Rough Cuts: An Interview Of Chuck Arnoldi On The Occasion Of His Show At Desert Center Los Angeles

Some interesting facts about leopards: they are solitary animals that hunt in open terrains, they are difficult to track in the wild, they are extremely adaptable to new environments, and they often leave claw marks on trees to mark their territory. In Chuck Arnoldi’s expansive Venice Beach studio, a dusty, taxidermied leopard is perched, mid-roar, above the kitchen alcove. There is something strangely symbolic about this once ferocious, now inert genus of panthera.  Arnoldi is not a hunter, but he is quick to note that this leopard is one of the best examples of taxidermy in the world. Among the Cool School cohort of artists, like Ed Ruscha, Billy Al Bengston, and Larry Bell, Arnoldi may be the lesser known, but he may also be the most prolific. His chainsaw sculptures – which can be quickly described as chunks of painted wood with blade marks slashed into them – are his most well known, his Girl From Ipanema. They are dangerous and allude to his misfit youth. These hyper-mystical geometries can also be seen in his Machu Picchu paintings, which mimic the mysterious architecture of the ancient Incan citadel. Arnoldi’s latest show at Desert Center, entitled Rough Cuts, includes a number of recent chainsaw paintings made in and around the Yukon. A day after the Woolsey Fire broke out and threatened the artist’s home in Malibu, we sat down at his studio for a chat.

OLIVER KUPPER: First off, I want to talk about the fire because it came very close to your property in Malibu, what did you do to fight off the fires? 

CHUCK ARNOLDI:  We weren’t going to leave because I have so much art in the house--I have a little Warhol I got for nothing...that is worth two million dollars, you know. We felt comfortable, because the house is quite high up there. We knew if the fire came, we could always go to the beach. If you go up to our roof, you could see the stuff coming. They looked like atom bombs, flames a hundred feet tall. I didn’t think my house was going to burn. I took the Calder and the Warhol...I got a lot of stuff, about a hundred-fifty pieces of art at least in the house. I took it all outside and put it in different places. It took me 25,000 steps to take it out and 25,000 steps back to take it back.

KUPPER: The fires tune in to your work in a way, because some of your most well known works deal with using discarded materials or recycled materials, like your stick paintings, which came from a burned down orchard, can you talk a little bit about that?

ARNOLDI: I had an artist friend from Malibu and he told me one day, there is an orchard...and it had oranges and avocados and he told me to go steal some fruit. It was his special little thing…he’s an odd guy. So we were out there stealing oranges and avocados. The perimeter had all these leaves that had burned off, and they looked like charcoal lines. I thought those are beautiful, so I took my sticks back to the studio. The first piece I made, I took four sticks and tied them together at the end and I put two nails and hung it on the wall. It’s really about something being the sum of its parts, gravity.

KUPPER: Is it true that some of your stick paintings have come from your childhood home in Ohio?

ARNOLDI: No, but you see those thorns up on the wall? When I was a little kid growing up, those were from a tree in Ohio. So I made those paintings from thorns. I’ve been avoiding Ohio like the plague. I have a very dysfunctional, bad family. 

KUPPER: What was it like growing up there?

ARNOLDI: Most of my buddies are dead, a lot of them went to prison. I was just in a bad place. I had no art history at all in my childhood. I have an uncle who was a portrait painter, he wore a beret and had a little painting studio. I used to go there and I really liked the smell of oil painting. He was my only exposure to art and at one point I got a modeling job at an art institute. I was broke and they would pay me to pose. One of the directors convinced me to take my clothes off and then he wanted me to get a hard on. This fucking guy, I’d like to meet him today. No fucking way.  

When I was a kid, I made tree houses and forts and if I saw a Tarzan movie, I would make bows and arrows and spears. As I got older I got involved with cars. When I graduated, a teacher told me, “You are the most talented with the least amount of vision of anyone I have ever met,” and it made me feel terrible.... See, when I was growing up, I got attention for doing stuff, I was really good with my hands.

KUPPER: Seems like the whole Venice School came from places like Dayton, the mythical American city, what was it about LA that was such a beacon for you guys? 

ARNOLDI: I was a senior in high school and I had gotten in a little bit of trouble, they were gonna put me in a foster home. My father was living in Southern California with this woman he ran away with and he flew me out to California. I had never seen a freeway. It blew my mind. When I got back to Dayton I wanted to move to California. After I graduated high school, my mother had about six dollars and twenty-eight cents, so she gave me that and I left with four buddies of mine. I had a ‘55 Chevy with a ‘53 engine. We were terrible thieves.

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KUPPER: When did you get serious about art?

ARNOLD: While in Los Angeles, it was time for me to go to school. I drove out to Ventura and I chickened out, I just couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t even go to an art history course. It was way over my head. I would just go to the art classes, ceramics for instance. The guy who ran the art department, Mr. Deets, saw my work and he came to see me and said, “You know son, since Picasso, everything is bullshit. You need to be an illustrator. I can make you one if you do what I tell you.” I could draw perfectly. I had the skills.

KUPPER: How did your later experiences at Art Center influence your perspective?

ARNOLDI: I’d be doing a painting and the guy would come and go, “That’s done.” To me, it wasn’t finished, but to them I was ruining it. They would take your work away from you. In painting class the first thing they taught you is that you have to wear a tie and how to wear it so you don’t paint on it. This was all bullshit to me. I’m sitting there thinking this is fucked and I quit.

KUPPER: You seem like a bit of a daredevil – can you talk about your chainsaw sculptures, because those sort of put you on the map in a way?

ARNOLDI: I just liked the way it looked. But one little slip and it’s really bad. I’ve been doing the Machu Picchu thing...these multi-paneled paintings. But the chainsaw sculptures were just one of those things that was on my mind. I don’t like to make sculptures because they are bulky. But these sort of made sense.

KUPPER: Some of the work at your current show was made in the Yukon?

ARNOLDI:  I went up there not expecting to make work, but I was sort of coaxed into it. The guy who owned the property has a gold mine. He asked if we wanted to get to work, so we go down to a river to find some wood. There were these two rough kids – one of them had recently slit a wolf’s neck that tried to attack him. So we are up there and they start to cut down some trees for me to make a sculpture. One kid said, “What do you want me to do?” I tell him to cut five slabs off and to get me some kind of platform. I said, “Kid, you’re good with the chainsaw. I’ll draw the line. You want you to give me this much of an angle.” (makes the vroom, vroom, vroom sound of a chainsaw) I look over and the other kid wants to do it too (vroom...vroom...vroom). We worked for two hours and made a few pieces. By the end, we made nine... and the new chainsaw pieces were painted in red, black and yellow. When I used to make the old chainsaw paintings, there would be splinters all over, so I would torch them away. I went and bought a serious blowtorch and all the kids were so excited.  The kids cut trees down like crazy, and never thought of doing anything beyond that. I bet that within a year these kids would be making furniture and shit out of logs.

OK: Your upcoming show at Desert Center is called Rough Cuts – there is a connection to your work and some of the other Venice artists to music, the improvisational nature could be compared to jazz?

CA:  Somebody once told me something and I felt rather flattered:  “Your chainsaw paintings are the closest thing I can think of to Pollock.” The reason is....Pollock in a sense did a dance, it was spontaneous, you know--he was physically involved. Man, then you start cutting in references and you are making hundreds of decisions a second, but it's a physical thing, you’re actively engaged in it.


Chuck Arnoldi: Rough Cuts is on view now at Desert Center Los Angeles, 7466 Beverly Blvd. Email for appointments: desertcenterlosangeles@gmail.com. Text and photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper


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The Nonconformist: An Interview of Painter Duncan Hannah

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photograph and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

A painter of imaginative worlds of youthful frolic and abandon by trade, Duncan Hannah is a natural-born gentleman of letters and raconteur. He has a lot of stories to tell, like the time he introduced Nico to the band Television at CBGB. Or the time he wound up in a limo with David Bowie, Brian Ferry, and Andy Warhol. Or the time Patti Smith wrote a poem about him. Or the time that Lou Reed asked him to shit on his face at Max’s Kansas City. But Hannah wasn’t always at the right place at the right time, he was also at the wrong place at the wrong time. Growing up in Minneapolis, smoking weed, and taking acid, Hannah yearned for the bright lights and big city. Obsessed with literature, obsessed with the libidinal forces that consumed him, and obsessed with French and Italian New Wave films, Hannah’s figurative oil paintings have that new car smell circa 1935. They are electric, new but vintage, eternal but corporeal, vague but crystal clear, flesh-toned and coated with a fresh wax of nostalgia. Imagine Edward Hopper’s loneliness caught in a tornado with the masturbatory fantasies of a teenager – Michel Poiccard's bush and tush pinups taped to the mirror of a celluloid sex dream. I caught up with Hannah before the opening of his exhibition and West Coast book release at Parker Gallery in Los Angeles.

Oliver MAXWELL Kupper: Let’s start off with Cinemabilia in New York.  Was that 1970? 

DUNCAN HANNAH: That was probably the spring of '74, because I went to Parsons, and Parsons was right above Cinemabilia. So I just swung in. I was nuts about foreign cinema. So I'd say, "Let me see your Alain Delon file. Terry Ork, who owned the place, would go, "Richie! Alain Delon." Richie was Richard Hell – he worked there. I'd get a big pile of stills and then I'd say, "Could I get these?" And Terry would say, "Just take 'em." 

And you used those for reference?

Yeah. I wanted to make paintings like French movies that felt kind of pregnant with danger and romance. But unlike film noir I didn't want them to be too heavy. Because the French are – it's kind of lighter. And it happens in broad daylight. Breathless is a great example. 

I love the way Belmondo touches his lips in that movie. Alain Delon was another great actor. There's a
photograph of you, I think it's in your studio maybe, and you look sort of like Alain Delon! 

A little friendlier than Alain Delon. He's got those icy blue eyes.

He has very steely blue eyes. And a very steely look.

Yeah and he is...He killed his bodyguard. And got away with it.

That's wild. I didn't know that at all. 

I don't know if you can print this, but he had an orgy club and Pompidou was part of the club. Pompidou's wife was kind of a swinger, nympho, and Pompidou apparently had a huge penis. But anyhow, Alain Delon secretly filmed all of his orgy things behind a two-way mirror. So he shot his bodyguard with his gun, a Luger, wrapped him up in a tarpaulin that said, "Alain Delon," on it.

Smart.

[Laughs] He drove to the outskirts of Paris and just threw him in the dump. And so the dump guys found his corpse with a bullet. So there could only be one suspect: him. His bodyguard had been blackmailing him, because he got jealous of how rich Delon was. And I think Delon was kind of a dick too, so he was just like, "Fuck you, I'm so sick of working for you. Gimme something." But Delon was completely unruffled, and nobody could figure out why. Why is he being so cool? I mean it's completely in character. So Pompidou stepped in and said, "Case dismissed. There is no case." And the country, especially all the lefties, just said, "What? Different rules for rich and powerful people, that ain't right. Fuck you pigs." 

I wanted to talk a little bit about your upbringing. It seems like being a rebel started suiting you a lot more than conforming. Especially against a lot of these strict, postwar,
Midwestern values. Where do you think that rebellion came from?

I was fine with everything until, I don't know, maybe I started smoking pot at fourteen or fifteen. That was a great eye-opener. My grades immediately plummeted. And then pot led to everything else eventually. I also always wanted to be an artist, which is nonconformist. Anyhow, my dad was a lawyer, and he thought, "Well, he'll be an architect. He'll be something.

Was there ever an ounce of thought of becoming a lawyer or anything
like that?

Not at all. Not a nano second. 



But it seemed like your artwork was your own way of finding your identity. The realism in your art – was it a way to ground you in a way?

Yeah I would say that.  If you'd asked me when I was twenty, "Will you paint like that?" I doubt it. I just kind of grew into it. But it took a while, because I was just absorbing, you know Fillmore posters, and Zap Comix, and Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol. There was just so much coming in that it could've gone in many different directions. 

You were mainly studying abstract expressionists, right?

I went to Bard, and my teachers were Color Field painters. But I took art history, which was great, because you see this continuum and how it all fits together. Which was new to me. When I was a kid, I'd go to the MoMA and you look at all this different stuff and you think, "How does it fit together? I should know this. I'm gonna be an artist, but I don't get it." But then when you take art history, you kind of get it. One thing leads into another and you go, "Ohh." The reason I was confused by that is because, you know some particular painting, it's just that I don't like it. It's just my subjective take and it's okay not to like it. But now I know how it fits in. But anyhow, when it got to the late '40s and you get to de Kooning, I just went, "Wow."

You had these other tastes and interests that were completely opposite and modern in a way. 

Yeah, I was really attracted to being narrative. And I could just see I was gonna be a third-rate abstract painter. I mean it was fun, but I just thought, "It's not me." So I thought my voice was elsewhere. And figurative painting, you don't need an outside challenge, because it's challenging in and of itself. Because I wasn't trained to paint the way I am. So, I was just looking at dead painters and trying to figure out what they did. 

Like Hopper?

Yeah, like Hopper. And wondering: Why is there so much psychology? His paintings were so pregnant with something. 

There's an anxiousness about them. And a loneliness.

Yeah, and a kind of mistrust. Whose side are you on, and who can you trust? And how can you put that in a painting? I realized that film and books travel through time. If you want to make a movie about Los Angeles in 1939, no problem. But if a contemporary painter paints Los Angeles in 1939, it's called, “nostalgic," or "retro," or something, which just doesn't seem fair. So as long as you do it well, you can transcend it. I love period stuff. And I thought, "Why can't painters do that too?"

I think your paintings are interesting because there's a distinct contemporary feel to them, even though they're retrospective. They look more like fantasies in a way...

Yeah it's not quite real. I remember when I was like ten, I went to Europe for the first time and it felt really foreign. I loved that feeling. And it gave me some sense of what the world would be like when I actually became an adult at twenty-one. It'll be like this. Anyhow, then I grew up. Things change and it's not really the way you thought it would be. But I thought, that feeling I had when I was ten, and also the future being kind of friendly, it was gonna be great. [Laughs]

It feels like you were yearning to get out of the Midwest and go to the big city.

Yeah, as fast as I could. Clearly, Minneapolis was, for me, nowhere to stay. I went to New York when I was seven, with my parents. We were staying at the Waldorf, and I remember standing under the Marquee on Park Avenue, looking at the yellow cabs going back and forth, and just thinking with absolute certainty, "Oh, I get it. So this is where you come to live." And I never wavered.

You have endless incredible stories. And you're an obsessive collector of personal ephemera, too. Your diaries were full of everything.

And physical memorabilia too. I mean I am, I've always been a collector of all kinds of stuff. 

And the writing seems that way. It seems like a collection of streams of consciousness...

I suppose that's it. You collect records and drawings, and you collect conversations, and you collect memories and you collect dirty jokes. You collect all kinds of things. I guess I hate to let things slip through my fingers. 

Keeping all these moments recorded, did you feel like you were living through a sort of historical time? 

I'd have to say no. Except, I wanted to be in swinging London, with the Yardbirds and the Who. I don't know, that was really appealing. I was born too late. When this started happening I thought, "Well, this is pretty good too." But, I never thought it would cross over. But then, you know, Blondie and Talking Heads got signed and then they'd be gone for a year. Then you'd see them on TV, and you'd read about them in Melody Maker or some French pop magazine, and you'd go, "Wow. These are not our bands anymore. These bands belong to the world." It's working. 

Even Patti Smith too. It seemed like Patti was so niche.

Yeah she’s a poet. 


Inspired by Rimbaud. 

I think I saw one of her first gigs, when she had Lenny, and she was very embarrassed about it. Like she was pretending to be a rockstar. "I'm just gonna pretend to be a rockstar, just for this one song. So I'm bringing out Lenny Kaye!" And of course we all loved Nuggets. Yay, Lenny Kaye! And it was so primitive. She'd do a Marvelettes song. And you'd just go, "Oh, that's charming." Who would've thought? It was like a magic trick. Also, because she was in love with rock
stars, then to become a rock star gradually, right in front of your eyes.

It's really fascinating. And people think about that era of being just purely punk and people in tatters.

Real punk is something I've barely listened to. And even when I did, it's fun, but it's not really my kind of music. Except something like the Stooges, it transcends punk. As Danny Fields said, it's like our "Wagner" or something. And I thought, "Yeah, it kind of is." 

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Danny Fields was sort of a big part of your evolution. He seemed to introduce you to a lot of different people in New York. 

Yeah. My editor said, "Y'know, I kind of get tired of your antics with your decadent friends, until you move to New York and meet Danny Fields. He's the straw that stirs the drink." And I don't exactly know what that means, but it sounds good. 

It totally makes sense. It seems that way. You read it, and it's amazing, it's riveting, and then...

Well then I think it just kicks in. All those people I've been reading about and listening to, fantasizing about, there they are. And he had the magic key. And they all loved him. He was so respected. 

Do you still paint upside down? I read somewhere that you paint upside down. 

Oh, well I don't get upside down, but yeah I do turn the painting upside down. And it's very helpful. And then the other trick is you hold a mirror against it so you can see it backwards. And you can see a flaw immediately. Because you've gotten so used to it. But that was the one thing — not the one thing — that I really learned from my abstract teachers: is just keep turning it.
Because the painting should be as strong formally as it is narratively. It's to prevent you from painting a picture. I mean pictures are fine, but you're painting a painting. And painting
has its own rules. And if you forget that, it's weaker.

It doesn't hold up the narrative as well if it sucks formally.

Yeah and it's even good to bring the narrative down. Like if details get lost or something. That's fine and hopefully it becomes archetypal in some kind of way.

The viewer can better create the picture in their own head. 

Well that's exactly it. It's more generous that way. If you don't nail everything down for the viewer, they know that. I mean I always think it's funny painting reflections in water, or reflections on anything, because it looks so difficult, but actually doing it is really simple. You just mimic what's nearby. And the viewer fills it in. They know exactly what that is. So you don't even have to flesh it out much. You have to suggest it and the viewer does the rest. 

I think that's why the Renaissance painters were so brilliant. 

Yeah and then the viewer's more engaged too. Because they've actually contributed to it. Whereas like a photorealist, they leave you absolutely nothing to do. It just leaves me cold. Because yeah, that looks impossible to do, but who cares?

Going back to the book, what made you decide to publish the diaries? Did they come to you?

I had an offer from an archive dealer to sell my archives to some big library. And I was sixty-three at the time maybe. I thought, "Ooh, I'm not done with them." I'd never read them, and I'd been meaning to do something for about ten years. And I thought, this is the time. So I started editing.
Salvaging what was salvageable. And then there was a New York Times article about me, because I had a show in Chinatown. And they were asking me how I liked the Patti Smith book and I said, "Yeah, I liked it. It wasn't quite my experience, but maybe I'll write my own." And it was completely off the cuff. So it's funny that he threw that in, but then an editor at Random House saw, who owned one of my paintings, and I knew very slightly, and he said, "Hey, if you actually do that, let me have first peek." I thought he was being polite. After a few months, I thought, "I should get him out of the way." So I sent him forty pages, waited for him to say, "Oh, I'm so busy, I don't know when I'll get to this but thanks a lot." But he wrote right back and said, "This is great. Send me more." So I sent him another one-hundred pages. And then he just said, "Alright, meet me for breakfast tomorrow." And this guy's a famous editor. He did David Foster Wallace. Like real writers. [Laughs] And I thought, "What?" 

Well this is real writing, I think that you have – you could have been a novelist, you could have been a short story writer. 

That's really nice to hear, but it's impossible for me to see it like that. Anyhow, he just said, "I'm
gonna sell it to Knopf. This is great. And, there is no primary document of the '70s that's like this. This is so different from a memoir. It has an immediacy to it that those other books don't have." And I said, "Okay." And he said, "So just finish up..." And he warned me, he said, "This is very — are you ready for this? Because you're, like, naked."

I like that he warned you afterwards.

Well, it was kind of in the process, but he said, "You know you're laying yourself open." And there's a lawyer to protect other people in it. So we concealed identities. I said, "I don't know. I don't think I'm that bad in it. So why not?" Also, I love this kind of book. I love when an author tells the truth. And I always feel so grateful. And they don't all do it. I mean if you don't tell the truth, who cares? It's just not that interesting. So I thought, well it's my ace in the hole, that it's just tawdry as it is.

But it also has a lot of...the tawdriness of it adds to the depth in a way. And I think that you had a sort of very keen way of observing what was around you. It really did seem grounding. 

Yeah, I think that's right, it was a way of equilibrium. And if I could write it down, it didn't mean that it was that bad or I was still in possession of my wits or something. I think that's probably right. 

I mean there's a lot of blackouts. There's a lot of lapses in memory and small lapses in judgment. But you always sort of bounce back to things. And you're still alive. You're still around. 

Well I'm surprised that the tone is kind of consistent from the beginning to the end. And I didn't expect that. I thought it would be kind of all over the place. Because I remember — if I'd written a memoir, I would've thought, "Oh, that's the time when I was trying on identities and we were all very pretentious and phonies a lot of the time." But I didn't find it like that. It doesn't seem like that. 

It seemed authentic. You seemed like a journalist in your own life. You seem like you were on an assignment.

And that myself is my experiment in a way. 

And you sort of become a fixture in the history of a lot of people's lives. I think that's what's so
interesting about painters. You can enter different worlds.

Yeah. Not something I necessarily thought about. But it does provide you, as long as you're in the mix somehow, you don't have to be David Hockney. But if you're in there, it just keeps ever-changing. It's fascinating. So, that's really good. And that is one thing I really wanted: access to that world that seemed out of reach when I was twelve. And then eventually it wasn't. 

What was the process of curating this show? Because it seemed like it goes back a little bit to your earlier work.

When Sam Parker opened his gallery, he said, "Let's have a show." Actually, I've had a bunch of shows lately. I've shown in Amsterdam, Paris, two in New York, and then this, all in a year. And it was all based on the inventory that I had. So that was good. I mean I paint a lot. I paint every day of the week if I can. So it just builds up. And not all painters I know do that. And they'll call and say, "What're you doing?" "Painting." "Got a show?" "No, just painting." And they go, "Oh, good for you." Regardless of shows. And also I paint better if I don't have a deadline or a destination. So if it has no purpose other than to turn me on that week – that’s usually the best.

Well, I like the world you are creating with your paintings – your imagination is rich.

I mean, sometimes I'll be painting in a heatwave in the summer and I'll paint a car in the snow. It's clearly escapism for me. It's a blizzard in January and I'm painting the Riviera. As long as you've got desires and whims and eccentricities, I just think, exploit them. And then the other thing is, which I think most artists agree with, is that you don't have to start with a good idea, all you've got to do is get engaged. And you don't start with this flourish of virtuosity. I don't anyhow. You can start with a mistake and then you make another mistake. And then you have to correct those. And after you've corrected enough mistakes, suddenly it starts happening. And you're connected to this thing. That has its own rules. And your deal is to try to figure out what those rules are and follow them. Or not follow them. That to me
is creativity.

This interview was published in Autre Issue 5 (Summer 2018). Purchase here.

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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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.


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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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


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


Baby, I Like It Raw: An Interview Of Curator, Photographer and Artist Marie Tomanova

There are two narratives related to the relationship between the United States and Russia running parallel to one another in contemporary culture. One, of course, is related to renewed political tensions that have arisen as a result of the allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Putin and the Kremlin to rig the 2016 election in The Donald’s favor. The other is all about aesthetics. Designers like Gosha Rubchinskiy and Demna Gvasalia of Vêtements and Balenciaga as well as the brands’ stylist Lotta Volkova have led a seismic shift within the fashion industry at large by bringing post-Soviet aesthetics into the Western limelight. All of a sudden, bootleg sportswear brands, Cyrillic graphic texts, and Russian rock musicians like Zemfira are being fetishized by fashionistas and streetwear obsessed skateboarders alike. Somewhere between the political demonization and the fashion fetishization, however, lies a whole generation of youthful Russian artists making work that puts their specific view points into context. Baby, I like it Raw, an exhibition of video and photography (on view at the Czech Center in New York) curated by Czech Republic-born fine art photographer Marie Tomanova and art historian Thomas Beachdel, captures the spirit of a generation of artists trying to make sense of the Westernization of their Eastern Bloc homes while holding onto one spiritual truth: youth is eternal.

The show features a wide variety of subject matter united by a coherent aesthetic; most of the work utilizes the snapshot style of progenitors like Larry Clark and Nan Goldin capturing raw and human moments of youthful intensity. Tomanova herself contributed prints of an archive of diaristic photographs she had taken on an early cell phone camera (interesting that cell phone photography has become a vintage art form) while still living in the Czech Republic. Russian artist Slava Mogutin, perhaps the best known artist in the exhibition, contributed snapshot photographs full of nude Russian boys having good laughs posing for the camera. Ukranian art collective Gorsad goes straight for the shock with a series of staged photographs of very young looking teenagers in pseudo-fetishized poses. In Hungry Boy, a video piece by Sam Centore, a young man chugs a Gatorade and then converts the bottle into a makeshift bong to get lit; a simultaneous embracing and deconstruction of capitalism itself. The exhibition is heavily influenced by Russian photographer Boris Mikhailov who has for decades captured the beauty and pain of his Russian subjects. Baby, I like it Raw has a distinctive ‘Russian-ness’ to it: the brutalist architecture, the open spaces, the harshness of the landscapes and lifestyles. But it also emphasizes that certain things; art, culture, drugs, sex, parties and youthful exuberance; are not inherently geographical. [Thomas and I] wanted to show that the youth in the East is the same as youth in the West,” says Tomanova. “Youth is global.”

Marie Tomanova graduated with an MFA in painting when she decided to move to New York. Though she had always taken pictures, it was a trip to Francesca Woodman’s career survey at the Guggenheim that influenced her to pursue photography as an art form; it resulted in a series of lush and melancholic self-portraits largely set against a natural background. Tomanova and I spoke at length about Baby, I like it Raw, the infiltration of Russian aesthetics into Western culture, creepy wannabe New York fashion photographers, and Nan Goldin.

ADAM LEHRER: Specifically within the fashion industry right now, you have designers like Demna at Vêtements and Gosha, and Soviet aesthetics have become the source of much fetishization in the West. Were you trying to bring some context into those aesthetics that have infiltrated the fashion industry and Western culture?

MARIE TOMANOVA: You can see in America that there are lots of things inspired by the aesthetics of the east. I remember in high school my boyfriend was wearing adidas and nike and all of it was fake! Some of it was even misspelled! But it was about having that brand! That's what inspires Gosha.

LEHRER:  Demna, too. Vêtements has embraced bootleg versions of its clothes.

TOMANOVA: Of course! It created this massive craving for the west. But all of a sudden, it changed. In the show, we are looking at what it means to have that sudden of a change, and how all these people are now encountering Western culture and building their identities through it. 

LEHRER: I wrote a piece about Vêtements for SSENSE last year; I was trying to understand why this brand has gotten so much heat. I pointed at something Demna said in an interview with 032C, where he talked about how the wall came down while he was a child in Tlibisi and suddenly Western brands, music, art and culture flooded his head space. But now, with the Internet, we are all flooded all the time. So it’s like that post-Soviet cultural idiom predicted digital culture.

TOMANOVA: We didn’t see the natural evolution of culture; it came in like a flood. We utilized a different angle than what we see in mainstream media regarding the relationship between Russia and America. We wanted to offer a perspective on the Russian people: who they are, where they are, what they do, how they live. 

I co-curated the show with Thomas who is an art historian; it was interesting seeing that American view on the same subject matter. Some of these images were so exotic to him, and I thought they were so normal. Easterners and Westerners see things differently in a lot of ways.

LEHRER: I look at someone like Lotta Volkova and think, “This girl looks so fucking cool!” The whole grime-glam rave punk thing.

TOMANOVA: And I think, “This is what my mom dressed like. (laughs)” But very beautiful, nonetheless.

LEHRER: I want to talk about Boris Mikhailov, who was an influence on the exhibition, and why his work so deeply resonates with you.

TOMANOVA: There are lots of artists that we could put in the show, but we didn’t just want it to be Eastern Bloc artists. We were going for a specific look: non-decorative, realistic and gritty. Mikhailov shows real people in real situations. He shows how sad life is and its dark moments. Real humans. He would also shoot old people; not just cute young kids. I love that picture of that old couple embracing each other half nude. It’s sad, but sweet that they are together.

We wanted to show artists that show the real moments. Even the more staged work of Gorsad: it’s about showing the feelings, attitude, and dark side of life that is always there but not talked about. It’s taking the dark side out of the taboo.

LEHRER: Mikhailov was relentlessly persecuted by his government, and I was curious if you ever felt any censorship before you moved here?

TOMANOVA: No, I haven’t. But I wasn’t doing nude photography when I was in Czech Republic. I was a painter. And in Czech, nude paintings are fine but nude photographs are not. At the same time, the Czech Republic is not as concerned with censorship as the States are. After being here for six years, I had never thought being nude was wrong or that taking nude pictures was wrong. Here in The States you get so much pressure doing nude photography, even though it’s the most natural state of the body.

LEHRER: Even my girlfriend will see me on the train reading Purple or 032C and nude photos come up and she freaks out going, “People can see that!”

TOMANOVA: (laughs) People are terrified of being nude here, even in their own environment.



LEHRER: I think it’s half old fashioned Christian morals that still are drilled into peoples’ heads and body anxieties that are encouraged from literally everywhere. I’m sure if someone even took my nude photos, I’d be cool with it but a part of me would look at my little beer gut and hate myself.

TOMANOVA: When I moved to New York, I needed a job and money so I volunteered for this “shoot.” It was really sketchy. I was posing half-nude for six guys in this garage with old cars and motorbikes.

LEHRER: Oh, no.

TOMANOVA: It was a Christmas-themed shoot. I was posing half-nude with a candy cane. They were telling me, “give me that orgasmic look.” (laughs) I’m praying these pictures never appear anywhere. It was terrible photography. I decided then to not pose nude for anyone other than myself. I want to control my own image. 

LEHRER: Did that influence you to start doing self portraits?

TOMANOVA: Sure, yeah, and also to be more aware of controlling my own image.

LEHRER: I read an interview with you where you said that when you started doing self-portraits, it was hard for you to find people to sit for you…

TOMANOVA: I didn’t have any friends! (laughs) I finished my school, and I had an MA as a painter. I realized I couldn’t make any money as a painter. So I went to America as an Au Pair. Everything was new. I was overwhelmed and feared losing myself. I felt like photography was going to help me preserve that and bring something new to myself.

LEHRER: And in your self-portraits, I see someone trying to find their way in a new life. By contrast, this show is bringing you back to your roots. Is that accurate? 

TOMANOVA: In a way, when I came to the States I was doing exactly what I was doing at home: taking pictures all the time. Going through that old cell phone archive, I realized I wasn’t even considering it photography, but that’s what I was doing. And then, I saw Francesca Woodman’s show at The Guggenheim and I was so in love!

LEHRER: Yeah, her work has that effect. Emotional.

TOMANOVA: Yeah. I realized, ‘Why am I not doing photography.’ And then I started pursuing it more seriously. There is a movie about her on Netflix, "The Woodmans."

LEHRER: I think a biopic starring Kristen Stewart as Francesca directed by Gus Van Sant, would be amazing.

TOMANOVA: That sounds good!

LEHRER: But I see that, her work had so much poetry, and your pictures have a melancholy to them. Do you think the images were melancholic because you were feeling alone?

TOMANOVA: The early pictures were melancholic. But it was also about sitting in front of a camera and finding out who I am. They were about self exploration. They weren't staged as much as they were finding places that resonated with me; if they reminded me of home or elicited a certain feeling within me. So whenever there was a place that I like, I just took a picture there. I did a series of self-portraits in nature because it’s important for me to escape the city. There’s no fashion involved. It’s just my body and belonging in nature.

LEHRER: Is Francesca Woodman your favorite artist?

TOMANOVA: Actually I would say my all-time favorite artist is Nan Goldin. I’m sure you could tell my little slide show was a little inspired by [The Ballad of Sexual Dependency slides].

LEHRER: (laughs) I definitely thought of it while it was rolling in the gallery. I totally wish the slideshow and music format would come back. 

TOMANOVA: You get more feeling when you see photos in a video like that. I saw Ballad of Sexual Dependency many times, like 15 times. 

LEHRER: I had had the book forever, but I never saw it with the music until I saw it at MoMA recently. And she has music that I love in there: James Brown, The Velvet Underground, Nina Simone.

TOMANOVA: I can sit there for 45 minutes and I’m amazed every time.


Baby, I Like It Raw: Post-Eastern Bloc Photography & Video will be on view until April 4, 2017 at Czech Center New York Gallery. text and interview by Adam Lehrer. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Fighting For Love: An Interview Of New Media Artist, Young Polemicist And Kemetic Yogi, Tabita Rezaire

 

text by Keely Shinners

images by Tabita Rezaire

 

Tabita Rezaire could call herself many things––a Berlin-Biennale-exhibiting new media artist, a young polemicist, a Kemetic yoga teacher. Instead, Rezaire prefers to call herself a “healer-warrior.” Walking into her Yeoville flat, high on a sacred hill on the eastern side of Johannesburg, she offers me tea from her impressive apothecary of herbs, spices, and dried flowers. We sit down on her straight-from-2002 pink fuzzy love seat, chatting, listening to the new Frank Ocean album. She offers me Carmex for my chapped lips (Johannesburg is drying out my skin), and when she begins to talk about her artistic process as a process of healing, that powerful word, “healer,” lives up to the artist who utters it. Not in the exotifying sense of the "benevolent medicine woman," but clever, powerful, and without exoneration.

