INTERVIEW BY CLARK RAYBURN / IMAGES COURTESY IZROCK
Izrock Pressings is a small indie-publishing house founded by Joseph Allen Shea, who is also the director or Monster Children Gallery in Sydney, Australia. ANPQ: How did IZROCK start? Joseph Allen Shea: Izrock Pressings began as a way for me to contribute to a very fertile art and skateboarding scene in London in the mid 2000s. I was designing skate magazines and I felt I could use the skills I had to promote the artwork I was inspired by (mainly Side Effects of Urethane and Cide exhibitions) by publishing small artist books and zines. The exhibitions were so great but only a couple hundred people max would see them and almost all of the audience was from inside the scene. This way the work could travel easier and live physically longer. It felt necessary to contribute rather than just be a viewer. ANPQ: What kinds of books have you released? JAS: I have published a bunch of different titles with varying production values, from hand copied, gocko and photocopied zines to bound offset books to newsprint poster-like papers. The content is always art driven and I have co-published several titles with friends and some art institutions too. ANPQ: Do you have a particular focus for the books you put out? JAS: It has to be art focused. I do all the design and I make sure there are never any extraneous graphics getting in the way of the art—I attempt to erase myself from the process. The artists I choose are often Australian but it’s not a prerequisite, it’s just that I try to offer what’s not there already. ANPQ: What are some of your favorite things about publishing from Australia? JAS: It’s a really supportive scene down here and the major art book fair at the Museum of Contemporary Art has become a really massive event. I have some really great friends (Serps Zine, Making Ends and HeSheItTheyI) that I do all the fairs with and we have done a bunch of collaborative projects too. It’s also great to connect with other small press and book makers from all parts of the globe, do a swap or stock or promote each others’ publications. ANPQ: Why do you feel that small publishers like IZROCK are important? JAS: The main thing is that being small means you can take more risks—that may sound more wild than it is—what I mean is that you can work with lesser known and more exciting artists because you have less overheads than the big publishing houses and you can be more resourceful in terms of production. The distribution can be way more personal too—there’s nothing better than getting a hand delivery, right?
ANPQ: What kinds of stuff are you working on now? JAS: I have been on an accidental hiatus from publishing for the first part of this year because a few other projects. But I am about to co-publish my first major curatorial catalog with Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest. Titled Disorder Disorder—Ulterior Motives in Contemporary Art this’ll be the first time I’ve had art foundation funding. There is a homoerotic skate zine in the works titled Hot Dudes, a 200 page book by the artist French, and a still amorphous photobook project with Benjamin Deberdt’s (Pause magazine [France]) photos of Mark Gonzales and the circle board in Paris. www.izrock.com
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INTERVIEW BY AARON ROSE / BAND PHOTOS BY LINDSEY BYRNES & INSTALL SHOT BY SEAN PETERSON
A few months ago on a warm spring night, a huge crowd flooded a downtown warehouse space for the premiere Los Angeles gig of a band called OFF! This is the kind of thing that happens all the time in LA: some new band plays a warehouse and people come out to support. However this event was different. The band in question wasn’t some group of 20-somethings with MicroKorgs. This band was kind of a supergroup. Composed of Circle Jerks/Black Flag singer Keith Morris, Burning Brides frontman Dimitri Coats, Redd Kross bassist Steve McDonald, and Rocket From The Crypt/Hot Snakes drummer Mario Rubalcaba, OFF! is solid talent through and through. Couple that with the fact that the whole space was decorated specifically for the event with a site-specific art installation by Raymond Pettibon, this night wasn’t just about rock and roll. It was a piece of history. We spoke to Dimitri and Keith about this fateful night, how the band started and what it means to be OFF! ANPQ: How did you guys get together? It seems like OFF! came kind of out of the blue. DIMITRI: Keith and I have been friends for years. He worked at the label that signed my other band back in the day and has always been incredibly supportive. He was the DJ at my wedding and we’ve probably eaten upwards of 250 burritos together. We started writing songs about a year ago for what was supposed to be a Circle Jerks record I was producing but the whole thing imploded. We had these great songs and wanted to keep going because the material was getting more intense. We started moving in a darker Black Flag direction, which spoke to Keith’s roots. The idea of starting a new band became way more exciting. We thought of who would be our first choices for a rhythm section. I’d played with Mario before when he filled in on drums for Burning Brides on a Queens of the Stone Age tour. Keith knew Steven from Redd Kross when they were just kids playing shows with Black Flag. It’s been really cool for me and Mario to hear those two talk about the early days. The first time all four of us blasted in a room together it was explosive. What’s crazy is that the whole thing happened by accident. I doubt any of us could have ever imagined this band. It just wouldn’t have happened any other way. We’ve only performed a few times but a lot of people are talking about it and seem super excited. ANPQ: Would you consider yourselves a punk band? KEITH: NO! What for? There’s too many self titled punk bands out there littering the musical landscape. It’s a pablum loaded garbage dump with a stale, new rash of well coifed boys in their mostly matching uniforms doing what their A&R peeps and managers tell them to do. Just following orders, borrowing from some other formulaic and boring group of boys who equate to overly emotional, beer drinking, cigarette puffin’ Jonas Brothers with stinky breath, bad tattoos and decked out in black. My Bro the Boogaloo Omnibus would say “Fuck that crap ‘cause they’ve got no roots!” Most of ‘em if they’d attended my high school would’ve had their asses handed to them at lunch time on a regular basis. 97.5 percent of this will not make your scrotum tingle! It will get a bunch of 13-year-old peach fuzz covered girl stuff excited along with some of their moms and aunts. ANPQ: How do you think the sum of your members come together to create your sound? DIMITRI: Keith has described us as sounding like Led Zeppelin playing Black Flag. There’s a cool crossover RVCA A NP Q.COM • 5
between the four of us. We all love our classic rock and have huge record collections, which would take a lifetime to actually listen to. We dig the Stooges and Ramones but have a deep appreciation for bands like The Move and Captain Beyond. I’ve always thought punk and metal were only a molecule apart. I come more from the metal side than anyone except maybe Mario who lists the drummer of Darkthrone as one of his favorites. Mario was a pro skateboarder, which adds speed, danger, and general insanity to the mix. Steven is a true musician who’s toured with Beck and Sparks. He and I make entertaining bookends for Keith, who bums out on the fact that we grew up Kiss fans and sometimes fall into synchronized stage moves. One thing we all have in common is that there’s not a tattoo among us. You can hear that in the music above all else—that and the fact that our singer helped invent American hardcore. ANPQ: How did the collaboration with Raymond Pettibon come about? KEITH: Raymond and I go back to Hermosa Beach, which is located in the South Bay of Los Angeles County. We were part of a scene based in a Church that helped launch Redd Kross, The Last, Black Flag and The Descendents with all the partying, drinkin’ and goin’ to shows together. He was Black Flag’s flyer and vinyl cover artist and created the “Four Bars” that had nothing to do with bug spray and everything to do with the fact that we were the guys who apparently stuck a rather large pin in the ass of our community. We didn’t set out to do this or had any preconceived ideas as it all just unfolded in front of us. I went and hung out with Raymond a few years back, we struck up right where we’d left off carrying on and reestablishing our friendship. When this OFF! sitch happened it made perfect sense to go to Raymond for artwork as we’re tryin’ to capture some of the BF energy. He senses our energy that’s spilled over onto him and he knows we tapped into a thing we’ve wanted to go back to. ANPQ: Did you guys give him a specific idea or was it more of an improv thing? KEITH: I’d sent Raymond lyrics in an attempt to inspire him but all the artwork we’ve selected was already existing pieces. He did bring out the ink and brushes to add a few strokes and lines and really went out of his way to paint two designs for our LA warehouse party. He’s a Stud Prince Rocker! ANPQ: Would you consider OFF! a band or an art project? DIMITRI: It’s a gang. We might blow all our advance money on matching jackets if we have to. Raymond would be the only reason the word ART would ever be mentioned in the same sentence as OFF! Our first L.A. show at the 6th Street Warehouse was a great example of how music, art, and skateboarding can overlap into a cool event. If there’s any artistic thought to our approach it would be attempting to create non-traditional live situations where we’re able to incorporate all aspects of our collective history. Performing at a warehouse, at the bottom of a skate ramp, in front of a Pettibon installation is our way of saying, “This is who we are so fuck OFF!”
Despite being commonly understood as an arena for rebellion, where breaking the rules is par for the course, in the 1970s one man proved too outrageous, too outlandish, and just too damn “out” for rock and roll. Jobriath, the first openly gay rock star only released two albums on Elektra Records, Jobriath and Street Creatures, less than a year apart. His story is one of the stranger, sadder injustices in pop history. Born Bruce Wayne Campbell in Pennsylvania in 1946, the man who would become Jobriath was a piano prodigy from a young age. He was drafted into the military in the mid 60s, and soon after fled AWOL. Adopting the stage name Jobriath Salisbury (a combination of Bruce’s teenage fascination with religion and his mother’s maiden name), he attended an audition for the hippie musical “Hair” intending to play piano accompaniment for a friend’s reading, and ended up with the role of implicitly gay teen, “Woolf.” Soon after, Jobriath formed the prog rock group Pidgeon, before being found by military police and dragged back to Pennsylvania, where he spent six months in a military psychiatric hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown. This is where much of the work his eponymous solo debut would be written… One fortuitous day, former Carly Simon manager Jerry Brandt overheard CBS Records president Clive Davis listening to and dismissing a demo tape as “mad, unstructured, and destructive to melody.” Brandt took a liking to the music, and thought Jobriath could be an American version of the increasingly successful David Bowie. Brandt tracked down Jobriath, who was working as a prostitute in California. Brandt subsequently had an affair and fell in love with the young musician. Brandt quickly started building hype around the prodigy, securing an unprecedented $500,000 advance from Elektra Records. $80,000 was spent on recording Jobriath’s debut, with almost half going to promotion; this included full-page ads in Vogue, Penthouse, and The New York Times, a huge 41-foot by 43-foot billboard in Times Square, and full-length posters on over 250 NYC buses. Brandt hyped his new star endlessly, with quotes like, “Elvis, The Beatles, Jobriath,” and claims that he and the star had booked flights on Pan American’s first passenger flight to the moon. In interviews, Jobriath declared himself the “True Fairy of Rock and Roll”—a knowing jab at the era’s rockers flirting with bi-sexuality, including Lou Reed, Bowie, and Iggy Pop. Audacity turned outrageous with plans for a three-night Jobriath engagement at the Paris Opera House, kicking off a tour of European opera houses. The stage show was to close with Jobriath dressed as King Kong, projected onto a mini Empire State Building that would turn into a giant spurting penis with a doorway to a piano that Jobriath would cross to, by this time having transformed into Marlene Dietrich. Don’t dream it—be it! At $200,000, the show was eventually deemed too lavish, and pulled. When “Jobriath” was released in 1973 not even the gay messiah could have lived up to the hype. To this day it’s a beguiling, strange album of undeniable ambition and talent, combining baroque rock with theatrical glam, prog and
hard rock. Though it garnered favorable reviews, no one bought the album, due likely to a combination of media fatigue backlash and homophobia. While other male stars had built careers on camp (Liberace) or brazenly alluded to their gay lifestyle (uh, The Village People!) to actually admit and loudly declare your homosexuality was met with open hostility. Keyboardist Hayden Wayne recalled being booed offstage at the Nassau Collisseum in New York for “being faggots.” I’m sure those same stadium fans went ape shit for Queen! “Creatures Of The Street” followed six months later, released with little to no promotion, and even less critical notice. Jobriath was becoming an embarrassment to Elektra, and the man himself was returning to drug and alcohol abuse. On their last U.S. tour, Brandt quit as manager mid-tour, after Jobriath allegedly accused him of using much of their advance to fund a club venture—possibly justified, since the band was never paid. Elektra promptly dropped the band, without canceling the tour. So Jobriath and his backing band, The Creatures, soldiered on with no manager, charging everything to a label they no longer worked for. Ironically, this was when Jobriath actually started developing a following. Their last show, at a university in Alabama, ended with five encores and a near riot when the over-excited crowd triggered a fire alarm. Afterwards, Jobriath returned to his New York City apartment—a three-story, glass pyramid he’d constructed on the rooftop of the Chelsea Hotel. There, he kept his white, baby grand piano and writing desk on the second floor. As he explained in an interview, this was best for creativity, since “one third of the way up a pyramid in the center is where the most energy is concentrated.” Jobriath continued to write music, working on a rock opera called “Popstar” (presumed to be autobiographical), but his 10-year contract with Jerry Brandt prohibited him from recording. He worked as a singer in a restaurant called The Covent Garden, performing under the name Cole Berlin (a nod to both Cole Porter and Irving Berlin), and working as a prostitute occasionally. A 1981 BBC documentary on the Chelsea Hotel can be found online with footage of Jobriath performing as Cole Berlin and being interviewed at his piano in his glass pyramid. Jobriath passed away from AIDS-related illness in 1983; his body wasn’t discovered for at least four days. His military father destroyed many of his possessions, and sold off the piano and some furniture to the next tenant, who eventually gave the piano away. It’s weird to think in a milieu populated with overdoses, indiscriminate couplings, after-hours hotel parties and all manner of infamous incidents, homosexuality was such a shock to the system. Though a sad and cruel story, the footage and recordings Jobriath left behind are a testament to a beautifully ambitious, uninhibited artist and person, whose legacy lives on in modern avant-garde work from Antony and the Johnsons to Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Both Jobriath’s albums are available from Collectors’ Choice Music.
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TEXT BY WILFRED BRANDT
Contemporary Art Daily celebrates one exhibition a day with a strict format of just install shots, press release, and a link to the corresponding page of the staging gallery or museumâ€™s site. No editorializing beyond that implicit in the un-discussed but highly considered curation, which, it could be noted, slants more towards european shows that American art media necessarily tends to pass over. Wonderful. www.contemporaryartdaily.com
TEXT BY JAMES RAINS / PHOTOS BY BRENDAN FOWLER
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INTERVIEW BY AARON ROSE PHOTOGRAPHY BY TODD COLE
The first time I remember meeting Alexi Wasser was in front of a movie theatre in Hollywood. I was just standing there talking to friends when all of a sudden this little bundle of energy came walking up to me. “Hi! I’m Alexi!” she said, as she pushed a small piece of paper in my direction. “Want a sticker?” I glanced down…there in neon pink letters read the moniker imboycrazy.com. It’s not every day that a gorgeous little Tasmanian devil rolls up on me thrusting adhesives in my direction, so I was intrigued to say the least. The next day I found the sticker in my pocket and checked out the website. At first look, I was a bit confused by what was going on. It seemed like this was simply an avenue for this girl to meet and interview cute guys. However, to my surprise, upon deeper exploration I soon saw that there was much more going on. There, dressed up in candy colors, written in a most quirky and idiosyncratic fashion, was a young woman baring her soul to the world. I was immediately curious what would compel someone to be so utterly vulnerable in such a public context. Fast-forward to today and imboycrazy.com has become quite the sensation. Alexi’s site now boasts a wide international readership, she has a weekly radio show, a television series in the works and much more. I recently met Alexi again at a health food market in Los Angeles to conduct the following interview. Over smoothies and raspberry licorice we spoke very frankly about love, sex, drugs and parents. She quickly proclaimed the meeting as our “first date” and to be completely honest, I was more than happy to oblige.
ALEXI WASSER: It’s funny, when you called me for this interview you said you wanted to talk about my website and also “why” I’m doing it…and I was like, “Oh my god he’s a hater! He doesn’t like it…” AARON ROSE: Haha! No. That’s not the case at all. AW: Well, you seemed very stern. You had a very stern vibe. Like, “I’m not letting anybody in here… and that means you, Alexi!” AR: That’s not what I meant! It’s funny though, because my parents told me that when I was a kid, whenever I was upset about something, they would ask me what was wrong and my de facto answer was always, “You’ll never get in!” AW: What was wrong? AR: Everything! I had a pretty rough childhood. But wait! ... Aren’t I supposed to be interviewing you? AW: Oh, ok…sorry. AR: Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me about your teenage years. AW: My teenage years? Um…I don’t know, I went to school, and then, when I was 15, I fell in love with a boy who was 19. He was a drummer. I always loved drummers. I did a bunch of speed and ecstasy and acid and went to shows and worked the door at the Jabberjaw and when The Smell opened up in North Hollywood I worked the door there. AR: So you were a music kid? AW: Totally! My mom was an ’80s rocker. She was in a metal hair band called Precious Metal and my dad’s a photographer. He took art photos. There’s a famous photo of Marcel Duchamp playing chess with a nude woman… AR: I know it. AW: That’s my dad’s photo! He went from that to being a paparazzi photographer for The Star magazine. So I would assist him on paparazzi jobs! We crashed Will Smith’s wedding and all this stuff. Actually, before I was born, my dad was the photo editor at Hustler so he did tons of crazy shit. But anyway, I was a poor kid that grew up in apartments. AR: With weird artsy parents? AW: Yeah…kind of failed artsy parents. AR: Are they really failed? AW: Well for my mom, I don’t know, it’s weird. Nothing ever went her way. She got some success, but then…I dunno. It just didn’t work out. So anyway, for most of my teenage years I did a bunch of drugs and worked the door at clubs. AR: Did you go to college? AW: No. I graduated high school and the next day I moved to New York. I moved into this shitty apartment that my friend had in the West Village. AR: How long did you live in New York? AW: Maybe for like a year? Then I moved to Japan and I lived in Tokyo for six months and I worked as, I guess, a b-grade model for a while. AR: Did they put you on an I.V.? AW: Wait…why? AR: I have some friends who did some modeling over there and if they showed up too heavy the clients would lock them in hotel rooms hooked up to I.V. machines until they lost the weight. AW: No! I wish! I wish they did that. I’m so jealous! I was actually gaining weight at that time. I was getting boobs and hips and they measured us in a g-string every single day! I came in too heavy one day. Some model girl had a birthday party…and I remember they offered me a piece of cake and the owner looked over at me and I said, “No cake…thank you” and the owner was really pleased with me.
AR: That whole modeling trip can get really heavy. AW: It is heavy! But I love the idea of the I.V. I’m so demented I would have done it! What else do you wanna know? I feel like we’re on a date… AR: Really? AW: We are on a date. I’m calling it a date for my self-esteem. AR: OK. This is officially a date. Except, unlike most dates, this time I have to go home and transcribe the whole thing! AW: I wish all my dates would record me! This is actually an ideal date for me. This is great! AR: I’m glad you’re enjoying it so much! Anyway… where were we? I think Tokyo? AW: Yeah, so my friend in New York gave my apartment away to her cousin, so I came back home and lived with my mom in North Hollywood for like two weeks. Then I freaked out…found a studio apartment in Beachwood Canyon, then I started like, gaining weight and booking commercials and, you know, binge eating. AR: Did you ever do a Weight Watchers commercial? AW: No! Oh my god! Maybe one day? I’ve also never done a Vagisil commercial or a tampon commercial. But I did do a Midol commercial the other day and it was the closest I ever want to get to like a period commercial. AR: Oh yeah! I always forget Midol is for periods. AW: I don’t want to talk about this. I don’t get my period. AR: Why do they always make the liquid blue in tampon commercials? AW: Because they don’t want you to think of blood! But they do want you to think of blood. So they get it close enough to blue. Isn’t blood blue in your veins anyway? AR: I guess so…I dunno. I wish they’d just make it red. So let’s get to your website. I think the first time I heard about it was outside a screening at the Cinefamily? AW: That was the second time I met you in my life. AR: When was the first time? Was it at Roscoe’s? AW: Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles? No! Why do you assume I like fried chicken? Yeah…like I was just sitting there binging in the corner with a bib! That wasn’t me! Just ‘cause I have bangs doesn’t mean I’m every girl with bangs. AR: Sorry! I thought I remembered seeing you there! By the way…what’s up with every girl having bangs? AW: I don’t know…I do it because I have a scar on my forehead. I was bitten by a dog when I was two. AR: I still think I saw you at Roscoe’s. But, I’m sure it was that night at Cinefamily when I first heard about imboycrazy.com. I remember you gave me a sticker and I checked it out and I knew a bunch of the dudes on there…so anyway, when and why did you start this website? AW: I started it ’cause I was dating this guy who was always going off like, “I have a clothing line,” or “I have a blog,” or “I have all this shit going on!” and I got so angry and competitive
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with him! I was like, “Blog? What the fuck is a blog?” I hate the word blog. Then it kind of dawned on me and I was like, “Wait a minute! A blog is just this thing on the internet. It’s a forum to express yourself…whether it’s through pictures or drawings or writing.” So I thought, “Ok! My boyfriend has a blog…I’m gonna start a blog! Not only that, but my blog is gonna be the best blog ever cause it’s gonna be really raw.” When I began it, I had to pretend nobody was reading it. Well, actually nobody was reading it, so I though to myself, “What do I love?” I thought, “Well I’m fascinated by people watching and I’m fascinated by falling in love and the dynamics between people and boy watching and beautiful boys or interesting looking faces and whatever. I’m boy crazy!” So I thought, “Fuck, that’s what I’m obsessed with…that’s what it should be!” AR: Have you been that way your whole life? AW: Yeah, I’ve been this way my whole life and I know it stems from fucked up shit. Like, I only now realize it, and it’s probably been really obvious to other people…but the only reason I’m boy crazy, and it’s so lame and boring and I feel like punching myself in the face for this, but…it’s because every time I see a new boy or guy or whatever…it’s like, “Oh my god!” You know, it’s a new possibility of falling in love with somebody and getting somebody to love me like my dad never did. You know what I mean? AR: Oh totally! I get it. I figured it was something like that! [laughs] AW: You know, I have a horrible relationship with my dad. When I was young it was always like, “Do you love me daddy? Do you love me?” And he was always like, “Yeah, I love you,” without emotion or usually he just said nothing! AR: You know when I was talking about wanting to know “why” you are doing this, this is the kind of thing I was wanting to ask you about… AW: Yeah, but so what? I didn’t get what I needed. It’s such a boring fucking sob story. Like who gives a fuck? You know what I mean? But I know what it is. I know what my deal is. So that’s why I’m obsessed with boys and being loved and so I just put myself out there like really hardcore, with all my experiences and all my thoughts and internal whatever… AR: Right. But at the same time, and you must have realized this by now, that by your being able to open yourself up the way you do, in such a public way, you are actually really helping people to look at issues that they are maybe dealing with themselves. AW: Well, yeah! AR: That part of it is what is so totally interesting to me! I can actually relate to what you’re talking about because I was adopted. I’ve had abandonment issues my whole life. My mother abandoned me as a baby, so I’m always afraid that every girl I love will abandon me. For a long time I was looking for my mommy in every girl I got together with… AW: No way! You’re adopted? So you get it. Well, being able to
be open about this stuff and especially when it’s helping people is why I keep writing these things! Because, yeah…ok, I’m gonna go all over the place here… AR: No problem… AW: Ok, so my blog goes in phases. Sometimes I’m not super proud of it ‘cause I’m being kind of lazy and it’s more like self-promotional stuff on there. Then, other weeks it’s all my videos and then other weeks it’s all like, honest stories? There’s also a top 10 list I have called “The Blind Leading the Blind.” So anyway, I have all these different things I do. But you know I’m always the most proud when I write something where after I press “publish” then I’m really scared. You know what I mean? Like when I go, “Oh my god. I just put that out there? Holy fuck!” That’s when I’m really happy. I’m proud of myself when I’m scared. AR: If you aren’t terrified you’re not pushing yourself, right? AW: I know! I get letters from 15-year-old girls all the time and they’re like, “I know! I went through the same thing!” Then I realized as I started writing my website that I have three subconscious—well not really subconscious—but three goals for my website. One is to make people laugh, because sometimes what I write is really heightened and I don’t really mean it, or I kind of do but I just write it really harsh? So one is to make people laugh. Another is to make people feel less alone… and the third is to help people be the best versions of themselves that they can possibly be. Like, I just want people to figure out what they love doing and fucking do it! You don’t have to be scared about people-pleasing or any of that other shit. If you don’t want to hang out with somebody just say you don’t want to…or say you can’t. People don’t communicate well, you know? They don’t follow their instincts. I’m like, “Just do whatever the fuck you wanna do!” AR: Was that always the intention? Even from the very beginning? AW: Pretty much right off the bat I gave an intro that said, “I’m gonna make you feel better about yourself!” I did that by making myself the butt of the joke and putting myself out there. So either people are gonna laugh, or just be really happy that they’re not me. So, I’ve always been kind of real honest about what this is all about. AR: What would you say is like the craziest thing you’ve ever published? Do you remember a specific time when you had that really scared feeling you were talking about? AW: Well, I wrote a story about when I came back to New York from Japan and I was like ten pounds heavier. I was drinking a lot, and I thought I had fallen in love with this guy. So I went to New York to go visit him, but of course it didn’t work out. The hotel I was staying at was shit. It turned out to be a place where prostitutes took their johns. It was a nightmare! So anyway, I called this other dude, and he was like a friend of mine. I had already slept with him in the past, but this time I just needed his help as a friend. So I called him and I was like, “I need to stay at your place, cause this hotel just isn’t ok…” So, I wrote this story about me staying with him and how I was having my period and of course we start fooling around and, wait! I can’t believe I’m telling you this! AR: Why? You already put it out there! AW: Oh yeah! I already put it out there…so I had my period and he goes down on me and I say, “Please don’t do that! I’m having my female problem. You don’t want to go there!” and he just ripped out my tampon with his teeth and went down on me…and then I wrote that I came. AR: What’s the big deal about that? That’s happened to me tons of times! No just joking. So when you wrote that you were afraid to put it out? When you hit publish you were like, “Holy shit!” AW: Well, part of me was like, “Holy Shit!” but also sometimes I get really numb to stuff. Like when I end relationships I’m very cold and I can be very detached sometimes. I’m very good at separating stuff and detaching myself from what I’m writing sometimes too. I can just kind of disconnect really easily. When I wrote that particular story I could disconnect because I was at Cedars Sinai at the time with my friend and he was having surgery and I was up all night writing. It got real bad. It was only later, after I got letters from lots of people about it, that I realized that it was kind of a wild story. AR: What kind of letters did you get?
AW: I don’t know…I can’t even remember. Just people telling me that it’s gnarly or whatever. AR: Do you get hate mail? AW: Oh god yeah! I get hate mail. People write things like, “Fuck you! Nobody’s ever gonna love you cause if you put out these personal stories about guys you date nobody’s gonna want to date you or have sex with you.” People have written horrible shit. I tell my mom and she just bursts into tears. But I mean, you just can’t respond to that kind of crap you know? But sometimes a part of me wants to so bad… AR: But you know those people just want attention from you right? AW: Yeah! I know. They’re trying to bait me and I have to stop myself. Then, I also get a lot of guys asking me out on dates. But all the guys who ask me out on dates are like 4’2” and covered in scales. AR: Really? AW: Yeah, they’re like not cute. So now I’m just abstinent. AR: You mean you’re celibate? AW: Well, I don’t know if masturbating counts? I’m just not sleeping with guys and not dating right now. AR: But aren’t we on a date right now? This makes me think of something. Do you ever find that by spending so much of your time meditating on the nature of relationships, because you know thinking can be very… AW: Draining. AR: …and dangerous! So by spending all this time thinking, thinking, thinking about love and relationships…do you ever feel that you are somehow cutting yourself off from the very thing you crave so much? AW: Hmmm. I don’t know! I just recently got out of a relationship like three months ago and, by the way, I’ll get to your answer, but right now I’m really happy to be single. I just don’t want to be in a relationship with anybody. I don’t want to have to be held accountable to anybody and relationships do take a lot of work and can be draining too. Just to like have to check in with somebody and to like, you know, make sure they’re ok…I don’t know. All I know is that recently I’ve become really work-driven. Like I have a podcast called Boycrazy Radio, which I do every Wednesday night. I speak a lot to kids at high schools and junior highs about stuff like sex and sexuality and safe sex and making your dreams come true… AR: You haven’t answered my question by the way… AW: I know. I don’t know the answer! AR: Ok, the reason I asked this is from personal experience. In prep for this interview, when I was looking over your website, I just started realizing how much you think about stuff. Which then, in turn, got me thinking about how much I think about stuff! Not only that, but how if I think too much…sometimes I’ll think myself into a big brick box… AW: Yeah. AR: So I was just wondering. You know everyone analyzes stuff. It’s normal. But it seems to me that you analyze things on such a macro level! I wonder if it causes you problems in relationships? AW: Yeah. I’m really good at it. Like I do it in every possible way! But I’m a control freak. I’m a total control freak. I’m an only child…you know? But I don’t know if I’m building up a wall. What I am doing is understanding that I don’t need guys to validate me. I know I used to…and probably at the beginning of imboycrazy.com it was like that. That said, I know that my whole blog is basically me going, “Hey look at me! Look what I’m doing!” but it really has gotten to a point where I’m really proud of the stuff that I do. I like it that when I do the podcast, 12-year-old girls to 50-year-old women call in and I really feel like I’m doing something cool and helping them. Being like a big sister or whatever. AR: It’s funny because even though this whole thing started out as some sort of vie for attention, it’s actually turned out to be almost like you’re providing a service. You’re helping people… AW: Yes! And finally now I feel really proud of myself. I know who I am, I don’t need a dude to validate my whole deal. I’ve got so much shit to do, to the point of, where it almost works in the opposite way. I’m kind of not as boy crazy as I once was, but I don’t know, it’s just turning into something else…
Stills from boycrazy promos, dates var.
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AR: Do you think you threaten men? AW: I do worry about men being weirded out or threatened. That said if I did start another relationship again I wouldn’t be writing about the guy…or I would read what I had written about him beforehand and ask, “Is this ok?” or I’d post it like six months later or change details… AR: We live in such a public society I could see you ending up with some dude who’s like, “Yeah! I’m into it. Write all about me!” AW: Yeah, but I don’t wanna do that! I want it to be respectful. It’s funny though because I casually met a guy the other day who was like, “Yeah, lets go on a date just so you can write about me…” I was like, “Well ok, at least he’s upfront and honest.” AR: When you’re in dating mode, how often do you go out with dudes? AW: Not very many. Maybe once or twice a month? AR: It seems like more from looking at your website. AW: Well I space the stories out from a long time ago and I change details because I don’t want people to know who I’m writing about. So even though it might seem like I’m outing somebody…in reality I’m changing up the story a lot. AR: What percentage would you consider truth and what percentage is fiction? AW: It’s 100% truth. It’s all in how I word it! You know, “Once upon a time I…” That way it’s not like, “Last week I did such and such with so and so…” I omit things, but everything I write is true. AR: So you’re not an embellisher? AW: No. It’s every detail of every single thing. One time a guy said, “Oh yeah, I know your blog and I’d love to date you! It’s just your job and I understand that it’s just your job…” I was like, “Yeah, you’re totally right it’s not me, it’s not me,”
but in my head I was totally going, “No! It is me!” In fact it’s the most me you’re ever gonna know. What about you? How often do you date? AR: Not that often because I’m always traveling! AW: …and you’ve set your life up like that on purpose right? What do you need from a girl to make her your girlfriend? AR: Wait. Are you interviewing me now? Hell, I don’t know, I think I just have to be in one place. AW: Yeah, but some random chick could walk down the street and you’re not going to date her just because you’re in the same city. What do you want? Do you want to dominate her? Do you want her to be an equal? What do you need? AR: Of course she has to be an equal! However, I like a balance. In my professional life I like to be the boss, but when I get home I like the lady to be in charge. Ok…in your ultimate dream what is the future of imboycrazy? AW: Oh my god. I have a very specific dream. I want to make this into a TV show. I’m developing it now. It’s like a half-hour scripted show. Maybe something like a Curb Your Enthusiasm meets Sex In The City vibe. I would be Larry David…always getting myself into uncomfortable situations. It’s hyper-real though and the show will put a magnifying glass on situations that TV shows typically hide. AR: So you want it to become a television show? AW: Yeah…and I’d love to keep doing Boycrazy Radio. So that stuff and I’m working on a book that’s called, How To Lose Your Virginity and Survive Your Twenties. It’ll have the same tone as my blog. I’m also really into speaking at high schools and doing more high school tours…so there’s lots of ideas. AR: When you started this did you expect it to grow the way it has?
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AW: No way! AR: Do you remember at what point you started to realize that people cared about what you were doing? AW: Well, you know my viewer numbers started growing and growing and growing, and then I started getting tons of letters. I just get hundreds and hundreds of emails from kids or random people who are interested. I love the 12-yearold kids in Mississippi who write stuff like, “Oh my god I’m so happy you’re here! I can’t talk about this stuff with my parents!” A really cool thing to do on a TV show would be to go to Mississippi and be like a go-between for a bisexual or gay boy and his parents. Like help him come out of the closet… AR: How do people usually find out about you? AW: I have no idea. Word of mouth I guess mostly? You know what’s funny though? I’ve been learning that even though you may get what you want, a lot of the time you’re still not satisfied. You just want more stuff…and maybe that’s just because we have to keep on making stuff. You know… creating things. AR: Do you think you’ll ever fall in love again? AW: Yes! I do. Totally! I’m not bitter. I’m totally open to it. But that’s why I’m not dating right now. Because when I fall in love I fall in love so hardcore that it just becomes like storybook craziness. I feel like I really just need to be focused on making stuff and being creative. Because that’s when I’m the happiest. When I write something, and I make it really, really honest and raw…or even when I’m out stickering the city with imboycrazy.com stickers or if I’m making t-shirts or if I’m out talking at schools. You know, when I’m really doing something, that’s when I feel the best. So I just have to keep doing stuff. You know? Being productive.
TEXT BY ALEXIS GEORGOPOULOS / IMAGES COURTESY OF PRIMARY INFORMATION A few years ago, while working a pleasantly slow afternoon at Adobe Bookshop in San Francisco, I stepped away from the front desk to sift through the stacks of odds and ends the owner had brought in when I came across something that stood out from the tattered lot of Proust and Salinger paperbacks. In bold sans-serif type, it simply said: Avalanche. Behind the evocative title—at once poetic, naturalistic, forceful—loomed a striking portrait of an artist, a young Bruce Nauman. With its name and exceptional design, it immediately evoked a small group of magazines I’d recently come across (and coveted) in used bookshops—Aspen and Parachute in particular—each with uncannily similar names evoking the natural grandeur and folksiness of the wide-open American West of the ‘70s. When I opened it up, I felt the rush that accompanies the feeling of discovery. Avalanche was like a user’s manual to Conceptual Art. As I leafed through, every page led to artists I was either familiar with— Robert Smithson, On Kawara, Sol LeWitt, La Monte Young, Gilbert & George, Joan Jonas, Keith Sonnier, Mel Bochner—or had heard of but whose work I didn’t know—Walter De Maria, Jennifer Bartlett, Jackie Winsor, Trisha Brown, Jannis Kounellis, Braco Dimitrijevic, Hannah Wilke. The conversations were ambitious but weren’t characterized by pretense. The photographs were extensive and rich—everything was presented with craft and care. I’d soon learn the magazine’s founders and editors, Willoughby Sharp and Liza Bear, were some of the earliest proponents of Conceptual Art in its various guises: Land, Feminist, Performative, Body, Information, Linguistic. From a spartan apartment on Manhattan’s East 20th Street that doubled as a live/work space, Sharp and Bear created a venue for artists like Joseph Beuys, Vito Acconci, Jan Dibbets and William Wegman—each of whom were featured in Avalanche before having one-person gallery exhibitions in the US—to not only discuss their work from their perspective, as opposed to a critic’s interpretation, but also to use those large square pages (later, due to the rising cost of printing, the magazine switched to a rectangular newsprint format) as a venue in and of itself. Sharp, an eccentric longhair who, with his penchant for civil war jackets looked like a member of Quicksilver Messenger Service, and who did performance pieces using LSD like some mad cross between Bas Jan Ader and Timothy Leary, and Bear, a curlyhaired French art historian and filmmaker raised primarily in the UK whose thick glasses cast a distinct bookishness about her, dreamed up Avalanche in 1968. Though their first interview, with Carl Andre, took place in December of that year, it wasn’t until October 1970 that the magazine first hit newsstands.
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(top row, left to right): The first of Avalanche’s signature artist headshot covers: German sculptor Joseph Beuys, Avalanche 1, Fall 1970. Photo: Shunk-Kender Cover of Avalanche 5, Summer 1972, Yvonne Rainer. Photo: Gianfranco Gorgoni Cover of Avalanche, Winter, 1971, cover Bruce Nauman. Photo: Gianfranco Gorgoni Cover of Avalanche 6, Vito Acconci. Photo: Van Schley Cover of Avalanche 4, Lawrence Weiner. Photo: Doug Connor (second row, left to right): Cover of Avalanche 10, December 1974, Jack Smith. Photo: Gwenn Thomas “Rumbles” spread from Avalanche 7 Liza Béar and Willoughby Sharp, cofounders, with production crew Alfonia Tims, Barry Ledoux and Chris Lethbridge (back row) at the Avalanche HQ, 93 Grand Street, New York, 1973. Photo: Cosmos 10
Between that first issue in 1970, with the unmistakable steely gaze of Joseph Beuys on its cover, and the last in 1976, Avalanche dedicated its pithy contents to The Artist, rather than to The Critic. You can find its influence today in magazines such as the one you’re holding in your hands. As filmmaker Coleen Fitzgibbon put it, “Instead of critics’ boring palaver about what they thought the artists were doing, this time the artists said what they thought they were doing.” Avalanche handed “the podium to the artists,” agreed New York poet Michael Andre. “It was in the business of discovering rather than evaluating.” This was especially useful as the great majority of the work was decidedly anti-materialist, rarely consisting of sellable material at all. Documentation of such ephemeral work was essential for those who might not be present during a performance or a temporary sculpture. Interviews were conducted exclusively by Sharp and Bear. The subject matter was typically philosophical, dealing with modes of being, consciousness, deconstructions of The Self, mind/body segregation. Intellectual though it was, it never came off as the kind of insider, academic jargon that characterizes so many art magazines today. Whimsy and wit were very much part of the proceedings. Photos of interviews reveal not the sterile, hallowed halls of The Institution but roughshod dining tables where the likes of Lawrence Wiener or Ed Ruscha are seen lighting cigarettes and pouring dark coffee while dishes of homemade food and bottles of wine and whiskey surround them. The conversations were elevated but the vibe was downright earthy. Seen now, even the advertisements are fascinating relics. Often designed by Sharp and Bear, they were carried off with a panache contemporary designers would pine for. While often characterized by a clean approach informed by Swiss design, they have a shaggy haired but incisive approach to text and image. Nearly every issue contained ads from the art collective & restaurant FOOD (founded by Gordon Matta-Clark and Carol Goodden) at 127 Prince Street and for performances at La Monte Young’s Dreamhouse at 275 Church Street. “The hand of the artist was on all fronts,” explains sculptor Jackie Winsor, the subject of numerous features in the magazine. “The design of the advertisements also supported the rest and wasn’t intrusive or junky. You were willing to have it around simply because it looked good.” Ads for Sharp’s own services—as lecturer primarily—were not without cheek. With their sense of Pop whimsy—and of using advertising space as a site for artistic purposes—he helped foreshadow our own contemporary moment’s approach to advertising space. In addition to lengthy interviews and extensive photographic documentation, the magazine also included the Rumbles section at the front of the book. Seen in hindsight, it offers an intimate time capsule of the era. Effectively a list of announcements: you might learn of an opening for a Keith Arnatt show, about a performative dance by the likes of Yvonne Rainer, Simone Forti or the Judson Church Dance Theatre, or about a music performance by Charlemagne Palestine, Steve Reich or Phil Glass (as he was known then). Frequently, many of these people would work together, putting on all-encompassing pieces that combined visual art, sound, movement. This ethos of freedom, traversing genre and medium, would come to define these downtown artists—(as they were known even if they didn’t live below 14th street). Ultimately, they would precede and predict No Wave. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, to learn Avalanche HQ, in its early days, was just a few blocks from Max’s Kansas City, where the worlds of music, artists, writers and theater collided, over chickpeas and steak, and just as often in an alcohol- and/or drug-induced haze. Since its last issue in 1976, Avalanche has been out of print—or awfully expensive, if you were lucky enough to find the odd issue here or there. In recent years, in part due to Sharp’s passing in 2009 and a recognition of the rich, intimate documentation of what now amounts to a Who’s Who of the 70s avant-garde, the long out-of-print issues have been increasingly soughtafter. New York publishing house Primary Information has just issued a boxed facsimile edition of the magazine’s complete run. Like the recent File box set (JRP), this timely historical reissue promises to inform artists, underground publishers, writers, designers, curators and critics as much as it will inspire them. No longer do we need to search, like archeologists on a dig, under endless piles of used books and magazines. Now, Avalanche has resurfaced for all to find.
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TEXT BY RON CAMERON / IMAGES COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
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“I didn’t know Jonathan Winters is an artist” appears to be the understatement of the century. Most people seem to give him hero status for his often bonkers and other-worldly comedic television appearances on Jack Paar’s The Tonight Show, The Steve Allen Show, The Dean Martin Show, Laugh-In and Mork & Mindy and his movie roles in It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming and The Loved One. Few are aware that art has always been his first love. In fact he attributes the four years he spent at art school (Kenyon College and Dayton Art Institute) to discovering his powers of observation—a skill that catapulted his lifelong career of character development and improvisational comedy. When it comes to anything that Jonathan does, he seems to have a different rule book than the rest of us. This of course applies to his art as well, consciously aspiring early on to develop his own style. Much of his art borders on psychedelic, although he claims that art critics repeatedly label his style as surrealist and primitive. His art also commonly has deep social commentary (albeit between-the-lines), and plenty of dark humor. More importantly, his work often strongly communicates a “question everything” attitude, which naturally aligns itself more to the alternative and outsider art communities than the traditional and often conservative fine art circles. Here’s where I may be personally going out on a limb: after I started discovering his various books of painting, cartoons and short stories in the mid to late ‘90s, I started to see very strong connections between what Jonathan has been doing since the 50s and the entire alternative world of art, skateboarding and music that blossomed in the 80s. Some of his cartoons and illustrations reminded me of Neil Blender’s amazing doodles that we 80s skateboarders cherished so much. His use of abstract symbolism and free-form creativity made me think of Mark Gonzales. His sometimes Twilight Zone–like short stories felt at home with the bizarre and fictional writings that Neil Blender, Lance Mountain and Gary Scott Davis were somehow allowed to put out in Trans World Skateboarding magazine in the early 80s. His coverall costume appearance in Mad Mad World and his “General Boy” military outfit on the cover of Help! magazine drew distinct lines to early DEVO videos for me. May I also be so bold to add that with his psychedelic and scribbly line work and constant use of Native American
and UFO themes I even drew a connection to my own artwork and ideas for Blockhead and Acme Skateboards. By 2000 or so I started to detect that he was one of “us,” instead of just another so-called celebrity or TV star. Much in the way that Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain always pointed fingers back to Neil Young as the “godfather of grunge,” then maybe, just perhaps, Jonathan Winters is truly one of “our” unspoken alternative skateboard/art/music world “godfathers.” Jonathan has always taken his art very seriously, while also using it as one of the few (or only) ways for him to completely relax. Art has been his strongest avenue for expressing his attitude and personality, and most importantly communicating his ideas. Winters thinks of himself foremost as an “ideas person.” He’s been successful with these artistic “ideas” outside of the entertainment field, feeling most proud of being asked to have his cartoons published in Saturday Evening Post and short stories published in Playboy. It also can’t hurt when people like Alice Cooper collect your artwork. On one sunny spring weekend afternoon in Santa Barbara, Jonathan graciously allowed me to sit down at his kitchen table with him and shove an old-school micro cassette recorder in his face to ask him some random questions about his life in art. In typical Jonathan Winters fashion he would sometimes jump back and forth as if in a conversation with someone else, voice impersonations and all. So take a moment, fix some tea, put on some weird instrumental music, deeply inspect his artwork and read over his surprisingly introspective answers… and then ponder if Jonathan is indeed: A) a legendary comedian; B) a celebrity; or, finally… C) an artist.
Canadian Owl, 1981, Acrylic on canvas (opposite) Jonathan Winters with Kogar in the1960s
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Ron Cameron: Early on, did you think that you’d be more likely to have a career in commercial art than, say, “entertainment”? Jonathan Winters: Well I must confess I’d come out of the service and I was a little confused—not because I’d been in the service; I was just confused about what I was going to do after I got out of the service. I knew I had to finish high school, which I did—needed a couple of credits. I went to college for a year; and it was there that I thought “I wonder if I stand a chance at art school,” because I had strong feelings about being an artist. I always knew that I wasn’t going to be a great artist; I wasn’t going to be a Manet or a Renoir, Gauguin, or Monet or one of those guys. I was certainly aware of people like Magritte, Dali, and Monet; I’d studied art, and I went to art school—I went a total of four years and got my degree. My wife I’d met while I was still in art school; she’d got her masters at Ohio State. She noticed, and certainly I noticed, I could have been a commercial artist in an advertising agency, but I didn’t want to be in an advertising agency. I didn’t want to draw or paint or design radiators or air conditioning units or refrigerators, or even figures. I didn’t know. I looked at my things after four years, my oils… I knew I couldn’t do watercolors—I still can’t, I love the technique and I love the men and women that can really do great watercolors. It’s very difficult… most people that do watercolors will agree. At that time we didn’t have acrylics, we had oils and casein painting, we had charcoal… and I looked at my artwork, and for some reason early on I knew my limitations. I didn’t drop out, I finished my art [education]. I chose to go into show business because—it’s a story in itself, it’s a long answer to a question [laughter], but my wife said “They’re giving a watch away” [in a talent contest]. This was in Dayton, Ohio back in 1949. “Why don’t you go down and try
to win the watch,” and I did, and I got a job in radio as a disc jockey [because of winning]. It was then that I said goodbye to my art for a while. I never really said goodbye to it, I was always aware that I wasn’t going to make a great living from my art—I knew that, that didn’t bother me. My art has always represented, above all things to me, a great freedom. We talk about our freedom in politics and religion, the great freedom I find in art is you can say what you want to say, and you can paint and draw what you want to draw. Sometimes that cliche “you paint yourself into a corner,” I think I’ve probably done that several times, but I’m not sorry because I always say “paint for yourself… that’s important, if it sells it’s a bonus.” RC: Back in the mid 1950s you had a rock ‘n’ roll 45 single out; about UFOs, aliens and baby talk [“Nee Nee Na Na Na Na Nu Nu” b/w “Take Me To Your Leader”]; how did that come about? JW: Oh, that was a long time ago, way back in the 50s. I really can’t remember exactly how that came about. When you get to be my age you know… [Age 84 at time of interview]. RC: Your comedy albums have also always included bits about spacemen and aliens… what’s your ongoing interest? JW: I’ve always (I don’t say it) endorsed the fact that there are UFOs. I think like a lot of us that have endorsed, or haven’t, are certainly… let me say questioning what’s going on, is: are there really aliens coming from outer space? I often thought myself that maybe they are, and have been here for some time. Somebody said: “Well, we’d certainly see them, wouldn’t we? … We would recognize them.” It’s the way they’ve been portrayed that I find unusual… those kind of hydrocephalic heads and funny little bodies and crazy little fingers… I don’t see them that way at all. What has fascinated me personally, and why I
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(opposite) Magazine Cover, 1965. A New Member, 1970, acrylic on panel (below) Mouse Breath, Conformity and Other Social Ills, 1965, book cover illustration Illustration from the book Mouse Breath, Conformity and Other Social Ills, pre-1965
put it on the records, about UFOs and some farmer and his stepson seeing a saucer land or one thing or another… they’ve talked about cloning. I often think that maybe the people from outer space, whether it be Mars, Neptune or Pluto or wherever they come from—from “out there”—when they got here, they might have in some strange way kidnapped some person here, whether in the city, or a field, on a riverbank, they were cloned… and so they really are with us in and out of society, and we don’t know it. There is a section of the country—near Arizona, I believe—where there is a lot of secret stuff going on, I forget the name of the area, where it’s an experimental area, a lot of people there will tell you that they have some aliens there, that are undercover as they put it, whether they’re dead or alive, and materials that exist that the public has not seen or are not aware of. I only know this, having grown up in Dayton, Ohio, when I was about 12 I met Orville Wright, and then a number of years later I met Neil Armstrong, the first man who stepped on the moon. So I’ve seen the bi-plane to the space guys just in my time. So who’s to say that there are not some UFOs out there. A lot of things are going on that we don’t know. I don’t think we can handle a lot of what we do know [laughs]. When you’ve got an aircraft like this SR-71 which can go across this country in a little under three hours, I don’t think a lot of people realize that. Maybe they’ve heard of the SR-71, or maybe they haven’t, but that’s a fact. There is an SR-71. There’s a lot of things going on, and for me to confirm that I’ve seen or know about UFOs… no. I would hope that most of the people that think like I do know that they’re on our side. I know we certainly need some people on our side. RC: Is any of your artwork ever inspired by music or sounds, or does it all just from your mind or psyche? JW: It pretty much all comes from my mind. I must confess that when I go in the room that I work in, to do my painting or drawing, I always put some music on. I’ve always been a big jazz aficionado; I just love jazz. I met Oscar Peterson, big fan of Stan Kenton, I opened for Louis Armstrong years ago. I find it more difficult than ever to find jazz on the radio. I have never been a big classical lover; I like classical music, I suppose it’s like Shakespeare… listening to Beethoven, or Bach—it’s a little heavy for me, and Shakespeare, a terrible thing to confess to, not that he wasn’t a brilliant playwright; to me it was a costume party. I didn’t know what they were saying, I was stupid, I only remember “wherefore art thou” and everybody should know that, it’s after that that I’m in trouble: “Now dost thou not see this won’t be, and yet I faced across a war unbeknownst to me, a war that within me seeks the pain I not know…” See? I don’t know what’s going on. I just sit there in the seat about 18 rows back wondering “what the hell does that mean?” It’s got to be explained to me a little easier than that: “We’re in a war, and my sheet metal isn’t working. I wonder if we can take Scotland after all.” See, if it were worded that way it’d be a little simpler for me. It doesn’t sit too well with those who are Shakespearean fans. It always pays to have a few dummies in the audience like me. At least we’re in awe of what’s going on, and that they can memorize this stuff. I couldn’t memorize this stuff, I have a tough time memorizing anyway, and to memorize Shakespeare is whew! It’s impossible for me! But back to listening to music: there isn’t a time that I don’t sit down that I’m not listening to some music, that I can handle. I know how popular rock is with some of the young people, and old people… hard rock. New rock to me is kind of Halloween all year around. A guy paints his face, the guitar is made out of aluminum, the wood out of a Brazilian forest, and the [string] was made in Japan. And the chord is apparently not just in a socket somewhere, but close to his rectum, and what comes out of his face is… his mouth… It’s hard sometimes for me to hear the
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words. I’m fascinated too by some music where they repeat the lines over and over again as if I didn’t get it the first time. “I love you only because the moon is where it is… I love you only because the moon is where it is… I love you only…” That tends to make me want to turn the radio down or off. RC: What started your color painting spurt in the early 70s? JW: I had a bad bitter problem with alcohol—an “alcoholic” I would say—I quit in 1958, so in the 70s I was back to painting because at that time I had some sobriety for quite a number of years. I couldn’t handle my brush prior to that, my hand shook so badly. I was in trouble, and fortunately I quit… I’m not out to lecture anybody about my problem, there are probably people that are going to hear this, that have this problem, and I suggest hopefully that if it is a problem you do something about it. Because it’s frightening in so many ways. The one thing in going back to painting, and painting in color, just back to painting period, it’s given me what I needed all along. Aside from my marriage and taking care of my kids, it’s been a fantastic hobby. I know this probably sounds kind of corny to the average listener, but aside from my wife, who I lost a year ago, art has been my best friend. I never realized how much I depended on my art until my loss of my wife. But it’s filled a big gap. Whether I sell or don’t sell, it doesn’t make a difference. It’s such a great place to go and get your mind, at least temporarily, off whatever problems you’re going through, and we all go through problems. Mine are nothing compared to the person that’s listening [to this]. But art has saved me in so many ways… a chance to express myself… in the way of color paint, or in colored pencil; it’s just made so much sense to me. I have always understood the freedom in an actor, but the real freedom to me—and I must confess, not that some of my best friends aren’t actors, but I tell you my friends that I’ve known a little bit longer than I have my actor friends, are my friends that are artists. There’s something about an artist; he or she looks at society, looks at life, looks at the weather, an animal, much different than the so-called “normal” person. I don’t mean a surrealist necessarily, or a primitive. It isn’t that the artist doesn’t hold a certain amount of fear: the fear of dying, of living, this and that, just fear period; but his fear I don’t think lasts. I could be way off. I don’t think his fear lasts nearly as long as his fellow man. He’s more capable of living because of his knowledge of art. You know, he’s not afraid to go up to a tree and feel the tree, rather than just to look at it, and say to himself, “Now what’s inside of the tree that makes it grow, or makes it die? What about the squirrels up there? What about the birds?” And he steps back and sketches the tree or paints the tree. I think the first time I went to a class someone said, “Get a feeling for that earth over there.” Then I said, “Why would I do that?” Because you’re better off getting the feeling. I think that’s true. So the artists I’ve known, they’ve been from various countries, not just the United States, I found them just a little deeper, a little more perceptive, more aware, a little more overly sensitive than the guy that’s on the stage or in front of the camera. I could be wrong, but so far I don’t think I am [laughs]. RC: On most of your paintings you put a little shark above your signature. What was the original feeling behind that? JW: I use the shark [because] I love to fish. The only tournament I ever won in my life was in Bermuda, an International light tackle tournament, fishing for Blackfin tuna and Yellowfin, on 12, 20 and 30 pound test… so, not that we caught shark, I just always thought that I’d put the little fish down as a signature, a little added thing. I’m not what you’d call a deeply religious guy, but religious… I have my morals and I believe… When people say, “How much do you believe?” I said—the one thing the clergy can’t argue, or any civilian, any person—“We’re all
visitors just passing through, don’t blow the visit.” Getting back to the fish: centuries ago the Christians in Rome, as I recall, in going into hiding, in the caves or whatever, made a little signature in the sand, in the earth. It was a fish, representing the fact that they were Christians. So it was a combination of the shark, and being a Christian. I combine them all, and that’s the reason I put little fish in there. I haven’t done it with everything but I’ve done it with most of my acrylics; I haven’t done it with my pencils, which I don’t know why, I’ll get around to doing it sooner or later. RC: Do you ever feel that you are trying to put a message out to the world in your art? JW: Not really. That’s a pretty heavy question of saying out to the world, I understand, to my fellow man. I try to, in my drawings and paintings I classify myself—with what critics or collectors would say is something else—as a combination of surrealistic and primitive. I paint, my paintings, yes, I hope I can go as far as I can, with my art. Certainly, when you say the world… I dunno, I’d be lucky right now to get to Los Angeles [laughs]. I think one reason I wanted to include this when I said about the world, maybe I haven’t gone that far for a reason. I feel this: with my art, I can’t speak for anybody else and I wouldn’t, there are a few that I could bring up [that] I won’t… My point is: it’s a great place to hide and you can say certain things… because people will say, “Why did you put this arrow this way?” or “Why aren’t there any whiskers on that little funny thing?” or “Why is that tree bent this way and then that way?” I did it for a reason. “Well, what is the reason?” The tree to me represents in many cases my fellow man bent out of shape, see, it’s up this way then that way… Well, if you want to buy it I’ll tell you everything about the painting! But it is a great place to hide. You don’t want to make the painting too difficult to recognize this and that, but if you just have a couple things to hide, then you’re ahead of the game. I always think it’s kind of fun that they don’t know everything about what you put down. RC: With your short story writing, do you see that as
just another extension of your art ideas, or is it entirely something else for you? JW: Yeah I think the short stories—the book I wrote, Winter’s Tales, I think it was 1987 or something like that, on Random House—these are stories that I conjured up. From time to time put myself in the story, or I was a part of the story, and shaded it so, or worked it around so you wouldn’t know it was me unless you’d known me for a long time. There are certain names in the stories that I use that were authentic, that were part of my life. I was very proud of that little book, to get a hardback, to get it published. I don’t know really, to tell you the truth, I don’t know how well the book did. I should have known. Well it was on the Best Sellers list for several weeks so… I didn’t make any fortune, I didn’t intend to make any fortune, I just wanted to do the book. I’m trying to do a screenplay now, and it’s tough. The word discipline is something. I always thought of myself as fairly disciplined, but to be a good writer or a good painter I guess you’re supposed to work every day, paint every day, or write every day. I can’t do that, I’m not that motivated, my ideas don’t come every day. Sometimes it’s weeks before they come. I have nobody to apologize to except myself. People say “Well, you should sit down and write every day, that’s what you should do.” That’s another thing I always thought would be a book that everyone could for the first time identify with… I think almost 95 percent would identify with the book, the book is about 18 inches thick, it’s called I Live in the House of Correction. It starts out with: “Are you doing downtown like that?” “Why are you dressed like that?” Well… I took a shower and I shaved… “Change your clothes!” It never ends… What are we having for dinner? “What do you care?” “You finish your salad, finish it!” I’ll finish it, but the meat is… “What’s the matter with the meat?!” “When did you get a haircut last?” I don’t know… three weeks ago… “You get it cut again!” See we all live with things that are similar to those kind of questions. The book becomes thicker and thicker. “Why aren’t you studying?” “Why aren’t you painting?” “Why are you wearing those kind of shoes?” “Why do you
Wounded Knee, 1973, acrylic on canvas (opposite, from top) The First and Last Day of Spring, 1983, acrylic on canvas The Flaming Frog, 1974, acrylic on canvas
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Even as a little boy, Alexander Brooks excelled as an artist. At the tender age of seven he was already showing promise and competed with seniors in high school. His parents, unfortunately, did little or said little to encourage Alex. But his grandfather, his father’s father, who had once been a half-assed painter, egged him on. When he graduated from prep school, Alex received honors. And although, at his father’s insistence, he studied to become a lawyer, young Alex made a point of also taking a minor in fine arts in college. After finishing law school, Alexander was expected to join his father’s law firm as a partner. But before he began work there, Alex was given a trip around the world as a present from his grandfather. He went around the world, all right, but instead of going to see his grandfather upon his return, Alexander Brooks disappeared into thin air. Unbeknownst to his father, Alex wanted to be an artist all along. With little or no income, the life of an artist is without a doubt terribly frustrating. And though Alex was a fine painter, he found himself continuing to live in one room. He had no heat in the winter, zero social life, a constant itching sensation, a fake TV set and half a bottle of wine. A number of Alex’s pieces were scattered about the room, and a very large array of half-finished canvases was randomly stacked along with stretcher bars. His career was going nowhere and he was unhappy. Alex had never really gotten along with his father, barely tolerated his mother and, overall, had become pretty disenchanted with the “system.” He was like a lot of young (and old) people, full of hostility and finding it hard to release it. But one day he finally figured a way to get his feelings out. Since his paintings weren’t selling that well anyway and a lot of good people couldn’t afford his works, he’d take it upon himself to go to them! And he did. When he sold his first large painting for thirty-five hundred dollars, he took this money to the local hardware store and purchased every spray can in every color available, put all the cans in a huge carton and took then back to his room. He was not the kind of person to destroy, mar or deface anybody’s property, but his bitter quarrels with his father had slowly evolved into hatred. He decided he would now strike back at his father, and the system, by spray-painting everything they stood for. Alex, deep down inside, was hurting and was also very ashamed of what he was about to do. He even hated spray cans. Nonetheless, Alex set out to deface every prominent edifice in the city. He had to work very carefully, or he’d be spotted by the authorities. He would spray at night. Holidays were good and even rainy days. He painted in the wee hours of the morning and on Sundays, which for the most part seemed best of all. He never used any off-color language, but he would spray people and animals doing the damnedest things. Being a virtual recluse, he saw nobody and nobody saw him. One day, while he was making one of his rare visits to the grocery store, he encountered a large crowd. There were at least a thousand people and they were all looking up at the side of the First National Bank Building. Alex immediately recognized one face in the crowd as his father’s. Because Alex was wearing his artist’s costume, a wild item that was a little bit of everything, including a black beret and a huge pair of shades, he wasn’t recognized as he made his way swiftly through the crowd to where his father was standing. A local television crew was filming the artwork on the bank. It was Alex’s work. He had used every color out of every spray can available. It was really, he thought, the best graffiti he’d ever done. The subject matter was five men and five women holding up the bank. They were all wrapped in American flags, creating a lot of symbolism. Alex’s father’s office was on the top floor of the bank. The father told the television reporter he was thoroughly shocked by the defacing of any building, but he did think that this particular work was “most unusual,” extremely “patriotic,” and “should be preserved.” He also pointed out that it was a shame that the young man or woman who did this work was unknown; he made a plea on television that the artist come forward and receive a special award and a check for five thousand dollars. Before signing off, the television reporter said that when the individual did surface, he or she would not be punished, and that the work, according to the “city fathers” (Alex’s father was a member of that board), would be preserved for all time. Late that night Alex went back to the building and added this signature: “Alexander Brooks—born 1940, died 1980.”
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Umbrella Dancers, 1970, acrylic on canvas (opposite) Jonathan Winters in front of his paintings, 1992 Photo: Ralph Merlino
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wear a moustache?” “Are you wearing lipstick?” “Oh, you were kissing that girl down in the bus, well take it off!” Take it off her, or take it off me? “Shut up!” [laughs]. I live in the house of correction; I think I’ve always been in the house of correction. My mother said the same thing to me, so did my dad. I always look forward to vacation, mainly by myself, just to hide out under a rock someplace. Take out a bird that’ll do a number on me, “Oh you think you can get away from the house of correction,” [plop sound] and then dump on you! I guess that answers the question. RC: At any point in your comedy career, did you ever want to just kick it all aside and go back to art? JW: I’m at that stage now where I’ve gone back to art. Because of my age and the work that’s available to people my age. So it isn’t a question of being forced back to my art. It’s a lot easier now and there’s a lot more time to do the things that I want to do. I don’t think in my career, I must confess, once I was bitten by this unusual bug of show business, and I’ve always realized that to have made this kind of money any place else, I’m not talking about millions by the way, but money was certainly, with all my problems, I never put us in debt. My wife and I went around the world, I didn’t get a chance to see Russia or China, but we did see almost everything else thanks to the business; because I worked the ships, movies, and television. I guess along the way I thought about going back to my art, but not for long because as I said earlier I’ve always known my limitations. I knew if I went back to my art, in the middle of being in show business, I’d starve! [laughs]. It’s simple, we’d have to sell the house and live in a trailer or some damn thing. The wonderful thing that has afforded me what art I collect, I have to thank show business. I took some of that money and bought some things that were expensive, and some not so expense, but at least it afforded me that opportunity to get a few things. I always thought “I’m gonna ride this business as long as I can.” And now I’m not a bitter guy and I have no chip on my shoulder. I’m in overtime, I had a hell of a first half and third and fourth quarter, and now I’m in overtime. I feel that the only time my ego has gotten in my way, and maybe it wasn’t there after all, but I have a feeling that I played the Super Bowl. I got a ring. Somebody said, “Well, who were you up against?” God, I’ve got a list of people I’ve always been up against, on the opposite team. I think if I lost, I might very well have lost in the Super Bowl, maybe it’s my imagination, maybe a fantasy I’ve had all along, but maybe I didn’t get to the Super Bowl. But at least I played. I think I got to the Super Bowl, whether I got the ring or not… put it that way. I certainly played, it was a big audience. I gave it a hell of a try, that’s about all I can say. RC: Have you ever wanted to make an art film? JW: I made a little one. When I say a little one, I took my own money, and some of my friends and we did a little, it’s a film, it’s not a complete… what is called an art film, it’s seven minutes. It’s called The Babe and the Kid. It’s a story of Babe Ruth, which we made up, it isn’t a true story, [and] of a little boy in a hospital bed. We shot this about a year ago, a friend of mine produced it. [George] Carlin’s daughter Kitty [Kelly] Carlin was the gal that was the assistant director, and some
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other people I know, we did this thing. The kid was great, a little boy from the state of Washington. We shot this thing for nothing, it was shot for something like $7,000. I paid each person a grand, I said “Well, The Tonight Show only gives you a basket of fruit and a bottle of used wine or something… at least this will get you a pair of sneakers.” But it was a story about Babe and the kid. Babe comes in and he sees the kid and gives him a baseball bat signed, and a cap, and he said “I played with the Cubs.” I was dressed as Babe Ruth with a New York cap on, Yankees, and a Cathedral radio right next to the kid’s bed. I told him to listen to that and I’d hit him a home run. I just signed a big bag of Baby Ruth candy bars. “You eat one after lunch and one after dinner.” I came back in the next scene and they had a sheet over the boy’s head, with candy wrappers all over the bed. The doctor says, “The little boy’s dead.” “What?!” “Yeah…” The mother’s crying, bawling. “Nurse, what’s happened?” Nurse says, “Did anybody know he was a diabetic?” So then I pick up one and say, “He could have saved me one candy bar. He doesn’t need the ball cap any more.” A piece of what is called a dark comedy. I don’t think it’ll go any place, but I always wanted to do something so that was my contribution to an art film. RC: Did you know that the music band DEVO came out of Akron, Ohio? JW: No, I didn’t. RC: How varied are your art inspirations? JW: Most is just out of my imagination, and whatever’s on my mind. I just paint what’s on my gourd and go at it and sometimes it works… or I’ll crumple it up and go at it again. I don’t make any sketches, I don’t make any designs per se, I just sit down and do it. It isn’t always finished artwork, a lot of times as quickly as I start I stop, and I realize it’s just not happening. Most of the time I sit and give it a lot of thought, sometimes the thoughts come fairly easily. Most of the time it’s a day. Sit down and look at it, think about this or that, maybe I’ll do something about weather, something about the trees or something. By looking at some of these things I’ve done, I figured I need some kind of little trademark other than the fish, maybe that’s why I eliminated the shark for a while, so I use hangers, for “hang-ups.” They always say, “You’ve got a hang-up,” so I use my hangers. I’m like a gambler, I gamble with my subject matter in hopes that something will come of it; and if it doesn’t then I gotta start over again. As far as other artists that I’ve seen that I thought, “God if I could paint like that…” I’d say Magritte. I’m not one to copy other people’s work, but Dali, Magritte… The only things of Picasso I’ve loved, I saw his studio in Barcelona, Spain. I was really taken with it. Very much like the Renaissance, he changed so drastically the art world. For me it was a little tough to get. I love Manet, and all the guys in this country; Hopper, Reginald Marsh, the guy from Saturday Evening Post, Norman Rockwell. I knew him and did a special with him called “Norman Rockwell’s America.” We took his magazine covers and brought them to life. He was a wonderful guy. They labeled him as just an illustrator, but he was a wonderful painter, he just wasn’t that same school as some of the people around him think. They just labeled him as the magazine guy but he was much more than that.
TEXT BY ETHAN SWAN / PHOTOGRAPHY BY GEORG GATSAS
In December of 2008, Silk Flowers, the band I play with, received a MySpace message asking if we would perform at the weekly Wierd Party at Home Sweet Home, in lower Manhattan, NY. We were a new band, having played our first show just three months previous, and were thrilled by the attention. Without much background information or any expectations of the show, we accepted the invitation. That night at Wierd would prove to be one of our favorite shows ever, not just with this band but throughout our lives. 16 months later, I’ve attended the party countless times, seeing both Wierd mainstays like Martial Canterel, Epee Du Bois and Led Er Est, and “crossover” acts like Blank Dogs and Nite Jewel. Inspired by the extremely deliberate and supportive community built around the party, the following article draws upon the months of conversations I’ve had about Wierd with its founders, acolytes, fans and admirers. RVCA /A NP QUA RT E RLY •22
“A Smoke Filled Room” by Flesh Graey Display
“Nobody was interested in it if they did hear it,” explained party co-founder Pieter Schoolwerth, “and it was a great bond between us.” He went on to clarify the source of this bond: “None of us felt anything akin with new music that was popular, or was acceptable to like. I always just felt totally alone. And I think when we all met, it wasn’t just that we liked this music that we had in common; we also all identified with this notion of being discarded, or not relevant.” The bars they frequented, crowded and compact enough to prevent any respite from the DJ, determined that anyone spending more than a few minutes there had to have some tolerance for the music. To illustrate the sonic brutality at play, Sean McBride invoked two of the most grating and oblique bands of the past 30 years: “You could get away with playing Nurse With Wound or early SPK.” Liz Wendelbo reinforced his statement: “It didn’t have to be dance-driven or anything like that. There was no crowd to please.” The group rotated through a few neglected Brooklyn bars like Ivy South before settling on the Southside Lounge in 2003. By the spring of 2004, the party had coagulated into a weekly slot, every Tuesday from 11p.m. – 4a.m. The core group of DJs, including Gilles Le Guen, Glenn Maryansky, Schoolwerth, and Thompson had expanded, with McBride, Veronica Vasicka, and Liz Wendelbo all taking turns at the decks. Initially nameless, as the party evolved, it was given a title: “Weird.” An apt, if simple description, the name was truly formed in 2005 when the vowels were reversed, purposefully misspelling the word: WIERD. Sufficiently awkward, elusive, and completely unforgettable, “Wierd” distinguished the night each week, promising “dark synth, coldwave, and classic deathrock.”
“A Beginning” by Xeno and Oaklander
“The Lower Lifestyles” by A Vague Disquiet
The healthy human eye can adjust to low light very rapidly, able to discern shape and form in near-darkness in a matter of three minutes. Within 30 minutes of darkness, vision adjusts to full sensitivity, even able to recognize high frequency colors (violet, blue, and green). By contrast, the eye is incapable of adjusting to fog. Artificial fog in particular is designed to resist dissipation, and even the most basic consumer machines are capable of expelling 2,000 cubic feet in 60 seconds. On Wednesday nights, the Lower East Side bar Home Sweet Home is subject to 30 second blasts from an industrial fog machine every hour, guaranteeing that the dance floor is constantly submerged. For many visitors to Home Sweet Home, the effect is frightening, limiting vision to about the same distance as their arms can reach. Finding the bathrooms is impossible without courage, and the low stage situated two-thirds of the way across the floor regularly spills people onto their knees. But for others, the fog provides a barrier, a cocoon of invisibility that facilitates the wildest, most intimate movement, liberating each dancer from any outsider’s gaze. This public isolation, a conceivably baffling, frightening, or counterintuitive potential, is for some the main reason to be there. Regular attendee and member of the band Led Er Est, Owen Stokes, is clear on this point: “I really dance a lot and feel totally alone, like no one’s watching me, but also that I’m surrounded by other people who are willfully being alone.” The feeling of being alone, but encircled by sympathetic individuals, is perhaps the best visualization of the kindness that Wierd Records has performed for the better part of the decade. Wierd was born, nameless and vaguely defined, at the beginning of the 2000s. This was a dizzyingly strange era for New York’s nightlife. Beginning in 1996, with the Limelight ruined after the gruesome, sensational murder of a drug dealer by a club promoter, the 15-year reign of Manhattan’s mega clubs began to falter. The Tunnel and Twilo soon followed the Limelight, both closing in 2001 after years of drug busts and pressure from Giuliani. The absence of these steady venues fragmented both the dance and electronic music scenes. The paranoia and unease of postSeptember 11 New York further complicated the politics of going out, as described by Cheyney Thompson, one of the founders of Wierd: “Night life in NYC after 9/11 seemed to demand a convulsive protocol. Everything we did at night had alienation and affectivity slathered over a festering lack.” Into this lack, “ten or so” (in the estimation of Thompson) people began to meet regularly to listen to records, and actively resist alienation and affectivity. The records that brought them together marked clear boundaries, chasing away nonbelievers. The group favored music that was dark, morose, rhythmic and violent. Their selections were drawn from the late 1970s and early 1980s, an era notable for new technologies in electronic instrumentation, extreme reactions against the record industry, and rampant negation of existing genres. The bands they played were not only making difficult, unpopular music, they were actively positioned in opposition to success, to popularity.
Molli Gondi Wierd Guest
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On any given night, the Southside Lounge drew in an unpredictable and diverse cast of regulars. Located in the southern range of Williamsburg, the bar stood at the intersection of the Hasidic Jewish community, a cluster of artist studios, families that had lived there for generations, and the growing number of young professionals who liked the short commute to Manhattan. They all converged at the Southside. Pieter Schoolwerth summarized this collision in his 2006 eulogy to the Southside Lounge: “I’m still proud to say WIERD will always be the only party in North America and maybe the whole world where you can watch a Hassid making out with three teenagers while three off-duty cops high on blow are dancing to the first Sombre Septembre 7” at 4 a.m.…” “Le nez rouge,” the A-side of Sombre Septembre’s debut single, is an immensely melancholic, slow-motion tour through a lonely day. The band formed in 1986 in Belfort, France, a small town near the Swiss border, hundreds of miles from any metropolis. The band sang in French, a decision described by their countrymen Opera Multi Steel as “not good for French audiences, and very bad for English music fans.” Although the single is readily available for non-licensed download these days on the Internet, and via fan videos on YouTube, in 2003 the only way to hear these songs was in the presence of the original single. And although the fan-base for this music was small, committed listeners began to find their way to Wierd to hear it. Anarexia, who today is a frequent DJ at Wierd, has been “into synth music since I
put on my first pair of heels.” She remembers hearing about Wierd in these early days, even while living in Los Angeles. “When I moved to NY years ago, though,” she remembers, “I kind of lost touch with my love of the music.” This absence eventually became unbearable, and Anarexia found herself searching for the party, ultimately “going to Wierd, the club, almost every week since then.” She wasn’t the only one seeking out this music and arriving at Wierd. Shawn O’Sullivan, of the bands Led Er Est and Further Reductions, and a DJ since his teen years, remembers this attraction: “Going out to hear Ceramic Hello, to hear Twilight Ritual, to hear Martin Dupont in a club environment; at the time there was no place in New York where you could hear music like that at all.”
“Tracking Shot” by Epee Du Bois
By this point the ten individuals who initially made up the body of Wierd had become the core group in an expanding community. Their extensive collections of rare and forgotten records fed the party, but their involvement began to take on a second facet. Beginning with Sean McBride’s Moravagine (later renamed Martial Canterel), the members of this core group began to assemble vintage synthesizers and drum machines to create their own bands, crafting an expansive new development for this cold, electronic sound. By 2004, Cheney Thompson was performing as Epee Du Bois, McBride and Liz Wendelbo were collaborating as Xeno and Oaklander, and Thompson, McBride, and Wendelbo played together in Three to Forgotten. McBride took the name Moravagine from the protagonist of Blaise Cendrars’ eponymous novel, once describing the character as “a psychopath noble who travels the world helping to foment revolution whilst eviscerating little girls.” This intersection of cruelty, splendor, and insurgency is especially well suited for the tone of his music. McBride’s singing voice is mournful, clear, and a little distant, the voice of a dissatisfied observer. Surrounding this voice is an elaborate architecture of melody, rhythm lines like staircases and synth runs soaring overhead in impossible arches. The perceived obsolescence of the analogue synthesizer vanishes in the face of his craft, and the desperation of the music is a supremely vital force. McBride’s songs are obviously informed by his vast knowledge of cold wave and electronic music, but they exist unmistakably in the present. The divergence between McBride’s Moravagine/Martial Canterel and the original minimal electronics bands begins with a shift in intent. As explained by McBride to Skug Magazine, “I think the chief difference between what we saw in many ‘80s performers, for the most part, was the synthesizer’s function as a tool of futuremaking… the politics of advance technology played a central role for many groups, especially themes of artificial intelligence, cybernetics, robotics, and cryogenics. These days we are seeing more human and perhaps mundane expressions of day-today living—such as memories from a lost past, love betrayed, political tribulations…” McBride’s “perhaps mundane” expressions of everyday life are expansive, dusty panoramas, interrupted with sudden sharp words or cartwheeling notes. Within them, the world is a terrain that engulfs the individual, perceiving him or her just enough to mock or scorn. But this fleeting attention is enough to stir resistance. With
a tone that’s perhaps never existed before, the songs are pre-apocalyptic, giving off a warning, but leaving open the possibility of a different course. A direct source of this attitude can be discerned through the context that birthed the music. Wendelbo cuts to the core of this context: “There is an overall, overarching discomfort in everyone. Everyone is uncomfortable, and the music is willfully uncomfortable somehow.” By aligning personal emotion with the feel of the songs, she acknowledges their quotidian content, and asserts a lack of separation between the performer and the performed. But what is the impact of this relationship? McBride is clear on this point: “the fact that the music is uncomfortable is like two negatives creating some kind of positive.” Just as the “discarded, not relevant” 1980s cold wave sounds inspired the Wierd community to assemble and shrug off their own sense of superfluity, the overarching discomfort that compelled Martial Canterel and his peers to create music became an inspiring, exciting force.
“The Unkept Area” by Led Er Est
Throughout 2005 and 2006, various forces within Wierd organized occasional concerts for this budding community, at art galleries, off nights at bars, and illegal lofts. But on a day-to-day basis, the growing number of Wierd live bands lacked a venue. The concurrent underground, thriving mostly in Williamsburg, tended away from analog synths, preferring instead the rising trend towards laptop music. “What we thought was really not interesting was all these laptop performances that were taking place,” remembers Liz Wendelbo. “It didn’t feel visceral, it felt sort of disembodied somehow.” Embracing this resistance, the Wierd artists descended further into their own shell, a process Wendelbo described as a simultaneous negation and self-empowerment: “Instead of going to that [laptop performances] and complaining about it, we decided to just not take part in it and do something new. But it did require some hibernation and shutting off from the whole thing for quite awhile.” Planned or not, this hibernation came in the autumn of 2006 when the Southside Lounge, a casualty of Williamsburg’s redevelopment, closed its doors, leaving Wierd without a home. The timing was inauspicious; within the same month the first release on Wierd Records emerged, The Wierd Compilation. A lavish, hand-numbered edition of 1000, the compilation presented 32 songs spread across three LPs and one 7”. An accompanying book included photos of all of the bands, including New York mainstays like Martial Canterel, Three to Forgotten and Blacklist, and visiting comrades such as Opus Finis (Miami), Diako Diakoff (Los Angeles), and Echo West (Germany). As a document, its statement was resounding. Synth music, cold wave, and minimal electronic music are unmistakably alive. The proof was in these 15 bands, drawn from around the world, all actively producing music, performing live, and engaged with one another. Appearing at the exact moment that the physical musical object truly began to vanish from the world (i.e. the CD replaced by MP3), this immensely tangible object was an act of resistance in every sense, embracing its own outcast state. A release party featuring performances by nine of the compilation’s bands and DJs followed, but for half a year, Wierd returned to its nomadic existence. Occasional
Martial Canterel, live at Wierd, January 27, 2010 RVCA /A NP QUA RT E RLY • 24
DJ nights in Manhattan or shows at a Brooklyn gallery maintained the momentum, but the party needed a home. In a March 2007 email to the Wierd mailing list, Pieter Schoolwerth lamented this absence: “for the past 6 months of our dormancy the WIERD has been suffering from lack of anyone to tell about all its as always astounding findings in the Coldwave world.” Fortunately, this email also announced a new home for Wierd—Home Sweet Home, in downtown Manhattan.
“Guts on the Dancefloor” by Charlie Draheim
This basement bar offered a much different energy from the Southside Lounge. A disco ball, fog machine and spinning lights all create a party atmosphere, straying from the intense listenership of the Southside. Liz Wendelbo remembers that the change was immediate: “it became a very hedonistic party, which was basically geared around dancing more, and it moved from the sedentary to pretty full on.” Couples and small furtive groups disappear into the row of locked-door bathrooms hidden at the back of the club. The flight of stairs leading to the front door gives the sensation of descending into something, a transition to a different world. Margaret Chardiet, of the bands Pharmakon and Throat, is literal in her description of this transition: “the lighting and the fog really makes it seem like you’re on another planet sometimes.” This spectacular play of elements not only changed the stakes of participation, it also created a new entry for the unconverted. “It became entertaining to people who were not privy to it,” explained Wendelbo, “Whereas before it was kind of a closed circle.” This new crowd often wanders in, attempting to escape the dense, exclusive Lower East Side nightclubs. Turned away by doormen at Kush, or overwhelmed by the testosterone at 205, weekday partiers tentatively push through the door, drawn in by the music. “I think a ton of people end up there by accident,” estimates Pieter Schoolwerth. “They kind of stumble in and they’re like, ‘what’s this?’ And those are the best people because they come up to me and are like, ‘what is this music?’ I of course get their email and send them CDs, because if they’re asking, they’ll come back.” This open, accepting attitude that welcomes anyone who wants to be there, has built a crowd as unpredictably strange and diverse as the Southside era. “The crowd is a weird mix of people,” observed Shawn O’Sullivan. “Obviously you have hardline goths, occasionally you even get Albion or cybergoth people, with cyberboots and goggles and spiky hair. You get young NYU kids, Brooklyn kids, and old guard LES types. There’s a lot of trannies.” Asked to provide commonalities between these crowds, no one involved in the Wierd party is able to suggest a uniting thread. Georgette/Pre Op Trans, a doorperson and DJ at Wierd (who conflates the two in her alias, DJ DoorWhore), is in a rare position to see every person that comes through the door on a given night. Her best estimate as to the shared interest or identity of the crowd is, “I think most people—that I talk to, anyway—come to Wierd for the best night in the city. That’s the common denominator.” Cheney Thompson rejects the entire idea of commonalities. “I don’t think Wierd was founded on mutual likes or dislikes, or any sort of aggregated supertaste.” Or, in O’Sullivan’s comparison of the old crowd versus the new: “There’s
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been talk about how it was sort of a haven for misfits in the early days and that was certainly true back when it was at the Southside Lounge. It was definitely a very strange crowd. It remains quite strange, but these days, it’s sort of for everyone.”
“Pathway Splits Apart” by Martial Canterel
“Everyone” arrived with their own sets of discomfort, their own needs for community, and their own desires for interaction. The music is at the center of this geometry, but the draw to it takes on drastically different forms. The abandon and thrill of dancing is a common attraction, yet just as common is a fixed appreciation of the sound. Ryan Woodhall, of the bands Yellow Tears and Throat, remembers his first time at Wierd: “I sat on the couch in front of the speakers almost the entire night, listening intently to Pieter spin some of the darkest dance music I had ever heard.” Many, like Anarexia, find a source of joy in the music: “I’ve always been attracted to dark music. Most people say this kind of music is depressing or too macabre, but in all honesty this kind of music makes me happy!” Others locate a vitality and direness in the music that approaches a political dimension: “Aesthetically, I found this music to fit the dark, fucked up spirit of the times far better than anything so-called ‘contemporary,’” remarked Josh Strawn, of the band Blacklist. “Nobody could put on the news for an hour then toss on any of the touted big name indie bands and convince me that that music reflected the now.” Even Georgette, who gave in to carnality when considering her favorite thing about Wierd—“the straight guys I make out with and suck off in the bathroom every week”—ultimately acknowledges the sounds: “I really do go to Wierd for the music.” Still others are drawn to less tangible aspects of the party. Liz Wendelbo describes it as “a way to shield away from this culture that we couldn’t relate to in Manhattan… it was a bunker mentality, shutting everything out.” Elaborating on this idea, Wendelbo contextualized the party within the greater force of Manhattan: “We all have to remind ourselves that we live here in New York, one of the biggest centers of capitalism, and there’s insane amounts of money being made here. Everything in this city—that is, the culture that is produced here—is all geared towards the market. Materialism is huge and capitalism is enormous: hyper capitalism, high velocity, things come in and out of transit, ultimate high speed. It was our wish to stop time into this capsule and just wait.” This idea of waiting should not be misread as stasis. Within this capsule, growth occurs. Metamorphosis takes place at a natural, unobserved pace. The best illustration of this process was through the time and space provided for live performance at Home Sweet Home.
“There are Other Gates” by Carlos Giffoni
This focus on live performance marks another clear distinction from the original minimal electronics and synth music scenes. Many of the ‘80s bands were unable to realize their songs in a live context, like Bal Paré (“we didn’t want to play with playback [backing tracks] so we decided not to play live”). Some artists were held back by the lack of support in their hometown, for example Eleven Pond: “Was there a mid-’80s cold wave community in Upstate New York? God no.” Opera Multi Steel found some support in their immediate region, but were never able to travel outside
Epee Du Bois
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of France: “We have curiously performed very few concerts. Most of them were performed in our region and some few others in Paris, but never abroad.” Even contemporary synth bands have seen live performance as unnecessary. Ramiro Jeancarlo, of the bands Staccato du Mal and Opus Finis, explained his own thought process in this regard: “Music has always been an intimate experience and private matter. I never really saw the point in performing live for an audience that will either like, ignore, or dislike what you have to offer. Some artists do it to invite fans, for fun, some want to become stars, prove themselves, whatever. I never craved any of those things. I always made music for my own listening.” Tellingly, after participating in early Wierd concerts, Jeancarlo discovered his own passion for live improvisation and began to incorporate performance into his practice. The relocation to Home Sweet Home allowed Wierd to focus on the clearly human experience of live performance. Offering both space and equipment that the Southside Lounge couldn’t provide, this new location meant that each week a single band could perform at Wierd, breaking the DJ set in half. The party guarantees an engaged crowd, and the structure facilitates even the most elaborate setup. “Maintaining one band per night is a luxury,” explained Led Er Est’s Owen Stokes. “You have two hours if you want to sound check.” Given the fickle nature of much of the analog gear that comes through the doors of Home Sweet Home, this amount of time is extremely helpful. By comparison, according to Shawn O’Sullivan, also of Led Er Est, “definitely the first few shows we played at real venues were sort of horrifying.”
“Departures” by Staccato du Mal
Initially, Led Er Est had no intentions of performing live. Their home recordings, assembled onto a demo, were delivered to Veronica Vasicka for play on her East Village Radio show, Minimal Wave. “At that point we really weren’t thinking of playing live,” remembers Samuel Kklovenhoof, the third member of Led Er Est. “We were really just being recorded by our friend.” But the request to play at Wierd changed their minds. Kklovenhoof continued, “I saw Martial Canterel play at London Paris West Nile [a DIY venue in Brooklyn] and it was an amazing show. Pieter came up to me and asked when are we going to play at Wierd… I was just like, yeah, we’ll play.” The band made their live debut at Home Sweet Home. Wierd also hosted their second show, before Led Er Est ventured out into the “horrifying” world of New York’s live music scene. When Shawn O’Sullivan’s other band, Further Reductions, prepared for their first show, they also chose to debut at Wierd. O’Sullivan’s bandmate, Katie Rose, described the importance of the Wierd community for this performance: “It really helped to know that in the audience there were people who knew the precarious set up that we had, and the instruments that we were working with, and the fact that they are living, breathing synthesizers that take time to warm up and tune… not a lot of people understand what it’s like to have this sort of set up.” Kklovenhoof echoed her sentiments when describing Led Er Est’s experiences playing at other venues: “Our set up time is really long, and a lot of times they [sound engineers] can get really pushy. That really just makes for us not having a good
Georgette aka Pre Op Trans aka DJ DoorWhore
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time when we’re actually playing.” The credit for Wierd’s positive environment is universally attributed to organizer Pieter Schoolwerth. “It makes every band that plays there feel special,” explained O’Sullivan. “You get to sort of be in the spotlight for a minute. There’s pretty big bands that have played there and there are really small bands. There’s always a good crowd, and these smaller bands get to really be treated well instead of opening for the opener of a show at some shitty basement or something. They get treated with respect. Pieter’s very good at that, at making new bands feel welcome and excited to be making music.” For his part, Schoolwerth is quick to divert the praise. “This is my way of contributing,” he confesses. “I’m not Sean, I’m not a genius piano player, but I know how to make people have a good time, I think.” Mark Solotroff, a 15+ friend of Schoolwerth’s, and the creative force behind the bands Anatomy of Habit and Bloodyminded (to which Schoolwerth occasionally contributes), is much more direct in his explication of this role. “Pieter wants it to be right,” he stated. “One thing that he and I really share is a need for the full package. When we go on tour with Bloodyminded, Pieter basically makes sure that under the most dire circumstance of playing some complete shit hole, suddenly he will have rummaged through a backroom and found some lights or something so that we can differentiate ourselves from the six other noise bands we’re playing with.” It’s a quality that’s immediately apparent to all bands that have played at Wierd. Ramona Gonzalez, whose group Nite Jewel played “the best show we’ve ever had” at Wierd in the beginning of 2010, observed Schoolwerth’s attention to detail: “Pieter’s demeanor is pretty great. I appreciate that he takes the right things seriously: the vibe, the atmosphere, the décor. The environment is strict, including the DJ selections, so people must commit to a mood.” In fact, according to Schoolwerth, it’s the live performance that continues to encourage his dedication. While the weekly party does a great service by providing bands with a regular venue to hone their craft (as in Liz Wendelbo’s capsule), it also provides a forum for exploring new music and testing a critical tenet of Schoolwerth’s philosophy—the invitation of the very human element of chance and uncertainty. When asked about the decision to book Silk Flowers, having seen the band only once and having never talked to any of us before, Schoolwerth was enthusiastic, affirmative: “That’s what I usually do, that’s the best.” He went on to explain that “I get a huge turn on and excitement, like a kid, about putting on shows where I have no idea if it’s going to work.” This uncertainty connects to a bigger idea for Schoolwerth: “There’s very little left in art and culture that has any sense of danger or potential failure. And failure, to me, is the ultimate thing… the best thing about putting on a band you’ve never seen before is they might not show up, they could suck, they could hate me, they could blow up the PA, they could start fights… that’s what I live for, the danger and the potential failure in anything. That’s what makes me go every week.”
“Havoc Heap” by Opus Finis
Josh Strawn has had similar revelations about this potential failure, and its
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relationship to humanity: “I’ve had the pleasure of playing at Wierd with several different projects and several different instrumental setups ranging from the extremely organic music of Religious to Damn (harmonium, acoustic guitars, tribal percussion) to Blacklist (guitar, bass drums), to Creation Myth (vocals, analog synthesizer & tape loops, electronic & live percussion). No matter the setup, there’s always a sense of exciting frailty to it.” This “exciting frailty” is key, providing a link to the human being manipulating the gear. This is an idea that Strawn firmly asserts: “It’s much less about the instrumentation—it’s about the human being behind it… I’d almost elevate this to the cardinal principle of Wierd.” This correlates with the performance strategies of Xeno and Oaklander. Their live setup, comprising multiple keyboards, drum machines, and a sequencer, runs the risk of abstraction, of obscuring the human players. To resist this abstraction, the band insists on making everything visible, publicly playing out the process of the song. “What is important to me also is the idea of everything you play is generated by what is visible,” explains Liz Wendelbo. “There’s a diegesis involved in here. What you see is what you’re hearing… it is very important that what you generate is visible.” To that end, Xeno and Oaklander prefer to construct their songs onstage, rather than plotting out the sequencer parts in advance. Sean McBride described this process: “I’ll make the step sequence in the interims [between songs] so the song is potentially audible before it’s even played.” Each movement of the song is recorded live into the sequencer during this part, playing out the individual building blocks one at a time until they’ve been assembled and are ready to trigger, one after another. This insistence on making everything visible feeds back into Wierd’s initial impetus to break away from the abstraction of computer-generated music. As McBride explained in his interview with Skug, “At the end of the ‘90s music had become quite disembodied; the widespread use of the computer/laptop as both a sound source and playback device for live performance coupled with an ethics of technological speed—there are certain parallels with the advancement of military might—left me wanting something more visceral.” The invocation of “military might” is especially provocative, recalling the ghastly Iraq War footage of “smart bombs” delivered by remote to the villains, avoiding civilian casualties and allowing the operator to work from the safety of home. This contemporary trend towards abstraction, towards the human-less interactions of internet consumption, of kiosk purchasing, of self-serve checkout lines, rushes civilization towards what Strawn aptly described as “digital posthumanism.” Strawn goes on to highlight the political aspect of the resistance against abstraction: “The increasing inability to meaningfully engage with the Other, be they on the other side of the aisle, the ocean, or the debate on global capitalism—these are the central concerns of Wierd because it is positioned as an antidote to this new, insular, anonymous digital mob mentality.” Considering the possibility that the internet may offer some positive community aspect, Pieter Schoolwerth used his interview with Skug to declare, “I feel very strongly that the fantasy that true community and subculture can be built through activities on the Internet alone has proven to be an absolute fucking failure.”
“The Cunning of History” by Blacklist
(opposite, clockwise from top left)
Wierd Guest Katie Rose Wierd Dancer Wierd Light
Considering this faith in human interaction and capacity, and this staunch resistance to abstraction, it’s apparent that Wierd’s connection with the original synth artists and cold wave bands of the 1980s provides more than an aesthetic inspiration. The vulnerability of the ‘80s music, existing outside of the realms of new wave commerce or international exposure, provides a guideline for a deeply human expression. The process of unraveling this history exposes new connections between artists and scenes that were once alienated, geographically, ideologically, or gesturally, providing a framework for integrating seemingly disparate sounds today. And, perhaps most importantly, an examination of this era illustrates the difficulty of operating without a supportive community. Liz Wendelbo states it, simply: “It’s no fun being alone playing this kind of music. No one will appreciate it unless you’re reaching out for other people who are likeminded who are involved in the same kind of music.” For the minimal electronic pioneers, this was a remarkable challenge. Franck Lopez of Opera Multi Steel remembers this clearly: “During the ‘80s, we never got the feeling to be part of a musician community… we had the sad sensation to be the only one band of an unnamed movement.” Jeff Gallea of Eleven Pond was caught in perhaps a more acute agony; recognizing that there were similar musicians, but they were unreachable: “I listened to 4AD bands, watched ‘70s films with sad endings, and walked in the Upstate New York rain. Very depressing yet oddly inspiring. The musicians I liked were in the UK but I’ve never been to England so I have no idea what their scene was.” The Neon Judgement, from Belgium, knew that their music had the power to draw people. Their practice space was situated above a small punk bar called Arno’z, and the band was able to perform there whenever they liked. “The first show we ever did in Arno’z was for 10 people,” remembered co-founder Dirk Da Davo. “A few weeks later we played there again in front of 25 people, and months later we played there for a crowd of 60 people. Then the place was packed.” The band distributed cassettes at their concerts, which circulated their name and led to record label interest, but until recently, The Neon Judgement was never able to break out of their regional isolation. Da Davo considered the band a part of a community that included Cabaret Voltaire, Liaisons Dangereuses, and Gang of Four, but the bonds were theoretical, without literal connections: “we felt a mental relationship with these type of artists.” Fortunately, the renewed interest in their music in recent years has formalized these relationships: “It’s only the last decade that everything has come together and we communicate more with our generation of artists.” Toronto band Land of Giants had a much healthier situation. Surrounded by an aesthetically diverse community of artists, the band was unique in their sound but not in their ideals. “We were outsiders from the mainstream, and perhaps we were isolated,” recalls Marc Wonnacott, “but it was more of a self-imposed isolation that created a community and brought together a great number of artists from different disciplines to storm the gates of what we saw as the mediocrity and stagnation of the mainstream.” Land of Giants belongs to a community that was “filled with musicians, DJs, artists, designers, writers and filmmakers,” including performance/video artists The Hummer Sisters, the painter Peter Schyuff, and new wave band Rough Trade, whose 1981 single “High School Confidential” was one of the first explicitly queer songs to reach the top 40. “That is where the idea for the name of the band came from,” explained Wonnacott, “that we were a land of giants.” This idea of bringing together a great number of artists from different disciplines resembles the diversity of artists that have performed at Wierd. Between the stern, minimal electronic sound of Epee Du Bois; the guitar-driven death rock of Blacklist; the glittering synth pop of Further Reductions, and the power electronics of Pharmakon, a vast range of underground musics have been represented at Wierd,
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a depth recalling Josh Strawn’s “it’s much less about the instrumentation—it’s about the human being behind it.” Or seen from a different direction, Margaret Chardiet, of Pharmakon, expressed her own understanding of how a dark, negative power electronics set fits into the context of the Wierd party: “When you pour so much time, energy, and sanity into something, you cannot then apologize for it, just because it might make someone else feel uncomfortable. Art/music that is worth giving so much of your self to should be strong enough to exist in any context.” In this sense, Pieter Schoolwerth’s permissiveness and interest in the potential to fail truly connects with this strength through diversity. “I like the fact that Pieter doesn’t really ask you what you’re going to do, and what it’s going to be like, or what it’s going to sound like,” remarked Katie Rose. “He’s really interested in you being able to just do your thing and if it’s a 20 minute noise set or pop songs, or a little bit of both, people have an attention span for it and they’re ready to take it in.” In this way, both Schoolwerth and the Wierd community at large are responsible for providing this opportunity to fail, succeed, or grow. The strength and energy of the Wierd community has been potent enough to affect even the ‘80s groups who trudged through obscurity for decades. As a part of a network of fans that have unearthed and shared this music, Wierd has helped to validate these artists. In the words of Opera Multi Steel’s Lopez, “Even if the recognition has been long to come, it’s really comforting to get the feeling that all the time, passion and pleasure involved in our band was not in vain.” For Gallea, of Eleven Pond, the affirmation was even more potent and direct. A band that self-released cassettes and one LP, and, “didn’t get a lot of feedback,” Eleven Pond was given a physical dose of feedback in 2009. “I did go to the Wierd/Killing Spree event at Nomad in Los Angeles,” recalls Gallea. “It was my first time to see Martial Canterel or Xeno & Oaklander. I was blown away! In between sets the DJ played ‘Watching Trees’ and everyone started dancing. I got goose bumps! So many people danced. It was surreal. I even got a bit teary eyed.”
“A Gift of Tears” by Jeunesse D’Ivoire
Pieter Schoolwerth considers that experience, and others like it, one of the primary inspirations for his dedication to the party. “There’s nothing I like more in the world than to DJ people’s own music for them,” he explained. “The look on someone’s face the first time they hear their little intimately-produced private thing made public is the ultimate pleasure, to give someone that. I put it on and just watch them; they’re nervous, they’re pissed off, they’re freaked out. And they light up. That’s the fucking best, man, that’s one of the things I live for.” For Schoolwerth, this act of shifting from the private to the public is one of the critical functions of any community. Just as his personal discovery of the music, of its narrative of isolation, has helped to ease his own sense of distance, Wierd provides a platform for these shared yet underrepresented experiences, closing distances. But beyond this very rare quality of bringing individuals together, Wierd is actually able to activate this community, to structure opportunities for participation. Partygoers are encouraged to join in, to form bands, to DJ, to perform. Georgette remembers her first DJ set ever, alongside co-founders Schoolwerth and Glenn Maryansky. “I first became involved when Pieter was nice enough to teach me how to spin,” she recalls. “The lesson was literally about two minutes long!” Just as the original, nameless party was an opportunity for friends to share favorite records, today’s Wierd is DJed by regulars—dedicated attendees selected more for their enthusiasm than for name recognition. Similarly, Wierd has encouraged the formation of many bands. The same visceral excitement that draws listeners to synth bands, both old and new, suggests endless possibilities for music. As demonstrated by the creativity of artists like Martial Canterel, this possibility is one facet of this inspiration, but the promise of an open-minded, thoughtful community is equally important. Katie Rose, whose band Further Reductions made their debut at Wierd roughly one year after she first attended the party, grew up in Michigan, where she worked in a record shop and actively participated in the local music scene. She departed to attend college, but her disillusionment led her to New York: “When I moved to Colorado I didn’t really go see music because I had never left Michigan, and I envisioned Boulder was going to be like New York. I thought I was going to this amazing place with all these creative writers and musicians and it would just blossom from there, but it didn’t. So I decided to move here, I moved here without knowing anybody.” But her relocation to New York, to a larger and more active city, didn’t initially fill this lack. “I was broke all the time,” she recalled, “and feeling negative about the world and that I wasn’t able to put my own music out and I didn’t have any connection to a scene. I stopped going out. And it was during that time that I met Shawn, and it really opened my eyes. I was really happy to go out and discover music, what people were doing. It took collaboration with friends and time to grow intimate with these instruments in this environment to figure it out.” The critical elements highlighted by Rose—collaboration, time, and environment— are all potentially unstable qualities. For New York in particular, given the media saturation and turnover of fads, each of these three assets can be drained or corrupted by an onslaught of attention, a hype-driven drastic change in taste, or the manufacture of a commercially palatable rendering. Alert to such forces, Wierd has consistently avoided the sort of reductive behavior that compels them. The avoidance of genre demarcations, the lack of a unified dress code, this “willfully being alone” described by Owen Stokes that allows each participant to remain an individual while surrounded by others, all evade the pigeonholing that creates a commodity. Ultimately the goal is an avoidance of manufacturing image, to revert all attention back to the music. The same way that dancing in a shroud of fog creates a freedom from observation, stripping image from the performer provides more space for the music. Sean McBride expands his admiration for analogue synthesizers to include this function: “It keeps me from inadvertently becoming an image source because I am stuck behind, playing keyboards. I can’t dance and I can’t show off.” Liz Wendelbo, whose artistic practice also includes photography and film, is clear in her sense of this rejection: “I think we’re all trying to free ourselves from image in some ways, in an environment where image is everything.” In her visual work, a movement she’s termed “Cold Cinema,” this resistance consists of invoking Brechtian alienation, using DIY tactics to avoid the escapism and abstraction of film. For her music, it’s necessary for Wendelbo to engage in a more aggressive resistance to image: “We willfully shied away from any form of marketing or branding or anything like that. We really wanted to be under the radar, sort of invisible or barely visible, almost there. Kind of ghostly. Only recently did we start taking photos, we do our own photos.” In fact, the portraits accompanying this article are the first of Xeno and Oaklander that they didn’t take themselves. Not only does this break from image encourage the listener’s focus, but it facilitates concentration for the creation of the music: “That was also part of the bunker mentality, keep all that vanity and crap out of the way, and concentrate on developing the form and the content.” Similar to the countless assertions that the
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Miss Liz Wendelbo
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binding force at Wierd is the music, Wendelbo stresses that the music is not only the core of Wierd, but is in fact the vital thing. But what quality binds the music together? According to Schoolwerth, it’s a spirit, an expressive balance between thoughtfulness, gloom, motivation, and defiance. In his 2010 Skug interview, Schoolwerth gave one of the most declarative, illuminating descriptions of this balance: “all [Wierd bands] are tied together by their emotional resonance, which is a very affirmative sense of melancholy, backed by an aggressive, life-affirming sense of resistance.” This resistance to abstraction, to the dehumanizing, divisionary forces of the Internet, of computer music, of homogeneous culture, is a force of negation, but also of empowerment. Shawn O’Sullivan’s attempts to compose laptop music before Led Er Est formed were always abandoned unfinished, every song “just a loop that didn’t do anything.” While he was thoroughly aware of minimal electronic music, it took the example of Wierd and the invitation from Schoolwerth to shift him from an admirer of the music to a participant in it. In the words of his bandmate, Samuel Kklovenhoof, “Shawn used to spend a ridiculous amount of money on records and now he’s using all that money to buy synthesizers.” This transition from consumer to producer is among the most politically radical acts in this era of late capitalism.
“Cold Forever” by Xeno and Oaklander
From Dada, to the Situationist International, to Oulipo, to peace punk, the 20th century is dense with examples of bound, deliberate subcultures exhausting themselves, getting lost in dogma, or extinguished by outside forces. A huge majority of the original cold wave bands lasted only a few years, victims of their own obscurity, and of the lack of support. Pieter Schoolwerth is upfront about the achievements of Wierd, both as a self-sustaining force and as an inspiration for like-minded movements: “The WIERD party has proven for 5 plus years that rebuilding at the microscopic level is a possibility. We have all worked as a sociallyoriented, non-economically motivated unit creating an extremely strong community to emotionally and psychologically support a very energetic group of young artists working to create music that all can be named as genre and identity specific.” Sean McBride similarly expressed the impact of this community: “I was thinking about this the other day. The golden years of minimal electronics: 1979–1983. There are few groups that did it longer than a year or two. Okay, this is appalling in a way. I’ve been doing this stuff since 2001. It’s 2010 now. I’ve been doing it for eight years, nine years now. And not just me but a number of other people as well.” Schoolwerth is also proud of the party’s longevity: “I’m going to be coming up on 500 parties in November. That’s always been my goal, to get to 500. Not for any reason except that it’s a nice number that I can be proud of.” When considering the durability of the community, Cheyney Thompson is more enigmatic, invoking the idea of cultural bunker: “Wierd was never the bunker itself, but the corpse rotting inside the bunker. Specifically a bunker somewhere off the coast of Marseille. If I am correct in this assessment then longevity is not an issue. The issue is the odeur of its putrefaction and the forms of life that take up
residence in this sun-bleached sac. This means we participate actively in its continual decomposition. It achieves its pestilence through attack, sustain, decay and release.” Behind the poetry of this description is an intensely defiant and sober assessment of both the community and the world surrounding it. Thompson is resolute in his take on the greater impact of his actions, the “odeur” and “pestilence” caused by his community, but also acknowledges the benefits afforded. With an attitude that approaches the punk/hardcore identification with roaches and rats—unwanted survivors—Thompson declares the endurance of participants, less concerned with the body that nourishes them. The individuals dancing within the smoke, not the cloud of fog itself. Reflecting upon this ten-year history—the 500 parties, the 10 releases, the countless bands introduced to the world—Schoolwerth is cautious in naming a favorite aspect of Wierd. Considering the generosity of everyone involved, the non-commercial desire to create, he explains: “I feel like a kid a lot. That’s something I never want to lose, that excitement that has absolutely no means. It’s not a means to anything other than itself.” But ultimately he considers the individuals dancing alone, sharing their isolation publicly, and he says, simply, “It makes people so happy.” For more information: Wierd Records: wierdrecords.com Bal Paré: myspace.com/balpare Blacklist: listofblack.com Eleven Pond: darkentriesrecords.com Epee du Bois: myspace.com/epeedubois Flesh Graey Display: myspace.com/fleshgraeydisplay Further Reductions: myspace.com/furtherreductions Land of Giants: myspace.com/landofgiants1982 Led Er Est: lederest.com Martial Canterel: myspace.com/martialcanterel Minimal Wave: minimal-wave.org Neon Judgement: theneonjudgement.com Nite Jewel: nitejewel.com Opera Multi Steel: pagesperso-orange.fr/opera.multi.steel Opus Finis: myspace.com/opusfinis Pharmakon: myspace.com/noisepharmakon Pieter Schoolwerth: miguelabreugallery.com/PieterSchoolwerth.htm Sombre Septembre: myspace.com/sombreseptembre Staccato du Mal: myspace.com/staccatodumal Cheyney Thompson: www.suttonlane.com/artist.php?a=ct&p=home Liz Wendelbo: lizwendelbo.com Xeno & Oaklander: xenoandoaklander.com Yellow Tears: yellowtears.com
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Brian Roettinger is a Los Angeles based graphic designer, but his creative realm extends well beyond that. In 1998 he founded Hand Held Heart, firstly as an independent record label and now as multi-disciplinary design studio. His works are very diverse, bridging the divide between art, music, design and concept. As a designer he has created publications for Jason Rhodes, Erik Parker and the UCLA Hammer Museum. He has also designed album covers for bands such as Liars, No Age, and many others. He has created identities for various cultural institutions while at the same time finding time to make books, zines, limited edition 7” records and exhibit his own artworks in galleries nationwide. In February of 2008 he was awarded Album Designer of the year by Rolling Stone Magazine and in 2009 was nominated for a Grammy Award for No Age’s “Nouns” album packaging. Basically, Brian Roettinger is one of those creative people we love to write about. He has managed to find a completely unique take on the medium of design that blends high-concept thinking with a D.I.Y. punk ethos. Many designers have tried this, but few have succeeded to the degree that Brian has. We caught up with him in Los Angeles as he had just finished a new album cover for No Age and was getting ready to start a 30-week residency at UCLA.
INTERVIEW BY AARON ROSE PORTRAIT BY ZEN SEKIZAWA IMAGES COURTESY OF HAND HELD HEART
Aaron Rose: Where did you grow up, and how did you get into art? Brian Roettinger: Well, I grew up just north of here in Newhall, right by CalArts. AR: So you’re an LA kid? I didn’t know that. BR: Yeah. Newhall seems so far for everyone, and it is kind of far, but it’s so easy to get from there to here that LA felt like a doorstep away. But it’s weird. I think I got into design, and especially art, in so many different avenues. First it was skating and working in a skate shop, and collecting skate stickers and shirts and boards. That got me into a sort of visual language, like “Oh, this is cool looking.” But then getting into music and playing in bands, and the last step of playing in a band is “Oh, what’s the record gonna look like? What’s the cover gonna be? What’s the flyer gonna look like?” So it was kind of super cliché in that I got into design from record covers, which seems like it happens to so many designers. AR: Right. It makes sense. BR: But it’s the perfect avenue. AR: What bands were you in? BR: I was in this hardcore band called “This Machine Kills.” I don’t know if you’ve heard it, it was so bad. I was the only one who lived in LA. They all lived in Goleta, near Santa Barbara. So I would have to drive up there for practice, but it was kind of easy to go up there and practice, then tour and play shows. But we were all doing different things. Like I was doing design and started going to school. Then the other guys were in school and also doing a label. We were all simultaneously doing our other interests while playing music in the band. AR: Was this in teenage years, or early twenties? BR: This was early twenties. Before I was in the band, I was already doing the label, putting records out. They were records by bands I was either friends with or bands that I just heard and liked. Like, “People need to hear this.” There was this French band that I had a few seven inches of and I just thought they were amazing, but no one here had really heard them. Only some people knew who they were. So I wrote them and was like, “I want to put your next record out here in the States.” They wrote back a week later, and this was all preemail, so you had to wait a week, two weeks, for a letter, hoping. They wrote back, “Actually, we broke up a year ago.” AR: Oh man. BR: “But we have a new band. Here’s our demo.” It was amazing. I wanted to put that out, so I wrote them back and they were like, “Yeah, that’s great.” So the first few records I put out were by these French hardcore bands, and they sold. Surprisingly, people bought them. AR: Were you doing the covers on those? BR: That was right on the cusp of when I started doing design, but I didn’t know anything about it. I could do it, but it was awful. I didn’t know shit. I look back at it now, and I’m like, ”It’s awful!” So I didn’t design those, but it was after those two that I started to get involved in the design of the records. Slowly I became more interested in the object I was putting out and the design of it, and less about the music and the bands. AR: You started looking at it as more of a concept. BR: Yeah, exactly. And that’s carried over to how it is now, where I think of every record in that way. AR: You went to CalArts? BR: Yeah. AR: When did you start going to school and what prompted you? BR: I was always in school, even when I was playing in the band I was going to junior college and taking type design classes, typography, filmmaking… I took a lot of filmmaking classes and that was what I thought I wanted to do. I made a bunch of short films, all super-8 and 16mm, and I loved it. I was still doing design, but I was more into film. So I’d be touring, shooting film, and playing music, and then I came back and I was like, “Fuck. I need to be doing something!” I felt like maybe I should be going to school for design, that maybe that made more sense. I thought if I go to school for design, I can still make film. I thought, “I don’t need to go the school for film to make film.” AR: Was it career motivated? Like, “This is what I want to be when I grow up?” BR: I don’t think I’ve ever been like that with career. Like, “I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that.” Because I’m interested in so many different things, like art or design or music. I thought I would just go to school and see what happens, and it was easy because I lived really close to CalArts. I remember thinking, “I’ll apply, but I probably won’t get in. It’s so competitive.” I would look at work people had made who went there and was like, “Shit. This is actually good! That’s like next level. There’s no way I could this.” Then I got in and I remember the first week of being in school and being like, “Holy Shit. All these people suck. No wonder I got in. This is gonna be kind of easy.” AR: Was your portfolio all record covers? BR: My portfolio was record covers, screen-printed posters, drawings, sketchbooks, not too much design. The records were the one thing, and maybe some flyers. AR: How did you change as a designer as a result of spending that time in an academic environment? BR: I think at CalArts it’s huge because you’re all under one roof. I’d be collaborating with other designers, artists, dancers, animators, musicians… It was like a hodge-podge.
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You’re all in the same building, so you could just be upstairs and hear something, then stumble upon something amazing that you would never find outside of that. You’re not so isolated. So that opened me up to other interests, especially art. Because I had always been interested in art, but I didn’t really know anything about it, and that kind of made me want to learn more. AR: Just because you were forced to be around people into that. BR: Yeah. I was interested and curious, but learning more was only going to make my design better. AR: So just to go back for a second, was that label you started Hand Held Heart? Did you keep the same name? BR: Well, actually it’s embarrassing. When I started the label it was called “Unfortunate for the Fortunate.” I saw that somewhere, so the first two French records were under that. After they came out I was like, “Oh my god. What was I thinking?” There’s an old Carcass record, I forget the name of it, but inside the 12” there’s an illustration that H.R. Giger did. I can’t steal an H.R. Giger, but back then I didn’t know. It’s this anatomy illustration he did with a hand twisting, holding an anatomy heart, super abstract. I wanted to use it for a flyer and blow it up big for a poster. So I just Xeroxed it and someone liked it and they asked me, “What is that?” And I said it was a “hand held heart,” so I just ended up using that name. Later on, I thought it actually made sense, like holding represents something physical, an object. Sometimes I think it can sound a little cheesy, but I just kept it. AR: I like it. It has two sides to it. There’s a gnarly side to it, and a soft side. BR: Exactly. Yeah, I like that it can have multiple meanings and multiple avenues, and that makes sense for what I do. Whether it’s design for a 7” for a band that no one knows, or a book for the Hammer. Completely different spectrums, different audiences, but I still approach them totally the same. AR: That was going to be my next question, because you’re an exhibiting artist, you’re a designer—not just record covers but gallery identities, school identities… It’s incredibly diverse but it all somehow hooks together, though at times it can almost feel slightly schizophrenic. BR: Totally. AR: I was wondering if it’s that you see no boundaries between different media, or is it a conscious decision on your part? How do you approach these different projects? BR: That’s a good question because that’s something I’m always asking myself. I tend to approach everything the same. Sometimes certain things in design transfer into art, like I’ll be working on something and think, “These would actually work well as paintings, or a sculpture.” So I’m constantly thinking about art and design on the same level. I think how I approach design is in many ways similar to how an artist approaches their work, like starting with a very concrete idea and then working through an idea to a visual form. Like I was getting these posters printed and the press was getting fucked up. The ink was getting stuck and was making these big splotches across the posters, and it kind of looked better than the actual poster. That inspired me to do these prints that were in the Family NYC show where I used ink, squashed ink and dripped ink, and then folded the posters and unfolded them, so as paintings they kind of printed themselves. Like reproducing parts to make another part. AR: Like a Rorschach? BR: Almost like a Rorschach, but like how in design you make one thing and it gets reproduced. I like that. I made one piece of a painting and folded it so it was like a reproduction. I guess I don’t really see any boundaries. I feel like having a visual language, or a design language, that you can attach that to fine art, or filmmaking, or any other sort of medium. AR: Do you remember a point in your career where you realized your work has that visual language? Because your work has a distinct look. I can look at it something and think, “Brian Roettinger did that.” Which to me is the mark that someone’s a good designer, that you can identify it at first glance. Was there a moment where you said to yourself, “This is my thing”? Or was it gradual? BR: I think it was gradual. I think for most designers, or at least for me, you started off not knowing anything about design, but making a lot of stuff. You make a ton of stuff, then time would pass and a year later you’re like, “Oh. All that stuff is shit.” Then you lose confidence and think, “I can’t do this.” Then you come back around and regain some of your confidence, and you feel like you have good ideas, but can’t really formulize them. I think there comes a point where you can formulize your conceptual ideas into a visual form and when there’s that happy medium is when, as a designer, you feel comfortable about your work and are more confident. AR: Right. Like you’re firing on all cylinders. BR: Yeah, like having confidence, being able to make something and be like, “This thing is awesome. It’s done.” A lot of times early on I’d make something and feel like I could tweak it and work on it for days, and just never know when it’s done. Like, how do you ever really know when something’s done? AR: That’s the eternal question, right? BR: Yeah. Other than in design having a client give you a deadline and then telling you it’s done, for a lot of projects that I do for myself, or even for other people, you’re like, “Shit. Is it done?” It is the eternal question. AR: Do you think that it’s a gut feeling that you have? Or are there certain elements that you can say, “That’s how I know it’s done.” BR: I think it’s just having the ability to go, “Looks good to me. It’s done.” But I always see some idea from years ago and think, “Fuck, I should have fucking changed that little part.” Like, “I worked on that for eight months, but if I had just changed that one thing.” But I think that goes for anything. AR: It’s the classic thing for artists. That’s how artists grow. There has to be a flaw, because the flaw is what pushes you into the next thing. BR: I look back at a lot of my work and I think that motivates me, seeing previous work and thinking, “I could do way better than this.” I think that’s why I’m constantly doing so many projects too. It’s maybe a schizophrenic thing as well because I’m able to juggle so many things, like work on this, then move away from that, but then look at that first thing for a minute and fix something. AR: When I think about your work, there’s a highly conceptual element to everything that you do. It’s not just pretty or visually beautiful, but it feels like there’s underlying concepts, or even imbedded secrets in the design. BR: Yeah, definitely. AR: Is that something you’ve always done? Where do a lot of those ideas come from and why do you think it’s important to operate on all those different levels? BR: I’m not always interested in a seductive image. Especially now, I think it’s fairly easy for someone to make something look good as an image. AR: Because of technology? BR: Yeah. People are accustomed. I’m always more interested in the ideas from a narrative perspective. Like, “That looks cool, but how did it get to that point? Why does it look cool?” Or, “That looks interesting and I want to know why.” I think that definitely comes from school and having to talk about your work and explain why you made something a certain way. A lot of times, especially in school, someone would make something and they couldn’t talk about it, couldn’t say shit about it. And it’s like well if you can’t tell me something about this, then it’s kind of rubbish. I also think it comes from having an interest in other forms of art and film, and looking at the history of art and design. A lot of great design starts with a great idea.
Liars, Sisterworld 2xCD, Accordion fold-out with viewfinder (opposite) No Age, Everything In Between album cover art, 2010
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AR: It’s interesting that you brought up the word “narrative,” which makes me think about your early days as a filmmaker. Do you consider the things that you design as storytelling? BR: Well, I think especially with designing books. Books definitely have a narrative quality to them. You control the pacing, what you see at a certain point… I think that everything I make has something of a narrative to it. AR: What’s a specific example? BR: Like the new Liars record, the cover and entire concept. Basically when we started there wasn’t a title for the record. We sort of brainstormed what the record was about and it was the idea of coming up with this title “Sisterworld” that alluded to the idea that the band could exist as artists in their own sort of environment. How that idea of being in your own space could control the design of the physical object. So that’s when I thought that maybe as an album cover an image can tell a thousand stories, but if it’s about the physical object and not just an image, it can be layered with more meaning and feel more like a narrative. You’re asked to look into something and there’s more images, and you think, “It’s called Sisterworld and they’re in this space with nobody else. And they’re multiplied, so there’s this sense of time passing.” I think, especially for that record, we analyzed the idea of the title relating to this super narrative. AR: How did the concept for the little peep hole on the cover come about? BR: That speakeasy that’s on the front cover is actually on my front door. Angus and I were talking about Los Angeles and physical space, and how it’s very easy to be a hermit in LA. People always think, “Oh, LA, Hollywood, entertainment…” but you can really live at your own pace in LA. It’s easy to avoid the garbage that you don’t want to be associated with. AR: True. Like if you have groceries, you can stay inside for weeks! BR: Yeah. You can live like a hermit, but if you want to do things and have that New York lifestyle in LA, you easily can. So I was giving an explanation of using my door like that—it’s easy to take a peek into those different avenues and parts of Los Angeles. Then it just made sense that maybe the band were on the inside of something and everyone else was on the outside sort of looking in, and I thought the cover could just be the speakeasy. It happened like that. I thought maybe we could take photos in a three dimensional space and make them tiled… It’s funny, the idea for that record came in like an hour discussion in my studio. It just completely took form. That was sort of it. Months went by and I was just looking at that thing on my door and it worked, but it was really nasty and rusted and old. So I got metal cleaner and polished it. It looked perfect, like gold or brass, just super nice. We photographed it like 10 times and I thought, “This is the easiest thing to photograph!” Then we liked the idea of shooting in a non-urban space because of the lack of a sense of time period. It strips away any idea of when it was taken. AR: It brings a kind of mysticism into it as well, being in the woods. A kind of spirituality. BR: Yeah, completely. But at the same time we did that, maybe a month later, “Where the Wild Things Are” came out. I would see all these advertisements with the woods and I was like, “Oh fuck.” AR: No one else would draw that connection but you. It’s just you being super macro! BR: Yeah. I was like, “Oh god… it looks like that.” And they go to the beach too! We had beach ones. I was like, “Holy fuck.”
AR: There was that whole series you did for No Age, the split singles for different cities. BR: Yeah. I went on tour with Liars and No Age for a month. Three weeks before we left I said, “You guys should do a split record and we’ll sell it on tour. I’ll design a cover every night for each city, like the night before, and that cover will only be for sale in that city at that show.” So it literally says “Chicago” and the date, so you know where you got it and when you got it. AR: How’d you print the covers? BR: Xerox. I was like, “OK, there needs to be come restrictions. It needs to be one color, I’ll make it type only, don’t need to worry about any images, and the back will always be the same.” So they had to write and record a song that day. Like if we wanted it ready for the tour, we literally had to turn it in that day to be ready in three weeks. So it was kind of exciting. I like that pressure. Even though it was more pressure on them than me. AR: Though you had pressure when you were on the road. BR: Yeah. But I kind of cheated. I would sometimes do five covers at a time, just to have some done. But it was fun to sell them at the shows. AR: Because it was only that one for the city. Because you couldn’t buy ones for other cities? BR: Right. We’d make 30 to 40, but sometimes just 15 a night because we’d be at Oberlin college and didn’t think we’d need as many. But then the funny thing is that they sold out quicker at Oberlin. I think they appreciated it more, ‘cause it wasn’t a big city like Chicago or New York. AR: What was the most popular one? Was there one that people went crazier for? BR: The bigger cities definitely sold more ‘cause there were more people, like LA and Brooklyn. But places like Buffalo, New York, Tempe, Arizona, and Oberlin, those ones that were completely random I liked the best. Like this guy at the Buffalo show was like, “I’m going to come to the show in Brooklyn. I want to get the Brooklyn one too.” I thought that was so rad. AR: So he came to get the 7”? BR: Yeah, he got the record. Actually when he came I just gave it to him. I was like, “You drove all the way here.” AR: Yeah, that’s not a short drive. BR: It was nice because at the end we had this kind of document of the tour. Even though it was the same songs, the rotating covers did something else. AR: Like a diary almost. BR: Yeah. I also like how the cover wasn’t just a cover. The cover morphs into something else. Sometimes I tried to let the city sort of inspire whatever I made for the cover. So those were for the tour ones, but there was also a regular one. Same 7” but different cover. I took bits of the type from each city, like a little bit of Philly, little bit of Chicago, little bit Tempe, and I built letters out of the pieces. It’s so abstract you can barely read it. It’s kind of like brushstrokes. With the record, I told the record pressing plant to pour different colors of vinyl so every one would come out different. So there were these different covers and these different colors of vinyl, and when I letter-pressed the final cover I had them pour ink so it gradually changed. So everything had this sense of movement, and that made sense for tour, for the traveling. AR: That seems like something that’s important to you, that sense of having a mass-produced item that has a feeling of exclusivity. You think that comes from your roots in punk? BR: Absolutely. Definitely that comes from D.I.Y. 7 inches. You have no
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No Age, Nouns CD CD w/ 64-page booklet (opposite) SCI-Arc Fall 2007 Public Programs Poster Shrink-wrapped poster Crumbled size: 3.5 x 5” Un-crumbled size: 27 x 36”
budget to make a cover and you have to a make a cover. What are you gonna do? The only way you can do it is by hand, to make it yourself, learning how to screen print, getting a stamp, using off the shelf materials like buying envelopes and cutting them. And you feel like you’re not just buying a record, you feel like you bought a unique object. Like you’re the only one that has this copy because none of the others look like that. I try to install that idea into larger records. Like, “Lets ship them all to my studio and do something so that everyone is different.” And the label’s like, “Why? Are you fucking crazy? That’s like 30 thousand records.” AR: Have you actually done that? BR: I’ve tried! I want to. With No Age we tried, and hopefully with this new one we’ll do something like that. AR: I got a text from Dean yesterday that he was really excited about working on the artwork. BR: Yes. It’s going to be fucking awesome. You know a lot of the stuff I did with SCI-Arc, thinking about materiality and texture and format, that it’s a poster, but is it a poster?… I like taking on these dual identities, like CD cover as book, or CD cover as poster. The book is essentially another book, a smaller book, cut in half except for the last page. So you get it and you’re like, “My CD is broken! It’s destroyed. Why is my cover cut in half?” And this is for the LP too, everything cut right in half. And the record’s called “Everything In Between.” It’s kind of like thinking about book ending your day, about what happens after you wake up and before going to sleep. What happens in between your breakfast and your dinner. If you condensed all that stuff, those things tend to feel like who you are. It gets deeper with Dean and Randy as to what the title of the record means for them, but I like this idea of cutting out everything in between and just showing the bookends. I think it starts to have a narrative quality to it too. We’ll see how it turns out.
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AR: You mentioned SCI-Arc briefly. I want to talk to you about that work because it’s kind of some of the most surprising work I’ve seen from you, because it’s architecture. Not that architecture can’t be punk, but there’s a different head, especially with SCI-Arc. There seemed like there was an overall concept going into that as well, and I’m wondering what that was and what you were trying to achieve? BR: The design for architecture, especially for cultural institutes like Yale, UCLA, SCI-Arc… it’s like a huge pissing contest with what their printed ephemera looks like. It’s like a competition. Instantly I was like, well they’re designed nice and they’re beautiful, but in the end it’s just a poster. It’s just four color printing on a piece of paper. It looks amazing, but I wanted to move ahead of that, like how could I make something that’s not just a poster. I think being there in architecture, just being under the roof and looking at a lot of architecture and how they look at space, materiality, form, how light hits texture, how light hits a surface, reflective qualities… I think a lot of ideas in architecture inspired the work. Not always, but very subtle. Especially for the poster that was crumpled and shrink-wrapped. It was about making something that is it’s materiality morphed and changed. We printed on a super thin paper that then could condense down to an object. It has an architectural quality to it, in how do you make a concrete surface feel soft. Also the object quality, having to open it, un-shrink wrap it, hang it and then it’s three dimensional in how light hits it and reflects. AR: You’ll never get it flat. BR: Yeah, never. I also like the idea of making something then breaking it down and destroying it. Like they were literally coming off the press and I was crumpling them up. The pressmen were like, “You sure? You’re paying all this money and you’re just crumpling them up.” I was like, “It’s perfect.” And other posters were printed, folded, then sliced, like dye
cutting, so it has reflective qualities with different shapes. So it ends up not being just a flat poster on the wall. You start to think about the space the poster has. AR: Which brings it back to the idea of creating an object. BR: Yeah, they’re objects. AR: Which I think is unique. You’re known as someone who does graphics, yet you seem like you have an industrial design approach. Even though most industrial designers would probably say, “Oh no, that’s not industrial design.” But there’s that quality to so much of what you do. BR: Thank you. Yeah, there’s definitely that quality to all the books. There’s an engineering aspect into making books. It’s not just thinking about the content, it’s thinking about how it’s bound, how’s it printed, what the paper’s like, what it’s like without any design in it. Like a blank dummy, how does it feel as an object. That’s the architectural aspect to it. I think it all goes back to making records and just being so obsessed with the final object of the record, that it has to feel right. AR: Did you have design heroes? BR: Kind of. My heroes were always people who weren’t just designers, like Deiter Roth. He started as a commercial designer but was an artist. You look at his work and a lot of it is heavily designed and it’s heavily object oriented and fetishized. He’s probably the biggest influence besides like Raymond Loewy, who totally crossed platforms. He designed the Lucky Strike identity, but then he also designed a pencil sharpener. Charles and Ray Eames, who weren’t just one thing. AR: Yeah. They made films too. BR: They wore different masks. AR: Do you feel that people like that gave you the freedom to think, “They do that. I can do that too”? BR: Definitely. But I feel like it’s hard for people to grasp all the different modes. I don’t know if people ever look at work of mine that’s not design and say “Oh, that’s an artwork.” Or maybe it’s like, “He’s a designer, so maybe it’s not artwork.” AR: Have you felt any of that when you’ve done exhibitions? Like either people or yourself thinking that it’s design on a gallery wall? BR: Not so much, but sometimes the artwork I make is inspired by designs I’ve made, so to me they are designed, but they are also artworks. It’s more of a labeling issue. Like, why can’t it be an artwork that’s designed. AR: Yeah, that’s how I look at it too. BR: Peter Saville’s another, in that he exhibits work and designs. My brain doesn’t flip a switch and instantly go, “OK. Now I’m doing art, so I’m going to think much differently than when I’m doing design.” Or, “Now I’m designing furniture for my studio.” I approach them completely the same. Finding the right wood, feeling the right material, thinking about it as an object, how it’s going to affect the space, how’s it going to work… It’s all the same approach. AR: So what’s your dream project? Something you haven’t done yet. Something you think about that hasn’t come to fruition yet. BR: That’s a hard thing because my interests always change. But I think it would be one where it fuels all my interests, whether that’s design, music, art, something that takes on all those platforms where I could be in charge of content and design. I don’t think it’s that I’m a control freak, but more that I’m interested in all the parts of the puzzle. I want to be in charge of the content and the design. I care about them equally. It’s hard to know what a dream project is. AR: It’s a hard question. BR: I guess one when I’m satisfied while making it and when it’s done, and hope that other people are excited about it. That’s sort of a dream project because a lot of projects don’t turn into what you hoped, which is hard. But I’m hopefully doing a project that’s the history of Slash records. AR: Wow. BR: It’s great because it involves Los Angeles, it involves music, and it involves design. AR: Yeah. Their designs were amazing and I can see through your filter it could be incredible. BR: Yeah. So that’s kind of an awesome project where there’s the narrative, the history, and the place in culture. Hopefully! AR: Yeah! I had a question for you, but now I’m just thinking about Slash record covers. So many good ones. BR: So many. And the magazine... AR: The whole label. BR: And the story. And it’s Los Angeles! There’s so much about Los Angeles that I always want to know. I think this city is something that inspires me the most. AR: What are your favorite projects you’re working on now? Personal ones and projects for clients and bands? BR: I’m working on this project that’s personal but someone else is publishing it. It’s a music journal published by Sound Screen. They do these smaller publications, 24 pages, 10 by 10. I’m just finishing it. It was sort of an experiment to find a new technique in how to collage. I wanted to make a book that was sort of a collection of all of my own books, so I wanted to rip a page out of every book I own and make a collage from all those. So I rip the page out, crumple out, photocopy it, so the printed page becomes three-dimensional.
No Age, Five limited edition EPs available from five different labels (opposite, from top) Hammer Projects 1999–2009, 432-page catalog documenting the first ten years of the Hammer Projects Touchable Sound: A Collection of 7-inch Records from the USA, Edited by Brian Roettinger, Mike Treff, Diego Hadis (following spread) A selection of SCI-Arc posters 2005–09
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Martin Hannett at Strawberry Studios Collage Spray paint, paper, 22 x 34”, 2008 Pink Floyd at the Laserium Collage Spray paint, paper, 22 x 34“, 2008 Black and White #9 Letraset on paper, 9 x 12”, 2008 (opposite) Selections from Soundscreen Design Artist Music Journal #10
AR: Is the page still readable? BR: It’s distorted to pure abstraction. AR: Wow. BR: It feels three-dimensional, but it’s a collage and it’s made with a technique that is in many ways very experimental because you don’t know what the outcome’s going to be. You don’t know what color, shapes and form are going to come out. And that was just an experiment. That book is coming out with a collaborative record that I did with No Age where we wrote three songs, recorded them, and the record will come with the book. They’re sort of loosely tied together, but they’re their own thing too. AR: Tell me about the cool printing machine you have in your studio. BR: The Risograph. I want to start printing more artist curated little books, and just publish little documents. Whether it’s all text or all image. I’m doing a collection of a bunch of smaller pieces that I made. AR: It’s a ‘zine format? BR: Yeah. I like it because it’s something I’m always into. Like I make the work, I’ll design the ‘zine, and I’ll print the ‘zine. So I’m involved in every process. It’s not like I made the content and now I have to find someone to design it, and find someone to print it. I’m involved in every step. There’s no middleman. It’s like, “You are the man.” AR: It seems like you do that for a lot of projects, as much as possible. BR: Yeah. I think that just goes back to being curious and interested in all those processes. It’s not like I favor one part over another. I mean, I care about the design and content the most, but being able to physically make the thing is just as awesome. But I do want to start publishing other people’s work and have them be available and affordable. Like I’ll see a ‘zine by someone I know that’s Xeroxed and it’s 12 pages, but then it’s $30. It’s like totally defeating its purpose. That’s not the purpose of a ‘zine. AR: Yeah. On a ‘zine, never more than $5. That’s the rule. BR: It drives me crazy. I don’t mind paying money for things, but I don’t like being ripped off. I want to support the work, but I don’t want to pay $30 for a 12-page Xerox ‘zine. I don’t care who made it. But with ‘zine culture, as much as I love it, that’s what’s hurting it. People trying to get away with too much. AR: Yeah. It’s gone into a whole new realm. BR: I want to give them out. Just make them and give them away. Or at least make them $2. Make money to make more of them. I’m definitely pumped about the Riso. I just got a new studio space. One room is the studio and the other room is gonna be a print shop. The Riso, letter press, cutters, so I’m thinking if people want to make one they can just come in and make it. But they can’t ask me to help design it or print it, they just got to fucking make it. AR: And you’ll help distro. BR: Yeah. Like just make 50 and we’ll keep 10. You bring your own paper. AR: So you’re starting a residency at UCLA for 30 weeks. Describe what you’re going to be working on. BR: First I’ll be teaching typography and I’ll be teaching visual communication. And I’m working on a book with Peter Lunenfeld, who is an instructor there, called “The Secret World between Downloading and Uploading: The Computer as a Cultural Machine.” At the same time as I’ll be designing that, I’ll be working on platforms for the iPad and the Kindle and how the physical object of the book can exist as a seductive thing on the iPad. So how do you make a book just as seductive in the digital format? Because everything you see now that is cool and nice and beautiful on your iPhone or iPad is image based. But what if there’s a way that the text looked like there was something you could do with it. Who knows… It might be impossible. AR: Might be. I think it would drive me crazy. www.handheldheart.com
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If you’re a regular reader of this publication, you are probably wondering who Susan Miller is and why she’s on the cover. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a bit of a wild card; however, I hope that after reading this interview you’ll get a sense of why it makes perfect sense. First off, Susan Miller is an astrologer. Since launching her website Astrology Zone in 1995, she has become perhaps one of the most well known astrologers in the world. Her site currently generates 18 million page views a month. That’s pretty incredible when you consider that a printout of her forecast for each month could run seven or eight pages long. That counts as “one” page view because she doesn’t make you click to get each page on different screens. She gives you all of it on one long screen. That equates to 18 million reports generated each month, with about half of her audience in the USA, and half elsewhere in the world. She writes for magazines all over the world—including Elle USA, Elle Hong Kong, Vogue Japan, Tempo, W in Korea—as a monthly contributor. She has written six books, including my favorite, Planets and Possibilities. But that’s not the only reason she is here. You could say Susan Miller is in this magazine because she’s the most accurate astrologer I’ve ever read, and she pioneered the internet when the ’net had no color, no graphics, no film or TV (in the beginning, it was all black and white text). Alternatively, you can say she is here because she has managed to stay independent and own 100 percent of her company when, these days, that’s incredibly hard to do. You could say it’s for those reasons… but the real reason that Susan Miller is here in this magazine is because I consider her an artist. Ever since the first time I read one of her astrology reports I knew that this astrologer was different, writing careful, reflective essays month after month. There is an impeccable style and quality to the way she writes that all the best writers have, where she is able to make you feel like she is writing only for you. Her monthly reports have become a highlight of my life for many years now. Susan grew up with a crippling leg ailment that forced her to spend years in the hospital as a child. When she was 14, the ailment reached a climax and doctors had to do experimental surgery to
see what was going on inside her left leg. Once inside, they faced a harrowing operation, for she has a rare problem with malformed arteries and veins—vessels that cause excessive bleeding. During the surgery, to save her, her doctor, the chief of staff of the Hospital for Joint Diseases, part of NYU in New York City, had to put a tight band below her knee as a form of tourniquet to stop the bleeding. This left her paralyzed from the knee down and she was to spend 11 subsequent months in the hospital and three years in physical therapy. Not knowing if she’d ever walk again led her to study astrology with her mother. That experience is what led her to be the astrologer she is today. She writes every word with impeccable finesse, total compassion, and with great wisdom. This original interview ran twice as long as it appears here, so we’ve had to cut it considerably. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to give it to you in its entirety. Even if you don’t believe in astrology… consider this an amazing lesson in new ideas, perseverance, and sustaining belief in oneself against all odds. I hope some of that comes through here. I think it does. Enjoy!
SUSAN MILLER INTERVIEW BY AARON ROSE / PORTRAITS BY TERRY RICHARDSON Aaron Rose: You learned astrology from your mother, right? How did she learn it? Susan Miller: Years before I was born, my mother was leaving her small hometown of Ellenville, NY for New York City. My mom was the youngest of five children in a very poor family. Her older sister was sad to see her leave, as they were always close. Her sister, my aunt Harriet, asked my mother to do a project with her, so that they could phone one another frequently to feel connected despite the geographic distance of their homes. My aunt suggested my mother study astrology with her. At first my mother was surprised. “Astrology? Are you kidding?” My aunt, who was older, said, “There’s a lot to this subject. You should learn about it.” My mother took up the subject to please my aunt, but she was certainly not a believer. In fact, my mom tells me that back then she initially wanted to show my aunt that astrology didn’t work—she was all set to disprove it. AR: Are most astrologers believers before they study astrology? SM: No, quite the contrary. Everyone starts out not believing. I certainly was not a believer at first. My aunt wasn’t sure about its validity either, but was willing to give it a try. My mother’s side of my family is German, and I come from a long line of engineers and scientists who worked with NASA and the space program. To balance it out, my father’s side is Italian… all orchards and wine on that side—what a lovely mix! My mother was superb at math, so my aunt told her that with her exceptional skills she’d go far in astrology. My aunt didn’t inherit a flair for mathematics, and she needed my mother to work with her to complete the astrological algorithms necessary to set up a chart. Tables that gave the position of the planets were readily available back then, as they are now. However, of course there were no computers when my mother was studying, so charts had to be done by hand. In astrology, everyone is converted to Greenwich Mean Time from their place and time of birth so that everyone is, so to speak, born in the same place on earth. This is the common denominator that astrology uses. My mother began studying, for years, and by then she was married. I was her first child. My aunt Harriet died of cancer when I was 5 years old, but her prediction about my mother going far in astrology proved more correct than anyone could have guessed, both through my mother’s penchant for scholarly research and her natural inclination for philosophy and reflection. When my aunt died, she willed her considerable collection of astrology books to my mother. AR: How did your mother and aunt study astrology, especially if it was not considered an acceptable subject in society at the time?
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SM: They studied together for seven years by taking a correspondence course from California. I recently did a little investigation about that school and was stunned to learn that great, famous astrologers had been my mother’s teachers in those years. The course was presented by astrologers who were well published and who were to become world famous. My mom wrote essay answers to difficult astrological questions in little essay books that the school provided, and she was expected to send back the answers regularly which she did… over eight years. My family has always been based in New York City and the school was in Oceanside, CA. Later the little books would come back to my mother and aunt from the teachers with red pencil corrections. She saved some of those booklets and I have them today. It was a very serious way to study the subject. My mother never told friends that she knew astrology. It was not an accepted practice then, and so she did charts only for the immediate family, never for friends or strangers. AR: How soon after your mother started studying astrology were you born? SM: Some 10 years later. My mother moved to New York City, married my father, and in time I would be born. I am the first of two. My sister knows astrology but not as thoroughly as I do. She works at the Food Network, as a VP in Internet and Television sales. AR: Can you explain your medical condition that made your childhood so different from that of other kids? SM: I was born with a terrible birth defect in the left leg that often prevented my ability to walk and that caused agonizing pain. The problem only asserted itself in sudden bouts that would come and go but that would last six to eight weeks at a time. When an attack would strike, I would be unable to walk or move even an inch in my bed, so I was out of school a lot. My condition is so rare that no doctor could make a diagnosis. Doctors would never come to my house to see me during an attack, so by the time I could get down two flights of steps to see a doctor, I was well again and they could see nothing wrong with me. It’s not surprising they accused me of making the whole thing up. My mother and father believed me, of course. They could see something was very wrong! AR: Susan, that seems like a nightmare! SM: My mother comforted me by saying that astrology showed that when I reached 14 years old, the condition would be solved. I would not be troubled by it any longer. What’s crazy, though, is that I was nearly 14 when I would have the biggest attack of my life! I was taken to the hospital by an ambulance for tests when it became
apparent I was not going to recover, and by then I had just celebrated by birthday. My new doctor had no idea of what the problem was or what was causing this. I finally had an exploratory operation that proved to be harrowing! My doctor found a hamartoma [note: not a more common hematoma], that caused massive, lifethreatening internal bleeding in my leg and hip. Bleeding in the hip concerned everyone, as there was danger the bleeding could extend into my abdomen and be uncontrollable. AR: What happened when you had the operation? SM: I was in the hospital for 11 months and I had several surgeries, including a very
on the leg, and several injuries that required very long recovery times. I had a lot of time to think. My mother understood why I would be so curious. I will say that I am a devout Catholic, and I continued to pray all the way through, too. Astrology is not a form of belief, and it does not replace religion. AR: Those long recovery times must have colored your whole perspective on life? SM: Yes, and I am grateful for those episodes—my illness was to open my heart. All pain brings compassion. Everybody feels pain at times. My mother would say, “Susan, all pain ends. The good ends, but the bad ends too. All cycles end.” I found
painful skin graft. After that, my recovery period began but I couldn’t go to high school because I had to begin a long physical therapy process. During the main surgery, to save my leg as well as my life, the doctors had to compress the lower part of my left leg so much that it left me paralyzed from the knee down, with a drop foot. My doctor knew he could restore that leg to health but it would take time. To do this, I would have to experience high school as a home-schooled student. I would have to come to the hospital’s physical therapy department every day, from Monday to Friday for six hours a day, for three years. Every day I would have to have my leg electrically stimulated to keep the muscle from atrophying. They were working on regenerating the damaged nerve along its old path. The therapists had to help my brain find the nerve in the leg too, to control the foot and leg. But it all worked out. The therapy worked and, yes, I wear high heels. AR: So when it came to high school, you were self-taught? SM: Yes. Being that I had to be at the hospital as an outpatient every day, there was no way to attend classes. My mother went to see my high school teachers, and got the lesson plan. She bought all the books I needed so that I could follow along and do assignments. Also, the Board of Education works with kids who are ill and in crisis, and the Board sent a teacher to my house once a week—one for English and one for math. I changed the plan to have the math teacher for two hours and no English teacher. You can’t teach yourself calculus… believe me! I look care of the English by myself. Later I went to NYU, entering at 16 years old and graduating at 20. I majored in business. AR: So at what point in your childhood did you really begin to learn astrology? SM: When I was 15, a year after the operation, I clearly wanted to know if having so much physical therapy was going to work. I wanted to study astrology but my mother kept saying no, she would not teach me. I had to ask her again and again, for a full year, and I was persistent. I was anxious to know if giving up high school would be worth the sacrifice. Would I have a good chance of walking again normally, without my metal leg brace? Would I wear high heels? I wanted to know! I was 15! My mother kept saying she would not teach me astrology because she felt, as she put it, “A little knowledge is dangerous.” She felt I should study for 12 years before attempting to read a person’s chart, even that of a close friend. She feared I would not stay the course for such a long time. I reminded her that I didn’t have friends. I wasn’t attending classes so there was no way I would have any friends. Being that I lived at home, there was no danger of me reading anyone’s chart. I said would study with her for 12 years and I did! AR: What turned things around? When did your mother agree to teach you? SM: I think my mother finally realized how serious I was about astrology when she saw a letter I had written to the editor of Dell’s Horoscope magazine. My mother had always been so very optimistic, a real cheerleader, but I wanted another astrologer’s opinion. My mother asked, “Why didn’t you ask me?” I laughed and said, “You are my biggest supporter in life! Defeat just doesn’t exist on your planet! I wanted to see what another astrologer had to say!” She laughed and nodded, and said she completely understood. My letter was published, and the editor said I would walk again beautifully and I do! Very few people know that there was ever anything wrong with me. Yet after reading the editor’s letter I was also a little frustrated—I didn’t understand the astrological terms she had used in her response, and I wanted to check those out for myself. Details are always so important to me. Now I was on a mission to find out more. To say I was motivated to learn astrology is putting it mildly! The physical therapy that I was about to start at the time was very painful. They were using electrodes on me to teach my brain to find the nerve in my leg so I could control it. Finding out what my expectations should be was very, very important to me. At 15 you have your whole life ahead of you! AR: You told me that your mother told you that you were fortunate to have been born with Jupiter in your house of health. What did she mean? SM: Jupiter always protects wherever it is. So my mother said to me, “God gives you Jupiter where you will be happy to have it, Susan! What a wonderful place to have Jupiter!” My mother is just the most optimistic person on earth. AR: What was so special about her method of teaching? SM: My mother was the best teacher I ever could have had. She taught me not only astrology, but also philosophy, metaphysics and theology, which she felt were important disciplines to cover, too. She also emphasized the delicate shadings that were inherent in the interpretation process. She is a Gemini, the sign that values communication, so she also included a lot of tutoring on the importance of communicating clearly. If you say something false, that would be not good at all, but it’s just as bad if you would say something correct in a way that might be misinterpreted and misunderstood. It would add up to the same thing—sending the wrong notion—and it was possible that wrong notion would never be corrected by another astrologer or me. Teaching me to communicate clearly was a big part of her training. She did such a good job! I am amazed at how things have unfolded. AR: Did your mother see clients at home? SM: No! My mother kept studying in a systematic, scholarly way, but no, she did not read for others, only for us in the immediate family. She emphasized study, not making money from astrology. She was right. AR: So she finally agreed only because you wrote to the magazine? SM: Yes! So that’s how I got started. I was to have many other harrowing operations
her assurance that my pain would end some day very comforting. AR: Did all the pain you felt affect how you deal with others? SM: Yes. I feel it is very important to listen closely to what is being said to you by family and friends, for often someone in pain won’t reveal how bad things are for them. Often someone will say something in a casual way that you could easily overlook, but I’ve learned to listen acutely. If I hear something that doesn’t quite make sense, I will ask a question, “Wait! You just said something, and I want to ask you about that. Talk to me.” You will often uncover much pain that you will be able to soothe. People will always try to minimize their pain because they don’t want to burden others, but it’s up to us to listen with a sensitive ear. Whether the pain is physical, emotional, mental… pain is always terribly lonely. AR: I totally get that. Sometimes you can feel a person’s pain without them even saying anything… SM: Sure! I also feel strongly that when someone asks for help, it has taken them quite a bit of time to gather up the courage to ask, so you must say yes. That’s a rule I live by. Again, you may not know how much your help can make a difference. AR: Well, pain is not always visible. SM: Yes, it is hard to see the pain someone is feeling unless you keep your eyes and ears open. Usually if people are suffering, they often will blame themselves, and feel they must have brought it on. Often that is not true…much of the time people don’t bring on their own pain. We’re taught when we are small that you’ll lose your job only if you are not a good worker. Not true! There’s politics, economics, and all kinds of other reasons someone can lose a job, too, as one example. Yes, if you put in a bad performance it’s not going to help you keep that job, for sure, but there are other factors too. AR: Sometimes change is very hard for people though. They stay with situations that they should get out of. You always talk about how planets often bring very dramatic change… SM: Change is often very good for us. The cause of the change stems from somewhere and it is up to us to find that reason and move on to a new situation. Studying astrology, you begin to see that the universe is on your side. The universe wants you to live a wholesome life. I really believe it does. When we go off the rails, the universe pushes us back on track—sometimes quite aggressively—so that we can have a productive life, where you’re helping other people. You may be an actor and you make people laugh. Whatever it is… it could be that you write poetry that makes people think, or a reporter who exposes information. Whatever it is, we all have lots of gifts to use. You don’t need to have a prestigious job! It’s like what Gandhi says, “Nobility is in every task.” AR: Can you elaborate a little? SM: I learned that it is not OK to complain about your work. I remember when I was in my twenties I was unhappy about my magazine job. I was in the business department at the time. My husband said to me, “You’re not allowed to complain about your job.” And I asked, “Why is that?” He said, “Because you’re taking money from your employer. He’s depending on you, so either you must give your boss your best effort or leave. You can’t have one foot in both streams, because it’s not fair to the employer.” This was some of the best advice I have ever received. It’s true. It’s not fair to stay at a job if you are unhappy, for you won’t do your best. There’s no future there either. AR: I’ve never heard that before! That’s such a great way of looking at it. SM: On a day-to-day basis in everyday life, you can spot who is engaged and present in their job, and who is not. When you’re not getting the right service at a department store… or in other places, you can always tell when someone is unhappy with a job—they are lackluster. It takes courage to leave, but you have to if you find you cannot give your all to the task at hand. Your restlessness is a signal from your internal thermostat, telling you that you’re ready for a change. You need to listen to it. Sometimes you need to change gradually. In that case, start making a plan, and perhaps work at night on your new idea. I worked on Astrology Zone for six years at night while I worked at another job during the day. I was happy working on my site and at my other job. At the time, I was a self-employed agent for commercial photographers at the top of my field—both were a pleasure. I was an agent for 16 years, but in the last six years, I did both—the agent work, and at night, my website. I never knew if my site would get big enough for me to leave my agent work but that didn’t matter. My day job was one I loved, so in my case I was not starting a new career because I was unhappy. Rather, I was given a chance to write a website and host it on Time Warner’s website, which was an unexpected gift. Still, I was not ready to leave my normal work! My husband had shown me that indeed, you must devote your life’s energy to things you love to do. This is a big world! AR: Speaking of jobs… what was your first job out of college? SM: After graduating from NYU, I started at LIFE magazine right out of college, and it was near the end of that magazine’s “life,” ironically. AR: What about writing? Did you start writing in college? SM: No writing at all. Nothing! AR: Then what were you doing at LIFE? SM: I was in business, in their marketing department. But they didn’t give me enough to do! I was supposed to be an assistant who answered the phone. This wasn’t working for me, so one day I asked, “Can I write about the working women’s market? Or do a report on the Jewish market? How about a study on the African American market?” They said to me, “This isn’t school, Susan.” But I needed something to do! I was in the marketing department, so I was like, “I’m going to
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write a report!” After I did it, the boss called me in and said, “This is a great report, but who asked you to write this?” I responded, “Me! I was just bored.” Getting people’s coffee wasn’t enough for me! AR: So during this time you were moonlighting with astrology? SM: Well, no, not really moonlighting. I was doing it for myself, and doing it for close friends. I didn’t really do charts for friends in the business world until I got into my agent work for commercial photographers. I was dealing with very creative art directors and writers at the time, and as you know, creative people love astrology. I would do their charts as a thank you for the business they had given my
AR: “You’re ‘off’ today!” That’s so good. Such a funny thing to say! SM: Yes, it was! Still, she told me she was not about to spend even a dollar on a scratch off lotto ticket. But, at the time one editor’s daughter was selling raffle tickets for the American Cancer Society up at Warner Books and everyone in my friend’s department bought several tickets, including Jackie. At the time I had read her chart, she had already purchased the tickets, but had forgotten about them. Jackie was later to come home after celebrating New Year’s Eve, which is, of course, during the time I had predicted when she would be lucky. New Year’s Eve falls in the last two weeks of December. There was a message on her answering machine, “Congratulations. You
photographers and me. AR: Right. SM: One time a creative director I worked with at Saatchi & Saatchi said, “My wife would love you.” And I said, “I would love her! What does she do?” He said, “She’s creative director of Warner Books. She has 30 people under her. She chooses every book cover.” I’m like, “Oh I have to meet her!” AR: Yeah totally. What a fun job! SM: Yes! Your mother tells you not to judge a book by the cover and that was her job! I had to meet her! So he introduced me to her. Her name was Jackie and she and I really hit it off. We became good friends. I would give Jackie a reading for her birthday, or whenever she asked. She would give me galleys to read or she’d show me covers of new books. It was so great knowing about new things and she would explain the creative process in choosing the covers. I would say, “Oh! I love being up here!” It was just fun. And one day she said to me, “I have a feeling about you. You know you’re awfully good at astrology. You should be writing.” I didn’t really believe her, so I said, “Oh bless your heart.” One day after doing Jackie’s chart, I had reached a turning point, but at the time I didn’t realize it. During the reading I said to her, “You could win a big prize, like the lotto. I want you to buy a lotto ticket.” She says, “I don’t believe in them. They’re a waste of money.” AR: You said this while you were doing her chart? SM: Yes. I said to her, “Well, I agree, it often is a waste of money, but today I can narrow it down for you. You will be your most fortunate during the last two weeks of December.” AR: Wow! SM: And she said to me, “I’m not going to do it. You’re ‘off’ today, Susan.” I laughed and said, “I don’t make this up!”
won first prize in the American Cancer Society raffle! You won the Porsche!” AR: No way! SM: She could not believe it! She laughed and said there were at least 30 editors outside her door who wanted to meet me. I said very seriously, “Jackie, you had aspects for winning. Many people will never win anything as valuable as you did that night.” Jackie said to me at the time, “Susan, one day I’m going to get you a book deal.” I didn’t really believe she could or would… AR: That’s funny. SM: So six years later, the phone rang while I was making homemade spaghetti sauce at the stove. Jackie called me and said, “I got you the book.” She had never mentioned the idea of a book again, not once in the intervening six years, but she never forgot her promise to me. “You’re kidding!” was my response. And she says, “Well, it took me a lot longer than I thought it would.” I was amazed! She explained, “I’ve been given an imprint and you’re one of my first authors. I want you to write a keepsake book, called The Illustrated Book of Days. You will research and write in celebrity birthdays throughout the book, from every discipline (sports stars, actors, politicians, and so forth) and the art department will create room for the reader to write their friends’ and family’s birthdays too. You can write a forward for each sign in the book and add as much encyclopedic material in the back as you like. Together we will choose the artist…” And this was now a really creative project that sounded (and turned out to be) delicious for me! Warner Books is suddenly working with me! She says, “Do a good job on this and there’ll be more things down the road.” The book sold out, so she again kept her promise! AR: Really. So your whole publishing career was based on a reading you did for a friend for fun? SM: Yes! So I finish the book and it comes out and she says, “Very good. Now I’m
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would grow into over time. Looking at my mid-heaven, with Aquarius there, she went on to say, “A newly invented form of communication, so new we don’t know the name of it yet, will change the way you work and be the channel in which you make your ultimate contribution to the world.” AR: Wow! That must have made you so curious! It sounds so mysterious. SM: Oh yes! I kept asking her, “What could it be? How do you look at something and say what’s not there?” She said, “Your mid-heaven point is Aquarius, so I think this new invention has to do with airwaves, but it could go
going to bring you upstairs to the web master of Time Warner’s website.” I asked her, “What do they want me to do?” And she responded, “You tell us.” AR: Really? SM: They wanted a short column for Pathfinder. Many people don’t even remember that from 1995 to 1999 Time Warner’s website was not called AOL but rather “Pathfinder.” AR: So this was really early for this kind of thing. That was really the beginning of the Internet. SM: Yes. When I first started on the Internet there was no color on any sites. Can you imagine that? All was black and white text. I remember the day I joined AOL. There were very few sites, and I remember when I later saw color on AOL I thought to myself, “This changes everything!” It’s like the first day you ever saw a music video. You’re like, “Wow!” So, anyway, I went to see the Webmasters—they’re three men in suits—I called them Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth in my mind. And they say, “OK, we want you to write a short column, every day, for women.” And I say, “Why women? Why limit your audience? It should be for men and women. The need to know about the future and make good decisions is not gender specific.” AR: I understand that… SM: I said, “Actually, in the beginning in Mesopotamia, astrology was the province of the king. He was the only one who could afford an astrologer because he was the mathematician. The astrologer was usually the professor in the university of the region and it was expensive to get his time.” AR: The Time Warner suits were working off the paradigm, which had been established by all of the supermarket astrology magazines, which made it a women’s thing… SM: Exactly. And they said, “Well, how much would you write?” And I said, “Once a month, 15,000 words.” And they said, “Well, 15,000 words… we only have $1,000. Why would you write all that? Won’t you get tired?” I’m like, “Tired—I never get tired!” Now I write 32,000 words a month! I don’t get tired. I have lots of energy and I only get better. AR: You are reminding me. This was one of the things I wanted to ask you. How do you do all the things you do? SM: [laughs] I have plenty of energy and I am very organized. When I was little, I asked my mother what I would be when I grew up. And she said, “Well, it looks like you’re going to start by writing.” I have Gemini rising and she explained that the rising sign dictates one’s profession, especially in the early years. I was kind of disappointed by that at 10 years old. AR: Why, because writing didn’t seem fun? SM: It didn’t. It seemed grueling. It’s really weird thinking about it now because in school, writing essays was not my favorite activity. I liked math! But when I was young my mom said something in a reading that I will never forget. She explained that the mid-heaven point, found at the very pinnacle of the chart, indicates what career one
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through electricity.” Aquarius represents the air! When I was very small, around 4 and 5 years old, I remember my mother asking me, “Do you ever wonder about why you were born Susan?” And I’d say, “No, Mommy.” And she’d say, “Well, you should! Life is a mystery, and over your life we must all decide why we’re here.” Actually, she and I talked about that again, later, as I grew up. Then, when she was indicating that the mid-heaven could give clues to one’s destiny, I was intrigued to say the least! This was the clue I needed! I would discover why I was here! AR: It almost seems like it became an assignment. SM: Yes, but [laughs] only if I chose to accept it. There are many possibilities given in a chart, and this was one that really interested me. I never thought of it that way. And when she told me this was one of the ways I was going to make my big contribution to the world… there was a clue, so my antenna went up. AR: Right. SM: And I actually said to the suits at Time Warner, “Don’t you see? This is what my mother had predicted for me.” I quietly looked at the Webmaster and his two associates that day in July 1995 and said, “THIS IS MY DESTINY!” with my arms outstretched. They looked at each other and one of them turned to me and said, “You know what? We’re going to let you do anything you want to do, any way you want to do it.” And I said, “Well, my manuscripts will be large and could take time to read and edit. Is that OK?” And then we’re all looking at my intended editor, Anne. In turn, Anne thought for a minute and said, “Go for it. I love this stuff.” AR: Wow. So cool. SM: And that’s like the movie Sliding Doors. She might have said no, but she said yes. That was a very critical turning point, and I remember the precise minute that happened. AR: Did everything go well after that? SM: Generally, yes. Soon I was generating a million page views a month, and they said, “Welcome to the million club.” It was so cute. Something was happening on the site that seemed strange though, and I discovered it in the first year, one day by pure chance. I noticed that when I did a search for “astrology” or “horoscope,” the Pathfinder site would generate an answer that said, “Not found.” Pathfinder had an agreement with the search engine Lycos, so when “not found” came up, Lycos would automatically be called up. In this case, Lycos was sending the person who had typed in “astrology” or “horoscope” off the site to other sites that had horoscopes. They did not send the traffic to me—they sent the traffic to competitors, and this went on for three years. AR: Why? SM: I was never told why, only that the reasons were “political.” I suspect it was because the journalists at Time Warner didn’t want a horoscope on the site. I am not sure. Still, it was hard for me to see people being directed away from me to other horoscope sites. AR: You could not do anything about that? SM: No, but the search engines were finding my site anyway and I was winning lovely reviews and credits. I was growing by leaps and bounds! Yahoo had a magazine on websites and listed Astrology Zone among “25 Sites We Love and Can’t Live Without” So I didn’t really care about the search problem—I was doing really well anyway, plus I still had my day job. AR: How long did you stay with Pathfinder? SM: After I had been at Time Warner two years, I had an eclipse on my birthday in my house of fame and honors, always an indication of massive change. I knew something was going to happen in my career, but I was not sure exactly what, as eclipses bring on unpredictable events. It was then when Time Warner said to me, “We’re being bought.” I’m like, “Time Warner is never bought.” And they’re saying to me, “Oh yes, we have been taken over and you have to leave.” I ask, “Who’s buying you?” and they say, “We can’t tell you that, but it’s an Internet company.” I say, “That’s even more ridiculous. No one buys Time Warner.” Little did I know, AOL had bought this media giant but it was a secret for a while, and they could not tell me. AR: Why would they have you leave? You were getting millions of page views! SM: At the time I was at about 5 million page views. They said, “The new company coming in is an Internet company and they have their own horoscopes under contract.” AR: Oh no. SM: I realized that I had to leave! I had written proposals to many companies in an effort to find a new home for Astrology Zone. I was not getting the offers I wanted. Microsoft was talking to me, so I flew to Bellevue, but the meeting did not go well. They wanted to cut my content to 100 words per sign. That was not going to work for me. AR: So that was what eventually led to Astrology Zone being completely independent now? SM: I have always owned Astrology Zone 100 percent. When I was at Time Warner I licensed my site to Pathfinder in an exclusive deal. Then I went to Infoseek, which, during my talks, became Disney’s Go.com and ABCnews.com. In 1998 and 1999, the bubble was getting big, and one company was buying out other companies. I licensed my material to Disney exclusively until 2001, when I went completely in-house, hiring my own team.
AR: Are you still the full owner of Astrology Zone? SM: Yes. I still own my site, 100 percent. AR: How long did it take to go from your first launch at Time Warner to being completely independent? SM: It was six years. AR: So you kind of learned the ropes with those people. SM: Yes! My site will be 15 years old by the end of the year. I began the same year that Match.com and Yahoo got started. Google wasn’t to start until several years later. Each year in the Internet business is like ten years—you learn so much because
AR: I totally do that too. Considering how many people read your website, do you get recognized a lot? SM: Not in person, because I never put my photo on my site, but people know my name, it seems, and when it happens it is exciting. Recently, I was sitting in Starbucks in San Francisco and next to me were two girls looking at a map and having trouble trying to decide which places to visit. I don’t know San Francisco that well, but I go there enough to know the main streets, so I said, “Let me help.” They said, “We’re from Moscow and we’re trying to figure out where to go.” And I said, “Well I think you should go to the Japanese gardens…” And I’m telling them all these
time is so compressed. AR: How were you gauging the effect you were having in the early days? Was it all just web stats, the way it is now? SM: Well, yes. First Time Warner would be the only one who had any stats on me. Disney did it too but I found out after I left that they were telling me the wrong numbers. They said to me, “You’ve fallen to 2 million page views a year. You came here with 5 million.” I said, “How could I have fallen from 5 million to 2 million?” They said, “It happens.” I became very worried, so in an effort to bolster my traffic, I did a 25-city tour! I was practically throwing leaflets out of airplanes! However, I was later to learn that I was not shrinking but actually growing off the charts. The numbers Disney had been giving me were very wrong. I was at 150 million page views a day. I was not shrinking but exploding, but I didn’t know that. Employees who left the company later came to me to give me the correct figures. They said, “We were told not to give you the right numbers because management was worried you would negotiate a new tougher contract.” Actually, I wouldn’t have done so. I was happy there and Disney was fair to me in every other respect. AR: There was no way for you to check the stats yourself? SM: I had no way of knowing. I was on Disney’s site, so they had the figures. AR: Wow. Still that’s so crazy… 150 million page views a day! SM: At the time, I had homepage real estate—by that I mean, Astrology Zone’s icon was on the Disney home page, and that site was the sixth largest in the world. So that’s where I got really big. It was a good decision to go there. AR: So you were afraid the site was getting smaller when it actually was growing by leaps and bounds? SM: Yes! Isn’t that funny? All the promotion I did was very helpful. Also, early on, before I licensed Astrology Zone to Disney and ABCNews.com in 1999, I was interviewed by The New York Times. I was honored to have a major, half page story in the Business section. They assigned a reporter just to study me and for six months they spoke to everyone who ever knew me or worked with me. The Times is very thorough. If they could have located my fifth grade teacher they would have done so! The process is so intense that when the article finally came out I was terrified to read it. [laughs] It was all very positive. AR: Was there a big spike in interest after the article? SM: Yes. Also, an interview I had with John Stossel on ABC’s 20/20 aired the next day, by coincidence. When John interviewed me, he asked me the same 12 questions over and over. It was a very hot day in August and they had to turn off the air conditioner because of the sound. It was in the Stanhope hotel. It was almost like interrogation. AR: Were they trying to debunk you? SM: Yes! He said, “I’m doing a piece on astrology and I’m going to play devil’s advocate.” I’m like, “Alright, that’s fine.” Soon I realized that John had an agenda. He would edit me in the middle of my sentences. At one point he asked, “Why does astrology work?” And I said, “We don’t know.” He says, “Well, I heard it was radiation or something like that.” I replied, “That may be one theory, but honestly we don’t know why astrology works. But we do know it works and we know this empirically.” I always say to skeptics, stay with astrology for six months and watch to see how it works. Just read my column for six months! It should resonate. In fact, you can read what I wrote at the end of the month. Unlike some astrologers, I am very, very specific, and I mention certain precise birthdays as well as certain days of the month. As I had said earlier in this interview, most astrologers start by not believing that astrology would work, but later we change our minds. The evidence is simply too strong! There is a plan in the universe, for sure. The name of the John Stossel piece was “The Power of Belief.” It started with a snake charmer. It ends with the reporter sitting on a stool behind stain glass windows saying, “Now we’re going to talk with a doctor who prays for his young, sick patients.” The doctor works with little children, say, 10 years old or much younger, all who have cancer. John Stossel says, “Can you believe in a doctor who believes in prayer?” At that point, I felt he went too far. AR: Well, you know I’m not a scholar of astrology, but still to this day if I bring up that I read my horoscope everyday, or that I’m waiting for your monthly report to come out, people are like, “Oh please, Aaron!” SM: You are so wonderful! You are creative, and creative people want to know what’s possible! How far they can push back the walls of their lives and create a truly rich life? Astrology can provide the answers. AR: That was one of my questions for you. Why do we know what’s in the future? Why do we care? SM: American Express did a study and they asked people what would make them happy in life. It wasn’t money or things. Instead, people want rich experiences! Variety, change, travel and new experiences! Astrology helps you see opportunities that are right at your feet, but you may not see because you’re worried about something else! It’s like not spotting a $100 bill on the street because you’re so focused on a problem. Astrology is great for planning. My mother would always say that with astrology, you learn to move with the energy of the universe—the wave. When you’re walking into the surf, you don’t want to be hit by that wave straight on. Doing so would be like to walk into a concrete wall. You want to go with it, and that will take you further with less effort. The timing will be right, and I don’t think anyone would dispute that timing is a big part of success in life. Often I’ve had to hold back signing contracts when Mercury is retrograde, but then another offer would come up right at the end of the retrograde and I’m like, “Whoa!”
things, and they ask, “What do you do?” And I say, “I have a website called Astrology Zone.” They said they never heard of it. I ask, “Do you like astrology?” and they, “Oh, we love it.” So I gave them my business card and it has my logo on the back of it, in blue. They looked at the logo and started to scream. On the back of the card is just my logo, not my name, but they are screaming “You’re Susan Miller! We know you!” I’m like, “Oh my gosh!” That was such a moment for me! AR: Everybody just calls it “Susan Miller.” You must know that, right? SM: [laughs] I didn’t know that. How nice! I have a shy kind of way, so even with Twitter and Facebook I’m on as “AstrologyZone.” AR: One question I wanted to ask you, because a lot of artists and people in the creative industries read our magazine, and I believe astrology is an art and that you’re one of the greatest artists of our time. SM: Oh! Bless your heart! AR: It is an art! Just as much of an art as painting, poetry, song-writing… SM: Thank you so much. I am blushing. All astrologers get the same information. The data, which is the calibration and movements of the planets, come from NASA. It’s a little like watching the evening news. All the networks and cable news departments look at the same information coming across the wire, and choosing which news events to present to their audience, and how best to explain it so that you understand it. You will always prefer one reporter over another—that reporter speaks your language. If a reporter or other person has a particular style of communication that resonates with you, you will stay with that person. AR: But I think it goes beyond style. It has to do with accuracy. SM: Well, I am very careful. Once you write something down, it’s there! And on the Internet, it’s there forever! I’m very cognizant of the need to be right. Sometimes while I’m writing my column I will ask myself, “Why is that true? Can you say it more clearly?” AR: You’re asking yourself this? SM: Yes! I expect a lot from myself! I try to flesh out the information and make it as clear and helpful as can be. Sometimes I’ll just be staring at the screen and my assistant will walk by and ask why I’m not typing. I will explain, “Well, Libra’s in the brier patch so I have to find the key to help the person find a way out of their difficulties.” I feel it’s not OK for an astrologer to scream fire in a theater—you need to offer a way out of a challenging situation. I do my very best to offer solutions. AR: Can you explain a bit about your process? SM: Yes. Well, I have to know where in the 12 constellations the planets are traveling and if any are moving retrograde. I have to note the new moons and full moons. Everything in astrology is about geometry, so next I have to check the position of each of the planets and their angle toward each other. That’s a lot of checking to do. AR: It seems like there are always new planets discovered? What happens when we discover a new planet? SM: Eros, a new planet, was just discovered. It’s all the way out in our solar system. The astrological community has to talk about it seriously, and write white papers about what that planet may signify. We always look at events in the world going on at the time for clues of what that planet may bring to us. That new planet was discovered at a certain time and place, born into our consciousness because we were ready to receive the information. It’s a complex process that would take too much time to discuss here. AR: Right. Got it. But does a new planet throw everything in astrology out of whack? SM: No, it just adds to the information we have now. As an astrologer, you really do have to sign a paper that you’re going to stick to what the ancients wrote about concerning the older planets, the ones that are closer to the sun. Mankind didn’t know about Neptune and Uranus and Pluto in ancient days, because Neptune was found in 1846. Uranus was discovered earlier, in 1781. Actually, Neptune was discovered because scientists discovered a disturbance on Uranus. It was almost like looking through a mirror and they said, “Something is there.” That’s how they found it. And then they found Pluto in 1930. Pluto is very powerful. The farther away a planet is in our solar system, the more powerful it is because it takes longer to rotate around the sun. That slow moving planet (like a horse running on the outside of a track) will take longer to complete his journey. That planet will remain a long time in each house and make more of an indelible impression on all of us down as a result. AR: In what terms do you personally think about the planets? SM: Imagine a cocktail party where all the planets are present. Each planet has a very different personality and a very defined role in life to play. Mercury is the objective reporter and negotiator. Venus rules love and fun, and she also rules gifts and luxury. Uranus is idiosyncratic, and even in the solar system, unlike the other planets, he marches to his own drummer and even spins on his belly. In a chat, he brings unexpected developments. Mars is the action planet—always full of energy. Jupiter brings gifts for everyone, but Saturn is less gregarious, more cautious. There are others, too, and I talk about every planet in my book, Planets and Possibilities. Like any party, you may see three grouped together, or two speaking, or one all by himself. Looking at these and other planets, I feel like a teacher in a classroom, saying to these little planets, “Can you all just sit down? Just for 10 minutes? And can we all try to get along?” Like in life, whenever you have two people, you have two opinions! That’s good though! It means both are engaged in the process or about what is being discussed. AR: Do you visualize the planets in this way? SM: I often do. I think of them as little people, I do! Each sign is going to feel their
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conversations differently because if there is an argument between two planets in a weak house—what astrologers would call a “cadent” house of the horoscope (there are four of those)—you’re not going to feel a difficult aspect as strongly as if it lands on one of the angles of the chart: top, bottom, east, west. Aspects falling on the angle of your chart act like wild horses—the effect is very powerful! You can’t even take a look at just one aspect but have to look at the whole chart all at once, for if you only look at one aspect, you may not see another aspect that negates the first one. Here is an example: Let’s say you have Mercury conjunct Jupiter. That would be one of the very best aspects possible to sign a contract, and it generally happens once a year.
the effort. Not all signs will feel all the aspects in the same way. Some will feel things strongly, others will not even notice anything going on from that aspect. Also, the precise degrees of the aspect matter too. Astrology is the study of mathematical cycles, some that are common and that will come again, and some that are so rare, they can only be called a once-in-a-lifetime aspect. Some are challenging, and others are outstandingly rewarding. AR: Where do you start when you write? What goes through your mind? SM: I always start with Aries and end with Pisces, as Aries is the symbolic of spring and Pisces, the end of winter. When I am working on the sign, I feel that I have to
First you have to note that Mercury is not retrograde, for that would be bad for signing any contract. Then you have to see if any other planets are having talks with each other. Let’s say at the same time on the same day or near the same day, you have Neptune conjunct the Sun. Now, this brings in another element—it could mean something is hidden from you or that certain points of the deal is obscured. I would have to move on and find another day for signing the contract, for that one would be tainted by the Neptune aspect. AR: You probably also can’t just look at those two people across the room at the party and make a snap judgment about their signs. SM: Exactly! We have all met people who give you a look, like, “Oh, you are a Gemini, or oh, you are a Virgo!” and pretend to know all about you, intimating all sorts of stereotypes and rolling their eyes in a very pretentious way. I call it racial profiling. They make blanket comments about you and they do this by only knowing your sign. This is wrong, and every day of my life I rail against that kind of flat cartoon-like assessment of a personality. We are all a rich combination of eight planets plus the sun and moon, and only by looking at the whole chart can you only begin to see the talents and qualities of a person born at that time and place. AR: Do people ever have the same charts? SM: That’s such a good question! No! This is important! Did you know that the planetary configurations that created you on your day of birth will never happen again in just the same way ever, not in time nor in space? Not in the future, say, in 2057, nor did they in history in Cleopatra’s time. You are completely unique! Even twins are born a minute or two apart, and in astrology every tiny degree counts. Also, we are not only a combination of planets and signs, but you need to add the values, determination and abilities of the person, as signified in the first house. For sure, the first house is the engine of the locomotive that runs everything! If anything defines you, it’s your first house, and that’s why the rising sign is so important to know—only determined by the day, month, year, precise time and city of birth. AR: So where do you begin when you look at a chart? SM: First, I look at the full moon and the new moon, the rising sign, and the big aspects that jump out at me. I note which sign is on the mid-heaven (top of the chart where the 12 would be on the face of a clock), and I note which planets are on the angles of the chart, for those will express themselves in a more forceful way. If you were to ask me a question, then I would need to look at the house where that question would be based, say, the 10th house if it’s a career question or the fifth house if it’s a romantic question. I look at the sign and planet that rules that house to see what kind of conversations that planet is having with other planets this month. I look to see if any planets are moving through that house too, but I must see how the ruling planet is doing, and it could be traveling anywhere in the chart, in any house. AR: Can you give me an example? SM: Sure! I just had a friend, Jane, call me today and she sounded upset about something that was happening in her life. She wanted to have dinner as soon as possible. I quickly opened her chart and I asked, what is wrong? Can I help today? She didn’t want to talk about it, as she was at work. I quickly glanced all over the chart while I asked her other questions, like should we meet on Thursday? Which restaurants might be good? I was talking so I had a little more time to eye the chart while I was on the phone. Then bingo! I noticed her natal Venus was being strongly challenged by Uranus 180 degrees away, precisely, as if in high seas in a very violent storm. Little Venus was no match for a very violent Uranus! I tried to sound casual, “So, it looks like money is a problem…” Venus ruled her commissions/debt/ financial obligations sector and being that she is in sales, she worked on commission, so that had to be a sensitive spot now. Her response told me everything: “You have no idea how bad money is now.” My heart went out to her as she said that, and I thought, yes I do. I quickly planned on paying for our dinner. Uranus rules alternating current and was now opposing Venus at the time of her birth, so I could see her income was gyrating wildly, as if in a storm at sea. I also know it will get so much better by March 2011, but I had to get Jane to high ground before March! Uranus is a very slow moving planet that takes 84 years to go around the Sun! She’s never felt this aspect, and never will again, thankfully. Rare aspects are tough ones, as we have no experience in dealing with them. If this is August she is worried about making enough money now and I don’t see a solution until March, I have to gently suggest that she get a side job. I am still not sure if that’s the only question she might have. I have to look further—but I am getting prepared for a sensitive meeting on Thursday with her, as I want to be helpful and practical. Being practical is very, very important to me. AR: Do you need to look at anything else in a chart? SM: It is hard to give you a quick overview, but I will say you need to have a good moon, especially a new moon, because you only get one a year in that house. The new moon will affect you for a full year to come but all will be contingent on what you do in the first two weeks after the new moon appears. I also have to look and see if any planets are going retrograde, because when they go retrograde, they weaken. The sun and the moon do not retrograde, but the rest of the heavenly bodies do at times. I have to see where Mars is positioned because he’s called the “timekeeper of the zodiac”—that is, Mars brings a great deal of energy into a house and demands your attention and focus. I look at the planets, their speed, and I also look at what conversations they’re having with each other. A planet operating on its own can’t do as much as when two or more planets work together in a conversation, that is within a certain tolerance of mathematical degrees. That is just like in life—a person operating alone is often not as effective as when one or more other people join him in
“become” that sign, and get inside that person and see the world from their eyes. I think about the disappointments they may have suffered recently, and the frustrations they may have, but also the victories they have had lately too. I look at how money may be really good, but love may not be, and I’m trying to acknowledge any suffering they may be going through. But I’m also saying, “You’re on a roll” if I see it. And if you feel like you’re the exception, don’t worry, you’re getting a second chance this month but you really got to hit it! I’m their sports coach! Like a coach, it is almost as if I were drawing those little lines, like “you can go around here, and make a turn here.” I see myself like that because there’s always a way to outwit a problem. All of us have something in a crisis we can rely on. For me I know it’s my intelligence and resourcefulness. I can figure it out. I always say to myself, “Calm down. You’re smart. You can figure it out!” [laughs] AR: I love how you say that you “become” the planets, like you almost have to go into a world of make believe, but using all real facts for your information. SM: That’s how I think! I love the world of imagination, art and beauty! AR: But people still think you’re nuts if you talk about astrology. SM: Yes, but you know I have 18 million page views a month. Chances are people on your team would have read me, Aaron. AR: Do you think you’ll do this for the rest of your life? SM: Yes! I have to tell you, all my friends are around 30 years old, because they’re more interesting than people who are a little older, my age. You have to stay vibrant! You have to take risks and live a passionate, creative life! I would love to have my own network TV show. Right now I am working with Comcast and have a show on their network, which is a great pleasure to do. I have a very successful app, Astrology Zone Premier for iPhone, Blackberry and Android, and another version app, Astrology Zone Mobile, for feature phones. I like to stay current! AR: Totally. That’s one of the things I love about you! SM: I want to be useful! I would add that my illness had a positive influence in that it opened my heart to others’ suffering in a very powerful way. I have had had 38 transfusions in my life, and two of the surgeries I had were quite harrowing. When you see first-hand how delicate life is, and how easily things could wrong, it changes you forever. I have become very much of a compassionate person as a result of those illnesses. My mother was always so very optimistic, and even when at 14, second and third-opinion doctors told me that there was no chance that I would ever walk again. My main doctor, the famous chief of staff, told me not to listen to them. He told me I would walk, and my mother agreed wholeheartedly. She saw in my chart that my chances were excellent for a complete recovery. I was born with Jupiter in my house of health, so in the 11th hour, I could get the help I needed. AR: So you view yourself as a messenger of hope? SM: Yes! With Astrology Zone, I want to show my readers that even in the darkest days, there is almost always reason for hope. Additionally, in good times, the planetary aspects can show ways to expand their good fortune even more. Everything begins with an initiation on the part of the reader, and I can suggest the proper time to act, and the times to hold back and ask questions. I strive to be my readers’ best friend. I want to be there for them in good times and bad, and to acknowledge their hardships. I am one of the few astrologers in any media that spends a bit of time looking back to earlier times that the reader has experienced. Of course, I also look forward. AR: You feel a real responsibility to your readers. SM: I work hard on the math to make my predictions accurate, because I am aware that I can only be as good as my last column. Some astrologers take a tiny bit of information and enlarge it to be their whole report. I take a lot of information and give the reader every bit of it. I am obsessed with being thorough. Even with my TV show, my contract says I agree to give each sign a three minute weekly forecast, but mine go five minutes for each sign. Being thorough and detailed is very much my mission. I write Astrology Zone to help people. It’s expensive to run such a big site, and I have to take other writing jobs and appearances to keep the site free for one and all. The people who need to read Astrology Zone are, most likely, the ones who are least able to afford to visit a paid site. I could easily charge for the site but I won’t. Alternatively, I could also make the reader click for every page they read, instead of letting them print out one long screen that runs eight printed pages. I do it because I love my readers and I want to help them. AR: I get it! Even though it sounds cheesy, at the end of the day, that’s always my main motivation for why I do most of the things I do. SM: People say to me, “Why don’t you sell Astrology Zone? You could make millions.” I say, “It’s not about money. It’s about having fun! I love it.” www.astrologyzone.com
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I don’t want to say much to set up this interview with Elad Lassry. As much as some set up is necessary, it is worth mentioning that there is a major excitement around his work, as the past two years have found him with solo shows of note at The Whitney Museum, Los Angeles’ David Kordansky Gallery, Kunsthalle Zürich, Milan’s Massimo de Carlo, and between this fall and early next year he will open solo shows at The Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis and New York’s Luhring Augustine Gallery. And yet, for someone with this striking of a CV, and about whom several wonderful texts have been published, there has yet to be published a long interview with the artist. Surely this is somewhat a product of the fact that his career is still young—Lassry is just 32—and anything that hasn’t happened just hasn’t happened yet. His is a practice that is so relentlessly rigorous, incredibly thoughtful, and—as I think many would argue—just the right amount of generous, it turns out that to actually hear him speak about his work and its place in art and culture in general is perhaps just as inspiring and rewarding as the work itself. Of course, fans as we are, we are pleased to present the following conversation as such.
INTERVIEW BY BRENDAN FOWLER / PORTRAIT BY CURTIS BUCHANAN ART IMAGES COURTESY DAVID KORDANSKY GALLERY, LOS ANGELES, CA AND GALLERIA MASSIMO DE CARLO, MILAN, ITALY
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Brendan Fowler: Vagueness as a device? Is “vagueness” a word that drives you crazy? Elad Lassry: No, no, it doesn’t, but I think that “vague” is not an accurate way to describe what happens. I mean, it’s a completely valid way, and I’ve heard it before. I think that for me, I don’t approach art from a place where I want answers. It sounds defensive and sort of cliche, but I don’t know how else to say that. For me, artists that inspire me never had a concrete answer. I did go to Cal Arts for undergrad and there was a big emphasis on intention, and it was always the question: what is your intention? How do you resolve this? And I think it’s a good way to be educated, and mostly because you do want to be able to leave it behind. For me, I wanted to be able to learn it to un-learn it, this idea of having this didactic engagement with intention in an artwork. And I think that the place that my work after art school arrived could be defined as vague, but for me “vague” is more “free.” I’m more free to make my work and shift with my tendencies in the studio without being concerned with a very researched audience, meaning, like, “who is my audience? What is their race? Uh, how would they—” [Brendan laughs] —so it could be called irresponsible. I’m not saying it is, but it could be argued as irresponsible. And that’s another term that was really used, this term of responsibility. So I guess that now my work is irresponsible and has no intention. [both laugh] BF: But the work is so intentional. EL: We’ll get to that part—I can talk about how the condition of having no resolution is precisely an artwork and so on. BF: Exactly. But that mode where the work is obtuse until you read the press release and then there is the “ah ha!” moment and the reference suddenly falls into focus— EL: That would be New Conceptualism. BF: Right. That is not you. EL: No, but the reason I mention them is because of how influential these people are to me, and what a big fan I am of people like Chris Williams, Simon Starling, and many others that use conceptual photography or conceptual imagery to build a show. I think that, like you said, my work never has conditions—well, I should be careful with how— BF: “Never” is a big word. EL: Yeah. What I’m interested in is very different. And it definitely includes these practices, meaning that my work couldn’t exist without economies of the sort of status that a photograph can have based on ’90s practices, like a commercial series by Chris Williams, variations on the type of photograph shot in a commercial studio. I think that’s an extension of the genre being integrated into conceptual art that feeds into my work. [My work] also has this potential language of New Conceptualism, for lack of a better term, although I don’t identify myself as someone that belongs to that group, so it becomes part of a vocabulary for me. And again, it’s this kind of misunderstanding that people also have when they encounter works like that—for example, the seamless [photo backdrop] in Williams’ or Lockhart’s work is something that can be traced to the inception of photography. Since the beginning of photography people have used the seamless to accentuate the object or subject, and you know, I always go back to these photos that people took when they were trading horses; in order to show the horse really well to sell it, it was photographed in front of a fabric seamless. And I think it’s an interesting thing with our references, what becomes most dominant. Also this very exhausted term of “commercial photography,” there is this kind of dialog in the art context of every photograph that is in sharp focus and evenly lit, “oh it’s about commercial photography,” and while, sure, that’s true, sharp focus is about New Objectivity, it’s about German photography, which means that it references just as much Bauhaus photography. Of course, we deal with what’s dominant in our world now, which is advertising, but I think that there is all this other history that is left outside the conversation and shadowed by how strong commercial photography is, or how strong mainstream circulation is. You can keep in your heart what affected you most, what could be avant-garde film, but of course TV is such a superpower that it takes over other references. I’m talking about how some references could not help but be weaker just because of economies. Cinema is of course such an entity that experimental film could never have the same power if you think about what audience is.
Tropical Fruits, 2007, C-print, 11 x 14“, Edition of 5, 2 AP
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BF: Were you always interested in art? From boyhood? EL: Yes. I used to make videos as a kid and take a lot of photos, and actually when I was really young I used to paint a lot. BF: Growing up in Tel Aviv? EL: Yeah. I was always interested in art and then in high school I became more interested specifically in film. I researched people that I was really curious about, and found out—back in Tel Aviv—about the works of Baldessari, Chris Burden, Jack Goldstein, Mike Kelley, and that’s how Cal Arts started coming up as I was researching. BF: And this is pre-internet. EL: Yeah, this is going to places, researching—well, was it pre-internet? Maybe pre-when I had internet. BF: It was pre-when I had internet. EL: When did you have internet? BF: College. And we’re both thirty two. EL: I always felt like people in America had it already. BF: It existed, but it wasn’t everywhere at all. EL: Yeah, I mean this was through going to places, and that has a lot to do with how I think about the picture. BF: And when you say “going to places” do you mean, like, going to museums? EL: No, researching, going to libraries, going to cultural centers that have books from America. BF: What are cultural centers? EL: They have different cultural centers that are related with the government of the place and they have catalogs. BF: Like the U.S. Embassy? EL: No, but for example there is a cultural exchange between London and Tel Aviv and there would be a place you could go to, like a library, and you could just read or borrow a book. And the same thing they have with the U.S. and France, of course. I think it is related to the Embassies; it’s the same places where you would learn the language or whatever. BF: It was an active thing, you were pursuing information. EL: I was pursuing information, and I always talk about the analog possibility of the picture and I think it’s related to something like that. I always think about how as revolutionary as the digital era is, sometimes I think a lot of it is being applied philosophically to the dispersal of the image, where I’ll think about the physical possibility of the image to travel. I think part of it has to do with how I would research things as a kid, where I used to be able to get things to my hand, or go and find things, and of course it has a different pace, but I think that the power of the image has to do with having a physical contact with it. BF: You were navigating space, uniting with a physical thing. EL: Exactly. So I started being more engaged with the possibilities of art being something I could do, because I actually studied science in high school. In Israel the high school is very rigid—I think—you know, you choose a major. It’s preparing for college. BF: And then at 18 there is the army. EL: Yeah, you go to the army—but I didn’t go—and then you go to college after. But I realized that art was something that could be more dominant in my life and I applied to Cal Arts. I got there and I studied film and art, so I was in two programs. In the film program I studied with Tom Anderson and in the art program I got very close with Lane Rayela, who was a visiting critic. BF: Did you go right to grad school after? EL: No, I finished and spent two years making work and sort of being extremely poor in L.A. BF: You moved to L.A. EL: It’s funny, because Cal Arts is in Valencia, and you think you’re in L.A., but you’re not. I still remember the first day I got to Cal Arts, I was the foreign student and you get someone to pick you up from the airport and I remember driving more and more into nowhere, into the desert, and kind of kept thinking to myself, wow, this school is really in some random place, because there was no signs of urbanism at all. BF: When you finished school were you already committed to this practice? Was your current language formed at all? EL: I think that the interesting thing for me about Cal Arts, or undergrad education, is that I think that focusing on post-modernism, or just the fact that I was a student in the late ‘90s—well, I started school in ‘98, and I finished undergrad in 2003, but still postmodern theory was very dominant in what we studied and I think that the interesting thing for me, if I think about my work now, is that undergrad was sort of a time that I was learning about art but also going through a process of divorcing art from authorship, or my authorship, meaning that I started developing a practice that everything I made was very removed, there were less and less gestures. I remember I did a few performances that I wasn’t in. I got very comfortable with this idea that I’m not in the work, or I’m very removed from the work. There was a performance that now seems so funny, but basically I had a random woman that I chose to come to this auditorium with an audience and there were a set of envelopes [laughs] with questions for her, and each audience member got to pick up an envelope and ask her a question, so there was this crossing of boundaries with personal questions and she was in this place where she had the freedom of what she wants to answer and what she doesn’t. It kind of turned into this steamy conversation. So, of course it’s the most uninteresting project one could do [both laugh], but I think it was for me an exercise of making an artwork that I’m outside of, that I’m kind of conducting sets of rules and while there is some chance and something spontaneous about what would happen once the artwork started to take shape, there were some predetermined rules and I think that that’s something that’s still relevant in my work. There is still some spontaneity, but there are a lot of predetermined rules. BF: In your work your hand is so removed, and yet looking across a survey of it, like the 68 images on the David Kordansky Gallery website, for example, the look is so consistent and you do have such defined aesthetic. You’ve created a really remarkable economy of gesture. It’s not totally surprising to hear that at that point it was already happening in the work. EL: I think that that’s when things got very exciting for me, when I understood that I had such an engagement with culture that art wasn’t about a closed world of myself, it wasn’t this modernist fantasy of my expression. I was already very engaged with culture, and what it means to communicate through culture with other people. The only artist that I knew in Israel was my classmate’s dad, who was an immigrant from Vienna and was making this erotic abstract [laughs]—well, they were
Man 071, 2007, C-print, 14 x 11”, Edition of 5, 2 AP (opposite) Green Peppers, Shiitake, 2009, C-print, 11 x 14”, Edition of 5, 2 AP Burmese Mother, Kittens, 2008, C-print, 11.5 x 14.5”, Edition of 5, 2 AP
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(from top left to bottom) Yellow Plinth, Wave Length, 2008, silver gelatin on C-print, 14.5 x 11.5 inches Guinevere, 2009, C-print, 14 x 11â€?, Edition of 5, 2 AP Installation view, Elad Lassry, 2010, Kunsthalle Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, Courtesy Kunsthalle Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland. Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography Zurich
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on the verge of abstract, with hints of eroticism, fragments of penises and pussies. Like kind of sex scene paintings where the figures are—but anyways, that was the artist I knew as a kid. BF: Was he a working artist? EL: No, I think they were independently wealthy or something, but I don’t know if he was selling his art. But I know that it was the only place where I went to my friend’s house and there were artworks, and there was a studio, and I just remember thinking that it was such a closed world. BF: How literal, this man in his own world, asserting this erotic vision. EL: Yeah. BF: Was it exciting at all, though, to see an artist working in real life? EL: I think it was exciting in the sense of how outside of the world that the practice was, meaning that I grew up in a very blue-collar working class environment, everyone had a job, and I think that seeing that he was—how do you say, like a “housewife” for men? [laughs] BF: I don’t think we have the word for that in English—but what does that say? [both laugh] EL: I know. But it was this idea that you could live differently and there was something exciting about the fact that he had an alternative lifestyle. But at the same time it was very isolating, you know, I didn’t relate to the painting. BF: So then he would exist as an example of what you realized you didn’t have to be while you were at Cal Arts. EL: Yeah. BF: And then you lived in Los Angeles for two years before going to grad school, did you always plan to go to grad school? EL: That was my plan, to go. I wanted to develop the work and there were a lot of questions I had about my work and I was trying to make art, it was difficult in a sense not having a space, not having money for materials or to get film and process film. I insisted on not getting a full time job, so it led to a very hectic routine, but still I made a body of work that I was quite comfortable with and then applied to grad school with it. I think I learned a lot from this time of being on my own without sort of mentors, but at the same time having that education sort of echoing in the work. BF: And you were entering into L.A. with some
sort of a community. EL: It was a pretty organic move, having friends who had graduated and having some teachers who became more of friends, which I think happens a lot in art school. The status of the teacher is really flexible. I think that treating every art student as an artist already leads to this place of, “wait you’re an artist, so we’re really peers,” even if you don’t have a practice in the commercial sense or are even exhibiting. It’s really kind of a beautiful thing, that you treat a student as an artist. I think that’s really the question of “what is an artist?” and it’s really the voice that you do feel that you make art. That’s really what makes an artist—it’s that simple. I looked into grad school and knew that I wanted to stay in L.A.; I think that I developed a really strong relationship with the city and the landscape and the light. There’s something about the daylight for someone who makes pictures—without sounding like a photographer [both laugh]—even if you make paintings in L.A., whatever you make, I think that the light becomes such a part of your artwork. The fact that you can be in your studio in January and see your work in this intense daylight, you can’t get that many other places. It’s interesting because there’s something about that that reminds me of Israel, just like the weather is similar. BF: That makes sense. EL: The weather is actually quite similar—Israel doesn’t really have a strong winter. BF: I feel like this is kind of an odious question, especially given that we’ve already established your feelings on commercial photography, but what about the commercial/Hollywood aspects of Los Angeles? EL: It’s interesting, you know, it comes up a lot. BF: I see it written about a lot. EL: Yeah, but I think that’s where it gets tricky, I think of Hollywood—I even hate how reductive the term “Hollywood” is—but I think of the movie industry as another industry, and I think that my work deals with several industries, and several economies, from the educational text books and pedagogy as an institution, to Hollywood, so while I think that it is part of the language, part of the make up, it doesn’t really have more place than, say, zoology in the work, or the way we organize animals. Does it affect me as an artist, I’m not sure. Meaning, it doesn’t have that big a role in my practice. I’m aware that in the world it has a bigger power, but it’s not a power that I’m interested in negating.
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BF: I feel like it’s one of those questions that one has to ask. EL: And it makes sense also in the sense that the work does consider Jack Goldstein’s films, for example, and he’s someone who always talked about Hollywood being a very prominent consideration in his work. So I think there is a legacy to that and it is inevitable [that it would come up]. And of course I use, for example, animals in my work and those happen to be available because there is a big movie industry here, there’s places where you can go to and work with them, whatever animal you may choose. So it is in the work, it makes sense that people mention it, I think it’s relevant, but I think about culture as such a mobile thing, I don’t think of location as much as people do. I wouldn’t find it strange if an artist in any place in the world would start engaging with Hollywood cinema. I don’t think you have to be in Hollywood to be engaged with it. BF: Not at all. You went to U.S.C. for grad school. Did it serve to counterbalance the teaching from Cal Arts? EL: Yeah, I think U.S.C. was really good in that sense. I think at U.S.C. there was lot of freedom. There wasn’t a movement of what considerations are more important than other considerations. Also the program was sort of renewed. There were a lot of changes in the program and we were the first class in the new building, so there were a lot of new things. I experienced freedom. If there was a sense that you were very, very wrong it would come from the students, not the faculty, and it would come in a crit. I felt like I was more in a residency that had a very critical engagement, which was moving with me as an artist. But again, I was an undergrad at Cal Arts and in grad school I was already an artist, just that is already a difference. In undergrad you’re learning things that you should know as an artist, in grad school you’re refining your practice. BF: So, it’s not that you arrived at a language that is confrontationally vague, but you arrived a practice that is very open. Am I right to read that it is more important for you to create an open space for the viewer to have their own experience than it is to plan what they’re going to arrive at? EL: Yes, definitely. And I think that it’s not like a service to the viewer, I think that it happened gradually as something that’s part of the practice. What I’m interested in doing is opening up a new possibility or conversation around pictures.
BF: A conversation that is wholly new, or a new aspect of an existent conversation? EL: Ooh, that’s a tough question. Maybe a new aspect. BF: You can go for a whole conversation. [both laugh] EL: But I think that the source that I work from always has an address, it always has a specificity, and I think that what I go through is a process of abstracting it, and you can call that “opening it up,” but it can also be a way of erasing some of its histories, or manipulating some of its histories, interrupting some of its histories in order to arrive at a place that is starting something else. BF: What’s the process by which you decide a piece needs to manifest as a picture or a film, or a found picture, for that matter? EL: I think that I have a lack of interest in photography as such, and therefore what my assignment, or curiosity, is as an artist is to work with pictures in order to shift to a new territory. So, in a way I’m trying to make work outside the cliché of an artist using photography. People get very angry, especially photographers, with this conceptual idea of “I’m using photography,” but in my case it’s really true and I would fight for that. And really talking about my lack of interest in photography as such, as a medium, I don’t find it to be exciting as an art practice—I’m not saying there is a hierarchy of what’s a more interesting medium, I’m saying that, personally, the limitation of pictures is very clear to me; it’s the starting point of my practice. The death of the picture, of indexicality, of authorship, of originality is something that I’m starting from. It’s a given thing, it’s not something I’m looking to arrive at. The pictures that end up in my work have this quality that I refer to as free radicals: they’re pictures that appear to be resolved, and they’ve sort of snuck into circulation, they’ve snuck into printed matter, but actually they’re almost reactive, they’re almost there only to latch onto something and become something else. This kind of material is something that starts the practice for me, and it can come from a picture that I have to make—unfortunately—or a picture that I find. But the idea is really the instability of an image and the suspension of an image. The question is what does it mean for the picture of a subject to get abstracted, or to have the possibility of abstraction, and that’s something that invites misunderstanding. A lot of the work, I’m very aware that there are a few levels that
you could engage with it. One could really be interested in what is the meaning between the relationships of the photographs or what is the meaning of the collision of genres, and I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in the question of What is this? What is this that’s depicted here? What are the possibilities of depiction, what’s in the background, what’s in the foreground? What is this picture? So there is sort of a very regressive approach just in order to open up a new conversation about pictures. I also find that this distinction from photography is also from a place where, if you notice, there are almost weekly symposiums about photography, and there is always “What Is A Photograph?”, “The Death of Photography,” “Is Photography Over?”, “Appropriation”—and so on. I find this sort of ghettoizing of photography as a medium to be very suspicious. It’s almost like an exit where [if] a project is not interesting, you can always talk about photography [laughs], because it’s a terrible art project but there’s a lot to say about its medium. Sometimes bad art gets forgiven based on it being photography because you can always go back to Stephen Shore, or the relationship to Eggleston when a project really sucks. [both laugh] You know what I mean? BF: But that’s a tactic across all mediums. People can always reduce something to its context against a historical precedent. EL: Yeah, but I think that because of photography’s builtin tendency of mediation, it obviously has less of an arthistorical inclination, than say, painting, for example. BF: So, the moment when you decide you need to create an image, as opposed to using one that you have found, is it ever about re-creating an image? EL: I’m never re-creating. I’m not interested in the making of photographs. When I’m making photographs it’s a very utilitarian thing, and I’m not saying it in a reactionary way, or as a radical post-modern gesture that I’m not interested in the making, I’m just saying that I’m not interested in it because I’m not investigating how light falls on an object, I’m not really investigating shadows, and I think that a lot of practitioners that say that they do lie, [Brendan laughs] I think that a lot of people don’t. All this new abstraction, that claims this return to a modernist investigation—I’m researching pictures, I’m working with images, there are tensions that come up and often they have to be described in a new picture because they’re not available to me. I
2000, 2009, C-print, 11 x 14”, Edition of 5, 2 AP
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haven’t found it. If someone sent it to me I’ll take it, I’ll pay for it and show it, but that’s not often the case, so I end up making them. It’s really a service to the practice, and that’s why I think of it as a practice, my films are as dominant in my work as my pictures, so there is really not a photographic quest. And I guess part of this rant about photographers is how difficult it is to work with pictures and shift to a different conversation, I mean, there is such an attachment to photography, it didn’t really emancipate the medium that Sherrie Levine re-photographed Walker Evans, it wasn’t enough of a gesture. BF: Was it going the right direction as a starting point? EL: I think so, but [phone rings]—hold on. [long break] BF: You were talking about the moment when you decide you need to make a new image. EL: I guess the difference is that I’m making a picture knowing the status of the finished work of mine, I don’t think of them as photographs, I think of them as objects. I think of them as something that’s suspended between a sculpture and an image. The fact that they are photographs, part of what the practice does is abstract that. That’s why they’re being shown with foil prints and with silk screens and with pictures that I’ve found and films. I think there is a true democracy to the works when they’re being presented, like once something is ready to leave the studio I think of it as being in this space. I don’t think of it as a photograph anymore. I wouldn’t show something that I have a photographic engagement with. BF: That brings up the frames, which are so iconically you. How did you arrive at the frames? And the sizes? EL: The frames and the size are something that, again, have so much to do with understanding the work. The frame was really a way of talking about the singularity, this absurdity in the work. I’m dealing with a language that’s so exhausted and so opened up, so deceased in a way, and I thought there was this question of if I am ending up with something that’s potentially a photograph but I have this conflicted relation to it—and there’s this idea of an after-materiality engagement, meaning that I always thought that the analog photograph has the same possibility of traveling as the digital photograph. So growing up in a time when people emphasized the digital revolution and a photograph could be this collection of
pixels that gets sort of sent away in space into our mobile phones and so on and that is a very radical fact, but I was always curious about the notion that a photograph had this radical quality from the beginning. The photograph transcends its materiality and that’s what I was very interested in. Pictures have this quality, whether you want to credit the digital era to that, or credit the very possibility of registering an image, registering a mental image, and how an image can travel, starting with something that you look at then becoming this echo of a mental picture that keeps moving around in your head. And I think the absurdity of the frames came from this interest in dealing with that overtly and making it overtly physical and almost like a monochrome. I’m going to make the picture of the dog into this red picture or this pink picture or this blue picture, so image becomes a secondary thing. The photograph becomes this vessel, this sort of vitrinelike tool for a subject that is replaceable. And that’s kind of a way of dealing with the status of the picture: what does it mean if the subject is replaceable? What does it mean that the frame is this sort of readymade into which you can insert different subjects and that you can potentially move around? That was much more related to a filmic experience for me. That was this idea that you enter a space and there were these facilitators for potential photographs and there becomes a sequencing between them that’s like the moving picture. The duality of something that is so singular and yet so ubiquitous, something that’s between a portrait and a headshot. There is a bit of going backwards in my practice in order to start something new and part of it is the fact that I work with film, which is obviously a medium that’s very challenging to work with in terms how dying of a medium 16mm film is. BF: You only work with 16mm. EL: Yes, and my engagement with 16mm is about this process I was describing with the photos, it’s about returning to a place that considered that the film is a sequence of pictures. To install the photographs in the way that [I do] is on the one hand very singular and on the other has this sequencing which resembles a montage that suggests the filmic frame, and vice versa, the filmic frame becoming a still picture. BF: The proportion is almost the same, right? EL: Yeah, and that’s another thing, you asked about the
size of the photos, and there are many reasons to why the photos wound up being so small, one of them was my reaction to photography. One of them was sort of working against the sublime, and working against this genre of photography, the Dusseldorf School, like, [Andreas] Gursky, this idea of taking up with painting, having this effect that you’re taken over by the photograph. A way to negate it for me was that I just could not make a big photograph. [both laugh] And another thing was I wanted to make a way to suggest this analog trading that we talked about and this idea that the photograph is scaled for your tote bag, almost. You could take it out and trade it for something else. You could carry it and move it around. So, again, there was this conversation between the mental image and the physical image suggesting the transcendence of pictures beyond their space, and the space being so overtly defined by this ugly—sometimes what I think is an ugly—colored frame. BF: [laughs] You do think so? EL: Yeah, and I’ve had it before with people who don’t really believe me that many times I do think that my photos are really quite ugly, or they’re not something that I would want to wake up to every day or have next to me. They elaborate on something that is potentially of bad taste. And I don’t do it in an ironic way, it’s not something that I’m going to emphasize how bad that looks [Brendan laughs], but since their look is a secondary concern, many times I end with objects that to me are quite ugly, whatever that means. Many times I think they have a lot of tension and they are seductive, but I think seductive can be very ugly. People confuse the idea, and many times call the photos “seductive” and it’s translated into “work that’s beautiful” and I think it’s such a different thing. You could be seduced by something that’s very abject—not that the work is abject—but for example you can be seduced by something, like, I would want to jump into a Paul McCarthy set, I find it seductive with the tons of Ketchup and everything [both laugh]. How much “seduction” is being talked about in terms of the work, I think it’s tricky because the nature of picturing something is seductive. The nature that you can register an image is seductive. The possibilities of making an image, it’s the same thing with painting, the mark is seductive. BF: As a side question, and this is not the point at all, but when you’re hanging a show and thinking
of certain pieces that you wouldn’t want to live with, do you ever think that someone else would? Like, this is for someone else’s taste? EL: When you say “who wants to live with something” it sounds very collector oriented. BF: Yes, it does. [both laugh] EL: Which is not how I think about work. I think that all the works are not something that I would want to look at all the time, and I think that that’s what makes interesting art to me. And I think there is something about duration, there’s something for me about the fact that the photos are going into an exhibition—that’s why it’s so hard for me to make projects for printed matter, part of my practice is the fact that something would be taken down. BF: That it’s not visible all the time, forever. EL: Exactly, that it’s not permanent. That’s a huge part of the work. That’s something that I’m actually playing with, that this bulky frame, this exaggerated object, is temporarily there. Although it has a familiarity—which might be confused with seduction—there’s a tension of what’s where, and what exactly you’re looking at, but the subjects are always very mundane, they’re the banal. But part of the strategy is that I know that in a month or two this ubiquitous image is being removed back, or being shelved. And that’s something that I’m interested in, this idea of shelving the familiar, sort of taking something that seems like it belongs in circulation and making it singular again. That’s something that happens with unique [foil, silkscreen, etc] pieces. The work does play with this idea of what’s circulated and what’s unique. BF: What’s editioned and what’s unique? EL: What I do a lot is I use pages from publications that get stamped on with foil or printed on with silkscreen, and it’s this idea that in that case the circulated image retreats to a one-of-a-kind status. BF: In those cases the intention is to block out the typed specifiers, the captions or the masthead of the magazine, but it seems to usually be done sort of feebly, where it’s not totally erased. EL: My intention is really not to hide the indexicality, my concern is very utilitarian; it is about allowing this picture back into a status that I’m interested in and removing the distractions, which are not to be removed to a place where the viewer doesn’t know that the image potentially had an address or location before. The removal is to suggest
Raccoon A, 2010, silver gelatin print, 11.5 x 14.5 “, Edition of 5, 2 AP
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Blue Cross, 2009, foil on silver gelatin print, 10 x 8” (opposite) Woman in a Pool, 2009, foil on magazine paper, 14 1/2 x 10.5”
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a new conversation for the viewer, so it’s really like I’m going to clear these distractions so we can open up another conversation and these pictures can fit into this context now while we both acknowledge that, of course, it’s coming from another source. That’s why the concealing has never been 100 percent concerned with seamlessness. BF: You could go in and do it in Photoshop if that was the point. EL: Of course. BF: In some cases you have used Photoshop to manipulate images, though, right? EL: I have, but it’s a very different piece. The silk screens and foils are in works when I’m engaging with the fact that they are arriving to the studio as a printed image already. The images that I remove things from I usually work from the negative. I get negatives from other photographers and I scan them. BF: And these are commissioned, the photographs themselves, right? EL: Yes, there are occasions when I have other photographers take pictures and then I scan their negatives and rework them, I remove things that I don’t like, but I create these limitations for myself that I have to work with their negative. BF: But the point isn’t that it becomes this Jeff Wall thing where you’re doing a photo manipulation sleight of hand thing. EL: No, it’s not that kind of a thing. The point is that my archive gets interfered with [by] other pre-existing archives. BF: And part of the thing is that these facts really are beside the point. For example, I heard a funny thing once, which was that you hired a National Geographic photographer to shoot a photo for you in your style. EL: It wasn’t a National Geographic photographer, it was very, very well known pet photographer. [both laugh] BF: But the point isn’t that “oh my god, he had this photographer shoot it,” the point is that here is the image, deal with it. EL: Yeah, the point is that he was really good with cats and going to get the kittens looking the right direction because that’s what he does. He shoots cats, and that was the point. BF: On the David Kordansky Gallery website right now there are sixty eight images of yours and at one point you mentioned to me that you wished there were less images there, it was a conversation about your idea of the stand in, where you feel that one picture of yours can fulfill the same function as another. EL: I really work against seriality, in the sense that the series—and we talked a bit before about the series in terms of Chris Williams’ work—there’s something about the variation in theme or series that is a very photographic strategy. That’s something that I’ve been working against a lot in my studio, meaning that even when I ended up with a series that reveals what I want to do I try to condense it into one photograph. Every now and then there’s going to be a sort of footnote that is like a sequence. BF: Like the photographs of the boys playing basketball [Laurel Canyon, 2009]? EL: Yes. BF: So why in that case did it become three or four photographs?
EL: That’s what I’m saying, out of a full body of work there was this one piece where I wanted to acknowledge the way that seriality is embedded in the rest of the work. BF: And the flamingo piece [Travis Parker and Chilean Flamingo, 90028, 2008], too. EL: Yes, that’s a diptych. I would say with every exhibition I make there is an occasion where I do make a series or I do make a sequence to deal with what is embedded in the work and acknowledge a vocabulary that is in the work. But what we’re talking about extending is this idea that when I make the pictures, like, for example when I made the photograph of the skunk [Skunk, 2009], I really felt like this photograph is a stand-in for a photograph of a possum or a skunk or a raccoon. Originally I felt like this photograph really summarized these multiple pictures that I had in mind, but interestingly enough, through work in the studio I ended up being curious enough to meet the raccoon and see if it becomes a piece, which is a very photographic exercise in a sense. I think what happened with the Zurich show [Elad Lassry, Kunsthalle Zürich, 2010] is I started understanding that there are some discrepancies between the photographs that I thought were stand-ins. It’s not that they’re not stand-ins—they are—but part of what the work deals with is this potential of subjecthood, this slim potential of the unknown that leaves this need for other subjects to enter, so all of a sudden there has opened a space to more than one headshot, because between them there are these multiple possibilities that became relevant to me. BF: The Zurich show had a larger number of works in it than you usually exhibited at once. EL: The Zurich show had a lot of works that originally I would not show together. BF: How many pieces were there? EL: There were 47 photographs and five films. Typically I would show 10 or 15 pieces at the most. Really, there was something else opened up that I got very interested in. BF: And the films were integrated, as usual, with the photographs? EL: They were shown together, in daylight, so there was a real sense that you could go around and deal with the films in the way that you deal with the photographs. BF: And there is a system by which the objects and the films and everything is assigned a size? EL: The pictures I make are 11x14”. When I realized that they are going to be small and they are going to be referencing analog prints, I chose—not out of nostalgia— but I chose the size that I used to print when I had to print my own photos. [In school] we would have to buy 11x14” paper because it was the right size, the instructors claimed, is big enough to see mistakes and small enough to carry to school kind of thing. So that kind of became the size for the photos I make, just to have a standard size. And the photographs that I buy happen to come in 8x10” because that’s the standard size of a headshot, and it’s not so much to distinguish between what I make and what I buy, but it’s more these two agencies. The headshots are coming from sort of memorabilia stores and are something that’s found in that size and that I didn’t find interesting to modify that size. BF: And what about magazines? EL: Magazines always stay the size that they are, I never scan and resize them. So they vary in sizes. But I don’t use them as often, I use them a lot as research, but it’s
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becoming more and more rare that a magazine has an image that works for me to enter the work. I’m using them much less. I’m working on a body of work now and I don’t even remember considering an image from a magazine to become a work. I have them all over as research, [motioning to magazine pages on the wall] I mean these are all from LIFE. BF: You’ve mentioned before that you’ve found yourself much more interested in abstracting images yourself. EL: I notice my interest shifting into questions around perception. I think that I’m slowly shifting to this question of “what is this?” as opposed to “what does this mean?” I think there is maybe a confidence in the practice that—we talked about feeling free from responsibility, and I think that a bit of that is really diving into the questions that I’m interested in and leaving the studio work as something that is more unresolved and being okay with that. BF: What about the photographs of the man [Man 071, 2007] or of the wolves with blurred eyes [Two wolves, 2008], would those be examples of that? EL: I think so, I think that that picture, for example, the man, it’s an earlier picture and it obviously references Bauhaus photography, it obviously references experimentation with negatives and the idea of trying to reach further into a subject, and trying to figure out the limitation of the photograph, how can I learn more about the subject. But at the same time the subject is completely negated [both laugh] and to some extent could be argued as dismissed as a subject, so the subject in a way becomes this perceptual exercise. It’s more about how can a camera register his eyes blinking, than about hoping to capture something about him as a subject. BF: Does a picture like that come about from experimenting with negatives after the shoot is done, or are you shooting the subject to create this image you have in your head? Would that be an example of feeling free? EL: No, no, [both laugh] I don’t have an experimental relationship to that and pretty much I know what I want from the picture, it’s more about getting it to activate this tension that I’m looking for. So it’s not so much about returning to experimenting how multiple negatives would look together. BF: It just so happens that multiple negatives are going to arrive at the tension that you’re looking for. EL: Yes. BF: Is there an instance where there are three different photographs that you exhibited separately and then later combined into a new picture? I’m thinking in particular of photographs of a couple, and then the rope thing and then a textile pattern. And also, did the same ceramic shoe appear in several photographs? EL: It’s not so much that elements re-appear, it’s more that in a way there are diptychs out there that have not been announced as diptychs. They are in different places. I made them together, but I released them separately and I kind of like this idea that they arrive at different places and sometimes they might be shown together, but it’s something that’s beyond my control. BF: That’s not an example of overlaying the negatives.
Angela, Waves, 2010, C-print, 14.5 x 11.5 inches, Edition of 5, 2 AP (opposite) Ropes, 2009, C-print, 11 x 14 inches, Edition of 5, 2 AP
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Untitled (Shades), 2010, foil on C-print, 10 x 8 â€œ (opposite) Stills from Untitled, 2008, 16 mm film, 9:20 minutes
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EL: No, the first one you mentioned, that is two different pieces. The portrait of the couple that is sandwiched with the fabric is a separate piece. BF: What about the rope? EL: It’s the same rope [Rope, 2009], but it’s re-arranged. But that’s not a diptych, that’s just an example where I decided to overlay it on the couple [Textile (For Him and Her), 2009]. A diptych is like the pieces with the shoe [2000, and High Heel, Purse, both 2009], where there are two of them that function as a piece together, potentially, but have never been presented together. The work deals with the tension of a picture getting lost and having to reclaim its existence. The practice is full of contradictions and that’s one of them. There is this sense that there is only one; there is this clunky objecthood to the picture, but there are actually two of them that are quite similar and could potentially exist together as another piece. But that is really up to where they’re going to end up and it’s not something that I announce as a diptych. BF: Does that get into seriality? EL: I think it does, and that’s the point that I was trying to make, that the language of seriality is ghosted in the work and I think that that’s the same idea of the ghost of many other headshots that are embedded in the work. It’s this kind of impossible negation. I mean, you can not really make an original heartbreaking picture of a dog [both laugh], meaning that if you deal with Lassie, the fact is that there were fifteen dogs that played Lassie, and I don’t think one could track down signifiers to prove the singularity of a dog, for example. BF: But one of those dogs could function as the stand-in for all those dogs. EL: Possibly, yes. Maybe, maybe not [laughs]. BF: We haven’t spoken about your film much yet, and I wanted to ask, in thinking about work, what is the point at which you decide that it is going to take a film, as opposed to a photograph, to explain an idea? Let’s take, for example, Untitled, 2008, one of the three pieces that was in your show at The Whitney [Elad Lassry: Three Films, Whitney Museum of American Art, 2009]. EL: I think that that’s a good example to think about because this film started with a series of photographs, like most of my films, actually, that start with researching photographs. In this case the photographs were from a high school textbook teaching forced perspective. The idea was that there was a commissioned photo shoot for the textbook in which models were standing on a painting of a house that once they are standing in the right place and the camera is in the right place it appears dimensional. The way to educate about the trick was very much based on seeing the subjects photographed from the wrong angle after you saw them photographed from the angle that functions, meaning that there were a series of four photographs from the forced perspective in which they appear dimensional, they appear to interact with the space, followed by pictures from the wrong angle in which they reveal that the space is a painting on the floor. So when you experienced it as a student, your emphasis was really on this shift, this is how forced perspective works and that’s how it falls apart. My interest was to shift it back to the actual photo shoot. The occasion for my work was how can I revisit this photo shoot and question the subjects and their formal relation to the space as opposed to the perceptual failure? So, therefore, my film became this durational revisiting of what was this photo shoot like. So it was about recreating the painting and having the subjects stand in again and sort of never revealing the illusion, that’s not where my interest lays. [I was] actually shifting it into this series of portraits of them in the space, so the film becomes about this other set of questions about this idea of this sequence of portraits of the models, the actors, in a space and also the idea of technology. Whatever doesn’t synch in this image completely doesn’t make sense with how you would make an image today because the analog aspect, that there was actual painting on the floor, you would make it in several techniques today. You don’t need to go to the extent of painting the floor to make a space appear dimensional. So that was
sort of the exercise with this film. It was taking something from the pedagogical context and reworking it into this series of portraits where its history becomes this ghost that interferes with making this film about the subject. BF: Some of the other films have functioned similarly: the one with the ballet rehearsal, and the one with the choreography instruction, where both cases seem to start, ostensibly, as instructional. EL: With the case of Untitled (Agon), 2008, it begins with this very seminal choreography and iconic costuming that stands for a certain history and certain education and so on, and the idea is that it gets extracted and reduced to this very fundamental place of rearranging form and space, so there is this struggle between content and form. I think in the films the content is very aggressively being pushed aside. There is this sort of durational attempt to empty out a potential narrative, and part of it sort of works against the language of cinema as an institution and what does it mean to look at film, which includes experimental film. In the films there is a negation of two histories. Of course it also deals with photography, but you cannot avoid the reference to experimental film and cinema. BF: They’re always exhibited with the 16mm projector. EL: Yes. BF: They would never be exhibited in a theatre, say in a film festival? EL: No. Well, the 16mm is a really interesting format. I use Super 16mm, which is a medium that was developed for TV broadcast so it has a strip for sound that I use for image. Therefore, the ratio is this ratio that’s in between the cinematic and the experimental, meaning that it’s not recognizable as 16mm which is almost a square that we kind of know as this ’60s, ’70s experimental cinema [format], and it’s not panoramic, which is what we see in cinema. It’s sort of in between. It was meant to go right away to broadcast, so that’s what news was shot on, that’s what TV was shot on. BF: Do you run it through a special camera? EL: I run it through a Super 16mm camera, but I just use the sound strip for image, so there is no sound in these films. So, again, it leads to a destabilizing of these two agencies in sort of an attempt to locate my film between these institutions. BF: Then what about the physicality of the projector in the space? Is the intention to declare “this is a film” as apposed to a photograph? The projector announces the films as sculptural objects, just as the frames serve to announce the photographs as sculptural. EL: Yes, I think it does. It’s a tricky thing because I don’t have a nostalgic relationship to the projector. I don’t get off on the projector as something that elevates the piece— like, you see a lot of work now that’s using film for no reason, there is a bit of a feeling like by it being film it sort of elevates the effort that was put into it, or something like that, which is something that I try to avoid, which is why my films are lit very evenly and there is very little gesture. But the projector is a way to engage with the fact that it is a collection of pictures. I think the fact that you can walk up close and see and be reminded of the analog aspect of the pictures moving in an awfully possible way without it being taken over by nostalgia, it does serve as this anchor for me of this analog origination that I’m interested in, this traveling of a picture physically that we talked about. You know, the fact is that it is not an extreme gesture for me that it is a film. It is more of a way to facilitate a conversation, meaning that I don’t exclude the technology of HD, even, by the fact that I show film. That’s not my point. It’s not about claiming a territory that’s more important than others, it’s actually really about figuring out a way of dealing with a picture and sort of facilitating that to my photographic work, as well. It’s about starting this conversation between the two. BF: Is the lack of sound recording a byproduct or is it about specifying that you’re using the sound strip in the film, or— EL: The fact there isn’t sound is just because sound
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seemed irrelevant to the work. The work is not about sound. [both laugh] I don’t want to be assisted by sound and that’s why I’ve never had sound in my films, but the fact that the sound strip is recorded with image is something that you can really figure out just by the format from realizing that it is Super 16mm. BF: When I was preparing for this interview, I came with a list of specific pieces that I wanted to ask for the back stories on, but after our conversation I realize that not only would the back stories be beside the point, but I think they would be dis-servicing the point, or compromising it, the point being the openness. It’s not about who this actress is and what movies she was in. EL: No, it’s not, but it is about the fact that she is an actress. BF: But the photograph still functions even if you don’t recognize her. EL: The ones I use I never meant to be recognized. It depends on how much of a film buff one is, or how much one is interested in celebrities. I never used actors who are currently celebrities. The people I used are always recognizable from another source, but you’re not sure from where. Or some people would say, “Oh, are you kidding me? I know who Eric Stoltz is.” But a lot of people in their twenties, yes if you show them a picture of Eric Stoltz in his twenties, yes they’ll know right away, but it’s not really someone who they follow right now. And the same with Radha Mitchell, she’s not a celebrity. BF: Who? EL: Radha Mitchell, she was in my film Zebra and Woman (2007). She’s a working actor, you see her in many films, but—we spoke about economies, and it’s another economy inserting itself into an art practice, another economy that’s based on a different set of mechanisms. BF: To look at the work and there’s, say, 10 images, and so there are therefore probably at least 10 really interesting back stories, like dealing with the skunk wrangler, or the twin boys you photographed. Clearly a tremendous amount of work is going into this work, part of my experience coming to this work as an audience member wants to know, like, how did this happen? But it’s not the point. The point is here we are with this thing. EL: Yes. I agree. It’s not like the story is going to destroy the work—sometimes I find myself talking about a photograph, you know, its life. Sometimes a photograph is complicated to make, but that’s not originally where my interest lays. BF: The context of doing an interview for a magazine sort of leads me to this line of thinking, like, say you had a survey of all these pictures and a supplemental text with stories for each picture, I think that would be dangerous in terms of ascribing a certain, probably unwanted, narrative to each piece. EL: I think that if the back story is interesting, then I’m in trouble [both laugh]. If you care about the back story, then it means that the work doesn’t function. To me the work is so much more complex than the occasion of taking each picture.
ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND LISA COOLEY FINE ART, NEW YORK, AND SHANE CAMPBELL GALLERY, CHICAGO FOLLOWING PAGES Cover, 2010, oil on linen, 14x11” Score, 2010, oil on linen, 41x29” Articulation, 2010, oil on linen, 41x29” Jane Birkin Autograph, 2009, oil on linen, two canvases, each 18x14” Letter to the Editor, 2010, oil on linen, 41x29” Intermittent, 2010, oil on linen, 41x29”
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PHOTOGRAPHY BY MELODIE MCDANIEL Washed up on the banks of the Monongahela River lies the remains of what once was; Braddock, PA. When breathing the streets of Braddock it’s no surprise to learn that the town was named after a dead man. Thick from a 150 years of relentless industrial persecution its steel-choked ventricles have long since hardened and sputtered its last smelted breath. What’s left is a ravaged carcass of urban decay in which 90% of its buildings now resides in the unmarked graves of Allegheny County’s landfills. While Braddock exists as a shocking testimony to failed economic policy and desperate neglect, it is, more significantly, an unbridled source of inspiration. Nestled amongst the squalor of abandonment lies the nucleus of a community committed to reclaiming the streets from the abuse that left them broken but unbowed. Collectively, Braddock’s people defy the pervasive poverty, instead choosing to embrace an indomitable spirit that drives them to make something out of nothing. They are fighters, dreamers, realists and workers. But most importantly they are real. In Spring of 2010, Levi’s Strauss and Co., documented Braddock and its residents for a product campaign. In collaboration, it invested in the community center, urban farm and public library.
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Dedicated to Terrance Sands, a Braddock resident, loving father, and wonderful friend.
As people get older their relationships to time change. Many people go through some degree of a school system and over the course of years develop a sense of a calendar based around the school year, nature’s seasons, and how the two feel in relation to each other. Then as they enter the work force, different careers will assert different calendar structures, with some schedules operating in cycles larger than the standard 365 day lunar calendar. In the course of nostalgia, sometimes we hold on to the feelings afforded by different calendars while functioning within newer ones, creating concentric concepts of time within our own lives. Picture if you will, for example, someone named Stephen who lives in New York and works in the fashion industry, preparing for the Fall and Spring runway shows every year, moments which are certainly easy to think of in terms of weather and school-year-like bittersweet stress/joy dichotomies, as well. Stephen is also big fan of the artist Christopher Wool, who has a solo show at his New York Gallery, Luhring Augustine, every even-numbered year. Stephen, our fashion industry insider/art fan, is basing his work year around the international fashion calendar, but his personal entertainment/inspiration life revolves around Wool’s biannual exhibitions. Now, take into consideration the fact that in reality Wool doesn’t actually have a show in NY every two years. He had a show at Luhring Augustine in 2001 and then not again until 2004 and then 2008. He did have several solo shows at different galleries in different cities in between, including a 2006 show at Gogosian Gallery in Los Angeles, which our protagonist happened to see while in town for work, the effect of which—combined with time’s unavoidable bleeding/ blurring—was a sense that Wool absolutely has a solo show in NY at Luhring Augustine every even-numbered year. Fast forward to late 2009: Stephen asks two separate directors of Luhring Augustine on two separate occasions when exactly when Christopher Wool’s 2010 show will be. The first, taken off guard, replies that she’s not sure yet. The second tells him politely but definitively that Christopher Wool is not actually having a show there in 2010. Stephen is totally thrown. Life goes on, the fashion industry keeps its manic pace, but what light is there for Stephen if not a Wool show to look forward to when he was expecting it? Fast forward a few months to the Summer of 2010. Stephen is meeting with a client in the Italian countryside and realizes that he is a two-hour train ride away from Rome, where Christopher Wool is in fact having a 2010 solo show at Gogosian Gallery’s Rome location. Stephen and his wife take the train there, see the show, and take the train back to the villa. He doesn’t actually like the show that much, but the fact that he sees it, the it which possibly only he is sure will exist, is really all that he needs to hold him over for another two years. I tell this story not to insinuate any sort of a connection or comparison between this magazine and the fashion industry or Christopher Wool, but rather to propose a concept of time in which time itself can be simultaneously a very concrete idea and a very personal and intuitive idea. Time can be a feeling as much as anything. What is a quarterly when you have two seasons to plan for and another two years before the next Wool show? Enjoy the issue. Truly Yours, Ed Templeton ANPQuarterly Volume 2/Number 5 Publisher PM Tenore Editors Aaron Rose Edward Templeton Brendan Fowler Layout/Design Casey Holland
Contributing Photographers Terry Richardson, Todd Cole, Zen Sekizawa, Georg Gatsas, Brendan Fowler, Lindsey Byrnes, Sean Peterson, Curtis Buchanan and Melodie McDaniel Special thank you to: Meghan Casey
And an Extra Special Thanks to: Jessup Campbell for the past five years... good luck man
ANPQuarterly is published four times a year by RVCA Corp © 2010 RVCA (All rights reserved). Printed November, 2010 on Crumple Street in Gardena, California. Reproduction in whole or in part is strictly prohibited by law. Opinions expressed in articles are those of the authors. All rights reserved on entire contents unless otherwise noted. Artists, photographers and writers retain copyright to their work. Every effort has been made to reach copyright holders or their representatives. We will be pleased to correct any mistakes or omissions in our next issue. ANPQuarterly™ is a Registered Trademark
Contributing Writers Ethan Swan James Rains Wilfred Brandt Alexis Georgopoulos Ron Cameron Clark Rayburn (front cover) Susan Miller, 2010 Photograph by Terry Richardson (back cover) Elad Lassry, Zebra and Woman, 2007, film still
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