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

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Text and Photographs by Adam Lehrer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Right, it creates a mood. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I do get really obsessed with certain artists, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, he’s the best

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Text and Photographs by Adam Lehrer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SER SERPAS: Heartbeats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CZENSTOCHOWSKI: That [instruction] triggered the whole concept.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SERPAS: It would be support for the communities. 

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

CZENSTOCHOWSKI: I’d love to. 

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

CZENSTOCHOWSKI: Summer camp! 

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

CZENSTOCHOWSKI: Ser’s poem was absolutely beautiful. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

An Interview of Julian Klincewicz

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Text and Photographs by Adam Lehrer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Art of Gendercide: An Interview with Christeene

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Text by Oliver Kupper

Photographs by Matt Lambert

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

OLIVER KUPPER: How are you?

CHRISTEENE: I’m good.

Thank you for taking the time to chat.

Thank you for calling on time.

I try to be punctual.

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

Oh yeah, or ever.

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

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

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

Yeah.

How are you doing?

I am good.

We met at that book fair!

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

It’s a haze for me!

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

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

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

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

Yeah, it’s kind of magical.

Yeah I’m believing in that these days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel like the world needs that right now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My hair. 

Your hair?

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

You and Rick Owens have amazing hair. 

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

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

It makes a great dick up my butt. 

Yeah, exactly.

Cameo if you will, to be polite.

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

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

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

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

You really want to make sure that people see everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you mean like demystify the mystery of us all? 

Yeah, I mean...

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

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

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

That’s a really good way to put it. 

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

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

I think many of the ones we like, do. 

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

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

But at least they did go that far. 

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

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

Exactly. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have a ritual before you go on stage?

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

To amp you up. 

Yeah, to turn on my guns. 

My last question: So Christeene is here to stay?

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

 

• 

The Kids Were Alright: An Interview of Ryan McGinley

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Text by Paige Silveria

Photographs by Ryan McGinley

 

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

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

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

Tell me more about the ephemera.

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

What gave you the idea to do that? 

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

How long have you been working on the show for?

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

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

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

What was it like to go through those?

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

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

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

You had an older brother who lived in New York?

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

When did you start going out to visit him?

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

 

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

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

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

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

There weren’t any artistic people around growing up?

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

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

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

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You were pretty into skateboarding too right?

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

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

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

When did you start taking photos?

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

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

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

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

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

Oh really?

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

 

An Interview of Olwen Kelly

Introduction by Ellis Pendens

Interview and Photographs by Flo Kohl

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

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

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

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

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

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

And had you seen Stephen King tweeting about you?

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

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

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

How challenging was it to just play a body?

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

Any new projects you can talk about?

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

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

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

Were you a movie fan growing up?

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

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

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

Makes sense.

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

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

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

 

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

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Introduction by Raed Yassin

Interview by Oliver Kupper

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was the end of Alf layla wa Layla.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why don’t you curate this project?

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

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

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

Chopping onions for lunch.

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Love Comes in Spurts: An Interview of Richard Hell

Text by Oliver Kupper

Portrait by Douglas Neill

Archival Photographs by Roberta Bayley

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

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

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

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

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

It’s intense.

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

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

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

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

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

That inspired the question.

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

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

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

Especially lately.

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

Be a martyr.

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

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

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

It has to be easier.

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

Method writing.

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

When did you first discover the written word? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cultures can cannibalize. It’s how culture spreads. 

Sure, I stole plenty of stuff. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, what about music today? 

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

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

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

What are some examples?

The exception that really comes to mind is James Brown. 

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

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

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

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

What about Bo Diddley?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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