Music + Visuals = Potency
At this point, one would be hard-pressed to find a person who hasn’t ever seen a music video or a portion of one during the course of their lives. Almost without exception we have all seen music videos, at some time or another, whether on MTV, VH1, BET, or YouTube. They have become not only an accepted part of the music industry but an almost mandatory staple of it. If you want to succeed commercially in music today, you have to adapt to this, and in 1981 with the launch of MTV, the music industry was introduced to one of its greatest assets as well as one of its greatest liabilities.
If one goes all the way back to Walt Disney‘s 1940 film, Fantasia, or even further back to the Silly Symphony cartoon series which began in 1929, it becomes immediately apparent that the marriage of visual imagery with music has proven to be a most formidable combination. Music can either be enhanced or diminished by an accompanying visual presentation. Some songs and some visuals mesh so spectacularly that one can barely hear the song without imagining its video counterpart. Take Star Wars for example, it’s almost impossible not to see the scrolling titles and prologue for the films in your mind’s eye whenever you hear John Williams‘ legendary theme, or to see an iconic character like Darth Vader without imagining the ominous theme of the Imperial March. Go on, give it a try. That’s just one obvious way that musical language and visual language can complement each other and create a link between one medium and another.
Now, take a look at music videos today, and most of them seem to have a singular purpose: to sell singles and albums. In this digital age, especially with the dwindling sales of physical music (since we’re on the subject I’ll take vinyl and CD over MP3 files any day), having a popular music video can make or break a career, even to the extent of a terrible song finding widespread fame and commercial success because the music video was so memorable. There are singers and musicians whose entire careers can be chalked up to the artwork and photographs on their albums or their music videos rather than on the quality of their music. Having grown up in the late ’80s and ’90s, I’ve seen this happen with bubblegum pop, teenybopper, boyband, and dance pop stars. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not living under the naïve delusion that once there was this grand past of substantive and enriching music videos, because no, there wasn’t. There are occasionally performers whose music videos elevate the medium from crass commercialism to high entertainment or even true art. Michael Jackson‘s Thriller, Kate Bush‘s Running Up That Hill, Peter Gabriel‘s Sledgehammer, Madonna‘s Like a Prayer, Nirvana‘s Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nine Inch Nails‘ Closer, TLC‘s Waterfalls, and The White Stripes‘ Fell in Love with a Girl are all examples of music videos whose visual aesthetics and narratives are more than just sales gimmickry. These are videos that attain artistry and relevance. They obtain renown, acclaim, and even controversy. They achieve immortality through the purity of their innovation.
Nine months ago, actor and musician Donald Glover, under his performing name of Childish Gambino, released a video for his latest single This Is America. The video immediately earned the same level of distinction as those aforementioned videos, because it is a singularly unique vision, as well as being a provocative, controversial, and riveting experience. Opening on an image of a black guitarist performing in a warehouse, the appearance of Glover dancing, and the shooting of the guitarist, whose face is now covered in a bag, in the head at point blank range, the video is openly confrontational in its effort to address racial violence. It continues and shows an all-black church chorus, singing and dancing in joyous and faithful celebration, before being gunned down, again by Glover, and then having their bodies unceremoniously dragged away and discarded. Forcing viewers to confront the harsh realities faced by black Americans every day and challenging long-held stereotypes, Glover’s song and its video present scenarios and raise questions, but intentionally leave the interpretation and the answers up to bewildered viewers.
Within 24 hours, the video for This Is America had received almost 13 million views, and at the time of writing this, the video has received over 484,500,000 views, with over 7.4 million viewers responding that they liked the video and 564 thousand expressing their dislike of it. Steeped in symbolism and allusions to current social crises, the video has become a lightning rod for controversy, and a hot topic among critics and commentators, most of whom praised its audacious visuals and metaphors. That said, the video has also received its share of reservations and critiques, with many of the criticisms focused on the abrupt and disturbing violence. Some viewers have seen it as a revolutionary statement on race relations and gun violence in the United States while others have accused it of reinforcing negative racial stereotypes. Some viewers have decried it as a pretentious mess of disjointed lyrical and visual content while others have hailed it as a masterpiece of Trap (a term for a form of hip-hop popular in the South and characterized by electronic beats, a dark or ominous energy, and scathing social commentary).
In terms of visibility, Donald Glover, as an actor, a writer, a producer, and a director, has been rising in prominence for some time now with his roles in 30 Rock, Community, Atlanta, The Martian, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Solo: A Star Wars Story. Likewise his musical persona as Childish Gambino has risen as well, beginning with the melodic and confident rap of his first album Camp, continuing with his startlingly original follow-up album Because the Internet, and culminating in the brilliantly funky and psychedelic album “Awaken, My Love!”. And though it is true that singles like Bonfire, Crawl, and the Grammy-winning Redbone certainly stood out from anything else that was coming out of contemporary hip-hop or R&B at the time, the video for This Is America has managed to overshadow most of his other creative output as a hip-hop artist. Depending on how you look at it, this could be viewed as either a good or a bad thing, but it remains a fact. Topping the power of a strong single with an unforgettable music video will be a challenge for Gambino, but one that I think he is more than up for, and the result could be equally spectacular.
While it’s a topic that I have often overlooked, fashion has been an undeniable stone in the foundation of both high and low culture, serving as a point at which the worlds of commerce, films, music, and art have all intersected. It has become impossible to explore any of these areas thoroughly without seeing how the world of fashion has overlapped with all of them. Whether it’s costume design for films and television series, the latest business suits for the bigwigs of industry, the wardrobe supplied for commercial photography and modelling, or the extravagant apparel of celebrities walking the red carpet, fashion is an integral element of the modern cultural zeitgeist. And in recent memory, but especially in the last two decades, it’s hard to find another fashion designer who has shaken things up as much as John Galliano.
Controversial designer John Galliano, head of Dior from 1996-2011, has often been referred to as “the rock star of fashion”. Like a rock star, Galliano’s designs have pushed the boundaries of the fashion world with their combination of his haute couture (high culture) fashion mindset and the more counterculture Goth and Punk do-it-yourself aesthetics. He has also courted controversy on numerous occasions, both for his designs, and for his outrageous statements. Galliano has also drawn considerable influence and inspiration from the world of Fine Art. This becomes particularly apparent in his Ready-to-Wear 1997 Fall line (aptly dubbed the “Siouxsie Sphinx” line), which combined imagery taken from Ancient Egyptian artworks and the styles of the Goth sub-culture that was cultivated by none other than Siouxsie Sioux of the Post-Punk/Goth-Pop band, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and for his Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2008 line, which built upon the themes and aesthetics of the aforementioned line and explored other influences.
Galliano drew inspiration from Siouxsie Sioux, whose own fashion aesthetics were a mix of the black leather, metal spikes, dog collars, and tousled hair of Punk, the fishnet stockings and garters of the Cabaret dancer, and the theatricality of Kabuki performance with its luxurious silk robes, pale facial makeup, heavy eyeliner, and dark lipstick. Another important aspect of Siouxsie’s style was her love of the artworks of the German Expressionists and the artists of the Vienna Secession, most notably Gustav Klimt. The influence of Klimt’s work is most apparent on Siouxsie and the Banshees’ 1982 album A Kiss in the Dream House, which as an aside is often considered the band’s greatest artistic achievement in their early Post-Punk days, and, along with a trio of albums by pioneering Goth-Pop band The Cure, helped to establish the sound of the Alternative and Goth genres as distinct from the umbrella terms “New Wave” and “Post-Punk”. Sioux’s style was a combination of Punk, New Romantic, and the emerging Goth, and it would rise in prominence throughout the late ’70s and ’80s, and help give birth to the Goth look of the ’90s adopted by Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and others.
Looking even further into the progression of influence and inspiration, Gustav Klimt was moved to emulate much of what he admired in the artworks of the Ancient Byzantines and Greeks, with their lavish mosaics, recurring geometric patterns (of triangles, squares, and spirals), and bright flourishes of gold leaf. Klimt’s art, more of which can be seen HERE, was striking in its modern style and yet still incorporated ancient elements, resulting in something that felt both timeless and fresh. Klimt’s work was considered controversial and subversive when he, along with artists Koloman Moser and Max Kurzweil, and architects Joseph Hoffman and Joseph Maria Olbrich began the movement known as the Vienna Secession. The group’s motto was “Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit.” (English trans. “To every age its art. To every art its Freedom.”)
This motto accurately reflects Galliano’s attitude towards fashion as well. We can best see the effects of these various stylistic progenitors in Galliano’s opulent and elegant dress from the Haute-Couture Spring-Summer line in 2008. Here one can see echoes of Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees, Gustav Klimt, and classical works of art and design from the Byzantine tradition. Much like a garment made from different materials, which are cultivated and gathered from different places, then carefully dyed, cut, and sown together following the plans of a designer, these seemingly disparate influences and inspirations all come together via the direction of creative peoples. Seeing this progression forwards and backwards through time not only hits home just how much art and culture is reverberated throughout the ages, but also how art in one form, the visual arts, can impact art in other forms, music, performance, and fashion.
Currently some of Galliano’s most spectacularly flamboyant designs, including the one featured in the photo above, are on view until March 3, 2019 at the Denver Art Museum as part of the special exhibition Dior: From Paris to the World, of which the Denver Art Museum is the sole location. If you’re interested in seeing more of Galliano’s Siousxie Sioux and Gustav Klimt-inspired designs for Dior, please follow these links to slideshow of his 1997 Ready-to-Wear Fall line and his 2008 Haute Couture Spring-Summer line on the Vogue website:
John Galliano’s Fall 1997 Ready-to-Wear Line for Dior
John Galliano’s Spring-Summer 2008 Haute Couture Line for Dior
From its opening in 1947 being protested for its extreme opulence during post-WWII austerity measures to its use of cultural misappropriation in the many themes for each fashion line, from the small size of both its dresses and its models to claims of plagiarism, the house of Dior has been no stranger to controversy. But nothing has been quite so controversial as a series of highly insensitive, violent, and anti-Semitic remarks made by John Galliano, which lead to his subsequent firing as the fashion company’s Creative Director. Galliano had held the position for almost fifteen years at the time of his termination. The reason behind it were ultimately two separate incidents when Galliano, who was drunk on both occasions, made some pretty horrific statements to patrons of a cafe in Paris, and then later again in the same cafe where the incident was caught on video and shared online. In the video, Galliano said, “I love Hitler. People like you would be dead today, your mothers, your forefathers would be fucked gassed, and fucking dead.” Galliano’s remarks were made in France, where it is illegal to make racist statements or to promote fascism, and so he was arrested, and his Legion of Honour medal revoked.
Ironically, much of the artwork that Galliano took inspiration from, be it the work of Odilon Redon, Edvard Munch, or Gustav Klimt, was part of a trend of radical artistic reinvention in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a trend largely born of Jewish intellectualism, and one that Hitler would denounce as Entartete Kunst: degenerate art. Greater irony, still, is that Galliano, a Gibraltar-born citizen of Britain, and a homosexual man, would also have found his own works banned and himself imprisoned by the Nazi regime.
Since his firing, Galliano has had a temporary residency for fashion designer Oscar de la Renta in 2013, and then in 2014 he became the Creative Director for Maison Margiela.
It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words. This may or may not be accurate, in part depending on the picture, but also in part depending on the imagination and sensitivities of the viewer. Some images dictate to us the thoughts of their creator or evoke a particular emotional response. Some images tell an entire story or create from within our own psyche a story that we need to tell to ourselves; a bedtime fairy tale for the conscious as told by the subconscious. These stories come to us in vague imaginings or vivid dreams, and settle within the foundation of our personalities, shaping our continual personal and societal growth. Whether it’s the origin of a myth and the archetypes that proliferate throughout numerous countries and cultures or the dreams that we share together of our own fears, fantasies, and aspirations, the image contained within the mind’s eye is perhaps the most powerful and radical in changing us. It is the internal revelation that precedes the external revolution.
Sometimes you can walk past an image and not really see it. Other times you can walk past an image and see it, but not necessarily see it as it is, or in the case of a work of art, see it as it was intended. Other times still, you walk up to an image and something uncanny happens as you make a connection, simultaneously seeing and processing the image while getting the sense that the minds behind its creation can see you in return. This has been the case for me with the work of a number of photographers, but most recently, it’s the work of Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick that has been speaking to me. And I’ve been listening with eyes wide open.
I work in an art museum, and part of my job is to ensure the safety of the visitors and the art, but there’s more to it than just that, because as one of many individuals who roam the galleries, I play an integral role in introducing works of art to the public and thus helping to contextualize in their minds what art is and what it can convey. Many times now I’ve been asked what does this painting mean, or what is the purpose of that modern sculpture, or how was this image created. Occasionally there are clear-cut answers, which usually are the result of having familiarity with an artist’s work or the resources to research the details of their lives, and other times the best I can do is to offer a series of interpretations and let the visitor decide which one resonates with them. When asked about Kahn & Selesnick’s poetic photograph, Melora, I have to stop and ask myself if I am offering the artists’ perspective or my own, but furthermore, I have to question if there is indeed a difference, because with some works of art there is an invitation to explore and interpret the work only from the vantage point of a spectator.
One visitor at the art museum asked if the photograph was a statement on the environment and our collective need to be closer to nature. Is Melora returning to the wild to live in symbiosis with the land and animals? Another asked if there was some mystical meaning and if Melora was a shape-shifter. Is Melora undergoing some symbolic transformation or even a physical metamorphosis? One visitor even asked as to the identity of Melora. Is Melora the deer or the woman? To this last question, the answer is at least a bit more straightforward, because Melora is the name of the model. Artist Melora Kuhn, a friend of Kahn and Selesnick, posed for the photograph and lent her name its title. The photo was taken on her property.
As a feminist and a student of both art history and psychology, I look at Melora and I see an archetype, and I see an exploration of femininity. I see a woman wearing fashion of the late Victorian Era, an era of both technological progress and gender repression, of reverence for the ideal of feminine beauty and restrictive social roles where a woman’s innate power was suppressed. The woman moves out of industrialism and into nature, out of the rigid social strata of her time and into a realm of female liberation, and this is most abundantly clear by the antlers on her head. When visitors initially ask me what the image means, the first thing I suggest they look at is her antlers, because neither female elk or deer typically have antlers. Yet here is Melora, a seemingly human woman, striding into a field where a stag stands amidst the tall grass, its gaze meeting hers, and Melora’s antlers are equal to, perhaps even rival to, that of the stag. She appears to me to be a woman who is leaving behind her own world, where she is seen and treated as a subordinate and objectified, and entering into the world of the wild, where she can adopt an independence and a strength that civilization would deny women, and where she can be an equal to her male counterpart. She is seeking gender equity by abandoning the world that has attempted to reduce her to domesticity. This is, of course, just my own interpretation.
Interestingly, the reindeer is one of the only species of deer in which the female grows antlers, though not all of them do, because in harsh environments where food sources are scarce, the growing of antlers expends a great deal of energy and nutrients. While the male reindeer uses its antlers to fight other reindeer for social dominance, the female reindeer uses her antlers to move through heavy snows and to fight for food, and while male reindeer shed their antlers in the late Autumn and grow them back in the Spring, the female reindeer retains her antlers through the Winter and sheds them in Spring. This independence and self-reliance can be viewed from an evolutionary angle, and one could discuss biologically how reindeer differ from other bovids, but from a social perspective, this makes reindeer almost eerily familiar. There is something there that we can relate to.
At the time when I first saw Kahn & Selesnick’s Melora, I happened to be writing a number of essays on evolving gender roles in society throughout the ages, and during the research phases of these projects, I found myself repeatedly gravitating towards the work of Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, a celebrated poet, Jungian psychoanalyst, and trauma recovery specialist. Her works, particularly Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, were instrumental in introducing ideas and concepts that informed how I viewed Melora.
“Yet even in an oppressive culture, in whichever women the Wild Woman still lives and thrives or even glimmers, there will be “key” questions asked, not only the ones we find useful for insight into ourselves but also ones about our culture. “What stands behind those proscriptions I see in the outer world? What goodness or usefulness of the individual, of the culture, of the earth, of human nature has been killed, or lies dying here?” As these issues are examined, the woman is enabled to act according to her own abilities, according to her own talents. To take the world into one’s arms and to act toward it in a soul-filled and soul-strengthening manner is a powerful act of wildish spirit.
It is for this reason that the wildish nature in women must be preserved—and even, in some instances, guarded with extreme vigilance—so that it is not suddenly abducted and garroted. It is important to feed this instinctive nature, to shelter it, to give it increase, for even in the most restrictive conditions of culture, family, or psyche, there is far less paralysis in women who have remained connected to the deep and wild instinctual nature. Though there be injury if a woman is captured and/or tricked into remaining naive and compliant, there is still left adequate energy to overcome the captor, to evade it, to outrun it, and eventually to sunder and render it for their own constructive use.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estés
The image of a woman in the wild, outrunning predators, outrunning the unwanted attentions and advances of men only to be tricked, recalls the Greek myth of Atalanta. In the tale, a beautiful huntress and priestess, Atalanta, takes a vow of celibacy in the name of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, of the moon, and of virginity. Atalanta was said to have been abandoned by her father, Iasus, left to die on a mountaintop, because her father would accept only a male heir. Like Artemis, Atalanta has sworn off all relationships with men, and she develops into an untamed beauty, self-possessed, strong, and uncompromising. Raised in the wilderness, according to some versions of the myth, by female bears, Atalanta developed a fierce wildness and could live off the land independent of so-called civilization. Other versions of the myth say that she was found by hunters who raised her as they would have raised a boy, teaching her to fend for herself, and to rely on her strength and her mind rather than just her beauty. She was said to challenge men, including the hero Peleus, to wrestling matches and would easily overpower them.
When two centaurs attempted to rape her, she defended not only her body, but her sacred vow to Artemis, and she slew them. In doing so, she gained Artemis’ favour, and she would later serve as her proxy in the legendary hunt for the Calydonian Boar. After King Oeneus forgot to make an offering to Artemis at the time of the harvest sacrifices, Artemis let loose a monstrous boar upon his kingdom, and this boar plagued the local farmers and destroyed the crops. Many of the bravest of heroes and hunters gathered together, even going so far in their hubris to place bets as to whom would succeed in killing the fearsome boar, but none of the men took Atalanta seriously as a contender. No, they either dismissed her altogether or they were outright angered by her mere presence intruding upon their fraternal display of ego, and Atalanta was only at last permitted to accompany them when one of the hunters, the hero Meleager, convinced his fellow men to allow her. He did so only because he lusted after and coveted her. The fact that he was already married was of no relevance in his decision, and Atalanta’s vow of celibacy, no deterrent to his desires. He would ensure that she was present when he killed the boar if only to win her affections. But that was not the way of it, and many of the hunters were brutally killed by the boar, and others fought among themselves and murdered one another, and when few of them remained alive and unscathed, it was not Meleager’s spear that drew the boar’s blood; it was Atalanta’s well-aimed arrow that brought the boar down. The boar, however, still lived and was only incapacitated. Not to be outdone, the conceited Meleager then killed the boar, but instead of giving it as a sacrificial offering to Artemis, as would have been proper, he gifted it to Atalanta instead. Still she would not be won.
Atalanta’s adventures did not end there. After achieving fame during the hunt for the Calydonian Boar, Atalanta and her estranged father were reunited, and as women were viewed as the property of either their fathers or their husbands throughout much of the ancient world, Iasus was determined to capitalize on her celebrity and marry her off. Her intelligence being no less than her physical prowess, Atalanta set forth a challenge that whomsoever could beat her in a race could have her as his wife, knowing all too well that no man could run as fast as she. However, the goddess of love, Aphrodite, intervened on the behalf of Hippomenes, because Aphrodite felt slighted by Atalanta’s repudiation of love. She gave Hippomenes three golden apples with which he was to distract Atalanta during the race. Each time he passed her, knowing full well that he could not maintain her speed, he would drop one of the golden apples. She managed to surpass him after the first two apples, but when Hippomenes dropped the third and final apple, Atalanta stopped to appraise it and Hippomenes outdistanced her and won the race, becoming her husband.
In viewing Melora, I am also reminded of Frida Kahlo, one of my favourite artists. Kahlo, who in a 1946 self-portrait, depicted herself as a wounded deer with antlers, lived a rich and complex life, and possessed character as rich and complex as her work. Kahlo experienced profound pain throughout her life beginning with a trolley accident in which she was impaled by a rail. Impalement, literally and metaphorically, would become a recurring theme in her work, as would her relationship to nature and animals. In The Wounded Deer, the two themes are united, as Kahlo, realizes herself with both male and female attributes, which has been theorized as representing her masculine and feminine sides as well as her bisexuality. While her face remains stoic, almost reminiscent of the Sphinx or the Mona Lisa, her body is pierced with nine arrows, revealing her anguish.
Frida famously began an affair with muralist Diego Rivera, which lead to their eventual marriage in 1929, but the relationship would prove to be as volatile as it was passionate, and he was incapable of remaining faithful to her. In turn, as a bisexual feminist, defiant, bold, and as desirous as he, she embraced Rivera’s polyamourous lifestyle, taking both men and women as her lovers. Still, Rivera’s affairs left her deeply hurt at times, and often seething, especially when Rivera slept with her younger sister, Cristina. This would inspire Kahlo’s 1937 painting, Memory, the Heart, in which Kahlo depicts herself caught between the Earth representing her family and the sea representing the inconstant Rivera and his many infidelities. Surrounding her, aspects of her personality, including a modern school outfit alluding to her education in European politics and paternal heritage and a traditional dress alluding to her Mexican home and maternal heritage, are strewn about and she is pierced through the chest by an elongated arrow.
Frida Kahlo‘s work is harrowing, sensual, and primal in a way that even if one does not understand the symbols, motifs, and references she utilized, the emotions she was expressing are universal; they are as clear and vibrant as her palette. She was rebelling against pretension and propriety as much as she was against capitalism and sexism. She lived in the moment, in a way counter-intuitively, throwing herself recklessly into her life, allowing herself to be hurt and immersing herself in her pain, channeling that pain back into her work, and then stripping down to her most vulnerable and exquisite self in order to do it all over again.
Which brings me to Amanda Palmer, Amanda fucking Palmer to her fans, who is also a fierce feminist willing to put herself out there again and again, to be hurt, and to lay her life bare for the honesty of her expression. Amanda’s attitude, her modus operandi, and philosophy can be summed up as “in your face vulnerability”. She seeks empowerment through connection, through creativity, through nakedness, through wildness, but above all through vulnerability. She’s the kind of artist who will walk out on stage in the nude, her legs and armpits unshaven, her eyebrows shaved off and then drawn back on, her belly and breasts exposed, and declare to the world, “This is me.” She’s the kind of woman who breastfeeds in public, and when confronted about will reply, without skipping a beat, “I’m a mother.” She’s the kind of writer who will show up to a book signing in her pajamas, put together a makeshift blanket fort, and explain it all by simply saying, “I had the worst flight from L.A..“
That’s Amanda… fucking… Palmer. When I think of Amanda, I think of the quote below, a quote that embodies a philosophy that I myself have prescribed to for sometime, and which I find all the more refreshing hearing it from someone so undaunted.
“The perception that vulnerability is weakness is the most widely accepted myth about vulnerability and the most dangerous. When we spend our lives pushing away and protecting ourselves from feeling vulnerable or from being perceived as too emotional, we feel contempt when others are less capable or less willing to mask feelings, suck it up, and soldier on. We’ve come to the point where, rather than respecting and appreciating the courage and daring behind vulnerability, we let our fear and discomfort become judgement and criticism.” – Amanda Palmer
It’s coincidental, funny, and just a bit odd to me that when I look at Kahn & Selesnick’s Melora, the first person that always came to mind was Amanda Palmer, whose creative output I have admired since I first found out about The Dresden Dolls in the first half of 2003. I look at Melora and what I am reminded of is Amanda’s first solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, and how her unique style left such an impression on me. Her aesthetic, an alchemical mixture of Victorian Era fashion, Weimar Era cabaret, Punk and Goth helped to define what has been called Dark Cabaret since the early 2000s.
When I see Melora, her dress hiked up, marching out into that field, her auburn hair done up in an elegant, but not meticulous bun, and her antlers protruding from her head, I think of Amanda. So, it was surprising and synchronous to me when I was scrolling through Instagram and found that Amanda brought in Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick to do promotional photography and the artwork for her next album. To me, it seems like the perfect fit, bringing Kahn & Selesnick and Amanda together. She has a history of selecting amazing photographers to work with and this time around will be no exception.
In her post, Amanda said, “This record I am about to make in L.A. is without a doubt the most personally intimate/painful/raw record I’ve ever made… my patrons who have been following the trail of demos know what I’m talking about: the songs deal with death, cancer, abortion, miscarriage. I didn’t want to just get glamour shots. I wanted to make meaningful images that match the stories and convey the heaviness of the record. This is why I’m so happy that I met Kahn & Selesnick in upstate New York—they totally get it. I actually started weeping during the shoot a few days ago: I felt so perfectly peaceful and powerful and understood.“
There’s a trend right now, a glorious trend that I wish more people were aware of, of feminist music, raw, intelligent, poetic, danceable, brilliant music by women singers and songwriters (Annie Lennox, Austra, Bat for Lashes, Cyndi Lauper, Florence + the Machine just to name the first that come to mind and the most widely known). I’m glad to see Amanda right there in the midst of it, singing about a woman’s right to choose and her experience having abortions and miscarriages, singing about Harvey Weinstein and sexual harassment and assault, singing about Judy Blume and the influence she had on her as a teen and an adult, singing about the loss of her best friend who died of cancer, singing about the challenges and joys of motherhood, and singing about life as we all experience it and can relate to it. This is what the world needs right now to understand itself and to heal. Sometimes you have to go to the wilderness to heal. Sometimes you have to heal to embrace your own wildness. Sometimes you have to enter the wild in order to strip yourself down to its bare, essential, creative self. Sometimes it is only in the wild that you can be free to cry, to laugh, and to sing. And woman of the wild, I hear thee…
Artists’ and Authors’ Website Links:
Kahn & Selesnick’s website (https://kahnselesnick.biz/)
Melora Kuhn’s website (https://melorakuhn.net/)
Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ website (https://www.clarissapinkolaestes.com/)
The Dresden Dolls’ website (https://dresdendolls.com/)
Amanda Palmer’s website (https://amandapalmer.net/)
Recommended Reading List (includes audio books):
Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes/ by Edith Hamilton
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings/ by Maya Angelou
Le Féminisme ou la Mort/ by Françoise d’Eaubonne
The Word for the World Is Forest/ by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Creative Fire/ by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype/ by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Theatre of the Imagination/ by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Tales of the Brothers Grimm/ edited, selected, and introduced by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
The Resurgence of the Real: Body, Nature and Place in a Hypermodern World/ by Charlene Spretnak
The Art of Asking: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help/ by Amanda Palmer
Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone/ by Brené Brown
“No one wants to touch the legitimate hunter, but we’ve got to protect society from nuts with guns. Something must be done.“
In the first two decades of the 2000s, when we have reached an epidemic of gun violence where there is almost one mass shooting in America every other week and police shootings of unarmed black men occur more and more frequently, Republican attitudes towards gun control can be summed up with these words:
“I think that mental health is your problem here. But this isn’t a gun situation here.” – Donald Trump
Consider the numbers alone. We are barely more than halfway through the year 2018 and over 500 people have been shot and killed by police. 92 of those were black. While only 13% of America’s population is black, 31% of people shot and killed by the police are black, 39% of those shot and killed when not attacking are black, and 62% of those shot and killed by police when unarmed are black. Why the discrepancy in fatal shootings? The answer isn’t simple and a multitude of factors must be considered: a history of police brutality, racism and racial profiling, economic conditions, lack of educational and employment opportunities in inner cities, mass incarceration, the militarization of the police, and an over reliance upon firearms as the first defense.
These are but a few of the instances in recent years when black men were killed by the police…
On January 1, 2009, a twenty-two year old man, Oscar Grant, was shot in the back while being restrained by police at Fruitvale Station in Oakland, California.
On July 17, 2014, forty-three year old Eric Garner was choked to death by a plainclothes police officer after selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island, New York. Garner was placed in an illegal stranglehold after he asked the officer to not touch him.
On August 9, 2014, eighteen year old Michael Brown was shot six times in Ferguson, Missouri after an altercation with a police officer.
On November 23, 2014, twelve year old Tamir Rice was shot by police in Cleveland, Ohio while he was pretending to draw and fire a toy gun.
On December 2, 2014, thirty-four year old Rumain Brisbon was shot twice in the chest by a police officer in Phoenix, Arizona who claimed the pill bottle Brisbon was holding was a weapon.
On March 6, 2015, nineteen year old Tony Robinson was shot by a police officer in Madison, Wisconsin after reports were made that he was yelling, behaving erratically, and jumping in front of traffic. The police had been called to help the troubled young man who was later found to have been using multiple drugs.
On April 2, 2015, forty-four year old Eric Harris was shot to death during a sting operation in Tulsa, Oklahoma when an undercover police officer mistook his gun for his taser.
On April 4, 2015, fifty year old Walter Scott was shot in North Charleston, South Carolina during a traffic stop for a broken brake light.
On July 5, 2016, thirty-seven year old Alton Sterling was shot three times in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by police officers who claimed he was reaching for his gun while he was being restrained.
On July 6, 2016, thirty-two year old Philando Castile was shot seven times by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota after a traffic stop. He let the officer know he had a gun and was then shot as he reached for his driver’s license.
On September 16, 2016, forty year old Terence Crutcher was tasered and then shot to death in Tulsa, Oklahoma by police officers, who referred to him as a “big bad dude”, after leaving his vehicle in the middle of the road and behaving erratically.
We’ve seen the headlines in the newspapers, the video reports on the news channels, the blog articles, the protests and rallies, and yet this epidemic of police violence against black men continues.
This is why Living Colour felt it necessary to cover Notorious B.I.G.‘s classic hip-hop track Who Shot Ya? in 2016 with a video documenting gun violence.
In the early hours of the morning on December 4, 1969, Chicago Black Panther Party members Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were gunned down by police during a raid. The previous night, Hampton had taught a course at a local church on political education and activism, and then with eight other Panthers met at an apartment gathering place for dinner, where his drink had been drugged by an undercover FBI agent in preparation for the police raid. Clark was found on security in the front room at a table where he sat in a chair with a shotgun resting across his lap. He was shot in the chest. In the bedroom, Hampton, heavily unconscious under the effects of the barbiturates slipped in his drink late the night before, did not wake in the midst of the gunfire. Hampton’s nine-month pregnant fiancée, Deborah Johnson, was dragged from the room and Hampton was shot to death while sleeping in his bed. Witnesses in the apartment reported overhearing the involved police officers having an exchange of words in which the following was said:
“That’s Fred Hampton.“
“Is he dead? Bring him out.“
“He’s barely alive.“
“He’ll make it.“
This was followed by another two shots fired at point blank range into Hampton’s head.
“He’s good and dead now.“
Three other Panthers (Blair Anderson, Verlina Brewer, and Brenda Harris) were also shot at by the police, brutally beaten, and then falsely accused of aggravated assault. The fourteen police officers involved in the raid fired somewhere between 80 and 100 shots. During the raid, only one shot was ever fired by a Panther, and that one shot was caused by Mark Clark reflexively squeezing the trigger of his shotgun as he himself was shot in the chest.
This is why I wear a Black Panther Party patch despite be raised in a small, rural, mostly conservative New England town with a population that was 96% white and being white myself. And this is why I write this post.
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” – Amendment II to the United States ConstitutionThe equality of all man wasn’t acknowledged by Jefferson when it came to his his slaves, and there is no doubt that among black slaves, the predominant labour force in North America from 1619 to 1865, that there was no life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness. Independence was a myth. The reality was racial dependence. When viewed in context with the actual history, the words of Jefferson feel hollow, and his words and actions are further proof that the opportunities and freedoms guaranteed by The Declaration of Independence and by the Amendments to the Constitution of the United States did not apply to black people and were never intended to. The laws of the land protected the white man’s freedom, the white man’s land, and the white man’s property. These laws were not extended to people of colour of African, Native, Hispanic, or Asian descent.
On March 3, 1991, after a night of drinking and watching basketball, three friends, Rodney King, Freddie Helms, and Bryant Allen, decided to go driving around midnight in Los Angeles. King was the driver. At 12:30 am, husband and wife officers of the California Highway Patrol, Tim Singer and Melinda Singer, saw the speeding vehicle and followed in pursuit. This became a high-speed pursuit as King attempted to evade the police knowing that a DUI would violate his parole. The pursuit escalated, leaving the freeway for residential areas, and additional LAPD police vehicles joined in, including a helicopter. After being cornered, King was forced to stop his car at Foothill Boulevard and Osborne Street, where he and his two passengers were ordered to exit the vehicle with their hands on their head and lie face down on the road. Allen and Helms complied with this order and were subjected to rough physical handling, claiming that they had been kicked, stomped, and beaten. Helms received a head injury from a nightstick strike while he was lying on the ground. King refused to leave his vehicle at first, but when he did step out, he allegedly patted his buttocks, which was mistakenly perceived as him reaching for a weapon. Singer raised her weapon in preparation for an arrest. However, the Singers were informed that the LAPD would be taking over from this point onward, and all officers were commanded by ranking officer Stacey Koons to holster their guns. Officers Theodore Briseno, Laurence Powell, and Timothy Wind then proceeded to surround King and subdue him. Three of the four LAPD officers together then beat King with their nightsticks, and kicking and punching him over 50 times, as well as tasering him twice. Despite much of the brutal incident being caught on video by local witness, George Holliday, who then sold the footage to a local channel, the three officers, Briseno, Powell, and Wind, were acquitted of use of excessive force by a majority white jury. A federal trial later found officers Koons and Powell guilty of violating King’s civil rights. This famously resulted in riots throughout LA.
This is why Rage Against the Machine wrote Killing in the Name to address the long history of racial violence perpetuated by the police and by white Americans upon black Americans.
At 9:26 pm on March 18, 2018, a twenty-two year old black man, Stephon Clark, was shot while in the back yard of his grandmother’s house, where he had been living. Police had been looking for a suspect involved in a series of car break-ins where the windows of the cars had been smashed with a tool bar. Clark, who had previously had a stint in jail, was unarmed when he was shot. The only possession found on his body was a cellular phone which, according to the the two police officers on the scene, he had been holding out in front of him. Claiming that the white phone was being held out in an aggressive manner, and that they mistook it for a gun, and fearing for their safety, the two officers opened fire on Clark, firing twenty rounds. Eight shots hit Clark, six of which entered his body through his back, and the coroner’s report indicated that one bullet entered his body after he had already collapsed to the ground. It was three minutes before an officer attempted to speak with him and five minutes before anyone approached Clark who lay dying on his grandmother’s lawn. After the arrival of other police officers, and realizing all too late that Clark was unarmed, the two officers muted their body-camera microphones to avoid self-incrimination.
This is why Colin Kaepernick and fellow NFL players kneel during the playing of the National Anthem despite facing criticism from social conservatives who turn the discussion to disrespecting the flag and veterans.
This is why we all must stand together and advocate for stricter gun laws, legal policy and procedure reform, and an open, national dialogue about racially motivated violence and racial profiling in law enforcement. We are all in this together and until all people are treated fairly and equally by law enforcement this kind of unnecessary and deeply contentious violence will proliferate. Regardless of your gender or race, as a human being, your fellow human beings are being killed, and it is your civic duty to recognize and address this injustice.
The Denver Diaries: Chapter 6 – January 2014 through June 2014
My time on Oneida Street came to an end early in 2014. The Winter season had well begun and I was going to need to find a new place to live. Fortunately, someone at the church where I had been volunteering suggested me as a potential roommate and caregiver for one of the congregation members who had terminal cancer. He was an ex-con who had turned his life around and had been a volunteer at the church himself for years. After miraculously recovering from stomach and throat cancer, he had been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, and between the excruciating pain that he experienced on a daily basis and the effects of all the medications he was on, he needed someone to help him do shopping, accompany him to medical appointments (including frequent ER visits), and keep his apartment clean. He had turned to art in the last year or two of his life and this provided him not only with a means to pass the time, but also a sense of accomplishment and a way of expressing himself outwardly when he was effectively bed-ridden and unable to socialize. I did my best to provide him with good company and would regularly walk from the apartment to the library to pick up DVDs for him to watch. Sometimes we would watch them together. I introduced him to Game of Thrones, which he became addicted to watching, and we sat through the first three seasons together. We also made a trip out to the Denver Art Museum.
Meanwhile, I continued to look for work and volunteered at the church, but I remained depressed and felt defeated by the lack of response to the now 80 plus applications I had filled out. Adding to this despondency was that my new roommate smoked medical marijuana multiple times on a daily basis. Unknown to me at the time was the fact that I am quite allergic to marijuana smoke, which causes me to become very dehydrated, depressed and lethargic, feverish, and increases my appetite as well as causing me severe headaches and dizziness. Though the first month or two with the roommate went relatively well, things began to fall apart as my health worsened, as his health worsened, and other factors introduced themselves. He had a couple of friends who would come to him and borrow his money or would illegally buy his pain medications to get high. I wasn’t entirely certain how to handle the situation and my one attempt to address this ended rather badly with his friend accusing me of being a freeloader living off of a dying man, which was as far as I could tell hit much closer to the mark of what she was doing. He eventually became more withdrawn and reluctant to go out to the church or on social outings, and then as the chemotherapy decreased his energy and caused him to vomit regularly, made it so that he rarely left his room at all. We stopped watching films and television series together around this time. Then to make matters worse, when we finally did decide to watch Aliens, as I inserted the disc into the DVD player, his flat screen TV, which was balanced on a shoe box and the DVD player, fell on my head shattering the screen and leaving me with a concussion. Fortunately, we were able to get a replacement TV and I offered him my Blu-ray player that I had shipped out from Maine as consolation.
Due to my allergies and general sense of ennui at the small shared apartment, I began to go on frequent long walks, anywhere from four to twelve miles. I would walk from the apartment on Colorado Boulevard down to the Denver Public Library on Broadway or go for walks along the various creeks and bike paths. I took long strolls down 16th Street Mall where I took photos of the holiday decorations, the celebratory flashing lights, and all of the families and happy couples gallivanting through the city. It was bittersweet. On one hand, I felt good being out of the apartment, away from the sickness and despair, but on the other hand, I continued to long for a greater purpose and real connection to someone who might enrich my life. The smiling faces I would see on my walks would only remind me of my own isolation. The other faces I saw were the sunken, pale faces of the homeless, whose ranks I had been a part of and whom I would again be joining before too long. So, it seemed to me at the time, that I saw the future that was denied to me and the future that was inevitable, and those walks ceased to be the respite I needed.
I watched the seasons slowly change outside of the apartment’s ground-level basement window and I watched as my roommate become more and more sick and more and more withdrawn. I felt empathy for him, profoundly so, but I also felt frustration. I watched him consume junk food, smoke marijuana constantly, and then refuse to have visitors or go out all the while complaining of being trapped in his apartment and lonely. My efforts to lift his spirits or to engage him were met with increasing resistance and then finally with indifference altogether. I spent many days just reading, listening to music, sleeping in late, and filling out job applications without hopes or expectations of hearing anything back.
I would stay on Colorado Boulevard for five months before moving on to the next phase of my journey, which took me to yet another precarious living situation with a far more detrimental effect on my emotional health, and then from there I wound up on the streets.
To be continued…
This is part of the ongoing series of articles about the Temple of Art exhibition and documentary. Directed by photographer Allan Amato, executive produced by Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, and Jon Schnepp, Temple of Art: The Documentary chronicles the lives of artists and asks them why they create their art.
There are many facets to Satine Phoenix. Her exuberance, like her creativity, cannot be easily confined. Satine’s work is very much the product of her imagination and her passions, which run the gamut from the sensuous to the fantastical. As one of the artists contributing to the Temple of Art project, I interviewed Satine about her work and her involvement with ToA. Here’s the interview.
Have you always been interested in art and creative expression?
This question is funny to me because the answer is more than yes. When you live and breathe a certain way you don’t realize that people don’t live the way you do or interact with the world the way you do. I just am, and my “am” is a creative “am”. Though my illustrations started when I was a kid and didn’t know how to be honest with my feelings and thoughts. I would say one thing and draw how I really felt. That’s why there’s so much emotion in my drawings… because they are my actual emotions.
Unlike many artists that I’ve known who are introverts, you’re more of an extrovert. With the artists who are more quiet or reserved, they tend to be very expressive in their artwork. You, however, are very expressive in both your interactions with people and in your art. How do you maintain that level of enthusiasm and energy in both your personal life and in your art?
I have a lot of energy. I’ve always been social and love to feed off of other people’s energy, especially creatively. So, I’m actually an optimistic introvert who is amazed by things like a six-year old… or I guess I’m both (an introvert and an extrovert as I live in both extremes). And that makes sense. I’m a Gemini. Laugh about those astrological signs all you want, but the duality of the monkey in me is a real thing. I love going out and having fun and learning and feeling and then I get overwhelmed and have to run inside and recharge for weeks at a time. I can’t even talk on the phone without being warned ahead of time. The photos you see of me online are when I leave my house for an hour to visit friends. I take a ton of photos and play then go home… and I’m enthusiastic. It’s just in my nature.
As someone who has her hands in so many areas of the entertainment industry, from acting to modeling, from illustration to storytelling, how do you balance your passions and still have time for all the great projects that you do like Temple of Art or your graphic novel, New Praetorians?
Balance? As I said, I have a lot of energy. Many years as a hustler has whet my palate with hunger for many different projects. Now I’m an artist who has a day job (doing New Praetorians). Sure, I could just sit back and work on this one gig for the next ten years (because that’s how long it will take me to do all 27 issues and extras we have planned), but that would drive me nuts, so it’s not really choosing to balance lots of projects. I need lots of projects or I get bored. Lots of all different kinds to satisfy all the different facets of me. Moment to moment I figure out how to fit everything in. Sometimes I’m successful at it. Other times I let projects build up and stress myself out and get overwhelmed. Luckily New Praetorians is my constant project, so it is my center, and for people like me it’s good to have a constant. My artistic endeavors won’t end with comics either. I’ve got a children’s book I have on the list, an animation and an autobiography, documentary, and short film I’ll be working on as well. Outside of work, I want to learn a language, get better at tango, am a fitness nerd/gym fox, want to learn the violin, get better at archery, do more marathons, climb more mountains, etc…. Never live with the regret of not doing what you dream. Maybe that’s how I balance, I know I’m working through my dream lists and sometimes they overlap. But the stress is worth it. 100%.
How did you become involved with Temple of Art?
Well, Allan is one of my best friends and I wanted to support Temple of Art and then when it started to become real he asked me to participate! That was really kind of him to believe in me enough to ask as I’m not a seasoned artist like the rest of the TOA clan. (I did go the Academy of Art for 5 years… that counts ya?)
Can you describe the process of having Allan Amato photograph you and then reinterpreting that photo with your own unique artistic touch?
Artists hang out differently than other people. When I hang out with many of my photographer friends, we usually just do photo shoots (aka: hanging out) and then go to lunch. Who knows what will come of the photos! It’s not like I sell them or anything. But that’s how we hang out; we create art. Allan and I have shot a few times together and I love being engulfed in his art. I’m hyper-observant and enjoy watching him in his element. So, being photographed by Allan was just another day of playing with my friend. The hard part was coming up with an idea that wouldn’t cover up his art. I didn’t want to cover it… but I also couldn’t paint on a drawing of myself looking at me, so I got rid of the eyes. (laughter) It’s a very vulnerable feeling. If I were to draw what I want all of the time, I’d draw girls wrapped up in girls in a sea of girls. That makes me happy for some reason. Not in a sexual way, but a sensual way. So, I drew girls all wrapped around the photo he took. I prefer black and white but added some color. This style is a bit cartoony, but so am I. And I wanted it to represent me specifically.
With Temple of Art: The Documentary, you are part of an amazing collective of creative talents, both in front of the camera and behind it. What has it been like associating with all of these diverse people who are being brought together by their need to create art?
This collection of artists is mind blowing. I admire all of them and have learned so much by chatting and getting to know everyone I’ve met so far. It’s one of the biggest learning experiences and growth experiences I’ve had. Finding out about other artist’s processes and lifestyles makes me realize how I relate and how it’s okay to embrace one’s weirdness and how it’s healthy for an artist to follow their specific intuitions.
Have you found the Temple of Art experience to be inspiring or challenging?
Yes, so deliciously inspiring. An inspiration injection right into my eye holes!
In your opinion, what is the most special thing about Temple of Art?
The most special thing about Temple of Art is that so many people out there really do appreciate the artists that create their favorite images. They are interested in the lives and processes. In this bizarre decade of throwaway everything, it’s hard to know if anyone is really paying attention, if anyone cares. Sure we make art because our souls can’t help it, but for me… it’s a way to connect with the outside world and to find out the outside does care… well, that’s tops!
What other projects are you currently working on?
My main big art baby is my 27-issue graphic novel, New Praetorians, which will be out Spring/Summer 2015. I’m finishing chapter three right now. There’s always the celebrity charity Dungeons & Dragons game I throw at Meltdown Comics. Celebritycharitydnd.com will launch a week from now once we have the charity (RORLosAngeles.org) donation center live. The big game day is November 2nd, but you’ll be able to donate before then as well. I’m excited to see the book Mistress Absolute is publishing. I drew about ten plus images for it. I don’t know what else I’m allowed to say about it right now. Pretty much just follow me on Facebook as I’m doing something bizarre and new every week from covers to RPGs to coasters for the La Luz De Jesus Annual Coaster Show.
Allan, Stephanie, and I are all best friends, so they got to see the ecstatic giddy-kat Satine about this dreamy moment. I do believe Stephanie and I frolicked quite a bit about it.
Satine also took the ALS ice bucket challenge solo with a unique twist…
Satine Phoenix is an artist and illustrator, an avid Dungeons & Dragons player, a former adult entertainer, a model, an actress, a storyteller, a gym fox and fitness nerd. Her work can be found on her website, her Instagram page, her Facebook page, her Burning Quill online art portfolio, and ordered on Big Cartel, HERE. She is also available for commissions.