Fighting For Love: An Interview Of New Media Artist, Young Polemicist And Kemetic Yogi, Tabita Rezaire

 

text by Keely Shinners

images by Tabita Rezaire

 

Tabita Rezaire could call herself many things––a Berlin-Biennale-exhibiting new media artist, a young polemicist, a Kemetic yoga teacher. Instead, Rezaire prefers to call herself a “healer-warrior.” Walking into her Yeoville flat, high on a sacred hill on the eastern side of Johannesburg, she offers me tea from her impressive apothecary of herbs, spices, and dried flowers. We sit down on her straight-from-2002 pink fuzzy love seat, chatting, listening to the new Frank Ocean album. She offers me Carmex for my chapped lips (Johannesburg is drying out my skin), and when she begins to talk about her artistic process as a process of healing, that powerful word, “healer,” lives up to the artist who utters it. Not in the exotifying sense of the "benevolent medicine woman," but clever, powerful, and without exoneration.

As we converse, Tabita is paying attention to my every word. She calls me out when I ask about “postcolonial digital space,” the flippant amnesia of such a loaded prefix. She questions why I would call her work “futuristic,” as if passing over the history and the cultural exigence that informs her art towards some vague, utopian “imagination of the future.” And she’s right. She’s a warrior. “You have to fight, fight, fight…” she insists, in order to “spread love and light.”

She says, “My work is a diagnostic.” Rezaire is in the business of identifying sicknesses we carry within us everywhere we go—our histories, our implicit and explicit prejudices, our language. She is able to see through the veils of the “free, open Internet” to its capitalist underbellies, using the very tools of the Internet to undermine it. Rezaire is calling us out on the spread of colonial viruses—on our computers, in our history books, in our words.

KEELY SHINNERS: So the info on your website says you are a “new media artist, intersectional preacher, health practitioner, tech-politics researcher, and Kemetic/Kundalini Yoga teacher. Can you tell me more about those practices and how they relate to each other?

TABITA REZAIRE: They are just different tools to serve the same mission on different plains: emotional, mental, spiritual, historical, political and technological. My work/life/purpose is searching for technologies to help us thrive and walk towards a state of soundness. It’s about healing.

SHINNERS: So you would say you’re more of a healer than an artist?

REZAIRE: That’s the same for me (maybe not in general). Both deal with feelings as raw material: their own, those of their people and those of their times. For a healer must be able to go through the wounds, their own first, and from that place surface with the powerful knowledge of pain, and grow out of/from it, then guide others to do so. It is transforming a state of unbalance into a more sustainable place, or maybe finding balance in discomfort. Both move energy, and can be truly transformative if the person, community, and times are ready. Ready to do the work it demands. I’ve used the term “healer-warrior,” cause healing is a battle with yourself and the world, you have to fight, fight, fight, to be able to love, love, love. Love yourself unconditionally and fight all that keeps you from loving yourself.  Once you love yourself you can start loving, respecting and caring for people, for communities, for life.

SHINNERS: On the question of health, do you see art as healing? In what way? Is it therapeutic for you, the audience, or both?

REZAIRE: To be honest, it sometimes gives me more anxiety than anything else. I guess that’s because of the industry, not the practice itself. My art practice is about sharing my own healing journey, spiritually and politically; trying to figure out shit or why I feel like shit. To heal, you first need to understand where it hurts and why. How to carry what must be carried. I guess that’s what I’m interested in. As you heal yourself, you heal generations before you and generations to come.

SHINNERS: So it stems from an illness?

REZAIRE: We are all dis-eased, and rightly so, as we’re children of toxic environments.

 

 

SHINNERS: What is E-Colonialism? Colonialism is centuries, centuries old, but the Internet is a whole new realm of possibility. How do the temporalities and functions of colonialism and the Internet overlap?

REZAIRE: I don’t think it is different temporalities. If we’re not living under colonialism per se, we’re living in its legacies, which are still omnipresent. The politics and architecture of the Internet came from the same heart; it’s the same narrative of exploitation being written over and over again, with the same people being exploited and the same people benefiting from it all. There’s this quote I love from Sardar who said back in 1995 “The West desperately needs new places to conquer. When they do not actually exist, they must be created. Enter cyberspace.” That‘s so deep. It’s not a domination based on land – which still exist for all the people whose lands are still occupied and plundered – but one based on people’s dependency and conditioning through the use of digital technologies. The Internet is molding us into global subjects, which reads to me as a newly designed colonial subject.

SHINNERS: Or a capitalist subject.

REZAIRE: Same story, the colonial enterprise is a capitalist one. E-colonialism controls our minds through our consumerist desires. We don’t realize we’re being manipulated, controlled, watched, monitored and exploited. We’ve become so trustful of demonic powers. Even if we know, we don’t care - or not enough to let go of the comfort and benefits it grants us (some of us). We accept, and worse, enjoy an abusive framework they’ve created for us. It’s scary.

SHINNERS: If you could rid of those powers, the Internet as a means of communicating globally could be a useful tool. Do you see a possibility of postcolonial digital space?

REZAIRE: I’m still waiting for that postcolonial life, as postcolonial societies have integrated ‘colonial’ hierarchies into their orders. Maybe the term decolonial offers more space, it’s a different practice, one that tries to unlink and disengage from Western authority. It asks: how do you become your own center? as opposed to existing within a “minority,” “periphery,” or “3rd world” rhetoric.

Decolonial Internet? I don’t know. The Internet is built on violence, literally. I’m currently making a work on the relationship between undersea cable layouts and colonial shipping routes. The history of our connectivity is entrenched in colonial history.

SHINNERS: There’s so much entrenchment.

REZAIRE: Yeah. Under the sea, lie so many traumas. It’s like a graveyard for so much history and loss, yet water is healing. The Internet is reproducing that duality, of erasing non-Western people and histories while providing space and tools for remembrance and celebration.

SHINNERS: How does spirituality relate to your art and healing practice?

REZAIRE: Spirituality is about connection. It’s about remembering how connected we were, we are, and how connected we can be. It nurtures a connection to yourself, your spiritual beings and ancestors, to the earth and the universe and helps build connections to each other in a meaningful way. That’s what spirituality is for me. That’s why it’s related to technology. Digital technology wants to connect us, but it doesn’t do it very well, because it comes from this Western anguish. We had the powers to connect (some still do), through telepathy, communicating with plants and ancestors, and channeling information through dreams or meditation. We have access to everything that has been and everything that will be. But we just shut down because of the way we live, think and feel or have been forced to. We’re disconnected. That’s the diagnostic. That’s the contradiction we live in, disconnection in our ultra-connected world. So, I strive for connection in my spirituality.

SHINNERS: Why do you use self-portraiture in a lot of your work?

REZAIRE: That’s not what I’m doing. Yes I use myself, but I’m just a channel to communicate and share information; a messenger. I’m working on a self-portrait series though…

SHINNERS: I’m really interested in the images you use in your work, like gifs of unicorns and galaxies and shit.

REZAIRE: I never used a unicorn.

SHINNERS: [Laughs.] You’re like, “Oh no, I would never do that.” You pair these images with what I think are really abstract concepts of decolonizing digital space, reimagination new space, architectures of power. Is your aesthetic a means of making your content more accessible?

REZAIRE: These might be abstract concepts for you, but they're very real. In terms of aesthetic, popular culture is also what I consume, so it feeds my imaginary, Im also interested in its function and power. People often ask me if it’s ironic. It’s not, but humorous yes.  Well I guess I use the language of the Internet to speak about the Internet so the content led to the form somehow.

SHINNERS: Looking at your stuff online, at first glance, you think, “Oh, this looks dope.” That’s superficial, obviously, but it draws you in. Then you start reading and you’re like, “Ok, now I have to confront my whiteness, my Westerness, here we go.” I didn’t feel like it was ironic. It was pulling you in.

REZAIRE: It’s a strategy, for sure.

SHINNERS: I was introduced to your work by reading A WHITE INSTITUTION’S GUIDE. I showed it to my friend this morning and she said it was like “guerrilla girls but less stale.” It seems like you’re doing the same thing, calling out the art world on its foundation of white heteropatriarchal bullshit. I’m interested in this because you’ve seen a lot of success, being in the Berlin Biennial this year, exhibiting in solo and group shows all over the world. How do you navigate being in that space all the time? Would you call yourself a “guerilla artist,” trying to subvert the institution?

REZAIRE: It’s hard. But I’m trying to move away from that inner conflict of constantly questioning what it means for me to be a part of an industry I despise? Or that despises me even more. Am I selling out? Am I a hypocrite? Does my work become meaningless? Is my mission co-opted? All those questions. At the same time, I need and want to sustain a practice. That’s very real.

SHINNERS: You have to survive.

REZAIRE: Yes, but beyond this, what I want to do and keep doing is making work. That’s my purpose. So, it’s about finding ways to sustain my practice. How will I be able to do what I want to do? Yes, the art world can help. Yes, white-centered institutions can help. Being part of an industry that is problematic as fuck helps me making work that I believe in, that’s the contradiction. For now, it’s about making it work for me, within boundaries that work for me. I spend too much time and energy being like, “I’m not making sense”… no I am making sense, I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

Claudia Rankine, said something I liked about institutional recognition, although I may not fully agree with her: “it’s also for me the culture saying: We have an investment in dismantling white dominance in our culture. If you’re trying to do that, we’re going to help you. And that, to me, is encouraging.”

SHINNERS: A lot of your work seems futuristic. Is imagining a future something you’re thinking about in your work?

REZAIRE: What makes you say my work is futuristic?

SHINNERS: That’s a good question. I guess I fall into my own trap of saying that.

REZAIRE: I guess you think of the use of the Internet, but it’s super contemporary, entrenched in our everyday lives. So it’s not futuristic.

I’m working in the present for the restoration of our past, which will guide our future. My work is not about the future, I don’t believe in this type of temporal linearity anyway. The past, present and future are arbitrary; they can be remodeled, repeated, discarded.  I’m however interested in the way our past has been constructed and the effects of this construction on our collective consciousness. Similarly, what effects can the rewriting of our past have on our present and futures? The now is fundamental yet irrelevant, it’s always a negotiation between what has/might have/could have been and what could/may/will be? The now is frightening. How do you exist in the world? How can we deal now? How can we love each other now? How can we love ourselves now?

I’m definitely working for a shift that is constantly (re)occurring over and over. I’m part of a wide community of seed planters, I might not see the fruits of my work but the seeds will sprout, maybe not in this lifetime but that’s ok. Planting seeds, that’s what I’m about.  

 

Unseen And Immaterial: An Interview Of Amanda Turner Pohan

text by Abbey Meaker

 

Science, alchemy, technology, and the process of distilling and translating bodily expressions – Amanda Turner Pohan’s art practice is rooted in processes that call into question the intimate relationship between bodies and the histories of embedded power structures. In one such work, Pohan has created a custom-formulated perfume using captured carbon dioxide exhaled during thirteen of her own orgasms. The milky concentrate of the artist's expressions of pleasure is contained within a glass jug, and its scent is emitted through a long plastic tube that meanders from the mouth of the jug to a dispenser across the room.   

As an organizer, Pohan fervently seeks opportunities for connectedness, community, and collaborative practice, striving to create space that promotes inclusion and blurs the boundary between art and life. I had the pleasure of speaking with Pohan on a cold winter Sunday about her interests in alchemy, temporal expressions of the body, sexuality, and blended practices as artist and organizer.

Abbey Meaker: Hello, hello! Are you in the city or the Catskills?

Amanda Turner Pohan: Catskills!

Meaker: So tell me about your place there- you're interested in starting an artist residency called Diamond Notch? It seems like a more holistic approach to supporting artists and creating a community.

Pohan:  I didn’t quite realize how much Temporary Agency and The Social Club really helped bolster this residency desire. I feel like the ideas we talk about up here mix the two, in addition to literally mixing the groups of people involved.

Meaker: I wondered how those two organizations came to be and if they played a role in your decision to take on this new endeavor. 

Pohan: Temporary Agency was built in the spirit of collective practice, and we wanted to facilitate an open engagement with the work that we showed by pairing it with public events, remaining mindful of responding to what was happening socially, culturally, and politically at that moment in time.

It’s necessary especially in this climate. In nine months we hosted something like two shows a month and an event for each show: Poetry readings, performative lectures, screenings, round table discussions, the gamut.

Meaker:  Did Social Club overlap?

Pohan: Yes! When I graduated, the first studio I got was at the Bakery Brooklyn, where I remain today and where the Social Club is held. But when we went nomadic with Temporary Agency back in 2015, our first event post Ridgewood gallery was at The Bakery. The studio and the Social Club have a similar sensibility to Temporary Agency. The Bakery was created in 2013 by Asa Pingree and Jason Kachadourian. It’s a wood shop that Jason and Asa share with studios built out in the back. Jason is a painter, furniture designer, and art events organizer. He's always worked in a collaborative vein and two years ago, around the time Temporary Agency formed, worked on creating a collective for artists and designers to think about showing work in way that isn’t "white cube." The collective concept ended up manifesting as the Social Club. Jason asked Asa and I to join him as the core group in organizing the monthly event in the gallery space built out from the wood shop, and the first one was in October 2015.

This year we are trying to introduce prompts that will influence peoples’ behavior within the space more pointedly. An idea that holds the Social Club together is giving participants agency over the vibe of their environment through collective actions and collaborative efforts, encouraging people to directly engage with the work. 

Meaker: Would you define a scenario as a kind of happening, whereby the public comes in and isn't quite sure what's planned, what's real, staged, what their role is in creating the work?


Pohan: Happening, yes. It has a Fluxus lineage for sure. I also would hold movement based meditation groups in grad school, and while it was planned, what came out of it was always unexpected.

Meaker: Why do you think this kind of work is particularly important now? Why the interest in moving exhibitions, performances, etc. outside of the gallery?

Pohan: The idea of inclusion, of in-between-spaces, of art/life as one expression resists individuation. And individuation is what perpetuates this current polarization that is happening politically. To divide and conquer is so dangerous, particularly now. I am, and the collectives I'm involved with, are interested in individual empowerment and collective action. Or collective actions amongst empowered individuals. This may be getting a bit heavy handed!

Meaker: Does your practice as an organizer/curator inform your art practice?

