Chris Stain grew up writing graffiti in his hometown of Baltimore, and kept at it in spite of a handful of arrests and close encounters with law enforcement—the first was at the tender age of 11, when a classmate ratted him out to the police for tagging a playground, and the most recent was last year when he was caught writing on a box car with an erasable marker. His work overwhelmingly focuses on representing the experiences of ‘common people,’ as he calls them—members of the working class who struggle on a daily basis to simply survive and pay their bills. It’s an interest that stems from an adolescent exposure to 80s punk, Woody Guthrie, and his own emerging class consciousness. Currently based out of East Brooklyn, Stain is now an art teacher, showing kids how to do lettering and stenciling themselves. He joined us to talk about the politics of representation and the joys of writing on walls.read more at OBEY
Hannah Dobbz is the Pittsburgh-based author of Nine-Tenths of the Law: Property and Resistance in the United States (AK Press), an effort at framing a new understanding of what it means to own, rent, buy, sell, squat, speculate upon, or simply desire a home here in the U.S. Dobbz digs back through the colonialist history of North America for clues that expose our modern conception of property, dissecting the media spin on markets and bubbles and offering sober and compelling evidence for a resistant re-framing of the current dialog around the housing "crisis" in this country.
I'm not just plugging her new book because Hannah is a long-time friend — it's actually a damned good read no matter what your current aspirations for "home" might be. You can get copies direct from Hannah here, or from AK Press here. Last month Hannah did an interview with me over email while on tour promoting the book, read more below. She's also doing some screenings in Worcester and Boston in the next week - those details are at the bottom of the post.
In this video report filed from inside Taksim Square, independent journalist Brandon Jourdan brings us the voices of union members and others who have continued to join in the protest that began nine days ago and has continued despite police violence that has left thousands injured. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is set to return to the country today after being silent so far about the biggest anti-government rallies in decades.
Toronto, join Fifth Column members GB Jones and Caroline Azar, artists, printers, and zinemakers Shannon Gerard, JP King, Erin Oh, Amy Egerdeen and more, for a weekend of talks, workshops, even a dance party, on feminism and zines.
All events are free or PWYC!
Check out this excellent interview with GB and Caroline, about Fifth Column, queer and feminist zines, and She Said Boom. HERE
Full list of events after the jump:
And we wrote a joint tour diary about drumming for Tom Tom Magazine's online edition which you can read here.
I was interviewed a few weeks ago about Justseeds and Migration Now! for York University's CHRY105.5FM, definitely the most professional radio station I have ever been in. The interview will air this Thursday February 28 from 5:30-6:00pm as part of their News Now program.
The timing is amazing; hot on the heels of the city of Toronto's recent legislation (on February 21) to approve Access Without Fear, ensuring access to services without fear to immigrants without full status or without full status documents. This makes Toronto Canada's first "city of sanctuary," joining such US cities as Detroit, Seattle, and more.
For more information, check out No One Is Illegal Toronto's site HERE
To tune in live, go HERE . I will be posting an archived file too.
A really nice interview with me was just released on international conservation website Mongabay.com. I talked with journalist Jeremy Hance about my experiences in Congo, some of the history of the projects I was involved in while there, and the wild and crazy world of contemporary Congolese conservation. In addition, Bonoboincongo.com just published a post that I wrote about our expedition in search of the crash of an enormous Antonov AN-12 freighter in the forest near Obenge. Lots of good pictures! If you're in Portland, mark your calendar for March 7th- I'm giving a free talk at the Waypost Bar on N. Williams at 8pm. I'll be showing videos like the one above, playing some sound recordings of amazing Congolese music, and teaching a short class on how to build a drop-snare for an elephant.
I was interviewed yesterday on Prison Radio Guelph, at CFRU 93.3 fm, discussing the Justseeds: Migration Now! exhibit currently on view at OCAD University's Graduate Gallery at 205 Richmond St. W.
Check it out on their archive page HERE and tune in at 43:00 to catch me. You can also hear a bit of the so crucial A Tribe Called Red (pictured here, lifted from a great article in Now magazine), who I got to DJ with last night at the Art Galley of Toronto.
TO WATCH VIDEO CLICK HERE http://youtu.be/0QSor8Va6d8
I gave an interview to Claudia Hernandez as part of her project "Today's Revolutionary Women of Color". It reveals a bunch of slices of my story and how I became the woman I am today-committed to movement building and a fighter for our collective liberation. Get a glimpse into some of what set me on my path working to contribute to a cultural renaissance in movements and a commitment to getting resources to folks organizing their communities.
This is an interview with choreographer Ken Rinker, which is printed in the hand sewn zine of "This is an Emergency!" a print portfolio on gender justice and reproductive rights.
To purchase a copy, you can click HERE.
To check out the tumblr website for this project, click HERE.
This essay was written by Elizabeth Esris, for the hand sewn zine in "This is an Emergency!"
To purchase a copy, you can click HERE.
To check out the website for this project, click HERE.
Molly Fair interviewed Virginia Reath RPA MPH. Virginia has spent the last 30 years as a practicing clinician and educator in the field of Gynecology and sexual/reproductive health for women. She is a committed feminist and activist as well as a practicing visual artist. She is at a crossroads creatively and professionally, having recently ended her GYN clinical practice to focus on art making. In the future she plans to open a different model of health practice to provide health counseling and consulting with an integrative approach on a wide variety of women's health concerns.
To purchase a copy, you can click HERE.
To check out the website for this project, click HERE.
This comic is printed in the hand sewn zine of "This is an Emergency!" a print portfolio on gender justice and reproductive rights. It was originally printed in World War 3 Illustrated.
To purchase a copy of the portfolio, you can click HERE.
To check out the website for this project, click HERE.
This interview is printed in the hand sewn zine of "This is an Emergency!" a print portfolio on gender justice and reproductive rights.
To purchase a copy of the portfolio, you can click HERE.
To check out the website for this project, click HERE.
This interview is printed in the hand sewn zine of "This is an Emergency!" a print portfolio on gender justice and reproductive rights.
To purchase a copy of the portfolio, you can click HERE.
To check out the website for this project, click HERE.
This is the Introduction to the reproductive rights and gender justice print portfolio, "This is an Emergency!"
To purchase a copy of the portfolio, you can click HERE.
To check out the website for this project, click HERE.
This interview with Judith Arcana, written by Sam Merritt, appears in the hand sewn zine "This is an Emergency!" To purchase a copy, you can click HERE.
To check out the website for this project, click HERE.
This interview is printed in the hand sewn zine of "This is an Emergency!" a print portfolio on gender justice and reproductive rights.
To purchase a copy, you can click HERE.
To check out the tumblr website for this project, click HERE.
"The whole story has still not been told. The agencies have gotten away with everything, a lot of people involved with the agencies have gotten away with everything, and nothing has changed for the benefit of the jaguar at all. Nothing in conservation, I mean, these fools can do this all over again. They got away with it once, why not try it again if the opportunity presents itself?"
In March 2009, headlines told us that “the last jaguar in the United States” had died in the Phoenix Zoo in Arizona after being snared in the wild during a routine study. His given name was “Macho B,” and his death – euthanasia at the hands of veterinarians shortly after an orchestrated capture – was originally publicly lamented as a necessary course of action for the aging, endangered cat, whose last days were wrought in an agony that could have only been brought by fifteen years of living wild. That’s how the story played, at least – until Janay Brun, a field tech for the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project, came forward to blow the whistle on the operation, out her superiors for neglect and hubris, and set the wheels in motion for a federal criminal investigation into the illegal “take” of an endangered species.
I was digging around in my archives and found this interview that Shaun Slifer and I did last year with our buddy Hannah Dobbz for the Nor'easter: Official Quarterly of Northeast Anarchist Network for their Radical Media issue. Read on after the jump, and check out the latest from the Nor'easter at www.neanarchist.net
Last year two species of Rhinoceros went extinct. The Vietnamese sub-species of the Javan Rhino and the Western Black Rhino of Africa are gone forever, casting no more shadows. Their lengthy presence on earth was snuffed out not by any phenomenon of natural pressure, but by the real-world consequences of human beliefs.
The world's rhinos are dwindling faster now than ever before, pushed to the utter brink by the adherents and practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The burgeoning purchasing power of the human populations of China, Korea and Vietnam has led directly to a surge of growth in the number of rhinos of all species being poached for their horns. The horns are used in therapies for colds and minor flus, and not, as is often mistakenly stated, as aphrodisiacs. Regardless of the purpose, those in Southeast Asia and the diaspora who are currently paying equivalents of upward of $2000 per pound are being fleeced: Rhino horn is composed of keratin and nothing more, just as are human hair and fingernails. Until quite recently there was additional poaching pressure from nations on the Arabian peninsula, where rhino horn was traditionally made into the handles of the ceremonial daggers that represent the passage of boys into manhood. The massive increase in price and conservation pressure have reduced that demand, and almost all horn is now traded to Asia.
Mazatl is an artist residing in Mexico City. His works embody a striving for justice and a sense of hope. HIs answers to our five questions reflect a rare mixture of compassion and intellectual bravery.
My friend Daniel Drennan in Beruit was recently interviewed on the Design Altruism Blog. He is a member of the artist/design collective Jamaa Al-Yad (who contributed a poster to the recent Occupied Wall Street Journal poster edition). The interview is a good read, so check it out HERE. Here is a taste:
NC: How do you view people’s enthusiasm for creating illustrative graphics for left-leaning causes today in Lebanon? I would think this has changed or calmed down over the last couple of years in Lebanon from the situation around 2001-2007, during the inner turmoil with political issues, and the effect of Bush, Iraq, and Sept. 11, 2001. How has it changed?
DD: Lebanon is a very particular case; we have to examine it in terms of its political and economic history. There is no history to this country other than one framed along neo-liberal economic lines; meaning, the governmental, legal, educational, social, and cultural systems existing here work within an economic model that has always been purely capitalistic and serving comprador and foreign interests. Period.
Witness for Peace works to educate Americans about the negative impacts of U.S.policy in Latin America. One of the clear impacts of neo-liberal trade policies is a huge spike in Mexican migration to the U.S. The Witness for Peace Mexico Team recently produced a series of three videos called "Faces of Migration" which explore some of the lesser discussed aspects of the migration phenomenon. These videos feature interviews with people in Oaxaca and Veracruz states, two of the places with high rates of out-migration due to economic necessity...
There has never been a movement for social change without art and culture being central to that movement. Music, graphics and the written word are powerful living reminders of struggles for worldwide peace and justice. When it comes to immigrants, much of the public dialogue is laced with myths, stereotypes, hate and fear of the unknown. But there is tremendous power in using human stories to give fresh dimensions on reality and dynamically reframe the immigration debate while stirring emotional resonance in people. Art can play in key role in sharing these stories.
In a recent session at Netroots Nation, I organized a panel with Ken Chen of the Asian American Writer's Workshop, Gaby Pacheco of the Trail of Dreams, and Javier Gonzalez of The Sound Strike. We discussed how a growing movement of writers, artists and musicians around the country are advancing cultural organizing and building a cultural, pro-migrant front.
Justseeds' Mary Mack Tremonte will be a special guest star on Radio Free Pittsburgh on WPTS this Sunday March 27th from 1:00 to 3:00 in the afternoon. Tune in on your radio dial (92.1 fm) or by streaming online (www.WPTSradio.org) . Phone lines will be open, so if there is anything you ever wanted to ask her this is your chance! We'll be talking about Justseeds, radical art, signifiers, and the politics of social space, particularly the danceparty. Mary Mack will play a few records as well.
Regular viewers of the Justseeds blog will remember Nicolas' essay on the censorship of street artist Blu's mural, a short while back. Recently a group calling itself LA RAW have executed a few actions against the LAMoCA, and director Jeffrey Deitch. They recently handed out the above condoms, and had this to say, on ArtInfo.com:
The action at the Fowler Museum consisted of passing out labeled "Deitch" condoms which said "Don't be Blu, Practice Safe Art" to people prior to them entering a panel discussion titled "How Does Street Art Humanize Cities?" The use of the condom as a product that speaks of how the artwork of an artist that challenges the current state of affairs is handled, and how the message of an artwork can be watered down in order to be deemed appropriate for the public by various institutions and/or individuals. The purpose of this action was to provoke a dialogue for those attending the panel, keeping the issue from being safely tucked away without addressing the dangers of impeding freedom of expression.
An extensive interview that I recently did with Aaron Hughes of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) has just been published by Half Letter Press (Temporary Services' publishing wing). As is the case with all Temporary Services projects, the attention to detail and the craft is exceptional. This booklet features a dye-cut window, metallic ink cover, numerous photos, and 32 pages of text.
My interview with Aaron covers a myriad of topics including his experiences in Iraq, the artwork he created when he returned, his performances in public space to make people stop and think about the wars, his involvement with IVAW - including the key role he played in helping to organize "Operation First Casualty", IVAW mud stencil actions, and numerous other topics that merge art with activism.
Order your copy here for $3!
"ben with his favorite cup"
installation for contemporary printmaking show, east carolina university
Chip Thomas has worked as a physician on the Navajo nation since 1987; over the years he has photographed many of the people in his community. He has taken to doing large wheatpasted versions of his photos in Navajo lands and beyond. He and Chris Stain were just in Albuquerque NM as part of the "Street Arts" show at 516 Arts. Chris had a chance to get an interview in with Chip:
When did you first get into photography and why?
When I was 12 years old I attended an alternative, Quaker junior high school in the mountains of North Carolina. I was there for 3 years. In retrospect, these were probably 3 of the most important years of my life. It was at this school that I first entered a darkroom, got my own 35mm camera and began shooting black and white film. One of the students at this school was Laurie Winogrand whose dad was Garry Winogrand. Though I didn't know a lot about his work at that time (1969 - 1972), I remember him walking around the school grounds one Thanksgiving wearing a white trench coat, smoking with a Leica M4 around his neck taking pictures of everything.
I think the reason I got into photography is because I'm a visual learner. I've always noticed textures, compositions, shapes and lighting. It's true that a picture is worth a thousand words. Because I stammer when I speak, I've always been more comfortable expressing myself with images. My preference for black and white imagery comes from years of looking at Life and Look magazines as a kid and seeing the work of great photojournalists like Gordon Parks and Eugene Smith. Black and white imagery stimulates the brain in such a way that the familiar becomes momentarily unfamiliar and it's perceived differently. Hopefully new insights can be gained from this.
The Taller Tupac Amaru is a collective art studio founded in 2003 by Xicana artists, Jesus Barraza and Favianna Rodriguez, who are also members of Justseeds. The mission of the Taller Tupac Amaru is to produce political posters and art prints in order to revive the medium of screen printing. Jesus and Favianna were trained by printmaking masters in California, including Jose Alpuche from Self Help Graphics (Los Angeles) and Juan Fuentes from the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts (San Francisco).
In 1998, Favianna was an intern for the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles, where she was inspired to become a political poster artist. While working at Mission Grafica, in San Francisco, from 2001-2002 Jesus was mentored by Juan R. Fuentes, Calixto Robles and Michael Roman who taught him about the many applications of screen printing. In 2007, Melanie Cervantes joined the studio after learning how to screen print at Laney Community College in Oakland. Melanie is also a member of Justseeds and has played a key role in mentoring young Xicanas in screenprinting.
The three of us just did a super cool interview while we were at the US Social Forum.
A while back we posted about a public art project in St Petersburg Russia. Freya Powell conducted this interview in March 2010 via email with artists in St Petersburg Russia who knew about this project. This is its first publication.
I recently traveled to NYC to participate in a panel discussion about Art & Immigrant Rights organized by the Opportunity Agenda. One of my favorite bloggers, Will Coley, interviewed me before the panel and put together a cool video about the event. I talk about what it meant for me to be a daughter of immigrants and make art about my family's struggle. Check it out!
There is an interview some Justseeds members did awhile back with art blog, Arrested Motion. Check it out at: Arrested Motion:Justseeds Interview.
Justseeds are one of the leading and most prolific artist-run radical art collectives at work today and count an amazing array of artists such as Swoon, Chris Stain, Kevin Caplicki, Meredith Stern and Josh Macphee among their members. AM recently caught up with many of the members of Justseeds and asked them a stack of questions about life creating and distributing a huge amount socially aware art and running one of the finest art resistance blogs in the world. Take some time out to check out their answers and more info about their work...
I have worked with Katie Kaplan since she was 15 and she and her bandmates came to a zinemaking workshop that I was hosting at the library. She participated in the F-Word, TTYL (Totally Teens Youth Lounge), RUST, and Youth Invasion at the Warhol, and was one of our first Youth Open Studio shop assistants at AIR. She is now a junior at Pratt and is accompanying Heather White and myself to Brazil at the end of March to do some silkscreen printing projects. We are self-fundraising for this trip with Brazilian dinners at my house and prints on paper and T-shirts. (you can buy Katie's print, Work Pants, HERE). I thought her having her first print for sale on Justseeds would be a nice opportunity to ask her some questions about her work. Here we go!
Tell me a bit about your background and artistic process. What influences and inspires you in your work? How do you go about creating your prints?
I was really lucky as a teenager. I was exposed to so many different art forms through different public programs, working at Artist Image Resource and the Warhol museum, and going to an arts high school. I was surrounded by really supportive and inspiring people at these places. My artistic process is really all over the place, which I guess my work reflects. People, places, materials, processes, events, history- I draw all the time, and always have many projects going at once. I usually start from a place of personal experience, and then that very naturally flows into my larger worldview.
My friend Chris Bravo just sent along this great short video/interview piece with Avram Finkelstein, one of the early AIDS activists in NYC and member of the Silence=Death Project. It's a really nice short piece where he explores the relationship between image making and negotiations with the power structure:
There's an interview with Justseeds Member Mary Tremonte over at the Paper Trail Interview series site.
interview with mary mack tremonte
mary is a zinester, deejay, & artist living in pittsburgh. interview originally posted august 18, 2009.
how did you get involved with zines/d.i.y. publishing?
i am one of many women who came of age in the early 90’s and discovered zines through Sassy magazine! i started ordering zines & tapes & records by ladies after reading reviews in there. a crucial discovery was Action Girl, a newsletter of reviews of zines by ladies, i started making my own zine with my buddy leah early on sophomore year (this was 1993). zines gave me a way to connect to like-minded folks in other places—i had a very active pen pal life all through high school, it really saved me from feeling alone and gave me a big outlet for art and ideas.
Read the rest of the interview at Interview series
the paper trail interview series was launched in january 2006, in conjunction with my now-defunct (as of january 2010) zine distro, learning to leave a paper trail. i came up with a fairly wide-ranging set of ten basic questions about zine creation, zine culture, the creative process, history, advice, & philosophies, & started sending the questions around the zinesters i worked with through the distro. they answered & i posted their thoughts on the distro website.
I met Beth Schaible when I was at Penland School of Crafts last Spring. Her print work struck me as coming from a sincere and hopeful sense of the world, which, combined with an slightly old school aesthetic and a deep sense of craft, is a great thing in this age of slick computer-generated sarcasm. She also works with Shoestring Artists' Collective, "a widespread group of emerging artists, craftspersons and makers of stuff banding together to create an alternative method for communicating and distributing our work." On their blog is currently posted a great video about Distance Don't Matter, a show currently up in Portland, Maine, which includes Swoon. Two of Beth's letterpress prints, Take Root and Action Postcard, are available on Justseeds. I recently interviewed Beth to find out more about her.
The campaign to stop the proposed Crandon Mine from poisoning the Wolf River in central Wisconsin is one of the great recent environmental victories in North America. It is also one of the least known struggles for its name recognition and its history remains obscure, even in much of Wisconsin. For 28 years (1976-2003) activists in Wisconsin organized to prevent a zinc and copper mine near the Wolf River. The movement, itself, was extremely diverse and described itself as Native and non-Native, rural and urban, environmentalist and trade unionist, and hunter and sport fisherman. The coalition organized against tremendous odds. Both corporate power and the then-Governor Tommy Thompson supported the mine and a procession of multinational mining giants, EXXON, Rio Algom, and Billeton all marched into Wisconsin, yet were defeated by the grass roots movement. As a result, Wisconsin has become known as unfriendly to mining interests and in 2003, the threatened land was purchased by Wisconsin Tribes—the Sokaogon Mole Lake Chippewa and the Forest County Potowatomi.
The following interview by Nicolas Lampert is with Susan Simensky Bietila, a Milwaukee-based artist who was invited to join the movement in the mid-1990s as a street medic. She instead became involved as an artist and created giant puppets, creative signs for marches, and a series of over 30 tombstones that were placed at the State Capital in Madison and other locations, memorials to rivers that had been poisoned by mining. Her last tombstone read “R.I.P. Crandon Mine”- celebrating the proposed mine's defeat and the tremendous victory that was won by a people's movement. The interview took place in July of 2009. (a shorter version of the interview was recently published in AREA Chicago in issue #9 "Peripheral Vision." )
Guest blogger Ali Gitlow sent us this great new interview with NYC street artist Dan Witz, check it out!:
Brooklyn-based artist Dan Witz has been contributing his unique brand of witty realism to NYC’s street art scene since before an easily identifiable ‘scene’ existed. Through his in-depth serial projects, Witz has made poignant commentary on the crumbling Lower East Side of the early ‘90s, September 11th, the gentrification of Manhattan and, subsequently, Brooklyn. Constantly engaged with the architectural fiber of the city, he has embedded poetry into the asphalt, hand-painted hummingbirds onto walls and installed real gloves clinging to drainage grates, making it seem a person is trapped inside, desperately clawing to reach the light of day. Witz’s work is not always so serious — some of his most engaging pieces are his pranks, for which he has affixed papier-mâché noses to building facades and installed renegade street signs reading ‘Don’t even think about thinking about parking here.’
On November 5th, Witz’s solo show entitled Dark Doings will open at the Carmichael Gallery in Los Angeles. We asked him a few questions in anticipation:
Ali Gitlow: Why do you usually work in series' on the street?
Dan Witz: I guess that’s my way of keeping things under control. Even though I’ve been at this for years, I never get used to how chaotic and unpredictable it all is. Every project I do starts one way, with what I think it’s going to look like, then one thing leads to another, all sorts of accidents happen and invariably I end up with something totally unexpected. To be honest, the lack of control can be kind of nerve wracking. I mean it’s exciting, but it’s like my life is lived in a state of constant emergency.
Last year I was asked to join the board of the Institute for Anarchist Studies, a cool group that gives small grants to people doing anarchist writing projects, and funded me years and years ago to do some writing, which eventually turned into the Realizing the Impossible book. Another board member David Combs was recently on tour in Europe and was interviewed about the IAS in London by Last Hours, who recently posted the interview on their website. I've re-posted it below, but it's also well worth your time to check out the Last Hours website.
The Institute for Anarchist Studies (IAS) is a nonprofit foundation, which was founded in 1996 to support the development of anarchism by giving grants to radical writers and translators across the world. David Combs works at the IAS, and on a recent visit to the UK took the time to talk to Last Hours about what the Institute is all about.
LH: What is the Institute for Anarchist Studies?
IAS: The Institute for Anarchist studies is an organisation that’s been around since 1996 whose purpose it is to fund anarchist writers who wouldn’t have access to traditional grant money through the various ways writers get support because of the content of their politics. So we have a small grant program. It’s not like we have a ton of money to give away but we raise money to give away for grants and then publicise people’s writings on our website and through a publication we do called Perspectives on Anarchist Theory. We are also starting a book series with AK Press for longer pieces and a group of people who have been involved with, or who have received grants from, the IAS who do public speaking. We offer that as a way to disseminate ideas.
I just realized that this nice group interview Milwaukee artist Brandon Bauer, creater of the Random Artwork blog, did with a bunch of us in Justseeds never got reposted here. So here it is. And check out Brandon's site, and the interview with images, HERE:
What is Justseeds?
Dylan: Justseeds is a Marxist-Leninist cadre of avant-garde artists who use fine art to build the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Nicolas: Justseeds is a motley crew of anarchists, punks, and rabble-rousers who oppose people who work in institutions.
Shaun: Justseeds would win in a snowball fight with the Beehive Collective because we hide rocks inside our snowballs and pretty much play dirty all around.
The Esplanade is a narrow strip of land that lies between the Willamette River and Interstate 5 in Portland (OR). In 2001 the City of Portland remodeled this into a riverfront parkway, with some public art, a partially-floating bike/jog path, and some new boat docks. This area (near rail lines, social services, and with plenty of bridges and overpasses) has also been a long time spot for homeless camps, car campers, train hoppers, and also (of course) skate boarders & graffiti.
I put up a blog posting a couple weeks ago about a public art install, Live Debris, which occurred in this area. It was organized by the group Red Semilla Roja, and one in "a series of international events sharing reuse traditions as a means of reducing stigmas around garbage, poverty and street culture."
I went down late on a Saturday, added some art to the wheat paste wall, sat on a woven-from-garbage hammock, and looked out over the river. I then wandered back down the Esplanade and checked out all the different projects that were part of Live Debris. I was impressed and inspired by the project and interviewed Taylor Stevenson from Red Semilla Roja for the Justseeds blog via email on September 25th, 2009.
(photos taken from Live Debris website)
In 2003, I took to the road and drove around the Northeast and Midwest United States and interviewed about 2 dozen radical artists about their work. I posted an edited section of the interview with Nicolas Lampert (one of our Justseeds members) about a year ago. So, here is the second installment...an interview with Josh MacPhee. Keep in mind that this is six years old, and as such, is dated. I will be posting others over time, so keep your eye out!
These interviews became a rough draft/sketch for the chapter I edited ("Subversive Multiples") in Realizing the Impossible, edited by Josh MacPhee and Erik Ruin and published by AK Press in 2007.
Food for thought from the always excellent Kill Your Pet Puppy blog:
Thought anti-fascism was all about bearded sociology lecturers waving ‘Never Again’ banners? Not in London’s East End in the mid-to-late 1970s when the National Front’s London election results put them in position of 4th largest political party, with a street presence – translated into racial attacks – to match the votes.
The now uber-trendy streets of Hoxton were then the stomping ground of a home-grown Ubermensch and every week they’d flow with the blood of violent confrontations between the fascists and their foes.
This is the setting for a book, “Anti-Fascist” by Martin Lux.
From Kevin McCloskey's blog:
I was surprised to learn the man who taught the radical young printmakers of Oaxaca's ASAR-O collective was a mild-mannered seventy-five year old Japanese master printer. I had the privilege of speaking with him earlier this year in Oaxaca.
His own artwork is generally not political in nature, but he has been an inspiration to a new generation of activists/artists.
Maestro Takeda spoke about his outreach project to Oaxaca’s poor. He is devoted to the nurturing students from the underclass, the sons and daughters of “campesinos” or landless peasants. Oaxaca is among the poorest Mexican states and one of the poorest regions of the state is the remote Costa Chica. Nearly 8 hours by bus from Oaxaca City, the Costa Chica is home to Afro-Mexican communities. An activist Roman Catholic priest there, Padre Glyn Jemmott, has made it his life’s mission to raise awareness of Mexico’s racial diversity. Padre Glyn is himself of African descent, born in Trinidad, and like Maestro Takeda, devoted to expanding opportunities for the campesinos. During the 1990s Maestro Takeda arranged for some of best students go to the Costa Chica and work with Padre Glyn
When the political turmoil hit Oaxaca in 2006, Takeda challenged his students to respond to the crisis as artists. If one is an artist, then one responds to any phenonomenom, be it natural, social, or political, as an artist. He teaches his students about Mexico’s proud heritage of activist artists. He shares his own collection of books of Taller Grafica Popular prints with his students. He is impressed with both the quality and quantity of political prints his former students in ASAR-O have produced. He recalls with pride how ASARO upended the whole idea of the preciousness of art, selling their unsigned prints for just a few pesos more than the cost of the paper it was printed on.
The stories of immigrants, of working class folks of color, of single mothers, of young black and brown men being locked up day after day at alarming rates – those stories are left out of the “art world,” and yet, these are the majority of the stories in the country, in the world. This demonstrates to me that the art world continues to be an elitist body and that it caters mostly to the needs of white men. When I make work, I talk about the things I see in my own community, in the lives of the people around me. My work addresses themes of globalization, war, immigration, women, sexuality, and prisons. When I talk about those themes, my work gets labeled as political. It actually also gets labeled as women’s art, Latino art, Chicano art, propaganda art, and a host of other terms.
Those terms don’t really bother me.. My intention is to change the conditions of the communities I represent. I have been given a tool to do that and it’s through art. I view art as a tool for education, agitation, and social critique. Through an artistic practice, it is possible to confront the multitude of images of disempowerment fed to us by mainstream media.
In the Fall of 2007, Icky and I traveled to Europe and tabled at the Anarchist Bookfair in London. We met Edd, a great cartoonist, and editor of Last Hours, a kick-ass UK magazine which is like a combination of Left Turn and Punk Planet, with great anti-authoritarian content, lots of art, good design, etc. Edd did an interview with me, which ended up coming out a couple months ago in their latest print edition, #17. The issue is great, with a focus on "Radical Illustration," and interviews with Nikki McClure and Alan Moore (of V for Vendetta fame). Now my interview has gone up online. If you want to see it with the pictures, click here. Otherwise, here's the content:
Josh MacPhee is one of those people who are difficult to categorise. He’s an artist, an author, a zine maker, radical, and a curator pretty much all at the same time! He established a novel distribution network called Justseeds back in 1998 with the intention of getting more radical art projects out to the public. Over the years it has grown and morphed and is currently an artists collective known as Justseeds Visual Resistance.
He has also published a number of books, most recently Realizing the Impossible, which he co-edited with Erik Reuland. His book I first encountered though was Stencil Pirates back in 2004, which my friends and I returned to fitfully during that hot summer as we explored our city with our spraycans. I met him, almost by accident, at 2007’s anarchist bookfair where he had a table hidden in the back of the hall. Early in 2008 I finally sent through some questions about Justseeds, radical art, the Celebrate People’s History poster project he established and some of his future projects he’s working on.
Last Hours: To start from the beginning how did you get involved in creating artwork, was it something you were always interested in or something that developed. Likewise what led you to become interested in radical politics? Were you always interested in creating ‘political’ art or did one proceed the other?
Josh MacPhee: Both my parents are teachers, and my Dad was a high school art teacher (recently retired). I grew up around art and books, and art books! I started making art at a really early age, and just never stopped. I don’t have a ton of formal training, art was never something I thought of as a career. I didn’t go to art school, it’s just something I’ve always done. At some point I realized art was the thing I enjoyed doing most in life, and I should figure out how to spend as much time as possible doing it.
My pal Tod Seelie was recently interviewed by Revel in New York. Tod is a tireless photographer and is always helpful and generous with his tools. Photos for the Threat of Chance show wouldn't have looked so good if they weren't taken with his camera and tripod. Thanks Tod!
DJ Aztec Parrot and Elida Margarita Bautista of Berkeley KPFA’s Radio 2050 invited Jesus Barraza and I (Melanie Cervantes) to do a radio interview about our political artwork. We talked about recent works such as our Oscar Grant Poster and various Palestinian solidarity pieces as well as the history of Dignidad Rebelde (www.dignidadrebelde.com)
Radio 2050 profiles both emerging and established Chican@/Latin@ artists who are living, working, or performing in the San Francisco Bay Area . In particular, those artists who are working directly with non-profit and community based organizations who work in the interest of poor people, the working class, youth, families, or equality. Radio 2050 introduces the artist to the KPFA listenership in an in-depth interview which not only profiles the artist, but introduces their artistic process and socio-political perspective.
You can hear it here:
This is an interview Chris Stain and Josh MacPhee did with artist John Fekner:
Chris Stain: About a year ago I got lucky for a few months and had a studio separate from my house. it was in LIC. I had heard from my friend Josh Macphee that it was an old stomping ground of the legendary stencil artist John Fekner. so I decided to look him up. just a year before that Josh and I were showing in Brooklyn at Ad Hoc and John stopped in posing as a vandal squad detective. i had never met John before so I didn't know the difference. After he revealed his true identity we all had a good laugh. Until then i thought the shit was gonna hit the fan. Below are parts of the conversation that josh and i had with john. you will be able to read the whole sha-bang later when johns book drops from powerhouse. i’d like to personally thank Mr. Fekner for the interview and his continuing inspiration. His work is a prime example of how much difference one person can make.
Chris Stain: What originally inspired you to cut stencils, get out there in the street and put it up?
John Fekner: It goes back to when I was a teenager. I grew up in Queens and like most street kids spent a lot of time in parks, hangin’ out, doing a lot of different things…it was the 60s. That’s ten years before I started doing stencils at the age of 26. The first outdoors stencils began during the winter of 76-77. In 1968, for some bizarre reason, I came up with the idea of calling our park ‘Itchycoo Park’ referring to the title of the song by the Small Faces that was a hit in 67 about a park in England. My hang out park was Gorman Park at 85th St. and 30th Ave. in Jackson Heights referred to by the local kids as just ‘85th’.
I said to my friends, “Let’s paint the words Itchycoo Park on the front of the park house. So undercover of the night with white paint and a few brushes in very large crude letters we did just that. The phrase just stayed with the park and it became known as Itchycoo and the local football team was called the Itchycoo Chiefs. It was really a strange thing. Little did I realize that this was going to be my format for quite a few years.
I was just thinking the other day of interviewing my buddy Chris, for this here blog. And as I was looking over the Gothamist site, for updates on the cyclist who was creamed by the cop, and discovered that they already did, Chris Stain on Gothamist.
I find most interviews to be really superficial and uninteresting. I guess other folks don't care about the same things I do. So keep an eye out, if you're interested in Chris' favorite color, what he thinks about toilet paper, and if he's gunna make an Obama poster! JK!
Hey folks! I am enclosing an interview I conducted with Nicolas Lampert on a porch in the summer time in Milwaukee in 2004. The entire interview is enclosed below. Enjoy!
Justin Tolentino started writing graff sometime around middle school. In his own words, he says that he went from “just scrawling on the walls all the way to clean lines, pop art, faces, and other iconography.” Graffiti style is ever present in Justin’s work and its always there as an influence. Now as a curator for Lemp Art Stables, Justin is helping shape and define the local art scene in St. Louis, getting people to talk about graffiti in more positive and constructive ways. A good example, for the 2002 St. Louis Art Fair he helped work on a community art piece that captured peoples responses to and about 9/11. He asked people to write down their emotions, thoughts, and ideas, which he then translated into graphic images. The images and words were then layered to create a collective collage that communicated through the elements and style of graffiti. More recently, he was part of large exhibition that transformed an abandoned downtown mall into a vibrant art space. He contacted us a little while back and we took the opportunity to ask him some questions...
You recently worked collaboratively with Peat Wollaeger on an installation for an art exhibit sponsored by artdimensions. Can you tell us a bit about the site, the installation and working with Peat?
the site of the installation is the st. louis centre an old mall in downtown that has fallen to the waste side over the years of downtown st. louis losing and now regaining a positive vibe... artdimensions has a large formal gallery space for proper showing and during this event there were several other space artists revamped to their taste to sell and show off their work...working with peat is great... peat is my partner in crime in st. louis as far as street art and shows we take part in all over the world...
What is going on in the St. Louis scene art scene? How did you get involved with Lemp Art Stables and how do they fit into the art community there?
well its on its way, thanks to artdimesnions and some other galleries that showcase younger more hip art... the lemp art stables was just another space that artdimesions revitalized and turned to a young art mecca but as you know when someone finds out that you have a good thing going people wanna take it way from you... so artdimensions in the face of adversity has taken on new and stronger galleries in more up and coming areas in st. louis...
What is the general attitude towards graffiti/street art in St.
Louis? New York, along with some other cities, is facing a serious
crackdown on graffiti, is St. Louis experiencing the same?
its frowned upon... we held the largest graffiti competition wall in the nation and when the city got bombed up they started cracking down... but that was back in 96-98 the city has a small amount of graff heads but the diversity of work is lacking... but i think if would be great if there were more bill-post, stencil, and taggers out there... it would make my day doing any type of traveling...shit, i get geeked seeing big ass super-soaker tags...
How have you developed your style over the years? Who/what
inspired you to go out onto the streets?
every day life, people i meet... situations in my life that i have a hard time explaining in words... over the years i feel i just have been developing line and shape using only two colors... this graff artist stun from Minneapolis inspired me at a young age and made me wanna go out there and get up... and seeing twist, Chicago's graff, and, mike giant made me realize how diverse this all could be and that it could be about more that just writing my name...
Do you find yourself trying to "say more" with your work when it is in a gallery?
no i think that im trying to express the same type of message on the streets as in my gallery work...
The Woostercollective recently had tremendous feedback when they posted stories about the Playstation street art campaign. What was your reaction to the ads? Did any show up in St. Louis?
i understand doing corporate work, if you love your art and you love making it, thats all you wanna do, and if you can make money doing it more power to you...just make sure you dont have any issues with the company your working for...and i didn't see any in st. louis...
What do you have lined up for this year?
trying to develop further as an artist and make lots of work... i have like 50 new ways of doing paintings in my head and i have to let them come out one by one... the only problem is i cant paint as fast as i come up with them...im working on a new show at www.chestersblacksmith.com in park city utah... and im going to horn island again do a show in memphis with Jonathan lee and several other amazing artists... oh yeah and if you can get it check out my spread in the mag outta sydney without-reason ilovewr.com
Whose work should we be looking out for?
chris burch at giantkillerz.com another st. louisan
john lee at brokinengrish.com boy from the old schooll
Thanks go out to Justin for answering our questions!
Be sure to check out his site--www.studiotolentino.com
and click here to find out more about Art Dimensions.
Here is a link to Lo-Fi St. Louis, which has a great video that documents Justin and Peat's collaborative show.
Ever since we saw M-City's work highlighted on the Wooster Collective site we have been floored by the magnitude and originality of their work. Several months in the making, here at last is an interview with Mariusz, the person behind the project.
How did you start this project? What were your influences and inspirations?
My work, even before M-City, has always dealt with themes related to the city and the elements that make it up or that are connected with it. I think that a main influence has always been the surroundings that I live in and a fascination with industrial places. From my window at home I see cargo containers, from another window the chimney stacks of the hydroelectric plant. In Gdansk there is a shipyard where most of the terrain dealing with ship production has been closed due to economic reasons. There remains plenty of buildings, a production hall, cranes, and streets that have been an incredibly inspirational. Besides that there is an artist collective there with several galleries that has the climate and feeling of a squat. All of this is situated within lovely geometric lines and isometric perspectives from which the project is built.
Very few people in Poland interest themselves with muralists. In the city where I live once a year there is a festival dedicated to large scale painting—the only one of its kind in Poland. It is difficult to find places to put work up, not to mention finding the money. Most of the legal realizations are covered out of my own pocket. Street art, murals, etc...for now have not been commericialized. There are many differing people interested in street art but with very little connection to each other. There is minimal interest and coverage in the media and newspapers. There is only one street art festival in Warsaw. A negative example of commericalizition is the global popularity of graffiti, which was falsely created, and as a result the artistic level of graffiti has strongly dropped. Cities have been flooded with cheap work. Large sections of old painters have stopped painting and the young painters still have a lot to learn.
Much more after the jump...
Black and white colors and the large amount of object details draw people to the work. It is easier to draw the attention of a viewer when he knows what the work means or what it is about, in being able to recognizing related images, graffiti sits in opposition to this, where the most important thing is the aesthetic and not the readability, which results most often in not understanding. The projects objective from the beginning was to draw the whole public into playing with the work. On the bigger projects I am inviting friends or bystanders. The initial sketch that might arise for a project is very broad, though in reality it is limited by the global composition and shape of the city. What occurs in the middle of the modern city is mostly by chance. Thanks to the modular composition of M-City every person involved in the project can by themselves pick elements of the city and place them in space. There are no limits to the combinations, therefore everyone can create her own world, oftentimes one mimics the situation they are in or the place that they live.
I try to find a place that is both visible and lonely—though finding such places is not easy. I don’t like it when one work interrupts another. Its better to integrate with the surrounding. Most of the time I try to take advantage of places that are legal. To make a large wall it sometimes takes several days.
The scale of your work is incredibly large, yet there are smaller details to take in--food not bombs, etc--are these scenes noticed by people?
The work can be understood from several viewpoints. It’s like a view from an airplane—the closer to the ground the more details. You can look at it from a distance as a specific ornamental form or as a specific relation to a place, because sometimes the city shape duplicates city fragments from the surrounding. Most often histories and stories hide themselves within the details. The more people I invite to build the walls these stories emerge.
Are you thinking of a visit to the US?
If someone would sponser the visit then why not. Mostly the cost of the flight is very expensive and after that I would have to get a visa which is not easy. Right now I am not working and not studying which means I am the ideal candidate to be rejected for a visa. Recently I had a proposition from LA and I am waiting for what may come out of that.
Here is alink to the orginal text in Polish. If anyone has suggestions for translation please write us!
David Lester knows that art and music can change the world, and I believe it. His projects are are rooted in radical history and punk rock, ranging from the band Mecca normal, to poster projects, books, newspapers, and youth workshops.
We'd like to know about your background and what has inspired you to make political art.
I grew up in Vancouver, Canada in a conventional family where my mom worked in the home and my father worked at the post office. There was nothing particularly artistic minded about it. But I did have a much older brother who was involved in 60s radical politics, which gave me access to underground newspapers and alternative music from an early age. Following the heroic stories of the civil rights and anti-war movements (over 50,000 Americans fled to Canada to avoid the draft) gave me a life long inspiration for the struggles of social justice. This combined with a natural love of drawing and playing guitar led me to want to express myself with politics and art in the same breath.
When I was a teen, I did cartoons and graphics for a youth liberation publication out of Ann Arbor called FTP Magazine. This was over a period of several years. After high school I went to art school briefly, but found it all too slow. I already knew what I wanted to do in life, so I quit and joined a collective putting out the international anarchist journal Open Road. I did page design, wrote and illustrated/designed full colour centre spread posters. One of my favorite designs was of Emma Goldman (it was later re-printed in Germany). I tried to approach graphic design with a boldness in line and colour that reflected the desires and positiveness inherent in working for a better world. I tried not to be drab and predictable.
I followed this with countless posters for political events and groups. This being the late 70s, early 80s I also did album designs for political minded punk bands like D.O.A. In the mid-80s I formed the underground rock duo Mecca Normal with Jean Smith. From the early 90s I designed community theatre posters, and also book covers for progressive and alternative minded publishers.
I paint, I draw cartoons and illustrations, write books, do graphic design (t-shirts, postcards, posters, books) and play guitar and write music in a rock duo.
I approach all these areas of my artistic work with the same aesthetic sense. The same thinking process that goes into planning a set list or a guitar riff is also there when designing a page in a book or doing a painting or a cartoon. The use of white space in a design is similar to the use of silence in a piece of music or between tracks on an album. The dynamic of spatial relationships whether soft or loud (music) or bright or somber (colour) can be applied to either sound or visuals. This leaves the mind to think of the colour of sound and the sound of colour.
So this means a consistency of style is developed. It acts as a springboard for creativity that then has its own limitations just waiting to be broken. It gives a necessary friction to the creative process. The more I am limited, the more I want to push those limitations, to break those boundaries. It leaves the creative process open to endless possibilities. My work then is in a combined state of building and growing. This is vital to avoiding aesthetic stagnation and increase longevity as a cultural activist.
What is it like to collaborate with your bandmate Jean Smith?
Jean Smith brings a dynamic artistic and personal inspiration to our partnership with a focus and vigor I have rarely encountered. She is always full of exciting ideas and approaches to the creation of art, music and words. To be friends and bandmates with someone for 20 years feels in itself an amazing reality, yet to also be working with a person you highly respect as a novelist, songwriter and painter, well life just doesn't get any better.
What issues do you address in your work?
My artwork has often concerned the social dynamic between men and women; as well as militarism; social justice; poverty; prisons; pop culture; media and the general state of an often-insane world.
What kinds of responses have you received from people?
Responses vary of course, and as an artist you have to roll with that. It is healthy not to let any response go to your head whether it is good or bad. Though, overall what you remember is when people tell you personally how something you’ve created affected them in a positive way.
How did the "Inspired Agitators" project get started, do you put the posters up on the street, distribute them to community groups, or schools?
"Inspired Agitators" is a series of posters (and postcards) based on the actions of a selection of international activists whose vision and determination inspired me. The series includes John Heartfield, Mordechai Vanunu, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Victor Jara for a total of 17. History is embedded with obstacles that must have seemed insurmountable. Yet, again and again, battles are waged in climates of indifference, hostility and brutality. This collection represents inspired moments in history when an Indian Nation wore down the U.S. government, an artist defied the Nazi party, women achieved the right to vote, a socialist government was elected in North America, universal healthcare was implemented, a union for all was organized, a woman was finally accepted legally as a person and a black man fought public lynching."
After many years of creating posters that were meant to be up as temporary street posters I wanted these posters to be more permanent. So they are treated more as art prints and printed as necessary using computer technology that allows for unlimited colour usage that was previously not possible financially. So wherever Mecca Normal performs in North America we try and put the posters up (as well as our other art) in settings not normally known for political posters. The poster of Paul Robeson was also printed conventionally as part of Josh MacPhee’s People’s History Poster series.
What technique do you use to make them?
I try to mix old methods of art making with more modern technologies. Each poster is approached differently. I may do an acrylic mono print as is the case with Red Cloud or a traditional charcoal drawing of Phil Ochs or a continuos line drawing (without looking at the paper) of Lucy Parsons. But from these tactile beginnings I scan the artwork and in PageMaker I design the poster with text. The final step is choosing coloured archival paper to make a giclée print on a DeskJet printer.
Is there personal relevance in selecting each agitator?
I read a lot of biographies and autobiographies of artistic and political people and I find that they help give me perspective in my own work. Life does not always follow a clean trajectory of this leads to that. It is often messy, full of setbacks, hard work, luck, and opposition. I also selected people from a wide political spectrum because I realize social change occurs on many different levels. With the posters I wanted to encourage and inspire an eclectic activism that is not always obvious when we think about activism.
Tell us a bit about your book"Gruesome Acts of Capitalism", what inspired it, what information you included, how you created the images to accompany the text?
I’d been reading The Guardian newspaper regularly for years, and would come across these amazing statistics and studies that made me go "WOW, I didn’t know that. That’s incredible." So I decided to start collecting this information in a file with the purpose of making a chapbook which I did. I would have the book available at Mecca Normal shows and the response was immediate. I’d watch people reading it and it was apparent that the statistics had the same effect on others as they did on me. I later expanded the text into what is now the full book.
The book uses statistics to illustrate the gap between rich and poor. It is graphically designed to highlight the cold hard numbers that represent this gap. You also find out the cost of celebrity weddings and the cost of renting oxen for a day of ploughing. I also included some of my cartoons to add levity. I had recently been drawing a lot of cartoons and found that they thematically fit well with the book. There is also a handy list at the end of the book of organizations that work in the area of social justice.
The book has many statistics on the wealth of the rich and they are used as a reminder of the trivial nature of wealth. To show the imbalance that exists in the world. I think there should be a healthy level of disgust at the obesity of the rich. Incredible wealth is absurd.
So I designed, typeset, drew, and researched the book. I approached Arbeiter Ring (a small political publisher based in Winnipeg, Canada and distributed by AK Press). They wanted to publish it and they did a fine job. I’m very happy.
The book is for those who are already activists but want a handy reference full of good information to help them in their activism; Its for concerned citizens who lost track of why everything is so messed up in the first place. It’s for those who want a better world but need an inspired kick in the pants. Its also for those with an absurd sense of humour who find the cost of Lionel Ritchie’s divorce proceedings mind-numbingly insane compared to those in the world living on $2 dollars a day.
I know it is just a little book in the world but as Mahatma Gandhi said: "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win."
My next book will be a graphic novel called "The Listener" The story is set in 1933 Germany, and concerns the last free election that occurred just before the Nazi Party achieved power. The outcome of this vote shaped the course of history. Had individuals acted differently, Nazi Germany might never have come to be. I’m still looking for a publisher.
My band Mecca Normal is writing and recording a new album to come out on Kill Rock Stars in the spring of 2006. We will continue to present our lecture/slide presentation/performance "How Art & Music Can Change The World" (recently presented in front of 150 high school art students in a suburb of Vancouver).
My musical partner Jean Smith is working on her next novel and also has a new book of poems coming out called "Glasspool Freighters", (co-written with Matthew Wascovich) which will be published by Slow Toe: The cover art will be by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth.
Cristy c. Road is an illustrator who started making punk zines at the age of 14. Her drawings capture the beauty of people who defy traditional beauty standards. Whether she's portraying the dystopian future or quiet moments of friendship, her work sticks in your head. On her website she says:
"I contribute work to ideas I vouch for and bands I dance to. Sometimes, I spend too much time thinking of the role of art in social change. One day, I decided illustration could take form of a weapon to dismiss exclusion. Then, I decided it could manifest into a tool that presents ideas in accesible and beautiful ways. In the end, I don't think making some drawings or saying the right words maks us immune to being the oppressor.... Through some drawings, I'm trying to make imperfections shine."
She's one of our favorite artists, so we were excited to set up the following interview:
How did you get started making political art and what issues do you address in your art?
I think integrating political ideas into my drawings was just a natural progression, cause I've thought of art as my primary craft since puberty. Whatever affects my life is usually what's represented in my art.
Ten years ago I was only doing art for fanzines and show flyers, the occasional spurt of, say, sexism and classism that affected me would pop up here and there in my drawings. However, as I grew up, I felt a lot more confident in discussing (visually) where I was coming from politically. For me, it took a lot of growth and healing to even talk about things like sexism and racism. And although I can't say that three years ago, when my art became more strikingly political than it was in the past, I had healed from all repression that had pounded me in my life, I sure as hell had learned and strengthened from some of that pounding. Fighting for yourself and those around you is a lifelong challenge, but I feel that the initial year when I felt strong enough to talk about what constricted me while growing up was when I felt strong enough to make drawings about it.
In regards to issues I tackle, I think for a while I was really into focusing on making art about gender, feminism, and combating sexism. It depends on what's happening around me. There was a while when I did a lot of art about Cuba, the US, and immigration policies. During the inauguration protests, I did a lot of drawings about Bush policies and how they're all silent killers. Right now I'm gonna start working on a new zine/novel about teenagers, queerness, punk rock, and the latino community in Miami --- so I'm gonna start pouring out drawings about that.
What/who are your inspirations?
Growing up I was really obsessed with all the bands I listened to and all the artists that persisted with them, or at least made art for them, and I think that that heavily influenced my aesthetic.
In that subcultural context I always really liked stuff by Fly, Evan Dorkin, Cometbus, Nikki Mcclure, and whoever drew all the covers for that band Grimple. Eventually, I realized that art I looked at outside of punk rock, both as a kid and now, was as beautiful and enlightening. And I think that a lot of those more accessible artists like Faith Ringgold, Ben Shahn, and Frida Kahlo, really triggered what I wanted to make art about. But I know there’s always room for growth and I think its really easy for me to totally fall in love with something new that could pull me in some inane direction.
What mediums do you use?
When I was fourteen I think I used to only work in black and white because the art in all the zines and records I liked was black and white, but eventually I also realized that I could get away with this cause its economically feasible. And hell knows I wasn’t the only artist in punk rock who felt this way. I always wanted my art to get out there, whether it be through zines or flyers or whatever, so black and white just made sense for a poor teenage girl with wicked photocopy-scamming abilities.
Now I draw with pens of various sizes. I think that’s why its really difficult for me to make art that’s bigger than 11x17. All my stuff is travel-sized, except it doesn’t suck like travel sized bathroom products. I ideally like coloring with pantone markers, but those fuckers are THREE DOLLARS EACH. They're so amazing, but not very friendly to the economically disenfranchised.
I made these two books once and I wanted them to have a really raw appeal, so I made all the colors with with acrylic paint, all the shading with markers, and all the lines with pens. Some of them are in the 2003 section of my webpage and you can tell how less refined they are from my more recent stuff.
A year ago, I got a computer, which definitely lasts longer than a stupid marker, and I've been teaching myself how to do shading and coloring with photoshop and it doesn’t cost me anything. Sometimes I paint backgrounds with acrylic paint, scan them in, and impose them on the scanned line-drawing.
What's the process for making your drawings?
It definitely depends on what I'm doing. However, I always start by making my friends model for me. I never draw from pictures that already exist --- I usually make people pose doing ridiculous things and pay them back with breakfast. Each element in my drawings is from a different reference, then I just piece them together into one composition. I then add colors and shading either digitally or with markers and paint. I think whats really positive about doing stuff digitally is that making prints is really accessible, and I can make the art as public as possible.
How do you address your identities (feminist, queer, latina, punk, etc.) in your artwork?
At first, I was afraid of tackling too much in my art, because I felt one issue would be marginalized and it would come off as, you know, my “token piece on sex and feminism”, or my “token piece on Cuba”. At the same time, I felt, if anyone thought I was doing that, it would be a little awkward cause those are backgrounds that I identify with. But while my identities are things that I, and those around me, have to interact with everyday, I think that they aren't going to persist with every single drawing I make because different battles affect me more or less at different times. Although making art that strictly defines these identities/struggles is important to me, I still like to make art in which the concept is neutral. However, its safe to say that my political identity is always gonna seep through one of my “neutral” drawings. For example, I did a drawing for the cover of MAXIMUMROCKNROLL the other day, and I just drew a bunch of kids hanging out playing music, but when choosing who I wanted to draw, I was pretty damn crazy about not everyone being male, not everyone being white, you know. Lately, reaching that inclusiveness in my art has been difficult, because I've been doing lots of work in small periods of time, and its mostly been work for projects I'm doing with other people. In the end though, that need for representing both my identity and the concept of inclusion through random ideas is always somehow generated.
What piece(s) are you most proud of?
That constantly changes, I think. But right now I really like the drawing of the cops that says “State Sanctioned Terrorism.”I had been working with other people on different projects for a long time, one of which was a record cover that had a drawing about cops on the back. So I really missed making art that had no particular use. And one day I just snapped when I heard about something that happened to a friend during a run-in with the popo, and I made that drawing and liked it.
You mentioned that you are interested in starting to make street art. What mediums? Do you have any ideas for pieces?
I think initially when I think of my art as street art, I think of wheat pasting iconic images. I really think its important to make political art accessible to people outside of the art bubble, or even the radical bubble. Leftist ideas aren't that accessible to a lot of poor communities who comply with these ideas, and I think its important to realize that these images can positively affect people outside of our direct communities. However, lately I've been wanting to refine my stenciling abilities --- all my friends do these wicked stencils and they're all over Brooklyn and Philly and I get so inspired when I see them. They become so permanent and ingrained in the aesthetic of the town itself.
What is your favorite thing to do?
That’s the hardest question ever. So, right now I’m living off my artwork, so I'm financially stable and have all this free time --- so I finally have the privilege to do things outside of working and crazy stupid things. Like having drawing/crafts parties, eating food all day, partying, being in groups that support sexual assault/rape survivors, having long talks about privilege, having long talks about sex, aimlessly exploring my crazy city, partying harder. I can't have one favorite thing to do. I really like all those things.
For everything Cristy c. Road, check out http://croadcore.org
A few months ago we sat down with the amazing Beth Ferguson to discuss her involvement in various projects around the world including Bikes Across Borders, Green Map, Bread and Puppet Theater, More Gardens, the Beehive Collective, and many more . We discussed the power of using art and performance as a way to educate, raise awareness, and make connections between issues like globalization and the environment, using mediums ranging from puppetry, bikes, block prints, murals, recycled objects, and maps.
Our apologies to Beth for posting this so late!
How did you get started making political art?
I was really lucky growing up in New Hampshire because Bread and Puppet was nearby and I had friends with hippie parents who would bring us to Vermont, to Glover to see Bread and Puppet. Not only was I excited to see the puppets but it was my first chance to see political art and it was like being hit with the real news, that wasn’t getting out on the stations and it was having my mind blown, like learning what was going on in Central America. It really blew me away that puppeteers were coming together from all over the world to put on these shows in the woods all throughout this circus field and up on stilts and dancing and making paper mache puppets and burning them, bringing a lot of people together and eating bread and having a lot of volunteers make this whole thing happen. So that’s what got me started in seeing connections between art and politics and ways of bringing people together.
I went to college and started being interested in environmental studies and saw that there could be a link between environmental studies and art. I got involved in a project called Green Mapping which is using symbols to represent different ecological sites. The first project was started here in NYC 10 years ago by Wendy Bauer the director, was out a preparation conference for UN delegates coming to NY and they wanted to figure out how to show these delegates more about NY’s environment so she started thinking she would make a map and show interesting sites in NY for people to come and see. She came up with symbols like solar energy site, compost site, farmers market, kids places, parks, pollution, places with noice problems, places where communities have been targeted for environmental racism. She had a lot of diverse issues represented in 120 icons. I started volunteering with her as well as doing puppetry work in NY about 4 or 5 years ago and I wanted to have my own work reflect issues about the environment as well.
Since then I’ve worked with puppeteers from Bread and Puppet, after going as a highschool student I spent a summer there in ‘98 during their last big circus. I got to perform with a hundred puppeteers from all over the world which was just amazing. We put on a circus and I learned how to stilt walk, and make paper mache, and volunteered in the print shop. I learned how to do block printing and got introduced to this idea of cheap art and how art shouldn’t just be in museums, it should be out and available in people’s kitchens, living rooms, and schools, and it should be a few bucks or free. And I learned about cheap ways of making art on cardboard and recycled paper with house paints.
I got really into doing that and started working with my friends from college and with other artists in political circles. I started running with puppeteers starting Puppet Uprising in Philadelphia after a lot of puppeteers were arrested. One of the things that drew me to New York was Reclaim the Streets parties that started about 4 years ago. Friends and I came to reclaim the streets and brought some puppets from Bread and Puppet that were Afghani women, a simple mask with a black cloak and we walked through the streets watching people respond to us. What really excited me was how puppets can be up in people’s faces and change a protest like instead of people saying, “Uh, they’re just there because they’re upset,” they say, “Wow that’s a beautiful puppet, or that’s an angry puppet,” or just having the media respond differently. Street performance gets people to sit down and actually hear messages or interact, or start thinking that theater isn’t just for a $20 ticket in a theater, but that they can actually have theater in the streets.
What about the different mediums you’ve used?
While I was working for Green Map here in NY there was a circus called the End of the World Circus in town and I walked by the community garden that was on the green map and saw a circus performer building these double tall bikes. He had to peddle backwards to go forwards. It blew my mind, and we started talking and welding bikes together in a community garden after Adam Purple’s squat had been evicted. My friend Juan had gotten all these bike parts together and some one loaned us a welder, and Aresh from the More Gardens Coalition who I was living with got us a garden space and we started to build these double tall bikes that were really big in the Time’s Up, critical mass bike scene. We built a pirate ship for Halloween which was 4 double tall bikes in the middle and 2 on the side and it was a huge ship and had a steering connection. It seemed dangerous but it survived 2 critical masses and it blew people’s minds to see people riding up there with little pirate hats. So that was the was the medium I got really excited about and having people see bicycles as art, not just as transportation, not just as a luxury sports vehicle but actually something that could have social change, and think about bikes in a different way.
I made friends with some people who broke off from the circus and stayed in NY. We started to build not only bikes but created puppet shows. We made insects who reclaimed NYC after industrialization. We used shadow puppets and performed that at different parties. And we made them into stencils that got sprayed in different places. We made another show after relocating to Austin, TX. Some people there bought a warehouse space that is now called the Rhizome Collective. They called all bike nomads and artists and people who wanted to come create this warehouse into a center for community organizing, political art, and ecological design, which is what it’s become in the last 4 years. I left NY about 5 years ago with Lon and Bracken and started to fix up bikes that could be used for people who need them along the border. A woman in the group went on a delegation to Mexico and visited the machiadores in the sweatshops and found out what was going on down there.
She came back to the collective, who was planning on doing a bike tour into Mexico, “Let’s bring a trailor of bikes and do puppet shows, and touring equipment to do shows for Committee of Border Workers." They were having an event for mothers day and said that they would really like bikes for community organizing. So when we got to the border with a trailor of a hundred bikes and about 15 bike circus performers we found that the taxes were too high to cross with a trailor filled. Sweat shop organizors told us to cross the bikes one by one like a local elementary school had done with desks for their school. So it became this crazy pageant of crossing these bikes over one by one. There were about 10 different trips with 20 people going by. It got us thinking a lot about NAFTA and trade, privelage of being from the north and working in solidarity with people from the south. We got all the bikes across and helped the community start a bike shop. People who were doing labor organizing were excited to have a bike circus performance, we had a lot of fun with local kids and then biked back to Austin.
We realized that we can travel by bike and bring puppet shows with us, and that just got the bike circus going in a lot of different directions. Half the people from that trip went on to Europe and have been there with the bike circus for the past 4 years. Juan, Bracken, Ed, and I made a puppet show about that experience of Bikes Across Borders, of bringing bikes to labor organizers in Mexico. We did a lot of research on NAFTA and border struggles. That’s one of the things I really like about puppetry, is that it gives you a chance to really be a journalist. I feel that puppetry is a form of media because you have to do a lot of research and image making, text writing and finding audiences to perform the show. I like to take it a step further and make comics about the shows so that it can live beyond the puppeteers. Puppetry can be exhausting and you can only be on tour for so much of your life. Comics are a way for the show to be preserved and translated into different languages, put on websites, put in newspapers and magazines.
That’s like, “ The Story of an Orange”?
Yeah, we have a piece called, “The Story of an Orange” which I could sing right now! It actually brings up Radical Cheerleading. One of the orginal members of our Cycle Circus crew was Bracken Firecracker who was a radical cheerleader. Working with a collective it’s important for people to have all different skills. She was a great performer and could put all different rhymes to radical cheers. I was really interested in pulling everyone together to help me write the text and put all different images with the text and keeping things flowing. Juan is amazing with the bikes, puppetry, and getting the imagery really together, and connecting them to the text. Ed was good at putting solar panels on our bike trailors. When you are working in a collective it is really important to have diverse skills, everyone has something to offer, and cover all aspects of what it takes to get images and get work out into the universe and have different people get to see it.
Are you working with other people now, or just on your own projects?
After we did the Bikes Across Borders show for the first time, we traveled with a bunch of puppetistas- folks that had been doing a lot of political puppetry at huge anti-globalization mobilizations. We did a tour through the midwest, landing at the Radical Cheese which was a political puppet convergence at bread and puppet theater about four years ago where puppeteers from all over the country were invited to come and bring shows and do workshops and spend a week together presenting their shows, working on a big pageant eating together, collaborating. Then we had a weekend where an audience from all over came and watched puppet shows that were in the woods, we did a circus with the Bread and Puppet Theater Company, and it was a time where a lot of puppeteers got to connect and now, years later still working together.
I think big mobilizations have been really crucial to political art collective movements in the last few years that I’ve seen. We left the Radical Cheese as the bike circus with twenty bikers and then we did another tour around for a month so that was another 600 mile tour stopping in different villages and small towns. It was when the anti-war movement was starting to grow with Afghanistan being bombed so we went to Burlington and collaborated with bread and puppet to do a big pageant with the population puppets and drums and then onto Washington DC. The cycle circus and political art movements have kind of collided with a lot of different groups when there’s mobilizations. I guess the bee hive collective at the same time were making political banners around the FTAA with images of animals to depict flip tape Bread and Puppet.
When you do puppet shows it’s not only a chance to do research and present a show, it’s also a chance to sell cheap art and that’s a way we’ve been able to support ourselves on the road. Having things like block prints that are either about the puppet show, or about other, either beautiful or dreadful or inspiring things going on, creating those kind of images to sell after a puppet show or during a mobilization and distribute as something that not only helps feed you but also helps the cheap art movement, things like that.
How about disseminating information --- what has been your most successful outlet for distributing your artwork and getting it out?
When I’m organizing tours I’ll often find out if there’s harvest festivals going on, if there’s anti-war mobilizations, if there’s an action going on, because that’s where your audience already is. You can save time from having to put up posters, and getting people there can be really laborious, but if you go where the people are it saves a lot of time and you have an audience that’s interested. But if you don’t want to go where the audience has already converted then that’s a whole other angle on how to get your work out. Talking to teachers I find, like after I do a puppet show a teacher might come up to me and say wow I’d love to have you guys come in and do your show at my high school. We often jump at the opportunity even if there’s no money cause to be able to get young people to be like,"wow you have hairy legs" and," that puppet's really cool" and just get them to start thinking about, like, what a radical cheer is or other ways to express themselves, and often they're pretty energized. When Bee Hive Collective has done tours to universities they’ll often stop at high schools to get kids who often don't get exposed to political ideas thinking about them, which is really crucial.
Do you have any memorable experiences of kids coming up to you after shows?
Yeah, we’ve done workshops in tons of different summer camps or high schools, where we’ll do activities. There was a project called Video Machete in Chicago where we did our puppet show about Bikes Across Borders for their students who were learning video work, and then we made puppets with them after. They’d had a lot of fun making like simple cardboard masks and one student had made a show about kind of, talking about women and harassment. They did a video they showed us of a real plucked chicken that's sitting on a bench and a guy, like a young teenager comes up to the chicken, and says like, “hey chick how’s it going” and it was hilarious, and then in the puppet workshop we made them a fake chicken out of cardboard so they don’t have to use a real chicken, and then they acted out the little show of like harassing the chicken but calling them chick (laughs)
Kids just come up with wild ideas and are often underestimated of like how much their paying attention to, and like if you give them a chance to express themselves they come up with some really cool stuff and they really like the cheer we do about the story of the orange often has the audience does like a background beat to it and can even read along, we’ve made comics of the story of the orange since and had it printed on banners. The Bee Hive Collective prints their work on a recycled plastic bottle banner, and after you spend a ton of time doing graphic layout for comics. Printing it on a banner is a huge time saver, through the tradition of conte estoria a singing song that Bread and Puppet has kind of coined and a lot of puppeteers have learned with, of taking bed sheets and painting them white and then just using house paint or acrylic paints to sketch out your images. I think is also a really valuable form and fun activity for kids to teach them conte esoria workshops. We’ve done that in the past too, where kids have come up with some great story boards, we’ll have kids sketch out an idea with different blockings and then put it together and add maybe music or songs and color.
Most recently what's the work that you’ve been working on and what you intend to do? Could talk about the murals and the design you’ve been doing?
This last year the More Gardens Coalition asked Juan and I to do illustration for a book project they're working on that will be kind of the future, past and present of the More Gardens Coalition and kind of the struggle for community gardens in New York City. My work with Green Map has given me a lot of background in sustainable technologies and urban gardening and greening and community initiatives. I’m working with Juan, who has been one of the illustrators with Bee Hive Collective. We’ve brainstormed with Aresh and came up with all different things for an image of the future of new york city’s community gardens. So we made a list of like, solar panels, green houses, parades, puppets, slow foods, people eating together, bread ovens, solar hot water heaters. We used traditional kind of brown stone architecture of New York, but then cut into it, adding gray water recycling systems using gravity of the building to have waste water from apartments go through water pools and the plants in the pools would recycle and clean the water so at the end it could be used to water the gardens when there’s water shortages.
We created an image that’s just filled with all this information and really positive with all the things that would make a safe, healthy beautiful community and things that exist, nothing that doesn’t exist. That's a motto I’ve been kind of excited about, and it sounds better in Spanish, but it’s alternative technologies exist and they're here, we just need to work together to implement them. Something I’ve been interested in is creating images that are positive to inspire people to actually work together and make some of the changes that we often talk about or maybe forget when we get overwhelmed with how many gray clouds there are right now in our communities, and greater global community.
So we made that image with pen and ink it’s about four feet by five feet, the original, and then water colored it. That’s something I really like doing is adding color to graphic images to give them, kind of a fun look, especially when they're about green cities. It’s like, how can you not put in the green? So that poster’s been finished and now is on big banners and has gone to different festivals and a lot of people have been excited about it and bought posters to bring to their community organizations or put in other books that are working on community garden issues.
I’ve been really inspired by muralists and that’s something I”d like to do more in the future. I’d like to find a spot in NYC to put the More Gardens mural. Something that excites me about murals is it’s almost like a website where you’re saving paper, and you’re not looking for people to give your paper product to. It's putting it up on a wall and people can take it in or not, they have the option. But I find especially in urban degraded environments, murals can bring a lot of peace and happiness and inspiration to people.
The Green Map Project has been using the image too for a new green map in New York which is gonna focus on energy. They're using a portion of the image that shows solar panels and wind generators and composting for a new campaign they're doing to get ideas of how to make New York City save energy and not be so wasteful. I think often big cities, even when they have power outages, it don't even occur to them to think of ways to save energy. A scary thing I heard is before the Trade Towers fell, New York City was at a real loss of energy and was trying to figure out how to get more energy. When we lost the Towers they didn’t have to worry about energy as much anymore because the Towers used so much energy, but we’re just in a crazy time with creating so much waste, using so much energy, and just being this oozing country gobbling as much at the fastest rate possible.
But I think a lot of young and old people are so overwhelmed with that, as artists it’s a real challenge to figure out how to inspire people to face facts and not be a part of it and inspire each other to pull out of that system and ride our bikes and buy local food, and waste less. Another fun movement I’ve been a part of is the trash worship movement where one of my favorite inspirers, an Italian artist here in the Lower East Side named Orlando, who's done trash worship ceremonies where he’ll bring people together at big parties and go through trash transformation process where he’ll get people to cut up cans and make tea lights and take toy boxes from after Christmas and make masks. He inspires people to go through this spiritual experience of transforming trash and thinking about the waste that they're creating and where it’s going. He’s covered the Ninth Street Community Garden with gorgeous flowers made out of metal cans, olive oil cans, pinwheels.
How do you hook up with these various people, collectives, and organizations- do you seek them out?
I think it’s a small world when you get into it, but I think as a artist it’s really important to get feedback from other organizations and other artists, and that’s a way to find different audiences to bring your work to. If you're a puppeteer it's important to know Morgan who organizes the Puppet Uprising so you can go to Philly once a year and bring every new show you have there, and it also gives you a little motivation because it’s overwhelming to be an artist where there’s hardly any grant support and to always be creating new art you have to have outlets and deadlines. Or, like the Earth First Journal has published a lot of our work from the Bee Hive and from comics we’ve done from our puppet shows which has been really nice to have that resource, to have a little motivation to make a comic about work that we’re doing or write a article and get it out there and then have a document of it. And going to mobilizations I think is something that is also a way to network with people.
What big mobilizations have you brought your art to?
Last year the Cycle Circus went to Cancun, Mexico during the World Trade Organization meetings and we got a grant from the Fund for Wild Nature, who's given grants to different political puppeteers and graphic artist to go. Someone handed us the keys to a van so we loaded the van down with bicycles and made a puppet show about monarch butterflies and used the monarch butterfly who travels from Mexico, the US, and Canada on its migration patterns yearly as a metaphor for NAFTA and for learning more about biotechnology. So it’s kind of an example of how finding metaphors in nature brings people together because they want to find out more about this magical butterfly. But then when you throw in topics like border crossings and trade issues and biotechnology people learn more in, this kind of sneaky way and that's kind of journalist work, like figuring out the message you want to bring to an audience, but getting kids to just be blown away with seeing a caterpillar transform into a butterfly.
That's one of the puppets we have is this life size caterpillar that crawls into a cocoon and then a person with butterfly wings jumps out and flies around the audience and all the kids get to chase it. It was really well received when we brought it to Cancun, we knew some of the organizers who told us we could set up the show on a stage in one of the parks, but at the same time our rivalry was the Infernal Noise Brigade, who's one of my favorite marching bands from Seattle. They had hundreds of people all surrounding them in this park, and everyone had pots and pans, kind of banging pots and pans to give memory to the Argentinean uprisings, and right when we’re about to start our show they took the whole audience and did a huge march through Cancun, and then they stopped our show and had a punk band play before us, and we’re just waiting and bummed that our audience left and then the punk bands finished and we set up again and right when we’re about to start the marching band filled the park again but it wasn’t just a couple hundred people, it was a couple thousand people, and the cops had been following them.
Right before we had a chance to perform, it didn’t even seem possible because the audience was wild because the marching band and people were just dancing and having a great time. They got on the microphone and said that the cops had surrounded the park and unless everyone settles down to watch a puppet show they would probably be arrested so that was like the best opening show we could ever have imagined to have like a thousand people from all over Central America and the world at this WTO mobilization protest all of a sudden just stop and listen to our puppet show, and we had local musicians from Cancun play the music so we had some local support with the show. So there were the drummers and then we started with storytelling.
One thing that’s been really fun to do are puppet shows and the Bee Hive Collective's technique of doing story telling. People really like stories and like listening and like learning and questioning after so it’s a great way to bring music and peoples attention together and then have people come up to you later and say, “wow I didn’t know that about monarch butterflies” or, “I work with the NGO in Mexico City that does butterfly preservation stuff we’d love to have you guys come up and perform for them. We performed the same show in a small community in Chaipas and someone came up to us after and said I’d like to take you up to one of the Zapatista communities but I’m not gonna tell you where it is, you just have to trust me, and they hopped in the van with us and brought us up to one of the Zapatista communities in Palenque and we got to perform for their training. They have a school there where they're training young Zapatistas to work in the schools and we got to perform as well in the elementary school there.
Where else have you travelled?
I’ve gotten to travel to Cuba over the last few years with bikes across borders, where we donate bicycles, and also with Greenmap. I’ve worked with the Greenmap collective in Cuba, and have been inspired by murals and political art there. And last year I spent a year there taking printmaking and papermaking classes, working with the stiltwalking theater group that does puppetry in the streets, for kids and does afro Cuban dancing and music, on stilts with a full band and group of dancers. I’ve been able to put my stiltwalking to the big test, that I learned with Bread and Puppet, and working with them.
And I also got to work on an mural project in Cuba. I worked with a community group called Muraliando, “muralmaking". They have about 15x 15 blocks plastered with murals by artists from all over the world- Brazilian graffiti artists, Mexican muralists, or local artists. And we made a greenmap mural last year, where we worked with the elderly community and the elementary school, to do research on important cultural and environmental sites.
In the whole network there’s over 41 countries, making Greenmaps throughout the world, totalling over 175 different print maps. Using low technology stuff to have the whole neighborhood know that their neighborhoods been mapped. They can find their house, and they can find places they wanna fix up. If the mural shows a falling apart baseball field, they can do an image of how they wanna fix it up, or plant more gardens and do more revitalization stuff in that community.
I also went with Greenmap 2 years ago to Italy, for an international conference. I was the translator for the Cuban group, that’s how I ended up getting invited to go to Cuba and work with, their team on design projects. I went to Barcelona and was amazed by how organized the squatter communities are. I went to visit a squat called Can Masdeu, which was an former leper colony hospital that a group of squatters from all over Europe discovered as they were trying to organize an environmental conference. They moved in 3 years ago and haven’t left. Their lifestyle is most sustainable, communal way I have ever seen. They have compost toilets, solar energy, and grow their own food. They also invite the local community to do environmental education projects.
So I got to spend a few months with them and do a map, a birds eye view of their building and community gardens. The image focused on the water systems that they have there. There’s a water mine behind the building, which they tapped into. There’s a little trickle that they were able to put a tube in and fill their bolsas, which are big pools. So I looked at a lot of the photos, and walked around the property a lot in order to design the map.
How do you balance making visionary work with oppositional artwork?
The beehive collective helped us come up with a good title for the More Gardens image,“envision greener futures, demand sustainability today” and that’s been a cool motto. It was great to collaborate with a group that is good with “wordsmithing” and coming up with titles for things. But I think it is important to create images that reflect what is going on for people, to have that reality check, finding out what were up against and have those envisioning images available as well to think about what we can work for and what’s possible in the future. Especially with things that we have today, we just need to learn how to harness them in ways that are affordable and accessible for different communities and fun.
Fun I think is a really important component, because things can get so depressing- but having a puppet uprising...that got started with all the puppeteers were put in jail in Philadelphia during the RNC. They had to come back for their court cases, and then they would just bring their new puppet shows, and they call it a puppet uprising, they bring audiences out to see their new shows, and it was some of the best puppeteers of the country that had to keep coming back to these court cases so It just became this awesome fun event and something to look forward to for going back to court.
Sometimes, even though it really sucks to get arrested or the things we’re up against can be really dismal, there can be really good things about it, like you guys were saying, you wanted to make posters around the Republican conventions here in NY and now you have an awesome collective. Seeing the positivity in the darkest times-I think it’s crucial. Almost balances out the negative. Like what Aresh from more gardens will say is, he loves all the developers because they’ve brought so many of the gardeners together!
So what do you want to work on in the near or distant future?
In the future I’d like to do more mural making stuff. I wanna keep doing block printing and maybe make a little book series, with text in Spanish and English, like a comic book version of the puppet show that we took to Mexico last year of the monarch butterflies' travels through North America . I’m going to be continuing working with the bike circus to do that.
What kinds of support do you receive from the communities you work with?
These projects are sometimes done without any money, and sometimes we get blessed with different bits of support from grants or local donors who will have a fundraiser before we do a project. And my faith is always renewed every time we do something that is totally a stab in the dark to try and pull off a big tour, or try to pull off a project. There is so much support from our local activist communities, environmental groups, and schools. A lot of universitiy tours can be a good way to keep a show on the road and get things printed. When Bush got elected this year I had a sick feeling in my stomach just knowing how much harder we have to work to keep things going and to keep our lives going, so that we can keep sharing political artwork. But I know that I am not alone. I think it only makes us stronger when we have communities that are excited to have things come to them and supportive.
Since the last time we featured BORF on this site, the elusive DC-based stencilist has made at least one trip to NYC and continues to spark controversy in DC and elsewhere. We sent an email to BORF asking for an interview, and got this response:
hmmm. ive been thinking about what to do if someone approaches me wanting to do an interview. im not sure if it will ruin the "mystery" of the whole thing. i dont want to turn into some fucking fad that quickly dies out once the artist, or in my case vandal, gets too excited and jumps on every opportunity for exposure. but, since your site is effin rad, ill try to do an interview with you.
So here goes:
How did you get into stenciling / street art / vandalism?
I first saw your stuff in NYC right before the RNC, you normally hit up D.C., and you made a big impression in North Carolina.... What's your take on working in different cities and environments? (Safety, placement, what you can pull off, etc.?)
As Bruce Lee once said: "Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup.... Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend." I just try to go with the flow. I usually feel like I can pull off anything. As long as you're driven by impulse, the country, city, or neighborhood you do it in doesn't matter. The environments and risk levels change, but the act itself remains constant. As long as you know how to spray your stencil and have your technique down you're fine.
I like making my stencils out of cardboard if I'm going to be walking around and going on adventures with them. I don't really know, though. A lot of other people I know really hate cardboard and use some sort of thin plastic or acetate. If they're not big ones, I usually cut them out of the bottom of a pizza box so I can walk around at night and not look like a sketchball. The tricks and disguises that work off of stereotypes and social norms are usually the most successful ones and disguises play the biggest role in not getting you caught.
You've gotten some media attention lately and one of the articles mistook your tag for some cryptic new ad campaign.... Any thoughts?
I think it's funny. We're so used to the omnipresent commercial mind-fucking of billboards, magazine ads, tv commercials, etc., that once an image is repeated several times and out on the streets we automatically assume it's someone trying to sell us something. But, in a sense, I guess they are right. The means I use and the reason I use them are consistent with the advertisers'. We both take advantage of the streets as an open forum to disseminate our ideas. The difference, however, is I'm using their tactics (of maximum exposure and using images to represent ideas) to subvert the very homogenous consumer culture that these advertisements promote. This strategy of subversion comes from the Situationists' idea of Détournement,
which is to "reuse preexisting artistic elements in a new ensemble."
Subversion and Détournement both devalue the original manipulative intent of the image or tactic. Sadly, a smiling face placed in the context of the urban environment can be considered subversive. In reality, that was my first time in Raleigh and I wanted to leave something behind. So, I went for a walk with my stencil and two cans of paint and didn't stop until both cans were empty. I'm just a "disturbed individual with too much time on [my] hands."
DC is primitive compared to NYC. There is no vandal squad. There is a lot of wall space since there are only a handful of kids that bomb regularly. But, I can't speak for what DC used to be like back in it's heyday, because all I know about it is what I've read in the book Free Agents: A History of Washington, DC Graffiti. There is shit still running from over a decade ago because there aren't enough writers that do shit to make going over other people an issue. I think there are a lot of reasons why DC currently has so little graffiti when compared to New York and other cities. One reason is the nature of the city. Most of the people here work for the government in one way or another, and are usually here for only a couple of years before moving away. Another reason is gentrification has, in the past couple of years, picked up a lot of speed here. Whereas NYC (mainly Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn) is well past the saturation point of yuppies and their plastic "communities." A bi-product of mass-produced consumer culture and cookie-cutter style "communities" is alienation. DC hasn't reached its boiling point yet.
In terms of risk, it's like everywhere else in that it depends on the area you're in. The farther away you get from the downtown area and the surrounding suburbs, the less cops there are. But there are a lot more crazy vigilante types. I've been chased several times, yelled at, harrassed, tackled and searched, and not once was it by a cop. At the same time, though, there are a lot of people that are "down," as long as it's not gang-related. The myth that most graffiti is gang-related could be why people are so hostile. When I'm painting in yuppie neighborhoods it's different, people just don't like me writing on their stuff. It's more of a pride/arrogance thing with yuppies than it is with native DC folks in poorer neighborhoods. Rich people don't like authentic face-to-face human interaction, so they call the police a lot more.
Who/what inspires you?
European anarchists, Huey P. Newton, Shel Silverstein, and impulsive kids.
Melina and Peter Rodrigo create illustration and design that comments on their social and political surroundings. Check out their excellent website risewithus.com. Also see the poster images that Melina contributed to the NoRNC Poster Project here.
What political or social issues do you address in your work?
Most of our work revolves around poverty, racism, corporate oppression, and the overall climate of the American culture. We often try and address a point of view more than a particular issue. If your work revolves around one particular issue, it not only dates that piece, but also limits your audience because anyone who doesn't think that issue pertains to them will pass it by. On the other hand, if you base your work on a particular principle, and find a way to put that specific principle into a general context, you not only reach more people, but also still get your point across.
How did you get started in art, what politicized you?
We've been making art since we were children. As far the political aspect it was a series of things including personal experience, books, and hip hop music.
Could you name some specific books, music, artists, or experiences that inspired you to create social and political art?
Living My Life by Emma Goldman is an incredibly inspiring book. We enjoy listening to the music of Immortal Technique whose lyrics expose a great deal about the system.
What is the potential power of combining hip hop with community organizing?
There is really no telling just how powerful such a relationship would be, but it is safe to say it would be monumental, as hip-hop is the most popular music at this moment. But in order to make it a true success, it would have to be something that honestly got everyone involved. You see a lot of hip-hop campaigns like Vote or Die and The Hip-Hop Summit that generate support and attention, but at the same time there is very little awareness being created in terms of what can be done beyond the campaign itself. This is not to take anything away from Puffy or Russell Simmons, but at the same time they got where they got because they understood the system and what they needed to do in order to overcome it. They didn't attend a rally and become moguls through someone else's campaign. They took fate into their own hands, and I think that's the real power of hip-hop.
Right now we have a bunch of people (rappers, producers, CEOs, etc) who are not only wealthy, but also understand poverty, racism, and oppression firsthand. They now have the chance to use their wealth, influence, and experience to open doors for others. If you sit back and realize that some of these rappers have made over 300 million dollars for themselves out of absolutely nothing, you can only image how much could be overcome if we used these same independent minded people and the empires they have amassed to continue our progression.
What is your artistic process (do you work from photos, collage, illustration, graphics programs), what materials do you use?
We use a variety of materials including markers, crayons, spray paint, photos, ball point pens, and cloth. As far as the computer we mostly use Photoshop and Illustrator.
Is it displayed and distributed only on the web or elsewhere?
Our work has been displayed in group shows across the United States and Europe. This year we'll be in some new places such as Japan, Israel, and South America. We've also had our work printed on posters, apparel, books, magazines, and newspapers. We tend to display a lot of our work online. The web it is a great way to reach thousands of people.
You have participated in shows in other countries. Was your work site specific or relevant in a global context? What was the response to your work? Did the experience differ from shows in the US?
Our work has been in a global context. This started with the realization that everyone outside the US hates Bush. One of my friends from France wrote me with this response the other day. He said, ‘Your work is like a new "eye-opener" that is understandable by everyone all over the globe...your zines speak a universal language.’
The experience has been different because our work has been received with great energy and enthusiasm outside the US. Inside the US we have faced resistance and censorship.
What are you working on next?
We're focusing on our apparel. Issue 9 of the zine is almost complete. Also getting posters together for several shows including Paper Politics West and a tsunami fundraiser.
What is issue 9 of the zine about, can folks get it somewhere besides the web?
The zine is autobiographical. Lately I've been obsessing over snail mail. So issue 9 has the theme of postal mail.
My zine is currently only available on the web. The internet has allowed my work to reach far more people than I ever would have dreamed.
As far as print goes each issue is made at a 350 dpi resolution. I received quite a few requests for a printed version. I've been working on researching printing and the various other elements that are required. I hope to make a printed version happen in the near future.
What are your thoughts on art in public space or sold cheaply vs. sold
or displayed in galleries?
Aesthetically we love the way work looks on the streets and in less sterile environments. We embrace the idea of it being affordable. However, art is work and some pieces can be costly to produce. Artists deserve to make a living.
Do you put art up on the street?
Somehow it keeps showing up there.
Melina, could you talk a bit about your style (which is very unique, almost childlike), and why you like to use humor in your work?
I was studying design and found the computer to be too impersonal. I also was tired of all my projects being client driven. I wanted to express my point of view and wanted my visual voice to maintain a human quality. So I started drawing in a primitive manner. I use bright colors and lively lines to invite the viewer into difficult subject matters like war,religion, and poverty.
Humor makes things more approachable. I don't watch the regular news it's far too depressing. I enjoy the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. We laugh through the whole thing. And as Oscar Wilde said, "If you want to tell people the truth make them laugh otherwise they'll kill you.
Melina's zine is in need of sponsors and she needs help to sustain the project. The cost of sponsorship starts at $30 and includes having a banner space above the next issue. She would appreciate any advice you could offer! Contact her at Melina[at]RiseWithUs.com
I've been looking for Garrison & Ray since July, when I first came across their "Sgt. Guy Debord" riot cop on the Manhattan Bridge bike path. So when Garrison introduced himself at the And So Forth I was ecstatic. Together, Garrison & Ray make up Peripheral Media Projects, a culture jamming, apparel-making, bad-ass screenprinting collective. They put out a pretty diverse range of work, and are also getting ready for a show at Zakka in Soho this Friday, so the timing seemed right to send them a few questions:
How did you get started doing street art?
We started doing street art though our mutual interest in Adbusters magazine and wanting to be active in culture jamming. We were hyper-aware of the lack of image diversity in our public living space and sought to change that fact. Using the Adbusters black spot logo/anti-logo to alter, disrupt, obliterate, enhance the urban landscape of NYC was our first foray into reclaiming our visual environment.
Tell us a little bit about Peripheral Media Projects, how you got started, what your goals are, etc....
We met in graduate school, that was the kickoff. The more we hung out and talked, the more we realized we had many similar interests along the socio-economic-environmental-activist avenues and decided to be in action about our desire to create a different reality. This creation happened though an escalated level of commitment, connection, and contribution on our parts as a unit, with the world. Peripheral Media Projects is these notions made manifest.
We have many objectives/goals. One of the main ones is to stimulate independent critical thinking. There is no right or wrong but there are dualities and both sides should be represented. In our surroundings, we only see corporate advertising, messages companies are paying a boatload of money to put out there. We are inundated with advertising and it just keeps increasing. We are not saying our message is the right one and that others are wrong. We are merely expressing our ideas and understandings. It is up for the viewer to decide what they think. If people questioned answers and thought more, the world would be a dramatically different place.
Our vehicle for stimulating thought is via our images. Another goal is to continually grow our abilities and be a badass silkscreen collective that bases our work in activism, social consciousness, and the belief that connection is a cornerstone to creating a sustainable future.
We want to serve as a resource for others seeking to collaborate, produce, and create. We want to generate dialogue, strengthen community, and empower individuals to self-actualize.
We want to set up an international exchange where street artists from around the world spend time with one another, sharing experience, creating synergy, and increasing momentum.
What's the process that goes into a piece like the Sgt. Guy Debord pasteup?
First comes the idea itself from within or without. The idea for the riot cop came from an artist mentioning it as something that we should do. We thought it was a great concept and went with it. Once the idea is in place, deciding on the image that best conveys the message we are trying to get across comes next. The image is manipulated and modified through many means, ranging from old school hand altering (cutting, pasting, painting in, whiting out, copier enlarging, etc.) to computer-based designs. The image is usually reworked again and again until we are happy with it.
Once it is there, we photocopy, computer output, or hand-generate the stencil. The size of the image is a factor in how the setup takes place. The Sgt. was shot in four screens, one each for the head, chest, midsection, and feet. It could be shot in one screen, which we would love to have the resources to execute it like that. Til then, it's hardcore tiling. We have paper rolled out on a long table where we put the screens down and start from the top down.
It's been challenging as far as balancing the whole time/energy aspects go. Both of us are loving the street art/postering/apparel facets right now and these are where we funnel most of our efforts at present. Much of the imagery we poster is incorporated into our clothing line, called Plan D.
We anticipate balancing out things down the road, where we spend more time doing our painting, but with all four burners going, the painting is on the back one right now. The activism and expression of our ideas on the street and as wearable art is what is fueling the fire.
Our work comprises all of these varied expressions as they mingle with and inform one another. They are a reflection of who we are and what we do. If any one of them were removed from the equation, that void would impact all the others in some fashion. Most of all, we believe having fun and enjoying what we do is paramount. If there is ever a day when that isn't there, we can make a choice from there. Until then, we're having a blast.
We want to get our imagery out there as much as possible. Our website,
PeripheralMediaProjects.com is almost complete. It will be up in time for our show at Zakka on Friday, February 11th. We're pumped about that show, where we will put out our latest installation and clothing designs. It's located at 147 Grand, between Broadway and Lafatette in Soho, 7-9pm.
As our work opens up to a larger audience we want to collaborate with people in all sorts of fields to create environments where people get together and exchange ideas, information, dreams, stories...
We have ideas for installations and big street art stuff we'd love to do. Basically we want to do whatever we can to facilitate and encourage relating with other human beings. It sounds simplistic, which it is, but so true, natural, and necessary. We weren't put on this planet to be filed away in our homes, like a paper in a folder. Connection is fundamental to our existence. That's what we have in store.
Thanks for your time and attention,
Garrison and Ray
1. How did you first get involved with street art?
I have been posting web-based projects on my site since 2001, but I started to switch my focus from the web to the street about a year ago. Moving to New York City and seeing all of the amazing graffiti and street art happening here played a major part in this shift. I find experimenting in the street similar to the web as both offer a highly democratic and un-curated arena where one can put up work without having to ask permission.
2. a. The All City Council Project was huge in scope --- it directly challenged the new anti-stickering law while indirectly commenting onstreet art itself. Was it initially imagined this way? Can you offer the background and context on how you got started and what the inspirations were?
Initially I was working on a very simple computer application written in C that could mix an ASCII art image (an image composed only of text) with a legible text document (as read from left to right). After this tool was completed I was thinking about how it could best be used within the context of graffiti. At first I was creating pieces which read as a 'ni9e' tag from a distance and read as the HTML code from my website close-up. While interesting, this was not all that hard hitting. Then a classmate, Josh (bikesagainstbush), told about me the sticker law the New York City Council passed. My reaction to the law, which was probably the reaction of a lot of people reading it for the first time, was “wouldn’t they be guilty of their own law if someone put their names on stickers?”
b. What was the response?
This project was different than previous work because the audience I was trying to reach was very specific. In other projects, my aim was to reach a wide group of people walking around the city or surfing the web, but the All City Council Project was aimed very directly at the council members. In some cases, I was literally putting these up on their office doors. The response on the Internet was huge. The WoosterCollective linked me up initially, and from there it spread to boingboing.net and other web sites. In terms of web traffic, it has been one of my most viewed projects. I wondered if the Internet popularity might bring the police knocking at my door, but so far that has not happened. In general, I respect the intelligence of the City Council and hope that they will get the joke rather than feel threatened (which was not my intent).... perhaps this is overly optimistic, but time will tell.
3. What do you think of Bloomberg's renewed interest in the "Vandal Squad"?
In my opinion, anti-graffiti legislation is shortsighted and blames the victims of a problem as if they were the cause. Rather than deal with larger issues, such as poverty, racism, and classism, we blame those being affected. Graffiti is not a "quality of life offense." The over saturation of advertising, the price of rent and health insurance, the lack of funding for arts and music programs in public schools, the "no child left behind" act--these are the real "quality of life offenses". Graffiti is a reflection of these issues, not the cause.
4.a.Your current project focuses on graffiti analysis. How did this interest first develop?
Graffiti is often misunderstood by the public and local legislators. This lack of understanding leads to fear, which is why I think the discussion of graffiti most often revolves around legal rather than artistic issues. The "Graffiti Analysis" studies are an attempt to express the intent and beauty I see when I walk down the street and present it in a language that communicates to a larger audience. If more people can view tags as something other than an eye sore, we will see less legislation and more creative new graffiti forms.
b. Can you discuss the differences between analogue and digital and their relationship to graffiti and street art?
Graffiti (both traditional writing and "street art") is usually something made by hand. While some have started using the computer and home printers in the production of graffiti, there is a lot of room for experimentation in what new media and code can create in the streets. I see digitally created graffiti not as a necessity to the art form, but simply another voice to be added to the discourse happening in public urban spaces.
5. Both of your projects have a pronounced technological aspect, both in the use of technology to create the art itself and the incorporation of video communication. Any thoughts on the points where graffiti and media intersect?
I go back and forth on this issue. While I understand the inherent problems with mediating the viewing of graffiti in the streets, those who don't think that the Internet is a part of getting up are kidding themselves. I would never claim that seeing a piece on the web is equal to the power of seeing it in the streets, but the Internet, for better or worse, is now a part of graffiti. Having never seen a BANKSY piece in person, I have been profoundly influenced by his work through the web. Although this may be an unpopular sentiment, I embrace the web as part of getting up and put a great deal of emphasis on how my work is documented and presented in this medium. It would be a shame if graffiti was only viewed on the web, but it would be a bigger shame if would-be graffiti artists were never exposed to the brilliant work happening outside their own city.
6. Who or what inspires you to go out and put your work up?
I feel strongly that even the smallest "I was here" tag is a social and political statement. If people can become comfortable in questioning (and at times breaking) laws which are imposed upon them than we will be one step closer to real change in this country. I would encourage everyone to see how different the world looks when you walk around with a UNI in your pocket. I am inspired by the thought of everyone in the city writing their name on the wall and taking back control of the space in which we live.
Arofish is a stencilist currently residing in London. He promised to greet our "intelligent, subtle, carefully thought out questions . . . with a load of boorish, superficial, irrelevant, conceited self-promotionism (well, I am a graffiti artist after all...)," but actually ended up giving us one of our best interviews yet.
How did you first get involved with street art? How did you find your way to stencils?
I came to London a couple of years ago and the stencil graffiti I saw just blew me away. I've always had a little bit of skill for drawing but rarely ever had the urge to produce anything. Until I came here, graffiti to me just meant the wildstyle, new york hip-hop stuff you see. That's often incredibly beautiful and skilled but it still just comes down to writing your name and I wouldn't personally bother trying to get good at it. Ironically, a lot of those artists piss on me in terms of technical skill. What limited drawing skill I have (and I draw everything I do ) is with pen and pencil, hence stencils. (And of course the exposure time is minimised too)
I came to graffiti from a background of political activism, which is why doing art in Palestine and Iraq was a sort of natural extension of both elements.
How long does it take you to put up a piece? Do you have any technical tips for those interested in large-scale stenciling work?
How long is a piece of string? Seriously, there are so many factors involved. The tips below may elucidate some.
Tips, in no particular order:
--- If it's a high risk area, recce it first a week before, on the same night (same time) you're gonna do it. If it's pigged out, pick another night or another spot.
--While you're there, CHECK THAT THE SURFACE WILL HOLD YOUR TAPE, or whatever you're using to stick up your stencil. Some paint can soak into some porous surfaces with barely a trace; also worth testing.
--- Plan absolutely everything you can beforehand; chances are it WON'T just sort itself out when you get there (you'll have enough to worry about)- and your hard work could go for naught. Taking the time to section out your large stencil into smaller jigsaw pieces is worth it; you can fit them into a folder instead of walking around with a huge rolled up package. It's also easier to keep them flat (essential). And to get them away again. Smaller pieces are easier to work with if it's blowing a fucking gale. A drawback is they can take longer to match up and there's more of them to stick.
--- A word on sectioning- don't just take your big, (already cut out) stencil and hack it to smaller bits. You'll probably fuck it. Get your artwork (on paper) and cut it into measured pieces first. Number/letter them and make a note of how they fit. Now cut the stencil card, which is separate, into individual pieces, for your paper "jigsaw pieces" to be glued onto. The pieces of card should be bigger than those of paper, perhaps an inch margin on every side. Depends. Take the time to cut little "register" holes in (or develop your own system, so you'll be able to match them up accurately when you're working by streetlight and worrying about cops.) The margin overlap means you'll have to take one piece off before you start the adjoining one. That's where the register holes come in; you should be able to spray through them and match up your next section on the spots, crosses or what ever they leave. Paint them out at the end.
---Too much tape is better than too little.
---You can sometimes use the lines of bricks for your verticals and horizantals.
---A nervous lookout can be a bigger curse than no lookout at all.
---When you arrive at your spot, take the time to "smell" the air. Spend 5, 10 mins wandering about, talking to yourself on your mobile, looking around and seeing how it sounds and feels. If at the end of that time you feel that there's a troll under the bridge, it may not be worth starting a big piece.
---If it's gonna take a while, and you're a repeat offender, hide your "tag" stencil (if you use one) elsewhere till the end. That way if you get pigged, they can't tie it to everything else you've done.
--The more intricate and detailed your artwork is, the more of a fucker the stencil will probably be; you'll see what I mean. There's no one ideal material though. A lot depends on the picture itself. Thinner stuff (like acetate) allows more (knife) detail and a sharper spray but the floppiness can make for a nightmare.
--- Take a cloth to wipe wet surfaces before sticking.
--- Smoother surfaces give better detail.
--- Use street furniture like bins, milk crates, etc. to stand on.
--- Spraying your work on big paper will be a good test of how it looks, and you can always use it to remake the stencil if you have to abandon your stencil and run.
--- If you're pigged and there's a chance to run, never hesitate on behalf of your stencil; precious it may be, but you've already lost it.
---Don't be afraid to touch up your work afterwards with a marker; the best of us do it.
--You know the distance you have to spray from; it even tells you on the can. SO STOP MOVING IT CLOSER.
---Once I was painting a huge piece in central London at 5 in the morning. 4 cops came up to me. the 1st was plain clothes and I didn't see the rest immediately. He asked me, jovially if I was cleaning the wall. Thinking this a joke, and he just some random guy, I replied, laughing, that I was. Then I saw the radio in his hand and the 3 uniform behind him. "Oh, no problem," he says, "someone thought you was graffiti-ing, that's all". I pull a rag out of my pocket and pretend to wipe the wall. "No mate, contract cleaner, " I say. It was raining lightly, so it was not suspicious that I had my hood up. I was also wearing a high-vis vest. I continue my sad charade, expecting the joke to be over any moment. After a few seconds I turn round and see them walking away, back to their van. I stayed another 10 minutes and finshed off...
When a piece of graffiti actually interacts with its surroundings, you've achieved something higher than just a picture on a wall.
What was it like to travel through and put art up in war-zones? Did you approach the work differently than you would in London?
I get a bit uneasy by the description of this place or that as a war zone. The notion of wars and war zones is something which ought to be thought through more thoroughly; if you ask Bush, the war finished long ago and the rest of it since then (Fallujah et al) has been a matter of winning the peace. These are dangerously loaded words; like terrorism, freedom, etc. Shimon Tzabar's book "the white flag principle" discusses minutely the conventional notions of conflict, victory and defeat and points out the very real advantages to losing and the enormous potential burdens incumbent upon a supposedly victorious nation. In Ireland, one person's war was another's "high level of crime". The situation there bore almost no relation whatsoever to Bosnia in 1992. There are times when you can spend weeks in parts of Palestine without the slightest sense that you're in the middle of a war. Sorry if all this seems a bit tangential to the question but I have a concern that a certain alien status is conferred upon places of "war" by all kinds of different people which can have so many negative ramifications, even when those people might think they mean well. Many people go to Palestine every year to engage with the ISM or similar, and some are attracted by the idea of an adventure in a war zone, which label, besides being a plain insult to people who live there, enforces difference and otherness.
I've never met a Palestinian who had a good thing to say about the occupation there. In Iraq, I met many, which was one of the biggest surprises. I could say that everyone was univocal against the occupation and my work went down a storm, but the truth is it got mixed reactions in Iraq for various reasons; ultimately beyond the scope of an interview like this. it's a very complex, divided society where paranoia and suspicion operate in all sorts of ways. You become very conscious of your own ousiderness, even when you're made very welcome. I don't pretend to a deep understanding from my short visit and I'm still figuring out the significance of certain things now. However, enough people liked enough of the work there for me to carry on with it. In Palestine, I only painted in the West bank as Gaza was closed to pretty much everybody for hunting season. I've lived there before and the insularity, being far more acute than in the West Bank, gives rise to a suspicion of outsiders more comparable with that of Iraq. As to the general conditions of Iraq, fucking miserable on the best day for most people. All I can say is I would be very reticent to go back there now. Those pictures that came out of Abu Ghraib are worse than bombs in some ways.
Blek le Rat is a Parisian artist from way back who I like very much, and I've just discovered an artist (I think American) called Swoon. And I like a lot of Banksy's work, but mainly the older stuff. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be much "perlitickul" stuff out there which also makes good art. A lot of people got on board for "No War" but most of what came out of it was pretty crap.
“people have to question things, and far too few people do that any more”
– Jonathon Baker
1.Where are you from? Where do you live now? How have these places impacted you as a person and as an artist?
JB: I am from Rugby in England, and still live there now; it’s a very dull, nothing-to-do town, with the dubious honour of having the most pubs per square mile, we only got an art gallery very recently, and that’s not open to artists of the likes of me. Despite such limiting factors, the town has affected myself and some others greatly, in the sense that places like this have a tendency to create some fairly interesting people, and from my personal experiences, Rugby is no exception.
2.Who do you see as your audience? How do you go about getting your work out to people?
JB: I don’t really know who I see as my audience, fellow artists and art-students I guess, as that’s who I get emails from the most. My major method of getting my artwork out to people is my website, I also do a fair amount of magazine work, CD covers for the odd band.
3.Can you discuss collage art. Your first experience with it. The process of constructing a piece. How it comments upon the political and cultural spheres.
JB: My first experience with collage art that really stands out, is from discovering the political punk band the Dead Kennedys. The inserts within the sleeves were so refreshing to me, so biting and absolutely perfect for political satire, it electrified me, setting off a compulsion that has gone on for nine years now, nearly ten. It’s at the point that I get quite upset if I haven’t created anything for a few weeks. As far as constructing pieces go, it’s only ever occasionally that I approach it with a set idea in mind; for the most part I tend to flip through old books and magazines, trying to see if a particular picture will set an idea off. Usually the political work will have a set concept in mind, after that, the hardest work is finding the right pictures.
Collage/montage art is ideal to speak about and reflect upon culture as it takes elements of said culture and puts it among other alien elements, everything is out of place and isolated to show what it is; but it also takes other peoples lies, such as adverts/propaganda, and contrasts them with the truth, it is one of the ways that art for instance, can attempt to help speed up our continuing evolution, which unfortunately seems to be slowing down. For us as a species to grow, people have to question things, and far too few people do that any more, they’re too content to have someone, (the media) to bring them information, that’s if they want it. As Jello Biafra has said, “Don’t hate the media, become the media!” More of us should be spreading information.
4. I was really taken by your Great Dictator piece. It is one of the only posters of Bush that actually makes me feel sympathetic for him...even now after the election and the seemingly countless clip art images of him. At this point how do you feel about using Bush’s image?
JB: Actually I have done many pieces about Bush junior; I sent only that one because I didn’t want to appear obsessed! I am happy with the piece, although, it’s an idea that has occurred to many people, the same goes with my “Don’t mess Texas!” piece. I certainly don’t feel sorry for him, what with the ideas he represents, and the company he keeps. Also politics is the one profession where you are guaranteed an artistic pillorying, he knew that when he ran for governor, let alone president; what was unexpected was the force of the attack, and the united artistic front. Any satirical artist needs a good enemy, and this guy’s the best world leader since Reagan, we artists have never had so much fun.
5. A lot of your work contains religious iconography. How did this interest develop? Is it harder to do this now that religion has seemingly become (or perhaps it always is) such a problematic issue in American politics? Also can you speak about the image of the family in your work, which is another theme that has been granted a new level of purpose by the present American administration?
JB: Actually the religious stuff is partly by accident, as some of my source material comes from old kids bibles, as they have some of the best pictures, but there is an element of trying to subvert what I consider an oppressive institution, that can hamper our development. People can believe what they want to, but it shouldn’t go much further than that, huge institutions with that kind of money and power can’t be good, anybody that thinks too much can a real threat to their orthodoxy. I’ve never had too much of a problem, although the Watchtower bible association have threatened to sue me in the past for copyright infringement.
As far as the image of the family goes, the politicians in America still wish for you to have this 1950’s Norman Rockwell ideal, which of course is a bubble I enjoy to (pop) burst, my piece “I bring you death” is a Rockwell piece, although that’s something that I found out later on. Over here in England, the only people who are so obsessed with trying to preserve some fairy-tale concept of “Britishness” are the far right, and it involves cricket for some bizarre reason.
6. Lastly --- how do you pay the bills?
JB: Grudgingly! Unfortunately I’m still tied to the day job, and don’t see my way out of it for a long time.
Third Colossuss (or Mother of all Exiled)
The phrase, "Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," is from a poem called "New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus, and it is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. The first two lines of the poem read "Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame/With conquering limbs astride from land to land."
This poster represents the third Colossus. It is the victim of our very own "New Colossus." The image represents the ravages of tyranny when ideals of goodness have been twisted by blind self-righteousness. We have come full circle --- from the brazen giant, to the mighty woman, then back to the brazen giant with nothing but its victim to stand in testament.
Lawyers for the Bush administration have suggested that the US does not have to follow the Geneva Convention when dealing with captured Iraqis. Prisoners can be held indefinitely, without the opportunity to speak to anyone, and without ever knowing why they have been detained.
So we sent some questions over to Scott, and here's what he had to say...
1. Where are you from? Where do you live now? How have these places impacted you as a person and as an artist?
I was born in Manhattan, raised in Queens until about 5, then moved to upstate New York--along the Mohawk River in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. I came back to New York City for grad school and worked there for over 10 years, then moved to Savannah, GA which is where I presently live.
For one thing, place has always provided me with answers to my questions, or at least teasing glimpses into those answers. New York has answers for everything, of course, but it can be somewhat stingy with the ones you’re actually looking for. Answers are answers, however, and if you’re prone to be happy with answers for questions you never thought to ask, then New York is great. It’s the belly button of my conscience. No matter where I go I feel tethered to the place in an elemental way, as if an umbilical cord were still connecting us. Savannah is very different, of course, but it’s a great town with a strong soul. It’s diverse for it’s size, and it’s got good positive energy. Savannah and New York are like complimentary colors; they are each more alive when juxtaposed against one another.
2. What's the process that goes into making one of your pieces?
Speaking strictly of poster design, the process is usually identifying the core conflict within an issue, then identifying the iconography of that conflict. Symbols and metaphors are the designer’s most powerful tools, but only if used in a way that avoids the hackneyed (or exploits the hackneyed in an unexpected way). The creative process is a lot like the personal process of determining an ethical stance. To feel from the heart is one thing, but it’s important to try to identify where that gut feeling is coming from; is it pure and objective? Or has it been twisted in someway that is still hidden from your own sensibilities? Digging for the core conflicts—-the core concepts, really, with conflicts being a key part of those concepts--and sparing nothing to identify them, is the first step in my process. Then, determining a way to juxtapose these metaphors in a jarring way to reframe and rephrase an argument so that those who are exposed to it rely less on their personal prejudices when attempting to affirm the validity of their side in that argument. In terms of selecting media, it’s simply making sure that the medium does not interfere with the delivery of the key concepts. Sounds simple, but rarely is. Medium comes last.
3. Who do you see as your audience? How do you go about getting your work out to people?
Again, speaking strictly of poster design, I’d say that for the most part I want to speak to an audience I respect; an audience with values I respect. I’m not usually interested in presenting a mediated stance with my posters. Posters are so public---they catch people unaware and by the sheer force of this surprise they have the potential to shift people’s perspectives. But achieving a major shift in the viewer’s attitude is a daunting task, and one that often backfires or fails in unforeseen ways. So, speaking with like minded people---or those who aren’t dead set in their mentality---are those I have in mind. In my other creative pursuits you could say I aim for some form of moderation, but the poster is the designer’s purest art, and I don’t feel the need or desire to moderate my expression in any way.
Having said that, the free-speech poster project a group of us did for the national conventions and the G8 protests was aiming specifically to find common ground between America’s polarized ideologies by highlighting non-violent protest as something all Americans should embrace---eagerly and steadfastly. The non-violent part is appreciated by the majority of both sides, but the more important part is the protest part---the public display of a dissenting voice. At times public dissent is a citizen’s only tool, and it can be a powerful tool as long as it is not successfully demonized by the state or the status quo. By successfully, I mean at a point where a good part of the population somehow buys into the notion that protestors are unpatriotic. Unfortunately, that’s what we’ve seen lately, and it makes it that much more important to engage in dissent. Engage in it as often as possible. But it makes it equally important to engage in non-violence.
In terms of getting the work out, life is great if only for the beautiful web of like-minded individuals you come to meet and converse with in the course of a lifetime. I’ve come to know people I respect who are also engaged in activism of one kind or another. We try to stay connected, and sometimes we work together for different causes. Also, the more I study international poster design, the more I realize that even the most highly acclaimed poster designers fund the printing of their own work in situations where they feel the need for such action as necessary to get the message out. I’m just starting to do that myself. As citizens we can donate in so many ways. We can be dues-paying members of social and environmental groups, we can donate our private time to help in soup kitchens and various grass-roots organizing. But as designers, we have that wonderful extra talent we can donate. Doing the design is one thing---and sometimes enough in its own right---but donating the printing costs is yet another. It’s a matter of determining the best method of donating your resources, and how much you can give. Progressive minded lawyers offer a full array of law services to their causes, why shouldn’t designers?
4. When did you decide to merge your political views and your art? What was the catalyst for this change?
I don’t know if it ever was a conscious decision. Art for art’s sake, in other words, was not the catalyst for any of my creativity. Personal expression regarding human concerns was of more interest, and that expression just happened to take the form of writing and designing. In terms of overtly political art, you could say that the year 2000 triggered something in me. Before that I was content to say my piece---and do it in a nuanced, maybe even contradictory fashion---consciously leaving the door open to a critique of my own shortcomings as a way of acknowledging the subjective nature of our existence. In my fiction, especially, I was content in creating non-political narratives with broader social defects serving only as deep, sometimes even intractable, undertones.
The environment was my biggest worry when Bush first came to office, and the fact that we can’t even have a dialogue concerning the environment anymore is upsetting. It’s as if that topic is completely off the table now with our minds on a new bag of worries. So, his election was a first big step towards overt and unapologetic political expression. With the build up to war, I was compelled to react more aggressively. Like so many people now, I worry about this country’s future. The way I see it, we can engage in some good-old fashion non-violent protest now, or we can sit back and wait until protest is not only demonized, but truly threatened to the point of extinction by those who see it as nothing more than a threat to their rise to tyrannical rule. I truly believe our actions now can play a part in preventing any serious imbalances from occurring in the coming future. They say the political pendulum swings back and forth, but that’s assuming the balancing influence of gravity is not fundamentally changed in some way. Systems have a way of suddenly shifting dramatically within the presence of counterbalances. It’s incumbent on the left to provide that counterbalance.
5. How do you balance being a professional designer and teacher with your more political work?
It’s pretty straightforward. As much as many people bemoan the monoculture of America, we’re still a pretty diverse nation. And let’s face it, even the most ideologically fanatic person possesses a certain degree of complexity. As a professor, I get a lot of opportunities to let young designers know that there is a realm beyond consumer culture for them to explore. As designers we can act as responsible contributors to society, even as we make a living. These two things are not diametrically opposed, as some believe. It’s true, too, that even bland commercial work is a political statement in support of the non-sustainable quo. So, as young designers realize this, they’re more open to exploring other forms of expression.
It can be hard when dealing with students who hold strong ideological viewpoints that vary from mine, but not really. I’ll always stress that EVERYONE must be objective and educated in their stance. Only after intensive research into the mindset and rationales of the "enemy camp" can a designer ever assume the role of a responsible communicator. My classes are always open to diverse opinions, and in a way that reveals the promise of diversity within a society, because my most fruitful classes are usually those that have a healthy dose of divergent political and cultural opinion. That provides a catalyst for deeper thought, and a deeper understanding of what it means to exist within a diverse culture as a culture agent.
6. What's next?
Who knows. At the very least, four more years of relentless image making. I’ve got a book that will be out in the next few months as a part of a fellowship grant. It’s a mix of poetry and design, and focuses on issues of global environmental degradation. I’ll send one along once it’s published.
1. Explain to us the creative process that goes into making one of your pieces. Do you collaborate or work alone?
I pretty much work alone. I will usually ask people's opinion on something while I'm working on it, but I do all the work myself.
2. What would you be doing if you weren’t doing art?
I have no idea. What else is there to do?
3. Where are you from? Where do you live now? How have these places impacted you as a person and as an artist?
I'm originally from Knoxville, TN. I now live in Los Angeles, CA. The differences in these places has greatly impacted me as a person and an artist. Just the difference in size and variety of people. You realize there are so many ways of looking at the world.
4. Who’s your audience? What have some of the responses been to your pieces, if there were any you know of?
I'm not exactly sure who my audience is. Besides other street artists and people that are into it. I guess it's pretty random being that anyone can happen upon it. As for responses, I feel most are positive. I run into people on the street that have seen the work and seem excited about it. Some of them even ask for stickers or posters.
5. How important is knowing what and how people feel about your work?
I like to know people see the work and react. I hope it will make them think and have some sort of positive effect. I guess really knowing this isn't that important. But it is interesting to know what people think.
6. Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now? 10 years?
Ah the future question. Well in the future I hope to still be making art and I hope it will be on an even larger scale. I would like my work to explore all the tools available to the mass media, like television.
7. What do you do to pay your bills?
I'm a Freelance Art Director.