An Interview of Nobuyoshi Araki

NA_portrait_3_350dpi_200mm.jpg

Interview by Dan Abbe

Portraits by Tom Fraud

 

NOBUYOSHI ARAKI: What kind of questions will you be asking? There’s nothing really to ask, is there? Because my photos are pretty chatty. I'm not joking! They're just the same as talking to me. If I was going to put it in a cool-sounding way, it’s like they translate my subjects as they really are. So, there's really nothing to talk about! 

DAN ABBE: [Do you] look at the internet much? 

ARAKI: No, I don’t have it. I don’t even own a mobile phone. Nothing like that. I don’t like being shot with a digital camera, especially a really good one. It's too good, you know? I feel like digital cameras miss what’s most important, emotion and wetness. These things get lost in digital photography. And before you know it, you get used to that. I’m not talking about shades or shadows being lost, or anything like that. But I almost feel as if digital photography takes away the shadow of the person taking the photo. That’s why I don’t use digital cameras. 

I’d like to ask you about your recent exhibit at the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, "Ojo Shashu: Photography for the Afterlife." How do you think it went, either in terms of the content, or the reaction from the audience? 

The museum tried to make it seem like I was dead. For me, putting something together always means pulling it apart. For this exhibit, it worked, though. I mean, the museum is designed well, as a place to show photographs. When I first started, I thought that photographs should be shown in books, not in museums. At that time, I thought that museums were like graveyards, at least for photography, you know. This exhibit was good. Presenting my works in an exhibit like that instead of through a photo book, I feel like I was able to express myself even better. It’s like climbing Mount Fuji—it’s usually better to see the sunrise from the 8th station, but for this exhibit we went straight to the top. 

Did you try out anything in particular with the presentation of your work? 

I try to switch things up to make it look as rough around the edges as possible. You know those people who pay really careful attention to the way their works are exhibited? Like, some photographers focus on the layout too much. That’s wrong. It should just be slapped together. I didn’t even put the photos up myself. I entrusted all that to people who understand me well—I just said, "do it however you want." It was a success. I’ve always acted on the principle of pulling everything apart and always presenting something new. 

The next exhibition I’m doing is called Ai No Tabi [Love Journey] in Niigata Prefecture. (pointing out a photo in the catalog) This one is of my balcony when I was living in Gotokuji. This is the western sky. Heaven, in other words. Around March 11, 2011, my apartment building was demolished, so I moved to Umegaoka, a neighborhood close by. I did up the rooftop and began shooting the eastern sky from there. That’s where the sun rises, you know, reborn. In this sense, I take photographs in the same way that I live my life. 

It’s not just a simple shot of the eastern sky; it’s loaded with my feeling that everything starts from there. Let me tell you something: as you can see, the sky in the east gets darker and darker. Now look closer, and it becomes a mirror, or a window of myself. Before March 11, 2011, I had to face my father’s death, my mother's death and my wife’s death. Then around March 11, my cat Chiro died. So recently, the Grim Reaper has been hovering around here. And over there is a goddess (gestures at the woman sitting next to him) so these days it's the three of us! (laughs) I got prostate cancer and did radiotherapy, which messed this up (points towards his pelvis) and made me piss blood. Then I lost sight in one of my eyes. The blood in my urine is from the radiotherapy. But I also had a circulatory problem, a blocked artery, so now I’m taking a blood-thinning agent, but it's thinning too much and making me piss blood. So here I am going through all this, and now you want to ask me these questions! (all laugh) 

NA_EroReal_25_2013_image size 46.5 x 58.7 cm_paper size 50.6 x 60.9 cm_350dpi.jpg

Your exhibit "Sagan No Koi [Love on the Left Eye]" was showing at Taka Ishii Gallery recently... 

Yeah, I took the title from van der Elsken's "Seine Sagan No Koi [Love on the Left Bank]." It could have been Love on the Sumida River for all I care. My wife loved "Love on the Left Bank" too. I was a fan of his work when I was around 20. I guess I’m paying homage, or really just playing around. What did you think of it? 

I thought it could be appreciated as painting, too. The show that's up there now [an exhibit by Kunié Sugiura] also combines photography and painting, so there’s a connection. Anyway, I was interested in the gaps where the light breaks through the paint a little bit. 

That’s what’s great about those works. That you can kind of see them, but you also can’t. After this, I thought about painting over the left half as well, and calling it "Light and Darkness Lost." Light and Darkness is Natsume Soseki’s posthumous novel. It seems like a waste, but I painted over photographs of nudes and so on in black. Still, if I went too far, it would seem like I was trying to do some sort of trendy art, so I’m holding back. It's tough though, my genius makes me do these things! (laughs)

I want to talk about your recent work. Every time you produce something new, you do it under the name Araki, which means that the bar is always set high. Yet I think you’ve been clearing it each time, and I wonder whether people don’t think: "well, it's Araki, so of course it’s going to be good." Do you think you’re taken for granted?

I mean, I’ve decided that I must do something different every time. If I don't keep transforming, I’ll just become a master. It's no good being a maestro. (laughs) I always want to work as if I’m a novice. I never want to reproduce or reshoot anything I've already done. I do always say that photography is about reproducing, for instance the reproduction of a person, or the reproduction of an era, reproduction this, reproduction that, but actually I think it's bad to keep reproducing your own work. 

I actually wanted to ask you about this word reproduction, or replication. The same subjects often appear in your work, and I wonder whether you would also consider that to be a kind of replication, too. Based on what you just said, though, I’m guessing no. 

That's right. So his style is a little different, but it’s like looking head-on at a Picasso painting. (looks at the woman next to him) From a different angle, she looks Chinese, different. From the front, the back, at an angle.... What you see and what you feel is up to you. My subjects are multifaceted, and that’s what I find appealing, that they’re appealing in different ways. When I photograph a woman, I see many different sides to her.

Is the sky similar as a subject in that it's different every time?

Yes. To me, that's why it's "heavenly." There are no two skies that look the same. Later, I will exhibit “Eastern Sky” at Shiseido Gallery. I’ve been shooting the sky every morning for nearly three years, since I moved to my new apartment after March 11. 

But you know, when it comes to showing these photos.... It’s not like I think the audience won’t understand, or that I would be making fun of them, but shooting photos and showing them are two different things. When you exhibit, you should have at least some entertainment. 

For example, I do this thing that I call "kurumado" [this is a portmanteau of the Japanese words for “car,” kuruma, and “window,” mado] where I shoot from the inside of a taxi. Everything looks great from the window now. I used to photograph all the time, but looking makes me more tired now, because I can only see with one eye. So now, I only shoot when my taxi stops at a red light. When I stop at a red light, the shot is framed perfectly by the side window, because the photography gods are on my side.

But anyway, when I show these photos of basically nothing to an audience, I feel like I should make it more entertaining by throwing in some nudes here and there, even though I call my work "Shi-shashin" [I-photography]. 

The content of these three shows in Aichi, Niigata and Tokyo are all very different. 

Yeah, it’s not a “traveling exhibition,” I don't do that.

Because that would be a repetition?

Yes, yes. Otherwise it’s like, “Oh, I saw the same thing in that city too.” 

Are you making three different catalogs too? 

No, just one. There are going to be some photos in the Niigata section of the book that didn’t even make it into the actual exhibit. Also, I’m only using one photo from the Eastern Sky exhibit I’ll be doing at Shiseido. I took it on New Year's Day, this year.

I bet something's going to happen within this year. Like a nuclear power plant or Mount Fuji is going to blow, something like that. It won't be a reborn eastern sky anymore. I feel like the entire sky—north, south, east, west—is beginning to resemble the western sky, in other words heaven. Still, I want to live to be over eighty. That’s how my photos make me feel. They encourage me. The sky that I’m looking at right now has become a mirror. 

What’s the difference between the eastern and western skies? 

Ah. It's very chatty, you know, the western sky. A real loudmouth. In the olden days, it was considered to be the Pure Land. It’s where the sun sets, and when it does, it’s quite dramatic. I think life’s the same way too. 

The sun rises in the east, so I thought that the eastern sky was flat, because of all this backlight. But these days, it's getting more complicated. Perhaps because of El Niño, what the hell do I know!

Here's the interesting thing, though. Because I’m shooting against the light, the bumpy tops of those buildings look like graves, or gravestones. You could almost say it’s like a graveyard sky. You look at the sky, you look at the heavens, you look at the world. And see, that’s where the road is. When I see roads, I feel like they’re life itself. At every moment. 

Mornings from 7 to 8 am, there’s always a girl running in high heels, click clack click. If only she’d leave the house a little earlier, then she wouldn’t have to rush, and the station is so close, too! Someone's walking their dog, and there are families and married couples. I’ve been shooting the same scenery for three years, so now there’s room to think thoughts like “I wish I saw new couples instead of the usual ones.” Or “I wish he’d get a different girlfriend.” That’s what I think about when I’m shooting. (laughs) You can see the essence of this whole year in these photos. (points to a section of the catalog)

So these are all photos you took from your rooftop?

That’s right. I’m making a photo book entirely of this series. It’ll be out in a month or so. But without anything else, I think it will be kind of boring for the poor saps looking at it! (laughs)

But you’re not bored of them yourself, are you.  

Oh, nowadays this is all I need! It’s a bad example, but they're better than Balthus’ road. ["Le Passage du Commerce-Saint-André"]

In Japan, words like “path” [michi] or “sky” can easily take on deeper meanings. That’s why I’m using the word “road” [doro]. If you say “path,” people might take this to be spiritual or symbolic, they might think of paths with no one in sight, or a painting by Kaii Higashiyama, and this is not what I’m going for. I want to say that everyday things can tell us a lot about everything. It’s the everyday that’s alive. That's why I shoot every single day.

So every day without fail, you shoot the sky and the road from your rooftop. Is there anything else that you do every day? 

People often decide this kind of thing, right? Like, "I'm going to shoot such and such a thing." If I had that kind of time, I’d rather just take photos of myself. That's why I take “I-photographs.” You have to keep on breathing, keep your heart pumping, and in my case clicking the shutter is the same thing. That's why I'm not going to go photograph a war, or something like that. 

It's weird to say I’m moved, but I guess I'm most affected by things like pissing blood. When things like that happen, the first thing I think is to grab my camera. That’s what I’ve been doing for about fifty years. (laughs)

I wanted to ask you about something I read in the remembrance you wrote for Shomei Tomatsu, in which you said that he'd influenced you in terms of your thoughts about history, or politics. 

Oh, I wouldn't write that. "politics" and such. I think it depends on when you were born. He was born 10 years before me, so he was hung up about the fact that we were occupied, that's why he went to Yokosuka and Okinawa. I’m personally more hung up about things like the atomic bomb. I shoot a lot in August: the 6th, the 9th, Nagasaki, and the 15th, the day the war ended. When I was working on Pseudo Diary, I messed with the camera's dating feature, so in some sense I have an obsession about this, or about the Showa Emperor. Again, this all depends on when you were born. On August 15, I would, without fail, go to the Imperial Palace and shoot. I was really into that. I have a thing for the date August 15. I would change the date of the camera to August 15, take regular photos of daily life, and some other meaning would appear. March 11 overlaps with the atomic bomb in my mind.

Right, I mean you've said that your photographs are all about yourself, but I think that March 11 has become a surprisingly big theme for you. 

It's influenced me, yes—but it's more like I’ve had no choice but to be influenced. It’s probably the influence closest to me personally, strange as that may sound. But it was its own expression. Photographers, you know, aren't people who express things. It's the world that does the expressing. Time, too.

One role of photographers is to respond to such expressions through shooting. I'm not like that, though. Even now I sometimes think maybe I should have gone, but I'm the kind of photographer that squeals out, "nice!" when I shoot. As a photographer, it would've been a fantastic landscape—a boat sitting on top of a love hotel—but I wouldn't have been able to keep my mouth shut. I get like that when I hold a camera. So that's why I couldn’t go, didn't go.

So many photographers have gone to Tohoku and taken photographs, but personally I'm not sure it's adding up to much. 

Well, I basically don’t look at other people’s photos. It’s not that I’m cynical, but I’m interested in other things, like the silly people trying to save this lone pine tree that miraculously survived. That’s the kind of thing that I’m interested in. It's kind of a goofy or foolish thing, but it's really interesting to me. 

Okay, let's talk about the sky again. You're now facing towards the east, but as far as I know Tokyo Skytree has never appeared in your work. Is that intentional? 

I’m loyal to Tokyo Tower, I grew up with it. I went up Skytree for a job, but it was cloudy that day so it didn't even matter!

I’m worried that Skytree will ruin the shitamachi [Tokyo's older district] by turning it into a regular place. Of course Tokyo is always changing, but I wonder how you feel about this.

Cities are always changing, and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Even if it does become all digitized, I don’t mind the idea of a digital shitamachi. 

I don’t like photos that don’t have a feeling of nostalgia. Nostalgia lasts forever. Even if you can’t see it, nostalgia remains. People look down on nostalgia and sentimentality, right? Like they're not virile. Tears are good. 

Everyone is losing touch with this kind of thing. Not just in photography, you know, but in the way they're relating to each other. I mean, what is this—Twitter and so on. Pick up a damn brush and write out the characters! (laughs) That’s why people get frustrated and stab one another, because their words aren’t getting through to others. That's something good about the shitamachi though. You can see siblings going to calligraphy classes together after school. Ah, I just love that, I can't contain myself. It’s so great. 

(Araki looks through the catalog)

A little while ago I said "Light and Darkness Lost," making a joke out of Soseki's Light and Darkness, but I’m not necessarily inspired by literature. It’s the photos I take subconsciously that teach me the most. I took a photo of a cat’s shadow, you see? (picks out an image in the catalog) That’s because I felt that there might be more truth in its shadow. Regardless of whether that’s the right thing or not. There are some men who prefer shadows to bodies, you know. (laughs) 

Something I like about your work is that it's extremely pure, but it’s not naïve. I mean, this is sort of a strange thing to say, but I have this idea that your mind is more Greek than Japanese. Before you mentioned how tears are good, right? A few years ago, when I saw your exhibit about Chiro, Sentimental Journey, Spring Journey at Rat Hole Gallery, I was so overcome with emotion that I nearly burst out into tears right there. It feels to me like you relate to things, whether animal or human, in an almost cosmic way.

With Chiro, if you look at those photographs you can see that her feelings towards me were much stronger than my feelings towards her. I did not respond enough to her love. Her love was deeper than mine. The photographs make this clear. Look at her final portrait, when she gazed at me. I just feel that my love was weak. That's why the photographs of Chiro are good. My photos have always been about my relationship with the partner in front of me. 

How about the people looking at your work—what sort of "partner" are they? 

I’m not so concerned about them. For me, it’s all about the subject in the photo and nothing else. That’s why, when I present my works, I feel like I need to add an element of entertainment for the audience, even if it's a lie. 

(showing images of Chiro) This is when she’s so thin that they can’t even find a place to put a drip in her arm. I asked her to stand one last time for a photo, and she did. But you know what? This face, with her eyes closed, when she was dead—that was the most beautiful shot. 

Here, she’s already got rigor mortis. It sets in immediately after death, you know. That’s why she’s the same shape. (shows Chiro after cremation) I told them [i.e. the crematorium staff] to keep her in this position. 

Here I’ve painted onto the sky. (points at an image) I made these works for the exhibition one year after Yoko's death. It's a pity to exhibit black and white photographs on white walls, so I created a sky dedicated to her. A sunrise or sunset, a sky for her. I can’t help it, I’m naturally gifted. These are great, aren't they? (laughs)

I’m curious to ask about Setsuko Hara, who has appeared in your work a few times— 

Yes indeed! That big-boned, Russian-looking woman. There's the word sonzaikan ["presence"], but I have a particular term that I use when I’m referring to a woman, nyozaikan [a portmanteau of the Japanese words for “woman,” nyo, and “presence”], and she had it. She isn’t cute or sexy at all, but I like women who are full of resentment, who have some poison in them, and I was attracted to those qualities in her. 

In that sense, what do you think about the girls of AKB48? 

They’re all the same... That’s what I'd call “digital.” It's okay for what it is. They’re all cute, and that's not bad, no? But there are girls from the same generation who exist in a different realm from AKB48, and I think they're amazing. The AKB girls are manufactured. I guess some people will find them interesting, though. 

But they're not your liking? 

Oh, some of them I like. (laughs) But they all look the same to me. I’ve shot some of them, too. In thinking about what I would want to shoot, my own mettle came out. So, you had Atsuko Maeda and Yuko Oshima. In the election, Oshima had won— 

You're surprisingly familiar with this!

So I thought I’d get some sort of reaction if I made them stand side by side, and in fact there's one shot where they're almost wrapped up together. You could just feel their rivalry. That's interesting to me, to shoot two people in that kind of situation.

Let’s talk a little bit about foreign countries. What has the response to your work been abroad? 

People overseas responded to my work immediately. When I showed Akt-Tokyo in Europe, the photos spoke for me, especially since I didn’t speak the language. It convinced me that photos are better than words. 

Do you think that Japanese photography culture has anything to teach overseas? 

Probably not, right? (laughs) Anyway, it’s not about teaching or being taught—as long as you’re ready to learn from your subjects, you’ll definitely be fine. And by the way, everything around you is fantastic.

Overseas, they try to force all this emotion into the frame, right? But it’s better to think of the frame as something from which emotions and such can escape easily. 

How would you look back on your experience as a judge for the Canon New Cosmos competition? In some sense, you helped shape an era. 

I've been bashing digital today, but these days, digital shots that people take of friends of friends seem to be valued pretty highly. Maybe that’s because I used to select those kinds of photos all the time at the competition, though I selected other things too. 

We had guest judges sometimes, like the director of a photography museum in Paris. He told me that he understood my photos, but that he didn’t understand the photos I'd selected as a judge. You know, people like HIROMIX. 

I mean, the stuff that guy selected was amazing! A reflection of the moon in a pond, that kind of thing. Come on! (all laugh) So I guess it's not surprising that, coming in as a guest judge, he couldn't understand photographs taken by young Japanese girls. Maybe that work could tell him something like, "Hey, dad, this is how photography is really done!" 

NA_TokyoTombeau_042_350dpi_200mm.jpg

 

 

˚

 

 

A Transcendental Storehouse For Culture: An Interview Of Lauren Halsey

DSCF2186.jpg

text by Taliah Mancini

photographs by Oliver Kupper


Lauren Halsey’s dream-world is cosmic, funky, carpeted, and technicolored; an atemporal, fantastical, and hyperreal vision of black liberation which she conjures via site-specific installations that celebrate her childhood home.

Iconography and aesthetics (not to mention philosophy, lived experiences, and informal economies) of the diaspora serve as Halsey’s blueprint. Manipulating found objects and cultural artifacts from South Central, she deftly plays the past and present off one another to build a black utopia outside of time. Incorporating, for example, smashed-CD’s, aquarium plants, artificial crystals and rocks, hair extension packs, incense oils, aerosol spray cans, pan-African flags, tchotchkes, figurines, and black-business signage, she shapes a community-based, architecturally-rooted, afro-futurist cosmology.

Perhaps most explicitly, Halsey’s work is embedded in a spatial analysis of racial capitalism. Recognizing the power of oppressive built environments, she works to dismantle hegemony’s spatial ordering—a subversive move against cultural erasure and panoptical city planning. In response to the calculated displacement targeting South Central, she invests in her own architecture, preserving black-owned shops and community spaces by archiving her long-time home. She not only presents a cutting critique of the modern consumer economy but also an active re-constructing of heterotopia.

Creatively and politically, Halsey has carved out a space for herself in an art world that is often complicit in the very systems she re-imagines. With installations that are reminiscent of few conventional object-oriented art works, she is creating a new visual genre, pushing those who enter her fantasy to re-envision the perspective-altering potentials of the visual, aural, sensorial, and spatial. And, firmly rooted in love for her neighborhood, her work is defined in equal measure by healing from trauma and honoring history. Halsey’s dream-world is a moving through abuse to create new realities; an optimistic, grounded, and empowered archiving of the future.  

TALIAH MANCINI: To start, what does your neighborhood mean to you?

LAUREN HALSEY: Neighborhood Pride, Gorgeous color palettes and aesthetics, Black history as it relates to The Great Migration, Family History, My future.

MANCINI: When did you begin creating art?

HALSEY: Intentionally in the 12th grade. Oddly enough one of our first art projects was a carving project that I’m revisiting for my upcoming public project, The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project. I was already intrigued and deeply obsessed with collecting and creating records in my notebooks. The 12th grade carving project gave me the form.

MANCINI: I’ve seen pictures of your early maximalist collages. Did your documenting of South Central emerge with these Photoshopped images?

HALSEY: No, documenting and archiving signs, posters, mix CDs, parties, menus, incense n oils, party flyers, hairstyles, bus routes, businesses, knick knacks, t-shirts, greeting cards, local landmarks, city blocks, voices, etc. was already happening. I used the archive I was engaging to create the maximalist blueprints of my neighborhood a few years later when I took my first Photoshop class at El Camino Community College.

MANCINI: Your work is, most notably, a community-based practice. Where does that process start, both conceptually and physically?

HALSEY: With all of the odds already stacked against working class black and brown folks in low income neighborhoods in LA (food, education, police, housing, etc), I can’t imagine not having a community-based practice. My interest is to not only affirm folks through my practice/the artwork but most importantly to do so with tangible results: paid jobs, transcendent programming, free resources and workshops. My upcoming public project, The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project will address this conceptually and physically. Here’s a blurb on it:

The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project (C.D.H.P.) is a hybrid public art installation and community market created in collaboration with the Crenshaw District that will build and reinforce local economies of South Central LA that can sustain the pressures of rapid gentrification. The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project will exist on an empty lot where over the course of a 3-6 month public installation, four autonomous 16 ft. hieroglyphic towers with open circulation will be constructed. Each tower will include a series of rooms covered in hieroglyphic-style engravings on the interiors and exteriors. Upon entering the structure, the public will be invited to make their own "hieroglyphs" by carving into a series of blank panels serving as a medium to express narratives, share news, honor community leaders, celebrate events, and leave obituaries or memorials. This visual archive of and for the neighborhood will allow community members the freedom to commemorate and monumentalize themselves and one another in a city (and nation) where the place-making strategies of black and brown subjects are increasingly deleted from the landscape.

Through programming that generates paid jobs and provides tangible resources through free workshops on entrepreneurship, The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project provides and examines how alternate modes of community building can take place, while providing community members productive inroads to be engaging with, participating in, and benefiting from the top-down pace of development encouraged by Los Angeles' economic imperatives. Importantly, the public project’s investment in community artmaking will document and inscribe into the four towers the plural experience of communities who rarely benefit from, for example, gentrifying landscapes that privilege the lives and experiences of upwardly mobile middle classes. The towers provide space for the city's most overlooked citizens to describe their iconographies, aesthetic styles, informal economies, leisure activities, celebrations, oppression, local histories, and potential futures in the form of a tangible community monument. It is my hope that the publics' engravings and the informal economies The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project creates will inspire productive dialogues about liberation for South Central LA from within, beginning with our dollars.

MANCINI: Your exploration of architecture is brilliant. When did you become interested in re-imagining the built environment?

HALSEY: I’ve always been deeply, deeply, deeply into PFunk. They empowered my imagination at a young age. Early on I was very intrigued by the space making that was happening with PFunk seamlessly on the scale of worlds (outerspace, place, blackness, queerness, me). They beamed me up and into their radical worlds without me ever having to leave my bedroom. They left me totally transformed, always. Who I was/am will always be enough to participate. That relationship to space making carries over to my work where I remix and propose new spaces with what we already have and who we already are, to conjure new reflections on self-determination, affirmation, community wealth building, love, Funk, etc.

My interest in architecture is also biographical as it relates to growing up and living in a LA with so much oppressive architecture and always having questions around who’s building our architecture for us.In architecture school, I became really into the dialog of 60’s/70’s fantasy architecture.

MANCINI: Can you talk about your play with architecture in reference to the resistance of gentrification in South Central?

HALSEY: I can’t omit architecture and our built environment outside of the convo of gentrification. There should be, and are many, responses. I’m interested in responding through interventions with “for us by us architecture.” An architecture that representationally and structurally comes from us to empower us. An architecture that doesn’t signify erasure to disempower us. A Funky architecture. An architecture that comes from our hands.

MANCINI: How do you describe the way funk (Parliament/Funkadelic, Gospel Funk, Jheri Curl Funk, etc.) informs your cosmic black utopia?

HALSEY: Density. Layers. Immersion. Maximalism. Control. Black Style. Black Aesthetics. Deep Time.



MANCINI: What about outer space?

HALSEY: Outer space is limitless. White supremacy, racism classism, sexism, nepotism, consumerism, etc. aren’t the order there. There’s great freedom in contextualizing my projections for the neighborhood in an infinity space without Earth’s baggage.

MANCINI: And nature?

HALSEY: Funkifying nature has a lot to do with my interest in fantasy nature. Seeing nature through Funk sounds. The effect of a Funk nature that’s an assemblage of multiple geographies while remixing and also, sampling place, texture, form via my own renditions of the landscape.

MANCINI: You grew up in South Central, spent time in New Haven for graduate school at Yale, and then moved back to your childhood home. What are your impressions of the LA art communities?

HALSEY: There are so many because of the enormous geographical spread in LA. I spend my downtime in Atlanta. I haven’t been consistently in LA long enough to truly belong to a community, but I think I’m forging one and beginning to join existing ones.

MANCINI: Where (and what) in Los Angeles inspires you?

HALSEY: Black LA, the beaches, the sunsets, bonfires, candy cars, ice cream trucks, the pan man, the elote man, the tamale man, signs, hair, sunsets, taco trucks, freeways at night, hot days, rooftop pools, walking, riding the bus, growing up in church, ceviche, paletas, soul food, my family, chasing lowriders, the roosters, the hills, everything.

MANCINI: How did “we still here, there” at MOCA come about?

HALSEY: I was researching Chinese grotto heavens and became interested in the Mogao Caves. I was intrigued by the cave as a super structure rock form but also, as its function as a transcendental storehouse for culture: research archives of lost cultures, specific histories, discourse and ideas. I proposed to MOCA that I would build a cave-grotto with a series of connected chambers and corridors marking the plurality of black daily cultural experiences in downtown South Central LA. Some chambers include local ephemera and iconographies (i.e. South Central superhero, Okeneus’s original collages, selections of incense n oils, black figurines, mix cds, local newspaper clippings, portraitures, etc.). Other moments will be more speculative, including imaginary of future South Central landscapes, memorials, miniature shrines and statues, poems, rock carvings and soundscapes. Conceptually, I wish to create an aesthetic-sociopolitical record and overview of contemporary South Central in order to mark the evolution and narrative shifts of neighborhoods as they are being increasingly deleted from the LA landscape. Community identities are being lost and some histories aren’t being preserved (i.e. displacement via market-rate condominiums, new stadiums, developments, etc). The long-term goal is to create a permanent public cave-grotto in my neighborhoods that centuries from now will be excavated and inhabited by the future.

MANCINI: It seems like an important component of the installation is you regularly changing the space. What is your role as “pharaoh, high-voltage Funkateer and master architect”?

HALSEY: I can’t give all of my recipes away but in a nutshell, Keep building, Keep visioning, Keep Funking so that the work isn’t a set or an eulogy of itself. It’s a living environment that will accumulate energy, poetics and an archive through the run of the exhibition.

MANCINI: In what ways is the installation connected to your on-going artistic project?

HALSEY: Preservation. Past/Future. Monument. Community. Archive.

MANCINI: What is next for you? Kindgom Splurge? Any new projects on the horizon?

HALSEY:The last iteration of Kingdom Splurge happened a couple years ago. It’s put to rest for now. The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project is next. I’m building a prototype architecture of it for the Hammer Museum’s Made in LA Show that opens in June.


we still here, there was curated by Lanka Tattersall. The exhibition is on view at MOCA Grand Avenue through September 3, 2018. Lauren Halsey will be in gallery every other week on alternating Fridays and Saturdays, beginning Saturday, March 10. For more details visit MOCA. Follow Lauren Halsey on Instagram @summeverythang. Follow AUTRE @autremagazine.


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

The Underside Of Glamour: An Interview Of Kia LaBeija

45500017.JPG

text and photographs by Annabel Graham

In her vibrant, dreamlike self-portraits, Kia LaBeija offers us a keyhole through which to peer into some of her most tender and fragile moments—yet she peers right back, engaging with the viewer, watching us watching her. Her gaze is direct and unflinching, often laced with grief, or defiance, or whatever emotion might have been coursing through her body at the particular moment when the shutter clicked—at once reminding us of the ultimate artifice of posed portraiture and stating, simply, "Here I am."

Now twenty-seven years old, Kia LaBeija (née Kia Michelle Benbow) was born HIV-positive to an untested mother, who passed away from an AIDS-related illness when LaBeija was just fourteen. Much of her work explores her own firsthand experiences: reimagining and rejecting rigid cultural stigmas about those living with the virus, laying bare the beauty and pain of existing in—and learning to love—her own body, with all of its complexities. Born and raised in the heart of Manhattan’s theatre district, Hell’s Kitchen, LaBeija trained as a professional dancer and soon became involved in the underground subculture of voguing—which is, in her own words, “a style of cathartic movement or dance birthed by black and Latinx LGBTQ communities in New York City.” She worked her way up the ranks, walking and competing in balls, and now serves as the Mother of the House of LaBeija, which was founded in 1977 by ballroom icon Crystal LaBeija.

In all their thrilling, glittery, performative glory—their multilayered explorations of persona and artifice, identity and womanhood and trauma—LaBeija’s self-portraits faintly echo those of Cindy Sherman. Yet while Sherman plays a whole host of different characters in her images, LaBeija plays just one: herself. “Glamour dresses up the oldest wounds,” writes David Velasco, editor-in-chief of Artforum, in the letter that opens his astonishing inaugural issue (the issue is aptly titled "Uses of Power," and features Kia LaBeija alongside the likes of Nan Goldin, Adrian Piper, Johanna Fateman, Sable Elyse Smith and House of Ladosha). The trope of glamour throughout LaBeija’s work pays homage to her roots in voguing, yes; but it does more than that. It expresses, symbolically, just how beautiful an HIV-positive body can be. Above all, glamour represents one facet of who Kia LaBeija is: an actress, a chameleon, a performer, a ballroom queen, a daughter who loved to play dress-up with her mother. An artist. A woman.

I sat down with LaBeija, who is currently in the process of relocating to the west coast, in between her apartment viewings one morning in early January. It was a rare overcast day in Los Angeles, the sky a dull muted gray, and I was nervous about the flat lighting—I’d be shooting some portraits of her after our conversation. Curled up on a velvet couch in the home of her half-brother’s mother’s partner (say that ten times fast), a mug of hot tea warming her slender hands, LaBeija was thoughtful and circumspect as she answered my questions—barefoot and barefaced, her voice resonant and clear. She was kind, open, calm, forthright, remarkably deep—and considerably more down-to-earth than I’d anticipated, especially after watching her vogue fearlessly and persistently through the streets of Bogotà in a baby-blue dip-dyed spandex jumpsuit (in the electrifying music video for Pillar Point’s “Dove”).

ANNABEL GRAHAM: Could you talk a little bit about the dynamic between power and vulnerability in your work?

KIA LABEIJA: It’s just a part of who I am. I think that dynamic is something that happens naturally. It took a long time to share these pieces of me. When I did it, I took one photograph, which was the first photograph, which is in Artforum. I’m in my bedroom in my underwear. I took that one, and then I had these ideas to make a series based off of these moments of my life that felt very private and quiet, because I felt them starting to creep up on me in that way that’s like, “If you don’t start talking about this stuff you’re going to explode.” A lot of these images are my way of exploding a bit.

GRAHAM: How did you originally get into voguing?

LABEIJA: As a dancer, I knew about it—and also just being from New York, I knew a little bit about it. I had seen Paris Is Burning when I was sixteen. It’s an incredible documentary. There are a lot of queer people all over the world that don’t know that that exists. Then they see something like that and they feel like, “Oh wow, I can just be whoever I want to be.” I got into voguing because I met someone who was in the scene. We worked together at Webster Hall in New York. She brought me into a house, which was the first house I was in. Once that house closed, she joined the House of LaBeija. Basically I followed her. I call her my gay mother. She taught me everything I know.

GRAHAM: And now you’re the Mother of the House of LaBeija. How did you become the Mother? In Paris is Burning, they say that the Mother of a house is the person with the most power.

LABEIJA: I mean, for many years I had been kind of mothering the House of LaBeija in a way that was just kind of helping to guide it. I became the Mother this past year, in 2017. That’s when I kind of made it official.

GRAHAM: How, if at all, did growing up with HIV affect the way that you work as an artist and the kinds of images that you make? And conversely, how has your work as an artist, if at all, helped you navigate life as a queer woman of color with the virus?

LABEIJA: The first time I made art around HIV was after my mom died, when I was fourteen. I had this jean jacket, and I painted an AIDS ribbon on it and put her name on it, and I remember I showed it to my dad. It kind of hurt his heart a little bit, it was just kind of hard for him. He didn’t like it. I remember I went into my room and cut it up and threw it out. When you go through traumatic things like that, you don’t necessarily want to be reminded of them. So for him, his way of dealing with it was to not have that be a focal point in our lives. But for me, I needed to explore it, because this was something that I was growing up with, and will continue growing with. Being able to make these images and being able to say, “This is what’s going on with me,” because I don’t tell a lot of people what’s going on with me. That was one of my big things growing up with the virus—feeling really lonely. You don’t see representations of young people living with HIV, or children living with HIV. Women living with HIV. People of color living with HIV. People are so secretive about it, so quiet about it, that it’s hard to find your people. I found my people when I met my gay mother at Webster Hall. She invited me into a world where there were lots of other people around my age that were living with the virus. Being around other people that were living with this thing, but also being so alive, and being able to have this space to perform in any kind of way that I wanted to, just felt like the most amazing thing.

L1050221.JPG

GRAHAM: Do you also feel that making your work has helped you with the loss of your mother—understanding and moving through that?

LABEIJA: The thing about talking about people, and speaking them into existence, is that they don’t go away. It’s hard because, physically, you can’t experience them. But they live here, [points to her heart] and they live here, [points to the walls] and they live in my photographs, and they live in the hearts of other people that see the work too, because they see the story and they know the story and they feel it. Talking about her, putting her in my work, because she’s so much a part of me, and I am so much her. It’s crazy when you start to get older and you’re so much like your parents. I remember there was this one day that my mom was taking me to the school bus and we were walking, and she said something, and then laughed and went, “Oh my god, I just sounded so much like my mother!” And I laughed at her, and she said, “You just wait, one day you’re going to sound exactly like me. And you’re going to think of this moment, and you’re going to go, ‘Wow, my mom told me this was going to happen.’” And it happened. And it seems like it happens more every day. It’s this beautiful, sad thing, because part of it feels like, wow, I can remember so much, because I’m feeling all of her physicalities and the tone of her voice, or I’m laughing in that similar way, so it’s like this way of her being so close to me—but it’s also kind of sad, because sometimes I’ll do things and think, “Whoa, I’m so much like my mother,” and then I’ll remember, “Oh, she’s not here.” It’s this kind of dueling thing.

GRAHAM: I read in an interview of yours that you’ve learned over the years that you can’t hold on to physical objects. As an artist, and as someone who has experienced loss at a young age, what is your relationship to physical objects and spaces, especially the ones that you photograph?

LABEIJA: We take on all this stuff, we build up all these stories in our heads, and then it becomes all this junk and clutter, and we can’t move forward, or past, or move through anything else because we’re just stuck. So in my head I was just like, “I need to get unstuck. I need to be okay.” I took this drawer that had all of my mother’s things in it and threw all this shit on the ground and was like, “What is all of this stuff?” In the midst of being in that moment, I took a photograph of it. And after I took the photograph, I threw a lot of that stuff out. Because that clears space for new energy, for new things to exist, and prosper, and come into fruition. But space and objects are so important to my work. That stuff really interests me, because those things, those kinds of energies—they stick to walls. They stick to all this stuff that’s not living [knocks on wall] and make it alive.

GRAHAM: Can you talk a bit about your Artforum cover? In your own words, what did you intend with that image?

LABEIJA: I love this question. The piece that’s on the cover of Artforum is part of a series of images. That one is very different than all the others. I’ve never released any of the others, besides those two. There’s the one that’s on the cover, and there’s the one that’s inside, with David’s statement. The one with David’s statement is a little bit more like the rest of the images. It’s hard to talk about it because the image, unlike my other work, isn’t something that’s so specific that it’s like, “This is what it’s about.” It’s kind of an accumulation of a lot of things. The original idea for the image came in that moment where I was feeling unpretty, unloveable, tainted, all these kinds of things, and I wanted to create something where I looked like an X-Men character. It took me a really long time to finally create the picture. I made the image and funny enough, the one that’s on the cover was just a test shot.

GRAHAM: Oh my gosh, that’s crazy.

LABEIJA: It’s kind of about facing your darkness, and being able to be your darkness. It’s also about being powerful in that and being vulnerable and still being sexy in that. It’s really awesome, because my work has been so HIV-centered, and I’m moving past that now. Not to say that I’m not going to still be making work that thematically goes through that, because it’s a part of who I am and that’s a part of my story, but I don’t want that to pigeonhole me. It’s not all of who I am. The fact that this particular image could be on the cover, and it’s not an image that is so HIV-focused, felt so empowering to me.

GRAHAM: Where or what do you draw inspiration from?

LABEIJA: Yeah. Love. I get inspired by all different types of things. When I started really doing photography, I was going off my own thing, but I did have one big influence, Philip-Lorca diCorcia. I saw his “Hustlers” series a long time ago in school. What he did was he came out to LA and he photographed different sex workers and he paid them the amount of money that they would get paid from a client. He asked them how they ended up here, and he would take them to a set and photograph them. It was this balance between reality and something that's kind of manicured and posed, but also the beauty and the pain. I wanted to do something that felt similar to that.

The thing about Cindy Sherman is that she plays different people, different types of women, characters. Whereas with me, I play one character, which is myself. I had a period of time where I was like, “Should I stop taking pictures of myself?” It started feeling… not selfish, but narcissistic. That’s not what it is. It’s an exploration of this body, of this person, and saying, “Who am I? Where have I been?” One of my photographs [in the January 2018 issue of Artforum] is called The Greatest Aunts. It was in front of my great-aunt's house. I used to go visit them all the time when I was younger. My great-aunt had a diner where Langston Hughes used to come. That was the first time I started exploring identity in terms of race. My 24 series is more specifically about living with HIV and being a young woman of color, but this was like, “Wow, I’m photographing this space that was important to the women that came before me on my dad’s side. My dad’s black, and my mom is from the Philippines. You’ll probably see that coming up in a lot of my work. I identify as being a black artist, but I’m also a mixed artist too. I’m Filipino, and African-American, and Polynesian, all different types of things.

GRAHAM: What made you decide to move out here (LA) for the second time?

LABEIJA: I went back to New York, because I was like, “There are a lot of things that I haven’t done yet.” And in those five, six, seven years… I fuckin’ did all of the things that I needed to do, and then I was like, “Okay, I can go to LA now and just chill.” It’s a lot about quality of life, and New York is just really hard. It’s intense. I’ve lived there forever. New York is in an interesting space right now. My community, which is like the underground queer POC community in New York, everyone feels it. Everyone is like, “It’s dead out here.” Everyone is moving. People are going to Atlanta, a lot of people are moving to LA. People are going to Canada. There’s a lot of budding artistic energy that’s out here right now. It just feels like the place to be.


Purchase the current issue of Artforum to experience Kia LaBeija's art cover and photographic essay. Text and photographs by Annabel Graham. Follow AUTRE on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


45490016.JPG

My Kind Of Heaven: An Interview Of Polly Borland On The Eve Of Her First Solo Show In Los Angeles

Polly Borland’s idea of heaven isn’t your average person’s idea of heaven. Her heaven is a dark heaven, where the angels are fully-matured adults in soiled diapers, sucking away at a binky through a stubble-lined, razor-burned mouth. The Australian-born Borland, who spent half her life in London and is now based in Los Angeles, has the uncanny ability to make the fetish of adult infantilism look strangely playful and romantic. She spent five years documenting the lives of adult babies – photographing their every nap and nappy change. Tomorrow, she will be showing The Baby series as part of her first solo show in Los Angeles at Mier Gallery – her long-time collaborator Nick Cave curated the first ever showing of The Baby series at The Meltdown Festival in London in 1999. Shortly after exhibiting the Baby series, she was commissioned by Buckingham Palace to shoot Queen Elizabeth II’s portrait to commemorate her Golden Jubilee.  Borland has commissioned UK prisoners to turn the images into intricate tapestries, which will also be on view. We got a chance to catch up with Borland at her Downtown Los Angeles studio to discuss her solo show and her life on the road with adult babies. 

OLIVER KUPPER: You are essentially new to Los Angeles, what prompted the move out here from London?

POLLY BORLAND: Well I came here kicking and screaming because my husband is a movie director. He’s not a gun-for-hire, he did The Proposition and Lawless. He kept saying, “We’ve got to move to LA,” after The Proposition and I kept saying, “We’re not moving to LA.” So, we showed up and then the culture shock…. I know every city is pretty tough. London is pretty tough. But everything here seems to be overshadowed by the movie industry and all of that is really smoke and mirrors, kind of secrets and lies. That’s what kind of hit me first. And it kind of freaked me out.

KUPPER: Have you guys come out of that culture shock?

BORLAND: Yes, and my main focus now is looking at human connection, and I didn’t know anyone here, so then I started creating figurative images out of stuffed stockings and things like that, which sort of connected to my previous work.

KUPPER: Is that the Smudge series?

BORLAND: And the Smudge series, but this was the Pupa series – and Wonk where I continued stuffing things. I think I’ve got a book, I’ll show it to you.

KUPPER: You are about to have your first solo show here, are you excited, nervous or is there an emotion that you didn’t expect having?

BORLAND: I’m nervous because Nino [Mier] suggested I show all ‘Baby’ work, which has never been shown in its entirety. It’s 80 photos, they’re very confronting and a lot of them are x-rated. They’re not easily digested and universally, people just think they’re creepy and disgusting. And even when I first took the photos to the publisher, Power House Books, and Susan Sontag, who did the essay, thought I was going to be a superstar, and when the book came out everyone was just freaked out by it.

KUPPER: People view things at face value.

BORLAND: Even Susan said, “I just didn’t expect it,” that’s how much she loved the work, so I’m very nervous. At the same time, I’ve realized that going through this trauma and coming out the other side and with Trump being voted in, I’ve kind of re-found my voice again. I was in kind of fear and terror for quite a long time. It culminated in Trump being elected, and me having a show, and then seeing other people and me having to find our voices. That’s really what art’s supposed to be anyways. So, I’m kind of excited for it.

KUPPER: What about the Queen series?

BORLAND: I feel like the Queen tapestries are equally subversive but not as in-your-face. I’ve had them stitched and show them on the wrong side because on the right side, they all look the same. The backside is just wild.  I was talking to this Italian dealer and he loved the tapestries and I said, “The problem is I don’t know how to do it.” If I were to learn, it would take me years to do one. I was researching, researching and I ended up contacting the craft association of England. Then I found this charity that’s been going since the 70s - it’s called Fine Cell Work. Prisoners get paid to make certain arts and crafts. They provide cushions to the Victoria and Albert Museum, they do cushions for the Catholic Church; it’s a really well-established charity. And apparently, they like doing my stuff because my work is so unusual. But, the prisons have started complaining about the content. The Queen’s okay with them, even though she’s the one that’s locking them up.

KUPPER: I want to jump back into talking about the Baby series, because I think it is some of your most important work, how did you get introduced to this world?

BORLAND: Yeah, that’s the bulk of the work. The Babies were introduced to me by a friend of mine who was at Saint Martin’s College of Art and one of her lecturers told her about this phenomenon, and this was in the early 90s. And I’m like, “No,” and we both kind of laughed and she double-checked if they exist because I was like, “where can I find these people?” She said why don’t you Google Kim West? It’s not rubber fetish, but fashion. She was wild and I rang her and I was like, “Do these people exist and where do I find them.” In those days, the Internet wasn’t a big thing, and she said that I had to go into a Newsagent, which is where you buy magazines and newspapers in England, and go to the top shelf and look at the English sex magazines for the classifieds. So I did that and looked in the back and saw this Hushaby Baby Club phone number. And I thought, “Oh my god, I lucked out!” I thought I’d have to write a letter.

KUPPER: So this is a fetish and they want people to be in their world.

BORLAND: Yeah, when I rang this woman called Hazel Jones, she said, “Sure, come and have a look.” And I was working for the Independent, which was a newspaper with color supplements and they were known for their photography. So I went to the senior editor and he laughed like they all did and went, “sure.” So me and a journalist went to go check it out, and she was one of their top journalists, and we spent an afternoon with Hazel and, you know, huge babies are crawling around because she was a mommy, but she also ran a bed and breakfast and she’d make huge cots and huge cribs. The whole thing was set up like a giant-sized baby land, but she also made big baby clothing for these people.

KUPPER: So, she was like a madam, but also their mummy. 

BORLAND: How it happened was she was making bondage-wear and she kept getting requests for baby-wear in mail order. She was doing that and then she realized there was a whole market for adult baby-wear that no one had tapped into, so that’s how her business developed. Then, she built the bed and breakfast baby land and then formed the Hushaby Baby Club. So, then we were invited back to do this weekend-long party, I mean it was really surreal. The journalist couldn’t deal with it because it was pretty full on. They were drinking alcohol, but then they’d regress. They’d be dressed up as babies, be adult for a few minutes, but the majority of the time they were babies. Some of them were purist so they wouldn’t drink alcohol, but some of them went to and fro between being a baby and an adult.

KUPPER: You became fascinated by these adult babies.

BORLAND:  I became totally fascinated because it had every element that I loved: the surreal, the pathos, the seedy-ness. Everything about it was my idea of heaven. I had to disguise their faces; they didn’t want to be seen in a national publication. I rang Hazel Jones and said I’m thinking about doing a book on this, which ones would I contact and do you think they’d reveal their identity?” because I couldn’t do a book without seeing their faces and she said, “Well, you can try.” So, I contacted them directly.

KUPPER: How long did you spend with them?

BORLAND: It became a five-year journey. We traveled to LA to go to Disneyland and we did a road trip down, whatever highway it is, to San Francisco to meet the adult babies in San Francisco, there was a club. Then I went to France and did the same thing. I showed up, had to meet the guy, I got picked up, him and a couple of other adult babies went to the Swiss border to stay in a chalet for the weekend. And this was full on, it was defecating - the smell in the car, I was full-on carsick. Full on. But you know again, in the interest of art…I don’t believe now that I would have the guts to do that…I don’t know if I would.

KUPPER: Did you ever feel in danger?

BORLAND: No, because that’s the thing, they were the sweetest, kindest, really passive sort of people…they’re babies.

KUPPER: Did you talk to them about their fetish?

BORLAND: This is the thing, I thought there was some big psychological secret to it, I was trying to figure it out and I had a lot of empathy because I lost my mother when I was young. So, I kind of understood what it was like to not really want a tight responsibility and not be 100% focused on, all of that. So, I kind of got it on that level and identified, and I think that’s why I got along so well with them. I think the intensity of the photographer’s gaze, it’s like the mother’s gaze. I’m really 100% focused when I’m looking through a camera. We all got along extremely well, but I did a lot of talking. The other interesting thing is that it was very individualized. Some of them were into terry towel nappies, and some of them were into disposable nappies, and some of them were into being girl babies, some of them were into being boy babies.

KUPPER: Susan Sontag’s introduction is quite amazing—how did she come to write that?

BORLAND: I was photographing her for The Guardian and she said, “What else do you do? I can tell you do something else.” I said, “What do you mean? Well, I’ve got this series of photos.” I didn’t say anything to her - she prompted the conversation. Later, I told her about the babies and she said, “Oh, I’m coming to England next week, I want to see the photos.” When she came to England, and I had a portrait show over the road from where she was staying, we had breakfast together with my husband.  She went through the photos and kept saying, “Who’s writing the essay?” She kept hinting at it, and I finally said, “Do you want to do it?” She said, “Of course I want to do it!” Incredible.

KUPPER: Nick Cave curated your first showing of this work, what was that process like and how did you meet Nick because you have collaborated quite a lot together.

BORLAND: We’ve known each other since we were 19 years old. The first time I met Nick was at a party but it wasn’t until later that we became friends, when he collaborated with my husband on writing Ghosts…of the Civil Dead. Incredible prison drama, Australian drama and Nick co-wrote it and did the music. He was amazing in it, he had a little cameo, and we became friends then. Then he moved to Germany and England then we moved to England. I sort of documented him for 40 years or something and we’ve been really, kind of like, best friends. Nick saw the baby pictures and loved them, still loves them. He didn’t show all of my work but he was the first one to publicly show it.

KUPPER: Where was that show?

BORLAND: He was curating at Meltdown Festival at the Southbank Centre in London. Nina Simone played – it was incredible.

KUPPER: Back to the history of photography, it seems like Australia has a less notable photographic history – there have not been that many fine art photographers to come out of Australia. Helmut Newton’s wife, June, she became a photographer under the Alice Springs name and I’m wondering why that is. 

BORLAND: There are a few amazing photographers.

KUPPER: But we don’t know much about them…

BORLAND: I’ve got a lot of Australian art and I think another part of the reason is Australia, in the old days before the Internet, was so isolated, but you’ve got to look up Rennie Ellis, he’s fucking amazing. We always used to make fun of him when we were students. We’d say, “Who’s that old guy,” you know sort of creepy, why is he here, he was at every music event, always there, in any night club. Then this huge book was produced of his work and he photographed ACDC, like documentary style and they’re incredible photos. There is this photo he took at a Saints concert, some people think that Saints were the first punk band in the world, and Nick Cave is a teenage boy in the audience looking focused, like analyzing this guy performing. There is another woman called Carol Jerrems that died young and she was really incredible. So Carol Jerrems, Rennie Ellis, well… Helmut Newton lived in Australia, that’s where he met his wife.

KUPPER: Helmut Newton was imprisoned for a while, right?

BORLAND: He fled Germany, and then him and his parents ended up in Singapore, and then he went to Melbourne where he became a portrait/wedding photographer. He took my parents’ wedding photos. I’ve got all of the wedding photos that he took and his name is embossed, because you know wedding photographers used to emboss their name?

KUPPER: Oh yeah, of course! I want to talk about your Queen portraits – what was your reaction when you got that call and how did that commission come about?

BORLAND: That came about because of the show at the National Portrait Gallery. Basically, it was coming up to be the Golden Jubilee so it was the end of the 90s and a mediator said to me, “The Golden Jubilee is about to happen and we’ve decided to give a lot of different people a go at photographing the queen. Would you be interested?” And I’m like, “Well, yeah.” And they said, “The only catch is you’ve got five minutes.” Eventually it all worked out and I was contacted by the palace. We were allowed as much time as we needed to set up, but before the shoot, they direct you around the palace and you pick the room that you wanted to photograph her in. I took two rolls and I had two different setups, one backdrop in front of another, one camera in front of the other. At one point I was about to manhandle her ankles because I was trying to get her to stand to the side and move to the left, but apparently, I don’t even remember, but Prince Philip was in there standing, saying inappropriate things as usual. I got two good shots.

KUPPER: There’s kind of a novelty about shooting the queen especially now that you get to sort of play with the images.

BORLAND: Exactly. And look, a lot of my favorite subjects were politicians because I knew that they never did what they said they were going to do. They never really followed through on what they believed. It just felt to me like the embodiment of hypocrisy. Everything’s about money, it’s not about helping people or social responsibility.

KUPPER: As A photographer, what is the greatest thing you’ve learned about the human condition?

BORLAND: I think it would be that most people are craving attention or recognition of some kind, but I really see parallels between… to me I could really see the link between the famous and various subcultures. I don’t know if that’s so true anymore because I think the disparity between rich and poor is so bright that I think you know that this is a real disconnect. So, there’s this kind of a weird thing going on that I’ve found… I think I’m going to have to think about that one. I mean “the human condition” what does that mean to you?

KUPPER: It’s different to a lot of different people, but the human condition in the sense of not the meaning of life, but sort of what our wildest pursuits are in a sense, our pursuits as humans.

BORLAND: You know, and I heard this, actually Kendrick [Lamar] said it recently – really it’s all about love. We just want to be loved and to be a part of something, and being part of a community is really important. I mean for me, I can’t understand differences because I don’t think there are any, all our blood is fucking red.


The Babies and Tapestries will be on view from July 22 to August 19, 2017 at Mier Gallery, 1107 Greenacre Ave Los Angeles, CA. Text and photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow AUTRE on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Happy Endings: An Interview With Alex Cameron and Roy Molloy

These days, being an indie musician is harder than ever and no one knows that better than Aussie based Alex Cameron and his “business partner” and saxophonist Roy Molloy who have been on tour for three years supporting Cameron’s various releases. Next month, Cameron will release his official debut album, entitled Jumping The Shark on Secretly Canadian. The album is very much a collage of disillusionment – disillusionment with the music industry, love and life in general. It’s a raw album that howls with the sentiment of an artist that has been raked over the coals more than once. But it’s not all doom and gloom – these “four minute tales” of failed ambition and self-destruction that comprise the upcoming album are really relatable, listenable and offer a sense of catharsis akin to copping a fix. Cameron’s darkness is evident, but behind the devilish disguise is a brilliant songwriter belting out mythical, Homeresque lyrics in a deep monotone that recalls Ian Curtis or the late Alan Vega. Henry Rollins, of Black Flag, once described Cameron as being "right out of a David Lynch hell dream.” Currently, Cameron and Molloy are touring through Europe. We got a chance to catch up with them in at a bowling alley in London right after the United Kingdom ‘brexited’ from the EU. The darkness of those events add another even layer of pall over this interview, which explores tour life, global catastrophe, and finding yourself through a deep sense of self-pity.

JESSICA GWYNETH: You’ve officially finished with the UK portion with your tour for an album about failure. You couldn’t have picked a more ironic time to be here. What has the past week been like for the both of you?

ALEX CAMERON: I don’t know if I see irony, but I definitely see suitability. The album we’ve written is growing in relevance. The way I see our work is it’s like a thread that moves forward,  communicating with the future. It’s not just about the present it’s a comment about what is on its way as well. So if we’re asked how we feel to be in the UK right now and if we’re feeling that it’s ironic to be here given that we write about failure, it just feels suitable, it feels relevant, it feels what we’re doing is appropriate to our work.

ROY MOLLOY: It’s not ironic, it’s beautiful.

CAMERON: It’s quite beautiful, really, suitable. We feel good. I feel disgruntled by the way things have happened here and we feel empathy because of the way things have happened in Australia as well because it’s quite similar, politically. And when we write about failure. Our message is also primarily about overcoming those failures and celebrating, so personally I think it’s high time that the youth step up and started to play a bigger role in what happens politically around the world, because I think that the longer you spend alive as a human the more jaded you become. It’s all cyclical so you’re not around long enough to realize that everything that’s happening has happened before.

ROY MOLLOY: You saw it happening in Sydney... 30% of people under 25 voted. Same thing back in Australia, they said, “Ah it’s an apathetic generation, people don’t show up and don’t do their parts politically.” Then as soon as people started hitting the streets and protesting and shit, they’ve put in a bunch of laws prohibiting that and giving out jail times. They’re going to blame me for not voting and when I do they’re gonna shit their pants.


GWYNETH: Are there any particular cities along the tour that you’re looking forward to the most?

CAMERON: Budapest. We’re touring with Mac Demarco and he’s basically selling out everywhere so I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for us. It’s great that he invited us. We’re good friends and he’s really generous with his success. He likes to invite people that he’s friends with and appreciates their music so well. And for us it’s about the hustle, so doing Eastern Europe is a big thing for us because our music hasn’t really reached that part of the world yet. I’m looking forward to Budapest and I’m looking forward to Vienna as well.

GWYNETH: Yeah it’s supposed to be really great in Vienna.  

MOLLOY: People keep asking us if we’ve got a fan base in Eastern Europe but I don’t think we do. That’s not how you get a fan base, you know? You get it by doing hot shows and making people feel the love and pay attention.

GWYNETH: So far you’ve been touring with Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Mac Demarco. Is the vibe significantly different depending on who you share a stage with?

CAMERON: Yeah, they all have different audiences and have different vibes. Our job is to make sure we stay consistent. A lot of people sort of feel the need to discuss whether or not it’s relevant for a support act, but it’s never a discussion for us. It’s never about being suitable, it’s whether or not we can win over an audience no matter who we’re opening for. And the answer is always yes. We just have to focus on what our job is, which is performing our songs and doing our set. The stronger you are in what you do as an artist, the more successful the experience.




GWYNETH: And Angel Olsen will be joining you in the States. Not only is her sound a definite departure from a lot of your current tour mates but yours as well. Have you played together in the past or is this a completely new experience for you?


CAMERON: We’ve been trying to tour with Angel for the last couple of years because we’re friends. We were on the same festival circuit in Australia a couple years ago and that’s how we met, but I think what we share or what I think I share with Angel as songwriters is that we’re kind of both not concerned about whether or not we’re departing or remaining the same. The concern is about trying to reach some degree of transcendence and truth in songwriting. And I think it applies to performance as well, it’s about putting on a great show. The more different we are as performers, the more exciting it is. It’d be dull if it was three of us doing the exact same thing. So we’re or I’m excited--are you excited?

MOLLOY: Yeah definitely, you don’t want to be like a crappier version of the band you’re touring. [laughs]

CAMERON: If you do a really fuckin’ excellent version of what you do, people go ‘holy smokes that’s exciting’. 


GWYNETH: Your new album, ‘Jumping the Shark‘ is described as a collection of four-minute tales that provide insight into inner workings of failed ambitions and self-destruction. Are there any recent events in your life that inspired the album or is it more based on your life overall?

 CAMERON: It’s based on a sense of self-pity that can be generated inside someone from inactivity and/or high ambition. I think we’re real ambitious guys and we don’t see the ceiling of what we do. We’re expecting a lot of ourselves in terms of work, rate, and degrees of success, so it’s just our way of commenting on the vast feeling of sadness you can experience if you don’t match those expectations with work. The songs are all based on things that have happened to me or Roy, or our friends and family, of what just altered them to fit into this one singular world where these stories trail on or mark the other. For anything particular that inspired it?

MOLLOY: The fear of global catastrophe.

CAMERON: The fear of global catastrophe is a big one, lots of substance abuse, trying to find a way to release the self or the shame that builds up over the course of your life, because there’s so many embarrassing things that I’ve done that you’ve just gotta get through it and find a way to turn it into something positive. We like to call where we operate in as the “no-judgement-zone”. We don’t like to judge anyone but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to talk about what we absolutely need to talk about.

GWYNETH: In 2014 you released a short documentary that chronicled your experience at South By Southwest. In it you state, “I wonder of those fortunate enough to adore their own faults in a mirror of success.” Is this excerpt a foreshadowing of the current album in any way?

MOLLOY: I forgot about that quote, I like that one.

CAMERON: I guess those two things are kind of unrelated. That’s me just contemplating on what it’d feel like to be successful. The album ‘Jumping the Shark’ doesn’t speak directly about success but speaks directly about failure. I don’t think it has anything to do with the album, though.

GWYNETH: Aside from your solo work, you are also one third of Seekae, a critically acclaimed Sydney-based electronic group. Are there any major life lessons you’ve learned from as a group?

CAMERON: Just to stay in control of what you do and not rest on the fact that people out there are saying they want to help you with your music. It doesn’t matter if you sign a contract with a small label or a big label, you just gotta make sure that they’re the right people to work with. Because when you’re starting out as a musician, a lot of people will tell you they’re going to help you, but I don’t know, they’re kinda collecting little toys, you know? Musicians have become little collective items for these rich kids who say they have labels. It’s kind of weird. But the lesson I learned from that was to maintain control over your work and workload and if you want it to be more, go and get some work. Don’t sit around because someone says they’re gonna help you.

GWYNETH: Do you prefer being in the studio or being on stage?


CAMERON: They’re just so different. I don’t know, I like them both. Right now I like being on stage because we’re touring but in the studio it’s also electric.

MOLLOY: It’s like playing basketball on the court by yourself or being on the team--it’s all good.

GWYNETH: What is most exciting and what is most difficult about being on tour?

CAMERON: The most exciting thing is that sense of work of getting paid cash off the show and getting those rewards that you think and wonder if they’re still out there...You don’t find them but they’re there. The most challenging part?

MOLLOY: That’s the easiest part to answer. [laughs] Don’t worry kids, get out there and do it! But keep it positive, you know?

CAMERON: It’s work so it is what you make of it. Sticking to a schedule can be a little bit difficult but make sure you brush your teeth, have clean socks ready in the morning, and...

MOLLOY: Pack your bags the night before.

GWYNETH: And do you have any plans once the tour is over?

MOLLOY: This is a never-ending tour as far as we can tell.

CAMERON: Yeah we’ve been gone for three years.

GWYNETH: You’re not taking any time to decompress?

CAMERON: I think we have time here and there but really, we don’t see this as some special vacation. This is work and if you work you get a three-week break per year.

MOLLOY: It’d be nice to see family on Christmas.

CAMERON: Yeah. We got more music to record and write. I don’t know, you gotta think about this as something we’re doing that is 24/7.

MOLLOY: We’re not doing this because we’re seeking escape from the 9-5, you know?

CAMERON: Yeah, this is our job now. 


Alex Cameron's debut album Jumping The Shark will be out on August 19 via Secretly Canadian - preorder it here. He will also be touring with Angel Olsen in the United States this fall - see tour dates here. Interview and photographs by Jessica Gwyneth. Intro text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


The Vanity Of An Artist: An Interview Of Legendary Artist David Hockney

text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

 

At almost 80 years old, David Hockney – who is perhaps the world’s most famous living artist – is more productive than ever. We got a rare chance to visit his busy, paint-splattered and cigarette-littered studio tucked away in the hills of Los Angeles. We had an in-depth conversation over multiple boxes of his favorite brands of cigarettes – Camel Wides and Davidoff, which he keeps cartons of in a drawer marked ‘first aid’ – just between 'sketchbooks' and 'rulers.' Hockney is an avid supporter of smoker’s rights – even in the face of the ocean of studies and laws surrounding the lethality of smoking cigarettes. Hockney can list a number of famous artists that smoked and lived long lives. Indeed, he is a true bon vivant – the last of a breed of artists that lived through multiple generations of bohemia and decadence. The only difference between Hockney and a lot of other artists is that he has survived to tell the tale. Some of those closest to him have not – a most recent tragedy was the death of his 23-year-old personal assistant Dominic Elliott. The incident prompted Hockney to move back to the Hollywood Hills from his studio in Bridlington, east Yorkshire. Whereas in Bridlington Hockney painted his natural surroundings with a glittering array of landscapes – in Hollywood, Hockney got back to doing something he does so well: portraits. What started off as a few portraits of friends in the Los Angeles art world – some transplants and some natives – soon turned into a feverish and inexhaustible obsession. This weekend at the Royal Academy of Arts, 82 of those portraits, set against a monotone blue background, will be on view. They include portraits of John Baldessari, Frank Gehry, Larry Gagosian, Tacita Dean (and her son), Benedikt Taschen and many more. Before the interview, Hockney’s studio manager granted us one hour, which was generous enough – Hockney wound up giving us two. At the end, it still felt like the iconic and legendary artist had so much more to say. The following transcript is a condensed excerpt from our conversation and pertains mainly to his current exhibition in London, which opens tomorrow. The full interview will be published in a future print issue of Autre.

OLIVER KUPPER: Do you enjoy being back in Los Angeles? Has it been productive?

DAVID HOCKNEY: Yes, it’s been very productive. I was in England about ten years, but I was always coming back and forth. I didn’t mean to stay in England. I just got working there. One thing lead to another, and I just worked. I thought, “If I’m working here, that’s fine. I could come back eventually.” We came back to do the show in San Francisco.

KUPPER: Which we saw. It was beautiful.

HOCKNEY: Yeah. We’re doing a show in Australia a bit like that in November. In Melbourne. And it’s even bigger. There are fifteen screens showing the drawing being done. With fifteen screens, it means you really see the drawing being done. Whereas on the playback on an iPad, it plays it back quick. You can’t quite see it when it gets heavy. And then there’s a show at the Tate.

KUPPER: Being back in Los Angeles, do you see any changes since the last time you were here?

HOCKEY: I don’t go out much, you see. I’m sure it changed a bit. Some things have changed. It’s still like it was. I like it. 

KUPPER: There’s a certain mystery about LA that’s always been here.

HOCKNEY: Yeah. I pointed out, it’s an acquired taste, LA. You have to stay a bit. Then, you realize it isn’t all just freeways. There’s the mountains and the plains. I enjoy going up in the mountains. Then you drive back to the nonsense.

KUPPER: You’re in the studio a lot. How often do you get out of the studio? What do you like to do for fun in LA?

HOCKNEY: Actually, the only fun I have is watching The Borgias on Netflix. I don’t really go out that much. I go to bed at nine. I read a lot. But I’m too deaf. I don’t go to the opera. And concerts. I used to go. Now, when I go, I get a bit depressed because I can’t hear that well.

KUPPER: [And] you have just finished 72 portraits?

HOCKNEY: 82 portraits and one still life. [pointing to a model of his exhibition at the Royal Academy] That’s the model of the Royal Academy.

KUPPER: These are people in the LA art world?

HOCKNEY: Yeah. There are some English people. My sister. My brother. But they’re mostly people in LA.



KUPPER: I recognize Frank [Gehry].

HOCKNEY: Yeah.

KUPPER: There are some really fascinating people in LA. It seems like there is a difference in the art world in LA.

HOCKNEY: I have said that men dress very badly. But look at the variety I’ve got.

KUPPER: Very fashionable.

HOCKNEY: Thirty years ago, there would have been more ties and suits.

KUPPER: I’m seeing some vests and bowties. You don’t see a lot of those these days.

HOCKNEY: There are some ties. That one in the yellow shirt, he said, “It looks like a refrigerator salesman.” Because of the pen in his pocket.

KUPPER: There’s John Baldessari.

HOCKNEY: I’m not really stopping. They’re all painted here. They’re all done in three days. Some were done in two days. Larry Gagosian was done in two days. He gave me two days and I did it.

KUPPER: Of course he’d give you two days.

HOCKNEY: He enjoyed it actually. The moment I got going, he really liked it.

KUPPER: It’s a bit of an honor to sit for a portrait.

HOCKNEY: Oh, I didn’t know that. When I began them, I didn’t really begin thinking I’d do this many. The first thing I painted was this one of JP. We had just come from England, and this boy died. We were all a bit depressed. I did this in July. Then, I started putting them on a platform. Then, my eyes could just be across. Otherwise, you’re looking down. And his feet just came off. Then, I made sure the feet were all in. Feet. Shoes are interesting. In LA, you get all kinds of variety. Look at your shoes. They’re rather good. I’m just going to go on. We’ll show them [in Los Angeles] eventually. They were all painted here, and they’ll stay here. I’m going to show them in London first and then Australia. Then they might come back, go to Venice. Eventually, they’ll all come back here. I think it’s one body of work really. I think if you just took one individual one, they’re okay, but when you see quite a few with the simplicity of the background, you see all the little differences. They’re all sitting on the same chair, but everybody sits there in a different way. Everybody has a little different shape. They’re all seen as individuals.

KUPPER: They’re really beautiful. And very contemporary.

HOCKNEY: I kept putting them up there. Then, I did something else for a while, and then started again later on the portraits. When I had done about 45, I thought, “Well, I could show them all.” I’m a member of the Royal Academy. So I thought we could show them in the gallery there. I suggested it to them. I could have shown them in LA, but the LA County Museum had done a few shows of mine. It’s good, but in the Royal Academy, you can do things. We decided to do it, and I just went on. 82 is the max number you can put just in a straight line. So I have to take some out. I’ll see it for the first time only when it’s there. I can’t see them all here. It’s going to be a very psychological exhibition. I’m assuming, really, the people who go will be looking at themselves. They’re looking at people like themselves.

KUPPER: Does it ever get emotional to see your work in a museum setting, outside of the studio?

HOCKNEY: Well, I have the vanity of an artist. I want my work to be seen. I don’t have to be seen, but I want the work to be seen. And I’ve always arranged that. So, when I did 45 [paintings], I realized it was quite a lot. I mean, 82 portraits is an odd thing to do. They were each done, like I said, in about three days. I worked for about seven hours a day.

KUPPER: After this exhibition, do you plan on continuing this series?

HOCKNEY: Yeah, yeah, I could go on forever, because people are interesting - I paint everyone. 


David Hockney "82 portraits and 1 Still Life" will be on view starting July 2 and will run until October 2, 2016 at Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. photographs by Summer Bowie. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Pop Music Is Not A Dirty Word: An Interview With Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor

For the past 16 years, the quintessential British electronic group Hot Chip has been releasing album after delicious album, with a bevy of catchy tracks that are pop magic at its majestic finest.  At the core of Hot Chip is a singular voice that is longing, soulful and demonically angelic. That singular voice belongs to Alexis Taylor, who this month released a new solo album, simply titled Piano, that is perhaps best described as antithetical to the grand pop balladry of Hot Chip, or even his own past solo records, but still maintains that signature wistful expressiveness. If Hot Chip is music to get high to, and to dance the night away to, Taylor’s newest album is music for reflection, introspection and soul-searching. The entire album, recorded at Hackney Road Studios by Shuta Shinoda, is simply Taylor at a piano and the reverberating notes – notes that are politely infused with his delicate, intimate vocals. Each refrain is a love letter to past mistakes, spiritual burdens, regrets and lost love. There is also a stunning cover of Elvis’ Crying In The Chapel that blends so well, it is almost in disguise. And if you hear religious incantations in the songs, you wouldn’t be so far off – Taylor calls it an “atheist's gospel album.” Nevertheless, it’s an important album that deserves a full listen – all the way to the surprise, untitled bonus track that crackles like a warbling 45 on an old phonograph, until it fades out and simmers on a low heat in your brain’s limbic system, even after the song is completely over. We caught up with Alexis Taylor at the Ace Hotel in London to ask him a few questions about pop music, Hot Chip’s place in British musical history and what he enjoys doing when music is not on the menu. 

FLO KOHL: What was your musical diet growing up? Was there a certain style of music that was always on repeat, or was it all eclectic?

ALEXIS TAYLOR: Definitely very mixed. A wide-range selection of music. I grew up in the 80s. I had heard all the massive records that were on chart rotation: Peter Gabriel, Prince, Dier Straits. Pop singles. I had two older brothers who were really into music, and my parents were really into music. My childhood was soundtracked by music, all the time. My oldest brother, Will, bought quite a lot of interesting music. I think he had good taste. He was into hip hop in the late 80s, early 90s when it was coming through. He had all the Prince records, one after the other as they were released. It meant I was paying a bit more attention to things, rather than music being this background.

KOHL: I don’t think that’s sort of normal. My parents weren’t into music at all. I didn’t become musically aware until I went to school. At home, there wasn’t always music on.

TAYLOR: With me, it was records playing, tapes playing. Both my parents occasionally played the piano. Never professionally, just as a hobby. But they could read music a bit. It wasn’t like being brought up to do music. It was just around.

KOHL: You’re often called “the soul of Hot Chip.” Did it take you a while to embrace the unique vocal style? Other electronic bands have to sample to add that soul.

TAYLOR: Maybe they do. We weren’t really trying to be like other electronic bands. We weren’t scratching our heads like, “How do we put soul into this music?” It just came out the way it came out. I don’t think people thought it was soulful in the beginning. But we were interested in soul records. That was a big influence, those older, more classic bits. But more pop than R&B or soul: Destiny’s Child, Whitney Houston. Things that were produced by Timbaland and the Neptunes. That was a new, very exciting phase of pop music that was, to us, soulful. To some people, they didn’t get it. I wasn’t the same as that northern soul. People came around to it over time. It’s still a major influence on pop culture.

For us, it was a combination of wanting to completely do our own thing, and also wanting to make records in the spirit of those people. People like other indie rock bands, hiphop artists, electronic producers, classic pop people. We weren’t able to study what they did. We just took a little but of inspiration from them and came out with something else that felt pretty far away from sounding like those. We’re not very skilled at copying. Some people are, and that’s great, but it doesn’t lead to original music. It does mean that people get where you come from. Whereas, with us, people are just confused.

KOHL: You have the DJ culture right now, these musical curators who might be very good at grabbing things and putting them together, but might not be creating something.

TAYLOR: We were influenced a lot by sample-based music: DJ Premier, Public Enemy records. We were sort of sampling ourselves, as it were. We would play loads and loads of hours of music, and then we would chop and edit, taking the best bits. It was a way of sampling. There were so many rediscoveries of little phrases that you didn’t know you played because there was so much improvising. Sometimes, I have a song that I’ve written and exactly how it goes. Other times, you’re literally just improvising things over a beat. You realize you’ve got some good things later on.

KOHL: When you first started making music as Hot Chip, where do you think music was historically in the UK?

TAYLOR: Honestly, we weren’t thinking about the state of electronic music. Maybe with hindsight, you might look back and do that. What I remember is that we seemed quite at odds as a band. We started out playing small gigs. Nobody else had five people and a drum machine, no drummer. That was a weird lineup. We didn’t intend for it to be so weird. It was just what we wanted to do. It was a way of learning how to play what we recorded. It all stemmed from recordings. We were thinking more about those R&B pop records that looked nothing like the performance on stage. We didn’t have the production value to do a Destiny’s Child-style show. And yet, that was the music that was exciting to us. We weren’t referencing the tradition of New Order or Depeche Mode. We were ourselves. I don’t know what state it was in. I know the more genuine dance music we had grown up. Joe was really into grime. I was more into UK garage. Some of the drum programming was influenced by that stuff, like a sticky record. We didn’t’ try to comment on electronic music.

We kept thinking about pop music. Maybe we went out on a limb. Pop music is kind of a dirty phrase. It came back in vogue, with Justin Timberlake when he was no longer in a boy band. It was taken more seriously. Where I was, there was a lot of resistance to that, initially. I used to work at Domino, the label that we’re on. I used to listen to all these different albums: Smog, Scritti Politti. But when I put on the Justin Timberlake album, some people were like, “We can’t deal with this.” They were form a very indie mentality. I just liked it.

KOHL: It was the sound at the time. Pop music wasn’t boy band pop music anymore.

TAYLOR: It’s funny, talking about it now. Everyone takes it for granted. That music was at the center of culture, and it has kind of drifted away since.

KOHL: Was there a community in electronic music?

TAYLOR: Gradually, we met people. Generally, they were from America. We met the DFA label, and through that James Murphy and Jonathan Galkin. I was in New York, visiting my girlfriend at the time, who was a student. I went to this talk at her university, and in the same building, there was a talk with James Murphy, Trevor Jackson, a member of Public Enemy. I just happened to bump into Jonathan who runs DFA outside the building. I was wearing a Hot Chip badge, and he didn’t know how I could have heard of that band. I said, “Oh, I’m in the band.” We ended up signing with DFA and going on tour with LCD, Black Dice, and Chk Chk Chk. At that point, there was a community of people who were interested in performing dance music live. You could see their influence, years later. Every band had a drum machine on stage. We were an indie band, but we had one token synthesizer. It began to have an impact.

KOHL: What makes the perfect pop song in your eyes?

TAYLOR: Honestly, don’t know. Still struggling to find out, after all this time. I suppose I’m interested in the song and the production combing together in an interesting way. The song could feel hooky and immediate, but it still have a strangeness to it. Like an ABBA song. There are so many things going on melodically and harmonically that are easy on the ear but interesting. Then the production will be glossy, but at the time, kind of adventurous. Those records still stand out now. A different kind of example would be a Neptunes production from the early 2000s. It may have very little in the way of long flowing melody. It will be more in the rhythm, and the hook would be something incessant or interesting in the keyboard parts. A lot of people talk about the classic pop song coming through on the acoustic guitar or piano. I don’t think that’s really true. I think it’s built on the way it was produced, the construction in the studio.

KOHL: When you aren’t in the world of music, is there something really far removed from it that you like to indulge in?

TAYLOR: I do spend a huge amount of my free time traveling around flea markets and garage sales, looking for bargains and bits of musical equipment, records, all kinds of different things. It’s not always to do with looking for music. 


Click here to download or purchase Alexis Taylor's new album Piano. Photographs and interview by Flo Kohl. Intro text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Very Little Bad Vibes: An Interview With Cult Comedic Hero Tim Heidecker

text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

Most people know Tim Heidecker from his brilliant Adult Swim series ‘Tim & Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job!’ and ‘Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories.’ While it’s easy to use colorful adjectives to describe his brand of humor, it’s even harder to define it. Whatever it is, he’s developed a massive cult following. He’s an everyman that blends a sort of slobbish machismo with the mind of a stoner philosopher, but there is also something sinister about his wit and irreverent spin on, well, everything. Like every great comedian, Heidecker doesn’t identify himself as one. His role in Rick Alverson’s 2012 film The Comedy proves Heidecker is a brilliant, natural actor with an ability to show a haunting, dispossessed vulnerability that encapsulates a very distinct ennui and disillusionment belonging to the comedown between youth and middle age. As he gets wiser, Heidecker exudes a certain suburban boredom – a boredom that he makes seem exciting in his new album In Glendale. It’s a true ode to the singer songwriters, like Warren Zevon, Harry Nilsson, and Randy Newman, who wrote about their surroundings and life with a beautiful banality. Because it’s Harry Nilsson or Zevon or Newman, it works, and just like that, Heidecker can pull it off too. I got a chance to chat with Heidecker about comedy, music, getting stabbed in the back and dream projects that haven’t materialized yet. 

OLIVER KUPPER: The new album is great, by the way. I really enjoyed it.

TIM HEIDECKER: Thank you. That’s a good place to start.

KUPPER: Yeah, compliments are a good place to start. This is your first somewhat earnest album, right?

HEIDECKER: Uh huh, whatever that means.

KUPPER: What’s it like writing songs versus writing comedy? Is there a different wavelength you need to be on?

HEIDECKER: I don’t know. Songwriting is a little more meditative. Obviously, it involves an instrument usually - singing, playing guitar, playing piano, noodling around, finding phrases and subject matter. It’s something that I’ve done for years as a hobby or a way of clearing my brain of other stuff. It can be spontaneous; you can be sitting in a car with other friends and start singing something catchy. Comedy is generally driven by a project. What are the ultimate goals of this? It involves a lot more people, a lot more collaboration. I’m very productive when I’m in collaboration with comedy. I don’t sit around and dream up amazing ideas all day long. It generally involves getting lunch or going on a road trip. It’s doing something where there’s a conversation with a buddy – Eric, Gregg [Turkington], or Doug [Lussenhop]. Someone I’m close with. Music is more singular.

KUPPER: Were you craving that singular, cathartic experience?

HEIDECKER: Not really. With this record, I had always written lots of music. Certain songs would end up in a folder on my computer. Like, I don’t really know what this is. It might not be appropriate for comedy. It’s not really funny; it’s sort of sincere. I was reluctant to share that publicly. But once the first couple of songs on the record starting coming out of me, I thought, there’s a theme here that kind of works. It might be nice to put a record out without it being couched in a joke or a character.

KUPPER: How did you team up with [Jonathan] Rado from Foxygen?

HEIDECKER: Through Chris Swanson, who runs Secretly Canadian. I had known him for a while. Those guys financed the movie that I was in, The Comedy. We were friendly. He was a big fan of our work. He knew I was doing music, and he nudged me to take a stab at making records in a more current or straightforward way. He was curious to see what I could do if I did something outside of parody, if I could be a pop music guy that was doing interesting stuff. Rado and I connected on very similar interests in music - 70s singer/songwriter stuff. I love talking about the process, how those guys got the sounds they got, and getting back to that straightforward songwriting. He just wanted to help and be involved.

KUPPER: He’s super talented. That band is really great. Who were some of the singer/songwriters at the top of that list that you would talk about?

HEIDECKER: For me, it’s Randy Newman, Warren Zevon, Harry Nilsson - the greats, the big ones. I’ve been really enjoying them for the past several years now.

KUPPER: I’m obsessed with Harry Nilsson. When you decided to go in and make this album, did you feel like you had enough songs? Did you throw yourself in the studio and see what you could come up with? Half and half?

HEIDECKER: The process by which this record was made may be interesting, maybe not. Half the songs were written in a period of a month or so. The other half were songs I had written over the years; they didn’t fit into any one category. I had my little home recording studio. I would try to build up the track. You know, not just me and the guitar, but drums, bass. It’s a fun way to work, to build tracks, and getting it to sound good, but never that good. I’m not that good at it. I made a demo version of the album at home. It was in the order of all the songs, with a couple extras. I took this home demo to Rado and his garage, and we started making the songs from scratch at his place. He’s such a great piano player and drummer. We recorded on tape, and we had four or five demos out of that. But they were still demos; they weren’t what we both wanted, which was really clean studio, major-label-sounding recordings. So we took those demos, and I gave them to my band that I play with live - City City. They learned the demos, and then we went into a real recording studio. In the course of a week, we laid everything down. Very quickly, because we knew all the sounds and what we wanted to sound like. We wanted the level of professionalism and the clean sheen that those 70s records had.

KUPPER: You work with a lot of musicians. It’s like a ten-piece band, right?

HEIDECKER: Yeah, there’s a ten-piece band that I put together. It’s mostly that band, City City, and a little horn section. It’s a little bit extravagant; there’s two background singers, two electric guitar players. I could probably shave that down if I needed to. But right now, everyone just gels. They all came in and brought their own talents to the record. I’m very grateful.

KUPPER: Do you think the audience for your music is different from your comedy audience? Your comedy following is big. Will the same people come out for your music, do you think?

HEIDECKER: For right now, a large percentage of my fans will find me through comedy. With this record, we’re trying to present it to the largest group of people possible. I think some people who are coming on board either didn’t know or didn’t care for my work, but they like the music. It’s not intended just for the fans; it’s intended for people who like the music. I get a lot of, “Oh, this Tim Heidecker record is actually pretty good.” They’re surprised. Some fans who have been following me a little closer aren’t surprised because they know that I am a big music lover and music maker. That early music might be sillier, but it has the same core qualities.


"I don’t necessarily identify myself as a “comedian.” I do comedy, I do standup and sketch comedy. I make all kinds of stuff. But I don’t concern myself with what to call it or how I should be perceived...I think it’s unfortunate that we expect people to stay in their lanes."


KUPPER: It’s interesting. Not a lot of comedians can bounce between these different mediums and be taken seriously. Especially when it comes to acting. Your role in The Comedy was a really serious role. There are certain actors, like Robin Williams, whose acting is so good that you don’t necessarily think of them as a comedian anymore. Do you ever think about the implications of being too serious?

HEIDECKER: It’s a thing that’s put on us by journalists and certain people that have perceptions of what people are supposed to do. It doesn’t affect my decision making when I decide to do something or not. I generally try to do something based on the desire to do it, whether or not I think it will have quality and be successful. I don’t necessarily identify myself as a “comedian.” I do comedy, I do standup and sketch comedy. I make all kinds of stuff. But I don’t concern myself with what to call it or how I should be perceived. If anything, it’s more interesting to have different facets and abilities. I think it’s unfortunate that we expect people to stay in their lanes. Actors, musicians, directors, whatever - most of us started out just wanting to make stuff, to do something creative. There was more of a push towards doing comedy, for me. But I still have interest in lots of stuff. As long as there’s a market for it, I want to pursue those things. I also understand that there is context. There’s a challenge when someone who is usually a country singer comes out with a rap album. It’s going to be hard. But some people can do it really well. I admire Steve Martin. He can be silly, very serious and intellectual, he can play music and go on tour. I just hope that you can place this record of mine in the context of my larger body of work and say, “This guy has ideas. He has an interest in expressing himself in different ways.”

KUPPER: There’s a lot of freedom in that. If you see yourself as an artist and not specifically in one lane, you can do anything, even if there’s not a market for it.

HEIDECKER: I want to have that reputation, that you don’t know exactly what to expect when I present something. It should, theoretically make you more interested in what I’m doing next.

KUPPER: You still maintain the cult comedian aura. Is that something that you try to hold onto, or is it a natural progression of you as an artist?

HEIDECKER: It’s all just been fun, playing with identity and the media, trying to create work that leaps the dimensions of television or linear video. It’s been more fun, for On Cinema, to let those characters have a life outside the show. This record, though, is really straight. There’s really not an angle for me to be anybody but myself. If there’s something stupid, like something from the Tim and Eric Show, the work speaks for itself. Let’s just party.

KUPPER: Do you feel like you get a lot of stupid questions? Do you like doing interviews?

HEIDECKER: It depends. It’s interesting to see the spectrum of people who are interested. Our publicist works very hard to get as much press as we can. My attitude has always been, do as much as you can. You never know when someone is going to read something out of the blue, and it turns into their favorite thing. But there are so many young people doing this who don’t seem interested. Like, I had a kid come to the Decker screening, and he ran out of questions for me in, like, a minute. I don’t know if this is the best career choice for you if you can’t think of any questions. He’s like, “Yeah, my editor wanted me to talk about Trump.” He asked me three questions about Trump, and then he got tongue-tied.

KUPPER: They want clickbait.

HEIDECKER: Yeah. But generally, if there’s someone like you, someone thoughtful and interesting, I think it’s pretty harmless. It helps me figure out what the hell I’m doing. You can make stuff, but you don’t really analyze it too much until you start talking to someone about it.

KUPPER: It’s interesting how that works. That’s why real criticism is important, too. People are too focused on clickbait, and they don’t think that the most interesting thing is to analyze the work and talk to the artist to find answers.

HEIDECKER: I think some criticism tends to be very quick, not thoughtful, not researched. The negative criticism I’ve gotten has usually come without a frame of reference to me or my work. It’s a very easy, “This is just Dad rock.” I’m insecure with that person, who doesn’t know the context. It’s safer and quicker to go with a buzzword that they just heard.

KUPPER: You’re premiering Decker next week?

HEIDECKER: Yes, Friday the 17th.

KUPPER: And you’re working with Gregg Turkington again, which is great. What’s that experience been like?

HEIDECKER: Gregg and I have known each other for about 10 years now. I was such a huge Hamburger fan. I roped him into doing our show. Our wives get together. We’ve got kids who are the same age. We just share a lot of common interests. Once we started doing this On Cinema thing, it seemed like we found this endless well of material that we could keep feeding and growing and developing. We established these two characters that are so fun to write for and behave as. It keeps entertaining us, this world. And it keeps getting bigger, because we keep adding fuel to it. Also, he’s just a nice guy. I’m so grateful to do this. On the TV show, we were able to elevate things a little bit. We were doing it as a full time thing. It was one of the most stress-free, joyful experiences. Everyone doing it loves it. It’s an easy thing to make. It’s so shitty. It’s not like you’re doing tons of takes and waiting for the perfect light. There are very little bad vibes in that environment. At my age, you want to be around that kind of energy as much as possible.

KUPPER: Especially in collaborations.

HEIDECKER: Yeah.

KUPPER: It’s been ten years since you had that famous interaction with your neighbor [where he stabbed you in the back]. Do you still think about that, or is it ancient history at this point?

HEIDECKER: Strangely, I’ve been thinking about it lately. Not to pat myself on the back (and not to be ironic), when that kid did that to me, I didn’t want to press charges. It felt like such a futile thing to do. He was 19 or 20 years old. He was on some insane drug. If he was going to go to jail for a significant amount of time, he would end up way worse. He’d be a bigger problem to the world. He ought to be given another shot. Those with white privilege are treated with more leniency, and that’s not fair, but it shouldn’t be, “Let’s throw this kid in a dark cell for the rest of his life.” It should be, how can we give disadvantaged kids better opportunities? We need to look at the prison system as not the answer to our problems. It’s a heavy thing. When you’re actually faced with the choice to punish somebody, it’s a hard thing to do. If you know anything, the prison system is designed to fail. It doesn’t make any sense.

KUPPER: You have to rehabilitate.

HEIDECKER: Yeah.

KUPPER: Do you have any dream projects that haven’t materialized yet?

HEIDECKER: We’re kind of doing it all. The more of an audience you have, the easier it is to do all these things. That’s the challenge, to get the word out, to get people to tune in. The futility of that is I know I don’t have a lot of power there. It either connects with a larger group of people, or it doesn’t. To answer your question, the next record I want to do, we want to bring in some of the guys that actually played on those old records who are still around. People like Jim Keltner, those guys who are still doing sessions and available. I would love to go in with Murderer’s Row and the people who made that, just to do it, because you can. I think that adds a whole other level.

KUPPER: I look forward to that, for sure.

[helicopter-like sound]

HEIDECKER: Cool. My helicopter is here, so I guess I got to go.


Tim Heidecker's new album, In Glendale, is out now on Rado Records. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Photographs by Cara Robbins. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Gardens of Pleasure: An Interview with Designer Yaz Bukey

On a quick trip to Los Angeles, we caught up with Paris-based designer Yaz Bukey. Her eponymous label is a trompe l’oeil pop art explosion of plexiglass that combines the aesthetics of advertising and everyday objects, like cigarette boxes and lipstick. Bukey is also an Ottoman princess and her ancestors were once the rulers of Egypt. In fact, one of those ancestors, Mehmet Ali Pasha, King of Egypt, gave the Concorde Obelisk to Napoleon. Despite her royal blood, Bukey is more modern than ever. Her collections are inspired by everything from ancient mythology to Boy George. In fact, Boy George is a customer of hers – so is Björk. Lately, Bukey has been eschewing the traditional runway presentation and showing her collections in the form of a performance that is half burlesque and half vaudeville shtick, with a splash of erotic revue. One regular performer is retired gay male pornstar François Sagat. We got a chance to catch up with Bukey in the Hollywood Hills to talk about her work, life and inspiration behind her current collection – as well as her wildly ambitious plans for the future of her label, which includes an all encompassing universe splashed with her vision. 

DOUGLAS NEILL: How do you like being in Los Angeles? Is the sunshine inspiring?

YAZ BUKEY: It’s true that we need sun. For me, I love the fact that you can be isolated and at the same time in a big city. This is the thing that I love here. That’s why I would like to move here. My dream would be to have my house with my garden. I love plants. And behind, I have my atelier, and I can work from there.

NEILL: You like having a space for peace?

BUKEY: Yes. I need that, more and more. Before, I was always thinking, “I have to stay in big cities, like Paris, London, or New York.” I think that we really need to be resourced by nature. Here, you have everything – the sea, the gardens, the desert. Everything is here.

NEILL: Your aesthetic is very unique and instantly recognizable. How would you describe it in a word or phrase?  

BUCKEY: It’s all about trompe l’oeil. Through this material – Plexiglas – I arrive to have pieces that you don’t know if it is a print, or if it is an object. Same for the home decor that I am starting to make more and more. You can have different pieces that you put on your wall. I like that a clutch can become a box that you have in your house. It’s accessory for yourself and accessory for your home.

NEILL: It transfers well from situation to situation.  

BUKEY: I like the fact that, when you wear something, people in the street say, “This reminds me of this movie or that pattern.” It’s storytelling. You don’t need to speak. Just having a piece can pop up images in your eye.

NEILL: What was it like meeting Björk and selling your first collection to her?

BUKEY: That was the first big move that happened when I launched my brand. I was sold in three stores. One was Kokon to Zai in London. They – namely, Marjan Pejoski – are very close to Björk. She did the swan dress and this big pink dress that she wore at the Cannes Film Festival. Before going to going to Cannes to show Dancing in the Dark, Björk went to the store and bought each of the pieces I had made. She started wearing it, and then she contacted me to have pieces for her show. It shifted the brand, actually. She’s so inspiring. I like when people are bold like this, you know? She’s not scared of wearing something weird, something that people can even laugh at. People could say, “Oh, that’s so ugly.” She doesn’t care. That’s a side of her that I like.

NEILL: You are a part of a really fascinating group of artist and designers in Paris. Do you inspire or influence each other?

BUKEY: We have a close group of friends. Each of us is in his own world, of course. The one that is closest to me is Vincent Darré in terms of aesthetics.

NEILL: He has a great personality. He always makes me smile.

BUKEY: He’s a very happy person. There is also Michel Gaubert, who does the music for my show. I love talking to him. Sometimes, he’s like, “Oh, I thought of you when I saw this image.” We have a lot of exchange, whether musical or otherwise. I was more into music before. I wanted to be a singer. But it was not possible due to my family. [Laughs.] They wanted me to go and do political science. I went to study it. But after three months I was like, “I don’t understand what they’re talking about. Please let me do something else.” They accepted that I do something else, but it had to be kind of like mathematics. I figured out that industrial design was not so bad. I went into graphics to be able to be close to the music industry. I wanted to do the album covers. Slowly, that shifted to perfume bottle designing. From there, I met this old lady who was the head of this very famous fashion school in Paris. Vincent went to the same school. Camille Bidault went to that school.

NEILL: Did you guys know each other before school?

BUKEY: No, we were all from different eras of the school. This lady has changed all of our lives.

NEILL: What’s her name?

BUKEY: Marie Rucki. When you arrive to that school, she says, “Everything you learned from your parents is shit. We’re going to empty it and refill it with what you like.”

NEILL: So she is responsible?

BUKEY: She is responsible for a lot of designers. The school has been there for forty years, and she’s still there. She’s over 80.

NEILL: I always attribute creativity to what people do on their own. I always forget that a teacher can be a huge influence.

BUKEY: A teacher can change your life. Or they can make you hate something.

NEILL: There’s a rumor that you are a descendant of royalty. Is this true?

BUKEY: My great great grandfather was the king of Egypt in the beginning of the 19th century. It was a family that ruled from the beginning of 1800 until 1953. The last king was King Farouk. The first was Mehmet Ali Pasha, who comes from Italy and Greece. He was the one who offered the Obelisk to Napoleon when they lost the war against him. For me, the most inspiring person from my father’s family is Princess Fawzia, who was the sister of King Farouk. She was the first wife of the Shah of Iran. She stayed there two years. She was a party girl, and she couldn’t stand it, so she left. She’s beautiful, like a Hollywood actress. I’m going to Egypt next week, actually.

NEILL: What are you doing there?

BUKEY: I have some of my father’s family there – aunts and cousins. In 1953, the family lost all of their houses and mansions – everything. Everything belongs to the state. You can still live in it, but you can’t sell anything. You can’t restore it. It’s unfortunately fading away. I haven’t been in 25 years. I’ll have to hide the tattoos. [Laughs.]

NEILL: For your collections, you stage, dramatic, beautiful, and elaborate scenes, instead of the typical runway show. Are runway shows boring to you?

BUKEY: Very boring. Sometimes, I go to support friends who do shows. All the journalists and stylists, they have so much to see right now. They travel so much. I believe you have to give them something else. I love performing. I used to perform myself, a few years ago. Unfortunately, now, I can’t during my shows, because I need to do the interviews. Being able to take care of the music, the image, the photography, the design, the furniture – for me, it’s a global art. That’s what I like.

NEILL: It’s like a painting.

BUKEY: Yeah. And I like working with the same crew. I like adding newcomers in. Now, we have more and more well-known people who want to be part of the show. They call me and say, “Hey, can I be part of the show next season?” If it fits, I’ll let them do it. I have a little list.

NEILL: Can you give an example?

BUKEY: I would love to work with Marie-Agnès Gillot. She’s one of the main dancers in the Opéra Paris. Right now, it’s not the right moment, because the next collections are not fitting her. At some point, I would love to work with her, having her dancing.

NEILL: I agree. The fashion show is…

BUKEY: It’s so quick. A show is only seven to ten minutes. Very sad.

NEILL: Now, they’re doing it where you can watch the show on the computer and buy it right away.

BUKEY: This is the thing that people started doing to avoid copying. I wish that we just did one collection per year, and that we showed it for Spring/Summer. In the end, it’s a lot of work, a lot of research. You put your heart in there, and it’s only living in the store for two months. The value is down right now. That’s why everyone tries to do things very quickly. You don’t have the time to go deeper into your research. What I liked, back in the day, was that you could be interested in an image or artist, look for it in a library, and then find other things that inspire you even more. It takes you from one spot to the other. That’s what we need right now.

NEILL: That’s exactly how I feel about collecting records.

BUKEY: Collecting records, you go to the store, you search and search. You don’t find what you’re looking for, maybe, but you will find something else.

NEILL: You don’t have enough time to research?

BUKEY: Right now, everything is quick. Three seasons ago, I worked a lot on Bob Fosse’s work. In the end, you speak to the journalists, and they don’t even know who he is. You’re like, “Come on. This is not possible.” [Laughs.] Let me do a few moves for you.


Purchase the Hibiscus Clutch here


NEILL: Do you have any hand in choreographing the performances?

BUKEY: I work with this boy who used to be my student. (I worked at Studio Berçot after I was student there.) He shifted from being a stylist to dance. He has a group called House of Drama. His name is Aymeric Bergada Du Cadet. We have this very close relationship. More or less, we do everything together. I am around Christopher Niquet a lot as well. He lives in New York. I really believe in his eye. When I finish my collection, I always say, “Hey, can you have a look at it?” He always has the right words.

NEILL: It’s like you have a little family.

BUKEY: Yes. The dancers are all young kids. I like to have those young girls around, to show them the way as well. “Maybe don’t go there… Do more of this.” I help them out with their daily looks, so they are elevated.

NEILL: What do you look for in a performer? I know you just worked with François Sagat.

BUKEY: He used to be a porn actor. Before that, he also did Studio Berçot. He was in my sister’s class. he worked in the fashion industry and then got fed up from it. I see his porn work as an artwork. He’s not afraid to have bubblegum looks. I like that. I understand very well why he went into that. Now, he has stopped after five years. He has a brand now of men’s underwear. It’s called Kick Sagat. When I asked him, “Would you perform?” He said yes. We performed together three times before, in clubs. It was quite a pain in the ass. We were dressed in cat suits, and people would pull our tails.

NEILL: A lot of unexpected issues.

BUKEY: I used to be very stressed with the performers. “Okay, you have to do it perfectly!” Now, I know that they will give it their best. Let them be. “Do how you feel the best.” There’s no competition between them. Everyone has her own character. We work with MAC for the makeup. I always tell him, “It’s not just one makeup for the show. I need one for each girl that shows best their character and personality.” It’s quite free. I like to leave each person who works with me a lot of freedom.

NEILL: Would you say anybody could come? Do you have auditions or casting?

BUKEY: Auditions, no. But, for instance, we have worked many seasons with Anna Cleveland as a model, and this season she said, “I want to dance.” She’s not a dancer, so we did more rehearsal with her. But in the end, she was amazing. The star of the show. Then again, the character has to go with the show. One season we will use someone, but the next season I have to say, “I’m sorry, but you won’t be in.” Then, they come back. It’s like a family, as you said. Also, I need to be sure they didn’t gain weight. [Laughs.]

NEILL: Where do you look for inspiration when it comes to your collections?

BUKEY: For the Hollywood collection, it was the dancing of Bob Fosse, the actresses of classic eras, Samuel Goldwyn. I make all this research, and then I pull out my own story. For the collection, My Heart Belongs to Paris, it was the Pink Panther, Henry Mancini’s music, and American in Paris. My American in Paris was an American girl tourist. She arrives to Paris. That morning, at the Café de Flore, there is a big scandal. The Mona Lisa has been stolen from the Louvre. There are many stories as to what happened – someone stabbed the Mona Lisa, someone what in love with her. I make my own story out of it.

NEILL: It sounds almost like a dream. You have all these things that you filter through.

BUKEY: Yeah. Also, there are images that were inspiring for me when I was a kid. My father was an ambassador who pretty much specialized in the Arab world. We lived in different Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia, where there were no movies or anything. My father helped me a lot with my cinematographic side. We would watch and rewatch and then act out a lot of musicals.

