Pacing Around My Desire: An Interview Of Carmen Winant

Honey Lee Cottrell Papers, #7822. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

Honey Lee Cottrell Papers, #7822. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

interview by Abbey Meaker

In her new book titled Notes on Fundamental Joy; seeking the elimination of oppression through the social and political transformation of the patriarchy that otherwise threatens to bury us, Carmen Winant offers a poignant question: Does hope have an aesthetic? If it does, you may find it within the pages of this provocative book.

Designed by Jena Myung and published by Printed Matter Inc., the book is both an artist’s project and an historic collection of found images, photographs whose function was not only to document women-only communities formed in the 1980s across the Pacific Northwest, but also to subvert the pervasive dynamic in photography of man as subject, woman as object. Through these photographs of an almost unfathomable utopia of feminist & lesbian separatists, we can contemplate a world that exists outside of patriarchy. A safe, inclusive, fantastical space in which art is central to community making, connection, experimentation, and purpose. 

Meaker: Can you talk a little bit about the title and how you feel like it was relevant at the time the photos were made and how it’s relevant now? 

Winant: Part of the reason that I gravitated towards this material in the first place is because it held such promise and joy. I’ve known photography to occupy a space that can be more severe or competitive. The women photographers I idolized as a student, people like Francesca Woodman and Diane Arbus, all killed themselves. It wasn’t just that I felt that it was difficult to be a woman in the world. I also understood photography as entangled with that problem, that it was violent and incurred violence onto bodies, and onto the photographers themselves. And when I encountered these images, I felt inside them a whole new kind of promise—something that was bound up in the word joy, as well as world-building in this case of stepping outside of patriarchy altogether, and using photography as a new way to see the world. That felt really powerful. I was starting to do this research during the presidential campaign. It’s not a far reach to understand why I felt I needed to move towards not subverting the patriarchy from the inside, but instead looking at people who had just left it all behind. I understand that now that that impulse came from being confronted with the ugliest parts of our patriarchy. For me, the project is tethered to that moment in historical time.

Meaker: Looking at these images and thinking about these communities in the ‘70s and ‘80s, is it discouraging to know where we are now, and see that it failed in a way? Or did it?

Winant: Yes and no. When I first encountered the images, I had the same binary logic around it. But the longer that I researched, I started to feel that there was more nuance in this question of what it means to succeed and fail. There were so many thousands of women that cycled through these women’s lands, and even if the community ended up dissolving, that consciousness still permeated into those bodies, and that sort of changed the way they lived their lives, how they moved through space, how they related to other people, how they engaged with politics, community, relationships, child rearing, and so forth. This is what coalition building is. It’s messy, it’s difficult, people get pissed off and leave, and it’s not built to last. But that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t succeeded.

Meaker: Totally. When looking through the book, I felt that it was a fiction. It’s so hard for me to imagine existing in such a utopic place, free of the critical eye of white cis men. Man-as-subject, woman-as-object is such a pervasive dynamic in photography. Why do you think that photographs were central to these communities, and do you think it served as a medium of documentation as well as a kind of rebuttal?  

Winant: Definitely. And let me address the first thing you said too, which is the fantasy element of it. So much of my own relationship to this material is really romantic, and I brush off the things that don’t feed my fantasy, like the conflicts that happened, and the wars they lost with the landowners, and the bank, and the disabled women who left because there wasn’t space for them to survive in the country. Not to mention how few non-white women there were, and non-middle class women. It took me some time to come to this, but I realized that this is a part of the project, to follow the discordances. The way I teach feminism is as the prospect of world-building, and the imperative of a feminist is to imagine that a different world is possible. Without that imagination, we have nothing. We have no values, we have no politics, and we have no essential selves if we can’t imagine something outside of the world that we’re living in, or living under. And so, I think it’s really important to think about my own feminist politics as kind of revolving around that promise.

A lot of the different women’s lands built wet darkrooms, although the book in fact revolves around the ovulars, which are these photographic workshops that were offered on one particular women’s land, which was called Rootworks, in Oregon. An ovular is a take-off on seminar, which means the spreading of semen, etymologically. So, they instead called them ovulars, and the women who took them were called the ovulators. It was a new way to see themselves, and each other; to reframe desire, and kinship, and affinity and self, and sight, and insight, but also to stand as evidence. When so many of these women came out as gay, they were kicked out or they were left with nothing. Some of them had their children taken away from them. They had no evidence of their lives, in some sense. So it existed beyond the metaphoric idea of needing to reframe the way we see, and into something quite tangible, about how to make new evidence of our lives in this state of being reborn.

Honey Lee Cottrell, courtesy of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

Honey Lee Cottrell, courtesy of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

Meaker: Knowing that it was probably finite.  

Winant: It depends. When you read their accounts, some women feel as though it will last forever. And others that are far more skeptical are dipping in and out. So, I think there’s quite a big range. 

Meaker: Did the women teaching the workshops come in as photographers, or did that come from being a part of the community?  

Winant: So far as I know, there were six different organizer midwives that cycled in and out. They all went on to become pretty serious, and I think they were pretty serious already. They still remained on the margin, but they were dedicated photographers. The ovulars ranged from technical workshops to making lesbian erotica, or how to make photographs about love and sex.

Meaker: I love that art making was such a central activity. 

Winant: It really is difficult to live in the country, particularly when you are arriving with no skill about how to irrigate, how to you know plant food in the ground, or how to build structures. The fact that they carved out the space for this kind of production feels really critical.

Honey Lee Cottrell, courtesy of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

Honey Lee Cottrell, courtesy of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

Meaker: How did you happen upon this work, and when did you know you wanted to do something with it?  

Winant: Years ago, I read an article in the New Yorker by Ariel Levy, and it was about the Van Dykes, who were a separatist community. I just remember feeling so amazed by the prospect of this. My work has been about looking for another world, and trying to imagine a world outside of patriarchy, so to come across this felt revelatory. I started to get deeper into it and I discovered this vast photography archive, and I was amazed. They felt like such important historical documents, and were also incredibly striking photographs. The project is an homage to these communities, as well as a platform to make the photographs exist in a public space together.

Meaker: These women were unknown, and you were naming them and crediting them. So many women artists are subsumed by their male contemporaries, so this was exciting to me. In your last book, My Birth, many of the photos are anonymous.

Winant: Yeah, all of them, in fact. That was really different in this project. Normally, the way that I work is I gather the images that I want, I remove them from their sources, I re-contextualize them, and I call it fair use. That was never going to be an okay way to work here for a couple reasons. It wasn’t possible administratively, but it also wasn’t possible to do in good conscience. These are art objects. We got the copyright for every image, we paid the artist for the image if they were alive, and we got permission to reproduce. To be honest, I’ll probably never work this way again because it was so time-prohibitive. Sometimes I spent days just trying to get a single image.

Meaker: And did you always imagine it as a book?

Winant: No. At first I thought it could be an exhibition. But as I was thinking through possibilities, Printed Matter reached out to ask if I wanted to make a book. I thought that that could be an interesting way for those photographs to come together. I’m delighted it’s in the form that it’s in, in part because in the archive, many of the photographic objects exist in some sort of magazine or pamphlet. It doesn’t exist as a conventional photographic archive, and so a book really made sense.

Meaker: It feels so intimate too. It’s nice to hold it and touch as an object.

Winant: I’m so glad you say that. We spent a lot of time talking about that.

Meaker: What attracted you to such era-specific imagery from the ‘70s? 

Winant: I think there are a couple ways to answer the question, the first being that that era is where so much printed matter lives. There is an enormous glut of books that are published from the late ‘60s through the early ‘80s as a certain personal-is-political kind of feminism comes to bear. Those books are replete with photographs. That doesn’t exist in the same way anymore. But it’s more than that, of course. So much of my interest, conceptually and politically, as a person and an artist, is about working to understand the feminism that begot my feminism, the history that begot my history, and the space between us. I look at the feminism that belonged to my mother’s generation, and it feels, in some ways, so foreclosed. My work has always been about trying to reach backwards and understand what it means to inherit a memory, what it means to reckon with the idea of women’s liberation fifty years later.

Meaker: And how do you think it changed?

Winant: It changed in so many ways. Regarding the name “women’s liberation,” I don’t think that we, for the most part, believe in the idea of liberation anymore. We don’t belong to radical feminism anymore, and we can understand that by looking at these photographs and understanding that they look like a fantasy to us. There are so many different qualities that have shifted, that have made it more progressive, and more inclusive, and at the same time, I mourn the loss of those things that I mentioned.

Meaker: The photographs in the book are of naked women, and their bodies all look similar. The world that is depicted in the book feels inclusive and safe, but the images of the women aren’t. How did that sit with you when you were bringing together these photographs?

Winant: There’s another scholar who’s done some research into the ovulars. His name is Andy Campbell, and he’s a professor at USC. He's said in a talk that I noted, “To leave everything behind can be a privilege.” I think, in some cases, he’s right. There’s one African-American woman who appears over and over in the ovulars. Her name is Lynne Reynolds, she lived in Brooklyn at the time. I’m always so struck by her presence in that place; she stands out as the only nonwhite participant, as far as I can see. It reminds an onlooker that there is an issue of who has the ability to participate in the first place. The ovulars were absolutely incredible for their radical inventiveness, for the creatively, for their dedicated feminism. I admire them from deep down. And they also make me wonder: who has the ability to leave it all behind?

Carol Newhouse, courtesy of the artist

Carol Newhouse, courtesy of the artist

Meaker: To me, your broad practice has recurring themes relating to origins, materiality, the fecund body, and also, a drive to subvert the notion that the pregnant body is the ultimate representation of abstraction. In your book My Birth, the photographs are really aggressive and they demand to be seen. At the same time there is desensitization in the repetition of the images. What are your thoughts on that?

Winant: After I gave birth the first time, I was amazed, horrified, delighted, and terrified at what that experience had been. So much of how I relate to my experience is to try to make it intelligible through photographs, and it became very clear to me very quickly after giving birth that I couldn’t do that. It’s not that there were no photographs of birth, but there were vacuums. I didn’t recognize it anywhere in contemporary art, for instance, with very limited pockets of examples. I think some of the work was intended to fill up that space. But in a larger way, I understood that there was not going to be any photograph that would be able to account for that experience as fully as I wanted it to, for all of its sensate abjection. Part of the repetition was about working to insist on that image over and over, so it could be seen and knowable, and at the same time, doing so with the distinct understanding that it was a failed premise.  

Meaker: And where do you think the new work fits in with that?

Winant: It was an incredibly agitating experience to look at bodies opening up and pouring out. I needed to look at something that felt unabashedly joyful. It was important for me to find images to live with that occupied a different experience, a parallel experience.

Meaker: You pose a question in the book, which is, is there an aesthetic to hope? And I wonder if this project has offered an answer to you.

Winant: At the beginning of this project, I wrote a single note that I put above my studio desk: what does a free body look like? And I think there are a lot of different questions in that question. Do pictures look different when women make them? In that sense, do women have a different photographic aesthetic? Do lesbians? Do feminists? What does joy look like? How do we see it? How do we frame it? I’m really interested in the relationship between politics and aesthetics. These photographs feel so distinct, yet they have such deep echoes of one another that I have to ask, how has this experience actually changed the way that they see?

Meaker: Maybe it’s more a feeling than an aesthetic.

Winant: Definitely. That can be a really difficult thing to account for. As an artist, how do you come to learn and occupy a photographic feeling? 

Meaker: I think maybe it is an innate ability, because not all photographs have that.

Winant: I agree. It is innate to a person, but also to a place and a moment in shared historical time.

Bad Woman: An Interview of Katya Grokhovsky

katya grokhovsky.jpg

text by Abbey Meaker

portrait by Katya Grokhovsky

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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Unseen And Immaterial: An Interview Of Amanda Turner Pohan

text by Abbey Meaker

 

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

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

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

Amanda Turner Pohan: Catskills!

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

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

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

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

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

Meaker:  Did Social Club overlap?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Meaker:  Do you consider all experiences as fodder?

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

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

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

Meaker: What are your dreams for Diamond Notch?

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meaker: Can you describe the scent of the perfume?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art From The Dark Heart of Europe: An Interview With Harlan Levey

I had the great fortune of meeting Brussels-based curator, Harlan Levey, while he was in Burlington, Vermont last October as part of Burlington City Arts' visiting critic program. The curator of that institution, DJ Hellerman, facilitated a meeting that quickly evolved into a lively discussion, not necessarily about local art, but about contemporary art in general, the nature of the art market, and the rewarding challenges that come with conceptually rigorous exhibitions. I was struck by Levey's genuine passion for the artists who comprise his program at Harlan Levey Projects and the integrity with which he works. And just like that, he was back on a plane to Brussels, having reinvigorated Burlington's quiet contemporary art scene.

Harlan Levey Projects Gallery is located in Brussels at the heart of the European capital's gallery district, representing a small, distinctive roster of international artists including TR Ericsson, Jeroen Jongeleen, Abner Preis, Zoe Strauss, Marcin Dudek, and more. We caught up with Levey last week to discuss the storied path that lead him to found Harlan Levey Projects, one that includes professional soccer and literary studies at the European Graduate School, as well as what guides him as curator and informs both the artists he works with and the exhibitions he organizes. 

Abbey Meaker: You’re an expat from Cleveland living in Brussels and you’ve been there for how long?

Harlan Levey: I’ve been in Brussels since the turn of the century. 15 years longer than I ever imagined.

