The artist Taliesin pays homage to the spirits and toys with commercialism.
This conversation between Bodhi Landa and Taliesen Gilkes-Bower (aka Taliesin) was commissioned by Franklin Street Works on the occasion of the exhibition House Arrest, curated by Terri C. Smith at Franklin Street Works in Stamford, Connecticut. House Arrest is on view from April 5–June 10, 2012, and explores the domestic in artworks, including the shifting relationships between cultural and social norms, both shared and personal. As part of the show, Taliesin curated a pop-up shop of commercially produced items that reflect, in his words, a spirit of “domestic antagonism,” expanding the themes of the exhibition in new and interesting ways via a curatorial approach to ordinary objects.
Bodhi Landa To begin with, how would you describe your occupation? What is it that you do?
Taliesen Gilkes-Bower I’m not really sure I have something that I do yet, or if I ever want there to be some singular thing that I do. I like to play in the intersection of digital networks and physical spaces. The dominant ideologically driven discourse of “correct living” is such obviously limiting shit, but so much of what is placed in opposition to it is equally complacent. I try to avoid that infinite regress of criticism while acknowledging the realities of an inescapable dialectic.
The goal is always to explore and create spaces of radical departure from this tired back-and-forth. There’s such an expectation these days of the global elite that we can all just do and make everything. That open space of opportunity, combined with the immediacy of recognition through social media, incentivizes simplified work. Unfortunately for the deeply networked global creative classes there is a libidinal reward for sharing the concepts of projects without ever doing the real work. When everything is reduced to 72dpi resolution a proposal can have as much traction, or more, than the completed project. For me personally it’s hard to avoid the frenzied loop of shallow consumption, fleeting praise, and concomitant baseline of jealousy and resentment of the imagined lives of others. It’s the perfect environment for a toxic celebrity culture to gestate.
Yet, as global mono-culture creeps, there are these amazing eddies in the flow of capital, technology, and media where really interesting work is being done. So I’ve been drawn into microcosms like Nigerian Yahooze culture, piracy networks in Tepito, and the kids using Ramelzee’s Gothic Futurism to code protocols for quad rotor drones.
One unexpected result of forced obsolescence is that access to the second latest generations of tech become fairly universal. Ghetto ingenuity insures that this gear is getting flexed in radical new directions constantly. Innovation flowing from limitation is universal.
The nebulous media environment we inhabit provokes a generalist approach that I want to actively counter. I am trying to learn new technical skills and better understand what mastery and excellence mean in an outsourced, DIY-as-commercial-product era. The primary activities I find fulfillment from touch on sustained research, exploration, and denying dominant economic models of resource allocation. If a project takes more then ten steps you are sure you’ll learn something doing it. Beyond Digital, the global artist residency and research program I co-founded in 2011, was my first major step towards creating an alternative model of consumption and collaboration. Our first project, a month long residency of six artists in Casablanca didn’t translate into a ton of immediate Internet attention or financial reward, but I learned so much more through completing that project than composing 2,432 tweets last year. p(q). BL As a Watson Fellow, you spent the last year traveling with research money that enforced a strict no return home rule that precluded you going anywhere you had ever visited previously. After this experience, you mustn’t be a stranger to making yourself at home in strange places. Could you talk a bit about how your year abroad impacted your understanding of what constitutes domestic life? How did you go about making ad hoc homes in foreign places? What sorts of objects did you invest with domestic significance? In what sorts of environments did you feel most at home?
TG-B Travelling with a research grant is a tremendous privilege. It’s full of paradoxes about false scarcity. Self-induced pain and suffering are deeply interesting to me. Thrashing as a habit. I think everyone who travels a lot develops routines that allow non-places and other spaces to take on some fixed domestic aspects. Whether it’s those neck pillows on a plane or the crystal and gold pyramids that I carry, everyone ritualizes travel to keep some level of continuity. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, candles, and Santa Muerte charms are my tactics to deny the strangeness of place. Travel is always about our management of rupture, and these objects and routines smuggle intimacy into the most inhospitable spaces.
BL Observing your work as a DJ, an A&R executive for Dutty Artz, a designer, an artist, and a domestic cohabitator (my roommate) over the years, I have seen a unique and uncanny aptitude for object selection and presentation. Can you talk a bit about your practice as a selector, and how you went about choosing the objects when you were invited by Franklin Street Works to curate a café shop for the House Arrest exhibition?
TG-B I’m just so bugged out right now about being a citizen of the United States of America. Between drone strikes on funerals, unyielding violence against women’s bodies through regressive lawmaking, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the privatization of privacy, I am freaking the fuck out daily. I oscillate between total media overload and media fasting. Social networks and news media mostly just echo my own insecurities. This set of objects came about from meditating on the continued absurdity of ideology in American identity formation. When you can buy an I Love You Rose crack pipe at the 7-11 and the NYPD are doing ongoing surveillance on Muslim elementary schools, something is deeply and fundamentally wrong. All of these objects (in the House Arrest shop) reflect a duality or unease in domestic space. I hope this fairly juvenile set of objects can edge into the more complex code-switching and cultural fluency increasingly required if you want to have interactions with anyone outside of the data-mined subset you fall into.
BL How do you understand the economics of this piece? Offering these things for sale to an art world public seems to position them, ontologically, in a curious middle ground between simple quotidian paraphernalia and complex readymade art objects. It is by virtue of their having been chosen by you that they differ from their commercially available counterparts, and yet, their actual monetary value is the same. How does the application of your selection process alter the value of these objects? Or does it at all?
TG-B I don’t have much to contribute to theories about how the market value of art necessarily deteriorates art into a pure form of commodity consumption/production. I’ll leave that to Henny Youngman and other prescient critics. Pricing everything at cost for this installation removes the added value of curation from the pieces and returns the viewer/purchaser to mundane choices of acquisition and availability. My time spent selecting and finding each object becomes an excess or gift. When I sell my collages, sculpture and paintings, I price them based not on any idea of market value but on the very personal value that I place on each object. I price things based on how much I am willing to part with them. To an outsider these prices might appear inflated or irregular, but to me, each object is priced at its exact use value. All of my objects live in my life and I have never made anything just to sell it. This collection, however, is explicitly about denying the translation of my labors into real value.
Learn more about Taliesin’s practice by clicking here.
The group exhibition House Arrest is currently on view at Frankin Street Works.
Bodhi “Wolfmouth” Landa is an art critic and musician based in Queens, New York. His research and writing focus on the legacy of the male nude through the lens of the AIDs epidemic. As a musician he currently plays bass in the tropical dream-pop band Phonetag.