Interviewed by Molly Wilbanks, 2/6/2014
Jeff Jackson is the author of the newly published novel, Mira Corpora. I met with Jeff in a narrow, dim restaurant lit solely by the flicker of eight tiny tea light candles. To find the restaurant I had to follow a hand-written map that Jeff had crammed in a hole, in a stack of bricks, by the railroad crossing on 36th. He wanted to keep this place a secret. I spent the good part of an hour back-tracking through obscure side streets, some dead-ending, and some leading to abandoned warehouse sprawl. The map had been smudged. Somehow or other I found the place, my shoes covered in mud, and a fresh hole in my jeans. I didn’t care. I was excited to talk with Jeff and ask him some questions. (Not all of the above is entirely true).
You can ask questions too, as Jeff Jackson discusses his novel at Pura Vida Worldly Art, 3202A Davidson St., 2pm, Sunday, March 9th. Don’t miss it, and don’t get lost. Get your copy of the book at Pura Vida Worldly Art, or at Amazon.
Molly Wilbanks: When did you first begin to write?
Jeff Jackson: Probably in high school. For a long time, I was a big reader of comic books but not of literature. I didn’t really like writing that much, either. It wasn’t something that came naturally to me when I was younger. They had a great creative writing class in high school and I was surprised by how much I liked it and when I would write, how quickly the time would sort of vanish. I found I could disappear into it.
MW: You write for theater also. How is that different than writing a novel, for example?
JJ: It’s definitely different. It’s so collaborative. I’m writing text that’s meant to be performed. Something that seems like it’s going to be able to live on stage in a way that’s interesting for the audience and exciting for the performers. There are some things that are more literary that I’d love to do, but they just don’t work on the stage. Sometimes I create a play from start-to-finish that will be performed, but then I’m still revising it and taking it apart with the company. Most often, I’ll start with an idea with the director and the play will be written as it’s being rehearsed. It’s not usually a traditional playwriting process. With the novel or short stories, it’s about having an idea, and how it works on the page. I’m not thinking about performance or reading it out loud. And I’m not worried about how it works within the context of a group or if it’s meeting someone else’s needs. It’s fun to be able to bounce between the two modes.
MW: Is it easy to make a living as a writer?
JJ: It’s nearly impossible. And it’s gotten more difficult over the years. I still do some music reviewing and in the 1990s you could get paid good money for a single review. A friend of mine wrote a cover feature and got paid enough to buy a used car. That hardly exists anymore, even at major magazines, due to the free content on the internet. Digital culture is great in terms of democratizing the art process, but it’s also made it almost impossible for many musicians and writers to make a living. Fortunately the publishing industry is about five years behind the music industry and the bottom hasn’t totally fallen out yet. But the more publishers embrace digital culture, the more they’re also embracing pirating and the de-valuing of their products. I know people in their early 20s who are big readers and they never pay for books. They illegally download them. It’s becoming similar to how you can’t find hardly anyone under thirty who pays for music anymore.
MW: If you value writing, then buy some books!
JJ: Absolutely. One of the great things about Two Dollar Radio, who published Mira Corpora, is that their books are beautiful physical objects. They make something that can’t be so easily replaced by the digital realm. Mira Corpora has French flaps and beautiful deckled-edge paper. It offers a real tactile experience. There are always going to be people who just want to have content on their Kindle, and that’s fine, but publishers need to embrace making books that are exquisitely designed objects, that give you what only books can give you, and not just deliver glorified Word files.
MW: What inspires you to write?
JJ: Music is a big one for me. The feeling I get from certain songs or compositions definitely makes me want to write, to translate something of that experience into words. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a raw punk song or an abstract classical composition or a noisy free jazz piece.
MW: Regarding your novel Mira Corpora, I’m curious to know how the title came about, and what it means?
JJ: Well, your husband helped me with the title because he introduced me to the wonderful French experimental film “Mira Corpora” by Stéphane Marti. The book has different sections and when I tried something more literal, it seemed to indicate that one section of the book was more important than another. That was a real problem because people thought “So this section is the key to the book” and ignored everything else. The novel needed a title that emphasized the story as a whole and didn’t create any preconceptions about its contents. I wanted a title where you’d read the book, and the book would give the title its meaning. That’s why I went with the abstract and poetic “Mira Corpora.” It’s an idiomatic Latin expression that means “strange and unusual bodies.” I partially picked it just for the sound: “mira” is “to look at” in Spanish and sounds like “mirror.” And “corpora” is corporeal or “bodies.”
MW: The protagonist’s name is Jeff Jackson, so is your novel fiction or non-fiction?
JJ: It’s a novel, so it’s fiction. It was important that “A Novel” was written prominently on the cover of the book. Almost anything you write has autobiographical elements in it and I’m definitely exploring some of that tension by giving the narrator my name. It was important to me that the book felt emotionally true while not always being factual.
MW: I found it daring that you did that.
JJ: It came about late in the process. Originally the character had a totally other name and I created this biography that was fairly separate from me. As I was writing, this became too distant and clever. I had been writing the novel for so long that I really came to know the character. He earned the right to my name.
MW: Do you read reviews and critiques of your novel, and if so, what do you think of them?
JJ: I read most of them, though I try to skip the negative ones. I’ve been very fortunate that most of the reviews have been positive. It’s been interesting to read other perspectives. There’s a lot of ambiguity in the text, so there have been many different interpretations. I’ve been interested to see what lens critics choose to view the book through. I feel more shielded reading theater reviews because it’s a collaborative project. You feel like other people have your back if it’s a negative notice and it’s easier to laugh them off. Like with “Botanica,” the last play I did, The Huffington Post accused us of sexually objectifying plants. I’m not even sure how you do that. It is definitely more vulnerable reading something that’s just about me.
MW: There was a picture I saw on social media recently in which you’re cutting into your novel with scissors. Can you tell me what’s going on there?
JJ: I chopped the book apart. Ripped out pages and cut it up. I really like making collages, and I hadn’t made any for a while, so I thought it would be fun to make some collages using the book itself. This was right before the holidays and I had the idea that I could make individual collages that used parts of the book itself. If you bought the book as a gift for friends and family, then I’d send you one of these collages. They included a short story about a character who was in the book at one time but was cut from the final version. A sort of shadow presence. There’s something very physical about the act of writing in the novel. People are walking into the page, spitting on it, sticking their finger through it, erasing it. So I thought eviscerating a copy of the book itself was in that spirit. I sent out a number of collages, it helped sell some copies, and it was a fun way to express my gratitude to people. I’m not sure how my publisher felt about seeing the copy ripped apart. I have to say, their books are really well made. It took some serious X-Acto knife skills to take it apart.
MW: Are you working on anything new right now?
JJ: Yes, I’m almost done. It took a long time to find an agent for Mira Corpora and then to sell it, so I started something new as soon as I was done with that book. I’ve been working on this new novel for almost two-and-a-half years. It’s largely about music. My attempt to write the last rock-and-roll novel, to imagine an end point for that genre.
MW: By the way, I want to make a T-shirt on it that says “GERT-JAN”. I don’t know why. I just got inspired to do that, right now. That was my favorite part of the book, with Gert-Jan. It would be black, with white letters on it. You wouldn’t mind right?
JJ: No! It would be awesome.
MW: Now. Time for either/or questions. If you had to choose, for the rest of your life, either/or, what would you choose? Graph paper or a computer screen?
JJ: I hate to say it, but computer screen because that’s what I look at all the time. Wish I looked at graph paper more often.
MW: Ethnic food, or comfort food?
JJ: I’ll say comfort food because that would include a lot of ethnic food as well.
MW: Jazz music or foreign films?
JJ: Why don’t you just cut out my heart instead?
MW: I know you, so that’s a cheater question!
JJ: Molly, it’s seriously brutal.
A recent conversation with Michael Houseman and Ross Wilbanks.
Michael Houseman is the drummer for three keys bands here in Charlotte: Great Architect, the key creative music act; Joint D (pronounced Joint Damage) the best of the agitated rawk bands; and Bo White Y su Orquestra, a fantastic-frenetic afro-pop act balancing the best of experimentation and popular appeal.
Some ideas on ‘What is the Charlotte music scene?’
Ross Wilbanks: I wonder if regional music exists because of the way information is shared. The way I talk to younger guys about bands now, they are very quick to lay out a map of interconnecting bands that influence them. With that idea in mind I think it takes away some of the regional idea. Twenty years ago, bands from a certain region could only, maybe see a local band that wasn’t very good–
Michael Houseman: –but that’s who they saw all the time.
RW: Right. In Charlotte, the music scene, well when I say ‘Charlotte music scene’– you could come to Charlotte and see local music and not run into one of ‘us’, the sub-sect of musicians who are not trying to be– trying to promote the band constantly. There are two kinds of bands here, one kind spends time, um…
MH: …their ambitions are different.
RW: Yeah, and then there is ‘us’ who spend all our time trying to make good music whatever that ends up being. From ‘those’ group of people, it’s fortunately not very cliquish and everyone is helpful. Maybe because it’s still just too small.
MH: Playing in the Orquestra there are bands- ‘oh my god, you’re putting billboards up everywhere, you’re selling your records for like $20′, they were beautiful but $20 is a lot of money in my opinion. We were talking about this, getting things ready for England with Joint D and how like, the first record was ‘what anyone wants to offer’ and ‘we’re glad you have them in your hands’.
RW: Charlotte is one poorly layed-out city. You have to make appointments to meet up with anyone. Nothing happens naturally where people happen to meet and talk out ideas. It all has to be pre-planned.
MH: It’s hard nurturing a punk scene like that. Even The Milestone is 18+. I will say though The Milestone is still one of the best acoustic sounding clubs, definitely in this city if not the whole southeast. I’ve watched some really shitty bands sound really good there.
RW: Yeah! If you sound bad at The Milestone you need to go back to the drawing board.
MH: The room just sounds good, I don’t know if it’s cigarette-laced hardwood or somethin’. But the Milestone isn’t in a community, you have to go out there to watch music and that’s always why I’ve had respect for the Milestone and not really caring if I get paid. As far as I know too, it’s always been owned and operated by people who play music. That says something.
With Snug Harbor you get foot traffic and that’s when it can get a little stupid. They charge at the door which seems normal but I went to Columbus, Ohio recently and it was crazy. In one night, I saw ten shows in and out, and there were no cover charges. The city is gridded out for bike rides, it’s well connected, being set up by the colleges around it, but I still think it’s about promotion too. Bands were getting paid and there were a ton of people around.
On Songwriting, band dynamics, etc.
Michael Houseman: A lot of bands I see are like various noodlings and the players are very good, but very few people know how to write a song, acknowledge how compositions move. It can come from any style, but with a lot of bands it just seems like it’s this part, this part, then this part and there’s no arc to it.
Ross Wilbanks: In film dramatics there is a saying that I like very much and I think it applies to music even better, ‘Whenever you create a situation where anything can happen, nothing means very much.’ This happens a lot in experimental music too, in groups we like even, where a stage is set but the piece isn’t pushed anywhere and you’re left (as an audience) treading water.
I think this is one of the definitions of punk now: pushing the gravity on your music. It’s like, ‘Ok, we have this set-up but how can we affect it in a way that pushes us.’
MH: At the school I teach at, Piedmont, everybody who is there except for this amazing, killer piano player—I wouldn’t be surprised if Davey knew him because he puts on a lot of Brazilian culture events and stuff. Anyways, he’s the only cat at that school who plays music with other people. Everybody else there, the pianists, the guitarist, they just teach, they don’t create. They’re proficient in their instrument but they don’t play out. The way I look at it, you can learn how to play music in two different ways: you can pick it up and suck for a while…
RW: …pick away at it…
MH:…yeah, or you can get trained by someone. But if you get trained by somebody you lose that complete aspect of ‘trying to find it’. You have that challenge there and I can see that with some of my kids but it seems like they ‘get it’ (the lesson) but they don’t get it (the aspect of finding the music). So I tell them, ‘alright I’m showing you these stick control exercises but the only reason I’m showing you this is so that you can apply it’. Thinking about teachers that don’t go to the other side; if you don’t ever make or create you’re not getting the whole point of playing music. You don’t get the craftsmanship of it.
RW: That’s a great point. When you decide to take the first option (to find the music without being taught) which is the one I took; making music with other people, playing out, is that really important step. You have to take all your bedroom ideas and put it out there.
MH: That’s why they have recitals. Not just to show your parents you’ve learned something but so that you can play in front of people.
RW: But to play within the group, I mean the group dynamics are more interesting because—I find it funny because a lot of people can’t take it: presenting their part to a group and having to change it, but this is part of life! You have to spend time in this darkness finding your part and then, almost always, you have to modify it or reduce it, often, to make things better for the group.
It has to be mentioned that you play drums in half the of the best six or so bands in Charlotte. I would guess in the dynamics of playing that Great Architect allows you the most freedom. Similar to Moenda, where we have parts and everybody in the band likes their part and it’s the bands job to make the parts fit, not to change anyone’s part. Is Great Architect like that?
RW: But I have to say some of my favorite drumming you’ve been doing lately has been in Joint D. You really give that band a push into another realm. There are these tiny schisms of drum beats that you’re cramming in there for the tiny seconds you have to play them.
MH: The thing with Joint D is…I started playing in punk rock bands and then I went to some really dark metal stuff before I moved here. But one of the things I did when I moved here was not to play that kind of stuff, and it fit my personality. I like the drums. I didn’t want to approach the drums always as something about beating out my frustration. That’s not the person I am. I like music too! So I was apprehensive about starting a punk thing or anything that was super aggressive.
But Nick and Thomas are super funny. It took awhile but I got used to playing that kind of stuff again. After seeing Brain Flannel and Yardwork, I got to know their styles and thought, “I think I could do this.’ Nick can blast through some chords but also picks up these weird things that I never thought of.
RW: The audience picks up on it too. Ben from Los Noches Cabrones was watching you guys at The Strange House and he picked up on this guitar riff that Nick did which was a a straight rip of an M.I.A. song but you wouldn’t have known it listening to it. It did pop out though.
MH: I feel like I’m the alchemist in the band. I always try to get them to play something out of what they would normally want to do. They will want to do something for a 4-count and I will say, ‘What about 3 and then this little thing and THEN we go into the next part’. That’s the kind of stuff that makes it interesting.
RW: Yeah, the drummer has that power! I was joking with Taylor, (Yardwork, Meat Group) ‘the drummer doesn’t like the part, the song’s over’! (laughter) ‘You can’t do a whole night of interludes’! The drummer has that final say. That’s when you fire the drummer and take the Lou Reed model*.
RW: Right, Thomas is real interesting too because he’s added the bounce again from what he had in Yardwork and that, along with you guys extending the songs into some long, crazy 70′s jam, much more abrasive but has that feel…
MH: …what’s kept us on the punk-cuff of the music is that we’ll write a batch of songs that are more rock and then decide to crank out a bunch of 30-second songs. In the same way The Minutemen would approach a lot of their songs.
*Lou Reed had a reputation for demanding exacting sound from his drummers, for instance, Moe Tucker wasn’t allowed to use cymbals in The Velvet Underground because he felt it ‘Ate the sound of the guitars’.
Some things surrounding Bo White
Ross Wilbanks: I’m trying to remember the origin of playing with Bo.
Michael Houseman: The funny thing is that I’ve been playing with that guy forever but the Orquestra thing will be the first thing that I’m released on. I’m a little offended! (laughter) We had been playing the Duo Select stuff for a while and then he just sat down and made the record in a weekend.
RW: So Duo Select was the first thing.
RW: You have a band environment now with the Orquestra.
MH: Yeah, one thing that’s cool about Bo is that he can come up with a melody and a rhythmic approach quickly and then already have the layers of the song in his head. He’s such a craftsman.
One thing I’m going to push before my exit out is for Brent and Bo to write together. ‘Don’t come in a with a song skeleton, write together’. They can talk about chords and harmonies and say ‘hey play that horn part from the b-side of whatever’ and they each know what they’re talking about. That’s how the good song teams work. Bo is so prolific and it would be good to see how each of his songs would be arranged-
RW: -based on the opinions of someone else in the generative process.
MH: One of my favorite Bo stories is when I moved here. It was the longest break I hadn’t played in music. I was just getting the vibe of the city, it had been three months or so. My friend Tiffany introduced me to Ryan Miller. He said ‘I’m playing in this band you should come out’ and that was my first Black Congo rehearsal.
Then I see my first cut-n-paste flyer and it was Fag Static from Atlanta and Calabi Yau. It was at Lunchbox and nobody was there. Calabi Yau started setting up and then playing and I thought ‘this is crazy!’ Then they say ‘this next song is inspired by Booker T. and the mg’s‘ and I was into them big time.
RW: That song is great but it doesn’t even remotely sound like Booker t!
MH: Totally, and then they play a few more songs, than Bo says, ‘Alright, hello everybody, how’s everything sounding’. He knew everybody in the room and he called me out, ‘Hey I don’t know you, how’s everything sounding’. All I could say was ‘sounds good dude’ and then the next day I’m at practice and Bo comes in with a pocket full of Halloween candy and sees me and says ‘I know you’.
RW: Typical Charlotte. Calabi Yau is the centerpiece for me. When I came in late 2000 I found nothing in Charlotte and then in 2004 or so Calabi Yau started playing and they were the only reason I came out for a long time. Davey was even crazier when I first saw him. I thought he was going to fly off his seat!
The one lament I have about that is that they never had a proper record, of the last material. I just need to get a 1,000 dollars- put it to vinyl.
MH: After I saw them the first time, I probably saw them every time they played in Charlotte afterward and one thing that got me was Robin and Bo playing polyrhythms, on guitar, ON TOP of what Davey was doing. The intensity of that. Davey’s still that way playing in a band with him, I still can’t believe I’m playing in a band with him.
RW: Yeah, I tell him sometimes when he gets frustrated that he’s gonna have to tell me to leave ’cause I ain’t ever leavin’.
MH: The second Davey starts playing you know it’s him and that’s amazing because he’s not playing a tonal instrument. I have a style but there are recordings where I wouldn’t remember that it was me playing drums.
RW: I was just thinking, Bo is the centerpiece of what we’ve been trying to describe in this interview.
MH: He works hard at it.
RW: It ‘s not just his playing which is exceptional but the communication with everyone.
MH: One thing that has been a bummer, telling people I’m moving, is that there are comments like ‘man, it’s over’ and it was like that in Grand Rapids too and …it’s not. You have to stay positive.
RW: You’re right, I think one of the reasons is, that you’re a drummer, and I can’t count on one hand the drummers who would be willing to try and play in the bands we’ve been talking about. We are past the stage as a scene where one person leaves, and it all goes to hell. We have to stop thinking that way.
**black & white images by Molly Wilbanks.
COMING UP some Fab Oversight gleanings for your cultural delight Turn off your computer and get out NOW.
Showing Thursday February 27, 7:30. Crownpoint Stadium 12, 9630 Monroe Road, Charlotte, NC. Presented by Back Alley Films Series.
England: 1648 AD. A small group of deserters flee from a raging battle through an overgrown field. They are captured by two men: O’Neil and Cutler. O’Neil (Michael Smiley), an alchemist, forces the group to aid him in his search to find a hidden treasure that he believes is buried in the field. Crossing a vast mushroom circle, which provides their first meal, the group quickly descend into a chaos of arguments, fighting and paranoia, and, as it becomes clear that the treasure might be something other than gold, they slowly become victim to the terrifying energies trapped inside the field. A Field In England is a psychedelic trip into magic and madness from Ben Wheatley – award-winning director of Down Terrace, Kill List and Sightseers.
In remembrance of Nelson Mandela, CAST presents the Regional Premiere of SIZWE BANSI IS DEAD by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona. 2424 North Davidson St., Suite 113, Charlotte, NC 28205. Presented by CAST Carolina Actors Studio Theatre.
It’s 1972 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and Sizwe Bansi’s passbook gives him just three days to find work. No work and he’ll be deported. That was four days ago. So when Bansi stumbles across a dead body with a passbook, he asks himself – does his identity card really define who he is? Could he give up his family and his name in order to survive? Tickets: 704-455-8542 or http://www.nccast.com/performance/sizwe-bansi-is-dead/
Check out Charlotte’s new POP-UP ART COLLABORATIVE STUDIO, artspace 525! The site will serve as the headquarters for The Wall Poems of Charlotte, which brings poetry by North Carolina-based writers to buildings in Charlotte, and as an art studio for painter Sharon Dowell, Charlotte Magazine’s 2012 Best Local Artist. Stop by artspace 525 after work and experience art. For inquires about workshops and open studio times contact Amy Bagwell at Amy.Bagwell@cpcc.edu. Wednesday, March 5, 7pm. 525 N. Tryon St.
Local author, Jeff Jackson, talks about transforming his childhood notebooks into a novel. He’ll share his creative process of getting from idea to manuscript and the commercial process of going from manuscript to publication. He will also answer questions and sign copies of his novel, MIRA CORPORA, which is available for purchase here. Sunday March 9, 2pm. Pura Vida Worldly Art, 3202A North Davidson St.
* FINALIST for LA TIMES BOOK PRIZE
* Flavorwire: BEST DEBUT NOVEL OF 2013.
* Slate: BOOKS YOU SHOULDN’T OVERLOOK IN 2013.
* Largehearted Boy: FAVORITE NOVEL OF 2013.
* Acclaim from The Wall Street Journal, Bookforum, Vice, Time Out Chicago, and more
-read Fab Oversight weblog next week for a featured interview with Jeff Jackson-
Mint Museum RANDOLPH: through June 29th: Bearing Witness: The New York Photo League and Sonia Handelman Meyer comprises approximately 100 photographs by Photo League members. The Photo League was established in New York City in 1936 by a group of young, idealistic photographers and consisted of a school, darkroom, gallery, and meeting place. However, it was also a place where photographers learned about their position in the world, both as artists and as people. Their dedication to social imagery led photographers into their own neighborhoods, exploring the streets with their cameras, and capturing the lives of ordinary people as they had never before been depicted.
The exhibition features a special spotlight on the work of Sonia Handelman Meyer.
-stay tuned to Fab Oversight weblog for an interview featuring Sonia Handelman Meyer-
Thoughts for Silence
For this stone-deaf man, since the loss of a sense adds as much beauty to the world as its acquisition, it is with ecstasy that he walks now upon an earth almost become an Eden, in which sound has not yet been created. The highest waterfalls unfold for his eyes alone their sheets of crystal, stiller than the glassy sea, pure as the cascades of Paradise. Since sound was for him, before his deafness, the perceptible form which the cause of a movement assumed, objects moved soundlessly now seem to be moved without cause; deprived of the quality of sound, they show a spontaneous activity, seem to be alive. They move, halt, become alight of their own accord. Of their own accord they vanish in the air like the winged monsters of prehistory.
In the solitary and neighbourless house of the deaf man, the service which, before his infirmity was complete, was already showing more reserve, was being executed silently, is now carried out, with a sort of surreptitious deftness, by mutes, as at the court of a fairy-tale king. And again as on the stage, the building which the deaf man looks out on–be it barracks, church, or town hall–is only so much scenery. If one day it should fall to the ground, it may emit a cloud of dust and leave visible ruins; but, less substantial even than a palace on the stage, though it has not the same exiguity, it will subside in the magic universe without letting the fall of its heavy blocks of stone tarnish the chastity of the prevailing silence with the vulgarity of noise.
–From Volume Three: “The Guermantes Way” from the novel “In Search of Lost Time”, by Marcel Proust.
Sometimes I think, if I just shut up. For instance, I’ve been telling people that really, for the art of the film: sound is an aesthetic error. Maybe so severe a one that even within twenty years, if people have a concept of film as art in twenty years, if it’s worth anything, there might be a general assumption that all the pursuit by artists of the medium to put sound on a film was to be a blind alley. Whereas right now I could illustrate it beautifully by (mouths speaking without making a sound) – I said; just going on talking without making any noise at all. It wasn’t a case where someone removed that noise later — I mean I can make it, sitting here, can move my lips as if I am talking (mimics speaking without making a sound). So one can see, when I’m not actually talking, the extent to which I’m dropping masks over my face. I mean at least it’s my theory, that if the major consideration of film is the visual then the reason sound is a blind alley is because it cuts back sight, so that at the very instance that suddenly sound is removed, or that it’s relatively silent… my theory is that it becomes more possible to see. And at the very moment a word comes in, it immediately becomes more difficult for somebody to see. I suddenly see more when I stop talking. I also get scared. I sometimes think that the real reason that say, aside from the wonder of lip sync, that movies plaster mood music, and everything else over the soundtrack, so that there’s never a moment of silence, is because people are afraid. And with sound pouring into the ears they feel more comforted, lullaby-ed in a sense.
–Transcribed from the film “Legendary Epics, Yarns and Fables: Stan Brakhage” by Steve Gebhardt and Robert Fries
Interviewed by Molly Wilbanks.
J.R. Berry is an artist working and living in Asheville, NC. I met J.R. at a photography conference, where we proceeded to talk about things that involved photography. J.R. is involved with The Asheville Darkroom in Asheville, NC, an exciting, new community darkroom space. I was interested in J.R.’s particular perspective on photography, and his media-based interactive artwork, so I cornered him with some questions, on the phone that is. More J.R. can be found at: http://www.jrmakesart.com/
Molly Wilbanks: When did you start taking photography seriously?
J.R. Berry: I would say my freshman year in college.
MW: What led you to that, was there anything that inspired you?
J.R.: To be honest, that’s a lie. It was in high school. When I had to do color photography a little bit. Our teacher encouraged all the studio art kids to take photography. So we did black and white, and that was fun, and then I signed up for Photography II which was color, and we actually had a color processor in our high school… shooting color, and working in the darkroom like that, is what got me serious about photographs. MW: Where did you study, and what was your emphasis in college? J.R.: I studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art in Cleveland Ohio, and I was in the “Film, Video, and Photographic Arts” department.
MW: Your photographs, from what I have seen, are more than just traditional photography. How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it?
J.R.: I usually say I’m an interactive media-based artist.
MW: You play with perspective and depth of field in your artwork, cutting the actual photograph. Can you tell me about that? What led you to do that?
J.R.: I started this project when I was in school, where I cut a window out, it was a room… so, I cut the window out of the wall, and then photographed the outside of the window… that’s how it started, I wanted to create an experience for the viewer that was similar to the actual experience in real life, of looking out the window.
MW: I am reminded of Richard Cummings work when I look at your artwork, where you are not sure what is reality, and what is the artwork, they are kind of melding together. There is one image you have, a diptych-style image, with details of a train. What is that image about?
J.R.: That image is what started it– I did that piece first because I was messing around, going through a lot of my old shots that I had scanned. It was a little bit before I started working at the darkroom in Asheville, so I didn’t really have a studio yet, so I was trying to figure out, well I need to make something, so I was going back through all of my old photographs tand seeing if there was stuff that I missed or something like that. I had worked in diptych for a show that I had gotten into the year before, and it was a really nice diptych, but I still wanted to stick with the interactive sort of thing. That piece, when I actually completely finish it, will be layered in a similar way as the cut pieces.
MW: Okay, so it’s a work in progress right now?
J.R.: Yeah. I think so. I am okay with it where it is right now, but there’s something– the “Aha” moment needs to present itself, on where to cut it.
MW: I really love the portraits that I’ve seen, in particular, of a man’s face where it shifts– you have a different image if you stand to the right, then if you stand to the left. I am interested to know what you are doing with that?
J.R.: Thank you. I have been thinking about those pieces as a way to extend attention span and hold the viewer for just a little bit longer. Those pieces in that body of work are going to be called “Cut-in”, like a dance partner, how you cut-in on a dance partner. It’s about changing the way that we traditionally view works of art. Not necessarily, specifically photographic, that’s just the medium I chose to work in. I think it works very successfully with photography because we experience so many photos on a day to day basis.
MW: I feel like the gallery viewer definitely needs that because they do tend to walk along, rather than stopping and interacting with the image. When I was looking at these images, I don’t know if you intended this, but I felt like I was seeing different aspects of the person that you photographed, rather than that one still image.
J.R.: Absolutely. That’s how it comes through in the [interactive] piece with the five floating screens. They’re images of me, on both of those screens, they look different, and you treat each one differently. The same way that there’s a negative and a positive. There’s always something else to somebody that you don’t get unless you interact with them. That was my thesis project. Then I graduated and no longer had facilities, and projectors, and cameras, but I still wanted to keep making interactive-based artwork… I heard about the [Asheville] darkroom and I was like, ‘oh cool, I know how to make a silver print.’
MW: Is there where the cutting came from, wanting to be interactive again?
MW: How important is the process to you, vs. the final piece of artwork?
J.R.: To me, it’s all about the final piece. The tricky thing… I’ve never been the eye-for-detail, kind of OCD person, but yet, here I am now with my project, slicing tiny little strips and taping them!
MW: How is that? Sounds like it could be frustrating
J.R.: It can be. It’s kind of nice though, in the same way that making a silver print can be. It’s a process of patience, you have to spend time with it. I really enjoy using rulers, and exacto knives… the tricky part about that work is that it really is based on the experience of seeing it in person.
MW: Are you working in figital, as they say, film and digital?
J.R.: I do both. I don’t think the silver print process has a specific meaning, in relation to my projects, it’s just the way I’ve chosen to work. I do think that black and white darkroom prints look much nicer.
MW: What are you working on right now?
J.R.: I just took a couple of portraits, so the next installment of the “Cut-in” series is going to be a repeat of portraits, it will be the same image, but cut in different ways…to make the viewer do a couple steps of movement…one might be side to side, or up and down, and maybe I can figure out some sort of spiral, I’m trying to figure out how I can make my viewers do a dance while their looking at my work.
I have for all of my life built bridges. In regards to these bridges some were thin, some of a medium build, and others fat, the fat ones oft-constructed of rope and wood and leading to houses populated by fathers with no children and serviced by milk maids, dressed in aprons and lederhosen, present for the fathers’ consumption when the mood strikes. A number of my bridges have been planned, executed, and construed of metal and wired string that hangs in the air like dental floss threaded through popped popcorn and girders cut into cloth resembling sails, or hung blankets. My bridges have been used to connect cities, and residences of great and wondrous eminences, and hubs of fiscal and military power. There are bridges of sheet metal laid over moats, capable of folding up into the castle in the case the wrong army happens to pass by. I have to my name bridges of barbed wire that no one can cross, and bridges of corrugated concrete that double as homes for the poor, and keep rain off of heads when huddled beneath. I once designed a small bridge between trees in my backyard that functioned as both a road between leaves and a hammock.
I built a land bridge in Asia to accomplish what the Great Kahn could not and declare to all the listening world I Am Here. I built a bridge of adobe in South America, to declare to the world You Will Forget Me, though they paid no attention. I built a sky bridge in Seoul that hangs between buildings functioning as an office smoking lounge for middle management, to declare Sit Down! Relax, and Enjoy Yourself as You Like! As a child wintering with my father in Canada, our home ensconced in snow, I built a bridge of ice to connect my window to Anne Cylinder’s window, that I might crawl across in the evening to hold her and share her warmth, to declare to her and any interested party I Will Be Present, No Matter the Obstacles or the Time of Day, When You Need Me. In a flickering moment of ingenuity I devised an escape slide and attached it to my bridge of ice, to reassure myself Do Not Worry, You Can Leave When You Desire. All my bridges are still standing, so that those prodigious members of the Bridge Builders International Fan Association (annual dues of $350.00, paid anew each January) can plan their vacations to visit my creations, that they might photograph themselves standing in front of one of my bridges and then send the photos as Christmas cards to their respective friends, family, and loved ones during the appropriate season. I have built bridges between the doorways of each of the mothers of my children, so that I can leave before the night turns to morning and they wake, yet never sleep alone.
Now I must be honest, and confess to the hating of each and every bridge I have ever devised. This is not the political answer, and is voiced strongly as a rejection of any and all waffling. Each completed bridge has been a mere shadow of the conceptual bridge, a short-coming between my frenzied dreams and the grubby construct that exists for the general public. And for that, I wish to sincerely apologize to all listening, from the bottom of my architect heart.
When I was only a child I did not dream of building bridges. I wished only to be a lover of the feminine ideal though I did not yet know how while drawing wage as a fireman, or astronaut, or caped crusader, or genius. Some may scoff and assure me I have been a genius, in the arena of the design and construction of bridges. I would accept such a compliment with thanks but a hardened heart, for there is no genius in the bridges I have built. There are neither Brooklyns nor Golden Gates. I am not, in my heart of hearts, a Bridge Builder. Though I have built bridges. And will again.
I will build one more bridge, a bridge that announces to the world I Am Done with the Work of Bridges and their Building. I have spent my years mastering the skills and intricate attention to detail necessary to complete my final bridge, the Bridge of all my bridges. When I was only a boy and not yet a mismatched Bridge Builder, I dreamed of building such a transport, or shortcut, as the one I have now designed. I will name the bridge The Thomas-Alexandria-Philpot-Katarina Bridge to Tomorrow, after my four bastard children, each of whom have taken their mother’s maiden name and thus are recognized by the world as Thomas Quintana, Alexandria Blownose, Philpot Adjunct, and Katarina Templeton. The foundation of the bridge will be composed of metaphorical rainbows, as opposed to true rainbows, which are not load-bearing (the true rainbows will resemble flying buttresses, though only for decorative effect). The bridge will begin in my backyard, and scale upwards for hundreds of feet before sprinting off into the horizon. The bridge will be made of stone and dreams, the weight supported by shaved concrete slabs and black ivory. You will travel across the bridge, stopping to picnic or catch your breath at one of the liberally-placed benches or rest areas, and at the end of the bridge you will find heaven, or Oz, or your childhood hometown, a town that will seem the same as you remember it only somehow warmer, and greater besides, the city limits extending to all of your tomorrows. When the bridge is done, I will rest in my house and take a nap. There will be snacks for the first 100 travelers to begin the crossing. I will serve French Vanilla iced-coffee, with breakfast scones ordered from a nearby bakery. Instead of a suit, or construction helmet, I will wear a bathrobe tied loosely around my waist, my hair tied into an orderly grey ponytail and my chest hair ironed and curled to perfection. We will finish our cups of coffee, place our dirty dishes in my already-forgotten sink, and walk across the bridge together. Holding hands will be optional and left entirely to your discretion.
Max Paradise lives in Northern Virginia. It snowed there recently.
Photoplays : creative film-writing using images or dialogue from the film re-arranging it over images in the film to find meaning felt but not explicitly said in the movie …
as played by Ross Wilbanks.
I have walked past this abandoned home in the NoDa district with it’s Hitchcock spray paint stencil for years. It was always comforting to see it as I passed to some other destination.
I believe the home has been totaled as have most of the art galleries, bookstores, and other places of general gathering, those places that are open to the public without $ being involved.
Interview by Molly Wilbanks on December 15th, 2013.
Furious Season is a Charlotte literary arts zine produced by Shannon Kid and Coleen Muir, now with it’s fourth issue in print. If you’re looking for something to have and hold in your grubby paws, this zine is recommended. You can contact Furious Season directly for a copy. After having fun at the reading, I made time to sit down with Shannon Kidd at their Dialect Design studio. Here is what was said:
Molly Wilbanks: How did you and Coleen Muir meet?
Shannon Kidd: We worked together about a hundred years ago as tutors at UNCC in the writing lab and while we were there– it was one of those great jobs that we were too young and stupid to appreciate– we actually did some creative writing groups while we were there, and that was our shared interest, and it was one of our bonding points. This was probably, realistically, 10 years ago. That set the blue print for what became Furious Season even though none of us knew it. So, we were developing the writing lab and helping students and getting them involved in creative writing, and then she and I, and another friend, for years after that, after we weren’t around the workshops anymore and didn’t have that benefit, we just kind of had a DIY workshop, and that was really beneficial for all three of us. Then Coleen was in New Orleans for a while, and she got an MFA…. during that time the other friend, Brandon Wright, worked with me on the first two issues as we developed the zine, and then he moved onto other things, and then Coleen came back and it was just perfect timing.
MW: When did the first seed of Furious Season start, and how?
SK: I went on a trip to Asheville, just on a weekend, what I do if I need to go somewhere inspiring, which I think a lot of people do. Asheville has so many great bookstores, they’ve got so many great used bookstores, and I was going through trying to find reading material, and I saw that they had this wall of zines, and not just in the bookstores, but if you go to a restaurant, ‘How to Start a Vegan Diet,’, or ‘How to Start Composting’, and I thought, there’s all of this, which is great and totally valid, but why aren’t there any for straight-up literary arts? But it was inspiring, because I liked the format because it’s different from a journal. I think journals are great and I love what they do but zines, to me, felt more relevant to my life.There was just some kind of energy missing, and I thought a zine was the right format. I got really into reading a bunch of zines, and that’s the seed that got me thinking, how can we do this with poetry, and fiction, and art as well, how can we merge those into a zine format?
MW: Is the first edition of Furious Season the first zine you had ever done?
SK: That was the first zine I had ever done. I had no idea what I was doing.
MW: How did the name Furious Season come about?
SK: Through brainstorming, and from a couple of things: thinking about the Furies and how they function in literature and that connection, and thinking about seasons in my life, and really wanting to build something that felt really passionate. I felt like the name captured that and how the passion can change over the course of seasons. That is where I was coming from, and also, I just liked the name, and the way it sounded.
MW: I love it, I think it’s a great name.
SK: It’s cool, it has worked out because when we started we had a loose seasonal theme and would encourage writers to write about that, but I’ve stopped with that because, inevitably, whenever we publish it, in the Spring, Fall, Winter, Summer, the themes just happen naturally. The same thing with the art as well. The artist does their own thing, and the writers do their own thing and it always ends up coming together, and it’s really cool how that happens.
MW: You talked about being inspired by other zines, were you inspired by any other literary publications, or journals, or zines?
SK: There is Iodine, a long standing local zine, I thought, that’s cool, that it’s a local thing, and the editor of that has been invested in it for so long, the loyalty to local writers and literary arts is inspiring to me. Iodine is not really a zine though, it’s a journal and I think to do that, and have sustained that is really inspiring for Charlotte, because one of the problems for starting things here is that there is a lot of momentum but there’s not always a lot of sustainability. Iodine’s a publication that has done that.
MW: How long does it take to produce an issue of Furious Season?
SK: It takes a lot less time now that it did in the past. Amy Bagwell helped put us in touch with CPCC, so last time we worked with Christian who is a graphic designer, and he took care of that part, and that’s one of the longest parts because I don’t know anything about graphic design. I know in my head, ‘It should look this way’, ‘I want it to look this way’. Now, after we get all the submissions in, go through those, and finalize those, and that depends on what we have gotten the first time around, if we need to seek out more submissions because there’s never a deadline, so that part depends on what we have got for submissions. As far as the technical start to finish publication, that usually takes about two weeks.
MW: How is Furious Season funded?
SK: It is funded through donations, and out of pocket monies, which is another good thing about pairing with CPCC because the cost of printing has gone up so much, I thought, well, I can’t afford to do this.Their prices are much more reasonable… money shouldn’t be an issue. We have been talking about this and our goal for 2014 is to start applying for grants.
MW: What is your favorite aspect of producing the zine?
SK: Definitely, being able to do the readings. I really love it too when people who are just starting out publishing, just starting out writing, get to see their work with someone who has been doing it for a long time. It’s exciting every time, especially to people who just started publishing, or just put work out, and knowing that they found the right fit for their piece. I feel like that is one thing they get from the readings, we hear, “Thank you for taking this work”, it’s always something I am really, really excited about. Coleen and I are super picky, not pretentious at all, but just really picky about what we like, I think any editor is. Seeing the publications find a home, and knowing that it’s a good fit feels really genuine. That’s what keeps me doing it even when I don’t have any energy left.
MW: How do you find the artists?
SK: We’ve had one artist repeat, Jessica Collins… she has done two issues. She’s a close friend, and I love her work, I think it lends itself perfectly to black and white, kind of like a graphic novel. The others, people send us artwork in, or… it’s another one of those things that just happens. I’ll check out someone’s suggestions, and that’s how it’s been lately, a reference, or a recommendation.
MW: Do you choose local artists?
SK: At first it was strictly in Charlotte, but the local thing has loosened a little bit, if there is some connection to Charlotte, like the last artist, Graham Carew, he is from Ireland, but he is here doing a residency, so again, there is the connection to the city.
MW: How do you feel about e-books, and digital media, versus the printed word?
SK: I think I need to be more open minded about them, to be honest. I am pretty reluctant to embrace that… we put some things online, Coleen and I talked about putting the zine online, and I’ve been very reluctant to do that. I think there’s something that happens, there’s a reader relationship that happens when you have a printed copy in your hand, especially with a comic book, or a journal, it’s completely different. You don’t have the ritual, you don’t get any of the same things when you’re reading it online. That being said I do see how we need to expand our online horizons, but I don’t know if I’m ever going to be open to having it all online.
MW: I personally love it that you don’t offer the whole zine online. I think it’s great that it’s an object, you can go get it, carry it around, and see it on the shelf, that you don’t just find it online.
SK: That for me is important.You know, never say never, but I don’t see that changing, I think the online part could function as a supplement to the reading, but I don’t ever want it to be equal to. There are many people who disagree with me and fair enough. I just recently read a book on Kindle because I couldn’t get it in time for my book club, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I can see practically how these things work, if you’re traveling, it makes sense, but…
MW: What are you reading right now?
SK: I am about to start a Don DeLillo book with my book club. I just finished re-reading To Kill A Mockingbird because I taught it to my ninth graders, a lot of what I am reading now has been influenced by what we’re doing in school. I just finished re-reading Hamlet because I taught it to my fourth graders. Before that I was reading The Story of O, which was an interesting read…
Been trying to get this Christmas compilation done for a couple weeks and finally finished it today. Thanks to all of the artists who donated songs to this!
HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE!