Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Crashed Car: Where Subject, Object, and Narrative Collide

     I have often been told that my art isn’t personal enough. Mostly it focuses on a disruption of visual assumptions, forced visual illiteracy. I strive to transport the viewers of my work into a state of abjection, which Julia Kristeva defines as “the place where meaning collapses.” I want to liberate you (yes, you) from your ego, from your world defined/confined/relatively predestined by your acoustic images, your Platonic ideals projected onto your environment, supplanting experience with perception. One
versed in semiotics or hermaneutics would correct the old adage as follows: “I’ll see it when I believe it.”

     Those familiar with my work may have noticed a certain motif: cars—crashed cars, abandoned cars, former cars. Why? Well, a car in-tact is an object. It represents the basic dialogue of American values: new money, class structure, priorities, information about taste and family. But a crashed car is not an object. A crashed car inherently has a narrative. By merit of its gaping, goreless wounds, it informs us of the most personal, solitary, ultimate moments of its passengers—death, or a glimpse thereof. A crashed car is a relic, the skin shed by the snake and its death-rattle. It requires no gore, no remnants of humanity to make us pale and wince. We are simultaneously enraptured and revolted—indeed, placed in a state of abjection. We can’t tear our eyes away, queasy and horrified as we are. A crashed car is a subject—one that percolates into our minds, our chests, our throats.

     Born and raised in Los Angeles, I have sometimes felt that a car crash is the manifest destiny of narcissists, klutzes, and the innocent alike. Cars are a method of transportation: car crashes are the same method of a different transportation. Surely, a pedestrian lying in the road comforted only by the DMT released in that ultimate and penultimate moment of life and unlife would see those staring headlights as lights ascending them to heaven; is this the rapture? And we, we all stare at the spectacle—the muse to the likes of Fitzgerald, Warhol, J.G. Ballard, and Cronenberg alike—simultaneously removed and utterly involved. It is an event we simultaneously understand and cannot fathom. It is at once alive, dead, and abiotic. So human, and yet so robotic. Surely this unholy union of man and machine sits comfortably in the Uncanny Valley.

     When I represent these destroyed or derelict cars in my work, I hearken to my homeland. But these rusted clumps so feared and fascinated also represent me. My car crashes are self-portraits. I feel similarly both objectified and subjectified—idealized by some and demeaned by strangers conditioned by a world of lenses and privilege. Passersby gawk and stare, simultaneously seeing my humanity and displacing me as an alien. One’s identity, to some extent, is carved by painful experiences as well as pleasurable ones. We define ourselves contextually, by reflecting or deflecting the other. You can’t see my rusted car guts and my bloodless dents, scrapes, and wounds. Not until I paint them. Not until I display them for you in a gallery, sprinkled with our shared existential fears like chopped nuts on a sundae.

      So don’t tell my my work isn’t personal. What could be more personal than death?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Why Hating on Hipsters Makes You Look Stupid

            We all know the routine: you smirk condescendingly at the arty young adult with the glasses and the tattoos, or assume that everything he or she does is “ironic”—scare quotes included. You roll your eyes. You scoff. You make some sort of generalization on the way to your sweet new condo in Williamsburg: “We’re not walking fast enough for the hipsters.”
            I laugh to think I might be the first to point out to you that if it wasn’t for hipsters, your snazzy $2.2 million condo wouldn’t exist in the first place. Who are you, dear reader, to talk shit on an entire subculture that you can’t even clearly identify or define while you yourself have been swayed to wear tight, high-waisted pants, oversized beanies, or large-framed glasses? Are you going to just subsume the elements of their culture that mainstream America okayed and then slander them to death for, say, growing their armpit hair, being vegan, or gentrifying the very next neighborhood you’re going to move into?
            I happen to think the general hate of hipsters indicates something much, much bigger. I don’t believe any subculture has been so antagonized since the first punk rockers—who, as it turns out, were doing something truly important, destroying and laying foundations for new subcultures to exist, that everyone might find a place to belong. Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols were famously booed off talk shows, spat on, and even exiled from England. Sure, they were “obnoxious” in their outright rejection of societal norms. Punks were unhygienic to an extreme that put hippies to shame, spitting in people’s faces and giving them pink eye (as happened to Siouxsie Sioux and Adam Ant). They glorified the Id, punching and pushing each other in mosh pits in clothing indicative of their subversive sexual preferences. They had outlandish haircuts and wild, self-aware make up that completely defied what the contemporary standards demanded: bad hygiene equals bad manners. Try and fit in. Comb your hair. Sit like a lady. Punk rock deliberately and loudly defied all that, giving room for those othered by society to other society in return—that is, a community for freaks to belong to cemented by a common abstract enemy: the status quo.
Hipsters are a breath of fresh air after the stagnant remnants of seventies through nineties subcultures. We all know punk is dead: it’s no longer rebellious, no longer menacing, and thus no longer culturally relevant. Goth is dead too, as it always wanted to be—trapped in a feedback loop of masochism, narcissism, elitism, and nostalgia. Rave culture is said to be making a comeback, but I maintain that “rave” is just another dirty four-letter word, a euphemism for a vapid and obnoxious trend with no manifesto but PLUR. The acronym has become a symbol for sketchy pills that dissolve identities and make everyone act identically trashy; stupid bracelets with rave pseudonyms spelled on them called kandy; parties with music so bad you’d have to be loaded to enjoy them. Rave culture never should have existed in the first place. In fact, remember the nineties all together? Remember Clueless and Britney Spears? The important musicians killed themselves or sold out, or just lost steam entirely. After the militant social pressure to straighten your hair, wear contacts, and have your ass crack show every time you bent over, the stark contrast of the hipster aesthetic—an acquired taste for me at first—stands for personal liberation.
            Hipster culture allows anyone to rock an unconventional aesthetic. For the first time, boys make passes at girls who wear glasses in the mainstream. Hipsters never sought mainstream attention to my knowledge—they gained it just by being so outlandish in their “no rules” aesthetic. Hipsters pioneered the nerd revolution. They made it okay to be who you are, or to be who you aren’t if you’re riding that wave with any self-awareness. Anything can be cool if you both mean it sincerely and don’t take yourself too seriously.
Hipsters really began back in the forties, when white middle-class youths sought to emulate the black jazz musicians they so adored, but lost cultural relevance until about a decade ago. What’s so important about this subculture is that it has no agreed-upon definition. What is a “hipster”? Technically, when the term was first coined in the early nineteen hundreds, “hip” meant “in the know”, and the suffix “-ster”, like in “spinster” or “youngster,” was added to it to describe a person who fits in with the root adjective. So “hipster” means someone who is in the know. But what about now? What does “hipster” mean to you, today? Is it an aesthetic that you can compromise by disdain for people who transgress the boundaries of what is socially acceptable more than you do? Is it a novel attitude? Is there a manifesto? I live in Brooklyn, and even I don’t really know what a “hipster” truly is. I know one when I see one, but I couldn’t possibly define one. That, my friends, is what I believe you find so annoying. It is a culture so free, so ambiguous, you can’t even put your finger on it. Anything goes. That is also why I know what the hipsters are doing is important. It’s such a dynamic subculture that I don’t foresee its stagnation so much as its transformation, just as it has been doing for the past several years. It has even revitalized dead subcultures heretofore mentioned and even spat upon, such as goth and *gulp* rave culture—though, thank my pagan deities, with irony, nostalgia, and beats at 1/3 of the speed. In fact, the sea punk idea of raves is refreshingly idealistic. It bears mercifully little resemblance to the horrible “Happy Hardcore” of my youth.
In my opinion, hipsters seem not so much to know what’s hip as to create what’s hip. Therein lies their power, which you find so mysterious that you hate them for it. This puts them literally at the avant-garde. Your repulsion means they’re doing it right.
So, to conclude, whatever hipsters are, they’re revitalizing our culture merely by making us question ourselves. They maintain dynamics in their ineffability. Perhaps this is because “hipster” refers to more of an attitude than an aesthetic with a rigid manifesto, but even then it vacillates wildly between ironic apathy and political dedication (veganism, body hair, et cetera). They encourage paradox and a healthy degree of hypocrisy. Hipsters are keeping American culture fresh—even you have adapted some of their aesthetics, albeit at least half a decade later. Really this reflects poorly on you, and not on those scapegoats bravely and haphazardly carving the way for us at the forefront of the battlefield of cultural development. Considering non-hipsters co-opt the hipster aesthetic, move to neighborhoods gentrified and made safe and desirable by hipsters, and throw the term “hipster” at arty people with the same calculated abandon that scaremongers threw “Communist” at actors, activists, and transgressors not so long ago, you look damn stupid when you hate on hipsters. Damn stupid, and damn closed-minded.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Unicorn Tears: When and How Offensive Costumes are Appropriate

A few weeks ago, a friend invited me to an event called I Feel … Unicorn Planet. Knowing everyone was going to go as a unicorn, I yawned, “How cliché! I want to wear something no one’s ever seen or worn at a party like this.” Therefore even I was shocked when I had the sudden impulse to go as a unicorn after all—a unicorn harnessed, on a leash, crying rhinestone tears (which, according to legend, can heal any illness). I made the entire fascinator myself that day with a horn I’d made out of cut, sand-blasted, heated, and twisted sheet acrylic; glow-in-the-dark ears of Sculpey; and some cardboard and fabric. I also added synthetic hair for effect. The costume incorporates a low-cut American Apparel onesie in gold, because pink is too obvious and gold is rare and royal, a pink and purple tail my friend Stace Cadet gave me at Burning Man last year, a soft white knit dickie found in the children’s section of a thrift store, wintery tights from Denmark, and MoonBoots that perfectly match the synthetic rope I used for my harness and leash. This way I have elements of the Sparkle Pony aesthetic, but I have made the male gaze the subject of the piece.

For me, to go in an immodest costume as a unicorn captured, tortured, and abused by humans perfectly danced the line of typical Burner culture and Leigh Bowery-inspired, DuChampian cheekiness used to recontextualize the costume and the culture it pertains to entirely. A lot of women even in the Burning Man scene sometimes wear costumes that are sexist without even thinking about them in those terms, or which are sexual but not particularly intelligent or opinionated. My costume is sexual but has a narrative, which forces the viewer to contend with him or herself on the politics of his or her sexuality. Is this young blonde girl in a low-cut gold leotard dressed as a unicorn in a harness with apparent tears streaming down her face sexy? Why? Am I morally at peace with my sexual attraction to her?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Artist Statement

 Ever wonder what my artist's manifesto was? Well wonder no longer!

 Artist Statement

            My art ethic is driven by an impulse towards disruption. I wish to strip visual and behavioral codes from their contexts, exposing them for the absurd and oppressive rituals they are. I seek the balance of education and anti-education, diplomacy and instinct. My prime focus is the fragile axis of muted, cultured brain-matter. I want to destroy basic and unnoticed assumptions, from the mundane to the abstract, to provide new space for unwritten and unrehearsed practices. I believe in hypocritical art—the art of multidimensionality, of the dogma of anti-dogma and the reverse, of concepts not yet verbalized, of life. I believe in an anti-alphabet, of Craig Owens’s allegory, which discusses the dichotomies of humanity and biotic matter, of instinct and inescapable egoism. I believe in an art which strips the signified from the sign and liberates the signifier. I believe in choice art—the closest I can fathom to free art—and free art—art I cannot fathom. I believe in art as objects, not art objects, and not subjects. I believe in shallow art, free from semiotic. Disrupt the acoustic image! Open yourself to an illogical synesthesia! Disarm and disword! No rules!
            Experience the art of psychological realism! Experience experience twice removed! Experience it anew. Non-stagnant art must, in the words of Susan Sontag, subject the viewer to its experience, rather than the other way around. I believe in counter-Pop Art, reversing the damage done by post-modern consumerist aesthetics. I believe in the arguably surreal. Let’s re-consider figurative formalism: a phantasmagoria of the concrete and the abstract both in content and in structure, a state of abjection, an unintelligible moment and activity, recognizable to resist dogmatic interpretation, physically implausible and yet honest in its depiction, spontaneous and cryptic, universal and personal. Specificity yields alienation—I am for an art which alienates everyone equally. I believe in an art for which language was not made to describe. I believe in an art which, fully aware of its objectiveness, takes place in the neurons of the viewer. I wish to destroy visual literacy, to strip you of your logical and local defenses.
             Art as experience: involving, empathetic, honest, wordless, in which the wish for a conclusion may never be consummated. I believe in abusing camp for cultural and/or anti-cultural art. I believe in an experience more tangential than Pop-Art, less pretentious than Abstract Expressionism, less literal than Surrealism, as cryptic as Dada. I believe in self-referential anti-purist art, art with its own environment, objective multi-media installations of an un-objective truth. I believe in art as manipulative as literature, as obvious as dance, as formal as cinema. I believe in art of primal consequence—art that makes one blush, vomit, yawn, scream, laugh, stare, react wordlessly. I believe in the art of metalanguage and physicality. I believe in grotesque art, sex art, honest art, paranoid art, sensitive art, sterile art, smelly art, messy art, pristine art, uneducated art, spontaneous and abstracted art, microcosmic art, macrocosmic art, subatomic art. I believe in nonsense art and narrative art, temporal art pieces and theatrical art, almost invisible art. I believe in a vulnerable and invasive art. I believe in an art to catholicize subjective “reality”. I believe in art that does not claim to be any more real than any other experience.
             If art is experience, its setting must be one of two places: the mind, or the body. I wish to externalize internal conflict, intrinsic self-consciousness, secret day-nightmares. I believe in the art of the human experience, whether depicted in the piece or experienced in its inevitable translation, of incoherent or dissected thought.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


by Kendalle Fiasco, 2007

'Ere Dawn broke, and rosy finger'd
Stroked the sculpture of his face,
Lost was I in thoughts that linger
In this dark and dismal space.

Time hath stained me with compassion
Yet I hardly can adore
How in a Plutonian fashion
Enter lost loves from before.

Enter Mem'ry, enter fellows,
O ye violents, O ye liars
Midst the broken-bonèd bellows
Of my self-worth on the pyre!

Speak of nights I still abhor
Or raise your sickly face to flame
That age-old wounds still scream in horror
At the mention of thy name!

Send me swimming in confusion
With your practiced honeyed-speech
Linking horror to illusion
That my youth you still can leech!

Lie to me now, screaming specters
That you earn your hateful keep!
Tears to alm you dream-infectors!
I cannot sleep! I cannot sleep!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Silence versus the Silver Screen Psychosis

By Kendalle Fiasco

“Yeah, we’re just going across the bridge, please,” Brett says as I shut the heavy door behind me. I am inundated by the stink of leather. The driver turns on his meter. “So if you could just take Roebling, that would be fine.” 
            Our faceless chauffeur swings his heavy foot on the accelerator; the telescreen snaps to life. “Hey you! Yeah, you! The one in the back of the cab!” beckon Regis and Kelly, our impersonally familiar friends, flirting, waving, winking, and engaging us. “Be sure and buckle up!” We’re sucked in, just like that. They don’t interact with each other so much as they interact with our presence, maintaining uncanny eye contact, nodding with each spoken syllable, hoping to be the first one picked to be on our team. Kelly’s entire presence is parasitical, tacitly expressing an empathetic knowledge, a mix between an innocent young girl and the foolish but kindly mother who believes she knows best. Their Rosencrantz and Guildenstern act ends with a punch line, and zap! New setting, new speaker, new informal friendliness. Image chases image, shadow chases shadow. Interviews. Archeological digs. Meteorology. Shopping, dining, hot deals, New York City. They care about us. They’re involved in our lifestyles. They want us to save money, to eat well, to bundle up for the coldest weekend of the season. What perfect creatures, with their tiny, unblemished faces, their maternal caring, their approachable demeanors! They’re alluring, they’re seductive, and they want to talk to me.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Waiting For Security to Come, or, BOYCOTT ROSKILDE

“When I was fourteen,” my friend suddenly confided in me, “a gigantic guy climbed on top of me and wouldn’t let me go. He wanted to rape me. I didn’t fight him back sincerely, even then, because I was afraid I would hurt him.” I clamped my eyes shut and bit my lip in a sudden shockwave of acute anger and humiliation; her story sounded all too familiar. Far, far too close to home. I tensed my eyelids so hard I began to see things. I was probably red. I was probably shaking. I wouldn’t really know. Here we’d been friends all this time, and ten years after the assault, she finally felt emotionally safe enough to tell me. Not that I blame her; repression and denial are perhaps the most common means of dealing with an existential mini-death like sexual assault. Thanks to the privacy and safety awarded by the Internet chat we were using, I could cry to my heart’s content, snot and make up streaming down my glistening face—but I didn’t cry. Not really. There was no contending my broken heart. No amount of tears could satiate my own horrible story from just last summer and its conjoined and prolonged sense of failure and humiliation. No cascade of salt water and make up could fix that tender hole in my heart that throbs and recoils when I think about the status of women.
            “Last year,” I began, “my boyfriend Brett took me to a music festival in Denmark to see The Cure,” which has been one of my favorite bands for half of my life. “Of all the music festivals in Europe, it has the lowest rate of violent crime, including rape and sexual assault. It’s considered to be the safest festival in Europe. But it’s not. It has the lowest rate of reported violent crime because there’s no one to report it to.”
            “What’s the festival called?”