A Voyage Into Sight, Sound and Surf: An Interview Of Filmmaker Chris Gentile

Interview by Agathe Pinard

Self Discovery for Social Survival is the surf/music feature film born from the collaboration of Chris Gentile from New York-based surf brand Pilgrim Surf + Supply and Keith Abrahmsson from the record label Mexican Summer. Together they started this ambitious project to connect surf, sound and sight and make a film that would satisfy most senses. World-renowned surfers including Stephanie Gilmore, Ryan Burch, Creed McTaggart and Ellis Ericson joined musicians Allah-Las, Peaking Lights, Connan Mockasin and MGMT ’s Andrew VanWyngarden on this surf journey starting from a secret spot in Mexico, to the southern atolls of the Maldive Islands, and ending in the cold waters of Iceland. The film is narrated by a man who is often referenced as the godfather of American avant-garde, the late Jonas Mekas. I had the chance to talk to the artist, photographer and film director Chris Gentile about the making of his first feature-length film, bringing together artists and surfers, and working with Jonas Mekas.

AGATHE PINARD: I wanted to start by asking about the meaning behind the title, Self Discovery for Social Survival, can you explain it?

CHRIS GENTILE: When we started to conceptualize the film, myself and Keith Abrahamsson from Mexican Summer, we were thinking a lot about music and its relationship to surfing. Surfing is this activity, this pursuit that people engage in and that kind of helps people detach from what they’re do day-to-day, give them some contemplative time to sort of go inward and we were trying to come up with this name, and along the way I came across an old book that was written for climbing, for people who would free climb and climb up mountains. It was basically a book that gave people a pathway to overcome fear. The book was titled Self Discovery for Social Survival. Keith and I both felt like that really resonated with the spirit of what this film was about. Surfers are constantly looking for that open and free space to have a moment in nature, where two forces are meeting each other and the surfers are in the space where the energy that’s coming from nature is dying and being born at the same time. We felt like this title had a lot of metaphoric possibilities and decided to go for it. It’s a mouthful, it’s a big title.

PINARD: This is an ambitious project that mixes surfing, music and animation done by the in house designer of Mexican Summer…

GENTILE: Yes, Bailey Elder but also Robert Beatty, who’s an independent artist and illustrator.

PINARD: How did the idea/project come together ?

It was evolving the whole time we were making the film, it was a very open-ended and experimental process. The one thing that I really wanted to maintain was an open-endedness with everybody involved. So there are multiple points of influence that went into the filmmaking. I didn’t give the surfers any directions while they surfed. We travelled together, we picked these particular places, and they were reacting to the waves that were there for a two-week period of time, and the cinematographers were reacting to the way the surfers were surfing, positioning themselves to get the shot that felt right. I really left a lot of that control up to them. The musicians who were involved were on these trips and they were in the water and surfing the same waves that the professional surfers we travelled with were surfing. They have a first experience and perspective on what was going on. The idea was to let them go back into the studio and have complete creative freedom over the music that they wrote in reaction.

PINARD: What about the animation?

GENTILE: When that came into play, we showed a rough cut to Bailey and Robert. Then Keith Abrahamsson picked a couple of songs that he felt were appropriate to transition from one location like Mexico to the Maldives. To put a song and an animation that would kind of be like a mental palette cleanser, Keith came up with these two fantastic songs. One was an archival song from the seventies, “Void Spirit,” and the other one was a song that was made by Jefre Cantu-Ledesma for the film. Jefre isn’t a surfer, he wasn’t on the trip but he made these beautiful compositions inspired by the idea of being under water, being under the ocean. So, those tracks were given to Bailey and Robert along with the access to this footage, and they reacted and created these animations. Everything was very independent to one another, every aspect of the film. I kind of kept everything on track and helped people when they need my help, but really it was exercise––relinquishing ego and control, and letting everybody’s influence come in and affect the overall project.

PINARD: That’s funny, last week I interviewed Connan Mockasin and we talked about the trip he made to Iceland for the movie, and how he was impressed at the beginning to be around these professional surfers like Stephanie Gilmore who’s a seven-time world champion.

GENTILE: One of the things that I had to do was to think deeply about the personalities that we were going to introduce to one another on these adventures because most of the people didn’t know each other. And taking a surf trip, you don’t know what you’re going to get. There’s no guarantee that the waves are going to be good, or that the weather is going to be good, or a tire may go flat. You may miss opportunities or you may get opportunities that you would never expect. When we went on these trips I had to think about how the group would feel and I was just going off my own instincts and my own guts. The trip to Iceland was really special because it was a group of really different people. They all had a sincere admiration and appreciation for one another. Everyone became fast friends. Iceland was interesting because we were traveling all over that country chasing these storms and these waves. Sometimes getting them and sometimes missing them, but we spent so much time in these vans just traveling across this incredible landscape. Everyone got a lot of time to know each other, more so than on the other trips because on the other trips it was a lot more surfing, people were getting tired, it was different. Iceland was the one where I think the actual chase for the waves was the beauty in that trip, more so than the wave riding.

PINARD: For the movie you took some surfers and went on a trip to Mexico, the Maldives and Iceland, which one was your favorite ?

GENTILE: That’s a great question. I mean, I’ve been to that spot in Mexico so many times and it’s one of my favorite places on the planet. I loved the opportunity to go down there with that group of people, but I have to say the Maldives was really unique and special, because we had this group of Australian surfers together that were kind of like a brotherhood. That trip, we were on a boat, the whole entire time, on an old, old boat. It travels really slowly, had a lot of character and a great captain and a great crew. It was not posh by any means, it was kind of a busted boat. But it was so fun because everybody was just excited to be around each other, find waves, fish. The kind of boredom that you experience on these boats, these guys were wild and doing the most hilarious stuff. Some of it we couldn’t put in the movie it was crazy, drunken backflips off of the boat completely nude at like 3 o’clock in the morning. It was incredible, very memorable.

PINARD: The film is narrated by the late, legendary Jonas Mekas, it might have been the last project he worked on...

GENTILE: I know that Jonas filmed his life every day, so I’m sure that that footage is truly his last work. On this project we were so fortunate to have him agree to come and narrate. The words are Jamie Brisick and Jonas read them. It was so special to get to meet him and experience his humility and his generosity, it was fantastic. If it weren’t for Jonas, I don’t think we could have made a film like this. He’s had so much influence on me as a young artist throughout my life. He gave us, me and the rest of the people at Mexican Summer, everyone, he truly gave us the license to make the film. So, to have him narrate it was an honor, it was so special.

PINARD: How did you get him to work on the project?

GENTILE: Keith Abrahamsson is really responsible for that. Keith presented him with this idea and had already been working with Jonas on a couple of other things, helping him with his archives. They had a working relationship together. Keith asked him if he would be up for narrating the film, and explained to him what it was, and I think it was so strange that he thought it was worth doing. It wasn’t very difficult. He got in a recording studio with him, drank a couple glasses of wine, and I think in one or two takes he nailed the narration. It was great.

PINARD: The movie will premiere in LA this Saturday, are you excited? How do you feel about it ?

GENTILE: I’m a little nervous, I’ve never directed a film before. I’ve made a lot of short films, experimental films, but nothing that’s feature-length, and at this scale, and this level of production. I’m so grateful to have the experience. I’ve learned a lot from it. I’m really excited to see it in front of an audience, see the reaction, see the bands perform live to it, it’s going to be so special.


Self Discovery For Social Survival will premiere in Los Angeles this Saturday June 15 at The Palace Theatre with a live score by Connan Mockasin, Andrew VanWyngarden of MGMT and Allah-Las

The film is out digitally on June 18 and available to pre-order now at https://geni.us/SDSS .






Bad Sin Frutas: An Interview With Painter Morgan Mandalay

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text and photographs by Summer Bowie

Are you staring directly into the mouth of the beast, or are you indeed sitting inside said mouth, observing the surreal landscape below? This is just one of the many visual homonyms that are ever-present in the works of Morgan Mandalay. For his first solo exhibition at Klowden Mann in Los Angeles, the Chicago-based artist has painted worlds that are rife with reference to human figuration, though only vaguely, in the form of phantom hands clutching at tree branches, or humanoid eyeballs peeking through leaves. Traces of our existence are evident in the still life formations of pitted fruits, or in fish hung by twine, and most conspicuously in the presence of a large brick wall. Otherwise, these worlds seem to be inhabited by fruit and flora that rot and burn on the vine, trees that seem to bear both lemons and pears simultaneously; a world where omniscient angels are standing by for either the sake of protection and salvation, or eternal damnation. Bad Sin Frutas tells a story of exile using the memetic power of the Garden of Eden as a template for processing the Mandalay family’s exile from Cuba, and it does so in a time of global refugee crises. As far as its temporal grounding, Morgan sighs with a reticence to use the term “post Anthropic” when he points to what this world might be gesturing towards. The mild humiliation on his part seems to come from two places. The first might be a feeling of sounding trite, knowing that the post Anthropocene is a well-explored subject in contemporary art. The second might be that he and I have known each other since we were teenagers in San Diego, or perhaps, we only know each other as teenagers, and having only recently reconnected, he knows this is a term that our teenage selves would find grossly didactic. To me, it seems a perfect paradox for this parallel universe we seem to be inhabiting where the past is constantly colliding with the present, further perplexing our sense of the future. I got a chance to preview the show with Morgan and talk about his perpetual use of quizzical homonyms, his nomadic life as an artist, and the interdependent qualities of one’s creative and administrative efforts.

SUMMER BOWIE: Let’s just start with the title of the show, Bad Sin Frutas. Can you tell me a bit about it’s meaning? Is it Bad Sin [Spanish pronunciation] Frutas, or Bad Sin [English pronunciation] Frutas?

MANDALAY: (laughs) Yeah, I mean that’s it. Well, my titles are generally a play on language and scrambling language, or a play with the mutability of meaning, as an extension of understanding a fluid self. Language, in whatever form, be it written, spoken, painted or whatever, as a kind of marker of self. "Norman Amygdala" was an anagram of my name, "Scene of Shipwreck", "Thank you squash banana. I'm not an ape, you are"…they’re all plays on homonym or mistranslation. Originally I’d been thinking the show should be called “Sin Frutas,” but I was also toying with “Bad.” My partner (Kim-Anh Schreiber) is who suggested the merger and I think it was way more effective. Bad Sin Frutas

BOWIE: You have a multi-pupiled demon that started showing up in your work in 2017, in this series of works they appear but are hidden in lean layers, can you tell me a bit about where that came from?

MANDALAY: Right, the cherubim. They come from the book of Ezekiel and they appear to be demons, but they’re actually angels who guard the gates to the Garden of Eden with a flaming sword. They’re described as having multiple faces, and the multiple pupils convey the motion of their eyes, which are all-seeing, and constantly observing and judging and protecting.

BOWIE: So, they were basically like the Biblical Big Brother? (laughs) When you say cherubim, the image in my mind is that of a bored, chubby baby.

MANDALAY: Well, yeah we have a very diluted idea of angels nowadays, but in the order of angels there are cherubim, seraphim, the throne, archangels, and four others. The seraphim are usually depicted with six wings and the cherubim have four wings. They all have different purposes that they serve, and were we to have grown up in Europe during the Middle Ages, we would more likely be familiar with the types of angels represented in these Biblical paintings, and the roles that they play in the Bible. However, we grew up on Touched By An Angel, and City of Angels, and Michael, and Angels in the Outfield, so at this point most of us are imagining someone sexy with washboard abs or, yeah, the like…Rococo fat Cupid baby.

BOWIE: Can you talk about Géricault’s “The Raft of the Medusa” and how that fits into your work?

MANDALAY: Sure thing. I think I alluded to my interest in homonym before­––a thing that looks like one thing and means another, or can hold two meanings at once. Lots of people seem very certain in their beliefs, and part of those beliefs is that the opposing beliefs are certainly wrong. And hell, some things are wrong, of course. I’m not some extreme moral relativist but…some things can look like one thing and mean something else. “The Raft of the Medusa,” previously titled “Scene of Shipwreck,” is a painting that could be two events. It could be sunset or it could be sunrise because there’s nothing in the painting to tell us which direction we are pointed. The ship on the horizon, silhouetted, could be coming closer or going away. The people of the raft are either being saved, or they’re being left to die. It all depends on how much you know about an obscure piece of 18th century French history that at the time seemed important enough to be commemorated on a giant canvas, in basically Géricault’s only well-known painting, and then travelled around England.

BOWIE: And what about the role of still life in these works?  

MANDALAY: Kind of the same answer. But also I like that still life painting was, and in many ways maybe still is, the “lesser-than” form of painting. When I started making still lifes I would do it with my leftover paints on my palette, or with the pigment sludge at the bottom of my turpentine jar. They’re….I don’t know, humble.

BOWIE: Sure. There’s definitely something to be said for Manny Farber’s “termite art” approach. After living, studying and working in San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, New York and Chicago, do you feel as though the dramatic change in settings/scenes has affected your work?

MANDALAY: Yes and no. I think not knowing what I am, or stability has definitely shaped my work. I think my work often doesn’t know what it is. My paintings, I hope, are always similarly trying to locate themselves, or asking the viewer to join in that attempt.

More directly I can say, I’ve certainly picked up nuggets along the way or been affected differently by where I was. San Diego is my home and everything I guess stems from there. In San Francisco, I think I always go back to studying with Keith Boadwee specifically as formative. When I dropped out of SFAI and moved to Portland, that’s where I guess I really dove into paintings as my primary mode of making, and then spent the next 5 years learning more about that in San Diego. Somewhere between San Diego and Chicago probably taught me everything about being a part of a community of artists, and running a space as a way I enjoyed being a community member.

 BOWIE: That’s right. You went back to San Diego and opened your own gallery, SPF 15. Can you talk about the intention behind that gallery?

MANDALAY: I wanted to have a space that spoke to the locality. In terms of programming, I wanted to create a program that would bring people to San Diego, and show artists from San Diego alongside these other artists that are doing interesting things. Obviously, I benefit from that as well. I wanted to be able to be in San Diego, and be an artist, and not disappear. There was a talk that Tyson Reeder gave when I was living in Chicago. I often would harken back to on this—talking about all the projects that he and his brother Scott did in Milwaukee in the early 2000s. Really before the easy access of Instagram, it was a way of being visible, doing these projects and inviting people to this city that they potentially aren’t thinking of as an “art city,” but one that has abundant resources. To me, that was part of it too, he referred to it as a telephone line to the outside world. SPF15 was a telephone line to the outside world.

BOWIE: What does it stand for again? I remember you telling me once that the intention was to do exactly 15 exhibitions... 

MANDALAY: It was Sunday Project For 15 exhibitions. We’ve done 14, so there’s still one to go. We did a few fairs and things like that too, but those don’t count as proper, nomadic beach exhibitions. 

BOWIE: Do you think you’d ever like to go back to curating and running a gallery space?

MANDALAY: Yeah, I think about it a lot. To me it’s a part of being in a community. It’s really hard for me to separate that from my overall practice, or I don’t know, personhood.

BOWIE: Was it ever weird, switching hats from being the artist to the dealer?

MANDALAY: No, it should be weird, but as an artist, one of the things I get to do is make decisions about what I want to see in the world, and as a gallerist or curator, that’s part of what I’m doing too. Hopefully, creating thoughtful exhibitions, working with artists that I really believe in that add to the overall diversity of aesthetics, but also...that I want to see. Seeing is a big part of it. Both have these invisible administrative arms to them. Being an artist, there’s plenty of administrative work as well. I learned a lot about being an artist, in terms of the professional side of it, from being on the administrative side of running spaces. I don’t think of them as all that different. One hand washes the other.

BOWIE: What brought you back to Chicago?

MANDALAY: My partner is getting her PhD at Northwestern. It’s good…it’s cold. But our apartment is beautiful and my studio is next to our bedroom. And I’m working at a radical progressive studio here, Arts of Life, working with an amazing group of artists with developmental disabilities.

BOWIE: The color palette of this series of works feels very different from previous works, almost like Southern California after a massive fire. Can you talk about that?

MANDALAY: I live in Chicago now. I needed some color. No, for a while I’ve been making somewhat monochromatic paintings or just…darker. But I used to use a lot of color and I think I couldn’t tell if I was making good paintings or just pretty colored paintings so for a few years I thought I needed to strip them of candy sweet colors. But I feel really confident about these paintings. I’ve tried to deploy color meaningfully and more as a lure than as the fish.

BOWIE: I remember you being a drama kid in high school, how were you introduced to painting?

MANDALAY: It’s true! Oh my god, yeah. I don’t know if you remember this but I got to direct this one act that Neil and Serop, and I (to a lesser degree) wrote together called Schizophrenia. I think that had a really lasting impact on me. It really was like, the only art I did, and then I went to art school at SFAI. Which is its own long story.

It took me a long time to circle back to theater in my work. I think I was having a conversation with someone about the history of canvas, like, the material and realized that canvas had played this massive role, not just in art but in globalization (as sails), and theater as well, as traveling set pieces. Like, canvas is all about nomadism. I started imagining my paintings as stage flats and got to realize this in Italy with Kim-Anh Schreiber, my partner and amazing writer. We collaborated on a piece called “Meatloaf,” in which a ghost couple float from home to home for 500 years trying to decide what to make for dinner.

