The Power & Vitality Of The Image: An Interview Of Controversial Artist Darja Bajagic

We are both among the first rain drops which indicate that there is a massive purifying storm approaching (2018)

We are both among the first rain drops which indicate that there is a massive purifying storm approaching (2018)

interview by Adam Lehrer

photographs courtesy of Darja Bajagić

Where the political left was once the clear bastion of free speech and expression in the U.S., it could be argued that the new left silences thought and speech perceived as antithetical or offensive to its values almost as much as the right wing does, or did. This is a problem for culture, and evidently, for art. “Political correctness,” says Slovenian philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek, “is a desperate attempt by the public norms to tell you what is decent, what is not.” What Žižek suggests here is that political correctness can be harmful in its ability to obscure the truth and dilute public discourse; by sanitizing rhetoric we sanitize cultural meaning. This climate of over-the-top, politically correct theatrics has infiltrated the art world; art’s job is ultimately to push back on societal taboos and interrogate prevailing norms. Good art is almost always offensive to someone.

I first came across Montenegro-born, Chicago-based artist Darja Bajagić at the Independent Art Fair in 2017. Bajagić uses (mostly) monochromatic acrylic painted backgrounds to transform images found within the dark corners of the internet and other non-web sources. Screen-printed atop her canvases are symbols of evil or complex/dual meanings, pornographic images, and pretty girls and boys. Subsequent research reveals these girls and boys to be victims and/or perpetrators of abductions or murders. Bajagić also refuses to over-explain her work, nor does she seek to moralize it (responding to a reporter about her use of a Greek meander motif in recent works was met with Bajagić’s claim that her work is about “the banality of evil”). Her stance has led to her work being misread and mischaracterized. While Bajagić was attending Yale’s Painting and Printmaking program, the Dean suggested she seek professional help. Years later she found herself being censored when her piece Bucharest Molly was removed from an exhibition at Galeria Nicodim.

The cancelation of a duo show between Bajagić and industrial music pioneer, writer, and artist Boyd Rice at Greenspon Gallery reveals the toxicity of political correctness in the art world. Stemming from revelations of numerous events in Rice’s background, such as his usage of fascist imagery in “Non” (an industrial music project), these “revelations” caused an artist-resource listserv entitled “Invisible Dole” to ultimately threaten the gallery’s owner, Amy Greenspon (though it remained installed and was shown privately to those that wanted to see it.) The animus towards Rice was eventually transferred to Darja as well. What they don’t understand about Bajagić is her belief in art’s ability to create conflict, to provoke thought, and to deal with the complexities of the world with nuance and clarity.

If the art world keeps presenting this utopian, groupthink version of the world, art itself is going to collapse. Artists like Darja Bajagić make us look at what we might find ugly, distasteful, and upsetting. I want to be upset. Please offend me. When you offend me, you are forcing me to think for myself. Being offended is healthy. Darja and I corresponded over the Internet to discuss this fiasco as well as her work at large.

“German Madeleine McCann” (2019)

“German Madeleine McCann” (2019)

ADAM LEHRER: I assume you knew that showing alongside Boyd Rice at Greenspon might ruffle some feathers, but did you anticipate at all that the show would be so offensive to others that it might actually get cancelled?

DARJA BAJAGIĆ: I did not expect any feathers to be ruffled. Only two years ago, in fact, Boyd took part in a group show at Mitchell Algus Gallery. So, I definitely did not foresee the show’s cancellation. The show itself did not cause offense; what generated offense was a series of falsities spread on a “private” listserv by a number of terribly misinformed “art world” persons. As a result of subsequent harassment directed at the gallerist by a select number of those aforementioned persons, including threats to the gallerist’s well-being as well as the gallery’s, the show’s opening was cancelled. Nevertheless, it was installed, and viewable by appointment.

LEHRER: How did you come into contact with Boyd Rice? Had you been a fan of his music and writing? What was it about showing work alongside of him that you thought would be interesting?


BAJAGIĆ: Chris Viaggio, the curator of our two-person, approached me with the idea in January of 2018. It goes without my saying it that Boyd is a pioneering artist.  I’ve always appreciated the ambiguousness of his output. Rather than providing any answer(s) to what he re-presents, he functions as a big question mark—forcing the [concerned] individual to answer their own question(s). They must answer it. This modus operandi is now, more than ever, relevant and necessary in the face of the rising, violent insistence to identify and [over-]define to the point of infantilism.

LEHRER: Your work has often been misread and mischaracterized. Are you finding that it’s getting increasingly difficult to show work that is challenging and at the same time not in line with the typical “art friendly” topics of the day, such as identity or inclusivity?

BAJAGIĆ: Yes. First, They Came for the Art. What’s remarkable is that, this time, it’s coming from within [the “art world”]. Artists are fighting to censor other artists. It’s truly absurd. They are executing what they claim to be fighting against, and using Gestapo tactics. Their democracy is, in reality, totalitarianism. They are cowards, essentially. They fear the unknown (we have come back to the violent insistence to identify and [over-]define). What they fail to understand, time after time, is that the subject of art is not the artist. On top of this, it must be acknowledged that, today, the motive of profit outweighs the pursuit of art, in its truest sense. Opportunism is a widespread disease. Complexity is unfashionable, especially if it risks affecting [your] financial stability; an added incentive to degrade [the status of art]—as have we, so has art become reduced. Vapid ornament.

LEHRER: No longer can people seem to grapple with the fact that a depiction is not an endorsement. Obviously, when Pasolini made Salo he wasn’t saying “I like fascism and child abuse,” but he was using the extreme violence as a way to show how power destroys both the victim and victimizer. You, like Pasolini, don’t take a moral stance on the work, which further complicates readings of it. Do you ever fear that if the art world keeps moving in this direction there just won’t be any room for work like yours anymore?

BAJAGIĆ: It is evident that there is a pathetic tendency towards greedy mediocrity. There is an inability or unwillingness to deal in any depth with complexity. Now, when it is needed most, complex systems of aesthetics, or even provocations, are suppressed. That certain things are uncertain or unknown is simply an impossibility and certainly not permissible; you see, Google has all of the answers—as one listserv member wrote, “With one quick google [sic] of Darja and a look at her instagram [sic] I found some pretty questionable stuff.” This included my following the account of Neue Slowenische Kunst  on Instagram—clearly they are pitifully unenlightened. They go on to say, “To be clear: I have never met her, have nothing against her and know little about her work. That said, fuck Nazis, White Supremacists and Nationalists. Why is she using this imagery with seemingly no indication that it is not in support of it?”. And there you have it. They admit to knowing “little” about my practice but are nevertheless put-out due to my lack of [an indication of] support towards my artwork’s content, which they are only capable of superficially labeling as “Nazi, White Supremacist(s) and Nationalist(s)” imagery. Symptoms of a myopic perspective. This mania for a sterile, essentially dead, art is detestable. Art should not exist within a zone of safety—this would effectively eliminate its true efficacy and potentiality. Censorship occurs when this true efficacy and potentiality threatens the ruling ideology. What the censors fail to see, however, is that, paradoxically, censorship is like pruning: it gives new strength to what it cuts down.

LEHRER: Your work deals directly with “the banality of evil” as you describe it. What is it about the art world, do you think, that makes it so adverse to this subject matter? Certainly depictions of evil, violence, power, and destruction still exist in cinema (Michael Haneke, Lars von Trier, David Lynch, Catherine Breillat), literature (Brian Evenson, Ryu Murukami, Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy), and music (noise music, black metal, even hip hop). And the art world, to outsiders anyways, seems like the most radical of all these industries, but perhaps ironically is the most sterilized in its thematic content. Where is this irony coming from?

BAJAGIĆ: Sterilizing art is a way to defuse its power. Fear and the fear of generating offense is one excuse in the defense of sterilization. Offensiveness is subjective and relative. What a person chooses to be offended by is a matter of personal opinion. Hypersensitivity is a[nother] widespread disease. So widespread has it become that it is now a tyrannical force. Everyone is catching it. And, as the Greenspon cancellation attests to, “even” the “art world” is forfeiting whatever semblance of [its support of] liberty it feigned—bigots and hypocrites, welcome. In regards to depictions of violence, violent images matter. We must force ourselves to see. We are not bloodless. Violent images are not dangerous, but what is is the overwhelming effort to sanitize, delete our access to an unvarnished reality.

LEHRER: You keep a fairly low public profile when compared against the endless self promotion of many artists in the digital age. This has me thinking of “cancel culture,” which I find to be inherently childish and a bit faux, which happens on both sides of the political isle (the left canceling Kanye, the right canceling Nike). By you taking a back seat from self promotion and controlling distribution of your image, are you hoping to at least somewhat emphasize the importance of divorcing your work from your persona?

BAJAGIĆ: For sheeple, innuendo trumps truth. Provincialism is rampant. Even opinions that diverge from those held by [these] mentally incapacitated persons spur onset extinguishing—this is a dangerous intolerance; it, in fact, calls for extinguishing as it eradicates the possibility or potentiality of anything other than itself to exist. Furthermore, yes, it is troubling, the death of the “marketplace of ideas”. Everyone deserves the right to express, discuss, their views. However, we have, instead, in place an obsessive preoccupation with victimhood, and it triggers a furious and compulsive cleansing—a moral panic. And, always, the threat takes on a symbolic form, as in the examples you list. It is an irrational one, as is the subsequent response [of the public]. Society’s hissy fit. As to my emphasizing my art over myself—I find the tendency to focus upon the artist reductive. The subject of art is not the artist. Art is impersonal and external, not in the sense of detachment [between artist and artwork], rather in that it is the process of a truth which is external to the artist but to which the artist is committed. It is addressed to everyone. All interpretations are correct.

LEHRER: You have said that those who get offended by your work are victims of hypersensitivity, but also that you are sympathetic to that hypersensitivity. But also, the work probably wouldn’t be as powerful if it didn’t offend at least some, correct?

BAJAGIĆ: I do not regard my art as offensive. What you are referring to was an answer to a question regarding “negative reactions to the subject matter of [my artworks].” And I followed by saying that What is in fact obscene, offensive, and oppressive is this hypersensitivity, imposing morality. With that said, I am definitely out to make trouble for people who like things to be simple. Because they are not. Things are incredibly complex, subtle, and nuanced.

LEHRER: One thing I am drawn to in your work is that it necessitates engagement beyond one dimensional looking. For instance, if there is an image of a young, pretty girl, the aesthetics of the work might trigger a subtle uneasy feeling but it is only through the extra step of research will the viewer find out that this young girl was the victim of an abduction and only then the art work’s full meaning is attained. Is this a conscious goal of yours, or am I reading too much into it?

BAJAGIĆ: Yes.  There is no single definition or “essential nature” of images, and different meanings and use can overlap. The meaning of a word is its use in the language. This is a fact, and it inexhaustibly excites me. Instances of this in my most recent artworks are Beate—helpful, kind, nice, obliging, primitive, subliminally aggressive and vulgar and “German Madeleine McCann,” two paintings that were a part of the Greenspon show. They feature the Greek meander—one of the most important symbols in ancient Greece, and, still today, one of the most common decorative elements. It’s on everything, from architecture to Versace thongs and bikinis designed by Instagram “celebrities,” as well on the flag of the Golden Dawn, a political party in Greece that is ultranationalist and far-right. It is thought to symbolize infinity and unity; to the Golden Dawn, they see it as representing bravery and eternal struggle. So, does this make Versace a supporter of ultranationalist and far-right policies? Of course not. The meaning of a word is its use in the language. However, judging by, say, the logic of the attitudes of the persons who forced the shut-down of the Greenspon show, Versace is unequivocally a supporter of ultranationalist and far-right policies due to their continuous use of the Greek meander in their designs, a symbol now notoriously tied to ultranationalist and far-right policies.

