This interview is part of a series that seeks to move queer inspiration in the present to the forefront of a conversation on what makes us want to live. Who amongst our peers makes us feel lucky to be alive here, right now, despite the particular everyday horrors of 21st century life? What of our own art couldn’t exist without our peers, those living and creating in response to our world as we live in it? I’m truly thrilled to get to interview these queer artists on these questions and more, drawing lines to connect what we make to what has been made. Nostalgia gets boring: there is so much to love for decades long past, but we’re here NOW, and until time travel becomes an option here and now is where we’ll stay. Let’s hear it for here, let’s hook-up our hearts, let’s turn each other on to what is living just next door. —Gina Abelkop
YOU MAKE ME FEEL #3: INTERVIEW WITH WENDY C. ORTIZ
Wendy C. Ortiz is the author of Excavation: A Memoir (Future Tense Books, July 2014) and Hollywood Notebook (Writ Large Press, November 2014). Her work can be found in The New York Times, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Nervous Breakdown, The Collapsar, Specter Magazine, and many other places. She is co-founder, curator and host of the decade-old Rhapsodomancy Reading Series in Los Angeles. Visit her at www.wendyortiz.com & wendycortiz.tumblr.com.
Photo by Meiko Takechi Arquillos
Tell me about one particular song/film/book/poem/piece of art (made by a peer in the last 5 years-ish) that has recently undone/inspired you. What about it was so striking to you? What in your life made you so open and receptive to this particular piece of art at that time?
After reading a visceral and gorgeous blog post by a writer I “met” via Twitter, I did a deep dive and read all of the work I could find by him. One piece in particular gave me the pleasure of undoing and inspiration, which surprised me because it’s about an act far out of my own range of experiences. Sean H. Doyle’s “Hang, or, With a Little Help From My Friends” in the now archived Unshod Quills left a deep impression on me, not just because it describes being suspended by four hooks piercing the skin of his back. While I happily drowned in all of Sean’s published writing, this one struck me because it holds such an intense amount of emotional weight, just as the hooks held him. I think I was receptive to this particular piece of art at this time because I’d been questioning the direction of where I wanted my own writing to go next. This piece (and many others of his) reminded me that this kind of work is where I feel most at home and where I want to play: the visceral, intense, sometimes dark places of risk that intersect with truth-telling.
Tell me about three of your favorite contemporary artists (writers/filmmakers/musicians/theorists etc): what makes them one of your favorites? How did you discover their work? Did you discover additional artists/art via these people?
I first learned of Guillermo Gómez-Peña as a student at The Evergreen State College, where he came to perform in the 1990s. His interactive performance made my hair stand on end and I’ve followed his trajectory ever since, constantly appreciative and stunned. Through Gómez-Peña I also became aware of artist and writer Coco Fusco.
Director Steve McQueen has recently blown my mind, and I have not even seen all of his films. His interdisciplinary background inspires me. I’ve read interviews with him in which he describes his very close relationship with actor Michael Fassbender and that relationship totally fuels me when I consider the range of collaborations artists might find with one another. I’ve also appreciated McQueen’s candor. I recently watched the film Shame and then spent the next several weeks talking about it with the person I viewed it with. McQueen’s handling of this particular kind of extreme is so beautiful, dark, and nuanced. I look forward to watching Hunger next.
One of my favorite poets, Louise Mathias (I also get to call her a friend) introduced me to the poet Cynthia Cruz. Her book The Glimmering Room obliterates me every time I read it. I invited Cynthia to read at Rhapsodomancy, the reading series I curate, and I got a bit fangirl about her, because not only is her work excellent, she is also a warm, generous, lovely human being. Cynthia also writes extensively about art and books and her perspectives are often brilliant and shattering to me. I’ll read anything she puts out and that means I’m getting an education in many artists and writers I might not have come across on my own.
Tell me your favorite things about the loose community of artists that you’re a part of, if you’re a part of one in some way, shape or form. What is most exciting about the work you see coming out of this community? Do you make work in response to any of it? What do you wish to see coming out of this community that you feel is lacking or underrepresented?
Loose is the right word, because there are many different communities I come into contact with, some I have sort of transitional space in, others are like visiting planets I like and want to drop in on from time to time.
The work of Chiwan Choi, Judeth Oden Choi and Peter Woods through Writ Large Press and now the DTLAB is especially exciting. DTLAB, which has recently changed venues and inhabits space on the second floor of Figaro in downtown L.A., is “an experiment, a performance micro-space, a creative hangout, an alchemist laboratory, and a bookstore.” There are so many appealing things to me about this project. DTLAB has raised the bar for literary culture in Los Angeles by offering 90 events in 90 days in their current pop-up space. They are doing it without the benefit of city funding or resources. This is exciting because it’s a community of people making shit happen from scratch, day after day after day. I feel influenced by this act of generosity and it’s inspired me to branch out from the format I’ve had for my own reading series for the last ten years. The culture of experimentation they foster is guiding how next year will look for Rhapsodomancy.
How do you build and/or define your community?
I can’t use “community” singular. There are so many I have contact with, feel a part of, or am in the process of becoming a part of. Building community, to me, requires first the ability to connect with individuals, and sometimes this involves a certain chemistry, sometimes a mutual affinity or appreciation of one another, or of aesthetics. Building community also requires time and energy, things I’ve had in short supply since having a kid. The micro-communities I find on twitter have been surprising for their warmth, closeness, and support, and don’t require traveling somewhere around Los Angeles and committing time and energy I don’t always have.
Tell me about an instance where a piece of art you’ve made directly responded to art made by your peers. How did your response engage (or not engage) with the inspiration?
In the last few months I’ve been in book edit mode, and have only produced very small pieces of new work that have a long way to go before they could be called finished. I’ve also decided to invest much more time (in the coming months) in fiction. All of these acts are responses, direct and indirect, to my peer Sean H. Doyle, whose friendship and work have had a fast and tremendous impact on my own.
You get to curate a festival of art/writing/film/music/etc. What living artists do you invite to present/perform at your festival?
All of the artists mentioned above: Guillermo Gómez-Peña. Steve McQueen. Cynthia Cruz. Louise Mathias. Sean H. Doyle. Chiwan Choi. Judeth Oden Choi. Peter Woods.
Lidia Yuknavitch. Jen Hofer (and her own selection of collaborators). Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. I would ask The Need to get back together. And Two Ton Boa. Ramona Pilar with The Raveens (or anything Ramona wanted to do). Samantha Irby. Alyssa Harrad, carrying perfumes. Teresa Carmody. Rae Gouirand. Sarah Pape. Karrie Higgins. Lynda Barry. Chef Roy Choi.
That would be day one.
What are currently some of your favorite venues (magazine, journals, presses, youtube channels, websites, zines, libraries, museums, collectives etc) for art? What makes these venues particularly exciting/fresh/engaging?
Rad Dad. The Believer. Les Figues Press. Birds of Lace. The Museum of Jurassic Technology. DTLAB. The Jung Institute of Los Angeles (and library). A Public Space. KCET Departures. Bookforum. Future Tense Books. Writ Large Press. Avenue 50 Studio. The Atlas Review. Ugly Duckling Presse. Civil Coping Mechanisms. The visual interviews with writers at The Triangle (http://thetrianglepa.com). Two Dollar Radio. I’m forgetting so many because this is how I would answer this question at this very moment. These are all engaging to me today because they suggest possibility and strangeness and genrelessness, among other things.
Please share five links to art that we can view online (website, music, video, writing, visual art, etc.).