IMAGE 3, OUT OF BREATH BY YOMI, PHOTO BY @fitzwinge

Artist to Artist

Street Art in the Age of Trump

YOMI’s work is poignant and powerful, usually informed by experiences in communist in Bulgaria and the contemporary political climate. We talk about the politics of street art, and how he expects his own work to be received.

Amanda Victoria Wagner: As someone who creates political street art, do you think there is something inherently political about street art?

YOMI: Early graffiti, even since the Roman Empire, has showed us that street art is a vehicle for protest. In that sense, yes it is.

Recently there has been a lot of buzz about street art in Philadelphia with the Streets Department curating a bunch of pop-up shows, one of which was mentioned in the New York Times. There are a lot of talented artists who live here and who have come from Philly and they are coming into the spotlight. It helps that Philly’s reception to street art is pretty good. That’s not the case everywhere.

Neocolonialism, Yomi, Curate This
NEOCOLONIALISM by YOMI

AVW: Taking that into consideration, in our current political environment, is street art an effective vehicle for political commentary?

Y: I believe it is. As a tool of protest, street art gives a voice to those who are afraid to use their own voices. It gives voice to the vulnerable and people who are frightened to speak up because of the repercussions of speaking up.

Today you see people incorporating contemporary issues into their work instead of broad ideals. There are several examples in my work; I’ve done work for Standing Rock and for DAPL. I made work for the women’s march. The idea that these messages can be a physical instrument of change is really interesting. In this way street art becomes art to help people feel empowered.

Executive Order by Yomi. Photo by Conrad Benner.
Executive Order by YOMI. Photo by Conrad Benner.

AVW: What are you doing now?

Y: I recently launched a series of executive orders, which is a mockery and reaction to the Trump presidency. The pieces aren’t lasting very long, though. Once, as I was putting them up, I saw someone taking it down right behind me. The piece speaks volumes and people are reacting. I’m also doing a lot of work around environmental issues.

Executive Order N:2 by Yomi. Photo by artof215.
Executive Order N:2 by YOMI. Photo by artof215.
Connected, Yomi, Curate This
Connected by YOMI

AVW: Is there something about your personal experience that speaks to your interest in political art?

Y: Coming from an ex-communist state, and being under communism for 16 years, political art sinks into you. I grew up around constant propaganda. Growing up in that kind of environment, there is a point when you start to open your eyes and you become repulsed by the regimes and oppressors. You get sick of being told what to do.

Chernobyl is a big influence of mine and sparked a lot of my feelings around political art. Up to present day, it is still considered one of the largest man-made disasters in history. Even in recent history we have been learning more about its impact. Being a kid in Bulgaria when it happened, we didn’t find out about the accident until months later. Prior to finding out, were experiencing weather anomalies. I was seeing these deep yellow clouds in a clear sky. Rain would follow and form into deep yellow puddles. It was 2-3 months later that the government radio mentioned the accident, saying it was being taken care of. They never mentioned how much damage was done. So many people have died of radiation and nearby environments are still uninhabitable.

I think that experience led me to create more environmentally-focused work, even though I was a kid back then and I had no voice. Street art was an incredibly dangerous thing to do in my country. At the time there were a lot of intellectuals killed or put in prison for their opinions.

Nuclear fish by Yomi. Photo by Conrad Benner.
Nuclear fish by YOMI. Photo by Conrad Benner.

AVW: Growing up in a communist regime, why do you think it’s so important to advocate for your rights in the US, a country that has never seen or experienced anything like you have and whose people often carry a bit of naivety when it comes geopolitics?

Y: What happened to my country can happen anywhere and at any time. I think it’s already happening here. I think there’s been a suffocating of democracy here since the election and I think we are seeing the rise of an autocracy. You see people trying to bypass congress, rewriting and ignoring laws to get what they want. You’re seeing the beginning of a dictatorship. The US is sitting on decades of mismanagement, lies, and abuse of power. What we are experiencing now is a corrosion of the political system and public trust.

It’s a part of the artist’s responsibility to bring political awareness to the people. Art has always had a strong voice, especially political art, and that’s also what makes art so dangerous. It’s a serious tool. Philly artists can step up to the plate a bit more. We have to be louder and sharper without any apology.

Never Gonna Be a Barrymore Judge, Chris Munden, John Rosenberg

Artist to Artist

Yo Philly, No More Safe Bullshit

I was blown away the first time I saw a play by John Rosenberg. He writes plays as if he is a human and his characters are human, and if you’ve seen a lot of new plays or TV or movies, you know why that’s special. I write about theater and meet a lot of theater folk, but despite—or perhaps because of—this I haven’t become friends with many. But John became one of my closest friends and remains so despite moving back to California. We chat on google chat quite a bit, and our conversation often turns to theater. We have strong opinions about this. These are some excerpts from our chats.

