Prague-based filmmaker and photographer Robert Carrithers chronicled New York City in early eighties, a ceaselessly inspiring period marked by a lack money and overabundance of creativity.
The Fotograf Gallery, located in Carrither’s current home town, will be exhibiting his photographs of the East Village staple Club 57 through April 20. The exhibition will culminate in the shooting of a film about the Prague performance scene in an attempt to transplant the legacy of the long lost era of the Big Apple’s artistic heydey into today’s Czech capital. “As we were putting up these photos, I realized a lot of these people are no longer alive. I wonder what would they say if they were here now in Prague 2012.”
Club 57 originally occupied the basement of a Polish church and, in a rather fitting twist of fate, has since been converted into a psychiatric institute. The club was an underground art haven fostering various artistic media and numerous eccentrics, including Klaus Nomi, Keith Haring, underground filmmakers Scott and Beth B and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Here, Robert Carrithers, witness to three solid years of the club’s reckless abandon, takes us through his colourful images – snapshots of those magical moments when art, music and passion go into overdrive.
“John Sex was an artist who developed into a perfomer and left the art world behind, whereas Keith Haring was a performance artist originally at Club 57 and developed his artwork here. John started with burlesque and performed with his python Delilah. One day it escaped and they had to evacuate the whole building. He was an underground superstar in New York and got big in Japan. Unfortunately, he got AIDS, like a lot of these people who are no longer around.”
“This was taken on the women’s toilet at the CBGB’s. Tish and Snooky had a shop called Manic Panic in New York that was the first punk clothing shop that opened up in 1977. They were in a punk band called Sick Fucks. This is how they used to dress when they used to perform as nuns.”
“She was known as the mushroom queen. She would have a big box of mushrooms which she would throw into the audience. These were not normal mushrooms. She moved to New York with John Sex. I would visit them and ring their bell which said ‘Wild Sex’.”
“I met him doing graffiti. He would sign it ‘Samo’, but there were several of them. I met them and said “Who’s Samo?” and they all said they were ‘Samo’. I would see him on the streets of New York in the morning and take him for breakfast. He continued doing graffiti for a long time but then all of a sudden he disappeared. Several months later I saw him dressed really nice and said: “Hey Samo, how are you doing?”, and he replied “I’m not Samo. I’m Jean-Michel.”
“She loved New York and would DJ and play with her band Malaria! at Club 57.”
“Initially he was cleaning the floor at the Mudd Club and gradually made it to coat check before putting on shows there. He started as a performance artist and would do these little drawings on the wall of Club 57. He then started to do them in New York subways and he would get a lot of recognition because it wasn’t usual graffiti. He did his first show at Club 57 where he painted on the wall one night. The next day they painted over it.”
Electronic Beats: Could you tell us about the film you are working on here in Prague based on Club 57?
Robert Carrithers: It’ about two fun Prague/Czech performance artists, one male and female. They are obsessed with Wendy Wild and John Sex and want to do performances and have a life like they did in the New York ’80s.
You also photographed Prague in the ’90s. Do you see any parallels between the NYC scene of the ‘80s.
Prague in the ’90s was a wild time, but it was a different thing completely from New York in the ’80s. Prague in the ’90s had more to do with a sudden change, extreme hope and optimism and anything is now possible after the Velvet Revolution. New York was about a creative scene happening when there was no money. A lot came out of New York from that period. I am still asking myself what came out of Prague in the ’90s, maybe we will still see.
‘New Acts of Live Art 2012’, the closing party for Robert Carrithers’ Club 57 exhibition, will take place on Friday 20 April at Prague’s Fotograf Gallery. Along from various performances, Carrithers will also be shooting his new film on location. Find out more here.
all photos used with permission of Robert Carrithers
In the jungle of digital communication, user generated content? has become increasingly designed for temporary consumption; here today, gone (or irrelevant) later today. That is, until the posts, tweets and streams of digital consciousness are turned into books—a somewhat bizarre measure of the literary value of new media. For British poet and blogger Rick Holland it‘s clear that as users become innovators, the content of their digital narratives isn’t just becoming more complex, it’s also being taken more seriously. Fresh from his musical collaborations with Brian Eno, Holland took time to skype with author and new media expert Steven Levy on the development of electronic storytelling and the relationship between digital literacy and digital literature.
Rick Holland: Steven, in anticipation of our discussion, I’ve been writing down ideas non-stop on how new forms of digital literacy have changed conventional literary narrative. After a lot of brain bashing I’ve reached the conclusion that writing poetry or novels these days hasn’t changed all that much, but the process of amalgamating things to write about has changed enormously. The ideas we collect and how we collect them—where we cull them from—seems to me the domain of real evolution.
Steven Levy: I agree that writing a book or telling a larger story hasn’t changed all that much in the past few years. But the daily forms of communication and storytelling have changed drastically, and?I think that affects how we think.?I think our brains are hard-wired to respond to narrative and storytelling, so it’s not surprising to me that we construct narratives out of all possible forms of communication and expression, and that’s why platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs and instant messaging have become such rich wells of ideas: because they each present different forms of spontaneous narrative. It adds a lot of adrenaline to the production process?when you know how quickly you can reach a massive audience by posting something in one form or another. And posting or tweeting doesn’t benefit from careful rewriting—which is otherwise key for a certain kind of written excellence.
RH: Your last sentence about rewriting is particularly interesting to me. When I was growing up, I always thought that anything in a book or recorded on a tape or CD had reached this level of authority that was so removed from the world that I lived in. I never imagined I could reach that world. These were musical or literary narratives I could access but I could never really take part in. In the past few years that barrier has come down dramatically. For me, there’s a real kick in publishing and posting things in their imperfect form. Somehow the world is starting to understand that maybe being wrong, and being wrong publicly, isn’t such a bad idea. And while some get their knickers in a twist about privacy, slowly people are also starting to understand that there isn’t so much about them that is so unique or so important to protect.
SL: I grew up in a lower middle class section of Philadelphia and the idea of breaking into the world of print and public storytelling seemed just as unrealistic for me as it was for you. The thing is, I actually can pinpoint the moment for me when that barrier between “authoritative” media and what I could produce at home completely burst. As a kid, it was always the concept of ital?ics that got me. I couldn’t produce them on my typewriter, and even later when I started writing for newspapers, I would still have to underline stuff for the printer to know that it should be in italics. But only a professional typesetter could really do that. Then I saw the Macintosh computer while writing an article about it for Rolling Stone. I remember we all gathered around this thing in the office and were blown away by how you could set something in italics with a simple mouse click. And that, to me, was the first step towards more professional self-publishing. Now the tools are all accessible, but they’ve become harder to master.
RH: I would never say I’ve been able to “master” any aspects of digital technology. I’m still very much a consumer in that sense. But what I have been able to do is use the technology that other people have developed and refined to air my own ideas in a way that remains . . . live. At least in terms of the editing process.
SL: I think you’re being modest here, Rick.
RH: New forms of digital literacy basically help different people with different skill sets to get together far more easily than in the past… and produce hybrids. For me, that’s the single most interesting thing to emerge from new technology. Although my last big collaboration with Brian Eno came about from meeting in person, not from trolling online.
SL: Brian Eno casts a big shadow in the digital world, as well as in music and art in general. I was involved early on with the Whole Earth Catalog and Eno was good friends with editor-in-chief Stewart Brand, so our paths would occasionally cross. I remember his participation in this thing called the Cyberthon, which was put on by the Whole Earth people around 1990. It was a twenty-four hour virtual reality happening, so it had this media-art bent. These days we’ve become far more interested in augmented than virtual reality, but back then all things “virtual” made a big splash.
RH: What’s the difference between augmented and virtual reality?
SL: Well, virtual reality implies that you’re tricking your senses to think that you’re in a different world. You’re putting on a helmet and gloves perhaps and replacing your sites and sounds with an artificial environment. Augmented reality is more like adding a layer of digital content to the existing world, like holding up an iPhone to the street and seeing Yelp reviews floating in front of restaurants. It’s interesting that virtual reality never really caught on all that much. I guess people don’t really want their senses completely hijacked.
RH: No, they want their say, too. I recently spoke to somebody who’s developing technology for interactive music, where your environment, heart rate, and personal input all affect the piece you’re listening to—not unlike Eno’s Bloom app or Björk’s new album, actually. It seems like technology is really pushing the consumer towards creating.
SL: It is. But that’s balanced out by other inane forms of digital narrative like LOLcats.
RH: What’s that??
SL: Trading pictures of silly cats with bad captions.
RH: If I had to choose, I would say that first-person-shooter games would be my least favorite form of digital narrative. And I don’t care how interesting it is that you can play online against people from all over the world. I just don’t understand the romance in everybody blowing everything to hell.
SL: Rick, I’ve read quite a bit of your poetry on your blog. Do you feel like reading a poem on a screen is different than reading on the printed page?
RH: I don’t think the process is so different, really. But you’re probably more likely to be in a relaxed brain state when you’ve happened upon a poem in a book, which seems like a more private moment, one which potentially allows for a deeper experience. But with tablets and e-book readers, it seems like that difference is disappearing as well. I mean, people are so completely unselfconscious about using technology wherever they are that it’s become the most normal thing in the world. I’ve always been most interested in presenting poems where they’ll be found very easily. I tend to write short poems that are very condensed and contain lots of imagery. I’d like to compare it to writing code. The idea of saying a lot with few words or not much code is an attractive one.
SL: I think we’re in sort of a transitional state at the moment. We’re still figuring out ways to adapt older media formats to newer ones. I do think that new forms of digital literacy will change the way we express ourselves in the analog world.
RH: It might seem almost crude nowadays, but when I first saw Memento I was really intrigued? by the fractured narrative. I think these days people are ready for narratives to become even more fractured and multi-sensory with poetry and other art forms moving together. But maybe we’re not there yet. Maybe new forms of narrative are still getting in the way of experiencing something on a deeper level.
SL: In the very beginning, film was still searching for its narrative voice. It took a few years before the camera could tell the story without the need for conventional text appearing on the screen or spoken by a narrator. Little by little people discovered the grammar of film: quick cuts, fast forward, fades. And this stuff, which is now conservative, was radical when it was being developed. And it went on to transform literature, too.
RH: Like all of us, I like to imagine what “radical” new forms of narrative we’ll encounter in the future. I know you’ve written extensively on neuroscience as the next frontier. I can see the presentation of poetry and art tapping more into what’s happening in neuroscience, although I think it’s starting to happen already, with the interest in pre-lingual activity, that is. The poem has moved from the page to the screen—I can only imagine the more abstract forms and different representations it will assume in the future.
SL: Yeah, but there is generally still a significant divide between how digital media is consumed as opposed to print. Most new forms of digital narrative, metaphorically speaking, are like rivers or streams. Think of the flow of tweets or Facebook posts, which people usually only read once. You don’t step into the same river twice. Print these days is more lake-like, more static. But deep.
RH: I think that’s a wonderful way of explaining that. Actually, I read Hackers recently and my brain was just exploding with ideas.
SL: That’s a good “lake” example.
RH: Yes, especially because you wrote it years ago and it also took you years to write, didn’t it?
SL: Yeah, it did. It had rereading written into it, in a sense.
RH: I needed a good day of just thinking to process the experience. Luckily, living in Dorset, I had a chance to do that down by the sea. I think the hard part of consuming media these days is doing it in a river-river-lake fashion, to use your metaphor—to temper and balance the different experiences with different media. Information burnout is a real and regular danger, however sophisticated we are at processing many threads at once. It’s just so easy to get excited by the immediate gratification of digital media.
SL: That’s actually a really important discussion these days: whether constantly consuming temporary media and never having to memorize anything because you can look it up online is affecting brains and changing the way we think.
I think it does, but I also think that combining digital literacy with lake-like knowledge will give people evolutionary advantages.
RH: Steven, I have yet to read In the Plex, but I’m very curious to know what you make of people’s concerns about the ability to “independently” navigate their way through the web using a Google search engine. There are fears that Google has too much power to direct a user’s interests towards or away from a certain direction.
SL: Well, Google has stepped up the personalization of searches. These days, if you let them know you’re vegan, then when you search for restaurants in your area, you won’t find anything that serves meat or dairy. Google knew that this would be a big step for a lot of people, so they’ve created a toggle switch that allows you to turn off the personalization. But in my opinion, when we’re checking out publications in a newsstand, we tend to focus only on the things that interest us and block out the stuff that doesn’t. So somehow it seems like asking Google to keep all options open for searches isn’t just impractical—it’s also something we tend not to do in real life anyways.
RH: People think they’re being led down and trapped in ideological or informational cul-de-sacs . . . I think they’re afraid. Would you agree? Do you think that’s a legitimate concern?
SL: Absolutely. But if you want to find things online you don’t agree with, it’s never been easier than today. I think the enemy is still ourselves. You know, you get an idea of just how broad Google’s reach is and all of the things it encompasses just by looking at the history of your own searches—or even better: the history of thousands of other people’s. In Google headquarters there’s actually a stream of endless searches that’s on display in the lobby. It doesn’t include people’s names, but they have everything else. The associations are incredible. It’s like some sort of beat poetry . . . or a probe into the psyche of the world. When I was doing research for In the Plex, they told me that a third of all searches were completely unique, totally virgin.
RH: I never would have guessed it would be that many. That’s quite promising for the human race. Sometimes I get the feeling technology is very much inspired by fiction.
SL: I think science fiction is especially inspirational for tech people, but I think it’s really a question of mutual influence, because obviously writers are strongly influenced by new technology. In terms of the former, Andy Hertzfeld comes to mind. He’s a classic hacker who worked for Apple and is now over at Google. He actually designed the circles for Google+. Andy’s an avid and very sophisticated reader and every time I talk to him, we’re always going back and forth about fiction. I have the feeling that one day, if he ever stops coding, he’ll write a great novel.
RH: As a writer, you’re endlessly fascinated by documenting technological and computer-related leaps forward. That necessarily involves the meta-narrative of describing new formats of digital storytelling and representation. In a sense, you tell stories about new ways to tell stories. What other things inspire you aside from technology?
SL: Well, one of the most inspiring things that have ever happened to me was rediscovering Einstein’s brain, which, in and of itself, was kind of technology independent. Well, not entirely, of course . . .
RH: I beg your pardon?
SL: Like, his real brain, in a jar.? I had an editor at the New Jersey Monthly who told me that Einstein’s brain had somehow disappeared after it had been removed from his head for the autopsy. Strangely, there was nothing ever published about the disappearance. Mind you, this is around 1979, almost twenty-three years after Einstein’s death. So my editor told me to go find it, and I did. Einstein’s estate denied knowing where it was and nobody really wanted to help all that much, but eventually I ended up contacting the guy who conducted the original autopsy and, lo and behold, he had it in a jar in a cardboard box in Wichita, Kansas. It was just sitting around his house.
RH: No way…
SL: Yes way. It was pretty incredible. The thing is, you’d think that maybe it wouldn’t be so incredible just looking at a brain. I mean, take somebody like Steve Jobs: I’m sure his brain doesn’t look that much different than anyone else’s. But he was such a unique and powerful person, so people obviously wonder what maps out to that. And when you’re staring at the thing itself, the feeling is pretty overwhelming. Looking at Einstein’s brain, I thought I was staring into the mystery of life itself.
RH: Believe it or not, I had a similar experience staring at the bodies on display at Gunther von Hagens’ exhibition in London. I actually had no plans of going, but then a friend of mine convinced me with some free tickets and I ended up being absolutely amazed and inspired by the mechanics of the bodies. There is this massive, untapped field of potential that emanates from the physical objects that produce such complexity. How to represent the mind’s pre- linguistic, unfiltered consciousness is what constantly pushes me forward, artistically speaking.
SL: Sometimes it can feel like a wild goose chase, no?
RH: Absolutely. But on good days I prefer to think of it as my own personal search for the Higgs boson. ~
Steven Levy is a senior staff writer for Wired and the author of numerous award winning books on digital culture, including Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution and Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government – Saving Privacy in the Digital Age. His most recent book, In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives, explores the infrastructure and “creative disorganization” that’s led to Google’s unparalleled web dominance. Levy is also a regular contributor to Electronic Beats.
Rick Holland’s recent spoken word collaborations with Brian Eno have been likened to Eno’s previous work with David Byrne: joyous, experimental, and distinctly melodic. Their double LP Drums Between the Bells and the recent EP Panic of Looking were both released on Warp Records in 2011.
Photo: Rick Holland by Luci Lux.
Photo: Steven Levy by Miguel Villalobos.
Game of Thrones is the newest HBO epic, based on the fantasy saga by George R.R. Martin. After a very successful (and enormously expensive) first season in 2011, the second season started airing on April 1st in the United States.
Like most successful books with a big fanbase that gets turned into a television show, this one has gained a lot of interest too, especially on the Internet. Basically there are two reasons for this:
1: Like every major production nowadays, Game of Thrones has a PR budget that equals the Gross National Product of a small country. And since we live in a digital world, most of the money is spent online with the result of creating an even bigger hype than there already is.
2: It’s common knowledge that the fantasy genre is basically crack for nerds; with the World Wide Web being first and foremost a gigantic nerd-playground, lots of websites hope to get shitloads of clicks just by having anything Game of Thrones-related in the headline.
And this is what sucks: Every media outlet blogs or writes about the TV show in order to get a piece of the cake or in fear of missing out on the next big thing.
But the problem is, aside from the extraordinarily compelling story and some facts regarding the production (an estimated fifty-million dollars just for the first episode, a great cast of well-known actors, an extravagant setting – all that has already been covered during the first season) there isn’t much to talk about when it comes to Game of Thrones. Unlike most other HBO shows, there is no meta-level to the story, which is set in a medieval universe with castles, swordsmen, big battles, and yeah, dragons. This may come as a surprise to all the critics who enjoyed other epic TV shows like The Wire (highly acclaimed for it’s realism and critical social commentary), Six Feet Under (highly acclaimed for it’s seemingly real life focus and it’s circling around the question “What is the meaning of life?”), Battlestar Galactica and many others. Game of Thrones is nothing like that.
The only connection to other modern series is the TV show’s explicitness, and the way it gets rid of a romanticized image of a certain fantasy age. What Deadwood did to our idea of the Wild West, what Rome meant for the ancient world and Blade Runner for science fiction, Game of Thrones has done for the medieval fantasy world. There are no hobbits, no benevolent sorcerer, and certainly no elves in Westeros, but lots of elaborate characters with personalities and allegiances beyond the black-and-white, good-and-evil molds that characterize so much of the genre.
So please, media outlets: stop covering Game of Thrones by just rehashing the episodes. The show itself is always much better than your boring recap.
Have you ever dreamed about a long road trip through the most beautiful places in Europe? In 2011, twenty-three year old filmmaker Levente Klara and his friends recorded his 2040 mile-long bike ride through six countries, from Madrid to Budapest. Cycle Me Home is more than just a film, it’s about being an active part of a strong community. An open mind and a biking lifestyle are cohesive driving forces behind the project, which will make its debut on April 6th accompanied by Italian producer Dusty Kid’s album release party.
How did the idea for the road trip and the documentary start?
I’m graduating from the University of Film and Theater Budapest and spent six months last year in Madrid with the Erasmus program. Before I left to the Spanish capital, I had the idea to ride back, so I brought my bike to Madrid. My Spanish classmates and biker friends urged me to set up a crew, including my friends Daniel Vérten (director, the film Cycle Me Home is his diploma work) and Máté Pálla (dop). Scheduled for the final day of the prestigious ECMC (European Cycle Messenger Championship 2012) in Madrid, we departed thirty-eight days before the start of Sziget Festival in Budapest.
People were enthusiastic about being involved?
Lot of friends volunteered in Madrid. At the last moment we also got a sponsored van from Mali Budapest. More than ten people wanted to join the ride, but in the end it was only six. Adam, my Spanish-Danish bike partner, accompanied me the whole way, and also made the route and time plan. He was the serious guy who always woke me up in the morning. This tour was his personal challenge, just like it was mine, because we didn’t have any experience doing long-distance trips by bike. We also had two drivers as well as the filmmaker duo. In each city new people joined us for a short-distance ride, celebrating the project and having fun together.
Did you feel satisfied when you arrived successfully?
I really needed something like this. 2040 miles through six countries on a fixed-gear was a challenge. But actually it could have been anything. I’m satisfied with the fact I could make an idea into reality. Everything else has been developed automatically. We just made a project out of this trip, and then people joined and made the project grow into a community.
What was the biggest change this trip has made in participants’ life?
We got to know lot of people on the road who have good memories about meeting us and became part of a community. My life has changed, too. Aside from successfully facing a big challenge, I’ve become very much involved with the biking subculture. Now I’m a bike messenger! The biggest change (that I know about) happened in the Slovenian graphic designer Neza’s life. She joined us in Ljubljana as a fan who came across the project on Facebook. Then a bit later she moved here and launched the designer label Blind Chic together with my other friend, fashion designer Júlia Vesmás. They’re producing bike bags now.
What do you plan for the future?
We like the idea of this evolving into a kind of movement. We see that it’s now much more like just a simple trip or a fun documentary. This is about community, participation, co-creation and delivering a message: Set your goals and reach them, and realize your dreams. We represent this statement through the cycling lifestyle. We’d like to organize other trips, too, but after the upcoming film premier.
The young Italian techno producer Dusty Kid provided his new album Beyond That Hill as the soundtrack for Cycle Me Home. How did he come into the picture?
Actually I accidentally found his music. I like his tunes and came across the news last year that he was going to release his new album, so I emailed him about our project and that we’d like to use his tracks for the feature film. The management liked the idea and things turned out much better than expected. Dusty Kid is also playing at the album launch party. In addition we’re preparing an exclusive installation of bikes with special visual mapping.
The Cycle Me Home film celebrates its premiere on April 6th at Merlin Theater in Budapest followed by Dusty Kid’s Beyond That Hill album release party.