In part 2 of 2, Kysa Johnson talks about:
Why she and her family left NYC for Los Angeles, and how she's come to like L.A. after some initial concerns of leaving New York, including hating to drive; how she doesn't drive in L.A., but takes the bus and Lyft (not Uber); the finer points of Lyft surge charging; what she hates about American culture, including its classism and judgement of the poor and worship of the rich (after having lived for several years in Glasgow, which she loved and didn't want to leave but had to because her visa ran out); artists' day jobs, and the perception around them from others in the art world; her own day job working as a designer for Fashion Week shows, which she had to leave behind as a gig when she left New York, and isn't sure what she'll do should she need to her well dry up in L.A.; some reflections, as a former Mormon, that she had on the conversation with ambivalent Mormon Casey Smith; taking the bus, which she insists people are taking, is a great equalizer and finds bus-goers to be very respectful; her time in Glasgow, with its vibrant art and music scene, affording her 2nd hand connections with members of both Franz Ferdinand and Belle & Sebastian; the self-deprecating humor of the Scots (which leads to a brief final (perhaps) analysis of the "P"-word ('practice')), and how she considers she might move back there after her youngest child is in middle school; and she points out that artists are well-suited to be activists, because of their perseverance, stamina and playing the long game.
In Part 1 of 2, Los Angeles artist and activist Kysa Johnson talks about:
Her roots in Mormonism, and how its very patriarchal structure led her to rebel, fighting with teachers and eventually, along with her mom and brother, leaving the church; the various platforms and outlets for her activism, and how donating money, signing petitions and watching protest-based movies gave way to attending the initial protest in L.A., the Women's March in Washington, a protest at LAX airport, artist political group meetings, phone calls to congress, and more; how her "being active" was a necessary reaction to the extreme change in the political landscape, and how protests – boots on the ground -- matter because the visibility and solidarity of resistance is a key arm of resistance that lets those in power know that you're angry, and then that you're still angry ; the phone calls she makes as a constituent, which she scripts beforehand since she gets stage fright (and her stage fright in general, which causes her some lost sleep before artist talks, etc.; how after the election (presidential), for a few weeks in the studio everything felt 'ridiculous, pointless and inconsequential,' and so she pivoted to 'what can I do today' to address the new climate…and the research that she uses for her art translated to her research for political action; her top picks for movies about protest, most notably Selma, Gandhi, and Trumbo, the latter of which is especially appropriate because it's about artists/cultural figures being resisters; her series of 'Terrible Roman Emperors' paintings, echoing the fact that there are certain characteristics of a terrible leader that repeat throughout history; how she feels that visual artists have a niche and a platform to visually communicate information that is digestible in such a way (to the opposition) in order to create a shift; Kysa defines the difference between art that is beautiful (dark, sublime, etc.) and pretty (only for the eyes), and how one of her favorite movies, Amadeus, represents that dichotomy; how one is best served in their activism/actions by picking the thing that they're most interested in addressing, because everyone is wanting to do something different.
Freelance NYC museum educator Hollie Ecker talks about:
Her neighborhood in Harlem, which she loves and is close to the 5th Avenue museums where she works; her admission of being a gentrifier, yet also feeling much more connected to her neighborhood and her neighbors than she ever did in prior neighborhood in New York, and how she feels like a guest there; her schedule broken down, including half the week with seniors with some form of dementia and healthy seniors (including art-educated individuals)…2 or 3 days a week with students in various stages of Alzheimer's…and the rest of private and public school kids; her early works days as a communications assistant/social worker assisting deaf immigrants by using American Sign Language, and the challenge of communicating with them; how she's followed the advice of her mentor, to simultaneously teach people of her own kind and background along with those with disabilities (hearing impaired, dementia, Alzheimer's) to maintain her range and to keep from talking down to the disabled group of students; the public NYC school kids (of about 12, 13) who are thoroughly comfortable with their sexuality (they're at the 'Queer table'), in contrast to even very recent generations; her museum walk-throughs featuring an inquiry-based method, including an anecdote with a senior with dementia who displays profound insight about Rembrandt's Aristotle with a Bust of Homer; plus a great anecdote with a fancy private school kid (and Agnes Martin) who had his perspective changed through Hollie's museum class; and she closes with anecdote involving Guggenheim Museum director Richard Armstrong and a group of Hollie's students in the museum's elevator.
Providence, R.I.-based artist and RISD head of sculpture Lisi Raskin talks about:
Her former residence in Brooklyn Heights, which was made possible by her aunt and uncle, who ultimately were her biggest patrons – through contract negotiations and more - and made it possible for her to live a long stint in New York; the staying power it takes to exist in the art world, which she acknowledges in her coming from a privileged background (and later in the conversation emphasizes the question: 'what do you do with your privilege?'); a basic description of her getting her job as head of sculpture at RISD, and her roots in teaching at Columbia University in grad school and then getting hired right out of grad school; the serendipitous success she had at Columbia, including the intellectual and political alignment, the boom time it was in and the great people she got to work with as well as be mentored by, including Jon Kessler, Heather Roe, Coco Fusco, Mark Handelman and Kara Walker; her way of artmaking, which involves setting up challenges and rules to be broken, allowing her to be in a state of not knowing, and in this light we have a rather extended debate about the use of the word 'practice' (my biggest pet peeve word on the show); her non-hierarchical approach to both artmaking, as exemplified in her rock band as well as in a show she collaborated with a team on at Bunkier Sztuki in Krawkow Poland; and we finish where we started, with commentary on gentrification generally, and specifically in Philadelphia and Providence, her former and current homes, on responsibility gentrifying and being a good steward, not a colonialist.
L.A.-based artist and recent S.F. resident Maysha Mohamedi talks about:
What she likes to listen to in the studio (over and over) while she's working on a body of paintings; her time in SF, where she started her art career, met her husband and had two kids before leaving for L.A. (where she's been since August '16); her switch from a PhD in neuroscience at UC Davis to art; her aversion to critical conversations about her work, which started in grad school and didn't end until after she was showing; we have a long exchange about abstraction (mostly thanks to my taking so long to ask the question I wanted to ask), and she clearly articulates her objective- of getting her viewers to feel emotions, to be moved,when they see her work—and she uses the analogy of music, specifically Nina Simone, that she aspires to move her viewers the way Nina Simone's music moves her; how her parents have been supportive of her as an artist in their own ways, such as her dad making a custom studio-sitting bench for her; her origin story of when she decided to become a mother, something she's 'always' wanted to do, and why; she weighs in as a parent on those who aren't parents, and (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) how she'd like to lord her superiority of being a parents over non-parents, for the time-being at least; and she explains how when she's in the studio, the only thing she's thinking about his her work—no exceptions.
San Francisco-based artist, Chief Attorney of San Francisco's Public Defender office and former Green Party politician Matt Gonzalez talks about:
His beginnings as an artist, after having been a lawyer and in politics for many years, which originated when he was an undergrad at Columbia and was exposed to NYC's museums; transitioning from collecting art to making art, mainly through the conversations he had in artist's studios; the painters he's had collage sessions with, which occasionally included the consumption of Scotch and oysters; how his brain keeps working while collaging, enabling him to resolve problems in his court cases while he's working; what led him to run for District Attorney of San Francisco, and then later Mayor, and how, even as recently as 1999 in S.F., if you supported gay marriage and were against the death penalty you wouldn't be taken seriously as a candidate; how he was heartened by how well he did in his run for Mayor as a Green Party candidate- that even though he lost in a close race, it still meant that they raised awareness of the Green Party's politics and values; how he came to run as Ralph Nader's running mate in the 2008 presidential campaign; while he hasn't had any personal issues with the newer (tech) tenants of San Francisco per se, he has noticed a general lack of consideration for longtime residents, and is aware of that lacking particularly in regards to displacing existing residents; and his representation of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the murder suspect who has been a punching bag/case study for the right on the major problems with immigration/immigrants from Mexico…but as Matt notes, Lopez-Sanchez has no history of violence or weapons, and has no motive; that trial is still to come, when the case, and possibly Matt, will move into the spotlight.
San Francisco-based artist and filmmaker Jonn Herschend talks about:
The Thing Quarterly, a 10-year-old, subscription-based project of customized book-inspired artworks/objects he co-runs with Will Rogan; it was launched with Miranda July's pull-down window shade, which read, "If the shade is down, I'm not who you think I am;" The Thing has been so successful that there are two full-time and one part-time staff; Herschend describes it as an alternative route for art to be disseminated into the world, that it comes directly to your house (or office), which was perhaps the main ingredient that has brought so much attention to the project over the years; Dave Eggers' project, a custom essay he wrote for a shower curtain; how he self-identifies (if he has to), and the dynamics of having a good conversation with a stranger; the lack of art education in describing the wide gap between contemporary art (& the arts in general) to the mainstream; his time living in S.F. (since '93), from the Bohemian days of The Mission, through two tech booms and the rise of the 'tech bro,' entitlement, and how he resolves to remind himself that he was part of an earlier phase of gentrification of The Mission, and now he's just experiencing another, later phase…and how he's sympathetic because it's the only way to not become pissed all the time; how his biggest problem now is Uber drivers (he's been hit twice), who are actually people who live out of the city but come in to pick up rides; how he grew up with a front-of-house/back-of-house perspective in terms of entertainment and attractions, which led him to a documentary on the move/renovation of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – Stories from the Evacuation – which features a surprise twist; where he is with his filmmaking: he's self-taught, and used a real casting director for the first time (instead of Craigslist) for the SFMoMA film, and he may or may not make a feature-length film at some point in the future, since there are obvious benefits to making films for an art audience as opposed to making more marketable films for a much wider audience, and how for now he's happy to be in the in-between space of the art and film worlds.
Las Vegas artist and podcaster Justin Favela talks about:
As a kid, watching the Dunes (where his relatives were employed), being imploded to make way for the Bellagio; working as a roller-coaster operator at New York, New York; how he's the first in his extended family to go into art and move away from the hospitality industry, which so many of his family members are in, and how sometimes he feels he has to lie by saying he's "an art teacher," just so they think he has a 'legitimate' job with a regular paycheck, and he goes in-depth about family dynamics when your family doesn't quite get what you're doing (as an artist) and why; his Family Fiesta picnic blowout he hosted/'performed' in front of the Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas (founded by Walmart heir Alice Walton); what it's like being an artist in Vegas, where it's a small community, but the art-going public is thirsty for it, and how he finds himself having to be careful not to be in every local art show because people will get sick of him; doing his Family Fiesta within the canyons of Michael Heizer's legendary Double Negative in the desert; his own podcast, Latinos Who Lunch, which takes food as its entry point/icebreaker that gets things rolling into a wide range of topics, including art; his project Taco Takeover, which was inspired by Taco Bell's 'Doritos Locos' taco and the globalization of Mexican food, and led him to start documenting every taco he ate as a way of 'taking the taco back;' the art of the taco, and what makes great tacos great; the labor intensity of his works, esp. his large-scale installations (including on the whole façade of a motel), and how he's a nice boss to his helpers; and how he's getting (and gotten) to know himself through his identity because he's always getting asked about it, making him aware that when it comes to his identity and culture, as well as politics, that he really needs to know his shit.
De Nichols, a St. Louis-based multidisciplinary designer, civic leader and "artivist," talks about:
Getting her job as the community engagement manager at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, which evolved into a position dedicated to determining how an institution becomes a better neighbor to its community; the controversy(ies) around Kelley Walker's show "Direct Drive" at CAM St. Louis, which opened in early Sept. 2016---everything from De's take on the artworks beforehand and what she liked vs. what she found distasteful, and how she felt offended by the notion to come from how pieces featuring black women were going to be displayed, which she shared with the curator; to the climactic event of the artist lecture Walker gave alongside the curator, which in the Q&A session went remarkably wrong, and included gaslighting which left many in audience cold, disconcerted, and/or upset…and in De's case, livid; how the curator, rather than helping Walker to communicate what he was unable to in response to various questions about race and misogyny, instead protected the artist and in turn shut the conversation down; how after the talk, De felt ashamed for being somehow complicit – as a museum educator – in a toxic experience; how as a community engagement person on staff, she got flak from both sides: the museum people and the people in the audience who wanted her to apologize for things getting so tense; how, through the fallout from that event she faced an internal crisis which led to her eventually leaving her post at the museum, and the thought process that led her to finally resign; the positive aspect of the effect on CAM, in the form of greater sensitivity and strategy going forward in a period where it's going to be needed even more; she offers both advice and suggestions for artists to be culturally sensitive about the work they make and where they show it, and how they can become active in this changing political climate, including 100 Days of Action, the artist-run PAC For Freedoms, and The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (which is not a government organization despite what it sounds like). While a video of the Kelley Walker artist talk and Q&A is not available, you can view a panel discussion response to that event, which took place at CAM as part of the series Critical Conversations, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhFClenTaL4
Jennifer Dalton, Williamsburg, Brooklyn artist and co-founder of Auxiliary Projects talks about:
Her Williamsburg neighborhood from numerous perspectives, including a breakdown of some of its sections, the re-zoning that has enabled high-rise development and exceptionally high-priced real estate, the fact that she's been there 20 years, and with her husband owns a row house since 2003 (which she feels privileged to have), from which she's seen the neighborhood go through numerous changes, where artists are moving-whether out of Brooklyn or out of New York altogether-and what, if anything, can be done in response to the intense gentrification; the project Month2Month, which she co-organized and was a lottery-based 'guest living' arrangement in which people temporarily lived in housing deemed either 'affordable' or 'luxury,' and open-to-the-public dinners and the like were hosted there; how by co-running a progressive gallery in Bushwick, she's both part of the solution and part of the problem simultaneously as a culture provider and gentrifier; the 'smoke & mirrors' element of living in NYC: people living large, and possibly living beyond their means in the process; how she's continued to keep a day job over her career, even though there have been periods of a few years where she could have made a living from her work, which turned into a conversation about which artists make a living from their work, and the smoke & mirrors once again applies to artists who she may have thought were making a living, but had some side gig, or family assistance, sustaining them; how she'd rather be a "day job artist" than a "housewife artist;" art fairs, and how she (and we) can alternate between feeling alienated and inspired walking around one, which inspired her "Hello, I'm" piece, stickers with various comments about one's art fair state that Chicago Expo goers wore in great numbers in 2015; how in the moment, art fair presenters always say it's going great, and only admit to it going badly the next year; how the one year she and her partner did Untitled at Miami, they broke even, which is great for a young gallery, but if you count time invested they figured they made 12 cents an hour; "elitism" in its various forms, an exchange inspired one of her images; the 'confidence' game, in terms of selling yourself in studio visits, and how in Jen's experience men are more confident in women in those situations; and we have a spirited debate/concurrence about the use of sales-y words in the studio and in relation to one's art, and because she refrained from using it, we talk about the "P" word at great length, and why she likes it (and I don't).
Provo, Utah-based artist Casey Smith talks about:
Living in Provo, which is also where he went to college at BYU, and how the market there is 3X as expensive as Columbus, Ohio, where he and his family had lived previously; his crisis of faith with Mormonism in its many facets; how his wife has left the church, but he has remained a Mormon for the moment, and how he hasn't been to church in a while (since the Nov. election), primarily because he doesn't want to have to confront fellow churchgoers whom he knows to be Trump supporters, but how he's still well-connected to an active Mormon community (his mother still attends church, though his father left the church years ago), and he at this point he feels like he doesn't belong there; some of the finer points of his observance of Mormonism, including never having smoked a cigarette, done drugs, or drank a single drop of alcohol or coffee, and how in that context, drinking Dr. Pepper or Mountain Dew makes you seem like a hard-ass; how South Park's take on Mormonism is surprisingly accurate; his experience at the San Francisco Art Institute, which he was excited about and hopeful for initially, but was marred by his being somewhat blacklisted by some fellow students and even professors, because his Mormonism 'bothered them' (this was in the couple years leading up to Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage prop backed heavily by Mormons); how a number of galleries that he was working with or in conversation with about shows, once they established that he was still a practicing Mormon (and Prop 8 was now in people's social consciousness), stopped communicating with him, and yet meanwhile, the farther his work got away from California, the better he did in terms of shows; his stint in the Midwest, where he got teaching jobs at Bowling Green University, where his wife was also teaching, and then having to leave when the school couldn't renew his year-long full-time contract due to lack of enrollment from the recession; his family's subsequent struggles to get by in the midst of the recession after moving to Columbus, on his very modest adjunct teaching earnings combined with a little bit of family inheritance and how that led him to decide that he had to find "real work," and to change careers from art teaching into a whole other industry; how the "leveling up" in Mormonism is parallel with most role-playing games, including Dungeons & Dragons, which he's been a long-time player of, and merges the two (Mormonism and D&D) in his art; how his wife, Amanda Smith, also an artist, had her career going very well with galleries in San Francisco and New York representing her, but when they had kids she had to put it all on hold; and how he and his family have managed to get by through it all, including, briefly, food stamps.