Another instance, in this same body, is Beate Zschäpe in Lonsdale, shrouded in intrigue. In it, Zschäpe is pictured in a Lonsdale top. Lonsdale is a long-running (ca 1960), hugely-popular UK-based brand of sporting clothes. In the late 1990s and through the early 2000s, neo-Nazis co-opted the brand as a means to bypass laws outlawing the public display of Nazi symbols, as by cunningly concealing the first and last two letters with a jacket, only the letters NSDA were left visible, one letter short of NSDAP, the acronym for Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers’ Party). Lonsdale reacted to this trend by marketing initiatives promoting multiculturalism and sponsoring anti-racist campaigns (“Lonsdale Loves All Colours” and “Lonsdale London Against Racism & Hate”). Notwithstanding, the trend (coined Lonsdale youth) was too widespread and took on a life of its own. It was subsequently selectively banned in schools across Germany and the Netherlands. Still, does this make every Lonsdale wearer a neo-Nazi or a member of the NSDAP? Of course not. The meaning of a word is its use in the language. We have to engage with things as they are and not as they appear to us.

LEHRER: One thing I find interesting, if a bit overemphasized, in your work is the critical focus on your use of pornographic images. The porn in the work is usually softcore, especially in comparison with what people see all the time on pornhub and its affiliate sites. But, by divorcing the porn from its source material and placing it into a fine art context, you are able to amplify its meaning to subversive effect. It’s like you are giving an image its power back after that power has been weakened by the sheer amount of images that surround it on the internet. Is this idea something of interest to you?

BAJAGIĆ: Sure. Art prompts the viewer to see and then re-see, and, in this, the power and vitality of the image [in an artwork] is less likely to go unnoticed. It applies to a pornographic image or another—it could be an image of a potato. Reanimating it, in the context of art, often impels suspicious engagement as it recalls its illusionary status. It reminds us that images are not to be taken at face value. They are symbolic constructions, between us and reality. Therein is their power.


NOTE: Neue Slowenische Kunst, or NSK, is a political art collective formed in Slovenia in 1984 that appropriates some fascist symbols into their output, sometimes juxtaposing symbols from totally opposing ideologies, and their musical wing is the successful industrial/avant-garde band Laibach


Screenshot at 13:49/15:02 of the NSU’s “Pink Panther” confession video (2018)

Screenshot at 13:49/15:02 of the NSU’s “Pink Panther” confession video (2018)




Creepers: An Interview Of Up And Coming Artist Daniel Boccato

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

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

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

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

LEHRER: Did you want to be a rockstar first?

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

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

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

LEHRER: What is Brazil’s popular music?

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

LEHRER: What got you interested in visual culture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Unholy Union: An Interview Of Lydia Lunch and Weasel Walter

text by Adam Lehrer

Of all the great unions of underground music, rock and otherwise; Bowie and Eno, Nick Cave and Blixa Bargeld, Justin Broadrick and Kevin Martin, John Cale and Terry Riley, Sonny Sharrock and Peter Brotzzman, and so on; the union between No Wave icon, transgressive artist, and spoken word warrior Lydia Lunch and free jazz, noise, and no wave musician Weasel Walter is perhaps the most harmonious and unquestionably the unholiest. When considering their respective biographies, both full of moments of sticking the middle finger in the faces of conventional standards of taste and decency, it’s difficult to believe that these revolutionaries didn’t find each other sooner.

Lydia Lunch is the closest thing that American transgressive art has to an icon. Lydia finds herself a symbol of everything that society doesn’t want her to be: loud, intelligent, brash, lewd, angry, righteous. First moving to New York in the late ‘70s to take on spoken word, she ended up the lead singer and guitar player for seminal no wave band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks (and appeared on Brian Eno’s No New York compilation alongside contemporaries Mars, DNA, and James Chance & The Contortions). The band was short-lived but influenced countless bands that would use rock instrumentation to explore chaos, atonality, and cacophony: Sonic Youth, Harry Pussy, and Magik Markers among many others. After the band split, Lydia continued making music solo and in collaboration with artists including Nick Cave, Blixa Bargeld, Michael Gira, J.G. Thirwell, Oxbow, and all manner of sonic agitators. Her band 8-Eyed Spy followed and brought in a sense of funk to the dischord. All while these projects were happening, Lydia found herself a pivotal figure in the ‘80s New York cinematic movement, The Cinema of Transgression, that would use extreme shock value and black humor to shatter societal taboos. Lydia directed, wrote and starred in films alongside the likes of Nick Zedd and Richard Kern. Photography, collage, painting (Lydia had an exhibition last year at HOWL! Arts that surveyed her multi-media output), Lydia has engaged in all manner of media throughout her career but defines herself primarily as a poet. Her spoken word is raw and confrontational, often inciting violence, uncontrollable tears or both.

While Weasel Walter is not a poet or a visual artist, his music shares characteristics with Lydia’s output. He has employed a multitude of musical styles throughout his career but has consistently maintained a brazen disregard for the rock n’ roll and cultural status quo. Weasel started his first band The Flying Luttenbachers in Chicago in 1991. He drew upon elements of free jazz, noise, extreme metal, modern composition, and prog rock for an angular approach to dissonant sound. In the process, Weasel re-popularized the term no wave reignited interest in the ‘70s no wave bands throughout the ‘90s with his record label, UGexplode. Weasel is interested in the extremity of sound in whatever style it may come in: modern composer Iannis Xenakis, free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman, death metal band Obituary, art rock luminaries The Residents, French conceptual prog rockers Magma and Black Flag all make sense in his diverse but aesthetically unified sonic tastes. He’s played in metal bands like Burmese and Lair of the Minotaur while drumming for jazz and improv gigs. He’s neither a free jazz drummer or a metal drummer, but applies his own peculiar approach to both equally and plays his ass off. Recently, Weasel has been playing in Cellular Chaos, a New York-based no wave revival band with Admiral Grey, Ceci Moss and Marc Edwards and the band’s second LP, Diamond Teeth Clench, came out over the summer. Also this summer, Weasel released Curses, a solo LP of electro-acoustic strangeness and warped beauty. Weasel’s tireless work should embarrass the herd of underachieving underground rock musicians.

Lydia and Weasel, both pivotal figures during their respective no wave eras, had been in each other’s orbits since the ‘90s, but Weasel had to hustle to gain the attention of his hero. “No, we’d run into each other over the years but she runs into hundreds of thousands of people and I was just some skinny twerp,” says Weasel.

In 2009, Weasel landed his noise metal band Burmese onto a reunion bill for Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. He made an impression on Lydia. “They were amazing, they were absolutely great. And so, I took notice,” says Lydia. “You know, he was smiley and cute...I was like, “OK, buddy.” He “weaseled” his way into my existence.” Lydia had an opening for a guitar player for a one-off gig playing old music and Weasel stepped up. “What started as a one-off turned into a multi-national conglomerate,” says Weasel.

Weasel and Lydia formed the band Retrovirus along with bass player and band leader of New York noise mongers Child Abuse Tim Dahl and former Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore drummer Bob Bert. The band plays modernized numbers from Lydia’s archives: Teenage Jesus, 8-Eyed Spy, Queen of Siam, and more. Lydia also uses Weasel for spoken word projects: their project Brutal Measures finds Weasel drumming in unison with Lydia’s rhythmic verbal gymnastics.

Building on the Brutal Measures project, Weasel and Lydia will be collaborating with poetry icon and original Last Poets member Umar Bin Hassan on a project entitled No Wave Out. The project came into fruition when event producer Some Serious Business’s Susan Martin facilitated a meeting between her long-time client, Lydia, and UCLA. When UCLA skipped on the idea, Martin put NYU record engineer and subsequent Lydia Lunch fan Phil Painson in touch with Lydia. Painson had a direct line to Hassan, and eventually set up a meeting between the two poets. In No Wave Out, Weasel will be playing guitar along with Dahl, percussionist Don Babatunde, and drummer Shaun Kelly drawing upon no wave, funk, hip-hop, noise, and free jazz to create a chaotic swirl of sound all while Hassan and Lydia trade poetic philosophy and revolution. “[Lydia’s] a natural wordsmith,” says Hassan. “Once we got in the studio I knew there was something interesting there.” The No Wave Out performances will take place on November 2 and 3 at Joe’s Pub in New York.

I hung out with Lydia and Weasel at the Roxy Hotel in TriBeca to eat breakfast and talk about their various projects, art, music, and destroying society.
 

ADAM LEHRER: I hate this culture of nostalgia that we’re living in. Why are people ignoring the music of their own time despite not having been old enough to have experienced what they are nostalgic for in the first place?

Weasel Walter: The internet sort of put everything on an even keel and everyone’s too intimidated to make their way through the morass of stuff now.

LUNCH: To me it doesn’t matter, I’d rather see a fucking reunion of the Jesus Lizard than most bands now.

LEHRER: Yeah, I would too. I love David Yow. But my point is more that people are letting their lives slip by because they’re mad they’ll never see Cobain or something. It’s almost laziness to me. You can experience any music you want. It’s there for the taking.

WALTER: Most people are overwhelmed by the amount of options. I’m a music head and I have a hard time finding new shit I like.

LUNCH: That’s why I look to architecture. A lot of kids in their twenties come up and they’re like, “oh, there’s nobody in my generation.” I’m like, why don’t you look to fucking architects, chemistry or science. Why does it always have to be the lowest common denominator, which is music? But music is still the universal language, and it can be brilliant. But why does everybody have to revert to base elements? My favorite quote about architecture is that it’s “music frozen in space.”

WALTER: Your answer is: people like music.

LUNCH: Of course they do. But look,  our band Retrovirus is a retrospective because nobody heard it the first fucking time. I wouldn’t call it nostalgic though because it’s still the most brutal shit going. Well, not the most brutal: there’s also Cellular Chaos and Child Abuse but, I mean, it’s still pretty fucking brutal. Everything Weasel and I do brings a sense of urgency and brutality to the stage.

WALTER: We don’t do any trigger warnings before we start.

LUNCH: Yeah, when there’s a trigger warning I’ve already shot you in the face. Warning, my fingers on the trigger. No warnings.

LEHRER: So, did you two meet when you moved to New York in 2009 or have you known each other longer?

LUNCH: He met me in his dreams when he was fourteen. I really noticed him was when he was in Burmese and forced their way onto a Teenage Jesus reunion. I was very impressed by that band.

WALTER: There was a job opening and I stepped forward.

LEHRER: And that evolved into all of these projects: Retrovirus, Brutal Measures, No Wave Out, and so forth?

LUNCH: We’ve gone to Colombia, Brazil, Australia and mainly Europe. I would like to do more shows in America but it’s different. I mean, it’s hard enough for me to just get solo spoken word shows. We don’t even have managers. I book most the shows. Weasel is so unappreciated, and underpaid. I want to show him off.


LEHRER: How did the No Wave Out project with Umar Hassan come into fruition?
 

LUNCH: I met this really straight looking black guy [Phil Painson] (and I don’t have many black fans, I don’t know why, being half black myself) and he’s like “hey, you’re Lydia, Teenage Jesus is the greatest band, I’m an engineer at NYU.” I just told him the concept and he goes, “I’ve got two unreleased albums by Umar Bin Hassan.” I thought he was fucking shitting me, I didn’t know that there were any Last Poets still alive. So, after many meetings with him, we set up a meeting with Umar. Now, imagine somebody goes to vet me...

LEHRER: Yeah, things will come up in the background check (laughs).

