Selina Trepp & Jesse Malmed
| Documented Dialogues No. 5 > is a conversation, via text message, between the artists Selina Trepp & Jesse Malmed. The conversation takes place over iMessage, and recounts, recalls, and reshapes various personal histories and their present material and methodological affects.
What, by nature of conversation, might emerge through the immediacy of improvisation, intuition, and response?
You can jump to a plain text transcript of their conversation by clicking here.
Above you will find screen shots of the conversation inside Apple's iOS Messaging application, for reading this dialogue in its actual media. Below is a transcript; in copy-paste-able + searchable text...
Selina Trepp: [Hi]
I’m tired. At this point of the year I’m both glad that I teach in a place with quarters because I still have some paychecks coming in, and envious of my friends who are already on summer break. Time to go teach.
Jesse Malmed: After these collaborative drawings were turned into little books and then read aloud 8 minutes ago, I became officially unemployed/summerworld full-time weirdler.
There’s plans for a side business called ALL CAPS.
ST: Fucking freight elevator in my studio is out again and I have a dismantled show in my car that needs to come 4 floors up. Arrgggh.
On another note while I wait for the elevator to get fixed. I love this picture of my parents’ shoe and belt production at a fashion fair in Milan in the early 70ies. I’m sure the Bally people were just totally puzzled by these freakers attached to them.
They taught me to be audacious.
Also a pinball machine!
JM: The Trepps are designer/merchants? Love that pic. Here are my parents ca. Late-70s selling things on the streets in Vancouver.
ST: Oh wow! Basically the same as my people! We need to talk about this! Do you feel it affects your outlook? Now my mother is a sculptor and painter and my father is an international man of mystery. But when I was growing up they made belts and sandals, quilts, sold food at fairs, made films, basically carneys, also they founded a commune, which is where I grew up.
This is Adler, where I grew up.
My mother and brother.
Were your parents Bhagwans? Just asking because of the orange clothes?
JM: They were! They were some of his first western devotees - in Bombay in the early 70s.
Tell me about Adler.
ST: Wow! I knew tons of Bhagwanis and spent some time in their community in Toscany.
JM: Crazy. At what age?
ST: Adler was Atheist feminist Marxist initially, but became more practical less dogmatic.
Toscany, 13 or 14.
JM: How many people lived there? Was it lots of families?
ST: 30 adults, 12 kids.
At least initially, lots of changes all the time. Then completely restructured when I was 10.
Families didn’t survive.
JM: Are you still close with the other kids?
ST: Yes very.
Were you raised bhagwani?
JM: Not really. My parents were out of that world before I was born, but most of the adults I knew were ex-sannyasins. I was raised spending a lot of time in Hindu and Buddhist temples but in this very open way. Certainly not secular but with this very vast idea of divinity and spiritual practice.
ST: Do you still connect spiritually?
JM: I also really loved being with what I came to realize was a bunch of weirdos, all these adults who were very international and smart and sweet and countercultural, that had totally different interests and values than the adults I saw on TV or in airports or wherever people see strangers.
Not especially, but I have mostly very fond memories of tear experiences and certainly never had the painful separation I see from kids who were raised religious and then… whatever happened that made them punk or political or into artists.
A few days ago the sun hit my eye in a blinding illuminating kind of way that made my whole field of vision sort of golden and I was transported to the hanuman temple in Taos where we’d go for their annual celebration and hear this all-night song cycle of the hanuman chalisas and I (re)realized how much my interest in singing together, wordy droney, poly-directional was being shaped by being a kid taking a sound bath.
How much did you, as a kid realize the sub/counter-cultural potential (maybe with extra emphasis on the oppositionality) of what you were doing?
ST: I’m atheist, always have been, despite having spent a lot of time around believers.
I think the free art approach you have is what I am attracted to and recognize. Free in the sense of free of need to break down convention, since it never was part of the picture to begin with.
We were outcasts in the small conservative town the commune was in. In 3rd grade my teacher brought my class to our buildings and told us “this is the house of sin!”
So I was totally aware of not being a part of that. But I was totally fine with it, as we had our own society that was much more exciting.
Also our parents explicitly pushed us to not conform in school and backed us up when we got into trouble.
We were in a sense their tools to reform public school.
It is so interesting to see how this influences you. Exposure.
JM: Do you have a sense of what the lasting impact was in that town?
ST: How about you? Were you aware of it?
I think it had a lasting impact on society at large. In Switzerland women got their right to vote in 1971. Unmarried people weren’t allowed to cohabitate.
Now it is very progressive, much more progressive than here.
JM: I think about this idea of uniqueness and difference and the times in one’s life when they wanted to be apart and when they wanted to be a part. Wanted to / felt forced to be. And I think often about the various ways and times that those levels of difference were really impactful to me. I didn’t grow up on a commune or as part of a specific community that was recognizable as outside to other people in the same as you did (and other people I knew did), so it was always this feeling of choosing when to be “in” or “out”.
I didn’t know that Switzerland was so late on those things! I was always thinking of it as being pretty progressive. Or at least kind of uptight but practical.
But I think I realized very early the sort of revolutionary potential of difference. And felt early on a very strong political and cultural urgency.
(Itself base as much on principles of emancipation, equity, love, etc. as a rejection of the obviously not working dominant society)
ST: How do you see this expressed in your work?
JM: I don’t always know. I think it’s a mixture of the things themselves and how they’re positioned. I see a direct line between the weirdo northern NM house parties where people would have all their friends out to see the idiosyncratic fence they made one day at a time by collecting sticks on their daily walks (both as aesthetic practice and subtle resistance against building permits) or the earth ship stupa and the DIY spaces that re-opened and changed my life as a teenager and the artist-run spaces and places where I devote a lot of my energies now.
I think about the individual and constituencies, chosen/shared ideas, shibboleths and permeabilities… Some works are clearer than others in some regards. The piece I’m showing at CUFF Friday is - of the longer videos I’ve made over the past 5ish years - the one that most directly ties the counter cultural legacies of the 60s and 70s to some of my other preoccupations (optics, art history, jokes, text, bootlegs, self-directed communities, artists television).
What about you?
And has being a parent brought ideas about your own childhood and how it shaped you and your work into sharper relief?
ST: The two main ways it influences my art making are that I believe in experimenting and I’m not sentimental. In regards to the “business” aspect of art, I too am most interested and comfortable in artist run spaces, alternative venues and models. I dislike the gallery model.
Yes becoming a parent is a mirror of sorts. I’m sorry that I can’t provide the same kind of expanded family I had.
But I really like privacy and solitude and don’t desire to live in a large group of people.
JM: Can you say more about the sentimentality? Or the lack therof?
ST: In my relationship to material.
JM: I like that. I really love the way that one bit from here moves into another bit over there in your work. Some of what I was doing with these kindergarteners was all about that.
Maybe based on showing my college kids your animations!
Making paintings and drawings and then cutting those up and recombining them. But not as fixed collages bus as incidental constellations that then went back into the pile of potential.
ST: And also in relationship to ideas, I keep it simple.
Often I work by switching back and forth between intuitive and then formal/editing.
Everything in the end needs to find its balance.
I also really try to make art do things for me, solve my problems.
JM: Do you throw many things out? Or do they get re-re-re usually?
ST: Well I haven’t brought anything into my studio since 2012. So I keep everything unless it is too small to be of use.
I think of my materials as actors in my pieces.
JM: I can totally see that! What are some of the problems they can be counted on to help with?
ST: - The decision to only work with what I have, makes me need less money amongst
many other things
- When the first video iPod came out I really wanted one, so I made a piece that required
- It is good for my psyche to work away in my studio.
JM: Do you have a set studio schedule?
ST: More or less. It’s number one priority to be there. I teach as little as possible.
And family of course.
But I’m not motivated by money, I’m motivated by having as much control over my time as possible.
I’d rather need less than work for others more.
JM: I feel that. I definitely don’t have a set schedule (like I’ve been doing errands this whole time. Right now at a print shop trimming some future western pol projects) and that’s half because I’m into thinking of the world as the studio, blah blah, and because I lack discipline and don’t like being told what to do (even by myself)
I think there’s something about growing into one’s practice that means starting to better own and understand your particularities - figuring out how to instrumentalize - and sometimes work against - your own strengths and weaknesses. But I also know that I’m good at justifying my sometimes bad behavior.
ST: The way I work, my practice, has changed greatly over the years.
That is part of the idea or question of what does my art do for me?
I went from a social practice to an antisocial practice.
Was that intentional? Gradual?
ST: In response to becoming a parent.
I need solitude in my studio, the rest of life is hyper social.
But also it was time for a change. I felt my work was getting too predictable.
The main shift is that my hand now is omnipresent.
But what comes out of my studio usually is just a digital file.
Photo or video.
Before it was all site specific and collaborative.
But that’s the joy of it for me, the discovery that everything always is in flux.
JM: Do you want to talk a bit about your approach to performance?
I’ve seen you play live video (and see a pretty clear overlap with your animations [both the ones that look similar and the ones that don’t])
ST: Live video is real time processing of hand drawn animation. Akin to a sampler in audio terms.
It’s building an instrument and then getting good at playing.
I work 100% improvised.
Building and playing my videolah came out of my desire to participate in musical performance, in particular improvised performance.
The studio based work is different as it is slower to produce, making hand drawn animation marker on paper takes time, so does stop motion.
The animations condense large chunks of time. Performing expands.
But the animations are similarly improvised, I don’t have a script other than a basic formal premise, like the animation is a 360 degree rotation that resolves seamlessly.
JM: I really like that animation / performance / expansion / condensation idea.
And as a non-musician who’s spent a lot of times in music communities (and being especially excited by improvisation), this is really exciting.
I’ve done some live video things but your method sounds more sophisticated (or unique) than what I’ve done.
I’ve tried to think more about how improvisation and composition can work together in non-musical settings. Like I’ve done some reading-y performances where I have a lot of text and decide in the moment what’s read, what’s sung, what’s made up wholly in the moment, what order things happen.
ST: For me the performance aspect of life really is about my desire to experience the immediacy musicians experience.
JM: Like a musician who knows their craft to a level where they can improvise like how we can talk.
Yeah, I’ve felt that a lot.
ST: Yes, like getting to the point of being so one with the instrument, being fluid and in the moment.
Also means listening, looking, paying attention.
In Spectralina I sing a lot lately and that is really interesting. Not always good, but every once in a while something completely unexpected and beautiful comes out.
It’s good to do this thing that’s a bit humiliating.
In the sense that in order for magic to happen I have to take risks and that doesn’t always pay off.
I was lucky to have a weekly gig performing every Tuesday with some incredible musicians for 8 years. It allowed me to develop the skills.
JM: Love that risk/magic thing. I also think part of the magic of improvising and performing has to do with it being in front of people. The different stakes and energy exchange can shift what we’re doing. I think that’s part of what I think is so envious about music.
I really like when artists use exhibitions as a chance to experiment too.
It require a kind of confidence - that this won’t be the last show or something - to be able to practice in public, but I think I think something really special can happen there.
In the best case it opens up dialogue and inspiration. It is putting trust into the audience.
Selina Trepp (Swiss/American, b. 1973, in Zurich, Switzerland) is an artist who’s work explores the magic that is this life. Finding a balance between the intuitive and conceptual is the goal, living a life of adventure is the way, embarrassment is often the result. Growing up in a commune in a conservative small town in Switzerland taught her that there is strength in the position of the outsider. “If in doubt be radical. When being radical, be strategic” is the best advice she ever got. Her artistic output comes in a multitude of media: installation, video, drawing, painting, photography and sculpture. Additionally she developed a practice of singing combined with creating realtime video projection and has been performing as one half of the duo Spectralina, an audiovisual collaboration with her husband Dan Bitney. Selina Trepps work has been exhibited internationally and has received several awards and honors including the Swiss Art Award and the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship.
JESSE MALMED is an artist and curator living and working in Chicago. His work in moving images, performance, text and occasional objects has exhibited widely in museums, cinemas, galleries, bars and barns, including recent solo presentations at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Roots and Culture, the Chicago Cultural Center, D Gallery, Syntax Season, Cinema Contra, Microlights, Echo Park Film Center, Lease Agreement and the University of Chicago Film Studies Center. His platformist and curatorial projects include the Live to Tape Artist Television Festival, programming at the Nightingale Cinema, instigating Western Pole, the mobile exhibition space and artist bumper sticker project Trunk Show (with Raven Falquez Munsell), programming through ACRE TV and organizing exhibitions, screenings and performance events both independently and institutionally. His writing has appeared on and in Bad at Sports, Cine-File, Incite Journal of Experimental Media, The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature, Temporary Art Review, Big Big Wednesday and YA5. A native of Santa Fe, he earned his BA from Bard College and his MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was named a "2014 Breakout Artist" by Newcity and has attended residencies at ACRE, Ox-Bow, Summer Forum, the Chicago Cultural Center and Links Hall.