play piano we talk about everything from classical music to photography to the films of David Lynch. Our interview ended after day turned to night and there was no more whiskey.

Oliver Kupper: Do you enjoy classical music?

William Eggleston: Quite a bit. Mostly. My hero is [Johann Sebastian] Bach. 

Do you listen to rock & roll music living in Memphis?

There’s not much around Memphis right now. I like all kinds of music. 

You grew up with your maternal grandfather, he was an amateur photographer?

My grandfather? He did a little bit. 

And did you learn about photography from him, or were you first introduced to photography through him at all? 

No, most of the things he did long before I was around. Most of the things he did were of our family.

I saw a few portraits maybe he took of you when you were really small. Was that in Sumner, Mississippi? 

Mmhmm.

What was it like growing up there?

The whole family grew cotton and it still goes on.

You didn’t want to go into the agriculture trade? 

No, well there’s not much to do. Running a plantation – that just gets kind of boring, sitting around watching cotton grow. It’s not too interesting. 

Of course, so you turned to more artistic pursuits. Classical music and photography.

Yeah, I’ve played the piano since I was about four years old. 

And you play piano every day? 

Yes, and the night too. 

And you talk about Cartier-Bresson having a big influence on your work.

Yeah, I still think the world of him. He was one of the greats. 

When did you first discover his work?

I suppose around the 50s. His photographs were all black and white and he worked in black and white for a while. 

So how old were you at that point?

Oh, I had a best friend in prep school, we went to Vanderbilt together in Nashville and he got me interested in his work, and this was 1957. 

I wanted to talk about another photographer that I’ve always sort of loved and reminds me a little bit of you because he started taking pictures of his friends and family. His surroundings. His name is Jacques Henri Lartigue, do you know his work? 

Oh yeah, Lartigue I know his work. 

Yeah, there’s a lot of kindred similarities between his upbringing and also his introduction to photography that is really interesting. 

We never met, but I know his work.

I read somewhere that you were given a Brownie at ten years old to shoot with, and he was given his first camera at seven years old. Did you study his color photography, because he took a lot of color photography too.  

I don’t have any around here right now, but in the other house, I have his books. 

John Szarkowski, the curator at MOMA New York who put on your first show, he showed Lartigue’s work a couple years before your show actually. I think he saw something too, which I think is really interesting.  

Yeah, me and John were very close. He died a couple years ago. He would show me a lot of things I didn’t know about. We spent lots of time together when I was in New York. 

Did he teach you a lot about photography or the history of photography?

I suppose. 

And when you first showed those color slides, what was his initial reaction? What was your reaction to showing your work for the first time? Did you feel hesitant at first? 

We never much talked about it. I was quite happy to show it at MOMA, a good place to show it. 

And that show got a lot of really interesting reactions. Because I think people were confused about fine art photography in general, not just color photography, but fine art.

Yeah, it was something, photography as fine art had to be in black and white – primarily large negatives. And that didn’t much interest me.

And one of the critics was Ansel Adams.  

I didn’t care for his work to begin with. 

When you first started taking pictures you were largely self-taught, technically speaking. Was it difficult to get the exposure right, did you have sort of a hard time clicking into what you were doing...or you latched onto it pretty quickly?

At first I had to use a meter, I don’t really anymore. Film is very forgiving now. 

Can you remember those first few pictures that you took with the Leica camera? Do you remember that experience? What that felt like? 

No, but I was happy with the results. There weren’t really many other cameras out besides Leicas that I could use. 

Are there fine artists outside of photography that inspire you? 

Lucian Freud was a friend, he died too. He does great paintings. I was in London and I saw one of his last shows. I think when I saw that last show, it was probably right before he died but it was some time ago in London. 

So, speaking of legends, I want to talk about your meeting with Cartier-Bresson for a second. You got to meet him once, right?

Yeah, we were sort of friends. He was absolutely not interested in color.  

Do you believe in photographic masterpiece? 

Not much. 

They’re all masterpieces. 

I really don’t have any favorites,  

Because there is one work by you that sort of sticks out – the glass on the airplane, I know that a lot of people talk about that one. What was the context of taking that photo?

Oh, that was an ex-girlfriend of mine having a Coke, I think we were coming from Dallas to New Orleans.

It’s a really gorgeous photograph. 

Thank you, I liked it too. 

How did you come up with using your particular process or did someone mention it to you?

Do you mean by that, the dye transfer? I saw it first when, I forgot where, but it was commercial advertising pictures and fashion pictures. The process was really so good that I should use it for my own work and still do. 

And C prints but not as much; you try to stick with dye-transfer. 

I use both. I use dye transfer and pigment.  But the transfers are really, well whoever is doing the lab work, exposes them through three primary filters, black and white, big negatives of the exact sizes of what it’s going to be.

Interesting. 

And it’s just...I’ve been around and watched them be made but I’ve never tried to do it. They’re using black and white film, true to the size of the final print. 16x20 inch negatives, three negatives of that same size. It’s really just black and white through filters. 

Right, which is why your images are sharper. 

Well the filters are there to separate, rather than to mix together, all of the colors in the picture. The lab technician really had to know what they’re doing. 

Winston was saying that you’ve been studying quantum physics. What turned you on to that?

That’s right. I can’t figure out how to answer that, I don’t know. It’s just physics and then quantum is, of course, close to physics but it’s, I don’t know how to put it, but it’s...the end result is what probably will happen, not what accurately will happen, but will probably. 

Do you apply those thoughts to photography ever? 

I don’t know. 

There’s something about capturing a moment that was moving before, on film, you know? 

That could be related in some way. It’s like Mr. Einstein once said: no such thing exists as a point absolutely in one place. That’s kind of what quantum is, the probably but not exactly, if that makes sense. I feel probably close to quantum because I think it’s related to my own work, because whatever that picture is, it’s what I thought probably should be there. Not anything exact. 

One of the documentaries that these people have done, at the end of one, you were talking about a dream and then waking up and then the dream being gone completely... 

That happens so many times every day. I’m dreaming about music and I’ll get up and rush to the piano...(snaps) Gone. 

Wow, full compositions and such? 

Yeah, every note, it’s just so beautiful in the dream and then I sit down and face those 88 keys, and I don’t know which one to push.  

That’s really interesting. Do you ever think about music when you’re shooting? Is music related to shooting at all? 

I think that’s probably true, there’s some connection. Whatever that is, I wouldn’t even begin to talk about it. 

There’s a mysterious aspect to how music relates to making pictures.  

I look at it that way a great deal, probably. Working in quantum physics and theories about pictures – it’s not a bit unlike a symphony or let’s say a set of symphonies or sonatas. 

I mean the Democratic Forest, it is like a symphony in a way; it is like a multiple part symphony. 

I think of it that way.

It seems, artistically, you’re driven by pure intuition and you don’t over-think things, and you leave all of that to the quantum physics and the mechanics.

That’s right.

  Inside the Eggleston Trust, Memphis

Inside the Eggleston Trust, Memphis

I want to talk to you about another photograph of yours that was used for the cover of a Big Star album. 

Oh yeah, that red one? 

The red one, yeah. 

I can’t explain it.

Yeah, you knew Alex Chilton’s mom, right? She had a gallery. 

Mmhmm. Well they lived here. Her husband played the piano and is in the staged lighting business, but as a hobby. He also plays jazz, which I don’t like. 

You don’t like jazz? 

I think jazz musicians are really good. In fact, they’re so good; I don’t really know why they’re playing jazz.

There’s a myth that you gave Peyote to Alex Chilton from Big Star. Is that a true story? 

I probably did. I don’t remember that but...I think he was a teenager and he was just starting to play music. 

That was probably a big moment for him. Then there’s that other famous photograph of the girl lying on the grass and she was on quaaludes, right? 

Mmhmm. It looks like she’s asleep, but back then they were so popular. 

And I want to talk a little bit about your time in New York because that was important. A lot of people don’t imagine you in New York, especially at the Chelsea Hotel. 

Yeah, the person I was mostly with was Viva, the Warhol actress, we both lived at the Chelsea. The old Chelsea. 

What was that experience like?

It was fun, but now the hotel is being re-done. 

Did you ever meet Andy Warhol?

He was rather a distant kind of person. 

Did you ever appreciate his work, or you guys kept in your own separate...

Basically, probably, no. He’s not at all one of my favorite artists. 

Did you ever go to the factory?

Mmhmm. 

You did. Who was around at that time?

Oh people like Paul Morrissey, Edie (laughs).

Malanga? 

Oh Gerard, yeah.

And Viva, she lives in Palm Springs now. Do you talk to her?

She lives in both Palm Springs and LA now. I see her every time I’m out there. 

 William Eggleston at home in Memphis

William Eggleston at home in Memphis

And you’ve shot photographs all over the world? Is there any specific location that you enjoy shooting the most?

Not any particular one.

Yeah, it’s democratic. 

It doesn’t make a bit of a difference where, physically, I am on this Earth, most everything is the same picture.

You were just recently in Sao Paulo. 

In Rio. 

Oh, in Rio. 

It was an exhibition and I took pictures of people all around.

Yeah, and you get a lot of assignments. You’ve been commissioned to shoot a lot of stories. 

Well, but they’re not assignments, I don’t do those. Those are what I call "open commissions" without any guidelines. It’s quite open with what’s going on right now. The people at Cartier let me do whatever comes to mind. 

You shoot in Paris? 

Anywhere in the world. 

Oh anywhere in the world. And that’s for a show coming up.

Mhmm.

It seems like Cartier and Agnès b, they’re sort of great supporters of the arts and your work. 

Agnès and I have been very close for decades.

Decades?

Yes, a long, long time. She works with my daughter right now. 

You’ve always been very fashionable. Do you find it important to have good style? 

I never really think about it. I don’t know what to say.

Did you get your suits made in London at one point?

Mhmm. Several designers, and Stella McCartney just made one for me. She’s just a very swell person.

[William Eggleston takes a break for approximately 20 minutes to play Bach and improvise on the piano] 

Do you improv more than you play specific pieces and numbers? 

Probably, yes. Probably more. I love to improv.

There’s something jazzy about that.

It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s got to be the right tune and if you make too many mistakes it just falls apart.

Where did you meet Allen Ginsberg?

Oh my god, I don’t know exactly where or when but a long time. 

Yeah, Allen would have found you, you all would have found each other. It would have been circular...

That’s sort of the way it was.

Where did you meet David Lynch?

I don’t know. It’s been a long time, but I don’t know where or when it started. Or what it was even about. But we just get along easily.

What’s your favorite film by David Lynch?

Probably a cross between Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet

Blue Velvet is up there for me. 

I don’t think there is a better film than Blue Velvet. I’ve said this before to a lot of people, I consider David the new Hitchcock. 

Yeah, I agree. 

Because most horror films aren’t scary. David’s are scary.

  Untitled, 1970-74 (Dennis Hopper) by William Eggleston ©Eggleston Artistic Trust

Untitled, 1970-74 (Dennis Hopper) by William Eggleston ©Eggleston Artistic Trust

Yeah, without even trying, it’s sort of natural...

Exactly, and my old late friend Dennis Hopper. Dennis and I were very close. 

I heard a story about Dennis Hopper saving your life?

Yeah, he did! In the Continental Divide! 

Did you almost fall?

He bought some land up there, but there’s nothing there but rocks. I stepped on the wrong one and he grabbed me...it was about 1000 feet down. 

So, he saved your life.

Yes.

Blue Velvet – especially Dennis Hopper’s character - was one of those films that I saw when I was younger that really changed the way I saw film. 

I completely understand you. Also, I don’t know whether it was an accident but it was perfect that he found Dennis. That’s the key ingredient to making it so scary because Dennis was just...

Terrifying. 

He was the sweetest person in real life – he was just a superb actor. 

You know what he said about that role? He said, “That character is me. That character is inside me.” 

I guess what you’re saying is that he wasn’t acting. 

Essentially. He played those really bad-guy roles but there’s something really natural about that intensity for him as an actor. 

If Blue Velvet was the first, well he’s been filmed so many times, but the first place where he really did that character to the nth degree. 

Yeah, definitely. 

Terrifying. That was a truly scary movie. 

Yeah, atmospherically too. Even the silent moments were scary.

That’s right.

It wasn’t just the ear – the graphic moments, the actual silence of that film was terrifying. 

It was Dennis and David Lynch, no other two people could have gotten together and done anything like that. 

Yeah, no one will ever listen to Roy Orbison the same way.

I have a funny story about David. David was with a screenwriter friend – do you know Michael Almereyda?

I know the name, but I don’t know the person. 

He’s a very close friend and he was telling me about this person that David had a falling out with who had written, in what David’s hands, could have been a wonderful script. Guess what it was about? I could just tell you, but it was about two cows dreaming. 

That seems like a David Lynch painting come to life, in a way.

Mmhmm.

Are you looking forward to Twin Peaks?

Mmhmm.

Did you watch the first iteration of it?

Mmhmm.

There’s nothing like that out there.

What ever happened about that, did the public not like it or something? Something happened, that it was canceled or stopped. 

Well, I think there's a new one coming out. When you were watching that show, there was a subconscious sense that what you are watching isn’t like television. 

Exactly. Hey, you know what – I have to say – it’s so nice to have people visiting me that are so nice and smart.

Well, thank you! It’s rare these days. 

Well, good.

Good, right? I feel that way too. 

That’s the way maybe it should be.

I agree. 

Baby, man, it is hard to be an artist in general and anywhere. Memphis is not kind to the arts.

It seems to have this weird idea of what the arts actually are.

This goes back to quantum. We’re probably never supposed to figure that out. But you’ve only made one mistake while you have been in this city: you went to Graceland.

That was more like an anthropological...

That was a lesson, we can put it that way. 

It was very sad in a sense.

In many senses, yes. In fact, I don’t know anything better to describe it than ‘sad,’ can you?

No. A decorating tragedy. 

Just the word 'sad' is enough. It means so many different things at the same time. Priscilla hated the place. Elvis was not kind to her, she said that, very privately, and that was reflected in her taking me to every little square-inch of the place, which took several days, afternoons. And she knew what a horrible, sad place it is and she didn’t say it quite plain, but she had no happy memories of being there.

Are family members that still work and maybe even live there?

There are not any left. They’re not allowed there. The last person, she was very nice to me, was Aunt Delta, and she was the last person allowed to live there. She had one big room.

Someone said she would come down and yell at the visitors.

She was very nice to me. The only thing I remember about her, she would cook enormous amounts of fried chicken, I mean enough for 40 people and I was pretty hungry – and she would not offer me a scrap. She was not a gracious lady. There’s a certain tradition around here: to be gracious is next to godliness and without it, you might as well not exist. 

I agree with that. 

It’s hard to disagree with that. That’s what I was raised with. 

[Lighter flicks. William Eggleston requests another drink: “Baby, will you fix me again...”]


This article was originally published in our Summer 2017 print issue. Go see William Eggleston: Los Alamos on view now at The Metropolitan Museum of Art In New York. On view until May 28, 2018


 Untitled, from Los Alamos, 1965-68 and 1972-74, Dye transfer print, Private collection. © Eggleston Artistic Trust

Untitled, from Los Alamos, 1965-68 and 1972-74, Dye transfer print, Private collection. © Eggleston Artistic Trust

The Underside Of Glamour: An Interview Of Kia LaBeija

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text and photographs by Annabel Graham

In her vibrant, dreamlike self-portraits, Kia LaBeija offers us a keyhole through which to peer into some of her most tender and fragile moments—yet she peers right back, engaging with the viewer, watching us watching her. Her gaze is direct and unflinching, often laced with grief, or defiance, or whatever emotion might have been coursing through her body at the particular moment when the shutter clicked—at once reminding us of the ultimate artifice of posed portraiture and stating, simply, "Here I am."

Now twenty-seven years old, Kia LaBeija (née Kia Michelle Benbow) was born HIV-positive to an untested mother, who passed away from an AIDS-related illness when LaBeija was just fourteen. Much of her work explores her own firsthand experiences: reimagining and rejecting rigid cultural stigmas about those living with the virus, laying bare the beauty and pain of existing in—and learning to love—her own body, with all of its complexities. Born and raised in the heart of Manhattan’s theatre district, Hell’s Kitchen, LaBeija trained as a professional dancer and soon became involved in the underground subculture of voguing—which is, in her own words, “a style of cathartic movement or dance birthed by black and Latinx LGBTQ communities in New York City.” She worked her way up the ranks, walking and competing in balls, and now serves as the Mother of the House of LaBeija, which was founded in 1977 by ballroom icon Crystal LaBeija.