NEILL: So that was very inspiring to your collections now?

BUKEY: Yeah, yeah. One of the first things that inspired me so much was Boy George, Culture Club. The only way out was to go to these shopping malls in Saudi Arabia and walk around. I was obsessed by the album covers. When I saw Boy George and the Culture Club I was like, “Yes!” I would dress like a mini Boy George. I put my hair in braids. My parents would freak out, of course, because I ruined all my mom’s makeup.

NEILL: Can you talk a little bit about your current collection, Gardens of Pleasure?

BUKEY: There is a cartoon in France called Asterix. It’s about a little village that fights against the Romans back in the day. There is one that is called Twelve Worlds of Asterix, where they have to do Olympic things. I started listening to the music. It was a cartoon from the 70s. I found out the guy who did the music, and I found this album that he made, Tropical Fantasy. It was amazing. I took a bit of Tropical Fantasy, and then I wanted to do my own Gardens of Eden. What will I have inside that? La chicholina, for me, is the sexual side of beauty. The birth of Venus. Poison ivy. Cupid. Aphrodite and Zeus. It’s totally different, but I do my own story.

NEILL: Do you bring a character to the story?

BUKEY: The show starts with the priestess of the island, doing the welcome dance. Then, we have different personalities who come out for different tableaux. We finish with Adam and Eve, but Adam is eating the apple.

NEILL: Where do you see you and your brand going in the future?

BUKEY: I want to grow it into the thing I call Yazbukeyland. I want to make a lifestyle around the brand. You are able to have furniture, bedsheets, glasses, rugs, oil paintings, perfume, car (the Yazmobile) – everything. You can be in that fantasy world, you know? That’s what I want.

NEILL: Is there anything that you want everybody to know?

BUKEY: Not too long ago, I saw that Boy George bought a piece of mine. I was in his concert last year in Paris, which was amazing, and he kept saying, “My friend Jerry is here!” And I though, oh, Jerry is my friend too. I contacted him and said, “I really want to do something with Boy George.” Lately, I sent him two pieces, and he wrote me back on Twitter saying, “I really loved my gifts.” He was like, “Follow me!” Like, oh my God, from age 11 to age 42, the circle is there. I really hope one day we can do something. Maybe he can sing during my show. It’s possible. He is so open. 


To find retailer's or purchase Yazbukey's collections online, click here. Photographs and interview by Douglas Neill. Intro text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


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


Exalting The Maîtresse: An Interview With Allen Jones

Portrait by Eamonn McCabe

text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

Allen Jones is a living legend. To this day, his iconic furniture sculptures literally stand, kneel and hunch over, as life-like remnants of not only the pop art movement, but also the sexual revolution of the 1960s. When Jones’ trademark fornophillic work, Hatstand, Table and Chair was unveiled in 1970, it was met with both praise and militant protest. Indeed, the work is combustible and tears down some of the tallest walls we have built around our understanding of figurative art. But if you ask Jones if he is a rebel, as we did in the following interview, he will tell you that he is only carrying the torch that many artists have carried before him and not using the torch to burn down the institution. If you’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of the novel A Clockwork Orange, you’ve seen interpretations of Jones’ oeuvre in the famous Korova Milk Bar. Kubrick asked Jones if he would recreate some of his furniture sculptures for the film, but the artist politely declined.

A few years later, the film industry came knocking again. This time commissioning him to design the poster for Barbet Schroeder’s film Maîtresse, about an obsessive romance between a small time crook and a professional dominatrix. The film stars Gérard Depardieu and Bulle Ogier. A young Karl Lagerfeld designed the costumes. When the American distributor for the film commissioned Jones for the poster, the artist was given a private viewing in a theater in Paris. The film has been banned almost everywhere else. Hesitant about the film’s extreme and controversial subject matter, but also taken by the film’s heroine, Jones accepted the job. The poster, featuring a leather-clad woman with a come-hither glance behind an orange curtain holding a bullwhip would become a recurring theme in Jones’ paintings and drawings.

Indeed, the Maîtresse Cycle as it would come to be known, would take many shapes and forms over the course of the artist’s career. In February of 2016, Jones will see the opening of Maîtresse, a solo exhibition at the Michael Werner gallery in Mayfair London featuring the original paintings for the film, which have never been exhibited before. The artist kept the originals for himself, luckily, or else they might have been destroyed. The paintings offer a unique insight into Jones’ obsession with the figure, and thrilling erotic subject matter. Later in 2016, Jones will have what may be one of his biggest retrospectives to date, where his beautiful and electric obsessions will be on full display.   

In the following interview, we got a rare chance to speak with Jones over the phone from his studio in Oxfordshire, England.

OLIVER KUPPER: You once said in an interview that you wanted to kick over the idea that figurative art wasn’t tough. What do you think made you such a rebel?

ALLEN JONES: Well I don’t think I was a rebel at all of course. I mean one was carrying what’s a grand tradition in art with a very long history to it. I wouldn’t use the word rebel and I doubt anyone I’m close with would either. In terms of the climate of the avant-garde art scene, I suppose when I was a young man, abstraction was really the way forward. That led into colorful painting and minimalism and so on. At that time, you actually were going against the grain to try and find ways of still dealing with the figure.

KUPPER: Sure.

JONES: The problem was that around the same time we’re talking about, with the advent of abstract expressionism, the traditional configuration had run out of steam - hit the buffers. There was no formal invention in the work. So I suppose I was part of a generation that sort of had to find a new language, a new way of presenting the figure. Pop art in a way certainly did that.

KUPPER: I mean there’s something rebellious about pop art, but it was more a turning of the tides in a way.

JONES: You were still coming out of the post war period, certainly as far as living in Europe and London was concerned. So after the austerity of the immediate post war decade, the time you got into the 60s, suddenly people were more upbeat and things were opening out. The future did look promising.

KUPPER: Yeah, I mean it was the beginning of the sexual revolution, there was a sort of explosion of creativity.

JONES: Correct, that’s right. It’s a very different world today. The media of course has changed - communication and how you can do things. For young artists today the technology available is so wide spread that it doesn’t surprise me that not so many people seem to be drawing and painting, because in comparison it’s rather hard work!

KUPPER: What was your reaction to the pop art scene in New York versus the scene in London?

JONES: Well I was a very young man, I was about 24 or 25. If it had been the in the 1910s - if it had been the turn of the century, 50 years before, one would have headed to Paris. But New York was certainly seen as, and was, the center of the contemporary art world. One wanted to go there to have that experience first hand rather than feeling you were in some sort of outpost, just getting the news as it filtered through. In those days it was just the beginning of things like newspapers having cover supplements. So you would see avant-garde work, or work by a modern American artist at that time - esoteric things like the cover of Evergreen Review.

KUPPER: Oh yeah!

JONES: So you really did have to go somewhere if you wanted to see what was happening and get more than just the odd snapshot. New York in 1964 when I was first there was an incredible amount of energy. I suppose it helped to be someone out of town because usually people are much more generous with their time if it’s a visitor rather than if it’s someone on the block. The artists that I met there very quickly were really outgoing and responsive. It was a really great millennium to be thrust into. I had a recommendation from the director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London at the time, which was the conduit for modern art. He was the first person to really show all the grand abstract expressionism. He gave a couple of young artists, which I was one, an introduction to Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler who were good friends of his. Within weeks of being in New York I had suddenly had drinks with pretty much all, except for Jackson Pollock, the abstract expressionists group that was there.

KUPPER: That’s amazing.

JONES: It was incredibly exhilarating for a young artist. At the same time, of course, I gravitated towards what was the beginning of pop art. Leo Castelli’s gallery was showing Lichtenstein and Warhol and Rosenquist. I became friends with those guys although they were 10, maybe 15 years older than me. But it was a terrific time.

KUPPER: So you were kind of at the right place at the right time?

JONES: Yes I think that was true! Richard Feigen had just moved from Chicago, and had seen my first exhibition in London, my very first exhibition I had - he must have been passing through London and saw it - and offered me a contract. So I got on the plane. (Laughs.) That was good enough.

KUPPER: Going back a little bit, to your roots, and where your interest in art came from, your father was a factory worker right?

JONES: Correct yes, he was an engineer. He was excused military service during the war when I was a young lad because he was working in a heavy metal industry and they were making armaments and shells and things like that. So my father wasn’t absent from my former years and on Sunday afternoons, as a form of relaxation he used to watercolor. He got these books on watercolor and I would stand at his elbow and watch him practice sediment washes and things like that. I don’t know, I suppose it was in the genes in a way.

KUPPER: It might be in the genes. It’s interesting how that works out. I mean some people are born, and there’s no artists in their families, and then they find out that their great great grandmother or grandfather was an artist. It makes a lot of sense.

JONES: I think there’s someone a few generations back who may have been a professional artist. But the thing was, my folks were just salt of the earth people and they were not involved with the art world at all. My father, being a Welshman and being in exile in London, to keep up with his kind, belonged to a male voice choir. Of course the Welsh are quite famous for singing. Another part of my upbringing was my parents always playing opera records. I would go as a very young boy and sit at the back of the chapel hall where the male voice choir was practicing. So there was a suggestion that there was something else in life going on.

KUPPER: Sure, there was something creative going on.

JONES: The other thing was that we lived in the suburbs at basically the end of the underground line. So on the holidays we’d get on the underground and within half an hour we’d be at Marble Arch. For me, the bright lights and the city from a very early age represented somehow a certain glamour. So the city has been in a way a part of my notion of subject matter or inspiration since I can remember.

KUPPER: Speaking of your work, a lot of it is erotic in nature. Every young boy has sort of erotic fantasies about women and sexuality. This is sort of an extreme question - but were your erotic fantasies ever as extreme as some of the works you later explored?

JONES: I don’t think the work is very extreme, I think it’s rather sedated. I don’t think my enthusiasms as a teenager and a young man were any different than a large segment of the male population. I didn’t hone in on the female figure as a subject of painting, certainly for nearly five or six years of my professional career. I was in New York in the mid-60s and when I returned to London I started to see a kind of direct language from illustration, cartoons and advertising. In those days I still had to teach a bit for a living. What I wanted students to do was have an engagement with the subject matter, something that meant something to them. I wanted them to show me the drawings that they did at home and were too embarrassed to show anybody. Because they might be seen as childish or something like that.

KUPPER: Sure.

JONES: Also the business of Playboy Magazine, all of that was very new on the streets in the UK really. That idea of glamour and seeing the figure as more than the middle aged ladies they had in the art room. There you’d draw a figure who would be more like your aunt or something. They didn’t wish anyone to be excited by drawing the figure, kind of a Victorian idea.

So the first pictures that specifically came from erotica I suppose were my leg paintings with a shelf on them - which I did when I returned to London. There was a writer called Max Kozloff who was a very influential art critic in those days, friend of Jasper Johns and the rest of them. He noticed when all these artists came to the melting pot of New York, that they all came from these different kinds of cultures and backgrounds with their own excitements. But after they’d been in town, they all conformed to a certain kind of view of what modern art should be. He listed things like “the work always had to be hard edge” or “it had to be right colored, it had to be flat surfaced, or maybe eggshell” but you couldn’t have shiny paint. The other big deal was the idea of the integrity of the surface of the picture - that you should not violate the picture plane. So when I returned to London I thought I would try to paint a picture, which violated as many of his presets as possible.

KUPPER: Yeah! (Laughs.)

JONES: So I took a subject. It was exciting, I tried to paint it so that it was almost a barber shop sign - that it was something unequivocal and clear. It wasn’t suggesting it was dressed up in fine art language. I realized actually that if you saw the contour of the form clearly enough and experienced it visibly enough, that picture plane wouldn’t possibly collapse. The other insight was that by fixing a shelf on the picture, I thought would give some kind of physical connection. Because the legs are on the floor and you’re on the floor. Of course what happens is if you screw a three-dimensional or real object on the front of a canvas, it doesn’t matter if the painting is St. Paul’s Cathedral in the distance – it’s still going to be as flat as a pancake.

Allen Jones, Chair, 1969, painted fibreglass, resin, Plexiglas, mixed media and tailor made accessories, 78 x 96 x 57 cm, private collection, courtesy the artist and Marlborough Fine Art, London

KUPPER: Sure, that’s really interesting.

JONES: The thing really developed. By the end of this big thing I was painting volumetric figures, which I suppose I was developing a language with. It was very stylized and did come from erotic illustration. There were a lot of adult comic strips in America, certainly on 6th avenue in those days. I thought all that stuff was very interesting, because they were dealing with the figure and it was direct and exciting so I plundered some of those ideas. By the end of the 60s I thought “you know I’m trying to make these figures so real that maybe what I should try to do is make it real” - that’s when I first moved into the sculptures, which became in a way my trademark I suppose. The furniture sculptures. But they weren’t intended to be furniture – of the group the very first figure that I made was a standing figure. Which is now called “a hat stand,” but it has nothing to do with being a hat stand. 

KUPPER: Of course.

JONES: What do you do when you want to make a figure? I wasn’t interested in it sitting down or running or standing on her head. So the figure was just meant to be standing there. The arms were raised in basically an ancient form of greeting or saying “here I am.” I intended to put the figure in street clothing so that they would look a little bit like the window displays you saw on Oxford street in those days. But when I tried it I just realized it looked like some surrealist found object and that really wasn’t what I wanted to do.

So what I did was clothe the figure, but used clothing that people would know but not be familiar with - it wasn’t everyday clothing. For me it was circus or nightclub clothing. When I finished the figure I still thought it kind of looked like it was a surrealist throwback. Again from the comic strips I hit on the idea that if the figure was made to look like a piece of furniture someone looking at it would have to deal with it as though it was an everyday object. Then it would really put the viewer in a place where they had to make decisions about what they were looking at.

KUPPER: Did you expect that these pieces of art would get such a strong reaction? Or that they would even become your trademark?

JONES: At the time of course I wanted a strong reaction but I was expecting a strong reaction about whether it’s art. One was trying to kick over the traces and challenge the notions of what art could be. It never occurred to me that it would be seen as an offering of a degrading view of women. I only had daughters and a wife, I’m surrounded by women. I lived on the King’s road in the late 60s with Mary Quant and Ossie Clark. The business of the emancipation of the female body, like the invention of materials like Lycra for the sports industry, allowed the body to be displayed and yet concealed. But these people were dressing for themselves. I was looking around and getting excited and recording, in a funny way, my environment. This wasn’t something I was dreaming of in the bedroom.

KUPPER: Yeah exactly. They weren’t your fantasies they were an interpretation of your surroundings.

JONES: I mean obviously I was primed for it. A lot of people think it’s my limitation and it might be. The female figure over the years has really become the pivot for my pictorial exploration.

KUPPER: In the 60s there was a rise in the feminist movement, and I think that they were maybe responding to the idea that these figures in the sculptures were kind of submissive. They were allowing you to put your feet on them.

JONES: No no I can see it! Yeah sure. If I’d been writing for one of their magazines and I’d seen this image, I’d be the same. It’s a perfect example of a figure, it happens to be a female figure, being used as an object. There’s nothing I can do about that, it’s just coincidental. It was certainly not a conscious part of the artwork. The other thing is that the militancy of that time, the same as any radical movement is that it always starts out with having to state the extreme. The idea of no bras, no makeup, no heels - but it seems that with the passage of time women use what they want to use, at least in the urban environments of Western cities that I know. When I made those shelf paintings with high heels, the reason I used the high heels was because they were totally out of fashion. I didn’t want to paint the shoes so that someone looking at the painting would think “oh that’s last year’s model.” But of course what happens over the passage of time is people end up thinking I have a stake in shoe manufacturing. (Laughs.)

KUPPER: Interesting.

­­­

JONES: It’s quite funny. In recent years, when I have an exhibition, or once in a blue moon some kind of art talk, a lot of the people who come up and say they admire my work are women. I see that as a historic period. Even if they’re a teenager or in their 20s, they don’t have the same wars to fight. Or quite the same, maybe they do deep down, but it’s a different scene. Nevertheless, they look and they think, “Oh, that’s what that’s about.” That’s the only down side for me. It’s become a part of the work to think that there is that connotation.

KUPPER: Sure, and then you have artists like Bjarne Melgaard who sort of re-interpreted your works but with black figures. Which was interesting and takes it in a whole new arena.

JONES: I didn’t take that work very seriously actually. When I look at artwork I like to see something that really draws me out and gives me pause or makes me have to re-think ideas I had about what I’m looking at. Of course I’ve been around a long enough time that I remember the photo-realist period with Duane Hanson. I’ve only ever seen the Melgaard versions of my sculptures. I hope they mean a lot to him, but they didn’t really give me a fright at all.

Allen Jones, Table, 1969, painted fibreglass, resin, Plexiglas, mixed media and tailor made accessories, 61 x 130 x 76 cm, private collection, courtesy the artist and Marlborough Fine Art, London

KUPPER: Interesting, I think that the controversy came from that Russian collector sitting on one of them. Which was maybe intentional.

JONES: Right, she didn’t know what she was getting into. You can imagine someone buying a piece of novelty furniture, to put it at its worst, and the photographer is there to take a photograph. You can picture them saying “well it looks like a seat, why don’t you sit down?” Of course as soon as they sit down it turns out to be national women’s day or something.

KUPPER: I want to go back a little bit, [Stanley] Kubrick asked you to make sculptures for Clockwork Orange and you turned him down. But the sculptures he used in the film were very similar. What was your reaction to that?

JONES: It was great. He called me and wanted to use the furniture sculptures for his film, and I said you know, they’re not film props, but if you like it I could design something for you. So that was the plan. He sent me the script with the book, and I could see why he wanted to use my stuff. Then it fell apart because he thought I’d do it for a credit and I said it’s going to be about three months’ work - I can’t afford to work for free. Then I told him, you know you like the idea, you use it. In fact, it was most likely better than I could have done. People who design for film props and the theatre know what the camera’s looking at.

KUPPER: Sure that makes sense.

JONES: They know they just have to design the front and they don’t have to worry about the back or something like that. Where I would have used the same level of intensity on making the thing that I would an artwork. It would have been a waste of time. Anyway the amusing thing is that everyone thinks I had something to do with it but I didn’t.

KUPPER: Yeah I’ve read a few conflicting reports on what exactly happened there. There were reports that you would never talk to Kubrick again, or there were reports that you tried to sue him for stealing your work. But it’s a lot more diplomatic than that I guess.

JONES: As I just said I’ve never met the guy. We spoke on the phone, there was no real reason to meet. That was fine with me. I didn’t feel threatened by that. Of course at the time, with the work I was doing, I didn’t think it would be something that would represent me or that I’d have to be talking about it in 50 years. The reality of that moment was that I could not afford to work for three months for a credit in a movie. He said “I’m a famous director, you’ll get a lot of coverage” and I said “listen, I’m not a set designer. If you can get me an exhibition at the Louvre, I’ll do it for free.”

(Laughs.)

KUPPER: That’s the exposure you want as an artist. Moving along, what’s the one question you wish critics or journalists would ask you?

JONES: My god I hadn’t thought about that; I don’t particularly know what I want anyone to ask me about. I like the idea that you can tell when somebody connects with the work, usually because of the questions they ask. Often it’s a question, which makes you think about your work, not in a new way, but it's not something you’re talking about. Or at the time you hadn’t thought about it before. It shows that there’s actually some dimension to the work which is coming across at a slightly slower speed. All works give off the first hit - even if it’s a Donald Judd box, it seems as though everything is said in the first instant. But then if you live with the art, other things kind of come into play.

KUPPER: It seems like with a lot of artists, no matter who they are, art critics always misconstrue one thing. Or they have an idea about the artist that seeps into every single interview. So I’m always curious about what artists wish people would ask or want to learn about that no other critic has asked.

JONES: I really don’t think about that. The thing that I’m thinking about when I have a show or when someone sees the work, let alone when I’m doing it, is that you’re involved with perceptual and conceptual kind of problems which aren’t actually the subject. The decision is made that it’s going to be a figure, but how the figure actually looks depends on formal considerations. That might seem funny to say but in fact the work is not an illustration of somebody I wished I’d seen in a nightclub. I suppose over the years people might think wrongly but when I’m doing the thing, the way it actually turns out has to do with what the paint can do and what the situation is within the composition if it as a painting. Or within the formal elements if it’s a sculpture.

The big thing for me at the moment is whether to put the figure back into a box, a display box, because the 21st century was spent with artists trying to take the figure out of the display cabinet and make it share the same space as the viewer. Quite recently I’ve seen some of my works, which were displayed within acrylic clear boxes - mainly because they were in some ancient castle environment on the border of Wales in some exhibition. Because they were outdoors, the figures had to be protected, because they were plainly indoor figures. It did add another dimension to them. They looked as though they’d come from Mars or something.

KUPPER: Interesting.

JONES: It’s those type of things that are preoccupying me at the moment. I have a show coming up in London at the end of this month with Michael Werner Gallery. It’s going to do with a film poster I painted for the French movie Maîtresse in the 70s. Which was a film that didn’t get general lease in England because of its heavy-duty subject matter. But the American distributor asked if I’d do a poster for the American distribution, which I did. Anyway I never sold the painting because it started off as a poster commission so I never thought of it as a painting. But I kept it over the years and about three or four years ago I suddenly thought it might be quite fun to revisit it and say “here’s this figure standing on a shallow stage with a bullwhip who’s knocked over some of the letters that say Maîtresse.” I thought well what if she sits down? Or what if she picks the letters up or goes behind the curtain and so on and so forth. It spawned a series of paintings and little photo graphics which I’m going to show here and in Hamburg. At the moment the business is whether or not to put the sculpture in the show as well. Whether to put it inside a box.

KUPPER: My last question is where do you think we are with censorship today? Do you think we’re more conservative than we have been or do you think we’re becoming more open to ideas? 

JONES: “We” depends on where you’re living on the globe.

KUPPER: True.

JONES: That of course is a huge topic at the moment isn’t it? I suppose somehow sex is at the basis of it all, but what is okay in one place is totally unacceptable in another. I’m just very thrilled I’m not a politician to tell you the truth. I’m also quite pleased to be living in what we call the West.

KUPPER: Exactly.

JONES: You’re in one of my favorite cities after London. I spent about three years at different times living and working in Los Angeles. I have a lot of very good friends there - more than here really. But I don’t get over there that often. I have a great warm feeling for Los Angeles. Where are you?

KUPPER: We are located in the heart of downtown LA so we are right in the middle of the city. 10 years ago a lot of people didn’t live out here. You had to be sort of crazy to live in the middle of Los Angeles, everyone sort of lives in the sprawl.

JONES: So you’re near the Frank Gehry Disney Theatre are you?

KUPPER: Yes. We’re right near there, and we’re right near the new museum. There’s a lot of galleries popping up too.

JONES: I used to make prints, and there was a railway track that went down the street near the printers I worked with. This had to be in the late 60s or something, but you’re right it wasn’t a residential place. I along with the rest of humanity was down at the beach.

KUPPER: It’s probably the better place to be, but maybe not these days with the oceans and such. But there’s definitely a very strong creative environment going on in LA. and as a magazine editor that’s really exciting because there’s a lot to cover, there’s a lot of artists to meet.

JONES: That sounds really good.

KUPPER: Yeah. I grew up here and I left for a while, I was living in San Francisco and I didn’t really feel that in LA before. It feels like it’s coming back a little bit. Galleries are fostering a new environment for artists.

JONES: It’s high time I came back and paid another visit. As you said, you see the changes if you’re away for a few years. Of course I came from a different environment, a European background, and I thought that New York was exciting. Then I went to Los Angeles and I felt that was really foreign and so unrelated to the European idea of cities, let alone anything else. My feeling when I went to San Francisco, is that just as New York does, it had that kind of feeling of connection with European culture in some way, where as Southern California didn’t. There was a lot of art there, which is why I liked it. The art was totally new. I thought it was really great.

KUPPER: Yeah San Francisco is definitely one of the more European cities; it seems more sophisticated than other American cities.

JONES: One of the great privileges is to be able to travel.

KUPPER: Thank you so much for your time Mr. Jones.

JONES: You’re quite welcome.


Allen Jones "A Retrospective" is on view now at Michael Werner gallery in New York until June 4 and Maîtresse at Michael Werner gallery in London until May 6. The interview is taken from Autre's LOVE ISSUE, which is available here. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


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

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

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

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

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

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

LUNCH: I was on 12th.

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

LUNCH: Cowboy boots, spiked skirts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOORE: That was the same time period, yes.

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

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

LUNCH: No.

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

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

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

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

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

LUNCH: Angel Palmers, a detective.

MOORE: Yeah, you played Angel Palmers, detective.

LUNCH: Who takes a bubble bath.

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

LUNCH: Thirlwell wasn’t there then.

MOORE: Thirlwell hadn’t come into the scene.

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

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

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

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

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

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

LUNCH: [Laughs.] As contrarian.

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

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

MOORE: They were great songs.

LUNCH: They were very poetic.

MOORE: I felt like they were really musical.

LUNCH: You played bass. Jim Sclavunos played sax.

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

LUNCH: He was the drummer of Teenage Jesus.

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

LUNCH: Yeah, that was my loft.

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

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

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

LUNCH: A seduction.

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

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

MOORE: She was trying to slow me down.

LUNCH: That was true. Did I?

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

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

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

LUNCH: I have no recollection of that.

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

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

MOORE: We might have.

LUNCH: Where else would we have done it?

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

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

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

LUNCH: Who was in the Contortions and the Raybeats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOORE: It was.

LUNCH: Which I’m not even really in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BROWN: Both of you mentioned Dada today. 

MOORE: Lady Dada? [Laughs.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Touch The Leather: An Interview With Fat White Family Lead Singer Lias Saoudi

text by ADAM LEHRER

Full disclosure: there is nothing objective about this article. I love Fat White Family. The band, to me, represents everything I’ve ever held dear about rock n’ roll: chaos, rebellion, sleaze, art, drugs, poetry, and politics. The first time I saw the band play live, about a year and a half ago, I was more excited than that time I saw Martin Scorsese walking down the Bowery (re: very excited). After housing beers and watching various members of the band run around the venue with their most famous fan and cheerleader, Sean Lennon, I elbowed my way to the front of the hall and got ready to let loose. 15 minutes went by when the band’s six members, gangly, unkempt, and skinny, took to the stage, launching into a particularly cacophonic rendition of the opening chords of the band’s lead single off debut album Champagne Holocaust, Auto Neutron. Lead singer Lias Saoudi, already half naked and sweating like Usain Bolt at the finish line, jittered to the front of the stage like a character in a Chris Cunningham music video and the band belted in unison, “AH AH AHHHH AHHH AHHHHHHH!” Instantly, bodies began colliding in joyous punishment. In various levels of intoxication, the crowd bowed to the revolution of the Fat White Family. It hurt so good. By the end of the song, Lias had his cock out. The scene erupted like a Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition come to life.

The band; Lias, as well as Saul Adamczewski (guitar), Adam J. Harmer (guitar), Joseph Pancucci, (brother of Lias) Nathan Saoudi (keyboard), Severin Black (drums), and Taishi Nagasaka (bass); formed in 2011 while they were squatting and enduring various levels of impoverished horror in Peckham, forming an alliance and an agenda in the process. From the time that the band released their electrifying debut record, opinions of them were divisive but absolute. Hero worship and skepticism were thrown around equally, but nigh any journalist could argue against the fact that this band was relevant to our sick, scared, and poor era. Noisey called the band, “A reminder that rock n’ roll can mean something.” The Quietus called Champagne Holocaust one of the best records of 2014. Pitchfork, in a more lukewarm review, nevertheless described the debut record as the “shambolic beginnings of something.” Case in point, Fat White Family wants rock music to have substance again. Charged up by leftist politics and rally cries against the agonies of capitalism, Fat White Family is both aware of the culture while totally antithetical to the culture. The music, while certainly energizing, has its touchstones: the anarcho punk ethos of Crass, the shambolic poetry of Mark E. Smith and The Fall (they even released a single called I Am Mark E. Smith), the nihilist poetry of Country Teasers, and the early garage psych of The 13th Floor Elevators. But the music is only half the story with the band. I often say that the most effective (and my favorite) politicians (Obama, Churchill, etc..) do what they must to achieve power, and once the power is achieved use it to shake the culture and make change. It seems every article out there in one way or another finds different adjectives to describe the pestilence and grit and grime that define the entity that is Fat White Family. Though those descriptions aren’t false, they fail to mention the intelligence behind the art. Fat White Family is intimately aware of the power of performance and media. With a militaristic look, an aura of degenerate mystery, and ratchet stage antics full of blood and nudity, the band commands attention. Now that the attention has been achieved, the band can have their ideas known and their message spread.

Fat White Family’s new album, Songs for Our Mothers, is out today on Fat Possum. It continues the band’s political nihilism while incorporating a more subdued if not at all toned down sound. The melodies are more pronounced, and the incorporation of synths and horns brings to mind the more ambitious records of British pop music history. From opening track The Whitest Boy On the Beach, there is something off-kilter and more thought-provoking than the band’s earlier onslaughts, bringing to mind bands like Devo. It seems the album’s central conceit is an exploration of the volatile conditions that often create the best art, as the band has cited the work of Ike and Tina turner as a central influence on the band.

In anticipation of Songs for Our Mothers, I spoke to Lias on a Viber call. He is nothing like his stage persona. Expecting a bamboozled alkie, I found myself speaking to a fiercely intelligent young guy deeply worried about the state of the economy, highly aware of contemporary art, and fiercely committed to original art. Topics that came up were housing, the band’s unhealthy obsession with Irish actor Sam Neill, the divide between human being and performer, and of course lots about the new record. I also snuck in a question about Lias and Fat White brother in arms (as well as brother from same mother) Nathan’s collaborative band with electronic act Electronic Research Council and Sean Lennon, The Moonlandingz, whose record Expanded is out now.

Autre: Perhaps I’m off base here, but from the moment I first got into the band I detected at least an awareness of a performance art aesthetic, is that at all accurate?

LIAS SAOUDI: Yeah definitely. I went to college for four years, at Slade School of Art in North London, so it’s something I’ve been a part of for a while.

AUTRE: What about politically? Did you develop your own sort of ethos on your own? Or did you pick up certain ideas from family members or friends growing up?

LIAS SAOUDI: Well my mum is sort of like a Yorkshire coal miner who was there during the strikes. My dad’s an Algerian immigrant. It’s not like I grew up on an estate, but I wouldn’t jump to say that I was, myself, working class. I was afforded opportunities both my parents never had, because they worked really hard. But both of them, yeah completely. But myself I guess I would say I was more lower-middle class. We would go on a holiday abroad every now and then. . I think it was the kind of environment, which set me up to take it where I am now. It was probably always going to turn out this way.

AUTRE: I find it interesting how some adults think that people our age, millennials or whatever, are apolitical or don’t care. But I just don’t find that to be true these days, certainly with bands like yours, and with what’s going on in the States right now with everything rallying around Bernie Sanders and things like that. Do you feel generally hopeful that at least people seem to be more aware than they were in the last few years?

LIAS SAOUDI: I think a certain amount of apathy has lifted, but I fail to see any real, genuine hope in the situation being altered. I think there is something to rally around and I think that’s really positive. I think it’s the lowest kind of cynicism to just not even bother. My issue with bands and music and the people here in London while I was kind of squatting around and studying is that people were just concerned with climbing up a ladder socially. There’s no way you’re getting anywhere.

AUTRE: Yeah, absolutely.

LIAS SAOUDI: I mean I’ve been in London for 12 years and we worked pretty hard at this project. From an outsider’s perspective it must seem like we’ve had some success. But my living standards have never increased, if anything they’ve diminished. And London, the city that I’ve kind of grown to love and consider home, is kind of out of my reach. That brings anger.

AUTRE: Yeah it’s the same situation over here in New York. What’s insane to me is that one of the main reasons people want to move to cities like New York or London is because they want to eat at great restaurants with really talented chefs, or see great bands or artists. But if they don’t start regulating the rent, these people aren’t going to exist and these cities are going to suck.

LIAS SAOUDI: It’s just become a little bit like Paris. The restaurants will remain, but all the other good stuff will fuck off. It’s prohibitively expensive to live here while you’re trying to do something creative. It’s always been tough, you know you have to work a shitty job while you’re doing your painting or your band. The city is for tourists and millionaires and for people to invest in property while you’re pushed further and further out of the housing market and the red market. It’s boring. There’s nobody standing up for you, there’s no rules, there’s no law anymore.

AUTRE: It’s pretty insane. Living in New York, I’ve been here almost four yeas years but I’ve already had to bounce around from three neighborhoods. It happens too fast. Blame it on hipsters moving to your hood all you want, but people are going to live where they can afford. No one is at fault other than greedy landowners and a government that doesn’t protect its citizens from encroaching poverty.

LIAS SAOUDI: It’s alarming that the government, our government, doesn’t want regulation when it comes to things like the housing market. But they are perfectly comfortable with regulating the Middle East. It’s like you won’t put a fucking cap on the rent in South London but you’ll happily bomb Libya. I’m confused now by what they mean by regulation. It’s just such fucking dog shit. Bands don’t traditionally come from London- they come to London to make their way. And I think we’ll see an end to that.

AUTRE: So I wanted to ask you some stuff about the new record, which I’ve listened to and I love. The first thing I noticed is that right from the first record, right from Auto Neutron, it kind of had this groovy but nevertheless full on oral onslaught. The new one seems a little bit more textured, maybe are there some synths in there?

LIAS SAOUDI: Yeah there was a little bit of a disco element. Everybody was kinda getting into Donna Summer at that point.

AUTRE: Yeah, that’s interesting. I thought of the first Devo record honestly when I heard that second track.

LIAS SAOUDI: Yeah it is that kind of vibe. I think it was just a lot more thought going into it. Not that we didn’t take it seriously the first time. It takes a long time to make a record. That’s always the case, it’s a refection of what everybody’s been into. It’s is a little less schlocky, a little bit I dare say understated. I’ll be held to that no doubt, but it’s about drawing a juxtaposition between that understatement and what actually goes on in the songs, the events and fleshing them out. If there’s a shock value that’s where it is.

AUTRE: I’ve always thought you guys even at your most cacophonic had some serious grooves going on. I feel like it comes in even stronger when you’re quieting down a little.

LIAS SAOUDI: It’s kind of like dance music I suppose essentially.

AUTRE: Yeah you can dance to it for sure. I know Joe Strummer had a quote that was like “the best rock and roll music just makes you want to stop thinking and dance and not give a fuck what anyone thinks.”

LIAS SAOUDI: I think so, and I think if you can do both at the same time that’s kind of the goal. If you can have both angles, and you can realize what you’re dancing to. The story behind it, the narrative.

AUTRE: Substance.

LIAS SAOUDI: Yeah you’ve got two layers going on there. There’s an ever so slight intellectual side to it.

AUTRE: I caught some psychedelic vibes too, are you guys into Psychedelia at all?

LIAS SAOUDI: Yea of course I mean we’re steeped in that. I think especially on the first record. There was kind of all that dodgy psych that was all pouring out during the last five years. A lot of it was just an interesting sound, but it didn’t seem to have any essential purpose. It was kind of like vintage shop psych for metropolitan dudes to pose around to and get laid. There was no essential struggle or crisis. Which given the times we’re living in, like we were talking about earlier, I find a little apathetic and irresponsible to an extent.

AUTRE: Definitely. I thought it was interesting, when I saw you guys at the Bowery Ballroom last year I saw you running around with Sean Lennon. He actually co-produced this new record, and you guys are doing a side project with him? The Moonlandingz?

LIAS SAOUDI: Yeah the Moonlandingz man!

AUTRE: I love that video.

LIAS SAOUDI: Yeah it’s good, it’s fun. Kind of tongue in cheek, the whole thing. It’s all really well written stuff. We were playing this fictional band within a concept record, we just decided to take it to the next level. And then Sean got involved. I got something from Sean the other day actually, Yoko Ono is on one of the tracks now.

AUTRE: Oh sweet!

LIAS SAOUDI: Yeah, we’re having a scream off on one of them I think. It’s nice, we’re in a position now where you can kind of cross-pollinate with other artists much more easily. Maybe the financial rewards are not as great these days for musicians, but if you get a little bit of a break you can start working with all kinds of people. It’s kind of exiting.

AUTRE: Definitely, and I feel like Sean is almost a perfect mentor for you guys because he for one thing is massively famous just because of who he is, but he also has an ear to the underground always.

LIAS SAOUDI: Yeah and he’s a really great musician man. It’s great to have him in the studio. He’s just always been really lovely with us and always supported us since the first day we met him. He’s been a great ally to have, whenever we’re stateside we always hit him up.

AUTRE: Most people associate you guys with influences like The Fall and the Birthday party ad Crass, all that stuff, but I hear soul on your records, I hear funk. And he’s a good producer for that because he knows a little bit about everything.

LIAS SAOUDI: He’s kind more into the sensual side of it all than the harsh, politically charged kind of punk side of it. And that works well for us.

AUTRE: I feel like Fat White Family has a lot of hero worship attached to it. Rock n’ Roll lovers have a lot of faith in you guys. I mean Noisey described you as “the band making Rock n’ Roll mean something again.” Do you welcome this? Or are there times when you want to just play rock music without people attaching so much to it?

LIAS SAOUDI: I try and remain as ignorant as possible. I kind of gravitate towards things that I don’t really understand. I don’t really think about it that much, I just try and get on with my job. I find it extremely difficult to write and I’m quite precious about it, so I’m just getting on with it and I hope it works out. It’s not the most stable profession, all those people saying that is great, you know, wonderful, but it’s kind of just a lucky byproduct of what we’re doing.

AUTRE: You do get a lot of positive reception in blogs, but I can’t imagine it actually compares to the reactions you guys get at your shows when kids go fucking nuts.

LIAS SAOUDI: That’s great, that’s my favorite part of it. I was doing a little bit of performance art at the end of college, and I was kind of at a loose end- didn’t really know where to place myself. I’ve really become quite jaded and disdainful with the whole contemporary art scene. But being in a band you could kind of just do that at your own street level instead of having to curtail to some type of elite the whole time. So that was important to me, and the performance thing remains priority #1 for me. 

AUTRE: That is the benefit of Rock n’ Roll over art, because art is still contingent on you being able to sell your stuff to some rich guy, where as Rock n’ Roll is just contingent upon kids losing it over your music.

LIAS SAOUDI: Yeah. You know when you’re shit because people just don’t stick around. It’s a lot more difficult to lie to yourself.

AUTRE: When I saw you at the Bowery Ballroom you had your cock out within the first three minutes of the show.

LIAS SAOUDI: (laughs) I don’t know where that comes from really. As a person I’m usually quite reserved, quite shy, quite insecure essentially, so it’s like an outlet I suppose. It’s not really like a pre-meditated thing. It just feels nice. Theoretically, again if you’re doing that in contemporary art it raises all sorts of questions. Difficult questions. But I think if you’re doing that in Rock n’ Roll it’s just a bit of spice.

AUTRE: Yeah! So you once wrote “Hell hath no fury like a failed artist” in Is It Raining in Your Mouth. The band has if not become overwhelmingly financially successful has gained a certain level of notoriety. Is it as easy for you to write those same sort of vibes with the success that you have now?

LIAS SAOUDI: Well a lot of the time when I’m writing there will be some sort of historical context, some sort of totem culturally that other people can gather around and hang their hat on essentially. When I wrote that I was actually talking about Adolf Hitler.

AUTRE: Oh shit that makes sense!

LIAS SAOUDI: (Laughs) Yeah! But it worked for me as well so I just put that in there. So that’s usually the angle I come in at when I’m writing sometime. So it’s kind of personal but it’s also got a different context usually.

AUTRE: Do you consider the rock star version of you to be you and a part of you? Or like a character that you have to get into to become what you are on stage?

LIAS SAOUDI: When I go on stage it’s a peculiar experience, I don’t feel like that person at all really. That’s just the way it happens when I perform. It’s strange when you get up on a stage in front of a big crowd of people, there’s all kinds of things that happen in your brain. Some of them healthy, some of them not so healthy, I think naturally I must be a real attention seeker. Because I do love it. It’s a weird one.

AUTRE: I was looking at the press release for the new record and at the end there it says something about this record being about love, death, sex, the actor Sam Neill. What’s with the obsession with Sam Neill?

LIAS SAOUDI: I don’t know where that comes from exactly. It’s a real thing in the group.

AUTRE: He’s good man.

LIAS SAOUDI: (Laughs) I think maybe it’s the film Event Horizon, which is arguably one of the shittiest films ever made.

AUTRE: He was in Possession, have you ever seen that movie?  Sam plays a spy that comes home to his wife who acts increasingly unstable wife who ass him for a divorce, that description doesn’t at all sum up the head fuckery that follows.

LIAS SAOUDI: I’ll have to check that out man.

AUTRE: That’s a good horror movie.

LIAS SAOUDI: He’s in one of the songs. In Satisfied, there’s a lyric in there about Sam Neill working outside or something. It’s fun when you bring things back down to the juvenile level sometimes.

AUTRE: Do you find it difficult to stay out of the bullshit side of the music business?

LIAS SAOUDI: It is weird and it’s slightly disturbing when what you do as a bunch of friends; living together in a shitty house; suddenly becomes your bread and butter. It’s something you just kind of have to get a grip on so you don’t have to go back to making pizzas or whatever. There’s an element of anxiety there. You’ve been struggling and then you get a little bit of a break, and then you have to grapple with how making art is an economic act whether you like it or not. You have to accept that.

I try to get at a part of that on the record, by talking about the relationship between Ike and Tina Turner. Just how in a way everybody kind of endorsed the violence that took part as a fan and a listener of the music. It’s in there.

AUTRE: It is interesting with Ike and Tina though because those songs are so beautiful but you can hear the tension between them. Or you go listen to old Phil Spector productions or something and they sound so perfect and pretty but then you realize that the guy who’s making them is quite psychotic really. It gives everything an interesting spin.

LIAS SAOUDI: It’s a brutal dichotomy and it’s something which you kind of find yourself in all of a sudden. As far as it being a business, and you have all these people around you, and you have to decide which you trust and which you don’t. There’s things that go wrong and it’s difficult but that’s the reality of the situation.

AUTRE: It must be even more frightening because Fat White Family does have potential to become quite a big rock band.

LIAS SAOUDI: I mean maybe, I don’t know. I’ll take what I can get. The more people that listen to it the better

AUTRE: Are there any other bands these days that you find to be adequate if not pretty great?

LIAS SAOUDI: There’s a couple of really great bands kicking around. There’s a band called Meat Raffle who are a new band just putting out their first release, but they’re worth checking out. I’m a fan of the Sleaford Mods I think they’re really good.

AUTRE: Oh yeah I like their new record a lot.

LIAS SAOUDI: It’s funny and it’s brutal and it’s full of the right kind of spite. It revels in its own authentic misery, and I think that puts the fear into all the right people. That’s the ultimate kind of process. You can just kind of dance to the pain, and that’s what it sounds like to me.

AUTRE: So are you guys going to be touring the states on this new record?

LIAS SAOUDI: Yeah we’ll be over there. Our management is based in LA now so they’ll be really key in getting us over there. I imagine quite a bit in the next year. I think March, and then maybe later on in the year. I like to spend time over there, although touring is a bit tough. It’s a lot of fucking driving and a lot of shitty food. It’s that whole middle bit, which is quite a big bit, it’s pretty tough to get in the van and drive around and do shows. But once you get to the big cities its always fantastic you know?

AUTRE: Yeah. Alright man, I can’t wait to see you guys next time you come to New York, it was a pleasure speaking with you. Good luck and congratulations!

LIAS SAOUDI: Cheers man! 


Fat White Family's new album 'Songs For Our Mothers' is out today via Without Consent/Fat Possum Records, purchase here. Watch the music video for Whitest Boy On The Beach here. Text and interview by Adam Lehrer. Photographs by Flo Kohl, shot on location in London. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Getting Afreaky: An Interview With Nikolai and Simon Haas of the Haas Brothers

The Haas brothers seem like mystical ambassadors from the future. However, they are not here to portend of doom and gloom, like the current headlines may lead you to predict. Indeed, the future looks pretty bright according to Nikolai and Simon Haas – fraternal twins who make high-end sculptural objects that only the very lucky can afford, but are almost talismanic in their complexity and humorous in their intentional simplicity. The materials the brothers use mimic natural and rare phenomena in nature. This gives their work a sexual energy that takes phallic and vaginal forms, replete with folds and shafts and rounded curves that could make the prudish contingent quite sensitive. Put the work together and it looks like a combination of Maurice Sendak's menagerie of Wild Things and Dr. Seuss on too many tabs of acid. 

If you visit the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles, you can see some of their drawings on the walls of the Chapter Restaurant; next to the lobby. Portraits of Roman Polanski are juxtaposed next to chubby line-drawn creatures holding cocktail glasses – Nikolai’s work is more cartoonish, one dimensional and comical, while Simon’s work is more realistic, detailed and has more perspective. It’s a perfect way to experience their work on an individual scale. But it is when they bring their styles together that the real magic happens. Simon comes from a much more logical perspective, while Niki is much more laid back, creating an incredibly powerful dynamic. 

Over the last couple of years, the Haas brothers have been riding high on a wave of popularity – a collaboration with Donatella Versace took their works straight to the gilded living rooms of the fashion and design world. Solo exhibitions in New York have made them darlings in the art world. However, the proverbial wave crashed when they were on a private jet heading back to LA from an exhibition of their work in Miami.  

To fill their souls again, they have been working with a group of bead artists located in a township outside of Cape Town, in South Africa, who call themselves the "Haas Sisters." This week at Design Miami, the brothers will be premiering works from this collaboration, entitled Afreaks, which include colorful four legged creatures in varying sizes and large psychedelic mushrooms – more examples of the Haas Brothers, and now Sisters, goal to spread positive vibes. The work will also be on view this February at Cooper Hewitt's Design Triennial. 

In the following interview, we talk to the Haas Brothers about their craft, their collaborative relationship, the sexual overtones of their work and how a trip to Africa changed everything. 

AUTRE: When did you first start collaborating artistically together? Was there a specific moment when you knew you wanted to make this happen together?

NIKOLAI: My first remembrance of doing stuff together was when we wanted to make these machines. There was a popular artist at the time who made these rolling ball sculptures. We saw that as kids, and we wanted to make this machine in the backyard. We were about 3 or 4.

SIMON: Our very first collaboration started in 2007. He was in a band with Vincent Gallo, and they were touring. I was in school, and they called me and asked me to tour with them. I dropped out and drove to LA to join them.

NIKOLAI: That was our first professional collaboration.

SIMON: Then a friend of ours offered Niki this construction job in 2010, and he asked me to do it with him. We rented a studio downtown. Basically, that’s when we knew that we were going to be working together always. We actually had a conversation about it. We rented that shop, and we didn’t know what to do.

NICKOLAI: In this conversation, we were asking ourselves, “What are we starting a business for?” We just want to work for ourselves and do our own thing. I don’t think we said it explicitly at the time, but we knew we were dedicated just to being happy people. That was the spirit of what was going on. I remember when we sat down and talked about what we were going to achieve, that was the number one thing—being happy, and trying to spread that in our community. Not just the people who we were working with in the studio, but also in the communities outside of the studio, the LA community.

AUTRE: And the rest of the world as well?

NIKI: Yeah, as much as possible. We have a community in Miami now because we go there all the time. We have a community in Europe because we go there all the time. The whole point is to be happy.

AUTRE: When you collaborate on a piece together, where does it start? Is there a brainstorming session?

NIKI: It’s different every time. I think our most explicitly collaborative moments are when we have to sit down and conceive new shows together. On single pieces, we’re collaborating all the time—asking each other questions as we go. Simon’s always working on the philosophy and the deeper meaning behind the work, and he’s always thinking about how the work can change. I’m kind of doing more brutish work, like sculpting or sketching cartoons.

SIMON: He’s the maker, and I’m just testing stuff all the time. I’m a fanatic; I’m a materials person. The way we collaborate is Niki gives life to these processes, and I give him materials to work with. And we always talk about all of it the entire time. Also, as twins, we’re on the same track.

NIKI: It’s not just the conception of the piece. The collaboration doesn’t stop. The African project is such a good example. The actual objects themselves are just a result of the real important part of the project, which is the philosophy of the book. Hopefully people read it. That’s the kind of project that people will put in history books if they read what Simon has written.

SIMON: It’s basically a feminist, white privilege project that’s wrapped up into something consumable and pretty. That’s the thing—our audience is the 1%. We’re delivering things to them to make them think. It’s not something they would necessarily pick up on the shelf. We get to put this stuff in there to kind of figure out later. We talk about ourselves as entering more into philosophy in that way.

AUTRE: That’s really interesting. My next question was about luxury and the definition of luxury.

NIKI: To be honest, most people who are living luxurious lives have pretty bad situations. There’s something about wealth where it gets to a certain level, and it starts to dehumanize the person. They perceive themselves as an odd commodity, even though they trust themselves more than anyone else. Luxury, honestly, is being as happy as you possibly can be. There’s a sweet spot where you have enough to support what you want to do. At the same time, you are loose enough that you can say, “Fuck this.” If you have to get work, if you have to write contracts—even if you’re making thousands of dollars, it’s not all that luxurious. You’re under your own thumb.

SIMON: Luxury as people understand it is almost like a prison. You go to basically the same hotels and the same restaurants in every country in the world. Someone who is living luxuriously is having the same experience everywhere. You’re getting the Vegas experience all over the world.

NIKI: The Hollywood hotel, the concierge that takes care of everything for you. If we had gone to Cape Town in the luxurious way, we would have been taking crazy advantage of black people. We would have been ignoring the entire context of the point of being there. We would have barred ourselves from doing this project. 

AUTRE: Luxury, in a sense, can also mean the freedom to be creative.

NIKI: We have the luxury to do whatever we want. That’s what I’m looking for. The luxury to allow ourselves to be happy. We want to be curious all the time, and we want to explore that curiosity. That’s the luxury we’re after.

AUTRE: You have the capability to work in this small format, and then you can explore all those ideas that were in your head.

NIKI: We talked about supporting our community. We were telling kids that the guy that hired us for this first time said, “Hey, I’m giving you the ability to start expressing yourself.” That’s how we started making our stuff. Later on, our gallery said, “Hey, make whatever you want.” That was a big moment for us. We weren’t making anything cool before that really. Money and space doesn’t make you very happy. I would actually say I was just as happy when I was 18 years old and broke.

AUTRE: I want to talk about sexuality, because that’s a major part of your work, especially in your drawings.

NIKI: The sexuality, to me, is just the reality of being a person. Everybody thinks about sex. Everybody has sexual organs. It does occur a lot in the sketches in particular. In the rest of our work, it appears about as often as it does in everyday life. You see yourself clothed, and then at the end of the day, you’re naked looking at your own dick. The way that I push sexuality in the cartoons and the way I use it in art work (like the sex room we made a couple of Basels ago), the point is to make it seem like less of a shock. It is simply an innocent expression if it’s done well. Obviously, if not, it can be oppressive. It’s all happiness. It’s an extension of being a person. The point of using it in our work is the idea of leveling the playing field. 

SIMON: It’s so positive. Tom of Finland was more centered on the erotic. The idea behind this is positivity. There’s a very positive message. Beyond that, we focus a lot on animals too. Animals and sex are really common themes throughout history, design, and art (which were the same things until recently). We feel like it’s a natural interest. It’s what’s around us. To exclude it from the work is almost weirder. I was in drawing classes at RISD, and there would be people doing life drawing classes who would leave out the penis. That creeps me out. Showing it is not creepy. Taking it out, showing me your thought process, is kind of creepy.

AUTRE: There’s so much shame attached to sexuality in our culture.

NIKI: We are vehemently anti-shame. That’s one of the pillars that Simon set up for our ethos very early on. Any time we sit down to do a piece of work or a show, we make sure to follow these guidelines we made for our studio.

SIMON: The first few sexual pieces, people would come up to us and say, “Oh my god, you can’t show that.” That’s shaming. We’re not going to listen to them. It’s because of their own discomfort. We made a piece for Basel about sex and shame. People would enter through this giant vagina. We like to get people to consider their own thought processes as they’re experiencing these things. I think it’s important.

AUTRE: It is important. There is a lot of censorship going on these days, like with Instagram.

SIMON: The fact that you can’t show nipples on Instagram pisses me off. The nipple can’t be free; that’s so stupid.

NIKI: We’re not trying to be shocking when we talk about sexuality. People think we’re sensationalist and shocking, but really we’re just expressing what we think.

AUTRE: Do you ever have creative disagreements? How do you resolve them?

SIMON: We have, though it’s kind of rare. We had a big fight in Cape Town, but that wasn’t creative.

NIKI: Talking to each other creatively, we take each other seriously. If Simon doesn’t like something I’m coming up with, or if I don’t like something he’s coming up with, we just try to explore it with each other. You probably have a point, let’s find what it is. Our creative fluidity is beyond good.

SIMON: In school, I had critiques by some teachers who had chips on their shoulders. It was so obvious. They will give shaming critiques of work. We don’t do that to each other. It stunts your creative growth so much. We understand that if one of us shits on the other one’s piece, he’ll stop exploring it and be afraid to do it. I know that his output is going to be incredible, so I have to trust it, and vice versa. The biggest fight we had was in Cape Town, and it came only because we were both going through so much. We’d been riding this crazy high from getting pretty successful pretty fast, and it kind of hit us. When we were in Cape Town and working with these women who had so little, it was like, “What am I doing?” Both of us were going through internal turmoil, which caused us to have a big fight.

NIKI: There were also a bunch of reasons why we had to flesh things out. After the fight, it ended up so much better. It was so worth it. That was the first time we ever had a fight. It’s crazy. Literally, if you talk about the moment before we went to Africa, we had our first solo show in New York. It was met with tremendous success; we sold everything.

AUTRE: Was that R & Company?

NIKI: Yeah. We were hanging out with collectors and all that bullshit. We were staying at a friend’s penthouse. We were taking ecstasy and listening to soul music, and it was so fun. I don’t feel bad for doing it at all; it was unbelievable. But then we go from this moment of complete pleasure and excess to being dumped in Kairicha. We set that up for ourselves, but it was a good reality check. Fuck. Who gives a shit about what we just did? I was proud that we did that, we worked really fucking hard. But we’re young white men. We grew up knowing A-list celebrities. Half of this, whether we like it or not, was handed to us. Suddenly we're working with black women in Kairicha where black people still don’t have the same rights, they are not being given any chances. When we came into the picture, we did a small fair in South Africa, it was the first time they had ever been to the town’s center. That was the first time they got to go to a fancy event.

SIMON: And the crowd that came in was shocked that they were all in there, and as the artists especially. It was really cool.

NIKI: People say it’s not racist in South Africa, but then you try to take them all out to a sushi restaurant, and you can’t do it.

AUTRE: It seems embedded.

SIMON: They’re like, how about going to KFC and going to the top of the hill instead? We actually wound up doing that, and there were people taking photos of us. It was so bizarre.

NIKI: You have to realize, though, that that’s how these people grew up. That’s what it’s like in South Africa, white or black. The whole black community has its own issues with intolerance too. They’re super intolerant with gay people. It’s all fucked up. What we have to understand is that everyone growing up there has grown up with a certain social structure. The idea of ignorance really comes into play. Culturally, people were brought up in an ignorant way. We want people to understand that you don’t want to isolate people you’re hoping to change. If you do that, nothing’s going to happen. And everybody, as evil as they may seem (and I don’t even believe in the idea of evil), nobody is actually evil. Everyone is a person deep down inside. Whatever it is that they’re reacting to, if they’re acting in a way that’s full of shit, like demeaning a person because of their skin color—I believe that they are fully capable of dropping that. It takes time. I think that the Internet is the biggest purge of that of all time. All of a sudden, nobody on the Internet community seems tolerant of homophobia or racism. As a mirror of society, you see society not willing to tolerate that anymore. The Internet touches about 80% of their lives. That’s great. They all have cell phones and listen to Beyoncé and One Direction. But the thing is, Beyoncé is not homophobic or racist. When you have idols that are being put in front of people like that, it’s only a matter of time before it melts away. In fact, anybody who is younger than us is not an issue. You just have to wait for the old people to die away. Although, I’m sure there are some people carrying the torch who are younger.

AUTRE: A lot of people don’t get that reality check. They go to the developing world, but there’s no reality check.

SIMON: You turn into a monster. I felt myself turning into a sharky monster before we went to Cape Town. I was noticing changes in my behavior. Like, I was totally okay with being an asshole to somebody. That’s not like me, and it started to bother me a lot. Thank god we went to Cape Town; it hit us so hard. I remember, right after Cape Town, we went to Miami. We wound up in a G7 flying back here, and I could not enjoy myself. It felt brutal.

NIKI: These pieces of art are selling for thousands of dollars. At some point, it’s too much money. Nothing is worth that much. I know some of our stuff is stupid expensive. But the point is that it’s feeding something much bigger. We’re trying to bring it back to the community.

AUTRE: With you guys, there’s craftsmanship.

SIMON: There are definitely reasons why our stuff is expensive.

NIKI: If there’s an art piece that has historical value, but all that’s happening with it is the piece being taken and used as a commodity. It’s dehumanizing. It’s been moved around in the market with a shitload of money on it. No one needs something that costs that much.

AUTRE: How did the project in Africa come about?

SIMON: Cape Town was named world design capital, and we went for a fair to show some of our pieces. When we got there, we were being tourists looking for art in South Africa, where everything is totally whitewashed. We went to this craft fair, and there was this booth with really cool beaded animals. The woman in the booth was so fascinating and cool and making these beautiful pieces. We just loved her and her story. The booth is called Monkey Biz. On each piece, they have a tag with the name of the woman who made it. We thought that was amazing, because that doesn’t happen very often. It’s a small thing, but it’s actually a really big thing. That’s what got us to want to start doing it. We had this whole penpal exchange with this woman—Montepelo—and her team for about a year, and she really wanted us to come. We showed up and started working with them. They were all afraid of working with us, actually. They’re used to being treated poorly. As soon as they realized we weren’t on that track, it became this really awesome community building experience.

AUTRE: When will those pieces be shown?

SIMON: In December. December 4th.

AUTRE: So that’s your next major project?

NIKI: Yes. And we have another show in February.

SIMON: The theme is beauty.

NIKI: We’re trying to transgress beauty. We’re trying to get rid of our exclusive authorship.

SIMON: Jeff Koons would never name all the fabricators that worked on his project. That’s what we’re trying to transgress. I think it’s kind of cool.

AUTRE: Design and fine art—where is that line?

SIMON: The line is the people who are going to make money off of it. It’s completely commercial. Also, the word “design” is completely Western and very modern. There was never a distinction between the two until recently in our culture. It’s so location and time based that we find it to be gross. We don’t really make that distinction.

NIKI: At the same time, we’re proud to be a part of what’s considered the design community. The truth is, we’re just doing what we do. No labels, man.

SIMON: We rose up through the design world, but we are contentious there. As our stuff is being thought of more as art, the design fair has tried to push us out. Art Basel and Design Miami are the same thing, but they don’t know what side our work should be on.

NIKI: Design Miami has been trying to push us out because we’re “art.”

SIMON: That actually happened with this Cape Town project. We had to appeal and fight for the right to get into it. They told our gallery that they couldn’t show it unless they had us in that booth.

NIKI: The design line exists only in the eyes of the people of commerce.

AUTRE: What do you think will change things?

NIKI: It’s already happening. The Internet, again, is leveling everything. Hashtags have become more important than library cardstock. The way that people think about design now is like library cardstock. The hashtag is going to take over. People in our generation don’t give a shit. People who are old have dedicated time to a certain way of life, and they’re really resistant to changing that way of life. But the truth is, they’re old, and they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.

SIMON: The reason why it hasn’t already changed is literally money, government, etc. But that will go away, and it will all be much chiller. It’s clear from looking at the Internet what’s going to happen. Growing up gay in Texas, I saw very few people who were out in the public eye. The best I could get was Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on TV. Now, on the Internet, you can see whatever you want. Everything is going to change.


You can see the Haas Brothers' "Afreaks" this week at the R & Company booth at Design Miami opening on December 2nd. You will also be able to see the work at Cooper Hewitt's Design Triennial, which will open on February 12, 2016 and will run until August 21, 2016. Purchase the "Afreaks" book here. text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper and Summer Bowie. photographs by Sara Clarken


A Long Strange Trip: An Intimate Conversation With Actor, Artist and Now Curator Leo Fitzpatrick

photograph by Curtis Buchanan

A little over three years ago, I moved to New York to attend a graduate journalism program at NYU. Though I had wanted to get here forever, the very essence of being here didn’t hit me until I was record shopping at Kim’s Video and Music (RIP) in the East Village when I saw artist, actor, and now, curator Leo Fitzpatrick flipping through the bins. Fitzpatrick, to me, was something of a city landmark for young weirdoes that like fucked up art. As a bored suburban teenager I would look at photographer Patrick O’Dell’s Epicly Later’d blog where photos of Leo with his uber cool friends—from actress Chloe Sevigny to pro skaters like Jason Dill—and I saw a world and a lifestyle that I knew I wanted a part in. Fitzpatrick and his mega-famous artist buddies like the late Dash Snow and Dan Colen were my New York heroes, much like Lydia Lunch and Basquiat were to a previous generation. It wasn’t just about the work; it was the whole wasted freedom of that particular moment in downtown New York's history.

It’s been a long strange trip for Fitzpatrick since he was discovered skateboarding in Washington Square Park at age 14 by Larry Clark to star in the director’s seminal ‘90s troublemaker film Kids. Though he has remained involved in acting on and off ever since (he’s most likely appeared in at least one of your favorite shows: The Wire, Carnivale, Banshee, and a hilarious turn in this past season of Broad City as a misdemeanor prone trust fund man child), art has more or less been his primary passion since he bought his first Chris Johanson piece at age 17. He gained some notoriety for his austere and slightly brutal painting style as well as for his documented friendships with some of the early ‘00s’ most famous wild child artists like the aforementioned Snow and Colen, Nate Lowman, and Ryan McGinley.

But Fitzpatrick may have found his true calling as a curator. What sets him apart is his unbridled passion for the art that he likes. What he doesn’t like is the financial motivations that sometimes overshadow what art is supposed to be. This notion allowed Fitzpatrick to conceptualize the Home Alone and Home Alone 2 galleries with Lowman. The driving force behind the Home Alone concept was that none of the art that Fitzpatrick and Lowman showed was actually for sale. This freedom allowed them to re-imagine the gallery as a hangout. A place where ideas could flow freely and art could be displayed in interesting and surprising ways. Home Alone housed shows by artists like Adam McEwen, Larry Clark, Klara Liden, and others. The problem, of course, became money. With nothing to sell, Fitzpatrick and Lowman were losing money every month Home Alone was alive. And with Lowman’s busy schedule, Fitzpatrick shouldered much of the logistical burden behind the concept. “It’s tricky to hold up a gallery when you’re working with a friend,” says Fitzpatrick. “When we broke up Home Alone, it was mutual, but you can start to resent your partner at some point.”

But thanks to Marlborough Chelsea director Pascal Spengemann and owner Max Levai, the spirit of Home Alone lives on in the Viewing Room, a space set up in the Marlborough Chelsea location where Fitzpatrick has complete creative control and is again not worried about the constraints of selling. “Financially, [Home Alone] kicked our asses,” he says, “With Marlborough, I have support. It’s all the best parts of Home Alone, but with more stability.” In just a few months, the Viewing Room has hosted a show by 80-year old Los Angeles-based artist George Herms, and is currently holding an exhibition by iconic New York photographer Richard Kerns. “It’s his photos from the ‘80s” says Fitzpatrick. “I don’t know what he would call them, but I call them “streetscapes.” They’re all never-before-seen photos.”

After I profiled Fitzpatrick for my Forbes column last winter, he and I became friendly. I’m not going to lie: I look up to the guy. He is a singular example of someone who was able to carve out a place for himself in the art world without any formal training but a whole lot of sheer passion, hard work, and interesting ideas about the industry. We chatted in the Viewing Room about transitioning the Home Alone concept to a commercial gallery.

Adam Lehrer: How did this collaboration with Marlborough Gallery come about?

Leo Fitzpatrick: I wanted to have a body of work that was different. I enjoy discovering. I’m excited to try new things [with art] in an unconventional setting. In this space, I don’t have to worry about selling art. When you free it up like that, it’s exciting for everybody.

AL: Does making art for a gallery space feel as interesting as working in a more guerilla-type setting?

LF: There are benefits to both. I just needed the help. A lot of people remember Home Alone as something bigger than it actually was. But running a gallery is a lot of work. I don’t have the energy to start anything on my own anymore. We closed it at a good time. And I don’t think I could have gotten a job at a gallery before Home Alone.

AL: Do you see more artists trying to move outside of the conventional frame of showing art?

LF: I think people are moving towards finding ways to show art outside of the conventional gallery. Maybe your friend owns a pizzeria—put your art on the walls, and call that a gallery. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

AL: Getting work out there is more detrimental than ever, with the living costs associated with this city.

LF: The problem is finding space. Artists are living in the same spaces that they work in. It limits the kind of work they can produce. Like, a painting is much easier to make than a sculpture because it takes up less space. But I also like the challenge.

AL: Because with challenge, one is automatically forced to think differently in his/her execution?

LF: A lot of my outlook comes from skateboarding. One person might just see some stairs, but a skater sees a lot of options. How do I manipulate this to work for me? That’s how I view the art world. I can’t compete with somebody who has a lot of money or more education than me, so I have to invent a new way to do what I want to do. I’ve probably made some naïve mistakes, but that’s what you have to do.

AL: Chelsea shows have been the same forever. This is a new concept in an established space. Do you think, if it’s successful, it could be pioneering?

LF: It’s an unusual concept, so I don’t know if it will catch on. But I think it’s a great idea. I would support other galleries that wanted to try it. I never understood why the art world was so territorial. Aren’t we all trying to do the same thing? When you start talking about money, that’s when the competition comes in.

AL: How do you see yourself fighting that territorial aspect of the art world?

LF: When I came into the art world, I was a young kid. I was really intimidated by the Chelsea galleries. They were cold to me. I want to create a space for the kids who are curious. Why would you turn someone like that away? I tried to make Home Alone more of a hangout than a gallery. If one kid comes for a free beer, but gets really excited about making art or starting his or her own gallery—I think that’s really cool.

AL: Is it keeping the culture alive in some sense?

LF: Oh, yeah. You have to encourage kids to do their own thing. They can’t just sit around making the kinds of things that are going to be shown in Chelsea. Start your own movement. And kids need a place to talk about their ideas. Art is [about] growing up with your peers.


"Kids are unpolished. They’ll stay out until 4 in the morning and talk to each other and try to take over the art world. I love that kind of thing. Kids fucking up the system—to me, that’s great."


AL: What are the challenges you see for young artists?

LF: With the Internet, everything is so transparent. It must be hard for younger kids not to compare themselves to their friends. If they see their friend selling something for $20,000 and they’re only selling theirs for 10, I don’t think that’s healthy. They won’t be able to concentrate on making the work.

AL: What is your relationship to money?

LF: I have a very funny relationship to money now, especially money in the art world. I understand that it needs to exist, but it’s hard for the art world to thrive. I probably can’t afford the art that’s being shown in the gallery, but I get to hang out with it for a month. For me, the exposure is more important than the money. I just want to start a conversation.

AL: Is the role of curator fulfilling creatively in the same way making art is?

LF: Maybe more so. I get more out of supporting other artists than I do supporting myself. I’m not very ambitious. I don’t really consider myself an artist; it’s just something I do. If I get asked to do an art show, that’s cool. But if I confirm that I’ll be showing an artist that I’ve been trying to get for months, that’s like, “fuck yeah!”

AL: What has been your favorite part of curating?

LF: Hanging an art show is more satisfying to me than anything. I always tell the artists to not worry about the art they give me. My job is to make it seamless. They get to make whatever they want to make, and I figure it out. And I’ve loved experimenting with how the show is going to look. You want the art to get exposure, but you don’t want it to be too conventional.

AL: Is showing artists that you feel are under-appreciated important to you at all?

LF: That’s not always the case. I’ve done shows with artists who have had a lot of exposure. But I prefer otherwise. George Herms is an 80–year-old from California. He’s a dying breed. He’s a photographer, a sculptor, and a painter. His whole life embodies art. I want this show to set the tone for the rest of the gallery.

AL: Are there other curators that inspire you?

LF: Not really, no. But I do follow a lot of little galleries. I like to support the underdogs. These little galleries are the underdogs, and they’re doing really cool stuff. If I was to compare myself to contemporaries, I would compare myself to these tiny, scrappy galleries that are just trying to get by. I’m not trying to compete with a big gallery.

AL: But if that did prove to be the evolution of it, would you be opposed to it?

LF: As long as you keep your heart in the right place. But I don’t think about competing with the art world. I have ambition, but that doesn’t mean making money. It means putting on great shows that leave people scratching their heads. I also want to prove people wrong. To the people who say, “You can’t do that,” I say, “Let me try.”

AL: Have you had to attune your business savvy to deal with those challenges, or are you letting Pascal and Matt take care of that?

LF: No, I do everything. If you’re a smaller gallery, people might be more eager to help you out than if you’re a more established Chelsea gallery. So we’ve gotten a lot of support. But I deal with a lot of rejections.

AL: For all of your lack of pretentiousness and mellow attitude towards what you do, the name Leo Fitzpatrick is one that is known in the New York art world. Are people starting to recognize you for your connection to the art world as much as your acting career?

LF: Kids have come up to me on the street. At first, I thought they were going to talk to me about my acting, but then they said, “We really like Home Alone.” To me, that was the best feeling in the world. I think of acting and the art world as two different careers. And if you’re not going to sell your art, a kid stopping you on the street to say they like your work keeps you going.

AL: How do you go into choosing work for the gallery?

LF: The work has to excite me first. Everything I show gives me a gut reaction. There aren’t any politics to it. It’s not the artist who is hot at the moment. I’d rather show people who aren’t in the limelight, and give them the exposure. I’ll do more research, dig in the trenches, and try to find artists who were forgotten or who don’t get the respect they deserve. Hopefully, the rest of the audience will find it interesting, too.

AL: What you do makes people realize that it is possible not to come from a certain world or scene, and still be able to do what you want to do.

LF: For sure. I think we need to give these guys a little heat. If you can’t compete on their level, and you still attempt to create (whether it be art or a gallery or whatever), that shows that you have a lot of drive and hunger. From the beginning, you’re setting yourself up for failure, but you say, “Fuck, I’m going to do it anyway.” That’s awesome.


AL: You once said to me that the art world needs a grimy side. Do you think griminess can exist in this Chelsea system?

LF: Grimy can mean so many things. I think it’s the youth that will provide the “griminess.” Kids are unpolished. They’ll stay out until 4 in the morning and talk to each other and try to take over the art world. I love that kind of thing. Kids fucking up the system—to me, that’s great. It’s probably a good idea to get on those kids’ sides.

AL: How should they go about that?

LF: A kid just reached out to me from London and said—“Hey, I want to do a Home Alone in London.” You don’t need my permission. You can even use the title Home Alone. I don’t own it. It’s just an idea. You can sell art out of the back of your car and call it a gallery. Just fucking do it, man.


You can catch Leo Fitzpatrick's current curated show, Viewing Room: Richard Kern, at Marlborough Chelsea until December 23, 2015. You can follow Leo on Instagram: @lousyleo. text and interview by Adam Lehrer. Follow Autre on Instagram to stay up to date: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Leo Fitzpatrick and Richard Kern by Adam Lehrer

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

photograph by Miyako Bellizzi

Text by Adam Lehrer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MR: Yeah, I guess.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



The Kid Stays In The Picture: An Interview With Asthma's Benedict Samuel On Acting, Hope, And Redemption

Asthma, which makes its premier today in New York and on streaming services, could be confused with a modern retelling of Godard’s Breathless, but it’s much more than that. Not that there’s anything wrong with putting Asthma in the same orbit of Breathless. Indeed, there is a galaxy of films about the outsider, the fuck up, always fucking things up, profusely apologizing, riding off into the sunset and finding redemption before the credits roll into a blur of black and white words. But Asthma is distinctly original in the sense of its cinematic nuance and its ability to crawl over your skin like warm honey. There is softness to it. It is a romantic film bent on destroying the archetype of a film about romance; whatever that means. Asthma is also the first film of director, Jake Hoffman, who shows an enormous amount of promise in the realm of telling a great story and making it look easy as hell to tell it. Another thing that makes the Asthma star shine the brightest is, well, its star: Benedict Samuel. An extraterrestrial by American standards, Samuel hails from the land down under. There is a strong history of Australian import to the American movie screen, but there is something iconic about Samuel.

Maybe it’s that he’s just cool or maybe because he’s not afraid to show his vulnerability – both things you can’t learn in acting class. In his role as Gus, Samuel shows a generous sensitivity by not making heroin addiction look fun, but where he radiates the most is in his ability to be relatable on screen, despite the tying off and nodding out. Starring alongside actress Krysten Ritter (Breaking Bad, Big Eyes), the character of Gus plays like a magnet to her character’s own suffering and longing. Together they go off on a journey of chaotic and dysfunctional proportions, from the gritty streets of New York City – the late, great poet and bon vivant of Manhattan’s high and low life Rene Ricard makes a cameo – to a hippie hideout in Connecticut’s countryside where a band of misfit musicians will give you major FOMO.

Along the way, we learn a lot about Gus – some revelations seem obvious, but important nonetheless, but some are more shocking, but not shocking when you realize the implications. Whatever the case is, Benedict Samuel was born to play the part. Cast after sending in an audition tape, Hoffman was unsure if he was seeing the actual character or an incredibly convincing actor. When we asked Hoffman if he was surprised by Samuel’s interpretation of the character, he had this to say: "When I saw Benedict's audition I was blown away by both his talent and his take on the character...Watching the tape I thought: that's the guy. That's not to say he did everything exactly how I imagined, rather it was fun to be surprised by his choices, [choices] that were his and felt honest, but always in synch with the original vision and intention."

In today’s cinematic landscape, there aren’t a lot of films where more than one scene gives you that visceral chill. There are also not a lot of films that feel memorable in the sense of capturing the aura of a zeitgeist – one that you can look back on without feeling duped. Asthma has all these qualities and watching it will become an important part of your movie-watching digest – that’s for sure. It also has cameo appearances by the likes of Rosanna Arquette, Iggy Pop and Nick Nolte. Or watch the damn movie for the sake of seeing Samuel’s performance. In the following interview, Autre has a casual conversation with Samuel over the phone while on his way to a cemetery in Australia to have his portraits taken for this feature. We talk about the weather, his acting style, how he prepares for an intense role like that of Gus, working with Iggy Pop, and why redemption and hope are precious things in which to hold on.

OLIVER KUPPER: I hear birds chirping. It sounds like paradise over there.

BENEDICT SAMUEL: Oh man it’s a beautiful day today, it’s gorgeous.

OK: We are in downtown L.A.

BS: Very nice, I love it down there. Where abouts?

OK: We are on Spring street, we’re in the heart of downtown L.A.

BS: Oh grand!

OK: Yeah we just moved our headquarters here.

BS: Oh cool man! I was flicking through the magazine online, it’s such a fucking great mag man.

OK: Thank you! We watched the film a couple nights ago and it’s incredible. You’re really great in it.

BS: Oh thanks man! So you enjoyed the film?

OK: Yeah really enjoyed it. Jake had showed me the trailer about seven or eight months ago and I couldn’t wait to see it. And I’m glad that IFC is putting it out.

BS: Yeah they’re great at supporting films which is awesome. It’s just what the film needs, you know?

OK: Are you going to be at the L.A. premier or were you at the recent private New York premier?

BS: No, I went to the New York premier, just last week. Which was crazy man, I think I was in the air longer than I was in New York. It was real quick.

OK: That’s wild. How was it? Was that the first time you’d seen it in a theater?

BS: No, I saw it with Jake when it got accepted into the Karlovy Vary, it’s a national film festival in the Czech Republic. The first time I saw it with the clean cut and the music and everything, was in the old Czech Republic.

OK: Wow. And that was a film festival right?

BS: Yeah, it’s called Karlovy Vary.

OK: So do you want to jump into this interview?

BS: Yeah man, sure!

OK: So my first question- when did you know that you wanted to be an actor? Was there a sort of a moment where you knew you wanted to become an actor?

BS: It wasn’t like a lightning bolt situation but it kind of gradually happened. I think that interest was encouraged unconsciously by my parents. We went to a lot of theatres as kids, we read a lot of books, and then my brother started acting in school. I look up to him very much and it just seemed really exciting and intriguing. There was a kind of mystery about it that got me hooked. So I kind of followed, over a series of time, my brother into it.

OK: Did you watch a lot of movies? Were there any actors that you were really inspired by or that you sort of looked up to, besides your brother?

BS: Growing up it was more theatre, but I remember secretly Dave and I taped Pulp Fiction on VHS and because we were so young and because it was rated R, we would come home after school and watch this film for like ten minutes before mum or dad got home. So we watched Pulp Fiction over the course of about three weeks. That’s a good memory. And so now I really love the work of Phillip C. Hoffman and people like that who are completely and utterly invested in that world.

OK: So in Asthma you’re working with Rosanna right? She was in Pulp Fiction, was that sort of strange?

BS: Yeah! It was a real trip, you know? She’s a real beautiful, graceful actor and it did cross my mind - like wow! Fuck, here we are.

OK: So you watched Pulp Fiction, but there are a lot of amazing Australian films. The independent film industry in is huge out there. Did you watch a lot of Australian films?

BS: Yeah, yeah I certainly did. There’s one independent film in particular that is a must. It’s called Wake in Fright, and I think it was made in the 70s. But it’s exactly what its title suggests. And it’s phenomenal. But also watching the Edgerton brothers as I kind of grew more into acting and the creative nature surrounding it, those guys were an inspiration in particular.

OK: You went to a lot of theatre, were your parents in the theatre world?

BS: I’m pretty sure they did some amateur theatre along the way, but they’re both high school teachers.

OK: You’ve worked with your brother on a role, is that right?

BS: Yeah, I’m happy with it but it was certainly a learning curve. It’s an interesting process kind of trading notes and scripts back and forth. We’re working on a bunch of stuff at the moment which is exciting. But it’s a slow burn.

OK: Yeah, So I want to talk about your role in Asthma. It was a pretty intense character; I mean do you have a specific method that you sort of employ when you go into a character like that?

BS: It’s always tough to talk about that kind of stuff because in anything really, there’s not just one kind of technique. I always try and come from a place of honesty and not judgment whatsoever and try to talk about something real in a very creative and interesting way. So that’s always my ambition, and hopefully I don’t fall flat on my face.

OK: What’s life like between the scenes, is it hard to get out of character?

BS: I think naturally there are some things that stick with you for a little bit, more so than other things, but I don’t find it hard to excuse myself from the game that we’re playing, you know?

OK: And what was it like working with Jake?

BS: We hit it off immediately, and Jake and I developed a really great relationship. Which is really surprising because we only met over the tape that I did. But we just kind of got each other. I think Jake as a director is really calm and thoughtful. With that energy on set, coming from the person who is driving the scene, it’s infectious. That spreads through the crew. So it was fantastic, I think the world of him.

OK: And that was your first time in New York City, right?

BS: Yeah, I was there for three days driving around in a Rolls Royce, which wasn’t too bad.

OK: What was your experience like, what’d you think of New York?

BS: It was great. The funny thing is that it’s such a beautiful city and I hadn’t been there before. So, I’m playing this guy who’s like the New York fucking institution, and I’m looking up at stuff all the time, going - wow! And Jake’s like, Ben! Fuck man, people from New York don’t fucking look up. They look down. And I was like yeah, right, right, right.

OK: That’s funny. That must have been an awesome experience driving around in that Rolls Royce.

BS: Oh man, yeah I’ll never forget it, it was amazing.

OK: I guess there’s not a lot of movie roles that require you to have quite that great a time.

BS: I wish I got a Rolls for the shoot!

OK: Yeah of course. And what was your experience like, working with the late Rene Ricard and Iggy Pop? That must have been pretty cool.

BS: Yeah, I feel pretty lucky. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. Firstly, working with Rene was just amazing. I didn’t know too much about him until Jake introduced me. I saw his artwork and had heard all these magical stories about him, and once I met the guy he lived up to every one of them. I think he was flirting with me. It was so much fun. He had these slippers that had dollar signs on them, I think he actually brought them himself.

OK: Wow, sounds about right.

BS: But yeah, it’s just such a shame that he couldn’t have seen the film because I think he would have been very pleased with his performance. And working with Iggy Pop was great, he rocked out, he didn’t know any of his fucking lines. The guy was drunk, (laughs) I’m kidding, but it was amazing. It was like working with one of the greats. Unbelievable.

OK: If you had an ultimate role that you would want to, or could play, what would that be?

BS: Um, tough questions mate! There’s not really one role, but one thing that I want to do, and keep doing, is working on the type of projects that allow you to have a collaborative, artistic conversation about what’s going on. That’s where I love to live- in that collaboration, and in the discussion about creating something that is a bit different, a bit skewed, a bit of a different viewpoint into the same story. I just want to exist with good people on good projects.

OK: Yeah! Are you working on anything now in Australia, or are you planning anything soon?

BS: Yeah, I just wrapped yesterday on a short called “Secret City” for Foxtel which is a political thriller, which is very nice. Jacki Weaver is in it, and a bunch of other fantastic actors. Also a show that I just finished earlier this year is premiering on Sunday, it’s a six-part mini series called “The Beautiful Lie” which is based on Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. It’s a contemporary re-telling of that. So yeah I’ve had a good year and a good time.

OK: Yeah, it seemed like after Asthma - after it wrapped - you started getting a lot of roles, which is pretty amazing.

BS: Yeah, well I’m so thankful for Jake because he really could have hired anyone he wanted to. I know that he wanted to hire the right person and I feel very lucky that he thought that was me. I’ve got a lot to thank for Jake.

OK: I mean you’re perfect for that role, it made so much sense.

BS: Thank you.

OK: When people see that film, what do you want them to take away from watching it?

BS: It’s an interesting question because I try and stay out of the way of that kind of stuff because I think what’s intriguing about this film is that it could mean so many different things to so many different people. I had a lot of responses from people coming up like, “I lost my best friend to that drug” and “I have hope now from this film,” while other people have come up and said, “this guy’s a fucking dick” or “I’ve been hurt too.” So I try and stay out of that conversation and let it happen because it’s so interesting that the thing that we all watch in the cinema can mean so many different things and I like to allow that conversation to happen. It’s delightful, it really is. 

OK: Did you watch any other films or was there any research that you did to learn about how that worked?

BS: Yeah, I think I’ve said this in a few other interviews as well, but addiction is a very real, serious thing. I didn’t want to glorify what he was doing and I didn’t want to judge it either. Because there are people who are in the throws of addiction and I wanted to be very sensitive and I wanted to represent it without saying “this is terrible” or “this guy's a jerk.” So I watched a lot of documentaries about heroin and really approached it with sensitivity because I know there are people who are going through this, and thankfully I’m not, and thankfully I don’t know anyone who is. Which is a real blessing. I guess in regard to your question earlier, what the film really is about is a notion of redemption, of hope. And I think no matter what, there is always the opportunity for redemption. It’s just whether you take it or not.

OK: Yeah, the film had a happy ending.

BS: Yeah I agree. I’m glad.

OK: A lot of films end without a happy ending, and you’re left without that sense of redemption.

BS: I think the film really needs that too, because the content is heavy; it’s true, it’s real. I think Jake didn’t compromise himself by allowing the audience to have their cake and eat it too, you know?

OK: Sure! Well thank you so much for your time.

BS: Yeah! I’ll have to shoot up by the office next time I’m in L.A., that’ll be great. I also wanted to mention how fantastic David Myrick is, the director of photography. He became a really really great friend of mine and without him too we wouldn’t have captured all these beautiful things in such a thoughtful way. The way he and Jake worked together was just beautiful. He’s a dear friend of mine, I love him a lot.

OK: It was shot very beautifully, the light was very beautiful, it was very well done.

BS: It was gorgeous, yeah we were lucky to have such great people on board.

OK: I can’t wait to see it in a theater, we saw it in an office but I can’t wait to see it in that experience.

BS: You’ve gotta see me in my undies again.

OK: Yeah, that’s the main thing we’re looking forward to.

BS: I told Jake it should be in the poster, but he didn’t want to give anything away. 


Asthma will make its premier tonight at the IFC Film Center in New York, director Jake Hoffman will be in attendance for a Q&A. You can buy tickets here. The film will also be available to stream on select streaming services. The film will make its Los Angeles premier on October 30th. text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. photographs by Elvis DiFazio, shot at the Camperdown Cemetery in Sydney Australia. Tuxedo jacket: vintage Gucci. Bow tie: vintage YSL. Shirt: Tom Ford. Pants: Models own. Stylist: Michael Azzollini. Follow Autre on Instagram:  @AUTREMAGAZINE



Kill The Clown, Keep The Comedian: An Interview With The Devilishly Brilliant Marc Horowitz

Marc Horowitz is a genius, but he may also be the devil. His work is satanically brilliant. Over the last ten years, Horowitz has performed riotous pranks that have taken on the form of conceptual art and mad marketing schemes that seem at times Bernaysian, but always dementedly creative. He has taken a mule to run errands in San Francisco, he started a semi-nudist colony, he has tried to convince the board of the Golden Gate Bridge to build giant fans to blow away the fog so tourists could take pictures and he spent an entire year of his life trying to have dinner with 30,000 people after he wrote his name and number on a whiteboard in a Crate & Barrel catalogue. And that is only a sliver of his antics. When the stock market crashed, he tried to bail out the banks with his artwork. Today, Horowitz will see the official opening of his first solo show at the Depart Foundation in Los Angeles. How he has never had a formal solo art exhibition in a U.S. gallery is a question that even boggles the artist. Entitled Interior, Day: A Door Opens, the exhibition combines works on canvas and sculptures that took the artist an entire year to create. The sculptures harken back to Roman and Greek antiquity, but if you look closer, you'll notice one statue with a strange smirk, an 8-ball sword thrown through its chest with BRB written on the blade – or you may look even closer and notice that he has included strange cat figurines, artifacts taken from his mother’s home in the Mid-West (she’s a hoarder Marc would later tell us). In the following interview, Horowitz talks about being the weirdest kid in school, selling “poop shoes” to Mormons, and the symbiotic relationship between fine art and commercial art.

Oliver Kupper: You grew up in the Midwest. What were some of your earliest introductions to creativity and art?

Marc Horowitz: My mom enrolled me in art classes from the ages of five to nine. And then I was just a fucking weirdo. I used to breakdance for senior citizens when my grandmother did Meals on Wheels. I organized a breakdancing competition for these elderly people.

OK: How many people were competing?

MH: There were four of us, and about four people watching us—all of whom probably didn’t understand what was going on.

OK: And there was a ghost removal happening? What was that?

MH: I moved around a lot as a kid. We ended up in South Carolina. At that time, Ghostbusters had just come out. I was a huge fan—I bought the cassette tape and I would listen to it all the time. I was very entrepreneurial as a kid. I made a business card that said, “Ghostbusters and Cleaning Service.” My friend and I handed these business cards out—putting them under people’s doors and in their mailboxes. My mom was getting calls at 3 in the morning—“There’s something moving upstairs. We’re frickin’ terrified. Can you come now?” She would say, “I’ll send my son over in the morning. He can help you out.” I’m about eight at this time. I built this homemade box, like a ghost box. My friend Ian and I would show up to people’s houses like this. They would literally look straight ahead and then down to where I was standing. We would do this whole performance—banging on things, making a lot of noise. At one point, we had dry ice. When we were done, we’d ask, “Can we sweep your porch for 5 bucks?” That was my first business.

OK: You said you were entrepreneurial. It seemed like you were verging into some sort of performance art or conceptual art. Did you know you were doing that, or was it purely being an imaginative kid?

MH: I think it was hyper imagination. It was sort of like restless leg syndrome. I had so much energy. My mom refused to put me on Ritalin. Teachers used to say, “You have to get that kid under control.” I was the fucking class clown. Everything that went wrong in the class would be pointed at me. Out of necessity to keep myself entertained, I would make friends in this weird way. One time, it backfired, and there was a good five-year period before high school in which I was a complete nerd.

OK: How did it backfire?

MH: I told everyone at school that there were aliens that had landed in the forest behind the school. I convinced everybody. I got everyone at recess to line up along the fence, and I was just running down the line saying, “Look for the shiny objects!” I was fucking out of my mind. The teachers were trying to break it up. I went to the principal’s office, of course.

The first time I went to the principal’s office, it was the first day of kindergarten. The teacher had to leave the room for an emergency call, and I organized the whole class to hide so that we could surprise her. She was terrified. And when she asked, “Who did it?” everyone pointed at the bathroom. Of course, I was the only one hiding in the bathroom.

OK: You went to school for economics. Where did you want to go with that degree?

MH: It was a minor in microeconomics, with a major in marketing. At the time, I was working in the cornfields in Indiana. Because it was agriculture, I was being paid less than minimum wage--$4 an hour or some shit. I was cross-pollinating corn. All my friends were going to business school, and that sounded awesome. I wanted to make some fucking money. That’s about it.

OK: And then, the Crate & Barrel thing happened. You wrote your name and your number on their whiteboard. Did you expect insanity to ensue after that?

MH: No, I thought it would just be an inside joke. Six people would see it. It was a cascade of events. So, I went on this business trip. I was given fifty dollars a night for food, but I couldn’t keep all of it if I didn’t use it. Which is ridiculous. So I would invite different people out for dinner until I exhausted it. Then, I put up an ad on Craigslist—“Free Dinner.” The morning news picked it up as a story. The next day at work, everyone was making fun of me. They were like, “Oh, what do you want to write on the board, Mr. Cool, Mr. Ad-Guy?” And I thought, “Let’s extend this even more.” So I wrote “Dinner with Marc” and then my cell phone number. I promised everyone on set that I would take everyone who responded out to dinner. I forgot about that shit until I got a call from Jake in Overland Park, Kansas, wanting to go out to dinner. And then it just never stopped.

OK: What was one of the weirdest dinner dates?

MH: There were some fucking weird ones. There was this family in San Juan Bautista with 25 people. There was one here in LA—I met the guy who was the producer of Britney Spears’s movie Crossroads. He was trying to pitch to me over dinner for a movie about a guy that puts his number in a Victoria’s Secret catalogue, and the character goes from becoming a nerd to the cool guy. Some guy ran an obstacle course for corporate people. It was nuts.

OK: It seemed like a convergence of you wanting to get out of the corporate world and other people wanting something fun to do.

MH: It was like a portal. I like to create these situations that take you away from reality. That’s what I do.

OK: You have a marketing background. What do you think the line is between marketing and fine art?

MH: That’s a big question. Can they work together? I don’t think they’re on opposing sides. I think they’re hugging each other. Without marketing, you couldn’t have the art world. The art world doesn’t want to acknowledge that it participates in some of the same things that the rest of the world participates in.

OK: In the sense of being accepted by mainstream media, they seem like marketing strategies for your creative endeavors. When does fine art enter that stream?

MH: I did a project called “Sliv & Dulet Enterprises.” I had this alter ego—Burt Dulet. He had a mullet. He ran this agency with Kyle Sliv, his partner. We created a summer line of products and services. It was artists posing as business people posing as artists. It was very confusing. We set up shop in this gallery in San Francisco. We developed these hijinks. We had a meeting with Golden Gate National Park Service. We were trying to pitch them on the idea to install 75-foot fans to blow the fog away so tourists could take photos of the city and not be disappointed. They were looking around the room and thinking, “What the fuck is going on here?” There was another time, for the signature series, in which I had to sell poop shoes to Mormons. The idea was that it's a pair of shoes that you put over your shoes when you go into public restrooms so that no one knows who's going poop.

Marketing was such an integral part in a lot of these things. If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? It doesn’t. You need eardrums there for it to make a sound. Much in the same way, artists need people to make their work resonate. Marketing played a big role in working these projects, in something like the National Dinner Tour, or working with a group to sell them on poop shoes.


"Marketing was such an integral part in a lot of these things. If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? It doesn’t. You need eardrums there for it to make a sound. Much in the same way, artists need people to make their work resonate."


OK: Your current show is your first solo exhibition. Why did it take so long?

MH: I didn’t even realize it until I was approaching it. I was like, “Holy fuck. This is it, man.” The Europeans entertained me for a while, but I didn’t sell anything, so I was gone. I didn’t need the galleries. When I had an agent, Sony Pictures and MTV were my galleries. They were my vehicles. I didn’t need the traditional galleries. I took a different route. Harrell Fletcher changed the way I thought about art as a whole. I went out and did all of these performances while I was going to school. I was anti-gallery. It’s the capitalist machine. I didn’t want to be a part of it.

OK: Do you think something changed in the art market that made you more accepting?

MH: Things changed outside of the art market. There became too much compromise. In working with companies like Nissan and Sony, I became coopted wholly. I realized that they do, actually, have all the power. I’m left with minimal power. I can re-edit things and present my own version, but who is really making the decisions? That led me to the project, “The Advice of Strangers.” For me, that represented a huge failure. I started grad school at the exact same time. Honestly, after that, I was done with performance. It was too hectic—mentally and physically.

OK: So you had more freedom in the studio?

MH: Yes.

OK: What is the relationship between all the pieces in the show? What’s the vision for the cohesive whole?

MH: I think the thesis for the show is conflating personal history with art history. I went to grad school for two, long, grueling years. Charlie White said, “Kill the clown, but keep the comedian.” It made me clownish. I wanted to cut that part of my practice, which meant severing my ties to video and performance—at least for now. I wanted to go back to the studio, back to my roots—which is painting and sculpture. It’s a return home.

OK: And a lot of your humor is still infused.

MH: The humor is still fully here. It’s also a collaboration with family. My mom is a hoarder, and she gives me these cats and these weird things. We started a photo series where I would photograph all the weird shit she gave me for Christmas and such. I began incorporating elements of the photographs into the sculptures.

OK: People like to describe your work as “Net Art” or “Post-Internet Art.” What the hell does that mean?

MH: I’ve taught two classes on it, and I still can’t answer that fucking question. Personally, I’m on my own island. “Net Art” has become so convoluted. Post-Internet Art especially. That confuses a lot of people. Everybody’s making post-Internet art if you think about it. A lot of the practice had to do with technology—incorporating blogs, Twitter, online audiences. But I wasn’t a chatter. I wasn’t an active community member—I was an outlier. Whatever technology or materials serve the purpose of the idea, that’s that.

OK: What’s next?

MH: I’m releasing my own cryptocurrency in a month. It’s called “H Coin.” It’s live now, but I haven’t officially released it. The value is based on my mood, productivity, and sales. I plug this in every day, and the value goes up and down. I’m selling this series of photographs that I worked on with my mom through this medium. You can play Snake to earn the coin. Some guy played enough snake—probably 40 hours—and got himself a piece. He said, “I just moved to LA. I’m super bored, and I wanted the piece.” He deserved it. It’s been a process. It’s not a true cryptocurrency in that people are solving block chains and shit, but it’s in the vein of a cryptocurrency. Also, I’m having a show in Berlin in February.

OK: Was it a different experience being in the studio than being out in the world?

MH: I was so sick of making film edits and sitting at a computer. I was sick of frame-fucking everything. I wanted to see a direct mark to something physical. You put down fucking yellow—there it is, you deal with that right now. For me, it was a relief. It felt right. 


Interior, Day: A Door Opens will be on view until December 19 at the Depart Foundation in Los Angeles. You can check the exchange rate for the hCOIN here. Text, interview and photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


The New Funkadelic Revival: An Interview With Boulevards' Jamil Rashad On Bringing Funk Back To The People

“Funk is the DNA for hip hop,” George Clinton once said in a television interview, when asked why his music had such staying power. It’s true, funk music is the double helix of sorts for the hip hop that rose from the streets to the top of the record label chain and to a sort of a blanketed commerciality that makes the rap music of today seem very watered down. This is where Boulevards comes in – not only are they bringing back the downhome funkiness of hip hop, they are also making funk music for the 21st century, which is amazing. The best part is that it’s being made from scratch. Today, Boulevards is releasing a self titled EP with four beautifully produced tracks that are awash with tectonic plate shifting beats and a driving, panther-like sexuality. It’s the kind of music that elicits the kind of dancing that might get you arrested. Boulevards is essentially a one man band – North Carolina native Jamil Rashad – son of a jazz radio DJ who grew up listening to the kind of music that would shape his future musical endeavors: jazz, blues, R&B and, of course, funk. Rashad also went to art school and has an affinity for punk and hardcore music. Autre got a chance to ask Rashad a few questions, about his upbringing, his musical taste and about bringing funk back to the people.  

OLIVER KUPPER: I know your father was a jazz radio DJ, do you remember any specific musical artists that you were really inspired by growing up?

JAMIL RASHAD: When I was younger, a lot of the artists were Earth Wind and Fire, Kool and the Gang, Prince, Rick James, Miles Davis, James Brown and Con Funk Shun – a lot of Philly soul as well since my father grew up in Philly.

OK: When did you realize that you wanted to make music…was there a specific moment or did everything lead up to it?

JR: I mean I was 16, maybe 12, I used to write poetry. Those poetry lines turned into raps. I used to freestyle with kids in the bathroom and back of class. So in that moment I knew I wanted to do something with music, I just didn't know how.

OK: You gravitate a lot towards funk music…what is it about funk that moves you so much?

JR: Funk music is special. I love the complexity but simpleness about it. The style, the songwriting and how it crosses over to mainstream. I enjoy the syncopation of the instrumentation, the bass lines and some slap bass. But when It comes down to it, it's the grooves that I love so much and the way it makes me feel personally when I'm on the dance floor. My parents, your parents had funk music when they were growing up for their generation. Now I'm going to bring that feeling back for this generation. People want the funk.

OK: It seems sort of incongruous that you got into punk and hardcore…was that a phase or do you still have a little bit of that punk ethos?

JR: It wasn't a phase, I still listen to some hardcore bands and punk bands. I guess I always enjoyed the energy of their live shows and their instrumentation of music as well. It has always interested me and still does.

OK: What was the scene like in North Carolina….was it a strong hipster scene or cool kid scene?

JR: Raleigh is my home. Its not about being hip or cool. We are just us. We enjoy music, we enjoy live music, we enjoy new things, we enjoy being us and that's what makes Raleigh a special place. So much talent there. So many great things happening.


"My parents, your parents had funk music when they were growing up for their generation. Now Im going to bring that feeling back for this generation. People want the funk."


OK: Let’s talk about your personal fashion sense for a moment, because it's amazing…how would you describe your style?

JR: My style is simple. I'm about just being comfortable. That's really it. My father growing up was a big influence.

OK: Jumping back to your music…your new album is coming out, how would you describe this record?

JR: The EP is cool. I released the songs on my own label, Dontfunkwithme Records. Just have some jams I worked on with some of my favorite producers, Taste Nasa, Isaac Galvez and Rollergirl. They understand the funk. But it's a taste for what's to come in 2016 and beyond. I just want to create infectious jams for the dance floor.

OK: Listening to the track Honesty, it seems like you add a little fade out at the end that encourages DJs to mix it into their rotation, do you see people dancing the night away to your music?

JR: Thank you for that!! I've always wanted people to dance and feel good when they listen to my music. That's all I want. That's why I create the jams, so you can dance the night away with your friends, family and significant other.

OK: What’s next? 

JR: What's next? Just working on new music!! Creating the best music I can create to my ability.


Click here to download the digital edition of Boulevards' self-titled EP here - and the physical version here. Boulevards will also be making a few exciting live appearances in New York in November - more here. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper