Anicka Yi, Sister, 2011. Tempura-fried flowers, cotton turtleneck, dimension variable.


We were introduced to Anicka Yi's work at 47 Canal , an LES Gallery operated by Margaret Lee and Oliver Newton, who played host to Anicka's first solo show, Sous-Vide, last September. We met the artist for a studio visit in the space earlier this year. Anicka's materials are unexpected and her process is unpredictable. Works like "Sister" demand a complete sentient analysis from the viewer, placing them in unfamiliar territory beyond the purely visual and inspire a multiplicity of ideas and emotions.

Interview by Kriti Upadhyay


In your artist statement, you say you are drawn to perishable materials because of their affect, their aesthetic qualities, and their resistance to archive, permanence, and monumentality. How have you counteracted the challenge this presents to the creation and exhibition of your work?

I don't know that I've counteracted the challenge of making and exhibiting perishable materials. The syntax of the work continues to develop and hopefully becomes more fulfilled. I'm developing sensory assets in order to explore the way language, media, and economy mediate technologies of the self and ways in which art making can be pushed towards an expanded notion of the sensorial. I'm interested in connections between materials and materialism, states of perishability and their relationship to meaning and value, consumerist digestion and cultural metabolism.


What first drew you to combining these materials with aggressive techniques such as deep-frying and sous-vide?  Do you have any culinary training?

I don't have any culinary training but possess an affinity for radical technique. Deep-frying is such a base form of achieving flavor incorporating so many fascinating formal attributes- texture, sense of touch, smell, sound, sensations of temperature and pain, fragility. I love the violence of the process. It's high drama. So is the process of vacuum sealing food to slowly parboil it for 72 hours. These are all techniques of desire that [circumscribe] Taste. Taste is about thresholds. We're all implicated in the politics of taste which are problematic. I'm interested in liminal, dangling spaces between a fully realized “biological” experience of taste and what is often at odds with this as conceptualizing taste. How the transglobal contemporary consumer apparatus appraises taste. I think some of the most radical art that has been developing in the last 10 years has been in the culinary arena, El Bulli, Noma, Subway sandwich franchises by example, but especially the dominance of the flavor industry on our reality. I'm drawn to the totalizing experience of the art of “taste”: the performative, the formal, the theatrical, the sensorial, the metabolic, the irreducible unique moment. This arena calls into play the concept of taste and value through biological/chemical sciences, economics, emotional and sensory triggers (receptors).  

The deep fried flowers bouquet installations are an aggressive treatment of tactility - surface textures, simultaneously inviting and repelling touch. Each flower stem was individually coated with tempera batter and panko crumbs then deep fried in a deep fryer. I wanted to impose violent techniques on delicate, fragile materials to expose vulnerability, stages of metamorphosis, delineate different strains of matter and perishability. To exaggerate the weight of the batter and crust onto the light, ethereal quality of a flower.  Flowers are enjoyed for their "natural" beauty and purity. They needed to be "messed" with to bring out other qualities, to address questions of purity, beauty, perishability, decay.


One of your works, Convex Double Dialer of a Shining Path, heats together “recalled powdered milk, abolished math, antidepressants, palm tree essence, shaved sea lice, ground Teva rubber dust, Korean thermal clay, and a steeped Swatch watch” on an electric burner. What leads you to such specific combinations of materials?

I'm drawn to speed and vectors from different economies and timelines. The elements in Convox Double Dialer collide, co-mingle well together as language as syntax. I like the sensorial/cognitive scramble. It's earthy and cosmic. My work is language building. It's word building, by what certain elements, say, the recalled milk, abolished math, antidepressants, palm tree essence, etc. mean. Whereby Signifier, exchange and use value are all entangled. They're like poems. For instance, in one of my sculptures there is MSG (a flavor enhancer) a big metal bowl. [You Should Hire Me Because My Kiss Is On Your List] I get asked Why MSG?  MSG could always just be the right grain of powder but it could also be something else. It's neither nor. It depends on the syntax. There's no right answer for why MSG? It's equivalent to asking why De Kooning used red in Woman Painting. It could be that MSG was used because it happened to be in a shop downstairs from the studio where the sculpture was composed. It could also be that MSG is very commonly used in Asian foods. The materiality is about the triangulations between the thing itself as aesthetic qualities- the language and the social/visual implications of the things. I applied Shining Path to the title because I was thinking of timescapes, like when Wipe out the past and let the future take care of itself.


How much experimentation usually occurs before you think you’ve achieved a work in its final state?

A lot. They rarely ever feel final.


Following up that question, what have previous failed experiences taught you to avoid?

Avoid a trip to the Emergency Room.


What have been your favorite ingredients (if I may call them that) and processes? What’s something you would like an opportunity to experiment with?

I'd like to explore more bio-technologies. Cryogenics, grafting, impregnating materials.


You force the observer to confront barriers such as scent and edible medium. Should they consider this taboo? If not, how should someone approach viewing your work?

Nothing is really taboo. One could approach my work with a presentness of biological and intellectual receptors. Be prepared to crank up the memory machine.

You explained to us previously that you’ve attempted to visually represent the metaphor of art as a metabolism in previous shows. Do you plan to translate this idea into any other mediums?

Mostly through writing and performance.


Your exhibitions and works have memorable titles such as “Excuse Me, Your Necklace is Leaking” and “Yes, It’s Made for That.” What goes into these names?

Poetry, humor.


Finally, we discovered you’re really into post-apocalyptic sci-fi novels during our studio visit at 47 Canal.  Can you see your curiosity in a concept like the "Apocalyptic Sublime" ever intersecting with your process as an artist?

The work feels, looks pretty sci-fi already, doesn't it?



INTERVIEW: Más Rudas Collective

Detail from Becoming the Spectacle: The Virgen de Guadalupe, Aztec Goddess, the Mariachi, and the Donkey Lady, 2011. Photo: Chad Gomez, SA.


The San Antonio based Más Rudas Collective [MRC] is Ruth Leonela Buentello, Sarah Castillo, Kristin Gamez, and Mari Hernandez. “Más rudas” resists English translation. Instead, a demonstration: the four artists were recently kicked out of the Alamo by security—the strong arm of the Daughters of the Republic (of Texas)—for showing up there in costumes including a mariachi, an Aztec princess, the Virgen de Guadalupe, and the Donkey Lady of San Antonio (a local urban legend). Another act implied in their name is the simultaneous ancestor-honoring maintenance and radical revision of what it is to be Chicana/o. They refuse to relinquish identity to the altar of contemporary art. This tenacity has been rewarded in their short, rocketing career with a residency at Slanguage in Wilmington, L.A., installations and solo shows at the Mexican American Cultural Center in Austin and the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio, the cover of Chicana/Latina Studies: The Journal of Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social, and in Fall 2012, the Window at Artpace San Antonio, to name a few.


Interview by Josh T Franco


I have been following Mas Rudas Collective since the “Quinceanera” show a couple of years ago now. I have questions I'm eager to ask about that show and the really rad projects that have happened since, but first, can you tell me how you all decided to come together as a collective in the first place? Do any of you still maintain studio practices on your own, or is this an all-in kind of deal?

Our efforts towards establishing an all female collective was sparked by Mari Hernandez. We started collaborating in efforts of having an all female DIY art show, “Our Debut,” in December 2009 in a friend’s living room. We all welcomed the opportunity since we felt the SA arts community overlooked Mexican-American artististas and because we didn't connect to the majority of art being shown in San Antonio. Through our collaborative efforts in discussing, creating and organizing “Our Debut,” we decided to continue collaborating as a Chicana collective, which we solidified under the name, Más Rudas.

Individual studio practices are still kept while the collective works together on our collective exhibitions. Each form of practice, individually and collectively, ignites a flame in the other.  

It is saying much to say that Mexican American artists are overlooked in San Antonio. I’m definitely intrigued. Can you specify what you all mean when you say “the SA arts community”? I am pushing this because many San Antonio institutions claim to do precisely just that: represent Mexican American artists. I’m thinking here at some radically different registers as well. The Smithsonian associated Alameda Art Museum and the grassroots San Anto Cultural Arts, to name just two out of perhaps a dozen, are obviously very different, but they do share that claim. But you are saying something was still missing. And I wonder if the crux is generational: our generation has such a tense insider-outsider relationship to the notions of El Movimiento and La Causa for instance (moments some institutions attempt to capture as their acts of “representation”, e.g., the Alameda’s Protestarte show of decades old protest posters). We weren’t there in the 60s and 70s, but the living legacies of those times are always very present in our daily lives, especially when living in a city like San Antonio. Or perhaps it’s a mix of that and gender. I’m thinking of the fact that some key pieces in “Our Debut” were premised on the recognition of an absence; that though the artists, some of you, are Chicanas, you had never had a traditional quinceanera. Each generation seems to undergo major shifts in how or whether Mexican traditions live in our US/Aztlan lives. We can think back to Pachucos and Pachucas for instance. What was not being represented before Mas Rudas began working in San Anto? And how is that absence addressed in your projects? It may or may not have anything to do with the issues I have raised here.

For us, to be Chican@ is to be Mexican American. From our experience, to be a Mexican American artist and refer to ourselves as Chicana is something, we’ve realized, is not readily acceptable in the art world. Identifying as Chicana has lead to some criticism. We’ve been told that we are pigeon holing ourselves as artists and limiting our opportunities. We’ve also been told in order to be successful we would have to make art that represents things outside of our culture and community. If our voice as Chicanas was represented than the fear of the label wouldn’t be as common. Because of this fear we feel as if we are overlooked.

While San Antonio has a large, diverse, and vibrant art scene it is rare that we are able to go out and see art that reflects our experiences. There are a handful of cultural art institutions that cater to Chican@ artists and we are thankful for that. The major art institutions in the city are predictable in the artists they show and represent. Rarely will you see a woman of color as a feature.

We realize that we owe much to the Chican@ artists and leaders that came before us. These individuals have paved our way and are a source of inspiration. Time and place set our views apart. We have different ideas and we were born into a different world, therefore the art we produce is different.

We know many artistas, many Chicanas who deserve as much, if not more, recognition than we have gotten. We are adding to the underrepresented Chicana voice in our community, not creating it.


How does the name Mas Rudas reflect this position?

Mas Rudas is a name that we created, embraced, and defined (because we can). With our name we take an unapologetic stance. It is the pride we take in who we are, where we come from, and the work we produce.


As an adoptive parent to a West Side San Anto dog,—shoutout to Gobo—I really appreciated operation canis familiaris. What was especially striking was the range of representations of dogs; the hagiographic portraits and altares, the crime-scene-esque floor piece, and the immersive, narrative environments, just to give some idea. It also made me look again at works like Francis Alys’ El Gringo and Helena Maria Viramontes’ novel Their Dogs Came With Them. There are some interesting conversations to be had there. What was it about dogs that enticed you all as artists? Did you get to know any dogs particularly well doing the project?

The city of San Antonio has a major problem with stray animals. While in recent years the city has created programs that raise awareness regarding the issue, it’s a problem that won’t go away unless the community becomes involved and takes action and responsibility. Sometimes we see dogs that are more like accessories, representing a level of machismo or affluence. Some are chained in a yard all day, acting like an alarm system, warding off possible intruders. Others are running around in our neighborhoods, neglected, hungry, dieing in the streets, and reproducing at alarming rates. We want to bring awareness and promote dialogue about the issue. Sometimes you have to be creative in your presentation in order to grab attention. There is a growing community of stray animal supporters in San Antonio.

These are people who have taken initiative and dedicate their lives to saving neglected, hungry, abused, and uncared for animals in our streets. They selflessly give their money, time, and energy to fixing a huge problem in our city.

Most of the dogs presented in the installation were strays. Mari Hernandez’s dog portraits concentrated on family pets that were rescued.


What was it like working on “Homegirls” in LA? Did any ongoing relationships or collaborations come out of that show?

Homegirls” was based on work featured and inspired by another member of our collective. This gave us the opportunity to explore our relationships. Developing our relationships is essential in our collective process. It adds depth and cohesion to our work. Spending a week with each other and driving to and from LA was a great bonding experience. We even got a Más Rudas tattoo to mark that important moment in our lives. We are a family.

Homegirls has been our first and only out of state exhibition so far. During our time in L.A. we were able to meet and speak with likeminded artists. We feel as if the Slanguage community truly embraced us. It was a very welcoming environment. In retrospect we see many similarities between San Antonio and Wilmington. The warm people, the culturally thick environment, and the sense of pride and responsibility the people shine with reminds us of our own city. Karla and Mario (Slanguage) were excellent hosts and really provided us with an opportunity that has helped us grow as a collective as well as individuals.


Does the concept of rasquachismo figure into your conversations as you create together? I am wondering how, if, this idea has currency for young Chicana/o artists today.

It definitely does. We concentrate on producing in practical ways because we have to. We are just like any other individual trying to hold down multiple jobs, juggle work and school and pay the bills. Rasquache means to make the most from the least. It’s embedded in our culture and our way of thinking. It’s also something we are very aware of because we want to show that you don’t have to be rolling in cash in order to be an artist or to be creative. It’s nice and a definite privilege to have the financial means to support your creative dreams but it’s not necessary. There are ways to work around a lack of funds, that’s rasquache.


I am really excited to see what y’all will do at Artpace, where Mas Rudas will be in the Window Works artists starting in September. What was it like to receive that invitation? Can we get some ideas of what we might see?

Artpace is a leader in contemporary art and their invitation to us was a great compliment to us as artists. This opportunity will expose us to new audiences around the world. We hope that our (a small group of Chicanas whose first show was out of the living room of a friend’s house) invitation to Artpace encourages fellow artists in our community to reach far and wide.

In true Mas Rudas fashion our upcoming installation at Artpace will transform and activate the space provided. We promise our theme to be thought provoking y puro Mas Ruda.


INTERVIEW: Joshua Smith


"Installation View, Joshua Smith at Shoot the Lobster, NY, 2012"

"Untitled (Speakers)" at the Dikeou Collection is one of the first pieces Brooklyn-based artist Joshua Smith showed in a gallery setting. The sculpture, a stack of custom-made speakers gifted by his grandfather, croons Ray Orbison's "Only the Lonely" and nudges playfully at the selfishness of artists and a melodramatic need to be loved. Though Smith has abandoned sculpture for painting, he continues to analyze and critique the artistic persona with his work. We met for an interesting discussion at Shoot the Lobster in New York City where a show of his recent monochromatic panels was on display.

Interview by Kriti Upadhyay

What are some recurrent ideas in your body of work?

I don’t know... love, longing, discomfort, being-lost, hope, elation, lust, sickness, shame, soda, terror, pizza, cats, dogs, death, Printer-Registration-Errors, The Tyranny of Context... all of the big issues. And the small ones too. I used to try to illustrate different feelings, trying to depict what it felt like to be a person, to move amongst a network of feelings and things to think about, but I stopped that because I’ve realized that all of the feelings and the things are already always in the air, or just bubbling in the background of our minds, and that abstraction can actually summon these things and feelings, one by one to the surface, they can reveal themselves. To try to illustrate what everyone already knows or feels is pointless when we’ll all just continue knowing and feeling it either way.


You’ve been producing monochromes for an extended period. What continues to draw you to them?

I actually like the paintings, myself. I enjoy looking at them. I am not nearly as orderly and contained personally as the paintings are, so they really feel outside of me. Left to my own devices I would just make a bunch of garbage but for me this body of work really demands some isolation and commitment, so I’m going to honor that. And the works are really meaningless unto themselves, so I’m able to step back and look at them, myself, as part of the audience. It’s nice to wonder what makes some of them successful and others failures.


You said that the works themselves are meaningless. How has this affected your development as an artist?

I don’t have ownership of what the works might mean, or over how they are to be interpreted. All of that is very personal, and in that sense I of course have a massive attachment to the works for personal reasons, but how I see them, what I think they mean, that’s mine and I don’t think its right or correct to try and force that on anyone else. The point is that Red and Blue don’t mean anything concrete. Either does Painting, Sculpture, Performance, so forth.


What personal resonance does this sort of "ahistory" carry considering you don't come from an art historical background?

The press release for the my most recent show mentions that there isn’t such a thing as “ahistory”, which is to say that of course these paintings are from a specific place and time, and that they are informed by the history that precedes them. But I thought it was necessary to say that, in light of my hopes that viewers not necessarily feel the burden of knowing art history or the history of monochrome painting before seeing the show. Of course I can’t shake off certain histories personally, but the point is that there isn’t one correct history within which to place the paintings. The point is that the paintings aren’t jokes or lamentations about the history of painting, and that there’s nothing to “get”. I just want viewers to place the works within their own histories. Which really goes without saying. They’ll do that anyways.


You mentioned that you think artists should strengthen their attachment to practice. Can you describe any experiences that influenced your adoption of this view and elaborate on what exactly you mean?

I’ve definitely read some very suspect press releases, that are then copied and pasted into very suspect reviews and articles, so I think most artists specifically don’t share enough attachment to their practice. I think that they often ascribe their own interpretations of what they do with far too much authority, and I think it’s shocking how many people in the cycle are willing to repeat whatever artists say of themselves and their work. Every artist will tell you that they’re ushering in the revolution. Almost none of them are, right?


INTERVIEW: Stephen Batura

 spring morning, casein on panel, 984 x 147 in.

Stephen Batura is a Colorado artist represented by Robischon Gallery in Denver. His large-scale, monochromatic paintings based on historical photographs from the early 20th century, as well as images from books and the internet, are currently on display at Robischon Gallery in an exhibition titled “Appropriated: The Chronicled West.” Three other artists, Edie Winograde, Jerry Kunkle, and Gary Emrich also have works in this show. “Appropriated: The Chronicled West” is open through May 5, 2012.

Interview by Hayley Richardson


You are originally from Colorado, and have lived, worked, and exhibited here throughout your career. It seems like this state has its own distinct “breed” of artist and that the art community here is very tight knit. What do you think it means to be a Colorado artist, and what does the art scene in Denver in particular represent to you?

I can consider myself a Colorado artist because I am a native, I was born here, and that is unusual for the art scene. The art scene I came up in is much different than the one that is available now. In the early 1980s there weren’t a lot of galleries in Denver so a lot of artists started co-ops, and that was the best place to see contemporary art. I went to those places for years before I joined one of them and even before I joined it was a very open and accessible community and there was a lot of enthusiasm for new work and risk taking. I think now I am not as in touch with all the galleries – there are many more venues for fledgling artists and ambitious artists too. That’s a big change, and a very positive one for Denver.


Do you think there’s been a strong core group of people involved in the art scene here over the years?

I think it’s become way more developed since then. When we think about “groups” that formed over the course of art history, they are really less connected than we like to think. Certainly they are all contemporary people and I know a lot of current artists, but we are not all in each other’s studios everyday discussing ideas. So the affinities that develop between people and artists are usually very casual. There’s usually one or two people who you align with and who push you and you push them. But the difference, with Denver especially, is the availability of places and opportunities to show. The level of competition is nothing like when I started and everybody encouraged one another, there weren’t people trying to get your “slot.” Everybody wanted to see what you did and they wanted you to see what they did and I am not sure what the atmosphere is like now, if there is a lot of competitive interactions, but it was a great place to start. There was a lot of encouragement and people were interested in what everyone was doing.


Your paintings currently on display here at the Robischon Gallery are representative of a very large body of work that you have focused on for about ten years. Can you tell me what is has been like to explore this theme so deeply and intimately? Can you describe how it has evolved over the years?

Well that question is incorrect with this work in this way: the train wrecks, in which there are 5 in this show, are separate from the work I have been doing for the last ten years. The work from the last ten years has focused on the output of a CO photographer who is not very well known named Charles Lillybridge. I’ve been making work based on his photographs for about a decade. So what connects this work with the train wreck work and the earlier work is that I use mostly found photography, historical photographs. That’s something I’ve been doing since the mid-1990s and I continue to do it. I work from some of my own photographs – I’ve been working from this resource of Lillybridge photographs from the Colorado Historical Society Collection for about a decade.

I started the Lillybridge stuff at about the same time as some of my train wreck paintings [points to 2 on display] around 1998. Other paintings in this show are later, like from 2002.


Are the paintings that are not based on the Lillybridge photographs still inspired by other historical photographs?

They are still from the same collection of photos donated to the Colorado Historical Society, but are poorly documented as far as when and where they were taken. It is a very odd trove of images, very peculiar, idiosyncratic photographs taken by a guy who lived in a little shack by the river, and wandered around with his camera and took pictures.


Many of your paintings in this exhibition depict scenes of destruction and collapse, yet they are set within a historical context in which this region of the country was growing and prosperous. Can you talk a little bit more about why you chose to focus on this time period in your work? What is it about this era, and the photographs you work from in particular, that captivated your imagination for all this time?

I think I like the ambitious nature of what’s happening, whether it’s something being built or something that has failed in the form of a train wreck. They are both big, ambitious projects and sort of overreaching ideas. I like my paintings to reflect that large-scale idea. The way I developed the train wreck pictures – I had been working before that with very simple images that I took photographs of myself. I found figurines in thrift stores and then I photographed them and then made very large-scale paintings of those. They are very simple images without much detail, which was sort of the point. If you blow up a little figurine that’s five inches tall to five feet tall, there is very little content in it except for the shape with a couple little pieces of paint on them. From there I wanted to do dramatically complicated work, so I started to find these pictures of train wrecks which were spectacular, loaded with detail, and had elements of all kinds of painting: people, landscape, some elements of still-life with all this stuff spilled and piled up everywhere, and also a lot of abstract references which is where my interest in painting stems from, the Post-Impressionists and onward, and especially what we call “modern art.”


I am curious about your process. How are you able to translate small, antique photos into monumental contemporary paintings? Can you also talk about the physical aspects of your work, how its large compositions are put together with two or three separate panels?

I am very practical. I knew painters who did big work had trouble getting it in and out of spaces. I like wood panels. I like to work on a hard surface. I knew I could put them up next to each other and make paintings that fit together. So that explains my approach. I knew I wanted them big, and it’s still a practical solution that works fine.

As far as the method, I am working almost exclusively from downloads from the internet and sometimes I photograph little pictures I find in books. That’s where a lot of the train wrecks come from. These are, universally, not very clear photographs. They are often just basic journalism. There is not any attempt to do a bold statement or make a work of art. They are more of a record of an occurrence. So I work from these small images that are obviously black and white and what that let me do was allow some of my input, such as the use of color, which let me define these often undefined parts of the painting that were very vague in the photograph.  So I am working from small, not very well composed, not very refined images, and then using my imagination and my instincts to complete that into a large format painting.


I read about your exhibition at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art that took place last year, and how you switched gears from works like we see here now at Robischon to doing paintings of collages you had made from fashion and design photography.  What prompted this transition from painting recognizable imagery from the early 20th century to painting highly abstract and conceptual works?

It might be too strong to use the word “boredom”… I had worked for two years on a show here at this gallery [Robischon] in 2009 and had over 60 works in that show. I had worked pretty much non-stop on that, and that was all Lillybridge influenced work. When BMOCA approached me about an exhibition, they had planned to show some of that work, and when they came to do a studio visit, I had just begun doing these very automatic collages from a bunch of fashion magazines someone had gave me. I tore them up and I started just assembling pictures without thinking about them, and I had big stack of them laying on my table when the BMOCA people arrived. They wanted to look through those and they really responded to them. I had a few months before the show, and they said that if I wanted to pursue this stuff then they would show that too. You don’t always have the opportunity like that at a museum to show brand-new work, and I was real excited to try that. So I took these collages and made paintings of them.


Are they on the same scale as these works here at Robischon?

Not quite…they are large but not as large as these. They were experiments and it was an interesting break from this hard representation I had been doing for quite a while.


Is this something that you would like to continue, or explore other similar avenues?

I think it’s in my head and I’ve been trying to play off some element of that, the collage element in particular. I think I am sort of casting around with the old work and with the newer stuff and see where it goes. There a few paintings in this show that are brand new and we will see what develops.


Have you ever worked in collage prior to this exhibition?  What other types of art making do you enjoy?

I don’t think I have really done collage before. The closest I came to collage was when I was doing very simple things to photographs. This would have been around ’95. I did paintings based on costumes and I would find photographs of costumes in books and I would take the picture and maybe make one cut through the image and then push the two pieces together to make the image smaller.  So a big dress would become half the size and have certain contours. They were meant to be a little mysterious about how I arrived at that. They didn’t look contrived but if you look close you could a seam in the picture, a break in the contour and things like that.  So there was a little subtlety to them, but I wouldn’t call them collages because they weren’t multiple images. It was just one image that was cropped and slightly altered.


I don’t really have many other artistic pursuits. Painting has always been what I responded to most. I draw a little bit. Drawing was sort of born out of this Lillybridge work because I was trying to figure out what I was looking at.  It was easier to do that with a sharp, pointed instrument to draw with—somehow get a sense to know of what I was trying to deal with. Before that I really didn’t do much drawing. The work that really has developed is pure painting. I’ve never done any sculpture or anything like that, I mostly respond to two-dimensional work.


Which artists do you admire? Who has leant the most inspiration to your work?

I would say there are three artists right now who most important to me that I keep going back to. Most recently Gerhard Richter, the range of his work is amazing and he has really launched a lot of different things. When people see a retrospective of his work they will see connections to a lot of different work by a lot of different artists from all over, so he did innovative things before many other people and he continues to make impressive work.

Matisse is somebody that has always intrigued me. I always loved his looseness and his color and his explorations. He doesn’t get enough credit for experimentation. People definitely recognize it, but he was so relentlessly innovative. His works on paper, which is what I was looking at when I was doing the BMOCA collage work, his cut-outs are so brilliant and represent a distillation of everything he ever did.

The third artist would be Max Beckmann. Apart from being the most beautiful painter, he made such great, lush images and was able to do mysterious narratives and somehow get away with it. He wasn’t tied to a narrative tradition that we knew, and he wasn’t doing what other modernist painters were doing by making simplified images from life. He was really telling stories but we didn’t know what those stories were and yet they are evocative and they are still difficult to decipher. So those are my three guys…

I go through phases where I look at different artists and different ones crop up. I was very influenced by Luc Tuymans from Belgium, who I first saw in the early 90s. He was one of the first people to use photographic work that is obviously photographic but still very much his own work. He widely influenced younger artists with that approach. There are a lot of artists that I will tune into while I work on certain problems or work for certain show, but those three I mentioned before are the artists I turn to again and again.


What do you see on the horizon of the larger Colorado art community? What is on your plate for the future?

I am very impressed by the work by young artists that I see around town and in the galleries and museums. It’s a problematic opportunity to show young people who are not defined yet and I worry about them having the opportunity to show so early because that can lock you into a style or a format or a way of working that you might abandon if you don’t have early success. But with that said, I am really happy to see really high-quality work from young people, to see them have opportunities to show, and to have a great institution like the MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) have a much more involved presence in contemporary art in the form of their new Director. The gallery system has greatly expanded from just co-ops to more professional galleries that are helping the artist in a lot of different ways. When I started, it was really on the backs on the artist to do every aspect of the job.

Right now I am pursuing whatever I feel like pursuing. As far as what I am doing at the moment, I don’t really have a particular show lined up but I have some ideas for things I want to do. So I am working with this new format, working through some of these collage aspects. Otherwise I don’t know what the future has in store. I guess we will just have to wait and see.


INTERVIEW: Charles McGill


Red Menace, 2011


With a background in painting, Charles McGill has branched out across media: found objects, graphic design, performance, essays, photograpy, appropriation, digital arts, and more.  His latest exhibition, “ Trapped,” at The Phatory, features golf objects re-processed through the social-political “Black” experience.  On the walls are vintage golf bags that have been gutted, stretched, and arranged into figures on 4’ x 4’ squares. The subjects are creepy, provoking numerous associations, both perpetrator and victim, powerful and disempowered.   Reminiscent of John Chamberlin and Philip Guston, these works must be seen in person for full effect.  “Trapped” runs through May 26, 2012.

Interview by Brandon Johnson


The majority of works in this exhibition are composed of an unconventional material – de/reconstructed golf bags.  What first drew you to work with them?

Actually, I worked at a golf pro shop on 49th and Madison back in 1996 and one day, while straightening up golf bags on the floor I thought it would be cool if I could combine a vintage recording of Malcolm X with one of the very opulent and durable looking golf bags. The bigger, the better, and the more opulent, the better. I thought the contrast would be interesting. That was the very first thought of the possibility of using a golf bag as an object or subject in my art.

Sometime later, maybe a few months or more, I was working in the studio one day on a body of work that had come to its end. I was at the point where I couldn’t make another one of ‘those’ whatever it was at the time. I looked into the corner of my space and I saw an old golf bag that I hadn’t used in a while and probably wasn’t going to use any time soon and I said to myself, I’m going to collage lynching imagery onto that bag. It seemed consistent with the essential motivation for most of my work, which is, to seem to combine opposites so that some similarities can be arrived at eventually – if only via their propinquity. So this lynching imagery and the golf bag had some similarities but they weren’t directly related.  I made the Lynch Bag and a collector bought so I thought to myself, I should probably make another one…


Golf is a game traditionally practiced at country clubs – romping grounds of wealthy, powerful white males – known to exclude other genders and races.  As an African-American, artist, and golfer, what are your feelings on the sport?

I love golf. I love to play it and watch it on television. I’ve been to several PGA Tour events to watch the pros hit the ball and they truly play a different game than the one I play—that’s for sure!  I’ve worked in golf from midtown pro shops to green grass country clubs.  I was even thinking about getting my PGA pro status at one point so that I could be a teaching pro, but couldn’t devote the amount of time and focus that it required to get as good as I needed to be in order to pass the playing ability test. So after three and a half years of working hand-on and teaching juniors how to swing the club, I decided that what I really should be focusing on, and the real reason for exploring this career opportunity, was to further examine my relationship to the subject matter. It was a great experience working at a real country club, seeing how things really functioned and how the members really were as people as opposed to what I imagined or assumed rich country club members to be and how they might act. I think a lot of people think that rich members of country clubs are snooty with an aversion to anyone who isn’t white or rich or privileged.  That wasn’t my experience at all. I met some of the nicest and most generous people I’ve ever encountered. And they were consistently pleasant. They were often grounded in faith and lived by it.  I’m sure there are plenty of country clubs where racial or ethnic of intolerance is welcome, but it wasn’t my experience.

The other country club experience I have is at a place called The Bridge in Bridgehampton.  The owner’s name is Robert Rubin and he is an avid collector of contemporary art. Needless to say, he came across my work one day and it was a match made in artist/patron heaven. Bob always likes to think and move to the beat of his own drum. So when he built this golf course and clubhouse he made the entire concept kind of funky. It cost $600k to join the club, but if you want to wear a t-shirt to golf, hey what’s the big deal?  I’m an honorary member—I don’t have that kind of cabbage!

Bob has featured some of my work in the clubhouse and it has seen by some pretty influential people. I’m grateful for that. He actually installed my first life-sized sculpture of Arthur Negro, The Head of the Former Black Militant Golf and Country Club. It happens to be a self-portrait. It’s an impressive piece and he installed it out there, Black Power gloves, Uzi, black beret and all. What better place to have that piece on permanent display? Talk about combining opposites – it’s perfect! If you call the club, the outgoing message is a recording of James Brown singingShould I take’em to the bridge? Take’em to the bridge?” from Sex Machine.  It’s a perfect setting for some of my work.

Here’s a link to the NY Times piece on the club.


These works are very archetypal. They are figures, but assume no form in particular yet are loaded with references to power dynamics. KKK, S&M, Abu Gharib, secret societies, the gallows. All things referring to relationships of dominance and subservience. Did you intend for the works to be veiled and open-ended, or were you seeking specific associations?

I never have any specific associations or ideas. To be honest, I try to stay away from “good ideas” and work primarily on instinct and intuition. One day in the studio after spending time tearing these things apart and constructing abstract compositions on board, I cut one bag open as it lay on my work table. In doing so it began to have the eerie feeling of an autopsy – like I was beginning to perform an examination within the chest cavity of this thing. I pulled the bag open much like a coroner might do in cracking the chest cavity of a human corpse. I’ve never done anything like that before, so I’m only guessing on how it might feel. Anyway, that’s how it felt and I kept working and attaching this bag to the board, gluing and stapling and cutting and sawing these bags apart. It’s a very intense and frustrating process because the bags are not made to come apart. They are very well-made and are meant to stay that way. So I can get pretty angry making these things which might account for the emotional content of the pieces more than any direct association with another entity.

During this one particular piece, I took the hood that comes with bags like these and snapped it on to the top where it belongs (it’s a rain hood essentially), and there it was—a sinister figure, hidden and disguised beneath this dark hood.  I kept working and made one of the best pieces of art I’ve ever made.  That piece is called Four Men in Formal Attire, was sold and is in a collection of Bill and Pamela Royall in Richmond, VA. In the cradle of the confederacy! How cool is that!?


At the gallery we discussed the timely political relevance of this exhibition as racism gains social acceptance under the guise of politics, especially during the Obama presidency.  Could you explain in more detail how the current political environment relates to this body of work?

Well I never look at anything in current events to inspire me or what I do in the studio. Actually, I made one piece some years ago that was a specific reaction to Amadou Diallo being shot by the NYPD, but other than that, I rarely do.

Having said that, I do think the wave of apparent and acceptable racism that seems to be affecting and influencing the tone of political dialogue is rather disturbing. I do think that the work is beginning to reflect this resurgent supremacy-minded activity. There seems to be a total disregard for respecting the office of the presidency simply because the office was occupied by a black man.

Early in Obama’s presidency there was an active campaign if you will, to discourage young kids to all of a sudden NOT aspire to be president when they grow up.

This whole feeling that Obama was something other, was “not one of us,” didn’t love “our” country, that this angered segment of society was going to “take our country back!”  From whom? The black guy?

The Tea Party, O’Reilly, Hannity, Beck, Rush, Bachman, etc… they all stirred a pretty nasty pot of racial protagonist soup that comes dangerously close to inciting people to act a certain way. It’s like they are giving stamps of approval for behavior that is reckless, separatist, and backward.  It paves the way for the president to be told “You Lie!” during his State of the Union and in the aftermath, talking heads rally their base of troops to support this very un-American behavior.

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is that the golf bag is a very inherently political object. I use it to make art and in doing so, it very easily lends itself to interpretation on many levels and it is just pure serendipity that it has relevance within the current political landscape.



Untited (Robin Hood)


I tried numerous times to sit down with Denver’s own Zach Reini to catch up and talk about art and music. But the more we tried to sit down to interview, the more we were distracted by Goldeneye for Nintendo 64, skate videos, or eating Chipotle. Finally we hunkered down and let it rip. For those who don’t know Zach Reini, he is one of the few young Denver artists gaining attention while still in college. Known for his large black on black paintings, Reini attends Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design where he will be receiving his Bachelor’s degree in a few months.  Reini is represented by Rule Gallery in Denver.

Interview by Michael Bhichitkul


Why do you use such iconic imagery in your work?  Why blur the imagery to extent where it nearly unrecognizable?

The iconic imagery is attractive—it seduces people. I fell for it as well. It’s something that I know and am familiar with. Since imagery of such pedigree is so readily available, everyone has interacted and constructed their own histories with it at some point. I abstract these forms to place them outside of their recognizable context, stripping them of their pictorial power, allowing the viewer to reconnect with their histories from a new tilt. This delay of decoding, finding out what information is there and what it represents, is of great interest to me—especially with the instant satisfaction induced by the Internet and other popular media.


Black is a dominant color in your work.  Why?

In my work, I’ve tried to maintain focus on the visual information that is important and trim off all of the remaining fat. With black, there are fewer allusions to things outside of itself that other colors tend to reference; i.e. blue, sadness; red, passion; yellow, happiness. I don’t want an easy of a trigger in my work, but rather the essential elements in the piece to engage that emotional read, not the color. I’ve found black to be as far reduced as something can be while still possessing a particular visual weight about it.


You mostly work with paint, but you also use ready-mades as sculptural pieces. What draws you to sculptural work?

I wouldn’t label myself as a painter, that’s far too limiting for me. My attraction to sculpture is based on necessity. If a piece needs the physicality that a painting cannot provide, then another form is required. There is no need to make a painting of person when photography can do this much easier, without the romance of the artist laboring over the rendition (unless this is a part of it). It can get a little fuzzy at times, but I like to make work where the content supports its physicality and vice versa.


You’re close to earning your BFA from Rocky Mountain College Art and Design, but you are already represented by one of the most respected galleries in Denver, Rule Gallery. This distinction would be considered a major milestone for an artist post-BFA, but you happened to reach this milestone early. Can you talk about your relationship with Rule Gallery?

I’ve been affiliated with the gallery for about a year now. It all came about pretty suddenly and spontaneously. A friend of mine, Joseph Coniff, was interning at the time Robin was putting together a group show of emerging artists at her old space. He called me up and asked if I had any pieces to bring down and show her. Understandably, I jumped at the opportunity.  It turned out that she liked my work and even sold a piece. The relationship built pretty naturally from there and I was then featured on her website which is where we stand now. I’m really appreciative of the opportunities she’s given me and can’t wait to see where it goes in the future.


Another big achievement is a solo show titled Suburban Lawns at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, which just recently closed. As a BFA student, what did you take away from this experience?

It definitely opened up my awareness of the opportunities available for a young artist, as well as the difficulties of gaining exposure at this stage. It has helped me take a more professional stance with my work, and realize that confidence paired with the right people, work, and presentation can go a long way. It is 100% different than showing in an academic environment, because when you show in the academic space it immediately gets categorized as “student” work. I urge my fellow emerging artists to branch out as much as they can, to open themselves up to the available opportunities. But, then again, the school environment is great when people are still experimenting and trying to solidify their ideas.


Some people might not know that you have multiple music projects. Can you give us a teaser of what these musical projects are and what genre they fall into?

I’m involved in several projects primarily centered around Hardcore Punk, Noise, and all of its subsequent sub-genres. Two of the projects, Civilized and Cadaver Dog, have tapes coming out soon on Youth Attack, both of which I am very pleased with. Another, Polyurethane, which started as a solo project, is more on the Noise side of things with definite cues to Hardcore. Hopefully a release will be coming with that project soon too.


You also make small zines, which link back to the punk/hardcore sub culture.  Is there a way to get a hold of any of them?

I post all my zines for sale on my webstore:


What other influences outside the art/punk DIY realms help you develop new work?

The Internet, chance observations, people interacting, pretty much everything. This question is assuming I attempt to pigeon-hole myself with my influences, I gain something from everything I experience. Similar to everyone else, I assume.


Along with being a visual artist, and a musician, you’re a man of many stories. Do you have any that come to mind in particular?

I heard a quote about Chris Farley saying that he only had one character, but he did it at different volumes. I think I have one really great story that I try and tell differently each time for a new effect. What I’ll say about this one (without getting too graphic) involves the following in semi-specific order: half a vegan pizza, bad beer, breakfast burrito from Viva, garbanzo bean salad, a pair of unsuspecting shorts, the light rail, an unfortunate bowel mishap, and a good friend and an unknown old lady to witness an awkward run home. I think you can piece it together from there.


2011 was a great year for you: multiple gallery shows, Surburban Lawns at BMOCA, voted best artist of 2011 in Denver’s 303 Magazine, and a feature in New American Paintings. What do you have in store next for 2012?

I’ll take what I can get and what I can make for myself. I plan on continuing to move forward and see what happens from there. I don’t want to become stagnant or regressive just yet. Keeping busy is the key.          



INTERVIEW: Telephone

Rossana Martinez, See the World in Orange and Blue, 2011


“Telefone Sem Fio: Word-Things of Augusto de Campos Revisited” was a 2011 exhibition at The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts organized by Telephone, a journal of translation edited by Sharmila Cohen and Paul Legault.  The exhibition used Brazilian concrete poet Augusto de Campos as a point of departure for a group of poets, translators, and artists to “translate” across mediums using text, sound, and visuals.  The exhibition featured exquisite original works by de Campos and a plethora of new work including highlights by Tom Moody, Rossana Martinez, Steve Savage & Jean-Sebastien Baillat, Macgregor Card, Angela Detanico & Rafael Lain, and Kenneth Goldsmith.  A limited edition catalog produced by Ugly Duckling Presse became Telephone #3.

Interview by Brandon Johnson


Is this Telephone’s first exhibition?

Yes, this is Telephone’s first art gallery exhibition.  When Michelle Levy approached us, we were very excited by the notion of working with the EFA and expanding Telephone into a venue where all different forms of media could be present.  In general, we have always been interested in the broadness of the umbrella under which poetry translation lies—this gave us even more room to explore.


How did you first learn about Augusto de Campos? Why base an exhibition on his work?

Actually, I’m not really sure.  I think I’ve had a vague idea of his work for a while, but it was during the formation of this project that I really became familiar with him and his history.  The more we researched him, the more he seemed like the perfect choice for the exhibition.  Augusto de Campos is considered one of the founding fathers of the Brazilian concrete poetry movement—his work and ideas have been an influence on poetry, design, and art even up through today.  Who better to pay homage to than a poet, translator, and pioneer of visual (and sound, shape, etc.) poetry?

Being that his work features such a wide range of media—written poems on paper to sound recordings to videos to websites and so on—it really suited our goals of creating an exhibition that featured poetry in translation while simultaneously fitting within a gallery setting.  We really wanted all of our translators to branch out/feel free to vary their form and medium – de Campos’s poetry really seems to promote that.

His website with examples of his work and concrete poetry manifesto can be found here .


How did you decide on whom to curate into the show?  It seems like a very
specific niche.

We always look for a mixed group of “translators” in order to get at as many variables, or differing interpretations as possible.  Michelle Levy was in charge of bringing in artists and Telephone curated a group of writers.  Of course, there is some overlap in these groups.  On our end, we tried to get writers who seemed open to the idea of extending their work beyond the standard words on a page, or who were particularly interested in de Campos’s work, concrete, and Brazilian poetry.  No matter what they all share in common, it was clear to us in advance that the execution would differ greatly.


I see that original Augusto de Campos books and prints were lent for exhibition by the Sackner Archive for Concrete and Visual Poetry.  Can you tell me more about this organization? Is it open to the public?

After our co-curator Michelle Levy visited the Sackner Archive in Miami, she was convinced it was essential to have the original works in the show. This is the typical effect the archive has on its 'public'—which is any interested party really who gets in touch with them to schedule a visit. There's also a documentary available that outlines their holdings/mission. They maintain the largest private collection of concrete and visual poetry materials and were a generous resource for our show. 

As these works become increasingly difficult to come by, and somewhat overlooked by Academic holdings, collectors like the Sackners form an essential link between concrete poetry and the contemporary artwork inspired/translated over from it—in our case, quite literally.

Their website can be found here.


Telephone is about translation. This exhibition is obviously highly interpretive.  There’s often a dichotomy in literary translation of staying faithful to the original versus taking a more interpretive approach.  Do you have position, either within or outside of, this argument?

Being a translation journal that predominantly features highly interpretive work, I think it necessary to point out that it is no argument against faithful translation, but rather an argument for the many different modes of “translating” poetry.  Rather than saying our position is by a particular type of translation, we are saying that there are so many ways to translate poetry and we find all of them valid and interesting.  We always push our “translators” to approach the work in any way they see fit—our focus is to show that variety side by side, to look at the original poems from many different angles.  I know that I’m arguing semantics here, but why shouldn’t, say, a homophonic or interpretive or visual translation be considered faithful, as it likely pays very close attention to reproducing specific aspects of the work. 


Any more exhibitions/events in the works?  What can we look forward to
from Telephone?

We don't have an exhibition planned at the moment, though we would love to continue curating and working with galleries.   Outside of that, we do have a lot of exciting new things on deck.  In the near future, we plan on pulling together a sound poetry issue that will likely be recorded on vinyl and provided with a sleeve insert that has scores, notes, texts, etc.  We are currently in the process of becoming a press, Telephone Books.  Our first project as that incarnation, which we are making as an imprint of Nightboat Books, is a collection of English to English "translations" of all 154 of Shakespeare's sonnets, each reworked by a different poet/translator (due out Fall 2012).  That project is particularly exciting because we get to work with so many wonderful writers and they bring out so many varied interpretations of Shakespeare, texts most of us are already relatively familiar with.  In the bigger picture, we also want to expand our press and start making things like art books, handmade objects, and so on.  In general, we are always on the look out for new projects that expand the definition of what is considered translation and working with all different venues and types of media is always a part of the discussion. 


INTERVIEW: Natalie Goodnow


Eagle Woman Poems, Co-Lab Project Space, July 2011

Photo by Alberto Jimenez

Natalie Goodnow is a nationally recognized teatrista, teaching artist, and cultural activist from Austin, Texas. She performs, directs, and writes; she's been practicing some combination of these forms for seventeen years, and began teaching about and through them 8 years ago. She specializes in the creation of original works of performance, as a solo artist and also in collaboration with other performers and writers, both youth and adults.  Goodnow explores the relationships between people and places, in terms of relationships to community, to the Earth, and to our own bodies. Her work asks tricky questions, and probes tough contradictions. Natalie's solo play "Mud Offerings" is the 2011 winner of the Jane Chambers Playwriting Award, and has been presented nationally at festivals and conferences in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C., and throughout Texas.  She is an Artistic Associate of Theatre Action Project and a member of The Austin Project.  See her website and/or blog for more:,

Interview by Josh T Franco

Your work brings up questions of tradition in contemporary settings. But even stating it like that, I’ve already fallen into one of the traps I think you’re trying to avoid: tradition isn’t “back there”, but neither is it the same today, for most, as it was a hundred years ago, or a thousand for that matter. I should say the traditions I’m talking about are both pre-colonial indigenous American ones and post-colonial Catholic ones. And in your work, all of them are radically questioned through Chicana and Women of Color feminist frameworks. At the same time, there’s clearly a deep reverence. But what exactly is the nature of this reverence, as it is far from typical?

Hmmm... ok.  Well.  I’ve been thinking about what it means to be indigenous.  And what indigeneity means, or could mean.  And although one response might be to reproduce everything that was a thousand years ago, in the here and now, or to try to do so (because of course it isn’t quite possible to really reproduce what was, nor would we necessarily want to), I’d like to try another definition of indigeneity on for size.  Let’s say it’s this: to live in relationship with the land, in the here and now.  That means that, as a Chicana in central Texas, although I believe that the lessons of the Mexica (what the Aztec called themselves) are incredibly important, it’s a little silly for me to really and truly try and apply them directly to my life, without any critical examinations or alterations.  And this is partly because there are lots of ways in which the Mexica society was just as flawed as any other (patriarchal, militaristic, imperialistic), and also because the Mexica weren’t really living in relationship with the land that I’m at now.  They were nearby, if we consider this on a global scale, but still not quite here.  

However, all that being said (and I think this is where I start to actually answer your question), I still think that there is wisdom in tradition.  Especially in the traditions of folks who, at one point in time, knew how to live with the land.  We don’t know how to do that now.  I’m not sure I even really need to explain why...  The “go green” movement is so huge... “Avatar” was such a hit... it’s in the zeitgeist.  Something has to change.  The way we’re treating the earth isn’t working. It’s not working at all.  And yet, in our histories, we find peoples and communities who were better at this than we are now.  And it’s not just about reducing/reusing/recycling... it’s about the way we treat each other, the way we talk to one another... we create systems that abuse and misuse the Earth’s resources when we feel entitled, when we believe we have no obligation to share what we have.  

So, I take the things that I’ve learned with my contact with indigenous spiritual traditions seriously; reciprocity - no one should take without also giving.  And, it sounds so simple, but, sharing - you don’t show up to an event with a bag full of snacks, or a thermos full of tea, and not offer some to everyone, even if all you’ve got is a little bit.  And, you don’t assume that you have the right to speak whenever you want, whatever you want, or even to know whatever you want, whenever you want.  You must ask permission.  You must acknowledge the knowledge of those who have come before you.  That all may seem very distinct from “environmental” concerns, but I don’t think it is.  Our elders have been here.  They know how to live in harmony with all that has also been here.  I think if we had all adopted, or, remembered to honor these sorts of values a long time ago, we wouldn’t be in the pickle we’re in now.  And, all that being said, let me just acknowledge out loud/in print, that everything I’ve just said is very hard to do, and I struggle with it constantly in my everyday life.


Seeing past the “go green” mentality to a systematic overhaul of the ways we engage one another; this is really interesting. It brings to mind a couple of things: one, Alice Waters and the slow food movement in general. It prioritizes caring for the earth, and even caring for peoples’ bodies, but a repeated criticism from Women of Color is that it does not take into consideration contemporary conditions, especially for mostly person of color sections of the population that are poor, have no access to land to grow their own food, and much less the time or energy to spare after working minimum wage jobs all day. Like I said, your response brings up a couple of questions for me, but what do you think of this one first? Perhaps you thought through this, or can, through Eagle Woman Poems, your recent performance at Co-Lab in Austin?

Yep, yep, yep.  The system is so, so broken.  The communities whose ancestors were guardians of this knowledge, of how to live in relationship with the land, are often the ones most devastated by the rupturing of such relationships, and least capable of doing much about it.  I’m talking about, for instance, the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica who once knew how to grow corn, squash, and beans all in one field, in the milpa.  Indulge me while I talk about this a bit - I think it’s just so amazing.  These plants complement each other; the corn stalks provide a trellis for bean vines, their leaves provide shade for the squash, and while each takes certain nutrients for the soil, its companions give those back, so that there were fields in which this mixture of crops was cultivated continuously for thousands of years, without ever laying fallow or needing to be fertilized.  What’s more, eaten in combination, these three crops provide all the nutrients a human body needs for a complete and healthy meal.  Brilliant!  

Yet, here and now, the descendants of these very same people find themselves, like you said, with little access to land to grow their own food, and even less time and energy to spare to do so.  There’s a line in Eagle Woman Poems that this reminds me of... “How can I clean up an oil spill when there are dishes in the sink?”  A lot of that piece comes from the frustrations and contradictions of trying to live in relationship with the land in a world order that doesn’t quite allow it.  

So, we’ve got to change the system.  Change it completely.  I think some answers can be found in collective action; does any one working class family have access to enough land to grown all their own food?  Or time to do so?  Perhaps not.  But what if many were to work together to tend a community garden?  And then cook together?  There are oppressed communities across the globe trying such solutions on for size.  As an artist (and as a teaching artist), I’m also inspired by Una Chaudhuri, a pioneer in the field of Ecocriticism:

“[I]f one thing has become clear from a century of ecological thought and effort, it is that the earth cannot now be saved by half-measures, by tinkering and puttering and fiddling around with rules and regulations and practices and customs; whether we like it or not, the ecological crisis is a crisis of values.  Ecological victory will require a transvaluation so profound as to be nearly unimaginable at present.  And in this the arts and humanities - including the theater - must play a role.”#

That’s where I see my performance work living.  In this transvaluation.  A remaking of the old cultural symbols and stories and yes, values, towards something new.  Something new which draws upon the forgotten wisdom of the past, but is refashioned to function in the here and now.  In Eagle Woman Poems, for instance, I’m confronting not only the systems we’ve inherited, but its values as well.


So the stakes in your work are particular, and particularly high. The way you present your own work--it’s tough to call you an artist. Or simply artist, I mean. And I wonder about how you consider art; is it functional? A tool? Necessary? Could you do what you want to do in the world any other way? Obviously, these questions have been hashed over by many, but what do you think? For instance, do you take to the term “cultural worker”? How important is naming your activity anyway? I’m also thinking about your performance of Muntu at Space12, with the invited Austin city council members. Maybe you can respond to these questions by talking about that work, the East Side, Space12, and so on.

I do believe that art is absolutely necessary.  I also believe that thinking of art as only functional, only a tool, is a trap, though.  And it’s a trap that I’ve fallen into myself.  When I first became politicized, I wanted, needed to see that theatre could DO things, make things happen.  I needed the link between art and action to be explicit and concrete. Muntu, and the accompanying exhibit, “Muntu: Reflections in East Austin,” came from that place.  I was figuring a lot of things out.  I was finding my voice as a solo playwright (this was the first piece I wrote all on my own, not ensemble-based or devised), discovering/developing my processes as a solo performer, and also learning how to fund, produce, and market/publicize my own work out in the “real” world!  On top of all that, I was figuring out where all my ideas about community engaged art, etc., fit in to the puzzle.

So, what I ended up doing was writing this solo play (I’d have called it autoethnographic if I’d known that term/genre, then) about the lessons that trees had taught me, or, the lessons that looking at trees in a mindful way had taught me.  And these lessons had a lot to do with Austin, about my relationships with different communities in Austin, so I performed the piece in as many of those different communities in the city as I could, doing a mini-tour with musicians Travis Jeffords and Josh Casiano (Travis composed some brilliant music/instrumentation for cello and percussion that accompanied the play), mostly over the course of about 12 weeks.  Which I learned is really not very long!  

At each performance, I asked the audience to respond by writing or drawing their own muntu stories (Muntu is a Kikongo word that means both tree and person - I don’t know a lot about East African culture, but I found this insight inspiring).  The mini-tour culminated in a multimedia exhibit called Muntu: Reflections in East Austin, held at community center Space12.  My play mentions East Austin specifically, so it made sense that the exhibit was held at a community center in East Austin, too.  Space12 was a brand new community center at the time, with a mission very similar to mine in that piece, to bring diverse communities together in shared conversation/reflection.  

The exhibit consisted of a display of my audiences’ responses to Muntu, plus portraits of East Austin residents old and new (East Austin is a historically poor community of people of color, now facing massive waves of gentrification) by photographer Rama Tiru, plus imaginatively decorated tree sculptures by students in Theatre Action Project’s afterschool classes, mostly from East Austin as well, plus a bit of information contextualizing the exhibit - about the neighborhood’s past and present.  Whoo!  How on earth did I get that all together?!  

At the opening, I performed, and Rama spoke; on another evening, my fellow exhibit organizers and I invited PODER, an organization of grassroots organizers, to host their City Council Candidates’ Forum at Space12 as part of the exhibit.

My goal in the exhibit was to bring together as many folks as possible from Austin’s diverse communities together in reflection upon, and hopefully conversation about, the issues that my play addressed, and to do so in multiple ways.  I hoped that the issues affecting East Austin, discussed in the candidates’ forum, might take on greater potency if this conversation took place amidst the names, faces, and stories of the neighborhood.

All in all, this was a successful experiment.  We had a wonderful turnout at the exhibit, and to this day I still love looking at the photos of city council members leaning in to peer at Rama’s photography, of the beautiful and thoughtful audience responses I received to the piece, and of the playful exhibit I curated, which turned out quite nicely considering I had never done anything quite like that before... but I was a wreck!  It was an awful lot of work to coordinate all that, and to find the energy it took to perform... and forget writing!  My creation of new work came to an absolute standstill, and I wasn’t very happy.

I’ve slowed down a bit since then, giving myself more time to both create and produce/tour my work.  This is funny considering that this is the exact same advice I was giving to myself within the text of Muntu... slow down, slow down, slow down...  Also, as I continued working, I found my drive to engage communities in direct conversation through art was satisfied more and more through my work as a teaching artist (in that work, my classes often culminate in some sort of service-learning project with the youth; one of my favorites is documented here), so my solo work became more about just trying to piece together some really interesting words and moments.  

Though it was fun to bring together so many different kinds of reflection and conversation in one place, I realized I could also ease up a bit and just trust the universe to provide my audiences some spaces like that, too; I didn’t have to do it all.  I could contribute my little bit and then send the people on their way to let what they experienced with me bounce around against their many other experiences, and trust that, if I’ve done my job, they will go home talking about what I’ve shared with them.  If I’ve really done my job, they won’t be able to help it!

And I’m kind of a busybody.  I’m pretty good at organizing and coordinating, and sometimes gravitate towards that kind of work as an escape from my creative writing when the writing gets tough.  I crave the satisfaction of checking off items on to-do lists, so it’s easy for me to create items to-do just so I can check them off, rather than revising that rough draft, or telling that story that’s too scary to think about.

All that is to say that yes, art is necessary.  And it can be functional, it can be a tool to get us talking explicitly about matters of direct and practical importance, but that’s not the only reason it’s necessary.  

Art is how we shape the story of who we are.  Sometimes that’s a bigger, slower conversation than who to vote for in the City Council election tomorrow, and that’s ok.  Those “who are we, who will we become” questions are important, and I want to participate in formulating some answers.  I see it as part of my mission as an artist, my responsibility, even.  In that sense, I guess I am a cultural worker, though I’ve tended to use the word “cultural activist” to reflect my political commitments.  (That’s a term I first heard from Adelina Anthony; thank you, Adelina!)  I’m not too stressed about the label, though.  If somebody wanted to call me a cultural worker, that’d make a lot of sense and I wouldn’t really mind.

Perhaps most importantly, though, art is sacred.  The activism can and is indeed achieved in other ways... but that sacred something that speaks directly to the heart of our humanity, that’s what art provides.  And that is necessary.



Josh T Franco is a graduate student in Art History at Binghamton University.  He writes on contemporary Chican@ art, art of the 1960's, and the possibilities of decolonial aesthetics.

INTERVIEW: Lucky DeBellevue



Lucky DeBellevue is a Louisiana-born, New York-based artist most well known for his voluminous yet delicate, textured sculptures made of colored chenille stems (aka pipe-cleaners).  Lucky has exhibited widely, including many one-person shows – most recently at John Tevis Gallery in Paris. Lately, Lucky has been focused on 2-D work, such as his collaboration with John Armleder for DISPATCH.

Interview by Brandon Johnson


We just published a project of yours titled Collaboration in the new issue of zing, #22.  It’s one of the most printophilic projects of the bunch – xerox, collage, black-and-white, hand-cut, typewritten – all the qualities of a low-budget ‘zine.  Do you have a history of ‘zine-making or is this your first go in the aesthetic? 

I definitely wanted to reference zine making, but it was my first actual go at it. However, I have been planning to make a zine named “Choicez” for many, many years. I always had the cover mapped out in my mind, a sad hand-drawn font, a photo of a woman with a pitchfork I found in a book entitled “Weavings you can Wear”, but I never got around to actually making it. Now we live in a world of blogs, maybe I will finally make it that way, but I love zines, so maybe both? Probably never happen. 


As you say in your curator’s note, the project involves a reinterpretation of documents from a scrapbook made by women prisoners convicted for murder in the South.  You mix in images of your own work with newspaper articles letters, and forms to create a “forced collaboration.”  Do you feel that there is a degree of affiliation with your work and the documents from the prisoners’ scrapbook or is it a more happenstance juxtaposition?

A little of both. I wanted it to be kind of absurd. After all, this was a record of these peoples’ lives in this amazing scrapbook, and I was being kind of a vampire, just plopping my work on top of it. So there is a bit of subtext about how one’s life can be used for someone else’s purposes, bringing attention to themselves by association. I also identify somewhat with their marginalized status. What could be more outsider than being a lesbian cop killer in the South in the 1970s? I still want to believe somewhat in the outdated romantic idea of the artist as outsider, so that is part of it too.


Your work, Otter, was recently installed at the Dikeou Collection in Denver.  It is a large, teepee-esque sculpture made of your signature material, chenille stems.  What first attracted you to this material and why have you continued to use it?

At first, I thought it was a kind of dumb joke. I was at a point when I wanted to clear my head and start from zero as far as my practice. I was thinking of the pop artists and how Lichtenstein drew from comic strips as a platform to explore other things. So I went with something that was very basic and memorable to me as a child, something I assume others had used in their arts and crafts classes as children or had some kind of experience with.

I don’t use chenille stems exclusively as a medium anymore. In the last few years my process has opened up to include other mediums. I still make some work with them, and use them in printing methods, but it isn’t quite as central to what I make as it once was. 


You explained to us previously that otter was gay slang – something along the lines of bear. How does the title relate to the piece?  Is sexual identity important to your work on the whole?

Originally this piece was in a show at the Whitney Philip Morris, and the titles of the works in the context of that show were important. But usually my work is untitled. I was interested in what goes on underneath the facade of appearances. The setting of the show was a public space attached to a corporate office, and I wanted the titles to reflect either the machinations of power through alluding to historical figures who grasped for it, or by using coded references that categorize interests within a particular community. So in this exhibition the titles functioned as objects kind of hiding in plain sight.

I was going for the trope of a sub-set within a set, and Otter refers to a kind of body type in the gay bear community, not the hairy/stocky/chubby/football player build that many of the bears fetishize, but a thinner body type that is either hairy and/or is self identified as being part of that community. Anyway, this sculpture entitled Otter is phallic-like, fuzzy, and becomes thinner as it rises in space. I wanted there to be some humor in the title, and the color gets hotter as it rises. While I think we should own what we are, I’m not so into being reductive about it. So usually I want titles to be more suggestive if there is one. I like that quote by Kierkegaard: "To define me is to negate me."


In your artist statement, you say you consider Otter sort of as a drawing in 3-D due to its linear quality and gradations of color.  Is this your approach to sculpture – through lines?

Mostly I was just thinking of using materials I hadn’t used before, just exploring. Initially I wanted to create a “thing” in the most economical way, so most of the earlier works were more minimalist, then became progressively more layered as my interests evolved. Part of it was a decision to make objects that were more porous and textured, not just flat massive surfaces that signified strength and stability. 


What’s on your horizon?

In December I am in an exhibition entitled “December” curated by Howie Chen at Mitchell-Innes & Nash Gallery in New York. The artists in the exhibition runs the gamut from me, to Jean Dubuffet, to David Hammons, so I am looking forward to seeing what kind of dialogue is created with all of the different artists in the show.


INTERVIEW: Jeffrey Hargrave


Nobody drops into the zing office out of the blue anymore.  The late, great Dan Asher used to, but no one since.  Except Jeffrey Hargrave.  I first met Jeffrey when one day he randomly buzzed.  Expecting the mailman or UPS, I must have looked disconcerted because as he walked up the stairs he announced he was just stopping by to pick up a couple copies of zing #21 (in which he has a project).  Since then Jeffrey will stop by occasionally, when least expected, to grab some magazines.  But isn’t that what a magazine office is supposed to be?  People moving in and out, a center for thought, discussion, debate, and sharing?  That’s beside the point.  Jeffrey Hargrave is an African-American artist from Salisbury, North Carolina.  Now based in New York, Hargave deals with representations of African-Americans, often putting them in the context of art history, remaking works by artists such as Matisse to include black figures, with stereotypical imagery.  He currently has an exhibition, “Know Meaning,” up at The Phatory in the East Village.

Interview by Brandon Johnson


Hi Jeffrey.  Good to see you earlier.  We’re going to make this ZINGCHAT quick since your show closes on Saturday.  The title of the show is Know Meaning and the work is pleasingly expressionistic yet deals in the imagery of racist stereotypes.  What are you trying to say with these paintings?

That racism is alive and well, and although humorous, the paintings, drawings and video have an element of the macabre; which is interesting in itself because these Jim Crow-era images were used to degrade African-Americans, but there was a level of vaudeville comedy apparent in the illustrations.

Your first video piece is included.  It’s of you singing a Lil Kim song.  What song is this and what about it attracted you?

I love this rap because of its brazen use of sexuality and materialism.  Kinda like a Warhol reinterpreted into a rap.


All of this work is concerned with representation – racist Jim Crow representations of African-Americans, Lil Kim representing herself as a powerful black female (which is then put in your context as a gay black male).  Why is representation important to you?

That's a very good question.  Representation is very important to Lil Kim, African Americans, and myself as a gay black man. Society judges a person by what they represent and put out into the world.  Lil Kim is a black woman talking about her sexual organs.  She's my hero.  As a black gay man rapping the words of a black woman, I'm appealing to everyone: gay/straight, male/female.  As a man having sex with another man, I'm both the husband and the wife.  In all relationships gay/straight, male/female, one is dominate while the other submissive.


Your paintings are visually similar to examples of folk or naïve art.  Is this a conscious choice or just your personal style?

Both.  I am very inspired by naive and folk art.  I also love children’s drawings and I'm influenced by them much the same way Debuffet and Twombly were.  Drawing at its most simplistic and honest nature.


Paintings by your mentor, James Donaldson, are included in the show.  How has he influenced your work?

He is constantly reminding me that the sky is the limit in regards to your life and artistic endeavors.  He also showed me that nothing is impossible when it comes to art and following your heart.


Are there any other artists that have especially influenced you?

There are too many to name, but I will list a few: Gabriel Shuldiner, Noa Charuvi, Shirin Neshat, James Donaldson, Bruce Nauman, Robert Ryman, Cordy Ryman, Kiki Smith, Kara Walker, Bill Traylor, Cindy Sherman, Cy Twombly, and Walt Disney.


Interesting that you mention Walt Disney.  At the gallery, you brought up the banned Disney cartoon, Little Black Sambo.  What kind of influence did Disney have on you?

There weren't too many characters of color in Disney movies and if there were they were usually singing songs with animated animals about how great life was or swinging from vines in the jungle.  I was always glued to the TV whenever a Disney movie came on.  My fav was The Sword in the Stone.  The Disney charisma reached out to all.  I have always been into the science of magic.  Merlin was my own personal Houdini.  But Walt was the greatest magician of all, and his magic was the ability to reach us all.  That’s what I strive for in my own work.


What else are you interested in besides painting?

I love theater, modern dance, classical music, and hip-hop.


Cool!  Thanks Jeffrey!