April 10, 2014

It is not especially surprising that wunderkind photographer and digital artist Joshua Citarella describes his studio as a “white cube.” The New York-based artist’s work is best characterized as clean and minimal with vaguely dystopian elements. They are the sort of images that would look at home in a futuristic magazine, on a well-curated Instagram feed or sparsely hung on the walls of famed New York photography gallery Higher Pictures (that last one happened last September).

Though Citarella’s practice is constantly evolving – one day he might be photographing the silver-speckled legs of a model, the next an impossibly slick wrought iron sculpture nestled in a pile of sand – consistency lies in the flawlessness of the images. It is a flawlessness achieved through meticulous planning and skillful post-production – the patience to ensure that an image captured in a mere moment appears just as the artist intended. If anyone knows that good things take time, it’s Citarella. His aforementioned show at Higher Pictures (which, by the by, was met with rave reviews) was two years in the making – two years to produce five, perfect images.

First, an annoying question: how would you describe your “aesthetic” to someone who has never seen your work and does not have access to Google (an alien, basically)?
Some elements of magic, a minimalist sci-fi future, cosmetic advertisements maybe?

At what point did you know you wished to pursue art professionally?
I started to think of myself as a professional artist somewhere around 2009 or 2010.

When or how do you know that a piece is finished and it’s time to step away?
It’s different for every piece. Some things need to be completely polished, others should be interrupted midway.

In what ways would you consider yourself a perfectionist in terms of your practice?
Previously, I worked as a professional retoucher and that knowledge greatly informed my practice. There’s a type of perfectionism there that comes into play often.

When it comes to your practice, are you good at delegating tasks? This can encompass both the physical creation of your work as well as activities that surround it, such as installation and PR. Why or why not?
I work with the best printers, framers and fabricators. I can’t thank them enough.

Is there a time of day that you feel most creative or inspired? Is there a time of year?
I always find myself working at odd hours, either really early or late. It’s hard to have a consistent schedule. Every project is different.

Are you deadline-oriented?
I tend to finish everything far in advance.

Who is the first person you show your work to? Do you show people your work when it’s in process or do you wait until it’s finished?
I post a lot of working images on social media.

How important is failure to your artistic process?
There is always some trial and error. I used to edit down my work a great deal. Recently I’ve been more lenient and just producing more.

To what degree is your work pre-planned or considered and to what degree does it manifest itself as you’re working?
Almost every work is carefully planned before hand. When working with live models you need to improvise on occasion.

Can you recall the first piece of art you ever made?
Haha, I have no idea.

What was the last great piece of advice you received in regards to your practice, and from whom?
“Don’t make paintings for the living room. Make paintings for the bedroom.” – Nick Faust

How do you handle criticism?
It can be helpful. I value criticism from artists whose practice I trust.

Would you say that your art making is ritualistic – is there a standardized process you follow when producing work, or does it vary from piece to piece?
It varies from piece to piece. I’ve been making some more serialized work recently, but I don’t consider the process ritualistic.

If you ever feel creatively blocked, what do you do to overcome it?
I make mock ups in the studio or in Photoshop. It helps to try out a number of small ideas very quickly.

In what ways, if any, do you alter your approach in response to context? This can refer to the gallery a work is being shown in, the city or other cultural contexts.
I would say that most of my work anticipates being altered by its context. I try to address that proactively.

In what ways has your practice changed/evolved/improved in the time since you first started? Is it still changing?
It’s definitely always changing. I think everything you do informs what you will do next.

What is your personal definition of quality?
Quality work changes the way you look at other images afterwards.

Can your recall a definitive moment or turning point in your career – perhaps a specific show or the realization of a new method or process (or one of each)?
In September I had my first solo show at Higher Pictures in New York. I spent about two years working up to that, so it was definitely a milestone in my practice.

For more examples of time well spent visit Levi’s Made and Crafted

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April 3, 2014

To Aurora Passero, quality is characterized as a recognizable continuity in an artist’s practice. Fitting, as once you’ve seen one of the Norwegian artist’s site-specific woven pieces, her work is forever recognizable. Constructed from meticulously woven nylon, Passero’s installations interact with an architectural space, sometimes extending from a gallery’s ceiling to graze its wooden floor and other times suspended in midair. Sometimes her works are dramatically draped and sometimes they’re pulled taught, threads dangling in perfect straight lines. But however her pieces are installed, however they are dyed, whatever the size the opacity or the site, they are always undeniably Passero’s.

Though Passero has had several solo exhibitions in her native Oslo, her inclusion in last year’s Untitled Art Fair during Art Basel Miami has sparked interest in the young artist on this side of the pond. We expect to encounter her recognizable works again and again, as they effortlessly transform whatever space they grace.

First, an annoying question: how would you describe your “aesthetic” to someone who has never seen your work and does not have access to Google (an alien, basically)?
My works take place in a span between sculpture and painting – I am interested in the resistance and balance between material, form, color, space and content. Lately I have been working with nylon thread that I weave and later dye before composing the pieces together as whole spatial installations.

At what point did you know you wished to pursue art professionally?
I realized it gradually through my adolescence. My mother work as a costume designer and her nonstop orientation towards and curiosity for different artistic expressions has had a huge influence on me. Since I was a kid she has been dragging my brother and I around to visit different museums and collections, especially in Italy because I am half Italian. It took me a while to realize we were so close to the ocean – the only thing we saw were churches and palaces. Otherwise I have always loved making things and I was always drawing when I was smaller. I also remember I saw Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat movie when I was fifteen – perfect for a longing teenager.

When or how do you know that a piece is finished and it’s time to step away?
It’s based on an immediately good feeling and experience.

In what ways would you consider yourself a perfectionist in terms of your practice?
I would not say that I am a perfectionist but I am very concerned with having control of the whole process, from beginning to end. At the moment I finalize something, regardless if it’s a text, a piece of work or an exhibition, I need to I’ve worked it through down to every detail so it will be exposed precisely the way I want it.

When it comes to your practice, are you good at delegating tasks? This can encompass both the physical creation of your work as well as activities that surround it, such as installation and PR. Why or why not?
No, and that can be a problem, especially when I have a lot to do. Working as an artist it is not only about making the art itself, it’s everything else: office work, applications, documentation, text, PR and so on and so on… When it comes to making the work I prefer to be alone, but when I mount the pieces I always need assistants because of the large-scale of the pieces.

Is there a time of day that you feel most creative or inspired? Is there a time of year?
I like to work in the mornings, when everything is fresh and new. Otherwise I’m happy about the long, cold winter months because it gives me a lot of time to stay inside and work without a bad conscience.

Are you deadline-oriented?
Yes, I like to work under pressure.

What does your studio or work environment look or feel like?
My studio is essential for my practice; it was the first thing I started looking for when I graduated. I have always had a lot of visual material around me: photos, books, magazines and other inspiration sources that I rearrange all the time. It reminds me of the starting points of different pieces, like a visual language or mind map.

Who is the first person you show your work to? Do you show people your work when it’s in process or do you wait until it’s finished?
I like to be alone when I work, trying to avoid interruptions. I’m not very found of other’s comments during my process because it is important to me that I make my own decisions. I have a few people I show it to when it’s completed – most importantly, my boyfriend, Robin, who also works as an artist. We discuss each other’s works all the time and he functions as my extended eye.

How important is failure to your artistic process?
I try to be as open as possible when I work. It’s often when unexpected things happens new ideas develop.  I think it’s important to not be too safe within the work, but to push it forward as soon as you get to comfortable.

To what degree is your work pre-planned or considered and to what degree does it manifest itself as you’re working?
It is a mix of both. I usually get an pretty clear idea of what I want to make based on information I get out of the space I will be working with. I often start with one piece, then the others follow in relation to one another. I like the public to experience the pieces both individually and as a whole composition. I can be thinking about something for a long time, but it is what I physically do in my studio that tells me whether it will work out or not.

Can you recall the first piece of art you ever made?
When I was a kid my friends and I made a city inhabited by mice made out of Plasticine. It was extremely detailed and was built on an old door shelf we got from the day care facility we went to after school. As we grew older, the mice developed along with us, gaining interests like NBA merchandise and skateboards. My friend still has it.

What was the last great piece of advice you received in regards to your practice, and from whom?
“Remember to breathe”- from a taxi driver.

How do you handle criticism?
It depends on how the criticism is given and if it is constructive or not. At its best, criticism can give one drive to develop the work.

Would you say that your art making is ritualistic – is there a standardized process you follow when producing work, or does it vary from piece to piece?
When I set up a loom and weave the pieces I follow basic technical rules. It’s a logical repetition and I guess you could call it a kind of ritual. The dying process is much more risky and physically exhausting. Here I’m interested in chance and the result of more impulsive actions. I like the combination and dynamic of those two aspects together.

If you ever feel creatively blocked, what do you do to overcome it?
Travel is a very good way to find inspiration – you get a break from your usual routines and a chance to think about your practice from another point of view. Also seeing other art and reading about other artistic practices always inspires me a lot.

In what ways, if any, do you alter your approach in response to context? This can refer the gallery a work is being shown in, the city or other cultural contexts.
My works are pretty much site-specific. They first take shape when they are hung up in the space and I always relate to the architecture I’m installing in. Otherwise I see my works as a response to my surroundings and everyday life. The works become a concentrate of all of my impressions; like a physical language.

In what ways has your practice has changed/evolved/improved in the time since you first started? Is it still changing?
I have built up a confidence in what I am doing that comes together with experience.

What is your personal definition of quality?
A continuity in someone’s practice.

Can your recall a definitive moment or turning point in your career – perhaps a specific show or the realization of a new method or process (or one of each)?
When I was studying I was working with site-specific installations that I had built up with all kinds of materials like plaster, rubber, pigments and plastic directly in the space. It was always destroyed after a period of time and I was missing a more intimate way of working and making something that could last. I started to examine nylon and when I started to weave with it I realized I could build up large-scale elements in an easy way. It was interesting to take up space with such a cheap and superficial material and at the same time mix classical handcraft and painting traditions.

For more examples of time well spent visit Levi’s Made and Crafted

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March 20, 2014

Photographs happen in an instant and often without much thought or care. We photograph our club sandwich on multigrain and it’s filtered and shared with our Instagram followers in seconds. Artist Letha Wilson’s work may find its roots in photography, but her practice is nothing like your average Instagrammer’s or even your average professional photographer’s. Wilson seeks out her images, which are often stunning landscapes found while hiking. She prints these photographs herself, in a darkroom, and marries them with materials like concrete, wood and drywall. “I describe my work as landscape photography getting punched in the face,” she says.

Wilson’s art, an analogue approach to photography in a digital age, exemplifies patience. It’s a quality that bleeds into Wilson’s life – she applied for the prestigious Snowhegan art residency in Somerset County, Maine nine times before being accepted in 2009. The trajectory of her career is evidence that good things come to those who wait (and spend that time continuously honing their craft). This year, she’ll have works on view at the International Center of Photography in New York and, later, a joint show with Jason Middlebrook at Retrospective Gallery in Hudson.

At what point did you know you wished to pursue art professionally?
I decided in the 7th grade that I wanted to major in art in college and convinced my dad to let me do that by planning to major in graphic design. I changed my major to painting once I was in undergrad, however, it wasn’t until a few years after grad school that I had enough confidence to really take the risk of becoming a professional artist.

When or how do you know that a piece is finished and it’s time to step away?
Usually an individual piece has a pre-determined ‘finished’ state, yet after that it takes time to look at it and decide if it’s any good. Sometimes my first reaction to a new piece isn’t the best one and sometimes my expectations of what the piece should look like get in the way of what it actually is.

In what ways would you consider yourself a perfectionist in terms of your practice?
Some works call for more perfection than others. I am definitely a control freak and do have perfectionist tendencies. In a way my practice has evolved to work against those tendencies.

Is there a time of day that you feel most creative or inspired? Is there a time of year?
My brain works best in the morning, however this is not necessarily when I am the most creative or inspired.  Inspiration seems to strike at odd times – when traveling to or from an errand, on a subway, a walk, at the store… in between places.

Are you deadline-oriented?
Often I don’t really have a choice, the deadlines are always there. Years ago I used to only make new work for deadlines, but now there is just a constant cycle or creation. The new work is always happening in some stage, deadline or not. And yet, a good deadline is a nice kick in the butt to get things finished!

What does your studio or work environment look or feel like?
It’s controlled chaos. I go from big mess to tidy-ish several times a week. My space is pretty small so I have to continuously move and clean and organize objects like a Tetris game.

Who is the first person you show your work to? Do you show people your work when it’s in process or do you wait until it’s finished?
Sometimes my artist friends – Kate Steciw, Carolyn Salas, Amy Feldman, Stacy Fisher, Rico Gatson, Jason Middlebrook. Maybe my sister or my boyfriend. I show them only when I’m excited about what I just made…

To what degree is your work pre-planned or considered and to what degree does it manifest itself as you’re working?
Individual pieces are pre-planned because I need to construct them and have an idea what they will become. Sometimes I make models for certain types of installations, and these models are tweaked until it’s right. Other pieces are studio works that are more process-based. I have an idea of what these will look like, but the end result always has an element of surprise. New ideas come out of these results.

What was the last great piece of advice you received in regards to your practice, and from whom?
It was a comment my friend Jen made to me in a studio visit years ago. She said I needed to make some bad art, and I knew what she meant. My work before then was too planned, too polished and figured out – there were no accidents or mistakes, and that’s what I needed. That advice really helped push me to change my practice and open things up.

How do you handle criticism?
It depends on where it’s coming from. Certain times I just counteract with my reasons why I do so and so, but the comment will tend to stick in the back of my mind. However, I have learned that I have to ultimately trust myself and my decisions in the studio, knowing everyone has their own opinions, which I cannot control.

Would you say that your art making is ritualistic – is there a standardized process you follow when producing work, or does it vary from piece to piece?
There is a certain process involved to some works, but I wouldn’t say it’s ritualistic, more just practical. And yet, I am always trying to change things up a bit, experiment and tweak. I try to be methodical on one hand but open to new ideas and aware of small cracks that I should follow.

If you ever feel creatively blocked, what do you do to overcome it?
Go on a trip, change scenery or take action. Moving or making things always opens things up. Go look at other people’s art.

In what ways, if any, do you alter your approach in response to context? This can refer the gallery a work is being shown in, the city or other cultural contexts.
Certain works I create are all about the context or even the specific physical site. Others are more modular and can be shown in a number of places. Context is also about the other artwork your work is shown with. I prefer showing my work alongside paintings and sculptures versus photographs. I think my work is in their language, but also benefits from the contrast to them.

In what ways has your practice has changed/evolved/improved in the time since you first started? Is it still changing?
Oh it’s changed a lot. I’ve gone from being in the studio 1 hour a day to being here 10 hours a day. Some things are the same – the way I need to make a frenzy then boil it down – but I have to balance a lot more things now that it’s my full time job. Tasks are often as much administrative or packing and shipping work as making it. Things that are part of my practice include going to the darkroom to print, traveling out West to hike and shoot, mixing and pouring concrete, and moving things around in the studio.  My time spent at artist residencies has taught me a lot about my own practice and tendencies. It’s as much about learning how to work best with yourself in a way, and push yourself constantly as it is making room for inspiration, life and open spaces.

For more examples of time well spent visit Levi’s Made and Crafted

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December 10, 2013
House of Waris
Bliss Lau
Thomas Erber, Masaya Kuroki, Gildas Loaëc
André Saraiva
Alexandre de Betak
 Maison Kitsuné
House of Waris
Bliss Lau
Thomas Erber, Masaya Kuroki, Gildas Loaëc
André Saraiva
Alexandre de Betak
Maison Kitsuné

If you like hip young designers, French people and shiny things, then you will adore Le Cabinet de Curiosités of Thomas Erber Hosted by Maison Kitsuné. Launched in Paris (where else?) at Colette, this is Erber’s fourth installment of the project, which brings together a veritable smorgasbord of design oddities and delights from 50 guest brands and designers. With it’s French/Japanese roots and ability to host a decadent cocktail party, Kitsuné was the perfect match for Erber. “Maison Kitsuné are old friends of mine with a brand I deeply respect and admire,” he says.

On display at the Avant/Garde Diaries and the Maison Kitsuné boutique through December 23, the collection includes covetable body chains by Bliss Lau, a bejeweled pendant by House of Waris, André Saraiva’s dream concert posters and a buttery soft flight jacket by Maison Kitsuné. All items are, of course, handpicked by the very charming (and very French) Erber. “Their savoir-faire sets them apart in their industries,” he says. (That means the “ability to say or do the right or graceful thing.” How do we get some of that?) We strongly recommend you go take a gander.

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November 27, 2013

The artist formally known as Jordan Catalano has had a damn good year. For starters, he looks great. His hair is spectacular (just ask Anna Kendrick ), and as far as I can tell he hasn’t aged in a decade. He had a career-defining role in Dallas Buyer’s Club as Rayon, the sassy transgendered AIDS patient with a big heart, complete with a reception that’s rife with Oscar buzz. His band, 30 Seconds to Mars, released their fourth studio album, which peaked at number 6 on the Billboard 200. He’s even managed to turn all that legal ugliness with Virgin Records into Artifact, a documentary coming out next week on iTunes. Yes, Jared Leto is almost at a point where we’ll stop making irritating My So-Called Life references. Almost.

Recently, Leto directed an eleven-minute long music video slash documentary for his band’s impossibly catchy alt-rock ballad, “City of Angels.” The short film juxtaposes stars like Kanye West and James Franco against street impersonators and Lindsay Lohan (Just kidding LiLo – your candidness was actually a highlight of the video), musing about their attempts to make their dreams come true in LA. To add to Leto’s laundry list of recent successes, the film has reached over 3.2 million Youtube views. And if 2013 wasn’t memorable enough for Jared Leto, he also got to talk to me on the phone for ten whole minutes.

Where are you right now?
I’m actually in the UK. I’m on tour, about to walk onstage.

The video for “City of Angels” is incredibly romantic. How did that idea come about?
Well I had this song, a really personal song about hopes and dreams, about heading west to make the impossible possible. I wanted to tell the story, not just of why people come to California, but what it is about creativity that’s so important, what it’s like when you achieve dreams and what it’s like when you don’t. So I made this documentary that’s not so much specifically about Los Angeles, but about a community. I interviewed some of the biggest stars in the world, as well as people that haven’t had their dreams come true. People that live on Hollywood Boulevard who are homeless and are faced with enormous challenges day in and day out.

I thought that juxtaposition was extremely effective. Did you get any “No’s” when you were sorting out who to include?
I didn’t. I got a lot of “Yes” and I think that’s probably because of the consistency and history of the work, or at least that’s what we heard back. In the past Kanye had asked me to direct a video for him, so there was some history there with him. I think that people felt like they were in good hands, they trusted me to take care of them. I was really, really interested in making something special and finding out the truth of some of these circumstances and situations. I’m a curious person and we have pretty fascinating people in front of the camera, so it was an incredible process.

Having now had such a long and rather varied career, what advice would you give your younger self when you first moved to LA?
I would probably say nothing because you have to learn your own lessons. I think failure is underrated. Failure sometimes is more important than success, it’s when you learn. If I was to reassure myself of anything it would probably be to continue to believe in myself.

As you mentioned, Kanye is in this video. He was the first guest on Bret Easton Ellis’ podcast, and on it he mentioned that when he goes through customs, he is tempted to write “Creative Genius” as his occupation. As someone who does a number of creative things, what do you write on your customs form?
It’s funny, what came to mind first was “Outsider.” I’ve often written artist because you’re right, I do so many different things. People mainly focus on musician and actor, but I spend a great deal of time editing, producing, and directing . I spend more time with those and dealing with technology and creating content than I do most other things. I’ve always been an artist. I started off in art school before I switched my major to filmmaking, and ended up dropping out. But I think an artist pretty much sums it up.

I saw Dallas Buyer’s Club this past weekend. You clearly lost a ton of weight for that role. Have you been enjoying eating like a regular human being on tour?
You would think that you fast and you lose 30, 40 pounds and you get down to 115 pounds that you would gorge on food, but what happens is your stomach shrinks so much that the first big meal you eat is about the size of a tablespoon. So it’s not as much fun as you’d think. And then there’s a whole weird psychological recovery process that comes into play when you start putting on the pounds. But it’s the role of a lifetime. It was an incredibly intense process and we’re really blown away by the response to the performance and to the film.

Well congratulations, you’re having quite an awesome few months.
Well you know, that’s what you get when you’re a creative genius.

Photo by Terry Richardson.

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November 7, 2013

For most of us, having our teenage years photographically documented would be unpleasant. Having them documented by our mother would be a nightmare. That is precisely the reality faced by the teenage sons of Martine Fougeron. For her long-term series, Teen Tribe, the French photographer documented her two sons through all the triumphs and pitfalls of their formative adolescent years. By developing certain practices over time, the photographer succeeded in capturing the impossible: unguarded moments in her sons’ adolescence, which generally occur outside the prying eyes of parents. This September, the project could be viewed in its entirety for the first time at Gallery at Hermès and in an accompanying book, published by Steidl.

Though her children were the primary subjects, Fougerson wasn’t interested in the specifics of their lives in particular. Instead she was looking to draw a larger picture of the experiences shared amongst all youth. “I was after the ‘eternal adolescent,’” the artist explains. “I was interested in creating portraits of the ‘normal’ search for identity and independence during those transient teen years.” Raw and unguarded, the images depict the drudgery of studying for SATs and even those early, clunky interactions with the opposite sex. Many of these natural moments took place in the photographer’s West Village apartment or on a blissful vacation in the South of France; settings where her children felt most natural.

Considering that another typical teenage experience is the periodic, irrational distaste for everything one’s parents says and does, the project presented its challenges. “It was very difficult with my elder son when I started as he was in full revolt against me,” Fougerson admits. “I am a divorced mother trying to raise her sons as best I could and this added intensity to the artistic and personal struggle.” The photographer mitigated this issue by limiting her sessions to 20 minutes, offering her sons the power of veto and promising full confidentiality when it came to the actions of their friends, namely, not ratting them out to their parents.

Ultimately the experience of creating Teen Tribe with her sons was as rewarding to Fougeron as the powerful resulting images. “It has allowed me not only to be an actor in their lives, but an observer as a mother and photographer.” She says. “Our bond, now that they are in college, is much stronger than if I had not done the project.” And if she misses their presence, she can always turn to her photographs.

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August 7, 2013
All photos by Geoffrey Knott.
All photos by Geoffrey Knott.

Danish songstress and genetically blessed human being Nanna Øland Fabricius, aka Oh Land, is probably one of the nicest female artists in the history of the universe. Sure, she and I only communicated via email, but her responses were laden with cute references to her dog and smiley faces. Plus, everyone I know who has had the pleasure of meeting her in the flesh says she’s really, really, insanely nice.

Born to a musical home in Copenhagen, a city full of other genetically blessed and musically talented people, Oh Land now resides in Brooklyn where she spreads joy and awesomeness to everyone she comes in contact with. Later this year, she will release her third album, Wish Bone, an extension of the infectious electronic pop sound we’ve come to know and love. Produced by David Sitek (yes, TV on The Radio’s David Sitek) the album features a handful of other excellent artists like Sia and Chairlift; collaborations that likely came about because Oh Land is talented and nice and beautiful and very talented. Yesterday, Oh Land premiered her brand new video for the single “Renaissance Woman” over at Rolling Stone, but we were lucky enough to send a photographer to the Bushwick set to catch some exclusive behind-the-scenes shots. The clip, brought to you by production company All:Expanded, features Oh Land busting out her trademark quirky dance moves in the middle of industrial Brooklyn. Check them out above, to see how the music video sausage is made. We also caught up with the lovely Dane to chat about the album, the weather (because it’s hot in New York and that’s what people talk about) and various things that prove how lovely and kind she is.

So many excellent electronic artists hail from Scandinavia. What’s in the water over there?
I guess we have a little more chalk in the water but that wouldn’t really make the difference. (-;

That being said, you’ve now been living in Brooklyn for several years. How has living there shaped or influenced your sound?
I’m not sure how much space actually influences my music. It’s more the relations I have with other people. But I guess always being surrounded by noise made me go a noisier direction. I mix my dreamy small-town-girl-from-Denmark side with my industrial noisy New York side!

It is my first New York summer, and it is torturous. How do you survive the heat?
Coming from a very cold country I can’t get it hot enough. I’m the crazy person out in the sun when it’s 100F, I love it.

Where does the name Wish Bone come from?
Technically it’s the bone in the chicken but to me it’s about the contradiction between bones and wishes. One is physical and very real and the other you can’t measure and it can vanish any second. But we are dependent on both. It’s the fight between the body and the mind.

How has your sound changed or evolved since your previous album?
I think Wish Bone has elements of both Oh Land and Fauna, but generally the sound has become more minimal and a bit more noisy at times. There are little islands with no clouds but generally it’s a bit stormy.

I read that the album is largely produced by Dave Sitek. How did you two meet initially?
We met in Glendale and had instant chemistry, the first night we wrote three songs and I just couldn’t wait to come back. I knew that we had to finish the album.

What is the experience of working with him like?
It’s very intuitive and musical. We never talk about what we want to do we just play a lot and the songs show where they want to go – often quite surprising directions. He gave me a lot of courage to do anything I wanted and not trying to please anyone.

There are some other notable collaborators on this album, such as Sia. How do these collaborations come about? Who approaches who?
Collaborations for me are never something that should be chosen from a marketing perspective. It always happens quite naturally and pretty much everyone I’ve collaborated with have come about cause I’ve started being friends with them. Sia I toured with and on the road we started writing silly songs about cannibals and then it developed in to a really beautiful song, Green Card.

Your parents are both musicians. Do they ever offer criticism?
My parents have always been supportive in whatever I wanted to do, and to be honest, as a child I didn’t allow them to criticize music in general. The biggest fight I’ve ever had with my mom was over an Alanis Morissette album that she didn’t like! That didn’t go down well.

You have such a wonderful sense of style. What designers are you coveting these days?
To me great style is all about contrast. Making contradictions that somehow weirdly fit naturally together. I think Prada always does that.

Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
I’m definitely by nature an optimist. But sometimes I practice pessimism in order to not develop completely unrealistic worldviews.

How do you relax or wind down?
I wind down every day when I walk my dog and play with him. I think that doing something good for others whether it’s an animal or a friend is the most relaxing thing. It’s very stressful to do things for yourself cause you rarely know what exactly you need.

If you weren’t making music professionally, what would you be doing?
Whatever I could do to help the environment. We can’t keep on living and consuming the way we do. If I could be part of a generation that changed the curve I would be proud.

What’s coming up for you (besides the album, of course)?
I will be touring Wish Bone for a long time and hopefully get to some parts of the world I haven’t played before. I’m doing some music videos as well and walking my dog lots!

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July 22, 2013

The traditional image of a female DJ is an over-sexualized socialite with an iPod, all smiles and giggles and radio club jams and predictable glam rock throwbacks. Grace Lee, founder of all-female DJ collective Liaison Femme, embodies none of those stereotypes. A New York club kid in every sense of the word – she was spending her evenings at Beatrice Inn years before she could legally do so – Grace, or G*LEE, is out to destroy all the lame connotations that come attached to the term “Female DJ.” By championing such big names as Venus X, Mia Moretti and Maya Jane Coles, she just might succeed.

For its first major collaboration, Liaison Femme teamed up with quintessentially cool, New York-y brand Oak to produce two fashion films that beautifully embody the message behind both brands. Entitled Alpha & Omega, the films, which are directed by Awol Erizku, depict the female’s duality. Starring Liaison Femme’s talented rosters of DJs, Jasmine Solano, Kitty Cash, G*LEE, Lauren Flax, Jubilee and Kristen Oshiro, the videos embody the strength and individuality of both the Oak customer and the Liaison Femme DJ. I caught up with Grace over Jameson’s on ice at The Boom Boom Room – she had just deejayed on Le Bain’s roof on a particularly balmy Friday afternoon – to chat about the collaboration, New York club culture and shitty female DJ stereotypes.

What does the Liaison Femme girl have in common with the Oak girl?
Oak speaks to a universal gender. When you walk in the store, you don’t feel like you’re dictated to go to the men’s or the women’s. When I was a customer, before I knew the founders, I was intrigued by the idea of a store that navigates you by energy. I’m a female, but I remember once shopping on the men’s side and the retail person came to me and said, “The woman’s side is here on the right.” I had been shopping on the men’s side the whole time.

That happened to me, too.
That fascinated me. The Oak woman is flexible—she can be masculine, she can be feminine —it’s just the way she places the clothes on her body. That’s how I found the parallel to Liaison Femme. As a female DJ, you can come off as being masculine or feminine. For example, Venus X comes off very masculine because the way she translates ghetto-gothic to the community is very tough. You compare her to Mia Moretti; the physique is very feminine and she’s very attached to lifestyle and fashion. I met Mellany through Oak—is this appropriate?

Sure, go for it.
I met Mellany through Oak. I think without her I would not know the real effect of Oak because Oak also represents itself through its employees and I saw that. Their sales associates resemble Oak. With Mellany, I found Oak had an effect not only in her work, but also in her life. Oak is minimalistic and modern and complex and that’s what I saw in her. It’s an attitude and an energy.

How did the collaboration between Oak and Liaison Femme come about?
Growing up in NoHo, I used to always walk past Oak coming home from high school. The visual communication in the visual display was different – it wasn’t like Opening Ceremony or A.P.C. or other rising independent brands, it really stood out. I’m not trying to dis OC but Oak is more restricted, that’s their whole philosophy. OC is loud but Oak is silent and that’s how Liaison Femme felt for me; each female DJ is loud themselves but their volume is controlled by the way we lead our collective, which is very humble. When we first started Liaison Femme in 2010, we didn’t go around saying, “Oh, check us out, a bunch of bitches.” That’s all hype.

What’s the idea behind the video?
I met with Awol Erizku, one of my working partners and a very gifted visual artist, and we started brainstorming ideas. We came to the idea that Liaison Femme is about this maximist woman. Sigmund Freud said women have capability of creating and destroying—we are procreators, we conceive, and we can also destroy the baby. That trifecta of creation, life and death is what Liaison Femme is about. We’re not a bunch of fucking girls on a fucking flyer.

Yes, because the generic conception of a female DJ is a hot girl playing an iPod.
Yes, we’re a movement and we’re not trying to be sexist so all people support us, even male DJs. People see Liaison Femme and think we’re female DJs and we’re going to be bitches, but it’s the opposite. We’re motherly and we have a sisterhood. That is beautiful to me. If you look at these commercialized female DJs who show their tits and shit, they don’t give a fuck about upcoming female DJs.

So how does an artist join Liaison Femme?
Just because you’re a female DJ doesn’t mean we’re automatically going to be sympathetic towards you. We curate our artists in terms of their talent, their gift, and their creative spirit. If you look at all female Liaisons of Liaison Femme, Mia Moretti has her style and flow and thre’s Venus X, and then you have Maya Jane Coles and Nina Kraviz… those are big girls, dude. Just because you’re hot and cute and you’re a model and you’re famous doesn’t mean we want you. Fuck that.

What female DJ stereotypes are you trying to break?
The most popular one is, “Oh, you’re a girl, you don’t know what music is.” They think girls are all exterior; look pretty, act cute and you’ll get booked. That’s the number one stereotype, physical looks. And number two is they think girls don’t have the right skills, and that’s bullshit. One of the first females I really looked up to growing up was Miss Saigon, who deejayed for The Fugees. Society sees women as an object of pleasure, so when you walk into a club they want to be pleased by a hot women behind the turntables, but some of Liaison Femme DJs are not even hot [laughs]. But the major stereotype is that girls can’t match up in skills to a guy because all the media sees or wants to feature is a pretty girl.

…Because that’s easy.
Exactly. They know it’s a pain to write about women because there’s too much judgment. I’ve done plenty of interviews where they want to talk about the physical shit; “Grace is Asian, Grace is a female, Grace is underage.”

Well it’s easy to target those things as well as your sexuality and the fact that you’re very androgynous.
Well the DJ industry is androgynous because in a way we’re performing a male responsibility. We’re dominating a club or a performance.

So what are your goals for Liaison Femme?
I’d like to make the first female agency or label. No one has done it before because people are scared but I’m not scared and I have the support. Like, Aoki did Dim Mak, Diplo did Mad Decent and G Lee did Liaison Femme.

You’re a New York native so let’s get some recommendations. Favorite nightclubs?
Honestly, I miss the old New York. I remember when I was 16, going to Beatrice Inn. People associate me with Le Bain and Le Baron, 415, The Jane. One of my new favorite spots is MaisonO, the old Kenmare. They have a karaoke-themed bar with a Japanese design. I still love going to Max Fish and I still love going to The Bowery Hotel. And this, right now, Jameson on the rocks at The Boom Boom Room.

Of course. What advice now would you give your 16-year-old self?
Two words: never lie.

OAK x LIAISON FEMME PART I “ALPHA” FT. JASMINE SOLANO & KITTY CASH from Awol Erizku on Vimeo.

OAK x LIAISON FEMME PART II “OMEGA” FEAT. G*LEE / LAUREN FLAX / JUBILEE / K!O from Awol Erizku on Vimeo.

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June 25, 2013
Photo by Johnny Knapp
Photo by Johnny Knapp

“Shit, Bennet is so cool,” declared a friend of mine at the opening of “On The Bleached Sun (A Turbine)” at SIGNAL gallery in Brooklyn. This particular friend knows what she’s talking about – she was valedictorian of her master’s contemporary art class at Sotheby’s – but even those in attendance with a less formal art education (myself, for example) were awestruck by Bennet Schlesinger’s show. The Brooklyn-based artists’ work is, in a word, pleasing. But behind its clean, precise aesthetic lies a depth of thought; a considered approach that comes through in everything the young artist does, be it painted work, sculpture or a handcrafted table for his sun-drenched Brooklyn apartment (a stark contrast to his windowless studio).

“On The Bleached Sun (A Turbine)” is based largely on a quote from French philosopher Marc Augé’s book, “Non-Places:”

“… It is not surprising that it is among solitary ‘travelers’ of the last century — not among professional travelers or scientists, but travelers on impulse or for unexpected reasons — that we are most likely to find prophetic evocations of space in which neither identity, nor relations, nor history really makes any sense; spaces in which solitude is experienced as overburdening or emptying of individuality, in which only the movement of fleeting images enables the observer to hypothesize the existence of a past and glimpse the possibility of a future.”

We caught up with Schlesinger to chat about non-places, living in Brooklyn and Marxist philosophy.

Tell me about the quote in the press release.
It’s a quote from Marc Augé, who’s a French philosopher and anthropologist. He wrote this book called “Non-Places.” The general idea is that we’re spending more and more time in non-places, in transit, in between. Even your car becomes this other house or something. So I had been thinking about that as a possibility for a way to think about art; that non-zone and kind of figuring that out. The way I think about art is always about abstraction and the unknown and navigating it through feeling.

So not over-intellectualizing things.
I think the best stuff works intellectually but it’s understandable if you don’t hear the story.

I find this show to be instantly digestable on a basic aesthetic level.
Instantly digestable is good, and then you can spend time with it.

So the quote refers to travel. Is travel an important part of your work?
The quote is specifically about people who are travelling nonprofessionally and how when you travel for leisure you get way more from the experience than if you do it for business. I think maybe that’s a perception thing. I think my art making is kind of about trying to get the pleasure out of the transit without having to go out of town.

What was the last leisurely trip that you took?
I went to Montauk last weekend, to surf. And I’m excited to go to Bali for the next five weeks.

Tell me about the other show you did at SIGNAL.
The other show was similarly about a non-place. It was about construction sites. I took a bunch of pictures for the show as references and made a little book. So there are 50 different construction sites and they’re places where you can’t go, you know? The last show was these structural supports that you find holding up walls. Are they related? Aesthetically, yes.

Why include paintings in this show?
For years I always thought of myself as a sculptor. I told people I only made sculptures but I secretly made paintings the entire time. I actually spent all my time making paintings.

Why was it a secret?
I don’t know. I was like, “I’m spending a year on these paintings and then I’m not going to show them and do some conceptual sculpture project instead?” That seems a bit weird. So I guess I wanted it to be honest and showing my work seemed honest.

Do you recall the first thing that you built?
I made a white picket fence with my dad when I was 12. We built it all by hand.

That’s very American.
Totally. I also made tree houses and skate ramps.

What are some objects in your house that are dear to you?
The only things I have in my house are two white paintings that I made, my bed, a table I made and two molded 60s chairs and five books.

What’s the last book you read?
Going Public by Boris Groys, it was really gnarly. He’s really intense. It kind of bummed me out but it’s good to push through books that you kind of don’t like. I really love Marxist philosophy and for some reason he’s just way more intense than the others.

What does your studio look like?
It’s 300 sq ft, rectangle with no windows.

Why no windows?
I couldn’t afford it [laughs]. It’s really dark, like a cave. I need to get lighting put in.

What is your current light source?
I have three bulbs. I’m just in my cave, working. I can’t really see what I’m doing. I think that’s good, then I emerge and I’m like, “this painting is orange!”

At what point did you know that you wanted to pursue art in a professional manner?
In high school I wanted to be a documentary photographer, so I went to school for photography first but then all the pictures I was taking were pretty abstract and I didn’t like how fast it was.

What were you documenting?
Plants. I was taking pictures of plants… That’s so weird.

Does that count as documentary photography?
Well in high school I was taking pictures of surfing and skateboarding, lifestyle stuff. I didn’t like the whole digital thing. It was always on a computer and you never really printed it out because you didn’t have the money to do that.

Do you think about the connotations or stereotypes that come along with being deemed a “Brooklyn-based artist?”
Yes, all the time. I think it’s annoying but necessary. It’s a bummer how important location is in getting your work seen, especially at the beginning. If you want to take part in more than your own little world, you have to live around other artists.

True. I noticed at your opening there was a large contingency of other Brooklyn-based artists.
That’s why I moved to New York. I was living in California, feeling like there was no viewer for what I was making. Art is like currency, it’s all speculative. If no one around you is saying it’s good, it’s hard to say it’s good [laughs]. So living in New York is great because it gives you a domestic community and an international reach.

Here’s an annoying question: how would you define your aesthetic.
Wooaaah [laughs]. It’s hard to define yourself, huh? I think an important part of my aesthetic is coming from California, and I think that’s pretty apparent.

You did just come back from a surfing trip.
I’m a walking cliché. Oh well.

If you weren’t pursuing art, what would you be doing professionally?
Probably making surfboards.

What advice would you give yourself on the day that you moved to New York City?
I was going to say “don’t worry,” but I wasn’t worried [laughs].

You don’t worry. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you worry.
I don’t. So… keep not worrying.

“On The Bleached Sun (A Turbine)” is on at SIGNAL gallery in Brooklyn to July 7th.

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June 25, 2013
On Sari (left): Assembly Shirt, Delfina Balda Shorts from American Two ShotOn Sari (right): 3.1 Philip Lim Dress
On Sari (left): Elizabeth and James topOn Sari (right): Nomia jacket
On Sari (left): Elizabeth and James topOn Sari (right): Nomia jacket
On Sari (left): Assembly Shirt, Delfina Balda Shorts from American Two Shot On Sari (right): 3.1 Philip Lim Dress
On Sari (left): Elizabeth and James top On Sari (right): Nomia jacket
On Sari (left): Elizabeth and James top On Sari (right): Nomia jacket

For most, selecting an outfit is a perilous undertaking. It typically entails wading through piles of crap you’ll never wear and ultimately reverting to a handful of acceptable go-tos. To make matters worse, “fast fashion” retailers entice us to acquire more and more crap, resulting in closets that emphasize quantity over quality. With their website Bib + Tuck, Sari Bibliowicz and Sari Azout are determined to change all that.

Bib + Tuck is a modern take on the traditional clothing swap. Basically, you take all that crap you don’t wear (not that it’s crap, it’s just crap to you) and trade it for someone else’s “crap” that you are, in fact, quite fond of. An illustrative example: Perhaps you’ve gained (or lost?) a few pounds and no longer fit in to that slinky Alexander Wang number. Perhaps it was an impulse buy and it never looked right in the first place. Or maybe your ex-boyfriend bought it for you as a birthday present days before you dumped his ass and you can no longer stand to look at it, let alone wear it. Whatever the reason, you don’t want it, someone else probably does, and it’s likely that hidden in the depths of their closet is something you would appreciate more than they do.

Bib + Tuck harnesses the power of the Internet to let you swap the Alexander Wang dress for something you’ll actually wear. The desired result is an edited closet full of items that all get the “go-to” designation. In addition to the thrill of acquiring something new(ish) without spending a dime, you also become part of a community of thrifty fashionistas. Really puts the sex appeal back in barter, right? We sat down with the two Saris as well as Ilana Savdie, Bib + Tuck‘s creative director, to chat about quality over quantity, the narrative of clothing, and the items they’d never give up.

Describe a bit where the idea came from and how the site works.
SARI BIBLIOWICZ: All three of us have known each other forever. We used to live in the same building when we moved to New York, in the Lower East Side. There were so many things in our closets that we no longer wore for whatever reason that were still in great condition so we decided to start creating this infinite closet between all of us. We realized instead of going out and spending more and shopping more we could just be resourceful and use what we had, so that’s sort of how the idea came about.

SARI AZOUT: The main thing was playing on this concept of shopping without spending.

SB: It’s not a one-to-one exchange. You don’t give me your jacket and I give you my sweater. It’s really a lot more open to shopping as you would on any e-commerce platform. If, for instance, I no longer want my skirt I can list it at whatever I think it’s worth in a credit value. So if I think it’s worth $100 I list it at 100 credits. To Bib is to give and to Tuck is to take, so if you Bib my skirt I have 100 credits to Tuck anything else on the site.

How does someone new to the site get started?
SB: You start with 10 credits.

SA: And you can also buy credits with cash but the idea is you never “cash out,” that’s the big differentiator between us and other platforms. It really is a community about giving and taking. At the end of the day, in consignment stores you probably make a third or fourth of what an item is really worth. We really focus on special pieces. It’s all about passing on a story and passing on the things you love. People have reacted very well to this idea of connecting and it’s radically open. Everyone uses real names.

So if someone Tucks my jacket, I know who’s getting it?
SB: Yes. You can message each other and a lot of people write handwritten notes to each other. I know a girl that has sprayed perfume on an item to give it a personal touch.

It seems like Bib + Tuck is about passing things forward whereas when you’re thrifting or shopping vintage you often have no idea where the clothes came from.
SB: People write down why they’re letting something go, so it makes it a lot more transparent. People write funny things about an ex-boyfriend giving it to them or gaining weight so it doesn’t fit . It’s nice to know people are giving it up not because it’s a piece of junk but because it doesn’t work for them.

Ilana Savdie: People are very honest because it does represent what their closet stands for. If there’s a stain they’ll admit there’s a stain.

Do you think that consumers are moving towards having a more edited or pared down closet?
SA: I think if platforms like Bib + Tuck can elongate the life of a piece, then it’s all about quality over quantity. You can buy fewer things and recycle its value.

In a dream scenario, who would you love to Tuck one of your articles of clothing?
SA: I’d love for it to come back to me.

IS: I want to see it on Rupaul’s Drag Race.   

The three of you obviously have a keen interest in fashion. How do you see yourselves dressing at 50 or 60 years old?
SA: I always think of this because I see older women and I think I won’t ever get to a point in my life where I’ll wear the typical older woman attire. I don’t think my style will change with age. I’ll be wearing overalls at 80.

IS: I keep telling myself I’ll completely change as a human being. I see everything that I wear now being bold and bright and aggressive and I’m comforted by this delusional thought that I’ll be this precious 90 year old.

What’s one article of clothing you would never give away?
SB: I do have a hand-me-down Birkin. It’s not something I would ever get or aspire to have in my closet. It’s from my mother-in-law and I love it because she gave it to me, not because it’s a name brand or this iconic bag.

IS: Everything that’s been given to me that’s precious I’ve given to my mom to put in a safe place because I’m too much of a disaster to have it. My friend made this scarf out of one of my paintings, I think that’s going to be my precious thing from now on.

SA: It’s becoming increasingly easy for me to get rid of stuff.  She [Sari] got mad at me for selling my wedding dress.

SB: She literally landed from her honeymoon and put it up.

Styling by Stephanie Singer

Photography by Kat Slootsky

Click here to skip Bib + Tuck’s waitlist.

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