STUDIO VISITS: ANA KHOURI

Sweater by Celine, All Jewelry by Ana Khouri

Photography by Dustin Mansyur | Hair and Makeup by Agata Helena | Interview by Benjamin Price

Ana Khouri spent her formative years between her native Brazil and the United States. First studying sculpture in Sao Paulo, Khouri later moved to New York attaining degrees from Parsons School of Design and the Gemological Institute of America. Upon completing her education in New York, Khouri traveled to London to attend Central Saint Martins, before ultimately returning to New York to set up her studio practice. For Khouri, designing jewelry is about the myriad of ways that a piece can take shape on its wearer, and the balance the work creates with the body. Ana’s designs accentuate the natural elegance and organic lines of the exquisite materials that she utilizes, and her work’s timeless quality transcends simple jewelry design into an ethereal world. Inspired by the magic of the earth and the cosmos, Khouri’s work evokes the vast majesty of nature as a whole.

What was your motivation to pursue a career in jewelry design?

While still in art school, I had a show where I presented sculptures hanging from bodies. After the show, I received an order for ten pieces to be adapted and worn as jewelry. From that moment, it triggered a significant interest in jewelry making and led me to begin studying jewelry right after I graduated in 2004.

How did your formative years in Brazil affect your life and your design ethos? Did your parents – one an engineer, and one a pianist and teacher – influence your work and your creative career path?

Yes, absolutely. I grew up between beauty and art shaping my sensibility but always having functionality in mind. Later on, after graduation, I created sculptures for many years, which is how my jewelry business first began—it was all about creating the personal connection between sculpture and body lines.

Who is the “Ana Khouri” woman and how has she evolved over time? Is there a particular person whom you feel embodies your brand identity?

The Ana Khouri woman has an interest in or comes from the art world and values self expression through accessories. My clients usually have a uniqueness about them, something that is inherently their own. They are artistic, intelligent, inspirational and strong women who connect to my world, ideas, and work.

How do you begin your creative process when designing each new collection?

My idea of jewelry goes beyond the intended purpose of ornamentation, entering more into the realms of art and sculpture. The designs are about the myriad of ways that a piece can take shape by wearing it, and the balance the work creates with the wearer’s body. I value simplicity above all else. Simplicity in composition and in motivation, as it is really the ultimate luxury. I focus on one-of- a-kind designs and limited edition pieces. My overall approach is born from the belief that jewelry has the ability to help create a deep connection with the wearer.

The history of jewelry goes back millenia and has been associated with love, war, class, magic and everything in between—how does your brand take this history into account in the process of design?

Our brand takes history into account through art in different forms. For instance, a lot of my inspiration in terms of art and sculpture come from artists like Louise Bourgeois, Calder, and Sera who have inspired me to look at shapes in relation to space and movement. But most of all, I think that jewelry should always be associated with one’s personal history. I don’t simply want these pieces to adorn, or to stand alone as beautiful objects; I want my designs to evoke their connection to space, its vastness, its majesty, yet also relate to one’s personal history.

Is technology presently shaping jewelry design (production, form or function) and how do you foresee its role affecting jewelry design in the future?

For me, the process has consistently stayed the same. The way I start every piece is still the same for both sculpture and jewelry. I start by molding them by hand; it is a very intuitive and intimate process for me. I work on making the overall piece and then find a way to add functionality. The process of design is as important as the result. I normally spend up to six months on each design.

What can you tell us of your upcoming projects and collections? What direction is your brand going into for 2018?

I focus 50% of my time on unique pieces for personal clients, which is what I love doing most. The rest of my time goes to designing the edition pieces that you can find on the “specialty/multi brand“ stores we choose to work with like Dover Street Market, Barneys, and Net-a-Porter to name a few. We have two special collaborations lined up for 2018 that I am very excited about. I feel very challenged in my work and that excites me more than anything.

 

For more information visit anakhouri.com

RAUL DE NIEVES

Among a menagerie of rainbow-hued, glittering, plastic beaded life-sized figures, standing like a proud father overlooking his artistic creations, the charmingly unique Raúl de Nieves shares his artistic rituals with us in his cathedral of creations.

Photography by Tiffany Nicholson | Interview by Mariana Valdes Debes

Blending the lines between the human and the artificial, Raúl de Nieves’ instantly recognizable shoes, masks, and humanoid figures are at once fantastical, desirous art pieces, yet remain relatable and human. Located in the heart of Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY, de Nieves has created a studio filled with beads, fringe, ephemera, and anthropomorphized beings who appear to dance and interact with each other.and it is within that studio where we met the artist and sat down to discuss his art and unique perspective.

Born in Michoacan, Mexico, immigrating to the United States at the age of nine to California, and following the winding path to New York City, Raúl has made a name for himself and cut a swatch of color through the country. In our current state of political turmoil, climate change, and war, it is a breath of fresh air to see the talent that emanates from each piece of art that de Nieves creates as well as from the artist himself.

Here, Mariana Valdes Debes, an international art promoter of Mexican artists, sits in conversation with Raúl for Iris Covet Book.

Hello Raúl!

Hi Mariana, it’s nice to talk to you.

Nice to talk to you as well, I think your work is amazing! I want to start from the beginning and ask how growing up in Michoacan, Mexico influenced your decision to enter into the world of art?

Growing up in Mexico, especially in Michoacan, was really enriching through the different cultures, craftsmen, and artisans. My family was always really pushing for us to see what Mexico had to offer. I remember seeing artisans working in their community, and I came to the United States with that knowledge and those memories. I’m not trying to emulate what I saw, but I am creating these narratives through performances and storytelling, painting, installation, and at the end it’s about creating experiences for yourself and for others to be part of.

Your exhibition last summer “El Rio” was an analysis of the western cultural view of death and the antithetical idea of death as an “ecstatic mystery of life” – how did that concept come to fruition?

I’ve experienced a lot of death in my family, with my friends, and it’s something that we all have to face at one point. My father passed away when I was very young, and it helped me understand that it’s a part of life. Obviously we mourn when someone passes away, but how do we continue to celebrate their lives and what does that mean? To understand that they are not physically here, but emotionally they are closer to me now than ever. Having a really close family member pass away is one of the scariest things, yet it’s also like becoming closer to that person. It’s something that I had to experience and move past.

The majority of your body of work is comprised of fantastical humanoid creatures made of glued beads and other miscellaneous non-traditional material— how did the decision of using these materials come about?

The bead has been utilized by many cultures, but somehow we forget that it’s this beautiful little piece of material that can transform in so many different ways. I went to New Orleans during Mardi Gras and came back with a suitcase full of beads. From then on it just made a lot of sense. All of a sudden they just started to appear more and more in my life.

Well the beaded shoes you created in your earlier work are really just to die for. Every time I see them I just wonder what it feels like to wear them.

They are actually really uncomfortable. I think that’s the best part about it—they are beautiful objects of desire, but when you actually put them on they hurt. When I wear these objects in my performances, it becomes part of this struggle to portray myself as this specific character. I don’t know, it’s kind of magical. Sometimes we want these beautiful objects, but they are obviously not the most practical things we should long for, but we still do.

In an interview with MoMA, you stated that one sculpture, Day(Ves) of Wonder, took you seven years to complete but you never gave up on it. How does the process of creating each labor-intensive sculpture strengthen or teach you as an artist, and do you think that the number of years changed the idea behind the piece over time?

The work is made completely of beads and was a very complicated piece to build. I started to make these huge sculptures and was fantasizing about what it would be like to create a full, life-size figure out of beads. It took me so long because there was a lot of trial and error. The piece spoke back to me and taught me that every time I felt like I was failing, there was a possibility that it could continue to work as long as I had the ability to go forward. Till this day, it’s one of my favorite works. Day(Ves) of Wonder derives from my mom’s daycare called “Days of Wonder”, and I was thinking how interesting it is for my mom to have these small periods of time with these kids as they grow up. I think this piece had this same idea of learning from each experience. I don’t know when I’ll have another moment to work on something for that long, or if I need to, but it really gave me so much understanding to know that every time I went back and started working on the piece, it was teaching me something in return. Maybe that’s why that piece is so celebrated, because people feel that energy within its expression and within its movement.

You never gave up and you went through stages creating the piece, becoming a master of the process.

Yeah, exactly! There’s beauty in creating this object that doesn’t have a moving life or a soul. Through our emotions and the experiences that we project into these objects, the energy that resonates with the viewer creates the idea of a life behind it. To me, the sculpture is of a seven year-old child because of the time that I spent with it and how I saw myself growing. It was an ambitious task to take on and I don’t want to reproduce another one because this piece lives on to be a celebration of an experience and a time. I still question what that piece actually continues to mean to me. That’s the beauty of art, you can work on something forever. As humans we’re constantly doing that; we’re always working on who we are and trying to figure out what it means to be human.

That brings me to my other question. Surrounded by these figures every day, do they develop personalities and life stories of their own as you become attached to them?

Yeah, of course! It’s amazing to build each piece with its own identity, and this identity can be processed through the relationship of the other works next to one another. I like to believe that we live in a fantasy world and we should give ourselves some freedom; life doesn’t necessarily always have to be so concrete. As children, we get this beautiful time of our life to dream and imagine, and then we get to a certain age and give up on that. I constantly imagine myself to be this fantastical person, even if it’s just for a moment.

The performance aspect of my work allows me to tap into these roles that I can’t necessarily inhabit on an everyday  basis. It’s a great gift to be able to perform these silly experiences or cathartic moments through these characters, and there’s comfort in putting on a mask and allowing yourself to not really be seen as human, but to be something fantastical. Having this ability to tap out is really cool and I think that’s why a lot of cultures use costumes and perform these beautiful dances, plays, and fables to tap out.

I want to ask about your use of vibrant colors. How did your very maximal use of colors develop over time?

Colors can create very emotional experiences, and I guess that’s why I tend to use so many bright hues of colors. I’m trying to learn how to really control what the color can do, what it means, and what it can put out into the world. In a way, color is like language, it allows for people to feel a certain way. The simplicity of these tools that we already have and putting them into artwork is not necessarily about following rules but following common sense and what feels natural.

Like just going toward the aesthetic of it, the feeling and the emotion that comes through the first time.

Yeah, for awhile my least favorite color was red, so for a year I only wore red to understand why. I had so many different experiences with strangers asking me why I was wearing all red. People would come up to me and try to tell me what they felt red meant to them. It was really interesting to do this exercise for a year, but I’ll probably never do it again.

