Interview – MAKE Literary Productions, NFP http://makemag.com MAKE Literary Productions is partially supported by The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation, the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and individual contributors. Thu, 18 Jan 2018 20:56:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.2 The Massive, Strange Shape of a Story: A Conversation with Melissa Goodrich http://makemag.com/the-massive-strange-shape-of-a-story-a-conversation-with-melissa-goodrich/ Sat, 03 Sep 2016 18:42:16 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=15085 Bette Adriaanse http://makemag.com/bette-adriaanse/ Fri, 26 Feb 2016 19:10:55 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=14969 Rus Like Everyone Else (Unnamed Press, 2015). While in Chicago she read at the Lies Fiction Reading series at Café Mustache, where I got the chance to talk with her some about her work. She was a wonderful reader, with sharp comic timing and a way of conveying that she, too, was often surprised by the events she narrated, but what could you do? Her visual art seems in many ways to complement her writing: she makes use of bold, vibrant colors in her paintings, and her sculpture gives one the impression of human and animal forms transmuting into complex, absurd machines. She was kind enough to agree to the following  interview, conducted via email during the remainder of her tour. How did this book come about? You’ve published a couple of sections as short stories in magazines previously. Was the idea originally for a novel, or were these shorter pieces that fit together and got bigger? The very first part of this book I wrote when I was doing my Bachelor’s at the Gerrit Rietveld Art Academy in Amsterdam—I was studying at a combined visual art/writing department—as a short story called “Rus and the Seagull.” This story was about a young man named Rus who works at an office but is unable to behave in the way that is expected of him. His manager tries to steer him in the right direction by giving him extensive advice on what is acceptable in a corporate environment, but Rus is unable to fit in. At the time, I liked the story but did not know what to do with it. Later, when I started the part-time Masters in Creative Writing at Oxford University, I took on a side job delivering the mail. From the experiences I had bringing letters, bills, and warnings, and meeting the people I delivered the mail to, other characters started to emerge. These characters were people who were caught in some kind of urban isolation. The character of Rus also came back to me. I started to realize who he was and how he ended up in that situation at his office, behaving as if he just landed on earth. He was a young man who had lived a sheltered life in an unregistered, illegally built apartment. His mother homeschooled him, and when she abandoned him she left him a debit card that he uses to get his daily coffee and groceries. Even though he lives in a big city, he never interacts with it. Structo, a British literary magazine, published one of the first chapters from Rus, where he has just received his first tax bill ever and tries to return it at the post office. When I read this chapter and another chapter about a socially awkward secretary at the Structo launch party, the response from the audience was great. People seemed to recognize something of themselves in the characters, which gave me a real boost. I continued writing down whatever scenes came to me, realizing they were all connected and this would be a novel. How their story lines would tie up, I didn’t know yet. I made small drawings for each scene I wrote, and started moving chapters around, deleting bits and connecting bits. When I realized all the characters would be at or near a War Memorial service in the City, I knew it would come together as a novel. It’s interesting that the idea for Rus began with that scene in the office. The synopsis on the book’s cover says that “Rus is forced to get a job and pay taxes, like everyone else,” which sounds as if the book might be a coming-of-age novel—we’ll see Rus maturing, learning how to be an adult, etc—but that’s rather defiantly not what the book’s about. Instead, when Rus is forced to get a job, it feels like a fall from grace. Do you have similar work experiences to Rus and Laura, the secretary character? I read Rus around the same time as I was reading a book on work resistance, David Frayne’s The Refusal of Work from Zed Books, and felt like there was a certain overlap of ideas going on. I haven’t read The Refusal of Work, but I’d like to. Before I wrote that first piece about Rus in the office, I remember I had an experience trying to return a damaged passport at the City offices, where the lady at the counter told me my reason to return the passport—”Damaged”—was not acceptable to the computer and I had to choose between “Stolen” or “Lost.” “This system speaks a language that hardly anyone understands,” she explained. “I cannot change it. You have to give an answer that fits in the system. If it does not fit in the system, it doesn’t exist at all.” I thought this was funny and it stayed in my mind for a long time; thinking about the systems in our lives, how regulated our work, our lives and our behavior are. Later, when I had that job delivering the mail, I noticed just how many people were struggling with modern life in the city. I delivered so many debt-related letters and letters from governmental organizations, from the court, from the taxes, from Job Support. People were caught up in systems or their particular situation did not fit into to the systems. I started thinking about the society we have created and about the progress we have made. In nature, when you are born, the only things that are needed for survival are finding food and shelter each day, and perhaps also to be part of a community. In our modern Western cities, we require much more. You need become somebody, learn to present yourself, make conversations, focus, understand and participate in complex systems. The work we do has become more complex as well, and we do not necessarily do work that has a direct outcome. Office work or work for big corporations requires social skills, an ability to focus, and urban survival tactics as much as it requires effort. For some people it’s great. For some people, like Rus, it’s a prison. We do get a lot in return for our modern city lives obviously: safety, comfort, health. But two of the basic things—your own shelter and a connection to a community—may have become harder to come by, perhaps. I did not want to write a novel to express my views on this, or to argue something. It was just something I tried to understand, and when I try to understand something I create stories, that is the way I can think clearly about things. When I wrote Rus’s story, I was curious what would happen to him and where he would end up. There are currents in our lives, depending who you are and where you grow up, that want to take you somewhere. I was curious where someone like Rus, if he did not resist the current, would end up. I’d like to talk about colors some. I was really struck by how often primary colors come up in this book. A lot of novelists tend to get at color by analogy: “It was the color of rust” or something is described as blood-red or whatever. You tend to go directly with “red,” “blue,” “yellow,” etc., without analogies or qualifiers, and I was curious why. Yes! Readers have been pointing out to me the abundant presence of colors in the novel. I was not aware that it stood out like that (except for the story of the secretary of course, when she stops seeing colors). The reason I do not specify the nuances in the colors, has to do with my preference for simple language. I think comparing a red to rust for instance, is not helpful at all, because rust has so many shades, and who knows what the lighting is like, etc. I want to appeal to the reader’s imagination, and ideally the creation of the story in the reader’s head would be an equal collaboration between what I put in there and what’s already in there. So if am not writing about anything exotic or new, I’d rather appeal to the storage of images in the reader’s head than describe exactly what it looks like in my head. They know what a blue sea looks like to them, or a green dress. They can pick any shade of blue for Mrs. Blue’s eye shadow, or any kind of yellow for the sun. This, hopefully, gives me a way to let the story seep into the reader’s daily life, in the same way the reader makes his or her way into the daily lives of the characters in this book. I like the idea that color analogies aren’t helpful—in many cases, I suspect they’re mostly a way for a writer to sneak in a metaphor or other commentary, rather than portraying the thing itself. Certainly I was struck by the directness of your language throughout Rus—it was one of the things that really appealed to me about the novel. The secretary who loses her ability to see colors—I’d expect that to be a tragic moment, but instead it seems to mark the beginning of her taking control over her life. The secretary is waiting for things to happen, but in reality things are falling away from her. The disappearance of the colors makes her realize she has nothing to lose.  I had a period before writing this book when I felt a bit hopeless about the state of the world and I talked and thought about it a lot. It seemed to me at that time that everything around me became more grey. The sky, the sun, people’s faces. Not figuratively, but literally. I read somewhere once that when people are depressed, colors become less bright to them. Colors are one of the things that make the world fabulous. It you lose them, you might as well make a radical change in your life, which the secretary does eventually when she goes to the office, hides in the copy room and waits until everyone has gone. . . . (This is meant as a cliffhanger.) How do you think your use of colors in the novel is influenced by your work as a visual artist? I noticed a lot of vibrant primary colors in your paintings, as well. I have always been very focused on colors. If a yellow creeps in through the window or if the sky turns dark blue late at night I will be distracted from a conversation I’m having. This has influenced my visual art, or might even be the reason I am a visual artist. I think colors are closest you can get to describing deep abstract feelings. Making drawings has made me more attentive of exactly how a color fades or of the direction of a line, for instance. In Rus Like Everyone Else, the characters are caught up in man-made systems and situations, and some of them think a lot about who they are, what they should accomplish, and what their relation is to others. We can get caught up in these stories we tell ourselves. To me, the senses are a kind of antidote to the mind. Looking at the colors, listening to sounds, feeling the wind on your skin. You also mentioned that originally there were illustrations for this novel—why did you ultimately decide against them? When I was writing Rus, I also made drawings that I thought were going to be part of the book. I did not draw the characters or the things they did, but things the characters saw or thought about: views of the city, or cells in a plant. I made the drawings on layers of see-through paper, because I had this sense that the book would be about peeling away all the different layers that compose a life : our memories, our ideas about the future and our experience of the present, the dreams and the nightmares, the sights and the sounds, the functioning of body, the systems and institutions we are part of, the relationships we have. In the end, the drawings weren’t essential to the story. The people in publishing I spoke to made it clear that printing colored pages would be very expensive and I would have to find a graphic novel publisher or make it an art book. Since the drawings became less and less important, I left them out. How was the tour? Any particular highlights or stories? What was the best thing you saw? The tour was pretty incredible. The contrast to my daily life as a writer and artist was funny. I spend most of my days alone at a desk working on a book or sitting on the floor of the studio working on a drawing, maybe taking a trip to the supermarket. Nobody is very interested in what I am doing. The book tour covered nine cities in twenty days. Every day seemed to have a hundred times more events than a normal day in my life. The very best thing about it was to meet people in people in these different cities who have read my book and somehow connect to it. It’s been wonderful and touching to find out I have something in common with Bill in Iowa or Janet in Chicago. When I was eighteen I first read a book called The Light by Torgny Lindgren, and I felt I understood completely what the writer meant. I remember looking at his photo and thinking how funny it was that this man in Sweden and I had something, some way of looking at things, in common. Through stories and art, you can communicate ideas and feelings to someone in a way you might never be able to do in a conversation.]]> EJMcAdams Interview http://makemag.com/ejmcadams-interview/ Mon, 25 Jan 2016 21:56:12 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=14809 An Interview with Jovencio de la Paz http://makemag.com/an-interview-with-jovencio-de-la-paz/ Fri, 08 Jan 2016 14:55:39 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=14794 An Interview with Claudia Peña Salinas http://makemag.com/an-interview-with-claudia-pena-salinas/ Wed, 18 Nov 2015 14:54:12 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=14679 John Knuth Interview http://makemag.com/john-knuth-interview/ Mon, 21 Sep 2015 17:47:09 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=14486 Eula Biss Interviewed http://makemag.com/eula-biss-interviewed/ Mon, 22 Dec 2014 08:00:47 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=13827 Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays, is a winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism. And after the publication of her first book, The Balloonists, as well as Notes from No Man’s Land, her success continues with On Immunity: An Inoculation . What I love most about Biss’s writing, the reason I’ve reached out to her here, is her ability to synthesize the personal and the factual, giving the reader both insight and a learning experience at once. Biss has earned a reputation as a prominent writer of literary nonfiction and cultural criticism, and her writing, as with the writing of many skilled essayists, continues to pose questions that might be as difficult to ask as they are to answer.   In On Immunity, for instance, she interrogates the subject of medicine and its relationship to race, class, and gender, and urges us to think about health and its ties to our privilege. Much like the work of Susan Sontag, Leslie Jamison, Maggie Nelson, and James Baldwin, Biss’s work encourages reflexivity—we begin to think, after reading it, about the ways we might reposition ourselves in front of a subject.
photo by Johnathan Crawford

photo by Johnathan Crawford

Micah McCrary (MM): How do you imagine a reader with no familiarity with your prior work might encounter On Immunity? Eula Biss (EB): On Immunity extends some of the thinking that I was doing in Notes from No Man’s Land, but I didn’t intend it to be a continuation of that book or a sequel. When I began writing On Immunity I was excited to be working on something that felt very different from my last book—and at first glance the subject matter and the style and the formal approach of On Immunity are all quite distinct from Notes. I already knew, before I began writing On Immunity, that health care is one of the arenas in which racism manifests, but I was still a bit surprised to find that many of the issues of race and class that I’d been thinking about in Notes reappeared in this new context. (I had the sense that racism was chasing me, that I couldn’t get away from it, which may sound familiar to anyone who is intimately acquainted with racism—it’s everywhere.) I think the way those issues of race and class present themselves in this book might surprise some readers as well, but less so if they’ve read my last book. Notes introduced some questions about privilege and responsibility that On Immunity explores more specifically in the context of public health. MM: What was the strongest impetus for actually startingto write this book? Where does On Immunity begin for you? EB: My research began when I was pregnant with my son, long before I imagined that I would write a book [about these topics]. I read and researched for several years before I started writing. At first I imagined I would write an essay about vaccination, but as I continued to read and the issue continued to branch in new directions I realized that the essay would have to be a long essay. I suppose that’s where the book really began—in between the research and the writing, when I was so overwhelmed with the enormity of the subject that I knew it would demand a work of some length. MM: It’s interesting that you perceive a space between research and writing, while many writers seem to view them as adjacent or even successive. EB: Well, it’s much more typical for my research to be embedded in my writing, for me to be writing in response to research but also researching in response to what I have written. With this book, I spent an unusual amount of time researching before I began writing. I do think of one stage, in this case, being a research stage and the next stage being a writing stage, though I continued to research as I wrote. I researched for a couple years or so before I began writing in earnest, and then I wrote much faster than I usually write. When I write shorter essays, I very often put something on the page before I turn to research to drive me further into my subject. But the relationship between research and writing changes, I’ve found, from project to project. MM: At what point in your research did you discover that myth, metaphor, and medicine intersected? Or was this something you understood before you began the process of writing? EB: I began noticing metaphors at work as soon as I started reading about vaccination. I also noticed that the term “myth” was frequently used to describe erroneous ideas about vaccination. That term wasn’t meant to evoke the Greek myths that my mother read to me as a child, but that’s what happened. The term prompted me to search my memory for myths that could serve as metaphors for vaccination, myths that might reveal rather than conceal truths about immunity. That process led me to the myth of Achilles, which is where I begin the book, and the myth of Narcissus, which is where I end the book. Those myths serve as cautionary tales and calls to moral action. MM: On Immunity has an interesting tie to the popular culture of vampires. How did you discover that vampires—or Dracula, even—would become a part of your writing here? Was it from becoming a new mother? EB: Vampires were very interesting to me as a new mother, and I found myself drawn to vampire stories immediately after my son’s birth, but I didn’t anticipate that vampires would become part of this book until I read Bodily Matters, a history of the anti-vaccination movement in Victorian England in which vampires appear as a metaphor used by anti-vaccination activists. This inspired me to investigate the vampire literature of the time, which led me to read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s a fascinating book—melodramatic, yes, but also formally inventive and rich with metaphor. And in that book, Dracula is a metaphor for disease, not vaccination. MM: In your notes for On Immunity, you mention being heavily influenced by Susan Sontag. Did you have similarly heavy influences on The Balloonists and Notes from No Man’s Land? EB: On Immunity is, among other things, an extended conversation with Susan Sontag. Notes from No Man’s Land contains an essay, “Goodbye to All That,” that is very explicitly fashioned as an extended conversation with Joan Didion, but much of the rest of the book also engages Didion’s concern with narrative—particularly the failures of conventionally accepted narratives. MM: On Immunity is tonally a bit different from your first two books.   How have you viewed the trajectory of your work, regarding the way you present your writer’s voice? EB: It may be tempting now that I have three books to try to construct a trajectory or a narrative of some sort out of their differences, but I’m not convinced that any such narrative is really there. Yes, there may be a loose trajectory of maturity in my work—I’ve been growing older as I write and I’ve been gaining new skills as a writer, but that doesn’t fully account for the differences between my books. The tone and approach of each book is determined as I write, by the demands of the project. I don’t begin a book knowing what I’m going to sound like, or even what I’m going to say. The process of essaying, for me, is an exploration. I’m often surprised and sometimes puzzled by where each new project takes me as a writer. The tone of On Immunity was not something I anticipated before I began writing. It’s a bit grander and more elevated, a bit more influenced by Sontag perhaps, than Notes. In retrospect, that makes sense to me—in On Immunity I’m writing against a variety of sexism that trivializes issues that are important to women. Part of the project was to elevate and honor a conversation between women, and to illuminate the intellectual work of mothering. I also wanted to assert a feminism in which women get to know and feel, to have minds and bodies, to be both modern and ancient. That pushed the form of the book, which moves between sections that are dominated by information and sections that are highly personal, sections that are concerned with philosophy and sections that are concerned with the workings of the body, sections that are historical and sections that are speaking to the present moment. MM: A feminism? EB: Yes, because feminism is plural, composed of many feminisms. Even when we’re talking about the feminist movement, we’re talking about many movements, many generations, many waves, many modes of resistance. I’m grateful for the multiple feminisms that have fed my feminism, including, to name just a few, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, Carolyn Heilbrun’s Writing a Woman’s Life, Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto,” Barbara Ehrenreich’s The Hearts of Men, and Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me. Some of these feminisms draw on each other, talk to each other, critique each other, and contradict each other. That’s what keeps feminism dynamic and relevant. Roxane Gay reminds us with her title Bad Feminist that when feminism is understood as a set doctrine or a circumscribed set of beliefs, then we run the risk of losing the heretics and dissenters that keep it vital. The irreverent feminism of “A Cyborg Manifesto” remains thrilling to me in part because it refuses polarities in which one quality or quantity is marked as bad and the other good, refuses to pit natural against unnatural, human against machine, woman against man, and insists instead that we are all cyborgs. It’s a feminism that informed my writing about race—a feminism that understands the relationship between different sorts of oppression. I was moved and changed by The Hearts of Men, which explores how a feminism that fails to liberate men can fail to liberate women. I believe and support that critique—in my home and outside of it—but I’ve also written a book in which I chose to address mothers directly, not fathers or anyone else. There may seem to be a contradiction there, but I don’t see it that way. I think these two feminisms can happily coexist, and that the project of one does not exclude the project of the other. MM: Although, as you’ve said, part of the project’s objective is to “elevate and honor a conversation between women,” what’s your hope for male readers of this book? Or more particularly, for the fathers who read it? EB: I would hope that men, fathers or not, could benefit from witnessing a conversation between women, and could find many of their own concerns reflected there. Women readers have lots of opportunities to practice the art of reading our own concerns into literature that is explicitly or implicitly presented as a conversation between men, and we are accustomed to finding ways to see ourselves in characters that are written as men. When a man writes a book in which he seems to be addressing other men, readers are often expected to understand this as one way of addressing all humankind. But when a woman writes a book in which she seems to be addressing other women, people start fretting that men will be alienated. Isn’t one of the essential lessons of literature the ability to find yourself in someone who doesn’t resemble you, and to find your life in a life that doesn’t resemble yours? Isn’t this why I keep reading “Notes of A Native Son,” over and over? And isn’t this why my son remains interested in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? What I want to offer male readers is what I want to offer female readers, and readers who fall between genders—a meditation on vulnerability, the story of a quest for knowledge, an exploration of our interdependence, and a feminism. MM: The book’s subtitle is “An Inoculation,” and it seems you found the word inoculate while looking for synonyms for protect. What are you trying to protect your readers from? EB: I came to the word “inoculation” long before I looked up synonyms for “protect” and found it there as well—it’s the most inclusive term for various strategies of protection from disease, including vaccination and variolation, but it can also be used to describe any instance in which a microorganism is introduced into a human body. I was attracted to “An Inoculation” as a subtitle in part because one of the broadest meanings of “inoculation” is “to join or unite.” I wanted to join and unite concepts that had become polarized. But yes, I also wanted to protect the reader from unchecked, under-examined fear. This protection involved, like inoculation, introducing small amounts of that fear to the reader. MM: When discussing race and vaccination, you often focus on the idea of a collective consciousness. What draws you toward thinking and writing about the collective? EB: Yes, it is a refrain for me, a point of return, and I’m not sure that I can explain why I’m drawn to thinking about the collective, other than that I’ve always understood myself as part of a collective. I come from a big family that became, as I grew up, even bigger and more diverse. Being part of my family taught me, in many ways, how to be part of a community. And being part of a community, various communities, has shaped both my politics and my aesthetics. MM: What ground doesn’t this book cover that you would’ve liked to, had you taken more time with the project or given it more length? EB: Oh, I think there’s more to say on every single subject this book touches. But one particularly essential area is the international politics of vaccination. Another book could be written there—the history of vaccine testing and development in poor countries, the ways in which vaccine decisions made for a US market affect international access to vaccines, the ethics of who “pays” for vaccines, both in terms of money and risk. Time and the restrictions of my form didn’t allow for this, but I would have liked to investigate the international implications of the rotavirus vaccine that was taken off the market because it caused a serious complication called intussuseption in one out of every 10,000 doses. That incidence was unacceptable in this country, where deaths from rotavirus are relatively rare. But the cost benefit equation for that vaccine would look different in many African countries where deaths from rotavirus are common. In some places, the total incidence of intussuseption (which is also a complication of natural infection with rotavirus) would be greatly reduced, rather than elevated by widespread vaccination. I talked about this with a bioethicist who pointed out that our penchant for safety in this country very likely cost many African children their lives—when the vaccine was taken off the market here it also became unavailable in Africa. So, there’s a real flaw in our system. MM: Is there a certain way you’ve come to see yourself as a writer? I’m thinking here about the ways a writer of fiction might identify more with the short story than the novel, or vise versa, and I’m wondering whether you feel more intrinsically tied to shorter essays or to longer ones. EB: In On Becoming a Novelist, John Gardner suggests that writers are like runners and that some of us are sprinters and some are marathoners. I don’t know if that’s true, but I have thought of myself, for most of my career, as a short form writer. With some stretching, I can train myself into a longer form, as I did with On Immunity, but that is much harder for me than short form writing. This may change. A decade ago, I was still writing some prose poetry that was no longer than 500 words. Now, I like more room than that. I’ve recently been offered a couple op-ed assignments that felt too restrictive at 800 words. Perhaps I will eventually find myself comfortable in the long form. I like to think that I still have a lot of time left as a writer. MM: How does your subject affect your way of writing? You’ve said elsewhere that you want your next book to be more lyric, perhaps more like The Balloonists. I’m interested in your decision-making process when it comes to style and form. EB: I know writers who work form-first, meaning that they decide on a form and write into it, but I don’t tend to work that way. I find both my form and my style as I muddle my way through my early drafts. It happens gradually, and involves some intuition and some trial and error as well as some overt decision-making. The subject makes demands on form and style, and so do my desires. In writing On Immunity, I was drawn to ideas and I looked for an approach that would allow me to dwell in ideas. The ideas are explored and illustrated in various ways—through personal narrative, through historical overview, through meditative moments—but the shape and structure of the book, how it is organized, is driven almost exclusively by the movement from one idea to another. I was working with a lot of information in On Immunity, and the information was not decorative—I didn’t have the luxury of allowing the information to lose its informative quality. There are places where this inhibited my lyricism. Eventually, I came to recognize that the lyricism in this book resides less in the line than it does in the movement from one idea to another, in the returns and refrains and the revelations that I found in the information. Nevertheless, it left me hungry for a different sort of lyricism. That’s why I said I wanted to return to that kind of writing in my next book, but I don’t know, really, what will happen next.     Eula Biss is the author of three books: On Immunity: An Inoculation, Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays, and The Balloonists. Her work has been supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Howard Foundation Fellowship, an NEA Literature Fellowship, and a Jaffe Writers’ Award. She holds a B.A. in nonfiction writing from Hampshire College and a MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa. Her essays have recently appeared in The Best American Nonrequired Reading and the Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Nonfiction as well as in The Believer, Gulf Coast, Denver Quarterly, Third Coast, and Harper’s. Eula Biss and John Bresland are the Chicago-based band STET Everything. Micah McCrary is a contributor to Bookslut and The Nervous Breakdown. His essays, reviews, and translations have appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, MAKE, Circumference, Identity Theory, Third Coast, Midwestern Gothic, The Essay Review, HTMLGIANT, and South Loop Review, among other publications. Former Assistant Editor at Hotel Amerika, he is a doctoral student in English at Ohio University and holds an MFA in Nonfiction from Columbia College Chicago.  ]]>
Stephin Merritt Interviewed http://makemag.com/stephin-merritt-interviewed-by-abraham-levitan/ Tue, 02 Dec 2014 02:37:04 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=13708 An Interview with Tim Samuelson http://makemag.com/samuelson/ Fri, 04 Apr 2014 18:58:13 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=11989 This Is the Best Moment of Your Life http://makemag.com/this-is-the-best-moment-of-your-life/ Sat, 29 Mar 2014 01:09:17 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=10219 Mike Renaud Mike and Anna DSC_2946 Michael Renaud & Anna Cerniglia are friends as well as contemporaries. The former is creative director of Pitchfork Media, charged with keeping the features fresh & interactive on the compendium of music criticism, Pitchfork and the film criticism site, The Dissolve; designing & launching a new print publication, The Pitchfork Review; and devising & executing the visual theme for the annual Pitchfork Music Festivals in Chicago & Paris. The latter is founder & director of Johalla Projects, a collective space and gallery in West Town, Chicago. Johalla also receives commissions for public art and has answered with large-scale projects for the Chicago Transit Authority and various music festivals. We asked the two curators/tastemakers if we could listen in while they chatted about the process of selecting artists and work to fit a space, the relationship between filling galleries and walls and the less tangible computer screen, and finding original inspiration in a world saturated with visual imagery. We met them in a very public place: a park. Oh, and it was summer then. I. On what they do M: Okay, let’s guess what each other does. Because this will be hilarious. Sometimes when Anna’s come to Rational Park [Renaud’s shared office space], she’s like, okay, so you are a graphic designer? A: I’m like, what does he do when he’s at work? Wait a minute, he has his own company though. Mister? Mister Mister? [both laugh] A: I don’t think I do know. You’re the creative director of Pitchfork [Media], which means that you deal with marketing and creative design of how the company runs. You have your own graphic design company. And…you wear shoes. A shirt. And I don’t know. M: I do wear a shirt. No pants, though. That’s pretty good! Yeah. I think my job title is weird because I think it means something different at every place. Anyone who has that job title, it means something different. And our company is really unique in a lot of ways, so I just kind of do a lot of things within the company that hopefully help fill a gap. A: But you own your own company. M: Yeah, I do! A: It’s called Mister Mister. M: [laughs] It’s called Renaud Co. About 7 years ago it was called Mr. Design Co., which are my initials. And that’s cool! I have an office at Rational Park, where you’ve done shows. But I’m at the Pitchfork office now, like four days a week. When I started freelancing for them, they had no in-house designer, so from that perspective, I’ve watched the company grow and have personally tried to push both myself and the company however I can where design is concerned. The design department is now three people including myself, and I’m proud of how it’s grown but also how lean it is considering everything we’re responsible for. In addition to everything that goes into making the site happen day in and day out, we’re now associated with similar tasks with our new film site The Dissolve, our two festivals (in Chicago and Paris), and a few other really exciting upcoming ventures. A: I didn’t know you freelanced with them first, and then you’ve taken up that role by being there for so long! What do I do? M: What do you do. You are Anna. You grew up in the suburbs. You run Johalla Projects, which is a kind of… It’s not an art gallery, but it is an art…representation? I think you promote artists. And I think you promote local artists especially. Part of your job is that when you curate certain things, or you find people’s work that you like, I think you find it interesting to find where that belongs and then you try to make that happen. You have relationships with galleries around town, and spaces in general, and people that have some kind of reasonable clout with, like, outdoor spaces, so, some aldermen and stuff. And I think you grease some palms Chicago-style. A: That’s true. M: You get some crony-ism going. And you have a home base, a place you sometimes do show work, but it’s also kind of your office and storage and stuff. A: Yep. It’s true. M: Pretty good? A: Pretty good! M: I mean, what’s your title? President of Johalla Projects? A: I like what I do and I just want to do it. And when people are like “Are you the CEO of Johalla?” I’m like, “What the fuck does that mean?” I made artwork since I was 13 until a few years ago. I had to give up making artwork to focus on Johalla. Now, I think I’m an advocate for the arts. I want to support art as much as I can. I’m the director and the founder of Johalla Projects, which is an exhibition space, but I’m a promoter of public art and artists in general. We don’t represent anybody, and I don’t want to. That ties down people too much. II. Curating the Public Space A: I choose those awkward spaces. Like with the train stops. Like all of these people who might never go into a gallery have to see this. I think people need it outside of the space more than they need it in the space, so I try to get art into places where people don’t think it should exist. M: Is that a big part of how you choose things? Like thinking about the people who will see them? A: Even if it’s subconscious, that’s why I lean more toward Ryan Duggan, or Don’t Fret, or people that have something to say. And that might be kind of funny at the same time. How other way to tell somebody about their life, than you know, to make them laugh a little bit? You know, “It sucks, oh, ha ha ha,” and then they go home and cry. It’s interesting. Using humor makes the path a little bit easier, to approach it. People get it more than you think they do. You don’t need to write it out for them. M: Simple things are the funniest things. A: As a designer, are you simple? M: Yeah, I’m a simple man. A: Is that a Pearl Jam song? M: Yeah! Yeah, that’s something I think about a lot – taking things away. Simplicity isn’t necessarily a design goal, but my design process always starts with function and problem solving, so aesthetic concerns are always informed by that. I’m self-taught as a designer, and began by designing for one-color printing and screen printing, which poses just so many limitations. And I’m grateful for that. Because it made me think in terms of basic composition and being effective with not very many bells and whistles, and designing with so many restrictions can be freeing in that way. And a lot of times when you figure out that function and are communicating with your project on a base level before styling it, you realize you don’t need to add any “art” to it, because it’s working really well on it’s base level, which probably often comes off as looking pretty simple I guess. I am drawn toward things that work well and serve a purpose perfectly, doing so without too much affectation. A: I’m starting to realize we have a similar role. You know, it’s up to you to make the design that’s either going to be comfortable for someone to approach, or uncomfortable. That’s a lot of pressure! M: The thing I like about your approach, too, is that you have a very “for the people” mentality… “I will put it in this neighborhood where anyone can see it, because, why shouldn’t everyone see it?” III. Curating the Festival M: I am wondering about attention span and thinking about ten years ago compared to now. How does the Internet affect you? Is anything you do a response to the Internet, cell phone culture. Do you work extra hard to keep things real life because you want that to still exist? A: Maybe because of the Internet, and people’s short attention spans, I like to work bigger. More in your face. These projects are like 100 feet long. And it’s like, “Experience this moment. This is the best moment of your life.” M: Exactly. It’s like, when you have something like a music festival, that has three stages, and tons of people, and people watching, and the music, and the weather that’s hitting you, the consumerism and the sponsorships, it’s like a sensory overload. Having art there is a big proposition because if you have a couple artists that do drawings, it gets lost! I’m sorry, but it does. Flatstock, which we have at the festival, is amazing, and we have over forty vendors but part of the reason it’s awesome is because we have over forty vendors. A: And it’s far away from the music. M: That’s true. “These Moments” [Matthew Hoffman, 20′ x 80′ wood typography installation] that you did last year, it was that huge, because you can’t have a dinky piece of art in a setting like that. It doesn’t have the same presence that it may need to. Trying to make a visual impact in a large space such as an outdoor festival without creating a ton of waste or spending an exorbitant amount of money is such a challenge. When I go to those types of things, the decoration and branding and gross vinyl banners and waste is just, ugh. It’s gaudy and kind of shameful, y’know? I think the biggest impact you can make is actually by taking things away. People could cite that we’re guilty of this to a point, and it’s unavoidable in some instances, but we do what we can there and I think that it goes a long way. A: We’re doing a mural that’s forty feet by ten feet and it’s a truck container. We weren’t given a choice, it was like, here’s your template. I think artwork in festivals, or owning a gallery or anything you have to present to stay relevant. But when you work in a music festival environment where people are going there to see music. The art installation has to stick out a bit and has to be memorable. You want to be able to add to their experience. I try to use this thought with shows as well. I want the artists we work with to affect our patrons like it affects me. IV. Taking Risks M: We both want something to happen. Either you’re thinking about a project or you’re thinking about an idea or whether it’s the smallest little thing or the ethos for an entire organization. The idea of thinking of yourself as a maker. You want something to happen, and do whatever it takes to make that happen. It doesn’t mean you have to do it all. It means you imagine it and figure out how it’s done. I think that’s what young students should know, especially graphic designers, it’s maybe not enough to be a graphic designer. I’ll say it. You should be really, not only intuitive, but knowledgeable and book smart on certain graphic design things. At the end of the day, if you’re a good graphic designer, and you want something to turn out well, you’re also going to figure out how to do video, and photo, or at least know people that do that stuff, and be able to work well with them. And find people like you, who can help orchestrate events and marketing initiatives. If you want to do good work, you pretty much have to do everything these days. A: It’s true. People are really afraid to just do something. The most successful projects have been people not giving a shit. Just doing it. M: Totally. If you get a bigger assignment than you’ve ever had before, or you’re trying to make something bigger than you’ve ever made before, it means there’s stuff you’re learning for the first time. It’s scary, because you think “I might fail if I do this.” When you get out of it, either you fail and you learned how to do that thing, or you didn’t fail, and holy shit. A: Just do it. If you do something, someone will notice. I have a lot of friends who are like “I’m doing this project in my basement,” and then suddenly there’s a Tribune article about it. V. Curating the Personal Computer M: You talk about these different spaces where you put art. Does putting art on the Internet ever cross your mind? If you find anything that you like, do you think of that as an atmosphere for art? A: I think people should touch installation. It’s more of a physical experience. But there have been some really great websites that make you jump out of your chair. I think that people can take a simple message and run with it, but I also think people need a lot in their face in order to take something away. I’ve seen some websites that are put together artistically – like animated gifs and rainbows – where people will be like “this is a really great piece of art.” I’ve bought screensavers as a piece of art. M: That’s interesting. You’re not a person that’s on the computer that often. It seems like you’re not inspired by it as an atmosphere. But I know people who spend almost all their lives on the Internet. They work with it, and then they continue to be on it, consume media through it, and communicate with people through it. And I think those people might view it as an atmosphere in which to have their minds blown by art and feel it in more of a tangible way than someone who is, I don’t know, in the real world. A: There are a lot of websites that have a lot of artistic, underlying meaning, but I think I’m more physical. I want to see tangible items. M: Absolutely. I think for the majority of people it has such a higher impact, but even more so you’re able to reach a diverse group of people, whereas there are certain ways of making art on the internet that are really great and exciting and probably inspiring a lot of artists who make tangible work, but it’s for people that have Macs and updated browsers. A: Here’s the funny thing. Recently somebody asked me to be on a panel for public art. They told me who was on the panel and I thought, half these people don’t produce public art, they just think about it a lot. So I suggested that they put a street artist on there. They were like, “Why should we do that?” And I thought, this is the best way to market yourself, to be a street artist. Then to create an Instagram, a Facebook, hashtag yourself, and create this weird persona on the Internet. There have been artists, like Sirius Fountain, with all the black and white faces. And what he did was go city to city, paste his art on popular corners. People walk past them, someone tags him one day, people find him on Instagram, he builds a shop online, and there he is, selling tons of art. There’s this one guy who used to live here, his name’s Brad Troemel. He has the best online presence. He updates every day, exposing people to new art every day. Takes a certain personality to do that. VI. “The MBA is the new MFA.” M: You’re very conscious of marketing when you’re doing stuff. And I know you have to be for what your role is. I think a lot of people view marketing in the art world as… A: Taboo? M: Taboo because it’s a capitalist venture and it’s not pure, but at the same time, aren’t you saying it’s just like a vehicle? And at the same time you’re just wanting to use it effectively because you believe in the art. That’s the whole thing. The more people that see it, the more impact it makes. A: The idea of selling out – when we get sponsored by, like, Scion. This was like three years ago. I used to talk to classes and some punk kid would be like “don’t you feel like you’re selling out?” And I’d say, “Well they’re going to spend the money somehow. Wouldn’t you rather have it be spent on art?” M: Right. We get the same shit for the festival. It’s funny. Nine years ago, the amount of festivals compared to now… now every town has like three festivals at least. The competition is insane, and expectations from organizers and brands have gone up so much. Our stages are not, like, “the Bud Light stage.” It’s the Red Stage. There’s still a real actual effort on the organizers’ parts for keeping it an experience and keeping it legitimate and incredible. At the same time, we have to pay all those people who are working for us. A: And what if [the sponsors] didn’t give [the money] to you guys? Who would they give it to? I’m not too proud to call a sponsor. Our new website has a shop, which is taboo in the art world. I care a lot about marketing, I care a lot about PR, I care a lot about the setup. This probably comes from me being at SAIC the past two years, where everybody wants to talk about theory. I teach a class at SAIC with a lawyer. It’s all marketing. It’s all promotion. It’s all art in the real world. People get caught up in the idea of what an artist is and what art is that they kind of forget everything you need to do to stay mainstream. Or stay relevant. We get a lot of rebellious students, but a lot of the students are also happy to be there. M: You’re very aware of trying to remain elegant and sophisticated as a gallery, but at the same time, [some people say] “If I can’t buy it, then I’m not interested.” Is that becoming more of a thing in the art world, you think? Sponsors are trying to get so creative these days because ads don’t work like they used to. It’s all about making content and being integrated into editorial. I would imagine that brands are really being tenacious in how they get out there. A: Amazon is selling art. Urban Outfitters is selling art. And that is why I did it. If these guys are selling art, fuck trying to be sophisticated. If I’m producing these big pieces, then we might as well sell art online, too. I think you can really go places online. The MBA is the new MFA. I don’t know if it’s ad agencies or whoever makes their ads – they’ve gotten to this point of losing creativity, so because of YouTube and the Internet, they take these phenomena and use them in their ads. Like AT&T stole the Christo and Jean-Claude idea, and they never asked them. And they sued. And there are other cases of where artists get their work stolen. Advertisers go to Flickr and take images. Because somebody can become popular on the Internet on their own, companies use these people to be in their ads, or as their creative team, or star in their own TV show. We’ve been in think tanks with companies. We’ve said “This is what’s cool now.” If you’re not creative with the way you’re presenting the product, and that can be anything, like Coca Cola can, or a piece of art, if you’re not creative in the way you present it, people don’t notice it. VII. The partnership between musical art and visual art A: Do you make art? M: I used to. I used to consider myself an illustrator. I used to draw a lot. A: And why music? Because you’re the creative director, are you more interested in the artistry, or are you excited about the bands? M: Oh, I’m definitely excited about the bands. I mean, I thought of myself as a musician way before I ever thought of myself as a designer. For a long time I was making our fliers, and our posters, and our tape covers, and our CD covers, and other friends’ posters. I taught myself how to screen print in high school. I was doing all that stuff, and loved it, and thought it was so fun, but I never consciously thought that was a thing that I could do for work. I wanted to be a musician, but I gravitated toward that stuff a little more. I really enjoy working with the artists that we do work with, and I get inspired by them. With Pitchfork, musical trends (especially considering aesthetically-concerned music) are inherent in the work I do, I have to be able to visually understand these genres and worlds and scenes that are happening. Even if I don’t want to be derivative of any of it, I have to be aware, y’know? But I considered myself a musician and songwriter before I ever identified as a designer, so that was my touchstone for what a creative process was supposed to be like from the beginning. A: I was at a studio visit (I won’t say whose) but he said that a lot of his work is inspired by the band Sleep. And that was funny, because it’s my fucking favorite band. That is a band I would listen to that would help me get to the next step. And meeting somebody who had the same mentality was interesting. They [musical & visual art] go together. I’m going to use Bjork’s set as an example. That should be how everything is. Everything should be an installation. We should be sitting in a bed of plastic flowers right now. And I don’t know why we’re not. M: I told them to bring plastic flowers.]]> An Interview with David Raskin http://makemag.com/raskin/ Fri, 28 Mar 2014 20:47:25 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=12003 An Interview with Bruce Olds http://makemag.com/an-interview-with-bruce-olds_new/ Mon, 24 Mar 2014 02:38:33 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=10208 An Interview with Aaron Michael Morales http://makemag.com/an-interview-with-aaron-michael-morales/ Thu, 27 Feb 2014 04:46:16 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=12056 An Interview Tom Bissell by Ramsin Canon http://makemag.com/tom-bissell-interviewed-by-ramsin-canon/ Sun, 23 Feb 2014 02:38:33 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=10211 Questions, Occasions, Questions: An Interview with Pura López-Colomé and Forrest Gander http://makemag.com/an-interview-with-pura-lopez-colome-and-forrest-gander-by-jen-hofer_new/ Sun, 23 Feb 2014 02:38:08 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=10221 Two Separate Conversations: An Interview with Dave Daley and Stephan Elliott http://makemag.com/interview-daley-and-elliott_new/ Sun, 23 Feb 2014 02:38:08 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=10253 Locked Out: An Interview with Randy Regier http://makemag.com/interview-regier/ Sun, 23 Feb 2014 02:38:08 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=10256 An Interview with Gennady Favel http://makemag.com/interview-favel-2/ Sun, 23 Feb 2014 02:38:08 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=10266 Someone’s Son: An Interview with Aaron Michael Morales http://makemag.com/interview-morales/ Sun, 23 Feb 2014 02:38:08 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=10276 An Interview with John McNally http://makemag.com/mcnally-interview_new/ Sun, 23 Feb 2014 02:38:08 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=10300 An Interview with Paul Nicholas Jones http://makemag.com/interview-with-jones/ Sun, 23 Feb 2014 02:38:08 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=10303 I Don’t Understand the God Part: A Conversation Between Lauren Berlant and Dorothea Lasky http://makemag.com/interview-berlant-lasky_new/ Sun, 23 Feb 2014 02:37:20 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=10434 An Interview with Kumail Nanjiani http://makemag.com/interview-nanjiani_new/ Sun, 23 Feb 2014 02:37:20 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=10516 Irvine Welsh interviewed by Adam Burke http://makemag.com/irvine-welsh-interviewed-by-adam-burke/ Fri, 14 Feb 2014 06:49:10 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=10182 Interview with David Yoo by Gina Frangello http://makemag.com/interview-with-david-yoo-by-gina-frangello-2/ Wed, 15 Jan 2014 17:46:11 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=9560 An Interview with Jane Lewty http://makemag.com/an-interview-with-jane-lewty/ Tue, 08 Nov 2011 13:28:10 +0000 http://makemag.com/?p=5579 Lewty is one of MAKE’s seasoned book reviewers. With a background in literary criticism, she is perceptive and analytical, as well as creative in her delivery. We at MAKE were thrilled to learn that a book of her poetry, Bravura Cool, is set for a 2012 release under 1913 Press. Jane’s poetry, like her reviews, is captivating for its organic subject matter and the often-lonely world it evokes. She deftly positions clinical language alongside discussions of events in nature to make vivid the disordered intersections of the natural world with the human one. Her use of antiquated technical terminology, which requires extensive research on her part, infuses her work with a truly unique tone that is both detached and nostalgic.Jane discussed how her background as a literary critic has informed her creative work, as well as the philosophies that guide her criticism. Just as worlds of nature and technology collide in her poetry, so do her various written lives. READ MORE. ]]>