– Christopher Munden, curator

Excerpted from gchat conversations between Christopher Munden and John Rosenberg:

Christopher Munden
I just read a play you’d like
John M. Rosenberg
who wrote it?
Christopher Munden
Jean Genet
John M. Rosenberg
who’s that?
Christopher Munden
google and then thank me
John M. Rosenberg
Thank you
this guy seems fantastic
I miss you, my friend
Christopher Munden
I miss you too mang
John M. Rosenberg
how was [REDACTED]’s show
Christopher Munden
It was good.
he’s improved it since the last iteration and there was a good crowd.
John M. Rosenberg
where is improvement?
Christopher Munden
pacing, pauses, visually.
how are things with you? Yael? etc?
John M. Rosenberg
things are good. Yael is doing good.
closed play last weekend, started new one.
what is new with you?
Christopher Munden
I’m moving to Kensington.
John M. Rosenberg
Hoooooooray!

***

Christopher Munden
I saw [REDACTED] and hated it and it’s getting all these good reviews and it hurts my soul and I feel like I need to say something
John M. Rosenberg
i think if it hurts your soul, write an op ed
Christopher Munden
Yeah?
i don’t know what that would do
but i thought about doing it after it closes
i mean, why else have Phindie really?
but it feels like it’d be pissing in the wind
John M. Rosenberg
what did [REDACTED] think of the show?
Christopher Munden
he hasn’t sent review yet
John M. Rosenberg
i mean, sure you can say it is pissing in the wind
but if you say it sucks and everyone is dickriding it then fuck it
have fun and say how you feel
you are never going to be a barrymore judge, take pride in it
this company is just safe bullshit masquerading as cutting edge
if that is independent theater in philly then heeeeeehaw this place can french kiss my dog pussy
Christopher Munden
i’m maybe more upset with the reviewers
do they really think the things they wrote?
it is like they didn’t see the same play
i think a lot of it is just not wanting to call a shit a shit
John M. Rosenberg
why shit on a company run by philly barrymore winners?
they are taking chances producing new work!
Christopher Munden
i am not as down on the company as you, but they deserve to be held to a standard
John M. Rosenberg
this new show got all these reviews
that should tell you something
Christopher Munden
what should it tell me?
John M. Rosenberg
that there is money behind it and people are gonna go to bat for them
Christopher Munden
i go to bat for them
but to me, supporting an artist includes telling them that their shit stinks
i want them to succeed
but by that i don’t mean sell tickets and get good reviews
John M. Rosenberg
yes
yes
yes
it isn’t the work, chris
it is the breeding ground to get bigger shit that isnt real shit
it is well thought out marketable stuff
hollow assed shit
Christopher Munden
[REDACTED] will tear apart a kids play about rainbows if it deserves it, why wouldn’t she criticize this one?
John M. Rosenberg
i have no idea
Christopher Munden
Josh would totally do all that marketing shit and more though, right?
if he thought it would work he would. But he’d do it so he could put up whatever the fuck he wanted.
And it wouldn’t just be workshopped theater 101 garbage.
John M. Rosenberg
the funny thing about joshua mcilvain is he wants to get the pew money and get produced by the theater companies
but he isn’t a hack
Christopher Munden
Josh could write better plays than that while changing diapers.
John M. Rosenberg
and i dont know if josh will ever be invited to center city to do his stuff
but i love he is just banging out his own shit
so i love talking about this because shit will continue to succeed
Christopher Munden
i hope [REDACTED] sends me something real or i am going to have to write something
because otherwise i may as well just close Phindie
i don’t want people to go see theater just to get out the house and to pay actors
John M. Rosenberg
who pays actors?

***

Christopher Munden

John M. Rosenberg
i liked that!
i have never heard it
Christopher Munden
i went to see Ween reunion show in Denver and I’ve been revisiting my love for them since.
John M. Rosenberg
“from a sojourn away from a major market in Montana”:

Thank you for getting back to me. I am always interested in quality work, and my training and background is in theater. New work is also exciting, and having some affiliation with a theater company in Los Angeles is one of my goals. I have been back here (from a sojourn away from a major market in Montana) for just a few months. I looked at your website and some of the press notices and it looks pretty cool. I am confused about the venue though…when you say in ‘an apartment’ you mean an apartment set on a stage in a theater or literally in an apartment? Honestly I am not so sure that even my love of the craft affords me the time to do work that is being performed in an apartment without a legit audience. Coming from regional theater I am well acquainted with the idea of doing theater for no pay, really my experience is that doing theater actually costs an actor money. Could you elaborate on how these performances actually work and to whom they are performed for? Thanks.

fucking actors
Christopher Munden
when you say in ‘an apartment’ you mean an apartment set on a stage in a theater or literally in an apartment?
John M. Rosenberg
what a cunt
they all think they are special out here
Christopher Munden
you should invite him to your “set”

