INTERVIEW: Serge Onnen

still from Break, 2004 at the Dikeou Collection


Serge Onnen is a French/Dutch artist, trumpeter in the band Oorbeek, and longtime friend of zingmagazine.  He has had a project in #17 of utopian trees, a zingbook of face drawings titled Volume O, and video work and wallpaper in the Dikeou Collection.  Serge’s new book coming out with J & L Press is called Drawings on Hands.  He will also be in the upcoming issue of zing, #22.

Interview by Brandon Johnson


Your new book, Drawings on Hands, is very obviously about the drawing of hands in their various positions and actions.  Can you tell me more about it?

Each of the books has a very simple starting point: heads, horizon, writing, and now hands. This book is more or less 50% found, unknown drawings and 50% artists’ material. The goal is each time to make an intelligent book about something simple without the use of text. I want the viewer of the book to wander around, without too much distraction.  There's very little information in the books.  So when I pick something as general as drawings of hands, I first have to make all sorts of categories: tarot, sign language, manuals, religion, medical, magic-tricks, etc, etc. And of course collecting the artists’ material. I research all fields until I find drawings that are interesting and not too obvious.  The collecting and shifting takes a long time.  Stacks of hand drawings become smaller and smaller.  I start making connections, story lines, jokes.  It's all very precise.  There's something anonymous in the design, a stack of paper with an elastic cord around it. And also many of the drawings I pick have this anonymous quality that manuals have.  But at the same time, drawing is a very expressive medium, so that remains, even if it's a blown up lousy jpg.

I didn’t realize you had done all these thematic books in the same way.  I was familiar with the heads book as we published it along with zingmagazine #16, but haven’t seen the horizon or writing books.  In fact, there are a few hands that appear in the heads book.  It seems to be a mark of distinction – a level of achievement – to be able to draw hands well.  As an artist who does a lot of drawing, what is your particular interest in hands?

There's a website that comes with each issue, check them out:

But it's really all about the books and their design.  Drawings on paper, not drawings on screens.  I personally think feet are harder to draw, but it's true that I draw lots of hands. But I don't really notice it anymore.  Your hands are always there.  Available.  It's the part of your body you have the most eye contact with.  They are very flexible, more so than a face.  You can put every expression you want in a hand and it will still keep a certain anonymity, gender is irrelevant.  And of course the idea of “hand made”.  I like art to be made by a human; that's a very powerful aspect of art-making to me.   But, it's never about “hands,” I guess.  Nor in my book or my work.  I find hand studies as a topic boring.


On the back cover of the book, you have a description:

A left hand draws a self-portrait on a sheet of paper. The hand leaves the room. Another hand picks up the drawing and looks at it. "Why can't I do this?" This is an extremely jealous hand, and he crushes the drawing. Then he walks toward a hand mirror, opens himself and pushes very hard against his cold reflection. He takes a few steps back and stares at the print made by his heat until it slowly vanishes.

So, are you saying it’s more about the actions of the hands and their expressive quality and less about the drawing process of the hand itself?  Is it the manipulation of the hand rather than the depiction?

Yes, just drawings of hands won't do. Everybody knows how that book will look.  I guess I'm not so interested in amazingly well drawn hands.  Two of my favorite drawings in the book are of the Japanese tegata drawings. This is an old Japanese tradition where sumo wrestlers ink the palm of their hand to make prints and then give these to their fans.  There is one 18th-century drawing where a sumo wrestler makes such a print. It's still in use today and these prints are collectible.  I've been trying to get one.  A human print as an artifact.  Not as a piece of evidence as it means in western culture - very different to the Hollywood Blvd tradition of hands in the pavement (wonder where that idea comes from, because when I think about actors, their hands are not the first thing that comes to my mind…).  But there are also some drawings from an old manual for magicians; Yes! Here the hands are real actors.


Actually, that’s funny you bring up the Hollywood handprints.  Devon [Dikeou, artist and editor of zingmagazine] did a piece called Norma Taldmadge’s Chinese Theatre based on the origin of that tradition.  The actress Norma Talmadge accidentally stepped onto wet concrete in front of Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, starting the tradition.

But moving forward, you have a project in the upcoming issue of zingmagazine called “Insurance Value Drawings” featuring catastrophic collisions of insurable objects – a grand piano dropped onto a crushed palette of iMacs – along with cost of the products destroyed.  Where did the idea for this series come from? 

So, the handprints started as an accident?  Well, you could say the insurance value drawings started like that too; when you have a show in an institution or museum you’re always asked about the insurance value of the work and that is always something much lower than the market value.  So, art has many different prices; as destroyed, so to speak, “dead;” or as “art”, so to speak, eternal.  In the past, I’ve had pieces that were not sold and I wished had been destroyed.  I destroy work constantly without ever getting paid.

It's another value dilemma. Like everything in our world.  There's not one thing that can't be priced - this idea is still puzzling to me.  But there is also something else; with the goods in the drawings (most items are on pallets), I also thought of the meanings these objects have; so when you drop a Steinway on a pallet of iMacs you will not only get a great sound, but also some kind of conflict, revenge; old vs. new (well, the iMac is old today, but was quite new when the drawing was made! so that's also interesting, the meaning has shifted). Also, the long tradition of dropping grand pianos in art and slapstick.  I like objects destroying each other.  A fallen tree on a car, fallen book-shelves, stuff like that.  It's melancholic—it’s not the violence of hurting.  Each insurance drawing is also a composition: a motorcycle & olive oil, a motorcycle & Nespresso, telescope & M&M's, lingerie & crude oil.  In that way it's not a real accident—they're sketches for beautiful swindles.  There are a lot of musical instruments among the insurance drawings.  Music & violence is a good match.  Guitars also have this powerful meaning when crashed, but when it's crashing into cans of Nivea for Men, it becomes as ridiculous as most rock and roll bands that will smash a guitar nowadays. The Gretsch guitars vs. Jack Daniel's is more the idea of two delicate brands.  You can crash as many Fender Stratocasters as you like but don't dare touch the Gretsch!  Two brands that play with “classic rock” & “good taste and connoisseurship” and being “exclusive.”  And all that crap.  I'm not saying these aren't good products, that's not my point.  Originality has nothing to do with exclusivity. But all these brands try to make you believe it's the same thing.  They will only gain originality when damaged. Oh, something very funny happened with the motorcycle & Nespresso drawing; a few months after I made that drawing, George Clooney got into a motorcycle accident! In Europe he is Mr. Nespresso.


You mention the lack of violence in objects destroying each other.  There’s a similar theme of crashing and smashing in your video piece at the Dikeou Collection called Break in which two hands slap together to smash things, like a beer mug.  In your statement for this piece, you say that violence in animation doesn’t hurt.  Is the fictional aspect of drawing important to you?  Does is provide a sort of outlet for violence in the world?

In that animation two hands crash objects against each other but are gentle to each other.  I think I always had a fictional attitude toward drawing; as I child I made sounds while drawing and the characters had voices.  Very often they were fighting, that's true.  When I draw I need to get inside the world I'm creating.  Then I can try to rule it and believe it's good or not.  It hasn't chanced so much, only the worlds I draw have changed.  So when I started to work with animation and studied its history, I noticed how violent it has always been. In an animation you can transform anything.  Violence is, of course, transformation.  Animation always plays with these ideas.  It means something else and that is always interesting. You just take that violence for granted, even if it's not funny.  It's fun to drop a anvil on someone's head in an animation, but in a movie that will become a splatter scene.  I don't enjoy violence in movies. But I do in music, drawing, etc.


On the other hand, your project in zingmagazine #17, “Sanitary Park,” looks at a “place where everything is clean and perfect.  A man-made park where no human is allowed.”  There are drawings of trees, interconnected page to page, with ends that are amputated stumps.  They are abstract, organic, a “pure environment.”  This is in stark contrast with the messing smashing and crashing of “Insurance Value Drawings” and Break.  Can you tell me how this project relates to the rest of your work?

Holland, where I live most of the time, is totally man made, as you may know. It's the 17th-century's Dubai.  All the work I did about 10 years ago for "Sanitary Park," around a hundred drawings and a show in Holland's biggest hospital, was about creating a park out of drawings. A safe and secure zone; like one finds also in a bathroom or hospital.  These places must be very clean, sterile.  Industrial and organic.  Places where one thinks it's safe to take off ones clothes.  The zing drawings are the extreme version of that idea, amputated, no humans allowed. It's also a lot about the idea in the urban brain that nature is pure.  That is the way it's being represented: "purity is a invention of the police" like one of my heroes Roland Topor said.  I need to go back to the work I did before Sanitary Park to explain how one thing leads to another.  Those drawings were “heavy bags.”  People in and with bags.  You never know if they're vagabonds, hikers, homeless people, refugees.  Leaving things behind and going into the wild voluntarily or non-voluntarily.  The romantic and the dramatic version hand-in-hand.  So, there's often a 'better world' fantasy in my work I guess, playing with those ideas of rejecting society or being rejected by it.  The violence only came in when I started to work with animation.  But always object-related violence and also always repetitive, rhythmical, in the drawings, animations and also in a wallpaper I designed.  I did a wallpaper where champagne-glasses are being toasted very cheerfully and violently.  I call that “violent choreography.”  It's a composition, like the insurance drawings.  I like objects that have something dangerous and something human in them.  Like a fork is a little hand-prosthesis.  Or a pair of scissors that looks in many ways like eyes: they blink, have two eyes, and will always keep their elegance.  Beautiful.


It’s great to hear about your past work in zing and how it relates to your body of work as a whole.  Besides your upcoming project in zingmagazine #22 and Drawings on Hands, is there anything else coming up that you’d like to mention?

Yes, you develop and change ideas over the years and it's good to reconnect with it using language.  I can recommend to any zingchat readers going upstate to DIA:Beacon by  train, get out of the train in Peekskill and check out my kaleidoscope sculpture “monetariumplanetrarium” on the waterfront, part of the Hudson Valley Art Centre. It's a piece I'm real proud of!

INTERVIEW: James Belflower

 Hand-written manuscript of Commuter

James Belflower is the author of Commuter (Instance Press) and And Also a Fountain, (NeOpepper Press) a collaborative echap with Anne Heide and J. Michael Martinez. Commuter was recently voted 2009’s “Best Book Length Long Poem/Sequence” by ColdFront magazine. His work appears, or is forthcoming in: EOAGH, Denver Quarterly, Apostrophe Cast & Greatcoat among others. He curates, a website dedicated to the gifting & exchange of poetry resources.

Interview by Rachel Cole Dalamangas


ZING: Your collection, Commuter is a poetry of urban disaster, or more specifically, the detonation of a terrorist bomb – essentially, the poetry of an event.  What do you think is the influence of 9/11 and the “War on Terrorism” and methods of contemporary warfare on language?  On art’s concerns with consciousness?  Do you think violence changes how we shape our questions about beauty?

James Belflower: I like your description of Commuter as “a poetry of an event.” I wonder if it might be even more accurate to describe it as a poetry of event. In this case, the event is the dissolution, dislocation and withdrawal—coexistent with the rethinking, rewriting and (re)witnessing of a rapidly changing sense of what constitutes relation and to a broader extent, community. Commuter attempts to (as you suggest below in some cases “aggressively”), enact an event of discourse and relation in this intersection. A discourse that resists the logic that results in the community of death created by and around suicide bombing.

I think this logic is very common though, and in many instances a symptom of the practice of poetry of witness (and arguably of poetry in general). So, the other primary concern was refusing this thinking. In many cases poetry of witness, and especially poetry of secondary witness, presumes to be a vehicle for the unspeakable, the testimony of those who are silenced. Yet, this logic is a means to an end, almost always that end is the “project,” the communion with another, the making meaning out of what I believe is ultimately utterly meaningless: death. In instrumentalizing another’s death, a text entertains a conception of community similar to that of suicide bombing, both constituted on the value of another’s death: the justification, defense, and potential of death. In one case metaphoric, in another martyrdom.

These logic systems center an understanding of communal structures in an originary essentialist past that only needs to be reconstituted through fusion with another for success. They suggest community as a product. As such, these systems no longer contain the possibility for the “eventness” necessitated by the limit(s) that a community is. Expanding on Maurice Blanchot, Jean Luc-Nancy calls it an “unworking” of community. I’ll quote him so I don’t botch it too badly, “that community, in its infinite resistance to everything that would bring it to completion signifies an irrepressible political exigency, and that this exigency in its turn demands something of ‘literature,’ the inscription of our infinite resistance.”

To make a long answer longer, but hopefully to answer your question, this exigency and “infinite resistance” must reshape our questions about beauty. In the pressurized space of a tradition that attempts to situate the beautiful (especially in poetry of witness) on an “authentic” subjectivity, the space for a rearticulation of beauty, much less of trauma is very limited. I personally have a very fraught relationship to beauty, in many cases finding it to be a default aesthetic mode for much poetic witness: when the trauma gets tough, the trauma turns beautiful. It seems that poetry of witness generally doesn’t interrogate the implications of beautifying atrocity very often, usually relying instead on an empathetic response that has strong affinities with the sentimental tradition. This understanding of beauty is unable to account for the unnerving experience of such works as Charles Reznikoff’s Holocaust, Charlotte Delbo’s trilogy Auschwitz and After, M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!, Rachel Zolf’s The Neighbour Procedure or Vanessa Place’s, The Guilt Project, much less the events that these texts strive to express.

So a main question for me became, how to think/write with the full awareness of my own complicity in all of these issues, what Nancy calls a “literary communism.” I like the emphasis he places on the idea of offering texts to communication, a certain manner of sharing that the text enters. What is important to this idea is abandonment. In offering something, you abandon it at the same time. Commuter seeks to populate this limit. In some sense this extends to a certain description of thinking as care for another: the offering/abandonment of a text in/as an uncrossable threshold, where the text becomes, not exactly a common ground, but a meeting place nonetheless. And the process of the work changes then, it commutes, (especially in the sense of a traveler, and the alteration of a period of imprisonment) a discourse as part of a communal formation: it is preoccupied with the unending travel(er) of/on communication.


ZING: The Prologue locates us in the chaos, panic and fragmentation of a destroyed urban space.  There are people “combing hospitals,” architecture goes rickety, time is being counted and noted – these elements of a walk through the city, architecture, and time are all hallmarks of surrealism and the New York schools of poetry.  How influenced are you by surrealist poets and/or NY school poets?  

JB: Well, you caught me; I do absolutely love Frank O’Hara. That being said, my concern about reading the book as surrealist would be surrealism's emphasis on irrationality, or nonrationality that seem like a less than rigorous response to the horrors that took place in reality, and their eventness in Commuter. As I mentioned above, emulating purely rational thinking also doesn’t seem to be the answer. Perhaps there are alternatives?

As I think your question indicates, surrealist logic on one level could account for Commuter in some ways, and they both use similar techniques. It is, in a certain sense about someone shooting a revolver into a crowd. However, in response to the seeming irrationality, or dream like quality of the events there is a care for the reader and victim, an attempt to come alongside, to meet him or her in the event(s) of witnessing writing/trauma that is ongoing.

This question comes to a head in the work on page 73 where I insist that these events were not hallucinations and ask the reader to write paragraphs containing certain words having to do with dream narrative and such.

My other concern was a refusal of the solipsistic and ironic positions that preoccupy much of the pseudo-surrealist poetry that has been very popular for awhile now.

It may be a more helpful framework to consider these themes through the context of the Situationist International, specifically their ideas of psychogeography and the dérive. Debord’s description of the dérive is a very accurate description of Commuter: “a technique of rapid passages through varied ambiences.”


ZING: The work slips between what sounds like journalistic reporting and broken, breathy poetry.  What is the relationship between poetry and “reporting” on the world?

JB: “Breathy,” hmm… I can see where you could say that. I was thinking more of an out-of-breathness, rather than breathy poetry, since you mention its brokenness also. I was reading Kenneth Patchen’s Panels for the Walls of Heaven recently and was struck by his long, long, extended and barreling lines that forced the reader to alter his/her breathing. It was as if Patchen’s thought accumulated at a different speed than the readers breathing rhythm. As a result, I could no longer breath where I wanted to. This became integral to the project because, for me, the extension, or overextension of the breath mimicked the incommunicability of many of the traumatic events in the work. Altering your breathing pattern causes you to become immediately conscious of it. As awareness of breathing enters thought, it becomes irregular: how many times have you tripped over your breathing the moment you thought about it? In some sense, this is comparable to the way that you become conscious of another person. There is a sensing of patterns, which at the same time, disrupts those patterns. He/she has been there all the time but an alteration on your part causes you to listen differently. I think the differences you've pointed to speak to this very well. It is about the passage between very different conversations, in this case poetry and reporting, that (like the breath) only interrupt our awareness when they are disrupted. Considering their proximity on the page, it becomes necessary to continue that interruption/passage, rather than end its relationship.

M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! is an amazing example of this (dis)embodiment, showing the limits of the breath. She splits words across the page, but maintains a narrative, so that as you’re reading, your sense-making is completely at odds with your breathing and is spaced very differently than you’re accustomed to. It’s a wonderful technique and complicates a simplistic embodiment of the work.


ZING: Given that this work places a heavy emphasis on the materiality of the page as well as how the work is performed/experienced, where/when do you locate the event of poetry itself?  

JB: Primarily in interruption and failure. I think poetry has the capacity to interrupt first its own mythologies/ideologies and to a broader extent, the mythologies/ideologies that govern much language usage and thinking today.

I view Commuter first and foremost as a process, but this process is one of perpetual interruption: of itself, of events, of thought process, of reader expectation and writing. In this case, it is an interruption of a signifying practice that locates the possibility of the representation of trauma through language, especially one based on an “empathetic” stance that attempts to understand the other through a recognition of similar experience: you’re human, I’m human, therefore I understand what you’re going through.

However, something I consistently grapple with is how to relate motile process to what seems to be the utter stasis of death. Is there relation of a different sort here, and if so, how can one write this relation? In some sense, it returns to the question of community. If our access to the other is through death, then what manner of access is this?

As far as failure is concerned the book purposely foregrounds its failure to “represent” trauma and all its effects through language. However, it is this failure, or the continuous contention with this failure, that generates and supports the community I’m suggesting and places a large responsibility on the reader as a member of this community. To be more specific, the book’s response to atrocity is to precisely fail to reconcile it metaphorically or otherwise, (and therefore reduce) a certain usage of trauma by language: a (re)production of trauma through a certain logic of expression. I’m always hesitant to suggest that trauma can be cast into (a) language, or should be for that matter, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be written.

The book practices a thinking that envisions witnessing as an awareness of singular events in contact, not in communion: whether these events are love, atrocity or anything in between. In some sense a thinking in contradictions, rather than through them. I don’t mean to suggest that relation isn’t happening but it is a relation supported only by this incessant “communication.” And this communication is in the form of an interruption of the assumption that we are fully sharing, to the point of knowing, another’s experience. In some sense it is a contact with the limit that is/is not another’s singularity. This is why I keep insisting on the importance of the reader to Commuter. He/she is vital to the social process that is the work. The reader is the 3rd “witness.” In that sense, if a reader is contacted, perhaps the work fails very differently!


ZING: After the Prologue – which sounds more journalistic than poetic – Commuter opens with a poem that is essentially instructions for constructing a bomb, and thus the poem becomes not the event but the ignition of an event.  There are many things I could say about the idea of a poem-as-detonator but I’d like to start with a metaphysical question about the relationship between events and language: to your mind, does language call events and organized chaos into being or into our awareness of being?  Or is language simply a naming system to describe what already is?  Is this tension a major concern of your poetry?

JB: I love your distinction between the poem as event and the poem as ignition of an event. I think that this difference is very important for Commuter.

The short answer is yes; this tension is a major concern. I would have to say that I think language names, or more precisely delimits—the unnamable, or for language in general the first order, or to use a risky word, the unconscious. For me, language exposes a threshold. It (de)limits, or chalks communication. In Commuter the relational abundance of “it” speaks to your question. As I’m sure you noticed “it” refers to and can be substituted for any number of referents, signs/signifiers. “It” is a person, a helicopter, a currency etc. So this “name” at once, “calls” events into occurrence and at the same time serves as a threshold, or chalk line, albeit a loose (and in this case jarred loose) one, for event(s). These aren’t necessarily traumatic events but trauma usually communicates these limits more clearly than other discourses. But here is the challenge: part of the project was to activate, or as you put it, ignite this abundance, to write in a way that precisely emphasized the potential of the word, prior to its manifestation as a threshold. What I was in part, trying to touch upon was what Deleuze calls “order-words.” Words that relate to and ignite implicit presuppositions in the reader. In some sense, this confronted the impossibility of communicating my own, and another’s mortality through this precise failure to situate, or name, in the sense of commune with, understand, or essentialize identities within the poem. The radically provisional quality of these order words, whether they are more associated with discourses of trauma, another person, a lover, or quotidian life, also abundantly “name” various other events for the author, victim and reader. This abundance necessitates similar event of the crises of naming on the part of the reader.

MacLow’s idea of “controlled hysteria” is important here also. He mentions the features of this hysteria as barely controlled emotional outbursts, sometimes appearing aggressive or angry. What is most important to Commuter though is his last feature, suspense. In an analogy to the order word, the reader senses that this outburst is almost uncontrollable, it appears at its limit of containment, it’s suspended, or as we said above, it delimits the event. Interestingly enough he calls it a very “theatrical” experience.


ZING: The language of Commuter is both expressive of empathy for those who are victims of terrorism and is highly descriptive of violence – balancing both extremes while managing to produce quite beautiful phrasing.  When writing Commuter, did you have ethical concerns about working the event of trauma into the texture of poetic beauty? 

JB: I’m hoping that this question is in part answered by your question about rethinking beauty. But to expand on it more, yes, absolutely I have ethical concerns. One of the biggest challenges for me is the risk and implications involved in secondary witnessing. Although I’m as unsure as I am convinced that it is necessary, it is an incredibly provisional practice. One idea that bothered me was that in the context of witnessing, received semiotic use becomes especially problematic in the representation of another. That is the reason for many of the crossed out words, which also equate this problematic mythology/ideology of beauty with the equally problematic mythology/ideology associated with the romanticization of the femme fatale.

I’ll return to this idea of infinite resistance also. As far as an ethics of this text is concerned, I would argue that this resistance translates to the reader through the author. First in the reader’s experience of the author’s fragmentary responses, and secondly in his initial inclination (and the author’s) to combine or fuse these events. Both of these events are results of a reader’s reading habits, especially combined with the expectations of poetry that deals with atrocity. So this infinite resistance begins in the text and continues into the reader, who as a 3rd party, is asked to participate in the writing of the text itself. Though the reader’s relationship to the text changes, the suspension of his/her ability to connect or link events in the text becomes the primary mode of relation within the text. Sometimes forcefully, the reader is asked to share, to communicate (in) this suspension, to both found and be complicit in this “community.” He or she is asked to be unsuitable to “witness” the author’s inability to witness/commune with these events, to come alongside him and to distribute these events in an unsuitable semantic system.


ZING: In addition to gaps in the page, gaps between words, partially erased words, lines stricken-through, there is a brokenness or disjoint or strangeness between how subjects and objects relate in the post-bomb language of Commuter.  For example, on page 60 are the lines, “clearer to / frame you / behind the reason / I fisted a door?”  I’m not sure whether “fisted a door” is just an odd , condensed way to say something synonymous along the lines of, “I put my fist through a door,” as an expression of violence or anger, or whether it’s intended to reference the extreme sexual practice of “fisting” (which would be surrealist – essentially, sadomasochistic sex with architecture – which is sort of incredible as imagery of terrorism).  I interpret that it is the double-entendre that is important here as shards of phrasing and syntax reform to make a new, odd, off-ish sense of each other.  Why does the fragmentary, disoriented (but still precise) language of trauma belong in the realm of poetry for you?  

JB: I think it’s Kristeva who says it and her description applies very well here. She says that process as practice is always an extreme moment. Language is/as a form of violence… Blanchot even suggests that it is a form of terrorism. I’m not sure these are answers to your questions but I think they provide a framework for the phrase you excerpted. I’ll also have to refer to the interruption, or disruption we talked about earlier.

I like your reading of this very much and yes, as a short answer it is about that odd-offish sense. Part of the strangeness of this figuration comes from thinking of the practice of poetry of witness as a masochistic act, understood as very different from a sadomasochistic one. I’m working on a paper now that analogizes the process of poetry of witness with a masochistic relationship: it relies on a certain power dynamic between pain and/or trauma to the author: specifically on the generally expunged element of desire combined with the illusion of the (author’s) powerlessness, in the aesthetization of traumatic events. But this recognition of the power structures in a masochistic relation also provides great potential for rethinking identity formation, community and sexual politics.


ZING: The work is aggressive, most obviously in the directions to the performer that are scattered through the pages.  I admit I felt even a bit uncomfortable when I encountered the list of immediate family and close friends on page 40 with the footnote instructing the reader to cross-out those names and replace with others.  How much is this about subjecting the reader to a kind of objectification or about making the reader complicit in the activity of the poetry?     

JB: I’m so excited you felt uncomfortable! What a huge compliment! I also hoping that you felt invited, to be a part of the text, to perform it. I would say it is both of these things: complicity, which we discussed beforehand, extends to the author as well as the performer. I’ve called them the reader in this interview but you bring up the very important distinction Commuter makes: that of the “performer” as reader. At a very basic level I think this contributes to both the feelings of aggressivity and complicity you noticed, since a reader is not usually accustomed to thinking of the public connotations of him/herself performing a text, in both public and private.

I think to a degree a feeling of objectification is a helpful response to the piece and may indicate the tension within an artwork that Adorno speaks to. However, though objectification may initially be a part of it, I would hope that the extensive questions and invitations to perform, both sustain and recombinate this feeling of objectification with others. Part of that feeling as you said earlier, is that subject/object distinctions seemed to be rather difficult to pinpoint. Agamben in Remnants of Auschwitz discusses the etymology of the word witness and describes one definition as a figure in the position of a 3rd party, someone who for other reasons than trauma, also cannot bear witness. This is where the possibility of secondary or proxy witness appears although it is a highly unstable position.

The juxtapositional quality of the text places the reader in this third position. So, in effect, the reader “witnesses” or dérives the process of both secondary and firsthand witnessing. So to feel uncomfortable here, I think, is a very warranted initial response. Hopefully, as the book encourages relation (as you’ve pointed to), it also initiates other involvement on the part of the reader, namely the ethical tension that their rotating position of witness, secondary witness and objectified other, elicits. Since these positions do not tend toward reconciliation within or outside of the work the reader must persistently contend with them all.

Blazer’s comment about making the poem into “a necessary function of the real, not something added to it” is very important for this involvement.


ZING: When I saw you read at the Dikeou Collection a couple summers ago, you used a white noise machine in the background of your reading.  Does poetic language ride the white noise?  Or rise out of the white noise?  Or, as a poet, do you listen into the white noise?           

JB: I love drone/noise music, Spaceman 3, Noveller, Skullflower, E.A.R., Kites, Steve Roach, William Basinski, etc. For that project, tentatively titled The Poster of Contour, or 0, (Zero comma) I am experimenting with noise, or more specifically drone, as a platform for the performance of the piece. The work takes vacuums/vacuuming/vacuity and fluid dynamics as primary themes and so the idea of a droned tone as a vacuum, or fluidity allows for a certain affirmative quality to the historically abhorred natural “vacuum.” The idea in part stems from Berio’s Oboe Sequenza. What amazed me about the piece was the droned B that, as the piece progressed, and the oboe counterpointed against the drone, it began to both collapse the piece into an imaginary horizontal line that extended out from its source, and yet at the same time, it filled the room to the point of almost a visual throbbing. It seemed that a vacuum of sorts was created, but one that was fully empty. The oboe counterpoint became a sort of supplement, to this absence, like the language of the poem around a certain immaterial space. Many of Varese’s pieces have a similar visual/auditory effect on me. I guess it is similar to Scriabin’s synesthesia. Is there a specific name for that? The sequenza is fantastic, especially performed live.

In answer to your question, I think it’s both; language both rides and rises out of noise. It’s information theory at it’s most basic, noise coexists with language, music etc. For that performance, I also “listened into” the noise: the tone that droned through the piece was my normal speaking voice, which happens to be approximately an F#. I tried to keep that pitch for many of the sections dealing with vacuums.


ZING: What forthcoming projects do we have to look forward to?

JB: At this point, I have two main projects I’m working on, besides my dissertation. One, Friend of Mies Van der Rohe rethinks Heidegger’s concept of dwelling through Philip Johnson’s Glass House. The other, tentatively titled The Posture of Contour, or 0, (Zero Comma) explores those strange registers between the performance qualities of a lecture, a poem and conversation in a David Antin style. There are some wonderful expectations to be disrupted in the contrasts of these genres. 

INTERVIEW: Is it Art or Fart?

"Christo" from IS IT ART OR FART? blog


Anonymously authored blog-to-book Is is Art or Fart? features snapshots of everyday objects that, in the eyes of the authors, resemble works by contemporary artists.  Nobody is safe, even their recognized forefather – Duchamp (posted Sept. 8, 2010).  Is it Art or Fart? sends up contemporary art – or does it?

Interview by Brandon Johnson


In the prologue to Is it Art of Fart, “fart” is described as “coincidental moments in everyday life that, when isolated and named by artist, bear uncanny resemblance to art seen in museums and galleries around the globe.  Why is it called “fart”?

Art has aura. Farts, as we like to call them, do not. From certain angles or upon first glance, farts might appear auric—but this false or temporary aura quickly dissipates like a passing gas.


Lifted from Wikipedia: In parapsychology and many forms of spiritual practice, an aura is a field of subtle, luminous radiation supposedly surrounding a person or object (like the halo or aureola in religious art). The depiction of such an aura often connotes a person of particular power or holiness.”  What do you mean by “aura”?  Is art “holy”?  Is fart “profane? (Side-note “In Iran the aura is known as farr or ‘glory’”)

Yes, art objects are often treated and revered as special, valuable, holy objects.  This is a property of Art that the Roman Catholic Church, the forces of Modernism, and the Contemporary Art Market have all, at different points in Western Art History, desired and worked to uphold.  Fart is not art.  It’s not profane, nor is it pagan; It is simply a part of regular, everyday, pedestrian life.


I was trying to figure out how this book fits into the grand scheme.  At first I thought along the lines of artists as brands, a somewhat cynical/critical approach, but didn’t really see that edge after a second look.  Now, I’ve decided it’s more linguistic – a rhyming of objects.  The photographed images rhyme with the work they are being identified with in the same way as “fart” rhymes with “art”.  What do you think of this theory?

Well, certainly rhyming has something to do with pop music—and pop music is readily accessible and gaseous ether that circulates through contemporary urban life. What we mean to say is that the book is about art-in-popular-life. We are truly indebted to the enduring power of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades—those dramatic gestures that bridged the gap between art and everyday life.


Are there special Duchampian glasses one can wear to gain “fart” vision?

No, not really. Recognizing farts is an uncontrollable phenomenon. It just happens.


Does this book “stick it to” the art world?

There are so many art worlds. The book likely stinks to some of them.


Have any artists voiced offense at this book?

Actually, a few very well-known artists have mentioned their disappointment over not being included!





Laird Hunt’s fiction is some of the best stuff around.  Weird, lyrical, mysterious, funny, gritty, and more, it’s the type of work that makes you want to devote your life to literature.  His fourth book, Ray of the Star (Coffee House Press 2009), follows in the line of his previous brilliant noiresque novels The Exquisite and The Impossibly , but also integrates the haunting memory-based emotional depth found in Indiana, Indiana Ray of the Star follows grief-addled Harry Tichborne in a vacant escape from an unnamed family tragedy to a European city on the sea very much like Barcelona.  His life proceeds to delve into a series of strange events involving a large yellow papier mache submarine, talking shoes, a silver painted love-interest, lectures on death by ghosts, and a trio of sinister old men called the Connoisseurs as the mood of the novel sways from interminable grief to light slapstick, dense mystery to vague horror.  As a former student of Laird’s at the University of Denver, I am extremely pleased to have the opportunity to interview him.

Interview by Brandon Johnson


ZING: Your new novel, Ray of the Star, again falls on the side of noir.  What draws you to this genre?

Laird Hunt: I actually wrote it thinking I was more involved with ghosts and ghost stories than noir, but I certainly know what you mean.  Maybe what I’m interested in in the kind of off-noir or noiresque that I’ve practiced over the years is the possibility of genre blending.  Noir in this case (and maybe in the case of The Impossibly) blended with the fantastic.  If you agree with Brian McHale and others that detective stories and spy novels are epistemological beasts, in which knowing – both what and how we know -- is key, and that fantasy and science fiction are ontological animals, in which being rather than knowing gets center stage, then an effective blending of the two genres results in the kind of knowing/being combine that might, it seems to me, actually rhyme with the universe as we experience (rather than tend to represent) it.


ZING: Each chapter consists of a single sentence.  What made you decide to use this constraint?

LH: Friedrich Dürrenmatt uses this constraint in his novel The Assignment.  I came across it and was interested in how energetically he applied his mechanism and in how appropriate it was for the murder mystery he was developing.  I put his book down after a few chapters (sentences) and filed the device away.  Then I had this thought of writing about someone trapped in almost inconceivable grief.  Ordinary length sentences didn’t seem long enough.  I needed the sentence to be longer, but not languorous, not ambling, agglutinative things.  So I thought again of Dürrenmatt and brought what I remembered of the way he made his long sentences rush to the work I was envisaging.  Being stuck in long sentences, one after the other, is a nightmare.  Harry is like some underwater swimmer who can only come up for breath momentarily for fear that bullets or arrows will hit him.


ZING: This novel deals with trauma and making sense of death.  Senor Rubinski’s explanation of “drippings” reminded me of Flann O’Brien characterization of death in The Third Policeman as absurdity explained rationally.  Do you feel that there is a certain absurdity to conceptualizing death that can be exemplified in literature?

LH: This makes me think of the image of the semiotic square – that nifty diagram that proposes that when we assert something (white) we invoke its opposite (black), but also all the things it isn’t (not white) and all the things its opposite isn’t (not black).  So that when I wrote “knowing/being” above, “not knowing/not being” came into the room.  Writing is rather mediocre at describing or representing death but I think it can be extraordinarily powerful in evoking it.  Or, to borrow the word you use above, exemplifying it.  We’re just starting to tackle the concept of dark matter in science.  I think writers have been working with it for centuries.


ZING: Not to choose favorites, but my favorites were the Connoisseurs.  They were menacing yet funny.  I had a laugh reading various labels placed on them by reviewers such as “wise-ass noir goons” by James Gibbons in Bookforum.  Could you share your feelings on them?

LH: Ah, yes, those guys.  I had tremendous fun trying to keep them under control as I wrote because of course they want everything, all of it.  Why, they kept seeming to ask, is this Harry’s story at all: tell our story: make us the center of it: etc.  They were so insistent, in fact, that after having been two for a long time, they became three.  Three points to the infinite better than two, it seems to me.  Perhaps in the way that, as Borges liked to say, 1001 (nights) points at the infinite better than 1000.  They were definitely a handful.  You don’t want to try to argue with them.  Or, for that matter, have them emerging from your head.


ZING: Something I’ve noticed in more than one of your novels is the presence of food.  Characters eat and what they eat is particular and described; in the case of Ray of the Star, large amounts of sparkling water and various sea-born delicacies.  Why all the eating?

LH: This really started with The Impossibly.  My first impulse in answering this is that my younger self was doing something more or less unconscious with all those comestibles that Hemingway describes in his stories and novels (once upon a time I read them all).  Warping and troubling that desire, as he somewhere described it, to make the world seem more real in fiction than it seems outside of it (I’m currently seeing one of his famous glasses of beer, sitting next to a pretzel and sweating in the dim light of an inn in Europe somewhere).  Maybe there is something to that.  I’m not at all a “foodie” in the popular sense of it.  To be honest I’m a little grossed out by food culture.  And of course my characters eat odd foods (octopus porridge) or obsess over minor details (the glaze on a pastry) or relatively banal ones.  But we’re all slung between one meal and the next.  Food is the thing, isn’t it?  I know my cats think so.


ZING: Each of the three sections of the novel includes a quote: I: “Now you must learn how to last”; II. “The past, since it does not exist, is hard to erase.  Tears and the gnashing of teeth.”; III. “In the places / only the dead dream, I will look for our reflections.” Can you disclose the sources of these quotes?  Care to release further thoughts on them?

LH: The quote sources are cited on the copyright page.  You will, I think, recognize at least one of the names: Bin Ramke.  And may have run across Christina Mengert during your time at DU.  Perec wrote the first one.  I wanted to have it both ways with these epigraphs – to have text from elsewhere brought into the mix, but also to have a disconnect between attribution and the language I was borrowing.  Put otherwise, I didn’t want people to completely leave the dream of the book as it was unfolding – to turn their thoughts both to the substance of the quote and to its author.  At the same time I wanted to point people toward important writers (hence the attribution on the copyright page).


Ray of the Star was recently made a finalist for the Pen USA Literary Award for Fiction.  Hunt has more books on the horizon: his first book, The Paris Stories, will be reissued by Marick Press in the Fall, Counterpath Press will be publishing his translation of Oliver Rohe’s Terrain Vague under the title Vacant Lot, and Actes Sud will be releasing The Exquisite in France.  Bon appetit.

INTERVIEW: Noah Eli Gordon


Noah Eli Gordon is the author of several books, including Novel Pictorial Noise (Harper Perennial, 2007), which was selected by John Ashbery for the 2006 National Poetry Series Open Competition and chosen for the 2007 San Francisco State University Poetry Center Book Award, A Fiddle Pulled from the Throat of a Sparrow (New Issues Press, 2007), and The Area of Sound Called the Subtone (Ahsahta Press, 2004). He’s the co-publisher of Letter Machine Editions and an Assistant Professor in the MFA program in Creative Writing at The University of Colorado–Boulder. He has a new book forthcoming from Futurepoem Books next year. Visit his PennSound page here:

Interview by Rachel Cole Dalamangas


ZING: I notice a persistent gesture in your work in which poems take on the subject of music (and also emphasize musicality in the line). I believe (and perhaps I’m incorrect) that you worked at a radio station for a time and play music (or did play). What came first for you, in this life, poetry or music?

Noah Eli Gordon: I think anyone answering this question would have to say poetry, if only in the joy and frustration that comes from hearing the sound of one’s own voice for the first time, and realizing that that sound can just as easily obscure as express whatever one is after; it’s the babble of the newborn: give me food, hold me, etc. It always points toward its intentions with a crooked arrow.

But to fast-forward a bit, the two were inexorably intertwined. Musicality is for me the foundation of the poem. Although I quit playing music in any serious way about a decade ago, I’ve been slowly finding my way back. The problem is I was never any good as a musician. I mostly played in punk and noise bands, so that didn’t seem to matter. Sure, I had heart, not much else. Recently, my wife has been teaching me to sing in key; really, just teaching me how to listen. We actually performed a song together in NYC about a month ago, a cover of Big Star’s Thirteen. I practiced singing it with her dozens of times. At the show, she ended up forgetting the chords and we did a sort of dissonant version of it. I suppose obscurity and expression come full circle.


ZING: There is frequently a line of philosophical questioning in your work related to repetition and representation. There is the texture of echo and things ricocheting but beyond that there is also a deliberate, disorienting synaesthesia that makes sound visible within a poem (“miming the music / of one digging a ditch” – from A Fiddle Pulled from the Throat of a Sparrow) for example. Is this gesture related to a reworking of Ezra Pound’s idea that a poem is a unit composed of phanopoeia (image) and melopoeia (music)? How does repetition and echo relate to image or music, for you?

NEG: What about logopoeia? the dance of the mind around the two? For me, representation is suspect, a construct, a dream, something one can only approach, never attain. It’s like those spots in one’s vision after staring at a bright light; look directly toward them and they veer away. I admire the poem that moves askance around its subject, that circles and stalks. Repetition is one way to do this, although that too is suspect, suspect as a term. Gertrude Stein asked, “Is there repetition or is there insistence. I am inclined to believe there is no such thing as repetition.”

I, too, am inclined to believe this Heraclitian dilemma. The river changes, context changes, even echoes are about change. As Stevens famously argued, “It must change.” And if that change includes a little disorientation, well, that works for me. I’d rather a poem lead me to bewilderment than grip my hand too tightly and tell me exactly where to go and what to do when I get there. Our literature needn’t treat us like automatons.


ZING: Music is also about the silences and this is a subject you address throughout your work. A theatre (essentially, an area for the presentation of music) caves in, there are “silent film gestures,” a handful of poems end with a sudden negation. It seems that silence is frequently where meaning erupts in a poem. Is silence something the energy of your work reaches for? Why or why not?

NEG: It’s not silence as much as it is moments of shift that I find intriguing, moments when something’s cracked, changing, aware of itself. A skipping CD, a hair in the projector. These relate to silence in the way silence allows one to hear what’s come before more fully, and to harvest attention for what’s about to happen. I’m interested in the outline of things, the wire mesh of the screen door disappearing into the view of whatever’s outside. Writing can do the same thing; it can be wholly absorptive—the words dissolving into the experience of reading—or it can shout about its own materiality. I suppose I work to allow both options simultaneous agency.


ZING: What strikes me about your innovative use of metaphorical language is how frequently it starts with the symbolic but reaches outward beyond itself into something else without context, and winds its way into another symbol. For example:

If we could use a radio to wipe out the hum of a tuning fork’s indecision about where music begins & sound just sounds, then even the staggered rhythm might catch on something less solid, closer to the core of consciousness where what’s bound to be symphony in the personal sense is our appreciation in static, laughing at private music, a station like that of the cross.

from 93.7, The Frequencies


This is not typical use of metaphor and simile. We begin with an emotional, anthropomorphized radio, work our way through a strange set of dichotomies about music (comparing the beginning of music to sound that just sounds, and comparing symphonies to personal static), then end up with the religious iconography of stations of the cross (playing on the word “station,” which in this work usually refers to a radio station). Do you have a personal, critical stance on the structure of metaphors (and/or symbols)? What is the purpose, in your view, of symbolic language in poetry?


NEG: Well, the things of the world only point to themselves; it’s we who are disposed to making them into something more. This disposition is essentially a product of language, and my only critical stance on the use of language—metaphoric, symbolic, etc.—is one of advocacy for the eradication of received ideas and orthodoxy about what a writer can do with it.

I love stretching rhetorical expectations, mixing metaphors, antiquated syntax, run-on sentences, any place that it seems the structural certainties might break open, bloom into something new and unexpected. I don’t think symbolism in poetry is all that interesting when it functions as a kind of ornate riddle studded with vacuous, filigreed synonyms. Things should correspond in a way that respects a reader’s intelligence, a way that carves out a thinking space but doesn’t demand one to blindly follow.


ZING: When I saw you read at the Dikeou Collection in the summer of 2007, you read from A Fiddle Pulled from the Throat of a Sparrow, and you mentioned that the line, “the window shows it’s time to get up” was found text you overheard from a child. The “reverse memoir,” INBOX, is essentially all found text. Is found text a consistent technique in your work? What qualities does a found piece of text have that you decide to select it for having space in a poem?

NEG: Even if I said it, I have a problem with the phrase “found text,” as it implies a kind of haphazard, uninformed yet lucky accident. Sure, sometimes that’s the case; it certainly was with the line you quote here, which came from a six-year-old. It was striking to me in that it encapsulated a moment of language set free from codified usage. To say: “the window shows it’s time to get up” rather than “it’s morning” or “it’s light outside” is not only more raw but also, somehow, more accurate. It’s a shame we’re so quickly indoctrinated. A little continual wonder goes a long way.

That said, I wouldn’t make any distinction between something inherently poetic about sampled, appropriated, quoted, collaged, or otherwise-lifted-from-the-ether language and that which one writes in a more traditional manner. In fact, there was a time when one could make a living by reciting rearranged lines from Homer. Our use of “other” material is as old as our first makings of it. For me, it all depends on context, on the aims of a particular piece of writing. Some of my books were originally written entirely by hand on small notebooks I carry in my pocket, some were built with elaborate structural underpinnings that involved sculpting already extant text. Really, it’s about allowing myself to be forever open to change, to new techniques, to never falling into a rut. I think art is at its core a harnessing of contrasts. I mean this as much in the compositional phase as in whatever end result one is after.


ZING: A poem is a meditative thing and requires some focused attention to meaningfully read, to say nothing of the writing of poems. How do you think technology (particularly the web, Google Books, kindle) will effect the publication and dispersal of poetry? Is the book-as-object soon to be vintage? What is the significance of poetry in tangible book form? And in that same vein, how do you think the fast, flashy experience of technology changes how readers read?

NEG: I don’t necessarily agree with your initial assertion here. There are many poems interested in other modes of engagement: environmental work like Ashbery’s Three Poems, which calls for a kind of sidewise attention and would frustrate any attempt at, say, logically tracing its pronouns throughout; Tan Lin’s ambient works, which explore states of boredom and relaxation; those grand, sprawling, mid-period books by Bernadette Mayer and Clark Coolidge, with their exhaustive attempt to get everything into the writing. In fact, sometimes I find myself more enthralled by writing that doesn’t want me to pay attention to it.

As for the other questions here, I don’t enjoy reading on the internet. If there’s an article longer than a few paragraphs, I always print it out first. For me, the book is a technological marvel that will remain valid, present, and ubiquitous. Someone gave me a kindle as a present about a year ago. It’s currently gathering dust on a shelf (and that’s only because I couldn’t figure out how to sell it).


ZING: INBOX takes on the subject of technology, blending together voices from 200 emails you had in your inbox on 9/11/2004. You essentially took private content off the Internet and recontextualized it in book form. Why did you decide that the ultimate form of the project should be in a bound book? Why not regurgitate it back onto the Internet somewhere?

NEG: See my answer above!


ZING: You’ve done several collaborations with other poets and a painter. When I saw you read in Denver from Figures for a Darkroom Voice with Joshua Marie Wilkinson, you and Joshua both said that, “Neither of you could remember who wrote what.” What is the process of writing a collaborative work? At what point, in the making of a collaboration, does ownership of a poem, or the elements in a poem, recede in importance?

NEG: Doesn’t ownership of a poem always recede? I’d hope so. Our poems leave us the moment they’re read by someone else.

The process for collaboration is always different. If you’re interested in the specifics of the book I’d done with Josh, here’s a little note on that I’d originally written for Lungfull! Magazine:

The near decade I’d spent in Northampton, MA was one rife with collaborative projects, never lacking in fellow conspirators. I think collaboration, in its ability to tout a seemingly lowered sense of individual investment in a particular work, more than anything else, allows one the comfort to take massive risks, turning one’s editing machine to idle, and, implicitly, constructing, along with whatever actual work of art, a widening of allowance as far as how one might proceeded in the future, whether alone or not. Of course, investment is hopefully there in the end, but, if one is true to the collaboration, it sneaks up, leaks in, and lords over with benevolence this beast with two fronts.

Imagine having at 50 mph to continually switch from sidecar to motorcycle during a cross-country trip. Well, it’s an image a bit more exciting than passing back and forth a small notebook while slinging back coffee and trying to ignore horrendous world music filling a café. If the poem requires a bit of pulling away from the world, then isn’t it nice to know one doesn’t have to be so damn self-obsessed to do it? Hey, if I’m going to jump off that bridge I sure hope someone’s willing to walk me through it. Don’t you feel a little awkward going to the movies alone? Anyhow, moving last year to Denver carried along with it the fear of losing simpatico compatriots willing to conquer collaborativille. Then I met Joshua Marie Wilkinson. Over the course of our first few conversations, it was clear that, as far as contemporary poetry goes, we inhabited a very small tuft of common ground. I think our aesthetic disagreements were generative, forcing us as they did to articulate to one another, as much to ourselves, why we where repelled by or responded to different works.

What we did share was the energetic motivation to continually explore poetry on all fronts, that, and a huge respect for Graham Foust’s work. It’s enough to set things in action. Figures for a Darkroom Voice began with us passing the aforementioned notebook back and forth during a plane ride, trading sentences. This was in March of 2006. Josh’s first sentence reads, “Yet, stars pull the sleep out of us.” And mine: “Intrinsically, every moving thing likes a hallway.” As we’re very different writers, it made for an interesting experience. After a few months of meeting every couple of days to pound out three or four pages of full prose, trading off sentences all the while, and accumulating 50 pages of work, we hit on a procedural breakthrough: instead of passing the notebook after writing complete sentences, we let them end mid-point, forcing us to finish, twist, or totally alter each other’s trail of thought. For example, Josh wrote: “Noise keeps coming from the red radio even after—” and I continued: “its dainty refinement orchestrated a disbelief in electricity.” Now, what was beginning to feel after a few months like a chore was again exciting.

It took us almost the entire summer to fill the notebook—100 pages of whacked-out sentences. Although, we were attune to running with each other’s imagery and ideas, often threading back into the project older elements to attempt a ghostlike narrative background. By this point, we’d clocked in hundreds of hours on the project. The looming editing process seemed massive, like a staircase requiring a ladder to ascend each step. Okay, maybe just like a really long staircase and a pair of worn-down sneakers with no traction. Whatever the (stair)case, we did have to reckon with how we were going to type the thing. If you’ve ever received a letter from me, I’m sure it’s clear how clouded my handwriting can be. We had to spend one of Denver’s late summer 100-plus degree heat waves cramped in Josh’s small office while I dictated for hours on end, him diligently typing all the while. Fully digitized, we’d float the document back and forth via email, cutting and pasting, splicing and grafting, lots of it moving toward the garbage bin. At one point we’d collectively created 20 sonnets, 80 prose poems, and about 60 pages of triadic haiku-like fragments. Arbitrarily, the decision to go for 70 pages of working material was made, and somehow it gave to the work a balance between what William James calls the substantive and the transitive; it’s all over the place, but one is able to now and again get some footing.


ZING: Tell me a bit about your forthcoming projects we have to look forward to.

NEG: I have a book coming out next year with Futurepoem Books. Early versions of some of it can be found here:

Here's a brief process note about the book:

From January of 2008 to September of 2009, I read only page 26 of nearly ten thousand books at the Denver Public Library, culling from them bits of language, which I then fused together, altering some nouns to read the Source so they become reflective of the parameters of the project. At its core, the book is a prose cento, a continuation of a practice dating from the Homeric song stitchers of antiquity to current trends in hip-hop culture and electronic music; however, it’s also a testament to the interconnectedness and mutability of all writing, as well as an exploration of the notion of origins, both textual and spiritual. The choice of page 26, while obviously corresponding to the amount of letters present in the English alphabet, is also important in Kabbalist terms; it represents the numerical value of the Tetragrammaton, the four Hebrew letters that form the name of God. Additionally, according to the Talmud, the Torah would have been revealed during the 26th generation of the history of the world; thus, it is Moses who, 26 generations after Adam, receives the Torah transmitted by God. Interestingly, by using a correspondence table, where each letter is given in ascending order a numerical value (A=1, B=2, C=3, etc.), the name of God in English has a total value (G=7, O=15, D=4) of 26. The problems of numerology aside, I undertook this project in order to investigate whether or not constraint-based, conceptual writing might have a spiritual dimension. It is now my belief that rigid and systemic modes of writing can embody an emotionally charged engagement with the world.

Read a new selection from the Source here:


 Studio View

Enoc Perez first approached us with a project during lunch at Felix on a sunny day in Soho, New York.  His project, “Form by Memory,” is multimedia – with watercolors, digital photos, polaroids, sketches, photos of paintings in situ, and even drink stirrers from Puerto Rican hotels.  A divergence from his architectural paintings created via brushless paint transfer, we enthusiastically accepted the project for zingmagazine #22 (due out later this year).

Interview by Brandon Johnson


ZING: What is it about architecture that interests you?  Why use it as a subject for paintings?

Enoc Perez: I see buildings as metaphors, as abstractions. I like how architecture can embody ideas, "the future", progress, enlightenment, optimism, etc. In fact it can project ideas in any direction. To paint architecture is to paint ideas. It is to paint an abstract reflection of current society.


ZING: Do certain architectural styles appeal to you more than others?

EP: Sure I like some architecture more than others but I find that there is a lot to like. Generally I like everything from Greek Architecture to Bauhaus, Modern, International Style, Mid-Century Modern, Brutalist to Green Building. I follow my attraction, my taste is a bit promiscuous.


ZING: You’ve mentioned that there’s a utopian quality to your work – a belief in painting as opposed to questioning the medium.  What, in your opinion, is the place of belief in art?

EP: Belief is to me important in art. And I mean to believe in art. A significant part of the existence of art has to do with the artist believing in his or her art and those whom believe in the artist work. People believing in art is part of what brings art to life. My friend Tony Shafrazi once told me that art was "his religion". I think that comment goes to the heart of what I am trying to address here. It is the trust that art can make a difference, change or improve our perception of ourselves; the trust that art is important.


ZING: Does belief extend to the viewer of art?

EP: Of course, it is central for the viewer to be in it. It is a connection that completes the process.


ZING: I’ve been a fan since you first proposed your project over a lunch in Soho. The multi-media project seems to showcase a process rather than a product.  Is this a glimpse into your painting process?

EP: I remember the lunch and yes this project is about some aspects of my painting process. I was just giving some physicality to my thought process. When it comes to my work, I am as exited about the process as I am about the finished idea.


ZING: The drink stirrers are a great touch – they add tactile detail to the art deco modernist style you are surveying.  Do you collect them?

EP: I have a beautiful collection of drink stirrers. From all over the world, I think that I have over a thousand. I love them.


ZING: You have a series of architectural monochromes upcoming at Galerie Michael Janssen during Berlin Gallery Week.  Why monochrome?

EP: I wanted to see what I could do with a very disciplined palette. I also felt that it was important to untangle my painting process, break every rule that I had set for myself. For years I did not used brushes in the making of my paintings, the new paintings are done with brushes. I like the new work, making it has been renewing. Sometimes you have to burn your own house in order to create something new.


ZING: Anything else you have coming up / are working on that we should know about?

EP: Next year I have an exhibition in a museum in Murcia Spain called "The Cannery". I also have gallery shows in Europe and in NY.


Enoc has new works on exhibit at Galerie Michael Janssen in Berlin through June 19th.



A Wall Sculpture of a Drop Leaf Table, 2010, Enamel paint on maple, 75-1/2 x 29-1/2 x 48 inches (views from front and side)

I’m a sucker for multi-disciplined artists, so being introduced to the work of Roy McMakin made me feel like a kid in the candy shop. McMakin is a furniture maker/designer extraordinaire with commissions like The Getty Museum on his resume. He is an artist/object maker—showing internationally not just at Lora Reynolds in Austin, TX but also at the Matthew Marks Gallery in NY. And he is a highly acclaimed architect with wonderfully fanciful and naturally familiar domiciles—domiciles immensely cherished by his clients in his portfolio. I’m a huge fan of his website so be sure to check it out, he just released a monograph “Roy McMakin: When Is a Chair Not a Chair”, and he has a solo show, In and On, at Lora Reynolds in Austin, TX. Did I say he is multi-disciplined . . .


Devon Dikeou: Your fluency with color both in your architectural pieces and individual works is such a force, whereas in the works at Lora Reynolds there are just moments of color and White is an overall theme that you deftly contrast among all the pieces in the exhibition . . .

The white chair holds the Eames-like airport chair station

The white colors play Mondrian games on your tabletop canvas

The white contact paper reassembles the dresser—almost holding it together

The white netting meshes together the book photo series, as does the white of the book’s paper

And well, the pillows and pedestals are white

What does white mean to you?

Roy McMakin: What does white MEAN to me?  Hmmm, meaning in color is such a wonderful riddle.  I often remember as a child both considering and discussing with other kids what one’s favorite color is, with great seriousness.  In a way it’s one of the early “things” I tried to make sense of.  So, on to white.  It’s not a color, so in a way I am released from all my varied and intense color baggage.  Which is important at times.  But then again, it’s as much a color as any other color.  I sometimes pretend it’s really invisible paint, not white paint.  Or underwear.  Which is to say white pretends it’s neutral (like black, only white) and instead it’s the most loaded of colors to me.  I think the white of my slatback chair is trying to be discrete in the same way the modernity of the Eames (I think they are real Eames, or at least Herman Miller) tries to be discrete.  In a sense it exposes all the chairs for being filled with meaning and stuff. And the slight kinkiness of that piece wouldn’t be there if the chairs were not white, I think.  But dorky kinky, like a flasher still wearing underwear.  And white allows shadows to be seen the easiest of any color.  Which is partly why I painted the dresser white (it’s not contact paper), as it asserts the sculpturalness of the thing.  I could go on and on and on, as I think about this a lot, but don’t always get to be articulate about it, but you have other questions……


DD: The tabletop piece “A Wall Sculpture of a Drop Leaf Table”—in which you literally attach a table to the wall—is a play on minimalism’s fight to find the end of painting’s practice. It creates what is a white painting, cum sculpture, cum installation. How did you come to this point?

R McM: Actually, it is just a table, on a wall. .  It matters to me that it is a real table.  I mostly see it as a love poem to a table.  I kinda think it’s heart breaking in a way.  It’s so pretty, even aspiring towards transcendence, but it’s just a table.  And you can’t even use it, at least while its on the wall.  I see it as about function/dysfunction, perception and how objects reveal themselves.  And it is about painting, and sculpture, and furniture.  I found in my journey with objects that minimalism helped me see objects, so I think of it less a play on minimalism than attempt to demonstrate the potentiality of both transcendence and mundaneness within objects, even the same object.  Maybe it’s partially about “point of view”.


DD: Your objects often reflect the architectural space that they occupy. Did you employ the architecture in the gallery, or the architecture in Austin as source material or did you make this exhibition work with a neutral sphere/space in mind.

R McM: I hadn’t seen Lora’s gallery before I conceived this show, but I had done a previous show in her previous space, and I looked at the floor plans of this space a lot.  So I definitely conceived this show for this space.  I have wanted to build the table piece for a while, but seeing in my mind how it would work on the wall where we hung it was where I started.  Then I came up with the title and then conceived the rest.  I like the title.  I might use it again.  And, of course, I did the show with Lora and her lovely gallery team in mind.  They are all so smart and serious about what they do I wanted to do a really great show.  In other words I wanted to do a show that moved my investigation along in a serious way.


DD: It seems you connect often with the work of somewhat indigenous architects i.e. Ellsworth Storey—Seattle, Irving Gill—California, and clearly to a lot of indigenous American styles from Shaker to Craftsman, to Mission and Prairie. Let us know your feelings about these influences/relationships. Have you heard about Austin’s own local hero/architect Abner Cook?

R McM: I tend to connect with proto or pre modern architects a lot.  I don’t completely know why, but I think because they addressed of lot of things in a completely contemporary way; at times, I think, even more contemporary (to me at least) than the next generation of architects.   I like architecture that can be rigorous but still be charming and sweet.   I am very American in the way I see things, I’m kinda a homebody.   And I don’t know Abner Cook’s work—will you show me when I’m in Austin next?


DD: Back in the ‘80s there was this commentary in the Village Voice about Jennifer Bartlett’s work at Paula Cooper. She was showing these paintings with lots of dark colors and flashes of bright orange. In front of the paintings she displayed bright orange objects, like a table for example. The Voice commentary quoted a collector out of Ms Cooper’s range asking her spouse if it was, “Okay to put the table in the closet?” should they buy the coveted piece. First of all, it seems that people that live with your work love it! And you embrace the idea that your works play with the line between object of desire and usability, and blur ownership and user. Can you talk about this in relation to the work shown at Lora Reynolds?

R McM: The functional use of an art object is so interesting.  I figured out long ago that if, as an artist, you allow folks to use your works it changes everything.  I think this is a deeply profound notion, and also kinda silly.  I think I reached out to objects as a child for psychological reasons, and they were there for me.   At one level they were safe because they didn’t cause me harm, but they were really just the remnants of human behavior.  I went looking for love in objects because I wasn’t finding it in other places in my life.  As love seeking beings we can be keen readers of it.  I was looking for objects that were the physical manifestations of love.  And these were sometimes paintings and sometimes a chair.  It didn’t really matter to me—I couldn’t see hierarchies as a kid.  But my career has been bumping up against the very real hierarchies of objects since the beginning.  My stuff at Lora’s exists in a funny place where the usability is both implied and real, but also kinda ridiculous.  I think I do that to engage, demonstrate and illustrate the issue of use versus non physical contemplation, which I think is very real, but that in my own life I am nearly blind to.


DD: Explain your relationship to building/designing objects as opposed to choosing/co-opting already designed objects or existing objects and manipulating them to achieve your ends? This is particularly true in “My Slatback Chair with a Pair of Attached Chairs” . . .

R McM: Well, that all depends on what my ends are.  And my goal is generally a combination of exploring my romantic relationship with certain objects and trying to manipulate a viewers experience to replicate what I experience with objects.  Basically, I see the playing with the difference between found objects and those made by me as one of the tools in my belt to get my point across.  I guess what I am saying is, I see it as kinda the same thing, only different.


DD: With all your pieces, initially it seems it is all “exterior”—how the outside of these objects are perceived. Perhaps address what’s going on “inside” (the drawers/pages) “underneath” (the pillows/table) “below” and “in between” (the chairs) . . . maybe speak about what is behind Oz’s Curtain?

R McM: Hmmmmm, I don’t know if it’s Oz’s curtain.  I don’t think there is a little man inside making my stuff work.  People know how to make them work.  Everyone knows what to do with a table.  Even one on a wall I assume. A book is always an exterior object until it is read.   One could suggest that the people are missing, not the interiors.  Or are they.  You were there.


Roy McMakin’s In and On is on view at Lora Reynolds Gallery, 360 Nueces, Suite 50, Austin TX, Tues - Sat 11am-6pm, through May 15th.  Visit for details.

INTERVIEW: Rainer Ganahl


Rainer Ganahl’s Language of Emigration & Pictures of Emigration is now on view at Alex Zachary Gallery. The show consists of video interviews with German-speaking migrants who came to New York to escape Nazi persecution. The videos are accompanied by photos of the interiors of their New York apartments.  Part of Ganahl’s art practice focuses on the study of foreign language. These migrants are all German-speaking, as the Austrian-born Ganahl is himself. However, Ganahl’s interview partners “carry with them a language that has vanished” – preserving the German idioms and accents once used in 20th-century Europe that are now out of use. Ganahl explores how language “works in the mind of the speakers and messes with memory, grammar, syntax, and personal lexica…The relationship between language, trauma, and loss became audible.”

Interview by Brandon Johnson


ZING: How did you find the German emigrants / New York residents you interviewed? Are these your neighbors?  Where do they live in New York?

Rainer Ganahl: I found most of these interviewees with the help of other people I had previously interviewed. This project, which I started at the end of the 1990s with the title: “Language of Emigration,” consists of interviews and photographs of former Nazi victims and Holocaust survivors. I’m interested in how trauma, forced emigration, distance, and loss has influenced the mother tongues of these mostly German speaking people who have been living in New York for many decades. Each work combines a lengthy unedited video interview with photographs taken of the people and their homes.

Several years ago I was seated in an airplane next to a lady with such a fate and became very curious and perplexed. I was very surprised and realized that many people of that horrific period of European history are still living among us with quite a few in New York, which is also my home town of choice for the last 20 years. As an Austrian born after WWII, I simply and naively couldn’t imagine the proximity and continuation of such a brutal time.


ZING: Mary Silverman’s interview was recorded in her apartment, but she did not physically appear in her video, unlike the other interviewees.  Why was this?

RG: She decided not to be in seen on camera, hence the camera pointed to one “of her China sets which she was able to recuperate from Austria.” Her interview is called “Pictures of Emigration” since the subject of her story is not only about how they saved their own lives through a lucky escape from Nazism, but also the near complete restitution of her father’s incredible art collection relatively soon after the war. This collection, consisting of several Rubens, a painting by Lukas Cranach, and a work by Botticelli, is now still hanging in a private apartment on the upper West side, with flowers touching the canvases and barely any climate control. In front of a Rubens, there is a flat TV screen and other contemporary objects that seem uncompetitive with the history of these fine and valuable paintings, creating quite a funny impression.


ZING: You mention that this particular group of people are “in possession of a language that has vanished” and that one of your interviewees used “theater-ready” German, a dialect no longer in common use.  You say “Emigration[…]preserved idioms and accents[…]that have vanished back on the continent.”  What happened to these dialects, idioms and accents?

RG: Well, most of my interview partners left Europe in the 1930s and don’t speak German on a regular basis – hence they are speaking and preserving a language more or less as spoken at the time of their departure. Needless to say, every language mutates and so did German as well as any other language. You can see this in recordings of people in the 1930 and 1940s. Usually, people adapt in a linguistic context and change with the times. Not so with people who live outside their original linguistic environment.

For example, Prague was part of the Austrian-Habsburg Empire until 1918 and had a large German speaking, partly Jewish population. Kafka was the most famous member of it. That group lived there until Hitler’s politics made it impossible for them. With the final eviction of all remaining German-speaking people from Prague in the 1940s – after the war – no German/Austrians lived there any longer. Nobody there could give us an idea of Kafka’s linguistic surrounding. I was therefore very surprised to hear an emigrant woman here in NYC who grew up in Prague in a fancy building that now houses the US embassy. As if to make it more “Kafkaesque” a letter by a Mrs. Kafka was on her table, with an US sender.


ZING: Along these same lines, do you consider it important to preserve these examples of language?  Should all languages be preserved or is there a natural linguistic Darwinism?

RG: I am not a linguistic preservationist. The world doesn’t need to be turned into a museum. Linguistic changes happen and there is a reason for it. One lady, speaking in a perfect recording-ready “historic” Austrian-German idiom told me that “today, in Vienna, even intellectuals speak like used to be only horse coachmen did.” This trend is, of course, a reflection that more people from lower classes found access to universities and knowledge.  More attention is now paid to linguistic pluralism – hence using even regional dialects in discussing subjects that are beyond regional concerns. I myself am such a case.

But for Language of Emigration, we are talking about a loss that is the result of brutal and abrupt circumstances. We are also talking about people that were ignored for a long time by their former perpetrators. When I was in school we got only rudimentiary information about these Nazi-atrocities and were not told that so many people were still living. So, getting an acoustic experience of a time destroyed was, for me, a bit like filling a void that we – post-war generations – all felt. Paying special attention to the linguistic nuances of this group of people was not only in line with the rest of my art work and my general interests (i.e. the ongoing studies of foreign languages as my art practice) but also a way to differ it from regular holocaust studies or the massive archive Spielberg has accumulated.

Your question about “natural linguistic Darwinism” I would answer with yes, if we can understand “natural” as socially made and driven by economics and politics. In this work we can see how traumatic political events followed by displacement and cultural loss played a crucial role in the lives and speeches of these emigrants --- often lives with undesirable accents.

I’m not addressing here the problem of languages that disappear because of modernization, globalization, and the general destructive movements that characterized the 20th century, including the fundamental disturbance of the last indigenous people found far away from our understanding of “civilization.” Although disappearing languages cannot be preserved by orders and wishful thinking, they can and should be recorded and documented – an endeavor I recommend for anthropologists and anthropological linguistics.


ZING: The 20th century had a profound effect on language, especially with Western Imperialism running at full force.  The meeting of cultures on a power-based level created a coercive relationship between the languages of the colonizer and the colonized.  Many indigenous languages experienced violence and were driven to extinction or reduced to marginalized positions.  However, some of those who learned the language of the colonizer could benefit, as Kurt Frankfurter did while in German concentration camps.  Do you have any thoughts on political history and its effect on languages?

RG: Kurt Frankfurter had an incredible history of survival based on his understanding that volunteering was saving his live. While volunteering on his day off, he not only got more to eat than during the entire work week but he also got to know the people who permanently made decisions over life and death in Auschwitz. He survived Auschwitz for nearly 3 years, which is extraordinary. To know his native German was indeed of help there. When I was spending a couple of months in Leningrad, during the end of the Soviet Era in 1991, I could observe the difference between those who spoke some foreign languages and those who knew only Russian: it was the difference between eating or not eating, the difference between knowing people from the West who had basically no choice but to go the markets where food was plenty but only affordable for those with access to Western money.

One of the biggest changes in language politics that has gone unnoticed and unlamented for, but which affected half of the world, was the disappearance of Soviet Russia after the fall of the Iron Curtain. All former Soviet satellite-states, extending from Eastern Europe to Northeastern Asia, including African nations, used Russian as a common language. Beginning in the early 1990s the biggest linguistic forgetting campaign initiated and everybody switched to English as a lingua franca. Currently, I’m working on a video in which a German woman complains in front of a Karl Marx statue in Chinese that the entire world is now Chinese. The text is written so we see a world where English is supplanted by Chinese, as French was by English early last century. This scenario makes a lot of sense since we only have to listen to the products we are touching, using, and consuming which already only speak Chinese. I have been studying Chinese regularly since 1999 and it is a wonderful language that can be learned as easily as any other. But what’s really interesting (and very difficult but wonderful to train people’s minds) is the Chinese character being based on a non-phonetic writing system that requires all the qualities that are needed in today’s world economies: concentration, precision, visual memory and association all combined with a lot of stamina.


ZING: A new system gained notoriety at the end of the 20th century.  What sort of effect do you think the Internet has had on language?

RG: Let take my own experience: I am definitely consulting on a daily basis foreign news media with a click of a finger and hence can read, see and listen to foreign languages. I also use it for my Chinese studies and can learn easily without extra costs and effort. Now to the net as such: when in the beginning it looked as if only English users were using the net, today we know that the entire world is doing so and very successfully. So, I think that the net is helping to proliferate the most dominant cultural formations through its medium in the same way to reflect their demographic, social and economical appeal and power – but not much more or less. So, if Chinese people as a demographic, economic and social force are spread over the globe, so are their communicational networks. But that goes with any group and invites even the smallest social groups to keep up with their imagined and now networked communities. It is a win-win for all be it the dominant linguistic and cultural hegemonies as well as the small and subordinate ones.


ZING: I noticed that the interviews were not all conducted in German.  For example, Bertold Adler’s interview was in English.  Why was this?

RG: I always ask people whether they want to speak in German or in English and some prefer English. English is also a language that was not used during their sufferings. Hence, I was told several times that saying things in English was a way to distance themselves from the past. I had also some significant examples where interviews switch back and forth between the two languages – emphasizing their reaction and affection to what they said. 


ZING: Alongside the interview videos are photographs of the interiors of your interviewees’ apartments.  They all seem to follow distinct styles, a vernacular similar to the particular forms of language that were being preserved.  Does this group of people play a similar role in preserving the idioms of interior décor, as well?

RG: I was very struck how often I would see German and Austrian decorum in their houses even though they must have had enough of it. Looking through their libraries and across their floors and walls is a bit like scanning their present for their past. Not only do I give a picture to a story we were told only in the most abstract terms, but we also get an idea to what degree cultural influences persist and materialize. I was often told that it wasn’t the fault of the “German language” – something that could also be said of many German and Austrian materials I saw in their homes. I remember one woman who refused to speak to me in German and was still very bitter towards anything Austrian but she offered me Mannerschnitten (Viennese cookies available in NYC delis), used Austrian wooden furniture, Austrian China, and had images of Austria everywhere.


ZING: Diaspora can have the effect of strengthening cultural identification.  People removed from their original geographic culture will value cultural tradition more than those in the homeland.  However, these emigrants seem to have a more tenuous relationship with their cultures while maintaining the role of preservers.  Could you give your perspective on how the people you interviewed relate to the cultures they left?

RG: The Nazi persecution of Jews, Gypsies, Gays, Social Democrats, and many others who weren’t considered Aryan and participating in Nazi empire building was horrific and disastrous in its consequences for everybody involved. People I worked with over the course of my project were basically persecuted and attacked by the same people with whom they had lived in peace up to a certain moment. Most people were quite secular and anti-Semitism wasn’t as obvious before the arrival of Hitler. They most identified with their home culture before the dominance of Nazism. Hence, cultural identification for these elderly Germans and Austrians is not easy. I always ask how they feel about Austria and Germany and most of them like it quite a bit, yet show a certain hesitation. In most cases I have been embraced by the people I visited but sometimes I was told – like in the case of Frankfurter – that had I not been introduced by a person whom he trusted, he wouldn’t have talked to me. But this was more of an exception. Many do visit Austria or Germany regularly when they are (still) in a position to do so. 


Rainer Ganahl’s Language of Emigration & Pictures of Emigration is on view at Alex Zachary Gallery though April 25th, 16 East 77th Street, Thu – Sun 12-6pm.  Visit and for details.

INTERVIEW: Parking Space


Parking Space, a Chicago-based collaborative project initiated by Andrew J. Greene, E.J. Hill, and Matthew Schaffer, opened its second show, This Is Not For Sale, on March 12th.  This Is Not For Sale features work by Annie Purpura, Austin Eddy, Alexa Loftus, Danny Greene, Dorian McKaie, Karen Bovinich, Kristen VanDeventer, Nick Fraccaro, Nina Mayer, Tanner Veatch, and Xavier Jimenez. 


Interview by Brandon Johnson



ZING: Let’s start with your name.  Where did it come from?

Matthew Schaffer: I think it was Andrew who came up with it. Our first show was in an abandoned garage and we thought it fitting.  Then we thought that it could be used as a concept: us parking in other people’s spaces to do shows.

Andrew J. Greene: Our name literally refers to the parking structure behind Matt’s apartment that housed our first show, but the idea of a “parking space” refers to the transitory nature of our curatorial practice as well as other “pop up art spaces” found commonly in Chicago.

EJ Hill: There was a two-car garage behind Matt’s apartment that wasn’t really being used for anything. Over the course of a couple months, we transformed the garage from a moldy storage space to Parking Space. And actually, we only had our first show there. That was the Helter Sculpture show at the end of October and it started getting really cold really quickly, so for our second show we moved things upstairs into Matt’s apartment. Then for This Is Not For Sale, we moved to my apartment. We’ve talked a bit about continuing to move around the city to different locations but keeping the name. So I think the name has taken on a completely different meaning since the days of the garage, but yes, Matt’s garage is where it all started.


ZING: Now you’re doing a show, This Is Not For Sale, exploring the apartment gallery, something that in my experience seems to be more prevalent in Chicago than other cities.  Why do you think is?

Andrew: I think the alternative art space has thrived in Chicago for the past several decades due primarily to fairly low rent and a Midwestern pride that wants to react against more conventional venues for art viewing. Historically, Chicago has always been a place that has demands attention with an idiosyncratic voice… deep dish pizza, the Sears tower (I guess it is called the Willis Tower now…), Vienna beef, the Cubs.  Maybe the apartment gallery is just the way our art community manifests that gimmick.

EJ: Yeah, I’ve heard this a few times now actually, that Chicago has a rich tradition of apartment galleries and alternative spaces. I haven’t had much exposure to art communities in other cities, so I just assumed that apartment galleries were the norm. I saw a show recently at a space called Medicine Cabinet, which is literally a medicine cabinet in someone’s bathroom. And I haven’t seen this yet, but I’ve been hearing that there’s a gallery inside someone’s purse. This woman walks around with a purse and if you catch her on the street, she’ll open it to show you the current work that’s being exhibited. Bizarre, right? But that’s what I love about living here. It seems if you can think it, you can do it.


ZING: In the press release, you state “This Is Not For Sale refuses to ignore the conventions of the alternative art space, opting to embrace the opportunities implicit with operating outside the prevailing structure of the art community.”  It seems strange to think of alternative art spaces abiding by conventions since the idea behind an “alternative” art space seems to be to avoid convention.  Can you define these conventions as you see them, maybe in Chicago in particular?  What opportunities are available outside the structure of the art community? 

Andrew: In my understanding of “the conventions of the alternative art space,” I see the opportunity to take curatorial and artistic risks in a supportive environment (made up mostly of peers) that should be motivated by a desire to move forward with an artistic discourse that attempts in some way to re-contextualize or reposition what it means to make/show art in a contemporary setting. In a sense, an alternative art space should be defined by its innate institutional critique (in its “do-it-yourself” structure) and its ability to react against the short-comings in communication that the commodity driven art market seems to produce.  Unfortunately, the idea of the alternative art space has been marginalized to such an extent that oftentimes its participants forget the “alt space’s” prescribed role as catalyst to the “avant-garde” and only poorly mimic more institutional spaces.  In theory, an alternative art space has the ability to communicate with a much more captive audience than more conventional art spaces and thusly should be motivated to take risks to create a dialogue with that audience.

EJ: Planning this show was a bit tricky in the beginning because we knew we wanted to have it in an apartment but we didn’t want it to be just another apartment gallery show. And that term “alternative space” is a tough one too, because granted, our shows aren’t in white-walled, traditional gallery spaces with track lighting, but how many times can something be alternative before it becomes mainstream? There are apartment galleries all over this city and for the openings, all of the furniture and other objects that are normally in a living space are moved or stuffed into bedrooms and closets, in an attempt to mimic “the real thing.” For this show, we said fuck it, we’re not emptying the living room and moving the TV and couch into bedrooms. This is an apartment, not a commercial gallery. We’re not trying to sell anything or compete with others in any sort of market. We just want to be around good people making interesting work and create dialogue within the larger Chicago art community. And because we’re more concerned with building community and exhibiting work and less concerned with turning a buck, there’s more room for experimentation and taking risks. So we went forward with acknowledging the space for what it is and what it isn’t, and made that the subject of the show.

Matthew: We have the luxury of not having to worry about making money, so we have the freedom to show work that cannot be purchased (performances and site specific works). Opportunities: we can do what we want and don’t have to justify or answer to anyone but ourselves.


ZING: Any other thoughts on the Chicago art community?  How do you think it fits in with the national / international art scene?  Are there any regional qualities that make Chicago distinct? 

EJ: On the home front, Chicago is definitely the underdog. You’ve got New York and L.A. as the powerhouse players and a lot of the time, Chicago gets overlooked. I’m still not sure how I feel about that though. Because sometimes I enjoy being a part of a well-kept secret of Chicago being this gem between the two coasts, and other times, I want nothing more than for Chicago to be able to play on the “big kids’ playground.” It’s definitely a more affordable place to live than New York or L.A. and that may contribute to why new galleries and exhibition spaces are popping up all the time in apartments, storefronts and even garages. Chicago is also a huge city with a small Midwestern hometown kind of feel. During my first month of living here, I was riding the subway and working in my sketchbook when the woman sitting next to me started telling me how her children are artists too. Before she got out at her stop, she gave me her card and invited me to dinner so I could meet them. I haven’t been in many cities where people are able to slow down just enough to actually engage with the person sitting next to them, but it seems to happen quite often here.

Andrew: In a way Chicago is self-defeating: too many of our artists continue to leave for NYC or LA, and in general Chicago’s yearn for international “stardom” has always been paradoxical. Chicago demands to be treated as an equal to New York and Los Angeles, but in that demand the city undercuts its potential by acting subservient to other locales. There is a community of people here that have stuck it out and have become successful, but at a certain level of success the majority will always seek a larger pond to be a bigger fish within.


ZING: How did you find this group of artists? Most of them appear to be Chicago-based.  Is there are reason why you chose mostly Chicago artists?


Andrew: We sat down together and thought about whom of our peers could best contribute to the conversation we had started about the apartment's dual role as living space and as art space. Keeping in mind that we wanted to pull from the several communities that are sometimes at odds with each other, we wanted to curate in such a way that positioned somewhat more well known young artists (within Chicago) with lesser known artists as a means to create a platform to democratize who was allowed to participate in the conversation within Chicago.

EJ: When we sat down and came up with the curatorial concept of the show, we considered artists whose work or way of working would best fit that idea. We were familiar with the artists’ work in some capacity and selected them based on their current practice and many of them having shown in apartment galleries several times before. We’re all students as well, so a lot of the artists we’ve met individually or through Parking Space are other students, faculty or administrators at Chicago academic institutions. And these artists are very familiar with the apartment as exhibition space and could speak earnestly about what that means to them and to the rest of the Chicago art community.

Matthew: We are artists in Chicago and we hangout with other Chicago-based artists, so it’s just natural. We would like to build a strong sense of community. Before we started we noticed that there were shows where all students were from either SAIC or Columbia and we thought that it was a bit of a drag that we all couldn’t come together. So, when we choose artists for shows we try to pull from all the art communities in Chicago, and being that Andrew is at SAIC and EJ and I are from Columbia, we have a real opportunity to pull from our respective groups.


ZING: The show is titled “This Is Not For Sale.” Will the artwork in the exhibition not be sold?  Given that it’s an apartment show, could it be a reference to real estate? 

Andrew: The work in the show was not for sale. In this way we felt that we were dealing directly with some of the "conventions of an alternative art space," a place where ideas should be more important than potential monetary gain. A majority of the work was made and installed specifically for the space and operated performatively, therefore somewhat negating its marketability as a sellable good. We were also very aware that the title of the show could simultaneously refer to the fact that an apartment is indeed "not for sale," and enjoyed that we could use that title as a starting point for curation.

EJ: Paying bills, buying groceries, buying materials to make art… all of this stuff adds up financially. It would be more than nice to be able to pay for it all by selling work, but generally speaking, the majority of audiences at apartment shows are not there to buy anything. It’s a different kind of vibe and that’s what we wanted to explore with this show. We had agreed that if anyone wanted to buy a work, we would cross that bridge once we got there and so far, it hasn’t come up. As far as a head nod to real estate, I never had that in mind, but it’s interesting you mention that especially since Parking Space doesn’t have a permanent or even consistent home. We’ve had a show in a different space each time, which definitely reflects the living patterns of young people in cities.

ZING: Can you elaborate on the statement “This Is Not For Sale demands an artistic discourse where context and concept are directly correlated?” 

EJ: The work in the show directly referenced and interacted with the space as a site for exhibiting artwork but also a site for making toast, sleeping or taking a shower. Since these sites are so unique to Chicago and since we were using my apartment this time, the most exciting part for me was just seeing how the artists would creatively respond to where I live. But I think we were all pretty excited to explore the intersections between the properties of the space itself and the subject of the work in hopes to raise questions about how reliant they are upon one another.

Andrew: An artistic discourse where context and concept are correlated is one where an artist does not ignore site specificity and therefore deals with the baggage of a space or context and allows that context to influence how the work operates conceptually. In "This is Not For Sale," we wanted the artist to be aware of how his or her work dealt directly with how an apartment can function multi-stably as a living space and as a space to show artwork.

ZING: Where did you get the idea to start Parking Space?   

Matthew: Andrew and I where playing basketball behind my apartment and next to the court was an old abandoned garage, so we decided to explore it and Andrew jokingly said that we should have a show it here. Then we had some drinks and talked about it some more.  EJ was excited at the idea and it just kinda started from a basketball game, curiosity, and drinking and then a lot of hard work.

Andrew: When we conceived Parking Space, we collectively saw the need to build a bridge between the disparate art communities within Chicago that have been created out of previously existing institutional structures. There was and still is a defined lack of communication within what is a relatively small city. We saw and still see the opportunity to for our city to look inward and prop itself up. Essentially, we have to fight for each other or we face the risk of remaining perpetually subservient to other cities. We saw Parking Space as a small way of doing that.

EJ: It was Matt and Andrew who initially talked about it and I was pumped on the idea. I offered to help out in any way that I could so we made some Home Depot runs a few times, cleaned and painted the garage, fixed some things and off we went.

ZING: The three of you are artists, as well.  How do you think this affects your perspective as curators / project co-directors? 

Andrew: Because we are artists, our role allows us to take certain liberties with curatorial decisions that a traditional curator could not make due to monetary restrictions or popularity of idea. As artist-curators it allows us to organize shows around concepts we may not be able to directly manifest within our own work, therefore allowing us to speak in a voice we normally couldn't communicate with.

EJ: We’re more flexible. We understand how artists operate and how important it is to be able to show your work. It’s really a group effort in every sense and not just between the three of us, but for all of the artists involved in our shows. Everyone brings something different to the table and gearing into a show presents us with a very different group dynamic each time. It’s challenging and sometimes really stressful but we all want to show the best work we can. So I think we’re all willing to work very closely with the artists and each other to make that happen. We’re not wearing white gloves and directing people where to arrange things. We’re up on ladders, drilling, getting dirty and installing work too.

Matthew: It is easier to communicate ideas and concepts to a fellow artist than it is to business person.


ZING: Who should we look out for in Chicago, in terms of artists / spaces / writers / bands / anything cultural?  Any recommendations for visitors? 


Andrew: THIS IS VERY DIFFICULT, I’ll try and be as succinct as possible.


Spaces: Monument 2 Gallery, Golden Gallery, Roots and Culture, SubCity Projects, The Suburban, Kavi Gupta Gallery, Shane Campbell Gallery, Dan Devening Projects and Editions, Julius Ceasar, Andrew Rafacz Gallery, Happy Collaborationists Space


Bands: Dad, White Car, Geffika


Matthew: Jettison magazine is a really great (currently) web based publication coming out of Chicago and The Smith Westerns are an amazing young Chicago band.

EJ: Jettison Quarterly is doing huge things here in Chicago. It’s an online publication that you should definitely keep your eye on. Happy Collaborationists Exhibition Space is also making waves. They are committed mostly to performance and installation work and just really great people to work with.


ZING: Anything else coming up that people should know about?

EJ: I’m showing a new work titled Solo Exhibition at Happy Collaborationists Exhibition Space on Saturday, April 3rd from 7-10pm. I’ll also be participating in a group performance including Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Roberto Sifuentes of La Pocha Nostra at The Conaway Center at Columbia College on Saturday, April 17th at 5pm. And of course, more shows from Parking Space are sure to come.

Matthew: MORE SHOWS!!!

Andrew: More shows in Chicago... Look for Parking Space and a little taste of Chicago in your city coming soon.



PARKING SPACE is currently located at 2246 W 19th St, #3R, btw S Oakley Ave and S Leavitt St.  Email them at for more information.



INTERVIEW: Renny Ramakers

Slow glow lamp for Droog by NEXT Architects & Aura Luz Melis

Photographer: Robaard/Theuwkens (Styling by Marjo Kranenborg, CMK)

Renny Ramakers is co-founder and director of Dutch conceptual design company Droog.  We first worked with Droog during Pioneers of Change, a festival of Dutch design, fashion, and architecture on Governor’s Island, which occurred in Fall 2009 during NY400 week, a celebration of Dutch culture in New York.  Mary Barone and I met with Renny and Sheldon LaPierre at the Droog storefront in Soho to discuss slow food, Droog, and the future of design.


Brandon Johnson: The Pioneers of Change is our launching point, since that is when we first came in contact.  We donated zingmagazines to be placed in the Go Slow Café.  We’re interested in your involvement in the slow food movement, or how that relates to the Go Slow Café, and how it all ties in with Droog and your ideas about design.

Renny Ramakers:  We started the Go Slow Café in 2004.  Not because of the slow food movement.  The slow food movement is based on regional qualities.  It started in Italy and is based on using what to land is giving you, not transporting it all over the world.  That is part of it, but was not the main objective.  The main objective was to give attention to processes.  Because we live in a world where you only buy final products—especially here in the States.  If I go for an orange juice, it’s already there.  In the Go Slow Café, in Milan where we first presented it, we were pressing the orange juice by hand.  And maybe that’s not allowed here…

B: It’s allowed, some places do it but it’s more expensive.

R: You see the people don’t know where things are coming from.  Children think that milk comes from a factory and not a cow.  So, that was behind it.  The second thing we wanted was the serving and preparing of the food to be done with attention and care and people who would sit down at the Go Slow Café didn’t have to hurry.  They can sit and have a nice time.  They can sit there all night if they wanted to.

B: That’s perfect for Governor’s Island, as a location, an escape from the city.  When I was out there to drop off the magazines, it was a like a whole other world coming from the Financial District where the ferry departs.

R: We also did it in Milan.  There was a big hustle and bustle, everyone was excited to see as many shows as possible during the furniture fair, but they sat down and spent hours at our café.

Mary Barone: The city is so frantic during the Milan Furniture Fair.

R: The idea of using seniors [as employees of the café] opposes the normal practice of using people who are very young as they are cheap and maybe because they are easier.  Instead we used retired people to work at the café for the week at Milan and two weeks at Governor’s Island.  People loved it.

M: Yes, I ate there.  They were wonderful.

R: We have done it in Toyko, we have done it in London.  In London we had ninety-year-old ladies.  They had to sit very often, which was not a problem, but every half hour they would sit down.  And in Tokyo we had a man in his eighties, and he was so young—so fit and energetic.  It was wonderful because people are used to being served by younger people and here there were people who could be their grandmother or grandfather.  In Milan, they started singing songs from the childhood and giving massages.

B: In that sense, the “slow movement” is literalized in the word “slow”.  I had previously interviewed an artist in Williamsburg, Mike Ballou, about an installation he did at a restaurant called Diner.  They source their beef from a farm in upstate New York and he did a large sculptural portrait of a cow from that farm, which was then placed on top the restaurant.  The individual, the original source is represented in that piece.  Now, Droog is taking it in a more literal linguistic sense, slowing down the process of eating.

R: Yes, very serious, but we also want things to have a twist.

B: Right, because there’s some humor to it as well.

M: When I dined at the Go Slow Café on Governor’s Island, the food was represented in a diagram according to its origin.  Like where the walnut came from.  Then it finalized on something very traditional.

R: The moon.  Black and white powder.  It’s a kind of licorice.  We say it’s dust from the moon.   But the idea is that food is transported all over the word.  We wanted to show the food in proportion to its distance traveled.  So, there was very little “moon powder” because it had to arrive from the moon, so to speak.  It gives you an idea of where the food is coming from.

B: And obviously it takes energy to transport the food.

R: And that’s a damaging thing.

M: They sourced the ham from West Virginia.

R: The butter from Russia.

B: So, it’s proportionate to the distance it traveled?

R: Yes.  It’s a message that you can eat a lot of the things that are grown around you and less of things that come from far away, like Japan.

B: Makes sense.

M: One always thinks you need Italian prosciutto or Serrano ham from Spain, but it fact there are delicious hams nearby.

R: There you go.

B: How would you tie the Go Slow Café into Droog in a larger sense?

R: It’s part of our whole philosophy.  You see there are objects here in the storefront.  But most of the objects are coming from our projects.  For example, the Slow Glow lamp in the window, had been designed for the Go Slow Café, but now we are selling it.

B: That lightbulb lamp?

R: It’s filled with fat.  When you plug it in the fat is solid, but as it heats up, the fat slowly melts.  It was a product of the project.

M: Who designed that?

R: NEXT Architects.  We have all been interested in a conceptual approach and projects that activate the visitor.  Interaction is very important to us as well as showing processes.  Many of our products are based on interactions, like the marble bench downstairs.  It’s an experience.

It’s part of our philosophy to produce things that make people happy.  Many people start smiling when they see our products.  There’s a sense of humor, but it is understated.

M:  it’s a dry sense of humor.  Because “droog” means dry, right?  The English are said to have a very dry sense of humor.  The Dutch, I think, as well.

R: Yes, it’s the same word in Dutch.  There’s always a twist.  It’s not meant to make something humorous.  It’s meant to produce something to make people happy or to convey a message, or something else along those lines.

B: What’s going on at Droog now?  Any upcoming projects we should be talking about?

R: We want to continue with Pioneers or Change.  We are now talking about presenting it in Bangkok, but it’s still very early.  Pioneers of Change can be repeated in every city all over the world.  It’s based on collaboration with local parties, interaction, local context, and current topics.  The second part is Droog lab.  We started this last year.  The first one we did in Dubai.  The leaders of the Droog Lab are always one or two established designers, so Rami Farook, Jurgen Bey, and Saskia van Drimmelen went to Dubai with a few designers.  The idea is that you go to a region, learn from a region, be inspired by a region and come back with something new.  Our goal, and this is very ambitious, is to define the next generation of design.  When I started Droog lab, I noticed that entire design world is only concerned with products.  We had these fantastic projects in Milan, but the press is only showing a few products.  Also, many designers are only interested in making products, limited editions.  We also produce limited editions, but for us a story is more important than owning an object.  Because it’s been going so well that last few years with studio work in limited editions, you see companies asking designers to do limited editions.  So, there’s no story anymore.  There are too many objects in the world right now and not enough stories. 

M: What are the designers in Dubai working on?

R: Yes, this is where we are leading into.  They went to Dubai and came back with all kinds of observations.  Now they are working on a new model, presented digitally, of collaborative design.  I cannot explain it yet, because it is being developed.  But there is a new model based in collaboration that will eventually produce products.  Also, maybe a different kind of currency based in time.  The original ideas have nothing to do with objects or products, but in the end there will be a number of very beautiful products based on this philosophy.

The second group is going to northern Canada in June.  The topic is sustainability.  Winy Maas and Cynthia Hathaway, she’s Canadian.  There are always also local designers involved.  They’re going to see how the Inuit people in the far north survive, to learn their way of living.  I have no idea when they are coming back.

M: That’s very exciting!

R: We want to do a third project in New York, based on the service economy here.  Yesterday on the street I saw someone walking with the dogs.  Dogwalker is a new profession.  I’ve only seen it here.  We don’t see it as something negative or positive, but only interesting.

Sheldon LaPierre: One thing that resonates for me about the lab is that it’s about exploiting already positive qualities of an existing situation.  The designers are not saying “We’re here to provide a solution, we’re here to attack a problem.”  It’s not that way at all.

R:  There is no problem for them.

S: It’s about using these qualities that may already exist in this inherent situation—something I’ve even tried to employ a bit in my own life having learned about this method.  The person who manages the lab will actually be here later today.

R: Perhaps I should explain why they came back from Dubai with this model.  They saw three clear qualities of Dubai.  For one, it’s very ambitious because it’s a desert.  They have made this entire city out of nothing.  The second is that there is a wide hierarchy.  The top is very small, only the sheiks.  The third thing is that Dubai is a hub.  A hub for richness, for luxury.  We wanted to make a hub of content, creation.  Those were the observations and that’s why they came back with this model.  A few weeks ago I told this to someone and they said I was not critical of Dubai.  I said “Of course we are critical.  But that’s not the issue at this moment.”  We are critical of this hierarchy where some have outrageous amounts of money and others have none.  So, we’re thinking about a timebank, where you pay with time or with something you are able to do.  Someone is a hairdresser and pays for their purchase with a haircut.  It’s just a model of course, but that’s where it comes from.

There’s one more activity we would like to pursue.  We are presenting a kind of parasite product.  Say you have a porcelain cup produced in China.  If it were made in our countries, you could not afford it.  It comes from China, and it’s not quite right, so it goes back and forth all the time.  Because of this, it takes a long time for products to be developed.  We were also thinking there are already so many objects in existence already.  We have glasses, our neighbor has glasses, the shop down the street has glasses.  Do we need so much glassware?  Then there’s the financial crisis.  Each month in Holland there are 500 companies that go bankrupt.  What happens to their products, their inventory?  It goes to auctions on the internet.  We started bidding on all kinds of items: napkins, a table, glasses, you name and we bought it.  We asked about 15 designers to see this as their raw material.  Each designer came up with an idea.  There’s a lot of commentary.  It’s fantastic.  In three months time, we will present about 20 new products.

B: Based on the products that were procured from the auctions.

R: The designers came up with such unexpected things.  One example, not sure if he will succeed, was given a water dispenser.  A cooler.  He has taken it apart and is making a perfume dispenser from it.  He also has 100 salt glasses that he making into perfume containers.  This whole idea gives a new brainwave for designers.  They don’t have to think about the system, the system is there.  They just have to stage it.  That goes for all the products.  There is cutlery, which takes years to design.  But here, the designer already has it at hand.

M: Will you be staging an exhibition here?

R: In Milan.  We will sell as much as possible.  If we have things left we will sell it in the storefront here in New York.

M: The fair’s coming up soon?

S: April.

R: They will be limited editions because there is only so much material available.  We are also thinking about moving beyond bankruptcy auctions to work with existing things.

S: To make access limited is interesting.  A new perspective.

R: We work with other companies as well who demonstrate a similar spirit.

B: I was reading up on the history of Droog before coming here and it’s interesting how these ideas tie in with the founding of the company, designers using discarded and pre-existing materials.  It goes all the way back.

R: It’s not on purpose, we aren’t forcing ourselves to do it.

B: It’s natural?

R: The idea returns in a cycle.  It’s in my genes to do these types of projects.

M: The store is a great resource in SoHo.

R: Yes, we are trying to make it more lively.  In the beginning we were a bit of a showroom and now we’re trying to change that by bringing in smaller items and doing more interactive projects.

B: We’re looking forward to it.