The Carla Podcast

Episode 16: Interview with Todd Gray

November 14, 2019 Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles
The Carla Podcast
Episode 16: Interview with Todd Gray
Show Notes Transcript

Growing up in L.A. — Rock Photography and Photographing Michael Jackson — Feeling Split Between Commercial Work and Art — The Colonized Mind — Finding Balance Between Mind and Body — Make Rules Break Rules

Hosted by Lindsay Preston Zappas

Todd Gray joins Lindsay for an hour long conversation surrounding his work and the influences that life experiences have had on his approach to thinking and making. Gray’s meticulous photographs are framed and then stacked on top of each other, so certain areas are strategically concealed. Some of his works contain images of Michael Jackson among his other subjects of European gardens and scenes shot in Africa. As a teen, Gray started taking photos at rock concerts, and for a stint became a successful music photographer, working with The Rolling Stones, and doing album art for Jackson Five, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder. He later became Michael Jackson’s personal photographer, and amassed a huge archive of images. Alongside all this, Gray received his MFA from CalArts in 1989 where he studied under photographer Allan Sekula and focused primarily ideas of mental colonialism. These ideas first started around his well-known subject, Michael Jackson, until Gray realized that his own mind had been colonized by his western upbringing and education. Todd and I talk about the split between a western logical thinking, and a more African bodily and intuitive way of thinking—and how much of his practice is an effort to reconcile the two.

Gray's exhibition, Euclidean Gris Gris, is on view at Pomona College Museum of Art through May 17, 2019. 

Speaker 1:

Hello and welcome to the Carla podcast. My name is Lindsay Preston Zappas and I am the founder and editor in chief of contemporary art review. Los Angeles. Carla is a quarterly art magazine, online journal and podcast committed to being an active source for critical dialogue surrounding Las art community. In this episode, artists , Todd gray joins me for an hour long conversation surrounding his work and the influences that life experiences have had on his approach to thinking and making. We talk about his early life growing up in Los Angeles, his background, working as a music photographer in the seventies and eighties, as well as his current solo exhibition put in ,

Speaker 2:

Make rules, break rules, make rules, break rules. Yeah. Yeah. That's really the mantra. Yeah . And so when there is a limit, when there is a rule , when there is something that my brain comes up and says, no, you can't do, that's not correct. Oh , then I got to break that because I need to push past my limits of thought. I need to push past the limits of what I think good taste is and what good art is because of the idea of good art is very limiting.

Speaker 1:

This is a packed episode. So stay with us. The Carla podcast is supported in part by the Pomona college museum of art with a year long exhibition. Todd gray Euclidean Grigory is now on view through may 17 , 2020. The exhibition includes the artists photographic works and site-specific wall drawings derived from his exploration of the legacies of colonialism in Africa, in collaboration with gray scholar, Nana, I do say Poku from Bard college has curated a series of events titled longing on a large scale, inspired by the exhibition for more information, visit pomona.edu/museum. Welcome back. Todd great is a multidisciplinary artist working both in Los Angeles and Ghana Gray's meticulous photographs are framed and then stacked on top of each other. So certain areas are strategically concealed. Some of his works contain images of Michael Jackson among other subjects of European gardens and scenes that he shoots in Africa. As a teen gray started taking photos at rock concerts, mostly for the free tickets. And then for stint became a successful music photographer working with the rolling stones and doing album art for the Jackson five Gladys Knight, and Stevie wonder, he later became Michael Jackson's personal photographer and amassed a huge archive of images alongside all of that. Great. Also received his MFA from CalArts in 1989, where he studied under photographer, a Kula and focused primarily on ideas of mental colonialism. These ideas first started around his well-known subject, Michael Jackson, until grey realized that his own mind had been colonized by Western upbringing and education. Todd and I talk about the split between this Western logical thinking and a more African bodily and intuitive way of thinking and how much of his practice is in an effort to reconcile the two. Here's my conversation with Todd gray. Hey Todd. So I want to start and talk about your background a little bit. You grew up here in LA

Speaker 3:

Hamilton, high Crenshaw, high Dorsey high. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

What w what sticks out in your mind as growing up in LA? Like, what were your influences? What was the culture like?

Speaker 3:

Well, you know, my parents moved into parts of Los Angeles that were tangential to the Jewish neighborhoods so that the public schools I would go to would be predominantly Jewish. Interesting. And so that's the first, you know, aside from black culture, that's outside of black culture. That's the first culture that I became aware of. And also, so Russia , Shauna Yancha poor high Holy days, and Burlington, Illinois under him , the prayers. Got it. That's also what those schools, I got introduced to surfing. Oh yeah. I was surfing when I was in high school and actually junior high school. I started surfing. Wow . So a lot of things happened because of those experiences outside of the black neighborhood that I lived in.

Speaker 1:

Right. Do you still surf?

Speaker 3:

No, no, no. I buy , I bodyboard though.

Speaker 1:

Oh, okay. I love that. Yeah. That's amazing.

Speaker 3:

I'm jumping way ahead. That's why my wife can be shin and I got the studio house in Ghana because I stumbled upon a surf point in Ghana and it is always my dream to wake up in the morning, grab a board and then just jump in the ocean. And I never thought I would be able to realize that wow. Until we got three acres on the beach in Ghana. Okay .

Speaker 1:

Wow. Yeah, I was going to , I was going to ask you about that, but surfing, wasn't going to be my inroad to that question.

Speaker 3:

Well , that's how we found. That's how we found the place. I was looking for surf spots up and down the coast. And I found a spot that had a nice break.

Speaker 1:

Is that something you do in general, looking for surf spots or specifically like in Africa, you really like ,

Speaker 3:

It was specific in Africa because I always heard that Ghana had good points, good surf points. So when I was there for an exhibition, I went and explored for a couple of weeks on my own. And that's when I stumbled upon that spot.

Speaker 1:

Wow. So tell us a little bit, we'll jump ahead. We'll go ahead and then we'll jump back. We'll go forward and back. So you have lands there and have built a studio. Yeah . It's a weird story.

Speaker 3:

Yeah . I mean, because in 1992, when I was still a music photographer, I would have been way

Speaker 1:

It's . Okay. We're good. We're good. Go ahead.

Speaker 3:

Maybe it's more interesting. I think actually the truth is closer to nonlinear. You know , I guess this is probably more accurate in any event, I went there at the behest of Motown records with Stevie wonder to shoot his album cover. So I was there with Steve and Ghana to Ghana and my assistant and to makeup artist . And then he kept saying, Todd, this is where you're from. You know, we don't because we have no history. I have no, my, my nobody passed . My grandparent will admit that slavery's in our family. So I can't even last week, my father is 93. I asked him about his grandfather and I said, what did he tell you? And he says nothing. He goes, I asked, it'd be a lot of that generation that experienced slavery will not speak of it. They don't want to revisit the horror from memory. My dad was telling me, it's verboten. You don't bring that subject up. So in any event I have, no, I have no way of knowing , uh, where on the continent I'm from. Right . And so Steve just said, it's a high percentage of probability that you're from Ghana, because that was a big departure point in West Africa. And they said, you know, you should buy land here. And I just said , Oh yeah, Steve. Yeah. Yeah. And then forgot about it until I was in an exhibition at the opening of the NYU campus in a CRA in two, in 90, anyway, mid two thousands. And I was also on sabbatical. So I went with the opening. Yeah . That's when I was looking for a surface

Speaker 1:

There's spots . And then when I found the same, Stevie wonder in your head words came back in like , Oh my God .

Speaker 3:

And , uh , the rest is, has , as we say,

Speaker 1:

Wow. So how often do you get to go there?

Speaker 3:

Well, let's see, when we first built, I was a professor at Cal state, long beach, so every summer break and every winter break. So all the academic breaks, we went nice . And then , uh, since I've retired three years ago, it's about once a year now, something like I'm going on in three days, I'm going actually

Speaker 1:

Amazing. And how long do you plan to stay for that trip?

Speaker 3:

It's just an exploratory trip where there's a building project going on. We have a residency also there. Oh . And so, so when we're not there, the property is used and the village sees people there's life, you know? So Nicole Hebron was there and she , uh, started a school, right?

Speaker 1:

Oh , of course she, her rather,

Speaker 3:

She convinced , uh , our caretaker that a school would be a great thing for locally and for artists to come visit, to expand it. And we have so much, you know, we have three acres, so there's a lot of land. And so then she came back to LA, did a Facebook campaign raised money. So the school is being built. And then I've been sending my wife and I have been sending money also. So now I'm going there to check up and see,

Speaker 1:

Wow. So the school would be

Speaker 3:

For , to learn carpentry skills skills, as well as when artists come to organize some kind of program. Cause I've had like April Bay, an African American artists in Los Angeles has inquired about, you know, bringing students there. And I , in the past, there's been some inquiries about having some kind of program or retreat. And I thought, wow, this would I say, don't resist when things start just happening,

Speaker 1:

Let it go. Yeah. That sounds like such a beautiful kind of culmination. And just your time there and the research you've done and now kind of involving the community in a whole different way.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. I like also the public component and the idea that , of giving back. So, so this , the first part was the residency and now it's moving into something else. But as Jim pike once said, just say yes to everything,

Speaker 1:

Do you say yes to everything? Or wait better question. Do you say no to things? I absolutely say notice . Yeah. So then it's trusting the intuition of when to say yes when to say no.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. When something has a certain amount of momentum and energy, I don't want to get in the way. And I, and I realized that there was this cosmic energy that was going, it was positive. So I wasn't gonna get in the way I was gonna assist it to keep the inertia going.

Speaker 1:

Okay. Traveling back in time again. So I want to go back to your high school. Um , so you're in high school, you have Jewish friends you're surfing. And I read that you started photographing at a very early age and doing commercial photography when you were what like 15, 16.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. At 16. That's when I started doing jobs, but I was in the photography course. So I learned in the dark room and I completely fell in love with flying and sinker with photography. And then of course, my friend Neil's Lowe's hour, and I were going to concerts all the time. Right ? At this point, he started bringing his camera and then it never occurred to me to bring our camera to a rock and roll show. And then he was selling his photos at a record store. He went to Fairfax. I was in Hamilton. He was at Fairfax. He would sell his photos at Aaron records, which is across the street from Fairfax. Then we both decided I picked up a camera. I thought this was fun and started shooting concerts. And then we decided to do something together since we were both going to the, you know, we're best friends and both going. So we decided to start a company called Grey's Lowe's hour . Wow. And what happened next was we went to our good friend, Greg Brown, who was in the print shop at Hamilton high. And he made us fake photo passes for the Santa Monica civic auditorium. And so those fake laminate photo passes were good enough to get us all the way down to about the second row. But then by that time, the big foot beefy football players and stuff, they knew what a proper PhotoPass was. And we couldn't get backstage or into the photo pit, but we could make it from the back of the auditorium all the way to about the second row and then photograph bands. And that's how we , uh, assembled a portfolio as well as going to the whiskey, a go go and shooting groups. Right . And then , uh, started publishing them in little rock magazines, like hipper Raider, or rock circus, things like that,

Speaker 1:

Such an industrious high schooler.

Speaker 3:

I mean, it was really because we wanted to get to the point where you didn't have to buy tickets to see the show . And when we would talk to photographers outside of the venue, they told us, I know you get a PhotoPass if you're shooting for a magazine or publication and then, you know, it's all free. And I thought, wow, wow. So it was totally motivated through, I don't , I wouldn't say greed, but,

Speaker 1:

But just your passion, let's say patch .

Speaker 3:

Yeah. Passion at a high school budget.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Right. So, and then you start doing commercial projects for Jackson five and Gladys Knight and doing , uh , album covers and things like that. Like how did that, did they find you just through the work you were doing in magazines?

Speaker 3:

Well, no, I solicited them because I had graduated Cal arts at that point when I really moved up the food chain and music photography, and I had a fashion portfolio and portrait portfolio and started taking them to the record companies, but this is mid twenties, mid twenties. But prior to that, while we were still 17, I bugged the manager Marshall chess for the rolling stones because Neil, my partner loved the rolling stones. So we bugged him for about several months , uh , saying that we wanted to shoot the rolling stones and they came to town

Speaker 1:

And still just for co for the free concert,

Speaker 3:

That point were being published at that point, Atlantic records had hired us Capitol records and records because we were, it's almost like today's technology. There was a shift in technology in the seventies where you have the older generation with large medium format cameras with flashes. We had 35 millimeter and we didn't use flashes. We used fast film and just the existing stage lights. So we would capture the ambience of the lighting and the performance. Whereas these older guys who were used to shooting for newspapers and things like that, everything was just pop a flash, everything flattens out. So our photos look different in those, in our generation yet the other older people by older, I mean the 20 year olds who are shooting the hippy 20 year olds who are shooting, were getting jobs, but then we would get jobs. Also we assembled a portfolio and Marshall chess saw it and he saw that we had photographed Chad Berry . His father was the president of chess records, check berries , a record label, and long story short. He said, man, if you can make Chuck and little Richard look this good, then there's no reason why you can't shoot the stones. So what, where do you want to shoot him ? So we said, we want to shoot them a bit all in California because that's our parents wouldn't let us go outside of California. So from San Francisco to San Diego, we had backstage passes and then life magazine found out rather than manager told life magazine, where are these little 17 year olds are incredible photographers and they're shooting the stones and they show the photos. And then they put us on stage with the stones in San Diego. That was pretty phenomenal. The amount of things I saw

Speaker 1:

And the sweat that sprayed on you, I'm sure

Speaker 3:

The sweat, the Jack Daniels and the powdery dust lined up on top of the amplifiers. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

Wow. That is so wild. But I also read that for a while. You kind of wanted to separate your commercial work from more of like your art. You were afraid to sort of tell people or kind of come out as a commercial photographer. Is that okay ?

Speaker 3:

Yeah. Um, as an undergrad, initially, I went there because I , I knew it was a as a man of color that I had to offer the marketplace. Something that no one else could offer. Cause it was my experience. My parents experience that if it's the same job and some in a white person was up for it, the black person wouldn't get it. So my dad really drilled into it . My both parents drilled into our head. We have to offer something unique. So the logical thing to do would have been to go to art center and learn at that time, all of the advertising photo techniques that they were famous for at the time, they really didn't have a fine art program back in the seventies. So I was going to go there and then I thought, you know what, I'm just going to be another art center, graduate schlepping my portfolio around with that look, which was a million dollar. I mean, the technique that you'd pick up at art center was phenomenal, but everybody would have it. And so I thought, you know, what, if I go to an art school and then I applied the principles that I learned there into my own work, I will be able to offer something that's wholly unique

Speaker 1:

Above and beyond the, just yeah. The sort of

Speaker 3:

Standard standard. Sure. Yeah. Even if it is a gold standard, but it be something unique. Right . And so I went there with my intention to come out as a fashion photographer and so forth. And then in speaking to one of my mentors, Raymond Zurich , he really convinced me that art was the path I needed to take. And that's when I pursued it wholeheartedly. I think after about two or three months at Cal arts, I was , I drank the Koolaid. Yeah . And I really completely embraced fine art and, and the whole process. Yeah .

Speaker 1:

So, but the commercial side, I think definitely influences what you're doing. Can you talk about that? Like, was there ever any tension, like they were talking about certain things in art school that you disagreed with or kind of twisted from your kind of commercial point of well,

Speaker 3:

You know, I'm in my mid twenties and there were lectures of in painting and photographs about something called the iconic and how one can create a , create an iconic symbol and how that symbol can communicate very powerfully, without words and so forth. And it's understood. And the culture, and I was really fascinated by that. And I was really influenced by Carl Young man and his symbols. So I really embraced that. And I was reading his spin, ski, some other things I really wanted to get to this idea, this way of making, where I could make something that was graphically strong and could communicate an idea instantly. Right. So I also went into graphic design courses while I was there with April Greiman and Jamie archers who were in the design school. So I wanted to learn how advertising communicates so powerfully with assemble system. Right . So that's never really left me, I think, because I do place emphasis emphasis on a certain amount of graphic heat so that I took away, but it's not in the service of wall street. It's not in the service of capitalism, it's in the service of a critical investigation .

Speaker 1:

Right. But the , it seems like the techniques are so fluid and that's really interesting. You talking about graphic design and advertising and commercial photography, all being techniques such as come in service of the more kind of conceptual artwork that you do.

Speaker 3:

Right. Right. Absolutely. I think also, because for me, I have a strong mandate to communicate to people who don't have a background in the language of art. You know, that saying, I want to make work that my mother can understand. And so that was very important to me. And so those tools of graphic communication and mass communication that I'd learned earlier are I can put a service.

Speaker 1:

That's so interesting. Yeah. I think about that a lot with the writing and academic language that I really do my darndest to avoid in every way possible. And yeah. I just think that kind of democratic accessibility is so important in the field of art that can be so closed off to the outside.

Speaker 3:

Well , it's funny. Um , after I got my undergraduate degree, I happened to be downtown. It could have been laced when lace was downtown LA and sometime in the eighties. And I picked up a journal called the dumb ox and it was a art journal and I couldn't understand anything. Absolutely nothing. I was befuddled and I was angered and I thought, how was it that I have a BFA in a really strong arts school? Yeah . I can understand this language. And that's when I decided I have to go to graduate school because I wanted to be able to understand everything. Yeah .

Speaker 1:

I want to understand it, but not necessarily push it forward within your own work.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. And also I felt it was keeping me out and I thought, wow, this is a higher level of engagement. And I wanted to work at the highest level of engagement. That's just how,

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Back to what your parents took , you know, their advice of kind of being exceptional or explain above. Yeah .

Speaker 3:

Right. So that's when I went and sought out Alan . So Kula [inaudible] ,

Speaker 1:

The podcast is supported in part by bridge projects, a new Hollywood gallery connecting contemporary art spirituality and living religious traditions. The inaugural show by Phillip K Smith. The third is on view. Now learn more about the immersive light installation and upcoming [email protected] Okay. So to go back in time again , uh, you, I'm sure people want to ask you this all the time, but you are Michael Jackson's personal photographer. It's like the first time . Oh, really perfect. And I don't want to belabor that because you've done so many other things, but you do use Michael Jackson in your work. So I just kind of want to talk about that time in your life and those experiences, and maybe direct that question a bit more into how it kind of fed the work. Have to answer you in two parts. Yeah.

Speaker 3:

The first part is because everyone wants to know, how do we, how did I intersect? How did I get that position? And I got that position because I act very unimpressed when I was around here .

Speaker 1:

I think I read something that he said, you were very quiet. He likes that .

Speaker 3:

So what I was working shooting Gladys night for her public relations package. So her headshot , I was shooting last night's head shot , her manager manage the Jacksons . So little did I know that the Jacksons had told their management whenever you find a talented black person hire them, because all they see are them making lots of money from the black community and the record companies , predominantly white, the engineers and the , and the studio, everything is predominantly white. So they don't see any of the dollars going back into the black community. So they told them when you see someone who's on it, hire them. So I was out of Cal arts one year and I shot the Jackson's for some trade magazines. And for the record, no, for the record company, just on soul train and American bandstand and them getting Michael getting off the wall, multi-platinum award handshake, grin, and flash photography. It's called the subject grins. And you flash with your camera. And that was that. But then at one point, Michael came up to me at the forum and he said, Todd, how come you don't like me? Huh ? And I said, what? And he goes, Todd, how come you don't like me? And I said, and now think this here is a multimillion dollar artists . And I've been around. I mean, I've been around Mick Jagger. I've been around Robert plant and Zeplin . I've been around a few, quite a few people yet. No one has ever asked me the time of day, you know?

Speaker 1:

And I'm sure to a degree, you're almost, you're almost trained to kind of be a fly on the wall or just be passive. Right.

Speaker 3:

Absolutely. You don't want to insert yourself. You just want to document what's going on. Right. So I became very suspicious. I didn't know what he was after. Right . And that's what I was trying to, to do because I saw this also was a new client. And I didn't know if this was a trick question or what his motives were. I had to find out what his motives. So I just said, well, why do you think I don't like you? And he said, cause you never talked to me. You talked to Tito, you talked to Randy, you talked to Merlin . You never talked to me because when you're in the backstage of the green room with the group and everybody's around Michael and the other brother ,

Speaker 1:

Or like sitting around, they're just sitting around.

Speaker 3:

Well, if I'm had gone to Fairfax high and I knew people at Fairfax, so he actually knew mutual people. So we're just shooting the breeze and laughing and just bullshitting. So I told Michael it's out of respect. I don't talk to you because you're very, very busy and I respect your time. So I stay away and he goes, are you sure? It's cause you don't, like I said, Michael, there's, I don't even know you. How can I not? Like you have to know you first did form an opinion. He goes, okay. So then the next week I get a call to go to Disneyland and to go to Disneyland with him. And we spent the day in Disneyland and I just got in touch with my inner 12 year old . And then basically I just mirrored him because I felt most comfortable. It was just too strange being an adult while I'm with a 12 year old.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Right.

Speaker 3:

And so it was fun just getting in touch with my inner child. And then when, after I delivered the film, I got a phone call from his manager and he said, what's up between you and Mike? I go, what do you mean? What's up between me and Mike? And he says, what happened in Disneyland? And I go, God. I said , uh , I said, well , you took, I went on the mat of horror and I , I did the, I did the photos that he wanted and yeah ,

Speaker 1:

We're our inner children.

Speaker 3:

And I went home and I go, why are you asking me that? And he said, I just got a phone call from Michael. And he says that you're the only photographer I'm to hire from now on. Wow. He said, what happened? I go, I don't know, man. I just, you know, I connected to my inner child, you know? And he said, well, that's , uh , that's what went down. So you're it. Wow. And to this day that's Oh, that's what I said. Did he say anything else? He said, yeah. He said, he liked you cause you don't talk much. That's right. And I think really it's because he sought me out. I didn't seek him out. And by that time I had been around so many big musicians. I just act normal. I , there was no nervousness, no, no anxiety.

Speaker 1:

And so there's less of that. I'm sure he's so used to people, just kind of that anxious, you know, people wanting him to do things for them and asking for things. And he came to you, you just were hanging out right in the matter.

Speaker 3:

Yeah . And I just treated him like a regular person because that's who he wants to meet . Cause really I wasn't that into the music.

Speaker 1:

Oh right .

Speaker 3:

It wasn't until later I really recognized his genius, you know , the music super genius. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

Right. So then from then on you were just his

Speaker 3:

Basically I was his pocket camera. Yeah. So when he, his, I was his iPhone. Absolutely. And I'd go to the house and go on tour with him and go to Disneyland, just go to whatever Jane Fonda's place and take a picture of her and him or whatever. But after I stopped working for him, I did not let people in the art world know of my relationship because I thought that would overshadow the seriousness of my commitment to art. And that was a time where everything was a binary. Everything was either, or you're either a commercial photographer or you're an art photographer, that's it? Nothing in between. So I , when I went to Cal arts, I really didn't tell anyone. And I was at a critique or something

Speaker 1:

While you're still photographing Michael or no afterwards

Speaker 3:

Ended and it ended, okay . So I was at Cal arts , uh , for graduate work from 87 to 89. And I stopped working for him in 83 or 84. Okay. At some point, Cal arts is so critical and theoretical that you just want to pour cold water on the whole thing. So for one quick class, I brought my Michael Jackson photos in and I decided to talk about it in very academic terms, you know, just to use this discourse, but you know, it's just a guy on a stage

Speaker 1:

And was it more so that was maybe like more of a performative gesture on here .

Speaker 3:

And in spite, you know, I wanted to say, look, we can use this language to talk about anything. Uh, and so I did, what I didn't know is it was either Cathy Opie was in that class or she would definitely be in the class. Lyle Ashton Harris was in that class. Uh , there was a few people and it got back to Ellen Sekula and Alan calls me in his office and he goes, Oh, I heard something very interesting about your past. And he said, and that's when he said, you know, you should do a deep dive into your archive of Michael Jackson work and do a critique, a photo text piece with a critique on race, gender and class. Wow . And then he gave me this immense reading list and he says, as soon as you've read all this stuff, come back to my office and we'll start talking. Wow. So then assignment, it was fantastic. I mean, I resisted it, but it was really, yeah ,

Speaker 1:

Yeah. I can understand.

Speaker 3:

Sure. Pretty much. He said, no , this is going to be a thesis this, yeah.

Speaker 1:

So then did that help you kind of merge your two selves? I mean, it's all you, but those two, like you're saying that split between art and commercial,

Speaker 3:

What it did was it made me self-aware in a way that I haven't experienced since this whole phenomenon called mental colonialism, which was that the basis of microtears of my photographs. And that was the critical lens that I viewed the archive through was to make this argument that Michael is ashamed of his blackness. He's erasing all of his African heritage to embrace a European models. And that is phenomenon of mental colonialism. And right when I'm writing that down, I realized that it's true with me also. And that was mind blowing. That was absolutely mind blowing. I had no idea that I had been so compromised and that I had actual an actual inferiority complex and that the basis and at the base of it was mental colonialism and that I'm a second class citizen and it just opened up a Pandora's box of issues that I was unaware of. And so through this project, I became immensely self aware. And so a lot of the repair work that I needed to do to my consciousness to be a whole human being. Cause I did not consider myself whole, I was less than that. It took some years of work, but I was really now actually forms the critical base of what I'm doing because I'm almost on a mission to try to spark that idea in a lot of oppressed, peoples women, people of color and so forth the class, you know, that's why those issues are so important to me.

Speaker 1:

It's Carla podcast is supported in part by the university of Nevada, Las Vegas department of art, inviting self-directed artists and designers to apply for the fall 2020 masters of fine arts program. The three year MFA is studio-based and research focused with an emphasis on interdisciplinarity community engagement and professional development schedule campus visit and join us in Las Vegas for the fall 2019 MFA open studios on December 6th , from six to 9:00 PM. For more information on the program and application go to U N L v.edu/art. But I want to just sort of describe the physicality of the work first, before we get into the ideas, just for listeners who might not have seen it before, and you're doing this kind of stacking with the photograph. When did that come into play? Well , that's, that's a whole other story.

Speaker 3:

I mean, it's very specific. Carrie Mae Weems, John comb , FRA Zanelli. I forget what was an Ellie's last name was South African photographer. They were all in town for an exhibition at the Claremont colleges. And I'm very, very, very good friends with Carrie maze . So I had them over for dinner cause they were, yeah, a lot of the artists had flown in, so they were at our house for dinner and it was John [inaudible] who saw some Michael Jackson Prince laying around. So what's this with Jackson. And then I told him and he goes, Oh, just like Stuart hall. He says, Oh, this crew . So you're doing this critique like Stuart hall. And I go, what? And Carrie may looks at me and goes, wait, you haven't read Stuart hall. And I said, no. And she said, honey, you go back, you read Stuart hall. And then you go back into your archive and you remake everything you're doing. You need to totally, totally immerse yourself in Stewart. Hall's thinking and then go back. And so after that I did, and what I learned was Stuart hall was saying that hegemonic power is all encompassing. And our power as subjects is in resisting. That's where our power is. And so he, as I understood it, realize that we're polymorphous we're , we're not one thing we're not either are or right . And not only that, the one of the enemies is normativity because normativity is conformity and conformity. It makes us easier to control through culture and so forth. So I really brought that to photography and I looked at every aspect of what a good photograph is and I questioned it. Why do I automatically want to frame it behind glass? Why does it have to have right degree angles, corners eight by 10, so forth. So I started introducing circles and ovals, and then I thought, well, why is photography flat? And so just through this, asking why of everything. I started stacking , I started doing collage, but I decided I did not want to do the traditional flat collage that I really fell in love with during , uh , studying.

Speaker 1:

Right. Oh my God. Yes. And that so many people are doing now digitally. Would that kind of digital photo manipulation? Yeah.

Speaker 3:

I thought I would actually stack photos on a frame them and stack them on top. And then I said, well then why am I using frames that , um , are acceptable to a gallery space or to the white cube?

Speaker 1:

That kind of gallery perfect frame.

Speaker 3:

Yes. And so I decided I was gonna find frames that have a history. So that's when I started going to Goodwill and it was really this metaphor. Um , the black community was saying that Michael is no longer, it doesn't identify with us. And there was a shunning and turning away of him in the early nineties when he was going through all of the plastic surgery. And I thought, you know what, I'm going to bring him physically back into the house. So I went and got frames at garage sales in South LA homes, black people's garage sells Goodwill in the area. And so frames that were in the home of a black person now contain images of Michael Jackson. And then there was a class signifiers as well. So I , here I am, I'm bringing these kinds of frames into the white cube, into the church of the museum and putting the domestic in those spaces. And that's , that's really important. So there's all of these decisions. I question , Oh, one thing I , one other thing that Stuart hole also, or I don't know if it was Stewart hall, but hegemony is like water to a fish,

Speaker 1:

Right? Yeah. Right.

Speaker 3:

Water is everywhere you ask and it's life depends on the water, but you ask the fish, they have no idea what water is, but that's hegemonic power. And a lot of that power is projected through mass media through photographs.

Speaker 1:

Yes. Oh yeah. I mean, I think a lot about the perceived truth in photographic image and the history of documentary photography. And even today, we are trained to think of photographs as this is real, this happened just because of how we're used to them proliferating in the media. But we also all know that there's an app on my phone that could like put my face on your face or, you know, there's different ways to just totally twist an image and with Photoshop. So it's interesting that we still have that in our brains that we hold onto that kind of truth and image.

Speaker 3:

Right. Right. Well, the veracity of photography is also what I wanted to confound and confront, which is also done by stacking the images on top of each other obscuring images. So the viewer really is an active Leo aware that they're creating meaning by putting all of these pictures together, the construction of meaning that meaning is constructed, that really helped bring that point home by. Yeah .

Speaker 1:

Yeah . So the viewer's response to the work because you, as you said, are always playing with meaning and looking and searching and trying to kind of reconfigure things. And so then you put that to the viewer and the viewer kind of has like a parallel experience almost as to you in a way.

Speaker 3:

Well, also I offer questions. I don't make statements or answers. And that's what I really like about the work because the viewer has to engage and has to dialogue . Right . So I'm using one of those mechanisms, that's that we're hard wired into us and that is identifying if this is a threat or not, is it going to eat me or am I going to eat it? So by covering things up, covering faces, the viewer is the clutch.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Right . The release or something. Yeah.

Speaker 3:

They can have those questions answered. And I know that we're hard wired to think like that and wanting to identify. And so I make the act of identifying complicated. Right. Yeah. And problematize it. Right. And so that way I know I'm going to have a dialogue with the viewer. And then also that's the act of identifying, you know, a black person on the street and is this a threat, but these are other ideas that are in my head that each I'm not expecting the viewer to have, but these are some tangentially that

Speaker 1:

It's in there. Yeah, for sure. So let's talk about your current show. That's up at Pomona college museum of art and Grigory Euclidean, Grigory. Um, first tell us about that title. Cause I think that's a good segue into the imagery in the work.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. Well, I was at a residency at the Rockefeller , uh, Bellagio , uh , Villa. It's a 17th century Villa and it's maintained in its pristine. So there's about 20 gardeners and the gardens there that's typical European Royal garden. Yeah . And I was very uncomfortable about that , uh , because I knew I wouldn't be a welcome guest there,

Speaker 1:

Even though you were invited there. Oh, I see.

Speaker 3:

I know the history of the legacy of that place , um , would , is me. Yeah. I would be, sir. I would be servant. That would be the only way I would be there as if I serve . So I was working out my discomfort and that's when it really that's when I realized these gardens that are so immaculately maintained, immaculate are representations of all sorts of , um, values and, and uh , uh, thinking. But part of which is , um, control, controlling nature , um , controlling bodies , um, uh, logic , um, systems of math, rational thinking. And I thought, wow, there are so many loaded signifiers here. And that's when I hit upon photographing European gardens were a enriched through historically through the slave trade or through colonization. So I've been shooting gardens in England and France and Portugal and the Netherlands. Uh, and I have to go back and there's some more that you can ,

Speaker 1:

There's a lot of places that list is long

Speaker 3:

And then pairing them up with , um, uh, portraits of , um, of African diasporic subjects and specific African landscapes. Right . So for me, right, the Euclidean is this geometric formula, this sort of mode of thought, it's a rational. And then , um,

Speaker 1:

It was like the size of the photo. Like you were talking about that same, those same parameters of control or like understanding, right? Yeah.

Speaker 3:

And then the Grigory is the spirit. The gree GRI is the, well , you know, the Grigory is a talisman, right ,

Speaker 1:

Right. That was worn . It's like a luck chart ,

Speaker 3:

Something like that. Or you could hear in you if you really want to universalize it a crucifix.

Speaker 1:

Okay. Sure.

Speaker 3:

Medusa is Greek Greece , these objects that have a lot of power. And so in African culture, there is Grigory there's Juju. Yeah . I want, and I have pretty much reduced that to my thinking where Euclidean is neck up thinking in Grigory, his neck down. I went to gut yes. Body. Yeah . Something that I was taught in my postmodern education, not to trust. Cause these are romantic modernist notions. And so here I am engaging them .

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And then I've read that, like you were in Africa working on some of this work and you, even after you had kind of gone through this thought process and trying to show this idea of Grigory in the work, and you realized that your own thoughts or in a way you were still thinking in a very Western way, like trying to rationalize or understand or like think very logically.

Speaker 3:

Right. Well, you know, I'm a product of the Academy. And so even though it's a radical, you know, Kelarts is a radical Academy, it's still the Academy. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

And as you said, you went all the way up to the sort of academic ladder. Right.

Speaker 3:

So I thought, how do I distance myself from that? And that's when I decided I have to be more impulsive act in the moment and not run ideas and approve them and then execute, just respond immediately. And so I thought I saw that as using my body, being very sensitive to how I react to something, how my senses are responding to something and not just relying on analysis through the brain, using language, using English to process everything. So how do I use my body to process

Speaker 1:

Without it sending the yeah. Kind of linear language to the brain, which is very hard to do because we think in language. Yeah ,

Speaker 3:

Absolutely. But the metaphor I use was a jazz musician and I got this from my father. It was really funny. Um, um, cause I told my dad, I wanted to start drawing and I, and I said, but I , I can't draw well. And he goes, he has this 90 year old man. He goes, son drawings, art. It just do it. He goes, he goes, you think miles is thinking up there. You think John Coltrane, no , they're there. They're doing it. He says , you just jump off the cliff and you blow. And that was that's when I decided to

Speaker 1:

You're like, but dad, no, they taught us in art school.

Speaker 3:

Yeah . How do you know it's going to be good? No , no , no. You don't think about that. You don't think about that. You just blow. And that was really liberating. And that's where the Greek Greek came in. As when I thought of a jazz musician, improvising, I've already done my scales for 30 years. I've done scales. So now just blow.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Wow. And then some of that early experiences of, you know, shooting the rolling stones on stage and being impulsive and having to just kind of adapt I'm sh I bet that kind of comes into play here as well.

Speaker 3:

Well , Fluxus, I'm a , I'm a real fan of Fluxus and how the moment it has some, every moment, there's something you ha and you need to discover it and you need to be sensitive to that. So I think that's what comes into it. I think what was really liberating for me was when I did that year long performance piece of wearing the clothes of my good friend, Raymond Zerick for a whole year after he died. Right . Men's Eric, of course, was the keyboard is for the doors, the music grip, the doors. And , um , my good friend, Danny Sugarman was their manager in any event. So I got, I was introduced into the world, into the world of the doors and I made this friendship. Yeah . So for me, this was a Fluxus performance.

Speaker 1:

Right. And that was part of maiden LA, right? Yeah .

Speaker 3:

Um , I restaged it because I didn't tell anyone when I did the performance for a year. Right . But I knew it was art and I, it was so wonderful knowing every morning you woke up, you're making work. Yeah . It was just wonderful. I can't tell you how late I was the first few months, you know , as opposed to, I didn't get the studio today. Bad art , bad artists, bad artists , you know , but every day I put the clothes on, yo , baby, I'm done, I'm done . I'm doing the work. I'm doing it. And I thought that would be so fantastic after this is over to get into that kind of flow where you're not, because I wasn't asking myself, is this good art today? Is this bad art as it's successful a failure? No, I'm just doing it. I'm putting on the clothes. I'm doing the work. You know, that's what I tried to bring back when with the Grigory , because that was a wonderful year of making sure I made photographs. But even when I wasn't making a photograph, as long as I was wearing the clothes I knew I was, I was performing. And that was fabulous.

Speaker 1:

Liberating. That sounds so liberating. Yeah. But then, so

Speaker 3:

They were cool as hell.

Speaker 1:

Like I looked awesome. Yeah. So people yeah. Probably responded to your outfit differently and you probably put on a different air or persona in a way

Speaker 3:

When you're wearing yeah. Yoshi, I'm a Modo and he only combed the Garcia . He only dressed , looked very top end. I would oftentimes get confused as a collector when I go to openings. Cause the signifiers people would recognize jelly or whatever those words are, whatever those designers names are and they come, hello? Would you like some something to drink?

Speaker 1:

That's so interesting. Okay .

Speaker 3:

Well, you know, I'm also drawing, I'm doing this wall drawings and been expanding the wall drawings. Oh yeah. There's a whole way. There's a back, there's some galleries that aren't in use and I've been drawing there and over the Christmas break, it's going to, I'm going to be going back and doing more drawing during the winter break.

Speaker 1:

So explain those drawings. They're circular patterns, right? Yeah . Yeah .

Speaker 3:

Well, my mother, this comes back to childhood. I engaged , I embraced photography because I could not draw because my mother was a good drafts person. She could draw it and look like you're like the person. Right. She was trying to draw for me. It was stick figures always until I picked up a camera. So I've always thought, no , you can't draw. So when I was in South Africa at this residency at the Nitrox residency and I was at a place where the birth place of humankind started world heritage site. Wow. I decided I need to honor that and connect to my, okay. Listen to this for a romantic. I needed to connect to my DNA cause it's there somewhere and make images that come out of that. And so I thought, well, how would one draw? And I thought of the cave drawings and I thought of all sorts of things. And then I, what made me most comfortable was this circle. I was not intimidated by making a circle. So I said, okay, then just make circles . You're not intimidated. You feel I could be a jazz musician by just making social circumstances blow. So then I would make these circles in these entities, these forms would appear. So I found a conduit for my unconscious to reveal itself. So I think it's really a union kind of discipline and I'm very, and that my brain kind of likes it because I can label it. Oh, that's a whole union thing that you're doing, you know, you're it , you're just expressing your ears.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And then you can bring other people in on it because we can all draw a circle.

Speaker 3:

And I like the idea that you're drawing on a museum wall, you would get, I would get reprimanded for drawing on the wall as a child. Right . You never draw, you know , in the church wall of the museum. And so when students or viewers come in, I say, yeah, pick up some charcoal. Come on. Yeah .

Speaker 1:

Although they did tell me when I went in there , like don't lean against the wall. You don't want to brush the charcoal . Cause now it is art. It's precious. And I love , there's such a different kind of, there's a contrast and that energy, that period you're talking about with the drawings and then the photographs, which have a very composed kind of quality to them. Right.

Speaker 3:

Right. Yeah . And I think that's also the Euclidean and the Grigory . Yeah . And so it comes, the , the gesture says something about the impulse one criticism I've had and it's come up three times. It says that the images are so beautiful. It really overwhelms the horror that I'm speaking of. And the , because it's the horror is, is, is the conceptual foundation of which the whole broad check is based upon. Yeah . So ,

Speaker 1:

But in your interview with Carrie Mae Weems in the catalog for your show, you talked about using beauty as a weapon. Right ? So I mean, I, I understand that critique, but I also think beauty is something that as artists, we're all after, and it's such a tool to communicate and draw people in.

Speaker 3:

But considering that I had the classic postmodern education at Cal arts where I was told , uh , intuition is not to be trusted and beauty, if did something for beauty sake, that's empty. Yeah . You know, and then of course in my commercial photography, beauty was very important. Right. So beauty was anathema, you know, and I know that I really love to make beautiful things. And so I realized, okay, I have to then use it for my end, you know , for my purpose. So I use it to actually seduce or induce something to bring the viewer in. Yeah . But once they get in there, I'm hoping I can offer conundrums and questions and all sorts of problems that they need to solve. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

You were talking about sort of this perfection and sort of Euclidean gardens and a way of thinking that like Western logical thought and then the Grigory sort of gut or intuition , um, which is , uh , sort of an African space in your work, right? Yeah. So, but you're American, I guess. Where do you see yourself? Probably between the two as an American and someone who's come from both lineages in a way,

Speaker 3:

Actually back in the eighties, I was making work about that , um , where I was combining pristine photographs. And then I ha I created this fictional Todd gray origination story. So I would get a map of Africa and get darts and then I'd throw the dart where it landed. Then I go to the library, the library and I'd go and see what kind of artifacts were made at that region. And if I didn't like the artifacts, I, I, reason I couldn't have come from there, I wouldn't have made work. Like that's not me, but I go back through a dart again until I came to a place where I said, yeah, that's the kind of stuff. Yeah. That looks good. Well then clearly I recognize that through my DNA and that was in the eighties. And then I would draw those , um, uh, um, uh, masks and what have you onto my photographs. So I knew though that I made my own history, so I know it was a because my body is African, you know, and I know I'm a dive sporks , uh, subject. So it's been important to reconnect to the , the continent or to the culture because I'm only a half. Right . I'm only connecting, I'm not connecting fully.

Speaker 1:

Right. Right. And do you feel like having that connection and going in this body of work, like, can you feel that in you or what is it ?

Speaker 3:

This is, I I'd have to back up and tell you a little story. Like when I first started going to Ghana here, I was, I was a total black American I'm back in the motherland and they would call me old Bruni . I know Bruni literally means white man. Every westerner , they will call a broody until I found out I had somebody what's so Bruni and go , Oh , that's white man. I went , Oh, I'm being called white man . But basically westerner, you know , if it was Japan, I'd be called guy , Jean , Mexico, gringo, so forth. And so I realized, no, I'm a westerner I'm to these, to these folks. And after three years, those around us in the village where we live are places by a fishing village, they would treat us like normal people. I wasn't no Bruni . I was taught like I was who I was, but it took a couple years of culture shock and not understanding where is my place because America, I'm not completely embraced. And over here I'm a foreigner. And so I'm a , this floating into tea without a specific country that embraces me and that's can be quite liberating also. So I chose to look at it as an act of liberation so that I could actually be an interloper, I could go in and out and I can, I can just see things that others don't see. And I could be an art or a true artist because I'm not beholden to any

Speaker 1:

Either rule or either culture. Correct . Yeah. And artists, I feel like often have that luxury to kind of float between worlds in that way. Yeah. I'm speaking of floating between worlds in the work, you also have space imagery, so you have it's Hubble space photographs. Right? Tell us about that and how that kind of enters into this. Uh ,

Speaker 3:

Well, the first iteration of the work was using images from my archive of Michael Jackson and combining them with images from my archive of Africa , um , to really situate him as a African black subject, because as the most recognizable black person on the planet, even though I obscured his face, I guess

Speaker 1:

Just the hair, this jacket. Yeah.

Speaker 3:

Um, that I wanted that dialogue to talk about , um , blackness and African ness and so forth. So when I was making that work, I thought that's when I also realized his level of genius because I've not seen another performer have the ability to dance at such a high level and seeing it at such an , a level either, or they do the dance or they can sing, but I haven't seen, and that's when I really started giving it up and going, you know what? His performance is genius. And I thought, well, you know what, it's so genius that he couldn't have come here from here. And then I thought of sun RA Wilson rock came from Saturn . And I said, you know what? He must come from the same lineage of sun RA . He came from the stars. And so I created an origination story for him. And that's when I started using , uh , uh, images of the celestial bodies of cosmos in those photographs. Then as I transitioned my work away from him and I was talking about colonization and so forth , um, it became really a metaphor of, of all the infinite possibilities. How is it that black people find it so very difficult to succeed? How was it that black people are persecuted so much or in these situations when there's infinite possibilities. So to sort of shine a light in my head, you know, that's , that's what it represents to me, the, how things are institutionalized systematized and predetermined.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. In my interpretation of those images, there was sort of hope. It felt really hopeful. Like I felt like you were drawing a line between this kind of Western logic and this more raw space and kind of finding something in between. But , uh, you know, we have so many issues in American culture, God, where we start, but I feel like by pointing up like pointing to the stars and outside, you kind of bring in a hopeful , uh , notion of the future.

Speaker 3:

It's wonderful that you have that read for me. It's a little darker. No, actually it's about our insignificance. And I think if we can see how insignificant we are, we may act a little differently. Right. Because the level of hubris is just immense and I would think, and so from my thinking, we have to remember that we are smaller than a piece of dust. And then perhaps with that level of modesty, we might change our behavior. And so that's what it's signifying.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And then it just makes all this yeah . Dancing we're doing just seems so insignificant. It's all these lines, all, everything. It just, just like what ?

Speaker 3:

I don't want to be fatalist, but yeah . Um, it like the universe doesn't care if earth explodes, universe doesn't care, it's got billions upon billions upon billions, more out there.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And then we'll explode and create more startups.

Speaker 3:

That's another thing we may explode, but we're still there. And so that's, that's, that's what the whole , you know, that's the one my mom died a few months ago and , but it really, you know, we're , we're here, but she's here. And also we're all, we're all gonna die. We're born, we die. And so it's a cycle, so where do we come from? Where do we go? We're still, we're still going to beat. We're still here in this universe.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And then floating around as start us . There's no borders or no country. Like, it's just one. We all share that. Yeah .

Speaker 3:

And we're definitely started us. We're made of Stardust literally. So it's, it's, it's really now . No, now it is very hopeful. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

Right . It does. I thought so. Yeah.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. It turns around, it definitely turns out that ,

Speaker 1:

Um, I also noticed in the work, the stacking , um, almost becomes figurative. And I wanted to ask if that was an intentional, but I mean, you're putting things on faces sometimes like other round images on people's faces. Right . But I feel like even without a figure present, sometimes just the way the compositions are enacted, they almost feel like a figure just with the frames and the,

Speaker 3:

If, so that is part of what attracts me to the resolution as I am in my studio and reconfiguring all of these photos and different positions to come upon something where I go Hm I'm searching for. Yeah . And I, that's the Greek word actually. I mean, it's not like this works and this is why, and then I can check one, two, three, no. It's how do I vibrate? Yeah. And I'm really sensitive to how I feel when I get to a collage and the items just, Oh man, it just works. You know? So if it mimics the figure or the body comes, it's not my intent and I don't even know which ones might. Yeah . I just know it , it comes together. It's holistic. It just comes to , yeah .

Speaker 1:

Yeah. I don't want to like be labor that, but um, it's let me go there for a second. Interesting. To think that in a way, you know, that , um, kind of theory that we just want to see ourselves, we want to see the familiar, we want to see a figure in the world and things like that. So I wonder if there's something in your psyche that when you position the photos, just so it brings that like instant recognizable.

Speaker 3:

I think that's part of it. And sometimes I must say when I see the certain , uh, evidence of it forming I'll push it, like the image that was at the Whitney museum, the biennial, that what the red jacket . Yeah . That definitely, I consciously made a figure. And then the garden , um, that , that I put on its side, was it the spine? I mean, yeah. I , I very much objectively put that once I recognize some things are happening, then I went in and I emphasized it. Got it. Because I saw that it would be a good point of entry for the viewer and that, so I tightened it up that way. I knew that the space of though would be resolved if the viewer, even if they weren't conscious that they saw a , a complete figure, they, part of them would, would, would recognize that something in there

Speaker 1:

Right. In that same way and just feel that like, Hmm.

Speaker 3:

Right. Yeah. It's resolved.

Speaker 1:

Definitely. Um, to switch a little bit, you have, I don't know the titles, but there's a work in the current show and I think it's a picture of wildfire speaking . I mean, just today, we're in the midst of wildfires, like what, 15 miles away. Um, and it's kind of placed on top of a plinth in what I'm assuming as a European garden.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. In Paris. Yeah. The wildfire image , uh, came from South Africa from , uh, Cape town and it was the Hills of Cape town burning where the vineyards are and it was just billowing smoke. And I got out of the car that I was in and took a picture and I thought I probably would never use it because it was just too graphic. I thought it was far too graphic and image and limiting. And so self-defined, but then it's funny because , um , it was a winter day when I took that photograph and you'll see the people in that photograph have overcoats and so forth. And then it looked like once I put around, I had around image on it before and it started to look like a trophy. Yeah . And then it also looked like an African , uh, uh , figure there's an iconic shape with a circle that's used as a , uh, to signify a body something. Yeah . And so all these things came on and then I thought, wow, this is Anthropocene. I mean, this is really a really good metaphor for the Anthropocene .

Speaker 1:

Definitely. Yeah. That really like touched me when I saw it a couple of days ago, just in the midst of ecological collapse. I mean, that's like a whole other thing, but I feel like that's in the work and that piece was so potent kind of against these like very crispy European, like perfect garden .

Speaker 3:

Yeah. A few years ago with a studio visit with Christine Kim, she brought up this term called Anthropocene and I'd never heard of it. And then she explained it to me and I have been sensitive to it. And although I didn't specifically try to engage an image, I mean, make an image that engages with that. It's opened up a whole another door for me, a whole nother area of investigation. So no doubt there might be some other images coming down the pike that , uh , uh, that make the point to that direction.

Speaker 1:

Can't wait. Yeah. Um, yeah, it just seems like with your work, you know, we think of artists as focusing energy on the object and like putting this intense focus on the physical thing. And I, you sure do as well because your objects are gorgeous and beautifully produced, but it seems like for you, it's more about being out in the world and kind of collecting knowledge and experience and place. And , uh, then the work almost becomes like a vessel for those things

Speaker 3:

That also becomes , um , autobiographical. And so it is a log of my past. And then however, I reconfigure it, like we reconfigure our reconfigure, our memory, right . And so I reconfigure and depending on your mood and time and place, we remember things differently. You see what I'm trying to do as the work grows is get further away from , um, linguistic resolution through the , um, uh, language that I use in my brain, because the language that I use in my brain is a direct result of, of Western thought and culture. So the way for me to do that again, is to be very open that the work is going to reflect this moment. And there's a truth in this moment. So I need to be wholly present and I need to quiet the chattering monkey and the mind. So in that way, sometimes when I'm doing the work, it's a very meditative process. Can I ask if you meditate, I'm a F I'm a, I'm a failed meditator. I meditate prone lying in bed

Speaker 1:

That I do the sleep one sometimes, which I don't think that counts, but it helps. Yeah. Yeah. But anyways , so you think of the work as a type of meditation or a meditative state

Speaker 3:

When I get to the flow state. Absolutely. And I'm just moving pictures around being very impulsive. And it's funny, cause sometimes the brain will chirp up. Like, don't use that picture. That's bad. That's like a bad photograph. And then I have to go, Oh, okay. Then I'm absolutely using it because my brain said don't use it. So I have to be a contrarian because that's setting up limits of the work .

Speaker 1:

Or even I can imagine like going through you've as you said, gone through the Michael Jackson archive several times, but just going through old images and be like, Oh, I can't use that here because that's different than this new series. And this is the new series that I did of these gardens and the old one is, you know,

Speaker 3:

Make rules, break rules, make rules, break rules. Yeah . Yeah. That's really the mantra. And so when there is a limit, when there is a rule, when there is something that my brain comes up and says, no, you can't, or that's not correct. Well then I gotta break that because I need to push past my lip , the limits of thought, I need to push past the limits of what I think good taste is and what good art is because of the idea of good art is very limiting

Speaker 2:

[inaudible] .

Speaker 1:

The Carlo podcast is produced by contemporary art review Los Angeles and meet Lindsey Preston Zappas with production assistance from Karen, a chart, Joel P West composed our theme music. The podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts . We archive and post every episode on our [email protected], where we also post by monthly reviews of Los Angeles exhibitions. Carla is a print magazine in addition to this podcast and Carla issue 18 is now in circulation at a hundred art spaces around Los Angeles. You can also order a copy of the issue or get a one year subscription to the magazine in our online store. You can use the offer code podcast to get free shipping on your order, head to shop dot contemporary art review.la to order now, thank you so much for listening and we'll see you next time.

Speaker 2:

[inaudible] .