interview

interview, visual art

Continuity with Emily Tat

  Continuity I , 2017

Continuity I, 2017

Artist and illustrator Emily Tat moved to New York with her partner this past fall. Her style incorporates ink drawing and watercolor, sometimes tracing her figures in water and allowing the ink to seep into the damp paper. Ralph Steadman is an easy comparison, and one that she invites. “It’s such a compliment because he is fucking amazing. He uses protractors to make these very straight lines and protractors to draw the eyes. But all around the figures is just ink everywhere.”

Her current style is a recent development in her artistic career. “I used to do photorealistic oil paintings. When I was doing my degree in my final painting course, I had a very specific style, and I felt that I had to stick to it. I got criticized very badly by the professors. So I decided to go another way and began making video art, but I never felt quite into what I was doing. Shortly after I started dating my partner, Guido, we were in his dorm room, he was playing music and I felt like drawing. He only had this calligraphy pen that I still use. It forced me to draw loosely in a way that I never had to before. My favorite thing about drawing this way is that I feel that I can be very abstract and mess around with overlapping colors and spilling ink. I also like it to be very clean, with lots of negative space around what I’m drawing. I never sketch things out, so sometimes I run into the edge of pages.”

  Guido , 2015

Guido, 2015

Portraiture is an incredibly important aspect of Emily’s oeuvre, and she strives to capture her sitter’s essence while keeping the form minimal and legible. “I think it’s important to get the form of something, and to keep its structure. At the same time I like to add these weird, abstract elements to it. I do it a lot with feet and hands, and to exaggerate limbs and fingers. It’s important to capture the structure of someone’s face. I was doing a commission for this couple, and they said they really felt that I captured both of them and their connection to each other. That is the depth that is important for me to capture in a drawing… What I’m driving for is for them to see the portrait and say ‘that’s me!’ I get frustrated with myself very quickly. If I feel that I haven’t captured someone it, then it really upsets me.”

  Galentines Day , 2018

Galentines Day, 2018

What captivates Emily most when portraying subjects are sharp and angular features, but capturing these characteristics is not her main goal. The ritual and process of portraiture is what attracts her to that type of work. “When I first started doing this kind of work, a lot of people asked to pose for me. It’s just really nice when someone wants that moment. If you think about it, unless you’re in a relationship with someone how often do you get to look at someone’s face? You forget things like what color someone’s eyes are or the shape of their nose. You only get to know that when you look at someone’s face over time. So it’s really nice to have that 3 or 4-hour period where I can take a friend, or someone I don’t even know at all, and really look at them. It can make someone very vulnerable if they are posing naked. People often do it when they want a bit of validation or a little moment for themselves. I think people often don’t get enough attention, and so it’s really nice to have the opportunity to give people that recognition.”

“Since I’ve moved here I’ve had some ups and downs, but I feel as if I am having resurgence” Emily said. She started making single-line drawings, creating still lifes and portraits without lifting her pen from the paper. “I really love it because everything that is in my head can just spill out onto the page. It’s very reflective of the medium that I use as well, because ink is very quick and you have to make decisions immediately.” Her subjects have also become more personal since starting these single-line drawings. Emily showed me a drawing of her and her friend Julia and a drawing of a jar of nutmeg. “[Julia] is just one of my most special friends in the whole entire world. Ever since we met, we have had this incredible friendship that’s never faltered. I don’t have that many friendships like that. Doing a portrait in this way is really reflective of how I feel about her. I enjoyed making single-line drawings of things that comforted me, since I had just moved here. Even though things are different and weird in this country, these drawings remind me of the things in my life that are continuous. It goes beyond relationships between me and other people. There are ones of certain foods that are special to me, because my homesickness manifests itself often through food. Guido and I have this jar of whole nutmeg in our kitchen. Back in London he kept banging on about how he wanted whole nutmeg in the kitchen and he couldn’t find it anywhere, so I found some for him we I went to the south of France. It’s this continuity from our kitchen in London to our kitchen here that mirrors the continuity of our relationship.”

  Nutmeg , 2017

Nutmeg, 2017


You can see more work by Emily Tat on her website.

interview

Getting Seen and Feeling Good with Joshua Byron

“I write a lot about what it means to go viral,” Joshua Byron told me somewhere in the middle of our conversation. The question of internet virality – or as Joshua also puts it, the question of being seen – is something I’d been wrestling with personally for months when it came to this very publication. Just as we decided to produce one final issue of Things Created By People, we got an email from Joshua with a pitch for their latest film project, Idle Cosmopolitan. It was a lucky accident.

Idle Cosmopolitan, which was recently re-released by glo worm, stars Joshua as a relationship writer who enters an alternate dimension. Relationships, romance, and their intersection with trans identity lay at the center of Joshua’s work, whether it’s one of their many video projects, their non-binary dating columns, Neurotic Dope and Trans Monogamist, or their book, NB Carrie Bradshaw.

Joshua is often at the center of their own work in a way that is incredibly intimate. It’s easy to believe that the Joshua you are seeing on-screen or in words is the Joshua Byron you’ll get in real life. But Joshua is a self-described “very intentional person.” While I am consistently amazed at how raw their work is, it is also thought out, curated, intentional. If you’re seeing a part of Joshua Byron, it is because they wanted you to see it. What does it mean to be seen? To seek out being seen, to then not be seen? These questions run through the core of Joshua’s work, and our conversation.


This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Joshua Byron: I think Idle Cosmopolitan came out of this desire to meld the sensibilities that I was exploring. I’d seen a lot of Sex and the City, but I also came out of this very experimental background. I really wanted to combine what I was interested in and the themes I was thinking through, which are usually very immediate, and usually presented in very autobiographical narratives, with something a little bit more abstract, and more like Haruki Murakami.

I think a lot of it came out of a desire to think through sex and love in a way that was more than one-note. It’s an experimental, semi-autobiographical narrative about not getting married at 21. That’s what the press release said. It’s sort of like how life devolves into these endless forks in the road. In this case, it’s about a relationship advice writer who keeps going left instead of right and gets dragged along by no force of their own. And not even just led by outside forces, but just ends up going into a queer world, which is sort of an alternate dimension.

Adam Cecil: I think the other way I saw it described on your website was “a ghost story about the queer world.”

Joshua: Yeah, that’s the easier way to blurb it. It’s a ghost story, it’s about an alternate dimension, and it’s about death, in a light-hearted way.

Adam: You were telling me that your book NB Carrie Bradshaw is not a diary. And it’s definitely not structured at all like that. But the quality of the writing is very much so ripped from the pages of a diary. How do you keep that quality when you’re curating and condensing and editing?

Joshua: I think it’s a very careful distinction, and it’s something that I’ve thought a lot about. Okay, so, vulnerability. How is it different in terms of art, right? Because we always think this artist is giving themselves to us. It’s sort of a strange metaphor that we have when somebody’s being open. But I really don’t think it’s true because they’re giving us an object, and that’s it. I think vulnerability is much more reciprocal, it’s much more unfiltered. But an object, you can’t ask it a question. You can’t get more out of it than there is.

For me, it’s much harder to labor on an object that feels vulnerable, but you’re not giving your whole self. You’re not dumping a diary on somebody. A book, while vulnerable, is not the same. I can give you something, and you can see me, but I can’t see you. And I can still hold back.

Adam: But for somebody who’s reading it, they’re playing around with your vulnerability without you there. To me, that’s terrifying.

Joshua: Right. There were a few things that I took out from the book that I was like, “That’s too vulnerable for this context, I don’t want this here.” But there’s nothing in there now that I would think, “Oh, I hope somebody doesn’t read this.” Different people have said, “Wow, I would never have said that.” But this is just the work that I do, the work that I do requires it. This is the tool, this is the medium. Some people work in shapes and colors, and I’m thinking through vulnerability.

Adam: You’ve created a lot of video work under the guise a vlog. Thinking about your work being diary-ish, I’m wondering how you conceptualize the vlog as a medium or art form.

Joshua: My college thesis was on vlogs.

Adam: Oh, perfect.

Joshua: But I am not good at vlogging. Part of what I discovered through thinking through vlogs is that it’s meant for a certain kind of person, it is meant for a certain type of experience. And it’s not an experience I’m good at giving.

But what’s equally important about vlogs is that they’re diaries. They’re not political. They are easily disseminated. There is an emphasis on production quality, and on the attraction and intimacy that is maybe sexual with the person who’s speaking. And maybe they have an accent. That’s another big part of the vlogger. It helps. It doesn’t hurt.

Oh, and usually they have a vague side-project that they try and launch eventually. That sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. The vlog is not the means to an end. It’s always a vehicle for a person or a brand.

My vlogs were more of a means to an end. It was just like, “Here’s the vlog. Here’s what it is.” And I don’t fit a lot of those qualities! But I wanted to see what it was like. Also, I was more interested in using vlogs as a collage space. I was really into Jonas Mekas at the time, when he was doing his video a day project, which I thought was much more engaging than the typical vlog culture.

Of course, there’s also the whole trans vlog community, which has its own collectivity. But it also has that sort of self-destructive, like, certain people are privileged more, certain trans bloggers get more views, etc. So it’s a more contested space that still has all the things about the internet that are controversial. One of the things I discovered, which I don’t think is that surprising, is that white vloggers are getting the most views. It’s also usually the ones who look like they can pass the most, or who have the most inspirational story while looking good doing it. Which is kind of wild!

There are people who have the inspirational journey video, where they show pre-hormone, post-hormone videos. A lot of people feel comfortable doing that, and the people who feel comfortable doing those videos are not wrong for doing it. If that’s how they feel good about their journey, that’s totally valid. But I think for people who don’t transition, or who don’t have the money to transition, or who feel really volatile about pre-hormone or pre-coming-out pictures, those are not the kind of videos they’re going to put up. But those are the videos that the average viewer wants to see, because it’s spectacle. The kind of videos that get privileged are the spectacles, which have this tie to sex.

Adam: Let me back up a little. Thinking about what makes you a bad vlogger – you list out these qualities that go into a vlog as a medium. How did you tackle it knowing that you don’t fit these qualities and knowing that what you’re doing is not what everyone else is doing?

Joshua: I was really interested in the idea that it was a way to keep working. It was a great way to be like, “Okay, this doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to be great.” But it’s a great to keep cutting those artistic teeth.

Some were much more interesting and engaging than others. There’s this one where I’m just walking around my living room, and I’m just yelling at things. And then it’s cutting between pictures that I drew. Then there are a few clips of the outside. I think part of it was that I was thinking about domestic and non-domestic spaces, and how are we authentic in different spaces, and how does that change when you collage them together.

I was super into Steve Roggenbuck at the time, so I was thinking through things like who gets to be viral, and what is viral. I wasn’t viral for a number of reasons. But I think that became less important as I was experimenting with collage, and experimenting with, like, “This vlog feels good, this vlog doesn’t, and why is that?” If you’re going to adhere to the rubric, then what makes a good vlog?

Adam: When you started, did you want to go viral?

Joshua: I don’t know if I wanted to go viral. But the goal wasn’t to just have them sit there on YouTube and not do anything. Which is kind of what they became. I did it for six, seven months, and then I realized that it was not how I liked to work.

Adam: If you had gone viral or achieved some level of superficial success, do you think that would’ve changed the way you thought about it or approached it?

Joshua: I think I would’ve done it a lot longer, but I would’ve had to do it for a year or two before anything like that could’ve happened, so that’s already a huge block. I’m also not traditionally attractive, and I don’t mean that as a slight, just you know, in traditional beauty politics. So, it’s hard for me to imagine what that would have been like. It would have felt radical, and not in a political way, but it just would’ve felt like a very big change.

Adam: Do you feel like any kind of work that goes through social media, whether it’s YouTube or something else, is just inherently unsuccessful if it doesn’t achieve some sort of virality?

Joshua: No, no, I don’t think that’s true. But I also don’t think failure is a bad thing! I think failing at one sense of success isn’t the worst thing in the world.

I think people are heralding social media as sort of a democratizer – everyone could have success. But I think it’s actually just the same replication of publishing and media theory that we’ve always seen. Maybe more people have access, and there are great things, revolutions and scary things like that, but there’s still a level of capitalism. Lighting is money! I think that a big thing that Instagram has is that the right lighting is money. That’s a big of part of it – to either have the money to have great lights in your house, or to go to a space that has good lighting, which poor places don’t.

So, I think I’m a little cynical about how social media works.

But I don’t think it’s always bad. I think it has definitely given us things that allow more people to have platforms. Who’s getting that platform and how they’re allowed to use it, I think is a question that has kept coming up in my own work.

I think a lot about the practice of how I’m disseminating my work, and in NB Carrie Bradshaw, I write a lot about what it means to go viral. What does it mean to be visible? How is that connected to identity politics? How is it connected to emotional vulnerability? What does it mean if somebody wants to be seen, and then their Instagram only gets five likes? I think there’s something interesting there.

People may say, “Well, that’s dumb, they shouldn’t care.” But it’s a lot easier to say that than it is to feel that. I think being visible is one of the big human questions that we all want. How do we show up and get seen by other people in a way that feels good? I think social media can kind of twist that question into “How do we get seen?” Not, “How do we get seen and it feels good,” just, “How do we get seen?”


“I don’t think of social media as a medium that I use,” Joshua told me. “We’re accelerating, and my work is not fast-paced.” I admire this quality in Joshua’s work – in a world that is constantly moving forward, it can be nice to sit down and watch a video about a person walking around their living room and yelling at things. But it’s also the fact that the very thing that Joshua is working with – vulnerability – requires us to slow down. It’s not a recipe for massive viewer numbers on the internet, but as Joshua says, there’s more to their work than just being seen. “What does it mean to be seen, and what does it mean to have fun? Can that be the same thing?” Joshua asked themselves at the end of our conversation. “I think it can. It’s a less tangible but more inviting idea of success.”


Find more of Joshua’s work on their website.

interview, audio

Vardaan Arora: How OCD and India made a popstar

I have a playlist on Spotify. It’s called “Nat’s Perfect Playlist,” and it is perfect. I don’t know where on Spotify I discovered “Feel Good Song,” but I know it was immediately added to my pristine playlist. I couldn’t help jamming out to the sultry pop song while at work; I kept it on repeat. To my surprise, the artist behind the song was my age – and an NYU alum, too. He’d done covers before this, but nothing that circulated nearly as wide. My association of today’s top pop music with reality TV singing competitions, breakout social media stars, and the status quo musicians was expunged. You didn’t need a fanbase to sing a song and get people to listen to it. Just ask Vardaan Arora.

Natalia Lehaf: I heard your song on Spotify.

Vardaan Arora: Yeah, it was on a bunch of playlists on Spotify. It was on the “Mood Booster” playlist where it is gaining the most traction.

NL: That’s really cool. Did you upload it to Spotify and Spotify picked it up?

VA: I recorded the song in June in Nashville. I wrote it myself. I had worked with a producer named Kevin Leach I met in L.A. It all happened in a day. I had lyric and melody ideas with me, but it came to me in the studio. We released it the month after, because post-production took a few weeks. I had a release party in New York, with supportive friends and family who decided to buy the song – even though people don’t really buy music these days. I think Spotify picked up on people listening to it and has an algorithm that picks up on early adapter songs, and it ended up on viral charts. It’s crazy how Spotify helped put it out there; I use Spotify to find new music all the time. In terms of gaining exposure and traction, Spotify has been the most helpful. It’s also a testament to artists in 2016 – we can release something without a label and with the help of streaming services, like Apple Music, Spotify, and YouTube. So many people have been reaching out telling me that my song is playing at the bar they’re at or the store – and it’s really cool.

NL: What were you doing there in L.A.?

VA: I lived in L.A. for six months after graduating. I went to NYU for acting and the “New York vs. L.A.” decision is huge for actors. I wanted to see what it was like to live there. I didn’t really like it – I don’t love L.A. After living in New York, I can’t live anywhere else. I’m a very social person and it’s a lot easier to meet up with friends in New York than L.A. Who wants to drive for 45 minutes just to see a movie with a friend? Also, everyone there is in the entertainment industry. I like meeting people from all different walks of life, and L.A. was a little monotonous for me. Even the food. L.A. has great produce and Mexican food, but when I want different cuisines like Indian or Thai, New York is much better.

NL: But, one of the downsides to the city is the limited space. Where was your release party in the city?

VA: I got a suite at a hotel in the Lower East Side. I played the song a few times – not back to back, throughout the night – and gave a little speech about the song.

NL: What did you say in your speech?

VA: I gave them insight into the meaning behind the song. It’s an upbeat, dance-y, fun song that’s supposed to make you feel good, right? But the message behind the song is to bring attention to what it means to feel good on your own terms. Not: everyday is going to be a good day, and when you’re having a bad day, you shouldn’t be expected to feel good because other people are telling you to. A lot of pop songs tell you to put your hands up in the air, and this song is like, “No, I won’t do that because I don’t want to do that right now.” It brings awareness to mental health issues, like when you’re feeling down and depressed and people are telling you to cheer up, but it’s not possible for you to cheer up in the moment. So it’s like, “I’ll close my eyes and sing my feel good song” – so whatever that means to you, whatever you need to do to bring yourself up, you should do without trying to meet other people’s expectations about what feeling good means.

NL: Did anything in your life inspire the song, particularly its touch on mental health?

VA: Yeah, in 2013 I was diagnosed with OCD. I drew from different experiences as a result of that to write this song. It’s about taking it day by day, and knowing that the thing that's bothering you right now might not even bother you tomorrow at the same time. It’s through the institutional paths mentality of “just breathe and revel in it and acknowledge you're feeling this way but do not get sucked into it.”

NL: How has having OCD affected your life?

VA: It’s one of the most debilitating illnesses. It got to the point where it was really bad and I couldn’t do everyday normal tasks because I had to repeat certain activities and had to do compulsions, so I would never really be present in the moment. Obviously, being treated for it was super helpful and becoming more aware of how your brain works was super helpful. It’s chronic and it’s easy to relapse and fall into bad habits and do compulsions all the time, but it’s like a battle and you have to keep going.

NL: What are everyday tasks that you’d have to repeat?

VA: For example, if I had a negative or intrusive thought while I was entering a room, I’d have to walk out of the room and un-do the thought and walk into the room again. The same with sending texts or plugging in your phone. I just did a video with Project UROK talking about my OCD and reaching out to others who have it. A lot of times you feel like you’re alone, when you’re not, which is why I reach out to people on Twitter and join support groups for it. It’s nice to talk to other people who have OCD. And OCD is an illness that’s been murdered by the media because people say things like, “Oh I am so organized, I have OCD,” and it’s a completely different beast.

NL: How do you feel about people who trivialize OCD?

VA: I hate it so much. I know people who do it all the time, and I don’t say anything because I don’t want to be that guy who is, like, politically correct about a mental disorder. Because people say things like that all the time, like, “Oh, I am so schizophrenic” and “oh, he’s so bipolar.” And it’s like: Are you really? Is he really?

NL: Knowing that makes me think about the song differently.

VA: Oh, yeah, if you go back to the song and listen to the lyrics again, it makes a lot more sense probably. Because people think of it as, you go dancing to it – which is good, too, because I want people to think that. I don’t exactly want people to be going through the exact same journey when listening to it, but for me, personally, it means something different.

NL: So, you went to Nashville to meet this producer from L.A. and you knew the words and melody, but it all came to place in the studio, right?

VA: Yeah, so I’d get lyric ideas in the middle of the night, or on the flight over there, but it all came together then. He laid down a beat and I sang over it.

NL: How long were you in the studio for?

VA: I think four or five hours. We recorded the entire song in a few hours and then the next day I went into a different studio and tracked all the vocals there, so I redid the vocals. So it took one day to write the song and have a version for it, and another day to re-do the vocals. I was only there one weekend.

NL: Was that a lot of pressure?

VA: I would say yes if I thought about it, but I was so overwhelmed and excited that I didn’t see it as being a lot of pressure. That’s when I knew that I love songwriting, because it came so easily. It was interesting to see that my own song was stuck in my head a day after recording.

NL: It’s even more interesting because you have OCD and are still going through treatment for it, but you were able to create a three minute song in two days.

VA: So, OCD – what it does is try to give you intrusive images and thoughts that aren’t true but feel true when they’re in your head. If I get a thought, like, “everybody hates your song,” I would have to do a compulsion and make a list of all the people who like it in my head until I feel better. And that would make me feel good for about ten minutes until the thought popped back into my head again. The more compulsions you do, the more it reinforces the obsession. So while I was there, I needed to be on the phone with my therapist, but because I was so excited and passionate about writing this song, it helped me overcome the OCD. When something exciting and big happens, the OCD takes a backseat – because it plays with you when your mind is a little empty, too. People like to think about OCD as a monster that’s always yelling things at you, and if you entertain what they are yelling, they get bigger and bigger.

NL: So you recorded one song; are you working on more music now?

VA: I was in Nashville again last month. I recorded another song. It’s a little slower – still pop, still catchy – but I am using more of my lower register. It’s cool. I’m also working on a music video for “Feel Good Song.” That’s what’s next before the next song comes out.

NL: Where are you shooting the music video?

VA: In New York. I don’t want to give too much away, but I think it’s in a parking lot in Queens. The director is finalizing dates and locations now. There’s going to be a dance in it, which is cool.

NL: You’re from NYU acting, I am sure you have a lot of friends trying to break into this industry as well. How did they receive the song, and are you working with any of them on anything?

VA: I’m not working with anyone at the moment, but I am seeing a lot of people make their own stuff, which is awesome. I think that’s what people need to start doing – especially in the acting industry – you can’t just wait around for the phone to ring. It’s easy to forget why you chose to do this thing anyway, especially when you start to look at it as a business than an art form.

NL: I feel like so many people are waiting for their big break, but here you are putting your song out there on your own – no label, nothing.

VA: Yeah, you can get attention for your work. Obviously, you need to have the finances for it, which is the hardest part, but it’s possible.

NL: How much does it cost to record in the studio?

VA: It depends on the studio, but I know the studios in Nashville are a little cheaper because they are so many of them. It’s usually an hourly rate, like $70 or $80 an hour.

NL: I love the idea that in 2016 you can put your music out there, and I know there is some controversy with Spotify because they pay their artists very minimally.

VA: Yeah, I can’t say anything bad about Spotify because if you are up-and-coming you can’t afford to not be on a certain platform because they don’t pay you enough. You know? Because you don’t have the influence, you’re not Taylor Swift – Taylor Swift doesn’t have her music on Spotify and she says she is doing it for up-and-coming artists, but I don’t believe that. I almost owe my entire career to Spotify. Yes, they don’t pay enough – but think about all of the other great things they do for you, not just as an artist, but as a user. People would be listening to music illegally a lot more often without Spotify; people are listening to music legally in 2016 because of Spotify.

NL: Before this all erupted and you got this big break, what were you doing? Are you still pursuing acting?

VA: My student visa expired shortly after I moved to LA, because I am originally from New Delhi. So I moved back to India and I lived there for 6 months and then I got a green card and was settling back into New York City. While I was settling, I decided I really wanted to write a song and thought that if I didn’t do it now, when would I ever do it?

NL: You grew up in India and then came to New York for acting school?

VA: Correct. And through acting school, I’ve been able to get rid of my accent. I switch back whenever I am talking to my mom, though. America has always been one of my favorite countries to visit. I always felt like I fit in better here – with my sense of humor and taste in music, although now with this election I am not so sure.

NL: How did you decide on acting?

VA: I was always creative and always loved singing and acting from a young age. It’s something that’s always been a passion for me.

NL: I am first-generation and growing up with parents as immigrants allowed me a cool perspective of watching people acclimate to the American culture. What was that like for you?

VA: It wasn’t as hard as you might think. I found more like-minded people here, especially at NYU. I connect much better with people here than India. I also grew up watching a lot of American TV shows. What I am doing is not the norm in India. This industry is different from Bollywood – it’s more about the work than the glamour.

NL: How did you feel when you moved back to India? Were you depressed, after coming all this way only to have to go back?

VA: Yes – exactly. I was in limbo. I was just waiting for my green card to go through, and I hate waiting for things to happen. I applied for a green card when I turned 21 and got it when I was 23, so about two and a half years. I got lucky with that, some people have to wait a lot longer.

NL: Wow, and then you came here and got right to it.

VA: Exactly.


For more of Vardaan's music, check out his website.

interview, visual art

New York on a Canvas: Art by David Bransfield

New York City is not a place. It’s an experience. The buildings are high, apartments small, and streets overpopulated – but it never feels claustrophobic. Artists have tried to replicate its paradoxical beauty for as long as both the city and art have existed. And although the New York experience can’t be framed, artist David Bransfield has managed to bring his experiences of New York to life.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Natalia Lehaf: How do you describe yourself as an artist?

David Bransfield: This is a totalizing question that is never easy for an artist to answer, especially because at this point in time I seem to be interested in many contrasting ideas and mediums. Overall, I would say that the common thread of my interests is the experiences and memories involved in the creation and immersion of a space. My previous work has spanned from ideas about geometry to urban landscapes to extremely conceptual depictions of surreal spaces, and I think that all of these ideas have a very specific relationship to the individual viewer.

NL: What’s your background in art, both academically and personally?

DB: I have always been extremely curious as to how things are made, both from an artistic and architectural standpoint. My interests in both art and architecture turned into a career choice around 9th grade. I began attending an after-school art program on Long Island called the Huntington School of Fine Arts, where for the first time I was trained in the classical mediums of drawing, painting, and sculpting. I spent a couple years there and grew exponentially as an artist, and then from there I attended NYU as a double major in Studio Art and Urban Design & Architectural Studies.

NL: Your sketches and paintings of New York City are very lifelike and precise. What is your relationship with the city?

DB: I grew up on the Queens/Long Island border only 20 minutes from Manhattan, so New York is my home. New York has always had an intense influence on how I think about art and architecture. Coming from such a rich and diverse place, I have always been interested in the makeup of communities as an insular composition of like-minded people, especially in New York where there are still many ethnic and religious-based communities. What interests me is how each of these communities come together to form a larger area that many people consider the “melting pot” that is NYC, yet there is still a definite division between neighborhoods, each with their own character and influence on each other. It is the dissection of “micro” versus “macro” in terms of the individual and the community that I have been trying to dissect in my more recent work. I am also extremely interested in this in terms of architecture and urban planning as well.

NL: What’s your process like?

DB: I’ll talk about the process for my most recent series of paintings, which were 6 to 10-foot urban landscape oil paintings. I began by assigning myself a large urban area to explore, which in this case was Chinatown. Then I wander. I find that wandering instead of trying to seek specific spaces can sometimes be more rewarding. If you have too specific of a goal, you will lose all sense of exploration in an attempt to find this goal and you may miss many unexpected opportunities. I had a set of guidelines to follow (finding spaces with rich color palettes, graffiti, and interesting people) but I let myself explore within these guidelines. For my first several wanderings I simply walk around and document spaces. I then go through my photographs and choose spaces which I believe have the most rewarding compositions and environments, and revisit these sites several more times for extended periods to capture a specific scene I wish to convey in my painting. After I decide on a composition which I believe makes for the best painting (this could be a single photograph or an agglomeration of several), I then make a series of sketches to resolve any compositional issues. This entire process generally lasts about 2 to 3 weeks before I begin the actual painting. The paintings themselves usually take about the same amount of time, and I try to stick with just one to two paintings at a time so I can focus on them without too many other distractions. I find that, personally, if I do not complete a piece within a reasonable amount of time or if I stop and revisit the piece later then it often turns out fragmented. Other than that, I do not focus too much on setting rules for myself while painting. I often find that the painting itself will dictate the rules of its creation, and I do not set these rules until I have already started painting. Stylistic rules will sort themselves out as the piece is being created. In terms of completion, I never feel like my paintings are truly finished. It is really just a matter of reaching a point where I am comfortable stopping, which I know is coming when I begin to get sick of the painting!

NL: You’re out of the city and studying architecture at Yale now. Are you continuing to paint and draw?

DB: I am still practicing art here, but I guess it depends on your definition of art. I am doing a lot of drawing (not as much painting because it is not as relative to the practice of architecture) but the drawings I am doing now serve more of a utilitarian purpose in that they are meant to convey the essence of my architectural projects. I would definitely argue that this is still an artistic form because there are infinite possibilities about how you convey your project, which will ultimately determine how the architecture is perceived. In this way it is almost just as important to have a strong representation of your building than to have a strong building itself. I am also learning to become extremely proficient with computer programs and to bring together multiple mediums in a single drawing which is exciting. I hope that after my time in architecture school I will be able to mix my skills and concepts learned from both art and architecture and find a truly intriguing and original artistic path for myself.


For more of David's work, check out his website.

interview

The Rise and Shine of Amy Leon

Amy and I met at Friedman’s in Midtown West, both of us so insistent on eating chicken and waffles that we requested our waitress check again that the waffle machine was broken. We met just shortly after Amy’s audition for a play called The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World by Suzan-Lori Parks. Amy was in a euphoric state–one that even a broken waffle machine couldn’t curtail.

This would be the case regardless of a great audition, I would later decide.

“The casting director had already bought tickets for my show in August,” Amy said in a naturally booming voice. (Her show at Joe’s Pub, two months after our lunch, was a sold out performance.) This blandishment did not grant Amy a sense of security that would silence her prayers about the role. “It’s such an important piece,” she explained. “I haven’t been acting since I graduated, and this is the first role that I’ve ever wanted. I was like, ‘Wow. I can go be black somewhere?’ It’s not about me–and it’s important. It was written in 1989, which is crazy, because there’s a whole section of it that’s like, ‘I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.’ She wrote this twenty years ago and here we are talking about the same shit.”


In 2015, New York University asked Amy to perform at an event where Trayvon Martin’s mother would be speaking. As a gifted raconteuse, Amy felt a crucial obligation to say the right words–or more importantly, for Trayvon Martin’s mother to hear the right words. “Something that you see a lot when somebody dies–my mother just died in February–is people being very apologetic about your situation when they don’t know the full story. The situation demands pity. I don’t like pity.” She spoke with an élan that seized my motor skills and had me nodding along in consensus, deserting my ignorance of grief and its surrounding characteristics. It was not until a few months later, when I experienced a loss of my own, that I could understand.

“This is a testament of faith,” Amy continued. “The fact that this woman is going around the world and talking about her situation right after it happened. She woke up the very next day and had the same job; she didn’t win the lottery, nothing changed. She’s wearing the same clothes. She still has other kids. She still has to wake up everyday, sleep everyday, eat everyday. And suddenly everyone’s talking about her son, making t-shirts about her son, making fun of her son, making Halloween costumes out of her son. So what does she want to hear?” This wasn’t a question. She left no time for me to answer. “An identification of resilience.”

Amy performed her song “Burning in Birmingham” at the event. The song evokes the events of September 15, 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, a day when members of the Ku Klux Klan planted dynamites beneath the front steps of 16th Street Baptist Church. Four girls died that day. “But there were five girls in the bathroom,” Amy said, voice still booming. “And Sarah Collins is alive today, under 70, still missing her right eye. She lost her sister and her best friends all at once. Didn’t even get to go to the funeral because she was at the hospital. She’s still paying medical bills today. And she’s watching this shit go down? How dare she have to watch this shit go down. How dare she have to pay for this. Nobody knows about her because she survived. The black woman has been surviving all this time and nobody’s looking at her, and she’s continuing to see all this shit.”

Amy’s pain was exacerbated by the negligible status of black women in the country, a matter she portrayed in the music video for “Burning in Birmingham.” She released the music video for it a few days before our meeting in June. “When it came to making the video, I knew I wanted black women because we are invisible–black women are last on the totem pole.” Her argument was simple: at least the death of black men is televised. “That’s why at the end of the video there’s a lot more bodies than those four little girls because the death is cyclical. It’s still happening. It’s still going. I don’t know when I am going to see a day when it’s not happening, but I am prepared to speak about it. And that’s why it doesn’t end on all the bodies–because I am not going to be crying forever, I am going to melt, breakdown, and then I am going to come back here and talk to you. And even if that’s the only time that I am healing, when I am talking to you about it, that’s what I am going to do.”

Amy spoke of the place black women have in society not as an emotional or moral burden, but as a token of their longanimity. Their skin is dark–but more importantly, it is thick. Racism exists, but still, so do they. Amy had been called a nigger three times in a week once; an experience she could never share with her mother. Her mother, white, Jewish, six-feet-tall, with blonde hair and blue eyes, would never experience someone rolling down their window and screaming that word at her before driving away. Their different exteriors created an internal divide. “I wrote this poem called Learning this Skin and it’s an analysis about how my mother will never be able to identify with me. At no point in her life will my mother walk down the street and be called nigger. And that’s my mother. That’s my blood. And she will never be able to identify with me as a black woman.”

I imagine this disconnect to be more of a venial offense, one that neither Amy nor her mother can help. Still, Amy’s relationship with her mother is complicated.

Amy grew up in the foster care system. She had lived in 13 different homes by the time she was 7 years old. Her mother would visit until she was 9, when she lost her visitation rights. Each visit, Amy’s mother searched her body for bruises, and subsequently pulled her out of homes with every discovery. “I had a lot of shit go down on me in my sleep. I’ve experienced every type of abuse there is,” Amy said. This abuse continued throughout Amy’s life, until she was 18 and matriculated at NYU.

At 13, she was adopted into an impoverished home by a 75 year old lady. There were other foster girls living there. Along with the girls were other inhabitants Amy described as “dangerous people.” These people abused the girls, a cycle many of them have been unable to escape.

“There’s a pattern of sexual abuse as if the world knows that that happened to you without you saying anything; it’s like an energy,” Amy said. “I’ve seen so many of the people I grew up with get taken advantage of and not know that they can change their minds or get taken out of these situations. For a lot of people, they can’t get out of these situations, because if you don’t have money and the person who is housing you and feeding you is also abusing you–then what are you expected to do? I’d rather be abused than be homeless sometimes. What’s worse? I don’t know.”

Amy did not tell anyone she was abused until the adoption was finalized. Despite feeling unsafe at home, Amy was going to school, she had friends, she planned to go to college–she didn’t want to risk these normalities for another home. “I lived with my abuser until I was 18. When I said something, [no one] believed me. He went to jail for touching another girl and then they let him out and let him stay in a home with foster children.”

And what of the social workers tasked to protect her and the other foster kids? “No one was checking in on us, nobody asking the right questions… I understand that keeping tabs on all of these foster kids in impoverished neighborhoods is difficult, but that's your job. They make these important jobs impossible to handle.”

Amy arranged to meet her mother once when she was at NYU to get baby pictures of herself. She had never seen pictures of herself as a baby before then. That same year, she received a Facebook message from a short Dominican man. The message read, “Soy tu padre.” That’s how Amy found out who her father was.

Amy had God: “I’ve experienced a lot of things in my world and time, and just knowing that there’s more than me has been incredible. God to me is the moon and then sunrise and the sunset, that consistency. No matter what happens, the moon will be there. The sun will rise. And the sun will set. I can’t even rely on myself to be consistent in anything, so to be able to see that everyday is like, ‘Yo, God has to exist ‘cause who’s doing that? Who’s pressing rewind?’”

Amy had poetry: “When I was in the 10th grade, I joined an acting company called MCC, and their whole thing was writing about your life and making your life into art. My first performance piece ever was through it. It was my autobiography in 1 minute. Afterwards, adults came to me and said, ‘Thank you for saying things I don’t know how to tell my children.’  I remember that day like it was nothing. These two women came up to me, gave me a hug, and broke down in my arms. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I am still going home to this abuse but you just broke down in my arms and I’ve never done that before.’”

With these two counterparts, Amy had reason to celebrate the human existence. In this celebration, she is unapologetic and unfiltered. She talks about her shit, hoping that more people will do the same. And if they do, then she believes there would be a lot less shit in the world.

“If we could be more honest about all of our emotions and not just talk about joy–joy is amazing and happiness is incredible–but every single emotion is equal. If we paid the same amount of attention to the moments that bring us despair as the moments that bring us joy, then we remember so much more. You know when someone’s not really smiling–it’s scary that we can see that in each other, but refuse to acknowledge it.”

I sat across from Amy, stunned. Learning about her life made me unconsciously compare our narratives, wondering why the same God gave me my sheltered existence.

But, I knew what she meant–sensing sadness in others, surmising that something isn’t right, and choosing to ignore it. It always seemed easier that way.

I commented on this wisdom and bravery, referencing her past and alluding to her future–but before I could finish, she stopped me. “You’ve been through some shit, girl, it wasn’t the same, but you’ve been through some shit, too. I’ve been sad and you’ve been sad, we’ve both been sad. I don’t think there’s a range. And I don’t think I work harder than anybody, I think I am living my life and everybody else is living their lives. I try to emphasize to the kids I teach [at art workshops]: you are not your situation. Your situation does not need to define you. My environment didn’t stop me from living my life. The difference is just knowing that. Everyone can take the train from 110th street to 42nd street, everyone can do that. There are people I know who’ve never left the block, who’ve had four generations of their family in that one place; and while that’s amazing, I was just like: ‘When I was 16 I went to Paris and I found out that people look different, I wish you knew!’”


Last year, Amy got sick. She told me about her chronic migraine disorder, how it causes her to pass out and have seizure-like and stroke-like symptoms every single day. She’d seen seven neurologists in the past year. None of them had any clue what was wrong with her, where her problems began and where they ended. She had performed with this condition, and managed to continue performing while having seizures on stage.

At one point, she had to quit: performing and teaching, for fear of passing out on stage or in front of her students. When she wasn’t performing, she’d go to her roof and watch the sunset. The consistency of the sun coming and going, clockwork in the sky, was her obsession, her piece of God.


Amy had published two books when me met, and was about to start touring shortly after. She’d coordinated the tour entirely by herself, using Twitter to reach out to venues that follow other artists.

She’d been writing every day, for upcoming shows and a third book. She stressed that she doesn’t like submitting anything because she refuses to edit her work. “I will not edit my work. You are going to take it the way I want it. Absolutely not. I have no time. You can give me a suggestion, but I am not going to edit anything. A lot of people allow themselves to lose their spirit when things are edited, and I don’t do that.”

I asked her what exhausts her.

“The work. It’s really heavy. I feel everything so much. I become a sponge when good and bad things happen. It exhausts me but is also the most exciting part of my life. I want to speak to everyone after a show, but I need five minutes because I just threw up–literally–on stage.”

I couldn’t help but clarify. Do you really throw up?

“No. My experience on stage is a blackout experience. I don't really know what happens,” she said, before adding, “I feel so fortunate, I just started seeing words to music. You know synesthesia? Seeing colors? I did improv a few weeks ago and I felt like I was reading the air. I saw words in the air.”

Amy was flushed with excitement when we met. The prospect of acting in a production with words as profound and familiar as her own autobiographical work thrilled her. “If I die and no one has ever seen me anywhere in more than a 200 person venue, I don’t give a fuck, because it was permanent in your life. It was permanent in mine. That’s all I need. Thank you for letting me make things permanent for myself as an artist. You can’t tell me that I don’t exist if I am right here. And that’s why I need this part in this play! In it, there’s a character that keeps saying:

‘You should write this down. You should put it under a rock. Because when they find the piece of paper that you wrote it on, they can say it didn’t exist. But if you put it under a rock, they can’t say the rock didn’t exist. That’s nature.’”

Amy’s words, performances, and influence have an everlasting quality that bodies don’t. I realized that Amy’s reliance on the sun–its comings and goings–was a reflection of her. Amy was a beam of light. She fights the darkness of social inequality with honesty, faith, and love. Her egalitarian convictions are melodized in her performances. But she claims the base of her work is something else: “As artists, we are trying to recreate the colors of the sky changing–whether it’s in poetry, music, dance, or paint.”

Amy’s always looking up to the sky, her God, and reflecting it back down to us.


Amy's album, Something Melancholy, will be available on November 15.  A release party for the album will take place at C'mon Everybody in Brooklyn the same day at 8pm. For more information about Amy and her work, check out her website.

interview, video

Behind the Scenes: ​On-Going with Matilde Keizer

The journey began in Rome, Italy, home of Matilde Keizer.

Well, technically, the journey began – and will end – in New York City. That’s where Matilde Keizer and Trevor Silverstein met. And that’s where they sat down and plotted on a map all the places they planned to go when Matilde’s OPT student visa ended and she was kicked out of the country.

They didn’t start out thinking they were going to make a travel show. Initially, they planned to take a month and travel through Europe. Then, they decided to go to Asia. Then, they figured, “Why don’t we make something of this?” Career-wise, it made sense to them: turn this exile into an adventure; turn it into something big, something positive, something they can use for Matilde’s resume to make her a better applicant for the O-1 Artist Visa next year.

This was a creative opportunity for both of them: Trevor, in charge of filming and editing, and Matilde, starring as Matilde, the chatty, spirited adventurer whose clumsiness and unfiltered talking points separates this travel show from most others.

So, they left for Rome, which, again, is where the (on-camera) journey began.

  All images provided by Trevor Silverstein.

All images provided by Trevor Silverstein.

Natalia: Where did you guys film On-Going?

Matilde: We started in Rome. Rome to Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur, Penang), Malaysia to Indonesia (Bukit Lawang, Lombok), Indonesia to the Philippines (Palawan), the Philippines to Cambodia, Cambodia to Vietnam, Vietnam to Thailand, Thailand to Myanmar, Myanmar to India (Kolkata), and India to Berlin.


Prior to the release of their first episode, Matilde and Trevor released two sneak peek videos. In the first video, they divided all of the places they were visiting into four different categories: Muslim, wet, cold, and hot; this is how Matilde packed in Rome. She stressed the importance of good footwear, wet wipes, scarves, and - most importantly for girls - learning to hover. “You want to make sure you have a good stance,” Matilde explained, as she squatted in front of the camera with a backpack strapped on, pretending to pee without sitting down. “If there isn’t toilet paper, the drip and dry method you know,” she advised. “Drip as much as you can, step away, done - no problem!”

In the second sneak peek released, Matilde went over the contents of her backpack. This included her insect repellent lotion, Ibuprofen, and “woman’s bag,” in which she put all of the things she didn’t necessarily need but still wanted to bring.

She went on to express slight panic at the possibility of her contracting Dengue fever, followed by uncomfortable chatter about her planned wardrobe in Muslim countries. Already, it was understood that traveling with Matilde may be a constant vacillation between reason and frenzy. “Always be prepared; have lots of medicine for your gut and digestive system; conditioner does not abide by the laws of gravity; and only be half-crazy when you have the option,” Matilde concluded the video.


Natalia: Is there a storyline for the series?

Matilde: There is a storyline to each episode with definite arcs. It becomes stronger with each episode. We were developing our own voices over time. We went in with all of these ideas about comedy, travel, and sarcasm and as we went along, we had to be very natural about the way things come up. Each episode has a different tone because of that.

Natalia: What research did you guys do before setting out to each place?

Trevor: We did a lot of research, both in the time leading up to the trip and then just as much research as we went along. Most of it entailed having an understanding of the route we would take over the course of two and half months, which was complicated to figure out sometimes; the actual route we took changed a handful of times based on flight costs and what-not. We got most of our ideas of where we wanted to go as we looked into other places. We'd see pictures of a temple or read about a street food stall and say we have to go there.

Natalia: And did you do any research in terms of packing?

Trevor: Packing was kind of just considering the tropical climate and what else we might think we need. We also packed less at the start, fully aware that we'd want to pick up souvenirs along the way. And luckily, the amount of film equipment I had was so minimal it all fit into a small case that fit into my small backpack. I’m happy that the filming looks decent enough because we only used a GoPro. And I am happy that’s all we used because if I had to carry around a camera that was in any way expensive it would have made the trip miserable for both of us. One: it would have been heavy, and two: it would have gotten people’s attention. The GoPro is great because everyone has one and carries it around everywhere, so you blend in. There are times where I would be filming Matilde and no one thought anything of it and everyone acted fairly normal. The only time people gave us odd looks is when we pulled out our microphone. And three: cameras are expensive, so I would have been constantly paranoid about it.

Trevor carried the camera equipment around everywhere throughout the trip, which was ideal as nothing was scripted and they could film instinctively. This flexibility facilitated the capturing of raw, vulnerable footage. Matilde and Trevor were very clear about the honest tone they wanted the series to have. This was apparent to me immediately, as I watched Matilde sit in a beautiful mosque and discuss the explosive diarrhea she was about to have. “I feel that mutton in my button fighting to get out,” she joked, somewhat achingly. “I only nearly vomited twice,” she noted in another episode, after getting off a flight. It’s somewhat jarring to find such casually crude and straightforward dialogue in regards to travel and vacations. People share the beautiful sunsets, tans, and beaches. No one admits to the relentless bathroom trips after eating questionable meat from the local marketplace.


Natalia: I like the openness in Matilde’s character in the series. She is very relatable and uncensored. That’s unique to find in our increasingly filtered society.

Trevor: When you look at travel content on the Internet, you see all of these perfectly edited videos with pop songs and electronic music, and it’s this highly curated version of a place. We don’t have the equipment to do that and it would look really silly if we even tried.

Matilde: When people think of Indonesia they think of Bali and these beautiful beaches, but it is actually quite dirty. The water is dirty and there is trash all over the beach and there are all of these fires that are creating pollution. We went to a beach in Lombok that was really beautiful, and traditionally you would expect people to be like, “Oh my God, look at the amazing water!” But actually, it’s ignoring the reality that this country is in huge environmental struggle.

Trevor: People on Instagram post a picture of the perfect beach and people love it and they go crazy over it. But to find that beach isn’t easy. People can go an entire trip in that area without finding that perfect thing that everyone seems to post all the time.

Natalia: I really like that angle. Especially on Instagram, users make traveling seem very glamorous. It makes everyone want to leave where they are and go somewhere else. And here you guys are showing people that no, it’s actually really crowded, and the food isn’t as sanitary...

Matilde: But we also want to make sure to tell people: “Look, you can travel, you can go to all these places, but remember that the world is a highly complex place in which you’re not going to be able to get that perfect shot, but you can do all of these things and you can experience all these places and it’s easy and it’s not that expensive.” We want to be able to show that and to share the truth about what we’ve experienced.

Natalia: That seems like the essence of this travelogue: truthfulness.

Matilde: There is no pre-decided thing depicted; this is a product of experiencing things for what they are.

Natalia: Yeah, and the music and color schemes complement the tone very well. How did you decide on these elements?

Trevor: So the music in the series is personally one of my favorite parts. Everything you hear that wasn't recorded on location is from a Swedish company called Epidemic Sound. They source really high quality royalty free music and sound effects from independent artists/producers and then offer them on flexible licensing plans to creators. When I discovered the huge database of content on their site, I knew I needed them and luckily they were extremely accommodating and flexible to our low budget. Getting a license with them has been one of the most crucial aspects to editing the show. As for picking the music for each moment, we tend to gravitate towards sounds that have a slight sense of humor to them, but usually choose something that is tonally similar to what you're seeing on screen. For the color scheme, that was something that came about very early on when we first started planning the series. We came up with our very simple logo and the colors were picked after some trial and error. Something about the light pink and light yellow combo struck us and we decided to stick with it.

Natalia: That all worked out really well. Was there anything else in the filming process that ended up falling into place as seamlessly? Any moments you happened to capture at the right time?

Trevor: Actually, yeah. We were on a bus in Cambodia - a night bus - and it broke down. And even though Matilde was not in a good mood, I decided to film it anyway.

Matilde: I was not having it at all.

Trevor: It was also a really bizarre circumstance because the bus didn’t break down on the side of a highway, but in the middle of nowhere and right next to a small village where people were awake and husking rice.

Natalia: What time was this at?

Matilde: 1 AM.

Trevor: The bus didn’t leave again until after sunrise. We stayed for, like, four hours.

Matilde: And then it broke down again at the scariest rest stop I’ve ever seen. It was a square cement structure with kids running around in the mud.

Trevor: Night buses can be a risky venture. They are definitely one of the more popular ways to get around in Southeast Asia when you are in the mainland portion, like Vietnam or Thailand, but being on a bus in the middle of the night being driven by somewhat reckless drivers –

Matilde: All of the bus drivers were drunk and drove incredibly fast –

Trevor: It’s a long, long story but it was not good.

Natalia: Will we be seeing this in any of the upcoming episodes?

Trevor: No, not that. If we were ever in a situation where I was concerned for Matilde’s or my safety, I avoided filming.

Natalia: What were the different cultures that you saw? I am curious to hear about any of the poverty and feminist issues around that area.

Matilde: In India, there was one point where Trevor was walking and two little kids attached themselves to us and were grabbing inside his pockets. It wasn’t funny or cute; it was harassment.

Trevor: We tried to keep walking and for about three blocks they kept this up until finally an older bystander saw what was going on and told the kids to stop.

Matilde: Also, to me, one of the harder moments of poverty was walking by a very run down children's hospital in Phnom Penh at midnight with a long line of mothers holding their babies trying to get in, even though in my eyes that hospital was a scary place to have to bring your child. But of course there are very different levels of poverty in the whole region that we are otherwise blind to in the west.

Natalia: So, as white tourists, or you, Matilde, as a woman – were you treated differently anywhere?

Matilde: Well, people gawked at us everywhere because we were clear outsiders: bigger and white.

Trevor: Yeah, but the attention was always more on Matilde.

Natalia: I find that interesting. I feel like women in New York are accustomed to being cat called or gawked at, but I, personally, never experience that when I’m walking with someone else, especially not a guy. So I am surprised to hear you experienced that with Trevor by your side.

Matilde: In Kolkata, the way men stare at you and talk to you makes you wish for New York catcalling. Genuinely gets to the point that you feel naked from the way they undressed you on the street. I also felt that way a little bit in Indonesia. The roles of women in the region are very different from the way we experience life in the west, however in Thailand and Myanmar it seemed to me that women were working on similar levels as men.

Natalia: Did the language barrier make these situations worse? Or any situations, for that matter.

Matilde: It was really frustrating. I tried to learn “hello” and “thank you” for every place we traveled, but in Cambodia, for instance, even when we were saying things right, we were saying them wrong because we don’t have the same melody in our voices.

Trevor: But, at the end of the day, everyone really does speak English, and even if you couldn’t communicate, you found a way with gestures, tone, and body language.


Now, done filming and settled in Berlin for the unforeseeable future, Trevor and Matilde have new objectives in mind: editing and sharing the ten episodes of the season.

Natalia: What are the goals from here?

Trevor: First and foremost is to finish all ten episodes. Then, to get people to watch it. I’m still learning more about marketing and spending way more time than ever on Twitter and Facebook than I ever had in my life. The tough part about marketing is that you have to be doing it all of the time and I am focusing on editing right now. We are both new to this; Matilde has marketing experience, but –

Matilde: Yeah, from a non-profit film organization, so very different from this. But what’s our next move in terms of marketing is reaching out to press that might be interested in us and applying for festivals.

Trevor: We got accepted into one festival in Rome called “Roma Cinemadoc.”

Natalia: That’s great! Congratulations. With the filming and traveling done for the time being, were there any new perspectives about life you guys picked up along the way?

Matilde: A huge takeaway is to take an easier approach to life. To not take things in such a negative way. There is a joy in the way that people in Southeast Asia approach life that I took with me.


Watch and subscribe to On-Going with Matilde Keizer on Vimeo.

interview

Meera Lee Patel: “Creativity comes from curiosity”

We met at The Blue Stove off of the Graham Avenue stop in Brooklyn. It was only us at the coffee shop for the most part, but the intrusive sounds of coffee grinding in the kitchen forced us to switch seats after about thirty seconds in conversation. The meeting had been rescheduled a few times before due to Meera’s busy schedule, and I knew going into it that she would be pressed for time when meeting with me. And yet, I was five minutes late, as usual. Meera was unfazed. Immediately, I was struck by her aura of kindness. Somehow, within the first few moments of meeting her, I already felt like we were best friends. 

Something unmistakable when meeting Meera is that she embodies her art: colorful, delicate, welcoming. I was reminded of the warm, pastel colors of her work while in her company. Her paintings embody her; she embodies them. It’s symbiotic. I can hear the phrases and quotes she pairs with her doodles in her honeyed voice. The thoughtfulness and precision of her word choice when speaking is replicated in her careful selection of what to write with certain images.

She speaks from the heart and works from the heart. Perhaps that's why her favorite emoji is the sparkle; she even texts from the heart. 


Natalia: I did a lot of research on you before meeting.

Meera: Oh, yeah, there’s too much about me on the Internet.

Natalia: I saw that you went to Rutgers. What did you study there?

Meera: I studied English and Journalism.

Natalia: Cool. And then you started working on art more consistently after graduating?

Meera: I got a job in technical publishing and after about a year I knew I couldn’t be happy just doing what I was doing. So, I started drawing as a way to feel good about myself at some point in my week. I ended up creating an Etsy shop and joining the craft fair circuit and I saw there were a lot of people doing this for a living. So I thought, “If they’re doing it, why can’t I do it?” And that’s when it became a very real dream and since then I’ve been working on making it happen.

Natalia: Yeah, so tell me everything - when did you decide to quit your job?

Meera: I still have a job actually.

Natalia: No wonder you’re so busy! Are you still at the same place?

Meera: Yeah.

Natalia: How do you balance that?

Meera: I don’t know. I don’t, I mean, people ask me this all the time and I don’t know what to say because I feel overwhelmed consistently and stressed all the time. I guess I have the same fear that everyone has about making the leap, which is: I don’t want to do it at the wrong time and I don’t want to have a Plan B. I want to be smart about it and do something that’s good for me, because I’ve been balancing both for such a long time that I don’t want to take the leap and regret it.

Natalia: Do you think, financially, you’d be fine living off of your artwork, or do you need to be working your day job right now?

Meera: I don’t think I need to be doing anything. Sometimes I feel really conflicted about how I can do it all - so why not? Which is probably not healthy.

Natalia: Also, it’d probably stress you out if you didn’t do it all. Right? For me, I don’t like saying no to opportunities ever. I would rather give up sleep and my sanity to make it work.

Meera: Exactly.

Natalia: How do you spend your time on the weekend when you aren’t on the clock?

Meera: I used to be really adamant about working on the weekend all the time. I was like, “I need to do it. I need to do it. It’s the only way I’ll be able to go full-time.” After a few years of doing that, I felt really burnt out and my social life had taken a major hit. And, I wasn’t happy. I’m happy when I am making art but one thing cannot fulfill the other; it has to be a balancing act. In the last year, I’ve been making adjustments and making other things a priority. I think it’s frustrating because my journey is going slower, but it’s a lot healthier and I am a lot happier, so I think it is a nice trade-off. If I go more than two days without making art, it doesn’t feel good in a different personal way, so I just listen to myself and what I need.

Natalia: How long do certain pieces take? Does it depend on the size, I guess?

Meera: No. Depends on the content. A sketchbook piece might take 2-3 hours, and that’s just something I do for me - it’s not going to a client or in my portfolio, but I still want it to look a certain way. Client work can take, I don’t know, 20 hours sometimes. It’s not consistent, which is probably not good, but I spend whatever time it takes.

Natalia: I think it’s pretty cool that you dedicate time to pieces that no one else will see.

Meera: I mean, the sketchbook pieces are the most meaningful work I make right now - besides from book work. I am currently working on two new book proposals. Those are meaningful and for other people, too, which I love. The sketchbook pieces are just for me with obscure thoughts that I find beauty in. 


I had the chance to look at Meera’s books prior to meeting. There’s a total of four books, all published between April 2014 and August 2015. Good for One Mediocre Shoulder Rub: Considerate Coupons for Couples is a collection of coupons for couples to gift each other, such as “one evening of complete control of the remote.” You're Cute: Cards to Break the Ice is a compilation of what I consider to be pickup lines, but Barnes and Noble describes as “dating cards designed to cleverly capture the attention of someone new.” Either way, they’re cute and funny and probably helped a lot of people break the ice. Daily Zen spans over a year and encourages drawing doodles in order to gain inner peace. It’s filled with inspiring quotes and illustrations by Meera. In similar vein, Meera’s most recent book, Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration, is a self-help journal that also includes enlightening quotes and pictorial prompts.


Natalia: I saw that you’ve published books, most recently: Daily Zen and Start Where You Are. What was the process behind working on these and getting them published?

Meera: I was approached by the publishing company for Daily Zen after doing some smaller projects for them beforehand (Good for One Mediocre Shoulder Rub: Considerate Coupons for Couples and You're Cute: Cards to Break the Ice). They had the idea for the concept of the book and thought that I would be a good person to do it. It’s a daily journal with 365 drawing prompts and quotes on mindfulness. That was fun to do. It was fun to read so much literature to pick out what I thought would be beneficial for so many people.

Natalia: And then what about Start Where You Are?

Meera: Start Where You Are was my conception, and my idea, and my proposal. I wrote it and illustrated it. It feels like my kid.

Natalia: And you said you are working on two new book proposals?

Meera: Yes, so I haven’t sent them yet so I don’t know how much I can talk about them, but one is a children’s book and the other one is going to be another self-help nonfiction book for adults based on fear.

Natalia: A children’s book would be a new extension of work for you, right? What inspired that?

Meera: The children’s book proposal is inspired by my nephew because he’s a technology-freak and he isn’t even three, which scares me. So I’m working on a book that will be just as engaging, interesting, and interactive for him without being a sparkle of an iPad.

Natalia: Yeah, I see kids everywhere with their faces glued to screens and they all seem to have their own iPhones and iPads. Meanwhile, I just got an iPad and I think I use it once a week to watch Netflix in the background as I work. Technology has definitely come a long way since when we were younger.

Meera: For myself, I feel like it’s negatively influenced me in terms of comprehension, because I read so much stuff on the Internet now. And I feel like I don’t absorb it as well and I read things in a quantitative fashion as opposed to a qualitative fashion now. I used to read so many more books than I do now and I used to be able to recite them and tell you what was going on, and now I’ve lost that.

Natalia: Well, the nice thing about what you do is that it is so separate from technology.

Meera: That’s why I insist on working with paint. I got the iPad so I could do some stuff digitally, but I only used it once or twice because I don’t want to be on the computer - I want to paint. There are some things I’ve changed because of timing and efficiency, but I don’t think I am going to ever stop being a mostly traditional artist. 

Natalia: What about those shoes that you designed through Bucketfeet? I think it’s pretty cool that you are basically a shoe designer. Tell me about those.

Meera: So Bucketfeet... I’ve done two pairs for them - one is very simple, it’s just a bunch of brightly colored petals and then they just released my map shoes. They just came out a few weeks ago and I am so happy, they totally sold out. I’m actually doing an event with them at Facebook’s office painting custom shoes and talking about my work.

Natalia: So do people purchase the shoes and then you paint them?

Meera: I’ve done custom shoes for Bucketfeet before so I do a few designs that I think will work and then people will say “I love these” and I’ll recreate them. So every pair is a one-off.

Natalia: I can’t say this enough - you are really busy. You even teach an art class, right?

Meera: Right, through Brit & Co. They reached out to me in September of last year and I flew out to San Francisco in December to film the class. That was really scary for me.

Natalia: Really, why?

Meera: I feel very shy in general and everyone who meets me says I’m not but it’s taken me a while to be able to sit down, like with you, and open up and not feel self-conscious about it. My natural default stage is like a hermit. I like being alone and in my space. Some people like being surrounded by people all the time and that’s how they communicate, but I find that I communicate best through my work. That’s how I express myself best.

Natalia: Where do you get your inspiration? Any of the experiences in your life?

Meera: All of the experiences in my life. All of the people I meet. My friends and family, a lot. I try to make work that I think is meaningful and would help somebody else feel something. And I feel like the only way I can make that work is by feeling something myself. I like to make work that shows people that we are all the same and that we are all different and that there is something important inside of everyone, and that we should look for that.

Natalia: Your sister is a writer. Are your parents artistic at all?

Meera: My mom is super creative. She is a social worker. But she is a very good seamstress, knitter, crocheter, and she does embroidery. She’s always encouraged me. My dad isn’t artistic, but he is creative in so many other ways. He is very compassionate and empathetic. I think that has influenced a lot of my work, who I am, and who I am trying to become.

Natalia: I like how you described your dad as creative, but not artistically. How would you define “creativity”?

Meera: I think creativity comes from curiosity and the ability to see outside the way you thought things were. I think it can be applicable to any situation and any type of person. I think it’s such a worshipped trait in our world today and - not that I feel it shouldn’t be - but I don’t think it’s that rare. I think that everybody has it. Everybody has everything, right? You just have to cultivate it and nourish it if you want to. I don’t think creativity is something I’ve earned; everybody has it. I think what holds people back from being creative is fear and the inability to see past themselves. My dad is totally creative, he just doesn’t express it in the same way I express it.

Natalia: Is there anyone you’ve been reunited with through your work? Anyone from high school or another part of your past?

Meera: That’s a fun question. Yeah, tons of people. Tons of people from high school have reached out to tell me that they think it’s great what I’m doing or they love my work; or some people have reached out and said, “hey, I really like the person you’ve become and I want to be friends and catch up.” So, I’ve had a few friendships rekindled and it’s really sweet and it’s cool to see who people have grown up to be. And usually they’ve grown up to be somebody great. I think I feel strange in a lot of ways that my work is so exposed on the Internet. Sometimes I feel more uncomfortable when friends that I grew up with but are no longer in my life or family members I am not close to are looking at it. I feel more awkward about those people than people I’ve never met. I think that fear comes from being judged; like, this person knew me when I was 8, or 15, or 25 and what do they think about me now? I think it’s ok to feel those things as long as I don’t let it stop me from making my work. I think about it sometimes and I feel it sometimes, but as long as I don’t let it stop me, I’m ok with it.

Natalia: I feel like political correctness is essential for people in the spotlight now. I get the sense that a lot of people censor their feelings. Has that ever affected your work?

Meera: I had an internship in January with Today in Tabs, which is a liberal daily newsletter that is politically driven. I drew a comic everyday based on the news and at first I felt uncomfortable because I was all of a sudden taking a stance on things. I was letting people know my opinion on feminism or abortion or the presidential candidates. I mean, in general it’s hard to be offended by my work. It’s very feminine, affectionate, and open. The worst anybody could say is that it’s really cheesy or stupid. With these comics, I had a position and it was evident. Initially, I felt that I worked so hard to have an aesthetic and an identity with my work, and am I throwing that off? But, I got over it because I am a multi-faceted person and the ideas I express through comics are another part of me and I think they are just as important as the open and accepting and empathetic part of me. 

Natalia: As you and your opinion and perspectives mature, does your artwork mature with you? Are you able to see an evolution in your work aligning to your life?

Meera: Yes, when I was in high school, like 15 or 16, I made some dark, depressing, weird stuff. It was a lot of themes about death and hurt and pain. Those things interest me less now, which is why I don’t focus on them. I think life is really interesting; I think having the ability to feel so many emotions and not become ruined by them is interesting; I think realizing the importance of being able to feel the whole spectrum of an emotion is interesting. So I try to focus on that. I don’t think I only make happy work, but I don’t think I made destructive work. I went through some things that I thought were difficult for me, but I learned from them and I grew from them, and I made changes within myself from them. People have patterns, right? Everybody has patterns. And people will have the same experience over and over again, and I think the worst thing you can do is not learn from them. Most importantly, I’ve learned how to respond instead of react. I used to be angsty and resentful and I closed down a lot; now, whenever I want to close down, I stay open.

Natalia: Some people consider art to be lonely; how do you feel about that?

Meera: Yeah, I think art can be lonely. I think I learned that when I worked so much that I got burnt out and wasn’t paying attention to anything going on. Making art can be isolating; it depends on the type of art. What I do is very solitary and fleeting. It doesn’t feel good all of the time. I think that’s the trade-off. I think that life is pretty lonely, so I don’t know if art specifically is lonely, but I guess it’s one of the parts of my life where I face it the most. Some people face it at their work, or in their relationship, or at school - so I think loneliness is something that shows itself over and over again in different ways. On the flipside of art being lonely, is that it’s not. It’s connected me with so many people that I’ve never met and am never going to meet. I get emails from people all around the world and I’ll never get sick of people telling me that a piece that I made is helping them through a tough period of their life or makes them feel good. So that is very not lonely.

Natalia: Do you consistently set your personal bar higher every time you reach a goal, or do you feel satisfied with everything you’ve done?

Meera: There’s so much more that I want to do. I think it is easy to lose perspective and forget all of the things you’ve already done. I can be better at maintaining a better sense of perspective. It’s very easy for me to think, “I haven’t done anything,” or “this could be better,” or “this is taking too long.” If you ask me flat-out, most of the time I’ll tell you I’ve done nothing. Not because I don’t feel fulfilled - because I do - but it’s because I want to do so many things. And I want to say so many things with my work. I wonder if that ever goes away? I feel like everybody I know wants to do so much, so I don’t know if it goes away. There are a lot of different facets of illustration that I haven’t even touched yet. I want to do huge murals. I want to make street art. I want to write a novel. I want to write poems. I want to do paper products. And, you know, more than I’ve done. I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling that way, because that’s why I make stuff. I don’t think that’s going to go away. 


You can find more about Meera’s work on her website, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

You can purchase her work on Etsy and books on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

audio, interview

Art Collision: Kaela Garvin & Julia Pugachevsky


Transcript:

MD: Welcome to Episode 2 (who knew we’d make it this far?!) of Art Collision. I am your host Michael Doshier a.k.a. Johnny Darlin in musical land. And in this episode of Art Collision, I sit down with Julia Pugachevsky, creator of the web series "Life After Fat," and Kaela Garvin, co-creator of the web-series "2 Girls 1 Asian." Julia and Kaela are both friends of mine from college, but their creation and release of these series’ came as a shock to me as a friend and fan. Somehow, despite just graduating school and carrying demanding day jobs and pursuing other artistic endeavors that I did know about, these two friends of mine were suddenly releasing these seemingly massive, highly collaborative, sleek-as-hell projects that I’ve always been deeply intrigued with. Where did they find the time and the funding and the casts and the inspiration? How personal were these projects to each of them, and what were the themes they were trying to explore? I couldn’t wait to find out the answers to these questions, but even more importantly, to see what happened when placing two strangers in a room together who had undergone similar processes to deliver very different, yet equally stunning, results. With, of course, some free-flowing Blue Moon, as always.

This is Art Collision: Kaela Garvin in Conversation with Julia Pugachevsky.

***

MD: Today I am here with Kaela Garvin of “2 Girls 1 Asian” and Julia Pugachevsky of “Life After Fat.” Thank you both very much for joining me today. In both of your series, you’re very much exploring the idea of identity. That’s evident from just the title of either of them. I’m curious why you chose that particular identity to explore and where that came from in your psyches and minds.

JP: For me, “Life After Fat” came from – I haven’t personally lost a lot of weight, but I’ve had friends who have, and who had sort of similar experiences where it’s sort of… adjusting to this new body, and feeling like there’s this definitive “new you”, which I strongly disagree with. I think as a society we teach women especially (but men as well) that once you transform into a new person, your life will be so much better and work out. That’s sort of the core of the show – exploring that aspect of it, and finding out who you really are in this way that isn’t being perfect all the time, or being thinner or having better skin or whatever it is. It’s a matter of finding that original person in all their new forms and tying them together.

KG: That was something I really liked about your series – and it was so subtle and cool – was that, it’s not just people who are overweight or underweight or going through weight change that face body image issues. It’s everybody. You see that in all the characters in their relationships, so I thought that was really subtle and cool. We chose to focus on racial identity because me and my friend Kelly who created it, it’s something we always talk about. We’re both half-Asian and we’re usually the two People of Color in the room – if not the only ones, there may be someone else of a different race. But we are usually the only Asian people in the room. So there are a lot of micro-aggressions that go on all the time. There’s this persistent American idea that being Asian is “other” and “foreign” no matter how long you’ve been in the country. There’s also all these other crazy things that men say to Asian women online, in-person, on the street. The other day in Chelsea, there was this guy just yelling “Ni hao” at me for forever. Twice in one day! I walked past him two times and maybe he was yelling “Ni hao” at everybody, but I don’t think so! So, yeah, for us it was the obvious thing that if we’re creating avatars of ourselves going through the world, something that we connect to as friends and artists when we’re working in a room as diverse as they get, race is a thing that comes up a lot for us. So we took that and ran with it, and took it up to 100 in the series, but it was something that was real in our lives.

 Julia Pugachevsky.

Julia Pugachevsky.

MD: Both shows are based in New York City – you both live in New York City and they feel like New York shows. What does that backdrop add to the show?

JP: When I started “Life After Fat,” I was around 21 so I was super into Girls. I still am; I still watch it with a more critical eye now (especially when it comes to race and inclusivity, although I think Lena Dunham has grown a lot as an artist) but when I first saw it, I was so amazed. I think because I had never seen someone who looks like Lena Dunham portrayed in a sexual way. Or, a way that’s earnest and not the punch line of a joke. And I just love the style of it – they had these friendships that were not always perfect and even catty sometimes, which I think can happen in your 20s. The people you think are your friends are perhaps your friends for the wrong reason. There was something about the grittiness of it I loved and I found kind of real at that time. During the first season of “Life After Fat,” that’s definitely true where there’s a little bit of jealousy and cattiness and everyone’s struggling to find a job. Coming out of college, in addition to any weight transformations or personal changes, you also have the change of not being supported by your parents anymore and having to make a name for yourself, having to make a life for yourself. All of that combined, being 20 in New York is maddening; it really is. It’s a struggle.

KG: Both of our series look at being a woman in New York City, going through daily life, interacting with this crazy huge metropolis which is the best place in the world but at times super “other” and scary and isolating. For us at least, it was an obvious choice – we met here, we live here. The filming it, perhaps, in one of our hometowns (Kelly is from Maryland, I’m the from San Francisco Bay Area) – we’re both from total suburbia. So the situations we find ourselves in may even be more aggravated because they’re less frequent. I think here, there’s a fast-paced thing that makes every event seem both more significant and less, depending on how your day’s been.

JP: That’s very real. I also like that you gave that nod to Hannah Horvath in your pilot. That was so good, and I was thinking the same thing. It reminds me of the opening scene of Girls where the parents are like, “We’re actually cutting you off.” It reminded me of both Girls and Broad City – in Broad City, you have them both skyping each other, and you’re both having these Skype conversations with your parents at the same time. It’s like, surreal and hilarious but also feels so, so real at the same time. Your friends are just with you in these very strange times.

KG: With our real parents messing up their lines!

MD: That was one of my questions! Those were your real parents?

KG: Yeah, we did it before Aziz! (laughs) No, we skyped both of our parents in their houses in Maryland and California to film that scene and my dad was reading a paper and you can see it! You can see that he’s doing it. And one of my friends messaged me and was like, “So your dad hasn’t memorized, huh?” Sorry!

 Kaela Garvin.

Kaela Garvin.

MD: Dad was not off-book. Do your parents watch the whole series?

KG: They did! Actually in the mid-season, it starts with an episode where we have period shits and we’re in the bathroom and Kelly’s farting a lot. My dad, when I went home for Christmas, he was really mad. He was like, “We only watched two minutes then we turned it off. You should really think before making material like that.” But then he was like, “Yeah, well, I don’t know, it’d be easier for me to swallow if it was like a dude doing it.” And I was like, “That’s why we’re doing it!”

JP: I so agree with that too. In the pilot of “Life After Fat” there was a joke that people always comment on. One of the girls talks about sneezing and her tampon falling out. I don’t know, it’s something that I’m so excited about when I see female web series creators, because I think that’s something we need to tackle. You know, like, why is it only in Judd Apatow movies you have guys doing gross stuff or being weird? I feel like Broad City is something that I’m very, very excited about for that reason too. Women being kind of like the guys, cause we are. There’s no rule that we can’t be this way. I think showing that vulnerability, both series’ have that in common where you’re showing women being themselves and fucking up and it’s okay and it can be cute, even.

MD: I wanted to talk about my favorite episode of each one. I’ll start with you, Julia. My favorite episode was “Brunch” largely because of the interaction between Lauren and Ellen. To me, it speaks to the existential dread most artists – at least myself – have which is worry that I’m not doing enough. In that scene, she was literally told she wasn’t doing enough. It was poignant and hard to watch, and weirdly inspiring because you could tell she was going to go out and do more.

JP: Yeah, originally Ellen was supposed to be Russian, like an Olga or something. My parents are from the Former Soviet Union. I used to take music classes at this Russian Music Academy. There’s such a difference and it can be a lot harsher. I think having parents that are Ukrainian and not American – they would always criticize other parents of my American friends, like, “What is it with this country where we tell everyone they’re good all the time. That’s sick, that’s bad.” It’s weird; I sort of grew up in between that, being a kid of immigrants. It’s always like, “if you want to do something artistic,” and my parents have always been supportive of that, but they’d say, “You have to work for it. We won’t support you if you’re going to drink and fuck around and say you’re an artist.” So, I think that’s the message with that. Lauren is someone who wants to be an actor as so many people do, but her perception of what is trying hard is not actually trying hard. This woman, she’s older and more experienced, looks at her like, “You have everything. You have all this privilege, this time, this money to actually put into something. Why aren’t you doing every tiny thing that you can when you’ve been given so much?”

MD: My favorite episode of “2 Girls 1 Asian” was the Super Musical Episode.

KG: We sort of came up with the idea while driving around in her car when she had a car in the city. She’s now in grad school back at home in Maryland, but we’d drive around and toss around ideas, which is where we came up with the whole season. We were super excited about the musical episode. For the first season, I’d churn out a draft based on an outline Kelly would give me and then we’d outline what each scene might look like. Then I’d go back and write it and she’d give me notes and we’d go back and forth and then our director and D.P. Dorian and Tyler would give us notes and rewrites. So it was very a collaborative process. The first draft of the script, though, the lyrics were not that super different. Then we realized if you want to use that music, it has to be a parody legally. So I went back and really hacked at the songs and most of those lyrics stayed which is what you hear. Then we brought on board a couple of great musicians – one is Lance Jabr, who I went to High School with. He’s back in the Bay Area now but at the time he was at NYU for grad school. And a guy I went to class with, John Franco, who is an amazing pianist. So we recorded it all in one of the actress’s apartments, actually, cause she at the time had a sound studio set up. So it was a lot of moving parts, but I loved recording it, I loved doing all the music, and Kelly and I both come from a Musical Theatre background so it was fun to be total dorks about that. It was a lot of fun to shoot, but it definitely sucked up the most budget and time out of any episode because we had to do so much for it.

MD: I want to talk about the ending of each season one of your series, how I interpreted it, allow you to expand on that or correct me if I’m wrong, and talk about the future of what these characters are going to go through in the upcoming seasons, as much as you want to say about that. I’ll start with you, Julia, the last scene of “Life After Fat” read to me as this amazing moment where our protagonist made a decision to change her life in a radical way. In her decision to approach this group of artists that inspire and challenge her and leave this guy behind that she is hanging out with – which is not something she had done at that point, she seemed very apt to hook up or date whoever made themselves available to her. It seems like her friendship drama with her roommate is out of her mind at this point and she’s committed to going to something new in her life.

JP: She’s sort of this character that has this new body but doesn’t feel attached to it yet. Partially because she never felt people liked her or accepted her for who she was before this change. She’s bouncing from guy to guy – you never know if the sex is good for her. She hooks up and does these things because she feels like they’ll validate her in some way. Regardless of if you have this backstory or not, I feel like that’s something a lot of women – myself included – go through. I’d say the early years of my 20’s were like, getting drunk and hooking up and pretending to have this emotional barrier of “I don’t care! It’s fine!” And pretending to always be the chill girl. Her exterior is that she’s not very emotional unless she’s pushed. Her brother sort of pushes her a lot and that’s the first time you see her break, really. She’s almost like, disturbingly calm. You can see it drives her friends crazy and they all worry about her. So I think this is a chance of her – seeing this beautiful thing, this Burlesque dancer, and deciding to take this chance and try it. It’s showing more vulnerability, it’s healthier, and it’s something that could promote actual self-love, which is something I want to explore. In season 2, not to spoil too much, it’ll be the first time she actually falls in love with someone and I think that will be something where she’s really exploring these emotions for the first time and allowing herself to be vulnerable in this very, very real way. That’s sort of where I want to see her character grow and really challenge her. It’s easy to be this, I don’t know, sort of like you’re floating above your body the whole time and not really interacting or reacting to things.

MD: That’s beautiful. (laughs) I was just really moved by that! I feel the need to take a risk in my life and totally shake things up! And then, for you, Kaela, I felt that the ending of “2 Girls 1 Asian” was kind of the opposite, but just as inspiring and moving. For me, it read that they had this moment where they could radically change their lives by taking a break from their friendship, but instead the moment they decide to give that a shot, they realize they are each other’s partners.

KG: We actually rewrote most of the last episode. We shot it all in a car on the road in Sleepy Hollow, New York. We scouted out the location the night before. We were like, “Eh, this script isn’t doing it for me,” so as we were talking we started to improve a scene until we thought we had it right for the end. It was always going to be that ending, though, of them trying to walk into the wilderness with their dead car by the side of the road. But looking forward, we did three more episodes as a mid-season that aren’t tied down to any storyline. They’re basically back in Brooklyn up to their normal antics. Friends are really your lifeline, especially in New York City, so in season 2 we’re trying to figure out some of our ideas, especially now that we’re physically separated. Our series has always been ludicrously autobiographical – we’ll take what’s going on in our real lives and totally explode that into something we think is funny, I don’t know if it’s actually funny, it’s funny-ish. But we’re hoping to look into what happens – and this was an idea pitched to us in a writer’s room for the midseries – what if one of the girls goes to grad school? How do they deal with each other gaining success without the other one? Maybe not even without, but separate. And that’s something that actually happened in our real lives, and I think we’re interested in looking into that and what that means for the fictional Kaela and Kelly.

JP: Something I love about your series and am almost jealous of in a way is that they have this beautiful friendship and it’s a love story. It’s platonic, but I think you’re seeing them overcome these things together and they have conflicts within that friendship, but you can’t see one without the other. I think seeing one person succeed, especially with acting where it’s so…it can be so raw, all the emotions of pursuing an artistic career in general. Seeing one friend succeed without the other is hard, because success is so rare in general. I don’t know. I’m so moved by the friendship and I love shows where there are two women where they are so close, nice, and real with each other. They have a real genuine friendship.

KG: I think that’s why it’s so cool to see so many lady web series popping up. Institutionally, there’s not funding for women’s’ projects. I feel that in this independent arts community is where women get to shine because nobody’s giving us money.

JP: Or a chance. Women are half the population if not more, in this country at least. TV and playwriting have more space for women, but even playwriting, on Broadway you see a bunch of old white guy stuff rehashed a lot. With TV, you have Amy Schumer, you have Samantha B, you have Broad City, and you have Shonda Rhimes. You have all these women in power doing these cool things and it becomes this thing where webseries’ are getting picked up. If you are good enough, they will notice you. And I don’t feel the same way about Hollywood. And I think even where I work – I work at Buzzfeed – I love that we have so many strong women and I’m allowed to do stuff that’s content for women. I think the Internet web series realm is a really great place for female creators to thrive. For female filmmakers or aspiring filmmakers and writers – make something, put it on there, and be so good that they can’t not notice you.

KG: I think in general, artists, self-production is the way to go. It’s great that the Internet is around to publicize it. But it’s such a weird time to be an artist cause there’s so little real public funding and private funding is, you have to be commercially viable which translates into white, straight, and a dude. Which is like, so weird, that that’s…most of the world is not a straight white dude so why is that the entertainment they think makes money? They’ve shown if you make a series for Asian people or Black people or women, it’s going to do well. If it’s good.

JP: Tons of admiration for you cause you’ve done so many episodes. I was going through YouTube for "2 Girls 1 Asian", I was like “Holy shit!” They’re so long, too, with so much footage! It’s so much work, I was like, “Holy fuck, I have to get my life together!” It was so impressive and so great. I love your friendship with Kelly. It’s so cute and real.

KG: Yeah, I loved your series as well and I can’t wait to see more of it! I’m excited for season number 2!

JP: We’ve been so delayed…

KG: I feel like that’s Rule #2 of working in film. If Rule #1 is “Be Organized,” Rule #2 is “It’s fine if you’re not, cause no one else is!” Well, not really, but –

JP: It’s a beautiful mess. You have to fuck up a lot to get better. That’s the number one thing I’ve learned – you’re going to mess up two hundred times then maybe start getting a little bit better.

***

Thank you so much to both Julia Pugachevsky and Kaela Garvin for joining me for a cross-web-series discussion on Things Created By People’s Art Collision. Season 1 of Julia’s “Life After Fat” can be viewed in its entirety at lifeafterfatseries.com. Season 1 and the mid-season episode-thruple of Kaela Garvin and Kelly Colburn’s “2 Girls 1 Asian” is at 2girls1asian.com.

Both are moving forward with their second seasons in 2016 and have laid the groundwork – available right now for you to watch - to be exploring very enticing territory this year. Both shows come highly recommended from your loyal host here at Art Collision who would never steer you wrong.

As always, please hit me up if you are interested in being paired up with another artist and coming over to share a few drinks with me and another artist. It would truly be my pleasure and just an FYI – I ALWAYS provide the drinks, so you get to drink for free and talk about your own shit!

All original music featured in this episode - outside of the music in the web series clips - was by the amazing JULIAN, and you can find JULIAN’s work at soundcloud.com/jalapeno_boi.

Until next time.