doverstreetmarket.com london tokyo beijing artist oscar murillo
VOLUME 2 NUMBER 7
LITTLE JOE The last time I was in Berlin I stumbled upon a small, London-based, film magazine called Little Joe. At first I was attracted to the way it was printed, using a Risograph, which is a vintage photocopy machine that prints in multiple colors. It is rare to see any publication done this way now. However it was only after opening it up that I decided this was going to become one of my favorite contemporary film magazines. Inside the issue of Little Joe that I picked up were articles titled, Hollywood Hallucinations: Parker Tyler, Myra Breckenridge and Mae West, a video library by John Cameron Mitchell, as well as a set of inserts containing a short essay called Modernism Watchin’, a concise addendum to Evil People in Modernist Homes in Popular Films, all printed on bookmarks. Upon further reading I came to realize that not only was this a wonderfully researched and beautifully crafted publication, but that it is, as far as I know, the first modern film publication that comes from a gay point of view. However, where many magazines might play this up, Little Joe weaves its politics quite organically into its pages. The articles are interesting to anyone with a love of both new and old cinema, Hollywood scandal, and pretty much anything esoteric and transgressive. Kenneth Anger should be very proud.
ANP: Where did the title Little Joe come from and why did the idea come to make a magazine about cinema from a queer point of view? Sam Ashby: I had always wanted to run a magazine but for whatever reason never quite made it beyond the idea phase. Then, one drunken night a few years ago, I watched Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey’s Flesh, starring ‘Little Joe’ Dallesandro. It was one of those incredible moments when a piece of art breaks your head open and alters your perception. It was the sight of seeing him laying face down, naked on the bed and the realization that there was no other magazine out there discussing these kinds of films. From that point on, I set about trying to craft a magazine that would inspire the deep (and not so deep) personal connections with films, a queer response to most magazines focusing on what’s new and upcoming. ANP: Do you come from a cinema background? Critics? Filmmakers? Fans? SA: I’m a graphic designer by trade and have been designing film posters for about 6 years. Michael Pierce: My background is in exhibition, starting out in festivals, becoming a projectionist, before running my own events including midnight movie screenings. But I’d say we are both frustrated filmmakers at heart! Isn’t everyone? ANP: While there is definitely a through line in your publication that deals in homosexual topics, the films you write about are not necessarily gay films. How do you choose which films and directors to write about? SA: When I thought up the subheading “a magazine about queers and cinema, mostly” to describe our focus, I was using the term “queer” in the more archaic sense, a way to describe someone that did not fit in, was different somehow, as well as nodding towards the more appropriate contemporary meaning which is more plural. Neither does it necessarily have to relate to sexuality. I find so many of these other definitions around sexuality restrictive, but using “queer” is a way to celebrate that dissidence. MP: I think the magazine has always attempted to avoid the simple tick box style definitions of sexual orientation. In terms of choosing the content, we often have a haphazard approach, stumbling across directors we haven’t heard of through
by Aaron Rose Images courtesy Little Joe
screenings and old texts. We also create a connection with our various contributors and trust them to pitch and research topics that interest them. ANP: While you do write about modern filmmakers, you tend to have a distinct fascination with films from Hollywood’s heyday. Where does this come from? MP: For me, Little Joe is about turning away from the fetishisation of the new, and instead placing the emphasis on what we share and connect with in the past, without overdosing on nostalgia. In this sense, universally we all share some kind of inherited, response to the classic Hollywood era: the iconic film stars, the lifestyles and the locations, but we, as a society, are also fascinated when it is subverted through the pre-Code films and expose texts like Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon. It’s like unearthing some secret history, uncovering the real lives behind this heavily orchestrated facade. ANP: What are the differences in your opinion between films made today and films from the past? Both positive and negative. SA: Most stuff we get to see at the cinema now is shit. We get fed so much crap by the big studios, but if you look around you can find some amazing alternative programmes, often discovering films from the past that feel fresh and still have a contemporary resonance. MP: I think it is too hard to generalize between old and new films because there are just too many titles that will remain unseen, but what I think has changed is the exhibition landscape, and the lack of diversity in cinemas. It’s fine if you live in a big city, but there are many places that you’ll have to drive for miles to see a decent film in the cinema. ANP: The first thing that I noticed about your magazine was that it is printed on a Risograph. This is a painstaking process. Why did you make this decision? SA: I wouldn’t say it’s painstaking, but depending on the print run, it can be a laborious and therefore more expensive process. We actually printed the third issue with a normal paperback printer but the aesthetic of risograph suited the feel of the first two magazines, which dealt with slightly more underground topics. We wanted to marry the feel of a professional journal with the vitality of a fanzine, which risograph
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perfectly exemplified. Risograph is also more environmentally friendly so we use it for all our other print work including posters, flyers and the recent Clubhouse reader. ANP: Speaking of that, besides publishing you also run a small clubhouse and film club. Can you tell us about these projects? MP: As a film magazine, it made sense to try and exhibit some of the more obscure films we discuss, especially as some are not commercially available. At the start of this year, we were lucky to be awarded Film London’s Community Pilot Fund, which started our A Little Film Club screening programme. We hold monthly screenings at two fantastic London venues, the Rio in Dalston and the Cinema Museum in Kennington. In April, we created a Clubhouse, a temporary screening structure, in a gallery as part of the Fringe! gay film festival, inviting previous contributors to select films for us to show. We also created the Clubhouse reader to give each film a context and is available to purchase on our website. ANP: What are your future dreams for Little Joe? SA: Obviously, we are working towards making all our projects fully sustainable and continuing with the magazine but since organizing the screening programme and building the Clubhouse, we have realized the need for the publication to actively build communities, bringing people together in a shared space. We hope to build on this in the future. MP: After finding out that many of the films we discuss are not available on DVD, we have often thought about moving into distribution, but for now, we want to focus on local activities to help build a community of readers and supporters. www.littlejoemagazine.com
by Francesca Gavin PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY THE ARTIST’S ESTATE & MAUREEN PALEY, LONDON breathing invisibly through a tube. There is a sense of slowness as the artist sinks. He walks the line between exposure and the hidden. There is something again very melancholic about the images beneath the absurdist laughs. A metaphorical representation of ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
In 1961 Samuel Beckett’s play Happy Days was published and performed for the first time. The story, in the Irish writer’s typically absurdist strange style, focuses on an older woman Winnie, buried to her chest in the earth. At first cheerful, as the play continues she becomes increasingly morose. She is sinking into the ground. Only her head rests above the earth. Speaking of the play, Beckett said, “I thought that the most dreadful thing that could happen to anybody, would be not to be allowed to sleep so that just as you’re dropping off there’s be a ‘Dong’ and you’d have to keep awake; you’re sinking into the ground alive and it’s full of ants; and the sun is shining endlessly day and night and there is not a tree … there’s no shade, nothing, and that bell wakes you up all the time and all you’ve got is a little parcel of things to see you through life.” The play and Beckett’s ideas are an interesting pairing with Keith Arnatt’s artworks from the same decade. The late British artist began working with the idea of burial in the late ‘60s. Although he later became labelled as a photographer, at this time his focus was on sculpture and land art. Around 1967 he began to dig shallow holes in the ground and place boots in the ditches. “At the time he was living on the Yorkshire Moors,” he son Matthew explains. “If you came across the crest of the hill, you’d see this faint pink light or green light. Once you came closer you’d realize they were a pair of workman’s boots with light tubes. There was a combination of things to do with light and stringing things out across the landscape, then burying things inside the landscape.” This developed into mirrored boxed placed within the soil so they were entirely disguised until you stumbled across them - reflecting the ground and the sky in their sunken linear beds. At some point these insertions transformed into works about burying things deeper. Whilst working as an art teacher in Liverpool, Arnatt got his students involved. He lined up around 100 people along the beach in Formby, burying them up to their necks. The surviving image show their faces lifted as they tried to breathe. What at first appears humorous, also has an understated violence. Humanity trapped and helpless from the encroaching waves. “I don’t think he was a great reader of fiction,” his son recalls, “but I think he probably read a book by JG Farrell called ‘Troubles’. I think it starts with a recreation of the Irish troubles during the 1940s. It starts with something that apparently the IRA used to do, which was to take people who had assisted the British government out of their homes, and bury them at the tideline on the beach and wait for the tide to come in.” Dark inspiration indeed. Two years later Arnatt buried himself. In a series of images documenting the 1969 action, Arnatt is depicted in the deserted British countryside. In the murky landscape, the artist stands looking directly at the camera. In each consecutive photo he drops, until at the end, he is absent beneath a mound of dirt,
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‘Self-burial’ was originally transmitted as an interference project on German TV; an artwork inserted amongst the regular programming. How the television connection emerged is not definitely known but is suspected to be through his friend, the artist Charles Harrison, and perhaps funded by a collector. The images could only be taken by another individual, questioning Arnatt’s feelings about creation and what it was to be an artist. Off TV the work was presented as a group of 9 photographs. Their scale was surprisingly tiny—10 x 8 at the largest. If things were later enlarged by curators for specific shows, Arnatt himself had little input. The British Council would tour badly printed laminated versions around the world. Yet the original scale gives a sense of intimacy to the images. An artist removed, working privately on a small scale, examining his place in the world. The nine images feel firmly like a set. Grouping and placing things together grew to define Arnatt’s practice—with series ranging from cans to images of dog piss to crawled notes. It was a way of making sense of the world, highlighting its unexpected beauty, its innate poetry, and often its ironic comedy. “It wasn’t that he developed a kind of a wit as a defensive entry into the work. It might have just been a pragmatic thing. In the period of say Monty Python there’s a slightly John Cleese-y aspect to him as a whole. The nature of what he was doing that was picked up on and faintly weird,” Matthew notes. Arnatt’s pieces don’t come across as one-liners. It’s almost the humour is masking layers of serious thought. As Arnatt’s work moved on – just as he erases himself from the work in the self-burial – human figures are removed. “He probably didn’t realize what he was revealing about himself, relationships with other people, issues to do with the way he felt about his body.” Matthew considers. “He was plagued in the later part of his life from his middle ages on by certain types of depressions and anxieties. His own unhappiness. The work wasn’t a vehicle for him to address issues to do with how he felt about people or bodies or physicality or the human experience. I never heard him talk about those things.” Although it can be melancholic, as his work developed there was also a deep sense of beauty. Arguably his most haunting series was ‘Pictures from a Rubbish Tip” (1988-9). Ideas around 18th century romanticism, Samuel Palmer and William Blake emerge in these vibrant color photos of garbage. There is something quite obsessive or personal about Arnatt’s focus. His images are intensely beautiful, with their painterly sense of fluid disintegration. His son agrees, “When he becomes able to control the surface of the photograph they become very immaculate things. You have this fantastic obsessive control of detail. He’s making these images that come from noticing the quality of light playing over the surfaces of ponds the fact that they’re full of rubbish is almost irrelevant.” Although often accessible, there is nothing straightforward in Arnatt’s world which is perhaps the point. Despite our greatest attempts we can never really hide from reality or organise the world before chaos sets in. Keith Arnatt 1930-2008 His estate is represented by Maureen Paley
CASTLE FACE RECORDS
by Clark Rayburn PhotoGRAPHy BY matt jones
Castle Face Records is John Dwyer, Brian Lee Hughes and Matt Jones.
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ANP: How did Castle Face start? Brian Lee Hughes: I started Castle Face Records with my friend John Dwyer. He’s basically my favorite artist and we met when I was filming Rock Star Scars back in 2003 in San Francisco. He was in the film and gave me music for it from Coachwhips, his band at the time. I loved that band and I filmed some live performances for the Coachwhips for their film Double Death. I was super bummed when they called it quits. He was experimenting with lots of bands before and after that. My fave of those is Thee Oh Sees (aka OCS). We then collaborated again when he gave me Oh Sees songs for the skate film I co-directed with Ada Bligaard Søby in Denmark for a Faile collaboration called Lavender Or Danish Skater Perfect Fantasy Death. His music made the film special and we liked how it came out so we kept looking for more stuff to do together. John Dwyer: I asked Brian to fund an Oh Sees record because a certain mid-to-big size label had strung me along with possibly putting out Sucks Blood (the first CF release). When the time came and they flaked we had no one to release the record. Castle Face was born out of frustration with labels who want you to sign over all your rights to them and then turn their back on bands when they aren’t willing to sign over everything. BLH: Basically I was dreading the thought of The Oh Sees going the way of Coachwhips so I offered up so we just started a label to put out records for them. We put out Thee Oh Sees’ Sucks Blood record and we were off. JD: The label just grew from there. San Francisco is a miasma of creative energy and at the time a lot of our friends were making fantastic sounds and we facilitated the release of these tunes. It’s been an interesting project, but I can safely say that the label has derived equal strengths from all three of us working together. I love it. Matt Jones: Around 2006 John and I met at a party and we started talking about records. My day job since 2005 has been in sales for a vinyl manufacturing company called Pirates Press. I told him he could come by and scan his art and get it set up, and I’d help him put the whole thing together. Sort of voluntarily, I ended up doing all the layout, painstakingly photo shopping the labels for “Sucks Blood” so that the A side and the B side said different things, but in the same handwriting, laying out the type, that kind of thing. John and I became closer and closer friends and from that point forward I was the go-to guy as far as getting things made. I think I’ve cracked Photoshop on every Castle Face release so far. Later on John dug the Blasted Canyons stuff I was doing and put out the record. I guess it was about a year ago that Brian and John asked me to officially be a part of the label but I was already pretty much there. ANP: How did you guys come up with the name for your label? JD: “Castleface-ing” was a term Patrick Mullins and I used to describe a person’s face when they got too high….hence Castle Face. BLH: The alternate advancement of the Castle Face meaning came, for me, from when we we’re editing the 40+ hours of live footage and endlessly amazing stories that we filmed in between locations for the LP/DVD Thee Hounds Of Foggy Notion. It was a mind-bending avalanche of non-stop Dwyer comic gold, and original drummer Patrick Mullins never, ever cracked a smile. He maintained the most magically numbing straight face. When you’re editing, you notice. That to me is Castle Face. ANP: Is there any kind of philosophy behind the project? JD: I like to think that we get to put out a young band’s early work locally, and if the relationship continues from there then that’s great. We are friends with all the people we work with and they are mostly Bay Area (with the exception of Total Control). We love homegrown. MJ: I’m just here to facilitate John’s vision and make it possible, and that’s an honor. Someone said “FUBU for stoners” once and I’ve always liked that. BLH: John cooks up most of it in his head. For me it’s a DIY rally cry to fight boredom, which I have to thank him for. My first John Dwyer meeting came in 2003 when I just landed in SF from Denmark where I was living and occasionally working with Lars von Trier. The darkness of divorce was looming for me and I was hunting for distractions. After a hot tip that Coachwhips were going to perform at the serene, scenic San Francisco Twin Peaks overlook on Flag Day, I was hooked. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. Powered by a generator in an out-of-commission ambulance, they destroyed my mind and the minds of dozens of Chinese tourists, the Mexican vendors and the North Beach wedding photo crowd. They had this art joke crew Double Dutchess in fake pregnant outfits jumping rope while drinking water from gallon-sized Popov bottles and their pitbull was shredding plastic baby dolls and a stroller. It was a life-saver. I wanted more of that. I try to keep that Flag Day in mind whenever we make anything. So yes, Fight Boredom. ANP: I see that Castle Face is really a multi-media project. Incorporating records, books and videos. Was that always the idea from the beginning? MJ: Dwyer’s always cooking up something fresh and out-there, we’re just trying to keep up... BLH: We all do arty stuff and I’ve done vids for Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall but I don’t think any of it has been Castle Face specific. We make vinyl and sell vinyl. JD: Really it just started out as a way to put out LP’s and CD’s, but the growth is very, very welcome and very satisfying.
ANP: Tell us about Group Flex. I was under the impression that flexidiscs were dead and gone. What was the concept and how did you get it made? JD: I gotta give credit where it’s due. Matt Jones is truly the flexi king. We hope to issue one book a year for as long as it’s fresh. We just have to put the sticker on the new ones that say “DON’T TEAR MY PAGES OUT!” MJ: As part of my job at Pirates Press, I’ve been working on making flexis for the past three years. I worked with engineers on what was necessary to outfit machines, and then experimented with different production processes to make them work. Since we’ve been making them work I’ve been pushing the boundaries as to what you can make them do...besides the mean task of selling them, of course. BLH: The flexi-book of singles was where Matt Jones came in. He has a day job at Pirates Press making all our candy colored vinyl when he’s not melting faces with his band Blasted Canyons. We wanted to make a Castle Face singles collection and wanted to make it like those National Geographic Bird Song and Whale Song spiral bound books of our youth. 7” square with a spiral binding and card stock alternating with flexis from each band and a center cut hole all the way through it. You can flip the pages to a record, drop the whole book on the turntable, place the needle and it plays. MJ: Dwyer was like “can we do this?” and I looked at the National Geographic book for a while and said “yes!” but, with a nervous foreboding. As with any process you’re trying to jerry-rig along the way, it was a bumpy ride. The first one I had all bound up, I took it by John’s house so he could check it out, and I was all proud, like “check this out”...and it wouldn’t play because it was too wide! I had to cut them all down and then round the edges off because I didn’t account for certain turntables that follow the outside edge of a record in their construction... we had prototypes hanging off the edge that played fine back in the office...eesh. We learned a lot of lessons with that one. BLH: Retro-Nat Geo reborn with William Keihn art and two songs from each from Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall (with Mikal Cronin, covering Bowie’s Fame and Suffragette City!) and The Fresh & Onlys and Bare Wires and Blasted Canyons and a hidden track from Here Comes The Here Comes pressed into the laminated cardstock inside the back cover. Yum. ANP: The art direction on all your releases is really fantastic. Does one person do all of your designs or do you work with different people? BLH: Coming from you that’s some high praise! Thanky. We’re all pretty lusty about art and each band is responsible for all their music and art. All the bands
are Bay Area and that comes with a built-in aesthetic and that vibe feeds well with the posse of like-minded SF art stars. I helped to get the V1 Gallery off the ground in Denmark, but John is the true artist and most of our friends dabble at a high level. Artists all seem to be up for collaborating and Matt always has orgasmic colors for our vinyl. We want to make stuff that transcends the stuff level and becomes treasure. MJ: There’s been a lot of cooks in the kitchen, but I think it all hangs together pretty well. JD: Its mostly local friends of ours, and we’re proud to showcase their work. ANP: What projects are you working on for the future? MJ: We’ve got a few things cooking right now, but the big news is that we’re working on Group Flex Vol. 2. It’s going to be even crazier than the first one, and we’ve been promised tracks by Total Control, White Fence, Mikal Kronin, Burnt Ones, as well as the old gang, Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, Fresh And Onlys, Blasted Canyons, and Warm Soda (Matthew Melton of Bare Wires’s new band). JD: The Mallard Too!!!! They will destroy us if we don’t mention them. They’re all UFC fighters. MJ: Art for the next book is going to be by Joe Roberts, he’s a total madman. New tricks up sleeves. Start doin’ reps now, we’ll all be flexin’ soon... BLH: I’ve still got Blasted Canyons’ 2nd Place on repeat. One-sided clear vinyl EP with a Joe Roberts etching on the B-side. It rules and when you slide it out of the sleeve it’s fun to watch even the most jaded record collectors dribble a lil spittle. And The Mallard!!! Seriously ‘Yes On Blood’ is an amazing debut. MJ: I’m excited to be doing a split between Blasted Canyons and Running (from Chicago) as well. They’re one of my favorite bands in a long time and I’m stoked to finally get something together with them. ANP: Do you ever feel like you’re screaming into the void? MJ: Never with Castle Face! It’s probably Dwyer’s fault, but there seems to be a lot of goodwill towards this label and its releases...cheers to keeping that up. BLH: I’m the quiet one. Besides, this is like Fantasy Island without the morality tale ending. JD: Hopefully the void yells back…or at least echoes...or has a little reverb on it. www.castlefacerecords.com
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by NORA ATAPOL Photography by Fabiola Alondra / Fulton Ryder
For the last few months I can’t tell you how many people have told me about this new space in New York City called Fulton Ryder. Part gallery, part bookstore, part publishing house, rumor has it that within its walls contains the best collection of exclusive publications, ephemera, and objet d’art in the city. The store is essentially a collector’s dream. But there’s a catch. The location of Fulton Ryder is kept completely secret and it is not open to the public. It is one of those places that is shrouded in mystery, and as a result of course becomes a heavy topic of conversation. So in the interest of trying to uncover this mystery, us here at ANP decided to do some independent research. Well readers, you are in luck. Our efforts paid off. Unfortunately we are not able to disclose the location, and reading this article won’t necessarily get you into the store, but at least one layer of the onion has been peeled away. Also, on a further note, Fulton Ryder recently published, “Notes From A Revolution” about the legendary 1960s activist group The Diggers. We were able to obtain a short interview which follows here: ANP: How did the concept for Fulton Ryder come about? Fulton Ryder: Context is content ANP: Would you consider it a bookstore? A gallery? A cabinet of curiosities? FR: Boundaries overlap and unify, combining the high and the low, “the sacred and the profane,” as John McWhinnie would have said. From sexy pulp paperbacks to unique artists’ books and top shelf literature to Malcolm X air fresheners, Dan Colen whoopee cushions, Wallace Berman collages. All of these things live together, harmoniously, as cultural artifacts of our time. ANP: Is there an overarching theme to the curation? FR: Not exactly, but we do have one wall with only paperbacks on display: naughty nurses and librarians, lesbians, orgies, drugs, rock n roll and film. And our literature section is organized alphabetically, but for the most part we arrange and move things around in all sorts of ways, always juxtaposing opposites. ANP: What separates Fulton Ryder from other establishments in the city? FR: One of the things that makes Fulton Ryder unique are the pieces that we have hanging on our walls. These are called “Untitled Originals” by Richard Prince. The pieces reunite the original illustrations used for paperback covers, framing these illustrations side by side with the original publications. It is fascinating to think that behind every pulp paperback there was a painting first..It elevates a low form of art to a higher one. And it also frames a painting side by side with the book, as two inseparable art forms. ANP: How do you think an establishment like Fulton Ryder fits into the overall creative landscape of New York City? FR: Our location is secret and always will be. Without mystery there’s no need for imagination. ANP: Can you tell us your top five favorite things that are on offer in the store? FR: “The Pope’s Butler” by Howard Johnson and “Bob Crane: He Got It Coming,” by John Dogg both published by Fulton Ryder. A beautiful first edition copy of Flannery O’Connor’s book “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” “New York Is” by Robert Frank, a beautiful supplement he did for the New York Times in 1958. And an anonymous French scrapbook from the 1940s-50s of black and white pornographic photographs. ANP: Why do you think people have such an intense desire for 20th Century nostalgia? FR: Nostalgia, a longing for something that no longer exists ..I’d like to believe that is simply part of human nature to have this sort of longing…It is also a desire and curiosity for something that we didn’t experience firsthand and wish we had…It’s a very romantic notion, a fantasy of our own making. However, places like Fulton Ryder preserve objects, such as the paperbacks from the 1940s and 50s…which awakes this kind of desire for 20th century nostalgia. Walter Benjamin: “Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories.” ANP: Why did you opt against having regular business hours? FR: Because we are not a regular business. ANP: If a person were to want to visit Fulton Ryder what would they have to do? FR: We would have to meet by chance, strike up a conversation, bring up Fulton Ryder and eventually give you my card to invite you over for a visit. www.fultonryder.com
by Clark Rayburn / Images courtesy Poupi Whoopy
There is definitely something new in the air when it comes to erotic photography, yet somehow it’s been a bit hard to define. We’ve been thinking about this quite a bit over here at ANPQ. We’re constantly doing research, looking at all these new approaches and trying to define exactly what it all means. It was during one of these searches that we came across Poupi Whoopy magazine from Belgium. The publication is really like no other we’ve seen. Entirely handmade and combining multiple printing techniques in one publication, we really thought it was something to be celebrated. We got a chance to speak with the editors and to learn a bit more about how this particular collaboration came to be. ANP: Who are the main editors of your magazine? Jan Lemaire: I’m a photographer and printer. I created the magazine with my then-girlfriend, Sky van der Hoek, who does wonders with hairdos and is also a professional make-up artist. Ulrike Biets: I’m a photographer. Jill Mathieu: And I guess I kind of function as the glue between all the artistic impulses. I help where I can fixing models, applying eyeliner, DJ’ing at our release parties with Ulrike and writing press releases. ANP: Can you tell us a bit about your backgrounds? What did you do before starting your magazine? JL: I have a masters degree in graphic design and free arts, and I studied art history and art critique. But mostly I’m a print and photography enthusiast who loves screen printing, stencil printing, offset, xeroxing, collages and graphic design. I make artwork for small record labels like Conspiracy Records, and I often roadie for bands such as Earth, Isis, Keelhaul, Knut or Alabama Thunderpussy. I was part of art collectives like Rotkop (underground publications with Dennis Tyfus, Kati Heck, Michèle Matyn) and Building Transmissions sound performances/architectures at Haus der Kunst Munich, Venice Biennale, and Porto Alegre Brasil (with Nico Dockx, Peter Verwimp and Kris Delacourt) UB: After I graduated university as a master in philosophy, I started working on film sets as a production manager for full-length movies. But quickly after that, I rolled into being a photographer on a professional level. I’ve been taking photos for as long as I can remember, so I guess it was inevitable that one day this would become my ‘job’. Besides my personal photography work, I’m also collaborating with different magazines and publications. JM: I’ve been spending most of my days writing all sorts of things that somehow involve young people and all kinds of culture. I was the editor in chief of Vice Magazine in Belgium and now I organize retro themed parties and burlesque revues all over the country. ANP: How did the concept to start a magazine about sex/sexuality begin? JL: I was looking to do a project together with my then girlfriend and mother of my son Louis. She is a hair and make-up artist, I was doing some photography but mainly print. We both had a great interest in old pin-up images but thought that the whole aesthetic of modern pin-up or burlesque was just a cheap rehash of ‘50s-styled images combined with rockabilly and tattoo parlour influences. Like
everybody wanted to be Bettie Page with a dice tattoo. We thought we could try to do something a little different, with witty humor and through different print techniques in one magazine lift it above your average glossy magazine. UB: After three editions Jill came up with the idea to do a male issue. Jan was a bit uncomfortable to stand in front of naked guys, shooting their packages, so that’s when I joined the crew as a photographer. After that, we stayed together and continued making new issues. ANP: Is there a mission statement behind Poupi Whoopy? JL: We love boobs? Haha. UB: That includes man boobs. ANP: Your visual content is so visually diverse. Do you work with many collaborators or do you do it all in-house? JL: I come from a DIY punk and hardcore scene in Antwerp where you do everything yourself within the limited budget you get. So we do everything ourselves: concepts, scouting of models, styling, location hunting, hair and make-up, photography, photoshopping, printing, the actual fabricating of the books, selling and distributing, bookkeeping... everything. The visual diversity is something we aim for, we’d hate to repeat/rehash the same thing over and over again, it can’t become a drag. It has to stay fresh and innovative and fun to do. UB: By now, we’ve gathered a great fan base. Amongst them are a lot of creative people we can count on to work with on a regular basis. It sometimes feels like one big family. JM: Models often come along with great ideas too, or with crazy costumes they want to wear. Meanwhile, we jot down our dream photo shoots in a Google doc, and we’re pretty good at actually realizing those ideas too, even if they involve public nudity in tourist-crowded areas. ANP: How does an issue of Poupi Whoopy come together? JL: One shoot at a time, we come up with an idea, find a model, do the shoot and repeat the process until we reckon we have enough for a book. Or sometimes we come up with a concept for an entire issue, like the Casting Issue, for which we did a nude model casting and photographed everybody that showed up and signed a waver. 34 people showed up that day, anything in between 18-year-old girls to 65-year-old men, which makes for a funny and pretty diverse magazine/book. UB: I’m not going to speak about a book as if it’s a baby, but I do think you can compare it with giving birth. It grows inside
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of you, and it will not come out without contractions, blood, sweat, tears and laughter! When it’s finally there, you hold it, name it, show it around, and feel really proud. Or do I sound really lame right now? JM: Haha, I guess the putting-the-book-together part is comparable: we quarantine ourselves in a damp little room manically performing the same actions over and over again. We fold pages, cut pages, stack pages and staple pages until we’re all cramped up and covered in paper cuts. And when we’re done, we boast about it on Facebook. ANP: You are part of what seems a whole new movement in erotic magazines. There seems to be a changing of the tides. How do you feel about this? JL: That it was about fucking time! I try to keep looking for alternative erotic magazines, I don’t know about the U.S., but here in Europe they are still spread thinly. UB: It’s a real trend these days to shoot naked people. As if clothes are the new taboo. I think what distinguishes us from lots of other photographers and publications is that we welcome every one. You don’t have to look like a model, you don’t have to have great skin or perfect sizes. Far from! For us, you have to have personality. We want to show people that feel good about themselves. ANP: Each issue has a very handmade element to it. How do you think this adds to the overall experience of the magazine? JL: I think it’s key. You can tell a lot of love went in the creation of every issue. We all handled each issue at least ten times in the process of its creation through folding, stapling, screen-printing or whatever. The downside is that we can only realistically make about 500 copies max of each issue. To make more would be a logistical nightmare. UB: You need to feel it to really read it! Half of the experience of Poupi Whoopy is the touch, the textile, the ink on your hands after glancing through it. That’s also why we call it a really dirty magazine! JM: Unlike naked girls on a screen, you can actually touch naked girls in print! ANP: How did you come up with the name Poupi Whoopy? JL: Poupi is like a cuddle name I called my ex-girlfriend and Whoopy is as you know a cheesy exclamation of joy. It just sounds funny and it gets misspelled all the time, which is always funny too... www.poupiwhoopy.com
BURGER RECORDS INTERVIEW & PhotoGRAPHy by Kyle Thomas
One night in the winter of 2009, in the middle of band practice, I received a phone call from Burger Records. I’d never heard of the label before and my band mates were really pissed at me for picking up the phone in the middle of a song. Whatever. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a life changing phone call. They wanted to put out my album, King Tuff Was Dead on cassette. Seemed like it couldn’t hurt so I said, “Fuck yes, do it.” I didn’t end up meeting them in person until about a year later, at SXSW. I was instantly charmed by their good looks and enthusiasm, and I felt my world opening up. Here were all these cartoonish rock n roll characters from California, with goofy smiles and cassette tapes spilling out of every pocket. The two masterminds appeared to be Sean Bohrman, a long blonde blue-eyed beauty of a man, and Lee Rickard, whom I’ve described more than once as a perfect piece of spaghetti. These were my kind of dudes. Nowadays you can’t throw a rock without hitting someone wearing one of those big ass Burger Records buttons proclaiming anything from “I’m A Burger Babe” to “I’m A Burger Punk” or “Fuck Burger Records”. Their positive energy, compassion, creativity, and prolific work ethic is something to be admired, releasing hundreds of cassettes a year with no sense of stopping any time soon. Burger Records is truly a family and I’m extremely thankful to be a part of it. Thank God I picked up my phone in the middle of stupid band practice. Kyle Thomas: To start things off in a normal interview kinda way, can you give me a quick backstory of Burger? Lee Rickard: Well I recently put on a normal pair of pants cuz my backstory was falling out. (laughter) But as far Burger, in the 2000s we started writing Burger productions and Burger Inc. on everything and eventually we started Burger Records. Our first release was a single for our own band, Thee Makeout Party, in 2007. We just thought, you know, The Beach Boys had Brother Records, the Beatles had Apple, and the Kinks had Konk, and we were Burger Boys till the day we die so we started Burger Records. Sean Bohrman: And for our second release we did the Audacity LP. (Audacity are a local band that Burger started working with when they were still in high school.) KT: How many releases are you at now? SB: We are at #255 right now. KT: How many did you release last year? SB: About 100. This year we’ll probably do 200. KT: BOOYAH. LR: Burger believe it. SB: This month alone we’ve released 20 tapes and two LPs.
