Baby, Will You Fix Me Again: An Interview Of William Eggleston In Memphis

eggleston blurred 2.jpg

text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

portrait by Bil Brown

 

When legendary photographer, William Eggleston, whiskey on the rocks clutched in hand, is telling you a story about Dennis Hopper saving him from falling off a 1000-foot ledge at the Continental Divide, and then asks you to stay for Chinese food, it's hard to say no. What else are you going to do on a Tuesday night in Memphis? 

In Memphis, you learn about romantic and tragic things: The last song Elvis ever played before dying was "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain" on his upright piano in the over air-conditioned racquetball courts at Graceland. In Memphis, the cicadas grind like jammed gears in flooded engines. On a dime, the sky can turn from sunlight to shade, like a sheet pulled over a half-living corpse, slowed to a dull kind of subsistence by the tepid humidity. This is the ecosystem, the hallowed Southern environment where William Eggleston's most well known work was born and gave the world a glimpse of its hard edges, saturated colors and sad geometries. If you look closer at his work, you are looking at a microcosm within a microcosm, the moments where the mind drifts and imagines mortal uncertainties - the fragmented glow or nuclei of sunlight reflected through a glass of Coke on an airplane, a girl laying on the grass zonked out on Quaaludes, or the tailfin of a Cadillac and some kind of unaware Americana on the horizon. But, if you look closer still, you will see hidden things, secret things, lost perspectives, living shadows, forlorn personage, but always on the periphery or just under the surface. Indeed, his photographs are very plainly obvious, but there is a certain kind of gossamer stillness that is poetic and serene, and reminds you that life's simple details, the ones that are oft overlooked, are the most important ones. 

I’ve wanted to sit down with Eggleston for a few years now, and sit we did, in his Memphis apartment – crowded with a looming Bösendorfer grand piano in one room and gizmos and gadgets in another. Eggleston has always been obsessed with mechanics and the way things work – lately, his new obsession is quantum physics. Over cigarettes and the intermittent break to play piano we talk about everything from classical music to photography to the films of David Lynch. Our interview ended after day turned to night and there was no more whiskey.

Oliver Kupper: Do you enjoy classical music?

William Eggleston: Quite a bit. Mostly. My hero is [Johann Sebastian] Bach. 

Do you listen to rock & roll music living in Memphis?

There’s not much around Memphis right now. I like all kinds of music. 

You grew up with your maternal grandfather, he was an amateur photographer?

My grandfather? He did a little bit. 

And did you learn about photography from him, or were you first introduced to photography through him at all? 

No, most of the things he did long before I was around. Most of the things he did were of our family.

I saw a few portraits maybe he took of you when you were really small. Was that in Sumner, Mississippi? 

Mmhmm.

What was it like growing up there?

The whole family grew cotton and it still goes on.

You didn’t want to go into the agriculture trade? 

No, well there’s not much to do. Running a plantation – that just gets kind of boring, sitting around watching cotton grow. It’s not too interesting. 

Of course, so you turned to more artistic pursuits. Classical music and photography.

Yeah, I’ve played the piano since I was about four years old. 

And you play piano every day? 

Yes, and the night too. 

And you talk about Cartier-Bresson having a big influence on your work.

Yeah, I still think the world of him. He was one of the greats. 

When did you first discover his work?

I suppose around the 50s. His photographs were all black and white and he worked in black and white for a while. 

So how old were you at that point?

Oh, I had a best friend in prep school, we went to Vanderbilt together in Nashville and he got me interested in his work, and this was 1957. 

I wanted to talk about another photographer that I’ve always sort of loved and reminds me a little bit of you because he started taking pictures of his friends and family. His surroundings. His name is Jacques Henri Lartigue, do you know his work? 

Oh yeah, Lartigue I know his work. 

Yeah, there’s a lot of kindred similarities between his upbringing and also his introduction to photography that is really interesting. 

We never met, but I know his work.

I read somewhere that you were given a Brownie at ten years old to shoot with, and he was given his first camera at seven years old. Did you study his color photography, because he took a lot of color photography too.  

I don’t have any around here right now, but in the other house, I have his books. 

John Szarkowski, the curator at MOMA New York who put on your first show, he showed Lartigue’s work a couple years before your show actually. I think he saw something too, which I think is really interesting.  

Yeah, me and John were very close. He died a couple years ago. He would show me a lot of things I didn’t know about. We spent lots of time together when I was in New York. 

Did he teach you a lot about photography or the history of photography?

I suppose. 

And when you first showed those color slides, what was his initial reaction? What was your reaction to showing your work for the first time? Did you feel hesitant at first? 

We never much talked about it. I was quite happy to show it at MOMA, a good place to show it. 

And that show got a lot of really interesting reactions. Because I think people were confused about fine art photography in general, not just color photography, but fine art.

Yeah, it was something, photography as fine art had to be in black and white – primarily large negatives. And that didn’t much interest me.

And one of the critics was Ansel Adams.  

I didn’t care for his work to begin with. 

When you first started taking pictures you were largely self-taught, technically speaking. Was it difficult to get the exposure right, did you have sort of a hard time clicking into what you were doing...or you latched onto it pretty quickly?

At first I had to use a meter, I don’t really anymore. Film is very forgiving now. 

Can you remember those first few pictures that you took with the Leica camera? Do you remember that experience? What that felt like? 

No, but I was happy with the results. There weren’t really many other cameras out besides Leicas that I could use. 

Are there fine artists outside of photography that inspire you? 

Lucian Freud was a friend, he died too. He does great paintings. I was in London and I saw one of his last shows. I think when I saw that last show, it was probably right before he died but it was some time ago in London. 

So, speaking of legends, I want to talk about your meeting with Cartier-Bresson for a second. You got to meet him once, right?

Yeah, we were sort of friends. He was absolutely not interested in color.  

Do you believe in photographic masterpiece? 

Not much. 

They’re all masterpieces. 

I really don’t have any favorites,  

Because there is one work by you that sort of sticks out – the glass on the airplane, I know that a lot of people talk about that one. What was the context of taking that photo?

Oh, that was an ex-girlfriend of mine having a Coke, I think we were coming from Dallas to New Orleans.

It’s a really gorgeous photograph. 

Thank you, I liked it too. 

How did you come up with using your particular process or did someone mention it to you?

Do you mean by that, the dye transfer? I saw it first when, I forgot where, but it was commercial advertising pictures and fashion pictures. The process was really so good that I should use it for my own work and still do. 

And C prints but not as much; you try to stick with dye-transfer. 

I use both. I use dye transfer and pigment.  But the transfers are really, well whoever is doing the lab work, exposes them through three primary filters, black and white, big negatives of the exact sizes of what it’s going to be.

Interesting. 

And it’s just...I’ve been around and watched them be made but I’ve never tried to do it. They’re using black and white film, true to the size of the final print. 16x20 inch negatives, three negatives of that same size. It’s really just black and white through filters. 

Right, which is why your images are sharper. 

Well the filters are there to separate, rather than to mix together, all of the colors in the picture. The lab technician really had to know what they’re doing. 

Winston was saying that you’ve been studying quantum physics. What turned you on to that?

That’s right. I can’t figure out how to answer that, I don’t know. It’s just physics and then quantum is, of course, close to physics but it’s, I don’t know how to put it, but it’s...the end result is what probably will happen, not what accurately will happen, but will probably. 

Do you apply those thoughts to photography ever? 

I don’t know. 

There’s something about capturing a moment that was moving before, on film, you know? 

That could be related in some way. It’s like Mr. Einstein once said: no such thing exists as a point absolutely in one place. That’s kind of what quantum is, the probably but not exactly, if that makes sense. I feel probably close to quantum because I think it’s related to my own work, because whatever that picture is, it’s what I thought probably should be there. Not anything exact. 

One of the documentaries that these people have done, at the end of one, you were talking about a dream and then waking up and then the dream being gone completely... 

That happens so many times every day. I’m dreaming about music and I’ll get up and rush to the piano...(snaps) Gone. 

Wow, full compositions and such? 

Yeah, every note, it’s just so beautiful in the dream and then I sit down and face those 88 keys, and I don’t know which one to push.  

That’s really interesting. Do you ever think about music when you’re shooting? Is music related to shooting at all? 

I think that’s probably true, there’s some connection. Whatever that is, I wouldn’t even begin to talk about it. 

There’s a mysterious aspect to how music relates to making pictures.  

I look at it that way a great deal, probably. Working in quantum physics and theories about pictures – it’s not a bit unlike a symphony or let’s say a set of symphonies or sonatas. 

I mean the Democratic Forest, it is like a symphony in a way; it is like a multiple part symphony. 

I think of it that way.

It seems, artistically, you’re driven by pure intuition and you don’t over-think things, and you leave all of that to the quantum physics and the mechanics.

That’s right.

Inside the Eggleston Trust, Memphis

Inside the Eggleston Trust, Memphis

I want to talk to you about another photograph of yours that was used for the cover of a Big Star album. 

Oh yeah, that red one? 

The red one, yeah. 

I can’t explain it.

Yeah, you knew Alex Chilton’s mom, right? She had a gallery. 

Mmhmm. Well they lived here. Her husband played the piano and is in the staged lighting business, but as a hobby. He also plays jazz, which I don’t like. 

You don’t like jazz? 

I think jazz musicians are really good. In fact, they’re so good; I don’t really know why they’re playing jazz.

There’s a myth that you gave Peyote to Alex Chilton from Big Star. Is that a true story? 

I probably did. I don’t remember that but...I think he was a teenager and he was just starting to play music. 

That was probably a big moment for him. Then there’s that other famous photograph of the girl lying on the grass and she was on quaaludes, right? 

Mmhmm. It looks like she’s asleep, but back then they were so popular. 

And I want to talk a little bit about your time in New York because that was important. A lot of people don’t imagine you in New York, especially at the Chelsea Hotel. 

Yeah, the person I was mostly with was Viva, the Warhol actress, we both lived at the Chelsea. The old Chelsea. 

What was that experience like?

It was fun, but now the hotel is being re-done. 

Did you ever meet Andy Warhol?

He was rather a distant kind of person. 

Did you ever appreciate his work, or you guys kept in your own separate...

Basically, probably, no. He’s not at all one of my favorite artists. 

Did you ever go to the factory?

Mmhmm. 

You did. Who was around at that time?

Oh people like Paul Morrissey, Edie (laughs).

Malanga? 

Oh Gerard, yeah.

And Viva, she lives in Palm Springs now. Do you talk to her?

She lives in both Palm Springs and LA now. I see her every time I’m out there. 

William Eggleston at home in Memphis

William Eggleston at home in Memphis

And you’ve shot photographs all over the world? Is there any specific location that you enjoy shooting the most?

Not any particular one.

Yeah, it’s democratic. 

It doesn’t make a bit of a difference where, physically, I am on this Earth, most everything is the same picture.

You were just recently in Sao Paulo. 

In Rio. 

Oh, in Rio. 

It was an exhibition and I took pictures of people all around.

Yeah, and you get a lot of assignments. You’ve been commissioned to shoot a lot of stories. 

Well, but they’re not assignments, I don’t do those. Those are what I call "open commissions" without any guidelines. It’s quite open with what’s going on right now. The people at Cartier let me do whatever comes to mind. 

You shoot in Paris? 

Anywhere in the world. 

Oh anywhere in the world. And that’s for a show coming up.

Mhmm.

It seems like Cartier and Agnès b, they’re sort of great supporters of the arts and your work. 

Agnès and I have been very close for decades.

Decades?

Yes, a long, long time. She works with my daughter right now. 

You’ve always been very fashionable. Do you find it important to have good style? 

I never really think about it. I don’t know what to say.

Did you get your suits made in London at one point?

Mhmm. Several designers, and Stella McCartney just made one for me. She’s just a very swell person.

[William Eggleston takes a break for approximately 20 minutes to play Bach and improvise on the piano] 

Do you improv more than you play specific pieces and numbers? 

Probably, yes. Probably more. I love to improv.

There’s something jazzy about that.

It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s got to be the right tune and if you make too many mistakes it just falls apart.

Where did you meet Allen Ginsberg?

Oh my god, I don’t know exactly where or when but a long time. 

Yeah, Allen would have found you, you all would have found each other. It would have been circular...

That’s sort of the way it was.

Where did you meet David Lynch?

I don’t know. It’s been a long time, but I don’t know where or when it started. Or what it was even about. But we just get along easily.

What’s your favorite film by David Lynch?

Probably a cross between Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet

Blue Velvet is up there for me. 

I don’t think there is a better film than Blue Velvet. I’ve said this before to a lot of people, I consider David the new Hitchcock. 

Yeah, I agree. 

Because most horror films aren’t scary. David’s are scary.

Untitled, 1970-74 (Dennis Hopper) by William Eggleston ©Eggleston Artistic Trust

Untitled, 1970-74 (Dennis Hopper) by William Eggleston ©Eggleston Artistic Trust

Yeah, without even trying, it’s sort of natural...

Exactly, and my old late friend Dennis Hopper. Dennis and I were very close. 

I heard a story about Dennis Hopper saving your life?

Yeah, he did! In the Continental Divide! 

Did you almost fall?

He bought some land up there, but there’s nothing there but rocks. I stepped on the wrong one and he grabbed me...it was about 1000 feet down. 

So, he saved your life.

Yes.

Blue Velvet – especially Dennis Hopper’s character - was one of those films that I saw when I was younger that really changed the way I saw film. 

I completely understand you. Also, I don’t know whether it was an accident but it was perfect that he found Dennis. That’s the key ingredient to making it so scary because Dennis was just...

Terrifying. 

He was the sweetest person in real life – he was just a superb actor. 

You know what he said about that role? He said, “That character is me. That character is inside me.” 

I guess what you’re saying is that he wasn’t acting. 

Essentially. He played those really bad-guy roles but there’s something really natural about that intensity for him as an actor. 

If Blue Velvet was the first, well he’s been filmed so many times, but the first place where he really did that character to the nth degree. 

Yeah, definitely. 

Terrifying. That was a truly scary movie. 

Yeah, atmospherically too. Even the silent moments were scary.

That’s right.

It wasn’t just the ear – the graphic moments, the actual silence of that film was terrifying. 

It was Dennis and David Lynch, no other two people could have gotten together and done anything like that. 

Yeah, no one will ever listen to Roy Orbison the same way.

I have a funny story about David. David was with a screenwriter friend – do you know Michael Almereyda?

I know the name, but I don’t know the person. 

He’s a very close friend and he was telling me about this person that David had a falling out with who had written, in what David’s hands, could have been a wonderful script. Guess what it was about? I could just tell you, but it was about two cows dreaming. 

That seems like a David Lynch painting come to life, in a way.

Mmhmm.

Are you looking forward to Twin Peaks?

Mmhmm.

Did you watch the first iteration of it?

Mmhmm.

There’s nothing like that out there.

What ever happened about that, did the public not like it or something? Something happened, that it was canceled or stopped. 

Well, I think there's a new one coming out. When you were watching that show, there was a subconscious sense that what you are watching isn’t like television. 

Exactly. Hey, you know what – I have to say – it’s so nice to have people visiting me that are so nice and smart.

Well, thank you! It’s rare these days. 

Well, good.

Good, right? I feel that way too. 

That’s the way maybe it should be.

I agree. 

Baby, man, it is hard to be an artist in general and anywhere. Memphis is not kind to the arts.

It seems to have this weird idea of what the arts actually are.

This goes back to quantum. We’re probably never supposed to figure that out. But you’ve only made one mistake while you have been in this city: you went to Graceland.

That was more like an anthropological...

That was a lesson, we can put it that way. 

It was very sad in a sense.

In many senses, yes. In fact, I don’t know anything better to describe it than ‘sad,’ can you?

No. A decorating tragedy. 

Just the word 'sad' is enough. It means so many different things at the same time. Priscilla hated the place. Elvis was not kind to her, she said that, very privately, and that was reflected in her taking me to every little square-inch of the place, which took several days, afternoons. And she knew what a horrible, sad place it is and she didn’t say it quite plain, but she had no happy memories of being there.

Are family members that still work and maybe even live there?

There are not any left. They’re not allowed there. The last person, she was very nice to me, was Aunt Delta, and she was the last person allowed to live there. She had one big room.

Someone said she would come down and yell at the visitors.

She was very nice to me. The only thing I remember about her, she would cook enormous amounts of fried chicken, I mean enough for 40 people and I was pretty hungry – and she would not offer me a scrap. She was not a gracious lady. There’s a certain tradition around here: to be gracious is next to godliness and without it, you might as well not exist. 

I agree with that. 

It’s hard to disagree with that. That’s what I was raised with. 

[Lighter flicks. William Eggleston requests another drink: “Baby, will you fix me again...”]


This article was originally published in our Summer 2017 print issue. Go see William Eggleston: Los Alamos on view now at The Metropolitan Museum of Art In New York. On view until May 28, 2018


Untitled, from Los Alamos, 1965-68 and 1972-74, Dye transfer print, Private collection. © Eggleston Artistic Trust

Untitled, from Los Alamos, 1965-68 and 1972-74, Dye transfer print, Private collection. © Eggleston Artistic Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

LEHRER: Oh, no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOMANOVA: That sounds good!

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

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

LEHRER: Is Francesca Woodman your favorite artist?

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

text by Summer Bowie

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

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

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

Double Diamond Sun Body: I grew up in Seattle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double Diamond Sun Body: I was playing bass.

Bowie: And when did that start?

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

Bowie: Wow, what kind of music was that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bowie: Heavy.

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[laughs]

Bowie: Yeah. Awesome, thanks so much.

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


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


Expansion and Retraction: An Interview Of Rising Melbourne Based Musician Oscar Key Sung

Oscar Key Sung is a rising name in Australia's independent music scene, coming out of Melbourne. He's been steadily releasing music through collaborative projects and on his own for the past few of years, but it is his unique approach to blending experimental electronic beats with RnB vocals yet keeping a pop-style element to his sound, that has gained him attention as an emerging solo artist.  His latest single 'Hands' from his anticipated debut full length album see's him continue to captivate us sonically and visually with a music video that features minimalistic contemporary dance and lighting effects. Ahead of his album to be release later this year, we spoke to him about the new record, how he defines his distinctive style and his introduction into music.

AUTRE: You mentioned once that you started playing music at 5 years old in your uncle’s “art/punk” band – what was that like?


OSCAR KEY SUNG: I was so little so its hard to empathize with how it felt at the time. But I know it was so fun. I had a beautiful connection with my uncle, he was my best friend. I remember one night they let me sing a song that I had written, and I cried the whole time I was singing. Must have just really gotten real at that moment. Must have been funny to watch, the audience was nice and supportive though.

AUTRE: Was punk the first type of music that you were introduced to?

SUNG: My parents were super into dance music and hip hop around the time I was a kid. They both worked in fashion and a lot of the clothes they designed had a street wear/rave slant. Sub cultures always have a cross medium connection between style, art, music. But they had come out of the “crystal ballroom” punk scene of the 80s in Melbourne, and they carried a lot of that mentality through everything they did. So yeh a few different styles at first, not just punk. Also my uncle's group probably wouldn’t pass as a “punk group”, more of a sort of esoteric art performance thing, he was pretty singular in his approach, hard to throw in a genre basket.

AUTRE: Would you describe your music as pop or is it something more unique to who you are?

SUNG: I think that being pop doesn’t necessarily mean not being unique. For instance Bjork identifies as a pop artist. To me pop means more that it is polished and in the mainstream, other than that, the content of the art is fair game.

AUTRE: You were a part of a musical duo, Oscar and Martin, before venturing off and going solo – is it harder or easier to work on your own or do you miss the camaraderie that comes with collaborating?


SUNG: It's just different, not better or worse. I definitely miss the camaraderie though. I also notice that groups seem to egg each other on in a way, they push each other. 

