Growing Up In Wallace Berman's World: An Interview Of Tosh Berman

BWCH37TBHatLondon.jpg

interview by Jason Schwartzman

Wallace Berman carves a mysterious, counter-cultural figure in the cave wall of Los Angeles folklore. His legend is enhanced by a tragically early death on his fiftieth birthday as a result of an automobile crash with a drunk driver in Topanga Canyon, further cementing his myth as the beatnik of the Southern California chaparrals. There was only one public exhibition of his artwork, at the legendary Ferus Gallery. After the opening, the vice squad got a tip about explicit material in the show.  He was arrested and later convicted for showing lewd and obscene works. There is an outsider quality to his jazz and bebop inspired assemblage work and a Zelig-like quality to his persona, popping up in unlikely places, like a scene in Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider or the cover of The Beatles Lonely Hearts Club Band. In a new memoir, entitled Tosh, Berman’s son opens the opaque curtain on the enigmatic artist through a bildungsroman of the Beat Generation and hippie counterculture, a childhood on the frontlines of 1960s Los Angeles and San Francisco freakdom. Tosh Berman and Jason Schwartzman got together for a public conversation at Skylight Books to discuss his memoir and growing up in Wallace Berman’s world.

 

JASON SCHWARTZMAN: I’m gonna just start with a very simple question, but I am curious, why now did you decide to write a memoir?
TOSH BERMAN: Well, first, it took me ten years to write this book, Tosh, and, I wrote it because a gentleman by the name of Terry Lauren, from Detroit, was editing a special art journal online at the time. Terry Lauren was part of the group, or art collective, called Destroy All Monsters with Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw. He was the other power trio person. He came up to me to ask if I would write something about my father. At the time, it was sort of totally unthinkable that I would even consider writing anything about my life or my family.

 SCHWARTZMAN: Why?
Tosh Berman: Because I was sort of taught by my father not to write about the family, really, in a certain aspect. And it wasn’t like a law type of thing but just something that was not encouraged to share with, um…with you. So, when you leave, don’t tell anybody.

 

SCHWARTZMAN: The memories and the stories in the book, were they all there (snaps fingers) in your head? You’d just been waiting to write them? Or was it a process?
BERMAN: I believe so. I mean, in a sense, my childhood is the most vivid part of my life, so far. It stands out more than anything else in my adulthood, for instance. Though, definitely, as an adult, I find great importance in enjoyment and etcetera, etcetera. But definitely, my childhood had such a vivid stamp on my memory—on who I am—that I still, to this day, feel like a child. I’m very fortunate to have been photographed by my father at a certain age, from a certain time, so when people see me, they think of me at that age. I think the identity of Tosh is very much me as a teenager or as a child.

SCHWARTZMAN: In the book, you're taken out and you're just a part of your parents’ lives in a way that I think is great. But did you feel like a child when you were a child?
BERMAN: Yes. For instance, I would be taken to an event and I would sit on my mom’s lap. I have very little memory of going to childhood events, or children’s parties. All my thoughts are exclusively about going to gallery openings, or going to, you know, Marcel Duchamp’s opening at the Pasadena Museum.

SCHWARTZMAN: I am just so curious about what you were aware of at the time. You know, like you met Marcel Duchamp.
BERMAN: This is my relationship to Marcel Duchamp. I went to his opening and everybody was dressed really nicely. It was kind of a formal affair. When Duchamp, or Marcel, was in a room, his presence was so strong that all the people in that room had their focus on the presence of Marcel Duchamp. At the time, he was still like an underground, cultish figure. But, Marcel Duchamp was such an incredible presence for other artists at the time, not for the general audience, you know.

SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah.
BERMAN: But, to me, I knew he was French. And that made a big impression on me because he was a foreigner. I also knew he was an artist, and he made a sculpture with a bicycle wheel. As a child, the bicycle wheel was so common for any child. I mean, I didn’t ride a bike at all, but I knew people had bicycles, and I’d seen bicycles in comic strips and books, you know. So, seeing the bicycle wheel on the stool meant a lot to me because I totally understood the piece. It’s a bicycle wheel! I didn’t think about it as, “Is this art? Not art?” or an ironic piece of work, or a ready-made. I just knew that it was a bicycle wheel, and I loved that it was a bicycle wheel.

SCHWARTZMAN: Have you ever been star-struck?
BERMAN: That’s a good question. Yes. I’ve been star-struck in a sense. One of my oldest friends is Billy Gray, who was in a show called Father Knows Best. It was a huge show in the ‘50s and early ‘60s and he played Bud. So, when I watched TV, I realized that’s Billy, our friend, and I could not really distinguish between Bud and Billy, at all.

SCHWARTZMAN: What you do in the book, though, you have an admiration, almost, for things that have an artifice...
BERMAN: Yeah, what’s the artifice and what’s true? The one time I was star-struck as a child was with the Rolling Stones. And then eventually, I met Mick Jagger at the T.A.M.I. Show.

SCHWARTZMAN: At the run-through of the T.A.M.I. Show?
BERMAN: Yes.

SCHWARTZMAN: What’s more amazing is that it wasn’t the actual T.A.M.I. Show.
BERMAN: It was a dress rehearsal.

SCHWARTZMAN: You were, like, one of the four people.
BERMAN: My father went to the dress rehearsal. We were invited to stay at the T.A.M.I. Show, but my dad didn’t want to stay for the show, which was fine.

SCHWARTZMAN: Why not?
BERMAN: For some reason, he was not interested in seeing the whole show, I don't know why. Oddly enough, and this is going to go into my dad’s work, he always had an 8mm camera with him, and he was shooting whatever he found interesting. He had the camera at the rehearsals, and this was before copyright, you know, he just shot anything he wanted. And it wasn’t until the T.A.M.I. movie — the T.A.M.I. Show was a rock & roll variety show in the early ‘60s. It was taped at the Santa Monica Pacific, and it was, like, the Supremes, the Stones, James Brown did a famous, incredible performance.

SCHWARTZMAN: Beach Boys?
BERMAN: Beach Boys.

SCHWARTZMAN: All in one day.
BERMAN: All in one day. One time. When the movie came out in the movie theater, we saw it and my dad filmed it from the movie screen. So, it’s interesting that back then, he could’ve filmed it there, in person, but he actually preferred the distance of that world, like a filter.

SCHWARTZMAN: But this relationship to fakeness and Los Angeles, because to me, the book really is—I’m from LA, and you’re from LA—
BERMAN: I’m from Los Angeles.

SCHWARTZMAN: But there’s Los Angeles, San Francisco, London—
BERMAN: Larkspur.

SCHWARTZMAN: I love when we walk around and you say, “That used to be that, that used to be that,” but when I was reading the book, I realized that you were a kid in Los Angeles, but you were in Topanga Canyon and it was forty minutes to get to—
BERMAN: Thirty to forty minutes to get out of the Canyon. It was basically two lanes going in and out of the Canyon, so you’re between Malibu, Santa Monica, and then you have the San Fernando Valley on the other side. Canyon areas are very interesting to me because it’s a very restricted area, you know. You’re, sort of trapped between two worlds. I never felt like Topanga, or any canyon, is the world, it’s a bridge between two cultures or two societies. And, as a teenager, I did not like Topanga.

SCHWARTZMAN: Really?
BERMAN: It was dusty. To tell you the truth, it’s a secluded culture. The whole hippie thing was exploding, and I think the whole hippie culture-world was at its strongest and its greatest for a few months. And then, afterwards, it became a fad people with deep problems are attached to that culture, and Topanga to me conveyed the sour side of the ‘60s. You know, there’s people like Charles Manson in Topanga and stuff like that as well.

 SCHWARTZMAN: You were put off in a way by the hippies. What I love in the beginning of the book is when you talk about your father and music being so important to him. Then, towards the end of the book, it’s all about you becoming a teenager and how much music meant to you. You escaped musically.
BERMAN: Music has always been my escape or my portal to another world, not a better life, but a more interesting life.

SCHWARTZMAN: Growing up, art was a major nutrient. As you, then, became a teenager, were you extra snobby? I don’t know how to say this. You are the most excited and adventurous person that I know. You’re always looking for more new music and new books. You’re always onto something.
BERMAN: I’m really hungry.

SCHWARTZMAN: I often wonder, as a person who was treated like a kid but with all the adults and who was welcome in a lot of exclusive spaces, how you still remain interested in things, and you’re still open to things. A lot of people would be like, “I don’t know. Uh, I saw that in real life, ‘the wheel.’”
BERMAN: Yeah. For example, I had certain taste as a child and as a teenager, but my father had really great taste. He had a great antenna. For instance, he brought in the first Velvet Underground album to the household, and to me that was like weird stuff. There was a song called “Heroin.”

SCHWARTZMAN: You talk in the book, too, about someone, injecting heroin in front of you?
BERMAN: Well, that’s different.

SCHWARTZMAN: But did you ever feel scared?
BERMAN: I felt very secure, very safe. My family is very structured; there was a mom, there was a father, had grandparents, when a lot of people in Topanga were, you know...some of the moms had a biker boyfriend or drug dealer. So, there was a sort of, wilderness. Among all these ruffians, I felt like I was Oscar Wilde.

SCHWARTZMAN: And then, when you got your car, had the music, you would drive people around. Were you always a sharer? Were you always into curating a moment in a way?
BERMAN: Yeah, ‘til this very moment, I am still a sharer. One thing I liked about school—the only thing I liked about school—was “show and tell,” where I think in the first grade or in kindergarten you take something from home and you show it to the public or to your fellow students. I loved that. I loved bringing a record, book, picture, whatever it was at that time, and to this day, you know, I started this press called TamTam Books and really, it’s nothing more than show and tell.

SCHWARTZMAN: There’s a story in the book that I don't fully understand. The Limited Edition story. Can you just talk about that for one sec?
BERMAN: As a child, I had a comic book collection, not as serious as other people’s collections but it nevertheless was my collection. It was Marvel comics that I was into. It was probably when I was like twelve or thirteen, fourteen, something like that. So, I became, sort of, obsessed, like, if I’m gonna get one, of course I have to have issue number two, and of course number three, and even though number four, sort of sucked, I had to complete it. So, I had a good inventory of comics, but not crazy, insane, amount, but a good, honorable collection.

SCHWARTZMAN: Right.
BERMAN: And I had piles. So, I looked at the top of the pile and I noticed on the cover was a stamp, “Collector’s Item,” not from the magazine itself. It was actually stamped.

SCHWARTZMAN: Collector’s Item.
BERMAN: The one below that: Collector’s Item. And, then below that: Collector’s Item. And then, I went to the very bottom, like number one—stamped: Collector’s Item. And then I looked in the drawer—I had a secret stash, unclassified comics that I hadn’t even put in inventory yet—Collector’s Item. So, I’m getting kind of creeped out. I realized every comic book was stamped “Collector’s Item.”

SCHWARTZMAN: You were scared.
BERMAN: So, my dad was home—my dad was always home—looking at the newspaper or whatever, and I said, “Dad, I have to talk to you about something really serious right now.” So, I tapped his shoulder to get his attention, and he looked over and said, “What?” and on his forehead was “Collector’s Item.”

SCHWARTZMAN: And then what was the moment after that?
BERMAN: I didn’t have a magazine collection anymore. I sold it or—I traded all my comic books.

SCHWARTZMAN: Why?
BERMAN: Because, I felt at the time, like it didn’t really ruin my collection. It just brought out how ridiculous it is to have a collection of something. Possession—it’s terrible. To possess something, like, collecting comic books is meaningless and stupid.

SCHWARTZMAN: Was that what it was? Do you feel like it was a lesson?
BERMAN: To me, that comic book collection was very important. But, I totally took the opinion that this is all pointless, you know? Though, it struck me as funny, because he did these really strong, crazy, practical jokes.

SCHWARTZMAN: You never sat down and talked about much. Ever?
BERMAN: Well, not in that sense, no.

SCHWARTZMAN: Right.
BERMAN: We never discussed why he did that. Like, was it funny? Was he trying to teach me something? And that duality is something I sort of lived with, and sort of, had to understand to not understand. I didn’t have a comic book collection afterwards. When you read the whole book, you’ll find pathways and roads. As a teenager, my dad had a collection of View Magazine. View Magazine was the official Surrealist publication in English from Surrealists who moved to New York during the war years. My dad had a complete View Magazine collection and his mother threw it out. I know he was totally upset about it. I think my comic book collection was a similar situation to him, but not like, “I lost my View magazines, therefore, I’m gonna destroy my son’s comic book collection.”

SCHWARTZMAN: You told me a story once, I had left something in a wrapper for a long period of time, and I said, “I’m afraid to ruin it, but then once it gets ruined, I kind of love it.” But then, you said something that really affected my life, where you talked about the mudslide in your home, and things being taken away.
BERMAN: Yes. We had a mudslide in our home, when I was like, ten—two days after Christmas. So, we had a mudslide that destroyed everything. I had nothing. The only thing I had was what I was wearing, and what was in my pocket at the time. So, I did suffer a great deal of physical loss, yes.

SCHWARTZMAN: Can I ask one really silly question? I hope it’s not too personal, while we’re talking about your memoir.
BERMAN: Yeah.

SCHWARTZMAN: Nowadays, when I’m with my wife and children, if we have a disagreement or something, there’s an effort to, you know, “let’s not talk about this now.” In a house, in that situation, how much were you aware of your parents’ relationship?
BERMAN: That’s a good question. Tell you the truth, in our small house I didn’t really notice anything, like, tension. They worked perfectly well together. I mean, to me it seemed like it. There may have been arguments and stuff. When you’re arguing it’s always upsetting for a child, but usually the next day, you won’t remember.

SCHWARTZMAN: Was he [Wallace] regimented? Just because his workspace was at your home, it gets blurry, the lines between when you’re working and not working.
BERMAN: He seemed to be always working.

SCHWARTZMAN: Always?
BERMAN: Yeah. I mean, it’s not like a 10-to-5 type of situation, but he always did work. He was always working.

SCHWARTZMAN: But you always could talk?
BERMAN: Yeah, but sometimes I’d talk and I would just sit there and watch him do his work, and sometimes I’d help him hold the frame. I’d put the records on. One thing he would do is play music over and over again. Like, he played forty-five singles, but I think he liked that format because it’s the perfect song, you know, ‘A Side,’ it had to be perfect. So, what I would do is play something like “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” not once, or twice, but we’re talking like thirty times in a row. I would play Nat King Cole’s “Who’s Next in Line?” over and over and over again.

SCHWARTZMAN: Can you look at the art and separate it from the music or no?
BERMAN: Well, for him, I think it’s a way for him to focus on the artwork. He loved working with music. He also played Paul Bowles’ recordings of Moroccan musicians, which are very chanty, very hypnotic. So, I think a Phil Spector record used in the same format, you know, it was very hypnotic.

SCHWARTZMAN: When you would talk about art or music, could you guys disagree with each other?
BERMAN: No, because we never had discussions like that.

 SCHWARTZMAN: I have one last question for you. What are you reading now, or listening to now, that you’d like to share with everyone now as a recommendation?
BERMAN: Vic Damone’s Greatest Hits. I find it the missing link between Scott Walker and Jack Jones. And, Stravinsky’s very minor work that nobody knows—he did a disco record. (grins)

SCHWARTZMAN: How is it?
BERMAN: Well, it’s for the Ballets Russes, so it’s a very early disco record that he and Picasso put together. I’m the only one who has a copy of this. It’s very expensive.

BWCH10berman025.jpg

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

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

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

interview by Adam Lehrer

photographs courtesy of Darja Bajagić

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

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

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

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

“German Madeleine McCann” (2019)

“German Madeleine McCann” (2019)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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




Oh, La Gaule: An Interview of French 'Gaule Wave' Band Faire

text by Agathe Pinard

photographs by Kealan Shilling

FAIRE are very serious about not taking themselves seriously. Their shows are infused with a raw improvisation that makes every performance a completely unique experience. They just play with the vibe given by the audience and then do their best to push the limits of that relationship. The images from their shows speak for themselves, filled with overflowing energy and rage. Romain, Pierre and Simon make up the French trio Faire, a band emerging from the Parisian underground music scene. Self-labelled as “Gaule Wave,” the band mixes opposing sounds, from ‘80s synthesizers, to punk power chords, to the lyrical stylings of pop chanson.

We had a chance to chat with Faire just before their highly anticipated second show in Los Angeles. They play tonight at Madame Siam in Hollywood, catch them live at 10:00pm for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

AGATHE PINARD: First of all, how did you all meet?

FAIRE: We met at school, we were about 12 years old. There we were, the only guys listening to rock, wearing leather and boots. So we easily found a subject of discussion. 

PINARD: What’s your first experience with making music?

FAIRE: A basement in the center of Paris where we experimented with lots of anger, love, a few cries and lots of laughs. We took it very seriously, being musicians. We were rehearsing between class at least twice a week and started playing live shows pretty early on. 

PINARD: Have any of you ever had any ambitions outside of music?

FAIRE: Not really, except the fact that we love to customize/make clothes, and making videos, drawing, painting and writing. 

PINARD: What’s the meaning behind the name Faire? Did you have any other names you were also considering?

FAIRE: First we thought about “la GAULE” which is the old name for France and it also means to have a boner. It ended up becoming the name of our music: “Gaule Wave.” But we wanted to explore a maximum of different musical horizons. We thought that with FAIRE (meaning “to make” or “to do”), we could mix all kinds of music that we like, surfing between rock, yéyé, Eastern music, trap, techno and more. Also it’s a simple way for us to make music without thinking too much, and just go with the flow of our spontaneous ideas, like a manifestation of sorts. 

PINARD: Do you have any major musical influences?

FAIRE: Yes! We started playing music together while listening to Led Zeppelin, Steppenwolf… and the Motown Records really inspired us when we were younger. Later we let go of the stigma that we had of drum machines and were really inspired by ‘80’s cold wave, and especially Martin Rev of Suicide. French Pop culture influences us too, think Michel Polnareff, or all the old ‘50s songs with those incredible lyrics. Swinging by the US, people like R. Stevie Moore just transcend us. But for real, the list is really long, we’re not even talking about all the African, Indian or South American influences!

PINARD: Are there any non-musicians who inspire your work?

FAIRE: We met the incredible Charlie Le Mindu, the French hair designer who also does exhibitions of clothes made with an infinity of hair. His work is absolutely amazing. 

PINARD: What’s your personal process of creating an album like?

FAIRE: We like to be really isolated in a countryside or on a rooftop in Mexico, as we did with “Le Tamale.” Notice that we never really put out any albums, it was only EPs that we self recorded in our computer. Now we are preparing the recording of our first album, which we want to record live with someone capable to catch our live energy, because that’s where our potency lies.

PINARD: You seem to like using old women’s names as titles, Mireille, Sisi, Christiane, Marie-Louise, is there any particular reason?

FAIRE: We just love our grandmother’s stories and the era that they lived. 

PINARD: You released a very psychedelic video clip of Noizette a month ago, what’s the story behind it?

FAIRE: Some student from l’ECAL, an art school in Switzerland, asked for a song to do a video clip, then pitched the idea and we liked it! For the first time we just let them do what they wanted and received 6 different versions. We had the luxury of choosing the one we thought was the best. This battle between our faces and the Prince was exactly the kind of trip we liked.

PINARD: Is there a show you gave that you will remember forever?

FAIRE: Wow, when we released our EP « Le Tamale » in a Parisian bar people were so excited, and it was so overcrowded that the public was making waves falling down every two minutes on the little three-by-three-meter stage that they kept us from playing long. All our machines got disconnected and fucked up at the same time (it was also because of some spilled beer.) And we had 20 kilos of confetti flying around everywhere. It was two years ago, but we still have some in our synthesizers. It was definitely the best show/non-show. 

PINARD: You’re all super wild and insanely energetic on stage, how do your rehearsals differ from your live performances? 

FAIRE: (Laugh) that’s a good question. We take it really easy and chill, the exact opposite of our live shows.

PINARD: How do your audiences affect the performances?

FAIRE: We started being crazy on stage after some shows in Mexico where people were getting totally crazy, and thanks to them we took that energy, and it morphed us into these uncontrollable beasts. Now even if the crowd is really chill we get into them with all our passion and love, and push them to dance by jumping into the pit.

PINARD: What was it like to play in LA for the first time?

FAIRE: Really great, people were really into the fact that we got the mosh pits going. They weren’t accustomed to it or prepared for it at all. So we were kind of exotic with our craziness. 

PINARD: How was your experience with the city of LA, the American culture?

FAIRE: Pretty interesting, lots of cool vibes and a beautiful mix of various world cultures over there. People were lovely with us, and we met great artists there. Also Simon’s dad is from LA so we had a good introduction to the city. 

PINARD: It’s been more than a year since the release of your last EP, C’est L’été, what are you working on at the moment? You said there is a new album in the making?

FAIRE: Absolutely, we are now preparing new songs to record our first album. It will be released next year, but the date is still a secret. 

PINARD: What are you listening to right now? What was your summer ’18 soundtrack?

FAIRE: Escape-isms, HMLTD, Lil Pump and les Charlots.


Go see Faire play tonight at 10pm @ Madame Siam in Hollywood. You won’t regret it!


Meryl Meisler's Disco Versailles: An Interview

048_78_04_07_leMouche_LeCliqueWhiteParty_LiberaceProtegee_2.jpg

Text by Adam Lehrer

Photographs by Meryl Meisler courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery

What lifts the medium of photography into the realm of fine art is contrast. During the 1970s, Meryl Meisler was a teacher by day and a disco dancing queen by night. She photographed everyday life in Bushwick, and she documented the wild scenes of the discos. In her work you find sobering scenes from an impoverished and crime-ridden city, and yet its inhabitants can be found each night celebrating their fundamental rights. The right to don a more perfect look each night, the right to be a free sexual agent, and the right to dance. Her recent book, A Tale of Two Cities, depicts the stark contrast between the aching realities of life in Bushwick and the opulence of a nightclubbing scene that the artist describes as her Versailles. In these photographs, she channels humanity’s ability to rise above the chaos and revel in the miracle of life. I spoke with Meisler on a balmy day in New York to talk about the state of the city in the 1970s and the sanctuary that was the disco scene. 

ADAM LEHRER: I know your grandfather and your father were both photographers. Was that your initial exposure to the form?

MERYL MEISLER: They were a tremendous influence: their styles and purposes and just that they did it. My dad did mostly family portraits. I have his negatives and large prints. You can see pictures of his brothers, pictures of when he was in the Coast Guard, self-portraits of him writing letters, photos of when he was dating my mother. They were just really beautiful black and white portraits.

Were you already looking at photography as fine art while you were in art school?

I did not, but I saw purpose in it. My last year of undergraduate school I came home and went to see the Diane Arbus show at MoMA. That was the first time I ever saw photography as art. All the Arbus classics staring at me. I was moved. I took a class with one professor in college and he introduced us to documentary photographers and Henri Lartigue. My mindset became “this is art.”

I can see some of the influences in your work because it had some of the poetry of Arbus, but also Lartigue’s glamour. Did you think of the disco as your Paris or your ‘place of action?’

I thought, “This is my Versailles.” I knew disco was a scene that was wild and interesting. But those places were full of photographers so I never showed these photographs. When I did, I was pleased that people found a uniqueness within them. I always felt I had a special eye. I saw things differently. Even as a kid, I would look up at trees and say to friends, “aren’t they the funniest trees?” I capture a certain energy.

Absolutely.

024_78_06_la_farfalle_grace_jones_open_nite_2.jpg

When I was in graduate school, I went to go see a psychic who could read spiritual things in photographs. Looking at a photo of my grandfather, she said something terrible happened with this person. My grandfather took his own life. I think that photographs have a spirituality.

What I really love about your photographs is how well the Bushwick and Disco photos juxtapose each other. New York at that point was in ruins, crack was at its worst, and Bushwick was crime-ridden, but you found joyous moments. Was that intentional? To paraphrase Keith Richards discussing ‘Exile on Main Street,’ were people partying in the face of tragedy?

I realize now I was taking pictures of things I found uplifting because I couldn’t afford to quit teaching. Bushwick was tough. But I also found it to be friendly and warm. Whereas the disco stuff, I wanted to go deeper. There were darker things on the disco scene. As dark as Meryl gets.

What did you prefer about disco, as opposed to punk rock?

I liked the big club, I liked the lights, I liked the fashion, the bathrooms certainly were a lot cleaner, you could dance. I went to CBGBs, but disco was my scene.

How did this reappraisal of your work at the Bushwick bar, Bizarre, come into fruition? 

During Bushwick Open Studios one year I went to get lunch and Bizarre bar owner Jean-Stephane Sauvaire says, “Hello, this is my place!” and he showed me what he was doing there. They didn’t even have a food license yet. And then he showed me the basement that he painted dark and he said, “I’d like to show photographers like you here.” I told him, “I’ve shown in museums and now I’m gonna show in the basement of a bar where they’re stealing stuff off the walls!” and he says, “don’t be such a snob.” 

That’s how you introduce it to a new viewership.

He said, “I want to publish a book.” I’m thinking this guy is out of his mind. I’m thinking okay,  “I want it to be about Bushwick and my disco work, these worlds connect.” He asked to see them  and I just started scanning them. My spouse Patricia Jean O’Brien designed the book and we put it together. Bizarre became my publisher, which is the most bizarre thing. 

030_77_07_25_Studio54_GloriaSteinem_2.jpg
042_78_04_03_hurrahs_feminine_on_floor_2.jpg
021_77_07_andy_warhol_judith_openmouth.jpg
068_77_07_25_studio54_jj_hold_head_2.jpg

Temporary Places: An Interview of Robert Montgomery and Greta Bellamacina

Rob and Greta for Autre_03.jpg

Text by Mazzy-Mae Green

Photographs by Flo Kohl

There is something appeasing about the strong political messages that come through in the works of Robert Montgomery, a Scottish artist who deals in text-based pieces, and Greta Bellamacina, a filmmaker, poet, and actor from Hampstead. In a time of political turmoil, both Robert’s three-dimensional works and Greta’s way of interpreting her surroundings, have cemented their place in the contemporary fabric of London, as they lead a new wave of literature and poetry

Greta and Robert have been composing poetry together since the first day they met and, just over a year and a half ago, started New River Press, a poetry-publishing house in London that bears closer resemblance to an indie record label than it does to a traditional publisher. Although they run New River from their home in bustling Fitzrovia, they also keep a studio space in the more tranquil area of Bermondsey, which Greta describes as a welcome contrast when it comes to musing ideas as it creates equal variation within their work. 

We catch up with them in a café just down the road from the studio. As I walk inside, they’re sat around a small table in the corner as Lorca, their child and evident creative influence, totters from edge to edge, seeing if there is enough worth tempting down to his level. I’m told to keep a watchful eye on my coffee. 

Rob and Greta for Autre_16.jpg

Mazzy-Mae Green: So, as a question for both of you, maybe Greta you could go first here. Where did your love of poetry come from? Were you around books growing up?

Greta BELLAMACINA: I found poetry quite randomly. I always wrote it before I read it. I started writing from a young age and then only later when I began to study and go to the library did I really start to read poetry. I never called it poetry at the beginning; it just kind of was what it was. But when I first edited a book, I got to read for 6 months to find the best poetry to put into it. It was such an amazing learning curve for me. 

Mazzy: How did you come to find it, Rob?

ROBERT MONTGOMERY: I went to a state school in Scotland, but really had a good English teacher. When I was 12 years old, he would bring his own books from home and give them to kids in the class who he thought liked poetry. He’d come up to our desks at the end of class and say, “Hey, Robert and Donna. I think you guys would like these.” So it started with Siegfried Sassoon and the First World War poets, and then he’d bring in Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes and give them to us. And so I read Sylvia Plath when I was 12 and it blew me away. 

Mazzy: That’s quite an early introduction to Plath…

Greta: I think I read Sylvia Plath when I was 12. I read the Bell Jar and didn’t understand it. Then I read it again when I was 16 and I was like, “This book is my life.”

Mazzy: There is obviously a lot of value in the written word and preserving the written word – was this sentiment something that you had in mind when you started New River Press?

Greta: Definitely. I think we both found the poetry industry frustrating. There didn’t seem to be any regeneration. There seems to be a lot of reprinting and a lot of safe books. As a young writer, I always found it hard to find a place to publish my work. I found it frustrating. And I think also seeing how many incredible poets we knew who had also faced the same thing. It did seem that we needed to find a way of preserving that language - a language that is so relevant now. 

Robert: I mean, I make my living as an artist obviously and I feel as though to get noticed these days you have to really get your own work out there in quite a self-sufficient way. And the poetry world in England is so stuffy. It feels as though the old publishing houses are still run by an almost patrician system. So we wanted to see if we could apply an indie label philosophy to a poetry press. So we looked much more, when we started New River Press, at music labels like Sub Pop than we necessarily did at traditional publishing houses to structure a kind of collective. All the poets get half the money from each book sale. 

Greta: Which is really rare. We went on BBC Radio 3, on this show called the Verb. And we were with this other poet and she was saying how she wrote her book for three years, how she was getting it published by one of the biggest poetry publishing houses, and how she was getting paid £400. And we were like, “Oh my god, how are you going to survive? How are we going to preserve the next generation of people coming in, who probably won’t choose to be poets if they can’t afford to be?”

Robert: And I don’t believe the myth that poets shouldn’t get paid. If you sustain this system where poets don’t get paid properly, you’ll end up with only posh wankers being poets and we want to be carving a new path for serious books and finding ways to fund that self-sufficiently. 

Rob and Greta for Autre_13.jpg

Mazzy: To come back to this indie pop label approach to poetry publishing, do you think that it is working, or do people still need convincing?

Greta: I mean, I’ve been really surprised. I read a statistic the other day saying how poetry sales have risen for the first time in...god knows how many years. We are living in a time of political worry and there’s negative press everywhere. I think that people look to poetry as an almost democratic voice, a sort of easy, automatic voice of its time. With New River Press we’ve done no traditional press. It’s all been on Instagram or online. The amount of people that have engaged with it online and been like, “I want to find out more about it, where can I find out more about the readings and the writers”. I edited this collection of all-female poets called Smear, as a feminist collection, and we completely sold out within the first month. So it does show that there is this very real element of engagement. What do you think?

Robert: Yeah, I mean, I think poetry is an antidote to materialist language. I think that the language of capitalism and news media in the world is so incredibly harsh at the moment that poetry is the necessary retreat into a more spiritual place. 

Mazzy: It’s interesting that there is a growing poetry readership because, in the same way that painting is often associated with old museums and stuffy art, poetry houses are often associated with stodgy and traditional literature. Do you think, then, that there is a new wave of contemporary writing happening at the moment?

Greta: I do! I think we are living in this time where we have a free platform for anyone to write. I don’t think it matters whether that is good or bad. What matters is just that this freedom is given, this freedom to choose, for people to decide for themselves. So you don’t necessarily need to rely on a publisher. You can self-publish your work. It’s a really pioneering time for writers.

Robert: Also we felt that when we started New River, a year and a half ago, that traditional poetry houses were afraid of political writing. For example, Heathcote Williams, who we’re publishing, is really the grandee of British, political, anti-establishment, left wing poetry. He didn’t have a publisher, even though he’s one of the most important poets from the 70s and 80s. That speaks for itself. So we felt with New River that we were carving out a face for political poetry, too. We didn’t know at that point that things were going to go to shit as much as they have over the past two years, so that’s now even more necessary: poetry that’s politically engaged, that is part of the movement for positive social change. 

Greta: Like everything in the art world, it has to reflect the time you live in. It has to challenge the time you live in. I think that poetry is one of the most automatic ways to do that. When I edited Smear, I was really amazed by how honest the poets were in talking about abortion, body image, marriage and motherhood. I don’t think these things would necessarily be the first things people would expect to read when picking up a poetry book. 

Robert: I think there’s a dawning realization in the art world that there has been this lazy disengagement with politics over the last 20 years that has partly helped lead us to where we are and I think artists and poets now see, more than ever, a need to reengage with politics - and I think we are going to see this intensify over the next 4 years.

Rob and Greta for Autre_19.jpg

Mazzy: Greta, how do you feel motherhood has affected your poetry and Robert your practice as an artist?

Robert: Lorca come back over here...

Greta: I feel incredibly refreshed by it. I wrote a lot of poetry about the internal feeling of being pregnant. I feel like no one ever really writes about the emotive side of being pregnant. There’s so much prescriptive writing; you must eat this, you must drink that, you must do this. I’m quite an emotional person anyway, but I didn’t realize I was capable of delving into even more emotion. You feel so connected to other women. I think that’s been really enlightening. 

Robert: We kind of share it. We share those mothering duties. 

Greta: We do. I wrote a poem at Shakespeare & Co.  You were there. It has this line in it that says ‘we are two mothers.’ 

Robert: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know if it’s changed my practice as an artist. It’s changed my life. It’s made me feel happier and part of a new family, like I’m in this bubble of love. I lost my own father a year and a half ago and I was really close with him. Being a dad is really good therapy on that front because I see little bits of my dad in Lorca. 

Greta: And also I think it makes you think about time a lot more. You see yourself on this strange string and you’re like, “I’m there at the moment, and he’s there.” So it does make you feel sort of semi-more connected to the world, but also sort of connected to death as well, which is quite amazing. 

Robert: Ah the fragile thread of mortality. (Comedic voice) We are just barely holding on to the fragile thread of mortality. 

Mazzy: And so you guys live in Fitzrovia, right? 

Greta: We do, in a matchbox flat right under the BT tower. 

Mazzy: And do you then see London as a fertile ground for creativity?

Greta: I do because I think it’s incredibly diverse. We have a lot of friends that live in very non-conventional ways. Having traveled around a lot, for me, London is that one place that really challenges you and it does still have that kind of fresh, young, underground scene. Having said that, just living here is incredibly expensive.  

Robert: If they don’t fix the housing crisis in London, then it’s going to be a fucking cultural desert in ten years because all the young artists, all the young musicians and writers will be outta here. 

Greta: Yeah, I think the housing crisis is petrifying. I think that it is definitely one of the things that fueled Brexit. Not to say that I agree with Brexit, but I think people’s living conditions were so bad that they wanted to shake things up a bit and be heard. 

Mazzy: So in both of your poems there is this recurring theme of the ethereal, of angels, of ghosts. Is this to say that you believe in angels?

GRETA: I love that question! I always love Dreamtime Theory. I feel like the city is a bigger thing. I feel like it’s more of a centralized mind, a centralized heart. So I think the idea of angels for me is the idea that an angel could be a tree, or it could be a person. I think it’s just about having a group voice, a group mind.  

Mazzy: So the angel for you is a collective consciousness?

Greta: Yeah, I think so. That’s my take on it. 

Robert: Yeah I think cities are ancient, sacred places. All of these shiny new buildings in the sky are built on the graves of our ancestors. So there’s this real sense that they are magically alive places. And I am fascinated by that idea of the collective unconscious. I was always fascinated by surrealist writing on the collective unconscious and André Breton’s idea of the collective unconscious and how it mixes with the romance of the city. I think I was a slightly haunted child. 

Greta: I said this to Rob the other day, but I feel like you could almost survive just off sunlight. I love the idea that the plants, the trees, the flowers, the land, that they’re always being renewed by sunlight. And in a way I kind of see that as a symbol of angels. It really is that renewal that makes me feel closely connected to the ethereal. 

Mazzy: Robert, when did you first decide to turn your poetry into three-dimensional sculptures? 

Robert:  I don’t know if I decided that at any point. I mean, I went to art school to study painting and I read poetry passionately in the library. I tried lots and lots of different ways to make painting and writing go together. From the time I was at art school until now I tried lots of ways that failed, and I just kept trying until I’d bashed out a couple of forms that worked. I started working with billboard space, and hacking advertising space in 1994, right back in art school, so I’ve been doing that for a long time. 

Mazzy: With the projects you were doing in off limits spaces, did you ever get in any serious trouble?

Robert: Hmm.... I once did an illegal billboard piece in Bethnal Green, actually it was in the lead up to Brexit and it said: 

“England is the first lie. England is a lie the invading kings told you to take your actual land from you. This land is your land from the flat Norfolk night to the blue Cornish morning. Just a wild Pagan land with no name and no flag. Just this cold beach that nourishes you/just the wind on this grassland that nourishes you/just the rain on your face in the morning in this blank springtime that nourishes you.”

And for some reason I was doing that billboard and a police van pulled up really fast and five cops got out and they dragged me into the back of the van and...

Greta: He says whilst picking up a baby bottle. 

Robert: ...And I was sure I was going to jail. But then one of the four cops in the van, I discovered I could speak to. He was a bit softer. We started talking and I said, “Look, what I’m doing is public poetry. This is really about how the land should belong to everyone, about how the land should belong to you as much as it should belong to the queen.” I always carried this little book of poems with me if I was doing any of these illegal things, and I took out the book and started showing him some of my other poems. We talked about it for about 20 minutes. He had the other police officers let me go. 

Rob and Greta for Autre_09.jpg

Mazzy: What an incredibly fortunate time to run into a fan of poetry. 

Robert: I just hope as the years go by, more and more police officers will become fans of poetry. I mean, we should start sending them books.

Mazzy: I sense some future billboard plans. Greta, you recently released a film about the decline of British public libraries, and you spoke to a lot of people whilst you were making it. What was that process like?

Greta: It was very DIY. I’ve always been a massive advocate for public libraries. I see them as temples of learning. I know a lot of students who couldn’t afford wifi at home. They went to the library just to get through exams. At the beginning it was meant to be a short call-to-action film. It was almost like a visual essay. So we got Stephen Fry to come in and all these kind of talking heads. John Cooper Clark. Rob was in it. We went to the first ever public library built in Scotland by Scottish miners in 1754. And once we got into the history and started to really research what was going on, I realized quite quickly that it would need to be a feature length film. Just because it was so relevant to what is going on now. There were so many stories, so many campaigns, and so much history attached to every single building. And it felt like to give it justice, it needed to be a longer thing. So it took a year to make and was edited quite quickly and then it launched in cinemas last February. Since that time, the response has been amazing. It’s something that people feel passionately about.  

Rob and Greta for Autre_11.jpg

Mazzy: What effect do you think Internet platforms such as Youtube and social media have had on the written word?

Greta: I think it’s helped enormously. I think it breaks the snobbery around the art form. I think it really lets people decide for themselves if they like something or not. I mean, there is that element of, unless you know what you’re searching for, then you might not find the material you want to find, as well as the whole role of subliminal advertising. But I think for artists it’s so refreshing to break away from the traditional output. 

Robert: Yeah, for contemporary art, it’s definitely a healthy, democratizing medium. It expands the audience beyond the gallery, which is a really healthy thing. I mean I was very optimistic about the Internet as a force for good until I saw how insidiously Facebook was used to manufacture consent for Trump. It’s really making me rethink how positive I think the Internet is as a whole. 

Mazzy: What are you guys working on at the moment? 

Robert: I just got short-listed for the National Holocaust Memorial, which is the permanent memorial to the holocaust that will be built on this side of the Houses of Parliament. So I’ve just finished that and submitted it. I’m also currently doing some paintings in the studio, which is something I haven’t done for a while - so I’m really enjoying that. I’m going to do an exhibition in May in Mexico of some anti-Trump declarations in Spanish.

Greta: I’m currently making my first fiction feature film, Hurt by Paradise, which is this kind of conversation about how society has these rules and ways and if you don’t fit within them then you are an outcast. 

Robert: I’m excited about your film!

Greta: I’m really excited. I’m just finishing the first draft of the script, so I’m hoping to film by this summer. I’m just busy roping in lots of people at the moment. And we’re getting married!

Mazzy: Oh wow, congratulations! 

Greta: We’re really excited. We’re doing it as more of a festival of art and love. We’re not doing any of the traditional stuff. We hate traditions. We’re making our own traditions. We’re not going to have a priest. We’re going to make up our own vows and just say them to each other. 

Mazzy: I just had one last question. It’s not something I’d planned to ask, but I’m suddenly interested in what you might say. Do you have a favorite poem? 

Greta: Oh, I do. My favorite poem is Love Song, by Ted Hughes. 

Robert: So many Lives, by John Ashbury. So many Lives, by John Ashbury. 

Greta: Love Song, by Ted Hughes.

(Laughter)

˚ 

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.


Brutal Beauty: An Interview of Artist and Muse Michele Lamy On Organizing Rick Owens' First Furniture Exhibition

On a cold, rainy night, the day before the private opening, we huddled in the cab of a moving truck to chat about furniture, music and fashion. It may have been a symbolic coincidence that Michele Lamy was in the driver's seat, clutching on to the huge steering wheel, but maybe it wasn't. It's true – although the furniture line is a true collaboration, Lamy does most of the general contracting and she is organizing the exhibition all on her own. But it’s obvious that she is used to it and loves the process, and Rick is happy to take a back seat. 

Despite her diminutive frame, Lamy’s primal and mystical energy seems enough to muster ample kinetic energy to move hundreds of tons of concrete, alabaster and marble. The way she talks (with a thick, rough French accent), gesticulates, moves her eyes - the way her jewelry and stacked rings move with an orchestral clattering - is hypnotic. It is no wonder that the creative class has flocked to her – like an oasis in an indefinable desert of sameness – for the last couple of decades. It's no wonder why she and Rick have become a centrifugal force in the world of fashion and art.

Lamy is anything but ordinary. In some circles, you may know Lamy because of her relationship to fashion and furniture designer Rick Owens. Indeed, there are many clichés to describe her relationship to her partner: muse, alter ego, better half, right hand woman and so on. But more than anything, Lamy is a vital counterpart - a long lost spiritual and creative twin. That Owens and Lamy found each other in this modern artistic wilderness is kismet in the form of nuclear fusion, but it is not terribly surprising. Before the two were globally recognized, Michele owned a famous restaurant in Los Angeles called Les Deux Café and Owens was honing his craft in a studio across the street. While both Michele and Owens are mercilessly creative - Lamy really took the reigns with the furniture side of their output. Lamy almost exclusively heads all production, which takes her on material buying trips around the world looking for rare skins and fur, wood, bone and marble.

Open now at MOCA's Pacific Design Center outpost, you can experience an immersive exhibition of new furniture pieces designed by Owens, but spearheaded and organized by Lamy. A large alabaster wall, marble benches, camel skin ottomans and an ox bone settee - you can move your fingers across and through all the pieces. The furniture is a perfect, brutalist, and antiestablishment vision for a bombed out future where we must carve out our palaces from the ruins of factories and government headquarters. Complimenting the furniture are works by the late sculptural painter Steven Parrino, whose works capture the same anarchy and vision as the furniture. 

In the following interview, we chat with Michele Lamy about the exhibition, her past as the iconic ringleader at Les Deux Café and what she misses most about the Los Angeles she left behind before leaving for Paris with Rick Owens.

BJ PANDA BEAR: How have you been? I’ve been seeing you pop around and I know you’re working on this upcoming exhibition. How is everything coming along with it?

MICHELE LAMY: So, we are almost done. Just finishing up. I like the process so there is a thing that we’ve built and it’s just outside of Paris. We have this big atelier and then we did a warehouse in Los Angeles. For example, we do a lot of pieces in concrete, which is difficult to move, paying for the weight of the concrete for sending on a plane because we are always late. And then we found this great warehouse that’s on Highland and Romaine. Now we move in to MOCA and there is a little bit of adjustment because it’s still an institution, but it’s cool. We can break stuff, we can repair stuff up there, but for example you cannot drink a cup of tea. I don’t know why - it’s just the rules. When you’ve finished building something, you cannot have tea. I’m sure you can come in with a gun, but you cannot have tea.

BJ PANDA BEAR: That's insane! Where did the origin of the furniture come from? 

LAMY: When we move somewhere, we always do the furniture. We moved so many times. A gallery said it looked like a collection so I took it from there to produce it. It turned into two collections. It turned into gallery showings, we have dealers. We just keep doing it.

BJ PANDA BEAR: You’re always so hands on when we see all the documentation of your work. Have you always been so hands on with every single detail and the luxury.

LAMY: Which luxury?

BJ PANDA BEAR: Like all the images of you picking out slabs of marble and everything.

LAMY: Yeah you know I completely fell in love with doing this. The material, and there is something about the story behind making the pieces. We have a collection where everything is coming from Pakistan. In another collection, we are finding camel fur in the Empty Quarters desert in Abu Dhabi. But everything is produced just outside of Paris. That’s just where we find the right people.

BJ PANDA BEAR: What type of music is inspiring for you? What have you been listening to lately?

LAMY: I’m very into techno, house. I love radio stations, but now they are so lacking. There were so many and they’ve disappeared. I listen here on the internet from France like continuous house music, but I like LSD from A$AP [Rocky], I like his music.

BJ PANDA BEAR: You and A$AP are close, right?

LAMY: Yep. We just did a performance together at Art Basel Miami. It was fantastic. I was so happy. It was in the Design District on a roof. Silencio, a club from Paris, opened it. It was this space and it was a performance with Caecilia Tripp. Where you never see her, but she is there. We were there. It was a nice courtyard in the design district, so the location was good. It was not a hotel, it was more its own space.

BJ PANDA BEAR: When you were laying out and organizing the exhibition, was there a central focus or drive for this particular project?

LAMY: Yeah, There was a special focus. The one thing is the prong. It is represented everywhere even if you don’t see it, because it’s the way that we attach a bench of six meters – by two prongs, there is flow. It is floating. It looks like you need to hammer something, but it is about floating. The paintings are hung on the side. The space was sort of difficult, because it is very high and there’s not so much space on the first floor. Then we made this huge wall in alabaster that is a weeping wall. That piece - you know, I did feel good because coming to LA, I was sort of seeking a home, found the right warehouse, and then we were able to make this space our space. And changing the dynamic of the space, that’s usually what I’ve seen is always a challenge.

BJ PANDA BEAR: You’re used to transforming spaces, right? Your place in Paris doesn’t have a specific living room, or even a specific kitchen.

LAMY: Right right.



BJ PANDA BEAR: It is often said that you are the muse behind the show, but also that you’re kind of spearheading all of it. What are your personal muses and inspirations for design? Do you have a muse yourself?

LAMY: I don’t know what a muse is in that way. When you are with someone and you are doing things together and people say that because it is too difficult to say what exactly it is. I’m sure there is something I am inspired by. I’m old enough that all of these pieces of inspiration are melting into something more personal for me. People I admire is more because they have the guts to do what they’re meant to do and especially now with what just happened in the election, I think people have to be strong and do something they believe in.

BJ PANDA BEAR: Since this is like a comeback to LA for you, have there been any restaurants or places new here that you really love?

LAMY: I came a couple of times to do this exhibition. So I’ve had time to visit many places here. This time around, I live at the Chateau. When I was with Rick, we lived for two years at the Chateau, because we got attacked at the house we lived in. I have some friends and I gave them a tour of Traction Avenue and where there used to be factories are now galleries. I am really, really happy to see that little part of downtown – it is still the same, sort of, like SCI-Arc is still there. It was always good, except Al’s Bar is closed, but American Hotel is still there. They always say there was no one there before. They were there. We weren't so underground, but the prices were different. I always liked Little Tokyo and Koreatown – and Korean baths! My favorite thing, I think they are better here than in Korea. Of course the beach, it is beautiful. I was at the beach for Thanksgiving. There were not many people there – just people skateboarding on Venice Beach.

BJ PANDA BEAR: Can we chat a little about Les Deux Cafe or is that something you’d rather not? Cause I’ve heard so many stories.

LAMY: You know it was fantastic. It has been like twelve years of doing this. It was great, it was a time. Me and Rick were living across the street. Now it’s set to be demolished in a few months. Everything there is going to be demolished because it is going to be a mall. Another mall.

BJ PANDA BEAR: That’s so nuts…

LAMY: You know there has been a story in Another Magazine written by Chris Wallace who was a maître d' at Les Deux Cafe. Then we had this great artist, Konstantin Kakanias, who did these drawings, because at the time people did not have cell phones so it was preferential to taking a picture. And because it was a private place, the drawing was so much better to help tell the stories.

BJ PANDA BEAR: I love hearing the stories.

LAMY: It made it even better. There was no Instagram. Can you believe? It was so long ago. It worked though, we had so many great stories.

BJ PANDA BEAR: They’re so epic. I don’t even know if some of them are real.

LAMY: That was a very great time.

BJ PANDA BEAR: Are you going to be spending more time in Los Angeles? What took you guys so long to come back? Does Rick ever come here?

LAMY: You know before this MOCA story, we never came back. Rick you know, he is not coming for the exhibition. We don’t want to be analyzing all of this, but at the same time it’s a lot of things that are happening so he decided not to come here and let me do all the work alone. I know that next year, we are going to be in Europe a lot. Lots of time in Venice for the Biennale, so it seems like these things are happening and then Rick is going to our show in Milano. But I feel very at home in New York.

BJ PANDA BEAR: In New York, really? I’ve heard stories about Rick not liking New York. Does he ever go there?

LAMY: Yeah he doesn’t come there.

BJ PANDA BEAR: I was going to ask about the crystal and foam you’re planning on working with. How did you guys get involved with that kind of material?

LAMY: One thing to the next. Right now in this show, there is foam. The main thing in this show that changed the old perspective is a big wall of carved alabaster - the weeping wall. That is so heavy. There’s a lot of totems. It’s difficult to explain without seeing it.

BJ PANDA BEAR: Can you talk a little bit about Steven Parrino’s work in the show?

LAMY: It started because we are doing a show at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. It was a Carol Rama show and they asked us to be guests with our furniture. It was this combination because there is something on the wall, and then something on the floor. So then when Phillipe Vergne asked us to do a show, we thought it would be nice to work with somebody, and who is better than Steven Parrino? I know that we always liked him and his work is very related to our work. Lot’s of canvases that you think are collapsed, but are actually very controlled.

BJ PANDA BEAR: Did you get to meet him when he was around?

LAMY: Not at all, because all the years he was in Europe, I was here. I did know about him. I could have met him in Paris, but I didn’t. He was more known in Europe than in the States and he had a lot of collectors in Geneva. Did you like his work?

BJ PANDA BEAR: I like his work and his minimalist sort of nihilistic work. It reminds me a bit of Alan Vega’s work from Suicide and I like that deconstructed sort of connection between music and fashion.

LAMY: Steven Parrino’s work is very connected to those worlds. It speaks very well to this show at MOCA.


Rick Owens: Furniture will be on view until April 2, 2017 at MOCA Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles. Interview by BJ Panda Bear. Intro text and photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Creepers: An Interview Of Up And Coming Artist Daniel Boccato

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

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

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

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

LEHRER: Did you want to be a rockstar first?

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

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

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

LEHRER: What is Brazil’s popular music?

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

LEHRER: What got you interested in visual culture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


There's No Place Like CHARLIEWOOD: An Interview Of Cult Hairstylist And Artist Charlie Le Mindu

text by BJ Panda Bear

Charlie Le Mindu recently presented CHARLIEWOOD at the Faena theater during Art Basel Miami, the second performance that debuted in Paris at Palais de Tokyo. The Barrett Barrera Projects produced show was a surreal walk through his vision of abstract sexuality that was anything but binary. With a host like Lady Fag and an opening act by drag terrorist Christeene, it was equal parts queer shocker and electro gold. Watching the performance took the audience’s minds out of anything they had seen, there was no turning back from the master craftsmens vision that was expanded by endless spills of tequila. 

Charlie has long had a history as the go to Haute Coiffure, crafting hair and wigs with in the realm of surreal otherworldliness, this extension of head pieces in motion spoke of a necessary need provide movement and life to the meticulously crafted works of art. Autre got a moment to find out what provoked Charlie’s expanded vision. 

Autre: How did you get involved with this project? How did you create it?

Charlie Le Mindu: I don’t know. No, I’m joking. Basically, with my gallery and my agent, Barrett Barrera. It’s a show I did at Palais de Tokyo and I wanted to make it a traveling show so we decided to do it in New York and in Art Basel.

Autre: How did you conceive the concept initially?

Le Mindu: You know, my inspiration is people like Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy, surreal painters and what I wanted to do was bring their paintings alive. You know? So that’s what I tried to do.

Autre: And what was the most technical piece of costuming that you did?

Le Mindu: I guess it’s the last one with the fiber optic. That was intense, yeah.

Autre: Awesome, overall how did you get involved with LadyFag and all that?

Le Mindu: Well it’s people that inspire me so I guess it’s great to work with them always and it was a good opportunity because my gallery asked me if I would want to work with them

Autre: How did the dances come into it?

Le Mindu: I mean some of the dance stuff came from different cabaret in Paris. I’m not allowed to give the names, but one of the good sexy ones in Paris and just I just chose the people for their body and their mentality.

Autre: I think that’s amazing that you used Christeene and you had various body shapes and everything

Le Mindu: Yeah, you know in my performance I tried to show different kinds of beauty and what inspires me.

Autre: Love babes, Thank you!


You can learn more about Charlie Le Mindu here. See photos from CHARLIEWOOD in our daily diary. text and interview by BJ Panda Bear. photograph by Patrick McMullen


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

text by Summer Bowie

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

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

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

Double Diamond Sun Body: I grew up in Seattle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double Diamond Sun Body: I was playing bass.

Bowie: And when did that start?

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

Bowie: Wow, what kind of music was that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bowie: Heavy.

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[laughs]

Bowie: Yeah. Awesome, thanks so much.

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


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


The Girl In The Picture: An Interview Of Performance Artist Martine Gutierrez

Martine Gutierrez - a name that fits the glamour.  I met Martine about ten years ago during a MICA pre-college program.  We were both sixteen and as I remember, she beamed.  Tall, colorful clothes and gender-ambiguous, us suburban kids were pleasantly perplexed.  She had supermodel looks and a bright and bouncy personality; it’s almost as if she had a gravitational pull, her particular brand of sexiness notwithstanding.  When you’re that age, it’s hard to know why you’re interested in something.  You mostly go off of feeling or intuition to guide you but you know when something is good and right.  Martine seemed to possess both a deep sincerity and gentleness combined with the ability to laugh at oneself and be direct.  She embodied the human spirit, thoughtful and kind, goddess that was both retro and future. To my young mind, this was what was good and right in the world.  Seeing her recent work, this still rings true and it comes as no surprise that others have been just as enchanted.  Martine has been featured in numerous magazines including Interview, i-D, PAPER, and Vogue.  She is represented by Ryan Lee Gallery and recently opened her solo show WE & THEM & ME at CAM Raleigh. She continues to be herself against a world that can be damning, slow on the uptake, and the results, like herself, are flexible in context and challenge ideas of what it means to be a woman today.

AUDRA WIST: I see you using your body in a positive way that's both direct and sensitive, which is something I feel like doesn't happen so much. I see a lot of pain and suffering being expressed, but I wondered if you think about circumventing that pain and suffering instead of just reflecting it back.

MARTINE GUTIERREZ: The fear of stigma and labels is definitely still an underpinning of mainstream media, affecting all of us since we’re all constantly surrounded by it. I put added effort into looking hyper feminine in my work, but for someone like me that’s also a process of my everyday life. It’s easier and safer to “pass” in public than to go to the grocery store with scruff and breasts. But fem pressure really affects all women.  Hair styling, uncomfortable shoes, makeup, objectifying ourselves…but for who?  If we’re aware of the male gaze, who are we dressing for and why?  These are some of the questions I feel affect my choices when performing characters.  

I think one of the recurrent personas my work’s been spiraling around is that of the ‘Supermodel’. She physically embodies ethnographic ideals through the eyes of the oppressive culture on a hyperbolic level.  The Supermodel isn’t just skinny and tall—she's epitomized as perfection.  It’s all so ingrained within cis culture that anyone who is Trans or non-gender binary is forced to maneuver though the Supermodel propaganda as well.  No matter the trends or decades, “feminine” or “masculine”, its all just drag— accentuating features that are culturally assigned as female or male.

WIST: Yeah I’ve always thought that way about how contouring has been appropriated by mainstream entities like Kim Kardashian. That’s drag. Contouring is drag.

GUTIERREZ: Oh yeah, the Kardashians are like nude drag queens.  Kim has had more surgeries than most of the T girls I know.  That family is pumped, beat, and woven just to sit in the kitchen—there's no separation between home glam and the red carpet.  It's like a lifestyle of perpetual photo shoots and it’s amazing.  I mean I personally don’t have the stamina; I don’t like wearing makeup or the feeling of it.  But I think that also comes from the pressure to feminize, more now than ever—to pass when I'm on the street.  I began hormone replacement therapy on New Year’s of last year and my beard still grows, so I will wear makeup if I'm really trying to pass, and even then when people look at me I feel like they’re examining the makeup and what its covering.  Even with cis women who have a lot of makeup on riding the train, I’m guilty of studying.

WIST: The question I have that pertains to this is because you are beautiful and modelesque, it does feel like you have a keen awareness of that position or role that you take up of looking a particular way.  What do you think the relationship is between fashion and art?

GUTIERREZ: First off, thank you for calling me beautiful! I think I'm connected to fashion media and merchandising media subconsciously, in part because it was at one point an avenue I really wanted to be celebrated in. I remember being a teenager and watching ANTM and wanting to be on the show so badly, and studying—taking notes. I was 18 and printed the paperwork on my mom’s printer with a friend and she was like, “Do it, you could win!” and we’d scream and giggle like dreams were coming true; but listed at the bottom of the application was a requirement that you were female, so I never sent it in.

And at the same time, I would do photo shoots by myself at home, or in the woods, or in parking lots, trying to master what exactly made this look legit and glossy. I wanted the budget and the lifestyle—the whole fantasy. I wanted to be Richard Avedon and Nastassja Kinski with a boa constrictor coiled around her naked body.  I had a brief stint with the fashion world right out of college and realized the glam was just merchandising.  For the major houses it's all just clothing that’s being shown to us with a halo of light around it.

WIST: I don't want to put words in your mouth but it seems like you’re concerned with the mechanisms behind what we want in that context instead of just saying oh, this is cool, this is trendy, boop.  Also you’re an autonomous person in the world as opposed to Gucci.

GUTIERREZ: In the beginning, as I began to call performative actions art, the work became more than just self-portraits—my aspirations began to build the rhetoric behind it.  I also simultaneously started going into the world with a much louder appearance.  I was introduced to queer theory and ‘gender-fuck’ and started sporting face paint, red and turquoise hair and bright mismatched patterns—teen gender rebellion antics.  I wasn’t comfortable with other people taking my portrait for a really long time, which is in part why I started developing the skills to execute all the aspects of image making—hair and makeup, setting and lighting.  It took a long time for me just to be comfortable and trust other people behind the lens, to allow someone else to take my picture.  

WIST: What do you think the line is between narcissism and self-reflection or productive use of your body and self-aggrandizing?  Or is there a line/does there need to be a line?

GUTIERREZ: I think it’s just perception, unless the artist themselves has made a statement that they’re a narcissist or the artwork is about being obsessed with themselves.  I don't think about narcissism when I'm making my work and maybe it's partly because on numerous occasions I have been right next to gallery goers at my own show who talk about the “girl in the picture,” with no idea that she is me, or that I was born male. That person in real life and this person in the image are rarely the same person, and that degree of separation is crucial when I hear them chatting about my “very flat chest”, or asking “why does she have a mustache drawn on?” I’ll be standing beside someone visual probing my body, and I'm just like, This is insane!  I don't even have to wear sunglasses and they don’t recognize me! So at the end of the day I'm not even taking pictures of myself—I’m taking pictures of another woman.

WIST: I feel the same way in terms of the artworks I’ve made.  I don't feel like myself totally - it’s like projections of myself or people or things that we might all experience, or I hope that these are things that are others people’s experiences and feelings of the way they look or they act. I don’t know where I came up with this hypothesis, but I want to say that your parents were pretty accepting from an early age. Is that true? Or am I making that up?

GUTIERREZ: Yeah. Well – my mom was and my dad is still an ongoing conversation.

WIST: So do you think that has affected your self-perception?  Again, I’ve gone through the same thing of having to tell them that I'm a sex worker and it ended up with my dad being more supportive than my mom at first.

GUTIERREZ: I think it was crucial in feeling supported at a young age, because it took a long time for me to meet people that I felt expressed themselves in the same way that I did, or in parallel ways with diverse pronouns and greater self-awareness, or people who had already been on hormones for years. It’s not just Avril Lavigne, Misunderstood syndrome. It’s like, on top of trying to navigate my own self-awareness, anyone who is of Trans experience is simultaneously dealing with the binaries of sexual orientation. The reality is that the same cis guys who used to call me a faggot on the street now slap me on the ass. I have no way of knowing if the guy who is attracted to me, that I meet randomly on the street or in the club, will turn around and hurt me once we’re feeling each other up. It’s so much easier for me to interact with other women. With men I need to be forthcoming from the start in a way, and it should not be my problem that some rando is insecure about his own sexuality, but he could turn around and kill me and throw me in a dumpster. It’s real, and it’s terrifying. Cis men are terrifying—cis white men have been the worst.


"I’d love it if gender could be seen outside of the LGBTQ community as a possibility, not just assigned or borrowing from the binary.  Club kids have been living that ideal for years, punks and drag queens mainstreamed it, today’s queer community embraces it, and the fashion world always appropriates the philosophy as a fad or style inspiration."


WIST: How do you see the role of Trans artists changing in the context of history i.e. Vaginal Davis, Greer Lankton, and even somebody like Orlan who isn't a transgender woman but has been changing her looks for years now?

GUTIERREZ: I think it’s really important for the younger generation. It would be amazing to see artists of gay and Trans experience be referenced within the context of history and art history; it just doesn’t happen unless you pursue something like Gender Studies, specifically in higher education. Trans women still face violence and fetishism, manifested physically on the street or quietly in the workplace. This is especially true for Trans women of color, who are cast outside the norm as a concentrated minority within their own minority. But I’d hope that with time the work of Trans and non-binary artists will stand to represent much more than the identity of the maker. Academia and media needs to stop othering artists as ‘gay’, ‘trans’, ‘black’, ‘Latino’, ‘Asian’ etc.– it’s like, they’re also people of broad subcultural experiences. We’re definitely not there yet.

WIST: Yeah, I feel like the people I listed too I think are considered to be playthings?  They’re always shown in the context of some lightness, when the actual experience is pretty serious.  You go through shit when you’re a person working with your own body and it seems to be shown in this light teehee way.

GUTIERREZ: I’d love it if gender could be seen outside of the LGBTQ community as a possibility, not just assigned or borrowing from the binary.  Club kids have been living that ideal for years, punks and drag queens mainstreamed it, today’s queer community embraces it, and the fashion world always appropriates the philosophy as a fad or style inspiration. That appropriation is a huge disservice, and makes me skeptical of all the “progress” people keep yammering on about. I naively thought transitioning would be easy or seamless but I was so wrong. I mean, the concept being simple as an individual I think is true, but the reality of living in our world in a body that is beginning to reflect “feminine” versus “masculine” in a binary way…. I'm being treated completely differently.  It’s definitely a new awareness—of everything.  It's the treatment of women's bodies that is so different.  I mean, it’s not difficult to literally be a woman because I have always been one. I’m just not used to being groped and stalked and catcalled to this extent.

WIST: Yeah, that must be a total trip. Welcome!

GUTIERREZ: It’s crazy, and I'm not even dressed in a provocative way when it happens.

WIST: I think it's because a lot of straight men do not know what it’s like to be penetrated. The gaze is penetration. It’s funny; a lot of the men that I have been with aren’t necessarily kinky or BDSM-minded. I think they recognize that after meeting me they are “safe” or safe to let their guard down a bit since they know I won’t judge based on their sexual interests. All of a sudden a switch goes off and I get a flood of interesting texts. The tables are turned and even the sounds that they’re making in bed, sheesh. I feel like if more straight men could give in—

GUTIERREZ: If anal stimulation or getting pegged were socially celebrated as being really masculine and manly, we’d be living in a different world.

WIST: I think that too! It would create a different, more balanced vibe.

GUTIERREZ: It’d be like ancient Greece where they didn’t use the label gay. Men had sex with men and women.  Men could be each other’s lovers—and they were! That’s why the 300 soldiers fought so hard in battle, because they loved each other.

WIST: Because there was a real emotional bond and vulnerability!

GUTIERREZ: It didn't make any of them less of a man. I mean, you would think two really masculine guys, whatever that means… I guess really hairy, buff, and…I'm going into bear territory. Like, who are the manly dudes everyone has a crush on? Zac Efron and…

WIST: Zayn!

GUTIERREZ: Omg yes! You would think that these two men Zac Efron and Zayn…

WIST: Could get each other off!

GUTIERREZ: Yeah, you would think two dudes, dude-ing each other around all ruff, pounding one another other all night would be manly! But no, culturally somehow that makes them feminine and by default weak?

WIST: I know it’s crazy. Not one, but two dicks!

GUTIERREZ: Isn't the phallus manly? Wouldn't adding more testosterone be more manly?

WIST: Oh man, I totally agree. More men need to be fucked. Or be okay with being in the grey area. But like you said, things take time. We need more public figure examples of different types of “other” because then it just becomes more varied and people can realize there’s more than just one type or two types or whatever the fuck of an idea they have.

GUTIERREZ: Laverne Cox is amazing. Thank god her voice is out there. She's so smart and beautiful.

WIST: Yeah I can’t think of anyone else off the top of my head besides her, but maybe it’s gonna be you. I could see it, I would love it! You’d be great; it’d be a full circle for you.

GUTIERREZ: I am definitely captivated by celebrity and the media that surrounds people who are spectacles, but truthfully, I don't really like performing live and anytime I do (which has become more and more rare) I end up hiding from people who compliment me. I don’t know if they are necessarily fans, but if I don’t know them it just makes me so uncomfortable! I would much rather release things onto the Internet and send them into the ether like a message in a bottle.  

WIST: What excites you the most about making work today in 2016?

GUTIERREZ: That I'm older. I'm only twenty-seven years old but I feel like I’ve purged a lot of idealism out already. For a long time I have been living fluid concepts of gender with an awareness that the space between the binaries is the only place to find complete freedom. I didn’t want to necessarily hit people over the head with these themes. I wanted the viewer to walk away with some new awareness about their own perceptions of gender and sexual reality—and I still feel this way. People need to question themselves and be confused. That’s how we grow and evolve. Confusion is good, and so much more self-reflective than giving someone a summary of what it is that they’re supposed to be taking away from the work. When you’re left confused, you have to keep thinking.

I feel like I was using a lot of cis mechanisms and like I said before, the Supermodel was very much an influence. I didn’t fully understand when I was still going by Martín that my fem aspirations were so controlled by social aspirations. Society’s importance for women to look a certain way built the Supermodel, not me. I knew this and still I wanted to be seen as her. I know now that she’s begging to be rebuilt. I wish I had this awareness years ago, but I know now. Today is better.


Martine Gutierrez's exhibition "True Story" will be on view until December 11, 2016 at Faye G., Jo, and James Stone Gallery, 855 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. text and interview by Audra Wist. photographs by Martine Gutierrez. You can explore more of Martine's work on her website or follow her on Instagram: @MARTINE.TVFollow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


The Interminable Apprentice: An Interview Of Fine Jewelry Designer Elie Top

Elie Top may just be one of the most glamorous men in Paris. Working silently under the likes of Yves Saint Laurent before his passing, and Alber Elbaz for Lanvin before Elbaz left the helm of the fashion house, Top has gained a keen and sharp insight into the world of luxury jewelry and accessory making. Elbaz’s exit was a perfect excuse for Top to take what he learned as an interminable apprentice and start his own eponymously named label. His new collection, entitled Mécaniques Célestes, is an insight into the ornamental aesthete’s lifelong fascination with all things baroque, classical and talismanic. Gold, diamonds, precious stones and other metals reinterpret the armillary sphere – tiny universes atop a finger, atop a breastbone; perfect and encapsulated. When we met Top, we ambushed him with an interview proposal during a cigarette break from hosting his recent pop up at Maxfield’s in Los Angeles (it was his first ever visit to Los Angeles). Our conversation oscillated between his memories of working with Saint Laurent, his love for jewelry and his new collection.

SUMMER BOWIE: So when you were much younger did you know that jewelry design and accessories were going to be your career path?

TOP: What do you mean by younger? Which age? [laughs] 

BOWIE: A child.

TOP: When I was really young I was more into architecture and was sketching very precisely in a maniacal way. Mostly churches and castles. I was very inspired by the 18th century French style and Italian and Austrian things, and was very obsessed with the Baroque period. So not very modern.

BOWIE: Where in France are you from originally?

TOP: I was born in the very north of France, close to Belgium in the countryside. So really a very small village. There were factories because it’s kind of an industrial area, but at the same time, there’s a lot of farms and animals. So it’s a strange mix between both.

BOWIE: So not that many Baroque influences.

TOP: Yeah, I don’t know why I’m obsessed with that! I went to Italy for the first time when I was quite young. I was maybe nine the first time I went to Rome, then I went to Venice, then I went to Bavaria, and I used to go quite often to Versailles and places like that. But around eleven or twelve I decided I wanted to work in fashion and I started to sketch more fashion things...but not especially accessories. It was more general - but then I went to fashion school in Paris at seventeen. I went to work at Yves Saint Laurent when I was around nineteen as a general assistant in the studio when Yves Saint Laurent was still there.

BOWIE: How did you get that job?

TOP: Thanks to school. I went in as an intern for two months and they kept me around which was quite cool. I was doing illustrations. Then Alber [Elbaz] arrived because he was doing the Rive Gauche collections. It was late 90s and that’s how I met him; when I was twenty-one. I think he didn’t know exactly what to do with me and he didn’t have anybody to work on the jewels and accessories in general, because Loulou de la Falaise was no longer doing the jewelry at Yves Saint Laurent. So he just asked me to start working so I started doing sketches and working with manufacturers, which is how I got started. He encouraged me and pushed me to work in this direction. And I was working at the same time on handbags and leather goods. But progressively over the years, I just gave up everything but the jewels because it’s what I liked the most.

BOWIE: What is it about jewelry that makes it so appealing?

TOP: I think it’s quite close to what I used to sketch when I was a child. It’s the same way that I’m looking at it and the way I’m imagining it. There’s always so many variables, and it always involves these architectural problems. As I like to sketch very precisely, everything is the same thing, actually. Like all the castles and all the jewels are the same. I’m very passionate and precise so I can really sketch for hours.

BOWIE: And then you worked for Lanvin as well?

TOP: Yeah, when Alber arrived at Lanvin, he called me and we started to work together immediately.

BOWIE: And do you prefer now working on your own better than for these major fashion houses like Lanvin and Yves Saint Laurent?

TOP: Hmm… It’s very different for me, because for me Alber, and Saint Laurent - and LouLou as well because I worked with her too - they felt like a continuation of my school years and they were really great mentors, because they really helped me. Alber and Loulou encouraged me and taught me a lot. And now I’ve grown up and I can do my own thing. It’s more about that freedom to do something for yourself and not for somebody else, which is very different. It’s more difficult in a way because when you work with my state of mind - I was very devoted to those people - I would do my best to please them and now I have to please myself which is something very different. [laughs]

BOWIE: Were you nervous at first about doing your own thing?

TOP: Yeah. It also took me a long time to find my own aesthetic, because it was so mixed. Like for instance with Alber, I had a lot of freedom but he was always there, so it was a mix of him and me, and it was very connected to the theme of the fashion show so we could do something one season and the opposite the season after. So it was always attached to the collection. Suddenly we were without clothes, and we were without a theme. It wasn’t coming out of me. So, I had to look at my previous work to find the elements that were really me. Because I could see how all the ribbons were completely Alber, and everything which was more Baroque and with all the mixes of materials was more my story. I realized that my story’s all about system and structure, so I tried to extract that. It took me a long time to realize and to find myself. For fifteen years I was working for so many people and a lot of clients and it became more of a mathematical exercise, where you have to find their aesthetic and then create it yourself. It was a sort of a game. But then suddenly I didn’t have anybody else and I didn’t have any other variables to work with.

BOWIE: And what was the difference between what you learned working with Alber Elbaz and Loulou de la Falaise, and what you learned working with Yves Saint Laurent?

TOP: Oh they’re all such different people. [laughs] For Loulou it was more about her own personality. She had a lot of freedom in the way that she could mix things that were very cheap with things that were very expensive. It was more about the way she was thinking about style and the way that she was mixing a lot of ethnic and Bavarian shapes. African themes mixed with Parisian couture. But she used to do it in such a free way because it was completely her own personality; very intuitive. I don’t work like her at all, because she wasn’t really sketching. She was more about taking the elements, mixing them, and it was more organic and a very sensitive experience. And actually Alber is a bit the same in his way of working because he’s not really sketching, but always doing fittings and fittings, and it’s all about words. He talks a lot as he’s trying to find the story and trying to find some keywords to define what he wants. And then he is really all about the body of the woman and...many fittings. But Yves Saint Laurent was the opposite in the way he was working. He was always sketching, very precisely, and if it wasn’t looking exactly like the sketch, he didn’t want the clothes. Alber would just be sketching basic silhouettes, and then he was progressively transforming everything and doing everything directly on the body in the fittings. He wasn’t attached to the sketch.


"At the end, sometimes, there would suddenly be one thing that was so moving, people would really start crying. And this happens so rarely because it is beyond fashion...you’re not talking about fashion anymore. You’re going somewhere else."


BOWIE: And it seems like you have a more specific vision that you put on paper, and then you try to realize it very directly, as opposed to this very sensual experience where you have an idea, and you play until you find it. 

TOP: Exactly. I’m really sketching exactly what I want to see with the jewels, and I don’t move from that. Whereas Alber was working like a lot of women - Vionnet, Chanel, Grès - all those women weren’t sketching, but just doing fittings.

BOWIE: Do you have any great memories of Yves Saint Laurent? Any in particular?

TOP: Sometimes. It never happens to me anymore but sometimes--and I think it’s why people are so attached to him--during the fittings we’d have goosebumps. Sometimes when the model would come in and do a twirl in the clothes it was just so perfect, so impressive, so moving that everybody’s jaw dropped. It’s impossible to describe the experience. Even when I’m talking about it I remember it so clearly.

BOWIE: You start to get goosebumps? [laughs]

TOP: And some people would be crying during the show which was really strange because the show, to be honest, was very old-fashioned. At the end, sometimes, there would suddenly be one thing that was so moving, people would really start crying. And this happens so rarely because it is beyond fashion...you’re not talking about fashion anymore. You’re going somewhere else.

BOWIE: It’s very transcendent.

TOP: And I think that’s the reason people were so attached to him. Because it was something else, not only about clothes. He was doing something else. 

BOWIE: And did you feel that yourself too?

TOP: Yeah, once I was really crying.

BOWIE: Well can you tell us a little bit about this collection?

TOP: This collection is the first I’ve shown and now I’ve developed a few new pieces and I’ve done some variations on those themes. It’s called Mécaniques Célestes. It’s all about the armillary spheres, the planets, and globes. Actually my work in the beginning was trying to unify my two aesthetic tendencies, which are from my childhood and my industrial side. And I thought it was coming from living in the middle of all these factories, and mechanical and industrial landscapes. Then my fascination for something more Baroque, more precious and narrative came, so I tried to find a way to put these two opposites together in the same piece. So that’s the reason there is this thing that you can hide or show. And when it’s closed it’s a bit more radical and pure. When you open it, for me, you’re telling something more poetic and more narrative. Then I found inspiration from the principles of globes, for instance from the sugar bowls you see in Parisian bars. I saw the way it opens and closes and I was looking in and thought, “oh that’s perfect.” And that was really my starting point. [laughs] 

So I had already sketched a few things but couldn’t find exactly what I wanted to put inside, so I was always looking for the perfect matching thing about the system and the mechanical on the inside and outside and what would be the good unity between everything. Then I found an amazing book with the same title called Mécaniques Célestes about the whole collection of these armillary spheres from a really great antique store in Paris. It’s exactly what I needed so when I found it, I sketched everything and that was really the start of it. What I also really liked was how you can always hide the most gorgeous part to give something more playful, but it depends what you wear with it. It all has to do with your own attitude and clothes.

BOWIE: Yeah it’s really quite romantic, this combination of the celestial and the industrial element. If you could describe your work in three words, what would they be?

TOP: Talking about my collection? Strangely, when it came out it was a mix of futuristic and medieval at the same time, and structure is important as well.


You can visit Elie Top's website to see more of the collection and stockists. Intro text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Interview by Summer Bowie. 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


Praying Mantis Disco Queen: An Interview With Artist Joyce Pensato

Walking into Joyce Pensato's vast studio in Bushwick, I’m first greeted by Elizabeth Ferry, an artist and Pensato's studio assistant, as well as Charlie, an eerie looking, sweet dog whose right eye is blind by cataracts. Pensato herself is short, but tall in personality. Her shoes feel more stylish, remnants perhaps of days in Paris, but still they’re perfectly covered in her signature paint drippings. As we sit, Ferry is busily packing up the space because they leave the next day for the closing of Pensato’s recent show, “The Fizz,” which has been on display at Grice Bench Gallery in Los Angeles. After this, they come back briefly to prepare and work for upcoming exhibitions in Chicago, and then Austria.

At the end of the following interview, we take some photos. Pensato grabs her pink wig and white shades and walks over to a big painting featuring a frenetically deconstructed Batman character. She becomes something reminiscent of a praying mantis disco queen. Once she feels satisfied, she hands over the disguise to me and I give her my camera. Seems only fair she gets to photograph me too. Before moving onto another look, Ferry joins in and we go through the sunglasses, and the props.

In the following interview, I talk to Pensato about her current freedom of expression within the art world, the correlation between the understanding of oneself and cultivating work over time, and her new venture in photography.

ANNIE FRAME: I noticed your studio isn’t that messy. In fact, it’s quite clean at the moment.

JOYCE PENSATO: We just moved in. This is new - it will get messy.  

FRAME: Wow this is heavy.  [I reach for my phone but have to move her recent splurge – a giant lock shaped chain necklace by Chanel].

PENSATO: It’s real. I got paint all over it, but I’m too lazy to clean it.

FRAME: You mentioned in a previous interview that you were experimenting with photography and found imagery.  

[Joyce takes out her camera to show a new, unseen series of photographs where she and Ferry, along with two other actors are dressed as stereotypical Hollywood characters; big sunglasses, jewelry, sipping bubbles under the palm trees looking incredibly performative, and intentionally campy].

PENSATO: Did it? I’m not sure. But we did have a great time in LA taking these photographs. I was playing around. We took these at the pool. Look at Elizabeth, doesn’t she look great! A real Patsy [Cline]. This guy! He was a George Clooney impersonator and we flew him in just to do this. He doesn’t look like him here - but in the others he really does.

FRAME: I like the more weird things about LA.

PENSATO: Me too. I want to do this shoot, but in New York. Dress everyone up, I’ll close this bar down for the day, and photograph the inside.




FRAME: Yes! Do it. I bartend part time when I’m not doing this, and I have crazy teeth. Maybe I can be your bartender in the background.

PENSATO: You do have the teeth - we could have you in something.

FRAME:  Would you ever live in LA?

PENSATO: No. I would visit for some time for work, but this is where I’ve always been.

FRAME: What kind of music do you like listening to in the studio?

PENSATO: Elizabeth got me into the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I like them, but mostly I need things that are upbeat. Or I listen to talk radio.

FRAME: What was it like being a woman in the art world then versus now?

PENSATO: [laughs] To be honest, I wasn’t paying attention. I was too busy doing my thing and working to notice. It’s great that women are finally getting noticed, but I was here, apart from it.

FRAME: I noticed you had a lot more color in your show, Castaway, at Petzel Gallery, and I was curious if you were becoming lighter?

PENSATO: I always start with some color. Then the color gets covered, and I go over it with varnish. It’s really the base.

FRAME: You mentioned coming to terms with feeling comfortable with yourself, and how it took you a while to stop resisting.

PENSATO: It took me awhile to get there.

FRAME: I ask because I’m really struggling with that now. I feel as if I’m too old fashioned because I work with film, or I don’t think I know what’s popular, or I’m changing my mind all the time.

PENSATO: With changing your work?

FRAME: Yeah I’m starting to incorporate text and drawings now. Maybe I’m just curious what kind of advice you would give if you were in my shoes? 

PENSATO:  You have to be yourself. And some people they have it early on. They just know. But I’m not like that.

FRAME: Me neither.

PENSATO: But everyone is different. It takes time and you figure it out eventually. You can’t be what you think you should be.

FRAME: Yeah.  

PENSATO: But it gets easier with age. You start not giving a shit and you learn to stop listening to the voices in your head - because that's what stops you. It’s all here. [Pensato places her hand to her heart] It’s all there. You have it all here.

FRAME: I think it will take me some time too.   

PENSATO: And therapy. Therapy helps.

FRAME: My last question since I know you have to get back to packing is, do you work better under pressure with a bunch of deadlines?

PENSATO: With some artists, their deadline starts right when the canvas comes off the truck. I like deadlines, and keeping busy. I don’t always know what or how - but I get there eventually.


Text, interview and photographs by Annie Frame. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


What She Said: An Interview With Photographer Deanna Templeton

Most may know Deanna Templeton as the wife, muse and woman behind skater, photographer extraordinaire, Ed Templeton. Just the same, though, you could say that Ed is the man and muse behind Deanna. But the truth is that they walk hand in hand – sometimes literally – especially when they go on their daily stroll through Huntington Beach photographing the seaside community’s sun drenched denizens. Indeed, Deanna and Ed are truly one of the greatest artistic duos in recent memory. While their work isn’t purely collaborative, both of their identities as artists and photographers are wholly unique, dynamic and alive with a searing, youthful vibrancy.

Just recently, Deanna released a beautiful book of photographs that explores the human form under water.  One day, Ed jumped into their pool naked and Deanna grabbed her camera. The images would result in a continuing series of nudes – swimming bodies of friends, shooting gracefully through the undulating laps of the pool water, trailing bubbles behind, leaving the swimming figure abstracted and refracted in the reflection of the net-like sunlight. A limited edition version of the book comes with a number of extras, like an additional printed page, a signed print and a special cover.

Tomorrow night, Deanna will be exhibiting a more personal series at Little Big Man gallery in Los Angeles. The series, entitled What She Said, which borrows from the Smith’s track of the same name – features images of female youth (that remind her of herself) juxtaposed next to excerpts from her diary when she was a teenager. Indeed, Deanna’s photographs harken back to early punk days – a studded, spiked and tattered rebellious youth in Southern California, where she met Ed when they were still teenagers. The photographs, which were taken over the course of a 15-year period, exemplify Deanna’s own transition into adulthood and womanhood.

I got a chance to chat with Deanna before her solo show to discuss her photographic history, getting her friends to swim naked in her pool and her plans for the future, which include more collaborations with her husband Ed.

OLIVER KUPPER: I want to go back to when you first started taking pictures. I read somewhere that your mother gave you a camera as a coming home present after running away. Is that true?

DEANNA TEMPLETON: Yes, it is. It had nothing to do with my own home life. I was supporting my best friend, at the time, who couldn’t bear living at home. We were fourteen or fifteen. It was only for one night. I went with her so she wouldn’t have to do it by herself. It sucked so bad, of course. We basically just stayed the night on the street. We tried to sleep on a little patch of grass. Some guys tried to invite us into their van. By the time morning came around, she found a friend’s house that she could stay at, and I was like, “OK, I’m going home.” I think my parents were so freaked out, like “Where did this come from?” And I never told them I was doing it for a friend. So they said, “We’ll give you whatever you want, just don’t do that again.” And I said, “I would like a Canon T90, please.”

KUPPER: That’s a perfect gift. That really opened up a lot for you.

TEMPLETON: You would think that that’s a little too much camera for a fifteen-year-old girl. I didn’t deserve it. Maybe a year later, I was on the way back from visiting family in Guadalajara. I packed it in my checked luggage, and it wasn’t there when I came back. I didn’t respect the equipment. After that, it switched to a point and shoot for quite a few years.

KUPPER: Did you get any pictures out of it?

TEMPLETON: Nothing that I saved. Just shooting around high school, with a bunch of friends. I don’t think I have any from that time. I have all my negatives in books. I catalogue them in years. I have two catalogue books called “Crap.” I couldn’t bear to throw them away, but I couldn’t look at them either. I imagine that if they were still around, they would be in there.

KUPPER: What were some of the things you were interested in shooting? Your surroundings, punk shows?

TEMPLETON: I wasn’t doing punk shows, because I didn’t have a dedicated flash. It was mostly my surroundings. I would do a little bit of high school, home life. I wasn’t focused. It was new to me. I didn’t really know what I was doing. The reason why I wanted a camera in the first place was because I had a girlfriend who would shoot the punk bands at shows. I watched her develop her film, and that’s what got me hooked.

KUPPER: When did photography become an art form for you?

TEMPLETON: That was in 1998. I was still shooting with a point-and-shoot, but Ed started to see that I had an eye for it. He bought me a Canon A-1 and said, “Let’s see what you can do with it.”

KUPPER: Were there any photographers that you looked up to?

TEMPLETON: The first was Hiromix, because he did the point and shoot. He was the first that caught my eye.

KUPPER: In a previous interview, you talked about female photographers feeling alone. Why do you think that is?

TEMPLETON: In the beginning, when I first got the money to upgrade my gear, I felt like I was a part of the boy’s club. It’s always been more male-dominated. I know there’s women out there. There’s just not as many females represented.

KUPPER: Male photographers seem to get more attention, especially street photographers.

TEMPLETON: You could say that more generally about art. The Guerilla Girls movement was all about the under-representation of females in art, at galleries and museums. It’s not just photographers. Even right now, I’m going to be in a group show in Portland through the Dead Beat Club. Clint, the main guy, is really supportive of female artists. But the main core of artists doesn’t have many women. Even the gallerist asked why there weren’t more women in the show. I do feel now, the older I’ve gotten, I’ve met more women photographers, even in skateboarding photography. I don’t feel alone anymore.

KUPPER: You work a lot with Ed, your husband. You shoot a lot and collaborate. Do you teach each other lessons?

TEMPLETON: I would say there’s probably more from him on me. I’ve been very fortunate. I don’t need to go to school for photography. I have real-like lessons when I go out with Ed, just from watching him, how he works. I’ve always compared his style of photography to the way he skates. He’s constantly looking ahead. He’s always weaving in and out of obstacles to get to what he wants to get. I feel like he took that to his photography. He walks faster than I do, so I am constantly behind him. Just watching him work, it’s really impressive. I try to take what I see from him and apply it to my work. But there is something in my gut that makes me stop and run up to people.

KUPPER: You both have distinct style. I think he shoots very fast, while you take your time.

TEMPLETON: When we come back from trips, I always have one roll to his three.

KUPPER: There’s two types of photographers: people who will stop and ask, and someone who will just get in their face. Either works, but you have to have a personality for both.

TEMPLETON: He’s not getting in their faces. For the most part, he’s just passing by. You don’t even notice. He’s so smooth. The camera is so quiet. People look up like, “Did I hear something?” If there’s someone who notices and looks upset, I usually say something like, “That was so cute,” to diffuse the situation.

KUPPER: Do you think photography has lost some of its magic? Not just digital photography, but the sheer number of people taking pictures?

TEMPLETON: It’s hard for me to talk about that because I’ve never shot digital. My experiences are only with film and analogue. I, personally, think that there is a difference when I’m looking at a print. Everyone needs to do what’s best for them and how they want to work. I do want to explore and grow, but some of the new ways of photography don’t interest me. It’s good to have a wide range though.

KUPPER: People are starting to go back to film more. There’s a romance and a depth to it. I remember being able to go to the drugstore down the street and buy film for a Polaroid. You can’t do that anymore.

TEMPLETON: Maybe fine art photography will go back to fine art photography with film, because it will be special again.

KUPPER: It seems like more magazine are starting to employ photographers that use film. You just shot for Wonderland Magazine?

TEMPLETON: That was fun. I don’t know how many film photographers they used, but they were surprised by the turnaround. They were like,  “We need it now!” And I was like, “OK, I need to take it to the lab to develop them, I’ll have to scan the negs and then scan them larger.” It’s the same with Ed. Any editorials that he’s done for magazines have always been film. People are starting to want that again, which is nice.

KUPPER: I want to talk about your new book, the swimming pool book. It’s different than your previous work. How did this series come about?

TEMPLETON: It started about eight years ago when Ed decided to take a skinny dip in our pool. I decided to grab my camera and shoot some photos of him. Later, when I got my print sheets back, it looked different from anything I had ever shot. I really liked it. It was only eight frames, but I thought it could be interesting. I asked a couple of friends if they would mind swimming for me. I did a show with what I shot that summer, but I had a gut feeling that it wasn’t done yet. I kept shooting. About two years ago, a publisher saw some of the work and was interested in it. When I look back at that first show, three or four images made it into the book from back then. I really felt that it took eight years to sit with the images and explore what I liked and didn’t like in a photo. That didn’t happen until, like, four years in. For instance, if the swimmers swam more aggressively, there was a lot more distortion in the images. The images, now, are quiet and calm.

KUPPER: You were developing a new style. A lot of photographers don’t do that; they just stick to one style. It’s nice to have that freedom.

TEMPLETON: It just came with time. If I had been offered a book that first year, it would have had a completely different feel. Just so everyone knows, when I say eight years, I mean eight summers. I don’t know how to work our pool heater. The sun played a big role; in the summer time I had a longer window before the shadows would creep into the shot.

KUPPER: You’re having a show coming up at Little Big Man Gallery? What is the work you’re showing now?

TEMPLETON: The director of Little Big Man was over in my office, looking at all the projects I was working on. He really connected with a series called “What She Said,” which I’ll be presenting. It’s photographs of young women who remind me of myself when I was a teenager, either how I thought I was, or how I wish I could have been. I’m pairing each photograph with a diary or journal entry from my personal diary when I was 14 to 18. It’s personal. It’s a little embarrassing.

KUPPER: Do you have any new series that you’re working on?

TEMPLETON: Eventually, I’m hoping to get “What She Said” into a book form. Ed and I go out shooting together every afternoon in downtown Huntington Beach. We talked about doing a two volume, “his-and-her” take on Huntington Beach. We’re constantly working on it, but we don’t have a set date for that yet.


You can purchase Deanna Templeton's book The Swimming Pool from Um Yeah Arts. Her solo show What She Said opens tomorrow night and runs until July 31 at Little Big Man Gallery in Los Angeles. Portrait of Deanna by Ed Templeton. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


That's A Damn Fine Painting: An Interview With Artist Adam Parker Smith

text by Adam Lehrer

 

Painting. Multi-media. Installation. Sculpture. All of these tags have been applied to the practice of New York-based artist Adam Parker Smith. All of these tags are or have been correct in their labeling of Smith’s work. But as wild and conceptual as Smith’s work gets at times, he roots his art in the fundamentals of painting. Whether he’s making mylar balloon sculptures or putting together an exhibition of works stolen from other artists (as he did with his Lu Magnus Gallery exhibition Thanks), he’s doing so with acknowledgement of the fundamentals of painting: “I think my work can be jarring but a lot of times it is smooth and cumulative,” he says while laboring over the installation of his current solo show at The Hole in NYC, entitled Oblivious the Greek.  “The work moves well, it’s balanced, and its colors compliment it. One of the elements that make a work successful is being attractive.”


Polite, mild-mannered, and welding a distinguished moustache, Smith is humble while also knowing that he’s onto something. In past interviews, Smith has claimed that he is often short on ideas. That isn’t the case any more, and Smith says in some ways his practice has evolved past idea-oriented work. It seems that he has comforted into the idea that he is good at this art-making thing, and his voracious work ethic indicates that he wants to share his work with the world as much as possible. “I’m not saying that I have a unique gift but I’m hoping that I do,” says Smith. “There’s a possibility. I probably have a less narcissistic way of saying that…”

To clarify, Smith holds the belief that there is a difference between art that “looks like good art,” and art that is “actually good.” A smart and lucky person and can make art that looks like good art. But to make “actually good” art, one has to be gifted. He has grown more comfortable with the fact that making art might be his gift. His current show at The Hole is certainly testament towards this sentiment. Using synthetic materials (purchased with free shipping on Amazon, he adds), Smith created a range of sculptures like mylar balloons cast with resin along with fake foods, fake bronze, fake flowers, and lots of things fake. The faux qualities of the work are important to the aesthetics of and ideas contained within the objects: the materials used are always secondary to the outcome. The outcome is beautiful. These are “actually good” works of art.

Smith and I spoke at length a day before his show at The Hole opened, harping on the differences between art that “looks like good art” and “actually good” art, the virtues in cheap and synthetic materials, applying the fundamentals of painting to different mediums, the benefits of cruel professors, and what being “gifted” at something really means.

ADAM LEHRER: I was reading an old interview of yours where you said you liked the interdependency of materials and ideas. Is that a notion you still subscribe to?

ADAM PARKER SMITH: Yeah, that for me is constant. And I don’t normally like to adhere to rules, or at least arbitrary rules I make for myself within my practice because there are a lot of them. I find myself realizing the rules that I made, and then wondering if they’re necessary to abide by. 

LEHRER: Do personal rules help you push back against institutional rules or general rules within the art world?

SMITH: Well no, I mean my life is pretty conventional outside of my practice. Normally there are severe consequences for doing things in an unconventional manner. But I think when you’re making art that’s the preferred method. So what are the implications of that resistance outside of my practice? I’m not quite sure [laughs].

LEHRER: So you mean that’s the one arena in your life where you sort of get to go against the grain? I’m thinking of someone like Dash Snow, who seems to have gone against the grain in his art and his life and of course paid a price for the latter.

SMITH: I don't know, it’s hard to say. My practice takes up a large part of my life though so it’s nice. A lot of times I get to do what I love doing. I make a lot of work and spend a lot of time making work. It’s nice to be in charge of...something.

LEHRER: Going back to that original idea of interdependency of ideas and materials, how does that manifest? For this show for instance, how do you go from the original ideas to conceptualizing the materials to bring those ideas into fruition?

SMITH: Ideally, they conflate simultaneously. I got my Master’s degree in painting so a lot of times I think like a painter would. One of the big conversations people were always having involved how what you’re painting relates to how you’re painting. I felt like there always had to be that relationship for the painting to be successful so I had to use all these materials to try to find that connection. And further along in my practice I found myself getting closer to more two-dimensional painting, which has a more subtle or intellectual link between what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. So when I’m beginning to generate new ideas or developing an idea I try to think in that mode in-between the two questions, of what is it that I’m painting and how does the process relate to it. After enough practice it becomes second nature to a degree.

LEHRER: I read that you initially started making sculptures to give yourself figures to paint. But now you create sculptures to make and show sculptures, correct?

SMITH: Well there are a lot of painterly aspects (color, composition, form, line, positive and negative space) that I use in sculptures because they’re all beneficial. Although important, construction and utility are my secondary thoughts and I approach my sculptures with really simple painterly ideas.

LEHRER:  Do you often know the idea you’re trying to communicate before you put together a collection of work? Do you know what it’s going to look like but aren’t really sure how to express it?

SMITH: Ultimately I’m not interested in creating an idea-based work because I hate the idea of someone coming in and feeling finished with the work once the idea is communicated to them. In Ernest Hemingway’s Movable Feast (not that I’m really inspired by modern painting or writing because all those guys are bullies), there’s a part when [the characters] go to each other’s studios and say something like, “That’s a damn fine painting!” That’s their only critique. I want to make work that can make people say something like that. I don’t want to make a work that’s just good or pleasing. When they say ‘that’s a damn fine painting’, they’re not saying that it’s a good or pleasing painting but rather that it fulfills a place or purpose to exist in the world. However, the second you start talking about that too much the intentionality starts overshadowing any kind of magic.

 LEHRER: It’s hard to explain but I think I understand.

 SMITH: This is going to sound a lot like bullshit...but I think if an individual is a gifted writer or musician or painter, it’s difficult but not impossible to make a work that looks like what it should be. Making a painting that looks like a good painting is different from making an actually good painting. I think you’d have to be highly intelligent to make a painting that looks like a good painting. It’s possible and it happens a lot since there are lots of really smart people out there. But I think to make an actually good painting, you have to be gifted. That’s more rare. I’m listening to any sort of gift that I may have or working to find it.



LEHRER: Do you feel like you’ve found the exact thing you are gifted at?

SMITH: I don’t know, I’m making art and hoping that’s it [laughs].


LEHRER: It’s refreshing to hear that, actually.

SMITH: Or some people are just good at things. And if they just listen to their natural instincts, I think it’s possible for them to do something that they didn’t expect. You know when you see work that looks like it’s emulating good work and work that just looks like good work. I guess my point is that I try to make art in a way that comes from the gut and hope that if there is a gift, it comes through. That’s pretty corny [laughs].

LEHRER: That show you did where you stole all your friends’ art works: was that an exercise of you trying to juxtapose “art that looks good” versus “actually good art?”


SMITH: That was more of a social or conceptual project in terms of showing each theft as sort of the material I was working with. I’m not a curator and wasn’t really curating that show, even though I acted as curator in the way that I was making a painting. But with that said, all of the acquaintances of mine in the show are valued as artists and the works of theirs that I apprehended I thought were strong. As far as any further judgment on how gifted any of those artists were, there’s always a spectrum.

LEHRER: I hate to refer to the press release that The Hole put out, but I’m going to. It said something about how a lot of the imagery in these sculptures has this faux quality but in that fakeness there’s something real. Is that at all accurate in your thinking, and then if so, what is that truth?


SMITH: Painters go to the store to get paint that is a chemical-based product like zinc or aluminum. Those are the brushstrokes. Those are the elements of the composition and the composition is beautiful. Whether you’re going to propose to your partner on the beach or the parking lot of McDonalds, it’s a beautiful thing. Or if your child is born in the bathtub with monks chanting or in the backseat of a taxi, it’s still the beautiful birth of a child.

LEHRER: The outcome is still beautiful, the circumstances or materials used are less important than the final outcome.

PARKER: Yeah, so that’s just the material that I’m using right now. I like it--its accessible, it’s cheap, I can afford it, and I can order it online on Amazon prime for free two-day shipping [laughs]. But actually these synthetic materials are super technology: if you showed mylar balloons to someone 500 years ago they’d be mind-blown. And these were people sculpting beautiful figures with marble. I doubt that they’d be sculpting with marble after seeing these thin, mylar-inflated balloons that can float and weigh nothing. I think that any artist in any century ultimately would be drawn to these materials, because they’re undeniably beautiful. I think marble and bronze are incredible too. But it’s more expensive...and there’s no free shipping [laughs].

LEHRER: Your PS1 studio visit said you “Create elements to cultivate environments that are haunting, familiar, and alien." I know that the installation part of your artworks is important too, so are you trying to create a similar headspace? Should the installation have a similar quality to how you felt in the environment that you made the work in?

SMITH: No, not for me. I try to think of where the work is going to show as I’m making it. I envision it in that space and make it so that it’s appropriate for that. For instance, a lot of the work in here is way too large for my studio, so I had to put myself in this place while I was making it. So I think of the studio as a purely utilitarian place for myself. I

LEHRER: It’s always funny because I feel like journalists especially try to attach these pseudo spiritual qualities to the ways in which the artist works. But you don’t get the sense that maybe how you work or what you create changes with different tweaks and adjustments to your studio space or anything like that?

SMITH: I mean if I were to get a studio with higher ceiling I would make taller works. [laughs] Yeah, artists are like goldfish in the way they sort of expand and contract based on their environment. So it definitely affects me but living an interesting life is as important to my practice. It’s like a pressure cooker to be enriched in life and the studio space is like a small part of that.

 LEHRER: I read somewhere that you like incorporating illusion. I guess this show with the perceived weightlessness of these objects could even qualify as illusion. Do you have an intended effect for using illusion? Is it supposed to throw the viewer off or make the viewer connect with it?

SMITH: Everybody loves magic because it’s fun. We all know it doesn’t really exist but it’s fun anyway. I probably would do things the right way if I could afford it. Making undulating marble and gigantic casts of mylar balloons like Jeff Koons—that’s not a possibility for me. Much of the illusion comes from adversity: “how do I accomplish the things I want to accomplish with the means I have available?” But people like magic so it’s cool.

LEHRER: I read something about this volatile professor that you had in your grad school that lit a fire under your ass. Do you feel like you make best work under a lot of stress or duress?

SMITH: It’s hard to say because it’s been a long time since I’ve been at school and that stressed out, so I’m not sure what to compare that against. But I like to have some sort of agitation, whether it’s self-induced or an external factor. But after the initial shock of having that professor really go after me, I kinda’ dug it. It takes a lot of energy and consideration for someone to come in and lay into my work in a really aggressive manner. So I appreciated that from him.

LEHRER: Was he harsh to other classmates too?

SMITH: Not any that I knew, but I did hear he did that sort of thing to other people. He really singled me out, which made me feel even better in the end. I observed him years later with other students that were talentless in my opinion and probably his as well, and he just didn’t really give a shit about them. He would just say, “Looks good,” or whatever. Not to be egotistical again, but when he came into my studio I felt as though he saw potential. He felt obligated as a teacher to get on my ass about it.

LEHRER: It’s like that movie Whiplash.

SMITH: That’s funny because you watch that movie and walk away thinking if that guy was a bastard or was doing the kid a favor. 

LEHRER: I read that you sometimes struggle with ideas but I thought it was interesting because you’re making art all the time. So how does that work?

SMITH: Generating ideas has become less of a problem for me. I definitely do a lot of experimenting. I think you have to learn to read this new visual language that you’re speaking and it takes a while for you to be fluent in it. Sometimes I hit it right away but a lot of times I have to wait into it a little bit. To answer your question there are a lot of things that are produced in the studio that never leave. Or they take a walk into the dumpster.

 LEHRER: How do you know if something is worth showing? Is it intuitive or trained?

SMITH: I’ve never really been good at articulating those qualities. I know when it’s right for me and just rely on that.


Adam Parker Smith "Oblivious The Greek" is on view now until July 24 at the Hole Gallery, 312 Bowery, New York. Text, interview and photographs by Adam Lehrer. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


One Night In Candy Land: An Interview With The Larger Than Life Candy Ken

text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

His face splattered with Hello Kitty temporary tattoos, a chiseled male hustler body and a thick Austrian accent, Candy Ken is a Harajuku Greek God run through the sieve of a culture on digital overload. If you held a mirror to the teenage zeitgeist of the twenty first century, Candy Ken’s smiling gold grill would be twinkling right back at you. Over the weekend, the Berlin-based performer released his first official album, entitled Real Talk, and he did it as his own manager, promoter and record label. With tracks like Fuck Gender, the artist replies to his critics and Internet trolls, who are quick to label his sexual identity, with a swift auto-tuned retort: “Gender rolls are over….the new sex is what I am.” And it’s exactly that sex that has garnered the attention of the likes of fashion designer Jeremy Scott and stylist/creative director Nicola Formichetti who last year flew Candy Ken out to Milan for a Diesel campaign after seeing his images on Instagram. Formichetti also introduced Candy to Terry Richardson who shot him in the nude at his New York studio. The controversial photographer is also the subject of a song on Candy’s new album, about the attention he received from that shoot. To celebrate the release of Real Talk, an album that celebrates the prismatic lifestyle of the artist in grand fashion, Candy Ken hosted a decadent club kid party at Visions Video Bar in London. We also got a chance to chat with Candy Ken about the strange and manic universe he has created, what it was like to work with Terry Richardson, and his dreams for the future.

OLIVER KUPPER: So you wanted to throw the party as a means of saying goodbye to the club scene and for your new album, right?

CANDY KEN: The party was for my album. We performed all the new songs of Real Talk, that’s the album name. We also used the party just to celebrate all the club kids, the whole club kid scene. We got everybody down, because they support me so much. It was very beautiful.

KUPPER: Is this the craziest party you’ve ever thrown?

CANDY KEN: Definitely the craziest.

KUPPER: Your new album is your second album?

CANDY KEN: No, this is my first one.

KUPPER: This is your first official album?

CANDY KEN: Exactly.

KUPPER: But you’ve been putting out music for a little while?

CANDY KEN: Exactly. But always EPs, never an album.

KUPPER: Do you have a record label?

CANDY KEN: No, it’s all self-produced.

KUPPER: I want to go back to where you grew up in Austria. Were you always creative as a child? Were you always making art?

CANDY KEN: Yeah. Luckily, my parents supported me from day one. They always put me in art classes and drawing classes. I created art since I could walk. But, of course, it changed with the Internet and social media. I had to use the new media to express myself. I found music videos, performances, and photoshoots through Snapchat and Instagram. Those are great platforms for me to express myself.

KUPPER: When you were studying art, who were some artists who really inspired you?

CANDY KEN: David LaChappelle, Wes Anderson, Tarantino, Die Antwoord, M.I.A., FKA Twigs, Riff Raff. And then, of course, fashion designers like Jeremy Scott had a big influence on me. Nicola Formichetti, Gianni Versace.

KUPPER: And you worked with Jeremy Scott and Formichetti right?

CANDY KEN: With Jeremy Scott, we just talked over Instagram. We never met, so far. My goal is to work with him very soon. I’ve worked with Nicola a lot of times, yeah.

KUPPER: And he flew you out to Milan at one point?

CANDY KEN: Yeah, he flew me to Milan and New York for Diesel. He also arranged a photoshoot with Terry Richardson because they’re, like, best friends. That’s how I got to work with Terry.

KUPPER: What was that experience like?