LUNCH: Who knows what they’re going to see. [the 1988 Richard Kern-directed film is a prime example of the New York cinematic movement entitled The Cinema of Transgression of which Lydia is often considered a muse to-ed] Fingered? But, I met with Umar and explained how influential he was to me. They were the first, and best, protest artists. How’s he going to fucking know what I do? It’s off his radar. I cracked a joke and won him over. We were just talking and he said, “yeah, I’ve been married three times and I got ten kids,” and I said, “well you did that wrong, son, didn’t you.” And he goes, “yeah, I did” and I said, “have you ever been with a white woman” and he said, “no,” and I said, “well you’re not going to be with none tonight ‘cause you’re looking at Biggie motherfucking Smalls” and he laughed and by then, he got me. I had to break down my ghetto into his. We started swapping stories. Then the day after my opening that you saw at HOWL! I had slept twelve hours. I usually sleep four so I was sick with sleep and Tim and Weasel had slept four hours after doing acid so we were on the reverse schedule and they were like, “you’re going into the studio with Umar.” It was an instantaneous, improvisational, spoken word throw-down.

LEHRER: I read that you are trying to boil everything down to the spoken word.

LUNCH: It began and will end with the spoken word. It’s not boiling down, it’s all spoken word to me.

LEHRER: It’s a volatile political and sociological era. Do you think that the spoken word is the most direct way to express yourself in that sort of time period?

LUNCH: Just go back and listen to (Lydia’s 1989 spoken word performance) Conspiracy of Women twenty-five years ago. I’ve been talking about this shit since I opened my mouth. My first big solo spoken word show, called The Gun is Loaded, which was under Reagan, would have been considered treason today. But the names remain the same, the fucking problem is the same. Hence, why Last Poets are still valid. Hence, why spoken word is valid.

LEHRER: I feel like people who criticized your work most likely were just uncomfortable with feeling emotion on some level.

LUNCH: Or intelligence.

LEHRER: Or intelligence. Your art is very raw and emotional.

LUNCH: It was never meant to be liked. Those that originally came or still come to the spoken word show didn’t know whether I was yelling at them or yelling for them. And it was only two years ago that Weasel and I did a show that I actually had to slap somebody in the face. Two guys actually, which hadn’t happened in decades. They were drunk as usual; it didn’t help that one was a Senator.

LEHRER: Weasel, your music has always been narrative but it’s wordless, usually. It approaches narrative through sonic intensity. How is it different for you composing music to be laid under spoken word poetry?

WALTER: I’ve worked in a lot of bands but the approach is almost always [musical approach conceived by late free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman] harmolodic. It’s about rhythm. It’s abstract music that has a pulse. I’m the un-funkiest white man in music but there’s a duality. For example, Tim Dahl, the bass player, is influenced by funk and R&B and it’s an intersection between the melodic section and these No Wave elements.

LUNCH: Also, I don’t like rhythm under my spoken word because my voice is rhythm. So, for instance, when we do our “duolet,” as I call it, or Brutal Measures, Weasel isn’t drumming under my spoken word because he doesn’t know what I’m going to say (not that it’s all improvising because a lot of it is orchestrated). I don’t need music under my solo spoken word. When I’m doing my spoken word, the less music under it the better because my rhythm drives itself.

WALTER: The No Wave Out thing, so far, has just been improvised. We’re all improvisors. I think there’s a unique tension you can achieve by really reacting to the moment.

LUNCH: I know, with my stuff, less is more. He’s a maximalist, I’m a minimalist. So, I like to surround my minimality with maximum impact. When we do Brutal Measures, a lot of my spoken word is much more on the down low. It’s quieter. He provides machine-gunning and I bathe your bruises with my tongue.

LEHRER: Will No Wave Out release music?

WALTER: [No Wave Out] was supposed to be a whole album but it doesn’t have a home yet…It’s sort of in production.

LUNCH: I would rather have an album recorded live. I think live is where it’s at. Do you have the Retrovirus stuff?

LEHRER: I have a few of the tracks on my computer. I have tons on my phone right here: 8-Eyed Spy, Teenage Jesus, that solo album you did with Marc Hurtado.

LUNCH: Oh, I’m glad you have that Hurtado, it only came out in Spain. I composed that whole album, people don’t realize I do some composition. Hurtado just dumped like a hundred industrial samples. It’s composition appropriate for the words that need to be said. He’s a compositional and mathematical genius. Photographs and compositions are the same. Some women knit, I make a fucking montage. I have no idea how I do it. But I do it really quickly...any of those tracks are composed in like an hour. And those photographs are composed in five or ten minutes. His shit is composed by an algebraic compositional mapping. I saw some of the sheet music and just wanted to tattoo my whole body in it so one day I could uncode it. This is what’s interesting about working with Weasel. We’re completely in synch together but we have such completely opposite methodologies.

LEHRER: That’s what I find so compelling. Teenage Jesus was one of the first no wave bands, or whatever they were calling no wave then, and then they labeled Weasel and The Flying Luttenbachers “new no wave” or “Chicago new wave.” But Teenage Jesus and the original no wave bands all sounded raw and falling apart almost, where as Weasel’s work with The Luttenbachers and other ‘90s no wave bands like U.S. Maple all sound quite composed and angular.

LUNCH: Last year, Weasel compiled the ultimate Teenage Jesus live LP, and Nicolas Jaar released it [on his label Other People]. It’s amazing. Weasel was sitting on his favorite Teenage Jesus compositions. Teenage Jesus was quite different because I didn’t compose much of the music in most of my bands. Other than Weasel, nobody can play that shit. A lot of guitarists have tried, but there’s basically no set tuning to Teenage Jesus so it’s difficult to try to figure out what I’m doing. We practiced every day for years but the only notes I knew were hand-written, the only chords I knew go around your fucking neck. And then we did one show last year, just to squeeze all the money out of the record label. Weasel played bass and he broke the bass string. Tim Dahl played drums and here’s a rhythm master and you’re trying to teach him beats that make no sense. It was very difficult for a really accomplished musician, like Tim, to understand. It’s not about music, it’s about brutality.



LEHRER: Even for you, Weasel, I always found your most brutal shit always had some sort of progression or structure to it.

WALTER: I can see the structure in [Teenage Jesus]. It is concise and it’s minimal, but it’s also very shrewd because it’s more sophisticated than people think it is. And there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. You can’t make anyone play that material and get it right. There’s certain pauses in that music that aren’t metric. In some ways, It’s really irrational music. it’s got this asymmetry. It’s weird, to me it’s got this duality - the most nihilistic music ever, but totally positive. It’s extreme black humor where it’s so unfunny that it becomes hysterical.

LUNCH: When I did the Teenage Jesus reunion, the metal dudes were like, ‘Woah we love your guitar.’ I just started laughing in their faces. I know you do. It’s amazing that these serious dudes, like Glenn Branca, who I was never friends with or a fan of, dropped to his fucking knees. I’m like, get off your knees. Please.

LEHRER: I just saw him do Ascension and he got all these kids to play with him. Like famous modern underground rock kids.

LUNCH: Was it good?

LEHRER: I think the setting made it pretty interesting. It was at the Masonic temple, so it sounded thick.

LUNCH: How many kids? Dozens?

LEHRER: I think like 12 and some of the musicians I liked, some I didn’t like. The kid from Liturgy was there.  I can’t stand that band. And some other kids, who were pretty good.

LUNCH: (laughs) Hunter’s (Hendrix, of Liturgy) poetry is really good, I will say. I gave him some spoken word lessons. The writing was really good though. It was very surrealistic.

LEHRER: Really? That’s interesting. I didn’t hate hate the first Liturgy album, I hated the second one that came out where it sounds like early 2000s rap metal.

WALTER: What Liturgy stands for goes against the original black metal aesthetic enough that purists despise it. The music is neither here nor there.

LUNCH: I don’t give a shit about his music. His words were good. We actually did a show for Brutal Measures in Hunter’s backyard. He paid us. It’s the only way we’d do it.

LEHRER: I don’t know why I find their music, in particular, so jarring. Because some hipster black metal bands, like Deafheaven, I like.

WALTER: I think metal should be made by people with bald heads or long hair. There’s nothing in the middle for me, really.

LEHRER: Weasel, I was wondering if you were into [Missouri-based musician Adam Kalmbach applies 20th Century composition to black metal noise in his project-ed] Jute Gyte?

WALTER: Yeah, I like them. I don’t listen to it that often because it’s so clinical. It has elements of modern composition. I’m too insular to get into the politics of black metal. ‘90s death metal bands sound like classic rock to me.
 

LUNCH: I just produced Pissed Jeans’ new album. The vocalist asked me to produce it. It was really fun. It’s good, it’s chunky, it’s fat free. The lyrics are fucking hilarious. The topics are outrageous.

WALTER: I think Teenage Jesus was one of the original death metal bands. I never stated it that way, but thinking about it, the whole aesthetic is there.

LEHRER: Teenage Jesus sort of has an association with downtown New York art. Were you are aware of the association?

LUNCH: I didn’t give a shit about the art going on at the time. I hated most of it. I came to New York to do spoken word.

LEHRER: I’m always interested in the stories that journalists attach to certain movements and art. They’re sometimes so different than what could have actually been contextualized by the people making the art.

LUNCH: With Teenage Jesus, someone gave me a broken guitar. We started writing the fucking songs. I found an abandoned building. I started living there and we started practicing until it was tight as possible. Then we got a few shows. Then we got a place on Delancey. And then I found a way to take it to England. I was very focused and it was never more than 20 people at any fucking gig. Why would there be? This music would drive people insane. People would run out before our short sets would end.

WALTER: The shortest set was seven minutes. The average was about 10.

LUNCH: Why do you need more?

LEHRER: I go see Swans every time they play around here and the first hour is like, “fuck this music is so good,” and then the next hour, you’re like “damn my legs hurt, my shoes hurt,  my boots are fucking dirty. People are stepping on my feet.”

LUNCH: We never played more than like 15 minutes. Brutal Measures, we don’t even time it. It’s got to be more than 20, but I don’t like to do more than that. Spoken word shows were ten minutes. Ten minutes back and forth.

WALTER: We would play most of the songs and it was less than 20 minutes.

LEHRER: I think brevity in general is one of the things that may be has pushed mass audiences away from rock’n’roll. I mean I do have an affinity for electronic music and I think it’s just because you go to rock shows now, it’s like 50 disaffected kids staring into space, nodding their heads, feeling self-conscious. Then, you go to an electronic show, it’s kids taking drugs and losing their shit. It’s way more rock’n’roll in some ways, at this point.

WALTER: For most people, a gig is an excuse for other things: Sex, drugs. That’s what rock’n’roll used to be. An excuse to do that stuff for most people.

LUNCH: I prefer people sit down. I’ll tell you why. If the words are important: fucking listen. I want them to be in the room, focused in. When I do a solo show that has visuals and music, there’s this room you can disappear into. I’m looking at you, you’re looking at me. We’re having a very direct and intimate experience. I like to look into everybody’s fucking eyes at my shows.

WALTER: I never look at the audience.

LUNCH: You don’t even look at me. Unless I’m in your face.

WALTER: I’m focusing.

LUNCH: He’s gotta do his own shit. It’s so elaborate, what he’s doing. I have to go deep and go in. I’m more about penetration. If you’re there, you’re gonna get impregnated and it’s gonna be from my dick. That’s my tongue.

WALTER: That’s why she gets the big money.

LEHRER: Lydia, You lived in Berlin in the 80s?

LUNCH: I didn’t live there.

LEHRER: You just hung out there?

LUNCH: People think I lived in Berlin. People wanted me to live in Berlin. I would just go there.

LEHRER: You were hanging out with Nick Cave then too?

LUNCH: I saved him from OD’ing a few times, so yeah I guess that’s hanging out.

LEHRER: It’s awful what happened to his kid.

LUNCH: It’s awful what happened to his career. He became mega rich by selling ballads.

LEHRER: I still think he has a couple beautiful songs here and there.

