John Rosenberg came to Philadelphia from California, put on a bunch of great plays in a converted industrial building in Kensington, then left Philadelphia for California. We became friends, and I asked him to write about his thoughts on the city and its theater.
– Christopher Munden, curator
i love love love love love love love love love philadelphia. when i think of philly i think yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes. My lady friend for eternity is from philadelphia so what is not to love? It is white wine and 24 packs of tall cans of becks for $20 and parliaments my wife bought and fuck i should really eat something i didnt eat dinner i should eat a cheesesteak from little petes before going to bed for work the next morning. it is quarters of xanax when i got to work, 30 minutes of work spread over eight hours while working on a play and then printing out a copy after my boss left and regional railing it home and hooray my wife wants martinis and then smoking all her cigarettes and watching tv and working on a play.
philly is where i figured out for the most part how i wanted to try to do whatever the fuck it is i do, which is write plays and find actors to be in them and then put on the play and hope the actors die before i have to pay them.
philly is where i hit the fucking lottery and got the chance to have my very own theater i could rent for $6000 a year in kensington.
philly is where i got not legally married to my wife.
philly is where a dude asked to rent the theater and then stole all the fucking lights but got caught by a neighbor.
philly is where my wife’s father threatened to kidnap a site reviewer from the pew foundation.
philly is where i was on a ladder in the papermill theater trying to turn on a ceiling fan for a fucking actor and the fucking ladder collapsed because i am an idiot and i fell 15 feet onto my elbow and there was a piece of my elbow floating but i didnt have health insurance so I just left it the fuck alone for three months
philly is where i learned to get an idea, not wait on it but find an actor who wanted to work and write the thing and put the motherfucker up.
philly is where a critic got stopped by the police after one of our shows because they thought she was a prostitute.
philly is where a cast got an outstanding fucking review and a fight broke out during a pick-up rehearsal.
hello! i hope you are working on a thing. maybe in your head or in whatever medium you do shit. but i hope you are working on a thing. i hope you are working on the thing and planning on putting it on somewhere in philly. i hope you pay to put it on and don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. unless your shit is super good or you got it like that.
i really think it is fantastic when people make stuff and then put it on. it is the fucking best.
it is hard to do and hard to earn respect but it is the best. it is YES YES YES.
there are people who are straight up and down real motherfucking talented artists and get their shit put on by the pew foundation or fringearts or the powerhouse theater companies in town and win barrymores and shit. People like Gaby Revlock and the young dude who does shit with the people that i cant remember his name but he is a nice dude and knows how to go about getting his shit done. Not Brad. Fuck. What is his name? I can do this without looking it up. He wrote the play shitheads that azuka is putting on.
i dont have the courage to send my shit out so i like to do it myself.
chris the brit asked me to write this thing on my time in philly. What is heehaw is i just did my taxes from my time in philly. i should have done them before, yes, but i dont have the courage to send my shit out.
My wife and I did seven full length shows and a bunch of shorter things from september 2010 to feb 2014 in a warehouse in kensington called the papermill. i think we spent about $30,000 and made about $1.00 in ticket sales.
there is a way to talk about this stuff without it reading like glory days shit and you had to be there bullshit. i am sure there is, but i am unsure how to do that. maybe by mentioning i think i made about $1500 in ticket sales and spent over $30,000 to play make believe. this does not include late penalties from the irs. i am also sure that my shit is never gonna be as great as it was there, so boo-hoo for me, hooray!
the papermill is still there as of this morning. You should rent it and put on a play. Why the fuck not?! Rent it and tell people to see the show! take the market frankford line and get off at somerset. ask anyone where the local theatre is, because you are there to see people play make believe as they trot lightly on the boards. they will point you in the right direction.
i miss that shit hella but thank the fuck god i got out of there before someone got fucked up. THANK FUCKING GOD. i used to say that the papermill was the most dangerous theater in america and that shit was slightly true. you could get fucked up coming to see a hella fresh theater show in soooooo many various ways. you could get in a car accident, but whatever. you could get your ass beat getting off at somerset. highly unlikely, but i also did my shows during the day. you could decide that you wanted to take the edge off before a show and get pills or a bag of something and there was no better place to do that than at the somerset stop. you could be a season subscriber to hella fresh theater and die from the fucking mold or the asbestos. you could come see a show in the dead of winter that we heated the theater using open flamed propane tanks and this thing best described as a jet engine/banshee and one of the actors could have kicked it over and KABOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM. you could have died from boredom from the bad shows i put on or attempted to drink away the pain from the show you saw OH MY GOD I SHOULDNT HAVE SMOKED IN BED AFTER THAT TERRIBLE SHOW BUT I WAS SO DRUNK BUT NOW I AM IN HEAVEN AND CAN SEE ALL THE THEATER I WANT FOR FREE.
i consider myself a philly playwright, whatever that means, hooray. i would get sick before every show i put on. i would feel terrible until the actors for the show got to the theater. it is a terrible thing to say, but actors make me feel safe. i love them. i look forward to when i will be able to use cyborgs and not have to pay them.
my time in philly was shaped by my friendship with josh mcilvain. he interviewed me for the fringe back in 2010 because of the space in kensington. we saw each other’s work and saw enough in each other that we respected so we became friends. josh is a super real playwright and is a great fucking writer and knows what he is and what he isn’t. we read each other’s stuff, gave notes, took turns directing each other’s shows. the thing i miss most about philly is working with josh. he has his eye on getting put on by companies and shit because he isn’t a moron, but josh is devoted to making new shit and putting it on. his nice and fresh series is an awesome vehicle for artists looking to show their new polished work. if you are gonna do a nice and fresh, don’t be a useless talent, help set up and clean after the show.
Doing theater in los angeles is like in philly, except it isnt. there is a theater alliance here in los angeles and it seems as stupid and worthless as the philly shit with the barrymores and large companies acting like they care about the work and the idea of community in theater. there are people banging out great work, people putting on stuff just to get noticed and people using it as a step ladder, just like philly.
i have put on three shows in our apartment in los angeles. All of them are plays that take place in apartments. i dont think it was good because it was in an apartment. it was good when it was good and bad when it was not good. actors have a few great shows, a few not great shows. one actor kept sleeping in our backyard without our knowledge or consent. I am right now trying to figure out how to turn our living room into an russian airport for a play called let it snowden.
but hooray! kiss my dog pussy with the negativity and just do some new work! everyone is a champion! If you are working no a thing and want someone to read it or want to run an idea by someone, email me at email@example.com.
For whom do we make things, and what do they represent? This is the question posed by More Stately Mansions, an art exhibition currently running at Kitchen Table Gallery. My contribution to the exhibition, Window of Enlightenment, explores the contradictory relationship between the Gilded Age elite and the American wilderness. Camp Santanoni, a sprawling estate built in 1892 by an Albany banker, serves as a lens through which we examine wealthy industrialists’ excursions into the woods and their underlying motivations. Five miles down a dirt road outside an isolated village, Camp Santanoni epitomizes the rustic style of Adirondack Great Camps. Its story and ethos are uniquely manifest in its design, representing the conflict of American expansionism and an emerging public interest in experiencing and preserving the wilderness.
As cities boomed at the turn of the twentieth century, the wealthy sought respite from urban living. The New York elite invested in family camps upstate—private destinations to be enjoyed by their owners and invited guests. In contrast to the grand homes of big cities, the Great Camp was designed to blend into its setting, and employed local materials and craftsmen in its construction, featuring rough hewn logs and granite fieldstone chimneys. Though designed with rustic ideals in mind, Great Camps, like any country homes, were still an expression of status and privilege.
Camp Santanoni is distinctive from other Great Camps in its design. Considered “more understated” than similar camps, Camp Santanoni embraces a Japanese aesthetic, specifically the concept of shibui, meaning “tasteful in a rustic manner.” Robert Pruyn, Santanoni’s original patron, valued Japanese tradition as an alternative to the “fragmentation of modern life” reflected in urban American architecture. Evidently, the year he spent living in a repurposed Buddhist temple in the suburbs of Edo (now Tokyo) would significantly inform his vision for an ideal wilderness retreat.
Interior walls were paneled with tatami mats, and guests were called to meals by the strike of an antique temple gong. But the components reminiscent of Japanese temples at Camp Santanoni reflected more than just aesthetic preference. Robert Pruyn and his wife Anna sought a communion with nature intrinsic to eastern architecture. In Pruyn’s own words, “It takes time to make a comfortable place to live in this great wilderness. You cannot merely buy land and build a house. A patient contest with nature is necessary.”
Pruyn commissioned renowned architect Robert H. Robertson to design his Camp. Intentionally integrating indoor and outdoor spaces, Robertson prioritized enjoyment of the landscape. The Japanese-inspired arrangement of spaces comprised backswept wings of freestanding structures linked by a promenade. Robertson designed a walkway in eight segments, punctuated by scenic outlooks offering panoramic vistas. One critical text described a traverse of the verandas as constantly shifting compositions: “slivers of lake appear and disappear through a colonnade of trees, the forest dappled with sunlight.”
At his Camp, Pruyn’s “patient contest with nature” manifested as ordered control over the land. An ambitious farming operation sustained his guests, who enjoyed ample luxury despite their remote location. 35 bedrooms spread across four complexes housed the staff, which included butler, chef, chauffeur, and Mrs. Pruyn’s personal maid, who traveled with the family from Albany. According to Charlotte K. Barrett’s A Visitor’s Guide to Camp Santanoni, “staff was expected to create an illusion of rusticity that allowed the Pruyns and their guests to adventure in the wilderness but return to the formal rituals of upper class life.”
Enthusiasm for the great outdoors reflected a burgeoning, distinctly American perspective on The Wilderness and how one might best experience it. Pruyn’s guests expressed profound connection with nature, which they experienced in the comfort of the extravagant Camp. Huybertie Pruyn Hamlin, cousin of Robert and frequent guest, wrote:
It would be hard to express all I feel about those Santanoni parties . . . They were a very bright spot in our lives, not only giving greatest pleasure but also showing us another kind of life—that to me at least was absolutely new.
In the early 1890s, as Pruyn developed his estate, a newfound movement for wilderness conservation spurred national debate. Large tracts purchased by private individuals, including the Santanoni Preserve, strategically shielded lands from excessive logging. Camp Santanoni was built seven years after the establishment of the Forest Preserve, and the same year as the creation of the Adirondack Park.
By the mid-twentieth century, public perception of wilderness, and the question of how and by whom it should be experienced, had shifted. A 1935 article celebrated the opening of a highway nearby Whiteface Mountain as a progressive step towards inclusion. The highway, the article appeals, symbolized a transformation: once the “spiritual possession” of an exclusive elite, the outdoors should serve as recreation grounds for all citizens.
The Pruyns owned Santanoni preserve until 1953, when it was purchased by the Melvin family of Syracuse. Camp Santanoni evolved into a more casual experience, as the new owners and their guests sought a different sort of encounter with nature. In 1972, the Santanoni Preserve title passed to the Nature Conservancy and then to the State of New York. The Pruyns’ Adirondack home is now maintained by the Adirondack Architectural Heritage. Many of the buildings are in disrepair or no longer standing; those that remain have been restored for public access. Visitors can lunch on the broad porches and take boats out on the lake.
“Adirondack,” from the Mohawk word meaning “bark eater,” recalls a primitive wilderness experience, when natives ate buds, roots, and bark to survive harsh winters. In the Main Hall at Camp Santanoni, bark becomes a decorative motif. In my work, Window of Enlightenment, the viewer looks through a birch bark paneled “window” at a party of Camp Santanoni guests wandering down a road on the preserve. Images and surfaces are made with naturally and locally sourced materials—charcoal, iron oxide, and natural inks. Not shown are the workers who made this casual stroll in the wilderness possible.
More Stately Mansions inquires: for whom do we make things, and what do they represent? What are the power structures necessary to build these objects and spaces? In my work, Window of Enlightenment, I investigate these questions by contrasting the grand private estate with the publicly accessible trail, lean-to, or campsite.
While the estate represents an extension of the individual’s social stature, the campsite and trail serve as vehicles for public experience and appreciation of nature. At the forefront of Window of Enlightenment is the tension between these two modes by which we strive to experience the American wilderness.
Windows are literally framing devices, revealing scenery to be contemplated. An ancient Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Genko-an, features one circular and one square window. The circular window expresses harmony and enlightenment while the square symbolizes the suffering of human life. The bark-paneled architectural form of Window of Enlightenment is a square, with the image revealed through a circular opening. The woman, seen walking with two companions, is young Huybertie Pruyn, enthusiastic naturalist and privileged intruder. Whatever our contemporary interactions with the American wilderness, our experience is mediated by the structures, usually designed and built by others, which allow us access but are frequently marred by transgressions not perceived, and shaped by values we no longer share, or even have the ability to understand fully.
We are squirming under the thumb of an economically and racially oppressive system headed by a horrible orange monster. Anyone who cares about their fellow human being is devastated. Chances are you already know about or are starting to be aware of the massive inequalities all around us in this country. Perhaps you’re living it every day. Race, gender, economic, you name it. They are all connected to the class divide. The city of Philadelphia is still segregated. According to census data, many of us still live in neighborhoods where a single racial group represents 75 percent or more of the population. In our country, 1% of the population holds 90% of the wealth. Our healthcare is in constant jeopardy. We have always lived in a system that punishes the poor, rewards the rich, and blames “the other” for society’s ills.
What is the artist’s role in inequality in America? Because we in the art world are responsible for noticing, learning, reflecting, and presenting the world through visual language, we play a key role in cultivating important conversations like these. The time period in American history that best illustrates the artist’s relationship with inequity and the uber wealthy is the Gilded Age. This was a time when a small quantity of wealthy families (the Rockefellers and Carnegies, for example) made large sums of money by exploiting the labor of African American and new immigrant laborers. The wealth disparity would have been visually striking at this time, with workers living in tenements and the elite living in the enormous mansions on the horizon. Artists and craftspeople made those mansions the iconic monuments to the broken ideology of the American dream. We gilded their foyers, painted their silk wallpaper, carved their cornices, and painted their portraits. The artists and the robber barons of yesteryear are intertwined because without artistry, no one would want to visit mansions (today, they’re all museums).
This is not to say that those artists were wrong for making a living wage. In fact, it’s a testament to our power as creators. From unassuming materials, we can make history. We have historically worked for the wealthy, giving them the trophies they need to display their social class. These American mansions represent a longer history of systemic practice of cultural appropriation, reliance on fiscal inequality, and the art object as private property to further the social standing of a few. They also represent the time period when Americans started worshiping the lifestyles of the rich, a symptom of a deeply flawed value system we are still saddled with today (*cough* Trump *cough*).
Art’s relationship with the wealthy elite during the Gilded Age also directly relates to the classist stigma in the arts. Jessie Clark and I started Champions of Empty Rooms (CHER) because we saw a need for exhibitions that are relevant and accessible to all people (outside the echo chamber). We saw this need because too many people feel that art galleries and museums feel sterile and uninviting (terms like highbrow and lowbrow refer directly to class). If you come from a working class family and are an artist, you know this stigma. We need heady, conceptual, art historically-self referential and philosophically geared exhibitions. We also need cookouts that double as a video art and independent film screening (Dinner and a Movie) and everything in between. You shouldn’t need a college degree to be invited to view artwork, but often, that’s how it feels.
An integral element of the solution to this classist stigma is to provide more opportunities to connect artists, curators, and art institutions with geographic communities without contributing to gentrification. Art spaces have the ability to connect communitie with art and artists. Unfortunately, permanent art spaces and institutions are often used by developers to spark real-estate investment and then gentrification by enticing a demographic of higher income people into neighborhoods to increase property value and thereby initiating the gentrification process, evicting the people of lower income, artists included! According to an Artnews article on the top 200 art collectors in the world, nearly 60% of the list consists of mostly white heterosexual couples or white males a vast majority of whom work in either the investment or consumer industry and likely are purchasing art just as they would purchase stock for trade or sales.
This is who drives the art market and this is the kind of demographic developers are shooting for when they gentrify. They may decide the monetary value of art, but they don’t get to decide its actual value: what art is for and who gets to be impacted by it.
More Stately Mansions, an exhibition and zine I’ve curated which opens at Kitchen Table Gallery on August 6th, provides the opportunity for discussion among artists and art viewers regarding these issues and stigmas that affect us all. Discussion, visual and verbal, inches us toward common ground through the most effective tool for communication and culture building, the arts.
My intention with CHER and the More Stately Mansions is to simply provide an avenue of discourse outside of the existing institutions and among a larger variety of people. I do not pretend to know any clear solution to the long-standing, complex, and deeply rooted problems we face with inequality in American society. I simply wish to take my small set of skills and do what I can with them. I am an artist and a teacher, I am always going to look to engaging in open communication in troubled times as a means of forming vital connections and empathising with what other people feel and think. This is the overarching purpose of the More Stately Mansions exhibition.
The title of this exhibition is an intentional homage to two famous works. The first is the Aaron Douglas painting, Building More Stately Mansions, which links the labor history of African American men and women with the foundation of great civilizations. The painting celebrates their artistic and intellectual contributions to society despite the perpetual imbalance of power throughout history. The second is The Chambered Nautilus, a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. that uses the imagery of the mansion to represent the “self” and the nautilus as a noble creature that symbolizes continual growth and therefore continual re-building of the “self.” The final stanza reads:
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!
(Holmes, Sr. 5. 1-7)
These two works are a jumping off point for two ideas. First, The United States owes their iconic structures, infrastructure, and heritage to the contributions of people who had little to no power in an imbalanced power structure just as many of the wealthy elite, particularly of the Gilded Age, owe their station in life to this same power structure. Second, those of us who create have an uncanny ability to create “something from nothing”. Since the nature of art making requires constant self examination and evolution of skill and concept, we are in many respects, a symbol for perpetual grown just as the nautilus is for Holmes.
In response to the discussion of the class divide that has been at the forefront of political debate, More Stately Mansions will harken back to a historical symbol of wealth inequality, the gilded age of the 1800s and 1900s. This was a time when great American mansions were built, largely on the backs of slave, non unionized, and/or new immigrant laborers. These mansions have continued to be glorified and highly valued in today’s society as beacons of the American Dream. Visitors pay admission to view their lavish interiors with guided tours that glaze over the subservient work and slave labor it took to create said building. The American mansion represents a systemic practice of cultural appropriation, reliance on fiscal inequality, and the art object as private property. Asking artists to transform the gallery space into a rendition of these iconic structures is a way of investigating the artist’s role in the class divide, the role of the class divide in the exclusionary stigma in the arts, and the unspoken elements of the value system in the American dream as represented by these places.
By Veronica Cianfrano, Glorious Dani, and Emily Hawkins | August 7, 2017
The More Stately Mansions exhibition features local artists who were selected by Champions of Empty Rooms (CHER) founder and curator Veronica Cianfrano to create work that discusses themes of wealth inequality, the class divide, and the notion of the American dream as it relates to both the art community and the community at large. The artists were asked to reference the time period of the American robber baron, the Gilded Age, using only recycled materials as a means to discuss the artist’s role in the class divide and the power of the artist to create value from “nothing.” The following is information on the exhibiting artists, and the work they are making for the exhibition.
Dena Shottenkirk is a philosopher and artist. Her project, Philosophers’ Ontological Party club (POPc), is the marriage of these two worlds. Her work encourages conversation and a free exchange of ideas in a personal and intimate way.
Her piece, POPc: Making Thought about Speech, will encourage discussion between viewers and the resident philosopher in an enclosed space.
I make work that involves both publishing philosophical writing (generally in book form) and making related artwork. After that input, I hold events within the framework of an organization, POPc. The most recent topic [of discussion] has been censorship and free speech. I then take those conversations and along with the original input of mine (book/artwork) I build an installation that gives the whole “conversation” about the topic. In addition, the artwork is never for sale; instead it is part of a related project called the Lending Library, where people borrow the artwork for approximately six months, and then do an interview about what they thought. That also is added to the “conversation.” This project is in keeping with the theme of [More Stately Mansions] as it is entirely against the role art has come to play in our society: decor for the wealthy. Instead, the project emphasizes experience and thought. The viewers who come into this gallery will be able to leave their thoughts behind as well as take physical pieces of the installation with them. – Dena Shottenkirk
Stephan Dobosh’s studio practice employs a careful consideration of Symbolist literary devices, automatic writing, and visual free association. He uses art creation as a physical documentation of his experiences and state of mind. Through the subconscious psychological connections between color, sound, text, and implied imagery, he wants to provide an entrance for the viewer to be able to free associate, transforming these elements from static objects to dynamic associations.
