There are about nine people in the world who can pull off a Clark Kent outfit — you know, the button-down business shirt that is unbuttoned to reveal a giant S. Christopher Kardambikis is one of those people. The Superman reference can point to a number of things: Christopher’s dashing good looks, his nerd-level interest in comics, and/or his weakness to Kryptonite.
While his solo artistic practice is an ever-evolving exploration into the higher realms of mythology and absurdity, his collaborations with other creative folk are consistently grounded in the community zeitgeist. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve RSVP’d “no” (because I was busy!) to the various happenings and events put on by Christopher and Co. From book binding parties to book fair receptions, his collaborative projects reveal a passionate interest in generously sharing and showcasing the wonderful work of various artists.
Jeff: I just drove down from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and boy are my arms tired!
Chris: Wouldn’t it be your feet because you drive a Flintstones car?
J: Well the car that I rented was terrible. I’m not going to mention the brand, but I will never rent it again. Anyway, it’s funny that I’m in Los Angeles interviewing you when I am supposed to be covering the Bay Area for Bad at Sports. Why did I drive all the way here for you?
C: Because it’s warmer here and you like fire. The whole city is on fire right now.
J: Wait, are you serious?
C: It’s hot and dry. The city is full of fire. There’s a danger at every turn.
J: Yikes. There’s been a heat wave in San Francisco for the past week. You know why?
J: Because we’re preparing for your arrival! There it is — that’s how I segue you as a Los Angeles-based artist into my Bay Area-centric column (segue #1).
C: I’m pan-Californian. Southern California cannot contain me.
J: Before I ask you about what you will be doing in SF, what are you up to in LA these days?
C: Outside of working my day job, I’ve been collaborating with various artists on different publications. I’m so new to the city! It’s so big and I’m so small. It’s so expansive and I’m just trying to find my place here. LA is a very strange animal.
J: You moved up from San Diego. Any differences in the art scenes?
C: San Diego doesn’t have a huge art scene. A lot of what I was doing was centered around UC San Diego where I went to grad school and the various awesome spaces setup by alum of the program.
J: What brought you out to LA?
C: It seemed like the next logical step for me. While I was in grad school I was able to drive up to LA frequently and I got to know the city a bit and I liked what I saw of the art scene here. Many people I knew moved to Los Angeles — from San Diego and Pittsburgh, where I did my undergrad — so it seemed like a good support network. I’m not ready to leave California yet.
J: I have the same feelings about San Francisco. I should have moved back to New York after grad school, but I fell in love with California! Have the cliches of surfer life and pot smoking affected your work?
C: Ha, no. I mean, it’s Silver Lake — we’re so far from the beach. I can’t surf the LA River.
J: There’s a river here?
C: It’s really tiny.
J: Speaking of tiny (segue #2), your artwork is super detailed, super tiny pen strokes, super tiny lines — tiny tiny tiny.
C: The whole endeavor is diminutive.
Chris is distracted by a DVD of the film Fantastic Voyage on a table.
C: Fantastic Voyage!
J: What? What is that?
C: Five people in a ship are shrunk down and injected into the body of a patient who needs brain surgery.
J: Tiny! Tell everyone how this movie is super linked to what you do, because from the cover of the DVD case, I can clearly see the connection, at least aesthetically.
C: I’ve been looking at the history of science fiction — early Jules Verne as well as ideas that people have overturned, like debunked science. An interesting thing about Fantastic Voyage is how they’re constructing the sets as these incredibly abstracted versions of what the body looks like — what the respiratory system looks like, what the inner ear looks like, what the brain looks like. I wish movies looked like this now, where you can’t rely on computer graphics to make things look “realistic”. Here, there’s a trick to use material that is at hand to craft a mood or a real three-dimensional environment that has to be interacted with and is utterly transformative, like hanging cotton candy from the ceiling. It looks so lush! They’re crafting a visual language to deal with these environments — these shapes and colors that we can’t readily create.
J: Hearing you speak about their techniques makes me really curious to know what your techniques are when you’re figuring out how to create the environments and backgrounds in some of your work.
C: Think about Mundus Subterraneus. I’m trying to figure out a way to describe something with printed images and drawings that is pointing to a larger system that I can’t actually describe or show all at once in two dimensions. I’m trying to break apart an image-making process with the tools or the material that I have at hand.
J: What do you have at hand?
C: Well right now I don’t have much of anything, but in San Diego where I made that book, I was working with a large format printer and trying to make it function and operate more like a physical printing process like silkscreen.
J: What were you printing?
C: I was smashing together several reference images. I was looking at celestial maps. I was looking at the visual systems with which thinkers like Kepler and Kircher used to describe the interior of the Earth. Â I was using a lot of my own photography of the desert area around San Diego. I was using Photoshop to abstract all of this information, and then I would break apart the digital images in order to print the actual colors separately. Then I was trying to trick the machine to do something it’s not supposed to do.
We continue to have a lengthy discussion of the process.
J: Oh my God, that’s amazing!
C: Anyway, I didn’t break the printer, but there were a few instances where it looked a little hairy.
J: I want to focus on the “book” part. Why a book?
C: There are a few answers for this. Specifically, this is an accordion fold book. The amount of space it can take up varies. When the book is closed, it’s almost 2 feet by 3 feet with a spine that’s 1 inch.
J: That’s a big book!
C: And it gets bigger! Now we’re going in the opposite direction of Fantastic Voyage. When my book is open all the way, it’s 28 feet long and there’s print and drawn information on both sides, so you can’t ever see the full-thing all at once.
J: Chris, what’s your problem? Just make a normal book!
C: It functions as a normal book! Any viewer can pick up the book and move the pages around — you have to go through the experience with each turn of the page. You don’t see everything all at once — it’s not like an event horizon. And that’s one of the things I really like about artists’ books — it demands a more active engagement from the viewer. No matter what, everyone knows how to interact with a book. It makes the whole thing relatable as opposed to walking into a gallery where someone might be unfamiliar with the space or how the space functions. I’m an artist and sometimes when I walk into a gallery I don’t know what to do with myself. Artists’ books are immediately engaging even if the information is complex or dense.
J: Speaking of dense (segue #3), you are coming to San Francisco with a book that has like, ten thousand artists in it, right?
C: 70! Artists! Writers! Video and Film Makers! From all over the country!!
J: Tell me about the project. Wait, don’t. Let me copy and paste from the website right now.
According to recent scientific reports, there may be between 8 billion and 13 billion life bearing planets in our galaxy alone. With numbers like that we will certainly encounter living beings from outer space someday. When we do, what will they look like? What special parts will they have, and how will they “do it?” Will we find what they do sexy, incomprehensible or just plain gross? You can find the answers to these questions and more in Strange Attractors: Investigations in Non-Humanoid Extraterrestrial Sexualities, an extraordinary 288 page, full color, book and 120 minute DVD encompassing art, writing and film.
Can you tell me about the collaborative process behind Strange Attractors: Investigations in Non-Humanoid Extraterrestrial Sexualities?
C: The book is a collaborative effort between three of us: me, my former professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Suzie Silver, and Jasdeep Khaira. This project started almost four years ago. I was getting ready to go to grad school and Jasdeep and I were running an artist book publication project in Pittsburgh called Encyclopedia Destructica. Suzie pitched the idea of Strange Attractors to us. She had founded a blog called The Institute of Extraterrestrial Sexuality and wanted to work with us on a book project where we would prompt people to use the lens of science fiction to think about sexuality.
J: How did you find so many contributors to the book?
C: We started inviting people whose work we were familiar with through our combined and extended networks of creative friends. We encouraged people to pass it along to anyone they thought would be interested in it, as well as use it as an opportunity to contact people we didn’t know but whose work we enjoyed. It’s really humbling to see so many people get excited about a project like this — contributing to it as artists or supporting it through the Kickstarter campaign that funded a large portion of it, or learning about it through events like what’s happening in San Francisco.
J: An art event about alien sex in San Francisco? Sounds really normal.
C: There’s going to be a screening of eleven of the works from the DVD that comes with the book, and a reading by Suzie Silver. It’s at the Center for Sex and Culture.
J: I don’t remember planning anything at my house! Just kidding. Anything in particular you like about the San Francisco art scene?
C: I think the art scene is really vibrant and unique. It’s interesting to me because San Francisco is much more dense than Los Angeles. I frequently come to San Francisco for zines or book projects and I feel like these things are ubiquitous to the city — you can’t get away from them. I recently participated in the first LA Book Fair with Encyclopedia Destructica and my current publication project called Gravity and Trajectory, which I collaborate on with Louis Schmidt. It was shocking to see how many people were actually from LA. I thought more people would be coming from San Francisco or New York — places with a strong reputation for publications.
J: And with the screening of works at the event — any particular ones stand out? Give me two. I know — it’s hard.
C: The videos are so wonderful. I love them all. Video Science 7: Space Love part 3 – Unregistered Planet 311OPEL by Luke Meeken and Andrew Negrey. Luke and Andrew both have separate mixed-media contributions to the book, and their collaborative video work pulls from their individual practices to create a richly textured environment. The other is Masturbation in Space by Mike Harringer and Joshua Thorson. How do I even describe this? It’s a story about an alien abduction seemingly told over the telephone. I don’t want to say too much about it because I want it to be a surprise.
J: You’re so dramatic. Just like Fantastic Voyage! (segue #4)
C: Way to bring it full circle.
J: I’m the king of segues.
C: We’ve gone on such a journey during this talk.
J: Just like Fantastic Voyage! (segue #5)
Strange Attractors: Investigations in Non-Humanoid Extraterrestrial will be presented at the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco this Friday, May 10 from 7 to 10 PM. To view more of Christopher’s individual artwork, visit www.kardambikis.com.