BlackBook Halloween Premiere: PIG’s New Fluxus Inspired Video For ‘Rock n Roll Refugee’




As a founding member of KMFDM, Raymond Watts has never wanted for industrial cred. And though he’s operated under the nom de guerre PIG (Pain Is God, to save you the guessing) since 1988, the two entities still share members and collab on various projects, likely owing to the relatively incestuous nature of the genre.

We are personally just as likely to be cranking either of them to zehn (that’s “ten” in German, by the way) in February as October. But acknowledging that most normal people patiently wait for Halloween season to unleash their darkest inclinations towards mayhem, we were nothing short of thrilled to undertake this premiere of the mind-bending new PIG video for “Rock n Roll Refugee.”



The track is a near-perfect encapsulation of the hallowed glam-metal-industrial tenets, with its wickedly grooved T-Rex riffing (thanks to Steve White on guitar), and its virtual manifesto of a chorus proudly declaring, “I love the smell of rock & roll / Burning holes inside my soul.” (So do we.) But the accompanying video takes it to even greater levels of pandemonium, with its hyper-sensory visual attack of exposure tricks and near panic-inducing flashes—extremely unsubtle nods to Fluxus artists Nam June Paik and George Maciunas.

“’Rock n Roll Refugee’ is my demon seed of glam and electronica,” says Watts, who is also known to the fashion world for scoring Alexander McQueen shows, “stirred to an apotheosis of ejaculating guitars and lamenting vocals. A song that’s loose enough for your vices and tight enough for your virtues.”

Trick or treat.


Exclusive: Artist Enrique Martínez Celaya’s Cultural Guide to Los Angeles

 The Wende Museum



Enrique Martinez Celaya was born in Cuba at a time when the revolution was but a decade old, and the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) just a couple of years behind. Tensions with America were still worryingly heightened.

It was perhaps that he arrived in the world into such harrowing circumstances (his family moved to Madrid in 1972) that eventually inspired him to particularly impressive levels of achievement, shifting seemingly effortlessly from scientist to philosopher, along the way acquiring such impressive academic titles as: Visiting Presidential Professor in the history of art at University of Nebraska (2007–2010); Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College (2014–present); Roth Family Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Dartmouth (2016-2017); and Provost Professor of Humanities and Arts at USC (2017–present).

He also happens to be an accomplished and collected painter and sculptor, whose work is now included in the permanent collections at such exalted cultural institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Whitney, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig. He’s also written several scholarly books, including 2015’s On Art and Mindfulness: Notes from the Anderson Ranch, where he offers his singularly illuminating views on the process of making art.



Most fascinatingly, he actually sees his visual output as sharing philosophical and cultural ground more with literature than perhaps any particular genre of art. “Often when artists talk about writers,” he has said, “they’re talking about them as a source of content. I’m reading them for a moral stance in the world.”

He is currently preparing for a rather unprecedented exhibition in Berlin this coming February, for which he will be collaborating with the iconic German Expressionist Käthe Kollwitz (1867 – 1945), whose infamous cycles The Weavers and The Peasant War directly confronted the deprivation of poverty and the mistreatment of the working classes. His paintings will hang beside hers (see a preview on his Instagram page), on loan from her namesake museum, creating a surely compelling juxtaposition between a living artist, and a deceased one who has influenced him.

“I have admired Käthe Kollwitz for decades,” he explains, “so I am honored and thrilled to be able to create an exhibition with and in response to her work in Berlin—the city where she lived and worked.”

As Martinez Celaya himself currently lives and works in Los Angeles, we asked him to virtually take us around the city to his favorite art destinations, while we wait for some of them to open back up. Which we’re very much hoping happens before 2020 is behind us.


Enrique Martinez Celaya, The Prophet, 2018

Enrique Martinez Celaya’s Cultural Guide to Los Angeles 

USC Fisher Museum of Art

It is the first museum established in Los Angeles, and it often brings together scholarship, well-considered exhibitions, and exciting educational programs. It has an excellent permanent collection, but it is not always on view.

The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens 

A wonderful collection, a vast library, and spectacular gardens. Everybody wants to see the museum’s most well-known work, Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, but don’t miss Jean-Antoine Houdon’s Diana and George Wesley Bellows’ Portrait of Laura.



Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

The first museum in Los Angeles that acquired my work. It has an encyclopedic collection, and two of my favorite things to see are Diego Rivera’s Portrait of Frida Kahlo, and the museum’s amazing German Expressionist collection.

Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)

The museum has a good collection of post-war and contemporary art, with great pieces by Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Sigmar Polke, and Jasper Johns, as well as influential California artists like Richard Diebenkorn, Ed Ruscha, and John Baldessari.


The Wende Museum

The museum has a terrific and, at times quirky collection of art and artifacts from Cold War-era Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. There is a lot to see, as artworks are mixed by the brilliant Joes Segal with books and strange objects.

The Broad

A post-war and contemporary collection. Skip the Koons and Kusama works, and visit instead the museum’s holdings of Leon Golub, Anselm Kiefer, and Joseph Beuys. The museum’s curator, Ed Schad, is one of the best-read art people I know.


Image by Mike Kelley, courtesy of The Broad


Santa Monica Art Studios

Located at the Santa Monica Airport in a 22,000 square foot hangar, the space houses private studios and public viewing areas. The studios offer a rare opportunity to see an active creative community, to look at recent artworks, and to speak with artists, who often welcome visitors into their spaces.

Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College

About 45 minutes from Los Angeles, the museum has a substantial collection that includes Native American art, Renaissance paintings, significant works by Goya, and contemporary art. For me, the highlight of Pomona’s collection is Jose Clemente Orozco’s Prometheus fresco, which is definitely worth the drive.



Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City

This special cemetery, in the heart of Los Angeles, is open during the day to explore. It represents one of the longest stretches of uninterrupted land in LA, including rolling grass hills and beautiful vistas. All graves have flat engraved tombstones in the ground, so there are no view obstructions. It has several European art reproductions, including Michelangelo’s Pietá at the top of the hill, integrated with small carved caves and grottoes. This cemetery also holds a good amount of history, in how long it has been in existence and who is buried there (Bela Lugosi, Rita Hayworth, Sharon Tate). It’s a magnificent art experience, much like walking through a sculpture garden or an art park in Florence.


Enrique Martinez Celaya, The Mirroring Land, 2017

Lykke Li’s New Swedish Single ‘BRON’ Makes Us Wistful for Europe



The first verse of the new Lykke Li single “BRON” roughly translates from Swedish as:

“On a bridge
With heart in hand again
It is now or never
I died”

The song (released Friday, October 9 via INGRID) is really about a splintering relationship—but the words nevertheless do seem very right for our times. And that there’s a hymn-like quality to the music only serves to emphasize this point. Sonically, with the opulently sweeping arrangements, and Lykke’s voice so full of genuine longing, we can’t help but be reminded of the Cyndi Lauper classic “Time After Time”—but if it had perhaps been produced by the Cocteau Twins or A-ha. (Production and co-writing credits actually go to Oscar winning composer Ludwig Göransson).



It all does sound distinctly, ethereally European.

Ms. Li is based in Los Angeles now, of course. But as we find ourselves so physically disconnected from the rest of the world, especially Europe, her delivering this little gem in her native tongue does at least feel like a fantastical bridge of sorts, to a continent we can’t be sure when we’ll actually be able to return to.



Theaster Gates’ ‘Black Vessel’ at Gagosian Marks His First Ever NYC Solo Show

THEASTER GATES, Vessel # 19, 2020



Theaster Gates has been described as a “social practice installation artist”—which just might mean that he has an entire category to himself. It makes absolute sense as a descriptor, though, as despite the monumentality of much of his work, it is often tied to very real urban planning concepts and social reinvigoration strategies (via his Rebuild Foundation). But he’s also prone to a bit of the fantastical, as with 2007’s Plate Convergence, for which he notably devised an entire and elaborate backstory, which was about how symbolically imbued objects could help to break down racial divides.

His Future Histories (sharing a billing with Cauleen Smith), will open at SFMOMA on October 17. But before then—October 10, to be specific—the Obama fave artist’s first ever New York solo show will be unveiled at the newly reopened Gagosian gallery on W. 24th Street. Viscerally titled Black Vessel, it once again demonstrates his mastery of multiple media and materials, with works like Flag Sketch and Top Heavy intriguingly conjured from industrial oil-based enamel, rubber torch down, bitumen, wood, and copper. (Watch accompanying video here.)


THEASTER GATES, Six Squares Yellow Patch, 2020


But he also uses high fired stoneware in a distinctly illustrative manner, contriving beautiful pieces almost as galvanizers for fraternity and community. He even points to the kiln itself as a kind of congruous gathering point.

“Often I’m trying to figure out, how do you create a social situation,” he explains, “without being preoccupied with the creation of a social situation? The way you do it is you put beautiful people and beautiful things together, and let them do their thing. Black Vessel in this way is the celebration of the relationship between vessels and gathering.”

Also included are a suite of “tar paintings,” conceived on a newly imposing scale, employing bold, contrasting colors, in which the materials used are instilled with personal and singularly symbolic meanings. Gates, it should be noted, came from a working class Chicago family, and his use of materials has at times made reference to his father’s vocation as a roofer. The family was also active in civil rights, something which regularly shows up in his work.


THEASTER GATES, Vessel # 2, 2020


Gagosian Director Louise Neri enthuses that the exhibition is particularly meaningful as the gallery reopens amidst the ongoing pandemic, which has shined a most unflattering light on America’s glaring social and economic iniquities.

“Conceptually and materially resonant,” she observes, “Black Vessel traverses a broad range of media, from painting, sculpture, and sound to the processes of salvaging, archiving, and space making, while delivering penetrating social commentary on labor, material, spiritual capital, and commodity, within a close examination of the urban condition.”

Or as Gates himself puts it, “You make beautiful vessels, and those vessels will cause people to gather.”


THEASTER GATES, Vessel #25, 2020, detail
© Theaster Gates
Photos: Jacob Hand
Courtesy Gagosian

Six Questions w/ Animalweapon on Art as a Therapy for Our Pandemic Crisis




The coronavirus crisis has obviously upended virtually every aspect of human life over these last seven months. But American electronic composer Animalweapon (nee Patrick Cortes) had the experience of it actually giving context to an unfinished work.

Indeed, he had begun a composition last September, which was to be about sorting out those feelings that often come with summer’s ending, and the onset of shorter, darker days. The piece was ultimately shelved, until the arrival of this terrible pandemic created a new relevance for it from his quarantined point of view. And so on October 9 was released (via Polychromatic Records) the completed new single fittingly titled “Summer’s Over,” which reflects on the convergence of these many and sundry crises that have so insidiously marked out 2020.

Musically, it strikes the emotional zeitgeist chord so very perfectly, with a Satie-like piano intro giving way to languid beats, and then a somber but opulent sweep of synthesized strings taking it to soaring heights of sonic poignancy. When, Cortes mournfully observes, “We’ve set whole place on fire / A hurricane wind,” it sends a distinct chill.

We engaged him on what it all means, and he left us with much to consider as we carry on now into autumn, with so few of our problems actually having found resolution.



The song is very meditative. Was that meant as a kind of reaction to what we’re all going through right now?

Yes. With the way the world is, there’s probably something wrong with you if you haven’t done some reflection by now. I wrote the song to be indicative of what we’re all living with—not just this pandemic, but a serious racial reckoning, parts of the world being on fire at various times this year, and what a lot of us believe to be the threat of autocracy here in America. I don’t know if there’s a way to condense a year of relentless trauma into what’s supposed to sound like a simple song, but that’s what I shot for.

What was your personal experience of the coronavirus?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been working this whole time, so mine is one of the more mundane experiences. Spending time mostly with only a few loved ones, followed by lots of guilt and paranoia about doing so, even though I’ve been careful and I trust that they have too. Lots of anger and frustration, lots of yelling at too many screens over the idiocy of some people. Lots of mood swings, depression, anxiety. Lots of TV and video games to get through that, and thankfully lots of time to make music and feel productive. And lots but probably not enough of being grateful that it could be so much worse for me personally.

Did you write the song as a kind of therapy or catharsis?

To the degree that I could. For me, whatever big life event there is has to be addressed in my music, because I feel like I’m doing something wrong if I don’t. It’s a necessary step in processing it, but I also don’t think I really get that full catharsis from writing about it, and I wonder how much that’s really a thing for most musicians. “Therapy” is probably the better word for it, because therapy is ongoing. And that’s even more true with this song: there’s no resolution in this song because there’s no resolution to “all of this,” and we don’t know when there will be.



The lyric goes, “How much time did we lose?” Do you look at the quarantine time as lost time, or as an opportunity to rethink so many things about our lives?

It can be either or both depending on how I feel at any moment. I usually write with a lot of room left for interpretation, and it’s never been important to me that anyone arrives at my original intent. That line was meant to address a number of different ways we’ve lost time. But of course, a lot of people are stuck with a lot of time to think, so inevitably some of us will re-examine the “big picture” stuff.

Do you believe music can have a healing effect in such troubled times?

Does anyone even want to meet a person who doesn’t? There were times in my life I straight up do not know how I’d have gotten through without music, and I assume most people are like that whether they realize it or not. People talk about an artist or a song getting them through a really tough time or saving their life. Obviously, if something I wrote had that kind of impact on even one person, it’d be more than enough for me. I would qualify that by saying it might not just be “healing.” Sometimes you don’t want to heal, you just want to wallow while listening to music that makes you sad or angry…or sometimes you need to listen to something that just gets your mind off it. Then again, I guess that still counts as part of a healing process.

This was probably the most terrible summer of our lives—did that inspire the title?

It actually didn’t! The title popped into my head sometime between when I started it a year ago and this year, so it predates what I agree is the worst summer ever—though that certainly made me keep it. I started working on it last September and it was always going to deal with that feeling some of us get when the days get shorter. Fast-forward to halfway through this summer and it felt like I had a better angle. A few years ago I heard an interview with Tom Waits where he talks about thinking of songs as sentient beings, some of them introduce themselves right away, and some he has to coax into existence. By that logic, this felt like it was waiting for the right combination of horrific shit going on before kicking in my door like, “What’s up? I’m your song about all this horrific shit going on.”


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October 11 marks the ten year anniversary of the release of my very first single, Mexican Standoff. To mark the occasion, I’m re-releasing it as a four-track single: a newly-remastered version of the mix that appeared on my first album Good Luck in 2012, two new AMAZING remixes by my good friends @neo_obsidian_music and @mvrkhntr, and the original, poorly-mixed and mastered version as it was first released in 2010 (because I definitely went back and ninja-swapped a much better version onto Bandcamp and SoundCloud a few months later once I knew how to mix better, and then polished that mix again for the album – the whole point here was to look back on how far things have come.) To top it all off, @blaketbradyart has created an all-new version of the original single’s artwork and as you can see, it looks awesome. It will be out in two weeks on Sunday, October 11 on all streaming services as well as my website. Oh, and this will not be the only thing I’m putting out in October. 😉

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Listen: Jesse Jo Stark Wants to ‘Die Young’…Possibly

Images by YUNGBLUD



When Roger Daltrey pronounced, “Hope I die before I get old,” followed by Deborah Harry’s promise to, “Die young, stay pretty,” they sounded for everything like they really meant it. But for almost anyone who’s not actually Sid Vicious, carrying on for as long as possible does really seem to be the best strategy.

Now Jesse Jo Stark is picking right up where they left off, with her new and rather unambiguously titled track, “Die Young.” The third single from her upcoming debut album, it actually contains one of the best lyrics ever: “The older I get, the more I wanna die young.” Still, it is a very 29-years-old sort of thing to say, isn’t it?

But her mastery of sonic dramatics makes it all come off as, well, deadly earnest. Indeed, eerily tremolo’d / echo drenched guitars, opulently melancholy strings, and death march drumbeats give the proceedings a chilling air of mournfulness, perhaps even verging on the funereal.



It’s quite possibly what might have resulted if Morrissey and Nick Cave had collaborated in their more anguished youth. Yet Ms. Stark (read the recent BlackBook interview with her) ultimately points out the more metaphorical intentions of her words.

(Her grammatical stylization) “i usually don’t like to explain my songs,” she offers. “but with the heaviness and discomfort in the world, i want to be clear. die young is about all of the personal deaths and rebirths i’ve been through in my life. love and loss. times when i’ve felt like an alien and had to fly away. or accept that i am an alien sometimes. this song is me looking back and realizing that these times made me who i am. i am grateful for every moment i breathe in and i fuck with the future.”

Which, really, is about all one can be and do right now.


Interview: Andrea Riseborough on Playing a Techno-Assassin in Brandon Cronenberg’s ‘Possessor’




The first thing you notice about the astonishing new film Possessor, are the sort of seemingly detached, curiously transactional conversations taking place between the characters Tasya Vos and Girder, played by Andrea Riseborough and Jennifer Jason Leigh, respectively. They are the frontline players in a high-tech assassination “organization,” but they sound as if they could be mundanely discussing stock trades, or perhaps even the sale of cement mixers.

Written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg (yes, the son of David), it uses a wholly unique visual language—the screen is constantly buzzing and flashing with symbolically chosen colors—to depict the visceral chaos unfolding in the psyche of Vos as she carries out a killing. But here’s the thing: technology allows that she never actually has to pull the trigger–only just to take over the mind of whomever they have chosen to execute the job for them.

When we connect via Zoom with Ms. Riseborough, we find ourselves immediately engaged about just how such an unprecedented film might be classified to its potential audience. The mention of the word “horror” brings her reply that internal discussions had veered more towards sci-fi. But we take her a bit by surprise when we suggest that it may actually be understood as something of a morality fable. After all, sci-fi tends to put all the futurism front and center. And here the technology itself, while impressive and necessary to the story, is really sort of a minor player…at least in any emotional sense.



Rather, the narrative structure feels a bit like that of a play—and each character seems to distinctly represent some aspect of the moral fabric or landscape of our current/real existence. Indeed, the mind meld between Vos and Colin (an intense/jittery Christopher Abbott) seems to unfold as a test of ethical fortitude and self-preservation.

Riseborough plays her perfectly as a mix of tenacity, resolve and yet also a sort of deadness. There’s a telling hauntedness to her facial expressions, and she has those Shelley Duvall eyes that look like they’re about to grow ten times in size at any moment—and possibly betray some unspoken inner tumult.

It’s important to point out there are are no real good guys in the film. For instance, Sean Been’s John Parse, while a Vos assassination target, cultivates no sympathy for his predicament; rather, he is a callous, coldly calculating tech tycoon, CEO of an insidious data-mining company called Zoothrough. And the film seems rife with castigating metaphors (especially the spectacular, Sistine Chapel like ceiling in Parse’s home) about the nature of power and its veneration. One can also rightly draw an allegorical line to the increasingly predatory nature of contemporary stock markets, especially where those perpetually booming tech stocks are concerned.

The younger Cronenberg’s ability to wed beauty and horror—the violence is quite extreme, yet almost symphonic—is what truly makes Possessor (releasing this Friday, October 2) such a tightrope of a film. And the hyper-sensory visual stimulation while unrelenting, is strikingly poetic in its technological exquisiteness.

Riseborough had much to say about disappearing into Vos, and living to tell of it.



Had you wanted to do a genre film, or was this strictly a script/director driven choice?

I think some of these categories can be quite reductive. But it was certainly because I wanted to work with Brandon. I loved his first film Antiviral, it was just unusual, and barren…really not like anything I’d ever seen before.

I’m fascinated by the grey areas of human morality. Do you feel as if Vos is suspended somewhere between different sets of moral codes?

I think her experience transcends morality. Any idea of what might have been right has been long left behind; there’s no indecision there. I don’t feel like in Vos we’re looking at someone trying to find themselves…maybe someone trying to recover themselves. She’s so tenuously linked to her own psychology that she can’t feel without vicariously living through somebody else, and annihilating them. When that’s the only way you can feel any sort of human satisfaction, I think you’re way beyond certainly our society’s version of…

Acceptable morality.

Right, and you’ve gone over into feral territory.

But if you think of morality in terms of…well, generals give the command to launch rockets at innocent people, then just go home to their kids. 

Which happens all the time all over the world.

They have the sanction of the state, of course.

But does that make it better?



Absolutely not. But Vos is not doing it for the money, clearly. What does she need from it?

She’s needs to feel. It’s the only way that she can connect.

Is she frightened at all?

I think initially it was driven by fear and a huge amount of talent. She’s a hired killer, an assassin. She is obsessed with filling this hole that’s impossible to fill, and has become disconnected; in a way, she’s not even in command of herself.

There’s a distinctly transactional quality to the conversations she’s having with Girder, where they talk about these killings as business deals…


For instance, Girder simply matter-of-factly mentions how great it is that they’re getting Zoothrough shares as part of the deal.

Brandon is able to, subconsciously or unconsciously, tap into something that’s happening in society, and sort of fearlessly delve into it. It’s really interesting that you saw it as a morality play, I didn’t ever see it that way. Not because I don’t think it brings up moral questions, because it certainly does, relentlessly. But we’re dealing with someone who has become so detached from reality, it’s sort of numbed her…to the point where I don’t think she’s even able to be objective.

How did it feel for you to be inside of that mind?

Really hopeless, it felt like living on a precipice. It was relentless, and empty, and liberating, and fascinating. But I also wasn’t really being objective about it, because I was inside of it.

Possessor is filmed in a kind of meditative fashion. It’s like it is trying to lull you into the story in a mesmeric sort of way.

It’s very hypnotic, but there are also these very jolting moments.



I like looking for zeitgeist clues in films; and I felt like John Parse represented all the terribleness of Big Tech taking over our lives, and mining our data for massive profit. So I wondered if making him a target wasn’t more than just murder for inheritance, but also sort of a revenge fantasy about Big Tech.

Certainly. This film is set in a reality like ours, but somewhere not long in the past, as if humanity had just gone down a different fork in the road. One of Brandon’s great talents is in that he creates worlds that are familiar, but through a completely different lens, [to suggest] a different perspective on them. And almost everything single that is in the film is an…allusion to something that we know, and may not sit well with us.

Surely, nothing seems more unaccountable right now than Big Tech, in its attempts to control virtually everything it touches. 

It’s a complicated world where we are all happy to use the advantages of modern technology, when at the same time we feel almost defaced by it, or consumed by it…to the point where we [no longer] feel a human connection.


Watch: New Gorillaz Single + Video ‘The Pink Phantom’ Features a Cartooned Elton John




Surely Gorillaz could not have known when they launched their new single/video series Song Machine in January of this year, that every episode that followed would be released under pandemic conditions. The good thing is, we have never needed their sly sense of humo(u)r, their emotional honesty, and their inimitably incisive wisdom more than we have these last seven months.

Speaking of seven, that’s precisely what number they are up to in the series. And while they have brought along some rather brilliant guests in previous episodes (Fatoumata Diawara, Robert Smith, New Order’s Peter Hook), and even took us for a lovely scenic boat ride on Lake Como, this time out they’re gone straight to the top of pop heap, enlisting none other than Sir Elton John for the latest track + clip “The Pink Phantom.”

The wistful, melancholy ballad finds 2D alone at his piano (apparently even cartoon characters need to socially distance), plaintively crooning, “You’ve more or less forgotten me this summer / I can’t hide my disappointment.” It then cuts to rapper 6LACK continuing the thought, “You forgot and that makes me feel like no one (Sometimes) / Were you even really there?”



Then, of course, we see the grandly cartooned Sir Elton (those glasses!) at his baby grand, taking it all a bit surreal: “I tried to get to Atlanta / On a peach blossom highway / I’m tryin’ to put these pauses out of mind / In a sky made of diamonds.” And perhaps because his own Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour was postponed due to COVID-19 conditions, his performance here utterly bristles with feeling.

“Damon [Albarn, 2D’s human alter ego] reached out and asked me to do something,” he enthuses, “and the way the song has turned out is just great. I was in the studio in London and he was at the other end in Devon, but even remotely it was such an engaging and creative process. I’ve always loved Damon, he’s achieved so much, but he never sits still creatively. He’s constantly pushing forward and embracing the new, which is admirable and rare. I’ve always been a Gorillaz fan anyway, so it was a no brainer.”

To which 2D rather exaltingly replies: “Thank you for being so generous to us, Mr Elton Sir John, with your time and genius and also those Danish pastries you brought and for making some of the best tunes of all time.”

That’s just what we would said.


Interview: Artist Zhivago Duncan Finds a Home in Mexico




Some people roll into a town or a city, then spend the rest of their lives attempting to make sense of the place. They judge and they analyze, monitor and criticize, and usually wind up on the wrong side of a second guess. In other words, they get nowhere, slowly.

Other people roll into town and don’t bother trying to make sense of anything. They don’t judge or analyze or monitor or criticize. Instead they wander. And they wonder. And they don’t worry about a thing. It’s not so much that they close their eyes and hope for the best, mind you. It’s more like they open their eyes and expect the best. And yep, you guessed it, the best eventually arrives, right on cue.

Zhivago Duncan is one of the latter. When the Indiana-born artist hit Berlin, he didn’t have a clue how he’d make his way through the many-storied German capital. Then he walked up to Bruno Brunett and introduced himself. “I’m Zhivago Duncan. Someone told me you’re the only man with the balls to sell my work.” Needless to say, he was immediately signed to the famed gallerist’s immensely influential Contemporary Fine Arts.



In London, Duncan ended up showing with the Saatchi Gallery, and in Miami he was sponsored and exhibited by the noted Fredric Snitzer Gallery. Now based in Mexico City, he will be unveiling his wonder works at the the magnificent Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Querétaro (MACQ). The show is called Memetic Maps, and it’s an ultra vivid pairing of prodigious wall hangings and what appear to be pre-dystopian ceramics.

The paintings, which are hued from the bright side of the sun and delineate such intrigues as maze-like portals and hermetic schemata, take on a certain majestic historicity within the expansive confines of this 17th century former monastery. As do the exquisite and similarly-hued ceramics, which could as easily have been created by nomadic Aztecs as by their ancient Sumerian ancestors. Whatever the case, the exhibition’s a triumph of artistry and accomplishment. And it could only have happened to someone who puts their faith in the better angels that we nurture.

Of course, even the most upward-looking souls experience a downside every once in awhile, and, as you’ll read, Zhivago Duncan is no different in that respect. Nevertheless, his capacity to mine the downside and come up with such stellar reveals gives him an edge that’s almost cosmic. Then again, anyone who can tap into the stars need not worry about little black holes.

BlackBook got with him on the very eve of his Memetic Maps opening, to chat about his new South of the Border home, and other matters of faith and beauty.



Control: panel 2


For the few who don’t yet know you, just who is Zhivago Duncan?

Zhivago Duncan is a warrior obsessed with whatever it is he is working on at the moment.

When asked, what is it you say that you do?

Right now I would say that I am making catapults, raku, huge batik, and practicing Judo and Jiujitsu.

How’d you end up doing what you do in Mexico? 

I make stuff no matter where I am in the world. It’s pure survival.

Had Mexico been on your radar before you made the move?

Yes, in a magical way. Ten years ago, basically a week before my career exploded in Berlin, I was drunkenly leaving a Christmas party with my guitar. I had no career at the time; no gallery or collectors. Just a studio full of artwork, debt and enough money to buy a plane ticket somewhere. I thought to myself “fuck the Berlin winter, my studio and everything [else]. I’m gonna buy a one way ticket to Mexico and just take my guitar, live at the beach and figure something out.” The voice of reason in my head said, “go home, you’re drunk.” So I did. I was woken by Stefan Rinck, an artist friend of mine, who called me the next morning asking if he could send his gallerist to me. They came, took me on, word got out; then a curator gave me a show, and then a big Berlin gallery swiped me up. Within ten days I had three galleries, three shows and more money than I had ever made in my life.

But then…

Fast forward ten years, I had left Berlin and went through the hardest period of my life. I was broke, in LA, heading to London on a paid curator gig. My life was FUBAR. I won’t get into details except that I was applying to be an Uber driver…that’s how fucked I was. Anyways, I’m in the garden of my brother’s house looking up at the full moon thinking of that moment ten years before, when just as I was willing to throw it all away, the universe delivered. I was not thinking about Mexico but that innocent moment of despair. “Please give me something,” I whispered to the moon.


Projection: panel 3


Yet something did draw you to Mexico.

The next morning my good friend Manfredi Beninati drove me to the airport with his son Leone and ex-wife. I complained: “I just need a studio, I am going crazy.” And his ex said, “I have a studio in Merida, Mexico; use it for free; just give me a piece [of art].” This was music to my ears! Little did I know though that she would retract her promise once I was in Mexico, already heading to live by that beach. But almost four years later I could not be happier. Life is great, my work is going great and I am with the woman of my dreams.

And Berlin?

Berlin gave me a lot of structure in my work. I will always be grateful to Berlin and Germany as [that period] was a very important part of my development as an artist. But though I miss my friends there, I have no intention of ever living there again.

Would you say you’ve finally found a “home,” a place where you feel at once comfortable and inspired?

Home for me is a feeling inside. I am home everywhere. Vanessa, my partner in crime, is home. We often think of buying some land somewhere, but we’re not ready to know where yet. So for now it’s the jungly forest of Amatlan.

Speaking of inspired, what compelled you to create the Memetic Maps?

Well Memetic Maps is an evolutionary title of a body of work that I have been fixated on called, When Our Pineal Glands Were Big. It defines the evolution of an idea and how it can be everything and nothing. A little bit like civilization in the sense that it’s full of structure and rules that we all follow—an operating system that functions, but towards what? What does it mean and why? It really means nothing and yet is everything. Within these empty walls of existence mythology is born. The large painting, Primordial Soup, represents the development of a thought being born. Where form represents both the micro and macro organisms transcending the various evolutionary stages of the idea itself; creating a form of theanthropic architecture.



Harmony: panel 4


Have you long been intrigued by antediluvian existence? 

Who hasn’t?? I mean the earth was covered in water. The Sahara desert used to be a sea bed and there are entire cities that are underwater and buried beneath the earth. It is fascinating to think what came before us. My work has always revolved around birth and death, apocalypse and creation. These are the most interesting parts of life for me.

There seems to be a real resurgence in the field, both scholarly (i.e. via non-canonical writings such as The Book of Enoch) and culturally (i.e. Ancient Aliens, etc). Have you explored, and in turn been inspired by, any non-canonical literature?

Yeah, it’s quite funny how all of the sudden it’s of super interest. I was looking into a lot of different books like The 12th Planet by Zechariah Sitchin, and a lot of Graham Hancock. I mean these guys are writing about connections between various canonical theories and other theories. But there are also hints to these “fantastical” ideas in books such as the Bhagavad Ghita and The Iliad. It’s just that they were written by a certain people of a certain time and the explanations were like that of a chimp trying to describe an iPad.

How about such series’ as Ancient Aliens?

Never watched it. It’s not healthy to watch cheesy stuff.

Whatever the truth of our origin, both seem to point to a dumbing down of humanity—is that a view you pursued through your new works?

Well, yes and no. What I think has happened is that we once lived on a super comfortable planet, had huge pineal glands and were constantly in touch with the fourth dimension. You know, the type of consciousness that you experience while on psychotropic substances. That’s why the “gods” all have the same looks according to all the cave paintings throughout the ages; except back then those “gods” were always present. We were highly in tune with nature, which was our technology, communicated telepathically, travelled in a non-physical manner, so on and so forth.


Re-appropriation: panel 8


But then there was an epochal event…

There was a huge meteor shower that rearranged the earth and annihilated most of human existence. The majority of survivors went underground to be protected from the deluge, which explains many of the indigenous myths of creation. The “gods” who were still present instructed the survivors how to endure in the new changing climates of the world. Thus was born agriculture, architecture and organized civilization. This change in living and diet altered the human mind and over the course of thousands of years shrunk the size of the pineal gland to a tiny little rock. This evolution enabled us to survive in the enhanced physical world, and altered the human focus towards the physical realm.
Today, in a sense, we have manipulated our physical reality into our intuitive past. We can once again communicate with everyone and travel everywhere with phones, planes and cars. We are able to visualize any person anywhere at any time through our devices. The internet is our exo-consciousness and everyone is connected. 

Are you also interested in pointing out how we compound our ignorance by doubling down upon and refusing to acknowledge our mistakes?  

Ego ego ego. Most individuals do not like to be wrong; thus, as a collective ego we are the same. I believe that we are as a whole as we are as individuals. The only way for an individual to evolve in a productive manner is to accept the mistakes and move on in an improved version of the previous self. A large majority people of are behaving like a gambler who keeps losing, and instead of walking away with whatever is left he keeps trying to win it all back until it’s all gone.


Harmony: panel 9


On the other hand, have you noticed an increasingly growing community of people who are gleaning on and occasionally even implementing some of that pre-ancient knowledge?

Yeah, it’s coming back. There is so much simple ancient technology that works. And now with the rapidity of our current technology, everyone has access to some incredible information. Again, it’s really on what you focus your energy. Everyone complains about how all these social media programs know what you are interested in, send bespoke advertisements and track you, etc. So many people are crying like big fucking victim babies. Honestly, I love the shit that my phone advertises to me. It’s the shit that I am interested in. I like that my technology adapts to me. 

So you don’t think it’s too late to steer our proverbial ship out of what appear to be very troubled waters?

I am a strong believer that everything in the world is exactly where it needs to be; if we get smart and switch the game around, then that’s it. If we extinct ourselves, then that’s what needs to be. The unified ego will steer in the direction in which its individuals are headed. 

What steps would you recommend we take, as individuals, as a community, and as a world?

Compassion, love and kindness.