The past 18 months, for me, has been a process of constantly adjusting and responding to external forces in an attempt to remain in balance. The results have been mixed, the variables constantly moving and my endurance waxing and waning. This has been perhaps the most trying time in my life, not because of the events that we have all experienced, but more because of what I have been cut off from. The world seemingly and slowly began to recede. I am not my own best company. It made me realize how much I depend on the external for inspiration and the experiences that fuel that inspiration. Like the man said “ all things are contingent and also there is chaos” which is to say… “Shit happens”
Balance in these times is both difficult to maintain and the margin of error narrow. We live in a time of consequences. I suppose this is a collective test of wills. I wish you all balance, some solace and all the required endurance.
This is something I think almost everyday, primarily because in retrospect it has been one consistent truism throughout my life. Almost nothing about my life was predictable, at least not by me. It has always evolved and changed as often as circumstance and environment. It is both a comfort and a warning. Moreover, it is simply an acceptance that all things are uncertain and always have been. In my mind, to get too far ahead of myself is futile because my predictions will almost certainly be wrong. This idea simplifies things for me; it forces me to start everyday where I am and be open to experiences that may seem to be interruptions of whatever I may have planned. Those “interruptions” are often actually catalysts. I’ve found paying attention to interruptions often leads me to places that my limited imagination had never conjured. The idea also reassures me in shit times that all things are temporary, and in good times that nothing lasts forever, so be present and enjoy it.
The piece itself is made from unintentional things. The background consists of butcher paper used to mask overspray; it was utilitarian, never intended as a work itself. The image was an outtake from another project that had nothing to do with this concept, a discarded image. Both were basically refuse. Also, I had planned on writing the title across the bottom in French. I have been studying French for a few months now and I thought it would be apropos to look back on this piece years from now and laugh that either I was a fluent speaker or had given up on French shortly after making this.
I asked a few friends to help with a reasonable translation and even that evolved over a few days. With different opinions and different phrasing and a lot of disagreement about an accurate translation. In the end I just wrote all the various notes at the bottom to demonstrate that even the translation, like the piece itself, had become something other than what I imagined.
So whether I am absolutely at the end of my rope or feeling invincible, I generally pause and tell myself “Wait. We’ll see what happens…”
This is another piece I created with refuse from my studio. As it turns out what’s laying around my studio is a fairly good indication of what my preoccupations are. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic I was closely watching the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. There was evidence of this around the studio. Images, notes etc. I am not a Hong Konger, I am simply someone who has always found a certain joy in Hong Kong, mostly because of the sheer unlikelihood of the entire place and it’s ambition. It is a place of contradictions that functions at breakneck speed. Where the past and the future joust in close proximity often with no outcome or victor. It would seem that Hong Kong and what it is; it’s culture, traditions and it’s unique disposition, are on borrowed time. The autonomy promised to Hong Kong in 1997 has quickly eroded and it’s audacity muted. It would seem that it is destined to become South Shenzhen, an extension of the mainland’s greater bay area vision. China may have done what no one thought was possible in the past 40 years, economically and technologically, but it is not Hong Kong. It lacks the magical outcome that happens as a result of coincidence and confluence. Whereas, China is a linear climb towards a specific future, Hong Kong, it seems has wandered, meandered and stumbled upon some fairly unimaginable outcomes. It is still surprising to this day. It is like no other place I’ve ever been.
The text on this piece roughly translates as “When a rat eats a bird the rat doesn’t fly, the bird just dies” My point is that a culture overpowered by another doesn’t result in the conquering force inheriting the virtues and character of that place; those virtues and that character are erased. Lost.
In that, there is something that is worthy of mourning. For me, the loss of some kind of magic that happens quite infrequently in history. Something unpredictable and fascinating, and without it, the world becomes a rather linear prosaic existence.
There is a balance to symmetry in human forms that is curious. Too little and things seems awkward, deformed, perhaps even ugly. Too much and things seems synthetic, cold, artificial even. We have a very strange relationship with perfection. There is almost certainly a sweet spot of the “right” amount of variation from our left to right sides. This piece is an examination of that embedded sense we have. Our sensitivity to that balance should not be underestimated. It can be the difference between repulsion, attraction or alienation. It is a core part of how we see the world and respond to things.
The odd price, $68.79, for anyone who is curious is simply a numerical analogy. 6:8 :: 7:9. In keeping with idea of things being symmetrical and/or analogous
Each can comes with a numbered, embossed steel dog tag and is also signed and numbered by hand on the bottom of the can.
On June 5, 2018, Rachel Riot and I embarked on a journey with the goal of photographing the carpets of every casino on the Las Vegas strip. We trekked the 8.6 mile round trip, bouncing from freezing air conditioned casinos to the 100º+ heat on the strip, stopping only occasionally to rehydrate with White Castle burgers and vodka tonics. Normally I avoid projects this demanding, but this was different. What lie ahead was the opportunity to catalog an array of poor design choices unlike any other. Like John Steinbeck in “The Log from the Sea of Cortez”, we hardly understood the gravity of what we were about to see. By the end of the evening as we sat waiting for the roller coaster at New York New York, our revelations had only begun to sink in.
Most people spend there time in Las Vegas looking at the lights and attractions, distracted by the bells and whistles of slot machines, the barking of croupiers, and the incessant soundtrack of Rihanna’s “We Found Love”. It’s a dizzying cacophony that engages hyper-arousal, or the “fight or flight” response, as it is more commonly known. In that frenzied state, most spectators miss a truly horrifying piece of the Las Vegas experience: Looking down.
There on the floor of every casino lay hundreds of thousands of yards of some of the most aesthetically offensive, and at times vertigo inducing, motifs ever woven. Paisley and Fleur-de-lis mashed against faux graffiti and jungle foliage in unimaginable ways. Nautical instruments and aerial views, post modern geometry, architectural and textile embellishments are all arranged in a manner that reduces thousands of years of science and art to a mélange of nothingness. You get lightheaded and feel somewhat nauseous, maybe from the heat or from the pairing of colors, or perhaps because you realize others see these horrible floor coverings as “opulence”.
The haunting question that refrains in your head is not how this was done, but why. With each photograph in this book, we have hypothesized on what may have inspired the art direction. What exactly were they going for? What were they inspired by? It’s as if you force fed someone flowers, and skittles, and tropical fish until they vomited all over the floor. It’s mind boggling. It is the ethos of excess. The same ethos that has led to other great American abominations, like the Meat Lovers Pizza, the Chevy Avalanche, Hummer limousines and Nicki Minaj. Attention grabbing spectacles satisfying the appetite for more. Las Vegas mirrors the worst outcome of the American dream; a constant wanting of more followed by a quick dismissal, endlessly repeating.
After an entire day spent surveying hundreds of these catastrophes of interior design, bloated and befuddled from the heat, you feel as if you’ve fallen down Lewis Carroll’s rabbit hole. By the end, you are staggering about the strip with Grace Slick’s voice singing “White Rabbit” in your head. Except…you are completely sober.
As the sun set over the strip and the sky turned that deep blue of The Palazzo’s carpet, I am reminded of what a wise man once said about ambition; “You’ll never be taken seriously if you let people walk all over you.”
Tragic Carpet: A photographic study of every carpet on the Las Vegas strip
James Swinson and I made this piece at the end of December 2019. Shortly thereafter, the Pandemic hit and we never posted it. The title refers to the Hong Kong protestor’s 5 demands and “not one less”. Unfortunately, the pandemic put the struggle of Hong Kongers on the back burner internationally. But In December of 2019, that fight was still weighing on me. Hong Kong is like, well… Hong Kong is Hong Kong and it isn’t “like” anything else. In a world where cities increasingly become a homogeneous blur, Hong Kong remains a unique hybrid that stands alone, for good and for bad. It is neither Britain nor China but rather the unlikely result of an unlikely series of events. I can’t say exactly what it is to me; it’s draw, it’s seductive nature, the almost unimaginable quality of it’s existence, but somehow it always makes it’s way back into my consciousness. For my girlfriend Rachel, Hong Kong is some magical place of origin that existed before America perverted that reality. For me and my best friend Moy, it is our happy place (if there is such a thing). I was suppose to move there for a while in 2020. Those plans were obviously interrupted. So it becomes that “what if” scenario that haunts me. What if the pandemic hadn’t come? What if the Chinese security law hadn’t been passed? What if this last bastion of originality simply fades and becomes another engineered product of China, like Shenzhen, like Dongguan? What if? I suppose the world will keep spinning, but be a bit less sweet, with a bit less joy and a lingering sense of loss.
As for the piece… I tried to convey this beautiful cacophony of a city being bound by ropes. Additionally James and I placed a petrol bomb in a cage, as the security law essentially outlaws dissidents. Finally the piece is covered with keys to represent the displacement that will inevitably occur in Hong Kong. The loss of home. Keys are of no use when you are never going home. My faith and hope remains in Hong Kong. I am not a Hong Konger, I am an outsider. One day I hope to be back there and I hope “there” is the same. Hong Kong, in my mind, is too precious to lose, but China is too big to stop and the United States has been resigned to being an impotent participant in these affairs. I am reminded of a quote by Hong Kong Filmmaker Wong Kar Wai. “We love what we can’t have, and we can’t have what we love.”
“Not one less” Mixed media on found door. 31 x 81 inches (79cm x 206cm)
These works are from a group of collaborations I did during quarantine with painter James Swinson. I was in Oakland and James was in Southern California. We would send the pieces back and forth by mail adding or changing them. Generally when James and I collaborate we are together in the same physical space, working simultaneously, so this process was completely different. The surprising thing, for both of us, was the palette. We both regularly tend toward muted colors and somehow this time both of us did the opposite. With each iteration the pieces kept getting brighter. I think we used color to compensate for all that was lacking during quarantine, the world outside seemed muted enough. Subconsciously we both went in this direction literally replacing some of the vibrancy that was gone from out lives with color. This was our optimism, literally looking on the bright side. As for the effectiveness of that remedy, I can say it worked. the world did not flip back to normal but my mental state definitely improved while making these. I was a bit catatonic for much of this past year, as many of us were. I felt I was biding my time. Making these pieces, changed one specific thing in me: It made me want things again. At some point during the past year I just shut down, I wanted nothing, I was doing very little. Making art has always been the magical elixir for whatever ails me and as much as I know that, it is a lesson I have to relearn quite often.
Archival pigment print on 300 gr Moab Entrada Rag Matte Fine Art Paper
edition size 50
Signed and numbered
“Sign 1” HPM Edition of 5
11×14 inches (28x36cm)
Archival pigment print on 300 gr Moab Entrada Rag Matte Fine Art Paper
Hand worked with iridescence acrylic, pencil and prisma color
edition size 5
Signed and numbered
Sometimes I make an image that I am always referring back to. This is one of those images. For as many times as I have tried to describe what it is that haunts me about this one, I have never been able to adequately describe why. These are the ones I never let go of because for me personally I can’t really ever unravel the draw. In my opinion, on a very basic level that is what art is for. To communicate something or evoke something that you couldn’t otherwise express with words or by some other means. I’ve never been able to translate this piece into a coherent explanation. It is solitary experience . Which is what makes it meaningful to me.
It had become increasingly important to me, to make a piece about 2020. Why? That’s a tricky question. Maybe as proof, simply that I was here or perhaps, as some self imposed obligation I feel. An arcane idea that because I chose to be an artist it is my responsibility to add my perspective to things of cultural and historical significance. To chime in, as it were. That’s reportage though; witness and record, and it was of little interest to me. It seemed pointless, gratuitous even. After all, what could I add to the analysis of political pundits, scientists, activists, and a cacophony of opinionated social media users? “Nothing.” I thought.
My defeatist, uninspired answer actually angered me. It became a mirror of what the past 10 months had done to me. An unflattering mirror, far removed from who I thought I was. Like the aging man who steps out of the shower one morning and sees himself, not his idea of himself, nor a memory of himself, his current self. Unadorned. As if 15 years of aging had slowly crept up on him unnoticed and then all at once presented themselves in a chorus of diminishing returns. Just as age will steal your youth, this year had stolen my faith, perhaps even my voice. I had nothing to add to the conversation.
Sometime in November I began searching through my hard drive for an image I had misplaced. I don’t remember what image, and it isn’t important. What is significant is what happened as I searched. Image after image I began to see things I had made, in some cases over a decade ago, that reflected what I was reading and seeing in the news everyday. Two thousand and twenty was a year that disoriented even the most even keeled of us. Many of our assumptions about the world were called into question, and yet, for anyone paying attention it was all quite predictable. Inevitable even. There, on my hard drive, were images that I had made between 2009 and 2018 that felt like they were about exactly what was happening.
Images are not static things, they change, as we change. Chances are if you haven’t looked at something for a few years or a decade, when you see it again it will be with fresh eyes. The world will have changed, you will have changed and thus your perception will have changed. This, I found interesting.
Upon recollecting how these images started for me, I remember researching possible causes of apocalyptic events. It was 2011 and Hugh Leeman, D Young V, and I, had agreed to do an exhibit in Los Angeles scheduled for 2012. 2012 was predicted by the Mayans to be the end of the world. Hugh, D, and I, thought that would be an interesting theme; the world after. We created an installation titled: “Epilogue”. What’s significant here is the research. The most common theory I came across regarding apocalyptic events wasn’t a comet smashing into earth or a multi-national nuclear war. It was something quieter, invisible almost, it was an airborne respiratory virus with a high level of transmission. When the initial reports from Wuhan started making there way to the New York Times, after New years Day 2020, I distinctly remember my reaction. Fuck.
In May, when George Floyd was murdered by a police officer, I would be lying to tell you I was shocked. Angry? Yes. Despondent? Absolutely. Surprised? How could I be. We live in a country where it is necessary to have a group called Black Lives Matter. Was that not among the truths we hold to be self-evident? Racism in the united states is a disease that has been left untreated for 400 years to fester. We keep treating it like the flu, in that, we think a few minor remedies will lessen the symptoms in the short term and it will eventually self resolve. It won’t. Racism is the actual plague of this nation and presents an existential threat. Until we as a nation, reconcile that, deal with it and address it, our full potential will never be realized.
In my adult life, from Rodney King to George Floyd I have witnessed a steady increase in both frequency and severity of police violence against African Americans. The civil unrest that follows are not simply predictable, they are necessary. Demonstrations of outrage are necessary. They represent the frayed cords that are the remaining ties to our best aspirations as a nation. Their absence would be the final breath of the great experiment, and it’s concluding failure. From 2015 til today the nation has had a race-baiting candidate and then president at the helm of the Republican party. Race baiting politicians only win votes in a racist nation. Donald Trump is the empirical proof that we live in a racist nation, (for anyone who actually had doubts). His racism is no more real than his tan, or his hair, or his marriage. It is mostly for appearances, and the appearance of racism only appeals to a racist constituency. To a man like Trump, racism is American currency and currency is power.
In the summer of 1997, I was on a bus with the Backstreet Boys driving around Oklahoma City. I was on a magazine assignment to photograph them. Nick Carter and A.J. McLean wanted to go to the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building. This was the building Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols bombed on April 19, 1995, killing 168 fellow American citizens. The victims ranged in age from 3 months to 73 years old. 19 were children and 3 were pregnant women. The bombing was the first I had heard of militia groups, or the phrase domestic terrorism. The building had been demolished 2 years earlier. Now there was simply a chain linked fence around the area. On that fence people had posted photos, memorials, teddy bears… Back on the bus everyone was quiet. I’ve thought back to that moment over the years. I don’t know what the backstreet boys were thinking, I, however felt like the concept of war was forever changed. We were the enemy. Ourselves. Some alienated, damaged part of our collective, lacking the vocabulary to express their disaffection. Like some of the least persuasive people I’ve ever met, they had found the language of force. Force completely strips a gesture of it’s meaning. There is only meaning in choice and free will. There is only respect, love, and compassion in choices. Because choices are the things we want to be, not the things we need to be.
This was a new era. This was the national equivalent of an auto immune disorder. The body of our nation had begun to attack itself. So in May of 2020, when armed militia stormed the state building in Lansing Michigan, or in October when the Wolverine watchmen, a group that had met with McVeigh prior to the Oklahoma city bombing, had been charge with a plot to kidnap the Governor of Michigan one could hardly be surprised.
Only weeks earlier President Trump had intentionally encouraged and emboldened these groups when he tweeted, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN.” To me the word liberate sets off an alarm when I hear it leave a leader’s lips. More often than not what it calls for, in actionable terms, is the antithesis of liberation. It is sometimes simply a call to quell dissent. Painting oneself as the defender of freedom and the opposition as an existential threat to freedom itself. Other times it is the self righteous and indignant facade that attempts to hide a nefarious plan. In this case it was the left hand of the magician pointing and waving a handkerchief while the right hand went unnoticed.
The specter of autocratic rule resides in the collective unconscious of all free people. This is what makes it potentially, such a dangerous tool. It enlists everyone. On the one side are those convinced that those in power are defending against our demise. On the other side are those convinced this nationalist movement is in fact the very thing it purports to be defending against; over-reaching autocratic rule. These scenarios present this curious contradiction. They divide people by allegiance and at the same time they engage the entire population, mostly in panic. That’s when the shit show begins. Dr. King said that “a riot is the language of the unheard” and that rings true. Let’s also consider how “riot” is simply a fear inducing word choice for freedom of assembly. It is not dissimilar to the way the word “socialism”, in this country, has become synonymous with communism. So while this president had decided that social distancing and mask wearing were an erosion of your constitutional rights, rather then a temporary public health measure. Fast forward to June 1st at Lafayette Square in Washington D.C., where the same man, decided to clear peaceful protestors, exercising their 1st amendment rights, by use of force and chemical weapons. What ensued was called a riot. If it weren’t so devastating and dangerous it would almost be comical how often American police physically attack peaceful demonstrators, and when those demonstrators act in self defense they call it a riot. All the more heinous was the reason for clearing the square. The most profane president in our history wanted a picture of himself in front of a building he’d never been to (a church) holding a book he’d never read (the bible).
There are people who believe that a president who has ruled primarily through executive order, sidestepping the process of political discourse, is the defender of your civil liberties. Mostly because he has said so. There are also many people who believe the United States is the greatest nation in the world, mostly because it has claimed to be. There are also the rest of us, which on most days, account for a majority. Some believe you can simply fire rubber bullets and tear gas dissent into submission, without retribution. That seems unlikely. When I see a person, who has been beaten by police, in the absence of recourse, toss a molotov cocktail at the same police, I understand that. That is not a difficult dynamic to comprehend. I don’t necessarily condone it, but I am not surprised by it either. When I see people who are refused their rights and refused representation and they turn up day after day and demand those rights and demand representation, I can only applaud them. Freedom is a funny wheel. Once it has rolled forward It requires 10 times the force to roll backwards. Anyone who aspires to that sort of reversal had better come prepared to reconsider. I suspect we will come out of this year with our democracy dented and scraped but mostly in tact. I would attribute that, not to it’s durability entirely, but more to the sheer incompetence on the part of this administration. A better prepared, more experienced group of autocrats may have made more headway.
Much of my work is about alienation and disconnection. Specifically the type that happens when people feel threatened by their immediate surroundings. 14 years ago I was talked into going to see a movie starring Al Gore. Not exactly known for his charisma, Al Gore was a tough sell. If my memory serves me, I was trying to appease a girlfriend and agreed to go see “an inconvenient truth”. I walked out of that theatre with the knowledge of a new (to me) concept; Climate change. Climate change and the existential crisis it represents would become a big part of the global conversation over the following decade. That film would be a source that inspired me to begin using surgical masks in my images, a barrier between our own physiology and the outside world. The need to protect ourselves from the natural world around us brought me back to that day on the bus with the Backstreet boys, again, we had become our own worst enemy. Like those men from Michigan, the environment had become hostile towards us, and threatened our physical well being. The chickens were coming home to roost in both scenarios and again my reaction was the same as it was to the news coming out of Wuhan in January 2020. “Fuck”.
2020 saw a record breaking season of destruction both in the form of wildfires in the west and hurricanes in the east. Unsurprisingly, it was a consequence Al Gore had describe 14 years ago. Who, I wondered, was surprised? In March of 2020 I had a dream. In the dream the pandemic had paralyzed the world and Hurricanes battered the east coast as wildfires tore through California. I woke up with my heart pounding. I thought “Shit. What if it all starts to unravel simultaneously?’ The dream wasn’t a fear dream, like when I am trapped on a scaffold outside the 38th floor of a building and my fear of heights is in full swing. Rather it is what I call a “consequence” dream. To me these dreams are the result of some ignored or postponed anxiety. Maybe one morning you notice a suspicious mole on your shoulder. You think, “hmm, maybe I should get that checked out” but you don’t, you forget about it. 2 years later you have a dream that you’re in a doctor’s office being diagnosed with skin cancer and the doctor is asking why you didn’t have this checked out sooner. These dreams are an acknowledgement of negligence. For me, 2020 has been a consequence dream, the predictable outcome of negligence, without the respite of waking.
The piece I created is called: “The Twilight’s last Gleaming”. It is a series of 5 images I made between 2009 and 2018. That they were made prior to 2020 was necessary to demonstrate that this past year was not an apparition but a predictable consequence of negligence. It was important to me that the number of images be an odd number. There needed to be room for, not only a left and a right, but also a center. Each print contains a single word from the second line of the star spangled banner (our national anthem). What, so, proudly, we, hailed. Words that were written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 as he watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships in the battle of Baltimore. Key was speculating on the outcome of a battle, as was I with the piece. What would remain, and what would fall. Surely there was a point during this year where most of us questioned whether we would return to normalcy, or whether we would perish. Whether we thought, “was this the twilight’s last gleaming?’
The images I chose are arranged sequentially with the word “Proudly” in the center. The center image is the most neutral, acting more as a document than an ideology. To the viewers left the ideology becomes more politically left. To the viewers right, the image becomes more politically right. While I am an atheist, I consider myself culturally catholic. Any claim that this doesn’t inform my work would be inauthentic and any to attempt to erase it would be futile. While, above I describe a political arrangement of images there is a concurrent religious arrangement in which, the woman in the center acts as a proxy for God and conversely, the images at her right hand represent the favor of God. The left hand represents the judgement of God, as in Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement” fresco from the Sistine Chapel. I view this language as mythology or allegory and while I do not suspect a second coming of Christ, certainly, 2020 was a reckoning.