LUNCH: He’s another one who conned the cons. I don’t know how he did it. I was thrilled to be on tour with The Birthday Party. They were absolutely one of the best bands ever. I loved the lyrics. I didn’t love The Bad Seeds. In his case, he had like three good ideas and he rode them forever. People release too many albums with the same musicians. I’m a conceptualist, he’s not. Weasel is a conceptualist too. One of his latest albums, Curses, is so different than anything else he ever did. It’s on his bandcamp, you can hear it.

WEASEL: Curses is this electro-acoustic piece.

LUNCH: It’s one of my favorites. Women really like it.

WEASEL: A lot of my music is not very feminine (laughs).

LUNCH: The album is very witchy. Women really respond to it. It’s such a different elemental force that he’s dealing with. This is one of our connective tissues. Whether it’s just the intensity, the focus, or that we’re two fucking weirdos that are outside of everything and don’t give a shit about anything.

LEHRER: Both of you have been involved in so many projects, so many different amazing types of art, just as a general piece of advice, what keeps you excited and reinvigorated to continue making more?

LUNCH: Well we cry a lot. You should hear our cry fests. Last night I was having one. We’re stubborn. It’s in our blood. I’m prolific. He’s far more prolific. I can relax more than he can. I think I am my best creation. I don’t need to be constantly working on projects, but I always am. The burning in the blood overrides everything else.

WALTER: I’m always trying to articulate things that I think are lesser in quantity in culture, especially if it’s elemental. I don’t like to make redundant art. That’s why I was never in a straight death metal band, for example, because there’s like 8 million of them. I think sometimes in certain time periods, there’s a need for me as a fan and listener for certain kinds of music that people are making. That motivation is almost like a negative motivation. What is everyone not doing? I need to do that.

LEHRER: So not out of a contrarian sense, but that something is missing.

LUNCH: It’s contrarian.

WALTER: It’s two sides of a coin. A lot of my bands were conceived because I hate what’s going on and basically I want to destroy it with my own voice. I’m always trying to articulate my disdain.

LUNCH: I’m trying to express the condition I’m in and what I’m trying to get over. I’m not just lashing out at the universe. My priority in creating anything is to get over whatever the obsession is now, to try to get to the next place of pure existence. I know other people are suffering the same insanity.


Purchase tickets for No Wave Out here. Text and photographs by Adam Lehrer. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


With A Little Help From Our Friends: An Interview With The Design Duo Behind NYC Fashion Label Private Policy

text by Adam Lehrer

 

Private Policy is the gender-neutral fashion label by two Chinese-born fresh-faced recent Parsons grads Haoran Li and Siying Qu. Only two collections in, the two designers have created a smart albeit colorful range of menswear fitted products that can also sensibly be worn by women. The clothes seem to reference V Files-approved street wear, colorful and a bit off, with a focus on high fashion tailoring and embellishment: a simple fitted turtleneck comes exaggerated by orange bondage belting, a velvet bomber jacket is equipped by fluffy tassels, gigantic fur-laden scarves adorn the shoulders of brown down jackets.

True to the Parsons fashion education, Li and Qu have a business sensibility that is not always but often lost on young designers, perhaps instilled in them through internships with the likes of Calvin Klein, Alexander Wang, and Phillip Lim. In other words, they want to be the kind of designers that make dope clothes worn to death by their well carved out customer bases. Their clothes wouldn’t look at all out of place in the underground clubs of Bushwick or the dive bars of the Lower East Side; clothes meant to be worn by an exuberantly young creative force growing less and less concerned with dressing in accordance with their private parts and income brackets. These garments are sensibly chaotic.

ADAM LEHRER: Where did you guys grow up?

HAORAN LI: We are originally from China, but we grew up in different places. I lived in Canada for high school, in Toronto. I came to New York for college. She went to high school in North Carolina.

LEHRER: Did you first become aware of fashion living in China, or did you get more of a sense of it living in Canada?

HAORAN LI: My parents are jewelry designers and were focused on art.

SIYING QU: My family: career wise, though everyone is in business, everyone has this love for fine arts. When I came here for high school, in North Carolina, I had the chance to learn more about fine arts and fashion. From there, I realized fashion would be the perfect career for me. It’s a combination of art and business. We don’t think focusing on business is limiting, but a challenge. We are fashion designers, not artists. We are designing a product.

LEHRER: You guys got a sense of what luxury meant to you personally at a young age?

SIYING QU: Yes. My mom, for example, has amazing fashion sense. She has an eye for details. She paid a lot of attention not just to the clothes, but to the details of the garment as well.

LEHRER: You guys went to Parsons. What brought you to that school?

HAORAN LI: I decided on New York because I like the style of it. It’s chill but it has unique things too.

SIYING QU: I applied both in New York and London. When I visited the two cities, New York, especially Parsons, has a very strong sense of both the design and business of fashion. I find it fascinating.

LEHRER: How did you guys meet? When did you guys realize you had a creative kindred spirit?

HAORAN LI: We were in the same year of school, but we never had class together. She was working on menswear and I was majoring in women’s. But senior year, we were working on our thesis collections, and our working tables were next to each other. That’s how we got to know each other more.

SIYING QU: During senior year at Parsons there is a lot of stress on the thesis collection. You try to pull four years of study into one collection and show not just what skills you have, but your personality, what you stand for. Under that stress, we worked next to each other. He would help me with styling. I would help him sew a pocket.



LEHRER: You did womenswear, and you did menswear. Did you find similarities in the ways you wanted men to dress and the ways you wanted women to dress?

HAORAN LI: I majored in womenswear, but my focus is in textiles. I do patterns, and I construct garments. I do very simple shapes, but with very complicated fabrics. She’s very good at silhouettes and shapes.

SIYING QU: Also, our vision for menswear has very sensible style and a simple silhouette, but with a design touch to it. When you wear this piece, you feel comfortable, you feel like yourself. But still, your piece will not be the same as something elsewhere.

ADAM LEHRER:  There seems to be a sub-cultural referring at work in the clothes, is that accurate?

SIYING QU: A major inspiration for our brand is contemporary Downtown New York City.

HAORAN LI: We like Soho, Chinatown, the Lower East Side. We like how they dress here. Our friends live here, and they inspire what we do right now.

LEHRER: It’s a menswear brand, but it’s made for men and women. Was there a decision to name it a “menswear” brand as opposed to “gender neutral?”

SIYING QU: Every silhouette and fitting so far is men’s. We mark it that way, because that’s how we fit the clothes.

HAORAN LI: After we made our garments, a lot of girls were really attracted to them. That’s how we decided to go in a genderless direction.

SIYING QU: From a personal perspective, my girl friends and I all wear menswear, for a different style. Womenswear, I think, has too much design going on, or the silhouette isn’t clean enough for me.

LEHRER: What are your ultimate hopes and goals for the brand?

SIYING QU: We have a lot of hopes. Of course, in selling. We hope to make this a stable brand so that we can bring the ideology of the dress to a bigger audience.

HAORAN LI: We want to bring the Downtown New York style to more people.

LEHRER: How do you see your customer, and how do you go about widening the space for who that customer can be?

SIYING QU: We have started to do trade shows and presentations. While we were talking to the press, we realized that our designs alone brought the customers to us. The buyers are drawn to our colors and textures, in the midst of this big New York environment.

LEHRER: Right now is an interesting time in fashion. High fashion seems to be made for a very specific person, with a very specific set of beliefs. Do you feel like you’re in a unique place in fashion that you might not have been if you graduated three years ago?

HAORAN LI: Three years ago was another story for fashion. Right now, fashion is more and more close to ordinary people. There’s less class in fashion.

LEHRER: It’s less about class and more about taste.

HAORAN LI: Yeah.

LEHRER: You guys are two collections in now, and the demand for new product has never been this substantial. Is the team just you two?

SIYING QU: For design, just us. If we need help, we have a big friend group. We love them so much. They’re so generous. It’s a good feeling. They really like the design. We have a marketing manager in China. We just came back from there. China will be another big market for us. Today, we think, as a young brand, it’s important to make a global presence. Also, from our background, being Chinese and then studying here, traveling a lot, we have that international sense. Hopefully, we’ll go to Paris next. I believe that people in Europe will have a unique viewpoint.


Find stockists and see current Private Policy collections on the label's website. Text, interview and photographs by Adam Lehrer. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Pushing Boundaries: An Interview With Claire Barrow

text by Adam Lehrer

UK-based fashion designer Claire Barrow has always married art and fashion in a way that feels proper. While most fashion labels re-interpret graphics by their favorite artists, Barrow has used her garments as a vehicle for her own images.

Born in Stockton-On-Tees, UK, Barrow found herself seduced by the sounds and imagery emanating from her local record shop as a teenager. While her classmates listened to Top 40 and wore their school uniforms, Barrow listened to bands on the atonal side of the rock spectrum (from Slayer to Sonic Youth) and found her own style by deconstructing and adding flair to her own school uniform. “I would wear all these ‘80s earrings. I would put patches on. I cut my tie,” says Barrow. “Getting into music, I just preferred metal and punk. I was finding my own records and being fully immersed in it. Music became my entire life.”

Barrow moved to London in 2008 to study fashion. Even though she already was making pictures, fashion seemed a more realistic career than being an artist. “There was a fashion course at my college, so I did fashion.”


From the beginning of her practice in fashion, Barrow illustrated on the garments she created. Those images, steeped in iconography of radicalism and sub-cultures, have made her one of the most exciting designers on the London Fashion Week ticket since she debuted her collection at Fashion East for Spring/Summer 2013.

But Barrow is a tireless creative and it was only a matter of time before she would grow interested in seeing her imagery take life on canvas. The exhibit ‘Claire Barrow: The Bed, The Bath, and The Beyond” that was on view at London’s M. Goldstein Gallery from April 17 to 24 found Barrow rendering the most private aspects of daily life, from taking a shower to using the restroom, and examining the ways in which we renew and revitalize ourselves in lack of spirituality and religion.

Claire Barrow and I spoke over Skype to discuss the exhibit, but also what it means to maintain a fashion brand in this exhausting system, why she is re-evaluating her place in this system, and her hopes of uniting a whole world of creative mediums under the Claire Barrow brand.

ADAM LEHRER: So many of your garments can stand alone as artworks. Were you interested in being an artist before you became a fashion designer?

CLAIRE BARROW: No. I wanted to be a fashion designer. Fashion seemed more realistic than being an artist. I wanted to be trained in how to make garments.

LEHRER: Does the interest in fashion come from creating something with an application? You can wear clothes and engage with garments in a way that you can’t with art.

BARROW: I don’t think I thought about the bigger picture. I’ve always illustrated the clothes I’ve made. I’ve enjoyed it. But now is the first time I’ve ever done canvases, which is really fun.

LEHRER: I’m sure. How does it feel in comparison?

BARROW: I think it’s a lot more confrontational. When someone wears clothes, they can hide. Namely, it changes for each viewer and wearer. I present models with their hair and makeup done. There’s a whole [aura] around it. People take what they want from fashion and use it in different ways. Plus, people need to wear clothes. With art, they’re just looking at that one thing. People can’t really interact with it. They can’t interrupt it in any way. It’s different.

LEHRER: Does it feel more vulnerable to have your images hanging on a wall than it does when making clothes?

BARROW: It feels equal. It’s hard to make clothes because you have to worry about everything – the fit, money, time. I don’t know the art industry quite yet, but it feels like you always have to prove yourself in the fashion world. There are so many people trying to do it. With the art, I don’t feel as much of that. That might be because I’m in an interesting position, having my own gallery show now. It might be different for me.

LEHRER: Everyone always talks about this connection between fashion and art. Usually, it’s just a brand taking an artist they like and turning their work into prints. Whereas, I feel like your garment work has been a vehicle for art. Do you agree with that?