BOWIE: That’s hilarious. Do you see yourself branching out into other media at any point?

MANDALAY: Not really. I think the past few couple of shows, this one and the recent exhibition at BWSMX in Mexico City, are the first shows in a long while that were just rectangles hanging on walls. Pictures. And I quite liked those shows. Maybe I’m getting more boring, or maybe I’m getting a better idea of what I want, or I’m maybe just feeling more confident. Like, I love working with other people, but it’s been really nice to just trust that my paintings are doing enough heavy lifting all on their own, thank you very much. Ha.

BOWIE: What’s next?

MANDALAY: To quote a line from “Meatloaf,” “the future, the future, you’ll never be ready.”

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Unearthing Embedded Knowledge: An Interview Of Rosha Yaghmai On The Occasion Of Her Exhibition At The Wattis Institute

interview by Summer Bowie
photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

Walking into Rosha Yaghmai’s studio is a little bit like walking into the laboratory of a junkyard hoarder/mad scientist. There’s a distinctly pleasant organization to the vast collection of Los Angeles detritus that extends from the studio to the backlot outside. The walls are plastered with images from torn magazine pages, postcards, posters, watercolors and collage works. It’s as though you could hold a microscope to any detail in the room and discover a tiny world within. This is especially the case when viewing the centerpiece of her upcoming exhibition Miraclegrow at the Wattis Institute in San Francisco. In the center of the room sits a giant sculpture of a human hair. Pubic? Maybe. This mysterious hair sits on a floor which acts as a pedestal of giant, reflective bathroom tiles. Encapsulating this familiar scene, the walls are covered in large black tiles, effectively wall works that appear to drip with the glistening traces of warm condensation. The hair itself is a sedimentary composite of industrial materials, cleaning products, bathroom products, nail polish, and so much more. Layers and layers of genetic material soaked in personal history. I had the chance to sit down with Yaghmai just a few days before the works made their way up to San Francisco to talk about her upbringing as a tinkering, junk-collecting Angeleno, her work and its relationship to personal heritage, and how she so compellingly defines the cosmic in the microcosmic.

SUMMER BOWIE: I want to start by just talking about your beginning. I understand that you started as a photographer and then transitioned into sculpture. What kind of photography were you making, and why did you lose interest in it?

ROSHA YAGHMAI: I started off making photographs really young. In the sixth and seventh grade. I was really interested in taking photographs. Really quickly, when I went to photo school, I spent most of my time trying to use the chemicals to do things you aren’t supposed to do. So, I never was making straight photographs...I was always.... altering the image, adding weird color.... I was trying to make the photographs more like paintings, but I think I was just trying to make sculpture. I would combine Xerox’s so there was this approximation of the real that I was really interested in, which seems like a natural link between photography and sculpture. I eventually started making fake diorama-like environments with the photographs, so again, pushing into sculpture. I was at SVA in New York at the time and I ended up transferring to CalArts. As soon as I got into the desert landscape, photography was gone.... and I started making sculpture. I haven’t made photographs for a long time.

BOWIE: That is interesting because you often hear of artists coming to LA, discovering its unique light and then naturally pushing into photography.

YAGHMAI: I am also from here, so it was less about that, I just wanted to create environments when I moved here.

BOWIE: The work you presented at Made in L.A., Slide Samples (Lures, Myths) includes projected slides from photographs your father took when he first emigrated to California from Iran. Have you always wanted to work with these images, or did the urge come to you recently?

YAGHMAI: They’ve always been around our house. We had this one print, and I thought it was just an eighties photo, and I didn’t think much about it. My father was interested in photography and that’s how I got into photography. I had all his cameras. etc. and I saw those slides and started making slides, but nothing like that. They [the slides] have always been lingering for years. I finally just asked him about them. I knew he had made them in Berkeley. I knew he used abstract color, they were trying to be psychedelic because of the timing, 1969-72. When I asked him about it, just the process of his thinking, it was very similar to how I was making resin that I was calling slides. He was taking hunks of glass from the Coca Cola Company in Oakland and using different sources of light and filters (light from the television, etc.) to make reflective surfaces. I thought it was an interesting, strange way to connect with a new culture but also realizing there were some similar physical properties with my work: the resin, using lenses and different filters. I think up until the Hammer most of the work that I have made was some sort of screen or a way to alter a site and I linked it with that work once I knew he had made it.

BOWIE: You were born right around the time that the Shah of Iran was overthrown.

RY: He [my father] emigrated here in the mid-60’s and my parents got married and they moved to Iran... and I was actually conceived in Iran and we lived there...then the revolution broke out and we came back to the United States...and I was born.

BOWIE: Growing up in Los Angeles, what was it like being in the wake of these events as a first-generation Iranian-American?

YAGHMAI: I think my dad was so involved with being an American person that we never really talked about that stuff... I didn’t really understand until later but I feel like...I am realizing... how in much of my work there is a subconscious draw to that... or a feeling of wanting to traverse long distances, or different perspectives comes into the work. I am so disconnected from that part of my lineage or history and I could ask my family, read more about it, and I do; but, I feel like I am in the process of unearthing some embedded knowledge and I think the misunderstanding and not knowing is really generative for me.

BOWIE: That makes sense. Maybe your dad was seeing America through a lens that is slowly revealing itself to you.

YAGHMAI: He only went back to Iran maybe five or six years ago, maybe because it was so awful and painful. It never really came up.

BOWIE: You said once that you take pleasure in the sort-of trashiness of LA. What aspects of that trashiness appeal to you most?

YAGHMAI: I don’t know if it just being that I am a beach-desert person, and there are moments in that??? (7:53). and there’s moments in that hair that are in this zone. You know, like a piece of glittering trash like in a desert landscape. Just these little moments of collage really interest me. But in terms of trashiness, I really thrive and enjoy a casual environment. I don’t know if trashiness is the right word, but I feel like (it’s not this way anymore) the feeling of complete freedom here. But now it is not quite like that. I grew up between Alta Dena and by the beach, we would just ride our bikes out, and go to the junkyard and find weird stuff, and my grandfather was a bit of a hoarder and a handyman type. We would just be tinkering. I think that is it. Thrift store shopping and finding some weird historical gem… I also have a real interest in outsider architecture.

BOWIE: I can see the psychedelic influence of your father’s work with those weird remnants of Americana that seem to litter the streets and the junkyards that used to exist. Santa Monica and Venice were very different places back then.

YAGHMAI: It was so wild there when I was growing up and trashy. It was great! The beach towns were abandoned--it was a bunch of old people and skaters. Weird remnants. It was magical, I feel lucky I grew up here during that time.


“I am realizing how much, basically, “dusk” is my color palette. That is where the light and space of California comes into my work. It is “dusk” but it is city dusk; that moment when the sky has that color and there is the neon turning on. That in-between time...”


BOWIE: You use a lot of found materials, industrial metals, liquids, resins, do you have any favorites or least favorites?

YAGHMAI: They are all a pain (sighs). I definitely do like working with materials that are liquid to solid. In terms of favorite, detrimental to my market, I just move through and use what I want. I don’t really have the usual approach. So, this show has a completely different approach than the one at the Hammer. I do like working with transparency, like this super clear, very toxic resin. My work relates to light and space because of my history and the physical properties of the work (color and all that), but I feel like for me it is much more about collaging. So, if you have one thing that’s transparent, you're altering what you see behind it, and for me that altering and blending of sight is really important. I also really like using silicone, the type of silicone you make prosthetics out of. Platinum silicon. And that has a translucent quality too but I like using that material as an approximation or stand in for the body, clear resin and that are the two things I go back to.

BOWIE: Your work has a quality about it that invites viewers to temporarily enter a foreign world and quietly meditate there for a moment. Is this an experience you look for when viewing the work of other artists?

YAGHMAI: I think you always fantasize that you make different art. I like going into a full on crazy installation...just something that looks like a playground. So, I am not always drawn to a contemplative space... I think that in my work that kind of emerges because up until very recently I was very stubborn about (sternly, “I make objects, I want to make objects”). Yet, it is teetering on installation because these objects when in relation to one another create this sort of psychological environment and their relation to each other creates an oddity you want to linger with. I feel like this show is the first time in a while that I am making an environment. I mean each object in the show... like the floor is the pedestal for the hair and the panels are paintings and they can be separated so they are still existing as objects kind of coming together for this moment but they are not props and still are works of art, or sculptures. I really think a lot about putting things together that are a bit perplexing or strange that makes one want to linger a bit and figure it out. I think that may be the color palette. I am realizing how much, basically, “dusk” is my color palette. That is where the light and space of California comes into my work. It is “dusk” but it is city dusk; that moment when the sky has that color and there is the neon turning on. That in-between time... which I think is a very contemplative time, when you are driving around that time.

BOWIE:  Always in LA... I think you said that your color choices are kind of the most intuitive part of the process...

YAGHMAI: I made this whole series of silicones for this show in Germany and I realized they are all colors from my childhood--wetsuits that were around. It just emerges, “oh, of course, that’s why I’m doing that...”

BOWIE: In this show, you said you wanted to create an environment that takes on a spider's perspective on the floor of a bathroom. What inspired this particular perspective?

YAGHMAI: I was really torn about what to do for this show. I feel like the Hammer project was sort of the end to a couple years of thinking. So I felt a bit stuck, to be honest, and I was trying to figure out what the next step was. I knew I wanted to make an environment. I was super frustrated, came home to the studio, threw down my jumpsuit, and I noticed (I hate spiders. Sorry, I’m trying to change my perspective on that) a spider trying to crawl into it, so I snatched it away. And the spider kind of stopped, and I was just watching, and thought, “what the hell does that thing think just happened?” So, I had this moment where I thought, if I am trying to make work that alters perspective in a very physical, literal embodied way, why wouldn’t the next step be to try to empathize and project myself into something of which I could never understand what their perspective would be. In terms of psychedelic properties, I think that’s the most honest way to go about it. I just wanted to physically remake it, but in a skewed way.

BOWIE: Has it changed your feelings towards spiders at all?

YAGHMAI: My husband got me this Louise Bourgeois book, and so obviously, she has those big spider sculptures, and she talks about them as a symbol of renewal. So, I’m trying to get into a Louise Bourgeois way of thinking about it, rather than just thinking about them crawling on me at night. So, I think I can empathize with them a little bit more. How scary must it be? I just wanted to make a direct approach to the show.

BOWIE:  There are so many materials that went into that hair sculpture. It has this sort of sedimentary value to it...can you just talk for a moment about the different materials that you used in creating it?

YAGHMAI: I mean... it is the hardest sculpture I ever made, not in a physical way, but just that you’re really fighting the form. Not to be too literal, but your hair is a shedding of some kind of skin, and I knew I wanted to cast my body and incorporate it into the work. Almost like it is carved out of some kind of stone, or I wanted to make it seem like something that happened or something that is really forced. You don’t work on growing your hair, it just happens, but if you think about all the energies that go into making it... I used a lot of materials that I’ve used before, like limestone, graphite, household plastics like shampoo bottles, laundry soap, and shopping bags. I melted those down and put them in. It’s almost like coral where it absorbs anything that is in the environment...I was thinking about that with all the chemicals in the body and how they can all be traced in a single hair. And also, thinking back to my father and my parents, and just thinking about what you absorb in your DNA, what is trapped in there, trapped knowledge that I don’t know about. I wanted to have this sort of spacey, geological tone and I was looking at images of the sand dunes on Mars, which is basically the whole brochure for the show, which is a reach, but it’s cosmic level shit. You know, like you’re sitting here and now our molecules will be tangled forever. Things that are blowing my mind. For me it is kind of fake because it is cast and modified material, but I was trying to be really genuine and putting together a lot of stuff that I’m around on the regular.

BOWIE: There seems a deep desire to capture moments or feelings in your work; to encapsulate and oppose the forces of entropy. Would you agree with that interpretation?

YAGHMAI: I think so... there is so much in my work that is the familiar becoming foreign, and so there's this flip all the time of something so familiar (that maybe you take for granted) turning on you. I feel just that awkwardness-- making you aware of your existence, of your body interacting with the object.

BOWIE: You have referred to the desire to freeze time, but is that something you feel like you want to do permanently or temporarily, and if so, for how long, what is that desire to hold things in space?

YAGHMAI: I mean that’s sculpture (laughs). If I had one power, it would be to stop time.  You know when you play that game. Just slowing down the process and pointing to that one thing and using force to stop that moment or those moments and to have it on display. Not that my work is usually that figurative, but to slow it down. Having a one-on-one relationship between the object and the viewer.


Rosha Yaghmai's exhibition
Miraclegrow opens on January 15th and runs until March 30th at The Wattis Institute. 360 Kansas St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Rough Cuts: An Interview Of Chuck Arnoldi On The Occasion Of His Show At Desert Center Los Angeles

Some interesting facts about leopards: they are solitary animals that hunt in open terrains, they are difficult to track in the wild, they are extremely adaptable to new environments, and they often leave claw marks on trees to mark their territory. In Chuck Arnoldi’s expansive Venice Beach studio, a dusty, taxidermied leopard is perched, mid-roar, above the kitchen alcove. There is something strangely symbolic about this once ferocious, now inert genus of panthera.  Arnoldi is not a hunter, but he is quick to note that this leopard is one of the best examples of taxidermy in the world. Among the Cool School cohort of artists, like Ed Ruscha, Billy Al Bengston, and Larry Bell, Arnoldi may be the lesser known, but he may also be the most prolific. His chainsaw sculptures – which can be quickly described as chunks of painted wood with blade marks slashed into them – are his most well known, his Girl From Ipanema. They are dangerous and allude to his misfit youth. These hyper-mystical geometries can also be seen in his Machu Picchu paintings, which mimic the mysterious architecture of the ancient Incan citadel. Arnoldi’s latest show at Desert Center, entitled Rough Cuts, includes a number of recent chainsaw paintings made in and around the Yukon. A day after the Woolsey Fire broke out and threatened the artist’s home in Malibu, we sat down at his studio for a chat.

OLIVER KUPPER: First off, I want to talk about the fire because it came very close to your property in Malibu, what did you do to fight off the fires? 

CHUCK ARNOLDI:  We weren’t going to leave because I have so much art in the house--I have a little Warhol I got for nothing...that is worth two million dollars, you know. We felt comfortable, because the house is quite high up there. We knew if the fire came, we could always go to the beach. If you go up to our roof, you could see the stuff coming. They looked like atom bombs, flames a hundred feet tall. I didn’t think my house was going to burn. I took the Calder and the Warhol...I got a lot of stuff, about a hundred-fifty pieces of art at least in the house. I took it all outside and put it in different places. It took me 25,000 steps to take it out and 25,000 steps back to take it back.

KUPPER: The fires tune in to your work in a way, because some of your most well known works deal with using discarded materials or recycled materials, like your stick paintings, which came from a burned down orchard, can you talk a little bit about that?

ARNOLDI: I had an artist friend from Malibu and he told me one day, there is an orchard...and it had oranges and avocados and he told me to go steal some fruit. It was his special little thing…he’s an odd guy. So we were out there stealing oranges and avocados. The perimeter had all these leaves that had burned off, and they looked like charcoal lines. I thought those are beautiful, so I took my sticks back to the studio. The first piece I made, I took four sticks and tied them together at the end and I put two nails and hung it on the wall. It’s really about something being the sum of its parts, gravity.

KUPPER: Is it true that some of your stick paintings have come from your childhood home in Ohio?

ARNOLDI: No, but you see those thorns up on the wall? When I was a little kid growing up, those were from a tree in Ohio. So I made those paintings from thorns. I’ve been avoiding Ohio like the plague. I have a very dysfunctional, bad family. 

KUPPER: What was it like growing up there?

ARNOLDI: Most of my buddies are dead, a lot of them went to prison. I was just in a bad place. I had no art history at all in my childhood. I have an uncle who was a portrait painter, he wore a beret and had a little painting studio. I used to go there and I really liked the smell of oil painting. He was my only exposure to art and at one point I got a modeling job at an art institute. I was broke and they would pay me to pose. One of the directors convinced me to take my clothes off and then he wanted me to get a hard on. This fucking guy, I’d like to meet him today. No fucking way.  

When I was a kid, I made tree houses and forts and if I saw a Tarzan movie, I would make bows and arrows and spears. As I got older I got involved with cars. When I graduated, a teacher told me, “You are the most talented with the least amount of vision of anyone I have ever met,” and it made me feel terrible.... See, when I was growing up, I got attention for doing stuff, I was really good with my hands.

KUPPER: Seems like the whole Venice School came from places like Dayton, the mythical American city, what was it about LA that was such a beacon for you guys? 

ARNOLDI: I was a senior in high school and I had gotten in a little bit of trouble, they were gonna put me in a foster home. My father was living in Southern California with this woman he ran away with and he flew me out to California. I had never seen a freeway. It blew my mind. When I got back to Dayton I wanted to move to California. After I graduated high school, my mother had about six dollars and twenty-eight cents, so she gave me that and I left with four buddies of mine. I had a ‘55 Chevy with a ‘53 engine. We were terrible thieves.

