May 2022

April 2022

March 2022

February 2022

January 2022

August 2021

July 2021

June 2021

May 2021

April 2021

March 2021

February 2021

January 2021

December 2020

November 2020

October 2020

September 2020

August 2020

July 2020

June 2020

May 2020

April 2020

March 2020

February 2020

December 2019

September 2019

August 2019

July 2019

January 2018

~ Interview with Alice Navarin of RAT HAT

Photo by Giulia Agostini

Things classified as “iconic” occupy a myriad of lanes—a person, hairstyle, sound, pattern—all endowed with an inherent marketability that elicits time-transcending demand. Enter Woolrich, the 191-year-old Pennsylvania-based outerwear company so ingrained in the fabric of Americana that it has both supplied Union soldiers with blankets during the Civil War and collaborated with Supreme. Their most recent project is a collection in partnership with Serving the People and upstart Italian brand Rat Hat, a crochet hat producer born during the pandemic with staying power far beyond the turbulent years that have marked the decade thus far. Alice Navarin—with the support of her family across various functions of the business—takes an intentional approach to crafting lighthearted designs.

Crush: Are you crocheting right now?

Alice: Yeah, I went on holiday and there’s so much to catch up on. Making a hat is not that quick. This collection for STP uses thick materials, so it’ll take maybe three or four hours per hat. If the materials are really small, seven or six hours.

Crush: You started doing this at the beginning of the pandemic. The STP team also came to visit you in Italy, right?

Alice: February 2020, during our first lockdown. And yes, they came but not to Padova where I live. I was traveling for work so I met them in the south at a Nike workshop. We picked tomatoes, made salsa, listened to music, and there was a talk. It was all about sustainability, so Nike paying for that was interesting.

Crush: Mia said she really enjoyed it even though she didn’t understand anything.

Alice: Yeah, it all was in Italian.

Crush: The south of Italy is an easy place to enjoy even without speaking a word of Italian. Tell me about yourself and how Rat Hat came to be.

Alice: I studied economics at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and work as a model. Before the pandemic I was making money but I didn’t have that much time to be creative due to the amount of travel required for my job. At the beginning of lockdown I went to my parents’ place where I stayed with my mom, father, and sister. I didn’t know what to do so I started to paint the house. I also bought two books but didn’t finish them.

Crush: What were the books about?

Alice: One concerned anarchy in Europe. It had so many dates and I was like, “No, I need to do something with my hands.” I did some collages. My dad collects art books and I was stealing his magazines—like Arte which he gets monthly—and cutting out images of contemporary art. Then I did a kind of food art—drawing certain dishes I made—but I got pissed because they would get cold and I’d have to put them in the microwave.Crush: In crochet, each stitch is completed before the next one is started. That seems like a relevant analogy for how you bounced from quarantine activity to activity before landing on crochet.

Alice: I began watching YouTube videos of crochet because I had to give a present to my friend and I didn’t want to buy something online. In my family no one cares about clothes, so I had no materials. I went to the newsstands and took yarn from what they use to hold papers together since nothing else was open. Then I started to use yarn from things I already had at home. I posted the first hat on my page and a lot of people started to ask for one. Since I had the time and my mom was bored we began making more together. Social media is not my thing so my sister handles all of the sales and replies to clients. My dad does the packages and labels because painting is his hobby.

Crush: How do you meet demand with such a small team?

Alice: I started to teach my friends—a few who lost their jobs because of COVID—and now I have some people helping me out when they can. It’s nice because I have a lot of clients and want to produce new stuff, but I don’t always have time to crochet. I want to change my style, so I tried to experiment with materials this year. Banana yarn is really interesting because it’s totally vegan and made of dry banana leaf. I kept traveling for modeling after quarantine so I source yarn from everywhere and find a variety of stuff. For the Woolrich hats, I used plastic from the packaging of the jackets and fabric they provided. I normally don’t use fabric so I had to cut it into small lines and use it as yarn, and as a result all the hats are really thick and heavy.

Crush: Does working with a heritage brand like Woolrich differ from designing independently in regards to expectations?

Alice: It wasn’t stressful at all. Lucien was a client already, so he understood what I was doing and set up the collaboration. I knew they wanted something fresh. They understood my use of brighter colors which is where the power of my work lies. I started when everyone was sad during lockdown, but I was also happy to spend time with my family. I was showing my feelings with the colors I was using—totally happy colors, not just trippy—and incorporated all these different materials so there wasn’t much consistency. It’s not a perfect thing—it’s a confused happiness and I think that’s why people liked it.

Crush: I read that you heard from a girl who said it brought her joy, and that made it all worth it for you.

Alice: Exactly. I was so happy when I heard that. It’s a piece of me traveling and extremely satisfying. The colors and designs are my mind and soul so it’s really personal. I started working because I was feeling inspired, but a lot of people started to copy my designs and now crochet is a trend. I’m really emotional and self-critical. When I see everyone doing what I do, I don’t want to do it anymore, I want to do something different. I used to always do things for free because I didn’t believe in myself, but this is the first project where I feel other people understand—everyone from 80-year-olds to crazy kids buy my stuff, so I don’t exactly have a target. This made me realize I can do something else.

Crush: Where would you pivot if you decided to move on from hats? 

Alice: I’d focus on furniture or small sculpture.

Crush: Do you have a favorite piece of furniture?

Alice: Sofas.

Crush: A sofa with your colors and patterns would be wild.

Alice: That’s my dream—maybe I’ll just make one for myself.

Crush: I saw you’ve also been teasing bags, shoelaces, and swimwear. What’s the most fun thing you’ve made so far?

Alice: The bags with animals. I did the bunny one and I want to do a pig bag, but it’s a bit hard because I don’t draw it—I just freestyle and what comes out comes out. With crochet you have to count points but I’m not mathematical at all. I speak with images and it’s a nightmare if I have to count all the time.

Crush: Do you have consistent points of reference?

Alice: Paintings and images in general. I never think about design, I think about a combination of colors that I want to see together. Everything is made of images in my mind and I try to make it as real as I can.

Crush: Was there any moment in particular that ignited your inclination to be creative?

Alice. No. I went to an artistic school where I was doing architecture and sculpture but I was always doing other things like drawing and painting, too. School is cool because you learn from the people around you and everything you see. I also listen to all kinds of music and prefer to travel to different places.

Crush: What do you typically listen to?

Alice: I fell in love with Jamaican music after visiting. Also classical music—they’re totally opposite and not connected, but I’m the connection because I like them both.

Crush: What’s your favorite place to travel?

Alice: Brazil. It’s one of my favorite countries in the world, along with Indonesia. I’ve also traveled in Africa, America, and Asia extensively. I love tropical areas where it’s warm, sunny, and the people are really happy. I’m interested in the opposite, too—I’d love to travel to Iceland.

Crush: What’s the origin of the name Rat Hat?

Alice: I didn’t try to make a brand, but Vogue Paris asked me for a name when they ran an article. My nickname and Instagram handle from 2012 was Ratigan, after the Disney cartoon. The sound of the name and character were funny to me so I went with Rat Hat. I made that decision quickly—if I had to think about a brand name I may have been more paranoid. Also, if I stop making hats it’s even cooler.

Crush: And it’s got a good ring to it. Is there anybody that you consider a mentor?

Alice: My mom or dad. I’m really emotional and I get that from my mom. I wanted to give up on this so many times and she encouraged me to keep going. My dad is a painter and when I was a kid he always took me to galleries and exhibitions. I got my creativity from him, but we have really different styles—he doesn’t use much color. I remember painting my shoes when I was in primary school because he was spray painting at the time. I was totally free to express myself. My sister is the opposite—she’s really classy and I always felt like the weird one in the family—but they let me be who I wanted. It was normal for me to feel different from the other kids. I wanted to show what I thought was cool, but at the same time I don’t always feel the need to share things. People I’ve known for a while say they understand that I’ve always been creative, but that I didn’t show it much until now.

Crush: How do you see this project evolving long-term?

Alice: I don’t want to make fashion items—that’s not my plan. Fashion is superficial and honestly kind of bullshit to me. I want to make something that’s not gonna change your day, but rather your point of view.

Photo by Giulia Agostini

Rat Hat x STP x Woolrich is available online now.

~ A Long Walk by Liv Pancheri

As a group, the abstractions of these visual and audio works address the rose-colored sensations one falls into on a long walk. Like one can get lost in their own thoughts, one can get lost in the artwork and music. As the title insinuates, this show is not meant for quick viewing. These works are slow burns; the longer your eyes and ears fixate upon them, the more details come forth.

Serving The People · A Long Walk
Red Moon
Agostina Gho
2019
Oil on paper
5″x7″
Pollen Brush
Liv Pancheri
2020
Watercolor and Guoache on Paper
8″x6″
Green Walls
Liv Pancheri
2020
Watercolor and Glass Paint on Paper
6″x8″
Eternal Flow
Taj Poscé
2018
Mixed Media on Wood Panel
36″x36″
Walks in Autumn
Janet Mcgillis
2020
Tempera, Oil, Acrylic, and Mixed Media on Canvas
48″x96″
Cluster 1/7
Janet Mcgillis
2020
Oil on Canvas
16″x20″
Untitled
Agostina Gho
2019
Silver Point and Gold Leaf on Parchment and Wood
2″x2″x5/8″

~ ‘Schac’

‘Schac’ was an alias used by Kai Schachter, a British-American artist (1997-2019). Like far too many others, Kai tragically took his life while battling mental illness. He used art as his primary vehicle of expression a lamentable posthumous revelation. Kai’s work dealt with the inner workings of his mind through humor, self-deprecation, meandering streams of consciousness, and meditative visual expressions like dew and rain. Given the prevalence of mental illness and the tragic consequences that Kai fell victim to, we want to use the artistic gifts he left us to establish a grant in his name. We hope this grant will give artists the platform to make new creations, something Kai loved doing more than anyone.’Schac’, in honor of Kai Schachter, will exhibit a suite of ten drawings he made from 2017-2019. For each of the drawings, we have created an edition of ten pristine reproductions available for purchase. This exhibition is the beginning of an ongoing not-for-profit mission in which grants will be awarded to artists: a cycle in which proceeds will fund the following group of selected artists. Works of art created by the awardees will be exhibited in a yearly exhibition, the proceeds of which will fuel the grant for the following class. The primary aim of this inaugural exhibition is to kickstart the grant. We are hopeful that our first exhibition will allow for a sustainable series in which the the grant can operate. 
Kai lived an electric life. He touched the lives of every person he met, always leaving a smile on their face. Kai’s social generosity and his support for the people around him is the inspiration of our project. Although he is no longer with us, we want to keep Kai’s short but bright legacy alive eternally.

Written by Adrian Schachter

Untitled Drawing 10 
5 3/4 x 7 1/2 in 
10 3/8 x 12 1/8 in 
C. 2018 
Pen on Paper 
Untitled Drawing 9 
5 1/2 x 3 5/8 in 
10 1/8 x 8 1/8 in 
C. 2017 
Pen on Paper 
Untitled Drawing 8 
3 5/8 x 5 1/2 in 
8 1/8 x 10 1/8 in 
C. 2017 
Pen on Paper 
Untitled Drawing 6 
3 5/8 x5 1/2 in 
8 1/8 x 10 1/8 in 
C. 2017 
Pen on Paper 
Untitled Drawing 7 
4 1/8 x5 7/8 in 
8 3/4 x 11 5/8 in 
C. 2019 
Pen on Paper 
Untitled Drawing 5 
2 3/8 x 51/8 in 
7 1/4 x 9 5/8 in 
C. 2018 
Pen on Paper 
Untitled Drawing 4 
5 3/4 x7 1/2 in 
10 3/8 x 12 1/8 in 
C. 2018 
Pen on Paper 
Untitled Drawing 3 
5 3/4 x7 1/2 in 
10 3/8 x 12 1/8 in 
C. 2018 
Pen on Paper 
Untitled Drawing 2 
4 1/8 x5 7/8 in 
8 3/8 x 10 1/2 in 
C. 2019 
Graphite on Paper 
Untitled Drawing 1 
5 3/4 x 7 3/8 in 
10 3/8 x12 1/8 in 
C. 2018 
Pen on Paper 

~ Timeless: The Number 6, Side Chicks, and Yearning 

Timeless: The Number 6, Side Chicks, and YearningThoreau wrote, “Why should I feel lonely? Is not our planet in the Milky Way?” 

Stay six feet away, put me six feet under, the groundhog tells us if there’s six more weeks of winter, and it’s said that God created man on the sixth day. Six is synonymous with death, distance, damnation and divination. I haven’t really figured out why six has become a standard indicator for such upsetting things – maybe it’s just a coincidence. 

Anna Nicole Smith once said, “You know those bumper stickers where it says ‘Shit Happens, And Then You Die?’ They should have them where ‘Shit Happens, And Then You Live.’ because, that’s really the truth of it.

I recently went to see the new Frick on Madison. There laid the heart-wrenching series of the Progress of Love by Jean-Honoré Fraganord. In the sad and sick world that is dating, I physically felt my heart rise and sink to my stomach as my eyes navigated his courtship for Madame Du Berry. The tale of the DTR is as old as time, from Rococo to the new millenia. While I turned to self-help videos from celebrity therapists to gain insight on how to go from mistress to misses, Madame Du Berry asked our dear Fraganord to paint her secret lover, King Louis XV. The saga that is the courtship of any true love holds a special drama- the meeting, the pursuit, the crowning of said lover, and lastly, the love letters. We invite Cupid in to disarm him. Love is not a collapse, but a growing organism. Like all good parasites, it can not dwell in us without a distinct burning. The proclamation of love is a raving hallucination – humbling, unmasking – it requires one to be in a degree of pain by admitting incompleteness and of giving away the innermost Self that has been burned away with paranoia and cynicism. Oh, but I do love it. Nevertheless, Madame Du Berry rejected Fraganord’s paintings only to go to Joseph-Marie Vien for help defining her scandalous relationship with the king. There is something so simply powerful in Madame Du Berry’s persistence in making her indiscretions of her love known, and for that we applaud her. Side chicks unite.

Chemtrails Over The Country Club. As I listen to what my friend has deemed “the same song eleven times over,” I hear a healing woman, one who has romanticized her scorn over the last few years. While this album did not change me the way Norman Fucking Rockwell did, I will say that I am far less vulnerable now than I was then (or so I hope.) Lana Del Rey, in her agony and in her yearn details the long standing history of women in pain. She defines a new era of longing through flower crowns and heart-shaped sunglasses, up until Lolita-fication and Tik Tok videos.

Menander, an Ancient Greek dramatist once said, “Woman is a pain that never goes away.” – and Lana Del Rey once sang, “What’s the worst that can happen to a girl, who’s already hurt?” At the mercy of pain, the act of succumbing becomes the cure. The Blessed Ludovica Albertoni screams in pain as she orgasms. She cries out for God and as we listen to Lana Del Rey, we go towards what Julia Kristeva would explain as a place where meaning collapses. 

I think about underwear choice a lot. What type of underwear we choose to wear is part of the collective consciousness from the cheeky to the thong to the ever so infamous Parade bikini underwear. That being said, I once read somewhere that one should always wear their best underwear, lest one die en route. If I died today, I would be wearing Thinx period underwear. Not as flattering as I’d prefer. Underwear is especially gross when discarded on the sidewalk or the parking lot. I don’t believe that this is due to hygienic concerns, but rather the chills that go down my spine as I see worn panties on the subway bench. There is a violence in that image, be it good or bad. So many secrets. They’ll never tell, but I never get the courage to ask. 

What is it about getting caught in the rain that makes your skin so soft? 

~ FCKKDD Up: A Conversation with Raafae Ghory

FCKKDD Up: A Conversation with Raafae Ghory

The laptop rang on a Tuesday night. Dehydrated, STP’s Maya Kotomori pinged artist and friend Raafae Ghory into the Zoom call, eager to quench her thirst with some good art-chat. Raafae Ghory (b. 1997, Lahore) is a photography based artist whose recent work explores the ways in which a persona can be performatively generated, dispersed, and then corrupted in and across digital and physical spaces. We chat about it all in the wake of his sold out book, ‘FCKKDD.’

Maya Kotomori: What was the process of making this book like?

Raafae Ghory: It’s funny to think about an artistic process when memes [are the] subject matter. That’s so silly! Archiving these images was something I did naturally. I didn’t think about it as a process or practice until I had the idea of making a book. Then I started going back through the images, re-experiencing them. I came across some really good texts that became the foundational theoretical framework of the ideas behind what I did.

MK: What did you read?

RG: The first one that put me in a good place was Giving An Account of Oneself by Judith Butler. After that, I read The Undercommons by Fred Moten, I would recommend that if you haven’t read it. I read The Fisherwoman by Toni Morrison, also.

MK: Fire, I love her.

RG: Have you read that piece? 

MK: YES!!

RG: Yes! And also, The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord, which I just posted on my story yesterday, ‘cause I was thinking about Debord, and some French Marxists too. 

MK: So, the book is a processed version of your trap account on Insta that became a book! Beyond the account, where did you see that materiality going?

RG: I took the content of the account and wanted to recontextualize it into the form of a book. We’re so used to seeing these types of images right in front of our faces – on a screen – all day. Outside of that, [the book] is a way of reading the world around you. It’s subject matter that lives online! That’s so ingrained in our heads that we often don’t take the time to think about what we’re sharing or consuming. 

MK: There was a lot of personality within ‘FCKKDD.’ There’s also a lot of homies in the book. How did they feel to have that shout out in print?

RG: I don’t really know! A bunch of friends have seen the book in its earliest form when I made it three years ago. When I show it to them now, I get a lot of smiles. I think the content and just the nature of the book are both so overwhelming that people don’t even like when they see themselves in it, and they’re still processing all of the material in between that you have to go through, like on an online feed.

MK: If you could define that material in between, what is one word that you would use to define it?

RG: Ether.

MK: Ether – I love it. Did you know that not only is “ether” an imaginary space, but also a chemical? They used to use it back in the day as an anesthetic. I’m not super familiar with its structure, but I know it’s really bad for you. 

RG: Well, there you go. 

MK: The book feels like a really broken down time capsule for 2018. Why did you pick that year specifically?

RG: That’s a good question. I feel like the pain [of that year] was definitely an aspect to that. I also just happened to be in a class where I had free reign on what I wanted to create. I was trying to figure out a way to organize ‘FCKKDD’ in a way that made sense, and I also wanted to have a hard start and stop to the work. If there wasn’t that start and stop, the work becomes just like our feeds – it just keeps on going. Having a “year” was a good way to contain that set of work.

MK: Do you hope to make more collections? The side of the book says ‘Volume One’ and I’m trying to try to see another one…

RG: That’s kind of my intention. I mean, as you know, I still keep this ‘FCKKDD’ archive online and it’s an ongoing thing that I’ll do whenever I feel like it. I think the next one that I would do would be for the year 2020. It’s kind of obvious because we basically lived that entire year mediated through our technological tools, and most of our social interactions took place through the Internet. I want to look back at that, but I’m not really in a rush. I don’t really want to process that that year so soon.

MK: When you said 2020, it made me think back to Society of the Spectacle and the idea of the information highway, and the Agora, and how Debord made those connections with public space as a digital experience. With wanting a hard beginning and a hard stop, how would that translate into the layering that you used in the book? What are your opinions on time in that way?

RG: I did the layering and the collaging in the book as an aesthetic way to capture what it feels like to be in the internet. The “higher ups” have said Instagram is all clean lines and grids and you know, infinitely scrolling timelines, but it doesn’t feel that way for the most part. It can just feel like a disorganized sort of overstimulating experience of information, that’s never ending. I wanted to mimic that feeling. 

MK:  Logic question: is this the first physical book you’ve ever made in print?

RG: This is the first one that I’m putting out to the public. I made another book in 2017, that was just my photographs of my friends, and another for my project about Mecca. Books are my professional career right now. I work at a book publisher called Conveyor Studio in Jersey. It’s a cool spot, there’s only four of us in the shop. They have their own publishing label, and they do a lot of just on demand printing for museums and places like that.

MK: Bookbinding is fascinating! 

RG: It is! All 2020 I was still consuming content online, and that was what I posted during that time on my private account. That [reminds me of] one of the main questions that I posed for myself when I was making the book: how can you negotiate a personal experience against the idea of a collective consciousness, how might a stranger who doesn’t even know me be able to relate to the images based on content and subject matter? That [relationship] is ubiquitous, but then again, at the same time, it’s definitely a piece specific to it’s time.

MK: A lot of other artists right now put out self-defining work that is all identity politics, and you don’t do that at all, while building that relationship with the audience. It comes out in a lot of your other work too! I was going through my story archives earlier, and I remember when you had ‘Hajji’ at the Tisch windows for all of January and February and March…

RG: And April 😉

MK: This man said we got a four month run! How do you relate yourself in terms of those two projects – ‘Haajji’ and ‘FCKKDD’?

RG: That’s actually something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and most of my traditional photography work revolves around these two words: like social documentary in a sense. At the same time, I was thinking about documentary as a form and what exactly that means. Even though it (FCKKDD) doesn’t really have the defining features of what one might consider a documentary, it’s still very much an object, an artifact of smaller artifacts that connect to different people in society.

MK: Super leading question but: how do you feel about the Internet? It’s funny how the internet was started, you know, as this big democratic network, and now, Trump is banned on Twitter? How do you see that [shift]? 

RG: That’s something I think about almost every day when I’m at work. I guess it’s really just a big double-edged sword in a sense, because I, myself, when making this book, I wrote a 15 page paper about how memes are the single most democratic form of social critique that we have to this day. But then again, at the same time, the Internet has enabled a space of unparalleled consumerism and just enabled this sort of obliviousness, if you’re not careful. Then you have all the other stuff that goes along with it, like the rise of the far right and that weird space. 

MK: Yeah, because the Internet facilitates everyone, it facilitates everyone. And it (internet) also isn’t a neutral thing either. The internet can fit certain agendas which is probably my favorite aspect of the book. The object itself is that the one thing that unifies it. 

RG: Another question that I was asking myself was how does our relationship with these images and cultural obsessions change with time? Because there’s a lot in that book that now exists as a dated cultural object in a sense, because we don’t share those images. I was asking the question of what happens to these images that we move on from? I was scrolling on Twitter and there’s people talking about ancient memes, which just popped up today. Like the original Wojack faces, you know what I’m talking about? Just out of nowhere, those are coming back up after what, 10 years of meme progression?

MK: That says a lot about the importance of the archive, because something really old can take on a new meaning, where the old thing is extra-important because it’s really old. And now the Internet is speeding that up where even the book feels distinctly “2018” though 2018 was only three years ago.

RG: Yeah. It’s insane. It’s crazy.

MK: What is your favorite ancient meme and how did you feel about Pepe the frog censorship?

RG: I don’t even know if I have an opinion on that. With memes, how can a certain group of people hijack an image, you know? [Pepe] has been recontextualized so many times on 4chan and Reddit. I don’t know if you’re active on Discord, but some of the Discord groups I’m in all use Pepe. The second you look at it, it just brings up these associations that have kind of been ascribed to it, when at the end of the day, it’s a picture of a frog. It’s so weird how a seemingly meaningless image can hold such cultural weight.

MK: The power of the zeitgeist, and also the power of concealing something is exactly what ‘FCKKDD’ subverts. It also has a dual existence. It still is a private account,  and it is a [sold-out] book. Before you opened the book to the public, did anyone random who doesn’t follow the account see it?

RG: Yeah, actually. It’s a funny story. I brought the book to Dashwood about a [couple months] ago, and I was showing it to Miwa.  She was really into it, but they’re not taking in books right now. While I was showing it to her, this random man in the store just came up and entered the conversation. And he was like, “Oh, I’m actually working on a project about the Internet, your book seems like it’s right up that alley.” So I was like, “Yeah sure, you want to look at it?” And he was like “Sick, how much? I’ll buy it right now.” And then I sold it to him at Dashwood.

MK: So you subverted Dashwood at Dashwood.

RG: Yeah, exactly. I was like, “you got Cash App?” And that random person, I think his name is Dylan or something, got a copy of the book before I released it.

MK: Do you have a favorite style moment or time period? 

RG: Kiko Kostadinov, or Old Navy.

MK: Bro, Old Navy is the shit. I remember like three years ago everyone was trying to bring Gap back and I’m just like, nah nah nah. It’s all about $5 tees at Old Navy.

RG: When I was a kid my mom always used to get clothes for me from Old Navy. I used to hate it so much. And now I’m finding the sickest Old Navy objects on Depop and thrift stores. I was not with it back in the day.

MK: Should we be expecting any ‘FCKKDD’ clothing drops in the future or…?

RG: You know, maybe. It’s not something I’m thinking about, but that might be cool. I don’t know what I would do, but nothing’s off the table.

MK: “Weigh all the options, nothing’s off the table.

~ In Conversation with Lucia Bell

When Lucia Bell-Epstein shoots the food at work, she doesn’t just capture the finished product. She includes bits of the floor, takes portraits of the kitchen staff, and snaps pictures of ingredients in the boxes they arrived in. All of these come together to create a narrative. She doesn’t want to make things feel fake. Her photographic diligence made collecting images for this interview a breeze. She wants this to be the truth. She doesn’t want to make the experience she’s having aestheticized,  but instead show  appreciation for the space and the people she gets to work with. This is an homage to them, to the farmers, to everyone who is a part of where this food comes from and where it ends up.

Lucia Bell-Epstein is an artist from the Lower East Side in New York. She takes photos and cooks, connecting the two with intent and intimacy. Lauryn-Ashley Vandyke is a producer, curator, and editor from Sugar land, Texas. She sat down with Lucia a couple months to talk about community, what fruits are in season, and her experience cooking at LaLou.

Lauryn-Ashley Vandyke: How would you describe your professional and personal relationship with food?

Lucia Bell-Epstein: Dance. Intimate. It’s what I think about when I’m alone in bed at one in the morning, trying to fall asleep, looking up or writing down notes on my phone about things I want to try to make. Saving photos of dishes that inspire me. There is no boundary between the professional and intimate. I work at a restaurant. That environment is different than if I’m cooking at home with friends. The rigidness that comes with working shapes your relationship to food. In terms of time and space, and in terms of learning how to put out food that you would want to eat yourself.

Jay Wolman, chef @ Lalou

But at work, it’s chef Jay Wolman‘s food. I work at LaLou, a natural wine bar and restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Facilitating chef Jay’s ideas in a way that’s collaborative is really exciting. Say we make a citrus salad at work- when I go to the market on my own and see melons, kumquats or other winter citrus, I’m instantly inspired by what I’m doing at work. Those ingredients stick with me and it becomes intimate. I want to put my own twist on them.

LA: Do you have tips for people who want to incorporate fruit into their savory dishes?

LBE:

1. Mix fruit with olive oil and dairy, or something that bites, like a sharp lettuce. You could also take beets and pair them with a Clementine or some sort of blood orange. 

2. Slice apples on a mandolin and throw them into your favorite salad. See if you like that juicy, sweet taste. 

3. Baked apples, or poached pears and red wine. That’s delicious. You could take pears and poach them in a bottle of Malbec, and it’ll still be kind of sweet. Eat them with a piece of meat. That could be your side. 

It’s citrus season right now, which is crazy. I didn’t know that winter citrus was a thing until I got into food. 

LA: How do you know what’s in season?

LBE: I ask my mom, I ask chef Jay. I ask my friend Sam’s mom, Andrea. She knows everything about produce and the market. This morning we were recipe testing for her cookbook and she made confit kumquats. You submerge kumquats in olive oil and slowly bake them at 200-250 degrees for a few hours and they get nice and soft. You can eat them with literally anything; on breakfast with sour yogurt, or on a piece of toasted rye bread.

LA: What else is she putting in her cookbook? 

LBE: I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s from the perspective of a photographer, so aesthetically, it’s going to be gorgeous. She uses a lot of healthy ingredients that taste good, and a lot of Italian influence as well – farm to table vibes.

LA: How is cooking like making artwork?

LBE: It’s one in the same. One of the first things I observed working in the kitchen at Lalou was the idea of the dance; the physicality between chefs moving around seamlessly, sometimes without speaking. Building a salad is a total dance. You want to invite whoever’s eating your salad to taste the art in the way that you want them to. 

You know when you go on a date with someone and you’re fighting for that last bite of food with the most shaved Parmesan? Chef Jay always says to me that every bite of the food you put out should be like that. It’s just like if I’m taking a photograph, painting or drawing. I’m not gonna leave a quarter of surface lacking that kind of lust and lushness. 

LA: Could walk us through your plating process?

LBE: I’m such a new cook that I learn from watching. When I’m at home cooking for myself and my friends, I try to break lines of the plate or make things look a bit messy and realistic. The last thing I want is to cook something that is so perfect it feels unattainable. Food should be inviting. I think a little gem caesar salad plated with your hands can be just as inviting as something that was plated with tweezers.

My plating process depends on what I’m making, but height is something I strive for. I like things to be a bit glossy, so I like using olive oil to finish things. It makes everything look sexy. These are things I have learned from chef Jay and Andrea. 

I also love nights where I’m eating out of the pot. We’re young and don’t like doing the dishes all the time.

LA: Would you rather go on a dinner date or out for drinks?

LBE: Out on a date to get a nice meal. Even hotter than a dinner date; being invited over to cook dinner together.

LA:  In the kitchen, what does community mean?

LBE: It’s what I try to illustrate in the photos I take at LaLou.  The team I work with is quite small. 

I work with people that inspire me and change the way I think about food. Not many people can say that. In the kitchen, there are traditional hierarchies. I’m at the bottom of that totem pole because I just started working there, but it doesn’t feel that way. 

Whenever I’m photographing at the restaurant, it’s beautiful to watch how every person on the team has influenced and inspired the food that we put out.

Sitting after service and having a glass of wine with chef Jay and other cooks, listening to them talk about stuff that they want to make; it’s amazing. It’s a natural wine bar, too. I’m learning about orange wines and how to make food pairings with alcohol. Community-wise, it feels like a small family. 

LA: How do you build trust in that environment? 

LBE: I had to prove my work ethic and my seriousness to myself and the rest of the team. We have fun, but it’s serious work. It’s physically and mentally demanding. Trust was built through the feeling that my coworkers accepted me for who I am, despite the fact that I’m still learning.

Rather than going home feeling weighted and anxious from whatever mistakes I’ve made, I go home feeling inspired to do better. Not for myself, but for the team. Trust is an unspoken result of that. 

LA: What’s the difference between cooking with friends and cooking at work?

LBE: At work, I’m cooking the dishes that we serve, which are the dishes by chef Jay. At home, it’s my own intellectual property; I can do whatever I want. xI’m so excited to go to work and talk about what I cooked in my free time.

At work, there’s consistency.  Every chicory salad I make will look a little different, but they all have to taste the same. Learning about new ingredients, I get all of that at work too. I’m still growing as a cook and learning how to plate in new dance formations.

LA: What are three of your favorite color combinations?

LBE: I made this chocolate maple tart that was topped with toasted Sicilian pistachios with my friend Hedi. There’s a tan crust next to chocolate brown ganache. It’s finished with bright green pistachios with a pinkish purple hue.

As spring comes, I want to work with more green. I’m thinking about asparagus, wild arugula, leeks and green garlic, which will be sprouting up soon.

There’s a lot you can do with the color white; buttery, brothy cannellini beans with ribbons of pecorino….

LA: How do you come up with color combinations? Do you test things together visually?

LBE: It’s less about color combinations, and more about ingredient combinations. I’m not planning the color palette of things I want to make. I’m newly into beets. At work we made this salad with beets and shaved Humboldt fog, a type of cheese. The texture was amazing. There was the crunchiness, the green leaves, the white snowy humboldt fog with blue ash running through the middle. Then you have a glossy, tender, juicy beet dripping onto the side of the white plate and dying the lettuce. It’s finished with a bit of olive oil. When you take a bite into it, all those colors, textures, and flavors come together.

LA: Our hunger impulse is so associated with color.

