Deviant Funnies: A Postcoital Interview Of Underground Comic Artist and Hip Hop Historian Ed Piskor

text by Audra Wist

 

Something about returning to my hometown of Pittsburgh always makes me really horny. One night, after Tinder-ing for awhile I came across a dude named Ed - profile picture was slick and mysterious, black and white, him in a Gucci bucket hat, sunglasses, and a Public Enemy hoodie. Swiped right. This was not a typical Pittsburgh guy. Why not? The mystery man with great style turned out to be Ed Piskor. We matched and met up that night. He answered the door in his pajamas which I thought was funny given our assumed future activities and we proceeded to give each other little gifts. I gave him a copy of the Autre LOVE issue and he gave me an old issue of FOX magazine where one of early comics was in, super babe Janine Lindemulder was on the cover (the iconic tattooed nurse blondie on Blink-182’s Enema of the State album cover). Yeah, I liked Ed already. He is a Pittsburgher to his core and wildly successful, his new series Hip Hop Family Tree earning him three Eisner Award nominations and numerous other accolades and shout-outs from hip hop greats like DJ Ready Red and DMC as well as TIME and Boing Boing. His comic heavyweight status aside, I wanted to talk with him about sex because of his early involvement in porno mags and because during our evening rendezvous, he was incredibly sexy: kind, funny, unafraid - a real cool guy. He was on, fully himself, but no fluff or pretension. I would agree with Ms. Lehoczky at NPR who wrote about Ed’s work saying “he’s more realer without even trying.”

Audra Wist: I wanted to open with the fact that we met on Tinder and we had this deep love for old things, like newsstand stuff - erotica, comics, music, magazines, records - print media. I liked you from gate because of that. You were involved in both porn and print media. And you did “Eddie P’s Calvacade of Perversion,” right?

Ed Piskor: Yeah.

Wist: How long did you do that with that magazine? Or why porn, in general?

Piskor: When I was underage I was commissioned to do illustrations in porn mags. They never asked my name. I had this reputation that got started, a lot of people thought I was a grizzled old hippie because the style was influenced by Bay Area underground comics of the 60s. And at that time, Robert Crumb was my biggest influence ever. So, in conversation when they found out I was 17 it was big trouble. From there, very randomly, this lady who has had this whole career in copywriting porn mags - she wrote for the Berkeley Barb and worked for different porno mags based out of SF. She put together a comic just about her life and career and she commissioned maybe 5 guys and girls to illustrate her stories, so I did that. And from there, she was the connection to FOX magazine and other weird porn related stuff. I didn’t do that many strips - I did maybe a handful. A couple years later, I did one panel of cartoons for Belladonna on her website. And I did that for a couple months and it yielded 60 or 90 different cartoons. It was super fun to begin with but after awhile it got real redundant because she’s really well-known for taking different instruments into her ass.

Wist: Right, yes, I remember you saying that you ran out of stuff to put in her butt.

Piskor: Yeah, it’s the truth. I couldn’t think of anything else. I could be remembering this wrong, but I’m pretty sure I drew a cartoon with the kitchen sink in her ass and that was the joke of it.

Wist: I really love that.

Piskor: So ridiculous. And you have to think too, this was a 23-year-old boy making these things. My own sexuality was pretty immature which lends well to doing humorist stuff because a young person’s sexuality is nothing but folly for years. You gotta get your 10,000 hours of experience in fuckin’ before it’s no joke anymore.

Wist: It’s so true! That’s why I try not to fuck around with anyone under the age of 28. That’s my cutoff. Otherwise, it gets dismal. Have more sexual experiences! The more the better.

Piskor: Certainly, I agree. And as creative people, our lives are sorta built on experience. Your work will become tremendously uninteresting, an insular vision, if it doesn’t get expanded upon by outside sources. A lot of art is about the decisions that you make and sometimes you need weird stuff put in your path and figure out how to navigate around that stuff to learn about yourself.

Wist: And speaking to creative people, I find that if you are unapologetic in your work that it has to translate over to how you are in bed, right? One of the things that struck me about you was how open, comfortable, and non-judgmental you were about talking about sex, which is rare to me even though it’s my bag.

Piskor: Is it a question about being non-judgmental?

Wist: No, I guess I’m asking if you agree that there is a connection between how people conduct their sex lives and the quality of their work.

Piskor: In our case, we did not know each other very long, so I had to let you know that it was a cozy situation. I mean seriously, at any moment, if you ain’t feeling shit, there would absolutely be no hard feelings. Things are all good. And if you’re comfortable in your mind and I’m comfortable in my mind, then we’re probably going to have a pretty awesome time.

Wist: It’s so fucking true. And this whole pick-up artist thing and “negging” - have you heard about this?

Piskor: Oh, yeah. You know, after I did the porno stuff I did a book about computer hacking [Wizzywig] and a big part of computer hacking is something called “social engineering” which is the idea of verbally getting what you need from others. It’s way faster for me to talk to you and get you to give me your password then it is for me to use some computer code to get it. So, a subset of this social engineering thing is that pick-up artist stuff. I saw this stuff in the 90s. All the dudes that are famous now were on hacker bulletin boards when I was in high school. So, yes, I am familiar but I do not employ it. I just can’t put that much thought into it. These dudes are fully invested.

Wist: I’m now thinking about some of the people you were interested in growing up like R. Crumb and you worked with Harvey Pekar, kind of sexual stuff, when you were pretty young, right?

Piskor: Yeah, 21.



Wist: Were they formative for you, maybe not just in thinking about sex, but formative for you in talking openly and being a confident person? R. Crumb seems like the binder of sex, outlandishness, grotesque, honest - all those things.

Piskor: Yeah, he was a big motivator for me, the idea of being real. Another big influence would be John Waters. I’m a big devotee of his films.

Wist: I was going to ask you that, but I think we talked about him before.

Piskor: Yeah, and it’s about being unapologetic in your tastes which is becoming exceedingly rare because people do filter things through different kinds of social lenses. You have to develop a certain sophistication of taste to understand it. Like if you’re knee-jerk about it, then it’s hopeless. We don’t even need to have that debate. You’re going to see things one way and be resistant to opening up your mind more. So, yeah, Crumb… John Waters, Hugh Hefner, Russ Meyer. And then you get into Richard Kern, Lydia Lunch.

Wist: Yeah, I’m a big fan of Lydia Lunch. I got to perform with her this past February and she was great.

Piskor: Oh cool, what for?

Wist: Actually, for this magazine. It was the release party. And I didn’t know she was going to be on the bill until a couple days beforehand and she’s obviously an influence. I read this eleven-page document on sexiness, kinda cutting and charged and so I got really nervous, like oh fuck, what if Lydia Lunch thinks I’m copping her shit. I had all these weird fantasies about her hating me and then I was just like wait, that’s what it’s all about.

Piskor: It’s always scary. I’m very resistant to meeting my heroes because I would be heartbroken if they treated me like an asshole. That’d be a tough pill. So, I stay aloof. The best-case scenario would be if they came to say hi to me. It changes the dynamic.

Wist: Yeah, I remember emailing Kembra Pfahler of The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black gushing to her how I thought she was so great and she said something so profound, she said “if and when we ever meet, you will be pleasantly disappointed to find out that I’m exactly like you.” I thought that was fucking genius. Can you talk a bit about your education as an artist?

Piskor: I went to art school for one year and then I was like oh, I have to pay these student loans back? I immediately got this square job at a call center and all of my superiors were such dumb people that it made me sick every day. And I was like okay man, I just gotta make a bunch of cash, put it all towards these loans and get the hell outta here.

Wist: The same thing happened to me after undergrad. I was doing domme already but still a little uncertain about it being kind of a lone wolf in Pittsburgh, and so I got this job at this floral warehouse down in the strip district to make ends meet. I woke up at like 4AM to go work with a bunch of yinzer dudes. Imagine that scene. It was fucked up. They said stupid shit to me. I learned a lot about flowers which was cool, but it was bad. And one day I was just like fuck this forever.

Piskor: As a creative person, you have to make that call. You have to be able to gamble on yourself at a certain point. You gotta gamble on yourself when you’re younger because you have a lot of fire, a lot of energy at your disposal so you can work on things all day if it’s required. You have to make that call. It’ll make you happier in the long run. At least you took the shot.

Wist: I was gonna ask you this and it’s maybe a bit of a tangential question and also selfish of me because I have very nostalgic romantic feelings about Pittsburgh but you're arguably the most successful creative person from Pittsburgh other than maybe Wiz Khalifa. So, why did you stay in Pittsburgh? It seems to fit in with that hacker mentality you mentioned with Wizzywig.

Piskor: I have a young sister who is fifteen who I adore and I want to be a good role model for. I have a niece who’s a little baby. If they hated me or something, I would leave tomorrow. But also, there is a hacker element to it because it’s so cheap to live here. I make Los Angeles money or New York money and I live in a place that has a way cheaper cost of living. I can live real nice and comfortable. In order for me to do the kind of work that I do, it takes a lot of time and time is money. My biggest stressors are purely self-induced because it’s about the work. Comics are like a puzzle: you try to figure out the best way to accomplish this puzzle and create each page and I’m very hard on myself, as most self-employed are. You have to be objective and tough on yourself because no one else is going to. No one is forcing you to do what you do. So, you have to be on top of your game. And if you had that plus rent or a mortgage or whatever, I’m not sure if you could do the best work.

Wist: I want to talk about Hip Hop Family Tree. First of all, congratulations - it’s so successful and you were just nominated for three Eisner awards.

Piskor: Yeah, yeah, thank you. It’s a cool thing, I can’t deny it. Back in 2015, it was my New Year’s Resolution to accept compliments. So, thank you very much. I think the big goal is to make enough cash to see a head shrinker and take care of some of those sticking points. Like Ed, man, you can relax. You might shave a couple years off your life if you’d stop being such an intense motherfucker. Help me address my intellectual small penis complex or whatever.

Wist: You are the best. You’re like a contemporary feminist icon, poster boy, at least for me. It’s really great to hear you say all these things.

Piskor: I didn’t say it in the context of us being butt naked, but I was thinking we’ll probably be cool forever. Like I don’t doubt that we’ll be like 50 years old and I’ll be out in LA and we’ll be kicking it. Why would that not happen? You have to nurture those kinds of personalities that operate at that level. Everyone I try to be around is operating at a pretty intense level and our vocations are different but there are abstract ideas that can be used for my own shit, maybe for your own shit, and it increases the breadth of possibility just as a person. I definitely don’t doubt that we’ll be homies for the foreseeable future. It’s very nice - a pleasure to meet ya! And I’m super proud to be a notch on your belt.

Wist: You are sweet. And now you have this great sell for future women! You can say look, I’m such a great lay, look at this girl who fucked me and had all this nice stuff to say about it.

Piskor: Audra, if you keep saying it, I’m gonna believe it.


Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree Hip Hop Family Tree 1983-1985 Gift Box Set is available now. Text, interview and photographs by Audra Wist. This interview has been condensed and edited. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Courageous Writing For IRL Cowards: A G-chat Interview Of Clancy Martin By Matthew Binder

photograph by Barrett Emke

In 2012, shortly before I lost my mind and committed myself to writing fiction, I was sitting at a pal’s apartment in San Diego, waiting on him to shower and ready himself for a night out, when I picked up a copy of the Vice fiction issue. I flipped through the magazine’s pages looking for something of interest. A story titled “Whores I Have Loved” immediately resonated with me. I understood the sentiment completely. I read with ferocious curiosity as the writer sermonized on the dangers of falling in love with prostitutes in locations foreign and remote. Prior to reading the piece, I didn’t think it possible for a work to exist that was so honest, tender, and vulnerable about a subject so fraught with moral pitfalls.

The next day I ordered the writer’s debut novel, How to Sell, and read it over a weekend. The Monday following, I sent him some sort of hysterical, fanboy email. For whatever reason, he responded, encouraging further correspondence. Over the next couple years, I forced upon him countless drafts of various manuscripts I’d scribbled out. He continued to be inordinately kind to me.

Now I have my own novel, High in the Streets, published. This has somehow granted me license to make further demands of my unknowing mentor’s time. When the opportunity to chat with him about writing and life for Autre Magazine arrived, I jumped at the chance.

This G-chat conversation occurred for me at 2:00am on July 19, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary, my new home, as of last week (long story). Clancy Martin was typing away in the comfort of his home office in Kansas City, at the much more reasonable hour of 6:00pm.

MATTHEW BINDER: Thank you for taking the time to do this with me.

CLANCY MARTIN: My pleasure, sir. Thank you!

BINDER: I don’t have any specific format to work from. I figure we can just fire off some questions at each other and have a dialogue.

MARTIN: Sounds good, brother M. I'll let you lead.

BINDER: I read Amie’s book on the plane the other day. It’s fantastic. When I finished, I thought to myself, wow, Clancy and Amie (Barrodale) must really benefit from having each other to share their work with.

MARTIN: We do. We also have similar styles, as you may have noticed. She wrote some of the best sentences in Bad Sex. Literally wrote them. I think I helped some with You Are Having a Good Time. Especially in encouraging her not to give up on stories that I could see were terrific, or not killing a story that was already great. It’s very helpful to us that we share an aesthetic. We tend to like the same writers. Though she’s much broader in her taste than I am. We both loved High in the Streets immediately. I rarely like living writers, sigh. I’m getting old.

BINDER: That’s really fantastic to hear, thank you.

MARTIN: So, what’s your new novel about? Will it include a setting in Budapest, I hope? Although of course the terrific Garth Greenwell, a friend of ours, has cornered the market on Eastern Europe lately....

BINDER: The novel I’m writing now actually has nothing to do with Budapest. It takes place in the near future, maybe 2030, and it’s about a doctor who gets displaced by technology. 

MARTIN: Oh yes, I remember you mentioning something about that. I like that idea. In part because it is inevitable, and in part because I teach a class called Money, Medicine, and Morals, and it would be nice to have a cool novel to use in the class. Don’t make it x-rated so that I can use it.

BINDER: I was going through some of our old correspondence today. Seems I’ve been harassing you since 2012. In one early email I sent, I explained that it was early in the morning and that I was writing from the airport on my way to break up an engagement. Well, I'll tell you how the story ends. I did end up breaking up an engagement, moved across the country, experienced the most life-affirming/painful six months of my life, then she left me for an orthopedic surgeon, whom she married and now has kids with. I believe they moved to Alaska.

My question is, why have you put up with all my nonsense over the years?

MARTIN: Ha! I could see your talent. Plus you’re a genuinely likable guy. Plus, most importantly maybe, we share this belief that the best stories are ruthlessly honest, in some way or another. We try our best to be fearless in our stories. For me, it’s because I’m so cowardly in real life. The Wizard of Oz always made me cringe when I was a kid, not just because the munchkins were so creepy, but because I knew, in my heart, that I was the cowardly lion, but didn’t want to admit it.

BINDER: The first thing I read of yours was in Vice. It was called something like All the Whores I've Loved Before. It was the most honest and brave thing I’d read from a contemporary writer. I wasn’t even writing yet, but I was totally moved by it and so I contacted you.

MARTIN: That’s an example of a story that is entirely invented that nevertheless manages to try to tell the truth. It got me into a lot of trouble with my exes, because they assumed it was true, and not a word of it was. But there was truth it it...I know what it means to start to fall in love with someone whom you’ve paid to have sex with you. It’s a strange mysterious thing. I remember a woman from many years ago, in Mexico, when I was about 29. There was something.

BINDER: I’ve written two manuscripts and am now working on a third. Every time I do this, I drop everything: jobs, girlfriends, etc. But you have a totally full life: wife, kids, you’re an esteemed professor. When do you find the time?

MARTIN: Well, I drop everything, too, except my family and my teaching. I drop pretty much all of my other writing. It’s one of the nice things about being a professor. You are paid to write. If I write four to six hours a day, five days a week, I can usually get some real work done. Not always, but usually. And I have time for that.

BINDER: I drop everything and still don’t commit nearly that much time to the writing. I don’t have it in me. I’m amazed if I can be alone with my computer for three hours. Most of that time I’m distracted by playing guitar, or eating, or reading about sports.

MARTIN: Once I start it’s very hard for me to get up. I don’t know why, but I find it easy to sit at the computer, writing, for long stretches. Bodily laziness I suppose. But if I get distracted by something, I have trouble getting back to it, and like all of us, sometimes I have trouble with the sitzfleisch part, as Maxwell Perkins advises Fitzgerald among others. Clancy: sit your ass down.

But I think it’s so wise if a person can do it the other way. I admire my friend Jon Franzen because he never took the easy way out of the professor. He just stuck with the writing until it hit. I admire everyone who does it that way, I admire that bravery.

BINDER: Since I’ve been in Budapest I’ve written about 1000 words per day. I’m feeling pretty good about that.

MARTIN: 1000 words a day is twice as much as Hemingway and 1/5th as much as Trollope. Sounds like a good number to me.

BINDER: I don’t have the luxury of being a professor. I can’t teach a thing. I tried once and was fired in six weeks’ time.

MARTIN: I think most really talented writers hate to teach and struggle with it. Take it as a badge of honor that you were fired. Keep doing it the way you are. That’s the true, noble path. Kierkegaard: “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” Damn straight.

BINDER: Why’d you make Brett a girl? Did you think readers would find her bad behavior more sympathetic than if she were a guy?

MARTIN: I think people would have liked her more if she were a guy, actually, and maybe liked the novel more. She would have made a very interesting vulnerable guy. It may have been a mistake. But I made her a woman so that my daughters wouldn’t read it and think, Oh, this is a very thinly disguised version of our dad, man he was a creep. They may think that anyway, but I wanted plausible deniability.

BINDER: I got a message the other day from the girl who I loosely based the character Tessa on. She was less than pleased with me. Her fiancé was even less pleased. I assume you draw some of your characters from real life. How much trouble have you gotten in?

MARTIN: Well, you know how it is...you just keep reminding people that it’s fiction. I was very worried about my big brother’s reaction to the Jim character in How to Sell. And he was still in the business then. But he just loved the novel. He’s a very cool older brother. Woody Allen is very good on this subject. I guess it’s the same with movies. It’s mostly the former romantic partners who get really upset. And fair enough.

BINDER: It’s very good that we get to hide behind this thin veil of fiction.

MARTIN: Is your doctor based on someone you know? I find it useful to combine several people into one character.

BINDER: Both my father and brother are doctors. I’m sure I’ll draw some inspiration from them. However, I essentially write to impose my personality on the world, so anything I write will ultimately be based on me.

MARTIN: Yes, very helpful to have doctors in the family. Also for research and technical stuff. I have a hero who is in my current novel who is an animal collector, and what I wouldn’t give to be good friends or related to a couple of animal collectors. But yeah, I agree, we import our cockamamie world views through these people. So combining people while schizophrenically carving up ourselves....

BINDER: I called my father the other day, and he was so happy to hear from me since I hadn’t been in touch since I left the country, and then I went straight into some technical questions about medicine and he almost hung up on me.

MARTIN: Are you writing stories and nonfiction, too, or just the new novel?

BINDER: Now that I’ve started the novel, I’ll just be working on that until it’s done.

MARTIN: Ha! Yes, that’s the thing. People start to worry that they are material. You feel a little betrayed and used. Not to keep mentioning Franzen, but that’s a funny thing he said to me recently. “I’m grateful whenever someone puts me in a novel because I know I’ve got it coming.”

I think it’s wise to put everything else aside and just dive into that novel. Novels are the thing, anyway, once they’ve got their hook in you. They’re so much more fun to write.

BINDER: Do you enjoy the act of writing? Do you look forward to actually sitting down and doing the work? I mean, there are so many other things to do in the world, why write?

MARTIN: I enjoy it very, very, very much when I’m doing it. It’s exactly like exercise for me. I love it while I’m doing it, it makes me feel so much better about myself and life after the day’s done (most days), it helps me with anxiety and depression, and it is hugely satisfying. Making myself do it regularly is hard.

And, Flaubert said it best. Writing is like sex. First you do it for your own pleasure, then you do it for the sake of a few friends, and finally you do it for money.

BINDER: I actually dread sitting down to do the work. I’m always afraid that I’m all used up. I have no faith in my abilities. However, it always ends up working out, and then I feel wondrous for the rest of the day. Then, the next day, I experience the whole cycle of dread and wonder again.

MARTIN: Yes, we all feel that way. My mentor Diane Williams says that no matter how long you do it, you’ll feel that way. Used up, no good, worthless, best work behind you. And then, you know—she uses a canvas as a metaphor—start painting, and painting over, and completely covering up and starting again, and eventually something will emerge.

And of course you hope that maybe you could actually write something good. Yes, sitzfleisch, that’s the hard part. I think having no internet and just sitting there in front of the damn thing is a good discipline. Amie writes most of her first drafts on a typewriter, because the internet interferes.

BINDER: The other day, I did a panel in NYC with two much more established writers. There were questions about craft and process and all that business. Both the other writers had these wonderful responses about metaphysics and other things I didn’t understand. When asked about what I do, I said, “I drink and then I write.” And then I realized that was your line, and I gave you credit!

MARTIN: Ha! Thanks. Those complicated answers about how one writes...I’m a tiny bit suspicious of them, I admit. I don’t think of the process in that way. I don’t think of it as puzzle-making. You can’t search for the perfect metaphor. “Thoughts come when they will, not when I will” (Nietzsche). But, of course, everyone has her own method.

BINDER: A lot of your best writing is about the guilt, humiliation, jealousy that comes along with the bad things you’ve done under the influence. I know my own bad behavior is the best source material. I understand that you’re sober now. Has that changed your writing?

MARTIN: I often worry that my work is not as good now that I no longer drink. I was still drinking when I wrote How to Sell, though only at night, when I wasn’t writing. But not drinking is more important than writing, so that’s that, if I have to make the choice. Hopefully, I don’t have to make that choice. To me, Bad Sex is the better book. Less forced, less contrived. But I’m just one reader.

And Lord knows, it doesn’t take drinking to get me into trouble. My poor ole brain is stuffed full of bad behavior. The more I try to investigate it, the more troublesome it becomes.

BINDER: But if you had to choose between peace and contentment or writing amazing books, which would you choose?

MARTIN: I don’t expect peace and contentment. I won’t get it. That’s not a viable option for me. But if I had to choose between my family and writing great books, I’d choose my family without even thinking about it. I love books, but they’re just books. Your family: well, they’re people. No comparison, you know? You can love a book, but it can’t love you back. You? Many of our heroes died alone and broke. I think maybe it was lucky for us...but not so lucky for them. Speaking of alcoholics: Being in that log cabin with the shotgun: no thank you. Bukowski made the right choice: stick with Linda and the wine diet.

BINDER: I’m not sure, I struggle with it. I’ve never been any good at compromise, which I’m told is essential to forging healthy human connections. I’m just starting to figure out this writing business, and when I’ve done it well it gives me more pleasure than any of my relationships. I’m hoping at some point I grow up and that changes.

MARTIN: Yeah, I hear you. That’s a very honest response. I do think I felt differently twenty-two years ago, before my eldest daughter was born. But your children sneak up on you. You have that child and you realize: no matter what else I do, I will never do anything that compares with this kid. I know that’s a cliché, but it’s true. That said, I think it’s a false opposition. Many, many of my heroes had families. Dostoevsky.

BINDER: Also, I have the hardest time finding a woman and sticking with the relationship. The thing about choosing just one is that you have to eliminate all the others. Besides, at this point in my life, I’m not even sure what sort of woman I’d be compatible with. Who could tolerate me?

That said, there are a couple women out there whom I loved dearly, then lost, and now they’ve moved onto other men who treat them better, and I’m totally heartbroken. But is it enough to change my behavior? Probably not in the short run.

MARTIN: Well, I had the same problem with settling down, very clearly. And with heartbreak. Another great quotation from Diane Williams: “It’s all material.” That’s always worth remembering. Now I never want another woman in my life. But it took a lot of time. And yes, sometimes they do sneak up on you in just that way (children). It is a momentous decision. I’ve been writing about it lately. To mention Diane Williams, yet again, her stuff about her children is breathtaking. Lydia Davis is very good on kids too.

BINDER: At some point I hope a child sneaks up on me because I don’t think I could ever consciously choose that for myself. I’d have to be thrown into it. I’m almost positive I’d be glad it happened. At least, I hope I’d be man enough to be a good dad.

MARTIN: Tough to write well about children. Very, very brave. And you’d be glad it happened, trust me. But I do have a lot of friends who’ve consciously chosen not to have kids, for defensible reasons. I think they’re missing out, but everyone knows that having children doesn’t make you happier. Life doesn’t make you happier. Sex doesn’t make you happier. Love doesn’t make you happier. Knowing yourself doesn’t make you happier. Art doesn’t make you happier.

BINDER: Maybe at some point I’ll really want it. I’ve wanted every other goddamn thing in this world. Why not children? Raising, loving, loathing, fearing for your kids is an essential part of the human condition, right?

I’m missing out!

MARTIN: I completely agree. Especially about raising, loving, and fearing. (And maybe loathing your teenager.) Ok, Matt, I’m enjoying this immensely but have to run.

BINDER: This has been great. Thank you again!


Clancy Martin is a writer and philosophy professor who lives in Kansas City, Missouri, with his wife the writer Amie Barrodale. Matthew Binder is a former wastrel of the highest order. A cold list of his past behaviors would qualify him as a bastard in anybody's book. His work has drawn comparisons to Bret Easton Ellis, Norman Mailer, and James Salter. Intro text and interview by Matthew Binder. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Pennies From Heaven: An Interview Of French Actress Turned Film Director Maïwenn

Maïwenn is little known in the United States, but in France, she has made an indelible mark on the world of cinema. Most Americans remember her as the seductive, singing alien, Diva Plavalaguna, in Luc Besson’s cult classic, The Fifth Element. However, her future acting and directing endeavors have indisputably eclipsed this small role she played as a teenager. As a director, she has a remarkably intuitive gift for creating masterful scenes that are powder kegs of emotion – with the fuse often lit during the first frame of the movie. The pacing, the chemistry and the fluidity – there is a preternatural authenticity. Over the past ten years she has directed four feature films and one short. Her most recent films Polisse (2011) and My King (2016) – the latter of which will be released next week in theaters – have won her critical acclaim and a multitude of highly coveted nominations. These accolades include, but are not limited to, the Palme d’Or, the César for best film, best director, and best screenplay. Her film Polisse won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Her latest film, My King, starring Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Bercot (who won best actress at Cannes for her role), is an incendiary, piercing tale of love and loss and disillusionment weaved together with tender humor and joie de vivre. We had the chance to sit down with the French Actress turned Director to ask her a few questions about her unconventional upbringing (which includes bringing fistfuls of collected change to see movies at her local cinematheque), the joys and the trials of being a movie director, and some of the techniques that she employs in her films.

Bowie: What do you think about the movie industry in Hollywood, as opposed to Paris?

Maïwenn: I don’t know if I’ve spent enough time here to form an opinion. In Paris we always hear about people in Hollywood being all about money and superficial things. And I’ve met really interesting people. Very free-spirited people. So, I don’t get all the things that people say, but maybe I haven’t spent enough time here.

Bowie: I read that you had wanted to be a standup comedian at some point, and there are a lot of hilarious moments in Mon Roi, despite its being a rather tragic film. Has humor always been a part of your craft?

Maïwenn: Not really. I did a show, but you couldn’t call it standup comedy. It was a show that was both funny and dramatic, but I was never trying to be a standup comedian. But all my movies are a little bit funny. I like to treat dramatic situations with funny dialogues. I like to mix both for balance. I have a passion for funny people, actually. If I could spend all my time with funny people - even if they’re silly - I would do it.

Bowie: They’re the best people.

Maïwenn: Not really, but they make me laugh.

[laughs]

Bowie: You’ve made several movies now, but I’ve read that you started writing Mon Roi about a decade ago. Why did it take so long to put it into motion?

Maïwenn: First of all, I was feeling much more than I do now. I needed to have many experiences before doing this film; as a woman, as a director, as a mother, as a friend – everything. And I think it’s really much easier to do a dramatic story first, then a love story. Because in a love story you have to start with happiness. I didn’t want to make a movie about love and have it stop when they’re fighting. I wanted it to stop when they love each other. And to do that, I needed a lot of experience. François Truffaut says – whatever, I don’t care about François Truffaut, but he says - “les gens heureux n’ont pas d’histoire” (happy people don’t have stories to tell). And it’s true. If it’s a couple, and they’re happy for two hours, I can’t make a movie out of that. So, each year I kept saying to myself, “I’m still not ready to do this movie.” I needed to create distance from my own life experience. I needed to be emotionally independent.

Bowie: Your lead character suffers a knee injury, and her therapist says that it might be the result of some kind of psychological trauma. Do you believe in this theory, and have you ever experienced such a thing?

Maïwenn: I would believe it if I had to. It depends on my mood, and it would depend on what kind of injury I got. But not especially. But the book exists and I was so inspired by the whole thing about the knee. The thing is that I spent 10 years writing the script and when I presented it to my writing partner, Etienne Comar, he said, “I don’t see the movie. I don’t see the point.” And then a few months later I told him I found an idea to help us move more quickly through the story. It’s about the knee, so we can jump back and forth throughout the ten years of the relationship. Otherwise, without the accident, I didn’t know how to explain why we were jumping ahead from time to time. And also, I like the idea of creating a puzzle, so that we start the movie with the knee and we don’t know where we’re going. Also, I wanted to give myself a challenge in the narrative writing process, and I wanted to make it difficult to understand, so that it’s a bit like a thriller.



Bowie: Your movies are packed with emotion and life. Do you have a technique that you employ to imbue your films with that much drama?

Maïwenn: It’s the writing, the actors, the cinematography, etc. It’s really all connected, and maybe it’s just my personality. I like when it’s intense. I like when it’s excessive. And I like when the energy is a little bit close to hysterics. So, I try to transmit a sense of oppression to the actors. And I like when we laugh and we cry. I like when we don’t know what’s going to happen next.

Bowie: You’ve said that you know all of these characters in your personal life, but you don’t judge any of them. However, is there one character in the film that you relate to the most?

Maïwenn: Yeah, her [Tony]. Of course.

Bowie: And you mentioned that Vincent Cassel had a long list of critiques when he first read the screenplay. Can you give an example of one of his critiques?

Maïwenn: Well, he had a problem with the first part when they meet and they fall in love. He thought it was too sentimental – a chick flick.

Bowie: What do you get from directing that you can’t get from acting?

Maïwenn: Ah good question. The love from the audience is really different. I feel love and respect from people in a very different way. As a director I feel they respect me intellectually, and as an actress they might like me or even love me, but it’s a lot more superficial. When you say you’re the director it’s like “Oh, okay. Respect.” But it makes sense because directing is so much more difficult.

Bowie: And you have to be more demanding of yourself as a director.

Maïwenn: You know when you’re on the set as a director, every fifteen minutes someone comes to you to tell you about another problem that you have to deal with. That’s your whole life for ten weeks. It’s like – oh we don’t have the set anymore, or the actor isn’t free anymore. So, you have to find another set in ten minutes. Or an actor is late, or he’s on drugs, what do we do? It’s always like this.

Bowie: That’s a lot to manage.

Maïwenn: And also to deal with the whole crew on the set, usually they’re all men, and usually they’re all older than me. So when you’re the boss and you have to tell a bunch of older men what to do, believe me, it’s not easy to deal with them. And it’s not just because I’m a director, it’s because I’m a woman.

Bowie: Yes, so even though women having been taking on executive positions and hiring men…

Maïwenn: It’s in the blood!

Bowie: Yeah, the psychological shift is still so difficult for them. Is it different promoting a movie in the U.S. vs. France?

Maïwenn: Yeah, it’s different because of the language, so it’s hard to find exact words in English. But also, the people don’t know me here, so they don’t start the interview with any preconceived notions. In France I have such a bad reputation that everyone says, “Oh Maïwenn, she’s crazy. She’s hysterical. She’s crazy.” So that when they arrive, they’re already shaking like, “ahh what’s gonna happen?” So, I have to expend a lot of energy to tell them that I’m normal and nothing’s going to happen. But with journalists I’m not very generous, because I don’t like to analyze my work, and they think that I don’t analyze because I’m being lazy. And I keep saying that it’s not in my nature to do that. I don’t know why I’ve done this movie. I’ve just done it. And I think that all my answers are in the movie. I don’t want to dissect myself to find all the answers. So sometimes I can give a very short answer and I can feel their frustration.

Bowie: In the film she was reading La Vie Devant Soi (The Life Before Us). What was the choice behind that?

Maïwenn: I like the title.

Bowie: It’s very appropriate for the film.

Maïwenn: And I like the book as well, but I chose it because of the title.

Bowie: And the watch that he gives her in the film, is that the watch you’re wearing?

Maïwenn: Yes! It’s my watch that I put in the movie because I like it so much.

Bowie: Yeah, it’s beautiful. What was your artistic background? Did you have artists in your family?

Maïwenn: Yeah, my mother, my father also kind of, but we were a really bohemian family. Very hard times. No money at all. They were cultured, but they didn’t know how to transmit it. They never really taught me how to communicate.

Bowie: And when did you discover film?

Maïwenn: My mother thinks it’s because of her, because she’s an intellectual. She’s a cinephile, but when I was living with her I couldn’t stand all the movies she was watching. It was so boring. So I started watching movies on TV, and then I started ditching school and one day I went to a cinema in Paris and I had collected all the change in the house to buy a ticket. And the guy saw me counting all the coins to buy one ticket and he told me, “Starting now, any time you come to this cinema, you’re never gonna pay.” So I started going every day and it changed my life. And I want so much to say thank you to him, but I don’t how to find his name. I asked a girl at the box office once and she said she didn’t know where he is, so I never got to thank him.


Maïwenn's newest film, My King, opens in New York on August 12 and in Los Angeles on August 26. text and interview by Summer Bowie. photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Expansion and Retraction: An Interview Of Rising Melbourne Based Musician Oscar Key Sung

Oscar Key Sung is a rising name in Australia's independent music scene, coming out of Melbourne. He's been steadily releasing music through collaborative projects and on his own for the past few of years, but it is his unique approach to blending experimental electronic beats with RnB vocals yet keeping a pop-style element to his sound, that has gained him attention as an emerging solo artist.  His latest single 'Hands' from his anticipated debut full length album see's him continue to captivate us sonically and visually with a music video that features minimalistic contemporary dance and lighting effects. Ahead of his album to be release later this year, we spoke to him about the new record, how he defines his distinctive style and his introduction into music.

AUTRE: You mentioned once that you started playing music at 5 years old in your uncle’s “art/punk” band – what was that like?


OSCAR KEY SUNG: I was so little so its hard to empathize with how it felt at the time. But I know it was so fun. I had a beautiful connection with my uncle, he was my best friend. I remember one night they let me sing a song that I had written, and I cried the whole time I was singing. Must have just really gotten real at that moment. Must have been funny to watch, the audience was nice and supportive though.

AUTRE: Was punk the first type of music that you were introduced to?

SUNG: My parents were super into dance music and hip hop around the time I was a kid. They both worked in fashion and a lot of the clothes they designed had a street wear/rave slant. Sub cultures always have a cross medium connection between style, art, music. But they had come out of the “crystal ballroom” punk scene of the 80s in Melbourne, and they carried a lot of that mentality through everything they did. So yeh a few different styles at first, not just punk. Also my uncle's group probably wouldn’t pass as a “punk group”, more of a sort of esoteric art performance thing, he was pretty singular in his approach, hard to throw in a genre basket.

AUTRE: Would you describe your music as pop or is it something more unique to who you are?

SUNG: I think that being pop doesn’t necessarily mean not being unique. For instance Bjork identifies as a pop artist. To me pop means more that it is polished and in the mainstream, other than that, the content of the art is fair game.

AUTRE: You were a part of a musical duo, Oscar and Martin, before venturing off and going solo – is it harder or easier to work on your own or do you miss the camaraderie that comes with collaborating?


SUNG: It's just different, not better or worse. I definitely miss the camaraderie though. I also notice that groups seem to egg each other on in a way, they push each other. 

AUTRE: Through making and releasing multiple solo albums, have you noticed anything about your evolution as a musical artist?


SUNG: I think there is with out doubt a lot of change with every release I have done. It's interesting, in a way I am most proud of the solo album I put out in 2007. It is so fearless and self indulgent in a way I think I could never quite do again.

AUTRE: Can you describe the vibe behind your current single and upcoming album – is there a pervading message or theme in this album or is there something that you set out to say when you made the album?


SUNG: The current single “hands” is to me quite an ambitious track, in that it sets out to achieve a number of ideas and directions in one composition. It's somewhere between a club track, with an almost instrumental grime sort of direction, and a sensitive ballad, because vocally it is sort of sensitive and androgynous. I think the whole album plays with that feeling of opposing elements. There is always a push and pull, expansion and retraction.

AUTRE: Do you enjoy being on the stage or in the studio better – some musical artists sometimes have a preference for one or the other?


SUNG: Every studio day and every performance is some what separate. Sometimes I just pull my hair out for the day and achieve nothing when I am writing and producing. And some shows feel like a beautiful connection, and others like an outer body nightmare disaster. So it really depends. I suppose I want both, I don’t want to trade one in for the other.


Watch the official music video for the track Hands below. Click here to stay up to date with upcoming shows. Intro text and photographs by Darren Luk. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


The Interminable Apprentice: An Interview Of Fine Jewelry Designer Elie Top

Elie Top may just be one of the most glamorous men in Paris. Working silently under the likes of Yves Saint Laurent before his passing, and Alber Elbaz for Lanvin before Elbaz left the helm of the fashion house, Top has gained a keen and sharp insight into the world of luxury jewelry and accessory making. Elbaz’s exit was a perfect excuse for Top to take what he learned as an interminable apprentice and start his own eponymously named label. His new collection, entitled Mécaniques Célestes, is an insight into the ornamental aesthete’s lifelong fascination with all things baroque, classical and talismanic. Gold, diamonds, precious stones and other metals reinterpret the armillary sphere – tiny universes atop a finger, atop a breastbone; perfect and encapsulated. When we met Top, we ambushed him with an interview proposal during a cigarette break from hosting his recent pop up at Maxfield’s in Los Angeles (it was his first ever visit to Los Angeles). Our conversation oscillated between his memories of working with Saint Laurent, his love for jewelry and his new collection.

SUMMER BOWIE: So when you were much younger did you know that jewelry design and accessories were going to be your career path?

TOP: What do you mean by younger? Which age? [laughs] 

BOWIE: A child.

TOP: When I was really young I was more into architecture and was sketching very precisely in a maniacal way. Mostly churches and castles. I was very inspired by the 18th century French style and Italian and Austrian things, and was very obsessed with the Baroque period. So not very modern.

BOWIE: Where in France are you from originally?

TOP: I was born in the very north of France, close to Belgium in the countryside. So really a very small village. There were factories because it’s kind of an industrial area, but at the same time, there’s a lot of farms and animals. So it’s a strange mix between both.

BOWIE: So not that many Baroque influences.

TOP: Yeah, I don’t know why I’m obsessed with that! I went to Italy for the first time when I was quite young. I was maybe nine the first time I went to Rome, then I went to Venice, then I went to Bavaria, and I used to go quite often to Versailles and places like that. But around eleven or twelve I decided I wanted to work in fashion and I started to sketch more fashion things...but not especially accessories. It was more general - but then I went to fashion school in Paris at seventeen. I went to work at Yves Saint Laurent when I was around nineteen as a general assistant in the studio when Yves Saint Laurent was still there.

BOWIE: How did you get that job?

TOP: Thanks to school. I went in as an intern for two months and they kept me around which was quite cool. I was doing illustrations. Then Alber [Elbaz] arrived because he was doing the Rive Gauche collections. It was late 90s and that’s how I met him; when I was twenty-one. I think he didn’t know exactly what to do with me and he didn’t have anybody to work on the jewels and accessories in general, because Loulou de la Falaise was no longer doing the jewelry at Yves Saint Laurent. So he just asked me to start working so I started doing sketches and working with manufacturers, which is how I got started. He encouraged me and pushed me to work in this direction. And I was working at the same time on handbags and leather goods. But progressively over the years, I just gave up everything but the jewels because it’s what I liked the most.

BOWIE: What is it about jewelry that makes it so appealing?

TOP: I think it’s quite close to what I used to sketch when I was a child. It’s the same way that I’m looking at it and the way I’m imagining it. There’s always so many variables, and it always involves these architectural problems. As I like to sketch very precisely, everything is the same thing, actually. Like all the castles and all the jewels are the same. I’m very passionate and precise so I can really sketch for hours.

BOWIE: And then you worked for Lanvin as well?

TOP: Yeah, when Alber arrived at Lanvin, he called me and we started to work together immediately.

BOWIE: And do you prefer now working on your own better than for these major fashion houses like Lanvin and Yves Saint Laurent?

TOP: Hmm… It’s very different for me, because for me Alber, and Saint Laurent - and LouLou as well because I worked with her too - they felt like a continuation of my school years and they were really great mentors, because they really helped me. Alber and Loulou encouraged me and taught me a lot. And now I’ve grown up and I can do my own thing. It’s more about that freedom to do something for yourself and not for somebody else, which is very different. It’s more difficult in a way because when you work with my state of mind - I was very devoted to those people - I would do my best to please them and now I have to please myself which is something very different. [laughs]

BOWIE: Were you nervous at first about doing your own thing?

TOP: Yeah. It also took me a long time to find my own aesthetic, because it was so mixed. Like for instance with Alber, I had a lot of freedom but he was always there, so it was a mix of him and me, and it was very connected to the theme of the fashion show so we could do something one season and the opposite the season after. So it was always attached to the collection. Suddenly we were without clothes, and we were without a theme. It wasn’t coming out of me. So, I had to look at my previous work to find the elements that were really me. Because I could see how all the ribbons were completely Alber, and everything which was more Baroque and with all the mixes of materials was more my story. I realized that my story’s all about system and structure, so I tried to extract that. It took me a long time to realize and to find myself. For fifteen years I was working for so many people and a lot of clients and it became more of a mathematical exercise, where you have to find their aesthetic and then create it yourself. It was a sort of a game. But then suddenly I didn’t have anybody else and I didn’t have any other variables to work with.

BOWIE: And what was the difference between what you learned working with Alber Elbaz and Loulou de la Falaise, and what you learned working with Yves Saint Laurent?

TOP: Oh they’re all such different people. [laughs] For Loulou it was more about her own personality. She had a lot of freedom in the way that she could mix things that were very cheap with things that were very expensive. It was more about the way she was thinking about style and the way that she was mixing a lot of ethnic and Bavarian shapes. African themes mixed with Parisian couture. But she used to do it in such a free way because it was completely her own personality; very intuitive. I don’t work like her at all, because she wasn’t really sketching. She was more about taking the elements, mixing them, and it was more organic and a very sensitive experience. And actually Alber is a bit the same in his way of working because he’s not really sketching, but always doing fittings and fittings, and it’s all about words. He talks a lot as he’s trying to find the story and trying to find some keywords to define what he wants. And then he is really all about the body of the woman and...many fittings. But Yves Saint Laurent was the opposite in the way he was working. He was always sketching, very precisely, and if it wasn’t looking exactly like the sketch, he didn’t want the clothes. Alber would just be sketching basic silhouettes, and then he was progressively transforming everything and doing everything directly on the body in the fittings. He wasn’t attached to the sketch.


"At the end, sometimes, there would suddenly be one thing that was so moving, people would really start crying. And this happens so rarely because it is beyond fashion...you’re not talking about fashion anymore. You’re going somewhere else."


BOWIE: And it seems like you have a more specific vision that you put on paper, and then you try to realize it very directly, as opposed to this very sensual experience where you have an idea, and you play until you find it. 

TOP: Exactly. I’m really sketching exactly what I want to see with the jewels, and I don’t move from that. Whereas Alber was working like a lot of women - Vionnet, Chanel, Grès - all those women weren’t sketching, but just doing fittings.

BOWIE: Do you have any great memories of Yves Saint Laurent? Any in particular?

TOP: Sometimes. It never happens to me anymore but sometimes--and I think it’s why people are so attached to him--during the fittings we’d have goosebumps. Sometimes when the model would come in and do a twirl in the clothes it was just so perfect, so impressive, so moving that everybody’s jaw dropped. It’s impossible to describe the experience. Even when I’m talking about it I remember it so clearly.

BOWIE: You start to get goosebumps? [laughs]

TOP: And some people would be crying during the show which was really strange because the show, to be honest, was very old-fashioned. At the end, sometimes, there would suddenly be one thing that was so moving, people would really start crying. And this happens so rarely because it is beyond fashion...you’re not talking about fashion anymore. You’re going somewhere else.

BOWIE: It’s very transcendent.

TOP: And I think that’s the reason people were so attached to him. Because it was something else, not only about clothes. He was doing something else. 

BOWIE: And did you feel that yourself too?

TOP: Yeah, once I was really crying.

BOWIE: Well can you tell us a little bit about this collection?

TOP: This collection is the first I’ve shown and now I’ve developed a few new pieces and I’ve done some variations on those themes. It’s called Mécaniques Célestes. It’s all about the armillary spheres, the planets, and globes. Actually my work in the beginning was trying to unify my two aesthetic tendencies, which are from my childhood and my industrial side. And I thought it was coming from living in the middle of all these factories, and mechanical and industrial landscapes. Then my fascination for something more Baroque, more precious and narrative came, so I tried to find a way to put these two opposites together in the same piece. So that’s the reason there is this thing that you can hide or show. And when it’s closed it’s a bit more radical and pure. When you open it, for me, you’re telling something more poetic and more narrative. Then I found inspiration from the principles of globes, for instance from the sugar bowls you see in Parisian bars. I saw the way it opens and closes and I was looking in and thought, “oh that’s perfect.” And that was really my starting point. [laughs] 

So I had already sketched a few things but couldn’t find exactly what I wanted to put inside, so I was always looking for the perfect matching thing about the system and the mechanical on the inside and outside and what would be the good unity between everything. Then I found an amazing book with the same title called Mécaniques Célestes about the whole collection of these armillary spheres from a really great antique store in Paris. It’s exactly what I needed so when I found it, I sketched everything and that was really the start of it. What I also really liked was how you can always hide the most gorgeous part to give something more playful, but it depends what you wear with it. It all has to do with your own attitude and clothes.

BOWIE: Yeah it’s really quite romantic, this combination of the celestial and the industrial element. If you could describe your work in three words, what would they be?

TOP: Talking about my collection? Strangely, when it came out it was a mix of futuristic and medieval at the same time, and structure is important as well.


You can visit Elie Top's website to see more of the collection and stockists. Intro text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Interview by Summer Bowie. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Patron Saint Of The Impossible: An Interview Of South African Hip Artist Dope Saint Jude

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text by Keely Shinners

Who is Dope Saint Jude? For one thing, she is subversive: a self-produced black queer woman from South Africa who is breaking into the cis-male dominated hip hop scene. She is cool: tattoos, leather, glitter on her lips; she has guys on gold chains in her music videos, and next week she is flying to France for the second leg of her tour. She is revolutionary: using hip hop and mad aesthetics as a means to talk about queer visibility, the politics of the brown body, the radical act of self-empowerment. Dope Saint Jude drinks coffee with you, talks about going back to school to legitimize and expand her political consciousness. Days later, you are sharing a joint and dancing at a party for which the theme is “70s DISCO, BLACK EXCELLENCE, and INEVITABLE SHINE.” In essence, Dope Saint Jude resists clean definitions. She is multi-faceted and she expands to include narratives we don’t normally read together.

Catherine Saint Jude Pretorius and I sat down to talk about making art that is radical and dope, political and accessible, impossible and, as it turns out, possible for those with the courage to love themselves.

KEELY SHINNERS: Who is Dope Saint Jude? Is she a persona?

DOPE SAINT JUDE: Dope Saint Jude started out as a persona that embodies everything that I want to be: powerful, bold, unapologetic, zero fucks to give. But Catherine and the character Dope Saint Jude are slowly becoming one person. Dope Saint Jude is the epitome of everything I want to be. Performing as Dope Saint Jude, in itself, is such an incredible process. It’s changing my life. It’s changing the type of person I am. It’s made me more confident. Maybe I would have wanted to travel. Before, it was just a dream. Dope Saint Jude is worldly. As a girl coming from the Cape Flats, the prospect of traveling was a very far away idea. Now, it’s a part of my everyday life. Like, next week, I’m going to France.

SHINNERS: That’s amazing. 

SAINT JUDE: It’s also been such a cathartic and therapeutic process, performing as Dope Saint Jude. The persona is not just a persona. It’s become a tool transforming my reality. Even going back to school has informed me. I listen to my own music, which is about being bold, being excellent, and pushing the boundaries of your potential. So I listen to my music, and I think, “I have to live my best life. I have to study. I have to be excellent.” 

SHINNERS: The imagination is becoming a reality. That’s really hopeful for enacting change.

SAINT JUDE: It’s not just an empty persona that just exists for the performance. It’s actively transforming my reality and realities of everyone I work with. I place a very strong emphasis on collaboration. The whole spirit of Dope Saint Jude is not just limited to me. It’s not selfish. It’s growing. I’m working with other young creatives who are doing inspiring things. We’re motivated and inspired by each other. It’s an explosive thing.

SHINNERS: Young creatives in Cape Town are doing really amazing things. Talking to people, it seems that some people are really disillusioned by the art world in Cape Town, while others are really inspired. Where do you fall?

SAINT JUDE: I feel quite inspired by it, but I understand why people feel disillusioned. I reclaim space, don’t give any fucks, and make my own reality. If there’s no space for me to showcase, I’ll create my own. In that spirit, that’s why it’s important for us to create our own art, to collaborate, to create space when people don’t want us. Being a queer artist here in Cape Town, there’s not really a platform for me. I’ve made my name overseas. Unfortunately, that’s the reality. I can’t earn a living here. But I’m exciting about developing the art and music scene here.

SHINNERS: So you’re doing a little bit of both, going abroad and making your own space here? 

SAINT JUDE: Exactly. I think you have to do a little bit of both. We live in an international community now that we have the Internet. I meet you now, I might bump into you in a different country. That’s the lifestyle we live now. Or that some of us are afforded; not everyone is that privileged. You’re in the global sphere; you can’t contain yourself in Cape Town and South Africa. But at the same time, we’re in a weird space here. Everyone is looking for Cape Town artists, but there is no tightly-bound Cape Town art community. It’s a divide and conquer mentality. Everyone is doing their own thing separately, trying to make money, instead of us coming together and working as one. It’s because we’re poor. If we had money and resources, we would be able to create without having to make a living. When you have the luxury to make art for the sense of art, you can make money easily.

SHINNERS: And you can’t blame people for that.

 SAINT JUDE: So I’m trying to be in the middle. I also need to eat. I don’t come from a wealthy family. I come from a poor family. I need to make my own money.

SHINNERS: You’re from the Cape Flats? What is that like?

SAINT JUDE: It’s a historically colored area. I come from a mixed-race family. We aren’t very wealthy. For me, it’s a big deal to be able to do what I’m doing. Creating art as a black South African is a privilege. To even dream that kind of lifestyle, that you can make a living from art. “It’s not real work.” That’s what people say. It’s a luxury that I’m aware of.

SHINNERS: You got started on the Internet. What about having access to the Internet informed the work that you made?

SAINT JUDE:  I can’t talk about anything of these things without talking about the socioeconomic struggle in South Africa. My access to the Internet is because I was afforded the privilege of the Internet. My parents made sure I went to good schools in the age of the Internet becoming a big thing. I became an Internet-savvy person at a young age. A lot of artists in Cape Town are doing dope things, but they don’t have Internet access. They don’t know how to use the Internet the same way I do. So, how the Internet impacted my work… The Internet gave me information that I wouldn’t have had access to. As a queer person here, the queer community is very small and racially divided. Having access to the Internet made me feel like I was a part of a bigger community, something that I call Future Queer. It’s not just gay, lesbian, whatever. It’s fluidity; it’s anyone who redefines that way of thinking.

SHINNERS: On the flipside, as you’re putting out your work, you’re putting it out on Soundcloud and YouTube as opposed to looking for a label. Is the accessibility of the Internet important to you?

SAINT JUDE: Because of the stuff I’m creating and the climate in South Africa, which I think is quite conservative for queer people, you’re put in a box. I hate when people label me as a “queer artist.” I hate that type of thing. I feel like I’m accessible to a lot of different audiences. The Internet gave me the platform to be able to communicate that. I just say, this is who I am. Different people take away their own ideas. As soon as you associate yourself with any kind of institution – a label or whatever it is – you’re automatically branded and given a type of audience. I like that the Internet opens the audience to anyone. My music has interest from an academic audience, as well as a “black girl magic” audience because of the strong brown girl power messages in my music.

SHINNERS: You said that you don’t want people to put you in a box. Still, a lot of the interviews I read say, “Dope Saint Jude, a queer black artist.” To me, it seems fetishizing. Do you feel that way? How do you deal with that?

SAINT JUDE: I do! I don’t do “queer hip hop.” That’s part of my identity, and I’ll never deny my ties to the queer community. But saying you’re a “queer artist” is so limiting. Like, we don’t say, “He’s a white guitarist. You should listen to his music.” It’s bullshit. I feel like my music has so many different elements. I’m influenced by Dr. Dre and girls chilling in the hood, Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj stuff. But I’m also woke. Don’t limit me. That’s the thing the media is guilty of. We want to fetishize people. It’s too complex to comprehend, so you want to put it into a box. That’s why I’ve called my EP “Reimagine.” I’m constantly reimagining. I hate it when people do me the disservice of limiting me to one narrative. I have multiple narratives. Also, it feels racist when people do that. They limit your narrative to your struggle, and that’s all. No, I’m joyful. I smoke weed with my girls. We ride in the car and go to the beach and party.

SHINNERS: And the media spins it in a way that sounds like, “You will be edgy and cool if you know about this queer underground artist.”

SAINT JUDE: To an extent, it’s nice. I do exploit it. People want to box me into whatever, but that clickbait can open me up to a new audience. I have to deal with it. I also can’t be upset about it all the time. It’s important that I’m visible as a queer artist. There are so many young, black, queer people who are scared and insecure. For me to actively identify with that, it’s cool. But when big, big blogs do it, it upsets me.



SHINNERS: Being a self-made artist – making your own beats, collaborating with people who want to work with, making your own visuals – seems very important to you. What is the thought process behind doing everything on your own?

SAINT JUDE: One element is that I don’t want to be a rapper who raps over other people’s beats. I see myself as an artist. I want to be involved in the creation of every aspect of my art. I don’t exclusively want to work on my own beats, but it’s important that I use that language because it gives me power in the process. It’s important that I feel in control of my own process. And it just makes the art better, when you’re in control. As a woman, I don’t want guys making beats for me, telling me, “This is how you need to be on this beat. We would prefer it if you were sexier.” As soon as someone makes a beat for you, they feel like they can direct your process. I don’t like that. There are so many male rappers who do that. No one ever credits female rappers on producing and rapping themselves. It’s a powerful thing. Also, in terms of the visuals, it’s important for how I communicate as an artist. I don’t want videos that other people direct just because being hot in front of a car looks cool. If I want to be hot in front of a car, I must know why I’m doing that. I want things to be done in my terms. As a female artist, it’s revolutionary to be in control of your process. 

SHINNERS: What, to you, is the relationship between hip hop and activism? 

SAINT JUDE: Hip hop is really cool because it was the music of oppressed people. That’s where it comes from. It’s cool to explore different struggles in hip hop. Not only rapping about it. You don’t want to rap about problems all the time. It’s cool to communicate using hip hop visually and in terms of the sound. You can throw in things subliminally. It’s accessible. You can talk about things in a cool way. I like to exploit the cool. Young kids and teenagers watch my videos and aspire to that because of the look. But it’s a buy-in to get them into a revolutionary way of thinking. Hip hop is a really cool medium, but it has its limitations. Some people think hip hop and queerness don’t go together, because hip hop is historically quite patriarchal and leans on masculinity. But I think that hip hop is a tool for oppressed people, not just black men. There are other people who are entitled to use the music to express their joy and their pain and their power.

SHINNERS: How do you balance making music that is political, revolutionary, and confrontational towards people’s ideas about blackness and queerness while, at the same time, making music that is accessible?

SAINT JUDE: I think that the idea that the two can’t exist together is a fantasy. In the past, people imagined conscious music as music to sit and think, to blaze and go on a trip. And then there was Lil’ Wayne, turn up music. But I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. That’s something we need to debunk. Like, I find Kanye West’s music quite revolutionary, but it’s also cool to turn up to. It’s small things, like having good beats, that make is accessible, incorporating other facets of cool. For example, if you are a revolutionary thinker and artist, that doesn’t mean you don’t want to go to the club and smoke weed and drink. I want to talk about both sides. 

SHINNERS: We can have a multi-faceted idea.

SAINT JUDE: We’re not limited to one thing. I also like to utilize cool things visually, like fashion. Fashion is revolutionary, but it’s also cool. It’s nice to use that as a tool to bring people in. When teenagers see the fashion, when they see sexy people, they are drawn in. The listen to the music, and it can be informative.

SHINNERS: It can lead them to other avenues.

SAINT JUDE: There are so many things you can do. Shooting dope videos. Messing with the art design. Having interesting-looking people. And if you’re art is good, it’s cool anyway.

SHINNERS: You are a very powerful woman, both in your music and outside of it. But we have two conversations about power going on. We have the “dismantle power” conversation, and we have the “embrace your power” conversation. How do you navigate undoing power while championing your own power when making art?

SAINT JUDE: In embracing my own power, I’m dismantling other structures. My power is valid, and it’s just as important as yours. Also, it’s reimagining this idea of power. Me being powerful doesn’t mean the next person isn’t powerful. The patriarchy and white supremacy champion exclusive power. But the power that I’m embracing is power for all of us. It’s not limited to me and my experience. Also, I try not to focus too much on dismantling all of those structures. It’s draining for me. Why do that when I can empower myself? I happen to be a part of all these disenfranchised groups: black people, queer people, women. It’s exhausting to say, “Fight the patriarchy. Fight this and fuck that.” It’s exhausting on your spirit. I’d rather celebrate that pure joy then perpetuate that “Fuck you,” energy. It’s not helpful. It’s necessary to be angry, but I don’t want to cultivate that in myself. You grow so much from celebration. That’s the revolutionary act. Actually celebrating yourself. Self-love is a radical act.

SHINNERS: When you imagine self-love, what do you imagine?

SAINT JUDE: Small things. Not being hard on yourself for stupid things. Being your own best friend. Promoting yourself. Having you own back. It takes courage to believe you are worth something and that your voice is valid. It doesn’t matter if other people don’t like what you’re saying. The fact that you’re saying it is important. It starts even with just putting lotion on yourself everyday because you love yourself and you’re important to yourself. There’s no shame in buying yourself something nice to wear. For conscious hip hop people, we’ve been taught that it’s selfish to want to indulge and do nice things for ourselves. That’s counterproductive. We need to be kind and gentle to ourselves. Self-love is making your dreams a priority. It’s not far away, wishful thinking. Love yourself to make your happiness important. I think about where I come from. My grandmother cleaned houses and sewed things to make a living. My mom became a teacher. She loved her job, but a lot of women, particularly black women, spend their lives doing jobs that weren’t their first choice. At this point, self-love is allowing yourself to do things that make you happy. You don’t have to suffer. We’re not limited in that way. Structurally, some people are. I’m privileged enough to be able to do art. But self-love is opening your mind to that possibility, that you deserve it. Love yourself enough to work hard and transcend your circumstance.

SHINNERS: That goes back to what you were saying first. You imagined this persona that carried all these desires that seemed unattainable. Now, your life is catching up. 

SAINT JUDE: It’s all because of self-love. If I didn’t love myself, I would have been stuck working for some job that I hated. I didn’t think I deserved to travel or live the life I wanted to. People are in mental prisons. They can’t even imagine being happy. People are so used to suffering because we come from generations of suffering. We accept that as the norm. When you start to love yourself, you can start imagining that it could be a reality. Your life can be enjoyable.

SHINNERS: You just came to the US on tour. Why do you think your music speaks to an American audience?

SAINT JUDE: My point of reference as an artist in terms of pop culture in media is American. That makes me accessible; I can speak that language. Even the humor, the jokes, the sass. It’s informed by the American media I’ve been consuming my whole life. Also, I feel like the US and Europe have a more progressive queer community, and a more progressive art community. To an extent, I was very surprised. There’s a lot of Cape Town slang in my music. People still fuck with my music even though there’s a lot of shit they can’t understand. 

SHINNERS: In Catholicism, Saint Jude is the patron saint of the Impossible. What impossibilities – in work or in life – can you identify? How are you overcoming them?

SAINT JUDE: It’s such a fitting name. My mom named me Catherine Saint Jude because she had four boys, and I was the only girl. She thought it was gong to be impossible to have a girl. I’m glad I chose the second name my mom gave me as my performance name. Everything I’ve done is kind of impossible. Before I was Dope Saint Jude, I was a drag king. I started Cape Town’s first Drag King troupe. Put up a wall, and I will only see it as a challenge to overcome. I grew up in a strict Catholic home. I was super involved in the church. But I’ve felt excluded from the world because I like girls. Now, I’m reimaging and reworking my relationship with my creator. That’s an impossible thing to do, but I’m doing it. If I think about what Christianity is really about, it’s about embracing people who are different. Jesus would have been hanging out with me and my girls. 


You can download Dope Saint Jude's latest album, Reimagine, here. She will also be performing at Festival Les Escales in Saint-Nazaire, France with Iggy Pop headlining. Text, interview and photographs by Keely Shinners. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Happy Endings: An Interview With Alex Cameron and Roy Molloy

These days, being an indie musician is harder than ever and no one knows that better than Aussie based Alex Cameron and his “business partner” and saxophonist Roy Molloy who have been on tour for three years supporting Cameron’s various releases. Next month, Cameron will release his official debut album, entitled Jumping The Shark on Secretly Canadian. The album is very much a collage of disillusionment – disillusionment with the music industry, love and life in general. It’s a raw album that howls with the sentiment of an artist that has been raked over the coals more than once. But it’s not all doom and gloom – these “four minute tales” of failed ambition and self-destruction that comprise the upcoming album are really relatable, listenable and offer a sense of catharsis akin to copping a fix. Cameron’s darkness is evident, but behind the devilish disguise is a brilliant songwriter belting out mythical, Homeresque lyrics in a deep monotone that recalls Ian Curtis or the late Alan Vega. Henry Rollins, of Black Flag, once described Cameron as being "right out of a David Lynch hell dream.” Currently, Cameron and Molloy are touring through Europe. We got a chance to catch up with them in at a bowling alley in London right after the United Kingdom ‘brexited’ from the EU. The darkness of those events add another even layer of pall over this interview, which explores tour life, global catastrophe, and finding yourself through a deep sense of self-pity.

JESSICA GWYNETH: You’ve officially finished with the UK portion with your tour for an album about failure. You couldn’t have picked a more ironic time to be here. What has the past week been like for the both of you?

ALEX CAMERON: I don’t know if I see irony, but I definitely see suitability. The album we’ve written is growing in relevance. The way I see our work is it’s like a thread that moves forward,  communicating with the future. It’s not just about the present it’s a comment about what is on its way as well. So if we’re asked how we feel to be in the UK right now and if we’re feeling that it’s ironic to be here given that we write about failure, it just feels suitable, it feels relevant, it feels what we’re doing is appropriate to our work.

ROY MOLLOY: It’s not ironic, it’s beautiful.

CAMERON: It’s quite beautiful, really, suitable. We feel good. I feel disgruntled by the way things have happened here and we feel empathy because of the way things have happened in Australia as well because it’s quite similar, politically. And when we write about failure. Our message is also primarily about overcoming those failures and celebrating, so personally I think it’s high time that the youth step up and started to play a bigger role in what happens politically around the world, because I think that the longer you spend alive as a human the more jaded you become. It’s all cyclical so you’re not around long enough to realize that everything that’s happening has happened before.

ROY MOLLOY: You saw it happening in Sydney... 30% of people under 25 voted. Same thing back in Australia, they said, “Ah it’s an apathetic generation, people don’t show up and don’t do their parts politically.” Then as soon as people started hitting the streets and protesting and shit, they’ve put in a bunch of laws prohibiting that and giving out jail times. They’re going to blame me for not voting and when I do they’re gonna shit their pants.


GWYNETH: Are there any particular cities along the tour that you’re looking forward to the most?

CAMERON: Budapest. We’re touring with Mac Demarco and he’s basically selling out everywhere so I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for us. It’s great that he invited us. We’re good friends and he’s really generous with his success. He likes to invite people that he’s friends with and appreciates their music so well. And for us it’s about the hustle, so doing Eastern Europe is a big thing for us because our music hasn’t really reached that part of the world yet. I’m looking forward to Budapest and I’m looking forward to Vienna as well.

GWYNETH: Yeah it’s supposed to be really great in Vienna.  

MOLLOY: People keep asking us if we’ve got a fan base in Eastern Europe but I don’t think we do. That’s not how you get a fan base, you know? You get it by doing hot shows and making people feel the love and pay attention.

GWYNETH: So far you’ve been touring with Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Mac Demarco. Is the vibe significantly different depending on who you share a stage with?

CAMERON: Yeah, they all have different audiences and have different vibes. Our job is to make sure we stay consistent. A lot of people sort of feel the need to discuss whether or not it’s relevant for a support act, but it’s never a discussion for us. It’s never about being suitable, it’s whether or not we can win over an audience no matter who we’re opening for. And the answer is always yes. We just have to focus on what our job is, which is performing our songs and doing our set. The stronger you are in what you do as an artist, the more successful the experience.




GWYNETH: And Angel Olsen will be joining you in the States. Not only is her sound a definite departure from a lot of your current tour mates but yours as well. Have you played together in the past or is this a completely new experience for you?


CAMERON: We’ve been trying to tour with Angel for the last couple of years because we’re friends. We were on the same festival circuit in Australia a couple years ago and that’s how we met, but I think what we share or what I think I share with Angel as songwriters is that we’re kind of both not concerned about whether or not we’re departing or remaining the same. The concern is about trying to reach some degree of transcendence and truth in songwriting. And I think it applies to performance as well, it’s about putting on a great show. The more different we are as performers, the more exciting it is. It’d be dull if it was three of us doing the exact same thing. So we’re or I’m excited--are you excited?

MOLLOY: Yeah definitely, you don’t want to be like a crappier version of the band you’re touring. [laughs]

CAMERON: If you do a really fuckin’ excellent version of what you do, people go ‘holy smokes that’s exciting’. 


GWYNETH: Your new album, ‘Jumping the Shark‘ is described as a collection of four-minute tales that provide insight into inner workings of failed ambitions and self-destruction. Are there any recent events in your life that inspired the album or is it more based on your life overall?

 CAMERON: It’s based on a sense of self-pity that can be generated inside someone from inactivity and/or high ambition. I think we’re real ambitious guys and we don’t see the ceiling of what we do. We’re expecting a lot of ourselves in terms of work, rate, and degrees of success, so it’s just our way of commenting on the vast feeling of sadness you can experience if you don’t match those expectations with work. The songs are all based on things that have happened to me or Roy, or our friends and family, of what just altered them to fit into this one singular world where these stories trail on or mark the other. For anything particular that inspired it?

MOLLOY: The fear of global catastrophe.

CAMERON: The fear of global catastrophe is a big one, lots of substance abuse, trying to find a way to release the self or the shame that builds up over the course of your life, because there’s so many embarrassing things that I’ve done that you’ve just gotta get through it and find a way to turn it into something positive. We like to call where we operate in as the “no-judgement-zone”. We don’t like to judge anyone but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to talk about what we absolutely need to talk about.

GWYNETH: In 2014 you released a short documentary that chronicled your experience at South By Southwest. In it you state, “I wonder of those fortunate enough to adore their own faults in a mirror of success.” Is this excerpt a foreshadowing of the current album in any way?

MOLLOY: I forgot about that quote, I like that one.

CAMERON: I guess those two things are kind of unrelated. That’s me just contemplating on what it’d feel like to be successful. The album ‘Jumping the Shark’ doesn’t speak directly about success but speaks directly about failure. I don’t think it has anything to do with the album, though.

GWYNETH: Aside from your solo work, you are also one third of Seekae, a critically acclaimed Sydney-based electronic group. Are there any major life lessons you’ve learned from as a group?

CAMERON: Just to stay in control of what you do and not rest on the fact that people out there are saying they want to help you with your music. It doesn’t matter if you sign a contract with a small label or a big label, you just gotta make sure that they’re the right people to work with. Because when you’re starting out as a musician, a lot of people will tell you they’re going to help you, but I don’t know, they’re kinda collecting little toys, you know? Musicians have become little collective items for these rich kids who say they have labels. It’s kind of weird. But the lesson I learned from that was to maintain control over your work and workload and if you want it to be more, go and get some work. Don’t sit around because someone says they’re gonna help you.

GWYNETH: Do you prefer being in the studio or being on stage?


CAMERON: They’re just so different. I don’t know, I like them both. Right now I like being on stage because we’re touring but in the studio it’s also electric.

MOLLOY: It’s like playing basketball on the court by yourself or being on the team--it’s all good.

GWYNETH: What is most exciting and what is most difficult about being on tour?

CAMERON: The most exciting thing is that sense of work of getting paid cash off the show and getting those rewards that you think and wonder if they’re still out there...You don’t find them but they’re there. The most challenging part?

MOLLOY: That’s the easiest part to answer. [laughs] Don’t worry kids, get out there and do it! But keep it positive, you know?

CAMERON: It’s work so it is what you make of it. Sticking to a schedule can be a little bit difficult but make sure you brush your teeth, have clean socks ready in the morning, and...

MOLLOY: Pack your bags the night before.

GWYNETH: And do you have any plans once the tour is over?

MOLLOY: This is a never-ending tour as far as we can tell.

CAMERON: Yeah we’ve been gone for three years.

GWYNETH: You’re not taking any time to decompress?

CAMERON: I think we have time here and there but really, we don’t see this as some special vacation. This is work and if you work you get a three-week break per year.

MOLLOY: It’d be nice to see family on Christmas.

CAMERON: Yeah. We got more music to record and write. I don’t know, you gotta think about this as something we’re doing that is 24/7.

MOLLOY: We’re not doing this because we’re seeking escape from the 9-5, you know?

CAMERON: Yeah, this is our job now. 


Alex Cameron's debut album Jumping The Shark will be out on August 19 via Secretly Canadian - preorder it here. He will also be touring with Angel Olsen in the United States this fall - see tour dates here. Interview and photographs by Jessica Gwyneth. Intro text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Activating The Vehicle Of Ascension: An Interview Of Filmmaker and Artist Floria Sigismondi

text by Oliver Kupper

Floria Sigismondi’s work, like her music videos for Marilyn Manson, David Bowie or Leonard Cohen, is a perfect amalgamation of her unique upbringing. Spending her early years in the coastal town of Pescara, Italy and her formative years in the rough steel manufacturing town of Hamilton, Ontario – with opera singers for parents – Sigismondi has developed a unique aesthetic that blends classicism with a certain darkness that harkens 1970s Giallo films and the nightmarish tableau vivants of Joel Peter Witkin. As a music video director, Sigismondi brings a distinctive world to life with an unsettling and jarring pastiche of imagery that flickers as if each scene was shot with a camera perched on the wing of a hummingbird. Lately, though, her work has taken a turn for the meditative and ethereal, like her most recent music video for Rihanna’s track Sledgehammer – made for the newest Star Trek film. The music video, set in an otherworldly atmosphere, was the first ever made for IMAX. Sigismondi is also pushing further into the world of feature length filmmaking, which is a promising venture considering the success of her 2010 debut – a biopic about The Runaways starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning.  Currently, she is in the casting phase for the adaptation of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Francois Boucq’s comic series "Bouncer" – about an armed gunslinger and saloon bouncer seeking revenge in the vice infested Wild West. We got a chance to catch up with Sigismondi at the Chateau Marmont to chat about her upbringing, her work creating some of the most iconic music videos of the last two decades and her venture into feature length films. 

OLIVER KUPPER: Both of your parents are opera singers and music is a big part of your life. Was that your earliest introduction to music?

FLORIA SIGISMONDI: It was. I grew up on Tosca and Caruso and Maria Callas. That kind of music enters you. It’s not really just about what they’re saying, but it pulls on your heartstrings. And I fell in love with it by just hearing violin and piano and then kind of got into different kinds of music. But my parents...I always came across some strife because it was just amazing to them that these singers were having careers with this music, while I just thought they were singing the same old song and I wanted to experiment and try new things.

KUPPER: So were they very supportive when you started digging up things and discovered art?

SIGISMONDI: Yeah. My dad was a big Italian film buff and if they saw me scribble on a piece of paper they’d say it was art and that I was going to become an artist. I realized that they were the black sheep of their families and I guess that’s why they gravitated toward each other.

OLIVER KUPPER: So you knew you were an artist at an early age or that art was somehow part of your identity?

SIGISMONDI: I always did.

KUPPER: And you were mainly drawing?

SIGISMONDI: Yeah. Seeing just the tools like a little paintbrush or a professional sketching pencil got me really excited. It was this feeling almost like butterflies fluttering inside your body, and I just knew that it was what made me happy--that spirit. I think because my first language was Italian and I was kind of learning English in school, I really gravitated toward that as my means of communication. I was by myself and wanted to discover who I was by making art.

KUPPER: What was the culture like when you were growing up?

SIGISMONDI: It was rough. I lived in Hamilton, which is outside of Toronto. I was two when we immigrated [from Italy]. There were more steel factories per capita than I think in all of North America. It was a really tough town so there’d be fights at every party, every weekend. If you stared at somebody for more than 2.5 seconds they’d ask what’s your problem ­– it was that kind of thing, even as a young girl. So it was very tough. But then I’d go home and it’d be like little Italy. We’d be making pasta and singing, my mother would be sewing at two o’clock in the morning making costumes, and I’d be watching Westerns with my dad. [laughs] So it was two completely different worlds.

KUPPER: So, Hamilton was very tough.  

SIGISMONDI: Yeah it’s a very special place. I used to ride motorcycles and I remember I had a tiny baby Triumph. Loved my little English bike! It would always break down, though, so I was tired of it and was going to get a Harley – of course it had to be one of the biggest Harleys you could get, but I bought it off of a guy who was not happy he was selling it to a woman.

KUPPER: And photography is something that you really gravitated toward and you went into the direction of fashion photography, right? 


SIGISMONDI: I actually did music and fashion. The thing was, I was at school and did my four years. It was the last year and I had to pick an elective and I kind of thought, ‘okay I’ll try this.’ And I remember this roll of film just turned out blank because I didn’t even know how to expose it. But there was one picture that turned out kind of like a painting. I remember it being over exposed and having super bright colors. I was just thinking, ‘what the fuck did I do’? [laughs] So I think I stumbled into photography in a more impressionistic way where I didn’t see it as documenting things but more for asking ‘how can I use this a tool?’

KUPPER: And your approach to start making music videos…was that something that you knew you wanted to do or you thought about doing then?

SIGISMONDI: Well, it’s funny, I didn’t know that, but I read an interview when I was just taking photographs, and I was saying that I wanted to make film back then. So I guess there was something attractive to it. I grew up watching Fellini films, Pasolini, the Italian Spaghetti Westerns. And I remember watching as a kid and always asking things like, “how did they get that?” I’d always imagine what was behind the scene of getting that shot. I guess I knew sort of subconsciously about the creation of it as an art form. And when I do finish work I rarely look at it. So I think for me it’s more about the process, what you learn as you’re watching things.

KUPPER: In terms of inspirations, people throw around Joel-Peter Witkin or other artists. How would you describe your aesthetic? Because it is really unique to you…

SIGISMONDI: Obviously I gravitated to likeminded people who view the world in the same way as I do, seeing beauty in maybe the ugly or beauty in unexpected places. Also, the combination of two extremes (like in the way that I grew up with the steel-factory-rough-thing mashed together with the high art), so I kind of gravitated toward artists like that. But it’s been a long time since I’ve actually referenced anybody. For me it was more of like, ‘Wow, that person is doing what they love to do, no matter how crazy it is.’

KUPPER: And what was the connection with Brion Gysin, who made the Dream Machine?

SIGISMONDI: Oh yeah! He had this Dream Machine, that’s right. I did an interview for the documentary. I think there may have been a prior connection. He was in Toronto so maybe he’s Canadian.

KUPPER: He inspired a lot of people not only when he and William Burrough’s first developed it, but there’s weird connections between it and Kurt Cobain and stuff like that. So I was curious if there was some kind of connection between that and not just the aesthetic of your work, but also the idea of these sort of dreamlike images.

SIGISMONDI: Let’s just put it out on the table that dreams are more fun. That dimension is more fun than ours where we have to brush our teeth, this disease, that disease. There’s a lot of things we have to do that won’t allow us to completely go and daydream into different worlds. So for me it’s kind of what most excites me about life. And then you can extract that and make it into something physical to share with people.

KUPPER: Does any of your work come directly from dreams that you’ve had?

SIGISMONDI: Yeah, especially when I see them in detail. Sometimes they’re more vague and sometimes I can see the hairs almost coming out of the skin.

KUPPER: When you come up with a concept for a music video like the iconic one you made for [Marilyn] Manson, does the idea come to you right away? Or do you have to listen to the music?

SIGISMONDI: I have to listen to the music, because music to me sort of puts me in a trance. I have to listen to it so much that it actually has no form and then images starts to come up. So it’s kind of there and I’m not paying much attention to it, and I think that that’s when you kind of slip through the gap of this ‘other.’ And that’s what I used to do, I used to do a lot more sleep deprivation or listen to it when I was really tired at night, when you’re not worried about the stress of the day. It was more about a meditative or pre-meditative state whereas now things come to me while I'm walking or talking. I don’t have to put myself in those places.



KUPPER: Do you write things down or do you keep them in something like a memory bank?

SIGISMONDI: Scared of that, but yeah. I do write them down and I have so many notebooks scattered all over the house that it’s crazy for me to find anything. [laughs] I’ve actually had to go through them and put stickies on them, because one project can be in ten different notebooks. So it kind of drives me crazy and I don’t know how to organize myself. Because when you have that inspiration you have to write it down.

KUPPER: What do you notice is the biggest difference in the music videos made now versus twenty years ago?

SIGISMONDI: I don’t watch them.

KUPPER: So did they become less interesting to even engage with at all?

SIGISMONDI: I think our culture was a lot simpler back then, you know what I mean? We didn’t have all this other stuff to analyze. So you did it because you were on the fringe, or there was a real kind of just bubbling into the mainstream, but you still felt it was yours to be a part of, you know? Whereas at least for me, now you really have to search. And so you have to be particular with your time and ask, ‘Do I want to create?’ or ‘Do I want to search?’ And I don’t watch television and I haven’t had one for many years. I finally got one just to watch Netflix but I don’t watch regular television.

KUPPER: There is an art form to making music videos, it’s filmmaking. In a condensed form.

SIGISMONDI: Yeah, for me it was always important to introduce something new in every section or in a fluid way. For me, the thing with a song in a music video is that if you put it all in the first minute then you’ve seen it.

KUPPER: And you made a feature. Was it daunting to go into making a feature film? Was it a completely different experience?

SIGISMONDI: It was so daunting because I was told that a film of that size would’ve been seven weeks, and I had like four or something ridiculous. I didn’t know and that even seemed like a long time to me, but you just don’t get through it. You meet your car guy or whatever person once, and can’t think about it even if it seems like the wrong guy for the scene. So that part of it was so different and crazy. I remember when the shoot started, I went ‘Oh my god,’ because the shooting of it was relaxing even though I was moving locations every day, and even if I didn’t get what I needed to get, I couldn’t go back. So I had to move very quickly. It was nuts.

KUPPER: I want to talk about the music video you made for David Bowie, starring Tilda Swinton, which sort of played with that idea of celebrity. How do you feel about those themes regarding celebrity?

SIGISMONDI: It’s not a concept that comes up, but it’s a strange way to live. I don’t think it’s natural to have that much attention and that we’re built for it. It’s a desire that's kind of dreamlike. It’s a dream...it’s a fantasy.

KUPPER: How did you meet Bowie? How did that collaboration come about?

SIGISMONDI: After I did the Marilyn Manson music video, I guess he had seen that and wanted to meet me. I remember for our first meeting he kept me waiting for an hour. But he was so amazing and we ended up spending five hours talking about art, so it was so great. I remember he had some ideas that he wanted to do. Since they were coming from him I took them very seriously but didn’t know what to do with them. And then I remember getting this amazing message on my answering machine where he just went like, do your own thing or create your own thing. He was giving me permission to be the artist that I was or that he respected. So we met in an artist-to-artist way.

KUPPER: Which is a great way to connect.

 SIGISMONDI: He was just really supportive in the artistic process and taught me that this is all we have. I remember the record company not liking some cuts of Little Wonder and I told him, “Oh my god, they don’t like this. I don’t know what to do,” and he just laughed, saying, “You don’t listen to them!” Because if he had, he’d be manufactured art. So then it became so exciting for me to think that all I had to do was come up with weird images and I could actually live in the world and have fun like that.

KUPPER: Are there any artists that you want to work with in any sphere of music videos?

SIGISMONDI: There are three new artists that I was thinking were so interesting. My mind right now is going more to features. I’m working on a movie with Alejandro Jodorowsky, which I know you read about that.

KUPPER: Yeah, I did. That’s so exciting!

SIGISMONDI: He wrote it and it’s based on his comic book series. It’s got all the elements but it’s a linear story that follows the life of this little boy who watches his parents get brutally murdered and he goes out to search for revenge and finds out about his family and that everything is interconnected. So it’s very Shakespearean in scope.

KUPPER: What stage is that in right now?

SIGISMONDI: Casting.

KUPPER: And your current video that’s out now with Rihanna. How did that come about?

SIGISMONDI: Well we were looking for something to do and this one was very special because IMAX was involved and the film Star Trek was involved. So when Rihanna and her team approached me it was really intriguing to create this other world. It was very different to anything that I think she’d done before. But also what was so great about it too was that it’s a stand alone piece, it wasn’t about using footage from the film, so I was able to just take all the elements that I wanted and give her the power and create her as a new character in a way. So I created a mystical character living on this planet, just conjuring up all these powers and she’s able to move the elements like rocks and sand and then transform herself into the universe. So it has this transcendent theme of how I think that people have such a big power that they don’t use.

KUPPER: And you premiered it in IMAX right? It’s a much different experience than watching it online.  

SIGISMONDI: Yes it is. Quite immersive and if you actually watch it in the IMAX theatre, the sound is pretty incredible too. They took me through the regular sound, the old IMAX sound, and this new IMAX sound, and you’d think you could barely hear a difference, but it’s incredible how you could actually hear the sound going right through your clothing to inside your body. So we had to remix the song to the IMAX sound and sound effects.

KUPPER: Amazing. And right now you’re working on something for the show in Toronto?

SIGISMONDI: That is part of a show called Oblivion which has three artists. I got the square with Director X and he’s done titles like the Death of the Sun and mine’s about activating and transcendence - it’s a little bit witchy. It’s all about activating your vehicle of ascension.


You can explore more of Floria Sigismondi's work on her website. Interview, text and photographs by Oliver Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Praying Mantis Disco Queen: An Interview With Artist Joyce Pensato

Walking into Joyce Pensato's vast studio in Bushwick, I’m first greeted by Elizabeth Ferry, an artist and Pensato's studio assistant, as well as Charlie, an eerie looking, sweet dog whose right eye is blind by cataracts. Pensato herself is short, but tall in personality. Her shoes feel more stylish, remnants perhaps of days in Paris, but still they’re perfectly covered in her signature paint drippings. As we sit, Ferry is busily packing up the space because they leave the next day for the closing of Pensato’s recent show, “The Fizz,” which has been on display at Grice Bench Gallery in Los Angeles. After this, they come back briefly to prepare and work for upcoming exhibitions in Chicago, and then Austria.

At the end of the following interview, we take some photos. Pensato grabs her pink wig and white shades and walks over to a big painting featuring a frenetically deconstructed Batman character. She becomes something reminiscent of a praying mantis disco queen. Once she feels satisfied, she hands over the disguise to me and I give her my camera. Seems only fair she gets to photograph me too. Before moving onto another look, Ferry joins in and we go through the sunglasses, and the props.

In the following interview, I talk to Pensato about her current freedom of expression within the art world, the correlation between the understanding of oneself and cultivating work over time, and her new venture in photography.

ANNIE FRAME: I noticed your studio isn’t that messy. In fact, it’s quite clean at the moment.

JOYCE PENSATO: We just moved in. This is new - it will get messy.  

FRAME: Wow this is heavy.  [I reach for my phone but have to move her recent splurge – a giant lock shaped chain necklace by Chanel].

PENSATO: It’s real. I got paint all over it, but I’m too lazy to clean it.

FRAME: You mentioned in a previous interview that you were experimenting with photography and found imagery.  

[Joyce takes out her camera to show a new, unseen series of photographs where she and Ferry, along with two other actors are dressed as stereotypical Hollywood characters; big sunglasses, jewelry, sipping bubbles under the palm trees looking incredibly performative, and intentionally campy].

PENSATO: Did it? I’m not sure. But we did have a great time in LA taking these photographs. I was playing around. We took these at the pool. Look at Elizabeth, doesn’t she look great! A real Patsy [Cline]. This guy! He was a George Clooney impersonator and we flew him in just to do this. He doesn’t look like him here - but in the others he really does.

FRAME: I like the more weird things about LA.

PENSATO: Me too. I want to do this shoot, but in New York. Dress everyone up, I’ll close this bar down for the day, and photograph the inside.




FRAME: Yes! Do it. I bartend part time when I’m not doing this, and I have crazy teeth. Maybe I can be your bartender in the background.

PENSATO: You do have the teeth - we could have you in something.

FRAME:  Would you ever live in LA?

PENSATO: No. I would visit for some time for work, but this is where I’ve always been.

FRAME: What kind of music do you like listening to in the studio?

PENSATO: Elizabeth got me into the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I like them, but mostly I need things that are upbeat. Or I listen to talk radio.

FRAME: What was it like being a woman in the art world then versus now?

PENSATO: [laughs] To be honest, I wasn’t paying attention. I was too busy doing my thing and working to notice. It’s great that women are finally getting noticed, but I was here, apart from it.

FRAME: I noticed you had a lot more color in your show, Castaway, at Petzel Gallery, and I was curious if you were becoming lighter?

PENSATO: I always start with some color. Then the color gets covered, and I go over it with varnish. It’s really the base.

FRAME: You mentioned coming to terms with feeling comfortable with yourself, and how it took you a while to stop resisting.

PENSATO: It took me awhile to get there.

FRAME: I ask because I’m really struggling with that now. I feel as if I’m too old fashioned because I work with film, or I don’t think I know what’s popular, or I’m changing my mind all the time.

PENSATO: With changing your work?

FRAME: Yeah I’m starting to incorporate text and drawings now. Maybe I’m just curious what kind of advice you would give if you were in my shoes? 

PENSATO:  You have to be yourself. And some people they have it early on. They just know. But I’m not like that.

FRAME: Me neither.

PENSATO: But everyone is different. It takes time and you figure it out eventually. You can’t be what you think you should be.

FRAME: Yeah.  

PENSATO: But it gets easier with age. You start not giving a shit and you learn to stop listening to the voices in your head - because that's what stops you. It’s all here. [Pensato places her hand to her heart] It’s all there. You have it all here.

FRAME: I think it will take me some time too.   

PENSATO: And therapy. Therapy helps.

FRAME: My last question since I know you have to get back to packing is, do you work better under pressure with a bunch of deadlines?

PENSATO: With some artists, their deadline starts right when the canvas comes off the truck. I like deadlines, and keeping busy. I don’t always know what or how - but I get there eventually.


Text, interview and photographs by Annie Frame. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Danny Sangra On Working With Metallica For Brioni’s Enlivening New Campaign

Metallica is a quintessential American band. However, there is nothing American about Brioni (an Italian menswear brand founded in Rome in 1945) and there is nothing American about its new creative director Justin O’Shea (a former womenswear buyer who hails from Toowoomba, Australia). So, its interesting and very bold that O’Shea would ask the heavy metal band if they would be the new face of Brioni, a stale brand that he hopes to reinvigorate with a bit of American cool and muscle car masculinity, mixed with Brioni’s lineage of tailored Italian gentlemanliness.  Today – Independence Day – also happens to be the same day that O’Shea is showing the first collection under his direction during Paris Couture Week. Brioni has also released the first of a series of short films directed by a London-based filmmaker Danny Sangra. Most of the films star O’Shea as a caricature of himself, which Sangra has written to perfection. The character could be described as exigent, obtuse, out of touch, and self obsessed – everything that you may expect from someone so entrenched in the fashion world. In Brioni’s standout film – starring James, Lars, Kirk and Robert – O’Shea plays a ditz who has no idea who Metallic is. It’s silly and ridiculous, but fun and Sangra is too talented of a filmmaker to not pull it off. We got a chance to ask Sangra about the new Brioni campaign, collaborating with the brand’s new creative director and what the hell it was like to work with Metallica.

AUTRE: So how did this collaboration come about and what was your first reaction when you were told that you'd be working with Metallica? 

DANNY SANGRA: Actually, Justin asked me last minute. I was supposed to be shooting a Balenciaga project and then filming his other film project for Brioni the day after that in Europe. I wanted to do the Metallica job but felt it would be too crazy to try and fit in a three day shoot in San Francisco two days before I was due to shoot seven films in three days.

However I knew the ideas Justin had for the film were funny and I really wanted to write the script. It would have killed me not to be able to do it as we have made 5 films together already. But as luck should have it, my projects all got moved around. 

After I sent the script to Justin, I kept asking him ‘I don’t know man, do you really think they will do this?’

AUTRE: It looks like you've collaborated with Justin when he was a buyer for MyTheresa - how did you two first meet?

SANGRA: We met when Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week asked me to write a film with him as the main character. I wanted to meet him before I wrote a script but he’s always traveling and I’m hardly in one place all the time. Luckily I flew into London when he was staying at the Edition. We had a few drinks and once I got home I wrote a script immediately. 

AUTRE: What were your first impressions of him? 

SANGRA: I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he was actually really easy going. I thought there might be a wall at first, many people are worried that you will make them look bad. However, he straightaway said that he wanted to make fun of himself. That film turned out pretty successful.

On set I was really impressed at how well he remembers scripts. I wrote a pretty heavy amount of dialogue for him and he turned up with it memorized. I don’t remember him making a mistake - and there was a lot more dialogue than what’s in the final edit of that film.

AUTRE: Where did the concept of the short film with Metallica come about? 

SANGRA: Justin called me about shooting Metallica and that he wanted to do a ‘behind the scenes’ but make it funny. He wanted to be the guy that had no idea who Metallica are. He had a bunch of ideas about how he could interact with them. Then I wrote a script that could work as a series of films.

AUTRE: Was much of it improvised?

SANGRA: I’ve been writing Justin as a certain character lately. It’s not really him, I think it’s a hyper version of what many people think he might be like (It’s also a character he likes to play up to). We’ve spoken enough that it’s easy for him now to play around with his script. For Metallica, we only had a few takes to get it right, so there wasn’t much room for major improvising on set. We mainly came up with ideas before the shoot. I was also working out each band member on the day – trying to work them out before asking them to do things.



AUTRE: What were your initial thoughts about Brioni before making the film, because the brand is a little bit old fashioned?

SANGRA: To be honest, I didn’t know too much about them and what I did know about them, didn’t make me think we could make films like this for them. I thought I’d have to make something more serious. Justin and I developed two film projects once he became creative director, both of which are far from old fashioned. There was a moment when we were filming the second project in the Brioni head office and I couldn’t believe we were allowed to do it with no restrictions. Many of the brands that people believe are the coolest brands don’t have that much freedom. For me it’s about a brand that is open to new ways of doing things. Some things work and some don’t but it’s being open to new ideas is what counts for me.

AUTRE: What do you think about these major fashion labels bringing on maverick designers or anti-designers, do you think that it allows more room for filmmakers to have budgets to work on bigger projects?

SANGRA: It allows filmmakers to develop new ideas for brands. Ideas that might have been typically binned with previous designers. I’m not saying a new maverick designer makes it better than the previous, it just makes it new. Fashion always demands ‘new’. I’m not sure about the budgets side of things. They are getting bigger in some respects, but I think it mostly allows for filmmakers and creative people who aren’t as established, to get the jobs they couldn’t before. This is down to the new designers wanting to work with people they know and lesser-known creatives that are developing new things.  If anything, maverick designers and anti-designers allow for risk. The creative progress devours risk.

AUTRE: What was it like working with Metallica, what was the atmosphere like on set?

SANGRA: They’re actually pretty relaxed, I think by now they are pretty used to it all. The set was relaxed because my DP and my wife (who is often my producer) were working with me. We’ve all worked and hung out with Justin and Zack before (Zackery Michael - the campaign photographer) when we shot the Carolina Herrera film in LA.  I also used the sound guy who worked on the Some Kind of Monster documentary.

AUTRE: Was there anyone in the band that you got along with more? 

SANGRA: Not really, I had about an equal amount of time with each one. However I spent more time with Robert because I ended up putting him in more scenes. I started putting him in the background of James’s scene but I cut out the bit where you catch him trying to head bang side ways in the mirror. Plus I gave Robert the punchline scene of the film.

They did have a guy with them that thought Justin was serious. He kept telling the band ‘I don’t know if you’re doing what he needs’. None of the band told him that it wasn’t serious. The guy left the shoot thinking it was real.

AUTRE: What's on the horizon for you, Justin and Brioni?

SANGRA: I have another series of films I made with Justin. We shot some in Paris and some in Rome, at the Brioni head office. I think they have just come out today for his 4th of July show.

AUTRE: We featured one of your earlier projects, a more personal film, do you feel more of a responsibility when you are working with a big fashion brand? 

SANGRA: I guess I feel more responsibility to anyone that’s paying me to make something. Big fashion brand or small label just starting out. They are expecting something for their investment. When I make things for myself, I don’t expect much. I just have an idea and make it. It’s the time I get to experiment. I’m lucky that the majority of my films for brands allow me to make what I want. Most of the scripts I write, you can tell are mine. You know when it’s not really my film.

AUTRE: Anything else that you have on the horizon? 

SANGRA: I’m shooting another film with MyTheresa and Balenciaga, which I’m pretty excited about and I have just shot a series of shorts for The Standard Hotels. I’ve also just got word that people will be able to see my feature film, Goldbricks In Bloom, in October. There’s some other things but as usual I’m not allowed to say!


See the Brioni "Behind The Scenes" film below, starring Metallica, directed by Danny Sangra. text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. photos provided by Danny Sangra. Follow Autre on instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


The Vanity Of An Artist: An Interview Of Legendary Artist David Hockney

text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

 

At almost 80 years old, David Hockney – who is perhaps the world’s most famous living artist – is more productive than ever. We got a rare chance to visit his busy, paint-splattered and cigarette-littered studio tucked away in the hills of Los Angeles. We had an in-depth conversation over multiple boxes of his favorite brands of cigarettes – Camel Wides and Davidoff, which he keeps cartons of in a drawer marked ‘first aid’ – just between 'sketchbooks' and 'rulers.' Hockney is an avid supporter of smoker’s rights – even in the face of the ocean of studies and laws surrounding the lethality of smoking cigarettes. Hockney can list a number of famous artists that smoked and lived long lives. Indeed, he is a true bon vivant – the last of a breed of artists that lived through multiple generations of bohemia and decadence. The only difference between Hockney and a lot of other artists is that he has survived to tell the tale. Some of those closest to him have not – a most recent tragedy was the death of his 23-year-old personal assistant Dominic Elliott. The incident prompted Hockney to move back to the Hollywood Hills from his studio in Bridlington, east Yorkshire. Whereas in Bridlington Hockney painted his natural surroundings with a glittering array of landscapes – in Hollywood, Hockney got back to doing something he does so well: portraits. What started off as a few portraits of friends in the Los Angeles art world – some transplants and some natives – soon turned into a feverish and inexhaustible obsession. This weekend at the Royal Academy of Arts, 82 of those portraits, set against a monotone blue background, will be on view. They include portraits of John Baldessari, Frank Gehry, Larry Gagosian, Tacita Dean (and her son), Benedikt Taschen and many more. Before the interview, Hockney’s studio manager granted us one hour, which was generous enough – Hockney wound up giving us two. At the end, it still felt like the iconic and legendary artist had so much more to say. The following transcript is a condensed excerpt from our conversation and pertains mainly to his current exhibition in London, which opens tomorrow. The full interview will be published in a future print issue of Autre.

OLIVER KUPPER: Do you enjoy being back in Los Angeles? Has it been productive?

DAVID HOCKNEY: Yes, it’s been very productive. I was in England about ten years, but I was always coming back and forth. I didn’t mean to stay in England. I just got working there. One thing lead to another, and I just worked. I thought, “If I’m working here, that’s fine. I could come back eventually.” We came back to do the show in San Francisco.

KUPPER: Which we saw. It was beautiful.

HOCKNEY: Yeah. We’re doing a show in Australia a bit like that in November. In Melbourne. And it’s even bigger. There are fifteen screens showing the drawing being done. With fifteen screens, it means you really see the drawing being done. Whereas on the playback on an iPad, it plays it back quick. You can’t quite see it when it gets heavy. And then there’s a show at the Tate.

KUPPER: Being back in Los Angeles, do you see any changes since the last time you were here?

HOCKEY: I don’t go out much, you see. I’m sure it changed a bit. Some things have changed. It’s still like it was. I like it. 

KUPPER: There’s a certain mystery about LA that’s always been here.

HOCKNEY: Yeah. I pointed out, it’s an acquired taste, LA. You have to stay a bit. Then, you realize it isn’t all just freeways. There’s the mountains and the plains. I enjoy going up in the mountains. Then you drive back to the nonsense.

KUPPER: You’re in the studio a lot. How often do you get out of the studio? What do you like to do for fun in LA?

HOCKNEY: Actually, the only fun I have is watching The Borgias on Netflix. I don’t really go out that much. I go to bed at nine. I read a lot. But I’m too deaf. I don’t go to the opera. And concerts. I used to go. Now, when I go, I get a bit depressed because I can’t hear that well.

KUPPER: [And] you have just finished 72 portraits?

HOCKNEY: 82 portraits and one still life. [pointing to a model of his exhibition at the Royal Academy] That’s the model of the Royal Academy.

KUPPER: These are people in the LA art world?

HOCKNEY: Yeah. There are some English people. My sister. My brother. But they’re mostly people in LA.



KUPPER: I recognize Frank [Gehry].

HOCKNEY: Yeah.

KUPPER: There are some really fascinating people in LA. It seems like there is a difference in the art world in LA.

HOCKNEY: I have said that men dress very badly. But look at the variety I’ve got.

KUPPER: Very fashionable.

HOCKNEY: Thirty years ago, there would have been more ties and suits.

KUPPER: I’m seeing some vests and bowties. You don’t see a lot of those these days.

HOCKNEY: There are some ties. That one in the yellow shirt, he said, “It looks like a refrigerator salesman.” Because of the pen in his pocket.

KUPPER: There’s John Baldessari.

HOCKNEY: I’m not really stopping. They’re all painted here. They’re all done in three days. Some were done in two days. Larry Gagosian was done in two days. He gave me two days and I did it.

KUPPER: Of course he’d give you two days.

HOCKNEY: He enjoyed it actually. The moment I got going, he really liked it.

KUPPER: It’s a bit of an honor to sit for a portrait.

HOCKNEY: Oh, I didn’t know that. When I began them, I didn’t really begin thinking I’d do this many. The first thing I painted was this one of JP. We had just come from England, and this boy died. We were all a bit depressed. I did this in July. Then, I started putting them on a platform. Then, my eyes could just be across. Otherwise, you’re looking down. And his feet just came off. Then, I made sure the feet were all in. Feet. Shoes are interesting. In LA, you get all kinds of variety. Look at your shoes. They’re rather good. I’m just going to go on. We’ll show them [in Los Angeles] eventually. They were all painted here, and they’ll stay here. I’m going to show them in London first and then Australia. Then they might come back, go to Venice. Eventually, they’ll all come back here. I think it’s one body of work really. I think if you just took one individual one, they’re okay, but when you see quite a few with the simplicity of the background, you see all the little differences. They’re all sitting on the same chair, but everybody sits there in a different way. Everybody has a little different shape. They’re all seen as individuals.

KUPPER: They’re really beautiful. And very contemporary.

HOCKNEY: I kept putting them up there. Then, I did something else for a while, and then started again later on the portraits. When I had done about 45, I thought, “Well, I could show them all.” I’m a member of the Royal Academy. So I thought we could show them in the gallery there. I suggested it to them. I could have shown them in LA, but the LA County Museum had done a few shows of mine. It’s good, but in the Royal Academy, you can do things. We decided to do it, and I just went on. 82 is the max number you can put just in a straight line. So I have to take some out. I’ll see it for the first time only when it’s there. I can’t see them all here. It’s going to be a very psychological exhibition. I’m assuming, really, the people who go will be looking at themselves. They’re looking at people like themselves.

KUPPER: Does it ever get emotional to see your work in a museum setting, outside of the studio?

HOCKNEY: Well, I have the vanity of an artist. I want my work to be seen. I don’t have to be seen, but I want the work to be seen. And I’ve always arranged that. So, when I did 45 [paintings], I realized it was quite a lot. I mean, 82 portraits is an odd thing to do. They were each done, like I said, in about three days. I worked for about seven hours a day.

KUPPER: After this exhibition, do you plan on continuing this series?

HOCKNEY: Yeah, yeah, I could go on forever, because people are interesting - I paint everyone. 


David Hockney "82 portraits and 1 Still Life" will be on view starting July 2 and will run until October 2, 2016 at Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. photographs by Summer Bowie. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


The Importance Of Being Earnest: An Interview Of Essayist And Poet Kris Kidd

 photograph by Cameron McCool

text by Keely Shinners

 

What does it mean to be honest?

For Kris Kidd, it might be the unadulterated, self-deprecating persona he projects on social media and in his essays. The day we meet, he posts a picture of himself in a studded choker and a t-shirt ripped to shreds, an ashy cigarette hanging from his lips. The caption reads, “i guess i’d have to say the greatest thing about being me is that i can show up an hour late to meetings & interviews, unshowered & w/ starbucks in hand, bc i literally have no reputation to uphold.” But if you think this is the honest Kris Kidd, you only know half the story.

Kris is not an hour late for our interview. In fact, Kris is fifteen minutes early, texting me that he’s showered and walking over before I’ve even gotten in my car. When we meet, he wrapped me in his thin, freckled arms offers me coffee and a Marlboro, jumps right into the interview as if we’ve been friends for years, just catching up on creative projects and intimate endeavors. When I’ve reached my final question, Kris says, “Let’s just talk.” So we do. We smoke, drink iced coffee, and talk about deconstructing masculinity. Our interview is cut short by a homeless man asking for a couple bucks to buy coffee. Kris jumps up, says, “Let me buy it for you,” and drops $6 on an Arts District iced latte for this random stranger.

What does it mean to be honest? Am I being honest if I am painting Kris as a “Punk with a Heart of Gold”? Still, I am withholding the complexity of what is real. Kris is not a slew of archetypes; he cannot be categorized or branded, not as a punk dream boy, an addict, a spokesperson for the millennial generation, an LA kid with a dark past and bright future.

If I can say anything truly honest about Kris, it is that he is open. On the page and sitting across from me, Kris is shedding the layers of self-preservation that weigh so heavily on our culture of self-absorption and individualism. In his new book of poems, Down For Whatever, he lays heart, mind, and body on the line. Kris’s poems blend hazy nostalgia and deep love with sharp, exigent issues like drug abuse, eating disorders, and sexual disenfranchisement. The book is a multi-faceted read, both dark and hopeful, unfeigned and well-crafted, entertaining and deeply moving.

Down for Whatever might capture a sliver of what it means to be honest. Not an honesty that is clean and shallow, but an honesty that is messy, contradictory, difficult to articulate but so, so sweet.

Kris Kidd and I sat down to talk about shedding bullshit, embracing the ephemerality of writing, getting addicted to control, and finally letting it all go.    

KEELY SHINNERS: In your new book, Down for Whatever, Poems and Bullshit, which are poems and which are bullshit?

KRIS KIDD: The bullshit was more of the blog posts. We wanted it to be four different sections, because I think I’ve grown a lot since I Can’t Feel My Face. It started out with the thought that blog posts would be a good division, because they’re all different years of my life. That’s the bullshit. There are some life lessons in there which are kind of just weird, drug-abusing things that I’ve learned. Yeah, it’s a good mixture of poems and bullshit. Some of the poems are bullshit.

SHINNERS: Is there something about having a physical copy of everything curated together that is important to you?

KIDD: That’s a part of it. I know the print industry is dying. In a way, we’re doing this print to publish. We’re not killing any trees. Well, we are killing trees, but we’re not wasting anything. I didn’t know that was an option. I’ve always wanted my first collection of anything to be printed. I want to hold it. I think there’s also something to be said about closing yourself off for a while, working on something, and getting the collection. I still post shit to Instagram all the time, like short poems. But I try to hold onto everything that I have until I have a collection of work.

SHINNERS: So you could do a little bit of both.

KIDD: Absolutely.

SHINNERS: Did you write all the poems together, or were you compiling a bunch of material at the end of a certain period?

KIDD: It started off two years ago, when I started compiling all the poetry I had written. I was so secretive about it. I didn’t really post any of that. I always thought poetry was over-emotional. With the essays, it’s really comedic and kind of jaded. I almost caricaturize myself in a way. I was scared of being that vulnerable. Once I got all of those together and read through them, I realized there was a lot more I wanted to say about what I’ve learned since. So I spent the last two years writing the other half of the book. It’s half and half.

SHINNERS: You include blog posts from 2009-2013. They are very haunting, like ghosts from your past self. Are you including those blog posts to contextualize the rest of the poems in a kind of reflectiveness?

KIDD: I think it’s reflective, for sure. Also, it’s so weird to look back. I started that blog not knowing if people were going to read it. It was more of a journal for me at the time. There’s an honesty in that that’s hard to replicate now that I know that people are reading what I do. They’re haunting for me too. It’s weird to see where my head was at those moments. Like I said, they’re really big time stamps for where I was emotionally.

SHINNERS: Are you nostalgic, or do you think, thank god that’s over?

KIDD: Both. I know I wouldn’t be this person without that kid. I wouldn’t ever do it again. [Laughs.]

SHINNERS: Why poetry rather than prose? What can you say in a poem that you can’t say in an essay, a story, an Instagram post?

KIDD: It’s kind of the opposite. The reason I was so afraid of poetry was that you can’t bullshit anything. With the essays, I can make a joke. I can talk about my father’s suicide. I can talk about drugs. I can talk about eating disorders. But I can spin it comedically so that no one’s super uncomfortable. My biggest fear with poetry is that I would be inviting people to some kind of pity party. The interesting thing about poetry is that you can only say exactly what you need to say. It’s like packing for a trip. You can’t take everything. That makes it more… I hate the word raw… It makes it more vulnerable and intimate. That’s terrifying, but I wanted to challenge myself in that way.

SHINNERS: You kind of have to put it on the line.

KIDD: Yeah. Poetry is just very different. I wanted to work on that for myself. I still see a lot of the voice of I Can’t Feel My Face in these poems, but I stripped away a lot of the manipulative behaviors that were in that book.

SHINNERS: Historically, the central distinction between poetry and prose (before they were written differently) was that poetry was meant to be performed and enjoyed in the community, kind of like theatre. Is there a sense of performance in your work?

KIDD: I only read some of these poems last year when I only had rough half of the book. I used to read the essays. Reading poetry is different. Essays are performative too, but it’s kind of like a stand up comedy routine. Again, with this being more emotional, more vulnerable, you slip into it. Especially because it’s my life, the performance does transport me back there. It becomes a performance of self.



SHINNERS: Going along with the performative aspect of poetry, poetry was a historically communal space. Like, you would go see Homer perform the Odyssey on the street. Is there acommunity that you’re thinking about when you’re writing? Or is it more individualistic?

KIDD: I think it started off as individualistic. As the blog got bigger, and as I released I Can’t Feel My Face, it really sent it somewhere else. People all over the world were reading these things. I would get messages from kids in Russia who say they can’t be themselves. It’s really amazing to hear--not even in a narcissistic way, though I’m sure that it is--it’s really amazing to hear what these kids get out of that. That became, I think, a sense of community. Now, I think I owe that vulnerability in a sense. Things that I wouldn’t have said before, I found myself saying in this book. I know there are things I have experienced that other people will gravitate toward and relate to. I want to be open for them.

SHINNERS: You reference things like the hazy glow of your iPhone screen in the middle of the night, or facetiming a friend in your poems. Even though these technological apparatuses are ever-present in our daily lives, they aren’t so often included in poetry. Why do you think it’s important to include them?

KIDD: I’ve never wanted to create anything timeless. What makes our ability to write about now powerful is that it’s right now. We’re experiencing this generation. We were the guinea pigs for things like social media. All of the digital advances have been within our millennial age group. I don’t care if twenty, thirty years from now all my shit is outdated. I think it speaks to its time. The Internet and technology have influenced all aspects of my life. I think that’s true for a lot of people. I get that people don’t want to date themselves; I totally respect it. But that’s never been a worry for me.

SHINNERS: If it’s ephemeral, you want it to be powerful while it can be.

KIDD: Yeah, and we’ll always know what the iPhone was. We’ll always know what Facetime was. Even when it becomes the rotary phone of the next generation.

SHINNERS: Addiction plays a huge role in your poems, not just drug addiction, but addiction to things like intimacy, nostalgia. What are things that addicted to writing about?

KIDD: Addiction is a weird thing. Because I write so openly about using drugs for a long time, I get labeled a drug addict a lot. I combat that, because I don’t think I was ever addicted to drugs. I definitely abused drugs. But I’ve always been addicted to control. Down For Whatever finally comes full circle with that, because I included aspects like sex, love, and intimacy. And all of my personal issues with that. I’m addicted to writing about drugs, for sure. That’s always going to be an issue until it’s not, you know? We need to talk about it. I’m addicted to writing about body image and eating disorders. Especially for young men, it’s not addressed often enough. And just sexual intimacy. This is my first time writing about my issues with that. But so many people in my life are going through the same things that I am. It’s incredibly isolating. We tend to replace sexual intimacy with sexual violence. That’s fine, but it can get dangerous. It can really hinder you from any emotional growth whatsoever. I think addiction in all forms. It does go back to control though. That’s always been my issue. Control with food, men, drugs, whatever.

SHINNERS: Feeling a lack of control?

KIDD: Something will hit me, and then I don’t have control over a situation. But I know I can control my body. If I do this, I know I can get high. When I stopped using drugs, men became like that too. I knew I could get them to sleep with me, that sort of thing. Which is not healthy. It’s all a power play. But we’re learning.

SHINNERS: You write a lot about things like cheap motels and smoking cigarettes all the time. I think that’s really authentic to you, but for a lot of people, it’s this whole American Apparel aesthetic. Like, “Oh, that’s edgy. That’s romantic.” Those places and objects are romanticized. How do you grapple with that? Is it romantic for you? Or do you want to talk about it because it’s true to your life?

KIDD: The motel reference, that was just one specific night. We had nowhere else to stay. We couldn’t afford anything else. There is something romantic about that. People tend to romanticize any sort of tragedy. Tragedy is glamorized. Poverty. Any sort of struggle is romanticized. That’s a cultural thing. We have Sofia Coppola making depression the hottest thing in the world in all her fucking movies. Lana Del Rey. These artists are great, but we are romanticizing really dark things. I hope I’m not included in that. I’ve never tried to romanticize any of it. I’ve always tried to speak on it honestly. If people glamorize it, that’s more on them.

SHINNERS: The book includes a few “Life Lessons,” which kind of poke fun at the idea. But if you had to share a life lesson, what would you share?

KIDD: An honest one?

SHINNERS: Yeah.

KIDD: The biggest thing I’ve learned in the last year is how important honesty is. And how specific honesty is. Somebody just told me recently, “Even if you’re saying the truth, if you’re omitting other things to get a certain reaction or endpoint, that’s not honesty.” I think I’ve struggled with that my whole life. Like, “I’m telling you my story. I’m not lying.” But there was still a manipulative aspect to everything that I did. In the long run, it doesn’t help. Even if it gets you what you want, that’s going to be fleeting. There are a lot of gaps. That’s hard. I’ve been struggling with that for a year. But it’s paying off.

SHINNERS: It’s hard to be honest, but people end up loving it.

KIDD: People crave honesty. It’s just rare that it ever gets that way. Because we’re all scared. It was actually a psychic who told me that. That’s such a white girl LA thing for me to do, see a psychic, but I was at a place where I needed some sort of guidance. It really hit me. That’s something that I’ve been working on.

SHINNERS: When you think about honesty, what do you imagine?

KIDD: Just totally letting go.

SHINNERS: Putting everything you have out there.

KIDD: Especially in intimate relationships. I’ve always developed really close relationships with women. I’ve always been terrified of relationships with men. I have this really close circle of girls, and those are my best friends. We’re all honest with each other. There’s nothing to hide. It’s all on the table. And I realized that’s why those relationships work.

SHINNERS: Even with guys who have supposedly undone their masculinity, do you find there’s this lingering feeling that they need to be a certain type of person? Especially when they’re with other guys? And that’s what it’s harder to be honest?

KIDD: Absolutely. I see what the masculine ideal is, and I feel like I’ve strayed away from it as much as I can. But there’s something to being socialized as a boy, as a man. You can feel, but hold it in, don’t emote it, don’t talk about it. That, as a social construct, is really interesting. That’s something I’ve always worked against. But I do feel like there’s repercussions to me being that honest because I’m a boy.

SHINNERS: I notice it in the relationships that I have with men. I don’t really have friends who are jock bros, but even my friends who are feminists and are trying to recognize masculine constructions, you get to thresholds with them every once in awhile.

KIDD: It’s so ingrained. It’s a lot to undo. It will take time. We’re making progress, but it’s such a slow burn, on all fronts.

SHINNERS: Right. And sometimes it just shifts. We think that it’s over, but really it’s the same power structure using different language.

KIDD: This reminds me of Orlando. We think we’re such a progressive country. We think that we’ve made changes, but we’re not that far from where we were. It’s great. We’ve been making strides. But we need to keep going. It’s so easy to fall back and come up against that threshold.

SHINNERS: There’s so much supposed widespread support in the mainstream media for the queer community when something like this happens. That’s really cool, and it maybe wouldn’t have happened decades ago. But there’s also so much rhetoric about, “Oh, this one stray homophobe. Our culture isn’t actually like that.”

KIDD: As beautiful as it is that queer issues are now in the mainstream, it’s also trending. We have to push past that. Trends die. And this shouldn’t be a trend.


You can purchase Kris Kidd's new book of poetry Down For Whatever here. Text and interview by Keely Shinners. Photography by Cameron McCool. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


What We Do Is Secret: An Interview With Controversial and Provocative Chinese Photographer Ren Hang

Left: muse Huang Jiaq Right: Ren Hang, photograph by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

Ren Hang’s photographs rake a dagger across the main artery of sociosexual norms and leave a glittering crime scene of bodies splayed across the frame in ecstatic and erotic forms. As a Chinese artist, this makes his work even more incendiary and provocative – even in the face of his home country’s strict censorship laws. We got a chance to interview Hang (pronounced ‘hong’) back in 2011, when his work was just gaining international recognition. Over the years, he has had solo exhibitions in almost every major city. With his current show on view now at MAMA gallery, he can put Los Angeles on that list. In a back office at the gallery, before the opening of his show, we were able to conduct a second interview and ask the controversial Beijing-based artist about his work, his explosive career and his place in the current photographic and artistic zeitgeist. Hang is notoriously media shy, because he wants the work to speak for itself. Work that is unplanned, unchoreographed and not scripted in any way. A good example is his famous “fish tank” photograph – he brought an entire glass tank full of fish into a hotel room and placed it on the bed and let his closest friends jump in; water splashing everywhere; fish scrambling for safe haven. In his images, genitals are often painted red with lipstick, peacocks meddle with sumptuous human forms and a sea of behinds form a rippling, illuminatingly sensual wave – a wave that floods your unconscious with revelrous desires. Despite his timidness in interviews, Hang has a lot of future plans. Next December will see the release of a major career monograph from Taschen – a book that he didn’t want to release knowledge of yet publicly, but is currently available for preorder on Amazon. The monograph is a collection of work that derived from numerous self-published books that Hang has released over the last eight or so years – but many of the images are from the artist’s personal archive. Hang also has plans to release a feature length film, which will be his first foray into filmmaking. In the following conversation, with his muse and lover sitting next to us, Huang Jiaq, we chat about the spontaneity of his work, his previous life studying advertising, and his rebellious attitude towards the authorities. 

OLIVER KUPPER: Is this your first time in LA? And your first solo show?

HANG: Mhmm. My first solo show. I’ve done group shows.

KUPPER: How do you like LA?

HANG: Hmm, I don’t know. Because I didn’t go out at all. I just arrived two days ago. 

KUPPER: You’ve been taking photographs for a while now. How long?

HANG: Since 2007.

KUPPER: Is that outside of school? When did you first start to pick up the camera and take pictures of friends?

HANG: It was really boring in college. That’s when I first started playing with the camera. I was around 17 or 18.

KUPPER: So you were young. What was boring about college? Was it that there was nothing creative?

HANG: In college, I was studying advertising. I found that boring.

KUPPER: You wanted to be in more fine art photography instead of corporate [photography]?

HANG: At the time, I didn’t know what I would do later. Then I built a camaraderie with my friends.

KUPPER: Over the years, what’s sort of the biggest development you’ve seen in your work?

HANG: I’m the photographer. I’m taking photos literally everyday. I can’t examine things. To me, it’s the same. But I think it has definitely [developed]. I can’t be the outsider looking at my own work.

KUPPER: Have you discovered anything about yourself as an artist through the process?

HANG: Of course. Anyone would in this position.

KUPPER: You’ve traveled a lot too because of the attention your work has gotten. You must have discovered things about the rest of the world and the way people appreciate your work. Anything you’ve learned there that you can discuss?

HANG: I didn’t think about it like this. I just kept going. Now, I feel nothing. In the beginning, I felt half-happy and half-sad. Some people say really wonderful things about it, and other people say really bad things.

KUPPER: You use a lot of friends and lovers in your work. Also, your mom has been in a lot of your photographs. Does she support your work? Do you talk about your work with her? Did she support your work in the beginning?

HANG: Sometimes, I show my work to her. We didn’t talk about my work though.

KUPPER: What do your parents do?

HANG: My mom worked in a cream factory. My father worked at the train station.

KUPPER: Growing up, who were some artists you were attracted to?

HANG: My favorite artist is Shūji Terayama. He was a sculptor, filmmaker, poet, dramatist. He did multiple things. That was inspiring.

KUPPER: Was it just photography? Was it painting, or was it art in general that inspired you?

HANG: Everything.

KUPPER: People talk a lot about censorship in your work, especially in China. But it’s really a global issue. We have it here, too. Do you see that other places? Do you see your work being censored? Do you hear people talking about your work in a way that suppresses your creative ideas outside of China, or justin China?

HANG: Yes, but I don’t care. If the police don’t catch me. Whatever you say, you say. It’s your mouth.

KUPPER: But there is no fear. You still keep taking pictures. You still keep working.

HANG: I’m not afraid. Why be afraid?

KUPPER: When you’re shooting, how much is planned, and how much is spontaneous?

HANG: I never plan at all. I only know what I’m going to photograph after everyone gets together. It’s not a huge process.

KUPPER: Where are some of your favorite places to shoot?

HANG: Anywhere. Anywhere is beautiful.

KUPPER: The sexuality in your work, has that come naturally?

HANG: It comes naturally. I never really think too much about it.

KUPPER: You’ve also published a number of books over the past couple of years. Is there an experience people can get looking at your photography in books rather than looking at your photography on the wall?

HANG: I don’t really care if they have a different experience seeing it in the book or on the wall.

KUPPER: Do you plan on shooting in Los Angeles?

HANG: I would love to. We’re trying to find models.

KUPPER: Do you have any place where you want to shoot, or just anywhere?

HANG: Nature, in a park. I’ve only been here for two days, so I don’t know LA very well.

KUPPER: In the past, you’ve had problems with galleries selling your work without your permission. Has that been resolved?

HANG: It was just one gallery. It has not been resolved. We’re still in a lawsuit.

KUPPER: How did you find out about that?

HANG: One of the buyers from that gallery found my email online and contacted me. He asked me a question about the photograph. That’s how I found out.


Ren Hang Inspiration: Shūji Terayama's Film "Butterfly Dress Pledge" (1964)


KUPPER: Can you talk about this show, and the pictures that were chosen for the show? This is a new body of work?

HANG: MAMA Gallery chose the pictures. It’s a mixture of new and old.

KUPPER: Do you try to shoot everyday?

HANG: The majority of the time, it’s everyday. The camera is always in my pocket. But it also depends on my mood, if I’m happy.

KUPPER: You probably feel really jet lagged now.

HANG: Mhmm.

KUPPER: Where do you see yourself as an artist in ten years?

HANG: I don’t know.

KUPPER: You don’t want to have those restraints thinking about where you’re going to be.

HANG: Well, even if you think where you want to be, it doesn’t really matter. Even if you think where you’re going to be, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get there or be there.

KUPPER: What do you want people to know about your work?

HANG: I don’t have a message. Everyone is going to have their own thought about something. Even if I say, “Oh, this is the message of this particular photo,” it really doesn’t matter. People are going to think what they want to think.

KUPPER: You collaborate with your Huang a lot too. You’ve worked together on a lot of stuff.

HANG: I shoot him a lot.

KUPPER: He’s sort of your muse. How do you feel about that [Huang]?

HUANG JIAQ: I don’t know.

KUPPER: That’s exciting. You guys get to make art all the time.

JIAQ: No. We don’t think we are making art. It’s just shooting.

KUPPER: Yeah, it’s just part of life. Magazines want to turn artists into artists. They won’t let them do their own thing. But you two travel a lot together. How did you meet?

JIAQ: On the Internet.

KUPPER: Were you a fan of his work beforehand?

JIAQ: No, he was not famous at that time.

KUPPER: Is it interesting to see his work develop over time?

JIAQ: Yes.

KUPPER: What are some things you’ve noticed about his work that have changed?

JIAQ: I don’t know.

KUPPER: It’s a little weird to talk about, right?

JIAQ: Yeah.

KUPPER: Because it’s also really intimate work. A lot of friends are naked, having fun. It’s difficult to talk about, because it is just your life.

HANG: That’s my idea. But a lot of people don’t agree with me. It’s expensive. [For example] why you want a big fishtank? They are hard to clean, the water. But if you want me to shoot with you, you must have this. Do you have another idea?

KUPPER: So the hotel actually used it for advertisement?

HANG: Yeah, but they almost said no to me.

KUPPER: It’s messy but exciting. That’s one of my favorite photos. Do you have a favorite photograph?

HANG: I love all of them. But after I shoot, I start anew.

KUPPER: Do you ever think about making movies?

HANG: Yeah, I would make a movie. Next year, a real movie.

KUPPER: Like a long one, a feature length?

HANG: Yeah. Maybe show it here.

KUPPER: That’d be great. It would be fun to see your images come to life in that way.

HANG: It will be very different than my photos. It’s a story of love and la la la. It’s real life. It’s not like this.

KUPPER: Even if this is sort of real life?

HANG: Kind of.

KUPPER: You wrote the screenplay? It’s a big movie, and you want to premiere it here in the US?

HANG: I think because the producers are in France it will premiere in France first.

KUPPER: That’s exciting.

HANG: You will see the movie in the cinemas all over the world, but not China.


Click here to see images from Ren Hang's exhibition, What We Do Is Secret. The exhibition will be on view at MAMA Gallery until July 23, 2016. Click here to read our previous interview with Ren Hang. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


What She Said: An Interview With Photographer Deanna Templeton

Most may know Deanna Templeton as the wife, muse and woman behind skater, photographer extraordinaire, Ed Templeton. Just the same, though, you could say that Ed is the man and muse behind Deanna. But the truth is that they walk hand in hand – sometimes literally – especially when they go on their daily stroll through Huntington Beach photographing the seaside community’s sun drenched denizens. Indeed, Deanna and Ed are truly one of the greatest artistic duos in recent memory. While their work isn’t purely collaborative, both of their identities as artists and photographers are wholly unique, dynamic and alive with a searing, youthful vibrancy.

Just recently, Deanna released a beautiful book of photographs that explores the human form under water.  One day, Ed jumped into their pool naked and Deanna grabbed her camera. The images would result in a continuing series of nudes – swimming bodies of friends, shooting gracefully through the undulating laps of the pool water, trailing bubbles behind, leaving the swimming figure abstracted and refracted in the reflection of the net-like sunlight. A limited edition version of the book comes with a number of extras, like an additional printed page, a signed print and a special cover.

Tomorrow night, Deanna will be exhibiting a more personal series at Little Big Man gallery in Los Angeles. The series, entitled What She Said, which borrows from the Smith’s track of the same name – features images of female youth (that remind her of herself) juxtaposed next to excerpts from her diary when she was a teenager. Indeed, Deanna’s photographs harken back to early punk days – a studded, spiked and tattered rebellious youth in Southern California, where she met Ed when they were still teenagers. The photographs, which were taken over the course of a 15-year period, exemplify Deanna’s own transition into adulthood and womanhood.

I got a chance to chat with Deanna before her solo show to discuss her photographic history, getting her friends to swim naked in her pool and her plans for the future, which include more collaborations with her husband Ed.

OLIVER KUPPER: I want to go back to when you first started taking pictures. I read somewhere that your mother gave you a camera as a coming home present after running away. Is that true?

DEANNA TEMPLETON: Yes, it is. It had nothing to do with my own home life. I was supporting my best friend, at the time, who couldn’t bear living at home. We were fourteen or fifteen. It was only for one night. I went with her so she wouldn’t have to do it by herself. It sucked so bad, of course. We basically just stayed the night on the street. We tried to sleep on a little patch of grass. Some guys tried to invite us into their van. By the time morning came around, she found a friend’s house that she could stay at, and I was like, “OK, I’m going home.” I think my parents were so freaked out, like “Where did this come from?” And I never told them I was doing it for a friend. So they said, “We’ll give you whatever you want, just don’t do that again.” And I said, “I would like a Canon T90, please.”

KUPPER: That’s a perfect gift. That really opened up a lot for you.

TEMPLETON: You would think that that’s a little too much camera for a fifteen-year-old girl. I didn’t deserve it. Maybe a year later, I was on the way back from visiting family in Guadalajara. I packed it in my checked luggage, and it wasn’t there when I came back. I didn’t respect the equipment. After that, it switched to a point and shoot for quite a few years.

KUPPER: Did you get any pictures out of it?

TEMPLETON: Nothing that I saved. Just shooting around high school, with a bunch of friends. I don’t think I have any from that time. I have all my negatives in books. I catalogue them in years. I have two catalogue books called “Crap.” I couldn’t bear to throw them away, but I couldn’t look at them either. I imagine that if they were still around, they would be in there.

KUPPER: What were some of the things you were interested in shooting? Your surroundings, punk shows?

TEMPLETON: I wasn’t doing punk shows, because I didn’t have a dedicated flash. It was mostly my surroundings. I would do a little bit of high school, home life. I wasn’t focused. It was new to me. I didn’t really know what I was doing. The reason why I wanted a camera in the first place was because I had a girlfriend who would shoot the punk bands at shows. I watched her develop her film, and that’s what got me hooked.

KUPPER: When did photography become an art form for you?

TEMPLETON: That was in 1998. I was still shooting with a point-and-shoot, but Ed started to see that I had an eye for it. He bought me a Canon A-1 and said, “Let’s see what you can do with it.”

KUPPER: Were there any photographers that you looked up to?

TEMPLETON: The first was Hiromix, because he did the point and shoot. He was the first that caught my eye.

KUPPER: In a previous interview, you talked about female photographers feeling alone. Why do you think that is?

TEMPLETON: In the beginning, when I first got the money to upgrade my gear, I felt like I was a part of the boy’s club. It’s always been more male-dominated. I know there’s women out there. There’s just not as many females represented.

KUPPER: Male photographers seem to get more attention, especially street photographers.

TEMPLETON: You could say that more generally about art. The Guerilla Girls movement was all about the under-representation of females in art, at galleries and museums. It’s not just photographers. Even right now, I’m going to be in a group show in Portland through the Dead Beat Club. Clint, the main guy, is really supportive of female artists. But the main core of artists doesn’t have many women. Even the gallerist asked why there weren’t more women in the show. I do feel now, the older I’ve gotten, I’ve met more women photographers, even in skateboarding photography. I don’t feel alone anymore.

KUPPER: You work a lot with Ed, your husband. You shoot a lot and collaborate. Do you teach each other lessons?

TEMPLETON: I would say there’s probably more from him on me. I’ve been very fortunate. I don’t need to go to school for photography. I have real-like lessons when I go out with Ed, just from watching him, how he works. I’ve always compared his style of photography to the way he skates. He’s constantly looking ahead. He’s always weaving in and out of obstacles to get to what he wants to get. I feel like he took that to his photography. He walks faster than I do, so I am constantly behind him. Just watching him work, it’s really impressive. I try to take what I see from him and apply it to my work. But there is something in my gut that makes me stop and run up to people.

KUPPER: You both have distinct style. I think he shoots very fast, while you take your time.

TEMPLETON: When we come back from trips, I always have one roll to his three.

KUPPER: There’s two types of photographers: people who will stop and ask, and someone who will just get in their face. Either works, but you have to have a personality for both.

TEMPLETON: He’s not getting in their faces. For the most part, he’s just passing by. You don’t even notice. He’s so smooth. The camera is so quiet. People look up like, “Did I hear something?” If there’s someone who notices and looks upset, I usually say something like, “That was so cute,” to diffuse the situation.

KUPPER: Do you think photography has lost some of its magic? Not just digital photography, but the sheer number of people taking pictures?

TEMPLETON: It’s hard for me to talk about that because I’ve never shot digital. My experiences are only with film and analogue. I, personally, think that there is a difference when I’m looking at a print. Everyone needs to do what’s best for them and how they want to work. I do want to explore and grow, but some of the new ways of photography don’t interest me. It’s good to have a wide range though.

KUPPER: People are starting to go back to film more. There’s a romance and a depth to it. I remember being able to go to the drugstore down the street and buy film for a Polaroid. You can’t do that anymore.

TEMPLETON: Maybe fine art photography will go back to fine art photography with film, because it will be special again.

KUPPER: It seems like more magazine are starting to employ photographers that use film. You just shot for Wonderland Magazine?

TEMPLETON: That was fun. I don’t know how many film photographers they used, but they were surprised by the turnaround. They were like,  “We need it now!” And I was like, “OK, I need to take it to the lab to develop them, I’ll have to scan the negs and then scan them larger.” It’s the same with Ed. Any editorials that he’s done for magazines have always been film. People are starting to want that again, which is nice.

KUPPER: I want to talk about your new book, the swimming pool book. It’s different than your previous work. How did this series come about?

TEMPLETON: It started about eight years ago when Ed decided to take a skinny dip in our pool. I decided to grab my camera and shoot some photos of him. Later, when I got my print sheets back, it looked different from anything I had ever shot. I really liked it. It was only eight frames, but I thought it could be interesting. I asked a couple of friends if they would mind swimming for me. I did a show with what I shot that summer, but I had a gut feeling that it wasn’t done yet. I kept shooting. About two years ago, a publisher saw some of the work and was interested in it. When I look back at that first show, three or four images made it into the book from back then. I really felt that it took eight years to sit with the images and explore what I liked and didn’t like in a photo. That didn’t happen until, like, four years in. For instance, if the swimmers swam more aggressively, there was a lot more distortion in the images. The images, now, are quiet and calm.

KUPPER: You were developing a new style. A lot of photographers don’t do that; they just stick to one style. It’s nice to have that freedom.

TEMPLETON: It just came with time. If I had been offered a book that first year, it would have had a completely different feel. Just so everyone knows, when I say eight years, I mean eight summers. I don’t know how to work our pool heater. The sun played a big role; in the summer time I had a longer window before the shadows would creep into the shot.

KUPPER: You’re having a show coming up at Little Big Man Gallery? What is the work you’re showing now?

TEMPLETON: The director of Little Big Man was over in my office, looking at all the projects I was working on. He really connected with a series called “What She Said,” which I’ll be presenting. It’s photographs of young women who remind me of myself when I was a teenager, either how I thought I was, or how I wish I could have been. I’m pairing each photograph with a diary or journal entry from my personal diary when I was 14 to 18. It’s personal. It’s a little embarrassing.

KUPPER: Do you have any new series that you’re working on?

TEMPLETON: Eventually, I’m hoping to get “What She Said” into a book form. Ed and I go out shooting together every afternoon in downtown Huntington Beach. We talked about doing a two volume, “his-and-her” take on Huntington Beach. We’re constantly working on it, but we don’t have a set date for that yet.


You can purchase Deanna Templeton's book The Swimming Pool from Um Yeah Arts. Her solo show What She Said opens tomorrow night and runs until July 31 at Little Big Man Gallery in Los Angeles. Portrait of Deanna by Ed Templeton. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


That's A Damn Fine Painting: An Interview With Artist Adam Parker Smith

text by Adam Lehrer

 

Painting. Multi-media. Installation. Sculpture. All of these tags have been applied to the practice of New York-based artist Adam Parker Smith. All of these tags are or have been correct in their labeling of Smith’s work. But as wild and conceptual as Smith’s work gets at times, he roots his art in the fundamentals of painting. Whether he’s making mylar balloon sculptures or putting together an exhibition of works stolen from other artists (as he did with his Lu Magnus Gallery exhibition Thanks), he’s doing so with acknowledgement of the fundamentals of painting: “I think my work can be jarring but a lot of times it is smooth and cumulative,” he says while laboring over the installation of his current solo show at The Hole in NYC, entitled Oblivious the Greek.  “The work moves well, it’s balanced, and its colors compliment it. One of the elements that make a work successful is being attractive.”


Polite, mild-mannered, and welding a distinguished moustache, Smith is humble while also knowing that he’s onto something. In past interviews, Smith has claimed that he is often short on ideas. That isn’t the case any more, and Smith says in some ways his practice has evolved past idea-oriented work. It seems that he has comforted into the idea that he is good at this art-making thing, and his voracious work ethic indicates that he wants to share his work with the world as much as possible. “I’m not saying that I have a unique gift but I’m hoping that I do,” says Smith. “There’s a possibility. I probably have a less narcissistic way of saying that…”

To clarify, Smith holds the belief that there is a difference between art that “looks like good art,” and art that is “actually good.” A smart and lucky person and can make art that looks like good art. But to make “actually good” art, one has to be gifted. He has grown more comfortable with the fact that making art might be his gift. His current show at The Hole is certainly testament towards this sentiment. Using synthetic materials (purchased with free shipping on Amazon, he adds), Smith created a range of sculptures like mylar balloons cast with resin along with fake foods, fake bronze, fake flowers, and lots of things fake. The faux qualities of the work are important to the aesthetics of and ideas contained within the objects: the materials used are always secondary to the outcome. The outcome is beautiful. These are “actually good” works of art.

Smith and I spoke at length a day before his show at The Hole opened, harping on the differences between art that “looks like good art” and “actually good” art, the virtues in cheap and synthetic materials, applying the fundamentals of painting to different mediums, the benefits of cruel professors, and what being “gifted” at something really means.

ADAM LEHRER: I was reading an old interview of yours where you said you liked the interdependency of materials and ideas. Is that a notion you still subscribe to?

ADAM PARKER SMITH: Yeah, that for me is constant. And I don’t normally like to adhere to rules, or at least arbitrary rules I make for myself within my practice because there are a lot of them. I find myself realizing the rules that I made, and then wondering if they’re necessary to abide by. 

LEHRER: Do personal rules help you push back against institutional rules or general rules within the art world?

SMITH: Well no, I mean my life is pretty conventional outside of my practice. Normally there are severe consequences for doing things in an unconventional manner. But I think when you’re making art that’s the preferred method. So what are the implications of that resistance outside of my practice? I’m not quite sure [laughs].

LEHRER: So you mean that’s the one arena in your life where you sort of get to go against the grain? I’m thinking of someone like Dash Snow, who seems to have gone against the grain in his art and his life and of course paid a price for the latter.

SMITH: I don't know, it’s hard to say. My practice takes up a large part of my life though so it’s nice. A lot of times I get to do what I love doing. I make a lot of work and spend a lot of time making work. It’s nice to be in charge of...something.

LEHRER: Going back to that original idea of interdependency of ideas and materials, how does that manifest? For this show for instance, how do you go from the original ideas to conceptualizing the materials to bring those ideas into fruition?

SMITH: Ideally, they conflate simultaneously. I got my Master’s degree in painting so a lot of times I think like a painter would. One of the big conversations people were always having involved how what you’re painting relates to how you’re painting. I felt like there always had to be that relationship for the painting to be successful so I had to use all these materials to try to find that connection. And further along in my practice I found myself getting closer to more two-dimensional painting, which has a more subtle or intellectual link between what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. So when I’m beginning to generate new ideas or developing an idea I try to think in that mode in-between the two questions, of what is it that I’m painting and how does the process relate to it. After enough practice it becomes second nature to a degree.

LEHRER: I read that you initially started making sculptures to give yourself figures to paint. But now you create sculptures to make and show sculptures, correct?

SMITH: Well there are a lot of painterly aspects (color, composition, form, line, positive and negative space) that I use in sculptures because they’re all beneficial. Although important, construction and utility are my secondary thoughts and I approach my sculptures with really simple painterly ideas.

LEHRER:  Do you often know the idea you’re trying to communicate before you put together a collection of work? Do you know what it’s going to look like but aren’t really sure how to express it?

SMITH: Ultimately I’m not interested in creating an idea-based work because I hate the idea of someone coming in and feeling finished with the work once the idea is communicated to them. In Ernest Hemingway’s Movable Feast (not that I’m really inspired by modern painting or writing because all those guys are bullies), there’s a part when [the characters] go to each other’s studios and say something like, “That’s a damn fine painting!” That’s their only critique. I want to make work that can make people say something like that. I don’t want to make a work that’s just good or pleasing. When they say ‘that’s a damn fine painting’, they’re not saying that it’s a good or pleasing painting but rather that it fulfills a place or purpose to exist in the world. However, the second you start talking about that too much the intentionality starts overshadowing any kind of magic.

 LEHRER: It’s hard to explain but I think I understand.

 SMITH: This is going to sound a lot like bullshit...but I think if an individual is a gifted writer or musician or painter, it’s difficult but not impossible to make a work that looks like what it should be. Making a painting that looks like a good painting is different from making an actually good painting. I think you’d have to be highly intelligent to make a painting that looks like a good painting. It’s possible and it happens a lot since there are lots of really smart people out there. But I think to make an actually good painting, you have to be gifted. That’s more rare. I’m listening to any sort of gift that I may have or working to find it.



LEHRER: Do you feel like you’ve found the exact thing you are gifted at?

SMITH: I don’t know, I’m making art and hoping that’s it [laughs].


LEHRER: It’s refreshing to hear that, actually.

SMITH: Or some people are just good at things. And if they just listen to their natural instincts, I think it’s possible for them to do something that they didn’t expect. You know when you see work that looks like it’s emulating good work and work that just looks like good work. I guess my point is that I try to make art in a way that comes from the gut and hope that if there is a gift, it comes through. That’s pretty corny [laughs].

LEHRER: That show you did where you stole all your friends’ art works: was that an exercise of you trying to juxtapose “art that looks good” versus “actually good art?”


SMITH: That was more of a social or conceptual project in terms of showing each theft as sort of the material I was working with. I’m not a curator and wasn’t really curating that show, even though I acted as curator in the way that I was making a painting. But with that said, all of the acquaintances of mine in the show are valued as artists and the works of theirs that I apprehended I thought were strong. As far as any further judgment on how gifted any of those artists were, there’s always a spectrum.

LEHRER: I hate to refer to the press release that The Hole put out, but I’m going to. It said something about how a lot of the imagery in these sculptures has this faux quality but in that fakeness there’s something real. Is that at all accurate in your thinking, and then if so, what is that truth?


SMITH: Painters go to the store to get paint that is a chemical-based product like zinc or aluminum. Those are the brushstrokes. Those are the elements of the composition and the composition is beautiful. Whether you’re going to propose to your partner on the beach or the parking lot of McDonalds, it’s a beautiful thing. Or if your child is born in the bathtub with monks chanting or in the backseat of a taxi, it’s still the beautiful birth of a child.

LEHRER: The outcome is still beautiful, the circumstances or materials used are less important than the final outcome.

PARKER: Yeah, so that’s just the material that I’m using right now. I like it--its accessible, it’s cheap, I can afford it, and I can order it online on Amazon prime for free two-day shipping [laughs]. But actually these synthetic materials are super technology: if you showed mylar balloons to someone 500 years ago they’d be mind-blown. And these were people sculpting beautiful figures with marble. I doubt that they’d be sculpting with marble after seeing these thin, mylar-inflated balloons that can float and weigh nothing. I think that any artist in any century ultimately would be drawn to these materials, because they’re undeniably beautiful. I think marble and bronze are incredible too. But it’s more expensive...and there’s no free shipping [laughs].

LEHRER: Your PS1 studio visit said you “Create elements to cultivate environments that are haunting, familiar, and alien." I know that the installation part of your artworks is important too, so are you trying to create a similar headspace? Should the installation have a similar quality to how you felt in the environment that you made the work in?

SMITH: No, not for me. I try to think of where the work is going to show as I’m making it. I envision it in that space and make it so that it’s appropriate for that. For instance, a lot of the work in here is way too large for my studio, so I had to put myself in this place while I was making it. So I think of the studio as a purely utilitarian place for myself. I

LEHRER: It’s always funny because I feel like journalists especially try to attach these pseudo spiritual qualities to the ways in which the artist works. But you don’t get the sense that maybe how you work or what you create changes with different tweaks and adjustments to your studio space or anything like that?

SMITH: I mean if I were to get a studio with higher ceiling I would make taller works. [laughs] Yeah, artists are like goldfish in the way they sort of expand and contract based on their environment. So it definitely affects me but living an interesting life is as important to my practice. It’s like a pressure cooker to be enriched in life and the studio space is like a small part of that.

 LEHRER: I read somewhere that you like incorporating illusion. I guess this show with the perceived weightlessness of these objects could even qualify as illusion. Do you have an intended effect for using illusion? Is it supposed to throw the viewer off or make the viewer connect with it?

SMITH: Everybody loves magic because it’s fun. We all know it doesn’t really exist but it’s fun anyway. I probably would do things the right way if I could afford it. Making undulating marble and gigantic casts of mylar balloons like Jeff Koons—that’s not a possibility for me. Much of the illusion comes from adversity: “how do I accomplish the things I want to accomplish with the means I have available?” But people like magic so it’s cool.

LEHRER: I read something about this volatile professor that you had in your grad school that lit a fire under your ass. Do you feel like you make best work under a lot of stress or duress?

SMITH: It’s hard to say because it’s been a long time since I’ve been at school and that stressed out, so I’m not sure what to compare that against. But I like to have some sort of agitation, whether it’s self-induced or an external factor. But after the initial shock of having that professor really go after me, I kinda’ dug it. It takes a lot of energy and consideration for someone to come in and lay into my work in a really aggressive manner. So I appreciated that from him.

LEHRER: Was he harsh to other classmates too?

SMITH: Not any that I knew, but I did hear he did that sort of thing to other people. He really singled me out, which made me feel even better in the end. I observed him years later with other students that were talentless in my opinion and probably his as well, and he just didn’t really give a shit about them. He would just say, “Looks good,” or whatever. Not to be egotistical again, but when he came into my studio I felt as though he saw potential. He felt obligated as a teacher to get on my ass about it.

LEHRER: It’s like that movie Whiplash.

SMITH: That’s funny because you watch that movie and walk away thinking if that guy was a bastard or was doing the kid a favor. 

LEHRER: I read that you sometimes struggle with ideas but I thought it was interesting because you’re making art all the time. So how does that work?

SMITH: Generating ideas has become less of a problem for me. I definitely do a lot of experimenting. I think you have to learn to read this new visual language that you’re speaking and it takes a while for you to be fluent in it. Sometimes I hit it right away but a lot of times I have to wait into it a little bit. To answer your question there are a lot of things that are produced in the studio that never leave. Or they take a walk into the dumpster.

 LEHRER: How do you know if something is worth showing? Is it intuitive or trained?

SMITH: I’ve never really been good at articulating those qualities. I know when it’s right for me and just rely on that.


Adam Parker Smith "Oblivious The Greek" is on view now until July 24 at the Hole Gallery, 312 Bowery, New York. Text, interview and photographs by Adam Lehrer. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Pop Music Is Not A Dirty Word: An Interview With Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor

For the past 16 years, the quintessential British electronic group Hot Chip has been releasing album after delicious album, with a bevy of catchy tracks that are pop magic at its majestic finest.  At the core of Hot Chip is a singular voice that is longing, soulful and demonically angelic. That singular voice belongs to Alexis Taylor, who this month released a new solo album, simply titled Piano, that is perhaps best described as antithetical to the grand pop balladry of Hot Chip, or even his own past solo records, but still maintains that signature wistful expressiveness. If Hot Chip is music to get high to, and to dance the night away to, Taylor’s newest album is music for reflection, introspection and soul-searching. The entire album, recorded at Hackney Road Studios by Shuta Shinoda, is simply Taylor at a piano and the reverberating notes – notes that are politely infused with his delicate, intimate vocals. Each refrain is a love letter to past mistakes, spiritual burdens, regrets and lost love. There is also a stunning cover of Elvis’ Crying In The Chapel that blends so well, it is almost in disguise. And if you hear religious incantations in the songs, you wouldn’t be so far off – Taylor calls it an “atheist's gospel album.” Nevertheless, it’s an important album that deserves a full listen – all the way to the surprise, untitled bonus track that crackles like a warbling 45 on an old phonograph, until it fades out and simmers on a low heat in your brain’s limbic system, even after the song is completely over. We caught up with Alexis Taylor at the Ace Hotel in London to ask him a few questions about pop music, Hot Chip’s place in British musical history and what he enjoys doing when music is not on the menu. 

FLO KOHL: What was your musical diet growing up? Was there a certain style of music that was always on repeat, or was it all eclectic?

ALEXIS TAYLOR: Definitely very mixed. A wide-range selection of music. I grew up in the 80s. I had heard all the massive records that were on chart rotation: Peter Gabriel, Prince, Dier Straits. Pop singles. I had two older brothers who were really into music, and my parents were really into music. My childhood was soundtracked by music, all the time. My oldest brother, Will, bought quite a lot of interesting music. I think he had good taste. He was into hip hop in the late 80s, early 90s when it was coming through. He had all the Prince records, one after the other as they were released. It meant I was paying a bit more attention to things, rather than music being this background.

KOHL: I don’t think that’s sort of normal. My parents weren’t into music at all. I didn’t become musically aware until I went to school. At home, there wasn’t always music on.

TAYLOR: With me, it was records playing, tapes playing. Both my parents occasionally played the piano. Never professionally, just as a hobby. But they could read music a bit. It wasn’t like being brought up to do music. It was just around.

KOHL: You’re often called “the soul of Hot Chip.” Did it take you a while to embrace the unique vocal style? Other electronic bands have to sample to add that soul.

TAYLOR: Maybe they do. We weren’t really trying to be like other electronic bands. We weren’t scratching our heads like, “How do we put soul into this music?” It just came out the way it came out. I don’t think people thought it was soulful in the beginning. But we were interested in soul records. That was a big influence, those older, more classic bits. But more pop than R&B or soul: Destiny’s Child, Whitney Houston. Things that were produced by Timbaland and the Neptunes. That was a new, very exciting phase of pop music that was, to us, soulful. To some people, they didn’t get it. I wasn’t the same as that northern soul. People came around to it over time. It’s still a major influence on pop culture.

For us, it was a combination of wanting to completely do our own thing, and also wanting to make records in the spirit of those people. People like other indie rock bands, hiphop artists, electronic producers, classic pop people. We weren’t able to study what they did. We just took a little but of inspiration from them and came out with something else that felt pretty far away from sounding like those. We’re not very skilled at copying. Some people are, and that’s great, but it doesn’t lead to original music. It does mean that people get where you come from. Whereas, with us, people are just confused.

KOHL: You have the DJ culture right now, these musical curators who might be very good at grabbing things and putting them together, but might not be creating something.

TAYLOR: We were influenced a lot by sample-based music: DJ Premier, Public Enemy records. We were sort of sampling ourselves, as it were. We would play loads and loads of hours of music, and then we would chop and edit, taking the best bits. It was a way of sampling. There were so many rediscoveries of little phrases that you didn’t know you played because there was so much improvising. Sometimes, I have a song that I’ve written and exactly how it goes. Other times, you’re literally just improvising things over a beat. You realize you’ve got some good things later on.

KOHL: When you first started making music as Hot Chip, where do you think music was historically in the UK?

TAYLOR: Honestly, we weren’t thinking about the state of electronic music. Maybe with hindsight, you might look back and do that. What I remember is that we seemed quite at odds as a band. We started out playing small gigs. Nobody else had five people and a drum machine, no drummer. That was a weird lineup. We didn’t intend for it to be so weird. It was just what we wanted to do. It was a way of learning how to play what we recorded. It all stemmed from recordings. We were thinking more about those R&B pop records that looked nothing like the performance on stage. We didn’t have the production value to do a Destiny’s Child-style show. And yet, that was the music that was exciting to us. We weren’t referencing the tradition of New Order or Depeche Mode. We were ourselves. I don’t know what state it was in. I know the more genuine dance music we had grown up. Joe was really into grime. I was more into UK garage. Some of the drum programming was influenced by that stuff, like a sticky record. We didn’t’ try to comment on electronic music.

We kept thinking about pop music. Maybe we went out on a limb. Pop music is kind of a dirty phrase. It came back in vogue, with Justin Timberlake when he was no longer in a boy band. It was taken more seriously. Where I was, there was a lot of resistance to that, initially. I used to work at Domino, the label that we’re on. I used to listen to all these different albums: Smog, Scritti Politti. But when I put on the Justin Timberlake album, some people were like, “We can’t deal with this.” They were form a very indie mentality. I just liked it.

KOHL: It was the sound at the time. Pop music wasn’t boy band pop music anymore.

TAYLOR: It’s funny, talking about it now. Everyone takes it for granted. That music was at the center of culture, and it has kind of drifted away since.

KOHL: Was there a community in electronic music?

TAYLOR: Gradually, we met people. Generally, they were from America. We met the DFA label, and through that James Murphy and Jonathan Galkin. I was in New York, visiting my girlfriend at the time, who was a student. I went to this talk at her university, and in the same building, there was a talk with James Murphy, Trevor Jackson, a member of Public Enemy. I just happened to bump into Jonathan who runs DFA outside the building. I was wearing a Hot Chip badge, and he didn’t know how I could have heard of that band. I said, “Oh, I’m in the band.” We ended up signing with DFA and going on tour with LCD, Black Dice, and Chk Chk Chk. At that point, there was a community of people who were interested in performing dance music live. You could see their influence, years later. Every band had a drum machine on stage. We were an indie band, but we had one token synthesizer. It began to have an impact.

KOHL: What makes the perfect pop song in your eyes?

TAYLOR: Honestly, don’t know. Still struggling to find out, after all this time. I suppose I’m interested in the song and the production combing together in an interesting way. The song could feel hooky and immediate, but it still have a strangeness to it. Like an ABBA song. There are so many things going on melodically and harmonically that are easy on the ear but interesting. Then the production will be glossy, but at the time, kind of adventurous. Those records still stand out now. A different kind of example would be a Neptunes production from the early 2000s. It may have very little in the way of long flowing melody. It will be more in the rhythm, and the hook would be something incessant or interesting in the keyboard parts. A lot of people talk about the classic pop song coming through on the acoustic guitar or piano. I don’t think that’s really true. I think it’s built on the way it was produced, the construction in the studio.

KOHL: When you aren’t in the world of music, is there something really far removed from it that you like to indulge in?

TAYLOR: I do spend a huge amount of my free time traveling around flea markets and garage sales, looking for bargains and bits of musical equipment, records, all kinds of different things. It’s not always to do with looking for music. 


Click here to download or purchase Alexis Taylor's new album Piano. Photographs and interview by Flo Kohl. Intro text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Very Little Bad Vibes: An Interview With Cult Comedic Hero Tim Heidecker

text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

Most people know Tim Heidecker from his brilliant Adult Swim series ‘Tim & Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job!’ and ‘Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories.’ While it’s easy to use colorful adjectives to describe his brand of humor, it’s even harder to define it. Whatever it is, he’s developed a massive cult following. He’s an everyman that blends a sort of slobbish machismo with the mind of a stoner philosopher, but there is also something sinister about his wit and irreverent spin on, well, everything. Like every great comedian, Heidecker doesn’t identify himself as one. His role in Rick Alverson’s 2012 film The Comedy proves Heidecker is a brilliant, natural actor with an ability to show a haunting, dispossessed vulnerability that encapsulates a very distinct ennui and disillusionment belonging to the comedown between youth and middle age. As he gets wiser, Heidecker exudes a certain suburban boredom – a boredom that he makes seem exciting in his new album In Glendale. It’s a true ode to the singer songwriters, like Warren Zevon, Harry Nilsson, and Randy Newman, who wrote about their surroundings and life with a beautiful banality. Because it’s Harry Nilsson or Zevon or Newman, it works, and just like that, Heidecker can pull it off too. I got a chance to chat with Heidecker about comedy, music, getting stabbed in the back and dream projects that haven’t materialized yet. 

OLIVER KUPPER: The new album is great, by the way. I really enjoyed it.

TIM HEIDECKER: Thank you. That’s a good place to start.

KUPPER: Yeah, compliments are a good place to start. This is your first somewhat earnest album, right?

HEIDECKER: Uh huh, whatever that means.

KUPPER: What’s it like writing songs versus writing comedy? Is there a different wavelength you need to be on?

HEIDECKER: I don’t know. Songwriting is a little more meditative. Obviously, it involves an instrument usually - singing, playing guitar, playing piano, noodling around, finding phrases and subject matter. It’s something that I’ve done for years as a hobby or a way of clearing my brain of other stuff. It can be spontaneous; you can be sitting in a car with other friends and start singing something catchy. Comedy is generally driven by a project. What are the ultimate goals of this? It involves a lot more people, a lot more collaboration. I’m very productive when I’m in collaboration with comedy. I don’t sit around and dream up amazing ideas all day long. It generally involves getting lunch or going on a road trip. It’s doing something where there’s a conversation with a buddy – Eric, Gregg [Turkington], or Doug [Lussenhop]. Someone I’m close with. Music is more singular.

KUPPER: Were you craving that singular, cathartic experience?

HEIDECKER: Not really. With this record, I had always written lots of music. Certain songs would end up in a folder on my computer. Like, I don’t really know what this is. It might not be appropriate for comedy. It’s not really funny; it’s sort of sincere. I was reluctant to share that publicly. But once the first couple of songs on the record starting coming out of me, I thought, there’s a theme here that kind of works. It might be nice to put a record out without it being couched in a joke or a character.

KUPPER: How did you team up with [Jonathan] Rado from Foxygen?

HEIDECKER: Through Chris Swanson, who runs Secretly Canadian. I had known him for a while. Those guys financed the movie that I was in, The Comedy. We were friendly. He was a big fan of our work. He knew I was doing music, and he nudged me to take a stab at making records in a more current or straightforward way. He was curious to see what I could do if I did something outside of parody, if I could be a pop music guy that was doing interesting stuff. Rado and I connected on very similar interests in music - 70s singer/songwriter stuff. I love talking about the process, how those guys got the sounds they got, and getting back to that straightforward songwriting. He just wanted to help and be involved.

KUPPER: He’s super talented. That band is really great. Who were some of the singer/songwriters at the top of that list that you would talk about?

HEIDECKER: For me, it’s Randy Newman, Warren Zevon, Harry Nilsson - the greats, the big ones. I’ve been really enjoying them for the past several years now.

KUPPER: I’m obsessed with Harry Nilsson. When you decided to go in and make this album, did you feel like you had enough songs? Did you throw yourself in the studio and see what you could come up with? Half and half?

HEIDECKER: The process by which this record was made may be interesting, maybe not. Half the songs were written in a period of a month or so. The other half were songs I had written over the years; they didn’t fit into any one category. I had my little home recording studio. I would try to build up the track. You know, not just me and the guitar, but drums, bass. It’s a fun way to work, to build tracks, and getting it to sound good, but never that good. I’m not that good at it. I made a demo version of the album at home. It was in the order of all the songs, with a couple extras. I took this home demo to Rado and his garage, and we started making the songs from scratch at his place. He’s such a great piano player and drummer. We recorded on tape, and we had four or five demos out of that. But they were still demos; they weren’t what we both wanted, which was really clean studio, major-label-sounding recordings. So we took those demos, and I gave them to my band that I play with live - City City. They learned the demos, and then we went into a real recording studio. In the course of a week, we laid everything down. Very quickly, because we knew all the sounds and what we wanted to sound like. We wanted the level of professionalism and the clean sheen that those 70s records had.

KUPPER: You work with a lot of musicians. It’s like a ten-piece band, right?

HEIDECKER: Yeah, there’s a ten-piece band that I put together. It’s mostly that band, City City, and a little horn section. It’s a little bit extravagant; there’s two background singers, two electric guitar players. I could probably shave that down if I needed to. But right now, everyone just gels. They all came in and brought their own talents to the record. I’m very grateful.

KUPPER: Do you think the audience for your music is different from your comedy audience? Your comedy following is big. Will the same people come out for your music, do you think?

HEIDECKER: For right now, a large percentage of my fans will find me through comedy. With this record, we’re trying to present it to the largest group of people possible. I think some people who are coming on board either didn’t know or didn’t care for my work, but they like the music. It’s not intended just for the fans; it’s intended for people who like the music. I get a lot of, “Oh, this Tim Heidecker record is actually pretty good.” They’re surprised. Some fans who have been following me a little closer aren’t surprised because they know that I am a big music lover and music maker. That early music might be sillier, but it has the same core qualities.


"I don’t necessarily identify myself as a “comedian.” I do comedy, I do standup and sketch comedy. I make all kinds of stuff. But I don’t concern myself with what to call it or how I should be perceived...I think it’s unfortunate that we expect people to stay in their lanes."


KUPPER: It’s interesting. Not a lot of comedians can bounce between these different mediums and be taken seriously. Especially when it comes to acting. Your role in The Comedy was a really serious role. There are certain actors, like Robin Williams, whose acting is so good that you don’t necessarily think of them as a comedian anymore. Do you ever think about the implications of being too serious?

HEIDECKER: It’s a thing that’s put on us by journalists and certain people that have perceptions of what people are supposed to do. It doesn’t affect my decision making when I decide to do something or not. I generally try to do something based on the desire to do it, whether or not I think it will have quality and be successful. I don’t necessarily identify myself as a “comedian.” I do comedy, I do standup and sketch comedy. I make all kinds of stuff. But I don’t concern myself with what to call it or how I should be perceived. If anything, it’s more interesting to have different facets and abilities. I think it’s unfortunate that we expect people to stay in their lanes. Actors, musicians, directors, whatever - most of us started out just wanting to make stuff, to do something creative. There was more of a push towards doing comedy, for me. But I still have interest in lots of stuff. As long as there’s a market for it, I want to pursue those things. I also understand that there is context. There’s a challenge when someone who is usually a country singer comes out with a rap album. It’s going to be hard. But some people can do it really well. I admire Steve Martin. He can be silly, very serious and intellectual, he can play music and go on tour. I just hope that you can place this record of mine in the context of my larger body of work and say, “This guy has ideas. He has an interest in expressing himself in different ways.”

KUPPER: There’s a lot of freedom in that. If you see yourself as an artist and not specifically in one lane, you can do anything, even if there’s not a market for it.

HEIDECKER: I want to have that reputation, that you don’t know exactly what to expect when I present something. It should, theoretically make you more interested in what I’m doing next.

KUPPER: You still maintain the cult comedian aura. Is that something that you try to hold onto, or is it a natural progression of you as an artist?

HEIDECKER: It’s all just been fun, playing with identity and the media, trying to create work that leaps the dimensions of television or linear video. It’s been more fun, for On Cinema, to let those characters have a life outside the show. This record, though, is really straight. There’s really not an angle for me to be anybody but myself. If there’s something stupid, like something from the Tim and Eric Show, the work speaks for itself. Let’s just party.

KUPPER: Do you feel like you get a lot of stupid questions? Do you like doing interviews?

HEIDECKER: It depends. It’s interesting to see the spectrum of people who are interested. Our publicist works very hard to get as much press as we can. My attitude has always been, do as much as you can. You never know when someone is going to read something out of the blue, and it turns into their favorite thing. But there are so many young people doing this who don’t seem interested. Like, I had a kid come to the Decker screening, and he ran out of questions for me in, like, a minute. I don’t know if this is the best career choice for you if you can’t think of any questions. He’s like, “Yeah, my editor wanted me to talk about Trump.” He asked me three questions about Trump, and then he got tongue-tied.

KUPPER: They want clickbait.

HEIDECKER: Yeah. But generally, if there’s someone like you, someone thoughtful and interesting, I think it’s pretty harmless. It helps me figure out what the hell I’m doing. You can make stuff, but you don’t really analyze it too much until you start talking to someone about it.

KUPPER: It’s interesting how that works. That’s why real criticism is important, too. People are too focused on clickbait, and they don’t think that the most interesting thing is to analyze the work and talk to the artist to find answers.

HEIDECKER: I think some criticism tends to be very quick, not thoughtful, not researched. The negative criticism I’ve gotten has usually come without a frame of reference to me or my work. It’s a very easy, “This is just Dad rock.” I’m insecure with that person, who doesn’t know the context. It’s safer and quicker to go with a buzzword that they just heard.

KUPPER: You’re premiering Decker next week?

HEIDECKER: Yes, Friday the 17th.

KUPPER: And you’re working with Gregg Turkington again, which is great. What’s that experience been like?

HEIDECKER: Gregg and I have known each other for about 10 years now. I was such a huge Hamburger fan. I roped him into doing our show. Our wives get together. We’ve got kids who are the same age. We just share a lot of common interests. Once we started doing this On Cinema thing, it seemed like we found this endless well of material that we could keep feeding and growing and developing. We established these two characters that are so fun to write for and behave as. It keeps entertaining us, this world. And it keeps getting bigger, because we keep adding fuel to it. Also, he’s just a nice guy. I’m so grateful to do this. On the TV show, we were able to elevate things a little bit. We were doing it as a full time thing. It was one of the most stress-free, joyful experiences. Everyone doing it loves it. It’s an easy thing to make. It’s so shitty. It’s not like you’re doing tons of takes and waiting for the perfect light. There are very little bad vibes in that environment. At my age, you want to be around that kind of energy as much as possible.

KUPPER: Especially in collaborations.

HEIDECKER: Yeah.

KUPPER: It’s been ten years since you had that famous interaction with your neighbor [where he stabbed you in the back]. Do you still think about that, or is it ancient history at this point?

HEIDECKER: Strangely, I’ve been thinking about it lately. Not to pat myself on the back (and not to be ironic), when that kid did that to me, I didn’t want to press charges. It felt like such a futile thing to do. He was 19 or 20 years old. He was on some insane drug. If he was going to go to jail for a significant amount of time, he would end up way worse. He’d be a bigger problem to the world. He ought to be given another shot. Those with white privilege are treated with more leniency, and that’s not fair, but it shouldn’t be, “Let’s throw this kid in a dark cell for the rest of his life.” It should be, how can we give disadvantaged kids better opportunities? We need to look at the prison system as not the answer to our problems. It’s a heavy thing. When you’re actually faced with the choice to punish somebody, it’s a hard thing to do. If you know anything, the prison system is designed to fail. It doesn’t make any sense.

KUPPER: You have to rehabilitate.

HEIDECKER: Yeah.

KUPPER: Do you have any dream projects that haven’t materialized yet?

HEIDECKER: We’re kind of doing it all. The more of an audience you have, the easier it is to do all these things. That’s the challenge, to get the word out, to get people to tune in. The futility of that is I know I don’t have a lot of power there. It either connects with a larger group of people, or it doesn’t. To answer your question, the next record I want to do, we want to bring in some of the guys that actually played on those old records who are still around. People like Jim Keltner, those guys who are still doing sessions and available. I would love to go in with Murderer’s Row and the people who made that, just to do it, because you can. I think that adds a whole other level.

KUPPER: I look forward to that, for sure.

[helicopter-like sound]

HEIDECKER: Cool. My helicopter is here, so I guess I got to go.


Tim Heidecker's new album, In Glendale, is out now on Rado Records. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Photographs by Cara Robbins. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Music is A Sweet, Sweet Drug: An Interview With Garrett Borns

Listening to the top two or three songs on [Garret] BØRNS's roster, like the insanely catchy track 10,000 Emerald Pools off his latest album Dopamine, one might get the idea that he's just another psychedelic pop balladeer making it big in the music industry. If Borns is is a pop balladeer, he's a damn good one. His work has garnered commercial and critical acclaim, he opened Coachella this year with LCD Soundsystem, and he's been touring for the last year and a half.  But listen to Borns's live cover of Leslie Gore's "It's My Party" - just him on stage with an electric guitar - and it's eerily like listening to a young Jeff Buckley, the soul in his voice, the vocal travels to the highest highs and darkest depths, and all the simple sweetness in between. We talked to the singer/musician about the soul influences on his sound, falling in love with LA, and music as a drug. 

OLIVER KUPPER: Are you playing at Louisville this weekend?

GARRETT BORNS: No, I’m in St. Louis.

KUPPER: Nice, how do you like it?

BORNS: I dig it, it’s pretty warm out there. The sun is definitely out to getcha.

KUPPER: I was just watching a live performance of you playing “It’s my Party” (by Leslie Gore). It was really good, and then I stopped watching it and was just listening to it. I started to get reminded of Jeff Buckley, not only in the voice but also his use of covers, and the way he sort of used covers of pop songs and sort of repositioned them with his voice. Like the way he did usrat Fateh Ali Khao Éth Piaf. It was really interesting­­and  was wondering what you thought of that.

BORNS: Yeah, I definitely take an influence from him. You pretty much nailed it on the head with your description of it, I just love how he can transform a song. I’m always looking toward old music to discover. I think I enjoy discovering “old new” music that I have no idea about more than discovering new music. So I try to look back through archives. I was just listening to old James Brown recordings and it’s crazy to hear the progression of his voice over time­­just how he sings and his timbre as a young singer being so much higher and almost more innocent than in his later years.

KUPPER: Yeah, it’s really interesting. And you have a great voice so it must be really fun and creative to be able to express that. Going back a little bit, how’d you get from Grand Haven, Michigan, to where you are now? Do you live in LA now?

BORNS: Yeah pass through LA. I’ve been touring for the past year in a half so I haven’t been back much or haven’t really had too much time off, but LA is my home base.

KUPPER: You probably get asked this a lot but you were into magic before, right? You were a magician? 

BORNS: Yeah, it was my first time dabbling in the performance arts, I guess.

KUPPER: And you moved from New York to LA right after vacationing in LA. What was it about LA that you liked?

BORNS: I felt like some things were kind of aligning. It was the people I was meeting and I found a really great place in the hills.

KUPPER: Were you living in a treehouse?

BORNS: Yeah, it was a guesthouse that kind of looked like a vacation home surrounded by fruit trees. I was like, “this can’t be real”. I ended up staying there for over a year even though I was supposed to be there for just a weekend. The people who owned the guest house were super lovely folks and loved music and art, and they had three young kids who played music, so it was a cool environment to be in. They’re a big influence to pretty much why I stayed in LA.

KUPPER: I feel like that’s why LA’s so magical. You find people that really get it and you have the space to sort of disappear and make your art and own music.

BORNS: Yeah there’s plenty of space to disappear into.

KUPPER: You pursued visual art before music. Did you want to go into that direction or why did music become the path you took, versus fine art?

BORNS: I think music has always been prevalent in my life. I owe it to my folks to create a wide array of genres of art growing up. My dad is a really talented artist a graphic designer, so he taught me a lot about visual arts growing up. He and I used to go to this studio every week and paint and listen to music, with this sort of Motown station that always played. That always resonates with me still today.

KUPPER: There’s something insanely magical and indescribable about that old soul music­­especially northern soul­­that’s almost indescribable. So the name of your two previous album names are “Candy” and “Dopamine”. Is there a connection between psychedelic drugs and psychedelic pop music? 

BORNS: [laughs] I guess there could be, it all depends on your taste. If the question is if I was on psychedelic drugs while making this album, then no. I was purely on the drugs my brain was supplying. But that’s not to say that you can’t enjoy music without a little aid from our psychedelic friend. 

KUPPER: And music can be a drug too.

BORNS: Absolutely.

KUPPER: Your visuals and lyrics seem really fantastical. Do you see music as way to escape from or expand reality?

BORNS: I think so. I’m always trying to make it as visual as possible. So yeah, I think it’s a way of escaping reality. It’s not like I’m searching to escape reality but I’m definitely always kind of daydreaming, so I try to put that into songs.

KUPPER: And you’ve been getting a lot of attention lately. You opened Coachella with LCD soundsystem and Taylor Swift is a big fan of your work. How are you handling with all that stuff­­or do you think about it?

BORNS: I’m extremely grateful that people have been taken to the music the way they have, and all of the fans at shows have been so gracious and giving me really nice gifts and love poems and shirts, so that’s pretty much a dream for me. I’m super thankful.

KUPPER: Are you working on an album now or is there going to be another full­ length soon?

BORNS: I’ve been pretty much non-­stop touring so not too much time to record new stuff. But once I’m done with touring in the fall I’ll be back in the studio. There’s lots of ideas.

KUPPER: And do you enjoy touring? I mean musicians sort of have to these days to make any money. But do you find it fun or engaging or creatively fulfilling?

BORNS: Yeah, it can be very taxing but also just very rewarding.

KUPPER: Any crazy tour stories?

BORNS: Every night, my friend. Every night is pretty crazy. 


Garrett Borns is currently on tour - you can find tour dates here. Click here to listen to his latest album Dopamine. Text by Keely Shinners, interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Photographs by Douglas Neill. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Working In Real Time: An Interview With Multi-Disciplinary Artist Mai-Thu Perret

text by Adam Lehrer

 

Swiss multi-disciplinary artist Mai-Thu Perret understands that the most interesting artwork lives within the viewer’s mind, as an impression, memory, or dream, as much as it lives within the space that the art is presented. “I think the memory one carries of a work of art after one has left it behind, whether by turning the page or leaving the room in the museum is almost as important as the object itself,” said Perret in an email.

That isn’t to say that her work lacks aesthetic dazzle, however. Her recent exhibit at the David Kordansky booth at Frieze New York, for example, was one of the standout presentations of the fair. Through her brightly colored Roschach ink blot paintings and her female figurine sculptures, Mai-Thu communicates a narrative. But that narrative is best brought to life through the mental processes of the installation’s viewer. Perret loves poetry and writing, having received a BA from Cambridge University, but she is most concerned with creating the settings and the landscapes of the narratives of her art works as a point of genesis for the creation of art objects. The weaving together of these disparate ideas within the space often becomes the burden of the viewers, facilitating a challenging yet intellectually rewarding interplay between the artist and the viewer.

Perret is fascinated by the idea of the utopia, or, a unique landscape with a set of ideals that would theoretically facilitate a revisionist art history. Perret envisions a utopia in which the ideals and creativity of women and marginalized groups are as much a part of the conversation surrounding art history as those of men. Perhaps Perret’s best known and most labored over work, entitled The Crystal Frontier, is most exemplary of this idea. The Crystal Frontier is an imagined utopia of women living in the desert in New Mexico. Perret has built on the idea of The Crystal Frontier over her career, imagining its artifacts and furniture and fashions. The Crystal Frontier not only poses an fascinating conceptual narrative, but also has proven to be a place of contemplative creativity for Perret; one in which she can return to as a renewable source of inspiration.

Perret’s most recent exhibition at Nasher Sculpture Center, Sightings, builds upon The Crystal Frontier while connecting it to a real world community considered by Perret to be the kind of utopia that she has been imagining in her work. This utopia, a secular Kurdish community in the Syrian region of Rojava, champions female leaders and implements democratic ideals in a war-ravaged country. Perret has made eight human figures representing the women in all-female militia groups in the area.

At SOLUNA, Perret presented a performance entitled Figures in which a life-size marionette (whose body is animated by dancer Anja Schmidt) and a dancer enact an Indian mystic, a 19th-century American Shaker, a 1950s computer programmer, an Artificial Intelligence, and a journalist. At first, the dancer and puppet are separate entities, eventually merging and leaving the stage to make way for the journalist on a typewriter, played by Perret. In the style of Japanese puppetry known as Bunraku, there is no illusion concealing the fact that this is a fictional work. You can see the stage manipulations in real time. Perret asks that you accept her ideas as art without concealing the fact that this is anything other than art. Once again, Perret sets up the narrative’s background, leaving room for the viewer’s imagination to complete the piece.

Perret answered some of my questions about her ideas and work over email, discussing the narrative structure in her art, revising history to incorporate the ideas of the marginalized, and the majesty of the desert.

ADAM LEHRER: When learning about the premise for Figures, I couldn’t help but think about the Crystal Frontier. In the Crystal Frontier, women are living away from society, but forming their own society. In Figures, women are leaving their bodies through trance. It made me think of the idea that an alternative society can be a type of freedom, but liberation from the body is the ultimate freedom. Were you at all thinking along these lines when conceptualizing Figures?

MAI-THU PERRET: I wasn't really thinking about the Crystal Frontier when I was putting together Figures, but there are definitely a lot of common points and references. I've always been interested in ways one can leave one's self and identity behind. These ideas of trance and mysticism are definitely connected.

ADAM LEHRER: Your work often deals with this questioning of the manner in which art and culture is consumed, do you think that the theoretical utopias you explore could ever be possible considering the almost hyper-capitalist mentality of the contemporary art market?

MAI-THU PERRET: There is no place for this type of thinking within the art market, but the market is not the be-all and end-all and I think there are lots of people trying to find alternative ways of living and making art today.


Mai-Thu Perret_And Every Woman.jpg

ADAM LEHRER: In these projects, like the Crystal Frontier, does this entire world live in your imagination before you create the objects? Or do the specific objects and sculptural manifestations present themselves through the process?

MAI-THU PERRET: It's always a process, very little is fixed in advance. I set-up a broad set of parameters and then I construct what comes within it.

ADAM LEHRER: Did you ever consider writing literature? Your sense of story and narrative is really astounding even in terms of conceptual artists.

MAI-THU PERRET: I did when I was a student, but I was useless at constructing a narrative. I've always been better at imagining atmospheres or situations rather than proper stories with a beginning and an end. The open-ended space of the exhibition, where you can combine objects and moods to create a larger whole that the viewer passes through and pieces together in their minds, is probably more suited to this way of thinking. I've always been interested in experimental writing and poetry, and sometimes I think I will try to write again at some point.

ADAM LEHRER: It seems that your sense of “the utopia” is broken down into various different utopias; a choice of utopias if you will, as opposed to one all-encompassing utopia. As you said in an interview with the White Review, the Crystal Frontier’s utopia’s reasons for excluding men is different than Plato’s for excluding artists. Am I at all accurate in these assumptions?

MAI-THU PERRET: Yes, I think that's pretty accurate. The idea behind the all-female environment was to create a space where the dominant and habitual paradigm could be reversed in order for new possibilities to emerge, rather than a desire for exclusion.

ADAM LEHRER: Your work deals with the history of avant-garde within art, do you feel that this history has often been biased towards men and are you hoping to break down that history within your work?

MAI-THU PERRET: I definitely think that the history of art, like Western history as a whole, has been male-dominated. I'm interested in revisionist histories and histories that focus on forgotten or marginalized figures and realities. I like to use my work as a kind of speculative space to imagine different futures or untold stories.

ADAM LEHRER: You have discussed the idea of a desert as an ideal space or utopia because it’s outside the world, but do you ever recall being drawn to the desert aesthetically? \

MAI-THU PERRET: I absolutely love the desert, and the Crystal Frontier narrative was definitely born from my encounter with the American West. Deserts, like islands, are incredibly meditative places, and they can also be hostile and inhuman. I think this feeling of a geological space, where men are minuscule in relation to the immensity of the landscape, and where time is counted in millions of years rather than in human life spans, is important to the work.

ADAM LEHRER: Is it ever difficult to find the balance that allows your use of text and narrative to emphasize but not overshadow the viewer’s appreciation of the objects you create and present? 

MAI-THU PERRET: I'm very aware of the fact that if you give a lot of information to the viewer you risk cutting them off from the actual experience of the work and leading them into seeing only the things you have been talking about. That's one of the biggest problems with wall texts and all the didactic para-texts one encounters in museums. When I present text, it's usually in an attempt to subvert these institutional prompts and open other spaces of thoughts that the viewers can hopefully dive into. My text works are usually fictions that complicate the reading of the works rather than provide explanations for them.


ADAM LEHRER: In an interview with John Armleder, you discussed the manner in which people see art shows on the Internet, and how the experience is diminished. Do you purposefully try to create art than needs to be experienced in person in opposition to this notion?

MAI-THU PERRET: I don't think I create art specifically to counter the mediated reality of the screen worlds we inhabit today, but of course I think of my work as something that must be seen directly and which must almost be touched with the eyes to be really seen. That said, I love looking at art in books, and what's fascinating about art is that it exists both in the mind and in real space.

ADAM LEHRER: For Figures, what drew you to Bunraku and the idea of singer and musician sitting on stage as character and puppet?

MAI-THU PERRET: I've always loved the Asian forms of theater, like the Balinese puppet show or the Noh theater, where there is no backstage and no attempts at hiding the structures that support the experience of the performance. When I discovered Bunraku, I was amazed by the fact that the viewer's attention was constantly moving from puppet to manipulator, and by the strange relationship between the living and the inanimate this created. At times in Bunraku you can get so immersed in the movements of the puppet that [the puppet] seems more real than the people manipulating it, and I wanted to work with this idea. I was also drawn to the very special place the voice occupied in Bunraku, since the voice of the puppet is dissociated from it and clearly emitted by the singer who sits on the sidelines. It's not about illusionism; it’s about the way that the spectator assembles all these separate elements in his/her mind.

ADAM LEHRER: How did the experience of creating a narrative through performance and experience compare to that of creating a narrative through objects and examining those objects?

MAI-THU PERRET: In performance you are working in real time. What you create is instantly erased by new movements or actions. It's a very different type of memory and attention.  


Sightings: Mai-Thu Perret will be on view at the Nasher Sculpture Center until July 17, 2016. Text by Adam Lehrer. Photographs by Annik Wetter. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE 


With A Little Help From Our Friends: An Interview With The Design Duo Behind NYC Fashion Label Private Policy

text by Adam Lehrer

 

Private Policy is the gender-neutral fashion label by two Chinese-born fresh-faced recent Parsons grads Haoran Li and Siying Qu. Only two collections in, the two designers have created a smart albeit colorful range of menswear fitted products that can also sensibly be worn by women. The clothes seem to reference V Files-approved street wear, colorful and a bit off, with a focus on high fashion tailoring and embellishment: a simple fitted turtleneck comes exaggerated by orange bondage belting, a velvet bomber jacket is equipped by fluffy tassels, gigantic fur-laden scarves adorn the shoulders of brown down jackets.

True to the Parsons fashion education, Li and Qu have a business sensibility that is not always but often lost on young designers, perhaps instilled in them through internships with the likes of Calvin Klein, Alexander Wang, and Phillip Lim. In other words, they want to be the kind of designers that make dope clothes worn to death by their well carved out customer bases. Their clothes wouldn’t look at all out of place in the underground clubs of Bushwick or the dive bars of the Lower East Side; clothes meant to be worn by an exuberantly young creative force growing less and less concerned with dressing in accordance with their private parts and income brackets. These garments are sensibly chaotic.

ADAM LEHRER: Where did you guys grow up?

HAORAN LI: We are originally from China, but we grew up in different places. I lived in Canada for high school, in Toronto. I came to New York for college. She went to high school in North Carolina.

LEHRER: Did you first become aware of fashion living in China, or did you get more of a sense of it living in Canada?

HAORAN LI: My parents are jewelry designers and were focused on art.

SIYING QU: My family: career wise, though everyone is in business, everyone has this love for fine arts. When I came here for high school, in North Carolina, I had the chance to learn more about fine arts and fashion. From there, I realized fashion would be the perfect career for me. It’s a combination of art and business. We don’t think focusing on business is limiting, but a challenge. We are fashion designers, not artists. We are designing a product.

LEHRER: You guys got a sense of what luxury meant to you personally at a young age?

SIYING QU: Yes. My mom, for example, has amazing fashion sense. She has an eye for details. She paid a lot of attention not just to the clothes, but to the details of the garment as well.

LEHRER: You guys went to Parsons. What brought you to that school?

HAORAN LI: I decided on New York because I like the style of it. It’s chill but it has unique things too.

SIYING QU: I applied both in New York and London. When I visited the two cities, New York, especially Parsons, has a very strong sense of both the design and business of fashion. I find it fascinating.

LEHRER: How did you guys meet? When did you guys realize you had a creative kindred spirit?

HAORAN LI: We were in the same year of school, but we never had class together. She was working on menswear and I was majoring in women’s. But senior year, we were working on our thesis collections, and our working tables were next to each other. That’s how we got to know each other more.

SIYING QU: During senior year at Parsons there is a lot of stress on the thesis collection. You try to pull four years of study into one collection and show not just what skills you have, but your personality, what you stand for. Under that stress, we worked next to each other. He would help me with styling. I would help him sew a pocket.



LEHRER: You did womenswear, and you did menswear. Did you find similarities in the ways you wanted men to dress and the ways you wanted women to dress?

HAORAN LI: I majored in womenswear, but my focus is in textiles. I do patterns, and I construct garments. I do very simple shapes, but with very complicated fabrics. She’s very good at silhouettes and shapes.

SIYING QU: Also, our vision for menswear has very sensible style and a simple silhouette, but with a design touch to it. When you wear this piece, you feel comfortable, you feel like yourself. But still, your piece will not be the same as something elsewhere.

ADAM LEHRER:  There seems to be a sub-cultural referring at work in the clothes, is that accurate?

SIYING QU: A major inspiration for our brand is contemporary Downtown New York City.

HAORAN LI: We like Soho, Chinatown, the Lower East Side. We like how they dress here. Our friends live here, and they inspire what we do right now.

LEHRER: It’s a menswear brand, but it’s made for men and women. Was there a decision to name it a “menswear” brand as opposed to “gender neutral?”

SIYING QU: Every silhouette and fitting so far is men’s. We mark it that way, because that’s how we fit the clothes.

HAORAN LI: After we made our garments, a lot of girls were really attracted to them. That’s how we decided to go in a genderless direction.

SIYING QU: From a personal perspective, my girl friends and I all wear menswear, for a different style. Womenswear, I think, has too much design going on, or the silhouette isn’t clean enough for me.

LEHRER: What are your ultimate hopes and goals for the brand?

SIYING QU: We have a lot of hopes. Of course, in selling. We hope to make this a stable brand so that we can bring the ideology of the dress to a bigger audience.

HAORAN LI: We want to bring the Downtown New York style to more people.

LEHRER: How do you see your customer, and how do you go about widening the space for who that customer can be?

SIYING QU: We have started to do trade shows and presentations. While we were talking to the press, we realized that our designs alone brought the customers to us. The buyers are drawn to our colors and textures, in the midst of this big New York environment.

LEHRER: Right now is an interesting time in fashion. High fashion seems to be made for a very specific person, with a very specific set of beliefs. Do you feel like you’re in a unique place in fashion that you might not have been if you graduated three years ago?

HAORAN LI: Three years ago was another story for fashion. Right now, fashion is more and more close to ordinary people. There’s less class in fashion.

LEHRER: It’s less about class and more about taste.

HAORAN LI: Yeah.

LEHRER: You guys are two collections in now, and the demand for new product has never been this substantial. Is the team just you two?

SIYING QU: For design, just us. If we need help, we have a big friend group. We love them so much. They’re so generous. It’s a good feeling. They really like the design. We have a marketing manager in China. We just came back from there. China will be another big market for us. Today, we think, as a young brand, it’s important to make a global presence. Also, from our background, being Chinese and then studying here, traveling a lot, we have that international sense. Hopefully, we’ll go to Paris next. I believe that people in Europe will have a unique viewpoint.


Find stockists and see current Private Policy collections on the label's website. Text, interview and photographs by Adam Lehrer. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE