Like a lot of your pieces, your performance in Atlanta will be out in public. You risk getting heckled, and people may shriek they don't get it and so on. Considering all that, why do you perform in public?
I enjoy performing out in the world best. You bring that strangeness of the performing persona and you marry it with the regular world. That to me makes sense as a way to be provocative and a way to live your life. You get hecklers. Even if they're not heckling, oftentimes they ask you over and over again what you're doing. That's part of performing. You make decisions. Do you want to answer, do you not want to answer. For me generally, I don't answer. That's how I stay in my space. When I'm doing it, it's not the right time to explain. I can't be like, "This is not a flash mob. I'm not a mime," to everybody. I can also understand it can be incredibly frustrating if you just want to know. I try to bring along a friend who can get asked the annoying questions. It's a bit of an entry point so it's not just, "Screw you, person who is asking questions." I think there is a place for questions.
My friend and I were doing a performance where we were eating life-sized babies made of chocolate. It was part of a festival, so there was some signage somewhere. But come on. You needed somebody there to explain what was going on. We had someone recording it. When we watched the tape we heard things like... "Is that a baby? Or a sandwich?!?" There were pictures of people who were really grossed out. It was a pretty demented performance.
How did you first meet Michael Jackson?
The first time I met him was in a recording studio. I was sent by Soul magazine to photograph Stevie Wonder recording that single that criticized [then president] Richard Nixon called "You Haven't Done Nothin'" The Jacksons were doing back-up singing. I saw this kid with this huge afro, sort of hanging out in the corner of the studio, looking over Stevie Wonder's shoulder. I didn't even recognize him. I started taking pictures because it was just a waif-like image. That's when I realized, "Hey, that guy with the big fro and the ill-fitting pants. That's Michael Jackson." He was just studying the master. His full attention was on Stevie, what he was doing at the mixing board, the instructions he was giving the engineers. Everything. His brothers were not that engaged with the technical aspects of the recording process. They were singing, they were goofing around. But Michael, he was at school.
In addition to working regular full time jobs, Petterson and McConnell still find time to organize these events. Petterson and her friend Shannon Mulkey (of Patina) run the ICE event series in addition to her running their own crafting operations. McConnell, the co-owner of Beep Beep Gallery, juggles gallery responsibilities with ARTLANTIS duties (Beep Beep even has an opening for its new exhibit Create, Destroy, Rebuild the same night as ARTLANTIS.
Petterson and McConnell talked with CL about D.I.Y. and why Atlanta is supportive of these type of events.
What are the origins of your respective events, why did you feel the need to start them?
Petterson: Shannon and I met at the end of 2004 at Young Blood Gallery, and basically we both were aware of this growing craft/D.I.Y community that was becoming nationwide. We were familiar with an event in Chicago called Renegade Craft Fair and an event in Austin called Stitch, and we were inspired by these events in other cities and we though Atlanta needed an event like these. We started planning in January of 2005 and had our first event in June of 2005. So we thought basically if these other cities could have a cool craft fair we needed one here too. We are both crafters ourselves, so we were hoping to create an event for people like us, ironically we now don't have time to sell our crafts at our own event (laughs).
McConnell: ARTLANTIS comes from Beep Beep, really, when we started we were just showing local artists and that was our focus. And the festival honestly just started on accident, which is how the gallery started, but our focus was really just to do a festival where we enjoy the art. The reasoning was to create a place where local artists could sell art, we knew about ICE and they were covering the crafting side of things, we wanted to create something like Inman Park Arts Festival or SummerFest (in Virgina-Highlands) but specifically with art from locals and local bands performing too. The artists that participate might not normally buy a booth in an art festival, so its to provide a cheap place for artists to sell their art and we provide tents, tables, and walls to hang up work on.
How many people does the event draw each year and how has it grown in the last six years?
We draw in the range of 1,200 people. I've been involved since 2008, and definitely from the first year we've seen growth. But part of our mission and the idea around Mondohomo is not to make it like some big palooza music show. We like the smallness of it. We're not trying to reach out to 20,000 people.
The fest is always Memorial Day Weekend. Any reason for that besides the three-day weekend?
The reason that happened is because Kiki [festival founder Kiki Mercury] wanted to go to a queer fest in California called Homo A Go Go and could never go so she just said, "Well, I'll create one here." It happened during the U.S. Social Forum, which was on Memorial Day weekend, and then we just kept it there.
You've been the lead festival organizer for two years. Have you tried to do anything different or new in the position?
Our performance night has always been dedicated to burlesque and drag because it's such an integral part of gay/queer culture and burlesque is performance art that definitely deserves a spotlight. But this year we've actually oopeend up our performance night to a gigantic array of different performance art ranging from voguing, which is a huge scene here in Atlanta and we're glad to support that, a theater piece, a gay haunted house... so we've opened up the performance night and that is something that I'm glad we're doing this year.
What does it mean to be a gay haunted house?
Do you know Fred Phelps? Like, "God hates fags."
It's gonna be that kind of theme, making fun of Fred Phelps and his church.
SCAD MFA student P Seth Thompson embarked on a hero's journey for his thesis exhibition The Tannhauser Gate, opening Sat., May 19. Thompson, who's also the curatorial assistant to Michael Rooks, curator of modern and contemporary art at the High Museum, discusses his background and inspiration for the show, including Freddie Krueger, Blade Runner and quantum physics.
What's your background? How'd you get started making art?
I grew up with a mom as an artist. She worked at the Atlanta College of Art, and so I was constantly around college students and I think it made sense to me rather than the sports route or band route. On top of that, I was always really into fantasy and science fiction and horror films. Those things combined melded into my aesthetic in my photography.
What are some of your favorite horror films?
The one film that started it all for me was Nightmare on Elm Street 3. I saw it in the theater way too young — I was like 7 — and I was terrified at the beginning of the film and I wanted to leave but we didn't. At the end of it I was just blown away by the whole idea of being a dream warrior and hiding demons in your dreams.
Would you explain the title of your show, "The Tannhauser Gate?"
It's originally from Blade Runner and there's a scene that's, in my opinion, one of the best scenes ever in a film. At the end of the film, one of the characters recites this monologue before he dies and he mentions he's seen the Tannhauser Gate and he's referencing stargaze, where you can travel to other star systems, and so for me when I saw that and the combination of the music, the monologue, the acting, the visuals of the whole thing, it was just amazing.
For some reason, I don't know how I connected it, but I started to think about when I saw the Challenger explosion on TV when I was in first grade, 1986. How that was so impactful because up to that point I understood television to be fake, so anything that existed in television didn't exist in our world. And when the Challenger exploded, and my teacher was crying, it was so confusing because I didn't know why she was crying. And then I realized that the explosion actually happened and the people were all dead. So kind of like this metaphor, at that moment this gate opened up between our world and the television and the image.
A gallery and design agency with a street art bent, A Better View, aka ABV, opened its doors two years ago in an Old Fourth Ward Studioplex loft. Since then, it's featured more than 100 local, national, and international artists, including Ola Bad (Atlanta), Mark Bode (California), Claw Money (New York City) and Remed (France), as well as a monthly Drink & Doodle night for more than a year.
To celebrate its anniversary, ABV opens Greyscale Friday night from 7-11 p.m. with music from DJ Martina McFlyy and works by Greg Mike, Ash Lethal, Trey Moseley, Ola Bad, AC Bananas, Wolfdog, Jert, Phillip Oliver, Toobz, Catlanta, Skie, Tindel, and more.
What is the premise of the upcoming Greyscale show, and what artists will be featured in it?
Since we are celebrating our second year, we thought it would only be right to do a group show based off of two colors — black and white — and all the values they produce in between. The show will feature 17 visual artists and one videographer: Ash Lethal, Trey Moseley, Ola Bad, AC Bananas, Wolfdog, Jert, Phillip Oliver, Toobz, Shingo Brown, Skie, Ted Murphy, Catlanta, Tindel, Brad Johnston, Andrew Litten, Will Mitchell, Chris Birdsong and myself.
How did the opportunity arise to be one of the first American curators in this Biennial?
The project really started many, many years ago. Valerie Cassel Oliver [senior curator at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston] and I worked on the exhibition, Cinema: Remixed and Reloaded. From everything we could see, there were so many examples where black women artists were just not included in the dialogue about this fundamental and important medium, and we set about the task of really examining that and looking at the works that had been created using various platforms, various mediums.
I took a group to Havana last year and Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, who was in that first show, was our guest host, and it was amazing. We had the opportunity to do a lot of behind-the-scenes things, like meet artists and do studio visits. She introduced me to a number of people, one of them being Jorge Fernández who is the director of the Biennial. We remained in touch and had a number of conversations and received an invitation to submit a proposal. For a number of reasons that were primarily based on logistics, organizing a large retrospective didn't seem to fit the bill. But we certainly wanted to have a longer conversation about this project, Cinema: Remixed and Reloaded, which he loved. The opportunity to revisit that project came about, and we explored a number of ways that it could be in alignment with this sort of larger framework and theme of this biennial.
So how are you adapting it?
We had 44 artists in the original show, and certainly taking all of them and presenting all of their work would have been amazing; it would have just been phenomenal because we didn't feature anyone in that show that we weren't really passionate about their work and believed in it. But the reality of finances and space hit us very, very hard. We did a number of things in terms of our first pass. We looked at things ranging from the reaction of viewers in our respective spaces (it was first presented here and at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston); narrative, because we wanted this to be accessible, we didn't want to include narratives that were not going to be understood. I can think of three examples of works that I am very, very passionate about but it wouldn't have the same reception [in Cuba] because of the amount and the details of the narrative that were included.
And while Tom Hanks' Oscar-winning turn as the titular idiot savant helped secure Groom's place in pop culture history, the book is something of an anomaly when considering the rest of his work. Most of his books have centered on war. Groom fought in Vietnam, and his Conversations with the Enemy, a Vietnam POW tale co-authored with Duncan Spencer, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. The Alabama-native reveals a particular affinity for the Civil War, travelling backward through the conflict with historical precision in Kearny's March: The Epic Creation of the American West, 1846-1847, Vicksburg, 1863 and now Shiloh, 1862, "the first great and terrible battle of the Civil War" that just commemorated its sesquicentennial (neat word for 150 years). Groom visits the Carter Center Wed., April 11, 7 p.m. to discuss the 448-page tome.
What sparked your interest in the Civil War to the extent that you've researched and written about it in such detail?
Well you know in the South, you get sort of a heavy dose of the Civil War. I had read Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote as I grew up, and they were what I guess you would call "generalists," meaning that they covered the entire war. And I have written a lot military instances besides the Civil War, I've written about World War I, World War II, War of 1812, Mexican War, so I'm not really stuck in that Civil War history, but I have done several books on it. And in particular, in the war in the West, which hasn't been covered as much as the war in the East, meaning the fighting in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
I think it was very important, the war in the West. For one thing, it produced General Grant. But after I had done Forest Gump, I started thinking, you know, every writer has, if you're lucky one good book in you, and if you're really lucky you have two, and if you're extremely lucky you might have three. But the light is that novelists, they keep on going because they don't know what to do and I was thinking I don't want to wind up like [F. Scott] Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe, drinking himself to death. Or Hemmingway, blowing his brains out. And that was not a path I wanted to go down, and I was thinking I really wanted to try my hand at history.
What do you particularly find fulfilling about digging into history, is it the learning process?
Where the hell else can you get paid for reading? It's not a bad life. As I go along, I generally have chosen, when I write, things that I don't know about as opposed to things that I do know about. As opposed to say a professor who has studied the same subject for 40 years. And I go into it as a learning experience, and I guess maybe I'm vain enough to think my observations and thoughts about how this story should be told will hold interest with other people.
You're an ordained minister?
Yes! I make it part of my show that I perform a wedding ceremony for anybody who wants to take or renew their vows during my show. I’ve had guys ask the club owner “Can I talk to Judy? I wanna propose to my girlfriend.” So I’ve had situations that are really sweet like that, and other times I’ve just married total strangers! I’ve always thought everyone has the right to be miserable and married.
Do you have any advice for a long and happy marriage?
You have to enjoy certain things together. I don’t mean everything! The biggest thing is, if you have a fight you have to talk about it. When you lose communication with each other, that’s the first step to breaking the relationship. You have to keep the communication going somehow. And yeah, go to bed angry! No, don’t go to bed angry. But yeah, with guys…they do need time in their cave to pout, that’s what I’ve noticed.
What do you think about all these conservative male politicians who have such strong opinions about women's reproductive rights these days?
First of all I’d like to say, “Excuse me,” to Rick Santorum and all these conservative pigs trying to make laws over women. The only time you are allowed to tell a woman what to do with her eggs is when you are ordering the grand slam breakfast at Denny’s! It is none of the government’s business. It’s like they have no conscience about the planet. Let’s think about the planet. Overpopulation. Not being able to take care of the poor and hungry, because there’s too many mouths to feed. I mean even Catholics are taking birth control now. For these idiots to say the only reason you should be poppin’ birth control pills is if you got acne, or if your uterus is outta whack … . Based on their logic, the only one who’s qualified to have birth control is Snooki! How about starting with healthcare, unemployment, the environment?
$10. 8 p.m. The Punchline, 280 Hilderbrand Dr. 404-252-LAFF (5233).
Chad Radford: So what are you doing in Atlanta?
Barry Sobel: I’m just out doing some comedy gigs. … I’m doing a surprise show on Wednesday at the Punchline.
If it’s a surprise, is it cool to talk about it?
Yes, please announce it! We’re going to surprise you with comedians Skyping in from all over the country, my friend Brandon Wardell, the youngest and coolest comedian out there doing it, he’s from Washington DC, Eddie Brill, and we’re going to do a sketch with him that I wrote. Jarrod Harris is going to Skype in with one of his hilarious characters, another friend of mine, Michael Priest, from Austin, and my pal, the one and only Drop Dead Diva, Margaret Cho is going to stop by.
And then I’m also in pre-production with the 3 Minute Talk Show. It’s everything you would see in an hour-long talk show, but in just three minutes.
I've seen them all. I think the Jon Cryer episode is my favorite ...
Thanks! I created it based on a talk show that I did back in ’96 for Comedy Central called the Barry Sobel Show. We rolled out the first episode by saying it was going to be an hour-long show, and in the middle of my monologue Kevin Meaney comes out as the president of the network and says, "I’ve got some good news, and some bad news. The good news is that you have a great hour of TV. The bad news it that we’ve had some scheduling problems, we’ve had to make a couple cuts and your show is only three minutes!” Then he goes to a meeting. Fred Willard was sitting by me, and I say, "Hey, I know you as Fred Willard." He says, "Thanks, you exaggerate."
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