Never Gonna Be a Barrymore Judge, Chris Munden, John Rosenberg

***

John M. Rosenberg
oh dear
Christopher Munden
yeah
John M. Rosenberg
how is you?
how is fringe?
Christopher Munden
Oh it’s alright
Nothing blew me away but a bunch of fairly good stuff
John M. Rosenberg
hooooooooooooray!
are we going to continue conversation about stuff with philly theater or eh?
Christopher Munden
Well, there seems to be a point to Phindie, for me, during the Fringe
In a way there isn’t always at other times
So I’m going to regroup after and see
John M. Rosenberg
right
I think there is a point
Christopher Munden
At fringe or in general?
John M. Rosenberg
in general
John M. Rosenberg
I like the idea of you raising the bar for plays and criticism in philly after fringe
Christopher Munden
My plan is to review a bunch myself
But what if people do lifeless though not terrible shit
John M. Rosenberg
I really think your job is to demand the type of work you like and foster that type of work
Christopher Munden
One word reviews: Lifeless
I can testify that this was a play that was performed
These were the actors:
These people worked on sound and stuff:
John M. Rosenberg
hahahahahahahahahahaha
Christopher Munden
At the end there was applause.
115 minutes with one intermission
Show runs through October 6
John M. Rosenberg
the end
Christopher Munden
Yep

***

John M. Rosenberg
what did you do last night?
Christopher Munden
i went to two dance things
John M. Rosenberg
how were they?
Christopher Munden
Both solos
One was really good
She was charismatically crazy and she collected trash though so I may have been swayed by that
The other was by a someone I know
John M. Rosenberg
it only helps
Christopher Munden
And it was fine
Short

***

John M. Rosenberg
what you doing?
Christopher Munden
i was putting together a theater calendar for October
I’ve decided to pretty much review everything for Phindie myself that month
John M. Rosenberg
HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORAY!
what is coming up that looks bearable?
Christopher Munden
Um. A Philip Ridley play
Radiant Vermin
John M. Rosenberg
i like the title
Christopher Munden
He wrote Mayfly or something like that
look him up, he’s an asshole
John M. Rosenberg
who is putting it on?
Christopher Munden
Inis Nua
He directed a creepy 1990 horror movie The Reflecting Skin
Also, Curio is doing a Conor McPherson adaptation of the Birds
There’s an Exile show that might be okay
Guards at the Taj
PTC is restaging Rizzo
John M. Rosenberg
i like you reviewing for the month
Christopher Munden
I can write a mediocre review as well as anyone else in this town
John M. Rosenberg
hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
time to clean house
time to write a letter to philly theater being like i am worried it is garbage, let’s see what October brings us
Christopher Munden
I am going to publish an edited version of our chats sometime.
John M. Rosenberg
hahahahahahaha, why edited?
Christopher Munden
you’re too antisemitic
John M. Rosenberg
i was hoping you would say not antisemetic enough
Christopher Munden
i was writing with an eye for publication

Dre Grigoropol's The Kiss, Curate This, Corey Bechelli

Artist to Artist

Local Comic Artist & Zine-Maker Talks Shop

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.

Dee's Dream, Dre Grigoropol, Corey Bechelli, Curate ThisCB: 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.

CB: Where can people find you on the internet?

DG: www.dretime.net, www.deesdream.net, www.comixgab.com, Dretime on Instagram, Dretimecomics on Twitter and The Yucky Nerds on Soundcloud.

CB: Does art have the power to change the world?

DG: Yes.

Corey Bechelli, Rebecca Katherine Hirsch, Curate This, Leftist heartfelt psychedelia

Artist to Artist

Psychedelic Comics to Cure Your Malaise

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/strange experience, 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.

Corey Bechelli, Rebecca Katherine Hirsch, Curate This, Leftist heartfelt psychedelia

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.

Corey Bechelli, Rebecca Katherine Hirsch, Curate This, Leftist heartfelt psychedelia, Astral Sass
“A lesson learned: Fluidity is paramount if one is to circumvent the Gaping Maw of the Inconceivable!” – Corey Bechelli

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.

Corey Bechelli, Rebecca Katherine Hirsch, Curate This, Leftist heartfelt psychedelia

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.

Questions include:
-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.

Corey Bechelli, Rebecca Katherine Hirsch, Curate This, Leftist heartfelt psychedelia, Astral Sass

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.

RKH: Can we find you on the Net?

CB: Yes. In order of actual activity:

Instagram: @coreybechelli
Tumblr: coreybechelli.tumblr.com
Website: coreybechelli.com

RKH: Please finish the sentence: Art, sorrow, desire, ____

CB: Art, sorrow, desire, transcendence.

RKH: What don’t people know about your art?

CB: It’s readily available for free, for trade, or for purchasing.

All artwork by Corey Bechelli.

Dan Pasternack, Never Forget Radio, Feminist 9/11 Politics, Rebecca Katherine Hirsch, Curate This

Artist to Artist

Where Were You on 9/11?

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.

Dan Pasternack, Never Forget Radio, Feminist 9/11 Politics, Rebecca Katherine Hirsch, Curate This

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!

Dan Pasternack, Never Forget Radio, Feminist 9/11 Politics, Rebecca Katherine Hirsch, Curate This

 

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.

Dan Pasternack, Never Forget Radio, Feminist 9/11 Politics, Rebecca Katherine Hirsch, Curate This

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.

