The panel was put together to discuss what it means to ‘sell out’ — to compromise ones principles for support — a practice that is now widely accepted as a means for survival in an increasingly precarious gig economy. To sell-out is to live, and artists, producers, musicians, performers, writers have higher living costs, lower pay and fewer independent spaces to work in, outside of corporate interests. Instead of resisting the inevitable total subsumption of the margins by expanding markets, one can join in, get paid, gain visibility and work from the inside. But is this realistic, and what is the real cost of such a concession?
The conversation is available to listen in full above, and it features artist and writer van Meel who works with socially engaged art, feminist methodologies and self-organization; writer, musicologist, musician and curator Rhensius; and producer and selector Robey-Lawrence whose work with intersectional and non-binary/queer identities proposes alternative avenues for socio-cultural mobility. Together with Kretowicz, they question the value of visibility and exposure outside of an artist’s original context, and explore the consequences of collusion with the capitalist or state prerogative.**
What happens to the present when we’re stuck in the future? AQNB editor Jean Kay, and Video in Common (ViC) presented the ‘Staying Present’ screening, reading and discussion at Berlin’s Vierte Welt, as part of the Creamcake-organised 3hd Festival, on Wednesday October 12.
In referring to the title of this year’s festival topic ‘There is nothing left but the future?’ AQNB x ViC focussed on the question mark, interrogating what is actually meant by ‘the future’ and whether the past has a role in determining it. The programme presented artists, musicians and ideas drawing on convention and tradition to comment on the contemporary condition by integrating old aesthetics, formats, media, practices and logics into producing new work.
‘Act I, Scene II’ of Jaakko Pallasvuo‘s The Hunchback of South Bermondsey sound piece — originally produced for quarterly podcast Status Effect— opened the event with a glimpse into a near neofeudal future. Armed with an “iPod Shuffle, your Master’s degree, the keys to your apartment”, a character called Lancelot navigated a play and a scene full of “wizadry, alchemy, allurement, sorcery”, while London-based producer Klein talked about the influence of Gospel music and the internet on her visceral vocal ambient project in an AQNB x ViC editorial video production.
Meanwhile, Gary Fembot and Eastercombined and conflated contemporary issues and ideas with traditionally transgressive queer-punk aesthetics and outdated filming techniques in excerpts of their respective ‘Scream of the Mandrake’ and Sadness is an Evil Gas Inside of Me videos. Maxwell Sterlinglaid fielded footage of Los Angeles’ surreal landscapes over his ‘Hollywood Medieval’ music production, while Institute for New Feeling looked into the oracle of the online in a custom massage chair and screen experience in ‘seek: a self-fulfilling prophesy’. Finally, writer, artist and witch Martha Windahlof MW Tarotscopesdrew up an astrological chart prediction and joined the Berlin event from her base in Los Angeles to predict the future of Europe, live and via Skype.
‘Staying Present’ follows a series of previous events organised by AQNB and video production partner ViC in Berlin, London, and Los Angeles –all key cultural centres in the collaboration’s network. Titled ‘The Future Is Here, It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed’, ‘At the Backend’ and ‘Accessing Economies: Engagement & Withdrawal’ together these programmes interrogated the systems and infrastructures embedded in networked communication, and how this affects distribution, flows of information and power, as well as language, community-building, identity formation and assimilation.
Below is the full programme of video, audio and stills of the works presented in their running order:
Jaakko Pallasvuo: The Hunchback of South Bermondsey, ‘Act I, Scene II’ (2015) [27:17 min]
Helsinki-based artist Jaakko Pallasvuo explores a dystopic future with a view of the contemporary, as well as the past, in a co-production with Roy Boswell. The sound piece, drawing from three years of three different eras — 2555AD, 1677 AD, and 2015 AD — presents a narrated play that mixes and confuses historical signifiers, only to draw parallels between systems of power and hierarchy across ages.
Klein: ‘Key Changes’ (2016) [6:54 min]
London-based producer and performer Klein talks about her influences spanning the breadth of the internet, from Kim Burrellto Pavarotti, and how it feels to be a self-taught musician and artist being embraced by the greater “electronic realm”. Klein released her first EP Lagata on September 1, where she produces a unique blend of athletic vocal exercises that clash and combine with noisy ambience.
Gary Fembot: ‘Scream of the Mandrake’ (2015) [16:00 min]
San Francisco-based musician, director and zine-maker Gary ‘Fembot’ Gregerson bids farewell to the old days of his Bay Area city’s liberal activism and queer counter-culture, now overrun by Silicon Valley tech employees and bourgeois boutique lifestyles. Using blanched Super 8mm film, Sta-Prest and Puce Moment band member Fembot draws on a specific aesthetic tradition of San Francisco’s radical punk past, while revealing the hollow corporate sprawl left at its disemboweled core.
Easter: Sadness is an Evil Gas Inside of Me, Episode 4, ‘The Age of Corn’ (2015) [17:06 min]
Berlin-based art and music duo Stine Omar and Max Boss of Easter present what their press release, written by Vika Kirchenbauer, calls a “soap opera in the guise of an essay film”. The four-episode series produced between 2014 and 2015 stages a world described as being in “absence of present”, one where multiple pasts emerge through the subconscious and internal worlds of its characters. Filmed with a camcorder and narrated by queer icon Vaginal Davis, Sadness is an Evil Gas Inside of Me contrasts high quality sound with the low resolution video material to construct its own “ambiguous future”.
LA-based, Manchester-born musician and producer Maxwell Sterling takes his classical training in double-bass and experience in scoring film to produce live renditions of cult-producer James Ferraro‘s ‘Burning Prius’, as well as releasing his own music in recent album Hollywood Medieval on Los Angeles Memory No. 36 Recordings on August 6. Through cut-up and collaged images, and layered and augmented synthesiser samples and recordings, Sterling develops an audio-visual experience at the point where nature and the city collide.
Institute for New Feeling: ‘seek: a self-fulfilling prophesy’ (2016) [3:48 min]
Pittsburgh- and LA-based art collective Institute for New Feeling echo humanity’s age-old obsession with future-telling via the dystopian narrative of modern clairvoyance and its corporate co-option. A live personal session in a massage chair VR that uses personal internet search histories and online surveillance to produce a future reading, ‘seek: a self-fulfilling prophesy’ presents an oracle that offers a false sense of calm in the face of uncertainty.
Martha Windahl: Live Skype psychic Reading
LA-based artist, writer and witch Martha Windahl uses alternative logics and practices to make sense of a universe in chaos. Her ongoing performance and clairvoyant work emerged in the grip of the 2008 Global Economic Crisis, not only as a practical solution to fiscal insecurity but also in response to a growing demand for a new source of reason in an increasingly complex world.**
French producer coucou chloé drops her first official release, entitled Halo EP on October 5. She’s already developed a strong following through a series of internet uploads, such as ‘tears for fears’ — an emotional and delicately barren track composed of guitar and affected voice — as well as more hi-tech, futuristic sounding songs such as ‘Pearl’, a collaboration with Egyptian producer 1127. The EP, with its lead single ‘skin like sin’, comes via Berlin-based platform for digital culture Creamcake.
Aside from her solo music, chloé is also one half of Y1640 — a collaborative project with producer Sega Bodega, who presents a monthly soundtrack series on London’s NTS Radio. Tracks like ‘SPIT INTENT’ offer something arguably more dance-oriented. Indeed, she’s currently more focused on making music for the club as opposed to her more contemplative, ambient side, and while her solo music is generally slower, more vocal-laden, chloé regards her two projects as being in dialogue with one another.
coucou chloé is due to perform at Berlin’s 3hd Festival on Wednesday October 12 at OHM for a night of ‘Speculative Futurism’, alongside other acts like Music For Your Plants, ssaliva, and Ink Agop. “Playing live is the occasion to make my music inhabit a brand new space”, she says. “I’m going to play a lot of unreleased things… I’m going to sing a lot”. According to the festival program, “her crooked ballads offer romance without sentimentality on wavy vocal pitch-shifting and contemplative simulated environments that posit a passion for the future”.
From making initial contact via Soundcloud, the relationship with Creamcake came about online-organically. “I followed them… and they followed me back”, she explains on Skype, highlighting the ease of building internet connections. “They proposed to me to be a part of 3hd Festival and then asked if I wanted to release some tracks on [the Creamcake label]. I had in mind to make an EP really soon so it was good timing”. The facility of the internet extends to access and autonomy, as well as being a catalogue of chloé’s own musical preferences. She singles out niche act Kid Kishore (who also plays at 3hd as HVAD) and English Baroque composer Henry Purcell as two favourites.
Originally from Nice, she studied contemporary art at the Villa Arson and is now based in London after deciding to focus solely on production. “I started to take [music] more seriously in the last couple of months”, she says. Listening to it, you’d think she’d been honing it longer, which might be down to its weight in narrative; music for her is “a space to create and recreate stories”. In conversation, chloé talks about her upcoming release, her musical friends and Soundcloud likes, performing at 3hd, and her own thoughts on futurism.
You have a new release coming — what can we expect?
coucou chloé: This is the first time I’m really thinking about a project as a whole. I made the first track and it built quite naturally. I wanted to have a really aggressive kick, something quite clubby. I have one track that is more chilled, really soft, which I kept for the end of the EP.
Are you pleased with how it’s turned out?
cc: I can see that my music has taken another direction and I’m really happy with that. I’m practicing a lot and learning how to make beats. I see it growing as I learn more. To put it into an EP is really cool for me.
The night you’re playing at 3hd is called ‘Speculative Futurism’ — how do you think this theme relates to your music?
cc: The futurism thing I can elaborate on, in how easy it is today to have all these things in your hands. You can just sit on the bed and make an orchestral piece without knowing any theoretical things about music. The possibility to share it. I think it’s a generational thing, everybody is becoming very autonomous.
What does your live show involve?
cc: I’m going to play a lot of unreleased things and tracks from my side project Y1640. I’m going to sing a lot. When I’m recording or producing, I’m building things in an intimate space, in my room or studio. Playing live is the occasion to make my music inhabit a brand new space.
Can you tell us more about Y1640? How did you get to working together with Sega Bodega?
cc: I went to London to meet him and we began to make a track. We decided we wanted something more clubby, more rhythm, so we tried to do that. We were happy with it so [we] were like, let’s continue to make music together. We have some tracks that we’re going to release, really clubby tracks.
How does your music as Y1640 differ from that as coucou chloé?
cc: Sega Bodega showed me a lot of things to make beats. Of course it fits the way I make music too but I think it’s different. I think Y1640 is more club. I try to make things like this too but it’s more in a classical song structure for me. I think in my own music there’s more voice and it’s more slow. It’s hard for me to say but, in a way, Y1640 and coucou chloé are talking to each other, like they are in link.
Where does inspiration for your music come from?
cc: It’s hard for me to answer because I don’t have a specific process of inspiration. I think I can be inspired by a tune I heard, the ambience of a room, a bunch of words that someone said in the street, the way I want to move in a club. I don’t really know where all my tracks come from.
What are you listening to lately?
cc: Can I check on my Soundcloud likes? I have different periods when I’ll listen to only one thing. There’s one track that I’m really crazy about. Do you know Henry Purcell? I’m going to link you… [sends link] One person I really admire is Arca, for the complexity and richness. Also Kid Kishore.
You’ve also done radio shows on Hotel Radio Paris — can you tell us about this?
cc: It’s a common misunderstanding that I had a monthly show. I played on Hotel Radio Paris twice and I probably will in the future. It supports me and I support it. I think it’s amazing to have this kind of radio in France. It really needed it and it’s great to watch it grow.
What can you say of the ‘scene’ in France?
cc: I don’t think in terms of a French scene or London scene because, for me, I can be in my bed and have access to, talk to, or be a part of lots of different scenes because of the internet and community with Soundcloud and all these things. What I can say, a French thing that is different for me than all the others is the Jorrdee crew, the 667. This is the scene I follow a bit in France.
Is there anyone you’d like to invite for potential future radio shows?
cc: I didn’t really think about it. I’d like to make one with Y1640. For my first show I was supposed to do it alone and I saw Jorrdee the night before and was like, ‘what do you do tomorrow because I have a radio show, if you want come with me and we make something together on it’. This is how it happened, so I don’t really plan every artist.
Having studied contemporary art at Villa Arson, do you think your art education has informed the way you make music?
cc: I think so. It’s a bit weird. I stopped piano when I was younger and I wanted to find a way to make music but not have to learn everything again. I think I used art maybe to be like, ‘okay, you have to experiment a lot because you have the freedom to’. I think I tried a lot of different things with that, thinking about process. It was a way for me to make sounds without learning a lot of technique, though of course there’s a lot of technical things to know. I understand that that was not what I wanted to do. I just wanted to sit on a laptop and try to make music so I said, ‘okay, now I want to stop art school and just focus on music’, because all I wanted to do is music.**
Rianna Jade Parker is an expansive character who can’t stop learning. Taking from other people and planting seeds — metaphorically speaking — the London-based curator and writer lets these seeds grow over time. Parker unites with collaborators at specific times, in specific spaces and then continues on her own path, while still connected to an international network of peers through the internet. Visits to extended family in New York City as a teenager triggered an ever-growing interest in contemporary art, a field which remained foreign to her until then. For that reason, the idea of studying art never actually crossed the artist’s mind, studying psychology and international development instead. Landing in the art world by chance, this same knowledge contributed to a varied current practice, where Parker is determined to challenge standards that for her feel unfair and exclusive.
Interning at institutions like Black Cultural Archives enabled Parker access to valuable research material, collaborating with other people becoming the modus operandi within contemporary art contexts, like as recent pop up project ‘Queenies, Fades, and Blunts‘. Working with a handful of artists, this one night event at Freedman Space in Brooklyn brought together ideas of social, political and cultural beautification illustrated in the form of posters.
Right now, Parker is also preparing a contribution to the 3hdFestival, a project by event organisers and label Creamcake in Berlin, where she will be travelling for the first time to present an essay around the gendered and racialised body, as well as a candid panel discussion called ‘Body in Context‘ in order to include more voices into a larger discourse.
Parker is also co-running collaborative platform Lonely Londoners, along with Pelin Keskin and formerly Kareem Reid, explicitly devoted to building visibility for artists of colour and their practices, particularly if they remain underrepresented by the mainstream. Exhibition projects prompting transnational POC connections, such as Crossing The Black Atlantic, have happened through this platform, as well as external collaborations with organisations like Tate Modern or MoCADA (Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts) in the form of conversations and an Instagram takeover, respectively.
Gentle Dust, which took place on August 25 at London’s Jupiter Woods, is part of a long-term project created to address urgent structural issues of exclusion in major art institutions. Artists and writers Isaac Kariuki, Imani Robinson and Caspar Jade Heinemann reflected on the current canons in major cultural organisations and on what they lack. The spoken word ran over the top of Sami El-Enany’s musical composition. The moving imagery was conceived by artist Dorine van Meel and acted as trigger for the poetic, yet political responses of the invited artists to the question of what (or who) is missing in mainstream artistic narratives.
In order to expand on all those projects and future ones, I met Rianna at a Costa Café across from Brixton station. The South London neighbourhood is where Parker was born, raised and currently lives. I find her immersed in the music coming out of her headphones, before beginning a concise and passionate chat about her projects and her role, in art and in life.
Tell me about your background… because you studied psychology and international development.
Rianna Jade Parker: Psychology was the compromise I made with my parents for not staying on the Medicine route but I got to the second year and then I thought: ‘I can’t do this’. I found it very boring, I just was not stimulated in any real way.
RJP: The way in which undergraduate Psychology is taught in the UK is particular… essentially you study under their logic of the psyche because you have to and deriving from that doesn’t win you points with your lecturers. So I thought, maybe I can find a degree that I can enjoy regardless so I made the change to international development because, why would I not want to learn about the structure of the the world as we know it and how we got there? For a few different reasons, studying art was never an option for me. In my home art was treated as a hobby at best, so it was very difficult as a teen to justify doing something different and funnily enough, as an adult it’s even harder to explain to them what I do now.
I had to figure out art and creativity by myself, more specifically what ‘art’ even means to whom, where and why. Spending so much time in New York helped, the intensity and the pace of output exhibited by my over-worked family and friends helped to develop the work ethic I have now. Every time I returned to London it was as if I had new Duracell battery in my back and I just started pushing out these ideas via whatever medium I had. But in the past two years I have been blessed to work collaboratively on The Lonely Londoners and parallel to that I’ve grown up independently and artistically.
Is this when you started with the Lonely Londoners, while doing this internship?
RJP: Yes, during that year in the summer, Pelin (Keskin) and I met on Tumblr and started going to see the art that London had to offer together. We were mainly friends having conversations about where we went and we always had a (valid) complaint about something fabricated or simply overlooked. We started The Lonely Londoners (LL) trying to address those gaps and misconceptions with no tangible or fiscal resources and without a recognised background in art. Relying on a community of friends we also met online, artists we knew and whose work we admired as well as the older people we were meeting and became our mentors.
Rather than hold an exhibition every two or three months, which is not impossible but rather unnecessary, with LL we want to make sure the kind of conversations that challenge the dominant narratives in art continue to happen and that we remain mobile, flexible and ever changing.
How does this interaction with the online community work, how is this conversation?
RJP: We all live in or are based in different cities and continents so we rely on the internet, a lot. We’re very accessible online via our social media pages and we’ve been working like this for years. We’ve always found new artists and collaborators this way. The best feeling is knowing that our artists trust and believe that we genuinely are here for them. These are artists of colour, immigrants and other marginalised people trying to work in an industry that will happily take and not compensate or credit.
I am not checking blogs or other trend forecasters, rather I take much more joy in finding content creators and creative people organically… we’ve done this by relying on a very good mixture of people who we respect and value. And, in turn, we do the same for them. That’s how we do it, so far.
You always work collectively, including other people in your multifaceted practice.
RJP: We started the collective because we wanted to work together to do something for everyone. We are all able to work individually and have done so before but I don’t like any variant degree of attention to be on me as a singular person, as I’m not here just by myself. I don’t think I am shy or inwards in that way but for me it’s a weird position to take when I feel influenced by so many people and so many things. I like to reference everything I can, as it has been a lot of people on the internet and IRL who for many years have been a silent teacher to me, maybe not even actively or intentionally. Some have no idea they’ve impacted me in this way, others I had to reach out to just to say: ‘This is the role you played in my life’.
I would like us to remain flexible, honest and adaptable; the world is reforming so how could we not? We are trying to figure out what that change is going to be and at the core of our practice is to represent narratives and artists that are not often seen in main or ‘contemporary’ galleries and art spaces.
I see your practice as very platform-like. You say that you want to have your voice heard before you are given the chance.
RJP: Yes, we have to do it. Now it’s easier, after two years, to find spaces. Most of the artists are coming from outside academia and/or the white cube as we know it, where there is little to no support. We learned very quickly that it is not just about the physical space but what is done in the space and who feels welcome to enter that space. It’s easier, for instance, when it’s a one time event, it’s easy to be radical and different. But a sustainable art practice requires a lot more action with real intention behind it to create this kind of bridge.
In terms of a relationship with music, I have the feeling you are very connected with it.
RJP: My relationship with music has changed dramatically in the last three years or so. I always felt an affinity with music but never explored it further than my iPod and my mum’s vinyl player. Recently, I’ve been surrounded by more musicians and DJs who have infiltrated my understanding and uses of music in the best way.
These days I’m actively thinking about new ways to incorporate music and other sound into the art spaces I curate. Sami El-Enany was actually the first artist Dorine and I commissioned for Gentle Dust. Many musicians, old and new, have definitely changed my world. People constantly assume I’ve worked in music before working in art but its definitely not me, I don’t have that talent, it’s my friends!
Yes, I thought it was surprising and inspiring when I saw in an article you wrote featuring five contemporary digital artists and you mentioned NON Records as one of them.
RJP: I was introduced to Chino Amobi and NON some months prior to that article, through mutual friends. In that piece, I spoke about the art I care about the most. It’s not that I don’t care about visual art or art that you can hang on the wall but digital art allows certain freedoms and removes parameters in a way that doesn’t require as much time as traditional media, nor does it have as big of strain on finances.
How do you make art when you don’t have money? As art making becomes more convenient and cost effective, does the value of the work automatically decrease? Where does the ‘value’ come from and how do we measure it? Someone making art via their computer and software doesn’t mean it should be given away for free. There should be a balance, of course, but how?
If art is not sustainable generally and in your own life, then I don’t see the point of it, honestly. If you wake up everyday and you’re stressing out about new materials, hoping a curator somewhere pays attention, hoping you will garner a crowd at your opening, hoping the gallery doesn’t take too large of a commission fee, hoping for lack of any other option, then that is not the kind of art anyone needs to be making. But a community of supporters that includes locals, patrons, curators and space holders who truly engage with your work… these people can help to generate this sustainability.
Right now, I continue to work in the arts anticipating that something or someone along the way is saved, like I was. We can maybe even change the whole structure of the world! But that would take much more than art. So for now, I’m happy for us to use it as and when we can, however we can. That’s the kind of power you find in a people’s art.
I wonder whether art has the power to change things, to shift ideas?
RJP: Art has done that, and art can do that but I don’t think we can rely on it, at all times, in every instance. I think, with art having this potential power, we need more now than before, artists who believe that as well, and actually care about that tapping into that potential.**
Keiska has dropped his debut EP Powerpoint via Berlin event-organisers and label Creamcake/3hd on July 29.
Inspired by the likes of Araabmuzik, Lorenzo Senni and Evian Christ, the record emerges from a difficult period for the Finnish producer, turning to the synth-heavy breakdowns of euro dance as a way to release. Devoid of any implied ironic distance, Keiska’s is a response to the nihilistic “post-industrial” sound of the electronic music of the day, offering instead tracks like ‘LIFE’, an ongoing vocal and a looping of synth sweeps that Keiska himself describes as “excessively melodic and colorful”.
The Powerpoint EP follows lead-single ‘Powerpoint 1‘, dropped on July 8, and pre-empts a string of releases and events by Berliners Creamcake in the lead up to the second edition of their 3hd Festival programme, this year running October 11 to 15.