Archive for March, 2015


Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

— The longest period of time during which I had a steady, regular band was two or three years, and it was two or three years ago. For a long time I had wanted to perform a record called BABBLE, a record written by Kevin Coyne and sung by Coyne and Dagmar Krause. It’s one of my favorite records. It’s a daunting and challenging record to listen to, much less to think about performing. But I fantasized about touring this record one day. All I needed was to find a singer to sing Krause’s role to my Coyne. I’d thought about asking Chan Marshall, and Shannon Wright, and Polly Harvey. But I wasn’t sure that any of them would be a good fit and I didn’t want to begin a conversation that would ultimately go nowhere. I’d been playing music with Emmett Kelly for a few years and had begun to discuss with him my BABBLE fantasy. One day he called and said that he thought he may have met someone who could sing the woman’s part. He suggested Angel Olsen, who he’d seen and heard around Chicago. She came to Louisville and we said hello, and then she recorded a demo of one of the BABBLE songs and sent it to me. This took guts, and in her recording she displayed a tension and a range that felt strong and ready to spring. So we had the principle parts cast and what was next was to flesh out the band. I’d known Danny Kiely in Louisville for years, and we had played together when Oscar Parsons put together a deluxe line-up of his Thomas A Minor & the Picket Line band that included me as Bonny in order to play at a private lake called Funtown. Danny knew my mother through the Louisville visual art scene, and he’s incredibly solid as a bass player and warm as a human being. Van Campbell had put his power duo The Black Diamond Heavies onto mothballs and was looking for music opportunities. I had known his brother Ward for many years, and I’d met Van over in England when we both performed with the Oxes one afternoon. Van’s dad played drums, and Van brought an earned and inherited fluency to the kit. I’d met Emmett during late nights in Chicago, and after I’d seen him perform with Azita one night in Louisville I knew I wanted to see what we could do together. Our first work together was in Reykjavik, at the recording session for THE LETTING GO record. By the time of the BABBLE trip, we’d also written and recorded a record together called THE WONDER SHOW OF THE WORLD, with Emmett billed as the Cairo Gang. Emmett also introduced me to Ben Boye, who joined us first on a trip through the Mid-Atlantic states playing keys. I think the bulk of the BABBLE band was on that trip; it was a summer trip and we played Tom Culton’s organic vegetable farm in Lancaster, PA as well as recording a Sufjan Stevens cover with Dan Smith of the Danielson Family at his place in New Jersey. We had Meg Baird with us, and our tour manager was Sabrina Rush, and Sabrina joined in on the recording session playing the violin. After the Mid-Atlantic trip, Emmett brought Angel into the fold and we had our ensemble. We rehearsed the BABBLE record and booked a short run of shows with the Babblers, as we called ourselves, opening for Bonny Prince Billy, which was also us. I bought fleece hoodie-footie pajamas for everyone in the band (our Babbler costumes), and we told local promoters that we were traveling with an opening act from Shreveport, Louisiana (the Babblers). Each band member had to provide his or her own lighting on stage, and we didn’t use any other stage lights for the BABBLE set. We just performed the record in its entirety each night. The first show was Babblers-only (no Bonny set) at a former Mexican record store in Chattanooga called Discoteca. Van set that gig up. It was snowing outside, and the roof leaked. There was no dressing room, so we changed into our hoodie-footie suits in the van (the bathrooms at the ‘venue’ were pretty dismal, although the walls of the bathrooms had really nice graffiti). We took the BABBLE show up to New York City and played at Town Hall. On the way back to Kentucky we scheduled one last-minute Babblers gig in Columbus, Ohio and we got paid with pints (and pints and pints) of Jeni’s Gourmet ice cream. For me, these shows were all about the BABBLE set although we still did good long Bonny sets and put our hearts into those headlining sets. We didn’t mention to the promoters or audiences along the way what we were doing, just that the headliners and the support acts would be sharing equipment.

It was this band (Emmett, Ben, Van, Danny, Angel and myself) that began to slowly prepare for the recording session that would produce WOLFROY GOES TO TOWN. Between the Mid-Atlantic trip and the recording of WOLFROY, we did a couple of mini-band trips. Emmett and Danny and I went out west and played some shows in the Pacific Northwest. Happily we were joined by Phil Elverum playing drums and then Ashley Webber sang with us at a couple of shows. On another trip, Emmett and Angel and I traveled throughout the state of Florida playing at record stores and live on the radio. These shows were about getting our WOLFROY harmonies cemented, and about introducing Emmett and Angel to the wonders of Florida. In St. Augustine we were joined at our gig by Shahzad Ismaily (who banged on a Styrofoam cooler) and Aram Stith (who played guitar). It was a lot of fun.

We finally got the WOLFROY songs together and played a show of just that heap of songs. The show was at Millennium Park in Chicago on a beautiful Monday Summer evening. And around that same time, we went into the Poor Shelter in Louisville, KY and recorded ten of the twelve songs written for that session. This was all six of us, plus Shahzad, who ran the recording machine and played and sang here and there on the session.

At one point, Emmett, Angel, Ben and I went over to Europe and did some shows as a foursome, and then Emmett, Angel, Van and I went down to Australia and played some shows, including a show in a cave near Margaret River in Western Australia. It keeps costs down to travel as a smaller group, and we can also get perspective on the songs by bringing forces in and out of the rotation.

Our last big trip as that six-piece was similar to our first trip together in that we created a new band and once again opened for ourselves playing an entirely separate repertoire. This time we learned a good long set of Mekons songs and traveled as the Chivalrous Amoekons. For our stage costumes, I asked the great Nashville designer and tailor Manuel to create shirts specifically for each band member. Our first show as the Mekons cover band was in Lexington, KY at a benefit show for the radio station WMMT out of Whitesburg, KY. Also on the bill was the great Louisville-based Vietnamese multi-instrumentalist Long Phanh Nguyen. A couple of days later we took our Mekons set and our Bonny set overseas and played a week in Switzerland and a week in Italy. The Mekons have three primary lead singers, and so did we on that trip. The Mekons have long been a crucial inspiration to me, and it was a joy to occupy some of their songs for a while in a legitimately illegitimate way. We had a night off between the Swiss and Italian shows and we spent that night in Parma. The next day we found a brewery out in the countryside outside of Parma called Panil. The lady of the brewery, Patricia, set us a table in the field next to the brewery. She brought us Parma ham and Parma cheese and some of the freshest most delicious beers I had ever had. Patricia told us that Panil has a festival every year in the springtime, and she said that we should come and play the festival the next year. I’d also visited the oldest covered theatre in Europe that morning, in Parma, and had begun trying to figure out a way to perform there. Over our beers and cheese and ham I promised the Babbler/Amoekon troop that we would reconvene the following year, in Italy, and that we would perform together at the Panil festival. However, that is a promise that I did not keep. One force or another wedged itself into our lives and that was to be the last trip (as of this writing) on which the six of us would travel and play all together. Ben has released a great solo autoharp record. Angel has put out a couple of full-length records under her name. There have been Cairo Gang releases and Bonny Cairo tourings. Van and Danny continue to play boatloads of music in and around Louisville. The Babblers and Chivalrous Amoekons bands were among the freest and funnest of times I have had performing live music, because I was traveling and performing with such excellent people while simultaneously embodying some of the music that has been vital to my development as a musical being.

This writing was inspired by Wade Hall’s biography of Pee Wee King, HELL-BENT FOR MUSIC.

Photo by Ashley Stinson

Photo by Connor Lynch

Will Oldham is a singer songwriter and actor, and a native of Louisville, Kentucky


Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

— The Pittsburgh Years is an audio and transcription archive that has slowly developed over a period of 20 years or so. The archive is a collection of voice recordings from messages left on my answering machine by out spoken and charismatic Pittsburgh native, artist and poet, Natalka Voslakov (1952-2011). Like Andy Warhol before her, Natalka’s art form was talking, and she would use the phone as an excuse to expound on a wide range of topics, knowing I would save the messages, which I did dutifully from 1990-2010. She was one of my dearest friends and though we drifted apart after I left town in the 80’s and our lives were irrevocably altered by time and circumstances, we maintained a healthy correspondence, me by letter (whereabouts of which are unknown) and she by answering machine (some of which have survived) in speech acts that she described as ‘performance monologues’. The recordings are quotidian speech acts, confessions, rants, gossip sessions, philosophical diatribes, political opinion, etc and as a whole are a valuable record of an individual subjective voice- now a historical voice- someone who experienced life in a particular time and place. Like a secret diary, the experiences and events on this small and confessional timeline of life’s ups and downs is valuable as this individual gives insight to the broader culture. The Index of the archive reflects the range of noteworthy topics raised, including, for example: Geishas, Medical Marijuana and Psychics. The emphasis on sound, and the voice of a woman, an un-famous working class woman at that, is ephemeral and could easily be forgotten. I marvel at the wit, deeply political world view and sophisticated presentation of self that Natalka so knowingly offers in these recordings. The Pittsburgh Years as audio and transcription, proposes to engage the current discourses on the archive in a fun and artistic way, to be an experiment in the aesthetics of listening and to honor memory in a legacy project.


You’re the only one who ever, ever understood…and I thank you so much for recognizing that, my greatest work of art was myself. But that was only my unconscious memory, not conscious—of the geisha life. And I was gonna say, why, did I not end up…like, for example—um, born clairvoyant Marvin said, if I had succeeded in killing myself… I…could, would have faced the ultimate Goddess/God which I cannot begin to comprehend, but, but—physics will prove THAT, eventually and all the other such things. Um, I could’ve been wiped out FOREVER because of the religion, that I was, born into. However in Japan, when I hung myself, as a young geisha…who had the same problems that I brought to this lifetime. I was allowed to come back, it was not a problem because, in that religion, which was Shinto, that I followed—and also um, that is not…that is a belief that is OK. Listen, I was ready to make some really classy fake letterhead and go say, I’m making this film and get a, get a car and get in and drive—but, you know, I would’ve ended up in jail…and, I don’t need that. I spent enough time in quite a few—nonviolent protesting, um, I’m proud of that. Um, also some of the ah, you could call ah, psych wards, I was in. Yeah, dual diagnosis lockdown unit, which, um—like, bad people get money easily, from art world grants and from mainstream, or whatever you want to call the alternative. I’ll tell you where I’m at now. You’re, you finish what you gonna do but I’m in the middle, but the middle is the new age—I’m ahead. This is the new territory. However, MY BEING TRENDY—and I do loathe LA, by the way—but, you know, I couldn’t pick up my kids and move them there. And, when I was here for six weeks with no phone and no TV, um, and all that, when my grandmother was passing, and all that, I caught up a lot of my back issues of my reading. Unfortunately I couldn’t move the books around or unpack them. Now, do you remember growing up when they had those frickin, um, you know, um, paper glasses for 3-D—like Swamp Creature? Now—Samsung—that’s out of Korea, um—and I like Samsung stuff too, they’re really good. OK, so. THEY actually have now a flatscreen where you gotta wear fucking glasses to see it? Do you know how fucking over that is, in Tokyo they HAVE flatscreens, you don’t need the motherfucking glasses! Isn’t that stupidious? It’s like, OK James Cameron… Now, we all know we’re on the Titanic…and, we are third class steerage, all of us in this country, and we are just a FIGMENT in your great 3-D mind, with glasses. This means, if it’s now in America—OK, the basic rumor for 3000 or for 2501—it’s already over in Tokyo. They hold these products off, so that they can send them to dumbass Americans, so they will pay the full price when you can go to Tokyo and be overwhelmed at how behind we are. OK, but what I’m saying is: number one, how am I gonna deal with this. The more—I’m gonna keep gettin—you know what—I just wish I had a liquor store around here. I would go and buy some good vodka. I really mean that. I mean—I’m sorry, you don’t mix vodka with the drug I’m taking, but I’m ready to be loonie was a tune, as the Looney Tunes we grew up watching. I’ll tell you what, if they STOP everything, I will call WTAE, Channel 4, The Action News—they’re always looking for something weird. I will camp out and I will go crazy and I will tell them what happened—what they did, and that I would have, and you know what, unfortunately, Dr. Yonger from Pakistan is bound to throw me into Western Psych or wherever—well, you know what, just, you know what—I don’t want to go back there. Like I want to sit around making motherfucking macramé, with beads? I will be on TV. Besides the fact that I’m making out a will, which I did leave for Mr. Shaffer’s box which he didn’t even return—crying and screaming and going berserk—I was gonna keep myself awake as long as I can, like how Hunter S. Thompson used to do and go wacko, completely. Thank God I don’t believe in guns or violence. But here’s the point, I’m gonna forge ahead. FUCK the attorneys. We’re in the new turf now. You know Pirate Cove? You DO know that the only country, that Sweden is the wild…to um, to um, absolute anarchy um, with the Internet, in fact it’s the only country, fucking Sweden… allowed, the CIA and the goons from the US to take and take all their servers out—from Pirate Bay? And, they are yeah, there. And you know why China’s rising and we’re falling? It’s real simple. Because they’re not fucking stupid like we are. Their leaders, are building the middle class—and I’m telling you, the things that we don’t know and we don’t hear that to go on there—the underground clubs. The only influence we have on the world, is…um, our cultural input—the rap movement, the punk movement, all that—the UK and us—and we were part of that in the film genre, in the Super8—but it’s over, it’s the past. I don’t want to live in the past. You can’t go back to being who you were, but you have to become who you must be. You know, fuck the ATTORNEYS. FUCK all this shit. The age of Enlightenment and—rational thought, of scientific thought—started, way back, when Galileo was put on the rack and tortured by the pope…to deny, to take back what we know, is absolutely correct, that…you know, we, we do not evolve around the sun. I mean, we revolve around the sun, the sun does not revolve around us. That was the beginning of the age of the Enlightenment, the enlightenment of everything—of the political changes, of the scientific revolution. We’re just at the beginning—and that is a bitch, that’s the worst fucking time to be anything or anyone, to be a philosopher…to be—you know, I mean look. LOOK. Look at this sorry ass United States of Ambien. It makes me want to puke, vomit and throw up. The point I’m making is, I would rather— you know, FUCK ATTORNEYS.

Peggy Ahwesh was born in Pittsburgh, PA and currently lives and works between Brooklyn, NY and the Catskills. She is a media artist who got her start in the 1970s with feminism, punk and amateur Super 8 filmmaking. Her work has exhibited worldwide including at the New Museum, New York, NY; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; The Tate Modern, London, UK; Guggenheim Museum, Bilboa, Spain and her films featured at the Whitney Biennial, NY (5 editions); THE AMERICAN CENTURY, Whitney Museum, NY; and at “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution” 2008, P.S.1, Queens, NY. Her works are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, the Library of Congress, among others. She has received grants and awards including from the Jerome Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, Creative Capital, NYSC and the Alpert Award in the Arts. Peggy Ahwesh is Professor of Film & Electronic Arts at Bard College where she has taught for many years.

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Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Sarah Conaway received her MFA in Photography from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2001 and a BA in Philosophy from Bucknell University in 1994. Her work has been featured in solo and two person exhibitions at The Box, Los Angeles, Barbara Seiler Gallery, Zurich and Bellwether Gallery, New York, and group exhibitions at Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris, Richard Telles Gallery, Los Angeles, Night Gallery, Los Angeles, Taka Ishii Gallery Modern Tokyo, and the inaugural edition of the biennial, MADE IN L.A., Hammer Museum, 2012.

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Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

— The Siegessäule (victory column), is a Berlin monument and popular tourist attraction that commemorates Germany’s 1870 victory over France in the Battle of Sedan. That battle ended the Franco-Prussian War and, as a result, Germany became a nation state. In 1873 Kaiser Wilhelm I unveiled the monument, which served as symbol of German unification. Its proportions were inspired by Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s neo-classical architecture. In 1939, the Siegessäule changed. Adolf Hitler moved the column from its original location in front of the Reichstag to where it now stands at the center of the Großer Stern roundabout in Berlin’s Tiergarten. He placed it along an east/west axis running through the city that the Nazi troops were supposed to traverse on their victorious return from Russia. Albert Speer broadened its base and added another section that made it taller than before.

Walter Benjamin’s memoir, Berlin Childhood Around 1900, opens with the inscription “Oh brown baked victory column with winter sugar from the days of childhood.” With this Benjamin suggests that, in winter, the monument resembled a gingerbread house covered with confectioner’s sugar—perhaps one that his mother had baked for him.

I discovered Benjamin’s memoir in 1993, shortly after coming to Berlin for the first time with my husband and young daughter. It comprises forty-two short texts that describe vividly remembered places and events from Benjamin’s childhood. Benjamin started writing it in 1932, shortly after leaving his beloved city for what he feared would be a prolonged exile. He considered this project an inoculation against homesickness. The entries are more allegorical than autobiographical—covering such themes as love and loss of home, hunting and being hunted, the lure of exotic places and a passion for reading and writing. His text, Die Siegessäule, reflects his aversion to the monument by describing the symbolic mosaic that covers its interior and the celebratory military parades that he was forced to attend.

From 1993 until 2001, whenever I was in Berlin, I shot photographs based on these image-rich texts—texts which Benjamin himself described as snapshots of a bourgeois childhood. Sometimes this was as simple as going to a location he mentions or photographing events from my daughter’s life at school and with friends. For an exhibition of this work at the daadgalerie, I decided to commission a baked version of the victory column. First, I planned to give the baker a souvenir of the monument to copy. However, searching through tourist shops and antique markets yielded nothing. At the victory column itself only souvenirs of the golden angel that sits at its top were for sale. Curiously, the base of the victory column houses an exhibition of models of monuments from around the world—in sharp to contrast its own souvenir-less status. In response, I produced a small edition of victory columns. They were ten inches tall and based on the original version, before Hitler’s enlargement. They served as prototypes for a subsequent edition of 1000 that I made for the 2004 Berlin Biennale.

The word “souvenir” derives from Latin “subvenire”, which translates “to come up from below”—virtually the same as its meaning in French. Souvenirs are a way of remembering, holding on to memories, so that they remain present. The absence of a victory column souvenir suggests the opposite—a desire to repress not only memories of the monument, but also its troubling past. As far as I know, my edition may be the only group of Siegessäule souvenirs available anywhere. Only Die Siegessäule, Berlin’s leading gay and lesbian magazine, deigns to acknowledge this symbol, admittedly with a degree of irony. My desire to produce an edition of souvenirs is not so much a celebration of the monument as it is a way to confront its traumatic history.

Aura Rosenberg received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College and her MFA from Hunter College, NY as well as attending the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program. Her work has been exhibited at, among others, Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, Austria, Le Magasin, Centre D’art Contemporain, Grenoble, France, Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), Philadelphia, Julia Stoschek Collection, Düsseldorf, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, Hamburger Banhof, Berlin, Temporäre Kunsthalle, Berlin, Swiss Institute, New York, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Zürich, MAMCO, Musee d’art Moderne et Contemporain, Geneva and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City.

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Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

— Homage To Sappho, 1978, was a performance in front of what is now the old Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco directed by me. The impetus was to “put lesbians, lesbian art in the museum and not pussy foot with the project label”. I asked a group of acquaintances to join me on the sidewalk, wear white, and be prepared to be active.

I asked them to write a list of lesbian artist names on the white paper that was laid out on the sidewalk with the intention to circle the museum (didn’t make that goal). We filled up balloons that had the name of a lesbian artist inside with helium and released them over the city. What you see is a large weather balloon but we also, as I remember, used smaller balloons. I have some photos of me posing under the museum sign with black hat and white suit suggesting that I should be in the museum not left on the sidewalk. So it was an inner/outer event.

The passing public were surprised, curious, stood around and watched. I don’t remember inviting anyone in particular nor the press (naive at the ‘art game’ at that time). The documentation is the history along with this little story.

Even as late as the 1990s I made a film, The Female Closet, on the lesbian photographer Alice Austen who was featured in a show at the NY Public Library and still there was no ‘lesbian text’ on display with the photographs, nor in the bio. Over and over again, but never again.

Barbara Hammer lives and works in New York City and Kerhonkson, New York. She is a visual artist primarily working in film and video. Her work reveals and celebrates marginalized peoples whose stories have not been told. Her cinema is multi-leveled and engages an audience viscerally and intellectually with the goal of activating them to make social change. Hammer has been to Yamagata both as a judge (1994) and with a competition documentary (2001). Since then she has been honored with five retrospectives in the last three years: The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Tate Modern in London, Jeu de Paume in Paris, the Toronto International Film Festival and Kunsthalle Oslo in Norway. Her book, HAMMER! MAKING MOVIES OUT OF SEX AND LIFE, was released in 2010, through The Feminist Press. Hammer is well-known for making the first explicit 1974 lesbian film DYKETACTICS, and for her trilogy of documentary film essays on queer history NITRATE KISSES (1992), TENDER FICTIONS (1995), HISTORY LESSONS (2000). She received a Guggenheim Fellowship (2013-14) for WELCOME TO THIS HOUSE (2015), a documentary on Elizabeth Bishop, which will premiere at The Museum of Fine Art, Boston and The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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