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.  

 

Astral America: An Interview Of FUCT Founder and Artist Erik Brunetti On His New Book Astral America

Looking like a cross between a rogue border patrol agent and a cowboy dandy, Erik Brunetti is the founder and fearless leader of one of the most iconic American street wear brands. The brand’s name alone, FUCT, harkens a kind of dissidence and lassitude belonging to that doomed generation that came before the digital dark ages and the millennials struggling to survive in its cold pixelated miasma. While street wear brands like and Supreme and Stussy opted for safety in numbers, the FUCT brand, which was conceived in Brunetti's Venice Beach bedroom in 1991, remains uniquely intact and connected to its DIY roots. Starting off as a graffiti artist in New York City, FUCT became a kind of extension of Brunetti’s seditious ideals. Just recently, Brunetti teamed up with Paperwork NYC to publish a book of new drawings. Entitled Astral America, the book is an ode to post truth with a smattering of India ink renderings of drones, US military propaganda, pop iconography and psychologically damning, accusatory, and anti-consumerist slogans aimed squarely at the gluttony of American culture. We got a chance chat with Brunetti about the book, the current state of FUCT and why it’s not cool to justify war with hashtags. 

AUTRE: Okay, lets start off with your upbringing in Jersey, which is close to New York, but seemingly a world away, what was your first introduction to culture and did you get a chance to escape to the city?

ERIK BRUNETTI: I was born in New Jersey, I grew up in Pennsylvania and Virginia. I only started visiting NYC in the late 70's early 80's with my mother, going to punk boutiques, CBGB, etcetera. I eventually moved to New York on my own and became a bike messenger when I was 18.

AUTRE: You were in New York during the halcyon days of graffiti writers – what was it about this world that was so romantic to you?

BRUNETTI: I discovered graff through a friend of mine named Darnell. We went to school together, and I noticed all the tags on his school books, same style of graff that I would to see when I went into the city, so naturally I inquired about it. He then took me to the yards and opened up an entire world to me. I then started writing for many years since throughout the tri-state area.

AUTRE: When did the idea to start the FUCT brand come to you – was it something that you decided to start right away or did you mull it over?

BRUNETTI: It was an accident that I had to cultivate. There was no blue print or business plan, there still isn't one to this day.

AUTRE: Did you have any idea that it would become this multiple decade brand experiment?

BRUNETTI: I knew it was different, I never think too much about it's future. 
 



AUTRE: Do you feel like it would be hard to start a brand like FUCT in this day and age?

BRUNETTI: The opposite. It was hard to start a brand FUCT in 1990 due to the fact that nothing like it existed. It would be much easier to start today. The groundwork has been carved out and people are more indoctrinated and accepting of subversive ideals because due to the internet.

AUTRE: It seems like the message that you are trying to get across with FUCT is more important than ever – it seems like subversion is crucial, especially in our current political climate?

BRUNETTI: It depends how it is presented I suppose. It could swing either way.

AUTRE: Let’s talk about Astral America – can you talk about the central focus of the book?

BRUNETTI : The books title comes from a chapter in Jean Baudrillard's book, "America." In that book he writes about the grotesque aspect of our country that American's seem to celebrate. My drawings in Astral America are observations and critiques of today's wasteful country. Unnecessary oversized parking lots, shopping mals, fast food feeding overweight people, televison and movie stars becoming activist to save the day. The USA starting as many wars as we possibly can in the Middle East and then justifying them with hashtags and social media slogans.

AUTRE: How did the book come about – was it a collection of work that you’ve been meaning to put out for a while?

BRUNETTI: I had began working with India ink as a medium again last year, just drawing much more and compiling a body of work that was based on the above mentioned theme and ideals, with no intention of showing them. Fast forward, Mike, from Paper Work NYC contacted me earlier in the year and came to my loft to visit and saw them and thought they would be great in a limited edition publication. So, we laid it out and it was done. It happened very naturally. I work with people much easier when meeting in person rather then via email or social media. If we
hadn't met, it wouldn't have happened. I like to see people, develop a working relationship and become friends, it shows in the quality of work that is then put out.

AUTRE: Where do you see FUCT in the next 20 years?


BRUNETTI: Done, hopefully.

AUTRE: What’s next for you as a fine artist – any exhibitions in the works?
 

BRUNETTI: I'm in the studio working everyday, I don't really make plans, if someone approaches me I'm into it. The art world in general is in a weird place right now. I'm also terrible at networking and putting myself out there. Art in the states is boring and contrived right now. I might move to Spain.


You can purchase Astral America on the Paperwork NYC website. photographs by Mike Krim. Interview and text by Oliver Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Wish I Wasn't Here: An Interview of Maritza Yoes and Sean Monahan On Their Art Basel Collaboration With Snapchat and Artsy

The gap between technology, advertisement and art is nearly sealed. With years of philosophical rants over context, technique and accessibility often polarizing the art crowd. Today it seems unrealistic to not have some internet served with your art. During Art Basel Miami Beach, Maritza Yoes, one of the founders of LACMA’s social media channel and Sean Monahan, one of the founders of trend forecasting darlings K-HOLE, collaborated with Artsy and Snapchat to bring an array of artists out of the galleries and onto our phones with a range of special edition Snapchat geofilters. The filters were located around the city at prominent art locations featuring a grouping of artist including Chloe Wise and Katherine Bernhardt. I caught up with them to find out how this meeting of art and technology is just the beginning.

BJ Panda Bear: So, can you tell us about the project?

Snapchat is our favorite platform for creativity. We were excited to help make this project come to life to give artists a chance to play with the platform in a deeper way and for Snapchatters to have an accessible art experience. Without going into too much detail, Snapchat had a great idea for artist-designed geofilters. Sean and I helped bring Artsy and Snapchat together to make the creative initiative happen.

BJ: Have you worked with Snapchat in this art context before?

Yes, I have a relationship with Snapchat from my LACMA ties. I was an early art pioneer on the platform through my LACMA work so there's some good mutual trust.



BJ: Is it true that you got LACMA on Snapchat? 

True! I developed LACMA's Snapchat account and the strategy of meshing pop-culture and art history. The pairings are meant to be simultaneously irreverent and thought-provoking. LACMA has continued to maintain the strategy and it's still seeing a lot of success!

BJ: What drives a project like this?

An interest in how art, culture, social media, and technology can converge. We're constantly thinking about opportunities to explore new technologies in an art context. Finding ways for the worlds of art and technology to work together is at the heart of our participation with the project. 

BJ: What does cultural strategist mean?

"Cultural strategy" is our definition for bringing creative people and culturally relevant opportunities together. Full time I work as a social strategist with an emphasis on arts, tech, and culture, but I also love introducing people and helping make collaborations happen, this is something I do naturally! Sean is a full-time freelancer and branding genius. He was a founding member of the art collective K-HOLE where he worked with businesses that had the uncompromising creative integrity of art.


text and interview by BJ Panda Bear for Autre Magazine. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


There's No Place Like CHARLIEWOOD: An Interview Of Cult Hairstylist And Artist Charlie Le Mindu

text by BJ Panda Bear

Charlie Le Mindu recently presented CHARLIEWOOD at the Faena theater during Art Basel Miami, the second performance that debuted in Paris at Palais de Tokyo. The Barrett Barrera Projects produced show was a surreal walk through his vision of abstract sexuality that was anything but binary. With a host like Lady Fag and an opening act by drag terrorist Christeene, it was equal parts queer shocker and electro gold. Watching the performance took the audience’s minds out of anything they had seen, there was no turning back from the master craftsmens vision that was expanded by endless spills of tequila. 

Charlie has long had a history as the go to Haute Coiffure, crafting hair and wigs with in the realm of surreal otherworldliness, this extension of head pieces in motion spoke of a necessary need provide movement and life to the meticulously crafted works of art. Autre got a moment to find out what provoked Charlie’s expanded vision. 

Autre: How did you get involved with this project? How did you create it?

Charlie Le Mindu: I don’t know. No, I’m joking. Basically, with my gallery and my agent, Barrett Barrera. It’s a show I did at Palais de Tokyo and I wanted to make it a traveling show so we decided to do it in New York and in Art Basel.

Autre: How did you conceive the concept initially?

Le Mindu: You know, my inspiration is people like Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy, surreal painters and what I wanted to do was bring their paintings alive. You know? So that’s what I tried to do.

Autre: And what was the most technical piece of costuming that you did?

Le Mindu: I guess it’s the last one with the fiber optic. That was intense, yeah.

Autre: Awesome, overall how did you get involved with LadyFag and all that?

Le Mindu: Well it’s people that inspire me so I guess it’s great to work with them always and it was a good opportunity because my gallery asked me if I would want to work with them

Autre: How did the dances come into it?

Le Mindu: I mean some of the dance stuff came from different cabaret in Paris. I’m not allowed to give the names, but one of the good sexy ones in Paris and just I just chose the people for their body and their mentality.

Autre: I think that’s amazing that you used Christeene and you had various body shapes and everything

Le Mindu: Yeah, you know in my performance I tried to show different kinds of beauty and what inspires me.

Autre: Love babes, Thank you!


You can learn more about Charlie Le Mindu here. See photos from CHARLIEWOOD in our daily diary. text and interview by BJ Panda Bear. photograph by Patrick McMullen


Creative Taxonomies: An Interview Of The Brainchildren Behind The MIXER App

You can find out more about Mixer here.

I first met the guys from MIXER about a year ago when they invited me to one of their infamous launch events at a private studio in Downtown Los Angeles. The gathering was a mixture of creatives and people within the art, fashion and music worlds - there was a definitively dynamic energy that didn't all feel like a bland networking party. In fact, the energy felt the same way as their app - an exclusive social and professional networking platform that allows people to connect in major cities, like New York and Paris. In today's social and political climate, the MIXER app is more important than ever. Why private? – As you'll learn in the below interview, the founders of the app didn't want the thirst for self promotion to get in the way of basic ambitions. It's a fascinating idea and the app is a must have tool if you want to enter any aesthetic industry. In the following interview, Autre chats with the guys behind mixer – about its place in the creative world and its goals for the future. 

AUTRE: I'm curious, where did the Mixer app idea come from initially? 


ANIS: The initial idea came up two years ago when our co-founder Alex Carapetis [drummer for Julian Casablancas & The Voidz] was touring in Europe. We were chatting and thought that as a musician, it would be perfect to be able to connect with other creatives in all those cities”. The idea came from there.

CODY: I was working on a project with our investor Ronald Winston that was focused around connecting people when I met Anis and soon everything meshed together.

AUTRE: Most apps are public, but Mixer is private - why is exclusivity important when it comes to connectivity? 

CODY: The initial idea between having a “private” network is to ensure that the app wouldn’t devolve into a platform driven primarily on self-promotion and brand building. We believe there needs to be a clear delineation between artists and enthusiasts. Eventually, we would like to broaden our base to help the inspiring creatives in their learning and discovery efforts – but for now, we are trying to provide a space for artists to connect with one another without the sometimes coercive effects that come with trying to broaden one’s fan base or following.

AUTRE: You can create a social app, but how do you connect it to all the creative people out there that would benefit from it?

CODY: I think what you are asking is essentially “how do we grow the network?” after building the app. The best growth tool is providing actual value to the user and from those successes, word spreads through a number of different of channels – whether that’s press, or word-of-mouth, or some other means.

AUTRE: Before the app was released, were there any downsides found in other social apps that you wanted to avoid with Mixer?

CODY: We found that there was not something that directly solved the problem of our target users. Instagram was a great way to curate your creative content, put your ideal self out to your fans and peers, and ultimately build your personal brand. We wanted something that was solely focused on artist-to-artist interactions. We want to extend the moments shared on social media into multimedia projects. We wanted to give members the quickest way to find other creatives they are interested in potentially working with through a focused community, efficient interface, and context-driven profiles.

ANIS: Looking at the landscape of social networks these days; you have broad platforms such as Instagram and LinkedIn that are not purposely built for creative networking. Then you have narrow verticals such as Behance for graphic designers, Soundcloud for musicians, 500pixels for photographers, etc. These platforms are utilized to broadcast your work as a creative instead of connecting with other creatives that may represent an interest to you. In our case, we wanted to englobe all these different verticals in the creative industries – arts, fashion, film, and music – because we truly believe that they are all connected. And we wanted to focus on “connecting” rather than “following”. 

AUTRE: You throw some great parties and release events for the app, what makes a perfect party?

ANIS: Hah, thank you! To me, it comes down to a cool and small spot, a private concert performed by a good musician who can then come and hang with his public, and obviously a fun crowd. Oh and also Alex on the drums.

AUTRE: What do you hope people find when they download the Mixer app? 

CODY: We hope that they ultimately at least make one real connection or make move forward at least one unique opportunity that they might not have had anywhere else. Ultimately, Mixer is currently not about maintaining your currently relationships, it’s about finding new ones. We are a discovery platform.

ANIS: What I personally hope: having people discover good creatives in the platform and end up connecting and working with them. What I personally hate and want to avoid: people who use it to exclusively connect with celebrities.

AUTRE: Instagram is basically a social connector app, how does Mixer differ?

CODY: Instagram is the greatest visual content platform ever created. You cannot share moments of your life and work with as much ease anywhere else. Instagram has to build a platform for the entire world – we are going for a much more targeted audience, which gives us some flexibility in building the product. We give our members access to a vetted community – we allow them to build out their projects or put more information about their work that Instagram really isn’t tailored for. We are allowing members to put up listings where others can indicate that they are interested – which works much more efficiently than screenshotting your Notes app and putting out a call to your followers.

ANIS: I would also add that Instagram is more of a broadcasting tool rather than a networking tool.

AUTRE: Do you hear about amazing success stories from people connecting on Mixer?

ANIS: It’s hard to keep track of what happens after the connections. We definitely see photographers and short film directors connect with models and shoot them, and a lot of them thank us for allowing them to do so. When it comes to musicians, because the creative process is much longer, it is a bit early for us to find out whether the connections made so far have transformed into successful collaborations. But hopefully we will be able to tell soon.

AUTRE: A lot of the people on Mixer have a number of professions in different fields, like art and fashion, what is the biggest industry on Mixer by far? 

CODY: Right now, there isn’t really a “biggest industry” by far. The distribution of Art (art, photography & design), Music, Fashion, and Film is surprising equal. The content on our platform is a bit skewed because photographers and models post much more frequently.

AUTRE: What is your favorite feature on the Mixer app?

ANIS: I personally like the fact that you can research people based on city and occupation.

CODY: Yes, I think one of the most powerful features is the filtering system in our member discovery. We ask members to identify their “profession” in the application process and review their selections as we classify our members. Correct taxonomy and classification are very important when you are trying to find exactly who you are looking for.

AUTRE: A lot of creatives live in major cities, do you extend Mixer as a tool for people in more remote areas that may benefit from connecting with creatives in culture capitals?

ANIS: We decided to focus at first on big cities such as NYC, LA, Paris and London, because those are indeed the biggest hubs for creatives. But a network effect will definitely get creatives from smaller cities to sign up and be able to network and collaborate with people all over the world, simply through their phones.

AUTRE: What is the criteria for getting an invite to Mixer?

ANIS: Anyone can refer his/her friends, and anyone can sign up, even un-referred. But in order to be approved, you need to be able to qualify through your work in the arts, fashion, film, or music industries. When we look you up, we need to see some references on you. And being referred by an existing user also helps a lot.

AUTRE: What's next for Mixer?  

CODY: We are focusing on helping members easily finding opportunities for collaboration and connect with one another. This means helping members easily create (and add to) their portfolios from information they have spread across the web and social accounts, we are always working to make finding the person with a specific skill set and vision that you are looking for.

ANIS: Product-wise, we’re adding a jobs section pretty soon, where companies and creatives will be able to post detailed job listings and recruit other creatives. Growth-wise, while still growing in the cities we are present in, we would like to start hitting other European capitals like Berlin and Milan in a very near future.


 photograph by Jason Sheldon. text and interview by Oliver Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE



 

Being Sandro Miller: An Interview of Photographer and Artist Sandro Miller

text by Adam Lehrer

 

Sandro Miller has been using photography as a medium for storytelling for over 30 years. In both commercial work and fine art endeavors, Miller has shown time and time again that the still image can be imbued with as much emotion and theatrics as a 90 minute film: “ I strive to make images that move people and facilitate conversation,” says Miller.

Many of Miller’s best known projects are loaded with Freudian subtext and even pathos. His images examine the psychologies of his subjects to find out what drives them and simultaneously fulfill a kind of personal fantasy for Miller. For instance, his project American Bikers looks at life in a biker gang and finds out that bikers don’t ride Harley Davidson motorcycles because they are the fastest or smoothest bikes; on the contrary, they ride them because they are the loudest and most obnoxious bikes. These bikers ride bikes to communicate to the world, “I am here, goddamn’ it!” His portraits of Cuban boxers capture the pain and agony of training that go into the athlete’s quest for personal improvement and glory. All the while, Miller admits that a part of him has always wanted to be a boxer and a biker. “I fulfill these fantasies through my photography,” says Miller. “Since the biker project, I’ve been riding a motorcycle for 20 years.”

Another artist that uses images to explore his own fantasies and dreams is of course David Lynch. Miller has long worked with the Steppenwolf Theater Company and its actor John Malkovich. Malkovich has served as subject to numerous Miller projects, including one in which the pair paid homage to 36 iconic photographs (by the likes of Diane Arbus, Andy Warhol, Annie Leibowitz and more) entitled Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich. Now, the duo has turned their efforts in recreation towards the master of cinematic surreal horror, Lynch. In a short film recreating characters from Lynch’s output entitled Playing Lynch, Miller films Malkovich as Lynch himself, Twin Peaks’ Agent Dale Cooper and Log Lady, The Elephant Man’s John Merrick, Blue Velvet’s Frank, Eraserhead’s Henry Spencer and Lady in the Radiator, and Lost Highway’s chilling Mystery Man (once played by the utterly horrifying actor Robert Blake). One fascinating caveat of the film is that the characters, while selected by fans using a social media poll, are all emblematic in someway of Lynch himself. It’s arguably a conceptual personality analysis.

The film premiered last weekend at Lynch’s music festival The Festival of Disruption amidst performances by art-pop band Xiu XIu and Sky Ferreira doing the music of Twin Peaks, St. Vincent, and Rhye. The film is available upon donation through its website, and all proceeds will go to The David Lynch Foundation that promotes Transcendental Meditation as a means of overcoming trauma. Miller and I spoke about the project as well as a life spent in the creation of imagery. 

LEHRER: So, I just wanted to start off asking you: judging from your prior work with Malkovich and also the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, I understand that you most likely have a deep love for performance and that probably extends to cinema. How did cinema become important to you?

MILLER: I came from a home that was run by a single mom who came over from Italy. The arts weren’t emphasized. My artistic soul developed at an early age I discovered photography at the age of about fifteen, seeing the work of Irving Penn. What really began my great love for cinema was seeing The Godfather in my teens. With that film I finally really began to get it: the importance of cinema, the impact of cinema, and what it really means to visualize. It was a way for me to begin to heal a lot of the early years of a very dysfunctional childhood.

LEHRER: That’s interesting to me, too, especially with you being Italian. As much as I love [Federico] Fellini and [Michelangelo] Antonioni, ‘70s Hollywood cinema and [Francis Ford] Coppola and [Martin] Scorsese and [Brian] De Palma are my guys. Hollywood at that time was pouring a lot of money into really bold, artistic statements which is something doesn’t really happen anymore.

MILLER: Right, for the really big productions, like Ben-Hur, it was just so grandiose. That chariot race was so unnerving. I remember as a youngster, sitting at the end of my couch, and watching, going ‘Oh my god! There’s going to be this huge accident!’ You could feel it. That was the golden era of cinema.

LEHRER: Especially now, with the big studios the superhero films eat up most of the budgets and they’re super safe and they’re going to make a billion dollars anyway. There’s only a few auteur American directors that can still get funding whether they be PT Anderson or Wes Anderson or [Quentin] Tarantino. Most conceptual filmmaking has gone towards TV or streaming.

MILLER: You know Adam, I have to tell you: just this week I received fifteen Woody Allen films in the mail. There’s a guy who just made [cinema] very very simple. It was just great scripts that he would write, great humor, a great connection with all of his actors and actresses, and they all wanted to give him so much. It was really film at its basics.

LEHRER: With that, he was really able to create a clearly defined aesthetic. Manhattan I think was the one that I most identified with. I love that movie.

MILLER: Absolutely, absolutely. I like New York Stories, which I just watched. It was kind of a three piece film that Coppola and Scorsese shared with Woody Allen. There’s so many great Woody films.

LEHRER: I’m just curious, did you watch the De Palma documentary?

MILLER: I have not seen that yet.

LEHRER: Noah Baumbach did it. It’s basically just DePalma in his office talking about every single one of his movies. It’s fascinating. He starts off by saying pretty much everything he does he ripped off from Hitchcock and just modernized the Hitchcock aesthetic by saturating it with color. It’s pretty awesome.

MILLER: Well, I give him credit for putting his Hitchcock influence out there. [DePalma] has done so many great things. He has definitely earned his place in cinema.

LEHRER: Yeah, absolutely. It’s hard to imagine a studio funding a movie like Sisters or Carrie now. It wouldn’t happen.

MILLER: Yeah, it wouldn’t happen. Exactly.

LEHRER: So, I wanted to also ask you, leading into photography, do you think photography and images have the capability for narrative tension and emotion that theatre and cinema does? Or, is that at least what you’re aiming for in your photographs? Because they are rather emotional.

MILLER: That’s a great question. I do believe so. I made my name doing commercial photography and I got hired from all over the world to create very emotional portraits: people crying, people laughing, people dying. Whatever it might be. I always tell people that photography is the big educator. If you think about it, most of what you know—about what wars are like, what a tsunami or AIDS looks like— it isn’t personally experienced. Photography is how we know. Photography, along with travel, has been my education.

LEHRER: We’re living in such a photograph heavy society, with digital photography and cell phones, and I read this quote by a photographer, it might have been Collier Schorr but I can’t remember, who said something like, “everyone’s a photographer but there are very few image-makers left.” Do you agree with that at all?

MILLER: Absolutely. It hurts me to see that the photographer and the photograph isn’t as important as it once was. I’m being passed up on jobs for people who are now called “influencers,” people who buy fans or “friends,” who are instagrammers and who get hired for jobs because of how many people that follow them on social media. It’s disgusting. What about the great photographers? We’re guys who eat, sleep and breath photography. I’ve been doing this for forty years. It’s my life. There isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not involved in image making. When you hear of these young kids who take photographs from their iPhones, put them on an app, and they have hundreds or thousands of friends and all of a sudden they’re considered photographers? I have a problem with that.

LEHRER: So, moving on to the David Lynch project. He’s probably my favorite artist of any medium. It’s fascinating to me that he hasn’t even made a film in ten years but he’s still discussed by every artist around. His aesthetic is eternally powerful and copied. What draws you to his aesthetic personally?

MILLER: You know, there is only one David Lynch. If you take a look back at one of the most important film ever created, Eraserhead, that was an art school project and today it’s probably one of the greatest films of all time. David is one of those people who, when you sit down and watch one of his films, some [latent emotions of yours] is going to come up. You’re going to feel something and it’s going to be powerful.

LEHRER: You project your own feelings.

MILLER: Yes, you project your own self and fears into his own films. He is a monster. I just don’t know of any other director that moves me the way that David has moved. The characters that he creates are so memorable. Iconic. And whether you like the film or not, you’re not going to forget these characters.

LEHRER: And also his films don’t need to be understood, they are experiences. Like Lost Highway, which is underrated I think, I didn’t start to think about it narratively and what it meant until several views in. It begs you to keep watching it until you understand it. Like the scene in Mulholland Drive where they go behind the diner and they see the monster. Every time I watch that movie, I want to close my eyes because I have no desire to see that monster again and every single time, I watch it.

MILLER: When I watch Blue Velvet, Frank Booth creeps me out so bad. I’ve got a freaky side to me, but he is so out there, so freaky, that he totally wigs me out every time I see him in Isabella [Rossellini]’s apartment. I mean I just don’t want to watch it, but I do! What is so scary is Lynch’s people are real. They’re out there. They’re walking the streets of Chicago, New York, LA. That’s what makes it even more upsetting. And more gripping.

LEHRER: I have a theory about why you used the characters that you did in your series and you can tell me if I’m in the ballpark or not. To me, all these characters; David Lynch himself, Cooper, the Mystery Man, Frank; They all represent or communicate something about David Lynch himself. Cooper is his more rational, deductive side. The Mystery Man is his guilt. Frank is his rage. What do you think?

MILLER: I think you nailed who these characters are. But we actually used a social media blast to find out who were David Lynch’s fan base’s favorite characters. It was a two week survey where they gathered all this information and they gave me ten names and I was able to pick seven of them to recreate. I think you’re right on when you say that those characters are absolutely different characteristics of David.

LEHRER: That’s kind of fascinating that his fanbase is so rabid that they picked the characters that are most emblematic of his creative process.

MILLER: Tomorrow night is the VIP party where we’ll be premiering the film and Saturday night is the big press production. I’m sure it’s something you’d have loved to be able to attend

LEHRER: Yeah, he has a relationship with sound and music that no director on Earth has and I’d love to see him put together a showcase of music. It sounds amazing. There was actually an article that came out yesterday in Pitchfork where they interviewed Angelo and a bunch of other musicians that have worked with him talking about how he interprets music and how he processes music into his work. David’s in-house engineer Dean Hurley was talking about Lynch hearing Kanye West’s Yeezus for the first time and how he can tell when David likes something. [David] will get a “serious death stare” and that’s how Dean knows he likes it.

MILLER: I’d love to read that. It’s in Pitchfork?

LEHRER: Yep, yesterday.

MILLER: I’ll have to check that out. He has a new album in production that’s being released this weekend, actually. I’m anxious to get ahold of that.

LEHRER: I’m just rabidly waiting for the next season of Twin Peaks. In your videos, I love seeing John in there repeat this dialogue and playing up the camp of it. I thought it really amplified the humor in David Lynch’s work, which is something that is often missing in his critical analysis. Is that all intentional?

MILLER: Well, it’s funny because we really did it as a serious homage to David. Have you seen the whole film?

LEHRER: I’ve only watched them as individual clips.

MILLER: I look forward to when you get to see the whole film which really uses John as David Lynch as the thread. It wasn’t meant to be comical. When you pay homage to someone, (I mean David is a master) you want to recreate it in his honor. Even though it might come off slightly as a parody or a little comical, both John and I wanted to go in and tilt this thing into perfection. John put so much into each one of his characters and the amount of research and detail we put into every single shot, every set, every stitch of clothing was so that we could pay a great homage to David. Really to say, ‘thank you for what you have given all of us.’ 
 

LEHRER: When you were creating this, were you in contact with David or any of the people that worked with David? Was John in contact with Kyle McLachlan, for instance?

MILLER: I sent the script to David thirteen times for his approval on all the dialogue, the sets that we were using, and the characters. We got on the phone with David just once, and one time, with Kyle. David wouldn’t have given me direction. He had a lot of trust. David had seen my homage series and was really blown away by it and when he offered me to do this film, he knew I was going to do it justice. After he gave me the approval on the dialogue, David let me run with it.

LEHRER: I can imagine him being quite curious in another great artist’s take on his work.

MILLER: David was working seven days a week, fourteen, sixteen hours a day on Twin Peaks while we were shooting. So he was so wrapped up with Twin Peaks schedule. He really didn’t have the time to obsess about our project. He loved everything though.

LEHRER: That’s great. I want to say congratulations. It’s a great series.

MILLER: Thank you so much. I really look forward to you seeing the whole piece. When you see the David Lynch part that really intertwines everything together, it’ll really come together. There’s a great story there. When John delivered the “Lord is my Shepherd” Elephant Man Speech, the crew was crying.It was such a beautiful delivery. I mean you really felt John’s heart.

LEHRER: John is such a terrific, dextrous actor. Especially in his facial expressions. What was that movie that was kind of an action movie, but better? With Clint Eastwood?

MILLER: In the Line of Fire.

LEHRER: That movie is so emblematic of how good he is. It’d be terrible without him, but he brings it this eccentric element that makes it a ‘90s action classic.

MILLER: John brings a dynamic presence regardless of the size of the role. He plays characters you don’t forget.

LEHRER: I was discussing with a friend whether Being John Malkovich could have been Being someone else, you know like Being Billy Bob Thornton. And there’s no way. It wouldn’t have worked.

MILLER: He’s got an incredible presence.

LEHRER: While I have you, I wanted to ask you about a couple other of my favorite projects of yours. I’m really into The Blood Brothers project and also the project you did with the bikers and I really feel like those series and more of your projects are almost Freudian in their ability to use imagery to examine what makes these characters tick. Like in the bikers project, we find that these guys like Harley Davidsons not because they’re the fastest or the easiest, but almost because they’re the most obnoxious and the most masculine. Are you always trying to examine how someone thinks and what makes them tick?

MILLER: Most of my projects like that explore a culture I long to be a part of: I would have loved to be a biker or a great boxer. I did another book on a bullfighter: I’ve always fantasized about being a bullfighter.

LEHRER: By that reasoning, does a part of you want to be David Lynch?

MILLER: Uhh, no I don’t think I want to be David Lynch. I think he goes non-stop. I mean I think he just turned seventy and what he just did with Twin Peaks, putting in almost 3-4 months, seven days a week. I don’t know where he finds that stamina to be able to keep on going.

LEHRER: That’s interesting though, because a lot of contemporary fine art photographers shoot people in their own lives. A lot of people are very good at it, but I really feel like that classic photographer, the one who maintains a healthy distance between him/her and his/her subjects, is missing.

MILLER: Thank you so much. It’s been a great 40 years of being able to explore the world. It has been an unbelievable way of life.


Click here to explore Playing David Lynch – each download will help support The David Lynch Foundation. text and interview by Adam Lehrer. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


A Different Vision On Fashion Photography: An Interview Of The Legendary Photographer Peter Lindbergh

When you think of famous fashion photographers, a few names come to mind: Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, Mario Testino and perhaps Herb Ritts. There is another name, however, that is just as iconic: Peter Lindbergh. You could say that Lindbergh’s work ushered in a new aesthetic paradigm for the pages of glossy magazines. His images of Christy Turlington, Tatjana Patitz, Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss, Karen Alexander, among others, turned them into supermodels. Coinciding with his major retrospective at the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, Taschen has recently released a major career monograph with over four hundred photographs from his oeuvre. We caught up with Lindbergh at a recent signing in Beverly Hills to discuss his work and influences.  

OLIVER KUPPER: When and why did you first pick up a camera?

PETER LINDBERGH: I had an interview two or three weeks ago, with somebody in Germany. They said, be truthful with us, because we know why people pick up cameras: to get close to the girls. I said that I was very interested in photography. I was an artist and then I stopped doing art, specifically paintings. I didn’t feel like it was the right thing. And then I became a photographer. That was very accidental in a way. And I felt very fast that it was a wonderful thing.

KUPPER: So you fell in love with it.

LINDBERGH: I felt that that, wow, that was the right thing. I had to stop art to see what I wanted to do...I could have been a florist or a baker or something but I wasn’t.

KUPPER: Where in Germany was this?

LINDBERGH: Dusseldorf

KUPPER: And this was shortly after the war?

LINDBERGH: No, it was really late actually. 1973.

KUPPER: You were working alongside a lot of really big photographers, like Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin. What were your reflections of them and what were their reflections of you?

Lindbergh: It wasn’t so much that I knew them, I knew of their work.The first professional job I did was for Stern Magazine, which Helmut and Guy Bourdin was a part of. That was a big portfolio. Something that happened twice a year like what LIFE magazine does for fashion twice a year. And that was something, that was very fun.

KUPPER: What were some of the most important lessons that you learned when you were first taking pictures and lessons that you still carry with you, lessons that you left behind?

Lindbergh: Not much. I did a lot of really odd things. I was always excited. But looking back today for the first 5 years, whatever I did wasn’t really something to talk about. After Stern, everything started. I did that portfolio. It was striking. From there, I got a lot of calls. From people like Marie Claire, who said come to Paris, we’ll give you a contract just for that one story.  

KUPPER: Were you bored of the fashion and the glamour that was going on?

LINDBERGH: No, at that time I had no real idea of what was going on in the fashion world. I am bored of the glamour today. You see the Oscars today and they walk down the carpet and sometimes they can’t, they can’t even walk in those heels -- I should shut my mouth.

KUPPER: No it’s okay, I think people should talk back about the industry.

LINDBERGH: You have twelve to fifteen of the favorite actors in the world. They come and walk the red carpet. You know what I would say if I came to the Oscars and I had done a wonderful movie for 12 months or so, and as I walked up the red carpet, someone asked, ‘Wow, what is your jacket?’ I would say, ‘Fuck off.’  That’s what I would say. They’re obsessed. With fashion, there is too much money. So much success.

KUPPER: Some of your earliest photographs especially with Vogue, they were really stripped down. You weren’t using stylists or anything like that.

LINDBERGH: Yeah. A lot of kids, they come for the show and they think, ‘Oh fashion, fashion!’ I was interested in doing something. In creating pictures.

KUPPER: There’s a cinematic quality to your work. Fritz Lang was a big inspiration. There’s a very industrial inspiring look that goes goes against the grain of typical, glossy fashion.

LINDBERGH: I come from a place that is totally industrial and heavy industry.

KUPPER: There’s also Germanic heritage. But you also blend a lot of American influences too, like Sci-Fi and aliens. You mix these interesting worlds.

LINDBERGH: How that came up, it started in 1990. I did a story with Helena Christensen and the martian for Vogue. And then all these super models popped up in my face and I had to follow that trajectory. Then in 2000, I wanted to do more photography like that. A lot of people think my work is all about the celebrities. And they all talk about the celebrities, no? I like celebrities, but only if they have something to say. Bradley Cooper is one of the most interesting men and he is my friend, but they are not all like that.

KUPPER: There’s a closeness in your photographs, an intimacy between you and your subjects. Can you describe where that comes from? Is that something that you project?

LINDBERGH: That contact is a beautiful thing.  When that is your goal, a lot of beautiful things happen. You suddenly find a new friend. It’s strange. It’s something so new.

KUPPER: So How did you come in contact with Vogue? How did that first shoot come about? I know they turned it down at first.

LINDBERGH: American Vogue did turn me down. When I came to American Vogue, the problem was they they thought I had a weird way of shooting and the editor at the time had a different aesthetic. They wanted me to shoot models that I had no relationship to. I had shot those famous pictures of the models on the beach and British Vogue picked up the story months later. When Anna Wintour came to American Vogue, everything changed and I worked with them a lot more. And that famous photo was in the 100 Years Of Vogue issue that came out four years later. They said that it was the most important photo of the decade.

KUPPER: Did you know that they would become such huge icons?

LINDBERGH: No, not at all. Because that was the easiest two days on the beach in Santa Monica and I was thinking I was in heaven because that was what I wanted to do.

KUPPER: Do you see your influence on photography today?

LINDBERGH: Not as much as people say. A lot of photographers I see and like, but I don’t think they go really do good work.

KUPPER: Who are some photographers today that you appreciate?

LINDBERGH: Bruce Weber is really good, but he is from the old school. I also really like Tim Walker.

KUPPER: Would you explain your connection to Van Gogh?

LINDBERGH: When I was in art school in Berlin, they wanted you to choose in the first two semesters to study someone in your medium for your major. He just impressed me very much. He has enormous power in his paintings and portraits.

KUPPER: And you still have a studio in Arles?

LINDBERGH: I went to Arles from Berlin hitchhiking. I went to school there. And I still go back today. I have a house there. My son got married there. It is a really important place for me.

KUPPER: One last question, What makes a photograph iconic to you?

LINDBERGH: The time. The time.


You can purchase Peter Lindbergh's new Taschen monograph here. A Different Vision On Fashion Photography will be on view until February 12, 2017 at Kunsthal Rotterdam in Amsterdam. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. photographs by Summer Bowie. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Courageous Writing For IRL Cowards: A G-chat Interview Of Clancy Martin By Matthew Binder

photograph by Barrett Emke

In 2012, shortly before I lost my mind and committed myself to writing fiction, I was sitting at a pal’s apartment in San Diego, waiting on him to shower and ready himself for a night out, when I picked up a copy of the Vice fiction issue. I flipped through the magazine’s pages looking for something of interest. A story titled “Whores I Have Loved” immediately resonated with me. I understood the sentiment completely. I read with ferocious curiosity as the writer sermonized on the dangers of falling in love with prostitutes in locations foreign and remote. Prior to reading the piece, I didn’t think it possible for a work to exist that was so honest, tender, and vulnerable about a subject so fraught with moral pitfalls.

The next day I ordered the writer’s debut novel, How to Sell, and read it over a weekend. The Monday following, I sent him some sort of hysterical, fanboy email. For whatever reason, he responded, encouraging further correspondence. Over the next couple years, I forced upon him countless drafts of various manuscripts I’d scribbled out. He continued to be inordinately kind to me.

Now I have my own novel, High in the Streets, published. This has somehow granted me license to make further demands of my unknowing mentor’s time. When the opportunity to chat with him about writing and life for Autre Magazine arrived, I jumped at the chance.

This G-chat conversation occurred for me at 2:00am on July 19, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary, my new home, as of last week (long story). Clancy Martin was typing away in the comfort of his home office in Kansas City, at the much more reasonable hour of 6:00pm.

MATTHEW BINDER: Thank you for taking the time to do this with me.

CLANCY MARTIN: My pleasure, sir. Thank you!

BINDER: I don’t have any specific format to work from. I figure we can just fire off some questions at each other and have a dialogue.

MARTIN: Sounds good, brother M. I'll let you lead.

BINDER: I read Amie’s book on the plane the other day. It’s fantastic. When I finished, I thought to myself, wow, Clancy and Amie (Barrodale) must really benefit from having each other to share their work with.

MARTIN: We do. We also have similar styles, as you may have noticed. She wrote some of the best sentences in Bad Sex. Literally wrote them. I think I helped some with You Are Having a Good Time. Especially in encouraging her not to give up on stories that I could see were terrific, or not killing a story that was already great. It’s very helpful to us that we share an aesthetic. We tend to like the same writers. Though she’s much broader in her taste than I am. We both loved High in the Streets immediately. I rarely like living writers, sigh. I’m getting old.

BINDER: That’s really fantastic to hear, thank you.

MARTIN: So, what’s your new novel about? Will it include a setting in Budapest, I hope? Although of course the terrific Garth Greenwell, a friend of ours, has cornered the market on Eastern Europe lately....

BINDER: The novel I’m writing now actually has nothing to do with Budapest. It takes place in the near future, maybe 2030, and it’s about a doctor who gets displaced by technology. 

MARTIN: Oh yes, I remember you mentioning something about that. I like that idea. In part because it is inevitable, and in part because I teach a class called Money, Medicine, and Morals, and it would be nice to have a cool novel to use in the class. Don’t make it x-rated so that I can use it.

BINDER: I was going through some of our old correspondence today. Seems I’ve been harassing you since 2012. In one early email I sent, I explained that it was early in the morning and that I was writing from the airport on my way to break up an engagement. Well, I'll tell you how the story ends. I did end up breaking up an engagement, moved across the country, experienced the most life-affirming/painful six months of my life, then she left me for an orthopedic surgeon, whom she married and now has kids with. I believe they moved to Alaska.

My question is, why have you put up with all my nonsense over the years?

MARTIN: Ha! I could see your talent. Plus you’re a genuinely likable guy. Plus, most importantly maybe, we share this belief that the best stories are ruthlessly honest, in some way or another. We try our best to be fearless in our stories. For me, it’s because I’m so cowardly in real life. The Wizard of Oz always made me cringe when I was a kid, not just because the munchkins were so creepy, but because I knew, in my heart, that I was the cowardly lion, but didn’t want to admit it.

BINDER: The first thing I read of yours was in Vice. It was called something like All the Whores I've Loved Before. It was the most honest and brave thing I’d read from a contemporary writer. I wasn’t even writing yet, but I was totally moved by it and so I contacted you.

MARTIN: That’s an example of a story that is entirely invented that nevertheless manages to try to tell the truth. It got me into a lot of trouble with my exes, because they assumed it was true, and not a word of it was. But there was truth it it...I know what it means to start to fall in love with someone whom you’ve paid to have sex with you. It’s a strange mysterious thing. I remember a woman from many years ago, in Mexico, when I was about 29. There was something.

BINDER: I’ve written two manuscripts and am now working on a third. Every time I do this, I drop everything: jobs, girlfriends, etc. But you have a totally full life: wife, kids, you’re an esteemed professor. When do you find the time?

MARTIN: Well, I drop everything, too, except my family and my teaching. I drop pretty much all of my other writing. It’s one of the nice things about being a professor. You are paid to write. If I write four to six hours a day, five days a week, I can usually get some real work done. Not always, but usually. And I have time for that.

BINDER: I drop everything and still don’t commit nearly that much time to the writing. I don’t have it in me. I’m amazed if I can be alone with my computer for three hours. Most of that time I’m distracted by playing guitar, or eating, or reading about sports.

MARTIN: Once I start it’s very hard for me to get up. I don’t know why, but I find it easy to sit at the computer, writing, for long stretches. Bodily laziness I suppose. But if I get distracted by something, I have trouble getting back to it, and like all of us, sometimes I have trouble with the sitzfleisch part, as Maxwell Perkins advises Fitzgerald among others. Clancy: sit your ass down.

But I think it’s so wise if a person can do it the other way. I admire my friend Jon Franzen because he never took the easy way out of the professor. He just stuck with the writing until it hit. I admire everyone who does it that way, I admire that bravery.

BINDER: Since I’ve been in Budapest I’ve written about 1000 words per day. I’m feeling pretty good about that.

MARTIN: 1000 words a day is twice as much as Hemingway and 1/5th as much as Trollope. Sounds like a good number to me.

BINDER: I don’t have the luxury of being a professor. I can’t teach a thing. I tried once and was fired in six weeks’ time.

MARTIN: I think most really talented writers hate to teach and struggle with it. Take it as a badge of honor that you were fired. Keep doing it the way you are. That’s the true, noble path. Kierkegaard: “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” Damn straight.

BINDER: Why’d you make Brett a girl? Did you think readers would find her bad behavior more sympathetic than if she were a guy?

MARTIN: I think people would have liked her more if she were a guy, actually, and maybe liked the novel more. She would have made a very interesting vulnerable guy. It may have been a mistake. But I made her a woman so that my daughters wouldn’t read it and think, Oh, this is a very thinly disguised version of our dad, man he was a creep. They may think that anyway, but I wanted plausible deniability.

BINDER: I got a message the other day from the girl who I loosely based the character Tessa on. She was less than pleased with me. Her fiancé was even less pleased. I assume you draw some of your characters from real life. How much trouble have you gotten in?

MARTIN: Well, you know how it is...you just keep reminding people that it’s fiction. I was very worried about my big brother’s reaction to the Jim character in How to Sell. And he was still in the business then. But he just loved the novel. He’s a very cool older brother. Woody Allen is very good on this subject. I guess it’s the same with movies. It’s mostly the former romantic partners who get really upset. And fair enough.

BINDER: It’s very good that we get to hide behind this thin veil of fiction.

MARTIN: Is your doctor based on someone you know? I find it useful to combine several people into one character.

BINDER: Both my father and brother are doctors. I’m sure I’ll draw some inspiration from them. However, I essentially write to impose my personality on the world, so anything I write will ultimately be based on me.

MARTIN: Yes, very helpful to have doctors in the family. Also for research and technical stuff. I have a hero who is in my current novel who is an animal collector, and what I wouldn’t give to be good friends or related to a couple of animal collectors. But yeah, I agree, we import our cockamamie world views through these people. So combining people while schizophrenically carving up ourselves....

BINDER: I called my father the other day, and he was so happy to hear from me since I hadn’t been in touch since I left the country, and then I went straight into some technical questions about medicine and he almost hung up on me.

MARTIN: Are you writing stories and nonfiction, too, or just the new novel?

BINDER: Now that I’ve started the novel, I’ll just be working on that until it’s done.

MARTIN: Ha! Yes, that’s the thing. People start to worry that they are material. You feel a little betrayed and used. Not to keep mentioning Franzen, but that’s a funny thing he said to me recently. “I’m grateful whenever someone puts me in a novel because I know I’ve got it coming.”

I think it’s wise to put everything else aside and just dive into that novel. Novels are the thing, anyway, once they’ve got their hook in you. They’re so much more fun to write.

BINDER: Do you enjoy the act of writing? Do you look forward to actually sitting down and doing the work? I mean, there are so many other things to do in the world, why write?

MARTIN: I enjoy it very, very, very much when I’m doing it. It’s exactly like exercise for me. I love it while I’m doing it, it makes me feel so much better about myself and life after the day’s done (most days), it helps me with anxiety and depression, and it is hugely satisfying. Making myself do it regularly is hard.

And, Flaubert said it best. Writing is like sex. First you do it for your own pleasure, then you do it for the sake of a few friends, and finally you do it for money.

BINDER: I actually dread sitting down to do the work. I’m always afraid that I’m all used up. I have no faith in my abilities. However, it always ends up working out, and then I feel wondrous for the rest of the day. Then, the next day, I experience the whole cycle of dread and wonder again.

MARTIN: Yes, we all feel that way. My mentor Diane Williams says that no matter how long you do it, you’ll feel that way. Used up, no good, worthless, best work behind you. And then, you know—she uses a canvas as a metaphor—start painting, and painting over, and completely covering up and starting again, and eventually something will emerge.

And of course you hope that maybe you could actually write something good. Yes, sitzfleisch, that’s the hard part. I think having no internet and just sitting there in front of the damn thing is a good discipline. Amie writes most of her first drafts on a typewriter, because the internet interferes.

BINDER: The other day, I did a panel in NYC with two much more established writers. There were questions about craft and process and all that business. Both the other writers had these wonderful responses about metaphysics and other things I didn’t understand. When asked about what I do, I said, “I drink and then I write.” And then I realized that was your line, and I gave you credit!

MARTIN: Ha! Thanks. Those complicated answers about how one writes...I’m a tiny bit suspicious of them, I admit. I don’t think of the process in that way. I don’t think of it as puzzle-making. You can’t search for the perfect metaphor. “Thoughts come when they will, not when I will” (Nietzsche). But, of course, everyone has her own method.

BINDER: A lot of your best writing is about the guilt, humiliation, jealousy that comes along with the bad things you’ve done under the influence. I know my own bad behavior is the best source material. I understand that you’re sober now. Has that changed your writing?

MARTIN: I often worry that my work is not as good now that I no longer drink. I was still drinking when I wrote How to Sell, though only at night, when I wasn’t writing. But not drinking is more important than writing, so that’s that, if I have to make the choice. Hopefully, I don’t have to make that choice. To me, Bad Sex is the better book. Less forced, less contrived. But I’m just one reader.

And Lord knows, it doesn’t take drinking to get me into trouble. My poor ole brain is stuffed full of bad behavior. The more I try to investigate it, the more troublesome it becomes.

BINDER: But if you had to choose between peace and contentment or writing amazing books, which would you choose?

MARTIN: I don’t expect peace and contentment. I won’t get it. That’s not a viable option for me. But if I had to choose between my family and writing great books, I’d choose my family without even thinking about it. I love books, but they’re just books. Your family: well, they’re people. No comparison, you know? You can love a book, but it can’t love you back. You? Many of our heroes died alone and broke. I think maybe it was lucky for us...but not so lucky for them. Speaking of alcoholics: Being in that log cabin with the shotgun: no thank you. Bukowski made the right choice: stick with Linda and the wine diet.

BINDER: I’m not sure, I struggle with it. I’ve never been any good at compromise, which I’m told is essential to forging healthy human connections. I’m just starting to figure out this writing business, and when I’ve done it well it gives me more pleasure than any of my relationships. I’m hoping at some point I grow up and that changes.

MARTIN: Yeah, I hear you. That’s a very honest response. I do think I felt differently twenty-two years ago, before my eldest daughter was born. But your children sneak up on you. You have that child and you realize: no matter what else I do, I will never do anything that compares with this kid. I know that’s a cliché, but it’s true. That said, I think it’s a false opposition. Many, many of my heroes had families. Dostoevsky.

BINDER: Also, I have the hardest time finding a woman and sticking with the relationship. The thing about choosing just one is that you have to eliminate all the others. Besides, at this point in my life, I’m not even sure what sort of woman I’d be compatible with. Who could tolerate me?

That said, there are a couple women out there whom I loved dearly, then lost, and now they’ve moved onto other men who treat them better, and I’m totally heartbroken. But is it enough to change my behavior? Probably not in the short run.

MARTIN: Well, I had the same problem with settling down, very clearly. And with heartbreak. Another great quotation from Diane Williams: “It’s all material.” That’s always worth remembering. Now I never want another woman in my life. But it took a lot of time. And yes, sometimes they do sneak up on you in just that way (children). It is a momentous decision. I’ve been writing about it lately. To mention Diane Williams, yet again, her stuff about her children is breathtaking. Lydia Davis is very good on kids too.

BINDER: At some point I hope a child sneaks up on me because I don’t think I could ever consciously choose that for myself. I’d have to be thrown into it. I’m almost positive I’d be glad it happened. At least, I hope I’d be man enough to be a good dad.

MARTIN: Tough to write well about children. Very, very brave. And you’d be glad it happened, trust me. But I do have a lot of friends who’ve consciously chosen not to have kids, for defensible reasons. I think they’re missing out, but everyone knows that having children doesn’t make you happier. Life doesn’t make you happier. Sex doesn’t make you happier. Love doesn’t make you happier. Knowing yourself doesn’t make you happier. Art doesn’t make you happier.

BINDER: Maybe at some point I’ll really want it. I’ve wanted every other goddamn thing in this world. Why not children? Raising, loving, loathing, fearing for your kids is an essential part of the human condition, right?

I’m missing out!

MARTIN: I completely agree. Especially about raising, loving, and fearing. (And maybe loathing your teenager.) Ok, Matt, I’m enjoying this immensely but have to run.

BINDER: This has been great. Thank you again!


Clancy Martin is a writer and philosophy professor who lives in Kansas City, Missouri, with his wife the writer Amie Barrodale. Matthew Binder is a former wastrel of the highest order. A cold list of his past behaviors would qualify him as a bastard in anybody's book. His work has drawn comparisons to Bret Easton Ellis, Norman Mailer, and James Salter. Intro text and interview by Matthew Binder. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


The Importance Of Being Earnest: An Interview Of Essayist And Poet Kris Kidd

 photograph by Cameron McCool

text by Keely Shinners

 

What does it mean to be honest?

For Kris Kidd, it might be the unadulterated, self-deprecating persona he projects on social media and in his essays. The day we meet, he posts a picture of himself in a studded choker and a t-shirt ripped to shreds, an ashy cigarette hanging from his lips. The caption reads, “i guess i’d have to say the greatest thing about being me is that i can show up an hour late to meetings & interviews, unshowered & w/ starbucks in hand, bc i literally have no reputation to uphold.” But if you think this is the honest Kris Kidd, you only know half the story.

Kris is not an hour late for our interview. In fact, Kris is fifteen minutes early, texting me that he’s showered and walking over before I’ve even gotten in my car. When we meet, he wrapped me in his thin, freckled arms offers me coffee and a Marlboro, jumps right into the interview as if we’ve been friends for years, just catching up on creative projects and intimate endeavors. When I’ve reached my final question, Kris says, “Let’s just talk.” So we do. We smoke, drink iced coffee, and talk about deconstructing masculinity. Our interview is cut short by a homeless man asking for a couple bucks to buy coffee. Kris jumps up, says, “Let me buy it for you,” and drops $6 on an Arts District iced latte for this random stranger.

What does it mean to be honest? Am I being honest if I am painting Kris as a “Punk with a Heart of Gold”? Still, I am withholding the complexity of what is real. Kris is not a slew of archetypes; he cannot be categorized or branded, not as a punk dream boy, an addict, a spokesperson for the millennial generation, an LA kid with a dark past and bright future.

If I can say anything truly honest about Kris, it is that he is open. On the page and sitting across from me, Kris is shedding the layers of self-preservation that weigh so heavily on our culture of self-absorption and individualism. In his new book of poems, Down For Whatever, he lays heart, mind, and body on the line. Kris’s poems blend hazy nostalgia and deep love with sharp, exigent issues like drug abuse, eating disorders, and sexual disenfranchisement. The book is a multi-faceted read, both dark and hopeful, unfeigned and well-crafted, entertaining and deeply moving.

Down for Whatever might capture a sliver of what it means to be honest. Not an honesty that is clean and shallow, but an honesty that is messy, contradictory, difficult to articulate but so, so sweet.

Kris Kidd and I sat down to talk about shedding bullshit, embracing the ephemerality of writing, getting addicted to control, and finally letting it all go.    

KEELY SHINNERS: In your new book, Down for Whatever, Poems and Bullshit, which are poems and which are bullshit?

KRIS KIDD: The bullshit was more of the blog posts. We wanted it to be four different sections, because I think I’ve grown a lot since I Can’t Feel My Face. It started out with the thought that blog posts would be a good division, because they’re all different years of my life. That’s the bullshit. There are some life lessons in there which are kind of just weird, drug-abusing things that I’ve learned. Yeah, it’s a good mixture of poems and bullshit. Some of the poems are bullshit.

SHINNERS: Is there something about having a physical copy of everything curated together that is important to you?

KIDD: That’s a part of it. I know the print industry is dying. In a way, we’re doing this print to publish. We’re not killing any trees. Well, we are killing trees, but we’re not wasting anything. I didn’t know that was an option. I’ve always wanted my first collection of anything to be printed. I want to hold it. I think there’s also something to be said about closing yourself off for a while, working on something, and getting the collection. I still post shit to Instagram all the time, like short poems. But I try to hold onto everything that I have until I have a collection of work.

SHINNERS: So you could do a little bit of both.

KIDD: Absolutely.

SHINNERS: Did you write all the poems together, or were you compiling a bunch of material at the end of a certain period?

KIDD: It started off two years ago, when I started compiling all the poetry I had written. I was so secretive about it. I didn’t really post any of that. I always thought poetry was over-emotional. With the essays, it’s really comedic and kind of jaded. I almost caricaturize myself in a way. I was scared of being that vulnerable. Once I got all of those together and read through them, I realized there was a lot more I wanted to say about what I’ve learned since. So I spent the last two years writing the other half of the book. It’s half and half.

SHINNERS: You include blog posts from 2009-2013. They are very haunting, like ghosts from your past self. Are you including those blog posts to contextualize the rest of the poems in a kind of reflectiveness?

KIDD: I think it’s reflective, for sure. Also, it’s so weird to look back. I started that blog not knowing if people were going to read it. It was more of a journal for me at the time. There’s an honesty in that that’s hard to replicate now that I know that people are reading what I do. They’re haunting for me too. It’s weird to see where my head was at those moments. Like I said, they’re really big time stamps for where I was emotionally.

SHINNERS: Are you nostalgic, or do you think, thank god that’s over?

KIDD: Both. I know I wouldn’t be this person without that kid. I wouldn’t ever do it again. [Laughs.]

SHINNERS: Why poetry rather than prose? What can you say in a poem that you can’t say in an essay, a story, an Instagram post?

KIDD: It’s kind of the opposite. The reason I was so afraid of poetry was that you can’t bullshit anything. With the essays, I can make a joke. I can talk about my father’s suicide. I can talk about drugs. I can talk about eating disorders. But I can spin it comedically so that no one’s super uncomfortable. My biggest fear with poetry is that I would be inviting people to some kind of pity party. The interesting thing about poetry is that you can only say exactly what you need to say. It’s like packing for a trip. You can’t take everything. That makes it more… I hate the word raw… It makes it more vulnerable and intimate. That’s terrifying, but I wanted to challenge myself in that way.

SHINNERS: You kind of have to put it on the line.

KIDD: Yeah. Poetry is just very different. I wanted to work on that for myself. I still see a lot of the voice of I Can’t Feel My Face in these poems, but I stripped away a lot of the manipulative behaviors that were in that book.

SHINNERS: Historically, the central distinction between poetry and prose (before they were written differently) was that poetry was meant to be performed and enjoyed in the community, kind of like theatre. Is there a sense of performance in your work?

KIDD: I only read some of these poems last year when I only had rough half of the book. I used to read the essays. Reading poetry is different. Essays are performative too, but it’s kind of like a stand up comedy routine. Again, with this being more emotional, more vulnerable, you slip into it. Especially because it’s my life, the performance does transport me back there. It becomes a performance of self.



SHINNERS: Going along with the performative aspect of poetry, poetry was a historically communal space. Like, you would go see Homer perform the Odyssey on the street. Is there acommunity that you’re thinking about when you’re writing? Or is it more individualistic?

KIDD: I think it started off as individualistic. As the blog got bigger, and as I released I Can’t Feel My Face, it really sent it somewhere else. People all over the world were reading these things. I would get messages from kids in Russia who say they can’t be themselves. It’s really amazing to hear--not even in a narcissistic way, though I’m sure that it is--it’s really amazing to hear what these kids get out of that. That became, I think, a sense of community. Now, I think I owe that vulnerability in a sense. Things that I wouldn’t have said before, I found myself saying in this book. I know there are things I have experienced that other people will gravitate toward and relate to. I want to be open for them.

SHINNERS: You reference things like the hazy glow of your iPhone screen in the middle of the night, or facetiming a friend in your poems. Even though these technological apparatuses are ever-present in our daily lives, they aren’t so often included in poetry. Why do you think it’s important to include them?

KIDD: I’ve never wanted to create anything timeless. What makes our ability to write about now powerful is that it’s right now. We’re experiencing this generation. We were the guinea pigs for things like social media. All of the digital advances have been within our millennial age group. I don’t care if twenty, thirty years from now all my shit is outdated. I think it speaks to its time. The Internet and technology have influenced all aspects of my life. I think that’s true for a lot of people. I get that people don’t want to date themselves; I totally respect it. But that’s never been a worry for me.

SHINNERS: If it’s ephemeral, you want it to be powerful while it can be.

KIDD: Yeah, and we’ll always know what the iPhone was. We’ll always know what Facetime was. Even when it becomes the rotary phone of the next generation.

SHINNERS: Addiction plays a huge role in your poems, not just drug addiction, but addiction to things like intimacy, nostalgia. What are things that addicted to writing about?

KIDD: Addiction is a weird thing. Because I write so openly about using drugs for a long time, I get labeled a drug addict a lot. I combat that, because I don’t think I was ever addicted to drugs. I definitely abused drugs. But I’ve always been addicted to control. Down For Whatever finally comes full circle with that, because I included aspects like sex, love, and intimacy. And all of my personal issues with that. I’m addicted to writing about drugs, for sure. That’s always going to be an issue until it’s not, you know? We need to talk about it. I’m addicted to writing about body image and eating disorders. Especially for young men, it’s not addressed often enough. And just sexual intimacy. This is my first time writing about my issues with that. But so many people in my life are going through the same things that I am. It’s incredibly isolating. We tend to replace sexual intimacy with sexual violence. That’s fine, but it can get dangerous. It can really hinder you from any emotional growth whatsoever. I think addiction in all forms. It does go back to control though. That’s always been my issue. Control with food, men, drugs, whatever.

SHINNERS: Feeling a lack of control?

KIDD: Something will hit me, and then I don’t have control over a situation. But I know I can control my body. If I do this, I know I can get high. When I stopped using drugs, men became like that too. I knew I could get them to sleep with me, that sort of thing. Which is not healthy. It’s all a power play. But we’re learning.

SHINNERS: You write a lot about things like cheap motels and smoking cigarettes all the time. I think that’s really authentic to you, but for a lot of people, it’s this whole American Apparel aesthetic. Like, “Oh, that’s edgy. That’s romantic.” Those places and objects are romanticized. How do you grapple with that? Is it romantic for you? Or do you want to talk about it because it’s true to your life?

KIDD: The motel reference, that was just one specific night. We had nowhere else to stay. We couldn’t afford anything else. There is something romantic about that. People tend to romanticize any sort of tragedy. Tragedy is glamorized. Poverty. Any sort of struggle is romanticized. That’s a cultural thing. We have Sofia Coppola making depression the hottest thing in the world in all her fucking movies. Lana Del Rey. These artists are great, but we are romanticizing really dark things. I hope I’m not included in that. I’ve never tried to romanticize any of it. I’ve always tried to speak on it honestly. If people glamorize it, that’s more on them.

SHINNERS: The book includes a few “Life Lessons,” which kind of poke fun at the idea. But if you had to share a life lesson, what would you share?

KIDD: An honest one?

SHINNERS: Yeah.

KIDD: The biggest thing I’ve learned in the last year is how important honesty is. And how specific honesty is. Somebody just told me recently, “Even if you’re saying the truth, if you’re omitting other things to get a certain reaction or endpoint, that’s not honesty.” I think I’ve struggled with that my whole life. Like, “I’m telling you my story. I’m not lying.” But there was still a manipulative aspect to everything that I did. In the long run, it doesn’t help. Even if it gets you what you want, that’s going to be fleeting. There are a lot of gaps. That’s hard. I’ve been struggling with that for a year. But it’s paying off.

SHINNERS: It’s hard to be honest, but people end up loving it.

KIDD: People crave honesty. It’s just rare that it ever gets that way. Because we’re all scared. It was actually a psychic who told me that. That’s such a white girl LA thing for me to do, see a psychic, but I was at a place where I needed some sort of guidance. It really hit me. That’s something that I’ve been working on.

SHINNERS: When you think about honesty, what do you imagine?

KIDD: Just totally letting go.

SHINNERS: Putting everything you have out there.

KIDD: Especially in intimate relationships. I’ve always developed really close relationships with women. I’ve always been terrified of relationships with men. I have this really close circle of girls, and those are my best friends. We’re all honest with each other. There’s nothing to hide. It’s all on the table. And I realized that’s why those relationships work.

SHINNERS: Even with guys who have supposedly undone their masculinity, do you find there’s this lingering feeling that they need to be a certain type of person? Especially when they’re with other guys? And that’s what it’s harder to be honest?

KIDD: Absolutely. I see what the masculine ideal is, and I feel like I’ve strayed away from it as much as I can. But there’s something to being socialized as a boy, as a man. You can feel, but hold it in, don’t emote it, don’t talk about it. That, as a social construct, is really interesting. That’s something I’ve always worked against. But I do feel like there’s repercussions to me being that honest because I’m a boy.

SHINNERS: I notice it in the relationships that I have with men. I don’t really have friends who are jock bros, but even my friends who are feminists and are trying to recognize masculine constructions, you get to thresholds with them every once in awhile.

KIDD: It’s so ingrained. It’s a lot to undo. It will take time. We’re making progress, but it’s such a slow burn, on all fronts.

SHINNERS: Right. And sometimes it just shifts. We think that it’s over, but really it’s the same power structure using different language.

KIDD: This reminds me of Orlando. We think we’re such a progressive country. We think that we’ve made changes, but we’re not that far from where we were. It’s great. We’ve been making strides. But we need to keep going. It’s so easy to fall back and come up against that threshold.

SHINNERS: There’s so much supposed widespread support in the mainstream media for the queer community when something like this happens. That’s really cool, and it maybe wouldn’t have happened decades ago. But there’s also so much rhetoric about, “Oh, this one stray homophobe. Our culture isn’t actually like that.”

KIDD: As beautiful as it is that queer issues are now in the mainstream, it’s also trending. We have to push past that. Trends die. And this shouldn’t be a trend.


You can purchase Kris Kidd's new book of poetry Down For Whatever here. Text and interview by Keely Shinners. Photography by Cameron McCool. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


On the Hunt for Conservation: An Interview With Photographer Dylan Johnston On The Great Burmese Python Hunt

Can Florida Eradicate the Invasive Burmese Python?

Text by Michael Adno

 

Just outside Everglades City, lies a vast expanse of wetlands and narrow service roads lined with dense flora matched by an incomparable eco-system of animals. There is undoubtedly no other place in the world like the Everglades, but the way in which the State of Florida and the Federal Government has treated the area in recent years is indicative of a painful apathy towards how to best preserve this irreplaceable resource or to abate the effects of climate change.

Nearly a year ago, President Barack Obama visited the Everglades to stress the importance of making climate change a priority within his administration and for pertinent officials to take note. This also came at a time when the Obama administration stood to benefit by prompting—then Republican presidential candidates—Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio to acknowledge the urgency of conservation on a national platform. Unfortunately, both demonstrated a frightening insensitivity to the need for conservation efforts in Southern Florida, possibly hindered in their campaigns’ ties to big sugar companies in the state.

The Everglades have been affected adversely by agricultural development, the influx of invasive flora and fauna, as well as the passivity of the state’s environmentally-deft administration. One of the most hard-pressed issues facing the area, is the over population of the non-native Burmese Python, introduced to the environment by exotic pet-keepers who released their increasingly difficult to care for pets. Now the park has become littered with the sit-and-wait predator that has thrived in its environment but at the cost of a great deal of other species such as birds, alligators, and small rodents which play instrumental roles in the homeostasis of the Everglades.

Dylan Johnston has documented the Florida Python Challenge, one of the Florida Wildlife Commission’s more successful attempts to eradicate the invasive and evasive snake, for the past three years. In 2013, he began the project after mention from a friend in Sarasota, only a few hours from the river of grass, and has worked on the project since, immersing himself in the unforgiving environment that is the Everglades. Johnston, from Ft. Pierce, has worked on plenty of projects and assignments in his home-state, detailing the life of working in junkyards to rigging ballyhoos while trolling for pelagic species in the Gulf-stream just off Southern Florida’s east coast. It’s safe to say that Johnston has an immense amount of investment in working towards sustainable conservation, so I caught up with him recently to detail some of the finer points of his project, N 27º/25º. 

Michael Adno: How did you begin this project? And what was your approach?

Dylan Johnston: I first started working on it in my senior year of College [2013]. A dear friend mentioned the python challenge, and it sounded compelling to me, so I went down and took a look. I went down just with a large format camera and eight sheets of film. I shot those eight sheets, and then I decided I would go back next week and really dive into it. The hunt is directed toward eradicating this invasive species [Burmese python] that kill and adversely effect the native species in the Everglades. So after that first trip, I wanted to bring a level of awareness to the issue as I’m a native Floridian. I wanted to help protect Florida in a way, if I could. That first trip opened my eyes, and I realized I wanted to keep working on the project from that point.

Adno: What was your method? What were you looking for in making these photographs?

Johnston: There’s a lot of different areas of the Everglades, some that don’t allow hunting whatsoever, but during January and February there are certain areas that allow hunting but only for the Burmese python of course. I would just drive those roads. I didn’t know any hunters, especially when I first started, so I’d look for camps of hunters and try to meet people, which would involve me staking out the place and waiting for somebody to come by. I’d try to tag along with them if I could. Sometimes, I’d walk with them for three, four hours. Sometimes, I would take their photograph, and they would take off afterward. I was looking for hunters rather than snakes though, because if I could find a hunter then I could find a snake more easily. Most of it was driving around aimlessly, taking my car as far as it would go into the woods and possibly travelling by foot if I saw something further down the road where my car couldn’t go.



Adno: How did you approach your subjects and present what you were doing?

Johnston: I had an elevator pitch, a short thirty second bit. I would either say I’m shooting an assignment or explain that I was trying to bring awareness to this issue. I would of course try to help on the hunt—in any way that I could. But I’m good at bullshitting with strangers I realized because of this project. I’m good at meeting somebody and talking shit with them, forming a quick relationship. Also, I would feel it out. Some guys didn’t want me there, so I would try and make an image and then tell them to, ‘Have a good day. Have a good hunt.’ It was usually just a matter of feeling people out, and if I seemed welcomed, I would tag-along. Sometimes, I’d be allowed to follow them around the entire day.

Adno: Do the hunters have a concern for conservation or are they more interested in hunting and the opportunity to hunt a snake?

Johnston: When I first went, during the 2013 season, there was a lot more people hunting than in 2016. I met a lot of good-ole-boys, more rednecks, who were out there for the thrill of the hunt, just to say they killed a python. It was a good mix though. Some were out there for the trophy aspect but a lot were also there to help the Everglades.  It’s also a bragging rights type of story. I would say ninety percent were there to help and understood it as a serious issue that deserved more attention. In 2016, I think I only saw one raccoon and no other small animals. It was unbelievable. The snakes are eating everything and contributing in part to the area’s fragility.

Adno: How well supervised is the event? How much can people get away with?

Johnston: If you find a python in the wild, you can kill it, no questions asked. The Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC), wants you to report it so they know the size of the snakes and where they were found, but it’s really just limited to where you can use a gun. Like in the Big Cypress Preserve, you can’t hunt, except during the first two weeks of the hunting season when they lift the ban specifically for python hunting. So if you find ten snakes on your property, you can kill ten snakes, but they just ask that you report it. During the hunt, there’s restrictions on what species of snakes you can kill, and it’s limited to the Burmese python. If you kill a cottonmouth and are caught, you’ll be disqualified and fined. FWC patrols the areas, but they rely heavily on word of mouth via other hunters. When I was there, one group saw another group come across a rattlesnake and kill it pointlessly, so they let FWC know etc. Like I said before, some are just there for bragging rights or to kill a snake, but most people are there to help. On the second day of the season, an FWC officer actually shot and killed a sixteen-foot python, which may have won the challenge if he wasn’t banned from participating. But more to the point if you or I were there, we could legally kill a python.



Adno: You don’t need a tag or permit to hunt pythons?

Johnston: There’s permits for the competition/challenge. They give you a list of rules and instructions etc. It costs twenty-five dollars and gives the FWC a sense of how many hunters are out there or how many guns are in the area roughly. That ensures that the people participating in the hunt know what they’re doing. Grab them this way. Transport them like this. You can’t hunt here etc. It’s also a way to make people more aware of the risks involved. Snakes are everywhere not to mention gators, but keeping hydrated is also a concern there.

Adno: Have you heard any horror stories or particularly compelling stories about python hunting?

Johnston: Well, I haven’t heard any horror stories, but one of the groups that I met up with—called the Swamp Apes, managed by this guy Tom Rahill—is an interesting one. He organizes this hunting group made up of veterans, mostly with post-traumatic-stress disorder. And he does it weekly, bringing in a ton of snakes. If he feels like going hunting, he’ll go that night and call a few people. There’s a lot of other people who go out and specifically target pythons, but it’s not as organized as the Python Challenge. Essentially, they only need a permit for the guns they use and to be in an area where you can use a gun. The state officials who look after the area just want it to be done humanely. They don’t want people to stab or prolong the death of the snakes, so they often encourage people to capture them and then bring them into a designated drop-off station alive.

Adno: How do you personally see the python challenge?

Johnston: I see it as helpful. They’re not putting a big dent in the snake population, but they’re helping in other ways by bringing light to the issue that the Everglades is extremely fragile. I mean one clear point they’ve made is that the invasive population of Burmese pythons began with people who owned exotic pets and released them here in South Florida. And now they’ve taken over the environment, wiping out bird populations, gators, etc. I believe the hunt is helpful just for conservation, but the Burmese python is just one of many invasive species that have been introduced in Florida.

Adno: Are you drawn to any of the other invasive species that Florida has?

Johnston: I met a few people who were hunting monitor lizards when I was there, but I didn’t spend too much time with them as it was a completely different story. I’m actually dying to work on a story about lionfish in Florida. The Florida Keys are littered with them, and fisherman are required by law to kill them if caught or sighted while diving. I actually ate some of it during the python challenge. It’s pretty good. I’d eat it again.



Adno: What would you like to see happen in the Everglades?

Johnston: It’s sad, because it is truly the only environment in the world like this. So between the water output from Lake Okeechobee and the snakes, it’s a natural catastrophe aided by people. It’s so difficult to clean that place up. It’s a natural filtration system that’s being wiped out. It’s a great area for enjoying the place recreationally whether it’s hunting with regard for conservation or the air-boat culture, so I don’t think they should limit that any more, but eliminating the invasive species should be a top priority. I want people to enjoy it as it is and not to cause anymore harm if that’s possible.

Adno: Do you think of the people who enjoy the Everglades recreationally as proponents of preserving the environment?

Johnston: Yes, most of the people I’ve met are absolutely invested in trying to protect the place. We mentioned Tom Rahill, bringing in a few snakes a week, getting out there when he can. The people who are out there for the thrill of the hunt or the trophy, they go out for a long weekend shoot some guns, drink some beer, and they play no part in it. If they bring some snakes in, great, but they usually don’t.

Adno: What’s the Everglades like now?

Johnston: It’s all farms, very small towns, and still ‘old Florida.’ In Everglades City and Chokoloskee, a lot of immigrant laborers make up the communities there. It’s just acres and acres of crops with quiet small towns that revolve around hunting, fishing, and farming with an influx of agricultural jobs.

Adno: What do you think the ultimate reward for these hunters is?

Johnston: It’s a cool story to have. To catch a Burmese python is bragging rights. A lot of people do just want to help out, and if they can help out and have a story, that’s even better.


Click here to see more from Dylan Johnston's python hunter series. Text and interview by Michael Adno. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


 

Viva Africa: Five Questions For Legendary Photographer Malick Sidibé On The Occasion Of His Collaboration With Designer Zainab Sumu

photograph by Olivier Sultan

In a way, you could say that Malick Sidibé was the ultimate nightlife and street life photographer. His images of a postcolonial Africa – namely in Bamako (the capital of Mali) – captured a zeitgeist full of joie de vivre and desperate to reclaim its identity after French rule. Some of his most iconic images were taken at concerts and youth clubs, like the Christmas Eve, Happy Club. It was in this club where one his most famous images was taken: a couple dressed to the nines, dancing barefoot under the night sky. Indeed, his images ooze with a delicious sense of style and swagger. At eighty years of age, Sidibé has put his camera down, but has recently teamed up with Boston-based designer Zainab Sumu for a limited edition mens and womens t-shirt collection. It is the photographer’s first ever collaboration.  Sumu, who started her brand Primitive Modern just last fall, has chosen four photographs from Sidibé’s extensive archive from the 60s and 70s to place on t-shirts printed with designs using indigenous Malian printing techniques. The collection of tees, in an edition of 140, is a natural evolution from the designer’s capsule collection of silk scarves inspired by artisanal Northern and West African dyeing techniques. Autre was lucky enough to ask the legendary Malick Sidibé some questions, through his son Karim, about his collaboration with Zainab Sumu and what the photographer’s archive says about the future of Africa.

How did you team up with Zainab Sumu?

We have always been on the lookout for interesting partners who first and foremost appreciate the work of my father. In Zainab we found someone not only passionate about his work aesthetic (which of course is so important), but we especially appreciated this quest she’s on in regards to helping strengthen the economic situation for us in Mali. She’s all about a positive representation of Africa and that was a vital part of my Dad’s legacy.

What was the collaboration process like?

The collaboration was most definitely a collaborative effort between Mody (my older brother) and Zainab. When we initially discussed the project she had very clearly pinpointed select images from the archive that reflected my Dad’s sense of fun and beauty and style, you could say. I remember Zainab making a lot of notes when she visited the studio in Bamako in 2015.

You are a major representative for Africa, and you have become a major part of dissolving a lot of myths about Africa's place in the world, what is the current atmosphere like and what would you like people to know about Africa in the 21st century?

Dad’s photographs were taken in post-colonial Mali, when self-expression was vital and raw and fresh, a response to the political regime. So most certainly Dad was lucky to have captured images during such a pivotal time in our country’s history. When many people think of African portraiture they immediately think of Malick Sidibé. His work was always about embracing individuality and essentially, during that time young people had a reason to be rebellious. 

What do your father’s images say about the future of Mali and Africa? 

In a way those images from his archive all represent hope for a better day. Today the people of Africa continue to be hopeful yet there is an overwhelming sense of disillusionment among our communities. We’re trying to change that. 

Do you want to continue collaborating with younger artists?

We try to stay open-minded but it’s very much an instinctive connection for us and we try to guard our father’s legacy with great care. By producing these t-shirts with my father’s photographs, it is way for everyone have to access to art. Importantly, also, it’s about presenting these works as a kind of object d’art, therefore my father’s work can be seen not just on the walls of museum’s or galleries but also on the bodies of many from the next generation.


Visit Zainab Sumu's website to purchase t-shirts from the Malick Sidibé collection. Click here to get a rare glimpse inside Sidibé's studio and click here to check out Sume's photographic travel diary through Mali. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Get Your Strength Through Oi: An Interview With Punktrepreneur Toby Mott

text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

Toby Mott owns one of the largest collections of skinhead and punk ephemera from the halcyon days of anarchy in the UK. A punk himself, Mott has turned his youth in revolt into an enterprise with the Mott Collection, which recently was released in the street edition of Skinhead: An Archive. Punk historian or punktrepreneur, Mott is intent of preserving the legacy of one of the most misunderstood subcultures. Skinheads, although some had nationalist or Nazi leanings, were not all rabid and racist xenophobes. Some, in fact, were gay. Some were Jewish. Some were jocks. Some were women. In fact, the skinheads were the working class alternative to a posh Swinging 60s London, with Cockney and Jamaican roots. Mott acquired much of his archive in real time, collecting posters, patches, posters, zines and more. In the 70s, he was the founder of the Anarchist Street Army, which tried to toss over the establishment in the Pimlico area of London. In he 80s, he lived in squat with the likes of boy George and made appearances in films by Derek Jarman, and was included in Gilbert and George's 'Existers' series. Mott was also the founder of Grey, an anarchist art collective that would vandalize areas of London, spraying grey paint on windows. His involvement in that group got him arrested and banned from the U.K. Today, Mott is more a gentleman than a punk, but a punk at heart. He has shed his leather for a clean, crisp dress shirt and a sharp blazer. We met up with Mott one sunny day by the beach during his recent trip to Lost Angeles to discuss skinheads, his collection and what it means to be punk in the digital age.

 

OLIVER KUPPER: Skinheads have this association to neo-Nazi culture. Putting out something related to skinheads, people might think that it’s related to Nazi culture. How do you clear up this confusion?

 

TOBY MOTT: People jump to the conclusion that I am, or I was, a skinhead. But this is a neutral overview of a culture. Most people more readily associate skinheads with fascist, neo-Nazi culture. But one of the reasons for doing the book is to show that it’s much more diverse. There are all different kinds of skinheads. In London, now, if you saw a skinhead, most people would assume that they’re gay. So you’ve gone from a threatening, aggressive, neo-fascist to gay culture. Apart from that, there’s the whole S.H.A.R.P. (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) thing, which came from America. It was pretty multi-ethnic in the UK, with The Specials and the whole 2-tone thing. I think it’s the same with most things. The most aggressive aspects get the most press, because they’re newsworthy. But it’s certainly not the dominant element of skinhead culture.

 

KUPPER: There are multiple subcultures within skinhead culture.

 

MOTT: Yeah. Within skinhead culture, you get into scooter skins, skinhead girls. When skinhead culture mutates and travels abroad, say, in Eastern Europe, it’s must more militaristic and nationalist. It’s kind of evolved from the original British skinhead. It’s become more uniform. In Russia, there’s a big skinhead culture, but it’s more nationalist.

 

KUPPER: Were you part of this culture?

 

MOTT: No. I was a punk. I was actually a victim of skinheads. Skinheads, initially, were born in the late 60s, early 70s. It turned into something called “suedeheads” and then “bootboys,” with the whole football violence, football hooligan thing. The fashion changed and evolved. They were into glam rock, and the reggae thing kind of brought it out. But then when punk came out - say, in ‘76, and the high point in ’77 – there were bands like Sham 69 who were called “street punk.” Somehow, that initiated a skinhead revival. As a sort of look, this was much more developed than the original skinheads. That’s where the uniform evolved and became fetishized – the Fred Perry, stuff like that. They would also attend the same kinds of gigs I was at. Often, at any random point, they would just attack you. That happened to me – which I write about in the book – at a Sham 69 gig. There was just a general level of intimidation between the punks and the skinheads. It wasn’t a happy unity, although we shared the same music. This was before the white power thing. Around ‘78/’79, Sham 69, Cock Sparrer, Cockney Rejects and other punk bands were adopted by skinheads. But punks would also be at the gig. There was an uneasy tension.

 

KUPPER: What do you think was in the atmosphere during that time that was creating these subcultures?

 

MOTT: At the time, there was a recession. It was pre-Thatcher; Thatcher was elected in ’79. There was the Cold War. The Labor Party was Left Wing. There was a kind of crisis, especially for young people. There wasn’t really an economic future. That has often fueled youth cultures in Britain, which are often political, not just fashion or music things. Everyone, pretty much, was a part of some kind of subculture. You had goths, punks, skinheads – the whole flamboyant, romantic thing. And then you had football hooligans. But there was never really a passive kid. You always had to be something or other.

 

KUPPER: Who were the football hooligans?

 

MOTT: They were the white working class. They got their thrills out of violence. They still exist. But that’s all across Europe. They fight each other. The police have really come down and sent people to prison, but it’s still big. It’s a subculture.

 

KUPPER: It seemed like punk had a soundtrack, with a lot of bands coming out. With the skinheads, it seems looser. It seems way more personal.

 

MOTT: Well, there are all different types of skinheads. The white nationalist skinheads would go for things like Screwdriver, No Remorse. There’s a whole culture with these bands – Rock-o-Rama Records. They have a record label, a whole culture, a whole identity. Putting that aside, we also had the whole 2-tone thing, with The Specials and Selector, which are multi-cultural, anti-racist. The look was less aggressive. Later on, in the 80s, you got bands like Bronski Beat, which appealed to the gay identity of skinheads. Then there was the street punk thing, which was referred to as “Oi!” So there’s no one musical influence. Whichever type of skinhead you were, you had your music. Then, you have a sentimental figure like Nicky Crane, who was on the cover of “Strength through Oi!” album. He was a prominent neo-Nazi, but he had a whole secret gay life. He was to die of AIDS later. In a way, he symbolizes the whole story, the whole contradiction within these cultures and identities.

 

KUPPER: Where does Bruce LaBruce tie in?

 

MOTT: Bruce LaBruce obviously fetishizes the whole skinhead thing. He’s from Canada. He’s interested because he sexualized it. In a way, if you look at those so-called neo-Nazi skinheads, it’s very homoerotic. The mosh pit thing…

 

KUPPER: Taking your shirt off, lots of fluids…

 

MOTT: Yeah. And then to find that some of the most celebrated heroes of that actually have this whole gay, secret life – it’s kind of obvious, right? At the time, though, it was big news. It was in the newspapers. But LaBruce adopted the skinhead look. I’m not quite sure how it’s viewed. Some of the original skinheads don’t appreciate this imagery, I’m sure. They write to me about my book, “How fucking dare you?” They don’t even want to acknowledge it.


KUPPER: When did you start collecting this material?


MOTT: I collected punk stuff as a punk. I was always fascinated by the skinhead element that was around me. I always collected the political pamphlets, from the both the Left and the Right, which were being circulated. The skinheads were the people circulating the extreme Right Wing stuff. It just added to my punk collection. Then later, in my discussion with the publisher, I stripped out the skinhead part of my punk collection, and it made the book.


KUPPER: Was there a Penthouse article that explores this material? What was that about?


MOTT: Weirdly enough, that features Nicky Crane. I think the media has always been fascinated with skinheads because they are violent. Although, as I’ve said, they weren’t all violent. The one the media concentrates on are the violent ones. American Penthouse did an article about British skinhead culture. But they don’t really have a say. In opposition, there are all these anti-fascist groups. But that story isn’t always as newsworthy.


KUPPER: You had a confrontation with skinheads at a venue. Were there any other terrifying moments in your experience?


MOTT: In my foreword to the book, I write about being surrounded by skinheads. There were some notable events. There was this thing called “Rock Against Racism” in 1978, to combat the rise of fascism. They very cleverly had bands like The Clash and Sham 69 to play these concerts. Everyone would go. On the way to one of these events, we were cornered on the top of a double decker bus. I was with my two sisters, who were punks. Because they fancied my sisters, the skinheads, we got by. It was another close shave. The interaction with the skinheads was aggressive. That was their mode of communication. Punks are much more articulate. Skinheads were never adopted by middle class kids like punk was. Punk was pretty much all-inclusive – race, class, whatever. The skinheads were always working-class. Not always white, but the majority were.


KUPPER: I don’t think a lot of people realize that punk was more temperate than skinhead.


MOTT: Skinhead was rigid. The uniform was rigid. Punk was inventive and creative.


KUPPER: Like hippies with mohawks.


MOTT: Skinhead was all-formulaic – these clothes, this haircut. It was militaristic, like a uniform.


KUPPER: That was all new at that point. Now, we have this completely different perspective of what punk is, just because it’s been commercialized and sexualized. Is it an attitude?


MOTT: Yeah, punk’s an attitude.


KUPPER: You don’t need to dress like that. You can be a punk in the way you look at work, at life.


MOTT: I think the book fair is punk, because it’s got that whole DIY thing. It’s not punk to look like a punk from the ‘70s or ‘80s. That’s not punk; that’s retro. I think the book encapsulates the whole ethos of do-it-yourself. The Internet is a gateway to that. But the Internet might be too easy. It depends on how you use it. What is punk today? Punk is an attitude. A creative attitude.


KUPPER: Going back a little bit, to the idea of skinheads shaving their head – what do you think the symbolism behind that was?


MOTT: I think the main thing about skinheads even from the late ‘60s was they would lose the identity of being working class. The manual labor was being lost with the rise of technology. By the late ‘80s when it was revived I think it was a safe place if you were lost, white, working class, and your whole future was being eroded. They fetishized the workman’s uniform. I think that’s what happened.


Also, some people like a code, like wearing black. That appealed to some people. Then they also had the camaraderie and the whole homoerotic thing.


KUPPER: I had always heard that the shaved head had to do with lice from working class individuals living and working where they were getting scabies and lice – that it was just an easy way to avoid that.


MOTT: A utilitarian thing. It also means you weren’t a hippie. The thing about the ‘60s skinheads is that their hair wasn’t as short as the later skinheads when what you wear became much more defined. There’s that book – The Skinhead Bible – which maps that out. But yeah it comes from working on a building site.

 

KUPPER: In terms of outsider culture going on today, do you notice any prominent subcultures that are making an impact?

 

MOTT: There’s always elements in hip hop culture. In the UK we have a thing called Grime, which is an underground thing. Then there’s the trans culture, sexual identity thing that is very outsider. It’s hard because now everything comes to the floor so quickly, nothing has time to become anything before it’s either exposed or picked up by a celebrity. I think for people who don’t find their place in the world how it is, they gravitate towards each other.

 

KUPPER: It’s interesting what’s going on in terms of the trans community and the gay community. Especially with fashion.

 

MOTT: I come from a world where gender is very clearly defined with expectations, but now it’s much more fluid.

 

KUPPER: Where did you grow up?

 

MOTT: I grew up in Central London.

 

KUPPER: What did your parents do?

 

MOTT: My father was a professor, my mother was a social worker. I was a middle-class punk. My parents met at art school so I came from a bohemian or what’s called the intelligentsia background. My emersion in punk was from making fan zines and that whole creative area, I went to art school.

 

What I find really fascinating about skinhead culture is that none of that culture was created by people I meet. A lot of what punk is supposed to be about is the kind of clothes, which came from these deprived backgrounds, whereas in fact it came from art schools. Skinhead culture is not from art schools. None of them went to art school, hardly any of them went to school. So it’s amazing there’s these artifacts. It’s less informed than punk. People who were involved in punk are informed about Dada and stuff like that; skinheads aren’t. It’s got a raw uniqueness to it. Some of this stuff comes from towns in Scotland and fucking nowhere. Deprived places.

 

KUPPER: Yeah, industrial towns.

 

MOTT: Yeah.

 

KUPPER: Where does Joy Division fit into all of that? It seems like they’re in this in-between place.  

 

MOTT: Joy Division is from Manchester but they’re not related to skinhead culture. They’re too sensitive. They’re articulate and sensitive but they’re also from the same kind of background so they could have been skinheads. There were always kids who were more into music and girls than football and violence; they became punks like Joy Division. If those weren’t choices, then you became a skinhead.

 

KUPPER: So just fate?

 

MOTT: It was kind of predetermined. If your family members go to prison, you’re going to be a skinhead. If your family members go to art school, you’ll probably be a punk. I think in America it’s different so I can only talk about the British experience.

 

KUPPER: Americans seem very inspired, though, by the British.

 

MOTT: I get the idea that some of the people I’ve met here that were in skinhead gangs could possibly be from middle-class backgrounds. That really didn’t happen in the UK. There is a class structure there, and even in the subcultures it powers through. Apart from punk where everyone goes. But like I said, that was the more creative and rebellious kids.

 

KUPPER: I think that the white power thing in skinhead culture is a very American thing. It’s very difficult to find non-racist skinheads in the US.

 

MOTT: I think they just get more attention. And they’ve murdered a few more people. There’s always psychos right? But also they’re organized like the whole Tom Metzger thing and get more press. In Britain we have white power skinheads aligned fringe Neo-Nazi groups.

 

KUPPER: In terms of where the book is going – there’s a second edition that’s out now. Will there be a third edition?

 

MOTT: There probably will be a third. What’s interesting is that we always add something new. Who knows!

 

KUPPER: We live in such a digital age now, how do we collect this ephemera that’s alive today? What’s your advice?

 

MOTT: A lot of it is in the music world. I don’t know because I’m not sure how information circulates now. In my day you would be informed of a gig or an event on a piece of paper. Now it’d probably be on a PDF. Who wants to collect PDFs?

 

KUPPER: Who wants to print a PDF? (Laughs.)

 

MOTT: I don’t know, it’s just something else. Luckily for me most of my projects end with facture in ’90 or ’91. That’s the beginning of rave and the whole dance, hip-hop scene. Once it goes digital and online it’s different.

 

KUPPER: But now with the book fair it seems like zine culture is very much alive.

 

MOTT: Yeah there’s this whole analogue culture driven by the internet. It’s very exciting.

 

KUPPER: It is very exciting; we’re trying to explore that right now.

 

MOTT: I’m very pleased to be a part of that. I think it’s very important that things have an actuality rather than just an online presence. The book fair is amazing, it’s not even a retro thing. It’s real.

 

KUPPER: It is. I don’t think people are using it in a derivative way where they’re trying to recreate something from the past.  It’s definitely very new, and I love what Printed Matter is doing.

 

MOTT: And it’s global. It’s all over Europe. These books are also beautiful objects, it’s not like buying a book on Amazon. It’s almost like some sort of art thing.

 

KUPPER: There’s a lot of freedom in DIY, you’re not really censored by anything specific.

 

MOTT: And it’s not economically driven. It’s not a money thing.

 

KUPPER: No one’s making money.

 

MOTT: No one’s making money, and everyone knows there’s no money to make so it’s kinda cool. (Laughs.) There’s a few people in it who want to make money, but that’s why I always say to them that there’s no money to make. So do something else. In a way it’s kind of pure; the fact that there’s no money other than being able to cover the cost of doing the project.

 

KUPPER: That’s why you have your day job. What do you think about magazines like Richardson magazine outside of the scope of everything else?

 

MOTT: Andrew [Richardson] is a good friend of mine. I don’t know if it’s a parody of a porn magazine or if it’s a way of being a porn magazine for a new audience.

 

KUPPER: Interesting. Because he doesn’t really say it’s porn, it’s a sex magazine. It’s not a porn magazine even though there’s only porn stars on the covers of every issue.

 

MOTT: I think to do that kind of thing it’s got to be away from the male gaze. I don’t know enough about porn, it’s a massive culture. It’s the biggest thing. He plays around with that but he’s really created a clothing brand.

 

KUPPER: That seems very punk in and of itself what he’s doing.

 

MOTT: Yeah I guess so. He’s taken something that most people find offensive and some people find acceptable, but not all people do. It’s a fine line.


You can follow Toby Mott on Instagram here. Purchase the "street edition" of Skinhead: An Archive on Ditto Press Text, interview and photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


The Naked Word: A Conversation Between Lydia Lunch and Thurston Moore at the The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics

A condensed version of this conversation between Lydia Lunch and Thurston Moore, held at the Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics on July 15th, 2015 in Boulder, Colorado, can be found in Autre's current LOVE Issue. Recording by Max Davies and Ambrose Bye. Moderation by Bil Brown.

LYDIA LUNCH: I did my first spoken word show with Thurston Moore. Do you remember?

THURSTON MOORE: I remember, yes. It was in New York City. You decided you would do something without the necessitation of these annoying guitars, amps, and drums. Let’s just get rid of that craphole, huh? You had some ideas of this dialogue you had written. And you roped me into it.

LUNCH: I remember inviting Thurston to take a walk with me. We didn’t know each other, but we lived a block away from each other. We would spot each other on the subway. This was the early 80s?

MOORE: I saw you in the late 70s. I lived on 13th Street.

LUNCH: I was on 12th.

MOORE: I would see you on the corner of 12th and A.

LUNCH: Cowboy boots, spiked skirts.

MOORE: Ring in nose. I would see you sometimes in the subway, on the L train.

LUNCH: I remember thinking, “Who is this tall boy? Why is he so shy?”

MOORE: I knew who you were because you had a reputation. You were in a band called Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was something kind of crazy.

LUNCH: But we didn’t meet each other. We would just spot each other.

MOORE: You knew all these people. I was a loner.

LUNCH: But then I left, and I came back to New York. That’s when we met. I don’t know what came first, the spoken word or “In Limbo.” By the way, somebody is asking me to answer questions about that period, and I don’t have any fucking answers. I don’t remember. But, I came back to do spoken word. I don’t remember how we met, or how we got introduced, but I invited Thurston to go on a walk with me. I started telling him this terrible story – it wasn’t a true story, most of my stories are true – and his reaction was so, “Oh my God. You’re kidding me. I can’t believe it. Really?” I was kinda like, “Yeah.” I don’t know if this involves the “urinating in the doorway” story or not. Was that the same incident?

MOORE: That was the same time period, yes.

LUNCH: So I said, “We’re doing this tomorrow night. We’re doing this performance. You’re just going to be the straight man.” I don’t even think we used mics. I think we did like a Chinese whisper circle. We were just walking around talking, and people could only hear snatches. That was my first spoken word show. And that was my first show with him. My second one was called “Daddy Dearest.” Actually, some people from my class saw us do “North Six.” Years later, well, Thurston, we did the first spoken word show together. Get on the bill! He was like, “Can I have a collaborator?” I’m like, “No. You, your guitar, and your poetry.” We did a few shows. Those were great.

MOORE: I don’t think even at that time the word “spoken word” was being used.

LUNCH: No.

MOORE: It was whatever was being used. Some kind of performance. I recall that. We were introduced through Richard Edson, one of the earliest drummers of Sonic Youth.

LUNCH: He lived across the street from me. He lived one block away from you.

MOORE: Yeah. And when you came back into New York after spending time in London, or wherever you were…

LUNCH: I went to LA for two years, and then I went to London for two years to work with The Birthday Party. I moved back to New York to around ’84 with Thirlwell.

MOORE: I met you through Richard Edson because he was involved with doing the soundtrack music to a film that Seth B and Beth B were doing. It was called “Vortex.” It was their first major film. It was a bigger film, and Lydia was the lead.

LUNCH: Angel Palmers, a detective.

MOORE: Yeah, you played Angel Palmers, detective.

LUNCH: Who takes a bubble bath.

MOORE: There was a very interesting bubble bath scene. Anyway, Richard Edson said to me, “Hey, I’m doing music for this film. I want you to play bass. Lydia Lunch is in it. We’re going to get together and circulate some ideas.” I was very intrigued. He took me over to where Lydia was staying, on Rivington Street at John Duffy’s apartment.

LUNCH: Thirlwell wasn’t there then.

MOORE: Thirlwell hadn’t come into the scene.

LUNCH: I came back to New York, I don’t know how. I was staying at somebody’s apartment.

MOORE: You were staying at this apartment, and that’s how we met. We were sort of hanging out. That’s about it. One thing lead to the other…

LUNCH: [Laughs.] Remind me, how did I approach the “In Limbo” session? That’s what the guy who is writing the book about you wants to know, and I can’t remember.

MOORE: We had done this music for Vortex. It never really came to anything. The soundtrack for “Vortex” – I’m not even on that. It sort of happened very quickly. Richard did what he did. You and I remained in touch. You reached out to me to see if I would be interested in playing for some songs that you were working on. I said sure.

LUNCH: I think I wanted to make the slowest record ever made. Really depressing.

MOORE: It was the slowest record in the world. And this was at the time when I was really engaged in listening to the fastest music being made.

LUNCH: [Laughs.] As contrarian.

MOORE: I’m listening to Minor Threat and Black Flag.

LUNCH: And I wanted to do sludge rock. I want to do the most tortuously, painfully slow. I was very depressed. Part of me was very depressed. I just wanted to write a record that was morose. Actually, we do “Still Burning” from that live still.

MOORE: They were great songs.

LUNCH: They were very poetic.

MOORE: I felt like they were really musical.

LUNCH: You played bass. Jim Sclavunos played sax.

MOORE: We would meet at Bradley Field’s basement studio.

LUNCH: He was the drummer of Teenage Jesus.

MOORE: He had this basement rehearsal space on Grand Street. He let us use this space. Sonic Youth was rehearsing there. I think Lydia was kicking upstairs.

LUNCH: Yeah, that was my loft.

MOORE: It was literally two blocks from where I was living on Eldridge Street. I would go there, and Lydia would hone to me what she wanted. I would play on the bass. Richard Edson was going to play.

LUNCH: You told me something about a slow dance. I’m not sure.

MOORE: The first rehearsal was pretty much, you know…

LUNCH: A seduction.

MOORE: Yeah. Lydia said, “Can we dance?” I said, “I don’t dance. I don’t even know you.”

LUNCH: [Laughs.] “Shall we dance?” I didn’t mean disco or go go. Well, I thought we had to get to know each other. I had to see if you could dance slow enough. It was a slow dance.

MOORE: She was trying to slow me down.

LUNCH: That was true. Did I?

MOORE: I knew she was just trying to slow me down, but it’s just like…

LUNCH: A volcano was trying to slow a tornado down.

MOORE: It just made my heart beat faster, honestly. Anyway, we started doing these songs. Edson was playing drums. You called in Sclavunos to play the saxophone. And Pat Place played the guitar. Then, we started rehearsing at Michael Gira’s place on Sixth Street.

LUNCH: I have no recollection of that.

MOORE: The real rehearsals started happening because there wasn’t enough room at Bradley’s.

LUNCH: Then, we recorded at Donny Christenson’s. Did we?

MOORE: We might have.

LUNCH: Where else would we have done it?

MOORE: We did. I think I remember going to Donny Christenson’s.

LUNCH: We did record. The record exists. It’s called “In Limbo.”

MOORE: That was the first time I remember meeting Donny Christenson.

LUNCH: Who was in the Contortions and the Raybeats.

MOORE: For me, it was great. Donny, Pat, Jim, and Lydia were playing in bands that I would go see and I was really intrigued by. They were very informative for Sonic Youth. My scene, at that time, was my band and then Mike Gira’s band Swans. There were a couple of other outlining bands. A lot of that, the bands that existed a couple years before us – such as Contortions – they had all broken up. Everybody was going to different places. Lydia left, and then she was back.

LUNCH: To start doing spoken word. To start collaborating with other people.

MOORE: She started employing me into what she was doing. Subsequently, these other musicians from that time period came in. I got to meet Sclavunos, who started playing drums for Sonic Youth. He played on the “Confusion is Sex” album.

LUNCH: And he played in Teenage Jesus, 8 Eyed Spy, Shotgun Wedding Live. Then, he went on with Sonic Youth. Then he went on with Nick Cave.

MOORE: It was super exciting. Jim O’Rourke came over. Nick Cave came over. The birthday parties for shows in New York – we were all there hanging out and having dinner at Susan Martin’s house. There was this whole crew of new music that was happening. This was ’81, ’82. We all connected. Lydia was sort of the one who threw everybody together. When I think about it, that’s kind of how it happened.

LUNCH: I think the instinctual genius – I don’t know how I even conceived of it at that point – was that I took Teenage Jesus to the UK in 1978. I was one of the first people to decide, with no money at all, that this had to go to Europe. To play there, and to find other people there. A lot of bands didn’t get to Europe at that point. I just jumped myself there and jumped myself to Berlin. I moved to London, and then the collection of people came together naturally that way, through this connective tissue of this corralling thing that I naturally do. I was always more mobile than everybody because that’s my addiction. My addiction is moving. I don’t collect people, but I kind of cattle prod people into coming together.

MOORE: To your credit, the people who resonated with you were these people who were doing interesting things.


LUNCH: I would have a lot of dinner parties at my house. I would cook for everybody.

MOORE: There’s a little bit of the dinner party thing that really brought everything into place. I don’t know if that happens anymore. 

LUNCH: It happens in Spain, but they’re a food culture. I would always throw Sunday parties. Who else was throwing dinner parties? I had the space. That was an important thing. We were all poor. We needed to eat. We would just do that. And just to have a place where you can hang out that’s comfortable… Often, it was on Sundays. It was the Sunday brunch get-together, when everybody needed reparation. 

MOORE: Lydia found this great place in this really wild area of Brooklyn. 

LUNCH: I was living up in Spanish Harlem. By the way, on the bus one day, when Thurston was going up to visit me (not many people liked to visit me in Spanish Harlem, which was why I liked it), that’s where we wrote “Death Valley 69.” On a bus on the way up to Spanish Harlem. But then a very rainy day, a torrential because I needed more space, I saw this ad in the Village Voice for a loft. I ran down there and convinced the landlord to give it to me. It was a 2,000 square foot loft in Dumbo. Nobody lived there then. Hence, Thirlwell is still there.

MOORE: It was incredible. It was a huge space. 

LUNCH: Instinctually, I just had to go for that ad. I just had to go and convince them that I was the one who should have it. I already convinced somebody in Tribeca to give me a building that was abandoned for six months when I was eighteen. That was next to Donny and Jodie’s, where we recorded. I’m very good with landlords that way, until I go on a rent strike. They love me.

BILL BROWN: It’s an interesting thing. Up until the last three years, downtown LA was completely a fucking wasteland. There were a lot of artists who went into the warehouse district on the other side of the river. They would get these huge warehouse spaces. They all shared the rent. They become these creative epicenters. Talking about “Death Valley 69,” didn’t Richard Kern do that video?

MOORE: It was.

LUNCH: Which I’m not even really in.

BROWN: It’s amazing, the artistic community that was surrounding you guys at the time. Who exactly coined the phrase, “spoken word?” 

LUNCH: It’s what I’ve always called it. I always called it “spoken word” because I was not a performance artist. I was not doing poetry. I don’t know who invented it. I like it because it’s unglamorized. I don’t know if anybody invented spoken word. That’s what I always called it when I was curating.

BROWN: There was something interesting that you [Moore] said, “We’re not punk. We’re not hippies.” That specific thing hit me. An old friend of mine that was around your community at the time had always said, “We were the generation that screamed the loudest because we were the most ignored.” He said, “We weren’t punks. We weren’t hippies. We were in-between. We weren’t Gen X or millennials.” 

LUNCH: I screamed the loudest because I was the most fucking hateful. That’s the bottom line. I wanted to be ignored. It was not a rallying call for attention. The less the better. “Less Is More” was one of my first songs. “Popularity Is Boring” is another one. Those are the first lyrics I came up with. 

MOORE: Everybody likes to be in bands because they like to be in gangs. There’s a certain aesthetic of the gang – there’s a pleasure in that. It’s you and us against the world. It’s nice to have a sobriquet that you appreciate – no-wave, new-wave, punk, hippie. At the same time, you don’t want to be strapped into something, so you liberate yourself from everything. You’re free to be who you are.

LUNCH: I was saying to my class the other day, I’m a conceptualist. First, I have the concept of music. I never think about who I’d like to work with. That’s not how I work. The concept of the music comes first, and whomever suits the concept comes next. I’ve never sat down and said, “I want to work with that person.” If you asked me, I would say, “I want to work with nobody or everybody.” It’s who suits the musical concepts. For me, when I collaborate – and I think this is why I’m so successful, and I continue to work with so many different kinds of people – it’s the sacred zone. All bullshit is left out of there. Maybe I’ve just been lucky with the people I’ve chosen. Except for maybe one or two people, in the history of everyone I’ve ever worked with, it’s been a totally blissful experience. The only reason it might not have been, in the end of two of those instances, is that they’re both completely insecure men who have macho problems. Anybody who isn’t macho, which is most of the people I work with (Thurston, Thirlwell), they never have problems with me. The two macho assholes were the only ones who ever had problems with me. When I go into a collaborative relationship, this is the sacred ground. I want everyone to feel as good as possible. I’m there because I fucking adore what you do. I think you’re a genius. I’m not calling you into the circle unless you’re the perfect person for this sacred marriage, to take it somewhere else. I really am the cattle prodder and the cheerleader. My job is to make people feel as good as they can doing what they do. That’s what I do. I don’t need feedback. I don’t need the reciprocation. That’s why I love spoken word. I’m not waiting for the applause. I can’t stand when people applaud after a fucking song. 

BROWN: The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics was founded on poetics. As the general public that knows who you are, they won’t think of you as literally. Thurston is doing literary press. Lydia was writing poetry in the 90s and publishing as well. Lydia has spoken word. The word “poet” was completely removed from that for a long time.

LUNCH: It’s the first thing that brought us together, the spoken word. Which is interesting. 

MOORE: To me, I felt like I had more direct engagement with writing. Early on, I was enamored with forms of poetry. I was enamored with studying poetry for my own studies. I would read and read. When I went to New York, I was aware that there was a poetry scene, but I didn’t think I was going to get involved with it. I didn’t think of myself as a poet. I thought I was going to be a writer. Playing music, I felt like I didn’t have any established skills as a musician. I knew how to do some stuff. I still don’t know how to play real guitar. In a way, it didn’t really matter. The music I liked allowed me to be free with the guitar. I knew I was into composition the same way that I’m into the composition of like minds on the page. That’s how I looked at music – as a composition. Same thing with being free, writing free verse. It’s the same thing as playing free improvisation. I equated them. They were just different variables of discipline. One was words on paper, and one was playing an instrument and making sound. It was composing sound the way you would compose language.

LUNCH: I never thought of myself as a musician. I always thought of myself as a journalist, as a historian. I went to New York to write. The music was merely the machine to back up the words, even when half the music was instrumental. Even when all the music was instrumental, the titles were what were most important. To me, it’s just a vehicle. The music exists to offset the words. I do all kinds of music. I still consider myself a writer, a journalist, a historian. That’s what I do. The naked word is the most important to me. I love doing music, but that wasn’t the priority. I was what allowed me to facilitate getting the word out. The format for it didn’t really exist at that point.

BROWN: Thomas Sayers Ellis was talking about Go-Go today. Why was he talking about Go-Go in the context of a poetics panel? There were only a few words spoken in one of those pieces he played at the panel, but it seemed like the music was the word.

LUNCH: Exactly. That’s what divided it from hip hop, which was manufactured nana, studio nonsense. So here we are.

MOORE: Coming to Jack Kerouac’s School of Disembodied Poetics, to me, the challenge was to come here and teach poetry, as opposed to coming here as a rock and roll musician. I don’t want students to think I’m going to bring out my guitar and write songs. That’s the last thing I want to do. I have no interest in doing that. It’s a very personal thing for me, to write music. I feel like I can share it. I do teach, sometimes, in different music schools. I talk about the experience of playing music and what I do personally. We can work together from that. I’m more interested in writing where I can talk about what that is as an art form. I want to talk about the history of poetry, especially post-World War contemporary poetry, which is where my focus is. I’m not going to go in there and talk about Victorian English poetry. I’m not that learned in it. I’m not going to do Lionel Trilling at Columbia University or something like that. I have an awareness of how poetry exists as a community – that lineage of writing, people sharing ideas about how words appear on a page. There’s the visual, the idea of the confessional, the idea of the experimental. Those things work together, and they also work apart. They can keep their own ground. They can play with each other and inform each other. That was really interesting to me. I was really interested in Acconci, who really agonized over how to take these words off the page and put them in these other spheres. He becomes a visual, conceptual artist, but he’s a poet doing it. Someone like Ted Berrigan, coming out of Frank O’Hara, writing this conversational poem, but keeping a certain economy to it, and still having it be an expression of his mind in the moment. Or you look at language poetry, where it’s all about this data that’s on a page and what that means, the idea of stripping emotion from the work. How far can you take that? Bernadette Mayer and Vito Acconci were really into that. They were doing 0 to 9 in the magazines in the 60s. They wanted to strip all the drama, confession, and emotion from the poem. They go towards this crystallized heart to see what is there – just putting a number on a page. Aram Saroyan puts one letter on the page. What is that? Is that bullshit? He was given a grant to make poetry, and he put one word on a page. He wrote, “Lighght.” When you look at it, it’s surrealist. It’s loaded. There are all kinds of movement in that. There are all kinds of ideas. It’s playful. It’s wonderful. It’s a great poem. And it was completely contentious. It polarized the entire poetry community, that this is what he delivered.

BROWN: Both of you mentioned Dada today. 

MOORE: Lady Dada? [Laughs.]

BROWN: Lydia did too. I have a weird theory that there is a particular strain that has continued all the way through the 20th and into the 21st century. We’re carrying that along. We’re saying that if we don’t keep this going, as it ebbs and flows…

LUNCH: It’s the Pranksterism that keeps us alive. From Dada, and forward from that. Going into the Merry Pranksters. We need rebellion with pleasure, because otherwise, we’re sunk. There is a sense of Pranksterism in a lot of who we are naturally attracted to. 

BROWN: He’s more attracted to concrete and experimental poetry…

MOORE: To me, it’s sort of a pantheon of this lineage of writing that goes on in the culture. I’m curious about it. I’m interested in it. It excites me. It’s very artful. You can come from any angle to it. To me, Dada is important because it’s a reclamation of being an artist. Everything has to be honored by the academy and the system in society. In a way, that’s okay. That creates a place of learning. That history is great, but anybody who can suss that, who can glean that information and reclaim it, incinerate it, reform it – those are the people who are doing the work that breaks into the new ground. That was interesting to me. I read about the advent of people coming out of William Carlos Williams. These 20 year olds out of Columbia University, particularly Allen Ginsberg, that passion and desire.

BROWN: That time was searching out the Bob Dylan, searching out the rock stars of the time.

MOORE: But his glory was in poverty. He made a lot of money, and he decided not to keep that money. He knew that if he kept that money, money would be taxed, and that money would go to a military complex. He decided to create a foundation called Committee of Poetry where all the money would go through, nonprofit. In the 60s, he was so primary in founding all the underground press that was existent.

BROWN: He would have people coming to him, and he would write them a check. 

MOORE: Small presses, starving poets and artists. He was just like, take it. All I need is milk and my shitty little refrigerator. 

LUNCH: I say give me a car ad. I have people I’d like to pay all the time. I’m not against it. I want the enemy’s money. I want the fucking enemy’s money. The only people who ever give me money are usually my friends. I give my friends money. That’s why they’re in my fucking bands. However, that is the recycling of the family funds. I want the fucking enemy’s money. My biggest regret in life is that I didn’t invest in fucking Wackenhut when I was talking about prisons under Bill Clinton for two years. I could have retired and had my own poetic institute, instead of them supporting me. My biggest disappointment. I didn’t invest in the military industrial complex. There’s still time, motherfucker. Give me the money, and I will. I want the money. They ain’t going to shut me up. Do I look like I’ve been droned? Well I have, but that’s how I usually look. That’s enough for me, now. Choke it off like a chicken.


Listen to the full audio of the conversation between Thurston Moore and Lydia Lunch below. You can click here to purchase Autre's LOVE issue, which is available through select Ace Hotels. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Stoned Immaculate: An Interview With Azalea Lee, A Minimalist Crystal Healer Who Makes Metaphysical Fine Jewelry

Speaking to Azalea Lee is like talking to that wise aunt who has all those otherworldly insights that she wraps in easily accessible metaphors so that you don’t have to work too hard to arrive at the answers. Whether you actually have that aunt, or you always wished you had that aunt, when you walk into her crystal shop, you immediately feel that sense of comfort and familiarity. Her space is in an old building in the fashion district of Downtown Los Angeles. There’s a weird old elevator that you take to the 9th floor, walk down a short dark hallway, ring the bell and the door opens to a bright, white room with a sweeping landscape of the city and a friendly woman who asks you to take off your shoes. Entering Place 8 Healing is like walking through the pearly gates in a dream where you know you’re not dead, and this isn’t eternity, but somehow you feel lighter and more at ease. There’s a cubby station next to the door with a cushion that you can sit on where we eventually held the interview. She explains that we spend so much time wearing shoes and clothes that we lose our grounding; that removing that barrier between our feet and the ground is an essential part of rooting ourselves with the Earth.

We start with a crystal consultation. Azalea asks us to walk around the space and take a look at all the stones, making note of one or two that we find pleasing and one or two that we find displeasing. However, she urges us not to read any of the descriptions – to just go by our gut reactions. Azalea’s practice is all about intuition, and it’s how she leads her life. There are about 4 large, glass cases with crystals arranged on shelves according to their respective gemological families. We slowly walk around each case in perfect silence until we both spot a small, oblong pink crystal that is vibrating on the top shelf. We decide that it must be calling us. Once we’ve each selected a few crystals that we do and don’t like she explains how they may apply to our lives in very specific and astute terms. We tell her about the pink stone that was vibrating and she giggles, “Oh yeah, the mangano calcite, that one’s not in a very stable position so it tends to shake a lot.” She has a great sense of humor.

There’s a shelf of stones carved into the shapes of penises in one case. When we inquired she said that she doesn’t use them in her healing sessions at all, she just saw them at a gem show one time and started to collect them because they make her laugh. Thus is her affinity for crystals. If she feels any kind of reaction to them, she sees them as useful. She says that the crystals you find pleasing are important, but the crystals you find displeasing are even more important. They carry the lessons you need the most; the ones you avoid like the plague because they’re the hardest to face. In the case of Oliver and me, she was pretty dead on. In the following interview, we talk to Azalea about how she discovered her vocation for crystal healing, some of the more extreme reactions her clients experience, spirit animals, past lives and what she says to skeptics.

Summer Bowie: When did you first experience a calling toward crystal healing?

Azalea Lee: So it’s a kind of circuitous story. When I was born I had always known that I had a purpose in my life, but I had no idea what it was. So as the years went on I kept asking myself, "'What’s my purpose?' I met the love of my life. Great! That’s nice. What am I supposed to be doing with my life? Got a house. Great! What am I supposed to be doing with my life?” I had always been interested in spirituality. I had always been a seeker and studied metaphysics. And so the years went on and then when I was about 37, I started looking into making metaphysical fine jewelry, but I couldn’t really find anything that was of quality, and that was my aesthetic. In general, the most common metaphysical aesthetic is much more bohemian, and as you can see from the space, that just is not my aesthetic at all. I’m just much more minimalist.

So I just wasn’t finding metaphysical jewelry that appealed to me. But in the meantime, my husband and I started rockhounding. We went to this mine in central California, which has benitoite, and it’s actually the only place in the world where gem quality benitoite is found. It’s the California state gem. So we found a crystal that was big enough to cut, but I needed a gemstone cutter and I didn’t know any at all. And then my friend said, “Oh I know a gemstone cutter.” And she showed me a gem of his that was like a sculpture – I had just never seen anything like it. So I said whoever this person is, he’s going to be huge and I want to meet him as soon as possible. So I met him, his name is Jean-Noel Soni, and we became fast friends. Soon after I started making metaphysical fine jewelry for myself and then at some point I asked him if he would like to collaborate on something, and he said, “Yeah!” So I decided to take this crystal healing course because I don’t want to read from some book that this crystal means this or that; I just don’t know how they got that information. It’s very “for the Bible told me so” which doesn’t work for me.

SB: Can you describe your first crystal healing experience?

AL: So in that first course I had to do a crystal healing on my instructor’s friend with my instructor watching just in case I got stuck anywhere along the way. And at the end of that she said to her friend, “Can you believe this is her first time?” And I just felt like, “wow I totally get it!” I mean I just totally understood what we’re supposed to be doing. It was like somebody handed me a guitar and I could just riff. So I sort of walked out of that space in a daze and it was like “this is the thing that I’m supposed to be doing” and it just completely landed and I just ran with it.

SB: You were a costume designer and wardrobe stylist in the past. Can you talk about your transition into crystal healing?

AL: Well when I got into costume design and wardrobe styling, I had always known that that wasn’t what I was going to be doing, but it was something I was good at. When you’re working with commercials you just take the idea of what the advertising agent wants, and what the director wants, then look at the actor and find that middle ground. You sort of intuit from the face of the actor what kind of clothes that person would wear. So it was a job that was very easy for me and I was doing a lot of different jobs, although the jobs weren’t always coming together. And in very weird ways a lot of these jobs would fall apart. So I said the universe is telling me this is not the direction I’m supposed to be going. It kept on leading me away and I was getting intuitions to try other things and go a different way. It was as if I was hearing:

-Keep going that way!

And I kept on going that way.

-Keep going!

-Really? I’m getting really close to this edge!

-Keep going!

-Really?!

And then one day when the crystals came it was like the football landed in my arms and I was like, “Oh I better start running!” So that’s how it really felt. It was as if the universe asked me to go to the end of the world, and even though it was scary, I listened. Then all of a sudden out of nowhere this thing landed, and I had the ball, and I just had to run with it, and I did.


"I’ve had sessions that felt like Merry Melody cartoons, sessions where people are in outer space, and ones that are more abstract where people are just seeing shapes and colors. It’s like going to the movies and seeing people’s personal stories."


SB: Wow, that’s a serious calling!

AL: Yeah, if you really listen, it will take you farther than you think you can go. Because it’s really terrifying, but if you are trying to forge a new path, you have to go where no one’s been before.

SB: So you did a crystal consultation with Oliver and me just now, but in a healing session, how do you choose the particular stones that you employ?

AL: Well in the same respect that you were gravitating toward certain crystals, certain crystals are resonating for me to be placed on you. So in a crystal healing session there could be hundreds of crystals placed on and around you. And they’re not static, it changes throughout the duration of the session; what crystals are being placed on you. A lot of it is intuitive, for instance during a session, the only way I can describe it is, you know in cartoons how you see exclamation points coming out of somebody’s head? That’s what the crystals do to me. They demonstrate this: me! me! me! And I go okay, you’re supposed to be the next one, and sometimes I don’t even know what that crystal is about and then I learn about it in this reverse engineering kind of way; seeing how the person reacts to it. Then I see over time with several people what this crystal does for them. So that’s one way the crystals speak to me, and then on the other hand there’s this very left-brained side where I will choose a crystal because I see what the person needs and I know exactly what it does. And so it’s a combination of the two approaches.

SB: What’s the most significant change you’ve felt in yourself since you developed this practice?

AL: There’s definitely a parallel between the themes that resonate with my clients and the themes that resonate in myself. The inside joke among healers is that we’re really just trying to heal ourselves, but we’re doing it in tandem. Each one of us on the planet shares the same stories and we’re all working to heal those same stories. That means that when somebody has a healing in my space, and there’s something that is close to me in that, I also get healed too. It’s such a great situation to be in; it’s really just such a joy to do the work that I do. It’s like when you watch a movie and you really resonate with a character, then when the character gets what they want, you feel really great too.

SB: Yeah, it’s amazing how much we get out of that. So, which stones are resonating with you most right now, and how often does that change?

AL: Well people tend to have theme stones that they resonate with, and I resonate with phenacite. It’s the stone I’m wearing around my neck right now. Phenacite is a very high vibration stone, and it’s about channeling a lot of the spiritual consciousness into the world. It’s a little off-putting if you’re not grounded enough or if you haven’t done the work that I’ve done. It’s like a high wattage stone that I really gravitate towards. I also gravitate towards black tourmaline, which is one of the top three stones that I really recommend for everyone. Tourmalines, if you squeeze them, will develop positive and negative poles with an electrical charge.

SB: That’s right, they have pyroelectricity, and I think they have applications as pressure gauges in electrical devices.

AL: Yeah, if you heat it up it will develop a polarity. But from the metaphysical corollary, black tourmalines have a lot to do with the root chakra. And so what it does with a lot of the negative energy that’s coming toward you is that it can turn it into something that’s neutral or something that’s positive. So it’s basically like, you’re driving down the street and somebody got upset at you because they thought you did something and it helps you to recycle that energy for yourself. It’s like taking the poop and composting it to grow something wonderful.

Oliver Kupper: Can you describe some of the extreme reactions people have had in a session?

AL: Oh yeah, I’ve had some people ask me if they were screaming in the middle of a session. And I say, “Oh yes! You were screaming.” I mean I never know what’s going to happen in a healing session. I always say that I’m not actually doing the healing. You’re doing the healing yourself and the quality of the healing is always dependent upon how willing you are to engage with whatever needs be engaged. That’s the biggest factor. So if people are ready and prepared to go all in, we will go all in. And even people who are kind of like, “I don’t know, I’m just going to try this out and see what it is.” They have some really surprising and intense responses.

Most people describe it like lucid dreaming. They’re fully somewhere else, but they’re able to communicate to me what they’re experiencing, and I’m able to ask questions to help them journey wherever they need to go. And the crystals are like resonances – it’s like being at a soundboard, and I’m adjusting the frequencies as you’re going along. If you need more heart support, I bring the crystals that are more geared toward heart support. I’m constantly adjusting as we go along to see what you need and eventually it all settles. There are a lot of people who resolve a lot of grief, a lot of people will cry, and in my sessions there’s often a lot of humor. I’ve had sessions that felt like Merry Melody cartoons, sessions where people are in outer space, and ones that are more abstract where people are just seeing shapes and colors. It’s like going to the movies and seeing people’s personal stories.

