a charlotte street 15 year anniversary project considering the history and future of artist-driven pioneering in Kansas City and the changing nature of the city's "frontiers"
More digging… For the following interview, I gathered a group of young KC arts scene movers and shakers (all in their early 20s at the time), most of whom are now well-established figures here and elsewhere. The group included Jaimie Warren, Cody Critcheloe, John Dretzka, Hesse McGraw, Seth Johnson, visual artist and DJ Oz McGuire, and photographer xx [who wishes to remain anonymous.] (Their bios from the time appear at the end of the interview, which was published in the November 2002 issue of Review.)
THE YOUNG, THE BOLD, THE RESTLESS, AND THE BEAUTIFUL
Interview by Kate Hackman
The longer we remain somewhere, the more attuned we may become to its ebbs and flows. With only four years of personal history here, it would be presumptuous to claim a sense of panoramic perspective on Kansas City’s art scene(s). Nonetheless, the landscape has come to feel familiar and its players fairly identifiable, such that change, when it occurs, is noticeable. Particularly of late, he ground seems to be shifting a bit, as artists of a younger generation begin to assert their own ideas and aesthetics, to curate their own exhibitions, and to carve out their own niches and venues. More and more KCA1 grads seem to be sticking around and infusing the community with a new energy; others are moving here from Lawrence and elsewhere. Curious about their viewpoints, motivations. interests, and plans, I invited several of these emerging cultural producers to participate in a roundtable conversation.
Kate Hackman: As exhibiting artists, as curators, as recent founders and directors of art spaces in Kansas City, as writers, as designers, as performers — all of you have begun to play an active role in contributing to Kansas City’s art scene. One thing I sense among you is a multi-facetedness, a facility in negotiating a range of media and bridging a variety of practices. Are you conscious of having an interdisciplinary outlook that maybe distinguishes you from other artists, or is particularly contemporary, or is particularly defining of younger artists? Does technology play a significant role in this equation?
XX: Looking at the Open Studios book [for Open Studios, sponsored by Kansas City Artists Coalition], I would say everyone here does work very different from the majority of the stuff pictured in that book. [That world seems very traditional in a way — a lot of figurative paintings and ceramics and that kind of stuff.
Oz McGuire: I feel at a loss when I see a lot of that kind of work. Maybe that’s to be expected, just because we are younger and indoctrinated into different media and culture. It’s normal for us to accept work that is not commodity-based.
Seth Johnson: I never think about it in those terms, personally. It could have something to do with my education or what I’m interested in, but I don’t apply that to the way I work or what I’m doing.
XX: You mean making a product to sell?
SJ: I mean as far as saying we’re different. I don’t think about it consciously. I mean, sometimes I look at that kind of work and feel alienated by it, but I don’t chalk it up to feeling particularly different than those people. It’s not the first thing that comes to my mind — it just seems like the way it is, I guess.
KH: Where does your affinity lie, then? Do you go around to visual art shows and feel like that work is really limited, like it is : just static work hanging on the wall?
SJ: I generally don’t feel very interested in most artwork, just as a rule. (laughter) A lot of wall art, so to speak, though that is pretty much what I do — I don’t gather too much inspiration from it. What really shapes what I do has more to do with my relationships to people or film or music or literature.
Hesse McGraw: I can identify with that. The sensibility that’s involved there is more centered around a realization that, at this point in history, we have ultimate freedom in the way that we choose to practice. What I mean by that is that you can be informed by and influenced by music and fashion and design, and all of that plays back into the work that you are doing — it doesn’t have to be confined to a genre. If there’s the sense that work being made in Kansas City or anywhere else is not interesting — and I would share the sentiment with other people here — I think that sense is a product of the work being genre-specific. My major influences would range from maybe, currently, an artist like Christian Jankowski to a fashion designer like Hussein Chalayan, or even to work that MK12 is doing. Those things are all exciting and they inform a sensibility which is at the root of the practice.
John Dretzka: One sensibility that I’ve seen — it’s not necessarily unique but it’s one thing that I think is taking over a lot things among people our age and that I see in the work of a lot of emerging artists —is people starting to deal with issues of a kind of 90s pop/adolescence thing. People in our culture, at least in the United States, are allowed to be teenagers for a lot longer. I think a lot of artists are dealing with that, taking sensations and ideas and dreams that you had, say, when you were12, 13 through, say, 17 years old, and extending that. And when you get to age 21, enacting that kind of fantasy to be Dave Mustane (ofMegadeth] or whoever you want to be, dealing with that pop fantasy type of world. I think that’s visible in every kind of medium. It’s something I’m interested in.
KH: What do you think that’s a product of?
JD: Breakfast cereal. (laughter) Video games and methods of entertainment. For me, at least when I was a kid, I remember staying inside for most of the day and messing around — I had all these licensed character toys: Super Mario, and He-Man, and all that stuff. As you grow, your brands change and your influences change, and it evolves from wanting to collect all the He-Man characters to wanting to know who all your favorite contemporary artists are. They’re all characters.
HM: They’re all different name brands …
SJ: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about instructors at school who were just ten years older than me. There was a huge gap there. I don’t have much historical perspective on the matter because I’m just 23 and haven’t been around that long, but it seems to me that the total infiltration of consumer culture has created this necessity to break down ‘t the culture into smaller and smaller discrete subcultures and demographics. I feel like people of our age have been targeted to so directly, and that consumerism is separating us more and more. Even among people my own age — I feel like I can’t relate to a lot of them. That’s partially because of who I am and what I’m interested in, but also because people like us have been sold to so directly. That, to me, sort of offers a solution as to why I don’t feel like I can communicate with Adriane Herman [former teacher in printmaking at KCAI] about certain issues, or why what Cody [Crtcheloe]’s doing might be difficult for some of the older instructors at the Art Institute to understand — whereas when I see it, I accept it as art immediately and can look at it on those terms. And that’s what we are trying to do with our space [Your Face], to bring what we’re interested in and what we value as art to people who might then open their minds to it and be able to evaluate it in critical terms.
OM: Well, growing up with MTV, that may have been some of the greatest art we were exposed to …
SJ: Definitely influential.
OM: Other people might not realize that. That was sort of an indoctrination. I saw a lot more MTV than I saw fine art, growing up.
SJ: MTV has always used cutting-edge designers and techniques. Did any of you watch that stuff and not care about it?
KH: That is a difference. I remember when MTV started, I think I was in fourth or fifth grade, and I was in college before we had the internet. I’m not that many years older than you guys, but it is a very different thing.
SJ: Yeah. When you ask whether technology plays a significant role, I would say that it doesn’t, although I imagine that someone my dad’s age would say that it totally does. It goes without saying that we’re going to have a website and that we’re going to explore the digital realm, which is something that has always been around us. In a way, I think it’s good for us to be like that — all that stuff is at our fingertips and we don’t get too enamored, we don’t have a lust toward this new technology as much.
KH: I think that fuels a move away from specialization. You have access to so many tools that you can move freely among all these different things, because you know how to work in all those different media. I think that’s very different from somebody who is trained as a painter and that is what they know how to do.
SJ: Sure. I don’t think we should kid ourselves and try to toot our own horns about it much, we’re just products of our age. But that is what we’re talking about, so I think it’s apropos to the discussion. I want to make it clear that I don’t think we’re doing anything special in that way.
HM: Well, the technology is a constant presence to us in a way that it hasn’t been to older generations. It has a novelty to them whereas it was just another alternative to us. Like in school, you could take a computer class just the same as you could a silkscreen class.
Jaimie Warren: Just having the internet, and being able to communicate with people and see things that are going on everywhere, immediately if you want to, definitely plays a part in your influences. There is such a broad spectrum and variety of what you can be interested in. That’s a big part of why we want to be pulling people from out of town [to show at Your Face], that we’ve discovered on our own through our own interests and researching.
KH: John and Hesse talked a bit about this, but perhaps the rest of you could speak a little about where you are looking for information and what things you are seeing that are particularly interesting to you.
Cody Critcheloe: I look at music, different bands that are doing something similar to what I’m doing. It’s more of a competitive thing in a way — I mean, l’m influenced by it, obviously, but I want to somehow take it a little bit further, make it my own. There are a lot of people now who are doing music, live, and it’s prerecorded, with a lot of video work. A lot of bands use lots of dramatic flair and are very performative on stage, rather than just playing their instruments. My biggest concern is keeping up with all of that, what’s going on in that scene, and pulling from it — whether I’m making a parody of it or trying to do it a little bit better.
OM: I just try to dissect information from across the board — literature, but not just fiction; the New York Times, but also the ads in the New York Times; and music. I try to read it in a certain way. I enjoy certain aspects of it and certain aspects of it disgust me, but they’re both important to me. I try to make a cohesive message. Since this is the age of information — we’re overwhelmed with information — for me to reinterpret it is one of the most important things, I think. But I also look at the fine art mags and online resources, to see what shows are happening in other places so I don’t feel like I’m in a black hole, which is nice to be a able to do now. And to try to bring some of that here to expose to other people. Since moving back here, that’s part of a mission for me.
HM: I feel like I have to look at everything. I don’t feel like I can stop at any one field of activity. I have this feeling like I need to constantly be bringing in as much cultural information as possible, and do that through the most timely sources.
XX: Then do you respond to the things you see directly in your work?
HM: Sometimes. Hopefully.
XX: I guess what I’m wondering is why you think its so crucial that you tap all sources of information?
HM: Well, maybe that’s a personal problem. (laughs) I’m addicted to magazines.
JW: Well, it is difficult, too, because once you find something that you think is interesting, all of a sudden it can be everywhere. You find something you think is underground or special for some reason, and you see why it has value, and then, all of a sudden, it has exploded everywhere — you can’t get away from it. It’s constantly like this race …
HM: Nothing is underground because everybody’s publicizing themselves. As soon as anything is put out into the public realm, it’s immediately consumed by 18 other sources. The same three bands are on the cover of every magazine.
SJ: I’ve been very discouraged by that lately. I believe there is an underground, and I feel it’s stronger now than it has been since I’ve been keeping up with it. The hype is just ridiculous and I think it cheapens everything that is going on. I don’t feel like things are appreciated for their true value. People like it for the fashion, or because it is novel, or the newest retro thing — it’s just an offhand acceptance because it’s cool. I think it’s important to think about exactly what it is and to analyze it critically, not to just believe the hype or whatever.
CC: But I think it’s cool that there is a hype machine with a lot of this stuff. Maybe there will be one particular thing that will get really big and reach out to a lot of people, so someone in a really small town will have access to that and then, if they’re interested, get into other things. If it stays completely underground there’s never that chance.
SJ: I don’t think that it’s bad for the underground to become mainstream but I think it is bad for the underground to forget about its values and embrace the things about the mainstream that are what pushed them away from it to begin with. I see bands like Fischerspooner, which was a really exciting idea, and now they have become exactly what they were originally commenting on. So, what they’re saying is vapid.
Mike Miller: Is there a role for resistance?
SJ: I was thinking about that last night. What is the goal of being a rebel? You’ve got a kid and a mortgage and you’re not going to sit in your apartment and publish a zine about how everything sucks. But I think it’s really important to have values and to stick by those, especially in a time like now. I don’t want to sound like a puritan or whatever, but I think it’s important to believe in something and to follow that through.
KH: In relation to that, what would you say are your goals in starting a space? In the press release for the opening of Your Face, for example, you note a drive to tap into a “certain lifestyle/mood which has been heretofore buried within disparate subcultures.” Hesse, your first two events at Paragraph were a video/music collaboration and a clothing launch. Who do you see as the audience you would like to attract and, also, what do you see as your responsibilities in doing it; do you feel a sense of responsibility to a larger community?
JD: One thing that I found interesting at events that I’ve been to over the past year, whether it’s music events or parties or art openings, is that there’s a really weird influx of 18, 19, 20-year-olds. I feel that Your Face is going to be an interesting place for people a few years younger than us, who can come and see artwork and bands and appreciate it, have it be kind of a hangout or phenomenon-type place … One common complaint of everybody who’s a hipster or a scenester or whatever, during the past five years, is that there’s nowhere to go. There’s no good music happening, there’s nobody touring who’s hitting Kansas City, and there are no good clubs. So we’re doing that.
HM: All the good bands go to Lawrence.
KH: So Hesse’s tapping into that crowd.
SJ: My personal goal for the space, I don’t know if it’s an egotistical thing or not, is that I want to bring some things that I’m interested in to a critical dialogue that goes beyond, like, “this is a band.” We’ve already been having trouble with our first show — how do we advertise it, how do we get people there? People are like, “oh, so it’s a rock show, there’s not art.” We’re like, “No, it’s a performance. It is a rock show, but don’t just think of it that way. Enjoy it, take it in, and see what you think about it; try to appreciate it as art.” I think almost everybody at the table has been talking about being interested in music. We know there’s no barrier between those two modes of expression.
KH: One thing you discover, in figuring out how to publicize an event, is that the media is not accustomed to dealing with things that are interdisciplinary. With Review, we’re basically defined as a visual arts publication, which is less about having this really fine focus than feeling like one can’t be everything and where do you draw those lines? If you look at any publication, things are departmentalized. I think that’s the legacy of an older-school way of thinking about things, which still exists. When you have something like this, it’s like, “who’s going to write about this?” Is it the visual arts person who is going to write about this or is it the music person? That niche is not really defined.
SJ: We had that problem directly with the Pitch.
JD: Our press release went back and forth between Andrew Miller and Gina Kaufman.
SJ: We’re interested in subverting those lines. We each have our own agenda, but maybe that’s what is drawing us together.
JW: We have the same basic ideas about what we want to do, even if we might have our own small paths we want to take. Advertising in general will be a problem. We want to be able to bring those 17, 18, 19-year-old kids and have them appreciate it. At the same time, we want the Kansas City art crowd and the gallery hoppers to come, too, and see this rock show as art. How do you make those come together? How do you make it so the crowd and the environment is a pleasurable experience for everybody?
HM: We’ve come against the same problems and it seems like it shouldn’t be an issue. I didn’t give a second thought to programming this product launch [for the Breakdance America clothing line] at Paragraph. These guys are producing t-shirts and silkscreening the packaging that the t-shirts come in. Their work is really interesting — the designs are engaging and I think they can be looked at in the context of a gallery — so I didn’t have any reservations about their placement there. When we told people our next event was a product launch for a t- shirt company, they were really confused by it.
SJ: That mentality is just something that is foreign to everyone at the table.
HM: That’s mainly what we’re trying to do: to break down those distinctions or those notions of what a gallery should be. I don’t think a gallery should be a rarified place that only presents a certain kind of activity I think our audience in Lawrence is definitely going to be different than what it is in the Crossroads, but we’re trying to bridge the gap between Lawrence and Kansas City, to create a more fluid exchange between the two.
JW: It’s important to me, building these bridges, taking what’s important to us and bringing it to this space so that people in the art community can see it and take it for what it is worth. Why do people have gallery, openings in the first place? They want people to see the work. Also, there is the idea of communicating with people all over the place and meeting other creative people that are doing interesting things — collaborating with them and generating something.
KH: Do you have any sort of disregard for people who don’t get it? I was on a panel recently at the Daum Museum for this installation show [Awakenings] that I wrote an essay for, and there was a man in the audience who raised his hand and asked, “Can you give us three steps for how to walk in and understand this work?” I think there is still a tremendous portion of the population that is far removed from this. There’s a very limited portion of the population that is likely to make that leap with you, and get it and appreciate it, and then there is another portion of the population who might be interested in trying to make that leap with you but needs a little bit of nurturing, or a little bit of education, or some kind of outreach. I wonder what level of responsibility you all feel in providing that.
HM: I think it’s all about exposure. The more exposure people have, the more they’ll come to accept it as being a viable thing. If someone is asking “how am I supposed to understand installation art?” it is probably because they’ve never seen an installation show before.
XX: It’s funny, because it basically goes back to what the conversation began with. It’s just like advertising. If you put something in people’s faces enough, they’ll eventually realize that they want it. (laughter)
OM: We had some problems last month. We had an opening for a show at the Panacea gallery that was just video art, which I take for granted as being an acceptable medium. But many people wanted a narrative to go along with the video, because we’ve been indoctrinated into believing that this is how video must go. I felt it was kind of an opportunity to expose it to people. For anybody who was interested to ask me about it, I could at least give them a little breakdown … “it’s kind of a moving painting, it’s not like a sitcom.”
SJ: I don’t personally feel that much responsibility. We’re doing certain things within a traditional framework — our opening is on a Friday, etc. We’re working within a structure that already exists for a crowd that may not get what we’re trying to do. Maybe that isn’t enough, and I certainly wouldn’t ever want to be elitist or exclude anybody but at the same time I understand that everything isn’t for everybody and I have no intention of trying to make somebody be interested in something that they’re not.
MM: Why would that be called elitism?
SJ: Well, my mom or my aunt might look at a painting and feel alienated from it, and I think people can sort of internalize that and think the artist is trying to push them out oldie way But I’m not interested in law — my dad is a lawyer but I don’t feel like he’s being an elitist by having a library full of law books. It’s just a different frame of reference, essentially. But you can’t ignore that people think that, you can’t ignore that it could be construed that way. I think you should confront hat problem but you shouldn’t pander to it, you shouldn’t feel the need to make everything really acceptable for everybody.
XX: I hear you saying that art is allowed to be its own self-informed thing. Isn’t that kind of saying that there is something valid about lines and divisions?
SJ: I don’t think that there is anything wrong with boundaries in certain ways, as you’re talking about. But in our case, we feel like certain past paradigms should stay in the past.
CA: Not to be a negative voice here — but, of course. This has happened already. It happened with Dada. I guess there’s something totally valid and interesting about trying to bring music, fashion, and art all into one venue but, at the same time, there is kind of a human inclination to kind of package things up.
HM: That’s exactly right. I read a quote just a few days ago by Kurt Schwitters. He basically said, “All that I do boils down to an attempt to erase the boundaries between architecture and fashion, poetry and art, etc.” Obviously, it is not a new problem. But maybe we can come up with some novel solutions, especially contextually, within Kansas City, to that problem. Hopefully, that leads to things that are interesting.
SJ: I don’t want to delude ourselves and think that we’re doing anything spectacular or amazing or even that hasn’t been done before. It’s basically that we have a voice and we’re utilizing it. We’re young people who haven’t had our platform yet and we’re trying to create that, instead of sitting around and peddling our wheels … All of a sudden you have a space, all of sudden you do whatever you want with that space, all of a sudden people pay attention, and then all of a sudden it changes something.
KH: I wonder about what support structures you feel exist for you here and what is lacking. In speaking about the want and the need to form your own spaces, and establish your own venues, and “have your own voice,” is that something that you felt frustrated didn’t already exist — a mecha nism in which you could operate — such that you really needed to carve out something that was distinctive to you? Or are there spaces that are already here, spaces operating in the West Bottoms or wherever, that you look to as models for how you might do it? How do you define yourselves in relationship to them, and what do you feel like is missing from those resources?
JD: In terms of support structures, which is an interesting idea, a lot of people locally who I’ve looked up to had to make their own support structures right out of school. Because nobody’s going to approach you. It’s really rare that somebody’s going to come out of the blue and approach you to show work in their space. It’s always through friends, no matter what. So you have to create your own network, you have to communicate with people with similar ideas. If you don’t do that, nobody’s going to do it for you.
KH: I hear what you’re saying, but, also, I would say it is up to you to pursue opportunities for yourself. I’m not going to come bang down your door, but if you come and approach me, I might have opportunities for you. I think part of it is shouldering that responsibility.
CC: My networking goes back to what Jaimie said about the Internet. Any opportunity that’s come my way has mostly come about through using the Internet and through e-mail. When I got it in high school, it opened so many doors. The stuff that I started doing, around sophomore year, I knew wouldn’t necessarily fit into this scene and I didn’t really think that I wanted it to. It was more important to me to get into contact with people in other areas in order for me to get support through that, as far as putting out a record or putting out a zine. Here, it was a lot more closed off. lt was a lot easier going through that avenue of the Internet.
SJ: It seems like your background plays a lot into that too, being from a small town in Kentucky. If you were 13 and hadn’t gotten involved through an outlet for communication, who knows what you might be doing? To me, it’s interesting that you’ve been able to come from that into something radically different from what would be the norm for having grown up like you did.
CC: I think it is just totally American. I come from a middle class family … I can never fully get rid of those ideas. So it’s always been really important in my work, and in getting my work out, to take every opportunity I can.
JW: So how do you feel about doing your work in Kansas City right now? You’ve lived in a small town, and then lived in New York City last semester. How do you feel about doing your work here, when people might not understand it?
CC: I do have a desire, when making art, whether it is video or wall art — I always want my morn to like it. A lot of times with the stuff that I’m doing, I think, oh, my mom wouldn’t like it, because it’s dirty or taboo or something. I go back to a really basic idea — well, if it’s done well and it looks really pretty, then she’ll like it for that reason.
HM: You were asking earlier about other spaces to view as models, specifically spaces in the Bottoms. I think what occurred in the Bottoms in the 90s has had an amazing impact on the Kansas City scene. Those spaces kept people on their toes and provided venues for a lot of young and untested artists. The Dirt Gallery gave me my first show in Kansas City and for that I am very grateful. And they did that without really knowing me … it was kind of a leap of faith on their part. I think that would be the model I would want to follow in programming my own space, that I would be just as interested in providing someone with their first show as I would he in bringing in an artist who is established. Beyond that, it’s all about gaining some kind of momentum to keep going for as long as possible.
KH: One thing I think is pretty amazing is that these artist-run spaces are basically operated on the backs of the people running them, without any financial support. How do you all explain what motivates one to sustain this kind of thing, to pour heart and soul and time and money into it when there is really no financial payback?
SJ: It’s the same reason, for me, as to why I make art. I’m not selling a lot of stuff; it’s not really about that. Running the space is an artistic gesture.
OM: At the same time, though, in creating a space, you want to legitimize in some ways the art that you’re making and showing. I think the legacy of all the West Bottoms galleries has been a great foundation to push alternative media in this community, but I still think it’s missing the money target. I’d love a patron … that’s not the intention at all, but to deny that that would be a good thing is ridiculous.
KH: But I think that you have to realize that even most of the commercial galleries in town aren’t making money, so the aspiration of any one making money seems fairly bleak …
HM: Realistically, for any of us, money is an afterthought. It would be great, but most of the activity is the result of a perceived void in the existing scene and obviously we’re not here to duplicate things that other people have done. We’re trying to emphasize things that maybe have gone unrecognized.
SJ: That is what is sort of enticing about things coming up from the underground and being exciting for the mainstream. The only people that I know that are making money doing their art are people in bands, besides MK12, which is another thing altogether.
JD: As for them, it’s more of an arts and entertainment hybrid, where it’s almost half-comedy, half-visual effects and technical virtuosity, mixed with a left-field kind of aesthetic.
HM: They’ve also been able to tap into the mainstream desire for cool. The work they do is definitely cool, and pretty innovative in the field. People who have a lot of money, like MTV, despite being the most commodified venue for anything, are also wanting to have elements of cool inserted into their programming.
JD: A lot of the money is coming from kind of stale corporations wanting to reinvent who they are, to reinvent their persona. So they come to a group of misfits in the Midwest, who are really damn good at computers and who have interesting ideas. At least over in the studio, we’re trying to combine our perverse notions of what we want to see in artwork and trying to find the middleground between that and pure advertisement.
KH: Isn’t it a product, too, of the fact that everyone wants to market to the 18 to 25-year-olds?
SJ: I think that’s a part of it, but I think it goes beyond that to a need for content. I had Jack Rees as a teacher and one thing he said, that I now believe to be true, is that if you have content, they will come. Stuff that’s going to last and make an impact is going to have content. I had some unique opportunities in the last year where I was talking to the woman who runs Elektra Records, and the guy who runs American Records, and these people were in absolute lust for something that was interesting and not just the same old shit. They want, they need ideas. i think all the good ideas start out way too left field for most people to digest.
KH: Do you ultimately feel the legacy is in a trickle down effect, that everything new gets mediated and mediated and mediated?
SJ: I think that’s a really interesting point — that all the new ideas will be taken up, filtered, spit back out in a more commercially acceptable way, and then new people will come along with their 73 radical ideas …
KH: And it’s faster and faster, too.
JD: I’ve been thinking about decades and identity, and style movements. I’ve heard it said that a decade doesn’t really start haying its own identity until about three years into it. Maybe nostalgia is an identity within itself— where it’s not necessarily a standstill but it’s more of a theatrical exploration. It is almost as if people are feeling like we’re living on the brink of extinction, or Armageddon, or anthrax, or whatever people are worried about, so maybe the next ten years will be defined by a longing for a certain kind of false peace. Where, in the arts, it will be all about duplication and stimulation of a certain time period. I think the most interesting musicians within the last few years have striven for complete and total mimicry of a preexisting movement. I’m personally interested in that with the stuff I collect, and what I’m fascinated with, and the new musicians and artists that I like. It’s removed, too — it’s a culture within itself. I don’t think it’s stagnant or negative, it’s just what it is.
KH: What do you think about the importance of craft? It seems to me there is a real concern in Kansas City with the well-crafted object. I found it interesting when I was teaching at KCAI and I took the class to see the New Art From LA show at the H&R Block Artspace — there were so many students who hated it They felt like there was NO craft invested in it, it didn’t take any time to make, it wasn’t precious, it wasn’t valuable … I felt like, well, that is not the point, the work is not about that. But I feel that people have always been invested in craft in Kansas City — the personal investment in the object, with a lot of love going into the object.
OM: We’re in the Heartland!
JD: With duplication, you can put a lot of labor into something without it necessarily being a precious object. When you’re doing something for print, or for a book, or for something where here’s an edition of 5000, like with a publication, there’s definitely blood and guts going into that thing, but it might be textureless, it might just be a piece of paper on cardboard that’s totally deteriorating. It’s all about the image. It’s not necessarily about the texture, or the scale, or where it is, or where you find it, but it’s about the content of the image itself.
KH: That seems reflective of a lot of this conversation. You’re all very grounded in communication — not specific to a media, but the act of communication, whatever vehicle that might assume. It’s not contingent on the object per se but on the interface …
SJ: That, to me, is what art’s about, trying to communicate an idea. It boils down to that.
JD: One thing that I’m noticing is that the image itself is gaining importance. It might have stemmed from things like skateboard graphics of the 80s and things like that. There are a lot of web- pages dedicated to selling t-shits, records, albums, buttons, and t-shirts, that are all image-based. People are putting a lot of money into stuff like a t-shirt that has a picture of some flowers and a turtle on it because it’s kind of funky and weird. It doesn’t reference anything, it’s its own thing. The image has become fetishized. I think it’s really good for visual artists, that our images now have a cache, whereas maybe a few years ago it wasn’t as important.
KH: Do you think there’s a loss of context, though, where it doesn’t matter anymore what anything is grounded in; where everything essentially moves around on that flat surface and there’s no longer a foundation that one might understand? I can look as an art historian at something within the discourse of contemporary art, and I can understand some of the things that are informing it — I bring that context to what I look at. When things are just shifting as images, it’s harder to locate things and understand what’s informing them. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it is a different way to approach things. I’m wondering if you all feel any sort of grounding in certain histories or whether you operate more in terms of an immediate response to contemporary culture almost as a whole, or all of these different facets of contemporary culture, in a way that is much more about the present than about the histories that underlie them.
HM: You’re talking about contemporary images and their capacity to carry meaning, and their capacity to be fetishized in pop culture. I kind of doubt, in general, the capacity of any single image to maintain autonomy. I feel that the level of imagery saturation in contemporary culture, of imagery in advertising — those things in general have become so extreme that it’s almost impossible to differentiate anything.
JD: It might not be about the singular, though, and that’s maybe what’s radical. Maybe it’s more about the network and the distribution. One thing we learned in art school is that if you’re going to be an artist, you have to spend 80 percent of your time promoting yourself. Is that an art in itself -and can you examine that as a movement in itself?
KH: I do want to raise a question about art school. How do you regard your art school educations at this point? Were there teachers or other students who were particularly influential or experiences that were especially valuable? Are there things that were lacking from your education?
HM: Oz and I are the only ones here that went to KU. Personally, anything I’ve done in a professional arena could be characterized by an effort to get away from art school. Maybe the value it holds for me is something to position myself against. The people I would cite as most influential at KU were the people who told me just to do my own thing and look at my work outside of the academic context.
SJ: I had a different experience. The printmaking department at KCAI was really progressive. It had a lot to do with the people I was around, and Adriane Herman was amazing. One thing I came away with was the value of work and having a work ethic. It wasn’t something put upon us by the teachers so much as it was being in a studio environment with a bunch of other people where, if you didn’t show up, if you weren’t in there every night, you could go to critique and you’d get shit on — and validly so. I don’t sit around my apartment and watch television. I can’t do that, it’s ingrained in me not to. And so many people I went to school with were really good artists. I had a good experience there. A lot of what I’m doing now is an extension of that
CC: What you were saying about Adriane Herman I agree with. It wasn’t so much anything she said to me, it was watching her and watching how she put her stuff together, and sent everything out, and was just so on top of things and had everything in line. You just watched that and it was a great example of something. That said a lot more to me than her ever saying anything — just being inspired by how she dealt with everyone and how she was able to do the things she wanted to do and make any situation pretty much work for her.
HM: I have a feeling that the professors at the Art Institute are definitely more involved in the Kansas City professional environment. That would lend itself to encouragement towards the students to look at their work more in terms of that framework, rather than looking at it in terms specific to an academic framework. At KU, that was all we had. We were looking at our work in terms of how it would perform in a critique that lasted from 1p.m. to 4 p.m. During most of those critiques, I would rather have been out playing frisbee. I think the first time I had any kind of success was when I started to consider how my work would play out in a gallery, when people that I didn’t know would come look at it.
OM: The good thing about any school are the networking possibilities.
SJ: You make it what you want to make it.
KH: Did you all feel like you were already, to some extent, participants in a larger community? I know most of you, as undergrads, were already in shows around Kansas City. I wonder how you found that, in terms of whether you already felt, as students, that there were opportunities open to you — ways in which you could sort of be outside school while you were also in school, and get feedback on another level by participating in a larger framework.
JD: For the first three years at the Art Institute, I felt like I was on Gilligan’s Island. I was isolated, I didn’t know anybody in the city, I didn’t know what there was to do, I had no clue what was going on outside of school. I loved working, and I loved making art, and I definitely got to openings, but there was really no connection to the community outside. As soon as I got out of school, the doors sort of blew open on it and I started talking to people … it was really exciting. You end up coming to the realization that if you don’t communicate and talk to the community, who’s going to go to your shows? In terms of influence, one of the best things I learned (at KCAI) was from Cyan Meeks, who was a 27-year-old teacher. She said you’ve got to meet people outside of the arts community …
XX: I have such a different perspective. I think there’s something —it’s archaic, but it’s real — about being an artist who works in their own bubble to some extent. You have people who you interface with, but there will be people who come see your work and they don’t know you and so they don’t have that specific context. But they maybe know something about art and so they respond and interact with your work purely based on that. And, maybe, that’s what I feel is lacking in Kansas City.
KH: So what is it that is keeping you in Kansas City? Do you feel this is a stepping stone to somewhere else, or do you see this as a place in which you are invested? What is encouraging you to be here?
OM: Money and time. I can work 20 hours a week and have the money to get stuff done, buy some new equipment, produce some artwork, buy some records.
HM: I think it’s the ability to do things here that you wouldn’t be able to do anywhere else. We’re opening our own spaces, we’re curating shows, and we’re like 22 years old. Where else can you do that? Of course, that could be a stepping stone to somewhere else, but I think we’re also trying to do valuable things that will impact this community. If it does have an impact, that’s great.
JW: There’s constantly that argument j about the pros and cons of the community. It goes back to what Catherine was talking about — it’s good to work in a bubble, so that you don’t have to be writing a bad review about someone that you’re going to see the next day at a dinner party or whatever. I want to be here because there are a lot of resources. With any aspect of what I’m wanting to do, there’s someone that is willing to help me with that, because I’ve made friends with people. People can use me for things, and I can use them for something, and it can be a positive experience. At the same time, there is that struggle — you’re showing your work, but who are you showing it to? Everybody knows you and they have these associations with you when they look at your work; it’s not from that fresh perspective, it’s not from “I don’t know this person, what do I think about their works;” It’s “Oh, yeah, that’s from….” I have work in the New Blood show at the Dirt and it’s all photographs of people that I know will be going to the show and looking at them.
XX: But there are also almost just as many people who you don’t know who go and see it, too, and do you ever have the opportunity to hear their response?
KH: But in any other context you wouldn’t either.
CA: That’s true. But it would be nice to have a different voice responding to your work.
HM: I think one thing that keeps people here, maybe for a few years longer than they might stay otherwise, is a simultaneous sense of fear and comfort. You can stay in Kansas City and make mistakes professionally that you couldn’t make in New York without getting butchered. You have an ability here to make yourself more vulnerable. That also gives you a bit more freedom to pursue your intuition or instincts toward things, which you might he more hesitant to do in New York or LA.
OM: One thing I worry about is being invested here, because I think we’re all young and have a lot of idealism about this. I wonder how many 35 or 40-year-old artists felt exactly the same way when they were our age ‘and now they’ve just plateaued.
MM: I think there are a lot of opportunities here. You can, say, buy a building. There’s no reason in the world you can’t do what you’re doing and then leave — and then come back if you choose to come hack. I think that there are constantly becoming more layers. I was talking with Davin Watne about this panel and he said that when he opened the Dirt he had no idea … his sense is that you all are so much better informed and so much more ready to be doing these things than he was. There is more context.
OM: We might have more momentum because of people like him, too.
JD: The thing about the larger city debate that I’m always going through — I’ve lived in bigger cities than this — is, are people from bigger cities more worldly, or is their work more valid, or is where they’re living more valid? It’s a lot of b.s. If you’re living in a city like this, you can focus, make work, and save money; you can travel, you have time to read and go to the coffee shop or whatever. The reason I’m staying here is because I’m making a living as an artist. I can, once in a while, take a weekend and go to a different city and see all the art shows that I’m missing out on, or see all the music shows, and I’m not eating my shoe. A lot of friends I have in Los Angeles, they don’t leave Pasadena, and they think they‘re in the coolest place in the world.
HM: That’s why I don’t want to go to New York right now — I know I would be broke. And, to me, that seems infinitely more depressing than being broke here.
KH: I really feel intensely that, as opposed to New York, where maybe no one else cares if you’re broke, here, honestly, there are people that care. I don’t know how much you all feel this, but I do believe there is a tremendous support structure for you here. I think there are a lot of people who are watching you very closely and who will help you in any way that they can. I know that to be true. As much as one might feel that you need to go out and create opportunities for yourself, I feel like there are a number of people who are invested in a fairly comprehensive sense of community. Even if they may not always go visit your spaces, they are very invested in your spaces existing and will advocate for them in a number of different ways. I think that’s one beauty of Kansas City — it’s small enough that people notice what other people do.
OM: Another good thing is that Kansas City, I think, will never really be a cool place, just because of its geographic location or something. The great thing about it is that there aren’t trendy people coming here just because it’s a cool place. We have a lot to resist against just by being in a conservative state.
SJ: That’s sort of changed recently for Omaha; a lot of people have been moving there. Not to a degree where it’s a saturated environment — it’s still basically the same place where I grew up — but you are starting to see that there. I know five people who’ve moved there in the last few months.
KH: I want to raise a different question. It’s kind of interesting how, a lot of times, when art finds its way into the public consciousness, it’s a result of some scandal or controversy that’s occurred. Right now, we’re dealing with police investigations of graffiti vandalism (on 18th Street) and the trash “bombs” in Brookside. I wonder how you all come down on that — if you think it was irresponsible, if you think the reaction has been ridiculous, if you think it’s emblematic of some larger tendency?
SJ: I’ve been thinking about the graffiti thing quite a bit. As an artform, it’s sort of stale. What I respect about it is the community they’ve got going — they’re all really supportive of each other. I like the rebellious nature of it. One thing I think is negative about it is — a lot of justification is like, “I see these billboards all day and I don’t want to look at them, so I’m going to make my mark and spray paint a building,” which, to me, is a negative outlet for those feelings. I think graffiti originated, in part, as a reaction against owning space and owning property. That’s interesting to me, that idea. It’s a shame that this incident could cause the closing down of other things. They’re not really feeling their responsibility to the rest of the community.
KH: The person who owns the building on 18th and Baltimore is someone who has invited a tremendous amount in trying to make the Crossroads what it is now and to help create some of the things about it that we appreciate. When they [graffiti writers] do things like that, they shoot themselves in the foot. You can think you’re working in a vacuum but …
JW: There is obviously a graffiti community there. With the Nextspace show, they had friends coming in from all over the United States, but they came here and they didn’t know the community and the environment, and they were tagging all over the place They’re not familiar with these buildings, they don’t need to care about it because they’re leaving the next day. They’re leaving their mark and then taking off. Then, the people here, who are making the show for them, are stuck dealing with it.
HM: If you’re putting stuff out there, you have to be responsible to yourself and you have to be responsible to the people who are around you and are affected by your actions. Being responsible to yourself means not getting caught. And being responsible to those around you means not destroying their property …
JD: With the graffiti movement, the first wave of it was definitely a reaction to public schools not supporting the arts and not offering education in that. There’s a lot of stuff that stemmed out of that, hip hop in general. I definitely have problems with a lot of new graffiti artists because it seems like it’s this desperate pursuit for cool. They’re coming into a city where the police have plenty of other things to deal with. A lot of them are waltzing through downtown and tagging wherever they want, and they know they’re not going to get caught because the police don’t have time to deal with it. One of my first involvements with art was doing graffiti and I just feel like these people need to be more responsible with what they’re saying. What the hell are they saying? A lot of the stuff you see is just pure self-promotion. It’s marking territory, it’s self-referential, and they’re only catering to their group of friends. They’re not saying anything to the community, they’re not giving any message …
HM: I don’t think this applies to Frank Heath I the student at KCAI who created artworks from trash and left them on doorsteps in the Brookside areal though. I think what he has did was probably a pretty good idea, just maybe at the wrong time and naive to public hypersensitivity. What happened on 18th Street, these kids went out and tagged the storefront windows of places like Egg, Dale Frommelt’s store, where he is doing really interesting furniture designs.
XX: That makes me think they’re really not talking about anything.
JW: Would we be less upset if what was done was a really interesting and creative way of speaking some kind of message to the public?
OM: Not on that building. If they had done Starbucks…
CC: I think even if you were to do it on Starbucks, it’s still lame.
MM: With freedom comes responsibility. As soon as you destroy someone else’s property through freedom of speech, you’re really sort of destroying the foundations of what it’s all about …
JD: One thing I really appreciate about Kansas City is we have a lot of freedom with our art openings. We can have outdoor things and hangout and drink beer on the sidewalk …
HM: You can already push certain limits without going overboard …
SJ: This is great, after people read this, we’ll be looked at like, “you guys are the old people now,” Now we’re going to be the ones that they’re starting galleries against.
XX: That’s great, though, that there is something established to react against …
KH: To wrap up, can you all say a bit about what you have coming up?
HM: We are hosting a one-night performance by Mark Hurst, where people can only watch from outside — they have to look in through the windows. On November 9th, we’re opening a solo show by Armando Diaz, an artist from Kansas City, whose paintings are really gorgeous. I am preparing for a solo show in Orlando next spring and am at work on some ambitious projects, like trying to start a literature, graphics, and photography journal. I’d like to show my new work in KC, too.
JD: We have a show in December — a three-man show at Your Face: John Dretzka, Seth Johnson, Jacob Thiele. It’s about impermanence.
SJ: And we’re going to have John Peck in the future sometime, hopefully. Also Paper Rad, a collective from Boston, who are amazing — paperrad.org. And we’re accepting proposals … Hopefully the SSION’s record release party will be at our space.
CC: In March.
SJ: We’re going to tag our own space.
JW: We have a couple of ideas for call-for-entries exhibitions.
SJ: Dontyoufeelbetter.com for updates. Which will also house an archive and hopefully have things for sale on it.
JW: We are going to be having some artists making clothes and accessories.
CC: The SSION just got on a label out of New York City; it’s a small independent label called Version City Records. The single will be out in November or December, and the full length comes out in March. The full length is called Opportunity Bless My Soul. It’s all about opportunity. The single is going to be a remix by Jacob Thiele. And following that, a tour as well. And I’m doing the album cover for a band from New York City called the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s.
OM: I’m working on a video piece for a show at El Torreon that Jessica Johnson is curating. And I’m looking for a space to try to do a one-man video show in the spring. And I’m going to try to do a curating project with an artist in St. Louis that would bring St. Louis artists here and get a place in St. Louis for Kansas City artists to show.
XX: I have work at the SCP, opening in February or March, and I’m going to be showing at Telephone Booth this spring.
Cody Critcheloe was born in 1981 in Lewisport, Kentucky, a small rural farm town. By the time he was old enough to smoke cigarettes (13 years old), he began exploring the seedy underbelly of Rock ‘n Roll, then, after reading the Sonic Youth biography, he decided to go to art school and specifically focus on musical endeavors. In 2002, he formed the group SSION with three other college friends: Erin Zona, Taylor Painter-WOOF, and Shannon Michaels. SSION’s performances are a mix of video art, guerilla theater, and punk rock. On their new album, “Opportunity Bless My Soul” (Version City Records) SSION comment and capitalize on the American Dream. Cody also creates illustrations for magazines, artwork for bands, and movies. He is currently a senior in printmaking at Kansas City Art Institute.
John Dretzka is a 22-year old trans-technology artist/designer. He holds a degree in new media from the Kansas City Art Institute and is a member of the graphics firm, MK12 Studios. John has work rep-resented in three soon to be published design com-pendiums entitled Los Logos, Brasil Inspired and DGV Coast to Coast. Also, he collects disco records and is on the Your Face gallery committee. Currently John is caring for 90 me finches and making ink drawings of psychopathic robot gunslingers.
Seth Johnson was born in Omaha, Nebraska on the edge of 1979. He grew up and left Omaha for the similarly green pastures of Kansas City, Missouri to attend KCAL Having gained a degree, Seth is now a co-conspirator in the vague conceptual art project/gallery known as Your Face. in addition to this collaboration, he also works on his own art and shows it in various locations around the US.
Hesse McGraw was born in Dayton, Ohio in the summer of 1979. An artist and writer, he is co-direc-tor and curator of Paragraph, a recently opened venue for contemporary art in Lawrence. (www.paragraphgallery.com) In May, 2001, he received a BFA from the University of Kansas. He lives in Kansas City and is Associate Editor at Review.
Born in Kansas City, Michael “Oz” McGuire earned his BFA from the University of Kansas. After living in a tent in Colorado, studying abroad in England, and a brief stint in Portland, he moved back to Kansas City at the beginning of this year. The current series of videos he is working on combine found audio from disparate places such as NPR interviews, commercials and audio books playing over repetitive slow motion video loops of “natural” scenery and domestic animals. In September, he pre-sented a collaborative video installation at The Panacea Gallery with Hadley Johnson, was included in The Opening Paragraph video installation at Paragraph in Lawrence, and has a video piece in a group show at the El Torreon in November.
Jaimie Warren, 22, is currently a research assis-tant at the H&R Block Artspace, a graphics assistant at Review, and a waitress. She is also co-founder of Your Face (www.dontyoufeelbetter.com.), which has thus far presented performaces by Broken Spindles, Black Dice, SSION, and others. A 2002 Kansas City Art Institute graduate of the printmaking department, Warren has exhibited her photographs in Kansas City at Fluke Gallery, Opie Gallery, and La Movida, and is currently featured in New Blood at Dirt Gallery.