In all their thrilling, glittery, performative glory—their multilayered explorations of persona and artifice, identity and womanhood and trauma—LaBeija’s self-portraits faintly echo those of Cindy Sherman. Yet while Sherman plays a whole host of different characters in her images, LaBeija plays just one: herself. “Glamour dresses up the oldest wounds,” writes David Velasco, editor-in-chief of Artforum, in the letter that opens his astonishing inaugural issue (the issue is aptly titled "Uses of Power," and features Kia LaBeija alongside the likes of Nan Goldin, Adrian Piper, Johanna Fateman, Sable Elyse Smith and House of Ladosha). The trope of glamour throughout LaBeija’s work pays homage to her roots in voguing, yes; but it does more than that. It expresses, symbolically, just how beautiful an HIV-positive body can be. Above all, glamour represents one facet of who Kia LaBeija is: an actress, a chameleon, a performer, a ballroom queen, a daughter who loved to play dress-up with her mother. An artist. A woman.

I sat down with LaBeija, who is currently in the process of relocating to the west coast, in between her apartment viewings one morning in early January. It was a rare overcast day in Los Angeles, the sky a dull muted gray, and I was nervous about the flat lighting—I’d be shooting some portraits of her after our conversation. Curled up on a velvet couch in the home of her half-brother’s mother’s partner (say that ten times fast), a mug of hot tea warming her slender hands, LaBeija was thoughtful and circumspect as she answered my questions—barefoot and barefaced, her voice resonant and clear. She was kind, open, calm, forthright, remarkably deep—and considerably more down-to-earth than I’d anticipated, especially after watching her vogue fearlessly and persistently through the streets of Bogotà in a baby-blue dip-dyed spandex jumpsuit (in the electrifying music video for Pillar Point’s “Dove”).

ANNABEL GRAHAM: Could you talk a little bit about the dynamic between power and vulnerability in your work?

KIA LABEIJA: It’s just a part of who I am. I think that dynamic is something that happens naturally. It took a long time to share these pieces of me. When I did it, I took one photograph, which was the first photograph, which is in Artforum. I’m in my bedroom in my underwear. I took that one, and then I had these ideas to make a series based off of these moments of my life that felt very private and quiet, because I felt them starting to creep up on me in that way that’s like, “If you don’t start talking about this stuff you’re going to explode.” A lot of these images are my way of exploding a bit.

GRAHAM: How did you originally get into voguing?

LABEIJA: As a dancer, I knew about it—and also just being from New York, I knew a little bit about it. I had seen Paris Is Burning when I was sixteen. It’s an incredible documentary. There are a lot of queer people all over the world that don’t know that that exists. Then they see something like that and they feel like, “Oh wow, I can just be whoever I want to be.” I got into voguing because I met someone who was in the scene. We worked together at Webster Hall in New York. She brought me into a house, which was the first house I was in. Once that house closed, she joined the House of LaBeija. Basically I followed her. I call her my gay mother. She taught me everything I know.

GRAHAM: And now you’re the Mother of the House of LaBeija. How did you become the Mother? In Paris is Burning, they say that the Mother of a house is the person with the most power.

LABEIJA: I mean, for many years I had been kind of mothering the House of LaBeija in a way that was just kind of helping to guide it. I became the Mother this past year, in 2017. That’s when I kind of made it official.

GRAHAM: How, if at all, did growing up with HIV affect the way that you work as an artist and the kinds of images that you make? And conversely, how has your work as an artist, if at all, helped you navigate life as a queer woman of color with the virus?

LABEIJA: The first time I made art around HIV was after my mom died, when I was fourteen. I had this jean jacket, and I painted an AIDS ribbon on it and put her name on it, and I remember I showed it to my dad. It kind of hurt his heart a little bit, it was just kind of hard for him. He didn’t like it. I remember I went into my room and cut it up and threw it out. When you go through traumatic things like that, you don’t necessarily want to be reminded of them. So for him, his way of dealing with it was to not have that be a focal point in our lives. But for me, I needed to explore it, because this was something that I was growing up with, and will continue growing with. Being able to make these images and being able to say, “This is what’s going on with me,” because I don’t tell a lot of people what’s going on with me. That was one of my big things growing up with the virus—feeling really lonely. You don’t see representations of young people living with HIV, or children living with HIV. Women living with HIV. People of color living with HIV. People are so secretive about it, so quiet about it, that it’s hard to find your people. I found my people when I met my gay mother at Webster Hall. She invited me into a world where there were lots of other people around my age that were living with the virus. Being around other people that were living with this thing, but also being so alive, and being able to have this space to perform in any kind of way that I wanted to, just felt like the most amazing thing.

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GRAHAM: Do you also feel that making your work has helped you with the loss of your mother—understanding and moving through that?

LABEIJA: The thing about talking about people, and speaking them into existence, is that they don’t go away. It’s hard because, physically, you can’t experience them. But they live here, [points to her heart] and they live here, [points to the walls] and they live in my photographs, and they live in the hearts of other people that see the work too, because they see the story and they know the story and they feel it. Talking about her, putting her in my work, because she’s so much a part of me, and I am so much her. It’s crazy when you start to get older and you’re so much like your parents. I remember there was this one day that my mom was taking me to the school bus and we were walking, and she said something, and then laughed and went, “Oh my god, I just sounded so much like my mother!” And I laughed at her, and she said, “You just wait, one day you’re going to sound exactly like me. And you’re going to think of this moment, and you’re going to go, ‘Wow, my mom told me this was going to happen.’” And it happened. And it seems like it happens more every day. It’s this beautiful, sad thing, because part of it feels like, wow, I can remember so much, because I’m feeling all of her physicalities and the tone of her voice, or I’m laughing in that similar way, so it’s like this way of her being so close to me—but it’s also kind of sad, because sometimes I’ll do things and think, “Whoa, I’m so much like my mother,” and then I’ll remember, “Oh, she’s not here.” It’s this kind of dueling thing.

GRAHAM: I read in an interview of yours that you’ve learned over the years that you can’t hold on to physical objects. As an artist, and as someone who has experienced loss at a young age, what is your relationship to physical objects and spaces, especially the ones that you photograph?

LABEIJA: We take on all this stuff, we build up all these stories in our heads, and then it becomes all this junk and clutter, and we can’t move forward, or past, or move through anything else because we’re just stuck. So in my head I was just like, “I need to get unstuck. I need to be okay.” I took this drawer that had all of my mother’s things in it and threw all this shit on the ground and was like, “What is all of this stuff?” In the midst of being in that moment, I took a photograph of it. And after I took the photograph, I threw a lot of that stuff out. Because that clears space for new energy, for new things to exist, and prosper, and come into fruition. But space and objects are so important to my work. That stuff really interests me, because those things, those kinds of energies—they stick to walls. They stick to all this stuff that’s not living [knocks on wall] and make it alive.

GRAHAM: Can you talk a bit about your Artforum cover? In your own words, what did you intend with that image?

LABEIJA: I love this question. The piece that’s on the cover of Artforum is part of a series of images. That one is very different than all the others. I’ve never released any of the others, besides those two. There’s the one that’s on the cover, and there’s the one that’s inside, with David’s statement. The one with David’s statement is a little bit more like the rest of the images. It’s hard to talk about it because the image, unlike my other work, isn’t something that’s so specific that it’s like, “This is what it’s about.” It’s kind of an accumulation of a lot of things. The original idea for the image came in that moment where I was feeling unpretty, unloveable, tainted, all these kinds of things, and I wanted to create something where I looked like an X-Men character. It took me a really long time to finally create the picture. I made the image and funny enough, the one that’s on the cover was just a test shot.

GRAHAM: Oh my gosh, that’s crazy.

LABEIJA: It’s kind of about facing your darkness, and being able to be your darkness. It’s also about being powerful in that and being vulnerable and still being sexy in that. It’s really awesome, because my work has been so HIV-centered, and I’m moving past that now. Not to say that I’m not going to still be making work that thematically goes through that, because it’s a part of who I am and that’s a part of my story, but I don’t want that to pigeonhole me. It’s not all of who I am. The fact that this particular image could be on the cover, and it’s not an image that is so HIV-focused, felt so empowering to me.

GRAHAM: Where or what do you draw inspiration from?

LABEIJA: Yeah. Love. I get inspired by all different types of things. When I started really doing photography, I was going off my own thing, but I did have one big influence, Philip-Lorca diCorcia. I saw his “Hustlers” series a long time ago in school. What he did was he came out to LA and he photographed different sex workers and he paid them the amount of money that they would get paid from a client. He asked them how they ended up here, and he would take them to a set and photograph them. It was this balance between reality and something that's kind of manicured and posed, but also the beauty and the pain. I wanted to do something that felt similar to that.

The thing about Cindy Sherman is that she plays different people, different types of women, characters. Whereas with me, I play one character, which is myself. I had a period of time where I was like, “Should I stop taking pictures of myself?” It started feeling… not selfish, but narcissistic. That’s not what it is. It’s an exploration of this body, of this person, and saying, “Who am I? Where have I been?” One of my photographs [in the January 2018 issue of Artforum] is called The Greatest Aunts. It was in front of my great-aunt's house. I used to go visit them all the time when I was younger. My great-aunt had a diner where Langston Hughes used to come. That was the first time I started exploring identity in terms of race. My 24 series is more specifically about living with HIV and being a young woman of color, but this was like, “Wow, I’m photographing this space that was important to the women that came before me on my dad’s side. My dad’s black, and my mom is from the Philippines. You’ll probably see that coming up in a lot of my work. I identify as being a black artist, but I’m also a mixed artist too. I’m Filipino, and African-American, and Polynesian, all different types of things.

GRAHAM: What made you decide to move out here (LA) for the second time?

LABEIJA: I went back to New York, because I was like, “There are a lot of things that I haven’t done yet.” And in those five, six, seven years… I fuckin’ did all of the things that I needed to do, and then I was like, “Okay, I can go to LA now and just chill.” It’s a lot about quality of life, and New York is just really hard. It’s intense. I’ve lived there forever. New York is in an interesting space right now. My community, which is like the underground queer POC community in New York, everyone feels it. Everyone is like, “It’s dead out here.” Everyone is moving. People are going to Atlanta, a lot of people are moving to LA. People are going to Canada. There’s a lot of budding artistic energy that’s out here right now. It just feels like the place to be.


Purchase the current issue of Artforum to experience Kia LaBeija's art cover and photographic essay. Text and photographs by Annabel Graham. Follow AUTRE on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


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Rebuilding the Model: An Interview of Contemporary Choreographer Chris Bordenave

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text by Summer Bowie

 

How could anybody forget Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings of Loie Fuller at the Folies Bergère, or Picasso’s myriad costumes and set designs for the Ballets Russes? Even if they've become less household over the years, those images made an indelible mark on mainstream society. Then there's the almost completely forgotten gems, like the stage set that Jasper Johns created for Merce Cunningham’s Walkaround Time, a pastiche of images from Duchamp’s “The Bride Stripped By Her Bachelor’s” in clear plastic pillows. The 20th century offered a spoil of fantastic collaborations between the visual and performing arts: Eadweard Muybridge’s iconic photos of Isadora Duncan, Léon Bakst’s costumes and set design for Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun, or Isamu Noguchi’s set for Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring  – just to name a few. Unfortunately, I find myself hard-pressed to find any similar contemporary examples, which is why I was so pleasantly surprised to discover Chris Bordenave.

A classically trained, multi-disciplinary choreographer, who is one of the 3 founding members of a dance company called No)one. Art House., Bordenave has recently been working with a number of musical artists, such as Anderson Paak, Mayer Hawthorne, and more recently Solange and Kelela. He has also been creating site-specific works for institutions such as the California African American Museum, Hauser + Wirth, and Solange’s SAINT HERON House. I caught up with the young choreographer at the Annenberg Beach House, one beautiful autumn day, where he was rehearsing. We discussed his early training, the current state of dance affairs, and dance’s ceremonious relationship to visual art. Whether this current century will bear witness to dance and art finally renewing their vows is still a mystery, but if it is the case, Bordenave is one choreographer making a clear gesture that he's ready to meet in the middle.

SUMMER BOWIE: I want to start by asking you about your performance this past weekend at the Hollywood Bowl with Solange, how did it go?

CHRIS BORDENAVE: It was good. She brought me on to help with coordinating the additional performers that she had. She had twelve or fourteen extra horn players and she had a full string arrangement. I was just helping out with getting their choreography and their entrances and exits together. Just kind of helping out with whatever else she needed.

BOWIE: Is that your first time choreographing musicians in their movements, or is that something you’ve been doing?

BORDENAVE: I’ve been doing it. I’ve worked with Mayer Hawthorne, Anderson Paak, Empress Of, and a few other artists, just choreographing them in music videos. It was my first time doing a live performance — actually no that’s not true, I did Anderson Paak on the Ellen Show.

BOWIE: What are you rehearsing for right now?

BORDENAVE: Right now we are doing a performance at the Bootleg Theater. It’s going to be me with a vocalist and she made some songs out of these old black poems about the Great Migration. So this performance is one man’s journey through these songs, dance, theater, and projection mapping. It’s about their experiences moving from the South to the North during that time, what they went through, and how layered the experience is.



BOWIE: Since founding No)One. Art House, you’ve been performing and collaborating with a wide range of musical artists and art institutions. Is that bridge between musically driven work and performance-art driven dance what you were originally aiming for with No)One.?

BORDENAVE: Yeah, we knew that we wanted to educate and also challenge audiences in LA, because LA is a bit new to concert dance. We figured bringing it physically closer to the audience would impact them a bit more. Doing it inside of a proscenium stage doesn’t really connect, especially with contemporary dance. So, we found that when we do it in galleries, or unconventional spaces where we can physically get closer to the audience. They feel more connected to the work.

BOWIE: On the music side, you’ve been working with everyone from Solange, to Kelela, to Mayer Hawthorne, to Anderson Paak. How do you approach those kinds of commissions from a choreographic perspective?

BORDENAVE: First it goes off of their original vision. Right now I’m working with Kelela, and it’s nice to be working with her at this point because it’s really the first time she’s headlining shows, and it’s going to be her first album. It’s kind of a new arrangement for her, it’s very fresh and very new. So, it’s nice because I’m able to bring my concert dance art sensibility to this kind of commercial, mainstream element.

BOWIE: On the art side, you’re going to be presenting work at Hauser & Wirth in LA, the California African American Museum, and the SAINT HERON house. Does your approach change dramatically in accordance with the different types of venues that commission you?

BORDENAVE: Totally, it’s all about the space. It doesn’t really benefit anyone if we keep doing the same thing in different spaces. We want people to feel connected. We want them to feel like they are the work, that their role is as vital as that of the performers.

BOWIE: So, let’s go back to the beginning, you started dancing when you were about nine. What was your training like at that age?

BORDENAVE: I started at the Lula Washington Dance Theatre here in LA, and we did a lot of modern, African, jazz, and hip hop. Kind of everything, she wanted us to have a lot of tools under our belts so that we could work and do whatever we were asked to do. Then I went to the Debbie Allen Dance Academy once she opened up her school. When I graduated from high school, I moved to New York and went to the Ailey school, then I graduated from the LINES Ballet BFA program in San Francisco.

BOWIE: So you went to Ailey then came over to Alonzo King and finished your education?

BORDENAVE: Right. I was part of the inaugural class for their joint program with Dominican University. That was mainly contemporary ballet and I danced with the LINES company for a little bit after I graduated. Afterwards, I danced with Morphosis in New York, and then Luna Negra in Chicago. I moved back here because the state of affairs with dance companies in this country is failing. A lot of the most prominent contemporary dance companies have closed because people don’t care anymore about dance and they don’t want to give money to it. I basically started this new company with some friends as a way of rebuilding the model, because the old model clearly isn’t working. We thought that LA would be ideal, not only because it’s our home, but because it doesn’t really exist here. There’s definitely a void, but concert dance in LA is quickly becoming more popular.

BOWIE: It seems like your dance practice itself has been moving stylistically as well as geographically. From the examples you just gave, you’ve gone from ballet, to latin-based contemporary, to contemporary, to gaga-based movement…and I’m sure you’ve done a whole wealth of work in between. Would you say there’s a single motivating factor behind your overall trajectory?

BORDENAVE: The direction. It was always really important for me to work for someone who I knew could change a dancer. Every time I would go and see LINES, I had no idea how the dancers were doing it. I wanted to learn from whoever was directing. Gustavo Ramirez Sansano (who took over Luna Negra before it closed), he really trained me how to dance and how to work with different choreographers; to not only be true to what they’re doing, but also to be true to myself.

BOWIE: When we look at dance history, at least from a Western perspective, dance and fine art really developed in tandem, especially over the 20th century from the avant-garde movement, to modern, and finally the postmodern movement. Then we get to contemporary, and it seems like contemporary art has gone in a very conceptual direction and contemporary dance has been very commercially driven. Do you have any theories as to why that phenomenon may be occurring?