AUTRE: Through making and releasing multiple solo albums, have you noticed anything about your evolution as a musical artist?


SUNG: I think there is with out doubt a lot of change with every release I have done. It's interesting, in a way I am most proud of the solo album I put out in 2007. It is so fearless and self indulgent in a way I think I could never quite do again.

AUTRE: Can you describe the vibe behind your current single and upcoming album – is there a pervading message or theme in this album or is there something that you set out to say when you made the album?


SUNG: The current single “hands” is to me quite an ambitious track, in that it sets out to achieve a number of ideas and directions in one composition. It's somewhere between a club track, with an almost instrumental grime sort of direction, and a sensitive ballad, because vocally it is sort of sensitive and androgynous. I think the whole album plays with that feeling of opposing elements. There is always a push and pull, expansion and retraction.

AUTRE: Do you enjoy being on the stage or in the studio better – some musical artists sometimes have a preference for one or the other?


SUNG: Every studio day and every performance is some what separate. Sometimes I just pull my hair out for the day and achieve nothing when I am writing and producing. And some shows feel like a beautiful connection, and others like an outer body nightmare disaster. So it really depends. I suppose I want both, I don’t want to trade one in for the other.


Watch the official music video for the track Hands below. Click here to stay up to date with upcoming shows. Intro text and photographs by Darren Luk. 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


Scaring Away the Demons: An Interview with Fashion Designer and Artist Christophe Coppens

One might expect someone with the credentials of Christophe Coppens – internationally acclaimed avant garde fashion designer, official milliner for the Belgian Royal Family, former theatre actor and director, burgeoning artist – to be radically unapproachable. Instead, Coppens shakes your hand warmly, orders iced tea at an outdoor café, talks about his love for cheap avocado toast and the 20s style bungalows in Silverlake. Perhaps this is why Coppens jumped the brutal, fast-paced, capitalist boat of the fashion industry circuit five years ago, abandoning his label to pursue art.

A lot of other designers have recently jumped the same ship, and have actually found refuge in Los Angeles – namely Hedi Slimane, who left Saint Laurent after an incendiary three years at the helm of the label. But there is something more to Coppens, underneath the surface of his accomplishments, even his openness. As we discuss his oscillations between different worlds, pieces from his newest exhibition, “50 Masks: Made In America,” twirl on mechanized pirouettes in the gallery window, the likes of which include: the American flag stitched into a terrifying ape mask, displaying its sharp teeth (“Trump Mask”); a mask made from a plastic bag filled with red and blue prescription pills (“Refill Mask”). The masks explore the many faces of the American cancer – mass food production, erasure of Native Americans, the oppression of women. All the while, a macabre a cappella version of: “It’s a Small World” plays on the loudspeaker. It is clear that Coppens isn’t in the art business as merely a cop-out of the fashion world. Coppens calls leaving the design industry “my freedom.” This does not just mean freedom from obligations, investors, and employees. Through art, Coppens has room to be truly controversial and avant garde, to talk about the things he wants to talk about, to make good work.

We got to talk to the artist about his past life as a star of the fashion world, his new life as a Los Angeles artist, and all the energies and excitements in between.

OLIVER KUPPER: You started out training for theatre, as an actor and a director?

CHRISTOPHE COPPENS: First as an actor, until I realized I wasn’t a very good actor. I was always fighting with the directors and teachers. So I thought, “Okay, I will direct myself.” I went to a theatre school and said, “I want to direct.” They said, “We don’t care; as long as you’re here, you’re going to act.” Through acting, I founded a small company during school, and I directed plays in the evening. I always did sets and costumes for my plays. I needed accessories – hats and stuff. I went to a lady, 87 years old, living in a small village, asking for her help in making these pieces. She said yes, so I went for a weekend. Since then, for a whole year, I went every weekend. At the end, I had a collection, and Elle Magazine Belgium sent me to Paris fashion week. I quit school.

KUPPER: So that’s what brought you out of acting and directing?

COPPENS: Yeah. I love a lot of things about theatre and performance, but I also enjoyed the process of doing something on my own and only showing it when it’s ready. It was a breath of fresh air at that moment. But everything I did then influenced, always, my work – my shows, my exhibitions, my collections, my photos, my display in stores. It’s always there, the stage, the light, and the sound.

KUPPER: You like the theatrical aspect of fashion?

COPPENS: Yeah, amongst other things. I like the impact things can have on stage.

KUPPER: You grew up in Belgium?

COPPENS: I’m from a small village near Antwerp. I moved to Brussels when I was eighteen or nineteen.

KUPPER: Did you have an early interest in fashion, or was it something that came later? Antwerp is known as the place for a lot of incredible designers.

COPPENS: I had a studio as a kid. The attic was my studio. I always made stuff, and then I invited people over for my “exhibition” or “fashion show.” I always had a little bit of a problem to choose, which is still an issue today. I like different things, which is not, career-wise, the smartest thing. I don’t care anymore. I just want to do whatever feels right. It’s all connected at the end, even though it can look very different.

KUPPER: I wanted to ask about the Antwerp 6. That sort of environment bred a lot of great fashion. Was there something in the air?

COPPENS: Oh yeah. It was super exciting to see people like Walter [van Beirendonck] and Dries [van Noten]. I was always in awe, but never in awe enough to go to fashion school, because I thought, “Oh, I’ll have to stop doing theatre and make choices.” I quit theatre school in my last year because they made me choose. Suddenly, I was in all these magazines, and they said, “Theatre or fashion.”

KUPPER: Did you ever get a chance to meet any of those designers?

COPPENS: You know, it’s a weird thing in Belgium. Antwerp is Antwerp, it’s very protective. I have very good contact with Walter, for example, but that’s the only one. Everything else is quite closed.

KUPPER: When you had your fashion label and doing the fashion week circuit, you showed a lot in Paris and Japan. Were those the main ones?

COPPENS: We showed Paris, sometimes Milan. Mainly Paris, twice, or four times a year when I had men’s accessories. And Japan was my biggest market. I showed in 150 stores, and I had a store of my own in Tokyo.

KUPPER: It seems like the Japanese were really appreciative of your work.

COPPENS: First of all, Japan is a great country to start. They like everything new. You can go really fast there. But then the trick is, a year or two later, there is something else new. Then it becomes really hard to keep it going. We did that for twenty years. To keep it relevant and to stay on top, I went four or five times a year for promotion tours, events. I really worked that market because I love Japan. I have many friends there. My collaborations there were some of the best I ever did. From my old life, that’s what I miss the most.

KUPPER: Did you like the fashion week circuit?

COPPENS: Oh no, I hated it. Also, it’s changed so much. At the risk of sounding old, when I started, it was so different. It was exciting to go to fashion week. It was rather small, also. There was this one small accessory fair, Premiere Classe, which became huge after. It became about something else. The last five years of my career in fashion, I was fairly unhappy, because it was no longer about the things I wanted to be about. There were many people who could still have a beautiful career, of course, and beautiful houses and labels. But I got stuck in this system of having to grow in order to survive. In the end, it’s all about, “They need a red scarf because Dries Van Noten has red pants, so we have to make more red scarfs.” You’re competing in these price ranges that are ridiculous. I could never afford my own stuff. You try to make cheaper stuff, to do collaborations with bigger stores, and they had stuff that was only $10. Everything was slipping through my fingers. It’s not what I wanted. I started doing all my free work in secret, because it was influencing the market and the customers. I would have people in my company say, “Don’t show that too much, it will scare away the Royal Family.” I felt trapped.



KUPPER: Speaking of the Royal Family, how did you become the official milliner for them?

COPPENS: One princess called when I was really young. I worked for the Royal Family for fifteen years. It was fun. There were two milliners of the Royal Family. I enjoyed it, but it’s a niche. It was interesting, as an exercise, because there’s so much protocol and so many rules. There’s so much that you have to think of. It’s not about you; it’s about them, how the photos will look, how the audience will take it. My best memories are with Queen Paola.

KUPPER: Did they have a specific preference of style, or did they like the avant garde aspect?

COPPENS: That was always the fight. The other milliner was very classical – well crafted, but very classical. It came in waves. I would do something that was a bit too risqué, and I wouldn’t hear from them for two or three months.

KUPPER: It seems like a lot of designers are coming to LA. What do you think it is about LA that is such a refuge? Is there more space?

COPPENS: For me, it’s all about a certain freshness. I like that LA has moved from the underdog position, culturally, after all these years. People used to talk about LA like it was culturally flat, but a lot of things could brew underneath the surface. I like that attitude. Suddenly, all these things pop up that are much fresher than other cities. The city itself is so magical. There’s so much in it, so many layers. It feels, at times, like New York in the 70s. It’s very exciting.

KUPPER: And it seems far enough away from the fashion world.

COPPENS: To be honest, the fashion world is no longer my world, hasn’t been for five years now. That’s when I quit… It’s about everything. It’s about the energy of a small restaurant and an avocado toast that is amazing, cheap, and fresh. It’s not tired. There’s no pretention here. I really like that. It would be very hard to imagine living somewhere else again. We’re very spoiled here.

KUPPER: Do you feel like you’re disowning the fashion past, or are you disowning the industry?

COPPENS: I love fashion, still. It’s just that, in my journey, I got stuck. I was in a boat that had to go on and on with stuff and obligations and banks and investors. I had no clarity or vision how to steer that boat. I had to pull the plug, which was a very aggressive and very hard. I had a high price to pay for my freedom, because I lost everything and had to start from scratch. But that was the only choice. It was that or jumping off a bridge. My assistant from five years ago, then, suddenly got a very heavy cancer. And I was like, “I’m next if I’m going to do this. This is no longer okay.” There is a big problem in the fashion world. But now, nobody talks about anything else.

About a year ago, I was asked to be the head of a master’s program at the Sandberg Institute. We start from the urgent question, “What’s next in fashion?” It’s all about those questions, from designing, to sustainability, selling, financing, consuming. We have twelve students to ask all these questions. It’s very refreshing for me to see how the young generation looks at all of these things. It’s surprising; the last thing they want to do is go to Paris Fashion Week. They don’t think like that. They stay at home, work in their kitchen, sell at their friend’s store.  

KUPPER: What’s the dream now for these students?

COPPENS: They’re very socially aware. They’re incredible. Talking about sustainability is almost out of fashion; it’s obvious. It’s incredible. We’re going to publish a book next year. Walter is involved also, and other amazing people form all over the world.

KUPPER: Do you see your fashion designs as in a conversation with the art you make now, or are they separate?

COPPENS: When I stopped, I was fairly radical in it. I was like, “Now, it’s all about sculpture and painting.” People would ask me to make accessories for them, and I would say, “No, this is my new life. This is the way I’m going to tell my stories.” I did four shows like that. But I must say now, five years later, I’m much less uptight about it. The masks could be confused with my older work, but I don’t think so. It’s not pretty. I just use this medium and my couture tools from the past to tell these stories. I could not tell the same stories in a painting; it would be way too heavy or obnoxious. I like this medium that is very light. Then, you can hit stronger. For example, one of my friends, Roisin Murphy, asked me to make masks for her tour. I’ve been making masks for the tour and these videos for the past year now.

KUPPER: Is that where the idea came from?

COPPENS: No. I wanted to do a show with masks, but it got delayed because I sent all the masks I finished to her… How do you name these things? Is it an accessory? I don’t think so. You can wear it, yes. Frankly, I really don’t care anymore. Before, I did, I know that it really worked against. Now, I think times have changed.

KUPPER: It seems like you’re distilling everything to have the ultimate freedom to create what you want to create.

COPPENS: Totally. For example, in those four years, I had some shows and did some art fairs. A big part of the art world is boring. Very unattractive, very unappealing. I was thinking, “Is this what I now want? Is this repeating the same story in a new crowd?” It’s not very interesting. I like this [Please Do Not Enter] much more. It’s much fresher and more modern. To say, “Let’s have an art show, and then we’ll have clothes out front, and then we’ll put out perfume.” That’s how we look at things. That’s how we look at Instagram and look at images all day. When I go to galleries most of the time, the life is outside and everything inside is dead.

KUPPER: There’s no movement to it.

COPPENS: No, and it bothers me. There are amazing galleries, of course. There are artists who have an amazing career who should show there, I guess.

KUPPER: What does “the Mask” mean to you?

COPPENS: A lot, actually. My father is a very respective art dealer in primitive art. All my life, I was surrounded with these skulls and brilliant masks from Borneo and Oceania. Always, when I saw a book about mask making, I would buy it. I like the idea of what the mask could mean today. Is it tribal? Is it a disguise? Today, what can you say with your mask? In a way, it’s still about scaring away the demons or trying to evoke something. I wanted to do a show about America, now that I have moved here. Masks were the first thing that popped up. Maybe you wouldn’t see it in the show, but I really love America.

KUPPER: America has a strange, conflicting history.

COPPENS: As a European, you’re raised with American pop culture – that’s how you learn to speak English, those are the songs you sing, the TV series, the movies. It’s always there. But then you move here at 42, and suddenly, you see all these other layers. You read the American newspapers; you watch the American news. So then there are all these things that are conflicting with what you were taught. There are all these things that you don’t like or understand. When we agreed to do the mask exhibition, it wasn’t the idea to do it about America. But the first mask I made was the “Trump Mask.” From there, there was no way back. I cannot make a pretty mask with pretty feathers. Then, I started making a mask about Native Americans, racism, the empowerment of women. The first group was all about the empowerment of women, even though they look very sexist. That’s the game I’m playing. I’m trying to show things that are quite obnoxious, even though that’s not my opinion.

KUPPER: How does satire play into your masks? Do you think about that?

COPPENS: Yeah, and surrealism also. It’s almost like a political cartoon, a caricature. It’s enlarging an idea. I don’t think it’s cynical, to be honest. I always try to show them in a fresh way. You might look at it briefly and say, “Oh, this is pretty and new.” But there are deeper themes.

KUPPER: If you had to design a mask for yourself, what would it look like?

COPPENS: I made three. They’re on the floor. That’s a mold of my face. I see myself cleaning. That’s my face, scrubbing the floors.

KUPPER: How did you create the soundtrack for this exhibition?

COPPENS: I always loved creating the music. My show “The Hills Are Alive” in Tokyo was about a gift store in an antique park that doesn’t exist. Like, when you do a ride at Disneyland, and you get out and buy all the stuff that you just saw. We did the store, with a cashier and everything. For that, we made a beautiful soundtrack. For this show, it went very fast. I knew exactly what kind of music I wanted. A lot of it has pop culture references – movies, TV shows, commercials. There are many weird variations on “It’s a Small World.”

KUPPER: What’s next after this?

COPPENS: There’s a second year of the school. There’s a lot of work to do there. I was asked, and I am going to do some directing in Europe; a big dream come true. Then I want to do another show in LA. I want a big, empty space; it’s an installation, experience piece. 


Christophe Coppens "50 Masks Made In America" will be on view until July 16, 2016 at Please Do Not Enter, 549 s. Oliver Street, Los Angeles. Interview and photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Intro text by Keely Shinners. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


La Petite Mort: An Interview With Natalie Krim

The first thing you notice when you meet Natalie Krim is her voice. She has the dialect and pitch of 1940s movie star and the demeanor too. It’s a cool glamour, a poised glamour that is as sharp as a razor blade. Perhaps the Hollywood lineage isn’t too far off – her grandfather was a Hollywood portrait photographer who shot everyone from ---- to ---. Her grandfather is also most likely where she gets her creative gene. Krim’s illustrations, which are highly erotic in nature in all manner of repose, self-pleasuring, orgiastic and mellifluously sensual, are feminine and delicate, like she is, but hint at darker overtones. They are a world all her own, alter-egos, characters from the unconscious, coquettish nymphs, desirous, wanting and wanton – they recall a world created by Henry Darger or the illustrations of Gustav Klimt. Before her current show on view now at Little Big Man Gallery, we got a chance to ask her a few questions about her work, sexuality and secrets.

AUTRE: I want to talk about your origins, and where you started to pick up your first sort ofinspirations and motivations as an artist. Both your parents were artists right?

KRIM: My mom is, and my dad was a mortgage banker. So complete opposite. But he always wanted his kids to be artists and creative.

AUTRE: Was there a photographer in the family?

KRIM: Oh my grandfather! He had a photography studio in Los Angeles that my mom grew up in. And he would shoot all the old Hollywood movie stars, and that was kind of her upbringing.

AUTRE: Amazing, did you ever get to meet him?

KRIM: I didn’t, he died before both my brother and I were born. But I grew up looking at all ofhis photographs and it was very much a part of my upbringing.

AUTRE: So basically he was a glamour photographer that would take pictures of the stars?

KRIM: Yeah, we have photographs from all over.

AUTRE: Did you get to see any of his photography?

KRIM: Oh yeah we have a ton of it. Clark Gable, everyone. It’s very interesting.

AUTRE: Did they encourage you to make art? Or did you know that you wanted to be an artist at an early age?

KRIM: Not until only this year would I even call myself an artist. It was never a thing growing up. It was just how we were taught to express ourselves. I mean I always had journals and my mom would wake me up at 3 o’clock in the morning to watch a Channel runway show. It was just a part of our upbringing. I didn’t go to art school.

AUTRE: Can you remember the first drawing you ever made?

KRIM: I don’t know the first drawing, but I do have a drawing from preschool of a panda that the teacher wrote “you should have put more effort into it”. I felt like she was such an asshole.

AUTRE: So it wasn’t an erotic panda?

KRIM: (laughs) It wasn’t an erotic panda. I remember I used to draw girls as rectangles, that was my first go at it.



AUTRE: When did you discover your style?

KRIM: I started drawing the girls that I draw after a breakup. I hadn’t really been creating anything up until that point. It was just a way for me to express myself, and I just had so much fun. Then I started dating an artist who really just pushed me to keep at it, and kind of taught me to wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is draw.

AUTRE: Your persona is perhaps one of the most interesting things about your art. It seems like you’ve developed a persona, because you’ve seemed to take on the characters in your artwork. Is that something that happened over time?

KRIM: Well they aren’t really characters, they’re really self-portraits. So I don’t think of my work as work, because it’s just how I write a diary. It’s all of my experiences, it’s my relationships with lovers, or myself. So I don’t really see a disconnect - it’s just the same.

AUTRE: Do you think your work is feminist in nature? Or is it purely feminine? Do you think about the politicalaspect?

KRIM: I don’t think about it at all. I think it’s just feminine. There’s so many female artists right now that are so focused on just sexuality, and there’s so many other women’s rights that I wish had a little bit more attention. Like education and things like that. I feel like just because I’m a female artist I get classified as super feminist. And I am a feminist, but it has nothing to do with my work. I’m not trying to make a statement with it, I’m just showing you my life.

AUTRE: Do you think that these days people have a hard time understanding sex? Or that pornography especially has tainted our ideal of a positive sexual lifestyle?

KRIM: I find that only in America, I don’t find that in European cultures or other places. I feel like pornography has created almost a violence that goes along with sexuality, or just adisconnect that when you’re with a lover you have to act a certain way or say a certain thing. You’re kind of missing just being with the person. I’m not blaming that totally on pornography though, I know it’s an individual way to be intimate with someone.

AUTRE: Maybe it’s about sex education being so lacking that people grow up and have this weird idea of what it is? You must get a lot of unsavory messages with people who confuse your work.

KRIM: Oh my god I could show you, I have like 50 dick pics in my inbox.

AUTRE: La petite mort. It’s such a poetic way to describe an orgasm. Why do you think the female orgasm is such a mystery to people?

KRIM: I mean I can only speak for myself, but I think as women there’s that saying “disease to please” like you’re so focused on your lover that you don’t put yourself first or you may feel guilty about having pleasure. Or you’re afraid to express yourself sometimes. I just know from growing up that when you know what you want you’re able to communicate that. But often times if you’re casually sleeping with people maybe you don’t say that all the time. Or know how your body works.

AUTRE: It’s a great title for a show because it can mean so many things.

KRIM: It is the small death. For me, most of this work is a closure for me for a certain period of time. It’s a death on my train of thought on pleasing people.

AUTRE: What’s next after the show?

KRIM: I would like to explore making work on a larger scale. Maybe exploring different parts of my life and not sharing just the erotic side of it. It depends on if I fall in love soon because then it’ll be all about that.

AUTRE: Do you think people pigeon-hole you into this sort of erotic illustration?

KRIM: I mean my background is in lingerie. I’ve studied all types of eroticism, and fetish. I’ve been studying that since I was 15, so that is a very big part of me. I think at this point I would like to tap into other formats.

AUTRE: Who are some of your biggest influences in that world, especially in fetish?

KRIM: That’s a good question. I really am inspired by people not in the erotic world right now. I’m super inspired by Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton. I think I’m more inspired by women and their strengths and not so much artists as erotic artists but more of a personality or related experiences I could share with somebody. 


Natalie Krim's first LA solo show "because I love you but you're not here" is on view now at Little Big Man Gallery, 1427 E. 4th Street Unit 2 Los Angeles CA. This interview was originally published in Autre's LOVE ISSUE, which is available in print here. text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. photographs by Eric Morales


Not So Innocent Anymore: An Interview With Actress and Musician Rainey Qualley

Rainey Qualley is gunning for the big time.  It wouldn’t be a big surprise to see her selling out stadiums in only a few years. For now, though, you may know Qualley (who is the eldest daughter of actress Andie MacDowell), for her seductive scene on Mad Men wearing a long chinchilla coat with not much on underneath, coquettishly auditioning for Don Draper’s character during the show’s finale. Lately, Qualley is going in a different direction, for the moment, than her mom and focusing on music. For the past two years, Qualley made a splash in the country music world while living in Nashville – with repeat plays on the radio, opening for Willie Nelson and a set on the iconic Grand Ole Opry. However, pop music is Rainey’s passion and she has moved to Los Angeles with a set of demos and is ready to release a “debut” album of sorts. The pop music she is making is a distant departure from her country hits. Her voice has a tinge of late-90s Top 40 R&B, and when she crashes into her refrains you can hear shades of Sade’s angst and assured sexiness. There is also a Lynchian darkness to her music that blends kitsch and popular music sensibilities, a la Julee Cruise or Chris Isaak. Whatever the case is, her music has plenty of room in the contemporary zeitgeist. We got a chance to catch up with Qualley during her recent transition from recording in New York and moving to Los Angeles, to ask about her quiet upbringing in the country, her passion for pop music, opening for Willie Nelson and what it was like to act half-naked in a fur coat on Mad Men.

Autre: You grew up kind of under the radar, in Montana and then in North Carolina. What was it like growing up there?

Rainey Qualley: Spending my early years in Montana was very idyllic.  I remember playing outside catching salamanders in the streams and riding horses and building forts in the forest.  We moved when I was 9, and I am thankful for my southern roots having grown up primarily in North Carolina.  I think growing up in those areas kept me a little bit sheltered and innocent.  But I was always very eager to move away.

Autre: How did you know you wanted to get out of there, go to Nashville and LA to perform? What was that like?

Qualley: I started dancing when I was 2.  And I grew up in a creative household.  So I've always been drawn to the arts.  I kind of realized I could sing when I was a kid and always loved doing it behind closed doors - I used to be very shy.  My dad taught me to play guitar when I was a teenager.  I went to regular college for two years and hated it.  And then when I was 19 I moved to New York and crashed on a friend’s couch while I figured out what to do.  I didn't really have a plan I just knew I had to start trying.

Autre: You’re based in New York now, do you feel like that’s your new home or do you sometimes dream of going back to country living?

Qualley: I spent the last month in New York writing music.  But I’ve actually been based in Nashville for the past 2 years.  As I write this, however, I am on a plane moving back to LA.  And no, I don't see myself going back to the country.  My dream is to have a little place in LA with my sister where we can have some bunnies and chickens and whatever animals we want in the back yard but still have all the perks of living in the city,     


Listen to an exclusive clip of a track off Rainey's Qualley's upcoming album


Autre: Your sister is a dancer and your mother is an actress, did you ever want to rebel against that and do something completely different?

Qualley: No, I've always wanted to make music and act.  For me, it's really nice having family members who are in similar fields.  We all help each other out and inspire one and other.  Plus we are sympathetic to the difficulties that this kind of profession breeds.  

Autre: You debuted an album, “Turn Down the Lights,” back in June and you have a new album coming out. In the future, do you see acting or music as your primary focus?

Qualley: I think music and acting compliment each other.  I am the type of person who always has to be working on something or else I feel like I'm wasting time.  So having multiple creative outlets keeps me from going crazy.

Autre: “Turn Down the Lights,” is predominantly a country album. What attracts you to that genre and are you going in a different direction on your new album?

Qualley: I actually kind of fell into country music. I took a writing trip to Nashville two years ago and the very first song I wrote started playing on XM radio.  So I was like, "Ok, this seems like it's working out. I should try country music.”  I have had so many wonderful opportunities the past two years - I got to open for Willie Nelson at the Ryman, I played the Grand Ole Opry multiple times - things I only ever dreamed of.  But ultimately, pop music is what I'm passionate about.  The new project I'm working on is entirely different from anything I've released in the past.  And I am aching to share the new songs.  

Autre: What was it like opening for Willie Nelson? 

Qualley: I got to open for Willie two nights In a row at the Ryman auditorium, it was very surreal and humbling. It was also my first big show after signing with CAA so I felt a lot of pressure to impress the agents. And to give a performance worthy of the venue and the headliner. The whole experience was a thrill. The shows were really fun and the audience was incredibly warm. I only got to met him briefly after his show on the second night and he was so cool. Plus I fan-girled and got photos with "trigger" his guitar back stage.

Autre: You had this iconic role in the seventh season premiere of Mad Men. Everyone was talking about this “Mystery Girl.” What was your reaction to entering the spotlight like that?

Qualley: Being on Mad Men was dope.  I hadn't really watched the show before I got cast.  But once I started, I couldn't stop.  So it was cool to have been a part of, even though it was such a small role.  I was only in one scene, so I really didn't expect people to react they way they did.  But it's flattering that people liked the scene.  And no it wasn't my first role.

Autre: You’ve been involved with a few films now, including one with your mom. Can you tell us a little about those projects?

Qualley: I've worked on a few independent films, and they were great experiences.  I've been taking kind of a hiatus from acting to focus on music.  But I'm really excited to get back to LA and start up again.

Autre: What next for you?

Qualley: The big thing on my mind right now is my pop project.  I have about 13 demos recorded already that I am so so so psyched about.  The tough part now is deciding what I like the best.  But I'll be releasing new music soon. 

Autre: Favorite era for music, film culture?

Qualley: I don't really idealize any one era the most.  I love Motown/Soul music so the 60's were pretty great for that.  The 60's also saw some beautiful folk/singer-songwriter stuff come to life.  Sick pop music came out of the 80's and 90's, 2000's.  There's magic in every decade I think.  But, if I could travel back in time I'd like to spend a week or so in medieval civilization.  I'm pretty happy existing right now though.


Rainey Qualley's debut album will drop sometime this summer. In the meantime, follow her on Instagram. Text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Photographs by Kevin Hayeland. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Through The Peep Hole: An Interview With Vanessa Prager

Vanessa Prager comes from a very talented and creative family. Most people know her sister, Alex Prager, and her larger than life cinematic portraits of people and crowds in surrealistic situations. However, the younger Prager is making a name for herself with her figurative oil paintings that verge on abstract sculptures. Faces, in a swirling, kinetic puzzle of colors and gashes of paint, seem less abstract as you pull away from the canvas. Prager’s work is currently on view as part of her first solo exhibition in New York – or outside of of Los Angeles – the Hole Gallery. The opening night of the exhibition was hosted by actor and comedian Fred Armisen, who counts himself as a fan of Prager’s work. The show, entitled "Voyeur," is interesting in that some of the works can only be viewed through a peep hole. The concept came from the artist’s thoughts about privacy, or lack thereof, in a hyper-digital world. Nonetheless, it is an interesting concept for showing figurative art in a century that has mostly abandoned the canvas as a relic of yesterday’s artists. Last Sunday, we got a chance to visit Prager’s studio in Downtown Los Angeles. As you walk through the door, the smell of oil paint is overwhelming and intoxicating. In the following conversation, we talk about her influences as an artist, her process and how Fred Armisen fits into the picture. 

OLIVER KUPPER: How did you know you wanted to become an artist? Was it partly inspired by your sister’s pursuits?

VANESSA PRAGER: Well, it was weird. I went to boarding school when I was a teenager, for high school. When I was there, I started drawing. Those were the first signs of it. Weirdly, at the same time, she was down here starting to do photography. But you know, coming back to LA after I graduated, that was when I decided I wanted to do something in the arts. There were a few parts of that. One, I realized you had to get a job in LA and have a career, which wasn’t really something I thought about before then. Also, I had learned enough about myself that I was not really conducive to taking orders, doing nine to five. At the same time, my sister started having art shows. I think I went to her first one when I was seventeen. A bunch of our friends around that time were artists and photographers.

KUPPER: There was an energy going on. 

PRAGER: Yeah. It was a really real thing. It wasn’t like we were all in Paris smoking and talking about art. I saw that there was this thing that you could do. It was a job for them. I don’t remember making a conscious decision after one specific thing. Around that time, after school, you wonder, what kind of job am I going to get?

KUPPER: So were your parents artists? Were they creative?

PRAGER: They were creative in their spirit. They’re not professional artists. My mom has been getting more into it. She's starting this vegan chocolate company. I consider a lot of things art. They definitely have the artistic mindset. That was definitely instilled into us. Art was a valuable thing for us growing up, more than objects. We didn’t have a lot of money, but ideas were important. That was one of the better things they could have given to us. It was always encouraged. When I started drawing, my mom was like, “Hey, you could sell these.”

KUPPER: So it seemed like a reality?

PRAGER: Yeah, it seemed like a reality. Alex is five years older than me, so she was already doing stuff when I was seventeen. I’m pretty active; when I get an idea I do something about it. But how you go about doing something like showing art – I know a lot of people wonder and never find out. To me, it was just looking at a lot of other people doing it.

KUPPER: Are there any other painters that you’re inspired by?

PRAGER: It’s hard, because I’m a painter, to view art without a critical eye. I definitely enjoy art, but ever since I was seventeen, I always look at art like – how did they do that? What’s going on there? You’re dissecting the thing. It’s hard for me to just purely enjoy things. Of course, I do. Whenever I see Lucian Freud for example, I’m in awe. I love somebody who can paint well. I love paintings. I’m just drawn into them.

KUPPER: Figurative art is relatively rare these days. It’s more conceptual. People aren’t sitting in front of a canvas as much anymore.

PRAGER: No. For a few years prior to doing this series, I was like, what am I doing? It really was a breakdown. I’m doing a really old-school thing in modern times, but I don’t feel old-school. I feel super modern in my being. I had to think about that. I think that’s how I came about this series. People would pose the question, “Why painting in 2016?” Why paint? Why paint with oil? There are so many things against the medium that don’t work in modern times. But then I realized my real love for it. I really took it apart. There’s something about it that I just love. That’s when I broke into this whole new thing. And I don’t paint in a classical way. I use the figure, which people do time and time again. But I do it in a way in which I feel I’m using it now.

KUPPER: Do you have any rituals before you start working?

PRAGER: I like to clean up and make the space my own. I really liked moving to this studio because it’s containable. I had a really big studio in Glendale that I shared before. It was always kind of hard to get each nook mine. Here, I like to water my plants. I get really bad when I’m in show. Things die. At the end of the month, I re-gather. I like throwing things away and cleaning out. I really like not having crap around. I’m a big fan of the trashcan.


"Life isn’t perfect. Things shouldn’t be perfect. I don’t like perfection. What is perfection anyway? History is a part of life, a part of now. The layering was a change for me to put everything together and have it all still be a part of the thing."


KUPPER: No clutter.

PRAGER: Yeah, no clutter. But there are little nooks. If I’m okay with them, then it’s okay. If I get into certain weird head space, I’ll do certain things. I’ll go walking or hiking. If I obsess over one stroke, and the rest of the painting isn’t working, I have to destroy what I’m attached to. Sometimes, it’ll pin me to a spot. Sometimes I end up making something that I love. But most of the time, I have to roll with it all and destroy it.

KUPPER: So you’ll start over completely if you feel something isn’t going in the direction you want it to go in?

PRAGER: For sure. Or I’ll just change it in a really dramatic way. If a face is going a certain direction and it’s just not working, oftentimes, I’ll turn the canvas over and do it on another thing. I always say that it’s telling me at the same time that I’m telling it what it’s going to be. I think that’s important for this kind of work. I never painted abstract before, but it totally borders on that. I can’t do it alone. It has to be an organic, flowy thing. There has to be something in the pure substances that tell me what needs to be there.

KUPPER: Your work started off much more realistic, and it became more abstract. Was that evolution natural?

PRAGER: Like I said, right before I started doing this series, I sat back and was like, why am I painting? What is that I like about it? How will it fulfill the thing that I want to get out into this world? This world, the one that we live in now, not the 1600s or the 1950s. Will it be able to interact with people? Essentially, that’s the purpose - for it to interact with people. In thinking about all that, it changed. It wasn’t quite there for it before. The style I was painting in before didn't make sense for all of those questions.

KUPPER: Your first solo shows have been happening recently. It looks like you’re just getting ready to explore that.

PRAGER: Totally. Had I gone to college, I probably wouldn’t have shown until last year. I started doing pop ups, little things here and there, in stores for one night only. While I was doing that, everyone got to see it. Good, bad, ugly, whatever - it just was. Had I been in school during that time, people wouldn’t have seen the work.

KUPPER: Or only students would have seen it.

PRAGER: Yeah, and they would have tore it to shreds, and I would have cried. [Laughs.] I equate it to that because that’s what makes sense to me. This is the work that I’m really proud of. There is a difference to me. I was still learning then. It’s a matter of figuring out how to release your feeling. Until you do that, you’re always reaching for that. I think I’ll always be exploring new ways to do stuff. That’s the job of an artist.

KUPPER: Part of that process seems like a layering. That seems to be a distinct style of yours. Is that accidental or is that part of it?

PRAGER: It’s part of it. It’s a big part of it. Life isn’t perfect. Things shouldn’t be perfect. I don’t like perfection. What is perfection anyway? History is a part of life, a part of now. The layering was a chance for me to put everything together and have it all still be a part of the thing. That’s how I see layering. I don’t use it in the classical oil-painting, glazing sense, which I’m sure some painters think is really annoying. I use it more in a sculptural sense. Topography and maps, even looking at mountains and rocks and stuff, is really inspiring to me. I use that a lot in the layering process. I enjoy painting with the skylight because it has those shadows. You see it in different lights, and everything changes.

KUPPER: Do you see yourself getting into sculpture?

PRAGER: I may. I really like sculpture. It’s just a matter of how. It’s learning another medium or hiring out. The way I envision it is kind of big. I think this is a good way of getting into that. I do like sculpture. I like the idea of it coming into three dimensions.

KUPPER: I want to talk about fans of your work. Fred Armisen is a big fan of your work.

PRAGER: He’s a pal. He’s a big fan of painting and art in general. He’s super cool and supportive. When we met, we just hit it off and chatted about art. He came over to my studio. Now, he’s hosting my show. It’s great because I think he’s so cool, and I love crossing over to new areas of art. I’m from LA, so the way that I envision having an art show isn’t necessarily classic. We have the movie industry here. Of course, I think it should be integrated. The art world shouldn’t be a separate, special area. I love anything that crosses over and opens it up to other groups of people.

KUPPER: The Hole is a great place for that. They’re really experimental in how they show their shows. And Kathy [Grayson] is a great curator.

PRAGER: She’s amazing. It was a really good fit. I’ve known her for years. She loves painting - she is a painter - but she tends to show the super conceptual work. She shows the picture of a painting, work that’s based on the pure idea. She shows less of the classic oil paintings. It was going to be interesting to see how that crossed over. But she loves oil painting. I thought it was a really good match, in the end. She brought a lot of conceptual stuff to it. The idea for “Voyeur” - we totally vibed on that.

KUPPER: Talk about that. That’s a really interesting way to present the work. A lot of the work, you can only view through a peep hole, right?

PRAGER: One of them you literally cannot get to. It’s an eight-foot painting behind a wall. You can only see it through the peep hole. Some of them you look through peep holes. Walls are set up. It’s in a maze-like fashion. In the end, you get to a painting. It has a definite flow. The idea of “Voyeur” was seeing things that you shouldn’t see. It’s messing with the fact that we have so much information these days. People can find out everything about other people before they even meet them.

KUPPER: What’s next after this series?

PRAGER: I don’t know. The show is still up. I always take a moment to relax and regroup after an opening. That was my first time showing in New York, so I had no idea what was going to happen. I just put everything into it for months. I’m going to have an empty studio. It will be a good place to start. I’ll just start making stuff. I’ll see where the next vibe takes me.


Vanessa Prager's exhibition Voyeur is on view until February 28, 2016 at The Hole NYC, 312 Bowery, New York. Text and photographs by Oliver Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


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

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

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

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

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

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

LUNCH: I was on 12th.

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

LUNCH: Cowboy boots, spiked skirts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOORE: That was the same time period, yes.

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

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

LUNCH: No.

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

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

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

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

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

LUNCH: Angel Palmers, a detective.

MOORE: Yeah, you played Angel Palmers, detective.

LUNCH: Who takes a bubble bath.

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

LUNCH: Thirlwell wasn’t there then.

MOORE: Thirlwell hadn’t come into the scene.

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

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

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

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

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

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

LUNCH: [Laughs.] As contrarian.

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

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

MOORE: They were great songs.

LUNCH: They were very poetic.

MOORE: I felt like they were really musical.

LUNCH: You played bass. Jim Sclavunos played sax.

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

LUNCH: He was the drummer of Teenage Jesus.

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

LUNCH: Yeah, that was my loft.

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

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

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

LUNCH: A seduction.

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

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

MOORE: She was trying to slow me down.

LUNCH: That was true. Did I?

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

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

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

LUNCH: I have no recollection of that.

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

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

MOORE: We might have.

LUNCH: Where else would we have done it?

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

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

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

LUNCH: Who was in the Contortions and the Raybeats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOORE: It was.

LUNCH: Which I’m not even really in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BROWN: Both of you mentioned Dada today. 

MOORE: Lady Dada? [Laughs.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Rotten Sun: An Interview With Belgian Musician and Artist Joris Van de Moortel

Joris Van de Moortel, 31, has intrusive bluish-gray eyes. They are unsettling; despite the subdued kindness that surrounds them. Looking in to them one realizes Moortel doesn’t see the same boundaries most of us do, the boundaries that most of us construct our lives around.

Moortel smashes, sometimes literally, the line between art and music. He is both musician and artist and the two feed off one another. Moortel makes mixed media pieces that often incorporate elements of his musical performances; a guitar he smashed on stage the night before, panels from a stage he played on. Sometimes the work comes after a performance; sometimes it’s made during.

The Belgian artist wriggled his way in to art school at 12 years old when he started following a friend’s father to night classes. Moortel graduated from the Higher Institute of Fine Art in Ghent Belgium in 2009. In his early 20’s Moortel sold his first piece through a gallery in Belgium. From that point on he devoted himself entirely to his work. Most everything in Moortel’s world is about simultaneity. At the same time that he was a child drawing nudes he taught himself to play the harmonica, guitar, bass and keys. At the same time that he began selling artwork he was performing in solo shows and with a variety of bands throughout Europe. At the same time that he became an artist he became a rocker.

Moortel stole the spotlight of the European art scene in 2012 when he had his first solo show at the Le Transpalette art center in Bourges, France. In 2014 he performed in an exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris titled “Don’t Know You’re Gonna Mess Up the Carpet,’ in which he stood atop a tube with a drummer inside and conducted a mind-bending rock performance involving video screens and neon lights.  Moortel had his ‘coming out’ in the American art world this December at Art Basel Miami where he had his first solo exhibition in the US through the Denis Gardarin Gallery. Days before he had an exhibition open at the Contemporary Art Center of Wargem in Belgium. Next he is off to Madrid for a solo show at the Galerie Nathalie Obadia. In May he’ll come to New York for Frieze art fair. In between he sneaks back to Antwerp to spend time with his young children and maybe get around to cleaning his studio.

SCOUTMACEACHRON: Tell me about your Art Basel exhibition?

JORIS VAN DE MOORTEL: During the making of this exhibition I was also working on a big museum solo show in Belgium which opened the day before I left for Miami. There’s a lot of overlap between those two exhibitions. Like the installation here [gestures to house-like structure]; the one in Belgium is the size of this area [gestures to entire exhibition space]. It’s huge. The drawings in this exhibition are related to the one in Belgium; one is related to a CD recording I did and the other is related to a solo vinyl I did.

MACEACHRON: When you say related to, what do you mean by that?

MOORTEL: This part of the work is part of the exhibition in Belgium but it’s much bigger with real actual speakers that work. These [Gestures to artwork] are casted speakers in resin. All the works here are muted. Nothing makes any sound anymore. These pieces, the back of this piece [Gestures to artwork] also contains speakers but it’s muted. Most of my pieces come from performances. Like this one is part of a stage from a performance I did in Belgium, Singapore and Paris. It is just one part of twelve panels that made up the whole stage. I sprayed it white with an air press gun. And the last one I did was a collaboration with the designers A.F. Vandevorst for a fashion show in Paris. This piece contains elements of the performance; part of the coat I was wearing, speakers, the effects I’m using, neon which is running through the piece.

MACEACHRON: When and why did you start incorporating these objects that are a part of your life, a part of your performances, in to your work?

MOORTEL: I don’t think about it in that kind of sense. I mean it’s all part of the studio. My studio is on the one hand a music studio but sometimes it’s more. At times I’m busy with music and then it shifts. All my wood, all my materials are there; the welding machines, the steel, the aluminum, the cast materials. It’s all in one studio. The performances play a part also, it really depends. Sometimes [the performances] come first and the sculptures come after. Sometimes it’s a part of it from the beginning. Sometimes the work is made during the performance.

MACEACHRON: Tell me about your musical background?

MOORTEL: It goes from age ten or twelve. That was the first time I really hit music, not only listening to it but that was the moment it really becomes important. Then of course I immediately wanted to play it myself but I never wanted to or didn’t take the time or wasn’t patient enough to take classes. Friends of mine did. I started out with the mouth harp and guitar, bass guitar.

MACEACHRON : Did you teach yourself?

MOORTEL: Yeah and friends taught me things. It took quite a few years. Now I play in quite a few bands. For me it’s hard to say something like or hear, “oh you’re a good guitar player, you’re a good bass player.” I would never consider myself like that because I’m not an academic, I didn’t study it. I collaborate with a lot of other musicians. Now I play guitar, sometimes the keys and sometimes also bass guitar in one specific band.

MACEACHRON: Do you remember what music you listened to when you were ten or twelve years old?

MOORTEL: The Doors.

MACEACHRON: Any particular album?

MOORTEL: All of them on vinyl, all of them on CD. I had t-shirts. I had a vest with Jim Morrison on the back. Had I been allowed to get a tattoo at age of fourteen in Belgium I would have had Jim Morrison on my back. I was completely, completely in to that. Also a lot of sixties and seventies music from San Francisco and LA. Then Velvet Underground, the New York scene. Patti Smith, Ramones. All very sixties and seventies.

MACEACHRON: Wow, advanced for a ten-year-old.

MOORTEL: [Laughs] Yeah, I know.

MACEACHRON: Did you go to art school?

MOORTEL: Yeah, when I think about it that’s why I didn’t want to study music. I started when I was twelve. A friend of mine, her father was going to an art school during the evenings and weekends. He was studying sculpture and had a sculpture studio. I asked, “please, could I join you, could you teach me?” It wasn’t really allowed until you’re eighteen but I said, “I really want to.” So I started drawing nude models for years. It was a lot of clay and plaster. I started welding at that age. I kept doing that until I was fifteen and then I went to an art school. I kept going to the other school as well. So that was my only occupation, drawing a lot of nude models, clay studies and painting.

MACEACHRON: So you weren’t studying normal school subjects at all?

MOORTEL: In Belgium you can go to an art school from when you’re fourteen. You get regular classes like math and language and everything but reduced in a way. Your focus is on art. Then I kept on going to art school for high school. When I went to University it was also art school.

MACEACHRON: The type of work you make now, how did that evolve from drawing nudes?

MOORTEL: Well you have all those study years. The way of working is only a growing thing. When you grow up as a human being it’s the same kind of thing I think. A major shift was around twenty, twenty-two when I started building installations. The first exhibitions were mainly installations, not really focused on sculptures or wall pieces or paintings. And then this took over again, by making sculptures again in to what I’m doing now. But it depends on museum shows and institutions. It’s all part of the same thing but you show a different chapter of something.



MACEACHRON: What’s your process like when you’re creating? What’s your studio like?

MOORTEL: Messy.

MACEACHRON: [Laughs] Do you sit around and think about things or do they just come to you? [Joris walks away and returns with glasses of water for us both.] Do you know something is going to be in your work when you see it?

MOORTEL: Like certain elements or parts?

MACEACHRON : Yeah, how do you get from nothing to that [point to one of his artworks]?

MOORTEL: Most of the, for example the basis of this kind of piece they come from really big installations. So the frame is already there some how. Like this frame was apart of the stage. So the frame is there. And it wasn’t the intent, I mean those frames I didn’t use them for two years after the performance. Also with these [gestures to artwork] they traveled from my show in the Netherlands in a museum then to Berlin then to Paris and then back to studio. I almost wanted to throw them away but I kept them for some reason and then they were the first pieces for a gallery show I was working on at Galerie Nathalie Obadia in Brussels. They got really well received. From one thing comes another. A lot of pieces travel from show to show and don’t get sold and then eventually they end up in another piece. Mostly the moment it gets sold that’s where it leaves me so I can’t redo it or whatever. When pieces come back to the studio they don’t leave out the same way.

MACEACHRON: So everything is constantly evolving, including yourself, I suppose that’s the nature of art. Did you go through a starving artist phase or were you successful from a young age?

MOORTEL: I always had jobs and worked. I was self-employed quite often.

MACEACHRON: What kinds of jobs?

MOORTEL: Record stores, bars. That was only when I was in art school because I didn’t finish it. I did two residencies but I didn’t finish with any degree. At twenty or twenty-four I started working with my first gallery in Belgium. It worked out from the first moment. I did one really huge piece for the gallery show and it was sold. I could make a living off that for almost two years. So then I became self-employed.

MACEACHRON: It sounds like most of your work is much larger than what’s here at Basel.

MOORTEL: Yeah, there’s always a balance with these kinds of things. But this presentation is what the gallery shows look like.

MACEACHRON: Speaking of galleries, how did you connect with the Denis Gardarin gallery?

MOORTEL: It is the first time we’ve worked together but it’s been going very well. They’re really working hard. We’re almost sold out so it’s moving. Also in terms of audience they’re all American collectors. They didn’t know me before so they’re responsive and very… I’m really surprised in a way. I came here thinking, “oh this will go fine.” I wasn’t worried but I also didn’t expect anything. But American collectors are like, ‘oh this is great, I’ll get it.’ That doesn’t happen in Europe. People come back. Even collectors who have five pieces say ‘oh let me think about it, can you put it on hold for a week?’ This doesn’t happen in Europe.

MACEACHRON: Americans just go for it. So you’ve sold some pieces so far, everything?

MOORTEL: Basically everything yeah. I mean there are a few left but most have sold.

MACEACHRON: This is your first solo show in the US right?

MOORTEL: Yeah, I was in the Armory show before but that was five years ago so the work was kinda different. Something like this it’s the first time.

MACEACHRON: This is an incredibly vague question so answer however you like. What differences do you see in the art world in Belgium/Europe and the states?

MOORTEL: I think with all these fairs… it’s the same as shopping for clothes for instance. Ten years ago you didn’t have the shops in Belgium that you had in New York. But now you have H&M, whatever, Zara, that took away the exotic kind of thing. The art fairs took away some of the exotic things. You don’t have to discover in Europe European artists. You’ll have to go to Brussels, Antwerp to discover… well we’re talking about me, to discover me because I’m in a European art fair or gallery. So in a way that generalized and made it easier to go around, which in a way is a good thing because there’s so much going on. You need those art fairs to actually see something because you can’t go all over the world all of the time. A lot of things have changed through the years. The world population has multiplied by three or four. So also the art world is growing. In the sixties and seventies it was way different, there were less artists because there were less people on the planet.

MACEACHRON: This is another vague question but what inspires you? Other artists? A feeling?

MOORTEL:  It depends. It’s come from so many different angles. It’s music, the work itself—looking back at pieces you did years ago or even last year—things you read. I’m always reading multiple things at the same time. I’ve been absorbed by Albert Camus again, his essays on Kafka. George Bataille, his essay “Rotten Sun” is the title of the exhibition. It comes from many different angles. I don’t have a specific sort of… there’s a certain pattern or a wave of making things and then there are times that I go to the studio but don’t do much. I read, I play some music. And then there are times when you don’t have time to because you’re really making work. It’s always in that kind of wave. In times, for me it works to go to the same places over and over. Like next week I will hang out in one coffee bar where I get in to that rhythm of reading, writing, reading, writing, reading, writing. I don’t have time for that when I’m working in the studio. Then the next project is in Madrid so I have to work on that again. It will go in a wave of thinking about what I have to do then doing it.

MACEACHRON: What’s your process like in a physical sense? Are you regimented, do you get up very early, do you stay up all night, do you drink bourbon?

MOORTEL: I have two kids. I’m not really a… I used to drink a lot but I don’t like alcohol anymore.

MACEACHRON: Do you think it changed you at all as an artist?

MOORTEL: Um, you’re dealing differently with time. The concept of time is completely vague when you don’t have kids, when you don’t have a job because as an artist you don’t have a real job. You don’t have limits on time; you don’t have to wake up, you don’t have to go to sleep, you don’t have to do anything you just have to… you have you’re deadlines but it’s really vague. Of course you work a lot but it’s not, you don’t need an alarm clock or anything. With kids you also don’t need an alarm clock because they wake you. It makes you go to bed earlier, it makes you drink a lot more coffee, it makes you drink less alcohol, it makes you go out less—so all the good stuff.

MACEACHRON: What do your children think of their dad being an artist? I know they’re young.

MOORTEL: When I Skype with them they’re more interested in the food I’m getting here than what I’m actually doing out here. But no they really enjoy it when they come in the studio, it’s opposite the house. The six year-old likes to draw, she likes guitar and noisy stuff. Last time she was in the studio she said, “Daddy, there’s so much stuff out here I really need to help you to get some order in here. I really should help you make your stuff.”

MACEACHRON ; My goodness that’s pretty cute.

MOORTEL: Yeah it was really sweet. It was really honest. Like, “there’s so much stuff out here.”

MACEACHRON: That is sweet. Are there any installations or pieces that mean more to you than others, perhaps a defining moment in the process?

MOORTEL: In a way a piece like this comes from a specific installation, which really means a lot to me. The piece is like a proper extraction from that so it’s a direct storyline for a piece like this. There are many more angles and stories for a piece like this. When you start talking about it it’s like “this comes from there and this comes form there.” But I always work within the concept of an exhibition, like a solo show, even if it’s only a fair booth. They’re all connected somehow to each other. Ideally, when you talk in terms of collection they should get this and install it like this but I’m not thinking like that because it should be how it was conceived and how it’s made in a way.

MACEACHRON: You mean all the works here should be displayed together?

MOORTEL: Yeah, but it’s also a nice idea that everything goes. They come from a different angle, different sources, they come together at one point and then they leave each other. That’s also beautiful.

MACEACHRON: Where are you going next?

MOORTEL: Hoboken, it’s a part of Antwerp. Next up is Madrid. Then New York in May for Frieze. Then Paris, Vienna, Belgium.

MACEACHRON : How long do you get to be home and see your family?

MOORTEL: Oh as much as I can.


You can catch Joris Van de Moortel's solo exhibition "Ça vous intéresse l'architecture? Botanics of sound in which wires get crossed and play with the rythmic structure" on view now until January 31, 2016 at BE-PART in Waregem, Belgium. text, interview and photographs by Scout MacEachron. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


A Bromance In Vinyl: An Interview With Elijah Wood and Zach Cowie of The DJ Duo Wooden Wisdom

photograph by Kenneth Bachor

text and interview by Scout MacEachron

 

At first nobody noticed when Elijah Wood and Zach Cowie began playing music. In those moments the duo had everything they wanted; anonymity, influence and unmediated feeling. Wooden Wisdom, the Wood Cowie DJ duo, was playing the Art Basel party Illuminate the Night at the unfinished Brickell City Center in Miami.

Then people did notice; women in ball gowns, 20-somethings in dresses a mother wouldn’t approve of, Miami types, men in whatever men wear to these things. The DJ booth was surrounded. The crowd gathered it does on a major subway line during rush hour: relentlessly, unpleasantly and pathetically.

It didn’t seem to matter that they were interrupted every minute so some partygoer could take a picture with Elijah Wood. It didn’t matter that the police put up a metal barricade half way through the set because people wouldn’t stop taking goddam selfies with Elijah Wood. It didn’t matter that most weren’t there to listen to music. What mattered to the two men was what they were playing music. And they were good, artfully leaping between disco, rock, house, jazz, funk and more. Wooden Wisdom’s style isn’t assault (like the DJs at MDMA fueled festivals) so much as warm suggestion. Wood and Cowie play what they want to play and it’s up to the listener to take it from there.

The duo met at a party in 2011. Wood spontaneously joined Cowie for a set and they’ve been spinning side by side almost ever since. Their first official tour was in January of 2015. Wood began mixing during long stretches on set in New Zealand; he was bored and had a lot of CDs. Cowie has been in the music business since anyone can remember, first as a record label guy then as a DJ. They share an obsession with the hunt for new music, old music, really any music they haven’t heard and Vinyl. They get each other and when on stage communicate without saying anything (a gift only the strongest artistic partnerships possess). They know that they get attention because of Wood’s fame but they don’t really think about that. For them it’s about the flow and selection that is DJ’ing, not image. Their passion is intrinsic. So much so that in a room of 400 flash-hungry Basel attendees if you listened closely, really closely, all you could hear is the music. In the following interview, Autre chats with the duo about their musical obsessions.

AUTRE: We’ll start with a boring question. How did you guys end up here, at Basel?

ELIJAH WOOD: We played a gig almost a year ago here at Bardot and I believe it was through that promoter. He kind of put us up for this. Is that right?

ZACH COWIE: I think that’s right.

AUTRE: So music and DJ’ing are clearly both art forms. For you two, as a team, what do you see as the specific artistry in DJ’ing? In mixing songs, in being up there, in selecting songs, in interacting with the crowd…

WOOD: It’s selection I think and mixing. But really it’s selection. I think that’s what sets any DJ apart from anyone else at its core.

AUTRE: The songs that you select?

WOOD & COWIE simultaneously: Yep, yeah.

AUTRE: So how do you two select?

WOOD: Prior to any gig, or if we’re going on the road for a small portion of time we’ll often just have a conversation about what we want to put in our bag. What we’re kind of feeling and that will sort of set the tone. Then we’ll pull based on those ideas. Then we’ve got kind of a basic very broad statement that we can kind of work within.

COWIE: Read the crowd, work around with it.

AUTRE: So do you plan out what you’re going to play?

COWIE: Nooo.

WOOD: No. We bring enough records that we don’t have to. We can kind of play it very organically.

COWIE: Yeah, and I think the beginning of the record pull is just the stuff we really want to hear today. Personally that’s how I pull all my bags and records. I start with the empty bag and I put in like 3 things that I really want to hear right now and I try and compliment those things with other stuff in our collection. And our tastes are so similar that they usually come pretty close. In fact we generally will be bringing a lot of the same records accidentally. [Both laugh]

AUTRE: When you say bag, do you mean an actual bag?

WOOD: Yep.

COWIE: Yeah, yeah we just play records so we don’t use the…

AUTRE: Right you guys just play records?

WOOD: Yeah, yeah. So they’re just like these travel bags…

COWIE: Flight cases.

AUTRE: So I know you’ve been asked this before but why just vinyl?

WOOD: [Zach] started with vinyl. I didn’t actually. I started with CDs and then ultimately iPod for a long time. So for me the difference is it’s active. It’s tactile, it’s physical.

COWIE: And a lot can go wrong.

WOOD: Yeah. And there are so many variables that can get fucked up over the course of an evening playing with records that it causes, it causes you to be fully active at all times and that’s something… you’re engaged, you’re constantly engaged. It’s a far more enjoyable experience from a technical standpoint. And it also sounds really good. It’s real, it’s physical.

AUTRE: So how do you deal with those mess-ups or accidents or whatever goes wrong?

WOOD: Pull another record.

COWIE: Pull another record. It’s stuff like that that makes everybody know they’re alive which, I think that’s… that’s where it’s at for me.

WOOD: The imperfections.

COWIE: The imperfections are the important part. If you’re listening to somebody on CDJs or something it’s like somebody is just tapping you on the shoulder at a steady beat for an entire night.

WOOD: And I also think that for me coming from having played with CDJs for a long time just for fun…. My problem with digital and the reason I moved away from it is that there are too many choices. I like having a finite amount of choices. When we pull records for a gig or for a two-week thing we’re pulling a finite amount of music that’s really specific. It’s broad but it’s specific.


"At a certain point when there’s a sweet spot. I feel like I’m in the music. I’m not really in the crowd I’m in the music. When it’s going really well that’s the universe I’m in and that is a really incredible feeling."


AUTRE: Finite in sense of the time?

WOOD: No, finite in terms of the physical space of the bag. So with a laptop or USB stick you have an infinite amount of choice and I think that that’s not necessarily a good thing. I love having parameters and working within those parameters. See what I mean?

AUTRE: Absolutely.

COWIE: There’s a DJ that I, that we both, love named Theo Parrish. I watched a documentary where he said that he’s never been comfortable trading artistry for convenience. That’s my favorite quote about that. We love records. That’s why we do all of this is to go out and find records, play records. It’s like, if it’s not in my hands I don’t feel like it’s a real thing.

AUTRE: Do you spend a lot of time… do you go to record shops and dig?

COWIE: All the time. All day, every day.

WOOD: Between record shops and Discogs and…

COWIE: I was buying stuff online on the ride over here. [Both laugh]

AUTRE: How do you feel physically and emotionally when you’re on stage and holding a crowd in your hands?

WOOD: Some of the greatest moments…

COWIE: It’s super fun but I also don’t really think about it.

AUTRE: Really? You just get in to it and don’t…

WOOD: Yeah, I think when you’re actually in the zone you’re not thinking about the audience. You’re kind of thinking about… for us, I don’t know maybe I’m speaking for myself. At a certain point when there’s a sweet spot. I feel like I’m in the music. I’m not really in the crowd I’m in the music. When it’s going really well that’s the universe I’m in and that is a really incredible feeling.

AUTRE: Kind of like Malcom Gladwell’s concept of flow.

COWIE: It is a flow state. It’s 100% flow. I know the day that I hit 10,000, it’s weird. It’s a real thing.

AUTRE: You just had a sense or you actually counted?

COWIE: No I just… there was a day when I stopped having to think about all the technicalities and only think about music. Like a guitar player doesn’t have to look at the neck of his guitar anymore. It was a cool moment. [Laughs]

AUTRE: How does feeling out the crowd and feeling their mood change what you play? Do you just feel it? Is there a zone?

WOOD: Yeah.

COWIE: Yeah. You can tell when something’s bombing. There’s just a vibe. And on the other hand you can tell when something’s really working. We try and act fast to compliment the stuff that’s working.

AUTRE: How do you guys work together or communicate when you’re on stage?

COWIE: Well we’re standing right next to each other so…

AUTRE: But I mean do you both control what’s playing? Do you look at each other before switching songs?

WOOD: No, there’s not a lot of conversation.

COWIE: We’ll we can’t hear each other because it’s so loud.

AUTRE: Do you wear headphones?

WOOD: We do wear headphones, yeah.

COWIE: We’ll just be like holding stuff up at each other and being like…

WOOD: Well if he’s got a good idea yeah he’ll throw something out and be like, “Do you wanna do this next.” But oftentimes we’re not even sharing what we’re going to do next except for the occasional glance over. It’s happening as it’s happening and there’s not a whole lot of conversation except for ‘that was awesome.’ [Both laugh]

COWIE: [Laughing] ‘That one’s really good, where did you buy that?’

WOOD: Or ‘can I take a photo of your record.’

COWIE: [Laughing] Exactly.

AUTRE: Last question. What do you want people to feel or experience while listening to you DJ and watching you on stage?

COWIE: I just want everybody to love music and to be inspired to go out and find records that they love. That’s all you know? It’s all music. I don’t want them to pay attention to us.

WOOD: Not at all.

COWIE: I just want them to love the music.

WOOD: I think we’d be really happy if we were in a box.

COWIE: Behind a brick wall.

WOOD: Honestly we don’t really like… sometimes we get put on stage and there’s lights focused on us and we don’t really love that because it becomes about something else. We’d be way happier tucked away and if it’s just about the notion of people focusing on the music. But I mean for people the takeaway… if people hear something that we’ve played and it inspires them to seek it out and they’ve heard something they’ve never heard before, that’s a really wonderful thing to try and impart on people.


You can follow Elijah Wood on Facebook and Zach Cowie on Twitter. Text and interview by Scout MacEachron. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


On Truth And Symbolism And the Universal Meaning of Life: An Interview With Artist Annina Roescheisen

Artist Annina Roescheisen is making her name known in the art world. Right now, you can see her formative series What Are You Fishing For? at the Venice Biennale, in the context of the European Pavilion. Starting today, the German-born artist who received her degree in art, philosophy and folklore from the elite Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich in 2008, will see her first solo gallery show in New York. Her series What Are You Fishing For? is emblematic of her work: rife with symbolism and metaphor, and dripping, literally, in pictorial beauty. In the following interview, Annina talks about the use of metaphor in her work, her experience getting to know New York and the meaning behind her self-designed tattoos.

Ariana Pauley: There are a lot of metaphors that you use in your work. Do you come up with the metaphor beforehand, or is it a fluid process?

Annina Roescheisen: It’s more of a fluid process. The whole story-writing is a process. It starts with a keyword or a phrase that I write down; I always have these little books with me. There are a lot of things going back and forth. Often, I have five things spinning around in my head at once. At a certain point, there is one story that ends up pushing forward. It can come from anywhere. So, the symbolism comes more naturally. It’s something I like to play with, but I don’t construct the work around the symbolism. It’s just a manner of expressing myself.

AP: For the film that was in the biennial, what would you say were the most important metaphors?

AR: In this one, I think it’s about life, death, and Renaissance. There are many others, but I would say those are the main three.

AP: How was your experience at the biennial? How did it all come about?

AR: It came through a gallery in Berlin—Circle Culture Gallery. The gallery owner really likes my work, but I don’t fit into his program (he’s more into abstract art, graffiti, etc.). He’s really very supportive. When he saw the film, he was applying for the Venice Biennale with another artist, and he proposed that I apply my film with him. I’m a young artist; I never thought they would say yes. But I had the answer in two days. I still don’t understand it sometimes. It’s so unreal that I just do it. I think it’s good, sometimes, to not understand what you’re going to do. It’s best to just do it.

It’s a tiny, tiny room. I don’t have the biggest room. But I am so happy to participate and to have the whole atmosphere.

AP: You just moved to New York. Are you nervous that the culture is going to affect your art? Do you think your time in Paris affected your art in a certain way?

AR: I think it always affects your art, where you live. In general, no matter where you live, it’s just about growing up. Definitely, my art is going to be affected, in a way. But it’s also growing more as a woman and growing up in general. Paris was good to grow up, as an artist. I feel more apt to face a bigger audience.

AP: Was there a specific reason why you decided to come to New York?

AR: It’s more open here. People are more curious. I like the way they think here. People just dare to do things. For them, doing things is experience. For me, that’s what life is about. It was nice to grow up in France, but people are not that positive. They are afraid to do things. Sometimes, the result doesn’t really matter at the end. Just go out and do something. In Paris, it could feel like a prison. I feel more open, more supported, and a bit crazier here.

AP: Is it your first time in New York?

AR: I’ve been going back and forth for a year. I wanted to know for sure where I wanted to settle. Sometimes, you have an idea of a city or a job which is not the real thing. I didn’t want to jump into an illusion. I was doing two months in Paris, a month here, two months in Paris, and a month here—for a year. If you move your ass in New York, you can really get somewhere. After the year, I knew I preferred it to France.

AP: What are you working on next?

AR: I wouldn’t say I’m hoping to deal with more mature work, but the next thing I’m working on is much more frontal. It’s still my signature, but my art thus far has dealt with subtle, hidden messages. You can decode if you want to, but you have to plunge into it. The next piece I’m working on is super frontal. You can’t escape it. I don’t know what’s going to happen after.

AP: How did you come to do this new work?

AR: The last one that I just finished—it’s called “A Love Story—is more subtle. It’s about emotions. I wanted to work on a topic called “Love.” It’s so cheesy. Everyone would want to vomit on it. But I wanted something both subtle and deep. Provocative things—nakedness, violence—they’re too easy. It’s super-subtle. Then, from that project, I wanted to do something more frontal.

The new thing I’m working on is called “The Exit Fairytale of Suicide.” It’s super hard-cut. It’s between black and white, hard and light. It’s still my work, but more frontal. The topic of suicide—you just can’t escape it.


"I write quite often. But when I was younger, I didn’t write a diary, I would write on my body. It’s the same thing—symbolism. It’s one sign that stands for a whole story."


AP: Are you focusing mainly on film now? Or are you still working with sculpture and photography?

AR: The photography always comes with the film. I really like to keep some moments of the film, for the audience. There are a lot of people that can’t buy video art. So I want to be aware of that. It’s nice to have a certain moment of a film that plunges you into the whole thing when you see it. So, when I do video art, my whole photography is based on the film. I really don’t like to do photography pure. In a film, you are more authentic. You’re not standing in a pose. The image is in the movement. For me, it’s a deeper photography than posing photography.

In terms of sculpture, there are going to be more museum shows, more installations that you will really have to walk through. I’m also creating sculptures that I integrate into my film.

AP: For your film and photography, is it always you as the subject?

AR: In the beginning, yes. When I was younger, I did some modeling. It was easy, because I knew exactly what I wanted for the images. It’s not about me. You’re like a tool, a transmitter. On “Pieta,” at that point, the easiest way to get what I wanted to convey was to use myself as the model. The movements are played in slow motion, but I didn’t want to edit the video too much. I don’t like to change my art in Photoshop or anything; I like to keep it as close as possible to the original film. It’s good when you’re aware of your body, and when you’re aware of the camera. For me, that was easiest.

For “What Are You Fishing For?” I would have loved someone to be in my place, but the water was, like, six degrees (about 43 Fahrenheit). You can offer to pay a model as much as you want, but if it’s not their project, they’re not doing it. I prepared for months—taking cold showers, reading up on those cult divers. I was psychologically prepared to do that.

This last film, I’m not in it. I’d like to be more and more in the back. But in a way, it’s nice when you have the experience in front of the camera. I can direct people better. I know exactly what I can ask them.

AP: You do a lot of humanitarian work. Will that translate into your new work? Are you planning on continuing that in New York?

AR: I would love to. I work a lot with autistic children. Every time I go to Paris, I still go to see them. I worked in a project in Berlin for street kids. I would still like to integrate my work into humanitarian projects. For the moment, I haven’t looked around at what is in New York, but I would like to do something.

It’s easy to do good stuff as well. It’s not always necessary to do something that is public. You can be a humanitarian all the time, in a way.

AP: Would you want your art to translate that to the viewer?

AR: My art has a lot to do with emotions in general, and I really try to keep it open for everybody. That’s the humanitarian side of it for me. I don’t like the “elite art” thing. I loved that in Paris, all the exhibitions had young people coming—13, 12, even younger. I really want to have an art that talks to everybody. On the other hand, I don’t know if there’s a day where I can really work in front of the camera with autistic children or with women’s rights. In a way, it’s in my work without being in my work, through my personality.

AP: You described your practice as a “social media practice.” Could you explain that?

AR: Actually, it’s a term that I would love to erase. It created a lot of confusion. “Social media,” for me, was word-by-word. “Social,” because I like to be in the social, humanitarian arena. “Media” is just the medium that I use. But “social media” as in Twitter, Instagram, whatever created so much confusion. I’m stepping back from the term, because it doesn’t describe my work as an artist.

AP: Tell me about your tattoos.

AR: I started early, when I was thirteen. I write quite often. But when I was younger, I didn’t write a diary, I would write on my body. It’s the same thing—symbolism. It’s one sign that stands for a whole story. Nowadays, I use more of the paperwork to describe things. When I was younger, I did it on my body.

AP: Did you design them all yourself?

AR: Most of them. I work with a friend who is a graphic designer in Munich, just so I can do it properly. I got a lot of inspiration from the Japanese artist Nara. I saw one of his images when I was five or six, without knowing anything about contemporary art. But it was always appealing to me—the side of the cute little girl paired with this more evil side. I loved the eyes with the stars inside—like the universe. There’s a lot of depth, even though it can seem childish. I love his art. He was a big inspiration for a few of my tattoos.

AP: Are there any artists specifically that inspire you?

AR: I like the paintings of German Romanticism—Freidrich, for example. I like literature as well. I love contemporary artists as well, but more for who they are. Marina Abramovic, for example. I’m not a big fan of her work, because it’s super violent. But I really like how she pushed herself to do something innovative and unique. She’s such a strong, spiritual woman. And her project, “The Artist,” is so great. Yes, nowadays, it’s a bit too commercialized, but I think she’s great.

AP: While you’re in New York, do you have any projects lined up besides the upcoming exhibition?

AR: I have a group show on the 22nd of November at Catinca Tabacaru Gallery on the Lower East Side. We’re about to talk about a solo exhibition there as well. I have two solo shows—one in Paris and one in Geneva—also in November. That’s the month. I’m working on other projects, but I’m waiting for confirmation before I spill any dates. The next show will probably be around springtime next year.

AP: Do you have a specific message that you want your new New York audience to get from your work?

AR: Not really. I think it’s not up to me. At the point that you exhibit your work, you give it up to people. It doesn’t belong to me anymore. Take whatever you want to take from it. I just hope that people will like it.


"What Are You Fishing For?" will open tonight and will be on view until December 1, 2015 at Elliott Levenglick Gallery, 90 Stanton Street, New York, NY.  What Are You Fishing For? is also on view at the Venice Biennale until November 22, 2015 at Palazzo Bembo in the context of the European Pavilion. interview and photos by Adriana Pauly. intro text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Every Day Is Like Sunday: An Interview With Claressinka Anderson On The Domestication of Art And Eschewing The Traditional Gallery

Step into Claressinka Anderson’s beautiful, but modest-by-comparison, contemporary home on the border between Santa Monica and Venice Beach in Los Angeles and you are stepping into a new breed of art gallery: part home, part gallery, and part breeding ground for ideas. Lately, there is a trend amongst gallerists ­­– from Los Angeles to New York to Miami – who are eschewing the traditional white-walled platform and exposing art in a much more organic environment; one that is conducive to conversing, socializing, and yes, collecting. But this platform of showing art is not new – the French nobility and wealthy patrons of the arts have a long history of turning their homes into art galleries. In fact, they were the first art galleries. It was only in the 20th century, when art became much more of a global enterprise, that art needed a much more “professional” environment – a storefront to show an artist’s work – and thus the traditional gallery was born. But sometimes, the stark atmosphere of a gallery can be intimidating for collectors – new and experienced. This is where Marine Projects and Marine Salon comes in. Claressinka Anderson – its founder – is much more interested in the introduction between artists and collectors, as well as the innovation of ideas. What better place for this conduction than her home, with it’s open floor plan, double-height walls, and an intimate courtyard. You feel at home and the art you see on the walls makes much more sense that way. Last week, Anderson invited us into her home for a chat – Salon No. 13 was in full swing with works by up-and-coming artist Fay Ray lining the walls, sculptures by Galia Linn guarding the entrance, and other works perfectly placed as if they’ve been there all along. There is something undeniably glamorous about Anderson. She is knowledgeable about the arts, passionate about the arts and has a deep appreciation for the allure of art. In our interview, we chat about her early interests in art, the impetus for turning her home into an art gallery and how Morrissey lyrics can become a powerful philosophy for living life.

OLIVER KUPPER: So, what made you decide to start a salon style gallery in your home?

CLARESSINKA ANDERSON: I was interested firstly in the historical salons from France - the 17th and 18th century salons and then going into the 19th century. I think the very first salons, although there’s not a lot written about them, were actually from the 16th century and were in China.

I had always been really fascinated by the idea of these intellectual gatherings around art and literature and music that took place in people’s homes. So I was interested in re-contextualizing that in the contemporary art world and making contemporary art accessible for young people and people that are potentially interested in starting to collect. 

OK: What are some of your earliest experiences with art?

CA: I grew up in London, and I have my parents to thank for exposing me to art from a very early age. They weren’t really into contemporary art, but they were very much into the arts in general. Theatre and music, and they took me to museums. I don’t have any particular memories of it, but I’ve been told by my mother that I was always drawn to, as she would say, the avant-garde. Which I think for her was more like modernism, but that’s what I was really drawn to. When I was five I became obsessed with Picasso, so it started pretty young. I would ask her to take me to the National Gallery and I would actually copy Picasso’s paintings into a little sketchbook I had. She still has some of my weird little rudimentary drawings of boobs.

OK: Did your parents collect art?

CA: They did, but like I said, not contemporary. They collected kind of more traditional, and some modernist influenced art, but not actual modern art. They didn’t have the money for that kind of thing.

OK: So, you started Marine Projects as a salon style gallery and then you shifted things into a more traditional setting and then back again – what was the reason for this?

CA: It just suits me and my character better. I’m also more of a free spirit, and not that I’m not a business woman, but you really have to be super super cutthroat to be a top tier dealer, I think. I’m just not really that person. And I think if you had done this interview with me a couple years ago I probably wouldn’t have even admitted that, but I feel comfortable saying that now. I’m more comfortable in myself now too - I’ve come to a place where I just really want to live authentically in the same way that I want to work with artists who have really authentic practices. And I struggled with it, I thought: am I really going to be this person? Am I really going to go to every single art fair? Am I going to do all these things that you have to do when you’re tied to that traditional model? And I just made the decision that actually, no I am not.

OK: So who are some artists that you’re really excited about right now?

CA: Well, to start, all the women artists in my current exhibition. Also, a couple of the artists I’ve worked with, Jow, in the back room who has a solo project, she was an artist at the gallery so I’ve worked with her before. And then Fay Ray, she was another artist who I’m working with again and I feel really deeply invested in her career. There’s also this young artist called Shoshi Kanokohata  who just graduated from UCLA and he’s a sculptor. He’s working in ceramics and he’s doing really interesting work. I haven’t had a chance to work with him yet but I’ve bought one of his pots and I’d like to. He also does more conceptual pieces from his more traditional, more Japanese background throwing pots with the glazes. They’re just really, really beautiful. So I really respond to, and love his work. I collect ceramics, it’s something I’ve gotten into recently so he’s someone who I really like. 

OK: So the home itself- did you look for a space that would accommodate the work, or what was that process like?

CA: I did actually. It wasn’t in a time when I had realized what I’d be doing yet, because I lived here for almost 2 years before I started the salons. But I definitely bought the house with showing art in mind. I didn’t necessarily think I’d have my own business out of here, at the time I was working with another gallery, but I knew that I wanted to collect and show work. I walked in here and I was amazed by how much space there was, for a house that’s at the end of the day not that big, on a lot that isn’t that big, I just thought the use of space was so fantastic. Particularly this double height wall and that raised wall above the front door, I was really inspired by the possibilities - these are dynamic spaces. I’ve had a lot of collectors come into this space who live in much bigger houses, and they are actually envious of how much wall space I have. It’s just really great for art.

OK: It is great, and it’s great for a salon.

CA: Yeah and I think it’s this really nice hybrid between home and gallery where it has a warmth to it. It’s a home, but it still has really tall walls. I was talking about it with Ariel Herwitz, and she was saying “I’ve shown my work in lots of galleries that have lower ceilings.”


"...You really have to be super super cutthroat to be a top tier dealer, I think. I’m just not really that person. And I think if you had done this interview with me a couple years ago I probably wouldn’t have even admitted that, but I feel comfortable saying that now."


OK: Absolutely. Are there any challenges between showing in a gallery setting and a home?

CA: It’s more just the opening of yourself to having a lot of random people in your house. You would think I’m a super open person, but I’m actually pretty private. So it’s funny that I’ve decided to do this, because I’ve really had to open myself to the idea. And it’s fine when I have people who I’ve already gotten to know a little bit, or I’ve had exchanges with. But sometimes I do get random emails from people and I have no idea who they are and they want to come by. I’m here by myself and I really don’t know, so there’s things like that where I’m a little unsure. I try and do a little bit of a check to figure out who everybody is before they come over.

OK: So I want to talk about some patrons of the art, or some other inspirations when it comes to salons. Can you name any specific people or institutions?

CA: I mean definitely; I’d have to say Gertrude Stein would be an obvious one for me. Because I actually really was looking at her for an inspiration for what she did in Paris- I mean she was essentially running a museum out of her home, and all these incredible people were involved. And she was also a collector, I mean she was a collector, a patron, an intellectual, a visionary. She would have to be my number one inspiration. I also read Peggy Guggenheim’s autobiography, or one of them a few years back and was really interested in her story too. The idea of how someone’s truly personal interest in art and love of art can then grow out into something that really educates a lot of people and brings it to a wider audience, same with Gertrude Stein.  I am interested in that, and it being accessible. I think that oftentimes when you get to a certain level gallery, you no longer become accessible to a lot of people. That’s really not what I’m trying to do - my true inspiration is to start people off as collectors.

OK: So Marine Projects is like the gateway drug for collecting art.

CA: (Laughs) I like that.

OK: I mean, it’s addictive.

CA: No it’s hard! Usually in couples there tends to be one person driving the collecting a little more than the other, it just tends to be that way. With my husband, I’m recently married - I just got married in May, I’m definitely the one that drives the collecting. But he’s really open to it too. We will definitely continue to collect together.

OK: It’s addictive, but you also get to live with art. And that’s an amazing and beautiful thing- to live with art.

CA: You just reminded me of one thing that I’ve really learned, that’s very different from my experience of doing shows here versus at a regular gallery. I’m really cognizant of how much the energy of the home changes from show to show depending upon what work is in it. And because I’m living with it, you feel it differently than you do when you see it in a gallery. Obviously it’s the same thing, a gallery is a blank slate, it’s a white cube, and everything that goes into it also changes it. But something about actually living with it day to day - you know to have breakfast, taking a shower, being in it all the time, you really are affected by it. And I think that we are energetic beings and art has energy in it, it really does. When I de-install shows, there’s always a couple of days where there’s nothing on the walls and it feels so uncomfortable to me. It’s funny because the people who are living next door and renting the house, I went there a while ago and they don’t have anything on the walls. It’s just amazing to me that they just don’t live with any art - and so many people don’t.

OK: It’s a very weird thing.

CA: I get sad, and I start to feel kind of anxious when there’s nothing on the walls. With this particular show, I really love it, and it’s a great show to live with, but I’ve also specifically put pieces in shows that are a little bit difficult to live with sometimes, or things that I wouldn’t necessarily want to live with all the time. Because I think that we shy away from things that are uncomfortable. In terms of collecting, those are often pieces that work well in gallery settings but then people don’t actually want to take them home. So I’m trying to do that as well.

OK: But art should interrupt your life in some way.

CA: Exactly, exactly. So that’s another aspect of what I try and do here too. Same with Galia’s vessel upstairs on the coffee table like that. Proportionally it’s too big for that coffee table, but we really wanted it to be in the space.

OK: What is your advice to new collectors who are hesitant about collecting art? Is there a piece of advice that you always give them in one form or another?

CA: I actually do. For me, and I’m sure it’s different for every person, but I really say: you have to absolutely love every single thing that you buy. Irrespective of whether you think it’s a good investment, irrespective of all these things, which are things that should be taken into account - you know I always say that you don’t want to pay some sort of exorbitant amount of money for something that isn’t worth it, and it is important to research. But at the end of the day none of that matters because it could all fall apart anyway. So the question is: will you be happy with that thing on your wall? Or on the floor? Wherever it is, you have to love it.

OK: Okay, last question, we noticed some pillows upstairs with Smiths and Morrissey lyrics – is there a story behind those?

CA: That’s kind of a cool story, it’s a little more personal. So there’s this artist, Lisa Borgnes Giramonti, and she did these hilarious tongue in cheek, needle point paintings. They were poking fun at Hollywood and botoxed ladies and all these things. I really am drawn to text-based work just in general, and I had gone over to her house just to do a studio visit and she had one of these pillows in her house. Because I knew she did a lot of needlepoint stuff I figured she had done it herself, and she said “yes, I’ve kind of just been doing them for friends… a little side project.” And I liked the Smiths growing up, so I saw the sweetness I was only joking one and I really liked it, so I asked her if I could have that one and she said yes so I bought it from her. When I met my now-husband, I found out that he was a major Morrissey fan which was just a super funny thing. I mean I liked the Smiths, but he was a huge fan, and I thought that was pretty funny because I grew up in London and he grew up in Cupertino. So quite soon into our relationship, it was his birthday and I contacted Lisa, and she actually made one for him. And then I gave it to him as a gift for his house. I think in the back of my mind, I was always thinking that at some point the pillows are going to be together! So now they are. Another layer to the Everyday is Like Sunday, is that Sunday is our special day and it’s the one day of the week that we always spend together unless one of us is traveling. So it became this almost philosophy for us, that we were going to live our lives with an Everyday is Like Sunday attitude.


Salon No. 13: Works 373 – 417 will be on view until November 21, 2015 At Marine Art Salon – you can send an email or call to make an appointment. text and photography by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Femdom and Supermasochism In the Modern Age: An Interview With Sheree Rose

text and interview by Audra Wist

Sheree Rose is the kinky grandmother I never had but always wanted. Featured in the groundbreaking 1997 documentary SICK alongside her late partner, supermasochist Bob Flanagan, Sheree was the woman behind the curtain acting as Bob’s Domme and a massive force in helping him achieve greatness through performance, poetry, and promiscuity. All smiles and as candid as it gets, she gleefully divulged the breadth of her sexual awakening and the hardships in getting there. She is a punk, a pervert, and a pioneer — a true libertine — warm hearted yet strict and opinionated, which is why I was initially drawn to her. She is most written about in the context of Bob (“an exotic endangered species,” as she calls him), and while that relationship was undoubtedly important to her and performance history, Sheree stands alone as a remarkable and fascinating woman who waxes poetic on the state of femdom, feminist practice, and sex in the contemporary time — “out of the bedroom and into real life — explicit not just implicit.” On September 11th, we met at the ONE Archives at USC to discuss her role in the BDSM and D/s scene in Los Angeles during the 70s and 80s, the importance of choice, questions about male sexuality, and our shared love for guiding slave boys into the matriarchy.

AUDRA WIST: I am primarily interested in you as a dominant woman. Obviously a lot of your work involves Bob. How did you come to understand your relationship? Especially when you were coming of age?

ROSE: I was one of those 50's teenagers who, I think I missed the sexual revolution by a year or two.  And back then abortions were illegal, and in my middle-class Jewish family you were expected to be a virgin until you got married, not necessarily because it was the moral thing to do, but because we didn't want to get pregnant. And we tended to get married right out of high school--many of my friends married right out of high school. I was really worried I was gonna be an old maid. So, I married the first man that I slept with. Did I know about sex? No. I lived at home; I had never had my own apartment, you know I was very sheltered. I was immersed in this culture that was very conservative. Did I know about sex education? Did I know about pornography? Did I know about gay people? Nothing. I don't think I was that unusual; that's just the way it was.

AW: Was that frustrating?

ROSE:  No because I didn't know about sex. I mean I really didn't know. I couldn't say it was bad sex. I knew I was bored with it; I knew I didn't like it. I started going to UCLA at night, and we would go out drinking after class. Only once a week before class. We would go out and have fun, just talk. This was something I had never done before, and these were all single people. My social life before then was couples going out to dinner on Saturday night, going to each other's houses for little dinner parties. It was very boring, but this was exciting. And one night we were out late.

AW: And what year was this?

ROSE: This was '77, and my husband said--I came back a little drunk; I had been drinking-- he yelled at me: "No wife of mine is gonna go out drinking in bars! I won't allow this!" And he threw something at me; I think a bottle of perfume or something; I don't know, and that was my moment. That was this is not the life I want to live. I don't want anybody telling me what I can and cannot do, especially for what I felt was relatively innocent. I mean I wasn't having orgies. But remember, you have to remember the context: my husband was a lot older than me, so he was even more conservative than I was. And that was it, that moment. And soon after that I started having an affair with one of my fellow students, a Colombian. And he played the classical guitar. He started my love affair with guitar players.

AW: So, you did it the exact way you do this kind of thing: you exited the conventional life and did the whole passionate Latin lover thing?

ROSE: I did the whole thing. And I realized that I didn't want to lie to my husband. And my friends said to me: "Look, just have lovers, and don't tell him." That was the morality. Again this is a very small sub-group of people: Jewish, middle-class, upper-middle-class--married people with children. Very respectable people.

AW: This is funny. The reason I got into BDSM, or what peaked my curiosity is that I also grew up middle-class, and I worked at a drycleaner, and I always thought everything was just so, you know? Everyone was always so pleasant and so great. But I thought: "this is just bullshit, such bullshit". I remember I was working one night and this guy came in and told me, out of nowhere that he loved to wear women’s clothes. That was the same thing, it just shattered that illusion in an instant. 

ROSE: Well yeah, it is illusory. Unfortunately all the hypocrisy, especially around sexual matters, I mean big deal. But in the meantime, between the time I got married in the 60's and eventually divorced in the 70's, the whole sexual revolution had taken place. Birth control was out there, so I could have an affair and not worry about getting pregnant. And that was a big deal. I found that being being was wonderful, and he had a different take on life. You know, he was very romantic. He was like a rolling stone because he came from a very wealthy family in Colombia, and he just travelled around doing different things, doing whatever he wanted to do. So that was a good introduction because he wasn't really the typical married guy who you'd have an affair with. But after that break up I was single for about three years, and this was from '77 to '80. And this was not a happy time. In some ways it was great because I explored my sexuality; I said: “I need to know what sex is all about.” I explored my sexuality with different people, but never one that I felt like I really liked.

AW: So, you were cruising?

ROSE: I took a lot of chances. But this was the time. It was the time before AIDS; it was the time to do it. And I had my tubes tied after my two children, so I wasn't worried about getting pregnant. And most of the time I used condoms (luckily I didn't get any diseases) but this was before AIDS and we didn't think about sex as something you could die from. I was hanging out with X--the rock 'n roll group X. I became a groupie for X. I was older than everybody else! I was in my late thirties, but that's what got me off my boyfriend. We had been big Who fans, and I heard about this new group X, and decided I wanted to go see it, so we went to see our one of their first performances. And there were people throwing up on the floor, people with purple hair, people cutting themselves.

AW: At the show?

ROSE: Yes, if you were an X fan--and back then it was before there were plastic bottles, you had glass bottles--and you would cut their arms with X's. So the first time I saw stuff like that was not SM, it was the punk scene. And I was an older punk, but I was a punk. In that photograph of me and Billy Zoom, I was the punk queen and he was the punk king at a punk prom. It's a very famous photograph. But that was before Bob. This was all before Bob.

AW: And this was in LA?

ROSE: All in LA. It was '78-'79 was when I got totally wild that way.

AW: So did you run around with the same people, like Joanna Went?

ROSE: Yeah, of course I know Joanna Went. But that was later, once I got together more with Bob, and we got more into the art part of it. But at that point it was all music. I knew everybody in that scene, and it was really fun: those early days. It was innocent in a way that it isn't now. And then I went to a poetry party Halloween 1980; my other interest was in poetry, and it was Beyond Baroque which was a poetry art center. And all the poets came through there. I was dating a poet there, and he invited me to this Halloween party. I was dressed like Jane Mansfield. Bob wrote a poem about it, and he was a character from Night of the Living Dead. So I am in a blonde wig, and fake boobs, and a tiny dress. I knock on the door and he answers the door and he has hand in his mouth, and we looked at each other--two dead characters--and something happened. I don't know what it was, but it happened. He was 27, very young, but I just thought there was something interesting about him. He was thin and very punky looking, and I was impressed that he had a book. That was a big deal in those days, to have a book published. So we made a date, and like a day or two days later he came over and we went to dinner, and he told me he had cystic fibrosis which I had never heard of. He said to me: "you know it’s a gastric disease, and I have to take all these pills, and I have to cough." And I thought oh, okay, No big deal. I was exploring. Remember I was in an exploratory period; I am looking for a new kind of something.

Mockup of Bob Flanagan on the cover of Bimbox, No. 4. Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose Collection. ONE Archives at the USC Libraries

AW: How did your relationship move into SM?

ROSE: So that first date at my house--I had this big house in Westwood--and he fell in love in my basement, which we did utilize. And he said to me: "I'm a submissive man," and I thought what does that mean? And he said "I have CF." And that meant nothing to me. But he said: "I want to belong to a woman. I want to do anything she says. I want to cook for her, clean for her: wash windows, wash clothes, clean up." And for me, I thought this is a great. I want a man to do all those horrible chores for me that I can't stand doing. Because when I was married, and we were both working, I had maids. So I knew what that was like.

AW: He came out swinging.

ROSE: Well, remember he was dying. He thought he was dying, and was looking for a good two-year relationship. Most people with CF didn't live past 30, and he was 27. So I thought to myself: this is interesting. I mean two years.

AW: Did he tell you straight out: "I could die"?

ROSE: Cystic Fibrosis was a deadly disease, and he started talking about the SM aspects: he liked to be whipped; he liked to have his penis tied up. And I had never heard any of that stuff, but all the light bulbs went off for me. The other thing that had happened to me is that I started going to feminist workshops, and I was a student. I had stopped archaeology and went into psychology. I have a Masters in psych. So at that time my assignment was the women's building on campus. Now, I am a straight woman, don't know anybody who's gay. Really, nobody. And I was thinking: I have to go in there with all those lesbians. I was petrified! I don't know what I was thinking. But this was my assignment, and I started meeting all of these wonderful women who weren't scary at all. They were women! They were cool women! And also from that came The Socialist Feminist Network, and this was a group of women who met once a week to talk about feminist literature, and the history of feminism, and women before the patriarchy. And all the texts that has been written--that I knew nothing about. Everything about women power and women taking control, and I think most of these women were lesbians, but I was dating someone at the time and they said to me: "don't you realize you're sleeping with the enemy?" That was the attitude.

So that got me thinking. I had been very dissatisfied with these men I had been dating, so when Bob came into my life at this point it was like the perfect storm. As an identified straight woman I was looking for a man who would not dominate me. Who I could take the role, take over. So it was the political aspect of it as well as the sexual, and he was in a band, and he was a poet, and a lot younger than me. It all worked perfectly.

Had he told me he was a dominant man, and wanted to dominate me I wouldn't have been interested. My head was filled with rhetoric about women power, and all that.

AW: You came about it from almost a theoretical or intellectual standpoint, whereas now, I feel like there is so much merchandising of BDSM. There is so much imagery, and the amount of porn out there. Not that that's bad, but the difference in how you come to it.  Do you think that one is better or worse or it doesn’t matter?

ROSE: As far as sexuality is concerned, some people--male or female--enjoy getting a sexual thrill. SM to me is all about satisfaction. If you're not getting off on something you're doing, you're not doing it right, or you shouldn't be doing it. So, some people, really enjoy being submissive: it gives them a sexual thrill. And if they love their partner, it's fun. And that's why you do it, that's why you should do it anyway.  But for me, anyway, it wasn't fun for me to be submissive. It wasn't fun for me to be tied up, and we tried a little bit of that. I did not like following directions, and he had no interest in doing that. He loved to be submissive; he loved to be on his knees--whatever weird stuff I wanted him to do, he just got off on it. So I don't think it really matters what your theoretical thing is, it matters more what gets you wet, what gets you off. It's sexual. It can be theoretical, but if it’s not sexual--if you're not doing it for money. Then there are economic reasons for doing what you're doing, which I have no problem with at all.

AW: There was never any formal training?

ROSE: He taught me! He had been going to professional Mistresses for year, which many men would do. He would save up his money, go and pawn his camera, then go and get beat up. It was a lot of physical domination. He had a lot of bruises, a lot of welts. He liked very heavy SM; not as heavy as some guys, but that was what he was into. He loved being in bondage. So, it clicked. When I first got together with him, there wasn't any situation that I knew of where a couple could go in and do SM together. It was very private, very closeted. I wanted to get it out of the bedroom and into real life. It wasn't just that I tied him up, and we fucked, and nobody knew what we were doing. No, it was a political statement. I wanted him with a nose ring and a collar and people knowing that he was submissive to me, not just in the bedroom, but in real life.


"It was very private, very closeted. I wanted to get it out of the bedroom and into real life. It wasn't just that I tied him up, and we fucked, and nobody knew what we were doing. No, it was a political statement. I wanted him with a nose ring and a collar and people knowing that he was submissive to me, not just in the bedroom, but in real life."


AW: Did you have any inspirations?

ROSE: Our model was Leopold Von Sacher Masoch. He wrote a book called Venus in Furs (a very famous book) and masochism comes from him. And he was essentially Bob's role model. He looked for the woman of his dreams who would be cruel to him, who would be mean to him. And they started with contracts, so we started with contracts. Everything was written out: what we would do, and how we would do it, and it was renewable. He signed with a cut in his chest, to formalize it. He was my slave forever, or until I said you're not my slave anymore.

AW: Marriage is a contractual thing, but using the body as a symbol of that power exchange or bond is interesting.

ROSE: Right, absolutely. I wanted it to be explicit, not just implicit. And I like the idea of contracts. And later on, when we started different groups to bring SM into the mainstream, and we started a group called Society of Janus. There were quite a few women coming into it, and I wanted to get women into the SM scene. I didn't want it to just be under the table. Because it was "nasty", the only women in it were professional, but they weren't high on the social ladder, back in those days in the early 80’s. I mean they were not talked about. They were there, for sure, so I really wanted to make it more respectable. If a women wanted to be more submissive or dominant, it didn’t matter, to be able to be out about it, honest about it. So I started having female slaves. My main slave was Bob but I had other slaves as well, and with all of them we had contracts. That was a really big deal to have a contract, so that everybody knew what was expected. After three months, we would go over the contract again and decide are we going to keep it up or dissolve it. So it wasn’t like anyone was breaking up with anyone, you signed up for three months and at the end of those three months, you both decide, not just the Mistress.

AW: So, what’s this?

ROSE: Oh! These are some good pictures, this is rather famous, the incident is going to be in a book that just came out. This is the weird kind of stuff we did. Bob devised this whole thing, where he was down in the basement, and he had tubes attached to his penis and mouth so he could pee and be fed because he was down there for 24 hours.

AW: I remember Grace Marie [Professional Dominatrix] did something similar.

ROSE: Did she? Oh cool!

AW: Yeah we were at a play party and there was some ass-to-mouth tube system and it was pretty amazing.

ROSE: Pretty amazing. And also we were into things like enemas, I used to give people wine enemas, that was my big deal.

Mike Kelley and Bob Flanagan, MORE LOVE THAN CAN EVER BE REPAID

AW: How old did Bob live until?

ROSE: 43.

AW: He lived for a while then.

ROSE: Yeah, he did. And without a lung transplant either.

AW: Do you think that it was the fact that you were around?

ROSE: Definitely, no question about it. He wrote a song about it. CF would have killed him if it weren’t for SM.

AW: I always tell people, what we do is therapeutic, but it’s not therapy.

ROSE: Oh my god, yeah, men who need it, it’s like lifeblood for them.

AW: I feel like I’m so fascinated by the punk scene you were talking about, and the way you came out BDSM. I don’t know if it’s because I romanticize things that I don’t know about or things that I wasn’t there for. But it must have been so different and exciting, to have no rules or precedent.

ROSE: It was, and that’s what I loved about it. Remember when I was talking about my boring life before? I wanted to experience things that nobody had experienced, that women hadn’t experienced. By that time, I knew that men were doing wild things and I wanted women to be able to do them too.

AW: Right.

ROSE: So I don’t think if I had been as repressed, maybe if I had had a great sex life with a great husband, maybe none of this would ever have happened. I don’t know.

AW: That’s crazy. And I guess there still are women out there living those lives, maybe not you or I, but generally speaking there’s people who subscribe to it who maybe wouldn’t otherwise.

ROSE: I don’t know anymore, I’m not in touch with the world the way I used to be. I’m not nearly as active and I’m not nearly as plugged in. But I still do my things on the side here and there. One of the things we did before was crossing SM world with the poetry world with the art world. So we were always running to one thing or the other. Bob was the star, and I was coming from a place where I was the woman. I’m the mother and I still have that traditional role of wanting to see my children succeed. In many ways Bob was my pet, he was the best pet a person could have. He was an exotic, endangered species, and I thought he wasn’t going to live that long anyway so I wanted to exploit him in the best possible way so that he would make the best impact on the world.

AW: You facilitated that.

ROSE: Totally. I saw him as not as just a kinky guy, but as someone who was really talented, really funny, really sweet, as extraordinary. I thought he was going to die. I don’t want the world to forget about him. So of course it changed as years went on, and I became more active in it, but I didn’t want to be the star, to be on stage. That wasn’t really my thing. I very enjoyed being behind the scenes and making it happen. And getting almost a motherly thrill. I got a lot of satisfaction out of seeing him be so successful. That pleased me. It wasn’t like I was jealous of him and wanted to be up there.

AW: Right. That’s something I picked up on in reading about you and watching all the videos. That’s a really privileged position to be in. To have that responsibility, to feel like you had such a hand in making somebody fulfill whatever their higher purpose is. Putting something good into the world.

ROSE: Yeah, and I feel like that was the impetus of it. Now looking back, should I have done something different or been more assertive about some things? I never felt that I was that talented… my talent was recognizing other people who were talented. I could see something good, something that should be noted. 


In 2014, Sheree Rose donated her extensive archives of photographs, ephemera and other material to the One Archives at the USC Libraries. You can peer into Rose and Flanagan's intimate public life in the documentary Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist. text and interview by Audra Wist, Autre's sex editor-at-large. Below photographs of Rose and Wist at the One Archives by Sara Clarken. 


Sound and Vision: An Interview With Eskmo

Brendan Angelides, better known by his stage name Eskmo, is one of those rare musical artists and composers that can combine the natural sounds of the earth and digital elements with a romantic, alchemical simplicity that is orchestrally abstract, but also extremely beautiful - like a soundtrack for a flying dream. Eskmo has used samples of field recordings from Icelandic glaciers, the rain falling in Berlin, tour bus fan noises while passing through the American Midwest, and parking garage construction in San Francisco. Indeed, Eskmo is a constant diarist of sound and vision. His latest album, SOL – which was released back in March – takes a slight departure from his previous albums, but still holds true to the lineage of using samples and drum beats – it is also rife with Eskmo’s discernible aural brush strokes that are cinematic and otherworldly. The only difference is the grandiosity of scale and concept behind the album – combining traumatic life effects (which is delves into details in the following interview) and the entire celestial body of the sun as conceptual inspiration. With SOL, Eskmo may have conceived one his most personal, but also one of his best albums – an album that sees him poking out of the drum and bass pigeon hole that music journalists and critics have tried to put him into over the last decade. It is also proof that Eskmo has many sonic avenues to travel. With SOL, you can hear the power of the album after the first note – like a magnetic flare bursting through the darkness of space. In the following interview, Eskmo talks about his artistic journey as a composer, the inspirations behind SOL, his entrance into the Echo Society (a collective of Los Angeles based composers), and the music he likes to listen to at home.

Joe McKee: First of all, why so long in between records? Four years might not be that long to some, but it’s a significant time to develop ideas and to work on new material. What was the reason for the gap?

Eskmo: Logistically, I actually wrote a bunch of stuff in 2011 and 2012, but it was so far from what my other album was that Ninja Tune wasn’t even into it. I sat back with that, and I decided to release that material as two EPs—quietly, digitally on my own label. Just to hold onto the stuff in case anything were to happen.

JM: What was the gist of those EPs? Can you give me an idea of why it was such a big departure from the previous album?

Eskmo: For me, it wasn’t that big of a departure. I think [the record label was] at a particular place in which I had a certain buzz around me at a certain time. I was working with Amon Tobin. I had done a couple of things where I think they had a very particular idea of what I would do. They put out the first one just to see how it would go from there. I think they had a particular idea of the aesthetic that I would keep going in, which wasn’t my idea of myself.  My new stuff sounded more like Peter Garbriel. I was like, “That’s awesome! Isn’t that cool?” But that’s not what they wanted. They’re focused on a particular aesthetic. For me, so many different things were happening in my life in 2011 and 2012—the songs reflected that. There were things that were way over there and some things that were way over here. Proper heartbreak, proper crazy travel.

JM: Being pulled in different directions, and the music follows that.

Eskmo: It was all genuine and very authentic. It was still melodic, still sound-design-y, but it was pulled in different directions.

JM: When you talk about sound-design-y, could you elaborate on what you mean by that? Are you talking field recordings involved?

Eskmo: Not even necessarily field recordings involved, but more so the idea of creating the craziest type of sound possible doesn’t inspire me that much at that point. I didn’t relate writing that material. I did a little bit before that. The Eskmo album, the one with “Cloudlight” and stuff, was very methodical, very clinical-sounding, very precise. After, it didn’t make sense to ask, what kind of crazy new type of sound can I create out of this? I was genuinely feeling more inspired by more simple melodies and song structure. I was like, “Oh, that’s engaging to me,” instead of trying to make some crazy-sounding thing.

JM: When, you’re creating a record, when you’re sculpting that world, what are your parameters?

Eskmo: I think I have a sound palette, to a degree. Over the years, I’ve refined my ability. Specifically drum and bass taught me this years ago. Here’s a tiny little box—what can you do with that box and be creative? Taking that as a formula and applying it, I have been able to do that in different ways. With this [current] album, contextually, I started out just wanting to write an album that sounded like the sun. I wanted this big sound. My biological dad passed. I had record label stuff. Big things in my life were shifting. So the first, initial impulse—the sun thing—happened. A couple of tracks came out of that—“Sol” and later “A Thousand Furnaces.” Then, as the year went by, as I working on more of it, stuff would come up. Oh, wow, this is clearly a heartbreak song. Here’s another one, this is a very human, heart-on-sleeve song. Another song, “Blue & Grey,” I’m literally singing about a blue heron—fucking get more hippie than that. It felt right to me. Looking back at it, that’s why I started to associate it with yes, the sun, but there’s also really human stuff in here. The idea of the moon coming in was in relationship to a female-personified figure.  It had to do with authenticity, too. At one point during that writing process, I was trying to force writing an album about the sun. Why am I writing these tender things? But I decided I needed to just do that and see where it goes.

JM: What does authenticity mean to you, musically?

Eskmo: My personal relationship to it is a sense of vulnerability, a sense of being honest with that process. My version of authenticity would be not controlling that pre-ordained narrative of needing a particular type of song, a particular type of aesthetic. For example, the show at MAMA Gallery—I wouldn’t have done that a year and a half ago, man. I’ve had a hard time, in the past, even inviting friends over for dinner, nevermind inviting 70 people come to the gallery and watch me sweat and struggle in these very vulnerable positions. For me, that’s the authenticity in my understanding of it. I’m pushing myself while being very honest. Participating in that dynamic actually fueled the record, too. The same type of thing that I was experiencing emotionally and psychologically during the photo shoot was part of the album-writing process.

JM: Exposing yourself, breaking down the walls that you build. Letting people in, letting people understand the process. It’s more of a naked process that way.

Eskmo: A band that’s inspired me for a few years now—it’s rad to watch them progress—is Future Islands. Samuel Herring—I view him as a very authentic, vulnerable human. He’s just wearing his heart out there. Combined with his charisma, that’s why I seem him excelling right now. You have this guy saying, “This is me.”

JM: Beautiful thing to witness. On that note of inviting people in and taking down those boundaries that you may have previously built, with whom have you been collaborating? Who is instigating those collaborations?

Eskmo: Particularly on the album, the album artwork—

JM: I love that artwork; it’s beautiful. What is it looking down at?

Eskmo: A feather sculpture. Check out her stuff—Kate MccGwire. Her stuff is rad. Some of her art installations have feathers coming out of a pipe, and going out to walls. Amazing, alien-looking stuff. Also, the back cover is a wooden sculpture by my friend Aleph Geddis. That’s become a huge, integral part of the album theme. We worked with it in the music video too—we projected the geometric lines of the shape onto it. I can’t say this yet, because we’re just talking about it, but we’re working on making hollow versions of his geometric sculptures—50 to 100 of them—to sell along with the vinyl as a bundle-package. Also, my friend Dean Grenier is working on the art direction. That collaborative process—allowing people to do what they’re good at—I thrive in it. I think, in the past, I wanted more control. Particularly around the album and how the tour is going to go, I’m being more open to other people’s ideas instead of being more controlling.  


"Looking back at it, that’s why I started to associate it with yes, the sun, but there’s also really human stuff in here. The idea of the moon coming in was in relationship to a female-personified figure.  It had to do with authenticity, too. At one point during that writing process, I was trying to force writing an album about the sun. Why am I writing these tender things? But I decided I needed to just do that and see where it goes."


JM: At what stage did the visual artists on the record come on board?

Eskmo: The album art was after. Aleph—I’ve been friends with him for years, and I’ve always loved his sculptures. I wanted to work with him. The other artists—I didn’t know how to make that happen, until I decided I wanted to work with Kate. That feather sculpture, she already made that. The aesthetic—the feather thing was organic, alien, clean, minimal—what would work in tandem with that? Some of Aleph’s photos one morning, holding a wood block over his head—I was like, “This is it. This makes so much sense for me.” That process has been step-by-step, seeing it progress.  It turned into a thing where I was literally using his shapes during the music video, too. I was integrating feathers into the music video, too, which hadn’t been a part of it at all. Also, working with Dylan, the actual animator that was doing—that process was letting him do what he’s really good at.

JM: There’s a performative element to it.

Eskmo: 100%, man. Coming out of a place where I hadn’t really done any collabs—I had turned into this lone wolf thing—right now, I’ve been breaking out of that. The collaborative process is still new for me. It’s only been a year and a half of breaking out of that shell. I’m step-by-step. When new things come in, I allow it to flourish instead of trying to control it into a very specific kind of direction. In some ways, I’m taking baby steps, to be honest.

JM: Okay, what is the Echo Society, what is it, and how did it come about?

Eskmo: The Echo Society is a collective of composers, musicians, and artists in LA. We’ve put on two events so far with a chamber orchestra. We had a couple of guests for each show. Everyone, essentially, writes one piece for the whole ensemble that’s put together. It’s all LA-based musicians. We had seen a couple shows in LA before we did the first one, before we started talking about it. Other musicians were brought in from New York and stuff. There was one particular show that inspired us to do something more LA-based. We were inspired to do something better, to be honest. So we started talking about it. This came organically out of hanging out with a bunch of music nerd bros. We were just going to Disney Hall, to the Greek, and we decided—what would happen if we just threw our first one? It organically happened. Most of the other guys are doing film stuff—aside from David, who is doing electronic stuff, too. It just happened.

JM: Sweet. Do you have any other artists that you consider your peers creatively? Particularly in LA, but elsewhere too. Are there people you’re in communication with regularly that you might feel in competition with? Or feel inspired by, creatively? It doesn’t have to be musically, necessarily.

Eskmo: I’m definitely inspired by Rob Simonsen, one of the guys in Echo. He’s become really, such a solid hope for me. I’m inspired by his work ethic, how he’s built the work he has. Watching him work on different films.

JM: What’s he been working on?

Eskmo: The last thing he did was Foxcatcher. He scored that whole thing.

JM: How did he get into that world?

Eskmo: Oftentimes, in film, you’re an understudy for another composer. You do a whole bunch of work for them. He was with Mychael Danna—he did Moneyball and Life of Pi. He was doing his own score, but working with him. Then, it gradually got to the point where he was offered his own role. He did The Way Way Back. He’s in a handful of things right now. He’s working on something for the guy that did Independence Day. I’m actually getting to work on my first film score now, too.

JM: What are you doing? I know you’ve done some scoring for short films. “Memory 2.0” is one that I saw. What else have you done, scoring wise?

Eskmo: I’m brand new. Just this one that I’m working on right now. That was the goal of this album—to move past the idea of being a hyper-sound pointing artist. I wanted to write some pieces that were thematic, ethereal, and cinematic in general. And I wanted to present that alongside the Echo Society to put myself out there, so that I can do that work here in LA. That’s the direction, at least. I don’t know what’s going to happen.

JM: Let’s talk about rituals. I noticed, before you started eating, you bowed your head and took a minute before you ate. What other kind of rituals do you have creatively? Is there anything you need to do before you enter this creative process?

Eskmo: I try my best to meditate every morning. I pray every morning. I give thanks for being able to breathe. Ritual-wise for music, there’s no specific thing I do other than grounding myself.  But I don’t even do that all the time. If anything, I try to tap into what’s happening in my life, which I think any other artist does. What’s occurring for me? How can I express this honestly? I just let that carry me. That 90% of the time what happens. The other 10% is methodical. What’s happening out in the world? How can I, potentially, do my own expression of that? But usually it’s, what am I genuinely feeling? How can I get this out? Later, I go back and contextualize it.

JM: Tell me about the deaf music program you’ve been putting together.

Eskmo: We haven’t actually started it yet, so I don’t know if I should speak on it. I did an AV show last April in a movie theatre with some guys. My friend David Strangeloop. We were standing in front of the movie screen, doing the visuals that were synced up to the music. I’ve been working with this company called Subpac, which makes these vibrating bass packs. We brought thirty of them into the theater, and had people sitting with them—watching the visuals, hearing the music, and then feeling the vibrating bass pack. it’s very specific too. The lower frequencies hit down and goes all the way up your back as it rises. From that, I got inspired to do a show like this, but for deaf kids, for kids that can’t experience music in the traditional way.

JM: That’s a really exciting project.

Eskmo: I’m stoked about it. For me, working with kids, using technology—the biggest thing for me is the conversation. There’s something in that that’s moving me forward.

JM: There seems to be a swing back—in the past couple years it feels to me—towards ambient, electronic sounds. Why do you think it is that particularly ethereal music is finding its place again?

Eskmo: I know my own personal reasoning behind it. It’s a response to the environment. It’s a response to the United States electronic scene. Not in a sense that I’m trying to change anything. When I sit down to write something, there’s a part of me that wants to sit in that space. The amount of noise with the Internet, the amount of noise at any festival. There’s not good music or bad music—sonically, there’s a lot. For me, on the album, I want to convey different sides of that. There are tranquil, piano pieces, but at the same time, “Light of One Thousand Furnaces” is literally trying to evoke a solar flare on the sun. They’re both a genuine response to the state out there.

JM: Are you trying to locate something organic in an otherwise seemingly industrial landscape? What I’m noticing in a lot of this music is that marriage or things that are organic and things that are synthetic. It’s a cyborg middle-ground, which is really interesting. I’m curious about that marriage and where it sits anthropologically-speaking.

Eskmo: Some of the stuff I go back to the most, when I’m at home—I always put on gentle, ethereal stuff, for the most part. I listen to a lot of folk, too. It depends on the timing. If it’s a sunny Sunday, I’ll probably throw on some folk. It’s a genuine expression to my relationship to my life at this point. I try to be very mindful of it. That’s something I think about a lot. When you start to create art that is a reaction to this other thing, you end up being owned by it. As an example, if I were to make music that was a counter to DDM, everything I’m doing is a reaction. I’m still owned by that thing, instead of it being a genuine expression of how I’m feeling. I don’t want to battle this other thing. It’s this rage against the machine thing.  


Eskmo's SOL is out now on Apollo Records. Click here to purchase in multiple formats. See below music video for the track "Mind of War" directed by Eskmo with stop-motion animation by Dillon Markey, filmed live at MAMA Gallery. Photographs by Trevor Traynor. Interview by Joe Mckee. Intro text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre magazine on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Designing Exit Strategies: An Interview with Composer and Musician Holly Herndon

photograph by Maria Louceiro

Many people are quick to label San Francisco based musician and composer Holly Herndon a “futuristic” artist, but the truth of the matter is that she may actually be more present than many other artists that are working in electronic music genre. Present in the sense of her intentions and her use of the tools of our time. It is the music of the future imagined ten or fifteen years ago when composers were still primitively discovering and harnessing the power that computers can offer in terms of the construction of music. Moreover, Herndon is coming to the electronic music genre with a scholarly background and a deep understanding about the processes of music – after leaving Tennessee for the Berlin club scene where she immersed herself in the sounds of that culture, she received her degree from Mills College in Oakland. She studied under the likes of John Bischoff, James Fei, Maggi Payne, and Fred Frith. This year, Herndon saw the release of Platorm on the 4AD label. It is her second official album and it is being lauded by critics across the board. Autre was lucky enough to catch up with Herndon for a convo – she discusses the state of club music, her early experiences as a choir girl growing up in the South, and her blurring of the line between academia and pop music. 

Joe McKee: Tell me about the new record. I’d like to get an idea of what’s evolved, what’s changed, what direction it’s gone—musically, thematically, lyrically.

Holly Herndon: It’s always weird to summarize your own music. But I would say that it makes sense on this trajectory that went from Movement to “Chorus” to where it is now. If you follow that trajectory, you’ll end up somewhere that makes sense for this new record. I think one of the biggest aesthetic changes is that it’s involved other people. Movement was me being a weirdo in a room with no windows. It was a very isolated exercise. Whereas this has been very collaborative, which has been really good and healthy.

JM: What brought you to that point? Was it purely that getting too insular was starting to drive you a little bit mad? Or was it that you were feeling you needed to shake things up creatively?

HH: There’s some of that. But there’s also some of the navel gazing-ness that comes with working insularly. That was bothering me, in general, about music—specifically dance music. I felt like there was a lot of inward-reflection, where right now in our world we need more outward-reflection. There’s been a lot of escapism in the club in the last several years. I think escapism has a place, but right now, what we need is people designing exit strategies instead of partaking in escapist hedonism.

JM: And finding solutions?

HH: Yes, but it’s not “solutions” as in “solutionism.” In the Bay Area, that’s a problem with tech. People are very solution-oriented. With tech, you can solve any problem. I think it’s great when people are problem-solving, don’t get me wrong. But there’s also a problem with solutionism as a whole, when you think that you can solve any problem. This leads me to [an] interesting thinker, Benedict Singleton. He talks about building a platform of new ways for people to communicate with each other. He’s a designer by practice, so a lot of that comes out of the fact that you can never design the perfect future. You can never foresee all of the ways in which the world is going to change. You’ll design for the perfect future, but then something will be invented that changes the game entirely. You have to start over. You have to think in an entirely different way. So instead of trying to design this perfect solution, it’s more important to design platforms to communicate in interesting, new ways. Then, it’s like a petri dish. People can come up with their own solutions to new problems as they arise.

JM: Can you give any examples?

HH: One example for that would be Twitter. It’s kind of a cheesy example, but Twitter was originally designed to be an internal communication messaging board for quick messages inside of a company. Now, it’s become a platform for all kinds of different things. It’s a platform for people to talk about race issues, anything. Twitter has become its own beast—there’s no longer that little, internal communication. It was never designed to be a platform for these specific things. But it was designed in a way for people to communicate. 

JM: Let me reign you in and ask, where does that come into play in the record and the collaborative element?

HH: I started thinking about how I felt that a lot of club world was navel-gazing, insular, and escapist. I started to ask, How can music be an agency? How can music be important, and invited to the table to talk about important things, not just escapism or entertainment? I started looking to people who are thinking about these same things, but maybe in a different discipline. That’s how I started working with Metahaven.

JM: Tell me a little bit about Metahaven. Have you collaborated with them again on this record?

HH: I’ve been working with them a lot throughout the past year. Mostly just epic, long email exchanges. We did the video, and we’re working on some other stuff. They designed the cover for the record. I was interested in them as a design collective because this is exactly how they’ve approached their practices over the past couple of years: They said, “We’re really good designers. We have a great aesthetic eye. But we also care about all these other things. How can we use design as a force for good, or a force to talk about other things that we care a lot about?” If you look into some of their work, you’ll see really good examples of what I’m talking about. Some of the books that they’ve published and some of the projects that they’ve done are very much aligned with what I’m talking about. That’s why I was so drawn to working with them.

JM:  I’m curious as to how you got to this point creatively. Your upbringing—everything that I’ve read, it seems to begin in Berlin. Forgive me for not digging that deep; I like to keep a little mystery. But prior to Berlin, how did you find yourself composing music, particularly on a laptop? Did it begin at a young age? Did you come from a music family? What instigated this long, complex, in-depth journey that you’ve had with composition?

HH: My earliest musical experiences were in the church. I was in the church choir. I was also in the school choir and the state choir. That’s where I learned how to read music. I also took guitar lessons at the church. I grew up in the South, so a lot of life outside of school is church-involved. But I also started making weird, cut-up radio shows—not a real radio show, but a recording on a cassette. I started doing that when I was really young with my best friend—fifth grade. Ten or eleven.  Really young—we were playing with dolls. We had this radio show, which was so insane—I don’t know why we came up with it. But now that I’m thinking back on it, it was probably a weird response to the neo-con radio stuff that we were exposed to. But we had this radio show called “Women’s Radio.” I did not grow up in a feminist situation. We would do fake interviews with Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton.

JM: That sounds quite advanced for a ten or eleven year old, I must say.

HH: We didn’t know what we were saying. Madeleine Albright was a serious thinker—we were not bringing her to light at all.

JM: I was climbing trees and bumping into things at that age, so its very impressive that you were doing those things.

HH: I seriously think if you listened to it now, you wouldn’t be impressed, [but] I started messing around with recording over stuff—in a super-simplified way. That’s my earliest memory of sampling.

JM: Bridging the gap between then and now, can you give me a little dot-point form of how you found yourself in Berlin in that club scene world? And then coming to a point of exploring the academic angle?

HH: When I was in East Tennessee, I knew that the local German teacher arranged exchange programs if you learned German. I really wanted to get out of East Tennessee and go to Berlin. This is before I knew what “Berlin” meant, naturally. I didn’t know it as an electronic music site or anything like that. I just knew that it was far, far away.


"I loved Tennessee, obviously. But at that age, it’s like, 'Get me the fuck out!' I learned German and did this exchange. Through that, I met a German guy, and I fell in love with him. He was a club kid, so I was initiated into that world. We broke up." 


JM: You wanted to get the hell out of Tennessee?

HH: I loved Tennessee, obviously. But at that age, it’s like, “Get me the fuck out!” I learned German and did this exchange. Through that, I met a German guy, and I fell in love with him. He was a club kid, so I was initiated into that world. We broke up.

JM: Do you feel like you got stuck in the club scene?

HH: It’s like anyone who explores music. I feel like people get really stuck on the club part, and that’s probably because it was the first thing that I did. But I was also involved in other scenes in Berlin. I was always going to new music concerts. I was never fully satisfied with one thing. I was always trying to check other things out.

JM: Then what did you do?

HH: Then, I wanted to formally study. I was always trying to make stuff myself, and it never really sounded the way I wanted it to sound. I applied to a program in Berlin and to Mills. I got into both programs, but I decided to go to Mills because it seemed like a better fit. Fortunately it was a really good fit. That’s when I got exposed to the more academic side. But Mills is a very unusual place for the academy. It’s super hippie, super laid-back. I wouldn’t have been able to go to a more traditional program. Mills is a pretty special place for that. And I had never considered doing a doctoral program. I had never even thought about it. But then, when I was at Mills, that was something people were talking about. I didn’t even realize it was an option. Then, I started to learn more about the DIY computer music history in the Bay Area. I learned about CCRMA [Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics] which is here in Palo Alto. It’s like a rabbit hole—you uncover one thing, then you uncover the next thing.

JM: It seems that the more you dig into the music composition, sound art world, everything seems to be under the cover of darkness. The more you dig, it’s incredible what’s revealed. I’ve been having chats with a few people of late, and I find it incredible. The support group, the size of this scene—it is really not exposed in a big way. It’s a massive undercurrent, internationally, which I’ve only learned about in the last few months.

HH: As part of my program, we teach. I was able to introduce new curriculum, which is awesome. So I’m able to teach my own class—the Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music Post-1980. A lot of programs stop their pedagogy, the repertoire they cover in the 70s. The 60s and 70s was the heyday of electronic music, and no one wants to talk about the digital 80s. This musicologist PhD student and I designed this program together. Even though it doesn’t sound like a lot of time--1980-2015—it’s so hard to cover everything we care about. It was this huge timespan; we keep running out of time in all of our lectures. That’s the wonderful thing about music—you can always be learning about something new.   

JM: Now, maybe, more so than ever. It’s endless, the amount of music that’s being created and released. It’s impossible to keep up.

HH: It is impossible. But that’s one of the purposes of the class. It’s not about learning the history, necessarily. The history is important, but it’s not about having a photographic memory. It’s more about having the skills to be able to make an aesthetic judgment on something—why you like something, or why you don’t like something.

JM: That’s a very good point.

HH: When something is released after the students have come out of the class, I want them to be able to listen to it and make up their own minds. I want them to be able to argue why they think it is or is not good, to know its history.

JM: On a completely different note, can you tell me about your time learning with Fred Frith? I’m a fan of his work.

HH: Oh, that seems like ages ago! Fred is an awesome composition teacher. Stylistically, we’re very different. There are some composition professors who impose their sound on you. And then there are those really great ones who don’t impose their sound or even their aesthetic on you. Instead, they try to give you the tools to be able to better shape your own work, or think about your work in different ways. He was one of those in the latter category.

JM: I dare say there are some parallels between your work and his. Despite his being more acoustic-based, I can see parallels.

HH: Just the whole improv thing—that’s a huge deal at Mills. They have a program for improvisation. I wasn’t in that program, but it’s so small that people from different programs are all together. People were improvising all over the place. I was in his improvisation ensemble when I was there. I don’t improvise in the same way—I don’t do free improv now. But having that experience definitely has impacted my studio and performance practices.

JM: I’m curious how that affects your composition, too. Being from an academic background, your job is to dissect and intellectualize your work. Where do you draw the line between the cerebral and the visceral? Is there an element of chance in your compositions? I was speaking with Jonathan Bepler about this; improvisation is a huge part of his composition. How does that come into play when you’re dealing with things like computers and software?

HH: I think it depends on for whom I’m writing. If I’m writing for myself, a lot of it comes out of studio improvisation, setting up the system and then improvising with it. If I’m writing for someone else, I make a conscious decision on how much freedom I want the player to have within the composition. I wrote a soprano solo last year, and I gave her, basically, chords and rhythms to play with. But I gave her great flexibility as to how she wanted to order the. It totally depends on for whom I’m writing, what the point of the piece is, what the performer/composer dynamic is.

JM: But did you find—in the case of writing this record—that there were moments of chance and improvisation? 

HH: Of course! That’s what noodling around in the studio is, eventually. Its not always, and then I’m going to do this. It’s like, this part works, I’m going to try out this thing and see what it sounds like next to it or on top of it. That’s improvising, too. A lot of it is setting up a vocal or percussion system, letting it run, playing within it, and then picking out the good parts. A lot of the percussion parts are written that way.

JM: When you’re creating these on the laptop, in a fairly academic realm, you’re really blurring the lines between the worlds of academia, club music, electronic music, and pop music. What is the pull-push relationship there? Is there much thought that goes into it? Or is it a natural inclination to tie all of these worlds together?

HH: I think it’s something that I have been wanting to do for a long time but didn’t know how. I felt like that was a burden that I was placing on myself—and maybe the academy was, lightly, but not overtly. You can hear that in Movement. It’s almost like each track is in a different genre. It’s contained—this track is like this, this track is like that. That was still my brain separating things. I don’t want to feel like I want to do something for one context and something different for another context. But I feel like that’s imposed on me sometimes, too, because I can work in different scenarios. I’ve had festival organizers ask me to play their festival but not play any beats. That was really strange—why is there this divide? Especially when it’s considered a divide between a low-brow and high-brow thing. The album definitely has tracks that clearly belong somewhere. If you needed to categorize the tracks, they would clearly be in a different category than other tracks. But I think I’m getting better at blending all of my interests more seamlessly.


Click here to download Platform in multiple formats. Holly Herndon will also be making a number of appearances, including Mississippi Studios in Portland, Oregon on July 30 (buy tickets here). Visit her website for more tour dates.  Interview by Joe McKee. Intro text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram for updates: @AUTREMAGAZINE 



Out Calls Only: A Conversation With Virgins Founder and Singer Donald Cumming On Growing Up and Going Solo

Nearly ten years ago, Donald Cumming, the snarled-lip founder and front man of The Virgins, sang about stuck-up rich girls and other superficial fancies of youth and abandon. But that was a different time; downtown New York was grittier, cheaper, and less gentrified. Cumming grew up listening to old records above his father’s liquor store in Tribeca. Now, however, Cumming finds his inspiration a little farther uptown, where a piece of Old New York still exists. This shift of interests is not only indicative of a changing city, but is also symbolic of Cumming’s maturation as an artist. This evolution is also evident in Cumming’s astonishing debut solo album entitled Out Calls Only, released this month on the Washington Square Music label. Tinged with the same poetic, literary textures and existential questions of past musical efforts, the singer’s distinctive drawling voice harkens Jonathan Richman or Richard Hell on klonopin, Out Calls Only is heartbreaking, introspective, and incredibly raw. It is also boozy and beautiful, seemingly bathed in a warm, romantic red glow. From start to finish, the intimate album alludes to the self-assuredness of an artist who has learned from past mistakes and has a found a stage that is all his own. Autre had a chance to speak with Cummings over the phone from his apartment in New York – I could hear him dragging on a cigarette between questions with the sound of the city in the background, like a sweet symphony of chaos. In the following interview, Cumming talks about his time in The Virgins, an ever-evolving New York City, and his new solo musical journey.

Oliver Kupper: When did you first discover music? Was there a revelatory moment, or anything specific that you can describe?

Donald Cumming: I remember listening to the records my mother used to play when I was a kid. She played Springsteen and Linda Ronstadt. I was always aware of it and listening to the lyrics. I would misinterpret or put the words together in nonsense ways. But music was always playing. And I was always singing songs—the different songs you sing in school with the whole class. I was always really engaged with music.

OK: Your music has a literary edge to it, a literary layer. Are there influences of this nature in your work?

DC: I don’t know about direct influences, but I do read a lot. It depends on the material. I like a lot of American literature—particularly poetry, but also novels. I like Dos Passos. I like Mailer. As far as poetry, I love Franz Wright. I love Robert Lowell. There’s pretty much a wide spectrum.

OK: You grew up in downtown New York. How do you think New York has affected your work? Do you think there’s a major influence?

DC: Being from here and growing up here, obviously, most of my life experience happens here. So that has a big effect on things that I end up making. But as I get older, I think the influence is less. I’m not really engaged with the city the way I was as a teenager. I’m not really out running around like I used to be. I don’t really have the same kind of social life that I had when I was young. The city has also changed a lot. As far as being downtown, it’s unrecognizable. It doesn’t feel like a place that I have any emotional connection to beyond walking around and thinking about the past, or remembering people that aren’t here. It’s not an optimistic place for me. But when I go uptown—particularly on the Upper West Side or Central Park, that kind of area—still feels like New York. It hasn’t been demolished and rebuilt fifteen times in the last twenty years. That feels like a new place for me. I mean, obviously, I would go up there as a kid and as a teenager, but it didn’t interest me in the same way. Now, I feel like that might be the area that I find inspiring.

OK: Do you think that comes from age, too?

DC: It’s probably a combination of age and the way the city has changed. I feel more comfortable up there because it reminds me of the New York that I was around growing up. It hasn’t really changed that much, so it feels like it’s still this place that’s familiar. On the other hand, getting older, I have a different lifestyle. There are museums up there; you can go see Swan Lake on the weekend. That’s something that I enjoy a lot more as an adult.

OK: Do you think that change in New York also contributed to the disbandment of your band, The Virgins?

DC: It’s not something that I was ever thinking about when we were doing it. But yeah, definitely. The Virgins, when I started, I was at a very different place in my life. It was that mid-period—the city was half the way I remembered it and half this thing that was changing radically. Still, my peers were all around. We were making our way in the world, so maybe it felt like we were participating in the changes. Whereas, now, all my friends have scattered. The ones who are around are working. The city that I see when I open my window is like a college dormitory that I have no relationship to. For me, the second line-up of the Virgins comprised of all my friends. It was just them and me. We were working in the East Village, and we did hang out and go around. But at that point, they were younger. They were engaged with the downtown more than me. I was married, and that was not in that zone as much. So I think it changed the way we worked—at least the way I worked.


"....For me, it’s having freedom to do whatever I want. Obviously, I enjoy that. There’s also the fact that the songs have the freedom they didn’t have when I was in a band. There was always the pressure to have everybody be able to participate and have as much fun as possible."


OK: Your new record, which I’ve been listening to a lot lately, it’s really good— it has a sort of loungey, introspective vibe. How would you describe the new record?

DC: Out of anything I’ve made, this is probably the most personal album. Every song is something that came out of an experience. Not a remote experience that was then filtered through an additive or semi-informing a perspective, but directly. While I was making the record, I was going through some things that came out in the songs and were very much a part of the record. So it’s about this period in my life that is already over. But it felt, while I was doing it, really visceral. It was completely linked to what was happening. I’ve never done that before, not consciously. For me, I think it’s the best thing I’ve made. I don’t know if that’s because it’s so connected to me personally, or if it’s just because I have a better idea of what I’m doing. We’re not fighting now [laughs]. But I think it’s the best thing I’ve made, and I’m happy about it.

OK: It does seem really tinged with heartbreak and personal experiences. What is your lyric-writing process? Do you have a specific practice?

DC: Basically, I write a song, and I keep it. I had some experiences early on in which I would make these demos, and I would really put everything into them. And then, I would come to find out that, for whatever reason, the label would want me to re-record it. It could sound more high fidelity—whatever the reason. You end up chasing that demo and never quite nailing it the way you did. Something I learned from that experience was just to not work hard on demos. I write a full song—I write the lyrics and the melodies, and I either play it on a piano or a guitar. But as far as recording, I’m not making multi-tracking or making revisions. I record the song with one take.

OK: Is that different than what you did in the past? 

DC: In the past, in the second versions, I would take that tape to the band. We would practice it or play it live a few times, whatever. But for this album, there was no band. What I had instead was different friends who were booked to record with me, and I would bring the tape into the studio. Everyone would hear the song that day, we’d play it, and we’d start tracking almost immediately—as soon as everybody was confident with the changes. That spontaneous energy made it onto this record. It’s something I’ve wanted to capture for a long time, and I think it’s the direction I want to go in. That’s what I’m aiming to do—record these experiences that can’t be repeated. Find moments that are special, and preserve them. That was the process for this record. And even this record, at times, things started to flow maybe too much. I’d like to catch some more off-the-cuff stuff in the future.

OK: So there’s more? You’re going to continue on the solo trajectory?

DC: Oh, of course. I’m definitely not going back to being in a band. For me, it’s having freedom to do whatever I want. Obviously, I enjoy that. There’s also the fact that the songs have the freedom they didn’t have when I was in a band. There was always the pressure to have everybody be able to participate and have as much fun as possible. When you’re in a band, you want to play a loud fucking show, you want to have an upbeat song with a lot of energy. You’re thinking about all these other things when you’re writing. As a solo artist, the song can be whatever it wants to be. If I write a song, and the song makes sense as a piano song with me singing quietly, I can put that right on the record. I don’t have to worry about if it’s going to work with a guitar solo, or if it needs to have a faster pace or something. That gives the songs more freedom to be what they’re supposed to be. It makes them stronger.


Listen to our favorite track from Out Calls Only below. You can find Donald Cumming's "Out Calls Only" in multiple formats here.  Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. FOLLOW AUTRE ON INSTAGRAM: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Traces In the Snow: An Interview with Photographer Isabelle Wenzel

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


After Malevich: A Q&A With Robert Levine Before His Solo Show @ MAMA Gallery

What do you get when you combine the work of Russian geometric abstract artist Kazimir Malevich, Superman, the minimalism of Joseph Albers, and Groucho Marx? – Besides a Pleiades-like connect the dots of near-schizophrenic referencing, you also get a conundrum of contradictions and a strange telling of art history that contemporary artist Robert Levine explores in his uniquely powerful, incongruous and disarming paintings and collages, which will be on view starting tonight at MAMA gallery. Autre got a chance to chat with Levine about his early introductions to art, his technique, his views on art history and art criticism and his solo exhibition opening tonight at MAMA gallery. 

Autre: What were some of your earliest introductions to art?

Robert Levine: When I grew up, we had some art…nothing really valuable or anything…but we just always had art at home. That was my earliest introduction.

Autre: Was there a specific artist, or a specific work of art, that really inspired you?

Levine: The first time that I really thought there were possibilities or that things can be different was in Boston, at the ICA, and they were in a very small building at the time, but there was a show of minimal work….there was Robert Smithson, Robert Morrison, Donald Judd and [Dan] Flavin. I’ve tried to look up the show, but there is scant information about museums from back then. This would have been in 79’ or something. I had never seen a group of work like that, up close, and that really changed my mind about what art can be.

Autre: When you first start making art, you were creating sculptures, but then you recently started painting…what motivated you to pick up a paintbrush?

Levine: Actually, when I first started making art, I did a little bit of both. I worked concurrently until I was in CalArts, but after my first semester I stopped making painting and focused only on sculptural work. I mean I was doing these painting that stood in for painting, but it was sculpture. And I recently got back into painting, because I was making these sculptures with broken pencils and I just started doing drawings of them to have something else to go along with them.

Autre: And then drawing and painting stuck?

Levine: And then I just really started liking the drawings. Soon enough, I was doing paintings of the drawings. And while I was doing some other sculptural work, I was making small little gouache paintings…kind of like product labels and book covers. That’s where I developed a technique of tracing the image in pencil…either tracing it from something or just hand drawing with a pencil and just filling in with paint. That is kind of what I still do. I don’t really have a sophisticated painting technique.

Autre: A lot of your new works have these distinct pop art references and it’s an interesting dichotomy…can you talk a little bit about that?

Levine: That started with the image of the Malevich white painting with Superman holding up the white square. I was doing collage and I needed to do an artwork for a benefit and I was working on a college and somehow in my mind I made the connection between the cover of the very first Superman comic where he is throwing the car. I think it was 1928 or 1930. And he was throwing a car…and the car was at a very similar angle as the white square in the Malevich painting. And I just made a connection and up to that point I had never really used any pop art images in my work. In fact, I just did it as a collage.


"Through these paintings I deal with the language of talking about art. Sometimes I make it literal or I make a pun or I use humor to make a connection with the images."


Autre: Were you thinking of them as painting?

Levine: You know, I wasn’t thinking of them as paintings. I made a bunch of collages. Only later did I think to try to paint them. It grew out of the collage work.

Autre: A lot of artists throughout art history, especially 20th century art history, have declared some form as art dead. Up until the minimalists, arts were declaring that painting was dead. What can we glean from this?

Levine: You know, I am not totally against this idea. You know, maybe it is. It seems like when that happens, it opens the doors for other ways of thinking. Declaring it dead almost allows you to cast aside what was done before. Even if the art looks the same…there is an incredibly difference in the attitudes of how paintings are done now compared to how they were done in 1970 or 1960 or 1950. I think because I have done work other than painting, I don’t really think of myself as a painter in a way that some other people do…in a way that it as a distinct genre of art. I just think of it as a different form of art making.

Autre: What can we expect from your upcoming show at MAMA gallery?

Levine: I think we decided today that the show will be the collage work that generated the ideas for the Malevich, or After-Malevich paintings. After doing the initial one, I ended up printing out photocopies of as many of the supremetive paintings that I could and collaged on to them. I tried to not really limit myself to too many rules as to what I can do in this collages. But when I started painting them, I was limited to only what I felt I could paint for my skill level. But I’ve gotten much better at it and now I’m not really as limited to what I can do.

Autre: So, you will be showing collages and some of the paintings?

Levine: I will be showing collages and I have a number of paintings that I will also be showing. Through these paintings I deal with the language of talking about art. Sometimes I make it literal or I make a pun or I use humor to make a connection with the images. Or I try to use humor with the way that critics have talked about art, like Clement Greenburg. People who may have been discredited, but there is still talk of what they have done. So, a lot of what’s in my paintings is the way that I deal with the language of art and art history. But I try to make them visually interesting. You know, a lot of my most successful pieces have a little bit of a contradiction in them that causes a tension that makes them more and more interesting over time.  


Robert Levine's After-Malevich opens tonight at MAMA Gallery with a reception from 6pm to 9pm and the exhibition will run until May 30th, 2015. Text, interview, photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. follow Autre on Instagram to stay up to date: @autremagazine


Installing After Malevich at MAMA Gallery.