As we converse, Tabita is paying attention to my every word. She calls me out when I ask about “postcolonial digital space,” the flippant amnesia of such a loaded prefix. She questions why I would call her work “futuristic,” as if passing over the history and the cultural exigence that informs her art towards some vague, utopian “imagination of the future.” And she’s right. She’s a warrior. “You have to fight, fight, fight…” she insists, in order to “spread love and light.”

She says, “My work is a diagnostic.” Rezaire is in the business of identifying sicknesses we carry within us everywhere we go—our histories, our implicit and explicit prejudices, our language. She is able to see through the veils of the “free, open Internet” to its capitalist underbellies, using the very tools of the Internet to undermine it. Rezaire is calling us out on the spread of colonial viruses—on our computers, in our history books, in our words.

KEELY SHINNERS: So the info on your website says you are a “new media artist, intersectional preacher, health practitioner, tech-politics researcher, and Kemetic/Kundalini Yoga teacher. Can you tell me more about those practices and how they relate to each other?

TABITA REZAIRE: They are just different tools to serve the same mission on different plains: emotional, mental, spiritual, historical, political and technological. My work/life/purpose is searching for technologies to help us thrive and walk towards a state of soundness. It’s about healing.

SHINNERS: So you would say you’re more of a healer than an artist?

REZAIRE: That’s the same for me (maybe not in general). Both deal with feelings as raw material: their own, those of their people and those of their times. For a healer must be able to go through the wounds, their own first, and from that place surface with the powerful knowledge of pain, and grow out of/from it, then guide others to do so. It is transforming a state of unbalance into a more sustainable place, or maybe finding balance in discomfort. Both move energy, and can be truly transformative if the person, community, and times are ready. Ready to do the work it demands. I’ve used the term “healer-warrior,” cause healing is a battle with yourself and the world, you have to fight, fight, fight, to be able to love, love, love. Love yourself unconditionally and fight all that keeps you from loving yourself.  Once you love yourself you can start loving, respecting and caring for people, for communities, for life.

SHINNERS: On the question of health, do you see art as healing? In what way? Is it therapeutic for you, the audience, or both?

REZAIRE: To be honest, it sometimes gives me more anxiety than anything else. I guess that’s because of the industry, not the practice itself. My art practice is about sharing my own healing journey, spiritually and politically; trying to figure out shit or why I feel like shit. To heal, you first need to understand where it hurts and why. How to carry what must be carried. I guess that’s what I’m interested in. As you heal yourself, you heal generations before you and generations to come.

SHINNERS: So it stems from an illness?

REZAIRE: We are all dis-eased, and rightly so, as we’re children of toxic environments.

 

 

SHINNERS: What is E-Colonialism? Colonialism is centuries, centuries old, but the Internet is a whole new realm of possibility. How do the temporalities and functions of colonialism and the Internet overlap?

REZAIRE: I don’t think it is different temporalities. If we’re not living under colonialism per se, we’re living in its legacies, which are still omnipresent. The politics and architecture of the Internet came from the same heart; it’s the same narrative of exploitation being written over and over again, with the same people being exploited and the same people benefiting from it all. There’s this quote I love from Sardar who said back in 1995 “The West desperately needs new places to conquer. When they do not actually exist, they must be created. Enter cyberspace.” That‘s so deep. It’s not a domination based on land – which still exist for all the people whose lands are still occupied and plundered – but one based on people’s dependency and conditioning through the use of digital technologies. The Internet is molding us into global subjects, which reads to me as a newly designed colonial subject.

SHINNERS: Or a capitalist subject.

REZAIRE: Same story, the colonial enterprise is a capitalist one. E-colonialism controls our minds through our consumerist desires. We don’t realize we’re being manipulated, controlled, watched, monitored and exploited. We’ve become so trustful of demonic powers. Even if we know, we don’t care - or not enough to let go of the comfort and benefits it grants us (some of us). We accept, and worse, enjoy an abusive framework they’ve created for us. It’s scary.

SHINNERS: If you could rid of those powers, the Internet as a means of communicating globally could be a useful tool. Do you see a possibility of postcolonial digital space?

REZAIRE: I’m still waiting for that postcolonial life, as postcolonial societies have integrated ‘colonial’ hierarchies into their orders. Maybe the term decolonial offers more space, it’s a different practice, one that tries to unlink and disengage from Western authority. It asks: how do you become your own center? as opposed to existing within a “minority,” “periphery,” or “3rd world” rhetoric.

Decolonial Internet? I don’t know. The Internet is built on violence, literally. I’m currently making a work on the relationship between undersea cable layouts and colonial shipping routes. The history of our connectivity is entrenched in colonial history.

SHINNERS: There’s so much entrenchment.

REZAIRE: Yeah. Under the sea, lie so many traumas. It’s like a graveyard for so much history and loss, yet water is healing. The Internet is reproducing that duality, of erasing non-Western people and histories while providing space and tools for remembrance and celebration.

SHINNERS: How does spirituality relate to your art and healing practice?

REZAIRE: Spirituality is about connection. It’s about remembering how connected we were, we are, and how connected we can be. It nurtures a connection to yourself, your spiritual beings and ancestors, to the earth and the universe and helps build connections to each other in a meaningful way. That’s what spirituality is for me. That’s why it’s related to technology. Digital technology wants to connect us, but it doesn’t do it very well, because it comes from this Western anguish. We had the powers to connect (some still do), through telepathy, communicating with plants and ancestors, and channeling information through dreams or meditation. We have access to everything that has been and everything that will be. But we just shut down because of the way we live, think and feel or have been forced to. We’re disconnected. That’s the diagnostic. That’s the contradiction we live in, disconnection in our ultra-connected world. So, I strive for connection in my spirituality.

SHINNERS: Why do you use self-portraiture in a lot of your work?

REZAIRE: That’s not what I’m doing. Yes I use myself, but I’m just a channel to communicate and share information; a messenger. I’m working on a self-portrait series though…

SHINNERS: I’m really interested in the images you use in your work, like gifs of unicorns and galaxies and shit.

REZAIRE: I never used a unicorn.

SHINNERS: [Laughs.] You’re like, “Oh no, I would never do that.” You pair these images with what I think are really abstract concepts of decolonizing digital space, reimagination new space, architectures of power. Is your aesthetic a means of making your content more accessible?

REZAIRE: These might be abstract concepts for you, but they're very real. In terms of aesthetic, popular culture is also what I consume, so it feeds my imaginary, Im also interested in its function and power. People often ask me if it’s ironic. It’s not, but humorous yes.  Well I guess I use the language of the Internet to speak about the Internet so the content led to the form somehow.

SHINNERS: Looking at your stuff online, at first glance, you think, “Oh, this looks dope.” That’s superficial, obviously, but it draws you in. Then you start reading and you’re like, “Ok, now I have to confront my whiteness, my Westerness, here we go.” I didn’t feel like it was ironic. It was pulling you in.

REZAIRE: It’s a strategy, for sure.

SHINNERS: I was introduced to your work by reading A WHITE INSTITUTION’S GUIDE. I showed it to my friend this morning and she said it was like “guerrilla girls but less stale.” It seems like you’re doing the same thing, calling out the art world on its foundation of white heteropatriarchal bullshit. I’m interested in this because you’ve seen a lot of success, being in the Berlin Biennial this year, exhibiting in solo and group shows all over the world. How do you navigate being in that space all the time? Would you call yourself a “guerilla artist,” trying to subvert the institution?

REZAIRE: It’s hard. But I’m trying to move away from that inner conflict of constantly questioning what it means for me to be a part of an industry I despise? Or that despises me even more. Am I selling out? Am I a hypocrite? Does my work become meaningless? Is my mission co-opted? All those questions. At the same time, I need and want to sustain a practice. That’s very real.

SHINNERS: You have to survive.

REZAIRE: Yes, but beyond this, what I want to do and keep doing is making work. That’s my purpose. So, it’s about finding ways to sustain my practice. How will I be able to do what I want to do? Yes, the art world can help. Yes, white-centered institutions can help. Being part of an industry that is problematic as fuck helps me making work that I believe in, that’s the contradiction. For now, it’s about making it work for me, within boundaries that work for me. I spend too much time and energy being like, “I’m not making sense”… no I am making sense, I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

Claudia Rankine, said something I liked about institutional recognition, although I may not fully agree with her: “it’s also for me the culture saying: We have an investment in dismantling white dominance in our culture. If you’re trying to do that, we’re going to help you. And that, to me, is encouraging.”

SHINNERS: A lot of your work seems futuristic. Is imagining a future something you’re thinking about in your work?

REZAIRE: What makes you say my work is futuristic?

SHINNERS: That’s a good question. I guess I fall into my own trap of saying that.

REZAIRE: I guess you think of the use of the Internet, but it’s super contemporary, entrenched in our everyday lives. So it’s not futuristic.

I’m working in the present for the restoration of our past, which will guide our future. My work is not about the future, I don’t believe in this type of temporal linearity anyway. The past, present and future are arbitrary; they can be remodeled, repeated, discarded.  I’m however interested in the way our past has been constructed and the effects of this construction on our collective consciousness. Similarly, what effects can the rewriting of our past have on our present and futures? The now is fundamental yet irrelevant, it’s always a negotiation between what has/might have/could have been and what could/may/will be? The now is frightening. How do you exist in the world? How can we deal now? How can we love each other now? How can we love ourselves now?

I’m definitely working for a shift that is constantly (re)occurring over and over. I’m part of a wide community of seed planters, I might not see the fruits of my work but the seeds will sprout, maybe not in this lifetime but that’s ok. Planting seeds, that’s what I’m about.  

 

Unseen And Immaterial: An Interview Of Amanda Turner Pohan

text by Abbey Meaker

 

Science, alchemy, technology, and the process of distilling and translating bodily expressions – Amanda Turner Pohan’s art practice is rooted in processes that call into question the intimate relationship between bodies and the histories of embedded power structures. In one such work, Pohan has created a custom-formulated perfume using captured carbon dioxide exhaled during thirteen of her own orgasms. The milky concentrate of the artist's expressions of pleasure is contained within a glass jug, and its scent is emitted through a long plastic tube that meanders from the mouth of the jug to a dispenser across the room.   

As an organizer, Pohan fervently seeks opportunities for connectedness, community, and collaborative practice, striving to create space that promotes inclusion and blurs the boundary between art and life. I had the pleasure of speaking with Pohan on a cold winter Sunday about her interests in alchemy, temporal expressions of the body, sexuality, and blended practices as artist and organizer.

Abbey Meaker: Hello, hello! Are you in the city or the Catskills?

Amanda Turner Pohan: Catskills!

Meaker: So tell me about your place there- you're interested in starting an artist residency called Diamond Notch? It seems like a more holistic approach to supporting artists and creating a community.

Pohan:  I didn’t quite realize how much Temporary Agency and The Social Club really helped bolster this residency desire. I feel like the ideas we talk about up here mix the two, in addition to literally mixing the groups of people involved.

Meaker: I wondered how those two organizations came to be and if they played a role in your decision to take on this new endeavor. 

Pohan: Temporary Agency was built in the spirit of collective practice, and we wanted to facilitate an open engagement with the work that we showed by pairing it with public events, remaining mindful of responding to what was happening socially, culturally, and politically at that moment in time.

It’s necessary especially in this climate. In nine months we hosted something like two shows a month and an event for each show: Poetry readings, performative lectures, screenings, round table discussions, the gamut.

Meaker:  Did Social Club overlap?

Pohan: Yes! When I graduated, the first studio I got was at the Bakery Brooklyn, where I remain today and where the Social Club is held. But when we went nomadic with Temporary Agency back in 2015, our first event post Ridgewood gallery was at The Bakery. The studio and the Social Club have a similar sensibility to Temporary Agency. The Bakery was created in 2013 by Asa Pingree and Jason Kachadourian. It’s a wood shop that Jason and Asa share with studios built out in the back. Jason is a painter, furniture designer, and art events organizer. He's always worked in a collaborative vein and two years ago, around the time Temporary Agency formed, worked on creating a collective for artists and designers to think about showing work in way that isn’t "white cube." The collective concept ended up manifesting as the Social Club. Jason asked Asa and I to join him as the core group in organizing the monthly event in the gallery space built out from the wood shop, and the first one was in October 2015.

This year we are trying to introduce prompts that will influence peoples’ behavior within the space more pointedly. An idea that holds the Social Club together is giving participants agency over the vibe of their environment through collective actions and collaborative efforts, encouraging people to directly engage with the work. 

Meaker: Would you define a scenario as a kind of happening, whereby the public comes in and isn't quite sure what's planned, what's real, staged, what their role is in creating the work?


Pohan: Happening, yes. It has a Fluxus lineage for sure. I also would hold movement based meditation groups in grad school, and while it was planned, what came out of it was always unexpected.

Meaker: Why do you think this kind of work is particularly important now? Why the interest in moving exhibitions, performances, etc. outside of the gallery?

Pohan: The idea of inclusion, of in-between-spaces, of art/life as one expression resists individuation. And individuation is what perpetuates this current polarization that is happening politically. To divide and conquer is so dangerous, particularly now. I am, and the collectives I'm involved with, are interested in individual empowerment and collective action. Or collective actions amongst empowered individuals. This may be getting a bit heavy handed!

Meaker: Does your practice as an organizer/curator inform your art practice?

Pohan: Yes. A lot of my work is about intimacy. Working in collaboratives is an intimate, emotional, and challenging experience. It helps me become more and more aware of my relation to others. That is a fundamental aspect of my work. I make work by spending a lot of time outside of the studio gathering experiences and allowing for them to digest and settle into my system.

I spend my time in these various pursuits and then enter condensed periods of time reading and writing. Then, I make the work. I would neither be making the work that I make nor be involved collaboratively without all of these wonderful people. If there is a struggle to do it all, it serves as the fuel!

Meaker:  Do you consider all experiences as fodder?

Pohan: Yes. Fodder, I like that. Very apropos to where I am currently.

Meaker: I deeply admire that you've created a reality in which there is no distinction between life and work.  

Pohan: I’m really serious about it. I've been working with a meditation teacher for about seven years now, Dina Kushnir, from whom I really came to understand the depth of this. But putting it into action is what makes it embodied as knowledge and wisdom, otherwise it’s just words. As I said before, Temporary Agency and Social Club served as the groundwork for Diamond Notch [Diamond Notch is the place upstate, its namesake is the road it's on].

Meaker: What are your dreams for Diamond Notch?

Pohan: Jason Kachadourian is my partner, by the way, and is also partner on this project. Part of the dream is related to the art/life blend, but more than just art. I'm interested generally in the question of how to live together; it structures my thinking on this residency/school/program, whatever it ends up becoming and then becoming again. Jason and I are both interested in how living, making, and working collaboratively might look like. So for now it’s the Diamond Notch Hiking Club.



Meaker: The frontiers of your work are so rich and layered, often translating and recontexualizing ephemeral expressions of the body—breath, sweat, orgasms into various media: video, installation, sculpture. These are often bodily processes we aim to conceal—where does your desire to capture these temporal experiences come from? There's a lot to unpack there.

Pohan: It is a good one whose dense answer ties my art and my collective practices together. My mother's death. Her death is what initiated the desire or longing for this capturing, de-coding, translating, and re-presenting the body both materially and immaterially through smell, sound, light, color, text, video, sculpture, a total immersion. Her death is also what partially financed the acquisition of the land upstate. Her literal dematerialization materialized a house on a property to facilitate a community as well as most of my art work to date. I have always worked with the body as a material, but eight years ago upon her suicide, it really put it into a different framework, allowing me to question and unpack my own subjectivity.

The capturing of the ephemera of the body using electronic sensors and digital devices utilized in my art making process are methods of data collecting and disciplining bodies currently used by power structures both in the public and private spheres. So from a very personal experience is tied larger politics of the disciplined body, the marginalized body, the incarcerated body, the medicated body, the working body, the female body, etc. I suppose also on a basic level, even as a child, I have been deeply curious about the undercurrents that move our lives, desires, choices, that which is more refined and ethereal than is typically seen, and I long to dig into that undercurrent. The fruits of those moments result in my work. My commitment to a meditation practice and bodywork method of releasing trauma from the body also serves as doorways for seeing the unseen, immaterial.

Meaker: How would you say sexuality fits into this scheme?

Pohan: Well, I did make a piece that was titled Orgasmic Exhalations and was represented in various forms. In one aspect, the orgasmic is a just an expression, it could have been a meditative exhalation, for example. In the end it’s about perception. The female orgasm is a form of production and a form of labor that is commodified by the porn and pharmaceutical industries, or to which Paul B Preciado would call the pharmacopornographic. A mouthful of a word, no pun intended.

The private experience of the orgasm, mine in this case for making this piece, this intimate private experience and the je ne sais quoi-ness of it all is recorded in a way that then abstracts it into numbers using an electronic sensor to record the orgasm. How? It’s always a hurdle for me to explain! I hacked a telemarketers headset, and replaced the mic with CO2 sensor. The sensor was connected to a microcontroller, which was hooked up to a computer running a software program that recorded the fluctuating values of parts per million of CO2 emanating from my breath. I took the numeric recording and applied my own scientific method to it, as you said. I took the data and massaged it, as data-ists and statisticians say, which I find so comical, and I created an algorithm from it. I applied the algorithm to two different instruments for output to produce both a scent and a form. I applied the algorithm to a perfume formula to create the scent. I plotted the algorithm in 3D space on a CAD software program, which allowed me to have it 3 dimensionally cut by a CNC routing machine. This produced a sculpture.

