A Rad Art Magazine Imogen Binnie Cover Ill Nippashi Jai Arun Ravine Keva I. Lee Lynne Chan La Chica Boom Tamara Kostianovsky Molly DiGrazia Cheryl E. Leonard Beehive Collective Margaret Harrison Suzanne Husky Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik
The Nature of Environment / No.4 The NATURE OF Environment
Aorta // environment issue
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Started in early 2008, Aorta Magazine is the militant love child of a small collective of hard working artists. We design 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. We strive to be a source of documentation for the legitimacy and ingenuitive creativity of this group. We serve as a space of free artistic expression and a vehicle for social change through the avenue of independent media. 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, 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, nondigital, 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.
06 Darvinâ€™s Deviants 08 Tamara Kostianovsky 14
26 Jai Arun Ravine 28
La Chica Boom
34 Holding the Mirror Up To Nature 36 Beehive Collective 46 Cheryl Leonard 52 Margaret Harrison 58
Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik
64 Suzanne Husky
FRONT COVER Image Lynne Chan BACK COVER La Chica Boom, photo by John Cornicello
Tamara Kostianovsky The Persistence of Agony
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EDITOR’S NOTE This is an issue about nature.
What the fuck is nature anyways? True or False: Art is a reflection of HUMAN nature. Art is a NATURAL function of humans. Humans are a part of the natural world. Nature IS natural. Humans have used nature to justify oppression (Gender, race, etc ad infinitum). Humans have used nature to justify oppression while simultaneously destroying everything natural Humans are cyborgs Humans and love and art are synthetic Many of the artists in the following earth shattering – just kidding, Gaya– pages have explored nature as psychological, organic, revolutionary, technological, synthetic, and performative. In these pages, nature is as much a fresh sprig as it is a software program. Maybe, we are domesticated humans, living in our sardine-can apartments where cockroaches and chicken nuggets are the closest we come to the natural world. Maybe we grow our own food, and build our own homes, or maybe we tell our own stories about who we are and where we come from. Regardless of what nature is, if we all have nature and we all are nature, then we certainly should not be afraid to get our hands dirty. Illustrations: Hanna Gustavsson Dig in, Aorta
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Darwin’s Deviants or the Dissent of Man 2009 marked Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of Origin of the Species was celebrated by a crop of gorgeous re-issues, new commentaries, a handful of biographies and a polite golf clap all around. Darwin’s work has found fresh urgency in the quieted, but not entirely quelled, controversy surrounding evolution and intelligent design. There was reason to celebrate: Darwin is the single most influential person in biology. His theories are some of the most influential in science. Since the publication of Origin of the Species we view the “natural world” very much through his lens. However, the very purpose of a lens is to create useful distortions–more often than not helpfully focusing the center while inadvertently warping the margins. I’m not a scientist. My sketchy credentials are that I occasionally flip through Discover magazine and I’ve read more than a few pop science books. I’m not a scientist. If I’m anything, I’m a reader. And I’m not alone in this. As far as we can tell, what truly sets Homo sapiens apart from all the other animals is our ability to communicate with singular complexity – to share stories. I’m a reader, sometimes I’m a storyteller and despite my best intentions, I’m a habitual armchair critic. Although I have certain reservations around Darwin’s theories, my real criticism lays with the stories we build around them. In natural selection we have an allegory as tidy as Eden. Males must prove themselves with explosive displays of power, establishing alpha males and social hierarchies and making them predisposed towards conquest. Females are burdened with child bearing and rearing, making them more cautious. Hardscrabble, hand-to-mouth living destroys all but the strongest in the fight for survival. Then, a happy ending, a new beginning as a new generation of strong-gened offspring prepares to face a lifetime of hardship. How neatly this story explains women’s subjugation, war, greed, homophobia, dominance through a brutish and inchoate past. This story can be expanded ad infinitum to absorb any of our more unfortunate behaviors and attitudes and transform them into innate, god-helpThe NATURE OF Environment
us-we-just-can’t-help-it traits. An academic cottage industry, evolutionary psychology, has emerged to do just that. Despite backlash from members of the scientific community, evolutionary psychologists continue to frame everything from fascism to rape as animalistic throw-backs, rare but understandable slippages that have mostly been eradicated thanks to good breeding and civilization – as if rape were somehow kin to wisdom teeth.
Paternity is the keystone to sexual selection theory, an idiotic choice considering how difficult it is to prove in humans, let alone animals. Of animals bred in captivity, offspring of alpha males are no more or less likely to survive birth and childhood than those of lower ranking males. We construct nature as carefully as we do skyscrapers and bridges, as we do any modern place. The nature we have made centralizes masculinity and competition—these are our prerogatives, not necessarily our nature. In truth, our animal origins are unknown and unknowable. To reach back a week is to create fictions – to reach back a millennium, that much more so. Our generalizations of animal behavior do neither they nor us any favors. Coronations of alpha males are the exception, not the rule. Displays of strength are no guarantee of sexual success, much less breeding success or any other type of survival fitness. Natural Selection has often been flattened into the slogan “Survival of the Fittest.” The strong survive, the weak die, and we as
By Ill Nippashi a species are enriched by it. Taken as hard fact, as cold science, it is empirical evidence that might does indeed make right. It can be used to support all bullies great and small so long as we believe that we have some idea as to what “fittest” could possibly mean. And how we do, how we have. The very phrase “survival of the fittest” was written by Darwin but popularized by an American Eugenicist, Herbert Spencer. Although the eugenics movement died due to unsavory ties to the Third Reich plenty of its politics still live on under the banners of “population control” and “family planning.” There is environmentalist urgency to population control: there are too many people to be supported by this planet. It’s not that over-population is not a problem, but those who consume the least are also the ones that shoulder the burden of this downsizing: the poor. Not surprising considering that our current ideas of human value are based in capital. Take colonial values, mix them with an origin myth that favors dominance, and what you get is the idea that inequality is based on a lack of ability and that the most privileged people are the most evolved people. Even though it is the super-rich, the magnates and CEOs, whose greed has motivated more environmental ruination than we peasants can even fathom. It is the stories that make us, the stories that move us. I believe in evolution. I believe in change and that how we are is not how we have always been. I cannot place a value judgment on this. I’m too cynical to believe in either an idyllic Arcadian past or a sparkling Utopian future. But I’m wary of the idea that progress is linear, that evolution has a conclusion, that we are marching to our deus ex machina. And I’m too cynical to believe that heaven is a sustained note – either on this world or off it. And as American ministries promote the death penalty for queers in Uganda, American doctors continue to perform risky medical experimentation on prisoners. At their worst, both science and religion are stories of hierarchy and practices in dominance, both with startlingly similar ideas of who the chosen people are.
Tamara Kostianovsky is dressing violence in the fabric of her own life and re-inscribing the brutality of place and power onto the flesh of bodies. For all the cruelty her pieces expose, they are also undeniably full of beauty. interview by francesca austin ochoa
Malice, 2008 Articles of clothing belonging to the artist and fabric 90 x 76 x 19 in.
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LEFT TO RIGHT: Festering, 2010 43 x 30 x 18 in. Articles of clothing belonging to the artist and meat hooks Photo: Sol Aramendi Intertwined, 2010 47 x 19 x 13 in. Articles of Clothing belonging to the artist and meat hooks Roadkill, 2010 62 x 17 x 19 Articles of clothing belonging to the artist and meat hooks Photo: Sol Aramendi
“ To me, the carcasses are sacrificial beings, a quiet death that speaks to the history of violence of my country. The more I learn, I realize that this violence is universal.” Your work deals heavily with geography, diaspora and personal identity, which transcends beyond nations and cultures. What is your concept of home and how does that reflect in your work? The idea of home really initiated my search to create an image. I have come to terms with the fact that there is not really a home for me anymore. The more time passes I realize that after migration, home for me has become an abstract concept. It is in us. However, I still find the influence that a place has on the development of a person very interesting. My artwork is very anchored in the imagery of Argentina. When I grew up there in the ‘70’s, Argentina was the world’s
main exporter of beef. There were cows, cattle and their carcasses on the streets, in the markets, being unloaded from trucks.
I was just in Buenos Aires this past Summer. It was everything beef and everything leather. Yes, and now it is mild. Now there is an awareness of health. When I grew up every meal consisted of beef but this is getting into the food topic. A lot of people think my work is about food politics but that is not what I see my work being about. It was just spending so much time seeing these carcasses and not thinking of them as elements of pride like most Argentinians do
when they sit down to their asados. To me, the carcasses are sacrificial beings, a quiet death that speaks to the history of violence of my country. The more I learn, I realize that this violence is universal. My work is more about consumption. I have been living in the US for ten years, my parents still live in Argentina and every time I go back, I feel that it is becoming more violent. Everything from traffic accidents to crime. I’m not sure if it is just Argentina, or if it is a Latin American phenomenon, or a universal one. Maybe it is the distance of being an immigrant.
Your Guggenheim Fellowship biography suggests that you are creating an architecture of violence… violence of Argentina, violence of these corpses. What is your experience of violence? What is your understanding of it? It is everywhere but it is taboo. It is not openly shown in the media, it is something that is hidden. Ubiquitous but not there.
Or, if it is in the media it is sensationalized? Yes, but mostly it is not there. I think that when it is not seen or shown, the idea of violence is just perpetuated. If we all saw it, I think there would be more of a stand against it. What I am trying to do in my work is put the image of vioThe NATURE OF Environment
lence out there. As an artist I do this strategically. I care very much about beauty. I don’t want to beautify violence, but I want people to be able to see it. If it was too repulsive, I think most people would not be able to see it. My grandmother was murdered in Argentina in 2004. You know, you read stories in the newspaper, but never think something horrible will happen to you. But it did. I felt I needed to speak out and give it a perspective, not be silent about violence. On the other hand, my conception of violence has a lot to do with my own experience with changing locations and with immigration.
That is in its own way, a bloody history. What I was saying earlier, was that a place marks your body in a way, or your identity. That is what I am working with now, printing maps directly onto meat. Our experiences of place goes through our flesh. This leads to a lot of other things. I started the series with a map of Argentina, which has a very bloody history. On the Europeans’ first organized trip to the south of Argentina, the Patagonia, their mission was to eradicate the indigenous population. That is how Argentina was founded and the violence goes on and on. I started with Argentina. I have a love for this country, but I moved on to mapping other
“my conception of violence has a lot to do with my own experience with changing locations and with immigration. That is in its own way, a bloody history. What I was saying earlier, was that a place marks your body in a way, or your identity.” places, because this history of violence can be found in every nation. It started as a history of self, but transcended that and I hope it can speak to more people, because no place is immune to violence.
One of my favorite pieces in this series, which actually doesn’t have a map, is the leather bound book with pieces of meat for pages. Yes, I have recently moved from making the carcasses out of fabric to working directly with meat. Though, there are a lot of technical challenges.
I am curious about the fabric pieces. They are made from your own clothes, correct? Do you have anything left in your wardrobe? Yes. The clothing came into the work because the first year I moved to the States and was going to school, the economy in Argentina crashed and the Argentine peso lost a lot of
value overnight. Finding myself with so little resources to buy art supplies, I started looking at all the clothing I had brought with me. I had packed a lot of sweaters and jackets in fear of the winter. When I incorporated the material, there was a real connection and familiarity with it.
It’s like your second skin. Definitely. I felt at home working with my clothing, and it also became a political statement for me. Not buying supplies and participating in this consumerist society. Most of the clothes are still mine and now I incorporate sheets and towels and things like that. Sometimes I get pieces from the second hand store. It still connects the conceptual bridge that I want to create, that the animals are really not animals, but people.
Map of Truth, 2008 Articles of clothing belonging to the artist and embroidery floss 132 x 93 in. Photo: Sol Aramendi
Right: Abacus, 2008 Articles of clothing belonging to the artist, meat hooks, and chains 96 x 36 x 45 in. (Each) Photo: Sol Aramendi
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By Imogen Binnie
I’M TRYING TO GET AWAY FROM SELF-EXPRESSION BUT NOT FROM PERSONAL LIFE. I HATE CREATIVITY. I’M SIMPLY EXPLORING OTHER WAYS OF DEALING WITH EVENTS THAN WAYS MY LOUSY HABITS — MAINLY INSTALLED BY PARENTS AND INSTITUTIONS — HAVE FORCED ME TO ACT. AT THIS POINT I’M OVER-SENSITIVE AND HAVE A HARD TIME TALKING TO ANYONE. I CAN FUCK MORE EASILY. ” From “The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula” by the Black Tarantu la
THANK GOD I was moving across the country and had to box up and ship all my books, because pretty much everything I have been reading for the last six months has been stupid, but buried deep in the stacks of books taking over my old living room I found this early, weird, beat-up and stainy early book Kathy Acker wrote under the nom de guerre The Black Tarantula. So let’s talk about Kathy Acker. I pretty much think that she is the number one greatest genius America has produced. I mean, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is up there – I scored a copy of I Might Not Get There With You, Michael Eric Dyson’s biography of King, for four bucks at a Books-A-Million in Kokomo, Indiana. Dr. Dyson’s argument is that Dr. King was the greatest American in history, focusing on the often-overlooked radicalism in his final years, and I’m not gonna lie, his argument is persuasive. But, when I read Kathy Acker, I don’t even feel excited or like I’m watching literary boundaries be smashed or anything. I feel like I could punch a cop in the face and get away with it, or like I could get rid of all the baggage that’s come from being myself for the last three decades and recreate myself as a Nietzschean leather jacket monster unconstrained by anything, with no shit around sex (the fucking kind) or gender or brokeness or anything else. If you haven’t read her 1) Seriously get on it. She’s kind of out of fashion right now, which means you can find her paperbacks used pretty cheap and even her relatively rare hardcovers aren’t really collectible or expensive, and 2) She does a lot of superimposing of texts–she wrote books titled Story of an Eye, Great Expectations and Don Quixote. It’s kind of disorienting, and it can be exhausting to read her, but then you can’t space out and gloss over any of her sentences, so you end up being challenged morally, stylistically, emotionally, and lots of other ways, like a few times a page.
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I don’t want to overstate my case and raise your expectations so you’re all disappointed when you read her, if you haven’t yet, but I really do think that if she hadn’t died of breast cancer in 1997, she could’ve been the second coming of Christ and saved us all. Anyway, in The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula her project is basically to superimpose her own life over some more-or-less famous murderesses in history, at least in part to ask, as she puts it in one of the more direct passages that show up toward the end of the book, “if American soldiers every day kill and maim millions of poor people like me and get praised for their actions, why shouldn’t I kill someone so I can have an orgasm?” She’s channeling de Sade at this point, so it’s not like this is her novel’s thesis, but it is a central theme. Other texts she appropriates include some Yeats, some salacious histories of medieval cutthroats and robbers, and a buttton of porn. Oh um good luck finding a copy of that, though. I’m pretty sure it’s been out of print for 32 years. You can borrow mine if you promise not to wreck it any further. Anyway, before I read the Black Tarantula I had just finally gotten around to listening to an audio book of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma with the expectation of a (at least moderately) radical critique of the way we get our food, but I was totally disappointed. I mean, it’s a few years old at this point, so maybe in 2010 I’m just feeling like I get it about factory farming, it’s totally busted. So the first three quarters of the book, as he talked about the horrors of industrial meat, I was just kind of like “yes, yes I know.” Credit that to me being jaded, not to Pollan doing anything wrong. But credit this to Pollan being a lazyass: three quarters of the way into the book, he decides that since factory farming is so busted, he’s going to be a vegetarian,
starts calling himself a vegetarian, and then gives one of the longest, most spurious, selfserving, boring, stupid rationalizations for not being a vegetarian I’ve ever read. I mean, I don’t care if you don’t want to be a vegetarian, Mike, but for fuck’s sake, you could just say “I don’t want to make the effort,” instead of taking half an hour showing that you don’t want to make the effort. Then, the last quarter of the book is hunting porn. Recommended for the lulz. When we were halfway across the country — moving from Oakland to Portland, Maine — we stopped at Camp Trans for a week. CT was a fiasco this year, but Cleis gave me a copy of Lesbian Lust, edited by Sacchi Green, a collection of erotica that I read in a few installments while I jacked off in a tent. Boringly, there’s no acknowledgment anywhere in the anthology that trans women are dykes and have hot dyke erotica moments, but what are you gonna do – that’s the world we live in. Anyway Cleis gave me some other porn, too, which was awesome, so thanks Cleis. The only other book I want to recommend to you is Aimee Bender’s new one, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. She probably doesn’t need me to do any publicity for her, as she is a big deal. But I want to let you, the skeptical and tough Aorta reader who doesn’t give a fuck about the mainstream, with your asymmetrical hair-cut and tattoos, know that even though Ms. Bender tends to get lumped in with less subversive, chick lit-y authors — though anti-chick lit sentiment is a subject for another angry screed altogether — Ms. Bender is one of the finest writers writing right now, with some of the most emotionally finely-tuned prose you’re ever going to read. Different from Kathy Acker, but nobody else is ever going to be Kathy Acker again.
“Come here!” I hiss and drag him by the ear. He is drawing a car with an orange felt- tip marker on a tiny scrap of paper. I drag him from the green walled boudoir filled with Ikea furniture to the rubber walled dungeon next door. “What is this? What is this?!” I yell as I frantically shake a fake report card in front of his face. The plain text Word document he made shows he is only marginally passing the subjects of a 5th grader. Math D English F Social Studies D“Do you think I want to raise a stupid child? I didn’t even want you. You just came with your Dad!” “I’m sorry Mommy”, he tries to explain, “I don’t like school. The other kids don’t like me and make fun of me.” “No wonder they don’t like you! You’re completely worthless!” As a child, his father was always away on business and remarried a Chinese woman who took care of him — and beat him mercilessly. He relived those exact moments of abuse with me. The moment his stepmother whipped him when he washed the dishes and put the utensils back in the wrong order. The moment he came home from school with insufficient grades and she beat him in front of her friends. The moment he wet his bed and tried to hide the sheets. These moments of his real life were intertwined with our roleplay that would leave my right arm sore and his body completely bloody and welted. He brings in items for the session – her old equestrian whip, a vintage electrical cord, and a specific outfit for me to wear. I put on my knee high – white boots, jean skirt, and a white patent leather belt with a rhinestone
peace sign buckle, short- sleeved, blue- striped, button- down shirt and imitation Chanel sunglasses. I am transformed. I am now capable of the worst kinds of insults and abuse. My middle-aged, Latino client with an unneeded comb-over is now transformed into a 5 year old boy, cowering at the sight of me. He only came for half hour sessions but I was always completely exhausted the rest of the day. What tired me was not the physical activity but the intensity of the role. My own step-grandmother mirrored his stepmother so perfectly it was eery. Both married late into the family. Both were powerless in their own situation and took it out on others. Both were painfully irrational and abusive. As the scene intensifies I find myself saying what my step-grandmother use to taunt me with in Cantonese. In her fake sing-song voice I hear myself say, “Oh silly pig. Why are you crying? You’re so lazy, you lazy pig. Do you understand?” I start whipping his ass, welts forming instantly on his body. My voice begins to shake and crack with emotions from playing the role of the step-women. I only briefly stop the whipping when he crumbles to the ground from his position bent over the wooden chair. It becomes one big mind fuck as I start yelling at the client as if I am answering back to the taunts from my step-grandmother. My mind is reeling as I pretend the cowering 5 year old is in actuality my own abusive step-grandmother, while pretending to be her, and saying all the things “a good Chinese girl” could never say. “Who’s the silly pig now? Look at you. What do you have? You have nothing! Absolutely nothing! You can’t read! Your can’t write! You are absolutely nothing, you old fucking bitch! Do you understand that?”
“Why the fuck are you talking about my grandfather saying that he did not leave you anything when he died? You told everyone at his own funeral that he didn’t leave you anything but a pile of shit and a spoon to scoop it with? Don’t you have any respect, you fucking bitch?” The words are lost on my client. He does not understand Cantonese but he understands the emotion. As I snarl out the words the whipping intensifies. The bull whip wraps around his body, his legs, his torso. Marks streak across his body. I am flailing the whip wildly while the little boy is facing me on his knees and covering his face. Tears stream down his face as he starts to cry, “I’m sorry Mommy! I’m sorry Mommy!”. I still wonder if he was
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telling the truth. While his tears are real, I wonder if this story is as real to him as it is to me. Afterwards I have to sit and remember that I am not her or them. I am not the woman who kept my sister and I awake as young children scrubbing her mah-jong tiles past midnight. I am not the woman who would scream at the top of her lungs during dim sum if the dish was not prepared correctly. I am not the woman who threw away my late grandfather’s clothes the day after he passed. I am not the woman who tried to steal the white envelope of money from my grandfather’s funeral. But I play her. I play her and I play them. In this play I am abusing a little boy who is crying in a heap in front of my kneehigh white boots. xxx
Shawn Tamaribuchi interviews
Production stills from live performance 2006 Posing as FIghter JJ Chinois for live event Fighting Solves Everything, Leroy Neiman Gallery, New York
here’s an eleven-hour time difference between Pattaya, Thailand and New York City. I quickly realize the world is a lot smaller than it seems these days when talking to Lynne Chan, New York-based video and performance artist originally from California. Chan’s work is a dynamic cocktail of spectacle and camp that has heavily contributed to Asian-American media’s discourse on queered masculinities. Through a variety of social networking platforms, I discover that many of my friends and art mentors are also colleagues and friends of Chan. Drinking my beer-based protein shake in the humidity of a Thai winter, bro-mance is the word I think of when pressed to describe my initial response to Chan during our Skype interview.
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Still from Demolition Derby 10 min. 2004
“What I have done in projects, is re-imagine predominantly male spaces (demolition derbies, sport fighting, and strip clubs, for instance) and think how my presence is an intervention in that space.”
Do you train in Thai boxing anymore? I trained seriously for about five years but eventually tapered off when I was in grad school because I couldn’t devote the time it takes to maintain that level. I knew that I could have devoted my life to traveling around the world—training in Muay Thai to become some perfect physical specimen—but I knew that I was an artist first and I needed to spend my energies there. You’ve made work about fighting? I did several projects around fighting culture. I’m attracted to the excitement, energy and mental discipline of the sport. Ultimately there wasn’t an easy way to equate fighting sports with performance art. If you are an artist trying to bring something real and dangerous like fighting into your practice, it’s very difficult to accomplish and ultimately less interesting to create a simulation of a fight, rather than real competition. It made me think a lot about what performance art is, what it can be and the relationship it has to your body.
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Do you feel there is a distinct line between the spectacle of sports and the arts? When I first started going to bouts and competitions, I was just as interested in the social dynamics outside the ring and how the atmosphere could create a specific kind of adrenaline and electricity. I thought about how moments happen in a certain space and time, and how quickly they change. I thought about how sculptural the boxing ring is and the space around it. That’s something I found very interesting in fighting sports: the idea of people creating energy that only exists between physical bodies. Fighting is steeped in its own history, lineage and culture of competition. It’s what the audience wants to see , it’s what makes it an intoxicating live space. Art performance doesn’t always subscribe to the same kinds of goals and that’s what makes it its own unique kind of space to experiment with. Other types of performance naturally prescribe virtuosity: the practice of doing things regular people cannot, the singer with the amazing voice, the basketball player who makes the impossible
Production stills from live performance 2006 Posing as FIghter JJ Chinois for live event Fighting Solves Everything, Leroy Neiman Gallery, New York
shot. But in terms of performance art I think about different goals. I like performance because it makes you aware of the way social dynamics work. It’s just like different ways of thinking about an audience, the way you use your body, usage of time and space or the process and that’s different than what you might see in popular entertainment or culture. Are you saying that spectacle-based entertainment forms have more limited objectives, hindering what is shown to the audience? The objectives can sometimes be different but there’s always a lot to take from competitive spectacle. What I have done in projects, is re-imagine predominantly male spaces (demolition derbies, sport fighting and strip clubs, for instance) and think how my presence is an intervention in that space. I think about what changes expectations or group dynamics. How does my presence make people behave differently than they normally do? Have you ever seen much of the Japanese fights, like the shoto box, full contact, where they do a lot of costuming and theatrics? There is one fighter, Yuichiro “Jienotsu” Nagashima, who comes out in cross-dressing cosplay for his fights. I haven’t seen that exactly but I did get hooked onto Muay Thai because it was a really beautiful sport and was theatrical and so brutally violent at the same time. I’d never seen a ring sport where fighters ritually danced and then fought in time to a live band playing traditional instruments. Amazing! It’s like going to a vogue battle but ritualized as part of someone’s national culture. What are you working on currently? I saw The New Sound Karaoke (www.newsoundkaraoke.com) Can you talk a little bit about that? The New Sound Karaoke is an extension of the identity performance work I’ve been doing, such as my past work with my character JJ Chinois. JJ Chinois was an alter-ego who performed live interventions in public spaces or participatory events. As I got more interested in event-based projects, I was interested in performance more as a social facilitator rather than a central figure.
“ I wanted to create spaces that could hold the same excitement of the competitive event or entertainment space but that would allow people to play different roles.”
I wanted to create spaces that could hold the same excitement of the competitive event or entertainment space but that would allow people to play different roles. I love a space where there can be a blur between who’s performing, who’s participating and who’s watching. This is how the New Sound Karaoke, performance project came to be. I collaborate with artist Bobby Abate and we play a highly tongue-in-cheek barely-hetero married couple, Black Waterfall and Bobby Service. With my Black Waterfall persona, I play the wife in a very strange married couple who went through gay conversion therapy. We have made increasingly strange and cheeky karaoke videos singing about our complicated married lives together and playing with the notions of normalcy. Together we’ve been experimenting with the karaoke genre (I call it “the people’s art form”) because it allows the audience to participate and it also gives us room to experiment with the narrative format of a karaoke video. Our videos also exist online as a way of reaching a wider audience and a different The NATURE OF Environment
subculture of people. Often other people on YouTube or Vimeo contact us who are making their own strange online video art in the basement and sending it out in the world. It’s fascinating. I definitely got caught up in the post-third-wave feminist gender explosion of identity being performative. Would you align yourself with the idea of identity as being completely performative, or that perhaps there is some essential core to it? There probably can’t be some essential core if we all are being good third-wavers, right? I think that identity is much more interesting to be played with and I use that play in my work to create situations that sometimes make me uncomfortable or push my own boundaries. I started doing projects as JJ Chinois because at first I was terrified of the idea of performing in front of people, so I found it easier to perform as an imagined version of myself. But eventually I started to think about experimenting with an identity that is much more challenging to inhabit.
Does it feel like you are exposing yourself by confronting your fears through your performance art, as well as putting out certain ideas of self through your characters? There is a certain level of vulnerability when you do any kind of performing because you put yourself up for scrutiny. On a very basic level you think, “Was I entertaining or boring? Does this work or not?” You put yourself up for judgment. I do get a
New Sound Karaoke, performance and video , 2008-2010 Exhibitions and performances: Monkeytown, Canada Gallery, Art In General, Brick Theatre, Movement Research Festival all NYC)Black Waterfall and Bobby Service (played by Lynne Chan and Bobby Abate) document their married life together self-through written and performed karaoke mash-up videos.
level of confusion from my friends for playing this heterosexual couple-even this twisted version of it. As we’re mocking ourselves in these roles, it questions if this is a weird reinforcement of a tired old institution (marriage). I think it can be all those things and should be complicated.
There is always a desire in me to entertain, or even to please. Early on, I used humor as a way to deflect but it’s also a way to be very vulnerable. When you make light of something that is very important and intimate, it is a way to be vulnerable but also allows someone else in, to respond and maybe even be vulnerable themselves.
It’s often the case that younger queer artists filter a lot of experiences and confusion about identity, or ideas about who they should be and that often becomes great material. Confusion can be a good thing and I think we draw from our personal experiences. Black Waterfall is actually a name I took from my mom, who told me about traveling to Finland when she was young. A man stopped her on the street and told her, “Your hair is so beautiful. It looks like a black waterfall.”
And lastly, if you were in charge of creating the biggest art showdown of all time and had to choose different match ups, what artists, dead or alive, would you like to see go toe-to-toe?
What do you think the role of kitsch is in your work? You talk about it being a twisted playground for these kinds of things. Humor is such an interesting tool. What are your personal feelings about it?
Grace Jones vs. Gelitin Jack Smith vs. Andy Warhol Artur Zmijewski vs. Christian Jankowski The Blow vs. Tracy + the Plastics Sasha Baron Cohen vs. Dynasty Handbag Tom of Finland vs. Toshio Saeki Paul McCarthy vs. Ryan Trecartin The NATURE OF Environment
By Jai Arun Ravine
iii. EXPERimentation a) there have been many experiments done in an effort to marry into one body that which cannot coexist. by force and prolonged will we suture, cut, cross-contaminate. most things continue to live no matter what. in the passive voice whatever explains which the borg, though multi-porous, have a singular goal, namely consumption—omnivorous and pansexual. whatever is aware of the need to borg in order to communicate through a masculine body. whatever straps on penetrative accoutrements, apparati, clocks with dials like compass points. each arousal contains an out, such as an outlet or platelet, which begins to attach itself to weak spaces using the art of distance. in miniature, whatever is protozoan ink blot. magnified, whatever bleeds onto the pasteboard. b) reading from a hypothetical sex party, whatever learns which the borg have no commitment to work anything out. the borg commit to work, to work-outs, to outs. their movements are manual in that weak spaces are torn apart in order to act as hinges, thumbs, cocks. in mimesis, whatever watches them cock their movements into appropriate arrangements, into satisfying intra-actions which contain healthy syntax.
in an interview, whatever is intrigued by the fact which there may be several construction sites: borg (n.), to borg (v.), and borged (adj.). to have been, -ed, and -ing may be added as studs, linking various borg into an as-before-unseen circuitry of self-gratification. whatever sees himself which, sees herself which, sees theirself which, which follows the following thought-memory. whatever, at which site borged, grapples for an -ing which could perhaps offer a satisfying intra-syntactical. whatever sees whatever’s self as being a part of the “we men,” borgs which borg thought-memories into the body, which digest incommunicable parasites into healthy syntax. we men which are intra-sexed and intra-mural. we men which play on the same team. we men which experience sex as juncture, as joint, as generator. whatever is looking for which juncture, which joint, which generator. in such investigations the borg must sometimes peel their bodiless bodies from whatever’s no-one, leaving whatever thus un-borged and bodied at which time when whatever was not borged. the borg un-borg whatever’s buckled, un-buckle whatever’s borged, a nakedness crossexamined, yielding a document much like this one. Illustration by Hanna Gustavsson
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What was your first perfomance like? My first performance as La Chica Boom was about 7 or 8 years ago at a small, hole-in-the-wall theatre in downtown Seattle called, The Jewel Box Theater. I was really nervous about performing, because I wasn’t sure who would be in the audience, perhaps one of my co-workers, somebody I had assisted in my day job as an anti-rape advocate, my ex-girlfriend(s) or one of their exgirlfriends… you get the point. I performed an act with a group of other newbies to “Meeting in the Ladies Room” by Klymaxx. It was hilarious and unabashedly queer! The act was more theatrical than burlesque; it took place in the bathroom where a bunch of femmes used physical theater to show the audience how to pee standing up. Yes! You can actually do that! It’s too complicated to talk about here, but if you see me on the street ask me – I’ll show you! Sin vergüensa! What have you learned from all of your years performing? I have learned that it’s hard to find other neoburlesque performers who are of color! But I think someone said it best (maybe it was my mom) when she said, “Do it yourself, Cabrona!” So I did! In 2007, I produced and directed the debut of Kaleidoscope, An Annual National People of Color Cabaret Weekend in Seattle, and it sold out that year and the following years! Kaleidoscope has blossomed into a very successful show, selling out in Seattle and at the Brava Theater in San Francisco. The show features performers of color in all their glory from Tucson, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, Vancouver B.C., Mexico and Venezuela! It is truly chingón! With the help of many volunteers and financial community support, I am able to fundraise to produce this amazing annual event. This year we were lucky enough to co-host our educational symposium with UC Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender. Academic queer powerhouses of color such as Amira Jarmakani, Jayna Brown, Juana Maria Rodriguez and so many more will be discussing the historical links of minstrelsy, burlesque, and the logics of white supremacy in performance. These are topics that I love and have researched over the years, particularly within my graduate studies. I appreciate everyone coming together to discuss race representation, racism and burlesque, finally! The show also honors performers of color from the past, especially since these burlesque performers of color are often forgotten or ignored by the neo-burlesque movement.
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PHOTO BY JOHNNY CRASH
Know any good cures for nerves? A good cure for nerves is creating easy but helpful mantras. Mine is, “I am the shit and no one, no one can fuck with me!” I proceed to take a swig of your cheap red wine and go forth with my fabulousness. Try it! Your performances have been really varied, from sticking your hand up a donkey pinata’s ass, to drool-inducing burlesque. Do you have a favorite performance? Yes, my performances are varied from burlesque to wacked-out performance art. I fist
PHOTO BY JOHNNY CRASH
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pinatas as the Dominatrix of the Barrio, jack off on tacos made of my own panties, poke fun at anthropologists ‘on safari’ and say fuck you with my “token” act. I also perform classic acts that are fun. My favorite act is my Virgen de Guadalupe act. I impersonate La Virgen de Guadalupe as a cybersex goddess who gives birth to the clitoral orgasm before the audience to prove that she gave birth to something much more important than Jesus. Ya, it’s true, I am weird.... and now I would like to thank my old church (once again), La Iglesia de San Francisco De Asís in El Paso,
Texas. Thank you for making me a wonderfully crazy and absurd queer. Oh, I also love my Tortillera act. Tortillera is a slang term for lesbian used in Mexico. Let’s practice! Chica Boom is a big fat ol’ Tortillera! This act is my big “Fuck You!” to all the people who have ever thought of me in relation to Mexican food. I can’t stand it when people of color are described with ethnic foods! This act allows the audience to see what happens in the back of the restaurant/taco truck when you buy tacos!
PHOTO BY JOHNNY CRASH
As a queer Latina myself, I am always excited to see marimachas owning their sexuality and creativity. Have you connected with similar and supportive communities in the US? Are you interested in finding similar communities in Latin America? I have connected with many amazing people in the US, but my most cherished relationship is the one I have with INCITE! women and trans folks. INCITE! is a national activist organization of radical feminists of color advancing a movement to end violence against women of color and our communities through direct action, critical dialogue and grassroots organizing. I love this national community of radical people of color â€“ they are my family and friends! Please check out www.incite-national.org and donate! I have made friends with some marimachas over in Mexico City, but I have yet to perform with them. Perhaps this year! PHOTO BY JOHNNY CRASH
PHOTO BY ALICE STRIBLING
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Holding the Mirror Up to THE MACHINE By
“ Process moving
Process can be an indefinable state of moving
“ Work be
fabric.” “ Process in
in art, but having a knack for them an artist does not make. I’m sure some will disagree with me, but what the hell. Saying everything can be art is being falsely charitable, albeit trendy. Anything with a process attached to it can be art, but that’s different.
Or can individual thought and its nuances be programmed too?
Process can be a pause, a lapse in the fabric
“ Process the Indians to the man simple work
“ Process work
I wish I could ask it questions, and would if we spoke the same language. We have one thing in common: access to information. If I so desire, I can find out through it, about it and infinite other things.
Process can be a means to an end, simple or complex.
“ Beat the speech and audio of resolve
tricking I my
and a splashing the your two for. Some of
any action, with a special observance, the of
from and and
done whose Laos were,
This is my computer’s abridged rendering of Hamlet’s famous speech from Act 3, as orally dictated by me: the scene in which he instructs a dappled gang of actors in the delivery of his play-within-a-play. For centuries it has been a subject of great interest to students of Shakespeare, and some believe it reflects his own intentions for the interpretation of the work. It is also a spirited meditation on process; I imagine the muse intoning through the Bard intoning through Hamlet, cautioning the artist against lackluster effort and overindulgence alike—of knowing when to stop and when to go forth. I ventured some other thoughts on process.
As I talked into my computer’s microphone, I felt we had entered into a kind of collaboration–which is not to imply that we were cooperating. Though I was “speaking the speech,” the computer had other words in mind, a fickle amanuensis. How intriguing that the vagaries of natural expression should be so indecipherable (or just awkward?) to a machine with this capacity. “ We do understand me if I sounded like you? ”
But what do you desire? “ And
knowledge? ” “Then
“ And the program and she has a desire knowledge? ”
Can we program a machine to desire knowledge? “ 82 %
Would you understand me if I sounded like you? “ Would
knowledge? ” of
“ We did have the same design knowledge? ”
Can we even teach a person to desire knowledge?
Would you understand me if I talked like you? Then again, we were having some happy accidents. I don’t think machines are inanimate objects; no less than a paintbrush or Hamlet’s words that through some vague generosity allow themselves to be used– they are conduits, shuttling energy from one point to another. My computer even seems to have a bit of a personality. Nevertheless, it is a functionally logical entity, not designed for happy accidents: those occur
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“Two B or not to be added that Weston.” “They’ re not to be that is the question.” “To
question.” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””” ”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””” ”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””” ”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””” ”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””” ”””””””””””””””””
Coal poster - close up.
are always Humming with the spirit of
Mesoamerica Poster (in progress)
Interview with Beehive Collective by Paulina McFarland
Where did you get the idea? How did you get started? The collective started as women who were doing hand-cut stone mosaics. A woman had taken on a commission that was too large to do herself – a 300 square foot mural of the IMF / World Bank Protest in DC. That brought the first group of six people together and we realized how awesome it was to do collaborative art. We were off on this track of being a mosaic cooperative and we got the building in which we are in now, this old farmers’ union home that we bought the same year to serve as our studio, living and office space, as well as a gallery/ community art space. In the first few years of the collective, every member had art skills. Some had done movement posters on anti-genetic engineering, biojustice and biodevastation activism in Santa Cruz and Boston and then we got commissioned to do a protest for Québec about the free trade agreement. A few people got together and made a flyer. The goal was not to just make a flyer that was disposable or a placeholder; we wanted to make something that was more like a souvenir and a teaching tool about why people were protesting. Once we had that graphic, the world showed us how much this type of imagery was needed beca-use people loved it and were very
supportive — asking us all these questions about it. We did a second version of this graphic for the Miami 2003 protests and realized how cool it was to distribute these. We made giant banners of this graphic which we hung in the streets, this huge eye -catching thing and people started asking us all these questions about what this means, what does that mean and we started getting up and explaining the artwork and it became a visual art collective that teaches and explains storytelling imagery.
are an anti-copyright collective so we encourage people to reproduce the images. We don’t ask for money, but we do ask that people use them for non-commercial purposes. If you want to use our images on your flyer or in your newspaper at your campus, whatever vision you have, we are cool with people using it because they are viral. The stories that exist within them are not our stories; they are stories that were shared with us around the issues that aren’t ours to own – they are people’s to share.
It’s been evolving in the past ten years. Because of its success and realizing what a powerful tool art can be, this one poster grew into a whole new way of creating graphics. It’s accessible–you don’t need to be able to read it. With globalization, climate change, economic policy — when we try to read about these things— it’s a lot of technical jargon and can be hard to understand. A lot of the folks who were our founders didn’t go to college didn’t graduate high school and didn’t get formal art education. Working on these graphics was a way of learning about these issues that doesn’t require a book on globalization. Everyone can understand pictures they’re it’s not limited by language and they’re not limited by someone’s ability to read. We realized we can mass produce them pretty cheaply. We
We are an all-volunteer collective so none of us get salaries, but if you’re a core full-time bee you get your housing, food, and travel expenses paid for. We are currently working on getting a collective health-care system going.
The Beehive Collective is a collective graphics workshop that creates political posters, graphics and mosaics on subjects of globalization, FTAA, free trade, NAFTA, Plan Colombia, Plan Puebla Panama, Latin American issues, agriculture and biodiversity.
How do you sustain the collective in terms of travel or expenses.? We are self-funded. We’re getting grants now, and we always had a small percentage of people who would give us money, but the main way we support ourselves is that we travel around the whole country giving lectures, teaching about the issues. We go on tour twice a year. When we go to a university, we ask for an honorary fee; we ask for donations and speaker fees, and we’re now writing grants for projects. The NATURE OF Environment
The True Cost of Coal (detail)
Left: Polinizaciones Collaboration Program; Beehive Collective uses their graphics as an educational tool. Right: Beehive collective at work/studio time Following pages: The True Cost of Coal (part of larger image)
right now to create alternatives and to help inspire people who care about this issue. It’s pretty incredible. It’s been designed as an educational outreach tool and it’s an awesome piece of artwork but more than anything it’s a tool for people in and outside of Appalachia to organize and educate around mountain top removal, climate change and coal-related issues. Polinizaciones is a collaboration between the Beehive and various communities, groups and people in Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador & Panama to distribute the hive´s graphic trilogy regarding globalization in America, specifically the FTAA, Plan Colombia & Plan Puebla Panama. In our work with the communities in Colombia and Panamá we will specifically, but not exclusively, use image-based communication tools.
What about this project is the most fun for you, outside of the political context? It’s kind of the worst thing and the best thing, the challenge of living and working together with people. We would not be able to do what we are doing by ourselves; it’s really rewarding and amazing to work with inspired and really committed people who care a lot about what we do. That’s always a source of inspiration and a source of total frustration because working with people is really hard. I think people in this culture are out of practice with how to work so intensively because a collective is a live, work and create collective, 24/7. We live together, we have to “run a business together”, manage money, get posters out there. We also have to make things together, collaborate in every sense of the word and that can be really challenging. We’ve all learned what it is to work with people as a group. Now is the really fun time.
Can you talk about the poster ”True Cost of Coal” which debuted at Allied Media Conference in 2010? We literally published a new poster four days ago which we worked on for two years called “The True Cost of Coal.” It’s about the mountaintop removal coal mining in the Southeastern U.S., focusing on Appalachia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia. It’s also about a lot of other things. When we first got commissioned to make this poster, we thought it was going to be a small and focused image about mountaintop removal mining, but when we did our research trip (all of our projects now involve research trips and rely on first-hand information and exchange and community dialogue with people who are affected), we realized this was a really big story. Coal is the thing that connects us all because 50% of electricity in this country comes from this one mineral and
people’s lives are being affected by the mining and burning of it. Every stage of coal has many issues attached to it, from climate change to environmental justice to total extinction crises in Appalachia. There’s also a rich history of labor resistance around coal that dates back to 1800 and has continued all the way to today, with people fighting for environmental justice in the coal fields. It’s an area of the U.S. that is impoverished, rural Appalachia and it’s really being treated as a sacrifice zone. The mountains are being destroyed and the Appalachian folks who live there and their culture are being treated as worthless in comparison to our national energy policy on which our coal extraction is based. With the poster, we are trying to make the connections for all the folks out there on what mountaintop removal is about, how it’s connected to you. To show what people in Appalachia are doing
Can you talk about the different technical stages and how you create one piece over two years? We start with the idea. How we pick our subject matter is really organic; they always kind of come to us. We’ve had friends who have worked on mountaintop removal justice and they have been asking us to do this and we just had this opportunity that came our way that made it possible. We’ve also been moving in the climate change direction – we talk about lots of climate and fossil fuel-related issues. We started by outreaching to a bunch of different organizations in the area, specifically Mountain Justice, who had asked us for the graphic. They had a lot of community connections to other ground groups who were working on it and we built a four-month research trip where we went and hosted at different community campaign houses throughout Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia and Eastern Tennessee. We spent the whole time trying to reach as many different folks as we could, showing them past work and explaining to them what we were about and hearing their stories, asking questions and letting people show us and The NATURE OF Environment
talk to us about what was going on. The main way we were trying to organize was to take all these words and transfer them into image. The tools that we use for that are mind maps, you know when in third grade you had to make like a bubble map. That tool is how we start organizing information visually on a page and we find the themes that are in all the stories. It’s more of a conceptual mapping of the page before we even start drawing anything. The Beehive does not draw humans in our graphics; the reason is connected to accessibility on the level that we don’t want to limit how people interact with a human figure. If you see humans that don’t look like you than you don’t feel like they’re telling your story. We do it to avoid stereotyping, since we had worked with the international solidarity stuff and in the black and white medium, we don’t want to have to rely on physical features to describe where a person is from. We also do it so we can bridge the gap between humans and the environmental world like social issues and environmental issues. Hopefully by telling these human stories through the lives of plants and animals, we are bringing those two things together. We also highlight the biodiversity in the areas because we use plants and animals that are specific to the region. The whole Appalachia poster high-
lights endangered species in the area and uses animal metaphors to help tell those stories, because nature is rich with metaphors. In one of our graphics we have over 400 different plant species and each ant in the poster is a distinct species and we’ve gotten a little crazy. We have to figure out what species, why we are using it, what does that bring to the work and why are we using all these animals. It’s like a mini ecological teaching tool. As far as how we get all the illustrators to work on one piece of paper... Once the artists, researchers and designers are through with the design, we break up the illustration tasks according to people’s strongest skill sets. One illustrator works on one element throughout the poster rather than you get to do this panel, or you get to do this corner – you draw all the animals and somebody
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“ The stories that exist within them are not our stories; they are stories that were shared with us around the issues that aren’t ours to own - they are people’s to share.”
The True Cost of Coal (detail)
else draws all the plants throughout the entire poster and maybe somebody else shades all the machinery because they are really good at that. We try to play to people’s strengths, build a layered image—more like a comic book—that’s how we get the uniformity because we layer a bunch of skills on every scene. One scene in the poster can have six people working on it. How often do you work? It depends. We haven’t come up with a formula for that because we also do things like touring which interrupts our studio time, so it’s just a continuous ongoing process. When push comes to shove, for illustrators to get this out on time, we’re in the studio pretty much 24 hours a day for a month. How we balance our living, working, creating and accounting time is always a tricky thing. Once the illustration is finished, we get to do the fun process of returning the image back to its roots. We can talk to people about it. We went on the road, got a lot of feedback on the image as it was being made. We have been tour-
ing with it for two years, so we have the oral part of it down. The other piece that we had to work really hard on, for the U.S. Social Forum, was writing the narrative to go along with the poster that people could take home with them. Now that it’s published we want to distribute this to the world. Our goal is to give half the print run back to the organizers who shared stories with us in the first place. Right now we are doing our collaboration print run where we had community groups go in with us on the printing. They are getting a poster for like a dollar and they can use it for their own fund raising purposes. Whatever vision they have for using the tool, they have it. So how are you getting it out now? It’s a few different things. Our normal tour offerings are what we call picture lectures, where we come and bring the graphic. We bring our flip book, which is all these thumbnails of the graphic blown up on large sheets of the material we had printed on and we hang it on a big frame and flip the pages – it’s like a big illustrated book,
except that it’s just thumbnail images, and we can orally tell the story by walking people through the thumbnails. Usually when we tour we have a Power Point presentation. We’ll come into town and do a storytelling of the graphic and we tour with all three of the graphics all of the time. We have multiple sets of reproductions that we tour with all around the country. Now that we have been getting better at it and have done multiple posters, we are starting to offer workshops on collaborative art making, realizing it’s a really hard thing to do. The truth is that we are still learning how to do that ourselves. Are you the only collective that works this way? I don’t think we’re the only collective that does this, but I think that our version of it is very unique. The process of live/work space? I haven’t seen anyone who puts all of the three things together the same way we do. A lot of people have started to bring us in to talk about how we organize. It’s not our most in-demand thing, but a lot of people are very curious, especially art The NATURE OF Environment
The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) - This graphic representation of the FTAA illustrates the consequences of this plan, and exposes its threat to the well-being of all forms of life throughout the Americas. This image is a map of the interconnections related to corporate globalization, and a celebration of global resistance to big and bad ideas!
students and art schools, about how we exist because we don’t follow the realm of all those artists—we define ourselves outside of the gallery—we exist in the street, on the sides of buildings and in the classroom. That’s where our work is shown and shared with people. Also the fact that we are self-supporting and giving our artwork away for donation and making it anti-copyright is really unique. People are interested in how this all works out for us and we’ve been trying to figure how to explain it to people. Every presentation involves a little bit of who the bees are and how we work but we’ve been starting to offer more in-depth little presentations or conversations about how we work. What do you want to see in terms of changes in the art world? What are your issues with it? Why be in an art collective if every single person could be pursuing a solo career? I think every different person in the collective would have a very different answer for that. Our general tagline for it is that we try to “dismantle” the artist’s ego. We have a few people in the collective who tried to go to art school and they were really turned off by it and dropped out. We try to make it not about one person or one person’s art; that’s when the collaboration part comes in and that’s also why all our work is anonymous. We don’t sign our work as individual illustrators. I don’t like how the art with the capital A is exclusive and people get really intimidated about making art thinking that if they don’t draw than they are not artists. There are people in our collective who don’t draw but that doesn’t mean they are not artists. There are all sorts of different ways of creating. What is awesome about doing these collaborative images. The exerience can bring together a talented graphic artist with someone who’s great at story-telling
and those two people can work together to create an amazing piece of art. It’s like taking it out of the one-person’s-skill model allows us to open up a definition of art-making to a bunch of people who find their own power through that. As we are starting to move into the realm of teaching folks about our methodology–we try to make people feel empowered in that way. It’s weird because our stuff looks so polished and it’s all the way done but it’s really intimidating for us. We’ve had some failure trying to teach that, because someone will say we can never draw as well as you and we say none of us can do it that well either, it’s all of us together that make it work, so that’s kind of my spin on it. I didn’t go to art school, so I’m not the best one in the collective to speak to it, but we’re about accessibility of art and about people not having to go to galleries to see art. Its about art being in your life all the time and being meaningful. We try to create rich stories and complicated graphics that really make you think. Something that lives on the street, that you can put in the park and walk around and interact with, see and think about. Those are the things we try to define ourselves by. Do you have an idea where you go next? Not yet. We have another project we have been working on for a very long time. It’s a poster about a giant infrastructure project that’s happening in Central America called Plan Mesoamerica. It’s a huge disruption; it’s going to transform Central America. We’ve been working on it for six years because it’s an incredibly complicated image and story. I joke and say it’s our PhD. It’s about globalization and about what’s happening to the world. It’s about very detailed understandings of the world bank and economic policies and militarization. It’s a two-sided image that opens up
to a giant rectangle. This is the one that we’ve gone totally overboard with the ecological stuff – every species is something different, everything is biologically correct. It’s going to be amazing when it’s finished. As far as where we are going, one goal we have is that we still want to be doing these giant epic illustrations but they take two to six years. We are going to start practicing doing some smaller but just as interesting graphics, so that if we want to start doing something on fossil fuel extraction around the world, we can come up with different sizes of graphics and projects so they don’t have to be so encompassing and we can have a quicker turnaround. Resource extraction has been a constant theme with the work thus far, and oil, energy and climate change. We want to come up with strong stories of resistance because there have been so many lately. We want to continue creating empowering images while talking about hard things. The collective’s mission statement is to crosspollinate the grassroots by sharing stuff back and forth. We want to make the posters really accessible educational materials, get them into classrooms and be working with teachers. We have a whole dream of making a packet that goes with the poster that includes workshop ideas and a species guide, flora guide, and building a community with radical educators in the entire United States. How can we get involved? The collective has lots of ways for people to get involved. You don’t have to be an artist; we need all sorts of people with all sorts of skills. The collective is multi-tiered. We have about six fulltime core bees and then we have part-time bees who live in different cities and do education work
“ We’re about accessibility of art and about people not having to go to galleries to see art, but about it being in your life all the time and being meaningful. We try to create rich stories and complicated graphics that really make you think.” in their own areas who help us out in different ways. Sometimes they do illustration work and come up with smaller graphics for us. There is the opportunity to get involved with the collective through distance, and we also have a bunch of ways to volunteer. We offer trainings and work parties in Maine, where people can come and in August we will have an open window of time for people to visit us. We are going to be training people to use the graphics and talking about the process and about the Beehive. People are more than welcome to come and visit and participate in that and then go back to their home cities. We try to be accessible and have a lot of people feel like they are a part of the project. If people are interested in having us come to their city to talk, we book tours twice a year — Fall and Spring—and they can book us on our website beehivecollective.org. So have us come and cross-pollinate!
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Mesoamerica Poster (detail)
Cheryl Leonard is a composer, performer and sculptor whose investigations have taken her all over the world, from the eucalyptus-covered hills of northern California, to the pages of Tang Dynasty Chinese wilderness poetry, to research stations in Antarctica. She writes and records music, performs solo and with ensembles and builds instruments of her own design from materials found in her travels. Â
BY HANNAH MAE BLAIR illustration: shannon may
Crevasse recording Cheryl getting ready to record in a crevasse on the Marr Ice Â Piedmont, Anvers Island, Antarctica, 2009 Photo by: Oona Stern
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Limpet Spine Instrument Antarctic limpet shells and driftwood, 2009 19” x 3” x 8” Photo by: CHERYL LEONARD
“Once in a while the inherent voices in a certain material or instrument are so unique vibrant or evocative that they suggest or even dictate what the structure or conceptual content of the music should be.” Your work operates at a lot of different levels — as sound, as sculpture, as exploration of natural phenomena, sometimes even as commentary on literature. How do you begin working on a new piece?
Most often I develop work from a concept and from the materials simultaneously and the process of composing becomes a delicate ongoing negotiation between these two methods. When I started working on my Antarctic compositions I had a list of themes/subjects I wanted to make pieces about. I also had a large collection of field recordings and a box full of penguin bones, limpet shells and stones from Antarctica that I wanted to build instruments with. Most of these compositions (and indeed a great many of my works in general) began with an enthusiasm about specific sounds. For me this is essential, because I really have to fall in love with the sounds themselves in order to want to invest enough time and attention to develop a piece out of them. At the same time I am also considering what the piece is about conceptually. For one composition I was excited about the clinking and thumping of underwater brash ice and the incredibly similar sounds that
I was producing with my Antarctic shells, stones and bones. I decided this would be a piece about the melting of glacial and sea ice along the Western Antarctic Peninsula. As the ice recedes, more and more underlying stone is revealed and Adélie penguins colonies increasingly struggle to survive (you may have noticed that I really like there to be connections between a work’s sound sources and theme). Even if this conceptual underpinning will never be revealed to an audience and it’s likely to change as I write the piece, I really like to start out having one. Next I build instruments and spend a period of time experimenting with the materials/ objects to uncover new sounds and find the right ones for the work. This can be the most fun part of composing, as I challenge myself to come up with new ways to play the instruments in the hope of finding voices that I have never heard before. I love the mad scientist aspect of this stage. Then I start the complex process of fitting the sounds into a structure/evolving a structure from the sounds. Sometimes when I begin by attempting to place sounds within a detailed preconceived conceptual form, I find that the instruments or sounds want to lead else-
where. I have learned it’s best not to force them into my artificial shape. If I can let go of my prefab constructs and follow the music where it is already heading I usually end up with a stronger piece of music. I do still love concocting intricate forms and trying to follow grand concepts. I think I’ve just learned to be a little more flexible in how I realize them. Once in a while the inherent voices in a certain material or instrument are so unique, vibrant or evocative that they suggest or even dictate what the structure or conceptual content of the music should be. These are exciting moments, when as a composer you can almost stand back and let the piece write itself. Quite a few of your pieces involve collaboration. What’ is your collaborative process like? Fruitful of difficult?
Two or more brains are often better at solving a problem than one and I believe this is true in art, as well as in many other aspects of life. Of course, finding the right individuals is absolutely crucial. There have been times when I tried to collaborate with the wrong people and these were some of the
most awful, frustrating and unproductive experiences I’ve had.
How much is improvisation and change a part of your process?
On the other hand, when a collaboration is going well, it’s incredibly inspiring and fun. I love that my collaborators’ ideas push my brain in new directions, how our individual enthusiasm for the project can multiply as we work together and how the end result of a solid collaboration is work that none of us could have dreamed up or realized alone.
Improvisation and change are integral to my process. Sometimes, as a composer/artist/ individual who likes to control things it’s hard to accept the ramifications of this but I have tried to embrace them more.
One of my favorite collaborations is with the musicians in my ensemble who play my scored compositions for natural-object instruments. My preferred way of beginning to work with new instruments is to have musicians come over to the studio and just improvise. Because I built the instruments and maybe already have some fixed notions about how to play them, this is invaluable. It’s exciting to hear the sounds and playing techniques that my musicians uncover. I end up including many of these player-generated sounds in my compositions. The NATURE OF Environment
Most of my compositions are scored out to some degree, so the overall structure is fixed and doesn’t change over time. Some pieces are notated with a lot of anal retentive detail and others include sections in which the performers are free to improvise within certain parameters. For example, I often specify the instrument, playing technique, mood and type of musical gesture, leaving details of timing, inflection and interaction between parts up to the performer. When one plays music on things like pine cones, penguin bones and driftwood the fine details of a piece will always be different in each performance. This is true really of all instruments, even conventional ones, but it’s more
Left: CPinebranch Cheryl bows an amplified pine branch in “Instruments on Trees”, 2004 Photo by: Kelly Kirshtner Right top: Kelp horns (aka “Whatthe fuckaphones”) for “Rookerie” Dried bull whip kelp 2010 24” x 6” x 3” each (varies) Photo: Cheryl leonard Right Bottom Bone Slug Adélie penguin bones, driftwood and hydrophone 2009 8” x 5” x 3” Photo: Cheryl leonard
GEOLOGY TERMS Adfreeze to adhere through freezing or ice Brash Ice small (< 2m) pieces of broken floating sea ice Calving the process by which an iceberg breaks off from a glacier Cryoturbation the movement of materials in permafrost soils Ice Wedge an ice-filled crack in the ground formed and expanded by cycles of freeze and thaw Nivation the processes which occur under a snowfield: erosion, meltwater flow, snow compaction and glacier formation, among others Pingo a hill of ice covered by earth
pronounced when dealing with less cultured, raw objects. There’s just more chaos involved. That’s a good thing though, because those juicy morsels of chaos are often what generate the most interesting voices, phrases or slight turn of a melody. They keep the music alive and fresh. Your artist’s statement mentions...“fully exploiting the confines you are given.” What confines you?
Time and habits. I have always been interested in many things and hate having to choose! I’d love to have time to study Chinese landscape painting again, become a geologist, explore Patagonia, pursue random spontaneous artistic whims, take more classes in Mandarin, learn to edit video properly and study deep sea hydrothermal vents. But just like most folks, I constantly have to make tough executive decisions about how to allocate my precious time. I’ve also been thinking lately about consciously breaking habits. I want my life to be always changing and hopefully evolving, so I think it’s important not to get stuck in too many ruts! What’s your recording equipment? Have you ever run across a sound too subtle or far away or elusive to be captured on tape?
I use condenser mics, contact mics and hydrophones (both underwater, buried in things like mud and dirt, and as contact mics) to capture sounds. In the studio I record and edit in Pro Tools and Peak Pro. For remote places I have several field recorders including a Sound Devices 702, Fostex FR2-LE and Edirol R-09HR. There are many sounds that I have been drawn to but have been unable to record properly be-
cause they are just too quiet or background noise obscures them. On the plus side, sometimes my memory of an elusive sound has served as inspiration for a piece. I can try to recreate the lost sound and let that process grow into new sounds and forms. In one of my recordings of a melting Antarctic glacier I heard the melodic and rhythmic patterns of the drips as almost a gamelan piece. The recording was unusable but I have developed a piece based on this idea that we perform live with icicles that drip into scientific glassware. Your instruments are beautiful sculptures as well as being sound-making implements (which puts you in the lineage of thousands of years of painted drums, curlicue harpsichords, animal-headed flutes.) What’s the most elaborate/complicated/difficult instrument you’ve ever made?
The Underwater Flying Machine. This was the cockpit of an imaginary underwater exploration vessel. The idea was to have instrument panels that controlled an array of fountains, water drippers and air bubbles that all produced sounds. Audience members would then turn knobs and switches and make music for an undersea journey. There was also a fish tank with sensors underneath. As goldfish swam around inside, their movements would influence or trigger events and sounds. I built this incredibly complicated structure (which never was fully functional but still did some of the cool things I had imagined), shipped it to New York City and then had to set it up outside and exhibit during an afternoon of intermittent thunderstorms. Probably it was the most dangerous instrument I’ve constructed — it was a miracle that no one was electrocuted!
JacobsIs Cheryl shooting video on top of Jacob’s Island, Antarctica,2009 Photo by: Oona Stern CAntUWmic Cheryl sends a hydrophone overboard to record brash ice near Palmer Station, Antarctica 2009 Photo by: Oona Stern
More recently I built the Antarctic Limpet Spine instrument, which required a lot of detailed woodworking. A fair amount of blood was spilled as I refined my self-taught woodcarving skills during its construction. You spent time on a residency in Antarctica, which, pardon me, is just so fucking cool.
I love wild places, snow, ice, glaciers and mountains — places where few people tread. How could I not want to go to Antarctica?! I was surprised and delighted by how noisy and full of life the Antarctic Peninsula was in the austral summer, the endless variation in the sounds brash ice produced, how often the Marr Glacier calved thunderously into Arthur Harbor, how some icebergs sound like giant popping rice crispies, the funny gurgly squawks a baby giant petrel makes, how fast an Antarctic fur seal can run on land (faster than a human), penguin beach dialogues, the willingness of station staff to help with my project, the power and grace of leopard seals, how scary it could be to have a skua dive-bombing your head, and so much more. It was unexpectedly difficult to get away from human-made sounds. The station’s diesel-powered generator, machinery noises from people working at the station and the engines of Zodiacs driving around all carried quite far across the ice and water. Your work has deep connections to your environment, and you’ve had residencies in New York, Germany and all over California in addition to Antarctica. Is your ideal artistic life nomadic, settled or something in between? Do you read up on your destinations beforehand, or do you like to explore from a state of unknowing?
New locations are almost always very exciting and inspiring to me. I definitely like to have a home base, but ideally I like to do a couple of significant (at least month-long) residencies or exploratory trips to remote places each year. I enjoy researching the history, culture, ecosystems, geology of a place before I arrive and I make sure I have all the equipment and supplies for the project/adventure. What I need most for my work is a quiet environment. Sadly that’s harder and harder to come by at home in the city. It’s very difficult to focus on the details of a quiet, intricate sound when there is sawing and drilling going on outside or the downstairs neighbors are having a party. I dream of someday having a soundproof studio but in the meantime I am stuck using close-ear headphones, recording in my clothes closet (a.k.a. the almost-anisobooth) and praying there will be no more neighborhood construction projects. Your materials are almost all nature-derived. Have you ever gathered materials/ sounds in urban environments, or worked with artificial materials? The NATURE OF Environment
I have worked with found man-made objects in the past. Before I began focusing on natural sounds and materials I played with things like metal box springs, pieces of steel junk and recordings of car engines. That was fun and noisy in a good way but over time I found that I was just more fascinated by organic materials and subtle sounds. Aorta’s politics are unabashedly feminist. I was pretty excited to see that you’ve studied with legendary performance artist Carolee Schneemann, among others. We’d love to imagine that there’s some kind of lineage there, that Schneemann et al were your conceptual fairy godmothers in some way (or maybe we just wish Carolee Schneemann was our fairy godmother). Have any of your teachers been crucial in shaping your artistic approaches?
There were several teachers that I would say deeply influenced me. First there was my beginning music composition teacher, Alan Bonde, who taught at Mount Holyoke College. I still remember our very first assignment: “Go home and write anything, in any style, for any instrument. Bring it next time and we’ll talk about it.” For me this was the perfect way to start composing. I was never interested in learning to write someone else’s music. I wanted the freedom to find my own music, and this is one gift that Mr. Bonde gave me. By including walks around the lake, visits to the campus art gallery, and demonstrations of his compositions for the pipa (a Chinese instrument) in our lessons, he also illustrated to me how music could intertwine with other art forms, other cultures, and the environment. Later at Mills I had a blast studying with [composer and musician] Alvin Curran and [artist and art historian] Moira Roth. They were both really strong examples to me of how to live an artistic life. I was amazed by how rampantly creative they were. I found Alvin’s anarchistic philosophies inspiring and loved his aesthetic sense of timbre and tone. On the one hand he is never afraid to combine outrageously diverse sound sources, which somehow end up making sense together yet he is equally adept at sculpting a hauntingly beautiful but not overdone, melody. Moira Roth’s class inspired me to think more about how I could combine performance art practices with my music. I also worked as her assistant for a little while and it was then that I realized what a creative force she is. She introduced me to many female visual and performance artists that I hadn’t encountered in my musical education and she was also engaged in seemingly countless creative writing and performance projects of her own – poetic correspondences, conceptual dinner parties and so forth, projects that were examples to me of how one might truly integrate art and life.
What’s your next big project?
Next fall I’m headed north to the Arctic to realize a collaboration with Oona Stern, the other artist who was at Palmer Station in Antarctica when I was there. Together we will be exploring the island of Spitsbergen, which is located in the Arctic Ocean north of Norway. Adfreeze Project will be a series of artworks that combine sound and form to respond to locale, exploring both natural conditions and the physical and cultural history of land and sea. Oona and I will develop a new piece based on each day’s location. Of special focus will be natural patterns, evidence of changes in ecological systems and other environmental events. Works will be inspired by things like: geological patterns such as ice wedges, cryoturbation, nivation, ancient shorelines, pingos and glacial markings on bedrock; animal trails, scat, footprints and vegetative patterns; sea ice, glacial ice and snow. You can follow our work as it develops at: www.adfreezeproject.com.
margaret harrison/ original pervert
How did these controversial bodies make their way back? Why now? I did an earlier show with Intersection for the Arts called ‘Beautiful, Ugly, Violence’ that came about partly because of my older daughter who had said, “Mom you should do something on women and violence again; it’s needed.” I said, “I don’t want it to be about victims this time, and I want to have a male voice in it and I want to show that something can be done.” I was introduced to two people who were a part of this program called Man Alive. It’s a program for men who are in prison but who want to end the cycle of violence. Melissa Joe Kelly, who works on harassment in the workplace, volunteered to have a group conversation with these men. She excels at drawing out issues people are dealing with. She recorded and transcribed the conversations for me and I made selections from the text I thought were the most pertinent. I drew and painted related domestic items in watercolor so they looked kind of pretty. I called it ‘Beautiful, Ugly, Violence’ because of this notion that a lot of things are hidden by beauty. I also did paintings of objects like hammers, kettles and telephones painted beautifully, but placed on silk or exotic cloths as metaphors for hidden notions of violence. At some point, Kevin B. Chen [Curator at Intersection for the Arts] and I discussed what I would do next. I showed him the drawings from the WACK! show, and he convinced me that the right time had come. When you look at the past, present and future of your own body of work what do you see as being success, failure, or accomplishment? I don’t really think about my work in those terms. Failure can be success. That’s what I think about some of the work in the show upstairs in the Intersection gallery. Initially, in terms of a show, my London exhibition that was shut down was a failure. For many years, the work from that show never saw the light of day. The experience did cause me to consider the notion, if people can’t understand this right now, what do I need to do? What do I need to look at? I did not want to be an artist for a few years. I wanted to find out what I was looking at.
Interview by Chrystal Powell and Paulina MacFarland
Margaret Harrison paved the way for feminist artists with her perverse and bawdy works, reminiscent of 20th century comic books. She fashioned Captain America with bulging breasts, stockings and pumps long before ‘gender bending’ was a widely used term, before ideas of ‘fixed identities’ were deeply examined, and apparently before the world could handle it. It wasn’t the lewd and perceivably objectifying imagery of nude women that caused the controversy–it was the images of altered men that caused the London police to shut down Margaret Harrison’s first solo exhibition the day after it opened in 1971. At San Francisco’s Intersection for the Arts, Harrison unveiled this body of work for the first time since the 70’s, in conjunction with new works exploring the same embedded themes: the body as an object of sexuality, consumption and gaze. It was the honor of a few Aorta members to sit down with Margaret at Intersection and talk with her about being a feminist, confronting censorship and engaging in politics in and out of the art world.
captain america 2, 1997
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When did your art-making become political? Not while I was in college. I think it happened as I became aware of my position as a woman artist. I didn’t encounter sexism until I got a job in an educational institution. I was the only woman out of my year to get a job in an art school. It was called Manchester School of Art at the time and I was the first and only woman to be brought into the art department as a professor. One night there was a party and one lecturer had a bit too much to drink and opened up a bit. I said, “What’s going on here? I’m about to leave, I hate it here.” He said, “Didn’t you realize that you were the only woman in the department and we all opposed it?” I stayed on for two years, just to make sure they knew they didn’t freeze me out. It’s difficult to be a pioneer. Sometimes you don’t reap the benefits. You plow the furrow and not everyone is in on it. Sometimes you are cut out of the picture and you kind of go, “Uhmm...” But I think that artists can change things with their art practice. They need to be a part of the debate, because if you don’t deal with it, it will deal with you.
“I think that artists can change things with their art practice. They need to be a part of the debate, because if you don’t deal with it, it will deal with you.”
left to right top: 2 princesses 2 hands, diego velazques painting, david walliams and batman, 2009 captain america, 1971-1997 ejacular, 2007 the little woman at home, 1971-2010 left bottom: margaret harrison at moca, los angeles, 2007
You and Lucy Lippard have had a longstanding public dialogue over the years. How did this relationship initially develop? I met Lucy at an installation show in the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin. They put a huge amount of money into the women’s show and I made a piece especially for the show called ‘Anonymous Was the Woman.’ In it was a line of portraits of talented women, from Rosa Luxemburg to Janis Joplin. When I was researching their lives I noticed that even though a lot of them succeeded, they all had been crushed in some way. Janice died through drug overdose and then there was Marilyn and so many others whose mysteries we haven’t ever gotten to the bottom of. There was Eleanor Marx who drank prussic acid and killed herself, and Bessie Smith who died outside of a whites only hospital because they wouldn’t treat her. No one would treat her. Lucy was speaking at the show and someone from the audience asked the organizers why there were no artists in the show who THE NATURE OF ENVIRONMENT
had any political leanings. She picked out mine, which was actually the only one. What the curators tried to do was not upset the apple cart, not be too fierce. They wanted to show that women were just as good painters as men and that they actually had the same skills. Lucy picked my work out when she was asked that question, and sort of praised it. We met afterwards and became friends. We had a dialogue going about East Coast women and ourselves in London which continued well into the 90’s. Did you find the U.S. and U.K. feminists to be in coalition? I think within the U.S. there were splits because there had been a crash in the art market at the end of the 60’s, which just happened to be when the Women’s Movement came into being. We felt a lot of similarity with the New York women, but when we started to get to know other groups we realized we didn’t see things the same way. It was what Lucy called a “pie to be had.” They wanted to be more recognized in museums and make
“ You are told a lot that you are an individual, but you can only be one if you operate together; only then do you have a chance of survival.”
money at private galleries. Our private galleries didn’t do anything, so we said we might just as well do what we want. Some West Coast artists dealt with rape and other issues, but then there was the feeling that they wanted to be more like men. We were stupid and we said that if we can’t change the pie, then we don’t want a part of it. We were very starry-eyed, thought we could change the world. We thought, we don’t want to be on the end of things, decorating things. We want to be amongst everything as a part of everything. In the art world, do you recognize any huge changes that have taken place in relationship to the radicalism of the 70’s? Do you consider present times to be radical enough? It’s difficult to untangle and to see who the enemies are. I think there definitely needs to be more activity, not just keeping yourselves in the fringe areas. To have something that enters the mainstream is very important. Alternative spaces where people can go are very important. There is also a need for artists to be a part of the structure. What was interesting for us, was that the official trade unions took us seriously. At one point we thought we can’t survive on our own. Every union courted us. They all came up to us and told us why we should be a part of their union. Some people have this idea that in the post feminist era, there aren’t inequities anymore. Do you see this relate to your art practice? I did that investigation in the 90s. I looked at how attitudes operated in universities among students. For example, although all of them said “We’re all for equal pay,” they wouldn’t call themselves feminists, because of the negative associations. They did not want to be called other names, so it’s a kind of underlining invisible thing. You don’t want to step out of the line on your own, there needs to be the kind of energy that was present when Obama was elected. All those small groups and collective action. You are told a lot that you are an individual, but you can only be one if you operate together; only then do you have a chance of survival.
LEFT: THE HEALTHIER CHOICE, 2007 RIGHT: HEROES 1, WHAT’S THAT LONG RED LIMP WRINKLY THING YOU’RE PULLING ON, 2009
Is it important to create and maintain separatist groups? I think they are needed at certain times because you have to discuss things without feeling threatened. That’s what the women’s workshop at the artists union did for us. We discussed things freely. That kind of space gives you confidence to articulate. There is a notion that artists shouldn’t speak, but I think you need to have that voice. Whether it is art and culture, political change, or art and social change, if you have a group of like minded people you can try ideas out. You can find a way to articulate what you are actually about and articulate it in a center of power. I think it is actually important; the survival of the artists is totally key to the whole society. The NATURE OF Environment
by Mia Nakano Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik constructs her work from everyday objects that might be found on shelves in the grocery store, local markets, or beauty suppliers. She interweaves cultural and political stories with multi-sensory elements, drawing viewers into immersive and sensory experiences and then inviting them to stay to contemplate deeper contextual matters. Her pieces have ranged in presentation from large sculptures leafed in chocolate wrappers, to intricate patterns of curry powder and sugar, dusted onto pavement. Bhaumik lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and walks through the world armed with spices, an unfathomable amount of culinary trivia, and with the perspective of a Japanese, Indian, Columbian, American woman. One of the most essential components of your work, seems to be the cultural and political histories you reference. Can you tell me about your background? I had specific moments in life that made me realize other people didn’t have the same understanding I had of myself. My mom thought it was amusing to dress me up in a kimono for Halloween. Like, “Oh what are you? Oh, I’m a teepee, I’m a jacko-lantern, I’m Japanese.” I went to school and this woman said, “How cute, you’re pretending to be Japanese for the day.” Even at six years old, I thought there was something massively wrong with the fact that she didn’t understand I was Japanese and I wasn’t just performing. It wasn’t until much later I fully realized I was performing my identity to garnish treats from the neighbors. How did racial identity continue to play out with you in the context of having grown up in a middle class environment? How have those experiences influenced you as an artist and activist? The environment I grew up in was very
liberal, though I would not call it progressive. In the early 80’s, there were lots of mixed kids in the private schools I went to and that was normal to me. I didn’t get that attending a private Montessori school was a marker of class. There was also this multi-culti idealism, a common ground for parents who were in mixed race relationships and who had mixed kids when it was just starting to become more common. There was a lot of posturing on my parents’ part to belong to that community. As immigrants who came from well-off families, my parents didn’t throw potlucks. That was seen as embarrassing–you don’t ask guests to show up with their own food. It becomes a point of pride, because that’s how you know what hospitality is, that’s how you know how to welcome people to your house. The sort of American middle class ideals of the white picket fence and everyone coming over to share food or having a big potluck or picnic is horrifying to my parents. You’d rather go broke, than tell somebody you couldn’t feed them. Your work is all about process. Once you unwrapped a zillion Rollo wrappers
to cover a huge cannon. How did the idea to create silk-screened prints using cosmetics come about? After my undergrad, I took a screenprinting class in community college and became totally obsessed. At that point, I had been working with mostly photography and some sculpture, but I considered myself to be a photographer. Now I had a medium to take stuff and put it onto other surfaces. I discovered an artist who was making food-based prints using spinach on paper and chocolate on paper. This made me ask, “What if I bypassed the other processes and actually used the materials themselves?” which was much more interesting to me. That’s where it started, creating screen-printed images of faces using actual cosmetics. My original plan was to match women’s skin color to make-up color. I realized in the process that certain colors are not sold in certain neighborhoods. I was in Southern California driving around to drug stores to buy all these different types of make-up and certain neighborhoods wouldn’t have “light” and other neighborhoods wouldn’t have “dark”. What stores stock is determined by
MCDXCII Chocolate wrappers, sugar, curry powder, and acquired objects 51”x31”x21” 2010
The NATURE OF Environment
Gilt Eau de toilette .5 oz 2010
To Curry Favor 2010 Spice dinner with chef Preeti Mistri and Juliet Mae Spices at 18 Reasons
A gourmand fragrance with notes of honey and curry powder.
Organic cotton tablecloth and napkins dyed with curry powder
market research and target demographics. That became a huge part of the piece to me, where I could get what and the names they called them. Some of them were called “Sunset” and “Ivory.” What’s ivory? Ivory is another name for white. Specifically, the cosmetic industry's name for white. Of course, there’s “Chocolate” too. And "Ebony." After you started working with the make-up, how did you transition into your use of food-related items, like your prints made with spice and lace? Well, it’s always been about materials – cultural signifiers and cultural history of the
materials. The same kind of research I’m fascinated by when it comes to make-up or something like curry powder. I become obsessed with motivations, for example, when a person won’t rent their house out to somebody who’s Indian because they think they smell like curry. This keeps me invested in the materials. As an artist, a teacher, a student and a community activist, what sort of messages or stories do you want to convey with your current mediums? I’m at a crossroads in my work and it’s partially because I’m in grad school, where everyone constantly questions their own practice. One of my fears has been making my
work too personal. The materials are specific to my own experience and personal in that way, but I’ve always kept a distance. A part of that is because I’m afraid of being pigeon-holed or ghettoized as an artist of color, as a mixed artist, as an Asian American artist, as whatever sort of label artist. I’m trying to have faith in myself that my own story is so nuanced that it will resist that categorization. I have a pretty long paragraph when it comes to describing myself. I can’t even be Chino-Latino; I’m really Chino-Latino Indian, and I’m not even Chino. Explaining and accounting for that becomes complicated. We’re not taught or encouraged to talk about ourselves in complicated ways. Even in progressive
" I'm afraid of being pigeon-holed or ghettoized as an artist of color, as a mixed artist, as an Asian American artist, as whatever sort of label artist. I'm trying to have faith in myself that my own story is so nuanced that it will resist that categorization." The NATURE OF Environment
left to right top large: To Curry Favor Installation view of “To Curry Favor” at 18 Reasons in March 2010 Dust 2010 Archival pigment print 16”x20” Curry powder and sugar on pavement Small left: Dust 2010 Archival pigment print 16”x20” Curry powder and sugar on pavement
" I have a pretty long paragraph when it comes to describing myself. I can't even be Chino-Latino; I'm really Chino-Latino Indian, and I'm not even Chino. Explaining and accounting for that becomes complicated. We're not taught or encouraged to talk about ourselves in these complicated ways. Even in progressive communities, we're taught to simplify ourselves." communities we’re taught to simplify ourselves. Whether or not I identify as an Asian American person or whatever person, those are all reductions. We all know that and it’s important for community building and coalition building. What I want to do in the next phase of my work is to integrate my own personal narrative.
This all has to do with ethnicity and race, and doesn't even touch on sexuality and gender... All of us are that complicated. No one is ever “just” something. Everyone has this complex history, but I think it’s tricky. I think all of us have had these experiences where we put our toe in the water and then
retract based on the feedback that we get. I mean, sometimes you’re encouraged to just dive right in, but other times you get reactions from people that you just don’t know where to put. Tell me about your penchant for small things and everyday objects. What's with all the small stuff?
One of my thoughts about miniatures is they give you a god’s eye view. If something is so large that it dwarfs you, you have a feeling of awe or powerlessness. You don’t really have an idea of what’s going on. If it’s small, then it’s encapsulated in its own little world and it changes the dynamic completely. I’m not interested in being dwarfed. There’s also a long history of making miniatures and I’ve always been interested in things of the home. One of my favorite things to do when I travel is find and collect miniatures. I found a lot of objects at the checkout aisle in the Japanese grocery store or in Colombia where they have rows of buckets filled with thousands of tiny oranges, brooms, or toilets. It’s like a miniature Home Depot for housewives that build little knickknack shelves. I often hear you joke about the useless trivia that you have in your head. The NATURE OF Environment
Give me one of your favorite food or art factoids. All the things we love to eat are products of the New World. People forget that Italian tomatoes, chocolate (Swiss, German, whatever kind of chocolate), Irish potatoes and chili (where would curry be without chili?) came from…the Americas. South, Central, Meso America, whatever you want to call them, all have this huge culinary contribution to the world. I think it’s fascinating that we have such an amnesia about where these ingredients came from. They were so easily adopted and co-opted into so many different cultures and cuisines and we assume they originated from these other places. What's your absolute favorite thing to eat. This is going to require you to focus and pigeonhole yourself. I’ll get out of this question by saying this: When I was in Nepal, I realized that American’s don’t eat like any other people
in the entire universe. We’re used to eating something different every single day of the week. Can you imagine someone in Mexico saying, “Oh, I had Mexican for lunch today”? No, that’s not gonna fly. This is the most American part of me. I’m used to eating—well first of all I’m used to eating, period—a different type of food every single day of the week, usually twice a day. Not all the time, because I do get in obsessive phases where I’ll cook the same thing over and over again until I get it right. But, the variety is significantly more astonishing when I travel. What are five words you would choose to describe your artwork in each timeframe, past, present, and what you think you'd be doing in the future. Tasty!
“SLEEPER CELL HOTEL “ Drawing on paper, 2010
eco terrorists de Young Museum, San Francisco, 2010
suzanne husky by Shawn Tamaribuchi After reviewing your biography and works such as “Sleeper Cell” and “What We Take and What We Leave,” I am interested in hearing more about the relationship you hold between farming and fighting, some of the personal experiences you have had while traveling, and how those impact your work? “Sleeper Cell” and “What We Take and What We Leave” respond to U.S. media and its agenda. “What We Take And What We Leave” combines Persian plants that are common in our landscapes (that we have imported throughout time) with images from a short lived website (www.nowthatsfuckedup.com) which emerged at the beginning of the Iraq War and exhibited gruesome images of casualties from the war. I was interested in highlighting different forms of relationships with a foreign land.
The botanist explores and brings out the beauty of
arranged signal, to perform acts of espionage,
a foreign land, (e.g. irises, tulips) and introduces it
sabotage or terrorism.
to the rest of the world, representing one human attitude. The soldier kills and trades freshly killed and rotting images of blown up Iraqis for porn images via the internet (that was how nowthatsfuckedup.com worked).
“The Sleeper Cell Hotel” is a series of tiny structures travelers could sleep in. I chose the title because this project would cater to traveling environmental activist and others who don’t want to participate in the environmental footprint of a
To this day, the extremely violent war images from
generic hotel. This hotel would have an outhouse,
Iraq are censored from mainstream U.S. media. I
a community garden, be made out of scavenged
studied the history of U.S. media, and the evolu-
wood and be free. I’m currently pitching the proj-
tion of the representation of war throughout the
ect for grants.
century. Themes like the perpetual lack of funds for the military, the demonized enemy, the nondepiction of coffins are not new topics. “What We Take and What We Leave” was a desperate response in a humiliating situation the Bush administration and complying media put the U.S. in. “Sleeper Cells” are a group of people who remain dormant in a community until activated by a pre-
The first urban farm doesn’t feed; it displays the possibility for a sustainable use of urban land. “The Sleeper Cell Hotel” won’t fly in a city where sleeping in your own car is illegal! Who knows... maybe ten years from now there will be a free, viable hotel in every town. Traveling has impacted my life and work. After living in Shanghai, I started studying horticulThe NATURE OF Environment
ture, which I have now practiced for years.
nature. It is a rain dance. There are, in contem-
twined ride. In my work, I use tools that are tra-
Witnessing the daily overwhelming pollution
porary India, anti-pollution rituals which in-
ditionally associated with women, such as sew-
and China’s media propaganda were irrevers-
volve the burning of plants with healing powers
ing tools. I developed a visual language based
ible experiences for me.
for the air. Those actions are, to me, defeated
on a method of working inherited from my
in advance – like homeopathy for an amputee.
mother and grandmother. I believe that my most
This piece is more about impotence of the
successful pieces are very feminine and can
individual. Although not so convinced myself
successfully lure the viewer in, then give them
of plants’ perception, I revere holistic intimate
a taste of the truth, once they are close enough.
I grew up during the “Mitterrand years” in the 1970’s “Back to the Land” movement. Mitterrand was France’s socialist president for fourteen years. The socialist ideologies and the rural environment molded my upbringing and became important aspect of my work. American ways came as a shock to me as a young socialist adult. As for the presence of war in my immediate surroundings, I became aware of it when I realized ALL the men in my family, both French and American, have been involved in most 20th century wars: the Persian war, WWI, WWII, Algeria, Korea, and Vietnam (where my father was drafted and stationed in Europe). The ghosts of war are everyone, really.
rewilding with intention top: katie bottom:vlad
With “Rewilding with Intentions,” you seem to be capturing call to action: the issuing of messages of healing or warning. Where do you feel like you would like to position the audience in this conversation? Would you call the work a form of activism? Are there any particular movements with which you feel your work aligns? “Rewilding with Intentions” is also a proposition for an alternative mode of communication with The NATURE OF Environment
relation with nature. It’s complicated.
Can you talk a little about the themes of masculinity within your works such as “Dudes” and “Weapons of War”? Do you feel like there is a gendered divide in themes you address in your work?
Below: hibou, drawing. Above: Sleeper cells made out of discarded wood,palettes, construction debris.
When I made those pieces, I was not at peace with men. It seemed to me that everything that sucks in the world, according to any news paper at any given time, was the fault of a man: men killing, men raping, men in power. “Dudes” and “BBQ by the Humvee” humor a mainstream archetype of a man: a generic manufactured type that is hopelessly trapped in an unfortunate mold. Here again, my European upbringing and stay in China influenced the work. Europe is still extremely macho, and urban women live with legitimate fear of rape. In China, I was embarrassed of white men, and their consumption of very young Asian women. I’m currently much more able to look at the positive contribution made by both men and women to our inter-
Photography by John Cornicello