I could honestly fill hundreds of notebook pages just about about why this is so wildly importantly to me, but I think it can best be summed up by echoing the sentiment of the bold abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, when he so beautifully proclaimed…”I have need to be on fire; for I have icebergs to melt!
Legendary jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd just became our first ever creator to fax in his Q&A. It actually ended up working out pretty well.
Mandy Kordal founded her contemporary knitwear line last year, and has been hand making beautiful sweaters, caps, and scarves ever since. Her project will help her expand next year’s line to meet the growing demand of eager fans, which works out because they can satiate themselves in the meantime with all her cool rewards (including a Kickstarter-exlusive tote). As big fans ourselves, we took a moment to Q&A her on her brand, her rad project video, and what it’s been like to use Kickstarter. Check it out on the blog.
As an old-school internet guy *and* a massive music nerd, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the future of the music industry (and similar content businesses) over the past 15 years and I’ve come to the conclusion that most traditional publishing models are totally unsustainable at this point, and are just being kept on life support by copyright, DRM and other types of artificially-imposed scarcity. But the overwhelming sense of community and real passion I’ve found in dealing with all the “You Are Listening To” artists in the last year makes me very optimistic that this violent restructuring of the music “industry” is actually the best thing that could possibly have happened to “music” itself, and so it’s a real honor to be a part of that, to whatever extent I’m able to contribute.
—Eric Eberhardt, creator of You are listening to, a website mixing live police radio feed with ambient music, kind of blew our minds with his Q&A. Read the whole thing on our blog. Check out his project page here.
What’s your favorite way to use Olly right now?
We had a little hack session for Olly the other night and I think my favorite thing that came out of that was to activate Olly every time Snoop Dog got a new follower on Instagram. Ace.
But what’s exciting is, because of the success that the amateur class has had (and I use the word ‘amateur’ very lovingly here), and the amount of money they’ve been able to generate, it’s made the professionals more interested. Suddenly, pros are looking at this thing thinking, ‘Maybe I want into that,’ because it seems genuine. And it seems cool, and it seems honest. So you can see how, eventually, the two suddenly intermingle. And consequently you have the really pro, established filmmaker sitting next to the guy who maybe idolizes them. It could be somewhere on the site right now — Hal Hartley’s project sitting next to some kid’s who saw Trust when he was fifteen years old and realized that’s what he wanted to do with his life. And they sit side by side, and that’s really kind of the point: It’s just about making things, no matter who you are.
—Yancey talked to Cinespect about Kickstarter, Sundance, and the future of independent cinema. It’s a great conversation — read the whole thing here.
Your phone should know when you have a meeting across town and tell you to leave early because it’s going to start raining. It should wake you up at 5AM because there’s a fresh bed of snow on the hill and your better grab your sled before everyone else. It should tell you exactly when to leave the restaurant on your first date, timing it just perfectly so you both get stuck in a downpour trapped under that awning where you’ve planned the perfect first kiss.Is that the most lovely mission statement of all time, or is that the most lovely mission statement of all time? Decide for yourself by perusing our Q&A with Adam Grossman, co-creator of the weather-predicting app Dark Sky. This is the future, dammit!
Creator Q&A: The Museum of Non-Visible Art
Museum of Non Visible Art — by Brainard and Delia Carey
The Museum of Non-Visible Art, a conceptual art project conceived by New York-based free-spirits/thinkers Brainard and Delia Carey, is “an extravaganza of imagination.” For those of us that grew up adoring fantasy and science-fiction novels (cough), that just might mean it has the potential to be a total dream. As its name implies, The Museum for Non-Visible Art is not filled with things, but with ideas; concepts and descriptions of art projects rather than wholly tangible items. It’s a world that is not necessarily visible, but is nonetheless real, opening a conversation about what we make when we use words and images, and the ways in which those words and images can be the architecture of our own realities.
As you may imagine, I was curious to know more about why Brainard and Delia decided to create a museum full of “invisible things.” Thankfully, they were eager to discuss. Check out our conversation, below, and check out their project for more.
I’ll be honest! The nature of this project is a bit unusual for Kickstarter, where emphasis is so much on the tangible. How did you come to Kickstarter and what was the process of shaping your project to fit our platform?
We chose to use Kickstarter for several reasons. For one, we are New Yorkers, and Kickstarter feels to us like a New York art-savvy enterprise. Without being corny, it is a way we were seeing more and more artists explain what they were doing in a clear and compelling way.
We have known about Kickstarter for quite awhile. In fact, we have backed many projects ourselves over the past year and became very familiar with the platform. What struck us most about Kickstarter was the relationship between the proposal and rewards. It seemed clear that when the rewards were really interesting, the project was more successful. But the quirky nature of the rewards could also have problems. When we backed the Vivian Maier project on Kickstarter, the reward we chose was one of her empty film spools, which was an odd reward, but it also was like a relic of some kind, and we liked that. However we noticed that there was a problem with that reward that some of the updates mentioned, saying people thought they were getting a whole roll of unexposed film! As crazy as that sounds, we also realized there is this effect of reading things very fast on the web, even Kickstarter, and readers are scanning text, and often misunderstanding the intent of the artist or writer. We were mindful of that while putting together our presentation because we wanted to avoid any misunderstandings.
Our history as artists began when we were giving out free hugs from our East Village storefront in 2000, launching the free hugs movement and setting the stage for some major shows, like the Whitney Biennial in 2002, where the idea of what we were doing was both understandable and also confusing to people.
We felt that the community of Kickstarter would get this idea and enjoy it, because other projects, especially in the arts, contained concepts that were unusual. Also, there was an additional issue about the fact that we were selling ideas and not tangible objects. Kickstarter seemed like the ideal place, perhaps the only place, to handle such a high-concept project like this. When it was accepted we were thrilled. We talked a lot about how to present this project to potential backers and did many rewrites of the text so that it would be very clear what we were doing. The video was very important to us and we chose a collaborator that people would know, to make it more tangible and real to them. James Franco is also a conceptual thinker that understood the whole project right away and he crated a non-visible artwork that seemed to go perfectly with the concept.The rewards section could have been much longer, as we had many works of art for sale, but we limited it for the sake of ease in reading through the project. We felt that potential backers would want to be part of the whole process as they are with many other Kickstarter projects. So when a backer gets the reward of a non-visible work of art, and they put that card on their wall, they can then explain it to their friends, and that is another way of what we imagined the typical backer of Kickstarter projects could really become involved.
Who would you expect to come to the Museum of Non-Visible Art and what would you hope they would get out of the experience?
When we tour this project we will do several things. In fact, we are doing a workshop of this project in a European biennial this fall, but in general, a tour would work like this: We would create a performance in a gallery or a museum or another location at a certain time. When the audience is assembled, we begin to guide them, just as a tour guide of a museum would. “Please step into the lobby, and now into the elevator.” The difference with the tour, is that we are also imagining and recreating an entire architectural space of a museum. In some cases we are recreating a building that was designed but never built. In New York, we want to recreate the downtown Guggenheim by Gehry that was never built. To do that, we stand on or near that proposed site and begin to describe the museum as we were just saying. There are museums and spaces all over the world that were designed but not built and we would like to re-animate all these spaces. So, picture an audience going through the non-visible museum, only we are gesturing to the walls and ceiling describing architectural details as well as the non-visible artworks. Here is where kickstarter comes in. This tour of a non-visible museum is not simply a performance, it is a tour of a museum, and the only art works that we are describing are already SOLD. This makes a huge difference, because then we are not just imagining things, we are describing real visual works of art that were received as rewards on Kickstarter, and they are owned, and in this case “loaned” to the museum. The audience for these tours will be actively visualizing what we are discussing, but they are also understanding another concept which is that the works they are imagining are already owned, and the owners have a certificate of authenticity!
What the audience of these tours might feel or receive, is a new way of looking at the world. Seeing things that are real, but not there, can change your perspective, like seeing the matrix code or a world within a world. It is art, but it is also a parallel reality that we can all become involved in.
Why do you think something like MONA would be relevant to the contemporary art scene?
The art scene historically has a precedent for this that we fit in to. In the 1950s, Yves Klein sold “invisible pictoral sensibility,” and also exhibited an empty gallery saying his paintings were invisible. Sol LeWitt sold instructions to make his drawings, and Yoko Ono wrote about imaginary scenes, and most recently, Tino Sehgal who had a solo show at the Guggenheim last year, created situations, like a couple kissing, and sold the instructions to own that to MOMA, who lent it to the Guggenheim! Tino Sehgal is unusual in that he tried not to create any documentation at all, it is all verbal instruction on how to recreate one of his performances. MOMA bought The Kiss for $70,000 and the director Glen Lowry, said it was one of the most difficult acquisitions that they ever made. So, here we are building a non-visible museum and selling the descriptions of artworks inside, which is slightly different from artists that preceeded us, but not without context.
We feel that this is just the beginning, and we would like to invite artists, writers, and others to collaborate with us, by coming up with their own non-visible work which we would sell through the museum. By inviting all kinds of artists from different fields we like the idea of merging disciplines and providing an open space where the imagination is the limit.
Was there a particular place from which the idea sprang? What was your thought process in conceiving of it?
Yes, in a way, the bandages for non-visible wounds were the start of it, but the non-visible museum idea began taking shape two years ago, when we were thinking about collaborating with other artists and building an institution. Richard Foreman once told us that artists like Jonas Mekas who started the Anthology Film Archives, were institution builders and that the world needed more of that, which is to say, more artists creating institutions that support the arts. This museum is hopefully one of those institutions as it grows. Kickstarter is also a new version of an institution that supports the arts.
Our process for putting it all together shifted several times in exactly how it would be conceived and presented, but we feel it began with the gesture of the non-visible wound, and then moved into visual art. A big part of how we thought about this involves how we want to be perceived. In conceptualizing the MONA, we wanted to be clear that this was about visual art, not a performance. That is why it was also essential that the work be owned somehow. This was key to our thought process, and the idea of rewards, of tangible things, that were at the same time intangible was a perfect way to begin to develop the project. Also, if we get lots of backers and the project succeeds, it is because of those backers, of the faith in this project. If we just used our own money and said, “here is the museum” and did the performance of the tour, it would not mean the same thing at all. But with all the backers behind it, it becomes something that we could not achieve on our own. It becomes much larger than our vision and it is a viable and real institution because we already have members or at least people who believe in the idea enough to put money down. That is what we call The New Economy, a system that creates a new form of exchange that everyone could potentially collaborate on and profit from.
What have people’s responses been like?
As of this writing we have 26 backers and are a few dollars short of 1,000, and that is after a week, so we are very optimistic. We have also had some notable backers, like a former museum director in NYC, a major curator, and other artists and professionals. We are really thrilled with the response!
Beto’s Burrito: A Conversation Between Father and Daughter
Beto’s Burrito: A Children’s Story Collaboration With My Dad — by Cassie McDaniel
Beto’s Burrito is much more than a simple, beautifully executed children’s story. It’s also the tale of a long-fractured relationship between father and daughter, suddenly rekindled by the mutual joy of creation. When illustrator Cassie McDaniel discovered that her once estranged father, Tom, had written a story about a young boy named Beto, she decided to illustrate a single page as a Christmas gift. From there, the project evolved into a full-blown story book. Now, Cassie aims to publish their collaborative effort because “I know it’s important to [Dad], so that makes it important to me.” Below, we have a special conversation between the author and illustrator, father and daughter, along with excerpts from the story. Check it out, and make sure to visit their successfully funded project for ongoing updates on the book’s progress.
“Beto! Beto! Wake yourself up! Do you want to be arrive to school?” From somewhere far away, Beto can hear his mother’s voice.
Cassie (daughter/illustrator): Can you remember your first burrito?
Tom (father/author): Yeah I think so. It was the year I attended school in Arizona. I was 12 I think. My aunt was teaching there and she has some friends, Mr. and Mrs. Schazo, and they gave us some homemade tortillas and made burritos out of those.
What makes a good burrito?
Practice! My cousin Ricky came to visit Texas from Massachusetts once and we had burritos for dinner. He said, “What’s a burrito?” He found out in short order. I’ve seen Mexican families that will roast a chicken and serve it without silverware. They pinch the meat right off the bones using tortillas.
Do you consider that a burrito?
Gettin’ awful close! You know the word itself, “burrito”? Down in central Mexico they still use burros, or donkeys, to carry things around, things like farm produce. The burros have big white bundles on their sides, but of course those bundles are a lot larger than what you put on your plate. So “burrito” is a “little burro” –- it comes from the appearance of the burros’ bundles. I never understood it ‘til I visited Mexico.
Why did you write Beto’s Burrito?
I think I was having a boring afternoon (laughs).
Can you remember anything about working on it?
I was looking after Jonathan, my youngest son, when I wrote it. He was one and a half years old and his teeth were coming in. He would chew his gums on the crib and it would go squeak squeak squeak! That doesn’t have anything to do with Beto’s story but it kept me in a good mood, kept me writing it.
You have three sons. Was Beto’s character inspired by any of them?
No. I’ve known lots of little boys like Beto, not just my sons. I’ve visited Mexican families through my work as a family counselor and many of them would prepare food for me, just as Beto’s mom did for him. There is nothing like a fresh tortilla!
“Beto! Ya!” From the same far away place, Beto hears his mother’s voice again. Then he hears his father’s voice, and the words in it are soft and fast. “Ya? Already what?” Beto wonders. Beto turns over on his back and puts his arm across his eyes. Light is coming through the window, and he doesn’t want to see anything yet.
My brothers inspired some of the illustrations, though. I put in elements that reminded me of them -– like the soccer ball and the skateboard. But what did inspire the story?
There is lots of love in Mexican families but it’s not all roses. I based Beto on the relationships that I saw in those families. When I was in the construction trade, the best tile setters, the best brick layers -– they were always Mexican. So that’s kind of what inspired the father. And the mothers seemed more often than not to stay home and cook and take care of the little ones.
Have you written other children’s stories before?
Yeah, and I used to tell Jonathan stories at bedtime. I made up one about a frog that gets all lonesome when his pond dries up and all the other frogs hop away. It finally rains and the other frogs come back.
Beto is awake. He hears his father’s voice again. He thinks about his father’s voice. At times it is magic. Sometimes it scares him. Today his father is quiet and in a hurry, but always there is something in his father’s voice that makes him feel warm, even when the voice is scary.
Can you explain what inspired the part of the story where Beto’s father’s voice scares him?
I observed in Mexican families I knew that the father seemed to be the policeman of the house, and it rarely took more than a tone of voice to discipline his children. I can imagine a child about Beto’s age being rather intimidated by his father’s voice.
Were you intimidated by your own father’s voice?
No. Not very often, but it’s probably fairly common at that age. But the point of that particular passage was that even behind the fear, the boy knows his father loves him.
What is your favorite part in Beto’s story?
I think the ending is just right. I also like the panel illustration and the passage where Beto wishes he were taller.
When Beto turns back around, he sees his mother standing still, smiling at him. She is looking at him. The look she is giving him makes him feel warm and good, so he walks to his mother and gives her a big hug around the waist. He wishes he were taller so she could know better how much he loves her.
What’s been the hardest thing about this project?
Getting you to do the illustrations! Nothing has been too hard about it on my end, really.
Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Sure. You spent a long time working on the illustrations. What gave you the idea for the dreamlike motif?
Well, the story begins with Beto’s dream.
Beto is asleep, yes.
A dream world is fun to illustrate. You can use metaphors in ways that have nothing to do with the text. It gave me more freedom. Like thinking of Beto’s parents’ voices as ribbons of color depending on the parent’s moods and how Beto thinks of them. I like the illustration of the building where Beto’s father holds a trowel in his hand and Beto is handing him the bricks. The building itself is so magical. That seems inspired to me.
“On Saturday you will come with me. We will make a beautiful wall together. You will hand me the prettiest bricks, and everything will be perfect!” Beto smiles at his father. His father pats him on the head and gets up to leave.
I remember when my brothers and I were little you took us to a couple houses you were doing construction on. So that feeling of going to work with Dad is a real memory of mine, and the magical part of it is inspired by the magic of memory. I wanted to get across that feeling.
What is your reaction to the support we’ve received on Kickstarter?
I’m pleased and surprised. It’s hard for me to imagine –- of course the illustrations are wonderful -– but it’s hard to understand people latching on with interest to such a simple children’s story.
What do you hope happens with Beto’s Burrito now?
Mainly I just hope lots of people read it. And I want them to feel a certain way. I want them to feel good, I want them to feel family. I want the parents to feel good and the kids to feel good. I want the kids to say, Will you read it again? Stuff like that. Things I used to do with the kids books that I liked. What do you hope to see happen with the book?
I want to see it published in a professional way that does justice to all of the support we’ve gotten so far. The amount of support has really humbled me. You never really know what’s going to happen with creative projects. Feels like we got lucky.
Kind of like fishing, isn’t it. Never know when you’re going to haul in a big one.
That isn’t the reason we’re doing it though.
No, this one’s from the heart. Although, if it is as popular as I think it could be, maybe we can do some more Beto stories.
“When I get big, I’m going to make burritos for breakfast every day,” he tells his mother. “Ah, how nice!” says his mother. “Can I come and eat with you then?”
Do you have other ideas for Beto? More adventures?
It’s not hard for me to come up with ideas –- what Beto does in the summertime, for instance. That comes to mind. And that funny little dog that came from nowhere!
That’s right. The dog isn’t mentioned in your story, but he’s in many of the illustrations. It just seemed like Beto needed a buddy. Do you think that dog has a name?
He should have a name! I don’t know yet. Maybe some of our readers could be kind enough to write in suggestions. His name might be Jalapeño.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Yes. I’m staggered by the support, and very grateful. May everyone who reads the story have the best burrito they’ve ever tasted in their lives.
Where Are They Now: GraFighters
If you’ve been following Kickstarter for a while, you may remember a game project from last fall called graFighters. Its premise was simple: doodle a character, upload it to the game, and immediately engage in PvP battle against other users’ doodles. Unfortunately, even though graFighters had a fantastic pitch video (as you can see above), it just wasn’t able to pick up enough traction to reach its goal of $20,000.
But that’s not where the story ends. Through their Kickstarter project, Dave and Eric, graFighters’ two-man development team, managed to attract the attention of a private investment firm that saw potential in their game. Even though their Kickstarter project didn’t turn out quite the way they had hoped, they learned a lot from the experience, built a great game, and ended up raising a wee bit more than the initial $20,000 they’d hoped for. Below, Dave looks back on the Kickstarter experience and tells us where they are now:
How long have you and Eric been working on graFighters? Is this something you started developing while in school?
Eric and I have been working on graFighters for about two years. We came up with the idea at the end of our junior year. We graduated last year and just completed a year of grad school this year at Syracuse University. We have been friends since our freshmen year of college and have lived together since.
We actually came up with the idea while sitting in class (when we were supposed to be taking notes). We each looked at each other’s paper — I had this sweet dragon drawn, and Eric had a really cool ninja. We then proceeded to silently argue the rest of class about whose drawing would win in a fight. We decided there would really be only one way to settle this. That’s what spawned graFighters.
“Floppysaurus”: Watch out! This floppy herbivore is faster than a slinky down a staircase.
GraFighters is a fantastic concept for a game. Are you artists/illustrators yourselves?
Eric is a designer and I am a designer/programmer. We are both artistically minded but wouldn’t consider ourselves amazing illustrators; we’re more doodlers. We love drawing and creating anything and that’s really what graFighters is about. Whether you are 6- years-old or 80-years-old, whether you have drawing skills like Da Vinci or have never drawn in your life, graFighters will bring your creation to life.
“ImaSharkBoat”: Half Shark, half Dinosaur, half boat.
“Zenny”: Loves nature, longs walks on the beach, and the occasional fight where he knocks teeth out.
So you guys launched a project on Kickstarter last fall, but didn’t end up reaching your goal. Did you learn anything from the experience? If you were to do it again, what would you do differently?
1. Give great and tangible rewards. We gave cheesy and funny things like, “virtual high fives” which I assume aren’t that amazing compared to what $20 dollars could get you elsewhere. A lot of the great successes on Kickstarter have used it almost as a way to handle preorders, where they ship products to consumers once they are made.
2. Promote it yourselves. We kinda assumed that everyone would just magically come. We really didn’t give promoting our page the time it deserved.
3. Make your goal realistic. We went for $20,000 (go big or go home right?), but we ended up not even coming close. If we had to do it again we would do way less.
You recently announced some pretty exciting news about GraFighters. Can you tell us a bit about how that happened, and where this will allow you to take GraFighters in the future?
We received an email from a fund manager at X.Million Venture Capital on Christmas eve saying he saw our project on Kickstarter and watched our videos and would love to talk more. After a few months of talking and doing due diligence we finally arrived at a deal. X Million Invested $200,000 into graFighters allowing us to turn our barebones product into a full featured game!
Creator Q&A: Kirsten Hively of Project Neon
As a kid one of my fondest memories of New York was watching it through the rear window of my parents station wagon. That song was right, the neon lights were really bright on Broadway. Safe to say, anyone whose been struck by the glowing fluorescence of signs for a cheap back rub or liquor could probably say the same. Kirsten Hively understands, and is taking it upon herself to document and preserve these incandescent pieces of New York’s past in a myriad of ways, including a free iPhone app.
Do you recall the first time in your life you were really struck by neon signs?
There have been a bunch of times that individual signs struck me, but the first time I was really bowled over by a bunch of signs was when I went to Portland for my brother’s wedding a few years ago. That city has a great collection of signs! Not long afterwards I visited Chicago, which also has some gems. I ended up taking quite a few neon sign pictures both places, which made me realize I didn’t have any pictures of neon signs in New York City, because I just took them for granted.
Was there a particular sign that was the impetus for this project?
Yes, two: Goldberger’s Pharmacy and the Cork & Bottle. Both of these signs are near my job in the Upper East Side—I had started a new administrative job in late November after being unable to find architecture work. The days were getting shorter and I was spending my workdays in a neighborhood I just have no connection to. I really needed to find a reason to love the Upper East Side when I noticed Goldberger’s, and the pink glow of the Cork & Bottle further down First Avenue. I knew Papaya King was further up, and I started wondering how many more signs were in the neighborhood. I couldn’t find a comprehensive list of working signs online anywhere—lots of elegies to lost signs, or old photos of signs that might or might not still be there, or daytime photos that gave no clue to whether the sign was still functional, but no guide to what’s out there, lit up at night. So I decided to start one myself and Project Neon was born. I made sure to always document the business name and address, and when a sign I’ve photographed vanishes, I make a note of it so people will know. Every time I go out I research the neighborhood to find a few signs I’m pretty sure will be there, but I’m always surprised by signs I didn’t know about, big & small, and it’s really addictive—it’s hard to stop when I can see a glow down the street. Maybe it’s some spectacular new sign. I have to go check it out. So I end up wandering all over the city, sometimes for hours.
A certain sign that is your favorite?
That’s even harder. There are several great signs for shops that close early which I haven’t seen lit because the longer days caught up with me before I could get to them—I’ve got a list ready to go for next fall. Also some signs look really great in photos, but aren’t so dramatic in real life, and vice versa. A few of my favorites are the signs at Nathan’s in Coney Island, The Subway Inn in Midtown, Lenox Lounge in Harlem, Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook, Clover Deli in Kips Bay, and of course Goldberger’s, since I probably wouldn’t have started the project if I hadn’t seen that. But those are just the tip of the iceberg.
What drew you to turning this project into an App, as opposed to say exhibition or book?
One thing that’s really important to me is that other people go out and see these signs (and photograph them if they like) themselves. I also really want to encourage people to support the businesses that host these great signs, which is why the blog I post to weekly is about me going to a neoned shop, restaurant, bar, or whatever and actually going in and buying something instead of just standing outside taking pictures.
With the app it’s really convenient—you have all the information with you in your pocket so whether you set out intending to track down a particularly great sign or just have some time to kill and are curious what’s nearby, you can easily get the information you need. The app will also let people rate signs, so it’s not just me saying what I think is the best sign.
That being said, I am planning a photo show in the fall at the awesome City Reliquary in Williamsburg, and hey—I wouldn’t turn down a book deal, but I think the app is really the best way to get people actively involved. And if I can find additional funding (or if my Kickstarter goal is exceeded!), I hope to bring the app to other platforms as well so it can have a wider audience. I have also thought about doing a small printed pocket guide, but it’s tough because there’s so much information. I’m still thinking about what that might look like.
Would you ever continue the project in another city?
Oh, definitely! I want to concentrate on New York right now because I want to really do it justice, but I very much hope to visit the other great neon cities some time in the future so I can include them in Project Neon.
Why do you think neon signs resonate so much with on-lookers/passersby?
I think there are several reasons. One big reason is that the neon signs that have been around for awhile become icons in our mental map of the city, like big glowing pushpins. When I’m going to Old Town Bar north of Union Square, for example, I never remember which street it’s on, but I know that if I walk north from the park I’ll see the glow, so it’s this friendly beacon in the night, and I associate all the good memories I have of Old Town with that sign. And if you look at the types of businesses that tend to have neon signs, they’re often places you go for help or solace or rest of some kind—hotels, bars, pharmacies, churches. Places you might need to find at night or in an unfamiliar neighborhood, so the signs are very welcoming.
Also I think the fact that they are handmade is really appealing. The craft of neon is something I definitely hope to learn more about over the next few months.
Mostly, though, I think it’s just that they’re beautiful. They have these very particular saturated colors that cast amazing glows on their surroundings, and many of them have really wonderful typography. Plus even though they can be really colorful and have elaborate letterforms, they’re kind of minimal in a way, because at night so much of the visual chaos of the city falls away into the darkness. I also love that they often have a little flicker or hum that just seems so much livelier than, say, a vinyl awning. I’m fond of a lot of different kinds of signs, but neon signs are definitely in a class of their own, and happily I am not the only who feels that way.
Have you had any funny interactions while photographing signs?
Yes! One was the first night I went out with my camera. A stout fellow was smoking a cigar and watching me take photos of the Goldberger’s Pharmacy sign. I think it looked extra-odd because I’ve been using a 50mm lens that works well in low light, but it means I end up standing further back than you might expect to get a good shot (and have often ended up standing in snow berms or street medians). He watched, chomping on his cigar, and when I finished and started to walk away he asked what I was doing. I said I was taking pictures of the sign. He was pretty incredulous that anyone would care about the sign (I’ve run into quite a few people like that), so I finally said, “Also, it’s also the 100th anniversary of neon.” At that he broke into a huge grin, looked up at the sign, and said, “Happy birthday, neon!” It was really sweet.
What’s your favorite part about taking on this project?
There are so many things I love about this project—I love looking at the pictures, I love going out and exploring all these neighborhoods, and I love having a reason to go into all these pharmacies, bars, and restaurants—some quite old, others pretty new. I think my favorite thing, though, is hearing from all the people who have talked to me about the project. Preservationists, designers, historians, urban explorers, visitors, foreigners… so many different kinds of people. And running the Kickstarter campaign has definitely forced me to spread the word about it in a way I never would have done on my own, which has led to talking to even more people about it. One of the reasons I first expanded the project beyond the Flickr set where it started was because of all the feedback & encouragement I was getting there. The audience matters, and the more the audience participates, the more the project grows. Thanks to everyone who has backed the project, written about it, suggested neon signs I should find, or otherwise encouraged me. I would never have done all this without all that.
Creator Q&A: Call Me Kuchu, a film about LGBT Ugandans
In Call me Kuchu, filmmaker Katherine Fairfax Wright and journalist Malika Zouhali-Worrall document the lives of LGBT activists in Uganda, a country where homosexuality is against the law and ruling party members have proposed death by hanging for HIV-positive gay men. Called “kuchus” by locals, the queer community in Kampala is battling a highly oppressive, aggressive, and pervasive homophobia. Kuchu follows Ugandans who were recently defended by their local judiciary—one that seeks to protect the rights of individuals but may have little influence over political or popular opinion. Covering the rise of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, the landmark lawsuit surrounding a tabloid outing homosexuals, and the 2011 murder of activist David Kato—one of the country’s first publicly gay men—Call Me Kuchu weaves stories of courage and tragedy, portraying the empowerment and persecution that persist side by side in present-day Uganda. Malika and Katy shed some light on why they’re making this film and what we will learn through their lens.
Guest Post: Phil McAndrew Makes A Blog Post!
Phil McAndrew Is Making A Book! — by Phil McAndrew
For somebody who claims he’s “not that into mustaches,” cartoonist Phil McAndrew is pretty damn good at drawing them! For this special guest post, he breaks down the creative process behind one of his most popular (mustache-featuring, natch) comic strips. Just so you have an idea of what you’re about to get into, here’s a quick synposis: mustache, drum solo, mustache, motorcycle, true love, mustache. Ready for it?
Are You Man Enough is, by a long shot, the most popular thing I’ve ever drawn. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but just to give you an idea of how popular it is: It’s got 180,000 views on stumbleupon. It’s my best selling mini-comic. Copies of the hand-made mini-comic version have an actual fuzzy little mustache attached to the cover (I will be printing just enough copies to give away as rewards for my kickstarter project and then probably never printing it again outside of the book!). I usually sell out of it when I exhibit at conventions. It was included on a bunch of “best mini-comics of 2008” lists and even got a little mention on USA Today’s Pop Candy blog. I was officially saluted by The American Mustache Institute having drawn the comic. More than once I’ve had guys that compete in big mustache competitions send me friend requests on Facebook. I’ve had a couple of film students email me, asking if they could make short films based on it. People just seem to really like this comic!
The whole idea for this comic started when one of my cousins got married. My brother Tyler and I were hanging out at the wedding, drinking and joking around. We started talking about how boring weddings can be (for the record, the wedding we were at was actually a lot of fun) and how there’s got to be a more exciting way to display your love for someone… like you should have to perform some sort of amazing feat if you want to get married. An amazing feat to show the girl “I love you this much.” I want to attend that wedding ceremony. Defeat fifty guys in armed combat or jump over a swimming pool on a skateboard or… perform a really cool drum solo.
At the time I was also struggling with having just graduated from college. When you finish college, every single person you encounter congratulates you and then immediately asks: “So what’s next? What are you going to do with the rest of your life? What sort of amazingly lucrative job do you have lined up?” I graduated with a BFA in illustration, which basically means I was handed a really fancy piece of paper that says “This guy is pretty good at drawing pictures!” but I didn’t really have any job prospects at all. I wanted to be a freelance illustrator, but getting to a point where you can pay the bills as a freelance illustration can take years. I’m still struggling with it. It was really frustrating, being asked about my plans for the future by pretty much every single person I knew and only being able to shrug and say “I guess I’m going live in my parent’s attic and continue to draw pictures for a while…”
When I started drawing Are You Man Enough, I set a few rules for myself. I wanted to keep the pencil drawings as loose and vague as possible, using them just as a vague compositional guide. I did most of the actual drawing directly in ink (I’ve stuck with this method for every comic I’ve drawn since). I also decided that I wouldn’t do any digital cleaning up or editing of the images. No white-out. If I made a big mess or splattered some ink or drew an ugly line, I just had to go with it and make it work somehow. I wanted the drawings to have sort of a “stupid energy” to them.
This image of the father’s shirt exploding into tiny scraps of fabric, the chair getting kicked aside, the little table tipping over… I’ve always been really pleased with how this panel came out.
Drum solo panel — I remember spending a lot of time trying to decide exactly which drum sounds to put in this panel. I’ve played drums in a couple bands myself, so this was an important detail for me! If I were to draw this comic again, I think I’d make the drum solo longer. It would go on for two or three panels. Though now that I think about it, I think I did actually originally plan to do it that way and then ended up deciding against it for some reason. I can’t remember why! It may have had something to do with the way the comic flowed from page to page when printed.
“I summoned it with my mustache” — If I remember correctly, I didn’t have this dialogue written until I sat down to actually draw this part. It just came to me suddenly. I think this is my favorite bit of the entire comic. I also remember being very intimidated by the prospect of drawing a motorcycle. But I just sucked it up and told myself “what’s the worst that can happen? You’ll draw a bad motorcycle and then life will go on.” I was pleased with how it turned out.
Creator Q&A: Mr. Lif and Brass Menažeri, Hip Hop Meets Balkan
Boston-based hip hop phenomenon Mr. Lif has been rapping and making beats for the last two decades, with heated political rhymes and complex rhythms that make you want to stomp in a very good way. On this new album he’s throwing insurgent lyrics over the rebellious gypsy horns of Brass Menažeri, a Balkan brass band from San Francisco. Their Kickstarter project is powerhouse collaboration that will surely shake the powers that be. The revolutionaries took a brief pause from the glorious uprising to answer a few questions.
How did you become aware of each other’s music?
Mr. Lif: Devon Leger, the curator of the Seattle Folk Festival, is the person that first approached us about working together. He called me up and said “Lif, I want you to come play a folk festival in Seattle…but I want you to rock with a Balkan brass band.” I thought about it for a second and said yes. I love opportunities to push the boundaries of my imagination, and this sounded like exactly what I needed at the time. When I finally got to meet Brass Menažeri face to face on Dec. 11th, 2010, the chemistry was automatic. We had a 7-hour rehearsal that went by quickly due to the excitement we all had catching glimpses of our potential. We carried an optimistic and explorative energy to the stage on Dec. 12th, and it became evident to us then that we needed to get into a studio as soon as possible to fully realize our combined sound.
You mentioned playing in an old coffin factory in your project video…Go on…?!
Brass Menažeri’s Peter Jaques: That was where we had our one and only rehearsal. Briget (of Brass Menažeri) had been looking for a rehearsal space and ran across a website advertising one for a reasonable price, so she booked it. When we got there we discovered the ad had been more than flattering. We found puddled concrete floors, no heat, a million drafts, definitely no PA — and finally a sign announcing the founding of the coffin manufacturer once contained there. But we got a heater and an amp and got going. Perhaps it was the influence of the departed souls, or perhaps the crypt-like atmosphere, but we came up with something born from beyond any of us.
What distinguishes Balkan brass from say, the New Orleans sound? Can you describe what makes it “gypsy” style?
Jaques: Well, in a literal sense, what Brass Menažeri plays is directly rooted in the music of Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, and Bosnia, and strongly identified with the Roma (“Gypsies”) there. It’s hard driving music, frequently in odd-metered rhythms (e.g. 7/8, 9/8, etc.) and commonly uses Eastern musical scales, especially Turkish/Arabic scales. Here’s an example by one of our favorite bands, led by Dejan Avdić from southern Serbia, performing in 9/8 at the championship Guča Brass Band Festival. (Apologies for the mediocre sound quality, it was shot from the crowd.) Pretty much a completely different sound from American Brass!
Mr. Lif, what about rapping over horns vs. beats? How have you found a balance among all the boisterous sounds?
Lif: I’ve sought out big sounds all throughout my career. Even in my early days of self-produced beats, I was mainly drawn to sampling horns. There is something indescribably magnificent about a well-orchestrated horn section. I feel like this opportunity to work with Brass Menažeri presents the best of many things I’ve been seeking in terms of sound. I get commanding drums to accompany the horns, and I also get to rock over the up-tempo boisterous swing that Balkan brass provides. When we get the opportunity to be in a recording studio together, we’ll explore a vast array of options to fuse the best of what I do with the best of what Brass Menažeri does. It hasn’t been a struggle to find a balance at all.
Why are you drawn to Balkan music? How does it work with what you rap about?
Lif: Balkan brass music is rooted as the sound of the Serbian and Macedonian people rising up against the Ottoman Empire. My lyrics will be a powerful combination over Balkan sounds because I think the times we’re living through do call for an uprising of sorts. The uprising I seek is that of humankind elevating its collective mind to step away from the caustic ways of the “civilized” world we have created. I plan to speak from the heart on the humility and resilience brought about by hard times. I want to implore that intense spiritual growth can be sparked by listening closely to one’s instincts. What better music as a backdrop for this than the music of rebellion and liberation?
Who and what else are you listening to lately?
Jaques: Turkish 70’s psychedelic rock! Erkin Koray was brilliant. It’s exactly what that description makes it sound like, complete with electric saz and too much spring reverb. Also Kayhan Kalhor and Mohammed Reza Shadjarian, master Persian musicians. Some of the most soulful music anywhere. BDP — KRS One is a master. Always Beethoven, Marika Papagika (Greek singer from the 1930’s), and lots of Balkan brass!
What made you decide to use Kickstarter?
Lif: To answer this question, I turn again to the history of the Balkan Brass sound. ”People uprising to overthrow their rulers.” That’s a powerful concept, a powerful thought. For people to accomplish something like that, it requires unity, determination, and focus on a common goal. Within the context of the lyrics I’ll be writing for this album, we may all have to identify our own perspective as our main oppressor. The willingness to make challenging but fruitful and sustainable change must come from deep within. You’ve got to really want it. So Kickstarter is perfect for this project because if the people want to hear these sounds, if they want to explore this path with us, they have the power to contribute funds to make it happen. They’ll be able to come sit in the studio with us and see what they have contributed to. They’ll have their names in the album credits. It’ll be a unified team effort to do something unique and fulfilling. That’s the type of art I want to leave behind when I’m gone.