There’s a Neils Bohr law about light. It goes, you can observe light as either a particle or a wave, depending on the instrument you use to observe it. You see what you want to see, in short.

In this work, Orgasmic Exhalations, I represented this orgasmic breath in a semi scientific and aesthetically clinical way, but what is most important about it all was that the same breath, the same exhalation data, was used to make both a scent and a form, depending on the instrument I used to observe it. This work is about the production of desire as its base material, the digital distribution of intimacy as its method of creation, and results in two forms that confront the viewer with various perceptual questions. (I hope!) Answers to which are unknown. I like watching the process of inquiry. There is also something gendered about this, the perfume as feminized and the machine sculpted form as masculinized, and the space of the installation is what I’m interested in as the space in between this binary, between the zeros and ones of production.

Meaker: Can you describe the scent of the perfume?

Pohan: It happens to smell a bit like turpentine, a bit earthy, but also slightly like burnt plastic. I chose two essences, rosemary and myrrh, and the combination of the two and the alcohol to carry it produced this smell.

Meaker: It's interesting, too, that the expression of a woman's orgasm could be perceived as masculinized. Makes these definitions of gender all the more arbitrary, however hammered in they may be.

Pohan: There is something problematic in the potential male gazey-ness of it. Well the hammering in is what causes a lot of pain and suffering. Its real in that sense, a concrete effect on the body these constructs that are habitually reperformed binarily.

Meaker: Which brings me to the question regarding Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto. In this essay she analyzes and rejects the boundaries that separate 'human' from' animal' and human from 'machine’ and calls for a need to move away from essentialism and toward the utopian dream of the hope for a monstrous world without gender. Are you interested in the subversion of concepts related to the body and gender in your work?

Pohan: I think I am more interested in what holds together the structures and constructs that govern and form our understanding and relation to gender than a direct subversion of gender. I want a viewer to be confronted with their own embodiment, their own structuring, I think it offers the possibility of opening up to a level of vulnerability that I find compelling. 

Meaker: Tell us what you've got going on now, outside of Diamond Notch. Where can we see your work? 

Pohan: I have the work we discussed earlier, Orgasmic Exhalation Form and Device for body Spray, in a group show up now at The Knockdown Center in Maspeth Queens, up until Feb 26. I also have work in a benefit auction for the Rema Hort Mann Foundation, for which I received a nomination, on February 13 at Derek Eller Gallery. Opening March 19 will be The Whitney Houston Biennial where the perfume Linqox Criss will be on view with the work of many other female and female identified artists.

Spirit Of The Beehive: An Interview Of Artist Terence Koh

Over the last couple of years, the artist formerly known as 'asianpunkboy' has shed his downtown Manhattan image to become more in tune with the complicated mechanics of the natural world. Today, Terence Koh is not so much the Naomi Campbell of the the art world as he once referred to himself, he is more like the Krishnamurti of the art world. In the quiet bucolic climes of Sonoma California, Koh is busy tending to his bee chapel and learning about sustainability. Gone are the shaved eye brows, and gone are the sycophantic hipsters who saw him as disciple for a night at Le Bain or a good caboose during a dance train on the beach at Art Basel Miami. In the last week, Koh has come down the mountain, to completely transform Moran Bondaroff Gallery into a microcosm of the sustainable universe he believes we should all be living - an experiment for sustainability. Koh will be living at the gallery during the course of the show. He has cut a hole in the roof where there was once none, planted a garden, and erected his chapel full of buzzing honey bees where guests are invited to meditate. There is also a bath and lots of vegetables growing. As we climbed the stairs, Koh was washing dishes while a fresh bee sting pulsated on his upper earlobe. During the course of the exhibition, Koh won't be using modern amenities, like a shower or even toilet. When we came to interview, Koh had to duck into the corner of the garden to pee - we opted for the gallery bathroom. The gallery has also been equipped with solar panels, but aside from the offices, the gallery is lit solely by candles. During the course of our conversation, it was nearly pitch black - his cat, Skeleton, was there too. In the back of the gallery, where there once was a storage room, is now a kitchen and cafe. A basket of donated food, and even a hallucinogenic cactus is waiting to be consumed. In the following interview, Koh - who is not reading the news - ruminates on the present predicaments of the world filtered through friends and visitors to the gallery, and chats about our own personal responsibilities to stand up for a planet constantly in flux and constantly in danger of losing its fragile balance. 

AUTRE: So you haven’t seen much of LA since you’ve been here because you’ve been mainly in the gallery. Have you been able to enjoy the community?

TERENCE KOH: I’m trying to think if I’ve been to other parts of LA this trip. No, not really. I’ve pretty much just been here.

AUTRE: For a show like this, what is the preparation like? Besides the materials, what’s the process of mentally preparing for a show like this?

KOH: There’s not much. I’ve done performances before, so it’s actually -- ever since I did the nothingtoodoo show and I was going around the salt. I would go like eight hours a day for seven days. Everything is relative. That was one probably the most painful, mentally and physically thing I’ve ever done. In the gallery now, the fact that I can move around and talk to people. I didn’t feel that I needed to mentally prepare in that way. It’s a lot more peaceful. I’ve created a setting - my cat's here, the piano - and everything just takes place organically and naturally. Like Alan Watts’ philosophy, you just muddle through it. Just as it goes.

AUTRE: He had that philosophy that if you’re truly present, when you wash the dishes, you’re only washing one dish.

KOH: Exactly. You just be present in the moment. It’s something I’ve just learned recently.

AUTRE: How did the opening go? Did you feel like it went well?

KOH: I think so. I was overwhelmed and someone gave me an edible to calm me down. When I’m in Sonoma, it’s very remote in the grapevines and when I was in the Catskills I was on a mountain top by myself. So I've actually purposefully avoided openings and all these things. I didn’t prepare mentally for all these people. Usually when I have openings, there’s an office or something I can escape to and just walk away for a moment, but I had nowhere to go. And then the edible kicked in [laughter]. It was interesting.

AUTRE: I saw an Instagram picture of you in the boat. Was that when you hid in the boat?

KOH: I haven’t even seen it. I haven’t seen anything in days, which is great actually. It was really nice to all these people getting together and enjoying the bee chapel and sitting around here and playing the piano. All of these impromptu. Having conversations which was the whole point of the show. Making a setting where people feel comfortable together as a community in the times that we live in as well. Like a beehive with good intentions.

AUTRE: I want to talk about Joseph Beuys who had that famous performance where he was sort of whisked into the gallery. I like America and America likes me. Do you think taking these extreme lengths is important to make political or spiritual statements?

KOH: Yes I do. I think it’s through many ways. Through gentle ways. Because of what the current government is trying to do, trying to destroy the environment. I’ve been reading about environmental activism and the author, Derrick Jensen, who lives in Northern California. He’s advocating blowing up dams, not that he does it himself, but that the other side is so focused and vicious and powerful. As we’re sitting here, they’re thinking about the Keystone Pipeline. His big question is, are we even interested in winning this? Because it is a war. He’s advocating for extreme action. He talks about protests and how we all come together and it’s nice and after we feel good, we cook a dinner. But what have we actually achieved? We made ourselves feel good, but what have we done to fight the forces?

AUTRE: When did you first start to discover and learn about bees and beehives and taking care of them?

KOH: I think probably moving to the Catskills. Again in New York City, there are bees too, but when we live on a remote mountain top, you realize there are honey bees flying everywhere. I was coming from New York City, I didn’t think about these things. Only from living in nature do you open your awareness that it’s all really there. You read about honeybees in the news, because of all the things that we’re doing and it’s really a lot of things that we do like chemicals in farming. There was this voice that came up. “Build a bee chapel” and I didn’t know what a bee chapel was. It took actually a whole year to figure out. I thought I was going to build a pyramid and cover it in honey. I was talking to different people. There had to be more structure to it. Over time, it just organically happened. Talking to beekeepers.

AUTRE: I read or heard from someone that you built the chapel partly to protect them from bears, was it?

KOH: We built the first chapel in the Catskills twelve feet up in the air, because there are all these bears. Otherwise, they’d smell the honey. We built a catapult system.

AUTRE: That’s wild.

KOH: It wasn’t just my idea. There were so many people that made this show happen. The carpenters, the beekeeper, the gardeners, and the whole gallery helping out. Just all these different people and things coming together.



AUTRE: Have you seen the movie, “The Spirit of the Beehive?" It’s a Spanish film.

KOH: Oh yes, part of it. I don’t remember much, but I remember it’s very dark.

AUTRE: It’s dark. The director uses bees as symbolism to talk about people and control. You seem to have attributed more positive symbolism to bees.

KOH: The Spirit of the Beehive moves into like Shamanistic territory and I’m studying Zen Buddhism right now, which is like things that are directly as they are. There is no mysticism to it. I feel like I’m always between Mysticism and Zen Buddhism. Both forces that are completely opposite and I don’t know what side it is, because I do believe there is magic, somehow. When candles burn and there are ashes. There’s a mystery that is magic. But in Buddhism, it is what it is. There is no more to a candle than a candle. In the bee chapel, it’s nature and it just happens, but also why do the bees do what they do? How do they swarm. There are so many mysteries to bees.

AUTRE: Interesting. When you first started making work, especially in New York City, there was a big difference in the work you were making as compared to the work you’re making now. What do you think it was about nature that inspired you to try something new?

KOH: Maybe it was learning to accept nature. When you live in it and you learn to be a part of it. If you don’t get yourself firewood and you live in the Catskills, you’re going to freeze.

AUTRE: I want to talk a little bit about the writing that you did for this show. It’s really beautiful. Where does the language and poetry fit into your artistic practice? Because you use very unique language to describe your practice. Have you always used that language to describe each of your shows?

KOH: No. I think everyone is sort of born with their own language, I believe. Because you go to school and grade school, they switch you into being part of society. Without school, I wonder what type of grammar and syntax we would use. It could be very interesting. Maybe we would all speak in poetry or like the bees, we wouldn’t need to talk. The beekeeper was talking to me about language like how do they know their distance from the beehive? They all cling together. That’s a different system of thinking. We could have developed different natures that aren’t language based.

AUTRE: There’s a lot of unconscious communication that we do. A lot of people speak without saying anything, even if they don’t realize it.

KOH: We’re gonna discover just like radio waves that maybe we’re telepathic. It’s all within ourselves. I think it’s because from what I read, we move too quickly as a civilization. The spiritual has moved faster than the physical. If we moved in tandem, that’s when maybe things would get interesting.

AUTRE: Last summer, you were at Andrew Edlin Gallery. You did that show and it was just the Beehive, right?

KOH: There were a few different things.

AUTRE: You cited the names of the Orlando victims, which is really interesting and you said you wanted to sort of let the bees hear those names. Can you talk a little bit about that?

KOH: Most beekeepers talk to the bees. You tell them the news of things that are happening around the world so that you treat them with respect. The idea is that I think the bees do listen and hear. The idea was that in that show, there were microphones connected back into satellites, into outer space so I thought if I channeled it and talked to the bees about things that were happening, they would again channel it. The whole system would all be channeled into outer space. Me, the bees, everything. It’s one way to keep them alive as well. It affected me, being gay as well, to see that happen at a gay nightclub. You feel empathy because you feel it’s closer to you. I’ve been to spaces like that. It’s all about perspective. I want to be connected, but also disconnected. Maybe by disconnecting, I can focus my energy. There’s so much going on, it’s like what can I do? But with this show, we can be connected and responsible.

AUTRE: You should get everyone to chow down on that cactus.

KOH: Right? Exactly. Like a little bit each and we can find different ways to do things. Sitting here disconnected from the world, is it doing any good? For myself, maybe, but I don’t know.

AUTRE: It seems like an important gesture. A really important gesture and maybe a lesson for people to sort of take a step back and disconnect a little bit.

KOH: Just living and being, maybe that’s one way. They can take away clean water, they can’t take away spirit itself. We have our spirit. They cannot take it away. When Krishnamurti wrote the greatest art is the art of living, he wrote it in one of his books and even greater than the greatest works of paintings or poetry or architecture is the art of living itself. It took me awhile to understand. It’s almost like from touching the cat, to talking to you, to cooking food. This is how we do it in our way.

AUTRE: Nurture our intellect.

KOH: Yeah.

AUTRE: When you imagine the future, which emotion do you feel most dominantly?

KOH: [pause] The future is now.

AUTRE: The future feels present.

KOH: The future is the present. It’s unexplainable. There’s nothing you can do about the future or the past. But to feel the future is not possible. The only thing we have is the now. 


Terence Koh "Sleeping In A Beam of Sunlight" will be on view until March 11, 2017 at Moran Bondaroff gallery in Los Angeles. text, interview and photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Brothers Grim: An Interview Of Dinos Chapman On The Power Of Humor And Violence

 

text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

 

There couldn’t be a better time for Jake and Dinos Chapman’s new exhibition, To Live And Think Like Pigs, on view now at the UTA Artist Space in Los Angeles. That it opened on the same day as Donald Trump’s wildly xenophobic and damaging executive order banning Muslims from “terror prone” countries is compelling, but perhaps not coincidental. When the wickedness of the world reveals its evident truths, Jake and Dinos remind us that the horror, panic and depravity isn’t just a brand of reality they have invented to shock us – it is actually reality. We are eating in it, fucking in it and living in it.  Swastikas, Ku Klux Klan iconography, rainbows, happy faces and the golden arches of the McDonald’s logo all exist on the same killing field. If their work appears apocalyptic, it is because the end seems so close that you can feel the tingling warmth of the glowing, earthly sun of nuclear annihilation. With the undeniable surge of violence and anxiety, the seething distrust of “the other” – the Chapman brothers create works that are artifacts of this existential catastrophe of our own making. But what people most misunderstand about the Chapman brothers is that their work is hilarious – a laugh riot, an obscene and brilliant joke. If you don’t laugh, you are missing the point all together. What's funnier than a couple of realistic surprised looking mannequins wearing full KKK garb, rainbow socks and Birkenstocks?  We got a chance to sit down with one half of the Chapman brothers – Dinos Chapman – to discuss everything from the failure of the human species to their time working as assistants for fellow controversial British artists Gilbert And George.  

AUTRE: So the title of the show is borrowed from the book, To Live And Think Like Pigs [by French philosopher Gilles Châtelet], which really predicted our current political and sociological turmoil. The show carries the same themes, right?

DINO CHAPMAN: Ish. I think the major theme of the show is failure.

AUTRE: Political? Spiritual?

CHAPMAN: Every aspect of failure, grand gestural failure.

AUTRE: Do you think we’re failing as a species?

CHAPMAN: Oh, we failed. Long time ago. I think we’re just in the death throes of failure

AUTRE: So what’s left after that?

CHAPMAN: Uhh we all die and we kill everything on the planet and it just continues to spin round and round and round the sun until it burns out.

AUTRE: Today, especially now it seems like a really apt time for the show and the political climate in the UK. Is this affecting your work in bigger ways than it has in the past?

CHAPMAN: No, no. I think we’ve always been intentionally pessimistic about humanity, culture. Yeah. It’s a failed project.

AUTRE: Do you think that when people are too positive it puts us in a space of false paradise?

CHAPMAN: Yeah, I mean I think you have to be incredibly short-sighted or an idiot to be positive. Certainly in today’s climate. Every single second, things get slightly worse because of other people’s positivist views. They think they’re doing good.

AUTRE: And complacent.

CHAPMAN: And complacent.

AUTRE: So going back to some of the work that you’ve done with Hitler’s paintings and some of the iconography you work with –  it seems sort of like the idea of people wanting to go back in time to kill Hitler and other dictators to change the course of history. Do you feel like you’re doing that using the present, instead of actually going back in time?

CHAPMAN: Short of inventing a time machine and going back and actually doing something, I think we kind of did [change the course of history] when we bought the Hitler drawings and paintings and defaced them and turned them into hippie nonsense, it was kind of an attempt to give him a --- because those works are often considered evidence of when he was still sort of a human being. As though he would have been redeemable if he went to art school and everything would have been fine. He would have been another artist, but he didn’t get into art school so he decided to go out and kill as many Jews as he possibly could. And you know, the sort of popular idea is that if he was allowed to be an artist, he would not have done that. So we kind of got in there before he became a genocider and kind of fucked it up. Just to remove that bit of humanity from him.

AUTRE: Instead of KKK insignia and swastikas, you use smiley faces as part of that dialogue.

CHAPMAN: Happy faces and KKK insignia and rainbows and swastikas are all the same scale.

AUTRE: Exiting politics for a second, I want to talk about your process: where your studio is, what your typical process is, what a day is like

CHAPMAN: I’ve been in LA for three years actually doing fuck all. No, I’ve been at home working.