BORDENAVE: I think contemporary jazz dance has gone commercial for sure. But true contemporary dance, I wouldn’t say that it’s gone commercial quite yet. I think people just get confused about the differences between the genres. A lot of people think what they’re doing on So You Think You Can Dance? is contemporary dance, and it’s not. It’s contemporary jazz dance, which is very different. A big aim for me, and the reason why I always try to perform in these fine art institutions, is because that’s the only way that people will understand it’s at the same level as fine art, as visual art. In this country, unless you’re doing ballet or commercial dance, there’s no funding. The level of what you’re seeing on stage is usually very basic because the funding isn’t there. But when you go to Europe or when contemporary companies tour here, you see the scale is so large, and so much more than what we’re doing here. It’s sad that we have to bring outside companies from around the world to show us what the next level of dance is.

BOWIE: Do you think that academically, our institutions are doing justice by American dancers?

BORDENAVE: No! I’ve found that the institutions that have dance programs usually keep the same faculty for decades. Decades upon decades upon decades. People who have not worked, people who have not been in the field for years. So, of course, if you have this outdated information that you keep perpetuating to your students, they’re not going to know what’s going on. I would say there are about four conservatory programs in this country that can compete with companies outside the U.S.

BOWIE: Which would you say those four are?

BORDENAVE: I would say they are USC, Juilliard, San Francisco Conservatory, and SUNY Purchase… and LINES. So, five.

BOWIE: Do you have any predictions for what the future of dance will look like, both academically and commercially?

BORDENAVE: I think people are starting to wake up to contemporary dance for sure. It’s becoming more prevalent with people like Ryan Heffington. They’re bringing it into fashion and music videos and to film. There’s definitely a slow progression, it’ just... slow.

BOWIE: What do you think is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned as a performer?

BORDENAVE: That it’s important to see dance, to see all forms of art, to let it inform you, to be influenced, and also to copy. I feel like I’ve only been able to be so versatile because I’ve been able to really observe and listen and then copy and then let it influence my work. People are always scared like, “Oh no, I can’t be like them.” But Michael Jackson stole the moonwalk. All these influential people steal. Beyoncé steals... she does. It is a form of flattery. I don’t see why people get so upset when Beyoncé steals their work. Their work would never have been seen by that many people unless someone like her was to do it. Of course, there’s artistic integrity and all of that, but I still think that there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s okay.

BOWIE: Finally, I feel like we see a lot of young people who’ve fallen in love with dancing but then they don’t know how to continue the practice as adults. Do you have any advice for young adults who struggle with feeding that passion?

BORDENAVE: That’s a great question. As soon as I moved back here, people came up to me like, “Oh are you still dancing?” You know, of course. It’s what I am. It just goes back to arts education. I know USC is definitely teaching them the business side of it, because that’s a reality. Especially now with social media, you have to be able to market yourself. You have to be able to know what you look like, what to post, you have to know the avenues you can go down. You can be an arts manager, you can be a publicist, you can be a gallerist, you can do so many things within the art world even if you’re not the one performing or creating the work. I taught myself how to curate, how to reach out to magazines, how to do all of these things just by seeing what other people are doing and trying. I think it’s important to know that you can’t just dance anymore. You have to be able to promote yourself, promote your work, promote every aspect of what you’re doing. Even if you’re not that good.



No)one. Art House will be performing at 8pm November 9 at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, as well as 7-9pm December 19 at the California African American Museum. Follow Chris Bordenave on Instagram @chrisemile, follow No)one. Arthouse @no_one.arthouse, follow AUTRE @autremagazine. Look out for this interview, as well as interviews with Yayoi Kusama, Agnes Varda, Harmony Korine, Judith Bernstein and many more in the Winter 2017 issue of AUTRE. Available for pre-order now! This is a limited-edition issue, get your copy while supplies last!


My Kind Of Heaven: An Interview Of Polly Borland On The Eve Of Her First Solo Show In Los Angeles

Polly Borland’s idea of heaven isn’t your average person’s idea of heaven. Her heaven is a dark heaven, where the angels are fully-matured adults in soiled diapers, sucking away at a binky through a stubble-lined, razor-burned mouth. The Australian-born Borland, who spent half her life in London and is now based in Los Angeles, has the uncanny ability to make the fetish of adult infantilism look strangely playful and romantic. She spent five years documenting the lives of adult babies – photographing their every nap and nappy change. Tomorrow, she will be showing The Baby series as part of her first solo show in Los Angeles at Mier Gallery – her long-time collaborator Nick Cave curated the first ever showing of The Baby series at The Meltdown Festival in London in 1999. Shortly after exhibiting the Baby series, she was commissioned by Buckingham Palace to shoot Queen Elizabeth II’s portrait to commemorate her Golden Jubilee.  Borland has commissioned UK prisoners to turn the images into intricate tapestries, which will also be on view. We got a chance to catch up with Borland at her Downtown Los Angeles studio to discuss her solo show and her life on the road with adult babies. 

OLIVER KUPPER: You are essentially new to Los Angeles, what prompted the move out here from London?

POLLY BORLAND: Well I came here kicking and screaming because my husband is a movie director. He’s not a gun-for-hire, he did The Proposition and Lawless. He kept saying, “We’ve got to move to LA,” after The Proposition and I kept saying, “We’re not moving to LA.” So, we showed up and then the culture shock…. I know every city is pretty tough. London is pretty tough. But everything here seems to be overshadowed by the movie industry and all of that is really smoke and mirrors, kind of secrets and lies. That’s what kind of hit me first. And it kind of freaked me out.

KUPPER: Have you guys come out of that culture shock?

BORLAND: Yes, and my main focus now is looking at human connection, and I didn’t know anyone here, so then I started creating figurative images out of stuffed stockings and things like that, which sort of connected to my previous work.

KUPPER: Is that the Smudge series?

BORLAND: And the Smudge series, but this was the Pupa series – and Wonk where I continued stuffing things. I think I’ve got a book, I’ll show it to you.

KUPPER: You are about to have your first solo show here, are you excited, nervous or is there an emotion that you didn’t expect having?

BORLAND: I’m nervous because Nino [Mier] suggested I show all ‘Baby’ work, which has never been shown in its entirety. It’s 80 photos, they’re very confronting and a lot of them are x-rated. They’re not easily digested and universally, people just think they’re creepy and disgusting. And even when I first took the photos to the publisher, Power House Books, and Susan Sontag, who did the essay, thought I was going to be a superstar, and when the book came out everyone was just freaked out by it.

KUPPER: People view things at face value.

BORLAND: Even Susan said, “I just didn’t expect it,” that’s how much she loved the work, so I’m very nervous. At the same time, I’ve realized that going through this trauma and coming out the other side and with Trump being voted in, I’ve kind of re-found my voice again. I was in kind of fear and terror for quite a long time. It culminated in Trump being elected, and me having a show, and then seeing other people and me having to find our voices. That’s really what art’s supposed to be anyways. So, I’m kind of excited for it.

KUPPER: What about the Queen series?

BORLAND: I feel like the Queen tapestries are equally subversive but not as in-your-face. I’ve had them stitched and show them on the wrong side because on the right side, they all look the same. The backside is just wild.  I was talking to this Italian dealer and he loved the tapestries and I said, “The problem is I don’t know how to do it.” If I were to learn, it would take me years to do one. I was researching, researching and I ended up contacting the craft association of England. Then I found this charity that’s been going since the 70s - it’s called Fine Cell Work. Prisoners get paid to make certain arts and crafts. They provide cushions to the Victoria and Albert Museum, they do cushions for the Catholic Church; it’s a really well-established charity. And apparently, they like doing my stuff because my work is so unusual. But, the prisons have started complaining about the content. The Queen’s okay with them, even though she’s the one that’s locking them up.

KUPPER: I want to jump back into talking about the Baby series, because I think it is some of your most important work, how did you get introduced to this world?

BORLAND: Yeah, that’s the bulk of the work. The Babies were introduced to me by a friend of mine who was at Saint Martin’s College of Art and one of her lecturers told her about this phenomenon, and this was in the early 90s. And I’m like, “No,” and we both kind of laughed and she double-checked if they exist because I was like, “where can I find these people?” She said why don’t you Google Kim West? It’s not rubber fetish, but fashion. She was wild and I rang her and I was like, “Do these people exist and where do I find them.” In those days, the Internet wasn’t a big thing, and she said that I had to go into a Newsagent, which is where you buy magazines and newspapers in England, and go to the top shelf and look at the English sex magazines for the classifieds. So I did that and looked in the back and saw this Hushaby Baby Club phone number. And I thought, “Oh my god, I lucked out!” I thought I’d have to write a letter.

KUPPER: So this is a fetish and they want people to be in their world.

BORLAND: Yeah, when I rang this woman called Hazel Jones, she said, “Sure, come and have a look.” And I was working for the Independent, which was a newspaper with color supplements and they were known for their photography. So I went to the senior editor and he laughed like they all did and went, “sure.” So me and a journalist went to go check it out, and she was one of their top journalists, and we spent an afternoon with Hazel and, you know, huge babies are crawling around because she was a mommy, but she also ran a bed and breakfast and she’d make huge cots and huge cribs. The whole thing was set up like a giant-sized baby land, but she also made big baby clothing for these people.

KUPPER: So, she was like a madam, but also their mummy. 

BORLAND: How it happened was she was making bondage-wear and she kept getting requests for baby-wear in mail order. She was doing that and then she realized there was a whole market for adult baby-wear that no one had tapped into, so that’s how her business developed. Then, she built the bed and breakfast baby land and then formed the Hushaby Baby Club. So, then we were invited back to do this weekend-long party, I mean it was really surreal. The journalist couldn’t deal with it because it was pretty full on. They were drinking alcohol, but then they’d regress. They’d be dressed up as babies, be adult for a few minutes, but the majority of the time they were babies. Some of them were purist so they wouldn’t drink alcohol, but some of them went to and fro between being a baby and an adult.

KUPPER: You became fascinated by these adult babies.

BORLAND:  I became totally fascinated because it had every element that I loved: the surreal, the pathos, the seedy-ness. Everything about it was my idea of heaven. I had to disguise their faces; they didn’t want to be seen in a national publication. I rang Hazel Jones and said I’m thinking about doing a book on this, which ones would I contact and do you think they’d reveal their identity?” because I couldn’t do a book without seeing their faces and she said, “Well, you can try.” So, I contacted them directly.

KUPPER: How long did you spend with them?

BORLAND: It became a five-year journey. We traveled to LA to go to Disneyland and we did a road trip down, whatever highway it is, to San Francisco to meet the adult babies in San Francisco, there was a club. Then I went to France and did the same thing. I showed up, had to meet the guy, I got picked up, him and a couple of other adult babies went to the Swiss border to stay in a chalet for the weekend. And this was full on, it was defecating - the smell in the car, I was full-on carsick. Full on. But you know again, in the interest of art…I don’t believe now that I would have the guts to do that…I don’t know if I would.

KUPPER: Did you ever feel in danger?

BORLAND: No, because that’s the thing, they were the sweetest, kindest, really passive sort of people…they’re babies.

KUPPER: Did you talk to them about their fetish?

BORLAND: This is the thing, I thought there was some big psychological secret to it, I was trying to figure it out and I had a lot of empathy because I lost my mother when I was young. So, I kind of understood what it was like to not really want a tight responsibility and not be 100% focused on, all of that. So, I kind of got it on that level and identified, and I think that’s why I got along so well with them. I think the intensity of the photographer’s gaze, it’s like the mother’s gaze. I’m really 100% focused when I’m looking through a camera. We all got along extremely well, but I did a lot of talking. The other interesting thing is that it was very individualized. Some of them were into terry towel nappies, and some of them were into disposable nappies, and some of them were into being girl babies, some of them were into being boy babies.

KUPPER: Susan Sontag’s introduction is quite amazing—how did she come to write that?

BORLAND: I was photographing her for The Guardian and she said, “What else do you do? I can tell you do something else.” I said, “What do you mean? Well, I’ve got this series of photos.” I didn’t say anything to her - she prompted the conversation. Later, I told her about the babies and she said, “Oh, I’m coming to England next week, I want to see the photos.” When she came to England, and I had a portrait show over the road from where she was staying, we had breakfast together with my husband.  She went through the photos and kept saying, “Who’s writing the essay?” She kept hinting at it, and I finally said, “Do you want to do it?” She said, “Of course I want to do it!” Incredible.

KUPPER: Nick Cave curated your first showing of this work, what was that process like and how did you meet Nick because you have collaborated quite a lot together.

BORLAND: We’ve known each other since we were 19 years old. The first time I met Nick was at a party but it wasn’t until later that we became friends, when he collaborated with my husband on writing Ghosts…of the Civil Dead. Incredible prison drama, Australian drama and Nick co-wrote it and did the music. He was amazing in it, he had a little cameo, and we became friends then. Then he moved to Germany and England then we moved to England. I sort of documented him for 40 years or something and we’ve been really, kind of like, best friends. Nick saw the baby pictures and loved them, still loves them. He didn’t show all of my work but he was the first one to publicly show it.

KUPPER: Where was that show?

BORLAND: He was curating at Meltdown Festival at the Southbank Centre in London. Nina Simone played – it was incredible.

KUPPER: Back to the history of photography, it seems like Australia has a less notable photographic history – there have not been that many fine art photographers to come out of Australia. Helmut Newton’s wife, June, she became a photographer under the Alice Springs name and I’m wondering why that is. 

BORLAND: There are a few amazing photographers.

KUPPER: But we don’t know much about them…

BORLAND: I’ve got a lot of Australian art and I think another part of the reason is Australia, in the old days before the Internet, was so isolated, but you’ve got to look up Rennie Ellis, he’s fucking amazing. We always used to make fun of him when we were students. We’d say, “Who’s that old guy,” you know sort of creepy, why is he here, he was at every music event, always there, in any night club. Then this huge book was produced of his work and he photographed ACDC, like documentary style and they’re incredible photos. There is this photo he took at a Saints concert, some people think that Saints were the first punk band in the world, and Nick Cave is a teenage boy in the audience looking focused, like analyzing this guy performing. There is another woman called Carol Jerrems that died young and she was really incredible. So Carol Jerrems, Rennie Ellis, well… Helmut Newton lived in Australia, that’s where he met his wife.

KUPPER: Helmut Newton was imprisoned for a while, right?

BORLAND: He fled Germany, and then him and his parents ended up in Singapore, and then he went to Melbourne where he became a portrait/wedding photographer. He took my parents’ wedding photos. I’ve got all of the wedding photos that he took and his name is embossed, because you know wedding photographers used to emboss their name?

KUPPER: Oh yeah, of course! I want to talk about your Queen portraits – what was your reaction when you got that call and how did that commission come about?

BORLAND: That came about because of the show at the National Portrait Gallery. Basically, it was coming up to be the Golden Jubilee so it was the end of the 90s and a mediator said to me, “The Golden Jubilee is about to happen and we’ve decided to give a lot of different people a go at photographing the queen. Would you be interested?” And I’m like, “Well, yeah.” And they said, “The only catch is you’ve got five minutes.” Eventually it all worked out and I was contacted by the palace. We were allowed as much time as we needed to set up, but before the shoot, they direct you around the palace and you pick the room that you wanted to photograph her in. I took two rolls and I had two different setups, one backdrop in front of another, one camera in front of the other. At one point I was about to manhandle her ankles because I was trying to get her to stand to the side and move to the left, but apparently, I don’t even remember, but Prince Philip was in there standing, saying inappropriate things as usual. I got two good shots.

KUPPER: There’s kind of a novelty about shooting the queen especially now that you get to sort of play with the images.

BORLAND: Exactly. And look, a lot of my favorite subjects were politicians because I knew that they never did what they said they were going to do. They never really followed through on what they believed. It just felt to me like the embodiment of hypocrisy. Everything’s about money, it’s not about helping people or social responsibility.

KUPPER: As A photographer, what is the greatest thing you’ve learned about the human condition?

BORLAND: I think it would be that most people are craving attention or recognition of some kind, but I really see parallels between… to me I could really see the link between the famous and various subcultures. I don’t know if that’s so true anymore because I think the disparity between rich and poor is so bright that I think you know that this is a real disconnect. So, there’s this kind of a weird thing going on that I’ve found… I think I’m going to have to think about that one. I mean “the human condition” what does that mean to you?

KUPPER: It’s different to a lot of different people, but the human condition in the sense of not the meaning of life, but sort of what our wildest pursuits are in a sense, our pursuits as humans.

BORLAND: You know, and I heard this, actually Kendrick [Lamar] said it recently – really it’s all about love. We just want to be loved and to be a part of something, and being part of a community is really important. I mean for me, I can’t understand differences because I don’t think there are any, all our blood is fucking red.