Meaker: I read that it was soccer that prompted the move?

Levey: Soccer was so important to me growing up. It introduced me to people with all different backgrounds and offered me the opportunity to travel from a young age. I love the game and everything it brought me off the field. After college, I harbored dreams of earning a living playing in the Netherlands, but this didn’t work out at all.  

Meaker: How did you go from sports and literary studies to a career in the arts?

If I go back to the late 90s, I was over here in the Benelux, not getting paid to play and in need of a job. I found one at the Center for European Studies (CES) at the University of Maastricht teaching a comparative literature course to study abroad students.  It was a right place, right time situation, which was great, but not so straightforward, because I had no working papers and the semester was starting. CES found a solution by offering to enroll me in an MA program, pay my housing, expenses and a modest living stipend. I was registered as a student, and as an American was thrilled about the opportunity to study anything and get paid for it. The MA wasn’t in literature. It was in a program called ESST, which stands for European Science, Society and Technology studies. If we skip all that, writing, all kinds of writing, framing and illustrating are things a literature study prepares you for.  To return to your question, sports and literature were part of a life journey. My subsequent studies, jobs, and experiences all had a role in leading me towards working in the arts.

Meaker: Does literature inform your curatorial practice?

Levey: Yes. Absolutely. Literature has always informed my life. I am more of a narrator than a curator and am excited by the potential of curating as a form of expanded literary practice.  The gallery’s program has been dominated with narrative driven exhibitions until now.

When I was writing, I never thought about the audience. With the gallery, building audiences and educating clients is a core task. You need to develop audiences for artists, ideas, and the gallery itself. In considering who this audience is, I find myself nodding along with how Fitzgerald told it when he said: “An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmaster of ever afterwards.” Via the work of the gallery, I try to ‘write’ with this same approach. Literature definitely has its role.

Meaker: Did you work for other galleries before starting one?

Levey: No. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I knew little about running a gallery when I started one. I had very limited knowledge of the actual business and nearly no capital. I was a total outsider with a history of working with outsider art, and the learning curve has been huge. I had no idea what I was up against. What I did have was a lot of experience working with artists and communicating their ideas. I’d spent 5 years as the Editor in Chief of Modart magazine and director of a non-profit I co-founded with Ruggero Lala called the No New Enemies network, which assisted artists working in public space. 

Meaker: Does No New Enemies still exist?

Levey: Yes. NNE just won an open call from the city and region of Brussels to develop six installations in the tunnels near the local skatepark over the next four years.

Meaker: Do you recall a particular artist or artwork that inspired you to become a gallerist?

Levey: I opened the gallery when Modart magazine went to ground. Of the artists we were featuring there some clear patterns of professional success. For one, there always seemed to be somebody who innovated, who made rather brave work and was followed by somebody this work had inspired who knew how to cash in. The second artist, the one most people have actually heard of, considered commercial translation from the start. This commercial translation often contradicted the essence of what made a work interesting to begin with. I have a great deal of empathy and interest in artists I thought were doing ground-breaking relevant work and were not able (or not interested) to think about commercial strategies. This included artists like Hans Reuschl, Jeroen Jongeleen and Abner Preis. I come from Cleveland. I’ve always been attracted to hard working underdogs.

Meaker: What is the mission of Harlan Levey Projects?

Levey: David Foster Wallace once said something about his belief that good fiction should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. Our mission is to make money for our artists and business by doing exactly that.

Meaker: What has been the most challenging exhibition and why?

Levey: “Saved by an Unseen Crack,” a solo exhibition by Marcin Dudek. It was the first exhibition in our new space and came with unprecedented investment, challenges, and risk. The opportunity to move into a larger venue was unexpected. Everything happened very quickly. We had about two months to plan and build the interior of the new space. At the same time, we were preparing for two art fairs in April. Marcin’s opening was scheduled right between them. Marcin was involved in both of those events and was also preparing for a solo exhibition in London with our partner Edel Assanti Gallery shortly thereafter. We were all overwhelmed with a lot on the line. Everything needed to go perfectly. It was a very tense moment.

Meaker: But it all worked out. You had great success in Dallas.

Levey: Yes. In Dallas we were very fortunate to place all of the works that we brought in excellent collections and develop several new relationships. Then came the opening of Marcin’s show, which was also met with a tremendous response.


"He said that if you want to be an artist or a writer, accept suicide as the only viable pension plan."


Meaker: What did you show in Dallas?

Levey: The unspoken booth concept was the ‘greatest country song never written,’ and it featured works from TR Ericsson and Marcin Dudek. This year, we’ll present new works in a similar format.

Meaker: How did you start working with these guys? In general, how do you find new artists?

Levey: This really varies. For example, I met Abner Preis through mutual friends at a punk concert and exhibition I organized in 2006. Haseeb Ahmed and I were both invited by the European Commission to work on a common project. A high school friend introduced me to a dealer in Cleveland who drove me out to meet Tom. I met Jeroen through Abner though I was already a big fan of his work for several years at that point. Marcin and Amelie got in touch with me when they moved to Brussels after reading an article in the free local culture mag. We had dinner together 5 or 6 times before I ever looked at their work. Emmanuel and I met when I was invited to give a lecture and do studio visits at a post-graduate residency program. That all said, I visit studios on a regular basis, have worked on several selection committees, and continue to write for art oriented publications occasionally. I also get introduced to artists through relationships with other galleries and presence at fairs and other events.

Meaker: I am a big fan of gallery artist TR Ericsson. Can you talk about the exhibition All My Love, Always No Matter What, shown in September and October of last year?

Levey: With pleasure! I’m also a big fan of TR Ericsson. His work stops the music of the market. It flattens the hype. Live. Dream. Die. Loop. That’s how it goes, reinterpreting intimate histories with skillful and considered conceptual, contextual and material interventions. The subject matter isn’t easy, and even when there’s direct aesthetic appeal in the images he makes, there’s usually some troubling element embedded within them. Tom’s the real deal and currently one of the most underrated artists of my generation.  He came over with his wife Rose, daughter Susie, brother Mikey and two assistants, Matthew Rowe and Connor Elder. It was a special moment. At the end of the vernissage, we held the European premiere of his film “Crackle & Drag.” About a quarter of the room was in tears by the time it was over.  We followed that up with a performance from Joy Wellboy who had been given texts and images from Tom’s archives and wrote several songs with this material. By the time they were done, more than a quarter of the Ericsson entourage was wet eyed too. I’ve never seen so many people crying in the gallery. At the same time, the whole event was incredibly joyful.

Meaker: Did this important exhibition influence the direction of HLP thereafter?

Levey: All of our core artists influence our direction. In many ways, they are our direction. We’re maturing our practices together.  Tom has become a big part of this. He didn’t change the programming or attitudes of the gallery, but he fit right in with our team and I’ve learned so much from working with him. I’d say the same for everybody else. Our artists reach out to each other with encouragement, criticism and questions. Everybody who feasibly can, shows up at every opening, and while sometimes there’s a bit of ego jousting and skepticism towards new artists in the program, eventually there’s a great respect and admiration from and for everybody. At HLP we’ve cultivated a great team spirit.

Meaker: What can we expect from you—shows, events, fairs, etc.?

Levey: Up next outside of the gallery are fairs in Rotterdam, Dallas and then Brussels. In the gallery we have upcoming group and solo shows. The first is titled “Do You Speak Synergy” and features two artists we represent, Haseeb Ahmed and Emmanuel Van der Auwera, as well as Ella Littwitz and Benjamin Verhoeven who I met along with Emmanuel when working as a guest lecturer at the HISK in Ghent. This is the first show I’ve worked closely on with our new associate curator Denis Maksimov. Denis is a brilliant and passionate guy. He’s made a very welcome addition to the team and we expect great things from him in the future.

The following show in the gallery is “Eat, Shit, Smile” by Abner Preis. Our last show with Abner was an incredible success on many levels, and for better or worse, there won’t be another show like it during the madness of Art Brussels week. I can’t wait.

Meaker: Is there anywhere outside of Brussels to see the work you’re facilitating?

Levey: Right now there’s Instagram, the Art Fairs I mentioned and all of our artists present work internationally. On our website you can sign up for our newsletter to keep posted on events outside of Brussels. 

Meaker: Do you ever partner with other institutions?

Levey: Absolutely. In soccer you’d say, “Let the ball work for you.” We play a passing game. Our attitude is that when you’re growing a small business, all forms of partnership are important. We can always do more with others than trying to make a one in a million run on our own. Knowledge, resource and competency exchanges have been a big part of how we’ve managed to grow the business.

Meaker: What about Brussels? Recently the NY Times called it the “New Berlin.” Do you think this is accurate?

Levey: Berlin has had the reputation of a creative hotbed and Brussels is happy to rightly be described the same way, but Brussels isn’t the new anything. Brussels is beautiful, dysfunctional and surrealistic Brussels. Not so long ago, Berlin represented cheap studio space and living costs along with a vibrant creative community and arts sector. Brussels has the same offer.

Brussels also has per-capita diversity comparable to New York City, and a history of outstanding artistic production from the Flemish Primitives through Marcel Broodthaers to Michael Borremans, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Walter Van Beirendonck, Stromae or Wim Delvoye.  If we talk about fashion, dance, film, music, architecture, comics, painting, contemporary art, whatever, there has always been high quality here. There’s also a strong appetite for it. Then there’s private and public sector support of it. The city’s location is another perk. 3 hours to Amsterdam. 2.2 to London or Cologne. 1.2 to Paris. Brussels has been a crossroads for centuries.

The reason for the sudden interest in Brussels has to do with other things as well. For example, Belgium has the EU’s highest taxes on income and labor, but inherited wealth isn’t taxed at all. When Francois Hollande became President of France in 2012, something like 30,000 Parisians bought property in Brussels. This led to an influx of Parisian galleries that have added to an already exciting local scene.

Meaker: Are you looking forward to Art Brussels?

Levey: Always. It’s an outstanding fair. Katrina Gregos has done a wonderful job developing it over the last few years and I’m proud to be one of two galleries (together with Super Dakota) from Belgium that’s been selected for the Discovery section this year. The fair’s outstanding reputation has been cemented by a flux of new satellite fairs including Independent, Y.I.A., Unpainted and Poppositions. Brussels can’t handle the dozens of satellite fairs that Miami does, but the emergence of all these new events testifies to the strength of the landscape here. If I wasn’t jamming in my Art Brussels booth, I’d visit every one of them.

Meaker: What advice might you give young artists?

Levey: I wouldn’t, but I do appreciate a piece of advice philosopher Wolfgang Schirmacher once gave me. He said that if you want to be an artist or a writer, accept suicide as the only viable pension plan.  You have to be ready to tighten your belt, committed to staying sharp and true to things you might have forgotten.

Meaker: Young curators?

Levey: Find topics that you are passionate about and go deep instead of broad. Ask yourself what help a curator can provide in every project and whom this service benefits. Art can be useless. A curator has to prove that it isn't.


You can visit Harlan Levey Projects' booth at Art Rotterdam 2016, which features artist Emmanuel Van der Auwera's Video Sculpture series. The VIP opening is tonight and the fair opens to the public on February 11 and runs until February 14. Interview and text by Abbey Meaker, co-director of Overnight Projects in Vermont. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Traces In the Snow: An Interview with Photographer Isabelle Wenzel

German-based artist Isabelle Wenzel creates colorful sets on which to enact bodily performances, the evidence of which appear only as fixed photographs. These final images depict women’s bodies fragmented and abstracted like mannequines whose limbs have not yet been pieced together. Wenzel’s figures appear inanimate, like sculptures on a plinth, but convey a sense of action, like a dancer on the cusp of movement. This oscilation between animate and inamate invokes the uncanny, pulling the viewer into a space that is both visceral and psychological. In the following interview, Wenzel talks about her process, philosophies and next projects.

Abbey Meaker: There appears to be strong performative elements in your photographs; is this intentional, and if so, can you explain the importance of performance in your process/final works? 

Isabelle Wenzel: Actually I do have a performance background. Since the age of 6 I had intense acrobatic training. I discovered photography as a medium quite late at the age of 21. I like the idea of having a performance without an audience and just showing the material evidence of this event. So my everyday routine comes still very close to performance. While photographing I’m not really looking much into the camera, I try to shape a form with my body and use photography as a technical devise only. With photography I see myself able to create an illusionary room that at the same time witnesses an action that has happened in the past. I like that photography has this indexical character. Photographs are like traces in the snow where you know that these traces belong to someone in particular. I like that photography points back in time.

One could say I’m performing an act of trial and error. Even though that my outcome is a two dimensional image I’m personally more interested in the processes behind. You have to imagine me pressing the button of the camera, running in position, having some seconds time till it clicks. Then I quickly check the outcome on the screen and repeat the action till I get to a satisfying outcome. Certainly I could use a remote release but I like this pressure of time. It pushes my creativity.

AM: The figures in your images have a sculptural quality, and although they are often wearing skirts, tights, and high heels, the qualities we associate with sexualized images of women are basically concealed. These women are fragmented, uncanny in their inanimate-like poses. Can you speak to these themes? 

IW: On one hand I'm very concerned about the signs I'm using, on the other hand I do think as an artist you do not have to be politically correct all the time and it's also not my function to explain everything. I do create my images out of an inner logic and there is no right or wrong in a rational way. You could say that I catalyze things I see in my surrounding, especially things I do not understand; gender is one of these things. And yes; sometimes I do feel a discomfort about that, too.


"Most of the time I don’t know how to start, so I stop thinking about it and just get started. I work a lot with improvisation. I also often look at my own work and wonder how I can push my ideas further. It’s really difficult to explain where my ideas are coming from but mainly it’s about not getting stuck."


AM: Are there specific theories or philosophies that inform your work? 

IW: I don’t know. Maybe there are theories matching with my way of thinking. But this is nothing of primary importance to me. I’m busy with visual language and don’t think it’s possible to translate this entirely into spoken words. I do think I’m acting like a catalyzer of my surrounding. Also there is not only one truth, I do believe that there are several ways of how to interpret my work. Even for myself meanings are changing depending on how I look at it. Let’s say I do believe in a non-logical world or in a world, which is not always explainable with logic. What is true cannot always be seen, and what we see is not always true.

AM: Are there artists whose work have been influential to your art practice? How do their concepts relate to or differ from those you employ? 

IW: I appreciate a lot to meet other artists at their studio and vice versa. To talk about work process and the personal art praxis is as important as exchanging ideas and how to encounter difficulties. And certainly other works of art inspires me, too. It’s not important that they do have necessary something to do with my own work. For me the best works are those which succeed in making me reflect about myself and at the same time I’m not really able to understand the work or the intention behind it. If I see a work that triggers this feeling in me I get a strong desire to create something new. Most of the time I don’t know how to start, so I stop thinking about it and just get started. I work a lot with improvisation. I also often look at my own work and wonder how I can push my ideas further. It’s really difficult to explain where my ideas are coming from but mainly it’s about not getting stuck. Because movement is progress. If I’m stuck with my ideas I find a strategy how to trigger my creativity. For example with my current work I decided after five years of only working in the studio to leave it and to face landscape and public.

AM: What is next for you -- are you working on anything new that you'd like to discuss? 

IW: I’m currently working on a body of work that investigates the representation of my own movements. Before I often intended to capture the perfect moment in order to shape my body like a sculpture, now I intent to look at the intervals of a certain movement. It’s on one hand an investigation on movement in general and on the other how this fascination constitutes my work. And again I use the ‘photographic’ eye as an imagination machine where I double, triple myself mechanical without sticking to a chronological order.  The outcomes are instantaneous proofs of my actions.


You can catch Isabelle Wenzel giving lessons on how to create the ideal posture for portraits at Villa Zebra in the Netherlands. Her next projects include participation in the Platform Platvorm exhibition, which will be on view from June 6 until June 28, 2015 at BART INVITES Bloemgracht 2 Amsterdam. In the fall, you can see her new series, 'Transformations,' at the Unseen Photo Fair in Amsterdam. text and interview by Abbey Meaker. FOLLOW AUTRE ON INSTAGRAM TO STAY UP TO DATE: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Liquid State: An Interview with Sculptor Jonathan Prince

The great cubist sculptor Jacques Lipchitz once said, “Copy nature and you infringe on the work of our Lord. Interpret nature and you are an artist.” This sentiment holds true for a lot of sculptors – those artists that borrow stone and bits of earth in the creation of eternal and impermeable monuments to their artistic vision. This sentiment is especially true for sculptor Jonathan Prince, whose father actually once took him to visit the studio of Jacques Lipchitz. Watching Lipchitz work – Prince became transfixed. Today, Prince works with materials like Corten steel, aluminum and bronze to create sculptural works that twist and tear at basic physical properties and our own perception. In the following interview, Prince talks about his recent sculptural series Liquid State and why there is more beauty in imperfection than perfection.

AUTRE: You have been making sculpture in stone and metal (stainless and Corten steel) since you were young, why is sculpture your mode of choice when you also experiment with other mediums?

JONATHAN PRINCE: I’m not sure why but - I have always had an affinity for three dimensional work. Perhaps it’s because a sculptural work inserts itself into the real world - maybe because there are innumerable angles to visualize the piece from. Whatever the reason - it has always made more sense for me to create a line in 3 dimensional space rather than trying to simulate that same gesture in a 2D world.

AUTRE: How do your experiments in design, photography, painting, and installation inform your sculpture for which you are known?

PRINCE: Regardless of the medium - I am always looking for a new way to inform myself and the viewer about alternative ways of seeing the world around us. If I am using photography - ink and paper or stainless steel - I am always trying to deepen my own investigation of a particular subject matter - to open my eyes and mind in a way that I have not done before. I’m not always successful at accomplishing that task - but I’m always on the hunt for it.

AUTRE: Can you explain the process of evolution regarding your current series Liquid State?

PRINCE: Almost all of my work through the years has looked at the boundaries between internal and external form or what we see on the surface but feel inside. My Liquid State series are the first works that I have done which seem to have no exterior skin - in other words - the forms are made from only internal material in a figurative sense. Liquid State refers to one of four states of matter : liquid - solid - gas and plasma. The works in this series explore the relationship between geometry and fluidity - creating forms that have their roots in geometry but ultimately assume only the barest vestiges of cube, sphere, cone or disc.

AUTRE: Where do you think your interest in the contrasting qualities of perfection and chaos come from?

PRINCE: It is always difficult for me to determine where a motivation comes from - what is important to me is to recognize the interest and look at it from as many vantage points as possible. The thesis that keeps coming back in my thoughts as I go through the process of making work is that - no matter how hard I try to create a perfected object or form - the real beauty of the piece is in the breaks. I believe the same is true in life.

AUTRE: What would you like viewers of your work to experience, whether it be intellectual or visceral?

PRINCE: My hope is that my work will provoke the viewer to have questions about what they are seeing and perhaps why this object - thing or image may be of interest to them. It is my belief that each person will have their own unique questions based on their individual life experience.

Intro text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Interview and photographs by Abbey Meaker. You can view more of Jonathan Prince's work on his website

Southern Gothic: An Interview With Bradley Bailey

Visit artist and musician Bradley Bailey’s bandcamp page for his one-man band, oxymoronically called Platonic Sex, and you’ll find a single song tiled Sweet Nothing available for download for $1000. Watch a youtube video made last summer in Brooklyn and you’ll find Bailey playing a fifteen minute long, psychedelic and cacophonous set with a human femur. The Atlanta, Georgia based musician doesn’t have much of an online presence, but what he does have so far is a curious teaser for what might be to come, or not to come. Bailey seems content just figuring out who he is an artist and making music. Autre contributor Abbey Meaker got a chance to catch up with Bailey where he is currently in Atlanta thinking things over. 

ABBEY MEAKER: How are you doing right now and where are you? Describe the environment in which you are sitting.

BRADLEY BAILEY: Things are this way and that, I am doing fine, I am sitting in a facet of the broken home of Atlanta, Ga. for a visit, figuring out where to go and what to do with myself next

MEAKER: How old were you when you were compelled to write your first song and what were the circumstances?

BAILEY: I wanted to be a songwriter for as long as I can remember, when I was a little child I loved pretty much all music, practically absent of discernment as children can often be... I would often come up with songs in my head and always write and improvise a little bit on my grandparents piano while visiting, until getting SHUSHED! It was when I was ten I began writing songs and really learning the guitar, bass and keys.

MEAKER: How would you describe the music that you're making now? Has it changed over the years?

BAILEY: The music I'm making now is and has always been eclectic, though it has undergone many twists and turns, many things have remained the same since always, some sounds and emotions continue to show through many very contrasting styles... The difference is that now I feel I have reached and transcended many of the the goals I've had in the past... Where some things were desired they are now manifested and enjoyed... For example the inspiration to really express the vast music that exists within a single sound used to be a fleeting and very personal accomplishment at best, mostly a dream, however now I have developed methods of expressing that in ways I only hoped and dreamed I could... Namely what I've been doing with strings and objects...

MEAKER: Is there a particular recent performance that stands out as being more interesting than others? If so, why?

BAILEY: Lately what stands out as being more interesting than others would be the bone song... I've been bowing strings with a human femur. I started with some kind of animal bone but the size, shape and weight were not ideal. The human femur is the perfect bone for it functionally and also provides for a profound example of the fact that music is vibration and with its creation carries with it destruction, its a very natural phenomena, it courses through us at all times and extends beyond our very perception and sensory experience of it.... In performance I have generally been using an acoustic guitar because I like to keep the method organic, keep the effect of it unaffected by even amplification and at the same time non verbally express that no effects are being used, no tricks, which people still think there are unseen amplifiers and effects... Though many wild sounds can be made with this technique I keep it simple and repetitive live, very zen, as I often do alone, expressing how the dynamics of the method can change so vastly in doing so, that one thing can sound so many different ways, actually unearthing the many sounds within a sound that this method can provide... I gently rub the bone on the strings in one place a certain way that makes it vibrate, then I focus on maintaining and expanding that vibration... In doing so, just one string can move through a great spectrum of notes tones and sounds and harmonize with itself... with the 6 strings of a guitar I can even get limitless orchestrics, choirs of shifting harmony that really sound like voices to the naked ear... and because the technique is so delicate, the very subtlest change in motion changes it, thus it becomes like a narrative of my very experience, my very physical emotion, its like improvising from the soul but having a whole ensemble of selves following every nuance of conduction... its very execution is very personally expansive and rewarding. I've been experimenting with friction in music since my teenage days and i now feel it has more than paid off creatively and existentially... I simply discovered it while doing what I do at a friends house that had some animal bones... I have discovered many special ways of making music using objects on strings, the bone just works so well. Also shells work very well in their way, they have an amazing percussive element with their textures and resonate like bone because I suppose the material is practically the same, but the size, shape and weight are not as dynamic... Clay and such materials wail, theyre really hot and easily screech, but they wail... I imagine there are some stones and crystals that will work as well as bone, probably selenite... that will be my next venture with it.

MEAKER: Do you have any philosophies - spiritual or otherwise - that influence your music or any other medium you might use to express yourself?

BAILEY: There are so many inspirations that influence all of my mediums of expression, philosophical, existential, even spiritual... Most simply and basically the notion that whatever medium it is bears wonderment beyond what one could ever perceive, as do our very selves and I like to treat them as such, purely as such, solely undergoing the wonderment of what they are, enjoying them, not taking them for granted, always a gift, of expression, joy, healing, catharsis, insight, interest, mystery, twerk, etc... and total wonderment.... And the notion that we can really have a very great time together as people, ya know... It boils down to expressing inspirations of how manifesting a very great time in this crazy world and actually undergoing the experience of its wonderment even beyond only a contenting extent is entirely plausible... Within that, much philosophy, spiritual and otherwise is to be expressed...

MEAKER: When we spoke, you said that "Sweet Nothings" is a sketch - do you know what you plan to do with the song?

BAILEY: "Sweet Nothings" was a sketch when I recorded it, I hadn't even played it all the way through before I recorded it but I like the sound of it so I kept it. Fresh, raw, new material, when undergone willingly and passionately always has substance that can't be found further in its evolution and I, as many others do, like to capture that and often prefer it, though there is much to be had with polished work as well that can only be achieved through its evolution.... "sweet Nothings" was released on the album "Advances" by "Platonic Sex", an ongoing and thus far very loose and open ended project of mine... "Advances" was a very loose and open ended, somehwhat experimental project of an album that I felt was good for such a raw performance as "Sweet Nothings". It was released on Atlanta's "Big Blonde Records" alongside a diverse mix of awesome Atlanta musicians. I'm touching the album up a little bit and putting it up online soon and printing CDs... As far as what's to come with the song, it will undergo various arrangements that I have conceived in my mind and also have yet to imagine... The first verse, which is in the format of simple love poetry, changes often where the last verse always stays the same "We're always whispering sweet nothings... and little phrases we repeat ... how could they be sweet if they are nothing? How could be nothing if they're sweet?"

MEAKER: Any upcoming projects or plans for an album?

BAILEY: I have so much material and so many albums and projects planned out in my mind, circumstances have been so very difficult, I've hardly done any of it, that's a whole collection of long stories.... I hope you can expect a broad spectrum of things....

MEAKER: Where can we hear more of your music or see you perform?

BAILEY: I hardly have anything up online right now, mostly its just random things people have captured and posted on youtube, check out "Bradley Bailey-Bone Song" on you tube or "Platonic Sex" on bandcamp for now and hopefully in the next year I will have more material available... In the meantime I play live in many facets regularly and randomly around the US.

Intro text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper and interview by Abbey Meaker. First three photographs by Bradley Bailey. Photo below by Ryan Callahan

The Ghosts That Follow Us: An Interview with Abbey Meaker

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Abbey Meaker's images look almost as if they could be photographs taken by the ghosts that follow us during the course our lives – just behind us as we climb the stairs – as we lay in bed alone and naked – behind our shoulder in the mirror – sometimes they look out of windows gazing into a white ambiguous eternity as the light through the slats falls back on them like a cascade – sometimes they follow us on our travels – always invisible, but always present – they knowing us and us never knowing them at all.  The images – black and white, grainy, and sometimes out of focus – are haunting, preternatural, and erotic – as if on the journey these ghosts make in our existence they are learning day by day how to possess us with a lustful and forceful desire. I've known Abbey for close to fifteen years and she has always been an artist with an almost ancient, black-magic spirit, but only in past few years has her predilection for photography been so keen.  And I've seen first hand her photography evolve to develop a distinct style, reminiscent of the late Francesca Woodman, but entirely unique – Abbey's images have innate melancholia, but at the same time a beautiful chaos that cracks open a parallel world of hope and yearning. Last weekend saw the commencement of Abbey's first solo show in Italy, entitled Boudoirs and Landscapes, at the Palazzo Barsanti in Pietrasanta. I was going to conduct the below interview while Abbey got tattooed, but there was a freak black out at the tattoo parlor – so we made our way to a cafe to discuss art, inspiration, darkness, and the great power of Billie Holiday. 