AUTRE: Do you work separately from your brother now?

CHAPMAN: No no no, we work together. We’re stretching the umbilical cord to a sort of monofilament at the moment. We’ve always tested the parameters of what it means to be working. It’s preferable to work on your own, because two people implies legion. Multi personalities, so yeah. I kind of moved out here for the weather and the politics.

AUTRE: What about the politics?

CHAPMAN: What about the politics, psshh. I don’t know. I mean I can’t complain, we have BREXIT in England. Europe is about to fall to bits. It’s a great big shit show.

AUTRE: How do you feel about CALEXIT? 

CHAPMAN: I think it should divert a fence around California and keep everyone else out. It seems...why not? I’m quite pleased that California is rebellious and not seemingly republican. I’ve only just learned the difference between democrats and republicans. The only reason I know republicans are bad is because of France. I hate France. [laughter]



AUTRE: Oftentimes, there's not much of a difference between the two.

CHAPMAN: One of the nice things about being in a foreign country, although it’s not really strictly defensible, is that you don’t feel responsible for anything. I know that’s burying your head in the sand, but for me it seems preferable to being in Britain and sort of railing against something I may have been able to do something about.

AUTRE: Do you feel like the critics are harsher at home?

CHAPMAN: I just think I can look at Trump and not laugh, but not feel related to him in any way.

AUTRE: As brothers and collaborators have you always wanted to make work together?

CHAPMAN: There’s a five year difference between us. Five years is kind of the absolute point at which you’re at different schools at different times so in England I would have been leaving school as Jake would be joining us. We never really spent much time together apart from the evenings and then we finally kind of caught up with each other in college and did a lot of talking and then decided after we left college that we should work together. I mean, we tried to work on our own for a bit but it just seemed kind of pointless when the conversations we had were much more fruitful and much more interesting than the conversations we were having in our own heads which are invariably kind of solipsistic. You can’t argue yourself out of a color.

AUTRE: What is your typical response to people's misunderstanding your work? I mean, is there a typical response?

CHAPMAN: We don’t feel any responsibility for what people think of the art. If you make a child mannequin with a penis on its nose you have to invite a plethora of readings of that. There is no correct reading because once the work is finished and it’s in a gallery environment, it’s done. We’re no longer in control of what it means because every single work is entirely subjective.

AUTRE: Yup, it’s in the hands of the viewer.

CHAPMAN: Yeah. It’s not but that’s where it starts to do its biggest journey.

AUTRE: That’s where the job begins, the intellectual job. And you’re not just making depraved work to make depraved work. Reality is actually depraved.

CHAPMAN: We’re making stuff that hopefully clarifies or makes the fault lines in western culture's moralistic thinking apparent. Again, you put a mannequin with a penis on its face in a gallery and it trips people up, it makes people think lots of different things. I’m not that interested in answers. I’m more interested in questions.

AUTRE: In the beginning, you were both assistants to Gilbert and George, right?

CHAPMAN: I was an assistant for a long time. Jake joined up and got us both sacked.

AUTRE: How’d that happen? Is it a long story?

CHAPMAN: [laughs] No, it’s a really short story actually. I think we were bigger and more unrelenting than them. The two of us together was a bit too much.

AUTRE: A bit too much for them. I mean, they’re pretty politically charged but it seems like you want to take things in a new direction.

CHAPMAN: I just think they decided it was unfair.

[laughs]

AUTRE: Jake made a comment recently about the Ai Weiwei photograph of the drowned refugee boy. That it sort of aestheticized other people’s misery. Can you talk a little bit about that?

CHAPMAN: It’s a terrible, terrible, terrible thing that artists think that painting other people’s poverty or hardship helps. It doesn’t help their hardship or poverty it just—

AUTRE: Glorifies it.

CHAPMAN: It does that and it also doesn’t do anything apart from make the artist feel like they’ve done something, which is a terrible thing.

AUTRE: It’s selfish.

CHAPMAN: Yeah.

AUTRE: Everybody congratulates themselves for feeling sympathy.

CHAPMAN: Absolutely. I was watching Louis C.K. the other night and he said that, on airplanes, he always feels like he should give his first class seat to service men because they always sit in coach. He never does but he feels really good about thinking that he should do it. That’s an artist's’ mentality.

AUTRE: It’s the thought that counts mentality.

CHAPMAN: He didn’t actually do anything about it.

AUTRE: Yeah, so you think people should actually do something about it?

CHAPMAN: It would help [laughs].

AUTRE: So for this particular show, is there something you would want people to know that they might not see?

CHAPMAN: It’s all for sale [laughs]. At drastically reduced prices.

AUTRE: And my last question, because I know you probably want to get back inside for the opening.

CHAPMAN: Ah yes, being uncomfortable walking around my own work.

AUTRE: Is it uncomfortable being around your own work in that kind of setting?

CHAPMAN: It’s a very strange thing to do. It’s a bit like being a child.

AUTRE: When your mom puts it on the refrigerator?

CHAPMAN: Yeah. You want people to come up and pat you on the back for doing well, but you don’t. Still, that’s sometimes what it feels like.

AUTRE: Is art the most powerful medium for subversion? Especially now.

CHAPMAN: No, guns and hand grenades are. They’re powerful. And humor. Humor allied with guns and hand grenades.

AUTRE: Which one first though?

CHAPMAN: Guns.


Jake And Dinos Chapman "To Live And Think Like Pigs" will be on view at UTA Artist Space until March 11, 2017. text and photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


A Welcome Act Of Rebellion: An Interview Of Zach Fernandez, The Artist Behind Hollyweed

If you woke up in Los Angeles, or anywhere else in the world, on New Year’s Day this year, you may have noticed a curious sight: the iconic Hollywood sign transformed into “Hollyweed.” It was a welcome act of rebellion after one of the most fucked up years in history. From some social media posts, it looked like a Photoshop job – a meme to celebrate the new California law legalizing the recreational consumption of marijuana. As news of the stunt spread, it was obvious that someone had actually altered the Hollywood sign. How it was altered, and the extent of the damage, wasn’t apparent upon first examination, but as the helicopters buzzing overhead started zooming in, it was clear that there was no damage at all – just white and black sheets to change the double O’s into double E’s. It was brilliant. But it wasn’t the first time someone had pulled the same stunt. In 1976, Daniel Finegood, an art student at Cal State Northridge changed the Hollywood sign to read the same thing on the same day that possession of an ounce of weed was downgraded to a misdemeanor, and then again during the Persian Gulf War to read 'Oil War.' This time around, the prankster turned out to be Los Angeles based artist Zach Fernandez, otherwise known as Jesus Hands. After the stunt, he skipped town, but after the LAPD turned up the heat, he surrendered. We got a chance to catch up with Fernandez at his Downtown studio to smoke a joint and discuss his intentions behind peacefully altering one of the most iconic city landmarks.   

AUTRE: Are you from Los Angeles?

ZACH FERNANDEZ: Not from Los Angeles per se. I grew up in Southern California. I lived in the Inland Empire till I was eight or nine and then I lived by the beach, Pismo Beach for the remainder. I went back and forth between here and SoCal and then I’ve lived in Pomona most recently. I’ve kind of just been all over, a bit nomadic I guess.

AUTRE: So, a lot of people are probably trying to talk to you about this project right now.

FERNANDEZ: Yeah, these last two weeks. The first week was the equivalent of a year or two’s life span. I had no idea what the deal was, it was so crazy.

AUTRE: People didn’t know it was you until…?

FERNANDEZ: Until a couple days later. And even still people are coming up like “that was you?” and I’m like “yeah, were you living under a rock?”

AUTRE: I read something about Tommy Chong calling you about it.

FERNANDEZ: Yeah it was really special. We had a good moment and he gave some solid advice. I didn’t know what to expect, you know, it’s Tommy Chong. You can expect a million different things and be way off. I was on the train, just trying to get out of town, and he direct messaged me on Instagram and said “let’s talk.” It wasn’t his PR guy or something, it was him. I was just like, “holy crap what is happening.”

AUTRE: So what did he want to talk to you about?

FERNANDEZ: Honestly, it was very simple, it was just “hey that put a huge smile on my face, thank you for that.” And then I asked for some advice. He said, “look, you chose to become famous and now there’s no going back. Really think about that.”

AUTRE: So he knew that after this project, that was it.

FERNANDEZ: He knew. The synchronicity that I live by, it’s my motto.

AUTRE: Is all the attention you’re getting intimidating or is it slightly exciting?

FERNANDEZ: It’s both, it’s definitely both. It’s just figuring out what to do from here. This is just the beginning, for the world, working out this type of stuff.

AUTRE: Have you done anything on this scale?

FERNANDEZ: Not this scale. But there’s something bigger to come. Art for me is almost an adrenaline rush, it’s the weirdest thing. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at it like that but I find that it makes me so excited, that I obsess over it, and lose sleep over it—there’s this burning and driving. Every artist knows that feeling, everyone can relate. And then there’s the times when it’s gone and that’s the scary part. It’s like, fuck what is this? But then it comes back. It’s the flow. Once you realize there’s this ebb and flow to life, things come and go, everything else works out.

AUTRE: When did you put the plan into motion?

FERNANDEZ: It originally was just a seed. I’ve kind of regurgitated this a little bit in the media but I basically just put out this shout out on Facebook: “hey I’m looking to do an art install in the LA area everybody should message me.” I got like three messages. It was funny to see. I was like, “this is my idea, I’m committed.” I had some people who were like “Oh yeah” and then would disappear and I didn’t want to go out and track them down.

AUTRE: Did they know initially? Or did you tell them as things unfolded?

FERNANDEZ: Some people knew and then other people had to say yes and then I would tell them about the plan.

AUTRE: The materials you used were tarp, right?

FERNANDEZ: People say tarps but they were actually sheets. It was a very resourceful project considering our circumstances. We did it for like $35 in total: limited paint from Home Depot was like seven bucks.

AUTRE: Wait so the blacked out part was paint?

FERNANDEZ: A black sheet.

AUTRE: What did you use the paint for?

FERNANDEZ: I painted on the sheet, on the black part. It was hard to see. It flipped one way and kind of hung around the side. It was very hard to make out so I hesitated to do it but decided even if people couldn’t see it I was going to do it anyways. It’s a tribute. My buddy posted a photo of the original “Hollyweed” and I was like, “what, somebody has done this before?”



AUTRE: So you had the idea and then you saw that somebody had done the same thing?

FERNANDEZ: Yeah. I was like “whoa, okay hold on a minute let’s see what this guy did.” So I figured out some of the details and his background and played on that. I didn’t just want to be this person regurgitating ideas but sometimes history has to repeat itself to learn something new. That’s what life's all about. We learn, we fail, we learn, we fail. And the climate was perfect. So I was like, this guy is channeling his energy through me; I didn’t even know he’d died of cancer. I saw an interview of his wife about my project being like “oh, my heart.”

AUTRE: Oh amazing, did she reach out to you directly?

FERNANDEZ: Her family has and said some really deep stuff and I’m like “holy crap, this is so sacred to me.” I haven’t been able to meet them physically.

AUTRE: That’s heavy. Funny, you did it for thirty-five bucks? I think he did it for fifty. Accounting for inflation you still dropped the price…

FERNANDEZ: I know, I guess it costs more in the risk is what it came down to. But I had no fear about the whole project. I mean I had doubts, but zero fear. I had my intentions. I said that’s gonna be done and I’m gonna walk away.

AUTRE: And it really didn’t seem to be about vandalism. People immediately thought that maybe you vandalized the sign or you knocked out part of the white or something like that.

FERNANDEZ: Totally. They thought I messed up the letters.

AUTRE: Immediately upon looking at it, they were like “Oh, shit! Someone fucked up the Hollywood sign” which would have been a massive act of vandalism, but looking at it closer, you realize it’s not that. Your work is not about desecration at all.

FERNANDEZ: No, it’s all about finding a way to, I don’t want to say manipulate the system, but a way to peacefully, respectfully maybe not work against, but work with the system. You get your messages out without this unnecessary punishment.

AUTRE: There’s nothing hostile about it.

FERNANDEZ: Exactly.

AUTRE: So you knew that maybe you would get in trouble for it, because of the trespassing?

FERNANDEZ: I did the research on the trespassing and the vandalism. Looked at the law for what vandalism really is.

AUTRE: They couldn’t get you on vandalism, but they’re trying to get you for the trespassing. So the day afterwards, you head out of town and when did you decide to turn yourself in?

FERNANDEZ: I got out of town, talked to my attorneys, came back down here and then I started feeling a little bit paranoid. Because the detectives started laying on the heat a little bit. A lotta bit. It’s a long story. I’m not at will to say right now, but after all this blows over, let me tell you how the LAPD works. It’s very, very scary.

AUTRE: They got tough?

FERNANDEZ: Very tough. Real fast. And it’s fine. Like I said, I had good intentions all the way. I had no idea about how the world would respond to this. I had no fucking clue. So I got done and I just stood there calmly for like two minutes and took it in and was just like, “Whoa. I did it.”

AUTRE: I mean from far away, you could really see it. It looked seamless. Completely seamless.

FERNANDEZ: We studied it and honestly there were no schematics except for the height. We got the height and then I looked at a ladder on the side. The ladder rungs have like a foot space in between each one and then I just got the letter and measured it off of that picture. I was able to get it pretty precise.

AUTRE: You had helicopters up there. You had people from all over the place. You know you’ve done something big when someone’s up there with a helicopter.

[laughs]

FERNANDEZ: I saw that the next morning. You know Sarah woke me up and she was like, “It’s everywhere.” And I was like “What? I don’t even understand what you’re talking about.  Last night’s a dream to me. I have no idea what just happened.” Her eyes got so big.

AUTRE: And now it’s a meme.

[laughs]

FERNANDEZ: It is a meme. People were like saying they lived so close to the Hollywood sign and they were like, “Ugh I was in Vegas. I could have gotten my drone up there.” It’s so good. The letters do look like they went all the way around. It’s weird.

AUTRE: You can barely tell. The only time people can tell that it was a sheet is when they really zoomed in with those creepy paparazzi zooms.

FERNANDEZ: The best part was seeing the little firemen after. Seeing how little they were compared to the letters. It took them like thirteen hours to get it all down. It took me three hours to get it up but like ten guys to get it down. I don’t understand.

AUTRE: It seemed like there were not a lot of people around. You were able to pretty much do whatever you wanted.

FERNANDEZ: The day I went and hiked up there it was like two weeks prior just to survey it and see how it was. I got up there around 7:30 in the morning and there was a guy putting an American flag on top of the hill and zip tying it to the post. It’s still fucking there. So I saw it, took a picture. I leave. I saw that there was trash everywhere. If anybody gave a shit about this sign, there wouldn’t be trash everywhere. So that was my ticket and I was just like okay go: do it. Anyway, long story short, that guy ended up direct messaging me with a picture at the fucking sign like, “I’ve been down there, too!” I mean there have probably been hundreds of people who have jumped that gate, taken pictures at the sign, and that’s it.

AUTRE: That original artist, he actually did a few things with the Hollywood sign. I think he did Ollywood during the Oliver North hearings and then he did something during the Gulf War

FERNANDEZ: Exactly, yep. He did “Oil War” and it ended up getting taken down so fast.

AUTRE: So, you don’t have plans to do more with the Hollywood sign? You’re done?

FERNANDEZ: With the Hollywood sign, I’m done. But, definitely worldly. I’ve got some huge things coming up. So I’m super excited. I’m not sure how soon, but soon.

Brutal Beauty: An Interview of Artist and Muse Michele Lamy On Organizing Rick Owens' First Furniture Exhibition

On a cold, rainy night, the day before the private opening, we huddled in the cab of a moving truck to chat about furniture, music and fashion. It may have been a symbolic coincidence that Michele Lamy was in the driver's seat, clutching on to the huge steering wheel, but maybe it wasn't. It's true – although the furniture line is a true collaboration, Lamy does most of the general contracting and she is organizing the exhibition all on her own. But it’s obvious that she is used to it and loves the process, and Rick is happy to take a back seat. 

Despite her diminutive frame, Lamy’s primal and mystical energy seems enough to muster ample kinetic energy to move hundreds of tons of concrete, alabaster and marble. The way she talks (with a thick, rough French accent), gesticulates, moves her eyes - the way her jewelry and stacked rings move with an orchestral clattering - is hypnotic. It is no wonder that the creative class has flocked to her – like an oasis in an indefinable desert of sameness – for the last couple of decades. It's no wonder why she and Rick have become a centrifugal force in the world of fashion and art.

Lamy is anything but ordinary. In some circles, you may know Lamy because of her relationship to fashion and furniture designer Rick Owens. Indeed, there are many clichés to describe her relationship to her partner: muse, alter ego, better half, right hand woman and so on. But more than anything, Lamy is a vital counterpart - a long lost spiritual and creative twin. That Owens and Lamy found each other in this modern artistic wilderness is kismet in the form of nuclear fusion, but it is not terribly surprising. Before the two were globally recognized, Michele owned a famous restaurant in Los Angeles called Les Deux Café and Owens was honing his craft in a studio across the street. While both Michele and Owens are mercilessly creative - Lamy really took the reigns with the furniture side of their output. Lamy almost exclusively heads all production, which takes her on material buying trips around the world looking for rare skins and fur, wood, bone and marble.