BARROW: Yeah, I think so. I want to be taken seriously as an artist. Each garment is a whole presentation with its own concept. The concept that I just did was the “retrospective,” which was taking references from every era from history rather than one. Each garment made up the bigger picture.

LEHRER: I know you are friends with Reba Maybury (editor of outsider art and body mod mag Sang Bleu). I follow all your friends’ Instagram accounts. Your fashion brand is tied to these more subversive projects. Do you feel like a part of a loosely affiliated collective?

BARROW: Yeah, maybe. I feel like it’s coming to the surface now. There’s always been a strong group. We’re also just hanging out together, doing whatever. So that’s good. I actually want to come to New York.

LEHRER: To live or to visit?

BARROW: To live for a bit, I don’t know. Maybe three months.

LEHRER: People associate New York with being the most commercial in terms of fashion. At the same time, we have these really extreme brands – Ekhaus Latta, Moses Gauntlett Cheng. There’s this whole new thing going on that might fit in with what you’re doing.

BARROW: I think I’ll come and hang out with some of those guys. London feels a little stale at the moment. But that could be me right now.

LEHRER: People always talk shit about the city they live in.

BARROW: I feel like people don’t like London anymore. It’s so expensive. There’s less opportunity for young people. It’s harder because we have to pay huge student fees now. We’ve got really shit government at the moment.

LEHRER: We’re in a similar boat.

BARROW: No, because Bernie will win.



LEHRER: I hope so. Also, about the show, I want to talk to you about what your idea was around the “cleansing aspect” of the shower.

BARROW: I feel, personally, that I don’t hold onto anything sacred. I don’t have many beliefs. The only one I kind of have is self-preservation. I worry about social situations. It’s this social thing, rather than religion. I don’t have that much faith. But it’s not pessimistic. The characters in it are quite cute, and I wanted it to feel quite cute. It’s quite commercial, like cartoons in an advert or something like that.

LEHRER: So you’re not religious or spiritual at all?

BARROW: No. But I hate saying that. It makes me feel really sad and guilty. My parents made me go to church every day until I was 12. Some kids saw me going to church and started picking on me about it. It was weird.

LEHRER: So the shower is cleansing yourself of all the bullshit around you?

BARROW: It’s cleansing yourself of yourself and getting reborn every day.

LEHRER: You said your first reference was the anxiety of modern British life. Where do you think that anxiety is rooted?

BARROW: Social. People worry about being accepted, being normal, and fitting into a certain social scene. That seems like the main concern for young people right now, rather than worrying about what’s going to happen to them after they die. Now, we know everything, so it’s all about worrying about yourself.

LEHRER: That’s interesting. Now that we know that we’re going to be dead, all we worry about is who we are when we’re alive, who thinks we’re cool. Running a fashion brand and putting an exhibition together at the same time is a ton of work. Where do you think that work ethic comes from?

BARROW: I know how hard it is to do the two and continue making something good. I work as hard as possible. I don’t take it for granted. I haven’t had a family that has gotten me into places. I came from the north and I’ve tried to make it on my own.

LEHRER: I just read an interview you did with Eloise Parry in Heroine Magazine. You two talk about bonding over a Slayer patch. It got me thinking about your work. Aside from a few designers, when brands reference underground subculture, it’s always the same stuff. A Peter Saville graphic here, a Bowie reference there. You seem to really know music and subculture. Do you ever feel at odds with your interests and what most high fashion is trying to express?

BARROW: I think if you know about subculture, you know what people are not going to like and what you should use. One should respect that genre and subculture. People will be like, “Punk fashion: that’s what I’m trying to do,” and it doesn’t look punk anymore. But that’s a good thing! That’s real punk, rather than going for something that looks like “punk.” That’s real subculture.

LEHRER: When you look at Chris Brown wearing a studded leather jacket, you think, 'how punk could a studded leather jacket actually be?'

BARROW: But that’s the thing. ‘70s punk fashion isn’t punk anymore. Being punk now is being creative and new. It’s trying to push boundaries.

LEHRER: Do you think the Internet is collapsing subculture, combining and spreading it out? Do you think it’s a good thing that the focus is more on the individual? Like, someone can go online and find out about every type of music and decide what they like.

BARROW: I think so, yeah. I think it’s hard to create and be a part of a subculture now. It’s all nostalgia. There’s no music subculture now that has come from completely nothing, maybe Trap. It’s all about the individual. I think it’s a shame not to be an individual in this world.

LEHRER: You seem like someone who likes to fill up her head with different culture. Have you always been like that?

BARROW: Yeah, ever since I was 14. I was very quiet. My parents only liked popular culture and chart music. I started dressing quite strange at school. I would wear weird things with my uniform to dress it up a bit.

LEHRER: What were the first metal and punk bands you liked?

BARROW: I used to really like Carcass, when I was like 16. That was quite strange. One of them is from where I’m from. I liked New York Dolls. I liked Black Flag. I liked Sonic Youth. All the classic ones, I think.

LEHRER: To me, it seems like the name Claire Barrow could be associated with a wide scope of creativity. It couldn’t just be a fashion brand. It could be art. I know you said you want to do performance. Would you ever see your end game as the name Claire Barrow being associated with a whole dearth of culture and creativity?

BARROW: Yeah, that’s what I’m going towards now. I’m actually skipping a collection. That’s going to be weird. Everyone’s going to be mad, which is fine. That’s my life. I just want to do a bit of everything, honestly. And that’s so scary. It’s hard to make any money if you haven’t got a set job. But I want to go into different areas now.  

LEHRER: The fashion calendar feels like it’s going to collapse anyways.

BARROW: I don’t know if it will. People say it, but how could it actually collapse?

LEHRER: I know. People keep buying clothes.

BARROW: Half the fashion industry consists of these really commercial brands that no one’s heard of, but they have really rich customers. To rich people, there’s no problem.

LEHRER: There are so many amazing designers coming out of different cities. It’s a tragedy that we have this calendar that doesn’t seem conducive to new talent.

BARROW: The biggest problem is the new talent. How can you fund it? Let’s see what happens. That’s kind of why I want to take a break, to figure out that sort of thing. How could I do a couture thing where I only show a few pieces? It’s kind of a way to get your power back.

LEHRER: Did you find that painting for art gave you more ideas for fashion?

BARROW: It's made me feel the opposite. It’s given me more ideas for art.


Click here to visit Claire Barrow's site to view current collections and stockists. Text and interview by Adam Lehrer. Photographs by Flo Kohl. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Calamity Serenity: An Interview with Preston Douglas and Harry Patterson

Walking around New York Fashion Week: Men’s, you are likely to befriend other dudes that are as obsessed with fashion as you are. It makes you feel like a bit less of a weirdo. One such friend I made at this last round was Preston Douglas Boyer, a guy who looked a bit like a cross between a Hesher longhair and a teenage Supreme worshipper that was actually a Houston-based fashion designer who just released his first collection of motocross inspired and geometric printed line of garments back in February.

Boyer is something of a Hypebeast. You can watch videos of him on YouTube as a 14-year old giving his informed opinion on the latest drops of Jordan’s and luxury brand sneakers. That taste for luxury sneakers later translated towards clothes, and Boyer initially worked as a stylist for Houston and international musicians that would come from the city. Last year he took the plunge and started designing clothes that he wanted to wear, all while studying marketing at the University of Houston.

Also interesting is that his partner and brand equal is Harry Patterson, who is in charge of production for the brand. The guys are equally invested into the garments as they are into the production of the brand, indicative of kids who grew up in an era where image was everything and everywhere. Designers like Boyer are going to start appearing more in the industry. As opposed to the designers before them that found themselves influenced by Rei Kawakubo, Le Corbusier and Joy Division, we are about to see a lot of kids that have been mainlining Supreme and Nike for as long as they can remember. Read on for my conversation with the guys.

ADAM LEHRER: So yesterday you told me that you started the brand because you felt something was missing from fashion. What was that thing that you felt was missing?

PRESTON DOUGLAS: I really felt like functionality within luxury menswear was missing. You buy a jacket for $1,500, you buy a pair of jeans for $1,500, and you can have that for the rest of your life and as far as functionality goes our jacket has three jackets in one. You can style it 20 different ways. You can’t style a Saint Laurent bomber jacket like that.

LEHRER: You can’t even put it on unless you weigh less than 140 pounds (laughs).

PRESTON DOUGLAS: I want to change up the patterns. I love geometric patterns.

LEHRER: Yeah.

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Being a consumer for so long, starting with sneakers, I have an appreciation for color that I feel like a lot of menswear lacks. When I buy a piece and spend a thousand dollars on a jacket, I want that to be a piece that when I go out people are like, “What is that? Where did you get that? Who made that?” And then you tell them, "Preston Douglas."

LEHRER: So you feel that men’s fashion for a while now has been black, black, dark colors. So you want a larger pallet?

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Black is my favorite color but I want a larger palette… but tasteful. I love prints but if you’re just doing all black and all whites and grays and then you just put together some print shirts, I don’t like that as much as incorporating said print into a variety of pieces.

LEHRER: You mentioned you wanted Harry to tell the stories. What were the stories with these first few designs you came up with?

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Basically the collection’s called Calamity Serenity. The past two years of my life have been polar opposites. My life about two years ago was complete despair and chaos, I was lost. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself. I didn’t know how to function. So that’s the calamity, the black represents that chaos.

Then before I knew it I hit this point in my life where everything started to change. My life the year after is serenity. It’s a complete antithesis to calamity and you can see that in the colors. I feel like everyone has a point in their life where they’ve been through some really dark times - when you are ready to give up. I hope my story can help someone else.

LEHRER: Growing up, what designers made you think about apparel more than footwear for a brand?

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Christophe Decarnin. I remember looking at his look books. Really I got into luxury menswear because of luxury sneakers. Kris Van Assche for example. Ann Demeulemeester. Rick Owens. All these people had amazing sneakers. It’s all out there now with social media and Hypebeast and Highsnobiety.

LEHRER: Then socially too it’s become more accepted for dudes to be into fashion.

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Yeah! 8th, 9th grade when I started to get into sneakers and started my YouTube channel, I’d get called faggot or gay. Every single day all the time. I got major bullied for wearing colorful shoes, colorful Nikes. But I went to a private school so the only thing I could express myself with in terms of fashion were my shoes.

LEHRER: Exactly.



PRESTON DOUGLAS: I kind of created my own friend group and found my own path through creativity manifesting itself in a lot of different forms. First being sneakers; I had a sneaker resell business. I started a photography business. I started styling rappers and interviewing people when they came into Houston. Then with fashion, I felt like I’d been a consumer and seen enough to where I saw myself being able to fill a gap.

LEHRER: So you’ve always been entrepreneurial?

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Yeah I’m an entrepreneur first because nothing can happen without it.

LEHRER: As far as growth goes, what are your highest hopes for what the brand could be in a couple years?

PRESTON DOUGLAS: In a year I’d like to be showing in New York, possibly LA. I haven’t really been out there enough yet to see if my aesthetic and my brand fits with that culture and that lifestyle. There’s a lot of people in LA I look up to with regards to the fashion industry. So keeping it within the United States first and growing my local recognition and name and getting my manufacturing down.

LEHRER: So Harry, what’s your end of the brand?

HARRY PATTERSON: I was a production designer, I started out designing stages for concerts. Mainly live music, that’s what I thought I wanted to do for a while. I’ve done a lot of stuff making music or art. But while Preston is designing the clothing I want to be designing the set.

LEHRER: So it’s not just a one-man designing type thing? You guys are working in unison to bring two different ideas into one setting?

HARRY PATTERSON: Yeah I think that’s really important. This time he hit me up when the line was done and wanted me to DJ. I got him to take photos at one of my shows in Houston and he was like “I’ll give you a deal if you DJ my fashion show.” In December I called him to catch up and I ended up doing the production for it. I was skeptical at first, I had never worked in the fashion industry before but it worked out really well. 