The Babies and Tapestries will be on view from July 22 to August 19, 2017 at Mier Gallery, 1107 Greenacre Ave Los Angeles, CA. Text and photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow AUTRE on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Art in the Age of Death Metal: An Interview of Philip Hinge

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Text and Photographs by Adam Lehrer

As demonstrated by his first New York solo show entitled Darkzone Martyrium at GCA Gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Philip Hinge has an inherent talent to cloak the absurdities of contemporary life in a lush, art history-informed presentation. His paintings make use of wildly colorful brushstrokes, heady layering, and a unique interplay between the figurative and the abstract to present humorous and bizarre images that play on the viewer’s knowledge of pop culture and fine art. There is a lot going on in these paintings, to say the least. Hinge is a conceptual artist, but he understands that painting is at its most effective when there is something in the paintings that is inviting and can pull the everyday viewer in. “It allows the viewer kinda to get into it and kind of feel it,” says Hinge between sips of a beer at GCA. “It disarms the viewer and allows them to have genuine experiences with the work.”

Hinge is 28 years old, stands at about 6 foot 3, and has medium-length slick hair, well-defined cheekbones, and a winning grin. Guiding me through his new show wearing slim denim cropped over some shit kicker boots, an Emperor t-shirt, and a large billowing brown overcoat, it becomes clear immediately that this guy could become a massive success in an art world that likes its artists hip, young, attractive and marketable. But his work is far too sincere and bizarre in a way for Hinge to find any undeserving success. The GCA show is divided between recent paintings and painted chairs that adorn the gallery’s ceilings. Hinge’s paintings welcome the viewer in with rich, colorful brush strokes and light humor that belies a macabre and unsettling hidden tone. He has managed to express his personal tastes while making sense of them in a cultural context. “For painting, you have this backlog of people who’ve done it better so when you’re introduced to it and taught it, you are automatically trying to figure out how to stand out. It’s almost this huge burden,” says Hinge. “With painting, specifically, it’s like you either fight your way out of that or you succumb to the pressure of it, or you get around it and explore all the things you’re interested in while still creating a unique voice.” Hinge and I spoke at length about his current show at GCA, the misunderstood genius of Paul Verhoeven, the sexual psychology of Balthus, and the joys of extreme music and black metal.

ADAM LEHRER: From your paintings I often get a sense of a young artist trying to make sense of the vast swath of imagery that we’re faced with in the digital age. Are you trying to make sense of the world through painting? 

PHILIP HINGE: I think that’s a pretty fair statement for most of us making stuff. We’re all kind of in the same pot, getting kicked around and looking for a coping mechanism.

You grew up in Jersey and I know you were drawing as a kid but what sparked your interest in visual culture? 

I think it was movies. I grew up fairly sheltered. I would get to see a movie and it was such a great experience. This was back in VHS days and we didn’t have a lot of those around so I would draw and try to recreate my experiences watching movies. I’d see Star Wars and then draw Star Wars for the next year. You get this initial rush of recognizing shapes and figures and then you get more into how can you make it look better so that other people can respect it more and get on board with it. 

You use a lot of black metal characters in the work, did deconstructing heavy metal imagery come from a genuine interest in it? 

Oh, hell yeah. When I was a kid I was in a death metal band and it was the first music that genuinely terrified me. I got some black metal CDs when I was fourteen and one had a pentagram on it and everything: introductory level black metal, like Dimmu Borgir, which is probably all a fourteen-year-old can handle. And I came from a Christian background so it was all terrifying at first. And then as you get older and age with it and remain really involved with it - as far as always looking for new stuff - and you then see how sad it is. This group of people who are constantly trying to alienate themselves. Trying to be more extreme and inventive, right down to the clownish face paint. They want so badly to be taken seriously but when it falls flat it really falls flat. There’s something to that I like: the failure of black metal is what makes it great. 

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Yeah, it was definitely the first music I got into by myself. Did you ever read Terrorizer Magazine? It’s an amazing UK metal magazine, or it used to be amazing anyways. I remember in ‘99 they had written about the new Emperor album, Prometheus, which at the time was way too extreme for me. I couldn’t even listen to a song, but I wanted to like it. 

I did the same thing. Coming from my Dimmu Borgir album I did a Google search for bands similar to Dimmu Borgir and it was like “Emperor” so I went to Best Buy and bought an Emperor CD and it was Wrath of the Tyrant. So the early stuff, no production quality. 

Like they’re trying to do a symphonic thing but they don’t have enough money to make it happen

Yeah, like a ninety dollar synth. I hated it at the time but it was the type of thing where I spent fifteen dollars of my fifteen-year-old money on it. So it was really important. And then I loved it. You dig your feet in and listen to it in the car ride home with your buddies and they’re like “this sucks” and you’re like “no, you suck.” 

 

I read that you once wanted to be Balthus? When did you stop wanting to be Balthus and start to realize who you wanted to be? 

I was eighteen when I got to art school and had no art training. Painting was the one thing I could do. So, I get to school and have no education, I don’t know much; I knew Rubens and Caravaggio and stuff like that. So the professor is taking us through first semester, and it was kind of boring stuff and he pulls up this Balthus and it was the one of the Salon with a little girl on the couch kind of reclined, she’s asleep from reading, and then there’s a girl who’s kind of bent over by the table on the floor reading a book and he was like “so if you substitute the table that’s hitting the girl on the couch mid-level with the little girl on the floor it’s two little girls engaging in oral sex.” This sort of compositional weird game. Balthus had to have known. I don’t think he was an active pedophile but he thought about it all the dang time. 

Well I think it’s admirable in a way. Sexuality is the most powerful emotion in a human so if he found an outlet to express his sickness in a way that wasn’t hurting anyone, maybe that’s okay. Do we condemn thoughts or actions? 

I always talk about it this way: so you have Degas and you have Balthus. The interesting thing about Balthus is that he has this profound psychology in his paintings. It’s just clear there’s something not right here. But then you look at Degas who was definitely having sex with fourteen and fifteen-year-old belly dancers and his paintings are easy; there’s an ease and okay-ness and security in his paintings that has something to do with the lack of inhibition. It’s like he has no qualms about sleeping with fifteen-year-olds, as opposed to Balthus who’s just like “ah, I’m a Catholic, I can’t be thinking these things.” So it did make it more interesting. 

Right, it creates a mood. 

Yeah, that was an introduction to the magic of painting. And so for a long time I was chasing that. I’d make these images that were kind of surface level colorful and bright and kind of friendly if you’re not really looking. It was just a total wack-off. A lot of what I was trying to get at with those was how we should be critical of Balthus in a way, for being a creep, but then I realized that in my own right I was just perpetuating all this stuff. And then it was like, “okay, I’m actually just making creepy paintings.” 

Right, that’s asking the viewer to really go deep. 

Yeah, we’re reaching too far. So then I did the first black metal figure and it was this kind of sad male figure. I realized painting doesn’t just have to be sexually repressed pseudo-narrative in the landscape. It can be everything. I think that’s kind of how we get to everything I’ve been doing now. 

I like that reading of Balthus though. I feel the same way about Woody Allen movies. If you watch Manhattan, it’s impossible to not read into that knowing what he’s all about.

It’s the funniest thing because I don’t watch Woody Allen movies for that reason. Just out of protest. I never saw Woody Allen outside the context of knowing his back story so it was just too hard and weird. Why is it acceptable in film and painting? So it’s this weird thing of does an artist have to be a good person to make good art? Ultimately, no.  

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I read that you were early on into Odd Nerdrum and Eric Fischl and then later went through a big Grace Hartigan phase. Do you think that any three of those influenced your practice?

As far as the only one who’s still around, Grace Hartigan - I keep her on the bookshelves. Regarding Odd Nerdrum and Eric Fischl, they were entry level. It was good to see those people at the right time and then it was also good to be like okay I don’t really need these people anymore. It’s like relationships. You have all these arty relationships. You know, it’s like Odd Nerdrum for six months, Eric Fischl for six months. Quick flings. You cast them aside and you move on to Jasper Johns. Then you find Grace Hartigan and Lee Krasner. These are more sustainable relationships and then they dissolve as serious interests and then they still stay around so they’re sort of in your friend pool. Odd Nerdrum, you banish to the deep depths. There’s no room. 

I do get really obsessed with certain artists, though.

Oh totally, yeah that’s totally natural to fall into it. And that’s kind of the magic of this whole thing: you can’t stop thinking about it.

We were talking before about people who refer to your work as happy, your work does have an inviting sense to it. Is it intentional to invite the viewer in?

I think it’s important because a lot of art willingly or unwillingly operates in this notion of elitism or like this preconceived “you must be this intelligent to enjoy...” you know?

That got really big, especially recently with guys like Dash Snow who was like, “I’m gonna jizz on a bunch of New York Post’s and if you don’t get it then you don’t get it.” I loved Dash Snow but there is a kind of snobbery in that and a play on the gullibility of the art world.

Having things be a little inviting is nice because you don’t want to shut people off; the colors are bright so initially maybe you get into that. Or like the composition, things are kind of nice looking.

I read that you’re a big Paul Verhoeven fan.

Yeah, he’s the best

That’s cool, I love him too. But I also see a parallel in the work almost. You know he was this mathematician and a high art guy but he applied his ability to trash and I feel like you portray sort of smutty imagery, whether it’s black metal imagery or porno mags, but you portray it almost gleefully and humorously. Are you interested at all in elevating trash?

I think what I got interested in through Paul Verhoeven’s work was if you look at it from one angle, you can totally buy that he’s type A. But if you look at it from some other angle he’s type B. You are asking, “Who is this guy?” What does he really believe in? So there’s this interplay between sincerity and cynicism. It’s like, either he’s really putting one over on us, or he’s dead serious about this shit. When Starship Troopers came out, everyone thought he was a Nazi propagandist you know? But he was really critiquing America and cautioning America about a fascist trajectory. 15 years later he’s considered a genius. I think in painting it’s the same thing: people can’t place me through the work. As far as this high and low thing, I think it’s important for painting, and this goes back to accessibility. It should be accessible, and by taking the highest ideas down a peg and elevating the lowest stuff, you put the work in a good position to be consumed. You can cloak weird art historical references amongst images remembered from your comic books when you were 5 years old.

There’s this great documentary about Cindy Sherman and it shows her in her studio, setting up her scene, and she’s vibing out to the Velvet Underground and she has Texas Chainsaw Massacre on in the background. Super inspiring. Do you find that the movies you watch and the music you listen to ever bleeds into the aesthetic of the thing you’re working on?

I guess obviously with the black metal thing, that was a big intrusion, and a welcome one. It’s just important to have noise. So if you can create noise that distracts you enough to get you into that weird space – you know when you have trouble sleeping because it’s too quiet? And so you turn on the TV and then you’re asleep? It’s the same way in the studio. I’ll go to the studio and put an album on and then the album will end after 40 minutes and if I’m really involved, and that album got me into a stream of good ideas, then I don’t put on another. Distraction can be a test. If I’m actually getting distracted by something then that means I need to reexamine how I’m feeling that day and get my head back in the game.

 

Swarovski Crystal Meth: An Interview of Daniela Czenstochowski, Gia Garison, and Ser Serpas

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Text and Photographs by Adam Lehrer

Ser Brandon-Castro Serpas is a young artist and poet perhaps best known for converting her drawings of body parts (limbs, sex organs, the works really) into sculptures. Daniela Czenstochowski is an artist and music producer that combines the disciplines of fashion design, sculpture, music and performance to create unnerving and strangely beautiful performance and video projects. Gia Garison is a classically trained actress and performer. Together, they are Swarovski Crystal Meth.

Swarovski Crystal Meth came into fruition last summer when artist Alexandra Marzella curated the “Selkie Series” for National Sawdust, compiling projects by a large group of likeminded artists and friends. Ser, Daniela and Gia didn’t know each other that well, but all were equally unnerved when asked to do a piece around the theme of “trans issues in America." Ser and Gia are trans women, but refuse to have their identities capitalized on or turned into a “mood board,” as Ser succinctly described her feelings about the curator’s request. Instead, Swarovski Crystal Meth became an intuitively fluid cross section of its various members' creative disciplines. There were elements of Ser’s poetry, Daniela’s music, and Gia’s method acting and performance. During the show, Swarovski Crystal Meth and its three members entered into states of simultaneous vulnerability and empowerment; consuming fruit, gesturing odd movements, and playing Daniela’s composition of the trio’s contorted vocal stylings.

What most fascinated me about the project was its refusal to embrace the social justice and victimhood narrative that was being pushed upon the group by the curators. Instead, it became a forceful expression of the beauty achieved through the intersectionality of multiple creative voices. These three women are all unique artistic talents with remarkably developed aesthetic identities, but Swarovski Crystal Meth folded a new layer into the practices of all three of the young artists.

LEHRER: How did the three of you come together to conceptualize this project? 

DANIELA CZENSTOCHOWSKI: Well, it was organized by Alex [Marzella] for the show she curated [National Sawdust “Selkie” Series. She called all of these artists she’d met that she admired.

GIA GARISON: She wanted to showcase people other than herself and left it open to do whatever we wanted to do. We started to linger towards the idea of motherhood and birthing and the womb. Kind of these safe, warm spaces where we could all be together as one. 

LEHRER: And in the beginning you knew you wanted to combine poetry with the other mediums? 

GARISON: Ser writes a lot so we definitely wanted to incorporate that. Daniela’s great at mixing music so we wanted to use that. We wanted to use my fashion concepts. We all had different ways to put in our two cents.

CZENSTOCHOWSKI: Considering the small amount of time we had, we really had to jump into something that was quite intuitive and immediate. 

GARISON: Exactly, there was no resting on it. It was in this really guttural way. For the sound of it we wanted it to be the very basic sounds of the body responding to stuff.  

SER SERPAS: Heartbeats.

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LEHRER: What is it about the womb that is so attractive as a concept to explore? 

CZENSTOCHOWSKI: We all began in the womb. It’s the only thing we can all truly say we have in common. We are looking for this comfort, for this warmth, this environment that will tell us that everything will be okay. 

LEHRER: And the womb is the only place where you really get that throughout your lifetime. The only true “safe space,” so to speak. 

CZENSTOCHOWSKI: Right. We still look for comfort in so many ways. We still guard ourselves in comfortable places. The idea of dealing with discomfort was one of the biggest parts of this experience: us being naked, eating fruits, taking off our costumes, throwing out the sounds we made.

GARISON: I think also the idea of being birthed or re-birthed, even, is something we all deal with in a way, being femme. I mean, for me and Ser, being trans is an experience of a literal rebirth of who you are, of your identity. Then, being a woman in general means breaking away from the masculine stereotype that’s forced upon you. And that’s something we wanted to explore. 

SERPAS: [We went through] a progression of movements and actions that we discovered while trying to figure out what we wanted to be doing. 

LEHRER: How long did it go on for? That part of the performance.

CZENSTOCHOWSKI: About six minutes. We made costumes where we placed different types of food inside and then we had stuffed them with white stuffing. We hand-sewed and created our own designs based on what we wanted to identify ourselves with. It was amazing to see. 

LEHRER: When you guys are doing this performance and concept together and showing it to other people immediately in your circle, or artists of your generation, does it create an anxiety when showing it to people maybe outside of that immediate circle? 

SERPAS: It wasn’t our intention to imbue the performance with a strong message. It was more just for the audience’s perception. But it’s not like we were pushing to make the audience perceive it. It was open to interpretation. Going into it we were literally told to do “some trans American shit.” So, first of all, that took me by surprise and I didn’t like that. We don’t have to show that we are who we are to prove or do anything. You should already take everyone as the same no matter who they are, so we don’t have to show you that. 

CZENSTOCHOWSKI: That [instruction] triggered the whole concept.

SERPAS: We rejected everything we were told because we didn’t agree with it. We felt the instructions were harsh so we didn’t even deal with it. It’s not like trans issues haven’t been around for our entire existence. If you don’t really know about them by now, you’re already lost and behind. 

LEHRER: I think that with a lot of art shows’ curatorial strategies these days, there’s almost always a marketing ploy behind it. 

GARISON: We don’t want that. So we just said, “No, fuck that, we’re going to do our own thing and you’re going to like it.” And we did and I think that by rejecting the whole issue we were told to base this on in the first place, it really made our performance stronger. 

CZENSTOCHOWSKI: We all demonstrated the same need, struggle and search for stimulus that is inherently built within us. Regardless of our desires and aspirations and needs and wants and identities, we still all look for this place of comfort. 

SERPAS: We all deserve that space to not be called out. We can’t be messy in public. It’s like turning up the brightness on something that’s already well enough lit that it doesn’t even need more lighting. 

GARISON: Everybody sees it. Trans people are hyper visible and hyper invisible to the state in a lot of ways and both realities make us targets.

LEHRER: Your friend upstairs said to me, which made a lot of sense, the whole visibility issue in fashion and the art world is more problematic than not because that visibility can make the individual more susceptible to danger.

SERPAS: Yeah, I mean at the end of the day it’s just that trans talent rarely gets paid. With the creative industries in the states there’s this gap that’s very much supposed to be there to make sure there are people who can’t really do anything and don’t have a clear inspiration or position and trans people just end up on the mood board. 

LEHRER: Right, and it seems like true inclusiveness wouldn’t just be featuring someone in a magazine it would be—

SERPAS: It would be support for the communities. 

LEHRER: So are you all going to keep doing projects together? 

CZENSTOCHOWSKI: I’d love to. 

SERPAS: We haven’t planned anything but I feel like we will and should because we know how great we work together. It was honestly an experiment for me because I’d never really done this before either. 

CZENSTOCHOWSKI: Summer camp! 

SERPAS: Yeah, it was literally like summer camp for two weeks. 

CZENSTOCHOWSKI: Ser’s poem was absolutely beautiful. 

LEHRER: I love that you incorporated poetry because poetry has become the most ostracized creative medium in the digital era. So to incorporate it in a way, using visual and performative elements, feels very contemporary and relevant. 

SERPAS: Yeah, that’s the thing that I’m very excited to keep exploring for future collaborations. It was so groundbreaking for me to see that these things could fit together. Years back, I didn’t think that this was possible. 

GARISON: I think it’s finally, hopefully, making it’s way back in. I have always been one for a good poem. 

CZENSTOCHOWSKI: We’re actually putting so much thought behind every step that is taken. And I guess that is a level of seriousness that I’ve come to see; for example, seeing a lot of contemporary art in North America compared to South America, much of the work up here is sarcastic or ironic or containing a humor and a subsequent negation to reality. A lot of South American art now is direct and obvious in its intention. There is suffering in it. So, I feel that at times when we performed we got feedback from people being like, “it was so funny to see your performance.” 

LEHRER: Because that’s what they’re used to. 

CZENSTOCHOWSKI: Because that’s what they’re used to; they thought it was a joke. 

GARISON: We just wanted to be truthful. And I think we each found that, or at least tried to find that. We were always thinking about that while we were performing. 

CZENSTOCHOWSKI: Definitely, and all sorts of feelings that came up in those moments were very real. The honesty of it was very real. We felt euphoric.

 

An Interview of Julian Klincewicz

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Text and Photographs by Adam Lehrer

The 21-year-old, San Diego-based, multimedia artist Julian Klincewicz lives within an interesting dichotomy. In some ways, the lanky, curly locked and minimally dressed creative is a pure embodiment of the millennial artist mindset: his work is informed by a preternaturally vast exposure to a plethora of pop culture (punk, hip hop, celebrity culture, movies, and lots of skateboarding), he is indifferent to antiquated Generation X “empire” notions of “selling out” and is open to branding when he admires the work of said brand, and he is of a deeply open-minded disposition, putting his hand to any creative medium that interests him. At the same time, Klincewicz’s work is the antithesis of what has come to be understood about millennial culture. Though he hasn’t been alive long enough to actually remember the analog world, the tired cliché of “an analog man living in a digital world” applies to Klincewicz tenfold. As a genuine creative “polymath,” he counts published author, photographer, musician, and fashion designer amongst his various job titles. But Klincewicz discovered his artistic spirit through a medium that now seems anathema to the ultra-polished aesthetics of digital media: behind the lens of a VHS camcorder that his aunt found in his Grandma’s attic. “I started shooting because I was interested in videos, and I had a VHS Video camera,” says Klincewicz. “And then I had some conceptual ideas because that’s the way I think. Impulse and intellect complement and inform each other.” 

It’s hard not to feel envy towards Klincewicz having cultivated such a unique aesthetic and interested audience at such a young age. But it became clear to me, through exploring his work and communicating with him, that he is an undeniable talent with a singular voice and a powerful method of communicating that voice to the world. I had to speak with him. 

ADAM LEHRER: Your early video work and VHS work straddles the line between nostalgic VHS aesthetics and the immediacy of digital culture. When you started shooting these videos were you ever conscious of a conceptual or philosophical idea driving it, or did you just really love shooting video?

JULIAN KLINCEWICZ: With video, and specifically my early VHS videos, I’ve always had some conceptual ideas behind them, but I also enjoyed the process of filming and editing. The first video I ever made was intended to make the viewer uncomfortable, which, in retrospect, was a very naïve way, or a very young way, of understanding the concept that through art you can emphasize and create human emotion. I took a lot of influence from Ray and Charles Eames, and their idea that you can create an overview of a given experience, giving the viewer all the tools to create their own connection with it, and complete the work themselves if they want to.

I identify with you and your work quite a bit. Like you, skateboarding was my original obsession and everything else bled out from that initial interest: photography, fashion, art, writing, video. Why do you think so many artists in 2016 had roots in skateboarding culture?

I think that skateboarding is this really unique “sport” in that it’s a place where everyone is rooting for everyone else. At the skate park or spot, you’re excited when someone else lands the trick they’re trying, and that creates this unique understanding of what individual growth and community can look like. Skateboarding inherently supports creativity and DIY ethos. 

I think having the experience of going to a spot and knowing you’re going to get kicked out and knowing most people view your passion as destructive or dangerous gives you a greater sense of self-motivation, which is something you absolutely need in pursuing arts. 

When you decided to be an artist, how did you come to the conclusion that you would be a multimedia artist dabbling in everything, as opposed to a painter, or a sculptor?

Again I think that’s something that’s a mix of a gut impulse that later took on a more conceptual approach. Being an artist is a way of being in the world. I identify as an artist in the same way I might identify with a gender or sexual orientation: I couldn’t not be it. It’s very much the way I see and connect things, and make sense of the world and myself. 

Do you think that as millennial artists start to come into their own, the very existence of traditional painters and sculptors might be challenged? Is the creative polymath to 2017 what the abstract expressionist was to the ‘50s or what the pop artist was to the ‘60s?

Oh boy (laughs). Let’s start by defining what the “millennial mindset” is: anything is possible, we have the potential to achieve anything, we have to be doing more and we have to be doing it now.  Because if we don’t, firstly, someone else will. Secondly, having seen the generation above me prove that university education does not guarantee job safety and that the three generations above me failed to act in the interest of my generation in terms of sustaining our planet and mental health, there is no option for us to fail. The world we live in today may very well not exist tomorrow. That awareness essentially creates a hyper anxious and excited state of emotional and mental flux, both good and bad.

When did you first become aware of the power of style and fashion to define one’s self? 

I didn’t understand style or fashion at all. I still don’t really think I do. I can see it in other people, but when it comes to myself, I don’t know a damn thing. I like wearing all black. Dylan Rieder [recently passed pro skateboarder] influenced my perception of the relationship between style and the self; in skateboarding and life. He taught us that you can either do an ollie impossible over a bench, or you can do an impossible over a bench and look better than River Phoenix while doing it. Dylan changed everything.

The designers you’ve shot videos for, which range from the heavily art informed Eckhaus Latta, the cult-y and conceptual Gosha Rubchinskiy, and the conceptual meets pop culture massiveness of Yeezy, don’t share that many aesthetic similarities, but do propose a way of dressing and all interact with both the art and pop culture worlds. What do you look for in designer collaborations? 

I try to work with people that I feel challenged by. There should be something in the brand that I identify with and understand, but that I also can learn about. Gosha, Kanye, and Eckhaus Latta all have that in common. They’re people that I’m inspired by and for whatever reason I feel like I can contribute something to what they are trying to say. So when I get the opportunity to actually work with them, I try the best I possibly can to contribute everything I have to their worlds, and learn as much as I can.

In your fashion show, ‘Hey, I Like You’ did you approach this as an art project, or did you approach this as a designer making products (albeit art and culture referencing products) that you hope to sell? Should there even be a distinction between these two ideas? 

The runway show installation, 'Hey, I Like You,' was very much an art piece. It was about using a runway show as a medium to express a feeling or atmosphere. I tried to create something special and unique for a specific audience that would get to see it in real life, but with the understanding that a chunk of the project would live online as well, and be received as a “collection,” versus an art piece. I embrace that as well. The medium of the runway show is tied to fashion and products. They’re all integral parts of the piece.

I’m curious about your series of zines that explore the human relationship to objects. To me, digital culture has enabled an interesting dichotomy in our relationship to objects. Though we are increasingly less dependent on objects, the objects we choose to surround ourselves with become increasingly more important. Is that what this series is trying to express? 

When I’m on my phone because I’m bored for 30 seconds in line at the grocery store, I feel fine and I feel a bit lonely even though there’s people all around me. When I hold my favorite book, I’m transported to another world. I’m connected to a specific thing. Human beings are not digital. I think a lot of people in my generation are forgetting that and it’s creating a sense of isolation.

I’m bored of the Internet. But with my guitar strings I can bend and touch and make sound or silence with them. We need connection, we need reality, and we especially need people to function as people. 

The Art of Gendercide: An Interview with Christeene

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Text by Oliver Kupper

Photographs by Matt Lambert

Drag terrorist or gendercidal maniac, Christeene is a fucking sensation. The first time I saw her play was out of the Printed Matter Book Fair at the MoCA in Los Angeles. Convulsing, screaming, genital grabbing, torrents and torrents of sweat – the experience was both horrifying and tantric. Knowing where her hands had gone and been during the performance, I was slightly reluctant to offer my hand for a mutual greeting after she stepped off stage. But that reluctance quickly dissolved, much like my expectations and preconceived notions about the fearlessness one can have as an entertainer, and the electric connection a performer can have with the audience. In our interview, Christeene talks about her connection to the audience – I use the word ‘tantric’ because of its sexual connotation, but also because it’s a Sanskrit word that can loosely be transcribed as the stretching and weaving of shared energies. Her connection to the audience also extends to micturating directly on them, but apparently that only happened once. In her new music video for the track Butt Muscle, produced by designer Rick Owens, and directed by Matt Lambert, Christeene can be seen offering a steady, arched jet unswervingly into Owens’ welcoming mouth with steam drifting, angelically upward. I got a chance to speak to Christeene from Austin, Texas – her home turf  – about Rick Owens and the making of the Butt Muscle music video, which premiered during Paris Fashion Week, and the chrysalis-like transformation of Christeene. 

OLIVER KUPPER: How are you?

CHRISTEENE: I’m good.

Thank you for taking the time to chat.

Thank you for calling on time.

I try to be punctual.

Oh good, sometimes they don’t call for days. [giggles]

Oh yeah, or ever.

Or ever, sometimes they never call - which is nice sometimes.

Sometimes it is nice, I am actually really happy when people don’t get back to me.

Yeah, I agree, especially in this day and age, I have no brain capacity for it all.

Yeah.

How are you doing?

I am good.

We met at that book fair!

Yes, we met at the book fair after your performance.

It’s a haze for me!

Yeah, you were completely drenched in sweat and we shook hands afterwards. I think Mel introduced us - how do you know Mel?

I met Mel at the book fair! I was running around the stage and Mel was running around the stage, we kind of made eye contact and I think we had met before, but again, the hazy brain, you know. We just kind of knew that we should talk to each other and we did and we discovered that we had other people in the orbit of our lives, so it was a very nice meeting in Los Angeles with Mel.

It’s funny how a lot of our orbits connect.

Yeah, there’s a lot and it’s fun when the planets get closer and closer and then you get that super-nova bang, it’s really good.

Yeah, it’s kind of magical.

Yeah I’m believing in that these days.

So, what are you up to these days? Are you performing? Where are you? What part of the world are you in?

Well right now I am in Austin and I am hanging out, listening to some John Grant and eating some pineapples, and I have a new collection of work, it’s coming out soon. So now I am speaking with lots of other planets and we are getting lots of things aligned to start setting out this fine new collection that I’ve been carrying in a little backpack on my back.

Do you feel like you are getting a lot of attention after that music video came out?

There’s a lot more conversation going on and it’s kind of been a wonderful way of being able to plug in with a lot more people out there who have possibly the same feelings or who have great fears about the whole thing. It has definitely brought about a lot more to the table in terms of sharing this work with more and more people which is what I very much, very much love to do.

Yeah, absolutely, it seems like it’s reaching a lot of people.

Yeah, it’s all due to the respect of the platforms that I was able to kind of ride up on, which was Rick and Matt and those wonderful people. They have wonderful homes and it’s nice to visit those places. When they let the monster in we all get to sit at the table and make a lot of food to share.

I feel like Rick Owen’s house in Paris is incredible. I have never been there, but it looks incredible. 

It’s like a piece of work. It’s never the same and Michele is always running around changing it. It’s like a very dark Auntie Mame house.  It’s always changing, but it’s not extravagant. It’s as bare bones as a piece of stone. It’s always got life inside of it and it’s very calming and soothing and it’s a wonderful place to rest within. 

So how did that video come about? Did Rick Owens reach out to you? Did you know Rick already?

Yeah, I met Rick a long time ago in 2011, I think. He brought me and my boys to Paris to perform at his Spotlight Club party. It was a fine affair and we kind of fell into each other’s lives and maintained a nice conversation over the years and kept seeing each other when I had the fortune of jumping over the ocean and going there for tour. So, you know, we got to a stage in our relationship where I said: “Hey Rick, why don’t we make a baby?” I was very  curious to see what our baby would look like and he was, of course, all about it. Then he mentioned that Matt Lambert was also talking to him about doing some work together because Matt had been to their home and Matt saw a picture of me on the wall - some terrible picture, I can’t remember - and then the planets crashed and we all decided that it would be lots of fun to use all our efforts to make one hell of a baby. It coincided with me being ready to release my first song from the collection and so we decided that it was a good time to fuck. 

I feel like the world needs that right now.

I do too and I did and I do and I continue to. That wasn’t my plan, I want to continue to build and share and work with people I love and try to put a dent in this shit we are dealing with. Not intentionally, but I know it most probably will, especially with the way it looks out there right now. I am glad that many people have let us know that the work has inspired them and let them find a hole to lay inside. 

I want to talk about Paul. Do you like talking about that or is that something.... 

I don’t usually talk much about that. I don’t know man, not really, I don’t really associate with that one over there.

Well my question is: Do you avoid questions about Paul?

I do. I came to life, I remember, about nine years ago and there’s some sort of life force that brought me here and I just remember dark places and dirt. I feel some sort of life force coming from some sun and if we are going to stick on this out of space conversation, I think there is a bit of a sun that I am revolving around. I do hear mention of Paul and I do believe that whatever that Paul essence is, it’s definitely keeping me alive. 

I have been watching interviews and stuff like that and over the years you have been becoming who you are now. It seems there’s a very chrysalis-like ring to the name Christeene. Does that make sense?

You know, nine years is not a long time but a lot can happen in nine years and I have found myself in ways of meeting other people and listening to the bird in my throat that sings to me and expressing those songs. I have watched my hair grow long, I have watched my eyes turn a brighter blue and I have watched the things I wrap myself up in take new shapes and forms. It feels empowering and it feels like something I can believe in. I just want to continue to follow those changes and let the bird keep singing inside of me.    

You have a lot of amazing attributes that make you Christeene. When you are getting ready for the day or a show, is there one definitive thing that defines Christeene?

My hair. 

Your hair?

It’s my hair. It’s got life. I take on lots of objects, I like to see life get thrown into these objects, these symbols that we have and wear and draw on ourselves and surround ourselves with. I have seen many things that I personally like to put on me or that have somehow, slowly become their own organism or their own life force. One thing that never seems to change on me, except for the length, is my hair. It has lots of life and it gives me strength.

You and Rick Owens have amazing hair. 

(Laughs) He’s got some hair on him! That’s what I liked when I met him because me, him and even Michele was like, “this is a nice little circle of power here.”

And it makes a pretty good cameo in the Butt Muscle music video.

It makes a great dick up my butt. 

Yeah, exactly.

Cameo if you will, to be polite.

I was reading the Dazed interview and they say something amazing: that you are this generation’s Divine, but they censored parts of the video, how do you feel about that?

I was unhappy with it. They didn’t remove parts, they just put a little bit of square of blurry over ass or [Ashley] Ryder putting his hand up the butt. I don’t subscribe to that kind of shit. Rick and I both were talking that we do not like to compromise and it was a situation where the compromise was very small. Then we were very happy just to know that once that first compromised piece of work was sent out you could immediately reroute yourself to the original form and see it for yourself. I don’t feel super happy about that because I don’t think anything like that needs to be compromised. But we had to sit back and understand, or they had to explain to me this wild animal, what was going on. At the end of the day we agreed that it was okay.

It’s like Japanese porn - in Japanese porn they blur out all the exciting parts. 

Exactly, and what’s so much fun about that? Nothing.

You really want to make sure that people see everything.

There’s beauty in all of that and there’s so much beauty. That’s why I asked Ashley Ryder to be in the video because I find what he does and his personality and his heart are so pure and sweet. I think that the actions that he does upon his butt are very reminiscent of the feeling that I have right now, that’s all.

Was it you who called yourself a drag terrorist or was that a journalist who called you that?

That was a long time ago. I make most of my videos with P.J. Raval in Austin. He’s a filmmaker and many times he was bombarded by people trying to compartmentalize what the fuck I was and what the fuck we were doing. We were always inspired by Vaginal Davis, who was always the drag terrorist and that was the title that Vaginal walked around with – with a lot of pride. It was the only thing we could find that made any sense, and just told people to fuck off.

It’s perfect, it sort of encapsulates a lot. 

I have a friend in San Francisco named Chloe and this past week she said that I was committing gendercide on all fronts. Gendercide I thought was a good word to just smack drag terrorist out of the way. 

That is pretty great, we’ll have to credit Chloe with that term. Do you think that queer communities need to take a more active role in demystifying the stigma to gain an equal playing field or do you sort of enjoy the fringeness in queer culture?

Do you mean like demystify the mystery of us all? 

Yeah, I mean...

I don’t like demystifying things. I don’t like when queers go on the television machine and break it all down. I think that we need mystery and we need our secrets and we need our gallery spaces - be it a bar or a cemetery or a parking lot at night in a dark car. I think those places are sacred to us and I am not so keen or excited to demystify our mysterious lives. I think that they need to stay in their own magical place. I think they obtain and hold onto a lot more power that way. 

A couple of years ago I was talking to Bruce La Bruce about this - who is very extreme. His view is that he wanted to exist on the edge because the edge has opened all these avenues for creativity. 

They always will and if you’re on the edge you’re going to be the first to see something out in the darkness that no one else can see.

That’s a really good way to put it. 

You have to be brave enough to stand on that beautiful point. You have to be brave enough to stand close to that darkness. 

I think artists in general should be standing on that edge, no matter who they are. 

I think many of the ones we like, do. 

Yeah, exactly. Some get crucified for it but...

Absolutely, some of them fall into the darkness and we never see them again. 

But at least they did go that far. 

Yeah, and hopefully they tied a rope around their leg and we can hold on. 

Or some kind of anchor, to find their work later or something. 

Exactly. 

Going back a little bit, growing up, where did you find your creative outlet?

I found it a lot in aggression and I found it a lot in sexual situations that I was curious about, or that were unattainable, or that were just swimming through my atmosphere. I found it in a great curiosity of who I was. I kind of landed in the middle of this madness and images thrown at me. This pop culture madness, and these strange people all around me. I just felt the need to devour everything at once and let it go to my bowels, shit it out and serve it back and see what these things around me would feel about looking and smelling and tasting their own shit. It was a very mechanical, monstrous kind of beginning for me. I just devoured everything. 

There are a lot of punk vibrations to your music. How would you describe your music?

I think the music represents a bit of what I just said in that the music is many layers of shit that reverberate different sounds from different styles of music. It is the digestion that I did with things that were in front of me. The sounds that came out were just the product of all of these different things that were bombarding me. I don’t like to find myself in a particular boat for all time’s sake, listening to the same sounds. I don’t think we have one sound within us and I don’t think it’s possible. So I try to find the song inside of me and I try to find a producer around me who can tap into all the different sounds but create a family of it - a body of work for it. But I don’t know how to classify my sound. I do hear punk and when I sound punk, I felt punk and it made sense to me. So I slept with and I let it take over me and that’s the sound that came out of me. 

And performance is a really big part of who you are. Is it more cathartic to perform than it is to make music in the studio?

I much prefer to perform. I want to plug into people, I want to be up on that stage and I want people to continue to bombard me with everything they brought in that room. I want to take it in and I want to explode with it or die with it or turn into a fucking rainbow with it. I don’t know, I just want to be a vessel for it and the stage is the most real, pure, raw, fuck you can have with people and it gives me the most pleasure and it strengthens me.

Do you have a ritual before you go on stage?

Well, I always take a piss in a cup because I always gotta piss unless I want to hold it and pee on stage which I like to do sometimes. I peed on Jonny Woo in London and that was fun. I always give my boys a strong hug and we look each other in the face and a kiss on the lips and we pat each other on the ass. I always take a sip of Jack Daniel’s and I like to do some push ups sometimes too.  

To amp you up. 

Yeah, to turn on my guns. 

My last question: So Christeene is here to stay?

I don’t know! I am here to stay but I like the idea that I can die right now. I am here right now and I am thrilled right now and I am ready to fuck stages right now. I have no intention of disappearing right now.

 

• 

The Kids Were Alright: An Interview of Ryan McGinley

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Text by Paige Silveria

Photographs by Ryan McGinley

 

Almost a decade and a half since his documentary style photos of his debaucherous Downtown New York friends were presented at the Whitney Biennale, RYAN MCGINLEY has dug through his archives, much of which he hasn’t seen since 2003, for his upcoming show “The Kids Were Alright” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. Accompanying imagery from the initial exhibition, never-before-seen Polaroids of friends in his home over the course of four years are mixed with assorted objects and ephemera – including a series of cameras that he regularly threw up on. Knowing much about his work and its evolution since this early show, but little about what brought him there, I rang up Ryan recently to chat.

PAIGE SILVERIA: How’s your day going? Do you have a tight schedule?

RYAN MCGINLEY: I always have a tight schedule. I always have a million things to do. Like, I’m trying to prepare for this show. That’s taking a lot of energy. But it’s good! We have a book coming out with Rizzoli that I’ve been working on until the last minute. There’s a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t think of. There’s a lot of ephemera in the show, like journals of mine from that time, cameras, early zines that I made -- stuff like that. And a lot of stuff from people who were around at that time, like Dash Snow and Dan Colen’s artwork. 

Tell me more about the ephemera.

Well when I was shooting back then, I was using the Yoshica T4. I went through maybe 20 of those over the course of like six years. I would do this project where I would drink Ipecac syrup, the stuff that you give babies if they eat poison berries or something, and it makes them throw up. I had this project where I would puke on my cameras. I would shoot a roll of me drinking the stuff and then vomiting on the camera. There are a few of these photos of me puking in the show. A lot of the cameras would break because of that.

What gave you the idea to do that? 

I don’t know. I was just out one night and I got really wasted and I was probably throwing up and I thought, ‘Why don’t I throw up on my camera?’ I probably got the roll back and thought, ‘Oh wait. This is a good idea. It’s interesting and something I’ve never seen before.’ The camera is featured as weatherproof, which means that you can get it wet, but you can’t submerge it. So I thought, ‘I could puke on these cameras and I bet they won’t break.’ So I did this for a year or two and made a whole series. There’s a lot of broken cameras in the show. 

How long have you been working on the show for?

Maybe nine months. I met the curator about a year ago. I was in Texas at Marilyn Minter’s retrospective at the contemporary art museum there. Marilyn is one of my closest friends. I went down there and I met Nora Burnett Abrams, who’s the curator for my show. When I got back, she reached out and told me about this Jean-Michel Basquiat show she was doing on the first floor. It’s only his early work. Work from when he was the same age that I was when I was making my early work, which was in the Whitney show. She asked if I’d be interested in showing my early work as sort of a comparative to Jean-Michel’s. And of course I said, “Sure, it sounds amazing.” I think there are a lot of similarities between the two of us. I think someone attending the museum would be interested in both of our work. 

When was the last time you looked at that early work?

I’d never really gone through that work since I shown it between 2001 and 2003. So it gave me this opportunity to dig through my archives -- especially my Polaroids. I had this obsessive Polaroid practice where I’d shoot everyone who came over to my house. My house was sort of a flophouse at the time. I took several thousand over the course of five years or so. It was cool to go through them and my archives in general. I shot pretty heavily in that period, like five-to-ten roles a night for pretty much five years. 

What was it like to go through those?

I guess it was cathartic. A lot of people aren’t around anymore. A lot of people committed suicide or overdosed on drugs and died. So from my group specifically, it was interesting to look at the photos with fresh eyes and over a decade of space. There were a lot of sentimental moments and I realized what a strong connection my group of friends had. I don’t think I would have been able to see those things at the time that I was taking these photos. 

Can you tell me a bit about your background? What was growing up like for you? Your parents were religious right?

Yeah, my parents were pretty hardcore Roman Catholic. I went to church about three times a week until I was about 13. I was really involved too, so I was like an altar boy and could recite the Bible and knew the stories. From an early age I was always interested in religious art. There were all of these depictions of good and evil and now that I think of it, a lot of nude bodies. I loved the symbolism. That’s what I was into as a kid. 

You had an older brother who lived in New York?

Yeah, he lived in the city and I would be dropped off at his and his boyfriend’s apartment. They were wild and gay and brilliant. Always singing and dancing. His boyfriend was a Barbra Streisand impersonator, and he got paid to do that. So it was fun; they always had costumes. His boyfriend would be acting stuff out from “Funny Girl." And my brother was really into Judy Garland. He just loved her so much. He’d always dress up like the Wicked Witch of the West for me. He’d put on this fake rubber nose and the green makeup. I guess it’s called being a Lion Queen, if you’re a gay guy and you know all of the Broadway numbers and movies. So he was the Lion Queen. He knew all of the lines and he’d act it out because he knew how much I loved it. It was fun to just hang with them and their friends who were other gay men. It was fun to go to New York and be raised in that environment.

When did you start going out to visit him?

As far back as I can remember. It was probably from when I was five years old until 13 maybe. My brother moved back in with us when I turned 13. 

 

It seems almost surprising that your parents would drop you off there at such a young age. 

Well they weren’t Catholic in that they would kick someone out of the house for being gay. They were okay with my brother. They followed the motto, “Treat thy neighbor as you’d treat thyself.” And I can’t remember, but maybe they encouraged him to go to confession or something like that? (Laughs) But my family is so close. There are eight of us. There’s an 11-year difference between me and my youngest brother -- so I was everybody’s baby. The brother I was visiting in the city was 17 years older than me. It was almost as if I could have been his son. I was just passed around between all of these people who just gave me so much attention as a young kid. 

And you finally moved to New York yourself for art school. 

It was my ticket out. There were these people who weren’t operating on the same wavelength as me. And I knew there was a good group of people in the city that were likeminded to me at art school. So I worked really hard in high school to develop my portfolio so I could get a scholarship at Cooper or Pratt or SVA. 

There weren’t any artistic people around growing up?

My art teacher. We would hang out; she was my good friend. She’d talk to the principal and get me out of classes. She’d say like, “Ryan’s going to go to art school, so forgive his grades in this class. Let him spend more time in the art room.” She had breast cancer at the time. So, she was going through a crisis. And I was going through a crisis with my brother, because he was dying of AIDS at the time. So we really bonded. We would go into the city and hang together. She was just my friend. She knew exactly what I needed to do. She really guided me. 

What type of artwork were you making when you were in high school?

I was really good at jewelry making -- making beads and crazy designs. But what I cashed in on, what I was known for in my town, was for making fake turquoise really well out of Fimo Clay. I would sell all these fake turquoise necklaces and rings at this shop at such a cheap price and all of the older women would buy it because it looked so real. Turquoise is pretty expensive. I was also really into sculpture and I really love Henry Moore. So I’d do a lot of carving of moonstone to make it look like Henry Moore and Isamu Noguchi sculptures. Then, of course, I painted a lot. Like I once made a painting of a guy with a computer head. It was pre-Internet. It was like, “The world is turning and people are going to have computer heads eventually!” Which is pretty much reality right now with everyone and their iPhones. And it was made in the Chuck Close style. You know how he paints like each little box and then you step out and it looks very realistic? That was my style and I did a lot of stuff like that. (Laughs)

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You were pretty into skateboarding too right?

Yeah, I had this little Japanese silk-screening machine and I would make my own silkscreens at home. You’d just photocopy something and you’d put the photocopy on the machine and you’d press it down and it would expose it. And you could silkscreen whatever you made, anywhere. So I did a lot of skateboard decks because I would skateboard every day in high school. I would make a lot of designs and logos for my friends’ decks. Like cool punk collage designs. 

Did Parsons and the city live up to its expectations when you finally moved? Or did you have to find your place?

No, I have always felt like this city was designed for me. When I moved here, it was the best day of my life. And there were no blogs or social media at the time. I found my crowd pretty quickly. At art school, I was with likeminded people. They were outsiders and gay people and of different economic backgrounds and races. It was so diverse and exactly what I was looking for. 

When did you start taking photos?

Around the end of ’98. At that point, I’d gotten a boyfriend. I started photographing him a lot and then my group of friends, outside of art school. People I had close relationships with or met: skaters, graffiti writers, gay people. I was recreating a family. I come from this big family, but it’s like I got the opportunity to create this new one that I just love so much. I started photographing them on a daily basis. 

You would do some dangerous stuff to get some of those photos. And getting images of some of the graffiti writers who didn’t want to be known must have been tricky.

Graffiti writers had so much paranoia because of the Graffiti Squad: the commission put together to stop graffiti in New York City. I was photographing all of the IRAK graffiti crew, which were at the top of the vandal squad’s hit list. Those guys were paranoid about their faces being seen in the photos with their tags on the wall. I was always shooting them while they were writing graffiti, but I could never show their face and their tag. I think just surrounding myself with graffiti writers, there was a healthy paranoia for them. Nothing ever happened. What really interests me about graffiti is the obsessive compulsive nature of it. I’m a magnet to people who are compulsive and obsessive. I think that’s how I found a lot of my friends. Just that personality of someone who is like, “Don’t look at me, don’t look at me, okay look at me.” I also love the risk that graffiti writers take too. A lot of the photos in my show are of people hanging off of the sides of buildings with a rope around their wastes, you know? That’s why I really loved Dash. Because when I met him, he was such an adventurer. He’d go out every single night. When I met him, I was so into that -- going into subway tunnels, on roofs, out onto the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridge. All of this crazy, insane, dangerous stuff was just so fun. The experience is super exhilarating. 

Back to art school for a second, what is it about it that you think is so beneficial? 

I think it’s the structure. I think it’s a little of everything. There was this one teacher who really changed my life who taught this class my fifth year of school called “Nudity, Sexuality and Beauty in Photography.” It was a game changer for me. I really needed that structure. I think if I hadn’t gotten that, I don’t think I would have been able to survive in New York. I would have had to get a job and I wouldn’t have had enough time to make my art and develop as an artist. School really accelerated my evolution and showed me what I didn’t like, you know? It brought me closer to the things that I did like and what I was good at. And for school, I had to be up at 8am. If I wasn’t in school I would have easily slept until like 1pm every day. My first year at school I went for painting and then my second year I did poetry and then my third and fourth year I switched to graphic design, and then my fifth year, I switched to photography. I think if I didn’t have a peer group or the facilities that the school provided, I wouldn’t have been able to make those leaps. Or really figure out what I was interested in. And I was one of those kids who really used the school and took all of the classes to try everything out. I was all over the place and after five years, I didn’t even graduate. 

Oh really?

It wasn’t until two years ago, they called me to be the commencement speaker. I said, “Yeah, I’ll do it. But I just want to let you guys know that I never graduated from Parsons.” And they were like, “Oh my god. We’ll give you your honorary degree!” So I mean, I was there for five years and I did do a lot of stuff, and it was awesome. I’m really pro school. I know a lot of people aren’t. I have a lot of people that work for me that ask me that question all of the time. I try to sit them down and talk to them and try to figure out what type of person they are; do they need structure or are they someone who seems to self-discipline? But I think it’s a good thing. And it also bought me five years of not having to have a job. So fucking awesome. I mean, when in your life do you ever get that opportunity -- to really focus on your passion without having to work? I got a good scholarship there and that helped.

 

An Interview of Olwen Kelly

Introduction by Ellis Pendens

Interview and Photographs by Flo Kohl

Back in 2012, photographer Flo Kohl shot Olwen Kelly as part of a black and white portrait series, and something clicked. Not simply the natural contrast of her dark hair and pale skin, nor the angles of her elbows and sharp cheekbones—rather she had that inimitable sparkle of good Dubliner humor, and a personality which leapt from the image. When he began his Kintsugi:16 series of medium format portraits of the body, disjointed and reassembled in contact sheets, it was with Olwen in mind. Likened to a modern interpretation of a Victorian autopsy image, her Kintsugi had a particularly macabre note, tempered by the delicacy of her features. She was the epitome of the fabled good-looking corpse.

Flo visited Olwen in her London home for a new photo session upon the release of André Øvredal’s new film, The Autopsy of Jane Doe. As the eponymous, unnamed body, she nevertheless managed to capture the viewer’s eye, and to steal scenes even from co-stars Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch. An intense close-up of her lifeless face and clouded eyes advertise the film, belying the magnetism of the lively young actress within. After an impromptu shoot, the two sat for coffee, granola, and a chat. 

FLO KOHL: For you, is there a big difference between modeling and acting or is it all in a sort of performative realm?

OLWEN CATHERINE KELLY: They’re definitely both performance based for me, but there’s a huge difference. The way that I have to prepare is completely different. 

Were you into horror movies or did Jane Doe just sort of happen?

I mean I do like horror movies. I didn’t set out to do a horror movie, but when it came up... I mean when I have a choice of watching something, I guess it’s usually something that’s a bit scary. I’ll sit and watch episodes of Criminal Minds or Silent Witness or anything that’s a bit eery. And horror movies, I scare myself and am not able to sleep [laughs]. 

And had you seen Stephen King tweeting about you?

Yeah, it was pretty amazing. It’s pretty cool that he’s seen it.

He saw it before me and I was like, “Oh my god, I really need to see this now!” When did it come out in the US?

It came out on the 23rd of December, just before Christmas. 

How challenging was it to just play a body?

Sometimes you’re not able to engage with people off-set the same way, so you may be getting your makeup done and getting into character, and thinking about getting yourself into that zone. I was able to have quite a good time and chill out with them and build up quite a good relationship, so that was definitely a positive experience.

Any new projects you can talk about?

Mmm, I have one coming up actually. Like a strong tribal leader and it’s got sci-fi elements in it as well, so that’s going to be fun and interesting. It’s really beautifully shot, so I’m excited for that to come out. The Darkness On the Edge of Town is already out here and it’s been out in the States for a year or so, and then other than that I have to keep them under wraps. 

Do you have any dream directors you’d like to work with?

Ooh, there are so many. I mean, Tarantino, for sure. I’m a big Ron Howard fan, but that’s because I love Arrested Development. 

Were you a movie fan growing up?

Yeah, big Tim Burton fan as a child. So, I think the first film that I actively remember taking an interest in was Edward Scissorhands, which is quite interesting for me, because I suddenly noticed that Winona Ryder’s been in quite a few influential films or TV shows for me at different periods of my life, and I’ve never really made that connection that she must have some sort of influence over me. 

So you’re from Ireland originally. Do you miss Dublin? Have you worked, film-wise, in Ireland?

Yeah, Darkness on the Edge of Town is Irish. I would like to do more there, because they make amazing films and the Irish Film Board actually funds a lot of movies. A lot of movies that are not even Irish. People from all over the world apply for funding there, because their funding does exist and it has quite a good history of trying to support Irish actors. So I would like to work there more, but I also don’t want to base myself there. 

Makes sense.

So, by not basing myself there, I guess I’ve taken myself out of that mix. For now. Yeah, so one of my potential upcoming projects may or may not be linked to Ireland [laughs]. 

Oh cool. It’s just fun to sort of go back to things that you knew from growing up. I was shooting in Germany and it’s so funny—things that I’ve always sort of taken for granted, just what was around when I was growing up, people are like, “Oh my god. It’s so amazing that this exists in Germany!” And I’m like, “Oh, okay. I guess it’s special if you didn’t really see it, you know?”

Yeah, for sure. I mean, Ireland has been really interested as soon as Jane Doe came out. Everyone has been so nice. People have spoken to my mum in the local pub and been really lovely and people are interviewing me and they put on a screening of The Autopsy of Jane Doe even though there’s not a definitive date of when, where, or if it will even come out in Ireland. They still had a screening. I mean, it was essentially all my friends that went. I wasn’t there, but my mum said everyone started cheering when my name came on screen [laughs].

 

Sex, Spies, and the Suicide Dancer: An Interview of Raed Yassin

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Introduction by Raed Yassin

Interview by Oliver Kupper

The Swinging Sixties and Super Seventies were a time of pleasure and paradise in Beirut, when it was the designated erotic capital of the Arab world. Dubbed “The Paris of the Middle East,” the city quickly became the top tourist destination in the region, attracting movie stars and pop singers. Beirut boasted many casinos, nightclubs and cabarets filled with flashy dancers and playgirls, ready to serve the sensual whims of incoming celebrities, businessmen, and royal Gulf Arabs.

In those years, you could come across sexy films and magazines everywhere, magazines like Sex, Arabic Playboy, Furnished Apartments For Rent, Stars Lights, The Camera, Cinema Wonders, and Alf Layla wa Layla (A Thousand and One Nights).

The owner of the Shahrazad nightclub, Mr. F., had an idea to start an erotic magazine to promote the girls working in the club. So he published Alf Layla wa Layla. Little did he know that the magazine would soon become a huge hit, as it was the only one featuring local Beiruti strippers, who would soon be showered in unending fame and desire while they adorned its shiny covers. 

In no time Mr. F. started to abuse his newfound success by using his girls to spy on customers, collecting scandalous information for future blackmail and bribes. Alf Layla wa Layla transformed into a dark source of power, and at one point Mr. F. even became an agent for the notorious “Second Office” of the Lebanese intelligence, operating his club as a honey trap for actors, singers and politicians alike.

One of the regulars was Prince Khalid Bin Saud: a Saudi Arabian royal playboy who loved to indulge in the fame and glamour of the time. Mr. F. acted as his pimp and drug dealer in Beirut, facilitating all of the Prince’s fantasies. They became very close to a degree that Mr. F. convinced him to publish stories of his lusty escapades in the magazine. The Prince agreed, divulging many sexy details to Mr. F.’s eager ears. In one interview, he admitted that he fell in love with a stripper at the club named Gladys Shock. These diaries immediately exploded into one giant scandal heard all around the city, and eventually traveled to the Prince’s homeland, where it was deemed highly unwelcome news. The Lebanese authorities were rattled, they couldn’t indict the Prince because he was untouchable, so they decided to hone in on Mr. F. instead. 

Suddenly, the girls who were featured in the Prince’s sexy stories started to disappear, one after the other. Strange stories about them committing suicide emerged. At the same time, a high price was placed on Mr. F.’s head. He stayed in hiding for a while, leaving behind the glitzy Beirut nightlife and his beloved magazine. Later, he managed to escape to Saudi Arabia where Prince Khalid had promised to protect him.

That was the end of Alf layla wa Layla.

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OLIVER MAXWELL KUPPER: What’s the current climate right now in Lebanon - both politically and socially – it seems like your work is a response to the cultural shock wave that reverberates from Beirut, which is a lot more metropolitan of a city than people imagine? 

RAED YASSIN: Because of the mix of capitalism, tourism and religious diversity, Beirut has always been a cosmopolitan city, especially when compared to its surroundings. Its strategic location also helps in this regard. But both politically and socially, it could not be more chaotic or unpleasant today than days past. Society is drowned in alcohol, drugs, prostitution, weapons trade and social media gossip. Politically, it’s almost silly how politicians openly manipulate their power to divvy up and steal the country’s resources. Both political opponents and allies are sucking up every last drop of what wealth remains here like there’s no tomorrow. 

Growing up in Beirut - during such an extremely turbulent time - are there any specific memories that have impacted your work? 

I have two very memorable moments while growing up that impacted me a lot. The first was when my father threatened me with a red hot pepper for using the VCR player like a keyboard (and destroying it). Another was when my brother caught me peeping over his copy of Bravo Magazine, while I was fantasizing about the naked girls featured in the centerfold. 

What was your first introduction to art - did you have access or a means to see art outside of the Middle Eastern context? 

My first introduction to art was in my uncle’s garden, he was a trash collector. He used to assemble many different objects in sculptural forms. He didn’t know that he was an artist. But those shapes, they struck me in a way. 

Another time I thought I saw a large-scale artwork outside the Lebanese context was when I was lying on my back in south Lebanon at night, and I started to see huge glowing lamps in the sky. I feel that was my first encounter with a light installation. I discovered later that this was actually an Israeli warplane throwing thermal detection balloons. 

What do your parents do - do they support you as an artist or have they supported your ambitions as an artist? 

When I was born, my father was a retired fashion designer. He hated that world, because of the long days of work with little or no return. My mother had always supported me going to the conservatorium and studying music when I was a teenager. She didn’t object to my artistic inclinations, but it's safe to say that she was concerned. 

You are also a musician – does it help to create a soundtrack for your work or exhibitions when you are making the work? 

It depends on the project. Most of my films are silent. I usually prefer to work on music and art projects separately, sometimes they may intersect, but it's a rare occurrence in my practice.

One theme that you explore a lot is human desire –  what is it about human desire that is so enticing? 

Desire itself is enticing. It is the energy that runs the engine of humanity. 

Your new series "Sex, Spies, and the Suicide Dancer" is very erotic – growing up in Beirut, where did you get your hands on erotic materials?

In the late sixties, tourism was really flourishing in Lebanon. The ‘supporting acts’ of this industry also started to really develop, places such as cabarets, nightclubs, and brothels could be found everywhere. Popular media also wanted in on the action, so erotic magazines got into distribution too. Beirut then kind of became the erotic capital of the Arab world for a while. 

I would be remiss not to mention the overwhelming wave of Islamophobia sweeping over the Western world, especially now that Trump is in office, what are your thoughts on that?

What really interests me is what comes next. Phobias are like desires, also another type of an engine for power to rule. 

I think it would be interesting to install your Islamic writing series in shop windows throughout the American South - do you think we need to take a brand new radical approach to combating Islamophobia? 

Why don’t you curate this project?

Another neon series, "Shine Bright Like A Diamond," really sticks it to the art world, do you think the art world needs to stop thinking of itself as the center of the artistic universe? 

It's a vicious cycle that consists of many different factors that feed this unhealthy situation. Everybody is responsible, as it seems now that art is not protesting, its just being used to feed the greedy. 

What is one of the greatest challenges as an artist dealing with the themes that you are trying to tackle? 

Chopping onions for lunch.

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Love Comes in Spurts: An Interview of Richard Hell

Text by Oliver Kupper

Portrait by Douglas Neill

Archival Photographs by Roberta Bayley

RICHARD HELL is a pastiche, a collage of wedded epochs crashing down onto him, the rubble shredding his clothing and chipping his teeth. Many don't realize that Richard Hell was and is, and forever will be the first "punk." If it weren't for Hell, the Sex Pistols may have dressed and sounded drastically different. And Hell is the perfect nom de guerre because Richard Hell is a firestarter. His intellect is incendiary and sharpened by the ghosts of poets like Rimbaud and Lautremont alike, and philosophers like Spinoza and Plato. On a blazing hot summer day in Los Angeles, we met up with Hell at the Biltmore Hotel to discuss literature, music and his enduring legacy of beautiful revilement. 

OLIVER KUPPER: We were talking about your relationship to LA [back in the lobby]. Maybe we should start there.

RICHARD HELL: I have this nagging interest in the battle of LA. I get to come here for a few days every couple of years. When I get back to New York, I have this urge to try to get a grip on LA. Then, when I return, on a trip like this, I am re-horrified. 

What is it about LA that's horrifying? The people?

It's just this feeling that the whole thing is a dream world. All of a sudden, everything around you could just shatter into dust, devastation, and death. This is a pretty common perception about Los Angeles. It’s classic, but it's very powerful. On one hand, it’s this earthly paradise of hedonism and glamour. There are the avocado trees. You can take a dip and catch the rays. You can do your substance of choice and just lounge around in lush intervals. But, as we know, materially, this is all taking place on this thin surface. At any moment, there’s an earthquake that destroys everything. Water goes missing. Riots begin. The first day or two that I was here, I didn’t know the town that well. We would go out for a walk, trying to orient ourselves. Somehow, even though we felt we were taking different routes every day, they would also take us to the most horrifying, hopeless manifestations of squalor. The homeless people and the urine in the street, all the filth…

It’s intense.

When you turn right at the door, two blocks away is The Grove. All this ease and entitlement. For me, the place is scary that way. It feels like its own illusion.

One of the best portraits of Los Angeles is in Nathanael West’s “The Day of the Locust.” Have you read that book?

Yes. I think it’s the best book about Los Angeles. It’s really funny that Homer Simpson is in it. Yeah, that book is brilliant. He’s kind of my ideal for style. I don’t think he gets the respect he deserves. I take him over Faulkner. [Laughs.]

I want to go back a little bit. I want to talk about rebellion, because I think it’s an important part of what you’re about. Growing up in Kentucky, where do you think that rebellion came from?

I’ve been wondering. I don’t usually wonder, but I have been wondering lately. Mostly because of the [new] book.

That inspired the question.

Clearly, there is some impulse to be completely unacceptable. I don’t think of myself as being that way, but I keep finding myself in that position. I don’t know where it comes from. I would like to overcome it. It seems like a reflex rather than a conscious choice. I would rather have more control over it. For me, the reading last night was really significant. I do a lot of readings. I’m pretty comfortable with it, usually. I get nervous and uptight, but as a rule, when I hit the stage, the instincts take over, and it works. But last night, I hated everything about the presentation. Period. It made me realize that I have to put this book aside. On the subject of your question, I wanted to be as ugly as possible. And why would you want to be as ugly as possible unless you want to do what people don’t want you to do?

I thought your presentation was great, though. And the writing was great. I understood your perspective. Maybe there are people who don’t understand that kind of writing.

That’s the way I justify it to myself. I’m trying to write well, you know? Ultimately, I am kind of hopeless. I don’t have a lot of hope. The human condition doesn’t seem very good to me. [Laughs.]

Especially lately.

Yeah. But that’s an issue, too. These times are so dark. You don’t want to reinforce it. I don’t want the work to be affected because I don’t think it’s relevant to current events. But at a certain point, you can’t help it. Do I want to contribute to the despair? If this was for real, I should just kill myself. [Laughs.]

Be a martyr.

Yeah. That’s the way I would justify it to myself: the underlying horror of everything can be the substance of the content. That’s balanced with this intention to write as well as possible. That can be a counterweight. In a way, you’re still affirming something. But there’s quality in the “aesthetic” experience. Doing the book has been intense. It’s not easy to put yourself in that place, to deliberately indulge this feeling of meaninglessness.

In terms of your process, do you feel like an actor when you’re writing? Is there a voice in your head that is not you?

It’s always struck me that there’s a little bit of the writer in the writing. You have to present situations that you cook up. But it has to be conditional. I really love doing nonfiction.

It has to be easier.

It is easier in that you have the situations and the ideas to get to the bottom of it, to be as perceptive as possible. Then, when you’re doing fiction, that’s when the acting comes in. All you have is your own experience. You have to draw on that as vividly as you can in the moment of the writing. The actors talk about “being in the moment.”

Method writing.

Method writing, yeah. But I’m not very good at that. My memory is really bad. I’m really bad with dialogue. That’s a place where the acting thing is significant. Everybody is an actor, given a situation, and you have to make it real. I don’t have that skill. You see writers who can. When you read the dialogue in their books, everybody basically speaks the same way. While in real life, everyone has a distinctive voice. It’s rare for writers to be really good at that. My fiction doesn’t rely much on plot, or dialogue, or even structure.

When did you first discover the written word? 

I think it precedes reading, in a way. In my autobiography, the title of it — I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp — came from a paper that I wrote when I was seventeen years old. When I discovered this paper — my mother had kept it in her files — I really identified with it. It was still me. That doesn’t always happen. I was doing a lot of research for my autobiography. That sounds odd, but I did. I gathered all of this evidence. I found a letter that I wrote shortly after I arrived in New York after having left home. I was probably seventeen when I wrote it. I literally did not recognize the person who wrote that. It wasn’t that I didn’t remember writing the letter. It was that I would have never guessed to have been the person who wrote it. It was a meaty letter, too. It had a lot of description of experience. I had no idea who it was. But this thing from when I was seventeen, that is different. I’m still that person and that person is a writer.

Film, too, is a big part of your interests. 

I had a real education in film working at a shop in New York. It was called Cinemabilia. It was all film literature, but also paraphernalia—posters, stills, scripts even. That was the last day job I had. It was definitely the job I held the longest in that period of my youth. I sure liked movies, but everybody likes movies. It was there that I really got exposed.

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That’s a great education to have. And did it keep you afloat in New York?

Well, that was at the end of my time there. I had twenty other jobs before. Usually, I was a meaningless clerk or delivery driver. I worked in a post office or drove a cab. At that time, in New York, it was so cheap to live. There were so many jobs and so many apartments. You wouldn’t have a problem quitting and getting another job. I probably lived in twenty apartments. I wanted to work as little as possible, so I had very little money. You could go three months without paying rent without getting evicted, so I did that over and over. There were so many apartments. I had a friend who recently had to get an apartment in New York and I was shocked by what she had to go through. They needed all her bank records. I had no idea it would come to that. When I was a kid, it was totally the tenants’ market.

I want to talk a little bit about The Sex Pistols because I think that’s an important part of the lineage of things, in punk especially. Did you know that they were ripping your style?

You know, I don’t want to rehash those things but it comes up so much. I write about it in my autobiography and I touch on it in the book of essays. It just seems kind of pointless to repeat stuff like that.

I’m just curious about your reaction to that, if there’s something other than shock or something other than anger.

It was funny. There was a certain level of resentment. Once I got to England and I saw how the punk bands were doing everything they could to conceal their debt to New York. I wasn’t about that because punk was supposed to be about honesty. But those bands were good and people don’t own ideas. 

Cultures can cannibalize. It’s how culture spreads. 

Sure, I stole plenty of stuff. 

You talk a lot about heroin and sex in [your new book]. Do you think it’s hard to be a libertine in the 21st century? Do you feel like it’s hard now to be a punk?

You associate heroin with punk? You associate sex with punk?

No, but I could associate it with being a libertine. 

There wasn’t very much sex in punk. That was something to me that was unusual in the history of rock and roll. There was this sort of rejection of sex. It was partly, I think, the desire to reject the hippies. 

But that sort of ethos, that punk ethos, can that exist in an authentic form in this century?

I don’t know what “punk” means to you. I don’t know if we’re talking about the same thing. I don’t like using the word. I’m so accustomed to it for convenience now that I use it all the time because it’s necessary. But to me there’s not much overlap with people’s conception of what punk is. I mean that’s what that whole lesson last night was about. 

I think a lot of people are confused by it and I think it’s been commercialized...

Well, just like any rock and roll. The general idea of it in the whole culture is extreme, youthful self-assertion of other qualities that adolescent kids have. Projecting in an adult world and trying to have fun despite it, and trying to be honest despite it. It’s just an explosion of that which is what rock and roll was about then. But you’re right. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of those values in music at present. 

Yeah, what about music today? 

It seems to have become completely accepted that the aim of music now - and it repels me - is to manipulate formulas in such a way as to plant a song in your head so that you can’t escape it. It’s inserted into your brain and you’re helpless because it’s this formula of how many beats a minute do this and where the hook has to come and what comprises it. It’s like creating a disease. It’s like manufacturing a virus that is impervious to any resistance and that will take over your brain. Rather than coming from any drive to communicate something or any kind of actual excitement, it’s just this manipulation of electronics in such a way as to enter and dominate you. 

It is a virus. It’s a form of torture, I think. 

I hardly listen to music at all anymore because I have just worn everything out. But maybe it’s also because I am old enough now. A lot of times a fuck ton of music, pop music, tries to affect your mood almost like a drug. You want to listen to a certain kind of music because you either want to overcome the way you’re feeling at that moment or you want to reinforce it. I don’t have much need for that anymore. Some music does date and we have just become so accustomed to it that it has no power anymore and I haven’t been able to find anything to replace it. There’s so little music there that really stays fresh. 

What are some examples?

The exception that really comes to mind is James Brown. 

I agree with that, one-hundred-percent. Soul music in general is so powerful. 

Yeah, but I can’t quite listen to Al Green anymore. I used to listen to more Al Green. It just didn’t saturate me at all. But James Brown still works. 

My remedy for that is to find a really great record store that sells soul 45s and then dig really deep and then find something that still makes you feel that feeling you had when you first listened to James Brown.

When I first discovered that Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Series, I think I lived on that for like five years. But even that, I am just too familiar with now. 

What about Bo Diddley?

I can’t remember the last time I played Bo Diddley but I should try him again and see.

Do you scour the poetry section when you go to the bookstore?

No, I used to. When I was a kid I would always be looking for what was new and try to find somebody. But I’m kind of out of touch now. I don’t haunt the bookstores and look for something surprising and new. I know people I can rely on to recommend stuff and I find good new stuff that way. But I do enjoy a good poetry book when I find it.

The book that you are working on now, after last night, you are deciding to maybe rethink it?

I am trashing it. As I said, it’s been pulling teeth writing it. I’m finally accepting that there’s a reason for that. Maybe I’ll find a way to rework some portion of it into another structure. But I am not going to keep forcing it. I am bailing on it. 

I thought it was gorgeous, like “the pendulum of goo” line.  There’s some great lines. 

Yeah, there are some passages that I really like. Maybe I’ll be able to salvage some of it. 

I like that it’s a noir theme, but it’s set in this mysterious, post-modern environment. 

I had ambitions for it and I feel like after this amount of time, wrestling with it, I have to acknowledge the impossibility. 

Was your name “Richard Hell” inspired by Rimbaud’s “A Season in Hell”?

It had nothing to do with it. It occurred to me later but just because Tom [Verlaine] was taking blame. We decided to change our name because we decided our name was just too pedestrian and we wanted everything to have a message. I suggested he take the name of a 19th century French poet because he loves him. Mostly it was kind of a fantasy ideal of who they were. We didn’t know their work that well but we liked the vibe that we got about them - Baudelaire and Verlaine and Rimbaud. So I suggested why don’t you take one of their names and the first name that came into my mind was Gautier. That was partly because he was obscure, so it wouldn’t necessarily make any connection. But I realized it would be a little bit of an issue of pronunciation. So when that happened I thought oh fuck, hell, people are going to make these associations like Season In Hell. I chose stuff just because I like the ring of it, you know, I liked all the associations. I felt like it described my condition. 

 

 

Shit From Shinola: An Interview Of Curator Dylan Brant

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Dylan Brant, a young curator from New York, is quietly and maturely making a name for himself within the hallowed, oft impenetrable walls of the art world. Sure, his pedigree helps, but he surely has a knack for putting together some of the coolest art shows around. His show Rawhide at Venus Over Manhattan – which was co-curated by Vivian Brodie –  was a masculine cowboy romp through post-Modern Americana. Bandana wrapped, and pistol wheeling, the show included artists like Richard Prince and Ed Ruscha, but also queer artists known for their muscle toned homoerotica, like Bob Mizer and Tom Of Finland. And just recently, Brant curated a show called Heatwave, which is open now at the UTA Artist Space in Los Angeles. The exhibition, which includes artists like Dash Snow, Rob Pruitt, Nate Lowman, and Cady Noland, takes a more abstract route in its curatorial expression, but it is probably Brant's most personal. The artists involved are artists that he grew up with or knows personally - or knew personally, like the late Dash Snow. According to Brant, the show really came together after watching an interview of Lux Interior (of the Cramps) who talks about music having an inherently youthful energy - no matter the age of the musician or the audience. We stopped by the gallery to ask Brant a few questions about the show and gained a unique insight into his ambitions as a curator. 

AUTRE: You mentioned that you had an initial idea for this show that didn’t go through. Can you talk about that at all?

DYLAN BRANT: It’s complicated. It’s emotionally complicated. I still want to do that show, so I can’t talk about it.

AUTRE: But you had an initial idea and they were wanting to move onto another thing?

BRANT: Umm, it just..it was more like it wasn’t the right fit. It was a little too spazzy.

AUTRE: Too spazzy?

BRANT: I’m a spaz. I’m all over the place. Just to give you an idea, I like things that have a bit of a “Fuck you” sort of undercurrent to them and it was a lot of that and it was a lot of that with really big words and the words are often very redundant and actually mean absolutely nothing at the end of the day, so something that maybe I think is cool is just absolute mumbo jumbo.

AUTRE: Do you think it was too smart for Los Angeles?

BRANT: It’s not that it’s too smart. Okay, you know when you’re in college and you think you’re really hot shit because you’ve maybe had just like one semester and you’ve learned all this stuff and you start writing and using all these big words, but then when you look at that in hindsight, it’s just a lot of big words that mean nothing? That’s the majority of my ideas, so it’s not that it’s too smart, it’s not that it’s too smart for Los Angeles, it’s that it’s not smart enough.

AUTRE: So, then you arrived at Heatwave, and you mentioned that the idea for this show came to you after watching an interview with The Cramps?

BRANT: Yes, I love The Cramps, you guys love The Cramps, we love The Cramps. Lux Interior, I think is just an absolutely phenomenal singer. As far as a performance artist, as far as a singer and songwriter, I think really he epitomizes what I like about music, particularly rock and roll music. He gave this interview somewhere in Denmark or something and I found it on YouTube. He was asked a question by the interviewer: “Who is the audience of your music?” and he sort of defined it as, you know, it’s teenagers and young people and stuff. From that, the guy responded, “well you’re old so how can you justify making youth music at your age?”  He responds by basically going into rock and roll music inherently has this youthful energy. So ultimately, “real” rock and roll is about youthful energy and spirit and not about your age. When I was thinking about ideas for the show, I was kind of thinking to myself, what are the things that really mean something to me? I feel there’s a vitality that innately attracts me to music and in this case, art. So I began to think to myself, "Who are the artists that I've really liked over the last six to seven years?"

AUTRE: Like, what artists?

I remember my first major exposure to art. I remember the first time I saw a Rob Pruitt painting and learning about the history he had with Leo Castelli. I really remember for the first time actually seeing Jonathan Horowitz’s mirror piece and learning about his home and entire history. I remember for the first time seeing Josh Smith’s work that really was like “woah that’s so cool” and I just thought it was so tough and bad-ass. I remember the first time I saw Joe Bradley’s work and I thought it totally sucked and then I ended up really liking it. I remember the first time I saw Cady Noland’s work and it absolutely blew my mind. It was actually here in Los Angeles at a collector’s house. She for me is the queen, she’s everything. She is the most amazing, the most influential artist in my eyes. So the conception of the show started with Good Music For Bad People, it’s a great record, that interview and it started with that Cady Noland piece you see in the show. I wanted to do a show with Cady Noland involved in it and that sort of expanded into that Raymond Pettibon piece over there and then eventually expanded into the Dash Snow pieces. Do every single one of these pieces perfectly exemplify the spirit that I am talking about? I am not going to say ‘yes it does’ because that’s a really broad, sweeping statement that says ‘I made a perfect show’ and I don’t think there is such thing as a perfect show.


AUTRE:  So is music a main drive for most of your curatorial efforts? I mean, the Raw Hide show you did at Venus Over Manhattan - what were you listening to?

BRANT: Marty Robbins?

AUTRE: Yeah, like old country music.

BRANT: Yeah, Marty Robbins, Neil Young, Merle Haggard, Mama Tried, Hank Williams, Hank Williams Junior. Yeah, music and film predominantly. Everything starts as an X factor for me. Music was the first way I understood creativity. From there, you know, all of us have learned about art history and then kind of fell in love with that. But every time I think about how you do something, you know, it’s like making a record or playing a song or something like that and it would translate from there.

AUTRE: Yeah, music creates this really interesting energy that sort of follows you everywhere you go. Do you have a particular type of music that you make?

BRANT: Nothing that’s worth remarking on that’s inherently good, no [laughs]. But my uncle that I am staying with, Mike Andrews, is a very good musician, a very good musician and he’s a professional musician. My father Tommy Andrews is also a very good musician and a professional musician. My grandmother was a piano teacher and an opera singer. I don’t know, I wish I had some sweeping, magical, prolific thing to say but no...



AUTRE: No, I think it’s hard to talk about because it’s sort of abstract.

BRANT: Well, it’s the art of the people, the most emotional, and it’s one of the rawest forms of expression. So if you sort of consider that, in the respect of an art context, which I feel like in many ways is a captured moment, you know, that innate drive of creation, there is a singular x-factor within all the creative formats. So you know, how you get there and what it translates to, it’s like, ok cool whatever, that’s your thing. But we all have a way to kind of getting there and mine is music.


AUTRE: Yeah, and again, Raymond and Cady, I am sure in their studios, there’s like endless amounts of music blasting throughout their lives.

BRANT: Yeah, Joshua loves hip hop, Rob Pruitt loves Miley Cyrus, Joe Bradley was in Cheeseburger, Julian Schnabel played bass in a band for a little bit. Uhm, Cady Noland I am not sure about and Dash Snow I am not sure about. But Spencer Sweeney in the back, he’s a drummer. He owns Santo’s Party House. So yeah, I never even thought of that, you could say that.

AUTRE: So if you were listening to a lot of Prefab Sprout, what kind of show would you curate?

BRANT: Prefab Sprout is fucking great. I love their production style.

AUTRE: It’s cheesy but it’s so good at the same time.

BRANT: That’s the coolest fucking question ever. Let me actually think about that seriously… I would probably curate a show about commercials or I would do performance, like ballet.

AUTRE: Or?

BRANT: I don’t know. I actually really think that that record Steve McQueen is a really good record. It’s really strong and I get a lot of crap for listening to them.

AUTRE: But the lyrics… It’s profound. There’s something profound about it.

BRANT: Dude, it’s so cheesy, come on. It’s not like Talk Talk or Spirit of Eden or something like that where it’s, you know, oh my god, these revolutionary production techniques and stuff. It’s just kind of like early, college rock radio from late 80s, early 90s…

AUTRE: You also worked at the Peggy Guggenheim in Venice. What was that experience like? What did you learn from that experience?

BRANT: What did I learn from that experience? Art’s awesome. This could actually be something that you could really do and make into a career which I’d never thought was a real possibility. I never thought being in the arts period would be a real possibility. So, that was cool. Also, being at the Peggy Guggenheim and experiencing a different country and culture was mindblowing. I learned a whole lot; it was the whole cultural experience. That country’s a whole lot better than the U.S.A., intellectually.

AUTRE: Yeah, I mean it’s almost more important to have a culturally impactful experience, especially when you’re younger. How old were you when you were doing that?

BRANT: Sixteen.

AUTRE: Sixteen—so you were super young.

BRANT: Yeah I didn’t know shit from Shinola; I still don’t know shit from Shinola, but definitely didn’t know anything then. I just had this opportunity and was like “okay.” I mean the first time you do performance art it’s like “oh my god, I can express myself and be okay;” the first time you write an article and somebody is like “oh, this isn’t that bad” and you’re like “what do you mean it isn’t that bad?” My expectation level is that it’s just going to be terrible so when it turns out decently well and it’s well-received, my first reaction is to try that again.

AUTRE: Interesting. You also grew up around a lot of art—

BRANT: I grew up around a tremendous amount of art, that’s a fucking understatement. My father Peter is without a doubt one of the most intense critical eyes I’ve ever encountered in my life. Being a young person who had the opportunity to go to art openings and see the things he saw and not understand what was going on and, in hindsight, processing and understanding that all the stuff was made: this really crazy. As a little kid there was this game that we’d play where if I named one of the artists right I would gain a dollar and if I named one of the artists wrong I would lose a dollar. Seriously. Straight-up being brainwashed. Going to the Warhol Estate when Vincent Fremont still ran it and seeing that in the 90’s, being able to see Tony Shafrazi’s gallery in Soho when it was sort of at it’s height and peak, being able to see the Last Supper show that Warhol did at the Guggenheim when it was still downtown, being a little kid and seeing...I could go on and on...when Kenny Scharf still had his kiosk in Soho.

AUTRE: So you caught the tail end of a generation.

BRANT: Tail end? No, it just keeps going. Seeing all the early Richard Prince photography and works pop up in the early 2000s. He and my father starting to collect that again, seeing the paintings, and seeing him leave [Barbara] Gladstone and go to Gagosian, find out who he was, meeting Urs Fisher after he did the “Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns?,” getting to know him as a person, getting to know any of these people in this room, it’s exceptional. Dash Snow, of course. I mean, [my dad] is the consistent X factor in my life of why I got into art. There is absolutely no way I would have ever, ever, ever, been interested in art if it wasn’t for him. I would have totally just been only interested in music and I’m a mediocre musician, so that for me was the X factor when I realized, “Oh my god, I could actually work in the arts and maybe I could be a catalyst for artists rather than be an artist myself.”

AUTRE: That’s interesting because most people aspire to be the artist but there’re so many other positions in the art world that are just as important, it’s amazing.

BRANT: Collectors, advisors, dealers, museum people. It’s a fucking eco-system. You don’t get somewhere just by being a good artist, there are tons of good artists. A lot of luck and a lot of really good, smart, thoughtful dealers. All these guys really, I mean Gavin Brown is pretty much one of the most important dealers in New York City for twenty years and going strong. Luhring Augustine - one of their early artists was Christopher Wool. Just think about that shit.

AUTRE: Yeah, it takes a lot of experience. And intuition, too.

BRANT: Yeah. And seeing things. It’s like getting married, working with an artist for a lifetime and I’m just not ready for that kind of commitment.

AUTRE: I think we could talk about art forever.  

BRANT: I know, isn’t it kind of sad?

AUTRE: It’s endless.

BRANT: I know, it’s like a snake eating it’s own tail.


Heatwave will be on view until April 18, 2017 at UTA Artist Space, 670 S. Anderson, Los Angeles. text, interview and photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram:  @AUTREMAGAZINE