v2.i3

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.

interview

"Don't date me, I'm the NSA": a conversation with Mary Anderson

Adam Cecil: Do you want to explain, in your own words, who you are?

Mary Anderson: Hi, my name is Mary Anderson. I am from Florida. I currently reside in Brooklyn, New York, and I’m an artist?

Adam: Question mark?

Mary: Question mark. Yeah.


Mary Anderson’s work — whether it’s a performance, an installation, or a tweet — frequently takes everyday objects and places them into new contexts in order to examine our relationships with ourselves and with others.

Take, for example, her project “The X-Files.” Inside plain blue files — the real life version of something you might find on your Mac’s desktop — are complete logs of all of her communication with anyone she’s ever kissed. Emails, letters, mixtapes, Facebook chats — the contents of these innocuous files represent the entire written record of a relationship. When I look at her files, I think of the vague threat of a permanent record somewhere at my old high school. I think, too, of the crushing banality of bureaucracy.

It’s a theme that she also explored in her interactive installation “Office Space,” created with collaborator Kate Weigel. Here, art peacefully co-existed with half-empty boxes of CapriSun. There was a dead flower and a bed of dirt inside of a desk drawer. The X-Files, too, lived in a plain black organizer on top of a desk, surrounded by grey cubicle walls.

Both of these works explored the idea of voyeurism (which made her the perfect subject of an episode of Spacebook, my documentary web series that explores its subjects’ lives through object history), but they also bring up questions of public and private space in the Internet Era. Who owns a conversation on Facebook, or, more importantly, who owns a shared experience?

Mary and I sat down a few weeks ago to discuss that question, as well social media performances, Burger King, and what happens when you co-opt a puddle.


Adam: One of the things that I’ve dealt with in the past is finding a way to share a live performance in a way that’s more permanent. I’m wondering what you think about that and how you deal with that.

Mary: That’s such a difficult thing that I think about often. Really weird performances have so many aspects to them, and it’s hard to convey even through video or a written script of it. It’s almost impossible. They don’t accurately portray the event or the performance.

Recently, I’ve been thinking more about performance through social media. If the performance is through social media, then it’s a performance, but it’s also evidence of the performance. So if it’s both, it accurately portrays the intention more than just a piece of evidence of a performance where you’re still not clued in on what’s really going on. Who is in this performance? Were there specific moments where the performer interacted with people? That’s not portrayed in any of my stuff.

Adam: Do you think that looking back at the evidence of a social media performance is more accurate than, say, a video of a performance?

Mary: Yeah, definitely, yeah. Because there’s nothing that happens offline, really, so there’s nothing else to capture. In video, there are things that maybe the camera itself didn’t see or didn’t hear, and that’s lost. I guess that has a mysticism to it or a nice quality. But I think that when people don’t get the full story, they just get turned off by it.

Adam: But something is happening offline, though, right? Even if you’re just an individual person who’s like… I don’t know… an example that comes to mind immediately is that Periscope of the puddle. Do you know about that?

Mary: No.

Adam: It’s such an insane thing. But these people were in their office, there’s this big puddle outside their window, they called it the Drummond Puddle or something. I’ll share the Vice article with you, they did an oral history of it. But they just set up an iPhone and live-streamed it for hours. Almost half a million people live-streamed this puddle. And then it got to the point where someone went on it with a floatation device, and people were tweeting at him, and being like, “You’re a shithead. You’re a cunt. You’re ruining the puddle.”

Mary: Oh my God. That’s really funny, but also sad.

Adam: So, yes, if you save the Periscope video, that’s a record of it.

Mary: And those tweets are a record as well. But then what that guy experiences when he receives those tweets is not captured.

Adam: Right. All of those tweets exist out there, but how do you present them?

Mary: Yeah, especially since there’s so many media intertwining themselves together. You can be having a conversation that’s in reference to something that’s going on with Peach or something… even though that’s obviously a dead thing. Then you have all these different media, and what’s the best way to capture that? Multiple screenshots? That doesn’t feel right.

I guess the audience would have to just see each channel separately, looking at two paintings and acknowledging that they’re by the same artists.

Adam: To me, kind of like with this Vice article where they’re picking certain moments to share, you’re saying “These are the moments that defined the puddle.”

Mary: It’s curated, yeah.

Adam: Exactly. Inherently, by reliving it, you’re curating an aspect of it. For starters, there’s no way that one person who’s watching that Periscope can experience everything that’s also happening on Twitter, or happening somewhere else. Even if you’re following a hashtag or something. Anyone who is looking back at it later, it’s not the same experience.

Mary: Do you just accept that as part of the performance? This continual fuel of curation? Like, if it’s passed to me, I’m going to pull parts I think are funny, and then you’ll see it, and then you’ll pull parts you think are funny. It totally becomes something else.

Adam: As part of your live performances, there’s an audience there. And any performance artist is going to think, “Okay, the audience is part of this performance.” So I wonder, on social media, is there still that dichotomy between the performer and the audience? Is there a chance to break that barrier down even further?

Mary: When you say dichotomy between performer and audience in a live setting, you’re saying there’s a stage, right?

Adam: Even if there’s not, there is.

Mary: Even if there’s not, there is, right? So there’s me doing my thing to everyone else. Where in social media, maybe there’s a chance where it’s more person to person and that in itself is an artwork. It’s like me preaching or performing or acting to you or something, right?

I believe that could be a thing. I guess the thing that would stop me from totally agreeing with you right now is thinking about how many followers you have and how widely known you are. If I’m, I don’t know, Katy Perry talking to you, I’m going to be on the stage no matter what, right? Even if we’re just having a conversation, people are mostly going to be looking at me.

Adam: That reminds me of every time I see a Buzzfeed article that’s like, “12 Times J.K. Rowling Totally Owned People On Twitter.”

Mary: Yeah. And it’s like, there she is, she’s on her stage with her power. It’s about power, I think.

Adam: Thinking about that… I want to go back to the example of the puddle, but I understand that you didn’t see the puddle.

Mary: I want to see the puddle, though.

Adam: You have to go back. One of the things that happened was that Domino’s tried to co-opt it by having a delivery boy go with a Domino’s box—

Mary: Are you serious? That’s really funny.

Adam: It’s insane. Do you follow the Twitter account @BrandsSayingBae? It’s just this Twitter account that re-tweets terrible brand tweets that are trying to get in on these conversations, like Pizza Hut trying to respond to Kanye about liking anal or whatever. Why does Pizza Hut have to interject into that conversation? But it’s interesting because those brands expect to be the power player in that situation. Or expect to have the power.

Mary: But instead, they’re just laughed at. They’re the fool if they’re trying to get in on this. It’s just a weak attempt of branding or marketing.

People always talk about social media and the internet as the democratization of power. But it’s like… it’s still very much there and we’re all feeding into it in different ways.

Adam: Going back to before the puddle, what kind of social media performances have you done?

Mary: The first thing that comes to mind is a performance piece I did called “Come @ Me.” I would go to really big-name franchises like McDonald’s or the M&Ms factory or White Castle, where they have these really weird monuments of their mascot or their burger or whatever they’re trying to sell you. They’re just these weird, monolithic, ancient statues. In 2016, these things are really sad looking.

I would go in-person to these places and take weird photos with these objects, and then tweet at the company, and see if there was a conversation that would happen, or if they would tweet back at me, or if other people would tweet at it. I guess, projecting some kind of really personal loss or sadness onto such a huge, faceless company and seeing if they would respond. Is there sadness within that facelessness? Is this act of social media intervention a faceless act because they receive so many tweets all of time? Is it just screaming into the void?

There are so many things that could happen when you put something out in public. I think that’s interesting.

Adam: Did something interesting happen?

Mary: Yeah, so one of the tweets is based off Charles Ray’s Plank Piece, where he’s backed up against the wall, and the plank is hitting him and holding up against the wall. So I did that with these giant French fries that I got from Burger King. I tweeted the picture at them with the caption “You got me just where you want me” and #watchlikeaking because Burger King was having some kind of competition where they were like, “Hashtag this and you’ll get a lifetime supply of Burger King,” which I didn’t really want.

But they tweeted back at me and they were like, #satisfried. And I was just like, “Okay. Is this what you want?” It was such a funny remark and, of course, it’s a pun, and I’m sure they respond with that to other people. I responded with #saddestfry. And then they didn’t respond to me.

Adam: So, in this mode of performance, you’re specifically recognizing that Burger King has the power, and then challenging that?

Mary: Yeah, definitely. Like a little boy who throws a rock at the king.

Adam: But they still tried to co-opt that.

