Happy New Year, everyone. We made it!
Not shitting anyone, I was going to write this entire blarg about optimism and determination. That was the plan. Then, something came up, and now I feel like I have to talk about that instead. Maybe I’ll try and sneak some optimism in at the end.
This month, first Friday, Four Chambers Press published a series of chapbooks which was the culmination of the collaborative efforts between 18 artists and 18 writers called InSight II (in case the title didn’t give it away, it the follow up to last year’s InSight). I am one among those 18 writers, and my collaboration was with artist Ryan Parra. I’m really proud of the finished work, and this weekend should have been a celebration of the efforts of all those involved. Instead, it all collapsed into a horrible, stinking shithole. New City Studios, the gallery where the work is currently on display, instructed the curators of InSight to remove one of the artist’s pieces (incidentally, the artist, Malena Barnhart, is the person with whom Ashley Naftule, one of this episode’s guests, collaborated for the project) for what amount to religious reasons—specifically that the work is overtly sexual.
I’ve been thinking about how I wanted to respond to this, and if I’d written this immediately upon receiving the news of the work’s removal, I would have written a venomous tirade all about theological fascism. Given some time, this is what I’ve distilled those initial feelings of outrage down to in a much more constructive and objective fashion. Personally, I am vehemently anti-censorship. Additionally, while I am not anti-religion—as I believe that would be hypocritical on my part, I am against the idea that religious institutions have the right to impose their values on anyone who does not choose to subscribe to those values, and that extends to their creative output. New City Studios purports to “[exist] to serve and flourish the arts scene of downtown Phoenix. [We] make a point of promoting local art and artists across as many mediums as we can support.” These words and two other similarly worded expressions of community support are the only elements of text outside of external links that exist on the studio’s site. Nowhere on the website is the fact that the gallery is owned by New City Church reported, nor is there any wording which would suggest that the gallery’s support of the Phoenix arts scene is dependent on that art’s alignment with the church’s views. To use words the church may be familiar with, this presentation of the gallery to the community is both overtly and covertly deceptive. To use words that I would in any normal conversational context, this is really fucking far from okay. If the gallery is a part of the church, and it has become blatantly obvious that it is, then the way to support the arts community is not to deceive it. Even something as simple as the addendum “…so long as the work coincides with the church’s views and beliefs” would serve as an honest attempt to convey the gallery’s aesthetic to any artists who may find themselves involved with the gallery to make an informed decision. I know that would have been enough for me to decide that I did not want to be involved with such an establishment, nor have my work on display. I know that my statement as a writer and creative type is that I will only work with and contribute work to an establishment that is honest, inclusive, and truly supportive of an artist’s right to express themselves without restriction. In other words, not a bunch of theological fascists.
Ultimately, things come down to a breakdown in communications between organizers and artists, and as usual, it’s the artists that take the brunt of the negative consequences. All the hard work and collaboration that went into this project is currently being overshadowed by the sensationalized news story surrounding it. The possibility of this was overlooked by the determination of the organizers to see the project come to fruition regardless of the cost to the artists and writers involved, and I’m not talking monetarily, I’m referring to personal ethos and feelings surrounding the work contributed. As I said earlier, I’m immensely proud of the finished work. I feel like my response to Ryan Parra’s art, and his to my writing, speak to each other in a shared language developed without us ever having worked together in the same room. As a result of the events surrounding what should have been a joyful occasion, I cannot feel good about sharing or promoting the completed project. For me, the whole thing has fallen under a cloud of negativity and resentment. My heart goes out to any other artist or writer who contributed to this project and feels the same way.
Right, onto something much more positive. Amy Young and Ashley Naftule came over to the house to talk with me about their new film podcast, Prizefighting Kangaroo, and we sort of managed to do that. I won’t speak for them, but I had a blast. Our conversation went all over the place, and I haven’t laughed like that in a long time. I think I said during our conversation that I was going to edit a bunch of it out, but I didn’t end up cutting much, because when I was listening back to it, it was all too much fun. I hope you enjoy the chaos.
Amy Young and Ashley Naftule are both deeply ingrained in the Phoenix arts and culture scene. Their new film podcast, Prizefighting Kangaroo, is produced by Yab Yum Music and Arts, and you can hear it on Bandcamp, or via Yab Yum. You can also catch Amy and Ashley hosting Triviadome: Cinema and Culture Trivia over at Valley Bar on January 30th, and curating a new monthly series at Film Bar called “Gateway Drugs: A Director’s Showcase” beginning on February 1st. More info on those events here.
Listen to LE 68 – Amy Young and Ashley Naftule
If you listen to us on iTunes, we could really use some ratings and reviews love there.