Little is widely known about Canada’s speculative super soldier program. Much was rumoured, little actually validated. Ryan Oakley was whispered to be the bastard mind-child of Anthony Burgess and Philip K. Dick, but this was only confirmed with the release of his debut novel TECHNICOLOR ULTRA MALL into the wild. Torn pages clutched by catatonic mall rats left to rot in the back rows of electronic superstores. Curious graffiti in bathroom stalls announcing “The Coming Revelation of the Great Chosen One, Teevee”. Russian squats full of lively debate driven by dot-matrix printed excerpts, mistranslated from German. Ultraviolent science fiction makes its heroic return; travelling through time, back to kill the future.
TECHNICOLOR ULTRA MALL (#TCUM) is a busted neon literary warning sign. Where cyberpunk failed, this must succeed in alerting us to hyper-capitalism’s end state: the mega-mall as polis. Born to shop, in death do we become commerce itself (“you could usually get more for a dead person than you could pull from their pockets”). Hyper-mediated, people are alienated from their own body, unable to feel anything without the right chemical compound. Corporate colonisation of emotion and sensation.
This is what comes of the “old people afraid of the sky” future, as Bruce Sterling has described it, written before he even uttered the words. Outside may as well be the surface of the Moon (or better yet, Mars); there is only the Mall. The adult version of Nausicaä Valley of the Wind, but with gigantic, hermetically sealed machinery instead of mutant bugs. The malls feed on the garbage of the past, as the book itself mines the midden heaps of the collective refuse of the decadent 20th century (that still lingers on like a dying fire-breathing dragon stumbling into a village, unaware it’s killing us all.) This is Demolition Man mutated and buried underground by the Umbrella Corporation. This is Plato’s three-souled corporate Republic with its Red (bronze-souled favella), Green (silver-souled bourgeoisie) and Blue (golden-souled ruling class) levels, and twice as sickening.
As mentioned previously, for the next wee bit, we’re going to be cross-posting some choice Geekquality blog pieces that we think may be of interest to the Coilhouse readership. First up, this interview with writer/director/producer Justin Simien and producer Lena Waithe about their indie film Dear White People, conducted by Geekquality contributing editor Moxie Munroe earlier this summer. (Thanks again to everybody over there. We <3 you.) ~Mer
MOXIE: I’m completely in love with your project, having seen the trailer on Shadow And Act. What sparked the idea for the project? JUSTIN SIMIEN: The original idea for the film happened during my senior year at Chapman University. After growing up in Houston, attending the rather diverse High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, college life at a small private college in Orange County was a four year long culture shock. I wanted to comment on my experience and started collecting personal episodes like mitigating the sheer disillusionment in certain White students when I couldn’t teach them how to crypt walk, or when I decided to finally cut my substantial fro, or just in general when I acted differently then the Black people they saw on 106 and Park. LENA WAITHE: I was first introduced to [the project] in a writers group (which is how Justin and I met). He was writing it as a TV show, but all the themes and the characters were the same, and it had a huge impact on me. I loved his voice and I loved him. Of course we quickly became close friends and I finally read the feature length version of “2%” which is what it was originally called (because the black students at Manchester only made up two percent of the population). And once I read the feature, I was just sold on helping him bring this story to light.
M: As a Black woman and a creative I know I’ve had conversations with folks time and time again, especially in college, that are reminiscent of a lot of moments in the trailer. What was the moment when you all said, “We need to make a movie about this”? JS: I had been working on the material for a few years, trying it as a TV pilot or an overwritten 265 page feature, which didn’t garner much interest for some strange reason, when I realized that my professional life was mirroring my experiences in college. I was still one of VERY few black faces in most of the places I found myself professionally. Requests to teach friends how to crypt walk were replaced with requests for “Dougie lessons.” I was being confused for the one other Black guy in the office, and the requests to see me with an afro continued unabated, despite my insistence that it was a pain for me to manage and I didn’t really want one.
Also (and more importantly) in the culture there seemed to be a real need for a fresh dialogue about race. The birther movement was gaining momentum, the ugly incidents over a “Black” themed party thrown at UCSD mirrored scenes from the script, and debate over the lack of Black voices in film and tv was happening all around me. That’s when I started the twitter account @DearWhitePeople and working in earnest to get the script to a place where it could be shot as a feature.
LW: I dug [his Twitter] so much that every now and then I would pitch him jokes for it and he would throw them up there. But myself, and one of the other producers Ann Le (who’s been there from the beginning) have been passionate about the film for years. And Justin’s been working on the project for about 7 years. So it’s always been around, I think we just all came to the point where we said it’s either now or never. And thank God, because the timing could not have been better.
M: How has the use of social networking aided in the development of this project? (Big congratulations on meeting and exceeding your IndieGoGo goal, by the way.) JS: Starting the Twitter account was great because it allowed me to really work out the voice of one of the film’s leads. In the film Samantha White starts a radio show on campus called “Dear White People,” the controversy over which is a driving force for a lot of the plot. Through Twitter I was able to test out material, refine her voice, and gain some insight on the people that were so offended by what they perceived as an accusation of racism they responded to the account with genuinely racist comments.
LW: We’re a generation that lives on the internet. I actually credit Facebook the most because we can send the link to people we aren’t even friends with in a Facebook message, and the people we are friends with have no problem with us posting the link on their wall. When something is shared and posted on Facebook a million times, that’s when you know you’ve struck a nerve. And all the producers started to get all these random friend requests soon after the trailer launched. That’s when we knew folks were sharing it, emailing it, tweeting about, and blogging about it. When the producers would sit down and discuss the strategy to push the trailer we always knew that we would use Facebook and Twitter. That’s the best way to reach OUR audience.
M: There have been conversations about Blackness and the “Black Monolith” and what that means since the dawn of the Huxtable Dynasty (a name I’ve just decided to give the period of time between when The Cosby Show hit it big and Girlfriends went off the air). I know the project is called Dear White People but what do you think of the idea of a cultural Black monolith and “authentic Blackness”, and what sorts of conversations about it are you trying to raise with this project? JS: To me the film is ultimately about identity and how race identity in particular can be both a gateway to and a huge obstacle for reaching one’s potential. This is compounded by the fact that Black folks and non-Black folks all have very different opinions about what being “authentically Black” actually means.
Each of the main characters are going through an identity crisis with regards to their “blackness” whether its not feeling Black enough for the Black kids, not feeling Black enough for the white kids, or feeling too Black for anyone.
Minorities, along with systemic socio economic disadvantage, have the added pleasure of going through life being pre-defined by everyone according to their race, gender, or sexual orientation. Based on how we define ourselves, some of us find solace in our “ethnic cultures” and some of us feel alienated by it.
Ultimately the role of culture (black or otherwise) as I see it is to help us find our voice and footing in the world. But there also comes a time when to really reach our true potential we have to transcend the cultural and identity cues we’ve come to be defined by. Yes I’ve been watching a lot of OWN.
M: All of your characters seem to be very original, and quite different from each other, yet all of them are also really relatable, both to people of color and universally, which is really refreshing to see. Do you think, with independently produced content on the rise and this age of the webseries, we will see more projects by minorities and see a much needed shift toward more diversity in the mainstream media? JS: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Sh*t Black Girls Say, andSh*T White Girls Say To Black Girls is proof that the internet has made it easier for minority voices to circumvent the usual obstacles of creating and distributing content and connect directly with an audience. Here’s hoping that traditional media, be it films or television, pays attention. Diverse stories in the mainstream seem to be shrinking, creating an even bigger disparity between the demographic make-up of the country and the stories dominating our culture. LW: I think folks have always wondered when there is one Black success others will follow, and I’ve come to the realization that the work just has to be brilliant. The only way a Black writer/director/actor/producer will be recognized is if the work is amazing and inspired. Not everything out there is great. Justin is extremely gifted. That’s why he has 3 producers behind him (me, Ann Le, and Angel Lopez) because his vision is so amazing. So if Black artists continue to hold themselves to a higher standard then, yes we’ll see a surge.
Artist, musician, and grand master tinkerer Felix Thorn builds machines –wondrous, whimsical, beautiful machines– by taking apart old, obsolete contraptions and breathing new life, motion, song and light into them. His pieces have been featured in galleries and shop window displays and art installations and commercials, used in various live performances, or as theatrical accompaniment, or as stand-alone film fodder.
He states: “Although my medium focuses on the development of acoustic sounds, I am continually inspired by electronic music – the countless abstractions act as blueprints for the construction of its acoustic counterparts. I aim to build a space where artificial and dream-like environments can become a reality.”
Felix’s Machines EP available here. The stunning film above was recorded and shot at Gasworks in the UK in the winter 2008, and here’s another one (more of an overview) by Tom Mansell:
Eijiro Miyama, also known as B?shi Ojisan (“Hat Man”) or Harajuku Ojisan, is an outsider artist living in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. He’s known for crafting strange hats adorned with dolls, live goldfish, candy wrappers and other adornments.
From l’Art Brut, Lausanne:
Eijiro Miyama was born in Mie Prefecture, Japan. A loner, he never married and has always led a wandering sort of existence. He has had various jobs, notably as a day labourer in the construction industry and as a lorry driver. When he was around fifty-five, he settled in one of the boarding houses for impoverished working men in Yokohama’s Kotobuki district, where the unemployed and the socially excluded, homeless, tend to congregate. Today, aged seventy-four, he divides his time between free karaoke and his parades in town : every Saturday and Sunday, Eijiro Miyama goes to the Chinese district in Yokohama, a very lively place. There he meanders through the crowd on his bike, decked out in his brightly coloured hats and clothing, with messages of peace and fraternity written on cardboard packaging attached to his back.
One day, about ten years ago, Eijiro Miyama walked around with a cup of instant noodles on his head. People turned to stare as he went by. This act, provocative and liberating, gave him a huge feeling of exaltation. He gradually created eccentric headgear that he adorned with toys and sundry objects found discarded at flea markets. But this creator also applies his ingenuity to the clothes bought at jumble sales that he dons for his weekly appearances, turning his body into a support for expression.
While there’s still never been a black model on the cover of Gothic Beauty Magazine (in fact, having looked the past twelve years of covers up close, it’s clear that even models with brown eyes appear to be a rarity among the blue- and green-eyed cover ladies), and while most spooky fashion designers still prefer white models for their branding, a host of blogs dedicated to multicultural dark fashion are bringing greater visibility to the people that these venues ignore. Just on Tumblr, there’s Darque & Lovely, DarkSKIN (subtitled “I was so goth, I was born black), and Black Sheep Goths. On Facebook, groups such as Black/African American Goths foster lively discussion.
Of the Tumblr communities, Black Sheep focuses most specifically on people who are othered (providing a platform for “queer/fat/trans/non-binary/disabled/POC” goths), while DarkSKIN delves most deeply into different time periods (from Victorian photographs to seventies album covers to a friend’s most recently-uploaded snapshots), pop culture personalities taking a turn for the macabre (from Eartha Kitt singing “I want to be evil” to Aaliyah playing a sultry Anne Rice vampire) and media (from high-end fashion shoots to grainy self-portraits)
Many of the images come with empowering and, at times, defensive captions. It seems that even in 2012, some try to claim that the goth scene belongs to white people only. One caption on the Darque & Lovely blog, below an image of tattoo artist Roni Zulu, reads: “this is for the chicken-shit anon who said black people shouldn’t ‘do’ goth or punk. At certain points in history to be black in America was (still can be) a pretty gothic experience, to say the least.”
Is the goth scene unfriendly to people with dark skin? What do non-white goths think about the fetishization of paleness in the gothic subculture?
“The only time I experienced anything racial in the scene was at Death Guild [a San Francisco goth night],” says Shamika “Meeks” Baker, a San Francisco-based writer, artist and model. “A guy walked up to me, shouted ‘scuse me!’ and shoved me aside. Of couse, when I grabbed the back of his Fun Fur coat and yanked him back to demand an apology, he started screaming ‘get your black hands off of me!’ Happily, after I finished scaring him and turned around, I discovered several of my friends behind me and ready to back me up. [Other than that incident], I’ve found that the goth scene has been really welcoming and open.”
“For me, the fetishization of paleness in beauty in general is very much a class issue as opposed to straight race,” says New York-based artist/maker Numidas Prasarn. “The ‘ideal gothic beauty’ of being pale comes from this sense of otherness. When mainstream de mode is tanned beach babe, the pale contrast is taken up as the signifier of an Other that defensively puffs itself up. The problem is that it’s a microcosm that doesn’t necessary carry the sense of self-awareness to realize that it’s also othering people.”
Asha Beta, a sculptor, jewelry designer and musician currently living in Prescott, Arizona, comments on her invisibility within a community that borrows aesthetics from her cultural heritage:
The “traditional” ideal of the scene as the pale-faced, black-clad individual definitely never applied to me, but because of my instant and deep connection and attraction to the music and atmosphere of the scene I had to set that aside. I always felt that I was not perceived to be as attractive, as beautiful or even as “goth” as girls who were paler than me. I never attracted many suitors and I reconciled myself to never being able to approach the “gothic ideal of beauty” very early on, although I felt within myself that my personal way of being “goth” was very sincere and creative and very much true to what “goth” was all about. The one part of the scene that obviously made me uncomfortable was the military/Nazi/Aryan faction of it, although I understand that for many of those people it was a fetish or history obsession type of thing, and not necessarily based in racism.
Many of the aesthetics of goth culture are taken from my cultural heritage (Asian/East Indian/Middle Eastern, African/Egyptian/Voodoo/Haitian-Caribbean) so I still felt and feel strongly that my connection to it is natural and instinctive and powerful. It was achingly difficult to be a minority within the subculture I deeply loved because it’s within these that we find acceptance and understanding where the larger society rejects us. I was a loner within the scene just as I was in society. I found a personal solace and creative outlet, but I never found the community I was searching for. I am overjoyed to finally see our subcultures mirroring the multicultural quality of our world, and so glad to see the younger generations of subcultures finding and creating communities to connect with and support one another.
Meeks Baker agrees. “I love that more emerging blogs/sites focus on us dark-skinned gothy types. To be honest, I never really cared much for gothic beauty magazines because they didn’t really reflect my aesthetic, but I did still feel marginalized. To this day I am thrilled to see ethnic diversity represented in alternative culture.”
GEMSI’s 3D printing workshop in Baghdad with TEDxBaghdad
A Kickstarter project (currently in its last 7 hours!) hopes to foster innovation, learning and creativity in ravaged post-war Iraq. Bay Area-based maker Bilal Ghalib, the creator of GEMSI (the Global Entrepreneurship and Maker Space Initiative), is raising funds on Kickstarter to create a popup hackerspace in Baghdad.
As part of the initiative, GEMSI is collecting stories from “everyday superheroes” living in Baghdad who have used DIY hacks to solve problems in their neighborhoods. One such story, Murtadha Fills In, has already been published in comic form on GEMSI’s site. During the two-day hackerspace event, GEMSI will host skillshares, talks, and workshops structured around the collected stories. The stories will be also be published in a graphic novel available in both Arabic and English.
GEMSI workshop in Cairo during Maker Faire Africa 2011. Photo by Mitch Altman
“The challenges that Iraq faces are vast, but the solutions to those challenges are already inside the country,” says Ghalib in the Kickstarter video. Ultimately, Ghalib hopes that collaborative community spaces become more prevalent in Africa and the Middle East. In the Kickstarter project description, he describes his vision for Baghdad:
Imagine you are a young Iraqi student, just graduating college. Opportunities to work in the country are few, and working outside Iraq is difficult due to strict visa requirements. Your country still experiences violence weekly, while also facing many technical challenges characteristic of a developing country. You want to build the country, you want to share – but you feel isolated. You hear about a group of people who have an open space near the center of town where you can build almost anything. One day you decide to see what it’s about. There, you find others like you: looking at the world around them and thinking about how they can start creating solutions. They are creating open source medical devices, filling potholes in city roads, creating clean street initiatives, or making alternative energy products to fix the intermittent power issues of Baghdad. These are people taking initiative. They are looking to take ownership of their cities and build the change they want to see – serving their communities on the most direct level. At this open space, you have finally found a home to put your talents and energy to work. You’ve found a group you can trust, they are courageous, curious, and want to help you create a better future. You feel happy, you feel capable, you’ve found your people.
GEMSI’s Kickstarter campaign deadline coincides with YouTube disaster “The Innocence of Muslims” (a diametrically opposite example of American-made grassroots activism aimed at the Muslim world) and Newsweek’s incendiary “Muslim Rage” magazine cover (which has been deconstructed beautifully by Twitter).
It’s at times like this – when governments and news media fail on both sides fail to repair the damage – that we need to step up, use crowdfunding, set up our own workshops, and help one another. So – hackers of the world unite. Donate here.
In recent years, the most heart-achingly beautiful booth in all of San Diego Comic Con’s grand exhibition hall has consistently been that of our friends at Century Guild, a Chicago-based art gallery and publishing house.
Since 2007, they’ve been bringing the lion’s share of their astonishing collection of Art Nouveau, Symbolist, and Cabaret-related prints, lithographs, castings, and original artworks (Klimt! Mucha! Schiele! Szukalski!) to Con to be offered up for sale to discerning buyers… as well as to deliciously torment covetous, grubby urchins like myself. (Oh, but it hurts so good!) Century Guild also deals in a drool-inducing selection of contemporary artists –many of whom often make it out to SDCC for signings– Jeremy Bastian, Dave McKean, Michael Hussar, and Gail Potocki, to name a few.
Gail Potocki, specifically, is on my mind tonight, as I peruse my modest stockpile of last July’s SDCC bounty…
An emotive modern Symbolist painter, Potocki melds her mastery of classical 18th/19th Century technique with a profound and compassionate love for her unique array of portrait subjects. (A few years ago, Century Guild produced a lavish hardcover collection of her work called The Union of Hope and Sadness: The Art of Gail Potocki. Highly recommended. And you can read more about her impressive body of work here, here, and here.)
It was at the Century Guild booth that I discovered one of the most gorgeous and exquisitely produced print objects at all of SDCC 2012: a Century Guild-crafted series of Victoriancarte de visites-reminiscent trading cards featuring Potocki’s “Freaks” paintings. Lovers of Tod Browning‘s controversial-yet-inarguably humanizing 1932 film by the same name will be sure to appreciate the elegant, thoughtful historicity of Potocki’s renderings of these five well-known early 20th Century vaudeville/sideshow performers: Daisy & Violet Hilton, Pip, Flip, Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy, and Annie Jones the Bearded Woman. Fellow paper fetishists should be impressed as well, as each card is handmade and letterpressed– a sumptuous tactile experience! They’re affordable, too, in spite of being a super limited edition. (I snatched them up immediately.)
Having just checked the Century Guild website, I see that they’re still available for purchase here. Had to share. They are so lovely, and lovingly done.
Who among ye has not read the spectacular sci-fi tome Vurtby Jeff Noon? Highly recommended. In 1994, the Manchester native’s debut novel earned him an Arthur C. Clarke award, as well as kindly comparisons to Anthony Burgess and William Gibson. Vurt is one of the most gorgeously and utterly bent, feather-suckin’ subcultural fables of the ’90s, or any other decade. (Noon’s entire bibliography from ’93 through 2002 is quite resonant, perhaps especially –though not exclusively– for those of us who found ourselves falling down various cyber/raver/club kid rabbit holes during that time!)
In more recent years, Noon has been challenging the boundaries of online social networking sites. In addition to regularly posting character fiction on his official Twitter, he previously spent a span of time updating an account called @temp_user9 with haunting lyrical shards. There’s also his Microspores Tumblr, where select units of his micro-fiction are offered up with visual and sonic accompaniment, all crowd-sourced from Noon’s readership.
Apparently, Noon’s been grokking a lot of reality television lately as well. Last month saw the self-published release of his first full-length novel in ten years,ChannelSK1N. It’s available in digital format only, which makes a certain poetic sense, given its darkly rasterized plot:
In the infotainment ‘n’ plastic-surgery-addicted near-future, a fading pre-fab pop star called Nola Blue discovers that her relevancy has rallied thanks to an unexpected mutuation: her skin has begun receiving and broadcasting television signals. Intimations of Frankenstein, nods to Cronenberg and (of course) Orwell abound as Noon reels out the trials and tribs his characters in brilliant, sometimes brutal parodies of current popular culture.
In the novel’s press release statement, Noon gamely states “I’m a celebrant of the future – Bring on the void.” And ChannelSK1N certainly is a leap through the dark; this is not staid fare by any stretch. Back in February, he spoke with Cult Den about his ongoing desire to push forward, and how that influenced his decision to self-publish:
I looked around for a publisher, almost went with one, but decided in the end to self-publish. The reasons for this are two-fold: firstly, they wanted to publish it in March 2013. That’s way too late for me. As I mentioned, I was in real need of connecting with an audience once again. And secondly, I really wanted to be free to put out what I wanted, when I wanted, including, alongside narrative based works, lots of more experimental stuff. Basically, I wanted to just write, and not have to wait. Just do it. See what happens. That’s my current attitude, and self-publishing gives me that freedom. I think you’ll see a whole bunch of works coming from me, over the next few years, each one placed somewhere along the avant-pulp borderline.
That freedom has worked in Noon’s favor with ChannelSK1N. This is Noon in high gear, showcasing his meticulous gifts as a wordsmith, his rebellious approach to storytelling, and his knack for multi-sensory invocation. Both brightly visual and highly sonic, the narrative is full of fine-tuned passages which, when read aloud, parse like complex music, syncopated by bursts of oddly catchy static. It’s restless Burroughsian cut-up ambiance– a bookish kind of scrying-via-late night satellite TV surfing. More adventurous readers in his audience are certain to tune in, and rejoice.