3 A RAD ART MAGAZINE
THE HART ISSUE
Started in early 2008, Aorta Magazine is the militant love child of a small collective of hard working artists. We do bi-annual limited print runs, we are self-produced, self-distributed, community funded, and we consider each copy of Aorta to be a work of art in itself. Our goals are three-fold: to improve the visibility of a group of artists who are significantly marginalized on the basis of their gender and/or sexuality, to be a source of documentation for the legitimacy and ingenuitive creativity of this group, and to serve as a space of free artistic expression and a vehicle for social change through the avenue of independent media.
EDITORIAL MANAGING EDITOR Francesca Austin Ochoa Chrystal Powell COPY EDITORS Imogen Binnie, Hannah Mae Blair, Amy Gilgan, Melanie Maddison, Chrystal Powell, Rachel Steinbeisser
DESIGN ART DIRECTION & DESIGN Paulina McFarland CURATORIAL & DESIGN Lex Non Scripta
Aorta strives to serve as a documentation and reference of and for artists, who despite and because of their circumstances, have developed their own performative, visual,
WEB DESIGN Lex Non Scripta
written, analytical, and sexual languages.
On our pages, the stories of women, gender
queer, and transgender artists, from different racial, political, and class backgrounds are written. We feel it is of absolute necessity to ensure that the physically real, non- digital, paper-between-the-fingers world of media offers a space for these communities to be heard, felt, and known. We will forever believe in the power of art and media to make radical transformations in the lives of its audience, just as we will forever believe in the power of the audience to make radical impressions on art and media.
GRANTS AND SUPPORT Chrystal Powell
FUN COORDINATOR Noelle Duncan
CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Imogen Binnie, Hanah Mae Blair, Christina Horn, Melanie Maddison, Ill Nippashi, Chrystal Powell, Cristy C. Road, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Rachel Steinbeisser
FRONT COVER MARCI WASHINGTON
BACK COVER JEN TONG
CAMILLA TAYLOR: Portraits Camilla Taylor grew up in Provo, Utah, and attended the University of Utah where she received a BFA in printmaking. She is currently a graduate student in printmaking at California State University at Long Beach. She likes to walk out onto the pier at night, when the sky and the sea are black and indistinguishable from each other, and feel like she is on a structure jutting out into nothingness. [ www.horsefleshproductions.com ]
r a d
a r t
m a g a z i n e
Welcome to Aorta Magazine! The Art Magazine formerly known as Art XX! Thank you to all the artists and writers who have contributed their time, work, and wisdom to this fabulous issue. And also, thank you to the San Francisco Gay Area community for supporting us, inspiring us, and most importantly for holding us accountable to them and challenging us to put our politics into action. This issue is a collection of the beautiful, the macabre, the subtle and the bold. Eat your heart out, xox Aorta PS: Don’t forget to send us your rants, raves, submissions, and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. Can’t wait to hear from you!
ALL TEXT AND ARTWORK ARE COPYRIGHT OF THEIR RESPECTIVE CREATORS AND PUBLISHERS. NONE OF THE MATERIAL IN THIS PUBLICATION MAY BE REPRODUCED IN ANY FORM WITHOUT THE WRITTEN CONSENT OF AORTA MAGAZINE OR THE COPYRIGHT HOLDERS. ALL OF THE IMAGES UTILIZED HEREIN ARE REPRODUCED FOR HISTORLICAL OR SCHOLARLY PURPOSES ONLY. EVERY EFFORT HAS BEEN MADE TO PROVIDE ACTUALLY ACCURATE INFORMATION. AORTA IS PUBLISHED THREE TIMES A YEAR. SINGLE COPIES MAY BE PURCHASED VIA OUR WEBSITE WWW.AORTAMAGAZINE.COM MAKE CHECKS OR MONEY ORDERS PAYABLE TO: ART XX MEDIA PO BOX 22474, OAKLAND, CA 94609 EMAIL: MAIL@AORTAMAGAZINE.COM AORTA IS A VOLUNTEER RUN AND SUPPORTED COLLECTIVE. WE ARE A SUBMISSION BASED PUBLICATION AND ARE ALWAYS ACTIVELY LOOKING FOR CONTRIBUTORS, COLLABORATORS AND VOLUNTEERS. PLEASE CHECK OUT OUR WEBSITE FOR MORE INFORMATION: WWW.ARTXXMAGAZINE.COM AORTA Magazine is a sponsored project of the New York Foundation for the Arts. SOEX Support for this project is provided by Southern Exposure’s Alternative Exposure Grant Program.
I LOVE THE LURKING SENSATION OF DANGER AND THE N'ER DO WELLS IN FILM NOIRS
FRANCESCA AUSTIN OCHOA
Your paintings are strikingly narrative. Where do these moments that you capture come from?
nized religion, court houses etc. inter-
I’m really interested in making asso-
even set up to encourage taking advan-
ciations among paintings. I don’t want
tage and exploiting that structure. I’ve
to suggest too specific of a narrative
also been thinking a lot lately about pub-
but I want to set the stage and mood. As
lic vs. private and how there are such
I make each new painting, I hang it on
different rules for each situation, yet in
the wall and group them together and
a place like a hospital, you are forced to
look for interesting associations and
do private things in public.
connections. When I add a new piece, the entire thing changes. I look mainly to flim noir and new wave cinema. I am attracted to the way the stories in a new wave movie can be disjointed and have sudden plot shifts with pieces of information left out, and I love the lurking sensation of danger and the n’er do wells in film noirs. Also I love the
est me because of that. There are rules and defined roles, and they might be
Through the brushstrokes, imagery, negative space, and sparse detail, you create very dreamlike imagery that is simultaneously eerie and innocent. What is your relationship to paint, and your painting process? How does your aesthetic coincide with your imagery?
melodrama of telenovelas and Charles
I am interested in contrasting finished
Dickens and Dickens-esque stories.
portions with spontaneous, more unfinished areas which I suppose corres-
I am particularly taken with your medical images. Where did the inspiration for these come from?
ponds to my interest in structure vs.
Hospitals are really fascinating places.
ground which might contribute to a
I’m intrigued by institutions generally
bit of abstraction or confusion. I guess
because of the hierarchies and struc-
confusion sort of supports the loose
ture. Hospitals, school houses, orga-
quality of the narrative I’m aiming for
disorder. I also like the push and pull between the background and fore-
Ballerinas 12” x 18” Watercolor and graphite on paper, 2008
→ Prosthetic Leg Fitting Oil on canvas paper 16” x 20” 2009
→ Surgery Oil on canvas paper 16” x 20” 2009
Gurney Pen and gouache on paper 8” x 5.5” 2008
Queen Mum Oil on canvas paper 8” x 9.5” 2009
Autopsy 9.5” x 8.5” Watercolor and pen on paper 2008
I'M NOT GOIN G TO LIE, I'VE GOT SOME THIN G AG AINST NE W YORK . IT'S NOT BECAUSE, LIK E, I WENT THERE OR GOT LOST OR ROBBED AND NE VER WENT BACK . IT'S BECAUSE I G RE W UP IN NE W JERSE Y, RE A DIN G K ATH Y ACK ER AND LISTENIN G TO R A MONE S TH AN MOVED THERE FOR A FE W YE A RS IN MY T WENTIE S. I'M M A D AT THE NE W YORK OF THE MID AND L ATE EIG HTIE S BECAUSE IT BROK E MY HE A R T. I WANTED PUNK RO CK AND C ONFRONTATION A L A R T, BUT I GOT GU YS T WIDDLIN G L A PTOP KNOB S AND JON ATH AN LE THEM. I’m not just telling you about this to pick a fight. I’m telling you beca-
needle through, or what picture you want where, and go, right? Or
use Semiotext(e) sent me a copy of Bad Reputation: Performances,
else you do it yourself, it gets infected, you heal the infection, and
Essays, Interviews, by Penny Arcade, and it made me realize: I’d
then you look cooler than you used to. I flipped through it a couple
been so overwhelmed by guys who looked like Strokes, I’d forgotten
times, though, and kept getting sucked in. I just did it again, looking
what my teenage idea of New York City even was. Penny Arcade is
through it to find something to quote. None of it is totally fascinat-
it, though. She’s amazing. This is the confrontational, fucked up per-
ing, mindblowing stuff though; this is just a really solid reference
formance art I’d assumed didn’t exist any more, but it turns out I just
for body modification.
didn’t know how to find. She’s still going. It’s three longish plays with commentary: La Miseria is brutally honest about some of the fucked
Um, how to talk about this. Alyson Books sent me a copy of
up shit in her experience growing up working class and Italian; Bitch!
Reputation brutally confronts sex, gender, sexuality, and the fucked-
My Red Blood: A Memoir of Growing Up Communist, Coming Onto the Greenwich Village Folk Scene, And Coming Out in the Feminist Movement, by Alix Dobkin, but I didn’t read it. I tried. I really did. In the first scene,
up-ed-ness of what one deals with as a woman. In all of them she goes
she’s a little kid in the living room while her parents are entertaining
after feminism’s most sacred cows. It’s squirmy, awesome stuff.
Paul Motherfucking Robeson in the kitchen, which is as compelling
Dyke! Faghag! Whore!, her signature piece, is a more conventional monologue/one woman shot about sex and censorship; and Bad
a beginning as anything. Y’know? I read a few chapters but I kept Dude. Brooklyn’s over. Between Penny Arcade and Reverend Jen, it’s time for everybody move back to the Lower East Side.
doing the thing where my mind wandered away and I re-read the same paragraph four or five times. Here’s the thing: Alix Dobkin is an important person. She released the first album of lesbian music.
Purge: Rehab Diaries, by Nicole Johns, published by Seal. It’s funny, because I was
She was probably involved in the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festi-
glued to the couch and inhaled the whole memoir in a morning,
where this is going? Like a lot of her second-wave feminist peers,
then went online and read a bunch of tepid reviews. This is not
she’s gone aggresively on record to say totally fucked up shit about
a tepid review, though. I loved this book. Maybe I’m weird but I
trans people. (Google “Alix Dobkin transphobia” for a great, explic-
don’t have high expec tations for eating disorder memoirs. I ex-
it essay at the Questioning Transphobia blog.) And not just ‘trans
pec t flashy tales of obsessive calorie counting, ‘oh my god one
women,’ or ‘trans men,’ but ‘both trans women and trans men.’ So
time I purged in this totally fucked up way,’ and then some ultimate
every time I’d get involved in the story, my brain would travel off
realization that helps the author not have disordered eating any
thinking, like, ‘this sweet little baby was going to grow up, hang
more, which... maybe some people have that experience, but no-
out with Bob Dylan, and then hate me and a lot of my friends.’ So...
body I know. Johns dispels this in her introduc tion; this is a memoir
maybe understandably, I wasn’t into it. She might not actually say
of trying to get well. Like the subtitle says, it takes place mostly
anything actively transphobic in her memoir; I don’t know. But she is
in rehab. It’s not about getting better so much as it’s about how
a transphobe. Apparently, you didn’t completely kill the author for
much folks resist getting better.
me, structuralists of the sixties and seventies.
Another book that is awesome is
Plus? I have talked my share of shit about MFA program writers, but I had to suck it up and admit that sometimes an MFA doesn’t
val, although I can’t really be bothered to look into it. Can you see
So I guess I recommend this book to anybody who hates trans people.
ruin a writer. The prose is restrained, and details show more than they seem to— she does everything right. But instead of sucking the
Finally— and briefly, since I’m running out of space — let me tell you:
blood out, it works. You fly through it. And then, the ambivalence,
Soft Skull published
the choice of a scene to end the book with, the ultimate shrug about
being a Bosnian refugee in the nineties. I love the nineties; you love
whether there could be a solution— it’s perfect. A million stars.
the nineties; we both hate war. She describes her experience in a
Bluebird, Vesna Maric’s
kind of dazed, semi-engaged way that at first reads kind of bland,
Living Canvas: Your Total Guide to Tattoos, Piercings, and Body Modification, by Karen L. Hudson . And again, okay, maybe I’m an asshole,
but seems to be just true to her experience. What teenager doesn’t
but I kind of scoffed. I’ve got my share of tattoos and piercings.
teenage-hood, while also having been a refugee from the Bosnian
I was like, you just roll up to the shop, tell them what you want a
War. Good stuff.
Seal also sent me a copy of
feel fucked up and dazed about being a teenager? The hook lies in her sharing with us the pretty universal experience of fuck-up-
MA RY CL A RE BR Z Y T WA BY RACHEL STEINBEISSER Do you think experimental music is inherently marginal with a
cesses. A lot of these very visible women are kicking complete ass
small audience, or do you think mass media and a lack of respect
as business people whether or not they have any musical aptitude
and institutional support silence experimental musicians? What
at all. Synthesizing visual art, musical product, and marketing is in
are the effects of this?
itself its own hybrid art form and there are a lot of really hot ladies
I think people aren’t used to hearing music deconstructed. I think
who are very successful at this.
we (humans) naturally like rhythm a lot so it is hard for non-music
geeks to see the appeal right away. I have felt that lack of respect
You’ve been touring around the U.S., Europe, and Japan for the
before, but the more experience I get performing, the more I real-
past two years. What have been your most inspiring and disheart-
ize that it is not due to lack of respect that people are off put by
experimental music. I think it is a feeling of exclusion that people
Definitely the biggest feather in my cap was playing with Mocky for
get when they are exposed to it. Preconceived nonsense like, you
the first time ever (no rehearsal) just from what I had memorized off
have to be educated to understand it, or there is something really
the album, live on French TV. I had literally just flown into Paris two
complicated and tricky going on, that non-trained ears aren’t privy
hours before the performance and I had never met the band before.
to. I also think that dissonance can be unsettling for people when
I had only met Mocky twice. It was scary and I didn’t fuck up...so
they are used to hearing the standard glossed up commercial music
that was kind of thrilling. Also, playing on a TV show with David
all the time. In Europe, I found that many of the experimental musi-
Byrne from the Talking Heads was a big deal. Mocky claims he was
cians feel a sense of entitlement to institutional funding and audi-
listening to me warm up outside the door to our dressing room, but
ence respect that I had never witnessed before in America. They
I’m not sure if that really happened or not.
have a different way of valuing culture there, so even if it doesn’t
Most disheartening...getting deported from the UK for not having
appeal to their audience, they can still rely on the fact that the aver-
a work permit. Major bummer.
age person would respect the act of making it.
Can you tell us about Gravida?
You use voice, flute, piano and electronics — what about that
It is an awesome project I am involved with. It has no label and very
combination inspires you?
few people who have heard it. [It is] based in Italy. www.myspace.
I like each one because it can do some thing the other can’t. (I also
appreciate them for their limitations.) Flute can’t play harmony, so
it forces you to focus more intently on things like tone and phrasing.
If you had a fantasy band drawn from musicians throughout his-
It also comes from your own breath, which is really personal and
tory, who would be in it?
intimate. Voice — you can use words! Piano is the closest thing to
Quincy Jones would be the producer and it would be me, Kanoko
having it all at once (harmony, rhythm) and you can use your voice
Nishi and Shayna Dunkelman, and Zach Hill. In this fantasy I would
at the same time while you play it. Electronics are the epitome of
be able to sing like Chaka Khan.
excess and control. You can make your own programs, your own
systems, your own patterns and you can control it all with your mind
Is there a band or musician that you find politically inspiring? Why?
and fingers. It removes the physical barrier of having to control an
Celia Cruz... left her native home knowing she would not be allowed
instrument that someone else designed. With computers, you can
back in so that she could pursue music.
design the instrument yourself. Also, you don’t have to stick to 12
tones and you can determine the scale of any musical parameter you
Some of your music is downright otherworldly. What do you think
want, from delay to amplitude to frequency. COMPLETE CONTROL.
about accessing other realms through music?
Also, you can play with chaos and indeterminacy, which is fun to
I was just talking to Wobbly about this the other day. I was say-
improvise over with non-computerized instruments.
ing how I am really resistant to anything that implies religion or
spirituality in general, but I can’t deny that some of the musical
In contrast to the limited visibility of women in the visual arts,
experiences I value the most have been downright cathartic. Music
there are many *very* visible women at the forefront in the music
is a weird phenomenon and I know in my own experience I have
industry who, despite their grand visibility, hold very little power
often expressed things like rage and sadness and panic that I am
in relationship to their mostly male producers. What’s your take
unable to express in my day to day life. I guess if you call that
otherworldly... I would say in my case it is the chaos of bottled up
I think the music industry has so much to do with visual art that it’s
emotions finding their way out. It still makes me uncomfortable to
hard to separate the two. Most popular music is popular because of
call it spiritual, but I guess it is.
the way it is marketed visually. It’s true that women are very visible,
and it’s also true that most producers are men. It’s true that they
What has the biggest encouragement with your art been lately?
are selling women and that the music is usually made by the guys
I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with my solo album.
and not the girls. But they are selling the “idea” of a hot girl musi-
It has been two years in the making. I wrote and arranged all the
cian, which has a lot more to do with the visual side of things then
music myself. I play piano, flute, voice and electronics on it. Some
the musical side. Some of the most successful women I have met in
of my favorite people in the world play on it (Shayna Dunkelman,
music are way more visual artists then actual musicians, and they
Kanoko Nishi, Taylor Savvy, William Winant, Tim Exile). Mocky is
make most of the decisions about the presentation of their music
co-producing it with me. I am really proud of it.
(even if they made few decisions about the content of it). I would
argue that aggressive women in the visual/conceptual art field can
sell music very well without having a lot of musical skills. It is their
Putting together a band and live show to tour my album. Mixing
art skills that warrant their musical success. Take what you will from
and editing live Gravida Recordings. Writing a children’s begin-
that. Also, it should be noted that some of the most extraordinary
ning piano book series (“AVANT TOT”). Piece for Solo Marimba and
musicians I know are dorky, unsexy, unvisually appealing guys who
get little credit and contribute lots to less talented women’s suc-
BY ILL NIPPASHI
Illustration Paulina McFarland
TO LOOK AT A BODY OF CONTEMPORARY ART BY WOMEN IS OFTEN TO LOOK AT THE BODY ITSELF.
To look at the body of contemporary art by women is often
in chocolate while yelling about the degradation of women,
to look at the body itself. Self-portraiture and performance
people of color, the poor, and people with HIV. Four years
art abounds: Cindy Sherman, Frida Kahlo, Yoko Ono, Claude
ago I saw Carrie Mae Weems’ exhibit The Louisiana Project.
Cahun, Annie Sprinkle, Mariko Mori, Orlan, and on and on.
