Vaginal Davis presents….. DEROHAN CHABOT

by Travis Jeppesen on August 27, 2008

reading in Berlin

by Travis Jeppesen on August 26, 2008


I’ll be reading at the next Borderlines event on Saturday, August 30 at 19:30.

It will take place at STYX Project Space, on the second floor of the Alte Brauerei Friedrichshohe, Landsberger Allee 54, Berlin.

Signed copies of my first three books (Victims, Poems I Wrote While Watching TV, and Wolf at the Door) will be available for purchase.

Schloss Tegal – The Myth of Meat (Tegal Records, 2008)

by Travis Jeppesen on August 25, 2008

Richard Schneider, Schloss Tegal

Schloss Tegal continues to explore the absolute outer regions of “human” experience, with every recording and live action they issue. I put human in quotation marks because, on The Myth of Meat, their latest release, they manage to forge the spiritual netherworlds of previous efforts in a visceral assertion of pure corporeality; we are all animals, we are constantly reminded, from the blunt photographs of a Czech meat factory adorning the cover, to the slashing sounds of manic butchery encapsulated within.

In the past, Schloss Tegal has dabbled with ufological sampling as well as electronic voice transmissions from the spirit world. Now, the collaboration of sound artists Richard Schneider and MW Burch has entered into a new era, one of “psychogenic music with extreme realism,” as the pair describes it.

“I don’t want to die.” This plaintive statement is repeated on a loop on the album’s third track, “Urban Funk Campaign (Feraliminal Lycanthropizer),” and it is backed by yet another gravel-sharp voice intoning the indecipherable, as doors slam and the hatchet stabs the metal dissecting table. Bloodlust satiates our membranes, and yet only the most powerful are able to satisfy these cravings. No less an abomination than the Hostel films express this subhuman norm, but in their inherent patheticity, we cannot seriously indulge the truths they purport to represent. The Myth of Meat, on the other hand, gives us a realness we are truly ill-prepared for. While the layering is dense, in true Tegal style, we can readily discern the sounds of a slaughterhouse, the mundane slayings that give rise to the evening meal – the “Cannibal Communion” that comprises our nightly ingestion of death before farting our way into nocturnal slumber.

There’s nothing to panic about, kids. Not unless you’re an imaginative type, drawn to infer that it is you yourself about to be hung on the meat rack, the valuable parts of yourself torn away to reveal your ultimate soullessness. It won’t be dramatic. You won’t scream. The part of you that enables that function will no longer be there.

Does this gruesome hoax, this filth of days, serve some so-called higher purpose? Can you imagine a radioactive farce being played out on the dissecting table as you try to call to mind the proper names of those entities, beings that have placed you there? Or will the sounds of the saws and the cleavers and the gadgets remind you the impenetrability of such happenings?

Wild occurrence: that’s the fantasy of an enlightened few. The anomaly here is “The Long Pig,” a track that seems to return Schloss Tegal to its sci-fi roots in its beeps and subliminal voice warblings.

The mix, as always, rends its way through your skull via invasive volume. Maximalization truly necessary in a time when most are afraid to assert anything. When crippled by language (against language), we may rely on raw sound as the true transmitter of certain ideas, truths. Sadly, the image may only rarely be trusted. Gertrude Stein said it most coherently, even presciently, in Lucy Church Amiably:

It is easier to listen than to look. To be as and can.

When the metaphorical is extricated to blend with and uphold the possible. That is where a new opening, a flesh wound, gives way to a certain light, a light of recognition that binds as it blinds.

IN MEMORIAM: Michael Baxandall (1933-2008)

by Travis Jeppesen on August 20, 2008

Michael Baxandall has died. As an art historian, he was responsible for engineering the idea of the “period eye,” in which one must take into consideration the social, cultural, and economic realities surrounding the creation of a work of art in order to “see” it in its original authorial and cultural context.

At the same time, Baxandall broke with a tradition of social art history by largely omitting politics from his analysis. This made his work the subject of criticism by Marxist social historians of art, whose interpretation is naturally rooted in a class bias.

In a work like Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy, however, it becomes clear that, despite the complains of the Marxists, Baxandall was indeed concerned with the power structures inherent in Renaissance Italy. He just didn’t take sides, is all. Let the past be the past, he seemed to be saying; I’m just here to show you what I’ve found. Are we then to blame him for his rigid air of objectivity, his heavy reliance on source documents surrounding the commissioning and creation of particular works? If anything, Baxandall is generous in letting us form our own conclusions based on the gathered evidence.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Baxandall’s method, as it came to fruition in such landmark works as The Limewood Sculptors of Renaissance Germany, was its ambiguity. His work continues to buck against academic standards of writing in refusing to reach a summarizable conclusion. In this respect, Baxandall is all pure method; he shows us the possibilities inherent in historical research as process, the joy in unearthing buried connections otherwise destined to remain external to our understanding of beloved paintings and sculptures.

Eventually, Baxandall came to admit that he was actually a historian of culture, rather than art proper. The distinction had to be made, as his focus was not on the purely formal aspects of art, but on the ways in which life has constantly intervened to mold and shape those mysterious images and objects that are the products of endless delight, honor, and speculation for the living, and often come to be seen as relics once the original creator and possessor are no more.

In this sense, Michael Baxandall was a writer for whom art and life truly were inseparable. For this reason alone, his legacy will continue to resonate, even while his work continues to perplex and bemuse.

We’re Back

by Travis Jeppesen on August 19, 2008

Here’s the book cover:

and it’s already available for pre-order in the U.K., U.S.A., Germany, France, Canada,

etc., etc.

The book will officially be released in November of this year; review copies and press materials may be acquired via heidipsjames -at-

Gone Fishin’

by Travis Jeppesen on June 17, 2008


Actually, I’m working on a novel.

See you in August.

Roman Holiday: A Travel Journal

by Travis Jeppesen on June 16, 2008

Roman Holiday: A Travel Journal


Thought I could keep everything intact – a towel? That won’t absorb my lust. I am holding onto you anyway. Fantasize a way of life like on TV. Wait, that’s not fantasy. Two ducks doing their mating dance outside my window, reminds me that I’m still in love with love. Not everything has been lost, it now seems. We’re inside now. Moving to a backwards beat, the sacred motion. What goes through us so casually can never truly belong. The sensation greater than that, and we’re still moving. Maybe when I finish up my travels across time. It will feel much better anyway, a live caged animal. Remembering the forest I went to as a child, and how come a spider never bit me, a rattlesnake. What I was too cruel to know was experience itself. The magnitude crept up on me. I was a teenage toy, inside myself with laughter. The symbol that threw itself at my wanking jar. The vibrancy inside her. Not all such experiences are wasted. We forget what they teach us at times, that therapeutic cryptosy that dares to unenlighten. I am a zoo for my fears. My friends number in the unbecoming.


Lift not the painted veil which those who live

Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,

And it but mimic all we would believe

With colours idly spread, — behind, lurk Fear

And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave

Their shadows, o’er the chasm, sightless and drear.

I knew one who had lifted it – he sought,

For his lost heart was tender, things to love,

But found them not, alas! nor was there aught

The world contains, the which he could approve.

Through the unheeding many he did move,

A splendour among shadows, a bright blot

Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove

For truth, and like the Preacher found it not.

– Percy Bysshe Shelley


Impressions of Italy. What I will start with, upon my arrival, we were invited to the flat of the neighbor of the guy we were to rent our flat from. He offered us beer, then a glass of Sicilian red. What I noticed in his living room was paintings paintings – mainly small paintings – paintings covering every surface of wall. When I went to the Vatican Museums for the first time, I understood why. The Romans go for that sort of excess. They enjoy watching it mount. When you go into the Pinakotheka, the pictures begin small, then the canvases grow larger as you go along.

I forgot how boring it was, to be an American. Not that you’re ever totally detached. Just wander into the touristy part of town, hear their voices. Don’t talk until it’s all over.

Narrow it down, fucker. You’re dissatisfied, seeing it cloying its way past you. Once you will be destroyed, then lash out, start making ridiculous threats against the world. Unrestrained, you will break apart in the face of all reason. The priests and nuns afraid to masturbate incur god’s wrath. Spiderfucked by orgy fantasies and back alley abortions that grow up to grow hairs.

When I go outside, out on to the balcony, nightchills bite my breath, my willis stands on end. Could I be everything I am denying? Congratulations! You make this into a swell date. It won’t be swollen, the times you are following.


God pissing on a larger stone apparatus. The Virgin and her baby getting educated.



This billionaire died and left his art collection to the city of Rome. So then why does the public have to pay money to see it? Well, I guess he wasn’t that generous.

Most of the museum was closed off the day we went to see it. In fact, the only thing we really got to see was his collection of de Chiricos. Combined with the smaller collection of works at the National Museum of Modern Art, you get a good survey of the painter’s devolution from metaphysical visionary to purveyor of kitsch classicism. A black and white painting at Bilotti, Archeologi Misteriosi – Manichini – Il giorno e la notte (1926), gives us the painter at his finest, fusing the human body with cities ancient and modern.


Sugar in my clothes, call the police and get me out of here. I have married a second savior for sure. Are you willing to get the hell out of the ass of my looseness? No memento is moving. If only I could satisfy the toss of dreams, catch myself out at the superiority I once feigned to enjoy. Before I fell apart, my hands were truly made of leather. I shared your faith with my armpit; a belch in the kitchen carries me away. You are my darling, you are my ashtray. You are spreading baby rumors around the neighborhood. I never had a baby on your face, I am sorry. Are you a woman or a suntan? A minute consideration of causality. Seagull’s presence too far inland, reminds me of my own species. Then I was a survivor. Set me up for going broke – everything that is to be achieved here is now crying. Superb priest’s ornamentation rots out the gaybar. It smells like feet everywhere I go.


Woke up this morning with a brain in my mouth. Didn’t know what I was doing; called Laura. Invigorated with precision, started to do some math. Tampered out at arithmetic’s deluge. Wish I was sweet; wish I could produce my own tempo. The dream always works diagonally. Shepherd comes in the picture to drown out the sheep’s opposition.


Around the corner from the Spanish Steps, Via Margutta has traditionally been the Roman street for artists. Fellini lived here until his death, and the street is still filled with galleries. I was surprised by the high quality of work I saw. Unlike the comparable Auguststrasse stretch in Berlin, where you have to wade through a lot of murkiness in order to recover the gems, Rome seems intent on proving to the world that great art isn’t merely a thing of the past.

The youngest artist I saw, Giuseppe Tesoriere, was born in 1981. He already has a unique style developed, which works for me, although it clearly won’t be to everyone’s liking. An eccentric colorist, Tesoriere offers acrylic paintings of distorted human figures rendered in sharp lines and pointy angles in his exhibition at Monogramma. The paintings are cartoonish, yet also quite sophisticated.


One day, the history of Abstract Expressionism will have to be re-written in order to include a slew of Italian artists who, seemingly unbeknownst to their American counterparts, made an energetic and lasting contribution to the 20th century’s most important painting movement. Chief among these was Emilio Vedova, subject of a retrospective at Campaiola. Most of the paintings are on medium-sized canvases – usually around 80 x 60 cm – and contain large brushstrokes. In some cases, such as the wound-like (red/purple/black) untitled painting from 1968, scratches are made in the paint using a stick-like instrument, etching artificial avenues in the chaos of the artist’s anti-world. In an untitled from 1960, thick black brushstrokes evoke the work of Franz Kline, while slighter vertical slithers seem to emerge stark-like as figures, calling to mind the drawings in Cy Twombly’s North African notebooks – particularly in the contrast of the black dashes on gold background.

The quality that I admire about Vedova – and Italian painters, in general, stretching back throughout the centuries – is that size is never confused with scale. That means that you can have a monumental picture that is actually physically small. Viewing several of Caravaggio’s paintings for the first time at Villa Borghese, I was surprised at how relatively small the canvas was compared to the image I had in my mind based on viewing reproductions. This does not detract from the overall painting – if anything, it fosters greater concentration on the image itself, rather than overwhelming us. Countless American artists could learn a lot in Rome, namely, those responsible for all of the bad art produced in recent years under the “bigger is better” banner.

To draw out some further comparisons: Where Berliners value coolness, Romans favor eccentricity. This is why the works of a painter like Odd Nerdrum, currently on at First Gallery, look so amazingly good in Rome, whereas in Berlin, they would likely be met with snarls of derision. Nerdrum has made a career of steadfastly following the tradition of Rembrandt and seemingly ignoring everything Modern. I say “seemingly,” because the Modernists relied on the past in “making it new,” and in this respect, Nerdrum is more modern than the Modern. The surfaces of his paintings of floating figures gleam; it looks as though the paint is still wet. A work like Burning is endemic of Nerdrum’s latest concerns; a single nude figure floats face down in an earthy sea. A new form of classical beauty, almost unbearable, and very Odd indeed. (On a sidenote, curator Marco Di Capua’s “Dark Limbo” is the best in the fledgling Catalog Essay pseudo-genre I can remember reading. Fuck theory – let’s have more poetry!)


I got sunburned.



Of all the churches I visited in Rome, this one was undoubtedly my favorite. Diego Tolomelli is the only artist in the world making homoerotic stained glass. I was fortunate enough to be invited to his studio while he was in the process of completing a Saint Sebastian. Tolomelli’s style is decidedly mod prim; notice the thick black lines in his Sebastian below, the sexy tattoos. With the recent revival of interest in the Gothic across all fields of cultural activity, I think it’s only a matter of time before Tolomelli takes over the world.



When does tradition upend itself? Is finality’s refuge a used car lot? Can’t I figure out what I’m pretending to be when I have a self and little else? I fucking struggle to get it all out, then I’m dead and I can’t write no more. Imagistic shadow. Horizon’s grapefruit. Over the end and then I’m free. Muscular endgame triumphant. We are there and then – both simultaneously and at once. Times alone lead to artificial superiority standards. The layman’s duck cloud and what species means, drown the names.

To be, in rapid felicity, a white light fading. Animal mother comes out of the woodwork to feed a cloud. We were within the days, within the storm. Trying to get it mottled down into forthrightness. What can’t be controlled can at least be fostered. Is it too much to birth the moon? Sure, I scare myself sometimes. Too much gravity is a terrible thing to be forced to confront. I am a satellite on top of the moon. Sad wonder is all the same then – we are drugless anchovies wanting. I am writing for the, into the future. I am writing the future.


by Travis Jeppesen on May 31, 2008

Words: Heidi James

Visual: Matthew Coleman

You’ll Know What to Do: Vaginal Davis Guides Us into Summer

by Travis Jeppesen on May 26, 2008

The maverick terrorist drag artist Vaginal Davis was recently enlisted by the Berlin art academy at Weissensee to submit a select group of students to a sort of week-long avant-garde boot camp, the result of which was a one-off performance, You’ll Know What to Do, which took place last Friday, May 23rd, at the Raumerweiterungshalle, a venue that has been described as “a mobile, telescopic, extendable container,” and is situated in the back lot of the former Kindl brewery. The place looks a bit like a circus sideshow tent, and the freak show atmosphere pervaded from the moment I arrived on Friday until the sun had completely disappeared. Of course, it was a Berlin-style freak show, which meant that a well-stocked makeshift bar in the parking lot was already well on its way to being depleted by the time I got there.

As the drinking festivities bled into performance activities, we were invited to submit to one of three hypnosis booths protruding from the Halle: phallic hypnosis, clitoral hypnosis, and nasal hypnosis. I ended up at the first of the three – big surprise there. I was given the power of “posing.” I’m sure it still hasn’t worn off.

After being properly hypnotized, you were allowed to go inside the Halle. The entire room was bathed in a fleshy red light. Ms. Davis herself stood near the rear, chanting a litany of sexually transmitted diseases, while a slither of strange noises erupted from a couple of musicians. As the evening clusterfuckery progressed, it began to feel as though we had been engulfed in the re-enactment of a Kenneth Anger film. A mummy rose from the dead, picked up a bass guitar, began to play. Everything started to get very noisy, and pretty soon, we were witness to a human assemblage – caked in duct tape with phallic protrusions extending – falling into a single, elevated pile as sand was flung in every direction. The energy level sky high, the performance then morphed effortlessly into a dance party.

There was something decidedly quixotic about the evening that kept both performers and audience pleasantly on edge, and no one really wanted it to end. The crowd stuck around – swaying, talking, kissing, dancing, and gossiping – for several hours after the fact, when those who remained stumbled a few blocks to a late night fried chicken place that only the divine Miss Davis seemed to know about.

You’ll Know What to Do was actually the second of a three-evening row of Vaginal Davis events. The previous night at West Germany, a semi-legal club for experimental rock music in Kreuzberg, Davis turned in a riotous set accompanied by Johnny Blue, alongside Kill Rock Stars recording artists the New Bloods. She decided to keep it short and sweet – a bit disappointing for those of us expecting a full set, but potent enough to remind us of the raw energy she used to enliven such music projects as P.M.E. and Black Fag in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

The Vaginal Davis weekend came to a close with her monthly film/performance event, Rising Stars, Falling Stars, at the Kino Arsenale. This evening’s entry showcased The Perils of Pauline, one of the first cinematic serials, from 1913-1914. After Davis’s hilarious silent starlet introduction, brothers Tim and Johnny Blue launched into their musical accompaniment for the evening – an interpretive hodge-podge consisting of clever samples, affective noise played on non-instruments, drums and strings. Overall, the Blues’ clever riffing on Pauline’s perils brought a sophisticated 21st century conception of the sublime to bear on the classic serial, making for a spectacular evening of synaesthetic bliss – after which, of course, the wine continued to flow…

Berlin is, among other things, the most manic of cities. It is bitterly cold and gray throughout most of the year, and the vibe on the street seems to match this perennial depression. Sure, people carry on drinking and carousing behind closed doors, but when walking from one bar to the next, you don’t really get the impression that people are enjoying themselves. They’re too stuck in that melancholic introspection that has come to signify Central European dismality to the rest of the world, and you don’t get the impression that anyone really has much of a desire to climb outside of this bitter pit of black bile.

That all changes as soon as winter gives way into spring. By the time summer rolls around, it is as though an entire new populace has moved in – the streets are crowded with sidewalk cafés filled with half-nude bodies from dawn to dusk, the parks overflow with flesh and greenery, and it suddenly feels as though no one living here is in a hurry to get anywhere. Berlin really only comes alive beneath the sunshine, and since its denizens only get to bask in it maybe two to three months out of the year, they become pagan worshippers of both shrubbery and concrete. The scent of lust pervades the air, the pursuit of hedonistic pleasure becomes everyone’s number one goal, anything resembling work in the slightest is scoffed at and put off until the sun’s energy dies down and the arrival of autumn makes its grim recognition felt like the onslaught of a particularly harsh comedown.

A pagan goddess of bewildering talent, conjurer of the indefinable, constant deflator of establishment principles, muse of the millions: If any one artist could be said to encapsulate the spirit of Berlin at the present moment, it is Vaginal Davis. Summer might not officially begin for nearly a month, but those of us fortunate enough to have sampled Davis’s bacchanalian orchestrations in the past week share a common secret: The virginal spring is over, the Vaginal summer has begun.

Jarman, Julien, Wittgenstein, Martians

by Travis Jeppesen on May 22, 2008

Of all the possible mediums he could have chosen, it is somehow curious that Derek Jarman decided to become a filmmaker. He didn’t just do film, of course, but it is for his films that he is best known. Perhaps you get the feeling, when watching some of these movies, that they should have been plays. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the films are not really films at all, and their theatrical energy is the immediate feature that engulfs you, that allows you to withstand their occasional lapse into preachiness.

A recent trip to London led me to re-assess my thoughts on Jarman. I was never the biggest fan of his films, but something about his style nevertheless captivated me. By the time I saw most of them in the late 1990s, their political content was already starting to feel quaint – the product of a former era, which is sad considering the fact that he was one of the few artists with AIDS brave enough to take a stand and address his illness in public when such matters were still considered taboo. At the same time, it no longer felt like one was fighting a battle by being queer; if anything, the battle was now against the commoditization of gay lifestyle, a subject that had been brought to task by a new generation of gay filmmakers led by Bruce LaBruce.

The exhibition I saw at London’s Serpentine Gallery attempted to assert Jarman’s historical relevance. Organized by the artist Isaac Julien, it featured Julien’s recently completed documentary on Jarman; a screening of Jarman’s final film Blue, which features a blue screen and the voice of the filmmaker, speaking intimately to his audience; several of his rarely seen super 8 films; and a small selection of his paintings.

The exhibition is closed now, but the work, of course, will live on, in its own small way. What I mean by this is that Jarman’s films do not play well on the small screen – they really need to be watched in a cinema in order to gauge their peculiar theatricality. It is probably the theatricality itself – particularly in films like Jubilee, Jarman’s clunky, heavy-handed vision of a post-apocalyptic England populated by punks – that makes these movies feel so dated. In her book Aliens and Anorexia, Chris Kraus writes that calling someone’s work “theatrical” is about the worst insult you can give an artist these days; she then goes on to show us the implicit value in theatricality, the heightening of the emotions over the self-conscious “coolness” that, now that it’s been about forty years since Warhol did anything important, is starting to feel a bit cliché, to put it mildly. When applied to Derek Jarman’s oeuvre, Kraus makes a convincing argument for re-considering the maverick filmmaker’s work.

Julien’s Derek, on the other hand, makes no real argument for the work’s ongoing importance, focused as it is on Jarman himself. I find it rather odd that Julien, who is an artist, would make a documentary that doesn’t bother engaging in aesthetic questions regarding Jarman’s work. Given Jarman’s politicized existence, his personality is already better known than his films; Derek merely tells us, once again, that Jarman should be canonized. Well, there’s no need – everyone already knows he’s a saint.

More helpful to me than the exhibition was my subsequent discovery of Wittgenstein, one of Jarman’s final films, on DVD. I’d wanted to see this film for years, but found that it was tremendously difficult to track down. The film was Jarman’s last before Blue, and is rarely discussed. When it is mentioned, it is mostly in derogatory terms, inferring that the film was considered by most to be a failure. I think it’s quite the opposite – it is perhaps even Jarman’s masterpiece.

I don’t think it’s a random coincidence that Jarman chose the elusive philosopher as one of his final subjects. Wittgenstein evolved a sort of performative philosophy that was unique in the history of the discipline. He asked questions that you technically were not supposed to ask, he brought common sense thinking back into a realm from which it had long been excluded, and he used his imagination to design scenarios and conceptualize his thoughts into patterns, the universal applicability of which he would rigorously test. He re-wrote his work over and over, discarding his thoughts almost as fast as they came to him, only publishing one completed book in the course of his lifetime. He came to see philosophy “as a by-product of misunderstanding language.”

Jarman understood Wittgenstein, a figure whose philosophy and personality seemed interwoven into one complex whole that very few managed to unravel. In one scene, Jarman has a Martian interrogate Wittgenstein as a child about philosophers. The dialogue that ensues is a witty take on the limits of language, one of Wittgenstein’s central problems.

Like Wittgenstein, Jarman had his own style that seemingly came out of nowhere. In The Angelic Conversation, disconnected sound and image form a sort of collage wherein elements of camp and classicism merge. The “story” seems to have to do with two beautiful men finding themselves – and each other – in a journey traversing “forbidden” desire; when the two men wrestle, it is almost impossible for us to tell if they are fighting or fucking. A grinding soundtrack by Coil feeds into the barrage of lo-fi images spread across the screen, and a selection of fourteen sonnets by Shakespeare is read by a female voice. The film coheres not merely on a cerebral level, but on an emotional one, as well.

Not all of Jarman’s films work so well, but it doesn’t matter. His peculiar concern with philosophy, sexuality, the apocalypse, classicism, and modernism – not to mention his fierce political commitment, a sensitive and personal response to the West’s self-destruction – must be re-visited every now and then in order to see their importance.

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