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So, tell me a little bit about what inspires you to create?  Well, there is always an urge to make something.  I have this – I see the world in a way that is more romantic than it actually is – so I try to make what I see in my mind tangible for other people.

Would you call yourself an artist or a photographer? I wouldn't call myself anything, because I want to be more open that that – I want to have more options.  I just like to make things…..

But right now your main focus is photography? Yes, photography.

And your current series? Boudoirs and Landscapes?

Yes, can you tell me about that?  Well, for the landscapes it's not specifically landscapes, but buildings and places that have an eerie quality – it's a place that I see that I have a visceral response to and I try to capture that on film. And the bedroom scenes are – I try to create a scene that isn't really an interaction between photographer and subject, but more a looking in on someone in a moment of reverie. Someone alone in their space. 

Can you tell me a little bit about your background – biographically – in terms of how it has influenced your work? Well, a lot of my family members are artists and I grew up around and I always – because of that – it's almost second nature, but I have always been searching to find a medium that feels right in every way, and I hadn't found it until I started taking photographs and it just feels right. Everything feels aligned when I'm taking photos. But no one in my family is a photographer. 

But creators? Yes, creators. 

Can you remember the first image you ever took? The first one I ever liked or the first one I ever took? 

The first one you took as you started to discover photography…. Yes.  There is this building in Burlington, Vermont where I live that has always had this presence, like a dark presence, and I have always been drawn to it, and I drove around back and took some photos of it and only later did I discover that it was an orphanage that my grandfather was in when he was younger. It was an orphanage run by nuns. Then is was an Episcopal diocese. And now it is a college. 

"I try to create a scene

that isn't really an interaction

between photographer and subject,

but more a looking in on someone

in a moment of reverie."

What was it like growing up in Burlington, Vermont? Not a lot goes on there – so you have to search within yourself to find things to entertain you, and maybe that's part of what led me to making things, because there isn't much else to do. Unless you want to be an alcoholic [laughter].  Because 8 months out of the year it's dark and snowy.  

Do you think artists in cities have a different advantage than artists growing up in a rural area? Not necessarily. I think an artist growing up in a rural area it's easier for them to look within themselves for ideas, because there isn't much else to do – so you are, for me at least, I am always in my own head, and I think if I had grown up in a city I would find inspiration from things that were happening around me, but as it pertains to business – I think the more people that see your work the better, so there is obviously more people in cities, so I think if you are an artist living in a rural area you have to get out there and network.

And you just had a show in Italy. Can you tell me a little bit about that? It was my first show – I've shown here and there - this was my first solo show.  I noticed in New York, where I've been to a lot of openings, it seems very social – people go to socialize and make connections and not really take in the work – but in Italy I noticed people really – theres a heightened sensitivity – and I really appreciated that people really seemed to want to know what I was trying to do and they asked really great questions.

What are some questions they asked? Well, there was one self portrait in the show and a man came in and asked me if there was a message I was projecting through my eyes.  Which I thought was a really interesting – and very spiritual. It was really intriguing. 

What was your answer? Well, I wanted to come up with something clever on the spot, but it didn't really pan out. Plus he didn't speak any English, so it had to be translated – and I'm sure a lot got lost in translation. But I was showing my vulnerability with this particular self portrait, because I was looking at the camera which I don't normally do, because I wanted it to be really honest. 

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So even when you're taking self portraits there's still a sense of looking in – almost as if through a key hole? With self portraits I am letting the observer look in on me. When I'm the photographer I'm – I guess I'm still letting someone look in on someone else, but its usually more difficult being behind the camera to let yourself be revealed. To let myself be revealed.

Is it easier – is it different shooting yourself or shooting other people? I'm taking more and more self portraits, because there is more freedom. I'm still building up a lot of courage as to what I feel comfortable asking of my subjects, but when I'm shooting myself I can do whatever I want and if it's too much I don't need to show anyone. That's why I like taking self portraits. 

What are some of your thoughts as you are looking through the viewfinder?  I just want to create this other world. A non-reality. A place thats more beautiful than reality. 

You shoot mainly film? Only film. 

In terms of showing your work – is there a certain resistance to it, in the sense that you are showing too much? I think it's always a little scary for artists to show their work, because it's so personal – maybe not for all artists – for me. It's like I'm revealing a page in my diary – if I had a diary. So, it's a little scary, buts it's also kind of thrilling to just be naked in a way and let people see what they want and feel what they want or just feel something even if they don't want to.

You also paint too? I do.

Is photography as a medium something that you want to focus on more? Painting is more that something I just do – when I paint I am not trying to create something specific - its all emotive – so I'm just doing it as a practice – as something I have to do between taking photos. So, I don't really have any aspirations to show my paintings. 

What about the medium of photography do you find has allowed you to express what you want to express? People tend to trust photos and you can get away with the non-reality easier with photos, I feel, because people believe them. Does that makes sense? And it looks real, but it might not be.

What inspired you to pick up photography – I mean how long have you been practicing photography? Nothing inspired me to get into it – for as long as I can remember I've had this draw to it that I never really indulged in until a few years ago, but i've always had a feeling that it would happen – it just had to happen naturally. I waited and when I was ready I did it. 

Why did you feel you weren't ready? Because I wasn't doing it, so I must not have been ready [laughter].

Where do you see yourself taking the medium in the next five years? I want to start delving into large format photography and also film – I want to start making short films that expand on the photos. 

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How do you think photography today, as a fine art – I mean do you see yourself as a fine art photographer? I do.

And you would never go commercial? No, and I don't want to.

How do you think fine art photography is perceived today in a cultural context? I think there are a lot of blurred lines – I mean there's fashion photography and fine art photography. It's hard sometimes to differentiate. I think it's regarded as a fine art. 

How do you think the definition of an artist has changed – and what do you think the definition of an artist is today? I think it's a romantic idea that – it seems like artists used to be perceived as these weird people and now it's cool to be an artist and people can dress the part and get away with it. I guess thats the biggest change I see – that now it's cool to be an artist and when I was younger I always thought of the artist as weird – the outcasts. 

Who are some artists that you are influenced by or inspired by? I don't think I'm influenced by anyone. Sometimes, Francesca Woodman, for example, I really appreciate her photographs, but I wouldn't call her an influence. I've taken things and then seen her work and noticed some similarities, so people may think I'm influenced by her, but I think people with similar mental ailments create similar images. 