Pohan: Yes. A lot of my work is about intimacy. Working in collaboratives is an intimate, emotional, and challenging experience. It helps me become more and more aware of my relation to others. That is a fundamental aspect of my work. I make work by spending a lot of time outside of the studio gathering experiences and allowing for them to digest and settle into my system.

I spend my time in these various pursuits and then enter condensed periods of time reading and writing. Then, I make the work. I would neither be making the work that I make nor be involved collaboratively without all of these wonderful people. If there is a struggle to do it all, it serves as the fuel!

Meaker:  Do you consider all experiences as fodder?

Pohan: Yes. Fodder, I like that. Very apropos to where I am currently.

Meaker: I deeply admire that you've created a reality in which there is no distinction between life and work.  

Pohan: I’m really serious about it. I've been working with a meditation teacher for about seven years now, Dina Kushnir, from whom I really came to understand the depth of this. But putting it into action is what makes it embodied as knowledge and wisdom, otherwise it’s just words. As I said before, Temporary Agency and Social Club served as the groundwork for Diamond Notch [Diamond Notch is the place upstate, its namesake is the road it's on].

Meaker: What are your dreams for Diamond Notch?

Pohan: Jason Kachadourian is my partner, by the way, and is also partner on this project. Part of the dream is related to the art/life blend, but more than just art. I'm interested generally in the question of how to live together; it structures my thinking on this residency/school/program, whatever it ends up becoming and then becoming again. Jason and I are both interested in how living, making, and working collaboratively might look like. So for now it’s the Diamond Notch Hiking Club.



Meaker: The frontiers of your work are so rich and layered, often translating and recontexualizing ephemeral expressions of the body—breath, sweat, orgasms into various media: video, installation, sculpture. These are often bodily processes we aim to conceal—where does your desire to capture these temporal experiences come from? There's a lot to unpack there.

Pohan: It is a good one whose dense answer ties my art and my collective practices together. My mother's death. Her death is what initiated the desire or longing for this capturing, de-coding, translating, and re-presenting the body both materially and immaterially through smell, sound, light, color, text, video, sculpture, a total immersion. Her death is also what partially financed the acquisition of the land upstate. Her literal dematerialization materialized a house on a property to facilitate a community as well as most of my art work to date. I have always worked with the body as a material, but eight years ago upon her suicide, it really put it into a different framework, allowing me to question and unpack my own subjectivity.

The capturing of the ephemera of the body using electronic sensors and digital devices utilized in my art making process are methods of data collecting and disciplining bodies currently used by power structures both in the public and private spheres. So from a very personal experience is tied larger politics of the disciplined body, the marginalized body, the incarcerated body, the medicated body, the working body, the female body, etc. I suppose also on a basic level, even as a child, I have been deeply curious about the undercurrents that move our lives, desires, choices, that which is more refined and ethereal than is typically seen, and I long to dig into that undercurrent. The fruits of those moments result in my work. My commitment to a meditation practice and bodywork method of releasing trauma from the body also serves as doorways for seeing the unseen, immaterial.

Meaker: How would you say sexuality fits into this scheme?

Pohan: Well, I did make a piece that was titled Orgasmic Exhalations and was represented in various forms. In one aspect, the orgasmic is a just an expression, it could have been a meditative exhalation, for example. In the end it’s about perception. The female orgasm is a form of production and a form of labor that is commodified by the porn and pharmaceutical industries, or to which Paul B Preciado would call the pharmacopornographic. A mouthful of a word, no pun intended.

The private experience of the orgasm, mine in this case for making this piece, this intimate private experience and the je ne sais quoi-ness of it all is recorded in a way that then abstracts it into numbers using an electronic sensor to record the orgasm. How? It’s always a hurdle for me to explain! I hacked a telemarketers headset, and replaced the mic with CO2 sensor. The sensor was connected to a microcontroller, which was hooked up to a computer running a software program that recorded the fluctuating values of parts per million of CO2 emanating from my breath. I took the numeric recording and applied my own scientific method to it, as you said. I took the data and massaged it, as data-ists and statisticians say, which I find so comical, and I created an algorithm from it. I applied the algorithm to two different instruments for output to produce both a scent and a form. I applied the algorithm to a perfume formula to create the scent. I plotted the algorithm in 3D space on a CAD software program, which allowed me to have it 3 dimensionally cut by a CNC routing machine. This produced a sculpture.

There’s a Neils Bohr law about light. It goes, you can observe light as either a particle or a wave, depending on the instrument you use to observe it. You see what you want to see, in short.

In this work, Orgasmic Exhalations, I represented this orgasmic breath in a semi scientific and aesthetically clinical way, but what is most important about it all was that the same breath, the same exhalation data, was used to make both a scent and a form, depending on the instrument I used to observe it. This work is about the production of desire as its base material, the digital distribution of intimacy as its method of creation, and results in two forms that confront the viewer with various perceptual questions. (I hope!) Answers to which are unknown. I like watching the process of inquiry. There is also something gendered about this, the perfume as feminized and the machine sculpted form as masculinized, and the space of the installation is what I’m interested in as the space in between this binary, between the zeros and ones of production.

Meaker: Can you describe the scent of the perfume?

Pohan: It happens to smell a bit like turpentine, a bit earthy, but also slightly like burnt plastic. I chose two essences, rosemary and myrrh, and the combination of the two and the alcohol to carry it produced this smell.

Meaker: It's interesting, too, that the expression of a woman's orgasm could be perceived as masculinized. Makes these definitions of gender all the more arbitrary, however hammered in they may be.

Pohan: There is something problematic in the potential male gazey-ness of it. Well the hammering in is what causes a lot of pain and suffering. Its real in that sense, a concrete effect on the body these constructs that are habitually reperformed binarily.

Meaker: Which brings me to the question regarding Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto. In this essay she analyzes and rejects the boundaries that separate 'human' from' animal' and human from 'machine’ and calls for a need to move away from essentialism and toward the utopian dream of the hope for a monstrous world without gender. Are you interested in the subversion of concepts related to the body and gender in your work?

Pohan: I think I am more interested in what holds together the structures and constructs that govern and form our understanding and relation to gender than a direct subversion of gender. I want a viewer to be confronted with their own embodiment, their own structuring, I think it offers the possibility of opening up to a level of vulnerability that I find compelling. 

Meaker: Tell us what you've got going on now, outside of Diamond Notch. Where can we see your work? 

Pohan: I have the work we discussed earlier, Orgasmic Exhalation Form and Device for body Spray, in a group show up now at The Knockdown Center in Maspeth Queens, up until Feb 26. I also have work in a benefit auction for the Rema Hort Mann Foundation, for which I received a nomination, on February 13 at Derek Eller Gallery. Opening March 19 will be The Whitney Houston Biennial where the perfume Linqox Criss will be on view with the work of many other female and female identified artists.

Spirit Of The Beehive: An Interview Of Artist Terence Koh

Over the last couple of years, the artist formerly known as 'asianpunkboy' has shed his downtown Manhattan image to become more in tune with the complicated mechanics of the natural world. Today, Terence Koh is not so much the Naomi Campbell of the the art world as he once referred to himself, he is more like the Krishnamurti of the art world. In the quiet bucolic climes of Sonoma California, Koh is busy tending to his bee chapel and learning about sustainability. Gone are the shaved eye brows, and gone are the sycophantic hipsters who saw him as disciple for a night at Le Bain or a good caboose during a dance train on the beach at Art Basel Miami. In the last week, Koh has come down the mountain, to completely transform Moran Bondaroff Gallery into a microcosm of the sustainable universe he believes we should all be living - an experiment for sustainability. Koh will be living at the gallery during the course of the show. He has cut a hole in the roof where there was once none, planted a garden, and erected his chapel full of buzzing honey bees where guests are invited to meditate. There is also a bath and lots of vegetables growing. As we climbed the stairs, Koh was washing dishes while a fresh bee sting pulsated on his upper earlobe. During the course of the exhibition, Koh won't be using modern amenities, like a shower or even toilet. When we came to interview, Koh had to duck into the corner of the garden to pee - we opted for the gallery bathroom. The gallery has also been equipped with solar panels, but aside from the offices, the gallery is lit solely by candles. During the course of our conversation, it was nearly pitch black - his cat, Skeleton, was there too. In the back of the gallery, where there once was a storage room, is now a kitchen and cafe. A basket of donated food, and even a hallucinogenic cactus is waiting to be consumed. In the following interview, Koh - who is not reading the news - ruminates on the present predicaments of the world filtered through friends and visitors to the gallery, and chats about our own personal responsibilities to stand up for a planet constantly in flux and constantly in danger of losing its fragile balance. 

AUTRE: So you haven’t seen much of LA since you’ve been here because you’ve been mainly in the gallery. Have you been able to enjoy the community?

TERENCE KOH: I’m trying to think if I’ve been to other parts of LA this trip. No, not really. I’ve pretty much just been here.

AUTRE: For a show like this, what is the preparation like? Besides the materials, what’s the process of mentally preparing for a show like this?

KOH: There’s not much. I’ve done performances before, so it’s actually -- ever since I did the nothingtoodoo show and I was going around the salt. I would go like eight hours a day for seven days. Everything is relative. That was one probably the most painful, mentally and physically thing I’ve ever done. In the gallery now, the fact that I can move around and talk to people. I didn’t feel that I needed to mentally prepare in that way. It’s a lot more peaceful. I’ve created a setting - my cat's here, the piano - and everything just takes place organically and naturally. Like Alan Watts’ philosophy, you just muddle through it. Just as it goes.

AUTRE: He had that philosophy that if you’re truly present, when you wash the dishes, you’re only washing one dish.

KOH: Exactly. You just be present in the moment. It’s something I’ve just learned recently.

AUTRE: How did the opening go? Did you feel like it went well?

KOH: I think so. I was overwhelmed and someone gave me an edible to calm me down. When I’m in Sonoma, it’s very remote in the grapevines and when I was in the Catskills I was on a mountain top by myself. So I've actually purposefully avoided openings and all these things. I didn’t prepare mentally for all these people. Usually when I have openings, there’s an office or something I can escape to and just walk away for a moment, but I had nowhere to go. And then the edible kicked in [laughter]. It was interesting.

AUTRE: I saw an Instagram picture of you in the boat. Was that when you hid in the boat?

KOH: I haven’t even seen it. I haven’t seen anything in days, which is great actually. It was really nice to all these people getting together and enjoying the bee chapel and sitting around here and playing the piano. All of these impromptu. Having conversations which was the whole point of the show. Making a setting where people feel comfortable together as a community in the times that we live in as well. Like a beehive with good intentions.

AUTRE: I want to talk about Joseph Beuys who had that famous performance where he was sort of whisked into the gallery. I like America and America likes me. Do you think taking these extreme lengths is important to make political or spiritual statements?

KOH: Yes I do. I think it’s through many ways. Through gentle ways. Because of what the current government is trying to do, trying to destroy the environment. I’ve been reading about environmental activism and the author, Derrick Jensen, who lives in Northern California. He’s advocating blowing up dams, not that he does it himself, but that the other side is so focused and vicious and powerful. As we’re sitting here, they’re thinking about the Keystone Pipeline. His big question is, are we even interested in winning this? Because it is a war. He’s advocating for extreme action. He talks about protests and how we all come together and it’s nice and after we feel good, we cook a dinner. But what have we actually achieved? We made ourselves feel good, but what have we done to fight the forces?

AUTRE: When did you first start to discover and learn about bees and beehives and taking care of them?

KOH: I think probably moving to the Catskills. Again in New York City, there are bees too, but when we live on a remote mountain top, you realize there are honey bees flying everywhere. I was coming from New York City, I didn’t think about these things. Only from living in nature do you open your awareness that it’s all really there. You read about honeybees in the news, because of all the things that we’re doing and it’s really a lot of things that we do like chemicals in farming. There was this voice that came up. “Build a bee chapel” and I didn’t know what a bee chapel was. It took actually a whole year to figure out. I thought I was going to build a pyramid and cover it in honey. I was talking to different people. There had to be more structure to it. Over time, it just organically happened. Talking to beekeepers.

AUTRE: I read or heard from someone that you built the chapel partly to protect them from bears, was it?

KOH: We built the first chapel in the Catskills twelve feet up in the air, because there are all these bears. Otherwise, they’d smell the honey. We built a catapult system.

AUTRE: That’s wild.

KOH: It wasn’t just my idea. There were so many people that made this show happen. The carpenters, the beekeeper, the gardeners, and the whole gallery helping out. Just all these different people and things coming together.



AUTRE: Have you seen the movie, “The Spirit of the Beehive?" It’s a Spanish film.

KOH: Oh yes, part of it. I don’t remember much, but I remember it’s very dark.

AUTRE: It’s dark. The director uses bees as symbolism to talk about people and control. You seem to have attributed more positive symbolism to bees.

KOH: The Spirit of the Beehive moves into like Shamanistic territory and I’m studying Zen Buddhism right now, which is like things that are directly as they are. There is no mysticism to it. I feel like I’m always between Mysticism and Zen Buddhism. Both forces that are completely opposite and I don’t know what side it is, because I do believe there is magic, somehow. When candles burn and there are ashes. There’s a mystery that is magic. But in Buddhism, it is what it is. There is no more to a candle than a candle. In the bee chapel, it’s nature and it just happens, but also why do the bees do what they do? How do they swarm. There are so many mysteries to bees.

AUTRE: Interesting. When you first started making work, especially in New York City, there was a big difference in the work you were making as compared to the work you’re making now. What do you think it was about nature that inspired you to try something new?

KOH: Maybe it was learning to accept nature. When you live in it and you learn to be a part of it. If you don’t get yourself firewood and you live in the Catskills, you’re going to freeze.

AUTRE: I want to talk a little bit about the writing that you did for this show. It’s really beautiful. Where does the language and poetry fit into your artistic practice? Because you use very unique language to describe your practice. Have you always used that language to describe each of your shows?

KOH: No. I think everyone is sort of born with their own language, I believe. Because you go to school and grade school, they switch you into being part of society. Without school, I wonder what type of grammar and syntax we would use. It could be very interesting. Maybe we would all speak in poetry or like the bees, we wouldn’t need to talk. The beekeeper was talking to me about language like how do they know their distance from the beehive? They all cling together. That’s a different system of thinking. We could have developed different natures that aren’t language based.

AUTRE: There’s a lot of unconscious communication that we do. A lot of people speak without saying anything, even if they don’t realize it.

KOH: We’re gonna discover just like radio waves that maybe we’re telepathic. It’s all within ourselves. I think it’s because from what I read, we move too quickly as a civilization. The spiritual has moved faster than the physical. If we moved in tandem, that’s when maybe things would get interesting.

AUTRE: Last summer, you were at Andrew Edlin Gallery. You did that show and it was just the Beehive, right?

KOH: There were a few different things.

AUTRE: You cited the names of the Orlando victims, which is really interesting and you said you wanted to sort of let the bees hear those names. Can you talk a little bit about that?

KOH: Most beekeepers talk to the bees. You tell them the news of things that are happening around the world so that you treat them with respect. The idea is that I think the bees do listen and hear. The idea was that in that show, there were microphones connected back into satellites, into outer space so I thought if I channeled it and talked to the bees about things that were happening, they would again channel it. The whole system would all be channeled into outer space. Me, the bees, everything. It’s one way to keep them alive as well. It affected me, being gay as well, to see that happen at a gay nightclub. You feel empathy because you feel it’s closer to you. I’ve been to spaces like that. It’s all about perspective. I want to be connected, but also disconnected. Maybe by disconnecting, I can focus my energy. There’s so much going on, it’s like what can I do? But with this show, we can be connected and responsible.

AUTRE: You should get everyone to chow down on that cactus.

KOH: Right? Exactly. Like a little bit each and we can find different ways to do things. Sitting here disconnected from the world, is it doing any good? For myself, maybe, but I don’t know.

AUTRE: It seems like an important gesture. A really important gesture and maybe a lesson for people to sort of take a step back and disconnect a little bit.

KOH: Just living and being, maybe that’s one way. They can take away clean water, they can’t take away spirit itself. We have our spirit. They cannot take it away. When Krishnamurti wrote the greatest art is the art of living, he wrote it in one of his books and even greater than the greatest works of paintings or poetry or architecture is the art of living itself. It took me awhile to understand. It’s almost like from touching the cat, to talking to you, to cooking food. This is how we do it in our way.

AUTRE: Nurture our intellect.

KOH: Yeah.

AUTRE: When you imagine the future, which emotion do you feel most dominantly?

KOH: [pause] The future is now.

AUTRE: The future feels present.

KOH: The future is the present. It’s unexplainable. There’s nothing you can do about the future or the past. But to feel the future is not possible. The only thing we have is the now. 


Terence Koh "Sleeping In A Beam of Sunlight" will be on view until March 11, 2017 at Moran Bondaroff gallery in Los Angeles. text, interview and photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Brothers Grim: An Interview Of Dinos Chapman On The Power Of Humor And Violence

 

text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

 

There couldn’t be a better time for Jake and Dinos Chapman’s new exhibition, To Live And Think Like Pigs, on view now at the UTA Artist Space in Los Angeles. That it opened on the same day as Donald Trump’s wildly xenophobic and damaging executive order banning Muslims from “terror prone” countries is compelling, but perhaps not coincidental. When the wickedness of the world reveals its evident truths, Jake and Dinos remind us that the horror, panic and depravity isn’t just a brand of reality they have invented to shock us – it is actually reality. We are eating in it, fucking in it and living in it.  Swastikas, Ku Klux Klan iconography, rainbows, happy faces and the golden arches of the McDonald’s logo all exist on the same killing field. If their work appears apocalyptic, it is because the end seems so close that you can feel the tingling warmth of the glowing, earthly sun of nuclear annihilation. With the undeniable surge of violence and anxiety, the seething distrust of “the other” – the Chapman brothers create works that are artifacts of this existential catastrophe of our own making. But what people most misunderstand about the Chapman brothers is that their work is hilarious – a laugh riot, an obscene and brilliant joke. If you don’t laugh, you are missing the point all together. What's funnier than a couple of realistic surprised looking mannequins wearing full KKK garb, rainbow socks and Birkenstocks?  We got a chance to sit down with one half of the Chapman brothers – Dinos Chapman – to discuss everything from the failure of the human species to their time working as assistants for fellow controversial British artists Gilbert And George.  

AUTRE: So the title of the show is borrowed from the book, To Live And Think Like Pigs [by French philosopher Gilles Châtelet], which really predicted our current political and sociological turmoil. The show carries the same themes, right?

DINO CHAPMAN: Ish. I think the major theme of the show is failure.

AUTRE: Political? Spiritual?

CHAPMAN: Every aspect of failure, grand gestural failure.

AUTRE: Do you think we’re failing as a species?

CHAPMAN: Oh, we failed. Long time ago. I think we’re just in the death throes of failure

AUTRE: So what’s left after that?

CHAPMAN: Uhh we all die and we kill everything on the planet and it just continues to spin round and round and round the sun until it burns out.

AUTRE: Today, especially now it seems like a really apt time for the show and the political climate in the UK. Is this affecting your work in bigger ways than it has in the past?

CHAPMAN: No, no. I think we’ve always been intentionally pessimistic about humanity, culture. Yeah. It’s a failed project.

AUTRE: Do you think that when people are too positive it puts us in a space of false paradise?

CHAPMAN: Yeah, I mean I think you have to be incredibly short-sighted or an idiot to be positive. Certainly in today’s climate. Every single second, things get slightly worse because of other people’s positivist views. They think they’re doing good.

AUTRE: And complacent.

CHAPMAN: And complacent.

AUTRE: So going back to some of the work that you’ve done with Hitler’s paintings and some of the iconography you work with –  it seems sort of like the idea of people wanting to go back in time to kill Hitler and other dictators to change the course of history. Do you feel like you’re doing that using the present, instead of actually going back in time?

CHAPMAN: Short of inventing a time machine and going back and actually doing something, I think we kind of did [change the course of history] when we bought the Hitler drawings and paintings and defaced them and turned them into hippie nonsense, it was kind of an attempt to give him a --- because those works are often considered evidence of when he was still sort of a human being. As though he would have been redeemable if he went to art school and everything would have been fine. He would have been another artist, but he didn’t get into art school so he decided to go out and kill as many Jews as he possibly could. And you know, the sort of popular idea is that if he was allowed to be an artist, he would not have done that. So we kind of got in there before he became a genocider and kind of fucked it up. Just to remove that bit of humanity from him.

AUTRE: Instead of KKK insignia and swastikas, you use smiley faces as part of that dialogue.

CHAPMAN: Happy faces and KKK insignia and rainbows and swastikas are all the same scale.

AUTRE: Exiting politics for a second, I want to talk about your process: where your studio is, what your typical process is, what a day is like

CHAPMAN: I’ve been in LA for three years actually doing fuck all. No, I’ve been at home working.

AUTRE: Do you work separately from your brother now?

CHAPMAN: No no no, we work together. We’re stretching the umbilical cord to a sort of monofilament at the moment. We’ve always tested the parameters of what it means to be working. It’s preferable to work on your own, because two people implies legion. Multi personalities, so yeah. I kind of moved out here for the weather and the politics.

AUTRE: What about the politics?

CHAPMAN: What about the politics, psshh. I don’t know. I mean I can’t complain, we have BREXIT in England. Europe is about to fall to bits. It’s a great big shit show.

AUTRE: How do you feel about CALEXIT? 

CHAPMAN: I think it should divert a fence around California and keep everyone else out. It seems...why not? I’m quite pleased that California is rebellious and not seemingly republican. I’ve only just learned the difference between democrats and republicans. The only reason I know republicans are bad is because of France. I hate France. [laughter]



AUTRE: Oftentimes, there's not much of a difference between the two.

CHAPMAN: One of the nice things about being in a foreign country, although it’s not really strictly defensible, is that you don’t feel responsible for anything. I know that’s burying your head in the sand, but for me it seems preferable to being in Britain and sort of railing against something I may have been able to do something about.

AUTRE: Do you feel like the critics are harsher at home?

CHAPMAN: I just think I can look at Trump and not laugh, but not feel related to him in any way.

AUTRE: As brothers and collaborators have you always wanted to make work together?

CHAPMAN: There’s a five year difference between us. Five years is kind of the absolute point at which you’re at different schools at different times so in England I would have been leaving school as Jake would be joining us. We never really spent much time together apart from the evenings and then we finally kind of caught up with each other in college and did a lot of talking and then decided after we left college that we should work together. I mean, we tried to work on our own for a bit but it just seemed kind of pointless when the conversations we had were much more fruitful and much more interesting than the conversations we were having in our own heads which are invariably kind of solipsistic. You can’t argue yourself out of a color.

AUTRE: What is your typical response to people's misunderstanding your work? I mean, is there a typical response?

CHAPMAN: We don’t feel any responsibility for what people think of the art. If you make a child mannequin with a penis on its nose you have to invite a plethora of readings of that. There is no correct reading because once the work is finished and it’s in a gallery environment, it’s done. We’re no longer in control of what it means because every single work is entirely subjective.

AUTRE: Yup, it’s in the hands of the viewer.

CHAPMAN: Yeah. It’s not but that’s where it starts to do its biggest journey.

AUTRE: That’s where the job begins, the intellectual job. And you’re not just making depraved work to make depraved work. Reality is actually depraved.

CHAPMAN: We’re making stuff that hopefully clarifies or makes the fault lines in western culture's moralistic thinking apparent. Again, you put a mannequin with a penis on its face in a gallery and it trips people up, it makes people think lots of different things. I’m not that interested in answers. I’m more interested in questions.

AUTRE: In the beginning, you were both assistants to Gilbert and George, right?

CHAPMAN: I was an assistant for a long time. Jake joined up and got us both sacked.

AUTRE: How’d that happen? Is it a long story?

CHAPMAN: [laughs] No, it’s a really short story actually. I think we were bigger and more unrelenting than them. The two of us together was a bit too much.

AUTRE: A bit too much for them. I mean, they’re pretty politically charged but it seems like you want to take things in a new direction.

CHAPMAN: I just think they decided it was unfair.

[laughs]

AUTRE: Jake made a comment recently about the Ai Weiwei photograph of the drowned refugee boy. That it sort of aestheticized other people’s misery. Can you talk a little bit about that?

CHAPMAN: It’s a terrible, terrible, terrible thing that artists think that painting other people’s poverty or hardship helps. It doesn’t help their hardship or poverty it just—

AUTRE: Glorifies it.

CHAPMAN: It does that and it also doesn’t do anything apart from make the artist feel like they’ve done something, which is a terrible thing.

AUTRE: It’s selfish.

CHAPMAN: Yeah.

AUTRE: Everybody congratulates themselves for feeling sympathy.

CHAPMAN: Absolutely. I was watching Louis C.K. the other night and he said that, on airplanes, he always feels like he should give his first class seat to service men because they always sit in coach. He never does but he feels really good about thinking that he should do it. That’s an artist's’ mentality.

AUTRE: It’s the thought that counts mentality.

CHAPMAN: He didn’t actually do anything about it.

AUTRE: Yeah, so you think people should actually do something about it?

CHAPMAN: It would help [laughs].

AUTRE: So for this particular show, is there something you would want people to know that they might not see?

CHAPMAN: It’s all for sale [laughs]. At drastically reduced prices.

AUTRE: And my last question, because I know you probably want to get back inside for the opening.

CHAPMAN: Ah yes, being uncomfortable walking around my own work.

AUTRE: Is it uncomfortable being around your own work in that kind of setting?

CHAPMAN: It’s a very strange thing to do. It’s a bit like being a child.

AUTRE: When your mom puts it on the refrigerator?

CHAPMAN: Yeah. You want people to come up and pat you on the back for doing well, but you don’t. Still, that’s sometimes what it feels like.

AUTRE: Is art the most powerful medium for subversion? Especially now.

CHAPMAN: No, guns and hand grenades are. They’re powerful. And humor. Humor allied with guns and hand grenades.

AUTRE: Which one first though?

CHAPMAN: Guns.


Jake And Dinos Chapman "To Live And Think Like Pigs" will be on view at UTA Artist Space until March 11, 2017. text and photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


A Welcome Act Of Rebellion: An Interview Of Zach Fernandez, The Artist Behind Hollyweed

If you woke up in Los Angeles, or anywhere else in the world, on New Year’s Day this year, you may have noticed a curious sight: the iconic Hollywood sign transformed into “Hollyweed.” It was a welcome act of rebellion after one of the most fucked up years in history. From some social media posts, it looked like a Photoshop job – a meme to celebrate the new California law legalizing the recreational consumption of marijuana. As news of the stunt spread, it was obvious that someone had actually altered the Hollywood sign. How it was altered, and the extent of the damage, wasn’t apparent upon first examination, but as the helicopters buzzing overhead started zooming in, it was clear that there was no damage at all – just white and black sheets to change the double O’s into double E’s. It was brilliant. But it wasn’t the first time someone had pulled the same stunt. In 1976, Daniel Finegood, an art student at Cal State Northridge changed the Hollywood sign to read the same thing on the same day that possession of an ounce of weed was downgraded to a misdemeanor, and then again during the Persian Gulf War to read 'Oil War.' This time around, the prankster turned out to be Los Angeles based artist Zach Fernandez, otherwise known as Jesus Hands. After the stunt, he skipped town, but after the LAPD turned up the heat, he surrendered. We got a chance to catch up with Fernandez at his Downtown studio to smoke a joint and discuss his intentions behind peacefully altering one of the most iconic city landmarks.   

AUTRE: Are you from Los Angeles?

ZACH FERNANDEZ: Not from Los Angeles per se. I grew up in Southern California. I lived in the Inland Empire till I was eight or nine and then I lived by the beach, Pismo Beach for the remainder. I went back and forth between here and SoCal and then I’ve lived in Pomona most recently. I’ve kind of just been all over, a bit nomadic I guess.

AUTRE: So, a lot of people are probably trying to talk to you about this project right now.

FERNANDEZ: Yeah, these last two weeks. The first week was the equivalent of a year or two’s life span. I had no idea what the deal was, it was so crazy.

AUTRE: People didn’t know it was you until…?

FERNANDEZ: Until a couple days later. And even still people are coming up like “that was you?” and I’m like “yeah, were you living under a rock?”

AUTRE: I read something about Tommy Chong calling you about it.

FERNANDEZ: Yeah it was really special. We had a good moment and he gave some solid advice. I didn’t know what to expect, you know, it’s Tommy Chong. You can expect a million different things and be way off. I was on the train, just trying to get out of town, and he direct messaged me on Instagram and said “let’s talk.” It wasn’t his PR guy or something, it was him. I was just like, “holy crap what is happening.”

AUTRE: So what did he want to talk to you about?

FERNANDEZ: Honestly, it was very simple, it was just “hey that put a huge smile on my face, thank you for that.” And then I asked for some advice. He said, “look, you chose to become famous and now there’s no going back. Really think about that.”

AUTRE: So he knew that after this project, that was it.

FERNANDEZ: He knew. The synchronicity that I live by, it’s my motto.

AUTRE: Is all the attention you’re getting intimidating or is it slightly exciting?

FERNANDEZ: It’s both, it’s definitely both. It’s just figuring out what to do from here. This is just the beginning, for the world, working out this type of stuff.

AUTRE: Have you done anything on this scale?

FERNANDEZ: Not this scale. But there’s something bigger to come. Art for me is almost an adrenaline rush, it’s the weirdest thing. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at it like that but I find that it makes me so excited, that I obsess over it, and lose sleep over it—there’s this burning and driving. Every artist knows that feeling, everyone can relate. And then there’s the times when it’s gone and that’s the scary part. It’s like, fuck what is this? But then it comes back. It’s the flow. Once you realize there’s this ebb and flow to life, things come and go, everything else works out.

AUTRE: When did you put the plan into motion?

FERNANDEZ: It originally was just a seed. I’ve kind of regurgitated this a little bit in the media but I basically just put out this shout out on Facebook: “hey I’m looking to do an art install in the LA area everybody should message me.” I got like three messages. It was funny to see. I was like, “this is my idea, I’m committed.” I had some people who were like “Oh yeah” and then would disappear and I didn’t want to go out and track them down.

AUTRE: Did they know initially? Or did you tell them as things unfolded?

FERNANDEZ: Some people knew and then other people had to say yes and then I would tell them about the plan.

AUTRE: The materials you used were tarp, right?

FERNANDEZ: People say tarps but they were actually sheets. It was a very resourceful project considering our circumstances. We did it for like $35 in total: limited paint from Home Depot was like seven bucks.

AUTRE: Wait so the blacked out part was paint?

FERNANDEZ: A black sheet.

AUTRE: What did you use the paint for?

FERNANDEZ: I painted on the sheet, on the black part. It was hard to see. It flipped one way and kind of hung around the side. It was very hard to make out so I hesitated to do it but decided even if people couldn’t see it I was going to do it anyways. It’s a tribute. My buddy posted a photo of the original “Hollyweed” and I was like, “what, somebody has done this before?”



AUTRE: So you had the idea and then you saw that somebody had done the same thing?

FERNANDEZ: Yeah. I was like “whoa, okay hold on a minute let’s see what this guy did.” So I figured out some of the details and his background and played on that. I didn’t just want to be this person regurgitating ideas but sometimes history has to repeat itself to learn something new. That’s what life's all about. We learn, we fail, we learn, we fail. And the climate was perfect. So I was like, this guy is channeling his energy through me; I didn’t even know he’d died of cancer. I saw an interview of his wife about my project being like “oh, my heart.”

AUTRE: Oh amazing, did she reach out to you directly?

FERNANDEZ: Her family has and said some really deep stuff and I’m like “holy crap, this is so sacred to me.” I haven’t been able to meet them physically.

AUTRE: That’s heavy. Funny, you did it for thirty-five bucks? I think he did it for fifty. Accounting for inflation you still dropped the price…

FERNANDEZ: I know, I guess it costs more in the risk is what it came down to. But I had no fear about the whole project. I mean I had doubts, but zero fear. I had my intentions. I said that’s gonna be done and I’m gonna walk away.

AUTRE: And it really didn’t seem to be about vandalism. People immediately thought that maybe you vandalized the sign or you knocked out part of the white or something like that.

FERNANDEZ: Totally. They thought I messed up the letters.

AUTRE: Immediately upon looking at it, they were like “Oh, shit! Someone fucked up the Hollywood sign” which would have been a massive act of vandalism, but looking at it closer, you realize it’s not that. Your work is not about desecration at all.

FERNANDEZ: No, it’s all about finding a way to, I don’t want to say manipulate the system, but a way to peacefully, respectfully maybe not work against, but work with the system. You get your messages out without this unnecessary punishment.

AUTRE: There’s nothing hostile about it.

FERNANDEZ: Exactly.

AUTRE: So you knew that maybe you would get in trouble for it, because of the trespassing?

FERNANDEZ: I did the research on the trespassing and the vandalism. Looked at the law for what vandalism really is.

AUTRE: They couldn’t get you on vandalism, but they’re trying to get you for the trespassing. So the day afterwards, you head out of town and when did you decide to turn yourself in?

FERNANDEZ: I got out of town, talked to my attorneys, came back down here and then I started feeling a little bit paranoid. Because the detectives started laying on the heat a little bit. A lotta bit. It’s a long story. I’m not at will to say right now, but after all this blows over, let me tell you how the LAPD works. It’s very, very scary.

AUTRE: They got tough?

FERNANDEZ: Very tough. Real fast. And it’s fine. Like I said, I had good intentions all the way. I had no idea about how the world would respond to this. I had no fucking clue. So I got done and I just stood there calmly for like two minutes and took it in and was just like, “Whoa. I did it.”

AUTRE: I mean from far away, you could really see it. It looked seamless. Completely seamless.

FERNANDEZ: We studied it and honestly there were no schematics except for the height. We got the height and then I looked at a ladder on the side. The ladder rungs have like a foot space in between each one and then I just got the letter and measured it off of that picture. I was able to get it pretty precise.

AUTRE: You had helicopters up there. You had people from all over the place. You know you’ve done something big when someone’s up there with a helicopter.

[laughs]

FERNANDEZ: I saw that the next morning. You know Sarah woke me up and she was like, “It’s everywhere.” And I was like “What? I don’t even understand what you’re talking about.  Last night’s a dream to me. I have no idea what just happened.” Her eyes got so big.

AUTRE: And now it’s a meme.

[laughs]

FERNANDEZ: It is a meme. People were like saying they lived so close to the Hollywood sign and they were like, “Ugh I was in Vegas. I could have gotten my drone up there.” It’s so good. The letters do look like they went all the way around. It’s weird.

AUTRE: You can barely tell. The only time people can tell that it was a sheet is when they really zoomed in with those creepy paparazzi zooms.

FERNANDEZ: The best part was seeing the little firemen after. Seeing how little they were compared to the letters. It took them like thirteen hours to get it all down. It took me three hours to get it up but like ten guys to get it down. I don’t understand.

AUTRE: It seemed like there were not a lot of people around. You were able to pretty much do whatever you wanted.

FERNANDEZ: The day I went and hiked up there it was like two weeks prior just to survey it and see how it was. I got up there around 7:30 in the morning and there was a guy putting an American flag on top of the hill and zip tying it to the post. It’s still fucking there. So I saw it, took a picture. I leave. I saw that there was trash everywhere. If anybody gave a shit about this sign, there wouldn’t be trash everywhere. So that was my ticket and I was just like okay go: do it. Anyway, long story short, that guy ended up direct messaging me with a picture at the fucking sign like, “I’ve been down there, too!” I mean there have probably been hundreds of people who have jumped that gate, taken pictures at the sign, and that’s it.

AUTRE: That original artist, he actually did a few things with the Hollywood sign. I think he did Ollywood during the Oliver North hearings and then he did something during the Gulf War

FERNANDEZ: Exactly, yep. He did “Oil War” and it ended up getting taken down so fast.

AUTRE: So, you don’t have plans to do more with the Hollywood sign? You’re done?

FERNANDEZ: With the Hollywood sign, I’m done. But, definitely worldly. I’ve got some huge things coming up. So I’m super excited. I’m not sure how soon, but soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAMY: Which luxury?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAMY: Right right.



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

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

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

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

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

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

BJ PANDA BEAR: That’s so nuts…

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

BJ PANDA BEAR: I love hearing the stories.

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

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

LAMY: That was a very great time.

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

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

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

LAMY: Yeah he doesn’t come there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Creepers: An Interview Of Up And Coming Artist Daniel Boccato

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

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

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

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

LEHRER: Did you want to be a rockstar first?

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

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

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

LEHRER: What is Brazil’s popular music?

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

LEHRER: What got you interested in visual culture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Riding The Conceptual Wave: An Interview Of Alex Knost And Daniella Murphy On Founding The Costa Mesa Conceptual Art Center

Costa Mesa, California isn’t necessarily a place where you would find a conceptual art center. Typically, you’d find miles and miles of industrial centers of commerce, nondescript retail hubs, shopping malls and franchises. Under the Southern California sun, Costa Mesa is more a setting for a novel about a society on the verge of a postmodern existential crisis. But within this crisis, you’ll find a bit of catharsis with the brand new Costa Mesa Conceptual Art Center. Founded by surfer, surf historian, artist and musician Alex Knost, who recently came out with a collaborative album with Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, and curator Daniella Murphy, the CMCAC is a small haven for creativity in a wide strangulating vortex of urban commercialism. Located on a boulevard that looks like a hundred other boulevards – about an hour from Downtown Los Angeles – the CMCAC is conceptual in and of itself. It is not a large fancy art complex with multimillion-dollar donations and starchitect design – it is a simple storage facility acting as a gallery and a launching pad for local artists and musicians. The first artist to show at the space is Justin Adams – his exhibition, Dancing Baby, is on view now. Autre got a chance to catch up with Murphy and Knost to discuss their art center and what it means to the art world as a whole. 

Douglas Neill: What was the impetus for opening the Costa Mesa Conceptual Art Center with the work of Justin Adams?

Daniella Murphy: Justin lives in Alex Knost’s garage, informally. He made a spate of paintings in a really short amount of time. Alex came back from tour and Justin had made a ton of paintings, the bulk of which you see here. I think that’s how it came together. We saw what he had made and we prompted him to let us show it.

Neill: Is Justin’s process part of what interested you in showcasing his work?

Alex Knost: Justin’s process is more or less constantly participating in deconstruction. As far as being an artist who showcases his work, that’s not really him. Most of these paintings were produced in steps. All over the place…on the bed, on the ground. He’d just always be in there, tinkering about. It wasn’t really something that he presented to us at all.  It was more us prying and taking away the blankets and tee shirts that were covering all the work he had been making over the six months or so and actually looking at each other and being informally persuaded on our own recognition. I think we’re still talking him into it. He’s generally quite uncomfortable.

Murphy: We had to draw it out of him. The prime artistic act, that’s what he is.

Neill: It looks like he really digs in...using his hands.

Murphy: He uses paintbrushes and his hands and whatever he has. A lot of these canvases were found. One of the works is actually part of his car.

Neill: Lots of emotion.

Murphy: It’s definitely an outlet for him, an emotional outlet.

Neill: How did you guys come together to start the Costa Mesa Conceptual Art Center?

Murphy: We kind of talked about it and yeah I went to school and studied art and I used to manage a space in San Francisco that was similar in that I facilitate people’s shows coming together. Whether it be someone asking to show at a particular space, never really soliciting artists, just kind of helping people.

Neill: Connecting people.

Murphy: Yeah, at Adobe Books in San Francisco. It’s nice working with people who aren’t established and Alex was kind of keenly interested in my background, thought it was interesting and a different perspective.

Neill: Did you two meet there?

Murphy: No, we met down here actually, in LA.

Knost: My artistic background is in creating my own body of work, which at times is a tug of war because it’s hard to promote something that you create on your own. With Daniella’s knowledge of art and being selfless towards it...I thought it was charming that Daniella’s resume was in art appreciation. It created a platform. She works in LA.

Murphy: I work at a space that’s a residency and exhibition space. It’s a non profit called Fahrenheit and it’s sponsored by the FLAX Foundation which is a French foundation that facilitates French artists coming to LA and having a cultural exchange and introducing French artists in the LA context. But moving away from that, being here now more so than in LA, there’s this palpable feel here. There aren’t that many art spaces like in Orange County or this direct environment.

Neill: For better or worse there’s a lot of art aimed at tourists and the real housewives in Orange County.

Murphy: We like to see these works insinuating themselves in those homes though.

Knost: In any creative sense, I feel artists or musicians or people that are striving to create art, there’s a heart and a vibe, there’s the original area where they started and then where they’ve gravitated towards. It’s getting harder and harder for artists who solely want to create and not have to work at a café or bank off their inheritance or whatever they got, to live in places like Los Angeles and New York or San Francisco. It’s so expensive.

Murphy: As it always has been. It’s nice to have this space here, as opposed to LA.



Neill: What makes Costa Mesa the place?

Knost: From my perspective, my way of romanticizing it is we came here because this is where I grew up. I always thought of it as this bleak flat mesa in which a lot of people, since the 70s and even more so in my generation, have been great artists, musicians, who have solely been able to abide by their own facilities because there’s a lot of industrial buildings. There’s a large Latino community and they’re not as uptight and then there’s this sharp contrast with Newport Beach where it’s very consumer. You’ve had a lot of these artists and musicians residing here out of affordability and it’s always kind of seemed more of a comfortable habitat rather than a stepping stone or pedestal or something in order to grasp for vantage to be in Hollywood or something like that. It’s much more feasible.

Neill: A different headspace.

Murphy: It’s also as if socializing is a curator and artist’s metabolism. You have to go out and make those connections. So we’re trying to facilitate those connections down here. This space will hopefully be generative of it. Not just with this show, this space will be for other kinds of projects as well. 

Neill: Will CMCAC be primarily visual art or will there be music or performance?

Murphy: There’ll be performance and installations. When I walk into a space I just always want something experiential. You know something affecting, not necessarily nice art on the wall.

Knost: I believe that in calling it the Costa Mesa Conceptual Art Center is that, although you can look at this body of work and regard it as a decorative or abstract expressionism or anything like that, this environment becomes valuable. Justin’s work, for example, it’s very much an excruciating manifest. It’s not as if he’s a type of fellow that would go here or schmooze there to gain his repertoire. I think that in having him present his body of work as the first show is a flag in recognizing that something conceptual is obviously the thought process taking the precedent or the state of being and I think it’s very well exemplified in his work.

Neill: Is there an ultimate goal for the space? Do you want to expand it or take it as it goes?

Knost: I think the content of what passes through here obviously will amount to much more and spread its tentacles, but as far as expansion, it’s a humble environment. It isn’t as much of a progressive capitalist type thing. That’s why we called it a center, as to kind of make it communal and never ending expansion. Not ‘here’s our ceiling, here’s our goal, here’s this acute area in which to achieve.’ 

Neill: Would you ever display your own work?

Knost: Of course. The refreshing thing about doing something like this is that you’re watching all the pieces fall and being at ease with that.

Neill: Do you have roles when you’re working together?

Murphy: It’s definitely collaborative. It’s not the most formal of spaces, but it’s true to Alex’s ethos and he’s generously allowed me to partake. It’s fluid. As far as decisions with the show here, we’ll both have a say, we’ll both contribute.

Knost: We’re very open, very lax, very non-appointed. I think maybe in the first year of developing galleries and exhibition spaces, it’s always a push and pull thing. It’s usually quite aggressive, as if there are chiefs that appoint Indians that can take credit and vice versa. You know, a lot of hunter-gatherers doing so strictly to have a resume. Where as here, between Daniella and me, with the artists or musicians, poets or writers, the people that want to showcase their work, there’s more of a general consensus. 

Murphy: It’s based on aesthetic considerations, of course. We have a lot of friends who make work who we won’t show here.

Knost: We’re not scratching people’s backs. That’s not our goal. There has to be something present in it that we find circumstantial.

Neill: Has surfing influenced how you perceive art and how the creative process?

Knost: Of course, it’s an existential struggle. In surfing, there’s a balance of greed between this macho hunting for waves, outsmarting the other population, but then there’s also the embarrassment. I feel that great artists are willing to obtain greatness from despair and the complications that arise from that. In that sense, you realize that sometimes a stride can be an embarrassing one…at most a very human one. I believe that art that I find intriguing has its faults.

Neill: How did you and Kim Gordon meet/come to create together?

Knost: We had mutual friends...one gal who sells and shows her art, her husband is a filmmaker who I know. One of the groups that I’m in, performed for his after party for one of his films in New York maybe two years ago. I met her at the event, we played pool. She was working on her body of work, but needed fiberglass. I work with fiberglass, so I eventually assisted her on some works for a show she had coming up. Along the line, her being a musician, we had some free time and we ended up recording and making that record [Glitterbust] and she went on to have her show and it was great to be a part of that. The record was something that I believe we’re both quite proud of.


Justin Adams' exhibition Dancing Baby will be on view until December 17, 2016 at The Costa Mesa Conceptual Art Center, 930 Placentia Blvd unit B3 Costa Mesa, CA. text and photographs by Douglas Neill. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


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

text by Summer Bowie

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

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

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

Double Diamond Sun Body: I grew up in Seattle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double Diamond Sun Body: I was playing bass.

Bowie: And when did that start?

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

Bowie: Wow, what kind of music was that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bowie: Heavy.

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[laughs]

Bowie: Yeah. Awesome, thanks so much.

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WIST: Zayn!

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

WIST: Could get each other off!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Deviant Funnies: A Postcoital Interview Of Underground Comic Artist and Hip Hop Historian Ed Piskor

text by Audra Wist

 

Something about returning to my hometown of Pittsburgh always makes me really horny. One night, after Tinder-ing for awhile I came across a dude named Ed - profile picture was slick and mysterious, black and white, him in a Gucci bucket hat, sunglasses, and a Public Enemy hoodie. Swiped right. This was not a typical Pittsburgh guy. Why not? The mystery man with great style turned out to be Ed Piskor. We matched and met up that night. He answered the door in his pajamas which I thought was funny given our assumed future activities and we proceeded to give each other little gifts. I gave him a copy of the Autre LOVE issue and he gave me an old issue of FOX magazine where one of early comics was in, super babe Janine Lindemulder was on the cover (the iconic tattooed nurse blondie on Blink-182’s Enema of the State album cover). Yeah, I liked Ed already. He is a Pittsburgher to his core and wildly successful, his new series Hip Hop Family Tree earning him three Eisner Award nominations and numerous other accolades and shout-outs from hip hop greats like DJ Ready Red and DMC as well as TIME and Boing Boing. His comic heavyweight status aside, I wanted to talk with him about sex because of his early involvement in porno mags and because during our evening rendezvous, he was incredibly sexy: kind, funny, unafraid - a real cool guy. He was on, fully himself, but no fluff or pretension. I would agree with Ms. Lehoczky at NPR who wrote about Ed’s work saying “he’s more realer without even trying.”

Audra Wist: I wanted to open with the fact that we met on Tinder and we had this deep love for old things, like newsstand stuff - erotica, comics, music, magazines, records - print media. I liked you from gate because of that. You were involved in both porn and print media. And you did “Eddie P’s Calvacade of Perversion,” right?

Ed Piskor: Yeah.

Wist: How long did you do that with that magazine? Or why porn, in general?

Piskor: When I was underage I was commissioned to do illustrations in porn mags. They never asked my name. I had this reputation that got started, a lot of people thought I was a grizzled old hippie because the style was influenced by Bay Area underground comics of the 60s. And at that time, Robert Crumb was my biggest influence ever. So, in conversation when they found out I was 17 it was big trouble. From there, very randomly, this lady who has had this whole career in copywriting porn mags - she wrote for the Berkeley Barb and worked for different porno mags based out of SF. She put together a comic just about her life and career and she commissioned maybe 5 guys and girls to illustrate her stories, so I did that. And from there, she was the connection to FOX magazine and other weird porn related stuff. I didn’t do that many strips - I did maybe a handful. A couple years later, I did one panel of cartoons for Belladonna on her website. And I did that for a couple months and it yielded 60 or 90 different cartoons. It was super fun to begin with but after awhile it got real redundant because she’s really well-known for taking different instruments into her ass.

Wist: Right, yes, I remember you saying that you ran out of stuff to put in her butt.

Piskor: Yeah, it’s the truth. I couldn’t think of anything else. I could be remembering this wrong, but I’m pretty sure I drew a cartoon with the kitchen sink in her ass and that was the joke of it.

Wist: I really love that.

Piskor: So ridiculous. And you have to think too, this was a 23-year-old boy making these things. My own sexuality was pretty immature which lends well to doing humorist stuff because a young person’s sexuality is nothing but folly for years. You gotta get your 10,000 hours of experience in fuckin’ before it’s no joke anymore.

Wist: It’s so true! That’s why I try not to fuck around with anyone under the age of 28. That’s my cutoff. Otherwise, it gets dismal. Have more sexual experiences! The more the better.

Piskor: Certainly, I agree. And as creative people, our lives are sorta built on experience. Your work will become tremendously uninteresting, an insular vision, if it doesn’t get expanded upon by outside sources. A lot of art is about the decisions that you make and sometimes you need weird stuff put in your path and figure out how to navigate around that stuff to learn about yourself.

Wist: And speaking to creative people, I find that if you are unapologetic in your work that it has to translate over to how you are in bed, right? One of the things that struck me about you was how open, comfortable, and non-judgmental you were about talking about sex, which is rare to me even though it’s my bag.

Piskor: Is it a question about being non-judgmental?

Wist: No, I guess I’m asking if you agree that there is a connection between how people conduct their sex lives and the quality of their work.

Piskor: In our case, we did not know each other very long, so I had to let you know that it was a cozy situation. I mean seriously, at any moment, if you ain’t feeling shit, there would absolutely be no hard feelings. Things are all good. And if you’re comfortable in your mind and I’m comfortable in my mind, then we’re probably going to have a pretty awesome time.

Wist: It’s so fucking true. And this whole pick-up artist thing and “negging” - have you heard about this?

Piskor: Oh, yeah. You know, after I did the porno stuff I did a book about computer hacking [Wizzywig] and a big part of computer hacking is something called “social engineering” which is the idea of verbally getting what you need from others. It’s way faster for me to talk to you and get you to give me your password then it is for me to use some computer code to get it. So, a subset of this social engineering thing is that pick-up artist stuff. I saw this stuff in the 90s. All the dudes that are famous now were on hacker bulletin boards when I was in high school. So, yes, I am familiar but I do not employ it. I just can’t put that much thought into it. These dudes are fully invested.

Wist: I’m now thinking about some of the people you were interested in growing up like R. Crumb and you worked with Harvey Pekar, kind of sexual stuff, when you were pretty young, right?

Piskor: Yeah, 21.



Wist: Were they formative for you, maybe not just in thinking about sex, but formative for you in talking openly and being a confident person? R. Crumb seems like the binder of sex, outlandishness, grotesque, honest - all those things.

Piskor: Yeah, he was a big motivator for me, the idea of being real. Another big influence would be John Waters. I’m a big devotee of his films.

Wist: I was going to ask you that, but I think we talked about him before.

Piskor: Yeah, and it’s about being unapologetic in your tastes which is becoming exceedingly rare because people do filter things through different kinds of social lenses. You have to develop a certain sophistication of taste to understand it. Like if you’re knee-jerk about it, then it’s hopeless. We don’t even need to have that debate. You’re going to see things one way and be resistant to opening up your mind more. So, yeah, Crumb… John Waters, Hugh Hefner, Russ Meyer. And then you get into Richard Kern, Lydia Lunch.

Wist: Yeah, I’m a big fan of Lydia Lunch. I got to perform with her this past February and she was great.

Piskor: Oh cool, what for?

Wist: Actually, for this magazine. It was the release party. And I didn’t know she was going to be on the bill until a couple days beforehand and she’s obviously an influence. I read this eleven-page document on sexiness, kinda cutting and charged and so I got really nervous, like oh fuck, what if Lydia Lunch thinks I’m copping her shit. I had all these weird fantasies about her hating me and then I was just like wait, that’s what it’s all about.

Piskor: It’s always scary. I’m very resistant to meeting my heroes because I would be heartbroken if they treated me like an asshole. That’d be a tough pill. So, I stay aloof. The best-case scenario would be if they came to say hi to me. It changes the dynamic.

Wist: Yeah, I remember emailing Kembra Pfahler of The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black gushing to her how I thought she was so great and she said something so profound, she said “if and when we ever meet, you will be pleasantly disappointed to find out that I’m exactly like you.” I thought that was fucking genius. Can you talk a bit about your education as an artist?

Piskor: I went to art school for one year and then I was like oh, I have to pay these student loans back? I immediately got this square job at a call center and all of my superiors were such dumb people that it made me sick every day. And I was like okay man, I just gotta make a bunch of cash, put it all towards these loans and get the hell outta here.

Wist: The same thing happened to me after undergrad. I was doing domme already but still a little uncertain about it being kind of a lone wolf in Pittsburgh, and so I got this job at this floral warehouse down in the strip district to make ends meet. I woke up at like 4AM to go work with a bunch of yinzer dudes. Imagine that scene. It was fucked up. They said stupid shit to me. I learned a lot about flowers which was cool, but it was bad. And one day I was just like fuck this forever.

Piskor: As a creative person, you have to make that call. You have to be able to gamble on yourself at a certain point. You gotta gamble on yourself when you’re younger because you have a lot of fire, a lot of energy at your disposal so you can work on things all day if it’s required. You have to make that call. It’ll make you happier in the long run. At least you took the shot.

Wist: I was gonna ask you this and it’s maybe a bit of a tangential question and also selfish of me because I have very nostalgic romantic feelings about Pittsburgh but you're arguably the most successful creative person from Pittsburgh other than maybe Wiz Khalifa. So, why did you stay in Pittsburgh? It seems to fit in with that hacker mentality you mentioned with Wizzywig.

Piskor: I have a young sister who is fifteen who I adore and I want to be a good role model for. I have a niece who’s a little baby. If they hated me or something, I would leave tomorrow. But also, there is a hacker element to it because it’s so cheap to live here. I make Los Angeles money or New York money and I live in a place that has a way cheaper cost of living. I can live real nice and comfortable. In order for me to do the kind of work that I do, it takes a lot of time and time is money. My biggest stressors are purely self-induced because it’s about the work. Comics are like a puzzle: you try to figure out the best way to accomplish this puzzle and create each page and I’m very hard on myself, as most self-employed are. You have to be objective and tough on yourself because no one else is going to. No one is forcing you to do what you do. So, you have to be on top of your game. And if you had that plus rent or a mortgage or whatever, I’m not sure if you could do the best work.

Wist: I want to talk about Hip Hop Family Tree. First of all, congratulations - it’s so successful and you were just nominated for three Eisner awards.

Piskor: Yeah, yeah, thank you. It’s a cool thing, I can’t deny it. Back in 2015, it was my New Year’s Resolution to accept compliments. So, thank you very much. I think the big goal is to make enough cash to see a head shrinker and take care of some of those sticking points. Like Ed, man, you can relax. You might shave a couple years off your life if you’d stop being such an intense motherfucker. Help me address my intellectual small penis complex or whatever.

Wist: You are the best. You’re like a contemporary feminist icon, poster boy, at least for me. It’s really great to hear you say all these things.

Piskor: I didn’t say it in the context of us being butt naked, but I was thinking we’ll probably be cool forever. Like I don’t doubt that we’ll be like 50 years old and I’ll be out in LA and we’ll be kicking it. Why would that not happen? You have to nurture those kinds of personalities that operate at that level. Everyone I try to be around is operating at a pretty intense level and our vocations are different but there are abstract ideas that can be used for my own shit, maybe for your own shit, and it increases the breadth of possibility just as a person. I definitely don’t doubt that we’ll be homies for the foreseeable future. It’s very nice - a pleasure to meet ya! And I’m super proud to be a notch on your belt.

Wist: You are sweet. And now you have this great sell for future women! You can say look, I’m such a great lay, look at this girl who fucked me and had all this nice stuff to say about it.

Piskor: Audra, if you keep saying it, I’m gonna believe it.


Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree Hip Hop Family Tree 1983-1985 Gift Box Set is available now. Text, interview and photographs by Audra Wist. This interview has been condensed and edited. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Praying Mantis Disco Queen: An Interview With Artist Joyce Pensato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FRAME: I like the more weird things about LA.

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




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

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

FRAME:  Would you ever live in LA?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PENSATO: It took me awhile to get there.

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

PENSATO: With changing your work?

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

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

FRAME: Me neither.

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

FRAME: Yeah.  

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

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

PENSATO: And therapy. Therapy helps.

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

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


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


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

text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

 

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

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

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

KUPPER: Which we saw. It was beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KUPPER: These are people in the LA art world?

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



KUPPER: I recognize Frank [Gehry].

HOCKNEY: Yeah.

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

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

KUPPER: Very fashionable.

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

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

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

KUPPER: There’s John Baldessari.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


What We Do Is Secret: An Interview With Controversial and Provocative Chinese Photographer Ren Hang

Left: muse Huang Jiaq Right: Ren Hang, photograph by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

Ren Hang’s photographs rake a dagger across the main artery of sociosexual norms and leave a glittering crime scene of bodies splayed across the frame in ecstatic and erotic forms. As a Chinese artist, this makes his work even more incendiary and provocative – even in the face of his home country’s strict censorship laws. We got a chance to interview Hang (pronounced ‘hong’) back in 2011, when his work was just gaining international recognition. Over the years, he has had solo exhibitions in almost every major city. With his current show on view now at MAMA gallery, he can put Los Angeles on that list. In a back office at the gallery, before the opening of his show, we were able to conduct a second interview and ask the controversial Beijing-based artist about his work, his explosive career and his place in the current photographic and artistic zeitgeist. Hang is notoriously media shy, because he wants the work to speak for itself. Work that is unplanned, unchoreographed and not scripted in any way. A good example is his famous “fish tank” photograph – he brought an entire glass tank full of fish into a hotel room and placed it on the bed and let his closest friends jump in; water splashing everywhere; fish scrambling for safe haven. In his images, genitals are often painted red with lipstick, peacocks meddle with sumptuous human forms and a sea of behinds form a rippling, illuminatingly sensual wave – a wave that floods your unconscious with revelrous desires. Despite his timidness in interviews, Hang has a lot of future plans. Next December will see the release of a major career monograph from Taschen – a book that he didn’t want to release knowledge of yet publicly, but is currently available for preorder on Amazon. The monograph is a collection of work that derived from numerous self-published books that Hang has released over the last eight or so years – but many of the images are from the artist’s personal archive. Hang also has plans to release a feature length film, which will be his first foray into filmmaking. In the following conversation, with his muse and lover sitting next to us, Huang Jiaq, we chat about the spontaneity of his work, his previous life studying advertising, and his rebellious attitude towards the authorities. 

OLIVER KUPPER: Is this your first time in LA? And your first solo show?

HANG: Mhmm. My first solo show. I’ve done group shows.

KUPPER: How do you like LA?

HANG: Hmm, I don’t know. Because I didn’t go out at all. I just arrived two days ago. 

KUPPER: You’ve been taking photographs for a while now. How long?

HANG: Since 2007.

KUPPER: Is that outside of school? When did you first start to pick up the camera and take pictures of friends?

HANG: It was really boring in college. That’s when I first started playing with the camera. I was around 17 or 18.

KUPPER: So you were young. What was boring about college? Was it that there was nothing creative?

HANG: In college, I was studying advertising. I found that boring.

KUPPER: You wanted to be in more fine art photography instead of corporate [photography]?

HANG: At the time, I didn’t know what I would do later. Then I built a camaraderie with my friends.

KUPPER: Over the years, what’s sort of the biggest development you’ve seen in your work?

HANG: I’m the photographer. I’m taking photos literally everyday. I can’t examine things. To me, it’s the same. But I think it has definitely [developed]. I can’t be the outsider looking at my own work.

KUPPER: Have you discovered anything about yourself as an artist through the process?

HANG: Of course. Anyone would in this position.

KUPPER: You’ve traveled a lot too because of the attention your work has gotten. You must have discovered things about the rest of the world and the way people appreciate your work. Anything you’ve learned there that you can discuss?

HANG: I didn’t think about it like this. I just kept going. Now, I feel nothing. In the beginning, I felt half-happy and half-sad. Some people say really wonderful things about it, and other people say really bad things.

KUPPER: You use a lot of friends and lovers in your work. Also, your mom has been in a lot of your photographs. Does she support your work? Do you talk about your work with her? Did she support your work in the beginning?

HANG: Sometimes, I show my work to her. We didn’t talk about my work though.

KUPPER: What do your parents do?

HANG: My mom worked in a cream factory. My father worked at the train station.

KUPPER: Growing up, who were some artists you were attracted to?

HANG: My favorite artist is Shūji Terayama. He was a sculptor, filmmaker, poet, dramatist. He did multiple things. That was inspiring.

KUPPER: Was it just photography? Was it painting, or was it art in general that inspired you?

HANG: Everything.

KUPPER: People talk a lot about censorship in your work, especially in China. But it’s really a global issue. We have it here, too. Do you see that other places? Do you see your work being censored? Do you hear people talking about your work in a way that suppresses your creative ideas outside of China, or justin China?

HANG: Yes, but I don’t care. If the police don’t catch me. Whatever you say, you say. It’s your mouth.

KUPPER: But there is no fear. You still keep taking pictures. You still keep working.

HANG: I’m not afraid. Why be afraid?

KUPPER: When you’re shooting, how much is planned, and how much is spontaneous?

HANG: I never plan at all. I only know what I’m going to photograph after everyone gets together. It’s not a huge process.

KUPPER: Where are some of your favorite places to shoot?

HANG: Anywhere. Anywhere is beautiful.

KUPPER: The sexuality in your work, has that come naturally?

HANG: It comes naturally. I never really think too much about it.

KUPPER: You’ve also published a number of books over the past couple of years. Is there an experience people can get looking at your photography in books rather than looking at your photography on the wall?

HANG: I don’t really care if they have a different experience seeing it in the book or on the wall.

KUPPER: Do you plan on shooting in Los Angeles?

HANG: I would love to. We’re trying to find models.

KUPPER: Do you have any place where you want to shoot, or just anywhere?

HANG: Nature, in a park. I’ve only been here for two days, so I don’t know LA very well.

KUPPER: In the past, you’ve had problems with galleries selling your work without your permission. Has that been resolved?

HANG: It was just one gallery. It has not been resolved. We’re still in a lawsuit.

KUPPER: How did you find out about that?

HANG: One of the buyers from that gallery found my email online and contacted me. He asked me a question about the photograph. That’s how I found out.


Ren Hang Inspiration: Shūji Terayama's Film "Butterfly Dress Pledge" (1964)


KUPPER: Can you talk about this show, and the pictures that were chosen for the show? This is a new body of work?

HANG: MAMA Gallery chose the pictures. It’s a mixture of new and old.

KUPPER: Do you try to shoot everyday?

HANG: The majority of the time, it’s everyday. The camera is always in my pocket. But it also depends on my mood, if I’m happy.

KUPPER: You probably feel really jet lagged now.

HANG: Mhmm.

KUPPER: Where do you see yourself as an artist in ten years?

HANG: I don’t know.

KUPPER: You don’t want to have those restraints thinking about where you’re going to be.

HANG: Well, even if you think where you want to be, it doesn’t really matter. Even if you think where you’re going to be, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get there or be there.

KUPPER: What do you want people to know about your work?

HANG: I don’t have a message. Everyone is going to have their own thought about something. Even if I say, “Oh, this is the message of this particular photo,” it really doesn’t matter. People are going to think what they want to think.

KUPPER: You collaborate with your Huang a lot too. You’ve worked together on a lot of stuff.

HANG: I shoot him a lot.

KUPPER: He’s sort of your muse. How do you feel about that [Huang]?

HUANG JIAQ: I don’t know.

KUPPER: That’s exciting. You guys get to make art all the time.

JIAQ: No. We don’t think we are making art. It’s just shooting.

KUPPER: Yeah, it’s just part of life. Magazines want to turn artists into artists. They won’t let them do their own thing. But you two travel a lot together. How did you meet?

JIAQ: On the Internet.

KUPPER: Were you a fan of his work beforehand?

JIAQ: No, he was not famous at that time.

KUPPER: Is it interesting to see his work develop over time?

JIAQ: Yes.

KUPPER: What are some things you’ve noticed about his work that have changed?

JIAQ: I don’t know.

KUPPER: It’s a little weird to talk about, right?

JIAQ: Yeah.

KUPPER: Because it’s also really intimate work. A lot of friends are naked, having fun. It’s difficult to talk about, because it is just your life.

HANG: That’s my idea. But a lot of people don’t agree with me. It’s expensive. [For example] why you want a big fishtank? They are hard to clean, the water. But if you want me to shoot with you, you must have this. Do you have another idea?

KUPPER: So the hotel actually used it for advertisement?

HANG: Yeah, but they almost said no to me.

KUPPER: It’s messy but exciting. That’s one of my favorite photos. Do you have a favorite photograph?

HANG: I love all of them. But after I shoot, I start anew.

KUPPER: Do you ever think about making movies?

HANG: Yeah, I would make a movie. Next year, a real movie.

KUPPER: Like a long one, a feature length?

HANG: Yeah. Maybe show it here.

KUPPER: That’d be great. It would be fun to see your images come to life in that way.

HANG: It will be very different than my photos. It’s a story of love and la la la. It’s real life. It’s not like this.

KUPPER: Even if this is sort of real life?

HANG: Kind of.

KUPPER: You wrote the screenplay? It’s a big movie, and you want to premiere it here in the US?

HANG: I think because the producers are in France it will premiere in France first.

KUPPER: That’s exciting.

HANG: You will see the movie in the cinemas all over the world, but not China.


Click here to see images from Ren Hang's exhibition, What We Do Is Secret. The exhibition will be on view at MAMA Gallery until July 23, 2016. Click here to read our previous interview with Ren Hang. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


What She Said: An Interview With Photographer Deanna Templeton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KUPPER: Did you get any pictures out of it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

text by Adam Lehrer

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEHRER: Was he harsh to other classmates too?

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

LEHRER: It’s like that movie Whiplash.

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

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

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

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

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


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


Working In Real Time: An Interview With Multi-Disciplinary Artist Mai-Thu Perret

text by Adam Lehrer

 

Swiss multi-disciplinary artist Mai-Thu Perret understands that the most interesting artwork lives within the viewer’s mind, as an impression, memory, or dream, as much as it lives within the space that the art is presented. “I think the memory one carries of a work of art after one has left it behind, whether by turning the page or leaving the room in the museum is almost as important as the object itself,” said Perret in an email.

That isn’t to say that her work lacks aesthetic dazzle, however. Her recent exhibit at the David Kordansky booth at Frieze New York, for example, was one of the standout presentations of the fair. Through her brightly colored Roschach ink blot paintings and her female figurine sculptures, Mai-Thu communicates a narrative. But that narrative is best brought to life through the mental processes of the installation’s viewer. Perret loves poetry and writing, having received a BA from Cambridge University, but she is most concerned with creating the settings and the landscapes of the narratives of her art works as a point of genesis for the creation of art objects. The weaving together of these disparate ideas within the space often becomes the burden of the viewers, facilitating a challenging yet intellectually rewarding interplay between the artist and the viewer.

Perret is fascinated by the idea of the utopia, or, a unique landscape with a set of ideals that would theoretically facilitate a revisionist art history. Perret envisions a utopia in which the ideals and creativity of women and marginalized groups are as much a part of the conversation surrounding art history as those of men. Perhaps Perret’s best known and most labored over work, entitled The Crystal Frontier, is most exemplary of this idea. The Crystal Frontier is an imagined utopia of women living in the desert in New Mexico. Perret has built on the idea of The Crystal Frontier over her career, imagining its artifacts and furniture and fashions. The Crystal Frontier not only poses an fascinating conceptual narrative, but also has proven to be a place of contemplative creativity for Perret; one in which she can return to as a renewable source of inspiration.

Perret’s most recent exhibition at Nasher Sculpture Center, Sightings, builds upon The Crystal Frontier while connecting it to a real world community considered by Perret to be the kind of utopia that she has been imagining in her work. This utopia, a secular Kurdish community in the Syrian region of Rojava, champions female leaders and implements democratic ideals in a war-ravaged country. Perret has made eight human figures representing the women in all-female militia groups in the area.

At SOLUNA, Perret presented a performance entitled Figures in which a life-size marionette (whose body is animated by dancer Anja Schmidt) and a dancer enact an Indian mystic, a 19th-century American Shaker, a 1950s computer programmer, an Artificial Intelligence, and a journalist. At first, the dancer and puppet are separate entities, eventually merging and leaving the stage to make way for the journalist on a typewriter, played by Perret. In the style of Japanese puppetry known as Bunraku, there is no illusion concealing the fact that this is a fictional work. You can see the stage manipulations in real time. Perret asks that you accept her ideas as art without concealing the fact that this is anything other than art. Once again, Perret sets up the narrative’s background, leaving room for the viewer’s imagination to complete the piece.

Perret answered some of my questions about her ideas and work over email, discussing the narrative structure in her art, revising history to incorporate the ideas of the marginalized, and the majesty of the desert.

ADAM LEHRER: When learning about the premise for Figures, I couldn’t help but think about the Crystal Frontier. In the Crystal Frontier, women are living away from society, but forming their own society. In Figures, women are leaving their bodies through trance. It made me think of the idea that an alternative society can be a type of freedom, but liberation from the body is the ultimate freedom. Were you at all thinking along these lines when conceptualizing Figures?

MAI-THU PERRET: I wasn't really thinking about the Crystal Frontier when I was putting together Figures, but there are definitely a lot of common points and references. I've always been interested in ways one can leave one's self and identity behind. These ideas of trance and mysticism are definitely connected.

ADAM LEHRER: Your work often deals with this questioning of the manner in which art and culture is consumed, do you think that the theoretical utopias you explore could ever be possible considering the almost hyper-capitalist mentality of the contemporary art market?

MAI-THU PERRET: There is no place for this type of thinking within the art market, but the market is not the be-all and end-all and I think there are lots of people trying to find alternative ways of living and making art today.


Mai-Thu Perret_And Every Woman.jpg

ADAM LEHRER: In these projects, like the Crystal Frontier, does this entire world live in your imagination before you create the objects? Or do the specific objects and sculptural manifestations present themselves through the process?

MAI-THU PERRET: It's always a process, very little is fixed in advance. I set-up a broad set of parameters and then I construct what comes within it.

ADAM LEHRER: Did you ever consider writing literature? Your sense of story and narrative is really astounding even in terms of conceptual artists.

MAI-THU PERRET: I did when I was a student, but I was useless at constructing a narrative. I've always been better at imagining atmospheres or situations rather than proper stories with a beginning and an end. The open-ended space of the exhibition, where you can combine objects and moods to create a larger whole that the viewer passes through and pieces together in their minds, is probably more suited to this way of thinking. I've always been interested in experimental writing and poetry, and sometimes I think I will try to write again at some point.

ADAM LEHRER: It seems that your sense of “the utopia” is broken down into various different utopias; a choice of utopias if you will, as opposed to one all-encompassing utopia. As you said in an interview with the White Review, the Crystal Frontier’s utopia’s reasons for excluding men is different than Plato’s for excluding artists. Am I at all accurate in these assumptions?

MAI-THU PERRET: Yes, I think that's pretty accurate. The idea behind the all-female environment was to create a space where the dominant and habitual paradigm could be reversed in order for new possibilities to emerge, rather than a desire for exclusion.

ADAM LEHRER: Your work deals with the history of avant-garde within art, do you feel that this history has often been biased towards men and are you hoping to break down that history within your work?

MAI-THU PERRET: I definitely think that the history of art, like Western history as a whole, has been male-dominated. I'm interested in revisionist histories and histories that focus on forgotten or marginalized figures and realities. I like to use my work as a kind of speculative space to imagine different futures or untold stories.

ADAM LEHRER: You have discussed the idea of a desert as an ideal space or utopia because it’s outside the world, but do you ever recall being drawn to the desert aesthetically? \

MAI-THU PERRET: I absolutely love the desert, and the Crystal Frontier narrative was definitely born from my encounter with the American West. Deserts, like islands, are incredibly meditative places, and they can also be hostile and inhuman. I think this feeling of a geological space, where men are minuscule in relation to the immensity of the landscape, and where time is counted in millions of years rather than in human life spans, is important to the work.

ADAM LEHRER: Is it ever difficult to find the balance that allows your use of text and narrative to emphasize but not overshadow the viewer’s appreciation of the objects you create and present? 

MAI-THU PERRET: I'm very aware of the fact that if you give a lot of information to the viewer you risk cutting them off from the actual experience of the work and leading them into seeing only the things you have been talking about. That's one of the biggest problems with wall texts and all the didactic para-texts one encounters in museums. When I present text, it's usually in an attempt to subvert these institutional prompts and open other spaces of thoughts that the viewers can hopefully dive into. My text works are usually fictions that complicate the reading of the works rather than provide explanations for them.


ADAM LEHRER: In an interview with John Armleder, you discussed the manner in which people see art shows on the Internet, and how the experience is diminished. Do you purposefully try to create art than needs to be experienced in person in opposition to this notion?

MAI-THU PERRET: I don't think I create art specifically to counter the mediated reality of the screen worlds we inhabit today, but of course I think of my work as something that must be seen directly and which must almost be touched with the eyes to be really seen. That said, I love looking at art in books, and what's fascinating about art is that it exists both in the mind and in real space.

ADAM LEHRER: For Figures, what drew you to Bunraku and the idea of singer and musician sitting on stage as character and puppet?

MAI-THU PERRET: I've always loved the Asian forms of theater, like the Balinese puppet show or the Noh theater, where there is no backstage and no attempts at hiding the structures that support the experience of the performance. When I discovered Bunraku, I was amazed by the fact that the viewer's attention was constantly moving from puppet to manipulator, and by the strange relationship between the living and the inanimate this created. At times in Bunraku you can get so immersed in the movements of the puppet that [the puppet] seems more real than the people manipulating it, and I wanted to work with this idea. I was also drawn to the very special place the voice occupied in Bunraku, since the voice of the puppet is dissociated from it and clearly emitted by the singer who sits on the sidelines. It's not about illusionism; it’s about the way that the spectator assembles all these separate elements in his/her mind.

ADAM LEHRER: How did the experience of creating a narrative through performance and experience compare to that of creating a narrative through objects and examining those objects?

MAI-THU PERRET: In performance you are working in real time. What you create is instantly erased by new movements or actions. It's a very different type of memory and attention.  


Sightings: Mai-Thu Perret will be on view at the Nasher Sculpture Center until July 17, 2016. Text by Adam Lehrer. Photographs by Annik Wetter. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE 


A Dark and Fluffy World: An Interview With Galen Pehrson

text by Summer Bowie

 

Watching one of Galen Pehrson’s films, like his most recent, The Caged Pillows, starring the likes of Jena Malone and James Franco, is like stepping into a psychedelic cartoon where you can’t help feeling a tinge of déjà vu – you’re not sure if it was a dream, a childhood memory, or an omen. It’s as though a mixture of real life memories and old movie scenes were plucked from your brain and rearranged into a brilliant new narrative. They’re the renderings of a world that most of us have inhabited for all our lives, but for Galen, who spent the first 12 years of his life in rural Nevada City, without access to cable TV or any other means of consuming pop culture, this world can be seen from a slightly outside perspective.

His exposure to MTV was a wild awakening that led him into making music videos and working as a cartoon artist. His harrowing tale of running away, moving to New York, studying at RISD and eventually spending the first 7 months of his life in Los Angeles at a halfway home for dual-diagnosed criminals with psychiatric disorders in South Central is one that deserves a film in itself, but it certainly set the stage for the world of Caged Pillows that he has been creating for the past several years.

Former iterations of this world are clearly seen in previous projects such as El Gato, a collection of hand-drawn, animated vignettes that was part of James Franco’s Rebel project, a multi-artist exhibition presented at MOCA during Jeffrey Deitch’s sadly missed reign. You can also see further developments of this vacuous, celestial world filled with characters that behave like humans but look like ducks, dogs, cats, wolves and mice in Mondo Taurobolium. This short film that is as much a music video for Devendra Banhart’s track Taurobolium as it is a film that carries its own, not only features the same starring cast and characters as his other films, but the score is also masterfully mixed and produced by the brilliant Noah Georgeson.

His new film, The Caged Pillows, is a short that was originally intended to be a feature, but Galen says this introduction is just a pinprick into a world that will encompass several mediums and film projects in the future. Until then, in under ten minutes, this short is a vortex of mind blowing musical and visual narrative that will be premiered this Wednesday night at MAMA gallery alongside a celebration party for Ruins Magazine, an editorial content site that produced the film and will be launching online with the premiere. We sat down with Galen over green tea in his Hollywood Hills home/studio to talk about his process, his inspiration for the film, and the meaning behind the Caged Pillows.

AUTRE: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or none of the above?

PEHRSON: I think of myself as a director. But the art is cartoon art. I more closely align to cartoon art than animation. The style is taken from my memories; when I was a kid and would watch DuckTales. I’m interested in how those worlds could mature with you. So as an adult, what would that be like? You can always trust cartoon characters. You don’t have to build up characters like you would in a film. There’s this consistent moral overtone. It’s very light. If there’s a bad guy, it’s clear he’s a bad guy. With a cartoon-style arch, you can get away with a lot that you couldn’t get away with in a shorter amount of time. It helps with the compressed stories.

AUTRE: Are you drawn to any other mediums?

PEHRSON: Cartoons are just one facet of it. I have other projects that I’m working on. I produced a bunch of audio on this, like music stuff. I see it as all under the umbrella of this world of Caged Pillows. 

AUTRE: What mediums were you drawn to when you were a kid?

PEHRSON: I’ve been painting since I was a kid. But then painting seemed pointless. As though everyone had already done everything you could possibly do with it. What could I contribute to this? It’s a medium that is so deeply covered. And it didn’t resonate very deeply with me. We’re in such a pop culture-driven society that paintings feel like something people do to remind them of the past. It seems extremely irrelevant. For me, the excitement of creation is bringing out people’s imaginations, immersing them in a different place for a while. I think that’s what the old painters did, like Heironymus Bosch. They had these whole worlds. During that time, it was very contemporary and edgy. For me, it’s trying to be innovative with technology and to create a reflection of our current society.

AUTRE: It’s interesting that you feel Caged Pillows is a reflection of the present. It feels like an ambiguous representation of what could be the present, or likely a dystopian future. It makes sense that you’re working in a medium that is present/future.

PEHRSON: I wanted to be reflective of our current society, which has fascinated me since my childhood. I was raised off the grid until I was twelve years old. I didn’t have television, electricity, any contact with popular culture. We had a Magritte book, and a few others. That was my connection to art. Besides that, we had nothing to do. I drew, painted, or played with dirt. That’s all there was.

AUTRE: Was that a conscious decision that your parents made?

PEHRSON: There was nothing else to do. We were really poor, so we had pens, paper, and dirt. It was something I always did. There are photographs of me, in diapers, smearing paint all over something. I never thought, “Oh, I want to be an artist.” Most of the time, I wished I could do something else.

AUTRE: What was your first introduction to pop culture?

PEHRSON: MTV.

AUTRE: What was that experience like?

PEHRSON: To me, it seemed so bizarre. Pop culture in general does this. Imagine landing on Earth and seeing people singing and dancing like this. That never went away for me. A lot of my work is coming from this place of being young and seeing all these images on TV. “Dress like this to be cool.” I think it’s different if you grow up with it naturally and slowly. It becomes something you adapt to. But at 12, I was like, “I don’t have the right shoes. I have to wear these pants.” There was this extremely fast rush of information on how to fit into society. Plus it was so limiting to be an individual. There were these groups you could be in – nerd, jock, bad guy, whatever.

AUTRE: When you first started watching it, did you feel indoctrinated in it? Or were you immediately critical?

PEHRSON: I loved it. I went on to do music videos.

AUTRE: How long have you been developing your style, these psychedelic, celestial, animal worlds?

PEHRSON: The first time I used the duck characters was 2005. That was for the cover of Adam Green’s Jacket Full of Danger. I didn’t know what to do with it yet. I sat around with a lot of ideas, with a very particular aesthetic in mind, for a while. In 2012, for the Red Bull exhibition, they wanted to commission an animation. So I was like, “The ducks!” That was the launching pad for it.

AUTRE: That one was very erotic too.

PEHRSON: Yeah, each one has its own experiment to it. That piece focused on the erotic. What’s interesting, all the dialogue in that is dialogue from Rebel Without a Cause, just mixed up. That was the first iteration of the characters. They’ve become more and more human over time. I think eventually they’ll just turn into humans.



AUTRE: Your work deals a lot with Hollywood, fame, and money worship. Where do you see yourself in this landscape?

PEHRSON: I have a pretty patronizing point of view. I was never asked to be a part of society. I find myself with all these rules, conditions, and responsibilities that don’t make any sense to me. I constantly feel like I’m walking through a preset maze. It’s so limiting.

AUTRE: It seems like people don’t know they’re in a maze, and that's the scariest part.

PEHRSON: Yeah, it goes back to pop culture. The best artist is not the most popular. Everything is essentially a commercial, even music, and now in art. We’re in an art renaissance. There’s so much content. But it’s all funded and propelled by how and who is making money. Art, to me, has been an honest, accurate reflection of society, without commercial interests. That’s the kind of stuff we get from design. Though they are close, design is for a purpose. Art isn’t necessarily for a purpose.

AUTRE: In many ways it seems like artists are starting to ask themselves how they can commodify their own work before they've even made it. Or a brand is already finding ways to commodify it for them.

PEHRSON: Exactly.

AUTRE: Originally, this was going to be a feature length film, but then Ruins came to you?

PEHRSON: Yeah, I was really excited. I thought of it as an introduction to the world of Caged Pillows. What started as a very linear feature film morphed and grew in many directions that go beyond the film. They gave me a lot of freedom to do whatever I want with it, which is rare and very refreshing.

AUTRE: Who are the Caged Pillows?

PEHRSON: We are the Caged Pillows. Our world is very comfortably jailed. We’re sedated, distracted by television. Everyone is on medication. Our society as a whole, Western culture, has completely driven itself away from the natural human state. That’s such an interesting topic. The Caged Pillows are us. I’m susceptible to this. We’ve been programmed to respond to what success, beauty, and happiness look like – and from a young age. The film is about that. People get these ideas, that success is a beautiful pool, a Bugatti, probably some gold chains.

That’s what the gem in the film represents. At one point, he says, “I’ve been with you since you were a baby. Touch me and I’ll go crazy.” It’s the phones, the screens, touch-touch-double-tap, the instant gratification. There’s a line, “I fed you a lifetime of lies. I can’t even look in your eyes.” The screen can be talking to you, but it’s a one-way communication. There’s no singular accountability because it’s a culture.

AUTRE: We’re all victims inflicting culture on one another.

PEHRSON: Exactly. That’s the overarching idea of the film. There’s a fantasy that we will someday break that and learn more about ourselves as individuals rather than an idea of a society.

AUTRE: Did these ideas become more pronounced when you moved to LA?

PEHRSON: Yeah, definitely. This is Los Angeles. Everyone here is here for a reason. You can separate your friends into two categories: people you would actually call if you had a problem, and people you call for a drink or to go out with or whatever. It’s not a negative thing. Everyone here is ambitious, and acceptably so.

AUTRE: It’s a superficial fame factory. Your work really dives into that.

PEHRSON: The whole film in itself is commercials and the commercials are starring so-and-so. Everything is tied to the celebrity. Even unconsciously, we’re drawn to these figures and the meaning assigned to them.

AUTRE: And the isolation on the other side of that.

PEHRSON: Yes. I made Mondo from a very personal experience. All I had been doing was sitting on a screen. The only experience I had to tell was the experience of sitting on a screen.



AUTRE: Do you ever have to go through a digital detox?

PEHRSON: Every time I finish a project, I go hiking to the Sierra Nevadas for a week. Or I drive through the desert. I go out there and there’s just nothing. I have to hear my own voice. It’s a very strong contrast from, like, literally listening to top forty while I work, because I’m so fascinated by pop culture.

AUTRE: What’s your work process like?

PEHRSON: I’ve worked twelve to fourteen-hour days for the past few years. I wake up at 4[pm], I work from 5[pm] to 9 in the morning. Working all night, I don’t see anybody. It’s all done from a very isolated place.

AUTRE: When people do voiceover, do they have to conform to your schedule?

PEHRSON: No. I do all the voices first. There’s a fun version, which is just me. I send them that version and then they work independently. This piece being so much about pop culture, celebrity, dreams of “being something,” I wanted to involve people that live that lifestyle. I don’t give them much direction. They’re collaborators. They all seem to find joy and release in it. And all the actors are able to find the cracks in the system. They are involved with other things. They appreciate the art. But still, it is pop culture. If that’s the palette we have to work with for people to see it, that’s the right medium.

AUTRE: What about the process do you enjoy the most and the least?

PEHRSON: I enjoy all of it. The hardest part is sitting still for so many hours, and the isolation of not having connection or touch for weeks, or months even. I also feel like this piece called for it. That’s what it was about. It was a bit of method animating (laughs). The best part about it is working with my friends and people I’m genuinely a big fan of. Bar none, to collaborate with a community of ideas and artists who are like-minded.

AUTRE: Is this world going to keep developing?

PEHRSON: Oh yeah. This is just the entrance. It’s a primer to a much larger narrative, extending across music, film, sculpture. There’s a whole set of stuff. As a creative person, it’s all communications – writing, music, art. Any time you can take your vision and make it work in a different medium you’re improving that communication. I think that’s so important, to set outside of one channel of expressing something. I think everybody in the project feels that way. The Caged Pillows world is going to provide a place for people who are stuck in a genre to come and do something completely new.

AUTRE: Are you excited to share it at MAMA?

PEHRSON: I’m very excited. One side is that I made the piece in isolation, as I wanted it to be viewed in isolation. I asked people to call a 1-800 number when watching the film, and I got over 20,000 messages. They’re all about people feeling isolated, feeling like an alien. There’s this disassociation from the world around them.

AUTRE: Can you tell us about Ruins Magazine?

PEHRSON: Yeah, this film is kicking off the launch of Ruins Magazine. It’s a cultural digest that focuses around urbanism and the future of cities. It’s architecture, design, prose and imagery that all somehow express the human condition in present urban environments.

AUTRE: Like a crossover between urbanism and art?

PEHRSON: Yeah, urbanism, art, and culture. And it’s an amazing set of people. I think they’re going to publish a lot of content that otherwise wouldn’t get made.

AUTRE: When does the site launch?

PEHRSON: June 1st.


The Caged Pillows will premiere at MAMA Gallery on June 1st, in conjunction with the release of Ruins Magazine, at 7pm. Follow Galen Pehrson to learn more about the world of The Caged Pillows. photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Text by Summer Bowie. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KUPPER: You like the theatrical aspect of fashion?

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

KUPPER: You grew up in Belgium?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KUPPER: Did you like the fashion week circuit?

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KUPPER: Is that where the idea came from?

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

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

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

KUPPER: There’s no movement to it.

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

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

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

KUPPER: America has a strange, conflicting history.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KUPPER: What’s next after this?

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


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


Love Is Something Heavy: An Interview with Mixed Media Artist Sara Rahbar

Sara Rahbar is an artist who bravely transverses borders and permeates boundaries. Though often labeled an “Iranian American artist” (her family fled Iran in 1982 during the beginning of the Revolution), she prefers to relocate herself in a collective humanity. Transcending genre, her work ranges from photography and paint to textiles and sculpture. Rahbar’s work reflects this permeability, combining seemingly antithetical ideas – American flags sewn together with traditional Middle Eastern fabrics, hearts made out of military backpacks – in a beautiful and generative juxtaposition.

At the same time that Rahbar moves fluidly between varying geographies and ideations, she maintains immovable strength in herself and her work. She says, “I love strong things.” Here, she’s talking about working with bronze in sculpture. But this statement speaks to the artist’s attitude towards art, selfhood, and humanity at large. In a world where pervasive pain and violence can feel crippling, Rahbar is able to find peace – by going vegan, by thinking critically, and namely, by concretizing our anxieties through art.

Sara Rahbar will be showing new work from now until May 6th at NADA in New York City for Carbon 12 Dubai Gallery. We got to talk to the artist before the opening about exploring identity, documenting history through art, and communicating emotion in the age of superficiality.  

OLIVER KUPPER: Your work deals a lot with conflict and identity loss. This sense of tumult has really seeped into your upbringing. Do you have really clear memories of leaving Iran during the revolution?

SARA RAHBAR: No, I really don’t. I have blacked out a lot. I left Iran when I was like four and a half or five. And I can barely remember anything from that whole time period. In the beginning people just assumed that my work was about identity because my first body of work was the flag series, but I wasn’t thinking about identity  at all when I made them, it was always about so much more than that for me.

KUPPER: That’s really interesting.

RAHBAR: It’s more about what I’ve witnessed. I’m recording, like a camera, this history that’s happening around me. I don’t think much about my identity. I don’t care much about it, to be honest with you. The only time I care about it is when I am being labeled. Being labeled as “Iranian American” really bothers me. I just don’t feel like I’m any of those things. I’m just a human being living on the planet earth.

KUPPER: So at that age, you really had no memory of that. The art you’re making now came from a later period. And it was just a circumstance.

RAHBAR: I don’t consciously try to bring anything back into my work. Iran is such a faded memory for me. The last couple of times that I was there, I felt so disconnected. The memories are gone and it doesn’t feel like home. I’ve stopped going back. I don’t remember anything enough to actually be able to use it in my work. But there’s something there. The memories are gone, but the feelings are left. There’s a lot that is subconscious – frustration, anger, fear, confusion. But I’m definitely not trying to mesh any two cultures or identities together, I just follow my instincts when it comes to my work.

KUPPER: How old were you when you started to communicate your ideas through art?

RAHBAR: I think I started drawing when I was very little. I think that i was around five or six years old. I remember collecting stuff and drawing. Of course, I didn’t think it was anything serious. I just always liked making things.

KUPPER: You were being creative.

RAHBAR: Yeah. I think it was an instinct.

KUPPER: Were your parents really traditional, or did they support you being creative?

RAHBAR: They weren’t very traditional. My mom, and my brother were always very supportive. At the same time, I don’t think anyone really understood what the hell I was doing or why, including me. There definitely was a fear of, “How the hell are you going to be able to support yourself doing this?” I wouldn’t say anyone was religious, traditional, or conservative. Nothing like that at all.

KUPPER: It’s rare when a kid wants to become an artist.

RAHBAR: Unless you have a family that has a background in the arts, it can be be kind of scary thing. It’s hard to imagine how you’re actually going to sustain yourself from doing this.  There is a lot of unknown, like everything else in life.

KUPPER: What did your parents do?

RAHBAR: My mom was a social worker in Iran. She worked with runaways and abused children. But when she came to the US with my father they went into the restaurant business. You have your degree when you’re in your home country, and you come to a new country and you have to start from scratch. When we came here, we had nothing, and my uncle owned a restaurant. So that’s where my father went to work. It was easy and it paid the bills for a family of four. And later on they eventually went on to own their own restaurant.

KUPPER: Well, Americans love to eat. You open a restaurant, and Americans will be there to eat the food. 

RAHBAR: [Laughs.] Yeah, you figure, it’s a basic necessity…

KUPPER: You went back to Iran, and you worked on a really interesting photography series. What did you discover about your return and this work? What did you discover about yourself?

RAHBAR: That was when I finished school. And by “finished school,” I mean I ran out of money. So I had to figure some things out. I didn’t understand what it meant to have a body of work, or to do a series. I just knew that I had to find my own voice. My first instinct – and I always go by instinct – was to take a plane right from school in London to Iran. Everything happened like a domino effect. It was the 2015 election, so there was a combination of influences. First, I would go into the studio with all these things I had collected – costumes, objects and decorations that were used for horses and donkeys, random things I’d find in flea markets. At the same time, I was documenting the elections with sound and photography. For some reason, the camera was the first thing that I picked up when I went there. I always painted and drew, but it wasn’t enough for me. So I figured, I’ll do photography, sound, and projection. Painting always left me feeling like I needed more. Also, in Iran, I had a lack of space, so it was just easier to photograph. Everything was so new and different. I kept going back and forth, photographing and documenting. Now, when I look back on it, I think, “What the hell was that?” Not the stuff on the streets with the election, but the stuff in the studio. I don’t know what the hell that was. It was just about objects and color. I was trying to sort some things out. I’m more connected to the sculptures I’m doing now. I feel like the photographs were me trying to resolve something in my head.

KUPPER: Or it was an experiment.

RAHBAR: That period was very experimental. I was also super young. This was ten years ago. It was very raw. Like, “I like this. So I’m going to put it on my head and take a photo.” But then again I was just following my very basic and immediate instincts, and I still am. [Laughs.]

KUPPER: Did you ever feel like what you were doing was going to be censored while you were there?

RAHBAR: For sure. But I always knew that I would leave eventually. There was always this angst and discomfort that I felt when I was in Iran. I was always reminded somehow that I was a foreigner and a woman, and this always made me feel very uncomfortable. So I always knew that I could never show the work there, or stay there long term.


"There are so many different elements at play– violence, workers, pain, love; it’s the human condition.  Being alive on this planet and trying to go from one day to the next. I don’t really think it through too much. It’s instinctual. It comes from what I’m witnessing around me."


KUPPER: Is that why you left, to be able to show that work?

RAHBAR: No. It was like a relationship that comes to an end. It just ran its course. I remember waking up and being like, “I’m done.” I’m getting a plane ticket and not coming back.

KUPPER: Interesting. And you went to New York after that?

RAHBAR: Anywhere can be your home; it’s for you to decide what “home” means to you. You can restart anywhere.  And for me, New York has always felt like my home.

KUPPER: Did the flag series become before or after that? Or during?

RAHBAR: I made my first flag for my graduation project when I was still in London. It was right around that time of the crazy chaos of 9/11. I never thought that in 10 years I would make 52 flags.

KUPPER: As a mixed media artist, what do you enjoy about each medium that you employ, and what are some of their limitations?

RAHBAR: I can’t think of too many limitations. I love bronze, and I love wood, and there are so many different kinds of wood and bronze, and so many different techniques that can be used, I’m learning more and more every day. I didn’t specifically study art. So I don’t have any specific technical skills. I make things and I learn as I go along. And I don’t think that that is necessarily a bad thing. I make mistakes, I figure things out and I don’t let anything stop me, I keep moving forward no matter what. And I like that freedom. Sometimes, it’s a limitation and it can be frustrating. With bronze especially, because it’s expensive, definite, and time-consuming. But I feel like it’s good to make mistakes, learn and make your own way. Sometimes the mistakes are the best things that can possibly happen, good things can happen when you let go and let things come on their own, naturally.

I always knew that I was going to do sculpture. Working with textiles, painting, and taking photos, always felt safer for me somehow, it took me a while to make that jump to bronze and wood. I had to work up the courage, but now I feel completely free.

KUPPER: There’s a lot of freedom, but you also have a lot of control over your materials. It seems like control is also an integral part of your work. Would you say that’s true?

RAHBAR: I have issues with control. It’s a very strong underlying theme in my work– guns, police nightsticks– objects that hold things down, hold things together, and contain things. I use these objects a lot. It definitely stems from my childhood. I don’t like to feel controlled. I have issues with police and authority. It comes through in my work.

KUPPER: What can we expect with your new work being shown with Carbon 12 at NADA?

RAHBAR: It’s new work. I’m recording a history that is taking shape and form around me. There are a lot of old tools and guns used in these works.  They are like these historical sculptural totem poles. There are so many different elements at play– violence, workers, pain, love; it’s the human condition.  Being alive on this planet and trying to go from one day to the next. I don’t really think it through too much. It’s instinctual. It comes from what I’m witnessing around me. And If I sit there and analyze it too much, I will kill it.

KUPPER: It’s hard to live sometimes. It’s a very intense world.

RAHBAR: [Laughs.] Not to be depressing and negative, but that’s how it is.

KUPPER: It seems like we have art to be able to put those pieces together, like a psychological puzzle.

RAHBAR: Exactly.

KUPPER: Which is why your work is so interesting. Is your work about finding peace or coping with war?

RAHBAR: I would like to find peace. I find peace when I’m making the work. I was definitely not at peace when I was younger. I’m getting closer to it as I get older. As long as I’m working, there is peace within me. I’m very aware, that when I’m not working, I’m uncomfortable in my own skin. The work makes me feel comfortable, and allows me to be able to be with myself, and the world around me. My work is very therapeutic for me. It saves me from myself time and time again.

I’m very sensitive, I don’t like seeing humans or animals in pain. I’m a vegan, and it upsets me tremendously when I see animals being slaughtered and tortured. Images of war upset me, violence kills me, sometimes it feels like we are constantly trying to kill and eat everything around us. And there is so much happening at the same time, that it’s easy to become overwhelmed and feel exhausted and paralyzed.

KUPPER: I agree with you. There’s a lot happening.

RAHBAR: You just want to hit pause, and tell everybody to stop what ever it is that they’re doing.

KUPPER: You just want to stop and have a moment to think, and get people to consider what they’re doing.

RAHBAR: Humans behave very badly. We are constantly attempting to kill off each other, this plant and all the living things that live on this plant with us.

KUPPER: The animal torture, the war– with the Internet, you have so much access to what’s going on. It gets even more intense because you can’t hide from it.

RAHBAR: Exactly. I go on Instagram, and I get so overwhelmed sometimes. The images, the videos – there’s so much access and information. And just because you aren’t looking at it doesn’t mean that it’s not happening.

KUPPER: Do you have any other series that you’re working on? Or are you continuing to work with these materials? Do you have a dream project you want to work on?

RAHBAR: I feel like bronze is my dream material. I love strong things. Glass makes me super uncomfortable. Lace, soft fragile things make me uncomfortable. Bronze makes me so happy. I feel like I found my material. And mixing wood and bronze together, that’s my happy place. Right now, I’m working on a lot of isolated body parts in bronze.  I read this quote the other day by Benjamin Alire Saenz that really got to me: “Love was always something heavy for me. Something that I had to carry.” …That hit me supper hard when I read it, and It has been the inspiration for the body of work that I’m working on currently.

Bronze, on its own, can feel cold, but when I combine the bronze with wood and the objects that I collect, it softens it some how. Making objects with bronze and wood, that’s my happy place. 


You can see new work by Sara Rahbar at Carbon 12 Dubai's booth (4.05) during the NADA Art Fair in New York from May 5 to May 8, 2016. Intro text by Keely Shinners. Interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Photographs by Arash Yaghmaian