Mary: Yeah, just like you were saying with the puddle. They want to be in on it. They want to be cool. Even if you’re making fun of them, they’re like, “Oh, you can’t make fun of me, I’m going to tweet back and then I’m a part of it.” It’s like, okay, you could try, but you’re still the ass of this joke.

I also did a video on Instagram at the Myrtle Wyckoff Burger King. They have all of these weird cars because they’re going for a ‘50s drive-thru aesthetic. I pretended I was under the car dying. I put ketchup on my body. And this little girl who’s eating her Happy Meal or whatever is walking around the car and seeing me do this performance. She goes, “Mom, I think she’s making a joke.” And then her mom is like, “I don’t know, honey. Let’s go this way.” And then ushers her away from me.

Licking my wounds @burgerking #watchlikeaking

A video posted by mary boo anderson (@whoismaryboo) on

Adam: So the performance is not just on social media. The performance is also the act of taking it. If you didn’t document it at all, had just done it at this Burger King and then it’s gone, how does that change that aspect of the performance to you? What is the “pre-social media” part to you?

Mary: It has such a different meaning because I wanted it to be this funny thing that would at least see the eyes of the social media manager of whoever runs these crazy, giant social media handles. But if there’s no social media involved, then the only people who are seeing it is the employees, and the people around. It’s just not the right audience for this piece if social media isn’t a part of it.

Adam: But the social media manager is also just an employee, too, right?

Mary: Yeah, that’s true. But she doesn’t have to deal with this in person, you know? It’s less in her face. She didn’t have to clean up ketchup that I spilled. I didn’t spill ketchup, though; I left it clean.

Adam: Does the interaction with whoever the faceless person who’s running the account even matter? They’re reacting to it, but they’re reacting to it as the company, not as themselves. You’re both performing.

Mary: I like the idea of talking to Burger King, as a concept, instead of people doing a day job. Because people who see it on Twitter, they’re going to see it as @BurgerKing, not at their social media manager. It’s the idea of having this fictional conversation.

Adam: From what I’m hearing, it’s like, even though there is a physical reality to your performance, it’s really happening in this weird otherworld.

Mary: Yeah, it’s fiction. I’m participating in a poem or a story rather than real life. I’m trying to have this conversation with a monolithic presence that is not personal at all, trying to have a conversation with them about something real, even though you know they don’t care enough to respond or are trying to co-opt it to sell me something or sell my followers something. I think there’s something interesting there.

Adam: One of the things I wanted to ask you about is, when you’re performing something, and maybe twenty people in the world ever see it, in a way, statistically, it’s like screaming into the void. That throws away the idea that you can change the world one person at a time, which is one of the whole points of our… whatever. But on social media, the way we interact with social media can be so fleeting as well. It’s not nearly as immediate. The idea of the fictional artifice, it almost throws up a wall in-between everyone involved.

I’m wondering how you deal with that as an artist, just how different dealing with something that’s very physical versus something that’s not, that’s just totally fictional.

Mary: Online, yeah, I guess it’s fleeting. I’m sure more people will probably see this work on my website than they will on Twitter, because it’s just so far back there and no one is going to backstalk me that hard unless they’re just a stalker.

Adam: I’ll have to do it.

Mary: Oh, my God, yeah. I’m sorry. It’s on my site. Just take it from there. But yeah, I think you still have impact there. Even though people will realistically only see your tweet or Instagram for five seconds tops, that does make a difference.

I just met, recently, for the first time some people who follow me on Twitter. They reached out to me. “Mary, you seem cool. We seem cool.” And we met up. I’ve hung out with them for a few times. They took note that I was interested in the same things as them and they reached out. Somehow, it’s still possible to have a connection and make a difference through something as fleeting and mindless as scrolling through a feed.

It’s not as fun as a real performance, though. You get so much adrenaline; you can feel the people there. They give you energy, you know? Social media, you can’t give energy as easily.

Adam: There are two big pieces that you’ve done, “Office Space” and “The X-Files,” that I feel tap into this office work setting. I know, when you made them, you were a student, which means you weren’t working in an office…

Mary: I was, actually, a part-time work-study job at an NYU office.

Adam: So what’s your relationship with offices, with files, with those physical objects that then find their way into your work? How did that happen for you?

Mary: “The X-Files” came before “Office Space,” and it was just this random thing. It wasn’t even for an assignment. I was just talking to my friend Kate and walking down the street, thinking about people I’ve dated in the past, remembering them, and thinking, “There’s just so much stuff I’ve forgotten,” and feeling sad about that. I don’t really miss these people, though, I just miss knowing about them, knowing about the relationship we had.

Adam: Because it’s also your life. You’re forgetting parts of your life.

Mary: Exactly, and it’s such a scary thing to be forgetting parts of your life. So I thought, “What if I just start logging everything?” Really, manically logging every single piece of information that anyone I’ve ever dated or kissed or whatever has ever sent to me as an attempt to save or preserve what we had in some weird way. So I did.

Later, Kate and I were proposing a show. We like installations because we think they’re fun and more accessible to people who are not really into art. We were talking about weird spaces we could appropriate, and I was working in an office at the time in a branch of NYU, their insurance branch. They just had a bunch of cubicles all curved in towards each other. No one sat at these cubicles, and there were just piles of trash. They called it “The Void.” They would tell me, “Oh, go put it in the Void. No one knows what to do with that. Don’t file it. Just put it in there.” It was actually terrifying.

But anyway, I would do remedial work and would sometimes take some of their office supplies to make art. I had already collected so much office supplies, and Kate and I were thinking about how offices are such a weird, sad place. They’re grey, and people spend most of their lives there, and they’re filled with small talk and bad Keurig coffee, and dust, and sitting in chairs for ten hours. It’s such a sad idea.

As an art student looking at that idea, looking at life with an idealistic lens, you’re like, “I don’t want that to be me. That seems sad. Those people can’t be happy.” Of course, you don’t really know that.

But the idea of sadness, I think, is so greatly personified through an office. Especially this office. We created a consulting agency, because what do consultants really do? No one really knows, so no one was going to ask us. We called it “Grey Square Consulting,” which is a play off of the white cube, which is a gallery, and the black box, which is a theater, and the grey square is just a purgatory of both. We were playing with performance, but also playing with a white box, and art, and what does that mean? And, of course, playing with the idea of voyeurism.

Adam: What part of an office personifies sadness for you?

Mary: So much of it. The cubicles, the grey barriers between people in old office spaces. They’re so sad. I don’t have a cubicle and I guess most people don’t now, because everyone’s moving to open work spaces in general. Which is also scary, in a different way. With a move away from traditional office spaces, companies are like, “Oh, we’re going to have a band tonight. Let’s have a happy hour. Look, we’ll play a game.” And I personally feel, as much as I enjoy free snacks, that it’s just a way to get you to stay there longer and never leave.

Adam: With cubicles, too, even though you’re surrounded by fake walls and it’s claustrophobic, it is a space that you can carve out as your own.

Mary: Definitely. At my current work situation, I don’t have a place to tack family photos or to be by myself and know that no one’s watching me. You’re always on view for everyone. What does that do to your mental space? There’s almost something comforting now, looking at this piece. Maybe this barrier was the right idea.

Adam: That almost sounds like you’re describing social media, where you’re always performing and onstage. Going back to “The X-Files” — Do you have a filing habit? Do you file things? Is that a thing that you do?

Mary: No. I was at a job where I filed all the time, and I was always printing out labels and stuff. I actually used their labels and labeling software to make the labels for “X-Files.” But no, other than that, I can barely keep a journal. But I was just so dedicated to preserving that, specifically.

Adam: Do you feel like you’ve succeeded? As far as the goal to remember.

Mary: Kind of. I loved the objects so much, these files. I would have loved to keep them up, but I kind of let them fall by the wayside recently. I haven’t been putting stuff in them. And there’s so much that happens offline, too, that can’t be documented this way.

I e-mailed someone who is in “The X-Files” just the other day, just sending him a letter to say hi and catch up. He sent me a nice letter in return, and then he goes “P.S. none of the foregoing messages you received can be used in ‘The X-Files’ without my permission.” I never told him about it! He found out through a friend and he was not happy about it. I was just like, “Oh, man, I’m sorry.”

Adam: That raises an interesting question. Right now, digital privacy is a huge deal. And going back to that idea that everything on social media is fleeting, even though there’s a permanent record of it — in a way, “The X-Files” is playing with the idea of recording the internet.

Mary: Definitely. Don’t date me, I’m the NSA. Yeah, I e-mailed him back saying, “Look, I’m sorry. I just feel like it’s better with these things to beg for forgiveness instead of asking for permission.” And he hasn’t responded back to me.

But at the same time, who says that he owns this correspondence? Let’s be real, if he’s talking to me on Facebook, Facebook really owns it more than either of us to some extent.

Adam: You’re going to have to ask Facebook for their permission to use it.

Mary: Right — is Facebook going to get upset? It’s so interesting. Most of the other people don’t know. I asked one of my ex-boyfriends, because I gave him all of these mixtape, to take a picture of them for me. And he did. And he didn’t ask why, which was just stupid on his part. But in the photos of these CDs, you can see him with his iPhone in the reflection of the CD, which is so nice. It’s a nice little tidbit.

Adam: There is that weird expectation of privacy for these digital conversations that are both private and not private. What do you think the difference is between literally printing out a conversation or writing a poem using the conversation? Or writing a performance based on the conversation, using actual quotes?

Mary: I think people generally feel less naked when you make a painting or a poem of something than when you print out verbatim what they say. I think that’s a scary thing. Mostly, we give people the benefit of the doubt that they’re not going to use anything against us. The government, too, and Facebook. People just think, “Oh, what will they do with it?” They don’t really think much about it.

The other day, I was thinking about how I wrote a poem in high school where I literally printed out my Google search history. My teacher got really upset with me, saying, “This is not a poem.” What’s the difference between that and me writing a poem that’s just not just verbatim something?

In my eyes, they’re really not different. I think to the viewers’ eyes, as in to whomever I’m writing about or constructing art about, it makes a difference to them. That’s where things get tricky. It’s like when you write books about people, and you don’t really change their names, and there’s lawsuits. Who owns a shared experience?

In a way, it’s kind of unbiased to just print out everything. I’m sure there’s a lot of bad stuff I’ve said.

Adam: But because you’re presenting it, do we have a bias towards you?

Mary: Yeah, exactly. I do have a resume for each person, which is totally biased. And the people who see this are going to be people who know me, or somehow hear about me, right? So there’s that bias.

There’s a precedent of art like this, too. Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document, where she documented her child’s life for six years. And Sophie Calle’s The Hotel, where she went into people’s hotel rooms pretending to be a maid and taking pictures of their stuff. To me, I think there’s still no call. It’s so grey. But I’m sure the person who found out about “The X-Files” does not see it as grey. Do you have thoughts? Do you think it’s wrong?

Adam: I think it’s interesting. To me, I go into pretty much all social media or whatever with the idea that it could get out there, you know? Reading Jon Ronson’s book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, made me realize that you can’t change how people perceive things over the internet. If you present something and you think it’s funny, whether in private or even putting it out publicly, someone can find it really offensive, and then they share it with other people who find it really offensive.

Mary: Yeah, and then there’s a hate group for you.

Adam: I think the biggest example is just all women who ever say anything about feminism on Twitter. It’s just a breeding ground for all hatred.

Mary: #NotAllMen, or whatever the fuck. My God, the stupidest thing.

Adam: You can’t change how things are perceived. But social media is different. I’ve gone to performances where I’ve thought, “I don’t like that.” But I don’t think, “Oh, I hate that person.” I might not even think, “Oh, I had a bad time.” Because even bad performances are still interesting to think about. Whereas on social media, everything is a performance until it’s not. Anything where someone takes you seriously, or just twist it in order to make it fit their narrative… maybe that’s just a performance, too.

Mary: I’m with you on that. I feel like I have such an Edward Snowden mentality, where I’m like, “Look, everything I say is pretty much going to be recorded at all times.” Especially on social media. You know it’s there and will be there forever in some sense.

Adam: Hence, the wisdom of the auto-tweet remover.

Mary: But people are lulled into a sense of false security somehow.

Adam: Plus, the assumption that no one is ever going to go that far back into your history, right? But then there are those stories from when Trevor Noah was becoming The Daily Show host, and people pulled back those tweets from like, three years ago where he said some stupid, sexist things. But then the narrative becomes, “He’s sexist now because of these tweets.”

I think it’s a good example of the difference between a comedy performance on Twitter and comedy performance in a nightclub. If he said these things in a nightclub, people would’ve just forgotten about them, and he could’ve realized, “Oh, those jokes are stupid and shitty, and I shouldn’t be saying them.”

But now that they’re on Twitter, he might still have that realization, but they’re just there, forever. And then it’s like your entire history just becomes flat. There is no history. Who you are in the past is who you are, now and forever.

Mary: You were talking about when women tweet something about feminism online, and people attack this person… they were just saying something about their experience. It’s not necessarily a shared experience. In “The X-Files”, I’m saying something, but there’s another person directly involved. I feel like that’s so tricky somehow.

Adam: There is that weird thing with the difference between public and private online. Nothing is private. To me, just thinking about the amount of screenshots of text message conversations I get. What’s the difference between sending a screenshot of a conversation to a friend and putting it in a permanent art project or in a gallery?

Mary: Exactly. One person sees it or a hundred people see it. That’s still a tiny percentage of everyone.

Adam: And if the problem is that someone else saw it, then it doesn’t really matter how many people it was. The transgression is the same.

Mary: And maybe you shouldn’t have written that. Yeah. It’s all up for grabs. Even at work, I tweet about my co-workers. And it’s nothing mean, just things they say that I think are funny. I’ll tweet, “Coworker said this today,” just using capital-C Coworker as an all-encompassing identity. It’s just the idea of a coworker.

But it’s not the same as screenshotting someone they said. It’s kind of like I’m extracting it. It’s more like me writing a poem.

Adam: It becomes a performance around the idea of what a coworker is.

Mary: Definitely. The idea of an office space. The idea of coworker. The idea of Burger King. It’s more fun to think about them that way. Even the idea of an ex-partner is kind of nice. I guess they all become ideas once it’s over, you know?

Adam: And just the act of curating or putting it away becomes art and abstracts it to a certain degree. Even a printed off Google search history…

Mary: It’s still abstracted. It’s still curated. It’s still very specific to that day. And it’s still a screenshot. Even if it didn’t take critical skill, it’s still an idea. You don’t need skill to create art.


You can find more evidence of Mary Anderson’s work and existence at her website and follow her on Twitter to get her latest social media performances delivered right to your phone.

essay

Thin and Beautiful

You and I are not the kind of women who can forget that we have a weight problem. That’s just how it is.
— Therapist to Joanna, from Thin For Life

This is the story of how I turned into that person.

Timeline

In the 2nd grade, my doctor told my mother that I should be put on a diet. I remember being offended that the doctor told my mother as if I weren’t even standing there. In fourth grade, classmates remarked that they wouldn’t want to see my body at a pool party. By seventh grade, I was called Fat Sarah or Whale by at least three or four boys daily on the school bus. On AOL instant messenger, several students anonymously told me I was chunky or ugly. As a sixth-grader, a friend’s brother told me I should be nice and skinny like our other friend, Christine. I didn’t see a reason to have any self-esteem, which resulted in tenaciously holding onto a middle school boyfriend that dumped me seven times. When I finished eighth grade, I was down to 137 lbs through extreme dieting. After drinking alcohol with my cousin at New Year’s, she showed me how to throw up on demand. Thankfully, due to having a friend whose teeth had decayed from severe bulimia, I didn’t feel compelled to purge very often.

In my sophomore year of high school, I was back up to 160-165 lbs. By 11th grade, I was down to 145 lbs thanks to Weight Watchers. By this point I had started exercising consistently. At Weight Watchers meetings, I was shocked to meet a woman who confessed to eating in a bathroom at her lowest point. I couldn’t understand how someone could ever get to that point. By 12th grade, I was down to 137 lbs. I realized I could eat less than Weight Watchers allowed so absurdly I started counting how many bites of food I allowed myself per day. I was terrified to see that this diet may have become mainstream five years later.

Through my freshman year of college, I dipped to my all-time low of 134 lbs, before I finally ended the school year at 157 lbs. My weight skyrocketed as I tried to save time by skipping the gym and I mistakenly believed I might be able to eat “like a normal person” and maintain my weight.

Eating like a normal person quickly turned into an excuse to eat everything I had craved and denied myself the past two years: pop tarts, peanut butter and jelly, Reese’s peanut butter cups, cookie dough, bagels, ice cream, even vanilla frosting. My diet had become so terrible and so embarrassing that I did what I once found unfathomable: I ate in the bathroom stall of my science building. I didn’t want anyone to ask me what I was eating (peanut butter and jelly mixed with cookie crumbs). I avoided mirrors, a scale, and any other signs which may have forced me to face the truth. The idea of having regained the weight I lost was so traumatic I continued to wear my “skinny” jeans even when I had to unbutton the zipper after sitting down for long stretches of time. I continued to wear those jeans even when they ripped open at the inner thighs. The holes were barely noticeable when walking, but I remember wearing them to the airport twice and getting patted down by the same woman. I can’t imagine what she was thinking when she pressed her gloved hand on my jeans and felt two gaping holes twice.