One of the pieces was a black and white photo of Weems
There are also those artists who closely ally themselves with
looking into a hand-held mirror. It was captioned “I looked
the bodies they capture: Kiki Smith, Kara Walker, Marilyn
and looked to see what so terrified you.” It is not that Finley
Minter. Pardon me if I’m getting rather broad with grand,
was too confrontational and Weems was properly earnest,
sweeping statements. It could, of course, be argued that all
but that effectiveness — like obscenity — is something I
artists are engaged in some form of self-portraiture – but to
know when I see. To experience shame is to expose shame. In
view much of women’s work is to view the body urgently.
the search to tackle the Big Problems it is sometimes easy to
To say that art by women about women is a reclamation
overlook the simple shame that undercurrents our daily lives.
seems not only dated but obvious. Like saying that graffiti
Finley framed her piece around the neo-liberalism that seeks
is an attempt by the public to reclaim public space — both
to expose the shackles that bind them, while Weems reminds
recall little more than a slab of color, a slab of skin, hopefully
us of the ties that bind us — not just down, but together.
a little obscene. The breadth of style and content in both
Exposure is not always what it seems at first blush.
is too wide for such statements to remain evocative, almost
Art gives a stone its hardness. I’m afraid I can’t tell you
obscuring the real dangers — both physical and punitive
where that came from and I probably have the phrasing
— that accompany each. The Guerrilla Girls once famously
wrong, it’s a second-hand citation — not even something I
compared the amount of female bodies on display at the Met
read in its original context but a quote pulled out for use in
(85% of nudes) to the amount of female artist’s work (5%).
another essay. The sentiment is familiar — that art makes you
The proliferation of the female form and the invisibility of
look again, perhaps for the first time — but it’s a popcorn
actual women artists comes as no surprise, particularly at a
casing kind of a phrase for me: rubbing at my gums long
well established art museum. Women’s bodies have always
after the original treat is gone. As if it weren’t thousands
been considered fertile territory, and we are still trying to lay
of years of erosion and eruption and compaction but Andy
claim on our own fecundity.
fucking Goldsworthy that gives a stone its secrets. Rodin did
It would be a disservice to imply that the use of our bodies
not give me my curves. Leonardo did not give me my uterus.
in our art is merely symptomatic of American culture’s larger
Gauguin did not give my complexion. Performance art and
obsession and over-saturation with women’s bodies. It would
self-portraiture most directly explore and confront this idea.
be a disservice as well to assume that the mere public display
Positioned within the body, it is defined by its limitations.
of our bodies has the ability to shock all but the most frail
These limitation are its very strength — they force the artist
audiences. That is not to say that our bodies are no longer
to hold their ground solidly. They reveal the way bodies are
contentious, nor is it to assert that those contentions have
confined by, and move within the social gridwork — exposing
been fully explored or articulated. I believe that this work
its pervasiveness, faults, fissures, and fallacies. It allows us
has just begun, that this work will always be in the process of
to explore how we are defined, play with these definitions,
beginning. Utopian visions aside — identity, power, privilege,
create coalition, conspire. Let self-determination ring. Let us
and shame are slippery and shifty as a snake. And although
girls remain as ugly and tough and bloody and beautiful as
the content of our bodies remain nearly constant throughout
we wanna be.
generations, their trappings have not. So we must, and have
I do not believe that women have a more acute innate
been, twice as crafty. But the body is a site as limited as any.
physical intuition. Instead I believe that privilege constructs
Naked Bravery and physical endurance run the danger of
itself as cerebral and identifies otherness as corporeal.
conflating with an out-size, Messianic ability to illuminate,
Women, people of color, people with disabilities, and queers
empathize, and absolve.
are more often made aware of their bodies as interlocutors.
Nudity will make an audience pay attention. Pain and
We are made aware not of the bodies we are in, but that we are
pleasure extend cords of empathy from the audience to the
our bodies. In turn we use our bodies to confront ourselves,
performer. Even without a happy ending the medium is the
our lovers, our friends, and enemies: our audiences. As
massage, but what is the message? Let me draw a profoundly
Carolee Schneemann said, “I trust the body...[art] comes out
unfair comparison between two profoundly different artists.
of the whole organism...it does not get stratified.” To be fair,
Both use very different mediums to achieve very different
I really just wanted to throw in a quote by the woman who
ends, but both use their bodies to make directly political
pulled a scroll out of her vagina. More to the point is Walt
statements. Karen Finley SHOCKED THE WORLD (Or at least
Whitman: “I have said that the soul is not more than the body,
Jesse Helms and his ilk) in a piece that lives on in cheeky
and I have said that the body is not more than the soul.”
infamy. In We Keep Our Victims Ready Finley smeared her body
I SPE AK B E CAUSE UNDERNE ATH MY TONGUE A ND MY LIPS, MY HIPS A ND H A NDS, B EHIND MY EYE S A ND DOWN MY B ACK IS A SKELETON: AS MUTE A ND H AR D A ND INSISTE NT AS THE BONE S OF MY A NCE STORS.
It dem ands that I give my voice so they m ay speak. They ask where the bones are buried, and remind m e where my ghosts are. They ask m e from the ink in my m arrow, Wh o lies be ne ath you r living fe et as you walk? a nd wh o h as gone befor e whil e you go for ward? a nd wh o is sil e nt wh e n you ar e sp e a king? a nd wh o is outside you r Inside, a nd inside you r g uts? a nd wh o do you bel ong to, a nd wh o tau ght you be auty, a nd on wh at do you sta nd, h ol ding you ste a dy fro m be ne ath, raising you hi gh? M y sk ull clicks its te eth a nd begs m e to liste n. Th rou gh all m y w ar m a nd bl oody fl esh, wh er e ar e th e bones bu rie d? I SPE AK
because u nder neath my eyes, my tong ue and lips, my hips and hands, is a skeleton: as hard, and m ute, and insistent as the bones of my ancestors, and the bones in you.
It de m a nds th at I give m y voice so th e gh osts ar e h e ard, bec ause fu rth er u nder still, betwe e n m y clutching ribs a nd fou ntain-p e n spine, I h ave a be ating h e art.
A nd so I am ready. ILLUSTRATION CAT L AUIGAN: Born in Paris and raised in Oakland, Cat Lauigan moved to New York and studied illustration at Parsons School of Design. Her work reflects upon themes of mysticism, self discovery and inner struggle. Mostly working in graphite and color pencil, she enjoys drawing while drinking genmaicha tea with honey and listening to 1990’s R&B. She also loves making prints and handmade books. Her drawings have been shown in various galleries including Brighton’s Phoenix gallery, Giant Robot and the Jonathan Levine Gallery. www.catlauigan.com
The Seam of Skin and Scales
I am not a woman trapped in a man’s body. This body is no man’s; it is mine, it is me, and there is no man in that equation. And I am not trapped in it. There are a million and one ways out of this body, and I have clung to it, tooth and claw, despite an endless line of people and institutions who would rather I vacate the premises, and have sometimes been willing to make me bleed to convince me they’re right. This body is mine, and I claim it and its bruises, and it is not a man’s, and I am not trapped here. I have looked leaving my body in the eye and I have said, in the end, hell no. There is too much to do, too much to love, too many who need one more of us to say hell no and help them say the same. You might not like it. It might be a wrongness to you. I am done with traps. I am done with the philosophy of traps, and I am done with the feminism of who owns my body for what cause. It is time for something that tells you that I am here for blood — my blood, the blood of my loved ones, the blood of the people who have battered themselves against my life and found me still here. It is time for a feminism of the monstrous. That is this body. That is this me. That is the voice that says get your names off of my parts and your hands off them too, that says stop colonizing my reality and telling me what I mean without listening to a word I say. What I say may be in a language incomprehensible, but there is a time for that, and it is right now, because this is a monster’s creed. It is for the cobbled-together, the sewn-up, the grafted-on. It is for the golden, the under-the-earth, the foreign, the travels-by-night; the filthy ship-sinking blood-drinking cave-dwelling bone-cracking gorgeousness that says hell no, I am not tidy. I am not easy. I am not what you suppose me to be and until you listen to my voice and look me in my eyes, I will cling fast to this life no matter how far you drive me, how deep, with how many torches and pitchforks,
biting back the whole way down. I will not give you my suicide. I will not give you my surrender. This is for the Lilim, because you forget that the next part after your co-opted icon parts ways with Adam and goes her own way is and she begat monsters, and she becomes terrifying. This is for the Gorgons and the vampires and the chimaeras, for Cybele and Baba Yaga, Hel and Ashtoreth, for Lamia and Scylla, for Kali and Kapo ‘ula-kina’u. This is for all of them with teeth. It is time to look the monstrous in the eye. It is time. It is time to say that we are beautiful in our fierceness, and that we are our own. We are not the rejected of what we can never be. We are what we were meant to be. We are not pieces of wholes thrown together incorrectly. We are not inferior knockoffs of someone else. We are not mistakes. If our monstrousness is frightening, then it is time we bare our teeth and draw that fear close to us and stop being so afraid of our fearsomeness that we fear everyone and everything else right back. I am throwing my head back, here, and saying it: no more being afraid. Hell no. My monstrousness is not a place of shame. It is a strength. It is the power to say I am mine, and I will tell you what I mean. Not you. I am not any thing trapped in anyone’s body. I am tougher than that, and I have plenty of blood to spare in this body of mine, and plenty more miles to go before any of you can bring me to my knees, and I dare you to try. I am choosing to stay here, and it is mine to choose. And if that means changing shape, if that means putting together the unexpected, that is any monster’s ancient right. It is damn well traditional. The only ones setting traps are the ones in our way. Boo. Keep kicking: a thousand, thousand slimy things lived on. And so. Did. I.
Illustration Tom Hall IV
Dusty Horn :A blowjob from a punk in the library The evolution of a sex work/critical theory zine By Dusty Horn herself 1
A few years back I had the opportunity
IT IS ABSURDLY SIMPLE.
tered and disillusioned. My capacity
to give my high school boyfriend the
I add to my little list of carefully strate-
for analysis was outstanding but I was
ole “The Girl You Lost Your Virginity
gized Craigslist search keywords —
near-paralytic with a lack of practical or
to is a Dominatrix” talk.
itself a collection of pipe dreams and
marketable skills. I did not possess faith
My sweet, bespectacled ex offered
reasonably sensible ambitions inclu-
that a husband, a home, children, reli-
two articles of feedback:
ding — writer, copywriter, designer,
gious structure, a car, or some abstract
editor, administrative assistant, pro-
fortune in stocks would blossom into
duction assistant, barista, nanny, pub-
lifelong happiness. I valued adventure
lishing intern, etc. etc. etc. — the won-
on a global scale, DIY punk culture on a
derfully specific multisyllabic word:
national scale, intellectual rigor, putting
“Are you blogging about it yet?” AND
“I always knew you’d get into that stuff.”
on shows and instigating conversation. DOMINATRIX
Apparently no one was more surprised than I when a self-assigned field
The scene — a middle class white girl
study into independent sex work faci-
with a Modern Literature BA and little
litated my self-actualization as a kinky
to no experience with anything remo-
queer exhibitionist ladyfaggot slut.
tely kinky, broke-ass having quit her
Honestly, folks, I just wanted something interesting to write about.
I had a drum kit, a PC that was more or less a glorified word processor, an unchecked sex drive, and rent to pay.
dead-end office job to go on a West Coast tour, searching for work on her
Out of left field came the option of
laptop in a Mission café — begs the
professional BDSM, an occupation that
question; what possesses me? Where
called upon my natural sexual curiosity,
do I get the nerve?
self possession, and lack of squeamish-
And all I got is — At this point, my
ness. I am a born attention whore who
post-collegiate growing pains stab-
figured out very young that I better
bing, my delusions of rebellious gran-
have something interesting to say and
deur throbbing, and my rock & roll
a damned entertaining act if I could
lifestyle needing the perfect scam to
ever hope to be on stage as often as
sustain it: anything, anything to avoid
I craved to be. I approached sex work
the rat race.
and my own personal sexual evolution very tentatively, but it soon became
Illustration Catherine Heckindor From Dusty Horn Issue One
By the age of 24, the dismal state
clear I was in it for the long haul. With
of the early 21st century market for
what idealistic energy I could muster,
educated writers had left me embit-
I set out to build a life for myself in which
experience, not profit, would inspire
of BDSM and predictably, I went and
strap, black and gold leather waist
creativity. Sex work promised a stimu-
let myself get personally obsessed.
cincher, cream-colored garter belt
lating rather than draining profit-generating experience, which would in turn provide me with the time, space
It would be just like me to take a thing too far.
and energy to live a life in which my
patent leather pumps, a powder pink ruffly skirt and bra set that I call The
To my left, the wing of the plane forms
Cupcake Number, opera-length latex
education and writing. It was a pretty
a right angle with the horizon, its ver-
gloves and stockings, and a collection
far-fetched racket but it
tex the blinding sun.
of panties, my alter ego is all horny
I am wearing many hats. I am a report-
er on self-imposed field assi-gnment.
I have deliberately neglected to inform
I am also a show business agent repre-
her that this is a business trip, but she
After 4 months at a small-time East
senting a client of her own design. I’m
probably suspects something.
Oakland domming gig that put some
a Manager with an Act to peddle. And
proverbial hair on my chest, I ended
I am a Pimp, whoring out a woman that
up at an established North Oakland
lives in my own skin.
bondage house. I am coming up on a three-year anniversary practicing domming, subbing, switching and
My alter ego wasn’t born yesterday. So once this whole beating people up and getting beaten up for money
I am the Agency of my alter ego.
thing proved sustainable, the question presented itself: What form would my
fantasy and fetish exploration with a
For a quarter century I denied her. I
crew of the sharpest, filthiest women
was blind but now I see. Shaking on
Dusty Horn and Show Business Pub-
I could ever hope to call colleagues.
the floor, speaking in tongues, I am a
lications functions within this model.
That work gave me the wherewithall
Born Again Slut.
to break into queer and kinky porno-
My hard-working alter ego thinks she
graphic film, which in San Francisco
is getting a much-deserved holiday.
is honest-to-god sex positive and
I bought her a fur coat and walkin’ boots
and let her bring her toys. She gets
In fact, what I slowly discovered was
to eat like a queen and scope out the
that many women my age in the Bay
scene and try another city on for size.
I constantly take notes on my sex-work-related observations and sketch out subjects that I want to focus on with an issue.
Area had stumbled upon this same
My alter ego is folded up in the
I labor for months fine-tuning the
racket; sex work as the simultaneous
leather attaché that bears her initials
writing until I’m happy with it. I prefer
subject of and means of support for
in 24 karat gold (a gift from my Hell’s
all my endeavors to be collaborative,
an occupation of artistic expression.
Angel’s client who has affectionately
so I commission several of my extre-
been dubbed The Roadie).
mely talented visual artist friends to
the person she’s supposed to betray,
Cramped up in the belly of the plane
draw pictures for me. I love comics
I ended up being just as good at the
(alter egos have to be checked in
and illustrative art, and I also want
actual work as I was at writing about
these paranoid times) with a bullhide
something to interest people in pick-
it. I wanted to be the Truman Capote
flogger, a wooden-handled leather
ing up my zine besides my words.
Like the spy who falls in love with
Illustration Tom Hall IV From the Afterward of the collected edition of DH1-5
four inch stiletto fetish boots, shiny
occupation was music, performance,
and opaque black nylon stockings,
Once I have the illustration and the
Dusty Horn Issue One
virtue of being desirable and if you
Emeryville’s 24 hour Kinko’s (or by sca-
is sort of the DH Manifesto. I explain
commodity that is you!
mming Office Max, not that I promote
a little bit about what attracted me to
The commodity (you) is chosen for
that sort of thing) until I decided to
the field of sex work in the first place,
purchase and the seller (you again)
bite the bullet and make a serious cot-
establish some terminology and define
tage industry investment in the form
my concept of pro-BDSM as therapeu-
of a printer-scanner-copy machine.
tic entertainment outside the law.
writing and formatting, I make a shitload of double sided copies. I used to do this in the droning lights of
result of being bought. And you are also the seller of the
Marxist critic Walter Benjamin used prostitutes as examples of dialectical
I settled on the hot-dog-folded bro-
I’m a professional improviser, a pro-
images, where the commodity and
chure format because it was easiest
fessional ham, a professional thinker
seller are the same and reveal the sys-
to layout without any fancy programs
on my feet, a professional flirt, a profe-
tem of representation that produces
and because it stands out structurally
ssional at making you feel good about
from other publications on shelves
yourself, a professional dirty mouth, a
He was on to something, but some-
and coffee tables. I fold and staple
professional wit, a professional mind-
how I doubt Benjamin ever strapped
every issue by hand. It’s a tedious pro-
fucker, a professional photographic
on 6 inch stilettos and hogtied men
cess but it involves me in the physical
memory, a professional hustler, a pro-
for money (although of course we can
production of my work, which comple-
fessional persuader, a professional
never be sure).
ments the experiential and analytical
knowing what you want to hear, a pro-
content and gives the entire effort a
fessional diva, professionally larger
deeply personal character.
than life, the professional center of
The bottom line is that I do it this way because I prefer and enjoy it. My distribution method is extremely informal and intentionally based on chance and convenience. I carry copies
attention, a professional imagination, a professional bull-shitter.
around in my messenger bag to shows,
is my exploration of the conflicts sex
readings, openings and parties. I hand
work presents to an anti-capitalist.
them out at cafes, bars, BART, buses. I mail them with mix tapes to friends all over the world. I leave stacks at local community and performance spaces and art galleries. I consigned copies
play your cards right, successful as a
for next to nothing at book and record stores and DIY craft retailers in the Bay Area and on trips to Portland and New York City. The fragile zines often got bent and stained this way. I eventually embraced this as a reflection of my own brutish creative personality and justification for my natural sloppiness. I rarely accept compensation when I hand copies out in person; although they cost me a little to produce, it’s very important for me to function outside of a profit motive whenever possible. With regard to content, the chief appeal of zines is that you can write about whatever the fuck you want,
Congratulations! As a sex worker you no longer have to wonder why your job makes you feel like a whore! The mystique of capitalism is now reduced to its simplest incarnation, its intentions laid bare. You, the sex worker, are a commodity; an object that is sellable, purchasable and possessable, marketable by
And my definition of the porn imagination:
After all, at the center of your porn imagination is you! You are worthy of arousal and satisfaction. You deserve to cum hard and feel great. The collective porn imagination has its own internal logic, but the individual imagination may always trump that logic. Only that which arouses is logical. Desire is chaos. Recognizing and surrendering to that chaos, embracing it and organizing in the interest of that chaos, is a contradictory endeavor that nevertheless has a functional political model in anarchy. The logic of fantasy which is NO logic, prevails. In the kingdom of the porn imagination, the one -eyed monster is king.
in whatever style you want. I can phrase ideas the way I would in con-
describes the evolution of my body
versation because there is no media-
identity; specifically how my unique
tor between myself and the reader. I
proportions garnered me unprec-
choose to write about my own preoc-
edented attention from ass-worship-
cupations — performance, Marxism,
ping fetishists and spanking enthusi-
D/S dynamics, spanking, gender poli-
asts. This Issue draws the most from
tics — because I am not interested
personal experience and anecdotes.
in telling you about my clients’ socalled perversions. What goes on
So you see, I cannot help my shape
in the dungeon is private and in any
and the sexual nature it has produced.
case my own desires are just as if not
As I slowly began to be aware, to look
more perverse as anything I am com-
over my shoulder as it were, I began
missioned to play out. I thrive in my
to claim and possess the awesome
line of work because I am passion-
power of my booty.
ate about unraveling characters, not judging them, through a sexual lens.