LEHRER: Were you interested in fashion or have you just gotten more into it now working with him?

HARRY PATTERSON: A little bit. Not as much as I am now. I never thought I’d be working in the fashion industry.

LEHRER: I feel like a lot of creative people just happen to end up in it in one way or another.

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Yeah! But the show in Houston was a really cool opportunity. I’m really glad Harry was involved because there was talk of moving Houston Fashion Week to the next level.

HARRY PATTERSON:  I actually thought that was what fashion week would be like when I went. I was like “ehh I’ve seen this in the galleria before,” this is going to be a bunch of clothes I’d wear to church. So it surprised me. In the past three days I’ve met more people in the fashion industry than I know in the music industry. It’s nice it’s smaller because it’s more of a collaborative feel.

LEHRER: Yeah I get that.

HARRY PATTERSON:  It’s harder to get that vibe with people in music. 


Shop the Preston Douglas Calamity/Serenity collection here. Text and interview by Adam Lehrer. Photographs by Clay Rodriguez. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Searching For Light And Color: An Interview With Tamuna Sirbiladze On The Event Of Her Untimely Passing

During my career interviewing and writing about artists, musicians, and designers, I have come to the understanding that creative people don't always have personalities that match their artistic outputs. Hermann Nitsch, in opposition to the violent imagery he depicts, is a quiet and cerebral old man in conversation. David Lynch infamously projects a mid-western "aw shucks" attitude that seems perfectly out of sync with the nightmarish dreamscapes that define his films. But last summer I ventured to Half Gallery to view the first U.S. solo show of Georgian painter Tamuna Sirbiladze. Unlike the previous examples, when I talked to Sirbiladze I met a woman who seemed exactly like the paintings that she so beautifully rendered: warm, embracing, and emanating a powerful and transfixing spirit. 

I am utterly torn up to hear of Sirbiladze's passing today at the age of 45, due to Cancer-related complications. During the short conversation that I had with her, I already felt connected to her. She had a way of making you feel like you've always known her, and that more than anything, she wanted to be known. She wanted to know the world. She seemed full of curiosity and wonder. Of the many artists I've gotten to know, she was one of the few to drop me a line on Facebook or Instagram. It might sound vain to say, but I can't believe that I will no longer be seeing those notifications.

It seems criminal that Sirbiladze is no longer with us just at the moment that she was starting to gain recognition for her paintings. Her paintings, which veered between the abstract and the figurative, had remarkable beauty to them. They filled me with nostalgia: gazing into those vague figures highlighted by muted shades of bright colors always made me think of my childhood, spent by the beaches of Cape Cod or swimming in ponds buried deep in nature. Her paintings were full of love but never soft. There was pain in them, but also a sense of hope. She seemed to feel life very deeply, and her art will be lasting testament to that fact. 

Adam Lehrer: Have you been to New York before?

Tamuna Sirbiladze: Many times, but this is the first time for my show.

Lehrer: How did you and Bill get together to put the show together?

Sirbiladze: It was when I was here last night. A friend of mine helped make the contact. Bill and I then exchanged emails. And then it just sort of came together.

Lehrer: Is there anything in particular that attracted you to Half Gallery?


Sirbiladze: I loved it because it’s such a domestic feeling place. It’s like home. And my works are so expressive and not at all domestic. It proved to be a nice contrast.

Lehrer: It seems like with a lot of art dealers, business is the bottom line. But with Bill, he’s a real art lover.


"...Searching for color and light is my main engagement." 


Sirbiladze: Yes, he really loves art!

Lehrer: So how has putting together this show compared to others that you’ve been involved with?

Sirbiladze: Well, Bill really knew my work. For example there was this wool painting. Bill was kind of shocked at first, but then he loved. So, I see how he is very in tune with art. Not only with thinking and knowing, but also with intuition. He has strong visual knowledge.

Lehrer: Talking about the art itself, it’s different than much of the art I’ve seen recently. It’s a little abstract. How did you first get involved with art, and when did you start painting?

Sirbiladze: I was 13 when I started.

Lehrer: And you’re from Georgia?

Sirbiladze: Yes, and my father was a painter. And I knew at age 13 that I would be an artist. I started doing still lives. The first time I put a brush in my hand I knew that was what I’d do.

Lehrer: And you studied art in school?

Sirbiladze: Yes, I was fascinated by art. But I had to learn about it through books. In Georgia, there were no museums. But to see original art in books was my favorite thing.

Lehrer: Who were some of the painters that left an early impression on you?

Sirbiladze: I loved Rembrandt, Goya, and the impressionists.

Lehrer: Bill mentioned something to me about pomegranate, and that it’s a symbol used by a film director?

Sirbiladze: Yes, Sergei Parajanov. The pomegranate is a symbol of the country of Georgia, because there are some many pomegranate trees there. Many artists use it as a symbol. I had to sneak it in there.

Lehrer: So it’s like your homage to your country?

Sirbiladze: Yes, it’s like a subject itself. I didn’t want to make it as an art statement; I wanted it to exist as itself.

Lehrer: Does your home country filter much into your ideas?

Sirbiladze: You know, it works itself into the ideas.

Lehrer: Your color palette is quite beautiful, blues and red always on white background. Do you have a special relationship with color?

Sirbiladze: Yes, color is the reason that I started painting. Searching for color and light is my main engagement. 


Tamuna Sirbiladze's work is currently involved in a group exhibition, entitled Imagine, at Brand New Gallery in Milan until April 2. You can also view our coverage of her debut solo show in the United States here. Text, interview and photographs by Adam Lehrer. 


The Allure of The Palimpsest: An Interview With Spring/Break Art Show Curators Gabrielle Jensen and Michael Valinsky

Spring/Break Art Fair, now in its fifth year, offers a decidedly more radical version of the visual onslaught of the Armory Art Fair, also starting this week. Founded by artists and cute married couple Andrew Gori and Ambre Kelly (of creative supergroup The They Co.) in 2015, Spring/Break allows its curators (many of whom are artists themselves) total control. The fair is something of a socialist art wonderland, where the bottom line is truly to inspire its viewers and perhaps even subvert societal capitalist norms. As a result, this fair brings together major but decidedly confrontational artists with exhibitions and works from Barbara Kruger, Anne Spalter (who’s stunning installation will be the first thing you see in the fair’s lobby) Greg Haberny, David Shapiro, and more will be shown alongside equally famous and radical artists from other mediums like filmmakers Jim Jarmusch and Tom DiCillo. Hopefully the big name talent will draw viewers into the booths of the unknowns as well, because this festival has a massive pool of startling untouched talent (I will recount the best of this exhibit throughout the week).

One exhibit I was particularly excited about; Double to Erase is curated by a couple of young poets just out of NYU Gabrielle Jensen and Michael Valinsky. Innately interested in the use of text and the examination of language, these bright young kids centered their Spring/Break offering around “the palimpsest,” a text constituted in the erasure of another, or “creation as violence” as the duo likes to explain it. Being someone whose passion for aesthetics was birthed out of ‘70s horror films and punk rock, violence is always I’m drawn to within art. I had to have Jensen and Valinsky clarify their vision further, so we met up at Café Grumpy in Midtown to discuss some days before the opening of the fair. (Spring Break opens today to the public).

LEHRER: First thing, the title of the shows is interesting - Double to Erase. What is that all about?

GABRIELLE JENSEN: It’s how in creating something there’s also a violence in the concept that we’re working with that empowers us. Like writing over a writing.

LEHRER: What interests you about that concept and what does it mean for you?

MICHAEL VALINSKY: The theme of the fair this year is “copy paste” and our background is in art theory so we were thinking in terms of language and text and different kinds of text that exists. We start to think of the palimpsest as necessary layering that happens in meaning making. In that layering we became aware of a violence that came with erasing the original and the space that opens up for the new work.

 GABRIELLE JENSEN: We were thinking about what a text can be and how the idea of what a text is is changing right now. Especially in art making and how language and text are appearing in art. Double to Erase came from the idea of a palimpsest which is a writing over writing or a making over making. Sometimes what happens is in creating doubles or a second layer of a text or a work of art then the whole thing becomes erased into something else.

LEHRER: What sparked this whole line of thinking and started the conceptual process behind the exhibition? 

MICHAEL VALINSKY: NYU! We met at NYU and we were sort of operating within the same wave length academically. So these conversations are the kind of conversations we’ve been having for a long time. They just kind of came to fruition when the light bulbs lit and we realized that we should apply what we’d been talking about.

LEHRER: That’s what’s cool about Spring Break though, it’s super conceptual. But it’s almost like the people who go and check it out are looking to be challenged conceptually so it becomes a more palatable way to deliver a conceptual idea. 

MICHAEL VALINSKY: Yeah definitely. Spring Break really allows curators to play and take risks and show work that’s not safe. Work that’s going to challenge you, that appeals to a very large spectrum of people. You have people from all ages and industries that come to this fair. They’re interested in the alternative way of addressing art. Amber and Andrew, the directors, do a really good job of creating that space for us.

GABRIELLE JENSEN: We were never asked to play with or change our concept or the language. Because the language that we’re working with is pretty specific. I feel like in other contexts you’d be asked to put it into a more universal language.

LEHRER: For whatever reason, you have other mediums like fashion or music which are constantly seeking for new things. But in art galleries because they have to sell X amount of dollars every single day, you see the same artist doing the same exhibits over and over. So I get super excited when I see a fair like this.

MICHAEL VALINSKY: It’s really cool; you play with a project and once you get approved into the fair then they really let you do your thing. We don’t have the pressure of the white cube and the big gallery environment where everybody has to do something stale.

GABRIELLE JENSEN: A lot of different narratives come out too when you have this freedom. A lot of our artists are more on the emerging side, but one of our artists is represented by a gallery and another has more background in curating. I think it creates a conversation between the works if you have different backgrounds.

LEHRER: Are you guys ever in conversation with the other curators in the fair?

MICHAEL VALINSKY: It’s pretty much like a college orientation when you get there. We arrive and have two days to install our show, and then everybody is in adjacent rooms and we all just kind of get to know each other. We have a week to basically live with each other so we all become friends at the end. It’s really great. Last year I was doing it and I was showing works from relatively emerging artists and across from me were pieces from more established artists and it created a really cool dialogue and I became in touch with the curator.

LEHRER: Were you guys studying to make art too?

 GABRIELLE JENSEN: I do performance, and I want to start doing more instillation and stuff. He’s a poet, I’m a poet.

MICHAEL VALINSKY: I’m on the writer side, which I guess is not exclusive to the term, but I don’t identify as an artist.

LEHRER: It seems like all the artists you guys are using seem to have a relationship with space? Or at least in regards to instillation? 

MICHAEL VALINSKY: So we have one installation and one sculptural element. Ivana Basic is contributing three sculptures and one skin piece. She’s very interested in the way people walk around and interact with the space and attract the artwork; how it’s placed and how they’re shaped.

GABRIELLE JENSEN: With Vanessa Castro, her previous projects have involved installation, especially involving video as a component of instillation. I’d say Ivana’s definitely create an instillation environment because they’re pillows and they’re on the ground. They’re going to be installed in a way that creates an idea of a spatial barrier.

MICHAEL VALINSKY: Francesca is really interested in poetic space, and her work varies but she’s doing a lot of woven work that is really large scale and has been commissioned in public and private spaces. She’s interested in the sort of trope of the women who weaves. A lot of art institutions made women weave and now she’s sort of translating that into a language for herself. She’s concerned with space and how things are presented and how they read.

Tom Butler is the only male artist, and I discovered his work about three years ago. He is interested in the space within and without a photograph and at what point you enter it. So the grid is pretty important in that sense because you’re kind of put into a system.

 LEHRER: Awesome guys thank you so much.


Spring/Break Art Show will be on view from March 2 to March 7, Skylight at Moynihan Station (Main Post Office Entrance) 421 Eighth Avenue, NYC. text and photographs by Adam Lehrer. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE





No Hate, No Fear: An Interview With Artist On the Rise Marilyn Rondon

photograph by Miyako Bellizzi

Text by Adam Lehrer

The first time I met Miami-based artist Marilyn Rondon was at this year’s New York Art Book Fair. She was working at a booth under the tent section of the fair and it’s very hard to not be immediately drawn towards her: a fiercely petite Venezuelan woman in her mid-‘20s with painfully beautiful bone structure, deep brown eyes, jet black hair, Olympian fitness level, and a vast collection of tattoos including script on her forehead and an amazing battle royale back piece done by Brad Stevens of New York Adorned. Trying to evade a pervasive sense of shyness, I briefly chatted with her while perusing through her impressive display of self-published zines and other work.

I ended up picking up a copy of her ‘Selfie Zine’ and as I browsed through it on the train home I was struck by its raw depictions of human friendship and exuberance. The format is simple enough: throughout the book Rondon appears in selfies along with male and female friends in varying degrees of clothing. Rondon’s willingness to show her self sans modern filters is striking. Her ‘Selfie’ book is the antithesis of Kim Kardashian’s ‘Selfie’ book in which Kim appears 100 percent made up and perfect in every photograph. Rondon actually seeks to reveal herself. To be known. Not to peddle an idealized version of herself.

Curious, I started following her work on both her Instagram (@calientechica) and her Tumblr pages (totallystokedonyou.com). In photography, creative projects, painting, writing, zine productions, and more, Rondon shares her life with her myriad followers. Her willingness to let people into her life has resulted in inspired creativity and the occasional public debacle. Her “Latina Seeks Thug” project was the result of her jokingly saying to a friend, “All I want in life is a thug to have a baby with.” In a stroke of mad genius, she decided to post an ad on Craigslist asking for that exact thing. Without even a picture, she got 101 emails in 17 hours from gentleman looking to take Rondon up on the offer. On the more difficult end of her creative life sharing, Rondon wrote an article in Dazed about her cheating boyfriend that he would eventually ask the publication to take down. She simply goes with her emotions and does her best to let everything fall in place. That is what makes her an interesting artist.

The first time I spoke with Marilyn she had just gotten back from a silence retreat and she was still flying high off the experience, making it the perfect time for an interview. She is incredibly warm and open yet simultaneously self-aware. She discussed much of her artistic philosophy and the brazen harassment from perverted men she suffers as a result to her commitment to her work. The sheer amount of activity Rondon engages in is astounding. Along with her social media projects and experiments, Marilyn has also started painting commissioned murals characterized by bold repetitive patterns. As a working model, she has a rigorous exercise routine and strict eating habits. A couple days after the interview I was out celebrating my birthday and Rondon was DJing in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. She literally does everything, and it all becomes a part of a rich and diverse artistic world. Marilyn Rondon is a contemporary artist to watch (on social media, and in her work).   

Adam Lehrer: You work in so many different mediums. What was the first medium you messed with when you first felt an inclination towards creativity?

Marilyn Rondon: I was enrolled in a magnet art elementary school in the third grade. There, they teach you everything from ceramics to photography. I learned how to develop film when I was in the fourth grade. My dad was a musician. My mom is really artistic. My younger sister makes art and plays music. My older sister photographs and paints. I was fortunate. I always had my little sketchbook. I did ballet for a few years. Art was always my favorite. I could create my own world and distract myself from reality.

AL: That’s interesting that you say art distracts you from reality. When I look at your work, you put so much of yourself into it.

MR: I use myself as my subject a lot. Art should be about the human experience. I like to play around with the idea that this is my world, but it’s also collective… I really don’t know how to explain what I do.

AL: You’re great at illustration. You’re great at photography. But I also think your Instagram and Tumblr are really interesting. Do you consider all of it in the same domain of your work?

MR: I consider [social media] a reflection of my photography and my drawing. I’m just documenting my life and what I’m going through. I’m growing. I started documenting through photography really young. I would always take pictures with my Polaroid camera. I would take photos of my friends at school and on the weekends all the time. I was fascinated with holding on to the people I love and care about. It’s strange to call it art, but every photographer shoots what they want to shoot. I just want to shoot the moments I should remember. People always change; you never know when you’re going to stop seeing someone, for whatever reason. It’s really important for me to capture that.

AL: The mural stuff you’ve been doing is really amazing. How did that opportunity come up? Have you always been drawing in that repetitious pattern?

MR: Yeah. I always just draw the same thing. I feel fortunate, at such a young age, to have found that style which is so distinct. No one else’s stuff looks similar to mine. I honestly just do it because I love painting so much. The feeling I get when I put the paintbrush down—I’m in heaven. It’s so therapeutic. The most painting I did was in the past year, when I was getting over my breakup. I did 300 paintings.

AL: Do you think you’ll always continue with the multimedia aspect of your work, or are you shifting more towards painting?

MR: I haven’t painted in a month. It’s been really hard to not paint for that long, but I haven’t had a lot of inspiration. I was recently commissioned to do ten paintings in five days, which was really hard, because my paintings are intricate and cover the entire canvas. It was a shit show. I didn’t sleep for 36 hours. I’m literally the most determined person I know. I’ll sleep when I’m fucking dead.

AL: I love the “Latina Seeks Thug” debacle and subsequent show that you got into. Do you feel that your best ideas come from spur-of-the-moment things that happen in your life?

MR: Yeah, especially with that piece. I made that piece as a joke. In passing conversation, I said, “I’m going to do this, and it’s going to be hilarious.” I didn’t think it would have the amount of reach that it did. I didn’t think it would even be considered art. I totally forgot that I even put out the ad. My ribs hurt for the week straight after that because I couldn’t stop laughing.

AL: And there are guys that sent you dick pics?

MR: Yes. It happens to me on my Instagram too. I turn my phone on, and it’s just dudes sending selfies with, “Hi.” And then, immediately afterwards, it’s a picture of them jerking off. What do they get from this? These men that do this are clearly sex offenders. Any man in their right mind knows not to send a video of them jerking off to a stranger. They’re so sick in the head. It’s repulsive and scary. It’s all the time, too. And it’s not just me.

AL: I think it’s cool that you turned this disgusting habit of perverts doing disgusting things into something positive. You’re posting all of these guys’ pictures, but people still send them. Is it proving a point that these guys don’t learn?

MR: They’re brain dead. They see me as an object, and they don’t take the time to know me as a person. They just think, “Oh, she’s hot; I’m going to send her a picture of my dick.” Oh my god, you don’t know what I’m going to do with that photo? You idiot.

AL: Your conversations with other women reveal similar social media experiences. Do you find that the abuse women go through—on the Internet and in real life—is a common theme, or is it more extreme in some cases than others?

MR: It’s more extreme in certain cases than others. Or maybe not. Everything in life is constantly changing. We’re different people, in different environments, in different cities. I really don’t understand it. I want to know if men experience this. I want to interview guys who are on social media, to see if they have similar experiences with women. I’m interested in the other side of it, to see what it’s like for a guy who is posting a bunch of selfies on social media. Are girls sending him pictures of their tits? How common is this for a man? That’s where I want to go next.

AL: Well, I don’t know, if that happened to me, I don’t know if I would be bummed. Women have to endure all the time which makes it different.

MR: This shit also happens in real life. When I was eight years old, I was walking home from school one day, and some pervert flashed me on the street. It happened to my sisters and my friends. These men are obviously mentally ill. They don’t realize their behavior is not okay. They think that they are justified in doing it because women look a certain way or dress a certain way. There are boundaries in this world, regardless of how someone presents herself.

I understand that I’m an interesting-looking person, and I have to deal with people asking me questions about my body. People feel so entitled to harass me. I work at a bar, and these guys will be like, “Can I braid your hair?” I’m like, “Can you not touch me?”

AL: Do guys use your tattoos as an in, like a pickup line or something?

MR: Oh, yeah. And they think it’s a compliment, but it’s like—“Go away. I don’t want to talk to you.” And then they get upset and start to insult you if you don’t respond.

AL: When you are portraying nude women other than yourself, how do you navigate the male gaze?

MR: I basically have no ass, so I’ve always had this fascination with asses. Like the grass is always greener on the other side. So I approach my subjects with curiosity. I just play around with them in a way that I would want to be shot. I’m comfortable with my body. I think sexuality is totally okay. I’m very comfortable with my figure, and with the woman figure. It’s not something that should be shameful. We’re human beings. When I’m shooting girls, I’ll say, “Oh, I wish I could look like this, can you do this?” And they’ll do it. It’s like I’m playing out my fantasy.

AL: So it’s still a representation of you, even though you’re not the intended subject?

MR: Yeah, I guess.

AL: Have you ever had a moment where you shared something about yourself or anyone else that you regretted?

MR: Oh, all the time. Half the things I post on Instagram, 20 minutes later I’m like—I shouldn’t have done that. I feel like that’s natural for most people. That happened to me earlier this year, actually. I was on a trip with my ex, and I found out he was cheating on me. Then, there was an article in Dazed about it. He was very upset, and asked them to take it down. I didn’t do the piece as revenge. I didn’t want to hurt him. I had to use the words that I used to show him how we was treating me. I made the piece to raise awareness about the places we put ourselves in for the people we love. But it was totally taken in the wrong context. I was portrayed in the wrong way, and I suffered for a long time because of it.

I come from a family of abuse. I was abused for a really long time. When you’re abused for a long time, you think it’s normal. But it’s not normal. You need to be treated with love and compassion. Love should be unconditional. That’s what I wanted to get across. 

AL: Do you regret any of the work you make?

MR: I don’t regret any of the work I make. But it can be exhausting. People judge who you are without knowing anything about you. I’ve put things out that have made me grieve. But that’s the life of an artist.

AL: I find it amazing how open you are with talking about mental illness and the things you have been through. It’s inspiring. Do you feel you have a responsibility to erase some of those stigmas?

MR: That’s why I do what I do—because of where I’ve been, what I’ve gone through, how I got out of it. I know how hard it is to be there. It becomes much bigger than it really is. I have people write me every day, saying, “I’m going through the hardest time. Can you give me some advice?” I make myself available. I’m not a therapist, but I try to help people through what I’ve learned. If I can affect just one person in a positive way, I’m happy. I don’t need money for that. We live in a world where people are so closed off. People don’t know how to love, how to love themselves.

AL: Did you move to Miami for a change of scene, or for work?

MR: I moved to Miami the day after I broke up with my ex, because I wanted to murder him. But I grew up in Miami. The only way I was going to get over him was to never see him again, so I uprooted my life. But it was the best thing ever.

I’m taking a break from painting, but I’m having my very first solo photo show in January in Miami!

AL: Do people ever interpret your intensity as coming off too strong?

MR: Yeah, but I kind of like it. I’ve learned to love without expectation. I feel so free because of it. I can tell someone I love him/her and I don’t expect to hear it in return. I just want them to know that they are loved. People’s ideas of love are so skewed because of the romance movies and books they read. No. Love is about sharing. It’s not selfish. And when you love yourself 100%, you can love freely.


You can find more of Marilyn Rondon's photography and art on her website - you can also check out current and previous zines. You can also check out a selection of those dick pics here. Text and interview by Adam Lehrer. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE



Noah's Arc: An Interview With Supreme's Former Creative Director Brendon Babenzien On A New Fashion Frontier

As I first walk into the flagship store for Brendon Babenzien’s Noah brand in the NoLiTa neighborhood of Manhattan, Babenzien is a little on edge. The store, beautiful in its design as it is, still smells of paint and there appears to be a credit card issue (that issue is now completely fixed). So Babenzien politely requests that we take a 15-minute recess and I poke around the store.

Staying true to the brand’s slight adherence to its beach community theme, the store stands out in the neighborhood full of high fashion boutiques with its white brick exterior and nautical logo on the glass door. Inside is something like a portal to Babenzien’s head. There is an old issue of High Times with John Lydon on the cover, a stack of records, and numerous trinkets and gadgets that would serve a variety of activity-based functions.

And then of course there are the products. Babenzien has cultivated an aesthetic with Noah; equally informed by beach community prep and skateboarding grunge; but these products have a malleability that could serve a variety of personal styles. They are also high quality and priced exactly in accordance with their qualities. A t-shirt is $48, a sheepskin jacket is $2,000. The whole point of Noah is that the customer is buying a product and not into a brand. Thus, you pay for what you get when you need it.

News launched that Babenzien would be leaving Supreme in February, and Noah was announced shortly thereafter. He is quick to say that he wasn’t unhappy at Supreme, but his daughter had just been born and that instilled in him a drive to start vocalizing his ideas about garment sustainability and smart shopping. Babenzien’s message isn’t all that different than that of say Vivienne Westwood: buy less, buy high quality, buy beautiful.

Babenzien is immediately disarming once conversation gets rolling. He has a mystical surfer guy vibe with a soft cadence to his voice that allows him to deliver philosophies without coming off as too heavy. He and I sat down at the Noah flagship to discuss the brand, sustainability, activity, and how style is everything and fashion is nothing.

Adam Lehrer: I’m really into the whole Noah concept, I grew up on Cape Cod.

Brendon Babenzien: Oh you did, nice!

AL: When I first read an interview about you, you were talking about growing up in a beach community and how that informs the brand.

BB: Did you see the reversal sweatshirt? That literally is from this memory that I had from the clammers working when I was a kid. They’d be out there in the middle of the winter and would be wearing these two-ply sweatshirts. They weren’t even wearing jackets really and they would be digging all winter. My brother would dig for clams just for easy beer money. And my version of that, or what I grew into, was surfing. You share this common experience [living in a beach community]: surfers, fisherman, and people that are just generally beachgoers.

AL: It’s a lifestyle.

BB: You all share this common physical experience: the look of the water, the smell of the water, the beach, the sounds that go with it. I’ve always loved how a surfer and a sailor doing different activities on the same body of water - they share food locations.

AL: There’s like six restaurants, four bars.

BB: I’ve always really loved that overlap. That’s an underlying constant in the brand, but it’s not a nautical brand. It’s one part of the culture. A one-dimensional brand recognizes how you’re going to work. Apple is Apple: it’s clean design. But I think with clothing, that’s influenced by culture, it can be limiting. I’m into a lot of things why can’t I express them all under one roof? If it’s from one voice, it comes off natural. Because we’re small, and the brand is singular, I think it works.

AL: Is that something you were maybe thinking about at the latter days of Supreme, that you wanted to express all the things you love as opposed to a few specific things: art music, skateboarding…

BB: Supreme already does that better than anyone. They throw all these cultures into one place and have it make sense. It wasn’t so much that they’re not doing it so I want to do it. This label is more about me growing up and my personal experiences. There are things that I wanted to say about how I see the world. The only way to do that is to put your own brand out into the culture, and to use your own words. I was only one of many people that went into making Supreme what it is, granted I was an important part of it. But it wasn’t just my voice. It was just time for [Noah], plain and simple.

AL: I’m really interested in how you talk about how the effort put into being fashionable can overrule having style. Does Noah have a specific customer or are you trying to make products that allow people to be who they are?

BB: It’s a really tricky thing. You make all this stuff in a really particular way but then you talk about people being individuals but then you are asking them to step into your box.

AL: (Laughs) Right.

BB: So for lack of a better word, it’s a fucked up situation! That’s one of the reasons that I talk about activities and what they do and what they think because that’s really the thing that gives rise to their personal styles. We’re not asking people to come in and be a “Noah person,” we’re asking them to be themselves and see if any of these products fit their lives.  If you want to run in these shorts or you decide this is the year that you’re going to buy a sheepskin jacket, and which one is it? Maybe it’s ours. Maybe it’s the Tom Ford one, I don’t know. But we really like the piece and we hope the customers can do their own things with it. So we aren’t really asking people to join this culture, it’s more how do we intersect with people.

AL: A lot of designers seem to say that they don’t buy into trends, but you’re really a trend averse designer, is that conscious or are you just trying to filter things into the world?

BB: I definitely get nervous with the designer term because I really don’t know if I am. I’m a glorified stylist: I don’t have any design training, and I couldn’t cut a pattern if I tried. I’m something else, but I don’t know what that is yet. The trend-averse thing, it’s not a thought. From the time I was 13 working at a surf shop, I’ve trusted my instincts. Sometimes that leaves you ahead of the curve. We try not to analyze it so much here. I’m not even sure we are trend averse. They are just clothes. But I feel like we sit really closely with the world and I’ve often thought that people that make things, whether it be fashion or television shows, are so closely related in their thinking. I’d love to think that we are ahead of something, but I really don’t think we are.

AL: One thing that I found interesting was that the spectrum of price points is vast, but all the products are priced exactly as they should be. A t-shirt is $45 or a jacket can go up to 2 grand. Is it important to you that the product always matches its price point?

BB: Yes. One of the things at the core of this, from the business side and maybe culturally, we produce garments that make sense and we don’t over-produce. Sometimes the price is really high because you are making a small quantity of a beautiful thing in a very expensive fabric. That is design to me. But a t-shirt shouldn’t be $200, I wouldn’t want to wear a fancy t-shirt. When you have a store, there’s an advantage to things not being ridiculously priced, because you cut out the wholesale component.

[Brendon walks over to the Noah store’s racks of clothing and motions toward a shirt] We have a cashmere shirt, and it’s expensive it’s $800.


AL: I felt it though, it’s nice.

BB: Oh, it’s incredible. If I was in the wholesale department, or I was in another brand that was in a position to buy that fabric, it would be $3,000. That’s a real thing.

AL: And I also think that brands like modern day Saint Laurent selling cut off denim skirts for 1200 dollars just to maintain brand integrity is sick.

BB: I have a hard time critiquing Saint Laurent because of all the “luxury brands” I actually think they are doing a pretty phenomenal job. The clothes are pretty normal.

AL: And that’s interesting because it does go into Yves’s philosophy of normal clothes made in the most luxurious of fabrics.

BB: There’s some stuff where you really see the rock n’ roll influence and maybe there are some people that couldn’t get it, but then they’ll have a coat that by most standards is pretty preppy.

AL: I think it’s more the styling that makes it look subversive.

BB: Yeah it’s incredible. My criticisms of the fashion world mostly have to with it pushing products on the public. Products that people might not be interested in after a year. That has to do with more of my personal consumption. If you buy my jacket you can wear it for 30 years, cool. If you buy something wear it once and throw it in to the back of your closet, we have an issue.


"We live in a fucked up world where there is no perfect answer. So what do I do? I make clothes, I understand brand culture, and I have things that I want people to see. So I open up the doors and communicate every aspect of the process. Focus on how style is style and you need not buy 100 things to look cool."


AL: What’s interesting though is that the people who aren’t smart about shopping buy so much shit, but people like me who do care about a quality product are going to trust you more as the person behind a brand, and they will want to buy Noah.

BB: You would hope. Styling is a huge component. There are things in this room that on one person might look really preppy but on another might look more mod or English punk or whatever. It depends. If I get a 50-year old guy from Naples and he buys this [double breasted jacket] he’s going to look Euro. But someone else could wear it and look like Shane MacGowan. That’s there the style component comes in.

AL: With Supreme, the only thing in front of the brand is the red box logo, has it been weird transitioning to someone who is in front of the brand, doing interviews, in some sense being the face.

BB: Yes (laughs). I’m not a huge fan, but I’m getting more comfortable with it. As a father I feel a responsibility to start communicating these ideas. I’m not good if I’m not taking the little amount of connection I have to people. If I’m not doing that, I’m kind of being irresponsible. If I can maybe open someone’s mind to buying less or starting their own business, then I need to do it. But I don’t necessarily enjoy it.

AL: I just remember when you were at Supreme one video of you came out and everyone was like, “Brendon Babenzien speaks,” it was a big deal, just to hear you speak at all. Now there’s tons of press. It has to be different.


BB: It’s a lot. I’m not stoked. Did you see how stressed I was this morning? It was pretty much because of this. I like talking to you, I like talking to people. All the writers that have come in are informed and cool and it’s a pleasure to have these conversations. But I don’t want to be fucking famous.

AL: And fame can be a by-product.

BB: Here I am trying to talk about consumption issues and buying less and I’m selling products. We live in a fucked up world where there is no perfect answer. So what do I do? I make clothes, I understand brand culture, and I have things that I want people to see. So I open up the doors and communicate every aspect of the process. Focus on how style is style and you need not buy 100 things to look cool. I would argue that people with less money and access that know how to dress are far superior creatively to people that can buy anything they want. It’s easy to buy a Celiné piece and look fresh, Celiné is incredible!

AL: It’s harder to go dig up an old Yohji Yammamoto jacket at a thrift store.

BB: Forget that even. Maybe you can’t even afford that, and you have to co-opt something. That’s why I think skateboard culture and hip-hop culture were so impressive in the early years. These kids had nothing, but they would go buy stuff at Army Navy stores and workwear and make it look fucking cool.

AL: And it’s been influencing everything ever since.

BB: That’s style. To not have to go out and buy the latest and the greatest thing.

AL: You’ve said Supreme was more about the artists, musicians, skaters, surfers, writers, and athletes, are these still your people with Noah?

BB: They’re not even separate. You can’t separate music and fashion and skateboarding and style. Think about skateboarding: the style isn’t just the fashion, it’s the doing. You watch the old Dogtown doc, they say you have to have style. How your arm sits, you land. The clothes are an extension of that. You can say the same thing about a painter or a writer, the physical action of what they do is natural. It’s a style. Because if you skip that process of skating, running, or painting, and go straight to just trying to look a certain way, there’s nothing there. There’s no substance. Shopping shouldn’t be a fucking hobby.

AL: With Supreme something everybody liked were the campaigns with people like Lou Reed, do you still want to use the brand to highlight people that you admire?

BB: Without a doubt. I don’t know that I’m in the position to do that yet, there are costs involved. We’ve already started in some way, these bandanas are from some Japanese kid who cuts up bandanas. We’ll do that, when we can.

AL: To finish up, just sitting here I see people coming in and you seem so interested in people. And stories, and you have ideas and an overall message, do you see yourself in some sense being a storyteller?

BB: I think I like people, I joke a lot that I don’t like people but I just don’t like bad people. I definitely like a good story. I don’t know if I’m the storyteller or if I like other peoples’ stories and want others to know those stories. Maybe I’m the person who spreads the story. Because you realize that there are so many people that do amazing things and don’t get noticed, maybe they don’t have connections, or can’t talk to the press, or don’t understand social media. They never get their due. It’s fucking crazy. Or these days if you aren’t into alternative music or lifestyle, you’re nothing. Why? I met these guys at a wash house the other day. They were these big MMA guys from Maine, like brawlers. And they were there getting some of their clothes washed. They have a big factory in the woods in Maine, and they make MMA fighting gear. And they were super cool, smart, fun to talk to, interested in New York. We talked for like an hour, because they were really interested in fabrics. But if you saw these huge guys walking in and they said, “Yeah I love textiles,” you wouldn’t know how that happened. I love that shit.


The Noah flagship store is now open at 195 Mulberry Street in New York. The online store will be live on October 22, 2015. Text and interview by Adam Lehrer. Images by Thomas Iannaccone. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE