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January 2018

~ A Conversation With Louis Osmosis

Louis Osmosis (b. 1996, Brooklyn, NY) is an artist working primarily in sculpture, drawing, and performance. For those unaware, Louis is a rising star in the New York art scene. He recently had his first solo show at Kapp Kapp, and is already preparing for his next solo at Amanita in the East Village. Louis and I became friends our Freshman year at The Cooper Union, and have remained close since. This interview provided an opportunity to reconnect, and chat about art, like all those years ago. We reference an essay by William Pope.L titled “Canary in the Coal Mine”. For those interested you can find the essay below, as well as a link to an essay Louis wrote recently published in the latest issue of the Brooklyn Rail. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. 

Interview by Santiago Corredor-Vergara (aka memeadmin)

A screenshot of our conversation over Zoom

L: Anyways, did you read the Pope L. essay I sent you?

S: I did, there’s a lot to unpack…

L: Isn’t it great? I love…I would never say it’s a necessity, but it’s such a nice bonus when artists can write well, and write interestingly. I’ve fully bit his writing style. Bullet point format meets the un-poeticized stanza format, like, 2008 blog format too. The early aughts critical thinkers all had a BlogSpot, like that. That’s fully my vibe right now. The kid low-key has writing practice.

S: So what are you working on right now?

L: Well…other than Feng Shui-ing the studio with Oscar, getting it in order, I have another solo show coming up in March…

S: You’re unstoppable

L: I’m just in my bag, as my people say, I’m in my bag. It’s at this gallery called Amanita. It’s at the old CBGB, literally a couple blocks down from Cooper. So full circle moment. Yeah, I’m going completely nut-mode with it. That’s what’s on my platter right now.

S: Are you making new work for it?

L: Yeah, it’s all new work. I don’t want to give away too much. The element of surprise is as much a moment as it is a material. But I will say, what I did with my first solo at Kapp Kapp, I am not gonna be doing at this solo. 

S: And what’s that?

L: I’m trying to do everything I can to retard sculpture, as in, like, stupify it. 

S: As in making it slower or making it dumber?

L: You know, connecting with Canary in the Coal Mine, how the live-ness of the thing is contingent on its dead-edness? I’m trying to work out an inverse way of pointing to the efficacy of sculptures that are more object oriented. There are sculptures and then there are objects, and I think this show is gonna be way more sculpture-oriented than it is object-oriented. 

Installation shot of PLEASE IT IS MAKING THEM THANKS:) courtesy of the artist

The solo I did at Kapp Kapp, I think was a lot more interested in an object-oriented economy, as this sort of like cultural gauging type of moment. But this show, I’m really going to lean into the theatrics of it. I’ve been looking into stage design recently. I went to a random bookstore, they had a section on just stage design. It just hit me. 

I’ve also really been into monoliths recently, which is such a fuckboi thing, more for their market viability in terms of sculpture, but also for practicality. A monolith is as close as a sculpture is ever gonna get to a painting, in terms of real estate. There is this immediate dead-edness to the monolith, it’s just a nothing form, which is really beautiful. See all of post-minimalism. So yeah…

Something I’m trying to still work out in my noggin…that type of culinary arts where there’s this obsession with this analytic deconstruction of food. Like a salad broken down to its bare components. One leaf, a drizzle of dressing, and radish served on a huge-ass plate.

S: The culmination of that is molecular gastronomy. 

L:  I relate it as a sort of distant cousin of what I would call scatter art. 

A strategy that evolved out of Kunst. Think of Lutz Bacher. A bunch of stress balls scattered across the floor. Or like, Danh Võ, making the statue of liberty to scale, but presenting its parts, intermittently installed in a giant place. That methodology of work is sort of one and the same with what I was talking about, this molecular gastronomy, and culinary presentation. I like relating the two, because I think the culinary moment of deconstruction of food items is a lot more flagrant with its market position. It’s like wealth crime, this is like the food of wealth crime. Which is cool, which is great. No moralizing.

S: It is what it is. 

L: I’ve been thinking about those two things in tandem with one another, so far when relating this flagrancy, that reveals itself, that I really like. We love fragrancy. It’s one of my favorite words.

S: Can you unpack that?

L: It’s like that old adage. I prefer my racism to be overt rather than codified. When things are flagrant, the square-one moment you are confronted with forces you to reconcile where you stand in relation to it. You have to deal with it. It trims the fat. There’s no need for a back and forth, of figuring it out, interrogating it. That’s out.

S: So the flagrancy circumvents the need for debate, for discussion, it’s out in the open, plain for everyone to see…something like that. 

L: Yeah. So, this get’s back to why I love a good pun. To the same effect that flagrancy trims the fat, and has you land in the middle of the action, you know, there’s an immediacy to that; an “oh” moment, an “oh shit” moment. Or, when there isn’t, that’s also cool, because it creates a split audience. Those who are in on the joke and those who aren’t. That creates its own mini forum. The works proliferate in different ways via the split audience.

S: Let me summarize quickly, so I can wrap my head around all of this. So we began with molecular gastronomy…

L: The Michelin mentality (laughs)

S: Right, this type of food-making deconstructs a dish into its bare components. In terms of strategy or methodology, you relate this to Scatter Art, which itself deconstructs the piece into its bare molecular components. When comparing the two, a flagrancy (the wealth crime) inherent to the culinary deconstruction is revealed. You’re interested in this directness as a mode of making, right?

L: There’s a straight faced-ness to it. There’s also this idea that all good artists are good because… they’re rarely ever good because  of this listicle format review of their work. That makes clear what makes a good artist is their sensibility, that’s their driving force. 

S: I think that’s not really plainly obvious nowadays…I could be wrong…

L: No, I agree, I think that’s really true. There’s a new cultural recoil every day, so much so that it starts to feel like a resuscitation of culture, but when something is constantly being re-animated that it only points to its dead-edness. It’s dead on arrival, that’s all I see, when something is being reanimated so violently.

S:In fact, you could say Western civilization itself is living only thanks to life support. 

L: Right, and to your point, about “it” not being that obvious, I think that’s why, with a lot of the work I see, nowadays, especially with this type of stuff that’s really involved with this anthropological take on some niche aesthetic, like lowercase “a” aesthetic, it kind of indicates to me that, there’s this fetishization for topicality, subject matter, instead of what the works can actually do. The question of “how” is infinitely more interesting than the question of “what”. 

S: Would you say that has to do with a kind of reterritorialization of art-making, a forced return to representation? Maybe in terms of market desires?

L: Again, to circle back, to bring up another “re” word. The prefix “re” to your point about representation, every time I hear “representation” I hear “resuscitation”, the painted figure is nothing more than a cadaver, a corpse. I have mannequins a la Isa Genzken. I mean, I only bring up the mannequins, because Isa Genzken’s use of the mannequins is a great way to counter the representation paradigm, insofar that only the idiot would encounter the mannequin in the context of art, and try to relate it to the body. It has nothing to do with the body. 

Isa Genzken, Schauspieler (Actors) installed at David Zwirner, 2015. Image retrieved from contemporaryartlibrary.org

A mannequin is first and foremost a display object, a mode of display. I think of her mannequins as a marker of the stupification of the figure by making it into an actor. These are dumb actors. Dope-ified. You have a mannequin wearing a football helmet, or holding a spatula and wearing a cape, or going through a tower. Again, there’s flagrancy to the nothingness of the gesture, of using a mannequin that I really admire, there’s a quickness to it. With that comes this sort of justification of the ease of the gesture, how do you justify this nothing moment. That’s what I’m saying with the square one thing, you arrive at it, and you’re flummoxed. You’re just like “oh, ok word, this is is some bullshit”. We love it. 

S: Right cause you’re encountering a flat shape, with nothing behind it. 

L:Well, you’re encountering a display aka art, which is just made of a display object, aka, a mannequin.

S:Right, it’s an ultimate tautology, A=A

L: I’ve been on a journey to try and get more mannequins so I can get a nuclear family. It’s very Charles Ray. We love his chrome silver mannequins. I got to get these for free. I refuse to pay for one of these. I’m still looking for a Mommy mannequin, the super ubiquitous ones. No hair, no facial features, just silhouettes, I’m still looking for a Mommy and a Daughter, I already have a Daddy and a Son. (Louis actively looking for the missing mannequins, if you have any leads, please contact him).

So, my mental prompt for this, on some Cooper vibes, because every piece I make, I start with a prompt for myself, the prompt for the mannequins is “how can I zombify a mannequin, how can mannequin-ify the mannequin, without it reading too poetically?”. We love poetics, but we’re not too big on poetry. This is the type of prompt that I would categorize in the larger umbrella of my thinking, as being in the realm of redundancy. I love redundancy as a strategy. 

S: To mannequin-ify the mannequin, is that an additive or a subtractive process?

L: I don’t know. Not to get too nerdy with it, but I think of it more like it’s kind of like embedding a concavity within the thing. It’s like putting a hole in its spirit, in like, the soul of the work, or rather excavating the hole in the work, the flaw, the scar. Redundancy is a great strategy because it sets up the terms of the work as only the work, the terms are just the work, and what it is. Its self contained, enclosed, ecosystem. And this is not autonomy.  It’s a way of starving the work of content, of any external material. Starving the work with the objective of “freeing” it.

I’m gonna write this down for myself, but if there was a name for this tactic, it would be “twist and shout” (we both sing the line and laugh)

S: At the end of the day you’re an easy  guy to interview. You got stuff gnawing away at your brain. I also think great artists “think” in art. I feel like my mind is too plagued by philosophy and politics. A hell I can’t escape.

L: I mean, I don’t know, not to speak in broad strokes, I hate using this word, cause it’s such a sculpture-bait word, it’s like imperative to maintain a lateral thinking. It’s the reason why I said that I was gonna do everything in my power to not do what I did for the Kapp Kapp show this time around at Amanita. It’s honestly out of fear, I don’t want to bore myself. I am my own worst enemy. I hate myself . Like “My guts, yuck”. 

In a twisted way, I think, a show is a good way to set yourself up for disappointment. No matter what, people always feel like post-show blues. Let me look forward to this moment of disappointment. There’s something really beautiful to be able to arrive at a deep-seated sunken-ness, and have that be a generative moment, with the edge being pessimism here. There’s something really enthralling about that.

S: There’s a certain freedom to pessimism, for sure.

L: You know, laughter is the greatest medicine. We’re collectively sick. We’re collectively diseased. That’s where the crude, humorous moments can hit. It’s like a dissonant piano moment. You know when someone plays Für Elise and they fuck up one note. Like “what the fuck did you just do? Did you just piss on my leg?”

S: Would you say your work is a punchline for the end of the world?

L: Nah, that’s too doomer-y. The onset of things is all but a forecast of their death. The onset of things only names its “dead on arrival-ness”. This is not to be misconstrued with nihilist defeatism. It’s more of an opportunity to embrace that. In a Fisher way, there is to some extent, no, to a great extent, something very life-affirming about the contemporary culture at large that we live in now, considering that it’s only caught up in this  cannibalistic revivalism. 

Long story short, in the sense that there’s nothing new being produced, and nothing new is being maintained. That in it of itself is a new thing. Everything has been spent and run dry. That’s the first time that that’s happened in culture, and there is a collective recognition to be had. I really feel that in the pits of my body. It’s a beautiful thing. It washes away a lot of these cobweb laden responsibilities that have been flung at artists for the longest time. I’m just a Joe Schmo A jabroni. I’m a dub.

S: It’s the ultimate challenge of true freedom.

L: To that, I actually have had this mental image in my head for a minute, I don’t know if it would be a good piece, per se. But I’ve always wanted to have my little cousin Matthew or Fay or Fay, to pose next to a science fair board, those three-folded cardboard things, and have it say nothing except for in the middle: “how to die happy”. Have them pose like grinning ear to ear. I dunno, that makes me think of that. It resonates. 

Here the conversation trails off for a moment and we get side-tracked.

L: Let’s circle back real quick, to the point about theatrics. There was this mantra that was championed in regards to sculpture, you know, “the minute Sculpture becomes a prop, it becomes a bad sculpture”. That kind of just sat in my brain for mad long. I bring this up in relation to theater and theatrics, in the case of the stage-prop, as a form to work with. I do agree with that sentiment, but I also think there is something really potent in the dumbness of that type of position for an object, and trying to have sculpture do that. Align itself with that same dead-edness, and that same type of presentation,  but have it work in a different trajectory. 

That’s why I’ve been having a Samuel Beckett moment. His work is so annoying to read, and I’m a slow reader as it is, but especially so with Beckett. It’s like a slow burn take on something that isn’t affirmative, it fucking sucks, but I love it for that. A slow burn that isn’t affirmative. The book I just finished, which I’ve read three times at this point, How It Is, is a crazy set-up. It’s essentially  a play in three acts, and you have a protagonist, and he’s the only character except for this other character named Pim, and the whole play is about the main character trudging through mad. That’s literally it. There’s no syntax. No care for grammar. Rarely anything is capitalized except for the other character, Pim. There’s this disparate-ness that I really enjoy. 

The closest I’ve gotten to it, is this “nothing is precious” type of mentality, nothing is sacred. It’s all equalized, leveled out. That’s been a huge thing for me to chew on for this next show, and for this next body of work. Also to the stage design point, this dude named Ralph Koltai, insane. I’m less interested in this surrealist bend that his work might have, I’m more interested in how these things are installed. This almost Mad Max-ian level of abstraction that he does with a lot of the scenery.

Oedipus © Ralph Koltai, image retrieved from ralphkoltai.com

S: The word that comes to my head is “totalitarian”. Like a “total” work of art, in the Wagnerian sense. The artist has, following Groys, has total dictatorial freedom to impose their vision…

L: I have a very different way of thinking in regards to that. I wouldn’t call it totalitarian, I’ve always maintained that an artist in a gallery is the equivalent to a guest in a house. The way I see it is, how do you enter someone else’s house, and knock it down a peg, without making it so obviously about “vigilante poetics”. Because then you become, no pun intended, “arrested”, by the optics of your work, how it’s perceived. I wrote a little poetic essay, it’s a short little thing for the next Brooklyn Rail. Essentially I wrote about espionage and perversion. The question is how do you make it so that that ambivalence reads tactilely. A gallery is a great place to level things, because it’s so heinous. We have to part from the fact that everything in hell is hell-ish. 

S: Reading the Pope L essay, there’s this notion that the poverty of objects signals something lost, an absence. It makes me think that being mad at Duchamp for allowing for anything to be an artwork is misdirected, because actually it’s a much larger issue. It’s really a generalized loss of metaphysics due to a total commodification of all things under capitalist social relations. The desert of the real.

L: For sure. But, you know, absence is the most fertile land in the contemporary landscape. The most fertile place is the desert, the tundra. To the Duchamp point, when you talk about commodity and Duchamp in the same sentence, this is why Jeff Koons matters. He hyper-commodified the ready-made. Not only did he do that, he also revealed the capacity to be a commodity.

S: It’s an obvious gesture though, in the sense that we already know that everything is or can be a commodity. We don’t need Jeff Koons for that.

L: Sure, but there is a difference between a simple commodity and wealth-object. A commodity doesn’t necessarily come with Spectacle. A wealth-object introduces itself first and foremost as Spectacular. Via hyper-craft and hyper-production, he can reveal the “innards”, the wealth-object that was always latent in the ready-made.

S: I feel like there was a utopian gesture in the Duchampian ready-made that’s completely eviscerated by Koons. What I mean to say is that the Duchampian gesture was quite democratic in nature, because it signaled that anyone could be an artist, which is the opposite of the Koonsian gesture, which obviously requires an ownership of a certain “means of production”.

L: But like democracy shmecmocracy, you know. It’s blunt. It’s so obvious. It essentially pulls the wool back, and pulls it back over your eyes. It reveals a latent economy that had just been lying dormant, sleeper agent shit. 

S: That’s capital. Capital is always sleeping dormant in all codes and forms. He just had to untap it. Untap the flow.

L: That’s a beautiful gesture. Doing it in art is different from doing it in real-life. Art and the artworld and the art-market, are like a petri-dish for life to reveal its innards, its guts. It’s cool because there’s this visceral hyper categorization especially in terms of class, with this monetization of the ready-made. Imagine dying and going to Heaven, and there’s a cover-charge to get in. It’s like “ladies free all night, fellas ten dollars at the door till midnight”. 

S: That’s exactly what I’m talking about, the commodification of the last possible thing that could ever be.

L: Yeah, the supposed last frontier. That’s cool because the gambit is revealed. The last frontier was never an asset to begin with. If the thing is what it is now, it has always been that from the beginning.

S: It’s interesting we arrived here, because the entire point of the essay you sent me was using performance art as an example of something that’s perceived to be immune to commodification, but that in the end is commodified. These are interesting concerns. 

L: To that point, in regards to that final frontier, performance was historically conceived of as this final frontier, this supposed non commodifiable thing, you know, ephemeral, not even concerned with time, but contingent on time. There’s this unspoken fetishization of performance as a medium within the last five to ten years. Follow the paper trail, follow the money, the language used by these grants and institutions, when patronizing performance work. It’s always about the identity of the performer, even for the performance art in which the artist is a choreographer and not necessarily participating in the work. They’re still lampooned as the face of the work. 

This is part and parcel of this fact that in contemporary art, where instead of like how it was back in the day, in which the work gets you to the artist, now it’s the other way around, the artist is the first threshold to understand the work. Essentially, the perceived character of the artist, but also the self-narration that the artist involves themselves in, precedes the work itself. This goes back to the essay, thinking about documenting work via rumor or gossip, rather than photo documentation. 

This also has to do with this digital space at large. An example would be Lutz Bacher, while she was on this earth, she didn’t let anyone take a photo of her, using a fake name. Or, David Hammons, when he pissed on the Richard Serra, and the photo documentation of it also had a picture of a cop supposedly arresting him. It was never confirmed whether that was plant or not. The artist as a rumor of themselves. The artist as their own press. That’s something to work with. 

Photograph by Dawoud Bey © Dawoud Bey, image retrieved from www.press.ici-berlin.org

S: Does the medium become reality itself?

L: I wouldn’t put in such broad-stroke philosophy terms. I would say the medium is “optics”. Yeah we could say optics and perception revolve around “reality”, but let’s just call it what it is. This is also buttressed by the fact that the market precedes artmaking. To circle back to what we discussed at the jump, this hell-bent obsession that a lot of artists have nowadays, especially downtown painters, have for topicality, and subject matter as this means to an end, which rarely ever works. 

S: Can you give me a concrete example of that?

L: OK, I’ll use the downtown painter example. So many of these dudes are painting goblins, and demon-core stuff, and then guess what, they say that the work is literally about demos and goblins. (laugh) You paint fantasy, and you ask them about it, and they say it’s about fantasy. 

S: That’s why I said at the beginning this concern for representation. 

L: I obviously think about figuration all the time, but that’s why I don’t use any of those–when I think of figuration I use a mannequin, a dummy, a puppet. Things that are modes of display that are contingent on a mirroring of the viewer first and foremost.

S: I feel like, “painting is dead, long live painting”, fuck it. Painting has its virtues goddammit. I guess painting’s virtues lie in the painter’s sensibilities though.

L: It’s pretty much only that. I like provisional painting. Like Michael Krebber. The daddy-o of provisional painting. White canvas, one blue line basically. 

S: I’m thinking of this guy, Majerus?

L: Oh yeah, he’s fully having a resurgence right now, as he should. His paintings are very prescient.

S: Yeah, his paintings aren’t caught up in naïve longings. 

L: I enjoy provisional paintings for their market viability. It’s the type of stuff my father would look at and be like “what?”. It’s cool because beyond the market viability which is an in-the-know artworld type of concern. There’s also the Joe Schmo concern that I was talking about earlier, which is the aesthetic justification of thing, and we love it for that. 

But yeah, in March look out for the next Osmosis drop. It’s really like that meme of the psychopath inmate with the psychologist, and the psychologist is like “so are these ‘big things coming’ in the room with us right now?”.

Instagram will load in the frontend.

We both laugh, and the interview gracefully comes to an end. You can follow Louis on Instagram @louisosmosis

You can follow Santiago on Instagram @pl0xi_the_arsonist.

https://brooklynrail.org/2022/09/criticspage/Club-of-Joe-Schmo – link to the essay written by Louis

Canary in the Coal Mine – William Pope.L, 2011

 

~ An interview with Isaiah Barr of NYXO/Onyx Collective

NYXO logo taken from nyxorecords.com

I had the pleasure of talking to Isaiah Barr, a founding member of the avant-garde music group Onyx Collective and record label NYXO. For someone so young, Isaiah has already achieved much success and acclaim, nonetheless he remains level headed and approachable.  Sometimes life gives you the opportunity to meet tremendous individuals. Isaiah is without a doubt one of these special people. Brimming with vitality, but most importantly, with vision, and the discipline to achieve it, Isaiah is fostering  a community among the like-minded, talented and inspired. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.

Santiago: So, you guys had an event recently, an album release by Nick Hakim and Roy Nathanson, called Small Things. Where did you guys do the event?

Isaiah Barr: We did at the old New Blues Space in the East Village. It was really, really cool. I’ve only performed at the new New Blues Space, up the block. The old one is a really legendary space within the downtown and avant-garde jazz community. A lot of great people played there back in the day  when it first opened. Now it’s renovated. To do something there is already a very cool setting. It was really intimate, a really nice local crowd. Our friend Sabio served acai bowls to people. another friend Pat, he owns a clothing company, Pat’s Pants, he was cutting coconuts for people outside. It was a really nice community event. We had the book on sale, as well as a couple of vinyl records leftover (from the album Small Things). Nick and Roy performed in the masks and moon suits we made for the video. That was kind of the highlight, seeing them, one more time in those suits, actually performing in them. I played a couple of songs with them.

S: Is this the first event for NYXO?

I: No, it’s definitely not. It might be the first event for the record label. There’s been many events that have been thrown under that name. There have been many NYXO related things.

S: Can you tell the audience about NYXO, about its roots in Onyx Collective, and the downtown avant-garde jazz scene?

I: Yeah. NYXO started in 2016 as a club. It was a vacant restaurant that we somehow got the keys to for free. In the summertime, We decided to activate the space. It was on West Broadway in Tribeca, which is an area which doesn’t have much activity for young people anymore, even though it once did. We just started hosting events and calling it NYXO. It was really not just jazz, it was open to everything. We had all styles of music and people were just able to come in and do their own thing, on this kind of a blank canvas platform. It was a really nice moment at the time, we were young, we’d just finished doing our residencies at No Wave Radio. We were stepping into our own lane of curating shows and having people meet each other through these showcases. That’s kind of how it all started.

S: Can I ask who were the people responsible for all of this?

I: They were the founding members of Onyx Collective. Mainly myself and Austin Williamson. My friend Stella Schnabel, she helped get us the space. As far as the performers, we had the John Benitez Salsa Band, we’re friends with John’s kids–that was amazing. Princess Nokia before she released her big album. A great noise and visual artist named Sadaf. Nick Hakim performed many times. A band called Jill, with a singer who performs with Onyx. Roy Nathanson performed with us, with Onyx Collective. Show Me The Body had their album released there. Okay Kaya. There was a lot. It was a big range of different styles. We would just be open for the night, and serve drinks. Since then, we’ve had some other events at some other venues. Our biggest one was in 2019. We did the East River Bandshell, which is no longer there because of construction. That was the biggest moment since: Duendita, Onyx Collective, Nick Hakim, Gabriel Garzón-Montano, the John Benitez salsa band. That was pretty incredible. Our friend Sabio, painted the whole bandshell with a graffiti mural. That was really the last big event before we started the label.

From left: Isaiah Barr, Mike Swoop and Austin Williamson of Onyx Collective. Photograph by Vincent Tullo for the New York Times.

S: So do you guys still have a fixed venue space?

I: No, that space was just one summer. So right now, after the pandemic, we’re trying to activate, and figure out where we can house these events, be creative and involve people, and have that same kind of energy that we did back then.

S: But you guys aren’t necessarily looking for a fixed venue space, right?

I: That’s a good question, I would take it if someone were to offer it. I’ve been reading Ornette Coleman’s biography. They talk about him getting a space on Prince Street, where he rehearsed. I don’t think it has to be a formal venue. I don’t think that’s in alignment with what we do. Sure, if there was an opportunity, I would take it. If there was a space, that would be a dream at this point. It could only be more refined and more structurally conducive to what we are really aiming to do now. It would be more like an artist rehearsal and happening zone, where multiple things can be workshopped. I would love that. It doesn’t have to be in New York. It could be, but it could be in another place as well.

S: What does the future hold for Onyx Collective music wise, and NYXO label wise?

I: Well, I would say that there has already been so much work that has been made over the past few years. The future consists of figuring out how to release some of that work in a tasteful way. I also think that for the record label it’s way more about trying to have events, re-establish a listening community on the radio that we’re engaging on our website, and just putting out music for core founding members of Onyx Collective. Ideally,  it’s really just to support like-minded people who are making creative music, and making things that don’t fit into the box of the corporate machine of the music business. That’s a big step right there. Continuing to make products, meaning vinyl, cassettes. Allowing it to just breathe, and exist how it exists and how it has already been, but hopefully with some form of routine, and consistency around the drops and curation. I think we’re nearing that. Last week we had two events. There is so much individual activity, a lot of things need to be released into the world for people to see and to hear. Whether it’s film, albums, or radio mixes. It’s about getting back into that consistency.

courtesy of the NYXO’s Instagram profile.

S: I feel like something tragic these days is that there are so many artists out there, but the attention is so badly distributed. A majority of people don’t even have the chance to be listened to or seen.

I: Yeah, I mean it’s tough, but I think that we just kind of have to encourage each other and focus, and get the muscle stronger at just releasing things, and not put too much thought into it. Also, it’s important to check out what other people are doing inside and outside of your sphere to remind you of the multitudes that exist, in terms of creativity. Personally, I don’t really consider myself an outlier. To me the challenge is more so finding the right people bureaucratically that can support an artistic project. It’s all about organization. Once you have a team, you can figure out ways to put out a lot of different things. That’s my vision right now.

S: Given the volume of material that’s put out these days, there has to be some kind of criteria which allows you to discern the stuff that’s worth the attention from the stuff that doesn’t. Good curatorial lines are of utmost importance these days. What do you think?

I: It’s definitely a challenge, but, I don’t know, man. I think there’s two sides to the coin. Because of the fact that everything is somewhat seen and heard once it’s posted on the internet, it means that things are over-saturated. But, that’s not gonna stop the people that are ahead from doing what they’re doing, so it shouldn’t stop the rest. No one is behind, no one is really ahead, some people have more visibility, because of various reasons that are way too complicated to dissect. I think if you want to be active, or prolific, there’s nothing there to stop you. It’s always gonna be a battle of convincing yourself that it’s the right thing to do. It’s always the right thing to do. Sharing work is important, and it allows you to make room for new work.

S: I do feel like your project does consider itself as an alternative to the mainstream to industry. Not necessarily in a “democratic” sense, but in taste and concept-wise, which I think is way more valid .

I: Of course. We spend a lot of time in a very specific manner, doing what we do. Even just the way we record, or just exist, as creatives, is not really parallel with the commercial world of music. But that’s OK, because that’s gonna change, the commercial world is gonna change, but I don’t really think the creative process changes. Everyone is different, but at least for us, there is a lot of connection between what we’re doing and what our influences, our heroes, were doing. It’s a similar road, just different difficulties based on the time we’re in. There are plenty of things that we don’t have to deal with that people who were great, that were pioneers, had to deal with back in the day. 

S: You lead me to my next question. Who exactly are your influences, which as you just mentioned, you consider to be following in similar footsteps?

I: Well, I think New York is an influence. I grew up here, a lot of my friends grew up here. The histories of the different neighborhoods, and what they embody is pretty big to me. The different energies. It’s not even an aesthetic thing, it’s really like a sensory thing. Frank Sinatra can connect with Nat King Cole, which can connect to Martin Scorsese, and that can connect to Brooklyn. It’s a sensory thing. That can connect to Italian food and a suit that you wear. A lot of these things get combined in my senses, but I definitely try to be open to learning from all the art forms. My brain works like that. I’m very influenced by creative and improvisational music from all over the world. How that came about in New York, within the social milieu, during different time periods. The loft-jazz scene, the happening scene of the 60s. All of that. It’s  kind of like crate digging to me. Endless. That’s all really influential to me just by nature of being like “oh man I wish I was there”. Then I find myself doing something remotely close to it. Let’s see how this relates or feels right now. That’s a kind of an interesting way of looking at influence in general. There is so much room for imitation. So much to learn, to assimilate. There’s so much great music, so many great theories and concepts out there. From that standpoint, it’s kind of like just using my environment around me, the people in my environment. They influence me in the present day in a positive way, which really kind of catapults the whole thing into fruition. It’s a combination of the past and the present, and what I want the future to look like for us. For me that’s where the influence is at work. 

This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Music Division.

S: You’ve said some really cool things. I have to say that just from a personal perspective, I enjoy the way in which the past, the present, and the future are coherent and aligned in your vision for your life and existence. Not many people can say that.

I: It’s tough. Survival takes us to different places. Overall,  it’s just what is our dream scenario, or our best moment, our shining hour so to speak. Containing multitudes is really big to me. I really used to really be influenced by a certain kind of style of jazz, of improvisational music. Bebop, and hard bop, the era of the fifties and sixties. Finding the love again, finding where that is, and digging deeper into the philosophies and concepts of these people, not just the music, but what they went through. Ornette Coleman is an obvious influence of mine. I’ve been reading his biography. It’s really interesting to read what he went through to get to the place he’s at, to see the parallels, but also to read about what he was interested in. His philosophy of life. Whether that’s Sun Ra, watching films, figuring out how that all connects. How the filmmakers who were hanging out with these musicians were also influential, whether that’s Shirley Clark, or Jim Jaramusch. I think that just having a community is a really powerful thing, because you build a catalog with your friends, your peers. From there it’s an archive. It’s a shared work. It’s not like “this guy just did this”. No, they were there, they experienced it, and made sense of it themselves, and did something I couldn’t do, whether it’s because I physically couldn’t because I was playing, or because I don’t have a camera and that’s not my forte. But I appreciate it, and in a sense, I’m enamored by that person, by how they document it and by how they see it. It’s a really interesting thing when your friends are influencing you and you can just come back to the things you love and share those things with others. That’s inspiring too; to pass on your love of the variety of labors out there, and to make evident the trajectory that led us to where we’re at. That plays a big part when paying homage to the past and remembering your growth…

S: You talk about influence in such a way, it makes me think about painting, my own painting practice, and how I’ll ask myself “why do people paint anymore, when there are so many other things out there that you could do?”, and it’s because you yourself want to keep the medium alive. Out of pure love of the medium, there’s a total lack of self-interest, you just wanna tend to the medium, keep it alive.

I: Mhm. it’s a meditation, there’s always been great gardens, no one’s gonna stop gardening. Again, it’s a meditation. It’s how to make yourself calm that is intriguing. Even if you’re going through turmoil, upset or pain or loss or whatever, you find that space of love again where you pacify yourself and make yourself calm, with any form of art or creation. I think that is like a real antidote as well as a tool that was there forever. You just have to keep tapping in, not question where it sits within the evolution of things.

S: Yeah,  talk about “tapping in”. I feel like that’s one of the fundamental views on creativity. It’s actually that you’re tuning into this wavelength that’s being broadcasted, regardless of you. If you can just get the frequency right, you’re in the zone, you’re making great art. I feel like in the visual art world, this idea isn’t so respected, or at least that’s my perception. Music tends to be more intuitive regardless…

I: It’s interesting, because it depends on what the individual is willing or aiming to tap into. That has to do with a lot of other things, which are kind of secondary to the music making, or the art making, it’s about the person and their experience, and how their channeling. I agree with you that the flow of music is very intuitive. But it can be very mechanical or superficial or even fake for some people, because they’re not doing all that much. It should be intuitive. I should be a song from your heart. I believe that’s when we’re at our best when we’re making music, whoever it is. That’s why you can just tell when someone really has a voice. That’s the intuition. It’s definitely OK to exist, to me at least, with people who are in different zones and try to create a fusion of the two. It’s not like “oh you don’t do what I do” so we can’t play together. I never had that mentality, and would never have gotten to where I’m at with that kind of mindset.

Photograph by David Brimacombe for Artforum.

S: There’s also a place and a time for basically anything…

I: Very true. There’s a place and time to experience it. And say: “Oh wow, this is what that is…”

S: I basically can’t listen to reggaetón anymore. But I know there’s a place and time for it.

I: I know what you mean, it’s a specific voice, a space. Maybe when you’re in Miami, or something…

S: Yeah, exactly, you’re on the beach…the alcohol is flowing. Have you ever seen that meme of that guy at the club and he’s like “there is much pain in the world but not in this room. The club is bumping. The ladies look good. The alcohol is flowing.” (laughs)

I: That’s the vibe. Everyone needs some of that. You can’t just listen to classical music. I mean you could…unless you’re like ninety-five. If you only grew up with that. I’ve been around some great musicians that are no longer here, that were from the original generation of whatever kind of genre that they were in love with. It was a pleasure to get to be around them because it was super real…they lived it. I think for the people in our generation the joy and the love comes from trying to see different perspectives and trying to add to them. 

S: For sure, it’s definitely more collage than trying to do something totally new.

I: Exactly, the collage becomes something new,

S: For sure, I guess our generation isn’t gonna have the pleasure of inventing new genres, as they did in early modern times. But there is something freeing about having all these tools at your disposal.

I: Yeah I like that. All the vibes are out there. There’s more to discover though, more to invent. That sometimes means stepping into the unknown. That involves being challenged, working with materials or tools that I’ve never used. Right there and then something can be invented. It’s still gonna be collage, don’t get me wrong. Unless I exclude everything I’ve done, and  just focus on that one thing. I think that I’m actually really inspired by different modes of creation, on tablets or phones. Synthesizers are their own thing. Combining different worlds of electronic devices to make sound. I think there’s a lot of really cool stuff that can be made there. Sampling now has completely different capabilities because of what you can do to morph sound. I think in the zones of sound scaping and creating more longform pieces, in that you are already gonna find new things that were not done within that genre, because in the beginning of that pursuit they were trying to do it as organically as possible, in ambient music specifically. I think there are many different things that can and will be done electronically. If you are really patient and devoted to the process, the possibilities are endless. Same thing Miles Davis said in the eighties when asked about electronics, he was like  “electronics are fine, you have to know…have a good ear, have some discretion in what you’re doing.” You can definitely just make stuff that’s instantaneous, you basically didn’t do anything, you just clicked a button. 

S: That’s just vulgar.

I: Yeah, that’s always gonna exist. It’s not new either. There are a lot of really cool techniques. Morphing, it’s like taking an image and cutting up and putting into a new image, and doing that over and over again. You can get a cool effect. I think “effect” is a good way to put it. But at the same time it’s like a new palette, that can be used in different and new ways. 

S: I’m not always so optimistic about technological progress, but that’s a positive way of looking at things. I like that.

I: Trying to make it childlike is the key. It’s not about mastery, it’s about expressing something, about experimenting. I think an audience will feel that. It strips away the layers of “performer-audience” and makes it more of an equal experience. Technology and electronic instruments are very peculiar, and they do have a mind of their own. You have to respect them, and let them do their thing, and finding the experimental zone. Then you end up doing stuff that can be hypnotic or related to rhythm in a way that’s really, really satisfying in a creative way. I think that’s part of the future for Onyx Collective.  We come out of such an experimental-acoustic spirit where it’s about playing different rooms, naturally reacting to each other, but I think that having the chance to do that now with electronics is really fun. I want to share music like that, and counter, so to speak, some of the narratives. 

Photograph courtesy of Onyx Collective.

S: What you said about having a certain reverence or respect for the electronics, as if they were more than inanimate objects, also collaborators… I really like that. It kind of reminds me of Shinto, the Japanese religion. Even dumb manufactured plastic objects are considered to harbor a spirit, it acknowledges that everything is rich with some metaphysics basically…So electronics aren’t at odds with improvisation, right?

I: No not at all, we’ve built such a language with each other, it makes it even more respectful when we bring in the electronics. We’re tuning our ears differently, and being just as careful with these instruments, and trying to create a dialogue that is coming out of the same focus, and still trying to incorporate the acoustics into it naturally, whether it’s drums or saxophone. I think that there’s a definite connection that I’m excited to explore. It comes down to processing things. Sending things through a pedal. That’s just a cool way of treating sound. I’ve always felt that. That’s just how we grew up. We weren’t indoctrinated by any super serious mode. We experimented with what we had. If there was a mixing board available, we would change the channels, change the knobs. Not even know what we were making until the end, and say “oh wow, that sounds really cool”. It’s kind of been that vibe, now it’s just accelerated by the fact that we know what we’re doing, and just having more tools. 

S: You mentioned happenings, you mentioned the sixties. I’m wondering if you’ve read Beatnik literature, if you’re into that.

I: Yeah  of course, Ginsberg and Burroughs. I’ve read a lot of their stuff. Yoko Ono, Lennon, Toni Morrison, and James Baldwin. I try to educate myself more in those zones. Explore what people were thinking back then. There’s so much. La Monte Young, the guy who made all the droning installations. Yeah, I’m really influenced by that time. I love classic psychedelic rock from the early seventies and sixties. I like how they just recorded to tape, and psychedelia, and acid, and proponents of that, I think there’s a lot of really cool stuff to explore there. A lot of creativity in that space. 

S: I totally agree, the sixties and seventies were, like, the moment for art in general. Absolutely insane.

I: Even the late fifties, ’58, ’59. There were really crazy things going on. I really dig music from the forties too, 45, bebop started then…Duke Ellington. I have a lot of different zones that I really do love. I’ve definitely done my fair share of emulating certain things. Now I’m in a more balanced zone, doing what comes naturally. But, I think that anyone out there trying to do something is a bit far-fetched, because they haven’t done it before, or it has already been done so well. I think you should still try it. Like, “I’m gonna make a rock song” or whatever.  I’m not of the mindset of “no, you should just stick to whatever…” It’s fun to try to play different types of music. Usually, the coolest part is when the form, the structure of the song is made, and we’re just jamming on it. We’re all playing our instruments, and we’re away from the song. Then, something cool happens that would never have happened had that not been available, just from saying “I’m gonna just try this”. That’s not exactly experimenting, it’s more like venturing. Imitation. A really good mentor of mine said you have to imitate, assimilate, and then create. How can you, unless you’re just gifted, just make something out of nothing. It’s fair game. Coltrane listened to every saxophone player ever. I always try to be open, listen to whatever people send me, never shutting that curiosity off, embracing that more and more with an empty headspace. I feel like that’s really healthy. 

At this point the conversation went off the record, and shortly after we said our goodbyes. You can follow NYXO on Instagram at @nyxo.nyxo, and you can check out their website on nyxorecords.com where live radio is hosted 24/7. I highly recommend tuning in. Interview by Santiago Corredor-Vergara (aka Meme Admin). You can follow me on Instagram @pl0xi_the_arsonist. 

~ AdWorld Interview

The following consists of the conversation I had with Santangelo, Pedro and Francis, the charming trio responsible for creating AdWorld: a multimedia, web3 masterpiece at the vanguard of digital artImages provided by the AdWorld team.

Santiago: Guys, can you quickly introduce yourselves, and what you do for AdWorld, for our audiences that don’t know?

Santangelo: I’m Santangelo, I’m the project lead, slash, like, I don’t know…

Pedro: The crazy man that came up with it!

SA: Yeah, the crazy man that came up with it, that’s me.

P: I’m Pedro, I’m the creative director of the project, the hammer and the nails. I do the freaking animation thing.

Francis: I’m Francis, I’m the project manager, and I help out with a little bit of everything,. I help out with the music element of things, and some of the narrative design.

P: Francis has picked every song for every video.

S: So I was thinking how we could approach a project like AdWorld in an intelligent way. Could you guys explain it in a manner for someone who doesn’t really know about NFTs, the metaverse, and all of the crazy stuff that’s going on right now? I want to talk to my dad about it. 

SA: I would say AdWorld is a narrative story, an interactive storytelling thing, or event. Basically an interactive story where you can participate, but also engage with communities that are centralized via music and gaming and all things internet, and all things contemporary. So it’s weirdly one part story, that you interact with and engage with, partially this game that you can passively play by just exploring and talking to people, and third part this community that you can engage with via music and games, and anything social online. I would say it’s reflective of early internet games like Gaia Online, if you know that one, or like Club Penguin, or Runescape.

S: So, I did a little research, but I could be wrong about this, I understand that at the center of it all is a music album?

SA: No you’re completely right. The jump-off point is my album AdWorld, which is hodgepodge of all things fucked up and contemporary. Whether it be everyone’s obsession with dance music now, or weird stock market tech crash crypto stuff. It’s kind of a catchall for all things contemporary and fucked up. Yeah, I think that this thing, AdWorld game project, is kind of an extension of that, it’s an art project that’s kind of grown into a Frankenstein. It grew a life of its own, but it’s also something that in that psychotic growth gave birth to something really beautiful. We have a really strong group of people who came together to talk and engage with each other, and just play, every so often.

S: So, tell me in what capacity is AdWorld a game, something you can interact with.

SA: It’s very ambiently a game…

S: Ambiently…explain that.

SA: I would say the interaction, the mechanics we have built out for the game, and that we are building for the game, are fully based in normal web browsing, and interaction with people and engaging with communities, things you would do regularly, just kind of retrofitted those interactions to tell a story.

S: I see… so this is not a game where you can walk around.

SA: No, not at all. You can walk around and talk in real life, and you’re still in the game.

S: That’s pretty conceptual. 

P: It’s pretty conceptual, yeah, definitely. There’s also a gamification aspect. The character creator was a game in itself, and the fashion show was also a creative game, and there was a reaction. The game to a certain degree is you’re making animations collaboratively, while listening to music, while talking to people.

F: The fashion show… the people who won, the people with the best designs, three were community picked and three were judge picked, and all of those designs, got added to the character creator itself, so people who participated got to contribute creatively, got to contribute the character creator, which will make it into the short film. 

S: So what ties everything together, the game, the collaborations, the music, there’s a narrative, a story being told. I think I’ve understood correctly, the people who own the NFT can participate in the direction the story goes, by voting, is that right?

SA: That’s an aspect of it. There’s gonna be community decisions that are made based off the characters. We also have story pieces that are just kind of more concrete, that are just us weaving in the story. It’s a kind of mix of all of those things. 

S: Did you guys write a grand narrative arc, before doing all of this, or are you doing it as you go along, building the lore step by step.

P: There’s a writer who’s been writing. There’s a big bible of things that have happened in the world of AdWorld. We’re in the process of making those things more tangible for the community, so they can access it. I feel like there was a first phase, which was very clearly, like “hey lets make the character creator”, and now we’re in a phase where there is all this writing about AdWorld. I wouldn’t call it a season 2, but as a creative director, I’m trying to work with different artists and illustrators that I like, now that we have the budget from the first mint, there’s the goal to solidify this whole story through a short film, more videos, illustrations, comics. We’re in this moment of production. 

F: We’ve kind of started the exposition for the lore.  We’ve dropped a few pieces of the prologue. The whole prologue is written out, but there will be elements that the community will be able to decide upon for what comes next in the short film. Like we said, we have a bible for the story.

S: So can you guys quickly explain the story, the narrative arc you guys are playing with?

F: So when it was first conceptualized…hm… it’s a bit of an Ocean’s 12, where there ‘s like competing rival heist gangs, in this dystopian/utopian metaverse space. San’s character leads one gang, another character named Nas, leads another. There’s this tech overlord monarch character Wally that’s like up to some really shady stuff in this place called AdWorld, which is a game that everyone logs into and plays. It’s kind of like, if you’ve seen Akira, where there’s a little biker gang that gets caught up in a giant military tech conspiracy, it’s kind of like that. The prologue is the story of AdWord, this game where all these heists and gangs exist, we’re telling how that came to be. And we’ll tell another story of crime and romance in the short film—

P: That happens within—

F: Within the world of AdWorld. In this prologue we’re giving exposition on how this has come to be, that’s what’s written out. The community will have more choices over certain interaction between these gangs, how certain fights go down, in the short film. 

P: I feel like AdWorld is in this sort of limbo, at least right now, but hopefully constantly, where the world keeps forming itself before your eyes, a videogame generating itself. That’s part of the story of AdWorld. There’s this language that’s found in these ruins, and it has a videogame within it, and the military, facebook, vice, are trying to sell it to the world. There’s also people that are like “dude, what the fuck is this ancient universe video game?”

F: In the prologue, there’s these competing interests who are all working on this project, what we call the Spirit Text–

P: And somebody designed the Spirit Text–the Spirit Text is designed already. People bring so much crazy shit—we have this moment where we have to pull back a little bit, and just collaborate with people and work with people. We’re working hard so that everyone can access this crazy idea, the Akira of NFTs.

S: So how did you guys meet, and decide to collaborate?

SA: It was something that, I feel like the inception of the idea started in January 2021, when I was in the midst of making the album, I started drawing this character Wally, which is not the character Wally now, based off of Walmart, weirdly (laugh). I was making this weird clown, demon character, thinking of this world in which the music lived in. Francis and I have been best friends for a minute, we lived together while all of this was happening. Francis was really into crypto, and subsequently got into the NFT space, observing it, and actively engaging with it.  I thought to myself how crazy of a medium NFTs were. I feel like it highlighted the insanity of capitalism, but on such a crazy scale, at such a crazy speed, it felt artful. It was this meeting place of all the things that are crazy about the world, where you have the fanatic mania of communities, and discords. Everyone is saying the craziest shit, trying to make you believe. It’s spiritual, it was really kind of a meeting ground, the town square of fuckery. It just felt like the right medium. I started building out this idea. I was searching for artists, looking on instagram looking for the best artists to bring this thing together. Also, it’s largely inspired by the movie Summer Wars. It’s this great animated film that came about right before the social media boom. I was looking for artists online, and fell in love with Pedro’s work, and I reached out and was like “hey, I have this insane idea, can we get on a call so you can hear it”, and Pedro is also crazy enough to fuck with the idea, and broke enough to try to do it anyway. Soon after, I thought, this is kind of a lot to handle. I bit off more than I can chew. Francis was the best trader, crypto head, and a really smart guy, an english major, we had worked on music together. I got us all tickets to LA, and we linked up and went crazy, went in on making it happen. Now we live here. 

S: Can you tell me about the aesthetic choices of the AdWorld universe and lore, can you guys talk about the aesthetic inspiration?

P: I’ve been using blender for only a year. I grew up on After Effects. I’m an illustrator, animator. I studied sculpture in school. The references are sparse, there’s a lot of it that just happens to be the fact that I’ve been making art for many years. It’s me throwing my practice into it. Being really open to collaboration, and letting people whose vibe I like, and work I like in music, come in and start building with me. People say GameCube alot. I grew up on GameCube. Sonic Adventure, our generation really fucks with it. I wouldn’t fully call it low poly. But it has elements of low poly. Heavy Cartoon Network influence. Kids Next Door is one of my favorite cartoons of that time. There was a character creator on the Cartoon Network website that I just remembered. The Kids Next Door game is one of the most influential pieces of art for me—that affected me as a kid. I would create the characters, I would print them, draw them, and make little boxes—you know how the Kids Next Door make their weapons? It’s very sculptural. 

F: Someone in the Discord made a comment about Pedro’s art being this combination of low poly stuff with newer animation tech. Like hi-fi, with newer lighting. AdWorld as a whole is a commentary on the development of this NFT metaverse space. There are a lot of older technologies that make you feel that this metaverse dream was already realized in Second Life. Now it’s revived with this new sheen, all of sudden it’s like, “this is the future”, and I think Pedro’s art rhymes with that in the sense that its low poly—it references old tech and new tech at once.

S: I have to ask, are there concrete philosophical/political influences behind AdWorld, because I know there are for some NFT projects, especially the “avant” ones. 

SA: I think there are, but it’s not for us to prescribe, to read those out. I think there’s a lot that people can take from engaging with the story. I don’t want to step on any toes with the storytelling, but there’s definitely a clear voice, a clear reading of the world. Both in the music and in the story, and how we engage with everything.

F: In the prologue there are competing perspectives and interest groups who are vying for control of this social technology. I think that those different interest groups will…AdWorld feels more like a mirror of this whole space, than something with a clear political take on it…do you know what I mean? We want to show this thing in the way we’ve seen it, rather than try to overdetermine what we’re making. Like San said, we don’t want “Oh yeah, it’s like blank, blank, blank…” and then people are just like “this is one of these things”.

You can follow AdWorld on instagram and twitter at @adworldgame. Watch a videoclip produced by AdWorld here: https://twitter.com/AdWorldGame/status/1506388415004127236

Follow Santangelo on instagram @santangelo.o, Pedro @pedro.tqm, Francis @brainofachild

You can follow me at @pl0xi_the_arsonist on instagram

The team wanted  shoutout the following people:

@neetworth (twitter) , the AdWorld developer

@thribing (twitter), the AdWorld writer

abelinegroup (soundcloud) the musician who composed the theme for the AdWorld  website

Special shoutouts to @lolo_barrientos and @brooskyes (both on twitter) for helping build out the AdWorld Discord.