Open now at MOCA's Pacific Design Center outpost, you can experience an immersive exhibition of new furniture pieces designed by Owens, but spearheaded and organized by Lamy. A large alabaster wall, marble benches, camel skin ottomans and an ox bone settee - you can move your fingers across and through all the pieces. The furniture is a perfect, brutalist, and antiestablishment vision for a bombed out future where we must carve out our palaces from the ruins of factories and government headquarters. Complimenting the furniture are works by the late sculptural painter Steven Parrino, whose works capture the same anarchy and vision as the furniture. 

In the following interview, we chat with Michele Lamy about the exhibition, her past as the iconic ringleader at Les Deux Café and what she misses most about the Los Angeles she left behind before leaving for Paris with Rick Owens.

BJ PANDA BEAR: How have you been? I’ve been seeing you pop around and I know you’re working on this upcoming exhibition. How is everything coming along with it?

MICHELE LAMY: So, we are almost done. Just finishing up. I like the process so there is a thing that we’ve built and it’s just outside of Paris. We have this big atelier and then we did a warehouse in Los Angeles. For example, we do a lot of pieces in concrete, which is difficult to move, paying for the weight of the concrete for sending on a plane because we are always late. And then we found this great warehouse that’s on Highland and Romaine. Now we move in to MOCA and there is a little bit of adjustment because it’s still an institution, but it’s cool. We can break stuff, we can repair stuff up there, but for example you cannot drink a cup of tea. I don’t know why - it’s just the rules. When you’ve finished building something, you cannot have tea. I’m sure you can come in with a gun, but you cannot have tea.

BJ PANDA BEAR: That's insane! Where did the origin of the furniture come from? 

LAMY: When we move somewhere, we always do the furniture. We moved so many times. A gallery said it looked like a collection so I took it from there to produce it. It turned into two collections. It turned into gallery showings, we have dealers. We just keep doing it.

BJ PANDA BEAR: You’re always so hands on when we see all the documentation of your work. Have you always been so hands on with every single detail and the luxury.

LAMY: Which luxury?

BJ PANDA BEAR: Like all the images of you picking out slabs of marble and everything.

LAMY: Yeah you know I completely fell in love with doing this. The material, and there is something about the story behind making the pieces. We have a collection where everything is coming from Pakistan. In another collection, we are finding camel fur in the Empty Quarters desert in Abu Dhabi. But everything is produced just outside of Paris. That’s just where we find the right people.

BJ PANDA BEAR: What type of music is inspiring for you? What have you been listening to lately?

LAMY: I’m very into techno, house. I love radio stations, but now they are so lacking. There were so many and they’ve disappeared. I listen here on the internet from France like continuous house music, but I like LSD from A$AP [Rocky], I like his music.

BJ PANDA BEAR: You and A$AP are close, right?

LAMY: Yep. We just did a performance together at Art Basel Miami. It was fantastic. I was so happy. It was in the Design District on a roof. Silencio, a club from Paris, opened it. It was this space and it was a performance with Caecilia Tripp. Where you never see her, but she is there. We were there. It was a nice courtyard in the design district, so the location was good. It was not a hotel, it was more its own space.

BJ PANDA BEAR: When you were laying out and organizing the exhibition, was there a central focus or drive for this particular project?

LAMY: Yeah, There was a special focus. The one thing is the prong. It is represented everywhere even if you don’t see it, because it’s the way that we attach a bench of six meters – by two prongs, there is flow. It is floating. It looks like you need to hammer something, but it is about floating. The paintings are hung on the side. The space was sort of difficult, because it is very high and there’s not so much space on the first floor. Then we made this huge wall in alabaster that is a weeping wall. That piece - you know, I did feel good because coming to LA, I was sort of seeking a home, found the right warehouse, and then we were able to make this space our space. And changing the dynamic of the space, that’s usually what I’ve seen is always a challenge.

BJ PANDA BEAR: You’re used to transforming spaces, right? Your place in Paris doesn’t have a specific living room, or even a specific kitchen.

LAMY: Right right.



BJ PANDA BEAR: It is often said that you are the muse behind the show, but also that you’re kind of spearheading all of it. What are your personal muses and inspirations for design? Do you have a muse yourself?

LAMY: I don’t know what a muse is in that way. When you are with someone and you are doing things together and people say that because it is too difficult to say what exactly it is. I’m sure there is something I am inspired by. I’m old enough that all of these pieces of inspiration are melting into something more personal for me. People I admire is more because they have the guts to do what they’re meant to do and especially now with what just happened in the election, I think people have to be strong and do something they believe in.

BJ PANDA BEAR: Since this is like a comeback to LA for you, have there been any restaurants or places new here that you really love?

LAMY: I came a couple of times to do this exhibition. So I’ve had time to visit many places here. This time around, I live at the Chateau. When I was with Rick, we lived for two years at the Chateau, because we got attacked at the house we lived in. I have some friends and I gave them a tour of Traction Avenue and where there used to be factories are now galleries. I am really, really happy to see that little part of downtown – it is still the same, sort of, like SCI-Arc is still there. It was always good, except Al’s Bar is closed, but American Hotel is still there. They always say there was no one there before. They were there. We weren't so underground, but the prices were different. I always liked Little Tokyo and Koreatown – and Korean baths! My favorite thing, I think they are better here than in Korea. Of course the beach, it is beautiful. I was at the beach for Thanksgiving. There were not many people there – just people skateboarding on Venice Beach.

BJ PANDA BEAR: Can we chat a little about Les Deux Cafe or is that something you’d rather not? Cause I’ve heard so many stories.

LAMY: You know it was fantastic. It has been like twelve years of doing this. It was great, it was a time. Me and Rick were living across the street. Now it’s set to be demolished in a few months. Everything there is going to be demolished because it is going to be a mall. Another mall.

BJ PANDA BEAR: That’s so nuts…

LAMY: You know there has been a story in Another Magazine written by Chris Wallace who was a maître d' at Les Deux Cafe. Then we had this great artist, Konstantin Kakanias, who did these drawings, because at the time people did not have cell phones so it was preferential to taking a picture. And because it was a private place, the drawing was so much better to help tell the stories.

BJ PANDA BEAR: I love hearing the stories.

LAMY: It made it even better. There was no Instagram. Can you believe? It was so long ago. It worked though, we had so many great stories.

BJ PANDA BEAR: They’re so epic. I don’t even know if some of them are real.

LAMY: That was a very great time.

BJ PANDA BEAR: Are you going to be spending more time in Los Angeles? What took you guys so long to come back? Does Rick ever come here?

LAMY: You know before this MOCA story, we never came back. Rick you know, he is not coming for the exhibition. We don’t want to be analyzing all of this, but at the same time it’s a lot of things that are happening so he decided not to come here and let me do all the work alone. I know that next year, we are going to be in Europe a lot. Lots of time in Venice for the Biennale, so it seems like these things are happening and then Rick is going to our show in Milano. But I feel very at home in New York.

BJ PANDA BEAR: In New York, really? I’ve heard stories about Rick not liking New York. Does he ever go there?

LAMY: Yeah he doesn’t come there.

BJ PANDA BEAR: I was going to ask about the crystal and foam you’re planning on working with. How did you guys get involved with that kind of material?

LAMY: One thing to the next. Right now in this show, there is foam. The main thing in this show that changed the old perspective is a big wall of carved alabaster - the weeping wall. That is so heavy. There’s a lot of totems. It’s difficult to explain without seeing it.

BJ PANDA BEAR: Can you talk a little bit about Steven Parrino’s work in the show?

LAMY: It started because we are doing a show at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. It was a Carol Rama show and they asked us to be guests with our furniture. It was this combination because there is something on the wall, and then something on the floor. So then when Phillipe Vergne asked us to do a show, we thought it would be nice to work with somebody, and who is better than Steven Parrino? I know that we always liked him and his work is very related to our work. Lot’s of canvases that you think are collapsed, but are actually very controlled.

BJ PANDA BEAR: Did you get to meet him when he was around?

LAMY: Not at all, because all the years he was in Europe, I was here. I did know about him. I could have met him in Paris, but I didn’t. He was more known in Europe than in the States and he had a lot of collectors in Geneva. Did you like his work?

BJ PANDA BEAR: I like his work and his minimalist sort of nihilistic work. It reminds me a bit of Alan Vega’s work from Suicide and I like that deconstructed sort of connection between music and fashion.

LAMY: Steven Parrino’s work is very connected to those worlds. It speaks very well to this show at MOCA.


Rick Owens: Furniture will be on view until April 2, 2017 at MOCA Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles. Interview by BJ Panda Bear. Intro text and photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Creepers: An Interview Of Up And Coming Artist Daniel Boccato

Daniel Boccato is a 25-year-old Brazilian artist living in New York and is the subject of his first New York solo show at The Journal Gallery, entitled Creepers. After studying at Cooper Union, he developed a style that merges painting and sculpture by utilizing industrial materials (Fiberglass and epoxy, resin, etc.) to create vague and opaque shapes that leave a multitude of impressions on the viewer. His work shares some characteristics with Justin Adian’s foam paintings, but whereas Adian’s work relies on a precision informed by art deco aesthetics, Boccato’s angular figures take on no obvious meaning. The New York Times has fittingly referred to his work as, “dumb, but in a smart way.”

The works on view at The Journal Gallery have a gloss and sheen that belies their harsh interiors and difficult to discern subtexts. Boccato’s work connects with the viewers on an individual level. It doesn’t force the viewer into reading his/her own perpsective on the work as much as it facilitates a more general aesthetic imagination boost. That approach has resulted in Boccato’s star rising: Ryan McGinley shouted Boccato out from Art Basel Miami Beach via his Instagram page: “New Discovery #danielboccato” reads the caption of an image taken of a couple of Boccato’s stylized forms. Daniel and I spoke at the gallery about his new show and finding his voice in an over-saturated art world.

ADAM LEHRER:  When did you start becoming aware of or interested in visual art and creativity of any kind?

DANIEL BOCCATO: I was always drawing as a kid. My father is a musician so I always liked playing music and up until high school, those two things were really important to me. At a certain point in the course of my education, I was supposed to choose a path and go to school so then I chose to go to Cooper Union, but I still really liked to play music and it was just one choice.

LEHRER: Did you want to be a rockstar first?

BOCCATO: Well, maybe. I have this very cute picture of myself like banging on some tupperware.

LEHRER: I wanted to be a rockstar, for sure. Music was the first thing that I liked. I got my first copy of Rolling Stone when I was 7. Marilyn Manson was on the cover and I went through all those bad phases of music. 

BOCCATO: It’s funny this idea of developing taste. I grew up with my father who is a jazz and Brazilian musician so that was definitely a very strong influence and it’s only fairly recently when I was living by myself or at least in high school that I really started picking out things for myself and started to question what I grew up with. 

LEHRER: What is Brazil’s popular music?

BOCCATO: Samba, Bossa Nova - those are the more famous styles. But also more folk and pop. There’s a big mixture.

LEHRER: What got you interested in visual culture?

BOCCATO: I liked cartoons. That was my entry towards awareness of form. Up until my freshmen year in college, I was still doing experiments and playing around with [animation]. The first “job” I had was in an animation studio in Brazil of all places. [My boss] was an independent animator who was producing his first feature length movie. I was able to participate in that. I was twelve and I did it twice a week. It was just an internship at first and then it became more regular because in Brazil school starts in January. So because of that gap, I was able to not go to school for half a year just work and play music and draw and do animations.

LEHRER: That must have taught you a lot about professionalism?

BOCCATO: Kind of. When I was at Cooper, I took three semesters away. Throughout all of them, I was working for artists to not be stuck in a school environment. I think it’s very important to have this balance to be in this institution and then coming back in with a different critical perspective and going out again and continuing to develop.

LEHRER: When you were at Cooper Union, did you already have an idea of the specific medium that you developed for yourself using industrial materials and playing with form the way you do?

BOCCATO: It’s a very personal question, I can see a lot of connections with things that I was doing [in school]. I was doing a lot of sculptures then but in a more abstract way. And these works, they came out of that aesthetic in some sense, but I think they came together with this “caricature-esque” sense of form and color; something more deliberately formed. The work is more constructed from an initial idea. So this way of working is something that I started in the latter part of my school years.

LEHRER: What was it that drew you to using these types of more industrial materials?

BOCCATO: It was the necessity to achieve what I wanted to do. I do understand that the materials I used in the show you could categorize as industrial, but I see a difference in two kinds. One is the actual materials that I’m using that will remain in the piece: resin, fiberglass all that stuff. And the other is simplified DIY Home Depot material: tarp, plastic, tape . I look at them differently. Those materials allow me to do the piece and I need those materials for certain physical characteristics, and the other stuff is about the aesthetic and the texture, about shape and form. What drives me to it? I don’t know. I like the fact that they’re cheap and simple and give a certain kind of humble vibe to it.

LEHRER: What I find interesting about them is that they look kind of polished and they have a sheen to them. They don’t look harsh or aggressive.

BOCCATO: They’re very unassuming. It’s kind of a blank slate in which I can use to create these forms.

LEHRER: ‘Creepers’ is an interesting name for a show and you use titles rather interestingly. When you are using a title, does it become part of the piece in a way? Are you trying to express something that you find in your concept or is it an impression on a piece or do you just like playing with words?

BOCCATO: I like playing with words, for sure. Well the title has become like database entry where you need the dimensions, the medium, and the title is part of that as well. The title is perhaps the more significant information, but all of this database context is significant.

I like Excel a lot. It’s less of an interpretation of the piece. It’s a funny question because titles can have that function, but I look at it the same as using these other rows on Excel sheets like color, size. t’s not my reading of the work. Of course, everyone can have their own subjective relations and connections with what it sounds like and what it looks like the same you can have that with the color or the form or whatever. It’s just another element, another dimension. 



LEHRER: I thought it was interesting reading the press release for this show and it says something about your work having “figuration and abstraction, but never anything in between.” What do you think about that reading and do you think that’s true at all?

BOCCATO: Yeah, it’s the idea that you can be in one moment or another and shifting back and forth between these two quite distinct things. Figuration and abstraction can be seen as a spectrum but it can also be seen as two different ways of thinking or approaching objects I like the idea that something arbitrary can be felt as not arbitrary. The same way that I like to talk about data: color and form are all just data. Data in some sense is arbitrary.That’s what this play between these two modes of figuration and abstraction mean to me. That you suddenly walk into this room and you see these shapes but then you start having an emotional and spiritual subjective relation to them because they become these sort of characters, they have their own souls in a way. But you can also shift back, backtrack from that. There’s something very compelling for me in this activity. 

LEHRER: Is there an architectural element at work in this show? Do you always know exactly what you’re going to do before you start a piece? 

BOCCATO: Because of the nature of the process I need to have an outline and I need to cut it. In that moment, to be able to cut it, that outline is pretty defined. I can’t really add to it or change it that much. As soon as I start painting—that’s the first step and then I do the mould and then I reinforce it with resin—there’s no chance to go back and to end it. So I need to have a good plan but there’s a lot of unexpected things that happen in the middle. For example, the walls of the piece, because of the weight of the resin, start to flop down or the piece starts to contort.

LEHRER: Yeah, that’s what I figured because it just seems like you have a precise handling of your process. Do you listen to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcasts ever? He has this one episode about how genius emerges and the two type of artists. He uses Elvis Costello’s fifth album, his shittiest album, but there’s one song on there that he re-worked several times and then it became one of his biggest hits so he argues that Elvis Costello’s an experimental artist: he really has to work at what he’s doing. Whereas a conceptual artist has their idea, knows how to carry it out and carries it out right away.

BOCCATO: Yeah but I think it begs the question: where’s the experimentation? And where’s the discovery? And where’s the delivery? And where’s the production? I think all those things have their own places. I do like very much the idea that I can be my own assistant in a way. That once I have a certain vision I’m also able to carry that out without having to be creative and sensitive all the time. I like the idea of having an idea and then being able to do it. Also I think you can be creative by by editing or deleting your choices.

LEHRER: Writing about the NADA Art Fair last yeah, Ken Johnson, writing for the New York Times, considered your piece one of the pieces to look out for and wrote that your work is “dumb in a smart way.” Would you describe that as a fair statement?

BOCCATO: I think it’s very a special compliment. I think it’s true. I like the idea of dumb and stupid, or even retarded, even if it isn’t politically correct. It’s cool to go slow, it allows you to see other things that you wouldn’t otherwise. 

LEHRER: That’s true. And when I think of something that’s dumb in a smart way I think of so many awesome things: I think of John Waters movies, I think of Devo the band—

BOCCATO: That’s also true for most of the things I do. That’s why I think of it as a compliment.

LEHRER: What type of beauty are you trying to create? If you could describe it? 

BOCCATO: Beauty has to do with form. So that’s the type of beauty I’m interested in. It’s what I was saying before: of course everything is arbitrary but it is the illusion, the idea that things aren’t arbitrary. That you can have a reason to make this thing or that thing is a beautiful idea. 

LEHRER: Yeah, for sure. Just to finish up: as an artist of a certain age, I was interested in talking about what it’s like to break into the art market now. You’re twenty-five years old and you’re picking up heat in your career. Do you find that it’s easier to get your work noticed now? Or easier and harder to make a living? How does one break into the market now? 

BOCCATO: I don’t know. Let me know when you find out. 

LEHRER: Haha. This is huge though, getting a solo show. The way I think about it now, for all creative fields, is that it’s way easier to get noticed but way fucking harder to get paid. 

BOCCATO: Well I think what’s easier is to disseminate but it’s harder to create a sense of history. There’s so much going on and increasingly less memory.

LEHRER: As a critic, the amount of press releases that I get on daily basis that I could never get to is totally overwhelming to both buckle down and make my art but also to stay tapped in. I wonder if our generation will have its Cindy Sherman, you know? 

BOCCATO: I think that throughout wars and everything you have those who win and those who lose but that’s not actually because of what happened but because of how people narrate it and because of the future. So I think that will continue to happen but if you have a lot of people writing history then perhaps it will be different.


Creepers will be on view until January 15 at The Journal Gallery in New York. Text, interview and photos by Adam Lehrer. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Riding The Conceptual Wave: An Interview Of Alex Knost And Daniella Murphy On Founding The Costa Mesa Conceptual Art Center

Costa Mesa, California isn’t necessarily a place where you would find a conceptual art center. Typically, you’d find miles and miles of industrial centers of commerce, nondescript retail hubs, shopping malls and franchises. Under the Southern California sun, Costa Mesa is more a setting for a novel about a society on the verge of a postmodern existential crisis. But within this crisis, you’ll find a bit of catharsis with the brand new Costa Mesa Conceptual Art Center. Founded by surfer, surf historian, artist and musician Alex Knost, who recently came out with a collaborative album with Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, and curator Daniella Murphy, the CMCAC is a small haven for creativity in a wide strangulating vortex of urban commercialism. Located on a boulevard that looks like a hundred other boulevards – about an hour from Downtown Los Angeles – the CMCAC is conceptual in and of itself. It is not a large fancy art complex with multimillion-dollar donations and starchitect design – it is a simple storage facility acting as a gallery and a launching pad for local artists and musicians. The first artist to show at the space is Justin Adams – his exhibition, Dancing Baby, is on view now. Autre got a chance to catch up with Murphy and Knost to discuss their art center and what it means to the art world as a whole. 

Douglas Neill: What was the impetus for opening the Costa Mesa Conceptual Art Center with the work of Justin Adams?

Daniella Murphy: Justin lives in Alex Knost’s garage, informally. He made a spate of paintings in a really short amount of time. Alex came back from tour and Justin had made a ton of paintings, the bulk of which you see here. I think that’s how it came together. We saw what he had made and we prompted him to let us show it.

Neill: Is Justin’s process part of what interested you in showcasing his work?

Alex Knost: Justin’s process is more or less constantly participating in deconstruction. As far as being an artist who showcases his work, that’s not really him. Most of these paintings were produced in steps. All over the place…on the bed, on the ground. He’d just always be in there, tinkering about. It wasn’t really something that he presented to us at all.  It was more us prying and taking away the blankets and tee shirts that were covering all the work he had been making over the six months or so and actually looking at each other and being informally persuaded on our own recognition. I think we’re still talking him into it. He’s generally quite uncomfortable.

Murphy: We had to draw it out of him. The prime artistic act, that’s what he is.

Neill: It looks like he really digs in...using his hands.

Murphy: He uses paintbrushes and his hands and whatever he has. A lot of these canvases were found. One of the works is actually part of his car.

Neill: Lots of emotion.

Murphy: It’s definitely an outlet for him, an emotional outlet.

Neill: How did you guys come together to start the Costa Mesa Conceptual Art Center?

Murphy: We kind of talked about it and yeah I went to school and studied art and I used to manage a space in San Francisco that was similar in that I facilitate people’s shows coming together. Whether it be someone asking to show at a particular space, never really soliciting artists, just kind of helping people.

Neill: Connecting people.

Murphy: Yeah, at Adobe Books in San Francisco. It’s nice working with people who aren’t established and Alex was kind of keenly interested in my background, thought it was interesting and a different perspective.

Neill: Did you two meet there?

Murphy: No, we met down here actually, in LA.

Knost: My artistic background is in creating my own body of work, which at times is a tug of war because it’s hard to promote something that you create on your own. With Daniella’s knowledge of art and being selfless towards it...I thought it was charming that Daniella’s resume was in art appreciation. It created a platform. She works in LA.

Murphy: I work at a space that’s a residency and exhibition space. It’s a non profit called Fahrenheit and it’s sponsored by the FLAX Foundation which is a French foundation that facilitates French artists coming to LA and having a cultural exchange and introducing French artists in the LA context. But moving away from that, being here now more so than in LA, there’s this palpable feel here. There aren’t that many art spaces like in Orange County or this direct environment.

Neill: For better or worse there’s a lot of art aimed at tourists and the real housewives in Orange County.

Murphy: We like to see these works insinuating themselves in those homes though.

Knost: In any creative sense, I feel artists or musicians or people that are striving to create art, there’s a heart and a vibe, there’s the original area where they started and then where they’ve gravitated towards. It’s getting harder and harder for artists who solely want to create and not have to work at a café or bank off their inheritance or whatever they got, to live in places like Los Angeles and New York or San Francisco. It’s so expensive.

Murphy: As it always has been. It’s nice to have this space here, as opposed to LA.



Neill: What makes Costa Mesa the place?

Knost: From my perspective, my way of romanticizing it is we came here because this is where I grew up. I always thought of it as this bleak flat mesa in which a lot of people, since the 70s and even more so in my generation, have been great artists, musicians, who have solely been able to abide by their own facilities because there’s a lot of industrial buildings. There’s a large Latino community and they’re not as uptight and then there’s this sharp contrast with Newport Beach where it’s very consumer. You’ve had a lot of these artists and musicians residing here out of affordability and it’s always kind of seemed more of a comfortable habitat rather than a stepping stone or pedestal or something in order to grasp for vantage to be in Hollywood or something like that. It’s much more feasible.

Neill: A different headspace.

Murphy: It’s also as if socializing is a curator and artist’s metabolism. You have to go out and make those connections. So we’re trying to facilitate those connections down here. This space will hopefully be generative of it. Not just with this show, this space will be for other kinds of projects as well. 

Neill: Will CMCAC be primarily visual art or will there be music or performance?

Murphy: There’ll be performance and installations. When I walk into a space I just always want something experiential. You know something affecting, not necessarily nice art on the wall.

Knost: I believe that in calling it the Costa Mesa Conceptual Art Center is that, although you can look at this body of work and regard it as a decorative or abstract expressionism or anything like that, this environment becomes valuable. Justin’s work, for example, it’s very much an excruciating manifest. It’s not as if he’s a type of fellow that would go here or schmooze there to gain his repertoire. I think that in having him present his body of work as the first show is a flag in recognizing that something conceptual is obviously the thought process taking the precedent or the state of being and I think it’s very well exemplified in his work.

Neill: Is there an ultimate goal for the space? Do you want to expand it or take it as it goes?

Knost: I think the content of what passes through here obviously will amount to much more and spread its tentacles, but as far as expansion, it’s a humble environment. It isn’t as much of a progressive capitalist type thing. That’s why we called it a center, as to kind of make it communal and never ending expansion. Not ‘here’s our ceiling, here’s our goal, here’s this acute area in which to achieve.’ 

Neill: Would you ever display your own work?

Knost: Of course. The refreshing thing about doing something like this is that you’re watching all the pieces fall and being at ease with that.

Neill: Do you have roles when you’re working together?

Murphy: It’s definitely collaborative. It’s not the most formal of spaces, but it’s true to Alex’s ethos and he’s generously allowed me to partake. It’s fluid. As far as decisions with the show here, we’ll both have a say, we’ll both contribute.

Knost: We’re very open, very lax, very non-appointed. I think maybe in the first year of developing galleries and exhibition spaces, it’s always a push and pull thing. It’s usually quite aggressive, as if there are chiefs that appoint Indians that can take credit and vice versa. You know, a lot of hunter-gatherers doing so strictly to have a resume. Where as here, between Daniella and me, with the artists or musicians, poets or writers, the people that want to showcase their work, there’s more of a general consensus. 

Murphy: It’s based on aesthetic considerations, of course. We have a lot of friends who make work who we won’t show here.

Knost: We’re not scratching people’s backs. That’s not our goal. There has to be something present in it that we find circumstantial.

Neill: Has surfing influenced how you perceive art and how the creative process?

Knost: Of course, it’s an existential struggle. In surfing, there’s a balance of greed between this macho hunting for waves, outsmarting the other population, but then there’s also the embarrassment. I feel that great artists are willing to obtain greatness from despair and the complications that arise from that. In that sense, you realize that sometimes a stride can be an embarrassing one…at most a very human one. I believe that art that I find intriguing has its faults.

Neill: How did you and Kim Gordon meet/come to create together?

Knost: We had mutual friends...one gal who sells and shows her art, her husband is a filmmaker who I know. One of the groups that I’m in, performed for his after party for one of his films in New York maybe two years ago. I met her at the event, we played pool. She was working on her body of work, but needed fiberglass. I work with fiberglass, so I eventually assisted her on some works for a show she had coming up. Along the line, her being a musician, we had some free time and we ended up recording and making that record [Glitterbust] and she went on to have her show and it was great to be a part of that. The record was something that I believe we’re both quite proud of.


Justin Adams' exhibition Dancing Baby will be on view until December 17, 2016 at The Costa Mesa Conceptual Art Center, 930 Placentia Blvd unit B3 Costa Mesa, CA. text and photographs by Douglas Neill. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Synesthesia From A Higher Power: An Interview Of Double Diamond Sun Body

text by Summer Bowie

When Miles Davis scored Louis Malle’s Elevator To The Gallows, he took a wild approach that was as daring as it was genius. He simply watched the film from beginning to end, took some notes, wrote a few themes in his hotel room and then handed them to a small band in the morning. From there they followed his lead as he improvised his way through a second screening of the film. He didn’t read the script, he didn’t speak French, and he certainly didn’t know much about French new wave. Miraculously, the result was uncanny in its ability to capture the very essence of loneliness and desperation. He had an incredible facility for processing an image and then giving it a sonic projection that glides past the intellectualization process and rings clear as a bell right in the central nervous system. Thus is the facility that is immediately evident in the work of Robbie Williamson, otherwise known as Double Diamond Sun Body.

He is a musician first and foremost, but his work has expanded into a multitude of mediums over the course of his lifetime, and right now his creative juices are bursting and radiating in all directions like a newly born star. Though, that’s definitely nowhere close to the way that he would describe himself. He’s a humble soul with a genuine sense of curiosity, all of which is underscored by a mystical je ne sais quoi. He spent over a decade scoring films and television before he started experimenting with performance and making his own films to accompany his soundscapes, or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, this work has proliferated and evolved to include installation, sculpture and paintings, and is now finally culminating in his first solo show at MAMA Gallery in Los Angeles, entitled Saffron Crow’s Associate. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself feeling a little dissociated while experiencing the work. If you submit to that feeling, it becomes an otherworldly adventure that allows you to zoom out and observe Earth from a bird’s eye view. We had the chance to sit down with the artist and talk about his musical beginnings, his spiritual investigations, and the wonders of human nature.

Summer Bowie: Let’s start at the very beginning, where did you grow up?

Double Diamond Sun Body: I grew up in Seattle.

Bowie: What was the atmosphere like at the time? Did you always have creative ambitions and were they always nurtured while you were growing up?

Double Diamond Sun Body: Yeah, my atmosphere was music in Seattle. I grew up just skateboarding a lot and playing in bands. I would play shows during the era of Nirvana and Soundgarden, and a lot of punk bands from D.C.––that Dischord label––people like Beefeater and Fugazi.

Bowie: Wow, so you were fully in that world while it was happening in Seattle.

Double Diamond Sun Body: Yeah, I was really entrenched in it. I was in a record label called C/Z Records and playing a lot of shows and touring.

Bowie: What kind of band were you playing with at that point when you got signed?

Double Diamond Sun Body: I was playing with a band that was very math rock, super intense, just very complicated arrangements mixed with punk––that kind of music.

Bowie: That’s amazing! What were you playing?

Double Diamond Sun Body: I was playing bass.

Bowie: And when did that start?

Double Diamond Sun Body: I started when I was fifteen. And then from there I moved to Portland and played in a band called Hitting Birth.

Bowie: Wow, what kind of music was that?

Double Diamond Sun Body: It was very theatrical. Sort of industrial, but very light. Not industrial aesthetically but sound wise it was very rhythmic and heavy, but aesthetically it was lots of white clothing and colors, and the opposite of what you’d think industrial would be.

Bowie: Crazy. And how’d you get into composing music for films?

Double Diamond Sun Body: I wrote a film called Dandelion that starred Vincent Kartheiser from Madmen. I wrote that with my friend and we got it made. It ended up doing really well, went to Sundance and winning a bunch of awards in different festivals around the world. That was the first film I scored. That film did pretty well and a lot of people started asking me to score their films based on that movie, so that’s how I got into it. I just kept going with it and never stopped for a decade.

Bowie: I love that. And there’s really a spiritual aspect to what you do––something kind of ‘other­worldly.’ When did you first get introduced to this side of yourself - or was it always there?

Double Diamond Sun Body: It was always there - since I was around twelve. You know, it started normally with Carlos Castaneda books and stuff, then it just kinda grew and never stopped growing. I don’t know, it was something that was always with me. It came from reading. Then I joined a lot of different groups that were studying various esoteric things. And I never really expressed it as much as I do now because I was always doing things with other people.

Bowie: Wow, and were your parents a part of this or was it just completely your own thing?

Double Diamond Sun Body: It was my own thing, and then when I was around twenty I started to do some things with my mother.

Bowie: That’s so beautiful. And then your name Double Diamond Sun Body...where did it come from and when did you decide to adopt it?

Double Diamond Sun Body: I took on that name from something that I read a couple years ago. It’s hard to explain but it has to do with the Christ embodiment or sort of like a Christ consciousness or Christ energy 2.0.

Bowie: Heavy.

Double Diamond Sun Body: Yeah, I really resonated with the ideas around that and how that energy integrates into modern life. So the name just really resonated with me.

Bowie: It seems like a lot of that ethos was evident in your former band, We Are the World, but that work was much different than your current work. What was the creative mission behind that project?

Double Diamond Sun Body: I don’t think there really was a mission. It was a group of creative people coming together and going off the cuff, ya know. There wasn’t a mission but a lot of people interpreted it that way, like they would see us as a cult, or see our performances as very cult­ish and always wanted to know what it meant. I think it was just the right combination of people that exuded that kind of impression, but there wasn’t an intention, you know what I’m saying?



Bowie: Yeah, just a performative exploration as a group. And do you like being in a band or do you prefer performing solo?

Double Diamond Sun Body: I think that all the different projects I worked with I really enjoyed, but they’ve each served their purpose in getting me to where I am now. I couldn’t really foresee being in another band, but I’m really glad that I was for so long.

Bowie: You blend music and performance in a really unique way. What kind of emotions are you trying to convey or evoke through the energy of your music and your performances?

Double Diamond Sun Body: I think in general I’m trying to express the utter mystery of life and what we’re all doing, while embracing very traditional actions and very traditional institutions in terms of very basic spirituality. Trying to hone that down to a basic thin––not making it very complicated. Traditional values of family, physical labor, children, simple colors, and combining those energies with the ambiguous, ethereal nature of the music. When you combine those two you get something interesting.

Bowie: And do you feel that you’re on a journey or a spiritual path that you’re exploring with your work that’s separate from your own life trajectory? Or are they both one in the same?

Double Diamond Sun Body: I think they’re absolutely one in the same. One couldn’t exist without the other.

Bowie: Your show at MAMA is very unique because it’s the first time that your pursuits as a fine artist will coalesce into something much grander. Can you describe the show and its meaning? Particularly, the meaning behind its title?

Double Diamond Sun Body: Yeah, Saffron Crow’s Associate is about an entity named Saffron Crow and his associate. They are off­planet entities that visit Earth to basically just check it out. They’re flying by to see what’s happening. They get here and are immediately enamored with the way in which races coexist and battle each other more or less. They’re also very interested in the way the media perpetuates this sort of battle. They find it really unnecessary and sort of comment on all of this, while presenting simple solutions to the problematic way that the races react toward one another.

Bowie: Can you give us an example of any of those solutions?

