Cultured Magazine Feb/March 2021 Issue

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by Michael Bailey Gates Atlanta, 21st November 2020




by Michael Bailey Gates Atlanta, 21st November 2020


242 W. 27 St. 7th Floor New York, NY 10001 4 February 2021

Hey, Don’t take those around you, including yourself for granted. Be good, be kind. See you in the new world.

- Kara

242 W. 27 St. 7th Floor New York, NY 10001 4 February 2021

Hey, Your gifts will make room for you. See you in the new world.

- CB



















Contents FEB/MARCH 2021

Taraji P. Henson wears a Gucci coat and scarf. Photo and set by Genevieve Gaignard.

SKIES OF DETRITUS Ashley Bickerton returns to New York with a new series of paintings. SAFETY FIRST Detroit-based artist Matthew Angelo Harrison combines disparate elements to make sculptures both clinical and seductive. WHAT ARE YOUR INTENTIONS? Trompe-l’œil master Lucy McKenzie opens an ambiguously titled solo show at Galerie Buchholz. STONED AGAIN Artist duo Ficus Interfaith pours slurries of terrazzo to tell post-industrial narratives. CHASING THE SUBLIME In The Trouble with Nature, director Illum Jacobi looks to the life of Edmund Burke to wrestle with where we are today. HOUSE OF MIRRORS The idiosyncrasies and wicked humor of filmmaker John Waters will be on full display at his archival exhibition. COMING INTO FORM RIGHT BEFORE YOUR EYES Ambrose Murray is making layered collages in textile and paint and working to make viewers feel seen. SLAPSTICK TRAGEDY A painter of emotional intensities and historical fantasies, Sanya Kantarovsky opens an exhibition at Modern Art in London. LAUGHTER IN THE DARK Artist Mika Rottenberg talks about her debut feature film, her influences and the role of humor in her work. WRITE YOURSELF IN A new father with a Netflix special and a hit podcast, comedian and filmmaker Hari Kondabolu speaks with Ajay Kurian about why his first documentary had to be a 101 and how behind we really are. ENTER STREET VIEW Artist Stewart Uoo unpacks the algorithms that draw us through our commutes—digital and IRL.


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Brother and sister George and Rose Byrne sit with his large-scale photographs of Los Angeles exteriors. Photo by Aubrey Mayer.

PAINTING AS RESURRECTION Painter Math Bass talks to artist Isabelle Albuquerque about developing a new body of work, finding space and moving beyond the limits of language. MURDER TO EXCELLENCE Jermaine Fowler takes on disparate roles, tackles a range of Black narratives and learns lessons in quarantine. THE BIG PICTURE Artist Amalia Ulman makes the jump to feature films with El Planeta. PURGATORY WITH DRINKS Author Jeremy Atherton Lin talks about his lifelong love affair with gay bars. FUNNY YOU MENTION IT Vanessa Prager speaks to Maya Rudolph about the painter’s latest body of work, growing up in LA and making art in quarantine. FANNING THE FLAMES OF HISTORY Artist Glenn Kaino and filmmaker Afshin Shahidi discuss the making of their film, With Drawn Arms, which tells the story of Olympian Tommie Smith, whose defiant salute on the world stage in 1968 continues to be a global symbol of social activism. I AM A REVOLUTIONARY! Shaka King brings the spirit and legacy of Fred Hampton to the big screen. SHIFTING NARRATIVES Taraji P. Henson has achieved thanks to her father’s encouragement and the work of Black actors and activists who came before her. Now she’s helping bring up a new generation and promoting mental-health awareness and self-care in the Black community. FEELING THE BYRNES Rose and George Byrne discuss truth, humor and Australia, and reminisce about the childhood Influences that shaped the actress and photographer siblings and set them on their respective paths. WHAT DO YOU GET WHEN YOU CROSS A GOYA WITH A CARTOON? Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman and Gracie DeVito are making some wild combinations.


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Self-portrait on a desert highway by filmmaker Garrett Bradley, reimagined in a still life by her collaborator Azikiwe Mohammed.

FAMILY CANVAS Renegade gardener Ron Finley and his artist sons, Kohshin and Delfin, share the creative ties that bind. CAMPO CUTTICA At their compound on Long Island, the Cuttica family are trusting their crazy ideas—which sometimes means setting things on fire. MY BROTHER’S CRITIC Brought up on creativity, collaboration and competition, Zal and Rostam Batmanglij are closer than ever and the toughest judges of each other’s work. A HISTORY OF JUMPSUITS Filmmaker and actor Zoe Lister-Jones talks to her mother, video artist Ardele Lister, about film, feminism and chutzpah. KISSING IN THE GETAWAY CAR Garrett Bradley captures love as the radical thing that it is. BEYOND THE BORDERS OF IMAGINATION AND BUREAUCRACY Artist Shirin Neshat talks to Sheila Vand, star of her forthcoming film, Land of Dreams, about their creative collaboration, belonging, displacement and Iran. SASHA LANE IS MORE THAN HER ORIGIN STORY The megawatt star talks evolution, motherhood and the joys of watching HGTV before bed. YOUNG ARCHITECTS 2021 For our inaugural Young Architects list, Cultured’s architecture and design editor, Elizabeth Fazzare, surveys the innovators transforming the field of architecture, designing for a sustainable future and working for social justice. HOW I LEARNED TO LOVE THE NEW RED ORDER AND STOP WORRYING ABOUT THE APOCALYPSE One reporter goes deep undercover into an unsettling cult which is either the beginning of a new movement for Indigenous futures or an elaborate prank to destroy the art world. FINAL FANTASY Alissa Bennett examines the allure of Titanic merchandising as a case study for our collective obsession with doomed stars.


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Genevieve Gaignard


Isabelle Albuquerque

Genevieve Gaignard is a Los Angeles–based artist whose work focuses on installation, sculpture and photographic self-portraiture to explore race, femininity and class. As a biracial woman in America, Gaignard investigates the aesthetic and cultural divide between black and white, a chasm as palpable as it is “invisible.” Her work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Studio Museum, California African American Museum and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, among other venues. She worked on this issue’s cover story, photographing Taraji P. Henson.

Trotter is an African American, self-taught visual artist, born in Detroit but now based in Los Angeles. When he’s not shooting, he’s usually indulging in some good ole potatoes: scalloped, seared, au gratin, you name it. It’s a carried over into his life, and now he has a puppy named French Fry. About shooting the Finley family, he says, “I’ve known Kohshin and his amazing work for some time. It’s incredible to know that his creative superpowers are shared with his family members. The Finley clan are intentional creators, each individually focused on empowering and beautifying the narratives of Black and brown communities.”

Isabelle Albuquerque is a performer and sculptor redefining ideas around the body, sexuality, the gaze, pleasure and the boundaries between self(ves). For this issue, she visited Math Bass’s studio to talk to the multivalent artist just weeks before they opened their solo show Desert Veins at Vielmetter Los Angeles. “I felt so honored to witness and talk to Math,” she says of the experience, “as they are expanding and deepening their profound visual language with this brilliant new body of work.”



Maya Rudolph WRITER

Maya Rudolph is an actor, comedian and singer best known for her work on Saturday Night Live and for her roles in such films as Bridesmaids, Inherent Vice and Wine Country. She was thrilled to get the opporunity to speak with her friend Vanessa Prager about her painting practice, creating in quarantine and “finding little joys.”





Emily Allan

Julian Burgueño

Diedrick Brackens

Emily Allan is a playwright and performer known for her critically acclaimed underground plays Slash and Star Odyssey. She is a co-creator of the cult web series Zhe Zhe. For this issue, Emily discusses her experience as initiate in the secret society New Red Order, where she has learned to enjoy capturing culture and committing crimes against reality.

Julian Burgueño is a born-and-raised Mexican photographer currently living in Los Angeles. He has worked with Vogue, SSENSE, Nike, Adidas, Saint Laurent and more. He is currently at work on his first book. He met up with Glenn Kaino and Afshin Shahidi at Glenn’s studio to photograph the collaborators for this issue.

Born in Mexia, Texas, Diedrick Brackens is a Los Angeles–based artist working in tapestry and textiles to explore autobiography, allegory and themes of African American and queer identity. He has recently had solo exhibitions at the Blanton Museum of Art and Alabama Contemporary Art Center and will soon be opening a show at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. For the cover story, he created a textile backdrop for photographing Taraji P. Henson.




A born-and-raised New Yorker who now resides in North Hollywood with his pit bull, Sarah Connor, Ryan Pfluger received his MFA from the School of Visual Arts. His photographs explore what portraiture means presently in our culture, dealing with the subtlety of body posture, the gaze and how sexuality influences image-making. His current body of work, Holding Space, explores the intersectionality of interracial queer couples. For this issue, he shot rising star Sasha Lane.




Made in L.A.

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Folasade Ologundudu

Michael Hemy

Azikiwe Mohammed

Folasade Ologundudu is a writer, podcast host and multidisciplinary artist whose work explores issues of identity, race and culture as it pertains to art, fashion and design. She is the founder of Light Work, a creative platform rooted at the intersection of art, education and culture. Her podcast, Everything Is Connected, now in production for its second season, currently highlights the work of visual artists and art professionals of the African diaspora. “In just under an hour,” she tells us about her assignment for the issue, “Shaka King shared not only the ideas and trajectory of his career as a filmmaker, but the passion behind his newest work. King stands out as a kind, thoughtful and authentic storyteller with so much talent and vision. I can’t wait to see what he does next!”

Michael Hemy is a British-born photographer based between London and Paris. He has shot for publications such as Vogue Germany, AnOther Magazine and Numéro Berlin, and labels including Louis Vuitton, Hermès and COS. “The locations we chose in London,” he says of his shoot with Jeremy Atherton Lin, “are familiar settings from Jeremy’s book and very much relevant to his experiences. I know Jeremy as someone who is naturally very charming and charismatic, and I wanted to portray that side of his personality. I hope that comes across.”

Azikiwe Mohammed is an arts worker based in New York who has exhibited in galleries nationally and internationally. A 2005 graduate of Bard College, Mohammed received the Art Matters Grant in 2015 and the Rema Hort Mann Emerging Artist Grant in 2016. He lives in New York and currently has his studio at Mana Contemporary. “When Garrett asked me to work with her on this,” he says of their collaboration for the current issue, “it made sense to me. Looking at how histories live through symbols and breathe when allowed form is something I feel exists in both of our work. All portraits are shared meals, and getting the chance to eat with a dear friend is a meal I wish for everyone to have as often as possible.”





Tyree Harris is a Los Angeles–based photographer focusing on documentary, editorial and sports. After studying journalism and working in brand storytelling as a copywriter, Harris learned to create images while documenting the Venice basketball community. With ongoing projects on mobility justice in LA, his practice explores optimism in unfamiliar spaces. He turned his lens to actor and comedian Jermaine Fowler for this issue.



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Letter from the Editor

WHEN CULTURED WAS BORN IN 2012, MY DREAM WAS TO INTRODUCE ARTISTS I ADMIRE INTO THE MAINSTREAM. Now it feels like some of the inclusive narratives we’ve helped shape are being heard as never before. The launching of our annual film issue, in 2018, was a milestone in this evolution as it marked our first celebrity cover, Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. This year’s iteration places a special emphasis on the bonds that bridge the experiential gaps we’ve all felt during the last year: shared histories and the intimacies of family. In our inaugural creative families portfolio, we highlight some prolific familial ties. How It Ends director and star Zoe Lister-Jones, for instance, can be found alongside her mother, pioneering video artist Ardele Lister. And there is landscape savant and activist Ron Finley, who has raised two painters, Kohshin and Sam (all three of them with an interest—or a foot—in the fashion world). Besides the bedrock of family, we also pay special attention to the uptick in artists making feature films in recent years. We profile Amalia Ulman, whose debut feature, El Planeta, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and speak to friends Afshin Shahidi and Glenn Kaino about their 10-years-in-the-making documentary, With Drawn Arms. Shirin Neshat triumphantly returns to our pages with actor Sheila Vand, star of Neshat’s latest feature, the forthcoming Land of Dreams. Another Cultured favorite, Garrett Bradley is back as well, creating an exquisite suite of images in collaboration with Azikiwe Mohammed.

Sarah G. Harrelson Founder and Editor-in-Chief @sarahgharrelson Follow us | @cultured_mag


For our cover, we turned to Hollywood force of nature Taraji P. Henson, an actor who has provided decades of unflinching performances and now is turning her attention to lifting up other women in the industry and beyond. Through the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, the Golden Globe winner has helped provide free teletherapy to underserved communities of color during the pandemic while reducing the stigma around mental illness. Photographed for this issue by Genevieve Gaignard, with textile sets by Diedrick Brackens, Henson represents the kind of multifaceted creative that we hope to see lead when we are once again allowed to gather, create and celebrate together. Speaking of leaders, we are proud to present our inaugural Young Architects List in this issue, featuring twelve up-and-coming architects and architectural designers to watch this year. Representing a diverse slice of the nation, these emerging firms practice in the issues that matter today and are designing a more just and sustainable future through the built environment. The optimism of Cultured’s beginnings, its inner child, has been nurtured by the incredible talents that have filled these pages and kept our mission for discovery alive. As we reckon with our 10-year anniversary on the near horizon, I’m proud to see how far we’ve traveled without leaving the spirit of curiosity behind.

From top left: Sarah Harrelson in Cultured’s new Los Angeles office, shot by photographer and friend Stewart Shining. On the cover: TARAJI P. HENSON. Photographed by Genevieve Gaignard. Styling and Creative Directing by Jason Bolden. Hair by Tym Wallace. Makeup by Ashunta Sheriff. Art by Diedrick Brackens. Henson wears Fendi.


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Skies of Detritus


In the 1980s in New York, Ashley Bickerton was a major figure in neo-geo art, skewering consumerism and manufacturing processes with familiar yet indecipherable objects. Over the years he has worked across genres—often blending them—creating sometimes slick, sometimes messy, sometimes grotesque and almost always wildly colored paintings, sculptures, photographs and more. He quit New York in 1993, settling in Bali, where he has remained ever since. At Lehmann Maupin this month, he opens his first show in the city in eight years, exhibiting a new series of paintings called Flotsam.

Pink Cloud (2020).

“I CALL THIS MY FLOTSAM SERIES. I see them as landscapes at the end of history, landscape not as a depiction of a specific place or a mirror of the world around us, but rather a psychic trigger evoking unfathomable experience. The flotsam, or ocean-borne detritus, is laid out in the vestigial formations of the waves that might have washed them onto the shore as the tide receded. These undulating tidal lines are deposits from the great swirling molecular vortexes, cosmologies of microplastics, fragments of human narratives, residues of lives lived.” —Ashley Bickerton


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Detroit-based artist Matthew Angelo Harrison combines elements of industrial engineering, digital technologies and product design in a sculptural practice that investigates the histories of modernity, Africa and the African diaspora. Animal bones, 3D-printed African statues, resin blocks and cold aluminum come together in a combination at once clinical, seductive and beguiling. Currently working towards a solo show opening this spring at Kunsthalle Basel, he offered this image of life in the studio: PORTRAIT BY NAAMAN ROSEN

“EVERYTHING IN MY STUDIO, FROM the environmental conditions, to the tools we use, to the clothing we wear, is carefully considered to ensure I can use processes from the industrial world safely. The resin encapsulations around me contain found West African sculpture and ephemera from my mother’s United Auto Workers archive. I’m reflecting on the conditions that created my existence.” —Matthew Angelo Harrison


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What are Your Intentions?


A trompe-l’œil master, Lucy McKenzie made noise against the odds of 2020 with a retrospective at the Museum Brandhorst and an exhibition of Atelier E.B, her fashion collaboration with designer Beca Lipscombe, at Garage Museum. This March the artist returns to New York with “No Motive,” an ambiguously titled solo show at Galerie Buchholz.

Metal (Alan Potter) (2020) and Quodlibet LXX (2020).

“I LIKE TO LOOK AT THE WAYS commercial, public and domestic spaces interlock. For “No Motive” I thought about the way these realms shape both the content and reception of visual art. My parents decorated our family home with artworks they bought or were gifted by students of the Glasgow School of Art in the 1970s and 80s. Some were low-relief, abstract wall sculptures, and at least one was the work of a student who went on to make public art. You can see the genesis of more monumental public sculpture in them. There are family photos where you can see the works, both haphazard (strung with Christmas cards) and more staged (baby-photo sessions). This is my starting point.” —Lucy McKenzie


Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum FIU January 30 — May 16, 2021

Roberto Obregón, Niagara III (Bi En and Di Em), 1994, Cut rubber, nails and colored long-staple wool, overall dimensions 79 1/8 x 262 3/5 inches © Archivo Roberto Obregón.

This exhibition is made possible with support from the Funding Arts Network. Additional support has been generously provided by the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Affairs Council, the Miami-Dade County Mayor and Board of County Commissioners; the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture; and members of the Frost Art Museum.


Two Roosters, 2020.

Artist duo Ficus Interfaith pours slurries of terrazzo to tell post-industrial narratives.

AROUND FIVE YEARS AGO ARTISTS Ryan Bush and Raphael Martinez Cohen joined forces, each contributing a word to their new collective name. Cohen chose “Ficus” for its suggestion of tending to nature and “civilization putting down its roots,” fig trees being among the earliest domesticated plants. “Interfaith,” Bush’s idea, invites capacious spiritual thinking. One word localizes, the other transcends locale. The unifying of seemingly disparate ideas undergirds their collaborative practice, which, as Cohen explains, has “grown organically as we’ve stumbled through various crafts and modes of making.” Past modes have included everything from potpourri to an orange-peel-based water-filtration system and constructions made of fungus. Most recently it’s terrazzo that has caught the duo’s attention, which they use to make pictorial wall sculptures. Terrazzo is trending, bedecking blandly contemporary hotel bars and high-end coffee shops in every city that has access to Pinterest. It keeps being, to borrow a favorite word of Ficus Interfaith’s, resurrected. (The duo titled their show at Brooklyn’s Deli Gallery that opened in October 2020 “Lazarus,” a reference both to the figure resurrected by Jesus and the 19thcentury poet and activist Emma Lazarus.) Trends notwithstanding, terrazzo is a substance of circumstance: a composite of fragments of marble, glass, granite and other stones, often sourced from the cast-off or destroyed components of previous projects, suspended in a cement-like binder and smoothed over. It is itself a resurrection. Ficus Interfaith’s terrazzo images are not recapitulations of blush-and-blue Airbnb cosmopolitanism, but are rather born of a deep engagement with the history of their material of choice. That history, which goes back at least to the 18th century (although some date it as far back as ancient Egypt), is connected with histories


of mechanization and architectural engineering. Introduced to the United States in the late 19th century, terrazzo only became popular in the 1920s, when divider strips and electric grinding machines made it far more affordable and efficient to produce. It spread everywhere: federal buildings, private homes, Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. The mechanical process that facilitated terrazzo’s popularity in the 1920s is functionally the same that Ficus Interfaith uses, albeit at a small scale that leaves some suppliers frustrated. Strips of zinc or brass are soldered into forms, looking, as Bush puts it, “like a tray of cookie cutters.” In the goopy terrazzo slurry goes. “It’s sort of like paint by numbers,” Cohen says, with the big difference that until a piece is smoothed over it’s hard to visualize how it’s going to come out. The source imagery for Ficus Interfaith’s recent exhibition similarly reflects the history of American manufacturing: 1930 Rockwell Kent prints of muscled male figures drawn as advertisements for railcars, and foam hats of the Statue of Liberty’s pointed crown that you find at tourist shops. Among the ironies in Ficus Interfaith’s work is their appropriation of symbols of mass industrialization for unrepeatable processes guided by a commitment to the notion of craft. Rather than material or mechanism, however, they center the maker. “The fact that we’re doing terrazzo ourselves is just as important as whatever imagery that we decide to make,” Bush explains, adding that the unidentifiable figures in their painterly appropriations of Kent’s drawings could be imagined as a sort of stand-in for the artists. “There’s a hierarchy we’re interested in disrupting,” he adds, taking aim at the boundaries between materials and practices attributed variously to craft or décor or architecture or fine art. “Crafty is almost an insult to a lot of artists—that excites me.”






Chasing the Sublime

Illum Jacobi’s film The Trouble with Nature looks to the life of philosopher Edmund Burke to wrestle with where we are today. BY LAURA JARAMILLO

IN A WORLD WHERE WE ARE SO dependent on technology for achieving our most basic life functions, how do we solve a problem like the sublime? For 18th-century Anglo-Irish philosopher Edmund Burke the sublime was the fear-tinged awe that nature inspires in the beholder and that the best art can also trigger. A somewhat sheltered 19-year-old in a pre-industrial world, Burke wrote a treatise that set out to establish the difference between the sublime and the merely beautiful. A new feature film, The Trouble with Nature, by Danish director Illum Jacobi, imagines Burke at the end of his career, a statesman, washed-up, traveling into the Alpine wilderness to annotate his youthful treatise. I recently spoke on the phone with Jacobi and Antony Langdon, the British actor and musician who plays Burke with supercilious comedic flare. We discussed the director and his protagonist’s skepticism about the sublime, the film’s ruminations on modernity and what it was like shooting on location in the Alps at a 12,000-foot altitude. The Trouble with Nature finds Burke wandering in a slightly askew powdered wig and a too-thin frock coat through the fields of Provence, up snow-capped mountains and across dripping glaciers, all shot in lush high-definition by Frederik Jacobi, the director’s brother. He grasps for control amid his new, overpowering mountain surroundings, accompanied on the journey by his Indigenous American servant, Awak, played with quiet luminosity by Mexican actress Nathalia Acevedo. Shot in Chamonix, France, where Jacobi first began mountaineering in his youth, the film combines the visual codes of a nature documentary with the wryness of a comedy of ideas. Jacobi asserts that during the film’s production, “The lines between documentary and fiction are somehow blurred because we took the same journey as the characters. We were out there shooting in snowstorms. We were so affected by the shoot itself.” This allencompassing experiential approach led Jacobi and Langdon to cast local non-actors who they met during production. In one scene, for example, the character of a crystal hunter, who appears spookily in a cave, is played by a seventh-generation crystal hunter, whose family is known in the region for their ability to harvest rare specimens. Langdon describes the collaborative intimacy between the cast and crew: “It was just these spirits [going] along in the mountains.” In The Trouble with Nature, the contrast between Burke’s uneasy coexistence with the landscape and Awak’s ability to endure are at the heart of the film’s critique. Langdon describes the philosopher’s self-absorption as a reflection for our disconnection from the natural world. “In modernity,” he says, “we still think we rule the joint and we’re ruining it. But nature doesn’t care… Nature is much more grand than any machinations of humanity.” Jacobi worries that in making a film about the sublime, he is projecting a fantasy about nature onto a landscape that we cannot fully understand based on a beautiful image of it. Indeed, the concept of the sublime emerged at the very moment when humans became estranged


Antony Langdon as Edmund Burke in The Trouble with Nature.

from nature. As a result, Romantic art made nature into a beautiful image, an object to be depicted and bought and sold. Under the weight of this history, Jacobi’s anxiety about the sublime becomes all the more poignant for our times. Ecological collapse looms and we find ourselves out of joint with the earth and its rhythms, unable to act in the face of crisis. But The Trouble with Nature also operates on a smaller scale. The film suggests that our environmental predicament has caused a fraying of the bonds between the self and lived experience. Jacobi reflects, “When you go to the Alps today, you see how people confront the landscape. Most people turn their back to the landscape and photograph themselves in front of it.”

D I S C OV E R ENDLESS WAY S T O SHINE IN MIAMI As a place that shines bright through its people, places and year-round superb weather, Greater Miami is the ideal destination to refresh your soul. Now is the perfect time to switch your scenery for something a little more radiant. Start with our ‘winter-never-happens-here’ beaches, all close to a wide array of hotels. Rejuvenate your mind and body during Miami’s Health and Wellness Months this February and March with deals on spa therapies, anti-aging treatments, rooftop yoga, outdoor fitness classes and healthy dining. Claim your space in our wide-open outdoors and swim, splash, snorkel, paddleboard, or just kick back and let the cool ocean breeze melt the stress away. Then expand your cultural palette with Miami’s eclectic music, diverse cuisines, and world-class art scene, all found across heritage-rich neighborhoods. When traveling to Miami, we ask that you do so responsibly and practice safety guidelines. Discover Health, Wellness & Hotel deals at

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Oolite Arts + Locust Projects 2021 Talks This spring, Talks will be streamed on locustprojects/live RSVP at Talks.Miami For videos of past Talks with curators from around the country, visit Talks.Miami

February 17, 2021

Hamza Walker

Executive Director, LAXART, LA March 17, 2021

Julie Rodrigues Widholm

Director, UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA

April 14, 2021

Rujeko Hockley

Assistant Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY

September 22, 2021

Lauren Haynes

Director of Artist Initiatives and Curator, Contemporary Art at Crystal Bridges and the Momentary, Crystal Bridges, AR

October 13, 2021

Dr. Lynne Cooke

Senior Curator, Special Projects in Modern Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

November 17, 2021

Lars Nittve

Founding Director of Tate Modern in London and former Director at M+ museum for visual culture of West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong Top Curators on Contemporary Art

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House of Mirrors

A prolific filmmaker, writer and artist, John Waters takes his idiosyncrasies and wicked humor freely across mediums. This February his adaptability is on display in “Hollywood’s Greatest Hits,” an archival show at Sprüth Magers in Los Angeles, coming on the heels of his traveling 2018–2019 retrospective, “Indecent Exposure.”

“Perfect for over your sofa. True crime, sex education and inherited genes. Family can be the ultimate horror movie if you’d just sit back, notice and scream.” – JOHN WATERS



Mom and Dad (2014)



Robert Nava, Gold Sky and Wind Angel, 2020, Acrylic, grease pencil and crayon on canvas, 85 x 73 inches (215.9 x 185.4 cm); © Robert Nava

Coming into Form Right Before Your Eyes

Ambrose Murray is making layered collages in textile and paint and working to make viewers feel seen. BY CHARLES MOORE PORTRAIT BY AMANI LEWIS

ALTHOUGH IT WASN’T UNTIL SHE GRADUATED college that Ambrose Murray felt she could fully embrace the life of an artist, her talent can be traced back to her youth in Asheville, North Carolina, where she assimilated the influences of brass-band performances and the punk community. Growing up with a Black mother and a white father, Murray existed in a dichotomy of sorts. From as early as middle school, she juggled two professional goals: she would either become a fashion designer or an interior designer. Her grandmothers teamed up in support of her dreams, gifting her subscriptions to magazines like Vogue and Essence, funding trips to Ebony fashion shows and making a point of fueling her creative development. When she went to Yale, where she majored in African American studies, her professor Elizabeth Alexander pushed Murray to deepen her thinking, emphasizing the aliveness that can emanate from an artwork and analyzing Black artists such as Alvin Ailey, Michael Jackson and poet Nikky Finney. In 2016 Murray began taking art classes, working in figurative painting before turning to a multidisciplinary approach. She then joined the fine-art study abroad program at Central Saint Martins in London. After earning her degree, she moved to Mississippi, completing a residency at the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production—known as Sipp Culture—where she began to experiment with the very materials and ideas that had motivated her before she went to college. “It’s all been a bunch of experimentation, and I feel like I am in a rhythm now,” Murray confesses, referring to the painted fabric collages for which she has started to become known: vibrant pieces made with gorgeous dyes and stunning textiles. She creates a sense of depth in these works, with intricate shapes and shadows and splashes of life, building on one another to create ethereal environments. Into the layering of textiles and textures, Murray incorporates sparkles and light inspired by the work of her partner, Amani Lewis.


Examine her newer pieces, and you will quickly become immersed in Murray’s abstracted environments, with ambiguous yet powerful Black subjects at their center. While at Sipp Culture, she started a new oil painting on fabric, She appears like a glint in tha window, which she took up again at the Miami-based Fountainhead Residency in July 2020. The work showcases textured fabrics and powerful dyes, revealing a Black woman making eye contact with the viewer. The subject has closely cropped hair adorned with moons and stars, her features are realistic and intricate and she wears a silk slip dress the artist procured in Mississippi. The back of the piece offers an effect like an array of windows, allowing light to move through the fabric, offering a sense of transparency and dimensionality that enables the viewer to experience both sides at once. The subject simply flows, evoking an angelic figure almost like an apparition. “That’s why her body isn’t in full form,” Murray says of the composition, “kind of like she’s coming into form right before your eyes.” Much of her work—the physicality of her subjects, the richness of her paints and dyes, the lush fabrics laying the foundation for each piece—is informed by writers who have made an impact on Murray, among them Toni Morrison and Christina Sharpe. Most recently, the latter’s In the Wake resonated with Murray, though the genre of Afropessimism was at first somewhat challenging for the artist to get into. Sharpe’s work, Murray explains, examines the cyclic nature of slow death, exploring how, in the current sociopolitical context, Black death has become a mainstay in maintaining the existing power structure. “She talks about all these things,” explains Murray, “the weather and the wake, and there are all these potent metaphors that string the whole book together.” With solo shows scheduled at the N’Namdi Contemporary Miami in March and at Fridman Gallery in New York this fall, Murray hopes to continue these conversations, to allow the viewer to feel seen and to build resources for those who might not have them.

She appears like a glint in tha window (2020), detail. 53

Slapstick Tragedy


Sanya Kantarovsky is a painter of emotional intensities, awkward encounters, historical fantasies, callous bureaucracies, illness, violence, hysteria and laughter. Over the past decade he has blended all of this into a style that evokes Symbolist painting and political caricature and a hundred other things besides—an exquisitely colored dark comedy. This month he opens an exhibition of new work in London, at Modern Art.

Exfiltration (2020).

“THESE LAST PAINTINGS HAVE BEEN slowly maturing, cheese-like, in a liminal space between warmth and profanity.” —Sanya Kantarovsky




Hernan Bas, The Blue Line, 2005-2006

Artist Mika Rottenberg talks about her debut feature film, her influences and the role of humor in her work. BY ANNIE ARMSTRONG

WHILE MANY STILL LIVE IN DENIAL of the reality of our current global pandemic, artist Mika Rottenberg has dived headfirst into the crisis. The artist, known for her cheeky, whimsical video art and installations, is challenging fans of her work to consider a near future during another pandemic in her upcoming feature-length film. Rottenberg took up the project (working title: Remote) when lockdowns began and is hopeful for an in-person premiere in September 2021 at Denmark’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Curious to hear how someone could possibly remain so productive in isolation, we gave the artist a call at her upstate New York studio. I’m so excited to hear that you’ll be releasing a feature-length film, even though I know almost nothing about it! What can you tell me? First of all, it’s a collaborative project, co-created with Mahyad Tousi. He’s an old, dear collaborator and friend, and also a multimedia storyteller and writer. A collaborative project is something I love doing and also feels like the right thing to do at this time—to connect with people and create things together. It has a narrative, which is something I’ve been dreaming about doing for some years now. So, this is an opportunity to expand my work in that direction. It’s set in the near-future. Is that right? We’re still debating the exact date, but probably the thirties. It’s centered around Nayala, a woman who used to live in Brussels and is now probably in New York. So, everything changes. It’s during a future pandemic. The building that she’s living in is this solar punk-designed building. There’s monitoring of her footprint and her daily consumption and all that. So, that’s gonna be one layer. At the same time, she’s a fan of a Korean dog-grooming show, and through this show, she connects with four other women who are


locked-up in other parts of the world, and together they discover this portal into this ancient internet that’s part of preverbal communication that brings the universe into a different stage. Who else’s video art are you inspired by? Someone I love is Meriem Bennani. She is such a star. There are a lot of women that do great video work. I’m probably forgetting some that I really like. This film, though, was heavily influenced by Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. It’s interesting, because that film happens in the isolation of her small apartment. So, we started thinking about being remote through the lens of Jeanne Dielman, and we even have one-to-one borrowing of framing. It’s Jeanne Dielman during a pandemic in the future. I think of your work as having a great sense of humor, but this year has been really marred by a lot of destruction and death. Has it been difficult for you to keep a sense of humor? Not really. I grew up in a place that had a lot of violence and existential crises all the time [Israel]. So, humor is actually a way to deal with that: it’s not because everything is funny, it’s the opposite. But there are certain things I feel like could never be funny. I think humor is a way to deal with things that are new and unfamiliar—when you don’t know what the reaction is. It’s a way to engage with reality. It’s a way to bring things down to earth, and not make them monumental. This film is definitely aiming to be funny. Sort of a Being John Malkovich humor. Or goofiness. I think it’s always the funny moments within these situations that aren’t funny at all. I think Jeanne Dielman and Being John Malkovich are two big influences. But visually, it’s going to be its own thing.



Mika Rottenberg, Untitled Ceiling Projection (video still), 2018.

WRITE YOURSELF IN I MET HARI KONDABOLU EXACTLY HOW I meet most people these days, through Zoom. To describe his current state, he reminded me of the film They Live, in which the protagonist finds sunglasses that allow him to see that the world is in fact populated with aliens and coded messages hiding in plain sight—except the sunglasses we put on reveal white supremacists instead. That’s certainly the kind of humor I know Kondabolu for. He doesn’t shy away from hard content, but he still wants the laugh. His comedy isn’t about racism—it’s about living a life in which you can’t avoid it. He isn’t trying to assert a specific identity, only to live and be as honest as he can with himself. While stand-up may not be his current avenue of expression, he’s been hard at work on a number of other projects. For one, he’s a new father. On top of that, he’s restarted the sharp and funny podcast Politically Re-Active with his friend, comedian W. Kamau Bell. And he’s been writing with his best friend—his brother. It was a pleasure speaking to him about comedy, television, culture and integrity, and what to do when you’re really stuck. Ajay Kurian: I’m happy to talk to a South Asian creative, especially someone as politically motivated as you. There’s a moment in your comedy special Warn Your Relatives that really spoke to me, where you say, “Oppression is pain. And when you tell someone, ‘We’ve come a long way,’ you are really telling them to hold on to their pain longer.” First off, that sentiment is beautifully put, but also the individual and structure coincide in that moment. Holding pain individually is seen as part of a longer process of understanding the structure of why what I’m holding exists. Despite Instagram’s obvious flaws, I also see a lot of critical content that is its own education, and it makes me hopeful when kids post and share this stuff. They are getting such an incredible education so much sooner than I did. They are aware of these structures at a much earlier age. Hari Kondabolu: It’s what makes me hopeful. Malala, Greta Thunberg, the Parkland kids. Charlottesville started with a young Black woman who organized to get those statues removed. All the young people of color who walked out of 58

A new father with a Netflix special and a hit podcast, comedian and filmmaker Hari Kondabolu speaks with Ajay Kurian about why his first documentary had to be a 101 and how behind we really are. PORTRAIT BY ATTICUS BERGMAN

school as a part of Black Lives Matter. There is a point where you realize that these kids are not anomalies. That’s not to question how amazing they are, but they are part of this larger trend. One reason for it is access to the internet and their education, even if it is an informal one. Kids are always asking “why” and, in the past, their only limitation was their parents and teachers; but now, with the internet, they actually get multiple whys and they get to choose which reason they actually agree with. It’s also about realizing that adults don’t have all the answers, which was a painful discovery I had to have later. The idea of my child looking up to me now… He’s a few Google searches away from realizing I don’t know shit. When I started doing stand-up there were people who liked my stuff but it felt very outside of the mainstream—not to say that everyone understands the stuff I’m saying now—but it certainly feels kind of surreal to see the stuff that I’ve cared about for a while be all over the place. Kids are talking about it; it’s being written about and broadcasted. Maybe it’s because people are out of work right now and we are in the middle of a pandemic; whatever the reason, people are out there, they are marching and aggressive, and I love it. AK: I’ve wondered whether there was an increase in white allyship because their own bodily precarity finally came to the forefront in a massive, structural way. HK: Wow, I didn’t even think about that—the idea that me walking outside could have implications. The difference, of course, being that someone could harm me unknowingly by giving me COVID. I’m sorry, part of me is just so excited to be having an intellectually stimulating conversation. AK: Your comedy tends to have an intellectual bent. Maybe you are going to get a bit ruffled, but do you consider yourself an educator? HK: You know it’s really tricky. When I started to want to talk about things with meaning it was probably after 9/11, so when I was 19, 20, 21—all of a sudden I am questioning what I’m doing, and certainly the choice to talk about certain things at the time was deliberate. There was an educational aspect but I hadn’t quite figured it out yet: how to write jokes about the stuff 59

I was passionate about. I knew how to mention it or rant. When I moved to Seattle in 2005, I was doing comedy at night and working on immigrant rights organizing during the day. I definitely had the ability to express my politics through words. I think when I got there I started to figure out how I could also do this with humor, how I could make jokes with hard material and ideas. There were moments where I was didactic and even condescending and that didn’t help. I had to actively teach myself that my job was to make people laugh. That’s the difference between a guy ranting on stage and a com. Of course, some people laugh at the face value, which is always a risk when you are using satire. AK: Which reminds me of the reason Chappelle left his show—because he started to feel like he was getting the wrong kind of laughs. HK: Exactly—what you need is enough information; you need to educate them enough, and not for the purpose of their future or the conversation they are going to have after the show, but enough to understand the punchline because the subject matter is stuff I want to talk about. I want to talk about John Brown, not because I want to teach people about John Brown, but because he’s fascinating. That’s what I had to come to terms with. I’m not up there to educate. I’m up there to be the truest version of me and the truest version of me is interested in all these things that I need to explain to people so that we’re on the same page. When I have audiences I don’t need to explain as much to, it’s more fun. I can get to level two. The Apu documentary [The Problem with Apu] was a level-one documentary. No South Asian said, “Thank you I learned so much.” They said, “Thank you for putting that out there.” The documentary is more educational and is built to be like that. With stand-up, I want to see that as art. AK: To me, when it comes to art, it’s all about observation. Even if you are making the most conceptual “out-there” work, it’s because you have observed something in the world and you are creating something out of it. The better and closer the observation, the more interesting the work is, and if you can really give that life, it can be great art. It can be funny and do all these other things incidentally, but it’s because you are working with this incisive observation. HK: I think that’s also why people who are marginalized often end up making the most interesting art—because you are closest to the most painful and dangerous things in society. That’s not to say that all marginalized people make great art, but when you look at the history of comedy, whether it’s Richard Pryor or Paul Mooney, if you go through the list of top-ten comics, a good portion of them are Black or Jewish, and I don’t think it happens to be that way incidentally. If humor is a defense mechanism—if that’s the evolutionary advantage for keeping it around—then the people who are using it the most are the ones who are closer to pain and danger. And the material they produce is even more shocking because it catches people off guard when you talk about painful things and it makes them laugh. I think it might be marginalized people’s greatest resource. AK: You know I was recently watching your interview with bell hooks... HK: (Laughing) How surreal is that? AK: Very. Like the moment in the interview when you are making the case for the structure of a joke—even one with terrible and sexist content, and how it can be good from a formal perspective—and she says no. I am paraphrasing, but basically you were trying to find a balance of saying something funny and not being preachy, and the way she put it was that “it’s a matter of integrity.” HK: When people say, “That’s not funny, it’s racist,” it is a misunderstanding of how art works and why something is dangerous. Most people are not that critical when it comes to consuming art. They don’t think: “What did I just eat?” They think: “This tastes good.” That’s why I disagree with what bell hooks said. I see it as an issue of the master’s tools. When I see a joke and I say, “Wow, that is really well-written,” what I’m also saying is, “I’m learning from that particular method.” And as much as I may hate that joke, or the person who said it, there is a skill that person has learned that I need to learn, too. But what I do with that is going to be different. 60

It makes me think about this thing my mom said for years and I never wanted to listen to: You can always write. Whatever happens, writing never stops. It never stops at any age. And I feel that more now than ever. It’s the one thing that I have that I’m apparently decent enough at that I can even venture into new areas. It also makes me think of something Chris Rock said to me: “Every career slump I ever had, I’ve written myself out of.”

I’m going to use Hinduism as an example. And I’m not sure if you grew up Hindu or not, but it’s something that is ever-present, so first let me just say: fuck the Hindu Right. AK: I’ll make sure that’s in print. HK: Haha, good, although I’ll never be able to visit family again. But yeah, in Hinduism there are these demons called the rakshasi. Unlike Christian demons, they pray, and their prayers get answered too. That’s actually what many of the epics in the Hindu tradition are about—how demons use the gifts they’re awarded by the gods to ruin the world, and therefore they must be stopped. Humans and demons receive the same gifts; they just use them differently. That’s how I think you have to view art. The Birth of a Nation by D. W. Griffith is one of the most racist films of all time, but it is also one of the most important, because of its editing techniques. But if you just focus on those techniques, you are missing the point. The film is about how the white race needs to get their power back. It’s incredibly racist but you can also learn cinematically how he was able to manipulate people. Are you telling me that learning from other people’s mistakes is wrong? I agree with bell hooks that our goal should be to be righteous, but how we get to be righteous is not necessarily independent of the tools. AK: This also makes me think of when you interviewed Dana Gould; there is a moment when he asks, “What’s funnier?” as if it’s a simple, unbiased question. I had two reactions to that. On the one hand, you are going after the laugh—there is an end point in comedy. On the other hand, I feel like Donald Glover’s career is a good way to interrogate the question of what’s funny. In looking at what’s funny you also see something about culture. Donald

Glover starts on 30 Rock, which is an incredible show and groundbreaking in so many ways, but a lot of things don’t hold up—especially its relationship to Blackness. Donald Glover as a writer is marginalized to the character of Toofer, which is fucking insane to me. Then he’s on Community and has more of a voice. There are two Black characters on the show, and you get the sense that whiteness is a thing and that there is a different kind of funny that can happen. And then comes Atlanta. Atlanta could never have happened during the time of 30 Rock because the audience is so different and the idea of what’s funny is too. As culture changes, so does what we think is funny—it’s not all timeless. HK: With Donald Glover, I would start with his pre-30 Rock work like Derrick Comedy because you can see both the seeds of some of the writing he did for 30 Rock out of necessity, as well as his early stand-up, but also the kind of structural thinking and flipping things on their head that you see in Atlanta. You see he has the tools for both, but he was the only writer of color in that group, so it’s more a question of what he was allowed to do. And again, that’s what pained me about making my 101 documentary; it’s like, “This is what I’m allowed to do right now.”

For example, when Fresh Off the Boat came out, it was not Eddie Huang’s story at all. ABC took a seed and ran with it, and Eddie was really upset. Part of me is like, “You have the right to be upset,” and at the same time, “You don’t, because you sold it to ABC, not HBO or FX.” ABC was making the mainstream Asian American show that should’ve been made 15 years earlier. They were catching up. They suppressed our voices for so long that everything we experienced when we were 12 is interesting to them. We were the Asian kid nobody talked to. It’s kind of like those motherfuckers who made fun of Indian food, and then in college were like, “I dig this stuff,” after saying it smelled funny for years. I think a little bit about Mindy Kaling and folks who were from that first wave. She took a lot of crap from the community. “How come you’re not representing us? How come you aren’t telling our stories?” And I’m like, “Don’t you think it’s fucking confusing to actively find a way to make your dreams work in a world that doesn’t want to hear your complete experience and then you fucking make it work anyway.” I understand what the community wanted from her, but we are obviously five steps ahead of everyone else. When Never Have I Ever came out, which was a huge push forward, you have to remember that show could never have happened when Mindy got started, but not because she didn’t want to make it. It’s weird when you walk around and people see you as your culture instead of as a human being that is moving within multiple cultures constantly, because that is what all of us do. I don’t walk around saying, “I’m Indian, I’m Hindu.” Nobody does. AK: It’s almost like—just give us a minute to breathe so we don’t have to spend every second proving our humanity to you. Let us be a person with you. HK: Think about how insulting it is that, for years, these complex South Asian characters couldn’t be on screen, nor could really any people of color. You couldn’t be one of the main characters. God forbid both the mom and dad are people of color. God forbid there isn’t a white partner to play the role of the audience. The question was always “How are white mainstream American audiences going to relate to this?” And meanwhile, how do people of color relate to everything? We look at it from your perspective and connect it to our experiences because we only get your perspective and we constantly need to translate it. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy anything. Anyway, they are trying now. The idealistic reason is that we come from a generation that’s exposed to more things, but also the more cynical and perhaps more realistic reason is that they found out we have money, too. I feel very conflicted about it as a person working within that framework. It’s certainly capitalism that has driven a lot of this forward. AK: I could talk to you all day but you are working with a baby, so maybe I’ll close this for now, with where you are creatively. HK: I’ve been moving away from stand-up a little bit, which would have been harder to do without the influence of the pandemic, because even though there have been times when I’ve been burned out and unhealthy as a result of it, when you don’t know any other way to express yourself, when you’re almost addicted to that adrenaline rush, it’s really hard to stop. But I can’t do it now. I’m unwilling to tour because I have a family and I don’t want to put them at risk. It’s made me a fuller creative person. Imagine you’ve done this one job your whole life and all of a sudden you have to learn a new job and, with creative fields, that often means multiple new jobs. It makes me think about this thing my mom said for years and I never wanted to listen to: You can always write. Whatever happens, writing never stops. It never stops at any age. And I feel that more now than ever. It’s the one thing that I have that I’m apparently decent enough at that I can even venture into new areas. It also makes me think of something Chris Rock said to me: “Every career slump I ever had, I’ve written myself out of.” That’s not to say I’m in a career slump, but it’s that kind of faith that’s so important—that you have something innately in you that got you this far and that if you keep doing, and you don’t stop doing for whatever reason, you’ll get yourself out. 61

Enter Street View

In his return to 47 Canal, Stewart Uoo unpacks the parallel algorithms that draw us along our IRL commutes and our daily digital strolls through social feeds.

A peek at a work in progress captured by Uoo in the Studio

WHEN YOU WALK INTO the New York–based artist’s show, don’t be alarmed if the scene echoes the city outside. Sidewalk observations play a central role in Uoo’s latest body of work, which teases out the way we use our surroundings as screens for projection. By carefully remaking some of these landmarks and placing them in the cosseted interior of the white cube, Uoo transforms experiential anecdote into a scientific method. Pets are some of the street-side denizens that Uoo pays particular attention to. In his work, they operate as both an excrescence of their owners and a blank space upon which strangers can project feelings of love and comfort.


Tomás Esson

David Lewis


Opening March 15, 2021

88 Eldridge Street 47 West 12th Street

New York Tomás Esson, Guantanamera (detail), 2015. Oil on Linen.

Painting as Resurrection

Painter Math Bass talks to artist Isabelle Albuquerque about developing a new body of work, finding space and moving beyond the limits of language. PORTRAIT BY EVE FOWLER

I VISITED MATH BASS’S Echo Park studio in the last days of 2020 as they were finishing a new body of work for their solo show, “Desert Veins,” opening a few weeks later at Vielmetter Los Angeles. Over the past six months, I had been receiving texts from Math with images of their paintings in stages, beginning with the faintest underpainting and then building up over weeks with layers of richly colored oil. These paintings becoming paintings arrived to my phone like precious gifts that I viewed over and over again. One week brought the severed head of Anubis and a white gloved hand reaching towards it (what Math calls “anthropological imaging”), the next a snake body wrapped around a pile of eggs. A few weeks of silence followed, and then, as the isolated winter set in, dozens and dozens of paintings of a field of graves began appearing, almost like prayers.


ISABELLE ALBUQUERQUE: I look at the grave paintings pretty much every day and felt very connected to them before I even knew that the central stone was Thomas Merton’s. What first drew you to him? MATH BASS: I was interested in his life and his journey towards asceticism. He was a Trappist monk and devoutly spiritual. He was also adamantly anti-war and radical in his politics, and when he was found dead in his hotel room in Bangkok, the circumstances behind his death were very suspicious. It’s rumored that he might have been assassinated by the CIA. I started doing image research and I came across a series of images of his grave in Kentucky. In all of the images, it’s his stone with identical stones surrounding it—but his stone is always adorned with flowers or rosaries or, in this case, a satin sash. 65

IA: It’s like the cross becomes a stone body and the sash feels almost like a scarf draped around its neck. Why do you think you chose this particular image? MB: We’re inundated with a surplus of images. We have images for all of eternity—there are so many images—but then sometimes I come upon certain images that I do find to be so poignant. I want to bring in an energetic potency that I’m finding myself responding to in an image. It’s almost like I want to resurrect it. IA: What led you to oil paint as the medium of resurrection for these new works? MB: It’s a challenging material, it has its own logic and intelligence. I think about all the other work and the years and years of making that work. I always had people working on the gauche paintings with me. I wasn’t doing it all entirely by myself. I had assistants; it was a collective means of producing an image. When I started working in oil, I also started working alone, and the paintings felt like they were flickering. The first oil painting I made had this quality, this quivering, wavering, almost the quality like a candle flame. I was working with the visual vocabulary I have been developing over the last decade, and I loved how the oil brought a depth and an animus to the language. I worked many years in such a way to remove the hand, and now my hand is returning. IA: How did the painting of the camel skeleton come about? MB: The phrase first popped into my head after a meditation… Camel Head of Anubis, 2021 skeleton… And then there was this almost four-month period that elapsed from when I started working on the image and when I actually finished it. What happened in that time was life-altering: change, loss, shifts on top of our restructuring of society, collapse, social-justice uprising, death. Yeah, by the time I got to paint the bones of the last toe, I was just weeping. I just started crying and weeping. I can’t even try to render that time, I can’t even define that time. I just needed to finish this thing. IA: You said earlier that the skeleton is like a timeline of this year? MB: A camel can endure. They can go for five to six days without food or water. Their red blood cells are not round, they’re oval. They’re the only mammal with oval-shaped red blood cells. There’s something about the shape of their blood cells that allows them to circulate in blood that has


thickened from dehydration and to radically expand during rehydration. IA: When I look at the painting, I don’t just see the camel’s skeleton, I also see the body that it used to support. MB: Yes. We live in multiplicity and that is what’s happening all the time. IA: The snake body is also recurring in these new paintings. MB: I think it’s a powerful symbol of transformation. I think when I first started working on the snake, I was processing what at the time felt like the possibility of my mother’s death. One of the first snake images that I made was a snake wrapped around her eggs, holding them. I see so much of that as just this response to knowing or understanding that I was going to lose my mom. Then also how this creature that we think of as being so cold actually is emitting so much warmth. I think there is this way that we’re held and protected by our mothers. IA: This idea of being held seems to really permeate the new work. Also, how much space they hold for the viewer. MB: It’s much more spacious. I got to this place where I just was so invested in having created this language and exploring the limits of this language, I was ready to open up to the possibility of allowing more in. The snake became like a bridge between the old language and the potential for many different kinds of images. IA: It reminds me of how when you lose something, you also gain something. How loss and its opposite are always in relationship. There’s been so much collective and personal loss this year, and from the loss you seem to have opened up a whole new way of painting. MB: Yeah. I started meditating this year in a serious way and it opened up this spaciousness in my life that I hadn’t really experienced before. IA: Do you use words in the meditation? Is it an image space or a word space? MB: I repeat a mantra, which I will not repeat, but I repeat a mantra. When I started painting the camel skeleton, I was talking with my partner, Emily, and I was like, “How the hell am I going to do this?” And she said, “One bone at a time.” And then it allowed me. It really was about being present with each bone, with each moment, each piece and bringing that fullness to the moment of each piece and giving it the attention it deserves. And that’s what I’ve been trying to focus on when I make this work—one bone at a time.


“When I started working in oil, I also started working alone, and the paintings felt like they were flickering. The first oil painting I made had this quality, this quivering, wavering, almost the quality like a candle flame.”


Thomas Merton’s Grave, 2021 67

Collecting Design: The Legends Part 2

Mathias Bengtsson, Growth Table Walnut, 2014, Solid walnut; photo: Martin Scott Jupp. © Galerie Maria Wettergren; Josef Hoffmann, Hanging Lamp Model M 997, Prototype Made for the Palais Stoclet, 1908; Necklace and Rings, by Ettore Sottsass, courtesy Didier Ltd.; Bouroullec brothers, ’Sofa’ © Paul Tahon / R&E Bouroullec - Courtesy Galerie Kreo; Fabio De Sanctis and Ugo Sterpini, Officina Undici, Cielo, Mare, Terra Buffet, 1964, walnut, metal, and two Fiat doors of the 600 prima series, from the collection of Dennis Freedman.

Collecting modern and contemporary design has become one of the most dynamic, influential, and inspiring territories in the international marketplace. For the first time, the program will be virtual, accessible to anyone across the globe. In celebration of this occasion, Dr. Daniella Ohad will explore several major areas of the collectible design world: with Didier Haspeslagh of Didier Ltd on Art Jewelry by Architects and Artists; with Yves Macaux on Wiener Werkstätte; with Didier Krzentowski of Galerie Kreo on Contemporary Design; with Loic Le Gaillard of Carpenters Workshop Gallery on Contemporary Design; with Jacques Barsac on Charlotte Perriand; with Mathias Bengtsson on Digital Design; with Dennis Freedman on Italian Radical Design; with Simon Andrews on the market of 20th-century Design; with Simon de-Pury on Taste and Influence. NEW CONTENT FULL PROGRAM – TEN SESSIONS FEBRUARY 9, 16, 23 MARCH 2, 9, 16, 23 APRIL 6, 13, 20 $500 FOR THE PROGRAM TUESDAY AFTERNOONS 3:30-5:00 PM EST TO REGISTER EMAIL: MFICHTNER@AIANY.ORG AIANY.ORG/COLLECTINGDESIGN2021











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NovemberNovember 2021 November 7, 2020—Summer 2020—Summer 2021 November 7,7,2020—Summer 2021 2020—Summer 2021

Zanele Muholi. Faniswa, Seapoint, Cape Town, 2018. Wallpaper. 137 8/10 inches. © Zanele Muholi. anele Muholi. Faniswa, Seapoint, Cape Town, 2018. Wallpaper. 137 8/10 inches. © Zanele Muholi. Zanele Muholi. Faniswa, Cape Town,New 2018. Wallpaper. 137 8/10 inches. © Zanele Muholi. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg, and Seapoint, Yancey Richardson, York Zanele Muholi. Faniswa, Cape Town,New 2018. Wallpaper. 137 8/10 inches. © Zanele Muholi. ourtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg, and Seapoint, Yancey Richardson, York Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg, and Yancey Richardson, New York Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg, and Yancey Richardson, New York

November 7, 2020—Summer 2021 pa


Murder to Excellence Jermaine Fowler takes on disparate roles, tackles a range of Black narratives and learns lessons in quarantine.

LAST YEAR, DAYS AFTER COMPLETING Coming 2 America, Fowler was on a plane to Cleveland for a role in Judas and the Black Messiah. It was like hopping through a portal. In the former, an opulent comedy, he stars as the heir to an African dynasty. In the latter, he is Black Panther Mark Clark, witness to the short life and legacy of Fred Hampton. Like the transition in Kanye & Jay-Z’s “Murder to Excellence,” this dizzying shift from a violent presentpast into a gilded future mirrors the ongoing contradictions of a reality where Black creatives and businesspeople are rising and profiting and yet Black people are still being policed and murdered and fighting for a modicum of dignity.

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Here and previous spread: actor Jermaine Fowler, shot near the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve in Los Angeles in his own clothes.


“Artists can sometimes be our own worst critics but we also have to be our biggest fans. It’s okay to be complementary. It’s okay to champion yourself.”

“It was night and day,” he says on a call via Zoom. “But you know what, that’s life.” It’s a Wednesday afternoon, a few hours after the inauguration, and Fowler is full of energy. “Walking through the world teaches you that there can be pain in beauty and beauty in pain. Coming 2 America was a fucking party. The energy was light. To be transported to Zumunda, where the world is your oyster, where dreams are real, was such a transition to Black Messiah. Knowing what the lives of the Black Panthers cost, what they endured… it wasn’t easy to get through, but I welcomed the challenge of both.” The contrast, however, reflects the fact that Fowler—informed by the early flush of nineties Black cinema—has always hoped to shape a range of narratives. Whether in stand-up, executive producing or writing, he is drawn to the kinds of Black-centered stories that have become synonymous with global entertainment. “In my house, growing up, it was pretty fucking Black. Even the cartoons I grew up on, they were Black. Now there’s a drive to bring that back, and not just for the sake of it, but because the shit was good. You can still watch Martin and laugh. I can still watch Friday twice a month. I hate it when networks do the ‘Black voices’ section; it should just be a thing. We should just exist in the fabric of society and entertainment.” It’s common knowledge that the system of Hollywood has long excluded the full scope of the human condition. Despite the bevy of increased representation, visuals of truth—undiluted and raw—are still hard to find. That’s one of the reasons he was drawn to the role of activist Mark Clark. “The way our history has been dictated is just different. It’s been revised. And the way it’s been portrayed is far from full. The history of the Black Panthers started by people wanting to protect their children. Something everyone can relate to. There’s a misconception to a lot of the shit we’re fighting for. A lot of people have been misinformed about who we are and what we’re fighting for.” Curiosity informs much of Fowler’s work. Rather than lose himself inside the minds and emotions of the character and its role, he tries to maintain a

kind of distance, a sort of focused balance. “I don’t wanna let a character take over me. You hear those stories about particular performers who dive too deep and they forget who they are,” he says, laughing. “That’s not necessary to me. It’s our job to portray that person, not to fold inside their world.” He prefers to deliver “grounded, believable” performances, pulling from a wealth of personal experiences to execute scenes. Before starring in the CBS sitcom Superior Donuts, Fowler worked a variety of odd jobs. He describes his early journey as “lonely, full of heartbreak and failure.” Still, those moments were vital to his craft as an artist. “I learned so much about processing my emotions, about working with them. The moments of doubt or uncertainty. Of being hungry. Of crying. You war with yourself, and shit feels unsteady. But it all comes down to drive. No matter what, there’s gonna be moments—no one hands you anything— and you’ve got to be strong enough to pick yourself back up. Artists can sometimes be our own worst critics but we also have to be our biggest fans. It’s okay to be complementary. It’s okay to champion yourself.” Over quarantine the learning hasn’t stopped. Recently he found out he has a long-lost sister, a surprise that has only strengthened his gratitude. “We connected during a really stressful time, right when I was in the midst of facing and embracing a whole lot of shit I had to face. I still can’t put into words how thankful I am for her and the things she’s taught me in such a short time.” But the best lesson learned during lockdown, and perhaps the wisest gift, has been the importance of remaining present. “It’s easy to sit down and worry about tomorrow. Worry about today! When I was 17 my biggest goal was to work with Eddie Murphy. He was my idol, and I took every day leading up to set [on Coming 2 America] for granted. That’s when I started to look at life clearly and finally say I’m proud of myself and started to chill out. It’s easy to be ungrateful. It’s stupid, because then you look around and realize it’s the small wins that matter most.” 73




EL PLANETA, WHICH JUST PREMIERED AT Sundance, is the first feature-length film directed by Argentinian-born artist Amalia Ulman. To many, Ulman is recognizable from a decade of performances, photographic installations, social-media interventions, branding campaigns and video essays, a body of work that saw the artist assume a range of personae, from a pregnant administrator to an aspiring minor celebrity. Whether Instagram, Skype or digital advertisements, the internet has often served as the platform for Ulman’s buoyant characters, technology working as a veil. Who she is really is anyone’s guess. She comes off believably as anyone she embodies, though her characters are never without a sense of humor. While Ulman once again found herself both in front of and behind the camera while shooting El Planeta on location in Gijón, in northwestern Spain, for the first time she was surrounded by a film crew, even if a skeletal one. Cinematographer Carlos Rigo Bellver shot on a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, which weighs less than two pounds and—as the name suggests—measures the width of


a pocket, a discreet tool perfect for a nimble production such as this. They shot in black and white because, as Ulman explains, “The weather in Gijón is very gloomy and dark, which makes shooting in color almost pointless.” Ulman carefully staged each scene in El Planeta as if it were a photograph and created film sets with the same sterile, halfempty eeriness that characterize her installations in galleries and museums. The blurring of fact and fiction, self and persona that she has focused on in her art animates the film as well, which helps resist the oversimplification of universalizing narratives. Slivers of autobiography creep into the script of El Planeta, which is set in the aftermath of Spain’s devastating 2008 financial crisis. Ulman plays Leo, and the character’s mother, María, is played by her own mother, Alejandra Ulman, whose acting debut finds her in a bowed headband, surrounded by pillows printed with a digital portrait of a cat, Holga. Leo complains of leg pain from a bus accident, which corresponds to a real injury that Amalia suffered in 2013. María is jobless and afloat

Stills from El Planeta featuring Ulman. Above, she walks the streets of Gijón, Spain, in a puffy Gauntlett Cheng coat, one of several young designers featured in the movie.

during a financial crisis, which likewise reflects her actual experiences in Spain after immigrating from Argentina. Holga, the cat, is named after Amalia’s real cat. The collision of fact and fabrication locates the film in a world that is and is not Ulman’s life, scripted with imaginative elaborations, a way of reading back into past experiences. For Ulman has drawn on the experiences of strangers as well: El Planeta’s narrative takes inspiration from a news story about a mother-daughter duo that achieved socialite status before being caught with thousands of euros in open tabs at local businesses. Ulman projects the tabloid storyline onto the mother and daughter in the film, reenacted like a sheer overlay. All lives are projections, familiar selves recognized in headlines. “The toughest part for both of us was having to reenact the eviction,” Ulman says. Walking the streets, Leo wears a zebra-print suit and occasionally a blouse with a pull-away curtain revealing one breast through a plastic window, lending breezy nonchalance and sense of fantasy to

her character. Leo reacts to the world with curiosity and it responds. As relief from a deprived, dark apartment where the electricity’s been cut, Leo quickly falls for a forcefully affectionate cashier in a dollar store. Asked if the film equates intimacies between family members and relative strangers, Ulman answers, “Both mother and daughter obviously love each other and are warm, but only as warm as one can be in a moment like this.” In a final scene, the mother submits to the hands of the police for unspecified charges and evasion of unpaid bills. She grabs her sunglasses on the way out. The film suggests she may have been planning her escape to a financially secure bedroom all along, leaving Leo in the apartment when the door closes. I suggest to Ulman that María understands jail as an equivalency to marriage, but she disagrees: “Leo wants to finish her studies, design clothes and mind her own business. María, the mother, only wants to have a roof over her head.” This simple desire, amid the vacant streets and bankrupt stores of an economic depression, may be too much to ask. 77

PURGATORY Author Jeremy Atherton Lin talks about

WITH his lifelong love affair with gay bars.


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IF THE TERM GAY BAR SOUNDS like a monolith, a cultural institution, the California-raised and London-dwelling author Jeremy Atherton Lin’s debut book, Gay Bar: Why We Went Out, blows this idea wide open. Venturing back into the gay bars that shaped his life, exploring their legacy and, in doing so, mapping the history of gay bars across time, he shows us just how varied these spaces are. From underground kink clubs to welcoming lesbian bars and more chichi gay establishments, he celebrates the breadth of these spaces and the communities they foster, but also switches the lights on, looking at the exclusion and cliquishness that can exist within their walls—particularly through his own experience as a mixed-race gay man. What we’re left with is a nuanced yet expansive cultural history of the gay bar, but also much more: a genre-defying journey through queer history and a memoir told through the prism of great parties. I’ve been excitedly telling a lot of friends about this book, and each time I describe it, something new seems to come out of my mouth. It’s the gift that keeps giving! How do you explain Gay Bar to strangers? When you declare a book “nonfiction,” it’s expected to explain itself. People would give their take, and I’d recognize what didn’t feel quite right. Early on, someone started saying, “So, this is the cultural history…” And I found


myself almost barking, “NO!” This being gay bars, it’s got to be messier. I think what helps justify the book’s waywardness is that there can be no grand narrative to gay bars, there’s no Gay Bar Common Era. What’s the first gay bar? Depends on how you define it, how far back you want to go. I tend to say that I look back on the gay bars where I’ve hung out, with each revealing itself to be a palimpsest of queer histories. And it’s about how those places shaped me. When I first went out, I only knew horrible gay bars, so was I destined to be a horrible gay? And there was this moment, right, when so many gay bars were closing, about five years ago, and it felt like seeing yourself—your category—as sites in a cityscape, now scheduled for demolition. And it made me think about my complicated relationship with gay. If the gay bar is a metonym for gay identity, it’s a dated image— arch, boozy, very delineated. Is it not only the gay bar that’s closing, but gay altogether? I find your turn of phrase beautiful. I remember a favorite line about taking the night bus home with your soon-to-be boyfriend, and your interconnected hands rolling between one another’s laps like a ball of yarn. When did you start writing, and was it a longstanding ambition to write a book? I’m really always writing our love story. This raises questions, like: how do I avoid fetishizing us as a couple? How do I avoid aestheticizing the sex? But ultimately, I approve of fetishizing and aestheticizing, so the question becomes: am I writing like a camera filming a scene that’s meant to elicit a certain response, or can I find a within-ness. When I was a kid I did a lot of acting, so maybe that’s the solution, maybe I’m not directing the scene, but acting in it. I wrote a bad short story when I was a teenager, which won an award, so I realized I had energy. Because on some level I knew the story didn’t deserve an award for its language, but the impulse. In college I wrote plays and after that I edited a magazine, which was not right for me, but was instructive about things like how words look on a page. Then I quit and wrote zines and blogs. When you come from that background, it feels like you wrote a zine that snuck itself into the form of a book. Like my book is a kid with potential who was bussed into a posh school. It sits between the covers trying to be polite, but also questioning everything. Well, not that polite... Gay Bar is very sexy, and opens very viscerally, in a dark room. Why was that the right place to start? It just happened that way, these thoughts coming to me on my knees in a cruise club in the railway arches, and probably the reason it stuck is that it establishes that the spaces I am describing are not going to be utopian. They are complicated. Sexy yet revolting. Exclusionary. Tense. The gay male dark room, is it separatist? Is it supremacist? That cruise club had just opened when gay bars were closing, so it was against that trend, and also against the grain of new inclusive queer spaces. Kind of unliberated, yet there’s this palpable elation in the air. It definitely had to begin with me feeling uncomfortable. Is “psychogeography” a term you’d apply to this book? I have said that there’s a link, but whereas psychogeography has often entailed a metaphysical aspect, like ley lines, my book swaps in erotics. But I think I don’t easily grab onto the term “psychogeography” because it seems like a straight white dude domain. Do you think? And it became, in the UK, such a middle-class signifier. Like, I’ll just walk and take in the view, but you’re also avoiding being on the bus with the hoi polloi. It was one of those straight white psychogeographers who pointed that out. I do love the films of Patrick Keiller, they’re informative for me. These influences are probably evident to you because they’re so British. I’m sure you’ve seen the project Queering the Map? [An interactive online map of the world where anyone, anywhere can drop a pin and anonymously leave a queer memory.] Your book made me think of that project often. I have been thinking about how to foster some kind of platform for other

“I look back on the gay bars where I’ve hung out, with each revealing itself to be a palimpsest of queer histories. And it’s about how those places shaped me.”

Jeremy in East London, where rising rents and redevelopment led to the closure of several gay bars.

people’s experiences—a kind of “My First Gay Bar”. Now that I’ve written a version of my story, it’s time to pass the mic. Certainly in terms of my book being largely focused on male-oriented venues, even if it’s about not fitting into those spaces, there’s definitely a need for other perspectives. Let’s decolonize the gay bar. Shared authorship could be a route. Anonymity could be a route. We went out to a lot of the same places in East London, although we never met! A lot of those places no longer exist. Is this always a bad thing? A lot of those bars have had an afterlife. The George and Dragon became the Queen Adelaide just up the street. The owners of the Nelsons Head now run The Cock Tavern in South London, which is fun, much bigger, with dancing… I think my book makes a case that things change a lot, and quickly. I realized that I had a very clear vision of what a gay bar is, a cliché gay bar, but that was a relatively recently manufactured type of space, a reaction to AIDS, slick and hygienic. I had just taken that to be the since-forever of gay, but it was only a late-eighties thing. That type of gay bar seems so dated now, but we’ve got queer elders who predate those places, who hung out in scuzzy pubs and secret dungeons and elaborate cabarets. So, there are surprises in store for us, too.

Did you miss gay bars in 2020? Did you discover any other queer spaces? I kind of didn’t miss gay bars. I missed the idea of them, which is in a way what the book is about. In the early days of the pandemic, we had these twoperson theme parties at home, where we’d pick the most legendary spot in some super-gay place—Key West, New Orleans, Mexico City. And I’d mix a half-assed thematic cocktail and we’d just check out the bar’s photo gallery and listen to bangers, maybe using Google Maps to determine how long it would take to walk from a lounge to an Italian restaurant to a drag show in Palm Springs. The way we are isolated from one another is terrifying, but you know it’s a mode that I’ve occupied forever. I’m from the suburbs. If you died and heaven was one gay bar from your life, which would you choose? Okay. Process of elimination. Not a male-only space. No way. And has to have a patio. Rustic decor. I couldn’t stand the gleam of chichi. So, it comes down to El Rio or the Wild Side West in San Francisco, though they’re not precisely gay-identified. They’re lesbian-ish. There’s a song called “Down At El Rio” by Vetiver, a band that was playing around town a lot when I lived there, and the lyrics describe the lemon tree out back, and that sounds pretty heavenly. Most gay bars would be purgatory. At least there’d be drinks. 81

FUNNY YOU MENTION IT Actor and comedian MAYA RUDOLPH and artist VANESSA PRAGER first met on a blind date. Prager had been commissioned to paint a portrait of Rudolph, and the sitting blossomed into something more robust: an ongoing dialogue about family, film, art and Los Angeles. Here Rudolph delves into Prager’s latest body of work, debuting this month in her show “Static” at Diane Rosenstein Gallery.

Photography by Jeff Vespa 82 83

MAYA RUDOLPH: I feel like it’s a prerequisite to ask you how your 2020 was. How did you spend yours? Vanessa Prager: I don’t think I would have ever expected half of what occurred. For me, there was just a huge sense of loss knowing that the world was changing right before my eyes faster than it ever had before. I became introspective, but it took weird paths. I spent time wondering what different people were going through and how they were spending their days. I spent mine primarily with family and I was able to create a body of work that I’m super happy about. There was a lot of sadness this year, but finding little joys in the small things was the really interesting part—whether resuming cooking or talking with friends. MR: Finding little joys is such a great way to say what I was feeling too. I’m so curious because your work is so specific. Are you someone who has a daily routine and if so, did the shift of the pandemic radically change your practice? VP: I am—I take my work seriously. Probably around 10 years ago, I decided that it was a job that I, even if I didn’t feel super inspired, needed to attend to. There’s a certain amount of just showing up that I feel responsible for, even if I’m not enlightened that day. At the beginning of all of this, it didn’t feel like there was a point to making anything. I know that sounds dark, but I really thought half of my friends were going to die for a period of time. You know what I mean? There was a sense of apocalypse. Eventually I pushed myself back into it and found a rhythm. I didn’t go to the studio every day last year and I was fine with that. Finding what was important to me was a huge part of this year. I consider that part of my job and I got more value out of that than almost any other chunk of my life. MR: How did you normally find inspiration before quarantine? VP: My sources have traditionally stayed the same—collecting input from other artists, entertainment, the world—but I’ve always been attracted to timeless things. I’m interested in the things that can travel through eras. I often would look at old Hollywood. Early movies interest me. They would capture so much emotion in just one picture. MR: I can really relate to that because I always thought about growing up in Los Angeles as growing up in an industry town. It wasn’t necessarily what your parents did or didn’t do for a living. It was more like, we all live in the town where people work for the big oil well, and this just happens to be the oil well. It colors everything about living here, but at the same time, it’s a bit of a backdrop. It’s the same in your work. It almost feels woven in. I’ve always been able to quietly relate to that in your work—an unspoken, shared language. I’m so curious about you growing up here and the fact that you’re not the only artist in your family. Were you taught to love film as a kid or was it a part of normal life? VP: It’s what you were saying—just growing up in the city, it’s everywhere and you can’t help but be permeated by it. I feel like it was my school. Everyone acted. They weren’t all trying to be stars, but it was just part of


Here a floral still life that embodies the layered approach the self-trained painter likes to take. Previous spread: Prager in her Los Angeles studio with new works.

life. I grew up learning how to think in pictures. Hollywood was such a part of growing up in Los Angeles. I didn’t find out until I was maybe 20 that not everyone grew up like that. On the flip, LA wasn’t taken very seriously for a long time, which is funny because I think so many people now recognize it as a great city. MR: I’m just curious if you have any favorite entertainers, or is there an era that inspires you in that way? Obviously, it’s not just film that goes into your work. VP: There’s been so many. My grandma and me would watch like Monty Python, Ace Ventura, Young Frankenstein. I think the forties and fifties had a lot of really great imagery and just pure raw emotion that I would go back to. I loved Apocalypse Now and Chinatown, Casablanca, Eternal Sunshine. When I was working this last year, I started turning away from current culture because it was so overwhelming. I began turning back into poetry and history trying to make the timeline of all of this just so much broader. The running theme that I had in my head while making this series was rebirth. Which comes with destruction and a lot of loss. I really feel like that’s what is happening all the time, but especially now. I called the show “Static” because we’re still waiting to emerge again and to see what’s now, what’s here, what’s left, what’s remaining. MR: Even just watching the inauguration in January, I had a physical experience. I heard music that I hadn’t felt in so long. What I’m trying to say is, I was aware that the last four years have put a lot of stress on my body, I think it’s going to take a long time for all of us to realize that some of the things are being put back in place. We’re being reminded that things can actually feel good. It’s a strange experience. It’s similar to what you’re talking about, that idea of rebirth. There’s definitely one thing that I have to ask so that I don’t forget, which is really about your work and your technique and a word that I learned because of you: impasto. VP: Well I’m self-taught. I think learning is copying in the beginning and loving something and trying to do something also that you love. It turned into reworking paintings I made that weren’t right, trying to push through and really put what I thought and felt into them. Over time, what developed was just adding on to these paintings and putting more and more paint. I’ve always liked things melting and dripping, especially in portraiture. It felt more like life to me and what my life is. There are mistakes here and there, and I would not try and cover them up, but just work with them. It went with my personality to try and make something really beautiful out of what might be considered just a mess to somebody else. I really liked the concept of layers because when you see the piece from different angles, it’s got different things going on—because that’s how I feel. Things aren’t the same every day and I’m not always happy. It varies. That’s the style that I ended up at. They’ve got pits in them, and there’s


height to it. This series, specifically, is really pokey and spiky. I wanted to simulate a blanket and maybe have it wrap around you and give you a little hug from afar. MR: I didn’t know that you were self-taught. When did you start painting? VP: I was about 20 when I went down to the art store and I just picked up a little start-painting kit. I always had a thing for oil paint. It just spoke to me. MR: The first time we met was when you painted me for the cover of The New York Times Magazine and I got to go to your studio. I had never been physically in the same room with your work before and I was overjoyed, especially because of the scale. My first thoughts were that they looked almost like a cake. This thickness is so intriguing and now that I know the process, the worrier in me is like, “How long does that take to dry?” VP: It’s always the number-one question. MR: I’m lucky enough to have a piece of yours. I always wonder, “Am I allowed to ask the artist if they meant for me to feel this way?” I know the answer even as I’m asking it: “Whatever you want.”

And I’m not trying to impose meaning here but how do you feel about painting as practice? Can it be a healing ritual? VP: Last year was so nutty for me. I couldn’t process it. It was the first reason I had to get back in the studio. When I’m painting, I don’t think about anything. I don’t even know what people do without that. It helped me to put everything in its place but it didn’t help me make sense of everything. I don’t have any answers. Paintings just start conversations. One painting would be like us sitting together for six hours one night and going back and forth. MR: I think it’s interesting also to hear you say that when you’re painting you’re not thinking about things. Is that, for you, the idea of a flow state? Are there things that you do to get there? VP: Yes. It doesn’t even take that much. I think that the physicality of the paint takes over. My body will just do the motions. Your body is a weird little machine. If I just start painting, eventually it gets there, but the good stuff doesn’t necessarily have to happen right away and that’s okay too. MR: Sometimes it’s really just about showing up for yourself. 85

Fanning the Flames of History Friends in art for over 15 years, artist Glenn Kaino and filmmaker Afshin Shahidi took their creative friendship to the next level when they embarked on a journey to make a collaborative artwork that would tell the story of Olympian Tommie Smith, whose defiant salute on the world stage in 1968 continues to be a global symbol of social activism. Years in the making, With Drawn Arms debuted at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival but just went wide this winter with a release on Bounce TV. Curator and producer Sienna Fekete speaks to the filmmakers about the origins of the project, its relevance today and the relationship between legacy and image making. PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIAN BURGUEÑO


Friends in film Afshin Shahidi and Glenn Kaino in the latter’s Los Angeles studio. 87

Sienna Fekete: I wanted to begin with the start of the film, which opens with what one might assume would be the climax, the Mexico City Olympics, when Tommie decides to take a stance on an international stage. What was your impetus for opening the film this way? Glenn Kaino: I’d say Afshin and I started on this project years ago when we had no idea what the final format was going to be. We met Tommie under the auspices of just knowing there was a story to tell and wanting to tell it through art. Very quickly after Tommie and I started working together, I called up Afshin and we began to discuss making a documentary. The process involved us eventually sitting down with hundreds of hours of our own footage, and what we knew to be thousands of hours of footage that Tommie had contributed to the media landscape over the past 50 years and stacks upon stacks of note cards. We ended up with the “aha” realization that Tommie’s own story arc matched the hero’s journey in how he aspired for greatness and then achieved it, but how his greatness almost became an adversary to his intention.

We didn’t have footage from the 1960s that we shot, but it was important for us to not have that period be covered in a way that was all talking heads. The really big decision we made was to not have the film end with his salute, but to have it start with it. We wanted to say that the salute was something he did, but our film is really about the man and redemption. Not just for him, but redemption for society. Afshin Shahidi: I don’t think I could say it any better. It’s a phoenix story. We never set out to make an archival or historical movie. We wanted it to be very much grounded in the present and Tommie’s activism and art now. As you saw, it starts with archival footage but after we establish his place in history, we move on. SF: I’m very curious about the diverse cadre of artists you engaged in this film. What is the process like in working with these different actors, athletes, activists and journalists? GK: I think this is where we were able to benefit from not being traditional documentary filmmakers.

Two stills featuring Tommie Smith, the athlete and hero at the center of from With Drawn Arms.


AS: We didn’t have experts talking about this historical event in the way that other documentaries have. Nothing against that, but we intentionally decided we didn’t want this to feel that way. There were times where we questioned ourselves and asked if we should have someone, for instance, come in and speak about the symbol of the fist. So much of that we felt was already available. GK: I think the landscape of expertise is changing too. For us, it was what is more credible: hearing about what it’s like to win a gold medal from a historian, or from Megan Rapinoe? What we were doing in the years before we were editing was actively connecting Tommie’s story to a new generation. SF: You quote at the beginning of the film: “A single image has the power to change the world.” I think that’s true and I’m wondering about how this idea played into the retelling of Tommie’s story. GK: Both of us being artists, we think about the value of what we do as image creators. I’ve always said that what art allows you to do is have a context for imagining alternative

“It’s the job of the artist to imagine. It’s the ethical responsibility of those that are conscious to put forward imagery that has the power to inspire change.” —Glenn Kaino

worlds. I have a utopic practice. It’s the job of the artist to imagine. It’s the ethical responsibility of those that are conscious to put forward imagery that has the power to inspire change. I think this is also very much the case in sports. Before Michael Jordan, no one had even thought about making a dunk from the free-throw line, and now it’s almost this rite of passage. AS: The second half of the quote is really interesting. “A single image has the power to change the world by showing you something is possible.” It’s become such a piece of dialogue in terms of representation and changing the media landscape, both behind and in front of the camera. It speaks to what’s happening today and the attempts to diversify media, banking, the sciences—everything. SF: I see how your dynamic works, and it has me thinking about another scene that resonated with me. We see Tommie sitting in his den amongst his trophies and awards talking about his prolific journey. How did you cultivate the trust with him that this kind of filming requires? GK: This was a multi-year process. Our first interview with Tommie came out of this artwork I was making. We got two hours on tape, but it was nothing special. It was the version of Tommie you get in every other documentary. We interviewed him again, and it got better, but it wasn’t awesome. And we kept repeating this, and while we are working on this film component, we were also flying around the world doing art shows and working on this education program for young kids. Our friendships got deeper, including mine and Shahidi’s. And then a couple of years ago, we decided to really activate the film. We booked a dense week of shooting; most of the film’s footage comes from then. But mind you, this was after four years of knowing him and the pages of notes that I’d accumulated.

SF: I’m curious about the moment that comes right after one commits an act of defiance. In the film, journalist Jemele Hill speaks to the often-huge repercussions that occur after taking a stand against something, what late Congressman John Lewis calls “putting your body on the line” in an effort for change. AS: I think that was a crux of the film. We felt that what everyone knew about that image ended with its taking. There is something that Jesse Williams said that I think is relevant: it’s important to jump. And what we need to do as a society is to catch that person when they do. SF: I would love to hear how the conversation around the significance of an individual gesture plays back into your sculptural practice. GK: This whole project began with that inspiration in mind. As artists, we make work that enters the public and then has a dialogue with a viewer about meaning. As soon as a work goes into the public, I no longer have control. I’ve become very sensitive and humble and respectful about what it takes to be vulnerable and have ideas and make them real and then make yourself open to whatever they trigger in the world. So, when I looked at that picture and understood that I would have the opportunity to get the backstory, I thought: what an incredible opportunity to explore that generosity and use my own practice to make it resonate with a new generation. As students of history, these images become pages in a book. We wanted to make new works that allowed people to engage with these ideas now. SF: Another big theme I saw emerging was the sense of legacy coming through the archival footage, the oral histories and later the physical objects that get added into the National Museum of African American History and Culture. To see Tommie work out with historian Lonnie Bunch what objects would be preserved is another form of history-making, and then to meet with President Obama about it!”

GK: Legacy has always been very important to Tommie. Tommie has led a life of humility and sacrifice. In making these works, we’ve learned how to think in a way that his legacy will be reflected over time. This took time. We are two main members of the legacy team now, and as part of that we knew that an important step was to archive the work at a museum. To be able to use a historic moment like Tommie entering the Smithsonian as the context for President Obama to invite us into the Oval Office was like a bonus on top of a bonus. AS: We wanted to make sure Tommie’s legacy went beyond 1968. He’s a three-dimensional human that contributed to this world far beyond this one moment at 24. 89

All great artists have a perspective. Now we have a podcast to share them. Listen to Points of View with Sienna Fekete on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Shaka King brings the spirit and legacy of of Fred Hampton to the big screen.


Photography by Gillian Laub

A By Folasade Ologundudu

Styling by Oluwabukola Becky Akinyode



MORE THAN 50 YEARS AFTER THE STATE-SANCTIONED MURDER OF FRED HAMPTON, THE STORY OF THE SLAIN BLACK PANTHER IS BROUGHT TO LIFE, WITH SHAKA KING IN THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR. In Judas and the Black Messiah, released this month, King takes the audience on a gut-wrenching ride through 126 riveting minutes—death, deceit, love and loss permeate this thrilling crime drama. To preserve the accuracy of the story, however, King chose to involve Hampton’s closest living relatives. “Working with the family was key,” King reveals, in order to give the work an authenticity only firsthand experience could bestow. Although set in the 1960s, the film reflects the inequities African Americans still face today, making it as vital as ever to understand the legacy of Hampton and the Panthers that King has set out to record. Much has been said about the Black Panther Party, yet decades later a cloud of misinformation persists. In 1969, J. Edgar Hoover declared, “The Black Panther Party, without question, represents the greatest threat to internal security of the country.” Today the Panthers are still commonly depicted as violent communists. But what about the soup kitchens and medical clinics? The Panthers created free breakfast programs for schoolchildren and engaged in community outreach in poor neighborhoods across America, in some places continuing to offer these vital services until the party officially dissolved in 1982. In choosing the actors, King admits, “I was writing for Daniel [Kaluuya] and LaKeith [Stanfield] specifically.” The former Get Out costars shine brilliantly, and whispers of Oscar nominations are circling. In Kaluuya the spirit of Fred Hampton oozes throughout the film. During one of the most powerful scenes—and the one King is proudest of—Kaluuya bellows in a packed room, “I am a revolutionary!” And the crowd goes wild. It’s his first speech after being released from prison on an appeal bond, having been convicted several months earlier of stealing 70 dollars’ worth of ice cream—yes, ice cream—and sentenced to two-to-five years behind bars. Stanfield plays car-thief-turned-FBI-informant Bill O’Neal, who infiltrated the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party and worked his way up to head of security. He was instrumental in pulling off the raid that ended in Hampton’s murder, though in the film he wrestles with his conscience, at times unsure whether he can go through with the orders to drug Hampton. King recalls the magic on set when Stanfield became O’Neal. “The morning of the scene when he has to poison Fred, I’m watching LaKeith throwing up in his trailer. In the moment it was terrible, but it was also exhilarating for him. I knew that as an actor, he was having the time of his life. It’s real for him. He’s really Bill O’Neal in that moment, which as a director is always what you want.” Pivotal circumstances from childhood drove King into filmmaking. For years he struggled in school, and it wasn’t until he excelled in a writing class, expressing himself uninhibitedly, that his confidence grew. His


parents were also important influences. Both worked in education, and his mother, Judy Shepherd-King, was also a playwright. Her play Endangered Species, addressing the “violence [of] young Black men shooting [and] killing each other,” ran in New York for several years in the nineties. Judas and the Black Messiah marks something of a departure for King. How and why did the director of Newlyweeds, an eccentric indie dramedy about love and weed, come to a story as emotionally raw as this? “What drew me to the project almost instantly was the opportunity to put the Panthers’ politics on display. They had a very holistic approach to a lot of the problems that ill us in Western society, and so much misinformation has been put forth about them, so there’s this opportunity to correct the record,” King shares. But don’t expect him to make another film like this anytime soon—or ever. “I loved the experience of making the movie, but I never, ever want to do the same thing again. I want to always try something new. To me the only reason to make anything is because, as far as I know, it doesn’t exist.” In King’s powerful film, the pill of O’Neal’s betrayal is hard to swallow, the charisma of Hampton leaps off the screen and the memory of the Black Panthers lives on long after the credits finish rolling.


King wears a Hermès shirt and David Yurman necklace. Previous spread: King wears a Fendi jacket, Winnie sweater, Bando Vintage jeans, Burberry shoes and John Hardy ring. Grooming by Jessica Ortiz @ Forward Artists using Hawthorne. 95

National YoungArts Week + is a showcase for the country’s most accomplished young designers, photographers and visual artists. Curated by Jasmine Wahi, exhibition now on view at

Joshua Flowers, 2021 YoungArts Winner in Photography, Time’s Neutrality, 2020, photographic collage

02 . 1 4.2021

Shifting Narratives Feeling The Byrnes What Do You Get When You Cross A Goya With A Cartoon? Family Canvas Campo Cuttica My Brother’s Critic A History Of Jumpsuits Kissing In The Getaway Car Beyond The Borders Of Imagination And Bureaucracy Sasha Lane Is More Than Her Origin Story Young Architects 2021 How I Learned To Love The New Red Order And Stop Worrying About The Apocalypse Final Fantasy 97





Henson drapes herself in Diedrick Brackens textiles on her veranda in Los Angeles. Previous spread: Henson wears a Gucci coat and scarf on a set by Gaignard.

Her energy is infectious, her vision for her life and work is vast. Yet even with her fame and her acclaim as an actor, writer and producer, the Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe winner has the remarkable ability to stay grounded in herself and to convey at once a sense of humility and fierce confidence. I spoke to Henson over Zoom recently, and by the time the conversation was over, I felt inspired to revisit my own goals and to give myself a pep talk about what I’m capable of. That’s just the effect her passion and her energy have on you. She makes you feel like you can accomplish whatever you put your mind to. Celebrated for her performances in such films as Baby Boy, Hustle & Flow, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Hidden Figures, Henson has kept busy in the past year, launching a production company, TPH Entertainment, which has a first-look deal with 20th Television and a cruelty-free haircare line, TPH by Taraji. She has also, crucially, continued to address an issue that has animated her for years: mental-health awareness in the African American community. Having founded, in 2018, the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, named after her father who struggled with mental-health issues, Henson launched Peace of Mind with Taraji in December 2020, a Facebook Watch series co-hosted with Tracie Jenkins, her best friend and executive director of the foundation. Though fueled by passion, all of Henson’s work has taught her the value of self-care—for herself, but also for Black women generally. This commitment to giving back and to working for Black women comes in part from Henson’s understanding of walking in the footsteps of those who came before. We can’t begin our conversation without 101


acknowledging the passing of Ms. Cicely Tyson, the pioneering Black actor, and reflecting on the elders and ancestors whom Henson feels have paved the way, in one form or another, for the work she does now. “She meant so much to me. Her brilliance…” Henson muses. “There are so many shoulders I feel like I’m standing on—Hattie McDaniel, vaudeville performers, even the slaves who were forced to perform in freak shows,” she says, visually emotional at the thought. “But also, I owe my heart to women like Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen. I was six months pregnant when I won that scholarship that enabled me to finish my education at Howard University and study my craft. And when people like Lynn Whitfield, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee came back and spoke to us, it made my dreams seem tangible. I thought, I really could graduate and go make it out there.” Henson has been a performer since she was a child. She always felt free to create and felt celebrated for it. But when she was 13 years old, she auditioned for a performing-arts school and was told she didn’t have what it takes, derailing her dreams for a while. The memory of this experience serves as a reminder to her that words have power and that the stories we believe about ourselves can either spur us on to greatness or deter us from becoming who we could be. “At 13 I believed them, that I really didn’t have any talent. So, I went to a regular public school and I found other ways to be creative besides acting. I took sewing, was in fashion shows, did hair and nails.” It was Henson’s father who shifted the narrative for her, and told her a better story about herself and her gifts. He convinced her to apply to Howard University and, as she says, “take up acting like you know you’re supposed to do.”

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Henson wears a Fendi dress. Set by Diedrick Brackens. Previous spread: Henson wears a Miu Miu top and coat with Roberto Coin earrings. Set by Genevieve Gaignard. Hair by Tym Wallace. Makeup by Ashunta Sheriff. Nails by Taraji P. Henson.


Henson recalls, “My father was always telling me I was the greatest actress alive. When I was little, he used to tell me, I was going to win an Oscar for playing Diana Ross. And when I finished college and was just working a regular job trying to survive, he kept asking me, ‘How do you expect to catch fish when you’re on dry land? The acting jobs are not here in DC, the fish are out in CA.’ So I did it.” At 26 she left to pursue her dreams. “I was told everything by other people about how I would never succeed,” she says. “But I like when people tell [me] something I can’t do. That, for some reason, fuels me. I’m like, ‘I’m gonna send you your menu of crow, so you can tell me how you want it when you have to eat it.’” The rest, as they say, is history. Henson now clearly understands her talent and how to use it. But she doesn’t focus on competition in the industry. In tune with her interior voice and her purpose, she’s simply focused on doing what she feels called to do. She believes there are too many women whose work also deserves recognition. “When you have five great performances, how do you judge?” she asks. “It often feels political. I see myself and my work like a visual artist might. They don’t just paint for a check. That’s their soul they’re bearing, trying to shift your perception of life, inspire you to think and teach you something. And that’s how I act. Every character I do is someone’s representation. Someone needs to see it. That’s what I’m focused on.” Henson believes that each character she portrays has something of herself in it, because if she shows any character’s pain, the audience is getting an inkling of her own. But her sense of self-care extends to her understanding of boundaries between her personal life and her work life. “I trained myself early on to turn my work off once I leave the set,” she tells me. “I have to put it in perspective and remember it’s just a job. I can’t carry the character’s worries and mine. It’s too much.” As she explains, this self-care practice is not only essential for her daily life, but also helps her keep longterm visions in perspective. “I’ve had a very clear talk with God,” Henson explains. “I said, ‘I want longevity, to maintain balance and to have a legacy. I want work that I put down that people are going to study.’” This desire comes from her appreciation of the craft in others. “I’m a trained actress,” she says “but I also studied Bette Davis, Lucille Ball, Joan Crawford, Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson, Debbie Allen, Richard Pryor, Carol Burnett… Any time I saw someone that looked like me or that did something that touched me, I was there.” With her new production company, Henson is also turning her sights to caring for those coming behind her. “I love being an actress,” she says, “but now it’s time for me to find and discover new talent, like John Singleton found me for Baby Boy. I saw the breakdown for the movie and, I remember, in all bold caps it said, ‘NEW FACES ONLY.’ And I remember thinking, this is going to be my break.” Henson wants to bring female-centered stories and narratives that represent Black people into the world. “We’re always at the bottom of the totem pole and we’ve been there for much too long,” she explains. “It’s time to hear all of our voices. There’s not just one Black woman, one Black female story. I want to challenge us on that, and I’m going to continue to challenge us on this mental-health issue. Recognizing mental illness, addressing it, and normalizing the conversation around it. When you do that, people see themselves.” Henson realized that raising mental-health awareness in the Black community was part of her mission out of her own personal necessity. After the death of her son’s father and her own father, she and her son were looking for a space to process. But it was hard to find a professional with whom they felt emotionally safe and who also had the cultural understanding to speak to their lives. In her frustration, she decided to do something about it. “I know why this is a problem,” she explains. “We don’t talk about mental health at home, therefore our children don’t grow up [with an awareness of mental-health issues] or even know to go to college to study for that. And our children are suffering because we don’t know the signs to look for with mental illness. The


numbers and suicide rates of our children just made me realize that something had to be done.” So, she collaborated with her sister who has a background in rehabilitation work, and with her best friend, who’d done the research, and came up with the foundation that bears her father’s name. As a self-proclaimed workaholic, Henson had to learn to practice selfcare in all facets of her life. The first step was learning to ask for help. “This strong Black woman thing can be very dangerous,” she tells me. “You know, we take that on and we cope. Then, when we find ourselves broken because we’ve been pushing through things that we should have been dealing with, being flexible beyond what’s healthy for us, we’re the ones who suffer. At 50, I’m learning that I can’t keep bending for everyone else while my own neck is breaking… I’ve got a talk show about mental health, and if I’m on there and I’m not working on healing myself then I’m a hypocrite. I’ve gotten so much feedback from parents who’ve seen the show and feel like it’s really helped them understand their children.” I happened to speak to Henson almost two years to the day since she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, cementing public recognition of her talent and accomplishments. When I ask her to return to that moment and share what it felt like, she expresses her gratitude for it, but also just simply reminds me that she still has bigger visions. “I’m there. That’s legacy. I’m etched with the greats and I’m grateful. But yet, I still feel like I have so much to do.” And by the looks of things, we can expect so much more than what she has already given us. 105







Rose and George Byrne meet at “Post Truth,” the latter’s December exhibition at Los Angeles gallery domicile (n.).


Her brother, George, is a photographer whose large-scale studies of urban textures have an eerie clarity, rendering their subjects nearly abstract. Cultured caught up with the siblings to talk about growing up in Australia, being in Los Angeles and dream projects down the road. When you were growing up, would you have imagined one another in the careers you’ve found? Rose Byrne: Music was really George’s first love, he just loved the guitar. He was always in a band, always playing me music, introducing me to new music. Very much the head of music in our house. And then I remember as he got into high school, he became obsessed with certain artists and images, and it all really started to merge together with him heading off to art school for university. So, I did see that George was always going to be something creative. George, same question, was Rose always the actress in the family? George Byrne: 100%. Never a question. Rose benefited from having the laser beam early. It’s true you master things the more time you spend on them. Where I was flitting around, dipping my toe into different fields, Rose was passionate about performing from the beginning. Since she was a baby she was the entertainer of the family, the crack-up, the comedian, the impersonator—you could just wind her up and let her go at any moment, she was always ready. Does home, where you grew up, ever factor into your work? And if it doesn’t, how did you get that distance? RB: Of course! I think it’s intrinsic to performance for sure. Australian actors have to be thoroughbreds because we have to be able to do theater, television and film. It’s a very small industry over there, so you really have to be able to bounce across all the different mediums to sustain an interesting career. Australians have a unique sense of humor and unique sensibility—to be flexible, give anything a “go” and shift from one genre or profession to another. There is also something interesting about being a foreigner here, always being a little bit of an alien. 111


GB: My whole practice is based on being a foreigner in an alien landscape, that’s the starting point of every series. Being from Australia, I think there is always a need to be outdoors. We grow up at the beach or in the bush, we are inclined to travel, and my work has a lot to do with discovery of new places and ways of seeing. I have a gallery in Sydney, and going back and forth really keeps me linked to home culturally. How does where you live now factor into the work you do? GB: Well for me, I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t moved to the United States. My whole practice right now is focused on exploring the landscape of Los Angeles, so being here is integral to my work. Coming here and having that reaction to the landscape was just an experience of pure intrigue, I was just really obsessed with it from the first day I got here. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it initially, but over the years, continuously shooting it and putting the pieces together and developing a style and series, I owe a lot to the city for what I’m doing. RB: Well, this year we’ve been kind of living on the road, but I’ve been living in the States for a long time, and it factors in a lot. My children were born in America, I’m married to an American [actor Bobby Cannavale]. George and I were just discussing this today, the wildness of America—it’s just enthralling and endlessly enticing. Do you see comedy in your images? What role does comedy play in creativity for you? GB: I see dark comedy in my images, turning forgotten urban spaces into these seismic, beautiful moments. I wouldn’t call it conventionally funny, but it’s definitely its own brand of comical. I tend not to take life too seriously in general. Every once in a while I’ll zoom out on what I’m doing and think the whole thing is completely ridiculous. Rose and I have always connected on that. RB: I also think our family has a sense of not taking things too seriously in a way, that’s also a very Australian quality. Honestly, during this time, it’s such a sigh of relief to laugh at something. Having two small children is a great relief from everything, because of their resilience and their curiosity, and there’s no brighter spot than being with my children at a time like this. Both my kids are very funny, Bobby’s very funny. Our entire family life is always based on a laugh. You both know the power of the camera’s lens to distort and create. In an era where truth is being questioned how do you weigh what you know about culture-making with what you see out in the world? GB: Yeah, we are all learning to be more discerning about what we see and what we read. Visually, I think people have grown to understand that photography is not a medium of truth. My work exists on the edge of reality, really. I’m harnessing technology to create something beautiful, a positive outcome. I’m playing with what is generally perceived as negative. Most


genres of manipulated photography are seen as negative for good reason. This is an aspect I do talk people through when we look at my images. I have to reiterate that these are not designed to be records of truth, rather expressive and impressionistic. RB: I’m working with Craig Gillespie at the moment. He directed I, Tonya, and that film really interestingly shows the completely different perspectives and sides of that story. It’s an amazing example, in terms of storytelling, of the way things can become distorted. I look around at what’s happening now and question if we are all experiencing the same thing, and it’s so clear we are not. Do you ever bounce ideas off of one another? GB: We do. I have a clutch of people that I will throw things at for feedback sometimes, and Rose has a great neutral sense of it. She’s not too immersed in the fine-art world, so she will give me a nice clean, unbiased opinion on what she likes. There’s no faffing around. She’s always very generous and helpful and has been in general with my career. What’s the trait you admire most in the other? RB: For George to generate such a name for himself, and to be so successful while continuing to find inspiration and new mediums, I admire that so much. There are different challenges with acting, there are highs and lows, but nothing really like having to kind of build a business like that. I find that incredible. GB: What’s so funny is that I am the least well-suited to starting a business! With Rose, her humility, empathy and generosity is what I admire most in her. For someone who has done so well and is so respected and talented, I think she’s so incredibly humble. She’s unchanged, she’s grown and changed as a person, but her essence is the same as she was when she was fifteen. If any limitations of budget and time were lifted, what’s your dream project? George: I’ve got a list! But I did just create a dream project: I self-published my first monograph, Post Truth, which was ten years in the making. It tracks really my whole time in Los Angeles and learning how to find the beauty in an urban landscape, and really honing my style and skills. I’d love to try tons of other things, make a record, experiment with film. I’d love to tour an exhibition around the world. RB: Goodness me, yes, of course. My production company, Dollhouse Pictures, is shooting our first feature film in Australia right now and I wish we had more time and more money. It’s an ambitious film and it follows the world of impersonators, so that encompasses a lot of “looks” and sets and it’s going great, but there’s always part of me that wishes we had a little bit more of everything.

Rose’s makeup by Sarit Klein; hair by Tyler Ely. 113


Photography by GILLIAN GARCIA


Danny, Gracie, Rhea and little Zorro at Gracie and Andy Giannakakis’s place in Mount Washington, Los Angeles. 115

THE LOS ANGELES–BASED PAINTER AND PERFORMANCE ARTIST GRACIE DEVITO WILL BE THE FIRST TO ADMIT THAT SHE’S BEEN BLESSED WITH AN ENVIABLE LOCKDOWN SCENARIO. And not just because her pod includes her parents, actors and national treasures Rhea Perlman and Danny DeVito, along with her husband and fellow painter, Andy Giannakakis, and her younger brother, Jake, and older sister, Lucy, who are both, like their folks, in “the Biz.” This clan of accomplished artists also seems to truly enjoy one another’s company, and there’s a sense of creative cross-pollination that means even a family dinner is an opportunity to enrich their respective work. All are admittedly eager for a return to normalcy, but see this renewed intimacy as a definite silver lining. Somewhat more bittersweet was the fact that Gracie’s show of paintings had just opened at LA’s Overduin & Co. when everything shut down. This meant that the work remained on the walls far longer than planned, just sitting “alone on Sunset Boulevard,” as she wistfully recalls. But wrapping up this body of work at this particular moment did enable Gracie to clear both physical and psychic space, leading to an especially fertile creative period in her studio that was only heightened by being “quarantined with fellow artists,” as she puts it.

Gracie DeVito’s Mediterranean Ouroboros (2019).


Of course, this creative interplay began long before COVID hit. “[My parents] were really great at including [my siblings and me] in their work,” she says, “and put in place this philosophy about how to be an artist and then also not really separate that from your day-to-day life.” Gracie has also drawn upon her parents’ complementary modes of expression to help develop her own voice. She describes her mother’s dominant artistic mode as “lunatic, in the best sense of the word… My mom would express things through voice and movement, and also [could have] quite childlike responses to things, which kept you very energized.” While her dad “was kind of more like this like Zen storyteller monk who would make sure you were seeing things from every angle, and breathing in and out.” Put another way, “Dad’s more German expressionist mixed with Goya, and mom’s like this cartoon,” she adds with a laugh. And the blend is evident in Gracie’s paintings, which are somehow both meditative and boisterous. “Baby Gracie” first revealed this penchant for mashing up incongruous ingredients via early avant-garde baking experiments, Rhea reminisces, earning an affectionate eye roll from adult Gracie. Their profiler, however, is grateful for this quintessential glimpse into the artist’s formative years. In contrast to their children, Danny and Rhea’s own artistic awakenings required going a bit more against the grain. They both admitted facing some initial skepticism from their parents regarding their chosen careers. Rhea’s father, Philip Perlman, couldn’t have been too opposed, however, because he went on to become a working actor himself, and it was his future son-in-law who gave him his first break. It all started early in the couple’s courtship, Danny recounts, when Phil revealed his very specific desire to deliver the line “dinner is served” on camera. Happily, Danny was already in a position to make things happen. Assorted small roles followed for Phil, including appearing regularly with his daughter on Cheers.


There is a pleasing symmetry to Rhea and Danny passing on their artistic inclinations bidirectionally, and it reveals the infectious joy they’ve found in their lives’ work, versus some kind of deliberate conditioning of their children to follow in their footsteps. “There was no pressure whatsoever. It was more like they were super excited about whatever we were doing,” Gracie professes. And speaking of bidirectional influence, Danny and Rhea credit Gracie with almost everything they know about contemporary art today. At Brown and then CalArts, Gracie learned to ground her natural (and nurtured) creative impulses in an art-historical context, and she brought her education home. “Gracie became our art teacher,” says Danny, adding that when she took them to Chelsea for the first time, they hadn’t even known about the neighborhood’s galleries. They loved it, and continue to be Gracie’s eager pupils. But life in the DeVito-Perlman pod isn’t all unbridled creative expression. Where there’s art, there is often commerce, but thankfully Gracie’s adjacency to show business has helped prepare her for the world of dealers and collectors. She calls the two industries “similar machines” and observes

that she and her parents, in their respective fields, are facing similar technological transformations meant to maximize profits. This can create further mediation between artist and audience, often without consultation of the artist. And the pandemic has only hastened these developments. Gracie singled out Warner Brothers’ recent decision to release movies directly onto their streaming platform, HBO Max, in lieu of the traditional theatrical wide release. Meanwhile, visual art is being propagated, sold and consumed via increasingly tech-driven means, like this entire year’s worth of virtual fairs. Gracie and her parents don’t see this as inherently bad per se. It’s just that, says Gracie, “Artists have to feel out how they are being represented in the age of tech capitalism and make sure it still feels right.” So, yes, 2020 has been one big curveball for the DeVito-Perlmans. The art market, like almost everything else, is in dramatic flux, and film and theater productions are only starting to ramp back up. But while most of us occupy a less rarefied stratum than this particular family of creatives, we might still try to follow their example by wringing whatever insight we can from this bizarre, transitory moment, before the world changes completely, again. 117


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WHEN RON FINLEY—THE FASHION DESIGNER AND COMMUNITY ACTIVIST WHO BROUGHT GUERRILLA GARDENING TO LOS ANGELES— LENDS PARENTING INSIGHT, IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO DISREGARD. The father of three sons, two of whom, Kohshin and Delfin Finley, are painters setting the West Coast art scene on fire, the elder Finley knows of what he speaks. “When it came to raising my sons, it was a real simple concept,” he tells me. “Good in, good out. If you put beauty in, you get beauty out. I think that happens with everything. You can start with design. You can start with soil. If you’ve got beautiful healthy soil, nine times out of ten, your plants are going to be the same.” Of his child-rearing philosophy: “I said to my children, ‘Operate from happy. If the shit doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it.’” Known as the Gangsta Gardener, Ron has been empowering South LA residents to grow their own food since 2010, when he began planting fruits, flowers and vegetables on the 150-by-10-foot grass parkway outside of his house. Cited at first for violating LA municipal code—and threatened with arrest—he eventually won permission not only to keep his urban forest but to cultivate edible gardens in food deserts across the city, spreading the gospel of independence, healthy eating and social action. In neighborhoods like his own, he explains, it’s much easier to find drive-throughs, package stores and diabetes treatment clinics than wholesome groceries for your family—a manufactured reality imposed by outsiders. Finley describes the origins of the Ron Finley Project—to break out of food prisons and “plant some shit” in traffic medians, abandoned lots and along the curb—in his wildly popular 2013 TED Talk. The obesity rate in South LA, his childhood home and where he raised his sons, approached some five times higher than in Beverly Hills, only 10 miles away. Finley grew tired of seeing wheelchairs “bought and sold like used cars” and “dialysis centers popping up like Starbucks.” Food is the problem, he divined. And food is the solution. “See, I’m an artist,” he tells the TED audience. “Gardening is my graffiti. I grow my art, like where a graffiti artist beautifies walls. Me, I beautify lawns, parkways… You’d be surprised what soil [can] do if you let it be your canvas.” It’s no surprise he deeply influenced two creative powerhouses, with the


kind of hyper-dedication and scrupulously honed skill that art-world success requires. “One thing I noticed when I got to art school was the amount of kids who told me that their parents didn’t want them to pursue anything in art and would much rather they be something more secure, like a doctor or a lawyer,” says Delfin, whose photorealistic portraits confront art history’s long-standing narratives as well as the racial realities of 21st-century America. “It was such a shock to me because my parents, both fashion designers, have always been my biggest fans and supporters.” However, Delfin emphasizes, his father is celebrated for being real. “He means what he says, and doesn’t sugarcoat anything… He’s always been a trailblazer to my brothers and me. It’s nice to see the rest of the world discovering it too.” Even before attending Pasadena’s ArtCenter College of Design, Delfin held his first solo show at Santa Monica’s Lora Schlesinger Gallery. Titled “Some Things Never Change,” a reference to the enduring violence and inequities faced by people of color, it sold out. In one of his most soulful paintings, It’s Only a Matter of Time (2016), Delfin captures his father, barefoot and pensive, tenderly drawn, holding a shovel—a symbol of the danger that Black men face on a daily basis. “We’ve both established our separate studio practices, but I think we inspire each other daily,” he says of his older brother Kohshin, a celebrated figurative painter who creates large-scale, strikingly intimate, grisaille portraits of people of color. The subjects are often friends and peers, at times their necks and faces obscured by streaks of white, symbolizing moments of perseverance through adversity. Kohshin’s process starts with a series of conversations, which he then translates to poetry, before expressing a heightened attention to emotion on canvas. He reflects on his dad’s favorite phrase—he’s been hearing since he was little—“operate from happy.” “Even when he’s not around, I hear him in my ear,” Kohshin tells me. “It’s something that grounds me in my art practice and drives me to work harder every single day on the thing that I love.”

Landscape artist Ron Finley wearing Bode coat and Nicholas Dailey pants in his Los Angeles garden. Previous spread: Kohshin wears Bode coat, Delfin wears Comme Des Garçons Homme Plus coat and Ron in Bode coat. 121

Delfin wears Comme Des Garçons Homme Plus. Ron wears his own clothes with Nicholas Dailey pants. Kohshin wears Bode coat.


“When it came to raising my sons, it was a real simple concept. Good in, good out. If you put beauty in, you get beauty out. I think that happens with everything. You can start with design. You can start with soil. If you’ve got beautiful healthy soil, nine times out of ten, your plants are going to be the same. I said to my children, ‘Operate from happy. If the shit doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it.’”


“It’s almost like a friendly competition,” Delfin muses. “When Kohshin shows me a new painting he’s working on, I’m like, ‘Damn, I need to step it up’—and I’m sure he feels the same way. We’ve both made each other better artists.” In fact, it was Delfin who nudged Kohshin to switch from acrylic to oil paint in his representational artwork. “He showed some reservations because he was still comfortable with acrylic,” recalls Delfin. “But I was like, ‘Dude, trust me. You got to try this.’ Now we’re both oil painting.” However, it was Kohshin who initially inspired Delifn to attend art school and reimagine himself, then primarily a graffiti artist (drawn to work by El Mac and other muralists in his neighborhood), as a fine art painter. “When I was going to art school and getting a formal education, I brought home all my assignments and new techniques,” recalls Kohshin. “We’ve always exchanged knowledge and secrets. Our entire family dynamic is about putting each other in positions to win.” Following parental tradition, Delfin also has one foot firmly in the fashion world, walking and closing out Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer show in June 2019—his runway debut—and featured again in Paris, last January, to present their Fall/Winter collection. Delfin recounts sharing the inaugural experience with his father during his fitting at the atelier and, days later, backstage. “He’s the biggest critic of everyone’s clothes or the way it’s made,” Delfin says. “He’s extremely detail-oriented and it blew my mind when he came with me to Louis Vuitton and saw all the work that they were making… I’ve never seen him so hyped off of somebody else’s clothes.” This spring, both Finley painters appear in a group exhibition at Jeffrey Deitch’s West Hollywood space. “All the time, we’ll geek out on details of paintings,” laughs Kohshin. “We’ll talk about how crazy something is—like, ‘How did John Singer Sargent do that?’—breaking things down in a way that is unique to us. It’s just an understanding between each other, as well as a respect for one another that is the undercurrent of our conversations.” As we spoke, Kohshin was readying two paintings for an upcoming summer exhibition, organized by Helen Molesworth at Jack Shainman Gallery’s outpost in Kinderhook, New York, called The School. He describes both as depicting couples together in love and in the sun. “I wanted to show that love can be captured in artworks in the midst of power and beauty, and not always in dilemma or conflict,” Kohshin explained. “I offer these works as an alternative to show how beautiful it can be.” 123

Delfin wears Louis Vuitton suit. Right: Kohshin wears Bode coat.

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Lautaro, with book, and, from left, Franco, Eugenio and Ruth Cuttica recreate their first family photo taken when they immigrated to the United States. 127


Maybe it’s because they live together on a 40-acre former duck farm turned nature-preserve-cum-artist’s-compound in Flanders, New York, along with guests and tenants like driftwood horses, massive acrylic portraits and two Boston terriers. The family’s story, however, does not start on a sizable retreat down the street from the Hamptons, but rather in Buenos Aires. Eugenio Aldo Cuttica had a burgeoning painting career when he crossed paths with Ruth Elizabeth Keudell, a businesswoman, in 1982. The couple was married two years later and together ran a successful clothing company in Argentina, while Eugenio continued to paint. To escape political turmoil the family, now including sons Lautaro and Franco, decided to move to the United States in 1996. They took a leap of faith and sold all of their belongings to lighten the load. One of the few traces of their former life: a wooden sign that reads, “Trust your crazy ideas,” which now hangs on the front door of their mostly glass home, which the family refers to as the “tree house.” The Cutticas settled in New York City, a nexus of opportunity, art and world culture. Of course, artists move to New York to become known, but Eugenio was already a household name in Argentina. Even after Eugenio left, it was important for him to stay connected to his Argentine roots, so he maintains a studio in Buenos Aires. While travelling back and forth between his studios in Argentina and New York, he has compiled quite the resume, including “Ataraxia,” a 2018 exhibition at MAR Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in Mar del Plata, and a retrospective, “La mirada interior” (The Inner Look), at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires, in 2015. Only after coming this far, did Eugenio realize a higher calling. To him, the logical conclusion of a lifetime in and of art was to help others actualize their own artistic dreams. Together with his family, he conceived the idea of an artist residency, where artists would create and live at Campo Cuttica under the guidance of Eugenio. While the residency program is still in the developmental stages, Eugenio of course has some experience, already having raised two creative sons who grew up putting their little feet in paint buckets around their father’s studio. Franco, now 30, gives me a private virtual tour of Campo Cuttica. Opening the doors to the largest studio on the property reveals a 30,000-square-foot stable full of Franco’s life-sized horse sculptures. Each caballo is pieced together from meticulously chosen driftwood he finds on beaches around the world. Franco purposefully leaves gaps within each horse’s form, creating the illusion that they naturally washed up on shore this way. While some horses end up in collections as stand-alone sculptures, to Franco, they are actually only half-completed. His signature performance is arranging these horses on a shoreline and setting them aflame. He likewise sources baby grand pianos from listings in surrounding neighborhoods and gives them the same treatment, a performance-art reminder of life’s impermanence. I can tell that Franco’s favorite tool in his belt is fire; he refers to his blowtorch as his “brush,” which he uses to burn portraits onto large canvases.


Having just arrived in the United States in 1996, the Cuttica family posed for a group portrait. In true Cuttica fashion, each family member holds an item of importance to them.



Eugenio in his studio with a series of portraits set to be exhibited at Art Museum of the Americas in Washington, DC, in 2022.

This year Franco’s main project was the construction of a tiny house on the property using materials sourced from local listings. One seller even agreed to give up hardwood flooring in exchange for a portrait of his cat. He listed the tiny house, built with his own two hands, on home-sharing sites, and it became such a popular rural escape that Franco now finds himself a proud part-time property manager. Across the campo, we run into Lautaro, 33, at work in his studio. Although now a painter, Lautaro studied architecture at Cooper Union, a training reflected in the sense of space and perspective in his work. Lautaro’s latest collection of paintings is more energetic and expressionistic, as Franco describes it. He uses a technique involving layering and mixing heavy brushstrokes of oils and acrylics to achieve a vibrance that neither medium on its own could deliver. As I should have expected, Lautaro’s wife, Isadora Capraro, is yet another artist in this family of artists. With meditative mindsets and vibrant colors as inspiration, Isadora, working in acrylic, depicts people in yoga poses along with the animals they mirror. Who you won’t see roaming the studios happens to be the engine powering the Cuttica family’s operations. Ruth is the impetus behind this family’s business endeavors and their lives outside the studio. Her upbringing instilled in her productivity and pragmatism, both things she brings to the

Cuttica family table. When the family moved to the States, she ran three Tasti D-Lite frozen-yogurt locations in lower Manhattan, which became the family’s financial engine. From selling art to finding new clients and organizing gallery openings, Ruth makes it possible for the Cuttica family to live a life of art. Despite the family’s resilience, even they felt the effects of the pandemic. Franco describes artists as “already being in quarantine” by nature, so lockdown orders felt like “double quarantine.” The job of an artist is two-fold, Franco explains: “That’s why quarantine is hard for artists… The whole other aspect to our career is getting out, meeting people and making connections.” Although the individual members keep to their own projects, the family had been all-hands-on-deck before the pandemic hit, helping to actualize their dream of creating the residency program on the campo. They plan on jumpstarting this endeavor as soon as they possibly can. Concluding the tour, we come to the main studio, housing some of Eugenio’s most famous works and his collection of classic cars. The recurring character in Eugenio’s multilayered acrylic paintings is a young girl named Luna. She perches herself on high chairs while looking out onto expansive pastures, changing leaves and grandiose seascapes. Luna embodies Eugenio’s philosophy, perhaps something not told often enough, that “everyone is born an artist.” 129





Here and previous page: filmmaker Zal and musician Rostam Batmanglij in Los Angeles, 2020.



When we spoke over Zoom in January, they were fresh off of a highly important family bonding activity: Zal’s dog, Sci-Fi, had just met Rostam’s dog, Rahm, for the first time since Rahm was a tiny puppy. “Not Rahm like Rahm Emanuel,” Rostam clarifies. “But I guess I have to be okay with him being one of the most famous Rahms until my dog becomes a celebrity pup.” It’s not such a ludicrous possibility. Rostam’s profile has continued to rise over 15 years in the music industry. After getting his start as a foundational member of Vampire Weekend, serving as a multi-instrumentalist and producer, Rostam branched out as a solo artist, releasing a widely acclaimed debut album, HalfLight, in 2017. His music is distinct, sparkling—he has a fondness for fusing electronic music with the classical, his bright songs twinkling with harpsichord and sitar. He has made albums with Ra Ra Riot’s Wes Miles (a project called Discovery) and the Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser. And he has produced hit records for countless artists—Frank Ocean, Maggie Rogers, Clairo, Solange, Charli XCX, Haim (he added the saxophone line to “Summer Girl”). During our interview, he was gearing up for the release of a new solo single, “These Kids We Knew,” accompanied by both live and animated videos. An album is forthcoming. His older brother Zal is a filmmaker, his dog christened after his preferred genre. Zal’s films, Sound of My Voice from 2011 and The East from 2013, and his Netflix series The OA (all collaborations with actress and writer Brit Marling) tend to center around cultleader-like figures. With characters searching for some kind of spiritual meaning in the modern world, his work burrows in the cracks of contemporary capitalism, and has been both made and embraced with a kind of religious fervor: when Netflix canceled The OA in 2019, the fan campaign to save the show was so intense that one woman even famously went on a hunger strike. “To me, there was something really brave about that young woman. And the fact that she was a woman, she was young, and she was hunger striking over a television show,” says Zal, “people thought that that was so ridiculous. But when you dig deeper, it wasn’t really about the show. It was about her place in the world. She felt really traumatized by the world, something that I think we all now agree with her is unequivocal. We all feel a little traumatized by being alive.” 133


Zal was born in the South of France in 1981, where his parents had moved from Iran, following the revolution. The family then settled in Washington, DC, where Rostam was born in 1983. Their mother, Najmieh Batmanglij, writes widely admired Persian cookbooks, published by her husband, Mohammad; fans include such culinary heavy hitters as José Andrés and Yotam Ottolenghi, who dubbed Najmieh “the goddess of Iranian cooking.” The books are a collaborative effort, and Rostam and Zal proudly call their parents artists. “Even though I make music, I think of it as making art,” Rostam tells me. “To me it’s all kind of like one project. And so I think my parents are an inspiration for that outlook.” The Batmanglijs immersed their children in art and culture, regularly taking the kids to museums. The boys would sketch together in front of the TV, splayed out over one enormous drawing pad. When Zal was a toddler, his parents even tried taking him to the opera. “I think it ended because I got too scared at Don Giovanni, and so Dad had to drive me home and missed the opera,” he says with a laugh. “So, I think that’s why they didn’t pull that same stuff on you, Rostam.” The Batmanglijs even held regular drawing competitions, in which each member of the family would have to create a family portrait. “Some families spend an afternoon posing for a Christmas card,” offers Zal. “We sort of drew our own one and didn’t send it to anyone. I think that’s another hallmark of our parents—that it was sort of for internal enjoyment. It wasn’t creativity as sort of an external process.” “Well, it was a competition,” says Rostam, laughing. “There would definitely be a winner. Maybe that’s not like other families.” As children, both Batmanglij brothers enlisted one another in creative projects. Zal forced his younger brother into early experiments with film and performance, making Rostam play piano to score plays in the living room, often centered around the wearing of an elaborate wolf mask. And Rostam and a cousin were Zal’s first actors, starring in his home movies. “It was hard for me to not laugh in front of the camera,” recalls Rostam. “I think I was always a little bit camera-shy. But we tried.” Rostam even picked up his first instrument because of his older brother. Zal played the clarinet, and Rostam, inspired at four years old, wanted to play the flute. His hands were too small for the instrument, and thus he started with the recorder years ahead of other kids, forced into it in elementary school. Memories of important times spent together include a high-school– age Rostam visiting his older brother in New York City. It partially inspired the


younger brother to move to the city for college, where he co-founded Vampire Weekend while attending Columbia. Rostam also fondly noted that his older brother took him to see Cruel Intentions, an experience that, while perhaps not as explicitly life-changing as the New York trip, was surely formative. Watching Sarah Michelle Gellar snort cocaine out of a cross necklace seems like a recipe for fraternal bonding. As adults, Rostam and Zal have collaborated; Rostam wrote The OA’s theme music and contributed music to Sound of My Voice. You can see easy similarities between the two—they both speak slightly formally, choosing their words slowly with great care (Rostam even once had an internship at the Oxford English Dictionary, helping to define very 2000s terms like “crunk” and “party foul”). They count on each other’s responses to their work. “Rostam’s opinion is maybe the opinion I hold the highest,” says Zal. “So I want to show him [my work] last, not first. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I guess I don’t need to put a value judgment on it. He’s a tough critic, but also a great critic.” “I played my record for Zal probably too soon, before it was finished,” muses Rostam. “And I found his notes to be painfully good. And at the same time, I think something that’s been harder for me to acknowledge in the last five years of my life is that everyone in my family is critical, and not everybody in the world is critical. And it is something that I have learned in myself, that I need to be very careful about, because having really strong opinions—it’s this beautiful gift and it can also be a terrible curse.” Those strong critiques, like most everything else, have seemed to matter a little less in the wake of the pandemic. When we spoke, LA’s COVID-19 case numbers were spiking, citizens of the city terrified and stir-crazy. Rostam tells me that initially quarantine had provided the space to focus on his new project, but that he was of course ready for it to be over. Zal has enjoyed having the time to watch things (he recommends the Brazilian films Bacurau, Aquarius and The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão), saying he has felt newly reconnected to stories and how important they are. The pandemic, while uniquely horrific, has forced us all to reexamine how and why we live the way we do. It’s a theme redolent of Zal’s work. “All of this is just such a high project,” he says. “It’s hard to really understand what we’re inside of—not only the pandemic, but the American political landscape and the movement that’s been happening, the many movements intersecting together. [I’m] trying to honor this transformative period and try to not cling on to the past too much, which I think is really tempting, especially in work that I do… -I’m just trying to sit in the unknown.” 135




Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art and Centre Georges Pompidou, among others. Her daughter, Zoe Lister-Jones, is an actor, writer and director—the mind behind and star of 2017 indie hit Band Aid, and writer and director of the 2020 feminist teen horror film The Craft: Legacy. Most recently, How It Ends, co-written and co-directed with her husband, Daryl Wein—which follows a woman, played by Lister-Jones, on the last day of the world—just premiered at Sundance. We caught up with mother and daughter to ask about creativity, influences and family history. Ardele, did you have a sense that Zoe was destined for filmmaking and acting? Ardele Lister: I would give her toys to play with when she was little, and she would always go for my equipment. I could never get her out of the studio. So, I put her in a film called Zoe’s Car when she was two or three. This friend of ours played her dad, and I hired some actress to play the mom. And we’re there on set, and Zoe says, “Mom,” and I say, “Yes.” And she says, “Not you.” At two, she had the distinction down pat. Zoe Lister-Jones: I was really method from a young age! Clearly, I loved entering a world of make-believe, as most children do. Children take their imaginations so much more seriously than adults, and so much of the creative process is trying to get back to that place—the curiosity with your own mind and playing within it. Both in writing and acting, there is a certain level of channeling, which is appealing because there are very few moments when I can escape my cerebral self. Do you see your influence on Zoe’s films? AL: When I think about some of Zoe’s films and some of my films, I think we’re in conversation with each other as artists. And she couldn’t help but be somewhat influenced—or maybe inundated—by my work, and by my focus on certain ideas, even if she might use a different form to tell her stories than I use to tell mine. I think we both really value humor to tell a story. And we have a similar sense of humor, which can be kind of sarcastic or pointed. Zoe has focused, like in Band Aid, on intimate relationships and gender issues, and that was certainly the subject of my first film, So Where’s My Prince Already? What do you think, Zo? ZLJ: My mom’s work was told through a feminist lens to varying degrees, and I think I use a similar lens. The ideas and ideologies I was inspired by—and inundated with—were a lot about looking at the ways in which masculine and


Ardele Lister directing So Where’s My Prince Already? in 1976, with cinematographer Saralee James.

Ardele Lister with feminist film collective ReelFeelings.




Zoe Lister-Jones and Cailee Spaeney in How It Ends, which just premiered at Sundance.

feminine energy both meet and come into conflict, and I think that is at the crux of the narratives in both Band Aid and The Craft: Legacy. And... well, growing up, my mom wore a lot of really cool jumpsuits. And I feel inspired by that. There are jumpsuits in both Band Aid and The Craft: Legacy, so I would say that jumpsuits are an important through line. AL: I have a picture of myself in a yellow jumpsuit with Zoe on my shoulders. ZLJ: That’s where it all began! AL: It was really natural for you [to be drawn to filmmaking] having been surrounded by that kind of world, where people were telling stories in film and video. ZLJ: And where there wasn’t a huge amount of separation between the personal and the professional, for better or for worse. I think I understood that you used your work as a video artist to answer big life questions—relationship questions, national identity—and I think I use my work in the same way, to try to investigate questions I don’t have the answers to in my life. AL: I would also say that Zoe and I are in dialogue about work we are doing. She might send me a draft of a script, and I might show her an edit of something I’m working on. We have conversations as artists making work. And, of course, we have such a shared history of experience and points of view that it just enriches a conversation in terms of what we might be able to contribute to each other’s stuff. ZLJ: Yeah, we both value each other’s opinion so deeply, and that’s a really special asset in both of our processes. Video art and filmmaking are sibling disciplines, but there are some huge differences. AL: I say as a joke that I make unpopular culture, and my daughter rebelled by going into popular culture. But it’s obviously much deeper than that. I think because Zoe got to the place of writing and directing through acting, it wasn’t

like our forms were pitted against each other. I always thought it was great that she had chosen acting and was in that world. It was something that I had secretly wanted to do but I never allowed myself to. ZLJ: I have a memory of watching Beverly Hills, 90210 in high school, and my mom sitting next to me and critiquing every single moment. And me being like, “Can you just let me fucking watch my show?” So, maybe I rebelled a little. AL: I love popular culture! I just didn’t make it—I think in some ways because I felt like I didn’t belong in it. And maybe that’s the difference with Zoe. I think Zoe embraced it and had a sense of belonging. When I started out, it really wasn’t possible: there were so few women writing and directing in a Hollywood kind of world. So, the women that I was inspired by were people like Lina Wertmüller. In the world I came up in, we were looking at Italian Neorealists and the Germans, like Fassbinder and Herzog, but there weren’t that many women that I could see as role models. Living in New York at that time, it just was easier to make my own work as a truly independent artist, who fit more into the art world than into either what was then considered independent film or something like Hollywood. ZLJ: I grew up really understanding how deeply painful it is to be an artist. I think your sense of not belonging fueled your work but it also could be quite paralyzing. I think the art world is even more cutthroat than Hollywood, and a medium like video art was so difficult to monetize. And I understood that just being the kid of two artists who felt so frustrated by a lack of recognition, and I saw two people who had to get jobs that ultimately took their focus away from their art. I understood that it was almost impossible to make a living from art. But I am so grateful to have inherited my chutzpah from the OG, Ardele Lister. I don’t think I could have made the waves that I did without a mother who really told me to just fucking go for it and not take “no” for an answer. On Band Aid, hiring a crew that was all women—I grew up with a photo on the wall of my mom’s all-women film collective in the seventies. AL: It’s a photo of eight of us on the beach in wedding dresses. It was called ReelFeelings. We called ourselves a feminist film collective at a time when to do that meant that a couple women wouldn’t join because they didn’t want to be called feminists. Our first film was called So Where’s My Prince Already?. ZLJ: It’s such a brilliant film. All of her work is so brilliant and ahead of its time. And I have a dream of her getting a retrospective because it’s so long overdue. And it was so cool to be exposed to her ideas and to see how she executed those ideas in such a singular way, to see, for lack of a better word, the bravery. And that’s what so cool about video art, it’s such a subversion of form—and to see the poetry in that process. And it was really exciting to go to the MoMA and see my mom’s work. I talk about the heartbreak, but there was also so much that was inspiring and encouraging to witness. And also the video and obscure cinema that I was exposed to from such a young age has so inspired my work to this day. Mother’s Day, when I was nine or 10, my mom took me to the Knitting Factory and we watched a Japanese cult film called Tetsuo: The Iron Man—not the Marvel movie—with a live orchestra, and the protagonist’s dick turned into a drill and he was drilling people. AL: Well, I never liked conventional Mother’s Days. 139



Bradley wears a Bottega Veneta embroidered shirt. Previous page: Bottega Veneta women’s knit cardigan.

THERE’s A SCeNE IN GARRETT BRADLEY’S 2019 short film America where a young girl

cautiously peeks her head through a front door before entering. Is the home hers? Or someone else’s? Though the film is shot in black and white, the room is effulgent, drenched in sun. The girl sits down at the table, tunes the radio to static and puts her head down to nap. A voice comes through, intermittently. During the 50 minutes we spoke by phone, Bradley’s voice similarly cuts in and out, resulting in gaps here and there. “I think it literally is when the wind is blowing,” she theorizes, from an undisclosed location. “Something I’ve been thinking a lot about,” she says of the time since the start of the pandemic and last summer’s uprising, “is how to restart— like, what does restarting really look like for us, as a nation, as a culture, as a society.” America is a series of 12 vignettes, a motion portrait of figures from the first half of the 20th century: Black Girl Scouts, Black baseball players, Black female pilots. A family watches a baptism from the watery view of the baptized. Haunting yet saccharine, it feels like a dream—or is it a memory? Currently on view at MoMA, a three-dimensional installation of America supplements Bradley’s film with scenes from Lime Kiln Club Field Day, a 1914 film thought to be the oldest extant feature with an all-Black cast. Of the hundreds of “race films” made from World War I through the 1940s—the corpus of early Black cinema—maybe a few dozen remain. Bradley sees this as the absence that it is, but also as a spectral presence. In making this contemporary silent film, she chose 35mm not only because it was the standard at the beginning of the 20th century, but because “it’s also, still to this day, in 2021, the most reliable form of archiving something. The lifespan of 35mm film is 500 years, which surpasses any hard drive that exists right now.” (The average hard drive lasts three-to-five years.) Loss is not merely what slips from us; it is, more often, what’s taken away. Time is Bradley’s 2020 feature-length film about a woman named Fox Rich and her fight to free her incarcerated husband, Robert, from the Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola. Rich spent 21 years waiting, calling, lawyering up, and gave Bradley an archive of home recordings that she had made over the two decades. The film, like America shot in black and white, includes lofi video fragments from the archive, heartrending soliloquies addressed to Robert, documentation of their kids’ first—and last—days at school. Much of the film portrays mundane bureaucratic struggle, the slow,


extractive churn of carceral capitalism. In one scene, Fox is talking to Rob on the phone. He’s describing clouds, and then his astonishment at the pecan orchards, planted when he first arrived, now tall and full. “Really?” Fox says. “Yeah,” Rob responds. The phone beeps. A message plays. It’s from Securus, the communication firm facilitating the call, a company known for price gouging and illegally recording conversations. The call between Fox and Rob is over. Bradley lets out a generous “Hmm….” before responding to questions. The filmmaker was born in 1986 in New York. Her mother, Suzanne McClelland, and her father, Peter Bradley, are both abstract painters with institutional recognition. They fell in love, had a daughter and were divorced after a year. Bradley describes a sense of rupture, a different kind of familial absence. “I’ve never had a family dinner, where everybody comes together.” Her father toured the world with Miles Davis, sent his daughter gifts from far-flung places. Though she grew up surrounded by artists and musicians, “filmmaker” and “artist” were never aspirations. “I thought I wanted to be a judge or a race-car driver,” she says. Her love of cars may have something to do with her dad’s proclivity for Ferraris, but “the judge thing for me—and, of course, as I’m older I realize that there’s a lot more complexity to the role of judges—but to me it was amazing that there was a person who could, in an ideal world, create justice. Could evaluate what was fair.” Like most American children, film was a part of growing up. Disney films in particular, which she watched over and over again with her grandmother. “When I think about it, they’re all films that are really about loss, and having to [static].... forge a path for yourself.” The future filmmaker struggled with reading, due to what she calls an extreme case of dyslexia. Bradley didn’t start making art until she was in high school. She submitted her first film to a festival for students at Quaker schools—and won. “I was like, ‘Oh, I’m good at something,’” Bradley reflects. “I found a way to communicate that felt effective and nourishing.” In film, she also found a means for dialogue, for practicing care. “For me, that has been the best way for me to connect to the world—through images.” Film provides a platform for collaboration. Time’s Southern Gothic drone shots of Angola and slow zooms onto Louisianan oil rigs are set to a soundtrack by Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, the 97-years-old Ethiopian 143


Bradley wears a Bottega Veneta women’s knit cardigan.

pianist and composer whose bluesy, liturgical music Bradley found through YouTube’s algorithm. The soundtrack for America is by Trevor Mathison, a member of the Black Audio Film Collective, who was suggested to the director by artist Glenn Ligon, an executive producer of the film. Mathison’s use of loops and reverb evoke a sentiment aptly described by Bradley as “a nostalgia for our future selves,” complimenting the film’s gauzy veils and oblique shots of industrial machinery in repetitive motion. Putting these artists in conversation, Bradley thinks, may grow out of her own family experiences. “My mother’s side and my father’s side come from very different backgrounds,” she explains, “and have not really been in direct dialogue with one another, which might be part of the reason why I decided to invest in this idea of creating dialogue, and invest in this idea of the gray area.” Even if it can be difficult to articulate radical demands from such gray areas, the political commitments and personal connections that Bradley forges in her filmmaking have a way of opening up new possibilities. Time grew out of her work on a short film from 2017 titled Alone, which follows a woman named Aloné as she struggles to decide whether to marry her incarcerated partner. This film is where Fox Rich makes her first appearance, and in one scene, she says to Aloné, “Instead of using the whip, they use mother time.” Since last summer, the demands for abolition have gained steam: Prison abolitionists like Rich have moved from a marginalized position of Black radical politics to a more mainstream discourse on the left, an incredulous, unimaginative liberal establishment notwithstanding. Part of this reckoning comes from the understanding that a historical continuum exists between slavery and contemporary policing and punishment, and growing belief in the possibilities of shifting carceral budgets to fund alternative programs of care, crisis intervention and accountability. Bradley’s work, rather than making these political programs and historical narratives super explicit, focuses on the everydayness of these cruel systems and resistance to them. “I kind of embed those things in the work,” Bradley says, “and some people might see them, and some people may not. But I don’t feel a huge responsibility to make every one of those things unequivocal.” Crucial to her films is the portrayal of life and love’s smaller tasks, those tiny but accumulative strikes against the banalities of evil. Towards the end of Time, Rich is on the phone, unsuccessfully trying to get information about an appeal. In a rare break from the kindhearted stoicism we’ve witnessed throughout the film, she hangs up the phone, and the frustration breaks through. She’s waited 20 years, and now they’re telling her she needs to wait some more. She’s despondent—a prisoner even though she’s on the outside. But then she gathers herself up. The liberation of her husband, her lover, the father of her children—Rich will not rest until it is done. “Success is the best revenge,” she declaims. “They gon’ pay, they gon’ pay, they gon’ pay. They gon’ fuckin’ pay!” Something else Bradley has been thinking about lately is “how we use space, how we think about ownership and property, how we think about our basic economy and the people that actually make it happen.” She also senses a change in her practice as a filmmaker, but is not sure what that will mean or what it will look like. “I think that’s part of the journey of being an artist,” she says, “is everything you don’t have control over.”



beyond the Artist Shirin Neshat talks to Sheila Vand,

borders star of her forthcoming film, Land of Dreams,

of about their creative collaboration, belonging,

imagination displacement and Iran.


by Osman Can Yerebakan

photography by Naima Green


LAST AUGUST, SHIRIN NESHAT STOOD surrounded by portraits madly rotating with the gusts of an unforgiving desert wind. On location in a remote part of New Mexico, the artist suddenly became the subject of her own art: Neshat was circled with faces she had photographed for her latest project, Land of Dreams, encompassing a vast series of photographic portraits and a two-channel video, currently on view at Gladstone Gallery, as well as a feature film—the artist’s third—set to premiere later this year. When the Iranian-American actress Sheila Vand, who plays the lead in the film and the video, saw her director engulfed in a vortex of her images, it felt like “an act of God” in service of art. The process of making Land of Dreams was a surreal one, befitting a tale about an Iranian stealing dreams from New Mexican locals for research. Neshat drove from New York and shot the film in seven weeks with a small crew, right before the second wave of the pandemic reached the Southwest, all while “getting people to believe in a film which was about America but made from the perspective of an Iranian American director.” Since her first feature, Women Without Men, winner of the Silver Lion at the 2009 Venice Film Festival, Neshat’s films have reflected and animated her photographs. In Land of Dreams, Vand plays an Iranian named Simin who disguises herself as an art student, taking portraits and recording the dreams of people across New Mexico. Simin reports her findings to a secret community of Iranians residing in a sterile modernist facility inside a mountain in Navajo Nation. When I connected from Turkey with Neshat and Vand—respectively in New York and California—we delved into a conversation about the places we live in flesh and memory. For the intergenerational pair of Iranians, homeland represents a place beyond place and time, a once lived-in or heard-of land that exceeds the borders of imagination or bureaucracy. Osman Can Yerebakan: Let’s start with how you two first met. Shirin Neshat: I first saw Sheila in the incredible movie A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. That film blew me away, but also Sheila’s performance within it! When I started to think about Land of Dreams, which always was planned as both a feature and artwork, I immediately thought of her. I wrote to our common friend, director Arian Moayed, to put me in touch. Where did we meet again? Sheila Vand: The Bowery Hotel. SN: Right. I remember I was so nervous, because I had only seen her before from a distance, in a play. And to be honest, in a way, I was looking for myself in her—of course, the younger version. For me, this has always been an aspect of my work—that it would be a projection of my experience in this country. It is ultimately fiction, but still, it felt strange to be looking for my alter ego at that restaurant. SV: It’s easy to say what drew me to Shirin: she’s an icon. When our mutual friend reached out, it was really a no-brainer for me. I was so excited to learn what the project was, but also to get to know her because Shirin is that creative that I am always seeking out, those who aren’t beholden to the Hollywood machine. I was also excited to learn that Jean-Claude Carrière was working on this project, and it was this multigenerational story and that they weren’t shying away from some really bold moves with satire and surrealism. OCY: I’m wondering what it was like meeting for the first time as two Iranian-Americans of different generations. Did it start as a mentor and apprentice relationship? SV: Yes. In this business, it’s common to feel that the odds are stacked against you, so I constantly look for guidance. When we met, I immediately felt invited into Shirin’s world, in a way that I haven’t fully been able to even express. As an actor of color, trying always to penetrate an industry that works so hard to dismiss me, I finally felt like I wasn’t trespassing. I was in my own


community. I was surrounded by people that felt like family, and that’s the community that Shirin has built over the years. I spent a lot of time asking Shirin these questions about her past. She was 17 when she came to this country. I think there is so much bravery to have made that leap in that moment in history—I get a lot of strength from that. There’s this feeling in my generation, but probably, also in yours, Shirin, of eternal displacement. There was something very beautiful to meet and feel at home amongst Shirin and this really beautiful team of Iranians she assembles. My Farsi got so much better. I love Persian music, but I was listening to it more because I knew my character did. I’m a bit method in that

On set in New Mexico, Shirin Neshat prepares a scene and battles the elements. Previous spread: Neshat and Sheila Vand in the former’s Brooklyn studio.

sense. I think you can’t really help it sometimes when art mimics life, and life starts to mimic art back. I think that is a part of the way that a sacred thing comes through. OCY: As a young actress, this is already your second major role in which satire is being used for political and social commentary. First you were a vampire in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and now a dream stealer. There is both horror and humor. When you read the script, did you think this is another opportunity for you to be smart in a fun and gory way? SV: That’s the type of stuff that I love, the things that allow you the chance to get a little poetic in your commentary, to be abstract, to get weird. This movie definitely gave me that opportunity. I also think it’s really tricky doing

“For me, the element of unbelievability in dreams is perfect because I’m not really interested in reality. I’m interested in art that makes references to reality but at the same time has a way of escaping it.” —shirin neshat

satire because it’s a fine line. I mostly was trusting Shirin and Jean-Claude to toe that line. I just came in with full conviction and tried to make some bold choices. I speak to so many Persians around my age who say that they didn’t really connect to other Iranians until they got into making movies and music and art, and that’s what happens to Simin in the movie. She finds this community but is still a lone wolf stuck between the two worlds. What was interesting as we went through this process of creating Simin was Shirin and I realized how similar the two of us were. We shared certain neuroses. There was this OCD element that got brought into my character. I started to do some little things with the character to show her neuroses, and

Shirin would walk on set and say, “I didn’t realize we had a lot in common.” Would you agree, Shirin? SN: Absolutely, I think in many ways Simin is the convergence of your and my character as two Iranian women and artists but from different generations. What we do have in common is our vulnerability, a quality that I think has somehow found its way in our work. It’s interesting, Sheila, looking back at my own film work, I see a pattern of finding “muses,” or rather other women who become my extension. There are vivid parallels in between their looks too. For example, in the video trilogy Dreamers, the characters of Natalie Portman, Sarah and Roja—and now yourself in Land of Dreams; All of you are petite and always wearing black. That’s how I look and dress, but honestly it all happened unconsciously. OCY: And very big impressive eyes. SN: Yes. Exactly. What struck me is that the people who I like to embody me always have a certain look—not necessarily me, but it’s not that different. They have a certain beauty that is not on your face. I hate to use this word, but it’s an inner beauty. SV: I am so honored to be in the category. I was definitely molding my character off of you. For instance, in creating the backstory for Simin, there was a whole narrative about how old she was when she came to the United States. There’s an element of her having lost both of her parents, which was really important to me. I feel like kids in the diaspora often feel like orphans. We’re stateless in this way. I don’t know if Shirin and Jean-Claude meant it, but it felt to me like a really important metaphor for the experience of being an immigrant. SN: I hope our intentions would resonate on that level when people eventually see the film. It’s the story of the vulnerability and fragility of immigrants in this country. The film speaks about what America has represented historically: a country that has welcomed the displaced, offering them a second chance, a country that has been built by the blood of its immigrants, but how that identity is at risk and being compromised by the rise of white supremacy and racism. OCY: I wanted to ask you about the surreal element of the film. Iran has a very literate culture. I am wondering if you’re inspired by myths and folklore that you grew up hearing from your family: any Persian tales, any stories that are surreal? SN: Yes. First of all, for a country that is being ruled by dictatorship year after year, poetry and literature has been people’s savior, and magic realism, surrealism have been particularly popular languages because they transcend rules of censorship. For me, the element of unbelievability in dreams is perfect because I’m not really interested in reality. I’m interested in art that makes references to reality but at the same time has a way of escaping it. OCY: How about you, Sheila? SV: Yes, the greatest myth that I grew up with was the myth of Iran as a country. It was like a phantom place for me. I grew up surrounded by this culture. Farsi is my first language despite the fact that I was born in America. My parents very much wanted this tradition to not dissipate. I think one of the greatest fears of a lot of immigrants is that their culture, through generation to generation, is just going to dissolve. There was a lot of effort my parents put in to show me what Iran was and what it looked like and smelled like and felt like. I never got to go there for political reasons. I feel like my character is also searching for a place to come from. She is trying to understand where she belongs. She does find one through social media, and a second through a dream about the Iranian colony that she encounters, both of which are incredibly elusive in the film. OCY: A mirage in the middle of the desert in New Mexico? SV: Exactly. It’s intangible. That’s how I feel about my cultural background as well: it’s something that defines me, that I feel I’m supposed to honor and identify with, yet it’s so far away. 149


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IF YOU ASK SASHA LANE WHAT THE ONE TOPIC IS SHE’S MOST TIRED OF DISCUSSING IN INTERVIEWS, YOU’LL FIND HER TOO POLITE TO ANSWER OUTRIGHT. Though if you nudge her a bit more, the 25-year-old actress will reveal that she does actually have a minor nit to pick. During our phone discussion, Lane briefly pauses and gives the query some serious thought. “What am I tired of being asked about?” she echoes. A few beats later, Lane’s soft-spoken timbre breaks through the silence with sound resolve. “I’m tired of discussing how I was found on the beach and that experience,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve said it so many times. And I’m not a person who lies and will switch it up.” Her story of being “discovered” is the stuff that aspiring actors dream of: a chance encounter with a famous film director (Andrea Arnold) on a sunny beach. It’s a tale worthy of its own cinematic adaptation, but to Lane’s point, it’s been told, ad nauseam. In 2016 Lane burst onto the silver screen in American Honey, as the rebellious, devil-may-care protagonist, Star, caretaker to a band of misfits. It was her first film, the first time she’d ever acted at all. Entering a business full of egos and craftmasters, who’ve devoted their lives to studying something that came naturally to the then 19-year-old, gave the newcomer a major case of imposter syndrome. “Walking into an industry where there are people who’ve been in it for decades and have gone to school and all of that, but your film is the one that goes to Cannes... You just feel guilty and weird about your ability,” she says. Her debut garnered her a British Independent Film Award, a slew of nominations, and the attention of Hollywood. And in the years since she was plucked from oblivion, Lane has steadily moved on through a number of critically acclaimed roles. In The Miseducation of Cameron Post, from 2018, she plays Jane, a teen at a gay-conversion-therapy center, and the same year, in Hearts Beat Loud, Rose, the protagonist’s free-spirited girlfriend. At this precise time last year, the Houston native was wrapping up filming the Amazon series Utopia while preparing for the very real role of motherhood. It was pre-global pandemic and pre-political pandemonium

Makeup by Tasha Reiko Brown; hair by Nai’vasha. Fashion provided by Gucci.

(at least in contrast to the upheavals that lay ahead), and Lane’s mind was focused on becoming a new mom. “I had just gotten off Utopia and I think I was actually preparing to go do another project. It was a weird time for me to operate, being an actress while also not being able to just hop on a plane and leave,” she remembers. Lane gave birth to a healthy baby girl and the self-described lone wolf’s world was turned inside out. While she was used to being a caretaker for friends and family, she’d spent much of her adult life solo and rarely asking for help. “I lived a life as pretty much a loner and, despite being very independent, I always thought of other people,” she says of life before her daughter. “I’d put my energy into making sure everyone else is good, and kind of lacked on myself. I was dealing with a lot of mental illness.” Becoming a mother changed her outlook in many ways. “I have a kid in the world and I’m thinking about work and the election… everything that’s been happening with Black Lives Matter,” she says, trailing off. “Just day to day everything starts to feel like a problem. Then you have to ask yourself, ‘Am I sad or do I just feel the weight of energy?’” It’s safe to say that Lane has evolved from an ingenue, who some might have thought got lucky landing a dream first role, to a tried-andtested talent with staying power. Her career has settled into the kind of ebb and flow of someone serious about their craft. Thankfully, the imposter syndrome phase has waned. “I think actually it has been in the past year that I’ve started to phase out of it,” she says. “I filmed Utopia pregnant the entire time, and there was something that switched on in me. I had to learn a different level of skill.” Lane learned to toe the line, to submerge herself emotionally in a character but not drown. There had to be an off switch when it came to work. After all, the tiny human growing in her belly could feel everything. 153


Lane loves an emotionally-charged role (see: 2019’s Daniel Isn’t Real) but the former high-school athlete also enjoys flexing her physicality for audiences. In Utopia, based on Dennis Kelly’s British series of the same name, she plays the tough-as-nails Jessica Hyde, a character that writer Gillian Flynn adapted for the small screen with Lane in mind from the start. “She has the shapeshifting ability to feel at once raw, unpredictable, and a little unnerving while also making you want to wrap your arms around her,” Flynn said about Lane in a 2019 announcement to The Hollywood Reporter. In 2021, Lane is, like the rest of us, spending more time at home with loved ones. She is also splitting time between Los Angeles and Texas and getting mentally ready for her next big role. Though she remains mum about her upcoming project, her excitement is palpable through the phone. “If you were to say dream job… I think this is something that’s really special,” she says. She’s also just looking forward to living her life and making a home for her newly expanded family. “I woke up this morning remembering I had a lot of weird dreams about house hunting. I think it’s because I was watching House Hunters before I went to bed.” HGTV before bed? Celebs, they’re just like us.

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A storage barn in upstate New York, designed by Worrell Yeung.

caused the first round of nationwide lockdowns last March, it became quite difficult to be an architect. Projects were stalled or canceled altogether, and small studios particularly felt the blow. Architects Max Worrell and Jejon Yeung decided they’d like to do something about it. Partners in life and their Brooklyn-based studio, Worrell Yeung, the duo and several of their industry friends banded together virtually to form Design Advocates, an organization of young designers with a pay-it-forward mission. Collaboratively, they would reach out to neighbors in need across New York City’s five boroughs and support fellow small-business owners with pro bono design work. Since Worrell Yeung was established in 2014, the firm has cut its teeth in the element of architectural surprise—the pared-back, simple geometric façades of its residential, commercial and public projects often reveal complex, textural and light-filled interiors. Upstate, a gable-roofed storage barn unveils a striking juxtaposition of black-stained and natural hemlock-wood siding; while a Dumbo loft strikes a handsome contrast between exposed concrete, terrazzo and wood paneling without losing sight of its surrounding vistas. With the founding of Design Advocates, the duo leveraged their close relationships in the custom-building world, leading “early conversations with our tentacles in the construction industry,” as Yeung puts it. Since then, the studio has helped design and implement outdoor dining pavilions for more than 15 restaurants in Jackson Heights, Queens. The assistance will not stop postpandemic either. What the duo enjoys most is the creative community they’ve found in the group. “We became a shared network of resources” for each other, says Worrell. In times of need, it’s “important to know we are all in this together.” 159



THE PUBLIC ARTWORKS DESIGNED BY studio FreelandBuck are actually very large architectural drawings manifested in three dimensions. Layered, precise and exploring perspective and projection, they also serve as “a testing ground for architectural strategies,” says principal David Freeland, who runs the bicoastal firm from Los Angeles, while partner Brennan Buck heads the New York office. Since they began the firm a decade ago, two areas of interest have emerged for the architects: installation, in which their spatial ideas are perfected, and housing, where restricted sites pose contextual problems to be solved. Both are informed by the studio’s transformations of digital drawings into parametric designs. “Public artwork puts design and invention first. We really enjoy that challenge,” Freeland continues. “And in housing, we are interested in spatial complexity, how geometry negotiates these different kinds of relationships within buildings, and developing the identity of a project through the interior or exterior.” Disparate as they may seem, the typologies inform each other. Like a home, a piece of public art must speak to its context, the pair maintains. In Palo Alto, California, a recently installed sculpture on the Edward Durell Stone-designed city hall campus is constructed of PVC plastic panels printed with manually pixelated photographs of the site itself that highlight the geometry of the surrounding historic buildings. For a stacked house on a hillside site in LA, a ridged façade is painted in varying shades of gray and white to achieve a similarly textural geometry on its surface. Both professors of architecture on their respective coasts, Buck and Freeland have found that the future designers in their classes are interested in digital design not just to inform physical building but also to open up the ways to display concept designs. “A new kind of rigor has emerged that is not so much about the labor of drawing but instead released from the conventions of architectural representations,” explains Freeland. Always ahead of the curve, the firm’s experimental transformations of digital media to architecture speak directly to the occupations of their soon-to-be peers.


On a constrained site in Los Angeles, a 1,500-squarefoot home by FreelandBuck expresses its interior spaces through its massing and cladding. Furniture provided by Knoll, Inc.



On New York’s Lower East Side, Peterson Rich Office transformed a historic former fabric company headquarters into a home for Galerie Perrotin.

AT THE POINT OF INTERSECTION BETWEEN art and history is where one finds the work of Peterson Rich Office. Founded in 2012 by partners (in work and life) Miriam Peterson and Nathan Rich, the Gowanus, Brooklyn-based architecture firm has long held the arts close to its heart: its first project was a painting studio located in a floodplain in Lyme, Connecticut. It was there, too, that the couple became fascinated by the now-fashionable practice of adaptive reuse, transforming a building rather than starting from scratch, using as much of its existing material and structure as possible. “The combination of those two things, historic context that we really dug into and the ecological forces acting on the site in Lyme, became rich territory for thinking about buildings and their constraints and opportunities,” explains Rich. “That was a starting point that steered the office in a particular direction.” Since then, the firm has followed these passions to reinvent a 1902 former fabric company headquarters as an exhibition space for Galerie Perrotin and publish a report, based on six years of research, with the Regional Plan Association to adaptively

transform underfunded New York City Housing Authority properties. Current projects include transforming a former auto body shop in Cold Spring, New York, into a new 6,000-square-foot studio for artist Nina Chanel Abney and redesigning the third floor of the Rubin Museum as a multiuse gallery and gathering space. The duo is also now working on a project that they feel “forms a complete circle” of their architectural interests: for an arts organization in Detroit, PRO is converting a historic church into a gallery, with construction set to start this year. The challenge of taking something old and turning it into something new, whether through light, structure or materiality, has always appealed to Peterson and Rich; their peers are finally catching up. “Compared to 10 to 15 years ago, there has been a significant shift in the way that the architecture community is thinking about existing structures,” says Peterson. “If it is feasible and there is spatial, historical or material value in the historic buildings, adaptive reuse really is the most sustainable design method.” 161


TO BENJAMIN CADENA, THE INTRIGUE of architecture is its ambiguity. “At its core, there is a direct intent to shape environments where people will be,” explains the architect, who has run his own practice, Studio Cadena, in New York since 2015, while also teaching currently at Columbia GSAPP. “What I’m interested in is the consequential impact of architecture in mundane, daily existence. I focus on the sensory aspect of the built environment and its relationship to people and their behaviors.” The way this manifests physically in Cadena’s work is through inherently flexible installations and structures, a method that also allows for more human agency and longerterm use, even of a specified building type. The approach is also more sustainable, explains the architect, as permanent structures can ebb and flow in their interior function. A café, bakery and retail building, for example, that he designed in the capital of his native Colombia features three interconnected spaces where movable furniture allows multiple possibilities for intimate or communal experiences. A colorful pavilion he installed in New York’s Union Square brought joy to winter months through play and curiosity. Currently, Cadena is applying the same effort to housing. Designing two weekend homes for friends in the Catskill Mountains, he has opened the traditional interior plan to give a variety of uses and ultimately, the ability to choose how to live. “Design is always very fixed and it has to be, because it needs utility, but that’s only the beginning,” he says. “Though our environment shapes our behavior, it’s something we can’t entirely prescribe.” He revels in the thought of those possibilities.


At Art Omi in Ghent, New York, Studio Cadena’s Over the Line (2017-2019) temporary installation created an undulating architectural boundary on its natural site.





In 2016 Architensions completed this expansion and renovation of a townhouse in Brooklyn, cladding its exterior in shou sugi ban, a Japanese charred-wood siding.


between Architensions principals Nick Roseboro and Alessandro Orsini that guides the firm to brilliance. “Our differing approaches to architecture don’t meld, and that’s why it works,” explains Roseboro, whose background as a musician and graphic designer and his dedication to equal representation in the built environment leads him to consider the emotional and social implications of design, while Orsini’s formal training in architecture produces researchbased questions and impeccable drawings. Together, the two have formed a studio for which building and experimentation inform each other. Based in both Brooklyn and Rome, Italy, Architensions is fascinated with the communal and the public realm, spheres that are directly tied to today’s conversations about equity. Since Roseboro and Orsini’s partnership began in 2013, they have published research on how architectural changes can provide equal opportunities, at home and at play. In projects like their recently completed House on House in Babylon, New York, a bedroom extension is an exercise in “hacking suburbia,” says Orsini, reinventing privacy and the floor plan of a home to subvert traditional family roles. In the city, the architects collaborate with several other small firms in the cooperative Design Advocates to provide pro bono architectural services to New Yorkers in need. For Van Alen Institute’s Neighborhoods Now, Architensions designed several outdoor-dining parklets for restaurant owners in the Bronx this past summer. “The most important thing for architects is that they show process and research and that, in their work, they do something for humanity,” says Roseboro, who likens the professional relationship between himself and Orsini to that of an editor and writer. His critique of his partner’s research allows new discoveries and considerations. Currently occupying their minds are subjects of domesticity and the future of public space. As he sums up: “We want to make sure we continue to tackle issues of today.”





At the A+D Museum in LA, the firm designed a stage set for a dance performance by MashUp Contemporary Dance Company in 2018. Last year, the event was held again, virtually.

THE BUZZWORD ON EVERY DESIGNER’S lips these days is biophilia. While you would be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t purchase a new houseplant during the pandemic, the insight that our well-being is impacted by spaces we inhabit is by no means limited to that trend. Evidence for this can be found in the ideas and designs of Erin Cuevas and Jana Masset Collatz, partners in Los Angeles-based design firm, Curious Minds LA. “I have a background and interest in bridging architecture with pop culture, music and sociology and using architecture as a way to bring people together in public space. And Jana’s interests revolve around the psychology side—how our minds are shaped around the architecture around us,” says Cuevas, a former dancer whose connection to the arts has steered much of the firm’s clientele thus far. The two women met at Harvard GSD and bonded over a course about neuroaesthetics, an innovative area of neuroscience that examines the relationship between mental well-being and proximity to beautiful environments like nature, the arts and architecture

and design. Since graduating and opening their studio in 2016, they have explored the concept both in research and in practice, even presenting their findings at conferences. Masset Collatz has since become a WELL Accredited Professional for her expertise. Working between the built and the ephemeral, Curious Minds LA aims to design physical environments that promote health and wellness. In neuroaesthetics speak, they want to help people to achieve “effortless attention, a psychologically restorative state that helps you refocus, perform better in tasks and improves your mood,” Collatz explains. Her own research looks at the spaces in nature that cause this reaction, and tries to match them in physical qualities in the built world. So far, the firm has applied their science-based designs to installations for dance, residential projects and now a jewelry store in the Beverly Center. For an upcoming international franchise of dance studios, the arts will influence both the health of the environment and the décor. 165



A rendering of the future Unearthing the Black Aesthetic project by OffTop Design in the Watts neighborhood of LA.

THOUGH HE’S ONLY JUST GRADUATED FROM architecture school at Woodbury University, Demar Matthews is already making waves in the industry through his self-owned studio, OffTop Design. The young designer is exploring Blackness in architecture and bringing his thesis project to fruition in Watts, a historically Black neighborhood in South Los Angeles. “Unearthing the Black Aesthetic” is a 700-square-foot accessory dwelling unit on a lot next to the Watts Towers, the area’s only cultural tourist attraction. On land owned by longtime resident Janine Watkins, the home will serve as a community gathering space and arts center with a “for us, by us” attitude. Matthews’s design for the house is derived entirely from Black culture: box-braid and wave hairstyles inform its façade pattern, the way sunlight streams into the structure is based on Black body language and its massing is inspired by the work of Black artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kehinde Wiley, he says. “This project advances the mission of developing a Black aesthetic,”


explains Matthews. Currently fundraising in partnership with the Architecture and Design Museum in LA, he plans to start construction this year. The Watts home will be the first case study in a series of ten. Though the political awakening in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd led to new scrutiny of whiteness and discrimination in the architectural profession, Matthews maintains that there is a long way to go. His own thesis was prompted by the lack of specifically Black structures presented for study when he was in school. “The focus has been on achieving equity in the profession—only two percent of licensed architects are Black or African American—and equity in academia, where diversity in the classroom is also sorely lacking. But it is hypocritical to fight for equity in academia and the profession, yet not fight for equity in the built environment,” he says. “This architecture isn’t meant to speak to me as a Black person, it’s supposed to speak to us as Black people.”



“I’VE ALWAYS BEEN INTERESTED in people’s abilities to shape their own environments,” says architectural designer Chazandra Kern. “Design should be equitable and accessible. Everyone in the process should have a voice.” At Los Angeles nonprofit LA Más, the young talent has found her peers. Having joined the place-based studio in 2015, Kern has been heading its Backyard Homes Project, which helps alleviate the city’s housing shortage one accessory dwelling unit—or granny flat—at a time. The Northern California native and University of Oregon graduate assists Angelenos in navigating city permitting, designing, building and leasing said ADUs in their own backyards to low-income tenants. The replicable process has, in turn, inspired community organizations in other cities to follow suit for their neighbors. “Our overall mission is to design and build initiatives that promote neighborhood resiliency and elevate the agency of working-class communities of color,” she explains of the hybrid organization— combining design, community development and community engagement—which focuses its efforts on Northeast LA and empowers residents to gain “equitable access to the power and resources to shape their future.” During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, LA Más began a phone tree to ask 1,000 Frogtown residents how it could help. Requests flooded in for food access, PPE and cash assistance. Realizing that these issues are long-term, and only exacerbated by the health crisis, Kern and her coworkers are evolving the nonprofit to serve these needs and abolish their systematic causes, both through design and policy. These are topics that the designer has grown quite familiar with this past year. At Cal Poly Pomona, she co-taught an architectural studio on spatial justice with LA Más co-executive director and cofounder Elizabeth Timme. She also volunteers her time with another nonprofit, Design As Protest, where she helped to develop an anti-racist design justice index written by 200 BIPOC designers. A second-generation Filipina-American, Kern approaches her community work as a listener first. As she explains: “You can only move at the speed of trust.”

An LA Más-designed accessory dwelling unit in an LA backyard.




“THE FASTNESS OF TECHNOLOGY AND the slowness of architecture often create a lot of friction, and it’s somewhere in that paradox that is interesting to us. How do you challenge the slowness of architecture and the fastness of tech?” asks architect Lane Rick. As co-principal of the New York office of architecture studio Office of Things, a role she shares with her partner Can Vu Bui, Rick explores that question firsthand. The firm, which also has offices in Chicago and Charlottesville, Virginia, acts as a sort of collective of five partners: Rick, Vu Bui, JT Bachman, Katie Stranix and Vincent Calabro. For Google and YouTube, it has recently designed a series of immersive spaces: programmable, color-changing rooms for meditation, relaxation and calm in the workplace. Taking cues from light installations by artists like James Turrell, Carlos Cruz-Diez and Ólafur Elíasson, these sculptural rooms are tech-heavy, yet design-forward. The key to making sure your technology doesn’t become outdated before your architecture is built? Hide it, the architects say. “We always ask ourselves, ‘If the technology part breaks, would you notice something is missing?’ To us, it’s really important you don’t,” Rick explains. This way of thinking has led the firm also to a few larger existential questions, specifically their own role as architects in a design world that is being increasingly encroached upon by the population of HGTV-watching DIYers. Renovation “hacks” and kit-of-parts building are not new, but in yesteryear, a home bought in a Sears catalog might be constructed and customized by a professional architect. There are many more products nowadays whose specific purpose is to avoid a licensed professional. “Navigating between what is generic and what is special means creating specificity to play off the generic,” says Rick, who is doing research with Google to explore the most efficient version of this concept. For its current residential projects with smaller budgets, a townhouse in Queens and a brownstone in Brooklyn, Office of Things has yet again embraced the paradox. At the former, for example, the firm added interior arches to guide light through the home in an interesting way. Says Vu Bui: “We’re constantly thinking about how we can retool that idea to better benefit the architecture and design world.”



For a Queens townhouse, Office of Things added interior arches to guide light through the home.



A small Vermont painting studio takes design cues from local vernacular.

“90 TO 95 PERCENT OF THE buildings you see outside of cities are off-the-shelf, kit-of-parts products: strip malls, big-box stores, barns and the like,” states designer Jaffer Kolb. Rather than lament the suburbs’ rejection of custom design, he and architect Ivi Diamantopoulou decided to ask themselves deeper questions about their profession. Is there a middle way? This constant probing into the processes of architecture itself forms the basis of New Affiliates, the New York studio Kolb and Diamantopoulou began in 2016. The pair met in graduate school at Princeton University School of Architecture, where, Diamantopoulou admits, “we were each other’s mentor for a long time before we became each other’s firm partner.” About their dialogic beginnings, Kolb quips: “We could only entertain each other in our endless conversations.” Those conversations led to the creation of a firm that, quite simply, questions everything—and then innovates on it. In its nearly five years of existence, New Affiliates has initiated projects that seek to democratize the oft-elitist profession and improve its systems. Among these efforts are an ongoing collaboration with the New York City Department of Sanitation to design recyclable museum

displays, already used in temporary exhibitions at the Jewish Museum and soon to be adopted by The Shed; rethinking prefab steel construction for a single-family home in Vermont; and exploring the permanent reuse of lifescale architectural mock-ups as base parts for community garden sheds across New York City, a partnership with the Parks Department called Test Beds. “Working with public, open and accessible institutions is really a way to balance out a lot of architecture that is so alienated from the world at large,” explains Diamantopoulou of the city projects that the studio often designs pro bono until fundraising is attained. As the firm looks ahead to the next five years, a new affiliate has recently joined its ranks. Senior designer and Ateliers Jean Nouvel alumnus François Leininger will help the practice scale up its ideas around reuse and mitigating construction’s carbon footprint for bigger, more complex projects. But however large its projects grow, New Affiliates will never lose its inquisitive spirit, assures Kolb. It’s just inherent. “For us, the role of an architect is about trying to find ways to orchestrate preexisting design elements into new, uncanny and beautiful arrangements,” he explains, “rather than investing ourselves in the fetish of ground-up construction.” 169



A 400 Forward sketchoff event with Ford Motor Company at Michigan Central Train Station. Tiffany Brown pictured at the right.

IF THE DISMAL FACT THAT AFRICAN Americans only make up two percent of all licensed architects in the United States was not bad enough, dive deeper into the statistics. Of those two percent, only 20 percent are women—that works out to just 500 Black women who are licensed to practice in this nation. Tiffany Brown wants to help those numbers soar. On the path to licensure herself, the architectural designer, mentor and recently named executive director of the National Organization of Minority Architects is helping others get there too, by starting at the barriers: lack of exposure to the profession and financial hardship. In 2017, the Detroit native began nonprofit 400 Forward to mentor young Black girls with the aim of supporting the career development of 400 licensed architects: cultivating their interests in art and design, assisting in their college applications, supporting them to graduation and eventually paying for their licensing exams. Brown’s passion for steering the next generation of designers like herself stems from her own experience of a lack of exposure to environments conducive to creativity. “Something really prevalent in my approach to mentorship and the things I want to do with 400


Forward is making sure that those that I mentor and those that are doing the mentoring understand what was my point of view: how does it feel to be excluded? What kinds of things create exclusion and how do you solve those problems?” she explains. Now, as her organization has seen a class of young women graduate from architecture school and enter the professional world, it’s clear that it’s working. Very recently, the designer decided to make a change that would allow her to assist ever more architects and architectural designers of color. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest after George Floyd was killed, Brown left her project manager position at SmithGroup to work with the National Organization of Minority Architects full-time. “NOMA has become the go-to entity to help implement change in our profession,” she says. Her goals in this role include securing “jobs and internships for our members, diversity and inclusion training for firms, partnerships to get Black-owned firms more opportunities in their communities and social justice,” to name a few. As she sums it up: “I want to change a system that has been designed to oppress.” We have no doubt she will.



AT THE KNOXVILLE MUSEUM OF ART this past fall, a tangle of plant fibers formed the walls of an open-air structure. To Katie MacDonald and Kyle Schumann, this is the future of architecture. The design duo heads After Architecture, a Charlottesville, Virginia-based practice dedicated to explorations of alternative building materials, grown or harvested. Homegrown, as the installation was called, put their latest bio-experiment on display. Domestic in size, the project is a critique of the standard practice of wood-beam construction and the deforestation and material waste caused by cutting trees into dimensional lumber planks. MacDonald and Schumann instead suggest that we turn to forestry waste and the natural materials ecologists don’t want to self-renew: invasive species such as bamboo and kudzu, whose resiliency and prolific regrowth make them eco-friendly and structurally sound building materials. “We’re interested in exploring new ways that biological materials can be used and implemented aesthetically that will cause people to question their preconceptions,” sums up Schumann, who met MacDonald when they were attending Cornell University’s professional architecture program. With similar design interests that combine technology and nature, the two decided they wanted to begin a firm together before they had even matriculated. “By doing scholarly research to prove the structural integrity of these systems, we can then bring them back into more traditional modes of practice, be they buildings or public art,” MacDonald explains. Parallels can be found in mass timber, a once-experimental material that has since entered the mainstream. In addition to the plant fiber panels, the duo—both professors at the University of Virginia and recent fellows at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville—is exploring chairs grown of barley and composite bamboo panels, the latter currently being tested by researchers at Virginia Tech. Though biologic materials left untreated in the elements may not last as long as their traditional counterparts like metal, concrete or glass, “we’re critical of the value that has been placed on infinite longevity of materials because as tastes or needs change, we are left with artifacts in our environment that can’t degrade,” she explains. Ecologically friendly and variable, these natural materials are a step toward a sustainable future with much less permanent waste.

Homegrown by After Architecture, installed at the Knoxville Museum of Art in Tennessee last fall.






TWO SUMMERS AGO, ON THE STEPS OF THE EXQUISITELY SINISTER AND DEFINITELY HAUNTED PARK AVENUE ARMORY, THE OJIBWAY FILMMAKER AND ARTIST ADAM KHALIL INVITED ME TO JOIN THE NEW RED ORDER. “It’s a public secret society dedicated to channeling the desire for Indigeneity towards indigenous futures,” he explained. “Do you want to become an accomplice?” “Yes,” I immediately replied, “Yes, definitely. I’ll join.” I had no idea what he was talking about. The New Red Order (NRO) is a public secret society composed of diverse networks of informants and accomplices working to channel complicity towards Indigenous futures. The NRO emerges in contradistinction from the Improved Order of Red Men, an American organization revived in 1834 as a whites-only fraternity, whose redface rituals and regalia are inspired by the country’s most famous, foundational act of Indigenous appropriation: the donning of Mohawk disguises by the Sons of Liberty during the Boston Tea Party. If the foundation of settler society rests both on desires for Indigeneity and the violent displacement of Indigenous land and life, the NRO asks whether—and how—those desires could be routed into something productive and perhaps even sustainable. The above statement is cribbed together from various NRO communiqués sprinkled across the internet; the same mysterious and

compelling language can be found over and over on the websites of famous museums, high-profile arts institutions and A-list art publications. If you’re looking for it, information about NRO is everywhere, but actual knowledge is harder to ascertain, emerging gradually through experience and proximity as prospective initiates or curious ethnographers edge closer to the group’s shadowy center. So, it’s some kind of futuriststyle art collective? Or is it really a cult? One guerrilla cell in a militant mass movement? Are they just trolling? And whose project is this? I can tell you that my conscripter, Adam Khalil, is one third of the core vanguard, along with his frequent collaborator and younger brother, filmmaker Zack Khalil, and the artist Jackson Polys. A cursory Google search will yield multiple conflicting origin stories: some sources list the Khalils (Ojibway) and Polys (Tlingit) as co-founders, while others date the first NRO appearance to a performance directed solely by Polys in 2015. (Polys himself has publicly described being inducted into the organization as if it were a mystery cult.) Adam writes to me in an email that there are many invisible hands behind the scenes and “it really is a communal

family dynamic across multiple projects and collaborative constellations.” When I ask Adam to tell me something no one’s ever heard about how NRO works, he sends me a Google doc containing field notes from an anonymous anthropologist who appears to have discovered that NRO has been around for decades, pulling strings at famous historical events and slowly growing its ranks behind a veil of secrecy. The document seems entirely, even obviously, fabricated, but I can’t be sure. If the layered para-fictional narratives behind NRO work to draw our attention to the fiction of our own inherited origin story and the “public secret” in which we all exist (we are living on stolen land), the effects of NRO on the institutions it encounters have been undeniably, materially real. Before Polys and the Khalil brothers joined (or “joined”) NRO, they recall feeling frustrated and trapped in an age-old cycle that mirrored the relationship between the anthropologist and the informant; as Indigenous artists, every time they showed work, they were being called upon to “inform” on their own communities and cultures in a nauseating and non-reciprocal cycle of extraction. Since working with and as NRO,

Members of NRO captured by their own. Previous spread: Emily Allan in a still from NRO recruitment film Never Settle.


the artists routinely publicly acknowledge their complicity as informants, leveraging their status to broker power and effect institutional change that goes beyond symbolic platitude. In recent years, it’s become increasingly in vogue for curators and directors to open arts events with a public acknowledgment that the event is taking place on unceded Indigenous land; NRO utilizes their position as informants to push institutions to broaden their land acknowledgments to include commitments to support Indigenous communities materially and to work to dismantle the ongoing effects of settler colonialism. One of NRO’s most provocative tactics is its use of non-Native accomplices as the forwardfacing representatives of the organization. If you attend an NRO event, you will most likely be treated to a performance by the ever-ubiquitous downtown actor Jim Fletcher, who appears in the artists’ stead, noting that institutions often call on Native artists to do the work of teaching audiences about settler colonialism, and offering himself as a proxy educator in a technique cheekily referred to as the “reverse Brando” (a reference to Sacheen Littlefeather declining the Oscar on behalf of the acclaimed Godfather actor). Fletcher also appears as spokesman in NRO’s recruitment films, NRO: Calling In and NRO: Never Settle, exaggeratedly rendered in the style of corporate headhunting videos in which a cartoonishly positive Fletcher enjoins potential accomplices to “Experience clarity… Attract abundance... Realize your truest self... Never settle.” The informant dynamic is turned on its head as NRO (through Fletcher) invites people grappling with their settler inheritance to report on their own desires to claim Indigeneity. Shocking footage from within the NRO offices demonstrates how the organization offers nonIndigenous people a safe space to explore their most taboo and inappropriate Native cosplay desires by providing them with individualized silicone masks which protect their identities as they work out their relationship with “the imaginary Indian that exists in a lot of people’s heads.” One scene shows willing informants being fitted with their anonymizing silicone masks, losing themselves in an ecstatic dissolution of ego as a similarly masked attendant lulls them into a trance state, quoting the Indigenious Action Media article “Accomplices Not Allies” in a lilting, singsong voice: “The work of an accomplice in anti-colonial struggle is to reconfigure colonial structures, to reconfigure oneself. At some point there will have to be a We and We will have to work together—this means, at the very least, formulating mutual understandings which are not entirely antagonistic …”

IF THE LAYERED PARA-FICTIONAL NARRATIVES BEHIND NRO WORK TO DRAW OUR ATTENTION TO THE FICTION OF OUR OWN INHERITED ORIGIN STORY AND THE “PUBLIC SECRET” IN WHICH WE ALL EXIST (WE ARE LIVING ON STOLEN LAND), THE EFFECTS OF NRO ON THE INSTITUTIONS IT ENCOUNTERS HAVE BEEN UNDENIABLY, MATERIALLY REAL. NRO’s provocations are not simply cancelcourting attempts to troll well-meaning but buffoonish progressive activists; their sly use of humor and double entendre transcend the woke/edgelord dichotomy in which so much of contemporary discourse gets trapped and silenced before it even starts. Their radical and half-parodic techniques are escape routes out of the guilt, shame and uncertainty that so often lead even the most well-meaning allies to disinterested silence or despondent nihilism. NRO suggests that although settler guilt and shame may never be eliminated completely, it can be worked through, made useful, and eventually overcome. At the heart of NRO’s visions for catalyzed Indigenous access and Indigenous futures is the idea that, for better or for worse, at some point there will have to be a We and We will have to work together. NRO’s films continually reference the 2012 essay “Decolonization is not a metaphor,” in which Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang insist that true decolonization calls for the repatriation of all Indigenous land and life, a claim which, when taken at face value, is almost unimaginably ludicrous, profoundly unrealistic and fundamentally unsettling. NRO adopts this position as its own; it makes the distinction between allies and accomplices, insisting that any true decolonial act is inherently against the law and encouraging willing NRO accomplices to commit “crimes against reality.” Without revealing too much, I can tell you that NRO is currently developing and refining speculative technology for committing crimes against the settler-colonial state, including “Culture Capture,” wherein accomplices infiltrate museums and use film and photography techniques to both spectrally

liberate and repatriate stolen Indigenous objects from museums, and to virtually capture, distort and destroy monuments to colonial violence. In preparation for writing this piece, I rewatched NRO: Never Settle and had an interestingly reality-altering experience. Participating in the making of Never Settle was one of my first acts as an accomplice; I “played” a version of myself, giving an interview in which I claimed that I didn’t worry about the end of the world anymore, the NRO had taught me that an apocalypse was just a paradigm shift—Indigenous people lived through one, and we can too. At the time, I was at a stage in my initiation in which I believed the work was mostly humorous, and fictional; I believed I was parodying the tone-deaf settler activist who labors to extract knowledge from Indigenous communities as if it were a natural resource. I recall laughing the first time I saw the film. Maybe it’s just because, these days, I’m on more familiar terms with the apocalypse, locked inside my apartment with my paranoia and despair like everyone else, but when Jim Fletcher cartoonishly ran in place in front of garish greenscreen disaster graphics, yelling, “If we don’t make revolutionary changes at a radical pace, we are all a people without a future,” I felt like I was going to burst into tears. I was recruited all over again. I knew that pandering to apocalypse fears was a Trojan horse recruitment tool, I knew I was being motivated by a self-interested survival instinct, I suspected that NRO might just be an art collective existing mostly in the realm of speculative fiction; it didn’t matter. I was recruited for real. You can join the informants by going to www. or calling 1-888-NEWRED1. 175


Alissa Bennett examines the allure of Titanic merchandising as a case study for our collective obsession with doomed stars. IT WAS IN THE SUMMER OF 1997 that the purple-prose catalog impresario John Peterman first contacted 20th Century Fox regarding the upcoming release of James Cameron’s teen-pleasing disaster epic, Titanic. The film’s future had come into question via a whisper campaign suggesting calamity: over budget by nearly $100 million and behind schedule by five months, Titanic was initially rumored—like its namesake—to be a colossally expensive mistake. But Peterman felt an immediate affinity for its Edwardian nostalgia, and proposed a deal that the studio couldn’t refuse. The sentimentality salesman felt certain he could do a brisk business shilling trinkets snatched from Titanic’s narrative in Peterman’s Eye, an arrangement designed to both ameliorate the film’s debt and bolster its already flagging public profile. By February of 1998, the film had proved its naysayers wrong, grossing


nearly $1 billion at the box office. The spring issue of the Peterman’s Eye catalog (a publication which itself found a degree of fact-fiction crossover on Seinfeld) featured 25 pages of original and replica props and costumes that seemed to have bobbed up from the bottom of the cinematic ocean. The resulting fauxmoth-eaten mise en abîme allowed anyone with a Mastercard the opportunity to wander the corridors of their schlocky Gilded Age fantasies. Amid a glut of beaded charmeuse dresses (offered with matching red satin “life affirming” boots), water-damaged luggage and an assortment of historically accurate White Star dinnerware was the item that sparked immediate desire in the souls of would-be Rose DeWitt Bukater cosplayers everywhere. Presented in a hinged case and accompanied by an official letter of “authenticity” was a $198 reproduction of the film’s MacGuffin: a gigantic heart-shaped cubiczirconia pendant that hung, boulder-like, from a rhinestone-studded chain. 177

Peterman would later claim to have sold nearly $1-million worth of Heart of the Ocean replicas; a passionate group of people wanted to insert themselves into a fictitious narrative of romantic suffering at the center of the ship’s lore. The necklace’s fame imbued its 75-carat imitation-diamond centerpiece with a surplus of meaning that worked to magnify its double artificiality: everyone already understood that the real fake Heart of the Ocean never existed, that its own gleaming bulk was nestled for eternity in the murky depths of the film’s CGI wreckage. What Cameron’s movie and Peterman’s flamboyant bauble threw into sharp relief is the enduring lust the public has for material points of contact that directly intersect with their illusions of emotional intimacy. Passion for the historical details of the RMS Titanic tragedy multiplied in tandem with the popularity of its cinematic retelling, but it was by no means an obscure object of inquiry before. The disaster, which was the first to be covered in real time, courtesy of the wireless telegraph, has thrummed the strings of public obsession ever since the earliest reports of the ship’s failure. Titanic enthusiasts organized appreciation societies as early as the 1960s, and the vessel continues to generate both revenue and myth. Over the past 30 years, thousands of artifacts have been recuperated from the Titanic’s North Atlantic grave, and though many of these items derive their auras from their physical degradation, there are examples that are saturated with a relatable brand of romantic doom. Timed to coincide with the centennial of the sinking, the largest-ever sale of salvaged Titanic artifacts was conducted at Guernsey’s in April 2012. A group of 5,500 items sold en masse to a single buyer, the Titanic Collection included a large section of the ship’s hull, a decorative bronze cherub that once leered at passengers as they descended the grand staircase, and a corroded pocket watch frozen forever at 11:50. Though each of these items drummed up its own frenetic publicity, there was one object that continues to captivate Titanic romantics everywhere: a small rose-gold bracelet with the name Amy spelled out in diamonds. Brought to the surface in 1987, the bracelet made its public debut on Return to the Titanic, a heavily hyped (and heavily scripted) special that aired live from Paris on October 28 of that year, one month following its recovery. Hosted by actor Telly Savalas, the program featured a panel of eveningwearclad experts who examined a selection of the ship’s sodden goods and offered thin speculation on values and origins. Situated next to a plastic tub


filled with black clods of disintegrating banknotes and a bucket of tarnished coins, Amy’s trinket seemed to metonymize the romantic pathos that clings to the ship’s corroding corpse. It was a perfect artifact, an open signifier that invited a starstruck public to dream up a thousand stories of ill-fated love. Message boards devoted to uncovering the mysterious origins of the bracelet include alphabetized passenger manifests (there were only two Amys aboard, but there was also an Amelia and an Amanda) and speculation about relatives and middle names. They discuss circumference and wrist sizes and

offer reverse-inflation calculations to determine what type of person could have afforded such a jewel. The most fascinating theories point to a first-class passenger named Richard Leonard Beckwith, who was rowed to safety with his wife, Sally, and his stepdaughter, Helen, in lifeboat 3; his initials match those monogrammed on the Gladstone bag that the bracelet was found in. On that evidence alone, observers posit an illicit affair. Beckwith’s family, for what it’s worth, has steadfastly denied he had any relationship to the bag or the bracelet, but that doesn’t stop anyone from spinning romantic yarns about the dead man’s philandering. The bracelet, along with the rest of the items included in the Guernsey’s sale, sold for an astounding $200 million. It probably seemed a reasonable price to the devotees who have to content themselves with dreaming about Amy, a girl who never received the token of affection from her married lover’s international journey. It was, I must confess, the Amy bracelet that drew me to the Titanic (and Titanic). Though I have long had a great passion for auctions of oftenobscure belongings of dearly departed Hollywood stars, I had never seen

I consider the Titanic vessel an important figure in the pantheon of doomed starlets, because its expensive and seemingly infallible body shocked the world when it crashed and burned. Like Monroe, like Harlow and Mansfield, the public was ill-prepared for disaster to eclipse the glamour contained by the ship’s promises.

Cameron’s film nor had an interest in the ship itself until a few months ago, when I happened upon images from the Guernsey’s sale. I was immediately struck by how contemporary the bracelet looked, by how much it would have suited Amy Winehouse’s tenderhearted bad-girl style, and I could not shake the similarities with another object that stirs the embers of my heart: lot 409 of the Julien’s 2012 “Icons & Idols” sale. Fans of Brittany Murphy will perhaps recognize lot 409. Mounted in 14-karat white and yellow gold, the words “Joe” and “Brittany” are rendered in pavé diamonds and surrounded by three bubbly hearts in the same nameplate design as poor Amy’s lost bracelet. The necklace serves as a relic of Brittany’s short-lived engagement to production assistant Joe Macaluso, a whirlwind romance that churned its way through the tabloids in under a year, before it was eclipsed by the actress’s squalid marriage to a con artist named Simon Monjack. Brittany’s mother put the necklace up for auction two years after her untimely death. Sandwiched between Murphy’s canceled passport and a painting of a clown by comedian Red Skelton, the necklace hammered at $1,408 after just 10 bids. It was a meager result that seems out of balance with the maelstrom of drama that simmers beneath the object’s tacky early-2000s surface. Symbolic of the actress’s waning popularity and her subsequent demise, the necklace to me presents as a perfect metaphor for her flash-in-the-pan style of celebrity, one that doesn’t last and is all the more touching for it. While it is Murphy’s slow egress from fame that imbues the object with meaning for a person like me, it also perhaps saps her memorabilia of value. She was not an unsinkable ship, just an already-damaged commodity that had trundled slowly off the radar.

The modest results of the Murphy sale stand in stark contrast to the record-breaking 2016 Marilyn Monroe auction at Julien’s, which featured 1,025 of the actress’s personal belongings and memorabilia. Few objects in Hollywood history approach the mythological infamy of the dress Monroe wore when she serenaded John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden in May 1962. Just three months prior to her death, the event has become emblematic of the star’s sensuality and the shambolic disasters that typified her personal life. The nude-colored transparent gown emblazoned with hundreds of spherical crystals hammered at $4,600,000, the highest price ever paid for a slice of the dead actress’s suffering. I consider the Titanic vessel an important figure in the pantheon of doomed starlets, because its expensive and seemingly infallible body shocked the world when it crashed and burned. Like Monroe, like Harlow and Mansfield, the public was ill-prepared for disaster to eclipse the glamour contained by the ship’s promises. To want to wear Harlow’s perfume or use the same Erno Laszlo cream that sat next to Monroe’s deathbed is not so dissimilar to wanting to own a replica of the Heart of the Ocean. For those of who will never touch the Amy bracelet, it probably seems close enough. Just like the rumormongers who questioned the circumstances of Monroe’s downfall, conspiracy theorists have long suggested that there was something foul afoot when the unsinkable Titanic disappeared beneath the ocean. I recently watched a documentary made by British historian Tim Maltin, whose lifelong fascination with the Titanic led him to investigate the weather conditions off the coast of Newfoundland on the night of April 15, 1912. Scouring captains’ logs and firsthand accounts, Maltin discovered that a sudden temperature shift wedded with an unusually clear night sky likely triggered an optical illusion that obscured the iceberg lurking fatally on the horizon. Comparing the stars to city lights viewed from afar at night, Maltin described a phenomenon called “scintillation,” which produces a destabilizing twinkling effect that would have made it difficult to differentiate the water from the sky. I thought immediately of Monroe’s last big night out, standing on a stage in her see-through dress and shimmering under a spotlight as she sang “Happy Birthday” to a man everyone already suspected was her lover. She was, I suppose, scintillating, unable to see that the course she charted could lead to nothing but catastrophe.

From left: Please don’t make me look like a joke (2020), featuring an image of Marilyn Monroe from Hugh Hefner’s collection dropped into the Titanic’s gymnasium. Judy Garland’s Travel Bag (2020). Amy (2020). Previous spread: Soaks away...misery (2020), featuring Judy Garland in a first-class bathtub on the Titanic. 179





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