HEAR WITH A FEELING EAR, FEEL WITH A HEARING HAND: AN INTERVIEW OF MULTIDISCIPLINARY ARTIST JÓNSI

Interview done for Autre.love

Vocalist, guitarist and interdisciplinary artist Jónsi has entertained a fascination for sound for most of his life, his more well-known output being the Icelandic, experimental band Sigur Rós. The indelible contribution that this band has had on the world of contemporary music is undeniable. The release of their 1999’s album Ágætis byrjun changed the landscape and the very definition of ambient music. Jónsi’s intentions have remained the same since his first experiments with sounds; “changing the way people think about music.” For his first exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Jónsi plays on multiple senses with a series of immersive installations where visitors can individually experience smell, hearing and sight in a public setting. I had the chance to ask Jónsi a few questions about his show and his personal relationship to sound.

Agathe Pinard: Walking into the main room of the gallery, you are immersed into a white room with sterile light reminiscent of Kubrick’s last scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey while hidden speakers emanate sounds. I know you also hosted a couple of ‘Luminal’ sound baths. Where does your interest in making sound baths originate from ?

Jónsi: For the entirety of my career I have been interested in sound, sonic experiences and what it means. In every iteration of my artistic practice I have explored sound, what it feels like and what sensations it brings to the surface.

Pinard: With what idea in mind did you create the sound projected in the white room and the one in the dark room ?

Jónsi: Each of these works has a different impetus, but they share so many common threads, which I believe run through the entire show and throughout my work in general. These are sound- based installations, but they activate the senses in more than one way– using sound of course, but also sight, scent, and even the air moving through the room. Each of these works references the natural world on multiple levels, and functions as an abstract representation of our relation to nature. At the end, the sensorial is what inevitably connects us to the natural world.

Pinard: Could you describe the smell you decided to associate with each room and why?

Jónsi: In Hvítblinda (Whiteout) I was thinking about the idea of a whiteout as it occurs in nature– a situation where the earth and the sky blend into each other to the point that the horizon disappears. The odor component in the room is ozone, which occurs in nature right before the rain begins. Svartalda (Dark wave) references the ocean: the ceiling panels move like a wave and part of the sound installation includes a recitation of an Icelandic poem about the sea. Here there is a seaweed scent which is an odorous reference to the sea.

Pinard: How does being submerged in a brightly lit white room as opposed to a dark pitched one affect a person?
Jónsi: Obviously each lighting situation affects the viewer differently. The sound component of each space enhances the experience of the space, together with the smell. But I think that in all the works in the show it there is an overall effect that goes beyond the visual.

Pinard: Your first solo show at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery is meant to be challenging to the senses – sight, sound, touch. It’s sort of a meditative, solo experience where the visitor is encouraged to focus on its senses while also sharing this experience with other people in the room. How do you want people to experience your work?

Jónsi: Sight, sound, smell are all intangible things that are part of the communal realm. While each of us experiences them individually, and maybe differently, these are things we cannot touch, or quantify, or have be entirely ours. The works in the show allow the viewer to have a very intimate and personal experience which is set in a public surrounding. It opens up ways to experience the distinctly personal together with other people.

Pinard: Your whole work of art is filled with vocal and instrumental approaches, from playing in your band Sigur Rós to creating movie scores to this show. How would you describe your own relationship to sound?

Jónsi: I think it is fascinating to work with something so intangible and invisible as sound but at the same time it moves you in some inexplicable and unexplainable way. Thats why sound is magical.

Pinard: Can you talk about the concept behind Í blóma ?

Jónsi: This work, like the others, is rooted in sound and in my ongoing exploration of it. The shape of the piece resembles the foxglove flower which is toxic but can also be used for healing and that’s a dichotomy I find interesting. Here there are field recordings of the actual flowers, and these recordings are layered with different recordings of my own voice. In the show there is a certain negotiation with the world we live in through sound, through nature, through the senses. It goes back and forth between the works and the viewer.

Pinard: Butt plugs are present in different sculptures in the show either made of glass or chrome-plated, why did you choose to incorporate this particular object into your work?

Jónsi: The human body is part of nature and throughout the show there are references to the body and to its physicality, in various degrees. The sexual body is a sensual organism, and bringing this idea forth is a large part of the exhibition.

Jónsi’s exhibition is on view through through January 9, 2020 at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery 1010 N Highland Ave, Los Angeles

Dessert with Mr. Bostyn: An Interview of Connan Mockasin

Interview printed in Autre Magazine issue 8.
Photographs by Jamie Parkhurst
Access PDF here

Born in New Zealand, Connan Mockasin now lives in Tokyo. I met with the nomadic chanteur as he stopped through Los Angeles on the occasion of his international tour. There was only one show scheduled, but the tickets sold so quickly they decided to add two more. The last one felt like a bouquet final, a two-hour victory lap among friends, including John Carrol Kirby, with whom he performed a cover of Whitney’s “I Will Always Love You.” We were introduced at The Lodge Room in Highland Park where he invited us to join for dessert. Mockasin is quite noticeable with his long, platinum hair, big bucket hat and his quintessential John Waters-esque mustache. We talk about the venue where he had been playing the past two nights. He spots my French accent. I tell him that I’m from Bordeaux and we discuss the Southwest of France, mainly the best surf spots. We mention Biarritz and how he would love to live a little south of it, in a very small fishing village called Guethary located in Basque country. It’s a secluded haven also chosen by many French artists, including writer, Frédéric Beigbeder and actor, Vincent Cassel. 

It had been five years since Connan Mockasin last released an album. His two previous ones, Forever Dolphin Love (2010) and Caramel (2013) were best described by writer, Daiana Feuer as “sensuous love letters from an alien.” This year’s Jassbusters is Mockasin’s first full-band album. It was recorded live over the course of a week at the legendary Studios Ferber in Paris, best known for hosting France’s most notorious singers like Serge Gainsbourg and Alain Bashung, as well as international enigmas like Nick Cave and Black Sabbath. The album is accompanied by a five-part melodrama film called Bostyn ’n Dobsyn, based on comics and short films imagined by the artist as a teenager. Although very different in nature from the past two albums, Jassbusters remains faithful to Mockasin’s essential recipe: a blend of eccentricity and sensuality. The record starts with a sultry track called “Charlotte’s Thong, a perfect gateway to an updated sound that is peppered with humorously creepy, yet oddly arousing narratives—a combination that could only be extracted from a vintage porno or a Connan Mockasin song.

AGATHE PINARD: I was supposed to interview you a couple months ago at Desert Daze, but it didn’t happen due to the awful weather conditions and the huge line to get in.

CONNAN MOCKASIN: We almost didn’t get in.

AP: What were you doing when the storm hit and festival security asked everyone to go back to their vehicles?

CM: I’m scared of lightning, so I went to the trailer. It was really nice actually. We opened the curtains and watched the storm.

AP: Yeah, they had to shut down Tame Impala while they were playing.

CM: Some of them kept coming into our room and I kept saying, “Close the door!” because I was scared of the lightning. They were feeling so bad about the fans, so we had a game where you had to have a sip of whiskey every lightning flash. It was really fun.

AP: Your new album is called Jassbusters. Can you explain what a jassbuster is? 

CM: It’s a band of schoolteachers who make a record together. I did these home videos when I was a teenager—twenty years ago now. We used to have this thing, Bostyn ‘n Dobsyn. Mr. Bostyn, the teacher, had a band called Jassbusters. It’s basically a band record, because I’ve not done any band records. This is the first. Basically, every band recording is a Jassbuster recording.

AP: What was it like recording with a band for the first time ?

CM: There were four of us recording and it was easy. The thing with a band is that if you’re recording live, you can feel if it’s not working, or if it’s working straight away. It’s a lot quicker. You feel like you can take your time when you’re on your own, but it’s not the same when you’re working with a group of people. Overall, it’s a lot easier. You have other people playing and putting their touch, which is very different from being on your own.

AP: I was curious if “Charlotte’s Thong” was about Charlotte Gainsbourg, since you produced a song for her and toured together?

CM: I did invite her. I told her that she could play on “Charlotte’s Thong,” but that’s about it. That’s just a name, like Jassbuster. We just came up with a name.

AP: You released a five-part series based on comics and short films you made in high school. Can you talk a bit about the concept behind the movie and why you’re doing this now?

CM: I don’t know why now. I just wanted to do it. It’s always been something I enjoy, Bostyn ‘n Dobsyn. I wanted to make a series, but I didn’t even know how to do it. I wanted to make something new again. When I made my first album, Forever Dolphin Love, I didn’t know how to record. So, it was all new. Making an album by yourself you just make a lot of mistakes. I tried to make a series in the same way:  without really knowing what I was doing. Sometimes mistakes turn out to be good. When you do it while not being particularly good at it, you do it in your own way.

AP: The story is about a music teacher and his student. Where did that idea come from?

CM: I don’t even remember. We just thought it was great—Mr. Bostyn, thinking his student, Dobsyn is a girl, and calling him Josie. It starts a whole world of deceit.

AP: Is it in any way autobiographical?

CM: I hope not. I play Mr. Bostyn, so I hope not. Although he is not necessarily bad. Dobsyn is pretty bad later on.

AP: Matt Correia from Allah-Las asked me to ask you about your favorite color.

CM: That’s a great question. I don’t know. I don’t have a favorite color really.

AP: Can you talk about dolphin love? What is it and what makes it forever?

CM: I was making music at my parent’s in New Zealand. I was just driving around and I went to my friend Brim Dog’s house. He lives further south on the beach. We were around an outdoor fire, quite drunk from red wine, and I remember singing “Forever Dolphin Love.” That’s just how it happened. Maybe it was because the ocean was right there by Brim Dog’s. I don’t know.

AP: You’ve been working on the score of a surf movie called, Self Discovery for Social Survival. What was the experience of working on that project like?

CM: I basically just wanted to go surfing with my friend Andrew. 

AP: It was filmed in several locations. Mexico, the Maldives…

CM: He and I went to Nicaragua. It was a filmed trip with all the directors and stuff. I thought that was gonna be the end of it. So, I talked to my record label, and they got really into it, and ended up taking Andrew and I to Iceland. We went surfing there with some of our favorite surfers. The whole idea was to mix surfers and musicians.

AP: Yeah, I’ve heard that Stephanie Gilmore, who’s the seven-time world champion, was on the trip.

CM: She’s so great, and she’s winning at the moment, so she could win an eighth! We became friends and she takes me surfing sometimes. It’s so great to watch her surf in real life. We came back from the trip and made the music in New York, just for the Iceland segment. 

AP: How was the trip to Iceland?  The water must have been freezing.

CM: Yeah, it was late October as well, so it was getting cold. They put you in these wetsuits that cover most of your face, but I’m really claustrophobic and I couldn’t get out of it by myself. They had to help. You feel it on your face if you go under water. It stings like acid water.

AP: You tend to blur the lines between humor and beauty in your music videos. Can you talk about how you conceptualize a video, like “I’m the Man, That Will Find You,” for example?

CM: I haven’t done a music video in quite a long time. I didn’t direct those videos. I had friends direct them. I do have a little bit of say, of course. With “I’m the Man, That Will Find You,” my only input was rolling down those stairs. The rest of it was directed.

AP: So, you normally just ask a friend with a sense of taste you can trust?

CM: Yes, but I would love to do it myself now. Back then, I would get friends to do it. I did one with my friends Fleur & Manu in the forest just outside of Paris for that song called “Faking Jazz Together.”

AP: Tonight, just like the past two nights, you will play ‘in the round,’ on a stage in the middle of the audience. Can you talk about how this format has been working out so far?

CM: It’s been great. I’ve done this before when I was playing with a band and there weren’t so many people. We’d move instruments on the floor and play in the middle of the audience. I’ve always loved it. It’s nice for people to see, and there is a good atmosphere. I’d love to do it more, but most venues don’t really allow it. But these past nights in LA have been so good. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Aspen Art Museum Presents Margaret Kilgallen: That’s Where The Beauty Is.

Margaret Kilgallen, Untitled, (2000) Acrylic on canvas, 26 1/2 x 33 in (67.3 x 83.8 cm). Courtesy the artist and Ratio 3, San Francisco

Written for Flaunt.com

Margaret Kilgallen was born in 1967 in Washington D.C. She was a painter and a graffiti artist living a bohemian lifestyle, she could be found surfing a longboard on a beach south of San Francisco, collecting old books or playing banjo. Early on she developed a fascination for lettering and printing techniques as well as southwest and Mexican artists. Her work shows a strong influence from those artists as well as the folk art from whom she borrowed a warm color palette and bold letters.

Through her work Kilgallen explored her own inspirations: subculture, the lives of women who lived in the margin and nature. She was going against the current, against the mainstream.

18 years after she passed away from breast cancer, the Aspen Art Museum is honoring the Bay Area artist with an exhibition of her key works alongside never-before-seen works, examining her roots in printmaking, American and Non-Western folk history, and feminist strategies of representation. The exhibition is titled after this extract from an interview she gave to Art21: “I don’t project or use anything mechanical, because even though I do spend a lot of time trying to perfect my line work and my hand, my hand will always be imperfect because it’s human. And I think it’s the part that’s off that’s interesting, that even if I’m doing really big letters, and I spend a lot of time going over the line and over the line and trying to make it straight, I’ll never be able to make it straight. From a distance, it might look straight, but when you get close up, you can always see the line waver. And I think that’s where the beauty is.

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We were fortunate enough to have a moment with AAM Senior Curator Courtenay Finn, who curated the exhibition in consultation with Heidi Zuckerman, CEO and Director of Aspen Art Museum.

What was the process like of curating this exhibition, how did you pick the pieces and what was your intention with this posthumous retrospective?

As the research around Kilgallen’s work developed, I decided to use her exhibition history as a chronological tool. I formulated the checklist for the AAM’s show from her pivotal and important exhibitions—both group and solo—to start with her first solo show at the Drawing Center in 1997 and end with her last installation, Main Drag (2001), which was created for the ICA Philadelphia’s group exhibition East Meets West: Folk and Fantasy from the Coasts. The exhibition also includes works made during her time working as a book conservator at the San Francisco Public Library, her first print edition with Berkeley’s Paulson Press (now Paulson Fontaine Press), and a piece saved from her large-scale commissioned installation in the parking garage as part of Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity at theLos Angeles County Museum of Art.

I wanted the exhibition to trace both the development of her work over time, revealing her tendency to reuse pieces and aspects of her installations in different forms, while also showing changes in scale, technique, and material. Examining Kilgallen’s roots in the histories of printmaking, typography, American and Non-Western folk history and folklore, I wanted the collection of works to illustrate her belief in a direct connection between art and life, and her commitment to scratching against the larger grain of culture to give space for alternative stories.

Kilgallen fervently believed that women should be more visible within the visual landscape and was committed to inspiring a younger generation of women. She wanted her work to “change the emphasis on what’s important when looking at a woman.” The act of reclaiming space for women is especially timely in today’s sociopolitical climate, and Kilgallen’s evocation of women as strong and multifaceted offers a poignant reminder that diverse adventures, narratives, and ways of being are possible.

Kilgallen had much respect for self-expression through craftsmanship, could you explain the importance of hand making things in a world where everything is now massively and mechanically produced?

When Kilgallen moved to San Fransciso in 1989 it was right at the height of the dot.com boom, where technology and development were irrevocably changing the landscape of San Francisco. In her Art21 interview given in 2001, she talks about how confounding it is that people see graffiti and street art as ugly or a nuisance without investigating or considering the barrage of advertising in public space. One is an expression of an individual while the other’s intent is commerce. Kilgallen’s respect for the mark of the hand, be it a train tag, a public mural, or a hand painted sign, acknowledges the importance of what it means to make a mark on the world. We live in a world bombarded by visual information and layered with images, many of which are tied to commercialism and capitalism. For me, the importance of the handmade in today’s commercial world is that it reminds us that there is a person behind the work. It advocates for a quality of time, celebrating the impact that can come from hard work, while also reminding us of the inherent joy that comes from being present, alive, and expressive.  

The exhibition is titled ‘that’s where the beauty is’ in reference to an interview Kilgallen gave where she was talking about how beauty actually lies in imperfection. What’s your interpretation of the title? 

Kilgallen said, “I like to see people’s hand in the world, anywhere in the world; it doesn’t matter to me where it is. And in my own work, I do everything by hand. I don’t project or use anything mechanical, because even though I do spend a lot of time trying to perfect my line work and my hand, my hand will always

be imperfect because it’s human. And I think it’s the part that’s off that’s interesting, that even if I’m doing really big letters, and I spend a lot of time going over the line and over the line and trying to make it straight, I’ll never be able to make it straight. From a distance, it might look straight, but when you get close up, you can always see the line waver. And I think that’s where the beauty is.”

My interpretation of the title is rooted in this idea that beauty and joy can be found outside mainstream narratives and definitions. There is more than just one way to exist in the world, to make one’s mark, and to live. In Kilgallen’s work we are reminded that there is beauty to found in imperfection, in the seemingly ordinary, and in the everyday. In her hands a found piece of wood becomes a canvas, a torn piece of paper just the beginning of a new story. Kilgallen’s work asks us to look closer, and once we do, a whole new world of possibility has suddenly opened up.  

Can you talk about Mission School, the art movement that started in the early 90’s in the Mission district of San Francisco and which Kilgallen was a central figure of?

The term Mission School was first used by Glen Helfand in 2002 to describe a common thread occurring between artists working in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late nineties. Focusing on the use of found objects and materials, street art, and an embrace of folk and craft techniques, many of the artists involved have been internationally recognized and celebrated. Yet as with any movement or designated community, the artists within it also openly discuss that the Mission School itself wasn’t limited to just the neighborhood of the Mission District and included a more diverse and widespread community than is often included within the larger narrative. In terms of Kilgallen, she was intimately engaged within the larger community of artists working around her, not to mention very active within the larger fabric of the city itself. For example, Kilgallen participated in a series of community-based public art projects, including working with other artists’ works to create new handmade store signage for Andy’s Locker and Mail Services with the Luggage Store Gallery/509 Cultural Center, San Francisco.

Kilgallen, like the many others working around her, worked both inside and outside, making her work accessible to larger audiences. She would create site-specific pieces for exhibitions, but also outside in public space, directly onto train cars, and for friends and colleagues. She used the bottoms of skateboards, made T-shirts, drew record albums, and created her own zines and artist books, believing that all modes of expression and dissemination were equally important.

Kilgallen’s work is also intrinsically and undoubtedly influenced by the city of San Francisco, and the larger California landscape at large, yet what stands out within her work is how she created her own culture of characters, symbols, and a means of storytelling that celebrated ordinary people with dignity.

Is there anything else you feel the audience should know about this exhibit?

In addition to the exhibition, the AAM is producing a fully illustrated, comprehensive catalogue of Kilgallen’s work. It will include full-color images of artworks, archival images of previous exhibitions and installations, as well as newly commissioned essays on her work. Filled with new imagery, ephemera, and scholarship, the publication willprovide a comprehensive introduction to this important twentieth-century artist, especially for those coming to her work for the first time.


Margaret Kilgallen at Aspen Art Museum from January 12 to June 16.

637 E Hyman Ave, Aspen, CO 81611

Françoise Gilot’s Travel Sketchbooks

Written for Flaunt.com

French artist, painter, bestselling author, designer, teacher, mother but also lover and artistic muse of Pablo Picasso, Françoise Gilot, was a woman of multi-talents. Born in 1921 at Neuilly-Sur-Seine, just west of Paris, she was introduced by her mother to watercolor and India ink at only 6-years-old. After graduating from the prestigious schools of La Sorbonne in Paris and Cambridge University she abandoned her studies in Law at age 19 to devote her life to art. Gilot found inspiration through her numerous travels and despite sharing her life with famous artists she developed her own, unique organic style.

Taschen is dedicating a set of three sketchbooks to the French artist. They are made on Gilot’s travels between 1974 and 1981. Collecting direct impressions and abstract reflections, they are suffused with the distinct atmosphere of Venice, India, and Senegal.

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The three sketchbooks are accompanied by an additional booklet containing an introduction by Hans Werner Holzwarth, a conversation between Gilot and Thérèse Crémieux on the artist’s work and travels, and translations of the handwritten text within the drawings.

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Get yours now here !