Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Artist and curator WALT CESSNA talks about social media and the new artistic communities.
We hear from curator Walt Cessna about the upcoming exhibition ‘INTERFACE: Queer Artists Forming Community Through Social Media’ at the LESLIE LOHMAN MUSEUM. An influential artist himself, he talks about the thinking behind the exhibition, and his own diverse sources of inspiration…
“10 years ago I started using Social Media to reinvent myself and present my writing & photography in a new medium. I turned my Tumblr blog into my archive of 17,000 photographs. Then I looked around and realised everyone I had been connecting to was some kind of an artist, utilising the web to get their work to a wider audience. I also saw the similarities between the early 80’s punk East Village art scene where, instead of a screen, artists put their work literally anywhere they could: the piers, a subway stop, Gracie Mansions bathrooms.
The East Village art scene was the first time that the freaks got to completely rule the scene. Warhol had had a moment earlier, but the mainstream still want’s ready for prime time art anti-heroes like Haring, Basquiat and David Wojnarovich. They were all steeped in the DIY punk ethos of the time, and all created work that defined the era immediately, as it still does today. Interestingly it pre-dates the internet as one of the last major art and social moments, ironically, not to be covered on-line at all. Can you imagine Nan Goldin on tumblr? It’s too much to even begin!
The internet can’t replace physical queer spaces, but it is the place more artists to choose to share their work, rather than wait on a show or gallery. Utilized correctly the internet gives me instant access to uncountable artists, as well as connecting everyone separated by countries and times. I think that it allows us a more level playing field where the queer artist can express themselves through several different identities. It allows the queer part to happily lost in the bunch, where our sex is just one of the dozens of facets Social Media allows us to explore.
The exhibition isn’t limited to New York based artists, it was more a coincidence that so many of my favourite artists work in New York. And, because of the East Village 80s connection, the work really resonates personally, knowing that everybody is literally having an 80s moment in so many ways anyway. It’s like that will forever be the Bible era of my generation. Basquiat cray-cray with an extra dose of drugs, irony and instant fame – it’s like a delusional tonic to those that wouldn’t even last a day in Basquiat’s shoes!
That’s the sad thing with the internet, yes, there are millions of talented super bright and shiny people, but finding someone on Basquiat’s level is rare. I don’t feel like I’ve rediscovered him with this show, but I think some of the artists assembled have the potential to take things to another, completely unchartered level, and hopefully not overdose or die from a preventable disease.
As an artist myself my artistic heroes are diverse: Benjamin Fredrickson, Scooter LaForge, Natasha Gornik, James Salaiz, William Spangenberg, Joel Handorff, Brett Lindell & Dietmar Busse are all artists I have collaborated with and published in VACZINE. Some are good friends, ex-boyfriends…Lets just say there are no favourites, but I share a common thread with each artist, even the ones I’m not as close to. When it’s 6am on New Years day, and your chocolate mushrooms are still hitting, and your in Justin Bond’s Breakfast-At-Tiffanies-level-packed apartment, and the only friendly face you can find is…Gio. I always saw Gio Black Peter at crazy moments when drugs had me tongue-tied, but something in our eyes clicked and I just always had mad respect for him and his work. So, after being friends on facebook for years, we’re eventually able to do a show together. That’s my favorite situation, and an example of what I mean about social media and networks.
I’ve spent the past 5 years taking about 800 portraits in my Spanish Harlem railroad flat. The light is what inspires me. I shoot digital but never photo-shop or manipulate – I was raised better. When I was 18 my boyfriend was Mario Testino and I learned so much about light and editing from him, I guess I was spoiled. People recognize my photographs because of the physical space- wrapping paper on the walls and x-mas lights all year round. Check out my book WOLFPACK! and you’ll see it. It all translates so seamlessly on-line, so things become familiar and a tone is set. I like to think of it as as ‘REALiti’ – Watch the GRIMES VIDEO and you’ll see what I mean, it’s everything good.
In terms of inspiration, I always stick to really good green, laced with correct visuals that terrorize, titillate and turn on. It’s Russ Meyer mixed with Diana Vreeland, Richard Avedon & Penn forever. The book Invisible Monsters – which I will one day turn into a film – Looking For Mr. Goodbar. And having really awesome ladies in my life when I was a fashion terrorist- Norma Kamalli, Annie Flanders, Pat Field, Diane Brill, Maripol, Abbijane, Isabel Toledo, Betsey Johnson. But, of course, there’s the man who will inspire me forever, because he never hesitated to take the time to let me know I was worthy, and a drug addict, and that one day I might get through it all, Stephen Sprouse.
Queer, to me, is universal for ‘Freak’. So, LGBTQ or straight, Queer represents a spirit and not necessarily a sex act. Queer stands for being different, fierce with our inner freak and more than likely a free, rebellious and often outrageous person. Queer art should mean beautiful, moving and thought-provoking work. Erika Keck is a transgender artist who has a strong, and at times defiant, Queer identity. However, her abstract painting ‘ROSE’ lets on to none of that. The viewer is simply left with a stunning piece of art in front of them. It might have traveled a long and rocky queer road to get there, but at the end of the day a gorgeous, beautiful piece of work will stand on it’s own. It works in various contexts, on multiple platforms, rather than just alongside the how, what, where, when or why of the queer artist’s life.”