Well that must have felt like a performance. Yeah, exactly. I wasn’t really intentionally trying to make it a performance, but it was a very interesting exercise. As a Mexican-American artist, how do you feel about the political climate in both countries? Do the current political events inspire or influence your work?

The current President having these views towards Mexico is very archaic. But I realize it’s been happening since the beginning of time, as hard as it is to believe. I try not to be too political about it, because I know it’s not just the United States versus Mexico; it’s the world against one another. When will it end? Who knows? You would think by now we could unite and make this place even better than it is. We are made of the same matter; we need to understand that we will be stronger together. The idea of immigration is beautiful. It has allowed me to believe in acceptance for all. It is beautiful to know that you can somehow be who you are and be accepted and be part of a new nation. That idea has influenced a lot of my work. Everyone has a different experience with immigrating, and in the end I am thankful that I was accepted into a new culture, and that maybe I can influence more people to believe that this is a positive possibility.

A quick scroll through your Instagram reveals an interest in religion and historical references. Where does this interest come from?

Well, I’m a spiritual person. I have a lot of faith, and not just in history or the idea of religion. I like feeling that there is a higher power, or that perhaps believing is what creates a higher power. For me, spirituality is a way of life and it helps to ground myself and cope with all of these catastrophes happening around us.

What do you view as your biggest personal accomplishment to date and why?

Self-acceptance. I’ve been able to really accept myself, and not just myself, but also the people around me. In a way, that’s a huge accomplishment. I think it’s self-love and acceptance that’s made me as open as I am, and as a result I can be my true self.

What can we expect next from you?

I’d like to make art more accessible, to create more experiences that can be accessible not just inside the art world, but also outside. I don’t know whether that means creating public artworks, or if that even changes anything, but I just want to really feel like there is more openness to everything.

And in 10 years?

In 10 years? Maybe I’ll have a dog.

CIRCADIAN LANDSCAPE BY JESSICA ANTOLA

Jessica Antola’s debut monograph is set in contemporary Sub-Saharan Africa and debuts with Damani Books. For the project, Antola traveled mostly by car to capture everyday life in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Senegal, and Ethiopia from 2011 to 2014. Each image reflects the astonishing variety of ways people create and define themselves daily through dress and ritual, work and play.
 
The photographs follow a nonlinear path and trace the variety of ways people live their lives. None of the images were posed; none of the backgrounds were created — there are two men dressed head-to-toe in elaborate African wax textiles who share a motorcycle; a gold jewelry-clad Kumasi king performs a warrior dance; and a girl in an oversized straw hat steers a boat affixed with a patchwork sail. 

Tofinu Girls, Benin 2014

“The Tofinu people of Ganvie built houses on stilts in Lake Nokoué during the 16th and 17th centuries to escape capture by Fon warriors and avoid being sold to European slave traders. This location provided a safe haven for the Tofinu people, who still live here and use boats for transport.”

Lundi and His Shoes, Burkina Faso 2014

“We drove deep into Burkina Faso to visit the Lobi people, ‘the children of the forest.’ Their strong ties to the spirit world were evident from the shrines around their clay homes. Lundi, who was born on a Monday, was wearing an oversized patterned shirt that had been carefully repaired several times. I felt his pride in his clothing and indestructible shoes.”

Brothers at the Mami Wata Festival, Benin 2014

“African and Dutch wax textiles are important to West African history, folklore, tradition, and identity. Numerous times I saw a mother with her children all dressed head to toe in the same print. Bridal dowries often include several symbolic wax fabrics to ensure desirable things for a marriage, such as fertility, prosperity, and love.”

 

 

 

Egungun Child Spirit, Benin 2014

“The Egungun masquerades represent the spirits of the departed Yoruba ancestors, but locals say that they actually are the deceased. During this Egungun ceremony in the Dassa region, spectators immediately collapsed as if they had died when spirits touched them. Moments later, they were resurrected to rejoin the celebration.”

 

African Soil, Ghana 2014

“This photograph was taken on a road in rural Ghana that was under construction by a Chinese company. The earth was being leveled and red dust blanketed the landscape. The first time I visited Kenya, the rich, red soil stained the white soles of my running shoes. I liked carrying this physical reminder of Africa with me once I returned home.”

 

 

 

 

Hamar Woman, Ethiopia 2013

“Around 430 BCE, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote of Libyan women in garments of goat leather with hair “fringed at the edges, and colored with vermilion.” I was reminded of this in the Omo Valley when I saw Hamar women with their hair covered in a mixture of red ocher and ghee wearing beaded goat skins.”

 

Khat Market, Ethiopia 2013

“Ethiopia has dangerous roads and thus sometimes apocalyptic scenery, like overturned cargo trucks with blood on the driver’s seat and bees swarming the crushed produce in the back. The faster the trucks move, the more money the drivers make. Khat, a legal narcotic and major cash crop in Ethiopia, is used heavily by truck drivers and contributes to the carnage.”

Circadian Landscape by Jessica Antola is available for purchase at Damiani Books

EXCLUSIVE: LAURIE ANDERSON BY ANOHNI

Shirt and Jacket  by Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons

Photography by Jason Rodgers | Styling by Shala Rothenberg | Interview by Anohni

Famed artist, musician, director, and visual/sonic pioneer Laurie Anderson releases a new book and discusses her decades-long career with other-worldly talent Anohni.

Laurie Anderson’s retrospective book, All the Things I Lost in the Flood published by Rizzoli, chronicles her lengthy career in the world of art and music, marriage and collaborative career with the inimitable Lou Reed, and the power of books and language. Anderson’s artistry encompasses composing music, performance art, fiction writing, and filmmaking. A true polymath, her interest in new media made her an early pioneer of harnessing technology for artistic purposes long before the tech boom. Two years ago Anderson began looking through her archive of nearly forty years of work, which includes scores of documentation, notebooks, and sketchbooks.

In this exclusive interview for Iris Covet Book, Anderson speaks with a fellow pioneer. singer, composer, and visual artist Anohni, about art, VR (Virtual Reality), American culture, and the edge.

Hi Laurie, shall we begin? Going back and looking at the accumulated works of your long career, how did working on this book cast new light on your life’s work?

It cast a lot of light! I thought I was doing new projects one after another. As it turns out, I’m doing the same ideas. I can’t believe it. It wasn’t like psychoanalysis, but it was something close to it. I found a lot of things that were really shallow, too, that I put in the book anyway because I had thought at the time, as a young artist, that they were what art was about.

We’re working on a book of Lou’s early poems called Do Angels Need Haircuts?  There was one night in 1972 on St. Mark’s, he was reading his poems, and I realized that I was a couple of blocks away that night with my friend Lucy Lippard, the art critic. We talked endlessly about ‘the edge.’ That was really important to us. We’ve done too many images, too many colors and too many lines. What art is about now is how we see things. That’s what we felt. We were making things that called attention to the fact that we were paying attention. So this all was very meaningful at the time. You could write long, long essays on ‘the edge’, the edge between this reality and the other.

For me, it meant doing minimal sculptures. I was making things. And they looked pretty much like something you would see at any construction site, a piece of sheetrock leaning against a wall, or a line bisecting the room. And that’s what we talked about and that’s what gave meaning to our work. Now if you try to talk about that now, people don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about.

Was that conversation a foundation for what we’re talking about now? In terms of seeing multiple points of view? Intersectional thinking, spectral thinking… you were pioneering that.

John Cage was pioneering it when he said, “Everything is music.” Robert Morris was pioneering it when he said this cube is a work of art, this plywood cube, because it forces you to look at the edge and your displacement and your position versus it. It forces you to use your eyes.

Eventually I began to use images again, and I thought, “Am I going backwards?” But then I wasn’t bothered by it anymore. I no longer see my life as progress. I just see it as trying different things at different times. One art form isn’t truly more advanced than the other. I just came from a conversation about how sound works in virtual reality. How can you make music and sound that doesn’t have a beginning and an end? What does that stuff look like? That’s the way we’ve always made music through history… with a beginning, a middle, and an end. But our lives don’t work that way so much either. Mine doesn’t have a beginning, middle and an end. I was born at one point and I’ll die at one point. The stories of our lives just don’t have any plots. Mine doesn’t really have a plot.

The only thing I’m pretty sure of is that we are evolving towards complexity. We are not sliding back down the evolutionary scale, slowly becoming toads and single cell creatures.

Jacket by Issey Miyake, Shirt by Comme des Garçons, and Laurie’s own Morgan Le Fay Trousers.

Shirt by Comme des Garçons, and Laurie’s own Morgan Le Fay Trousers.

The series of drawings you did about the life and death of your terrier Lolabelle in the film you created Heart of a Dog are so beautifully illustrated. There was a strong sense of the space itself in those drawings, supporting the figures and objects. I loved that you brought the aesthetic of your hand drawings into VR. It’s markedly different from every other experience of VR that I’ve had.

It’s because it has dust in it and smudges, and also because we made the atmosphere out of tiny little letters, so you would be able to see the air. It was full of infinitely small, dust mote letters. Most VR is airless. It’s like going into this really sterile boardroom. Like there’s no atmosphere whatsoever.

In the new book, you refer to your work as a combination of narrative and visual language. How have your stories changed over time? What stories are you interested in telling today?

They haven’t changed that much. That’s another thing I realized. I’m a short story teller, and a short story can be a two-sentence story. And if you can get it done in two sentences, then just do that, because who has time?

It’s vivid, and our mind can wrap around it without moving through much time. I think it’s harder for 21st century people now to read, to sit down with Crime and Punishment and absorb all those atmospheres, all those characters, all those days, all those roads, and all those moods, stringing them together. We’re more visual than that now.

You were saying to me recently that you feel like film will soon be relegated to museums… and the future of popular storytelling will be in VR.

VR and MR.

What’s MR?

Mixed reality. I don’t know how to do MR, but I’m really interested in learning. These are lighter weight viewing devices, and of course everything will get lighter until there’s no weight to it at all and it’ll just be retinal. In MR you will have a glass on this table, exactly like this real glass, with the reflections from your computer and of your shirt in there, and it will move, but it won’t be there. It’ll be a virtual glass that is beyond real.

It’s really wonderful for disembodiment, which has always been my personal goal as an artist. To have no body, to fall into a work of art and not be able to get out, ever. Just fall into it. And you can fall into a book, too, identifying so much with the character.

You mentioned in the introduction that the book is about language in live performances, the difference between spoken and written words, the influence of the audience, the use of the first, second and third person voices, metaphor, politics, the story of dreams, songs, misunderstandings and the new meanings that are created when languages are translated. How do you think language can change the world?

I think it might be one of the only things that can change the world, that can really let you see it in another light. Like the wall we’re building between the U.S. and Mexico. It’s actually not a wall. The wall doesn’t exist yet, but the wall is so real in our minds and it’s such a contentious thing that it’s more than real. And you have to remember, the wall is just somebody’s idea. It’s a wall of words. People react to it as if it were a real wall. We’re already living in a virtual world, you know? It’s not there yet. We haven’t even collected the money to build it. So you have to remind yourself that we live in a fantasy world, a dream world, where half the things that we’re talking about don’t actually exist.

I think it’s supported by contemporary technologies and media. It’s almost a tenet of fascist propaganda, that if you say something five times it becomes real. And I think that’s very much what Trump did with the wall. He said it so often that it became a specter in our minds and imaginations. And that leads me to a question about mythology and storytelling. Do we have a moral responsibility to write other stories besides the ones that seem most likely to happen?

I think we have a moral imperative to tell stories that turn out better than we think they might.

Last December, the Sag Harbor Theater burned down. They asked a bunch of people to pick the film that they think best embodies American values. I picked American Psycho, and we screened it on Sunday. It was a little beyond the veil for people in South Hampton. Even after the Valentine’s Day massacre, they don’t want to tell the story of a white psycho-killer who wants to kill people because he just doesn’t have enough stuff. He doesn’t have it the way he wants it. Frankly, I find the most frightening part of that story was the way the guy treated women, the cartoony-ness.

It was really disconcerting. You tell the story that you feel like telling. To me, American Psycho is very representative of what people love in this country: status and beautiful things and power and lording it over other people, and men being these absolute creeps. The prostitution was the thing that bothered me most. That was much more horrifying than the cartoony, meat-chopper stuff. People reacted to the chainsaw stuff because it’s horrible. He grabs a woman’s leg and tries to eat it. But the truly scary stuff were the things that were very real to me, which is the dismissive way that these hedge funders were talking about women, saying, “Have you ever seen an intelligent woman? I haven’t.” But people didn’t see that part of the film, because that’s so much a part of the culture.

Is this kind of storytelling the same thing as myth? In one way, it’s a discourse talking metaphorically about what’s happening. But does it reach even deeper than that?

Think of the Greeks – —Medea, Electra…all about hacking the head off your mother and eating the bones. I mean, horror movies are Greek. They’re really Greek. They’re about the hatred and rage we feel towards each other, particularly the rage towards mothers and fathers. So those are our DNA stories. But then you have these stories about heaven and particularly the ones that are trying to convince you to behave in a certain way. I don’t think they’re so much about morality or rules. I think they’re about time, ways to explain time to people, where you came from. Where are you going to go after you die? You’re going to go to heaven or you’re going to go to Nirvana or you’re going to stay in the cycle of suffering, or you’re going to be with a bunch of virgins. Time is the biggest mystery to us.

When the Christians concocted the ascent to heaven and the final coming and fire and brimstone, that was all a projection into the future.

I think it’s not very clear, because they disguised a story as something that is about human personality, and then distorted it to punish people for being bad people, because that’s the other important part of the myth. There’s something very wrong with you, and you were born with something wrong with you, and you’re going to be punished unless you do this. And that gets various shadings, like the King James Bible, for example. Jesus had always been in the Christian Bible referred to as Master or Teacher. King James wrote his Bible, and he paid for this Bible. It was the first time Jesus was called King of Kings, Lord of Lords. He became a secular, powerful person, not a teacher.

So everyone is using these structures and these stories for their own ends to get what they want, particularly power. That’s what religion mostly has come down to. It’s about control.

 

Shirt, Jacket and Trousers by Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons

Shirt, Jacket and Trousers by Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons

Did it work? Did they get that control through the use of story? Or did the story tell of the power that they had already acquired? Is there a power in storytelling that can define the future, or even form the future?

Sure. That’s why I think women telling different stories is fantastic. Even in American Psycho, some of the greatest shots were the reaction shots of the women. Everyone is focusing on the men. But these cameras pan over to the women and they’re going, “What? Can you believe this asshole?” They’re not saying anything, but you can see it, it’s fantastic. This silent language of this woman filmmaker is telling a very different story. She’s telling it on a bunch of different levels. It’s a really complicated film.

Today, marginalized groups are sharing their narratives to ever increasing and attentive audiences. How has this recent cultural phenomena affected your work and your outlook on the work you’ve done?

When I was a young artist in the early ‘70s, I was part of a group of women artists. I joined it because I thought “OK, finally a group of people are joining together because we have different things to say than men,” and we do. But what was the focus of it? How to get into galleries. And I understand that on a professional level, but that’s not what I was there for. I was trying to find commonality with this group and be part of something.

And this was at the same time as separatist inclinations in various self-advocacy groups nationally. But you’re sort of describing a scene downtown that was more utopian.

I hope I’m not painting it as something it wasn’t, but I have some great memories of how much we did help each other. We saw ourselves as workers, somehow. That was the main thing. There were a lot of things that had opened people up in ways that were pretty wild. A lot of drugs around, a lot of sex, a lot of fun. Helping each other on every level. As soon as money came into it, things changed. We never thought we would make a dime from our work. That was the furthest thing from our minds. We all had little jobs, and you didn’t need that much money either. That’s another very important point. You needed almost nothing. You didn’t think about it.

I’m thinking about a photo of you in the book, standing in a crowd playing the violin. You’re talking about not really aspiring to get into galleries, as much, and there you were sort of just outdoors being scrutinized by these gangs of passersby. That image just reminded me of some of the stories you’ve told me of things you’ve done over the years, hitchhiking to the North Pole, just being out there in the wind.

Yeah. I did always want to get out, that’s for sure. I wanted to be part of an art world. But not one that was chummy, more that was supportive. So I was lucky enough to hit that NYC wave at the right moment.

For young artists, where do we go from there? How do we move forward?

To a young artist today, I would say “Don’t listen to me.” That would be number one. Each person finds it for themselves, and that’s the whole great thing about this. No one can tell you what it is. It’s your responsibility to find it. We have a million roads out from here, as many roads as there are artists to follow them. So question all sorts of things, even the idea of progress itself.  One of the things I’m interested in, as you are as well, is the ends of stories and what happens. So I asked my meditation teacher, “What happens to karma when there’s no one to embody your karma, and the whole system, the great dharma wheel, crashes?” It’s built on continuity and giant eons of time, the big wheels of time. So when that wheel stops and we’re not on it anymore, what happens? And he said that’s why the Buddha talked about other universes. I just loved that so much. It was so freeing to me.

It’s a kind of independence.

It’s your freedom to go anywhere and to realize that the rules are idiotic. I mean, maybe that’s one thing I would say, is that there are no rules, so don’t worry about that part. There are zero rules. It’s hard to be free.

Pants by Issey Miyake, T-Shirt by Tai Chi, and Laurie’s own gloves and jewelry.

Hair by Elsa Canedo Using Kerastase, Makeup by Kento Utsubo, Photo Assistant Jordan James, Special Thanks to Rizzoli. Laurie Anderson: All the Things I Lost in the Flood, Available on rizzolibookstore.com

EXCLUSIVE: ERIKA JAYNE


Photography by Alexandra Gavillet | Styling by Rafael Linares @ Art Department | Interview by Cecily Strong

From dancing on gin-soaked stages in the dive bars of West Hollywood, navigating the many dramas of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, to being immortally satirized on Saturday Night Live, the reality star, pop culture icon, and now New York Times best-selling author is taking the world by storm.

Erika Jayne is embracing opportunities with open arms, switching at the drop of a hat between author, international performer, “housewife,” and the icon we didn’t even know we needed. The Real Housewives franchises are filled with meme-worthy moments, unforgettable quotes, and exciting drama, but few women from the reality series have become household names to the degree of Erika Girardi, AKA Erika Jayne. In an exclusive interview between Erika and Saturday Night Live’s Cecily Strong, who parodied Jayne on the legendary sketch show and cemented Erika’s status as a cultural touchstone, the two women discuss ageism in the entertainment industry, creating a public persona, and her new Simon & Schuster bestselling book, Pretty Mess.

Jacket by Tom Ford, Earrings by House of Emmanuele

Earrings by House of Emmanuele

Hello! How are you Erika?

Hi Cecily, I am so good—it’s so nice to talk to you.

You too, what a treat! I am such a fan! A real fan, not just an Instagram fan. I am so excited. I’ve been bragging to everyone at SNL about getting to do this interview! So, starting with your new book, how did the idea to publish a memoir take off?

I was approached to do the book and said yes because these days I am just saying yes to everything. Obviously, you see a little bit of it on TV, but sharing 45 minutes of screen time with five other women is difficult. Writing a memoir is a way to give the audience a more in-depth peek into my life.

How open are you in this book and are you nervous about revealing too much?

There’s always the version of the truth which you can never tell or else all of your friends and family will never talk to you again (laughs), and then there is the book that I wrote, and then there is the book that got published – which went through two legal processes. Hopefully it works out well and people like it.

(laughs) What was the most challenging part writing the book?

Well, my mother and I were discussing how my father left when I was nine months old, and then she remarried and divorced again. I feel like I had blocked out that part of my childhood. I went back with her trying to piece it all back together. I was looking at it through 46 year-old eyes and thinking it was basically ten years of bullshit!

Do you think that your childhood experiences are the reason that you have this amazing life and personality and are so fabulous and youthful—or in other words, do you think that you’re basking in the things you didn’t have in your childhood?

I feel like I’m eternally 16. I had a nice car, a hot boyfriend, good grades, was performing all the time, and I looked cute. I don’t know if that’s because of my childhood, but I definitely know that all of that has an effect on you growing up.

Well, I understand feeling like you’re eternally a teenager because I feel like I’m 16 even though I’m like… 34, but have you confronted ageism in your industry? Is it something you even think about? I know I don’t think about it much.

Good, and I’m glad you don’t, and the only time I do is when someone tells me, “Oh, aren’t you a little too old to be doing this?” and I’m like, “No, actually I’m not.” I think that it’s important to keep doing it and keep pushing and dreaming because that’s an old way of thinking that is falling by the wayside as women continue to improve and show how powerful we are. You know, when you’re in your 40’s you’re not dead, you’re not done! I feel the most powerful now. I didn’t feel powerful in my 20’s, I was a ding-dong!

I couldn’t wait to turn 30 because I thought, “Finally, people will take me seriously!” And I can’t imagine someone saying to you that you’re too old, that’s insane to me. I’d be like, “Just watch me perform!”

Thank you! Could you imagine telling a man that? Could you imagine telling a man, “Sir, don’t you think you’re a little too old to be running the company?” It’s not fair for us to get a tap on the shoulder like, “Sit down honey, you’ve had enough fun, you’ve had your day, people don’t find you attractive, you can’t sell anything, and your time is up” No! I’m not going to do that.

Good, me neither. We’re taking a vow! What do you hope that people take away from your book and your personal story?

First off, I want people to laugh and have fun. It’s an easy read and a fun read, and if one person walks away inspired to go to dance class again or back to college or just see that, through this human story, we are all the same. My experience is just this way, but it’s the same bullshit for everybody, so don’t quit. You never know what the future holds.

So let’s talk about your persona Erika Jayne, how she was born and how you found her within yourself?

I was about 35 years old, had been married to Tom for six or seven years, and had been exclusively living his lifestyle. I was going to every event and socializing with a whole new set of very educated, super interesting people. I am glad I did it because it was an invaluable education, but it wasn’t me. I was wealthy and living in a bubble where I would shop, go to the gym, and then go to dinners, but what the fuck was I really doing with myself? I longed to go out, create again, and have my own identity.

I just don’t think that Tom expected the book deal, concerts, or this interview in my future. I don’t think anybody did! I started to create on my own, it was something that I loved, and here we are today. And thank God he has been so supportive. I have learned so much, and I am really grateful because without him I wouldn’t be here at all.

That’s so great, and good for you two! You’re a great example for couples. So, when did you get your big break and what was the beginning of your career as Erika Jayne like?

Well, if you take the Erika Jayne Project, it was very small potatoes. It started at my kitchen table and it was just something that I wanted to do. I created the persona with a friend of mine from high school. He took me to a producer friend of his and we made the Pretty Mess album, and I started to perform because that’s what I really love to do. It was the typical beginning. A few people in some terrible dump, no one paying attention, and just begging to get on stage. I thought to myself, “I don’t have to fucking do this, I’m rich! What the fuck am I doing?” (Cecily laughs) I hate to break it down and sound so rude, but there are a lot of naysayers and rejection. I kept putting one foot in front of the other and building it, and slowly but surely people started to pay more attention and come to my shows. The biggest break into pop culture was definitely being cast in the Real Housewives because it took Erika Jayne out of the clubs and into people’s homes, and she even became a parody on Saturday Night Live! (laughs) But I think the most interesting thing was seeing young women, like high school and college-aged girls tell me how much they love my music and style, and I’m like, “Wow, really? I’m old enough to be your mom.” That acknowledgement makes it all worth it.

 

Jacket by Vitor Zerbinato, Dress by Nookie, Boots by Christian Louboutin, Earrings and Ring by Glynneth B.

Jacket by Vitor Zerbinato

Most of my circle of friends are gay men, and so I’m curious when did your relationship with the gay community start?

Children’s theater! (laughs)

Oh my God! Same for me! I was raised in a theater in Chicago by a group of gay men.

That was where I started! And then I went to a performing arts high school where everyone in dance and theater was gay, even our instructors were gay. They were always a part of my life. These are my people and that’s that.

Right, it’s so true, and it’s so funny that I had a very similar experience. When my parents split up I felt that the gay men of my Chicago theater were raising me while my family was a mess.

And I think that’s a wonderful thing to have and I can’t imagine life without gay people in it. They are my closest confidants.

Now what about drag culture? Has drag had an influence on your life and career?

I mean, just take one look at me! What do you think? (laughs) Of course! I love drag because you get to transform into a superhuman. It’s a true art form that is not for the faint of heart. Your costumes, hair, makeup, the whole look, and your style of drag too! There are so many different styles.

What style would you be?

Hooker drag! I want to be hooker drag (both laugh). Are you kidding? Basically that’s what I already am so why not? Keep it going!

So let’s talk Housewives of Beverly Hills! Obviously I am a huge fan, but how has being on the show changed your life? Cameras catching you crying, drunk…I drink a lot, so I could never do reality TV.

I don’t really like crying on camera because you are embarrassed worldwide, and that sucks. But without that exposure I wouldn’t be talking to Cecily Strong and I wouldn’t have a book out today! See what I’m saying? You have to roll with the punches and make the best of it. At the end of the day, it is reality television and I try to be as authentic as I can and have a good time doing it!

As I say in my book, it’s like professional wrestling. There are heroes, villains, costumes, pyrotechnics, but at the end of the day the injuries are real! It’s like we are participating in this absurd narrative, but these are still my feelings and sometimes they get really hurt.

People are awful! Celebrity in general, people feel like they have some sort of ownership over you, and because you get to do your job they get to hurl insults at you. It seems even worse for people in reality TV because it is your name and your life.

Thank god I am 46 and not 26! I have lived a full life, have a successful marriage, had an unsuccessful marriage, I have an adult child, I can pay the bills. Forget it, if I were a kid and did not know who I was, I may not have made it and I would have been crazy-town. Honestly, I consider myself pretty fucking normal.

I think about that all the time. Like I was crazy enough at 22—

Right! I didn’t need anyone telling me I sucked and was awful and should kill myself. You can imagine how the younger ones feel.

I will say that my favorite piece of advice I’ve ever gotten, and I don’t mean to name drop, but it was from Jim Carey at a host dinner for SNL and he told me “Don’t ever let anyone tell you the narrative of your career.”

He’s right, and thank you for sharing that. I’ll split when I’m ready and I’ll do what I need to do. That’s very well said.

Well, thank you Jim Carey! So, what’s next for you? What do you see in the future?

I am on my way to a book signing in New Jersey which is right across the street from a terrible go-go place I used to go-go in when I was younger.

Wow.

I know, it’s really interesting, Cecily. I’m continuing to create, and there’s going to be more music and more shows, and who knows what’s coming, but I feel like it’s going to be really good.

 

Jacket by The Blonds, Bangles, Cuffs, Earrings and Hat by Glynneth B.

Jumpsuit by Any Old Iron, Shoes by Christian Louboutin

Dress by Gucci

Makeup by Etienne Ortega @ The Only Agency using NARS and KKW Beauty, Hair by Castillo @ Tack Artist Group using Sexy Hair styling products & T3 styling tools, Art Direction Louis Liu, Editor-in-Chief Marc Sifuentes, Photo Assistant Mallory, DP Vanessa Konn, Gaffer Zachary Burnett, Production Assistant Benjamin Price, Produced by XTheStudio.com, Special Thanks to Jack Ketsoyan, Laia and Mikey Minden

EXCLUSIVE: RICKY MARTIN

Jacket by Tom Ford

Photography by Greg Swales
Styling and Interview by Marc Sifuentes

Taking over the legendary Sin City strip, making history as the first Latino to headline a Las Vegas residency, and jumping headlong into the world of acting, Ricky Martin shows he is one of the most intriguing and impactful entertainers of our time.

Father, husband, singer, dancer, and actor. Ricky Martin is constantly juggling his many roles with seemingly effortless ease. Currently a resident on the Vegas strip at the Park Theater at Monte Carlo for his solo show, Martin is also eager to further pursue his acting career, release a new album, create a new world tour, and continue helping the people of Puerto Rico and the victims of human trafficking. Filled with love, down-to-earth spirituality, and an effervescent charm, Ricky Martin has proven himself to be an everlasting icon of pop culture.

In an exclusive interview with Iris Covet Book Editor-in-Chief Marc Sifuentes, the Puerto Rican star gets personal about his daily life with his husband and twins, life in the limelight, and his continuous efforts to make the world a better place.

Hi Ricky! I wanted to thank you for doing this interview and for being so fun and easy-going on the day of the shoot.

Well, thank you! You and your team were amazing and had such a beautiful energy in the studio.

Thank you! So, I want to start with asking about your second “back by popular demand” Vegas residency at the Park Theater, what is the key to producing such a successful and in-demand show?

I give credit to the people that I work with: the producers, directors, all of the people behind the scenes, the musicians, and the dancers. It really takes a village, and I wouldn’t be able to do this show without an amazing group of people behind me. I’m happy to have these talented producers and directors who can translate my vision and make it magic! To be the first Latino male to have a residency in Vegas is a big responsibility. What I love about this show is having the opportunity to perform every night in front of a very international crowd. Just to be on stage and see all of these faces from all over the world really motivates and inspires me. What I want to do is break boundaries and unite cultures. To see the crowd disconnect from their everyday problems in life and leave the theater with a smile is a very beautiful thing. I wish we could do this show for many more years.

Will you be taking this show on the road at the end of it’s Vegas run?

Well since I have an exclusivity contract I won’t be able to take this particular show on the road or perform it outside of the Park Theater. But I will hopefully be on the road touring a new show next year through Latin America and the United States. The idea is to take a new show all over the world, hopefully by next year.

I was watching clips of the show and it just looks amazing, you seem larger than life and so confident. Do you ever feel insecure? And if you do, what do you tell yourself to get out of that headspace?

I am very insecure. I am insecure when I write music, when I perform, when I act…but what gets me through are my years of experience. I am human and I go through a lot of highs and lows before I go on stage. If you see the show, for the first song I’m coming down from a 300-foot drop! I may look super confident, but I’m not! (laughs) I suffer from vertigo and it can be very difficult to focus, but it is part of confronting my demons and breaking that trauma that triggers my vertigo. By the time the music starts, I just have to forget everything and jump into storytelling mode.

Well it’s been getting really great reviews! Would you consider extending your residency for a third round?

Oh, I would love that! And funny you should ask because that’s exactly what we are in discussions about at the moment, and if we do, I will need to create a whole new show for the international audience.

jacket and t-shirt by Philipp Plein, jeans by Tom Ford, rings by John Hardy

t-shirt by Philipp Plein, jeans by Tom Ford, ring by John Hardy

shirt by Ferragamo, jeans by Tom Ford

You recently teased your fans with a new single, “Fiebre”, when can we expect a new full length album?

I am thinking hopefully by the beginning of next year, but right now we have been pretty focused on the Vegas show and American Crime Story, which we were shooting for eight months. Today, the record company no longer needs the record out at a very specific time so the artists have more freedom, and if a song is ready then I can just release it. Obviously numbers are important in this industry, but it gives us an idea of what the audience likes or dislikes, and I have never felt more relaxed doing music.

Since you mentioned American Crime Story, how did you become involved and what made you say yes to the story?

A few years ago I had the opportunity to work with Ryan Murphy on an episode of Glee. We’ve kept in touch and he invited me to dinner to tell me that he thinks he has a role for me. Once I read the script I immediately said yes because it was personal. I knew I wanted to be a part of telling Versace’s story. I wanted to remind the viewers the injustice behind what happened. Because it’s not how Gianni Versace died, but how we allowed it to happen. What angers me most is that Cunanan was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, living on Miami Beach which is a very small community, but the FBI turned the other way because he was a gay man killing gay men. There is no denying to me that this was really an issue of homophobia. I think we did a great job covering that aspect of the story.

I read that Ryan Murphy wants to give you your own show, any word on that project?

Well he told me about it and then made it public, and I got really excited! We haven’t spoken in detail about it because he is transitioning from one network to another and he told me that he will be busy until June, but I’m not in a rush. (laughs) I would love to do something behind the scenes as well. But no, we haven’t talked about it yet.

You brought up the issue of homophobia and it made me think of your new music video. “Fiebre” and of course American Crime Story both show you openly embracing your sexuality. After being forced into the closet for so long, how does it feel for you to finally be able to express being gay through your music videos and now your acting roles?

Amazing! If I could go back and come out in the late ‘90s or early 2000’s then I would, because it felt amazing to come out. When I talk to people who are struggling with their identity, I tell them that it may be bumpy for awhile but in the long run the love that I received from my friends, family, from social media…it was spectacular. I know this is not the case for everyone but at the end of the day it is about dignity and self love.

You recently received a Trailblazer award from The LGBT Community Center in NYC, what did receiving that award mean to you?

Well like receiving any award, it is a big responsibility, but at the end of the day I am proud because it lets me talk about where I have been, who I am, and what I did to finally understand my real essence. In my case, I get to share my story. I meet so many people in the streets or on social media who tell me, “Ricky, thank you so much because I know what you went through and I can better understand my gay father, gay uncle, gay brother, lesbian aunt…” and I think it is a beautiful thing and it is important.

I wanted to talk about your husband, artist Jwan Yosef, a bit. You met on Instagram and I was reading you instant messaged for six months before meeting—

Yes! And nothing sexy! It was very romantic. We talked a lot just about our problems and lives. I never even heard his voice until six months later when I went to visit him in London, where he was based. I said to myself, “This is it. I just met the man who I am going to marry.” Two years later we were married. He is a great man, he loves my kids, and we have so many things in common.

He is a conceptual painter and I have mad respect and admiration for what he does. When I see him and his creative process… it is so sexy. I just love when he locks himself in his studio and starts creating. I become a fly on the wall, watching him paint and create works of art. I am in love, man, I am so in love.

jacket by DSquared2, ring by John Hardy


shirt, pants, and sneakers by Dior Homme, rings by John Hardy

 

shirt, pants, and shoes by Louis Vuitton, rings by John Hardy

You’ve mentioned in the past that you want more children, what do you love about being a father and what is the most challenging part of raising twins?

Yes, I want more; I’m just getting started! If it was my decision I would have six more, but Jwan says let’s take it one step at a time. (laughs) With kids, and I’m sure every parent out there will say this, but everything is new every day and being a single father with twins was extremely challenging, especially in the first year. No one is sleeping, and it’s two against one. Now that they’re older it’s still two against one, but they are amazing kids and the bonding time over the first year was so important. I took a sabbatical, and I did not accept any help. I wanted to do it all, change every diaper, bathe them everyday, and the relationship I have with my kids… there’s just so much love. They are almost 10 years old and this is when dads stop being cool and they start making fun of you! I’m really happy because I’m not there yet with them (laughs).

I’m sure your spirituality plays a big part in your parenting too, what helped you to discover your spirituality?

When we talk about spirituality we go back in time. Religion has nothing to do with spirituality, but I would say that growing up Catholic, even being an altar boy, was too much for me. I kept searching and looking for other philosophies and dogmas to ascribe to. There was a moment where I was obsessed with India and going about four times a year because they call it the “Cradle of Spirituality.”Then my kids became my religion. It doesn’t matter how late I go to bed, I religiously wake up at 7:00 a.m. everyday to have breakfast with them, and that bonding experience with the three of us is the only way I want to start my day. But once a Catholic, always a Catholic. To this day I sometimes look to God when the boys ask me questions because they ask some really hard questions, and I just want to give them the right answer.

I want to talk about Puerto Rico, from your experience can you give us an update on how the country is doing currently? I know that you were and still are very involved in fundraising after hurricane Maria.

Oh man, well 43% of the island still has no power, and if you go up to the more rural mountain areas, even now nine month later, people still have no power, no running water, and are bathing in the river and using candlelight. It is really frustrating and I wish the federal government would have done more. You have to wonder, if this were any other city in the continental US, would we ever hear that nine months later people have no power? No, I don’t think that would happen. But we have to do our part, and Puerto Ricans have experienced a great level of compassion, empathy, and care from volunteers, and the country has become creative and adapted. This too shall pass, but it will take a long time to go back to normal.

Another cause that is close to your heart is bringing awareness to human trafficking, can you explain where this compassion comes from and tell us more about the Ricky Martin Foundation?

With natural disasters like hurricanes for example, the community becomes more vulnerable and human traffickers take advantage. Traffickers come to the island and see all of these people who have lost everything and need money to buy things, and these kids end up selling their bodies or getting forced into pornography.

jacket by Valentino, shirt by COS

 

sweater by COS, pants by Dior Homme, rings by John Hardy

How did it first come to your attention?

More than a decade ago a friend of mine was building an orphanage in India, and this was when I was looking for any excuse to go to India. I flew to Calcutta, and he took me to the slums and said, “Come on, let’s rescue girls!” I had no idea what this meant, but when I got to the slums he started to point out girls like, “You see those three? They could be forced into prostitution.” and I’m standing there like, “What?! What do you mean? That girl must be five and her sister must be eight and her older sister must be eleven” and he says, “Yes, Rick. This is human trafficking. These girls live on the streets and they need money to help their family and they get paid for selling their bodies.” I was so astounded and went back home and started to educate myself on the subject. I went to Congress and told them we needed to bring more awareness to this global $150 billion industry. The victims are sex slaves.

Did you know there are more slaves today then back in the slave trade of the 18th century? Today, as soon as you open your computer you could easily fall victim to a criminal persuading you into the world of prostitution.

It’s encouraging to hear you are using your platform to educate others of these injustices.

It’s not easy. Ten years ago I wanted to stop. I said I couldn’t do it anymore because we couldn’t keep up. We were working so hard but I felt like I didn’t see any change. My mentor looked at me and said, “Ricky, you’ve got to stop being so arrogant. Who do you think you are? Do you think you will change the world? You’re not Superman! How about focusing on saving one life? And one life can become two.” We went back and built a holistic center in Puerto Rico in an area affected by trafficking, and right now we have 132 children coming to the center. We are educating them about human trafficking and opening their eyes to the predators. It’s a lifetime commitment. We are not going to save everyone, but we will save one person at a time.

What else can we expect from you this year?

I’m getting more prepared as an actor, meeting with great writers, producers, and directors and I think there are some great opportunities on the table. I am so lucky to be at a place where I can pick and choose the projects that speak to me. Aside from still making my music, I really want to jump into acting more and playing amazing roles that can have a positive impact on society. My acting career is very personal to me right now; I am obsessed and don’t want to stop!

coat and shirt by Prada, pants by COS, sneakers by Dior Homme, ring by John Hardy

Hair by Joey Nieves @ Grey Matter LA using Hanz de Fuko, Makeup by Maital Sabban @ MS Management, BTS Video by Lavoisier Clemente, Photo Assistant Amanda Yanez, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor-in-Chief Marc Sifuentes, Production by Benjamin Price

AI WEIWEI

Ai Weiwei’s fight for the human rights of others has meant that his own have been jeopardized. Creating work that is both dangerously loud and quietly considered, the artist-activist is a true revolutionary of his time. By using the internet as his soapbox, he has become a global figure for those without a voice.

Portrait Photography by Zachary Bako
Essay by Ashleigh Kane

“I consider myself more of a chess player. My opponent makes a move. I make a move. Now I’m waiting for my opponent to make the next move.”

This is how Ai Weiwei responded in Never Sorry, the 2012 documentary about his life, when asked how he would describe himself. Aside from a chess player, Weiwei has been called many things; artist, curator, filmmaker, activist, philosophist. Also dissident and criminal. While the Chinese government has gone to extreme measures to stop Weiwei raising his voice, his fellow Chinese people have heralded him as a figure of worship. As have many of us in the wider world. Technically into his third decade as an artist, Weiwei’s art became increasingly reactionary and prevalent ten years ago, after he launched a citizen’s investigation into the devastating 2008 Sichuan Earthquake.

The tragedy pushed his frustrations with China’s oppression, surveillance, and lack of transparency to a boiling point, and he began to create works that questioned the mechanics of the country he called home. Weiwei also found the tension between old and new China fascinating, and the ways in which it denied the advancements of the Western world, particularly the internet – a realm which he has wholeheartedly embraced, and, in turn, has embraced him. Since relocating to Germany in 2015, Weiwei has become most recognised for his work with the ongoing refugee crisis. Seeing no distinction between the artist and the activist, earlier this year he told CBS, “I think artist and activist is the same thing. As artist, you always have to be an activist.” When pressed by the interviewer whether one had to be political to be a good artist, he responded, “I think every art, if it’s relevant, is political.”

A self-described “natural outsider”, the seeds of Weiwei’s rebellion were planted by his father, the famous poet, denounced traitor and accused ‘rightest’, Ai Qing. Shortly after Weiwei was born in 1957, Qing, along with his family, was exiled to Heilongjiang, followed by Xinjiang. In 1976, at the end of the Cultural Revolution, the family was allowed to return to Beijing. But Weiwei’s growing fascination with art led him to leave his home in 1981 for New York where he attended Parsons School of Design. Inspired by Marcel Duchamp – who said anything can be art – and Joseph Beuys – who said anyone can be an artist – Weiwei’s only art show in New York, Old Shoes, Safe Sex, was held at Art Waves gallery in 1988 and featured a series of readymades, such as a trenchcoat with a hole and a condom attached (Safe Sex, 1986). In 1993, his father’s incurable illness brought him back to China, after 12 years abroad. Bringing with him the lessons of the artists he’d come to admire.

Above: Sunflower Seeds (5 tons) Installation: Mary Boone Gallery, 541 West 24 Street, New York, January 2012

 Tree with The Animal That Looks Like a Llama but is Really an Alpaca wallpaper Installation: Mary Boone Gallery, 541 West 24 Street, New York, November 2016.

At home, Weiwei submerged himself in the underground art scene by creating a series of publications which profiled American artists such as Andy Warhol, Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, as well as contemporary Chinese artists. Described as “a free space” where “you could write anything”, “Black Cover” (1994), “White Cover” (1995) and “Gray Cover” (1997), were only available through word-of-mouth. In 2000, Weiwei was included in Feng Boyi’s exhibition, FUCK OFF – an alternative to the Shanghai Biennale. The show debuted his series, “Study of Perspective” (1995-2010), alongside “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn” (1995). The latter an early documentation of Weiwei’s growing penchant for smashing or modifying Chinese antiques, and one he would continue throughout his career. Such as “Neolithic Vase and Coca-Cola Logo” (2010), which crosses capitalism with a classic cultural relic.

In 2003, Weiwei began work on the Bird’s Nest, the stadium for Beijing’s 2008 Olympics. But after seeing the impact of the event’s looming arrival on local homes and businesses, he became critical of it. In 2008, he was the first prominent Chinese person to oppose the games when he published an article on The Guardian, titled, “Why I’ll stay away from the opening ceremony of the Olympics”. Three months later, the Sichuan Earthquake struck, killing 70,000 people – 5,000 of them children. Devastated by the government’s refusal to release the death toll, Weiwei and his volunteers collected the names and birthdays of all the children who perished and published them on his blog on the tragedy’s one-year anniversary. Authorities shut down the platform, but Weiwei found a way to subvert the Great Firewall (of China) – he joined Twitter.

It would be a disservice to Weiwei to think all of his work is overt middle-finger-up, in-your-face art-activism. His 2010 installation, “Sunflower Seeds” (2008), at London’s Tate Modern, which included 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds and covered 1000 square meters with a depth of 10cm, shows a more considered side to the artist. The piece, which took two-and-a-half years to create, is a nod to China’s conformity and censorship. At a distance, the seeds all look the same, but on closer inspection, viewers will find signs of individuality. “Tree” (2010) is another work that peacefully pushes Weiwei’s message. The sculpture is made up of different species of trees. It pays homage market vendors who sell branches, roots and tree trunks as decorative items to be displayed in homes, but a more complex political reading symbolizes the rapid urbanization and economic growth of China.

Below: Neolithic Vase with CocaCola Logo, 2010

Surveillance Camera and Plinth, 2015

Despite this, no matter the volume of Weiwei’s messaging, his refusal to cease making work about his home country led to the Chinese authorities detaining him on 3 April 2011 for 81 days. Initially reported as missing – news which sparked a worldwide #FreeWeiwei campaign – authorities claimed they had arrested the artist on suspicion of tax evasion. While he was never charged or convicted of a crime, Weiwei’s passport was confiscated for four years and he was banned from leaving the Beijing for one year. After his release, Chinese authorities installed at least 15 cameras outside of Weiwei’s Beijing studio. He retaliated by launching “WeiweiCam”, a self-surveillance project which live streamed from within his own house. Later, he would create “Surveillance Camera and Plinth” (2015), a marble reincarnation of the CCTV cameras.

With the return of his passport in 2015, Weiwei relocated to Germany. Initially unsure what his purpose would be in a foreign country, he quickly found his cause; the refugee crisis. Weiwei set to work creating 70 meter sculptures from inflatable life boats (“Law of the Journey”, 2017) and building 100 fences and to be displayed in New York (“Good Fences Make Good Neighbors”, 2017). He even set up a studio on the Greek island of Lesbos to facilitate his increased artistic output. More recently, Weiwei premiered Human Flow, a documentary which put a face to a crisis which has seen more than 65 million people flee their homes after famine, war and climate change claimed their safety.

Even as one of the most recognisable artists in the world, Weiwei continues to place other people’s fight for freedom above his own safety. Like all true revolutionaries of their eras, many have tried to quell his voice and his spirit, only for him to show that no matter how many people, or governments, want to silence him, Weiwei’s voice will only get louder.

All artwork courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery New York
For more information visit aiweiwei.com | maryboonegallery.com

 

STUDIO VISITS – ERIC N. MACK

Eric N. Mack is the rule-breaking artist creating large-scale paintings from unexpected materials and forms into soft-sculpture, expansive figures in space.

Portrait photography by Tiffany Nicholson | Interview by Ashleigh Kane
Coat by Versace, Hat, Shirt, Trousers and Shoes Artist’s Own

Eric N. Mack’s future as an artist was decided at birth, when his mom Lisa Scott and his dad Miller Mack honoured him with the middle name National, after Washington D.C.’s National Gallery of Art. It was there, in the 80’s, that his parents met while his dad worked at the gallery as a plexiglass specialist, building and maintaining the vitrines. A young Eric often went along for the ride, getting to know works by artists such as Vincent Van Gogh in the process. Admittedly, he wanted to “study everything” in order to allow himself to naturally grow inclined to whatever felt right. Eventually he chose to major in sculpture and painting at Yale University School of Art – an institution that artists such as Brice Marden, Chuck Close, and Richard Serra attended, and all of whom Mack admires greatly. He is also a huge fan of Robert Rauschenberg and had the pleasure of working in the late artist’s studio in Florida earlier this year.

Like Rauschenberg, Mack’s own works toy with context and ideas of re-use in order to create new forms – large-scale works that he calls paintings. Constructed from a patchwork of materials and surfaces that push silk, frill, or even an old t-shirt, into new frontiers, Mack forgoes painting’s rectilinear relationship with canvas for infinite new possibilities of presentation. Inspiration comes from his adopted city of New York, which he’s lived in for over a decade, as well as fashion – his dad once owned a clothing store – and art history – a recent fascination is the 1970s French art group Supports/Surfaces. He also places great emphasis on building knowledge.

Beneath the draping, swooping and layering of the surfaces that shape Mack’s canvases, is a melting pot of art academia and consideration for the important contributions of artists who came before him. Even in his spare time, he’s never not looking to build upon his own awareness of New York’s art legacy. Below, he let’s us pick his brain.

A Lesson in Perspective, 2017

Can you talk to us about your studies. What were you interested in?

I wanted to study everything and I had a real interest in the different principles of art; photography, sculpture and painting. I went to an arts high school in Maryland so in college I wanted to continue without having to choose one or the other, and I wanted to be able to develop a natural relationship to art. Immediately when I got to (The Cooper Union) I took all three of those courses. It was really liberating. That school was super important because it was about thought and innovation, and not so much about restriction. By the time I had graduated, painting had become a lot more serious to me in terms of the history and its conceptual concerns. It became a space that was meaningful for me to continue to question, and the results that I came up with made me want to think more in depth about it.

When did you realize that you could make a career out of being an artist?

When I came to New York, I had so many questions. I was so excited to be here because it was my dream place. I interned at a gallery called Rivington Arms in the Lower East Side which was representing Dash Snow at that time and a number of other artists. I wanted to better understand the workings of a gallery, the relationship between an artist and a gallerist, and how an artist could be supported in that way. I was looking at it, not from an artist’s vantage point, but from an administrative aspect. From there, I ended up getting a job in Garth Weiser artist’s studio, and I learned a lot from him. By seeing his process, I learned that people could earn a living from making work, and that if I worked hard enough, it could be a possibility for me as well.

You took a lot of time to develop your foundations as an artist – through art school, research, interning, working for artists, even on the admin side. Why was that important for you to gain that experience?

I think there are times when it’s important that an artwork has academic context, and that the artist is informed and generous about the place that the work comes from, in relationship to art or the history of painting, or a relationship to a previous zeitgeist. People such as Brice Marden, Chuck Close, Richard Serra all came from Yale, and are monumental figures that I look up to.

They went through that training and education and I feel like it was really important for me to do that and make sure that I was here for the long haul and not just being frivolous or superficial.

Previously you’ve referenced Robert Rauschenberg and Sam Gilliam as influences – do they still inspire you or does that lessen as you come into your own as an artist?

I really appreciate art and that’s how I’ve come to be an artist. Rauschenberg is somebody I’ve thought about for a long time and even more so this year because I did a residency at the Rauschenberg Foundation in Captiva, Florida. I got to work in his studio and that was monumental for me. That kind of closeness, to be able to examine the space… it was compelling to be able to see what his brand of innovation afforded him. I gave myself permission to actively think about his legacy after that. But there are others; Basquiat, of course. I would say he is somebody I’ve thought about. He died the year after I was born. I’ve also been thinking of Richard Tuttle – people that have been around for a long time that have served their practices in really strong ways.

Why do you identify specifically as a painter?

It has to do with the lineage that I feel like the work has come from. I see painting as a lot of things, but mostly there’s a relationship to surface and material. I’ve been thinking about the canvas and how painting that revolves around framing contexts that mostly have to do with a rectilinear relationship. I’ve also been thinking about the tools with which we identity as existing with the history of painting. I feel like there hasn’t been much advancement in terms of the apparatus involved with painting, or that any advancement ends up being forgotten in history.

I’ve also been thinking about this movement in Paris called Supports/ Surfaces where painters dealt with space and structure, including surface. Many of these painters are being shown a lot more now, and I see that the work they did as having a part in advancing the technology of painting – in breaking it out of its reductive frame for it to become more tangible and to speak more directly to histories of materiality.

Did you immediately begin working in large scale or was that something you worked up to over time? Was it intimidating to make paintings that large?

I think what I regard as large has changed over time. One of the things I started thinking about after grad school was how to push the identity of the work. One of the biggest moves I made was doing away with the wooden stretcher bar convention that painting has had for a long time. I began moving towards the space in the center of the room.

I’ve long been thinking about monumentality, or about a relationship to a monument, and the challenge for me would be to be able to maintain the kind of detail, care and attitude that the work possesses. So it’s been a constant, very careful, thought process for the work to physically expand. But it feels very natural to the concerns of the work.

You impact the meaning of everyday materials – where do you source or find what you use in your work?

It’s definitely a combination of things because I don’t want there to be one space that could dictate the work’s meaning due to where it comes from. There are times when I buy things from a store, a home goods interior store, or I’ll go to a clothing shop, but mostly it’s thinking about daily tasks and finding something that would be challenging to use as a material. Or something that continues the process of questioning surface and materiality.

So it’s not planned, as in, you don’t go out with an object in mind to bring back?

I go out looking for certain forms. Right now, I’m kind of obsessed with frill – like gathering, ruching – so I’ve been going out looking for it because it ends up having a nice finish. And there’s this relationship with elegance, a kind of frivolity, excess, like Rococo or Baroque. There’s also a supposed coldness to the rigid white wall that often comes with the gallery context, so I’ve been thinking about what would be a really active contradiction of the space.

Palms on Cotton, 2017
 Implied Reebok or Desire for the Northeast Groover, 2016

Are you aware of what the painting’s meaning is before you begin or do you add meaning as you go?

It’s nice to have epiphanies while the piece is developing, but I like to be aware. I think the titles end up dictating a starting point that brings people closer to the work or maybe the titles make it more complex. For me, they end up being a finalizing gesture.

How does New York inspire you and your work?

I live in Harlem and I work in the Bronx, so my daily commute to the studio ends up being really influential. I take note of things or I take little snapshots on my phone. It’s nice to think about the city as a space of inspiration.

What do you do when you’re not creating art?

Even the hobbies that I have can end up relating to the work or end up being really nice points in which I can mine certain aspects from.

Can you talk about the importance of abstraction in your work?

I see abstraction as a strategy. I feel like it has social relationships and also aesthetic relationships. Abstraction ends up being a stand in or a symbol for a more complex idea, or to make something more tangible. An abstraction can be present, but it can also obscure and hide – hide information or hide physicality – and there’s definitely that in my work.

I think a lot about abstraction in relationship to a kind of fragmentation, where I think about pieces and parts that have really explicit origins. This is in relationship to what we were talking about before. Like, where does the work come from? Where does fabric, or whatever it is, come from? It’s mostly about how the fragment reads, how the fragments communicate, and how that can be unified to mean something collectively different, or to communicate some kind of emotional complexity.

Do you think your work comments on the value of art, in that you reuse materials and fabrics and give them new meaning through context?

I think if something can be salvaged and reused and seen in a context that is beautiful or expresses some kind of meaning, then that can be very transformative for the viewer or the maker.

  

Hair by Austin Burns using Oribe, Makeup by Agata Helena @agatahelena using NARS cosmetics, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Production by Benjamin Price

BALTIC Artists’ Award 2017, installation view, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead. Courtesy: © 2017 BALTIC; Art Work Photography by John McKenzie

For more information visit eric-mack.com

STUDIO VISITS – TALI LENNOX

Away from her newly adopted home of Los Angeles, multidisciplinary artist Tali Lennox takes us inside her New York loft to share her daring, emotional paintings and collages that capture the fleeting nature of memories.

Dress by Burberry
Portrait Photography by Tiffany Nicholson | Interview by Anna Furman

In Tali Lennox’s self portraits, her face is often obscured by charcoal-black facial masks or distorted by bulging eyes and drooly, menacing expressions. When she paints figures, their identities are kept hidden and their facial features are imbued with an abstract, spectral quality. The British-born artist, daughter of singer Annie Lennox and film producer/ director Uri Fruchtmann, has made a name for herself in art and in fashion. At the age of seventeen, Tali began walking runway shows for the likes of Miu Miu and Roberto Cavalli (most recently, she starred in the lingerie brand Agent Provocateur’s tastefully noir-inspired campaign as well as the international campaign for David Webb shot by Inez and Vinoodh).

In 2015, she spent a month in residency at New York’s Catherine Ahnell Gallery, and the following year, mounted an exhibit inside the storied Chelsea Hotel. Both shows explored Western attitudes toward aging and the role memory plays in our collective conscience. She represented grooming habits as odd, culturally specific acts, and took a close look at ordinary gestures (holding a glass, washing one’s face)–encouraging viewers to reexamine their own everyday lives. Elements of Lennox’s portraiture–unusual head-to-body proportions, sanguine facial expressions–invite comparisons to celebrated American painter Alice Neel.

After tragically losing her boyfriend to a kayak accident two years ago, Lennox moved across the country to start a new chapter of her twenties in East Los Angeles. IRIS Covet Book sat down with Tali to chat about maintaining a bicoastal lifestyle, painting in solitude, and our shared admiration for the artist Tracey Emin.

Nose Bleed, 2017

 ‘Inhale the Oasis’ collage, 2016

‘Mood Swings’ Collage, 2016

Hi! How’s your morning been?

Very quiet. My roommates are both away right now so it’s just me in our treehouse-y home. My favorite hours to paint are either first thing in the morning or late at night so that’s what I did. I’ve had a full day of painting reclusiveness.

What are you painting right now?

I’m working on a painting of my friend Lili. It involves blood, tan lines, and pink silk. I’ve been curious about what it is to be a woman capturing other women. I want to gently challenge the viewer’s own awareness of sexuality. I love to paint nudes, skin, boobs… it interests me to figure out how my perspective differs from that of a man’s, which can come from such an objectified angle.

I’ve had a morbid curiosity since I was a child. I’m fascinated with gore and ghosts. I like to add in elements like blood and drool to my recent portraits, to explore the lines of attraction and repulsion. Recently, I posted a picture of spilled red ink on a mattress and it wound up in the newspaper because people thought it was period blood. Men and women were commenting on it–calling it disgusting. I wasn’t even trying to suggest or make a point about period blood when I took the photograph, but it did get me thinking. It’s a little absurd that women have been having periods since the beginning of humanity and yet people still find it so outrageous.

You relocated to Los Angeles from New York, but you still live in both cities. Why did you decide to move?

I’m in Silver Lake mostly. I love having trees outside my window, and the sense of vast space in LA gives my ideas a certain expansiveness. LA is weird and faded. It’s hard to grasp reality here, which I find so inspiring. I go to New York City every couple of months and it’s always just a big slice of cake–in a wonderful and somewhat overwhelming sense.


Dress by Burberry

What do you miss most about NY when you’re away?

Chinatown, the movie theaters, Serendipity, 24-hour delis, the Met, exchanging a hello with a man who looks like Santa Claus who sits outside my building every morning, the raging desire for a strong coffee in the morning.

Your Instagram bio says that you’re a painter slash jellyfish breeder. Jellyfish? Breeder? Please elaborate.

Really the jellyfish breeder thing is just to be silly. I mean, social media should never be taken too seriously. I do have a fascination with sea creatures though. It stems from childhood. I remember being completely hypnotized by fishmongers when I was probably four years old. I loved looking at the fish scales and the variety of colors, and experiencing the strange smells. I would secretly touch the dead fish when no one was looking. I’ve always been curious about the things others might find gross.

Do you have a regular routine for your creative work? Where is your studio?

I have a rough routine, without regular hours. Right now I paint most often from my room, which I like because I can paint at any hour. Sometimes I like to work late into the night. A lot of people like separating themselves from their work, but I find that working where I live heightens my relationship to the paintings. I mean, I literally wake up and fall asleep seeing it, so I really need to like what I’m doing because there’s no escaping it.

Do you listen to music while you’re working or do you prefer silence?

I like to listen to a lot of film soundtracks. Hitchcock soundtracks are great. Jonny Greenwood, Disney scores, Alan Watts and Ram Dass are great when you don’t want to feel like you’re falling down a vortex of isolation. And when I need a little energy, I’ll put on the Fat White Family’s Champagne Holocaust album.

What are you reading right now? Either book or magazine-wise or just a lingering link in your browser tabs?

I’m about to finish Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami–it’s utterly beautiful. For a quick bedtime chapter or two, I’ll read Anaïs Nin.

Tell me about when you first started painting.

I’ve been drawing and painting forever, or at least since I was very young. I was the kind of kid to stay in the art room at school during break time. When I was nineteen, I moved to New York and started to develop my work with oil painting. I had been modeling full time since I was seventeen. I guess I was looking for a sense of identity outside of that world. Painting builds such a private relationship with oneself. It’s lonely and frustrating–but wonderful.

Kaya, 2017

You were raised by world-famous parents– Scottish singer Annie Lennox and producer Uri Fruchtmann – in the UK. Can you tell me a bit about your childhood?

I grew up between north and west London and went to a pretty liberal school called King Alfred’s, where it was encouraged to be open minded and independent. Honestly, I didn’t feel like there was a difference between my mum and anyone else’s. I was raised with pretty strong values.

How has your mom’s creative work influenced your approach to art-making?

My mum came up with all the visual concepts for her videos and took a lot of risks. She has always been unafraid to express herself, which has encouraged me to keep exploring and experimenting.

I love how you painted terry cloth in that series of self-portraits where you’re wearing a bathrobe and charcoal face masks–what other textures or surfaces are you drawn to painting?

I absolutely love painting breasts. Nipples though can take a very, very long time to get right.

You’ve talked about how your painting practice helped you cope with the loss of your boyfriend, who died in 2015 after a tragic kayak accident. Have you found other practices to be helpful for emotional processing and healing?

I talk a LOT. I’m very open with people I trust. I’ve also explored a lot of energy practices, mindfulness, being able to truly sit with one’s emotion, being present with what comes up. I’m all for feeling fully, releasing, and clearing the way.

What visual artists do you look to for inspiration?

It changes all the time, but lately I love looking at Gerald Brockhurst’s paintings. His paintings are eerie and bold and often have an unsettling quality. I love paintings of the past, before so much technology existed, with female subjects. From the Pre-Raphaelite period, John William Waterhouse and from Baroque times, the painter Georges de La Tour. From the Renaissance, Sandro Botticelli. Their technical skill and level of imagination is simply mind blowing.

Do you have any upcoming shows or creative projects?

I would love to do video and performance art pieces. And curate experiential art shows. My last show was throughout The Chelsea Hotel, and my aim was to alter the viewer’s perspective of reality. So I’d love to continue mind-bending experiments in obscure locations.

Do you have a dream collaborator? Any particular artist or designer, dead or alive?

I would love to connect with Tracey Emin. I have so much admiration for the vulnerable honesty in her work. Gustav Klimt for his imagination and mad technical skill. And Hieronymus Bosch because he created vast realms, centuries before there was even electricity, and that fucking blows my mind.


Dress by Burberry

Hair by Austin Burns using Oribe, Makeup by Tonya Riner using NARS cosmetics, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Production by Benjamin Price

All artwork © Tali Lennox, images courtesy of the artist

STUDIO VISITS – RACHEL ROSSIN

Exploring the fine line between reality and our digital avatars, coder-turned-artist Rachel Rossin pulls us into her virtual worlds before ejecting us back out. In the disorientation of the experience we are left to wonder — what is reality?


Portrait Photography by Tiffany Nicholson | Interview by Haley Weiss

Sweater and Shirt by Versace, Skort, Socks and Shoes Artist’s Own

While Rachel Rossin was growing up in West Palm Beach, Florida, like many American children of the late ‘90s and early aughts, she read Harry Potter books, cared for her virtual creatures on Neopets, and repeatedly played SkiFree, a game on her mother’s Windows ’95 computer — even though she knew its likely end: “death by yeti.” However, unlike many of her peers, she could code by age eight, although she didn’t yet define it using that term; picking apart websites and hacking video games were simply fun and ordinary activities. “It felt natural, probably in the same way that three year olds now are intuitively using iPhones,” the 30-year-old recalls. “Escapism is natural for some people. Without a lot of access to culture, especially where I grew up, I felt pretty isolated, and so this was my community.”

Years later, after running her own web design company, playing her fair share of Call of Duty, and furthering her technology tool-kit at university, she began translating her digital experiments into art. When she moved to New York in 2010, she was already making “crude” VR (virtual reality) videos using 3D modeling software. By the time of her first-ever solo show, n=7 / The Wake In Heat of Collapse at SIGNAL in 2015, viewers could experience her VR work on an Oculus Rift headset, making their way through the fragmented digital world she created. She also started painting; for her 2015 show LOSSY at Zieher Smith & Horton, she showed a VR piece alongside canvases that recreated scenes from that virtual space. She’s continued to push the medium’s boundaries, showing her work at institutions like The New Museum, where she was a Virtual Reality Fellow.

For her second, recent solo show at SIGNAL, Peak Performance, she thought about body awareness; after building virtual world after virtual world, she felt disembodied, and wanted to work with VR in a way that would allow her to be in touch with her emotions. She modeled 3D environments, as she has in the past, but with an acute awareness of what she was experiencing. Throughout the process she asked: “What does my body feel like in this moment?” From the VR models that resulted, she made paintings, plexiglass sculptures, and aquarium-like tanks — all of which were shown without the original VR experience. Rossin’s work summons the question of where reality lies: on the headset or in person, online or offline, or — the more nebulous, likely conclusion — somewhere in-between.

Mirror Milk, 2015 Lossy, Zieher Smith & Horton, New York, NY Courtesy of Zieher Smith & Horton and the Artist

After, Horizon with Oranges, 2017 Peak Performance, Signal Gallery, New York, NY Photo courtesy of Signal Gallery

Obviously the reality within VR is disorienting, but the moments you put the headset on and take it off are equally as disruptive to your sense of the world. I wonder if you’ve watched people experience your VR projects, and what registers with them that you’ve found interesting?

It’s funny you ask that. The way I tackled this for the SIGNAL show, which was the first time I did a VR show and that was in 2015, is there were things in the VR space that were also art objects in the physical space. Then what people were seeing was also projected up on the wall, so when you exited, which is a pretty sensitive and disorienting time or transition, I had things that were registration points that left a feeling or a residue of what you had experienced in my VR piece. And then with my show LOSSY, those were paintings that were made from the VR piece, so you had an acquaintance with the paintings when you first entered the room, and then after you left the VR piece, you saw that same reference material but now as static windows that you just experienced or felt. That’s always been interesting, because there’s something about the gradient of reality, for lack of a better word, where right now these things are very polar. That’ll probably change, but they’re very binary: you have the virtual world and the physical world. There’s a moment that you can get into very, very quickly that’s in-between those two worlds when you’re making physical objects, and if it’s a show that’s not so much about programming, if it’s a show about that disparity, then that’s what I try to find.

Then there are the pieces that are about programming, like the piece that’s at Kiasma [Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki, Alembic Cache Passes (Time-snark) (2016)], where it’s time moving. It’s a piece that I’ve been working on for a while. There’s a type of VR where you can map time; I found a way to map time to where a person is in a room, so the piece is aware of where the person is, and that’s sort of the human scrubber of time, and so two-dimensional time becomes three-dimensional time. With that piece, the floor is the same in both worlds. That’s another way I think of trying to find registration points. It’s like putting people through the uncanny valley, squishing them through the uncanny valley. Sometimes, the uncanny valley, the disparity [between the virtual and physical], is pretty brief.

In art it does seem like it’s a binary; something is either multimedia and tech-based or it’s not. But in daily life, that’s not how we experience technology. Our digital and real memories are all intertwined, so I wonder why it is that there’s such a gap in art.

I always think about the advent of the cursor as a parallel to this, because part of that consideration is that it’s natural. You have the advent of the cursor — everything is command line before this moment — and then there’s the advent of the operating system, the advent of GUI, Graphical User Interface. We didn’t have a way to really put ourselves in VR, put ourselves in the digital space, until the cursor was invented. And then, at that moment, there was a representation of our hands that was on the screen that you could use, which is pretty interesting if you think about what’s coming next for us. I really hate making predictions about what’s going to happen in the future because it seems so frivolous, but it does seem like, if I had a gut instinct or a hunch about that, it’ll probably shrink — that disparity, that feeling will naturally shrink with time. I don’t know if that’s fortunately or unfortunately.

Our emotional lives, especially our superego, can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not because it still hurts when whatever slight happens on the Internet, or if there’s a threat made on the Internet, my god, my reptilian brain certainly reacts to that. But our bodies definitely can tell the difference. My body can follow my reptilian brain, but it still feels pretty separate in this sphere, while our emotional lives, our primitive brain and our pheromone brains — our more primal or animal instincts — live in technology pretty seamlessly. That’s kind of incredible because we assume that it’s not like that, but it is. If you just take a temperature of your body in real time, [the reaction to something taking place virtually] is completely the same as in real life, if not increased — the fear is increased, it seems like. I find that to be enchanting in a dark way.


Sweater and Shirt by Versace

For your second show at SIGNAL you don’t have any VR headsets. But the plexiglass pieces, do they follow the same process as the paintings where it begins as a photo, is put into a program, and then is made physical again? What’s the process behind these works?

Not everything starts as a photo. Sometimes it does, but I use almost every tool available, and sometimes it starts with me purely modeling things in 3D. Sometimes I use a VR sculpting program. Sometimes it’s me ripping stuff, like for the Call of Duty piece, Man Mask [(2016)], it’s me literally hacking Call of Duty figures out of their little shells and texturing them. So depending what the body of work is, it’s always going to be different. But for these plexiglass pieces, what they are is VR. I have paintings and then the plexiglass pieces and then there are these strange tanks. The paintings and the plexiglass pieces are made from the same seed, the VR space; we’re using VR as a loose term to talk about 3D microcosms that have their own physics and their own light. What I’m doing is I’m using the same scene [for both the paintings and the plexiglass pieces]. I paint from that microcosm or that VR world that I’ve sculpted, I’m [physically] making paintings of that space, and then I’m printing them out on plexiglass — it’s almost like they’re part three of this gradient. Then I wanted them to begin with the body and then end with the body, so what I did for the plexiglass ones is they’re then blow-torched while I’m nestling in them for as long as I can take it. If it gets too hot I have to leave. But it gets pretty soft, and I sort of hug them around me.

In your mind, how do the aquarium-like sculptures play into this? Because visually they seem like a departure, but there’s something weird going on there that seems similar in a lot of ways to the VR works, like, what’s the original piece, what’s the “real” part of it? How are you thinking about these?

Something about building computers and building machines feels very intimate, like building worlds or building microcosms; they feel like building cities or VR worlds. That’s something that, before I was even coding [as a kid], I was breaking stuff and trying to see how computers worked — bless you, Mom. So I’ve been building computers for a long time, and then I became fascinated with the idea of the show and going back to the body. Of course there’s a little bit of a knee-jerk response in the idea of water combined with some sort of technology; that’s the part of it that’s amusing or silly. But they feel like vivariums or like geological core samples of a VR space.

All of the screens in those tanks are literally the VR spaces; you see them through these very pixelated LED screens. I wanted to make something that very much felt like the body, sort of crudely self-contained, that wasn’t VR, that felt that there was a way of describing the landscape, as aquariums do, really — “here’s a slice of the ocean.”

Timescrubbing, Maquette, 2017 ALT FACTS, Postmasters Gallery, New York, NY Photo courtesy of Brooke Nicholas

Safe Apron, Safe Cape, 2016 My Little Green Leaf at Art In General and Kim, Riga, Latvia Photo by Ansis Starks, Kim and Art in General

You talking about body awareness and the act of forming these plexiglass pieces around your own body is interesting, because it grounds VR in the human form literally. How did you start thinking about body awareness and what made you want to physically cocoon yourself in these pieces to make them more human?

When I was growing up, being online was a safe place despite the perverts. It was this place that I felt like was pretty necessary, like my community was there. There was an adventure. It could be because I’m getting older, but I felt in light of… I don’t know if it was a response to technology or politics, that’s what I’m trying to figure out. I think I was wanting to make work that was more introspective, that was simpler and less about technology and less about process, and more, “These are the tools I have right now.” I wanted to strip it down to something very literal. I’ve been making a lot of VR work and I’ve been existing in VR and in digital spaces because I had back-to-back museum shows, which was amazing, but they were all VR installations. I was existing kind of without a body and then not making anything physically.

I think it was a response internally, and it was also a response to the fact that any time I went on social media or went on to where I thought I had community, it was chaos. Because it was chaos and, frankly, pretty stressful, I started thinking, “What is my response? How do I feel right now as I’m reading this horrific news story or my aunt’s Facebook posts? Right now I just feel like a pile of lungs.” One of the paintings is kind of about that. It was about using fear responses or technology as the prompt for that type of body awareness exercise: I have a fear response, and it’s in a space where I don’t have a body, so what is my body doing? But the baseline of what we’re talking about is that I wanted to make something where the work wasn’t serving technology, technology was serving the work.


Sweater and Shirt by Versace, Skort Artist’s Own

Hair by Austin Burns using Oribe, Makeup by Agata Helena @agatahelena using NARS cosmetics, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Production by Benjamin Price

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