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KUPPER: When did you get serious about art?

ARNOLD: While in Los Angeles, it was time for me to go to school. I drove out to Ventura and I chickened out, I just couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t even go to an art history course. It was way over my head. I would just go to the art classes, ceramics for instance. The guy who ran the art department, Mr. Deets, saw my work and he came to see me and said, “You know son, since Picasso, everything is bullshit. You need to be an illustrator. I can make you one if you do what I tell you.” I could draw perfectly. I had the skills.

KUPPER: How did your later experiences at Art Center influence your perspective?

ARNOLDI: I’d be doing a painting and the guy would come and go, “That’s done.” To me, it wasn’t finished, but to them I was ruining it. They would take your work away from you. In painting class the first thing they taught you is that you have to wear a tie and how to wear it so you don’t paint on it. This was all bullshit to me. I’m sitting there thinking this is fucked and I quit.

KUPPER: You seem like a bit of a daredevil – can you talk about your chainsaw sculptures, because those sort of put you on the map in a way?

ARNOLDI: I just liked the way it looked. But one little slip and it’s really bad. I’ve been doing the Machu Picchu thing...these multi-paneled paintings. But the chainsaw sculptures were just one of those things that was on my mind. I don’t like to make sculptures because they are bulky. But these sort of made sense.

KUPPER: Some of the work at your current show was made in the Yukon?

ARNOLDI:  I went up there not expecting to make work, but I was sort of coaxed into it. The guy who owned the property has a gold mine. He asked if we wanted to get to work, so we go down to a river to find some wood. There were these two rough kids – one of them had recently slit a wolf’s neck that tried to attack him. So we are up there and they start to cut down some trees for me to make a sculpture. One kid said, “What do you want me to do?” I tell him to cut five slabs off and to get me some kind of platform. I said, “Kid, you’re good with the chainsaw. I’ll draw the line. You want you to give me this much of an angle.” (makes the vroom, vroom, vroom sound of a chainsaw) I look over and the other kid wants to do it too (vroom...vroom...vroom). We worked for two hours and made a few pieces. By the end, we made nine... and the new chainsaw pieces were painted in red, black and yellow. When I used to make the old chainsaw paintings, there would be splinters all over, so I would torch them away. I went and bought a serious blowtorch and all the kids were so excited.  The kids cut trees down like crazy, and never thought of doing anything beyond that. I bet that within a year these kids would be making furniture and shit out of logs.

OK: Your upcoming show at Desert Center is called Rough Cuts – there is a connection to your work and some of the other Venice artists to music, the improvisational nature could be compared to jazz?

CA:  Somebody once told me something and I felt rather flattered:  “Your chainsaw paintings are the closest thing I can think of to Pollock.” The reason is....Pollock in a sense did a dance, it was spontaneous, you know--he was physically involved. Man, then you start cutting in references and you are making hundreds of decisions a second, but it's a physical thing, you’re actively engaged in it.


Chuck Arnoldi: Rough Cuts is on view now at Desert Center Los Angeles, 7466 Beverly Blvd. Email for appointments: desertcenterlosangeles@gmail.com. Text and photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper


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A Transcendental Storehouse For Culture: An Interview Of Lauren Halsey

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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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

KUPPER: Is that the Smudge series?

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

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

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

KUPPER: People view things at face value.

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

KUPPER: What about the Queen series?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KUPPER: You became fascinated by these adult babies.

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

KUPPER: How long did you spend with them?

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

KUPPER: Did you ever feel in danger?

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

KUPPER: Did you talk to them about their fetish?

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

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

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

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

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

KUPPER: Where was that show?

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

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

BORLAND: There are a few amazing photographers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


The War Back Home: An Interview with Creative Polymath Nina Ljeti

Nina Ljeti is prolific. She is a writer, filmmaker, actress, and musician. Just a few of her many projects include: starring in films directed by and alongside James Franco; co-writing and co-directing the feature length film Memoria with Vladmir de Fontenay (which is out in theaters now); performing in her band, Nani; and shooting a biopic about Jerry Garcia. She has the creative output young artists have wet dreams about. But Nina Ljeti is prolific in another sense of the word. She is the daughter of Bosnian immigrants (who came to Canada at the start of the Bosnian Revolution) and a high school punk stoner; a film buff who loves Titanic and Coppola alike. Her richness isn't just in practice; it's in spirit and history as well. We got to ask Ljeti about memory, filmmaking, ghosts, and getting to play Patti Smith. Read it here.

Autre: You were born in Bosnia and Herzegovina just before the Bosnian War. Do you have any memories of that time? Did you grow up there? What was that like? 

Nina Ljeti: No. We left in 1992 when I was still a baby. We immigrated to Canada- my parents had never been there before and they didn't know the language. They were in a completely foreign setting, and they left everything they had and worked for to start a new life for me. I remember the daily struggle my parents dealt with just so we could eat and survive. And I remember them watching TV every night for any news of the war back home.


Autre: When did you know that you wanted to act and make films? Was it acting or filmmaking first? 

Ljeti: I started off wanting to be an actress/singer in high school, but I was also making films at the same time. I made my first movie when I was 14. They went hand-in-hand for me. As a kid, I was also writing a lot- poetry and short stories, mostly. I don't really act so much anymore- I'm primarily a director now. 

Autre: You've written and directed a number of films as well as acting, including co-writing and co-directing for Memoria. What's it like to be behind the camera? Do you prefer writing and directing to acting, or is it nice to be holistic in that way? 

Ljeti: I enjoy directing way more. The only time I really perform as an actress is if I'm collaborating on a project with James. My true passion is writing and telling stories- I love writing scripts and songs.  All I do in my spare time is read and write.  

Autre: What was it like co-directing and co-writing Memoria with Vladimir de Fontenay? 

Ljeti: I love Vlad. When we made Memoria he was much more experienced than I was as a director, so it was wonderful to learn from him and he was very supportive of me. He's my baguette. 



Autre: Memoria seems like your classic bilungsroman - a teenage guy struggles to find meaning amongst friends and family that "just don't get him." Did you find this was your connection to the film as well? Did you empathize with Ivan? What is your coming-of-age story? 

Ljeti: I connect with Ivan a lot. I wrote the script and a lot of the characters in the film are based on kids I knew in high school. My coming-of-age story is pretty classic. I got bullied a lot. I liked punk and thrash. I was overly sensitive and always skipped class to hang out with kids who 'understood me better.' I wrote a lot in my diary and smoked pot everyday at lunch but still got the best grades. I was also really depressed and sad all the time but, who wasn't? 
Memoria also has a great deal to do with memory (hence, the title) - is elusiveness and subjectivity.

Autre: What connections do you see between memory and writing, or memory and filmmaking?  

Ljeti: As a writer and filmmaker,  I draw from my memories as the main source for my work.  I always notice that small details will change in how I remember something---- I think to keep the feeling I felt in that moment alive so I never forget (i'm talking about memories of love) and then this memory will replay in my head over and over even after I've used it (and this part is torture).  

Autre: You've worked with James Franco on Rebel, Memoria, and the upcoming film Zeroville. How did you two meet, and why do you think so work so well together? 

Ljeti: We met at NYU seven years ago. It's really rare to meet someone who shares your passion for creating and exploring. He's the only person I met who is as curious as I am. I think that's why we continue to work together- there's always something new to try. 

Autre: In Zeroville, you play Patti Smith. That's amazing. Did you do anything to try to get into her head? 

Ljeti: I was just performing on stage as her, so I really just tried to emanate her performance technique. This bit of study did help me a lot with performing in my band (that I sing and write the lyrics for).  

Autre: Zeroville deals with the ghosts of cinema, how they can haunt us despite their fictions and weave their magical thread into our daily lives. Have any films affected you in that way? 

Ljeti: Titanic. I watched it when I was 6 and it set a very unrealistic standard of love for me. Also Coppola's Dracula. I wish vampires were real. And I wish Disney movies were life. And that Marlon Brando could live forever.

Autre: Along that same vein, Hollywood can be kind of this ghostly, mythical place. Have you found that in your time in Los Angeles? 

Ljeti: No, I haven't found any ghosts in Los Angeles. All the ghosts I've seen are back in New York. That's where my heart is. 

Autre: What projects are you working on now? 

Ljeti: My next film is the biopic of Jerry Garcia, which I wrote and will be shooting this July. I also have a band called Nani, and we're going to be releasing our first EP sometime this year. 


Memoria, written and directed by Nina Ljeti and Vladimir Fontenay,  is out now in select theaters. Text and interview by Keely Shinners. photographs by Kevin Hayeland. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


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


La Petite Mort: An Interview With Natalie Krim

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

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

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

AUTRE: Was there a photographer in the family?

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

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

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

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

KRIM: Yeah, we have photographs from all over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

AUTRE: So it wasn’t an erotic panda?

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



AUTRE: When did you discover your style?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AUTRE: What’s next after the show?

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

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

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

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

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


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


Through The Peep Hole: An Interview With Vanessa Prager

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

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

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

KUPPER: There was an energy going on. 

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

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

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

KUPPER: So it seemed like a reality?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


KUPPER: No clutter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KUPPER: Or only students would have seen it.

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

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

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

KUPPER: Do you see yourself getting into sculpture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KUPPER: What’s next after this series?

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


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


For the Love of Gore: A Conversation With Teenage Filmmaker Kansas Bowling

We met up with Kansas Bowling, the young, bright-eyed filmmaker who is about to release her first film – a “prehistoric slasher film” called B.C. Butcher – at Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles. It was the perfect setting for a late night nosh and chat about filmmaking; a not so unusual conversation among the famed booths of the Jewish deli where Bowling’s boyfriend, the iconic DJ and “Mayor of the Sunset Strip” Rodney Bingenheimer, has his own table. And it was at that table where we talked with Kansas about her upbringing in Los Angeles, her early fascination with low-grade horror films and B.C. Butcher, her first feature, which stars the likes of Kato Kaelin and Bingenheimer himself. The film is Bowling’s debut as a filmmaker and is being released today on the famed production and distribution company Troma’s digital streaming service. Troma is known for cult fare such as Toxic Avengers and Return to Nuke 'Em High. At seventeen, Bowling is in for a strange and wild ride with her cinematic pursuits, and being with Troma means that she is already in the right company. What you will learn in the following interview is that Bowling used a combination of production sources to fund B.C. Butcher, which include crowdfunding and a settlement from a car accident. Fate, it seems, stepped in at the right time. While other kids are gearing up for prom or college campus tours, Bowling is getting ready to “spend more money than she has ever spent in her entire life” to create a print of the film to project in movie theaters. In the following interview, you’ll understand that Kansas Bowling is surely a talent to watch.

Oliver Kupper: I want to talk about your upbringing. Did you grow up in Los Angeles?

Kansas Bowling: Yes. I was born in Beverly Hills. I lived in Hollywood, and then I moved to Topanga Canyon. I moved to Koreatown, then Mid-City, and then back to Hollywood. [Laughs.]

OK: Were your parents a part of the industry.

KB: No, not really. They did extra work, but all the kids do that. But not really. My mom works at Bloomingdale’s, and my dad works for the L.A. River.

OK: So there wasn’t really a film background. You jumped into it on your own?

KB: Yeah.

OK: You have a really interesting name. Were your parents artists or hippies?

KB: My dad’s a bit of a stoner. [Laughs.] They were in a popular grunge band in the 90s, when I was born. It was called Bottom 12. My mom was a backup singer, and my dad was a bass player. He used to get naked on stage.

OK: Was it based here?

KB: Yeah, it was based here. They didn’t have an album come out though. My dad has this big story about, “Oh, we could have made it!”

OK: Growing up, did you know you wanted to become a filmmaker?

KB: Pretty much always. Ever since I knew what a filmmaker was. Before that, I wanted to be a firefighter, but that didn’t happen. [Laughs.]

OK: And then film came along?

KB: Yeah. I was a really big fan of Quentin Tarantino, since I was 7 years old. My sister and I would play Kill Bill. We had fake samurai swords. I would always be Lucy Liu, and my sister would be Uma Thurman. We would film it and stuff.

OK: How did you get access to those movies? Not a lot of kids are able to see Tarantino movies when they’re that age.

KB: My parents didn’t really care what we watched. Sometimes, they would introduce movies to us. But a lot of the time, we would just find movies on our own. They didn’t really care. Especially when I was older, like a teenager, my parents had never heard of the movies I was watching. Therefore, they didn’t care what I was watching. I watched I Spit on your Grave when I was 13. They had no idea what that was. It has the most horrific rape scene of all time.

OK: Specifically, the horror film genre—gore, exploitation films—is that what you got interested in?

KB: I don’t necessarily just love exploitation films, but I love lower-budget films. I feel like they have the most heart. Not just horror films, but also American-International Beach Party movies, Annette Funicello. I don’t know, just weird sixties and seventies sex comedies. Doris Wishman, Diary of a Nudist. Stuff like that.

OK: Can you remember the first film you ever saw? Or the first film that made an impact on you?

KB: Probably Kill Bill. And then when Death Proof came out, I liked that even more. I saw it when it came out, and that’s when I found out about those kinds of movies. I started watching Troma movies shortly after that, when I was about 12.

OK: And you started making films after that.

KB: I used to shoot little short films with my friends. It was fun. They were really silly. We’d have mini-premieres with all our parents. There were little red carpets we would set up, and we would take paparazzi photos. [Laughs.]

OK: And your parents were supportive of what you were doing?

KB: Of course. They were always really supportive.

OK: A lot of kids have no idea what they want to do. Or, their parents try to steer their kids into a different direction.

KB: They knew what I wanted to do, and they saw this passion and ambition that I had. They didn’t want to get in the way of anything.

OK: When you started making your first films, you started working with Super 8?

KB: I got a Super 8 camera when I was 13, for Christmas.

OK: Did you immediately know how to use it? Do you have any mentors that you started working with?

KB: It was pretty simple. My sister and I didn’t know about lighting at first. We shot a lot of things indoors at night that never turned out. [Laughs.] But we figured it out eventually.

OK: Let’s jump into the movie, “B.C. Butcher.” Where did that idea come from? That’s your first feature film, right?

KB: Yeah. Me and my friend, Kenzie Givens, wrote it when we were in high school, just because we were bored. I met her in high school because she opened up her locker, and she had a picture of Jack Nance from Eraserhead. I walked up behind her and said, “Oh my god, I love Jack Nance!” She screamed and fell over. [Laughs.] We became really good friends. The next day, we went to Cinefamily and saw the movie Possession together. She’s really in love with John Waters. I’m really in love with Roger Corman. So we decided to make a movie together. I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we made something so cheap? All we would have to do is run around in a state park or something, with loin cloths. We could make a caveman movie.” And then she said, “Yeah, or a slasher movie.” Then we were both like, “Oh my god, a caveman slasher movie!” And then we just started writing it together. I was fifteen when we started writing it, and she was sixteen or seventeen.

OK: Did you make it during the summer or the school year?

KB: We graduated at the same time. I graduated my junior year, and she graduated her senior year. She went off to college, so she didn’t get to help me make it. But we said we were going to make it. I didn’t want her leaving to stop me, so I went ahead and made it.

OK: Where did you get the funding for the film? Did you crowdsource it or find producers?

KB: I shot one scene to use on Indiegogo. I got the money for that one scene from insurance money from a car accident. It was such a minor car accident, so it was no big deal.

OK: So it was fate?

KB: Yeah, it was definitely fate. I did one scene and put it online for a crowdfunding thing. I didn’t really get my goal, because I was pretty naïve. I thought, “Oh, I’ll put it up, and people will give me ten grand.” But I got $1500. A lot of it was because people started writing articles about it. I went to Monsterpalooza, this horror movie convention, and I passed out flyers to everybody. I passed some out to the right people, and they wrote about it. Fangoria wrote an article about it. This website called Birth.Movies.Death did a big thing that brought a lot of money. It didn’t get me all the money that I needed, but it did get me a lot of exposure.

OK: It’s hard to get a movie made, even a low-budget film. Especially when you’re younger and people don’t know what’s going to come out of it.

KB: Yeah. After that, I still wanted to get the money from my original goal. It took me about eight more months to raise that money, getting jobs and stuff. But I love it.

OK: Your cast is really interesting, specifically Kato Kaelin. How did that come about?

KB: Rodney [Bingenheimer] introduced me to him. They go to IHOP together all the time.

OK: Were you aware of who he was in the nineties?

KB: Yeah, he’s Kato Kaelin. Rodney said one day, “You know who you should have in your movie? Kato Kaelin. Here’s his phone number.” I called and said, “Hey, Kato, this is Kansas. Will you be in my movie?” Kato is so funny and so nice. He’s a really, really good person. He was so professional and cool. He added to a lot of his lines, and they’re the best lines in the movie.

OK: Was it mainly ad lib?

KB: Kato was the only one to ad lib. Kato was only supposed to be in one scene, but we expanded the role to give him more screen time. I told him, “Say whatever you want.” And it worked.

OK: When is the release of the film?

KB: It’s going to be on Troma’s new streaming service, called TromaNow on Friday. That’s available to TromaNow subscribers. The official release date is in March. The DVD is going to come out. We’ll have a theatrical release too. Video on demand, of course. Amazon.

OK: Do you have plans to go to film school, or will you just keep making more movies?

KB: Film school is such a waste of money. My sister is an actress. The other day, she had to go to an audition at a film school. I came with her, and I was waiting outside the room, poking my head into all these classrooms. There was a classroom where the teacher was showing a class YouTube clips of Eddie Murphy stand-up comedy. These kids are paying $100,000 a year to watch Eddie Murphy clips on YouTube. [Laughs.] I’m not going to film school.

OK: You could use $100,000 to make another movie.

KB: Exactly. I could make 10 movies.

OK: Do you want to go in the direction of this type of movie?

KB: Definitely. I don’t like serious movies. I like fun movies.

OK: That’s how some movies should be. There are a lot of serious movies, but people should be able to have fun at the movies too. Do you have any ideas for another film?

KB: I have a bunch of ideas lined up. It was hard to pick, but I did pick. But it’s a surprise. I keep giving hints. It’s going to be a pseudo-documentary.

OK: Is it going to be like Cannibal Holocaust? 

KB: Sort of, but not quite on that level. Have you seen Faces of Death?

OK: I’ve heard of it.

KB: It’s going to be sort of like that, with the narrator standing there. It’s going to be like an education film, but totally fake.

OK: You mentioned Roger Corman as one of your heroes. Have you met him? Do you have plans to reach out to any of your heroes and see if they want to work with you?

KB: I have met Roger Corman once. I just ran up to him and hugged him. I was 14 probably. He thought I was so weird. I was wearing this big, black fur cape and black leather pants and white go-go boots. I saw him at LACMA and hugged him so tight. I was like, “I love you!!!” And he was like, “Thank you.” I think I did the same thing to Jack Hill, who directed Spider Baby. When I was fourteen, I asked Quentin Tarantino to marry me.

OK: What was his response?

KB: He said, “When you’re eighteen, we’ll see.”

OK: Are you a film purist? Do you want to make things on film exclusively?

KB: Definitely. 100%.

OK: What is your advice to other young people that want to make a movie?

KB: Don’t sit around thinking about it. Just do it, because it’ll be worth it. 


You can watch B.C. Butcher, written and directed by Kansas Bowling, on Troma's digital streaming service here. Follow Kansas on Instagram here to stay in loop with her cinematic pursuits. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Casual Burnouts, Lovable Weirdos: An Interview With Actor, Artist and Jack of All Trades Mel Shimkovitz

About a month ago, Autre was asked to cover the second Summer Sacrifice for How Many Virgins? at the Ace Hotel. Little did we know that we would be introduced to one of LA’s most enigmatic, energetic, and multifaceted performing artists by way of a hilarious mock acting reel spanning 10 years of highly varied and absurdly captivating film projects. From parodic audition tapes for films like Pretty Woman, to the superimposing of her character on iconic 90s infomercials, to abstract layerings of sound and industrial imagery, Mel Shimkovitz’s work is at once arresting, captivating the viewer with a chameleon-like quality that leaves you anticipating the next impressive transition. It is perhaps that chameleon-like quality that makes Mel so fascinating. The moment the reel finished playing, I immediately scanned the audience for this curious specimen in hopes of a handshake and the prospect of an interview. Little did I know the magnitude of the Pandora’s box I was about to open.

Researching Mel’s work before the interview, I found a wide range of recent, mostly acting work (she’s popped up in skits on Funny or Die and has made cameos in varied televisions series), but struggled to dig very deep into the past. She would later explain that this is due to a slew of pseudonyms she used throughout the early naughts in order to protect the Shimkovitz family name; a nice Jewish family from Chicago. In the following conversation, which took place at the Autre headquarters downtown, Macho Mel – as she is known in some circles – covers a dizzying gamut of work and life experience. There was her meeting with William S. Burroughs as an adolescent in Lawrence, Kansas. There was her founding of the Voodoo Eros record label, which released music by the likes of Devendra Banhart, CocoRosie, and Antony and the Johnsons – the media called the music they were putting out “Freak Folk.” Voodoo Eros also took the form of a retail store that she ran with CocoRosie’s Bianca Cassidy – it was more an elaborate conceptual art piece than a real retail experience. But next year may change everything for Mel, because she will find herself in a reoccurring role on Jill Soloway’s groundbreaking series Transparent, which just cleaned house with five Emmy awards. We can’t wait to watch.

Indeed, Mel’s approach to her work is wacky and unbridled, yet focused, professional, and somehow she seems to be completely devoid of pretension. She is familiar, but also alien in her virtuosic comedic talents that have an almost vaudeville vibe – maybe it’s just her willingness to fall over to make an audience laugh. It’s the best kind of comedy, because it’s real and authentic. Who doesn’t fall? Most comedy these days seems put on or manufactured. In the following interview, we have a long chat with Mel about Trans vampires, her Zelig-like position in the music, art and Hollywood worlds, and the media’s sudden shift in focus toward the lives and rights of the LGBTQ community.

Summer Bowie: So, I loved the video screening of the Melvira work you produced with Amy Von Harrington at the Ace Hotel. Can you talk a little bit about how that came together?

Mel Shimkovitz: Ben Lee Ritchie Handler and Ava Berlin have a project called How Many Virgins? They asked me if I had any videos I wanted to be shown, because I had been making videos with Amy for a long time. My former life was all music and art. But I’ve always been an actor. I grew up in the theatre. So, I had all these years of work and I thought it would be a nice opportunity to dig into the archives. We had some extra time, so we made a new reel that was really influenced by the Hollywood vibe. When I came out to LA, being an artist quickly transformed into being an actress. Not just in art stuff, but in the semi-mainstream as well. Amy has been making reels for me for a while, and we got the idea to make a fun reel for once. She’s obsessed with Elvira, so we created the character “Melvira”—Elvira’s cousin, who came out to LA wanting to make it. She’s an awkward trans vampire—Melvira: Mistress of the Stage and Screen. So the video screening was Melvira’s acting reel.

SB: That seems pretty surreal. How did you meet Amy Von Harrington?

MS: I was running a record label at the time. I was doing a huge mailing of promos in Brooklyn. She was standing behind me at the post office, deciding if she hated me or not, as I spent an hour holding up the line. Later that night, she showed up at a party that I was throwing with Bianca Cassidy for our project Voodoo Eros. We had a fried chicken party that night and I recognized Amy from the post office. That was it. We just started hanging out and working together. And it’s been like that ever since. We’re casual burnouts. Lovable weirdos.

SB: Can you tell me about the Voodoo Eros project?

MS: Yeah, we had a store on the Lower East Side called the Voodoo Eros Museum of Nice Items. This was 2007. We were a record label, so we would record in there at night. But during the day, we sold XXXXXL sweatshirts and sweatpants that we had hand-painted. Our thing was “the biggest clothes on the Lower East Side.” It was such a small store that we could only put up one thing on each wall. They were all horribly priced. Some were $2 and some were $2,000. We also sold items from the 99¢ store across the street, but we would mark them up about 1,000%, but with really nice price tags. The only people who came into the store were Japanese tourists and dudes who would come in to gay bash us. Bianca and I decided that we were going to play shopkeeps for a year. To be a shopkeep, though, you have to have a long attention span and a will to make money. We didn’t have either of those things.

SB: Where are you from, and when did you first know you wanted to become an actor?

MS: I grew up in Chicago, but I left when I was 17 and went to Kansas. I was really obsessed with the Beats. I was obsessed with William Burroughs. This was before I knew what misogyny was. I was happy to meet him; he wasn’t happy to meet me. But he was very happy to meet the very good-looking guy I was hanging out with. Lawrence, Kansas is really a cultural mecca in the Midwest. There’s a legacy of major progressive hippies out there. It’s a major abolitionist town. That’s not to say that the Westboro Baptist Church isn’t down the street, and didn’t protest every play when the Harlem Choir Boys came to town.

Growing up in Chicago, you do a lot of improv and sketch comedy. I grew up doing community theatre and plays in school. When I went to Kansas and didn’t know what to do with myself, they took me in. There were so many communists teaching at the University of Kansas in the theatre department. That was a really political education—political theatre. I went from there to New York.

I was there for a number of years before I met Bianca Cassidy. We started this feminist collective called “Wild Café Theatre,” and no one was coming. But then Bianca and her sister started this band, and I started doing performance art for their shows in front of thousands of people. We were making videos and fictional worlds. We were queering the world. That time in my life, everything was a creative choice.

SB: Tell us about your period with the CocoRosie. 

MS: Our first album that we put out was just for fun. It was a box filled with tapes that friends had made. We put it out as an album called “The Enlightened Family.” We had songs by CocoRosie, Antony and the Johnsons, Jana Hunter, Vashti Bunyan, Metallic Falcons—just before anybody knew who these people were. All of a sudden, people were buying it! It was a cool project; we were doing whatever we wanted for a couple of years. It was a pure aesthetic project.

SB: Wow, that's amazing. Now, let's fast-forward to your life in LA for a second. As a performance artist, it seems like you’ve become this integral part of LA’s creative community, but it also seems like you’re gaining footing in the more mainstream Hollywood industry. Where do you feel most at home?

MS: In the past, I always would have said in the art world, because of my interest in all things beyond theatre and narrative — I’m super interested in poetry, abstraction, and psychedelic visualscapes, etc. But amazing things have happened in the past year. I’ve met such a great community of writers, directors, and performers. I have this super amazing TV and film community that I never had in the theatre and music worlds of New York. I found a really good tribe. Now, I would say I feel really good in both places, which is so cool. So, I don’t know, I’m really just trying to be very charming, super polite, show up on time, do whatever’s asked of me, have no ego at all moments, and be ready to humiliate myself. I think that’s it.

There’s this idea that nice guys finish last, but I’m getting the feeling that nice guys are getting ahead. In the art world and the Hollywood world, the thing that they have in common is negative competitiveness. The art world is held back by its own self-reference, which makes it super exclusive. The Hollywood world is held back by its own nepotism. Which doesn’t work for anybody who isn’t a straight white cis male — there’s no community for them. People are realizing the patriarchy of that doesn’t work for them. We’re seeing change now. When the first Whitney opened, there was not one woman artist. In the new Whitney, there is amazing work by female artists on every floor. It’s a mindful and purposeful choice, but that’s how equality happens. The cameras are finally being put in the hands of women, queer people, people of color, trans people, people of different ages even. I’m working on a short film written, directed, and starring a 16-year-old girl, and it is more professional, and there’s more heart in this than anything I’ve done in a long time. And this story of a 16-year-old girl – which is not something often made through the gaze of a 16-year-old girl – is so fascinating. This isn’t just because more people have access to these instruments. People are getting bored of seeing the same thing. How many white, ex-skater photographer dudes are making work about process and the sunlight? How many of those can we see before we demand to see more emotional stuff? Some of us want to see more important things.

Film is an emotional medium. So, why have we given all the cameras to the men when we’ve been told our entire lives that women are emotional? Why aren’t we telling our stories? The dudes don’t want to give up the cameras. It’s a frat house mentality, especially in New York.


"I’m really just trying to be very charming, super polite, show up on time, do whatever’s asked of me, have no ego at all moments, and be ready to humiliate myself."


SB: Have you noticed any differences coming to LA from New York?

MS: Coming here, people are starting to collect and to pay attention. All kinds of people can be a part of it. It’s so optimistic out here. Being an artist in New York feels like you’re part of an industry, part of the company. But being out here, especially for the first few years, it felt like being an outsider. And isn’t that who should be creating new culture in a community? The people for whom the current culture isn’t working? 

SB: Definitely! And clearly these days, there’s a lot more acceptance and embracing of queer roles. What would you say has been the catalyst for the boundary pushing we’re seeing in regard to gender and sexuality in the media today?

MS: I want to say that it’s been people who identify as queer rising up and forcing their voices to be heard. But nothing happens without the majority paying attention to it. So that makes me think the majority of people just want to see different stories and experiences. The thing that’s so interesting about the civil rights movement of the LGBTQ community, versus the racial civil rights movement of the 60s, is that queer people are born into your family, which forces us to face it. In recent years, numerous legislators have had to contend with their children coming out. How can they go and say their child doesn’t deserve marriage equality? And so it was passed. Also, when an American hero comes out as trans—that really pushes things forward.

I wonder where we would be in gay rights if AIDS hadn’t happened. Not only did we lose so many great artists and leaders in the community, but all of the resources had to go to screaming for help and taking care of each other.

In the trans community — which is related, but separate from LGBTQ in a lot of ways — trans people have fallen in and out of being accepted throughout humanity. Being trans is something that indigenous communities throughout time have upheld as a shamanistic trait. It’s only been a few hundred years in white society in which a trans person has been an unacceptable thing. We love Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, but 20 trans women of color have been murdered this year. I’m all for marriage equality, I’m happy that went through, but I’m kind of like—fuck getting married, can we save these lives?

My family—who didn’t want to talk about me being gay—is suddenly so interested in talking about trans people. I was on the show Transparent, and these old Jewish people are in it, which really helped my parents with understanding the show. I did a short documentary (which is part of a series of short documentaries) called “This Is Me,” produced by Wifey.TV. They were nominated for an Emmy. I star in one, and my family saw this. Suddenly, I’m getting phone calls from my sister, who has never talked about my queerness. Now, she’s asking me what I want my niece and nephew to call me—Aunt or Uncle. We’re having this conversation now.

Everybody, all of a sudden, decides that they have to be cool with it, because it’s not cool to not be cool with it, and then everybody just gets on board. These days several of my friends have kids, and six-year-olds totally understand trans people. They don’t get separated by boy’s lines and girl’s lines anymore. I’m going into more spaces that have gender-neutral bathrooms. Even for me, hearing a guy peeing in the stall next to me feels like a radical act. It’s not a radical act, but it feels so radical. We’re all just people peeing now.

There are all these new stories to tell. There’s a huge society of people that haven’t been telling their stories. We want to know what their stories are about. I mean, look at how many stories about gay couples and trans people are coming out in Hollywood this year. So many! Everybody is really into it. I mean, I’m already hearing people say things like, “Isn’t it enough already with all the gender stuff.” But this is the first year after 100 years of filmmaking history that these stories are starting to emerge - a lot of people have had enough with the same straight love story.

SB: Are there roles that you feel more comfortable with, or do you jump into all of them with an adventurous attitude?

MS: If the camera’s rolling, I’m there. I’m ready to perform. I’ll jump into anything. I’m lucky now that I’ve been given really fun stuff to play. I didn’t grow up like that. I’m a writer because I had to write my own stuff. I couldn’t get casting. I’ve always been like this. My mom got my ears pierced when I was one so people would stop calling me a “cute little boy.” I’ve been told by so many people that this was going to limit what I was able to do. But recently, I’ve realized it means I can do anything. I’m performing male and female all the time. What I love doing now — which horrifies a lot of other butch lesbians — is to wear a dress. I have a bunch of stuff coming out where I’m the ugly best friend, or I’m the prostitute, or whatever. That’s drag to me, but I can get into my femme side. I feel like an artist when I do that. It’s so powerful.

I always used to stick to comedy. Now, there are parts written where I’m playing a character closer to my own experience. That’s really challenging, and totally new.

SB: So, what kinds of projects are you working on at the moment, or in the near future?

MS: I’m finishing up shooting the second season of Transparent. I have a really cool, fun, scary role in that. I’m finishing writing a feature that I’m supposed to shoot next year. It’s called The Sangres. It’s a dark, comedic, anti-Western with queer themes that Devendra is writing the soundtrack for. It’s influenced by Bob Dylan and Sam Peckinpah. And the fucking desert. I’m doing anything people ask me to do. I starred in a webseries. I’ve been drawing a lot. Just creating my own content.

I’m doing embarrassing things all over town. If anyone has anything embarrassing for me to do, I’m there. If you want me to cry, I can do that too. I’m always on time…congenial…I’m always sober on set.

SB: There’s definite progress being made in terms of acceptance and rights for those within the queer community, but is there an ideal destination and what does it look like to you? 

MS: The part of me that came out in Kansas—the person who had to hide for so long—wants to say that the destination would be to not have physical violence done upon you because you are Other. The more optimistic thing to say would be that there would be no Other. Or rather, that we would all be Other. I see us opening up our gaze on gender, and seeing it as a broad spectrum. But I think that’s only one little domino to knock down. Okay so we stop seeing people of other genders as Other, when are we going to stop seeing people from different countries and religions as Other?

I would love to see a year in which people who have consistently been at the back of the line take a move to the front. I would love to see them take over in film and in art. Just for one year. Take the director and turn him into the PA—see what happens. That would be a good short-term goal. Just a year, just sit down, shut up and watch!


You can catch Mel Shimkovitz in the new season of Transparent on December 4, 2015 on Amazon. Click here to see more of Mel's work. text and interview by Summer Bowie. photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE