Cosey Fanni Tutti, exhibition poster for “Prostitution,” 1976.


In 1976, British performance artist and musician Cosey Fanni Tutti (Christine Newby) cofounded Throbbing Gristle from the art collective COUM Transmissions along with Chris Carter, Peter Christopherson, and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. As she details in her autobiography Art Sex Music (Faber & Faber, 2017), their debut gig occurred, rather appropriately, on the opening night of COUM Transmissions’ “Prostitution” show at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts. On the occasions of the fortieth-anniversary reissue of Throbbing Gristle’s album The Second Annual Report (Mute, 2017) and the COUM Transmissions retrospective at the Humber Street Gallery in Hull, England, earlier this year, she reflects on the band’s mission, its radical roots, and the significance of her own pseudonym.

MY NAME CHANGED FROM Cosmosis to Cosey Fanni Tutti. A friend had sent me a postcard and addressed it to Cosey Fanni Tutti. It seemed rather apt, because at the time I was doing mail art and collaging a lot of sex magazines, Cosey Fanni Tutti was fine with me. I don’t regard myself as having an alter ego. I’ve just always been who I am. But there was a point later on when I went places, and my name preceded me. I think that’s when I realized that the name itself had traction. The name does have a life of its own, people build something about me around it.

The north of England in the 1960s was just waking up to progressive music and art. We had the art college, university, and technical college, so people were travelling in from the outskirts of Hull. And the record companies had begun to send artists from their labels around the country, artists like Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. In Hull and Yorkshire, the people are tough, and it’s tough to convince them to change. I was amongst that social group of working-class families who worked bloody hard and didn’t need any disruption from their children and daily lives. Within that culture you were expected to follow form. I was born at the right time, just as the whole hippie culture and Beat generation came through. We knew there was an alternative lifestyle out there—we’d seen it, we’d read about it, and we wanted it. It wasn’t long after that I left Hull, or I was politely asked to leave.

In COUM, people would mess around playing acoustic guitar or bongos in different people’s flats. Then it shifted from that, to using anything that could make sound that was more interesting. It wasn’t based on any formula as such—it was about being creative with sound. We were breaking down rock ’n’ roll with toy instruments and basically being annoying. Then we realized it would be good to be a little bit more constructive about it. We got to know different people through COUM, and they brought different things, like the possibilities of amplification. Then we moved down to London and met the musician and engineer John Lacey, who was very technically competent. And through him we met Chris Carter who was able to build synthesizers. It was Chris building equipment that brought me to a different kind of sound. I thought it gave us the possibility to create sounds that we hadn’t heard before—or the sounds we could hear in our heads. It was Chris’s information and ideas and innovative approach to it all that made Industrial music possible.

Throbbing Gristle performs “Discipline” in San Francisco, 1981.

I see Throbbing Gristle and Industrial Records as satellites of what was going on in punk. Throbbing Gristle came out of Brion Gysin, International Times, and all those experimental groups of the ’60s. Out of that came Industrial music. We had nothing to do with punk. Punk came from Malcolm McLaren and John Krivine. They didn’t do it themselves, they formed bands to do it for them. That’s the big difference between us and them. We did it ourselves. Bands like Cabaret Voltaire did it themselves.

By the 1980s what was labelled “Industrial” music was nothing like the original. Throbbing Gristle had finished by ’81—the project was over. It had been a product of the late-’60s generation speaking out about the ’70s. It was a really tough time in England in the ’70s. There were a lot of power cuts and struggles with the National Health Service. It’s getting like that again now. I think when we get Brexit, it will be like what we had in the ’70s—it’ll be very desperate. People are going to find it difficult. I’m not looking forward to it myself.

— As told to Erik Morse

Jérôme Havre, Cauleen Smith, and Camille Turner, Triangle Trade, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 14 minutes 31 seconds.


The artist and filmmaker Cauleen Smith, who recently relocated from Chicago to Los Angeles, rarely tethers her work to bare reality. Her latest film, Triangle Trade, 2017—made in collaboration with Canadian artists Jérôme Havre and Camille Turner—renders three new, fantastical realms, inhabited only by the puppet likenesses of the work’s three creators. Triangle Trade is on view at Gallery TPW in Toronto until November 11, 2017.

TWO YEARS AGO, I visited Toronto to do a site visit at Gallery TPW, where I had been slated to have a solo exhibition. I wanted to make a film in the city for that show, so I started meeting with a lot of black artists living in Toronto, hoping to find a few collaborators. I became really intrigued by many of these artists’ ideas about blackness; I sensed a lot of frustration about how whenever black history or experience is discussed, it’s always from an American point of view. But there’s a long history of black people emigrating from the Caribbean to Canada, which seems to create a kind of double colonial consciousness—an echo in terms of belonging and not belonging.

Ultimately, I chose to collaborate with the performance and multimedia artist Camille Turner and the sculptor Jérôme Havre. So much of Camille’s work is made through a speculative, science-fiction lens, and she loves to use Afro-Futurist metaphors to talk about alienation. It became clear we’d be able to have a very natural conversation within a project. And I just thought Jérôme’s work was so fresh—I had never seen anything like it. He was making things that—to me—were, crucially, not like anything that an American artist would make.

For example, Magnifique Isolation, 2009, was a stunning installation that he made of small, distorted human figures that hung from the ceiling, suspended in midair. I can’t really think of any African American artist who would hang a body. That decision was so intriguing, because it shows how the weight of history always presses itself upon aesthetic decisions.

I have to stress that our film, Triangle Trade, is equally mine, Camille’s, and Jérôme’s. Each of our segments in the film function independently of one another, and our respective puppets never really engage in dialogue. Even the terrains and topographies of our separate segments remain really distinct, which might, in some way, be symptomatic of the black diasporic condition.

My segment takes place on a volcano. My puppet talks about how it’s impossible for anyone to claim one, because it’s literally made up of matter coming from the core of the earth. I’ve been thinking about that concept a lot lately, and about how North American land is completely soaked in blood. It’s become increasingly troubling to me, especially when I try to imagine futures or forms of liberation or justice.

New land seems necessary, but, of course, all the land everywhere has been claimed and colonized many times over. I thought about other planets, but there’s a strange colonial project in that too. So, really, the only place you can arrive at and settle in without doing harm is at a lava berg.

The terrain in Camille’s segment is a completely imaginary and allegorical world. It looks nothing like Earth, and she describes it only in magical terms, rather than empirical ones. Jérôme’s is an island, but, more than that, it’s a kind of meta-space or feeling—the feeling of being adrift. It was an important challenge to create Triangle Trade together without necessarily agreeing on what time or space we were in. I think that’s an interesting lesson on how to get along with people in general. You may not all have agreements on where, and when, and who we are.

— As told to Juliana Halpert

Barbara Hammer, Faucet Head (detail), 1969, acrylic on paper, 42 x 24".


Barbara Hammer, a beloved icon of lesbian and experimental filmmaking, has a very full season ahead of her: the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York is hosting “Evidentiary Bodies,” a retrospective spanning fifty years and featuring her never-before-seen artworks, which opens October 7, 2017 and runs until January 28, 2018; the New York Film Festival is screening five of Hammer’s 16-mm works, made between 1975 and 1989, on October 9, 2017; the gallery Company in New York is presenting an exhibition of her work, “Truant: Photographs, 1970–1979” from October 22, 2017 to November 26, 2017; and, finally, a newly restored version of her film Sisters! (1974) is being shown at the Metrograph in New York for a program titled “Mischief and Play” on December 17, 2017. To top it all off, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University just acquired the artist’s massive archive.

THE SHOW AT LESLIE-LOHMAN is going to be a very different kind of retrospective. Most people know me as a filmmaker, and there have been a number of surveys of my films. But this exhibition is going to go beyond the moving image. Two great young women, Staci Bu Shea and Carmel Curtis, have curated it. They’re going to show work I’ve made over the last fifty years that has never been seen before. You know, I’m not in the closet, but a lot of my artwork is! So there will be installations, photographs, collages, and recently unearthed Super 8 films that have been digitized. Among the older works is a costume from 1984 called Lesbian Hands. It’s a performance outfit made from gloves that covers the entire body. It’s a piece that talks about how hands are sexual organs for lesbians. There’s also going to be a new three-screen work about mortality, something I might project into coffins. It’s called Transition Screen, 2017.

Some artists become agitated about putting together a big survey. Perhaps they’re afraid of seeing the entirety of their lives laid out in a certain way. Or maybe they’re just embarrassed by old work. But I don’t cringe at any of it—I rejoice. I became an artist so I could put who I am out into the world. Art is the only channel for it, at least for me. Hopefully, in addition to the youth and naïveté, people will see the growth and maturity in the show, too, along with everything I’m facing now as I approach late age. If I share, the audience will share back—that’s what I believe.

The Company show is going to feature twenty-nine photographs that were made during the ’70s—pictures of lovers, motorcycle trips, landscapes, and film stills, among other things. Andrew Durbin, the gallery’s director, selected the works from thousands of black-and-white negatives. The process took months. He is very patient! A beautiful—and affordable—book is going to come out for the exhibition, too. Hannah Black and A.L. Steiner are contributing essays, and Andrew has written the introduction.

Excerpt from Barbara Hammer’s interview for 500 Words.

At the New York Film Festival, five older works are going to be screened: Psychosynthesis (1975), Women I Love (1976), Audience (1983), No No Nooky TV (1987), and Still Point (1989). I am especially excited about the new print of Still Point! It is a major experimental film of mine and has rarely been seen. It never went to festivals or venues. The 16-mm frame is cut into four equal parts, each with a different image. When I made it, I wanted to start a new language where the viewer could read images rapidly from one part of the screen to the other. The subject is also a breakthrough for me: the film asks how a middle-class lesbian couple can be a part of public space. It features my lover Florrie Burke—we’ve been together twenty-nine years now—and myself along with the streets and people of New York.

Oh, and my film Sisters! has been restored with a grant from New York Women in Film and Television and will be re-premiered at the Metrograph movie theater in December. It hasn’t been screened since it was first made, back in 1974. It’s about women taking over the world: women driving trucks, changing Volkswagen engines, and leading the police in new revolutions! It also has footage of women topless, dancing, sweating—with babies on their shoulders!—to the music of the Family of Woman band at the second National Lesbian Conference that took place at UCLA, where Audre Lorde and Kate Millett spoke.

Another wonderful thing that’s happened is that the Beinecke Library at Yale has acquired my paper archive. Fifty boxes of my drawings, journals, manuscripts, and ephemera get to sit alongside the rare letters and papers of Gertrude Stein and Georgia O’Keeffe. It took about one solid year to organize everything for the library. And what’s even better is that the money from the sale of the archive funds the annual Barbara Hammer Lesbian Experimental Filmmaking Grant that’s given out by the nonprofit Queer|Art. The first one, a prize of $5,000, will be awarded this year. But just to be clear: the grant is a lesbian filmmaking award, because lesbians have been disappeared once again into the word queer, as they were before with the word gay. It’s so important to acknowledge the multitude of different sexual identities and not collapse everything into one term. Lesbians need to be recognized. And the sale of the archive is going to ensure that this award exists for a long, long time. Aren’t I lucky? I’m so grateful that I get to leave this kind of legacy. It’s astonishing.

— As told to Alex Jovanovich

Julia Weist and Nestor Siré, Mark Ruffalo con OMEGA en El Paquete Semanal [Mark Ruffalo with OMEGA in The Weekly Package], 2017, HD video, color, sound, 10 minutes 55 seconds.


Julia Weist is a New York–based artist and 2016–17 Queens Museum/Jerome Foundation Fellow. For her fellowship exhibition, on view at the museum through February 18, 2018, Weist traveled to Cuba and collaborated with Cuban artist Nestor Siré on a project exploring El Paquete Semanal (The Weekly Package), a hard drive loaded with a mix of media, including films, TV shows, games, and software. For most Cubans, the internet is only accessible via Wi-Fi hot spots, and content is censored by the government. The Paquete, circulated and sold extralegally each week, serves as a replacement for in-home internet.

EL PAQUETE SEMANAL is distributed through a complex and decentralized network spread across Cuba. Every week, Paquete creators in Havana aggregate and package one terabyte of data, then send it by plane, bus, or motorcycle—any form of transportation imaginable—to regional distributors who copy it onto many more hard drives for local sale. Some customers take the full terabyte of information; others pay to fill just one USB stick. If you are not used to thinking about digital materials in a physical sense, it is interesting to see how this competitive trade could develop based entirely on physical movement.

Using the island’s transportation infrastructure to share media began in the 1970s, when similar networks were created for books, magazines, and, later, VHS tapes, CDs, and DVDs. Nestor’s engagement with the Paquete runs very deep because he helped his grandfather distribute tapes and DVDs as a teenager. Julia has a background in library and information science. Both of us have spent a lot of time with processes that help people access information and knowledge, and in our work, we tend to approach concepts through the systems that shape them. How do systems define meaning and experience? How do they mediate the way content is presented or consumed?

The centerpiece of our exhibition at the Queens Museum is an interactive archive of fifty-two weeks of the Paquete. You can navigate through it to view any single moment from the past year—any folder, any file. Another major component is a three-channel video documenting our experience researching and working with the Paquete during the past year and a half. It includes original content we made for insertion in the Paquete in collaboration with Paquete makers, who helped us to identify top entertainment trends and celebrities in Cuba. One trend we worked with is a new interest in web shows—the videos we would associate with YouTube. We also got the actor Mark Ruffalo to make a screencast of his daily internet routine. The Paquete is Cuba’s only independent media platform and has two content limitations that help prevent government interference: it cannot have anything pornographic or explicitly political. Ruffalo’s video was accepted with just minor edits because he is so famous that it was considered pop culture. We were able to make a similar video with Cuban Instagram “influencer” Carlos Alejandro Sánchez Rodríguez, too. He has fifteen thousand followers, which is astonishing in a country with such restricted internet.

Part of understanding systems is finding their boundaries. When does a mass amount of content approximate the internet or not? Cubans call the Paquete the “internet of Cuba” as shorthand, but it’s not really that, and Cubans understand this. For example, there are no news articles as you would normally find online. People outside of the country try to equate the Paquete with the internet, however, we see it as closer to a streaming service like Netflix or Spotify—with one significant difference: With the Paquete, content becomes popular and discoverable primarily by word of mouth. There is no algorithm saying, “If you liked this, you will also like this.”

We did a statistical analysis of our archive and discovered that each edition of the Paquete contains far more time-based media than one person could possibly consume in one full week. That gives some perspective as to the amount of choice someone has in selecting content. We were also surprised by the statistical percentages of Cuban material, such as off-line phone apps, magazines, and TV shows produced specifically for the Paquete. It is oftentimes described in the US press as “Hollywood downloaded,” but it is so much more than that.

— As told to Hannah Stamler

Tabboo!

09.21.17

Tabboo!, Self-Portrait, 1982, acrylic on found advertising paper, 27 x 20". Photo: Max Lee.


Painter, theatrical designer, and drag artist Tabboo!, also known as Stephen Tashjian, was an essential figure in New York’s early downtown art and club scene. “World of Tabboo! Early & Recent Work” will feature a new batch of his paintings in addition to a suite of pieces he made when he first moved to New York and was living with his friend and collaborator Pat Hearn (who went on to open her own eponymous gallery in 1983). The show is on view at Gordon Robichaux in New York from September 24 to November 19, 2017. Additionally, a selection of Tabboo!’s works will be featured in “Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978–1983” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. That show opens on October 31, 2017 and runs until April 1, 2018. Here, Tabboo! talks about his art, New York, and life with Hearn.

THE FIRST TIME I met Pat was probably around 1977—the year Elvis died—when we were both going to art school in Boston: I was at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, for poor people, and she was at the Museum School. She had a shaved head and crazy eyebrows and makeup, and she wore wild psychedelic clothing. We hooked up immediately and started working together in Boston’s performance art scene, which was really small. But we couldn’t stay there forever. Pat got me to New York. She said, “Throw everything you’ve got in a garbage bag and let’s move.” She was a little more aggressive than I was, which sometimes can be good. But the very first day we got here, we were like, “Oh my God, did we make a mistake? What the fuck are we doing here?! We can’t afford the rent!” So we thought, “Well, let’s get out and just see the world, let’s go to the Kitchen, let’s go to White Columns.” So one day we went to White Columns, and the show there was by somebody who took Barbie dolls, sculpted their hair, xeroxed them, and then put the copies all along the walls. There were people there performing, a boy and a girl, probably the same age. She was singing, and he was beating some drums and wearing a hula skirt. So we walked up to them and start talking. The woman was Ann Craig—a big star of downtown. The guy in the hula skirt was Jean-Michel Basquiat. I was like, “I think we’re home.”

Pat and I had a little No Wave band called Wild and Wonderful—it started in Boston. (It wasn’t my first band, though—Jack Pierson, a bunch of other people, and I were in one called the Fucking Barbies.) We’d do things like slowly play Elvis’s “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” backwards and sing over it. Pat would usually do the song, and I’d be playing drums. We were part of the scene that was based around Club 57 during the late 1970s and early ’80s. We did shows everywhere: the Mudd Club, CBGB, Club 57, the Pyramid Club. That’s how I met all those queens from Atlanta, like RuPaul and Lady Bunny. The Pyramid queens used to put on these theme nights at the clubs, too, like Old South Night, Trailer Park Trash Night, or Coney Island Baby Night.

Excerpt from Tabboo!’s interview for 500 Words.

Back then, I found my art supplies on the street. I’d scavenge through the trash of shipping and packing companies and find rolls of this disposable packing paper, like craft paper—something you’d wrap dead fish in. I once found all this Pepsodent toothpaste packaging and started painting on it. That stuff is not supposed to last, but I thought the world was going to end in 1984, or turn into something out of George Orwell, so I didn’t care about doing things on 100 percent cotton rag acid-free paper. I was young, dumb, full of cum, whatever. At the time, it was all about the Weimar Republic. That was the zeitgeist. It was coming out of punk, New Wave, and maybe the German stuff too: Kraftwerk, Klaus Nomi. I was inspired by German Expressionism, Neue Sachlichkeit, Otto Dix, all of that. One of my favorite movies is Cabaret—because of Bob Fosse, not just Liza Minnelli! I even met Nomi on my second day in New York. He tried to pick me up. He was a leather queen, alas. I wasn’t into it. But it was such a big deal to meet him.

I’ve done everything: drag, painting, theatrical design, music. I’ve never confined myself artistically. It must have something to do with having been a professional puppeteer as a kid. I was even a card-carrying member of the Puppeteers of America. I was in puppeteering magazines! I made my puppets, I did the voices—both male and female—and created the sets. I was an auteur.

Anyway, what I do now is so different. The kind of work I made back then reflected the life I lived. I mean, I was a professional drag queen for twenty-five years. I didn’t wake up until 4 in the afternoon. I didn’t come home until 5:30 in the morning. I was a woman drinking and doing drugs. That’s how I lived. I made art about what was around me, what I knew. So what do I know now? I know my friends. I know my plants. I know all my tchotchkes, my puppet collection, and New York City. I’ve been around the world, but I don’t travel that much these days. I’m basically a homebody. So that’s my subject matter. I paint with acrylics on linen, realistically with a touch of abstraction. I’m influenced by the old stuff—Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec. A lot of contemporary art leaves me cold. And I paint from my Alphabet City apartment, which I’ve lived in for about thirty-five years. Here’s my big fancy artist statement: I don’t have one! I just do what I do.

New York is not what it used to be, but I’d rather be here than in Charlottesville, honey. I’m not too sad about it because I accept change. But it can be tough. So many people I came up with died, from drugs, hepatitis C, AIDS. So much has disappeared: all the little bookstores, antique shops, and Polish restaurants. And the art supply stores, too—New York Central, A.I. Friedman—have vanished. Why does NYU buy out everything and turn it into dorms? And what’s with all these young college kids? They come here, go shopping, party a little, get their degrees, then go back to wherever the fuck they came from. Why do they dictate everything? All these enormous universities are like kudzu, you know? I mean, I love kudzu, I love its pretty green color, but it sucks the life out of everything. Well, whatever—I’m in a show at the Museum of Modern Art! I’m doing fine.

— As told to Alex Jovanovich

Tiona Nekkia McClodden, The Brad Johnson Tape, X - On Subjugation, 2017, video, black-and-white, sound, 2 minutes 24 seconds.


Based in Philadelphia, the artist and filmmaker Tiona Nekkia McClodden often formulates her work in response to lesser-known creative predecessors, pulling up the deeper roots of black American art, literature, and identity. The ten-part VHS video The Brad Johnson Tape, 2017, is her latest project and pays homage to the poems, essays, and correspondence of the late writer, who died of AIDS-related complications in 2011. One segment of the work, On Subjugation, and another recent video, Essex + Audre, 2015, are on view in the group exhibition “Speech/Acts” at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia through December 23, 2017.

EARLY LAST YEAR, I went to this magazine shop called Avril 50 in Philadelphia. I typically go there every month to get my art magazines because it has the best selection in the city. I bought an issue of the journal Other Countries: Black Gay Voices, and when I was flipping through it on the train, I came across a poem by Brad Johnson, called “On Subjugation.” It just knocked me over. I had this physical reaction that was almost lustful—I felt so hot! It was like someone was cruising me or speaking directly to me.

I couldn’t stop reading it. I scanned it and printed it out and kept it in my pocket to look at from time to time. I have it memorized—I’ve read it almost every day for a year. But when I googled Johnson’s name, I couldn’t find anything. Then I did a deeper search and found an interview with Steven G. Fullwood, the founder of the Black Gay and Lesbian Archive at the Schomburg Center for Research at the New York Public Library, who said the center had just acquired Johnson’s work. I was like, It has to be him.

I visited Johnson’s archive in New York on Valentine’s Day this year. Once I saw it, I committed to creating a body of work for this man. I learned that he wrote “On Subjugation” while serving in the navy in the early ’80s, right after he got out of Yale. This was long before “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Imagining the mind-set that must come from being in the military—and attending an Ivy League school—as an out gay black man made the text a lot clearer to me.

After a while, I came to understand how Johnson saw himself, which was heartbreaking. He was hard on himself. He dealt with a lot of rage and sadness, based on the ways that he felt he should succeed—and, very frankly, he should have been able to. But his writing goes between this romantic, lush language and hard-core, aggressive, sexually driven passages. I’m in the BDSM community, so I was like, Okay, this is a daddy. The way that he talks about leather in some of his poems is fantastic.

I had to work up the courage to make The Brad Johnson Tape for almost a year. For the project, I put myself through ten exercises, or—to use the language of a BDSM player—ten scenes, while reading one of Johnson’s texts out loud. Each scene also incorporates a device or situation that’s related to SM physical play. For one of them, I beat myself with a latex rope while reading an essay of his, because the entire feeling of the text is of him annihilating himself. For another, I read “On Subjugation” while being suspended by my feet from a suspension rig that I built in my studio. I recorded all ten scenes using an old VHS camcorder, on one single tape.

Part of my research into Johnson involves this physical thing I want to feel. I want to put myself through these situations to experience the same feeling I got from reading him—to feel the thing I feared and desired the most in an attempt to invoke a pure jouissance. There are moments in these exercises in which I cry, and I have to read between tears, or in which I am in such ecstasy that my eyes are pulsing. That’s something I can’t exactly convey to an audience, but it’s something I needed to feel. I’d say that the text is master. Or I’d say, truly, that Johnson is my dom. And the way to keep him in this dominant role is to put my hand on his text and read.

— As told to Juliana Halpert