My installation “The Joneses’ Sitting Room” is a spectral fragment of the American suburban home, an “achievable” standard of wealth, made up of commonplace household items. Including a chair, a painting, a rug, and an end table are all spray painted gold. The installation stands as a satirical metaphor, an artifact documenting what “The Joneses” have achieved on their economic quest toward “The Mansion.” -Stephen Dobosh
Tiernan Alexander knows a lot about art as decor and social status. She holds an MFA in ceramics and a second Master’s degree in Material Culture from Winterthur, the DuPont mansion in Delaware (yes, those DuPonts).
Chandelier is a piece that juxtaposes refuse and the style of the chandeliers of the wealthy elite of the Gilded Age to illustrate extreme wealth.
The chandelier is one of the great examples of Gilded Age extravagance that was costly to make, used excessive resources, and required hired help to maintain. By building this one out of mostly garbage, equipping it with very moderate lighting resources, and providing a remote control, all of those historic conventions are inverted. The piece will also call on the history of using natural phenomena in an anti-contextual decorative fashion that lets the participant enjoy nature without any personal risk or worry about the destruction of nature. -Tiernan Alexander
Siri Langone creates work that uses themes of repetition and time to draw connections between the banal objects of our daily lives and our impact on the world around us.
Siri’s piece, Trash Core, serves as a core sample of refuse. Each layer of the resin sculpture is a different discarded trash item organized by the time it takes for that material to break down, starting with glass on the bottom then maxi pads, fishing line, plastic, aluminum, and batteries. Each section is divided with dirt and neon layers that glow green when exposed to darkness. She states:
You have to look into the resin deeply in order to see what’s visible inside the different-colored layers. As familiar items appear, one can only wonder if each layer represents the time of decomposing. All materials were used for their purpose and then thrown away, possibly without any regard to where it may end up or what it will do to the environment. -Siri Langone
Jim Dessicino is a fine artist and teacher at the University at the Arts. He creates sculptures that investigate the relationship between power and sculptural forms.
Though he typically deals with the portrait, More Stately Mansions has allowed him to expand the scope of his critique to architectural forms and luxury objects. Mining from his grandmother’s pole barn and Atlantic City’s self-cannibalization. In his piece, Between the End and Where We Lie, he presents us with objects that have fallen from luxury into a refugee state.
Harry Sanchez Jr.’s experience living in a border city has made him keenly aware of the boundaries everywhere. His work often serves as a response to this feeling of inaccessibility.
His piece will be a detailed recreation of typical dining room from the Gilded Age made of duct tape. The duality between material and environment is a reflection of the facade and falseness present in the setting of the lavish dinner party. The duct tape material is used as a reference to the working class who use it to fix that which is broken.
Zach Zecha uses materials to show us how disjointed and chaotic language can be. His work shows us an urgent and somewhat futile need to understand and make sense of a cacophonous, hyperreal world.
His work, High Tea, will tackle this theme of wealth inequality and inaccessibility by creating a projection-based installation that taxonomically displays information regarding distribution of wealth in the United States. Accompanying this information is a table, set for tea, paint oozing out from the vessels as the excess flows from the capitalist structure that we live in. Chairs on either side of the table sit empty inviting one to sit. Yet even these are just projections, symbols of the illusion of power of the American individual.
Lauren McCarty embraces the opportunity to create work that is interactive. She often assumes the role of the keeper or collector in her work, emphasizing the preciousness of materials and found objects.
McCarty’s Window of Bewilderment employs imagery, materials, and architectural components from Camp Santanoni, an Adirondack “Great Camp” built in the 1890’s by an Albany banking family. Camp Santanoni was built in the style of rustic Adirondack log construction typical of Great Camps. The complex of buildings is unique in its evident Japanese design influence. While the buildings are grand, they are discreetly tucked into the landscape. Indoor and outdoor spaces are thoughtfully blended, blurring distinctions between the two.
This piece is a birch bark-paneled circular window. The painted figures seen through it, which are made of artist-produced charcoal and inks, are members of the privileged class enjoying the wild Adirondacks at the turn of the twentieth century. As the great American cities boomed, these newly affluent industrialists sought out refuge in the mountains. This refuge in the wild Adirondacks reflects the wealthy elite’s tempered and curated wilderness.
Steven Earl Weber uses objects, images, and their arrangement to contemplate questions of subjective identity within the issues of class, religion, and politics. His work addresses personal identity and social commentary by fusing craftsmanship and concept in a variety of mediums.
Steven’s piece, Regression to the Mean will be a cross-section of a domestic scene of the wealthy elite presented to us from an outsider’s perspective with an emphasis on the imbalance in social status.
More Stately Mansions runs from August 6-25, with a performance night and zine launch on Saturday, August 19. Kitchen Table Gallery, 1853 N. Howard St.
Dre Grigoropol has been a staple of the Philly comics scene for years. An award winning comic artist, zine-maker, and performance artist, she is the creative force behind both the webcomic Dee’s Dream and the comics appreciation site Comixgab. Never one to shy away from talking shop, I sat down with Dre to talk the nitty-gritty details of her art, including tools, techniques, influences, and inspirations.
Corey Bechelli: How long have you been drawing?
Dre Grigoropol: I have been drawing since my earliest memories. As soon as the question “what do you want to become when you grow up?” was introduced, I knew I wanted to become a professional artist.
CB: Do you have any kind of formal art schooling?
DG: I went to art school. Before that I took art and design electives in high school and focused on my art classes in my early school career.
CB: What are your comics about? What kinds of themes do you explore in your work?
DG: My comics are usually comedies or dramadies about daily culture and relationships. I have a webcomic I work on called Dee’s Dream. It is about a novice DIY indie rock band. The feedback I receive from readers is that it is really hilarious.
CB: What are some of your favorite art tools? What are some of your favorite techniques?
DG: I like to draw on bristol. I really take advantage of the paper weight since I use a lot of Speedball Super Black Ink and Turner Design Gouache in white. My favorite drawing tools include Pentel’s Pigment Ink Brush Pen and the G model nib in a Tachikawa Comic Pen Nib Holder. I always have had a great deal of respect for traditional comic art and I feel pride to work in that way, but lately I have been making some comics completely digitally. Since the start of this year, I have been drawing on an iPad Pro with the free software MediBang. I have really been enjoying drawing digitally. In the program my favorite pen to draw with is the G Pen.
CB: You are a big fan of anime and manga. What are some of the works that made you a fan of the genre?
DG: I was heavily into video game culture since a super young age and I had a subscription to the magazine Nintendo Power. When they started to include monthly manga based off of their game characters like Super Mario Adventures and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, I felt captivated. The collections were printed in trade paperbacks and recently were reprinted and are available at any comic book shop. The art looks just as beautiful today as it did back then.
The first animated work that really drew me into the world of anime is the ninja movie The Dagger of Kamui. I saw this movie when I was in 5th grade. It is a very deep, complicated, long and sad story. The animation and art really resonated with me.
At the end of the VHS tape was a life-changing preview of Urusei Yatsura which was also distributed by Viz. I was so captivated by how odd and quirky that clip was. Soon, I realized I could pick up the Urusei Yatsura manga at my local comic shop. I started reading other work by Rumiko Takahashi like Ranma 1/2, Maison Ikkoku, Rumic World and others. I grew my manga collection by picking up any issues I could find and urged my friends to do the same.
Another milestone in my manga gratitude memories was manga anthology MixxZine by Mixx Entertainment, which later became Toykopop. It included Sailor Moon, Magic Knight Ray Earth, Harlem Beat, Ice Blade and Parasyte. I subscribed to it as soon as it was advertised and anticipated the issues being mailed to my house.
CB: Name your top 5 all-time favorite comics.
DG: I really like lighthearted series like Urusei Yatsura, Ranma 1/2, Blue Monday, Archie and Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
CB: The Yucky Nerds is the name of your performance project. What is it? How did it start? What is its goal?
DG: Yucky Nerds is a “nerd rock” band my friend Ken Richard and I created. It began under my comics and cartoon art appreciation podcast Comixgab’s umbrella when I asked Ken to write a theme song. Soon, I wanted in on the musical creativity and the band was formed, more songs were written and shows were performed. The mission of the band is to increase solidarity towards nerd culture, while having fun.
Corey Bechelli is a comic creator and art-enabler of sci-fi psychedelia that plumbs the likes of American fascism and the internal realm to create work that is buoyant, meditative and, as he calls it, “pro-living.”
As one of the founding members of the Artclash Collective, he’s put together the annual West Philly Fun-a-Day, now in its 13th year. His live, kinetic reading-performances of his comics (such as Astral Sass, a “psychedelic cosmic philosophy comic”) are as spectacular in their vim as his accompanying illustrations to his musical co-projects Blown Away and charm/strange experience are (verbally) quiet and (visually) bold! But whether bright and central or behind-the-scenes, Corey’s multiple kinds of art can be linked perhaps by their ethos of introspection and vivacity. I highly recommend Corey’s canon for its soulful narratives, soaring foundational-existence questions and big, blocky designs and colors: sunny and scary, he’s a reasonable and reliable detailer of the everyday human horror.
– Rebecca Katherine Hirsch, curator
Rebecca Katherine Hirsch: You are an individual who comes together with others to create art experiences with galleries, art shows, music, and performances. Tell me about that.
Corey Bechelli: Under the name Corey Bechelli, I draw comics, usually by myself, but sometimes collaborating with others. Under the banner of the Artclash Collective, I helped found the annual Fun-A-Day project and show, which is an art project encouraging participants to work on a creative project every day during the month of January, with a group art show in February. Under the name charm/strangeexperience, I created projected visual accompaniment to composer Gina Fontana’s piano music. Under the name Blown Away I performed live projected rhythmic mark-making along with Sammy Shuster’s original music. Under the name Corey Bechelli I project my comics and read them to audiences, usually using weird voices.
RKH: In a sentence, describe your arts (comics, lifestyles)
CB: Preposterous psychedelia attempting to offset a growing cultural nihilistic malaise.
RKH: Who are you as an artist alone? And how does this enable the art you create and curate with others?
CB: I am heavily influenced by the psychedelic experience. My comics all explore similar themes of transcendence, enlightenment, and the quest for continued awareness. In my mind, these themes make up a “pro-living” philosophical stance. When collaborating with other artists, either as a visual artist or curator encourager, I try to continually promote a “pro-living” stance, encouraging creativity, spontaneity, and self-actualization. The world can often be devastatingly horrible, but it is also amazingly mind-blowing. The creation of art is a safe space to work out “anti-life” feelings and find our own individual “pro-living” practice.
RKH: What genre is your art? How do these genres affect your LIFE?
CB: Most of my art could be categorized as cosmic sci-fi. This makes sense to me as science-fiction is usually used to project a world that we as a species can strive to get to. We need to use art to express our creativity and practice our creative thinking, to better mold the world around us into a direction we feel it should go.
RKH: Can you tell me the genesis of your art experiences? What are their FRAMES, what are their MODES and how do they OPERATE?
CB: For some reason I really understand visual images. I began drawing as a child, where I used it as a coping mechanism to help me feel better about the outside world, often the source of overwhelming emotions. Making marks on paper made me feel better. This coping mechanism has never been abandoned; instead, it was reinforced continuously by myself and others, until I began to actively use it as a tool to disseminate ideas. I gravitated towards drawing comics simply because any drawing with a story or plot is a comic, and the more complex the story, the more drawings are needed, so the more I could draw and ignore the outside world. In a way, creating comics forced me to create my own interior world, of which comics are some of the few things that purposefully escape outside. Ideally, my comics are infused with specific ideas or themes that are carried through in both the art and story, the goal being the emergence of an abstract concept that is transferred from the comic to the reader’s imagination. Once the reader has the idea in their head, it can live on and mutate/die/combine with other ideas into something else. I’m just making colorful memes.
RKH: Can you go over the storylines for one of your comics or illustrations and explain WHY and HOW it emerged?
CB: “Beyond death, beyond ethereal physicality, exist innumerable energy levels, realities with a logic unto themselves. An untold number of beings wander these fantastic planes, exploring the unknown, pushing the boundaries of the conceivable. What happens above space, outside of time, in the outer reaches of the unthinkable?”
This is the gimmick text for Astral Sass, my ongoing comic series and occasional performance piece. Each issue features tales from the Higher Vibrational Realms, following Energy Beings on a quest for Ultimate Awareness. It’s a psychedelic cosmic philosophy comic.
At one point in my life, I was heavily influenced by Carlos Casteneda’s Don Juan books. I hold a kind of cognitive dissonance with these works, as I find them fascinating and full of profound existential truths, but at the same time they are a greatest hits collection of new age mumbo jumbo, used to manipulate and abuse a generation of desperate truth seekers. Astral Sass is my attempt to reconcile my paradoxical feelings about Carlos Casteneda… and really, about life itself.
Its emergence happened when I let go. Using everyday tools, not subscribing to a particular point of view, I began drawing various scenes taken almost verbatim from my inner monologue. Allowing myself the freedom to draw whatever I wanted to, in whatever way I wanted to, with whatever I wanted to, opened my mind to become a sort of conduit for spontaneous creative energy. The characters I draw write their own stories, as they are living embodiments of a larger transcendental energy, and I am just the substrate through which they take form in this specific reality.
RKH: What are your influences?
CB: -Drugs. -Being alive and all the horrors and joys that come with it. -Works (performance, art, music, writing, and so forth) that subtly hint at the profound effects of Living on the psyche.
-Jack Kirby, Eric Drooker, Carlos Castaneda, Terrence McKenna, professional wrestling
RKH: Can you tell me why you’re interested in the story of Gilgamesh?
CB: Apparently the Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest recorded story in human history. In reading its plot and story details I was looking for some kind of universal truths that would unite a person of today with a person of antiquity. I did discover a unification, and was interested in exploring the idea of exalting one specific person into demigod status. From what I understand of the story, it is a sort of redemption narrative for Gilgamesh, who begins as a murderous raping tyrant, and ends as a humbled beacon of cultural preservation. I explored these ideas through a lens of the current Neo-Fascist American Oligarchy in a comic called “The Parables of Gilgamoid.”
RKH: Is it helpful or harmful to draw powerful villains?
CB: Helpful, especially if the goal is to create a powerful antagonist that a protagonist can somehow overcome. If the protagonist itself is a villain, it’s a bit trickier, but exploring villainy through art is a better way to deal with the concept than actually being a villain in real life. I’ve explored villainy through a protagonist before. I personally don’t see a point in contributing to a larger cultural nihilistic death worship, so I used the constraint that I still needed to acknowledge the negativity the villain creates, and show its destructive consequences, not revel in its transgressiveness. All that being said, the “anti-life” side of living needs to be explored in some way, as we all have to deal with the concept of death.
RKH: What’s it like to make art by concentrating on the faces of terrible people?
CB: Of course terrible is subjective, but some of these people seem completely terrible simply because they seem to always inhabit an “anti-life” frame of mind. I once drew a series of trading cards called “All-Star Scumbags,” featuring George W. Bush and his cabinet. In a certain way, I began to feel bad for these people, bad for humanity in general. I drew them in black and white, from photos, so I was creating abstract representations of their likeness. Distilling their image down to its core components just made me think that we can all be broken down to similar parts, thus we all share a similar experience on some level. I was creating images of people who seemed to have forgotten that we all share more similarities than differences, that we are all basically in the same position, and that this forgetting is just a trait of human nature. We can all forget this from time to time . . . but these people forgot it more? They were at least in a position where their forgetting had an enormous negative effect on large numbers of people.
RKH: What is your process? How does your work get formed?
CB: Almost everything I do is collaged in some way. It’s great because you can see both the larger structure of the work and the intimate details at the same time, while leaving room for spontaneity and letting the work itself come alive and show you where it needs to go. With my comics, I generally have an idea of a theme and just start drawing things, scenes, whatever. Sometimes it’s characters or random scenes, other times I draw multiple pages. There comes a point where that initial burst of energy dissipates, and I take a look at what I’ve got and figure out where it’s going, if it’s viable, what I need to do to keep working on it. Sometimes I’ll rough out a whole comic, other times I’ll start writing a story or dialogue, sometimes I’ll redraw what I already drew to get it right, other times I just go with what I have and keep drawing. Eventually through a kind of start-stop-start approach something will emerge.. I always have various projects going on at one time, at various stages of completion, and kind of rotate through them, like they are ideas on a lazy susan. I work on something until I can’t any more, then spin the wheel and see what’s next. Somehow things actually get done this way, but external deadlines like comic shows or performances help keep it all on track. There are plenty of finished works I have that could be reworked and “made better,” but I’m learning to let go and leave finished things finished. If I “messed up,” then get it right next time. Done is better than perfect. We have a finite amount of time in this world, so I need to keep going.
RKH: You create visual art. What has this art created of you?
CB: A being with a pretty well developed sense for non-verbal communication, with the ability to, in moments of acute awareness, understand the underlying intent and/or emotions of specific works/situations and examine them from multiple perspectives from within a rich interior world. On the flip side, I believe this has hindered my ability to communicate effectively verbally, as I learned to comfortably process my thoughts/feelings through drawing, not talking. On the flip side of that, I’ve also developed a keen understanding of the underside, the unspoken forces emanating from the Transcendental Object outside of time and space (God, higher calling), and the idea that there is so much more to life that we can explain. The sense of mystery, and exploration, remains essential.
RKH: What do you do for fun?
CB: I like to go on random adventures to weird places or weird situations with a partner, then recapitulate in detail how weird it was. Sammy Shuster is one of my favorite people to do this with.
RKH: Does ambiguity play a role in your work?
CB: Yes. I think it’s good to leave some wiggle room for the viewer/reader to have their own interpretation of a work of art. It will happen regardless. If the work can be intentionally created with ambiguity, that just creates the possibility of more potential interpretations, which is a good thing in my mind. It’s all about the transference of the meme and letting it be a living, evolving construct.
RKH: What ideologies and questions can the comic reader detect in your work?
CB: A brief list of ideologies explored in my work includes socialism, capitalism, communism, anarchism, racism, patriarchy, misogyny, white supremacy, self-actualization, destiny, afterlife, transhumanism, monogamy, polyamory, nihilism, and death.
-Can we shift levels of awareness?
-How do we maintain specific levels of awareness?
-What is the responsibility of a self-aware protagonist to the other characters in a narrative?
-Is there a hierarchy and who does it benefit?
-Can we topple oppressive systems of control? If so what is it replaced with?
-What is beyond death?
RKH: I love the kinetic momentum and bigness to your artwork… How would you DESCRIBE the visual experience of creating it?
CB: It’s completely nonverbal, and for me, the level of information packed into any one line, shape, or color can often far exceed something like 10 pages of writing. The visual experience comes at me from the underside, a deeper level under girding verbally constructed reality. In a comic like “Astral Sass” I am attempting to create a purposefully psychedelic environment, so I push colors to the limit, making them as bright and varied as possible within the confines of CYMK printing or RGB color space, while using lines as a sort of containing unit to get across a type of plot. I don’t necessarily see swarms of rainbow colors in every psychedelic experience I have, but there is a level where under every color there is a Crystal Matrix of All Color ready to burst forth, so constant use of rainbow color is in a way a visual shorthand implying the understanding of the Matrix. I also purposely change the way I’m drawing, or the tools I’m using, to better reflect the emotional core of the narrative. This is partly helped by collaging a comic together over time . . . one day I will draw a scene with colored markers and crayons, two days later I’ll draw a different scene with just a black pen. Just like in real life, each moment can feel different, so having that reflected in the drawing is important.
RKH: What’s your performance philosophy? Do you write in the aim of performing?
CB: I think I need to have some type of practice before I perform, simply because I find it too difficult to both perform and watch myself on the first try. Practice helps me take mental notes, and gets me accustomed to the specific amount and type of energy I need to bring to make the performance successful as a meme transference device. I don’t always plan on performing every comic I draw, but I’ve found it’s easy enough to transpose comic panels into single images for projecting, so with a little work, every comic could be performed. Like anything, it’s a different medium and changing the form will change some things about the narrative, but as long as the core themes are still communicated, that’s OK. The core idea is the point. It just gets adapted to different mediums.
RKH: What other projects are you working on? For example, the podcast you spoke on with Dre [Grigoropol]…
CB: I have a number of projects in various stages of completion. Here’s a short list:
-I’ve been a guest on a few episodes of Dre Grigoropol‘s Comixgab podcast. I actually am planning on interviewing her about her work soon.
-I recently completed a Psychedelic Romance comic called “Psychedelic Gaze,” which contains four short stories. I think I have a few more stories to add to it, so I will either make another issue or just expand the one that already exists.
-I’m working on an All-Ages Coloring and Activity book called “Call of the Cosmos,” which, like “Psychedelic Gaze,” I’ve already published but plan on adding pages to.
-There’s a performance project in the works with Gina Fontana that seems likely to take up the bulk of my summer. More planning is needed here but I think it will be good.
-I’m always working on my comic “Astral Sass.” I have published 5 issues so far, and have 6 others in various stages of completion.
-There are a few projects on the back burner that aren’t getting a sustained push, but I work on regularly, including a psychedelic action comic, two different capitalist revenge fantasies, an illustrated manual describing white supremacy as a corrupting virus, a sci-fi collaboration with Richard Cocchi, and a continual mail art exchange with James Jajac.
-I’m also tabling at the Scranton Zine fest in June, the Lehigh Valley Zine Fest in August, and hopefully the Philly Zine Fest in November.
I met Dan in the spring of 2011. An innocent time! . . . but what IS innocence? Dan Pasternack, the creator of Never Forget Radio, would never submit to such simplified understandings as innocence or experience, good or evil. NFR is “a feminist podcast that approaches our post-9/11 era as history, cultural quarry, and ongoing catastrophe”
I love Never Forget Radio: its humility, its humor, its many layers of analysis, warmth and rigor! (admittedly, my own feminist-pod-about-Palestine has collaborated with Never Forget Radio on many occasions!) It respects ambiguity, plumbs experience and engages historiography not in the aim of “reliving 9/11 itself, nor cataloging the myriad conspiracy theories associated with it” but rather to resummon “the ongoing responses, memorialization, art, wars, and repression, that we understand as the ‘post-9/11 period’”
For four years Dan has participated in the Philadelphia Podcast Festival, talking about World War I, Bono at the Superbowl and the Civil War. See him at this year’s festival on July 23 at Kitchen Table Gallery talking about either Bush’s self-portraits or Bin Laden’s compound . . .
– Rebecca Katherine Hirsch, curator
Rebecca Katherine Hirsch: Dan, you created a podcast. But what has this podcast created of you?
Dan Pasternack: What has the podcast created of me? Well, for a long time I identified as someone who was frustrated because he really wanted to write something, or be working on something, but wasn’t. Now I identify as a person who wishes they were working on their project.
RKH: In a sentence, describe your podcast.
DP: My podcast is about how 9/11 is/was remembered and used. It’s not about conspiracies or patriotism. I don’t care what happened, just how it was treated.
RKH: In a short paragraph, describe how your podcast could be helpful and then in that same short paragraph tell me how it could be harmful
DP: Well I think it would have been helpful to take a long quiet view on this tragedy, and subsequent ones, instead of taking a quick angry view. And even though the worst happened (wars started, security state was established, far-right ideas became normalized) and keeps happening, I think it’s important to at least mark how that happened. You’ll look up and the period will be taught using only the right’s talking points. Because of privilege I worry about historiography, how things will be told in the future, rather than say present danger or politics.
RKH: Does ambiguity play a role in your work?
DP: Definitely. I’m generally going over subtle shades or tones of things that are long since decided, trying to define feels, senses, small places where changes in messaging happened, such as speeches and ceremonies. And I try to allow for alternate possibilities—what if this public ceremony stressed different values? What if this monument played to peaceful archetypes instead of martial ones? And of course while talking about small-but-meaningful things I also try to stress that these are after all small things I’m talking about.
RKH: What is your analytical process? How does the way you think inform the pod you make?
DP: Well, first, the reason it is a podcast in the first place instead of any other kind of medium is that I feel that I think best while talking. I don’t know, I just find I’m best able to articulate an argument or find a useful digression while I am speaking. Otherwise, I would say that my best skill has always been memory, and recall, and so the process is basically making a lot of associations, through whatever fields I might be either really comfortable with, or remember vaguely, and then finding a way to link them up in a hopefully leftist, feminist, antiwar way. With jokes and references that I can imagine myself listening to months later and not hating.
Also I’d like to say that my research process is literally reading to the 20th or 30th page of Google results. Especially for the small stuff I’m working with—an incident, a gaffe, a phrase, a song. After a while you get to old blogs, forum posts, local articles, or even if you read the same take on something 15 slightly different times, it gives you a sense of how an issue or event was framed or understood.
RKH: Your podcast includes humor, facts, footage from the far and recent past, recreations of blog post dialogue, and news footage. Why?
DP: Well, it’s recent history, and we have an unprecedented amount of primary sources, if we’re willing to see them as usable historical artifacts. I try to break up my voice, also. One of the first things I did when I started this project is borrow the six hour audiobook version of George W. Bush reading his autobiography from the Free Library. I did a whole episode basically on the first chapter, where he talks about his father, mainly, the war hero, the star baseball player. I thought about doing more with him, but ultimately his voice is too oppressive—and worse than that, too sympathetic. If you spend too much time with him, he sounds reasonable, friendly, measured. I’ve spent a lot of time with him, first eight years, and then researching, and watching clips and listening to Decision Points. I don’t recommend doing that. And I definitely would stay as far away as I can from the current president—don’t listen to him, don’t watch him, don’t dissect the words he says, don’t let him into your body! Read what he does, quickly, and get out of there. Too much contact will only lead to normalization, and eventually, understanding and forgiveness. These people do not deserve your attention, and the process of watching is more powerful than your resolve. The form of the media that politicians are presented in—even the process of paying attention itself—is more powerful than you. It will change you and it does not deserve your time!
RKH: Since its inception, what has inspired your pod? What has hindered it?
DP: The immediate inspiration for the pod was in January 2013, when George Bush’s emails were hacked and his first paintings were exposed to the world. Bush in the shower mirror, Bush in the bathtub. A lot of things came back to me at once when I saw those. Maybe because I felt that Bush was so caught up in my adolescence, puberty, and first (or lamented lack of) sexual experiences—a lot of this inferiority under patriarchy and high school came back to me when I saw those oddly introspective, vulnerable paintings. I was angry—I’m still angry, even as I’ve helped this along—that he’d become humanized. We always forgive the powerful and sympathize with their emptiness and loneliness. We don’t celebrate their small comeuppances, we pity them. Politicians in history are treated like gangsters in biopics, everything is explainable, understandable, everyone has their reasons. We give away everything, sit through a whole 90 minutes of shootings and torture and domestic violence, just so we can watch the boss pace at night or smoke a cigarette in silence or call on God alone, and think, what a shameful man, what a repentant man, it’s not his fault, the times made him this way, his father made him this way, what a human story.
RKH: At what age did you know you first were going to grow up to write a podcast about 9/11?
DP: Well I do have a personal connection to the event, like so many people do, so I guess I’ve known since I was 14 that I’d be obsessed with this event for the rest of my life. I wrote poetry about it in my ninth grade creative writing class, and then nothing, but I always “followed” it, obviously, not just the big stuff like the two wars or the 2004 election but little things like memorials and sports ceremonies. A couple of things happened in ‘11 and ‘12 to get me thinking about it, the tenth anniversary of course. But then, during an unusual night on 9/11/2012, I was actually able to see the blue memorial lights against the cloud cover while I was going for a long, depressed walk at my parents’ house in White plains NY, 30 miles away. And around that time I was a guest on the John Hodgman podcast. It was a big relief to start writing about it in earnest rather than carrying it around all the time.
RKH: Tell me about the ethical interlinking and underlining between understanding trauma, capitalizing on trauma, monetizing trauma, repressing trauma in favor of memorialization, and memorializing trauma as a means of transcending trauma?
DP: Wow, this question. Well, hopefully that’s the crux of a lot of episodes of the podcast. I explore a specific setting—say, a Yankee’s game, a wrestling event on 9/14/2001, or a particular memorial—and try to follow all of those overlapping threads at once. But it’s always been hard for me to imagine earnest intentions on the part of, say, a whole stadium of people holding a moment of silence, or a leader giving a statement of surprise and condolences.
DP: A couple of things influence my focus in monuments. There’s the 99% Invisible mantra “always read the plaque”, and a beautiful phrase that stuck with me from the the comic strip Great Pop Things. They ask, what will the punks do on their big day out in the city? “We’re gonna catch the last train home, we’ll sit on the steps of the war memorial.” After a while those kind of public spaces are only used by kids and homeless people. Their heroic meanings are totally lost and they become a place for undesired people to sit. People who the monument builders might gasp to see defiling their sacred spaces with their 40’s.
As for masculinity in sports, that would come out of a long-term attachment to baseball that was actually complicated by post-911 pageantry. Being a sports consumer had to be political—[because] being apolitical is a stance, can’t be neutral on a moving train, etc. And then when I was exposed to basic feminist ideas, on top of a lifetime of engagement and entanglement with rules of masculinity, those frames became (another) axis that it was impossible to be neutral on.
RKH: Where are you in your pod TODAY? What kinds of pods are in the works? On the backburner? What we expect next from Never Forget Radio?
DP: I’m about to record a long interview from 2012 with several friends of the pod, which will be the culmination of a long delayed double episode on blogosphere culture wars of the Bush era, through the prism of sabermetrics, plus the “nerd”conquest of politics (538) and Hollywood (superhero franchises). The interview took place right after the 2012 election and is very uncomfortably hopeful and even triumphant. Plus I’ll be appearing at the Philadelphia Podcast Festival on July 23rd at Kitchen Table Gallery, either talking about Bush’s new paintings of injured veterans of the wars he started, or maybe about the way that diagrams of Bin Laden’s “lair” in Abbottabad were gendered in a way to appeal to boys who grew up with fantasy world maps in novels and shooter games. I hope I finish that episode eventually. There’s a lot I want to throw in there about the coverage of Bin Laden’s “seven foot privacy wall” on his third floor balcony and how it resembles present day gentrification construction.
RKH: They say it takes a village to raise a child. Who raises your pod?
RKH: In your opinion, which were your best and worst pods and why?
DP: As much as I’ve tried for variety, the majority of episodes have been about 9/11 memorials, post 9/11 sports pageantry, and George W. Bush. I think the interview with my friend Emilie about their illegal four-day detainment at the 2004 RNC might be the best, if very difficult to listen to. I do a lot of remembering on the pod but this one foregrounds someone else’s experience, which I should really do more often.
The worst one is probably the episode about Moby Dick being written and taking place in 2003 (from chapter one, “grand contested election for president of the United States—whaling voyage by one Ishmael—BLOODY BATTLE IN AFGHANISTAN”), which I have been assured is completely incomprehensible.
RKH: Tell me about your process!
DP: I write down some feverish notes about something topical, then revisit them months, months later. Then I get lost on Wikipedia or Google Images. Then I have to edit and record, edit and record, plus go to work. It’s a heavily written podcast, it’s not interviews or conversation. Each episode takes one hundred years to produce.
RKH: What’s something you’ve experienced lately that has informed, redirected, or otherwise affected your work?
DP: The 2016 election, which started in 2014 or so and unfortunately has not ended, has radically slowed my work, and made everyone’s lives impossible.
RKH: Does the work lead its own life? How involved are you in the process? What IS art?
DP: Unfortunately it doesn’t, it just sits in exactly the same unfinished decay as I left it. I have many, many underway episodes. But it is very rewarding to put in the time and actually finish one. My first experience of history was diligently keeping my own history—putting away records, memories, documents for myself, to preserve the essence of myself for myself in the future. I have boxes of notes, diagrams, maps, lists from elementary school through college. I no longer think this archive will be valuable for future generations. Ultimately the work is for myself only—I have to listen to it a hundred times while I’m making it, and I’m the only one who will ever listen to these things in the future. So I try to ensure that I won’t be embarrassed about it, that it preserves something that seemed important.
RKH: Where were you on 9/11 and why don’t you like this question?
DP: I don’t like the question because it frames the event as personal and temporal. It over values initial reactions and crowds out everything that happened afterwards, and everything that happened before. There’s an assumption of pastoral lost innocence in that question that I dislike. The us was not attacked “out of the blue,” out of the easily metaphorical cloudless sky. While I like that this frame expands ownership of this event (because everyone over a certain age has an instant answer), it also restricts access in an unhelpful way (to people age ~20 and over), like some corporate decade-nostalgia TV show. And it crowds out all other historical events and disasters. And the frame has always been used to advance revanchist agendas—remember the Alamo, remember the Maine, never forget. A better question might be “how do you feel about 9/11 and the post-911 era now?” which I guess the pod is my open-ended slow answer to.
RKH: Were we all pods once?
DP: I guess you could stretch this question to mean that one of the first available means of expression to us would be stream of consciousness half-recognised-language half-private-language aural addresses, which could be recorded now and presented as toddler-pods in a modern adaptation of the vhs-recorder holding historian-parent.
RKH: After we die, what happens?
DP: Nothing, I think. I was a very nasty, argumentative atheist in middle school, trying to convince kids that they were being lied to, but I don’t do that anymore.
An answer relevant to this podcast might be, if you have the misfortune to die in certain ways, you are used by the state to justify wars and oppression.
DP: The New York Yankees play 162 games per year, and I watch about 100. What can I say? I feel like I’ve used that number . . . a hundred times during this interview. 9/11 is a good topic for someone easily swayed by numerology.
RKH: Tell me something about yourself that confuses you and that you seek to understand via your creation of Never Forget Radio
DP: The podcast definitely ends up as a repository of whatever I’m thinking about/wondering about/interested in/confused by. “Significant-seeming things that have happened since 2001” is a pretty open-ended topic.
I met Dan in the spring of 2011. An innocent time! . . . but what IS innocence? Dan Pasternack, the creator of Never Forget Radio, would never submit to such simplified understandings as innocence or experience, good or evil. NFR is “a feminist podcast that approaches our post-9/11 era as history, cultural quarry, and ongoing catastrophe”
Today we have an interview with Teagan Kuruna, one of the creators of the Philadelphia Podcast Festival, which is happening this year from July 14th to the 23rd. Since this is a celebration of podcasts, the interview is presented both as audio and as an edited transcription. Audio version of this discussion is here. We recorded in the Kurunas’ home studio.
Dan Pasternack: How does it feel to be using your own equipment, to be interviewed on it?
Teagan Kuruna: Well it’s weird to be sitting in my own studio with my computer turned around facing you, to not have headphones on or be able to see what’s going on, but it’s kind of liberating.
DP: You record your podcast here?
TK: I do.
DP: So this is the fifth year? So how did this podcast festival start?
TK: So, it started . . . Nathan, who at that point was my boyfriend of a year, maybe even less, had this crazy idea that he—so this is a quote unquote podcast studio but it’s really the first floor of our house, we get all of the street noise. And it’s also a photography studio obviously, there’s props, there’s also a throne. Yeah, there’s this weird mirror cube that he made. There’s a lot of weird stuff in here. But that’s actually a pretty good insight into the kind of person that Nathan is, immensely creative and always coming up with these new ideas. And he really loves podcasts, and has loved podcasts for a really long time, and he saw that other major cities were creating these podcast festivals and showcasing their local talent but also national talent. At this point, five years ago, it was mostly LA and New York that had festivals, so a lot of popular podcasts were coming out of these cities and the cities were putting on festivals. And so he said, well, Philly has such a huge wealth of talent, there’s got to be people who are making podcasts. The first year we had twelve live recorded shows. From there, as podcasting has grown, the festival has grown. And so now this year we’re up to almost sixty podcasts.
DP: When I talk about this festival people are often surprised that it’s a live event because podcasting is this intemporal medium. So how did it become a live festival rather than, like, a network of podcasts or a shared recording studio?
TK: So that was actually one of the things that we were most excited about doing, was taking podcasts out of people’s ears and putting them in front of people’s eyes. We as listeners build these really strong relationships with the podcasters who we listen to, but we never see their faces. Most of us don’t know what the podcasters look like, and when we see them we’re like, oh, wow you look completely different than what I thought you were. And that’s one of the reasons why live recordings is what we were drawn to: understanding that especially when you’re focusing on local podcasts, that these are the people in your community, who you probably pass by on the street. They’re real people, and so you can actually get a chance to meet them, and that could be really cool. And for the podcaster to look out and see, wow, there are people who actually listen to my show, and actually took the time to come out and see me. For some podcasters that’s three people, and for some that’s thirty, but that doesn’t matter. It brings more of a human element. And to your question about networks, and shared recording space, we just weren’t interested in building a network. Nathan and I are really trying to understand where the value in being in a podcast network is, unless you’re in one of the big podcast networks. And so that was just not one of the options. And shared recording space? When we started this we lived in a one bedroom apartment. We didn’t have a recording studio, we were recording in our living room, so there wasn’t that option.
DP: You do have the podcasting society, which I believe exists just as business cards. Or do you have meet-ups?
TK: And a logo. We have a facebook group and a logo, and business cards that are really just membership cards that at the very least should get you a 5% discount at Bridgeset Sound. It’s also not our jobs, so we couldn’t create something huge, so we thought, most people use social media, so let’s make a facebook group.
DP: So there’s a cat as well.
TK: Yes, my very energetic cat Cleo is running around destroying things.
DP: Over the four years of the festival, what are some cool ways that performers have used the live aspect of it?
TK: So one of the things in the last few years we’ve seen more of is live music, which has been really nice not just for the people who are at the live recording, like who are there to see the show, but also adds a really nice aspect to the recordings. Another interesting thing I’ve seen people do is live burlesque. There was somebody commentating over the burlesque, so it was like: “she’s very slowly putting her finger into her left glove . . . oh no she’s not pulling it off yet.” It was just this weird hilarious way to turn what is entirely visual into something that’s audio. So that was pretty interesting.
Our first year we had a podcast decide to take a bunch of mushrooms a couple hours before they recorded. So they were well into their trip when they started. I hadn’t heard their podcast before then, so I don’t know what they were normally like, but it certainly added an element of, I would say . . . suspense for those of us who knew what was going on.
DP: Suspense, like, what’s going to happen, or what’s going to go right or wrong?
TK: For Nathan and me it was like, how is this going to play out? What are these guys going to do? But if I remember correctly, nothing went horribly awry. That’s maybe the most out there of ways that people have used the live show.
DP: How prepared are you guys for something to go wrong during a live performance? And what kind of responsibility do you feel?
TK: Well, what kind of things? I mean there’s a whole gamut of things that could go wrong.
DP: What I would think of first would be a heckler or belligerent audience member. Then I would think a belligerent creator or podcast performer. Or fighting words. Do you have plans for something like that?
TK: So it’s interesting that you bring this up because one of the things that we did put as a caveat on this year’s festival, which we hadn’t done before, is that we reserve the right to decide whether we think a podcast is topically appropriate. So if somebody was engaging in something that we thought was hate speech, that we didn’t have to let them in, and that was the only reason that we needed. And luckily we didn’t have anything that we were concerned about this year. We’re not interested in providing a platform for anybody who has awful, hateful things to say. Now that’s not to say that we really look deeply into the back episodes of people’s shows to see if we agree with them politically, that’s not where we go with it. So I think that’s the first step in our process.
You know, I don’t know what we would do if a podcaster all of a sudden started saying things that we thought were really awful. A heckler, or an audience member who was being more difficult, that I think is an easier fix: “Hey, we’re going to have to ask you to leave.” But I think it’s a good question and something that me and Nathan should probably talk more about, especially this year when we know that tensions are a lot higher. There’s a fine line to walk, but we’re not in the business of censoring anybody…
DP: No, I didn’t ask this as a trap question for that, that would be gross.
TK: No, I kind of haven’t thought about it, just kind of thinking it through out loud. We don’t want to do that. It’s not like somebody with “I love Donald ***** Podcast” applied to be in the festival this year, so we didn’t have to think about it. But if they did, we would probably listen to that show and try to evaluate: is this person trying to contribute to political discourse, or is this person using so-called political discourse to promote ideas that we think are harmful? So I guess we’ll find out. Hopefully we won’t have to find out.
DP: How do you have a festival that’s joined by something that’s so broad? It’s like a book festival, not a genre of book festival. How do you try to build a setlist, build a structure for something that can be so broad?
TK: So this is one of the things that can be so much fun about putting together this festival. We ask all the shows for a short and long description of their podcast and links to all of their online presence. And we spend a lot of time looking at what the shows’ content is. We try to group similar podcasts together. We kind of have an idea of what fits at each venue. So for example, your show . . . when we brought Kitchen Table Gallery in as a venue, we thought you would be a great fit there. Your content, the pace of your show . . .
DP: It’s a historical project . . . it’s calm, or something. It works in a gallery, I agree.
TK: And it’s hard for me to totally put my finger on how that happens, but the other podcasts that are happening at the gallery are similar in tone and feel, because part of what we’re trying to do is create some bleed-over in listeners. So you might come for one show, and you stick around because you’re finishing your beer, and you hear part of another show, and you’re like “wow, this one’s kind of interesting too,” and you stick around. Another example of that: this is our second year with Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse as a venue. So we kind of group together all the comics and role-playing game type podcasts and put them at Amalgam. It’s a community center based around those topics, so it makes a lot of sense to put those podcasts there. Of course there’s scheduling needs so sometimes you get one of those comics podcast between two sports podcasts at Tattooed Mom, because that’s how it’s got to go.
A lot of it is thinking about themes that emerge from the applicants, and hoping that the medium itself gives people something to talk about. But it’s a good question, it’s not as if we have a comedy podcast festival, or an arts podcast festival. It’s just the Philadelphia Podcast Festival, which I guess is what makes it interesting. It’s not homogenous. It’s things that Philadelphians are interested in, which is everything from sports, to history, to books, to art, to comics . . . there’s just a huge range. Which is just a good indication of what people in Philadelphia are interested in. We’re not any one thing here.
DP: Do you feel like you’re doing a civic good?
TK: I think that we . . . want to be doing a civic good. I think that we want to be providing a platform for other people to showcase, in some cases their art, in some cases their work. In some cases their . . . hanging around with their friends and drinking beers and talking about garbage. We want to do two things. We want to build a community here in Philly as much as we can. And we want to show that Philadelphia is producing really great podcasts. We’re not New York, we’re not LA, we’re not these entertainment centers. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a huge amount of creativity here, and a huge amount of really great stuff being created. The podcast festival is just one of the ways that Nathan and I have been able to try to elevate that.
DP: And not all of the performers are polished. Some of the podcasts are very rudimentary. That’s a nice thing about the festival.
TK: Yeah, and within there’s also topical differences and structural differences. There are interview podcasts, there are roundtable podcasts, which often end up with . . . the podcasters get to Tattooed Mom like two hours early, and they have four drinks each, and they sit around, and they shoot the shit for an hour. That’s their podcast, and it’s weighted just as much in the festival as something that’s more academically minded, or polished, to use your word. Because we see that those are both valuable in terms of entertainment . . . you’re making this face.
DP: Well I was going to say that your podcast festival was the first time that my podcast used a microphone. I didn’t just mean polished in terms of content, I meant also in terms of presentation or recording.
TK: That’s true. We do have a wide range of ways that people make their podcasts. One of the things that Nathan and I do throughout the year, in addition to the festival, is we get requests from people who are interested in starting podcasts. And so we have people come to our studio and we show them the gear that we have, everything from phones to the setup we’re using now, with mixing board and mics and all that stuff. We just kind of walk through the ways that you can record a podcast. Recording it on your phone is just as legitimate as having a dedicated setup with equipment. You don’t need to invest a ton of money to start a podcast. So we love having podcasters who haven’t used mics who’ve just recorded into their phones or are just getting off the ground. It not only gives them a chance to perform live, something most of us have never done (myself included until my show was in the festival), but it also gives us an opportunity to talk to them about what they want to do in the future. So that’s really fun. And then on the other hand we have podcasts who had contracts with WHYY and recorded in their studio booths, and are on the radio.
DP: This year you have well-known guests? Tell me about that.
TK: This is the first year that we’re expanding to podcasts created outside the Philadelphia area. In the past, we’ve been really focused on local podcasts and we still are. The vast majority of podcasts that are recording live are based in the greater Philadelphia area. And then we have a handful of shows that we’re calling our “national shows” that are shows that are on big networks, that potentially have tens if not hundreds of thousands of listeners, subscribers. A lot of big cities have podcasts coming in to them regularly, so people who really love these popular shows have the opportunity to see them. And Philly just hasn’t been getting those, for whatever reason hasn’t been seen as much of a market for live podcasts, for these national shows.
Part of what we’re hoping is that with these higher profile podcasts being part of the festival, that that then brings more attention to some of the local shows. Because Nathan and I both feel really strongly that we have such good content coming out of Philadelphia. Bringing the cachet of these other shows into the festival is going to drive a lot people to look at the website and to look at the rest of the lineup, and to maybe find podcasts that they’re interested in that they’ve never heard of.
It was a hard decision to make, to bring them in. Because we weren’t certain that we wanted to, because we’re so focused on Philly shows, and we don’t want to lose that. It is going to bring us more press, and that press is not for the two of us, but it’s for the festival, and really for trying to bring more attention to the stuff that’s being built here in Philly. It was . . . it was a long decision. We thought about it a long time before we did it.
DP: Was it easy to recruit them?
TK: We’re working with a booking company who’s been really great to work with. They booked four of the five national shows. They’re called New Media Touring and they’re based in Boston.
DP: What is the future of the podcast?
TK: I think there will likely be a handful of podcasts that make it out of this podcast bubble, boom, that we’re in now. Nathan and I have talked about this quite a bit. He thinks they’re a long term thing and I think that we might see podcasts go the way of xanga, livejournal . . .
DP: Zines, blogs
TK: Zines kind of became blogs.
DP: And blogs became podcasts? That question came to mind partially because it’s almost like having the festival as a live experience foregrounds the intemporality of the medium. It’s not something that we know will last . . . In 1950, like, nobody making pop music knew that it was a permanent artifact, but in 1970, they did. So we know that now, that even if you make an album in your basement, it still has this permanence. But I don’t know if this medium does. So I like that live aspect of your festival.
TK: Basically, I have no idea what’s going to happen to podcasts. They certainly are having a cultural impact. I think that independent media has always been important, but it’s not always been long-lasting, and I don’t know that that matters that much.
DP: Will nerd/geek culture superheroes, space operas, sword and sorcery, be replaced on top of the corporate mountain, and by what? And when?
TK: I don’t know because I don’t live in that world. I don’t know anything about that stuff, but a lot of people are into it! It’s a big chunk of the podcast festival, certainly. I don’t think… I think they’re probably all related to fantasy and fantasy’s been around for a long time as a literary genre.. but yeah in terms of people making money off it, of course it’s going to get replaced. It’ll get replaced with whatever they decide is popular next.
DP: Some people who are unfamiliar with this festival might think that it is only that kind of content.
TK: That’s a very good point. It’s not. I would say it’s a big chunk but it’s certainly less than half. And what we have a lot more of than in years past are arts podcasts. Music, books, history, things like that. That genre seems to be growing at least in terms of who’s applying to be in the festival. There’s a completely different type of podcast to listen to, and you can like and listen to both of them at the same time, consecutively. But yeah, it’s not all comic books and swords and dragons and stuff like that. It’s a really wide breadth. I recommend going to our website so you can see the full list of shows. Let’s see. Just the national shows . . . we have a medical history comedy podcast, which sounds weird but was actually my gateway into listening to podcasts, it’s called Sawbones. I was not listening to podcasts and started listening to that one and was like, “oh this is a thing I could get into.” We have kind of . . . two female friends talking about politics and pop culture and intersectionality, Call Your Girlfriend. And then we have a bad movies podcast, The Flop House. That kind of shows, you in those three, the breadth of content in the festival. There are nearly sixty shows, so you could pick out any three of them and it would show you breadth.
TK: My podcast is currently on hiatus, but it will come back, someday. I have a podcast where I interview vegans around the world about what that means to them. And anyone who’s familiar with the vegan community or frankly any kind of social justice type of community understands that every person you talk to is going to have a different perspective on why they do what they do, what matters to them, what they think other people should be doing (there’s a lot of that). And then there’s the added bonus that when talking to vegans, you can talk about food a lot. Everybody wants to talk about food stuff. It’s really fun. It’s been great to talk to people all over the world. People who I would otherwise have no reason to talk to. I send them an email or they send me an email and we set up a time and we get on skype and talk. It’s an amazing thing we can do in 2017.
DP: Do you record those interviews here as well?
TK: I record almost everything here. If the person is local then they’ll come to the studio, if not we’ll skype. So I sit at this table with this very setup. I actually had some bad technical issues in the fall, and then I got pregnant and got sick from that, so I didn’t have the physical capability to do any more podcasts. So now we’re here and it’s festival time and the podcast will continue to be on hiatus until after this human emerges from me.
DP: You could probably do an episode about people telling you to change your eating habits during this time, right?
TK: Luckily nobody has yet.
DP: Oh wow.
TK: I know. I don’t know if I’m just kind of a bitch and people don’t tell me what to do. But luckily my doctors have been more than fine with it. “Oh this is great you don’t have to worry about cutting down on anything.” Like there’s all these things that you can’t eat because of safety reasons but when you’re vegan you’re not eating cheese or deli meat anyway, so who cares?
DP: Well it sounds like there’s an episode in there somewhere. People are going to bother you about it.
TK: I mean there’s certainly a lot to say and I think there will be more to say, like with parenting, also. Just how you navigate teaching vegan values to a kid who lives in a non-vegan world. It’s not that easy. But I’m going to have to learn.
DP: Yeah, you have episodes about a lot of broad topics, about privilege, about sex work, about masculinity, so yeah, to do first-hand episodes about yourself as a pregnant person, as a parent, sounds like a lot to take on.
TK: One of the things that is really interesting is that these are all really personal experiences, but when you talk about personal things in a public way, particularly when your audience is a community of people with a lot of strong opinions, you have to navigate that, and be willing to be vulnerable in different ways. And I think that that will be a challenge for me, should I choose to talk about that kind of stuff on my podcast. It’s very vulnerable.
DP: You seem to cover, you and your guests, a lot of pushback from non-vegans, and so that might get even more serious as a parent.
TK: It’s actually not the non-vegans I’m worried about, it’s the vegans! They have a lot of opinions about things too . . . and I say “they” as if I’m not one of them but I am. There are factions, and people who are certain they’re right about this thing and certain they’re right about that thing, and it’s tough. Veganism isn’t generally seen, at least to non-vegans, as a social justice issue, but I think a lot of us who are vegans do see it as a social justice issue, fitting in with being feminist, being anti-racist, being generally progressive, anti-capitalist, and environmentalist. And for me being a public health professional, there’s huge implications, not just in diet but in antimicrobial resistance, in water use and land use, and all of this stuff . . . there’s so many reasons why people who care about any of those issues should consider a vegan lifestyle
One of the good things about having the podcast is that it gives me a place where I can talk about those things with people. One of the ways that I’ve been able to create the show that I wanted to make is by framing everything as “I’m trying to learn from as many people as I can.” I am not coming into this with a ton of preconceived ideas about this thing or that thing. The only way to really know what you think is expose yourself to a lot of different ideas, and find yourself reacting to them.
DP: You have a really everyperson host voice on it. It’s like a survey of different subcultures within what outsiders would think would be a monochrome subculture.
TK: The one thing that I don’t give a lot of space to are non-scientific health and science claims. So that’s the only line I draw. Other than that, every person I interview has their own story, has their own perspective on things, and I think that being able to share those stories is not only good for the person who is sharing them but also for the people who are listening and hearing these ideas for maybe the first time themselves.
DP: I know you’re not performing this year but this is maybe not the first thing someone would expect from a live podcast festival, this kind of project.
TK: I have only done this podcast live once. We actually did a vegan food taste-test, we did four different chocolate ice creams, and four different cheeses, and then we ran out of time because there was too much food to eat. Oh, and we tried Tattooed Mom’s vegan options. And it was really fun. I had enough to share with the audience, and we rated them and did a blind taste test and decided which was the best. And that’s an example of what people do that’s different with a live festival. Because normally it would be like this where you’re sitting down and I’m asking questions. You’re already more prepared than I ever am for my interviews, you have questions! I just research the person and I’m like, tell me your story.
DP: Well I did that too, that’s how I found Nathan’s Christmas music. I was going to ambush him with one of my prepared questions about it.
TK: Nathan has released a Christmas album every year, except for last year, last year was the lost album. I will tell his story for him, because that’s what I do I guess. So, let’s see, this will be the twelfth year of this. So Nathan is very good at consistency. That’s why we’ve had five years of the podcast festival and twelve years of Yulenog. The story that he tells me is that one year he thought it would be a really great idea to create a Christmas card that looked like a CD cover. I don’t know where this idea came from. It was a long time ago. And so I think he created the album art first, and then talked to his friend Moppa Elliot, who is a fairly well known jazz musician, and he was like “wouldn’t it be kinda cool to make a Christmas album” and Moppa was like “sure,” and so they made a Christmas album. I think the first year was all covers of traditional Christmas songs. Maybe there were some originals in there.
DP: Are you serious? Most Christmas albums are covers. Are you saying there’s originals?
TK: This is one of the things that Nathan does that I just absolutely love about him. He over the years has collected all of these musician friends, all these fantastic, mostly jazz musicians, who get together every year. This year it’s in July. And everybody knows that it’s Yulenog season so everybody is writing original music, now, as we speak, original music for Yulenog. They will write the songs and we will record them all, live, in Moppa’s house. We will practice twice, and then we will record, and that is it. And one of the things that I love the most about it, is that it’s all these beautifully trained musicians who are touring Europe, and are having their albums written about. You have somebody who’s a renowned drummer, and you hand him a recorder, play this on this song, and he just does it. It sounds way better than if I did it, because I’m not a musician, but he still doesn’t know how to play a recorder. They’re just having fun, and this just allows for this crazy creativity. And some insanely offensive songs. So the albums are generally not for the faint of heart.
DP: No Christmas album is.
TK: No, these are really something. The best one so far was the tenth anniversary, a greatest hits album. The cover was a nativity scene where the guys played Joseph and Mary and the wise men and the shepherds, and Nathan built a nativity scene in his friend’s backyard. Nathan was the baby Jesus, and he created some sort of apparatus that allowed a doll’s body to stick out of his chin. So his face was Jesus’s face but there was a doll body. It was upsetting and disturbing. But I highly recommend that you look at the image, because the art direction is really beautiful.
DP: I will attach it to this article. I have to, now.
DP: I guess I just have two more questions. So he’s done this Christmas performance for twelve years running. This is only the fifth podcast festival. Can you talk about the first festival, and what you think the twelfth one will look like?
TK: So the first festival looked a lot like the current one, it was just a much smaller scale. Twelve podcasts participated over three nights, at Philamoca. We really didn’t know what to expect, so we were just excited that everyone showed up for their live recording and we had some audience members and that was that. The audience numbers really vary, and that’s something that we embrace. We don’t choose podcasts for the festival based on how many listeners or how many subscribers they have.
DP: I appreciate that.
TK: The twelfth one . . . so seven years from now. Well hopefully people will still be listening to podcasts at that point, so hopefully there will still be a festival. I assume that that’s the case. So I think that at some point we will have to cap the number of podcasts in the festival. This year we were able to accommodate so many podcasts, and at some point we won’t be able to accommodate everybody.
We have a lot of volunteers this year, too. In the past Nathan and I have been able to run every show, one of us has been able to be at one of the venues at all times. This year we can’t do that. At some point we can only do so much. But I think that seven years from now we will continue to focus mostly on Philadelphia based podcasts. That’s where our heart is, that’s what we want the festival to be about. I think in order to be able to do that we’ll continue to bring in some of these national shows, in part to make sure people are coming to Philly, and in part because it will help to continue to build up Philadelphia’s cachet as a podcasting center. At the same time, who knows. Five years ago I wouldn’t have said that we would ever bring in national podcasts. So seven years from now, could be completely different. But I don’t ever see us really deviating from a heavy focus on the locally produced shows.
DP: That kind of sounds like a good ending, but I was going to ask, do you want to tell a couple stories. Like a logistic . . . a horror story of something that went very wrong, and a story of something that went very right.
TK: You know I’m having trouble of thinking of something that’s gone horribly wrong. I’m sorry to disappoint you but I don’t have any horror stories. I think something that’s gone well, I think we left last year’s festival feeling so good about how things went. That was the first year that we had shows simultaneously at two different venues, and that was a big challenge for us. It was the first time that we turned over some of the audio responsibility. Bridgeset sound and Steel Empire did all the recording, and they’re helping us out again this year and we’re so grateful to them. And last year we had more than forty podcasts, and that was really when we started to think that we were getting more of a community going. That there were more people sitting talking to each other, and it wasn’t just podcasters coming in, doing their thing and leaving. So that was just a really good feeling, and I think it inspired us to build up even more this year, which is how we ended up with almost sixty shows and nine venues and more days of programming.
DP: Is there anything else you want to say?
TK: Go to the website, phillypodfest.com, we also are on facebook and twitter. We have almost fifty free podcast events happening, so I hope that everyone is able to come out and at least see one of them. And if you’re interested in any of the ticketed shows, all the links for those are on our website. And you can always reach out to me with questions. And I hope that I see you at one of the shows that I’m at, which is only a fraction of the places where there will be events. So yeah, thank you.
DP: And thanks for having this interview at your own recording studio.
TK: Anytime. It’s just one of the many services we provide.
Looking to graduate from the First Friday crowd and blossom into something a bit more contemporary? Maybe even, occasionally, abstract? LOOK. NO. FURTHER. Below you’ll find our top ten local gallery picks. The work in these galleries may be hot but the crowds are cool—who knew aesthetes were so attractive. Branch out and get in with the hip kids at these local galleries:
1. Little Berlin
Open Saturday 12:00PM – 6:00PM & by Appointment
2430 CORAL STREET, PHILADELPHIA, PA 19125 www.littleberlin.org
Little Berlin has been a long time Curate This favorite. We have even collaborated with some of the cooperative gallery’s members. Little Berlin’s structure alone lends itself to some fantastic out of the box showings and installations. The name Little Berlin derived from a comparison once made to the founders, Kristen Neville and Martha Savery. Artists rehabbing buildings in Kensington felt like postwar Berlin.
2. Gravy Studio and Gallery
Open by Appointment
910 N. 2ND STREET, PHILADELPHIA, PA 19123 www.gravy-studio.com
Gravy Studio and Gallery hosts some incredible local photographers like Katie Tackman and Julianna Foster, many of which double as members. The collaborative workplace and gallery focuses on promoting the work of local photographers. The studio and gallery makes our list for its fearlessness; Gravy Studio is not afraid to show challenging work. Just check out their facebook page and muse through some of their past exhibitions.
Vox Populi, Latin for “voice of the people,” has been bringing the people contemporary and experimental art since 1988. Vox Populi is all about fostering a supportive environment for artists. The gallery’s rotating membership policy leaves room for a diverse array of work.
4. Paradigm Gallery and Studio
Open Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 12:00PM – 6:00PM
746 SOUTH 4th STREET, PHILADELPHIA 19147 www.paradigmarts.org
Paradigm Gallery and Studio is always doing something, and let’s face it, we always want to be there when they are doing something! The Gallery is owned and curated by artists powerhouses, Jason Chen and Sara McCorriston. When founding the gallery in 2010, Chen and McCorriston did so with the intention of showing their friends’ work, and they’ve succeeded. Today you’ll find some of the coolest local artists in town on the walls of Paradigm.
5. James Oliver Gallery
Open Wednesday – Friday, 5:00PM – 8:00PM, Saturday, 1:00PM – 6:00PM, Sunday – Tuesday, Open by Appointment
732 CHESTNUT STREET, PHILADELPHIA 19106 www.jamesolivergallery.com
James Oliver has to be one of the coolest gallery owners around and his gallery certainly reflects it. The space requires some exercise—a four story hike to be specific, but it’s worth it to reach an artistic paradise. The gallery transforms with nearly every new exhibit and welcomes local, national, and international artists.
You might think Kitchen Table Gallery is a funny name for a gallery but the story behind it will make you feel all warm and fuzzy. “Louise ORourke was inspired to start KTG by an excerpt of David Reed’s in ‘The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists.’ When David Reed asked Felix Gonzalez-Torres about his art studio he responded by saying, ‘I do not have a studio space. I am a kitchen-table artist.’ In that reading, KTG was born.”
7. Crux Space
Open by Appointment
700 MASTER STREET, PHILADELPHIA 19122 www.cruxspace.com
Crux Space is Philadelphia’s only gallery 100% dedicated to new media art. We have been a fan of the gallery since its genesis and it never fails to disappoint. The gallery’s director Andrew Cameron Zahn has dedicated the space to experimental projects and works influenced by technology.
8. The Galleries at Moore
Monday – Saturday, 11:00AM – 5:00PM
20TH STREET AND THE PARKWAY, PHILADELPHIA 19103 www.moore.edu
The Galleries at Moore are a MORE traditional space—see what we did there, but that doesn’t keep it from fostering incredible collaborations with local artists. Local artists are their main cup of tea. In fact the Levy Gallery was originally “created in response to a mayoral report revealing a “serious lack of support” for local talent.”
9. High Tide
1850 NORTH HOPE STREET, APT 14A, PHILADELPHIA 19122 www.high-tide.us
High Tide gets experimental, and that’s exactly why we love them. The gallery doubles as an artist-run project space in the heart of Kensington. In addition to holding exhibitions, High Tide hosts performances, workshops, and experimental programming.
10. Fjord Gallery
Open Saturdays 12:00PM – 4:00PM, Open by Appointment
1400 NORTH AMERICAN STREET, STE 105, PHILADELPHIA 19122 www.fjordspace.com
Fjord, pronounced (fee-your-d), focuses on bringing Philadelphia exciting work from emerging artists and curators. Founded in 2012 the gallery has helped cement Kensington’s reputation as the one of the city’s strongest arts districts.