LB: Oh totally. When I shoot the food at work, I’m trying to kind of zoom out and document everything from another perspective, not just cooking with the food or handling the ingredients. I really like including bits of the floor, other human beings, hands holding things or shooting within the containers of the ingredients. All of these come together to create a narrative. I don’t want to make things feel fake. I want my photos to show what we do at Lalou. I want this interview, like what I’m explaining to you, to be the truth. I don’t want to make the experience I am having there be aestheticized in my work that I’ve shot there, but rather my appreciation for my space there and the people I get to work with. It’s an homage to the farmers, I’m considering where this food comes from and who’s growing it

LA: Why should people have a relationship with their food from start to finish?

LBE: The first thing that comes to mind Canal Cafeteria. You can go to their produce stand and get free groceries. They’re community-building in the Lower East Side, where I grew up. It’s great to see people in my generation taking initiative like that. 

Now more than ever, we need to know where our food is coming from, what we’re putting into our bodies, and how we can buy things that support small businesses and local economies. People make the argument that it’s cheaper to get pre-packaged food but there are ways to buy healthy, fresh ingredients without having to spend an exorbitant amount of money. Invest in what you put into your body.

LA: Self-love. 

LBE: There’s nothing that releases more endorphins for me than cooking for myself. You learn so much about yourself, what you like and what you don’t like. It’s a labor of love.

LA: Ben made the analogy between ordering food vs. cooking at home being like swiping on Tinder vs. meeting someone in real life.

LBE: Part of growing up is learning how to nourish yourself.

LA: What traits make someone easy to work with in the kitchen?

LBE: We all have bad days and get moody, myself included. Keeping that outside of the professional environment is critical to being a part of a team. If one person’s feeling off, everybody else feels it. It’s how it is in any work environment. 

What makes it easy to work with someone? Being a good listener and teacher. Everyone I work with is easy to work with because they all love what they’re doing. If I was working in some corporate job with people that hated their work, it would be a very different environment. At Lalou, every person in the kitchen is passionate about food and cooking. If you go there and eat the food, you’re tasting their hard work. They care. That in itself is art.

~ All Riders (Short Film and Interview)

In January of 2019, Malaysia Goodson struggled to carry her baby in a stroller down the steps of a subway station in Manhattan. She fell that day and she died, though she is survived by her daughter. Goodson was just 22 at the time. Victor Dias Rodrigues, a documentary filmmaker and college student at the time of her death, was deeply affected by Goodson’s story. “It was a bit of a shock. I was 21, she was my age, and she died this way,” he says. A lifelong lover and critic of the MTA system, Dias Rodrigues set out to understand the decades-long struggle to make the subway system in New York more accessible. 

Before making All Riders, Dias Rodrigues spent months shadowing accessibility activists, speaking with government officials and piecing together the frustrating pattern of neglect in New York City subways. Beyond an x-minute film about the struggle for accessible subways, All Riders is also a movie about the fragility we are all vulnerable to. All Riders is a Vimeo Staff Pick and a recipient of the Carl Lerner Award for Social Significance.

All Riders director Victor Dias Rodrigues and STP Blog’s Shanti Escalante-de Mattei chat over the phone to discuss tenacity, disability rights, and his process as a politically engaged filmmaker.

Shanti Escalante-de Mattei : What was the research process like?

Victor Dias Rodrigues: I started researching heavily, reading all sorts of academic resources to get a lay of the land. I found activist groups and started to go to meetings and rallies, started meeting those people and building those relationships. The summer [after] I furthered these relationships, going to court, getting involved. By the time the next semester came in, I was in a production class for documentary and I had all this research prepared. That’s when I shot the film, which was fall of 2019.

SED: How did this research process affect you?

VDR: As an able-bodied person, there was definitely a switch that I had to turn on to understand this issue that I don’t personally experience. There’s one person I interviewed who said, ‘If I’m going down the street and there’s like a three inch bump, that’s like Mount Everest for me.’ That really blew my mind. It’s these little things: inaccessible bathrooms, if doors are too heavy, curb cuts. Simple things that make the world of difference for a person who’s wheelchair bound or a person who has a disability. That really changed my whole perspective of what it means to design an accessible space. 

SED: Watching you make this film over the past year also did that for me, getting on the train and realizing ‘damn, there’s like two stops that are accessible on this whole line. How did I not notice that before?’

VDR:  Yeah, and fundamentally accessibility is about universality. If you make a space accessible you’re not only benefiting those that need it [all the time].

SED: Something that I came across recently that really struck me was this girl  saying, “I just wish everybody would understand themselves as only temporarily able-bodied”. Everyone gets old, you can have an accident and your mobility changes, maybe not forever but for sometime. This isn’t a niche issue.

VDR: One of the main characters in my film, Sasha, was just walking down Central Park and a tree trunk fell on his head and now he’s paralyzed from the waist down. Another guy, Robert, in his 20s learned that he had this degenerative neurological disease passed on from his father. Life is fragile. People have this preconceived idea that people with disabilities have something wrong with them and that the default is that you’re able bodied–but that’s not the case. Now we’re shifting our mindset–[if you’re disabled] you’re just an individual and your personhood is shaped by your ability to move within spaces that are inaccessible through no fault of your own. 

This whole film started with Malaysia. She was able bodied but, you know, she had a carriage to carry.  It goes beyond the body, it’s just the circumstances that you’re in at any given moment.

SED: What was it like hanging out with these activists?

VDR: I learned that the activist community is a tight knit group, everyone knows everyone. Even folks later down the line I would want to interview in [local] government or at the MTA, they all know each other. What really struck me was their tenacity, the unrelenting activism, rain or shine, day or night. These people have to deal with a world that is still operating with urban design trends of hundreds of years ago. Some of them are in their 80s or 70s, [and] their spark was just truly eye opening. It’s all about tenacity when dealing with the same court cases for years and years. I now see my craft as a documentary filmmaker as my own personal activism. Some people may get into writing legislation, researching at a think tank, or demonstrating. This is my way.

SED: Do you have advice for people interested in doing politically engaged documentaries? 

VDR: It’s a very slow business. You’ve got to be patient and build relationships. Put yourself out there and do the work. Hold yourself accountable for understanding these issues you don’t quite grasp and people will see that you’re willing to learn and have a genuine interest in helping. The reason I was able to get so much access was through months and months of gaining people’s trust, showing that I knew what I was talking about. 

I don’t want to sound like an old person, ‘People don’t look up [from] their phones’ etc, but, there’s a lot of things that you can glean from paying attention to “ordinary” people and their day to day lives. There’s so much under the hood- it just takes a little peek.

~ Chemtrails Over the Countryside

Chemtrails Over the Countryside

When I think of “home,” Ehukai’s Molokai Slide starts to play. The slow strum of ukulele chords wrap me in a familiar embrace. I see idyllic memories strapped to the backs of angel wings, crystal clear water, and country roads. The sun hovers above the horizon and asks, who are you without this place when you still see it even with your eyes closed? Growing up in Hawaii was easy; becoming was harder. The community is tight-knit, the connections between land and people run deep. It is contingent upon balance, a kind of stasis that breeds homogeneity. There’s a prototype for paradise, hula hips not included- read the instructions for how to build contentment. After years of living in New York, I find myself putting certain parts of me away before I go to Hawaii. There, I am a version of myself stripped of residual expression. I become palatable and forgiven. 

 Since I left, Hawaii has changed. Many aspects of Hawaiin culture, however, remain resilient. Gentrification is everyone’s neighbor. Your neighbors are no longer locals. Cultural objectification is a bitter pill best taken on an empty stomach. Yet, there is now a community of creative individuals who have more courage than I did when I was living there. They’ve found each other and built a foundation for a different kind of aloha. They writhe in their own becoming, hosting art openings at gallery spaces and creating garments with lace instead of gaudy floral prints.  

Uluwehi Kang is a performance artist, clothing designer and PhD Art Crit candidate. Lehua Pelayo is a spiritual healer and artist. STP’s Lindsey Okubo brings the two friends and creatives together to talk about the troubles in paradise. 

Lindsey: We are all children of this land. We have the same stomping grounds.  The same memories at Sandy Beach, Shirokiya and Kahala Mall. Can you start by telling me about your childhood?

 Uluwehi: I was raised on O`ahu. I lived in Kaneohe and Haiku, then Norfolk when I was in High School. I’ve always been on the windward side. I have a distant connection to Hawai`i, I don’t identify as being Korean or Japanese or Spanish, even though that’s what I am ethnically. I don’t have contact with those places. I’m American but not on the mainland, and [I’m from] Hawai`i but not quite Hawaiian. I’m always struggling to carve out a space in my environment that I can identify with. When you’re young, you try on all these looks and become a different person while not knowing “who you really are.” I have a personality disorder, which puts me in a position where I’m dissociated from myself and my environment. Creating garments is one way that I try to formulate my identity.

 Lehua: It’s necessary for survival: you have to make things. That’s the only way to exist, by constantly creating. 

 Lindsey: What are your markers of success in terms of creation? 

 Uluwehi: Balance. Borderline personality disorder presents two opposite poles. I’m always going back and forth between extremes. I feel better if I can maintain equitable energy flat-across instead of ricocheting from high to low. In my work, that manifests in color. Red and green remind me of matter, plants and animals. These should be coupled with yellow and blue, forces or energies, air and water. 

 Lindsey: Balance leads me to think about wholeness. To what extent is your sense of wholeness enhanced because you get to see yourself from different perspectives? 

 Uluwehi: Everyone is constantly looking for a wholeness with their image. It’s like the “mirror stage,” where you look at yourself and see a complete person instead of fragmentary senses and thoughts. In moments of dissociation, [it’s like] I’m watching this person, seeing her movement as Other. I’m trying to reconcile the idea of seeing myself as whole, from the outside, versus dealing with a persistent internal lack. A back-and-forth.

 Lindsey: Lehua, I know you’re interested in the practices of psycho-spiritual healing. Where does that interest come from? How did it feel to wear Uluwehi’s garments?

 Lehua: Balance has always been a major focus in my life, too. I’ve always been hypersensitive and aware of the way energy and emotion becomes stuck in our bodies in the form of physical ailments. I saw spirits from a young age and didn’t know how to integrate that into everything else. As I aged, I struggled with my mental health and saw how my emotional wellbeing (or lack thereof) would show up in my body. After I graduated college, I thought I wanted to work in public health. I was excited to get a job at a highly esteemed healthcare organization. The corporate structure of doing computer work from 8am-5pm in a cold, gray office was not aligned with my values. I felt very unstable, and I was struggling heavily with addiction. I got the courage to quit that job a month before the COVID shutdown.

 Over the course of quarantine, I realized my gifts lie with being able to work with energies for improved circulation and rebalance. I’ve been studying Usui Reiki Treatment. Even before I had mentioned healing methods, Uluwehi told me that one of the bustiers I tried on was “a good rebalancing top” (itʻs made of pleasing, evenly distributed blocks of different colors – I agree). It’s such a pleasure to try on, wear, and play in the clothes that Uluwehi makes! Being able to adorn myself with garments that are rainbow, beaded, ribboned, laced, and absolutely dreamy… this is what I needed for my soul when I was working in that gray corporate office. 

 Lindsey: Realistically speaking, to what extent does Hawaii nurture those who might [not fit in] a cookie cutter? Do you mind sharing your personal experiences with struggling to find a place to be accepted by your peers? 

 Uluwehi: Due to the small-community aspect of Hawai`i, we are all instinctively self-censoring. With less eyes, the magnitude of the gaze is heightened. It’s like constantly being at a family reunion. In terms of an “art world”, or an attempt to cultivate an arts scene in Hawai`i, it’s such a small-community, mostly emerging from a single area, Kaka`ako.

 My introduction to Kaka`ako was through 808 Urban and Pow! Wow! Hawai`i, street-art organizations that are gentrifying Kaka’ako, a former warehouse district. My experience with 808 Urban was negative, which had to do with the lack of options for young artists here. They take advantage of Hawai`i’s children, using their talents and making promises with the intent of gaining self-satisfaction and status. Dealing with minors [in this way] is a cover-up to present themselves as charitable when what they’re doing is predatory. It’s a grooming process of both the children and the community. 

 Lehua: Wow. They work with schools? 

 Uluwehi: Yeah, and they shouldn’t. Some of us former members have tried to sound the alarm to other organizations, and a few have sworn off working with 808 Urban, but Pow! Wow! is still going. They continue to perpetuate a program that takes advantage of people and spaces that could belong to individuals and  local artists. They’re bringing in people from outside Hawaii to cover walls (physical space!) while pretending it’s something greater than it is. [They act like] they’re a gift to Hawai`i’s art scene. 

 Lehua: Pow! Wow! tends to be an extension of the tourism industry. Tourist artists get to fill our public spaces year after year.

 Uluwehi: I’m skeptical and jaded, in that regard. On the flip side, I’ve had great support and seen active efforts (to put Hawai`i first) from mentor Drew Broderick and gallery Aupuni Space. I also think that Maile Meyer (Na Mea Hawai`i) taking over the Pegge Hopper space is a great symbolic act for the community. Natanya Freidheim wrote a piece about the former gallery, where Pegge Hopper was quoted saying, “I am not painting Hawaiians, I am painting a myth… it has nothing to do with Hawaiians. I am merely using them as a beautiful thing just like an orchid.” The idea of taking the Hawaiin citizens and converting them into commodities… I mean, it’s one thing to mythologize yourself, but to mythologize the Other? It’s really sick.

 Lindsey: It’s ironic, right? You’re supposed to find strength in community, but to what extent is being part of a tight knit community sometimes silencing? 

 Lehua: The tight knit-ness can feel like a loss of freedom. If you wear something unusual, people are like, “where are you going? Why are you doing that?” If you say, “because I want to honor myself! Because it’s fun and makes me happy!” people will give you shit and imply you’re high makamaka or strange. People here look down on dressing playfully, asking, “who does she think she is?” t’s not a bad thing to shine.

 Lindsey: This is tangential to the deep-seated resentment towards tourism we’ve all had. It’s akin to cultural objectification, and notions of outside people coming in and taking up literal space, whether it’s on walls or in our valleys.To what extent do we need outside people to expand what we know about Hawaii and how we continue to define it?

 Lehua: Hawaiians have been travelers from day one. It’s important for there to be exchange, but frustrating when a lot of the policy decisions made are for the benefit of tourists, not for the long-term viability of Hawaiʻi. The state is in a lot of debt and tourism has been a huge source of income for them. They keep making policies to reinforce our dependence on that income. This government is mainly structured for the outsider. 

 Uluwehi: Enclosing ourselves completely would be self-stifling, however, opening the state opens our local people to marginalization. The question is, how do we foster an influx of ideas without necessarily giving ground, literally? 

 Lindsey: Hawaii has to ask itself how it can begin to reclaim its own narrative.

 Lehua: Practice and constant effort. 

 Uluwehi: Physically making things lends itself to commoditization. How much are you feeding into that? Thinking about the future, what kind of making would transgress the [existing] system in and of itself? That’s what I want to study. I don’t know what the answer is. We commoditize ourselves to survive within this capitalist hellscape.

 Lehua: I think that a lot of our self-commoditization feels necessary for survival under these societal infrastructures. These days, we each have to individually pay for our own food that comes in plastic packaging, individual housing, coverings for our bodies. These structures are built in concrete and reinforced daily by the U.S. Military. I heard about a man who tried to start a public garden in Hilo during the pandemic. Local officials uprooted everything he planted and arrested him. That’s a type of making (farming) that will transform our communities. I’m thinking about the ahupuaʻa system and how it was systematized to support everyone, specifically [by providing clothing for] everyone. Skilled kapa makers built a hale kuku house and had groves of plants to work with the help of others in the community. Itʻs a system of trade that shows that community value [is not just monetary]. We need to create modern versions of that. For example, an arts nonprofit where people donate their old textiles to be repurposed.

 Uluwehi: The gift economy works in that way, but it’s very insular. It’s only used with the people who are already in creative spaces. A system of trade would be great, but there needs to be more production in order for it to actually be viable.

Lindsey: Lehua had sent over some notes this morning and the first thing listed on the page was Brother Noland’s lyricsfor “Coconut Girl”. Ultimately, the song is about departure. I know both of you left Hawaii to attend college in Los Angeles and San Antonio. Could you touch upon this [idea of] coming and going, leaving home and now, for both of you, staying?

 Uluwehi: Growing up, California was this golden, gorgeous place—idealized and almost holy. At the time, Hollister was really big. I would go into the Hollister store and think, “yeah, I feel cool in here,” because it’s dark and smells sexy. I fantasized about moving to California and believed that when I did that, I would become beautiful because California is beautiful. Lana (del Rey) [once sang], “I moved to California but it’s just a state of mind, it turns out everywhere you go, you take yourself, that’s not a lie.” After leaving Hawai`i I experienced a deep disenchantment with Los Angeles. Unconsciously and naively, I still associate California with personal progress and living in Hawai`i as a sort of regression.

 Lindsey: Your battle here is having to carve out a space for creation. What happens when you don’t have to work so hard to do that?

 Uluwehi: I am still “myself.” Self-aestheticization becomes almost like a “safe space.” I hate that term, but the practice reminds me that I have a body, and that I exist in the concrete world. I can interact with materials on a sensory level; [I can] actually feel the pieces against my body or see somebody wearing something that I’ve made. 

 Lindsey: Do you crave understanding? I feel like the ultimate validation of existence is being understood. 

 Uluwehi: I’m trying to work on spiritual self-validation right now. It mainly stems from faith. I don’t know if the work I make needs to be seen, but it needs to be made. If these things can exist, then I can create balance in the world. It’s like large-scale Feng Shui. In Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory, she asks, “how do you throw a brick through the window of a bank if you can’t get out of bed?”  I reel with my morality on an ongoing basis, since I can’t physically be out there…maybe my contribution right now is through material—items and thought. I don’t know how valuable that is, but I it’s all I can contribute as of now.

Lindsey: The concept of faith is interesting. How much faith you can place in this place when it is a proprietor of its own cultural gentrification? How much of stability is actually the product of risk? 

Uluwehi: I think a lot of the energy in Hawai`i is radically in service of maintaining the status quo—a revolutionary conservation. Often what seems like risk-taking is more of an idealized return to a past greatness. “Make Hawai`i Great Again.”

Lehua: The place is changing so quickly, it feels like it’s gotten even more crowded in the past year. A lot of tourists with non-Hawai’i-based-jobs are moving here to “work from home in Hawaiʻi” It’s a slap in the face. So many Hawaiian families are being priced out of their life here. I guess thatʻs just the system of capitalism: “growth” for growth’s sake. Some people talk about Hawaiians being so against “progress,” when much of the “progress” that Hawaiians oppose is harming the viability of our land. Oʻahu has changed a lot since I was a kid. My memories of being a teenager here and finding a beach to myself are so luxurious and distant from the current reality. 

Lindsey: What is your relationship like to change?

Lehua: On one hand, thank God for change. On the other hand, thereʻs a lot of change that I mourn. It can be challenging to integrate new ideas, especially when so much of Hawaiian cultural preservation is about reviving and preserving practices that had been outlawed for years. 

Lindsey: What are your markers for growth?

Lehua: My measurements for growth are mostly internal. I used to have a super high strung, anxious baseline. All of these small efforts I’ve made [over the past few years] have added to my own clarity. It’s all these tiny steps toward wellness, like practicing speaking my truth, asserting boundaries, or committing to flossing my teeth every night. Isolation can be so regenerative.

Uluwehi: It’s been a really health focused year. I had the time to center myself. This is the most clear I’ve been in years. I can read. I can speak— I was a zombie before. I’ve been grappling with thoughts that have been piecemeal for years. To actually write it out with a sense of focus and singularity feels like growth. 

Lindsey: Do you want to share what your writing is about?

Uluwehi: I’m thinking about America as a body with different energies within it. Thanks to neoliberalism, working people are increasingly faced with false choices of individual expression in order to maintain our existent property system and massive wealth inequality. A lot of the maintenance of this injustice requires literal violence and bloodshed, in terms of neoconservatism. I’m trying to approach America [how I approach] my body: a borderline subject with two poles, two parties, that are becoming more and more fractured. With this dissociation, how can we aim for collective healing as a nation, as a body? This healing can become an ecosystem. 

Lindsey: How are you defining healing? Is it the individual’s physical and experiential wellness? 

Uluwehi: I’m thinking of a whole rerouting of what our economic system is. When THEY say, “communism kills,” how many people does capitalism kill every year? Whether it’s failing to provide people with health insurance or fracking our land, building pipelines to bring in oil (and the offensive and illegal wars conducted in order to do so), all of these things feel very big. But they [can be shrunken] down to the individual. When I say my health, I mean my ability to function within that system. I have this issue with the word freedom. What is “freedom” in this system? What does it look like? How can I make it? 

Lindsey: It’s really an emotion. Making it totally subjective is the problem.

Uluwehi: It’s very categorical right now. Everything is very separated, polarized, and you feel as if you have to give yourself a category. There’s the proliferation of identity politics, it’s seductive to endlessly self-define, and effectively self-alienate, instead of participating in greater continuity. 

Lindsey: It’s like we exist through language. We are defined by meanings or feeling ascribed to us by others. 

Uluwehi: Yeah, that language system is arbitrary because while it’s constructed, you still have to fit yourself into labels when communicating.

Lindsey: Identity has become such a buzzword this past year as we’ve had to confront our innermost selves and values; and yet identity is also a commodity. What is your relationship to identity in general? How are you defining and redefining it through active making? 

Uluwehi: We’ve seen that exact phenomenon in the aestheticization of politics. The “left” has rainbows and black squares and pussy hats”, these are all empty symbols or a means of selling more products. These signs/images are designed to appeal to a certain market, [not an ideology]. The same goes for the “right.”

I’m like a chameleon, I like to invent myself as different characters: Princess, Pariah, both and neither. I’m not really sure what I am internally, but I’m trying to come to terms with being enough as a human—as a part of a living continuity, it’s enough just to exist. It’s hard when we’re caught thinking, “I am my achievements; if I don’t do this then I am nothing.” Faith is a constant reminder that I am already here and present beyond ethics, aesthetics, and what can be symbolized. 

~ Immanentise the E-girl

Eve Babitz playing chess with Marcel Duchamp (Photo: Julian Wasser, 1963)
Eve Babitz playing chess with Marcel Duchamp (Photo: Julian Wasser, 1963)

I became interested in playing and tried to stop thinking about holding in my stomach, but every time I thought I was so brilliant, like taking his queen on the fourth move, I’d lose. 

Eve Babitz, age twenty, was on birth control the day she entered the Pasadena Art Museum, took off her clothes, and sat down to play chess with a small mouse of a man named Marcel Duchamp. With Babitz preoccupied with holding in her stomach, Duchamp—avant-garde artist and chess enthusiast—swiftly won. In a way, Babitz triumphed too, according to photographs of the match that helped to canonise this very story, as part of both Duchamp’s and Babitz’s personal mythologies. The famous portraits of the pair at play were taken by Babitz’s sister’s boyfriend, photojournalist Julian Wasser, to win back the attention of her erstwhile (married) beau, Walter Hopps, curator of Duchamp’s 1963 Pasadena retrospective. Despite Babitz’s displeasure with her hormonal body (a ‘blimp’ with ‘two pink footballs for breasts’, she later wrote), Hopps embraced her. Her queen’s gambit worked, but only because she had lost.

Wasser pictures Babitz and Duchamp seated before the Duchamp artwork Large Glass (1915-1923), also known as ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even’. The piece consists of a windowpane with intricate detail and multifarious meanings, to which Hopps’ exhibition brought Hollywood acclaim, ballasted by Babitz’s exposure. Babitz was stripped by Wasser, Hopps, and Duchamp, through what she noted as a ‘great contrast; this large, too-LA surfer girl with an extremely tiny old man in a French suit’. What comes alive in these images is Eve as avatar, Eve as e-girl. Here were her underlings, her sheepish simps, watching her, yet hers to control.

Babitz was not just a woman, but an experience, as one might say of any e-girl who disrobes before an audience (metaphorically, and otherwise.) To bare herself, to bride among bachelors, was to test the safety valve of vulnerability as affect, amply protected, whether by money or her sheer endurance, that she could lose—at least, lose her clothes—without sustaining loss. It is not Babitz’s face that stares back at us from Wasser’s photographs, hidden behind her cropped hair, but, in corporeal revelation, her look.  

As an origin point for the Internet entity who goes by ‘e-girl’, Babitz portended several of the genre’s key ingredients. From her, we learn a basic fact—the e-girl succeeds when her footing only seems uneven. The e-girl plays against old masters (accounts with large followings, her elders), not to beat them, but to alert the gaggle of ‘reply guys’ who trail after her and pile on to her grievances. If her display neutralises the competition, it is with benign neglect or bemused support from her ‘podcaster boyfriend’, her IRLs, and the parents she lives with. The e-girl builds her web by ingratiating a community of patron-admirers with perseverative commentary. As online as she is, much of the information she divulges must be cyclically deleted or anonymised. 

What distinguishes the e-girl confessional from the content provision of the Instagram influencer is her aversion to selling anything but emotional ambrosias—kratom leaves and Vyvanse, angel numbers and macarons. The lifestyle guru recommends rituals and regimens with an apathetic remoteness from their ‘users’. The e-girl, on the other hand, speaks from within the act itself—as she takes today’s dose of mirror selfies, lights some Yankee candles, sips on crème brûlée juul‘dissolving the margins’ between her domain and her viewer’s. ‘Quirked up’, the e-girl puts the hyper back in hyperstition, a shorty so perfumed in the world’s energies you mistake your own scent for her intimacy. Indeed the e-girl’s parasocial properties are what compelled the members of French philosophy journal Tiqqun to crown the adolescent feminine phenom a ‘gazing machine’ in their by now classic text, Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl (2001). The Young-Girl is just as gaseous as the e-girl, but with a generational purview of X and Y, not Z. Composed just before 9/11, in near anticipation of the epochal e-girl idiom that the attacks would forge, Preliminary Materials imputes to the Young-Girl a preeminent position in the ‘fractalised battlefront’ of culture, war, and capital that has only metastasised amidst subsequent geopolitical turmoil. 

A collage by @horny_wretch on the Tiqqun-e-girl pipeline, featuring Belle Delphine, among other influencers. (Photo: @horny_wretch)
A collage by @horny_wretch on the Tiqqun-e-girl pipeline, featuring Belle Delphine, among other influencers. (Photo: @horny_wretch)

There is a conscious but as yet under-theorised relationship between Tiqqun’s analysis of this original girl-wonder and her current iteration in Tik-Tok and Twitter-verses. Trading ‘Young’ for ‘e’, we can apply their polemic’s more obvious valuations—‘The Young-Girl is old already insofar as she knows herself to be young’—and leave out what no longer resonates. If Preliminary Materials can help illuminate what ‘girl’ ‘represents’, ‘e’ means a lot of things—ecstasy, Equinox, Thomas Aquinas, evite, Evian water, Animal Crossing, Animal Farm. The compounded ‘e-girl’ has been applied liberally: Doja Cat is an e-girl, Ella Emhoff is an e-girl. Cruella, with her two-toned hair, is an e-girl. Susan Sarandon is an e-girl? The Euphoria makeup, reanimated on the visages of thousands of teenagers across the vast scape of Internet country, is extra-virgin oil e-girl. Tamagotchi, teletubby, electronic g-string. ‘e’ for everybody’s little sister. ‘e’ for e-cigarettes, ether, eat her


She used to be easier to digest. The quintessential e-girl of 2019 and earlier was the goth-tinged gamine, an actual or metaphorical Twitch-streaming cosplayer-poet with Japanophilic proclivities. Alice, with the Internet her wonderland. To become her, according to one TikTok meme, you could drink ‘rapid transformation juice’, pass through an ‘e-girl factory’, clasp at your neck to simulate self-destruction, change your makeup (pencil hearts beneath the eyes) or your hairdo (split-colour wig). In the Covidian turn towards complete virtual existence, the formula for e-girl metamorphosis became dilute and permeable. If Tiqqun had already established that the Young-Girl had no set age or gender, the e-girl stipulates that whomever She is must be contained within her bedroom, dispatching her aphorisms at a remove from all other avenues of socialisation. ‘In the final analysis, the Young-Girl’s ideal is domestic’.Digital domesticity is the e-girl’s beginning, her real, and her anticipated future. The e-girl is canonised by the glow of her lava lamp, as she snuggles in with a giant teddy bear, no less than four pastel-shaded beverages, an unread Pynchon book.

American Girl Doll goes e-girl in 2021 (Photo: American Girl Doll)
American Girl Doll goes e-girl in 2021 (Photo: American Girl Doll)

In fashion and adjacent media, the e-girl’s rise has been heralded with belated, mildly confused style guides that crosswire her signals instead of mapping their movement.‘At the moment when the evidence for the Young-Girl is so obvious it becomes a cliche, the Young-Girl is already transcended…’Transcendence renders the e-girl alluring and immediate, reminding us that in the great American landscape that is the English-language Internet, objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear. Yet unlike the online aughts, for which ‘you had to be there’, close access to the e-girl entails a begrudging respect for her evasiveness, her intermittent exits, ‘chaos spirals’, and poaster’s reclusion (TL churning, DMs ignored). Every third e-girl calls herself Eris, goddess of Discord and war. She is innocent and spiteful, never wholly lucid, never not bored. With ‘reckless punctuation’ and Ravel in her AirPods, she answers the dullest of provocateurs with variably saccharine or icy retorts. Dancing between sugar and spice,‘The Young-Girl’s not supposed to understand you’ but the e-girl will anyway. ‘I love you alive girl’, Jeff Bezos texts her. Left on read, no response. ‘I will show you…very soon’. Double hearts. 💕

Even when the e-girl’s office is open, there is still the sense that her identity is gatekept, password protected. This impression derives from the residual hallmark of her Tumblr antecedent, whose aura of Pain and Sadness, Safy-Hallan Farah recently observed, formed the ‘soul contract’ tying together ‘all the so-called fail-daughters’ of Girls-era white Brooklyn.  Even if New York is still on her radar, the e-girl does not need it: her abjection is less traceable, her demographic origins intentionally obscure. The e-girl’s  digitisation of aura is seamless, as she subsumes vestiges of external sociality into virtual (dis)order. It is easy to want in on this, for those of us (most of us) who see catharsis in her maelstrom. Many ask, ‘Can I be one yet?’, others promise, ‘e-girl soon’. Tiqqun: ‘The Young-Girl is crazy about the authentic because it’s a lie’. ‘The Young-Girl is a lie, the apogee of which is her face’. The e-girl demands her cosmetic signatures be tabulated, that we count her ornamental eye-bags, bandaged doe-nose, striped stockings, miniskirts, and platform boots as proof of her loyalty—very cute. Loyalty to what, exactly? Her ever-evolving array of accessories can trace their familiarity to prior vanguards of indie and anime subcultures. Yet the e-girl is more capacious ethic than singular aesthetic in her hold on female-coded online personas. Her single law is a decked-out ScreenTime rubric; receipts for her rigorous work.
Two creased Ls make a W, and trying something in public, particularly the internet’s synthetic public, is a good way to get good at it. The e-girl is a portal to BEING BEST,Honor Levy argues, and the TikTok teenagers concur. Seeking to discover their preferred style, they cycle through the e-girl’s first, because, stamped out with black heart and metal chain emojis, it provides a seal of hard-core effort. As Andrea Long Chu told us in 2019, the ethic of females is something like ‘commitment to a bit.’ As far as her own narrative goes, the e-girl is nothing if not devoted. Being herself by baring herself is a job like any other, and she knows it.

Adrian Piper, Stills from Food for the Spirit, 1971 (Photo: World Picture Journal)
Adrian Piper, Stills from Food for the Spirit, 1971 (Photo: World Picture Journal)

This was true, for instance, of artist and philosopher Adrian Piper, whose ‘e’ was Immanuel Kant. In the summer of 1971, age 23, Piper entered a semi-quarantine. She retreated into her New York loft, fasting, doing yoga, and reading Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, in which she became totally absorbed. Disassociating (as an e-girl does) from her material environment, she traded linear time for Kantian Being-time, an immersion so intense Piper started to wonder if she even existed. In answer, she began Food for the Spirit, an artwork for which she chanted excerpts from Kant’s text while taking snapshots of herself undressed before her mirror, documenting her body as it became increasingly slivered. As Piper explained: ‘every time the fear of losing myself overtook me and drove me to the ‘reality check’ of the mirror, I was able to both record my physical appearance objectively and also record myself on tape repeating the passage in Critique that was currently driving me to self-transcendence’—to an exalted escape. ‘I’m rawdogging reality right now’, the e-girl says. We see her photos, so we believe her. 

Reality, the same e-girl reports, is a candied purgatory of visual pleasure and ambient roiling to enjoy before its next stage, extinction. The e-girl expects explosion; she is one with catastrophe. In her late 2010s high school history class, she watched a mushroom cloud bellow over a child picking petals in ‘Daisy’, the ad from Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 presidential campaign, and mumbled, ‘it me.’ When Johnson warns, ‘We must either love each other, or we must die,’ so long as she has her archive, the e-girl is down for either. 

Archival material of Ciara Horan as a fancy hipster croissant-eating E-girl replete with wig and nosebleed (Photo: @angelicism01 on YouTube)
Archival material of Ciara Horan as a fancy hipster croissant-eating E-girl replete with wig and nosebleed (Photo: @angelicism01 on Youtube)

Logged on, the e-girl dies a thousand little deaths a day at the hands of the thousand clowns who chase her. With these jokers at her feet, like Daphne, she is reborn but guised in leaves. Resurfacing on private alts or burner accounts, the e-girl zombie seeds questions to disturb her own peace.‘The Young-Girl never creates anything; she re-creates herself’.This is true for anemic androgyne Ciara Horan as much as it is for ultra-femme Belle Delphine. Their respective vanishings—for the latter, a momentary respite; for the former, ongoing—were termed ‘fake’ and called out for trickery. Really, they are nothing but her guile, her Genius, her Ovidian legacy (it is no accident that one of the e-girl’s most successful ambassadors goes by ‘Xepher Wolf’). There she goes, there she goes again: as Soph tweets, Albertine tells us, and Lenu shows us, the surest—not the saddest—thing a girl can do to stay ‘alive’ is disappear.

‘Why must the Young-Girl always feign some activity or other? In order to remain impregnable in her passivity’. There is one other thing she could do, the very thing Babitz was pilled to prevent: she could have a child. 

One day, I’m gonna have a baby! And you will call her mom. And the baby will have a baby and you will have this song to know that I AM YOUR GRANDMA. I am your GRANDMA…I am your grandma…

In 2011, Jillian Mayer, age 25 or 27, made a one-minute videodedicated to her unborn grandchild. In it, Mayer dons various absurdist costumes as a robotic edit of her voice rings out with the above message. Uploaded to YouTube, I Am Your Grandma became a viral sensation, minted by museums andKnowYourMeme as a paragon of popular Net Art (still rare in the age before NFTs). As Mayer explains in the description, the project was an exercise in ‘why people share their personal feelings with anonymous strangers,’ questioning how its viewership might impact the emotional pitch of her work’s message.

Jillian Mayer, Infinity Loop, 2020 (Photo: Mayer’s TikTok)
Jillian Mayer, Infinity Loop, 2020 (Photo: Mayer’s TikTok)

33 weeks ago, in the summer of 2020, Mayer began a new series, Infinity Loop, in which she watches adolescents on TikTok reenact her performance in I Am Your Grandma using the original audio track. Each girl—for it is almost always girls—enunciates the words with her own invented gestures that bear little resemblance to Mayer’s original, as the artist looks on, from her car or her couch, with a blank and sullen expression. The vatic power of I am Your Grandma had prematurely aged the young Net artist into an e-girl grandmother. Surrendering her work to a mass audience, stripped by her bachelors, what she lost lives on, with its spawn playing along.

~ The Senseless Bliss of Bippleyipsnip

A few weeks ago, my morning ritual of sheer silence and/or disdained interpersonal interaction was perturbingly halted by a friend of mine in the next room, door slightly ajar, emitting a noise somewhere between a scream and a maniacal laugh. Given the track record of the past year, literally anything could be happening; our bars for both agony and delight had drastically lowered. Conscious of both the day’s prematurity and my own lack of desire for unnecessary dialogue, I peered into the eight inch opening between the door’s edge and frame, only to be slightly disappointed that they were simply in bed, watching a series of indiscernible Instagram videos– a quintessentially 2021 internet-era false alarm. 

My baseline level of concern quickly drained to nonexistence as I went on with my day. Over the course of the week, I began to notice patterns in their behavior that seemed like legitimate means to feel apprehensive. As they did dishes, I would hear them speaking in some sort of unintelligible, indecipherable tongue, punctuated with intermittent giggles. The week progressed, and the more mundane the household activity, the more bizarre their congruent linguistics became. Had pandemic-induced psychosis, at long last, reached a loved one? After another morning christened by the same laugh-scream call to prayer, it was time for an intervention – I had to see if they were okay. This had to be done with the utmost delicacy, of course, as this legitimately could have been a mental health crisis. 

“Yo, what the fuck is wrong with you?”

With no verbal response, I was countered with a giant grin and a phone subsequently shoved into my face. This was how I was impetuously indoctrinated into the vast universe of a Baltimore-based barber, government name uncertain, with the Instagram handle @bippleyipsnip

Bippleyipsnip self-portrait, 2020

Before proceeding any further, it is imperative to have at least a rudimentary understanding of the cultural connotation of a place like Baltimore. The wild west is not the wild west, Baltimore is the wild west. It’s a metropolis often overshadowed by its coastal counterparts, was popularly contextualized by HBO, and the culture that pervades it can be defined in a very simple but often too-liberally thrown around word: real. This realness spans throughout the storied Bike Life to the youth uprising following the police murder of Freddie Gray to the hotly contested Baltimore vs. DCownership of New Balance to the “back vowel fronting” drawl of the Baltimore accent. Even amidst the looming epidemic of globalization that will eventually make all major cities look and feel like one lone architect’s sadistic, glass-and-steel-shopping-mall-simulation wet dream– Baltimore is a place where they will continue to do things in a way that is distinctly Baltimore. 

Image courtesy of Snake USA

The Bippleyipsnip Instagram page (he is also on TikTok, obviously, but for social media users who have not taken the inevitable leap to the other side, he transfers most of his content between platforms) may not leap out of the screen and drag you in by the collar. It deploys an “accidentally intentional” nature to the discovery of his work. The viewer may find themselves in a sort of algorithmic fever dream– curious, intrigued, and yearning for more, before even completing whichever film happens to be their introduction. He is perspicacious, yet humble. Calculated, yet recherché. Without an affinity to a singular visual vernacular, he tactfully reimagines and pushes the boundaries of the video format. Some of his films are shot via cell phone (front) camera, directly addressing the viewer with no frills and absolutely no distractions from his riveting monologues. With others, he demonstrates his multidisciplinary ability, effortlessly navigating as narrator, cinematographer, composer, and hair stylist– his off-camera métier. While impressive, there is a single identifying factor that distinguishes himself between the filmmakers of the world and a true visionary. 

He created his own dialect. 

First and foremost, his root language is not English, it’s Baltimorese; one of the most beguiling and elusive regional articulations in the continental United States. Most do not have the awareness that it even exists, and those that do are unlikely to be able to describe it. Using this as a canvas– maybe even referring to it as a canvas is too restrictive– he mesmerizingly emblazons and expands on it while deploying tactics from dadaist and abstract expressionist movements. 

At times he plays with the viewer, teasing the opportunity for comprehension with each piece, then serendipitously diverting away. There are traces of English roots in this bespoke (pun intended) dialect, but perhaps to some dismay, it simply isn’t enough for external fluency. As an artist, he possesses a rare inclination for self awareness and will work, out of good faith or promotion, to construct a basic bridge of understanding among his audience. 

When all is said and done, why does his work matter? He is not the first digital artist to cultivate an audience and surely won’t be the last. And to the plight or pleasure of his regional culture– much of what happens in Baltimore, stays in Baltimore. There’s a multifaceted significance to the discovering of his work in this particular moment in our lives. With each day that comes, we’re faced with mounting headlines to either process (or not) and glissade further into mental anguish, before even being able to start on the ones from the day before. Reality has never felt more real,and there’s a propensity building in culture where the things we once knew are being exchanged for much more abstract versions of themselves, whether they are being resurrected from the past or readapted in the midst of our newly realized desire. 

Scottish band Cocteau Twins is among the more relatively recent internet resurgences of artists at the meme-music crossroads. The ambiguity of singer Elizabeth Fraser’s vocal lyrics almost too perfectly plays into our own proclivity to disengage from reality as a whole, even if just for 2 minutes and 37 seconds (the shortest vocal track among their discography). Make no mistake, society has been trying to disconnect from itself much before the Cocteau Twins strummed their first cords, but our current socio-political-economic framework of reality palpably makes the timing of this particular new collective inclination no coincidence. 

Bippleyipsnip represents, in part, a recognition of both a symbolic and artistic departure from the system that we’re trying to evade. Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about his work is that the subjects documented within it, those sitting in the barber chair, are nearly unfazed (a subtle smile is just a technique of breaking the fourth wall) by what is going on, ultimately signifying a ready and willing acceptance for transcendence. 

The other facet of Bippleyipsnip’s work navigates something distinctly characteristic of our current era. In 2019, the foreboding authority on the English language, Merriam-Webster, appointed the word ‘they as the company’s word of the year, due to the English language’s notorious lack of a gender-neutral pronoun and increased searches of the word’s meaning due to various public figures announcing their preference of said pronoun. While colloquial use of theycertainly predated the dictionary’s official induction of the word in this context, the fact that it had finally been recognized on this scale marks a shift in collective consciousness, and at a greater level, signals the fact that we are now placing a much larger emphasis on language in a handful of ways. Enter the culture wars

Laissez-faire Language has been a decidedly American concept and vehemently protected since the conception of the Great Experiment some two and a half centuries ago, but as we creep towards a higher social-consciousness, it has caused various fissures among our general attitude about this public awakening– more specifically about language’s uses, malleability, and weaponization. Objectively, the use of language in terms of recognizing marginalized groups and having some cognitive consideration for experiences outside your own is a good thing. Where we see those cracks start to spread are, by and large, those reactionary to any sort of change and that should be seen as no surprise because, after all, this is America. If all else fails, freedom is guaranteed. 

The multi-sided tug of war happening adjacent to those who decided not to play in the first place is ongoing, and there seems like no elucidation is coming anytime soon. Did we become so woke that now we need to catch up on some sleep? Can you still be conscious without memorizing every line of the script? How do you discern irony from intent? Does language substitute or substantiate action? Is it worse that the system is starting to adopt this use of language or that people believe it is pushing us forward? Who is censoring who? Is shitposting true liberation? In 2021, is the only way to make sense to not make sense? 

New York-based multimedia artist, Alex Lee, coined a phrase within his work that comes to mind when describing the spirit and significance of Bippleyipsnip– “Jaywalking through the language”. While his artistic efficacy is aggrandized by the fact that he created his own dialect, it is the intent behind it that makes it all the more sweeter. 

Culture and transcendence

With every video of someone with a semi-composed facade and fresh fade in a barber chair trying not to laugh (edges so sharp it’s miraculous that it was orchestrated by a human hand), with every monologue, every keynote address delivered via the Ted Talk filter, every TikTok duet with aspiring rapper and Bippleyipsnip’s aspiring-to-understand audience, we see a mastermind both behind and in front of the camera commandeering our attention beyond the bounds of what we perceive as reality, language, filmmaking, or even being an artist as a whole. 

Someone who surpasses breaking the rules because he doesn’t even acknowledge the quiddity of rules in the first place. His work is not futurist, because even those theories stem from what we know presently. There is no line to toe, no barriers to be broken, no physical determinations of figurative movement. He has transcended it all and leaves his audience with a simple quest– for understanding. Now it’s up for us to figure out not what we want to understand, but how much.

~ Beirut: Yasmina Hilal

In 2020, I was unexpectedly stuck in Beirut during the pandemic, which prolonged my stay there. That turned into deeper turmoil due to an explosion on the 4th of August in Beirut. Being a victim myself, I was not able to immediately process the trauma. I started documenting the aftermath on the third day of the explosion, and continued for a full two months. I photographed around 40 subjects in their environments. Some were injured, some lost their homes, some lost their loved ones. It felt crucial to keep talking about Beirut. This is not a trend.

~ Mosaic Man by Jim Powers 

Mosaic Man 9
Mosaic Man 9
Jim Powers
Ceramic, Paint, Glass, Mosaic Tiles
1′ x 1′
2020
Mosaic Man 8
Mosaic Man 8
Jim Powers
Ceramic, Paint, Glass, Mosaic Tiles
1′ x 1′
2017
Mosaic Man 7
Mosaic Man 7
Jim Powers
Ceramic, Paint, Glass, Mosaic Tiles
1′ x 1′
2019
Mosaic Man 6
Mosaic Man 6
Jim Powers
Ceramic, Paint, Glass, Mosaic Tiles
1′ x 1′
2020
Mosaic Man 5
Mosaic Man 5
Jim Powers
Ceramic, Paint, Glass, Mosaic Tiles
1′ x 1′
2020
Mosaic Man 4
Mosaic Man 4
Jim Powers
Ceramic, Paint, Glass, Mosaic Tiles
1′ x 1′
2020
Mosaic Man 3
Mosaic Man 3
Jim Powers
Ceramic, Paint, Glass, Mosaic Tiles
1′ x 1′
2020
Mosaic Man 2
Mosaic Man 2
Jim Powers
Ceramic, Paint, Glass, Mosaic Tiles
1′ x 1′
2020
Mosaic Man 1
Mosaic Man 1
Jim Powers
Ceramic, Paint, Glass, Mosaic Tiles
1′ x 1′
2020

~ Tech Literacy and The News

Toss your iPhones to the proverbial wolves, sheeple: or it will be YOUR ass! Live from her Sidekick II, dystopian futurist Maya Kotomori is here to hit you with solid proof that the Internet is trying to turn us into fishpeople who feed on microplastics. You’re welcome.

If the last 2 weeks had an acronym, it would be ‘NFT,’ which every struggling artist was trying to capitalize on last week. What the fuck is an NFT really? Why did they become so immediately popular? Are they a money laundering scheme? Why did Kings of Leon decide to release their album on one? What I do know: NFT stands for non-fungible token; cryptocurrency whose value doesn’t translate into cold hard cash, but unique “assets.”They are a way into the art game, a way for artists to define their own practice online, via their assets, in an anyone-can-do-it, American dream way. Ultimately, they allow artists to integrate their work into a value economy, and NFT transactions are accounted for on a blockchain. This eases the fear of insider trading playing puppetmaster behind the curtain. Still confused? So am I. For an explanation, DM any local male artist who uses Clubhouse, the new invite-only talk-forum app where every conversation circles around to why or why not NFTs are just a trend.

Kings of Leon are back (with a non-fungible album release) and Mumford & Sons are also back (for closeted racism). Unfortunately, we won’t be getting an NFT album release of faux-religious lyrics and frenzied banjo playing any time soon, after one ‘Son,’ Winston Marshall (fake name), tweeted in support of far-right author Andy Ngo’s new book, titled “Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy.” Several people are calling him a literal Nazi. Marshall is now “taking a break” to examine his “blindspots,” as explained in this notes app post. I don’t know why anyone thought that a band of white guys making Deliverance pop wouldn’t support someone like Angy Ngo. Stand by for my first NFT release on STP Blog, including a copy of “Unmasked” that Marshall pretended to read. 

Pop icon William Eyelash recently dropped a new documentary, ‘The World’s A Little Blurry,’ on Apple TV. Two and a half unadulterated hours of Billie’s life, the documentary is exactly what you would expect. It’s also a lot better than you’d expect; who doesn’t want a look into how definitely-not-incestuous her music making process is with her producer/brother, Finneas? Jokes aside, ‘The World’s A Little Blurry’ earned itself 2.5 stars by Roger Ebert, an irrelevant opinion considering that Billie’s a Gen Z princess who, I must add, sang her ass off at the 63rd Grammy Awards this past Sunday. Perhaps the most valuable part of this Grammys (apart from Kanye’s win in the Contemporary Christian Album category) is the above meme of the televised footage from the awards. Is this what we have to look forward to now that it’s virtual awards season? Televised experiences that eerily resemble CENTER JENNY

Since we’re on the topic of internet valuation: on March 4th, the Capitol building announced implementation of extra security measures in response to a QAnon conspiracy theory alleging Trump’s real inauguration on March 4th, the USA’s original inauguration date. While the Capitol Police alleged fear of a repeat situation of January 6th’s “insurrection,”It’s strange to think a state of nation-wide panic can be caused by a bunch of far-right 4chan jabronis. The government kind of gave QAnon a W – I mean, The New York Times published 3 articles on the prospect of another “impending insurrection” in the span of one day. All this because a group of people who believe Obama drinks children’s blood made some ‘threats’ about a second inauguration day? 

Source: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Cuomosexual merchandise is in the toilet after last week’s news that our New York governor is a creep. In a press conference last Wednesday, Cuomo addressed allegations of inappropriate touching and general sexual harassment from multiple women, including two employees of the state. What we know for sure: Cuomo has made inappropriate comments towards female employees in the workplace, asked to kiss someone at a wedding, and has denied most of these allegations, differentiating them from larger #MeToo conversations out of self-preservation. Is Cuomo an ab*ser (redacted in honor of the YouTubers who get demonetized for saying the wrong buzzwords), or is he just Italian? Do these women know any Italians?Maybe if they weren’t so racist against Italians, my favorite white people of color, they’d know that kissing is how you greet people. 

Talk about cultural insensitivity! Two days ago, it was announced that both Riz Ahmed, star of Sound of Metal (2019)and Steven Yeun, ensemble member of Minari (2020), clinched the Academy nomination for Best Actor. The New York Times reports that this is the first time in nearly 20 years that any man of Asian descent has been nominated for this award, which makes sense (not in a racist way, in an industry way). Both movies were really good, both actors delivered, and I would also bet my life savings that one of them will secure the Oscar for every single reason other than their great performances. A white guy just committed a series of murders specifically targeting Asian women, so the Academy is definitely going to monetize death as fuel for the identity politics machine, as if that’s what any marginalized group wants: some actor to become a poster child for how America is changing when people are dying. Representation matters, right? 

Anyway, I stand by those brave enough to share their experiences with sexual harassment and assault, and I really do not fuck with hate crimes. If the Internet had its way – what would that mean for the value economy, art, and artists? The Internet serves a million agendas at once, cancels those who can’t get with the times, and exalts the ones that follow. We shouldn’t be afraid, we should leverage the living shit out of it – for Italians, Asians, XYZAnon, this virtual awards season, and crypto-bros everywhere.

Maya loves Italians

Dedicated to my dear friend Louis “Gigi” Cedrone.

~ No Boundaries: An Interview with Ali Sahmel and Emily McElwreath

No Boundaries: An Interview with Ali Sahmel and Emily McElwreath

 The art world has a tendency to forgo boundaries. Living, working, and scheming all in the same building in East Williamsburg, Ali Sahmel and Emily McElwreath are a prime example of how romance and professionalism can overlap and create a partnership built to last. McElwreath’s vast experience in high-end art advisory and Sahmel’s title as one of the few master chromists in New York City solidify the two as a power couple. This label is not lost on the two, who have recently teamed together to join the handful of art galleries popping up in East Williamsburg. In the midst of working with the couple to organize STP Group Show 3, STP Blog Editor in Chief Lauryn-Ashley Vandyke pops into their apartment across the hall from the gallery for a conversation about what it’s like to mix business with pleasure. 

LA: How would you two describe the work that you do, and does it ever overlap?

Ali Sahmel: There’s Pegasus Prints, and there’s Sidel McElwreath. Pegasus is a print shop studio creating and collaborating with artists. 

Emily McElwreath: With Sidel McElwreath, it’s art advisory and curation. I’ve never been with someone as involved in the art community as I am. There is so much overlap. We are either working with the same artist, or there’s a person I’d always wanted to work with, and Ali introduced me, or vice versa. The overlap was super beneficial for both of our careers.

LA: Did you guys meet through art? 

EM: We met on Tinder. Living in New York City in the queer community, it’s hard to meet people. Plus, we’re so busy. I wasn’t bar hopping, meeting people. 

LA: And there are no lesbian bars anymore.

AS: Well there’s Ginger’s, in Park slope. There’s Cubbyhole. They’re still there.

LA: What was your first date?

AS: It was an Irish pub type place in Clinton Hill. They have the best popcorn there. It was just a block away from my house. I was like, if we’re gonna meet, you’re coming to me.

EM: We started dating right away, as lesbians do. The synergy was there immediately. I had been in business for four years. I was at the Brant Foundation as director of communications and education for six years. Then, I went out on my own and started my art advisory. Your first five years of going out on your own, you’re an infant. Although I was still green, when Ali was like, I want to start my own silk-screen studio,I’d had the experience of starting a small business.

Pegasus Prints Studio

LA: You’re both workaholics.

EM: Ali’s far more organized than I am, but in terms of time in, we’re both constantly working.

AS: We work a lot. Making things, but also looking at shows, studio visits, researching, staying informed. 

LA: When I think of the dynamic between me and my work husband, Ben, the reason it works is because we both have our own thing. It overlaps in that we support each other, and we get to collaborate, but we’re always equals. There’s never a weird power dynamic in our relationship.

EM: Being equal is the only way it works. We both have our own separate things that exist without the other person. Those two things are going to exist, even if we don’t as a couple.

AS: We offer different things which benefit the other. Emily’s more outgoing and assertive. I’m more hands-on and creative. It’s a good team.

EM: Launching the art space, Pegasus Gallery, was a no brainer. It used to be an office space for the previous owner of the studio. We came up here and we were like, why don’t we have some sort of experimental, invitation only, art space where we can bring in young curators and emerging artists.

AS: Not as much structure as a Chelsea Gallery.

EM: Downstairs (Pegasus Prints Shop) is the bread-and-butter business. The gallery gives us the freedom to play. That’s where the overlap is- we’re co-directors of the gallery. 

STP Group Show 3 at Pegasus Gallery

LA: What are your goals with both of your projects?

AS: Stepping outside of the box, not creating your traditional print, experimenting with different mediums, paints, and ink. I want to get something new and fresh, so I’m experimenting with airbrush or with printing on different types of substrates. 

EM: I’ve worked with everything from blue chip artists to total emerging artists. I deal with the blue chip pieces so I have the opportunity to take chances with emerging artists. I love being able to go to the collector that has a Julian Schnabel in their living room and say, check this artist out. They just graduated and I want you to invest in their talent. 

LA: How has digital innovation affected printmaking and selling and purchasing artwork?

AS: Digital printing is easier and faster. It’s like reading the newspaper versus picking up your phone. With that said, it makes me appreciate it more. For me, printmaking is a completely different aesthetic that I’m naturally more drawn to than digital.With the silkscreen process, you see the hand; the tedious nature of creating something.

EM: In terms of digital takeover across the board,  we’re 40 year old women. It doesn’t come organically to us. In college, I was still going to the library to use their desktop to write my essays, and actually printing them with a printer to hand it in. It’s a constant learning curve. 

LA: There’s a new appreciation for printmaking. People crave that physical process.

AS: Yes. To see the trace of your hand, the manual creation of something, versus hitting buttons all day and just spitting something out.

EM: There’s always going to be room for the authentic, classic, beauty of tangible art. It’s like a little black dress. It doesn’t ever go out of style. There’s an element of the fine art world, especially silk screen, that doesn’t change.  Luckily we are dealing with fine art, which for the most part remains tangible and separate from digital takeover.

Ali at Pegasus Prints

LA: What did you guys learn about each other through the process of teaching Emily about printmaking?

AS: Emily’s very impatient. She has a difficult time multitasking. We have a different eye. 

EM: However, we work well together. We have to. To be able to sustain two small businesses,  we both had to help each other out and move into parts of ourselves that are uncomfortable. I’m not that detail oriented. Allie is so organized, patient and all those things that go into being a printmaker. I don’t have those. I’m scrappy, I’m fast, I’m impatient. I want results right away. We’re very different, but I’m still in the shop, racking the prints and helping her, because we have to. It’s free help. When you’re lovers and you work together, it’s like, I need you for five hours downstairs because I’m not paying someone to come in today.

AS: When we meet with artists, too, we just bring forth different concepts and respond to artists differently. It works due to the differences.

EM: I’ve had to learn to take second place to Allie when we’re [in the print shop]. It’s Allie’s studio, and I’m in it. That does not come naturally for me. I’m bossy. I like to be in charge. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t try to do that in the studio anymore, because I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. That’s a big learning curve.

LA: When you love someone so much and you’re working together, there’s never any ugh, I can’t believe they’re making me do this. You want to be there.

EM: Yeah. Everything bleeds into one. There’s no we’re doing each other a favor by doing this

AS: Emily comes down and works with me in the print shop, but also, when she’s doing studio visits, I come and add my insight or criticism in some way. Emily spills into my world and I spill into her world.

EM: I’ve gotten 10 times cooler dating Ali. She’s like, why don’t you come with me to meet this young artist? Then when we’re there she’s like, I’m a chromist. They’re like, oh my god.

LA: What is your favorite thing about working with your partner and what is your least favorite thing?

AS:  I love always being around Emily. She’s so fun and funny. At the same time, it’s hard always being together; working together, living together, going to studio visits-

LA: And you don’t have doors in your apartment.

AS: Right. So I value my alone time, my space. I’m a Gemini. I’m contradicting myself. At the same time, I want to be alone.

EM: I’ll oftentimes make the call, like, I’m going to go away for the night. I’ll feel that we need a beat.

The best thing about working together is that Ali’s my favorite person. I want to be around her all the time. We’re talking about working together, living together, and getting through a pandemic together. It’s created a level of intimacy that I didn’t know existed. It’s also two women. I can’t even express how much work needs to go into understanding one another when it’s two women together all the time.

LA: Emotions, sensitivity, thoughtfulness. Women understand; they see so much.

EM: Yeah. I don’t want to see it all. I  want to be that dumb dude who’s like, what’s the matter? My favorite thing is being around her, and my least favorite thing probably has to do with me, and my lack of patience and ability to let go of the reins. That’s really hard for me. Sometimes I’m unpleasant to be around. I’m trying to work  on that.

LA: I feel like everyone says communication, communication, communication. No one ever says, let things go.

EM: You have to let things go. That’s such a good point. We do our best when we’re able to accept one another for who we are. When it’s not good, we hone in on every little thing. It becomes, why’d you do thatWhat’s going onLet’s talk about it. Sometimes there’s nothing to talk about. Also, we’re 40, this is who we are. It might get a little better, but there won’t be some huge upheaval of our personalities.

LA: Can you talk about building trust with each other, but also, the artists you work with?

EM: It was important for me, when I started my own business, to build relationships with the art community. Especially the emerging, mid-career art community. Go into those studios, get to know the artists on a personal level. With that comes a level of trust. These artists are allowing me in their spaces. They’re allowing me into their lives. They’re allowing me to sell work for them. I always liked this quote: Love comes easy. You don’t have to earn love. You have to earn trust, and respect. You can really dig someone, love them, but the trust and respect comes after. That takes a while. 

AS: When you’re building and nurturing these relationships, the dialogue is a little bit more at ease. Concepts come naturally, it just kind of flourishes. The more you build relationships with artists, things  grow and evolve.

EM: It’s creating like a family for ourselves. My favorite part of our relationship is getting to be mama bears, creating this family of artists, creatives, makers, thinkers, and having a physical hub for people to come to.

Ali, Emily, and Trempor in their loft

LA: How do you build a creative community through the work that you do?

EM: First of all, it takes time. Time, and experience. I’m a huge networker. I’m always connecting the dots. You have to make it a priority to meet people; go to the shows, go to the openings, go to the events. Be authentic. Instagram has allowed us the opportunity to feel connected with one another. There’s a lot of stuff that I hate about Instagram and social media at large, but I love more than I hate.

AS: It’s accessible, easy, and efficient.

LA: You can’t have one without the other. Right now, at least.

EM: 50% of the artists that I do studio visits with, I’m introducing myself via Instagram. Like, this artist told me to check you outI’d love to see your work in person. 

Plus, we get to see what LA is doing at 1:00 AM on a Tuesday. We’re not going to be at that restaurant with you, because we’re on our 10th dream, but I get to wake up and be like look at what LA did last night.

LA: I love Instagram. I didn’t have one for 6 years. I needed the break, to learn to love myself and to not find that validation through other people.

AS: Did you delete your account and then come back?

LA: I deleted it in 2016.

AS: It’s like deleting part of your identity, then reappearing. It’s your digital identity.

~ Abjection as Abstraction – Curated by Adriana Wynne

“Abjection as Abstraction” is a virtual group show featuring both emerging and established
artists from all backgrounds based in the United Kingdom and the United States. The show
presents works ranging from sculptural objects, installations, paintings, written text,
photographs, and prints.

This international online exhibition explores notions of the abject through forms of abstraction.
Abjection can be a complex and ambiguous concept; the abject can be understood as a threat,
something that doesn’t let itself become seduced, or a source of differentiation or process of
rejection between the self and the non-self.

The process of abjection may be triggered by disgust or phobia. It is without status and exists
socially as a sense of denial. It fails to be recognized as familiar or desirable, causing it to carry
a sense of uncanniness that is inseparable from abstraction, which relies on the unfamiliar. We
asked the artists in this show what abjectness is to them. Is it caused by the self? Or something
external?

Apples II
Apples II
Dougal MacArthur
Digital C-type Print
20 x 24 inches
2020
Calf Leg
Calf Leg
Dougal MacArthur
Chromogenic Print
16 x 20 inches
2020
Foetus and fly
Foetus and fly
Dougal MacArthur
Digital C-type Print
12 x 16 inches
2020
Haniwa
Haniwa
Nikako Kanamoto
Saggar fired Ceramic, string
Dimensions Variable
2018
Intent/Content
Intent/Content
(bricks featured in Intent/Content)
Alexia Mavroleon
30 concrete bricks, flowers
dimensions variable
2019
Intent/Content
Alexia Mavroleon
Video
30 Concrete bricks (194 x 92 x 57mm)
27″ Monitor
Flowers
2019 
Untitled
Untitled
Tom White
Charcoal
21 x 29.7 centimeters
2020
Made In London
Made In London
Tom White
Charcoal on paper
21 x 29.7 centimeters
2020
Untitled
Untitled
Tom White
Charcoal
21 x 29.7 centimeters
2020
Untitled
Untitled
Tom White
Charcoal
21 x 29.7 centimeters
2020
‘MY FAT HEAD’
‘MY FAT HEAD’
Daisy May 
Pig fat, alpaca wool, aluminium wire,steel, MDF, acrylic paint
90 x 20 centimeters
2020
video documentation
Art Practice no.1
Art Practice no.1
Earl Fox
Rope strung through the climbing loop in ceiling, boots, bicycle helmet.
Dimensions Variable
2020
Clone Core
Clone Core
Alec Snow
Ceiling tile, metal, paper, acrylic, adhesive
65 x 13 x 13 inches
2020
Beside Oneself (Position/Character/Position /Character)
Beside Oneself (Position/Character/Position /Character)
Alec Snow
Ceiling tile, acrylic, adhesive
73 x 34 x 6 inches
2020
Through it and Throughout
Through it and Throughout
Lauren Phillips
Foam, wood, plastic crate, hardware
40.5 x 30 x 15 inches
2020
Through it and Throughout
Through it and Throughout
Lauren Phillips
Foam, wood, plastic crate, hardware
40.5 x 30 x 15 inches
2020
Disembodied
Disembodied
Adriana Wynne
Metal, Latex
Dimensions Variable
2020
Disembodied
Disembodied
Adriana Wynne
Metal, Latex
Dimensions Variable
2020
These days, I wonder whether the world would look better blurry
These days, I wonder whether the world would look better blurry
Sang Woo Kim
Oil on Canvas
60 x 45 centimeters
2021
Green Felt Tips
Green Felt Tips
Ash Kingston
C-type print
18 x 12 iches
2017
Stunt Double
Stunt Double
Alexander James
Acrylic on paper
30 x 42 centimeters
2019
No Name #1
No Name #1
Jack Laver
Mixed Media on Paper (framed)
23 x 30.5 centimeters
2019
Untitled
Untitled
Adrian Schachter 
Mixed media on wooden panel
18 x 24 inches
2018
Hairy man contest
Hairy man contest
Ash Kingston
C-type print
18 x 12 inches
2019
She’ll only cause an atmosphere
She’ll only cause an atmosphere
Ash Kingston
C-type print
18 x 12 inches
2020
One Night Stand
One Night Stand
Desi Perez
Digital Print
33 x 49.76 inches
2020
2007
2007
Saudia Jones
mixed media and collage
34 x 22 inches
2020
SPRING
SPRING
Erin Washington
Crayon and Gel Pen
8.5 x 11 inches
2021
(NONE OF THEM HAD IT EASY)
(NONE OF THEM HAD IT EASY)
Erin Washington  
Oil on Canvas & Text  
24 X 24 inches
2020
This Is Lame
This Is Lame
Lumia Nocito
Collage
7 x 9 inches
2020
Present
Present
Lumia Nocito
Collage
7 x 9 inches
2020
Gone
Gone
Lumia Nocito
Collage
7 x 9 inches
2020
Grounding Techniques
Grounding Techniques
Lumia Nocito
Collage
7 x 9 inches
2020
Glory Hole
Glory Hole
Desi Perez
Digital Print
33 x 49.76 inches
2020
Power & Courage of Teenage Hormones
Power & Courage of Teenage Hormones
Morgan Maher
inkjet print & collection of childhood earrings
8 x 10 inches
2020
We Want Chunks Miscommunication from Brain to Mouth to Ear to Other Brain
Zac Kresl 
Video
1 minute 56 seconds
2020
Calf
Calf
Dougal MacArthur
Chromogenic Print)
20 x 30 inches
2020

~ Westside Compost x Serving the People

Westside Compost co-founder Kaile’s Teramoto has a background in the fashion industry, and co-founder Stacy Huynh has been a longtime environmental activist. After bearing constant witness to the detrimental effects our quotidian lifestyles have on the planet, Kaile and Stacy teamed up to create Westside Compost, which serves to present a hands-on approach for change. Championing the concept of re-soiling, Serving the People partnered with Westside Compost to create this introduction to the Westside Compost project, with hopes that this collaboration will make their mission more approachable. Filmed by Jaxon Whittington, styled by Melissa Lim, and edited by Giselle Shiyen, this video provides an introduction to their initiative. More on Westside Compost:

California-based environmental initiative Westside Compost aims to push the needle forward on education and application of environmental practices in our everyday lives.

MISSION

By bringing accessibility into environmental education, Westside Compost aims to promote the values of re-soiling to help close the food waste cycle.

Re-soiling is a plan of action that replants nutritional soil in areas of the earth which have been degraded by human activity. By composting organic food materials, we can naturally break down food waste into soil and deposit into our own yards, potted plants, and parks. Compost is like gold when it comes to gardening; it provides a slow and steady release of natural nutrients while improving soil structure and retaining more water. 

When we strive to produce our own food, we cut back on corporate food production, pesticides, and food waste. Food waste that is not composted generally goes directly to a landfill, which then creates greenhouse gases that contribute to the heating of our planet.

FUTURE PROJECTS

To educate and invite others to participate in re-soiling, Westside Compost will offer a young adult informational guide with pages to log and track their individual composting process, small metal composting buckets for the kitchen and upcycled, branded t-shirts.

ABOUT THE FOUNDERS

Kaile Teramoto is co-founder of Westside Compost, where she is part of the core leadership team running strategic partnerships, editorial content, and R&D. She encompasses a depth of experience in sustainability and marketing while serving as co-founder and executive of Kaemi, an upcycling e-commerce store. While there, she led Kaemi to be one of the leading sustainable brands in Los Angeles, CA, building a consumer base in vast regions of the world including the United States, Amsterdam, and the United Kingdom. 

Stacy Huynh is co-founder of Westside Compost, where she is part of the core leadership team running business development, operations, and strategic partnerships. Stacy’s main focus is to help scale Westside Compost into a global initiative: influencing policies and lives throughout the world. Throughout her career, Stacy has committed to implementing ESG practices in the businesses she works with. She currently works full-time as Head of Operations at Arcadian Capital, a venture capital firm primarily focused on the ancillary sector of the cannabis industry. With her extensive experience in business development, fundraising, operations, and partnerships, Stacy will help the development of Westside Compost to gain attention on the global stage.

~ Hard and Soft with Isabella Norris and Titus McBeath

Hard and Soft with Isabella Norris and Titus McBeath

Isabella Norris is a Chicago-born artist working intuitively with familiar forms. She tries to find instances where craft and technique can be subverted by intuition, chance, spirituality, color, and energies to create divergent organic forms. Norris is a recent graduate of Columbia University in New York City. You can find her on Instagram here or her website here.

From Findlay, Ohio, Titus McBeath is a recent graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York City. McBeath’s work explores the relationship between manufacturing and the poetics of everyday consumerism. His serial objects take the form of 3D printed food and digitally sculpted corn chips, shown on small custom-built monitors that speak to his upbringing in the midwest, where the major exports are corn and manufacturing. You can check out more of his work on Instagram or his website.

Tyler Nicole Glenn (they/them) is a visual artist and writer based in Tampa, Florida. They are a recent graduate of the School of Visual Arts, where they received their BFA in Fine Arts with Honors. They’ve invited Isabella Norris and Titus McBeath to conduct an interview-style conversation before their work is featured in STP Group Show 3 at Pegasus Prints Gallery. You can find Tyler online through their Instagram or their website. 

TNG: How would you describe your practice?

IN: I’m anti-practice. I’m one of those people who is like, My “practice…” What does that even mean? One thing I do over and over is exploiting materially-driven techniques to find something organic and magical. I’m kind of a little factory. I make tons of units, making something different each time using the same process. Frankensteining processes and getting magic, that’s really what I’m looking for.

TM: I’m kind of the opposite. When I start something, I have a very set goal for what I want it to be. I’m driven to fulfill an end product. I pull from manufacturing culture, industrialism and Americana. Recently, (my practice) has taken the form of 3D printing and computer driven objects but I don’t want it to be limited to that.

IN: I do 3D printing too. A lot of CAD, a lot of Rhino, but it’s quite obscured.

TM: It’s cool that you’re using it differently. It’s not obviously 3D printing. A lot of 3D printing has a certain look to it. 

Titus McBeath, Mash (Pizza), 2019.
Titus Mcbeath, Mash (Pizza), 2019.

TNG: Do your backgrounds influence your work at all?

TM: Yeah, a lot. I pull from imagery and life experience I’ve had living and growing up in Ohio. I like to reference a lot of suburban culture; teen angst that has spun itself together into a perverted idea of the American dream. I’m looking at things our parents or grandparents took as the American dream [as a way of seeing] how our generation has interpreted it. I take that short lineage of American history and pull from a weird subset of midwest culture I’ve experienced first hand.

IN: I grew up in Chicago, and there’s a really strong, ingrained sense of local art community and place there. That created the mindset that I ended up bringing when I moved to New York and encountered different people who are making art. In Chicago, that community was very into making art for the artist. That has always stuck with me. 

Then my parents moved to Las Vegas. I love the desert. Being somebody not [originally] from the desert who wants to be from the desert has really affected my work. I spent a whole summer working in northern Nevada on a grant project. I love construction and moving Earth. My work can be primordial and indescribable in the same way that objects from the desert are.

TM: What do you think about Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains in Las Vegas?

(Source: sevenmagicmountains.com)
(Source: sevenmagicmountains.com)

IN: I love that piece. At first, it might seem a little strange, but when you go out there and stand with it, it’s completely magical. It corrals a lot of land art ideas, and says “there’s many different ways we can do this.”

TNG: When I first saw that piece, I was driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and was like, “Oh my god, we have to stop! What is going on here?” It really deserves to be a land piece. Photos of it and the smaller editions that you see at Art Fairs don’t really do it justice.

IN: It’s very majestic; you wonder how it was made. One of the things that I love to do is wonder how something was made.

TNG: Though you both use nearly opposing sculptural mediums, your bodies of work invoke a similar contrast in terms of softness and hardness. Could you speak about what this means in terms of your work?

IN: For me, it’s the balance of everything. I’m obsessed with hard and soft. It speaks to an equilibrium in nature that my work intuitively gravitates toward. A lot of the time, I’m working intuitively. I’m grabbing things, forming fabric onto hard things, and working with materials that have completely different molecular structures. There’s something natural about fusing hard and soft into one.

Isabella Norris, Star Mobile, 2019.
Isabella Norris, Star Mobile, 2019.

TM: Nature is already perfect, so I think referencing it is always a smart decision. When I think of hard and soft materials in my work, I think of technology and using crazy technological elements like stepper motors and Arduinos, then having those mimic organic form. The tension between hard and soft, that’s really beautiful.

IN: [Nature] mediates and gives structure. Structure, for both of us, is a big deal. With sculpture, it’s how you’re constructing the work at a basic level, but also from the making perspective.

Titus McBeath, Dorito, 2019.
Titus McBeath, Dorito, 2019.

TNG: Could you two tell me a bit about Group Show 3?

TM: It’s a little bit of a mystery. We know who’s in it, we just don’t know what work everybody’s putting in yet. I’m very honored to be doing a show with all these amazing artists. I also think it’s a bit of a survey of what’s happening in our generation. The artists in the show are of a generation that doesn’t get a voice usually. Most of us are right out of school, so I think it’s cool to get this opportunity.

IN: Yeah, me too. For all the same reasons, it’s just exciting. I do know it’s in a print shop named Pegasus Prints. I was in a couple of the  STP digital shows and it’s an honor to be in a real life show, especially in this age of digital shows.

TM: I was thinking about digital shows the other day. It doesn’t seem sustainable at all. I know it’s what we have to do right now, but there’s something about going to a physical space for a physical show that just doesn’t feel the same [when compared to] a digital space.

Isabella Norris, Black Star Quilt, 2020.
Isabella Norris, Black Star Quilt, 2020.

TNG: How did you get involved with Serving The People?

TM: I [first] got involved with the BFA Show . That’s how I got to know your work, Isabella. Just going through the artists and looking up all their work. Since then, I’ve become friends with Ben and LA, who are curating the show. The rest is history.

IN: Literally, the exact same for me. I just applied to the BFA Show. I was like, “Okay, I’ll just apply to the show. What’s the worst that could happen?” And it opened up a lot of doors to new friendships. It’s amazing that people were willing to make new friends last summer. I applied to a few more of their shows and now we’re here. It was like Titus said, the STP digital shows were a great way to see other artists from all over the world. The lovely thing was that it connected people. What was so unique to me about STP was that people were nice and wanted to meet up.

TM: I think that’s a rarity, and I’m glad that it’s happening more often now. Because we’ve been so cut off from physical interaction, people want to be in conversation more, so nice conversations happen more often, in a strange, roundabout way.

IN: Maybe people are more supportive. I’ve felt very supported by random people in the last couple months. It’s much appreciated.

TNG: Both of you received your undergraduate degrees during the pandemic. Has that changed any way that you conceptualize and create your work?

TM: It was such a letdown to get kicked out of the studio. I didn’t make anything for a few months during the first part of the lockdown. It was almost like school didn’t end. We had an online commencement and then they were like, “Okay, you’re done!” It’s been taking me a little while to actually feel like, “Alright, that part of my life is over with.” I had to leave some ideas back at school. It’s taking me a little while to get over graduating in the way we did.

IN: My school had a similar experience; abruptly ending. I was right in the middle of a lot of things that I was enjoying, so that was hard. Maybe I’m kind of sick for saying this, but it was like all the pressure from the end of my degree was alleviated. All these works I was thinking I was going to make, they became like “Okay, no one cares. Be healthy, be with your family, go home.” I didn’t really need to have this big shabang end of year thing. We kind of had one [big shabang] online that lingered into the summer with these digital shows, but I’m just now getting a studio. I liked the comfort of working at home, but at the end of the day, I need my home to be free of my work so I can rest.

TM: I enjoyed having a studio at school, but now I make all my work at home. It’s interesting that you like your home being free of your personal work. I find that I can never stop thinking about working, so I like it around me at all times. If I need to do something, I can just go over to the other corner of the room and work.

IN: My work is a little chaotic sometimes, and I’m also a crazy cleaner. My mom told me that Georgia O’Keeffe, before she could paint, had to clean every single drawer in her house. I really identify with that. I have to have a place that looks like a hotel room. Even though I’m spending all my time at work, transit, and in my studio, if I’m going back to my room at 11pm, I just want to get into my clean bed. 

Has my approach changed because of the pandemic? I don’t know yet. I’s too soon to tell. I’m sure it has in some very profound ways.

TM: Especially now, it’s easy to start making work in a vacuum where you’re just making work for yourself, by yourself. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Being in a community of people on the internet, like with the BFA show, that really helped me break out of my weird shell and see what other people are doing. I think it’s important to react to art that is being made by your peers.

Isabella Norris, Star 7, 2019.
Isabella Norris, Star 7, 2019.

TNG: How do you see your practice evolving moving forward? What are your goals?

TM: I hope to get a deeper understanding of why I’m making what I’m making. I have a version in my mind where I’m making this object because of XYZ [reasons]. I hope I can step back and understand it more. Maybe that will help with the flow of new ideas, or give me inspiration to use new materials.

IN: We get pigeon-holed on the trajectory that we’re on. It takes something for us to pause, look, and maybe redirect based on feeling, philosophy, or how we got there in the first place. Everyone should do that. 

This show also put my ass back to work. Honestly, just keep taking risks. That’s what I keep telling myself. In the next couple months, I will be a year out of undergrad (minus the pandemic interruption, where I also didn’t want to make work.) I was just trying to have fun, be sane, and safe. Every piece, for me, is about growth, and thinking a little bit harder about what I’m doing.

Titus McBeath, Mash (Watermelon), 2019.
Titus McBeath, Mash (Watermelon), 2019.

TNG: If you could give advice to a young artist or younger version of yourself, what would it be?

TM: If I could tell high school me, [someone who] was an art nerd and a very nervous person, it would be to seek out people who like your work and like hanging out with you. Find that support group and you’re already setting yourself up for success, whether that’s big or small.

IN: The most helpful thing to me is to find people who are outside of your community who you can learn from and experience the world with outside of college. Also, make sure you enjoy the process of your art. I’ve spoken to so many young artists who feel like they should be doing a certain kind of work that they don’t enjoy. It doesn’t make any sense, because you’re the main benefactor of what you’re making.

TM: Also, read about artists and work that you like as much as possible. That is something I wish I would have done more at a younger age. 

IN:  Research is so important. You don’t even have to try. It should be fun. I love just watching people on YouTube, especially artists. That’s one of my favorite things to do. You find out who the hell could make this kind of art, and what is going on in their head.

TM: I love that Art21 with Mike Kelly. He was just pulling stuff that he had stacked up in his studio out of drawers, telling short little stories, and laughing at his own jokes. It’s amazing.

Titus McBeath, Putting on the Miles, 2020.
Titus McBeath, Putting on the Miles, 2020.

Edited by Tyler Nicole Glenn

~ Group Show 3 – Curated by Lauryn-Ashley Vandyke and Ben Werther

The organization of the works featured in Group Show 3 serves to encourage viewers to investigate the relationship
between landscape and architecture in physical and digital space. We hope that the show illuminates the nuanced
ways in which the residue of memes and other digital ephemera and lingo seeps into the physical- linguistically,
visually, and design-wise. In 2021, we find that the architecture that resides amidst both the physical and digital landscapes oscillates between the two spaces.

Additionally, it was important for us to showcase a wide range of practices, ranging from the collaborative to the
individual, as Serving the People seeks to foster community and collaboration. The inclusion of various mediums,
themes, and processes allow us to materialize the untethered nature of digital participation and implant the objectives of Serving the People’s non-profit online community into the Pegasus Prints gallery space.

Untitled I
Untitled I
Andres Salamanca and Lauren Woods
Cardboard, Custom Trading Cards.
5.5 x 5.5 x 18 inches
2021
Untitled II
Untitled II
Andres Salamanca and Lauren Woods
Cardboard, Custom Trading Cards
9.5 x 5 x 11.5 inches
2021
Where Was The Walrus When The Whale Was Wasting Away I
Where Was The Walrus When The Whale Was Wasting Away I
Paige Labuda
C-type hand Prints framed in Acrylic
20 x 24 inches
2021
Where Was The Walrus When The Whale Was Wasting Away II
Where Was The Walrus When The Whale Was Wasting Away II
Paige Labuda
C-type hand Prints framed in Acrylic
20 x 24 inches
2021
FCKKDD (pages 75/76)
FCKKDD (pages 75/76)
Raafae Ghory
Woven Cotton
50 x 70 inches
2021
Munch A Bunch of Fritos While Watching The Fault in Our Stars by Yourself
Munch A Bunch of Fritos While Watching The Fault in Our Stars by Yourself
Titus Mcbeath
Electronic components and video
3 x 4 x 1.75 inches
2021
Ophanim Quilt
Ophanim Quilt
Isabella Norris
polyester, dye, and batting
76 x 50 inches
2021
Karen is a pejorative term for a woman seeming to be entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is normal...
Karen is a pejorative term for a woman seeming to be entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is normal…
Lucien Smith
Acrylic paint and silkscreen ink on canvas
35 1/3 x 23 3/4 inches
2020
Jack's Ladder
Jack’s Ladder
Two Dogs and A Leash
Archival Print on acrylic, Aluminum Backing
40.5 x 59 inches
2021

~ Spiderpig! or, The Toxic Pigs of Fukushima

The boars, bovines, and remaining humans that make their lives in the exclusion zone of Fukushima are the subjects of Otto Bell’s new documentary, The Toxic Pigs of Fukushima,which premiered on Vice a couple weeks ago. Based on the film’s reception, it  seems to be a contender for an Oscar nom. For the most part, Bell focuses on Goru Kusano, a hunter in charge of culling the radiated boars who live in the exclusion zone. That’s right– radiation pigs, a typical 2020-21 cryptid. 

Radiation pigs make me think of the spiderpig song from the Simpsons and murder wasps. Radiation pigs make me think of the wolves who live at the Chernobyl site, at once protected from human harm and forever changed by it. More than anything though, these pigs reminded me of the “nature is healing” adage from early pandemic times, as we saw animals clip-clop on abandoned streets and swim in industrial waterways. 

I really wanted to believe the many takes I read following the #natureishealing shebang–that it isn’t humans who are the problem, it’s capitalism. I was hoping that Toxic Pigs might complicate these easy dichotomies – humans are bad, nature is good, humans are good, capitalism is bad – that feels too simplistic to represent reality. In the end, the story of radiated pigs and the people who live, hunt, and process them was as surreal and thought provoking as I thought it’d be. Unfortunately, though, Toxic Pigs doesn’t always focus on toxic pigs! A fatal flaw in any film.

Bell falls into the hubris trap of trying to represent post-Fukushima life writ-large and ends up going on generalizing tangents. He covers thyroid cancer, a woman who populates her abandoned town with dolls (a story that is too big for the confines of this short doc), a man whose daughter’s remains are missing–because of the natural disasters, the plant meltdown, the boars…? His artistic silences rarely speak for themselves. Bell has made his career making branded content in documentary form and very traditional “this is _____ exotic country” type work, so I guess this shouldn’t surprise me. Hopefully, the radiated pigs of Fukushima find more a more attentive production to champion them in the future.

~ STP News Biennial

STP News Biennial

Welcome to the STP News Biennial! Last October, the Whitney Museum of American Art announced that they would postpone their Biennial to 2022 due to the pandemic. Instead of waiting, we’re doing our own! Not only is February Black History Month, it is also full of some iconic yearly awards shows, like the Academy Awards (this year postponed to April 25) and the BAFTA Awards, set to occur the customary two weeks before the Oscars. In true awards show host fashion, I would like to present North West with the uber-prestigious trophy for Best Painting Ever Created. Looking forward to hearing an acceptance speech – our people will be in touch with your people. With that aside, the STP News Biennial is not an art show. Did I need to google what ‘biennial’ means? Yes! Will we be hosting another one in two years? I don’t know! 

Beyond the work, the Whitney Biennial is an opportunity for the institution to place emphasis on a unified curational point of view – the STP News Biennial seeks to do the same. As the curator, I’m choosing to focus on pieces of journalism that are on some Walter Cronkite shit.

(Sourced from Google)
(Sourced from Google)

Speaking of the past, pop icon Britney Spears re-entered family dinner discourse due to the latest episode from The New York Times Presents series on Hulu, titled ‘Framing Britney Spears’. 75 minutes of pure emotion, the narrative told in ‘Framing Britney’ has you ready to put a hit out on daddy Spears himself. Apparently, Brit has spent 13 years a slave; locked in a court-appointed conservatorship, where her father, Jamie Spears, has complete oversight over the pop star’s career, her earnings, and even her public appearances. Not only did ‘Framing Britney’ remind us of Perez Hilton’s evil and send out a dog whistle toTwitter for a public guillotining of Daddy Spears, it also reinvigorated every bad thing Justin Timberlake has ever done. One tongue-in-cheek plot point in the documentary was Timberlake’s and Brit’s y2k relationship. That album inspired one of the most well produced pop albums of all time, in addition to inspiring a Medusa-like depiction of Britney Spears in the media. In light of the documentary, JT apologized on Friday, February 12 for reaping the benefits of Britney’s character assasination, even mentioning how he ‘failed’ her and Janet Jackson, referring to Jackson and Timberlake’s iconic 2004 Superbowl wardrobe malfunction. The sheer nebula of fan drama, legal implications, and pop-girl nostalgia is why this piece of Britney journalism is the first to grace the STP News Biennial.

A third hot blonde (apart from myself) is featured in this Biennial, and that’s Anna Nicole Smith. ABC honored the 14th anniversary of her death on February 8th with a 20/20 episodeentitled Tragic Beauty: Anna Nicole Smith. The episode features Smith’s daughter Dannielynn Birkhead, who was left without her biological mother just five months after her birth. In the documentary, Dannielynn and her father, Larry Birkhead, travel around Texas to visit sentimental places for Smith as a means to celebrate her legacy and build a connection. Not only could the teenage Dannielynn be the late Smith’s twin, but the amount of tears shed in the process of depicting the new perspective of Anna Nicole’s career busted my heart wide open. Apart from the fact that she looks really good next to Britney Spears, Miss Anna Nicole Smith’s anniversary documentary earned its way into the Biennial for sheer emotional merit.

(‘Open Casket’ by Dana Schutz, 99 x 135 cm, Oil on Canvas, 2016, sourced from Google)
(‘Open Casket’ by Dana Schutz, 99 x 135 cm, Oil on Canvas, 2016, sourced from Google)

Like Dana Schutz’s ‘Open Casket’ in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, you always need a controversial call, so let’s talk about Sia’s new “film” called Music (2021). Dance Moms darling Maddie Ziegler, aka Sia’s no-longer-underaged child proxy, starred in this really bad movie, which has come under fire for portraying the neuroatypical community in a stereotypical light.

(sourced from @autisticats) on Twitter
(Sourced from @autisticats) on Twitter

Apart from the large amounts of offense I took with most of the content in the film, I think it would be really great as one of those films you put on in that really dark room in an art museum, in between two really canonical works, like a Nan Goldin slideshow or a Pope L performance recording. I would also definitely include Sia’s ‘Elastic Heart’ music video from 2014, just to really show Maddie’s range and to capitalize on the weird Shia LaBeouf drama from back then. 

In addition to Maddie Ziegler saying that Shia Labeouf smelled bad on set that one time, Shia Labeouf is, like, a real abuser now. On February 17th, ELLE Magazine coverstar FKA twigs shared a more detailed recounting of the events leading up to her escape from former partner Shia, which were initially brought into the public eye this past December. The next day, an interview between twigs and Gayle King furthered the discussion on partner abuse. Due to the length of this affair, twigs and her team are playing the long game with her very public, very yas-kween recovery from this whole situation! Production creds are warranted; if this situation were physically in the Biennial, it would be a really big, personal, and immersive installation designed for audience interaction.

Alas, we’ve covered everything newsworthy that I’ve collected over the past two weeks for the Biennial. If this pop culture segment says anything, it’s that I should never be given any curatorial power – ever. 

~ Subversive Sounds: Drill and Afro-Pessimism

Subversive Sounds: Drill and Afro-Pessimism

In an odd way, drill music’s braggadocious rage and violent musings put me at ease. The  thundering bass, up-tempo hi-hats, and aggressive prose call my body into action while  simultaneously clearing my mind. It is unfiltered- there is nothing between my ear and the artist. The attitude is infectious, and the symptoms of this infection are a stank face and a steady bop. If you get it, you get it. If you don’t, well, then you don’t.  

Drill’s first iteration came out of Chicago. Teenage rappers like Chief Keef gained massive levels of commercial success making gritty music that presented unobstructed views of the reality of the inner city. Since then, the sound and the  attitude behind it have traveled across oceans to the UK, Australia, Ghana, Brazil, and beyond. Despite its worldwide circulation, no place has seen drill music reach the level of cultural importance that it now has in London. Along with securing millions of views and streams, London’s young black drill musicians have felt the full force of the British state. The police actively try to suppress the expressions of these musicians, citing their “promotion” of violent conduct and linking their music to the rise of violent knife crime in the city.  

To further the censorship and surveillance of drill musicians, certain media outlets have cultivated the notion that drill music is a council-estate virus for which a vaccine is urgently required. Despite their vigor, the forces aligned against drill music have not been successful. The removal of their videos and restriction of their live performances has not slowed drill  music’s momentum. Drill artists have turned their backs on those who have mobilized fear and moral panic against them and continued to express themselves, even putting this fear and panic to use. 

V9 in his music video for the song “Right or Wrong”, where he dons his trademark face covering like many other drill rappers who wish to conceal their identity.
V9 in his music video for the song ”Right or Wrong”, where he dons his trademark face covering like many drill rappers who wish to conceal their identity.

There is something to be said for planting yourself firmly in the madness of the world, among the problems it contains, and making yourself at home. Instead of glossing things over or searching for some illusive transcendence, some like to speak fro, where they stand. It just so happens that drill artists share a tendency- by way of  their unfiltered expression of life “on road”- with the emerging academic discourse of  Afro-pessimism.  

Afro-pessimism wants to tell us that we are not ready, and perhaps we might never be ready. Anti-blackness might be a problem with no solution. Run it back one time. Frank Wilderson III, the principal author of Afro-pessimist theory and its namesake book released earlier this year, strives to “speak the analysis and rage that most black people are free only to whisper”. His analysis focuses on the unique and prelogical nature of anti-black violence, which he positions as an “essential antagonism”. This antagonism relies on the structural location of blackness in a paradigm created by a sea of gratuitous violence. He posits slavery as a relational dynamic, one that exists beyond the historical era of chattel slavery, between the human (master) and the black (slave). The stripping away of personhood, i.e. the process of becoming a slave (in relational terms), is a process that puts blackness outside of humanity and is one that may never end. As Saidiya Hartmann puts it, “the slave by contra-distinction defines liberty.” In other words, humanity is a construct with blackness as its antithesis, its eternal other, the eternal counterweight. It is through knowledge of its other that the construct of humanity gains coherence.  

The theoretical gymnastics of Afro-pessimists can be difficult to account for on a  personal level; as a black person I do not see myself as anybody’s slave and consider myself very much a human. When I was first introduced to Afro-pessimism, my main qualm was that while I felt that it does a great job of accounting for the conditions of anti-blackness, it made me question whether it was suggesting that that was all “blackness” was about. The answer came when I realized that it’s not about me, or who I think I am, or blackness as a cultural identity. Rather, it was about blackness as a structural position, one that exists outside of humanity, a figurative “outer space”. As Wilderson and other Afro-pessimist scholars articulated various symptoms of that position, some familiar feelings finally found their form.  

The most resonant assertion in Wilderson’s book Afropessimism, and the one that sparked the connection I’m making between Afro-pessimism and drill music, is wrapped in his recollection of a shuttle ride to the San Francisco International Airport. As Wilderson entered the small shuttle, he was met with an awkward silence and a moment of hesitation on behalf of two other non-black riders and the driver. After this period of discomfort and a casual conversation about his work as a grad student, there was a shift in mood. Wilderson describes the shift as going from “being feared, to being tolerated, to being valued”. He had to accept his position in society as the phobic object and ensure that he did everything in his power to disguise that. This is a relatable feeling, the moment where through charm, vocabulary, dress, or demeanor you feel yourself change in somebody’s eyes. Their usual heuristic has failed, their discomfort subdued.  You’ve become the object  of their desire, someone they might even hold up as an example. In Wilderson’s shuttle ride, he fulfilled what he humorously calls the “first rule of international Negro diplomacy: make them feel safe”. 

When Mizormac raps “One hand on the 4s, two hands on the sword” or SJ lyrics express his regret that “I didn’t catch him, I didn’t go back happy” they are refusing to engage with that mentality. Drill music refuses to make an appeal for its humanity. Even in the writing of this essay, I am forced to consider how the endeavor of engaging with this violent music and abrasive theory might put somebody off. I have to hope that that my account of the anti-black world and my focus on a genre of music that speaks of  stabbing and killing doesn’t offend moral sensitivities or disrupt a readers’conception of  themselves. I have to make you feel safe.  

   Drill originator LD (from the group 67)  at a rare live performance for Places + Faces in 2018.  Photo by the author.
Drill originator LD (from the group 67) at a rare live performance for Places + Faces in 2018. Photo by the author.

Although some drill lyrics probably do represent some grizzly recollection of a crime committed, the genre (and its lyrics) must be considered as a form of artistic performance. They make art to make money and to express themselves – those are the fundamentals. Like other aspects of black culture, drill music has been done a disservice due to its disconnection from history. It is not a phenomenon. Instead of being  positioned as a form of artistry, with histories and traditions of similar artistry, these connections are severed (or at least, not explored) and drill music can then be positioned as a criminal endeavor. For example, the competitive nature of the music and the notion of us vs them have roots in the sound system culture that made its way to London straight from the Jamaican dancehall. The sound clash, or competition between warring sound systems, was won when one sound “killed” the other. In Dub Fi DubBounty Killer rejects the idea that the opposing sound system has a better dub (sound) by proclaiming that “we a go murdah  them, we ah go kill them”. Both drill rappers and dancehall MCs work to cultivate a sort of violent reputation as part of their performance. We’ve gone from real rude boys and babylon to “roadman” and “the jakes”. As a reggae MC might proclaim himself the don inna di area, drill originator LD boasts “I’m a king in 6, and the whole of Brixton my castle”. 

Lowkey (pictured above) has added his distinct baritone Patois to drills’ most commercially successful group OFB - a group that emerged from the Broadwater Farm area of Tottenham where many Caribbean immigrants have lived since the Windrush era. Photo from the music video for Lowkey’s single “Brush”.
Lowkey (pictured above) has added his distinct baritone Patois to drills’ most commercially successful group OFB – a group that emerged from the Broadwater Farm area of Tottenham where many Caribbean immigrants have lived since the Windrush era. Photo from the music video for Lowkey’s single “Brush”.

In a world that positions the black as the phobic object, drill artists have made that notion their own. Their distinct strain of braggadocio attempts to cement their status – the most feared, the “hardest”. As another Afro-pessimist scholar Jared Sexton puts it,  “the most radical negation of the anti-black world is the most radical affirmation of a  blackened world”. My argument is that drill music makes this radical affirmation. In completely casting away the white gaze (a subversive act), drill music (as black music)  has almost accepted its place outside of humanity. And from this exiled position, drill artists have earned themselves both money and fame.  

In doing so, and with the music’s massive popularity, it also cements the  “negrophobia” of the world. The celebrity status of these young black artists coupled with the content of their music creates a situation where “fear” and “blackness” continue  to be joined at the hip, even if they are using that fear to their advantage. Blackness remains contingent on the black image: you’re not black until you’re a phobic object, until you can strike fear, until you’re “certi”.

So here we are – drill is both a form of resistance to the anti-black world and a  manifestation of that same seemingly inescapable world. Luckily, Afro-pessimism  was made for this predicament. It offers no redemptive arc. It is a turn towards the structural location of blackness without the desire to escape. It makes the attempt to survey that location to the broadest extent possible while resisting a simplifying gesture.  Drill and Afro-pessimism find themselves united by this desire to put it all on the table. Although Afro-pessimism complicates the thinking around drill and the meaning of their performance, the act remains a simple one: they make music.  

This life that we’re livin’ is risky 

Apology if it’s a violent song 

– Mizormac 

Click here to listen to Liam’s drill playlist for STP.