Double Diamond Sun Body: I think that they really are of the opinion that races should try to have more pride in their race, versus trying to shove their race down other races’ throats, and say “accept me, accept me!” That goes for white races too. All races should. And simultaneously I think they really say that you should have mad respect for all races while letting them be sovereign entities and not give into this forced assimilation constantly. Again this is all their opinion. They think it just causes more problems.

Bowie: Do you believe in a higher power or spiritual enlightenment? Do you think that humans have lost sight of this side of themselves?

Double Diamond Sun Body: I don’t think that question can really ever be answered––in the way that I think any answer to that question would be a complete assumption. So yeah, I would leave it at that. But I think for someone like them and me­­because I feel as though I’m channeling them­­there’s something going on. I would be absolutely floored if this was all a result of stars colliding into each other and bacteria growing.

Bowie: So if you were an alien that came to this planet are these the first impressions that you believe you would have regarding human nature?

Double Diamond Sun Body: I think I would. If I really imagine another planet or another race of beings that live there, the last thing I’m gonna do is think, “Oh there are these beings living on this planet.” I would think, “Wow, there’s several types of beings on this planet and they don’t get along? They have bombs pointing at each other, and still don’t understand each other, and are still fighting for equality?” and I’d be completely enamored by this.

Bowie: How does sound play into that aspect of the show?

Double Diamond Sun Body: I’m working with colors and tones in the notes. Specific notes go with specific colors. So the sound of the show is going to be very meditative and very different than the music that I’ve been performing live. When there’s a certain message or certain subtitle, or color, there is a corresponding tone to accentuate the message.

Bowie: It’s almost like you’re sharing a sense of synesthesia with us.

Double Diamond Sun Body: Absolutely. It’s subjective to the most of my ability. But work like that is highly mathematical. Somewhere in the universe of Earth there are objective equations that can get information across better via color and tone. However, I’m no expert at it, but I’m trying to incorporate that to the best of my ability, which will work for some people, but it might not do anything for others.

Bowie: I guess we won’t know that until the show.

Double Diamond Sun Body: Yeah, I’m sure it’ll be very different for everyone.

Bowie: Well, where do we go from here? What’s the most important lesson that we should learn as a species?

Double Diamond Sun Body: In my opinion, I think there should be less identification. That’s what Saffron’s talking about in the intro of the film when it says, “come with me to observe the animal.” I think that that’s what the show is about, observing the animal. And the animal is only an animal when it has lots of identifications. And when you can observe yourself and not identify with everything all the time, then you’re opening yourself up to some potential.

Bowie: My last question is why is Saffron Crow’s Associate the pointed figure?

Double Diamond Sun Body: Because Saffron Crow only speaks when he really wants to speak and he’s busy. So his associate does most of the commentary, but Saffron does appear a few times.

Bowie: Gotcha­­I like it. So sort of like the way Double Diamond Sun Body is just channeling something higher.

Double Diamond Sun Body: Yeah, maybe Double Diamond Sun Body is someone else’s associate.

[laughs]

Bowie: Yeah. Awesome, thanks so much.

Double Diamond Sun Body: Cool, that was nice. Thank you.


Double Diamond Sun Body "Saffron Crow's Associate" will be on view from November 5 to December 5, 2016 at MAMA Gallery, 1242 Palmetto Street, Los Angeles. Text and interview by Summer Bowie. Photographs by Oliver Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


The Girl In The Picture: An Interview Of Performance Artist Martine Gutierrez

Martine Gutierrez - a name that fits the glamour.  I met Martine about ten years ago during a MICA pre-college program.  We were both sixteen and as I remember, she beamed.  Tall, colorful clothes and gender-ambiguous, us suburban kids were pleasantly perplexed.  She had supermodel looks and a bright and bouncy personality; it’s almost as if she had a gravitational pull, her particular brand of sexiness notwithstanding.  When you’re that age, it’s hard to know why you’re interested in something.  You mostly go off of feeling or intuition to guide you but you know when something is good and right.  Martine seemed to possess both a deep sincerity and gentleness combined with the ability to laugh at oneself and be direct.  She embodied the human spirit, thoughtful and kind, goddess that was both retro and future. To my young mind, this was what was good and right in the world.  Seeing her recent work, this still rings true and it comes as no surprise that others have been just as enchanted.  Martine has been featured in numerous magazines including Interview, i-D, PAPER, and Vogue.  She is represented by Ryan Lee Gallery and recently opened her solo show WE & THEM & ME at CAM Raleigh. She continues to be herself against a world that can be damning, slow on the uptake, and the results, like herself, are flexible in context and challenge ideas of what it means to be a woman today.

AUDRA WIST: I see you using your body in a positive way that's both direct and sensitive, which is something I feel like doesn't happen so much. I see a lot of pain and suffering being expressed, but I wondered if you think about circumventing that pain and suffering instead of just reflecting it back.

MARTINE GUTIERREZ: The fear of stigma and labels is definitely still an underpinning of mainstream media, affecting all of us since we’re all constantly surrounded by it. I put added effort into looking hyper feminine in my work, but for someone like me that’s also a process of my everyday life. It’s easier and safer to “pass” in public than to go to the grocery store with scruff and breasts. But fem pressure really affects all women.  Hair styling, uncomfortable shoes, makeup, objectifying ourselves…but for who?  If we’re aware of the male gaze, who are we dressing for and why?  These are some of the questions I feel affect my choices when performing characters.  

I think one of the recurrent personas my work’s been spiraling around is that of the ‘Supermodel’. She physically embodies ethnographic ideals through the eyes of the oppressive culture on a hyperbolic level.  The Supermodel isn’t just skinny and tall—she's epitomized as perfection.  It’s all so ingrained within cis culture that anyone who is Trans or non-gender binary is forced to maneuver though the Supermodel propaganda as well.  No matter the trends or decades, “feminine” or “masculine”, its all just drag— accentuating features that are culturally assigned as female or male.

WIST: Yeah I’ve always thought that way about how contouring has been appropriated by mainstream entities like Kim Kardashian. That’s drag. Contouring is drag.

GUTIERREZ: Oh yeah, the Kardashians are like nude drag queens.  Kim has had more surgeries than most of the T girls I know.  That family is pumped, beat, and woven just to sit in the kitchen—there's no separation between home glam and the red carpet.  It's like a lifestyle of perpetual photo shoots and it’s amazing.  I mean I personally don’t have the stamina; I don’t like wearing makeup or the feeling of it.  But I think that also comes from the pressure to feminize, more now than ever—to pass when I'm on the street.  I began hormone replacement therapy on New Year’s of last year and my beard still grows, so I will wear makeup if I'm really trying to pass, and even then when people look at me I feel like they’re examining the makeup and what its covering.  Even with cis women who have a lot of makeup on riding the train, I’m guilty of studying.

WIST: The question I have that pertains to this is because you are beautiful and modelesque, it does feel like you have a keen awareness of that position or role that you take up of looking a particular way.  What do you think the relationship is between fashion and art?

GUTIERREZ: First off, thank you for calling me beautiful! I think I'm connected to fashion media and merchandising media subconsciously, in part because it was at one point an avenue I really wanted to be celebrated in. I remember being a teenager and watching ANTM and wanting to be on the show so badly, and studying—taking notes. I was 18 and printed the paperwork on my mom’s printer with a friend and she was like, “Do it, you could win!” and we’d scream and giggle like dreams were coming true; but listed at the bottom of the application was a requirement that you were female, so I never sent it in.

And at the same time, I would do photo shoots by myself at home, or in the woods, or in parking lots, trying to master what exactly made this look legit and glossy. I wanted the budget and the lifestyle—the whole fantasy. I wanted to be Richard Avedon and Nastassja Kinski with a boa constrictor coiled around her naked body.  I had a brief stint with the fashion world right out of college and realized the glam was just merchandising.  For the major houses it's all just clothing that’s being shown to us with a halo of light around it.

WIST: I don't want to put words in your mouth but it seems like you’re concerned with the mechanisms behind what we want in that context instead of just saying oh, this is cool, this is trendy, boop.  Also you’re an autonomous person in the world as opposed to Gucci.

GUTIERREZ: In the beginning, as I began to call performative actions art, the work became more than just self-portraits—my aspirations began to build the rhetoric behind it.  I also simultaneously started going into the world with a much louder appearance.  I was introduced to queer theory and ‘gender-fuck’ and started sporting face paint, red and turquoise hair and bright mismatched patterns—teen gender rebellion antics.  I wasn’t comfortable with other people taking my portrait for a really long time, which is in part why I started developing the skills to execute all the aspects of image making—hair and makeup, setting and lighting.  It took a long time for me just to be comfortable and trust other people behind the lens, to allow someone else to take my picture.  

WIST: What do you think the line is between narcissism and self-reflection or productive use of your body and self-aggrandizing?  Or is there a line/does there need to be a line?

GUTIERREZ: I think it’s just perception, unless the artist themselves has made a statement that they’re a narcissist or the artwork is about being obsessed with themselves.  I don't think about narcissism when I'm making my work and maybe it's partly because on numerous occasions I have been right next to gallery goers at my own show who talk about the “girl in the picture,” with no idea that she is me, or that I was born male. That person in real life and this person in the image are rarely the same person, and that degree of separation is crucial when I hear them chatting about my “very flat chest”, or asking “why does she have a mustache drawn on?” I’ll be standing beside someone visual probing my body, and I'm just like, This is insane!  I don't even have to wear sunglasses and they don’t recognize me! So at the end of the day I'm not even taking pictures of myself—I’m taking pictures of another woman.

WIST: I feel the same way in terms of the artworks I’ve made.  I don't feel like myself totally - it’s like projections of myself or people or things that we might all experience, or I hope that these are things that are others people’s experiences and feelings of the way they look or they act. I don’t know where I came up with this hypothesis, but I want to say that your parents were pretty accepting from an early age. Is that true? Or am I making that up?

GUTIERREZ: Yeah. Well – my mom was and my dad is still an ongoing conversation.

WIST: So do you think that has affected your self-perception?  Again, I’ve gone through the same thing of having to tell them that I'm a sex worker and it ended up with my dad being more supportive than my mom at first.

GUTIERREZ: I think it was crucial in feeling supported at a young age, because it took a long time for me to meet people that I felt expressed themselves in the same way that I did, or in parallel ways with diverse pronouns and greater self-awareness, or people who had already been on hormones for years. It’s not just Avril Lavigne, Misunderstood syndrome. It’s like, on top of trying to navigate my own self-awareness, anyone who is of Trans experience is simultaneously dealing with the binaries of sexual orientation. The reality is that the same cis guys who used to call me a faggot on the street now slap me on the ass. I have no way of knowing if the guy who is attracted to me, that I meet randomly on the street or in the club, will turn around and hurt me once we’re feeling each other up. It’s so much easier for me to interact with other women. With men I need to be forthcoming from the start in a way, and it should not be my problem that some rando is insecure about his own sexuality, but he could turn around and kill me and throw me in a dumpster. It’s real, and it’s terrifying. Cis men are terrifying—cis white men have been the worst.


"I’d love it if gender could be seen outside of the LGBTQ community as a possibility, not just assigned or borrowing from the binary.  Club kids have been living that ideal for years, punks and drag queens mainstreamed it, today’s queer community embraces it, and the fashion world always appropriates the philosophy as a fad or style inspiration."


WIST: How do you see the role of Trans artists changing in the context of history i.e. Vaginal Davis, Greer Lankton, and even somebody like Orlan who isn't a transgender woman but has been changing her looks for years now?

GUTIERREZ: I think it’s really important for the younger generation. It would be amazing to see artists of gay and Trans experience be referenced within the context of history and art history; it just doesn’t happen unless you pursue something like Gender Studies, specifically in higher education. Trans women still face violence and fetishism, manifested physically on the street or quietly in the workplace. This is especially true for Trans women of color, who are cast outside the norm as a concentrated minority within their own minority. But I’d hope that with time the work of Trans and non-binary artists will stand to represent much more than the identity of the maker. Academia and media needs to stop othering artists as ‘gay’, ‘trans’, ‘black’, ‘Latino’, ‘Asian’ etc.– it’s like, they’re also people of broad subcultural experiences. We’re definitely not there yet.

WIST: Yeah, I feel like the people I listed too I think are considered to be playthings?  They’re always shown in the context of some lightness, when the actual experience is pretty serious.  You go through shit when you’re a person working with your own body and it seems to be shown in this light teehee way.

GUTIERREZ: I’d love it if gender could be seen outside of the LGBTQ community as a possibility, not just assigned or borrowing from the binary.  Club kids have been living that ideal for years, punks and drag queens mainstreamed it, today’s queer community embraces it, and the fashion world always appropriates the philosophy as a fad or style inspiration. That appropriation is a huge disservice, and makes me skeptical of all the “progress” people keep yammering on about. I naively thought transitioning would be easy or seamless but I was so wrong. I mean, the concept being simple as an individual I think is true, but the reality of living in our world in a body that is beginning to reflect “feminine” versus “masculine” in a binary way…. I'm being treated completely differently.  It’s definitely a new awareness—of everything.  It's the treatment of women's bodies that is so different.  I mean, it’s not difficult to literally be a woman because I have always been one. I’m just not used to being groped and stalked and catcalled to this extent.

WIST: Yeah, that must be a total trip. Welcome!

GUTIERREZ: It’s crazy, and I'm not even dressed in a provocative way when it happens.

WIST: I think it's because a lot of straight men do not know what it’s like to be penetrated. The gaze is penetration. It’s funny; a lot of the men that I have been with aren’t necessarily kinky or BDSM-minded. I think they recognize that after meeting me they are “safe” or safe to let their guard down a bit since they know I won’t judge based on their sexual interests. All of a sudden a switch goes off and I get a flood of interesting texts. The tables are turned and even the sounds that they’re making in bed, sheesh. I feel like if more straight men could give in—

GUTIERREZ: If anal stimulation or getting pegged were socially celebrated as being really masculine and manly, we’d be living in a different world.

WIST: I think that too! It would create a different, more balanced vibe.

GUTIERREZ: It’d be like ancient Greece where they didn’t use the label gay. Men had sex with men and women.  Men could be each other’s lovers—and they were! That’s why the 300 soldiers fought so hard in battle, because they loved each other.

WIST: Because there was a real emotional bond and vulnerability!

GUTIERREZ: It didn't make any of them less of a man. I mean, you would think two really masculine guys, whatever that means… I guess really hairy, buff, and…I'm going into bear territory. Like, who are the manly dudes everyone has a crush on? Zac Efron and…

WIST: Zayn!

GUTIERREZ: Omg yes! You would think that these two men Zac Efron and Zayn…

WIST: Could get each other off!

GUTIERREZ: Yeah, you would think two dudes, dude-ing each other around all ruff, pounding one another other all night would be manly! But no, culturally somehow that makes them feminine and by default weak?

WIST: I know it’s crazy. Not one, but two dicks!

GUTIERREZ: Isn't the phallus manly? Wouldn't adding more testosterone be more manly?

WIST: Oh man, I totally agree. More men need to be fucked. Or be okay with being in the grey area. But like you said, things take time. We need more public figure examples of different types of “other” because then it just becomes more varied and people can realize there’s more than just one type or two types or whatever the fuck of an idea they have.

GUTIERREZ: Laverne Cox is amazing. Thank god her voice is out there. She's so smart and beautiful.

WIST: Yeah I can’t think of anyone else off the top of my head besides her, but maybe it’s gonna be you. I could see it, I would love it! You’d be great; it’d be a full circle for you.

GUTIERREZ: I am definitely captivated by celebrity and the media that surrounds people who are spectacles, but truthfully, I don't really like performing live and anytime I do (which has become more and more rare) I end up hiding from people who compliment me. I don’t know if they are necessarily fans, but if I don’t know them it just makes me so uncomfortable! I would much rather release things onto the Internet and send them into the ether like a message in a bottle.  

WIST: What excites you the most about making work today in 2016?

GUTIERREZ: That I'm older. I'm only twenty-seven years old but I feel like I’ve purged a lot of idealism out already. For a long time I have been living fluid concepts of gender with an awareness that the space between the binaries is the only place to find complete freedom. I didn’t want to necessarily hit people over the head with these themes. I wanted the viewer to walk away with some new awareness about their own perceptions of gender and sexual reality—and I still feel this way. People need to question themselves and be confused. That’s how we grow and evolve. Confusion is good, and so much more self-reflective than giving someone a summary of what it is that they’re supposed to be taking away from the work. When you’re left confused, you have to keep thinking.

I feel like I was using a lot of cis mechanisms and like I said before, the Supermodel was very much an influence. I didn’t fully understand when I was still going by Martín that my fem aspirations were so controlled by social aspirations. Society’s importance for women to look a certain way built the Supermodel, not me. I knew this and still I wanted to be seen as her. I know now that she’s begging to be rebuilt. I wish I had this awareness years ago, but I know now. Today is better.


Martine Gutierrez's exhibition "True Story" will be on view until December 11, 2016 at Faye G., Jo, and James Stone Gallery, 855 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. text and interview by Audra Wist. photographs by Martine Gutierrez. You can explore more of Martine's work on her website or follow her on Instagram: @MARTINE.TVFollow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE