July 22, 2014

Amalia Ulman has had (art) work done. Over the past couple weeks, the artist has chronicled her boob job450cc of high profile anatomical silicon gel implantsin detail on social media. Last month, she discussed her facial-filler surgery and non-surgical nose job with Art in America and live at the Swiss Institute. What Ulman’s doing is hardly exceptional—nearly 300,000 breast augmentation surgeries were performed in the U.S. in 2012—and that’s exactly the point. She’s taking normcore to its logical conclusion, literally embodying blandness through surgical modification.

Being radical (or at the very least being relevant) by being the least radical possible is a #trending idea that’s been manifesting itself for a while now, from fast-food logos on gallery walls to Nike sneakers on gallery girls. Ulman’s is a slightly different variation of the same. She is self-consciously middle-class aspirational, preferring the beige tones of a latte (which the New York Times recently declared “no longer an upper-class drink”) and mass-produced objects of interior decor like the wavy willows that you’d find in any hotel lobby, hair salon, or office front desk. And now, she has the botox or augmented breasts you might find on any receptionist in any of those spaces. Talking with Art In America, she notes the “blandness” with which she approaches plastic surgery in contrast to the “very kitsch, bloody and extreme” approach that artists like Orlan have had. Her aspirations echo trend forecasters K-Hole’s explanations of normcore and acting basic as desires for “sameness,” “non-exclusivity,” and “being nothing special.”

There’s obviously a gendered to aspect to Ulman’s work too. Her post boob-job seflies aren’t just normcore, they’re also girlcore, what artist Mary Bond defined as a coven of artists exploring gendered stereotypes “in a very intensely girlsh way that ends up infuriating a lot of people because girlish things are considered inferior.” The comments on Ulman’s social media smack of the typical prejudices. The relevance of selfie artists of my generation is proven by the disproportionate amount of shade they still receive. But it’s worth noting that they’re mostly white, mostly skinny, mostly conventionally attractive young women. While their intentional attention-whoring works to undo our knee-jerk reactions to slut-shame women, they tend to reinforce and capitalize on the rest of our cultural bullshit. To fault them for it, though, is probably to hold them to standards we rarely hold male artists to. Still, it’s worth it to bringing up their relative privilege into this conversation because it’s what Ulman’s work simultaneously replicates and complicates.

Plastic surgery promises to make possible for all (or at least more) the thinness, whiteness, and symmetrical features that most of these selfie artists naturally possess. But possible is different from accessible. Plastic surgery is the opposite of the great equalizer. Tyra Banks predicts that in the future, “plastic surgery will be as easy and quick as going to the drugstore for Tylenol” but “because beauty will be so readily accessible and skin color and features will be similar, prejudices based on physical features will be nearly eradicated. Prejudice will be socioeconomically based.”

The most interesting implications of Ulman’s pursuit of blandness might be its relationship to the increasing presence of Big Brother. Kate Crawford has put the fashion trend of normcore in the context of big data and surveillance. “I think it captures precisely this moment of mass surveillance meeting mass consumerism,” she explains. “It reflects the dispersed anxiety of a populace that wishes nothing more than to shed its own subjectivity.” To follow this line of thought, aspirationally bland plastic surgery and facial reconstruction is perhaps most provocative to consider in tandem with the increasingly sophisticated facial recognition software. Is a nose job what can save us from drone-automated minority report profiling? But, ultimately, the question is who will be able to afford that nose job?

Ulman’s journey into plastic surgery seems to be the latest art world foray into critiquing capitalism by taking it to its extreme. I’m beginning to feel disheartened by this being the only (or at least the most popular) way we seem to know to respond to our commercialism, commodification, and an increasingly corporate enterprise-dominated world, especially when the art world itself is becoming increasingly accessed only through expensive MFAs and accessible to those who can afford them. When artists critique middle-class capitalism by performing things normal people do normally, it seems to only draw attention to the privilege of the artist. (Even if we don’t have material wealth we, Ulman and I, and probably anyone reading this article, have cultural capital not everyone is afforded.) I just wonder if capitalism is so inescapable that there is no radical alternative left to us other than performing it? I hope that’s not the case.

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The Bullet Shop
July 9, 2014

Are you tired of your friends telling you about some lame new young artist selling $40,000 semen paintings? Are you sick of going to an extremely loud and incredibly overcrowded gallery opening? Are you annoyed that every  “influencer” went up to see Dan Colen plant two trucks on the lawn of a Greenwhich, CT, estate? Well, now is your chance to step out of the art bubble and start hating its very existence.

A story appeared in today’s New York Times with the headline, “For Ultra Rich, Art is Alternative Currency.” Art sales reached an all-time high at the auctions in New York this spring, and London last week for a total of $2 billion. These collectors are the actual 0.1% of the 0.1%:

At Christie’s…the evening’s buying had been dominated by established collectors, 190 clients from 28 countries had bid at the sale. That’s still just a tiny fraction of the world’s 199,235 individuals who each were estimated byUBS and the consultancy Wealth-X to have more than $30 million cash to spend in 2013.

Unlike the last boom in the mid-2000s, new collectors are not coming to the fairs and popping into the galleries. Of all the billions spent, 70% of sales go to the top ten selling artists—your Warhols and Bacons.

The entire class of people who can afford this art could live in a city half the size of Cleveland (where many of them they will be in summer 2016 at the Republican National Convention, which was announced yesterday). After all, the people propping up this art boom are many of the same crony capitalists who ruined the global economy. They are not thinking of a healthy art culture, they are looking for a healthy investment. They don’t care about you, young artist. Art is no longer art. It is an “alternative currency.”

The Art World is richer than ever, but there is little trickle down that isn’t coming in the form of patronage or institutional programs. In fact, grant programs for artists are shrinking nationwide. Artists used to be much more socially engaged, activists even. Where can we find, say, the Dadaists or Guerilla Girls of today? Even on a community level, artists certainly haven’t done a good job fighting landlords in places like Bushwick and Long Island City to keep studio and loft spaces affordable like they did in ’70s SoHo. So few people are making the big money in art, that it might be time Occupy Art Basel.

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The Bullet Shop
July 7, 2014

You’ve probably never heard of Leah Schrager before. Up until now, she’s tried very hard to keep it that way. Under the persona Sarah White, she’s been a counsellor-­cum-­cam-girl through her site Naked Therapy, a project that put New York’s art world in a brief tizzy two years ago after it was accepted and then rejected from the  West Chelsea Artists Open Studios for allegedly being too commercial. In addition to Naked Therapy, Schrager has several other pseudonymous net art performances that interrogate the hazy line between art and porn. Now, after years of revealing her full body online, she’s ready to share her full body of work.

Art Sexy Studio is Schrager’s newest project, a meta­performance of an art school girl named Blush who shares her sexy art through a site with a pay­wall model she launched in March. Blush is a somewhat fictionalized version of Schrager—they’re both MFA candidates at New York art schools. Especially because it blurs the line between the real and performed selves, the project’s reminiscent of Ann Hirsch’s Scandalishious. While Hirsch was going to grad school in Syracuse, she created the persona Caroline, a self-professed camwhore and hipster, going to school in upstate New York who danced around for her webcam and vlogged on a Youtube channel. Schrager fits into a coven of artists that includes Hirsch, Petra Cortright, Kate Durbin, Mary Bond, and Alexandra Marzella to name a few, who intentionally attention-­whore to feminist ends. But when Schrager first started Naked Therapy, she wasn’t trying to make on­trend feminist net art. She had no idea that world even really existed.

Back in the fall of 2010, Schrager was living in New York going to dance auditions and supporting herself with the typical mix of odd­jobs: catering, editing photos for a porn site, and building web sites for clients. Schrager was having tech problems with one of these sites. “I was sitting there thinking, Wouldn’t it be great if there was just a really sweet nice pretty girl who was helping me figure this out?” She decided to be that girl. The first incarnation of Sarah White was the naked coder. “Sarah White would build your web site and talk to you about what you wanted, how you wanted to present yourself online, the goals of your business, all the while potentially naked,” Schrager explained. “I ended up getting people emailing me saying they didn’t want a web site but they wanted to talk.” So Sarah White became the naked therapist instead. Today, Schrager still supports herself and pays for grad school from camming with naked therapy clients.

Sometime between her first tech troubles and submitting to the West Chelsea Open Studios, Schrager started to think of what she was doing as art. When I asked her exactly when that was, she said, “I don’t necessarily have an answer.” Later she added, “When I first started, I was quite nervous naked on cam, so I just thought of it as a performance.” And when she first told her parents about Naked Therapy, she started the email referencing Cindy Sherman and Marina Abramovic. Getting kicked out of West Chelsea Open Studios, though, indirectly gave Schrager more context for what exactly she was. Initially, Schrager was totally devastated when she heard she was kicked out. When I asked her about it, she “choked up a little just thinking about it.” But her expulsion created a bit of media storm, and outlets like Blouin Art Info and Culture Bot attempted to tackle the question of whether what she was doing was art or not. The way that they were contextualizing Naked Therapy, Schrager explains, “I was introduced to the world of social practice as an art field and the world of net art, which I wasn’t super familiar with before.”

Even before the Open Studios hubbub, Schrager was no stranger to press. The woman who could get men to bare their souls by baring her body was a story that got picked up by morning shows and late night TV, and publications from Gawker to German Playboy. The first press blitz in 2011 raised Schrager’s concerns over her privacy. “There were articles all over the place. I was getting lots and lots of emails and what seemed like pretty serious death threats. That was scary,” Schrager explained. “And at the time, I was running a performance space in my home, so my address was public. I was nervous of the idea of people being able to easily to find me.” She’s been vigilant about keeping Sarah White divorced from Leah Schrager. “I have been super careful about not documenting any connection between us…until now.”

Schrager went about removing photos of herself that would come up when you googled “Leah Schrager.” But there was one comment on a Youtube video of Sarah White that said “this is leah schrager.” She had no idea who had posted it and couldn’t ask them to take it down. “That prompted me to think that removal of an identity is impossible but multiplication is the way to evade surveillance,” Schrager explained. Her anxieties prompted an art project, and she launched a website thisisleahschrager.com and flooded the internet with false leads to who she was and what art she was making. She commented below random content “this is leah schrager” and asked others to do the same.

The same culture of misogyny that provoked Schrager to worry about her safety (something too many women on the Internet face, read: Amanda Hess) and subsequently hide her identity, has unfortunately followed her to the institutional art world. At art school, she’s had condescending reactions. “I had a studio visit and after the girl in the studio next to me came over and said ‘Oh my God, I wanted to punch that woman in the face. She was being so rude to you,’” Schrager said adding, “I guess I had been used to being talked to down to.” She has already experienced dismissive reactions to Naked Therapy.

The West Chelsea Artists Open Studio’s expulsion smacked of the same prejudices. Jeremy Barker suggested, “The gallery’s gross dismissal of the project as a ‘commercial venture’ certainly carries the stigma that White is really nothing but a prostitute.” Schrager felt like it was unfair that she got kicked out. “But if you can get to the point where it’s unfair, you can start asking why is it unfair?,” she suggested, “and hopefully enter into a broader conversation.” It’s a conversation we’ve been having since performance artists like Hannah Wilke were dismissed in the sixties and seventies on the grounds of the alleged narcissism of their work. Unfortunately, women using their bodies still get a lot of the same reactions today.

Net art is expanding the audience that is being provoked by this kind of work. Schrager wants her work to reach beyond the art world. “My audience for these works is very much people who would come across it online,” she explains. She’s not alone. The Internet’s ability to democratize is working a few different ways. Some artists are trolling non­art spaces to do a sort of temperature reading of reactions to women. Mary Bond’s posted nudes in 4chan. Angela Washko’s provoked conversations of feminism in World of Warcraft. These are artists doing research in non­art spaces and coming back with findings that are still easy to categorize as art, but the parameters of art and artist are also being complicated. When artists and non­artist are both vlogging or posting selfies on Instagram, is the difference in the intention or the price tag of the MFA program? And where do internet it­girls like Molly Soda and Labanna Babylon fit in on the spectrum?

It’s not hard to draw parallels between Schrager and non­artist Miriam Weeks, AKA Belle Knox, the porn actress and Duke women studies major. Art Sexy Studio is self­aware in its fetishization of the same intersection of privilege and sex work that made Weeks’s narrative capture the nation’s imagination. Schrager also related to Weeks’s struggles with anonymity and pseudonymity. “I identified with the identity issues, that she wanted to keep the two separate,” Schrager explained. “Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe her coming out inspired me.”

Schrager is “coming out,” but she still isn’t abandoning working under personas like Sarah White and Blush. She’s coined the term ‘ona,’ short for persona but with several other meanings, to describe these characters she’s making art as. “This is is the way I see how our generation is representing ourselves online and engaging in online realities,” she explains. But she’s done being anonymous, “That phase has run its time for me. I’m ready to talk about my work with other artists.”

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The Bullet Shop
July 2, 2014

“With fashion, everything can be accepted,” declared Pinar Demirdaghalf of the creative duo Pinar & Viola. The two graphic designers—respectively Turkish-born and Dutch-bornlaunched their new online platform, Valley Foretell (to reveal future desires) this weekend in Paris. And more specifically: their latest polyamorous-themed image collectionTo celebrate, they hosted not just any old party. It was a polyamorous wedding party, or festivity of “l’amour au pluriel.”

Pinar deems polyamory representative of the contemporary way in which we engage in relationships. (The duo’s previous project revolved around political sexual scandal, depicting girls taking selfies and leery politicians on terrycloth towels. Themes of taboo obviously preoccupy them.) Fittingly, the event was hosted on Gay Pride day: perfect timing to champion broadmindedness and variety and alternative relationships

With this is mind, Pinar & Viola created digitally painted images of people in long-term polyamorous relations, set against still life backgrounds. Five images were transposed onto Limoges porcelain plates, mixing the tradition of royalty dinnerware with a progressive attitude towards sex and loveThe various visual cues included Bali, Mondrian, gardening, clowns, roses, ladybugs, the moon.

Guests were invited to witness a polyamorous union in a stunning classically-Parisian apartment—wood parquet floors, moldings on ceiling, floor-to-ceiling windows leading to wrought iron balcony, marble fireplace. There were glasses of champagne, and Aperol cocktails; candles flickered in emptied glass jarsthere were vases of fresh flowers, and white tulle was strung around.People mingled about until the ceremony began with a gong. Incense was waved liberally.

The mistress of ceremonies wore a red dress, and proceeded to “wed” Elodie, Manuel, and Jean Eduard. The trio, who have lived together for four years, made declarations, one solemnly vowing not to monopolize the TV. The mistress of ceremonies asked if anyone opposed the union, but no one did, so she waved some roses about at the trio, declared “I bless you” and repeated “may light, purity, and truth reign.” The trio each tied on paper rings, and kissed each other individually and as a triumvirate.

Rice was thrown joyously from the crowd. In lieu of a bouquet, they tossed triangle crown fashioned out of sticks and baby’s breath. The mistress of ceremonies implored god to protect the three lovers, and voilà: it was matrimony and multiplicity. As requisite at all wedding receptions, a frosted layer cake was wheeled out. Symbolically enough, it had three layers, and was topped with three birds.

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The Bullet Shop
July 1, 2014

We think of the selfie as a modern development, but they’re really at the root of all forms of expression, from fine art paintings and sculptures to the earliest recorded media. What is a cave drawing if not a primitive selfie? Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised then that museum-goers have taken so strongly to filming themselves in front of works of art, it’s often a meta-textual selfie-within-a-selfie that you could certainly write an undergraduate BA thesis on. A poor, hackneyed one, sure, but you could write it all the same.

Some works of art lend themselves more readily for self-insertion, even if their underlying themes might not necessarily recommend such playfulness. For Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety” aka “The Marvelous Sugar Baby”, some are taking that idea of insertion rather literally. The massive installation at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn is being called the “most selfie-inducing art installation of the year”, as Dazed writes. This despite the fact, as Creative Time explain, the piece is “an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.”

Haha, let me get a picture of myself goofing off in front of that, right?

Well, now you can, thanks to some enterprising troll. And you don’t even need to shlep all the way out there to see it.

SugarSelfie.com pokes fun at the “Selfie Event of the Season” by allowing you to take a picture of yourself using your computer’s camera and digitally inserting your image in front of the statue.  Consider it a way to make the evolving conversation about contemporary art focus on what’s really the most important subject of any work: you specifically.

Image via WNYC.

@lukeoneil47

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The Bullet Shop
June 30, 2014

Pixilated portraits of iconic artists and musicians like Andy Warhol, Michael Jackson, and John Lennon as well as political and revolutionary figures like Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, and Lincoln stare at the viewer through thousands of lenses. The lenses distort their identities, forcing the viewer to contemplate the figures’ influences within history. Contemplating Warhol and Lincoln’s existences lead to subsequent questions of our own existences, and for artist David Datuna, this is the goal. “It’s not about celebrity. It’s not about fame. It’s about their influence, identity and place in the world,” Patrick Dawson, owner of Birnam Wood Galleries, says. “David is not a commentator. David is an observer.”

Last year, Datuna became known as the first artist to incorporate Google Glass into his artworks, and on view at Birnam Wood was Datuna’s solo show—sans Google Glass—Elements. The exhibit featured 13 large-scale portraits depicting iconic figures throughout history, but whose faces change with every step the viewer takes. Perspectives change due to Datuna’s signature use of discarded prescription lenses and their encasing frames as his medium. Marilyn Monroe appears behind an array of colored lenses, while Martin Luther King looks at the viewer through black, white and shades of gray. After seeing the exhibition earlier this month, we sat down with Datuna to speak about his influences.

Can you talk about what sparked the idea for these pieces?
This idea starts from my previous work, because any new work continues from the old. My signature is glasses, the lenses that I use. Lenses, for me, mean people’s visions—how people feel energy, how people see life, how people see this world. For example, the portrait of Einstein is not about a portrait of Einstein. It’s about the energy and what influenced Einstein to become Einstein? It’s making you think about what made these people influential and ready to change this world.

How did you come up with the people that you wanted to include?
Usually, who is close to me, why they’re important, and also how these people connect with each other. For example, Einstein connects to Lincoln because they both were influenced by the same book, The Elements. Then, how does Lincoln connect to JFK? They had the same idea. All of them have connections—history connects them and I just see what history did. It’s not from me. It’s from history.

What made you select all clear lenses for Einstein? Obviously Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson’s colorful lenses make sense.
Color means nothing for me. When I do the work, I don’t know what kind of color I’m going to use, but Einstein is an exception. I especially chose the clear colors, because in Einstein and Elements, it’s so clear and understandable. This is only work that I try to make my answer. It’s not a question for me. It’s done. It’s absolute. Everything else is a question mark—I try to push you, to stimulate you to answer my question mark. It’s your vision. It’s your life. It’s your feeling. My job is just giving you questions. But normally when I work, I have a big table and maybe a 30, 40, 50, 70 different color lenses and I don’t know what color I’m going to use. It’s the same thing when you work with oil paint. This is just my medium. Just like Dali used oil paint, but always had a different meaning, for me, the lenses are my oil, but the concept is always different.

How long does it take you to create these pieces?
A couple months for each one, maybe less—depends on how drunk I am! [laughs] But if I tell you seriously, it’s very detailed. Each piece comes from 50,000-80,000 parts. I had a few helpers, but this idea took a few years and just one piece takes two or three months.

How do you distill all of your ideas when you’re creating art?
When I crate new ideas I never think about if somebody else did this or not, because there are so many artists, so many ideas, so many things come out everyday. Just do whatever you want to do. It’s very simple. [pauses] I create what is born in myself. When that’s born I know I can’t sleep and I have to go to the studio and start workingI think people are sleeping and contemporary art and artists have to wake up our civilization. There is too much advertising, too much answering of questions, too much everything. Sometimes we forget why we are born, what the real meaning of living this life is, and what we want to leave after. I don’t answer, I just question. So I try to say: You are a live person. Don’t forget. We’re humans and we came here to do something. Find your answer.

Do you see yourself incorporating technology again like you did with the Google Glass?
It isn’t about technology. The line in the National Gallery to see the piece was two to five hours long. A couple thousand people stand in line and 80 percent say, “Oh, we want to see how Google Glass works.” Two minutes after the experience, all the questions were about the art, not about technology. We used the Glass as a high tech brush, like the bridge between the contemporary viewer and fine art, a bridge to bring people immediately inside the piece and open the concept of exactly what this means.

And it becomes really interactive, which is an experience often lacking in art.
Yeah, exactly. But it’s not about technology and how we use technology, because with the Glass or without the Glass, the concept of the world doesn’t change. My son—he’s eight years old—gave me the idea to build this piece. Years ago when I explained my work to him, he told me, “Father, come on. It’s too boring. It takes too long. I have to play a game.” I started to understand that he’s right. Today the reality is different; timing is different; attention is different. They need something quick—a new language for a new generation. After this, my son told me, “Father you’re good. It’s not boring. I understand what you mean and it’s quick. So I have time to play games.” He’s happy now. [laughs] But will I do something in the future with the Google Glass or something else? Maybe, yes. Why not? It’s not a rule yes or no. But again, it won’t be about technology. It’s going to be about the art.

So do you create your art with that in mind? With it being quick to digest?
No, no, that’s just for my son. I create my art to touch people, to make people answer questions, to try to show the world differently. This is why I use lenses. Through all lenses you see the same images from different perspectives.

Are any of these iconic figures someone who really means something to you?
Yes, Elvis Presley, because when I was five years old my father was arrested in Georgia in the USSR just because he listened to Elvis Presley. For me, he’s a very important figure because Elvis Presley makes me move to the U.S. Elvis Presley makes me an artist. When I was five years old I did not understand what was going on, why if someone just listened to music they had to be arrested. Nobody gave me an answer. “Because,” they would say.

This is why I started to create the flags. For me, flags are not just the banner of a country. For me, the flag for each country is a huge resurgence, just like these are not just famous figures. It’s about what makes this country like it is? The flag is who we are. They can be sick. They can be pregnant. For example, I did the Israel project with three flags: one is black and white and all images are about the holocaust, the colored one is the original colors and about what’s going on today, and the third flag is white like canvas without images. Part of the installation is to stand in front of that flag, close your eyes and think what kind of images you want to see inside. When I did this project for the first time I saw old people, like 70 years old, who stood in front of the flag, closed their eyes and started to scream and cry.

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The Bullet Shop
June 30, 2014

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but sometimes those eyes come to a culturally-driven consensus about what counts as beautiful or not. We behold beauty differently depending on where we live throughout the world, in other words. That was the idea that occurred to Esther Honig, a Kansas City-based journalist, who embarked on a project titled “Before & After” in which she asked artists from over 25 countries to fix up her portrait. She explained more:

With a cost ranging from five to thirty dollars, and the hope that each designer will pull from their personal and cultural constructs of beauty to enhance my unaltered image, all I request is that they ‘make me beautiful’. Below is a selection from the resulting images thus far. They are intriguing and insightful in their own right; each one is a reflection of both the personal and cultural concepts of beauty that pertain to their creator. Photoshop allows us to achieve our unobtainable standards of beauty, but when we compare those standards on a global scale, achieving the ideal remains all the more elusive.

The results are all over the map, from washed out and whitened, to garish and painted, and minimal and unadorned. Well, at least to my American sensibilities that is. What looks weird and off to me may just be the ideal of a culture I don’t understand. That’s the whole point. Check out a few below and see the rest at her site. Germany: www Bangladesh: sds   Argentina:  dsds   Morocco:   morocco   Israel: israel Greece: greece     @lukeoneil47

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The Bullet Shop
June 26, 2014

Jean Claude Tribe is even more interesting than his name would suggest. Visually, he is avant-garde; he feels most comfortable in stark blacks and whites, and his ensembles are often crafted from industrial textures and manipulated into extreme silhouettes. Professionally, Tribe has successfully channeled an abstractly artistic compulsion into art, fashion design, styling, music, and modeling, blurring the lines between his subjects, mediums, and content. His trademarks are likewise instinctive, even primitive — a diamond, a triangle, and a circle (representing fashion, music, and art, respectively), and two Adam Ant-esque white lines under his left eye, which Tribe saves for photo shoots and performances.

Born in 1992 and raised in LA, Tribe quickly realized his passion for music and fashion before moving to London at age 16 to study business, contemporary art, and poetry. Upon graduation and his return to LA, charisma saved him from having to decide what to do next. “London definitely made me a people person,” he says. “When I was not feeling so confident I would remind myself that if I could succeed in London at sixteen I could definitely do the same years later in Los Angeles.” Tribe began to throw parties for artists to meet and network, and party photos began to go viral. Recently, he has designed his first unisex clothing collection, Collection Zero; created a SEX shirt worn by Steve Boi; modeled as the face of Paris French-punk brand, Enfants Riches Deprimes; collaborated with Third Kingdom on an EP in addition to Tribe’s upcoming solo album; and has been featured in Vogue Italia, British Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar. Tribe has also collaborated with photographer Timony Siobhan to create a conceptual series of images of Tribe posed incongruously amongst floating black rectangles, which you can see above. We spoke to Tribe about being a Myspace scene kid, his wall of ideas, and being a momma’s boy.

Did you grow up in LA? As a teenager, what did you wear (or what did you want to wear), and what kinds of things were you interested in? And in these interests/style/etc., were you in the majority or minority?
I was born in Los Angeles during the climax of the LA riots. My family quickly moved us to Orange County in hopes of a more safe upbringing. As a teenager I was labeled a MySpace “scene kid.” I had snake bites and wore skinny jeans. Being an African American “scene kid” at an Orange County high school definitely made me a minority. As I grew, my style completely switched and I turned very “preppy.” I was not a leader in fashion then, I followed the crowd and craved trends. Regardless of my style, music was always my passion. I was president of my high school choir and was voted “Most Likely to go to Hollywood” in my senior year book (cliché, I know).

What was the first thing to make a big impression on you artistically?
MGMT’s album Oracular Spectacular had a huge impact on me artistically. When it came out there was nothing like it, both musically and visually. I was a very close-minded person when I first heard “Kids.” I listened to it 100 times that day. Their lyrics opened my mind to thoughts, beliefs, and ideas foreign to me. Andrew and Ben are phenomenal poets. I feel like no one gives them the credit they deserve.

Who do you admire, in any field and for whatever reason?
I admire Kate Bush. Wuthering Heights was way before its time. I feel like every musician takes a piece of her onstage whether they know it or not.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed or have artist’s block? How do you push though that? Do you feel pressure to be creatively “on” all the time?
Yes! I am always overwhelmed, I am so hard on myself! Artist’s block is not the issue. The issue is having too many ideas and not enough time. I write down all of my ideas on Post-It notes and stick them to a wall in my room. There are about 100 post its on the wall now. It’s the best feeling to add and remove them. My wall of ideas has helped me stay sane.

How do you deal with criticism?
I love constructive criticism. I am always running concepts and ideas by my friends and family. I do not deal with negative criticism. I just remember that everyone has an opinion, whether it be good or bad. My work has always been therapeutic for me. I surprisingly do not art or create for anyone. It is humbling to learn that my work has inspired another being, but that is not what drives me.

How do you decorate or fill your home or personal space? What do you like to surround yourself with?
My space is very minimal. I work in my space often so I decorate it with materials I use regularly while creating. I live in a white room surrounded with paint, canvases, vinyl, couture, and some of my favorite black and white photographs by Bruce Davidson and Ryan McGinley. I collect crystal and sleep with black tourmaline under my pillow every night for protection.

What’s a typical day like for you?
I play my piano and drink a cup of black coffee every morning. Then I do yoga, go for a run, and have a nice dance in the shower before heading work. I also do social media and marketing consulting for various companies. After work I usually have a photo shoot, rehearsal, event, or business meeting to attend. I am always on the go. The more you do, the more you learn.

You said in an interview, “I’ve seen so much lazy talent gone to waste and it scares me.” How do you motivate yourself when you feel lazy, and would you say that the above quote represents your worse fear?
When I am feeling lazy, I think about my mom. My mom was born in Guyana, South America and moved to the US with her family when she was seventeen. She raised my sister and I as a single parent while obtaining her law degree. That alone gives me enough drive to keep going. I want to able to support her, buy her a new house, and the green Jaguar she’s always dreamed of. I am a proud momma’s boy!

How did you choose the triangle, the circle, and the diamond, to represent music, art, and fashion, respectively? Do you always wear two white lines under your left eye?
The tribe shapes came to me in a dream. In this dream, I was on stage headlining my first tour. Everyone in the audience was wearing a shirt with one of the three shapes. I did not understand what they meant at the time. I woke up in the middle of the night and documented my dream. The next morning, while reading back, it all made sense. The shapes each represented my passions — triangle (music), circle (art), diamond (fashion). I used to wear the lines under my left eye everyday. It’s my Adam Ant-inspired signature. I have recently decided to save the lines for photo shoots and performances only. I would like to leave a little mystery behind them.

Do you have a personal philosophy?
I have always lived by Diane Von Furstenberg’s quote: “The most important relationship you have in life is with yourself, for you will always have and be with yourself until the day you die.” I feel that so many people do not respect themselves. You must teach people how to treat you. If we do not treat ourselves with respect, how can expect the world to?

Tell me about London, where you lived and attended London Metropolitan University. I read that you moved there at 16 to study business, contemporary art, and poetry — that’s really efficient, both time-wise and subject-wise. Did you have a strong idea about what you wanted to do after you graduated? What do you think makes the London music and fashion scene (or culture, generally) distinctive from anywhere else?
London was phenomenal. I moved there directly after my freshman year of college at CSU Dominguez Hills. Yes, I started college at sixteen! I was moved up two grades in elementary school. I never felt like I belonged in California. I was very depressed and needed a change. I applied to London Metropolitan University and was thrilled to be accepted. I lived in an apartment in Islington for three years while studying. I would travel to Paris, Berlin, Wales, and Amsterdam on the weekends with my roommate and make it back in time on Monday for class. I did not know what I wanted to do after graduation. I just knew I was obsessed with music and art. I think London’s fashion and music scene is distinct because they have always been a step ahead of many other countries. I remember watching bands like Beach House and Toro y Moi at small pubs throughout the city. Three years later they were playing Coachella and Glastonbury. Same goes for fashion! I bought my first pair of harem (drop crotched) pants in London. When I returned to the States my friends would laugh and say I looked like I was wearing a diaper. Now harem pants are seen on the runway, every season.

You started hosting parties for LA-based artists to meet and network after coming back from university in London. How did you start doing this? Are you naturally a people person?
My parties were always spontaneous and by word of mouth. My favorite one was at the sleazy Hollywood Inn. I encouraged everyone to push the boundaries with their outfits. Photos from the party went viral. London definitely made me a people person. Once I got back to Los Angeles I felt confident going out and meeting new people. I was a bit shy in my younger years. When I was not feeling so confident I would remind myself that if I could succeed in London at sixteen I could definitely do the same years later in Los Angeles.

What kind of impression did you want to make with your SEX shirt for Steve Boi?
The morning of one of my first parties I spilled black paint on the white button down shirt I planned to wear that night. Instantly the idea came to paint SEX all over it — the idea of taking a formal white shirt & making a controversial statement with it intrigued me. I wore the shirt that night and images from the event went viral and later on I was asked if Stevie Boi could wear it during NYFW. Its crazy to think something that propelled my career was the result of an accident.

I really love your strict use of black and white in your art and fashion work, like Collection Zero . Though many people may not admit it, I think those are the colors most people are drawn to and feel most comfortable wearing in their everyday life.
Thank you! Yes, I completely agree. I feel that people who only wear black and white live colorful lives. A lot of people hide behind their clothes; this is the main reason why bright neons and busy prints do not interest me. Without busy prints and color you are forced to see the person for who they are. No mask, no distraction, only opportunity for a genuine connection.

You were the face of Enfants Riches Deprimes, and you’ve been in two different Vogues and Harper’s Bazaar. What was it like when you started modeling? Also, which magazines do you read?
Modeling happened on its own for me. I am not signed to a modeling agency. I have always just been a musician. I am friends with a lot of models. I went to visit one in New York and when I arrived onset the team though I was the male they had casted for the day. I booked my first shoot a week later. Enfants Riches Deprimes contacted me after seeing me in a Damir Doma ad. I definitely feel more like of a collaborator than just a model. I love to pick designer’s brains and create in front and behind the camera. I am an avid reader of British Vogue & Bazaar UK, they are both nostalgic for me.

How would you describe the sound of the music you make? How did you start producing music on a professional level?
My sound is a melting pot of all my inspirations. Acoustic soul, synth harmonic, eclectic riffed. It is so hard to categorize music these days. I started producing music on a professional level when I worked with Saeed of Third Kingdom on our collaborative EP Intergalactic two years. We have been friends since high school and he will be producing some of my solo album.

 

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The Bullet Shop
June 19, 2014

“The luddites are losing,” declares Angelina Dreem, founder of the new digital art “collaboratoryPowrplnt in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Like a cyberpunk shaman, she explained how we must free ourselves from the shackles that are our screens and engage with technology using a newfangled tactile approach. It was beguiling to hear someone rhapsodize about technology without spouting off a post-apocalyptic vision or an allusion to class war via Google bus.

Dreem considers herself an entrepreneur with a bent for social justice, but she is no hyperbolic TED talk turd. Located at Stream Gallery on Myrtle Avenue, Powrplnt resembles neither a Silicon Valley start-up playground nor a crusty DIY workshop with smelly bathrooms. It’s foremost a collaborative art space, providing teenagers free access to iMac computers packed with creative software in a setting that pairs “post-internet” art from the likes of Analisa Teachworth and Terrell Davis with aquaponics. At a time when the liberal arts are losing their footing to vocational specialization, Powrplnt is an important alternative where artists teach teens valuable digital skills without subverting creative self-expression. Weekdays are reserved for drop-in lab hours and classes like All Girls Ableton. On Saturdays the space transforms into a pop-up shop offering local designer gear from Whatever 21 and Ore Apparel.

The art charity organization Fractured Atlas is the project’s primary sponsor, otherwise funds from Powrplnt’s Indiegogo campaign go towards fall programming. Despite the shoestring budget, this type of technology-based training is not unheeded. Like an unofficial postscript, the Times ran the op-ed article “How to Get Girls Into Coding” the day after Powrplnt opened doors. In the piece, Nitasha Tiku outlines how the gender gap persists in technology-related fields despite the increase of coding instruction in schools across the U.S. through nonprofits like Code.org. If coding really is the new literacy frontier, the horde of businesses (Facebook, JPMorgan Chase, Google) peddling the coding curricula makes you wonder for what ends. Maybe Powrplnt’s crowdsourced fund-raising effort is commendable after all.

Down the street from Powrplnt, Angelina and I sat in Freedom Triangle below a neglected World War I monument to discuss the creative future. A week after classes began, it was clear that the project is as much a learning process for her as it is for the artists and students involved.

The following interview has been edited and condensed.

What’s your background with art and technology?
I’ve always had a computer state of mind and I’ve always been working with music and MIDI instruments—technology based stuff, like setting up VCRs was always really fun. Technology has been a part of my life and it’s advancing so quickly right now it’s apparent that a lot of people are going to be left behind. Even with Google Glass and 3D rendering, there are tons of people that still don’t have their own computer to even know what’s going on and that just feels like a social injustice to me. That will greater stratify the social classes because you either have a computer and can advance yourself or you don’t. I know it’s really simplistic—there are a lot of other things that are connected to that, but the overhead is pretty low and you can go as far as you want. It’s a really powerful democratic tool.

Do you think that the curriculum offered at Powrplnt is missing at conventional arts institutions?
Yeah, that’s what I was thinking in the first conceptualization of it. A professional artist needs to know more than how to hold a paintbrush. That’s not where the creative professional career skill set is at anymore. Yeah, you want to be a professional painter, but you’re probably going to have to do mock-ups. There’s a lot more that you’re going to have to know. I didn’t go to art school. I went for international studies, but I took art classes. Photoshop was on the curriculum, but I was more shocked when I got out of school and Photoshop was necessary for every single internship that I wanted to do. The fact that I couldn’t get an internship because I don’t know Photoshop was really shocking. So then I think about other people. You can give them a leg up by introducing this early on. And everybody really wants to do it now and there really aren’t that many educational places that are not super hard to get into or expensive or not flexible. I like to think that we are pretty flexible as far as I want people to just come and use the space or come and take a class. I want it to be really open and with the artists in mind—by artists, for artists. That’s why the whole curriculum I developed is really art-based and interest-driven. I want artists to be the teachers leading how the kids think about this technology.

So how did you get artists involved?
I just made a call on my Facebook. I have pretty big Facebook network. The fact that it was unpaid and people still volunteered was really heartwarming, but I think that says something about our artist community in New York specifically. I think that a lot of people moved here, especially Bushwick, and they are very aware of the community that’s here, but don’t really know how to not be an outsider. This is kind of a way to be like, “Okay, I’m not just here occupying space. I am also contributing.” I think that giving is a really important part of being human. When you move to New York you kind of forget because you are so busy surviving for yourself. I made it really easy—three hours once a week. It actually has a big impact and [the artists] are really stoked on it. Everybody is really excited. The artists are kind of the most important part. Just to show how these tools apply to real life. That’s a disconnect with school a lot—you don’t see how what you’re learning applies to real life. These are pretty hard, solid tools and skill sets.

What artists are involved and what classes do you offer?
Mitch Moore has a stop animation class. Mitch Moore makes a lot of videos. He made videos for Mykki Blanco and Hood By Air. He’s a DJ—he is an amazing person. Hunter Hawes, he’s in this band Vensaire and he DJs at Club Yes. He’s doing a “Beats Like Drake” Ableton class, teaching everybody how to make beats. [The kids] are really into that. He’s Ableton certified. Whatever 21, Brian Whatever, he’s going to do our branded class. It’s going to be on how to set up your brand and make T-shirts. Doorways Le Sphinxx, she performs as Le Sphinxx and she’s from New York. It’s cool cause she’s from New York and she’s like, “If somebody would have given me this opportunity when I was lost and pissed I would have been so much better off.” So she’s relaying that into a kind of Ableton punk course with the girls. Shayne from Hood By Air said that he would come and give a little talk about how Photoshop has helped, how he uses that. Kay Rizz is going to come and just talk about female empowerment and music.

How do the artwork and the indoor garden at the space fit in with the project?
I wanted to create the ambiance. The fact that you’re in a gallery space, that there’s work on the walls. This is kind of the trend of where this technology is being used right now or how it’s being used in a creative way, this is the aesthetic. I am putting subliminal cues as to the art history of digital art, just having it be around in the ambiance. The vertical garden I wanted to see be a part of a tech space. It can go too chrome too much and that’s the macho, penis vibes of technology. So for me it was balancing that out and creating an indoor green space because everything should be a green space now. It shows technology can be used in an innovative way for lots of different things. It’s like a little Gaia, a little Mother Nature vibe.

Was Bushwick a particular consideration for this project? Did you want Powrplnt to be in Bushwick?
Bushwick is kind of my community. I’ve been living in Bushwick for five years now. I opened Body Actualized center down the street. I know how to maneuver the zone and how to make stuff happen here. Bushwick is kind of a very special place for the fact that young entrepreneurs can start something here if only for a temporary time. All these people are doing what they want and it’s only going to be like this for a short period of time. It’s cool to do it and have it live and air out a little bit. But I do think that for the [project], areas where gentrification is an issue are good spots for it to go in as a pinpoint of a bridge. Technology is something that is very [associated with] white people. Apple is all owned by white guys. I think technology and computers kind of represent that world a lot. So coming in and just being a free space or an open space where everybody has access to it is a good way to create a bridge. It equalizes it.

What has been the most difficult part of getting Powrplnt startedthe organizational things or dealing with the larger implications and questions you have to confront?
Well, the implications and questions are kind of my favorite part. That’s the fun part. It’s translating that to action and getting yourself up in the morning and not being afraid of things and being brave. I’ve had to tell everybody that’s working with me when I can feel they are [apprehensive], “It’s for Powrplnt; Powrplnt is for being brave. You have to be brave right now.” We are doing something that hasn’t really been done before—that we’ve never really stepped out to present to the world. It’s important. It’s hard work to be out with the intention of meeting new people that you probably don’t have anything in common with, meeting with teenagers—who [can be] terrifying to a lot of people. That has been the hardest thing to overcome. Otherwise it’s just making sure you show up, dotting the T’s and stuff. Getting past the psychology of doing something bigger than yourself has been the hardest part, but also the most rewarding.

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The Bullet Shop