CANDY KEN: One of the best experiences ever. Terry is so humble and such a nice guy. He had so much energy. You don’t expect that out of so many celebrities and photographers. He was so welcoming. He played my music, and he was like, “Oh, Candy Ken is in the house!” He was very enthusiastic and happy. He could shoot me like I’ve never seen myself before. He’s a very good guy.   

KUPPER: Were you just in Rankin’s studio in London?

CANDY KEN: Yes, yesterday.

KUPPER: That’s a pretty big deal too.



CANDY KEN: Yeah. I want to make a name in London. I think I need more exposure in Europe. Mostly, I get booked in Asia. Last time, I was in Tel Aviv and Mexico, but not that much in Europe. I really want to work with photographers in London. Rankin Studios was really, really great.

KUPPER: When did you become Candy Ken?

CANDY KEN: I feel like I’ve always had Candy Ken in me. But I was not able to express myself until two years ago. Before that, I always had it in myself, but you get pulled down by society. You’re not sure of yourself. You’re not confident to really go for it. I didn’t get my confidence to express Candy on the outside until I moved to Berlin.

KUPPER: Were you part of the club scene in Berlin?

CANDY KEN: Not really. I’m more into the London club scene. In Berlin, it’s very dark. I’m very colorful.

KUPPER: That makes sense. Tokyo is probably easy to fit into as well.

CANDY KEN: Oh yeah. They really appreciate me in Asia.

KUPPER: We’ve been watching a lot of your videos on YouTube. There are a lot of beauty and workout tips, as well as music videos. Some of them feature your younger brother. Does he look up to you?

CANDY KEN: Yeah. He’s ten years younger than me. We’re really good friends. We have a really strong relationship. He gives me a lot of shit. He is a good source of criticism. It is good to have siblings, because they tell you things that might offend you if a friend said it. If it’s family, you can really get it. He is very critical about what I do, and he teaches me a lot actually. I’m travelling a lot, so I’m very happy if I can spend time with him in Austria. I’m really thankful to have him in my life. He’s very supportive.

KUPPER: Does he have some of the same interests as you?

CANDY KEN: He’s definitely interested in art. We both really like the same kind of movies, like Grand Budapest Hotel, that Wes Anderson look. We also listen to the same music.

KUPPER: That’s amazing. You said that your parents were supportive of your art. Are they supportive of what you’re doing as Candy Ken?

CANDY KEN: Yeah, definitely. At some points, I had to warm them up. I think they want me to be secure. They want their kid to be successful. But they are very supportive. I’m very lucky. Being Candy Ken is something that’s hard to take in for a lot of people. It works with provocation, nudity – it’s really out there. For my parents to accept that, I’m very lucky. But I also teach them a lot, I feel like. They got to know Terry Richardson. They’ve been introduced to 2 Chainz and Lil’ Wayne.

KUPPER: You’re introducing them to culture. They probably really appreciate that.

CANDY KEN: Exactly.

KUPPER: Speaking of rappers, especially American rappers, do you want to collaborate more with people in the U.S.?

CANDY KEN: Yeah. I feel like American rappers are similar to me because they don’t take themselves too seriously. I really appreciate people in the music industry who don’t take themselves too seriously. That’s why I’m a big fan of Lil’ Wayne. Even his name, to use your social disadvantage in a fun way – that always impressed me, since I was a kid. I really want to work with American rappers. 

KUPPER: A lot of press is describing you as “post-gender.” Where do you see yourself on this spectrum?

CANDY KEN: As an artist, I have to work with society and what happens around me. I cannot ignore what happens around me. It’s not a coincidence that I’m from Austria. The gender role is very important. Growing up in Austria, there are a lot of things you’re allowed to do, but there are also lots of things you’re not supposed to do. I feel that I have to work with this gender problem, because it affects me too. What is my role as a male in society? How do they want me to be? I love opening people’s minds and waking people up, making people more acceptant and tolerant.

KUPPER: That’s a really important message.

CANDY KEN: I’m also living that a lot of people can’t live in their life. I’m expressing myself, trying different outfits, hair colors, shoes. That’s what a lot of people want to do, but they can’t because of their job, their family, or their friends. Most people put this cage over themselves. They could do everything, but they’re too afraid to fall out of the whole system of getting money, being secure, having family and friends. You think you lose all of that if you change something. I need to show everybody that I can be all of what Candy Ken does and still be accepted and loved by a lot of people, and the right people. Most people try to impress the wrong people. I tried to impress the wrong people for such a long time. If you want to impress all these people, you’re not following what your passion is. Once you really go for what you like, you will find people who have the same hobbies and passion. It’s so much better. You should really stop trying to impress stupid people.

KUPPER: How would you describe your new album?

CANDY KEN: It’s really from the heart. It’s very honest. One song is called “Fuck Gender.” One song is called “I Love Blue.” One song is about the Terry Richardson nude photos that came out. One song is about the Candy Crew. Every song, you get into what I’m thinking, how I see myself, how I deal with society’s problems. It’s very new. It’s not about stupid breakups and a love story like all these albums right now. It’s more about society and stereotypes and stuff like that, things I have to work with.

KUPPER: Do you have plans to tour in the U.S.?

CANDY KEN: If they want me, definitely. I am actually going to LA and New York for two months this summer. We are organizing music videos. We are doing a Kickstarter right now. We’re trying to do a very crazy, colorful David LaChapelle music video in LA. I hope I can perform that month in LA and New York. But I have no agent and no management.

KUPPER: If you could describe Candy Ken in three words, what would those words be?

CANDY KEN: Kawaii, yummy, and explicit.


You can stream Candy Ken's new album Real Talk here. See more photos from the album release party at Visions Video Bar in London here. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Photographs by Flo Kohl. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Write here...

Chaos Theory: An Interview With Multifaceted and Legendary Artist Nick Waplington

Talking with photographer and painter Nick Waplington is akin to viewing and pondering his work. There is a lot of information to sort through. But if you can find some order in the onslaught of ideas, or the “chaos” as he likes to call it, you will find a perspective wildly and almost enviably unique. The subjects of his conversation are as varied as those within his photographs and his paintings. While Waplington’s work has dealt with environmental concerns, rave culture, the creative processes and inner struggles of the late Alexander McQueen, and (as in his paintings) his own inner monologue, a 40-minute conversation with Waplington darts around discussions about his creative process, international politics, the contemporary art world and the business surrounding it, and even skateboarding.

It’s sometimes difficult, as a journalist, to dilineate between being a journalist and a fan. And I am a super fan of Nick Waplington. He was one of the photographers that radically altered my perceptions of the form, and it was difficult to not lean all my questions towards his photographic practice even when now his paintings are a large part of his artistic output, especially with his incredible exhibition of recent paintings at These Days gallery in Los Angeles entitled, ‘A Display of Panic in a Moment of Absolute Certainty.’ In that, it’s important to note that Waplington is not simply, “Nick Waplington the painter,” or “Nick Waplington the photographer,” but that he is “Nick Waplington the artist.” All the mediums he works in (also including video, computer-generated imagery, sculpture, and found material) become part of a cohesive, if almost manically diverse, body of work. While his photos reveal an almost poetically chaotic point of view on Waplington’s external world, his paintings offer the viewer a look inside his internal world allowing us to examine his beliefs, thoughts, and emotions. “I’ve been making art daily since I was 15-years-old.” Now, I’m nearly 51,” says Waplington. Ultimately, what you get is this large body of work that progresses. A lot of artists, especially photographers, have a short phase. To stay fresh, and to not make the same work over and over, is a challenge.”

The These Days exhibition is a result of Waplington living in Los Angeles for the past year and devoting his entire practice to painting. As with his photography, the paintings are sensitive to the environment that Waplington created them in. They are exploding in color and contrast, mimicking the city’s consistently beautiful weather in the face of global climate challenge. There is a glorious randomness to the imagery, almost as if Waplington finds himself searching for beauty amidst cultural marginalization Waplington and I caught up via Skype while he was at a skate park in England with his son.
 

NICK WAPLINGTON: This is the only spot where I can get Wifi in the skate park.

LEHRER: Are you skating right now?

WAPLINGTON: Yeah, I’m skating with my son.

LEHRER: That’s fantastic. I wish my dad skateboarded with me.  He was always trying to get me to golf, and then would get frustrated when I couldn’t make the shot.

WAPLINGTON: [Laughs.] It’s a nice day here.

LEHRER: I’ve been looking at your paintings, and they’re beautiful. First, I was really curious, do you feel like you artwork is reflective of the environment you created it in? I ask because I felt like your early photographs had this chilly, muted feel to them. While your paintings, which were primarily done in Los Angeles, were more bright, exploding in color and contrast. Is that at all accurate?

WAPLINGTON: Well, these are not the first paintings I made, but I can’t help but be affected by [the LA] kind of environment. The light really influenced my time in LA. I have an outdoor studio that I enjoy painting in. I’ve been immersed in painting since I’ve been in LA. There’s a flow [to my paintings]. Ideas move from one painting to the next. Everything is a progression like that.

LEHRER: And you like Los Angeles?

WAPLINGTON: Yeah, yeah. I’ve lived there before, so for me, it’s very easy to get back to where I left off.

LEHRER: Do you feel like you’re the type who can find something to love about every type of place you go?

WAPLINGTON: Yeah. I find everything interesting. Being in different places for long periods of time - I really feed off that. In my life, I’ve spent extensive periods in Sao Paolo, Zurich, Los Angeles, Sydney, London, New York… I’ve used that as a catalyst for making work. It’s always good to throw everything up in the air every once in a while, you know?

LEHRER: Absolutely. One thing I’ve found most compelling in your work is that there always seems to be, at least to me, a central conflict driving it. With the McQueen photos, there was this contrast between this masterful artisan at work and a guy struggling with exhaustion and massive expectations. With West Bank, there were obvious political conflicts inherent in that region. Are you purposefully looking for these conflicts?

WAPLINGTON: I have all sorts of problems. I certainly wouldn’t want to do therapy to straighten myself out. I deal with my own personal edginess. Often, within my work, there’s a kind of autobiographical stream to it. All the projects – including McQueen, to a certain degree – were characters similar [to me] in some respects. The title of the McQueen book refers to my working process as much as his.

LEHRER: I feel like that’s why you’ve been so successful. Your subjects are so varied, in painting and photography. But they all feel a part of one, definitive vision. Is that something that you strive for?

WAPLINGTON: Yeah. I’m always trying to order out some chaos. I’m not an artist that has one thing. I can’t really understand that limited scope. “I’m a geometric artist… I’m a body artist…” You know? I’m always looking for the next thing – reading, meeting people and finding new things to make work about.

LEHRER: I feel like it’s almost implemented by the industry. Even on the media side of things, I like to write about everything – music, art, news, fashion, whatever. But I have editors that will tell me to stay in my lane, to pick one thing and focus on that. I can’t imagine ever writing about one thing.

WAPLINGTON: That’s the problem with the galleries. They want artists who are known for a type of work. Collectors want to collect a type of work. There’s a narrowing of perspective. It makes it harder to sell work. But in the long term, it makes the work much more interesting. I haven’t allowed my work to be defined by people other than myself.If people like it, they like it. If not, it’s okay.



LEHRER: So it’s not Nick Waplington, the Photographer AND Nick Waplington, the Painter? It’s just Nick Waplington, the Artist?

WAPLINGTON: I just see it all as my work. I don’t need to separate things.

LEHRER: I feel like These Days was an appropriate gallery choice in that way because they do anti-establishment stuff. Your work’s core has a sense of, “I’m going to do what I want.”

WAPLINGTON: It’s not a gallery that’s functioning in the art world, as such. It’s basically a space where they put on shows that they like. It It was interesting to take over the space and use the space as functioning for the art world, even though it’s not known for having art world shows. We like that. I like that side of Downtown. I’ve been interested in Downtown [Los Angeles] since the late 90s when I was living in Eaglerock. I was going to a lot of rave parties down there at that point. 

LEHRER: Yeah, for sure. LA, at that time, was really defined by skateboarding and surf culture.

WAPLINGTON: That’s changing too. But all these new concrete skateparks are popping up. I try to get to Glendale skatepark whenever I get a moment. At my age, if you want to keep skating, you have to skate. 

LEHRER: I see some of these guys, like Andrew Reynolds, frontside flipping twenty stairs at age 38. How are his knees not collapsing right now?

WAPLINGTON: I saw a video of a 55 year old Lance Mountain kickflipping a table. It’s crazy. 

LEHRER: I don’t want to get too off on a tangent, but I remember when I was really into skateboarding in the early 2000s, and the first Flip video came out. I remember thinking, “This is the best that skateboarding is ever going to be.” I watch a video now, and the kids who are skating now are sorcerers. 

WAPLINGTON: Yeah. But you have a generation of kids who are growing up with concrete skateparks. My son is 11, and he’s here every day he can be here. Obviously, they’re going to be doing all sorts of shit that wasn’t possible 10 or 15 years ago. 

LEHRER: I wanted to talk to you about the chaos you refer to in your work. Is this chaos an internal or external chaos?

WAPLINGTON: I am dyslexic and left handed, so everything is slightly chaotic with me. I’m drawn to the fringes of society, in the world in general, but especially in LA. Republican states have been sending all their homeless people on buses to California. I’ve been quite influenced by these very large tent cities that have been growing along the freeways, as you go down towards Long Beach. I’ve been hanging out there and vibeing off that a little bit. I’ve been thinking about how these things compare with the 1940s when people were moving from Oklahoma and Tennessee to California, and they were living in the LA River in tents instead. Somehow, it seems like America is in need of a New Deal again, as you were lucky enough to get with Roosevelt. There’s a strangulation of the economy right now. It doesn’t transpose itself directly into the work, but there’s a psycho-geographical feel to some of the paintings. 

LEHRER: It is an interesting time to live in the US. It feels like the US it at a huge crossroads. A good portion of the country wants to move forward – vote for Bernie Sanders, get universal free healthcare, raise the minimum wage. And then there’s this other half that is completely reactionary and places all the blame of minorities and immigrants.

WAPLINGTON: There’s a contradiction in the GOP point of view. They want to bring down the trade barriers that exist between America and the rest of the world, so there is a mobile free trade area. But then they want America to be separatist from the rest of the world and still have the higher stander of living. They don’t want to engage with the rest of the world; they want to use the rest of the world as a production facility. If they’re going to remove the trade barriers, they’re going to have to engage with everyone else. They can’t have it both ways, but they don’t really understand that. It’s interesting times, definitely. 

LEHRER: What feels more at peace for you in art? Is it photography or painting?

WAPLINGTON: I like doing both, I really do. Maybe as I get older, I might be out there taking pictures less than I am in the studio. But I’m still taking pictures all the time. I had this book a couple of years ago, the Patriarch’s Wardrobe, in which I combined photograph and painting. Now, I’m making a new body of work that includes some of the paintings in the show. I’m going to combine photos and paintings again. I might add text, too. I’m very much a solo worker. I don’t have a team of people working with me. Everything that’s made by me is really made by me.

LEHRER: I really loved the Brooklyn Museum exhibit you were featured in, ‘This Place.’ I included it an article for Forbes about the best exhibitions of the winter. I got a weird email about it from a publicist. I wrote something about it being political, and she said, “No, no, can you take that out? It’s not political.” I was thinking, “How can anything about the West Bank be not political?” I want to know what your take was on that experience, and if you think politics can be removed from a discussion about The West Bank.

WAPLINGTON: I don’t think politics can be removed, but I tried to make work that wasn’t dealing directly with politics. I wanted to make work that had connectivity and time to it. I wanted my work to be a catalyst for dialogue about the West Bank. I want to make work about Jews in the West Bank that wasn’t about conflict with the Palestinians. It was, “Here is the landscape. Here are the Jewish people. What do you think about that?” The sculptural element was adding the Palestinians into the equation in a hidden way. It reminded me of being in South Africa during apartheid, when they managed to hide black people away somehow. I know that it’s very contentious to compare the West Bank to South Africa, especially amongst Jewish people, but the parallels are there, unfortunately. I am Jewish, you know that?

LEHRER: Yeah, I’m Jewish too. I don’t think, from a moral standpoint, that I can totally condone the hiding of an entire group of people who have lived there forever.

WAPLINGTON: Yeah. It’s just not fair, this collective punishment. I really believe that it would be possible to make a kind of deal that was to everyone’s advantage. I think it’s really doable and possible. There’s this idea that the other group will just go away at some point. It’s ridiculous.

LEHRER: It’s insane to me that Bernie Sanders is our first Jewish presidential candidate. He just said that he would support a two-state deal, and he was called anti-Israel by every publication in the country.

WAPLINGTON: Yeah. Well, the West Bank is the biblical land of Israel. They’re not going to give it up. Let’s be honest about that. I think the two-state solution looks great on paper, but it seems impossible. It’s not going to be split, so it’s about finding a solution with both groups of people within one state, in my opinion.

LEHRER: It does seem like that. The optimist in me wants to think anything is possible, but I haven’t been there.

WAPLINGTON: 25% of the people in Israel are Arab. I just believe that if it’s one state, they might as well incorporate the West Bank, give everyone the vote, and have a constitution that gives people their rights. They can be called Israel and Palestine. Why not? We already have a country with two different populations. Half of Malaysia is Chinese and secular, whereas the other half is Muslim. And they make it work. I think if they do it, after a few years, they’ll be wondering what all the fuss as about.

LEHRER: Once peace is actually achieved, people start to realize, what was the fighting for? This is so much better.

WAPLINGTON: I believe it can be worked out. People think I’m crazy for believing that. 


Nick Waplington "A Display of Panic at a Moment of Absolute Certainty" will be on view at These Days LA until June 5, 2016. Text and interview by Adam Lehrer. Photographs by Flo Kohl. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Pushing Boundaries: An Interview With Claire Barrow

text by Adam Lehrer

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEHRER: To live or to visit?

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

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

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

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

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

LEHRER: We’re in a similar boat.

BARROW: No, because Bernie will win.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEHRER: I know. People keep buying clothes.

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

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

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

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

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


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


Agency, Anal and Attitude: An Interview with Aiden Starr

Aiden Starr has the most magnificent rack I’ve ever come in contact with. Aside from her undeniably pronounced assets, Aiden is articulate and knowledgeable about what she does and has nothing to hide because of it. She is one of the most accomplished women in porn, exposed and giving no apologies. Straight forward and cutting; she tells it like it is and that is what I cherish about her as a friend and a colleague. She calls bullshit, she celebrates the good, she treats sex work with care and consideration. For her, porn is a humanist pursuit as she acts as a matchmaker between client and provider on all levels of the industry. I caught up with the 4’11” blonde bombshell and her sweet porn chum, Daisy Ducati, at the Beverly Center in mid-January after an Evil Angel shoot. I hung around while they shopped for their dresses for the 2016 AVNs and XBIZ awards while asking questions about her career and the porn industry at large, and learned more about her impressive roster of porn films, both as a performer and a director, past and upcoming and other untouchable arenas: agency, anal, and attitude. Some men seemed to recognize both of the girls as we walked through the mall, but I remained the invisible pervert.

Audra Wist: My interest in you has always been about you being super professional and somebody who has successfully crossed over hardcore porn and femdom and also somebody is who both a performer and a director. I am not so involved in the porn industry to know how common that is, but it doesn’t seem—

Aiden Starr: It’s not. Male performers and directors are way more common than female performer/directors.

Wist: So, was that a part of your trajectory when you started out… like you said, okay, I’m going to perform and I definitely want to get to directing eventually, this is something I’m interested in technically... or was it more or less I’m going to get into this and see how I do and play it by ear?

Starr: My first sex worker job was a phone girl in a dungeon. What a phone girl means is the girl who picks up the phone, who books the sessions for the other girls and who preps the equipment in the room and who keeps the time. And working on the magazine that the dungeon put out at the time cause this was the 90s.

Wist: And this was in New York?

Starr: Yeah, New York. And also working on the website, updating. But most of what I did and what I was really good at was managing the clients. I really liked submissive girls - that’s why I started working there. My buddy was a bottom and we played together and she started working there and she asked me to work there with her because she wanted me to work on her shifts, be the phone girl, and book all of her sessions. Get her guys that she liked and make good matches for her. So, my initial interest in the adult industry was making good matches between clients and providers to make the job enjoyable - to make the experience enjoyable for not only the clients, but also for the providers. Not only was a monetary exchange, but an exchange of a good time and a good energy.

Wist: Right, that’s what it’s about.

Starr: I didn’t start working in that kind of adult film until I was working in the dungeon for a couple of years and then I only did it with women who were my lovers in real life. Before I graduated high school, I thought about applying to Tisch [School of the Arts, at NYU] and had prepared an application, so I was familiar with video medium and had directed stuff before. In fact, the very first thing I directed, I was a twelve-year old and I directed a mockumentary on date rape.

Wist: Really? That’s great! Wait, so did you-

Starr: It was a dramatization. It was a girl and a guy going back and forth, talking about their experiences, like a he said/she said reenactment of it with a party scene: people drinking too much and the concept of date rape. She didn’t know why they were going into the bedroom because she’s young and didn’t have the experience... and he didn’t understand that she didn’t know why they were going into the bedroom because why would she go into the bedroom if she didn’t want to be there? That kind of scene. I wrote these scripts out for my friends, who were twelve, and I made them do it.

Wist: [laughs] Oh, you “made” them do it - that is your career in a nutshell.

Starr: And it was also kind of a porn, a soft-core porn. Now, my version of this was them getting under the covers and moving under the sheets because when you’re twelve you think that’s what sex is. You just pull the sheets over your head and move around.

Wist: That is so funny.

Starr: But that, theoretically, is a soft core porn. So, I guess if you look back early enough, I was always going to end up where I ended up but that’s not what initially sparked my wanting to be a sex worker. It’s like a spa, going to see a provider. It’s beautiful and it’s fantasy and it’s like watching one of those movies from the 80s like Legend or Labyrinth where everybody is amazing and is in a castle and there’s a princess. And to me, it was helping people with their castle fantasy.

Wist: You see a smattering of people in the adult industry, or maybe this is any industry, but you have people who are the real deal and people who are eh, what are you doing here.

Starr: Tourists.

Wist: Right, tourists. And I feel so much of what’s going on, all this shit about sex positivity and feminism, it’s all just internet chatter and no real showing up. Show up and do something. For you, it’s like here I am: a director for a huge porn company. Here I am: performing in porn. Here I am: a mainstay in porn and have been for a long time. What do you think about all the stuff that’s being thrown around on the internet online… I’m trying to think of an example…

Starr: Oh, you can think of an example. Just try real hard.

Wist: What are you thinking of?

Starr: The James Deen thing.

Wist: Oh, yes! Of course. I honestly did not even think of that when I was thinking of these questions but that is perfect. We should talk about that.

Starr: That’s a great example of sex workers espousing feminism in social media. The fact that, to these women, you always take the side of a woman whenever she claims to have been raped, that is part of their perceived definition of feminism. Which is interesting, because for me rape is not a gender-based issue. I know just as many men, or trans, or otherwise gendered people, who are sexually assaulted as I do women. So, I don’t see rape culture as a feminist issue. I see it as a humanist issue. And it’s interesting because it’s being ascribed to a feminist issue. People claiming “women get raped, women get raped, women get raped.” People get raped. Human beings get raped. And I think that’s kind of getting lost while people are espousing the idea of rape culture and the knowledge that this does exist. A man was trying to convince me the other day that rape culture doesn’t exist and I said “God bless you that you don’t know that that exists.”

Wist: Damn.

Starr: Seriously, bless your existence and that you don’t act that way towards people. Bless your parents for not fucking you up the way that a lot of other people are fucked up. It’s a thing, it’s a real thing. But I don’t think that it has to be under the feminist banner and I think that it is being ascribed to the feminist banner by sex workers or sex positive people in social media. It’s interesting to see the dynamic of where feminism was in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and today. Today it’s all about preventing victimization and I feel like many many years ago it was about empowerment and equality. I’m not sure how that happened.

Wist: Preventing of victimization. So, do you think that there’s an alternative to that view? Not that this is a say-all-end-all my-little-constitution of feminism or whatever, but is there anything we can do? Or is it just being somebody who is doing the work and not being “I’m gonna go on the internet and say what I think about this thing that I have no first-hand knowledge of whatsoever!”

Starr: I think for me feminism, at it’s core, is about equality. It’s about people being equal to people. You obviously could go into the history of it and it’s present-day application and the issue, be they American, Central American, South American, African, European, Australian, Asian, whatever pocket of the world, and how feminism plays out in certain area, but for me, it’s about everybody being equal to each other.

Wist: Straight forward, straight up.

Starr: That’s kind of how I’ve always seen it. Everybody deserves common human rights.

Wist: Yeah, there was a gal [Laurie Penny] who wrote a piece for TIME and it was this call to arms, like we have to do something about this, isn’t this horrible and I thought yes, of course rape is horrible—

Starr: Yes! No one is arguing that! No one has ever been like this is totally fucking fine. Only the idiots are saying “she asked for it” and no one listens to them. They’re idiots and we all know they are idiots. Feminism has definitely become more anti-male. Feminism looks closer to female supremacy than it does feminism.

Wist: Right, it does! I wrote down one time “I am a female supremacist but I don’t devalue men,” and I could not for the life of me figure out what that meant. But now, hearing you say that, maybe I was trying to ascribe to a particular brand of contemporary feminism while wanting to break away or find some alternative that felt right. I looked at that sentence a lot. Do you think that that’s why there’s been a rise in femdom porn? I don’t know the numbers, but do you think there’s been a significant spike?

Starr: Why there’s been a rise in femdom porn is such an interesting fucking question. It’s one of my favorite subjects to talk about. When I talk to clients about porn and why they watch it, I always pick their brains and it’s so interesting to see that side where subs have no control and they like having no control. Whereas, if you play with a girl and it’s a girl/girl situation, the girls like “you can do this to me, you can do that to me, but I don’t like that and I don’t like this, period.” Whereas, guys just want to be this rock bottom. It’s so different between the two genders and their perception of being submissive. It’s fascinating! I have no fucking idea why except that money is so important in today’s society that I’m sure it has something to do with the burden that men are supposed to be the primary breadwinners.

Wist: Yes, I was thinking the same thing. It has something to do with money as it’s so closely related to power.

Starr: Yeah, findom [financial domination] is huge.

Wist: I think it’s also that because of money, people acquiring large sums of it, people are too comfortable and they really seriously do not know what to do with all of it. And then it gets mixed in with desire or their dick or—

Starr: It’s burning a hole in their pocket.

Wist: Right.

Starr: I think men also feel like the pressure is on them in social situations to engage women and do they like the sexually aggressive archetype because it takes the pressure off of them. So, why I think that any kind of porn rises, any kind of art rises, any kind of entertainment rises, at all in any medium, is culture. The pervasive language of the culture directly affects femdom. What that language is is debatable but definitely male responsibility and that they feel burdened by society in some way, shape, or form to still be the sexual aggressor or monetary provider affects femdom. And going back to feminism, maybe that’s why all these girls are angry on the internet because their realities are not pleasing to them.


"IT'S LIKE A SPA, GOING TO SEE A PROVIDER. IT'S BEAUTIFUL AND IT'S FANTASY AND IT'S LIKE WATCHING ONE OF THOSE MOVIES FROM THE 80s, LIKE LEGEND OR LABYRINTH, WHERE EVERYBODY IS AMAZING AND IS IN A CASTLE AND THERE'S A PRINCESS. AND TO ME, IT WAS HELPING PEOPLE WITH THEIR CASTLE FANTASY."


Wist: Yeah, this is the whole put a ribbon on your car situation, right? Support our troops? Did that. I bought my ribbon and put it on my car. Done. It’s a whitewashing culture. Maybe something that folds into that too… I was really into your Marshmallow Girls series for Evil Angel. I remember thinking damn, this is in the fucking mainstream! This is so crazy and why not? And to put it out there under those circumstances and to really capitalize on a previously thought of as “niche” market is bold! With that and femdom porn too, I think we really have to acknowledge and reckon with the fact that people want different things and have different needs. And look - you put it out there and people buy it. That’s the best part.

Starr: They buy it! People buy the shit out of my porn. I make money and I can pay you. Yeah, people buy the shit out of my weird crap.

Wist: I’m wondering about the back end of that, too. Does porn still dictate what’s on the cusp of happening in technology? Is the porn industry experiencing the same thing that magazines and the print media are right now then?

Starr: Yeah, obsolescence. Our medium is experiencing a trend towards obsolescence because of the drop in capital because of all of the free porn on the internet. It’s fucking us super badly.

Wist: What do you do to counteract that?

Starr: What you have to do is make something that they would pay for even if they could get it for free. You have to make the air smell so good that people will come over to your post to sniff the air even though there’s air everywhere for free. It’s really fucking hard. Selling something for free is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It is possible, but you just have to think about it. When I make movies, all of my cast is hand-picked. The movie we just shot Lesbian Anal Sex Slaves Volume 2—

Wist: Repeat the name for me?

Starr: Lesbian Anal Sex Slaves Volume 2. Daisy [Ducati] and I were doing a shot together, fleshing out ideas of how we were already interacting and then figured out as other characters, figuring out our dynamics, props. It’s a more complicated process now. You can’t just put anal porn on the internet now and expect to make money.

Wist: Do you guys storyboard?

Starr: I don’t storyboard… we were talking about it during sex. We were inspired by each other. I talked to her, proposed an idea afterward. She’s in a lot of my stuff anyway and I like picking performers who like to be involved in the creative process or are blank canvases. Typically, I like to pair those types together in a scene. Daisy has been in a lot of my stuff and she is a part of the creative process and then I pick a blank canvas, or two, and give them to her and it goes from there. Does that make sense? I just compared it to painting.

Wist: Makes sense to me.

Starr: I have active participants in a scene and passive participants. And I participate only if the passive participants are unable to complete the tasks at hands. So, today for example, the girl was having trouble with anal. I saw her having trouble with anal so I told her to get on her back and have the other gal lick her butthole. I had to change the situation because she was not comfortable. Otherwise, I would’ve just let them do what they were going to do. I only interject if I feel like I need to as a director.

Wist: Does that happen that often that people [directors] step in and say okay, you are clearly having trouble with your butthole today—

Starr: You just do something else. It’s okay! For me, it’s about the happiness and safety of all the performers. No one has to die. I don’t make snuff movies.

Wist: What’s that like for you to work with fresh eighteen year-olds in the industry? Do you feel like you’re mama bear?

Starr: I don’t usually hire young girls.

Wist: You don’t?

Starr: I don’t. I’m 36 and I’m not really attracted to people half my age. It’s just not a thing for me. This girl was special. She has a special energy and I wanted her to have good experiences with us doing rough stuff. She had fun today. And because of it, she’s going to be a more comfortable sex worker because of it.

Wist: Right, she didn’t feel bad about it and that’s so important! So many people have bad one-off experiences.

Starr: You can really give yourself serious psychological damage with bad experiences.

Wist: Yeah, I think about this with clients. They have these bad first experiences with dommes, and these are grown men, and they are traumatized. And I feel bad. That fucking blows. They paid to have a traumatic experience.

Starr: It’s intense. A lot of pro dommes are really bad. Really bad where I’m like what the fuck am I looking at right now?

Wist: Well, I have my own are-you-for-real bullshit detector thing that I do or observe, but do you have that too?

Starr: Yes, absolutely. If you are a pro domme and I see you do a scene with no aftercare, you suck. Period. If you are too fucking cool to get them a glass of water… if you are too fucking good to realize that you’re playing with a human being, I don’t like you. We’re not cut from the same fabric.

Wist: Yep. And it’s all too common.

Starr: And you know what it is? It stems from insecurity because cruelty stems from insecurity and that’s what that is. That’s not BDSM, that’s cruelty. It’s true, man. And girls think it makes them look like a badass.

Wist: It’s a bummer. So, you guys are preparing for the awards show this week?

Starr: Yeah, I’ve been working my balls off. XBIZ awards are this week and then the AVNs are the following week.

Wist : Did you ever read David Foster Wallace’s essay on his experience at the AVNs?

Starr: No.

Wist: He opens it up with this horrendous story about men jerking off so much, so furiously, that they just can’t handle it anymore and they chop that shit right off.

Starr: Sweet, wow. Wait a minute… first of all, the AVNs are not that much fun. Okay, if Satan were involved, I would be much more excited about not being able to work the entire time while being there. I would be much more excited if anybody even just masturbated until their dick fell off much less cut off! If there was any masturbation at all, that would be amazing. There’s really nothing. We get dressed up, sign shit, talk to people, they stare at us, we do radio shows—

Wist: What’s that like, getting the mesmerizing stare? What are their faces like?

Starr: Here’s the weirdest shit the world: everybody knows your name and you don’t know any of their names. And you don’t know who they are… or if you do. I just try to be nice to everybody. That’s my plan for AVNs.

Wist: Do they say weird shit to you during a meet and greet?

Starr: Sometimes. Like, “Every time I masturbate, I cry,” and shit like that. I love that though. I want people to scare the other girls standing around — that’s how weird I want it to be. If it’s not weird, it’s just like, “Hi, nice to meet you, goodbye.” I like weird shit. One dude during an independent signing at a store, he came in and said, “You have really big breasts.” and I’m like, “yeeeeep!” and he goes, “I bet your mother had really big breasts, too.” and I said, “She does.” and then he comes back with, “I bet your grandmother has big breasts.” and I’m like, “As a matter of fact, she does.” And he was older; he started asking what my grandmother looked like...

Wist: Oh, god.

Starr: And at the end of the conversation he asked me if I would tell my grandmother that he said hello and I was like, “Sure will, buddy.”

Wist: Shit. [laughs] By the way, I do have to say, your tits are amazing. That was one of the things I had wrote down to say. It’s not a question, but I needed to say it.

Starr: Then you’re going to love the dress I’m wearing to AVN. It’s red latex over the boobies, over the cleavage and it’s really not my size, total smashville.

Wist: Another question I had for you because I still haven’t figured this out for myself, was about negotiating yourself into your work. I struggle with this. So, you have your government self and then you have this performer you’ve created, another part of you, which is still very much you and not something false. I was also thinking about David Bowie since he passed the other day, and I thought wow, porn is like David Bowie. Is there a relationship there?

Starr: Porn is like David Bowie but porn is more like football.

Wist: Porn is like football? Explain.

Starr: So, you’re a football player, right? You eat well, you’re in shape, you work out and train, you look good, you’re a football player. But then, when you put on your uniform, you tackle people. You wouldn’t tackle people in real life, but you do when you’re in uniform because it’s your job and it’s okay. So, porn is like football.

Wist: Ohhhh, I see. So, porn is like football and not like David Bowie?

Starr: Porn is like David Bowie because David Bowie was majestic and sexual and fantastic. And tight shiny clothing and shoes you can’t really walk in. David Bowie is like porn because of the sexuality that is so raw and potent that it makes people nervous. The most popular comment on all of the stories on my Facebook feed about David Bowie on Facebook were “speechless.” He renders people speechless. Porn renders people speechless. When guys come up to us at AVN, they often cannot articulate themselves. You’re activating the part of your brain that does not recognize language as a form of communication, the animal or primal part of your brain that is activated by symbolism, colors, tarot cards, crosses, shit like that. That is how porn is like David Bowie.

Wist: You knocked it out of the park.


You can follow Aiden Starr on Twitter here. Text and interview by Audra Wist. Photographs by . Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE