This week: Tom talks to Hennessy Youngman. Hennessy Youngman (aka Jayson Musson) is the host and visionary behind Art Thoughtz, a video series that is insightful, smart as fuck, and hilarious.
I met Peter Burr and Christopher Doulgeris for the first time about five or six years ago. “Hooliganship,” the name of their performative duo, was on tour with the second issue of a DVD cartoon compilation called Cartune Xprez. They came to do a screening/performance at the old Green Lantern Gallery. Cartune Xprez is Peter Burr’s curated compilation of independent, short animationâ€”sometimes I think of it as an animated equivalent of an intensely gratifying literary magazine, or portable gallery exhibition. The biannual DVD is an event of imagination that colludes and clashes on the brink of psychedelic experience, precisely because it celebrates the idiosyncratic visions of its participants. As is often the case with non-commercial media, my appreciation for the project serves as both a reminder and a relief, reminding me that the larger behemoth of mainstream culture is not the only world of creative insight.Â When Hooliganship arrived, we set up couches for audience members while Peter and Christopher inflated neon crystals that glowed in the dark. We couldn’t plug them all in, because we kept blowing the fuse. We projected the video on the street-side window, so pedestrians outside would have another experience in reverse. Christopher and Peter both wore tight fitting neon yellow sweat suits and when the screening began, they roseâ€”aside from the crystals, the room was otherwise darkâ€”playing instruments (a clarinet and a guitar). Meantime, these very idiosyncratic cartoons by various artists screened in the background. It’s probably one of my favorite experiences from running a space. The habitat of the cartoon-world had been built out into our literal experience, lending additional form to the 2-d and sometimes crude projected imagery. As I said, that was years agoâ€”at that time they were traveling with their first 2006 video. Since then Cartune Xprez has released two additional DVDs and, having recently seen the 2011 edition, I wanted to ask Peter Burr some questions about how he curates, what he loves about the project and how he situates his practice in relation to the more commercial television outlets we are accustomed to.
Caroline Picard: Where does your love for cartoons come from?
Peter Burr: I can’t entirely say I LOVE cartoons across the board. I love the way an individual’s spirit is captured when making a motion picture, especially an animated one. It takes such tenacity to produce anything of substance in cartoon form. There’s this sweet spot for me where the cartoon balances the energy and ideas and images so casually and confidently that takes my cake. A large number of commercial productions and studio jobs lose my interest in the way things get overwrought. I think that’s where CARTUNE XPREZ emerged for me…… as a platform to showcase those sweet spots in one place.
CP: It’s interesting to me that you wouldn’t boast an unequivocal love for cartoons given that you must dedicate so much time curating work for CX. Can you talk a little bit more about that sweet spot? Is it a sweet spot peculiar to the cartoon genre? And what do you mean by ‘overwrought?’
PB: Perhaps on point, my day-job is making children’s cartoons which, as I reread my last response (and your follow-up question), probably colors my approach to CARTUNE XPREZ. As with any medium, I believe, our ability to accept creative work with â€˜unequivocal loveâ€™ is challenged when market forces dictate the decisions behind the practice. This feeds my desire to give life to CX, creating a platform outside the commercial industry that holds a space for ebullient animated spirits. There’s a bravery behind a lot of the work CX shows that just doesn’t exist in most main-stream cartoons I come across. I guess that’s part of that sweet-spot you’re asking about….bravery, independence, risk, failure. Itâ€™s work that is not outright trying to appeal to a mass which in turn yields really strange, really personable results.
CP: Do you have a sense of the community of contemporary cartoonists?
PB: I can’t keep up! Sometimes I feel like I could be surfing around the Internet 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and still never have a clear sense of what animation artists are out there. When I was in university back in the 90s I started to explore independent animation for the first time, searching blindly with vague keywords like ‘animation + art’ or ‘cool + cartoon’ and it ultimately just tired me of the web. Granted, I was learning how to use search engines for the first time and YouTube didn’t exist, but still;Â in the course of that year I think I only ever found one artist (mumbleboy) who clicked into my sensibilities. In subsequent years of peeling my eyes for this kind of work I’ve found that most of the work that gets integrated into CX emerges when I go on tour and just talk to people. It’s a lot more fun than sitting on my computer trolling the net, but of course it also keeps my vision somewhat limited to the countries/cultures I visit.
CP: What would you say your aesthetic is? (that thing you’re looking for in independent cartoons) and how does it differ from your commercial work?
PB: Thatâ€™s a tough question! I can’t really speak to a single aesthetic, but I can talk about some of the core values that we try to put forth with the project.
Let’s see……the boundary for work that comes into the CX world outlines a quest for independent, mostly single-artist productions. This means that we exclude music videos and other types of work that could be construed as ‘selling something.’ Studio productions tend to get left out too, mostly because I find a special magic imbued in single-artist or small collective projects that comes from a tenacious, intuitive, working process. Rarely does work we show seem storyboarded or acutely planned (even though some of it, in fact, is). Takeshi Murata is a great example of this. Take a video like PINK DOT…… It comes across as a crazy compression error that coalesces around some striking images from Rambo. Of course, these aren’t straight accidents, which becomes especially clear if you compare Takeshi’s work from this period (2005-2008) with other datamosh videos on youtube. The means of representation here feel glued to the topical concerns. I suppose this is the ‘aesthetic’ CX gravitates towards.
Another great example of this can be found in the work of Bruce Bickford, an older gentleman whose work is mostly known from his days as Frank Zappa’s in-house animator. Like Murata, his work is baffling on both technical and conceptual levels. I’ve watched some of his pieces hundreds of times and I still read new ideas in them each time I watch. Part of this comes from Bruce’s utter dedication to his practice. He lives alone in a dreamy complex outside Seattle where his art practice is the focal point of everything including house chores. (There’s a great doc called MONSTER ROAD that you can watch to see what I’m talking about). Anyway, itâ€™s this commitment to a practice that I really admire and like to put forth with CX.
CP: It’s interesting to hear you talk about the way you research cartoons, the way you follow artists and their various practices. It seems like that must be an integral part to your administration-life with CX. What kind of other duties would you include in that? What does it take to put out one of your compilations?
PB: I think about my ‘research’ asÂ a way to put framework between my consumer interests and my desire to produce. Â Yesterday this meant watching a couple hours of cartoon network before and after Ben Jones’ PROBLEM SOLVERZ to see what cable TV is nesting around some of the artists CX has affiliated with. Day-to-day, these research duties are a lot more casual (I haven’t owned a TV in about a decade so it took some work to find a place to watch cable for a few hours). Thanks to the fact that I live in New York City, freestyle conversation with wonderful artists/critics/organizers is quick to come by. Going on tour provides a similar stimulation. One of my favorite research paths in recent times came when I was in Riga, Latvia with our FUTURE TELEVISION tour. I spent a week there after our show, which gave me time to learn about the cartoons my friends there grew up on. I was blown away by the trove of Soviet animation that had been produced in the 80s. For months afterwards I dug through Russian-language video databases, finding some gems like Captain Pronin and Pereval. This kind of exploratory work is so much fun!
The heavier administrative duties are a bore to talk about…… emailing venues, learning new video compression techniques, managing boxes of amaray-cased DVDs, etc. Its like an episode of â€œThe Officeâ€ without the employees.
CP: What is your vision for CX? To me, it kind of seems like itâ€™s fulfilling itself as it is. I mean, I so love and enjoy each of the DVDs youâ€™ve already put out, Iâ€™d be psyched if you just did that forever. That said, I can imagine you think about the project differently, or imagine moving in different directions, or presenting the work in different ways. Can you talk about that a bit?
I think my fundamental vision for this project has a lot to do with integrating youthful dreams with my adult experiences. This certainly IS fulfilling in itself! Its also really squirrely and challenging. The biennial compilations feel like a good way to bring some permanence to our activities and touring has been a sweet way to stir up the projectâ€™s spirit (bringing new energy and voice).Â Youâ€™re right, thoughâ€¦.. in tandem with what we have now I DO envision the project working in different directions. I think about LIQUID TELEVISION, POSTERDISC, RAW MAGAZINE, CHOOSE-YOUR-OWN-ADVENTURE, THE EXPLODING PLASTIC INEVITABLE and still watering the plants at home.
I saw this earlier in the week and knew I had to write about it since it is more then your typical romantic gesture in that it is actually a catchy tune and how can you pass on hand puppets stolen straight out of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth.
Walter C. May and his roommates ( who are also in the band calledÂ The Daylights ) put together this music video/love note for May’s girlfriend who is living in Europe for two years or so now and he wanted to not only send her something to make the distance seem smaller but do so in a way that it felt organic and that he was in her world even when he couldn’t be. Therefore he hoped and pushed for the video to reach her viraly so that she would hear it in her day to day life. Now reports are in that she has already run across it ( the internet is quick I hear) butÂ regardlessÂ Â I hope you enjoy it.
I will admit that there is a fine line between romantic andÂ creepyÂ (hand puppets kind of help blur that line as well haha) but that is one of the best parts of the internet culture in my opinion, extreemly simple, low cost, constantÂ heartfeltÂ originality. Â If you have someone in your life that values you enough to dedicate the time it takes to do things of this nature, yourÂ extremelyÂ lucky and so are we in having it shared with us. With the holiday season coming remeber the people out there who value you, love you and put up with all your eccentricities joyfully. There may be almost 7 billion people out there but it only makes the few people who care about you all that much more precious and rare.
Have a great weekend & stay warm.
From everyone here at Bad at Sports we want to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and hope you are enjoying the warmth and food that comes with your friends, family or significant other. We are continuously thankful for you, the art work we all love and the culture that gets us excited each and every morning which is only there due to the non stop diligence of everyone involved.
Now that you are most likely full of tryptophan, sleepy and in need of a good film to watch may we offer the latest Charles Bronson film for your enjoyment…..
Happy Thanksgiving and here’s to many more.
Takashi Murakami at the ChÃ¢teau de Versailles
Takashi Murakami’s new exhibit in Versailles has recently opened (closes December 12th if you are of the jet set type) and from what I have heard and seen it is a show not to be missed if for no other reason then it’s striking contrast andÂ humorousÂ seemingly paradoxicalÂ existence. read more here
InauguralÂ Art Loop Open Competition Begins
From October 15-29, Art Loop Openâ€”Chicagoâ€™s new art competition (presented by the Chicago LoopÂ Alliance)â€”will transform ten venues throughout Chicagoâ€™s Loop into interactive public art exhibits (200 artists in total) having the public voting on the winner with 1stÂ receivingÂ $25,000 2nd: $15,000 & 3rd: $10,000. It looks to be a fun and smart program to engage the general public (which I still think we could do oh so much more in terms of) but sadly haven’t given it much promotion due to not knowing exactly how to aproach it. I will be looking forward to seeing how it plays out and more so to year two.
From what i canÂ gleamÂ the jury process was pretty solid and most of the artists involved I have either seen, worked with, known or interviewed so I wish them all good luck and more so remind them to forget the prizes this is a greatÂ opportunityÂ to rewrite the image of the Chicago artist with the general public so in short “don’t be obtuse, rude, impatient or a douche” also Check out Tom Burtonwood and Pamela M Johnson’s work here & here respectively. Read more here
Banksy does the TitleÂ SequenceÂ to the Simpsons
Interesting Video on How Printing Ink is Made
Having been a child in the heyday of Mister Rogers’Â Neighborhood I grew up with a love of lilting jazz music & seeing how everyday items are made (plus hand puppets but thats private) so it’s interesting to watch just how what I spend most of my money & art career touching plus half of my business career fighting with is made. watch it here
Race & Ethnicity Mapped By Block
As a footer for this week there is a visual map done by Bill Rankin using dots to show the more subtle changes across neighborhoods in ChicagoÂ using block-specific US Census data.Â Called a “taxonomy of transitions” it is quite interesting both visually and mentally but then again I am a data & logistics wonk so might just be me.Â read more here or even read about music preferences on Last.fm by gender here if you are so brave.