Men pay just for the privilege of worshipping it. When they get their hands
on it, the breath goes out of them. Uggggggghhnuuuuunngggghhh Some of them treat it like they have never touched one in their entire lives (or, more probably, just never one like mine). Others have made touching ass an art. Russell dares to use every ounce of his considerable strength to brutally pin my face against the rubber wall, snarling lasciviously in my ear as if he has just now noticed the main selling point of something for which he has already paid; “Nnnnice. Ass.” I
It is my JOB to be the object of unbridled passion. My occupation, his preoccupation. And the attention. Oh, the atten-
But I will be goddamned if it don’t
gonna say this twice.
as a woman and as a human to insist
discusses the most unexpected per-
what is degrading to me than it is to
sonal growth I experienced through sex work and BDSM — my proclivity for sexual submission, erotic humiliation and degradation and masochism, especially spanking. So how do I deal with the challenge this presents to my personal brand of feminism? How could I bring myself to not only encourage but participate in acts that are explicitly degrading to me as a human and often very specifi-
It is infinitely more degrading to me that you know more than I do about reconsider your prejudice towards a sexual act vis-à-vis this new shit which has come to light, namely that a naked girl is telling you that it turns her on. I was inspired for the first time to explore bottoming in my personal sexual life when I found myself particularly enjoying the pro-sessions in which I played the submissive. What we have here is erotic situational irony; the implied meaning of the action (I respect/love/desire you)
cally, as a woman?
is the exact opposite of the literal
The answer lies in the distinction be-
tween degradation and exploitation.
meaning (I am going to torture/beat/ BDSM is a structured social forum designed by adults for other consent-
tion! That focus of lust and fascination,
The explicit degradation has an im-
ing adults to play with that power strug-
childlike wonder, moving through my
plicit respect, just as many displays
gle. Instead of pretending you don’t, you explicitly state that you do.
body from that point; in through the
I also have a theory that we like to
Alright, people, listen up cuz I’m not
just speak for itself.
And that word, the word for what to
see people in submissive positions
do with it, monosyllabically spit out of
because we are so used to seeing
your mouth, ending in K like FUCK and
them faking it. Personal relationships
COCK and no wonder it rhymes with
and especially pornography are filled
SKANK. . .
with phony orgasms, phony admissi-
His fingers dancing on the crest of
ons of devotion, phony personal pref-
flesh that curves into my pussy, the
erences. Noises and facial expression
exact spot where I sit if I am sitting
inspired by pain, goosebumps from
up very straight, t-t-tapping my tender
teasing and bruises from torture are
vulnerability and then that controlled
harder if not impossible to fake.
flick of the wrist so the tips of his fin-
Maybe when we indulge our domi-
gers connect with increasing SMACKS
nant impulses, what we’re looking for
until his entire palm is bearing down
is real gasps, real eye-widening, read
on me with all of his lust and affec-
grimaces, real animalistic growing
tion and admiration for my body and
and writhing, real smiles, real evident
the will contained within it that allows
longing and satisfaction. Authentic
him and begs him to do the thing he
responses. In a culture swathed in tech-
lives to do.
nological alienation, not to mention
The power, the kinetic energy of
repressed, gender strict, conformist
another human transferred into me.
sexual negativity masquerading as
The vibration moves from a hand into
healthy natural biological norms and
the nerves of my pussy that spread
social standards, we’re tired of living
out like roots into my ass to receive
up to something we don’t relate to,
that attention, as if they grew that way
and we want to get down and dirty.
knowing they would find the sensory nourishment that nerves crave. And the vibrations move through my body like Bugs Bunny just below the earth. The rippling effects of attention in the
of explicit respect (think political cor-
goosebumps down my legs. Flutter
rectness) are implicitly degrading (or
in my heart, flush in my cheeks. Auh!
condescending to say the least).
from my throat. I relax. Salivate like
It is not degrading to call me a slut if
a Pavlov’s dog. Your hand on my ass
I am willing to allow you to, or if I get
tells me that you really really want me
off on it too.
Completing the series,Issue Five attempts to make sense of the ways that sex work, as I’m fond of saying, made a lady out of me.
and that is all it takes for me to allow
Consider the following scenario, as
When I embarked on what would
you to do whatever you want with me.
it has come up for me on several occa-
become my sex work career, I did not
It is more than a marketing angle;
sions. I ask a partner to spank me, pull
have a single pair of high heels or lacy
my ass is its own fetish. I didn’t ask for
my hair, use physical force or call me a
underwear to my name.
it, I wasn’t warned about it, I wasn’t
slut in bed. He wrinkles his nose and
taught how to handle it or work it, I
says, ‘Why would I do that? It’s degra-
didn’t develop it, I didn’t produce it.
ding to you.’
Lip gloss and flat irons were as alien to me as leather and latex. Ask
me about semiotics or 60’s under-
And if gender is, as Judith Butler
have saved a lot of paper and hours of
ground comics, but not moisturizers
suggests, a performance, then I want
labor. Over time my words will take on
to get my routine together.
the smell and look of ink and paper in-
I was convinced there was a choice
My sexual prerogative has become
teracting with environmental oxygen
to be made and that I had consciously
the Explicit — I live to drag the words
and dust — my words will betray their
opted for the path of the snaggle-
and systems that I’ve found oppres-
lifespan and evolution.
toothed intellectual instead of the
sive out into the open and through
I believe that as long as humans re-
brain-dead ingénue. I believed that
the mud. Call me a slut in bed be-
quire bodies, information requires a
powder on my face would sink into
cause I don’t want to be called one
body, too. The Internet and commu-
my brain and systematically attack my
on the street. Instruct me to call you
nication technology are facilitating
self-worth like a virus. I had a great
Sir or Ma’am in play because I distrust
a vast mutation of information, but
sense of myself as a smart, confident
authority. Armed with lip liner and a
the people who are processing that
sexual creature but not as a hot, glam-
hairbrush, I stare into the mirror and
information continue to experience a
orous sexy creature. I was not of the
dress myself up as a gender I hereto-
opinion that clothes or grooming ritu-
fore had no association with — I am a
als could be incorporated into a sex-
tomboy drag queen.
ual experience, much less into one’s
The knee-jerk Feminism 101 voice
multi-sensory experience, and physi-
in my head tears into me from time to
cal instinct, I decided that the place
I approached fetish and lingerie
time, accusing me of compromising
for my commentary on the subject
fashion very cautiously. In the jungle
my values to please men and earn a
was something you could touch, feel,
of fashion I was a reluctant hunter, a
living. Be that as it may, my dominant
and smell. Since my work in pro-BDSM
vegetarian stranded on an island of
line of reasoning goes a little more
involves private interactions, I also
poisonous flora. My only chance of
like this; through sex work I was able
believe it’s appropriate for the reader
survival was sucking it up and learn-
to learn to harness the power of the
of my zine to hold a unique copy of my
ing to kill as quickly and painlessly
superficial and use it to my own advan-
words to read in any environment, put
tage to do fulfilling work.
on a bookshelf or in a library.
Since my work involves the interaction of human bodies, pleasure, pain,
My meat was girlie sexy clothes and
Audre Lorde warns that we can’t ex-
Moreover, because of Dusty Horn’s
though I gathered from example that
pect to dismantle the master’s house
— to shed light on a misunderstood
it stood to nourish me, I knew neither
with the master’s tools. But if what I
experience by living it and on a
its natural habitat nor its soft, weak
want is to be invited into the master’s
mystifying subject by analyzing it — I
house to shake him down for informa-
want to associate my own personality
But I adapted. And as I did, surpris-
tion and riffle through his underwear
and humanity with its distribution.
ing and unexpected transformations
drawer, then what I need is a subter-
My intention is to humanize my sub-
began to take place in my body and
fuge. Beauty is my ticket and it is eas-
ject, and that is far more effective
ier to fake than I had previously been
when the reader makes eye contact
led to believe.
with me before reading what I have
It took a year of methodically exposing myself to others before I slowly began to expose myself to myself.
to say. If you’ve gotten this far you’re Once I completed the first five issues,
already familiar with my healthy ske-
I was extremely preoccupied with rec-
I wanted to collect this series in an
pticism of internet networking. If
onciling my hard-earned de-emphasis
edition that had a little more artis-
you want a zine, send away to Show
of feminine beauty with the fact that
tic longevity and durability. I asked
Business Publications, and I’ll get you
being professionally attractive was
my brilliant friend Jen Weisberg to
one, no problem.
making me more confident, healthy
design and screen print thirty covers
and capable of getting what I wanted
for me. I printed and folded the 41
out of sex.
page tome the old-fashioned way
I have learned the hard way that it is not enough merely to be sex positive and empowered in my line of work. I have accepted some harsh realities
and hand-sewed them together with binder’s thread. So to address my ex’s question: Why didn’t I just blog the damn thing?
about the nature of attraction and
You’re holding in your hand a maga-
arousal. And I use those realities to
zine that wouldn’t look out of place
on a shelf at Borders. Its publishers
I began to think of style not as an
consciously chose this format for
ephemeral fad but as a tool that can
their radical queer woman’s publish-
be used to fashion yourself into what-
ing project, and I admire this as a sort
ever you desire.
of Trojan Horse strategy.
Performance has become central to my
I’m an old-fashioned ludite when it
personal as well as professional erotic
comes to publishing, a paperback feti-
identity. Performing sex has taught
shist and library-lover. Blogs just don’t
me to present and represent myself.
sit right with me even though it would
If you want to collaborate with, challenge, commission, congratulate, fuck, or employ me, email thedustyhorn at gmail.com
Cristy C. Road, Uncontrollable Decay, 2010 CRIST Y C. ROAD is a twenty six year old Cuban American illustrator and writer. Blending social principles, sexual deviance, mental inadequacies, and social justice, she thrives to testify the beauty of the imperfect. www.croadcore.org
cristy. c. road xx xx xx xx XX XX X
”Oh god, I didn’t even recognize you without your dreadlocks!” I told Tony as he stood in the kitchen at that party last week.
side of the government’s organized constraints. Those terrible exiled political prisoners. Commuñanga fastidious with no criticism of the life they know.” I would cover my ears at the sight of generalization and seek benediction. How do we hear the voice of the oppressed whether they slave, starve, or strive in Cuba? How do we hear the
”Yeah I didn’t recognize you either! You look browner. It might be
people of a minefield where free speech is mostly alive in secrecy?
your hair or the chest tattoo,” Tony responded with ambiguous senti-
I would hear of Cuba from American tourists. About the people
ments. He hadn’t seen me since I had (partly fuchsia) inch-long hair;
talking, eating, singing, gozando, loving, bailando, comiendo mierda;
pale, vintage glasses, a striped dress and colorful leggings. Last week I
under the sparkling rays of a sun that only burned like that above the
was wearing a t-shirt, 12 years worth of tattoos I had waited to get till I
Caribbean sea. Frankly, I would like to visit — because ¾ of my entire
turned 24, and my hair was about 14 inches longer. I had also decided to
family resides on the Island. Because the way I value these un-American
grow out my eyebrows; once elegantly drawn on my face each morning
pockets of radical literature and anti-oppression is not Communist,
for about eleven years. Last week I was unclear as to whether Tony was
but Cuban-pre-revolutionary, post-revolutionary, and eternally the
hurt that I defined his persona through his latter hairpiece, and used
core of culture, rather than government. I do not want to visit and
watered-down racism as a defense, or if he really was just that much of
deny my financial investment in a bureaucratic tourist industry that
a tactless asshole. While annoyed at his language — I was aware of my
devalues the interest of civilians to later feed my fetish for anti-capi-
rejection, recollection, and reconnection to cultural representation.
talism with un dedito parado and a sign on my forehead that says “I’m
The interaction circulated through my thoughts for about 24 hours,
here to learn that another world is possible. I’m oppressed in America,
until the day after, when I was hanging out with Corrine.
but I could afford this plane ticket.”
Thinking about Cuba and thinking about the past, my blood coagu-
Hell — I invest in cruel bullshit all the time, and how different is a
lated, condemning the unnecessary distance between itself and its
plane ticket than a piece of plastic made in Cambodia? I believe the
soil. Giving free-reign birth to Anxiety, my blood spoke: Fuck this shit.
embargo accentuates unnecessary fear within the mind of my gen-
I reiterated as I sat by Corrine on my tattered upholstery, and flipped
eration of Cuban-Americans. I don’t support or understand enforc-
on a muted CNN, while Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon played in
ing a physical blockade between people and their country, in spite of
the background. As we snickered at the synchronized intervals, we
the greater system’s clashing financial systems. Yet still; for the sake
waited for the broadcast of Obama’s speech on Cuban-American rela-
of my relationship with the soil of the island itself: I am Cubana. My
tions. I wondered how a president‘s alternative take on a seemingly
culture requires more debate with value, than does any other form
endless blockade will affect the minds of the conservative pockets of
the Cuban-American community that is my home. I wondered if, finally,
For me, it’s a financial struggle as well as a mental struggle; toggling
both Cuban and US governments would chose to break the silence
a slew of personal values involving blessings, mama, abuelita, and
that’s severed the cultural ties between burgeoning Cuban-American
where my money goes. I am a Miami Cuban, born and raised on seven
generations and the Cuban people. I wondered if American television
or eight cross streets that injected Cubanita Encendida in my blood.
would even broadcast this sort of thing.
However, I’m not about to mistake my vast criticisms of Capitalism
Miami Florida is my hometown, and so is the United States of America.
for ultimate sympathy for Fidel Castro’s rendering of Communism.
Although, it was always a little difficult to fully identify with a society
I don’t like any government, but I believe they can change. I would
which measured prosperity on Plasma Television sets as opposed to
oblige to have a word or two with Fidelito about tortilleras, maricitas,
verbal, physical and creative intimacy. Criticizing the often conser-
vative, abstinence-only, hetero-normative agenda of many Cuban-
My conclusion is natural. I will not demonize or romanticize, but just
American’s with a voice; I rebelled as a kid and into adulthood. I chose
respect what my distant friends and relatives say: “The soil is perfect
punk rock as my route to survival. Eventually, this survival challenged-
to grow your own food in the back yard, whether or not it’s illegal. We
my merengue mentality and the plate of bistec empanisado that sat
play music, dominoes, and makeshift games outside, despite age, and
before me on the nights of my childhood when I felt alive. I festered
social persuasion. We are socialized to help one another whether or
on an imaginary border.
not we believe the government has left us to mostly help ourselves.
I would hear of Cuba and “its lack of television and brainwashed citizens adhering to Castro’s Cuba without the desire to flourish out-
We make with what we have, whether or not we are angry.” With detailed oppositions and embraces aside, I find the brainchild
of our recent American leaders horrifying. “Fuck a bunch of borders,”
As a kid, it was my Latina accents that pissed off my Latino classmates,
I always mumbled beneath my breath at the sight of any unlawful
whose insults constructed my pre-mature definition of “pretty.” So I
delegation. Strengthening borders between societies strengthens
hated my bodily proportions for several years, shaved the center of
blind animosity. The heat penetrating mankind’s impression of my
my eyebrows, my sideburns, and cut off my hair because it was reseco.
family’s home and culture was not brought forth by the Cuban people,
Cuban girls wanted lavish strands of straight, dark hair, supplemented
but by dogmatic political priests, as most wars usually are. Priests of
by renown stylist Mirtha De Perales who always encouraged blow-
Neototalitarianism, and priests of Reaganomics, priests in the back
drying. I only liked my hair when it was dirty. Greasy, tame, naturally
of my 5th grade class assuring me that “Haitians did not deserve to
jelled, but it was easiest to cut it all off. Assimilation was common
be here like Cubans did, because Natalia’s papi said so.”
sense to some, sometimes a regret to me. My reconnection to self
Thus, the Cuban, Cuban-American, Afro-Cuban, Straight, Queer,
is still in progress, but happened once I basked in who I was, and
Feminist, Capitalist, Socialist, Anarchist, Catholic, Atheist, and Pinko
bolstered a sense of pride unheard of in my adolescence. I don’t
populations of the world now base their take on the Cuban People
feel regretful of who I have been, and understand it’s nobody’s fault
through battles which seldom illustrate my self: My blood is thicker
for misinterpreting my ethnicity. I don’t think that’s evil — I see evil
behind dismissal of culture, color-blindedness, and unnecessary woes
I don’t like lavishness and riches to the degree of our world’s Trumps,
for feeling too white. What’s a woe was rejecting the parts of my
ranches, and estates. I don’t find the way vast capital is used to be in-
culture that made me strong, because I thought something bigger
telligent nor useful. I don’t like the vast division that is so obvious in the
made me weak. I learned the Cuban right shackled me as it repressed
fabric of planet earth: 1st, 2nd, 3rd worlds. Because 2,010 years ago
my desires to be myself, Cubana, and a member of my family with
someone decided what prosperity meant. Someone who didn’t have
pride I had lost.
much to do so they created western religious sects and thus resulted social classes, organized titles for ways of being, and a take on society that suddenly placed the color of our flesh and the construction of our morals on a global caste system, which many able-bodied men gladly acted upon. Humans were “disabled,” as opposed to just different than whoever was deciding whatever. Ancient treaties that belittled the existence of indigenous cultures began a mass exodus through the ocean. Conquistadors were now missionaries, and westernization
Now, I’m a Latina before I’m ananarchist. I’m a starved Cubichona salivating over the food and music my culture owns before I’m anything because I live in "America” and because I come from a line of diligent and overworked mothers and sisters.
was now freedom. Eventually, the ancient story of Jesus was sold to a
Because it takes work to live a genuinely cruelty free lifestyle where
pale-faced conservative who would decide the future of the following
internalized racism dwindles above all the morals we’re trying to de-
2,150 years. He fell madly in love with the state, the federal reserve,
construct. I tell myself people undergo this work eternally, so I nit-pik
and the new definitions of genitalia, biology, mental security, ethnic-
at the fabric of my world and my self until I feel safe, until I feel sane.
ity, skin color, right, and wrong. Humanity suffered and celebrated;
I choose my friends and community with new understanding; with-
using organized religion to both assist and attack. They spent thou-
out feeling silenced by the conservative paradigms of Miami, where it
sands of years unlearning the damage, and rejoiced at any reconnec-
wasn’t always safe to be queer or angry.
tion to self.
As Corrine and I waited for the broadcast, the same bulletin aired
Eventually I grew up, and have accepted that that’s just what hap-
on a heavy rotation. “At the recent Summit of The Americas, Presi-
pened, and life goes on with what we have and who we are. Every-
dent Obama spoke of mending relations with Cuba, and possibly
one holds onto their battle tightly, whether the world around them is
lifting the travel ban.” A poised woman’s voice would say, as they
crumbling or feasting on their idea of vitality. I left Miami, and my idea
would show Obama behind a podium, lips in motion, yet inaudible.
of vitality grew dented as I settled in a comfort zone outside of my
She reminded me of the announcer on the train during a delay. Every
culture. Vitality was measured by how much of a feminist I was, how
five minutes you think she is going to tell you everything you have
pink my hair was, how thin my eyebrows were, and how long I could
waited to hear your entire life, but instead she just repeats herself,
stretch my English activist vocabulary; while drowning in an Anarchist
as the monotony pisses into your ear and you either get off the train
community that sometimes elevated, adopted struggles such as veg-
or change the channel. We changed the channel. Then we turned
anism, while dismissing the struggles of women of color.
off the T V.
From Within 2009 watercolor and gouache on paper 18”x24”
I GUESS MY INNER LIFE HAS ALWAYS BEEN A REFUGE.
INTER VIE W BY
MEL ANIE MA DDISON
Marci Washington is a 29 ½ year old
return of the repressed, enabling her
artist living and working in Berkley,
to find a way to make her personal
California. Describing her paintings as
experiences translate to the bigger
being “like illustrations from a novel
social and psychological climate that
that hasn’t been written or film stills
we all live in. Marci’s work is featured in
from a movie that hasn’t been made.”
the recently published Juxtapoz Dark
Marci uses techniques such as por-
Arts book, as well as in the Diablo
traiture in watercolor, and gouache
Cody horror film, Jennifer’s Body.
on paper. Despite these seemingly seduces you in with a style that you
Hi Marci, how are you? What are you up to at the moment?
think you know, but then pulls you
Hello! I’m good, thank you. Right now
somewhere a little unexpected by
I just finished a new painting that I’m
creating work with dark, tragic sub-
really into and starting to make ano-
ject matter and a color palette that
ther one that goes with it. It’s the
has been described as ‘wonderfully
first time that one of the specters
grim’. Prevalent in Marci’s work are
appears with one of the characters, so
themes of historical trauma and the
I’m pretty excited about that.
‘traditional’ techniques, Marci’s work
The Letter watercolor and gouache on paper 2009 18.25” x 22.5”
Opposite page: Through the Thinnest of Veils 2009 watercolor and gouache on paper 44.5” x 66.75”
You were raised, educated, and currently live in the California‘s Bay Area, what is it about Bay Area living that has made you wish to make it your home?
thing which I don’t really fit into either... I have friends who do both,
I moved to LA for a bit and I really thought that I would go to grad
here. I kinda feel left out sometimes, and I have a sneaking suspicion
school there, but after living there for a year and touring the schools,
that people aren’t really sure what to think of me or my work. But, I’m
I decided to come back to the Bay. I think that it’s a really good place
not really convinced that being a part of some kind of movement or
to figure things out and work without a lot of pressure. In LA it was
scene is that great anyway. Maybe you could say that I fit in with the
crazy to see people go from grad school to a big show and then to-
work that came out of LA that straddled the line between illustration
tally disappear — kinda scary. I wanted to be a little bit sheltered in
and fine art but that didn’t really fit into the whole lowbrow thing
school and see what I could make. Also the Bay Area is enormously
that was happening at the same time. I guess that makes the most
supportive of artists just starting out. There are a ton of nonprofit,
sense since those are the people I was hanging out with and showing
experimental, and artist-run spaces, plus a lot of little spaces show-
with at places like Giant Robot and Motel, but I think everyone has
ing what they like because they like it without a lot of worry about
since grown and changed and now it’s less of a specific thing, which
whether it’s going to sell or not. And my sister is here and we are
is probably good.
but I just do my own thing and am a little bit of a loner in that way. My work is definitely less optimistic than most of the work that happens
basically joined at the hip. And I like to walk places and the food is better and the people are nicer. Oh, and it’s prettier.
What is it like to be creative and working as an artist in the Bay Area with its seemingly liberal and creatively political culture?
How would you describe the art and cultural scenes and communities that you see and/or are a part of there?
I’m not sure because I’ve always lived here, so it just feels really normal.
I’m not sure... the Bay Area is big on the folky togetherness com-
supposed to be wacked out marxists who do weird shit. I do like
munity thing, which I think is rad, but not really something that I fit
listening to the radio though and realizing how many really smart
in with... and there’s a lot of graffiti and street art and that kind of
and involved people live in my neighborhood, and walking around
Art in general is given that kind of allowance any way — we’re
and seeing how many houses have crazy piles of old books in the windows. So, I guess it feels extra acceptable to do what I do in Berkeley.
Has this affected how you have been able to live and work as an artist? Or affected how you’ve been able to exhibit your work, and for your works to reach further audiences and gain further recognition?
What is your art/working space like? Where do you work from?
Yeah, totally. There were a lot of little places willing to give me a
We moved here in September and now my studio is a pretty great
chance and to help me get my work seen and build a resume. It was
built-out garage in my backyard that I share with my boyfriend. I walk
really awesome to travel places for shows and meet people in new
down my stairs, across the yard, and past the garden on my way to the
places. I think it helped give me confidence about my work and made
studio. There’s usually at least one cat in the yard. It’s really really nice
me really comfortable putting it out there.
to work so close to home — especially since I keep really late hours. As
There appears to be a large proportion of independently owned/ DIY galleries and art spaces in the Bay Area. Are there any in particular that you have worked with/have affiliations with?
Speaking of independent and community focused art spaces/ galleries… From your personal experience do you see a correlation between their ability to support artists and personally work with/alongside them, and these galleries’ successes as well-respected and much-needed spaces within your community and within your circles of artistic peers- as opposed to larger, more corporate galleries?
When I first started showing I was in a lot of awesome one night
I think that the success of any gallery relies on that. I think it’s kind
warehouse shows with friends where we basically just made our own
of a my th that “independent” spaces do that better than more es-
shows. Then I worked with Receiver and Giant Robot and Park Life.
tablished ones. A couple of years ago I signed with a much bigger
But a lot of my first shows like that were actually outside of the Bay
and more established gallery, but it’s still just run by a few really
Area, places like Primary Space in Detroit, Uno in LA, Here in Bristol,
awesome ladies who have taken the time to really learn about my
and of course of course the late and great Motel in Portland.
work in a much more in depth way than most of the places that I
expected, I have lots of old books and fashion magazines and creepy photographs. And an old plaster mannequin head with a caved in skull that I totally love and that my boyfriend thinks is weird.
Opposite page left: Escape Into the Woods 2009, 44.5” x 59.75” watercolor and gouache on paper Right Top: Remains 2009, 21” x 16.5” watercolor and gouache on paper
I HOPE THAT MY WORK CAN SEDUCE YOU IN WITH A STORY OR STYLE THAT YOU THINK YOU KNOW, BUT THAN PULL YOU SOMEWHERE A LITTLE UNEXPECTED. 2
worked with previously. They have been super supportive of me
paint as much as possible, weird hours, no health insurance, etc. It’s
doing my work the way that I want to and I’ve never felt pressured
nice to have people around you who understand the choices that you
to change what I do. Sometimes the smaller places have less staf f,
make and who you can consult when the weight of other people’s ex-
less time, less money, and since they don’t represent people they
pectations gets you down. My family is always supportive of my work.
work with a much larger pool of artists and it’s hard for them to
My grandmother says that my work isn’t like anyone else’s and my dad
take the time to really understand your work and be able to talk
has the creepiest guest bedroom in the world filled with my work from
about it with people. A lot of smaller places will give you a show
high school onward — pretty embarrassing and pretty great. My dad
and then that’s it — which is good when you’re first starting out,
is helpful for when I get bummed out about being poor — he gives
but gets kinda frustrating af ter a while. It’s actually really nice to
me pep talks about choosing what you love no matter what the conse-
have someone make a long-term commitment to your work and
quences. And I live with a pretty rad painter so we’re good at support-
then really promote it. But there are good and bad galleries on
ing each other with sandwich making and the occasional movie in bed
both sides of the spec trum — I’ve always tried to work with people
and giving a big finger to the world together when we need to.
I can trust, even if that means not doing some things that other I am very interested in how and where women gain access to their own
Do you find there is much opportunity for artistic collaboration and skills-sharing in the Bay?
confidence, and self-belief — especially in terms of how they are able to
That’s what’s really great about the Bay Area — you can always find
produce and create with a sense of assurance, belief and certainty.
someone willing to help you make a silkscreen or build a wall or give
people think you should.
you scrap wood for a bottle of whiskey or pizza and beer. People
What is your personal relationship with confidence?
here are really good about supporting each other and helping make
I think I have to credit my mom for that, for better or worse. She ran
the magic happen. If anyone out there wants to help me make a
away at 16 from a super abusive ultra-Mormon family in Utah, made
stone lithograph, give a shout!
her way to California, and raised three daughters as a single mother
lot of horrible things happened to my mom, and I don’t think she
While you use traditional techniques, your work with its dark, tragic subject matter. How does such work with its themes that may be viewed as alternative/more radical than your style/approach fit in — or indeed stand out — within the work being produced by others in a similar style?
meant to do it, but I was raised with a pretty bleak view of the
I think you’re wanting me to say that my work is smarter than a lot of
world as a very dangerous place where people did horrible things
the other illustrationy/graphic work being made that just looks really
to each other. We moved a lot and it was hard to make friends and
cool, right? I guess I hope so, but it’s really for other people to judge
we were pretty poor for a while, so I learned to detach myself from
— I don’t spend a lot of time comparing my work to other peoples,
the outside world and spent most of my time in books and just hung
and there is a lot of work that I totally love that I think other people
out with my sisters making insanely complicated make-believe. So
don’t really think is smart or critical. I’m constantly explaining why
I guess my inner life has always been a refuge and as long as I’m
some things I like are so good. Like horror movies! Not a lot people
interested and entertained, what other people think of the work is
get how smart and critical and amazing a lot of horror film is ‘cause
pretty much secondary. When I was 13 my mom starting having a
they can’t get past the idea of it being just genre trash. I think genre
lot of problems with PTSD and recovered memories and was diag-
opens up a space to be able to play with peoples expectations and
nosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, so things got really bad
to kinda get them while their guard is down. I hope that my work can
for a while and me and my sisters had to live with our dad. I had a lot
seduce you in with a story or style that you think you know, but then
of problems with depression and drugs and getting in fights, but I
pull you somewhere a little unexpected.
who waitressed for a living until she became a California Highway Patrol Of ficer when I was 8 — pretty serious confidence role model. But it was also a pretty hard way to grow up and I had to learn how to take care of myself and my two younger sisters pretty early. A
got through it and went to school and found my own way. So, af ter all of that I know that no matter what I’ll always be able to take care of myself. That leaves you pretty free to do what you want I guess.
Are there any particular places/spaces in the California Bay Area that you would recommend visitors to check out that mean something to you?
How important is community of support, and the support of friends and family?
The Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, the cave in the ruins of the
I know that I really value having a network of friends who are also art-
Beach on cloudy days, and the Mini Gourmet in San Jose where me
ists. I think that it’s because we have to have such different priorities
and my sister, when we were teenagers, used to sneak schnapps into
from other people — part time jobs and being poor so that you can
our pot of peppermint tea and sit all night.
Sutro Baths where the waves crash against a hole in the wall, Stinson
Right: To Walk These Halls Unnamed and Unmourned 2009, 36â€? x 68â€? watercolor and gouache 35 on paper
Illustration Lex Non Scripta
with Imogen Binnie
IMOGEN: Okay. It’s recording. You’re recording, yes, computer? (Snaps) Yes. You’re recording. Brilliant. Okay: Um, what were you like when you were eight? DA PHNE: W hen I was eight. Oh boy. I was shy. I was really really shy. I escaped into books a lot. I was kind of an outcast at school. I was a really good student. Wait, can I ask about books? W hat were your favorites when you were little? There was a kids’ encyclopedia that I was really into. There were certain entries — and I can’t tell you what they were — I’d like to say it was, like, bubonic plague, but I don’t think it was anything that in character. I think it was probably like hippopotamus. Or dinosaurs. And you were a good student? My parents were pretty serious about that. It wasn’t really an option for me not to be a good student. Okay. Brilliant. What were you like when you were sixteen? That was probably about the age that I got saved by punk rock. I was sneaking out to bars on the weekends. I grew up about half an hour outside of a college town — Syracuse, New York — and so, on the weekends, my friends and I had fake IDs and we’d go to the new wave clubs, the punk rock clubs, and hang out. I was really into music and fashion, such as it was. Were there specific bands that were the punk rock saviors when you were sixteen? I was really, really into David Bowie. Really into Bowie. W hat else was I really into when I was sixteen… I had a twenty-one year old boyfriend who used to make me mix tapes, and whatever was on those tapes was totally gospel. The Buzzcocks, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Jam, and God only knows what else.
You published Pelt in 1999. W hat did your work look like before Pelt, before the poems that went into Pelt? (Pause) I’m trying to think what the real answer is. Probably a lot like Pelt. Because, I mean, I wrote, and then I didn’t write, and then I started writing again, and most of the stuff in Pelt was collected from, y’know, the four or five years prior, and before that I wasn’t really writing. So you didn’t just start writing when you were younger, and then continue writing? Oh, I started writing when I was, y’know, bitty — my first poem, the first time I got published, I was eight. So I’m a lifelong writer, but what happened was that I did an un-
dergrad degree in creative writing, but my father died the year before my senior year, and all of a sudden it was very important to do something that I could make a living at, so I went to grad school for journalism for a year. And I left, but at that point I was determined to be a Serious Person, and writing wasn’t a thing that Serious People did. So it got left behind for a long time. W hen you published Pelt, and you were putting together the stuff that would go into it, what did your life look like? W hat were you like at that time? W hat were the circumstances around publishing Pelt? I don’t know — I was in love, I lived with a girl, I was working at a law firm doing document processing. I had just done the national poetry slam in ’98 and I was doing a lot of reading out, writing out. And writing. So what led to publishing a first book? You were just doing so much poetry that it seemed logical? Yeah, I was reading a lot and there was a real movement at the time to put together chapbooks to sort of save some of your work, and Michelle Tea was doing these chapbooks, A li Liebegott, Cooper Bombardier, and so it was just something that you did, apparently, and when I went to the national poetry slam, everybody had one. Actually the chapbook that I made was what led to getting the book contract for Pelt. It was just something that you did, y’know? Something that everybody was doing. Tell me about what it was like when Pelt came out, what the reception was. If there was a reception — whether people were into it, whether it opened doors, that kind of stuff. Well, the writer’s always the last one to know with this stuff. I remember the day the box of books arrived, and it was totally thrilling and terrifying and all of it, and then nothing. It was on a really small press, which meant it wasn’t going to get very many reviews. It did get some reviews, but not many, and I was a new name, so it’s not like everyone was eagerly awaiting it. The world didn’t care. The world doesn’t care, in most cases. And it was scary, too, because I outed my dad as my abuser in that book, and that just felt like an act of treachery. So that was really hard, even though it was really necessary for me to do. A lthough, y’know, what is the necessity to out your parent as an abuser in print? It’s tricky, but I felt really compelled to own my experience in print, because it had been denied for so long. So then, two years later, when Why Things Burn came out, did that feel different, having a second book come out? Was it noticed more? It was definitely noticed more, yeah. I was on a press at that point — Soft Skull — that had better distribution, which, in general, was better known, and which managed to get
Daphne Gottlieb has been the foxy loner patron saint of San Francisco’s Mission District literary scene since 1999, when her first collection of poetry, ‘Pelt’, was published. Before that, she was the sweetheart of the National Poetry Slam Team. We tried to talk at the Dolores Park Café, but my amateurish recording equipment couldn’t handle all the background noise. She graciously invited me to sit at her kitchen table, underneath a fifteen-foot tall poster of Nick Cave, where we talked about poetry, activism, abuse, literary theory, and children’s encyclopedias.
the book into places that were receptive to it. So there was definitely more… I feel like the books were better able to get into the hands of people who could enjoy them. W hen you say they were better able to get into places, specifically what places do you mean? Indie bookstores, yeah. And then Final Girl? W hat were the circumstances around Final Girl, its reception? Since Final Girl was my third book, I was starting to build a reputation, and by the time Final Girl came around,…it ended up on the Village Voice’s top 25 favorite books in 2003. The circumstances around the book were that I was TAing a class in American literature before 1850, and I noticed all sorts of parallels between, for example, Anne Bradstreet’s relationship to God and battered women, and so a poem came out of that. I was noticing these things around, for example, Sojourner Truth, and these other paragons of American literature, and I really started working with them. A lot of it’s really problematic, in really complicated ways, I think. So I started working with that, that’s where it came out of. Did the progression of the poems, from Pelt to Why Things Burn to Final Girl, did it feel like a linear progression, or were they separate books coming from the things that were going on in your life at their specific times? Well, all of the above. I think the through-line in all of them… is that we’re always true to our own obsessions. Love and death are pretty pervasive through all the books, and probably, as long as I’m writing, will continue to be pervasive through all my books. At the same time, they were absolutely inf luenced by things like TAing, for example, or the amount of spoken word I was hearing, or whatever small fascinations happen along the way. And real life events. I mean, Final Girl is, in no small part, about my mom’s death, and it wouldn’t be the same book without it.
movie, it’s filmed in a way that doesn’t feti-shize the rape. It’s about a stomach-turning as you can get. I want to ask about Kissing Dead Girls; I know that there have only been a couple years between each of your poetry books, but for whatever reason — maybe it’s because it’s the first one that’s come out since I’ve been living on the West Coast, but Kissing Dead Girls feels kind of separate from the others. I’m wondering what that looks like from your perspective, the progression from Final Girl to Kissing Dead Girls. That actually feels like a really clear progression to me, versus the others, in that the open questions of Final Girl sort of… I feel like Kissing Dead Girls is sort of a response, in a lot of ways, to Final Girl. I mean, the final girl is always alone, and we all end up dead. And if the final girl is sort of a f lattened province — y’know, sort of an archetype — what do we do with these individuated women? Like Marilyn Monroe, like Clara Bow, like Amelia Earhart, who have been so mythologized that there isn’t a woman left. So it was really an effort to try and lie about them, but to try and see if it was possible to try and rehumanize them in any significant ways, on the page, beyond just telling lies about them. Search and rescue. This may be an impossible question, but the open questions in Final Girl, could you be explicit about what those open questions are? I think that there is a lot of despair in Final Girl. …Do I? Yeah. I think there’s a lot of despair in Final Girl, and a lot of isolation — being the sole survivor certainly necessitates that. So I think Kissing Dead Girls is sort of a community, instead, and seeing what that community… it creates community, through the pages. And even though these are highly individuated forms, when I say that there was enough to rehumanize them, I think that sort of begs the question of what it is to be human. W hat these small details mean, what it means to have coffee with cream or without cream, what it means to eat grapes — excuse me for one second. (Appropriately, Daphne leaves the table for a minute to discipline her cat Moshpit, who is being mean to her roommate’s cat, Onramp.)
I’m sure you’ve been asked this lots of times, but Final Girl, a lot of it is about horror movies, and I’m wondering if you’ve got favorites. Or least favorites. Well. I love Evil Dead 2. And I love Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. And I hate watching I Spit On Your Grave, but I love that it exists.
Have you been working on poems since Kissing Dead Girls? Yeah, I have. I’ve been working on another book.
How come? For each? Well, Evil Dead is just ridiculous, right? Texas Chainsaw Massacre is also ridiculous. Those two are just sheer camp. And… I Spit On Your Grave is a rape revenge movie, a gang rape movie where the prota-gonist goes and hunts down each of the men who raped her, after the fact. There’s something very satisfying in that. And the way the rape is filmed in that
Is that all you can say about it? Can you characterize these new poems or talk about them at all? I’m working a lot with sideshow, and figures in the sideshow. And there’s another part of the book that’s all occasional poems. So it’s like, the death of Anna Nicole Smith, and Hurricane Katrina, and Gulf War protests, things that have happened historically — and then there are a lot of
breakup poems. And what they’re all sort of united by is the idea of the carnival — Bakhtinian theory that the carnival is the world upside-down. And so there’s the more literal sideshow, there are world events that are not as they should be, and there are breakups, which are nightmare, carnival, the opposite of what we would hope for. So, with your poetry books, have you worked on the stuff that’s gone into them conceptually as collections of poems? Or have you conceptualized them ahead of time, like, ‘This is what’s going on with the stuff I’m working on now, these will go together as discrete books?’ Or has it just tended to work out that way? Well, what happens is, you’re working on poems, and they start coming in, and you’ve got thirty of them all of a sudden, and they’re telling a story. Whether you want them to or not, just by virtue of their being in one place together, there’s something happening. So at that point, that’s when I start writing into that. Say, okay, right now I’m really interested in… dogwood trees. So it’s like, ‘Well, I’ve said that dogwood trees are happy, and sad, so now I need an angry dogwood tree poem.’ Something like that.
Tell me about how you not only started working with but became friends with Diane Dimassa. Well, she lived out here for a couple of years, two or three years, and we lived about a block or two away from each other. One day I met her at the bus stop. Y’know, I always thought she was pretty cool, I was a little starstruck. So when they asked me for a list of people to blurb Final Girl, I asked her, and we ended up corresponding a lot. So we became friends over e-mail. So, the idea to do a project came up, I had the idea that I wanted to do a graphic novel, I was just like, wow, I wonder if she’d work on it with me. So, Jokes and the Unconscious was conceptualized from the get-go as a graphic novel. Yeah, pretty much. Well, let me back up — what happened was that I wanted to collaborate with her on something — it was just like, what, what should we do? She said, ‘Let’s do a graphic novel.’ I said, ‘Okay, but what? Let me think about it,’ and I remembered that I had this piece that had never been published. It was the right length, and it lent itself to being told that way. I sent it to her, I was like, ‘What do you think?’ She was like, ‘Aha!’ Homewrecker was the first anthology that you put together. How did the idea to do that anthology come about? You had only published poetry before, so I’m curious how you went from doing a few books of poetry to doing an anthology.
Well, I got really, really interested in the question of adultery, and monogamy, and it’s a very complicated province. I was thinking about how we depict it in films and what the representations are like, and it usually comes down to one bad person. It’s more complicated than that. I think it usually has to do a lot with institutionalized monogamy but also with the fact that human beings are complicated, and I don’t think we see that depiction a lot. More often it comes down to simple moralism, in a lot of cases. I knew it wasn’t something that I could say, by myself, and I knew that it wasn’t something… Y’know, I’m not a fiction writer, and I write some nonfiction, but not a lot. So it was clear to me that this book would be more powerful if it had a chorus of voices, instead of just mine. So I approached Soft Skull about doing the anthology, and they said go for it. And the other anthology… How did Fucking Daphne come into existence? Fucking Daphne came into existence because of a joke that I have with a friend, where all of a sudden these stories kept turning up with a protagonist who looked a lot like me. So, all these six foot tall poets from San Francisco, with long black dreadlocks, were in these erotic stories — and I knew the authors. So it felt very personal, whether or not it was. And in some cases, it was. So I made the joke in front of a friend, that I should start collecting these into an anthology, and he said, ‘You really should do that.’ So, whether or not I actually should have, I did. Will you name names? W ho was writing the stories that inspired the anthology? A couple of them are in the book. Are there folks who you’ve met, whose conception of you has been inf luenced by that book, since it came out? It’s really weird dating people who’ve read the book before they met me. It’s a little awkward. And it’s hard getting a straight answer about what they think about the book. But they’ve told me that I’m different than they thought I was. I’m not sure what to make of that. It would be hard not to be different from the many Daphnes in the book. Yeah. So how is editing an anthology, doing a call for submissions, being in charge of all the things that come in — how is that different from doing a collection of poems? Is the feeling comparable, or is it a completely different thing? They’re really comparable. The difference, primarily, is that when you’ve got an anthology, it feels like you’re creating a community, and that you’re not doing it alone, you’re doing this with people. And at the same time, you’re giving up a lot of control, because it has to be with other people’s
Illustration Paulina McFarland
thoughts, and visions, and ideas, and art — versus when I do a book of poetry, I have complete control over it, but it’s just me by myself. You’ve worked with a bunch of different branches of — scare quotes — “theory,” I’m wondering whether there are kinds of theory that you’d be interested in working with, but haven’t yet. That’s a really interesting question. I’ve been kind of stymied with poetry lately, because poetry speaks to a really pretty small community, and doesn’t really do much except talk to itself. I don’t know that my poetry’s always been expressly political, but I think that there definitely has been that component, and that underpinning, but it’s always been in frustration that poetry doesn’t have more of a direct effect. I think the activist in me has been really stymied by how to reconcile this. So I think that finding a way to reconcile that is something I’d like to be able to do. But I don’t know how. Yet. It’s interesting that that’s the way you answered that question, because my next question is that you’ve referred to your writing as ‘activist,’ in the past. (This is a lot of questions.) W hat is activist art? Is there art that is not activist? Is activist art necessarily confrontational? Would you use words like ‘aggressive’ or ‘confrontational’ to describe your work? And finally, if you would use these word, do you feel like your work has gotten more or less or differently confrontational, or aggressive? That’s a lot of questions. You don’t need to have five paragraphs and a thesis statement. I kind of don’t know what activist poetry looks like any more, because of what I was just talking about. Has my work been far left? Yeah, my work has been pretty far left. Has it had a specific agenda? Absolutely. Has it changed anything? I doubt it. I mean, I know that in small ways, it has. I know if I’m talking to a room full of young, college-age women, and I’m reading about rape, that that has had an effect, and that has effected change in that they’ve come up to me and been like, ‘That happened to me too, and I’ve never told anybody.’ And I think that is activist work. I think that there’s a reenfranchisement there that is absolutely essential. So I think that I should be a little bit careful about saying there is no such thing as activist poetry, and I think that there are probably places where it is very effective. But I think that there is a lot of poetry that is very abstract, and that requires sort of an educated reader — a specifically educated reader — in order to decode and enjoy it. A privileged reader. Can that be activist work? Sure, but for who? I’ve asked my students who I was teaching at New College, ‘W ho is this poem saving?’ W hich is
a terrible question, and an unfair question, and an absolutely vital question. I think it’s the essential question, at the end of the day. As for aggression/confrontation, there’s an anecdote about Nikki Giovanni, and people — with her recent work, her love poems, versus her beginning of the Black Arts Movement, saying ‘A h, she’s gone soft,’ and her asking ‘W hat is more politically important than love poems?’ I think you can be less directly confrontational and be more provocative, and I hope that’s the direction I’ve gone in.
WRITING THE MONSTER 1
In Bhanu Khapil’s attempt to find the difference between monsters and cyborgs, she has created a monstrosity of fic tion
But first, what is a monster? A monster will cause an entire village to leave the comfort of their beds and take up flaming pitchforks and hand grenades to hunt and destroy. To quote Kapil, a monster is “anybody different.” A monster “refuses its future” and“refuses to adapt to her circumstances.” And a Cyborg? The monster of science fic tion? The cyborg is the citizen. It belongs to the machinery of nations and markets, it is the consumer of fac tory made produc ts and ideas. The metaphor/ reality that Kapil poses to her readers in Incubation: A Space for Monsters is a multiplicity of threaded meanings, and to reduce them to didactic sentiment would be unfair. However, a parallel between her discussions of monstrosity throughout the book, and her own approach to writing fiction is evident. Monstrosity, that which falls beyond the moral and quotidian perimeters of systemic power, is the carta blanca, the newborn baby, the character forming in the author’s head. Incubation is the creation of Kapil’s character Laloo, the little red girl, through a triangular dialectic. The book opens with a quote by Donna Haraway, stating that biology is a discursive process; Khapil’s protagonist Laloo, the Punjabi hitch- hiker on a JI visa in the United States, is likewise. It is a discourse that is externally imposed on her from the US cyborg culture and from the author who is writing her. Thus, Kapil creates a dialogue between the reader and
By Francesca Austin Ochoa
herself, as author and narrator, as well as a dialogue between herself and Laloo. In a Brechtian, breaking of the fourth wall, the reader cannot hand over her agency to the author to create judgement and catharsis, but rather becomes a component of the book itself. If fiction has become cyborg, reduced to the seamless telling of stories for the purpose of complacent consumption through the machinery of publishers and distribution, then Kapils work is the monster lurking in the shadows. The theory of cyborgs, as posited by Harraway, implies a complete amalgamation of being. Though Kapil presents a
duality of monster/cyborg throughout her writing, that division is constantly being called into question. She wants to birth a monster, but she must send it forth into the world. Once it leaves the incubator, or perhaps, even before it has arrived, it will not be pure. It will be written on. Though she publishes with an independent experimental writing press, though she demystifies herself as a writer, leaving her phone number and email address on the pages of her manuscript, she is still sending it to the machines to become not monster, but hybrid. A hybrid which is inevitably cyborg. What does it mean to tell a story? What does it mean to create art for distribution? It means that language is a reproducible technology that is in itself a part of the system. We can birth monstrosity, but it remains so only in incubation, and we can only hope that in that period it grows horrible claws and teeth with which to protect/ defend/attack the world it is rendered into. Incubation: A Space For Monsters Leon Works Press 2006
Illustration Jen Tong The Perfect Bot
AWILDA RODRIGUE Z LOR A & KORTNEY RYAN ZIEGLER INTERVIE W BY FR ANCESCA AUSTIN O CHOA WE WERE COMMITTED FROM DAY ONE TO COMPLETE THE PROJECT NO MATTER WHAT, SO THIS KEPT US FROM FALTERING FROM OUR GOALS.
Congratulations on creating an incredible documentary. Tell me a little bit about yourselves, and how you both came toge-ther to create Still Black? ARL: We were both graduate students who were living in Chicago
Was there one moment in the making of Still Black that stands out as being the most important or most all encompassing of the project? ARL: For me it was our first day of produc tion. It was Dec. 14th
finishing our degrees. I had seen Kortney’s short film “hokum” and
and we had to drive from Chicago to Toledo, OH in the snow. We
immediately became a fan of their work. Kortney then mentioned
reserved a hotel suite to shoot our first subject Ethan Thomas. We
they were working on the pre-produc tion phase of Still Black for
shot on December 15th (Kortney’s Bday) and we went for it. This
almost a year. I was moved by their passion for the project and
was my first time at a film shoot and I was nervous, excited, scared
of fered my support to produce the film. I believed in their vision
and happy. Once we completed the interview we got to hangout
and understanding of the importance of making Still Black plus I
with Ethan and from that day on I was even surer of the importance
trusted that the direc tor would make such a beautiful film.
of making this film.
Why did you choose a documentary to be the medium for your message? KRZ: Prior to Still Black, there was a boom of trans documentaries
What was the most difficult moment? ARL: For me it has been the distribution process. When we finished the film and started applying for film festivals we spent so much
coming out but the voices of black men were marginal, if they were
money on entry fees and received so many declines. I was heart
there at all. I felt that there deserved to be a documentary that
broken and frustrated mostly because most of the film festivals we
focuses only on the black FTM experience. Additionally, there are
did apply for were LGBT film festivals.
few documentaries that place black men as the subject of the film — I wanted to intervene in that discussion as well.
When you started this project, what were your initial intentions and what were the means — financial support, community support, equipment, that allowed you to move forward?
KRZ: I agree. Distribution has been the most frustrating and financially consuming aspect of the project. To be rejected from LGBT film festivals broke my heart as well but it speaks to the larger problems of race that exist amongst the LGBT community.
Our main intention was to create visibility for black transmen in the
How has the documentary been received?
United States. We did apply for grants but our projec t was denied.
The film has been well received throughout the United States as
However, that didn’t stop us from wanting to make this important
well as abroad. The places that it has screened that we have been
film. We developed a strategy for fundraising online and were able
able to attend, audience members have showed their support.
to successfully raise funds for the production phase. In terms of
Most of the feedback that we’ve received from audiences around
equipment, we are completely DIY — excluding digital cameras and
the world is the importance of making this film and it has changed
mic — and created our equipment out of low budget materials.
For example, we created a sof t box from PVC pipes and a shower curtain. We didn’t let any thing stop us from making this film.
As you moved forward, did you see your goals for the project change. If so, why? We were committed from day one to complete the projec t no matter what, so this kept us from faltering from our goals.
How has working on Still Black changed you? Where do you see yourselves going next? ARL: I am a dif ferent person thanks to Still Black. The film gave me the opportunity to get to know some really cool people starting with the men who sat down with me and answer our questions with honesty and love. I am so grateful to all of them for sharing their
What was the selection process for the people you interviewed?
stories and homes with us. It challenged me to really think about
We utilized social networking groups, listserves, community groups
and respecting who we really are and also the people around you.
myself and my journey in life, as well as the importance of loving
and word-of-mouth advertisements to conjure up interest about the film. Once the call was out and potential subjects started to
KRZ: The same for me. The film has allowed me the space to recog-
respond, we held phone interviews. This not only served as research
nize my own gender and personhood. I will forever be grateful for
for the film, but it allowed us to gauge who would be interesting on
the men in the film who opened up their homes and shared their
camera, whose story was unique, etc.
stories with me.
Carl and Family images from from Still Black
Photo by Nikki Nefarious
NIKKI NEFARIOUS INTERVIEW WITH PERFORMANCE ARTIST, PHOTOGRAPHER AND DOMINATRIX. BY FRANCESCA AUSTIN OCHOA 2
Many people may not consider rigging an art. I completely disagree. Not only does it require a high level of skill to stage, it is performative, aesthetic, and creative. How would you describe the art of rigging?
All of the above! I like to tell a story with my photography, each photo
The art of rigging is kinesthetic, for all parties involved. The body is
and I put effort into all visual aspects of the photo. I do wardrobe
a canvas for my ropes and with this canvas I create a work of art, from
styling, hair styling, and makeup so that the captive appears exactly
the placement and weavings of the ropes, the knots themselves and of
as I wish them to be. I design lighting and sets, from complex to barren,
course the positions and contortions of the body once bound. The desi-
so that the mood is expressed exactly as I wish it to be. I place the
red effect is not merely to render my captive immobile or restrained,
models in ropes or suspensions so that their positions are exactly as
but to transform them into something more than they were before.
I wish them to be. Then, once all the pieces are in place, I capture
Every movement they are allowed to make is only by virtue of my ropes
my artwork with a photograph, which in itself is yet another form of
and is allowed only to heighten the sensation for both the bottom
artistic expression for me that I have enjoyed for over a decade. It is
as well as the eyes of the beholder. I believe that the underlying art
the combination of all these artistic expressions that I wish to capture
of bondage is in knowing the human form, knowing where pressure
through my bondage photography.
a mere snippet from some visual novel or some slice of life, the meaning of which is entirely dependent upon the beholder. In doing so I try to capture the beauty of not only the rope work but also the captive,
points are and how to avoid them, knowing how to create comfortable for as long as possible, and being able to incorporate the flow of energy
When did you decide that you wanted to tie people up for a living?
into the sensation. I prefer to rig barefoot whenever possible as I
To be honest, I never actually decided to try to do this for a living. It
grew up rigging in the woods in my youth and I find it helps to center
just sort of happened. I guess it was always an inherent internal desire
me, to be able to create this art with my bare hands while in my bare
that manifested itself once I found myself in a position of opportu-
feet. For me bondage art is akin to creating living art sculptures.
nity. My working background includes financial planning and project
harnesses and positions so that all parties can enjoy the experience
management. I was laid off from an office job and found myself as
How does the literal and physical act of restraining, suspending, and binding translate into emotion and metaphor?
an unemployed project manager in an economy where no one was
I think that this is highly dependent upon the individual experience
a lot and my mother gave me the advice to “give it up to God” so I
and it varies from person to person. However, I do have some personal
decided that I would stop prejudging my life and stop worrying about
observations I could use. One of my favorite suspension moments
what I “should do” and simply exist as I am and follow my bliss with
happened between me and a curious acquaintance who had always
the knowledge that something would work out depending on what
wanted to try suspension. She enjoyed bondage play in the bedroom,
energy I sent out into the world. Soon after that I got a call to be an
but had never been suspended before. I suspended her for her first
assistant photographer for the MT V Movie Awards Gift Bag Suite in
time and there was absolutely no sexual play or implication or “scene”,
LA. That is when I decided to move from NC to Los Angeles. I had
this was simply for her to have her first suspension experience in a
actually started out in LA as a journalistic photographer for a news
safe space with someone she trusted. Once she was suspended there
agency, which I still work for, however other things started to manifest
was a moment when the very energy in the air changed; I saw that she
for me out here. Once I took that leap of faith, everything fell into place.
creating new projects and had no need of a project manager. I prayed
was flying at that moment. She was completely free and without any skin. When I asked her about it later she informed me that as a busy
Do you, or how do you divide your commercial work from your personal?
and stressed single mother of two who worked a full time job, had to
I do divide my commercial work from my personal art. In my art I do
provide specialized child care, and was back and forth from outpatient
not rig for the sake of fetish, so it is rare to see a standard hogtie in
care for her child, she rarely had time to relax, and when she did have
my online gallery. In my art my bondage is not necessarily to ren-
time there was just too much on her mind, too much she should be
der my captive immobile. For my commercial work, specifically fetish
doing. She confided in me that once she was in the air she realized
production, including men in bondage or damsel in distress style
that even if she wanted to run her errands or do that extra load of laun-
productions, wrist and ankle ties are paramount, as are standard po-
dry, she absolutely could not, and in a way that gave her the permi-
sitions such as hogtie, frogtie, etc., and I focus on the fetish of the
ssion she needed in order to allow herself to fully and completely
bondage versus telling a story with the bondage.
other external stimulation except for the pressure of the ropes on her
relax and enjoy that quiet moment. For her the suspension was a form of refuge as well as liberation, though she was tightly bound. For
What are you up to currently and what is to come?
me personally I do self bondage and self suspension, but it isn’t to
I of fer ProDomina sessions for rope bondage, mental bondage,
restrain myself, on the contrary it is an outlet for my expression, a
humiliation, objec tification, foot worship, play piercing, fire play,
way for me to be unrestrained by the limitations of my day to day life.
body impac t, and various other interests. I currently teach bondage
Ironically enough I believe that physical bondage in itself is a men-
safety and technique classes for individuals and couples in the Los
tally and emotionally liberating experience.
Angeles area and for various BDSM organizations and conventions across the countr y. I am currently a Mentor for Fetish Noir, a small
You are also a photographer, maybe a spider woman photographer? You put people in a web of bondage and then photograph them. What is the photograph or portrait of? The captive? Your web? Both?
lifestyle education troupe in Los Angeles. I also contribute to and run some awesome art bondage sites such as MsNikkiNefarious.com, AlteredAperture.com, and ServitusLA.com, along with numerous commercial sites.
Photo: Bevin Branlandingham
By Leah Lakshmi PiepznaSamarasinha
“Don’t forget where you are, holding history in your breath”Mangos with Chili’s Splendor and Grit: The Stunning South Tour 2009 Things you know or will learn when you go on tour with an awesome
forward, the blessed chance to spill queer dark story on stage, like
ca’s only annual touring cabaret of queer and trans people of color
between your legs and in your teeth and body as you show these
queer and trans of color love and survival outfit with,“North Ameriperforming artists”— the pragmatic description; or, “the floating
cabaret of queer and trans people of color bliss, dreams, sweets,
spilled honey or come on dark wood, riding history and change people this way, this way to be free, the beloved tour joy.
sweats and nightmares”— the poetic description that is closest to
your mama mango hearts: you will go to the bathroom together at
every rest stop, gender privileged with less gender privileged in a buddy system. One of you will write and all of you will feel, “white
men at truck stops will look at you like they want to eat you or fuck you or kill you.” White audience members have no idea how to look
at naked Black and Brown bodies. Black and Brown audience mem-
bers have no idea how to look at naked Black and Brown bodies. You need to be anally specific when you ask for food to be available when you arrive or the food will be a bunch of grapes and some
hummus for night people . Don’t try to drive more than four hours
a day. Sometimes you will have to anyway and you will drive seven hours through blizzards and border control with everyone needing the heat turned up or down, needing to piss, needing pringles and
tampons and miso soup. When someone is trying to text on their
blackberry while driving the twelve-seater van 95 miles per hour don’t be afraid to yell at them.
There will be at least one major en-
counter with law enforcement per tour. No drugs or alcholol in the van, ever, you know who you are.
Before you go get on that first plane, before you go to the Budget
rent a car office, you pour honey to the ancestors, your appamma
and the queer of color art ancestors who hit the road too — the hot
peaches review, the touring cast of one for colored girls or other,
sharon bridgforth’s old crew, spiderwomyn theater, mango tribe. Please, no TSA, no ICE, no cops, no weird white audience members saying weird shit that makes your whole body cringe, no nervous breakdown in the bushes outside some performance venue in Santa
Fe on day 15 of tour when you can’t quite perceive that something outside the van exists. Just the wind at our back, carrying us ever
Tuesday, October 14. College Station, Texas I fly down three days before everyone with Maceo to go to the class
visits that cemented all the funding from nineteen different departments
for this show. Qwo-Li’s honey voice on the phone a week before, saying, “Girl. Okay. There has been drama with your visit. High, high drama. Are
you ready for the drama? Okay.” Pause. “Barack Obama is coming to
campus. Oh yes, he is. And... he’s coming the same day as you. But don’t worry.... it’s all good. it’s all going to be fine. Fine.” Barack boots us out of the big auditorium and we are in our highest paid gig in.... an auditorium style classroom. The kind with the desk bolted into the floor in the middle of the stage. Ok, we’ll make it work.
This is year two of the recession and we’ve always been a little cocky
about how we pay for everyones’ airfare and offer queer of color artists a fair wage, give everyone a guarantee and a per diem, and still played
queer of color bars, the genderqueer open mic and indigenous youth bookstores. We’ve done this by scoring just three or four good-paying college gigs a tour, doing mad promo so folks from off campus come, and
using it to subsidize everything else. This year we are playing the south, we are in year two of a recession, we are the most famous and organized
we have ever been, and we are cold-calling universities to discover that they don’t have a gender studies department or a multicultural resource
center, or that both just lost $30,000. The one college gig we got is here, at Texas A&M, voted “the most conservative college in the south.”
At the 9 AM performance studies class the professor talks about me-
dieval christian theater and hastily adds, “If any of you think I was just mocking jesus christ, please know I wasn’t — he made a great sacrifice,”
to a classroom that is the whitest, blondest, most southern baptist performance studies class I have ever seen. I don’t use this word often, but
the word “wholesome” comes to mind. What the hell do I say to them —
Candlewood Suites in Birmingham at 11 PM. The Tilted Kilt is a Scottish-
and we get paid to call it art? I take a deep breath. How many of those
shirts open to show push up bras, and garters. There are a lot of men
we are queer and brown and swear and some of us take our clothes off kids were raped or hit before they got out of the house? “How many
folks here have stories they know they’re not supposed to tell?” Everyone nods. “What we do is tell them, and it’s sacred.”
themed Hooters. The 16 year old girls who work there wear tiny kilts, who went to THE GAME drinking beer and eating chicken strips and staring at four walls of flatscreen ESPN. And now, at us, in full drag. I think we will die. We do not. We go to the Candlewood Suites and pass out.
Friday, October 17. San Antonio, TX: Esperanza Center for Peace and Justice
Sunday, October 25. Atlanta, GA
On the way to San Anto from College Station,the green willows and dry
mobbed by masculine gendered people after his set again, and jokes
grass we pass, I see Gloria’s words hovering in the sky in a blue bow: “This land was Mexican once. Was Indian always. And will be again.”
Esperanza Center for Peace and Justice has white iron hearts with
wings in their gate. Green paint on the cars in the lot reads NO NUKES
A tech named Elvis says I remind him of Robert Crumb’s wife. Amir is that his show should be called, “Making men — trans and not — and butches cry and talk about their dads since 2009.”
Tuesday, October 27. Durham NC: Common Ground Theater
and UNICORNS ARE WATCHING over the Todos Somos Esperanza!
SONG (Southerners on New Ground) and UBUNTU sweetness come
and aguas fresca, strong coffee and lots of veggies. There are decade
spare rooms. Banana pudding milkshakes with nilla wafers crushed in.
us matter of factly about their work that week: organzing to protest the
vor lead. Every place we go, people are in the same room who might not
Red and yellow bumperstickers. Inside, the community has made us food
right when morale is getting a little low. Four houses who offer up their
old murals. A stage with red velvet curtains. Graciela and Monica tells
This community that is queer and Black and Brown and white and survi-
proposed reopening of uranium mining on a local reservation and help-
always be. We hope they stay after we’re gone.
is no sense of queer of color art being irrelevent to Serious Political
Wednesday, October 28. Richmond, VA: Richmond Gay Center.
ing us put on our show. The two are seamlessly wound together – there
Organizing. She asks us how we started. We tell her, then ask her how
Esperanza started and she says, “Well, around twenty years ago a bunch of mujeres got together to dream.’
Later we see the San Anto queer bar district– all saloons named Silver
Dollar with queer Mexicano 19 year old couples holding hands and hopping between bar and taco trucks. The next day Monica and Graciela
The Richmond Gay Center is a giant cement warehouse painted with a
rainbow flag all around right by the expressway. They do Diversity Bingo to hundreds as their man gig. There is a lingering smoke aroma, Pringles
for sale. A young white transman touring around trying to start an orga-
nization for queers and trans people who grew up fundamentalist gives us his cards and his thanks.
take us to the Casa de Cuentos, the house of stories, a little blue house
Thursday, October 29. Baltimore, MD: Floor Four
eat and talk stories.” There is a yellow flowering esperanza tree in the
Every tour there is one high-paying college gig with a flaky student that
tographs, plans for a community garden. Here, you feel you could close
Myspace a week before and is so sweet and organizes like a dream.
want to leave. We sign our names and QUEER BROWN LOVE POWER
have a cheap loft (“Baltimore is like Brooklyn but cheaper– like Brooklyn
in the hood they have bought. “Every two weeks the elders come and
front yard, hallways lined with kids’ fingerpaints and elders family pho-
falls apart at the last moment and one community gig that finds you on
your eyes and open them and the revolution would be here. We never
Baltimore is the latter. Somehow, these three queer women of color who
on the wall of the dressing room.
in 1991” one says) get us free suites at the Comfort Inn, a free full-page
Wednesday, October 21. New Orleans, LA: Club Vibe
We pull into the queer Black house on Crete Street after a five-hour
show packs maybe 150 people in a progressive church space the size of
speed drive from Houston. Walking in under the giant mural of Palestinian youth, I know hundreds of folks I know have probably slept on this
futon in this hallway. We eat veggie chili with old friends, back up and
drive to Club Vibe, the old-school queer Black bar we are performing at to benefit the INCITE women and trans of color free clinic. The crowd is the best — super styling POC queers who hoot and scream at the burlesque and listen quiet and holla at the poetry.
New Orleans city of ghosts, of spirit. Not just from Katrina, but from
ad in the Baltimore Gay News, and make red velvet mini cupcakes with Washington, DC: We are almost dead from exhaustion. But the last
my living room. They also scream and talk back and holla to the whole
show. Standing room only, standing ovation, the three queer women of color DJs we met so long ago in Detroit at the Allied Media Conference
who pulled this off on sweat and Facebook invites, Aleksa’s queer tiny
cousin in the front row, people singing along. We stay up all night returning the van, flying out at 7 AM on Virgin.
Mangos with Chili is unique in being multi-racial, multi-genre, and
all the years of runaway enaslaved people, Black and Native, who came
multi-gender — we consciously curate artists whose genders span
it in front of a historically Black liberation church, in memory to the lost,
gender non-conforming to non-trans queer men. We create commu-
beneath says, “We can’t even offer prayer to them. This whole city is
breathtaking shows featuring queer and trans of color artists creat-
before. A friend shows us a cross made of iron with broken manacles on
the gamut from transwoman to Two Spirit to femme to trans fag to
stolen and murdered people of color this city is built on. The placard
nity, build bridges, and foster cross-cultural dialogue by presenting
consecrated ground, every inch built on their bones.”
ing cutting-edge, high-caliber work to audiences and communities
Friday, October 23. Birmingham, AL
needed and little heard queer and trans of color stories brings queer
It’s a bad sign when the venue owner greets you by saying, “This town
is a shithole — I’m closing down next week.”
We eat at the Tilted Kilt because it is the only place open near the
whose stories are not always represented onstage. Sharing muchand trans people of color out from isolation, helping QTPOC build networks of community, support, resources and survival. Visit: mangoswithchili.wordpress.com
W. A .G.E. R AGE: A NEW YORK GROUP DEMANDS FAIR TRADE PRACTICES FOR ARTISTS BY MA RY CHRISTMAS S
Suggestion/donation/complaint box, 2009, courtesy W.A.G.E.
“IT MUST NOT BE MANDTORY TO WORK FOR FREE FOR ANYONE, UNLESS ONE CHOOSES TO DO SO,”wrote a member (who asked to remain anonymous) of
prac tices — and cemented a new labor lexicon with ‘living wage’ and
New York-based arts activist collective W.A.G.E. in an October 2009
a public consciousness around women’s domestic duties as work,
email exchange. The acronym stands for Working Artists in the Greater
but it was not successful in advocating that the work have a wage
Economy, and sums up the main goal of the group: increasing stable
attached to it. Who would pay such a wage? In the heterosexual
economic circumstances for working artists through wages, fees,
faily model, one solution has been to tr y to redistribute housework
and other forms of compensation. Continuing the 1970’s art world
along more equitable lines. But what happens when the work being
labor organizing tradition that included the Art Workers Coalition
done cannot be divided and shared? Creative work is more akin
and Hollis Frampton’s famous, incendiary letter to a MoMa curator,
to a science than to domestic chores, with specialized tools and
W.A.G.E. questions why art market economic structures tend to
training, hours of studio (laborator y) experimentation, and a wealthy
benefit everyone but the artist. The group’s manifesto specifies some
economic infrastructure dependant on the artist’s (scientist’s) disco-
of the ways in which art-market ideologies can become a problem for
veries and output. Artists, according to W.A.G.E., are an “unpaid labor
an artist’s survival, and ends with the slogan: “We demand payment
force within a robust ar t market from which others profit greatly.”
for making the world more interesting.”
There is a classically feminist ideology within such a statement,
‘fair trade’— it is of ten taken for granted that a universal definition of what work is exists. 1970’s Feminism was successful in creating
The idea of “mandator y work,” work that is not chosen, conjures
mirroring 1970’s catchphrases such as “anonymous was a woman”
historical and politicized images: at one end of the spec trum are var-
and the ironic re-appropriation of “behind ever y great man there’s
ious forms of slaver y; at the other end, second-wave feminist inter-
a great woman,” although in this case the exploited laborer is
pretations that value domestic work. While labor movements at the
non-gender specific. Ar t worker movements such as W.A.G.E.
millennium increased focus on wage inequities and global labor
have always sought to re-cast the ar tist as laborer in a way similar
to feminism’s inser tion of “homemaker” into the labor vernacular.
idea that exposure provides a livable income for anyone is a farce.”
But the existence of a wealthy, luxur y economy built around ar t
The economic structure of the art market is old. So old, in fact, that
problematizes this redefinition of the ar tist. Multi-million dollar
pretty much everyone takes for granted that artists are often under-
auc tion jackpots don’t necessarily bring any direc t benefits to
compensated (if at all) for things like gallery shows, live performance,
artists themselves, many of whom still struggle for stability while
and inclusion in museum exhibitions. Why would someone get paid for
collectors become rich off of their work. W.A.G.E. clarifies that “even
something that no one ever gets paid for? Historians such as Nochlin
‘successful’ artists are constantly hustling. There are a tiny, finite num-
have been asking “the crucial question of the conditions gener-
ber of artists who actually live solely off the sale of their artwork.”
ally productive of great art” for years, but somehow discourse on
The W.A.G.E. website links to a copy of the group’s own mem-
the economic conditions has been frozen for a while. According to
bership card, a pocket copy of the manifesto that allows anyone
W.A.G.E., “the first step is for the artist to begin asking, then demand
to immediately identify themselves as a member. There is a kind
and then expect change.” While a strong focus of the group seems
of open-door recruitment policy among these artists who refer to
to be engaging artists in a conceptual shift toward seeing themselves
themselves as a “conscio-usness-raising group” in a conceptual
as workers, they also present a clear message to art institutions: “The
nod to second-wave feminism. Also available on the website is Seth
directors, staff, and advisory boards… believe they’re exempt from
Siegelaub’s and Bob Projansky’s Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer
the financial responsibility of supporting cultural creators— that we
and Sale Agreement of 1971. This contract, drafted by an artist-
should rely on other aspects of the art and job markets while produc-
lawyer collaborative team and distributed by the School of Visual
ing cultural work for them for free.” It makes sense that museums
Arts in New York, provides a standardized record of the value and
and other large institutions would be first in the line of attack; they
resale of an artwork, as well as including percentages to be paid to
are in a strong position to affect direct change in the lives of artists.
the artist during every future transfer. The widespread use of such
But W.A.G.E.’s questioning of the lack of fair payment practices also
a contract could have staggering implications: artists could be paid
raises questions about whether museums and ar t institutions can
what equates to royalties, as musicians are paid, every time their art
of fer such payments. Arts institutions are notoriously undervalued
works are re-sold. W.A.G.E. suggests that, though galleries and col-
and under-funded on the grand scale of U.S. economics, and many art-
lectors do employ sales contracts currently, they remain inadequate:
ists are lucky to even find day jobs, such as art handling, that take place
“Artists do not receive resale [value] or royalties on their works,
in those institutional spaces. When asked about the difficult position
nor have input into where and how their works are being used.”
museums are already in, W.A.G.E. responded: “The construct of fee
ACCORDING TO W.A.G.E., THE PERPETUATION OF RESALE SYSTEMS THAT STIFF ARTISTS RESTS ON TWO SUPPORTING FRAMEWORKS: THE ECONOMIC NAIVETÉ OF ARTISTS THEMSELVES, AND A “SYSTEM OF ORGANIZED IRRESPONSIBILITY” AMONG ART INSTITUTIONS who “refuse to take part in
systems should be based on the institution’s size, budget, and annual
ethical practices of financial distribution.” A third problem, and one
nization that has created a list of minimum fees artists should be paid
that is arguably more pervasive in the public consciousness, is the
for copyrights and professional services. The group updates the fees
ideology of the starving artist.
annually based on changes in the cost of living, and offers separate fee
plans. There is always something between ‘nothing’ and ‘something’.” Defining something so static as an hourly wage for the artist would be tough. As in the homemaker problem, the question is who would pay such a salary? W.A.G.E. wants to follow the example of Canadian Artists Representation-Le Front Des Artistes Canadiens (CARFAC), an orga-
The mythology and romanticization of the starving artist is para-
schedules for reproduction and publishing, exhibition, and general
llel to what feminist art historian Linda Nochlin called “the golden
professional fees. CARFAC supports the need for minimum “wages”
nugget theory of Genius” (i.e., you’re just born with it) in her 1971 essay
with a bleak report on Canadian inequities: “While the cultural sector
Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists. The concept of the
contributes more than $46 billion to the Canadian economy, visual
artist as a person who is driven by some sort of near-religious ecstatic
artists earned an average of $13,976 in 2005.” In this same press
drive to create, and the concept of the finished art product as sacred
release, CARFAC points out that the median income that Canadi-
icon — both of these support the ideological horror that many feel
an artists bring in from art is actually $8,000 a year, putting many
when art encounters something so seemingly crass as money. But the
into the category of extremely low poverty. Here in the U.S., the
fact is that artists need to live: to buy food, to pay rent (two rents, most
National Endowment for the Arts’ 1999 study found a decepti-
of the time, on both a living space and a studio,) to wear clothes, to
vely high median income among artists, $30,000. Considering that
transport themselves from one place to another, and even to support
this study included extremely wealthy artists (with actors, musi-
families. The mythology of the starving artist and the pseudo-sacred
cians, and architec ts among the categories,) it is unrealistic to
qualities of art keep an artist’s production conceptually separate from
assume that most performance and/or video artists are making
the economic regularities that most of the labor force takes for granted;
anywhere near $30,000 a year. Interestingly, the NEA study found
i.e., wages. “Most artists have secondary and tertiary day jobs. Many
that arts occupations with high percentages of women workers
float from one odd job to the next.” writes a W.A.G.E. member, who
were the lowest paid; dancers, for instance, took in about $15,000 per
describes artists as “binge workers” that often need to work over-
year. W.A.G.E. has the big arts NGO’s in its sights, and is lobbying
time for weeks at a supporting job just to free up time required to
for policy-based approaches as well, through support of the Artist-
fulfill the demands of being an unpaid artist. The result, according to
Museum Partnership Act, which would allow artists to tax-deduct the
W.A.G.E., is an exhausting cycle that keeps most artists — even ‘suc-
market value of work they donate to museums. Some of the W.A.G.E.
cessful’ ones — engaged in two careers simply because structures of
efforts are more within reach than others, but the group blends activ-
adequate compensation don’t exist in the art world, no matter how
ist fire with solid goals: “In the least, local government should engage
many galleries an artist contracts with. “Artists who take their work
basic labor laws to make sure that cultural workers are paid for our
seriously are artworking at whatever moment they’re not meeting their
work, rather than exploited by the institutions… We’re tr ying to
personal fiscal requirements at another job,” writes W.A.G.E., “The
ac tivate the arts community.”
INTERVIEW BY CHRYSTAL POWELL
I FEEL SO LUCKY TO WORK AMONGST A FAMILY OF QUEER, FEMINIST ARTISTS.
What are you currently up to?
format; do you remain really connected to your past works?
I play in a band called MEN and we just got back from
I think all this work is interconnected, even if it is just energetically or through
a few weeks of serious touring. The past few nights we
commitment to group process. This is huge. Its working outside of structures
have been recording too, we’re in the middle of making
that exist to support traditional ideas of art careers. Even working within but
our first album.
outside of capitalist models, I would say.
You have a huge and eclectic arse-nal of accomplished work, performances and collaborations behind you. How do you balance/make time for everything? studio time lately and haven’t seen many of my friends in
That said, how do you resolve and deal with the problem of artists being financially supported in our culture? To resolve and continue making work that besides it’s format; it’s at times provocative, political, erotic and subversive content making it difficult to sustain a living off of making?
New York in a long while — but I have been working hard
I feel very lucky that I have been able to make my work in so many differ-
with the band.
ent situations, with the support of a few institutions but mostly the support
I work in intense project mode — I haven’t had much solo
of people who want to be part of the work, the audience, the performers.
Can you talk about the communities of artists/people in your life which inspire, empower, and support you in making your creative work?
Also I will say I am lucky to not have my career exist in the commercial gal-
My practice comes out of deep collaboration, immersion
very rare, but I never had to make that choice to participate or not. It just
collaboration sometimes. A group of people will come to-
was not an option.
lery system, its been very freeing to not have to think about selling work to support my practice. As an out queer female artist, those opportunities are
gether for some determined or undetermined time frame and we work through situations. I feel so lucky to work
So how do you support yourself?
amongst a family of queer, feminist artists with various
Financially I have had to do graphic design work to support my lifestyle for
critical and conceptual practices. I don’t take my relations
the past ten years, off and on. Now I am un-tethered from that work. It’s the
with my peers and mentors for granted at all.
first time that my job is my main practice. The band is my job now.
You have noted that in relationship to “how did she find herself here?’, that the poetry-text was written “in exploration of the erotics of collaboration and how pleasure lies in a landscape.” Can you describe your collaborative process? It’s structure, draw, worth and challenges?
Awesome. You co-founded LTTR, a feminist, genderqueer artist journal. Can you talk about what prompted this publication? Is it still in print/distribution?
In that reference to the erotics of collaboration, I was
Is that project over and done with? Or just hibernating for now?
referring to the impulse to work with another or oth-
I would say we as a group are hibernaing. That energy is still present in other
ers; the pleasure to share. Sometimes a collaboration
projects people are doing — Ridykeulous, to mention one, and Wildness, a
will come about because there is a situation, an offe-
party in Los Angeles. And there is also an anonymous queer sex zine floating
ring of exhibition space, and I will ask someone to make
around called BTFA.
LTTR, yes. You can get back issues of most of the issues online, and find most of them in various archives around the world. We are trying.
something with me. Sometimes it is a commitment to a have also been thinking of meetings as in the group pri-
Do you think that publications of this sort reach audiences outside of the populations from which their necessity was derived?
vate space, a place for people to be vulnerable with one
You are asking about the overlap in ideological versus geographical com-
another, to potentially incorporate both personal drives
project and a practice and this can be more ongoing. I
with group energy.
OK. So, since you work in intensive project modes, and the work you do varies in content, process and
Yes, also about the capacity of publications/work like this to interrupt and re-write what is commercially available and exist as a real extension of our communities and the era in which we live. Does it
Anything Goes 2004 pencil on paper, 8”x10”
Our Nature Is Our Virtue Cotton thread on paper, 5 3/4” x 7 1/2”, 2006-7
WE ALL NEED MOMENTS TO CELEBRATE AND YELL AND SCREAM AND DANCE TOGETHER.
change things? Or are we preaching to the choir so to speak?
culture, documenting bars and parties and sharing poli-
a heavy irony and a gut-punching sadness in your work. You pair emotionally jerking statements with processes/formats historically used for decoratively displaying bland, religious, engendered and cutesy text and imagery. Do you have more of an analytical relationship to your content and the history of the processes and formats that you are re-inventing?I’m specifically thinking of your ‘Our nature is our virture’ pieces and also ‘How did she find herself here.’
tics, helping people find one another. I never think we are
Yes, I hear you. Totally. I heavily identify with the texts Wittig wrote in
preaching to the choir. We all need moments to celebrate
The Lesbian Body that I ended up using in those embroidery pieces. I love
and yell and scream and dance together.
that they are so emotionally raw and fantastical at the same time. But I’m not
I know that queers living outside of major urban areas are hungry for queer culture and the Internet makes it so much easier for people to find one another. The history of making journals and pamphlets has been integral to gay
goth like that. I’m not sitting in my studio stabbing myself with my needle
and thread aching to get those pieces done. It comes from a love and iden-
Queer visibility is powerful!
tification of her depiction of lesbian s/m culture.
I want to talk a little about some of your past work that I’ve seen. In many of your works, you have pulled from themes simultaneously evoking sexuality, violence, and love. What are/were you trying to get at?
Who do you admire/ who are you influenced by?
Its hard to just lump those three massive categories toge-
tain such a secret romantic life... I am so curious!
Eileen Myles, I love how she thinks and writes. Helene Cixous, I love Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, my friend and collaborator Emma Hedditch — I am impressed by her patience and commitment to dialog, and Joan Armtrading — how she can write all these love songs and main-
ther and talk about them. I will say that I work from my position, a place where I want to talk about sexual poli-
Can you talk about the Mobilivre Bookmobile project for a second?
tics, a life that exists deeply in history and fantasy while
The Bookmobile project was a travelling exhibit of artist books, zines and
also being totally in the present. So in essence I am sharing
independent publications that toured the US and Canada for about five
years in a converted Airstream trailer.
Do you have an interest in how your viewers experience the work?
Did it pass from person to person? Who womaned the ship?
I want people to experience the work at their own pace,
zines and artist books tend to stay in the communities in which they are
to bring their own experiences to the work. I don’t want to
made— and we had a vision of seeing them together in all their glory — the
over-determine someones interaction.
formal explorations to the radical content and distribution. There were rotat-
A major impulse for bringing all this work together was that this work —
ing crews of three people who took the trailer on tour, giving bookbinding
Is it personally cathartic for you to make?
workshops and hosting talks about independent media.
I think because I do a lot of public or community work peowhat I am trying to do. Its not outreach. There are some
OK.. one last silly question. Pipe dreams or visions for what’s coming next in your wildest most radical pursuits?
gay signifiers that are clear to some and totally unrecog-
Next year plan involves a record! An album by MEN. And a trip to Mongolia
nizable to others. I think people see what they want to see
on the wild steppe with an entourage of other artists! Five year plan —
and when they are ready for it. My work can be meditative
starting a collective Land, a resting place.
ple expect the work to speak to all people and that’s not
sometimes (quilting, screenprinting) but I don’t think my art practice is cathartic for me. It doesn’t feel that hard
A collective Land. Best idea ever.
emotionally. It’s more pleasure than pain.
I gotta get there!
That emotional part is surprising to me; I find both
To the Land, that is.
silicone and water, acrylic on plywood, 2009
w i t h f r a nc e sc a a u s t in oc ho a
YOU ARE ONE OF A HANDFULL OF MEXICAN ARTISTS WHO ARE SPONSORED THROUGH A GOVERNMENT PROGRAM. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THIS PROGRAM?
Usted es una de las pocas artistas mexicanas que patronisan con un programa gubernamental. ¿Puede decirnos mas sobre este programa?
What public projects have you done as a result of this program? They gave me the scholarship for video. I then produced three monochannel pieces, which deal with the body and vital cycles. In reality, the public art projects that I have done
FONCA is one of the most interesting
FONCA es uno de los programas
have counted on other support, or I
cultural programs in Mexico. The pro-
culturales mas interesantes en México,
have created them using my own cash.
gram consists of annual scholarships
el programa consta de becas anuales
Almost all my production of public
for emergent artists, of all disciplines
para artistas emergentes de todas
art has an intimate relationship with
— art, literature, architec ture, music,
las disciplinas — arte, literatura, ar-
graf fiti. It interests me to locate
dance, theater, and multimedia, who
quitectura, música, danza, teatro, y
texts in the streets, to speak of the
gather at a hotel to discuss their cre-
multimedia, que se reúnen en un hotel
intimate thing in the urban space, to
ative projec ts.
para discutir sus proyectos creativos.
speak of the experience of the city,
Personally, it has been very stimulat-
En lo personal, ha sido muy estimu-
of the poetry in the street drains, in
ing to participate in. The parties are
lante participar en el, las fiestas son
the traveling stands, in the public
painfully good and the encounters are
brutales y los encuentros son eventos
very intense events, because for 3 or
muy inensos, pues por 3 o 4 dias estas
4 days you are speaking of art all 24
hablando de arte las 24 horas. Nadie
hours. Nobody sleeps.
Something that is very interesting is
Algo que es muy interesante es que
¿Qué proyectos públicos has hecho como resultado de este programa?
that the program also has scholarships
el programa tiene también becas
La beca me la dieron para video.
for creators with trajectory, who are
para creadores con trayectoria que a
Entonces produje tres piezas mono-
chosen for the program of emergent
su vez son jurados para el programa
canal,que trabajaban sobre el cuerpo
artists, by which the institution in no
de artistas emergentes, por lo que
y los ciclos vitales. En realidad, los
way decides who to give the scholar-
la institución en ningún caso decide
proyectos de arte publico que he
ship to, rather it is the community of
a quien darle la beca, sino que es la
hecho han contado con otros apoyos
artists who decide.
propia comunidad de artistas.
o los he hecho de mi lana.
Imagine. During a year they pay you
Imagínate. Durante un año te pagan
Casi toda mi producción de arte
to produce art, free of fees and you
por producir arte, estas libre de im-
publico tiene una intima relación con
do not have to repay anything to the
puestos y no tienes que retribuir con
el graffiti. Me interesa emplazar tex-
state, simply do what you most like.
nada al estado, simplemente hacer lo
tos en las calles, hablar de lo intimo
It’s fucking great.
que mas te gusta. Esta chingón.
en el espacio urbano, hablar de
la experiencia de la ciudad, de lo
– Mexico es uno de los grandes cen-
tros de distribución de cine y música
puestos ambulantes, en los teléfonos
pirata a nivel global-, comer tacos en
las calles. Recomendaria tomar mez-
If I were to visit you in Mexico City for a day, what would we do?
cal. Ir a cantinas. Tambien vale la pena visitar el campus de la Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, la famosa UNAM, que
Go to the center. The center of Mexico
es uno de los ejemplos de arquitec-
City, DF is magic. There the Aztec
tura Mexicana mas emocionantes que
past coexists with the great colonial
hay en la ciudad. Ahí también esta el
palaces and the alternative parties.
MUAC, que es el museo de arte contem-
We would see the Aztec dancers
poráneo mas importante de México.
and buy pirated merchandise in the streets — Mexico is one of the great centers of distribution of cinema and pirated music at the global level - we would also eat tacos in the streets. I would recommend drinking mescal and going to the local bars.Also, it is worth it to visit the campus of the
You work with a variety of mediums — video, text, performance, installation. Do you feel like there is a particular medium that you are most drawn to? How do you choose?
Autonomous National University of
I’m interested in street art. The me-
Mexico, the famous UNAM; it’s one of
dium does not concern me. I call what
the most exciting examples of Mexican
I do in public space a type of work that
architecture in the city. Also located
is closer to sculpture — although it is
there is the MUAC, the museum of the
two-dimensional — since I am inter-
most important contemporary art in
ested in its direct relationship with ar-
chitecture, and in that measurement,
Si te fuera visitar en la Ciudad de México por un día, qué haríamos? ¿
it seems to me that it has a sculptural condition. Video is my second work space, but it interests me also in the sense that I have a discussion with the
Ir al centro. El centro del DF es mági-
sculptural, the performance and the
co. Ahi conviven el pasado azteca con
installation. I believe that at heart I am
los grandes palacios coloniales y la
a sculptor and everything that I do is
fiesta alternativa. Ver a los danzantes
intimately bound to that space.
aztecas, comprar piratería en las calles
emplazar textos en las calles, hablar de lo intimo en el espacio urbano, hablar de la experiencia de la ciudad
d, de lo poético en las coladeras, en los puestos ambulantes, en los teléfonos públicos.
Trabajas con una variedad de medios, vídeo, performatico, instalación. ¿Te sientes como que hay un medio en particular que te atria mas? ¿Cómo escojes?
I also like the idea that all beings
No soy una persona religiosa, pero
conserve an inner life. Particularly,
me interesa muchísimo el pensamien-
I’ve always been attracted to the idea
to místico en términos que es el pen-
that beings that are not alive, can also
samiento de la imaginación y un mapa
be beings that feel. Stones in par-
que explica al universo. La idea de la
ticular. After thinking about stones I
reencarnación siempre me ha inte-
began to ask myself if objects made
resado como una forma de estruc-
by man could also have a life within
turar el tiempo de forma cíclica y no
Me interesa el arte en las calles. No
them. That’s an idea that has always
evolutiva o lineal.
me importa el medio, pero yo llamo
been tied to art.
Me gusta también la idea de que
Some objects are said to have in-
todos los seres conservan una vida
un trabajo más cercano a la escultura
visible powers — above all, religious
interior. Particularmente siempre me
— aunque sea bidimensiona — pues
objects that heal or serve as inter-
ha atraído la idea de pensar que los
me interesa su relación directa con
mediaries with the deities. The case
seres no vivos pueden ser también
la arquitectura, y en esa medida,
is that suddenly I have begun to ask
seres que sienten. Las piedras en
me parece que tiene una condición
myself if other objects also could be
particular. Después de pensar en las
escultórica. El video es mi segundo
places in which one can reincarnate.
piedrascomence a preguntarme si los
espacio de trabajo, pero también me
For example, in a wall partition or
objetos hechos por el hombre no
interesa en la medida que dialoga
as a car. Or perhaps in a mirror or a
podrían también tener una vida den-
con lo escultórico, lo performatico y
plate. And still more, if those nonre-
tro de si. Esa es una idea que siempre
la instalación. Creo que en el fondo
ligious objec ts can have an intimate
ha estado vinculada al arte.
soy escultora y todo lo que hago
life, I asked myself if one could re-
El hecho de que los objetos tienen
esta íntimamente ligado al espacio.
incarnate as a word or a number…
poderes invisibles — sobre todo los
in something abstrac t, immaterial.
objetos religiosos, que sirven para
Perhaps even in an email or a photo
sanar o como intermediarios con las
posted on facebook.
deidades. El caso es que de pronto he
a lo que hago en el espacio público
Why is the theme of reincarnation appealing to you? How and for what reasons has it been a part of several of your pieces? I am not a religious person, but I am very interested in mystical thought in terms of the imagination and a map that explains the universe. The idea of reincarnation has always interested me as a way to structure time as cyclical and non-evolutionary or linear.
I’m interested in thinking of every-
comenzado a preguntarme si es que
thing that the universe occupies, like
los otros objetos también podrían ser
a continent. It is like the schizophrenic
lugares en los que uno reencarnara.
thought. Everything speaks to me.
Por ejemplo, en un tabique o en un
¿Por qué el tema de la reencarnación es llamativo para ti? ¿Cómo y por qué razones ha sido una parte de varios de sus trabajos?
coche. O quizá en el espejo o el plato. Y mas aun, si esos objetos no religiosos pueden tener una vida intima, me preguntaba si podria ser que uno reencarnara en una palabra o un número… en algo abrstracto, inmaterial. Tal vez incuso en un email o en una
“maps” public art, 2006
Slum Dogs public art, 2009
in thinking of everything that the universe occupies, like a continent.
IT IS LIK E THE SCHIZOPHRENIC THOUGH T. EVERYTHING SPEAKS TO ME.
fotografía posteada en facebook. Me interesa pensar en todo lo que ocupa el universo como un continente. Es como el pensamiento esquizofrénico. Todo me habla.
Another visual theme that I saw in your work was a mix between ‘monstrosity’ and ‘anonymity’ can you expand on this theme?
duces madness, love, desire, beauty, hatred, dance, war… it is not without reason that sex reproduces life.
Otro tema visual que vi en su trabajo era una mezcla entre ‘monstruosidad’ y lo ‘anónimo’ puede ampliar este tema? Tiene tambien que ver con esa idea de la reencarnacion. Es decir, si todo
It also has to do with that idea of
me habla, entonces nada me habla.
reincarnation. That is to say, if all
Lo oculto, lo animal, lo bestial esta
speaks to me, then nothing speaks
dentro de mí. Dentro del cuerpo ha-
to me. The occult, the animal, the
bitan todos esos seres que aparecen
beast is within me. Within the body,
afuera. Los perros por ejemplo, me
they inhabit all those beings that
interesan como seres que están en un
appear outside. The dogs for example,
punto intermedio entre lo natural y lo
interest me like beings that are in an
cultural. No existen sino en la medida
intermediate point between the natu-
de que son entes culturales, prue-
ral thing and the cultural thing. They
bas tangibles de que las relaciones
do not exist but in the measurement
humanas han fracasado. Lo anónimo
of which they are cultural beings, tan-
es todo. Soy yo hablando por mil
gible tests that the human relations
voces, son las mil voces hablando por
have failed. The anonymous thing is
mi. No estoy tan segura de creer en
everything. It is I who is speaking for
el discurso de lo individual. Para mi,
a thousand voices, or the thousand
todas las acciones individuales son
voices are speaking for me. I am not
productos de esas relaciones ocultas.
so sure I believe in the discourse of
De esos otros seres que habitan den-
the individual. For me, all individual
tro. Como el sexo. El sexo es bestial y
actions are products of those hidden
anónimo y por eso nos gusta. El sexo
relations. Of those other beings who
es la metáfora del cosmos. Es la ac-
live inside. Like sex. Sex is beastly
ción que reproduce la locura, el amor,
and anonymous and for that reason
el deseo, la belleza, el odio, la danza,
we like it. Sex is the metaphor of the
la guerra… no por nada el sexo repro-
cosmos. It is the action that repro-
duce la vida.
INTER VIE W BY TECHNOLOGY CHANGES,BUT HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS DON'T REALLY CHANGE AND THAT'S WHY THEY ARE ALWAYS VALID.
CHRYSTA L POW ELL
Your work can be very haunting. You say that it emerges from a gothic kind of sensibility?
Can you describe your thoughts around the function of history or memory in your work?
Are you familiar with the Southern Got-
I’ve always been interested in history
hic Literary Movement? That move-
and I’ve read a lot of it. My father was
ment translates into a lot of visual art
very much a history buff, so we had
in the south, and essentially that’s a
shelves of books in our house. We had
tradition I came out of. I didn’t see
these vast multi-volume series of his-
a lot of contemporary art as a child,
torical writings that really fascinated
probably except for folk art. Not until
me, so I’ve read and talked about a lot
I was in college — not that I didn’t look
of history over the years. In terms of
at art in books, but I just didn’t see
not only the history of the world but
it — so I was much more influenced
also family history. Again that takes
by what I was reading than by what I
me back to the south, where family is
was looking at. I was building images,
quite important and people are very
just building all these pictures in my
interested in finding out your family
mind. I was a very precocious reader
lineage and who you were related to.
and was reading adult books when I
Just delving into my personal history
was about nine or ten years old.
wouldn’t have been so interesting,
Sarah 2007 Tar Gel, acrylic, photograph on canvas 12 x 16 inches
' I DON'T WANT MY ART TO BE JUST ONE LINE OF A SONG OR JUST A JOKE THAT'S PLAYED OVER AND OVER...'
but it’s my personal history in context of the history of humanity
it seems, there are ugly parts to it. In this tape, I take my retelling of
and how things don’t change that interests me. Technology changes,
the event and the relationship it has to contemporary times — and
but human relationships really don’t change and that’s why they are
the songs are the same. If you listen to the lyrics a lot of them fill in
the picture for what’s going on in some of these pieces. But really, I
I made a large installation based on the words of the roman histori-
work very intuitively. I don’t try to plan things out carefully, it’s like
an Tacitus, titled Songs From the Roman Empire. When my husband
I try to be really open.
and I broke up he got the stereo system and I got the old records, and I thought what am I going to do with all these records? At that
Are you moved first by your materials or by your concepts?
point technology was changing and I thought well, I’m not going
Both. I collect things. I pick up a lot of junk or trash or whatever you
to buy a new turntable — so I made them into art. That’s sort of
want to call it. I don’t pick up nearly as much as I used to. I constantly
my ongoing process, constantly taking things out of my daily life
take possessions like my old records or certain clothes or jewelry,
and taking them into my studio. With the records I made this really
old photographs or books or things that I suddenly decide, well this
large piece, Songs from the Roman Empire. A recording played in
is going to go over to the studio and this is going to be in art now.
the room with this piece that was words from Tacitus put to music,
Like diaries and many other things. My supply is constantly reinvigo-
and it really had to do with how we don’t learn from history, the
rated and I see things in different combinations.
lessons that you can get from history, and how they continue to rial Rome, by Tacitus, but it’s fascinating and you think oh my god
Your piece 365 Dumb Days is like a working sculptural diary. Did you begin this work as an attempt to loosen up your practice?
over two thousand years later and we’re still at the same place we
Not necessarily, it’s just another form of diary making. It’s like a
just have better technology. Not that we take people out and kill
three dimensional diary. I’ve used my actual diaries in several pieces.
them like was so evident in the past, but a term that Tacitus uses is
On my website there’s a new piece that I did for a show last year.
“judicial murder”, and I find that judicial murder is frequently uti-
The show itself was titled Holes of Truth, but the piece was called
lized in our current times.
Fault Lines, and that was portraits of important people in my life in
be relevant. I don’t know if you’ve ever read The Annals of Impe-
conjunction with portraits of constellations. Actually the impetus to
Would you say that you are trying to expose that to people? Are you trying to act as some kind of cultural agent, or are you translating your own experience?
do it came from my sister-in-law giving me a book that was in her
Well I think it’s probably all of these things. In some sense I realize
visual. It’s not really a diary piece, more of a historical account of my
that my art may not change anybody’s mind on a particular issue,
life. The three-dimensional work is not to be loose; it’s another kind
but I do want to bring these specific issues up so that people think
of process. I go back and forth between two and three dimensions
about them. I don’t want my art to be just one line of a song or a joke
and create a whole environment. It really is creating this vast archive,
that’s played over and over again or something that doesn’t have
an all-encompassing memoir that’s part diary and part memoir.
family that she wanted me to have. It’s called Plutarch’s Lives, and I thought, well I’m going to do my own Plutarch’s Lives but it will be
depth, because I want to create something that resonates not only in our time, but could be of interest to people in the future. That’s how I try to work, to create something that is not just topical, but transcends topicality.
It seems like even though a lot of your work comes from autobiographical material and processes it isn’t very directly confessional. No it isn’t. It is in a certain way if you take the time to really analyze
Your work has involved elements of power and sexuality. Can you talk about this?
it, but I’m not into for instance, reality T V shows where everything is
Sexual experience… that’s the real heart of life. In the audio-
are revealed layer by layer. Some people have indicated they were
tapes that are on my website it may come across more clearly than
frustrated that my work wasn’t more directly confessional. It is con-
this, but basically I question sexual roles. The piece I made titled
fessional, but you have to be able to read it and to take more time,
Bonnie and Brown was very much about power. I think about that
and I think often people don’t quite get it. They have this immedi-
a lot because the basis of that piece was a young woman who was
ate read and they go, “well what the hell is this about?” and it’s not
strangled with her bra on the University campus and this was an in-
clear, but after it settles in then it becomes more meaningful. They
credible crime in my hometown that was never solved. In fac t, peo-
see the relationships between the objects and, perhaps the audio-
ple still write about it. I made this whole piece questioning issues
tapes are more up front than the sculpture.
surrounding the crime. I was a fairly young child when this crime happened — it really shocked me to think these kinds of things ac tually happened and what was really going on. It was one of those transforming events in your life that continues to come up in your art. It was some sort of ugly wake up call. Like oh, the world isn’t as
right on the surface. I think it’s much more interesting when things
You have said about your installation Fault Lines, that “Once in progress, I realized that Fault Lines was less about hard truths than fluidity.” How did that realization strike you and how did it change the course of how you were working in general?
When I first started that piece it was just this idea to make my own
can because one day we’re not going to be. One thing I can tell you is
book. That this is Judith Page’s Lives. These are all important people,
that we’re not going to be sitting up in heaven with a bunch of angels
but some of my feelings toward them are very ambiguous to me. Some
and our old relatives, which sounds like the most horrible thing I can
of them were really horrible to me and their presence and effect was
imagine. Go live with all your relatives forever? That sounds like a vi-
felt, but yet you know — what’s the real truth of it all? That’s why I
sion from hell to me! I think they got it mixed up. Not that I dislike my
said that on the surface you think this is about fact — here are these
family, but what? You’re just going to be hanging out with all of these
people and they are important and their names are on there and the
people? I think living forever has a very different meaning and it’s re-
location — but how I painted them and how they are presented is
ally about living through chemistry…I swear it is.
revealing. A lot of them are from old photographs and from memory, there’s no real truth there. Its like — OK, who are these people re-
How do you think that the Fault Lines piece ended up interacting with the themes of the book you were using?
ally? And a lot of them have morphed into looking like other people.
Plutarch’s Lives isn’t a novel. Basically he recounts the lives of famous
That realization was also of importance, as were the constellations.
Greeks and Romans and then compares them, and it’s fascinating to
Initially I was really thinking I would pair people up with constellations
read. There’s no direct relationship to what I put on the pages and
and then I realized that was a task that had no meaning, and also the
what’s in the content of those pages. The whole book is used because
images themselves are not presented in any kind of order, it’s only a
of the idea of memorializing people’s lives, and when he wrote it, it
visual order. There is no time, no date; nothing, so in it’s essence that
was not necessarily the truth. Often, those were people that he didn’t
is slippery as well.
know, and obviously he researched sources and listened to various
yet they aren’t true to the images I have by any means. And so again,
tales and gossip that had been passed around about these people.
Did what seemed like a ‘meaningless task’ acquire meaning for you in the end?
What was in Plutarch’s Lives is fascinating, but again… the truth is
I think the meaning of it is about how little meaning there is. How
were in my life, because the truth about them was elusive as well. The
small we are in conjunction with the universe. All these people in my
whole format of the piece also relates to the title of the show Holes of
life had critical importance at a period of time, and many of them are
Truth, which was based on an Italian custom, buchi della verity, which
totally obsolete. I don’t even know them anymore really, or they’re
is still in existence in a form. It’s called denuncia, this comes from a
dead or whatever, they’ve passed on into the universe and it’s just
pastime where people would actually post denouncements of some-
that. There’s an interesting quote from Julius Caesar, “The fault lies
one anonymously in the city square, like Tiger Woods is having an
not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
affair, and it’s just a little thing posted on the town square. Of course
elusive. So that relates in concept to the painting of these people that
they didn’t have the Internet then to help them along with these tasks,
So, was part of this work about relieving responsibility?
so that’s one of the things that started this whole piece. I was reading
That quote has always intrigued me, thinking about what the meaning
The Life of Leonardo daVinci and it talked about that and the whole
is, but ultimately all of these people and everything is all part of the
idea of holes of truth, and that he had been denounced. I’m trying to
universe and nobody really knows what it all means. And that’s some-
remember if he was denounced as a homosexual, but it was just the
thing you either accept or you don’t. You fight against it or just flow
whole idea that people felt free to do this and post these things that
with it. In the audiotapes, one of the undercurrents is about death
could be true.
and regeneration and how people die. Basically all of this work using old stuff and you make something new out of it. The whole idea about
Are you commentating on the questionable and sometimes ludicrous ways in which history has been recorded?
living for doing, dying and going to heaven and all that mythology has
Oh yeah. It filters through the person who does the writing and is
its basis in the fact that what we do can impact someone else physi-
one of the interesting things about reading the Roman historians.
cally. Of course you might give birth and things like this, but there are
Tacitus went for the jugular and was very moralistic. Early on he talks
also changes made in people through interactions with other people.
about the other historians, and I think he was obviously referring to
Basically we live forever through our chemistry. I wrote a song titled
Liv y as one, who recounted the grandeur and the glory of some of
I Want to be Fertilizer and it’s like, okay burn me up and scatter me
these famous roman emperors and military leaders; whereas Taci-
around and let me nurture some plants, and that’s what living forever
tus was really trying to get at some particular kind of truth about
these people. He was writing af ter The Annals of Imperial Rome, and
old things is a metaphor for the death regenerative process. You take
was writing as a second generation. He primarily did not live dur-
What is it like for you to deal with such heav y themes in your work?
ing this time and wrote it somewhat later, and obviously there were
It’s not burdensome, I think you just have to go with the flow and ac-
could interview, but again there are many sources for the quote un-
cept and not be afraid of death or anything else you know. It’s like
quote truth… So we don’t know what was true, and even now, think
hey, we’re here for a little while and you’d better enjoy it while you
of all the questions about John Kennedy’s assassination. Important
still plenty of people alive that had lived through this time that he
Fault Lines Tar Gel, acrylic, gesso, graphite, mixed media 2008 217 book pages, each page, 4 3/8 x 7 1/8 Fault Lines includes 217 portraits of both notable individuals and anonymous constellations painted on the pages of Plutarchâ€™s Lives.
Robin 2006-2007 Tar Gel, acrylic, photograph on canvas 12 x 16 inches
Holes of Truth, 2008 Solo Exhibition at Massry Center for the Arts, The College of Saint Rose, Albany, NY.
things that have happened in recent history that people still can’t
which is one of my all-time favorite B movies. All this stuf f sort of
settle on any true account of, and that’s something I’m sure will
mushes around together.
Your portraits on canvas have been described as being goofy yet disturbing. Despite their silly faces, the characters feel really confined and isolated. Who are these people?
In those paintings is it the areas that are remaining exposed or the places which you are covering which are of more prominence to you? I always think the real character in someone is in their eyes and lips
I hadn’t watched TV for like 25 years, and about seven or eight years
— the face and skin can sort of age and melt and transform and sag,
ago I decided to get a TV and even before that I was playing around
but there are certain things that seem to contain more about your
with some photographs and paintings. What I had in mind was the
persona then just your skin. So that’s the part that is more essen-
photograph as a relic. I’ve traveled often in countries like Mexico
tial— the eyes and the lips.
where you go into a church and see a sculpture of a saint, and then
I was really shocked when I found out that a lot of people thought
it’ll have a wooden arm and a cutout section of the arm will have a
they were really horrific! Some people described them as burn vic-
real bone in it which will be the relic. So I had in mind to make por-
tims and I thought, oh my God?! It didn’t mean that they didn’t like
traits of people where the photograph was the relic and everything
them or weren’t interested in them, or they wouldn’t have written
else was obscured more or less. But then, it also relates to my watch-
about them, but it was surprising!
ing the show called Extreme Makeover and when I first saw it on T V I
The backgrounds are also important because all the portraits pri-
couldn’t believe it. I thought oh my God these people are having this
marily are artists shot in their studios and their art is in the back-
disgusting plastic surgery right on T V — it’s just so strange. You saw
ground, so when you see colors and some faint images coming
that everyone seemed to suddenly have perfect teeth and there was
through often it’s their art that’s behind them.
this look of the talking heads on TV. These are all people I know that I’m making relics of with their portraits and they’re trying to communicate from this fleshy medium and each of the background colors have very specific relationships also. All the green ones have to do with the three states of plasma, whether it’s the substance of life plasma or blood, or the af fluent that comes out of a medium’s mouth; that is also known as plasma and has been described as kind of a green color if you read old descriptions of people during séances. The ones with black backgrounds are like black hole portraits. There’s another series of liquid sky portraits that were inspired by that movie Liquid Sky
Can you talk about your relationship to the more shrouded aspects of your work? I’m very interested in subtleties and again I would say layering. That there are all of these layers and there’s nothing very real… you like to say there’s truth, but there isn’t. There isn’t. It’s all so ambiguous and slippery. And that’s one of the reasons that I got involved with using tar gel, because it had this elusiveness. It was sort of sculptural and also like paint, but beyond paint because it flows and holds drips and makes holes, so it lends a whole other aspect, like the artwork is continuing to evolve so that it is living. Knowing that drip may just continue on, down onto the floor.
From the series Finalists #1960 2006 acrylic, gesso, tar gel, graphite on Arches 12 x 9 inches
INTER VIE W BY LIKE YOUR DAILY EXISTENCE AND ANXIETIES GO INTO CREATING A DREAM, MY PAINTINGS ARE CONCEIVED IN A SIMILAR WAY.
Your artist’s statement references a recurring dream you began having eight years ago about the end of the world. What was your work like before this dream?
H ANN A H MAE BL AIR urban landscape, and then the landscape became twisted, and trying to raise the creatures out of that twisted landscape is how I ended up in
I referenced the dream in my state-
a groundless existence. If anything, I
ment more as a kind of metaphor —
think that things that helped inspire
it’s not so much that I had the dream
the dreams inspired my work, from
and started the paintings — although
9/11 and the indian tsunami down to
I am sure the dream helped inspire
personal teeny anxieties.
them to some degree. I meant to say
about sort of the poetic tidbits and
Does your dream anxiety about the world ending spill over into your waking life? Do you find yourself stockpiling water, planning escape routes, learning skills for self-sufficiency?
tiny dramas of the everyday. With
I think if the world turned upside
tiny pigs. And then the pigs changed
down in a hurry, I’d probably be in
into twisted mutant creatures hang-
the first wave of people to kiss my ass
ing around and waiting in this plain
goodbye, because I am not the sort of
that, like your daily existence and anxieties go into creating a dream, my paintings are conceived in a similar way. Eight years ago, my work was a bit more self-referential and more
Spills acrylic on paper, 2007 13” x 16”
Incoming acrylic on paper, 2009 14 “ x 21”
person who remains collected in a di-
I was reading the news and finding
create my own alternate reality. You
saster. I’m a kind of stand-and-stare
bad news so frequently that I would
are just constantly exposed to dre-
gal. I wish I had some real skills, but
imagine going online and finding an
adful news bits and think NO NO NO,
I won’t kid myself — I couldn’t make
article like End of World at Hand or
but what can you do? If I were a more
fire with sticks or fight off zombies to
somesuch. I promised myself at that
resourceful person, maybe I would
save my life. If I stockpile food, it’s just
point to stop reading the news so
have a better answer for that than
because I can never remember what is
much. I think it’s the “utter useless-
in my pantry when I am at the grocery.
ness feeling” that all this news-reading
I am also kind of obsessed with hou-
There was a time for a while there that
creates that feeds into my desire to
ses, and stilt houses in particular —
Big Cities, Small Towns acrylic on paper, 2009 41 1/2” x 54”
find particularly compelling about them?
kind of an unease connected to stilt
of my system, they always come back. And one finds actual stilt houses ev-
I came to propping up houses and
personally because it elevates and
erywhere in the world, from the arctic
other structures through a kind of
protects houses while simultaneou-
to southeast Asia.
logical progression in the paintings
sly seeming to make them more
that was separate from any particular
vulnerable. And taking a place we
interestin stilt houses (although I do
connect with security and throwing
find them interesting). It was a solu-
it into vulnerability will always stir
tion to a problem. I think that there’s
up emotions. Plus I think it appeals
just when I think I’ve gotten them out
Why do you think stilt houses are such an endlessly compelling image, and/or what it is that *you*
houses (in and out of my own work)
Coalescing acrylic on paper, 2009 22” x 42 1/2”
KNOWING THESE ARE REAL PLACES SORT OF RAISES THE STAKES FOR ME IN MY HEAD. ALSO I GET TO SORT OF CATALOG MY OWN WORK AND PLAY WITH IT.
to us ground-dwellers’ fantastical side, as though we would be living in some sort of Seuss world or something.
Many of your houses seem like little characters, with their own personalities — do you see your paintings as images, or as narratives involving these characters?
Could you tell us more about your printmaking? Does your print work bear a family resemblance to your paintings, and/or do you find yourself compelled to make particular images in one medium or the other? My printmaking is following the same themes as my paintings. Some things I’ve done with paintings are irresistible to try again with the
I think my paintings are a mix. I am interested in story telling and
fine line of an etching needle. The amount of detail that is possible is
I do tend to make up stories in my head, but they don’t necessar-
kind of intoxicating, although I don’t think I’ve utilized that to its full
ily follow a plot line and I don’t know that its even necessary for
potential yet. I think of myself as a hack printmaker, and learning as
people to know the little stories I think about. For that matter,
I go along, but it’s great just to be in a whole different place in your
whatever narrative I am thinking about can change each time I sit
head while working, it’s a very process-oriented sort of way to work.
down to paint on the same painting. I do sometimes think of the
Plus it’s so much more community-based. I work at a cooperative sort
struc tures as charac ters, but not to the point of naming them or
of printmaking studio here in Cleveland, Zygote Press, it’s nice to talk
any thing. I think they stand on their own as images.
to other artists and see what they are doing.
You depict a particular kind of architecture: American vernacular architecture of the early/mid-20th century. Are you particularly interested in places that look like the ones in your paintings, or are your houses meant to stand in for a generalized domestic situation?
Some of us in overbuilt cities have this sort of fetishistic idea of the rust belt as a sweet post-apocalyptic fantasy wasteland. As someone who actually lives in a midwestern metropolis and thinks about the apocalypse, how do you feel about the depiction of the rust belt as a Mad Max playground?
Some people think they are sort of generic houses and buildings
Well, you sort of have to be a glass half full kind of person (not that I
but each one really does exist, and mostly in my neighborhood or
think many people in Cleveland are) and just think of it as raw poten-
in my printshop’s neighborhood. Places I see a lot. My house pops
tial. Ha! But Cleveland isn’t all that bad. It was at the forefront of the
up quite frequently in my paintings and most every building in the
foreclosure situation, and the downtown was pretty much hollowed
paintings come from where I live in Cleveland. Sometimes I tweak
out some time ago, but we do have coffeeshops and museums and
the colors or add or subtrac t a bit, but otherwise they are places
car dealerships and Urban Outfitter stores just like everyone else.
that are a part of my daily existence. My own environment has al-
There is a lot of empty space, wasteland or not, and I think that influ-
ways been a big influence on my work. It might sound ridiculous,
ences the space in my work a great deal. Since we are situated right
but knowing these are real places sort of raises the stakes for me
on the great lakes, I think a location next to fresh water would be an
in my head. Also I get to sort of catalog my own world and to play
ideal place if things start to fall apart.
with it. There are other sorts of houses in my hood that I don’t condos popping up — but they have their own flavor which I think
What are you finding most inspiring to look at/listen to/read/ eat/work on these days?
would be distrac ting.
Inspiring to look at: I’ve been walking about getting pictures of in-
paint — we have some of the new sort of spaceship kind of houses/
teresting things (usually buildings or bridges lately). That is always
As an artist who works with an image that, if it had a gender, would usually be considered feminine (although many people live in houses, men included), do you think about/worry about/ get excited about being seen as a Woman Artist rather than just an artist?
inspiring for my work. It also helps me to really see what is around me
I don’t really think about being a woman artist, I grew up in a parti-
finished The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan on the dust bowl
cular time and place and was born to particular people who created
and am now in the middle of the American Revolution, 1776 by David
an environment where my gender rarely poked up as an issue of any
McCullough. When you read (listen) a bit about what these people
kind (for me personally). Of course, who knows how that will play
went through, it makes you think about how times were always
out in time. I’m sure being a woman must color my outlook on the
turbulent and difficult, even though I think sometimes today we
world in some sense and if people would like to think of me as a
always think it is some sort of new reality. I don’t get a ton of time to
woman artist, it doesn’t bother me. But if my gender particularly
actually read these days, although I just got a Thai reader in the mail.
influences my work it isn’t in a conscious way at all.
I’ve been trying to learn to read Thai for some time now. I really stink
more clearly, to be more attentive. Music: Lately a lot of Tom Waits, Otis Redding, Mountain Goats. Going into the winter here is always a bit melancholy for me. I’ve been listening to a lot of audio books on history lately, just
at it but I feel like it stretches my brain cells a little bit.
City Walls acrylic on paper, 2009 22” x 30”
Jen Tong: Washroom www.jentong.com