The secret written on your torso
Fiona Alison Duncan and Anon(s)
Why do a ‘community generated’ Q&A? Why write at all.
I wanted to put something on the record about Comedy of Erros, something worthy of the show and its artists. Besides fiction and poetry, the only language mediums I feel comfortable communicating in now are letters and conversation; I need that context, character and setting. Hard to Read and Pillow Talk were created in part to respond to this need–to see and hear (the subtleties of voice and physicality, to contextualize) language in action. I asked people who had visited the show or were familiar with Pillow Talk to send me questions that would be anonymized.
Tell me about the people you asked to be in the show that didn’t make it to the end. Tell us if we should quit smoking again.
My maternal grandmother, who died on the last day of the show’s install, smoked multiple packs of cigarettes a day from when she was an army cadet cruising teenager up until I last heard. We were informally estranged the last decade. I remember she would quit to get cosmetic procedures. Is it easier to quit when you know it’s not the end. Or for a greater good? Maybe you can trick yourself. When my grandmother got lung cancer and beat it in a snip, her resilience had her requested for further study. I wish I knew her cigarette brand, just as I wish I could’ve asked her to be in Comedy of Erros. She is the theme: projection/displacement (inside jokes), tragicomedy, dark comedy, sexual politics, addiction, absurdity, cartoonish abuse, and humor as a coping mechanism, her offspring’s response. My mom wants John Waters to direct the movie of her mother, whose last name is perfect: Shade. In our last communication, my grandmother told me off for my many wrong doings, including being a whore on the internet. I guess she googled me and found a flyer on my Twitter promoting a Pillow Talk event with porn stars Jiz Lee, Lotus Lain, and Mimosa (Tierney Finster organized and hosted it). Smoking’s hot and rotten. Everyone has to make their own decisions. Jade Kuriki Olivo, Maggie Lee, Pedro Almodovar’s people, Larry David’s people, Paul McCarthy’s people, and Miguel Adrover’s people all said no, or never replied. Larry and Adrover’s nos were for the best. Love the best of their work, but their responses to the movements for Black lives and trans lives (on Instagram and Curb) felt entitled, like why not listen first? Make space. Oh, the Marciano Art Foundation Union. I had this idea to rent a Union Rat and dress it in Guess? by Marciano including multiple Guess? purses filled with pamphlets made by the Union. Do you know how much it costs to rent even the smallest Union Rat?
Did you actually meet Larry David? If so, what was he like?
In my dreams.
Sexy/sexy, sexy/abject, sexy/funny? Do you think everything in the show falls into one of those categories?
When I was first organizing the show, I was in this post #MeToo numb to pleasure phase and making heady selections. Luckily, the process kept getting extended. Sensuality came back in…
SoiL Thornton’s sex toy sculpture collaboration with Doc Johnson became an obsession to make happen. That piece winks at abjection, this association of sex with ‘dirtiness.’ To me, it’s sexy/sexy (what’s more sensual than digging into rich moist soil?) and sexy/funny, in that there’s something pathetic about the one wand smooshed under the mound. It also feels like a future–synthetic nature. Earth rider. Clifford Prince King photographed Pippa Garner, summoning her suppleness. I love how pussy piercings glitter near the Vaquera panty ring and the hoop earring on Reynaldo’s El Conquistador girl. So many of Reynaldo’s photos are sexy, but the ones he picked for this show feel to me more joyful, lonely, and escapist where the destination’s bound be yourself. Matt Kenny’s One World Trade paintings are definitely sexy/I’m sick. Sojourner Truth Parsons’ balloons are sexy/heartbreaking or sexy/bittersweet. Her work gets read wrong, oversimplified. I think it’s because she hasn’t introduced language to her practice enough. She has such a distinct voice. Ishi Glinsky’s AKA Ricky the Rat is the only piece in the show that I’d have to be convinced is sexy. The trompe l’oeil materials and scale and the artist’s relationship to community and of course the use of Zunitoons–the Zuni tribe’s refashioning of commercial Hollywood cartoon characters, Looney Tunes–make it feel on theme. Now that I think about it, the ‘Mickey Mouse Club,’ one association removed, is sexy/abject, total grooming ground. And have you noticed how many Disney films are sanitized colonial rehearsals x softcore bodice rippers?
Can you tell me more about the artist that made Ricky the Rat?
Ishi Glinsky. LA based–you should buy something! He draws upon traditional practices of his tribe, the Tohono O’odham Nation, and other First Nations. There’s also elements of Pop and punk in the work. You’ll love this oversized studded leather jacket sculpture (Coral vs. King Snake Jacket, 2019).
What do the works in the show have in common besides the fact that you put them there?
There are dumb questions, but with a skilled partner they elicit the best answers. Tell us about kill fees.
Necessary. Respectful. Severance pay. Beautiful phrase. If the work is underway and can’t be transferred to another paid context, 50% of the agreed upon fee seems acceptable. Labor protections are sexy/sexy.
One anagram of your show title is “coed reform soy.” Do you remember at the 1998 Grammys when the guy got on stage with “Soy Bomb” written on his torso? Tell us the secret written on your torso.
The t-shirt I’m wearing today reads: WHO WILL SURVIVE AND WHAT WILL BE LEFT OF THEM. (I like Sorcery Dome Of / Decoy Sore From / Mercy Odors Foe / Code Reforms Yo.)
Pillow talk is and isn’t you. It’s not-Fiona. What are the other nots (or knots) in this show? Without getting into trouble, tell us about bisexual erasure.
Pippa Garner’s sculpture Human Prototype (2020) is one of God’s rejected designs for human life. She will not be installing a second large-scale sculpture herself as she prefers to (very hands on, tho legally blind) because she is in treatment for Agent Orange exposure leukemia, again. We’re all praying. Pippa is not yet getting the attention and support she deserves from the art world, whatever that is. Maybe people are not ready for her detached trans-femininity. (Garner’s experimentation reminds me of Preciado’s Testo Junkie.) Florynce ‘Flo’ Kennedy has also not gotten her due, tho I could see attempts happening soon. White feminism owes Flo Kennedy a huge debt, in terms of strategy and language, how to build a movement, community, and effect change. Kennedy shared her wisdom and knowledge with the intention of coalition building (most notably between Black civil rights and feminism, tho Kennedy was also involved with Coyote org and sex worker rights, artist labor and intellectual property rights, lesbian and gay rights, native rights, and more I’m surely forgetting.. broad coalition building as a strategy to counter the reigning system of domination and networks of oppression, real revolution, not mere cosmetic change–not that she was opposed to cosmetics, Kennedy wore long false lashes and had the best style.. she pioneered what we now call ‘intersectionality’ in study + action). Some privileged white feminists applied what they learned from Kennedy to their demographic’s needs and desires exclusively. This was individualistic short term profit thinking = supremacy. I just cast Kennedy’s birth chart and she is what I thought she would be: Aquarius dominant with beautiful 11th house placements, some Gemini, Leo, and Pisces. For more info, the books are a good start: Color Me Flo, Abortion Rap, and Sherie M. Randolph’s bio on Flo. You can read the first two in the show. Oh, the Vaquera engagement ring bearer panties is another naughty knotty not. Marriage. This chastity belt meets cock ring. Maybe on the last weekend of the show, we can find someone to model them. Would you like to volunteer?
I may have benefitted from bisexual erasure: When my publishers wanted to submit my novel Exquisite Mariposa for a LAMBDA award, I chose the ‘Bisexual’ category cos I thought I’d have the least competition. I won! That book is bisexual in that it explores desire for or within binary gender experiences, not so much man/woman–it’s girl/boy and brother/sister, infantile and incestuous. Early inheritances. (Speaking of bi nots, a car is blasting Prince’s ‘Kiss’ outside my window on the Upper East Side. This street is narrow and prone to traffic jams. I got to hear half the song.) I like how biannual can mean twice a year or every two years.
You mentioned before that the show falls somewhere in between ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ art. What do you think defines those 2 conditions in the art world? Is it that ‘outsiders’ do more various things without trying to corral them into a single ‘art practice’?
I interviewed Andrew Richardson a few years ago. He was a secondary for a profile I was writing on a motel-full of Inglewood residents who promoted bonobo ape as their sexual role model. I met Richardson where he was living, at Dov Charney’s mansion on Apex Avenue in Silver Lake. We sat on a balcony. He suggested we hook up, maybe a threesome. ‘I can tell you like girls.’ That didn’t bother me. What did was something he said about the outlets I published with. He had me list them all, then–just like he called the bonobo lovers ‘losers’ (I thought they were cool)–of my outlets, he said: ‘Oh, it’s all shit. Nothing.’ At that point, I was opting to write for outlets that could offer either editorial support (an education I didn’t receive formally) or money (I lived hand to mouth off freelance writing for years, insane). Often the magazines were relatively shit and I knew it, but in my youth hope folly, I thought that my work could be good enough to transcend its frame, or that people would understand and empathize with my underclass decision making. Haha. The context one publishes or exhibits in will be judged by some as if everyone has access to the same choices. The context is, arguably, part of the work. To be ‘successful’ in one’s practice at an institutional level during one’s lifetime requires, if you’re not born into or otherwise chance into a position where it’s offered to you, so much strategy. I know I’ve used that word three times in this interview so far; I live in New York again. I’m interested in the limits of strategy. And in artists who make their own contexts. And anyone capable of transforming value systems by their refusal to give into what’s assumed for them. Grace.
“I was given time to learn from my mistakes; to better understand how ‘failure’ and ‘success’ are manufactured”
(An aside for the kids: If someone in a position of power is complimenting or attempting to seduce you while insulting you, be careful. I felt grateful at the time to hear Richardon’s blunt ‘Nothing–’ it was refreshingly honest and honestly redirecting–but I look young for my age. If I had been 23 instead of 28… Building up while putting down is an abuser/groomer tactic.)
I haven’t heard people speak in terms of insider/outsider in a while. I am hearing ‘inclusive/inclusivity’ a lot, often as a synonym for ‘diverse/diversity.’ I haven’t researched thoroughly enough to assert this in court (which social media feels like now;) but it seems to me that ‘inclusivity’ within some (many?) levels of the art industry is operating like in the mainstream lit world, where a still dominantly white cast of power brokers–agents, publishers, owners, gallerists, collectors, etc.–want to bring ‘in’ ‘diverse’ ‘talent,’ but are most comfortable working with artists and writers who have been educated at the same schools the elite (white male) successes of the past were and/or who practice within establishment traditions and/or who are willing to make work about their otherness that is palatable to ruling class audiences and elites. I know many young artists and authors feel this pressure or seduction and actively refuse to give into it; some toy with it, get what they need. What a mess we’re in, and more and more aware of it’s been functioning. Maybe ‘inclusive/ex*******’ is for my generation what ‘insider/outside artist’ was for previous gens. I starred the ‘clusive’ cos that flip-side is so rarely stated. Exclusive as expletive. I like exclusivity actually. It’s part of why Pillow Talk events were limited in attendance. Every guest was on the list. I worked hard to negotiate a set-up where every event was not only free to attend, there were also free drinks and other treats on offer. By the end, the rates for talent were decent. I didn’t want anyone to not be able to attend or host for a lack of resources. Our attendance prioritized friends + family of the presenters, then first come first served open RSVPs. Sometimes I requested people RSVP with the reason they wanted to come. So I was working with a peculiar kind of exclusivity… I share all this, feeling some sadness. The original impetus behind the theme Comedy of Errors–which evolved to Comedy of Erros after I kept making that typo (I make many typos, in a rush)–is that I considered Pillow Talk c. 2019-20 ‘a failure.’ Now I understand it as having detoured. And paced itself. I was given time to learn from my mistakes; to better understand how ‘failure’ and ‘success’ are manufactured; to get clarity on the psychic toll of feeling like ‘a failure–’ who and what power that serves; and to delight in the literary life value of human folly, mishaps, our smallness, comical egos. It’s in rushing towards imagined goals that I make the most typos. It’s when I allow people to witness my clumsiness, vulnerability, and careful struggle that I’m rushed with love. When help comes. And still the professional veneer, cool hard untouchable, is so alluring. What I meant when I used the terms inside/outside–and I was kinda fishing for your insight, question asker–was that it seemed to me this show is in-between fields and so maybe confusing; where should it be reviewed? In terms of artists, there’s contemporary artists with galleries, one of whom collaborated with a sex toy company (Doc Johnson); older artists who once subsisted on commercial design gigs; scene and portrait photographers; a fashion brand; an activist/filmmaker; an unknown/anon; me who borrowed books from the public library to exhibit; and a painter and public muralist. When Christopher and I connected with him–Fernando Mendez Corona–in Mexicali in early November, Corona talked about how his work had been picked up more in LA and Europe/abroad than by Mexico City which itself is preoccupied with Europe and the US. On a border town, neglected by the capital. Because of Covid border blocks, Corona couldn’t come to LA and paint the mural we had planned. We asked him to make a transportable ‘bed mural’ instead. Many of the artists in Comedy of Erros have incredible biographies, mired in history. Here we are. Comedy of Erros could’ve been a book or a magazine.
- Pillow Talk presents Sex & Love the City of Los Angeles (SALTC LA), July 2019. Photo by Asher Penn
- Alicia Novella Vasquez on the Bull on a Big Screen Plaza, at Pillow Talk presents Sex and Love in the City of New York (SALTC NY), Midtown Manhattan, July 2019
- Mandy Harris Williams organized Pillow Talk on Fuck Music (with Alima Lee, Alexia Riner, Cameron Wisch, and Kora), flyer by Ilia Ovechkin, September 2018
- SoiL Thornton, Who’s Soil Soils (Doc Johnson edition), 2020. Health-Grade Body-Safe Premium Silicone mounting iVibe Select iWand vibrators, Dimensions variable, Edition of 1 plus 1 AP. Photography by Bennet Perez
- Fiona Alison Duncan, The Pillow Talk Private Library, 2020. 38 books and magazines from 2019 Pillow Talk events refashion as a projector stand for Val Breeder’s videos
- Pillow Talk presents Life and Death and Horniness (Crisis as Aphrodisiac) with speakers Jamieson Webster, Andrew Blackley, Reba Maybury, Natasha MH, Alana May Johnson, Campbell Carolan, and Suzanne Sutton. April 2020. Trailer. 2min42secs
- Pippa Garner at Pillow Talk, October 2018
- Fiona Alison Duncan taking a reprieve from her own event in an entryway of shoes, captured on Nanit set up by Mara McKevitt, for Pillow Talk at El Centro, Hollywood, CA
- Color me Flo: My Hard Life and Good Times by Florynce Kennedy, book on loan from the Los Angeles Public Library, at Comedy of Erros. Photography by Bennet Perez
- Vaquera, Ring Bearer Panties, as delivered for exhibition in Comedy of Erros
- Public Service Announcement