Do you feel like you have mental ailments?[Laughter] No, but I think I tend to be on – I mean no one is any one thing and I hesitate to even say that I tend to be a certain way, because I don't want to be pigeonholed, but there are themes of melancholy and that emotion is evident in my work.  That mood – that heavy dark mood. And it's also evident in her [Francesca Woodman's] work. I'm drawn to a darkness. 

" I'm drawn to a darkness."

Where does the darkness come from? I mean it comes from inside of you or how you perceive the world around you. It's different for everyone and it doesn't have to be one thing or another.

Do you think artists are different – in terms of their role in society – is the artist's role, not necessarily more important, but more profound or carries more responsibility? Not necessarily. I think a lot of artists tend to be narcissistic for some reason. Maybe it's because we're always looking at our selves and expressing our selves – so we naturally become a little self involved. I think other people might be drawn to artists because they can be mysterious – people love mystery – people want to understand something they can't.  I don't know if that answers your question….

Yes…I mean artists unveil something that other people don't necessarily have access to…right? Yeah, they can show that the mysterious part of life – that romantic side. There is a Henry Miller quote, something about when you are writing – or when the artist is creating - or when the painter is painting – they are connecting to that source that is timeless and when you are in it you can feel immortal.  That struck a cord with me. 

And your dad is an artist – a musician – and he has had a big artistic influence on you? Huge. We have this strange connection. He has always been a source of inspiration, but I can't figure out why – it's not something I can put words to – it's just there. He's a musician and a painter. He has always been my role model – since I can remember. I've watched him paint and I – when I was four years old there was this period where I would have these nightmares and not be able to sleep and he would take me out into the living room and sing God Bless The Child until I fell asleep. 

A song written by Billie Holiday. Billie Holiday has been a big influence it seems like? Huge. It's the blues. She had a difficult life and that pain was in her and it came out in her voice and I identify with that. 

You said last night that if you could listen to one musical artist it would be Billie Holiday……over and over again….why?  It's that feeling of alignment. That feeling of alignment, like I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be and doing what I'm supposed to be doing. That feeling comes over me when I hear Billie Holiday. 

If you could, using five single words, to explain the different themes in your arts, what would those five words be? Blue……soft……blurred…..underneath……still.  

What is next? Feverish creation. 

www.abbeymeaker.com

Text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

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VHS SEX: An Interview with Com Truise

Com Truise's electric panoply of radioactive synth driven melodies is picking up where the likes of forefathers of synth-pop Geogio Moroder, Harald Grosskopf, and Kraftwerk left off.  In a nostalgic, yet with a uniquely contemporary cleanliness, listening to the carefully crafted songs of Com Truise is like unearthing some kind of long lost record from a time capsule which has been hermetically sealed in the center of the earth for the last 20 years. Combining vintage synthesizers with advanced modern day technology Truise proves to be an alchemical artist–even with the briefest listen it is absolutely safe to assume he is a master of his craft. And like his current alias is a play on words (other aliases include Sarin Sunday, SYSTM, and Airliner), Cruise's music is a play on music itself, because each dark and psychotically ethereal audioscape is the mark of an obsessive who is pushing the limits of modern sound. Jean-Jacques Rousseau is famously quoted from his Dictionary of Music, "Could we not imagine that noise...is itself nothing more than the sum of a multitude of different sounds which are being heard simultaneously?" Which brings us to the eternal question: what the fuck makes music in the first place. Com Truise was born Seth Haley in the suburbs of upstate New York where I can easily picture him in his childhood room surrounded by the ubiquitous sounds of early Nintendo and the synthy intros of countless low budget tv action shows like Quantum Leap and Night Rider. Or even the soft-corn porno's of Emmanuel, because Com Truise's music would make the perfect score for a sex scene in the rain. In June, Com Truise, who makes what he calls “mid-fi synth-wave, slow-motion funk” out of a tiny apartment in Princeton, New Jersey, released his first full-length, entitled Galactic Melt. Pas Un Autre contributors Abbey Meaker and Sean Martin caught up with Com Truise, who is currently on tour with the Glitch Mob, when he made a stop in Burlington, Vermont to ask a few pressing questions.

Is there a special synth you are mildly attached to? Right now? I just picked up an Octocat – I’m pretty sure mine is form 79. I picked it up in Austin on tour and incorporated it in a live show the next day, so I am really excited to record with it, because I don’t really have my writing situation figured out on the road.

That leads into my next question: Recording or live?  Recording. I am much more of a producer than a performer. It’s just me on stage right now so there is only so much to look at. I move around as much as I can but on this tour I can't really do visual [editors note: Glitch Mob, with whom he is on tour, already uses heavy visuals in their act]. For my next tour I am going to have a drummer. If it’s just me and a drummer it will be so much better. I am super excited for that.

I know you design your tee shirts–do you think the total package is necessary? Am I going to see you in a helmet or some face paint anytime?  I am going to have a special suit built. Not a full suit–just a strange jacket a pants. Future World Orchestra, on their album cover, they look like Jedi’s and that kind of inspired the idea.

Hyphenated phrase describing Com Truise? Slow motion synth wave funk. That’s usually how I describe the long of it. The short of it I just say synth-wave.

Do you sit down to work or do you wait for inspiration? Before this tour I was in the ad industry for 5 years, and the last position I had was the creative director for a pharmaceutical agency. What learned in advertising has given me one leg up in this sort of thing because I am so picky about branding. Your creative freedom is squashed. When I go home I erase the extra pressure but keep the brand in mind.

Europe or North America? I’ve only had the opportunity to play in Sweden. I will be in Europe for November, so ask me then. I have been on tour since June. I love North America, but the way I kind of explained it, just talking to a friend–not about music but about traveling in general, the United States is one giant different culture. Wherever you go there are the same things.

Necessities on the road? Whiskey.

Brand? Jack Daniels or Buffalo Trace, clean socks, American Apparel tee-shirts.

What VHS is currently in your VCR? James Bond Golden eye. It was the last VHS tape I recorded. That and Groove about the rave culture.

Do you feel like romance fits into your music? There is something hot about your music. I think I have that in the back of my mind and I try to put in there, but I don’t always bring it to the forefront. Some songs I want sexy and some songs I want dark.

You mentioned you’re influenced by the Cocteau Twins. What decade do you think you should have been born in? 26 in '85 or '86. That’s where I go to look for inspiration. I go to that time period and usually find what I'm looking for. Being able to go to the record store the day the record came out would have been unreal.

Future aspirations. Do you want to do soundtracks Video soundtracks? Scoring films. We’ve been talking to a few people about working on video games and producing for other people. Video game soundtracks are right up my alley. I will always try to inject my sound as far in the world as possible.

Intro text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper Interview by Sean Martin Photography by Abbey Meaker

www.comtruise.com