I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy by Bruce LaBruce

by Travis Jeppesen on May 28, 2009

As many of you know, my first play, Daddy, will be produced in June at the HAU Theater in Berlin. Bruce LaBruce recently wrote this nice essay on the play, which I thought I’d post here. Tickets to Daddy can be ordered directly from the HAU website.

Finally, the voice of a new generation has emerged. Took you long enough. If Hubert Selby, Jr., William Burroughs, Anthony Burgess, J.G. Ballard, and Dennis Cooper had a circle jerk, commingling all their spermatozoa into one primeval goo, then squeezed it into a turkey baster and presented it to Flannery O’Connor, imploring her to impregnate herself with its contents, nine months later out might stroll one Travis Jeppesen, the author of a new play called Daddy. It’s an ingenious little dramatic concoction involving all the modern pop shibboleths worth caring about: Marshall Applewhite and his Heaven’s Gate suicide cult; child rapist/bearer schoolteacher Mary Kay Letourneau and her boy groom; alien abduction, rape, and hybridization; shrapnel-riddled Iraqi war veterans banished to Guantanamo Bay. They’re all here, the thousand unnatural shocks that the new flesh is heir to, all in the imposing form of Daddy.

Born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, and educated in New York City (mentored, significantly, by author Bruce Benderson), Mr. Jeppesen made the wise decision, at a tender age, to escape the rotting new empire for the floppy, folded flesh of Old Europe, specifically the aged whores Prague and Berlin, who took him to their ample, drooping bosoms, heavy with history, and let him drink from the milk of human corruption. His literary ambitions stoked, he began to edit a literary journal called Blatt and wrote his saucy first novel, Victims. Now he assaults and insults us with a play that combines the reckless New Age dyslexia of America with the cantankerous, syphilitic wisdom of Europe, the “managerial class of the 21st Century”, as he astutely terms it. In fact, Mr. Jeppesen’s political analysis of the new world order is worthy of an extended quotation:

“The European, though she may gradually become extinct, still forms the managerial class of the 21st century. Primitive peoples who are unable to manage will always rely on the European’s bureaucratic expertise as the ultimate wellspring of material salvation. The American, who may be driven impotent by all the saturated fat in his diet, but can always gorge himself to death on the righteousness of his imperialist ambitions, will continue to view himself as Leader regardless of his flaccidity. It is much like the ceaseless competition between evolution and devolution: The American has God on his side, while the European’s salvation lies in her very godlessness. All her icons have been transformed into very profitable tourist attractions, easily recognizable signs offer reassurance in the only language that matters. It is not possible to get lost in the streets of European cities anymore – McDonald’s is never far. By feasting on our likenesses, we destroy all recognizable concepts of the other, put it safely in the realm of images, which is meant to be synonymous with illusion.”

But wait, before you get your knickers in a Gordian knot, please be aware that this polemic is delivered in Daddy not by some priggish professor, but by the character of Missus Pringles, a single white mother struggling to become an international theatrical celebrity even if it means abandoning her only son whose father was tragically eaten by walruses! In this play, astute political analysis is conveyed through broad neo-Ortonian farce, not bland didacticism. In fact, the conscience of the play, a stacked black Banji girl from the projects named Derika Taleisha Latorrah Alexander, raises American race relations to new heights with her homespun homilies, to wit: “Everybody got a Daddy. You either got one or you is one.” And when you add pornography, Judge Judy, Evangelical preaching, and the art of speaking of tongues to the mix, not to mention a cult of women whose members are each called Belinda and a superior alien race that speaks with its own distinctive vocabulary, it can be safely said that there is never a dull moment in Daddy.

Bruce LaBruce

Reading on Thursday, Berlin

by Travis Jeppesen on May 26, 2009

‘Movin’ on with VERSES’

A new evening of poetry & spoken word

Thursday 28th MAY  2009        9pm start

@ Sin Club, Schönleinstrasse 6, Kreuz-köln

Hosted by lady gaby            with special guests:

1. Travis Jeppesen is an American poet/writer editor of the cultural magazine Blatt, author of Victims and Poems I wrote while watching TV. His latest novel, Wolf at the Door confronts fear and devastation, destruction and creation and the decay of both spirit and body with a blend of black humour. He will read from poems from an upcoming & soon to be published anthology.

2. Experimental Video by  artist Teresa Lunau..

2. Jennifer Nelson is an American art historian and writer who has sometimes published really charming juvenalia in magazines like Fence, the Denver Quarterly, LUNGFULL!, can we have our ball back?, and others.  She wants to stay in Berlin, where she has been conducting dissertation research, and is sad to have to leave.

3. Live music from Australia, Melbourne the group: BRILLIG

Curiously dark in the tradition of Lewis Carroll, both lyrically and in mannerism, Brillig possess an odd quality that imbues adept story-telling with days-gone-by poetic flair.

Jack Goldstein @ Daniel Buchholz Gallery, Berlin

by Travis Jeppesen on May 26, 2009

The story of Jack Goldstein is one of the saddest in recent art history. Throughout much of his career, Goldstein struggled with fame – both his own and that of the artists who rose to prominence alongside him in the now-legendary Pictures exhibition of 1977 – as well as the crude dictates of market forces that came to define the subsequent years. As the decade of hype wrapped up, Goldstein quit New York and the art world altogether to live in isolation in the deserts of California. Throughout the ‘90s, the artist apparently produced next to nothing. He re-surfaced briefly in the early aughts for a brief flicker of a comeback. Goldstein himself, however, was no longer game. He took his own life early in 2003.

The current exhibition brings together a representative sampling of Goldstein’s work in several media – namely film, sculptural objects, and paintings.

While it is the film work that has proven most influential among today’s artists – and the five here, refreshingly projected in the original 16mm format, include some of his more representative efforts – it’s unfortunate that Goldstein’s paintings never got their proper due. When his original canvases weren’t dismissed outright as bowing to market demand in the post-Pictures frenzy (the logic being that a video artist ought to remain a video artist), they were “explained” away under a barrage of barely legible prose penned by critics who had inhaled one too many copies of Semiotext(e) paperbacks without allowing time for digestion. That the paintings – depicting lightning and electrical storms, volcanic flare-ups, and hallucinatory nuclear meltdown, typically framed vertically or horizontally with bars of color – were actually quite spectacular in their photo-sharp depiction of nature’s fierce tantrums, seems to have been overlooked.

One never knows who the enemy is in Goldstein’s world – whether it be nature or the technology we have created to “protect” us against our cultural enemies. (Remember: Goldstein was a child of the paranoid ‘50s.) In an untitled canvas from 1982, meteorites storm down from an electric green sky on to a barbed wire fence – though the meteorites could just as well be beams in some nightmare Soviet Star Wars episode conjured by Ronald Reagan, the fence ensuring our imprisonment in the apocalyptic death fantasy. An untitled red painting from the same year is even more doomsdayish, portraying the black silhouette of an urban skyline, at the center of which stands a tower emitting spirals of electric light.

Goldstein once said that it was art’s duty to explore and occupy “danger zones.” While his paintings brought him closer to all that was potentially lethal in nature and humanity, the exhibition ultimately sounds a regretful note when one realizes the impersonality of Goldstein’s project. Had Goldstein chosen to confront and work with his own danger zones rather than evade them, it’s quite possible that we might be looking at so much more from this ever fascinating artist.

Galerie Daniel Buchholz

Fasanenstr. 30

May 1 – June 13

Jacqueline Brown @ STYX Project Space, Berlin

by Travis Jeppesen on May 25, 2009

In her first solo exhibition, Jacqueline Brown uses drawings, photography, sound, and video to compose a sort of exercise in landscape autobiography. Mining the flora and fauna of the English countryside around Devon, where the young artist spent her childhood, Brown puts her training as a sculptor to spectacular effect in Pine Family I-III, three large pencil drawings depicting wild foliage cut into expressive shapes across blank white paper. On the opposite wall, tiny scattered portraits of coniferous branches go even further towards isolating Brown’s motif; they actually portray expired Christmas trees laying in the streets of Berlin after the last holiday, awaiting their deportation to the garbage dump.

A similar collage technique is tried out in A Long Narrow Territory, only using digital photography rather than pencil. From a distance, we seem to be looking at a long horizontal stain; up close, we are able to make out the details of a green autumnal landscape dotted with farms, hilly expanses, and leafless trees.

Brown’s lyrical prowess moves beyond static imagery in the second part of the exhibition, which focuses on a pack of hunting hounds. A four-minute video, 38 ½ Couple, shows the secret life of these noble beasts as they are held in captivity, anxiously awaiting the next hunt, while an accompanying inkjet print posted on the wall contains the names of each and every one of the dogs structured into seemingly random alphabetized groups, eliciting a peculiar poetry of the proper name.

Refuting both science and polemic, Brown’s new naturalism steers clear of romantic cliché, instead giving us a raw inference of the universe’s elasticity across time, as well as the occasionally bizarre methods that culture has of interfering with its wildness.

The exhibition runs until May 29th. That night, there will be a finissage at the gallery with the artist present.

Vaginal Davis Wins 2009 Ethyl Eichelberger Award

by Travis Jeppesen on May 2, 2009

Congratulations to Vaginal Davis, Berlin-based genius performance artist, for winning this year’s Ethyl Eichelberger Award. Ms. Davis continues to push buttons and boundaries with her work, scattered across countless disciplines and media. She is one of the most extraordinary living, breathing, walking works of art we’ve had the pleasure to encounter, and I’m honored that she’ll be starring in my upcoming play, Daddy, at the HAU Theater in Berlin in June.

This Ethyl Eichelberger Award is given “to an artist who exemplifies Ethyl’s larger-than-life style and generosity of spirit; who embodies Ethyl’s multi-talented artistic virtuosity, bridging worlds and inspiring those around them.” Davis will receive a show in the spring 2010 season at Performance Space 122 as well as a stipend for its creation.

Cy Twombly in London

by Travis Jeppesen on May 1, 2009

Over at WhiteHot Magazine of Contemporary Art, you’ll find my review of Cy Twombly’s current exhibition at Gagosian Gallery.

Queer Art in Central Europe: Travis Jeppesen on Mark Ther

by Travis Jeppesen on April 30, 2009

This is a transcription of my recent lecture on Mark Ther at the Sixth Culture for Tolerance Festival in Krakow, Poland. The lecture was adapted from my essay on Mark Ther in Disorientations: Art on the Margins of the “Contemporary” (Social Disease, 2008). Unfortunately, most of the videos I showed are not currently available online.

I lived in the Czech Republic for five years, during which time I never noticed any such phenomenon as “queer art,” even though I was making a living primarily as an art critic. I don’t even know if there was much awareness in the gay scene at that time of the concept “queer.” If there was, there wasn’t much talk about it. Oddly enough, the entire time I lived there – between the years of 2001 and 2006 – there was virtually no overlap between the artists I hung out with and my gay friends. The artists weren’t gay – or at least, those who were didn’t want to talk much about it – and the gays weren’t artists and didn’t know much about art. The only person who seemed to live in both of these worlds as comfortably as I did was Mark Ther, whom I didn’t meet until 2005. Ther was in his final years of art school at that time, but he had already produced an impressive body of videos and short films, both by himself and in collaboration with others. I don’t remember what came first – my meeting him in person or my awareness of his work. I believe it was Ond?ej Brody, an artist with whom Ther was frequently collaborating at the time, who invited me for a dual studio visit. There, I was shown videos that Brody and Ther had created collaboratively, as well as their individual work. This piece, Ther, is from 2003, and was a collaborative work. [Show Ther*]

At this time, both Brody and Ther were involved with EgoArt, a sort of fake art movement started by the young Slovak artist Viktor Frešo based on an absurd philosophy of self-promotion and self-glorification. (It can be read as a satirical response to the hyper-capitalistic impulses that motivate the global art market.) Frešo and his peers went so far as to establish an EgoArt prize – I believe the Azorro Group from Poland won it in 2004 – the only rule of which appears to be that you have to nominate yourself. Ther and Brody started titling their collaborative works with variations of their names Ther, Brody, and in the case of AndyTher & MarkBrody, scrambling their names together – effectively embracing the EgoArt concept while simultaneously dispelling any efforts at creating a brand name identity. If there is now such a thing as a “queer aesthetic” in Czech art, these early collaborations between the two artists are probably where it begins. Brody may identify as heterosexual, but of course the concept “queer” eludes such normative sexual assignations, just as Brody and Ther were playfully refuting the sort of name-branding that EgoArt playfully promotes – a parody of a parody.

In 2004, Mark Ther went off to New York to study at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. Brody remained in Prague, where his practice became more performance-oriented. [Show Artstar episode*]

Ther used his time in New York to make videos exploring his love of dancing, ‘80s cheeseball music, and retro American cars. In Chevrolet Caprice Classic (2004), an attractive young man wearing black tights and a neon pink and green windbreaker vogues gaily in the middle of the ghetto. But what is that he has his eye fixed on in the distance? Perhaps another good-looking boy? No. It’s a white Chevrolet Caprice Classic parked on the edge of an abandoned lot. A boogie-woogie Motown anthem plays. The camera, at this point, becomes more interested in the car than the boy. It moves up and down the car’s trashy exterior as the music jolts and jives onwards, then loses interest and begins to slowly survey the garbage-strewn yard next to the vehicle, when its lazy wandering path is interrupted by a boot that the boy has apparently tossed in our way. The screen goes black, the credits roll, and the music plays onwards.

Another video produced during his stay in New York was Burger and Ther. [Show Burger and Ther]

Is this “queer art”? For me, such questions always have to do with language – that is, they exist only within language, language as an externalized system of categories for understanding the world. If we start here, we might be able to come up with a definition of “queer” through Mark Ther’s work.

When I first saw these early works, I was at a precocious time in my development as a poet. In my work I was attempting to use language as a plasticized material, detached from meaning, in order to focus more on the intricacies of sound, and through playful and often violent juxtapositions, forging new meanings – so I was using language more as a sculptural material or as a composer would use different instruments – both at once, really – than I was as a writer in the traditional sense of the term. As such, my consideration of language had evolved from treating it merely as a spoken and written phenomenon – which, I believe, is how most people tend to view language – to something with much broader applicability, something that could include the visual and musical realms. (Remember, this was also the time I was making my first forays into art criticism.) In Burger and Ther, I was interested in how Mark Ther got around language, in the traditional sense, through evolving a visual language that was nevertheless highly sophisticated. It was a language loaded with easily recognizable symbols, yet one that didn’t bother with meaning. I guess this is what mattered to me the most – a rejection of what an academic might call the “sovereignty of narrative,” or, what I’ve always thought of as the artist’s right, if not duty, to not make sense, at least not in those places where there is a common consensus. In the world of normal language, the world that I’m speaking in right now, that is. In the world presented in Burger and Ther, of course, the sounds and images manage to function as autonomous parts in the formation of a worthy whole – but the message can’t be translated, just like emotions so often seem to escape behind the letters of the names we give them.

This was one of Ther’s first films in which he deploys a proper narrative – in this respect, it’s a very experimental film for him!

[Show: Der Kleine Blonde und sein roter Koffer]

It is a simple story, actually taken from a German language textbook, but it’s a deceptive simplicity because it deals with emotions so complex that they often elude our understanding. For it is often the most meaningless occurrences that lodge themselves deepest in our memory, things that we turn back to again and again when we’re feeling nostalgic for a past that we may not have even been a part of. It’s the sadness that comes with that longing that somehow preserves us in the integrity of the present; without looking back, we have little impetus to move forward; yet becoming too caught up in the past can also impede our movements. What, after all, is more tempting and yet more untouchable than the very fabric of our lives?

This double-edged sword, where the unknowable meets the unmanageable, is again raised in I Will Get You Out and Chop You Up in Midair, a short film from 2007, in which an unseen male voice addresses a dead man worm-crawling across a grassy backyard garden (in French):

It’s pathetic that you believe in instincts. Everything we’ve been taught, think…

It makes me sick, the way you treat me.

You don’t want to open your heart to me, why? Because you consider me as a man, is that why?

I am very sad that I can’t touch you and you don’t want it, that’s it…

So you want to be like all the others, the motherfucking heterosexuals with an inferiority complex and without fantasy?

There is so much inside of you, such a wide range…

Degenerated male?…

To shove a dick inside of a stinky twat, a hole that leaks blood… Does that feel nice?

Why do you not want to try something different, something that isn’t appreciated by society?

You mean a lot to me, you know that…

Your dick will fall off after sticking it into a twat.

I miss you…

The tenderness which is inside of you can’t be covered by maleness.

[…]

For me, the question of sincerity or “the artist’s intention” is uninteresting. What is interesting is the conceptual paradigm that is posited in this text – a reversal of values. While everyone is well aware of societal stereotypes of fags, we rarely articulate just what it is we hate about those straight people. Is it because we’re too politically correct – after all, we don’t want to stoop to their level – or are we truly unable to articulate the reasons why we feel so different from them out of a deeper fear, a resentment of the fact that we are unable to identify with the majority? In this piece, the narrator, through his love of a heterosexual man, is able to figure out exactly why he hates him, and all straight people in turn: lack of a fantasy life, an inherent feeling of inferiority that typically defines “maleness,” the desire to conform. Of course, this isn’t true of all straight people, but isn’t it refreshing for once to see an instance of straight-bashing in art?

For me, queer means resistance of a code – not merely a sexual code, but anything that tries to instill a normative language, culture, school of thought, or system of values. As an artist, these issues are a lot more important to me than the formation of a politics of identity, and I’m sure the same could be said of Mark Ther, based on his work. When it does get political, it rarely leads us in a comfortable direction, no matter which side of the divide we happen to be situated on.

[Show Ruhe, Im Stalle Furzt die Kuh]

Finally, I’d like to show one of my personal favorite – probably because it’s about me! This is a film Mark made about me and my boyfriend at the time, Mario Dzurila, our moving from Prague to Berlin. We were unavailable for the shoot, so he had to resort to using actors to play us. He even found a dog to play our cat, Atmos.

[Show Hanes]

* These videos are available in QuickTime format on Ond?ej Brody’s website: http://www.ondrejbrody.org/

Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller

by Travis Jeppesen on April 14, 2009

My review of Janet Cardiff and George Bures MIller at Hamburger Bahnhof has been published in WhiteHot Magazine of Contemporary Art.

I will be in Krakow later this week as part of the 6th Culture for Tolerance Festival. I will be lecturing on the work of Mark Ther at 15:00 on Saturday, April 18th, at Spokój, ul. Bracka 3—5, Kraków (brama, I p. / gate, 1st floor).

Peter Beste at Pool Gallery

by Travis Jeppesen on March 29, 2009

My review of the Peter Beste exhibition is now online at WhiteHot.

Update; Against Blogging; etc.

by Travis Jeppesen on March 12, 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything new. I’m in the middle of completing this play, DADDY, which I mentioned earlier. This has taken priority over everything else in my life. The play is now going to be performed at the HAU Theater here in Berlin under the direction of Mr. Ron Athey — I’m very excited about this.

Anyway, I never intended this to be a proper “blog,” where I get on here every day and post whatever idiotic thoughts come into my mind for the world to divulge. So many writers do this in the mistaken belief that blogging is some sort of important or revolutionary medium, but 99.9% of all blogs I’ve ever seen have been total crap. I never intended to go down that road. I’m a writer, not a blogger, and I have no real intention of becoming a victim of the latest net trend. I’d rather post completed pieces of writing whenever I have something to say in this format, be it once a month or once a year, than strive to attain some virtual cult of personality in order to promulgate my name.

Other than the DADDY project, Mario and I have been busy putting the finishing touches on the latest BLATT publication, C. Bard Cole’s novel THIS IS WHERE MY LIFE WENT WRONG. I’m so excited that this book is finally about to see the light of day — it’s totally brilliant, as anyone who has read their review copy will attest, a comic masterpiece and the way forward for literature.

In fact, all three of the novels we’re publishing through BLATT this year — including Heidi James’s CARBON and Noah Cicero’s THE INSURGENT — are cause for excitement. Sorry to toot my own horn here, but it’s really an honor that all three of these authors found BLATT at the same time. I really don’t know of a more exciting publishing program for 2009.

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