Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 13 - The Revolution Issue
Log 13 - The Revolution Issue

Never learn not to love
David Watson


David Watson reports here for Dumb and Aggressive - the NYC column that reports on meteoric career rises and spectacular real estate steals - on ex-Britisher via Berlin now New York artist James Dawson-Hollis’

Momenta Gallery is two smallish rooms, two blocks from the Williamsburgh L subway stop, the epicenter of New York’s latest art, band and bar explosion. The veteran gallery of the Williamsburgh’s reputedly vibrant (read ‘rent increase’ art scene), Momenta is somewhat a victim of its own success. Where it once was an island of sanity in a drab Polish neighborhood ten minutes from Manhattan, now it resists being another stop in the Young Person’s Guide to Bohemia, and quietly goes on with the business of showing art.

Inside Momenta, funnily enough, there is James’ latest show, the subject of our conversation: a record player, set up on milk crates, surrounded by a messy pile of CD-R’s and cassettes - demos. Nothing that really tells you (you in search of that epiphanous moment) to search through the pile and play something, but that’s the idea.

Two walls of the small gallery space are completely plastered with the letters and photos that have accompanied the demos. Prints on the other walls are of black-box rock clubs taken all over Europe, documenting his interest in these architectural non-entities that play non-memorable host to a host of memories. Another milk crate is full of custom made LPs that he has pressed himself as negative shellac impressions of existent LPs, which you can play in reverse rotation.


D‘n A: How did this all come together?

J: This wasn’t actually conceived of together as an installation, they’re actually like separate works. The photo’s are from a series, the CDs are their own sculpture project. The different works are different aspects but obviously they’re related.

D‘n A: The title sounds vaguely familiar?

J: It’s from The Beach Boys’ 20/20. It’s the song Manson wrote for them. The photo series is called "Cease to Exist", a line from the song.

D‘n A: OK, but the "Never Learn Not to Love" part, how did you set this up?

J: I ran adverts in the back of Melody Maker and the NME, and Music magazine sometimes. Occasionally a box ad, usually just a line advert. It said, "NYC label seeks British talent, send material", and I gave my address. I thought I’d get thousands of replies. When I was in a band we sent out loads of demos, and of course never got a return, or thank you. They just disappeared, so I suppose that’s where the idea came from.

D‘n A: Did you run the ad once, twice?

J: Oh, more like twenty times. Originally I was going for 1000 replies. I imagined the sculpture looking like a Donald Judd thing, a really substantial stack, and hopefully people would still get the idea to help themselves, and it would dissolve into disarray, everything in the wrong boxes and it’d be like after a party when nobody can find anything they like in your record collection. But actually I think it turned out much better this way. The amount that I got is not too overwhelming, and by doing it in this shoddy kind of way, just slinging them out there, encourages people to get involved and try and play whatever takes their fancy.

D‘n A: Your advert says, "NYC label". Are you actually a label? You haven’t mentioned you’re seeking British talent for an art exhibit.

J: Well, no. I’m not a label. Some people have told me they like the show, but that it’s mean and exploitative and so on. Well, I would say, what isn’t?

D‘n A: For me the point where exploitation rears its head is in how incredibly naive the people are. It’s almost a tear-jerker, and I’m laughing at them.

J: But it’s you that’s laughing. That’s what you bring to it. People have said that to me, and clearly some of these people are very naive. Generally there’s the whole idea of "trying to get somewhere". Part of it is just who is going to answer an ad like this in the first place.

D‘n A: Apparently you did. Some of these people seem like little Bambis looking for some cross-hairs [what is a cross hair?] to stand in. For example, "People tell me I look like an angel. Here’s my photo and number."

J: It’s true, she does look like an angel. That’s a part of this whole thing. If you’re a producer and you want a lot of girlfriends...

D‘n A: I think what I really liked about the show the most was that it’s a little peek into a whole world. The whole field of dreams of average people having a go at the stardom lottery. A little tragic, a little comedic, but also a little heroic - ’cos at least they’re doing it.

J: That’s how I feel about it. When people said to me it was nasty, I said I thought it was more of a celebration. Of all the output. The nice thing about making music with other people, which I still occasionally do, is that it’s like little gangs. It’s great.

D‘n A: A lot of the people who have sent in material, for want of a better word, seem like ‘losers’.

J: Well, you bring your own cynicism. That’s what you’re bringing, I’m not saying what my position is. When you send something like that out, you can’t expect it to be private. That’s why I don’t feel it’s an abuse, you want people to see and hear it. It’s promotional material, except some of it is handmade which gives it the appearance of being more personal.

D‘n A: I was surprised at how many letters were handwritten. Well, in this day and age, more like amazed.

J: Maybe they’re trying to be casual. They really haven’t worked out how that’s perceived at the other end.

D‘n A: I was surprised someone would handwrite in a promo to some anonymous New Yorker, "I like tennis and writing my own songs".

J: I think it’s a kind of naive interpretation of what successful big money groups write about themselves. They think it’s the appropriate information. Tennis is athletic, and that means they’re in shape, and sexy. Tennis is glamorous.

D‘n A: You did say were in a band eons ago, and you got a lot of rejections yourselves. Do you think that disappointment is fuelling this work, giving it its sadistic edge?

J: Um, I ’spose, but I think it’s more about being good humoured about it. I think the over-riding thing is I think it’s cool to be salvaging something from this amount of stuff. For all the activity represented here, most of it is just landfill. It’s buried.

D‘n A: Do you find it funny?

J: If I do I think it’s because of the disappointments I’ve had with art. It’s very close to sending your slides out, and getting two seconds attention, if you’re lucky. Probably half of them never touch the light box. The closer we get to power, the more we learn that there’s so many things that decide who does and who does not "make it". Doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with talent, or anything. Pretty much everything is mediocre to begin with, and it’s everything else that happens to it that lifts it to something else.

D‘n A: You’ve got the big photo of yourself pissing on a pile of skulls here. Is this a Pol Pot /Jello Biafra reference, or this a mea culpa for anybody else that you’ve over-exposed

J: It’s funny that people get this Cambodia thing from that. This was a pyramid of skulls that I had been casting for a year, it had dragged on and on. I’d finally finished it after all this work, and I thought, "this doesn't thrill me at all". I was really disappointed. One thing I like to do with my work is put it out with the rubbish, dump it and photograph it right at the last moment. It’s meant to be quite jokey, with my head cropped out, so it’s like I’m pissing on my own head. Y’know, pissing about in the studio. I put it in, ’cos if you’re exposing everybody else, you've got to make some exposure of yourself. So this is like my big exposure, or small exposure, depending on your point of view. Because there’s not much of me in the show.

D‘n A: I wouldn’t say that. Seems to me like there’s a lot of inoculation against disappointment.

J: I really like this idea of failure, ’cos I think it’s something everybody can understand. To include this photo of myself there shows I’m making stuff - it’s not necessarily good - doing stupid things, throwing it out, whatever. Just an acceptance of the process. You do the stuff, some of it’s good, some is bad. Sometimes it’s just as interesting to look at the stuff that’s bad.

David Watson is a musician. He grew up in Christchurch but has lived in New York for 12 years or so. Our man James has gone on to an apparently successful career as an advert director... Is this what happens to the sad boys?????



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room