RKH: I especially enjoyed your episodes on masculinity in sports and analyzing 9/11 monuments. Why did those episodes happen?

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.

Dan Pasternack, Never Forget Radio, Feminist 9/11 Politics, Rebecca Katherine Hirsch, Curate This

RKH: They say it takes a village to raise a child. Who raises your pod?

DP: My pod could not exist without many friends volunteering to edit drafts and listen to early versions, including Jamie Goodman, Harry Waksberg, and Humble Mumbles. And it relies on music donated from friends’ bands as well, especially Old Table, No One and the Somebodies, Cave Cricket, and Snow Caps. I would have said that my podcast was the world’s foremost fan art dedicated to the band Old Table, until the 100-song tribute album came out.

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.

RKH: What other projects are you working on?

Humble Mumbles!

RKH: What do you do for fun?

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.

Catch Dan at the Philadelphia Podcast Festival at Kitchen Table Gallery on July 23; http://www.phillypodfest.com.

Teagan Kuruna, Dan Pasternack, Philadelphia Podcast Festival, Curate This

Artist to Artist

How to Bring a Podcast to Life

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”

For four years Dan has participated in the Philadelphia Podcast Festival, talking about World War I, Bono at the Superbowl and the Civil War.

– Rebecca Katherine Hirsch, curator

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: Well there’s also a facebook group.

DP: And a logo.

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.

Teagan Kuruna, Dan Pasternack, Philadelphia Podcast Festival, Curate This

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.

Teagan Kuruna, Dan Pasternack, Philadelphia Podcast Festival, Curate This
Teagan Kuruna with her partner and Philadelphia Podcast Festival co-founder Nathan Kuruna.

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.

DP: Do you want to talk about your own podcast, Teagan Goes Vegan?

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.

Teagan Kuruna, Dan Pasternack, Philadelphia Podcast Festival, Curate This

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.

Philadelphia Podcast Festival runs July 14-23, 2017, many venues.

Add a Little Bit of Meaning

Artist to Artist

Add a Little Bit of Meaning

Veronica Cianfrano is a multimedia artist who has been examining “the communication breakdown” through photographic images and memories of her familial ties and through our current reliance on digital communication. Her work displays her examinations, whether it be through memory decay, new meanings found in old footage, or the effects of the news media on our state of mind. Since receiving her MFA from the University of the Arts in 2010, Cianfrano has served as both co-founder and curator for Manifesto-ish and Champions of Empty Rooms. Here, she interviews video artist Zach Zecha about his work and the value of art via handwritten notes.

-Julius Ferraro, co-founder

 

Humble Mumbles, Mira Treatman, photo by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch

Artist to Artist

Podding from Ramallah

I first met Rebecca Katherine Hirsch four years ago at a Permanent Wave Philly meeting where we spent many hours compiling entries into the collective’s zine. I remember feeling really loopy from concentrating on the layout, but Rebecca was right there with me as I got all of my giggles out. I recall a few extra cat doodles making it into that edition somehow. I’ve always had respect for the way Rebecca takes on serious topics in her work with a signature feisty sense of humor. While I don’t necessarily share all of her opinions, I am immensely appreciative of how strongly she pursues her ideals through activist art. Rebecca makes art as Humble Mumbles, a podcast about feminism, queerness, Palestine & other stines. Other art projects of hers include the collaborative multimedia bit BARBARISM, the unknown entity Slappy Pancake Private Eye as well as Intensely Staring, a 90s alternative guitarist who has no guitar. She inspires me to “go for it” when I truly believe in something. At the time of this interview Rebecca was traveling in Palestine and Israel researching her work so we corresponded via email.

-Mira Treatman, curator

These are a few things I saw in Palestine/Israel/48, which are different political terms for similar and different "disputed" (usually meaning international law and Orwellian self-absolving Israeli law contradict each other) and overlapping geographical places. All of historic Palestine encompasses the modern-day state of Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories of the West Bank--including East Jerusalem ("disputed")--and Gaza. What do these photos mean to me? West Bank Palestine and Israel/48/historic Palestine have a lot of different effects on a lot of different people? These photos are pretty or depressing, with friends or without, with ideological frames that make me go hmmm.
This is Qalandia Checkpoint (how you get from Ramallah to Jerusalem). Throughout this interview are photographs Hirsch has taken in Palestine/Israel/48.

Mira Treatman: What media are you working in today? What attracted you to them?

Rebecca Katherine Hirsch: Media. What is media? . . . I think, ostensibly, I am working in pod (that is: making a podcast—so I guess that’s the media of audio—as well as writing). The process, I guess, is that first I have the interest, then I collect the audio, then I write the script/story to frame the collected audio, add music, and then hopefully the result is a podcast episode. I first started my weird podcast in (let me check my website) October 2014. A good time, October 2014. I don’t know if anything actually attracted me to doing a podcast outside of Dan from Never Forget Radio doing one. I LOVE NEVER FORGET RADIO, I love how layered and lyrical the political-psycho-sociological thinking is and how much fun it is to listen to, and Dan said, why don’t you make a podcast too, so I did. Also, I’m a writer and a person interested in feminism/Palestine so a pod was a cool new way to write about it . . . using . . . audio.

Humble Mumbles, Mira Treatman, photo by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch
Hebron Old City protest art plus counter-art

MT: Where are you currently on your journey as a live performer?

RKH: I read this question fast and thought you asked me how my past experience with Birthright Israel influenced where I am today to which the answer is: WHOA SO MUCH in terms of increasing interest in uses of narrative and manipulation. OK, but to answer your real question, I think I am in a constant liminal threshold purgatory and it is terrible and potentially liberating and SO IS LIFE. Thanks for asking. I am very subjective and unreliable in my answers, by the way, but I guess that’s what interviews are, OK, let me try to think about this. I think . . . I am on the road. That’s where I am on my journey. Not at the starting line, never gonna win the race, just sort of slowly jogging but very tired and reactively overexcited, sometimes. Past live performance experiences with BARBARISM and Slappy Pancake Private Eye have emboldened me and enlivened me, puffed me up with unmerited overconfidence and acted as excuses for subsequent performances where I didn’t know what I was doing but assumed I could just float on the wings of past experiences and I was wrong, so wrong. But bad performances can also be helpful humility-inspirers and instigators to change/actually prepare so that’s cool. Sometimes, especially at NIGHT KITCHEN and at The A-Space things have gone very well.

Humble Mumbles, Mira Treatman, photo by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch
Demoralizing Jewish stars on Israeli army tanks in Hebron
Humble Mumbles, Mira Treatman, photo by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch
Ramadan in Hebron

MT: What can we expect from Humble Mumbles’ upcoming live show, How to Get from Hebron to Ramallah?

RKH: Um, so when that show happens—which it WILL happen unless I stay in Palestine until the very end of my visa here in which case this show will 100% happen but a little bit later than originally expected—I hope it will consist of a lo-fi live-action recreation of West Bank travel between cities, complete with burdensome, Orwellian (strategically needlessly bureaucratic) checkpoints (an excitingly depressing mixture of intimidating bigness + claustrophobia, for the visitor equipped with a trusty American passport and Jewish surname). We’ll also recreate interactions with bored to vitriolic, well-intentioned to power-crazed teenaged Israeli soldiers and a few scary, god-promised-me-this-land West Bank settlers. Why is travel so hard for Palestinians in the West Bank? What mechanisms keep people under control, and what is their function?

Humble Mumbles, Mira Treatman, photo by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch
Hebron Old City, nighttime edition

MT: Where have you traveled recently? Where are you right now? What brought you there?

RKH: Oh god. I don’t even know anymore. Right now I’m in the sweet town of Beit Sahour, a 10 minute walk from Bethlehem. Beit Sahour is a town with a rich history of resistance (see this half live action, half cartoon movie about cows-as-threat-to-Israeli-security during the first intifada for more!) and also, interestingly, one of the very few Christian majority towns in the West Bank (Christians make up 2% of the Palestinian population of the West Bank; most have emigrated—in large part to South and North America). I was recently in Ramallah, East and West Jerusalem, and another Bethlehem-area town of Beit Jala. And before that, fellow Philadelphian Megan Bailey (!) and I traveled to Haifa and Akka and Nazareth up in the north of historic Palestine (or current ‘48,’ as many pro-Palestine people will sometimes call Israel in reference to the 1948 War of Independence to Israelis, the Nakba (Arabic for ‘catastrophe’) to Palestinians). I plan to return to Hebron in a few days. Hebron! Oh, so many things to say about Hebron. I’m fascinated by this city of incredible everyday Israeli brutality and humiliation (at least in the H2 Israeli state-controlled area… as opposed to H1, the nominally Palestinian Authority-controlled area… which is still UNDERNEATH Israeli military occupation. So dystopian), as well as incredible kindness and resilience in the Palestinians who live there. I’ve also had some really heartwarming, weirdly unexpected talks with the odd Israeli soldier. Hebron like many (if not most?) Palestinian places has a history of perfectly neighborly relations between peoples of many faiths until it was overwhelmed by one ethnonationalist state (ugh, let’s all just take another moment to be so annoyed with Israel. WHAT THE HELL). I’ve met some of the nicest people in Hebron and I try to interview them about their experiences with the city, with travel, culture(s), etc. I try to be as obsessed as I am without letting it get in the way. Which is hard. I’m bad at humility so I gave my podcast an aspirational/joke of a name.

Humble Mumbles, Mira Treatman, photo by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch
The apartheid wall as seen from Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem
Humble Mumbles, Mira Treatman, photo by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch
Beit Sahour

MT: I often perceive really entertaining idiosyncrasies like surprising non-sequiturs in your humor. Where does this come from?

RKH: Sadness. (America/Ashkenazi mid-century Philip Roth-yaw-shucks Jewish patriarchy stuff led me to believe humor was a magically-native-to-the-Jews trait but no, it’s just a general coping/defense mechanism used by many peoples given many contexts. Better late to de-essentialize my thinking than never!)

Humble Mumbles, Mira Treatman, photo by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch
Ramallah
Humble Mumbles, Mira Treatman, photo by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch
JERUSALEM // hyperbolic favorite place on earth

MT: What are you most looking forward to when you get back to Philly this summer? What’s the best part of living in Philadelphia? What is the worst?

RKH: Hmm . . . I’m looking forward to editing and making episodes out of much of the audio I’ve collected over the past months (including rollicking Arabic pop music in shared taxis! Sober-minded interviews with smokey-voiced Old City Jerusalem hotel proprietors! Rare snippets with Israeli leftists, Palestinian kids I met on streets, Palestinian rappers in 48/Israel, my mom as we walked on a highway to the settlement of Har Gilo from the city of Beit Jala, etc.) Philly is more affordable than some cities and has thriving arts. It is not New York. That’s cool. I probably like Philly a lot but I like Palestine more, I just can’t stay here. Look what happened the last time Jews got too comfortable in Palestine.

Humble Mumbles, Mira Treatman, photo by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch
Ramallah

All photos by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch.

Mother’s Day, 2008, Sharon Koelblinger

Artist to Artist

Inside a Domestic Setting-Turned-Gallery Space

Sharon Koelblinger uses painting, drawing, photography, photo as object, and sculptural forms to explore parallel worlds and spacial relationships. I’m particularly interested in the way she deconstructs the photograph, a medium inherit with authenticity, to reveal a new way of understanding it as object. Sharon asserts in her artist statement: “When seen together, photographs resist representation and sculptures embrace trompe l’oeil affects to emphasize the disconnection between seeing and comprehending while negotiating the boundary between illusion and authenticity.”

I visited Sharon’s exhibit, Auspicious Arguments, at Black Oak House, Catherine Pancake and Miriam Stewart’s contemporary fine art gallery in West Philly, and developed a series of questions based on the work.

-Julianna Foster, curator

Julianna Foster: The Black Oak House is a gallery space in a domestic setting. How did you approach this space differently then you would have a more traditional gallery? In particular, can you speak about the piece Figure-8’s on Your Body and how it was installed?

Sharon Koelblinger: Showing my artwork in a house gallery initially presented a few challenges for me in thinking about how the content of my work relates to the space. Ultimately, I decided to embrace the domestic setting and draw upon my own familial history and consider the objects that my grandparents collected over the 60 years that they lived in their home. These works constitute the bulk of the exhibition.

In the past, the Figure-8’s piece was installed in the corner of a white-wall gallery space. I really liked that I was able to re-present that work for Black Oak House in a domestic setting. The piece references a paper chain that children often make and it seems more natural to be installed within the context of a home rather than a gallery. It greets viewers when they enter through the door as if they are arriving at a celebration, like a welcome to the exhibition.

There's Comfort in Your Lack of Intimacy, Sharon Koelblinger
There’s Comfort in Your Lack of Intimacy

JF: There’s Comfort in Your Lack of Intimacy, installed in the dining room of the gallery, is isolated on the wall. I actually feel it commands the space, it’s quite a powerful image. Tell me about the choice of placement. Was this work made for this exhibit?

SK: Yes, it’s so interesting that you mention that piece, because it was in fact the artwork that was the impetus for the whole show. I had taken the blanket, seen in the photograph, from my grandfather’s house when he passed away. It was a wool blanket that I had never seen while he was alive and I had no personal connection to its history. I struggled with my lack of emotional connection to the blanket and other objects taken from his house. The mark-making on top of the photograph is a way of claiming the blanket as my own and ultimately turning it into something appreciated for its aesthetic value rather than for its utilitarian function.

Feathers From Your Wedding Hat, Sharon Koelblinger
Feathers From Your Wedding Hat

JF: I’m curious about the intersection between your use of photography, mark making, and sculptural forms. Can you speak about your focus on materiality? For instance, in the two works Feathers From Your Wedding Hat and Torn Pages, there is a delicateness to the feathers—pigment-printed on tracing paper—as opposed to the graphite-covered aluminum of Torn pages.

SK: Materials play a huge role in describing metaphor in my work. I was initially trained in sculpture before I worked in photography, so I often think about the form alongside the image. In my photographs, I create unexpected relationships to materials in an effort to ask the viewer to consider the images as objects that exist in the present rather than depicting moments of the past.

Torn Pages, Sharon Koelblinger
Torn Pages

In the works you mentioned, the forms reinforce the image: tracing paper serves as a substrate for delicate feathers and aluminum adds weight to a carved wooden journal. By placing these pieces next to one another, they engage in a dialog about duality: lightness and heaviness, revealing and witholding, ephemerality and permanence.

JF: Your titles, such as Mother’s Day, 2008, Your Coat Collar on Christmas, and There’s Comfort in Your Lack of Intimacy, seem to refer to someone or a specific event or narrative. Does this body of work relate to your personal history?

SK: Yes, I do rely on titles to add a hint of personal narrative to my work. The artwork doesn’t necessarily reveal itself as intensely personal on its own, therefore I utilize titles as a way of creating a more intimate conversation between the works. All of the titles in this show address specific people that I have been in an close relationship with in some way, some who have passed away and some who are still living.

JF: What is your studio practice like?

SK: My process of working is heavily studio-based. I view my studio as a place of refuge where I can seek solice and quietly work on my projects. I typically work very slowly and many of my artworks are made through repeated gestures, therefore my studio practice often assumes a meditative tone.

Mother’s Day, 2008, Sharon Koelblinger
Mother’s Day, 2008

JF: What are some things you are currently reading, listening, to or viewing that are relevant to your work?

SK: Serendipitously, I began reading The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit at the time that I was preparing work for this show. The book touches on a few transitional moments in Solnit’s life, including her mothers declining health due to Alzheimer’s, and considers how she and others narrate their own story. In Auspicious Arguments, I was thinking a lot about the objects that connect me to other people’s histories and how my own present is intertwined with their past.

JF: What are your plans for the summer—what are you working on now?

SK: This summer, I plan on experimenting with video in my practice. I foresee that the inherently ephemeral nature of video will similarly share the tension between the temporal and the enduring that already exists in my work. Using video, I intend to explore the process of human perception through capturing subjects that are transformed throughout the duration of the piece by shifts in subtle nuances. What the viewer anticipates at the beginning may not be what they see at the end.

Sharon Koelblinger

Medium Theater Company - Mason in a cage

Artist to Artist

Podcast: The Mediums Make Theater

Morgan Fitzpatrick Andrews and Mason Rosenthal have been working together since 2012 under the auspices of Medium Theatre Company. Their site-specific productions in Rutherford Hall—about a two hour drive out of Philly into New Jersey—feature large casts activating multiple rooms in the suburban mansion with interactive, multi-sensual performance.

In Curate This‘ first podcast, Dani Solomon, who began working with the Mediums two years ago and is now a company member, talks with Morgan and Mason about their differences—in production style, social sensibilities, artistic strengths, finances—and the particulars of navigating differences as artistic collaborators.

The first time they worked together intimately was Mason’s one-man show Nobody’s Home. For their initial rehearsals, Morgan set up a system where Mason would create a one minute performance with only two minutes of prep in a tiny, cell-like bedroom. Morgan, stopwatch in hand, would enter the room after the two allotted minutes, and leave after one minute of performance. Then the process began again immediately.

“Morgan tortured me, basically,” Mason laughs. “It was amazing, but it felt like torture for a while.”

“It’s a bit of that exquisite corpse,” says Morgan, “of being able to take different images and then sequence them in a way that makes sense. But then also taking those starting images and branching them out and growing them into something that’s a bit more crystallized into an actual scene.”

Mason adds, “Susan Rethorst has this phrase that making is thinking. So the act of making things over and over again is a kind of thinking and a kind of very sophisticated thinking that’s different from talking about what the show might be or writing it out. And we did a lot of making as thinking.” Within these limitations, says Mason, “We were building a vocabulary together.”

Morgan will more often concede control than take it. “You have a specific way that you like to run rehearsals,” Mason describes, “as a collective, that comes from your history of organizing groups and political activism. You play this funny role as the leader but also you want people to step up in certain moments and for you to be able to step back.

“I learned very early on,” he continues, “that if I want this to go the way I want it to go I have to step up and decide that I’m the director now in this moment. And I enjoyed that. It was stressful to have to do that at the last moment, but I enjoyed it.”

“Not everyone will step up in a situation like that,” Dani points out. “It’s one thing to acknowledge an opportunity for someone to step up but not everyone feels empowered to do that, and sometimes that does leave things not getting accomplished.”

”I’m not telling anyone what to do,” Morgan responds. “I’m giving everyone a frame through which to do things.”

In workshops Morgan facilitates through Philadelphia Theatre of the Oppressed, he says, “people start by playing these games, and then the games develop into techniques. It’s not like I give a bunch of kids four crayons and [tell them what to draw]. It’s like, okay, here’s sixty crayons and a piece of paper. How was your day? That’s more the way I want a process to look.

“What ends up happening is people are able to insert their own stories into that framework. I’m basically providing the frame but they’re the artist who then provides the picture.”

Listen to the full conversation:

All photos by Amy Hufnagel

Music in podcast by Kulululu

Red 40 Mike Jackson_small

Artist to Artist

If Mike Didn’t Draw It, It Doesn’t Matter

I met Mike Jackson back in 2011 when he started to hang out and draw at Indy Hall. We were the only artist/illustrators there at the time that were actively creating and drawing.

In April of 2013 I produced his solo show, Fast, for a Catcher, where he filled the entire gallery with artwork and stories surrounding his love of baseball. Since then, Mike and I have produced art shows, collaborated on pieces, painted giant murals ,and have encouraged each other to continue to live our lives as creators.

As my drawing mentor, he is constantly encouraging me to settle for nothing but my best. Mike wants everybody to be at their best so he can share the incredible things that people are capable of.

This is why I chose to interview my friend, teacher and collaborator to find out where this incredible execution of colors and lines came from and the stories he is telling with them.

-Sean Martorana, curator

Fast for a Catcher Mike Jackson

SM: Tell me the story of your earliest art and design influences.

MJ: My grandfather saw that I had an interest in drawing. He sat down with me one Saturday night and showed me how to draw a convertible in one point perspective. I remember him specifically saying “. . . and you can add a little fella in there, and then you can draw a sidewalk and he’s looking at a pretty girl at the stop light. You can just keep adding and adding to this.” This was the first time that I got permission to keep building.

I also remember drawing Batman in the frost on the bus in first grade. I did a different super hero every morning. I knew they were going to the next public school when they dropped us off. So I was leaving something behind to build a legend.

It didn’t work. I was not a legend. But my Batman got tighter.

Was there a moment when you really decided you wanted to focus on illustration full time?

I felt like everybody in grade school was the best at something. For some reason I thought I was the best of the best if I could draw really well. I wanted to be known as “the drawing guy.”

In the third grade there was a girl who took art lessons on Saturdays and I remember thinking, “I can’t afford art lessons.” I thought she was going to be better than me and I was going to lose “my thing.” She stopped taking lessons but I kept drawing because I really liked being the best.

Then I went to art school, at University of the Arts, because I figured this is what I’m good at and it’s worth pursuing. I didn’t know I had to know what I wanted to do with it. Art school was just the next logical step.

Line drawing from a live model by Mike Jackson, collection of Sean Martorana

You have a very strong style that you have crafted over time. It’s your hand, your signature. Was there a specific moment you started to find this approach?

College is when I got introduced to line. Up until then I was just trying to draw as realistically as possible. Then there was this girl in college and her renderings were beautiful. Untouchable. So I thought, ok, I’m going to have to figure out a signature. Otherwise I will just be reaching for something that I am good at, and she’s just better.

There was a class with teacher by name of Roger Roth. He encouraged that every week we draw differently. That is the first time I started thinking about bringing a voice to illustration.

He also introduced me to David Stone Martin and Al Hirschfeld, and from there I started drawing with line.

I find your lines to be very animated. They are very loose but sophisticated and intentional. Is there something in your style of line that helps tell the story of the people you draw?

Usually I try to tell as much story with as little line as possible. The more line I have, the closer I get to rendering, and I am trying to get as far away from that as possible but still pass some kind of recognition onto the viewer.

Jazz Mike Jackson

One thing I appreciate with your lines is that they are so tight. In contrast, your color is not as clean. Is there a reason your color is so much looser in its execution than your lines?

Recently I’ve tried not to paint but to apply color. Color adds depth beyond the line . . . which is fun. I want people to have a smile even if it’s just internal. I want them to feel better about something when looking at my work.

Some guys Mike Jackson

Since you like to capture moments and tell stories of incredible people, is there one particular story that stands out to you?

One would be the Kinetic Sculpture Derby piece. It was just a summarization of this day that I had. We went to the Trenton Avenue Arts Festival and were walking up to Frankford Avenue as these people showed up. It was absurd and wonderful I thought if this isn’t the best gateway for telling this day I don’t know what is.

Just two people covered in balloons.

Kinetic Sculpture Derby Mike Jackson

After watching a parade of a viking ship that had 18 people peddling, which is amazing, then these guys were just wearing balloons. It was this simple display of absurdity that I appreciated.

This was a lot of fun because it is simple. The color is exactly what I wanted to do. It’s just an application of color that ended up emphasizing the story.

Is there a subject you are currently interested in?

I have been drawing the theater around Philadelphia. It’s a thing, which doesn’t get much attention, that I can add my voice to. In my world it doesn’t have a prominent voice. When I get together with my friends we talk about the Phillies.

I feel like it’s completely wide open to do what I want. I really don’t know of many people drawing the theater right now. So it seems like the wild west.

I’ve only been doing it for about 5 months but it’s gotten me into some really great shows and it’s another thing to bounce my drawings off of. I go see what other people are capable of doing and how can I show that through what I am capable of doing.

It’s been really great seeing how much work goes into a production, and then can I do it justice.

It’s so much fun.

Ok, final question, because I could go on and on. Do you have any bucket list projects, mediums or things you would like to see your career?

To be a part of a community where I am a respected influence in the community. That will be cool.

The biggest thing, which is why I do all of it, all these little tiny things, add up to the fact that I want to have been a prolific illustrator who supported himself and his family through illustration.

I also want people to say “If Mike didn’t draw it, it didn’t matter.”

Good answer.

Wait. One more question. Can you capture this interview in one of your daily drawings?

Sean and Mike by Mike Jackson

All images by Mike Jackson. Figure drawing from a live model is from the personal collection of Sean Martorana.