Survival of the Bravest

I became a graphic designer mostly because I love stuff. Specifically, I love paper. My career ambitions have changed over the years, but somewhere in my mind was always the notion that I wanted to produce cool two-dimensional stuff — photographs, stationary, magazines — stuff and things made of paper. This love affair with paper has led me to hoard years worth of fashion, music and design magazines, postcards, advertisements and what have you. In these particular economic times, it’s become fashionable to say the publishing industry is dying — dead, even — and who am I to argue when a recent New Yorker has only twelve pages of ads in it? Who am I indeed, but a crazy, stupid hopeful paper-obsessed idealist?

I dream of a publishing industry reborn, emerging from the ashes of poverty burned clean, pruned back and more beautiful than ever. I dream of a Darwinian rebirth, where only the most audacious and gorgeous of publications will survive; a rebirth only possible in the internet age where every niche market can find its products with the tap and a click of a search field and mouse. The popularity of sites like Magazine Death Pool is hard to ignore; once popular and award-winning titles seem to be dropping like flies. But this, I say, is the day of the unique, the individual, the small-run and the special. In order to survive a magazine can no longer count on appealing to everyone blandly; a magazine must be something more in an attempt to rise above the fray. It cannot be dedicated to the dissemination of information, because the internet does that better and faster than any printed publication could. It must embrace its status as an obsolete object and revel in its old-fashioned tactility.

In the 1950s there was a magazine that did just that, in unprecedented fashion. I’m speaking of Gentry Magazine, a footnote in publishing history and the subject of an illuminating little essay by Stephen Heller that I happened to read this year. Published quarterly in the 1950’s by William Segal, Gentry was unabashedly aimed squarely over the heads of the riff-raff at the “100,000 men” who were cultivated, sophisticated and wealthy enough to “get it”. Produced at great expense with first-rate papers, sumptuous printing, die cuts, embossing, fold-out pages, product samples and color plates, the magazine cost 8 dollars for a yearlong subscription. This was going out on a pretty big limb for the publishers if you consider the average magazine issue cost in the 50s was about 25 cents. I can’t believe they sold it so cheaply.

The erudite content centered on men’s fashion and gentlemanly pursuits like riding and smoking, along with articles about food, wine, art, history and culture. Segal saw the publication as both an exclusive club for those cultivated enough to appreciate it and an educational tool for those aspiring to appreciate it. Endeavoring to reach beyond the pages and engage with the audience, he included many unusual treats. An article about suits would include a swatch of fabric for the reader to touch; an article about smoking might include a tobacco leaf to smell; an article about riding was famously accompanied by a small sample of oats. Henri Matisse did a cover in 1956, which is not surprising, given Segal’s desire to elevate the magazine to the realm of fine art. Each goodie — each fabric swatch or color plate — was hand-placed and glued, a fact that was celebrated as proof of the value of the extravagant book, giving it more in common with fine art than mass-produced pop rags.

If I came across a publication such as this today, it would take my breath away. The sheer opulence and ambition of it (even now, when those fabric swatches needn’t be hand-glued as they were in the 50’s), coupled with a high level of respect for the reader’s intelligence, would floor me. The publishing industry is dead, you say? Magazines are history, you say? I declare, I would buy any magazine that could floor me like that. Even in a recession, I would buy the ever loving fuck out of it. I also declare with equal certainty that as long as there are people like me who love paper, magazines can never die; they can only get better as they battle for attention.

Now, be nice and stay away from my Gentry ebay auctions and no one will get hurt.

The Ubermensch at Walgreens

Super Plenamins via Found in Mom’s Basement

I don’t talk about I much, but I have a sort of ongoing quest to become superhuman on the cheap using only willpower and widely available drugstore products. This is probably not as silly as it sounds. I do believe it’s entirely possible to level up my very being, if I can only find the right combo of stuff to ingest. In this quest, I’ve subjected my body to all kinds of experiments. Most of them have done nothing but I’ve discovered a few things that actually, shockingly, do what they’re supposed to do and make me a better, higher-functioning creature. What do you do to become a more efficient, better human?

B VITAMINS. Know why Red Bull makes you feel so peppy? It’s not just the caffeine, or you’d be getting the same sustained buzz from Coke and coffee. It’s the B vitamins, the lack of which in our systems leads to such symptoms as depression, anemia and sluggishness. While some critics claim the marketing of B vitamins is just a gimmick, I don’t believe it for a second and invite you to draw your own conclusions. Beginning a regimen of daily B complex supplements last year boosted my energy and pretty much kiboshed about 75% of my persistent battle with depression — kicked to the curb, to an astounding extent, a lifetime of feeling too tired and unmotivated to do things. The stuff is water-soluble and all excess B vitamins in your system will come out in the form of neon green urine, so don’t worry about taking “1000 percent of the RDA!” Just take a little and see what happens. THIS SHIT SAVED MY LIFE.

VALERIAN ROOT. I was introduced to this stuff by a Russian co-worker, who calls it “Valerianka” and claimed it made her calm and relaxed enough to deal with screaming clients and bosses, without the drowsiness of other tranquilizers. It’s also a natural product, available cheaply and without a prescription, with no harmful documented side effects. It’s been used to treat everything from insomnia, anxiety, depression and gastrointestinal disorders. I find it takes effect almost immediately, producing a detached, sardonic feeling and leaving me clearheaded enough to work productively without emotion—perfect for the office or working in a distracting environment. MIGHT MAKE ME A BETTER PERSON.

SLIM FAST OPTIMA. Though I’m not trying to lose weight, I thought I’d try this because having to eat when my body decides it’s hungry instead of when I decide it’s convenient is a huge pain in the ass. It claims to control hunger for four hours. Instead, this product removes appetite for about four minutes with its nasty, chalky taste. It is most definitely not food. AVOID AT ALL COSTS.

EMERGEN-C. These little packets of magic have been favorites of mine since middle school when we used to pour them straight on our tongues at recess and laugh at the weird bubbly tingly sensation and funny smell. The “champagne of energy drinks” comes in a million flavors and makes me feel nice and peppy for short periods of time. Sometimes I chug a packet with water first thing in the morning so I can make it to the bus stop. After all these years I couldn’t tell you if it’s the placebo effect or not. Maybe I should replace it with pop rocks one week and see if I feel any ill effects. Once I get a grant. FURTHER STUDY REQUIRED.

Nicole Renaud, neosoprano

Photo by Umberto D’Aniello.

Nicole Renaud calls herself a “neosoprano” and it’s a fitting description. Her lovely operatic voice is coupled with a graceful, modest manner, fanciful handmade costumes, envy-making globetrotting lifestyle and a sparkling musicality. She sings a mix of original songs and operatic arias, accompanied by accordion or piano.

I first learned of her via Isengart’s Foreign Affairs cabaret party (more on him later) last Spring, where she wowed everyone in the room with her beauty and originality. I went twice. To see her perform is a captivating dream, even if she’s singing in French and you’ve got no clue what she’s saying. Second video after the jump.

On Striped Rights

When I was younger, defining oneself to the outside world as edgy, difficult, different was comparatively easy. There was a pretty straightforward list of symbols and codes in which one could participate or not. Soccer shorts and sneakers meant you were a jock, whether or not you were really interested in playing sports of any kind. Black band t-shirts and a wallet chain meant you were a rocker kid, a badass with an interest in bands with guitars and a disdain for authority. Goth, of course, had the most fun symbols and so many ways to play dress-up. Fishnets, long black skirts regardless of gender, black eyeliner and lipstick, anything made of vinyl, all daringly worn to school where, I now reminisce, nothing was really at stake but one’s own vanity.

You know all of this already. Well, one of my favorite pieces of this code was and has always been the bold black and white striped tights, beloved of alternachicks and goth girls ages 12-32 coast to coast. Any plain black dress and boots ensemble could be made “cool” with a pair of these tights. They were like hipness armor at a vulnerable age when I felt I really needed such a thing. I probably still have my first pair somewhere, full of holes, this pair of tights, this very small thing that made me feel somehow protected from the horror of being mistaken for a slave of dreaded mainstream fashion and therefore boring mainstream thought.

It’s easy to make fun of teenagers. They don’t always get that major fashion brands aren’t purveyors of the new, they’re delimiters of the accepted. Their status as such depends on their continued marketing of themselves as edgy but this is marketing only. If it weren’t the money would dry up and disappear like steam. So I suppose the presence of the Coach advertisements currently papering most of New York amuses me just as much as it makes me feel wistful. The ads feature a close-up shot of a foot, shod in a new $300 Coach black leather Mary Jane style pump, the leg lovingly clad in that familiar black and white striped stocking.

The Pervert’s Guide to Etsy

coilhouse pervert's guide to etsy

To the casual observer, is a cutesy realm of craft hipster chicks and middle American stay-at-home moms; a twee repository of homemade flowery jewelry crafts, popsicle stick and Fimo clay sculptures and hand-sewn terrycloth baby bibs. I am here to tell you that I have spent the week spelunking Etsy’s dark side and my friends, there is so much more. It’s a pervert’s treasure trove waiting to be discovered. It’s almost October, which means it’s almost Halloween, which is basically Goth Christmas (oh yeah, I said GOTH CHRISTMAS and I’ll say it again). Here are my gifty picks for the special perverts in your life.

coilhouse pervert's guide to etsy

1. Road Kill Squirrel Neoprene Mask. Hand made from neoprene rubber, reinforced with leather, padded inside for comfort, with three straps to ensure it won’t slip off during moments of necro-furry Valentine/Halloween passion.

coilhouse pervert's guide to etsy

2. Latex Cage Dress. High quality latex is always pricey and this is no exception. But for this kind of detail and quality you expect to fork over the cash. HMS Latex features pieces that hit the holy trinity of sexy, tough, and ladylike with this dress, these adorable latex gloves and this to-die-for elegant shrug.

WEAM, Home of The Rocking Machine

The WEAM. Does the name ring a bell? No? No, probably not. But it’s one of the more captivating gems I found on a recent visit to Miami, Florida. Buried within that pastel deco tourist wasteland is an unassuming glass entryway with a small sign and a nude statue in the window, a table with some brochures, and an elevator. I happened to see the statue and sign as I was walking by on my way to somewhere else, and was just intrigued enough to drag my companions into that elevator for a peek.

What we found was an unattractively-lit foyer and a high entry fee. Too curious to back down now, I insisted on checking it out so pay we did and in we went. The place was enormous and filled with art and artifacts. “Curated” would not be the right word to describe this haphazard cacophony of objects, arranged on shelves, in glass cases, on pedestals and hanging on every inch of wall space. There were some two dozen rooms and nooks, sort of arranged by place and theme but not really. There are French caricatures, offensive “African primitive” cartoons, horrible paint-by-number nude portraits, serious carvings and phallic sculptures, paintings by many amateurs that seem to be included only because they feature boobies, fetish posters from the ’80s, glass dildos, naughty mechanical sex-themed snuff boxes, a giant four poster bed whose four posts are GIANT PHALLI OVER A FOOT IN DIAMETER… I could go on.

The real treasure, totally unexpected and unadvertised, is located toward the end of the museum. We’d plodded through each of the 20 or so rooms, examining the motley collection of objects erotic, repulsive, curious and hilarious… we were starting to feel fatigued and pressed for time… and then there it was.

The fibreglass rock-a-penis. The very same gleaming white sculpture,
called “The Rocking Machine” featured in A Clockwork Orange. I was
standing face to balls with it. Literally six inches away from it in
all its smooth, shiny glory.

Total. Wholesale. Nerdgasm. Meltdown.

…It’s not for sale. I asked.

(Dejected by this, I turned to the internet, which had happier news for me: Herman Makkink’s famous kinetic sculpture has been recast in a “limited edition” (of a reproduction?) and can be had via his website. I know you’ll sleep better knowing this.)

I Am Here In Stasis, Waiting for You: Audrey Kawasaki

“taken”, Oil & graphite on wood 19×26, ‘Mayoi Michi’ @ Copro Nason

The work of 26-year-old painter Audrey Kawasaki, LA darling of the pop surrealist movement, always forces me into the persistent place between discomfort, cynicism and arousal.

On the one hand, her wood-panel paintings of languid, smooth and pale-skinned androgynous beauties are meticulously rendered with a sure hand and extreme eye for detail and aesthetic flow. The flawless pink and white skin of her sexy imaginary youngsters always seems to glow from within the image, the subjects look longing out with their impossibly big cartoon eyes as though they’re just aching to be touched, stroked, set free from their 2-D prison. The Art Nouveau-inspired flower, branch and seaweed forms that often surround the figures seems to undulate suggestively, giving the fantasy portraits a honey-slow-motion feel and matching soundtrack (in my head, anyway). I sort of want to go dunk my head in a bucket of icewater just thinking about the glistening parted lips and come-hither stares of her paintings. Ahem.

On the other hand, my intellectual mind can’t help leaping in to question the reactions of my lizard brain. Her style is incredibly consistent, almost to an obsessive degree; the figures she paints could all be related, and they all appear to exist in the same world, the same erotic melancholy state of waiting to be touched and taken. I am here in stasis, they say, I am waiting for you.

“Kakure Zakura”, Oil & graphite on wood 20×15, ‘Innocents’ @ Lineage

This creeps me out a little, and my own attraction to women depicted this way creeps me out, too. It’s actually the imagining of women in this state of trapped accessibility that relates Kawasaki’s delicate fine art paintings to some of the most run-of-the-mill pornography, and this connection ups the titillation ante of her work. I always wonder what causes female artists to recreate images of trapped and helpless women in their art. Is it an expression of identification with that state? Of mastery over a culture that places women in that state? Is the eroticization of female helplessness a victory over or a capitulation to a patriarchal culture? I think I know Kawasaki’s answer, but I’m not sure.

Kawasaki is certainly intent on contributing to the collapse of the boundaries between high and low art and culture, erasing those boundaries between fine art and mass media, and strives to create work that is accessible, affordable and asks questions. Her work has seemed to take a darker, more serious turn of late and I look forward to seeing where she takes it.

Audrey Kawasaki’s solo show, Kakurenbu, is currently on at Mondo Bizzarro Gallery, Rome, Italy. It runs September 4 – October 3, 2008.

[Please welcome our newest guest blogger, Irene Kaoru. Irene is a designer, photographer, model, artist, and sculptor. Irene’s blog can be found here, and prints of her work can be found here.]