KT: Insane. Why do you guys think foods like burgers, pizza, ice cream, etc. play such a prominent role in the rock ‘n’ roll scene of today? LR: ‘Cuz it’s like simple food for simple people, I mean it’s like handheld... SB: ...and it’s FUN. Rock ‘n’ roll is fun and those are fun foods. They taste good and... LR: ...and you can still rock out while you’re holding them! SB: And when you have a party you eat pizza and ice cream and... LR: SWEET STUFF. For dessert. And the good stuff for dinnertime. SB: And no vegetables. KT: Oh yeah do you hate vegetables? SB: Vegetables are not rock ‘n’ roll. KT: TRUE. You two are definitely a dynamic duo, kind of a yin and yang. Can you describe the roles each of you play in the business? LR: Ike and Tina baby. SB: I deal with the internet, all the multi media, emailing, talking on the phone to business people... LR: The tangled web of the inter-land. And I’m like the freak on the streets, the cosmic mind wanderer...
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SB: Cosmic Mind Wanderer. That’s his official title on the business cards. LR: I’m a dreamer and a believer and Sean’s a doer and a go getter and together we hustle and flow and rock and roll and boogie everyday bouncing burger ideas of the wall until they stick to some shit man that’s bubblegum music 101 and we just love it cuz it’s so much fun yeahhhhhh... SB: And me and Lee have been friends since high school, collaborating on stuff and... KT: What are your favorite things about each other? SB: I like hanging out with Lee ‘cause he’s a weirdo. LR: I think Sean is really smart and attractive and... SB: Yeah there you go! LR: ...and funny and... SB: Right when we started talking to each other for the very first time I just started making fun of him for having long hair. Sometimes you meet people and just hit it off. So we started bands together... LR: Our first group was The Noise and we just broke stuff on each other’s heads and started fires, ever since I met Sean he’s had a laptop and been savvy, I’m more or a hillbilly... SB: He’s a lil’ bit country... KT: What is your ultimate dream for Burger? LR: I really think we can have our own land, like Disneyland, Burgerland or Burgertown, where we can have our own stage and dance floor and burger shop and a place where we can have a sock hop and serve a gourmet burger and have like a hangout spot or museum or just somewhere you can go at any time. KT: A Museum? LR: Yeah! A rock and roll museum. You can go there any time and the doors are open and rock and roll museums are cool. KT: And as far as the label?
LR: Just putting out the best music and documenting the neighborhood. Just doing the best we can in our own neighborhood and others, acting locally thinking globally, you know, even beyond the globe, we really want to embrace far out ideas and expand on our technological advancements and achievements. That’s what Sean is wrapping his brain around, and I can just eat all the good burgers and say, “This burger tastes good let’s let’s let’s bring this burger to the people.” So I’ll just keep on biting and eating all the burgers I can and...we just eat a lot of burgers around here. SB: From the very beginning it hasn’t slowed down. It started off kinda slow, then it was like we were jogging, and now we’re sprinting and I can’t see us stopping. LR: All of ourselves are immersed in this. KT: What’s the best thing about having a record store? LR: Just having a ground zero. We’re open every single day and you can come here from anywhere on the planet and we’re here. SB: Having a place where people can come and listen to music and talk about music. KT: I feel like it’s a classic record store in the way that people are always hanging out here. You go to a lot of record stores and they’re kind of stale, but I grew up working and hanging out at a record store and all my friends were always around and I think that was an important part of my teenage years. SB: Yeah and the best part is that this is our job and we got here through hard work and being good people. Like Elmo. KT: Like Elmo! SB: Like Elmo! KT: You guys seem to put your faith in the universe to help you out, which I do too. Can you talk more about this? Can you describe some of the things that have come together cosmically or almost by strange coincidence? SB: We pray to the space gods every morning. LR: Just by thinking good things and relying on karma, it seems to work. It’s like when you think about someone and you run into them the next day or they call you and its really a trip... SB: If your a bad person, if your negative, if you let that rule your life, then that’s what’s going to surround you. If your positive and if you believe good things are going to happen, like not saying, “I want this to happen” but saying, “this IS going to happen” just putting that out into the universe is all it takes. I remember telling people “I’m going to open a record shop” like out of the blue, like of out of left field, but once you say it you’re like, ok, it’s out there, it’s out in the world, and you’re opening a record shop now. And it’s just like that with anything else... LR: Manifest destiny. SB: And we found you by coincidence! You’re old friend Allen was playing in a band with Devon Williams (another Burger band) and Devon gave us your phone number, and we called you out of the blue. And now here we are years later! And that’s just one story. We have 200 bands and there are 200 more stories just like that. LR: Connecting the stars. SB: Nick Lowe was Johnny Cash’s son-in-law. Everyone is connected! KT: How is Burger different from other record labels/ record stores? LR: We’re not strategic in planning our release dates and schedules. Some labels are really concerned with their schemes... SB: They’re planning 2014 right now... LR: We’re like one day at a time. We’re like oh shit, these people are goin’ on tour... SB: ...and they need merch right now... LR: Next thing you know we’re head high in tapes and doing mail order for weeks on end just to keep up with the demand. SB: And the fact that we don’t really know what we’re doing, we’re kinda just inventing it as we go along. LR: Trying to be positive and helpful as much as we can. SB: And helping out bands that are just starting out, helping them book their first tours, etc. It’s inspiring to us. LR: We get off on that, just turning kids on to the outside world, cuz it’s so easy. KT: Why did you start releasing cassettes? What do you like about them? LR: It’s analog, they’re handheld (Lee loves things that are handheld), they sound good... SB: Cheap to make and the turnaround time is super quick. LR: We got lucky with a good duplicator. SB: Mike McKinney at m2com. He’s probably doing burger tapes with all his spare time. KT: I like tapes ‘cause they have two sides, it’s the only other format other than a record that has sides. And sides are an important aspect to a record... LR: It’s also just cool to cover all the bases, LP, CD, cassette, mp3, pillowcases... KT: One last question: Why is the letter B so powerful? LR: B is the best. It’s a banger. Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! SB: I don’t know why but all these bands that have written these songs that affected our lives like the Bee Gees, Big Star, The Beatles, The Beach Boys... there’s something about that letter that’s... LR: BOHRMAN! SB: Bohrman! Just kidding. There’s something behind that letter that sticks in peoples heads I guess. Who knows? KT: Who the fuck knows! Burger Records 645 S. State College Blvd., Fullerton, CA 92831 Open 11AM - 9PM everyday www.burgerrecords.org
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SARAH SOPHIE FLICKER & MAXIMILLA LUKACS ANP: How did you both get into making films? Sarah Sophie Flicker: Maximilla and I had been circling each other for years before we met. We both had been working independently in film, me as an actor, photographer and experimental filmmaker. As a kid I was a serious dancer and did a lot of acting in theater and film, these were the building blocks of my work now. We officially began to work together in New York City in 2001. Our first film was a meditation on love entitled Kill Your Darlings. We worked out of Times Square and insisted on wearing white lace throughout the process. We made quite an impact on the unsuspecting tourists. Since then, we’ve become only slightly more practical in our work attire. Maximilla usually ends up directing in anything from a swimsuit to a rainbow cape and sparkly turban. Maximilla Lukacs: I originally started out as a painter. I went to the San Francisco Art Institute where I started taking experimental film classes from the likes of Larry Jordan and George Kuchar. So my introduction to film was very much from an experimental viewpoint. Basically from an attempt at creating moving paintings (to some extent I still try to think about it that way). When I met Sarah I had begun to build a small body of experimental films but I had never attempted to do anything narrative. I had also gotten pretty good at editing because to me that was always the funnest part. It still held a connection to painting and drawing. Very hands on. Sarah went to law school and was amazing with research and was incredibly well read and had more of a performing arts background. We were a great match for each other. ANP: What is it about the medium of film that inspires you? Why do you think you didn’t follow the path of another kind of artist? As a painter or dancer for instance? SSF: I think I have been every kind of artist...never a painter though. I find that having even a modest vocabulary in dance, film, acting, music, fashion, photography, writing, aerial arts, make-up, theater, informs everything I do. It’s interesting how limited we are asked to be in our definitions of ourselves. I find
by AARON ROSE images courtesY THE artists
that the more I “am” as far as a label goes, the better my work is. Film is inspiring to me because you can truly create an out-of-time, never-never land, magical realist explosion. Only in film can I create the worlds that exist in my head. In theater I can come close, but film allows you to control a world and really become immersed in it. Then in post, with editing, color correction, sound design, etc., you can sink deeper into that world and flesh it out further. I love that about film. I am always curious about filmmakers who show a realistic version of the world as it is so far from what I lean towards. I want to get as far away from reality as possible when we are shooting. ML: I have always thought that films were like magic spells and you can certainly feel them working on you when you see an especially good one. So to me the idea of being a director was always essentially becoming a magician. Film really gives you the opportunity to take the visions that you have within you and give life to them. I think that is super magical. My favorite filmmakers create worlds that you simply do not want to leave. And once you have had the chance to enter those worlds you see everything in a slightly different way. You have been put under their spell! I am total film nerd. I love Tarkovsky and Woody Allen and Antonioni, Maya Deren, Vera Chytilova, early Milos Forman, Cassavettes, Bergman, Kustirica, Jodorowsky so many master magicians all working spells in their own very specific way. I think at this moment in time we really need to have a prismatic world-view. We need to let in visions from every possible culture and try on many different sets of eyes. Film is a huge part of that. And we have never had more access! My two loves throughout my life were music and painting so in a way film really brings those two elements together. Music has always been so inspiring throughout my life. I grew up in a very DIY music scene and even played in a few bands when I was younger. And for me it really plays a huge part in the filmmaking process. A piece of music can inspire a whole film or completely change the tone of it in an edit. It is so essential to how you feel as you are watching a film. Sarah and I always have someone Lay Down Lean, 2006 Film still (opposite, from top) Spells, 2009, Film stills First Aid Kit, Emmylou music video, 2012, Film stills
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do an original score for us whenever possible. It really is the final stage of bringing an idea to life. Film to me is basically a perfect marriage of everything I love. That is why I feel so grateful to get to do what I do for a living. ANP: How did your collaboration come about? SSF: It was in the stars! Truly! Maximilla and I were two panthers circling each other in a cage for years. I can’t count the number of times people said we should meet before we actually did. I remember one friend saying, “Maximilla and you exist in the same magic world. You need to know each other.” At this point, 11 years down the pike, we read each other’s minds and finish each other’s sentences. I walked into a Lower East Side bar in late 2001 (Sweet and Vicious... remember that one?) and Maximilla was on the floor wrestling some guy. By the end of the night we were working together and formed our production company The Belles Of The Black Diamond Field (named after the first female coal miners). ML: Haha! Sweet and Viscious. Yes…that is the fated moment where it all came together.That was a super fun time in New York and I feel like it was the birth of a lot collaborative projects. Sarah and I met and started working together and I remember shooting one of our first scenes together and looking at the footage together and her saying “You are the only person that has ever been able to make things look like the way I see them in my head.” So I guess the glue that holds our collaboration together is simply that we see the world in a similar way. Or rather that we see the things that we want to bring into existence through the language of film in a similar way. It really is a magical collaboration and I feel like our strengths and weaknesses really complement each other. My eyes are more trained for the visual story telling elements and Sarah has a great background in acting and theatre and dance so she is super great with the performance aspects. It is a great marriage of a very special sort. We started our collaboration with a manifesto about feminizing the language of film. There are so few female directors to look to for inspiration but each one I can think of really
enriches the whole language of cinema so much. Female voices are really absent from this medium so I feel very lucky to contribute something to that legacy for younger girls that are just getting into it now. ANP: What is the most rewarding part of working as a team? SSF: I’m very proud of our collaboration. Working with another person can be difficult. It takes communication, vulnerability, honesty, and struggle. You have to leave your ego behind to work as a real collaborative. I believe that working with other people and learning to efficiently collaborate is humanity functioning at a very high level. Ultimately, life and happiness, boils down to our connections with other people and how well we nurture those connections. Maximilla is my everything, my family, my other brain, my creative outlet. I’m very proud of our work together and our relationship. I also love our visual language. When putting an idea together, we speak mostly in images. I love having this shared language with her. ML: For me the most magical part is in the initial forming of the idea. So many times when we start a project we are already thinking the same thing and have literally sent each other the same photo for inspiration. Sarah and I have two fundamentally different sensibilities but the place where those two sensibilities meet I just love so much. It is like when you play two notes together and they create a beautiful third together that is greater than the sum of its parts. I think collaboration is fundamentally about challenging each other, pushing each other into new, sometimes uncomfortable, places and experimenting. Sarah and I are so brutally honest with each other after all these years and I think it keeps the work that we make honest and really from the heart. The most rewarding thing really is the bond that forms when you have to work so intimately with another person. I really value the incredibly unique friendship that has come out of our collaboration. ANP: Your films are generally quite experimental. Do you think there is still a logical venue for avantgarde films in the 21st Century? SSF: I think the internet is really opening up the arena of what film can be. I look at it as very exciting. Film had become so fixed and defined in the last decade. Even indie film. The Internet has opened a whole new world to filmmakers. I’m also excited about the upsurge in fashion films and Internet series and webisodes. All this creates endless possibilities for gals like us! ML: Yes. I think you could make the argument that there are the best venues there have ever been for avant-garde films. The internet is a perfect venue for short films. You can do a whole lot with that short amount of time. I also think that what people thought of as avant-garde 50 years ago is just totally regular to a teenage kid in 2012. The way that we see
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Sandy Toes, 2009, Film stills (opposite, from top) Karen Elson, The Truth Is in the Dirt Music Video, 2010, Film stills Lay Down Lean, 2006, Film still
I think has evolved. Art and life in general has gotten way crazier. We are exposed to so much more visually. So yes, I think it’s an exciting time for film in general. More people have access to the tools to make films than ever before so I think we will be seeing some exciting stuff probably from the most unexpected places. ANP: Can you tell us a bit about your process? How do you conceive and execute ideas start to finish on a project? SSF: We usually start with just one image and build from there. I love to research images and drum up fantasy worlds. Maximilla is great at fantasy but also with order and structure. We lean on those strengths and often send ideas back and forth. She lives in L.A. and I live in NYC. We have a great team that we work with that speak in our “Belles” language as well. After we have finished a treatment or shooting script we open it up to the team for more ideas. ML: Yes that is basically how it works. Sarah and I usually start by sending images back and forth, which is how we communicate best, out of which arises a story and characters. Once we arrive at a treatment we are happy with we open it up to our Dream Team. We are lucky enough to have put together a Dream Team in both New York and L.A., which allows us to work in either place. On set I focus more on the cameras, lighting and story telling aspects and Sarah works more with the actors, styling and art direction. We are both involved with every decision but we usually divide and conquer on set. Since all of it has usually been illustrated with painstaking detail in our treatments it usually flows pretty seamlessly. I also edit all of our films so that is the part where it returns to my painting roots and I get to do the Wizard of Oz job of putting it all together. Sarah and I sometimes send cuts across the world to each other so she can be involved with the edit even if I am in another country. Gotta love all the new technology for that!
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ANP: That’s so interesting, which other ways has the digital revolution changed the way you look at making films? SSF: I was very wary of it all at first. Being an old fashioned gal who loves film, the grainier the better, I was nervous about digital. I do miss film, a lot, but it’s not feasable anymore. I’ve come to love how digital looks and how flexible it is. It has also forced me to become more open than I would have been if the digital revolution hadn’t happened. In general, in life, it seems best to be malleable. I now love what we can achieve visually with digital cameras. ML: I used to be a film purist and not until the Red camera came out did I think I could be wooed to go digital. But since you get to have so much control over the image with that high of a resolution you have infinite possibly. Color grading has actually become my favorite part of the process. That is where we essentially “expose” the film. It is amazing what you can do. It really is like painting sometimes. Our first films together were all on Super 8 and I do really love the romantic quality that it has but we have tried to bring some of that feeling into the new technology. I do miss the chaos and unpredictability aspects of working with film. You really can’t reproduce the chaos! ANP: What are you working on now?? ML: We have had a really busy past few months. We got to shoot Tavi Gevinson and that was super fun. She is such an amazing young lady. I wish I was as together as she is at her age. What an inspiration. We also just finished a short web piece for a skincare company called Fresh that we are really excited about and are in the process of editing a music video for a band called Sweet Tooth from the U.K. We shot some amazing slow motion prism-vision footage. It’s a 1930s psychedelic Busby Berkeley-inspired video. Very excited to see that finished. I also just shot a music video for a band called Peaking Lights this week that I really love. Very excited about that as well. I am also in the process of beginning work on a Surrealist play for 2013. I am hoping to wrangle Sarah into helping me with that as well. SSF: We just shot five short films in a month and a half so we still editing some of these. That was a whirlwind! We have some fashion and beauty films in the works. We have an annual August film we try to do out in the Northfork every year with Lula Magazine so that what we dreaming of next! Maximilla and I also work separately, she directs and edits a bunch on her own and I am The Creative Director of The Citizens Band, the Editor-At-Large for Lula magazine among other shenanigans. The Citizens Band has a political, pro-voting, anti-apathy album coming out this summer entitled Grab A Root And Growl. The Citizens Band will be super active leading up the election which I’m really excited about. I’m hoping Maximilla and I can do something in tandem with The Citizens Band soon. I also have a small role on the HBO series GIRLS which I’m shooting this summer. I’m in the process of writing a piece for Rookie magazine and Lula magazine as well. I’ve got some great collaborations of the design variety coming up as well, which I will, of course, rope Maximilla into in the film capacity as well. Everything’s coming up roses!
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For proof that humans have an innate desire to create their own environment, look no further than a teenager’s bedroom. Walls are scrawled upon and collaged, collections are hoarded, and with an explosion of dirty laundry, even the floor is camouflaged. The room becomes an external representation of the internal spirit, and the more those two match up, the better the angsty mind feels. But as most of us get older, our desire to create our own world gets buried in the face of having to survive and thrive in the one created for us. We decide that it is easier to change ourselves to fit the world than to change the world to fit us. It’s a rare kind of person who can set all of this aside. Usually these people are called artists. When they’re not called artists, usually they are called crazy. In a 1965 New Yorker article about the Watts Towers, Calvin Trillin wrote “If a man who has not labeled himself an artist happens to produce a work of art, he is likely to cause a lot of confusion and inconvenience.” Simon Rodia, an immigrant tile setter, labored for more than 30 years to create the Watts Towers. He worked in his spare time, and he worked alone. Once the towers were completed, he moved away and never came back. And thus, we are confused. Works like Rodia’s—where someone has endeavored to create their own personal utopia—exist outside of the value system that we as a society have agreed upon. They don’t offer money or prestige, and the gratification of a job well done is far from immediate. Most of us can’t understand this, even if we wish we could. Around the world, there are many places that are similar to the Watts Towers in spirit, spots of wonder where an individual endeavored to create something entirely unique for reasons entirely their own—often in the face of opposition and setbacks, and with few resources. These places, and these people, seem to tap into something pure and almost innocent, and represent an outpouring of creativity of the most honest kind. “The great revelation of vernacular art environments is that when artists have the space and freedom and time to creatively explore art entirely on their own terms, they create encompassing works of art that are truly transformative and utterly original,” says Leslie Umberger, a senior curator at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, WI, who wrote a book on the subject, called Sublime Spaces and Visionary Worlds. “Art environments convey the validity of being a unique individual, and convey the reality that it does not take a pedigree to transform the lives of others.” Recently, I was in the California desert for Coachella, and woke early one morning to go out to Salvation Mountain. The Salton Sea landscape there is bleak and harsh. It’s so dry that your lips parch and your mouth cottons, and everything you see is colorless, as if the sky, the sand and the people have been bleached by the sun. But then, coming around a curve, Salvation Mountain suddenly pops into view in a rush of reds and greens and stripes and flowers. Leonard Knight built the mountain with donated paint, and as I climbed his handmade ‘yellow brick road’ staircase up to the top, I couldn’t help but think about how much paint a $400 ticket to a music festival could have bought. It didn’t seem like I was just seeing the mountain, but that I was feeling it, too. It was human ingenuity, determination, creativity and devotion in its truest form. And it was free, unregulated, and in the middle of nowhere. Later, in Indio, as I waited in line to scan my wristband to get inside and wait in more lines with thousands of other people, all of us paying to be a part of something that we had been told was important, I kept flashing back to the colors of the Mountain and thinking about how this was so pale in comparison.
by Kate Williams
Salvation Mountain photography by cali thornhill-dewitt One of the only things visible, aside from miles and miles of dusty parched landscape, from the top of Salvation Mountain is Slab City, a transient town of mostly homeless drifters that has dubbed itself “The Last Free Place in America.” It was Slab City that initially brought Salvation Mountain creator Leonard Knight to the area, because Knight figured the last free place in America would be a good place to launch his hot air balloon. A Korean War veteran who had been born and raised in Vermont, Leonard Knight never had much interest in God until a trip to San Diego at age 35. Knight was there visiting his sister, a devout Christian, and one morning, while sitting in his van, Knight began repeating a sinner’s prayer that went “Jesus, I am a sinner, please come upon my body and into my heart,” over and over. Suddenly, he was saved. He began to think about a way to show his devotion to God, and when he witnessed a hot air balloon pass overhead in 1970, he decided this was the perfect way. Knight worked on his hot air balloon, including building his own inflation furnace, for 14 years, relocating to Slab City in the process. The balloon eventually stretched 10 stories high, but never sailed, and Knight finally admitted defeat. Frustrated, he began to use cement and paint to construct a small hill, on which he painted his sinner’s prayer and the words “God is Love.” He planned to stay a week and finish it, then take off, but what he soon began to call a mountain kept growing, and Knight stayed for four years. Then, the mountain collapsed. Rather than getting discouraged, Knight instead viewed the mountain’s collapse as God’s way of telling him that it wasn’t safe, and he simply started again, determined to make it stronger this time. He did so with a mix of adobe and straw, layering in coats
and coats of paint to make it stronger. At first he would scavenge the dump for paint, but as word of the Mountain spread, people began donating paint. Knight would use the drab colors for underneath, and save the brighter, prettier ones for the top. He liked to coat the flowers in high-gloss. Salvation Mountain stretches more than 100 feet wide and four stories high, and Knight has used more than 100,000 galloons of paint on it. He worked on the Mountain for almost 30 years, well into his seventies, all the while living in the back of a truck parked at its base. The truck didn’t run, and Knight gathered materials on a moped. In 1994, the county government labeled Salvation Mountain an environmental hazard, citing a fear of what lead paint was doing to the soil, and wanted to destroy it. But people rallied around Knight, and independent soil test revealed that the Mountain wasn’t toxic, so Knight kept on building. In a 2004 documentary called Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea, Knight talks about his life’s work. “I just believe that God really built this mountain, I didn’t,” he says. “I’m not really capable of being an artist. I’m just not capable of doing anything, but God almighty can do anything. I talk to God a lot, and I keep saying almost every morning ‘God, use me if you can. I want to work for you, God.’ And look at the Mountain: It’s going better than 10 churches put together.” Leonard Knight is now in a nursing home, and thus the future of Salvation Mountain is uncertain. Currently, volunteers and Slab City residents protect it from vandals. Many church groups have approached Knight over the years, offering to ‘adopt’ the Mountain, provided they could also use it for their own purposes. But God must have not liked this idea, because Knight always refused.
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“I painted the mountain because I love God and I love people.” —Leonard Knight
“You got to do something they never got ‘em in the world…” —Simon Rodia
In 1895, Sabato Rodia—called Simon or Sam in English—emigrated to the United States from Italy. He settled with his brother in Pennsylvania, where the two worked in coal mines until his brother was killed in a mining accident. After that, Rodia headed West. He got married in Seattle, then moved south to Oakland, where he and his wife had three children. There, according to some, Rodia became an abusive drunk and left his family and traveled about, hopping trains. When he reappeared in Southern California, he was sober again. Rodia worked various jobs in construction and manual labor, and in 1920, he bought a triangular residential lot in the Watts neighborhood of south central Los Angeles. In the 2006 documentary I Build the Tower, archival interviews of Rodia reveal him to be a colorful character who believed that people were either purely good, or that they were bad. Perhaps wanting to do something to atone for what he saw as his previously ‘bad’ ways, Rodia started building the towers on his lot, inspired by Italy’s Tower of Pisa and ‘good’ men such as Galileo, Marco Polo and Michelangelo. He called the project “Nuestro Pueblo,” which loosely translates into “Our Town.” The lot was a 10th of an acre, and over the next 30 years, in the evenings and weekends, Rodia covered the lot with 17 sculptures including freestanding towers, walkways, plazas, fountains and a gazebo. “Rodia is a great example of how the work of vernacular environment builders is so central to evidencing the American melting pot,” Leslie Umberger says. “They are the places where old world meets new, and crossroads of personal vision and cultural heritage.” Rodia always worked alone—saying that he didn’t know what he was going to do next, so how could he instruct someone else to do it?—and built the towers one level at a time. He never used scaffolding, even when one of the towers reached almost 100 feet tall, and instead climbed the sides with a window-washer’s belt and buckle. The towers have a structural steel core, which Rodia then wrapped in wire mesh, often chicken wire, and then covered in mortar, and he never bolted, riveted or welded joints. He then decorated his creations with broken tiles, pottery shards, pieces of glass—7-Up bottles being one of his favorite materials—and seashells he collected himself from nearby beaches. He signed the towers with imprints of his hammer and chisel, and his initials. As Rodia’s towers grew, so did suspicion of his motives. During World War II, rumors spread that the Towers transmitted secrets to the Japanese. Later, the rumor evolved into transmitting secrets to the Communists. In 1954, Rodia left Watts for good, and deeded the property, and his creation, to a neighbor. That neighbor soon sold the lot, for $1,000, to a developer who hoped to turn the site into a Mexican restaurant. In 1957, the City of Los Angeles declared the Towers a public safety hazard, built as they were without following construction codes, and announced plans to destroy them. But supporters rallied, and the city conceded to a stress test. If the towers, built with their chicken wire, could withstand 10,000 pounds of lateral pressure, they would be spared. People gathered to watch, and as Simon Rodia’s towers withstood the equivalent of 76 mph winds, they did not bend, but the testing apparatus did.
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“If the Garden of Eden is not right, Moses is to blame. He wrote it up and I built it.” — S. P. Dinsmoor
GARDEN OF EDEN A Civil War veteran who served in 18 battles, including the one that lead to the capture of Robert E. Lee, Samuel Perry Dinsmoor settled in Lucas, Kansas, in 1891, when he was 48 years old. Sixteen years later, he finished his first major architectural achievement, his notorious log cabin home. Dinsmoor had a fondness for tromp l’oeil, and therefore log cabin wasn’t actually made of logs at all, but massive 27-foot-long carved pieces of limestone which Dinsmoor dovetailed so that they would fit together and look like wood. The cabin had 11 rooms, with no two doors or windows of the same size, and once it was completed, he filled it with furniture also of his own design, and more than 3,000 feet of oak, redwood and walnut molding. After completing his house, Dinsmoor turned his attention to the yard, and began erecting concrete sculptures that illustrated his beliefs in the populist movement and the Bible. By the time he finished, almost 20 years later, Dinsmoor had created more than 200 sculptures that he believed to illustrate the entire history of mankind. The west side of the house was what Dinsmoor believed to be a literal depiction of the Garden of Eden, and the north side represented modern life, which included Union soldiers, girls, big business, the food chain and the government. “Messagewise, you can see a narrative grow and evolve throughout the environment. This 3-D political cartooning seems a little overwhelming or bizarre at first, until you see that there’s a linear narrative going on that leads you through,” says Erika Nelson, a Garden of Eden board member who also happens to live in the house right next door to it. “Some of the inspiration that happens at the garden comes from the initial recognition of scale and form, some inspiration happens after the realization of the timeline and narrative. Drive-wise, Dinsmoor’s scope and vision are amazing—inspiring not just artists, but any visitor who starts to mentally calculate both the time and the sheer weight of the environment. Literal tons of cement, all put in place by a retired person!” Dinsmoor documented his work in his selfpublished Pictorial History of the Cabin Home in Garden of Eden, Lucas, Kansas: “The porches, side walks, fence, strawberry and flower beds, fish pool, grape-arbor, three U. S. flags, Adam and Eve, the devil, coffin, jug, visitors’ dining hall, labor crucified, two bird and animal cages, and wash house are all made with cement,” he wrote. “Up to this date, July 1, 1927, over 113 tons, or 2,273 sacks of cement has been used.”
Dinsmoor was surprisingly delicate in his concrete work. He fashioned cement flags that were molded to look like they were fluttering, and mounted them on ball bearings so they would turn in the wind. He built cement trees that were 30 to 40 feet tall, and draped them with leaves and vines. He fashioned Adam in his own image, and when the townspeople of Lucas complained about Adam’s prominently displayed genitalia, Dinsmoor added an apron to cover him up. “I think some of the interactions between the townspeople and Dinsmoor shaped the narrative, and may have sparked a little bit of his belligerent nature,” Erika Nelson says. “The initial Garden of Eden section was in direct reaction to the culture of the time— railroads acting as land developers in the New West, promising groups of immigrants that Kansas was the new Garden of Eden. Dinsmoor was a part of the local debate society, ran for office on the Populist ticket, and I’m sure the conversations in and around these topics greatly shaped his desire to express his views in concrete form.” Dinsmoor advertised the Garden as “The most unique home, for living or dead, on the earth,” and he built his own limestonelog mausoleum in a corner of it. In 1917, he interred his first wife there, after causing a scandal by digging her corpse up from the Lucas cemetery. His own death was something he regarded with a wink and a smile. He made souvenir postcards from a double-exposed photograph that showed him standing next to a coffin in which he was also lying, and for a small fee, he would let visitors photograph him in either position. He joked that once he did kick the bucket, he planned to slip out of the coffin at night to watch over his strawberry beds. But Dinsmoor did not become so obsessed with death that he ceased to enjoy life: At the age of 81, he married a 20-year-old and they had two children. Nor was he particularly concerned with where he would end up in the afterlife. “Some people know they are going to heaven and those they do not like are going to hell,” he wrote. “I am going where the Boss puts me. If I get to go up, I have a cement angel outside, above the door, to take me…If I have to go below, I’ll grab my jug and fill it with water…I think I am well prepared for the good old orthodox future.”
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Forestiere Underground Gardens Baldasare Forestiere came to the United States in 1902, at the age of 21. The son of a wealthy Sicilian fruit grower, Forestiere could speak no English, and got work in New York digging tunnels for the subway system. After two years of this, he moved to Fresno, California, where he would combine the two things he knew best, fruit and digging, and began creating what is now called the Forestiere Underground Gardens. Upon moving to Fresno, Forestiere had bought 70 acres of land with the idea that he would begin planting, but as soon as he began to dig, he discovered that the land he had purchased was thinly veiled rock that would hardly support crops. Rather than forsaking it, though, Forestiere began using his hand tools to start tunneling and by 1923, he had carved out an underground maze of more than 10 acres of connecting rooms and passageways. Forestiere’s dream was to turn the space into an underground Mediterranean resort, and he carved patios, fireplaces, benches, grottos, a large room that he envisioned as a restaurant, and a small, modest home for himself. Legend has it that Forestiere once fell in love, but that he woman refused to marry him unless he built her a house above ground, so he remained a bachelor. He worked primarily alone with picks, shovels, and his two mules, Molly and Dolly. Forestiere wanted to create not just a series of caves, but a beautiful oasis. He would often fall asleep at the spot where he was working, and said the visions in his mind sometimes overwhelmed him. He built a glass-bottomed pond for exotic fish that was visible from above and below. He installed skylights, and begin to fill his underground world with fruit trees, myrtle, rosemary, and vines covered with red and green grapes. Forestiere was not content to plant just regular trees, and by combining inherited knowledge from his father with some experimentation, he began to graft species
together. On one citrus tree that reached 22 feet up to a skylight, he grew navel and Valencia oranges, tangerines, sweet lemons and sour lemons, and grapefruits. He also grew pomegranates, dates, almonds, persimmons, mulberries, and even strawberries on trees. Lyn Kosewski, who runs visitor services at the center, says the most magical sight at the garden is the citrus trees in late spring, when they are raining down perfumed white blossoms on the courtyard floor, but that everything about it inspires awe. “They were created at a time in history where if you could dream it, you could do it!” she says. “Today, there are so many building restrictions and unspoken rules about how we are to live that our imaginations have become complacent and we are content with the mundane. People who visit it today are deeply touched by the tranquil purity and innocence of the site, and the passionate commitment and vision of its builder. It is a true earth-friendly, earth shelter that demonstrates how humans can live in harmony with nature.” In 1998, 52 years after his death, The New Yorker published a T. Coraghessen Boyle short story, entitled “The Underground Gardens,” in which the author tried to imagine what Baldasare Forestiere’s motivations really were. Boyle imagined that that Forestiere did it all for love, which seems as good a reason as any.
“I have been doing this for fun. Money? What do I want with money? I am broke but the cavern and all the work it represents are worth more than a million dollars to me.” —Baldasare Forestiere
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens Unlike all of the other artists mentioned here, Isaiah Zagar is a trained artist, having studied painting and graphics at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. When Zagar was 19, he discovered Clarence Schmidt’s House of Mirrors in Woodstock, New York. A plasterer who built sets for silent movies, Schmidt worked for three decades to build a house with 30 rooms, spread across seven stories, all constructed out of mirrors, window frames, rubber masks and whatever else he could find. Soon after, a 1961 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, called The Art of Assemblage, presented the work of Schmidt and Simon Rodia alongside that of artists such as Picasso and Duchamp, and it inspired Zagar to incorporate these ‘untrained’ artists into his mental catalog of what he considered to be fine art. After serving in the Peace Corps in Peru, Zagar and his wife, Julia, moved to Philadelphia in the mid-1960s. Julia opened an art gallery on shopping thoroughfare South Street, and Zagar began trying to beautify surrounding run-down buildings by covering the facades with mosaic murals constructed from tiles, glass, pottery, and broken mirrors. “They bought a really fucked up house and it needed fixing,” says Jeremiah Zagar, Isaiah’s son and a filmmaker who chronicled his parents and their work in the 2009 documentary In a Dream. “And he didn’t know how to fix it, but he was an artist and he did know how to make it look cool and beautiful with his own tools. So he couldn’t fix it the way a house builder could fix it, but he could give
it structural integrity with cement. He needed something to do, and they needed to fix that house.” Since then, Zagar has completed more than 130 murals across the city of Philadelphia, most of which he has done free of charge. According to Zagar, he returned to Woodstock in 1970, to visit Clarence Schmidt, and Schmidt said to him “I hear you are copying me in Philadelphia.” In 1994, Zagar began to turn the vacant lot next to his studio into a labyrinthine half-block mural maze called the Magic Gardens, which incorporates thousands of mirrors, glass bottles, handmade tiles, bicycle wheels, folk art statues, even a few Kohler toilets, and a quote from Edward James, another of Zagar’s inspirations. In 2002, the owner of the lot decided to have the garden destroyed so that they could sell the land. The community protested, and eventually formed a non-profit to raise the money to buy and protect the lot. As Jeremiah Zagar’s documentary revealed, Isaiah has been a complicated and sometimes difficult person, in many ways the blueprint of a ‘trained’ artist. He did performance pieces covered in body suits of mud and paint, much to the chagrin of his children, attempted suicide, cheated on his wife, and had stays in mental institutions. All of these ups and downs are represented, if sometimes only metaphorically, in his mosaics. As he writes, “My work is marked by events and is a mirror of the mind that is building and falling apart, having a logic but close to chaos, refusing to stay still for the camera, and giving one a sense of heaven and hell simultaneously.”
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“I think that a lot of my ideas come from temple complexes…places where you are pointed toward the sky, pointed toward eternity. It’s something I want to do. My pointing is mostly toward beautiful women’s butts, but I’m trying to get pointed towards the sky.” —Isaiah Zagar
Las Pozas Unlike the other artists mentioned here, who built paradisal worlds with their own two hands and materials that other people threw away, Edward James spent millions of dollars, and enlisted 40 full-time laborers, to create his world. James was the only son of an American railroad baron and a Scottish socialite, and thus, he was born very, very rich. When Edward James was only four, his father died, and James therefore inherited the family’s 8,000-acre estate, West Dean House. James attended the best schools England had to offer, and as an adult, became an author, poet and ardent supporter of the arts who hobnobbed with the likes of the Mitford sisters, Sigmund Freud and Aldous Huxley. James published books of poetry (including some of his own), commissioned Balanchine productions when he fell in love with a dancer, and became a friend and patron of surrealist artists such as Picasso, Magritte and Noguchi. West Dean House, which James decorated in a Surrealist manner, was the first home of Dali’s Mae West Lips Sofa and Lobster Telephone, and Dali liked to proclaim that Edward James was crazier than all the other surrealists combined. In the 1940s, after his messy divorce rankled English society, James made his way to Mexico, specifically in the jungle in Xilitla. He settled on a particular spot there one day when, while sunbathing after a swim, a swarm of blue butterflies descended and covered his naked body. James took this as a sign that he was in the right place to freely nurture his passion for orchids and exotic animals—of which he had everything from parrots and flamingos to monkeys and ocelets. He traveled with his pet boa constrictors, only staying in the nicest hotels where they were permitted, and according to legend, once hired a composer to write a requiem for his dying crocodile. In the 1960s, after a frost had killed his orchids, James traveled to Los Angeles, where he visited Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers. He returned to Mexico with a new idea—he would rebuild his garden, this time out of cement. Over the next 25 years, in a 50-acre jungle landscape 2,000 feet up in the mountains, James would create more than 200 concrete sculptures, each of which he would carefully design on his sketch-pad before hiring workers to build them. He gave many of his sculptures surrealist names, such as The House With Three Stories That Might Be Five, The Stegosaurus Colt, The Temple of the Ducks, and The House Destined to be a Cinema. He dubbed the garden Las Pozas, after its centerpiece of nineconcrete pools fed by a natural waterfall, and the garden is filled with walk-ways, animal shapes, towering columns, flying buttresses, and a stairway that ascends straight to heaven. This was a signature of James’: doors, gates, and stairways that lead to nothing. Many people seem to interpret many of James’ acts and behaviors as motivated by his desire to be not just a patron of the arts, but as an artist himself, and with Las Pozas, he finally achieved this. Though James he had devoted his wealth to Las Pozas in life, even selling his collection of Surrealist works to pay for its construction, when he died in 1984, he failed to leave behind proper funding to pay for its upkeep. What a typical artist.
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“I built this sanctuary to be inhabited by my ideas and my fantasies.” —Edward James
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by Alexis Georgopoulos All images courtesy of Suzanne Ciani Archive
SUZANNE CIANI To drop the needle on Suzanne Ciani’s retrospective LP collection Lixiviation is to be suspended in time. Soft tones beckon, synthesizers cascade, all looping gently but persistently like streams of analog rain. These are the sounds that would preface what would come to be called New Age music, that often maligned genre which, in the name of Spiritual Well-Being, led to some of the most insipid sounds ever committed to wax. But this is not your Yoga instructor’s New Age. As endless arpeggios fold into one another, Ciani conjures future worlds: transparent grids, infinite desert scapes, blinking lights, visions of otherworldly possibility. One thinks of the far out sounds of David Behrman, Franco Battiato and Terry Riley, the imagery of Italian utopianists SUPERSTUDIO, that heightened cultural moment when philosophy, science and mysticism merged for a few peak years.
circuit board, follow a certain pattern. There’s the archetypal late ‘50s/early ‘60s image of the bookish gentleman in his ‘40s or ‘50s, likely bespectacled, undoubtedly in a white Lab coat. The Cosmic Traveler: the long hair who turned on in the early ‘70s, conjuring the black hit of Space with his 30– plus minute excursions onto the Astral Plane. And of course there’s the asymmetrical New Wave dandy, to umbrella the various waves of the era (the brutalist futurism of Cold Wave, the out-and-out refutation that was No Wave, and the Synthesizer as symbol of Post–Rock Pop, i.e., New Wave). Though this last example did include a feministic strain, women’s contributions (Mathematiques Modernes, Antena, et al.) were, as usual, overshadowed.
Shortly thereafter, a voice enters the room. “Atari video games,” a woman’s kind but authoritative voice announces, matter of factly. A lovely, optimistic assortment of sparkling sounds suggesting an early 80s jingle follows, evoking that moment when the word digital was new and alien. We learn this piece soundtracked a short advert for a ‘”Chip facility” showing men in spacesuits’, introducing the world to what has become the norm: a world animated by computers.
Even today, as synths drive not only the Underground but the Overground—from so-called Hypnagogic Pop to Radio R&B, House, Techno and just about everything else going—history is only beginning to reappraise itself. Thankfully, through the benefit of reissues, which in the best hands cast an eye forward as they look back, Ciani and a small but select group of women—the BBC’s Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram, Italian producer Doris Norton, New Yorker Laurie Spiegel, and the more academically minded Eliane Radigue and Pauline Oliveros—are getting their just due as essential Electronic pioneers.
As in most realms, the world of Electronic Music, and more specifically, synthesizer-based music— whether it be as composer, programmer or instrument builder/inventor—has been typically seen as a man’s world: Bob Moog, Stockhausen, Eno, Pierre Henry, Raymond Scott, Manuel Göttsching, Kraftwerk, et al. The archetypes of the synthesizer maven tend to, not unlike a
Ciani is undoubtedly the most upbeat and endearing synth nerd of the lot. Take a look at her appearance on Letterman where, to a stupefied Letterman, she delights in a sound world she might joyously describe as ‘simply wondrous’. You get the sense she’d be the perfect person to teach children to use synths. Meanwhile, Letterman, eyes big as walnuts, looks like he’s just dropped acid. Ciani defined
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the sounds of Atari and Coca Cola—her entirely synth-fabricated sounds of a Coke bottle fizzing in a carbonated mist were realer than real—and sprinkled her sound effect wizardry on top of Meco’s cheeky, chart-topping disco version of the Star Wars theme. These were iconic sounds of the era and made Ciani the go-to for logotones of the time and earned her five Grammy nominations. But Ciani wasn’t simply responsible for the sonics of adverts, impressive though they were. She also had a foot in the Avant Garde. Most often using Buchla synthesizers—Ciani, in fact, worked with Don Buchla’s synths almost exclusively at the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music— these extended pieces had more in common with Gruppo NPS, Luc Ferrari or Vangelis (with whom she would collaborate on 1984’s The Velocity of Love). Her 1982 album Seven Waves, recently reissued by Finders Keepers subsidiary Bird upon its 30th anniversary, was a defining moment of early New Age music, before the genre turned to sallow caricature. Other recent reissues, such as Voices for Packaged Souls (Dead Cert), her collaborative sound sculpture with sculptor Harold Paris, originally released in a private press run of 50, illuminate Ciani’s work in ways that have been up to now overlooked. Taken together, these three recent reissues—collecting pure synth experimentation, brief commercial vignettes and long form, far out synthscapes, create a newly minted portrait of a true innovator for a new generation that will, like her own, find it difficult to resist her charms.
ANP: You grew up studying classical piano. Did your parents hope you’d pursue that as a career? Suzanne Ciani: I grew up in a big Italian family, five girls and one boy...and according to my father, an orthopedic surgeon who was the youngest in his class at Harvard, all a woman needed to know was how to shave a man and polish his shoes. I think that this philosophy of low expectations gave me the freedom to pursue my own dreams and not to feel the pressure to become a doctor or lawyer. Though we do have a lawyer, an architect, an engineer, a visual artist, and a composer amongst the siblings. I was lucky in that we had a beautiful Steinway piano in the living room. My two older sisters were taking lessons and I started playing their lessons on my own. I taught myself to read music by knowing that middle C was under the “S” of Steinway and figuring out the rest. I quit after one year of studying with the teacher because he would not teach me classical music, just pop standards. So I played on my own for 10 years until high school, when I found a proper teacher at The Longy School of Music in Cambridge. I am grateful for the gift of having my music develop privately and naturally in my younger years. But I had a bit of catching up to do in classical piano technique. ANP: Do you remember first hearing a synthesizer, or a sound you knew didn’t come from a traditional acoustic instrument? Was Musique Concrète your first experience with synthesized sound? SC: My first experience of this sort was while I was a music student at Wellesley College. One evening we visited our “brother school,” MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and a professor there was using funds from a grant to program a computer to make sound. This was in about 1967. I empathized completely with his excitement at actually producing something audible from this machine and at that moment I knew this idea was part of my destiny. But I didn’t run into it again until I went to Berkeley and met Don Buchla, the consummate electronic instrument designer, whose loft was next door
to sculptor Harold Paris. I was studying for a traditional Masters in music composition at U.C. Berkeley, but ended up spending all my time outside of the department, chasing this new dream. Thinking of Musique Concrète, I did have an early pivotal experience: I had chronic earaches as a child and always had to wear a bathing cap while swimming. One day I couldn’t stand it anymore and I ripped off the bathing cap and the pure sound of the water was overwhelming. After the muffled sound, hearing all of the sparkling high end was transformative. I did use some Musique Concrète techniques on “Voices of Packaged Souls,” the limited edition LP I recorded in 196970 for Harold Paris’ show at Galerie Withofs, in Brussels. Working with tape machines and splicing blocks was second nature back then, but my true love was pure electronic sound. ANP: Was it the quality of limitless-ness of what you heard what attracted you? The idea that through amplitude and filters you could make the rustling of leaves, as you once said, sound like something you’ve never heard? Was it using a language that wasn’t bound to traditional notation? SC: It was so many things. It was the quality of sound, how the ears were treated to a sonic spectrum that seemed so much larger than normal acoustic sounds—especially the high end of the spectrum. It was the promise of the unknown, a new frontier to explore that seemed intimate and personal because no one had been there. As a composer, it was the promise of independence, not to be dependent on the political process of getting music performed, knowing that most composers died without ever hearing their compositions. And it was the promise of freedom, working in a place that had no rules and no expectations, but with total control: you could create the composition exactly the way you wanted without depending on other performers and you had constant feedback during the process of composing. It was that a note could go on for days, a timbre could change instantly, “notes” could be played faster or more slowly than humanly possible and in rhythms with the steadiness of a perfect machine or in patterns
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so complex that it made the academic fascination with complexity seem simplistic. I was always more fascinated with the way notes could move as opposed to a static timbre of sound. ANP: Was your first time playing a synthesizer at Mills College? Is it true you could pay $5 to play a Buchla synthesizer by the hour? SC: Yes. Mills College housed the San Francisco Tape Music Center, which had moved from the city and was funded in part by the Ford Foundation. One could rent time to play a Buchla 100 series, a Moog, or experiment with military surplus parts. I spent many a night there, playing by candlelight. But because I went to work in Don Buchla’s “factory” right after graduate school, I also got to play in his gigantic studio, which had a towering number of modules and a swing hanging from the ceiling where you could take a break and listen to the sonic space. ANP: Your first teacher was Max Matthews, the person to essentially invent digital synthesis. Quaint as it may seem now, his computer version of “Bicycle Built For Two” was revolutionary. SC: I was very fortunate to take a course at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Labs with both Max Matthews and John Chowning, who was soon to “discover” the FM techniques that Yamaha made famous. Max had a childlike excitement about his work: his passion and energy were extraordinary and continued unabated until he died just last year. We designed modular tone generators on paper and then fed punched cards to be processed for the PDP-10 computer and, voila, the next day out would come a short musical recording. In other words, the process was not “real time.” It was all a wonderful education in understanding the fundamentals of sound and separating out the individual parameters that contributed to a sound. ANP: Were you or Max privy to what Delia Derybshire or Daphne Oram were up to at the BBC? I think (Finders Keepers head) Andy Votel referring to you as the “Delia Derbyshire of the Atari generation” is quite appropriate. SC: Actually, I had never heard of Delia or Daphne until a couple of months ago…oddly. I am absolutely thrilled to discover them, though, since I have always felt that women are naturally suited to the refinements of electronic music. I love seeing the gracefulness and delicacy of their hands on the machines. I have no idea whether Max was aware…and now I cannot ask him, sadly. ANP: They, along with Eliane Radigue, Laurie Spiegel, Doris Norton and a post-Op Wendy Carlos—as Votel mentions in his Lixiviation essay—make up the very small group of women in the field. That must have crossed your mind at some point... SC: I don’t think about the gender of music very much, unless I am specifically investigating and then I am shocked at the paucity of women. I do think that the electronic medium does allow more opportunity for women, since the politics of traditional performance are maledominated. When I first looked for record label support, it was assumed that I was a singer. In the film world, I am credited with being the first woman to be hired to score a major Hollywood feature, and for that film and my subsequent big films I was always hired by women, a small minority in the film world. ANP: Did you feel that you wanted to incorporate things that the primarily male field was omitting? SC: The male studio engineers in New York City, for example, already had fixed ideas about sound and tried to fit electronics into that history. I preferred working with female engineers: Leslie Mona and Vicki Fabry,
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who seemed to listen with the fearless new ears required. It was also very important to me to reveal the sensuality of electronic sound, a feminine paradigm. My compositions were called “Waves,” as in my first album, Seven Waves. Not only was I ideologically attracted to the sea, but I felt the energy of a wave to have a very feminine form, building slowly and then releasing, and this became the compositional shape of my pieces. Also, of course, I got to design my own ocean waves that were specific for each piece. I also wanted my music to create a sense of security, safety, and peacefulness and I felt that the steadiness of the machine could provide the perfect subliminal communication of those feelings. ANP: Advertising music, jingles, et cetera, are typically written off by the higher brow but I’ve always found the whole idea incredible. Songs+sounds are used to manipulate, and even though we’re very often aware of it, their power over us is still very effective, which is quite fascinating. Your selling something, yes, but to chase this essence of something, and to achieve this psychological effect is worth examining. SC: I love the subliminal aspect of advertising…that notion that communication is on unconscious levels. And music and sound are perfect subliminal communicators: I could design a sound that might make you feel thirsty, or cold, or safe, or scared. It was not evil manipulation, but a form of poetry. The sound of a crystal jewel, a crispy potato chip. I do not subscribe to “higher brow” or “lower brow.” It is all apples and oranges. Pointless comparisons. I might write a symphonic score or a logo for Columbia Pictures that is three seconds long. Why compare them? I love all good music, whether pop or classical or ethnic. ANP: You created the sound of bubbles for Coca–Cola. Did you have any ethical dilemmas about doing commercial work or did you see it as a worthy opportunity to explore the instrument? SC: I loved doing commercial work, working in my own artistic bubble. I did refuse to do music for products to which I was morally averse, such as G.I. Joe, a “war” doll for kids. I was fairly unconscious of the real world of advertising, choosing to see each project as an artistic challenge. I also had a nobler purpose in my own mind, earning money to finance my record projects and I never lost sight of that goal. Once I was able to launch my artistic career sufficiently, I quit advertising. ANP: “Paris 1971” meanwhile, or “Lixiviation” suggest a link to other artists like Ariel Kalma or Klaus Schulze, in the case of the former, and Laurie Spiegel or Terry Riley, in the case of the latter. Your scores for the sculptor Ron Mallory and David Wood gave you the opportunity to score more extended pieces. Was there a particular medium you found particularly alluring to score? Did you prefer one type of work over another? SC: I adored writing for dance, but never found as many opportunities as I wished. The abstract film, Lixiviation, that I scored for Ronald Mallory, was a perfect match for me...creating sound to “marry” the image and bring it to life. Working with Harold Paris’ project, Voices of Packaged Souls, was a defining experience for me, exploring the beginnings of sound design, interpreting specific images sonically. The piece called “Paris” (nothing to do with the sculptor) was a type of composition that was an on-going “automatic” composition: I would have the Buchla on day and night and the piece was continuous, dependent on subtle interactions of the modules that were defined and yet random, so that the piece was always new. It required constant “tweaking” to find the right balance of interactions. I once did an installation in the University of California Art Museum with the Buchla generating an ongoing piece. At the time, no one understood where the sound was coming from. They all thought there was some sort of recording being played.
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ANP: When I hear you started doing educational films, I imagine shaggy-haired kids in corduroy flying kites and doing voice-overs about what it feels like to make a kite stay up in the air. SC: The project I did was called “Towns and Cities” and introduced me to the concept that I could make a living in music! I think that was the first time I was paid. ANP: You did sound effects for the original Stepford Wives? Did you care for any of the soundtrack work that you heard around that time? SC: I was not much of a film buff at that time—I was busy just surviving in New York City. But historically, I’ve always loved the scores of Bernard Hermann. ANP: Had you been familiar with Finders Keepers? One of my favorite pieces from Lixiviation, “Clean Room,” reminds me of some Sound Library music of the era. Did you always work by commission with particular companies or did you ever make recordings for Sound Library labels? SC: It was a great surprise for me to be contacted by B-Music/Finders Keepers Records. I was not familiar with them, but soon realized that they occupy a unique niche. They are very passionate about discovering lost worlds and it has been a privilege to work with them, which happily lead me to discover long-abandoned, though not forgotten, tapes in my vaults. I have always worked by commission. I do vaguely recall in the early 1970s, when I first arrived in Los Angeles, being locked in someone’s studio with my Buchla to create a syndicated radio ID package for a Philadelphia Radio station. I did background music for good weather, bad weather, heavy traffic, news, etc. But basically I was a gun for hire in the advertising world, where I worked as a mercenary artist to make the money to produce my artistic albums. ANP: Didn’t you create some crazy sounds for a Kung Fu Film? SC: That does trigger some vague memory, but too vague to be able to amplify upon! ANP: How did you first link up with Atari? SC: My company in New York, Ciani-Musica, Inc., became the number one hi-tech music production house. The Atari agency was Young & Rubicam and the music director, Hunter Murtaugh, was a big fan and hired us for many major campaigns, including Merrill Lynch and Lincoln Mercury. Atari provided us with one of their games and from that I took the “vocabulary” of the sounds, recreating them into a track for the TV spots. I also was featured in an educational film Atari made for schools called “Computers: Expressway to Tomorrow,” in which I demonstrated sound design techniques. I was never very good at playing the games, though. ANP: In your description of the piece “Second Breath” you say you always referred to a synthesizer as “the machine” not “the synthesizer” because “it had strange and inappropriate connotations.” Can you explain what you meant? SC: The term “synthesizer” was unfortunate, because it had connotations of “synthetic” or “imitation.” Many people thought the purpose of such a machine was to replicate existing acoustic instruments, like flutes or strings, etc. This was definitely nothing I wanted to do. In fact, the musician’s union in New York was so wary of “synthesizers” that they were not allowed in the union, the fear being that “real” musicians would be replaced and made obsolete. To discourage the use of these evil machines, the union required that synth players be paid double scale and paid again with each overdub. This, of course, benefitted me. Don Buchla had first made me aware of the inappropriateness of the synthesizer term: he never ever called his instruments synthesizers, but “electronic music boxes.” It was important to establish the instrument as a new and independent possibility and not something derivative. ANP: In 1979, you started recording what would be Seven Waves and you became one of New Age music’s early success stories. Certain elements of Seven Waves remind me of Vangelis, who you knew, right? Were you privy to the “Cosmic Synth” music coming from Germany and Japan and elsewhere in the 1970s—I’m thinking of Popol Vuh, Cluster, Eno, Deuter, Tangerine Dream, Kitaro and the many smaller label artists. SC: I met Vangelis during the recording of my second album, The Velocity of Love. I met him first in London and then in New York. He overdubbed percussion and CS-80 melodies on three of the cuts. He was larger than life and so amazingly musical. Oh my. And yes, I knew of Tangerine Dream and Kitaro and Tomita and Eno but did not know Popol Vul or Deuter. ANP: Have you caught wind of the renewed interest in this music over the past few years, with increasing numbers of young people making music with synths and sequencers? SC: Yes, I’m actually just becoming aware of this and I think it is because there is a new generation of kids that are just beginning to realize that there was an analog world prior to the digital world. Analog was very hands on
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and we learned to think of sound in all of its separate parameters, whereas younger musical technophiles have grown up in a “preset” world and perhaps alter the presets, but rarely, if ever, have the experience of building a sound from scratch. I do think Europe is leading the way in this revival. ANP: I think analog synthesizers appeal to players and listeners on many levels but what one can add to those now is a sense of cultural memory—one that draws on Classical Minimalism, Cosmic Synth Music, German Synth Pop, John Carpenter films, what have you. There is certainly a trend toward nostalgia— sometimes with an ironic glint, sometimes with an earnest fascination with the process and the sound. What do you think of contemporary producers pursuing the sound/approach to synthesis you were working with 30 years ago? SC: I think it’s wonderful and I hope that this time around the full promise of electronic music is not “short-circuited” again. I remember that once a black and white keyboard was made part of the instruments, in order to make the machines seem more familiar and “musical,” the future was lost. And we also suffered the demise of quadraphonic sound, which was perfect for electronic music, but otherwise made little sense. So hopefully this time around spatial control will come back and new interfaces will make “playing” the machines more organic. But we do need women in this endeavor. Really! Women can bypass the obvious and find the true sensuality of this medium.
Shakespeare and Company Jerry Seinfeld says, “A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.” The Kate Tempest poetry reading I recently attended at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris supports this position. The bookshop was jam-packed with people who seemed utterly consumed by thought. Outside, a speaker amplified the young British poet’s voice. It was full of resonance. A group of us stood silently still, listening carefully as Tempest declared: “Look, we’re not flesh, We’re all energy I care about genius I don’t care about celebrity We only build them up To burn their effigies And there’s more And I can feel it so raw And it’s calling me back to before.” In the ‘60s, at this very same location, Allen Ginsberg had recited his infamous poem Howl. I imagined the audience then, I wondered if they too had felt like privileged witnesses, as I did now? I noticed the blooming cherry blossom tree in front of the shop was already loosing its petals. “Wait,” I told the tree. Behind it, just across the river, the Notre Dame Cathedral towered as Tempest’s voice continued to provoke: “…I don’t care about the surface I care about the infinite I carve a niche And I hide within it I lay down in the garden of your spirit Asking pardon from the elders They tell me, Kate, Every minute is the minute to begin it…” Shakespeare and Company was opened in 1951 by an American, George Whitman, but originally under a different name: Le Mistral. Le mistral is a French regional wind but the bookstore was in fact named after Whitman’s first French love. A conversation with Lawrence Ferlinghetti about the importance of free-thinking bookshops and a 500 dollar inheritance prompted Whitman, who was studying in Paris thanks to the GI Bill, to buy a bankrupt grocery on the Left Bank at 37 rue de la Bucherie, meters away from kilometer zero, the official center of Paris. As Whitman explained: “Like many of my compatriots I am something of a tumbleweed drifting in the wind. I drifted into bookselling for no better reason than a passion for books except for the classical reason of all booksellers who are self employed because they doubt if anyone else would employ them.” Very quickly, the English language bookstore became the nucleus for Anglophone literary culture in bohemian Paris, attracting many expat writers from Henry Miller to James Baldwin to the Beat Generation writers, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and William S. Burroughs. As Anaïs Nin recorded in her Paris diaries of the 1950s: “And there by the Seine was the bookshop... an Utrillo house, not too steady on its foundations, small windows, wrinkled shutters. And there was George Whitman, undernourished, bearded,
Lisa Rovner images COURTESY SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY
a saint among his books, lending them, housing penniless friends upstairs, not eager to sell, in the back of the store, in a small overcrowded room, with a desk, a small stove. All those who come for books remain to talk, while George tries to write letters, to open his mail, order books. A tiny, unbelievable staircase, circular, leads to his bedroom, or the communal bedroom, where he expected Henry Miller and other visitors to stay.” Readings and meetings would take place regularly in the back room of the store. Legend has it that it was at Le Mistral that William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch was “written,” sourcing material from Whitman’s personal library. It was also where the book was first read in public. From its inception and still to this day, the bookshop has hosted countless readings, courses and debates. Back in the day, these were often followed by a communal meal prepared by Whitman himself. In 1964, Whitman renamed the bookshop Shakespeare and Company, in celebration of Sylvia Beach’s legendary bookstore and lending library with the same name. Beach, an expatriate from New Jersey, had befriended, guided, supported, and lent books to the first generation of expat writers, among them Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce. She famously published Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922, when no one else would. Her store became the home of literary culture and modernism in Paris. These writers, also known as the “Lost Generation,” had come to Paris in search of beauty, culture and permissive attitudes, and had found refuge at Beach’s Shakespeare and Company. When the Second World War hit Paris, Beach was forced to close down, and despite the rumor that Hemingway had “liberated” the bookstore at the end of the war, she never reopened. Beach’s literary oasis was the inspiration and model to Whitman’s “rag and bone shop of the heart” as he called it, and so when she died, he renamed the bookstore after hers. Whitman would later describe the bookstore›s name as “a novel in three words.” I always liked the sound of that.
The bookstore is of course many novels in 3 words. The shop’s walls are entirely covered from floor to ceiling in books. Downstairs, on the main floor, you have all the new and used books that are for sale. Science, French history, philosophy, fiction, non fiction, art, cooking, science fiction, mysteries, world history, biography and all the way in the back, next to the music and cinema section, in it’s very own room, lies the poetry section. A wooden staircase leads up to the children’s section and 2 more rooms, filled with books that are not for sale, but for reading. The library is a collection of Whitman’s books. Many are them are first editions, many of them are signed, and all of them are interesting. A typewriter hidden in a small alcove invites visitors to write, and leave a poem. A piano in the other room wishes for nothing more than to be played by all, regardless of talent, but most of all, upstairs in the library rooms, you find readers browsing, reading and writing. Beyond just selling books, the bookstore’s history is punctuated with publications. The first was an avant-garde literary magazine called Merlin that published 7 issues, between 1952 and 1954. Merlin was the first to bring light to Samuel Beckett’s writing. The second, the Paris Magazine, which Whitman dubbed “The Poor Man’s Paris Review”, was first published in 1967 when the bookshop was closed down by the French authorities because the store’s papers were not in order. The first issue included works by Laurence Durrell, Allen Ginsberg, Jean Paul Sartre, an interview with Marguerite Duras and pictures of Vietnam at war. Only 3 issues were to see the light under his direction. As Whitman remarked ”I am ready to admit I may have no more vocation as an editor than as a bookseller and will gracefully resign if someone like Mary McCarty would like to be it’s editor and financier.” In June 2010, more than 40 years after the first issue was published, Sylvia Beach Whitman, George Whitman’s daughter, and Fatema Ahmed, the former editor of Granta magazine, published the 4th edition. The new issue’s theme is storytelling and politics, and includes works from Luc Sante, Michel Houellebecq, Rivka Galchen and many others, and is illustrated with memorabilia from the bookshop as well as drawings from Daniel Arsham, Nigel Peake and Gregory Blackstock. Over the decades, thousands of writers have lived in the shop. As Sylvia recounts “George always welcomed traveling writers or tumbleweeds as he affectionately called them to bunk up between the rows of books.” The bookstore website boasts that more than 40,000 writers have lived in the shop, some staying for just one night, others for as long 6 years, evidence gathered by the one page biographies each visitor is asked to write. On the 2d floor, if you look carefully, you’ll see the writers’ makeshift “beds” that double as benches during business hours. As one journalist put it, “The deal then is the deal now: sleep in the shop, on tiny beds hidden among the book stacks; work for two hours a day helping out with the running of the place; and, crucially, read a book a day, whatever you like, but all the way through, unless maybe it’s War and Peace, in which case you can take two days.” To this day, the Tumbleweed Hotel’s creed remains: “Give what you can, take what you need.” And as the writing on the bookshop wall proclaims: “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.” Whitman described his bookshop as “a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore”. On one of the walls in the bookshop, a drawing insists: “My country is the world, my religion is humanity.” While Whitman often said he was a communist, in reality he was a humanist, in other words, an optimist who believed in people. On December 14th, 2011, two days after his 98th birthday, Whitman passed away at home in the
apartment above the bookshop. He had suffered a stroke two months earlier. According to the bookstore’s website, he “showed incredible strength and determination up to the end, continuing to read every day in the company of his daughter, Sylvia, his friends and his cat and dog.” While he is no longer seen, his spirit remains, thanks to Sylvia, who has been presiding over the bookshop since 2004. While she has brought the place some modernity, repair and polish, she has managed to do so without altering any of its charm or character. Sylvia was born in 1981 and spent her early years in the bookshop with her father. She remembers the bookstore being theatrical and the beautiful pictures of her as a child, dispersed throughout the shop, capture a time full of laughter, light and books. After university, where she studied drama, in an attempt to reconnect with her estranged father, she returned to Paris and started working beside him in the bookshop. While she had no intention to stay longer than a summer, sure enough, she fell in love with the bookstore and is now gracefully running the show. George Whitman is quoted on the outside of the shop: ”In the year 1600 our whole building was a monastery called la Maison du Mustier. In medieval times each monastery had a frère lumpier whose duty was to light the lamps at nightfall. I have been doing this for fifty years now it’s my daughter’s turn.” She is dedicated to keeping the bookshop’s philosophy intact and also importantly, to making it relevant again. Since she’s taken hold of the torch, she has created a literary festival, a literary prize, all the while continuing to host Monday night readings, Wednesday night performances, Saturday workshops for writers and Sunday tea with the Mad Hatter, Pam. It’s bustling more than ever and with the right kind of electricity. Shakespeare and Company is a place that reminds you of the power of dreams and generosity. People now come from around the world to bath in the Whitman family magic, leaving their mark with love notes and poems that completely cover the wall in the children’s section, also known as “the mirror of love”. In 1997, the French Ministry of culture declared Shakespeare and Company as one of the historic monuments of Paris. It’s not only a monument but also “a monastery of the word,” as one tumbleweed poet put it. It has become, as George Whitman had always wanted, an institution. And thanks to Sylvia, the sanctuary is here to stay. George, bless your soul. And Sylvia, thank you for hiring me when I needed work and most importantly, thank you for keeping the dream alive for all of us to experience. Shakespeare and Company is open every day of the year, even on Christmas, from 10am to 11pm on weekdays and 11am to11pm on weekends.
“The bookstore in which dreams come true.”
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MARK COHEN by AARON ROSE IMAGES COURTESY THE ARTIST AND ROSE GALLERY, SANTA MONICA RVCA /A NP QUA RT E RLY / 36
Blonde Woman with Red Lips, Scranton, PA, 1987 (opposite) Mark Cohen in Flash Tee Shirt, Photograph by Harold Jones, Tucson, Arizona,1977
The world of contemporary photography can be so predictable at times that it is always an honor to be able to explore the work of a legend. That excitement is exaggerated when it is the work of someone whose oeuvre is not as widely known as others in their field. You can imagine my elation then, when Mark Cohen agreed to participate in this feature. It’s not that Cohen hasn’t has his fair share of acclaim in photography circles, it’s just that due to his unique approach to image-making and his refusal to live in a large cosmopolitan city, he has somehow managed to maintain certain a purity in his image-making that others from his generation have not. Mark Cohen was born in 1943 in WilkesBarre, Pennsylvania and with the exception of a small stint in Europe, he has continued to live there his whole life. The majority of the work for which Cohen is known has been shot in the neighborhoods of this and surrounding towns, bringing a highly unique backdrop to the works of a photographer who spares no intimacy in order to capture his pictures. Like other photographers from his generation, Cohen worked for many years as a portrait photographer. His days were spent shooting catalogues, portraits and children at his studio in Wilkes-Barre. However, his approach to his personal work could not be more different from the slick commercialism of the studio. Out in the streets, Cohen becomes a one-man documentary machine. He can be seen out walking for hours in search of the truth of the human story. His technique is also completely original in street photography. Part thief, part dancer, characteristically Cohen shoots in close up. He approaches his subjects quickly, racing forward, coming in very tight and then in the blink of an eye, snaps his picture and exits the scene. His shooting method is more akin to a
purse-snatcher than that of a contemporary photographer and his style is immediately evident in the final images. In the photographs, his subjects often turn their heads, run away or throw their hands up in self-defense. The end result is a completely unique take on the human condition. The reluctance, shyness, and sometimes fear in the faces of those he shoots give us a glimpse into their inner lives. It is interesting to note, however, that even though the means to the end may be obtrusive to personal space, there is a subtle poetry in his final images that rarely illustrate this violence. Cohen is simply catching people on the sly, at times slightly voyeuristic, but always extremely honest. In all of my years of following photography I have never seen a photographer who shoots like Cohen. Often using a wide-angle lens and flash, he frequently crops the subjects’ heads from the frame. He concentrates his lens instead on small details and moments. In the process he has created a signature look that is unmistakably his. Though quite beautiful, Cohen’s pictures are often unsettling. They show us a world filled with anxieties, fears, dreams and desires. There is a sense of humor in his work, but it is always subtle and though his shooting methods might be intrusive, it is obvious that he has enormous respect for his subjects. Yes, Cohen invades what would otherwise be considered people’s private worlds. However the results of this invasion act like secret glimpses into moments that are not unlike those of our own. They are archetypical images of the human condition as seen through the eyes of the most common man. Like a mirror they reflect back at us the things we may all be seeing anyway, but with a sense of style, grace and downright chutzpah that we could only dream to possess.
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Aaron Rose: When did you first pick up a camera? Mark Cohen: When I was about twelve, my cousin Sylvia gave me a black plastic camera. It took 127 film. I had trouble, at first, loading the tank, so I got the film developed at the drug store. Then the enlarging was done in the cellar. My father helped me make a darkroom there and my uncle showed me how to use the enlarger. AR: What was it about photography that initially hooked you? MC: I was hooked on it right away. Everyday. When I was young I jumped off my grandmother’s back porch and took pictures as I went down, just to see what those looked like. Maybe it was the darkroom? The sense of magic in the dark or in the orange light. The pictures emerging from the blank paper must have had an effect on me too and then there was the feeling of positioning myself in the world. I made the picture, I was the actual focal point. By the time I could drive I was taking pictures for the local newspaper and under each one was a credit line. Then, while I was still in high school, I saw The Decisive Moment (Henri Cartier-Bresson’s highly influential 1952 book of photographs) and understood it. It was very important to have that book as a model. I got a Leica M-3 and then had some of the pictures published in a local magazine. Then I went to Penn State and was the yearbook photographer and exhibited there and then I went to Spain. Just like Henri Cartier-Bresson. AR: You’re self-taught...did you ever consider school? MC: Yes. As a high school senior I took
a portfolio to IIT in Chicago and was accepted but it was very expensive so instead I studied engineering at Penn State. There I took some great art history classes, which were important because they made art a more visible thing. That combined with the little I knew about Cartier-Bresson resulted in a mix that set photography high in my mind. Street photography and symbolism working together to trip the unconscious. AR: What are the pros and cons of teaching yourself? MC: The main con was that there was no supporting cast of professors to establish a credential. An Ivy-league MFA is still taken pretty seriously in Chelsea. The main “pro” was that I could go very fast alone. There was no politic to endure. I taught some grad level courses for a while and the critique time, the discussions, the builtin audience, formed the basis of a whole tricked out aesthetic for each student and teacher. Photos are put up and an amazing defensiveness sets in. All kinds of theories are then attached to each student’s pictures. It’s color-roll film one semester and black and white 35mm the next. So a distinct personality gets lost in format and media changes. AR: Why have you stayed in WilkesBarre? Do you think you would be a different photographer if you lived somewhere like New York or Paris? MC: I like New York City but never could see how to live there. So I started a photo studio in Wilkes-Barre. I mostly took portraits of children. Black and white 16X20’s were my main item and I did that for forty years. I was not able to keep
going to Spain and so I stayed in WilkesBarre and in that way I made, almost unconsciously, a very unusual body of work. I went out to take pictures almost everyday. I went into the “projects” part of this little city and made an original kind of picture there. I kept getting closer and closer to the subjects. Then I was in my first museum show called, “Vision and Expression” in Rochester in 1968. That led to my being in the first group of photographers to exhibit in the LIGHT gallery. This was in the early days of “Photography in New York.” There were only three galleries showing photography at the time. If I had figured out a way to live there I think I would have been in some state of hyper-distractedness! There is so much going on. Out here there is nothing. I work in an isolated situation but see a lot of the work. If I lived in Paris or New York I can’t imagine that I would have made these same pictures. It is as if I am working in a studio the size of Luzerne County and Lackawanna County (Scranton, PA) and I can stop the car in alignment with my mood. The pictures can only take on a certain psychological depth if they are made at hand; it is not travel photography. In New York and Paris every sight is so fresh. Here I know where each dog is barking. AR: Who are your biggest photographic influences? MC: Cartier-Bresson, William Klein, Robert Frank, Kodulka and Winogrand. AR: How much is proximity important to you in photography? MC: The proximity is very important. I can just go out the door and start to work.
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Three Boys Posing,1975 (opposite & clockwise from top left) Girl with Bat and Ball,1977 Boy in Yellow Shirt Smoking, 1977 People on Porch: 65, 63, 1977 Legs and Boy in Pool, 1977 Shirtless Boy with Chain, 1975
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(clockwise from top left) Family Station Wagon, Hazleton, PA,1976. Family Walking, 1977. Playing in Courtyard, 1987. Woman in Scarf, 1975.
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The territory is always familiar but there is an infinite set of possibilities and variations each time. My mindset, the lens, the scene. I went to Mexico City about ten times and was shocked with the extreme visual stimulation. I was there about ten days each time. It is a wonderful place. But after a while I started to feel like I needed to see what was going on on a certain street near Scranton. So I need to be near the scene and then near, close, with a 28mm lens, one foot away. Really close to the subject. There I create a certain thrill by interjecting myself into the action that is right next-door. All with the strangers in the street. AR: Your shooting style is sometimes very invasive. Have you ever been in a verbal or physical altercation as the result of this? MC: Many times. I have no press pass from a newspaper so I am out as an artist and that is hard to explain. Especially now after 9/11 and this whole new “See Something/Say Something” advice. There is more suspicion about photography. I was very close to people and no matter that the time I spent with a subject was only a few seconds as I walked by, the typical case, there was often an angry reaction and in the poorer neighborhoods this could lead to a chase, or a push, or they wanted the film. It is not this way on Fifth Avenue, where there are hundreds of people and you are really pretty safe taking any kind of picture
you want. It is the same in Paris. I was taking pictures there once and the people, the French, who suppose they invented photography, would pose for me! They were so used to “street photography.” But in these little towns, in the alleyways that I am in—there is often a distinct danger in this seemingly inappropriate activity. But of course, the ‘danger’ transfers to the picture. AR: You consider yourself a primarily black and white photographer, but many of your color images are quite well known. What is the difference between shooting black and white vs. color for you? MC: There is not much difference. Some of my color pictures need the color film. Many do not. I made a color picture that I call “the improvised beach.” It is an image of two kids lying on some newspaper pages and they are laughing and pretending to be at the beach. It is a very strong picture of these kids. The type of film in the camera was not important for this picture. But formally, there is a key patch of green that I really like and did not see at the time. The two kids overwhelmed the scene; the color was added by chance. The kind of film in the camera is not the issue for me. It is the idea about taking pictures that are the strongest and then the possible interaction and change in the scene that my interjection causes and then records. This is a bigger event than the
Man in Dark Raincoat,1987 (opposite, clockwise from top left) Karate Stance, 1977 Young Limbs, 1981 Girl Holding Blackberries, 1975 Improvised Beach, 1975 Two Boys and Open Car, 1977
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emulsion detail. But there is no question that if there is color film inside then I am much more aware of the color in the scene. In my photo studio I used color film all the time and it was processed in a lab and it was basically about portraits and annual reports. Then at some point there was a 35mm film that was the same speed as Tri-X and then it was possible to use the camera in the street the same way for both films. So in 1977 I first experimented with Kodak Vericolor II film. AR: How has the digital revolution changed the way you look at photography? MC: I think more and more pictures get their start on laptops. Not long ago I looked at some student work and it was all on the computer. The was no interest in actually printing out the pictures. There was no object. The image went from the three-inch screen on the camera to the eleven-inch screen on the laptop and then I guess if it created enough peer excitement, some digital prints might be made. Facebook and Google carry billions of pictures in clouds and the idea of putting twenty together in a gallery might be obsolete. Plus, you need mattes, frames, and glass. Tyler Hicks is very modern. His terrific pictures go from Syria to page one of the New York Times in minutes I bet and that is the key point of digital capture. AR: Do you still shoot primarily film? MC: Yes. Only Tri-X now.
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Red Fence,1987 (opposite & clockwise from top left) Shoe and Ankle, Mexico City,1981 Ring, 1974 Woman Wipes Porch, 1974 Young Girl at Beach, 1977 Teens with Car, 1973
AR: Though you have a very original and signature style, your work is easily grouped with the images of William Eggleston and Steven Shore. Do you consider them your contemporaries? MC: We are in the same time and I am grouped with them because of the color film. My color work has become a lot better known because of the dye transfer portfolio and its exhibition in LA. at the Rose Gallery and from the website of the George Eastman House. I just don’t think we make the same pictures. We are all driven different ways. Different levels of psychological heat. AR: There’s a photograph of yours titled “Young Girl at the Beach.” There is something so beautiful yet sad about her face in that photo. Can you tell me a bit about that image? MC: That picture was taken in Mantoloking, New Jersey. The girl is walking by and sees the camera and is naturally shy and maybe frightened, too, and as she goes by I take the picture. She keeps her head and eyes down and this is a very natural reaction. The steps on the right leading to the dark porch balance this out as if it is all about a trap of some kind. Punishment and guilt are in the air. AR: In addition to images of people, you also focus quite often on architectural details or small glimpses of the smaller worlds around us. For instance your wonderful photo of broken glass.
Is there a distinction between the ways you shoot people vs. inanimate objects? MC: It is much, much safer to photograph an object. There is no harmful personal trespass. Still if you make an object’s picture in the rain or at night or on the run then those elements of atmosphere or disturbance are encountered in some unexplained way. It is hard to imagine sneaking up on a piece of broken glass, but if it is in an abandoned building it is a little like theft and this can give the picture a visible lift. AR: You mentioned that you are a fan of William Klein. Have you ever considered fashion photography? MC: I always thought I could do fashion photography and looked at Vogue for years but it is a thing that is only possible in a city. Plus it is a thing that requires lots of people cooperating and that is just not what I am able to understand. AR: You spoke about how the web contains billions of photographic images. It is almost as though photography is slowly becoming simply a way of exchanging information...somehow devoid of artistic expression. This landscape is so different from when you started taking pictures. In your opinion, how does this affect the way our culture views the art form. Has it influenced the way you approach your recent photography at all?
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MC: I think art in a room with one door is the best way to ‘get it.’ Something like an aesthetic pressure chamber. A white room, with white mattes and white frames, and then in this setting there are a series of pictures that have been made from a selected group of negatives and this is the way to see the point of the photographer’s work. A simple book of the same pictures works in the same way. There is the intimacy of the undistracted first sight. It has the same excitement of the frame in the dark movie theater. The screen is the fixed part of the experience in the same way that the pictures are lined up on the walls or sequenced in the pages. An iPhone photo moving from phone to phone or screen to screen makes a silver print look like a Vermeer. I live in a house with a darkroom and can still get all the materials overnight from New York so the whole digital revolution is only alongside me. I work in exactly the same way but keep a little more distant from the subject. Now I use mostly a 50mm lens. AR: Have you ever shot a photo you regretted? MC: Yes. Once about ten years ago I took a picture of a kid playing with a truck in the dirt in his front yard. I was just walking along the sidewalk. His mother was on the porch, watching at the time, and she called the police. It was Kafka for a year.
CLARE ROJAS by Chris Lux / Portraits by damon way
Clare Rojas is painter, musician, and writer, living in San Francisco. She records and performs music under the name Peggy Honeywell. Rojas has exhibited internationally, showing paintings, installations, and performances. She is, needless to say, a very busy woman. She also has an amazing family to top it off. Clareâ€™s work has recently shifted from being very figurative and narrative based, to becoming more open, more abstracted. After recently visiting Clareâ€™s studio, I was struck by how her new collection of work forms an expression for a thing difficult to articulate, navigate, or portray: the vibrancy of human feelings and interactivity in a vast, engulfing world. RVCA .COM / 47
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(prior page) Untitled, 2012 Oil on linen, 60x48 in. Courtesy the artist Untitled, 2012 Oil on linen, 60x48 in. Courtesy the artist Untitled, 2012 Oil on linen, 60x48 in. Courtesy the artist (prior page) Untitled, 2012 Oil on linen, 60x48 in. Courtesy the artist
Chris Lux: Your new abstract works and new portraiture works I saw in your studio the other day seem like big departures. That said, they still use a language that is present in your older paintings. Almost like the figurative elements and the abstract elements of your past work have separated and demanded your full attention. How did you get to these paintings? Clare Rojas: Here is an appropriate narrative from, ‘The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chodron’ that seems to sum it up for me. There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs, and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. CL: How important do you feel it is for artists at every stage in their career to be able to follow new paths and reinvent themselves? Phillip Guston’s infamous 1970 show at the Marlborough Gallery has always served as big inspiration for me. He was shunned after that show because it marked a change in his work, from abstract expressionism into more figurative approach. Your new work seems much less of a departure, but still a change. Do you ever feel like change in artist’s practice can be extremely difficult? CR: How could someone’s lifetime not change their work or their practice? How could the arch of time not change your perspective, your influence, your growth and personal truth? I don’t know that it’s possible for change to NOT be reflected in your work. Change is the only thing one can do. I also think most respectable galleries, support the artist no matter what manifests in their work, and if they don’t support the artists then they usually they part ways. I think that is true for any relationship. I also think that people just miss what they don’t have anymore...and if someone stops making something you like, one feels loss. CL: From the sheer size of your work, to performing music on stage, not to mention the “controversial” naked men paintings, I must say you don’t seem to be afraid of much in your practice. You seem so comfortable following your way. Have you always been able to feel so comfortable? Was there anyone or work that you remember really strengthening your drive? CR: I think at a very early age I had a sense that what my friends were feeling, a carefree, experimental, innocence, I was not feeling. I had more feelings of protection, anger and frustration, and knowledge of a darker harsher reality. As I grew up into my late 20s, I watched people a lot. I was very quiet. My personal library expanded and I read a lot of feminist literature. I had a motivation that was about survival, and trying my best to protect myself from being shut up, let down, and objectified. Being angry is very powerful, fear, also, to say the least, can be powerful. I feel like for a brief moment in my career I was able to harness those emotions and use them for good. But for now, I feel like the woman about to be eaten by the tigers, I fought a good fight, the outcome, meaning death, is inevitable. I might as well enjoy the strawberries. The body of work that you refer to as “naked men” was a very
interesting experiment for me and I learned a lot. This idea manifested out of the animation called “the manipulators” where I collaborated with Andrew Jeffery Wright while living in Philly. We animated fashion magazines, in a very juvenile funny way, and this satirical laughter was one remedy to breaking the spell these images had on women and men. It was fun to take their power away by just simply making someone fart. All of a sudden you were not looking at a complex advertisement that embodied manipulation and consumption or a model selling perfume half naked and starving. You were laughing at a massive animated fart explosion coming from her bum. My politics were in place, and I took it further in these paintings of just naked men. I basically wanted to see what it felt like to see all the ads of women in submissive stupid degrading positions plastered on buses, billboards, TV ads, magazines, all men, naked in those positions. Would it be socially acceptable then? Would I think less of men? The problem was, the majority of men’s vulnerability did not lie in their bodies, like it does for women. A silly drawing of them naked, is not going to take away the fact that men run our country, are the majority on the supreme court, get paid 30% more than women. It was like fighting fire with a flower. I found most women didn’t really want to wear the t-shirts I made out of these drawings, they didn’t find my humor that funny, and if they did, it was a select few, maybe women felt empathy, maybe the pain goes so deep that it doesn’t matter who is in the image, what is reflected is the same. I was even told to try drawing from porn by a professor in graduate school. But this is the entire point - this wasn’t derived from porn, from an extreme, this wasn’t about sex. This was about sexuality, what it means to be a female human, or male human, a pornified mainstream, every-minute-of-everyday bombardment, brainwashing, social conditioning. It was a trivial response. But at least it was a response. The conversation CAN NOT BE ONE-SIDED and it felt that way to me. Men got a kick out of it. Not one man I knew was offended by these images. Yet when I saw a man wearing some stupid t-shirt of some topless woman peeing, wasted, or something, and yes I have seen this, I am traumatized. I feel physical pain, and hurt and sadness. I can’t understand why they would want to engage in that violent display of objectification, even if she is doing it to her self. Did they feel this was a great way to define masculinity? I made myself laugh, that was it, and at the time, I needed to laugh or I was constantly crying. Performance, Peggy (Honeywell - Rojas’ stage name), a stage, it was a challenge for me, still is. But the idea, the visual, of a woman in a world she created on her terms, full of women who fight, are warriors, support each other and have the entire wisdom of the women who came before them, standing alone, singing narratives about pain, loss, love, resilience. That was power. I wanted to own my world. I was going to stand and sing because I was fortunate enough to have a voice for us all, and I wasn’t going to take any of that for granted. CL: Narrative has been a big a part of your work for a long time. From the narrative paintings, to your music career, writing and story telling seem to be a driving force in all your work. It feels like with this new work maybe you have become the protagonist now? Can you talk about how narrative has and continues to influence you and how that factors into your abstract works? CR: I have always been attracted to narrative. I love all forms. Everything is a story. Somewhere along the way, I developed a coping mechanism that helped
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Untitled, 2012 Oil on linen, 96x120 in. Courtesy the artist (opposite) Untitled, 2012 Oil on linen, 96x120 in. Courtesy the artist Untitled, 2012 Oil on linen, 96x120 in. Courtesy the artist
me navigate hard situations. When found in one, usually any social situation for me, I pretend I am watching a T.V. show. Real people become character actors and the script is already written. The shift in my painting practice came after a two-year period where I just stopped painting. I couldn’t paint anymore. I was burned out and my story, my personal narrative was destroying me, and everything around me, my marriage, my home, my friendships. I rejected hair, cut mine very short, no make up, nothing that made me feel like I gave in to what “they wanted me to be”. My story was, the world is a dark dangerous place for women, everywhere you go, someone wants to destroy you and de-humanize you, take away your rights. My story was that I had to fight for everything. I decided to write. It started out as me writing a T.V. show. I got so many books on how to do this, and became frustrated. I took a class on line from Stanford continuing studies. This was the ah-ha moment for me. A turning point. I was in control of my story in a different more profound way. And if I wanted to change my perspective, I could. If I wanted to have memories I could, or re-write history. It was all up to me. I know this may sound simple, and lame, especially since I thought I was in control in the past, but this was finally something I understood in my bones. I would sit for hours in my house, which is where I worked, alone and shut out. I became a bit of a recluse, sorting this shit out. I stopped surfing, and ran instead because I could be alone. I wrote, I wrote my life out. One of the exercises the teacher had us do was to take out all the nouns. He was illustrating how important the person place or thing was, and how boring a story was if you did not give this enough description. But I found that what I had left was this amazing backdrop, this abstract place. The spaces in between the story we tell our selves and what is left? I wanted to explore this space. I explored it domestically first, politics always start in the home, and I wasn’t comfortable giving up that yet. The domestic space. It begins to fold in on you, the space becomes a character, sometimes harmonious, sometimes betraying, or oppressive. I had to keep pushing further until I didn’t tell myself a story anymore, and I could only see shape and color. It was like a narrative cleanse. CL: Looking at the piece, Red Black Yellow I see it as autobiographical, yet autonomous as a formal painting. The colors are primary and the shapes reference folk art, are quilt-like in their placement. Upon further noticing, it moves away from historical, folk references and fold in on itself. There is motion in the blocks and they seem to shake, the white sliver cutting into the center red square gives it an uneasy tilt. The dark red “L” shape in the foreground attempts to ground the painting, yet the white and grey in the center make all the other shapes hover above it. It flattens space while using shapes that slowly give off an unsettling depth. The tunnel effect created doesn’t stop at any location, your eyes move all over its surface. Was your construction of the shapes quickly laid out or did you come back in and make changes to them in order to add a vibration to the whole painting? Can you talk about your choice of colors for this piece? CR: Red Black Yellow is actually a simmered down version of the pastel piece. It’s a reduction of the pastel piece, which is derived from a domestic space. I like to stare at space, until everything becomes one surface, and there is always a moment out of the corner of my eye when I see a shift, or shake, something moving. I want to capture that life. The yellow is the light, the core and fire. There is always a source of light that is like a magnet for more light. I love red, black, yellow and various grays. These are the perfect colors to me. When I want to reduce a piece to its essence I rely heavily on this palette. But I love all colors. Squeezing a tube of paint, any color and mixing it to perfection is the same feeling I get when I am eating chocolate. CL: Do you feel like these pieces are still informed by representation? Do you approach them as familiar forms
that then become abstracted or do you feel like they start off abstracted and then find semi-familiar forms? Can you talk about your process of working abstractly and how you come up with these compositions? CR: My approach to every piece depends on my intention. With Red Black Yellow for example, my intention was to express a balance, a harmony with push and pull in one composition in its simplest form. Sometimes I think it’s like writing songs, sometimes the lyrics come first and the music follows, or sometimes the music forms the feeling I write words to. Sometimes it happens all at once. CL: In your painting, Blue Light C. Crop, I can’t help but be reminded of Nighthawks, by Edward Hopper. The composition is so reminiscent of that painting, however the void is even more pronounced. Had you thought of that painting at all? Do you ever use other paintings a reference points or do your compositions come about more naturally? I find this painting to hint at absence, the way the light blue, yellow and orange bars are so boxed in. However you can look at the composition in another way as well, almost like a flag, the grey bar as the pole and the stripes of color as a flag. Is it important for people to be able to see these works in multiple ways? CR: I don’t like to reference other paintings. The only time I do this is for portraiture to study the way the old masters handle that little puddle of light in the corner of someone’s mouth, or in their tear duct. I can’t help but reference architecture though, and literature and the way space is described. This piece was all about the source of light. The way your eye followed layered color and space to get there. I don’t even think about people seeing these works, not when I’m painting them. CL: Many of your old works were created with house paint, acrylic and gouache. These new paintings are solely oil, can you tell us about what its like for using oil paints and how you think has influenced these pieces? CR: I wanted to capture light and shadow, and get the most saturated hues. Nothing compares to oil. I used to paint in oils a long time ago...I am coming back to something I used to know. The other thing about oil is the time you have to spend with a piece. It’s a different kind of time. With oils there is less control and you can set out with a plan and the oils are more alive and have a different temperament. You have to coddle the process. With acrylic and gouache, I had a formula that worked and worked fast. Fast isn’t as important to me right now. CL: Geometric patterns and shapes have always featured pretty heavily in your work along side powerful figurative images. With the figures removed and geometry taken center stage it becomes more playful and more open. Less like you have some message to convey to people and more like you are exploring your world. With the large size of these paintings its almost as if you and the viewers are the figurative elements that featured so prominently in your works from a few years ago. Do you ever feel like you are creating an actual space for yourself within these works at all or is it all more removed than that? CR: These are all about space. I remember once cleaning out our very cluttered kind of hoardy living room. I made a space that was just for space sake. I told my husband and daughter it was a sacred space and NOTHING WAS TO GO THERE. That space was held, and commanded respect as if it was an armoire or table. I since have put some chairs there, because the space was being exploited, but it’s clear of anything. It’s my space. I am exploring my space, my world, without the story I had in my past. And it’s wonderful. There is so much beauty I feel I have missed, just seeing things for what they are, out of my head. Changing my story, seeking out
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(below) The artist’s studio, 2012 Photograph by Laura Flippen (opposite) Untitled, 2012 Oil on linen, 48x60 in. Courtesy the artist Untitled, 2012 Oil on linen, 48x60 in. Courtesy the artist
the strawberries, enjoying what I can when I can, changing what I can and not taking it personal when I can’t change something or someone. It’s not my job. My job is to live my life in the best way I can. My mom said to me while making this work “Clare, an empowered woman, is a happy one—forgiving, empathetic, open, at peace.” CL: There is this painting of yours called Lightning, It’s one my favorites for sure. I don’t know why it feels really punk to me, in like a Belgian new wave kind of way. It’s so “Modernist.” It reminds me of some of the Les Disques du Crepuscule record covers designed by Benoit Hennebert in the 1980s. It’s some of my favorite art. The fluctuating green and white bars have such a great stance on the canvass and almost look they are standing pigeon toed. The painting seems tough. Like it just came out, done. The black line with grey stripe beside it gives it just the tiniest bit of depth. Can you talk about what you were thinking when you painted it? Do you ever find yourself coping an attitude at a painting you’re working on? I always know a painting is going well for me when I just start cracking up, like, “Whose is painting this? What is going on?” CR: This is one of my favorites too, and this painting took me the longest to sketch out. I was having physical anxiety painting this piece, like I was going to mess it up. The yellow is magnetizing the other yellow because there is space to do, to attract itself and become even more powerful. This one got a little “narrative-y”, as if the colors are like different characters. I sometimes feel ornery when I’m painting, and my instinct is to hide certain pieces where I feel rebellious from people because I think I did something wrong. I swear by the time I am 80, if I am around that long, I will be burying my paintings in my back yard. CL: You frequently talk about what it is like to be a woman in the art world, and in the world in general. It is a very important part of you work. How does that apply into this work? Is it still a part of it? I mean obviously you are a woman creating these works, but with a narrative structure in your work that story seemed to take center stage. Without the narrative now how has that changed? CR: Again, this work is a different perspective on what it means to me to be a woman, my sexuality, my feminine spirit. Being empowered by being happy. None of these pieces form a narrative,
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because they don’t have to. I am just free from my own selfimposed rules. I am trying hard to not be concerned with other people’s preferences or politics, I am trying to not live in the past, be present with every color, shape and composition. I am trying. These works are my practice. CL: You have worked a lot with large-scale installation. Your amazing show at the Craft and Folk museum in San Francisco in 2010 comes to mind as well as your show at Prism Gallery in Los Angeles in 2011. How does installation factor into your process? Do you come up with a total idea of what the space will look like and then create the paintings or is it more organic and use the installation to further the depth of the individual works? Where do the paintings end and installation begin? CR: These two spaces in particular were amazing to work with architecturally. The people there were amazing to work with also. These were at the beginnings of my transition so I still took into account the space I was transforming as whole. Every space is so different. But usually I feel a space has a beginning, middle and ends that taper off. At the MOCFA in San Francisco and Prism gallery in Los Angeles, the architectural spaces really allowed me to create connectedness through perspective if one stood at my height. The lines of the paintings would align and connect into one flat space. During my performance the lines on my dress connected to the lines I painted behind where I stood, everything connected if you could see from my point of view. From my height. CL: So what are your plans for the future with painting? In your studio it looks like you are having a lot of fun with these. Where do see your work headed and do you have any projects coming up that you are excited about? CR: I am just painting as much as possible and I am having so much fun. I am working on a body of work for another project with Prism in Los Angeles, a show at Kavi Gupta in Chicago in the Fall, and an exciting project with Incase, a bag collaboration, and some music videos!!! Thank you Chris for your thought provoking insightful questions.
LA PUNK GANGS OF THE 1980s
As a young, young punker from the San Fernando Valley, one thing you didn’t yet know was that being punched in the face by grown men was going to be common, and business as usual. Picture this, you’re 12 years old, and someone with a car is going to drive everyone to Fender’s Ballroom. Thrilled to leave your North Valley neighborhood, thrilled to be a part of this thing, you get to Long Beach (a world away) and all eight of you climb out of the 1964 Dodge Dart beater. It seems like you hadn’t walked twenty paces through the door before an adult man, a man with a mustache, who seems like he’s 40 but was probably in reality no older than 25, saunters up to you and head-butts you right in the soft center of your fat baby face. What the fuck?!! You retreat to the safety of a corner, checking your face for blood, really scared. You look around the room and take in your surroundings. The place is huge, low-ceilinged, fucked up and packed. There are clusters of skinheads, there are clusters of cholos. The vibe is menacing—much more so than you had imagined or are ready for at that age. Over the course of that night you see one fight after another. Sometimes there were four fights going on at one time, and they were brutal. Like kicked in the teeth, unconscious brutal. By the end of the night there were clearly a new book
of rules for you to learn. Suicidals, L.A.D.S., FFF, South Bay Skins. Apparently there were hundreds of people that you now needed to be able to identify and avoid. For the next few years, until the gang presence in the LA punk scene died down you always had butterflies in your stomach on the way to shows. (It would never occur to you not to go. Nothing could keep you away from this). Would you get jumped tonight? Would this Cro-Mags show end early for you? You never know. Now, 25 years later, you wonder what made it such a violent period. Why were Southern California’s (mostly) white young people so fucking stupid, hateful and ready to go to war with each other? And for every gang that had high numbers, there were three or four more in each neighborhood, smaller but ready to do as much damage as possible. You loved the chaos and possibly still do. You can relate to that part of it. You will always love the sound of breaking glass and the heat of the fire. To wake up one day and want to burn it all down is a grand tradition for young people everywhere. Hopefully everyone gets the privilege of waking up with that feeling some day, and that they get to hold on to that attitude. The trick is surviving those stupid, violent years, and the senselessness that comes with them. This was LA Punk in the 1980s.
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L. A. Death Squad (L.A.D.S.), Hollywood, Ca., 1981 Photograph by Ronna Pearl
Safety in numbers, an enemy to beat Let’s overturn cars and rip up the street I’m tired of being a peaceful citizen Noise and destruction are in my vision We’re just a wrecking crew bored boys with nothing to do... – Adolescents RVCA .COM / 57
By Cali-Thornhill Dewitt and Aaron Rose Southern California in the late 1970s was a suburban utopia filled with mellow vibes, short shorts, roller skates and feathered haircuts. The airwaves were ruled by the likes of Boz Scaggs and The Captain & Tennille and the suburbs were filled to the brim with nuclear families with 2.3 kids living the Sunshine State dream. But behind those well-manicured lawns and beautiful sunsets, there was trouble in paradise. The fantasy lifestyles portrayed by Hollywood were often a far cry from the realities on the streets of L.A.’s inner city. Suburban sprawl stretched in all directions, becoming home to ghetto-fearing families who would do anything to keep the California dream intact. It was against this backdrop that Los Angeles’ punk scene exploded. The LA punks were for the most part the product of failed hippy parents who had graduated to a vapid middle life of cocaine, Quaaludes, yoga and soft rock. They were latchkey kids who had too much time on their hands. By 1982, however, what had started out as a fairly innocent rebellion was taking a very distinct negative turn. Early Los Angeles punk was centered mostly around Hollywood, and included a diverse scene of men, women, homosexuals and basically any kind of freak that didn’t fit in with the rest of the world. However when it spread to the suburbs things changed dramatically. Suburban kids were not as sophisticated as the city punks, had little to no interest in art or politics, and their primary motivation for becoming involved in the scene was to go to shows and get in fights. Punk turned into Hardcore, punk’s faster and more aggressive cousin, and mosh pits at punk shows soon became a full on war. Reputed violence at punk concerts was featured in episodes of the popular television shows CHiPs and Quincy, in which Los Angeles hardcore punks were depicted as being involved in murder and mayhem. By 1980 the Los Angeles Times had begun to “expose” punk and the danger it posed to youths. In a representative article, Patrick Goldstein reports: “They don’t just dance anymore. They mug each other. It’s part of a new ‘dance’ craze called the Slam, whose popularity, especially with organized gangs of punk youths, has led to numerous incidents of violence at many area clubs. The accounts of senseless violence, vandalism and even mutilation at some area rock clubs read like reports from a war zone.” A little known fact about the scene in LA, and perhaps one that separates it from any other city was the development of Punk gangs. For those of us that grew up in Southern California at the time, these gangs posed a real threat. With names like L.A.D.S. (Los Angeles Death Squad), FFF (Fight For Freedom), Suicidals, BPO (Burbank Punk Organization) and Circle One, membership sometimes numbered in the hundreds. The real Punk gang presence materialized at shows, where warring factions actually fought for control of clubs such as Fender’s Ballroom in Long Beach or the Olympic Auditorium in L.A. Shows sometimes drew up
to 2,000 kids. Fenders Ballroom has been described as like a weekly UFC fight in the 1980s. The gangs would all gather there and beat the shit out of each other. Some Punk gangs formed as early as 1977, but they really reached their peak in the mid-1980s. The groups partied or squatted at communal punk houses with names such as Hotel Hell, Poontang Palace and Skinhead Manor. Some say the gangs were justified, as being a punk in suburban Los Angeles was a bit treacherous. Public high schools in Los Angeles sometimes numbered over 2,000 kids and there were maybe about ten of fifteen punks there at the most. Former members say the gangs were primarily a way of being anti-social but also provided safety in numbers. In the early to mid-1980s, anyone who was punk in Los Angeles was either affiliated with or knew someone with Punk Gang ties. Most groups were fairly un-organized and by regular gang standards and these groups functioned much more like social groups than any form of organized crime. Unlike traditional gangs, the Punk gangs did not seem to be defined by either neighborhood loyalty or criminal enterprise. In fact, with a few exceptions, other than fighting at shows, it seemed like the function of most groups was quite simply to intimidate other Punk gangs. But by 1985, the Los Angeles punk gang scene had began to deteriorate. Many of the original members had discovered drugs, and as their habits grew, so did a marked disinterest in all things unrelated to getting high. Additionally, punk had suddenly become “popular” with the jock crowd mostly because it was a place to get into fights. As a result of this, local law enforcement had taken notice of the growing “punk threat.” It got to the point where if you had a punk band name on your shirt, you were immediately identified by police as a member of the “Black Flag” or “Circle Jerks” street gang. Tales of punks getting detained by the police and threatened were common. Police even started “punk files” on mostly innocent kids. The Los Angeles punk scene (along with the gangs) really died out though when the girls left the scene because of the violence. Venues didn’t want to book shows anymore and what had been a massive youth revolution faded out as quickly as it arrived. That said, in the interest of keeping this lost moment of Los Angeles’ countercultural history alive, if only for the novelty, here lies a brief primer on L.A. Punk Gangs. Note to reader: While we have done our absolute best to best to confirm information in this article and identify sources as much as possible, please understand that the history of Los Angeles’ punk gangs from the 1980s is mostly an oral history. Beyond our personal words, we do not present any of our reporting as absolute fact. We prefer to paint this history with a light brush. We welcome all comments and/or ammendments to our texts, which we can perhaps publish in a future issue. Thanks.
Punks and Riot Police, L.A. Street Scene, 1985. Photographs by Jennifer Finch
Punk flyers, 1984. Art by Jaime Hernandez
Punk Gang Drawing, (Anonymous), from Teen Angels magazine, 1984 RVCA /A NP QUA RT E RLY / 58
The Suicidals (aka Suicidalx13 or STx13) were a Venice Beach, Santa Monica and Long Beach based group that grew out of the fan base of the local band Suicidal Tendencies. Mike Muir, the lead singer of the band was the younger brother of Jim Muir of the famed Dog Town skate crew, which also included Tony Alva and Jay Adams. Suicidals mostly came from working class backgrounds and at one time in the 1980’s their membership was rumored to be up to 500 kids. They were mixed racial which made them stand apart from other punk gangs in Southern California that were primarily white and suburban. They had ties to local Venice gang V13 (Amery Smith, original drummer for Suicidal Tendencies was a Venice 13 gang member, this is proven by looking at their original band lineup photo in which Smith is wearing a flipped up hat with the marking “V13” underneath), as well as the local Venice skateboarding scene.
“Their look was straight Cholo/Skate/Punk, with defining features including their trademark blue bandanas worn tight over the eyes, Dickies pants, Vans or Winos shoes, flipped up hats with the words “Suicidal” drawn under the bill and long tailed men’s button down shirts, buttoned tight at the top and covered in hand done logos and skulls drawn with Sharpie pens.”
Venice Suicidal, Venice, Ca., 1983 Photograph by Glen E. Friedman (following spread) Suicidal Shirts, Venice, Ca., 1983 Photographs by Glen E. Friedman
They used to hold haircut parties in Venice where kids would shave their heads and draw on shirts. Some L.A. Punks mark the beginnings of the Suicidals when Mike Muir (leader of the band) and Jay Adams (legendary pro-skater) started dressing in the cholo style. Some in the scene didn’t even consider Suicidals punk because they didn’t wear the typical “English” style of leather jackets and studs. Their look confused the police as well because they looked more like a classic gang than other punk groups. Some thought at first glance that they were Crips, but Suicidals had no association with the Crips. Suicidals rarely contended with typical gangs such as Bloods, Crips, Surenos, and Nortenos. Suicidals really only fought with other punk gangs. Mike Muir could be described as Suicdals unofficial leader, but unlike Ranger from the FFF, Muir really did care about their music. The success of Suicidal Tendencies as a band is testament to that. In their heyday, the Suicidal Tendencies were one of the most dangerous punk bands around. The band was blamed for many violent outbreaks at their shows and were actually banned from playing in Los Angeles for almost 10 years because of their presumed “Suicidal” following. Pro-skater Jay Adams, back then quite punk and drug addled and on his way back from a Suicidal Tendencies show reportedly stopped at Oki Dogs, a notorious punk hang out in Hollywood. Supposedly a gay couple walked by where they were met with typical catcalls from the drunken Punks. The couple decided to shout back which provoked Adams and a friend to supposedly beat the guys up before quickly exiting the scene. Unfortunately, the rest of the crowd moved in after them and didn’t stop until one of the guys was dead. Jay Adams was arrested on suspicion of murder, however only ended up serving a six-month sentence for felony assault as he had reportedly left before the actual murder took place.
Original FFF, North Hollywood, 1983. Photograph courtesy Can Control
FFF (Fight for Freedom, Tres Efes, 3fs, 666) started around 1981 and were probably the most notorious punk gang from the San Fernando Valley. With supposedly over 300 members at its peak, the group started as pure Punk gang but then by 1985, had quickly become infiltrated by jocks. The FFF guys went for the classic punk look with a Cholo twist. FFF’s leader, Richard Yapelli Jr. (otherwise known as Ranger) grew up in Sun Valley near the foothills of Northern Los Angeles County. Sun Valley was a mostly a Hispanic, blue collar area. Soon enough, Yapelli was running with the local Chicanos, and he was the first non-Hispanic initiated into Sol Trese, the area’s dominant gang. This legit street cred served him well once he gravitated towards the rich white kids of the Valley. Through natural progression, the group of young punks that surrounded Ranger grew and a band was started. The band, Fight for Freedom, was a hardcore band with Ranger as front man that made no bones about its Nazi beliefs. Ranger soon formed an inner circle of like-minded angry teenagers. In the beginning, members of FFF almost took on the persona of Ranger. They were basically young thugs, albeit with some street smarts and a funny go-for-broke intelligence. They preached a strange form of white supremacy, but ironically were loosely allied with the Chicano gangs that Ranger had grown up with. They were also the sworn enemies of other hardcore punk gangs, primarily the Suicidals, Burbank Punk Organization (BPO) and L.A.D.S. (Los Angeles Death Squad). In 1985 there was a notorious brawl between FFF and the LADS at the Olympic Auditorium. In an article from a 1985 issue of the Los Angeles Times, some L.A. punks were quoted as saying about FFF,
“What they like to do most is take drugs and get crazy. When they’re crazy, they beat up people on the streets, attack homosexuals in North Hollywood Park, rumble with other punk groups in Hollywood and Burbank and go to parties where they sometimes smash up the place. They call them ‘bring your own sledgehammer’ parties.”
Whatever their motivation, in the minds of FFF, hippies, jocks, metal heads, mods, surfers, and homosexuals (real or suspected) became fair game for a beat down. Ranger authored a four-part code that they adhered to: 1. Be yourself. 2. Live your own life. 3. Fuck social values. 4. Fight for freedom. They were said to reflect the philosophy “If it feels good, do it.” FFF also attacked property, including a series of break-ins at North Hollywood Presbyterian
Church. In one of them, at the Wachs Senior Citizen Center, the church building was defaced. They wrote graffiti on the wall. Dumped records out onto the floor, took the fire extinguishers and let them loose over the floor, then supposedly threw instant coffee over the water. North Hollywood High School was the FFF command center, with Ranger usually holding court at a donut shop across the street. There they would gather for marching orders and instructions. Other hardcore guys were recruited and FFF’s reputation grew. Many members came from tough, non-white areas, working class areas, and suburban neighborhoods. Even though they were mostly white, FFF had affected the posture and mannerisms of East L.A. Cholos and called one another by Chicano gang names. Apparently, Spanish slang and phrases were sprinkled into their conversations. This wasn’t done to mock or emulate Hispanics, but rather it was meant to confound authority figures like parents, teachers and police. FFF fought mostly against neighboring jocks and scrapes with the football teams from Notre Dame High School and Grant High School were common. Rumor has it that without even throwing a punch, they forced the North Hollywood High School football squad to back down. According to the Los Angeles Times, A Fight for Freedom member’s sketch that was confiscated by police showed a swastika, a pistol shooting a bullet through a detached head and a punk rocker choking someone so hard the skull pops out of its skin. By 1983, FFF had become even more notorious for violence and the band was banned from every venue in Los Angeles County. Police gang units had begun to hear complaints and the “gang” was under investigation. In order to throw the police off the scent, the gang stopped dressing in the punk/cholo look. They replaced this by donning by military-style flat tops, flannel shirts, khakis, and tennis shoes or heavy black brogues. It was a deceptively clean-cut look. In August 1985, the story of FFF took a very distinct turn. 15 year-old Mark Miller, a high school jock who had recently been running with the gang was fatally shot after an argument outside of Hot Trax disco in Van Nuys. The murder apparently took place after 16 year-old Tony Nguyen admired and touched the purple, punkstyle hair of Miller’s girlfriend. Miller didn’t like this and a fight ensued with Miller ending up dead in the parking lot. Another youth on the scene wrote the letters FFF in blood next to Miller’s body. The murder at Hot Tracks drew much media attention and with that increased heat from the LAPD. The police finally sprung into action to eradicate FFF once and for all. They started to methodically identify all members, the group was designated as a gang and every associate was now a known gang member. Ranger was arrested after he brandished a gun and punched a woman in the face when he was refused admission to a private party. He was promptly brought up on weapons charges. After this, the core members of the gang drifted away, and by 1986 FFF was a memory.
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L.A.D.S. The L.A.D.S (or Los Angeles Death Squad) were a Hollywood-based gang active from approximately 1981 to 1986. Many of the L.A.D.S. were students at both Fairfax and Hollywood high schools. Their ground-zero hangout was Oki-Dog, a run down late-night hot dog stand on Fairfax that hosted groups of runaways and punk youths almost every night. Shaggy (aka Punk Rod Todd) writes from his punk gang history essay,
“I can remember seeing ‘punk death squad’ painted in the alleys in the neighborhood between the Starwood and Oki-Dog. The Metz brothers lived in this neighborhood, as well as Alex, who I think was their founder. Arnel and Bonehead lived nearby also. These initial LADS were stylish and charismatic dudes who were always out and got their pictures taken a lot. I remember seeing Alex and Louie, decked out at Okidogs, in matching LA Death Squad jackets (Eisenhower type jackets as Cholos would wear, with iron-on ‘Olde English’ style lettering)...” Other fashion staples included black Dickies, creepers or winos and handdrawn arm-bands with a skull and crossbones. Droog styles like the characters in movie Clockwork Orange were also popular. Supposedly the L.A.D.S. never considered themselves a gang, and were actually started as kind of an inside joke. At least at their beginnings, they were much more about a communal fashion style than any kind of organized thuggery. However, the group became slightly more organized when rival groups from Orange County and the San Fernando Valley started showing up in Hollywood and starting trouble at shows. The seminal punk group Bad Religion was also loosely affiliated with the L.A.D.S. alongside other local bands, but the gang never had an official group. As the Los Angeles punk scene changed, the L.A.D.S. supposedly began to drift more and more into the Hollywood drug life. The punk scene became less important to the members than getting the next score. By the late 1980s the group had pretty much diminished. However members still get together for reunions to this day. Kenny from the L.A.D.S., 1985. Photograph by Jennifer Finch
L.A.D.S., Hollywood, Ca., 1982. Photograph by Ronna Pearl
The scene at Oki-Dog, Hollywood, Ca., early ‘80s. Photograph by Jennifer Finch
Raynard Gleeson (1965-1988), Hollywood, Ca., 1982 Photograph by Ronna Pearl RVCA .COM / 63
Circle One Family was a group lead by John Macias who sang for the band Circle One. A fearless skinhead with a huge smile, he was known for being one of the most aggressive front men in the Los Angeles punk scene. He formed and organization called P.U.N.X., which was known for promoting shows dedicated to never charging more then $5 admission. They had a base of operations in Hollywood at a place called the Wig Factory on La Brea. Circle One rehearsed there and it also served as a makeshift crash pad for runaway punks. The large group of followers of Macias and the band, who many labeled as a gang, became known as The Family. Writer John Albert says in the LA Weekly,
“I was walking along a darkened side street heading for the Cathay Da Grande nightclub. Gathered under a street light, was Macias and about fifteen muscular sidekicks, their faces all painted in camouflage like a scene from The Warriors. When I later asked about it, a friend told me it was ‘Circle One’.”
Members of Circle One Family dispute that they were ever a gang and describe their scene as more of a loose affiliation of friends. However there are numerous stories from back then of members showing up to shows in full face paint and army gear ready to rumble. The ironic thing about Circle One was that contrary to other gangs in the punk scene at the time, their foundation lied in Christianity. Many of Macias’ lyrics dealt with religious themes. This confused many people on the scene as there was an inherent contradiction in the violence Macias would dole out at shows and his so called Christian beliefs. He was known for having no fear of police and was said to have on more than one occasion to have knocked one of L.A.’s men in blue out cold using only his fists. At the same time he was using funds he raised through PUNX to get troubled youths off of drugs and the streets, and into God. In 1985, Macias disappeared from the punk scene and The Family scattered. He was rumored to have grown a long beard and reportedly spent some time in Egypt. After a brief reunion in 1988, Macias again disappeared. He ended up one day in 1991 preaching on the Santa Monica Pier. After a run-in with a passerby and a security guard, and after refusing to cooperate with police, Macias was shot to death on the pier.
Circle One members (opposite) John Macias from Cirlce One , 1980 Photograph by Jennifer Finch
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BURBANK PUNK ORGANIZATION
(this page) Burbank Punk Organization (BPO) Members, Burbank, Ca., 1982
Burbank Punk Organization (or BPO) was started in Burbank junior high and high schools around 1979. The gang was originally founded by punk transplants from Orange County whose families relocated to Burbank around that time. Their headquarters was a makeshift tree house in the middle of Forest Lawn Cemetery. At their peak they are rumored to have had up to 500 members, with 200 active and about 30 who could be called on to fight at any time. The original BPO uniform was very simple. Drawn from more of a punk/skate aesthetic rather than British punk, the first dress code was basically Converse high-tops and a hoodie. One of their other distinguishing traits were bleached-blonde flat top haircuts worn with pride in the summer months. That said, contrary to other gangs coming from the San Fernando Valley area, one of the most distinguishing factors in BPO’s membership was the fact that they were entirely multi-cultural. They also had a distinguishing number, “22,” which came about because twenty-two of it’s original members all burned crosses into their arms. Like other gangs from this time, the gang was formed essentially for protection at shows. However, as numbers grew the group became a major force in the Los Angeles area and were active both at shows and in the streets. Early on drugs didn’t play much of a part in the BPO story... primarily because the group was very much skate-based and drugs would interfere with their ability to skate well. Rumor has it that there was a chicken-hawk cab driver in the Burbank/SFV area that would cruise junior high schools, pick up young punk boys and drive them to shows. Supposedly the spread of BPO in the early days was directly linked to this man. Early on, Burbank Punk Organization was loosely linked to FFF, and even shared members at times. However, as the years went on this was not always the case, and the two gangs were later known for very public rivalries. In a July, 1985 article from the Los Angeles Times, titled “White Punks a New Puzzle in Gang Scene,” an FFF member says the following regarding BPO,
“I keep a loaded gun in my bedroom 365 days a year, I’d say everybody in FFF owns a gun. What’s going to keep BPO from driving by and shooting up the house? You don’t want somebody hurting your mom for something you did.”
Like other groups from the era, BPO had their own band, ironically called Tres Flores, which bares a striking resemblance to FFF when translated from Spanish. Around 1988 when high school football teams began to get involved in the punk/violence scene the image of Burbank Punk Organization became decidedly more Cholo. At this point many of the original members fled the group. Around 1989 they changed their name to Burbank Primera, a group that bore little association with its original punk roots.
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Like other punk gangs of the time, Vicious Circle also began as the name of a band. Based in Orange County, Vicious Circle was started by Jack Grisham who later became the front man of the popular group, TSOL. They were rumored to have formed as early as 1978. The Vicious Circle following were known to wreak havoc in the form of senseless acts of violence and vandalism all throughout the beach communities. They were some of the wildest kids from the entire Southern California scene. Jack Grisham writes in his autobiography An American Demon.
“Our friends were just as fuckedup as we were, so we had a whole bunch of crazy fuckers running around, and if you were in the area, and you liked punk rock, well, then you’d better like a band like ours that was surrounded by a bunch of crazy mean motherfuckers, whatever the logic, the Vicious Circle was a maniac attractor.”
A young punk named Darrin, who lived in Orange County at the time writes, “I had just moved from Newport Beach to Long Beach in 1980. I didn’t know anyone locally and I was hanging outside this liquor store asking people to buy me some beer. Some Vicious Circle gang members pulled up and bought me some beer. I invited them back to my house not knowing their rep. Pretty soon they were calling their friends. Next thing I know there are 40 people ransacking the house and kicking holes in the walls. They peed in the mouthwash. Here I was trying to make them stop which was to no avail. I had just wanted to make some new friends.” Infamous VC gang member, Pat Brown, would be immortalized by the Vandals in their song “The Legend Of Pat Brown.” It told the tale of an incident that happened in the Coockoos Nest parking lot in which Pat Brown tried to run down police officers with his car. It was not the only time VC members would use their cars as weapons. Andy Perrin (Crewd) writes, “There was this one Vicious Circle gig in Signal Hill at a place called Frenchie’s Machine Shop. This fight started between two guys but then the Vicious Circle gang guys jumped in and there were way more of them than us. My bandmate Smitty got stabbed and Kevin from Secret Hate was hit by a car. I got off lucky with only a black eye. Jack from Vicious Circle was actually our friend and was trying to stop the fighting that night.” Secret Hate wrote a song called ‘Frenchie’s Machine Shop Massacre’ about that incident.” Gangs of longhairs were often on the prowl looking for punk rockers to punch or stab with a bottle. One notorious group of such individuals were known locally as the Cropdusters. But when longhairs went sniffing around for trouble with Vicious Circle and their pals, they were barking up the wrong tree. Kregg Zellner from the Screwz writes, “In the summer of 1979 Bruce Kramer threw a house party on Huntington Beach in the only house on the beach where his dad was the head lifeguard. It was us, the Klan, and Blades playing. Guys from Vicious Circle were trying to spear this overhead light outside with a huge metal rod. Twelve longhairs and their girlfriends walked by and started hassling us while we standing out front. They were warned but would not leave. Someone whistled and within a few seconds no one was watching the Blades. Fifty or more punks came tearing out after the longhairs. Some got chased into the surf and beaten severely. Others took their lumps in the middle of Pacific Coast Highway. Two really unlucky guys were chased onto the Santa Ana River Jetty, where one of the longhairs was thrown off the bridge. It made the front page of the Orange County Register.” Corey (Outsiders/Blades) “There was this tension between Huntington and Long Beach, but after the hippy got thrown off the jetty we were friends. The common goal of killing hippies brought us together.”
(clockwise from top) T.S.O.L., 1980 Courtesy the artists Vicious Circle Patch, 1981 Courtesy Can Control Vicious Circle Early ‘80s, Orange County, Ca. Photographers unknown Cuckoo’s Nest
Other Punk Gangs from Southern California in the 1980s: HB’S, MERCENARIES, SOUTH BAY SKINS, MICKEY MOUSE CLUB, SOUTH BAY SEX RATS, T/C (THE CONNECTED), HOLLYWOOD RAT PATROL, PENI DEATH SQUAD, PIG CHILDREN, SOS (SONS OF SAMOA), THE LEAGUE, LA MIRADA PUNKS (LMP), MOTHER MALICIOUS, WHITTIER KACTIS BUNCH, KAOS (KIDS AGAINST OUR SYSTEM), PARIAH BOYS, POSEURS, SACRED REICH, BUCKO BOYS, PKL (POOR KIDS ON LSD), PIER PUNK RATS, ESP (EAST SIDE PUNX), HRP, URBAN PUNK ASSAULT, KFL, SEX JERX, WEST SIDE CRAYZIES, LBSB (LONG BEACH SUICIDAL PUNX), CFP (CRAZY FUCKING PUNX), VALLEY CIRCLE, HUNGRY GANG, DOG PATCH WINOS, THE DRUNKS, THE X MEN, LA WITHDRAWNS, STB (STOP THE BULLSHIT), FULLERTON PUNKS, DUFFY BOYS, BEER NUTS, MID-CITY PUNKS, NORWALK INSANE PUNX, BEOWOLF BOYS, LOD (LORDS OF DESTRUCTION), SOUTHBAY SKINS, NORTHSIDE FIRM.
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The world of furniture design can sometimes be perceived as separate from other artistic practices. Like fashion or architecture, long periods of research and development go into putting a piece of furniture into production. Because of this, sometimes the great works never make it onto the pop culture radar. Enter a young designer named Ana Kras. Though she is now living in New York, Kras grew up in Belgrade, Serbia during the height of the political turmoil there. It is quite special that a young person coming from such a situation could grow to become such an innovative designer. Her creations employ all of the characteristics of high design, but incorporate a fragile and organic quality that is supremely unique and separates them from the norm. Perhaps her most popular creations are a series of lamps she has designed called Bonbons, which are basically a wire frame with delicate strips of yarn and other material stretched over them. She has also designed tables, chairs and clothing racks. Though she is relatively young in her career, there is no doubt that Ana Kras is going places. Over a late night skype conversation between Los Angeles and Sweden we asked Ana to tell us her story.
by Aaron Rose Portrait by INGRID SOPHIE SCHRAM ANP: I would like to ask you about growing up in Belgrade. I think it’s a very special story. Can you speak about what it was like there when you were young, the creative scene in Belgrade and how that has influenced you? Ana Kras: Yes. Well I grew up in a very turbulent time of a very turbulent country and I can only assume it left some marks. I mean, it surely influenced a lot the way I think, speak, and work. The first war started when I was around five and since then there has always been some kind of war around, even up to today. When I was an early teenager the borders were closed for years, and the country was pretty disconnected from outer world and influences. I was lucky enough that I was still kind of young when it changed a little for better so I could move and see other things, because what was around me was very sad, deeply sad. ANP: Wow. I cannot even imagine... AK: I was fifteen when NATO bombed Belgrade and the same year later I went to Japan. I remember I had to take a van to Budapest, Hungary to get a flight because planes were not flying from Belgrade. The van was packed with people and bags, and the driver of the van would take some village dust roads to avoid paying the fee for using a normal road. How do you call that, the road fee? ANP: The toll AK: Ah yes. Toll. That means great in German I think? ANP: Haha. It’s not so great in the USA. AK: When I think about how the situation in Serbia influenced me, and also influenced my work later, I think that the chaos and the politics were there to teach me how the world is pretty mad and how easily from one day to another you can lose all you have for no reason. My family was there to teach me how you can find a way to be happy with so little and how to use those skills for whatever you do. ANP: Okay. That’s really interesting. Which I can completely see in your work. There’s also something very fragile in your creations. Not so much that they are breakable, but in your use of materials to tell stories. They are emotionally fragile...
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AK: Thank you, that sounds very nice. ANP: Do you not agree? AK: I don’t disagree. It’s just hard to see that in your own work. I always wonder if those influences are visible in the final result. I think that it has more to do with how you approach your thinking, and what keeps your attention and how you solve problems. ANP: For you it’s more pragmatic. What you can make with what you have? AK: Yes. What I can make with what I have. That is what I was taught at my university. Not by teachers, but by the circumstances and the lack of possibilities. The university was there to push me to be self-taught because there were almost no classes and lectures and no workshops and not a single computer in the entire furniture design section. When the country is poor, destroyed and corrupted, the universities are the same way. Growing up in such a place feels a bit like having a very wise mentor. Can you imagine? Not a single computer? That sounds like a joke. It’s crazy. So everything was measured by hand but that’s why we had to learn ourselves. We had to teach ourselves all the 3D programs and do all the work on our own time, without any supervision. ANP: All trial and error... AK: Yes, but that somehow worked for me because I love to work and I love to work on my own. But there were a lot of kids that needed that push and support, and they didn’t get it. ANP: Have you seen a lot of creative people in Serbia have to give up their dreams? AK: Hmmm. I don’t think there can be anything to make you give up your dream. ANP: Good answer. AK: If you do, then that’s not big of a dream. ANP: Exactly. I want to talk about how you work in different mediums. AK: Okay. ANP: You draw. You take photographs and design furniture. How do they all relate to each other in your opinion? Do they influence each other? AK: I think they are a family! To me it is all pretty much the same. I mean, it all comes from the same place in
me. The dynamics of each one of them are of course very, very different and thank god I can combine them. Furniture, let’s say, my most proper job, is a slow, long difficult thing. First you think of it and that’s the easy and lovely part. Then you play with making a prototype. That’s another lovely part. It’s you getting to know your thoughts in a very practical way, in reality. When you figure it all out and you have a prototype there is a new object that you made, but it still doesn’t exist as a piece of furniture. Putting it all into production, available for people, is a such a hard and long thing, that I am still struggling with. But then I take photographs, which is the opposite. It’s so easy and instant, depending on me and on what is around. ANP: So the photography works as kind of an antidote to the intense conception and production of furniture? AK: Yes, photography is a hobby. It’s just memorizing what’s around in the way that I see it. ANP: How many prototypes do you usually have to make before you finally get something that works? AK: That depends, I don’t like to overwork projects. I like to keep it as close to the first thought as possible and move to the next thing. Overthinking can be dangerous, it makes you lose the joy and charm and you get stuck in wanting perfection, and perfection shouldn’t even be the goal. ANP: Sure. AK: So, it depends. I usually make one prototype and hopefully it works. I mean one prototype in the real material, but before that I play with paper or something, trying to simulate it. ANP: Have you ever conceived of a project that just didn’t work no matter how hard you tried?
AK: Haha yes! ANP: Give an example... AK: The first thing that comes to my mind is starting to have a diary. Man, I’ve tried a hundred times in my life and after I write once, I am just so lazy I never write anything again. I gave up. I will never try it again. ANP: Why? It can’t be about the work. Maybe you don’t want to remember? Maybe the photographic memories are safer? AK: There are many things that are hanging out in my mind for years and I always want to try them but there is never enough time or there is that stupid idea that it’s just not the right moment. ANP: I get it. Sure. AK: It’s like painting. Oil painting is what I am dying to do and there is always some excuse I make to myself. No time or no space, it’s like my mama starting a diet from next Monday. It’s sad. ANP: I have that with choreography. AK: Choreography? ANP: Just kidding. AK: Why? I just imagined you being a choreographer and sixty people following your moves! ANP: It actually is kind of a secret dream... AK: Sweet. ANP: Anyway, what are you working on now? What can we expect? AK: I am working on putting some furniture pieces into production and making them available. It’s been a long time because I was finding a way to make it properly. I am also working on some new objects and making some bonbon lamps and taking photos of some beautiful Swedish girls. ANP: That sounds like fun!!! AK: So that’s what I’ve been up to these days.
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ANP: Terrific. I think we are good for the interview Ana. It’s pretty late for you... AK: Okay ANP: Thanks again. AK: You are welcome ANP: Sleep well. AK: And you have a nice evening.
When assessing the musical output of a generation sometimes we need hindsight to truly understand the myriad levels of innovation held within. That said, if there is one musical project from the last decade that should be celebrated then it is the Liars. If you know who the Liars are and are aware of their output, then this feature needs no introduction. However if this is the first time you’ve heard of them, then get ready for a treat. Here’s a short primer. The group consists of Angus Andrew (vocals/guitar), Aaron Hemphill (percussion, guitar, synth), and Julian Gross (percussion, drums). Liars have had a strange and twisted path to success. The band originally formed in Valencia, CA (30 minutes north east of Los Angeles) where Angus and Julian (who would join the band after their first album) were enrolled at CalArts. They met Aaron who was then employed at the local record store. They began creating four-track recordings together, but once they had completed art school, they relocated to New York together. Once in New York, Liars aligned themselves with other Brooklyn bands and collaborators such as TV On The Radio and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. They were a large part of that seminal movement of New York bands that defined a particular sonic aesthetic of the time. From their first album, They Threw Us All In A Trench and Stuck A Monument On Top (2001), it was clear to those who followed that a new sound and vision was on the market. Liars’ next full-length album, They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (2004), was recorded in a cabin in the woods in New Jersey, the band immersed themselves in accounts of witch trials and folklore and created a atmospheric fairy tale album. Dubbed a “story album” as opposed to “concept album”, the record re-defined Liars as a band that was creating their own musical agenda rather then continuing with the sounds made popular from their first record only a few years before. It was clear by many that Liars were a creative force to watch. However, unlike their contemporaries who stayed in
the USA and catapulted to mid-range success, Liars saw a different future for themselves. Just when their collective star could have burst onto the scene, they decided to leave New York and relocate to Berlin. Favoring experiments rather than compliments, the band embarked again on a completely new sonic journey. Their next album, Drums Not Dead (2006), was again a total 180-degree turn from their previous works. Based almost completely on experimental drum sounds, the record was recorded in a disused East German broadcast center that allowed them a multitude of different acoustic environments for recording. On Drums Not Dead, Liars capitalized completely on the wild dance energy of Berlin. While the record could never be considered a dance record, the unique energy of the city was contained throughout the recording. Their next album, the selftitled, Liars (2007) continued this approach. This approach to music making has been key to Liars legacy. Rather then following a formula of success like most successful acts would pursue, Liars have always trudged their own path. The group functions more like a conceptual art performance piece than a typical rock act. After Berlin, Liars relocated back to Los Angeles to record Sisterworld (2009), a sweeping masterpiece of a record that was recorded entirely in the forests above Los Angeles. Push ahead to 2012 and Liars released their sixth album entitled, WIXIW (pronounced ‘wish you’). The album is heavily influenced by electronic technology and most of the instrumentation on the record was created using digital and/or electronic instruments. Like previous recordings, it was written in an isolated cabin north of Los Angeles with the aim of removing themselves from the distractions of extraneous stimuli. The record was then recorded in a slightly derelict office block on the eastside of Los Angeles where, amongst various pieces of strange equipment and their respective operating manuals strewn about, the following interview took place.
by Aaron Rose & Brian Roettinger Portrait by Zen Sekizawa
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ANP: Maybe we should just start at the beginning with your first album Trench and how that came about? Aaron Hemphill: That actually makes sense because we really do feel like with this new record we’ve come full circle from that. ANP: Exactly. There are elements of the new record that actually remind me of 4-track stuff that you guys gave me from that time period. There’s a similar sensibility. Aaron: That makes sense. Julian Gross: Where exactly was that cover drawn from? Was it created for the cover or had you done it before? Aaron: No, it was just some dumb drawing. I had an idea to make some video and that drawing was supposed to represent a scene or something. ANP: It’s very reminiscent of an Alfred Hitchcock storyboard frame, was that and idea. Aaron: I just used to doodle a lot. Angus and I were living together at the time and we would just think of things for stickers or whatever. Maybe that was originally a sticker idea? The label said that either we could get tour posters made or a four-color record sleeve. So there was a limitation on what the cover could be. Angus picked it and did all the type. We did it pretty quick. ANP: Sometimes when you have less time to think about things they’re more immediate and natural. Aaron: Yeah, I mean it almost felt like to me that we’d be able to re-do it at some point or something. Like maybe no one would buy the record, so when we re-did it there would be a better cover. It’s the same way we came up with our name. ANP: Was it a unanimous decision to call yourselves Liars? Angus Andrew: Oh no! That was just us trying to think of something really generic or something. I don’t think we were really ever that excited about it. Aaron: It was always backwards for us. Like when Brian and I played in a band in when we were teenagers, we had a million stickers and no songs. But with Liars we had like a ton of songs but no name. We just wanted to start playing shows so we realized we needed a name. We had all these shows booked, so we had to think of something quick. We always thought we would think of a better one. Angus: There were lots of elaborate names at that time. ANP: Do you remember any of them? Angus: I remember that was the time when that band And You’ll Know Us By The Trail of the Dead came out. We were just like, “Oh man, we gotta do the opposite of that.”
ANP: It’s funny because your song titles at that time we are always really long. Angus: Yeah. ANP: Your titles definitely generated some discussion for a moment, because of their length. Were you trying to interject more meaning in them, by having them so lengthy? Aaron: Some people were actually disappointed when we came out with normal length song titles. ANP: So were long song titles something that you guys discussed? Angus: No. It was just like the first time we had the opportunity to write something there on a record, so why not take up as much room as you can. With that first record it really felt like no one was going to look at it or listen to it anyway, so none of the decisions were big decisions. We were excited about the possibility of just having it on vinyl. Being able to play our music back. Aaron: That was before we even had computers that could burn a CD. I remember being really excited the first time we burned a CD of our music. We kind of didn’t even think the record was real so we just kind of titled them without thinking about it too much. ANP: Do you feel the visuals that accompany an album are equally important to the music? Angus: Yes. Even more so today with the internet. Julian: We have the leeway now to create an entire visual platform and generate interest before anything even happens. Angus: Now you kind of have to... ANP: That’s a pretty big change since Trench came out. Angus: You have to come up with a whole visual component, sometimes like a year before the record comes out. When we started making this record we met with the label and they were pretty keen that we start to do something more internet-based. That’s something that we had never been interested in, so that was something that we’ve had to learn to deal with. It was really a question of us starting early on to think about some kind of conceptual way for us to attack that medium, you know something different than the simple day to day, here’s what we’re eating. ANP: You almost have to invent a whole separate world. Angus: Yeah. Otherwise it’s just this kind of mundane overload of information, which I think is the biggest problem with the internet sometimes. There are so many mediums and platforms that people are accessing now that it’s not that thing anymore where you get that record and you’re like, “Weird! Who are these people? How did they do it?” Now you just mainline their entire history and back
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(above) Live in Europe, 2006. Photos by Paul Drake (below) Photo shoot for They Were Wrong So We Drowned, New Jersey, 2004 (opposite) Contact sheet from recording sessions for self-titled album Liars in Berlin, 2007
catalog and that’s what that interaction is about. It’s about feeding people more and more information. So we needed to figure out a way where we weren’t doing that. ANP: Well that kind of happened with Sisterworld, but not to the same degree. Angus: That was all done in hindsight. We had already come up with the album title and the visual direction. We created the online element after everything was already made. Then we had to try to translate it into a visual web thing. So it was much lighter. It wasn’t like with this record where we were recording at the same time. Julian: We had to figure out a way to let people into our world without doing what Angus was talking about and subscribing to some cliché idea. We weren’t interested in putting our personal lives out there. We didn’t want to give that away. But at the same time you want to let people in, so the challenge was how to do that in a way that was interesting for us as well. ANP: When you are in the process of making an album I know you guys are very cautious about letting anyone get an early listen. Are you the same with the visuals? Angus: As far as I’m concerned the visuals are the same issue as it is with regards to music. Traditionally we make full songs before we give them to each other. That helps us establish the zones of confidence in what you’ve personally done. Instead of saying, “Oh I’ve got this vague idea.” For me, it’s the same with the visuals. Just trying to take it as far as you can yourself before you want to show it to anybody. That’s why we sometimes run into troubles with things like this. On this record we really made a point that we wanted to be more collaborative. We wanted to show each other things a lot earlier. But it’s not easy. It actually makes it a lot harder. You have to allow for other opinions. ANP: The other way allows you to present something in a more finished state. Angus: Yeah. You are at a point where you can say, “I’m super happy with this!” So then I’ll show it to
Aaron and he’s gonna know that I’m super happy with it and there’s a small discussion about maybe doing this or that—but it’s not like a complete structural discussion. When you do it the way we did it on this record it turns into a real thing where maybe it doesn’t need to. When Aaron is talking about the first album cover, it’s like, just sort of allowing for that thing to happen and not getting too far caught up into the discussion of it. I think in some instances that is beneficial. Definitely in hindsight on this project it has been beneficial to be more collaborative. In the end you do feel more comfortable with the work. But it doesn’t make the process easier. ANP: You have to be willing to kill your babies. Angus: Exactly. Which is hard. Julian: Visually it becomes difficult to try to create one image to represent all of our ideas. There are all these songs to think about and then you’re doing everything yourself so it becomes even more difficult. ANP: It would be an interesting experiment to see if you released the same exact record with completely different packaging if your audience would hear it differently. Angus: Obviously it again brings into question how much the visuals matter. ANP: I like to see a similarity between the visuals and the sound. When a band’s identity can be influenced by both factors. That said it seems with you guys that there is always a germ at the beginning of a project that kind of influences everything else. Would you say that the initial process of developing that grain of an idea is pretty much the same on every record? Angus: It’s always a very natural process. It’s not like we ever need to sit down before everything starts and really decide on everything. It mostly happens naturally over the course of touring the record before somehow, and it’s pretty remarkable, I think that our interests all start to point in a similar direction.
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Julian: I think you’re right and it’s pretty incredible. Angus: Take for example our last record. We were like, “Ok, we’re gonna make a record now for the first time in Los Angeles.” We were in Berlin before that. It wasn’t like we said that we needed to make this record about Los Angeles. But when we started to write separately and then subsequently started to talk about what we’d done it was obvious that we were all really interested in that. So we took that further...kept going with it. Then with this record we were all ready for a stylistic and sonic change. If there was any method to the madness it was mostly in a reactionary way to what we’ve done before. ANP: It seems like that’s a consistent idea from record to record to make a stylistic and sonic change. Aaron: There’s like a moment that I can usually pinpoint on each record. We’ll go through some kind of similar experience at a time. Then we’ll have a quick conversation and it kind of sparks. We actually have a conversation like this before every record and that allows us to continue forward in a particular direction. This time we were in London and we played this big festival and I remember just this brief comment. It was only like a couple of sentences long. Something like, “I’m sick of microphones” Oh really? “Well I’m also sick of this.” This conversation happens every record and it’s quick, but once it happens we know. Then we can start writing within those parameters. Because we have common interests but then we also are different. So I try to write with Angus’ input in mind. I’ll write what I like but then I think about what can be added. So yeah, it’s just a short conversation, but it happens every time. ANP: Is that a nerve-wracking process? Angus. No, it’s actually really exciting. Like Aaron’s saying those conversations really are so brief. They’re just like opening a door. After that you know that the whole landscape is available. It’s never any pressure. It’s more like the possibilities are exciting. Aaron: It’s after that I think it gets more difficult. When those conversations happen it’s like “Wow!
We’re thinking the same thing” We have these common interests and there’s this common thing we want to express. But when you’re alone and you’re banging your head against the wall you have to suddenly condense all these ideas into one thing that exemplifies what we spoke about. ANP: One of the things that I feel about your records and why they always work so well is the beauty of the edit. Being able to curate what makes a record. Angus: Yeah, that’s one of the hardest parts. Conceptually it’s got to be part of it. Depending on the record. With Sisterworld that was a big determining factor. Does this song speak to this overarching thing? Then, with this one, the hard part was that we made such an effort experimenting with sound that we just developed this huge catalog of really interesting noises. Then we had to apply those and make songs out of those sounds. They almost became sonic decisions really. You know where we would develop a song that has that interesting sound and work on that song more because we want to have that sound. ANP: You were looking for sonic diversity. Angus: Yeah, and because we were all so in love with particular sounds we didn’t want to give them up. There was some point where we just had so many songs going and we just had to make ourselves physically stop making anymore interesting sounds. We had to really concentrate on the ones that we really liked the most. Actually, what helped me was at some point saying, “OK. We’ll just release a second record.” ANP: How do you judge whether a sound is interesting? Angus. It’s just that we like it. Aaron: Maybe it’s the same for Angus but I spend days just looking through sounds and making an edit of which sounds I am going to use as an arsenal or palette. It’s so time consuming that when a sound pops up it just happens where something about it excites me to make a song. I want to feature that sound in a song. You know that’s the challenge. Can I write a chorus around that sound? It’s this whole long process to write a song around a sound. Angus: Which is completely backwards to the way we would have done it in the past. Usually, we would start with a melody and make some interesting things happen around that. This way is a lot more difficult. ANP: But after listening to the record it still always fits within a Liars sensibility. Angus: I think that might be. There are certain things that we’ve toyed with in the past, but never had to time to focus all of our attention on. ANP: But that’s how you can make something new without forgetting everything you’ve learned...
(from top) Still from Plaster Casts Of Everything, video shoot directed by Patrick Daughters, 2009 Liars live at Monster Island, Brooklyn, New York, 2001. Photo by Emily Wilson (opposite) Liars, John Weiss, and High Places show poster, 2011. Artwork by Julian Gross
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Aaron: Well, we had a ton of songs for WIXIW. We could have chosen a group of songs that were of really good quality that would have made a very distinct statement. Like making a totally electronic record...something that has no semblance to sounds that we’ve used in the past. After a couple of listens it would still sound like Liars, but we could have assembled a more shocking group of songs. But I think it’s that whole idea of looking hard at what the song actually was. The songs that we chose are maybe a bit less of a break in terms of experimentation, but they just had more of a certain mood or sentiment that we thought was expressing our idea more. I think people just expect us to do something different every time. ANP: Well it’s really a refining process. Aaron: It seems like people were surprised that this record was as not much of a break as they had originally hoped. ANP: Which brings it back to the artistic process and looking at Liars not just as a band, but also as an overall concept. You guys take that risk knowing that you’re constantly reacting against your old work. Angus: Well, I don’t know. At the same time I think we all feel that because of where we’re are at creatively any given time. We admire people who are able to be more linear with their work. It’s like almost surreal. It would be nice to be the kind of people who could just refine a sound and get better at playing guitar over ten years and just be a shredder. It’s almost as though each time we make a record we go backwards maybe? Aaron: It’s not just backwards it’s more like running into walls and building walls that we then have to climb over and hurdle because we’ve never seen it before. ANP: Well it’s kind of like all these manuals for electronic gear that are lying all over the place here. Julian: Yeah, well that’s kind of what we do these days. We just look at manuals and try to figure out all this gear. We give ourselves all this homework. We literally leave the studio and say like “OK, your homework for tonight is this, this and this.” Angus: Every time we just try to forget what we just figured out and try be completely naive about it all again. Aaron: With our first lineup, when we were a four-piece, we had songs that we had written as a band prepared so that we could have had a second record with those guys. If we were to have recorded that, it would have been the only time we would have experienced not refinement but a sense of familiarity. Like that we had done that before. But we’ve never really had that every time it just seems so scary. ANP: Do you have a sense that you are free-falling or that the feeling of being lost in space is part of what make Liars who they are? Angus: If it were different we wouldn’t be a band anymore. It would not have been interesting enough. If part of being in a band had to do with refinement as a state of purpose I don’t think we would have done it. In terms of a sort of conceptual thing or the fact that this is a multi-media thing, I think that’s what has kept us excited. We have the opportunity to do the next record about whatever. We can use mandolins. There’s never been any kind of box or restriction on what we do and that’s what makes us excited. I want to do the next record because there is always still the possibility that we can forget everything that we’ve ever done. ANP: Your next record should be a hip-hop record then. Angus: I think that even if we did try to tackle a hip-hop record that it would end up sounding like a Liars record, just with different tools maybe? That’s what we’ve always banked on. When we started playing together, I definitely was not very adept at playing. We’d say, “Lets see what it’s like if we try to make a Black Sabbath song.” You know it’s not going to work like that, but it then becomes what we are. That’s where things get interesting. So it seems to be the case that it doesn’t really matter what the idea is or what the approach is. The result is gonna be somewhere in line with who we are. We could do a bossanova record and go to Brazil but people would still say it’s a Liars record. Aaron: Yeah we’re always floating it. We’re not pro at that. Angus: Yeah, it’s not like we’re going to employ all the right producers and that sort of stuff. We’ll probably get some piece of software or equipment that apparently people use to make that music and then play it really wrong! That result is always what’s interesting though. ANP: That’s possibly a top-level concept of your band. Using the expected in an unexpected way. Angus: Yeah, and lets do it even though we don’t know how to. Aaron: We’ve always emphasized mistakes. The very first time we wrote songs, very early on, we would never stop. Even if we messed up terribly, we knew that it would always turn into a really neat part. In some of our early songs there were times when we would record Angus leaving the room and there was just no sound for two minutes. Then he would come back and that became the middle part of the song. We don’t have the attitude of needing to freak people out by doing a hip-hop record. Its always more about saying we really like hip-hop, and we could in our heads be trying to make a hip-hop record by the numbers, but it will always be a Liars record. Angus: I think that’s where we started to run into a bit of an issue with overbearing conceptual stuff. Where we would project to people, “OK. We’re doing this record about witches or whatever.” You know this is drama and this is a heart attack and we’d have to go through this whole period of heavy discussion amongst ourselves about that thing...as opposed to the music. At some point we realized that that thing is great for us. We like that thing because it helps us to write what we want to write. It helps us concentrate, but in terms of relating it to people, that’s not really the biggest issue. Often it’s best if too much emphasis isn’t put on that. Julian: Yeah, sometimes the music can get lost in the conceptual story and that’s not the right tipping of the scales. Angus: It’s just our tool to make what we want to make. It’s cool to have a subject matter to give us focus, but it doesn’t mean that when people listen to the record that they have to research that subject. ANP: How do internal visuals play in your composing process?
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Selected Discography 2001 - 2012 (opposite) Studio image of wax dipped and embossed WIXIW special edition LP, 2012
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Julian: This time it seems like it was leaning towards the visual side, the way we experimented with sound, you know Angus dripping rags onto a metal pan with just simple microphones. So it’s a bit of a mix this time where we are using the visual side to create the sound. Angus: I’ve always liked that idea. You know of people writing in colors and stuff like that but it’s not really how I work. Aaron: I just kind of more and more accept that I’m not a visually oriented person. I think how we make songs and how you’re kind of forced to visually compose things, like in pro tools where you are looking at sounds as waves, but I think that’s just more of how I would hear things anyway. If I want to make an interesting beat, that idea is always in my head of where there is sound and where there is silence. But I guess there are certain things. Like when I used to play guitar or drums I would visualize the action. Like if I wanted an angry beat or an aggressive thing I would imagine playing it first. Angus: If anything, as a sort of a rule, more and more it’s come to the point where we really know what we want to do ourselves and then the struggle is to keep stuff out. Going back to what we were talking about earlier on, there’s just so much information and stuff going around visually and sonically, it’s just becomes really important to learn how to not take any of that in. Even just subliminally. You know, not to be influenced by Lady Gaga or other kinds of things that you hear every day. You really hope that’s not affecting what you’re doing. But it’s a reality! Sometimes it’s really hard to shut that out. ANP: Listening is stealing. Angus: Yeah. It’s people’s business to make music that’s gonna stick in your head. So the question becomes about how you can get away from it. You know you watch a basketball game and there’s a Nicki Minaj song in the background. You always find yourself acknowledging that and really how do you shut that out? It’s the same with any kind of influence...visual or not. You’ve really got to pick and choose. Otherwise it’s hard to trust yourself. ANP: I’m sure some influences from your other records come in as well. Angus: Yes! It’s equally the same with really good music too. I can get intimidated and freaked out if I hear something really good. That can have a negative influence too. That’s one of the reasons we went out to the woods to record Sisterworld. Before that I was just kind of mainlining all this other music, but then we reached a point where we didn’t want to that anymore. Aaron: I guess that would affect how visuals influence us as well. I do think that it’s something that we can turn on or off. Again, for me it would be hard to say that I’m visually influenced, it just depends on the concept. You know when
we were making the Liars record we watched a lot of movies about witches just to try to get that mood. ANP: All of your records seem to be about moods. Aaron: Well, with WIXIW it was hard. We really tried to shut all that down and see what comes out. It’s was interesting for us. Angus: Because of it we ended up with a lot of doubt and uncertainty. Also that was really multiplied by the use of this new landscape of technology. It was really daunting at times. This was the first time we let that out, where usually it would be veiled by this idea that it’s all about something else and projecting yourself onto this other idea. ANP: I wonder if that’s a direct reaction to all of the technology. Angus: Yeah, you would make this song and be all excited about it but then you spend the rest of the day reading a manual and you really start to doubt whether or not you’re gonna do this or if it’s the right thing at all. It’s not the same as just picking up and instrument and hitting it. There’s this whole detachment from the sound. It’s all in this computer and you wonder how you actually made it. You don’t have the connection physically with anything. Aaron: What’s funny though is that it all happens when we haven’t been able to write songs for a while. Especially after we’ve been touring. There’s this huge feeling that you can’t do it. I can’t overemphasize how scary it is! That period when we first started writing on this record especially with all this new software we really had no excuse. You have everything you need to make songs on a computer and the first batch was just so nerve-wracking. All of them really were really difficult to make. Then when you have to write lyrics for a song that whole experience kind of forces things more. Maybe I was just too tired at that point. ANP: One thing I noticed when looking at all of your albums is that even though everything is all quite different there is still a visual thru-line just like sound in the music. There’s obviously a sensibility. There’s a heavy dose of academic sarcasm. There’s a challenge in the work. Aaron: I’m really curious about that. ANP: For every image it always seems like there’s an idea there. There’s a narrative behind each and every image. Angus: It ties back to that same discussion about the difference between us and the people who are able to just do things over and over again. Some people are just like, “OK here’s a picture of a tree” just because it looks kind of cool they go with it. It would be kind of great to be that carefree. We don’t necessarily have that when it comes to visuals. That’s perhaps why there’s a sense of a common aesthetic or energy in all of our imagery. There are a lot of
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discussions behind each image. When we started talking about the cover for our new record, we did look at other people’s covers you know? We looked at what was going on and a lot of times I’d come in and say,”It’s really nice just this photo of something” But at the end of the day that just won’t stand up. ANP: Well then you start categorizing yourself. You have to be careful. Angus: Yeah and that makes it a lot harder. Aaron: Yeah, I’ve tried to imagine being a band like AC/DC or something where our rules are defined and we made this distinct brand of music that people looked to us to produce. Like, “Oh, my guitar playing is the stamp on our music.” We could also kind of fall back on imagery like that if we wanted. But instead with every record we try to add more information. We want it to be interesting. I think sometimes it even goes back to our insecurity about it that we try to give them more. Julian: I think it’s also about challenging ourselves in the same way as we do in the music. It’s not about just saying “Oh those songs are good” we always ask why. I think it’s that same sort of thing of taking the harder road sometimes to produce the thing that makes the most sense. Aaron: But to me it just seems that the way we do it is the best way to make our songs. I’m always amazed that more bands don’t work the way we do. You know sometimes you’ll read an interview and the band will talk about how they feel trapped. Or they feel the pressure of repeating themselves. I never understood that. I mean, “Whose the boss?” When we first started writing songs we just wrote whatever we wanted to. But I think some bands really have a fear of not being able to make music anymore. ANP: I think a lot of artists really need direction. Without that they can feel lost. They need someone to tell them where to start. That said, at what point do you guys know when something is finished? Julian: Deadlines. Angus: You know, you just feel like you could work on it forever so you have to set yourself a limit. You only really know it’s done when the record comes back from the mastering and you’re happy with it. All the way up to that after you’ve gone through the writing and the recording, the whole post-production part is really just about refining that finishing line. Listening after listening to detail after detail. At that point it starts to feel done just because you’ve heard it so many bloody times. Even so it’s still not done. There’s always something in your head that’s saying things like, “Oh god, should that snare be a little louder?” I think that in the end it’s never actually done until we get to start the next record.
There has been a debate raging for decades about the way that women are portrayed in photography and how it is almost always men who are defining that image. In response to this, we here at ANPQ have decided to ask six of our favorite female photographers to send us images that represent their particularly female take on male sexuality. Weâ€™ve found it quite striking to see the differences between what men and women generally find to be attractive in the opposite sex. In that regard these photographs are quite telling.
THE NEW AESTHETIC James Bridle and The Mythology of a Pixel by Liz Armstrong / Portrait by Pat Graham
Glitches are seams that reveal where stuff gets interesting. So says Londoner James Bridle, somewhat accidental father of the New Aesthetic, an intellectual movement that attempts to apprehend the experience of living in a world where the digital and tangible experiences overlap. In many ways, seeing with our eyes is secondary; we look at what we’ve designed machines to show us. So then what are we trying to say to ourselves? Or has the digital interception changed the information and is giving us insight we wouldn’t otherwise have the ability to perceive? In May 2011 Bridle spilled a handful of seeds on Tumblr—pixilated and tessellated art in the physical world as sculpture or pattern on fabric, images of real humans navigating digitally-rendered architecture, Google Earth’s unintentional sense of humor, the sociological subtext of several types of facial recognition, etc.—and a thousand of its babies were quickly identified. Animated gifs re-animated as zoetropes, DIY drones, composite imagery app revelations, Facebook app-branded ice cream, a descriptive camera that generates and prints out a written description of what was shot rather than capturing an image, a sound wave transformed into a chair, on and on and on…so many things we previously noticed or made or used but didn’t really stop to think about, were now being recognized and collated under one large descriptor. Then last spring at South by Southwest, New Aesthetic blew up. From there, academics at Harvard, artists and art critics, and tech writers started chewing on it, and it still hasn’t lost its flavor. Thing is, it’s not really art, nor is it technology or networking, nor does it provide enough boundaries for its own philosophy. Describing New Aesthetic is like describing being human: You know exactly what that means, but how do you define it? Bridle, a learned fellow in artificial intelligence and philosophy, maintains a logical, categorical approach to his own offering that at this point describes how this isn’t art, or technology—it’s more about the linguistics of understanding, creating a universal sub-code where all metaphors coalesce. New Aesthetics, for intellectuals, is an evolving amoeba that lets us watch its organelle development, an ever-dilating and constricting conversation that will consider anything and naturally eject what doesn’t belong without suffering a disembowelment. To romantics, it’s a visual, semi-tactile poem about how we create life within an idea. It breathes. It generates information about itself. And it might know. Assigning sentience and meaningfulness to theory is how you create myth. It explains not only itself but other things around it too: it has a life of inflection. So is Bridle’s initial proposition an aesthetic, or is this something else entirely? We talked to him in an attempt to understand.
Drone Shadow, Silicon Car Park, London 27/02/2012. James Bridle & Einar Sneve Martinussen
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Graffiti of Getty Images Watermark, 2012. Photo by Jerry Hsu
ANP: I’m curious how you started coming up with New Aesthetic. James Bridle: It started from a couple of positions, two things that are very closely connected. I was increasingly frustrated with the so-called cultural dominance of retro and vintage. Where everyone’s got interesting facial hair and wears braces and has this idea that there’s something authentic in the past that we’ve lost, and that authenticity can only be located in the past. Which is fine, but it seems to have become so overblown that we’ve lost all sight of any possible futures. And that’s very connected to the fact that indeed these potential futures seem to have failed us. The future that we believed in for so long—where we’re living on other planets—that’s not the future we’re getting, right? That these two are connected are evident in all kinds of things—many, many things. At the very simplest level, I set out to find things that felt genuinely new. Things that would be inexplicable to someone 20 or even 10 years ago. I usually start off these projects with the idea that something I’m looking for must be out there somewhere, in some form. And if you look for it hard enough, it’ll appear. In this case, the imagery at least, that you might see in some of the manifestations of New Aesthetic are what I’ve found. ANP: What you just said—if you look hard enough it’ll appear—makes me wonder how much you think the intent of our consciousness informs our mundane reality. JB: I’m very interested in consciousness but I’d be loath to tie it too closely to what I’m talking about. I oscillate massively between the positions that the internet is a new form of human consciousness and the idea that that’s probably complete bullshit. At times I want it to be true. I think there are aspects in which maybe it is, but I’m more interested the fact that the network gives us new ways of seeing things that we simply didn’t have before. It doesn’t mean they didn’t exist before, it didn’t mean they didn’t sufficiently work. They weren’t accessible to us before, but we suddenly have this ability to see so much further than we did, which is one of the aims of consciousness. I don’t necessarily believe that the network gives us anything particularly new, but it does reveal things that previously were a lot harder to see. ANP: It also could be what we do as humans, which is project our own experience on animals or plants or inanimate things, such as a network. Where we’re saying maybe this network has consciousness because we do too. JB: Again, I’m nervous about ascribing consciousness to it, but I am interested in ascribing consciousness to it as a framing device to try to understand it. I studied classical AI. I did a final work on creativity in artificial intelligence. And I left that course with a profound disappointment in what was possible. That’s another one of
those futures that has failed us, of god-like creative artificial intelligence—it turns out machines don’t work that way, and we don’t work that way. But it can be kind of useful. So one of the things I was doing a lot with New Aesthetic was attributing intentionality to a lot of non-human actions. That doesn’t mean I believe they have intentionality, I just think that’s sometimes an interesting and useful way to talk about them. ANP: Do you want to tell me more about your background? JB: I was in computer science and artificial intelligence, and psychology and linguistics, which all sort of built toward attempts to understand. In particular computer science and cognitive science, which is one of the ways to approach artificial intelligence, is a way of looking at the brain as if it’s a computer. So you hypothesize that the brain is a black box, like an unmarked computer and you give it inputs and you see what comes out, and you try and reverse engineer how the brain works by doing that. It’s tied to things like evolutionary psychology, which presupposes that a lot of our newer hardwiring is how it is because it’s how we were on the savannah millions of years ago. I don’t really buy that anymore. But it’s an interesting way of approaching the problem. It’s a solving technique by which you break down everything that’s possible, the most algorithmic way you can because you’re coming at it from a computer science background. It’s an interesting approach; it works in some ways and it doesn’t work in many other ways. It’s really good if you’re interested in language and psychology and newer biology. But I studied that for years and by the time I got done and qualified in it, I hated computers so much that I went to work in very traditional book publishing. So I was a publisher and an editor publishing contemporary fiction for a few years. ANP: That’s amazing. JB: I figured that’s somewhere I could go where I wouldn’t have to worry about computers so much. ANP: It’s a bit of a more analog form of communication. JB: That’s what I thought, but I was wrong. It turns out that what literature and the publishing industry and fiction and everything else needed was a far better understanding of what the network was bringing. Slowly, my specialty became what happens when literature meets technology, what happens when literature meets the network, and the strange forms you see emerging at those points. The New Aesthetic emerged from what happens when all of culture does that—when things become digital and fundamentally changed by that. It’s something that we’re really bad at addressing; we’re very good at picking metaphors for why digital things are like physical things, but we’re bad at examining the ways in which they’re not. But it’s the ways in which they’re not that seem to be important and interesting.
Dutch Landscapes by Mishka Henner. When Google introduced its free satellite imagery service to the world in 2005, views of our planet only previously accessible to astronauts and surveyors were suddenly available to anyone with an internet connection. Yet the vistas revealed by this technology were not universally embraced. Governments concerned about the sudden visibility of political, economic and military locations exerted considerable influence on suppliers of this imagery to censor sites deemed vital to national security. This form of censorship continues today and techniques vary from country to country with preferred methods generally including use of cloning, blurring, pixelization, and whitening out sites of interest. Surprisingly, one of the most vociferous of all governments to enforce this form of censorship were the Dutch, hiding hundreds of significant sites including royal palaces, fuel depots and army barracks throughout their relatively small country. The Dutch method of censorship is notable for its stylistic intervention compared to other countries; imposing bold, multi-coloured polygons over sites rather than the subtler and more standard techniques employed in other countries. The result is a landscape occasionally punctuated by sharp aesthetic contrasts between secret sites and the rural and urban environments surrounding them. www.mishka.lockandhenner.com RVCA /A NP QUA RT E RLY / 86
The Descriptive Camera works a lot like a regular camera—point it at subject and press the shutter button to capture the scene. However, instead of producing an image, this prototype outputs a text description of the scene. Created by Matt Richardson. www.mattrichardson.com
ANP: You talk about how much you love Spambots. I wonder if this love and the attempt to parse what part of them might be human or attempting to truly communicate with humans, I wonder if you’ve found any difficulty in talking to people as a result. JB: I don’t know. If I take it a step back and understand how these digital things are affecting the way we see the world, the one thing spambots don’t do very well is they don’t have any sense of memory or experience. They seem incredibly naïve. Which is charming, right? It’s something nice and makes them seem vulnerable, like a puppy. But that quality of memory and experience is exactly what humans seem to struggle with. ANP: When you put it that way, it seems like humans and spambots aren’t so different. I guess these are universal concerns. JB: I’m incredibly sensitive to the ways in which we attempt to manipulate memory and experience. I see it in the ways in which we try to present our experiences online, the way in which we relate. In my own work it very much came out in trying to understand why our experience with books is different when they become ebooks. I see exactly the same process happening with the way that we deal with digital photographs online—for example, the spread of the retro-filter movement in Instagram—and also in huge numbers of other things. Seems to me to be a way that we’re trying to impose emotions and memories that we understand as almost physical onto very digital things. Then I start to see that in terms of how easily constructed a lot of those memories are. Take the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. There’s a whole effort of collective memory creation going on where we’re trying to implant in the consciousness of the country a memory of what those 60 years have been like. Now, I don’t remember any of those things. I wasn’t there. I haven’t taken part in any of these street parties that they say are one of the cultural signifiers of the nation. But we construct them through
television and advertising in order to recreate them. Now take that and project it forward into the future and it feels to me like that’s what we’re trying to do with a lot of our online activity. Because we have this whole network sphere in which we spend a vast amount of our time and yet we have no memory or experience in it. And we still have to work out how we have lasting memories and experiences, and for me it’s all we have, it’s what makes us. How do we construct those in the digital world? What do they look like? What does a digital souvenir look like? Can you imagine a digital souvenir that has no substantiation? I’m increasingly sensitive to it. ANP: That’s really interesting, and you’re making me think two things here. First, does the digital experience enhance authenticity? Or does it falsify it if we can’t touch it? JB: I don’t know what authenticity means. I say that with incredible seriousness. Our ideas of authenticity have always been rooted in physical objects. But that’s been a myth; I see it all the time, again with books. This idea that because something is physically instantiated is therefore authentic, that’s simply not true, there have always been fakes and heresies and ways of confusing this issue. The network reveals that those things stand on very shaky foundations. We’re increasingly aware of that, though I’m loath to admit it or deal with it in any kind of real way. ANP: The other thing that this talk about our digital experience and memory is making me think about is how it’s forcing a nostalgia for things we weren’t old enough to actually experience. And it’s the same thing you were talking about, which you formed or identified the New Aesthetic as a response to. That idea that things were better in the old days, and a lot of these kids aren’t even old enough to have experienced the aesthetic they’re perpetuating. JB: That’s always been the case. I grew up listening to music made long before I was born and loving it and thinking it was the best thing. The network has made it obvious
Sebastian Schmieg & Sylvio Lorusso’s “56 Broken Kindle Screens” is a print on demand paperback that consists of found photos depicting broken Kindle screens. The Kindle is Amazon’s e-reading device which is by default connected to the company’s book store.The book takes as its starting point the peculiar aesthetic of broken E Ink displays and serves as an examination into the reading device’s materiality. As the screens break, they become collages composed of different pages, cover illustrations and interface elements. www.sebastianschmieg.com
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Black and White Coding Dots, 2012. Photo by Sebastian Schramm. www.bueroschramm.de
and untenable that I now know and I can find out exactly when records were made and when their popularity was. I’m suddenly so hyper aware of my distance from them, even though they’re closer than ever, because I can reach across the network and take whatever I want from any period in history. That at the same time makes it quite clear that there’s a kind of leak forming. I’m suspicious of notions that don’t even carry on recycling that stuff. It seems ever easier to do so, and also an abdication of responsibility to find the new thing. And the new thing has got to be where it gets interesting. ANP: Right. Sometimes I think the new thing is in the bridge of the pastiche. Like what you’re talking about where you’ll grab things from different eras or places and that becomes what’s meaningful to you. And that bridge, that reveal of interstitial information, is what is the new thing. JB: When I think about bridge, I think of the point at which something genuinely new gets absorbed into something that we recognize and are comfortable with. So we can take bits and make analogies or complex metaphors to explain new things in terms of the things we already understand, but it doesn’t mean that we genuinely understand them or that we genuinely change in any new way. The things that we were excited about in the old visions of the future were things that were genuinely new experiences. Space travel is like a genuinely new thing, way beyond air travel. Air travel, essentially as we understand it now and experience it—going to airports and sitting on passenger jets—is not much different from a fast train ride, or frankly a fast horse and carriage. That is explicable to someone who lived hundreds of years ago, it’s just a faster way of getting from point to point. We lose the ability to conceptualize the difference. But I think with the network gives us the opportunity, if we face it head-on, to start conceptualizing new experiences.
ANP: So then New Aesthetic is largely imaginary, right? It seems it’d have to be in order to be self-evolving or self-perpetuating? Because then wouldn’t it have an expiration date? JB: At some point it should collapse into the real. It depends on what you mean by imaginary. To me, New Aesthetic was always not about things themselves but about the experience of living in a world where such things manifest. And are legible. What is interesting is that even though we can’t explain them, really, we still experience them on some level. They get through to us and make us realize there is something going on here. What is interesting about a lot of the artifacts of the New Aesthetic is they’re already everyday things, but we haven’t really noticed how strange and wonderful they are. We’ve been so focused on the massive, vast experiences we’ve been expecting that we haven’t noticed how the smaller things have crept in and become normal. ANP: Like the pixilated camouflage drones and the funny Google street view blurs. These everyday objects, and how out of place they are, but we don’t even notice—I’m making a sort of awkward leap into thinking about glitches, and how they seem to be alluring to you. JB: The glitches of many of the artifacts of the New Aesthetic felt like seams in things that reveal where it became interesting. There’s a lot of discourse in design around the seams and the edges where stuff meets. For a long time I believed that there was a firm boundary particularly between the physical and the digital, that there was some kind of hard layer that things existed on one side and then others on the other side. I don’t really believe that anymore. I think the two are overlaid upon one another, that they extend in all directions and overlap. It’s incredibly hard to separate, if you’ve grown up with access to the digital world; there are no hard and fast boundaries. The things that are important—your memories and experiences—exist in both.
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(left to right) The Piranha USV “Sea Drone” is a long-range unmanned concept vessel designed to demonstrate today’s latest materials technology and design theory. Advanced unmanned vessels enable a broad range of unmanned operations on the sea, reducing operational costs and unnecessary risks. NATO plans to issue biometrically backed identification cards to 1.65 million Afghans by next May. Local and NATO forces are already compiling “biometric dossiers on hundreds of thousands of cops, crooks, soldiers, insurgents and ordinary citizens. It’s a high-tech upgrade to a classic counterinsurgency move—simultaneously taking a census of the population, culling security forces of double agents and cutting off guerrilla routes.” – Wired Magazine.
Frog Queen, or the Prisma Engineering Headquarters (a machine and motor technology company) is located in Graz, Styria, Austria. Its facade was designed by Splitterwerk and looks like one giant pixelized box. Even the facade itself is practically a square. However, if you look very closely, you will see that each one of the pixels has circular patterns screenprinted on its face. Photography by Nikolaos Zachariadis, Splitterwerk.
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(left to right) Pixel Fashion by Kunihiko Morinaga for Anrealage. www.anrealage.com Google employees recently began testing the company’s new augmented-reality glasses called Project Glass. The glasses are the company’s first venture into wearable computing. The glasses are not yet for sale. Google will, however, be testing them in public. Square Enix and Prada teamed up to promote the fashion giant’s 2012 men’s spring/summer collection by producing a CGI photoshoot, starring JRPG Final Fantasy characters. The images appeared in Arena Homme+ as part of the 25th Anniversary celebration of the Final Fantasy series. Characters Lightning, Noel, Snow, Sazh and Hope are all wearing Prada gear. They were created by Square Enix’s Visual Works studio in Japan, working alongside the Final Fantasy character designers.
So what is the thing that distinguishes between them? Or what is common to both of them? That’s us. That comes down to human consciousness and perception that must stretch across both of those things. I see us attempting to use the same models and metaphors for things in both the physical and networked world. But something else must be coming down and I’m trying to—well, I don’t want to pin down what that thing is, but I definitely want to point to the things that make you realize it. My favorite things of the New Aesthetic are the kind of images that you look at and you genuinely struggle to comprehend, your brain goes, “I can not figure out how this thing can come to be.” When you understand quite how many pressures must be operating or how far various cultural images and ideas must have traveled in order to come together into this thing, that sort of hints toward something. But that something, for the moment, has to remain unknowable and unsay-able. When you start talking about consciousness, I point toward the unsay-able, essentially. ANP: You don’t seem to like to pin things down. JB: No. I really, really don’t. I think that’s a mistake in idea. I’m deeply uninterested in that. ANP: Why? JB: Because if the network reveals anything, it’s that these things are heterogeneous but connected. They exist in a state that you can’t make some kind of concrete definition of. Maybe we will, but the urge to do so destroys it instantly. As soon as you try to nail these things down, it will escape it. I was having a conversation last week—a couple conversations, actually. One was with an author; we were talking about the process of writing a non-fiction book now, the idea of trying to write a book about something. What you are trying to do in that state or action, is trying to ringfence something: Here is my opinion of it, and I’m going to stamp this with my own particular view. While the argument will carry on, here is my position. I can’t do that now. I’ve approached that issue from a number of angles and I don’t see why you would attempt to do that now. And the other conversation was with a curator of an art gallery who was quitting her job. She talked about curation in similar terms. In order to be a curator you essentially have to have a strong opinion about something, and you curate things that uphold that opinion. And that is how you make a name, practice, career, or whatever. And she used the phrase, “That seems deeply non-contemporary to me.” That simply is not the way in which we experience the world anymore. That these things are more interleaved and more interconnected now. And therefore trying
to put a neat circle around something is so obviously reductive as to be ridiculous. I’m hoping that doesn’t mean an end to all kinds of cultural production, but that’s the bit that I’m stuck in at the moment. ANP: I think it’s about adaptation, right? It’s the same thing with journalism—where the subjective experience is undeniable at this point, it’s integrated into reportage and pretending otherwise is crazy. People saying journalism is dead because there’s no way to get to objective truth, in that way I am relieved. I like the idea that the experience is a process. JB: Absolutely. It has historically always been that way. We’ve trusted those experiences of the people who have the loudest voices. And that is starting to break down. ANP: Yes, as soon as you name something, it is gone. It’s the past. We’re continuously putting things behind us as soon as we identify them in a concrete way. Something I find exciting about New Aesthetic: You said it all theoretically coalesces at a certain point, but it seems like actually it would just keep racing ahead of itself. JB: It should. That’s the sign that you’re onto a good thing, right? That’s definitely a sign that there’s something going on here that’s worthy of attention. As soon as you can stamp it and go, “I’ve got that thing,” it’s dead. ANP: Exactly. JB: Something is living here. So as long as you keep that door open to what it might become, then it remains the interesting thing. ANP: I wonder if it’s not even so much an aesthetic that you’re identifying, then, as much as an archetype, or even a form of modern mythology. Am I being too romantic? JB: I hope not. The aesthetic was always the bits that fell off the back as you were looking for it. You find these shards of evidence and you gather them together and go, “Is this the thing? Does it look like this? Is this a bit of evidence for the thing that I’m talking about?” But if you focus on the things then you lose it instantly. You can keep picking up these things and they’re very interesting and they may be pretty or ugly or whatever, but they are merely the artifact of the thing, they’re not the thing itself. ANP: A taxidermied idea. This idea of exploring a seam: Do you think there are seams in our “real world,” our physical experience? JB: Do you know a book called The City & The City by China Miéville?
AT&T and Boston Police anonymous crime reporting billboard in Boston. Photo by Adam Greenfield. What Apple would like to know about you. Apple’s new security questions for iOS.
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Face detection is a computer technology that determines the location and size of a human face in an arbitrary (digital) image. The facial features in the image are detected, and any other objects like trees, buildings, bodies, etc. are ignored. The human face is a rich source of information—by looking at the person’s face, we can immediately identify whether the person is male or female, the person’s approximate age, facial expression, and so on. Face detection can be regarded as a more “general” case of face localization. In face localization, the task is to find the locations and sizes of a known number of faces. http://demo.geotitles.com/face-detect/#server|default
ANP: I’ve noticed that you’ve referenced it before. JB: Yeah, I reference it a lot because it’s so good at describing what I think you’ve just asked about. One thing that’s so brilliant about the book is that it gives you a new vocabulary for describing the world. It describes a city that is two cities overlaid, one upon the other. So they’re sister cities, but they’re not next to each other, they co-exist. And the citizens of the one city are culturated from birth to simply unsee the other city. So you know that the people of your city dress a certain way, the buildings in your city have a certain architecture style, you have a language and a whole culture in common. If you took two steps to the right, you would effectively be in that other city, even though you would not see it. And that’s the world in which this book is set. What’s brilliant is it gives you this vocabulary—there’s a couple particular terms, such as “cross-hatching,” which is the area where the two cities are literally side-byside, building by building. And also “breeching,” a criminal offense, is when you step outside the boundary of your city and you suddenly exist in the other city, which must be guarded against by all means. As soon as you read this book, in the real world you suddenly realize when you’ve breeched. You’re walking down a street and look down an alleyway and see a side of the city that you know you’re not supposed to see, that exists in a totally different zone of culture and awareness. It’s not how you go about your day-to-day life, but once you’ve seen it, once you’ve breeched, it’s unseeable again. That is constantly happening, where you live in your reality bubble, or bubble of metaphors for how you understand the world, and most of the time we’re very good at unseeing the very things that break those metaphors. But occasionally those things get through. So one of the things the New Aesthetic may have been doing is provoking that breech between ideas of the present and the imminent future, between the digital and physical, and saying these things are not as separate as you might have believed they were before, that you are capable of transcending that boundary. But it may provoke very odd reactions within you. ANP: You’re probably going to hate this next question, but what you’re talking about—the subtle perception and the overlap—is what a lot of magic is about. JB: Yep. With a k. ANP: With or without, I think it works both ways. JB: I have a long and abiding fascination with everyone from Crowley to Gurdjieff to way back before then. It’s one of the main taboos of any discussions about consciousness is that people tend to ignore the huge amounts of research done under the name of “magic(k).” It’s just reality manipulation and—well, you’ve read Grant Morrison, right? We’re talking about The Invisibles and technology as standing in for what used to be called magic(k), or various other things. It’s all metaphors. ANP: I figured you had to have some sort of knowledge of these worlds. Is that something you’re allowed to talk about in the circles you run around in? JB: Ha, I’ll talk about anything! Yeah, of course, but you have to be very careful about talking about these things, or at least you have to be sure that when you start talking
in a different set of metaphors, that it’s clear to everyone in the conversation where those metaphors intersect and where they don’t. So I could say the same thing about conspiracy theories, or about attributing intentionality to non-human actions. At some level in all of these things you’re talking in very broad metaphors, and sometimes you’re being deadly serious. Anyone who discusses magic(k) seriously is usually doing both things at the same time. Which is often quite hard, but in terms of circles, no, come on down to Treadwell’s bookshop and we’ll talk about the apophatic silence at the heart of everything, which is produced by magical, noumenal experience. But equally, you can have the same discussion with a bunch of very serious tech people about the difference between a blog post and Twitter. These things are stacks of metaphors. ANP: Yes, and I’d say the language you’re speaking in is universal Polari. It’s like sub-code we can all relate to. JB: Yes, Polari is a code within the language that’s creating a number of other signifiers for what’s understood. Polari’s a good example in terms of it being useful on some levels, internally and externally. So the thing about Polari is that it creates a sense of solidarity amongst its speakers that is visible to those outside even if they don’t understand it, but it’s also a useful way of communicating to people from inside a world. That’s true of magical speech as well. When magicians talk about conversing with higher beings, they don’t necessarily mean, say, Thoth or elder beings. They might just mean higher consciousness or their own inner state. But you’ve created a scene around those things that allow you to discuss it on many levels at once. Yes, that’s what I’m frequently doing. Maybe? Possibly. ANP: Ha, ha. You’re a magician! JB: Ah, you know, we’re all magicians. It’s all good. ANP: We’re over a year later from when you’ve first introduced New Aesthetic. It was May last year, right? JB: That’s when it was given that particular name, which was a very throwaway name at the time, just one of those things that stuck. It was, as I’ve said, very much connected to much longer discussions about struggling to articulate the new experiences that we were having but somewhat denying because we didn’t have the right words to describe them. It seemed like an interesting way of talking about them. ANP: What’s happened in this last year? JB: The last year’s been really interesting. I got to spend a year playing with this idea, and as we discussed, being very careful not to define it. Not to put a direct line on it. My friend Tom Taylor wrote a wonderful thing about it, where he described it as akin to a playlist, something you could drop ideas in and out of and slowly shape a thing. Which is kind of spot-on. My feeling about what I was doing at least on the Tumblr was to put these things out there and see how they felt. And many of them, in hindsight, weren’t what I was talking about. But by putting the things out there, you kind of got to have the conversation about them and shape it further. One of the joys in the process was this constant process of correction. For me, pretty much as soon as anyone else said, “Ah! I see what you’re talking about, here, it’s this.” I go, “That’s brilliant, really interesting, but therefore not that.” Because you’ve been
Extract from the Gallery of Default Anonymity: A Work in Progress by Rob Walker. www.murketing.com
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Various digital glitches in photography and video courtesy of www.glitchnews.tumblr.com
Glitch blanket by Phillip Stearns. “These blankets are layered with irony: a digital photographic image, made with an intentionally broken (rewired) camera, is mechanically woven or knit into a photoblanket, an object commonly advertised as a kitsch memento. In this project, a keepsake for cherishing one’s memories now becomes a platform for fashioning corrupted memory, the cold logic of digital systems into soft, warm blankets.”
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John Rafman, Nacozari De Garcia - Montezuma, Sonora, Mexico (2011) Chromogenic Print. From: 16 Google Street Views. Courtesy of M+B, Los Angeles.
able to put your arms around that particular thing, therefore it is not that. So we’ll veer off into another direction for a bit, and that happened constantly throughout the year. What happened back in March and April, when it exploded, was that kind of happened to almost all of it. Or at least it happened to what was happening on the Tumblr, which was always one aspect of New Aesthetic. There’s been a huge amount of conversation and debate around it. But almost all of that is not what I was talking about, even though it’s been incredibly fascinating to figure out, to see how that happened. On the most basic level, the most interesting thing that happened was that you got to see this immense chasm between technology and art. In that the New Aesthetic was never about art, though artworks were included in it. Rather there’s this huge area of culture that the art world hasn’t really gotten a handle on, and so largely ignored for a long time or treated it completely face value without delving into what was behind it. It suddenly reached a point where a lot of that stuff looks like art to artists, even if it was never produced within the theoretical sphere of the art world. Suddenly the art world has taken up the New Aesthetic, which has produced all sorts of fascinating conversations. But it seems to be a way of saying, “Oh right! It’s that thing there, we’ll grab that and grasp that,” While still missing the changes that are happening under the hood to have made that occur. ANP: You’ve created one specific act of actually creating an amorphous framework that didn’t kill the thing it might contain. You’ve created a chase. JB: Part of me thinks it’s killed a chunk of what I was up to, but that’s OK, that’s just again another correction, and we’ll figure out where it goes next. Yeah, it clearly hit a nerve, right? We would not be talking if it didn’t. That was part of it from early on, to name something that people needed a name for. That’s always very interesting. It doesn’t advance the thing itself necessarily. ANP: It also makes me think about how we form new archetypes or symbols, even. I think about the pixel, or a pixilated edge, becoming a new alchemical symbol. JB: Yeah, there’s something really nice in that. I did a bunch of sigils from pixel stuff. At South by Southwest, I invoked Crowley. But it was me saying, “This is Crowley, talking about words of power and how you bind archetypes and blah blah blah.” And to some extent, that’s what New Aesthetic did. And for a long time after it all kicked off, I was genuinely like, “This is all Crowley’s revenge. I invoked him arrogantly in the wrong way and he is showing me what words of power actually do.” I still fairly believe that to some extent. There’s a very—I hesitate to call it deliberate—a fairly accidental kind of sigil formation that happened there. Without a doubt. And I was also conscious of that process happening and very, very conscious that every single magician who does something like that uses it for powerful ends. And that in itself should be what we try to avoid. ANP: What should we avoid? JB: Trying to have any form of power relations over these things, which is really hard. I get very nervous around manifestos and people claiming to have strong opinions about
things, because that essentially is about control. All of this stuff is slowly figuring itself out. This conversation is as much a part of it as anything. ANP: What’s next for you? JB: I’m mainly interested in two things—well, I’m mainly interested in everything— but still attempting to chase down this idea of how we put ourselves (our memory, experience, and culture) into the things that we make, which is increasingly mediated by the network. The network remains something that we haven’t gotten a handle on. We need to keep endlessly generating new metaphors for it, in order to try to understand. We never truly understand anything, but it’s worth continuing to poke it. And the other side of it is a better understanding of what the hell we’re doing with technology. Like, what we do with it next. So, we’ve built this thing, and we’re still really using it as an extension of old media or telephones or existing things. It’s got to be good for something else. ANP: Are we collaborating with the network or are we becoming more dependent on it? JB: Dependency’s difficult, because we’re always dependent on technology. Except once we’re dumped without them, we seem to mostly do OK. But collaboration is really interesting, the idea that we are co-producing so much of our world now through technologies we’ve made but are largely illegible, whether that’s the stock market or architecture, city planning or the way in which we communicate—those things are intimately bound to the technologies we’ve built. I used to think everyone should learn to code, and I’m not so about that now. It’s the difference between literacy and legibility. I used to think everyone needed to be literate in this stuff; I’m not sure that’s true. It’d be nice but it’s kind of ridiculous. You should at least be legible; people should have a greater awareness of how these things shape everything that we do. I think that’s the only way we’re going to see a larger change in everything, from consciousness to politics to everyday life. www.new-aesthetic.tumblr.com
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At the center of Micaklene Thomas’s exhibition, Origin of the Universe, is a cropped nude portrait of a black female torso. The painting updates L’origine du monde, folding Courbet’s famously ambiguous gesture back on itself to re-inscribe it within a narrative of black identity politics and feminist sexuality. The original ambiguity doesn’t disappear, however— it proliferates a series of new questions about which universe is being created and what or whom is doing the creating. The questions are again re-phrased and compounded on the cover of the monograph accompanying the show, which instead of the nude torso displays a photograph of a one of Thomas’s signature cozy interiors. A brightly patterned couch with a riot of throwpillows nestles in the corner of a presumptive living room, waiting placidly beneath Thomas’s ubiquitous wall-paneling and a photograph of a naked woman seated in a refracted, nearly identical environment, her afro the same size as the vinyl records haloed on the wall behind her. These two different implicit versions of the Origin mutually inform each other and map out the valences Thomas’s work has taken recently—zooming in to deep personal interiors and telescoping out to collaged landscapes and figureless spaces. While ‘figureless’ isn’t usually a very descriptive term, in Thomas’s work it makes sense; the momentum of the body of work she has produced over the last decade of her meteoric rise implies a figure even when none is present. She has become famous for her bold rhinestone-encrusted portraits of black women seated in plush cacophonous interiors, the women’s postures at once seductive and challenging, lustrous and evaluative. This work culminated in Thomas’s gigantic painting commissioned by MOMA in 2010. Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noir—a fractured, explosive kaleidoscope of texture and pattern presided over by three women who look back at the viewer as though waiting for answer as to why you have interrupted their moment (but maybe if you’re cool you can have some quiche). Now, even when Thomas paints a room without anyone there, you still feel the presence of her women boldly gazing out. Thomas’s landscapes remove further from figured space without leaving altogether the realm of interior. Strips of camouflage fight for space with ‘trees’ of wood paneling punctuated with colored shapes that recall Stuart Davis’s work. But under Thomas’s hand, even the naked torso of Origin itself becomes a refracted landscape, viewed and viewing without eyes, a cipher yet still a real physical presence. Origin of the Universe— Thomas’s recent large-scale solo museum exhibition, at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, represents a huge transition in her work both in style and subject matter, while retaining her signature themes. We spoke about the new show, her technique and what has lead her to this point in a recent phone conversation... by Sean Kennerly / images courtesy the artist
(previous page) Portrait of Mnonja with Flower in Her Hair #2, 2011 Rhinestones, acrylic and enamel on wood panel, 60x48 in. (this spread) Le Dejeuner sur lâ€™herbe les Trois Femmes Noires, 2010 Rhinestones, acrylic and enamel on wood panel, 120x288 in. Baby I am Ready Now, 2007 Rhinestones, acrylic and enamel on wood panel, 72 x132 in.
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Sean Kennerly: The first thing that jumped out at me about your show Origin of the Universe is the space in the paintings. How did you approach space differently for this show? Micaklene Thomas: The space in the work has to do with how I’m considering a collage space against a flat space and a perspective space. Flatness versus perspective. I was considering the edge of things, how certain elements of an edge can determine what’s in a foreground or a background. A lot of my earlier works were very central and very flat, and oriented the image more graphically. I was really interested in how flatness could appear flat, but once you deal with the edge of it, you could create depth-of-field. That came about through working with my collages—the tactile, hands-on considering of the materiality of how I could transform a collage into a painting. I’m not sure if I’m always successful, but I’m trying to transform the essence of a collage into a painting. SK: It seems like you approach your landscapes more from a collage perspective. MT: Yeah, I think it’s partly that, but I think the landscape informs more of the collage element, because it allows me to work with the image itself and juxtapose all the contrasting elements I am working with on a flat plane without a figure. Because in the beginning, I was thinking those ways, but it would always become convoluted in my creative mind because the figure held such importance for me and was so much more significant in relationship to the center—there wasn’t enough critical distance where I could just think about formal aspects of the image, there was a different connection. So I think working with the landscape allows me to be more free in how I approach the process. That transition in how I
approached my studio practice opened up new ways in how I was working and looking at the images that I’m interested in. SK: You have a painting from 2007 called Baby I’m Ready Now… MT: Yeah, I did that for a 2007 show at Caren Golden Gallery. It was a two person I did with Shinique Smith. The title of the show was Prime Time, and Baby I’m Ready Now was a title that I took from a song by Mille Jackson. It’s an image of my friend Aisha Belle. The painting is a play on the idea of the availability of this black woman’s sexuality, of the appropriateness or inappropriateness of a specific stereotypical idea of black women’s sexuality. I used that as a way of creating that image. For me, that was probably one of the first paintings where I really started thinking about the interior space or core, and about how the figure, the model sat in that space. It no longer became centralized graphically, but became more about how she resided in that space, her body language, how the control of her environment, her own situation and her gaze, and how she was situated in that space. I guess it’s a diptych, but I look at it as one painting. And it was the first time where one side of it was without a figure and was mostly abstracted space—I think it’s the left side—and that was very exciting for me, it was like, ‘Ok I’m going to try this, I don’t know how this is going to work, but…’ I was very interested in creating a space that has a figure in it, and how that space relates to or responds to the figure but in an abstracted way—just have it be like a one painting next to a bigger painting and see how those two things work together. It was the beginning of me experimenting with allowing my collages and what’s happening in my collage work translate into
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painting with the tools of painting, if I could. It was very exciting that in some ways it worked for me. In the craft of it there were some parts that were flat and in the foreground and then the space receded and the way she sat in it you really got a sense of her being in the environment that I create in my studio where I photographed her. So for me that painting had great significance because it was a drastic shift in my work from 2005 to 2006, and it opened the door for a lot of works from 2006 that incorporate the way I make my collages. I really wanted to keep some of those edges and force that in a way, and play with it in the sense that, ‘OK, I’m doing this in the collage, why am I not doing it in the painting?’ I was removing things and omitting things so much that, once I got to the painting, I didn’t feel like things were evolving in the direction that I wanted them to. But I try to have my studio practice inform the evolution, the process of my work in the direction that it’s going to go, just to have it be very organic, it’s very important to me because of a lot things change from one body of work to the next, but it’s not some drastic jump or shift, it’s a slight progression of where the works going and what I’m thinking about. It all comes from work I do in my studio and playing with different materials. SK: When you’re doing a collage, you’re working in the studio, but you’re envisioning something outside of it, but your interior work is always manufactured in the studio. MT: Yeah, I have an interior up in the studio right now. I feel like it’s best, it’s my process from start to finish. I guess for some it could seem quite laborious, but for me, through every aspect of the work I’m thinking about constructing the paintings, the composition of the paintings, the sitter in the painting
(clockwise from top left) Landscape Majestic, 2011 Woodblock, silkscreen and digital collage print, 52x68 5/8 in. Portrait of Madame Mama Bush 1, 2010 Rhinestones, acrylic and enamel on wood panel, 84x108 in. Something You Can Feel, 2008 Rhinestones, acrylic and enamel on wood panel, 96x120 in. Three Graces Les Trois Femmes Noires, 2011 Rhinestones, acrylic and enamel on wood panel, 108x144 in.
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Interior: Striped Foyer, 2011 Color photograph and paper collage, 11x8 1/2 in. (opposite) Interior: Two Chairs and a Fireplace, 2012 Rhinestones, acrylic and enamel on wood panel, 96x72 in.
- for me, I enjoy the tangible thing, so I really need to visually construct the space so I can start thinking about how I want to create the painting. It goes as far as where I do build up the installation, I throw wall paneling up, wallpaper, the cots are arranged, the linoleum, the carpet and all that. It’s creating a real environment, so when I photograph the models, it’s exciting and fun, and they’re not just sitting in front of a fabric that’s on the wall. They really become part of the space and engage with the space. From those photographs I then select which ones I want to print and cut up for my collages. I make a series of collages. My collage work is more like a way of drawing, of figuring out what kind of relationships I want in the painting, as far the flat planes of color, the wood-paneling what’s the rhythm of the painting. I then I choose which collage I want to transform into a painting. Sometimes it works, and then sometimes I have to reference one of the collages that I didn’t use because the color’s better and it changes. But it allows me to work a lot of things out first before I go to the painting. That’s not to say that once you start painting that things don’t change – they do. Not everything that works in a collage works well in the materials that I’m working with when I’m making a painting. SK: Your work also seems to have shifted in its temporal focus—your new show has fewer references to ‘70s or ‘60s style. MT: Well, when I was invited to do this show with Lisa Melandri, when my gallery Susanne Vielmetter in Los Angeles spoke with the Santa Monica Museum
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about doing a solo show, initially they wanted to do all loaned works, borrowed works for the show, I thought that was exciting, because of course that’s what museums want to do, they want to see if they can curate an idea around works that already exist. I had a conversation with her, and you know I was playing with a lot of ideas in my studio and I started changing some of the material I was working with, I began working in oil paint. I spoke to Lisa and I said, you know I want to do some new works. I want to shift my painting in a new direction but still have it conceptually be interesting to me, to still have it come from some my ideas from the ‘70s and concepts that I have, but to bring in new ones. It was an opportunity for me to try these things and put it out there and play around. As an artist, I think it’s important to have my work not be about just one thing. As I develop and my work changes, my ideas do to. I’m interested in many things, and I hope to bring some of those experiences and those ideas into the work, so that those aspects are prevalent and people can get a piece of where I’m at, and where I think I want my work to go. The interiors in the show were inspired by a show that I saw at MOCA on interiors of the 50s and 60s that I really enjoyed, as well from a book that I found years ago called the Practical Encyclopedia of Good Decorating and Home Improvement. When I found one of these volumes, I thought ‘Hmm, I’m creating some of these in my studio,’ and so I went on Amazon and got the entire edition. I wanted to figure out how I could incorporate some of these images into my own works.
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Hair Portrait #7, 2012 Rhinestones and acrylic on wood panel, 48x40 in. (opposite, clockwise from top left) Portrait of Marie Sitting in Black and White, 2012 Photogravure 21x16 3⁄4 in. From an Edition of 20 and 8 Artist’s Proofs Put Something Down On It, 2009, C-Print, 60x48 in. From an Edition of 5 and 2 Artist’s Proofs Hot Wild Unrestricted, 2009 C-Print, 24x30 in. From an Edition of 5 and 2 Artist’s Proofs
I began to scan them in and get photographs printed of them, and then started collaging them, mixing them up with other images that I had. SK: You’re specifically talking about the interiors in the show, the Striped Foyer painting and Blue Couch with Green Owl? MT: Yeah, those come from images from the encyclopedia and photographs of landscapes that I’ve taken, from my own photographic resources and my installations. I wanted to recreate an interior environment that was removing the figure. Artificial spaces that appear to be real environments, but they’re not. None of those spaces exist—they’re all fabrications of spaces that I would imagine, or spaces that I would create if I could with the actual materials. It was easier to do it with the collage and then make paintings of them. And I wanted to do something without the figure—it’s as simple as that. SK: You also went in the other direction, with close-ups of the figure in your updating of Courbet’s L’origine du monde. Was that a counter-balance? MK: Absolutely. It’s a way to have all these aspects of my work in the show. It’s also just about having fun with painting. Sometimes I can get bogged down with certain things and images, so for me, I just want to have fun with the painting and creating the image. I think working abstractly without a figure, it’s just easier sometimes, you know, figure painting and portrait painting you get so attached to that person that it doesn’t allow you to really think about a painting. And I started looking at a lot of other bodies of work that I never really truly considered before—I became really interested in Stuart Davis and how these flat planes of color, how he created these flat planes and geometric shapes of color to create space. I found those very interesting and wanted to use some of those elements in my own work. And that’s why every once in a while you’ll see these big sheets or shapes of flat color. He creates a different type of collage of shapes that I find very interesting. There’s a rhythm that I’m
interested in. It reminds me of Jacob Lawrence. So those are some new things that I’m playing with in my own work. I’m interested in that way of painting right now. I think I’m interested in genres and formalities of painting more than the concept behind it. SK: In general, your work seems very joyful and positive. MT: It does? That’s nice. SK: I wonder if you really think of it that way, as opposed to this dark heavy thing where you’re working out demons… MT: Yeah, the world’s already full of that. You know, I’m interested in beautiful images and things that make people feel good. I actually like that you think that my images are positive. If was to start working with dark and heavy ideas or images, I would probably get depressed. I think some people can work with those things, but I can’t. It’s not how I live my life and I think my work has all aspects of who I am as a person. Artwork and creativity are an extension of the person. It’s up to us to make works that make the viewer see the world in our way. That could be political, or controversial—whatever aspects that person is interested in, it’s up to them to be as authentic as they can with their creative work. SK: Courbet’s L’origine has a long history controversy and censorship—I was reading the other day about how it is currently banned on Facebook. MT: You can’t post mine there either. You can’t even print them in newspapers or use them for press. SK: You’ve encountered problems with that already? MT: Yeah. It’s really funny. I think when as a society we allow women to have control over our own reproductive rights, that’s when we are going to allow a female nude to exist in the world the way it should be. We still have a long way to go when we have our government determining what a woman can and cannot do to her own body. We still have problems. The female nude in that sense, it’s like c’mon now, where are we? Where are we living? It’s
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so much deeper than an edict of female genitalia. That image will always be very powerful, it will always be controversial because of the problems we have in the world. It’s like, there’s other issues that require our attention much more than a created, secondary image that’s of an expression in an artistic form that’s about the illusion and fantasy that’s trapped into the provocative notions of what we’re dealing with. There are other ways that we could deal with this issue than banning certain expressions of creativity. Those things, these images are harmless. The restrictions they put on women’s reproductive rights are harmful. I have problems with them not letting the image up on Facebook. They think people aren’t able to deal with certain images. There’s such a waste about female sexuality. You know, I’m glad to know that my body has so much power in the world that people cannot deal with that, with looking of female sexuality. America—we’re complacent and lazy. It just makes me really sad somehow that we can’t use certain images in 2013. That’s why it’s important for artists to keep making what they’re going to make. Because there may be some time when we may not be able to. We may jailed or fined or stoned. So I’ll stick to my pretty images for a little longer. I’m not ready to have a fight. That’s why I love Tracy Emin’s work. She did a sort of Origin of the Universe but with her neon lights. So colorful, just a line form, saying so much with so little. But those were banned too.
PETER SHIRE by Aaron Rose / Portrait by Joshua White, Images Courtesy the Artist
Anyone who is familiar with the East Side of Los Angeles has undoubtedly spent time in the neighborhood of Echo Park. It’s now considered one of the trendiest areas to live in in the city, chocked full of cafes, natural markets and clothing boutiques catering to the upwardly mobile hipster. However, that hasn’t always been the case. Back in the 1950s the area had a much different name. They called it the Red Gulch. The area got this name because at the time (all through the 1950s and 1960s) it was the hotbed of American Communist activity in Los Angeles. If you’re wondering what this has to do with artist Peter Shire, then you’re in for a treat. In fact, this is an article that I’ve been trying to get into this magazine for years. I first learned about Peter, his history and his work when I was housesitting for some friends in Echo Park. These friends were at the time subletting the Shire family house and it was through my brief time living there that I learned his story. Peter was what they used to call a Red Diaper baby, meaning that his parents were communists. He grew up in this house and the place literally reeked of counter-cultural history. It was a wonder of mid-century design, simple and perfect in it’s construction. But by the time I was staying there Peter has basically customized the whole thing with his unique primary colored sculptural elements so that it felt something like a hybrid between a Charles Eames construction and a the set of a Go-Go’s video. It was wild. I became incredibly intrigued by the secret slice of Los Angeles history that Peter had opened up for me and it drove me to dig deeper. I soon found out that not only was Peter Shire an artist who grew up with communist parents, but his entire family had influenced the cultural landscape of Los Angeles. His brother, Billy Shire is a popular gallerist as well as founder of the underground
bookstore/art gallery Wacko in Los Feliz. They are a true artist family. Peter has considered himself an artist since the 1960s when he was a teenager, but it wasn’t until he discovered ceramics that he really began to blossom. Through access to pottery, he began to develop a unique style of post-modernism that permeates his work even today. Ceramics eventually led to furniture design and it was while pursuing furniture that he was introduced to the worldrenowned designer, Ettore Sottsass who was at the time developing a whole new school of design he was calling Memphis. The Memphis Group was an Italian design and architecture group that started around 1981. They drew inspiration from such movements as Art Deco and Pop Art including styles such as the 1950s Kitsch and futuristic themes. Their designs included PostModern furniture, fabrics, ceramics, glass and metal objects. The group’s colorful, ironic pieces were hailed as some of the most iconic examples of Post Modernism in design and the arts. Peter Shire was soon to become their only American member. Now, with some serious credibility under his belt, Peter began to really expand his range. Back in Los Angeles, he embarked on numerous large-scale sculptural and architectural projects alongside continuing innovations in ceramics, metal and furniture. He started Echo Park Pottery in a disused industrial space, just blocks where he grew up and continues to maintain that studio to this day. If you happen to find yourself in the neighborhood, please stop by his studio. There are some wonderful things to see, feel, taste and buy there. Unique stories in Southern California are a dime a dozen, but very few are as loaded with innovation, politics and artistic diversity as the creative life of Peter Shire. He is a true one of a kind and we could not be more excited about this interview.
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(above) Cabbibi-Erke, 1984, Mixed media. Installed in Elysian Park, Los Angeles. Photograph by Gerry Lapple for Arts & Architecture magazine (clockwise, from opposite top left) The Shire family, 1951 Photograph by Doyd Olmsted Interiors of the Mid-Century home in Echo Park built by Peter’s father, Hank Shire. Peter Shire with Bone Aire chair, Seattle, 1983 Photograph by Kevin Latona
Aaron Rose: I’m really interested in your childhood and growing up in Echo Park, living with parents who built this amazing house and were members of the communist party. Also how that environment informs your work as an artist. Peter Shire: It informs it all the way! I’ve actually been trying to come to grips with that more and more. But it’s not like the old saying about you how become your parents. It’s the part where I realize that everybody comes from somewhere. In my case it’s a very intense and overloaded somewhere. The humanistic, idealistic political system stuff because my parents were American communists. You know, if you were living in the late 1960s and had a beard you were an immediate target. Now it’s ok. That rebellious imagery has been co-opted by the working class. The computer has also changed everything. Political manipulation can be done much differently than the 1950s and 1960s and they don’t need the target of the red scare. “They” of course, meaning presumably the oligarchy or whatever. The upshot of all this is that political action has taken on such a radically different aspect because the political system and political idealism has changed so much since then. You know what we were called as kids...the kids of parents who were communists? Red Diaper Babies! There was also this predominant idea that you could be born a Catholic, but you could not be born a communist. AR: How aware of the Red Scare were you as a kid growing up? PS: We were very aware of it! They called Echo Park the Red Gulch. Some people also called it Red Hill, but I’ve always known it as Red Gulch. I asked one of my Dad’s friends who lived in the area with us about this and he said, “Sometimes when we were kidding we called it Red Gulch, but really we all called it Happy Valley!” AR: Do you know why so many politically minded people gravitated to the area around Echo Park during that time? PS: First of all there were political people all over Los Angeles. Why this particular area got the emblematic locus I don’t really know. My dad came from New York and when he moved to Los Angeles he first lived in Chavez Ravine, which is a few valleys over from Echo Park. The thing is that like in any era, the high-end people, the people who have really got it...whether it’s in design or art or politics, become the signifier. It’s like art deco. Go out and try to find some art deco. There’s not much if you really think about it. I remember the first time I went to the Milan furniture fair and I was expecting to be inundated by good design and it was just acres and acres of the worst crap. Things like brass beds and stuff. Most of the really great companies weren’t even there! So when you talk about how many communists there were in Los Angeles it’s the same. This was the bizarre part for me growing up. They all came to my parents’ house. They were my parents’ friends. It was a community. But maybe in my age group it was like only four or five families. It’s conceivable that there were twenty families total across Los Angeles. AR: How old were you during the height of the Red Scare? PS: Well it’s been with me for my whole life! There was always an awareness in my family that we didn’t talk about it to other people. My parents used to call it “The Club”. My dad was in the carpenter’s club and my mom was in the neighborhood club. They would have a meeting once a week where everyone was assigned topics. Basically they reviewed the news of the world. Part of the Marxist jargon had to do with having a “world view.” It was the idea that one didn’t see oneself as a microcosm, but in relation to the world. They would all read and discuss articles from the newspaper. But guys in suits did come to our door and that whole business. They were nuts. It was so stupid. What’s funny is that the FBI guys who were functionary in it didn’t even have any idea who they were working for! It’s just like now. Why would anybody vote for a republican? I mean, what part of this are you not getting bud? You know what I mean? You know it’s funny, speaking of that, there was all this media attention at the time about the Hollywood Ten, but my dad used to always say, “Well what about the other 10,000?” What about everyone else who has had their lives taken apart? AR: Were your parents artists? PS: My dad was trained as an artist. He graduated for graphic design and illustration in 1932. I remember as a kid watching the hearings on Un-American Activities on TV and the whole time he was drawing portraits of all those guys. I also remember going to rallies in these big auditoriums when I was a kid. My mom also had an extreme interest in the arts. My dad did hundreds of paintings and cartoons and brochures, but there became a time for him when that wasn’t backed up by an income. I remember one year he turned our whole living room into a studio and did these 20-foot murals. But he eventually became a carpenter when he had a family. It’s funny because as artists we really do work for the wealthy. I do for sure. My grandfather was a political exile from Russia. He fled and ended up working as a cabinet-maker for the rest of his life. My dad ended up becoming a contractor and working for very wealthy people. There’s that thing about us all becoming our parents. I’ve noticed that my way of negotiating and dealing with people is essentially the same as his. So being a commie when I was a kid, all those things still come through in my life today. AR: I’m sure you’ve seen the neighborhood change so much... PS: Well sure I’ve seen it change! There’s this great cartoon by Sir David Lowe in one of my dad’s old books. He’s got this one where it’s the Japanese as the war tiger eating a Chinese peasant, and the peasant is saying, “Ok, but only up to here” meaning to his chest. Well that’s the same with Echo Park. “Only up to here.” People always come into the neighborhood for a certain reason, but then they completely pave it over. It will always maintain some semblance of being this bypass community, you know funky houses and lots of trees, but if you look at the community organizations that exist here in Echo Park today, they’re all real estateoriented, not socially-oriented. AR: One last thing about your childhood. I’d like to talk for a second about the house you grew up in. Your father built it right? PS: Yes. My father built it. The house was designed by an architect, Joseph Van Der Carr. He was also communist. That’s why my parents used him. He wasn’t really a political guy, but he did have to testify to the Un-American Activities Committee but
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he refused to tell anything. When my folks died we inherited the house and it now belongs to my brother and I. I’m actually living in it now. It’s a straight on modernist home. It is literally a midcentury modern home, redwood post and beam. It was finished in 1950. AR: I really like the way that, since you’ve taken it over, you’ve added newer elements. Things such as postmodern artworks and sculptures that really don’t fit with the original architects design. PS: Some of the changes are as you say “add-ons” so yes, we’ve pounded it with a bit of a postmodern take back. This is a big deal. It brings up some interesting philosophical questions about our moment. We’re a society that wants to be entertained and that for the most part has been removed a step from basic survival. So I’m very interested in how this informs our lives and how does political idealism meet a cultural one. The works I’ve installed in the house are informed by that. The complicated thing is that Joe Van der Karr probably only designed eight or ten houses and I don’t think he cared about the career part. He was a very modest guy, which was an anomaly for an architect. He would only design for people who were of an idealistic political bent. AR: When did you first realize that you had some sort of artistic talent? PS: Well, I guess I had some sort of idea of it from the time I was about five! But then everybody is an artist when they’re five. This is something that I’ve thought about before, because as you get older you review things. There comes a time in elementary school when kids kind of divide up into categories. Some kids are math kids and one kid is a dinosaur kid and then there were a half a dozen of us that were art guys. So this went on and eventually we were all sent to Chouinard (an important West Coast art school that operated from 1921 to 1972. It eventually became Cal Arts-ed). I would go on Saturdays both in junior high and in high school. I was good in all of those art things, but not in the other academic subjects. I had become very interested in ceramics. There was a moment where I really started to take it very seriously. At that point I knew I had to be something. I had to make a move. I knew it wasn’t going to be in math and I knew it was not going to be in English. Also, being an artist seemed like the most interesting and the most romantic and the most fantastic career I could choose. There’s a great notion of the diagonal capability of art and artists. I pursued it but my teacher and my mom decided that I should go to City College first for academics. They didn’t think I was ready for a full on art school. It was probably a good thing for me. It taught me discipline. What’s funny is that at City College I got kicked out of all of my art classes. AR: Really? Why was that? PS: Well, I can only surmise that the woman that taught me art there was a piece of work. She was a mess in the way that only women can be a mess when they’re really a mess. She probably had some kind of inkling that I was good and she was reacting to that. When I asked her why I was failing she wouldn’t tell me. I was in tears. I got kicked out, so I ended up applying to go to Choinard full time in 1968. That was really formative because it really set my cadence so I could survive. When I was taking about being an artist and becoming an artist, it was something I dared not articulate or even make plans for. I just had to go right for it. AR: When you left school were you looking to be a commercial artist or to show in galleries? How did your career manifest? PS: That’s always the thing isn’t it? It was like that then and it’s the same now. I was out of school for maybe a couple of months and I got a call from a friend to share a studio. At the same time my parents and my brother and I had just started The Soap Plant. The original space was on Sunset Junction. My brother eventually bought it from my parents and took it over and moved to Melrose. AR: What year was that? PS: Oh, that was in 1971. The Soap Plant actually just had their 40-year anniversary. So we were merchandising the store. There were all these family connections. My grandfather was a cabinetmaker and my father was a carpenter and I do custom furniture too so things just stacked up. Also around that time I got a job at Franciscan Pottery. Franciscan was a pottery manufacturing company in Los Feliz. They were a very large ceramics company. It made sense for me, it being ceramic related and my goal was to work there for a year and then to get my own studio. Working there did a very operative thing for me. After that I decided that I would never go work for anyone again. AR: Which is really what you have to do with own your craft. You have to find that focus. PS: Well for my first year in the studio I really didn’t know what to do. Within the ceramic milieu there was a different approach
Selected Ceramic Works, 1978-1986
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than in the art world. There weren’t galleries that would come and look at your things. I did all the juried shows with a bunch of guys that I’d always see. But that got old. It became upsetting when I noticed that if I tried to second guess the public I did well but when I did what I liked I didn’t. There was a guy named Bernard Zimmerman and he sent me to see this woman who had a gallery. She loved my work and then I did my first show. That was 1975. AR: How were you first introduced to the Memphis group? PS: I read about them in a magazine! There was a little piece in something on a couple of Memphis teapots. Ettore Sottsass was very in tune. He had actually done a little magazine when he was at Stanford that I saw. His wife was a translator there and she had translated all the beat poets. Eventually they found about what I was doing and came looking for me. When I looked at those guys the first time I was like, “Those are the shoes that I’m always looking for!” AR: So you were already doing work that was fitting into a Memphis aesthetic? PS: It was all there. At least to me, I always incorporate all the things I love! I love merchandise and I love merchandising and I love craft. I don’t mean the craft aesthetic. I mean the craft action. I love sculpture and I love drawing and so forth...and, of course, I really love design! The way I define design is that it’s the act of being a maker in the abstract. So somehow I can do that. Of course when I got to Italy and met the entire Memphis crowd there I was in Sottsass’ office. He had this storage closet that was behind these accordion doors and I’d go in there and see all this stuff. I’d say to myself, “I remember that!!” It was like as if this guy imagined me. I had been looking at his stuff in magazines for years. It was the stuff that inspired me. AR: Were you living in Italy at the time? PS: No, I was just going there a lot. My wife always teases me because every time we would dream up a project to do over there they would never let us live there. But I did travel to Italy quite a bit. Who knows maybe it’s better that I never lived there. AR: I find it very interesting that you were able to take the Memphis aesthetic, which really is a European invention, yet put a very unique Southern California spin on it. PS: Yes. Of course! Basically my deal is that I’m incorrigible. That’s my deal. That’s what its all about. I always want to be a little bit bad. Let’s go steal something you know? The design guys before the Memphis crowd were all kind of like Chinese tea. They’ve must be steeped, and warmed and always in good taste and sepias and olive greens and siennas and then here comes us Memphis guys! We were all talking to each other. As creative people, we don’t do things all alone. We look for our people. You know we have to talk to each other right? We were a bunch of talented headstrong guys so you’ll find that a lot of it was non-verbal. We were just watching each other. There was also a lot of that protracted Italian communist pseudo-Bauhaus dialogue about how we were doing it for the people. I’d always be like, “Come on Man! We’re making custom furniture!” They thought they were all political acts. You know for me, storming the barricades is an example of a political act. Really putting your ass on the line. How do you explain making design as a political act? It’s sort of silly. But I suppose there is a political aspect to everything. My parents believed that design could help improve people’s lives and that’s why they built that house 50 or 60 years ago. AR: That’s very true. PS: Do you know the story about the mandate of heaven? Well it says that no matter what happens or what people believe, society will continue to move on in their own directions. The idea of design, architectural control, etc. moved over a little bit with Memphis into the human arena and said, “Yes these things can be organized but they’re not going to stay that way.” Things aren’t organized in that way by nature. They’re organized, but not in that way. AR: Would you consider that an overriding philosophy behind Memphis? This breaking apart of prescribed aesthetic structure? PS: That’s a question that I haven’t really thought about. I mean Memphis was definitely out of control...or in control depending on how you’re looking at it. It’s out of bounds for sure. There was a break in aesthetic at that point and for that reason alone it became very important in the latter half of 20th Century design. My standard take was that we were examining computer technology before computers really took hold. We were interested in the computer’s ability to really dummy everything up all at once. That’s where we came in as Californians. That how we solve things out here. One thing they used to say about T.S. Elliot and James Joyce was that they weren’t concerned with doing something completely different. They were concerned with doing something completely of
their time. I suppose our concerns were similar. We were moving outside of the production model. Our world was moving from being a making society to an information society. We were moving from being a manufacturing society to becoming a manipulating and managing society. You could even say that we’ve become a bit parasitic as a society. AR: When you are creating your work, would you say that it is still in reaction to something? PS: Always! I would say especially in reaction to things that offend me. That was a big part of Memphis. It was created with all these offensive materials. You know Formica and strange patterns. During that period we were all living with an exhilaration of absurdity. We just loved that offbalancedness. That’s still a question for me now. Is that what I still ascribe to? I mean, I come from the Bauhaus school. It was very Germanic. Those guys were hardcore. Everything had to be functional. I look at Bauhaus architecture sometimes and think, “This thing is amazing but where are the family photos?” Where is the life in this? Julius Schulmann’s photos are so perfect. You know the guy is changing the record and the girl is in a taffeta dress. he’s not even close to bedding her! He’s not even allowed to touch her. Where is the life in that? AR: I think about that myself. This picture perfect world that ‘50s mid-century modernism promised, but the reality was that everyone was really damaged behind those pristine exteriors. You know, where’s
the mess? Where is the laundry on the floor? Where’s the shot of mom passed out drunk on the couch. That same tradition still holds in architectural photography today... PS: Could that look good? I’m not sure. Here’s the deal. Schulman did two things. He was consciously apolitical and he hurt for it. He was embarrassed by it. He would never admit it though because he had a huge ego, but the thing that he came back with was that he put people in his shots. Nobody had done that before. AR: Where did the idea of making teapots come from? PS: Well, that all comes from my roots in ceramics. The teapot is the standard in ceramics. It’s the one. It is by far the most complicated thing to get right in all respects. Balance, functionality, and the look of the whole piece. The tea cups too. Looking at it over the years I’ve discovered that the teapot is also the social moderator in a situation. It’s the center of the party. Everybody pours from the teapot. The cup is the individual. It’s the introspective side or the ego. I’ve made arguably about 40,000 teacups at least. So the upshot of it is that my cups were pretty well taken. The teacups were kind of a darling for me. AR: Lets talk about your sculptural work. Can you describe your process a bit? How does it start? What is the process for creating one of your sculptures? PS: Everything is always coming out of philosophy. Sometimes it might be a straight up visual thought, but all vision is informed by philosophy anyway.
(clockwise from top) Bel Air Chair, 1982, Wood and upholstery Hollywood Table, 1983, Wood, enamel and laminate Brazil Table (for Memphis), 1981, Wood and enamel Big Sur Couch (for Memphis), 1985, Wood, enamel and wool panta (opposite, clockwise from top) Bette Blanc & Bette Noir, 2007, Steel, enamel and wood Nuovo Belle Aire Chair, 2007, Steel, aluminum, polychrome March of Time (4 Chairs), 1991, Steel, enamel, screws Pizz-O-Lover, 2007, Steel, enamel, and wood Oh My Cats, 2007, Steel and enamel Right Weld #1, 2007, Steel, enamel, rope, mixed media.
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(clockwise from top left): Cherry Tea, 1992, Enamel, wood and steel. Sumimasen, 1992, Stainless steel, bamboo and hinoki. Subarashi, 1992, Enamel and steel. Ohayo Gozaimasu, 1992, Stainless steel, bamboo and hinoki. (opposite) Encino Public Library, Encino, California, 2004.
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(clockwise from top left) Goodrock’en Angel with Cubi Tiki Head, 2010, Enamel and steel, West Hollywood, CA Time to Shop/Sky Hook, 1985, mixed media, Santa Ana, California Untitled, 1980, Steel, aluminum, pearlescent paint. Collection of Lodz Museum, Poland
That’s the thing, and it relates straight back to my education. Drawing is the center. Everything always starts there. There are so many stories. We are Western people and drawing is at the center of all Western art. As I understand it, Islamic and Middle Eastern art have calligraphy at their center. So for me, everything bounces against the work on paper. You know money, quest, desire, the ability to imagine... AR: Is there a lot of trial and error involved for you? PS: Well, most of the trial and error happens on the page. That’s one of the advantages. You’re working though stuff on paper all the time and it goes all these funny ways. It’s like dreams. You know how you have a dream and you wake up and it makes perfect sense and you go to yourself, “How could that make perfect sense?” Then you can start to solve that problem on the page. You know you see something in your head that is connecting, but on paper it doesn’t even end up there. That’s an ability to visualize which luckily I seem to have. It works out really oddly at times. I did this big piece in Japan, and they weren’t worried about liability issues the way we are in the United States. So I proposed that we cut this big kettle, which had been part of a large beer vat so the escalator passengers in this structure could pass through a notch in it. I kept saying, “It’s gonna fit there!” The engineers were like, “No it won’t!” I kept saying it would! One of the engineers spent hours trying to make it work. Then, when they installed it, of course it worked. That’s the deal. Luckily I can do that a lot of the time. I can draw things and they end up being pretty much that way. It’s funny though because all of these things are stuff that all those other guys that I went to school with were really good at but I was terrible at, yet I’m the only one who is still doing it. AR: Oh, but that’s so classic... PS: Like with drafting. These guys in school would draft these amazing cars. I was always like, “I wanna draw a car!” But mine were always smudged and terrible. But now I can do it. Still though, I do run into problems where things work in the sketch, but not in physical space. There’s always some rod that I have to get over to a corner that doesn’t quite fit. So it really does go both ways. I’m usually refining things on site. The tricky thing is that after I’ve made all these changes on site, how do I get the original feeling of it to remain? One of the great things about having my shop here is that I can play with things in real space. Of course, the interesting thing to me is that people always want my finished objects above the drawings. I think the drawings are just as interesting. People want the discipline and the sweat that goes into the object itself, and I suppose there is something to that, but to me most of that is pretty boring. It’s fun, it’s nice, it takes your time up, but the process is just doing it. It’s just a process. Completing is important, and it’s also a big deal but it’s just a function. It’s not a flight moment. AR: If there was an over-arching emotional response that you would hope people get from your work what would it be? PS: Let’s love him!! Let’s go rub him.
(opposite) Studio Parking Lot, Photograph by Joshua White
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BACK MATTER CONTRIBUTOR BIOS Francesca Gavin is a writer, editor and curator based in London. She is the Visual Arts Editor of Dazed & Confused, the art editor of Twin and a Contributing Editor at AnOther and Sleek Magazine. Her books ‘100 New Artists’, ‘Creative Space’, ‘Hell Bound: New Gothic Art’ and ‘Street Renegades’ are all published by Laurence King. She has written for publications including Vogue, Wallpaper*, It’s Nice That, Nylon, Bon, icon, Oyster, Blueprint, Art Review and Sunday Times Style and is the curator of the Soho House group. www.roughversion.blogspot.com Lisa Rovner is a French American filmmaker, writer and artist whose interest in cultural studies has led her to experience media as an art material, and mass media as a curatorial space. The medium is her medium. Through her expansive work in film, photography, performance and the written word, Rovner engages with historical precedents and predecessors all the while confronting History with her story. Her company, Message is the Medium, specializes in creative consulting and branded films. www.messageisthemedium.com Kate Williams writes about art, music, fashion and pop culture for magazines and websites. She grew up in Kansas, not far from the Garden of Eden, but she is pretty sure that her own personal utopia lies someplace not far from the beach. Or maybe the desert...but there are definitely cacti. More of her work can be found at www.lightasafeatherstiffasaboard.co. King Tuff is a musician and visual artist from Brattleboro, Vermont, now living in Los Angeles. He grew up reading dirty comic books and playing baseball, spent the middle part of his life writing rock & roll songs, partying and texting, and eventually settled down as an old man, oil painting in his cabin in the woods, bald with long hair on the sides, wearing glasses, drinking wine, watering his plants, stacking his books, dancing by himself, and looking out of his many windows. Chris Lux is artist, a painter, and a sculptor who lives and works in Los Angeles. He is represented by Jancar Jones Gallery and has recently published a book 12 Saints through Peradam Press in New York City. He interviewed Clare Rojas for this issue. Alexis Georgopoulos is a composer and artist based in New York City. As ARP, he makes liminal, minimal music, often with analog synthesizers and, increasingly, with classical stringed instruments. His album The Soft Wave (Smalltown Supersound) was named a New York Times Notable Album of 2010. He is currently at work on two albums of new material which be released by Smalltown Supersound and RVNG INTL, respectively, in 2013. Liz Armstrong’s primary quest is perfecting the art of writing motivational notes of self-fulfilling prophecy, though she also devotes much of her time to exploring subtle methods of perception and communication. She finds living in Los Angeles a huge enabler of fascination with all things glittery and fantastic. A professional writer, she covers topics of invented immersive reality—currently for this publication, Vice, The Fader, and Rookie. When not jacked up on magical, heady concepts in front of a computer screen, she’s playing saxophone, DJing at KCHUNG, encouraging friends to just fucking go for it already, or is off on some adventure generally involving mountains, partial nudity, ridiculous mishap, and spreading love. Pat Graham has been photographing artists, designers and musicians for over a decade. His photographs have been featured in artwork for iconic record covers such as Bikini Kill’s eponymous first LP, Modest Mouse’s Lonesome Crowded West, and many more. He has been included in numerous books and articles and has exhibited widely across the world. He is a partner in 96 Gillespie, a non-profit art gallery in London. His photographs have been featured in Rolling Stone, Spin, Artforum, Dazed & Confused, Village Voice, the Guardian and many others. His first book of photographs, Silent Pictures, was published by Chronicle Books in 2011. He shot our cover boy James Bridle for this issue. Sean Kennerly is a writer/muscian who lives in Brooklyn, where he fronts the inscrutable Ice Balloons in a fly mask. His articles have appeared in the SF Bay Guardian, Juxtapose and Rolling Stone. His mother once told him that 90% of pain is self-pity, but she was there for him when he broke his arm. He is currently working on a novel about hyenas. Cali Thornhill-DeWitt co-wrote our article on LA Punk Gangs and runs the record label, Teenage Teardrops, releasing all manner of books, prints, vinyl records by emerging artists who are true to the spirit and philosophy of underground culture. He is also a talented photographer, writer, DJ, and partner in the multi-media publishing company, Witchhat. He lives in Los Angeles with his bride Jenna, and their rescued poodle, Caramel Bobby.
ANPQuarterly Volume 2/Number 7 Publisher PM Tenore Editor-in-Chief Aaron Rose Art Director Casey Holland Contributing Writers Liz Armstrong Kate Williams Chris Lux Kyle Thomas Francesca Gavin Clark Rayburn Sean Kennerly Lisa Rovner Nora Atapol Alexis Georgopolis Cali Thornhill-Dewitt Brian Roettinger
Contributing Photographers Pat Graham, Zen Sekizawa, Joshua White, Damon Way, Ronna Pearl, Jennifer Finch, Fabiola Alondra, Cali Thornhill-Dewitt, Melodie McDaniel, Ruth Swanson, Laura Flippen, Angela Boatright, Deanna Templeton, Cheryl Dunn Special thank you to: John Albert, Tony Decou, Elisabeth Gaffaney, Molly Small, Tim Plumley, Lucy Rose, Molly Toberer, Bryan Ray Turcotte, Shaun McCracken, Vera Hild, Shannon Richardson, Alexandra Wetzel, Prism Gallery, Rose Gallery, Gallery Paule Anglim and Maureen Paley Gallery, London ANPQuarterly is published four times a year by RVCA Corp © 2013 RVCA (All rights reserved). Printed February, 2013, 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
This issue is dedicated to Ed Templeton & Brendan Fowler.
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(front cover) James Bridle, 2012 Photograph by Pat Graham (back cover) Clare Rojas, Untitled, 2012 Oil on linen, 60x48 in, image courtesy Prism Gallery, Los Angeles
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Published on Mar 5, 2013
ANP Quarterly Vol 2 / No 7 features interviews with James Bridle on the New Aesthetic, Liars, filmmakers Sophie Flicker & Maximilla Lukacs,...