Life update: I've been preaching, by way of screaming, singing, and talking straight towards crooked subjects. I also moved to Los Angeles one month ago. Before we left Chicago, I executed an escalating number of performances, four in three weeks, culminating in a multi-new-media magic show. Now I'm here, and the roll I'm on has had to slow, even as the urgency propelling me mounts in tension. Somebody please, show me to a stage.
Brief respite: the footage of my performance at Helltrap Nightmare 9: Dinner with the Family is ready for you to watch! This happened on November 27th last year, when fear and grief over the success of white supremacy (the winner all along, let's be honest) was still fresh for many. I sought to galvanize my audience as well as exorcise some of the righteous fury that nobody should bother beating around the bush about anymore. I also debuted some new songs. Enjoy!
The songs are titled, in order, "Find The Tits," "My Vacant Friend," and "Floating Hope." Much, much better versions than the ones in this video are in process right now and will be available soon. Here, you can listen to "My Vacant Friend" and read the lyrics on my Soundcloud:
Thank you Emily Kempf for the awesome polaroid photo (captured at Cool Girls Show on December 7th, 2016) and for booking a great show!
I made a book for anyone who's feeling overwhelmed by or afraid of the violence and divisiveness that is (for now) gathering strength and power, anyone despairing at their ability to make change or feel joy, and anyone who wants or tends to run from uncomfortable or uncertain situations. I guess you can call it a self-help zine. I performed it last Saturday at the one year anniversary of Zine Not Dead.
[See above photo by Mary Beth Higgens. Documentation of this performance will be available soon.]
This book contains writing, drawings, suggestions, and exercises to strengthen your spiritual and emotional fortitude. These are exercises I use frequently, across personal, educational, performative, and ritual practices. They work.
Like many people I know, in particular many artists and creative people I know, my faith in the worth of my efforts, indeed, in the worth of humanity, has at times been deeply shaken, even absent. This is not one of those times. My favorite thing about growing older is lengthening perspective. I have lived long enough to see, over and over, the resolution of pain through process and time. Trauma heals; worth is found; sense of stability grows again - if the issue is addressed. Often, we are more frightened by the fallout from a problem than the problem itself. We must stop, turn, and face this difficult work.
I know that many of the scariest possibilities are imposed from outside and above in the hierarchy of power. I know that those with greater privilege must leverage it as a resource and be the front line of resistance. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, read this, this, and this.) I also know that every single living human being has baggage that hampers their efforts to make positive change.
So often, the smallest insecurities cause the largest efforts to crumble. When it comes to working and organizing together - which is essential to combatting systematic oppression and creating social safety nets - it is imperative that each individual in the collective takes responsibility for their personal well-being and moral growth. Nobody is perfect, but everyone can improve. Working on yourself is not frivolous. It's not lazy, because if you're really working, it's not easy. It is not narcissistic, because it requires humility. Evolution is spurred by diversity: of ideas, experience, and ability. That's why the exercises in this book are flexible and can be practiced by oneself, with a partner, or in a group.
You can read Do Not Fear The Darkness in full online by clicking here, or by paging through like this:
You are also more than welcome to hard copies for yourself (and others!) Click here to download the pdf with instructions for print and assembly. If you run a comic shop, book store, event space or whatever, you have my blessing to distribute Do Not Fear The Darkness to all who pass through. Do not sell this book, it is free.
May the new year illuminate further tools for transformation. Wishing you love and power.
|photo by Emily Esperanza at Her Environment #3|
I often make art about sex and sexuality. I tend to come at it from an awkward angle (absurdism, as in Dirty Birds; horror, as in Go Down; non-human fetish, as in House Fuck and Cat Tongue) to slow down the shock value, or cover my ass, perhaps? Regardless I'm not often forthright when it comes to the dirty stuff. But I love dirty stuff, and it inspires me, and the more confident I become in my creative voice the less shits I give about letting it all hang out. So I wrote some songs about lust, frustration, and longing. I put together three pieces and called it a Love Set. I performed it first at Her Environment #3, and soon after, at Helltrap Nightmare #4, both in Chicago.
Here are the parts, polished for the internet:
Pervert in the Workplace is about being a human in an office environment, in a service environment, in an academic environment, really in any environment where the collective is oriented towards production, and regards propriety as essential to success. In this setting, the exhibition of any strong emotion apart from loyalty and enthusiasm is usually frowned upon, meaning natural and inevitable feelings like anger, despair, and lust are unwelcome and sometimes cause for dismissal. Every lyric in this chant feels familiar to me. Most have been said by me or to me. Sometimes I think I'm so good at hiding my feelings in a professional setting that I'll end up sucking everyone around me into a bottomless pit of nihilistic resentment - if not everyone, then at least the object of my envy or desire.
Don't get sentimental
There's no room for that here, there's just no room for that here
Don't get sentimental or you'll be labeled mental
I used to want to fuck my boss but now I'm the one in charge
Whether or not you are aware, the customer is watching you
Business like. Positive. (high five / thumbs up / take charge)
Protect your heart
What do I do with all these feelings?
I'll bury them in you
What do I do with all these feelings?
I'll bury them with you
I'll bury you, my boo
I'll lead you to your doom
I'll leave you there, entombed.
Oiling the Weaponry is an erotic poem (and breathy soundscape) about intense, sustained sexual desire and lack of climax. This feverish state of cumulative arousal can be both ecstatic and maddening, especially when combined with romantic negotiations. Do I sound removed enough? Reading this piece makes me real nervous.
I hold more inside my body than fits inside a body
so I'm swollen, like a fat dick
at attention, hot, thick
full of blood
in my hard head and my soft skin
a tunnel with a tight hole, clenching
a trap door
I'm fenced in
Why don't you trigger the latch
take stock, finger my clasp
I walk a fine line
A tight wire, up high
A trip wire
one false step and I'll plunge inside
get all wet
Where does a wave go when it cannot crest?
The waves within me hard pressed
surging against my dense flesh
The wash of brine creeps higher yet
Each time a salty stain is left
Stains are caking down my legs
my clothes are all a sloppy mess
I'm soaked through, like a hot compress
my bones too
it's come unglued
My blood has pooled
The pressure's out
I'm under you
in seizures, screaming
I see you squeezing a clotted cloth over my open mouth
juice comes out
I need it
I push you down
I bite your neck
I suck it out
We're not just friends
I leave a mark
your gooseflesh marred
The earthquake starts.
The pilot lights and bombs are dropped
The fire builds and can't be stopped
I'm oiling the weaponry
My hose is long and full of grease
I wait too long to douse the flame
my body burns
it's all the same
Somewhere is a beautiful song written by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim in 1957 for West Side Story. I love musicals and this one has been really important to me (especially in seventh grade, shout out to Zella). In the movie, Maria sings it to Tony as he's dying in her arms. This song is so sad, dreamy, and romantic, a soaring illustration of impossible longing. It's appropriate for all kinds of situations. It's both optimistic and non-committal. It can be sung to an individual or a demographic. This rendition with the held tones (on choice words such as open, wait, time, and hold) is intended to evoke in its building the same sensation of fantasy and suspension the lyrics promise. It felt like a fitting way to end the set.
I'm still unsure of my abilities as a musician, which is why, as I venture into this territory, I continue to put finger quotes around the words 'music' and 'song' when referring to my own work. All of the above were composed solely on my vocal effect loop pedal. I hope to add some more complex tools soon. Maybe you'll see a post in the near future with a similar opening sentiment, but in regards to freedom of musical as opposed to sexual expression. I want both.
|photo by Ryan Greenlee at Her Environment #3|
I recently gave a talk in a classroom where I focused on my interest in liminality, or liminal space. Briefly, liminal space is the time between states of being, between one solid idea and the next. Any ritual experience transpires in liminality. Any transformative experience requires liminal space. I bring up this point because it is a common thread throughout all of the work I do: creating narratives, writing speeches, teaching, entertaining, overwhelming with light and sound: activities which induce or require liminality in order to be successful.
About ten days ago I orchestrated the largest showcase of my work to date at Conversations at the Edge, a weekly screening and lecture series curated by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (where I studied) and hosted by the Gene Siskel Film Center (where I work). It went very, very well. It sold out. People had a really, really good time, from reports.
The three videos above were conceived as interstitials, intended to knit together the three disparate performance pieces that made up the bulk of the show. They were written and performed explicitly for that experience - although now I am quite pleased to have some short digital work I can toss about indiscriminately, in contrast to the arduous, precious distribution and projection of analog films which is my typical burden.
You can see in my notes the development of these liminal videos. I began with a sense of what I wanted to accomplish, and an assessment of the tools at my disposal. (Skills in leading trance, an intern with access to DSLRs, metallic makeup bought on a whim from Kryolan, etc.) I listed the intents of my three performances, and hypothesized the best directions for transitioning from one to the next. I listed out all of the activities I could imagine an audience acquiescing to at the behest of a pre-recorded video.
I wrote three scripts, spoke them out loud to make sure they lasted about three minutes, then traveled to the Magic Hedge (my Chicago place of power) and recorded myself speaking, in three different environments. remember was recorded on a pier; this was recorded within shrubbery; feeling was recorded in a dirt footpath stone tunnel.
I edited the recordings and then performed along to them while my utterly fantastic intern Hannah Kim recorded my hand motions in front of a black velvet backdrop. Pro tip: applying an opaque layer of makeup to hands and forearms takes a considerable amount of time.
So how did it go? These videos were well received, and helped facilitate seamless transitions between performances during the show, providing uninterrupted liminality. They gave me time to take a breath, collect my thoughts, and change costumes between pieces. My audience responded eagerly to every instruction. I could hear people giggling when they were instructed to grab their crotches. You can listen to the live recording of this by playing the track below. I love it.
This comic is called Cat Tongue, and was just printed in The Lifted Brow, which is a superb "attack journal" from Australia. This is the first comic that I ever drew for performance first, and print second.
Here's how it looks printed in The Lifted Brow. I am so pleased! You should definitely check out this publication and subscribe if you like experimental fiction and pointed commentary.
Hey, look, my name is on the cover!
Cat Tongue is a story that came to me over a long period of time, and one that bundles several passions neatly together: lesbianism, power tools, beastial fantasy, hallucinatory psychedelia, and of course, color separation. It is also a conceptual follow-up to Go Down, the first (Cat Tongue being the second) in a projected trilogy of comics about female sexuality and oral fixation.
I drew Cat Tongue for performance at the last Brain Frame. I performed it last. It was the last Brain Frame performance ever. (I'm performing it again this month, scroll down for info.) Here's the video:
In this performance, there are three rear-projection screens. The two on either side are illuminated by 16mm film loops. The center screen shows a shifting, CMY color-separated animations of the panels advancing. I am using my trusty vocal effect loop pedal, in combination with an audio feed from one of the 16mm projectors, which is broadcasting the sound of sprocket holes running through an optical sound reader. I am manipulating these two audio inputs (vocal and mechanical) to accompany the hallucinatory narrative. In this performance, analog film machinery = wood shop power tools. When my characters lick the saw and drill, I stand and lick the 16mm projectors.
I drew this comic in about four days, which is remarkable considering I had to draw each page four times. I had to draw each page four times because I needed each color layer to stand on its own as a compelling image, and match imperfectly with its corresponding layers, in order for the separation animation to feel organic and complete.
I began by drawing the machines. Because they are an object of fantasy, they needed to have a different feeling, a different line than the organic materials (flesh, clothing, wood). I staged a photo shoot in an actual wood shop with two friends willing to model. (I captured the 16mm film that would loop in my performance during this shoot, as well.) Drawing on these reference photos and some machine manuals I have, I illustrated all the metal with clean lines, rulers, and high contrast shine and shadow. I penciled in the figures around them. Here's what my base layer page looks like:
Next, I drew three complete pages on top of each base layer, illustrating the cyan, magenta, and yellow parts of the scene. I used a brush pen and tracing paper. I drew each color layer without referencing the others, only the base page and pencil sketches.
I developed a schema to organize the colors consistently. For example: the jeans and overalls would only be illustrated on the cyan page. The shirts would only appear in the yellow layer. The white woman's freckles would only appear in magenta; her goggles, cyan. Here's a comparison of the color layers of two panels on page 3:
To complete the image, I scanned and aligned each layer in Photoshop (you can see my little triplet registration marks on the base page above). I added the machine drawings to all three color layers, so that in the fleeting instances that the animation aligned, the machines would become crisp and black while the rest of the image would continue to appear in flux.
Preparing this comic for print was a novel challenge. I ended up manipulating the text much more than I do in the video animation, for legibility. It was a delight to attempt to replicate the feeling of the cat-transformation on the printed page, by exploding the panels and totally destroying the previous implication of gutters (and thus, time).
I'll be performing Cat Tongue for a second time on April 21st at the Gene Siskel Film Center, as part of my Conversations at the Edge show. This show is a big deal: I'll be enacting three different pieces, one of which is a brand new performative-comix-reading, as well as debuting three short videos. You should come. Buy tickets here.
I am a radio host now. I started my own show, back in October 2015, at the invitation of my friends over at Lumpen Radio, a brand new wavelength soon to be actually broadcasting out of an actual radio tower in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago. If you're in the area, tattoo WLPN 105.5 FM onto the back of your mind's eyelid please.
Magic Chats is a weekly interview show. I invite a different guest every episode to bring in some sounds that move them. We listen to the sounds (usually music; sometimes film clips, field recordings, text, etc) together, and then talk about it. I ask my guests what the sound means to them, how it makes them feel, where and when they heard it, and ultimately, what place that magical feeling has in their life. We often end up talking about spirituality, but not necessarily.
Every show begins with a Magic Moment. Listeners write in to magic.chats [at] gmail.com with a song that moves them and a written description of how or why. I play the song and read their story. Do you have a Magic Moment you'd like to share? Please send it to me! I need more!
Every show ends with the Mystery of the Week. This is one big, open-ended question inspired by the preceding interview. I collect responses to the MOTW on Facebook and via email, and read them back at the end of the following episode, before announcing the new question. You can find out and reply to the Mystery of the Week on the Magic Chats Facebook page. Please 'like' the page!
You can subscribe to Magic Chats on iTunes. Please rate and review! I have no idea how many people enjoy this labor of love (yet).
My plan is to record and release ten episodes per season. At the time I write this, seven episodes are complete and available, and four more interviews are waiting to be edited.
I started Magic Chats as one strategy in a broader effort to be more open about my own magical nature. The unseen has always been a huge part of my life, the way I relate to the world, and what I look for in others. The last Brain Frame marked the first moment I began to consciously incorporate ritual into my public performances. Magic Chats is a way for me to explore how a wide variety of individuals understand the inexplicable. It has been deeply fascinating and rewarding to conduct these interviews, edit and annotate them afterwards, and release them to be heard.
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Three months and three days ago, Brain Frame ended. I think it's safe to say that I've recovered. I have some perspective. My grieving has passed. I've been so slow to upload documentation - the final videos are going up on the website this week - because only now does it feel delightful, not depressing, to review. Here's an incredible montage of the entire Finale, by Burton Bilharz:
The Finale was better than I could have imagined. The notes and drawings left by friends and strangers in my yearbook (passed around Thalia Hall with tape reading "BOSS BOOK / PLEASE SIGN") are ridiculously, overwhelmingly kind. The mere thought of them stirs the stuff in my ribcage. Onstage, I wore overalls, safety goggles, a plain t-shirt, and sneakers I bought at a Payless in San Francisco when I was seventeen. I didn't wash my hair or wear makeup, at least until my surprise transformation at the end of the show into a golden outfit tailor-made by Ellen Nielsen.
I was dressed for the performance of my new comic Cat Tongue, but I was also dressed down for honesty. Amid mounting spectacle, I felt most comfortable representing myself as a mechanic. Above all, for me, Brain Frame was work. It was enormous work.
It was also ritual. Especially the last show. I talk a little bit about that in this great article by Sierra Nicole Rhoden. I took cues from the large public rituals in which I used to participate while growing up in the Bay Area, specifically the Spiral Dance. The altars at the Brain Frame Finale honored the death of the show and predicted the future of its celebrants. The poster was a re-imagining of the Death card in the Ryder-Waite Tarot, a symbol for change and rebirth. My introduction in the Yearbook attempts to inspire further exploration. I spoke to the audience more plainly than ever before. I talked about the potential in performative comics readings. I invited people to email me for support, advice. My intention was to release the spirit of Brain Frame, for everyone to take home in their hearts, and have it grow there.
All photos in this post by Gillian Fry
Then I went home, all hollowed out. My family did another ritual for me, privately. I went out of town for a while. I looked for other things to fill myself up, or tried to stay empty. I lost track of time, and realized that Brain Frame had been my clock. I struggled to relax around friends, without a collaboration between us. I realized that I am not the boss of every conversation. I remembered how much I like reading books. I built new shelves and cleaned up in my office for the first time in two years. I performed a new comic at a noise show. I performed in a wrestling match. I got flown to New York to show parts of my film. I got flown to Los Angeles to perform Go Down. I started my first full year as Lead Artist of the Teen Creative Agency. I picked up extra work as an Artist Guide at the MCA. I started writing in my blog again...
Here's another new comic, about my first performance of Night City at Brain Frame 2, my first time bringing Llama Man to the stage. This page will be published in the Brain Frame Yearbook.
At the Yearbook party last week, I observed how popular it was to page through the print proof. People would grab a copy and sit in the corner for 20 minutes, myriad expressions flickering over their faces. Someone told me "I could read this for days." Another, a close friend and repeat Brain Frame performer, admitted that he hadn't been planning on buying the book. "$25 is a chunk of change," he said, "even for something I knew would be so nice." Extending his hands, he continued, "but then I saw it and you know, I really got that same feeling that I did in high school. This isn't just some thing I've participated in off and on. This is my community. These are my friends. This is the last three years of my life, and it's beautiful, and I realized that I need it, so I just bought one."
In three days, on Monday, July 7th, we need to buy all the books we can to have them ready at the last show. This means that if you want a book, you need to buy it now. I can't afford much overhead for purchasing extras - a shame, since I know seeing the book in person is the most effective advertisement.
This effort is 150% selfless. Each book costs $5 more to make than the price of sale (ever wonder why your high school book cost $60?). I still need to raise $2,223 by Monday. Anything that doesn't come from pre-sales will come out of my pocket. Please, put faith in your future (and your past) and buy a book this weekend.
Click here to pre-order a Brain Frame Yearbook or
Click here to buy an ad in the back of the book or
DONATE to help us make this happen. Thank you!
Right out of school, a month before starting Brain Frame, in the cosmic summer of 2011, I began this autobiographic comic called Recent Days. I performed some of it at the first Brain Frame, and some more at the first anniversary (BF7). I got to around seventy pages before abandoning the book. Here, finally, the story finds closure. This 2-page spread will be printed in the Brain Frame Yearbook, released this August at our third anniversary (BF19) and final show.
Please pre-order a Brain Frame Yearbook or
Buy an ad in the back of the book or
DONATE to help us make this happen. We need to raise $7750 by July 1st. Pressure's on and coffers are slim.
Let me tell you about the Brain Frame Yearbook.
First of all, it's really a yearbook. We've made much ado, rightfully, about the fact that it will be a hardbound, leatherette, foil embossed ledger. There are portraits and autograph pages and photos and superlatives.
Second of all, it's way, way more than a yearbook. The portrait pages include everyone who's ever performed at, accompanied, documented, and staffed Brain Frame - just shy of 200 individuals. They're all self-portraits, ranging from actual repurposed yearbook photos to photoshopped snapshots to drawn images.
The bulk of the book revisits every Brain Frame event from the past three years (29 in all) chronologically. Every pre-show promo blurb I wrote for Facebook; every detailed performance summary for Tumblr (each one a single sentence, a secret challenge to myself instituted around the time of BF3); every poster lies in these pages. Also photographs, captioned of course, as well as personal content from a vast and varied cross section of Brain Frame community members.
Some people have remembered Brain Frame in original comics. Some have written essays, poems, or "letters to the editor." All of these writings include illustration by yet another set of generous, talented, diverse artists.
|Nate Beaty's comic about Brain Frame 3|
There's more. A few humorous 'op-ed' pieces (also illustrated); a three part special feature on poster process (A Toast To Posters: with your host, the Poster Ghost); a spread of my costumes (not my idea); the winners of the Brain Frame Superlatives illustrated by Kevin Budnik; a Brain Frame Phrenology page by Jamie Davida Lee; a maze; some quizzes; "Oofo Fakts" scattered throughout; and lots and lots of little drawings in the margins.
|Clay Hickson's illustration for Brain Frame 12|
Let's pause for a minute. Can you believe it? We started collecting material for this book a month ago. I insist you recognize the unwavering and exhaustive support of my intern Lillie West. She is martyring herself in an email prison for the cause.
Lillie and I and the rest of the Yearbook Club: Ben Bertin, Gillian Fry, Christine Lai, Carter Lodwick, Emma Rand, Brad Rohloff, and Nicki Yowell, have been meeting 2-5 times every week to get this done, and slaving away in between. We have to finish by the first of July - this weekend I'm not going to sleep. None of us are making money. We're all buying our own books.
In order to print to our standards, each 160-page, half color, half B&W book will cost $25.93 to make. We're selling them for $25. Pre-sales are live now, and essential to our success. CLICK HERE to reserve your yearbook.
Why? Because it's worth it. Because the whole point is celebrating and embracing the community that has flourished around Brain Frame, and I recognize that this community is not made up of wealthy people. We're hoping to make up the costs through DONATIONS (please donate if you can please please) and ad sales. You can buy an ad NOW for your business, or to commemorate the accomplishments of your loved ones (or enemies). We need ad copy by July 1st! CLICK HERE to buy an ad.