People often meet their spirit animals, which they love, and people often experience past lives. I often ask people if they believe in past lives, and it doesn’t matter to me at all, but it’s just more helpful for the client. For example, I had one person who didn’t believe in past lives, and they ended up in a castle, and they just couldn’t stop saying, “I’ve been here before. I’ve been here before!” So I asked if they’d traveled there before, and they said, “No, but I’ve been here before” and they couldn’t get over it for about 15 minutes. It was really bothering them. But what people often say is that they get clarity. So when you come out of the crystal healing session you feel like, “now I know what I need to implement in the next 6-12 months.” So most people come back after about a year, because that’s about the time when they need another check-in. And the sessions are just far too intense to do more than once in 6 months.

I had one artist who came in and she said, “I wanna know what my next show is going to be about.” So I said, “Okay,” and she had this vision and saw exactly what her jumping off point was for her next show. Which was like, “Ha! Rad, glad to be a part.” So, it’s really fun and always surprising.

OK: What do you say to skeptics?

AL: Honestly, if you can walk out of my session and you have some insight in your life that makes you happier or fulfilled, I don’t care if you feel like it was a placebo. Did it make you happier? Good! That’s really the most important thing to me. Whether or not this is something valid to you, whatever you decide is a measure of truth to you, that’s your own personal decision. I’m not here to persuade anybody.

SB: I’ve read on your site that you’ve been a crystal healer in many past lives. Can you describe one of your past lives? And how do you know it’s a past life?

AL: Sometimes what happens is you travel to a place and it feels so familiar to you and you don’t know why, and it’s because you’ve lived there before. Or you have some karma that you’re working out of that particular place. It’s like you have to come back to the scene of the crime and work out what you didn’t work out back then. For me, one of my favorite ones was when I went to the Sacred Valley in Peru, and I realized I had one of my happiest lives when I was a poor sheepherder. And I experienced me just being on the hill and I had this sense that I had this happy little family. I just had what I needed and my life was just simple and happy. Whenever it was, there wasn't any political drama, so I could just focus on the simple things. And sometimes for people who have had a very traumatic life, what happens is that in another life you’ll have a break life where things are a little easier. Just to give you a moment before you go back deep again. And that was the case in this life. There wasn’t anything really significant in that life. I just remember feeling the sunshine, my sheep, my family, and just all the things that were important to me.

A lot of people have memories of being royalty and skeptics say, “everybody thinks they were kings and queens, but how many could there be?” But when you think about it, there’s been a lot of royalty over the years, and it’s not just kings and queens. It’s dukes, marquis’, lords, etc. And of all the lives to lead, it’s not the most fun. There’s always a lot of political intrigue where everyone’s watching their backs and there’s endless responsibility. There’s so much drama in those lives – I haven’t experienced that those were people’s best lives – those are always the more complicated lives for people to have, which is why those lives come back up and are in need of the most resolution.

But yeah, crystal healing…It’s like trying to describe what it’s like to be stoned to someone who’s never been stoned. I’ve just never heard anyone who could articulate that very clearly. 


You can visit Place 8 Healing for a crystal healing session or a crystal consultation at 120 E. 8th Street, Suite 902 Los Angeles, CA 90014. You can also learn all about the various properties of a wide host of crystals and buy crystals from Azalea online at www.place8healing.com. Text and interview by Summer Bowie. Photos by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Place 8 Healing on Instagram @PLACE8HEALING.  Follow Azalea's jewelry line @ASABOVESOBELOW. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


My Alchemical Romance: An Interview With Ezra Woods and Alia Raza of Regime Des Fleurs

Ezra Woods and Alia Raza’s alchemical romance started about ten years ago with a mutual love of flowers. It should be noted that Ezra and Alia are not a romantic couple, but they are bound by some other fateful and supernatural force of nature that allows for their close collaborative efforts. After ten years as close friends, the pair decided to start Regime Des Fleurs, a “postmodern lifestyle art-practice” disguised as a luxury perfume brand. Before starting the brand, Alia was a video artist in New York City and Ezra was a stylist in Los Angeles, but they weren’t exactly satisfied with where their careers were going. We met up with the pair a few weeks ago, and Ezra recalled his grandfather's long-time love of flowers. It is understandable where Ezra’s love of organic fragrances comes from. Alia is just as infatuated, and in the following interview recalls being enraptured by the perfumes on her mother’s vanity. Currently, Regime Des Fleurs includes ten scents – separated by three tiers: Lyrics, Ballads and Epics. With ingredients such as palo santo, extractions of Laotian and Indian agarwoods, and Indian blue lotus, their fragrances take you on an enchanted journey though history, from the opulence of Ancient India to the era of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and all the way up to 20th century high modernism. All in all, what Ezra and Alia have achieved with Regime Des Fleurs is something very rare for a perfume brand: a unique identity. In the following conversation, Autre chats with the duo about their origins, their inspirations and influences, and they give a hint of what’s next for Regimes Des Fleurs (hint: a candle is in the works and so is an edible fragrance).

AUTRE: So how did you two meet, and did you know right away that you guys wanted to work with each other?

ALIA: We met through my roommate ten years ago, and we had no idea whatsoever that we would ever work together for the first nine years that we knew each other.

EZRA: We were friends, and we did kinda fun things together, but we never thought that we’d end up working together.

AUTRE: Did you know that you had shared interests?

ALIA: Aside from flowers and perfume, I don’t know how many overlapping interests and references we had until we got to know each other a lot better––and then we realized that we had tons in common.

AUTRE: So when was that specific moment when you knew? Can you describe it?

ALIA: We had a dinner one evening, about two years ago, and we started talking about how I was making art, and how I loved what I was doing but also wanted to turn it into more of a business type thing.

EZRA: We were both in transition with our careers. Sort of not satisfied with where we were professionally, and in some ways creatively. Although Alia had received a lot of validation and recognition for what she did, she wasn’t making money and turning it into a business.

AUTRE: And, Alia, you were in video art?

ALIA: Yeah I did video art, and made one short film and wanted to direct movies. But I think we both did a lot of work that we loved and that we were proud of, but supporting yourself doing creative work is difficult. So I think separately, we had each thought about creating objects to sell. But only when we came together two years ago, and had this one dinner in Beverly Hills, did we actually discuss what it would be like if we had a brand together, and what the kind of codes of the brand would be––what we’d be wanting to say with what we made.

AUTRE: Was it specifically fragrance? Or was it more abstract?

ALIA: It was fragrance, it was beauty, it was fashion, it was an art practice all rolled into one.

AUTRE: So like a collective?

EZRA: Yeah, a collective. But it was more, and still is more about what the brand is about than any kind of particular output, I would say. Does that make sense? It’s about the idea of the brand in a way. The meaning of the brand.

ALIA: It’s about seeing the world in a certain way.

AUTRE: So going back a little bit, Ezra, I read another interview that said you used to wear cologne to kindergarten. So I want to talk about some of your background in fragrances, because it seems like that goes back really early, that you’ve had a long love affair with fragrances.

EZRA: (Laughs) Yeah, I think my folks are really aesthetic, sensual people. They raised me and my brother to appreciate those things and consider them in a way that’s more than frivolous, or extra, or unimportant, or a second thought. So from a really young age that was always really important to me, and then as I got older I started to think about things in a more critical and analytical way. Because I’d always loved perfume and it was a part of my life, I started to see it that way also. Kind of considering what this perfume is saying, not just that it smells good. What it means. I guess since a young age that was always part of my life, and as my mind expanded and grew, so did my relationship to that one thing. But you should ask Alia about her experience with perfume, it’s really interesting.

ALIA: We were both obsessed with perfume from a really young age. I was fascinated by my mother’s vanity with all the perfumes on it, and even my father’s colognes. I loved smelling different shampoos, and I was just really into smell. I loved the idea that you could bottle it. But I was also really into the flowers in our garden, and the lilacs and all of that.

EZRA: But you remember what perfume you were wearing when you met everyone. You always remember what perfumes other people like. You always remember what people wear.

ALIA: Right. I got kicked out of 7th grade math class once because I was wearing way too much dewberry perfume from the Body Shop. My math teacher, Mr. Dam was like “I can’t handle it.”

AUTRE: Amazing.

EZRA: To add to the question for both of us, it’s kind of always been one thing that was a lens through which we see other things. And understand and relate to the world.

AUTRE: My next question is about nostalgia and how that ties into the scent of perfumes. Can you recall any scents associated with a specific memory that stands out the most?

ALIA: For me, if I wash my hair with a certain shampoo, I’m like back in 9th grade. You know what I mean, 100 percent there.

EZRA: I get more feelings than specific recall of a moment in time. On Wednesdays I go to the farmers market, and I buy flowers for both of us because I like us to have flowers in our houses because it’s what inspires us. I bought ginger lily and I hadn’t smelled it for a long time. It completely made me feel like a child, and I don’t even remember where I smelled that but it transported me emotionally; smelling that and feeling like a child. It was so weird and intense and amazing.


water/wood A forest underwater. On a tranquil forest walk. A cool bracing mist/ meets ancient sun-warmed trees. 

With pale herbs, palo santo, sparkling young pine needles, myrrh resin hydrosol, rosewood, driftwood, himalayan cedarwood dust, hawaiian sandalwood oil, dried wild tobacco bud, orris root butter, white lotus blossom absolute, and crystallized amber.


AUTRE: So making the fragrances by hand, how long does that process take? From finding the ingredients to bottling it, what is that process like?

EZRA: We’ve been collecting and discovering ingredients on our own since before we started our company. And then together we constantly are collecting ingredients. Discovering new things, ordering samples, trying them out and experimenting with them. Coming up with a specific perfume can take anywhere from an ongoing process of three days to things that we’ve been working on for a year that we’re still not done with.

AUTRE: Do you sell internationally?

ALIA: We have one international store that’s in Saudi Arabia, and then Net-A-Porter sells our stuff in Europe. Aside from that, since the product is handmade there’s different regulations for it. So it’s difficult, we won’t be global until next year.

AUTRE: I want to talk about the bottling, which you talked a little bit about it earlier. I guess that ties into budget stuff, but creatively, the bottling and the packaging of Regime Des Fleurs is a major part because it’s so creative and brilliant.

EZRA: Thank you!

AUTRE: So how do you communicate your fragrances with the bottling? How did that come about and what is the origin of the packaging – can you explain that process?

EZRA: That’s a really interesting question.

ALIA: We always start everything by talking a ton.

EZRA: Yeah we talk about everything ad nauseam sometimes but it’s always fun.

ALIA: But it’s just a lot of conversation to figure out how we want to start. Ezra will be like “I think we should do a paper label” and I’ll be like “what are you talking about, what kind of paper?” and then he has to clarify. There’s a lot of explaining and a lot of communicating.

EZRA: We like a lot of the same things, but there’s a lot of things that one of us appreciates and the other isn’t into or vice versa.

ALIA: And then we have to convince the other one that it’s cool or worth it.

EZRA: But it’s kinda fun.

AUTRE: It’s like a constructive duel.

EZRA: Definitely! So when we came up with our packaging it was really about conveying ideas and feelings. To us, we see it as a lot of different elements happening in harmony to create our vibe.

ALIA: It’s a little bit of Memphis, it’s a little bit of…

EZRA: 80s mall.

ALIA: A mall in the 80s, yeah totally. A little bit of rococo baroque.

EZRA: Rococo baroque or late 18th, early 19th century France.

ALIA:  A little bit masculine, and just very simple. They almost look like skyscrapers if you line them up. But then the colors can be childlike, or feminine, or punchy.

AUTRE: And you use really interesting paints and materials too right?

EZRA: Yeah, so we developed our first samples which was how we kind of created the design. We were like “we want to kind of paint these bottles” but then we didn’t know what we were fully going to do until we figured out how the bottles were going to be painted, and then through that process and working with that first person who was actually an art fabricator that works with a lot of artist friends of ours, we figured out the design. That was really weird and cool because it just kind of happened.

ALIA: Well, there were a couple things. We were on a deadline. You know we had this opportunity, to go to Paris to show whatever we had come up with by March 1st. We had only started working on the packaging in January so we literally had six weeks to figure it all out.

EZRA: And no money.

ALIA: There was a deadline, we had to get them finished, I wasn’t sure at all about doing color. Ezra really wanted to do color badly, we tried doing it and then we both loved the way it came out… but if one of us had hated it, I don’t know what we could have done. We wouldn’t have been able to go to Paris. There was no choice. Luckily it worked.

EZRA: (Laughs) It worked.

ALIA: Our logo also was designed by an old friend.

AUTRE: The logo’s great.

EZRA: Thank you! Oh my god we love our logo so much. If you look at what our references were, and then you look at how the logo came out; we couldn’t have imagined it to be more of what we wanted.

ALIA: And the girl who did it, doesn’t even do logos. She’s an illustrator and a photographer and a fashion designer but she was like “I don’t want to do a logo, I don’t know how to do a logo” and we were like “you’re the only person whose taste we trust and you get us and I’ve known you since I was 16.” And she did it and it was great.

EZRA: We were like “just draw it, we’ll vector it, we’ll add the copy to it. We don’t need any of that, we just want you to draw the framework and basically create the gist. We’ll take it from there.”

ALIA: Because we’d done color for the bottles, we were like let’s go back to one of the original ideas and do totally colorless for the boxes.

EZRA: So our whole brand code developed out of that, which was extreme color and pop and emotion with product.

ALIA: And then a very stately, restrained outside.

AUTRE: It seems like a perfect combination.

ALIA: Yeah, it kind of is. The gray boxes all lined up kind of look like…

EZRA: Your personality?

ALIA: Me, and then the colored bottled line up with Ezra.

EZRA: I would say the colored bottles in a mess look like me.

ALIA: When they’re cracked and chipped.

EZRA: When they’re cracked and chipped and laying all over each other.

ALIA: But the gold crest’s both of us.

AUTRE: Yeah, it’s great. I want to talk about history, because history plays a lot into your descriptions especially.

ALIA: We’re obsessed with the romance of history.

AUTRE: 18th century Europe, 20th century high modernism; can you talk a little bit about that and your interest in history?

ALIA: What’s more fascinating than the history of humans and civilization?!

EZRA: Things that have happened that are extreme that aren’t a part of our everyday lives anymore. Alia and I both have certain things that we’re obsessed with, and we share them. Moments in time, and stuff that we know a lot about. When we were little kids we were both obsessed with Versailles. Kind of everything from the 17th and 18th century mostly, but in a weird way we’re both similar where we sometimes just want to spend a day by ourselves and learn about things. Sometimes on a Sunday Alia will be texting me throughout the day and be like “did you know that…”

ALIA: …That Marie Antoinette only drank hot chocolate with orange flower water?

EZRA: Yes. Or I’ll text Alia and be like “will you google Laiterie de la Reine” which was this amazing grotto which was designed for Marie Antoinette.

ALIA: It’s always about Marie Antoinette.

EZRA: It’s always about Marie Antoinette, no it’s about a lot of other weird things. I don’t know, people that wear flowers as jewelry for example.

ALIA: I also think that for me at least, the older I get the more that I appreciate and care about history. The more moved I am when I go to other cities or countries and see old stuff. I think when you’re younger, for me at least, I was much more interested in what was happening in the world right now, and the older I get it’s more fascinating to me what has already happened.


Nymphaea Caerulea A singing iridescent floral An out of body experience, Nymphaea Caerulea dances on the skin with an extremely rare hyper-purified extraction of the sacred blue waterlily. Like the enchanting call of Sirens to chosen wayward ships, the mesmerizing base of Nymphaea Caerulea features an abundance of genuine White Ambergris, supported by celestial notes and shimmering accords composed of 80 ingredients: both precious naturals and intuitively selected aroma materials.

With Indian blue lotus, Hawaiian blue lotus, white ambergris, aurora reconstitution, Nile waterlily headspace, pandanus amaryllifolius, salty water, and the absolutes of 15 flowers.



AUTRE: What led to now?

ALIA: Yeah! What led to now?

EZRA: There’s all this stuff from the past that was executed without the conveniences that we have today that would be extreme and amazing with those conveniences and the fact that they were done despite having computers or electronics, whatever, it makes it even more moving. We kind of fetishize the aesthetics of the pre-industrial world.

ALIA: But at the same time we’re not interested in going back. We really appreciate the fact that we were raised in a democracy. It sounds pretentious but I don’t care. Our brand is pretentious.

AUTRE: Well it’s glamorous, there’s a distinct glamour that emanates from your brand, and that certainly ties into a lot of different things. We live in a weird world where attention to detail, attention to making things by hand is not there at all.

EZRA: We feel that way completely. I guess going back to that first conversation we ever had, the main point of the conversation was that we wanted to have a brand and create products that spoke to us directly; the things that we wanted that we felt like we couldn’t get.

ALIA: We were sophisticated consumers who had always paid attention to luxury, and so we thought: what can we make that we would be impressed by? That we would think is special?

AUTRE: Sure.

EZRA: I always say that if I wasn’t responsible for the brand or the products, and I had come across it, I would be obsessed with it. That’s kind of our standard: obsessibility.

AUTRE: Can you talk about the first and second collections and how they differ?

ALIA: I think that we would say that the first collection is all about water. They don’t all smell watery, but to us they all have something having to do with water. Whether it was cool mist, or freezing cold. “Dove Grey” is vapor, or running water in “Water/ Wood.”

EZRA: Ocean water in “Nymphaea” and in “Nitesurf.”

ALIA: Yeah the first collection to us is more about water and the second collection is more about texture.

EZRA: That’s the real thing, the second collection is really about texture. Sparkling, oily, radiant, bisque, porcelain, those were a lot of the things. Then the stories became a little bit different. The first one was a lot more whimsical and the second one is a little bit more serious I think. We’re weirdoes but there’s a logic there.

AUTRE: Well it’s abstract and it’s very hard to put a fragrance into words that make any sense besides the actual name of the fragrance. You want to create a sort of story with those fragrances.

ALIA: The truth is, like with almost anything else, you can spin something either way. We could spin “Dove Grey” as an all-synthetic industrial smelling perfume, or we could spin it as a natural root.

EZRA: But they’re both true. It’s interesting how what you were saying relates to the way we approach what we do, which is almost painting meets cooking, meets poetry, meets science. All this stuff happening. We see it really layered and intensive I guess. Because we talk about it so much we’re on the same page about it.

ALIA: When I used to do film and video, I used to say what I loved about doing it was that it was a combination of all these different art forms. The acting, the costumes, the camera, all of it came together to do one thing. I actually feel like what we do now, together, is even more that way.

AUTRE: So what’s your personal favorite fragrance that you make?

ALIA: Ezra’s is “Nymphaea Caerulea.”

EZRA: I love wearing it, but it’s not necessarily my favorite to wear. But it’s my favorite that we’ve made. I like them all. There’s something about all of them because I feel like they’re all accomplishments.

ALIA: They are! My favorite is “Bel Époq.” If I could only choose one, it would be that one.

EZRA: More than “Floralia”?

ALIA: Yeah!

EZRA: Really? Huh. That was fun to make. That took a long time, Bel Époq. Months.

ALIA: It’s our most classic light floral. Gardenia, jasmine, that kind of thing, that’s what I respond to. That’s really all I care about.

AUTRE: That’s interesting. So let’s talk about the next collection.

EZRA: Ok! There’s a lot of stuff coming up.

ALIA: There’s a few next collections, but before we release the third collection which is going to be called “The Third Collection” we have a series of individual products and collaborations coming out. So we can talk about those if you want.

AUTRE: Yeah! Go for it.

ALIA: We have an edible perfume, originally it was made for a restaurant in New York called Dimes because they asked us to make a Regime Des Fleurs cocktail with them. It’s on their menu and it’s their most popular cocktail. It’s insane. You can’t go to New York without going to Dimes.

EZRA: Next time you go you have to go to Dimes, it’s the best place.

ALIA: So there’s the edible perfume, there’s the collaboration we’re working on with a brand called Hood By Air.

AUTRE: Oh yeah they’re great.

EZRA: We kind of have an ongoing relationship with them, we scented one of their shows with this perfume called “Fauna” that’s from our second collections. We’ve done a couple of things offline together. We’ve known them for a long time, it’s a fun relationship.

ALIA: We’re also launching our very first candle, which is going to be a limited edition of only 75 of them and it’s in collaboration with Maxfield.

EZRA: And this Italian company called Bloc Studio, they make marble stuff. It’s called “Dregs.”

ALIA: Yeah the name of the scent is “Dregs” as in wine dregs.

EZRA: It’s the remains of the wine, but also dregs of society. It’s incredible, it’s really really good.

ALIA: It smells so good. It’s very dark and gothic.

EZRA: And every time we’ve smelled it we’re like “shit we did good with this one” (laughs).

ALIA: We’re getting better and better, the perfumes get better and better we think.

AUTRE: So when are these projects going to be launched?

ALIA: The Maxfield collab comes out in December

EZRA: The edible perfume called “Timelapse” should be out Black Friday. There’s so many people that we like and respect and we see adjacencies with our brand, that we want to work with tons of people. There’s also three or four other people that we’re talking about doing collaborations with but they’ll probably all be in the new year. We’ll see.


To learn more about Regime Des Fleurs, visit their website here. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Photographs by Sara Clarken. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE



Casual Burnouts, Lovable Weirdos: An Interview With Actor, Artist and Jack of All Trades Mel Shimkovitz

About a month ago, Autre was asked to cover the second Summer Sacrifice for How Many Virgins? at the Ace Hotel. Little did we know that we would be introduced to one of LA’s most enigmatic, energetic, and multifaceted performing artists by way of a hilarious mock acting reel spanning 10 years of highly varied and absurdly captivating film projects. From parodic audition tapes for films like Pretty Woman, to the superimposing of her character on iconic 90s infomercials, to abstract layerings of sound and industrial imagery, Mel Shimkovitz’s work is at once arresting, captivating the viewer with a chameleon-like quality that leaves you anticipating the next impressive transition. It is perhaps that chameleon-like quality that makes Mel so fascinating. The moment the reel finished playing, I immediately scanned the audience for this curious specimen in hopes of a handshake and the prospect of an interview. Little did I know the magnitude of the Pandora’s box I was about to open.

Researching Mel’s work before the interview, I found a wide range of recent, mostly acting work (she’s popped up in skits on Funny or Die and has made cameos in varied televisions series), but struggled to dig very deep into the past. She would later explain that this is due to a slew of pseudonyms she used throughout the early naughts in order to protect the Shimkovitz family name; a nice Jewish family from Chicago. In the following conversation, which took place at the Autre headquarters downtown, Macho Mel – as she is known in some circles – covers a dizzying gamut of work and life experience. There was her meeting with William S. Burroughs as an adolescent in Lawrence, Kansas. There was her founding of the Voodoo Eros record label, which released music by the likes of Devendra Banhart, CocoRosie, and Antony and the Johnsons – the media called the music they were putting out “Freak Folk.” Voodoo Eros also took the form of a retail store that she ran with CocoRosie’s Bianca Cassidy – it was more an elaborate conceptual art piece than a real retail experience. But next year may change everything for Mel, because she will find herself in a reoccurring role on Jill Soloway’s groundbreaking series Transparent, which just cleaned house with five Emmy awards. We can’t wait to watch.

Indeed, Mel’s approach to her work is wacky and unbridled, yet focused, professional, and somehow she seems to be completely devoid of pretension. She is familiar, but also alien in her virtuosic comedic talents that have an almost vaudeville vibe – maybe it’s just her willingness to fall over to make an audience laugh. It’s the best kind of comedy, because it’s real and authentic. Who doesn’t fall? Most comedy these days seems put on or manufactured. In the following interview, we have a long chat with Mel about Trans vampires, her Zelig-like position in the music, art and Hollywood worlds, and the media’s sudden shift in focus toward the lives and rights of the LGBTQ community.

Summer Bowie: So, I loved the video screening of the Melvira work you produced with Amy Von Harrington at the Ace Hotel. Can you talk a little bit about how that came together?

Mel Shimkovitz: Ben Lee Ritchie Handler and Ava Berlin have a project called How Many Virgins? They asked me if I had any videos I wanted to be shown, because I had been making videos with Amy for a long time. My former life was all music and art. But I’ve always been an actor. I grew up in the theatre. So, I had all these years of work and I thought it would be a nice opportunity to dig into the archives. We had some extra time, so we made a new reel that was really influenced by the Hollywood vibe. When I came out to LA, being an artist quickly transformed into being an actress. Not just in art stuff, but in the semi-mainstream as well. Amy has been making reels for me for a while, and we got the idea to make a fun reel for once. She’s obsessed with Elvira, so we created the character “Melvira”—Elvira’s cousin, who came out to LA wanting to make it. She’s an awkward trans vampire—Melvira: Mistress of the Stage and Screen. So the video screening was Melvira’s acting reel.

SB: That seems pretty surreal. How did you meet Amy Von Harrington?

MS: I was running a record label at the time. I was doing a huge mailing of promos in Brooklyn. She was standing behind me at the post office, deciding if she hated me or not, as I spent an hour holding up the line. Later that night, she showed up at a party that I was throwing with Bianca Cassidy for our project Voodoo Eros. We had a fried chicken party that night and I recognized Amy from the post office. That was it. We just started hanging out and working together. And it’s been like that ever since. We’re casual burnouts. Lovable weirdos.

SB: Can you tell me about the Voodoo Eros project?

MS: Yeah, we had a store on the Lower East Side called the Voodoo Eros Museum of Nice Items. This was 2007. We were a record label, so we would record in there at night. But during the day, we sold XXXXXL sweatshirts and sweatpants that we had hand-painted. Our thing was “the biggest clothes on the Lower East Side.” It was such a small store that we could only put up one thing on each wall. They were all horribly priced. Some were $2 and some were $2,000. We also sold items from the 99¢ store across the street, but we would mark them up about 1,000%, but with really nice price tags. The only people who came into the store were Japanese tourists and dudes who would come in to gay bash us. Bianca and I decided that we were going to play shopkeeps for a year. To be a shopkeep, though, you have to have a long attention span and a will to make money. We didn’t have either of those things.

SB: Where are you from, and when did you first know you wanted to become an actor?

MS: I grew up in Chicago, but I left when I was 17 and went to Kansas. I was really obsessed with the Beats. I was obsessed with William Burroughs. This was before I knew what misogyny was. I was happy to meet him; he wasn’t happy to meet me. But he was very happy to meet the very good-looking guy I was hanging out with. Lawrence, Kansas is really a cultural mecca in the Midwest. There’s a legacy of major progressive hippies out there. It’s a major abolitionist town. That’s not to say that the Westboro Baptist Church isn’t down the street, and didn’t protest every play when the Harlem Choir Boys came to town.

Growing up in Chicago, you do a lot of improv and sketch comedy. I grew up doing community theatre and plays in school. When I went to Kansas and didn’t know what to do with myself, they took me in. There were so many communists teaching at the University of Kansas in the theatre department. That was a really political education—political theatre. I went from there to New York.

I was there for a number of years before I met Bianca Cassidy. We started this feminist collective called “Wild Café Theatre,” and no one was coming. But then Bianca and her sister started this band, and I started doing performance art for their shows in front of thousands of people. We were making videos and fictional worlds. We were queering the world. That time in my life, everything was a creative choice.

SB: Tell us about your period with the CocoRosie. 

MS: Our first album that we put out was just for fun. It was a box filled with tapes that friends had made. We put it out as an album called “The Enlightened Family.” We had songs by CocoRosie, Antony and the Johnsons, Jana Hunter, Vashti Bunyan, Metallic Falcons—just before anybody knew who these people were. All of a sudden, people were buying it! It was a cool project; we were doing whatever we wanted for a couple of years. It was a pure aesthetic project.

SB: Wow, that's amazing. Now, let's fast-forward to your life in LA for a second. As a performance artist, it seems like you’ve become this integral part of LA’s creative community, but it also seems like you’re gaining footing in the more mainstream Hollywood industry. Where do you feel most at home?

MS: In the past, I always would have said in the art world, because of my interest in all things beyond theatre and narrative — I’m super interested in poetry, abstraction, and psychedelic visualscapes, etc. But amazing things have happened in the past year. I’ve met such a great community of writers, directors, and performers. I have this super amazing TV and film community that I never had in the theatre and music worlds of New York. I found a really good tribe. Now, I would say I feel really good in both places, which is so cool. So, I don’t know, I’m really just trying to be very charming, super polite, show up on time, do whatever’s asked of me, have no ego at all moments, and be ready to humiliate myself. I think that’s it.

There’s this idea that nice guys finish last, but I’m getting the feeling that nice guys are getting ahead. In the art world and the Hollywood world, the thing that they have in common is negative competitiveness. The art world is held back by its own self-reference, which makes it super exclusive. The Hollywood world is held back by its own nepotism. Which doesn’t work for anybody who isn’t a straight white cis male — there’s no community for them. People are realizing the patriarchy of that doesn’t work for them. We’re seeing change now. When the first Whitney opened, there was not one woman artist. In the new Whitney, there is amazing work by female artists on every floor. It’s a mindful and purposeful choice, but that’s how equality happens. The cameras are finally being put in the hands of women, queer people, people of color, trans people, people of different ages even. I’m working on a short film written, directed, and starring a 16-year-old girl, and it is more professional, and there’s more heart in this than anything I’ve done in a long time. And this story of a 16-year-old girl – which is not something often made through the gaze of a 16-year-old girl – is so fascinating. This isn’t just because more people have access to these instruments. People are getting bored of seeing the same thing. How many white, ex-skater photographer dudes are making work about process and the sunlight? How many of those can we see before we demand to see more emotional stuff? Some of us want to see more important things.

Film is an emotional medium. So, why have we given all the cameras to the men when we’ve been told our entire lives that women are emotional? Why aren’t we telling our stories? The dudes don’t want to give up the cameras. It’s a frat house mentality, especially in New York.


"I’m really just trying to be very charming, super polite, show up on time, do whatever’s asked of me, have no ego at all moments, and be ready to humiliate myself."


SB: Have you noticed any differences coming to LA from New York?

MS: Coming here, people are starting to collect and to pay attention. All kinds of people can be a part of it. It’s so optimistic out here. Being an artist in New York feels like you’re part of an industry, part of the company. But being out here, especially for the first few years, it felt like being an outsider. And isn’t that who should be creating new culture in a community? The people for whom the current culture isn’t working? 

SB: Definitely! And clearly these days, there’s a lot more acceptance and embracing of queer roles. What would you say has been the catalyst for the boundary pushing we’re seeing in regard to gender and sexuality in the media today?

MS: I want to say that it’s been people who identify as queer rising up and forcing their voices to be heard. But nothing happens without the majority paying attention to it. So that makes me think the majority of people just want to see different stories and experiences. The thing that’s so interesting about the civil rights movement of the LGBTQ community, versus the racial civil rights movement of the 60s, is that queer people are born into your family, which forces us to face it. In recent years, numerous legislators have had to contend with their children coming out. How can they go and say their child doesn’t deserve marriage equality? And so it was passed. Also, when an American hero comes out as trans—that really pushes things forward.

I wonder where we would be in gay rights if AIDS hadn’t happened. Not only did we lose so many great artists and leaders in the community, but all of the resources had to go to screaming for help and taking care of each other.

In the trans community — which is related, but separate from LGBTQ in a lot of ways — trans people have fallen in and out of being accepted throughout humanity. Being trans is something that indigenous communities throughout time have upheld as a shamanistic trait. It’s only been a few hundred years in white society in which a trans person has been an unacceptable thing. We love Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, but 20 trans women of color have been murdered this year. I’m all for marriage equality, I’m happy that went through, but I’m kind of like—fuck getting married, can we save these lives?

My family—who didn’t want to talk about me being gay—is suddenly so interested in talking about trans people. I was on the show Transparent, and these old Jewish people are in it, which really helped my parents with understanding the show. I did a short documentary (which is part of a series of short documentaries) called “This Is Me,” produced by Wifey.TV. They were nominated for an Emmy. I star in one, and my family saw this. Suddenly, I’m getting phone calls from my sister, who has never talked about my queerness. Now, she’s asking me what I want my niece and nephew to call me—Aunt or Uncle. We’re having this conversation now.

Everybody, all of a sudden, decides that they have to be cool with it, because it’s not cool to not be cool with it, and then everybody just gets on board. These days several of my friends have kids, and six-year-olds totally understand trans people. They don’t get separated by boy’s lines and girl’s lines anymore. I’m going into more spaces that have gender-neutral bathrooms. Even for me, hearing a guy peeing in the stall next to me feels like a radical act. It’s not a radical act, but it feels so radical. We’re all just people peeing now.

There are all these new stories to tell. There’s a huge society of people that haven’t been telling their stories. We want to know what their stories are about. I mean, look at how many stories about gay couples and trans people are coming out in Hollywood this year. So many! Everybody is really into it. I mean, I’m already hearing people say things like, “Isn’t it enough already with all the gender stuff.” But this is the first year after 100 years of filmmaking history that these stories are starting to emerge - a lot of people have had enough with the same straight love story.

SB: Are there roles that you feel more comfortable with, or do you jump into all of them with an adventurous attitude?

MS: If the camera’s rolling, I’m there. I’m ready to perform. I’ll jump into anything. I’m lucky now that I’ve been given really fun stuff to play. I didn’t grow up like that. I’m a writer because I had to write my own stuff. I couldn’t get casting. I’ve always been like this. My mom got my ears pierced when I was one so people would stop calling me a “cute little boy.” I’ve been told by so many people that this was going to limit what I was able to do. But recently, I’ve realized it means I can do anything. I’m performing male and female all the time. What I love doing now — which horrifies a lot of other butch lesbians — is to wear a dress. I have a bunch of stuff coming out where I’m the ugly best friend, or I’m the prostitute, or whatever. That’s drag to me, but I can get into my femme side. I feel like an artist when I do that. It’s so powerful.

I always used to stick to comedy. Now, there are parts written where I’m playing a character closer to my own experience. That’s really challenging, and totally new.

SB: So, what kinds of projects are you working on at the moment, or in the near future?

MS: I’m finishing up shooting the second season of Transparent. I have a really cool, fun, scary role in that. I’m finishing writing a feature that I’m supposed to shoot next year. It’s called The Sangres. It’s a dark, comedic, anti-Western with queer themes that Devendra is writing the soundtrack for. It’s influenced by Bob Dylan and Sam Peckinpah. And the fucking desert. I’m doing anything people ask me to do. I starred in a webseries. I’ve been drawing a lot. Just creating my own content.

I’m doing embarrassing things all over town. If anyone has anything embarrassing for me to do, I’m there. If you want me to cry, I can do that too. I’m always on time…congenial…I’m always sober on set.

SB: There’s definite progress being made in terms of acceptance and rights for those within the queer community, but is there an ideal destination and what does it look like to you? 

MS: The part of me that came out in Kansas—the person who had to hide for so long—wants to say that the destination would be to not have physical violence done upon you because you are Other. The more optimistic thing to say would be that there would be no Other. Or rather, that we would all be Other. I see us opening up our gaze on gender, and seeing it as a broad spectrum. But I think that’s only one little domino to knock down. Okay so we stop seeing people of other genders as Other, when are we going to stop seeing people from different countries and religions as Other?

I would love to see a year in which people who have consistently been at the back of the line take a move to the front. I would love to see them take over in film and in art. Just for one year. Take the director and turn him into the PA—see what happens. That would be a good short-term goal. Just a year, just sit down, shut up and watch!


You can catch Mel Shimkovitz in the new season of Transparent on December 4, 2015 on Amazon. Click here to see more of Mel's work. text and interview by Summer Bowie. photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Heaven On Earth: An Interview With Jack Pierson on Tomorrow’s Man

photograph by Aubrey Mayer 

Jack Pierson’s art is dangerous and seductive with the lure of a sordid kind of glamor. Close your eyes and imagine a motel with a blinking vacancy sign. You’re on the edge of the desert and it’s 110 degrees in the pitch-blackness. Indeed, he is an enigmatic artist with a sense of hopeless romanticism – his work screams this tortured longing. Over the last few decades, Pierson’s art seems to get cooler and cooler – there is a distinctly dreamy and quixotic quality to all of it: the photographs, the collages, the text based works that incorporate rusty and discarded signage and his beloved artist books. Officially launching today at the New York Art Book Fair MoMA PS1 is the third installment of Pierson’s highly acclaimed and groundbreaking publishing project Tomorrow’s Man. Borrowing from the title and aesthetic of a 1950s homoerotic chapbook disguised as a muscle building mag, Tomorrow’s Man is a pastiche of found imagery, collaborations with contemporary artists, text, and work by Pierson himself, which seems to send that beautiful lightning bolt that brings the publication to life in an electrifying way. Whereas the first and second installments were denser, the third issue is much lighter with contributions by only four artists. Geometric abstractions by Richard Tinkler, text works by Peter Fend, and a short story by Veralyn Behenna entitled ‘The Flavor of Your Wish.” There is also, of course, a series of beautiful previously unpublished photographs by Pierson – male nudes in natural form. In the following interview with Autre, Pierson talks about Tomorrow’s Man (where to hide it and what to listen to while you’re reading it) and contemporary gay life. 

OLIVER KUPPER: Let’s talk about Tomorrow’s Man, where did the idea come from to start this publication?

JACK PIERSON: It began as a one-off arty little book. I've made them throughout my career. I was dragging my heels on this first one because I wanted to do something new that really engaged the viewer. Including work by other artists made the project exciting for me. Once we had done one I had so much fun I wanted to keep it going. So I set a goal for a dozen issues. This will be the third. 

OK: It’s interesting – the combination of appropriation and collaborations with artists and friends – what draws you to this format?

JP: I'm super into other artists and the work they make. I know a lot of great artists, young and older, who need venues where their work can begin to be discovered. A nice publication is one of the best ways I can think of. And the ephemera? I just find myself liking printed stuff and really believing in it as modern to present old stuff in a new way. 

OK: What is your idea of “Tomorrow’s Man” – what is your definition of ideal masculine beauty?

JP: I don't think there is any one ideal of masculine beauty. That's one of the great things about contemporary gay life - Every physical type has a fan base. 

OK: I love the visual assemblage involved in the series…turning the pages, it really feels like a scrapbook…do you collect a lot of these old magazines and what is the curation process like?

JP: Thank you! I have collected printed material, usually from an earlier period, since I was a teen. It started with 1920s sheet music I think. Lately, I have been collecting a lot of scrapbooks from the 20s to the 60s. I guess the format, now that you mention it, might come from that. 

OK: There is something palpably erotic about Tomorrow’s Man and there are a lot of homoerotic themes, is this a magazine anyone can put on their coffee table?

JP: I'd of course be happier if it wound up under the mattress than on the coffee table. Part of the format is a reaction against the idea of male nude coffee table books. I think soft cover and smaller is a sexier way to receive naked men. 


"I'd of course be happier if it wound up under the mattress than on the coffee table....I think soft cover and smaller is a sexier way to receive naked men."


OK: This new issue seems to be going in a different direction than other issues, can you talk a little bit about the themes in this issue?

JP: Well issue 1 was dense with imagery with over 18 artists, number 2 became even more so. Really a lot of information and artists. For number 3 we decided to change it up and allow more breathing room. It's just three artists; Richard Tinkler, Peter Fend, and myself, and of course a story written by Veralyn Behenna. 

The design has at once more breathing room and complexity in the layout. I saw some new text pieces by Peter Fend and knew immediately I wanted them for Tomorrow's Man 3. He deals mainly with environmental concerns, ways to steer the planet back to health. I thought those themes would be good both with Richard Tinkler's intense metaphysical mind maps as well as my essentially naturist photography. 

OK: You decided to include your own work in this issue…what brought you to the decision to include your own work and why haven’t you included your work in previous issues?

JP: My work has been in every issue so far. The first two I included only that which had been published already. Tear sheets etcetera, and in that way mine was already in the stream of ephemera from which I cull. Tomorrow's Man 3 is the first issue to include unpublished work by me, in this case naked pictures of handsome men. 

OK: Who are some artists working today that you think are truly breaking boundaries?

JP: I think all the artists in the first 3 issues of Tomorrow's Man are radical and ready to break through. 

OK: What’s a good song to listen to while you flip through the pages of Tomorrow’s Man?

JP: Not just one song. The Platter's Greatest Hits!

OK: What’s next for Tomorrow's Man…anything in mind or are you just going to let things flow? 

JP: Flowing is what's best to do to be creative. I'm already thinking back to extremely dense. Dense work on top of dense work. A lot of drawing based work and maybe more writing.


Jack Pierson's Tomorrow's Man will be available at the NY Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1 Friday through Sunday, 18 - 20 September 2015 at the Bywater Bros Editions Booth, G4, 22-25 Jackson Avenue on 46th Avenue Long Island City, NY. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper


On Faith and Synchrodestiny: A Proper Interview of Publisher Kristin Prim

Kristin Prim is a freak of nature and she is so wise at her young age that it will astound you. When she started Prim magazine at only 14 years old, she became the youngest print magazine editor in the world. Indeed, Kristin Prim is not your average girl – now woman – but she’s always been powerful and individualistic, which is one of the things that makes her so fascinating. Her first loves were music and art, but when her parents moved to a more conservative town in New York, she turned towards fashion, and publishing, as an outlet to connect with people that were more like her. While many kids were plastering their walls with cut outs from Teen Vogue, Prim was publishing her own glossy mag and distributing it globally. At 19, though, Prim grew disillusioned by the saturation of the fashion market and culture – and the idea that anyone with an impressive Instagram following could make it to the front row at fashion shows. Now 21, she has focused her efforts back to the arts. With Prim magazine on the backburner, the brilliant, young, wise and articulate publisher has recently released the first issue of a new biannual art book, entitled A23, which highlights the work of ten artists. The inaugural volume, entitled The Mysticism of the Female explores “the metaphysical and tactile nature of both women and feminism” and features major artists like Luciano Castelli, Mary Beth Edelson and more. Each page is a gorgeous example of the art book’s grand ambitions. We were lucky enough to catch up with Prim to discuss her new art book, the founding of her magazine when she was barely a teenager, her relationship with fellow publishing prodigy, Tavi Gevinson, and she gives some great advice to other young culture shapers on how to get the ball rolling.  

Oliver Kupper: What was your earliest exposure to art, fashion, and photography? It seems like you had a very early introduction to this world.

Kristin Prim: My two big interests had always been music and art. They had nothing to do with fashion. But when I was about 13, I decided that I wanted to do something that would take me out of my comfort zone. I figured that thing would be fashion. I was so into art and music. I’m a classically trained musician; I had been painting, drawing, and taking photographs since I was young. That’s how I was introduced into fashion. I decided to start my own fashion magazine that was called Prim. I worked on Prim for seven years, until I was nineteen. Then, I wanted to turn my attention back to my own fine art work. I worked on building my portfolio for about a year. I decided to do a print when I was twenty. Now, I’m twenty-one, and the edition is coming out in two weeks. That’s how that shape shifted.

OK: How did you start Prim? Were there certain magazines that inspired you? Did you think you could do something better than other publications?

KP: When I started Prim, I had no idea that magazines like Self Service and Dazed existed. I had no idea there was this world out there of high fashion, style-oriented, artistic publications. I was looking at Vogue and Elle and thinking that I would want to take fashion in a different direction. About a year into starting Prim, I discovered this world and how amazing these magazines were. It did begin to influence me, because I felt at home with them. Prim was still unlike any other magazine out there. It was a happy accident. I was lucky. I was able to create a home for something that didn’t exist.

OK: A lot of people start magazines because they are inspired by independent publications.

KP: They’re the best. There’s nothing like an independently published magazine.

OK: Were your parents supportive of the magazine?

KP:  My father financially supported the magazine until I put Prim on hiatus when I was 19. He gave me the investment money that I needed when I was 14 to pay for the print publication. I don’t want to say my parents don’t support my work, but my parents are much more conservative than I am. As my work began to evolve into more boundary-pushing, they began to step away from it.

When I started Prim, I was only 14. I wasn’t into myself yet. As I grew into my creativity, so did the publication. I began to do more things that were rather unconventional. They support my entrepreneurial efforts, but I don’t know if they support my work.

OK: Did you have a lot of support from the fashion world? Were there any designers that reached out to you that you looked up to?

KP: The reason I started Prim was because my parents moved me to a conservative area in New York. I didn’t fit in at all. I got in trouble a lot with my peers. I started Prim just to keep myself busy and stay connected with people around me. I didn’t want Prim to have more than ten readers. I really mean that. To be able to print was incredible. The feedback from the fashion industry was so unexpected. I’m being genuine when I say that. It was incredible because I never fit in. To be welcomed and grandfathered into such an amazing industry that could support me was life-changing.

OK: A lot of people talk about Tavi Gevinson when they talk about your work.

KP: I’ve known her since I was fourteen. We met when she was twelve. She sent me an email introducing herself. She was running Style Rookie at the time—her blog. She said, “I’d love to meet up. I’m coming to New York during fashion week. Can we do it? Tavi and I, for eight fashion seasons back-to-back, would go and get ice cream.

OK: Did you have conversations about what you were doing?

KP: We were in the same boat. We were the youngest people there by far. That created a bond between us. A lot of people put us in the same boat because we are two of the youngest girls in fashion, media, and art. We were each other’s mentors.

OK: You’re starting to pull back from the fashion world. Is there anything specific pulling you away, or do you just want to get back to your initial interests?


"I got so drawn to mysticism and spirituality. I say I don’t have a religion. My religion is karma, faith, and synchrodestiny."


KP: It’s half and half. When I started in the fashion industry, there was no Instagram. Facebook wasn’t even big. When I started, fashion week was still in Bryant Park. You had to work really, really hard to get to where you were. Today—and a lot of people don’t agree, but I will stand by this—I think the fashion world is overly democratized. It has been so mulled over. You can do nothing and have an Instagram account that has 40,000 followers and sit in front row. It really began to hurt the industry. When I was fifteen and sitting in front row, I was sure that the people sitting next to me were working as hard as I was, or more so. These were people like Jefferson Hack. When I was 18, 19, and 20, sitting front row, I would look next to me and see Instagram girls. That hurt the industry. I will say that. I got very discouraged with what was going. I see that in the art world, but less so than the fashion world.

Next week, I have a few meetings with fashion magazines to work with them, so it would be hypocritical to say I’m done with the fashion industry. I definitely wanted to shift more of my focus to art.

OK: This issue is not really an issue. It’s an art book. There’s a lot of mysticism involved in the themes of this volume. Is mysticism close to your heart? What are some of your experiences with mysticism?

KP: I grew up Catholic. I went to a private Catholic grammar school and an all-girl’s Catholic high school. I love the act of ritual. I connect—to a certain extent—with Catholicism. You go to a mass and it’s so ritualistic. There’s such a beauty in that. When I was in high school, I reached out to discover more cult practices, paganism, Hinduism, Buddhism. I’m a very spiritual person. My aunt, who died when I was 13, she was a big influence on my work. She was very spiritual. I remember when she would tell me about these out-of-body experiences. I was about 5 years old when she told me this. I don’t remember much about my childhood, but I remember being fascinated with that. After she died, I began looking into it and what it meant. I got so drawn to mysticism and spirituality. I say I don’t have a religion. My religion is karma, faith, and synchrodestiny.

The second edition of A23 is metaphysics. All artists have spiritual beliefs, and we have an interesting roster of art. It should be very interesting to get an insider’s look into their heads.

OK: What is the curating process like?

KP: When I first conceptualized the idea for A23, the first four editions popped into my head. The first edition is about mysticism and the female. I didn’t want to approach it from the physical standpoint necessarily. In the edition, we actually have a cisgender man in it. I thought that was incredible, to be honest. I thought of artists who were prolific, who have exhibited worldwide, who have cut their teeth. I wanted to know which of those artists I would be personally interested in. I wanted to know their views on the female and gender. So I looked to Mary Beth Edelson—who is a pioneer in feminist art in America. I looked to people like Luciano Castelli, Heide Hatry. I wanted to get a lot of different viewpoints. I wanted to get a lot of different artists who had different mediums. The process was rather calculated, but it was also simple. I picked out artists from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and a couple from today. Everything is contemporary, but there are all different mediums.

OK: What is your advice—not just to other women and girls—but to everyone who wants to start their own thing or get something off the ground?

KP: I always say to do it yourself. That’s so important. Being in the fashion industry, I was subjected to a lot of abuse from different people that I walked away from. For young women, it’s very easy to fall into that trap from people who want to take advantage of you. Young men, too, but women still face it a little more in today’s fashion society. I would say always do it yourself. One of my proudest themes of my career is that I have done everything myself. Of course, there are people that taught me along the way.

I would also say to not be afraid of failure. That sounds so hackneyed, but you have to take risks.  Every single project that I’ve worked on has been a major risk. Putting the money out there to start a publication is major. Putting the money out there to start an art book is major. But if you don’t take that risk, you’re never going to grow as an artist, as a creator, nor as a person in general.  Do it yourself, and don’t be afraid to fail. 


Kristin Prim's A23 is available to order online here. It will also be in selected fine bookshops and museums. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Yes All Women: An Interview With Photographer, Artist and Social Activist Jessie Askinazi

Jessie Askinazi is one of those rare connectors that seems to know or work with everybody - and not just in the art world. Art, fashion, politics, social justice – she’s there. Visit her Tumblr diary and you’ll see excerpts from fashion spreads she has featured on Autre, portraits of comedians, actors and musicians, and nightlife snapshots in black and white. Her photography is real, raw and it tells stories – it’s the opposite of vapid, which seems to sum up perfectly who Askinazi is as a person.  She is also the founder, organizer and curator of the #YESALLWOMEN fundraiser, which is hosting a silent auction and exhibition featuring some of the most exciting women championing women’s rights, like Kim Gordon, Barbara Kruger, Rose McGowan, Mira Dancy and many more. Proceeds from the exhibition will be donated to the East Los Angeles Women’s Center, which aids survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse. The exhibition will be on view at Dilettante on Saturday, September 19 for one night only. There is also a Go Fund Me page raising the capital to support the project and the exhibition. In the following conversation, Jessie Askinazi opens up about her bouts with depression, the importance of standing up for people that need it and her exciting #YESALLWOMEN campaign. 

OLIVER KUPPER: Where are you from originally? 

JESSIE ASKINAZI: I was born in Levittown, New York, and then my family relocated to South Florida, where I lived until I moved to NYC after high school. I was watching an episode of Seinfeld last night where Jerry said, "New York, Long Island, Florida... It's like the Bermuda Triangle. Unfortunately, nobody ever disappears." 

OK: You work in a variety of mediums and industries, from arts to politics, where do you feel most comfortable? 

JA: Well, my involvement in the arts and activism come from a similar place of necessary vocalization. I am compelled to do these things. I've always had a kind of fire under my ass, if you will, to expose corruption and help those who - while they have voices - are stifled. Even when I was in elementary school, I assembled a group of friends to have a lemonade stand for an organization called Kids in Distress, which is an organization that cares for abused children. I can't exist without creativity in various disciplines of the arts, or without attempting to influence social change. I don't really get the point of being alive if you're not going to use your own experience to make life better for others in some way. Ego and self-furthering is boring.

OK: What do you think motivated you to be so active in the different worlds that you exist in - is there one specific instance or a series of instances? 

JA: It's hard to pinpoint exactly how these journeys originated. I have been through a lot and have been exposed to a lot. I was often very sick as a child and later on suffered from major depression, and so because of many periods of debilitation, I was forced to create my own world outside of our standard. I stayed home from school a lot and was kind of a recluse, so that led me to exploring and archiving as an escape. I wanted to be a soldier for those who couldn't do it alone. I think there is a lot of shame around the idea of needing other people, but we do - we were made to be communal creatures and in this day and age we are so isolated. There's a lot that I've experienced personally which I'm sure has contributed to this sort of lifestyle - I don't know any other way to be.

OK: You are a very talented photographer and you tell great stories with a camera - who were some of your photographic or artistic inspirations? 

JA: Thank you so much! I have so many influences and they constantly change. I would say Surrealism, Italian Giallo horror films, art house movies, documentaries, lo-fi video, lost Americana, 60s mod fashion photography in Harper's Bazaar, 80s post-punk (and the teenage rebel movies from those years), retro futurism, psychedelia, the occult, mysticism, and vampy silent film have been a constant. And The Rudi Gernreich book, Guy Bourdin, Francesca Woodman, Barbara Kruger (floored that she is donating work to my show), Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Craig McDean, David Hamilton, Diane Arbus, Melvin Sokolsky, Eugenio Recuenco, Claude Cahun, Wim Wenders, Mick Rock, Tim Walker, etc. But mostly the weirdos in my own life inspire me to take pictures. Ha.

OK: You usually shoot on analog film, right - what cameras do you use? 

JA: I do try to shoot analog as much as possible because the texture of film photography is something that can't be replaced. I almost always use my Nikon N65, although in the past I also used the Lomo LC-A a ton. When I shoot art events, that's when I use my digital camera, because film is just not practical in those instances.

OK: What is your favorite thing about working around and with such creative people? 

JA: How my perspective is constantly expanding which in turn makes me really able to see the world, and at the same time there is such a deep understanding between artists. Again, the reality of our corporate-commercial conglomerate was always foreign to me. So the creative people around me have been some kind of siblings. 


 "I don't really get the point of being alive if you're not going to use your own experience to make life better for others in some way. Ego and self-furthering is boring."


OK: Okay, let's cut to the chase, what brought you to start #YesAllWomen? 

JA: It's all been building up to this. Every day. The comments I receive, the way I've been objectified by men since I was extremely young. The way men have pretended to care about my humanity for their own gain. Being expected to be quiet or polite or passive. Every day. Television, movies, social media, the news, video games, contemporary art, the film industry, magazines. Every day. Advertising, marketing, consumerism, the dumbing down, the ignorance, indifference, bullying, violence, fear, misogyny, regulation, inequality. Every day. The Kardashians being an ideal, being worshiped. What we're expected to be, what we're expected to do, what we're expected to say. Every day.

OK: There definitely needs to be more female creativity in the world...What is your advice to young women who feel stuck, repressed or held back from their true passions? 

JA: I actually think the phrasing of this sentence is wrong. Female creativity is everywhere. Practically every woman I know is a brilliant artist or thinker. Women are often creative heroes because we have such rich emotional lives and possess a regal strength. In Peter Pan, The Lost Boys are "boys who fall out of their prams when the nurse is looking the other way and if they are not claimed in seven days, they are sent far away to Never Land". There are no "lost girls" because as Peter explains, "girls are far too clever to fall out of their prams." It's just our society that is repressive, and it's the system that keeps the male in the spotlight (the patriarchy, as it goes.) It's all to service the man. Even our laws. 

So my advice to all women (not just the young) who feel stuck on the road they are traveling, is to speed up. Go all in. Make a decision and follow through, despite what challenges you think lie ahead of you. That's what I'm doing - I'm not letting the vampires suck the life out of me. I have no idea what I'm doing most of the time, but luckily the people in my life are fantastic colleagues and friends, and we work together to achieve our goals. A year ago, I never would have guessed that I'd be curating a show with some of my greatest heroes. But what I constantly remind myself is, "If you don't ask, the answer is always no." 

OK: What do you think is the greatest challenge facing women in today's time?

JA: I guess the fact that questions like this one have to be asked. That we are considered "other." We are the ones who create life, yet ours are always persecuted. There really isn't just one challenge, that's why I wanted to spotlight #YesAllWomen (because it covers the broad, various factors of this big picture - and is an ongoing conversation). Also, different challenges present themselves to different cultures, which is something that needs more awareness. Child marriage affects the Middle East and Africa, for example. Women of color often have an added layer of oppression that white women will never experience. For me, personally, I'm sick of being so obsessed with what my face and body look like, as if that is all that defines or validates me.

OK: How can people be a part of the #YesAllWomen campaign? 

JA: In this case, you can make a donation to our fundraiser at: http://www.gofundme.com/elawc. We are trying to raise money to cover the hard costs of this large production, and we also hope to raise additional money for the East Los Angeles Women's Center, the organization that we are benefiting; they help survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse. Beyond that, keep sharing art that is reflective of the female experience, keep telling your stories that have so much weight. The only way for there to be real and actual change is by having the conversation, first and foremost. 

OK: There is a one night only event supporting the campaign where people can purchase art, but what happens after the event? 

JA: Actually, the one night only event at Dilettante is where the artwork will be exhibited and where there will be a series of performances and entertainment, hosted by Rose McGowan. The artwork will be available through online auction, via the website Paddle8, so anyone can bid and purchase the artwork which goes toward the charity. The auction will go live around two weeks before the actual event. Those details will be posted on the project's website soon: I am hoping that this will become an annual project, with different contemporary female voices benefiting different organizations for women.

OK: What's next for you - anything exciting that you want to share?

JA: I have some photo series in mind, and one of the artists in our show, Snovit Hedstierna and I want to collaborate on a project together. I'm really excited to work with her one on one - her passion is a rocket. She has such a rare enthusiasm. 


The #YESALLWOMEN art auction and fundraiser will be on view for one night only on September 19th, 2015 at Dilettante, 120 N. Santa Fe, Los Angeles, CA. You can visit the Go Fund Me campaign here to make a donation. You can also use the #YESALLWOMEN hashtag to join the global cause. text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper


The Real Story and Swansong of Mudditchgirl91 and The Boy Genius Who Created Her: An Interview with Alex Kazemi

A few weeks ago, a mysterious series of short vignettes began arriving on Snapchat under the handle mudditchgirl91. Soon, the vignettes were edited together for a short film called Snapchat: Mudditchgirl91. In the film, mudditchgirl91 pines for a mudditchboy with a string of strange and shocking anecdotes, like wondering if mass murderer Elliot Rodger’s cum tastes like avocado oil. People freaked out. Who was mudditchgirl91? In another week, Marilyn Manson had tweeted a link to the video and the mudditchgirl91 phenomenon went viral. A day or two after that, one more film was released – it was mudditchgirl91’s suicide note. Just like that, she was dead.

The real story, though, is that mudditchgirl91 was a character in an elaborate plot filmed in real time on the popular social media video sharing site, Snapchat, and directed by Vancouver based artist, novelist, and boy genius Alex Kazemi. After an exhaustive ten-hour casting search on Instagram, Kazemi found Bella McFadden (otherwise known as @internetgirl). Over night, his film started to gain traction. During the live filming, Bella, who played mudditchgirl91, was getting frantic phone calls from her friends, family – even her boyfriend threatened to never speak to her again. Alex Kazemi’s intention was not exploitation – his intention was to examine the rampant social media culture of instant gratification and clickbait slavery. It was a social experiment. The fact that the mudditchgirl91 video became clickbait itself was shocking and ironic. Men were sending dick pics and sexually threatening messages. Mudditchgirl91 had to die.  People didn’t get it. People still don’t get.

Fortunately, Autre was able to speak with Alex Kazemi, a twenty-one year old prodigy from Vancouver who has deeply prescient insight into his generation. Kazemi can count American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis as a fan. Mudditchgirl91 wasn’t just another barely legal girl exposing her body on Snapchat – it was an exploration – a digital exploration into the soul of identity, gender and sexuality and how it is portrayed within the digital spheres of social media. In the following interview, we had an in depth conversation about art, life, mudditchgirl91 and more. Kazemi has also shared with Autre an exclusive video of his directing Bella over FaceTime during the making of mudditchgirl91 to show that she herself was complicit in this postmodern movie making experience that quickly backfired and brought on the ire of social commentators, social justifiers, internet predators and trolls. 

OLIVER KUPPER: So, your short film Snapchat: Mudditchgirl91 really took an interesting turn, can you talk about some of your thoughts on how this social experiment became so viral – even Marilyn Manson was tweeting a link to the video?

ALEX KAZEMI: It’s funny to me how people will tell me that I shouldn’t have to explain things. They tell me, “Just let it be. It’s going to make you look weak if you try to explain.” I think the entire meaning of the short film got lost in the culture. When it got put into the blender of the Internet, it became fetishized. If anything, I could use that as an example of my point being proven.

OK: You’re almost shockingly successful in your annihilation of that culture.

AK: I think it’s all fucking dark. I’m happy that it got attention. There was this thing in the news a few days ago, holding up a mirror to the Tinder debate. That article in Vanity Fair got this whole dialogue rolling. I feel like I was doing the same kind of thing—holding up a mirror. I was doing it in the form of visuals. Sometimes when you articulate it that way, the message gets lost. It was interesting that two things went viral in two weeks. You see the article getting the discussion that I was hoping to get. Mine is just becoming fetishized and called “art.”  

OK: Do you think that is one of the major things that is holding back your generation?

AK: My generation is very stuck on the idea that everything and anything when uploaded online, is art. When everything uploaded to Instagram and Tumblr is gazed at as "art". What is the value of having a "creative perception" in a world where everyone is exploiting theirs for instant gratification? You could argue that anyone with access to LTE or WiFi is a genius, because no one is arguing against their claim.  

OK: What about the highly provocative images that young girls are posting on social media?

AK: I think of these kids today who are posting basically child pornography to their Tumblr pages and Instagram, because they just want the sugar rush of strangers giving them instant gratification. When they turn 25, and look back at that - are they just going to be cool with that and laugh it off? It’s terrifying. 



OK: You mention clickbait as a major issue with today’s media and it seems like a pretty disingenuous way to pander content to the masses…do you think it is affecting humanity negatively?

AK: People are consuming from these hubs every day, and allowing themselves to be slaves to clickbait. It's insulting to think that sites like Buzzfeed think everyone feels the same about everything.  There is this kind of lack of empathy for the human experience. Life isn’t a group hug. I don't have ten reasons to remind you of what it was like when you experienced the worst moments of your life.  Your experiences can be precious; they do not have to be exploited.  You just need to remind yourself. I look back at how vulnerable I was as a young teenager using social media, and all the fucked up situations I put myself in. It’s really disgusting, but when you are that unaware and so far gone - I didn’t even know I needed to be protected. 



OK: Let’s talk about triggers….a lot of magazines are putting trigger warnings on their headlines because they don’t want to trigger someone’s trauma…what are your thoughts on this?

AK: Everyone’s the most fragile special snowflake, and they can’t even be spoken to without you triggering them.  It’s like, the whole Devin from DIIV situation that Pitchfork had a fiasco over, when he got caught on 4Chan saying dirty stuff. It’s like, I’d like to see all of your throwaway Reddit or Yahoo answers accounts, or private iMessages before you judge him. He’s also in a rock band. You are surprised a guy in a rock n roll band has the mouth of a guy in a rock n roll band?

OK: Speaking of special snowflakes, do you think that Snapchat is encouraging this false sense of uniqueness?

AK: The content on Snapchat is disposable but the idea is that humans feel they are special enough to have a 'story' for others to watch, even if it's maybe 200 friends. This is really no different than reality TV. I mean, the opening shot to Caitlyn Jenner's show is footage of her filming herself. Isn’t Kylie, like the Snapchat queen or something? Everyone is a Kardashian. There’s not one friend I have hung out with in the last year, who hasn’t Snapchatted something when we hung out.  

OK: I want to talk about your background. You’re based in Vancouver?

AK: I was born and raised here.

OK: Is there much of a creative environment in Vancouver?

AK: Not that I’ve ever been exposed to. I spent a lot of my life in the suburbs. Obviously, I was inspired by what I know. That’s what I try to do. I feel like I was never exposed to any other artists or creative people. I could never ask kids in my neighborhood to help me with projects; I would have to find someone on Instagram. I never went to Vancouver looking for creative people. I went to the Internet. I had that opportunity—to make something with someone who wasn’t in my city. We could still collaborate, even though we were area codes away—which is kind of weird.

OK: You wrote a novel at a young age. Whenever someone writes a novel and they’re that young, people seem very surprised. Teenagers have a lot to say, maybe even more than adults. It’s a very intense time. Can you tell me more about that experience?

AK: I don’t know what really happened. There was a point in my life where everything culminated. I don’t feel like I wrote it; it wrote itself. It was all happening. I had to create a character to get through all of the things that I was dealing with at the time. I couldn’t handle it. I was writing a lot of poetry lyrics. I was obsessively writing all the time—on napkins, the back of magazines, foam—everything. I was always writing. There was a point where I thought I had enough content to form it into a book. I wrote the manuscript, and I hustled really hard to get it published. I put it online first, when I was 18. I started writing it when I was 17. It was not expected at all. It happened to me, rather than me doing it. I was really scared of myself for a long time. I don’t understand it at all.

OK: Let’s jump into Mudditchgirl. It was misunderstood. Why do you think it became misunderstood?

AK: Bella played her character, and people were unable to tell if it was a character or if it was her. Essentially, that’s what I wanted. People looked for my expression rather than the character expressing herself. It’s very similar to the cultural imagery that people want right now. People like Lily Rose. But they take it at surface level. They don’t question anything beneath it. They say—“That’s my look. That’s my vibe. Oh my god, me.” They continue to do that. It was misunderstood because we’re in that mentality of anything uploaded online is art. People made it seem fetishized and creative. Endorsing the look fucked it up. It has a very strange look. Everyone is focused on the look. If they like the look, they’re going to tell everybody, and they’re not going to look at anything beneath it.

OK: How did you come to hire Bella for the role of Mudditchgirl91?

AK: I found Bella at 3 in the morning, after I spent 10 hours looking for a girl to cast.  I have been working on this project since last December.  I was given 24 hours before this project would be pulled. This was hours before I had found out I was being set-up by a big Hollywood director and production company that manipulated me into thinking they were going to work with me but they were executing my ideas without me, behind my back. After being called 'young and stupid,' I was given a choice, to be a victim or to pull through. I decided to do the project on my own that day. You have to trust yourself. You have to persevere. I'm only telling you this because I want everyone, especially young people, anyone who is reading this to protect themselves from this kind of experience. I'm grateful to have learned from this huge mistake.  



OK: You chose Bella after a long casting search…did you have an intuition about her acting abilities?  

AK: Did you see how her character pouted and talked in a baby voice, sexualizing her suicide? Isn't that a very accurate snapshot of humans who find doom sexy?

OK: When we initially talked, you told me that you got some scary phone calls after the short film went viral…can you talk about one particular phone call that really scared you?

AK: People like to think young dudes who are working in any industry don’t get sexualized or put in scary positions but I was on the phone with a powerful agent who was trying to turn my whole project into this cheesy Hollywood-fetishized meme, and wanted to get a big blonde bombshell model to make videos on the Snapchat account mimicking the movie. He was saying the creepiest deviant stuff I have ever heard, I can understand “bro-ing out” but it was 10 steps further than that. I was so uncomfortable yet I felt like an idiot because I didn’t know how to get off the phone with him. I froze up. Hollywood is the darkest. I felt like I was in The Canyons.

OK: What was the initial inspiration for Snapchat: Mudditchgirl91?

AK: Snapchat: Mudditchgirl91 was inspired by a collective representation of people I have been observing.  I’m obviously fascinated with LA actress, Lauren Alice Avery as much as anyone else because she is a great example of how you are unable to tell if people online are being genuine or fake. Is she really like this? Or is she calculating/manipulating a character very cautiously with every photo and every tweet? Does it even matter, at this point? The character is NOT based off Lauren, it's a movie made by a young girl who is 18 in this world - obsessing and idolizing over Instagram icons like Lauren, wanting to be chic but strange.  

OK: What do you think hit home about the short film?

AK: I think the reason people like the video is because of the Snapchat element. It was made in real time on Snapchat. It probably hits home. Young girls are uploading this kind of stuff on social media every hour. It's their art.

OK: There is a lot of overlapping with reality and fiction and even some of Bella’s friends were confused and nervous, right?

AK: The character in Snapchat: Mudditchgirl91's fake storyline is very similar to the one that happened in our real world.  The two overlap.  Bella didn't kill herself; her character killed herself. Bella's character is 18; Bella, the actress is 19. You have to figure out what is real or fake.  The character, Mudditchgirl91, made the movie on her Snapchat. It's watching a movie of a movie that the character in the movie made.

OK: Ok, Bella has an Instagram account, which seems not too far off from Snapchat: Mudditchgirl91…don’t you think it makes sense that people would be confused?

AK: @InternetGirl is not Snapchat: Mudditchgirl91 but to someone who doesn't know Bella, and looks at her social media…they might think that's the same girl, that she's not in character. Our perceptions and judgments of people are based via our feelings of who we see them as in the URL world. That's very wrong.

OK: What would you do you if you were Mudditchgirl91?

AK: If I was Snapchat: Mudditchgirl91, I'd fucking kill myself too. Could you imagine how overwhelming that'd be? To have all eyes on you over night? To go viral? I think in her fictional story, she was probably on like Buzzfeed and shit which didn't happen in our real world, but I mean, it's horrifying.  It's like what would have happened if that girl who was a part of the Calgary rodeo threesome video that leaked, was ashamed?



OK: How similar are you to Mudditchgirl91?

AK: I don’t think I am like Snapchat: Mudditchgirl91. I’m not going to lie, I’ve had some nice conversations with detergent pods before and I can relate to going stir crazy at home, because I don’t go out much. 

OK: Do you think the movie is exploring or reinforcing a stereotype?

AK: The movie could be reinforcing a stereotype. I mean, young girls and guys have sent us feedback that actually shows us that in their head, they are interpreting Snapchat: Mudditchgirl91 - the character as a glamorous and sexy aesthetic or something to aspire to be. People are tweeting things like “I want a mudditch boy”. This makes me sad, but I guess it has a life of it’s own now. It’s out of my control.  I don’t know. I didn’t make this to have it be fetishized. I truly in my head thought that this could get a dialogue going, hold up a mirror in a violent way to make people question today’s culture. Bella and I have gotten pictures sent to us by young people imitating the scenes in the film.  It’s really upsetting to me. Maybe, I should just shut up and be grateful my work got out there.   

OK: Mudditchgirl91’s t-shirt in the film says “CINGENDER” – what does that mean?

AK: “CINGENDER” was an inside joke with myself about the 500 different labels there are today for sexuality/gender, and you know that’s great for the visibility of the transgender and queer community. You go to people’s twitter pages, and read their bios and it’s like some dystopian movie, it’s like reading brail- “gender fluid”, “gender neutral”, “intersectional feminist”, “non-binary”, “agender”.  I don’t know? A lot of these people are young too, and get excited by their identity defining them, and they’ve got 10 thousand different options to have the whole “I’ve arrived. I’m here. I’m different” experience, but at the end of the day - you’re going to just be a human. Maybe, someone out there feels they need to be in the body of a sinner. Live and let live.



OK: You probably received a lot of comments and maybe some threats…wasn’t this disturbing?

AK: I didn’t realize, you know having the privilege of being a cis-straight white male and being in the Snapchat account of a female character. All the unsolicited dick pics, and the “come sit on my face”, “I wanna rape you so bad” messages - that kind of sexual objectification. The entitlement to her body because she was showing so much of it. It made me feel what these girls have to go through, and it was really disturbing to me. I’m happy I’m not a girl.  

OK: Do you think you exploited the actress for the sake of this film?

AK: I think I definitely exploited Bella, but I think she knew she was going to be exploited and was ok with that. I mean, am I a predatory exploiter for being a cis-straight male sexualizing a teenage girl that is 2 years younger than me or is it really no different than the self aware, barely legal photos she's posting of herself online?  #Feminism 

OK: Do you think we are all exploiting ourselves online…especially with social media?

AK: I do think the exploitation of oneself on social media, and the morbid narcissism comes from a sense of hopelessness, like “Well, I don’t have the patience to make anything. I’ll just make myself into a character that I can express, and call that my Internet art. I might as well make myself my own god. I'll tweet all my best thoughts, I'll post all my best photography. I won't save it for something bigger”.  I guess, it’s no different than what I do with my fiction writing - it’s just when you write fiction, you have the luxury to dissociate.  

OK: Did you have any premonition that people were going to like the short film or dislike the short film?

AK: I mean, I already knew that people were not going to like the movie before it went up. I knew the reactions, but I did it in hopes that someone out there would get it, and other people who are questioning our culture right now - could be like, “well, hmm…I relate to why he made that”, “I relate to him, maybe I’ll email him and say hello, maybe we can talk” but obviously, the total opposite happened.   

OK: Do you plan on doing any more of these films, or are you done after it sort of backfired?

AK: I need to focus on finishing the book. I’ve been working on the book since I was eighteen. It’s interesting, when you’re working on a project, how many people your age say, “You need to hurry up. You need to get it out, or you’re going to be forgotten.” It’s not about that for me. When you have a vision, it grows and fertilizes every day. When it stops, it stops. There’s a lot of pressure, especially for young people to rush it out. Get your likes, get your reblogs. I would like to make other movies one day. I would like to experiment with other mediums. Mostly, I just let it all happen. I don’t think anyone should force anything. The universe is always going to give new things to you.

OK: So, you’re comfortable just being an artist and letting the creativity flow?

AK: This is going to sound so fucking annoying but I don’t really identify with the identity of the artist. I’m not enigmatic. I’m boring. I watch Big Brother 4 times a week. I don’t like to go out. Everyone in my life has always told me I’m tortured and dark and fucked up, and I’ve always tried to distance myself from that rather than get off on it. I see people out there, who want to attract that kind of negative attention with ideals of “Heroin Chic” or “Sick Chic” and it grosses me out. I have been obsessed with being normal since I was born.  I don’t think this kind of thing is okay. I’m not glamorizing it. I mean, if I could just not be me and still make these things - That’d be very, very nice.  


You can keep up to date with Alex Kazemi by following him on Twitter or Tumblr. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper