Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Authors on Artists: Vanessa Place Talks With Ben Fama About VanessaPlace Inc

Photo by Lawrence Schwartzwald

Ben Fama: You recently launched Vanessa Place Inc at Cage 83 in New York City’s Lower East Side, where you sold limited edition copies of a book titled $20 for fifty dollars a piece. After that you appeared at the Museum of Modern Art to do a reading of The Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund Gallery. How is the public responding to your mission “to design and manufacture objects to meet the poetic needs of the human heart, face, and form?”

Vanessa Place: Everybody loves it. Or at least everybody wants it. I don’t think there’s much difference, do you?

Ben Fama: Based on your spring/summer appearances, It seems like you’ve been splitting time between NYC and LA. You’ve been supplementing the Vanessa Place Inc presence across social media platforms. How are you reading the cultural zeitgeist right now?

Vanessa Place: Everybody wants to be liked everywhere. It’s frictionless, even when it doesn’t mean to be. It’s amazing.

Ben Fama: Can you tell us about a particular memorable or satisfying shopping experience you’ve had recently?

Vanessa Place: I ordered tickets online and then went to the show.

Ben Fama: Do you watch TV?

Vanessa Place: We watch each other. Though it’s not TV exactly, unless I’m in a hotel room.

Ben Fama: Is there something you buy everyday?

Vanessa Place: Art.

Ben Fama: How do you approach the High/Low culture split?

Vanessa Place: I don’t get it.

Ben Fama: Do you agree Poetry is behind in the arts?

Vanessa Place: Poetry is now fifteen minutes ahead of art. Music is yesterday’s news. Did I leave anything out?

Ben Fama: What works of art make up your personal collection?

Vanessa Place: I have some superb pieces from Stephanie Taylor, Molly Corey, Ben White, Erica Baum, American Minstrelsy, Occupied Japan, and the Third Reich.

Ben Fama: What do you think of the Staten Island couple who attempted to trademark the Occupy movement?

Vanessa Place: They were admirably cutting to the chase. Though they should have gone for a copyright. It’s a real work of art.

Ben Fama: Sex tapes have gained cultural capital (currency) and people have used them as a launchpad into careers as public figures. What do you think of celebrity culture?

Vanessa Place: What other kind is there?

Ben Fama: What is your relationship toward technology?

Vanessa Place: I use it, it uses me. We don’t judge each other too much either way. We’re pretty happy.

Ben Fama: In your lecture “I is not a subject,” you call the Poetic “I” into question, exposing it not as a liberated subject that may access Truth, but rather as the enunciation of semiocapitalism and its functional values. Why do you think Poetry is so behind other arts in this thinking? Or rather, what makes this argument so necessary in our historical moment?

Vanessa Place: Poetry needs to understand its market cache. Go to an art show and see how many pieces are called “poetic,” and how that translates as pure capital. Or go to a reading and see how many poets trade off of the I, especially if they can diversify. Or look at anything else and see how the idea of the eyed I drives all sorts of product platforms, from self-stocking shopping carts to suggested adverts and other things I might enjoy. We’re in a semiotic market, and we’re the signifiers, the bleeding bitcoin of the realm. Poetry costs. It might as well cash in.

Ben Fama: When you appeared at the Ugly Duckling Presse Cellar Series, you recited several poems from the canon of Confessional Poetry...Plath, Bishop. Why?

Vanessa Place: I’ve got more pussy than you can swing at a cat.

Ben Fama: You’ve said “The I is a performance of an I, the I the I is.” Does this performance have something to do with conceptualism beyond postmodernism? How does this relate to social media?

Vanessa Place: Social media is a medium. It’s the perfect medium for self-portraiture, to really capture the sobjectified I--much better than photography or painting, or even video. Maybe especially video. I’ve been collecting some very nice impressionistic works by other people, and a few expressionist pieces. I notice that some like to work big, while others are more inclined to multiples. They think it’s serial, but it’s all multiple.

Ben Fama: Do you believe in feelings and emotions?

Vanessa Place: You mean as in chairs?

Ben Fama: If someone were to google “Vanessa Place” what would they find?

Vanessa Place: Aren’t we online now? I know there’s a few beauty shops, though I don’t think we’re related.

Ben Fama: Can you tell us your style icons?

Vanessa Place: There’s so many. Callas to Darboven, Rossellini to Goldsmith. Pink Chanel suits, Antigone sheaths, the belts of business travelers. Anyone who wears mirrors, or too much silver. The shirts of French sailors, Rob Fitterman, and Lino Ventura. Many of the fascists had good fashion, or at least the ones in the West.

Ben Fama: Your new artist book, Boycott (UDP 2013) takes iconic feminist texts and eliminates all reference to women and that which is exclusively female. The symbolic order becomes, perhaps even comically so while remaining deadpan, more apparently unified under the sign of the Patriarch. What attitudes inform your decision to create this work?

Vanessa Place: The work was originally inspired by Lacan’s maxim, la femme n’existe pas, plus Lee Lozano’s Boycott Piece (1972-1999), in which she stopped speaking to women. As you note, this becomes a dumb détournement of the sex which is one. There’s also Wittgenstein’s famous Proposition 7, an ethics of silence that may be the only possible ethics of the real woman. Or anything else. Though this seems more expatiation than attitude.

Ben Fama: You split time between Los Angeles and New York. Which do you prefer?

Vanessa Place: In New York, I go out. In LA, I stay in. New York is a great place to travel to; LA is a terrific place to travel from.

Ben Fama: How were you described as a teenager. What did you do for entertainment?

Vanessa Place: I was a great disappointment to my parents. I was a great disappointment to my parents.

Ben Fama: I attended the Cage 83 gallery launch of Vanessa Place Inc. a few months ago. You introduced the team, made statements and debuted your first product of ‘art lit’, a bound book of 20 one dollar bills, which sold out at $50 a copy. You also announced a future initiative called BookIt. Can you tell us about that?

Vanessa Place: BookIt allows anyone to turn anything into a published book of poetry. Or art. For $50, you can buy a BookIt ISBN number through VanessaPlace Inc, put it on whatever you like--a stump (plant or animal), a building, a point of view--and it will become a book published by VanessaPlace Inc. That is to say, it will circulate, or can circulate, as a book able to be bought, sold, traced as a book. Once you document your book in some fashion, such as by way of a video or photo, and send this to, I will personally blurb your book, and we will include it in our online catalogue. There are, of course, only a limited number of BookIt editions available, and they are expected to sell out rapidly as well. Like $20, BookIt absolutely effaces the distinction between life and art, art and commerce, poetry and the trade in personal perspective. In sum, another triumph of the commercial avant garde.

Ben Fama: The Vanessa Place Inc. pages states: “Place makes it the company’s number one priority to fully serve the higher-culture customer. Your desires are our needs.” Is your company targeting similar audiences to Gilt City’s exclusive online clientele, or André Balazs Properties which includes a portfolio of hotels across the US and residences in New York?

Vanessa Place: Absolutely: our audience includes all exclusive clienteles.

Ben Fama: Last question: What are you summer plans?

Vanessa Place: Excoriation.


Vanessa Place is CEO of VanessaPlace Inc, a trans-national corporation whose sole mission is to design and manufacture objects to meet the poetic needs of the human heart, face, and form.

Ben Fama is the author of Aquarius Rising (Ugly Duckling Presse), New Waves (Minutes Books), and the artist book Mall Witch (Wonder). He lives in New York City.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Authors on Artists: Brian Oliu on The Auca & The Cartoons of Catalunya

The Auca & The Cartoons of Catalunya

by Brian Oliu 

They were different: the lines a little bit more jagged, a little less polished. It was a building with scaffolding—the curves of ears and the coloring in of trees that I am not used to; stubby shrubs, bushy and pale. The language, of course, was different as well—diacritic marks, though I did not call them that: squiggles, lines, things that appeared to be misprints, smudges, mismarks with a sharp pencil.

These are the drawings of my childhood: my aunts who lived in Barcelona would send countless picture books overseas—they were odd, not just in their language, their Ts next to Xs in a way that looked unabashedly, well, foreign, but in their feel—hyper glossy prints, slick, even, in their touch.

I could not read them, as I had no knowledge of Catalan beyond “Avi,” (grandfather), & tieta (aunt), & even then I don’t think I would’ve recognized those as words in a different languages: Avi was Avi, just as Tieta Carmen was Tieta Carmen—they were not placeholders for things, they just were. So, instead, I looked at the drawings and tried to ascertain what was happening: there were children, and there were families, there were oranges, and shepherds, and dragons, all things magical—the skylines looked that much more majestic and inviting because they were imperfect. These were drawings that I could make if I tried really hard, if my fingers grew slimmer as I got older—the watercolors splashing in and out of lines, the dog’s eyes represented by two black dots.

There’s something childlike about the culture of Catalunya: once we get past the seriousness of Mirò and the starkness of Gaudí there is playfulness. This is a region that is famous for castells—the stacking of people into large pyramids in townsquares, which seems like something from mythmaking: that there is a lesson to be learned here; that a tower made of people will eventually fall. We remember summer camps where we climb each other to take photographs, the lightest girl scaling to the top & holding up a peace sign before the flash goes off & we all tumble.

And so, comics. And so, children’s illustrations. This is how stories are told: it is not enough to simply tell folks, it must be shown, drawn. The drawings are never perfect—they are not like our American comic books, all flash and style. They are much more rudimentary. The stories are often humble as well: one of the primary forms of historical accounts in Catalunya is the auca: a genre of a story in pictures.

The auca is how I learned origin: Cantonigròs, the village that my grandfather was born in, has an auca that is on the wall of my great-aunt’s summer home. There are drawings of the mountains in the distance. There are silhouettes of farmers, clergymen. I have a child’s knowledge of the history: the gist is there and it is clear, yet any semblance of nuance is lost in the language.

More important than that, the auca is how I first learned the story of my grandfather, as his history was displayed in the television room of my grandparents’ house. It is here I learned that he went to school in Barcelona, through the amateur sketches of Casa Milà—it is where I understood the drawings and the story behind it all because it meant something: here was my grandfather, a great man, I had always been told, & here was proof—in crude sketches of petroleum in beakers, of lines meant to signify motion coming off of an airplane wing, of him running, always running; the small loops meant to represent sweat, to represent effort. I would point & ask for a translation, but by that point the stories had become lore: of leaving Spain & coming to America, of returning, of coming & going in a flash; in as long as it took to start a new panel.

My grandfather wrote a book in Catalan on running; he founded the Barcelona Marathon in the early 80s & was known as a runner during a time where it was still very much in its early stages as a sport. I am trying my best to translate it all, despite not knowing the words beyond the occasional noun, the various conjugations of córrer. The book itself has illustrations; mostly pen and ink drawings in hyper-realist ways, hard lines and shadow. & yet when it comes time to learn a new language, we focus on images—of cartoons of apples & libraries & pools & the words spilling out from underneath them, with their diacritic marks and their vowels doubled up in the strangest of places. We are not told the word in English because it is not important. What is important is that we know where we are going and where we are from, despite not having the words for it.


Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey & currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Recent work appears or is forthcoming in TriQuarterly, Mojo, Drunken Boat, & MonkeyBicycle.